Ain’t nothing like the veal thing, baby

I live here now. One complication of living here is that there are strictly two addresses within the same building, each of which has its own door numbers, and so my number 4 is mirrored by another number 4. Because the doorbells are labelled confusingly, it requires more deduction than anyone ringing a doorbell has probably prepared for in advance. So I and the other number 4 get each other’s doorbells rung a lot. Fortunately for them, while I wouldn’t claim any unusually high moral standards, I least have enough common decency to direct the ringer to the right place. Therefore when food delivery drivers ring mine by mistake, which is a lot, because this mob order takeaways at all hours of the day, many of which don’t even approach correspondence with standard mealtimes, I tell the driver the food isn’t mine and send him off to ring theirs.

This gesture isn’t returned, as you’ll have guessed by now. Twice I’ve had takeaways delivered to their door by mistake, whereupon they’ve gleefully snatched it out of the driver’s hands and stockpiled it with the other forty or so meals they’ve had delivered that week at fucking 3pm, or just fed the chow mein straight to their baby, leaving me to call the restaurant and ask them, a small business, to bear the cost of delivering me another meal, during a pandemic.

You tell people about this and ask what they’d do, and the responses are interesting. Most involve revenge fantasies of one stripe or another, made easy because they’re not the person who would have to actually enact them and deal with the consequences. They range from the passive-aggressive (next time my doorbell rings by mistake, take the food then five minutes later take it round to the other flat and say sorry, I took this by accident, but I figured it must be yours so I’m bringing it round because I’m, you know, a normal person who recognises that stealing’s wrong) to the straight-up aggressive (go round and shout at them) to somewhere inbetween (stick a letter under the door, possibly made of glued-on letters cut out from magazines, stating that I know it’s them).

I’m not asking anyone’s advice when I have this conversation because I’m perfectly happy with what I am doing about it, which is a) adding a clarifying note in the app whenever I order, which has stopped it happening again, and b) making absolutely no contact with the other flat whatsoever, and continuing to forward erring drivers to them when they ring my bell. This is because I choose the slight annoyance in the moment that I have to wait an extra 40 minutes for my food, which I’d got over by the time I finished eating it, over the long-term awkwardness of living, potentially for years, in the same building as someone I’ve had some sort of conflict with. I can’t imagine why anyone would do anything different. I suppose it’s the refusal to tolerate someone else putting one over us, but really that’s just a buttress to one’s own self-image; the feeling that you’re weak and that a stronger you would’ve retaliated with some sort of force. Having said that, I’m currently having to self-isolate for six days, and if the cunts had taken my Sainsbury’s order I’d have burned the building to the ground.

I have a broad meal plan during this brief enforced home stay (down to a ping of the Covid app, a negative test, no symptoms). It is a piece of paper on which I’ve written:

  1. Pie
  2. Kedgeree
  3. Veal
  4. Chicken burger
  5. ???

You might think of number 5 as a meal of endless opportunity; the sort of meal demanded by a capricious king, his chef uncertain whether an over-sautéed broad bean will lead to his beheading. Maybe I’ll let loose my creativity to its fullest, raiding fridge and cupboard for unlikely panfellows and coming up with a bold fusion, confounding culinary thought leaders the world over. Who is this maverick and how will anything ever be the same again, they’ll ask in hushed tones at the offices of Bon Appétit, and probably offer me a lucrative content partnership, having first verified that I’m white. As it turns out I have three cans of Red Stripe and order some chicken.

I bought two veal front chops at the halal butcher a week or so ago, against the butcher’s suggestion, which he repeated more than once, that I go for the veal sirloin instead. He suggested it perhaps one too many times, as if the front chop was an abomination, selected only by deviants. I took this on the chin: it’s not the first time a butcher has implied I should be shunned by polite society and it won’t be the last.

Have I eaten veal before? It’s hard to say. It feels like the sort of thing I would’ve done and I couldn’t point to a specific event, and yet there is a sense memory floating around in there somewhere, much like how no one can honestly say whether they’ve seen Ocean’s 13. It’s beef, but young beef; the Young Dirty Bastard to beef’s Ol’ Dirty Bastard. I feel a little unsettled by the idea of its youth, like when I open TikTok and can’t figure out how to make it calm down and stop flinging autoplayed videos at me. This calf probably knew lots of slang I didn’t and thought USB sticks were laughably old tech.

You can’t very well claim the moral high ground because you only eat old cows, though; you’d be like an apologist for Shipman. So I pick some rosemary from the pots outside on the ten-slab patio where I grow herbs: rosemary, parsley (nearly dead), sage, mint (very much actually dead, but there’s very little food I want to make taste like Polos anyway), thyme and basil, the last of which I obsessively move inside whenever it rains to prevent a snail heist. The chop defrosted, I give it a rub with the rosemary, salt, pepper and olive oil, and start frying it with a bit of butter.

Veal is very much the pork of beef: you can’t flash-fry it like a steak. It needs a bit more time on a medium heat. I put some broccoli in so it can sear a little bit. I have new pans now, copper-bottomed non-stickers with lids that can go in the oven. Historically I’ve been awful at buying myself simple things that will add value to experiences and which I can easily afford, and so of course whenever I do I’ll be blown away by the improvement they bring. I bought two new cushions this week and you’ll be surprised to learn that new cushions are a lot better than ones you’ve sat against and sweated into since 2006.

These pans do likewise, requiring a lot less heat to get going and being far more easily deglazed. I do this once the chop’s out, with a bit of lemon juice and water, doubling as a little broccoli sauna with the lid on for a minute or so. I plate it up and throw it all, uneaten, at the patio doors of the takeaway thieves. “Here!” I shout. “You might as well have this too!” They come to the window, knowing the jig is up. “What’s the matter? Never seen food that wasn’t brought to you on a motorbike?” I go on, smearing the chop up and down the glass. I’ve got them, like Poirot in the library at the end of a Poirot, and it’s delicious. They watch me dance a victory dance, playing the two halves of jacket potato like castanets. Their faces say they knew this day would come.

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