Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Ravel's Goulash - The Daily Mccrumble

Did anyone watch that programme on channel 4 the other night about eunuchs? It was stomach churning stuff that left me feeling vaguely queasy and putting my hand lightly over my pants in the general groin area on more than one occasion. I wanted to turn over to another channel - any channel would do - but Dolores insisted on watching. She was giving herself a mini pedicure at the same time, and at one point where some very thin young man revealed his empty sack, she lent in my direction and said 'snip snip' whilst waving her nail scissors at my nether regions. She's been in a funny mood lately, and I put it down own to her hormones, but the experience left me feeling distinctly uneasy. Ravel, on the other hand, was engrossed. He watched the whole programme open mouthed, in silence, on the edge of his seat. At the end, he turned to me and said 'I had no idea...' before leaving the room. He returned a few minutes later and asked if he could prepare us dinner for the next day. We discussed what was planned, and said that we would be happy for him to cook for us - something that happens at least once a week. It's always goulash, but it's good goulash, using a recipe handed down from Ravel's grandmother.

An hour later I called it a day and decided to retire. There was a light on in number 1 laboratory, so I detoured to switch if off. Inside, Ravel was working on something at the operating table. This was a little curious, as he never normally works this late. I heard what sounded like a an electric shaver, and saw Ravel make small sweeping movements with his right arm. On the operating table was a pan from the kitchen. 'Everything alright, Ravel?' I asked, feeling curious but not wanting to make him feel like I was watching his every movement. He is currently my only research assistant, and I've been reluctant to play the hard boss in case I lose him. I'd previously asked him to catch up on some work that had been given a low priority, and guessed this was what he was now doing.

'Sure boss I will finish in a minute and switch off', said Ravel, not bothering to turn around. 'You go to bed with Dolores. Don't forget I cook tomorrow.'

I was about to go but something didn't quite seem right, so I walked towards the bench. Ravel didn't hear me approaching as he was listening to some music on his mp3 player. I first peered into the pan, and was vaguely relieved to see it was empty. I then looked at what Ravel was doing with his hands.

My hunch was correct that he was using an electric shaver. With his left hand, he was holding down Timothy Hedgehog, whilst with his right hand he was carefully shaving the undercarriage of the insectivore. This wasn't too unusual, as we always shave our hedgehogs before an operation to prevent hairs entering the wound. Timothy, despite his experience of being on the operating table, had the look of a hedgehog fearing he might be about to cut into tiny pieces. He was unable to communicate his feelings due to the thick rubber band that was wrapped around his snout.

Ravel sensed my presence just as I was about to challenge him. He switched off the shaver and looked first at me, then the pot, then Timothy. 'Yes boss?' he asked, his tone somewhat nonchalant considering the scene before him.

'Ravel, I was just, er, wondering what you might be doing with Timothy.' I said slowly, choosing my words carefully so as not to offend my only assistant. 'I, er, didn't know he was due for an operation.'

'He isn't boss. I just had an idea for tomorrow. Timothy is good for my idea.'

'I see. Was Timothy happy with this, er idea?'

'I guess. He try to bite me so I had to put on the rubber band. It's OK, boss, he come to no harm. I work very carefully.'

'Ravel, I don't mean to be suspicious, but what exactly are you doing with Timothy?'

'Boss, if I tell you it will ruin the surprise.'

'OK, sure. Well if you promise he's not coming to any harm...'

'No boss. I look after him. You trust me, yes?'

Eager to display my trust in my one remaining research assistant, I backed down. I have been allowing Ravel to take a more independent role in the laboratory of late, and felt that perhaps I was just being a little too protective of my equipment and animals. Ravel and Timothy were well acquainted, and I admonished myself for being too uptight as I prepared for bed.

Yesterday I was away most of the day, and I didn't see much of Ravel until the evening. He was in the kitchen cooking goulash when I returned. My mind returned to the events in the lab the night before, and I was minded to just go and quickly check that Timothy hedgehog was still in one piece. Poking my head through the doorway into lab 1 afforded me a view of his cage, and I was relieved to see him snuffling around in his straw.

Dinner was served about 8pm. Dolores was not feeling too well, and had gone to bed early with only a few rice-crackers for company. Ravel's goulash was the usual meaty soup served with fresh bread, but this time there was something else in the mix. 'Dumplings?' I asked, picking out a small, oval shaped mass of what looked like suet.

'Is that what they are called boss?' asked Ravel, slurping a spoonful of thick broth.

'Yes. But they don't taste much like suet,' I said, sucking and rolling one of them around in my mouth to understand its flavour and texture. How did you make them?'

'I didn't really make them you know,' answered Ravel. 'I just dropped them into the goulash for added flavour. They are good yes?'

'Yes. Very tasty. Slightly meaty. Quite salty. Where did you say you got them?'

'Timothy gave me...'

The words barely penetrated my inner ear before the mouthful of goulash, complete with dumpling, exited my bucchal cavity in a surprisingly graceful arc. The dumpling landed back in the pot, but most of the soup landed on Ravel, who couldn't jump out of the way fast enough despite his military training in the Bulgarian army and self-described 'reflex like cheetah'.

'You castrated Timothy?', I squawked, suddenly filled with anger that my trust had been abused. An image of the poor little hedgehog wailing in a castrato voice popped into my head.

Ravel calmly cleaned his shirt with napkin. 'No boss. Timothy gave me instructions on how to do operation. These come from hedgehogs in freezer. I figure they don't need their balls too much any more. That programme the other night gave me idea for improving recipe. I use them long time ago during army survival course, but forget how to remove intact. Timothy - he was in bad mood, biting and he annoy me too much with his always talking so I gag him with the rubber band. You don't worry boss. I not hurt my friends. You right to trust me, eh?'

'Er, sure. I, er, think.' I stuttered, slightly apprehensive about allowing this violation of lab procedures. Unauthorised removal of animal parts is not allowed by Insitute rules, and I was monentarily minded to put Ravel into the incident book with a view to initiating disciplinary procedures. But I have to admit that the goulash did taste much better than usual. After a few moments reflection I came to a conclusion and said 'I'm not sure Ravel...but, well, they do add flavour. OK, sure. Let's finish it.'

I have to admit it was the best goulash I have ever tasted. The addition of hedgehog's testicles, straight from the freezer to the pan, was inspired. Next week, my No.1 research assistant has promised to introduce me to another dish inspired by his army training - something he calls 'head cheese', though he refuses to give any details. He does love his surprises...



Kim Ayres said...

I think I need to go and lie down now...

Nikki said...

Ever heard of mountain oysters?

Google it Joe. No doubt, your appetite will come charging back.