One of the more exciting things about being pregnant - (aside from the stress incontinence, which adds a not unthrilling frisson to sneezing) - is the idea that the child might inherit some useful qualities from its father's family.
For example, my husband and his sister are both amazing mathematicians. And by that I mean they've got great mental arithmetic, which is really the only cool thing to be able to do with maths.
My sister-in-law has applied her maths wizardry to playing cards, with great effect. I hear that beyond a certain element of cunning and luck, being good and consistently taking money off other people at such card games as this "poker" I hear so much about, requires a facility with maths. I don't know why, and I know it's nothing to do with 'counting cards', which I'm pretty sure isn't allowed, but I know it's the case that maths is the thing.
And she's good at spelling, too. So in all, there's very little that I can do that my sister-in-law can't.
My one tangible, definable skill is my outstanding timekeeping. I am never late for anything, ever. And I know how long five minutes is, almost to the second, without using a watch. And pretty much any time of the day, you can ask me what the time is and I'll know. But what fucking use is that? I don't want to work in a train station. And my sister-in-law has her very own watch. It is pink.
But occasionally she will ring the house looking for her brother, who will be out strangling dogs somewhere, and get me. And she'll occasionally humour me with a question about cooking.
Like the other day.
"I know what I could ask you. Do you think," she said, "if a recipe says cook a casserole on the hob for 50 minutes and you would actually rather do it in the oven, you can?"
"Yes," I replied, sounding grand and patronising. "Yes that's fine. Stick it in at 180 for 50 mins. Would this perchance be a Nigel Slater recipe from this weekend? The sausage casserole one where he - snort - FORGETS to instruct you to put the sausages back in the pan [shaking head] - I don't know..."
And she said "Oh I'm not sure. It's Nigel Slater but it might not be that one."
And I said "Well, let me know how it goes anyway."
And this is how is went:
Victoria's sausage casserole
"This one's still pretty simple. Basically, you colour up some onions in (well, this is how I did it because of not having a big enough casserole dish that cooked on the stove) - I coloured up some onions in a frying pan, chopped up some Cumberland sausages and browned them, all of that in a pan with fennel seeds, chopped garlic and a couple of bay leaves.
Then I put it all in an oven casserole dish with some chopped up apples and a spoonful of mustard, a litre of stock and some Madeira, and a tablespoon of flour stirred in. And salt and pepper of course, good old salt and pepper. Cooked that (braised? baked?) in the oven for half an hour, then added a tin of haricot beans (obviously you're meant to have dried haricot beans that you've soaked in water overnight but, I mean, LIFE'S TOO SHORT), then cooked it for another half an hour, then stirred in another spoon of grainy mustard - done. Nigel Slater might have had some other stuff in his recipe, I can't remember now, but that's what I had mine.
In the Nigel Slater version, all done on the stove, after 50 minutes the liquid should be "mostly dissipated" or "mostly disappeared" or something, so I imagined a thick stew for plates and forks.
It didn't come out like that, either because I fiddled with the measurements cos I was cooking for more people, or because he hadn't tested it properly - or just because I cooked it in the oven with the lid on, so obviously the liquid can't disappear off into the air quite so easily.
Anyway, it was very liquidy (though a nice thick liquid because of the flour) so I served it in bowls with a spoon, and granary bread to dip in - the bread dipped in the liquid was delicious, mmm."
I didn't ask her to send a photo too, because she doesn't even know I'm posting the contents of her email here, so I thought a photo as well might have been a bridge too far.