Hi, my name’s Neil and I’m not an alcoholic. No, really, I’m not. This isn’t an “I’m not racist, but I don’t like Pakistanis” statement like my dad has been known to make. It’s genuinely true. I’m interested to know though where the line can be drawn. I’m sure there’s a scientific definition to which I will be quickly pointed but I suspect there’s an argument for some sort of greyscale, maybe from tee-total to Alex Higgins. The vast majority of those reading this will have had a drink or three this last weekend, and many will be looking forward to a drink this evening. Common parlance is littered with well-worn phrases such as “wine o’clock” to signify the end of the working day and the chance to relax, but is it the case that relaxation can only come with alcohol? Sometimes it seems so, as anyone who has been designated driver on an evening when everyone else gets uproariously inebriated will tell you – it’s rarely fun, although it can be funny watching other people are making fools of themselves.
I’m not an alcoholic – I know this because I am certainly guilty of wanting a drink most evenings, but I don’t because I know how I will feel the following morning when we’re up at six to start the working day. Alcoholics will drink before they leave for work, never mind when they get home, and they often hide it as well, whereas the majority of us will quite openly tell everyone how much we’re looking forward to the first pint. For an alcoholic the desire to drink never goes away, much as most smokers need a cigarette every couple of hours and always habitually in certain circumstances (most often when having a drink).
I’m not an alcoholic; I certainly drink more than is good for me though. I recently filled in a questionnaire for a health check at work and had to consider just how much I do have; I don’t think I was being disingenuous when I said 12-15 units on average, and as most weeks we don’t drink Sunday to Thursday this is probably not far wrong. However it would be very easy for that to become 20 just by sharing another bottle during the week, given that there are 9 units in a bottle and I tend to drink 60% of every bottle my wife and I have; government guidance suggests 21 is the upper limit for a man, so I am on or around this limit on any normal week. What this doesn’t take into account is that there are plenty of abnormal weeks sprinkled in with the normal; going round to friends, going out for a meal, staying over with work, all inevitably add 10 units in one hit, which breaks the aforementioned guideline stating I should have “no more than four units in any one day”. That’s two pints; when did you last go to the pub and have two pints? That you didn’t then follow with another pub?
I’m not an alcoholic, but I struggle to envisage life without alcohol, so I probably rate a 4 or a 5 on a 0 to 10 scale. I’m easy to buy small presents for: wine, port, liqueurs, in fact anything sweet and potent. (It’s my birthday soon so anyone short on ideas take note!) Friday and Saturday aren’t the same without a few tins of Magners or a bottle of Rioja; it doesn’t feel like a weekend without a tipple of some variety. I could quit drinking tomorrow, and if we were ever in a position where money was tight enough to be impacting on the basics, we would ditch it: booze probably costs us £75 a month, which buys a lot of children’s clothes. I really don’t understand people higher up the scale than I who would rather have a four-pack of Harp a night than make sure their kids eat well. But then, I’m not an alcoholic.
Alcoholic drinks do seem to lift many recipes. Risottos are improved markedly by the addition of a glass of dry vermouth (dry sherry or white wine also work, but not as well). Our sausage casserole – onions, garlic, bacon, black-eyed beans, chopped tomatoes, bay leaves, black pepper, oregano, fry off all and then put in at 150 for 90 minutes – is very pleasant when using water to extend the liquid content, but is so much better with a couple of glasses of white wine. Batter is improved with beer, cider or other lightly bubbly beverage. In all of those cases though, the alcohol itself has evaporated, so the enhancement is only provided by the concentrated nature of the flavours in the drink. In this week’s recipe below, you add the alcohol at the end, so make sure you don’t feed it to the designated driver.
I’m not an alcoholic, but writing this has made me thirsty, so I’m going to quit this and find a bottle of wine. Cheers!
Bloody Mary soup (serves four as a starter)
• Six medium tomatoes, halved
• Two red chillies, halved and seeded (vary to taste)
• One pint of vegetable stock
• Squeeze of tomato purée
• Two dessert spoons of Worcester sauce
• 25ml of vodka
• 25ml of dry sherry
• Salt and fresh ground black pepper
• Pinch of sugar
• Optional dessert spoon of horseradish sauce
Roast tomatoes and chillies with the sugar, a little oil and some seasoning for 30 minutes at 200C, then blend with a little of the stock and the purée. Pass through a sieve into the rest of the veg stock and stir together while heating. Just before serving, stir in the alcohol and Worcester sauce. You can serve this with a stick of celery if you’re being fancy. Just leave out the alcohol for a Bloodless Mary soup, which is also very pleasant.