As I'm sure you all know, there are some dangerous types on the internet. We've all heard horror stories about foolish types who have been too trusting and got themselves into a pickle with a stranger that they've met online.
With this in mind, I was suitably cautious when posting a Gumtree advertisement for a new flatmate in January 2009. I waited anxiously, having described in detail the available room and my personality, hoping that I would get a response - preferably from someone on the right side of sane.
When I answered a call one afternoon, from a breathless and excited woman, I didn't realise that this person would become one of the most valued and admired of my friends, someone that I would grow to love, and to consider one of my very best friends.
I showed Gemma around the flat as she sold her personality to me in what I later recognised as true Gemma style: effectively and without pause for breath.
She moved in with me a few weeks later, and history was made.
Gemma and I live separately now. We both moved in with our lovely boys earlier this year: she stayed in East London with her man - and I moved to North London with Mr Meat.
So nowadays, we obviously don't see each other as much as we did when we were flat mates. I know though, that we share special bonds with those with whom we have lived, and I still feel very close to my friend Gemma. For this reason, I know that I will be weeping with happiness for her and her new husband when she gets married next year.
I wish them both every happiness, and hope that their future is the place of sunshine and laughter that they deserve.
A few months ago, I had Gemma over for dinner. I cooked her an aromatic fish soup, with apple tarts for dessert. She was kind enough to compliment it, as she is always kind about my food, and asked how to make it herself.
Here's the recipe, a special treat fish soup. You'll need a food processor, stick blender or MagiMix for this one, sorry!
Gemma's fish soup.
(From Nigel Slater's Appetite - my favourite book)
For the spice paste:
1 or 2 chillies
2 or 3 cloves of garlic
An inch of root ginger
About 2 stalks of lemongrass
A few coriander seeds
A handful of fresh coriander
1tsp ground turmeric
A glug or two of sunflower oil, (or something else with no flavour)
And the rest:
500ml stock, (make it homemade or very good quality, this dish relies on a tasty stock)
1 tin coconut milk
About a teaspoon of Nam Pla, (fish sauce)
A handful of mint
1 medium sized piece of cod, or similar white fish
Enough noodles to feed you
1pkt of king prawns
Prepare the bits and bobs for the spice paste. Halve and seed the chillies, peel the garlic, peel the ginger, chop it up and slice the lemongrass into disks. Throw it all into the food processor with the rest of the ingredients for the paste. Don't forget a few glugs of oil to lubricate it all and to let the blade spin properly - but not too much!
Once blended, the paste will be a beautiful, rich shade of green:
Put a deep saucepan onto a high heat and fry half of the spice paste, (put the other half in the fridge for another time), moving it around the pan. After a couple of minutes, throw the stock and coconut milk in there and bring it all to a boil. Turn the heat down and allow the soup to simmer for about ten minutes.
Meanwhile, cook your noodles according to the instructions on the packet, and cut your cod into bite sized pieces. Once the soup has simmered for its allocated time, add the fish and then the prawns. Remember that they don't need long to cook, just a couple of minutes.
Season the soup with salt, lime, the fish sauce and the mint leaves, divide the noodles into bowls and ladle the hot soup over the top. It will be delicious and aromatic.
This is not a frugal supper. It's a very special treat.
Congratulations on your engagement, Gemma and Gary!