You know when you’ve had a really nice meal and you think, “There’s no way I could make that at home”? That’s me after every nice meal I’ve ever had.
But not this week. As my wife and I are going to relax and watch the final episode of a show we’ve been following, something special is required. I’ve remembered some spiced meatballs we once really enjoyed. We even looked at each other at one point and said, “These are great spiced meatballs!” I have therefore arrogantly decided not just to recreate the recipe entirely from memory but also to completely ad-lib the spices.
This is not me at all. I’m a recipe-follower. But when there’s no recipe, I suppose you have to open the menu of your heart. This phrase is available for T-shirts.
So I buy 12 meatballs and I get the rogan josh paste and I find some plum tomatoes, and I begin. Everything goes brilliantly for a bit. And then I remember the spices.
I imagine there was some kind of curry spice. So I find some curry powder and add that. I reckon it probably used turmeric, because you hear a lot about that in the papers these days, so I find some turmeric too.
And then I spot the ingredient in the cupboard that will make everything absolutely brilliant. Crushed chilli.
As I say, I like spice. My wife does not. But this chilli will bring the perfect amount of heat to my ace meatballs, and I’m tonight’s chef, so that’s that.
So I twist the bottom of the jar several times to release some spice. I do it wildly and extravagantly, like a brilliant but troubled French chef. But it doesn’t seem like much has come out. So I give it another few twists. It’s weird. It’s definitely doing something, but I can’t see the chilli. So I turn the jar over and realise that the small plastic cap is still on. I roll my eyes and flip it open, and as I do, a lot of chilli comes out.
I yelp slightly. Not because there’s too much chilli – as I have said there is no such thing as too much chilli – but because the chilli has landed more or less exclusively on one meatball in particular.
I can’t have this. So I start to stir the meatball into the sauce, attempting to spread the chilli out a bit and take off some of the heat, but all this does is cover that meatball in sauce and cement the chilli in and before I know what’s what, I’ve lost track of the meatball.
“No!” I think, grimacing. “Which one has all the chilli in the world?!”
The reality of the situation hits me fast. I have created a Danger Ball. A Death Ball. Tonight’s relaxing dinner will instead be a high-stakes game of Meatball Russian Roulette!
Should I tell my wife? NO.
I don’t want to ruin her dinner, even though I might just have ruined her dinner with excess chilli.
But I tell myself that with six meatballs apiece, there is only a 50 per cent chance that my wife will receive the Danger Ball.
So I pretend like nothing has happened. Because nothing might happen! I quietly hand her a bowl.
“Looks great,” she says.
I glance nervously from my bowl to hers. All the balls look the same. And so begins not a relaxing evening as intended, but instead the most tense dinner of my life.
A culinary mind-game. We switch on the telly but I can’t concentrate. Every time she plants her fork in a meatball, I cringe and think, “Is this it? Is this the Danger Ball?”
I have visions of phoning the emergency services and yelling, “Wife down! Wife down!”
She eats a meatball. Nothing happens. I eat one. It is also fine.
Soon she’s on her third. What has that done to the odds? I have been matching her ball for ball. And while there is some sense of relief after every meatball misfires, the psychological tension spikes sharply a moment after each innocent meatball passes the test.
And then, as we reach the fourth ball, I bite mine – and…
“What’s wrong with you?!” she says, looking at me aghast.
“Bit spicy,” I gasp, reaching in a panic for one of the two pints of water I’d brought to the sofa as protection, and my eyes start to water a bit and I think there’s a chilli flake stuck in my throat. Oh God. Oh my God this is the Danger Ball.
“Are you OK?” she says, pausing the show, as I do that flappy thing with my hand, as though that will cool it down. “What happened?”
And so between great gulps of water, I explain. I explain how there was a Danger Ball but that I selflessly took it for my own. I did it to protect her, I say, as I know how much she hates spice. And I am a fan of spice, and I thought I had a chance of handling it, but that I was wrong. And that if there was one thing I was not willing to do, it was to risk exposing her – my wife! – to the Danger Ball.
She looks at me as though I am the greatest. I click Play.
“Hang on,” she says. “Why didn’t you just throw it out?”
“Ssssh,” I say, not sure if I’m sweating because I’ve been caught or because I’m soon to pass out from chilli toxicity.
“The show’s on.”
Read the Danny Wallace archive here
Get ShortList Daily straight to your inbox for free
Get exclusive shortlists, celebrity interviews and the best deals on the products you care about, straight to your inbox.