Monthly Archives: February 2015

The flavour of disingenuity

I have something to say about the tax evasion/avoidance debate that has been clogging the airwaves recently. Lord Fink says he does ‘vanilla tax avoidance’ – the sort of thing that ‘everybody’ does. Avoidance I believe is legal and evasion illegal. Good to know.

But what I object to is his use of the term ‘vanilla’ to describe something as bland and unremarkable. Vanilla bland? It’s downright punchy! One long black pod will flavour your whole jar of sugar and you can top it up for a year without losing any of its heady aroma. Tax avoidance of that flavour would surely get you noticed by the authorities …

Here, incidentally, is the photo I couldn’t get uploaded last time – my elegant offerings …well maybe in retrospect they look like a bundle of bones. That’s not a bad thing is it? I like the story of the valley of the dry bones P1010982– new life and all that. Maybe I should make another batch of breadsticks for Easter – reclaim it from the chocolate bunnies. Or better still, have the dry bones as well as the chocolate bunnies. You can tell it’s getting late, time I went to bed and stopped rambling. However watch this space for Lenten and Easter culinaria.

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Pretentious? Moi?

I’ve just had a change of computer equipment and somehow it isn’t reading my photos. And somehow without a photo I’m finding I can’t write. But this is ridiculous so I’m going to try and paint you a word-picture, and tomorrow I’m going to try and get someone to help me figure out the photo problem.

So, picture it, there we were on Saturday night – Tom, Hilda, Dave and me – round my kitchen table. Jolly as you like. And I had made breadsticks, from James Morton’s great book on bread-making. And I thought they looked enchanting. So I tied them up in a luscious black ribbon from a Jo Malone purchase made in more prosperous times … and presented them to the assembled company. Clearly, they all thought I’d lost it.  Me who likes things rustic and real. But there you go, we all have our little vanities. We ate them with a hummus variation, and tzatziki, and olives. All very peasant-worthy, apart from the Jo Malone ribbon. Hey. Get used to it. And tomorrow, all being well, I’ll be able to show the photo, and I bet if it was you who made them, you’d tie them up in a ribbon too!

Cooking by Numbers

Like most country girls of my generation, I learned to bake at a young age. Baking was seen as one of the skills you needed in adult life – and moreover, it was prized as an art and a science, and something to be taken seriously. I could turn out a fine tray of shortbread by the time I was twelve.

As the years went by, and my life didn’t quite take the shape my mother had anticipated for me, baking became less urgent, more of a pastime; and while the farmers’ daughters of my generation baked their recipes into their very bones, I have always had to look it up in a book – even if it’s a cake or a scone or a biscuit I’ve made many times before.

Many years later I met an old friend and we got into sharing our baking exploits. I asked her for a particular recipe and she said something along the lines of ‘6 – 6 – 3 – 2’. What??? I was confused and she looked at me pityingly: ‘Six of sugar, six of marg, three of sugar, two eggs.’ Well! How convenient, I thought – it was like learning a new language.

However languages need to be practised to be learned thoroughly, so my fluency never reached advanced levels. And then metrication took hold – pints and pounds and ounces were replaced by litres and kilos and grammes, and gradually I submitted to the new order. And 6 – 6 – 3 – 2   doesn’t work so well in metric. 170 – 170 – 85 – 2? It doesn’t readily trip off the tongue, does it?

Yesterday I wanted to make a sponge cake – fatless, the classic way – and the only recipe I could find was in my ancient Be-Ro baking booklet, purchased for me by mother when I was 14, at the cost of two empty flour bags and one and sixpence in postage stamps. And the recipe was in ounces! Not a gramme in sight.

I made the sponge – it turned out light as a feather – and split it horizontally, filling it with my Seville Orange Curd and creme fraiche. Yes, it was just as gorgeous as it sounds – sharp and fruity and not too sweet, with a nice textural contrast between the sponge and the filling. I was a happy hostess. And I can faithfully report to you that in the matter of sugar, flour and eggs, the answer you are seeking is:

3 – 3 – 2.

Bless This House

I had a lovely event to cook for yesterday. Vera’s house purchase has just been confirmed so seven of us gathered to bring goodwill on her and her home. She wrote (or maybe adapted, from a book by John O’Donoghue) an inspirational liturgy – here’s a brief taster:??????????????????????????????????????

‘May God give  blessing to this house and all who come here:

Both crest and frame, both stone and beam,

Both foot and head, both gate and door…

… both young and old, both wisdom and youth

both guest and host, both stranger and friend…’

Then we went round the house depositing various objects relevant to that room. My favourite was the bar of soap for the bathroom, ‘for fragrance and opportunity for fresh new beginnings’ – the soap, by Lush, was labelled ‘Sexy Peel’!! And there was a big tub of snowdrops with a prayer for ‘resilience in winter’s cold, and the promise of spring.’ Resilient R Us, this bunch of friends, we’ve been through a lot together.

Then we had lunch – Joseph’s famous vat of prawns and avocados; my Aubergine 10345763-close-up-of-hazelnut-in-cracked-nutshell-on-the-white-background[1]Parmigiana with home-made Focaccia, a nice green salad, and a big cake I’d made for the first time on Saturday, from the River Cafe Easy book – Hazelnut and Espresso Chocolate Cake.  When I was buying the ingredients, I eschewed ready-ground hazelnuts and did as the recipe said – ‘roast the hazelnuts then rub the papery skins off before grinding in food processor.’ I underestimated the time it would take to rub the pesky skins off, and wondered whether there might not be a good living to be made for anyone willing to sit rubbing nuts between her palms for half an hour at a time.

Anyway it was all a great success and there wasn’t much left over by the time we’d all had our fill. More people should bless their homes, I think. We’re taking bookings!