Tag Archives: sugar

Me against the elements

There’s taking things too far and there’s taking things too far. This story falls into the second, more literal category. But at least it has a happy ending:

The well-travelled cake

The well-travelled cake

I was merrily creaming butter and sugar in preparation for this, Nigel Slater’s lush peach and blueberry cake. My wilted peaches, the cake’s raison d’être, sat expectantly on the kitchen surface. They were in urgent need of a botox injection but settling for some oven-based TLC. Then, as I twiddled the oven dials to warm it up to receive my culinary efforts, it became apparent that nothing would get baked that day.

I’m no stranger to temperamental elements going ele-mental, nor to the heartache they can cause the keen cook. I knew then with grim certainty that me and the oven would be out of action for a good two weeks. I would have two weeks to apportion blame, wondering forlornly whether one can cook too much and overwhelm a kitchen appliance, or whether said appliances are primed like bombs to self-destruct at regular (in my case six-month) intervals for the manufacturer’s pecuniary delectation. Now was the time for action. I had two severely compromised peaches whose lives only I could save from being futile. I had to do something.

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May contain nuts

Why is it that whenever I offer anything up for human consumption I have to voice a loud disclaimer before people tuck in? Am I alone in this self-sabotage? I know I can’t be, because I learnt this bad behaviour from my mum, whose verbal apéritif to anything she’s prepared is flavoured with tremulous uncertainty. I in turn have become a similar kind of Hugh Grant figure in the kitchen, babbling self-justification and wobbling like jelly as soon as I have to share my creations.

Even when I invite unsuspecting friends in for a simple cuppa, I can’t seem to get by without exclaiming in surprise at the lack of clean mugs instead of giving the offending crockery a surreptitious cosmetic rinse, or voicing my misgivings over how long we’ve had that bottle of milk instead of keeping schtum. And heaven help me if I’ve run out of biscuits to offer round.

Worse still, when I bring homemade goodies into work, my colleagues have to endure the long and tedious back story that comes with them. Before tucking in, they must listen patiently to my concerns over whether I used the right type of cream cheese for the frosting on those muffins, whether that cake could have done with an extra five minutes in the oven, and whether we’ll notice that I forgot to add the sugar to that tart. Sometimes I’ll announce that I’ve brought in a treat, then dash everybody’s enthusiasm by adding that I don’t think it will be very nice, leaving my guinea pigs wondering in exasperation why I bothered in the first place. Happily, advertising wasn’t my career of choice, though God knows applying a little brand management to my products wouldn’t do any harm.

Some people have the chutzpah to present their food without untoward comment, sensibly leaving the recipients to judge the results for themselves. These people also have the quiet cunning that turns tragedy into opportunity – burnt brownies are deftly trimmed of their offending edges and dusted with sugar, sunken cakes are levelled off and elaborately iced, and dry sponges are swiftly doused in booze, plunged into softly whipped cream, sprinkled with nuts and berries and transformed into a decadent dessert, with no one any the wiser.

It’s a simple concept, yet so difficult for transparency-crazed neurotics like me to follow in practice. For example, if you come for dinner at mine we won’t say grace. Instead, before every meal I’ll bow my head and religiously repeat the words, ‘Here it is, I’m not sure if it’s OK or not. If you don’t like any of it, just leave it, I won’t be offended’ – the better to dampen any appetites that have been prematurely whetted.

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Czeching out the local grub

We’ve just spent the Easter weekend in Prague, and what an unexpectedly delectable trip it turned out to be. Even the humdrum hotel breakfast had dense bread rife with pumpkin seeds (bread that went some way to excusing the square sheets of yellow rubber, glistening pink ham and dubious-looking pâté laid out for us to put on it).

I’d been told that eating out in Prague is tricky – any place on a main road is to be avoided, bills need to combed acutely for mysterious additions and special tourist prices sometimes apply. Our Czech friends gave it to us straight: if they don’t smile at you as you enter, turn around and walk back out. Luckily, they also gave us a list of fail-safe places to try.

First up was a museum café, Klub Arkitektu. I was expecting a National Trust-style clattering canteen and imagined us in a queue holding wet trays, waiting for ladles of hot food, then choosing from a stodgy selection of solid-looking cakes before reaching the till. (You never know how close others’ version of ‘a nice meal’ is to your own unless you’ve eaten out with them, and in the case of these friends, we hadn’t.) However, I was proved decidedly wrong when we walked into a trendily furnished, dimly lit, low-ceilinged stone cavern and were served two hearty courses each for ₤16 all-in: a pungent cream of garlic soup with smoked cheese on toast and honey and almond cake for me, a spicy and tender beef goulash with (the first of many helpings of) dumplings, then apple strüdel for my date.

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No sugar, Sherlock

So despite the glossy mags’ regular fawning over every press release claiming to be a miracle-worker for the heavier-bottomed among us, the truth has finally, er, outed. There is no quick fix for losing weight. Well duh.

I’m no stranger to the surge of hope these articles generate at times of self-disgust or post-prandial regret, nor the wave of surprise and prick of curiosity that the approved foods listed consist of more than alfafa sprouts, linseed and the obligatory ‘handful of nuts’ snack. But I’m also far too familiar with the suspicion and growing disappointment felt when, once committed to said diet, you’re weighing out 100g of granola and realise you’re staring at starvation itself. And I seem to be the only person on first name terms with the ‘small potato’ – it’s real identity is always, always revealed as a new potato and makes you want to weep for the casually cruel euphemisms bandied about by magazine editors.

I once decided to detox my body in order to lose half a stone in three days and kick-start a new way of living, as recommended by Mireille Guiliano in French Women Don’t Get Fat. To do this, Mademoiselle Guiliano advised me to boil up a large pot of leeks and eat portions of the leeks and the cooking liquid at regular intervals for three days. AND NOTHING ELSE. I dutifully trotted off and bought two kilos of leeks. Later that day, my housemates returned to a house floating on a cloud of leek-scented steam (and a faintly manic housemate).

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