Monday, 14 November 2011

Ding Dong, stressed woman calling

It just gone 6 o' clock on a Monday evening in November. It's pitch black already and just nine degrees above freezing. All I want to do is get some unattractive pyjamas on and sit with a duvet and a mug of turkish delight flavoured hot chocolate (my latest addiction) but that's not possible for at least a couple more hours, for soon I will have to go out on my round as a "lady" who sells brochure based cosmetics and perfumes.

I started working for this well known company- you know the one, they ring lots of doorbells- last month, in an attempt to raise some much needed Christmas money. So far I have earned £15 for myself, despite posting brochures through 180 doors. Anyone who thinks this is an easy gig is wrong.

Think of this kind of work, and you may think of perfectly turned out 1950's ladies in smashing blouses demonstrating their powders, cold creams and scents to an audience of gingham based housewives. This company has been running for decades, and while you can't deny that the products are indeed smashing, I'm sure my predecessors would feel that the standard of the "ladies" selling them these days have gone slightly orf. By the time I do my round, I've already done a day at work, picked my daughter up from school and started making dinner. By this point I am not so much Doris Day as Waynetta Slob, and caking my face in perfect make up is pretty low down on the agenda. It's probably no surprise, then, that the orders haven't exactly been flooding in yet.

Also, I think I need to accept the fact that I'm pretty rubbish at sales. I have lots of marketing ideas but when it comes to good, hard selling techniques I feel a bit awkward about it. According to the manual all new representatives are given, there are some tips you should use to enhance your sales. One of them is starting conversations with strangers at the bus stop; e.g "That's a very nice lipstick you're wearing, have you ever considered buying from us?" (at which point you whip out a pristine brochure, special offer booklet and a swiss army knife of mini lipsticks and tiny perfume bottles). This plan is flawed for two reasons. Firstly, where I live, starting conversations with strangers at bus stops is far more likely to result in a punch in the face than a lipstick sale. If you're very lucky you might get off with a funny look and some whispering, but it's very unlikely anyone's going to buy anything from you on our local bus services other than bargain priced crystal meth or rohypnol. Secondly,the last time I had to dig around my handbag at an impromptu moment I found the following: a pen with no lid; a sweet wrapper; a wrapper-less sweet; an unidentified black thing; several receipts; some yellow business cards (they weren't supposed to be yellow) and two expired vouchers. The idea of me whipping out anything pristine and sales inducing is pretty far fetched.

And I haven't even mentioned the customers yet. Some are of course lovely. But others have ranged from frosty to downright Antartic, despite my very polite "please just leave the book by the front door with a note if you'd rather not receive any more brochures" letter. I'll only knock if people haven't left their books out- partly because there's the vain hope that they may want to talk to me about an order, and partly because reps have to pay for them and I need them back if I'm going to be able to recycle them around 180 houses. As someone who despises pushy door to door sales people I'm very respectful of people's right to say no, but this doesn't seem to matter to some people, and I've had everything from mild huffing to very shouty "NEVER COME BACK AGAIN!!". In addition to the angry, shouty people, there are the countless ones who lose/recycle/blow their noses on the brochures despite the very clear, polite requests to leave them outside if not needed. And then there's the very nice lady who did make a £55 order, but paid me half of that in coppers.

Now it's getting darker, it's even more of a challenge. With most houses not having outside lights you have to rummage a bit to see if they've left the book by the door, and I am becoming increasingly aware that I could be easily mistaken for a burglar and hit over the head with a golf club or eaten by an angry dog. Last week I knocked on someone's door because they hadn't left their book out, and after much curtain twitching and the slow opening of a creaky door, a woman with one eye appeared , her good side flickering with blue light from the telly. Fortunately I was already shivering so much that she probably didn't notice me jump, but when she said "you frightened me to death knocking the door in the dark!" I nearly said "I frightened YOU to death? Hello!!", pointing at her one eye. Happily, I didn't.

I'm sure I'm not the only frazzled female who's doing this on top of a million other things and is far from the perfect painted ladies of the 1950's. I'll carry on for a few more weeks, but I'm pretty confident that this isn't going to be the way I make my millions. But I have got some very nice freebies, and if you want any doll's house sized perfumes, I'm your girl.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Who's that Trip Trapping Over my Twitter?

I can't claim to be either an expert, or a very high profile person, on Twitter- I've only been on for a few months and only have about 160 followers- but today my experience has stepped up a level and I feel compelled to write/rant about it. I have just been on the receiving end of a nasty little troll, which is something I thought was confined to Dom Jolly and other sometimes contentious Tweeters. I feel a bit like I've passed some kind of bizarre initiation ceremony now I've had my very own troll. Wonder if there's some kind of badge..

The reason for the trolling was that I "unfollowed" someone. I don't even remember how or when I started following in the first place, but, cursed with good manners and a need to please others, I've developed a silly habit of always "following back" when someone follows me. (This is starting to sound like organised stalking). This has proven to be a big mistake for two reasons- firstly, it's turned my Twitter account into another version of Facebook, and secondly people seem to get the right hump if you "unfollow" them.

One of the things I liked about Twitter at first was the anonymity that it can say whatever you like, and because you don't know a lot of the people on your list, you don't have to worry about getting funny looks the next day in the office/playground/ shop. I also liked the huge amount of people you can interact with, bounce ideas off and learn from, and the fact that you can choose whose comments fill your timeline. Every day I get to read the thoughts of 280 different people, ranging from the obligatory and brilliant Stephen Fry, to the Dalai Lama to the Big Ben Clock (who doesn't say anything other that Bong but is very helpful with letting you know how much of your day you've wasted staring at a computer screen). I love the variety, the fact you can keep up to date with what's going on in the world, and the probably immature and slightly ridiculous sense of satisfaction I get when someone off the telly replies to one of my tweets.

With Facebook there's an obligation to stay "friends" with people because most of the time you know them in real life; no matter how insanely, brain warpingly boring you find their comments about what mood they're in, what they've put on their toast, or how much ironing they have to do, it's very hard to delete someone from your friends list if there's a chance you'll have to face them the next day.  I have about 20 people I know in "real life" on Twitter, and about another 5 who I've grown to like so much that I forget we don't actually know each other, but the vast majority are people I never have, and never will, meet, so I thought it would be easy to disappear into the night. Or not. Apparently some people take it very personally if you do a runner, even if you'd never even recognise each other if you sat together on a bus.

Sometimes I "unfollow" by mistake, as I'm mostly using Twitter through my phone which is very temperamental and I'm a bit rubbish with technology. Sometimes I just do it because I find the things that some people say boring, annoying or offensive. Today was one of those days. This particular person had been filling my timeline for some time with increasingly offensive "jokes"- often involving violence towards, and humiliation of, women. Today he wrote about 9 tweets about what brand of chocolate he should use to stick up his (obviously imaginary) girlfriend's bottom. I'm far from prudish and love comedians who push boundaries and use satire. As someone who's followed, and defended, Chris Morris's work for years, I do "get" comedy that tackles difficult subjects and makes people feel uncomfortable. But Chris Morris he is not. Maybe I'm having an off day, but I just don't see the big joke in a "bitch" being anally raped by a chocolate bar. If this was real life I'd have given him a verbal what for, but this morning in Twitterville I just shook my head, tutted a bit and clicked "unfollow". Job done.

But here's the creepy bit.  Within a few minutes I had a very shouty, sweary comment from him asking who I thought I was. Apparently there's some kind of technology you can get that tells you when someone unfollows you, and who they are. This to me screams paranoia, self obsession and immaturity- who cares if someone takes you off their list? It's not like being dumped, get over it. I've been unfollowed a few times and although I did go a brief moment of "what did I do wrong?" it isn't exactly the ultimate rejection so I moved on pretty quickly. I write mostly about cooking, my love for Alan Partridge, current affairs and silly mistakes I make in daily life- this isn't going to suit everyone and I wouldn't expect it to. Mr Troll obviously wasn't able to be quite so sanguine about it and threw his toys not just out of the pram, but all over the nursery. Except with swearing and insults. Apparently I'm humourless, stuck up, stupid and frigid according to him and his team of little furry, wart ridden friends. Not sure what else has been said because now I've blocked him.

So, lessons learnt today:
1) in future, I'm only following back if people genuinely interest me
2) next time I unfollow, I'm blocking too.

If I do unfollow you, please don't cry/ jump off a building/ call me rude names- it might have been an accident. Or you might just be a really annoying, rude and unfunny blot on my Twitter who just needs to be a big boy and get over it. Now, where's my badge?.....

Monday, 17 October 2011

Tarantino Housewarming

Where I live at least, landlords who rent their properties via estate agents usually present their houses in a pretty good condition, often newly decorated and with new, or steam cleaned carpets. The property I moved into in 2000 was no exception, and although it was small, it was very well presented with gleaming (if magnolia can be gleaming??) walls and perfectly fresh minty green carpets throughout.
We had a few friends round, all offering housewarming presents of varying degrees of alcohol content- brandy, vodka, beer and wine. The wine was the problem, for I realised at 10pm that night when presented with another bottle of wine that there was no corkscrew in the house- not packed away in a box or at the bottom of a disorganised cutlery tray- as a 90's ladette I was a confirmed beer drinker, and had therefore never had need for one. The late 90s for me were spent drinking men under the table, swigging beer out of bottles and pretending to smoke. The idea of a corkscrew had never entered my head until that Saturday night, before the days of screw cap wine and 24 hour supermarkets.
My friend Sarah, who had brought the wine with her, was obviously more sophisticated than me and very keen to get into the first bottle of rioja. Without the luxury of a corkscrew, and never one to be beaten, I decided there must be another way to crack it open so collected a selection of implements- pen knife, meat  skewer, kitchen knife, scissors- and lay them out on the side of the sofa like a surgeon about to conduct a very haphazzard and probably illegal operation. Why I thought the living room was a more sensible place than the kitchen is unknown, but I did, and determinedly began poking and prodding in an attempt to remove the cork. The pen knife was too small, the kitchen knife nearly resulted in the loss of my leg and the scissors were too fiddly (this was turning into an alcoholic version of Goldilocks) so I moved on to the meat skewer. By this time the cork was obviously starting to feel the effects of the poking, and the final stab was one step too far.

A slightly less gruesome version of what my front room looked like   

Before I could poke any further, the cork gave in and the wine exploded, with me sitting on the sofa covered in red wine from head to toe. It was all over my hair, my clothes, the sofa, and the wall. The newly painted magnolia wall. After the initial shock, then hysterical laughter of everyone else, I got up to see the wall and ceiling looked like a scene from a Tarantino film- blood red wine, flecked with lumps of brain matter-esque cork was splattered across the previously immaculate surfaces, with a clear magnolia stencil of the woman who had been sitting there minutes before. That scene in Pulp Fiction where Marvin's head gets blown off in the back of the car? This was it, but with wine instead of blood. As it turns out, red wine is just as difficult to remove from paint as blood, and several paint jobs later it was still visible when the light was on. We never did get our deposit back on that place.


Monday, 3 October 2011

I bet Michelle Obama has got a hand whisk

The disastrous baking episodes are still alluding me at the moment, and I made Rosie a more than passable birthday cake this year. It's starting to anger me slightly now.

Go from this..
When I say passable, I mean not disgusting, I'm under no illusion that I'm suddenly going to be crowned Queen Baker at the W.I, but I realise I must try harder these days to create disasters so will be attempting something meringuey this week. If that doesn't work it's all over. this...

If you've ever tried to whip cream using just a hand whisk you will appreciate that it takes a REALLY long time. Every time I' ve ever done it, I've nearly given up after about 10 minutes, but suddenly something miraculous happens and the previously runny liquid turns as if by magic into the holy grail that is described as "soft peaks". The other day, I was whisking the cream that was going to sandwich together the chocolate birthday cake and truly nearly lost the will to live.. After 8 minutes I had sweat starting to melt my upper lip and it still looked the same as it had when I opened the pot. It hurt. 9 minutes in, I was calling both the cream and the whisk very rude names.

Then I caught sight of my right arm, which, muscles flexed, looked really quite impressive. I liked it. Suddenly the pain became good pain, and as the soft peaks spectacularly and magestically appeared I wanted to start all over again- this time with my left arm. Soon discovered that, not being ambidextrous, the left arm would need a bit more practice as there was cream everywhere except in the bowl.

Later, I was left with not only a not disgusting cake but a pleasant, self satisfied "exercise ache" in my arms- the kind of ache that can make you feel quite smug, and allow you to convince yourself you're allowed a bar of chocolate because you went through the pain barrier earlier that day.

..with one of these
It made me realise that proper baking is probably really good exercise. All that wisking, kneading, stirring and folding is a real work out on the arms, and when you add the heat of a kitchen on a summery day I'm sure it's on a level with a zumba class for cardivascular exercise. My nan did lots of baking, and maintained a good pair of bingo-wing free arms well into her 70's- and when you think of round, flour faced grannies in aprons they're nearly always solid looking- huge, yes, but flabby? Not usually. So it got me thinking- who needs to spend money on expensive gym memberships when you could probably do just as well making a couple of cakes every day (as long as you get someone else to eat them). I think I might just set up my own little "gym" in my kitchen, and charge people £30 a month to join in. Even if the majority of my client's bodies may remain rotund, they'll end up rivalling Mrs O on the arm front.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

A (Molly) Coddled Egg is a tasty egg

I have recently purchased a pair of egg coddlers. Three weeks ago, I didn't even know what such an object was, but have jumped on the Vintage band wagon and started collecting mismatched cups and saucers, for making jellies and housing small plants. Ironically, I've recently got the living room looking quite themed and now I'm going for completely uncoordinated stuff (think it's a rebellion against uniformity or something). Anyway, heard that all the chicest vintage tea party eggs are cooked in coddlers these days, so decided to get one and try it out. Apparently they've been around since the 1800s, and the principle is similar to poaching- just in pretty little porcelain pots with silver tops.

The word "coddle" has been around since about 1598 and means "to boil gently", and this then led to the term "mollycoddle"- which means "to treat with an obsessive and absurd degree of indulgence and attention". Dictionary definitions of a mollycoddled individual have included "sissy", "pampered weakling" and "pathetic, ineffectual man" (Watch out Stephen Fry, I can do old fashioned words too). As a mother I have to suppress my quite strong urge to mollycoddle my child, but I figured that as an egg was going to be eaten anyway it didn't matter if it became a bit of a pathetic weakling, unable to live in the big wide world. At last I could totally smother something without the fear of it being bullied at school the next day.  

Anyway, here's how you coddle an egg. It's very easy, quite delicious, and makes you feel a little bit like a proper cook from the past. 

  • Boil some water in a pan
  • Butter the inside of the coddler and the inside of the lid 
  • Break the egg into the cup and season. You can also add other ingredients like cheese and bacon, which will come out in a little eggy parcel.
  • Screw the lid on and stand the coddler upright, with the water level halfway up.
  • Simmer for about 5 mins. 
  • You can eat them straight from the coddler with a spoon or arrange them artistically on top of something savoury

    Oh.. apparently there's this thing called Health and Safety that means I should tell people not to put the coddler WITH ITS METAL LID in the microwave...but you wouldn't do that anyway would you? Nope, thought not.

    You can buy coddlers in antique shops, car boots or on that online auction site I'm not allowed to mention. Mine cost 99p for the pair and are allegedly antiques (I would get them checked out but am a bit worried I'll be laughed out of the shop- they look a bit 70's to me). I think they taste better than poached, and they don't take any more time, so if you like eggs, and have an urge to obsess over something, my advice is give it a go.

    Saturday, 24 September 2011

    A Nightmare on Cambridge Street

    Ever tried to give eye ointment to a kitten? If you like impossible challenges and stomach churning gore, it may be for you. If not, don't even think about it.

    Three days ago, Lily, our four month old kitten, appeared on my lap looking like she was auditioning for a horror film, with a grotesquely swollen, bloody right eye. I won't go into details here because people will have come on thinking they're about to read something about food, but it was enough to take her immediately to the vets. He thought it was probably an infection, gave her a jab and administered some ointment. This would have been fine but I had to witness him poking, prodding, and pointing out to me what was going on inside the eye, which was one of the most repulsive things I have ever seen in my entire life. I don't do eyes.

    Despite all the probing and bunging stuff into her injured eyeball, she just sat calmly in his arms and let him do it, as he explained that we had to do the same at home twice a day. I later came to the conclusion that vets are hypnotists, and normal human beings cannot successfully give eye ointment to cats. Even with two of you, the only place that ointment is going is all over yourselves, the furniture, and possibly the ceiling. I can't say I blame her; being held down while someone pokes a plastic nozzle milimetres away from your painful eyeball cannot be a pleasant experience, but each time we tried we were beaten by her iron will and ended up shredded and desperate. By the fourth attenpt she took to hiding under the stairs for an hour, with a big lump of medicine hanging off her nose. Next day we went back to the vets and again he managed it without the slightest bit of hassle.

    The key here is clearly don't panic. I've had loads of pets over the years and spent probably thousands on pet medical bills and insurance, and have never once seen a stressed looking vet. Everyone I've ever encountered has been an oasis of calm, with an added dollop of "don't mess with me, cat". We've since attempted to take the same approach, swaddling her in a towel and just calmly, assertively going for it. She's getting better.

    But I'm still never going to be able to look at an eyeball ever again.

    Tuesday, 20 September 2011

    A serious post for a change- No Child Born to Die

     Thanks to my friend and fellow blogger, WelshWalesMam, I've just been on the Save the Children Website to read about their new campaign,  No Child Born to Die. Every year, 8 million children under 5 in the world's poorest countries die because of they do not have access to healthcare. I know it can seem like we are bombarded with such stories and in times of financial pressure it's easy to become de sensitised- but just think about that for a moment. No matter how bad things get for us here, we still have access to healthcare for us and our children. For those born into poverty, that basic right is not available.  
    My story..
    At age 6 I started coming home from school with different shaped and coloured bruises on my head. Upon further investigation it transpired that I was blacking out;  running along fine one minute, then going into a dream state and tripping up the next. Some days I’d be out cold for 10 minutes before coming to in the middle of the playground, dazed and confused. It was slightly alarming that nobody had paid any attention to my strange behaviour and egg shaped lumps on my head before, but this was the late 1970s and Health and Safety wasn’t so high on the agenda.

    Several trips to the hospital for brain scans (complete with sticky wires all over my head, connected to a beeping machine) later I was diagnosed with epilepsy by a paediatrician who always made my visits to the children’s ward fun- he’d put by toys and books especially for me, and even put on little puppet shows to make me laugh.  If this had remained undiagnosed, I could have been hit by a car, drowned in the bath, fallen off a climbing frame..  it’s quite possible that this doctor saved my little life. Had I been born in another country, I may not have been so lucky. My little girl is off school with a bug at the moment, but I can dose her up with Calpol and I know she'll be better in a couple of days- if we lived in East Africa, it could kill her. No mother should have to live with that constant fear.

    Here’s what you can do to help:

    2.       Help @Helloitgemma and @Michelletwinmum get 100 blog posts up by Tuesday 20th September by telling your friends, retweeting and sharing.. blog posts just need to be 100 words about the positive impact a health professional has had on you or a member of your family.

    Thanks to @welshwalesmam for sharing this with me.

    Monday, 5 September 2011

    Rosie, the birthday cow pat and the embarrassed poodle

    This one was quite nice. I didn't make it. 
    Soon, it will be Rosie's 9th birthday, and I expect I will bake a cake. Recent additions to my baking repetoire suggest that this year the cake may turn out ok, but previous years have not gone so well.

    I don't remember doing much baking for her first birthday, as she was only capable of eating mush and my cakes have always required an invincible set of teeth. Birthday number 2 was more memorable. My mother in law had given me an Australian birthday cake book, full of elaborate baked goods in the shape of castles, planes and football pitches, all cemented together with multi coloured buttercream and bejewelled with sweets.

    Apparently the designs, although impressively complex by appearance, were relatively foolproof so I embarked upon the chocolate Thomas the Tank Engine with enthusiasm. The added bonus of the cakes in this particular book are that they often don't require you to make them from scratch, and in some cases actively encourage you to use shop bought madiera cakes, swiss rolls, biscuits and chocolate fingers. The Airfix-esque approach to the instructions attracted her dad, who took charge of the construction of the engine (please don't get uppity about gender roles here, that would be silly given how generally dreadful I am at the whole domesticity thing), and he seemed to be enjoying his role in the celebrations.

    Having previously been incredibly dismissive of parents who bought their children's birthday cakes from the supermarket, it soon became evident that they probably had the right idea. By 10pm the thing still wasn't finished, and the kitchen looked like some demented teacher had decided to cross a home economics lesson with geometry- every surface was covered with cakey triangles, squares and rectangles- I think I even saw a sponge based dodecahedron at one point, but may have been hallucinating by then. Just before midnight we stood back to observe the train and it's fair to say Jane Asher didn't need to lose any sleep that night. The basic train shape was there, but the colour of the icing had a distinctly exra terrestrial glow, the jammy dodger wheels were falling off and the buttercream looked like gangrenous pus. All in all it wasn't especially appetising, but one of the best things about very small children is that they don't yet care too much about aesthetics and Rosie thought it was great- which only served to spur me on for following years. This is something she now regrets.

    Since then, we've had a luminous fairy castle with ice cream cone turrets and wine gum windows; a fire engine; a lop sided Tardis; a disfigured Spongebob Squarepants;  one very nice chocolate cake (from a supermarket- I was ill} and, last year, a giant puce cow pat. Obviously that wasn't how it had started out; it was supposed to be a delicate pink, heart shaped spongecake with raspberries on top, but the cakey biscuits/biscuity cakes phenomenon really came into its own this time. There may have been some timing and temperature issues and it's quite hard to make a heart shape out of a cow pat, although that didn't stop me trying.

    As with every other time I've made coloured icing, I overdid the food colouring- what had started out in my head as powder pink didn't translate well into reality and it ended up a sickly deep purple. The raspberries on top, which should have added that extra patisserie style glamour, just made it look even more absurd, and put me in mind of of one of those poor poodles who get dyed ridiculous colours by their owners. We always go out for dinner when it's someone's birthday, and take a cake with us, but by her 8th birthday Rosie had now become much more aware of aesthetics and embarrassment than when she was 2, and went into mild hysteria at the thought of being seen in public with something quite so, PINK. This cake could have been wonderful,  wanted to be dignified and special, but had been reduced to a laughing stock. A bit like my poor friend here...

    Add caption

    Keep calm and carry on

    This past week, while trying to make my usual disasters for your amusement, I have created one perfect chicken, leek and bacon pie, a tray of delicious flapjacks (ok, so a chimpanzee could make flapjacks) , a completely delightful red fruit and pear crumble (ok, so a chimpanzee etc etc) and a molto bene homemade pizza, complete with dainty sprigs of basil.

    For the first time in my life I have actually been disappointed that my baked offerings have been edible, and it's caused me to scratch my head and wonder what on earth is going on. The possibilities so far are:

    1. I've been abducted by aliens and replaced with a perfect housewife-this seems unlikely because I still have an airing cupboard rammed full of clothes that need ironing and my favoured method of tidying continues to be "bung things out of the way and hope nobody opens the door/looks under the bed". Think it's more likely that we watch far too much Doctor Who in this house.
    2. Sod's law- now I actually WANT to be bad at baking, I've lost my mojo
    3. Less stress brings better results- this would seem to be the most logical explanation. Now I've accepted my rubbishness with all things bakey and come to terms with the fact that I'm never going to join the W.I, I'm putting less pressure on myself. There are some situations where an element of stress can be good for you but baking isn't one of them- the more you panic, the more wrong things are likely to go. This has always been particularly true of me, and I don't cope well when the pressure's on- driving tests, exams and unprepared presentations at work have turned me into a wobbly, incoherent mess and I'm always better if I've had time to plan and stay calm.
    Chances are, there will be plenty more disasters to the meantime, however, I shall be basking in the glory of my perfect pie and polishing my halo.

    Saturday, 3 September 2011

    Depressed Sunflowers

    This is what happens to nearly all plants and flowers that come into my care:

    Could this be this the best ever representation of Van Gogh's state of mind...? I bet Brian Sewell wouldn't have thought of this.

    Friday, 2 September 2011

    There's nobody quite like Keith

    I recently bought 3 second hand Keith Floyd cookery books from a well known online book supplier that sounds like a rainforest or a big boned fighty lady. I was particularly pleased with one of them, which cost me the grand total of 70p including postage, especially when it arrived and I found it was signed by Mr Floyd himself-

    "to Jo- Jo,  love Floyd xxx" (there's also a little scribble of a wine glass next to it )

    Looking at this inscription I felt three things:
    1. Ridiculous and inappropriate excitement  (I may have sqeaked slightly)
    2. A tinge of sadness that he's not here any more, and that something so special could be sold for 2p
    3. Intrigue as to who Jo-Jo is/was, and whether she knew her book was to be posted off to a stranger In Buckinghamshire. Despite the likelihood that it was probably a 2 second meeting at a book signing, I decided that Jo Jo had been a glamorous, tousled, 40 something blonde who talked like she lived in an Agatha Christie novel and met him in a far away bar in the early 80's, where they spent the night dancing, drinking and tasting exotic food. Now, in her 70's, she lay back on silk sheets with a long cigarette and said to her handsome son (who looked remarkably like Keith) "I have no need for this book anymore, the memories of that stolen night will stay with til I die, sell it to someone fabulous who will love it forever"....
    And love it I do.

    In my humble opinion (and I accept that I'm not exactly an expert in this area) he was the best telly chef there's ever been.  I'm avoiding using the term "celebrity chef" because I remember him saying on Keith Allen's documentary, 'Keith on Keith' that he hated that phrase, and everything it stood for, and the whole idea of celebrity is quite depressing at the moment. But if we're talking about those who've had their own television programmes, it's all about Floyd for me. I really miss him.

    There are plenty of others I admire, and whose programmes I enjoy watching- Michel Roux Jr and Raymond Blanc probably my favourites at the moment, but I remember being fascinated by this brilliant, funny, charismatic and slightly bonkers man one cold, boring night in the mid 80s. Flamboyant is a word that gets over used when people talk about Keith Floyd, but with his wonky red bow tie, braces and loud, booming voice it's easy to see why they say it, and I was transfixed by him cooking on a rocking boat in Hong Kong, all flames and shouting and swigging rice wine.

    Jo-Jo's donated  book, "Far Flung Floyd" tells the story of that episode in Hong Kong, and his travels around the Far East- Malaysia, Vietnam and Thailand. Like him, it's funny, informative and makes you want to cook- AND feel like you can create something really impressive. That, for me, was the best thing about him- he spoke of food with passion, but was never elitist about it- he made mistakes and wasn't afraid to show them; he was a human being and his energy and enthusiasm were addictive.

    For someone like me,  he's the one telly chef who reminds me what it's all about. Cooking is about love and creativity and fun- I cook because I love it, and even if it goes wrong sometimes, nothing will stop me trying. I'm sure I'll never dish up anything anywhere near as good as he did, but as long as I have the ability to give it a go, I will.

    Thanks Jo-Jo, I love it.

    Saturday, 27 August 2011

    Don't mention the trifle

    Christmas Eve is my favourite day of the year, far better than Christmas Day, which is invariably grey, snowless and crushingly disappointing- spent wondering why I've just spent hundreds of pounds on a day like any other. Every year for as long as I can remember I've gone into a deep misery at about 4pm and vowed that next year it will be different; next year will be spent with a big group of people in the Scottish Highlands, and we'll all sing around a baby grand, getting drunk on mulled wine while our respective children make giant snowmen in a glittery white wonderland. Of course, so far, that "next year" has never come, and the reality of Christmas Day is the same bleak anti climax as every one before it.

    "A ray of hope flickers in the sky"? Not so sure about that, Johnny.. 
    I think it stems from childhood- by the afternoon, all the presents were opened, the best food was eaten, the boring, overbearing relatives who didn't like loud noises were round and Johnny Mathis was singing "When a Child is Born" in the background. To me, few songs are as melancholy as that one and still to this day its opening bars send waves of moroseness over me so severe that I consider changing my name to Ebeneezer.

    Christmas Eve, though- that's a different matter. It's the day before the apathy, the day when everything is still magical, full of hope, anticipation, excitment and sparkles. I have little routines on Christmas Eve that must be adhered to:

    1. The preparation of shapeless, chewy, usually burnt parcels of brown goo that I like to optimistically call mince pies
    2. The creation of paperchains that look considerably more professional at one end of the room than the other, loops  becoming progressively shoddy and misshapen according to how early in the process they were made
    3. Compulsory viewing of A Muppets Christmas Carol
    4. Stocking to be left by the fireplace and a carrot and glass of brandy in the kitchen for Father Christmas and Rudolph (Rosie stopped believing last year, but it's an important tradition- especially the brandy bit)
    Invariably the Christmas Eve routine is slightly pressurised given the fact that I still won't have done most of my present shopping, and will have to run around the shops alarmingly close to a nervous breakdown trying to find thoughtful but inexpensive gifts for about 20 people.  Last year I ended up in a Supermarket Sweep style shopping nightmare after meeting friends for a quick christmas drink at 12pm and accidentally still being in the pub at half past three before discovering the shops were shutting at 4pm. Admittedly the gifts I triumphantly handed over my credit card for at 3.58pm were not the most personal I could find, but I convinced myself that most people liked wine (apart from my teetotal cousin, who did look slightly angry).

    In addition, most of the cards that I will have written sometime in November, thinking how wonderfully prepared and organised I was going to be, will still be on the table in the front room and I will have to run round sticking those that are for people who live nearby through their letterboxes and putting the others in a "safe place" for next year (ie losing them forever).  Still, despite all the setbacks, I still manage to remain smiling and jolly throughout the whole of the Night Before Christmas, when the sky always seems full of diamonds and the air smells of warm cinammon, oranges and cloves.

    Then morning comes. Hopefully and naively, I always pull the curtains open sure that overnight a soft glittering carpet will have fallen from the sky, muffling everything with cotton wool comfort and turning the front garden into Narnia. Every year without fail the reality that this is not to be slaps me in the face like a wet flannel. There is never any snow, not even a token robin to make it look slightly festive, and the sun even manages to make its first appearance in weeks, just to be annoying. Ordinarily I love the sun, seek it whenever I can, but on Christmas Day I resent its very existence- it doesn't even have the decency to hide quietly behind  a snow cloud.

    We always do the presents first thing, and I still love watching Rosie open hers, which will have been waiting expectantly under the tree. After half an hour or so of sitting around in pyjamas and listening to carols it's always time to start on the dinner. Most years, my mum and Stepdad come round for Christmas dinner and I do a pretty amazing roast, so that bit's usually relatively stress free. Bizarrely, and uncharacteristically, I time my roasts with military precision and am even more particular about it on Christmas Day- have even been known to write lists and schedules for what bit should go in when.

    Now, I am aware that I have made several references to alcohol in this and some of my other posts, and would like to point out that I do not have a drink problem. I do, however, like a drink, and probably more so than often during the festive season. It's the only time of the year that I start early, and it's sort of allowed when there's so much of it about, and when you need red wine to make gravy, mulled wine for visitors, sherry for trifle...
    A couple of years ago, dinner was coming along nicely but I was a bit behind schedule with the pudding, which was going to be a traditional trifle. I'd got all the ingredients to make this the most spectacular trifle the world had ever seen- fresh fruits, proper home made jelly and custard, flaked almonds, posh amaretti biscuits, the best Devonshire cream, and sherry. I whisked, whipped and chopped til my right arm could have belonged to Madonna, and made decorations from strawberries and redcurrants that were to sit like jewels on the top. By this point, I was ever so slightly tipsy, and as such unable to properly judge the correct amount of sherry that is acceptable for a family pudding.  After several "just a bit more" conversations with myself I realised that the amaretti biscuits were at this point looking distinctly soggy, so bunged the rest of it the layers  on. It looked great, despite my slightly lopsided application of the fruity embellishments, but I couldn't help noticing that it did smell slightly like the man who sits outside the bus stop every evening. As usual, I went into ostrich mode and ignored it.

    Christmas Dinner was a triumph. Juicy turkey, perfect roast potatoes, sunset coloured pigs in blankets, home made gravy, crispy stuffing, all the veg. Everyone seemed impressed, and I was feeling really quite pleased with myself. Then I brought the trifle out. After an initial chorus of "wow, that looks lovely" type comments, my mum gave me a bit of a funny look- one of her "I'm worried about you" looks that usually preceded a lecture or a grounding when I was a teenager. Nevertheless I put my big silver serving spoon into the trifle, ready to serve up the first helping. Aside from the fumes that wafted up at me and caused Rosie to recoil, shouting "Mum, that stinks of wine!" ,  the most disturbing thing was the noise that emanated from it- not a delicate, appetising sound, but a loud, vulgar squelch that could have been either caused by severe flatulence or an embarrassing gynacaelogical condition. Rosie cackled and I shot her a look, then Dan asked how much alcohol I'd put in it- the look he got was even worse.  Having noticed that I was at this point unable to see the funny side- it was gone 4pm on Christmas Day and I was therefore in evil mode- Dan, my mum and Stepdad (Rosie didn't even take a bite, and even I couldn't insist on it, knowing that even a sniff would probably make her pass out) sat quietly pretending to enjoy a pudding that not only must have been 60% proof but sounded completely disgusting. As if by magic, they all became full amazingly quickly and were unable to finish their portions, while I, annoyed, sweaty from hours of cooking and quite inebriated,  was insistent that I would not only eat all of my own but theirs too, while mumbling something about ungrateful- hic- people who've just sat down and watched me - hic- slave away all day. It's been said on more than one occasion that I become slightly like Basil Fawlty when I'm cross, and there was a fair amount of slamming things and shouting at inanimate objects that went on when I cleared away the bowls.

    This year I will not be making trifle.

    Tuesday, 23 August 2011

    Lethal Potato

    I like lots of different films, for many different reasons. I can enjoy slapstick humour or foreign art house films depending on my mood or who I'm with, but guilty pleasures include popcorn action movies like Die Hard, Speed and Lethal Weapon. One of the scenes that's always stood out for me in Lethal Weapon 3 is the one where Mel Gibson and Renee Russo are comparing their battle scars- each of them shows the other a succession of increasingly gruesome scars as part of a bizarre seduction routine. It's something that's been done a few times in films- Jaws and Chasing Amy both had similar scenes, and often if film makers want to make a character edgy or dangerous, they'll give them a battle wound.  There's something mysterious, glamorous and dangerously sexy about scars, especially if they are accompanied by a tale of great bravery and excitement. According to Hollywood though, it has to be the right kind of scar (Brad Pitt in Inglourious Bastards- good, Freddie Kruger- bad).

    I have a scar that was the result of a painful injury, and it has been the topic of several converstations, but unfortunately it's neither glamorous or sexy. In fact  it's about as far from that as possible. It is in a very- erm- private place, and was caused by a baked potato.

    The exact circumstances of said injury are blurry in my mind, but essentially what happened was I was not very clothed (i.e naked) when removing a baked potato from the oven one evening and it all went a bit wrong. The most likely reason for my nakedness was that I was having a bath (I spend so much time in the bath I'm almost certainly half-mermaid) and lost track of time while listening to music from beneath a face pack, then couldn't find a towel when I realised dinner was burning. Whatever the exact chain of events, I remember there was smoke, and panic, and I opened the oven door to find a shrivelled black thing that once resembled a potato smouldering on the bottom shelf of the cooker.

    Once I'd got over the initial backdraft, I reached for the nearest thing i could find (a thin, entirely unsuitable tea towel) and took the tray out. At this point the degree of the unsuitability of this tea towel became apparent-  I may as well have just took the thing out with my bare hands as I burnt my fingers, did a bit of obligatory shouty swearing, and dropped the tin on the floor. Somehow, through some strange act of physics that I'll never understand, the potato didn't stay put on the floor but instead bounced up and hit me, full on, in what would be most politely described as the "lady bits".

    Few things in life can compare to the pain of being pelted in the most sensitive or areas with something that has just come out of a 200C oven. Clearly, you can't just put it under the tap so I ended up throwing cold water at myself until I'd stopped screaming and shouting inventive swearwords. A sensible person would have probably gone to A and E but 1) it was too embarrassing and 2) I'm not sensible, so dealt with it all myself and after a few days was able to walk without too much pain - although tight jeans were not an option for a good few weeks.

    It would certainly take a pretty talented film director to make this incident appear in any way mysterious or seductive. And unsurprisingly, this particular blog entry will remain photo free.     

    Saturday, 13 August 2011

    The sad tale of Mouse Merrick

    The urban dictionary's definition of a Domestic Goddess is:

    A female who excels at baking, cooking, cleaning-housework of all sorts. She loves to please and enjoys hearing compliments about her awesomeness around the house/kitchen. She may sew, knit, have domestic hobbies that come out well. She doesn't have to have children to be considered a domestic goddess.

    So, the true queen of the house doesn't just make perfect buns and look like she's just climbed out of a 1950's washing up liquid advert, she sews and is a skilled craftwoman too. Her home is full of crochet, cross stitch, embroidery, soft furnishings and lots of pink gingham, all lovingly created by her own fair hands.

    As with the baking, I like to convince myself I am good at crafts. Actually, I am ALRIGHT at them..some of them. I do a good job at the school fetes and used to run family learning courses in my old job- kids and their parents used to go away happy with their scrapbooks, modelling clay Pingus and stained glass angels- they probably fell apart as soon as they got home, but they went away happy and that was the main thing.

    I get bored quickly with craft activities and the end result is always better from a distance than up close (a bit like me in fact). I made my own kitchen curtains, which are pretty good until you really examine them and realise they're wonky at the bottom, and the house is full of abstract art, mosaics and clay trinket pots all created on rainy afternoons. When a new branch of the craft chain store (you know the one I mean) opened a few weeks ago in my town I was in heaven- it's an Alladin's Cave of shiny, fluffy, beady, bakey stuff and I had to try hard not to let myself let out little squeaks of excitement at every new aisle. I could have remortaged my house in there and still not got everything I wanted. For fear of bankruptcy I only got a few bits and bobs to try- a decoupage kit in the shape of a cat, some jewellery making stuff and a cuddly mouse making kit that I bought because I thought it would be something Rosie and I could do together, and she kept nagging me to get it.

    This is how it was supposed to look
    £40 and an unexpected additional purchase of polysomething cuddly toy filling later we went home and started on the cuddly mouse. I say we- Rosie took one look at the instructions, decided it looked too much like hard work and went off to play on her Playstation- I was left sat on my own, examining all the different components of said mouse and wishing I'd just bought another bracelet kit instead.

    Now, I am not about to sit here and say the intructions that came with this kit were complicated; they weren't, and are so readily available in the aforementioned shop that I would show myself off to be more than a little bit bakward were I to pretend otherwise. But I HATE instructions, probably because I am not very good at being told what to do, even when it's by a little sheet of paper with a diagram on it, so decided, as usual, that the thing looked pretty simple so I wouldn't bother with them. The picture on the front of the packet would be enough and I could easily work the rest out for myself.

    I don't know how long the average domestic goddess would take to make a small cuddly mouse complete with whiskers, cute twitchy pink nose and a fluffy white tummy, but after about 20 minutes I'd sewn mine up and all that was left to do was stuff it- literally and metaphorically, so it turned out. There were a few issues with the front/tummy panel, which I think I might have put in upside down, and I lost the button eyes down the back of the sofa and didn't want to risk going in to rescue them for fear of what else might be lurking down there, but I improvised and it was starting to take shape. Ish.

    I didn't really know how much stuffing you're supposed to put in these things, so kept going til it felt "pleasantly plump" (clinically obese). Having stuffed the body the head looked a little bit wonky and hollow, so it seemed sensible to put a but of filler up there too. I hadn't factored in the pre- cut eye holes, which now had yellow foamy stuff seeping out of them and were starting to look slightly horrific. Ever the optimist, I remained certain that it would all work out ok in the end and sewed the rest of it up. I found some thick wool that worked as replacement eyes and at least covered up the brain matter that had been poking through and stood back to admire my work.

    Sadly, the mouse looked near to death, and would have not been out of place in a freak show- probably in jar held by a lady with a spectacular moustache. Its left ear was about 6cm lower than the right one, which considering the mouse itself was no more than 20cm from top to bottom was quite disturbing to see, and it seemed to have an unfeasably large brain. It certainly looked nothing like the cute, fluffy thing on the instructions and had more in common with the elephant man than the photo on the packet.

    Rosie took one look and burst out laughing, and the cat sniffed it suspiciously before slinking off with that weird sideways walk they do when they've seen something terrifying. I, however, have grown strangely attached to this poor unfortunate creature that I have named Mouse Merrick, after poor misshapen John, and he now sits proudly on top of the bookcase- just incase we get any persistent door to door salesmen who need scaring away.

    Monday, 1 August 2011 a dropped pie

    I have a friend whose favourite insult is "she/he's got a face like a dropped pie". Obviously this isn't a very nice thing to say about someone but it is quite brilliantly descriptive. I know exactly what a dropped pie looks like and I certainly wouldn't ever want it to be compared to my face.

    As I mentioned before, I'm good at savoury stuff- unless it involves pastry. Having attempted pastry making on many occasions and ended up on the verge of a breakdown almost every time I've vowed never to do it again- far too stressful and fiddly. (We are talking about simple shortcrust here. the puff variety could drive anyone to complete insanity within half an hour). Plus, I've watched  enough TV chefs to know that you don't actually HAVE to make your own all the time, so it's fine to buy it in a neat little rectangular block. Really.

    Anyway, one day I really fancied a chicken and bacon pie, and spent ages shopping for the ingredients. I bought the nicest, leanest pancetta and plumpest, corn fed chicken thigh fillets, trailed the market for fresh thyme and leeks and even picked a bottle of Marsala (thanks Nigella). This was gonna be some tasty pie.

    I got home and got started. Recently married and with a small daughter, I was really going hell for leather on the whole homecooking thing. It was, still is, really important to me that Rosie gets decent food instead of living off junk, and from an early age she's helped me cook. On many occasions it would have probably worked out better if I'd let her prepare the whole thing herself.

    I took out my perfect rectangle of shop bought pastry and thought what a shame it was to ruin it by rolling it out- but did it anyway. Strange forces must have been at work on this occasion because I took heed of the recipe and baked it blind, before adding the filling. Getting a bit cocky with myself at this point, I lovingly arranged the remaining pastry into an elaborate lattice effect topping and stood back to admire my work of art. Within about an hour I had what smelled like the perfect pie. I peered apprehensively through the oven window, scared to look, and was amazed to find it looked great too. The lattice top was golden, with creamy, mouthwatering filling oozing up in little diamonds. I was so proud and relieved I almost cried.

    What happened next was such a cruel act of fate that I can hardly bear to think about it. It was mid September, and still warm outside. There are two things in life that I'm scared of- clowns and daddy long legs. I know the daddy long legs thing is ridiculous (can't say the same about clowns- everyone knows they're evil) because they are so small, and much more scared of us that we are of them, blah blah blah, but I hate the way they float grotesquely through the air, stupid dangly legs trailing behind them, and go straight for your face. I'd left the door open as these were the days of my old kitchen, before the extractor hood came along to suck up all the nasty smells and smoke, and hadn't made the connection that September + open door + lights on= daddy long legs attack.

     Just as I was gently lifting my proudest culinary achievement out of the oven with my gingham oven gloves (I may also have been wearing an apron to complete the cliche) three of the hateful floaty six legged demons headed straight at me in formation- like a nightmarish version of the Battle of Britain flypast. I instantly shrieked and dropped the pie dish on the floor, as its steaming hot innards oozed over my foot. I didn't even consider how much it hurt to have something that had just come out of a 200C oven on my bare skin at that point, so bereft and bemused was I by what had just happened. I thought, for a moment, about scooping it all up and serving it, because it smelt so good and I was starving hungry and distressed, but within about 2 seconds the cat was attempting to eat it, even though it was burning his nose so much that he jumped away as if he'd been slapped in the face.

    A dropped pie is a sorry looking thing. It's broken pastry and splodgy, messy, runny filling weeping sadly onto the floor. It's miserable and desperate, and impossible to cure or dress up into something that looks attractive. Anyone who truly has a face like a dropped pie is probably incurably unhappy, bitter and a little bit twisted. And this is what makes it such a brilliant insult.

    Sunday, 31 July 2011

    Lemon Scrambled Egg Pie

    An ex boyfriend's mother, who was otherwise evil, used to make great lemon meringue pie. It was the only thing I liked about her; I found everything else hateful and irritating. She came from a council house in the East End of London (nothing wrong with that) but would have sooner cut off her own legs than let anyone else know that. She spoke with an affected, over the top posh voice that she forgot all about when she was angry. She used to come round my flat and turn the heating off, insisting that her son and I should "just put coats on". Nobody messes with my thermostat without a fight.

    Every Sunday I had the pleasure of dinner at her house. Despite her affected poshness she was married to an enormous orangutang of a man who used to punctuate conversation at the dinner table with huge, thunderous farts of varying putridity. This would have been bad enough in itself but the smells emanating from his gargantuan backside had to compete with that of his wife's soggy brussell's sprouts and cabbage, boiled beyond recognition until they arrived on busy floral plates, yellow and exhausted looking. I dreaded those Sundays for many reasons, but mostly for the fact that I knew I would spend at least half an hour having to hold back vomit.

    Her one saving grace was that lemon meringue pie. It seemed bizarre that someone who could so heartlessly murder innocent vegetables could produce a pudding of such perfection. The scent of it would fill the air as soon as it came out of the oven (god knows that was some achievement given the green mist it had to cut through) and she used to carry it ceremoniously through to the dining room where it would sit proudly on the table, perfect white and gold peaks crowning its delicate blonde head. If that pie had been a woman, she would have been a Californian beauty queen- tanned, highlighted and gorgeous.

     There would always be ice cream and two varieties of cream offered as an accompaniment (orangutang man would smother his in all three) and it was, as much as I hated its creator, absolutely heavenly. Soft, buttery shortcrust pastry filled with a luxurious, squishy yet firm, citrussy loveliness and topped with slightly chewy, crumbly meringue. It was a masterpiece.

    Having only recently left home, this was quite early on in my career as a domestic nightmare, and I was still filled with the enthusiasm, tenacity and naivety of youth. I decided to have a go at the recipe myself, partly because I fancied having a go but mostly because I knew it would annoy Mrs Evil if I managed to pull it off.
    I shall, friends, share this recipe with you now. This is how you're supposed to do it:


    Prep: 25 mins      Cooking 1 hour    Serves 4-6

    Short crust pastry made with 175g/ 6oz flour
    30 ml/ 2 tpsp cornflour
    50g/2 oz sugar
    Grated rind and juice of two large lemons
    150ml (1/4 pint) water
    2 egg yolks
    15g (1/2 oz) butter
    Meringue topping made with 2 egg whites, 75g/ 3 oz caster sugar and 1 tbsp granulated sugar
    • Roll out pastry on a lightly floured work surface and use it to line an 8 inch fluted flan dish
    • Prick well all over and bake blind at 200 C/gas mark 6 for 15 mins
    • Remove baking beans and return to the oven for a further 15 mins, until golden
    • To make the filling, put the cornflour, sugar and lemon rind into a basin and mix to a paste with a little cold water.
    • Heat the remaining water with lemon juice. Combine with paste and return to pan. Cook, stirring, until the mixture comes to the boil and thickens. Simmer for 5 mins.
    • Beat in egg yolks and butter. Cook on a low heat for a further minute then pour into flan case.
    • Lower the oven to 180C/gas 4
    • Put egg whites into a clean, dry bowl. Beat until stiff and peaky. (when you turn the bowl upside down, the whites should stay where they are)
    • Gently fold in caster sugar with a large metal spoon.
    • Pile meringue over lemon mixture and sprinkle with granulated sugar, then bake in the centre of the oven for 20-30 mins, until meringue peaks are pale gold.
    Well, as I said, that's what you're supposed to do. Any successful baker will tell you how important it is to be prepared, use the proper equipment and follow instructions to the letter.

    I, unfortunately, have never been great at following instructions and go through life convinced, even now, that if I cut a few corners everything will work out ok in the end. I know exactly why I'm such a disaster in the kitchen but this never stops me, so determined am I that things always work out ok in the end, and instructions are for losers.

    This lemon meringue pie incident was almost 20 years ago, but I remember exactly what happened and how it turned out. Essentially what appeared after over an hour of preparation and sweating was  scrambled egg pie with a hint of citrus. Imagine runny egg with a slightly sour lemon aftertaste and that pretty much sums it up. My method would have gone something like this:

    • Make shortcrust pastry. Realise you have accidentally added too much water and created something between home made playdough and wallpaper paste. Try not to panic and add more flour. Repeat flour/water process until there is a large plop of white stuff vaguely resembling pastry. Roll it out, trying desperately to stick together the cracks as you go.
    • Slop the "pastry" into a tin, having pulled out the entire contents of your kitchen cupboards and creating an assault course across the floor after realising you do not own a flan case.
    • Swear.
    • Look for baking beans or foil to bake the pastry blind. Upon realising there isn't any, decide it probably doesn't really matter that much.
    • Stare forlornly at the state of the kitchen floor and open a bottle of wine. Consume a whole glass in one go.
    • Grate lemons then mix the rind up with juice, sugar and flour (there isn't any cornflour but flour will probably do. Probably). Forget about adding any water.
    • After about 15 minutes (having forgotten to set the timer) remove tin from oven. Burn self in face due to leaning in too closely. Swear.
    • Inspect the "pastry", which has puffed up at the bottom but is still flat and cracked around the edges. Understand why people go on so much about baking blind.
    • Spoon lemon mixture into flan case, after repeatedly bashing the puffed up pastry with a spoon. Hope that the lemon mixture is heavy enough to weigh it down, which it probably is what with forgetting to add the water.
    • Make meringues. Miss the side of the bowl when cracking the first one and spill egg slime onto the worktop. Separate the eggs, deciding it doesn't matter that much if you can't properly get all the yolk out completely. Whisk until arm feels like it might fall off . Consider what might happen if the bowl is turned upside down at this point and decide against it. Stir in some caster sugar and hope for the best.
    • Slop "meringue" onto the top of the lemon mixture and put it all into the oven. God only knows what temperature it's meant to be at because the recipe is now covered in egg and flour.
    • Drink another glass of wine and think about washing up. Do not get any further than thinking about it.
    • After probably a bit too long, take the tin out of the oven, this time singing eyebrows slightly. Swear and nearly drop tin.
    • Inspect "pie" and swallow down the little bit of sick that has just popped up into your mouth. Try to convince self that it's meant to look like that- runny on top and burnt round the edges.
    • Serve to long suffering friends and family.

    I remember this day clearly as it was my first attempt at a proper pudding. I ended up close to tears at the state of this monstrosity, which I can still taste now if I think about it. Still, it didn't put me off, and I continue to try, but fail, at increasingly complex recipes. One day I WILL be a domestic goddess to rival Nigella...

    Friday, 29 July 2011

    In the beginning there was fire

    Thankyou for visiting me as I begin my latest project/fad/attempt at being multi talented.  This is my account of being a working mum who tries very hard to be a domestic goddess but gets it a bit wrong.

    I didn't learn to cook until I left home at 19. Until that point I believed all food stuffs came out of a tin or a box; my mum was the queen of convenience food way before the concept was even properly invented. I remember poking mysterious, polystyreney "noodles" from of a box around my plate, convinced they were space food. Even now she will amaze me with her inability/refusal to cook anything fresh, and recently phoned me up to say how wonderful it was that Iceland had started selling bags of scrambled egg that were microwave ready in 2 minutes.

    I almost burned the school down down at 13 during a home economics class. We were instructed to make a gooseberry fool, and I was concentrating so hard on pureeing my fruit in a large industrial looking blender that I completely forgot about the custard I had left on the hob. Five minutes later the class had to be evacuated from the room while smoke and flames billowed up from the shrivelled, coal like substance that was once meant to be creme anglaise. Five years later I almost killed my best friend by attempting to cook her chips- essentially raw slices of potato shallow fried in oil and water. Again, there were flames. 

    Because of this dubious start in gastronomic life, I was determined that in adulthood I would only ever cook proper, fresh food myself, and pride myself on the fact that no matter how hard you look, you'll never find a jar of ragu or sweet and sour in my house. When Rosie was born 8 years ago I was even more determined to become a domestic goddess , and the kitchen is full of cookery books and "homely" items like scales and gingham curtains. As a working mum and part of the "have it all" generation I feel a need to try harder than the other mothers at the school gates, most of whom don't work and have immaculate houses.     

    I am now a pretty good cook of almost anything savoury, and my macaroni cheese with leeks and bacon is legendary within the culinary hot spot that is Aylesbury (look it up). I love cooking and find it relaxing and therapeutic, but all feelings of calm and relaxation leave me if I attempt to enter the scientific world of baking. Whenever I attempt anything vaguely cakey, biscuity or sconey I end up feeling murderous and close to insanity, standing in my once clean kitchen red faced, demon eyed and covered in flour. If I try to cook biscuits they end up cakey, cakes turn out biscuity, and if I attempt to get clever and reverse the process I just end up with something that looks like it's been dug up.

    The point of this blog is to share my daily battles with domesticity, and remind working mums that it's ok to be a little bit imperfect. I will be sharing recipes, along the way that you may have more success with than I- and hopefully there will be a few laughs too.

    Yours cakily