Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Aga Dundee Cake

A thing I find a bit frustrating about having people round is Shy Guest Disorder. You know what I mean, the sort of people who come in apologising for something, (it's never clear exactly what), and then when you put food on the table they sort of take a nervous sideways glance at it, as if you had just put a large stack of porn mags down.

They then say something like "May I just pinch a tiny bit of this?" Or "Can I steal a piece of bread?" or something else so defensive and insecure and insanely unintentionally pass-agg given then you have invited them to your house to eat your food that I find it difficult not to scream JUST FUCKING RELAX WILL YOU.

I confess that I used to be a bit like that as a guest until I had my friend Oz round a few times. Oz is the staggeringly handsome husband of my husband's ex-girlfriend (keep up) and also the owner of London's current best restaurant, Kitty Fisher's in Mayfair.

Oz will show up at your house, give you the sort of troubling bear hug that sends you reeling backwards into the kitchen, get a drink, pour everyone else a drink, tell a filthy joke, gaze into your eyes and tell you how much he loves what you've done with the place and then sit down at the table, shout "WOW I hope there's a lot of this because..." he will then lean over and snort your, his, everyone's dinner.

"Amazing," he will say, his mouth full, "immense. Is there any more." He will then get up and stagger over to your sofa, manspread, tell more filthy jokes, pour more drinks but then leave at a completely reasonable hour. Probably to go to a party in Hackney that's just getting going.

A guest like that is such a relief. It's so relaxing, as a host, to have someone round who is so enthusiastic and on your side with what you are trying to do, which is to have a dinner party. And since then that is usually what I do as a guest. Not the manspreading, but pretty much everything else. I am always the one leaning in, helping myself, starting, passing things. To sit there with your friends, in a totally informal setting and act like you're at an Edwardian tea party is mad and makes your host nervous. Doesn't the food look nice? Aren't you hungry? What's going on? WHY IS NO-ONE EATING?!

And it's a thing that is, as a host, very difficult to correct. I'm not sure what Oz does about it. I'd ask him but he's always at work and you can't get a table at Kitty Fisher's these days, doesn't matter who you're married to. But I suspect what Oz would do is just have a lot of people who are just like him round to eat - fellow scoffers and bellowers and eaters and drinkers. I've just got the wrong friends.

Except for my friend A- who has recently bought a house in the countryside and invites us there a lot I suspect because I am not scared of her Aga and she is. She glares at it, terrified, saying "I don't know what temperature it is?!" having not got her head round the fact that the top oven is HOT and the bottom oven is LESS HOT and that's all there is to it.

Anyway the other day I bullishly made a Dundee cake in a way I have heard tell of, which is to cook it in the simmering oven (i.e. the LESS HOT) oven for a long time, like 3.5 hrs. I have made Dundee cake in a conventional oven before and it didn't work very well, it came out very dry and just not nice - so I reckoned that having a crack at this couldn't possibly turn out any worse.

So I took Delia Smith's Dundee cake recipe and put it in A-'s simmering oven for 3.5 hrs, took Sam out for a walk, came back, messed about a bit, everyone had lunch, then at 2.30pm I got the cake out of the oven and it was freaking perfect and when it had cooled down at about 4pm we had it with tea.

A Dundee cake is a very good thing to have in the countryside as people drop round unannounced awfully often and there are no corner shops to run to for Fondant Fancies.

If you do not have an Aga then you cook this in a conventional oven at 170C for 1.5 hrs. But I can't promise that it will be as good.

Aga Dundee Cake

you will need:

1 Aga
1 18cm cake tin with a loose bottom (it is VERY important that the tin is 18cm - no larger, no smaller). You must grease this well all over with butter and line at least the bottom with baking parchment. You can get a very good Tala 18cm tin off Ocado.

225g plain flour
1 level tsp baking powder
150g butter at room temperature
150g caster sugar
3 eggs
2 large handfuls currants
1 handful sultanas
2 level tablespoons ground almonds
1 small handful mixed peel
glace cherries, to decorate (about 10)

Also, massive respect to me by the way for doing all this with only a rotor hand whisk, rather than an electric whisk.

You will NOT need to preheat your oven to any temperature, because it is an Aga, so it is always on.

1 Sieve the flour and baking powder into a large mixing bowl

2 Add the caster sugar, butter and eggs and whisk with your electric whisk OR if you are doing this with a hand whisk, add the sugar to the flour, then whisk the butter and the eggs together and then add and whisk in one spoonful of dry ingredients to wet at a time until you have a sort of batter then add this starter-batter to the rest of the dry ingredients and turn well together using a spatula until you have a good consistency. (Does that make any sense? I'm a bit tipsy, as I'm in the countryside and all they do is fucking drink here.)

3 Add to this the ground almonds, assorted fruits and mix to combine

4 Turn out into your tin and dot with the glace cherries. Do not push these too far into the batter or they will disappear completely while cooking.

5 Cook for about 3.5 hrs. You might want to decorate this when cool with a lemon icing. I certainly did.

This cake keeps exceptionally well and in fact is best cut into about 2 days after baking. But don't stand on ceremony! I chopped into it as soon as it was out of the Aga and chortled "What's everyone else having?" Because that's what terrific guests do.

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Bircher museli for Charlie Potter

I had a very nice email recently from a reader seeking advice. My favourite kind of reader email, really - actually asking my opinion. It gives me licence to take a deep breath and just go on and on and on about what I think, which is the state in which I am happiest, as long-time readers of this blog will know.

Anyway the email went "Shall I take my 2 year old on a 7 hour flight to Montreal?" And my answer, which ran to several hundred words, was: "No." I guessed that if she was even asking me, she was really looking for a "no" answer anyway, she just wanted it validated by a dispassionate third party.

As I was writing my reply to her, hammering away at my keyboard (I do not type in a tapetty tappetty tap way, I HAMMMER THE FUCKING KEYS LIKE THEY HAVE DONE SOMETHING BAD - I always used to get complaints at work about it) some things became clear to me.

I ended up writing this paragraph:

"I’ve always felt like I had my whole life up until having kids to travel and fuck about and do whatever I want, and it’s not long now until my kids can both travel and appreciate the ride and have a good time. 

I don’t understand why some people *insist* that children shouldn’t slow you down and root you a bit. Why not? Why can’t we all just be still for a few years and then take off round the world and be wild and crazy once everyone’s a bit more grown-up? I find the pressure to continue on as you always did after you’ve had kids very oppressive and it pisses me off."

I didn't know that that's what I thought until I wrote that down, but now I realise that this is exactly what I think. I am probably over-sensitive to it, but I do feel under pressure to carry on as if I haven't had kids and it properly fucks me off. It's the thing I encounter most often that makes me most angry. Because the fact is that although my children are perfectly alright, I do not find them relaxing company. I cannot just drag them about with me and get drunk and not care and let them run wild because within moments Sam will have fallen down hard against something and there will be blood. Kitty will have found a pair of scissors. It's not relaxing, I don't like it, don't make me do it.

I recall my friend Max, who I think occasionally reads this from California where he now lives, declaring that he and his wife do not drink when they are in charge of the kids because if they were to let go in such a way, their children would be found "covered in nettle stings, being eaten by wasps". They are modern, cool and thoughtful parents and I have clutched this statement to me, like the Gollum with his ring, since hearing it.

There is a little saying that my husband once heard and was impressed by, which goes "don't compare the inside of your life with the outside of other people's". This works in two ways: first, don't think that other people are having a better time than you from what you can superficially deduce. Second: other people have a different experience of life from you, they are different people, they make it work in their own way.

Once upon a time it was people who wanted their children to stay up late, to be free and relaxed and hippyish about everything who were on the margins, who were looked down on by other, stricter parents. Now I feel like it's the hippies who are taking over the world and those of us who choose not to go raving with our kids or bithely take them on very long flights or move across the world with toddlers or go sail across the world with them or whatever, are the ones who are judged. I say that's how I feel, but I am obviously the world's most defensive and paranoid person, so maybe just forget I spoke.

Now: bircher museli. I don't really know how the cropped up in the world or where it's from or what it means but I think Donna Hay (also a mystery to me) has had a lot to do with it.

What you do is soak oats in apple juice overnight and then apply all manner of exotic mixings and toppings to it and then you eat it in the morning and find it freaking delicious.

The huge benefit of this is that in the morning you don't even so much as have to get a bowl down for your breakfast, you just remove the pot of museli from the fridge, get a spoon and dive in. I did think that the application of apple juice to oats in a domestic context would be rather revolting but in fact you don't especially taste the apple juice (I used really basic kids' plastic apple juice from Waitrose) and it softens the oats and makes them all, just... completely delicious basically.

Anyway this is a very basic recipe for a bircher muesli, for a really echt one I think you are supposed to add grated apple, but I don't want to grate apple in the morning and I'm not sure if you add it the night before that it might not go brown and unappealing. I think it might be okay, but I've got a few experiements still to do with this.

Alright so:

1 glass
about 2 tbsp oats
enough apple juice to just cover the oats
probably 3 large dollops of plain yoghurt
maybe 1 tbsp of granola to cover the top
some runny honey to drizzle over the top

1 Layer the oats, juice, yoghurt, granola and honey on top of one another in a fetching glass last thing at night
2 stretch some cling film or foil over the top and put in the fridge
3 go to bed
4 get up, get your muesli out of the fridge and eat it

This post is dedicated to Charlie Potter, who is, apart from my husband, the best man to sit next to at a dinner party because he is very interesting and chatty and lively and asks your opinion about things.

This is very rare. If you are a girl, you often find that men at dinner parties (or anywhere else) don't ask you what you think because they don't give a fuck and they don't laugh at your jokes because they don't think you're funny. Charlie always laughs at my jokes and said to me once: "I don't know... what do you think?" and I was so stunned and taken aback at being asked that I missed my opportunity to let go and have a massive rant and probably let myself down rather.

Anyway Charlie does some job and works hard and I imagine often doesn't get time for breakfast, so this recipe is particularly appropriate for him. 

Monday, 16 March 2015

Courgetti and bolognese

Now that my kids are set square on the path of growing up, we are none of us stuck in a non-speaking, non-walking hell, no-one is pregnant, no-one is postpartum, I can feel myself regressing, going backwards, getting younger.

When you have a baby you explode outwards. Sometimes quite literally. But also metaphorically. All your stuff explodes outwards. Your neuroses, your anxieties, your life, your everything goes KAPOW out into the world. Everyone talks about you and what you are doing. Everyone compares notes going "She's really freaking out," or "She's really bossing it," or "She's just so relaxed!" or "She's just SO uptight." None of it is complimentary - not really. It's all a total diss. Even if you are doing well, everyone with more or older kids will look at each other and transmit via ESP those awful, awful words that we have all thought: "You just fucking wait." Yes it's all fine now but wait until you've all got pneumonia. Or until your husband goes away for 3 months. Or until your eldest turns into a horrible bully and constantly pronks kids over the head at nursery all the other mums hate you.

You are so exposed when you have a baby - any baby, no matter what number it is, no matter what you do with it, no matter what it's like. It's like airing your dirty laundry every time you so much as take the buggy up the road to post a sodding letter.

But now... now I feel it's all being sucked back in. Sometimes quite literally what with my weight having gradually, like a feather floating down to the ground on the lightest of breezes, settled back to normal (though I doubt I will ever escape that feeling of everything being too tight round my middle). I feel smaller, lighter, more youthful. I don't think this change is visible to the naked eye - I think to everyone else I still seem the same careworn, knackered, grumpy old mum in crappy Aasics trainers and mostly shit hair. To my husband I still seem the same neurotic bag of nerves, to my children I am the same snappy, capricious lunatic. But I don't feel so old anymore. I don't feel so explody-outwards any more. I feel more private, I feel less like the Ancient Mariner, compelled to grab the nearest person and tell them how awful my life is, how totally up shit creek I am, how every aspect of motherhood and wifehood is impossible.

The downside of this is that I don't really feel like I have very much to say any more. But the upsides are many and varied.

For example, the other morning I didn't have anything to do. For the first time in many years - no work, no admin, no housework. My husband always says that when you have nothing to do you must try as best you can to enjoy it because any moment now the sky will fall on your head.

So I took his advice and decided, as it was a sunny day, to go for a walk on the Heath. I would go for a really long one, I thought, just miles and miles and miles and get lost like I used to before I had kids. So I walked and walked and then I discovered that when I walk for a long time - like over 10 minutes - without a buggy to push and lean on, I get a cracking lower back pain. By the time I had gone over Parliament Hill and reached Swain's Lane I was actually quite stiff.

I immediately rang my friend M- who lives nearby, to beg her for tea and a sit down. "I am off my face on diazepam" she said.

"Ok." I said. "Are you having a nervous breakdown?" "No it's my back," she replied, as if she were some sort of cipher, or avatar, some kind of alternative me.
"Come round though!" she said. "But we will have to talk in my bedroom."

I went round and there she was, resplendent in bed, bra-less in some sort of magnificent kaftan. The curtains were half-drawn and she had the day before spilled some very dusky Serge Lutens scent on the floorboards so the place was reminiscent of a restrained opium den. I sat on the nursing glider in the corner and we talked about our periods for an hour, having the sort of free and frank gross-out conversation that I cannot remember having for ages. Not for years. It felt more like bunking off at school than bunking off at school ever did. (Not that I ever really bunked off properly, you understand - being such a craven shitty little square.)

It was the most genuinely young I have felt in a long time. I wasn't worn down by that nagging sensation that I always get in the back of my mind whenever there is a baby somewhere needing to be worried about.

It is with this youthful zest for novelty and excitement that drew me, when I returned home, to unpack a "courgetti"-maker that my husband brought back for me from America last year.

I'm very late to courgetti, though I've always thought it looked like a perfectly good idea - you use a machine (or just a sharp knife and a lot of patience) to cut courgettes into very thin strips, which you then use as a sort of spaghetti substitute in order to banish yet more evil carbohydrate from your life.

We had it the other night with bolognese sauce, which I haven't eaten enough of in the recent past as I am so terrified of pasta, and it was terrific.

I followed the Hemsley sisters' instructions with the courgetti, which was to sauté it in a lot of butter for 3 minutes before serving, which worked very well. Do use a timer for this because 3 minutes is longer than you think it is.

We ate this with a bolognese sauce, which I won't give you a recipe for because if you don't know how to make a bolognese sauce by now then I just can't help you.

Thursday, 5 March 2015

Recipe Rifle goes shopping: Spring Fashion

The problem with all fashion, no matter who you are or what you do, is trying to make it work for you - for who you are and what your life is like.

There are also levels of fashionability. I simply do not have the kind of personality that goes well with high fashion. I'm just too much of an awful piss-taker to go about in a neon scuba top and a hat. But I also think it is important to change the way that you look, to modernise. You know all this. I've written about it before.

My particular problem with any kind of fashion, any year, wherever I am is that is has to be practical. It just does. I cannot wear slithery dry-clean only fabrics because they will attract butter and Marmite stains out of thin air. I cannot wear heels because there is enough discomfort in my life without adding sore feet to it. (And often I will need to break into a run - or at least a fast trot - at short notice.)

I also cannot wear mini - or even shortish - skirts because I do a lot of bending and sitting on the floor and I do not want to show everyone my knickers. But I also cannot wear maxi skirts because I will trip over them or get them caught in buggy wheels or they will just generally get tangled up in my legs and drive me fucking nuts.

So what oh what is the solution? Last summer I spent the whole thing in shorts, boyfriend jeans and Birkenstocks. It worked fine, it was all extremely practical and washable and I was pleased with how it went. It wasn't a very "pretty" look but I wasn't feeling especially pretty, what with my husband out of the country for weeks on end and Sam a) not walking and b) crying all the time.

Anyway I've been spending some time thinking about this because when I think about World Debt it doesn't get me anywhere. These are the results of my thoughts about spring fashion.

For my feet I have invested in a pair of clogs by Lotta from Stockholm, recommended to me by @emfrid, a friend of this blog, whom many of you know and admire. I got the pair with the lowest possible heel with a closed toe so that groomed feet are not essential. I say "invest" - they are only £56.60. Apologies for hilariously small picture ripped off their website.... for a closer look see lottafromstockholm.co.uk.

I know what you are thinking... you are thinking "clogs... clunky... unflattering... noisy... actually in fact not that comfortable?" All this is wrong. They are perfectly flattering - in as far as "ugly shoes" can be flattering - no more or less flattering than a pair of Birkies, they are light, not heavy, have a ridged rubberised sole - perfectly okay for breaking out into a light trot but possibly not an emergency dash. And they go with everything - with jeans, with skirts, with shorts - everything. They would even go with a tight leather skirt. I recommend them to you! Plus, their customer service is absolutely outstanding.

I also got a pair of white trainers by Superga, £45. Converse are over. Give yours to a charity shop.

In terms of jeans, I will still be wearing my Acne boyfriends from last year because they are just so freaking comfy but I have also got a pair of ripped-at-the-knee Leigh jeans from TopShop (£40) because I like the fact that because of the rip, there is no straining at the knee and they don't go baggy. I can't abide a baggy knee.

Absolutely everyone takes the piss out of me for these, even Humphrey, who is 4 years old, and a friend of Kitty's from nursery: "WHY HAVE YOU GOT HOLES IN YOUR TROUSERS?" he said the other day. "IT'S FASHION, HUMPHREY," I barked back. He seemed satisfied with that answer. My dad took the living piss, too, but then I lectured him about modernism and he looked amused and then subdued. Anyway I will be having the last laugh come Spring when everyone is scrambling for a pair and they've sold out - even in my dad's size.

I also freaked out the other day in Hennes and bought a pair of low-waisted bootcut jeans. YES I KNOW!!!!!!!! They're so out of fashion that they're back in again. I don't want to do flares because see above in terms of practicality but if you think back to 1996, boot cuts are basically in between straightleg and flares. It's a nod to the flare without the full-on commitment, which is the story of my life. I don't really suit skinny jeans - it's not that my legs are fat, it's that my calves are too skinny and without the balancing-out effect of a slight flare towards my foot my legs look horribly sausagey. I've been walking around with these sausagey legs for years now thanks to the hateful skinny obsession. So I am happy as a clam that bootcuts might be on the way back in. These are on sale for £15.

I have been wearing the same white knee-length cotton summer dress for 6 years now and I love it and will still be wearing it this summer (with clogs or white Supergas, do you see what I am getting at here?). You have a similar dress skanking about in the back of your wardrobe right now, I'll bet. Dig it out. But I could do with another summer dress, so I got this thing off Asos for £22. Crucially it is machine-washable, patterned (so's to hide all that marmite) and long enough so that I can sit cross-legged at a picnic without anyone having to have memory-replacement therapy.

It is also FLORAL and FLORAL is big this summer. At least so says Dolce & Gabbana in their hateful La Mamma Mia show or whatever it was called where the models all bounced around with toddlers and babies. I don't know why this show made me angry but it did. I think it was something to do with the propagation of the "sexy mama" myth. Italian mothers have a million black-clad fat Nonnas in the kitchen who do all the heavy-lifting with the kids so that their "sexy mamas" can go back to sipping espresso and dancing across palazzos in their stupid mini floral dresses and impractical sandals!!!! We do not live like that in this country and I am furious about it!

Another completely easy-wear item that will drag you instantly into SS15 is a denim shirt. Just get one. Do not worry that it is boring or that you will look like everyone else - it's a lifesaver. You can wear it on its own or worn open like a very thin jacket over a t-shirt or a dress or something. The best ones are from J Crew (Keeper Chambray shirt below, £78). On warm days you must roll the sleeves right up above the elbow in the American style, not below the elbow in the British way. It's all about detail, friends.

Last of all - the spring jacket! I resisted the pink/yellow/bright coat trend because I just thought I'd look a dickhead, but I fell in love with this jacket from Zara, £59.99. I didn't mean to! It wasn't anyone's fault! It just happened. This is great if you, like me, have got broad shoulders. Jackets don't do terribly well on me as a rule because I look like I've got this tiny pin head on massive shoulders - like tennis ball in the middle of a scaffolding plank - but this is a kind of unstructured style that doesn't emphasise them. It also looks that impossible thing: smart-casual. You can wear it with a t-shirt and jeans and a jazzy necklace, (shoot me, someone take me outside and shoot me), and look really very smart.

The only problem is that when I bought it I somehow managed to get it out of the shop with the stupid security tag still attached, so now I have to traipse all the way back to get it taken off. (Thank God I kept the receipt.) Why does shit like this always happen to me.

Tuesday, 3 March 2015


I was in an absolutely foul mood the other weekend - pretty much all weekend. My husband would say "how could you tell?" because he thinks I am always in a foul mood, even if I am smiling, wearing a yellow top and handing him a plate of food. I suppose as far as he's concerned even though I might look alright and normal I could suddenly turn at any given moment - I can switch in an instant, like a pirate captain, driven insane from the heat and the rum. He is not entirely wrong.

Anyway I really was in a bad mood. I have, recently, genuinely been counting my blessings in a really excellent and mindful way and finding very little to complain or be annoyed about: the children are okay - (not ill, both walking and talking, sort of sleeping on and off), I have written and published two books, Spring is round the corner and so on. But the other weekend I just lost it. The children were both driving me insane with their constant bloody falling over and wailing and breaking things and spilling things. Just fucking pull yourself together you stupid clumsy ninnies!!!!

I am not proud of myself. But the fact is that small children are often very annoying, especially if you are trying to get them to do anything other than eat Nutella toast in front of Bing Bunny. If you are trying, for example, to get them both dressed for a cold trip out to the zoo you have to find patience in a really Zen place not to lightly chuck both of them out of the window before you've even located their trousers.

Just to illustrate, often when I am dressing Kitty, reaching round her from behind to make it easier to push little wiry legs through leggings, or do up a bright green zip, Kitty will give a little jump and headbutt me in the nose or elsewhere in the face. Occasionally in the throat.

Why she does this insane little hop at the most critical and dangerous part of my getting her dressed I do not know - I have asked her, but she just looks at me with her massive eyes and says nothing. (Huge-eyed silent staring is Kitty's absolute number 1 tactical move. There's nothing you can do about it). Anyway all I know is that if I don't say firmly "Do not jump," as I am getting her dressed, then she will.

There are a million things like this that the kids do - if you give them a cup of water - any water, anywhere, any time, they will fumble it and spill it (which is why they are only allowed 2cm of water). If there is something on the floor within 10 yards of Sam, he will fall over it and land on the floor on his chin and cry until Tuesday.

Unless you respond to something she has said Kitty will say it over and over again: "But then the octopus has the green one one. The octopus has the green one on. The octopus has the green one on. Mum. The octopus. Has the green one on. The octopus has the green one on. Mum. The octopus has the green one on..." Doesn't matter if you're trying to talk to your husband, or you're reading Sam a story or having a quiet moment in the WC. If you do not acknowledge that the octopus has the green one on, that's all Kitty will say for the rest of the weekend.

Oh god I'm being so mean, I must stop it. Don't encourage me! No I really must stop now or I never will. It's not their fault that they are so small and annoying. My own mother has made it plain that I was exactly the same.

It was probably me, anyway - not them. I was extra tired because last week I went completely mad and had TWO dinner parties. We have not had a single one for at least a year and then two. Mental. I say "dinner party", we had people round for dinner, twice. And the thing about my life is that it is totally survivable - even enjoyable - as long as I am asleep, sober by 10.30pm absolute latest. If I am up twatting about with friends and then fussing with the dish washer and clearing up and then in bed at midnight I am an absolute monster for days afterwards.

So the solution is: no more dinners - only lunches or brunches. And I can't say I'm especially sad about that. I'm sure my kids will be delighted.

It does mean though that you don't get as much of an excuse to cook mad and unneccessary things, like these profiteroles, from Jane Hornby's absolutely terrific, brilliant and essential baking text: What to Bake and How To Bake It. If you are starting out baking, or want to give someone as really, really useful baking book, give them this. It's a really properly friendly, lovely thing. Jane loves you, she cares about you, she wants you to make nice cakes. It's just great. Buy it!

These profiteroles are definitely a faff to make, but they work, if you feel like making them.

As usual, this is not Jane Hornby's exact recipe

Chocolate profiteroles
Makes enough for 6

For the pastry

125g plain flour
1 tsp sugar
pinch salt
85g butter
240ml water
3 eggs

For the chocolate sauce

200g dark chocolate (personally I thought this was a bit bitter, next time I will use 100g dark and 100g milk) cut into small bits
150ml double cream
100ml milk
1 tsp vanilla paste or extract
pinch salt

For the filling

300ml whipping cream

1 Sift the flour, sugar and salt together on a piece of baking parchment (you need to whoosh the flour into hot butter later all in one go, using the parchment as a funnel)

2 Put the butter and water in a pan and heat it gently until it has melted. Once the butter has gone, turn up the heat until it is at a rolling boil. Get a wooden spoon ready and then whoosh your flour into this as soon as you reckon it's boiling and start mixing hard, off the heat. It will go lumpy and then smooth out. Stop beating when the dough comes away from the sides of the pan.

3 Let this cool however you like - on a windowsill or whatever. But wait for it to cool.

4 Beat the eggs together in a measuring jug. Put the dough in a bowl then add the egg a bit at a time and beat it in - you can use an electric hand whisk for this (I do) or a bowl mixer or whatever if you are Nigella.

5 Preheat the oven to 220C (fan 200C) and then line a baking tray with baking parchment. You can either spoon or pipe the dough onto the tray. The blobs ought to be about walnut-sized. If you get any big sticky-up bits, you can smooth them down with a wet finger like they do on Bake-Off.

6 Bake for 10 mins, then turn the heat down to 200C (fan 180C) and cook for 20 mins or until golden brown and crisp. Once cooked, cut each 'role lengthways but not all the way through. Leave to cool. You can leave these for 24 hours if you like. Fan oven owners are at a rare advantage here as fan ovens dry absolutely everything to a desiccated husk, which is in fact the effect one is after with these.

7 You can fill these shells with the whipped cream up to 2 hours before you want to serve them - any longer and you run the risk of them going soggy.

8 To make the chocolate sauce bring the cream and milk to a simmer in a pan, add the chocolate, vanilla and salt, then take off the heat and stir until smooth.

I tried to assemble these in a beautiful pyramid (see pic) but it was a dreadful, nervatious faff to do, so my advice is to fill them with cream, put three or four in six individual bowls ahead of time and then on serving, dribble over the chocolate sauce.

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Laotian fried pork

My photos will all be crap iPhone photos from now on because we were burgled and my camera was stolen. SAD FACE

I fell to talking the other day to someone about Sam's sleeping. Specifically, about how he still wakes up once in the night at 21.5 months (i.e. NEARLY TWO YEARS OLD). He wants a bottle and also needs his nappy changed as otherwise it leaks all over the bed.

They were shocked. Their mouth hung open. "You're up once a night. EVERY night?" They knew how well Kitty has always slept, how ferocious I was about it, about her. They were genuinely stunned that I was up once a night. It was as if Gina Ford herself was standing there shrugging her shoulders going "Yeah, it's not the end of the world."

I found myself in a metaphorical corner, on the back foot, stuttering, making excuses of the sort that I used to not be able to stand in other parents - about how it was cute when their kids came into bed with them so they couldn't say no, or about how they couldn't drop this breastfeed or that breastfeed because it was their special time with them or whatever. I would dismiss them as weak minded -in Victorian times they'd have been sent to a loony bin with a diagnosis of water on the brain.

But here I am, now, defending my continued co-dependency on this once-a-night thing I've got with Sam. Wake up, totter up to his room, new bottle, nappy change, a pat on the head and then back down to sleep.

I have tried to stop it. On five separate occasions I've let him scream his head off for hour in the night for about two or three nights, when I had failed to appear for this bottle-nappy tryst. It does work, for about a week, and he goes quiet all night and I feel sad but also victorious. And then it starts all over again, he wakes up and cries in the night and I, surprised and unsuspecting, give him the thing I know that will make him go back to sleep. Five times I've done this horrible ritual of letting him cry. And although it's said to be the thing that absolutely, definitively works - which offsets the horribleness of it, it doesn't actually seem to work, not long-term. Advocates of it say "it's just three nights - three bad night and then you'll all be sleeping all night and it will be worth it". Sam disagrees.

And the thing is, I'm not tired. I mean, of course I'm tired, we're all tired. We're all dying here,  but I'm just not tired enough to be driven to extended sessions of letting Sam scream his head off at night. I just don't want to listen to it any more. I don't want to have to grit my teeth through it any more. I'm done, finished. I can't be arsed. I feel, with Sam now walking and talking and suddenly being - just between you and me, very charming and easy -  like I've just finished my A Levels. So to ask me to sort out this once-a-night thing is a bit like now asking me to fill out a long tax return or sit an S Level when what I really want is to sit under a tree with a pint of cloudy lemonade and a bag of Hula Hoops, reading Riders.

There's more. I have always felt mildly fraudulent as a parent when all I had was one child who slept like a log. There was a real lack of authenticity about me. Don't get me wrong, I was grateful - and also absolutely and entirely terrified of sleep-deprivation, but still... there was something so real, so tough and so admirable about those women who had non-sleepers or bad sleepers, who just fucking did it and got through it. The fact that Sam wakes up once in the night and I can just cope with it - specifically because, I think, of my former crippling sleep-deprivation fears - is a perverse mark of pride.

This person made me feel bad and judged and a bit ashamed at first but then I looked at the true fear in their eyes of being woken up at night and I thought back to how I used to be - so, so scared of losing even 15 minutes' of sleep. I saw that same look, I recognised it for what it was and I thought: "Oh, grow up."

In my quest for everything to taste a bit like takeaway, here is a delightful fried pork thing, which is mostly aubergine and courgette, very easy to make and particularly good with Esther's Takeout Broccoli (q.v.)

Laotian fried pork
For 2 with leftovers

150g minced pork
1 aubergine
1 courgette
2 cloves garlic
4 tbsp oyster sauce
3 spring onions
1 red chilli
pinch sugar
pinch salt

1 Chop the aubergine and courgette up into cubes and fry in some groundnut oil until collapsed - about 10-15 minutes. Remove to a bowl

2 Crush or grate or slice the garlic and add it to the empty pan and cook gently until it has coloured. Then add the pork mince and cook over a reasonably high heat until the pork is rubbly and dry

3 Chop the spring onions and the chilli and add these and cook for a few minutes, then throw over the sugar, salt and oyster sauce. If you're using a decent oyster sauce it won't itself have an awful lot of sugar and salt in it so you can be fairly generous with your "pinches" of these.

4 Add the aubergine and courgette back to the pan, stir for a bit, maybe add some water from the kettle if you'd like it with a bit of a sauce.

Eat and think to yourself "he'll grow out of it eventually".

Where's Sammy's foot?

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Esther's takeout broccoli

You're supposed to be looking at the broccoli here

I once went to a talk by Irma Kurtz - where and why now escapes me - about getting old. She said that as you get older it's important to change your mind about things. "I try to address one of my prejudices each year," she said, "and try to change my own mind." Otherwise you get stuck churning out the same old boring opinions year after year and you start to be the person no-one wants to sit next to.

Since then I have always sought to change my prejudices about things, to change my mind, to move on, to modernise.

Only the other day, for example, I discovered that a really serious prejudice in my hair care routine was majorly holding me back.

I've grown my hair really long. Like, very nearly crazy cat lady long: it's down to my bra strap now and I'm wondering how much further it can go. I've only got so much time left to have really long hair, you see, and there are no more babies coming along to yank on it, so I've really gone for it. I've gone full mane. It's absolutely the anti-"mum" haircut, it's totally time-consuming, totally impractical.  It's my declaration of independence. It's my Braveheart scream of freedom.

I have historically been shy of hair product as my hair is so horrible and greasy - I've been frightened that I will make it go sticky and lank with too much "stuff" on it. So I've applied a tiny blob in terror and then wondered why my hair doesn't end up like it does at the hair dresser's.

And I've always dried my hair on a "medium" heat because I read in J17 once that a very hot hairdryer will cause you to have split ends. Split ends! Whatever happened to them? They seemed to be the scourge of the world in my teens - now never mentioned anywhere. Anyway so I always dried my hair on the "med" hot setting with a tiny slick of hair product and gone about looking pretty ordinary.

Then I noticed that my hairdresser, who is called Nadia and works at John Frieda in Mayfair, goes completely loony with the product and dries my hair so hot that I sometimes worry that my ears are going to frazz off. And my hair always comes out a cross between Gisele and Liono from Thundercats. (Although being similarly covered in spots, I will always be a dead ringer for Cheetarah. HA! Whatever.)

So I have started using three - yes three - pumps of Keratase Serum Oreo-Relax to my hair and drying it super-fast, super-hot and it looks phenomenal. Every. Time.

And all rules that apply to life in general also apply to cooking. So do this thing with broccoli, which takes normal broccoli and turns it into something you'd find in a really decent high street Chinese or Thai restaurant - and change your mind about it forever.

Esther's Takeout Broccoli

3 florets of broccoli per person
1 tsp runny honey
2 tbsp light soy sauce
1 tbsp groundnut oil

1 Take a wok or a large frying pan and get it really hot then douse it with some groundnut oil, wait 30 seconds and then tip in the broccoli.

2 Stir this about until the edges of the veg are turning brown and black, then turn the heat down to a medium (in this instance, it is necessary) and add your honey and soy. Muddle all this around for another minute and then serve.

TA FUCKING DAH. You're welcome.