2012 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The new Boeing 787 Dreamliner can carry about 250 passengers. This blog was viewed about 1,500 times in 2012. If it were a Dreamliner, it would take about 6 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Sugar, sugar, sugar: Fudge, Caramels, Brittle, and everything in between

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Every six weeks I have an appointment to sit down for an uninterrupted hour and talk about baking, cooking, and Masterchef. Oh, and get my hair cut at the same time. This week my hairdresser and I share our affection for Keri, the last woman standing on this year’s Masterchef: The Professionals and a worthy finalist not because of her gender but because she cooks food that I, and Greg Wallace thank god, really want to eat. We also bemoan the fashion for the ‘smear’ of [insert your choice of vegetable here] purée that adorns practically every plate of food on the show. Imagine if you were the first person to invent that smear. How bored would you be of it by now. Must come up with something different. My hairdresser’s Christmas menu sounds out of this world, the kind that you might see on a restaurant menu card: the kind that will struggle with how to smear onion purée across a plate without ‘smearing’ onion purée across a plate. My Christmas menu will have no such problem, as it will be as traditional as can be with everything doused in gravy with no thought for presentation. That’s what it’s all about.

IMG_0494To add to preparations for Christmas festivities we’ve spent the last week with a fake dog. Not a cuddly toy dog as a present for my nephew, no. Something much more sensible: an imaginary dog. In order to decide whether we can really fit the responsibility of being parents to a little furry creature into our busy lives, we try to start each day by deciding, for instance, ‘who’s going to take care of Frankie today’ (choice of name not mine). Or, alternatively, ‘I need to go to campus for a couple of hours but I’ll make sure I’m back in time to take Frankie for a walk’. Or, of course, ‘where’s Frankie going to spend this week, in Small House #1 or #2?’ And so on. Frankie has been a delight, but has also taught me not to leave unwrapped fudge on the counter top.

IMG_0492The fudge is now wrapped and accompanies a variety of other flavours and textures of sweets. I have spent the whole weekend making them, to the disapproval of my mother, whose ‘oh dear’ over the phone tells me she doesn’t trust me not to eat them all myself. I am careful to only leave myself the odd ends, however, and once the rest is packaged up ready to distribute to assorted family and friends there’s no chance I’ll unravel them. The real showstopper is cardamom and white pepper fudge which is, if I do say so myself, out of this world, with an enduring heat from the pepper. It is also, satisfyingly, my own recipe, although I am indebted to inspiration from both Dan Lepard and Gaitri Pagrach-Chandra. I want to put white pepper in everything now I have discovered its effectiveness, and I add it to a batch of biscuits that finish the weekend in style – orange blossom and pistachio, adapted from a tried-and-delightedly-tested cardamom and rose water shortbread recipe from Sugar and Spice. I still haven’t made the Panettone, as an exhausted end-of-term weekend deserves more frivolity than a recipe that (if authentic) demands four rounds of proving. There may well not be enough hours in the day.

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Week 9.5: when I tried not to bake but failed.

IMG_0477Somehow or other, real life takes over virtual blog-writing life this week, and my musings on cake baking and TV watching take a back seat to prepping a paper to deliver at a research seminar where people I really respect will be wanting to hear about topics other than the perfect rise on a loaf of bread or techniques for icing a cupcake. And so, the weekend before the paper is due to be given, I am not baking. I am, instead, perfecting my 2,800 words and tinkering with my powerpoint presentation. I do take a break to make a loaf of rye bread but, since it’s already tried and tested, it doesn’t really count as a proper session.

Four days before paper is due to be given, I’ve made my way to London and am carrying the aforementioned loaf of bread from train to physio to British Library to coffee shop to public lecture to dinner to tube to my mum’s house, where I deposit the brick-like parcel ready for her morning slice of toast. I have no doubt that all of the venues I have passed through have only appreciated the mysterious scent of sweet treacle rye emanating from my handbag. Three days before paper is due to be given, I’m getting baking withdrawal symptoms already. With talk sent to discussant and powerpoint already excessively fiddled with, I justify to myself some time off to bake cakes and biscuits to flog at a recital performed by my sister the up-and-coming soprano. Schumann, de Falla, and cupcakes. Sounds like something we could market.

Earl Grey cupcakes with lemon icing. Chocolate Orange cupcakes with white chocolate icing. Cherry bakewell cupcakes. Chocolate crackle biscuits. Shortbread marzipan biscuits. All courtesy of The Great British Bake Off, and all very yummy, though if I were to tinker with the recipes (which I am gradually building up the confidence to do) I would add heaps more flavour. The toil of the biggest juggling trick of multiple recipes I’ve ever performed is bound to leave me desperate to get back to work again the next day (or so I tell myself, with just an inkling that it will leave me eager for more). I’ve photographed the recipes from home and honed the quantities of ingredients into an economical shopping list that is the very picture of precision. If only my astute preparation would extend to checking oven temperatures: five different requirements for five different recipes. Five mixing bowls washed up three times each. Every knife and spoon in the drawer. Every surface in the kitchen (which, at my mum’s house, counts for more than in either the Pod or the Pad). A baking spree that lasts four hours and results in colourful delightful delicacies that go down a treat with spares left for days’ worth of puddings.

Day after the paper, which has gone well and left me satisfied but exhausted, I make up for a week’s worth of missed MasterChef episodes and neglected mid-day movie breaks and stay in bed watching an eccentric range of screen offerings. The objectionable and frankly boring male-directed narrative of women’s desire Room in Rome. The is-it-really-still-going tedium of Grey’s Anatomy‘s ninth season. Plenty more in between that are mindless enough to withstand the simultaneous writing of Christmas cards. An hour in the bath glued to the last 100 pages of AM Homes’ delectably debauched Music for Torching is enough of a break from the screen before it’s time for Strictly, whose dance fusion week is worthy of multiple bouts of applause from my delighted spot in front of the telly. Another bake-free weekend is bound to come back to get me mid-week when my fingers are twitching and the caster sugar jumps out of the cupboard begging to be used. By then it will almost be Christmas, anyway, and I may as well give myself over to preparations for the season’s much anticipated notoriously time-consuming Yuletide ambition: panettone. Yes, well, we’ll see.

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