Fig Tart, stamps and gateau

My morning started with me going downstairs to the kitchen and finishing off the tart I made last night. I picked up some good priced figs in Sainsbury's (where the cashierboy was amazed that someone could calculate the total price of their shopping without the aid of a calculator) and thought I would make a simple lemon and fig tart. Just slice the figs, arrange them on to the lemon cream mixture and then brush on a sweet glaze made with lemon juice and sugar. I remember making the first time I made this tart - it was my sister-in-law's 50th birthday party and I had naively agreed to cater for a party of 60 people. From my tiny, matchbox kitchen. It was frantic. I still talk about it today (she turned 60 last week), in that I-think-I-ought-to-have-therapy-for-that-experience way.
Then it was off to the house we are about to move into. Slaveboy needed help emptying what will be our bedroom and we have a friend coming over later today to pick up the cabinet unit from that room. The thing is, the cabinet unit is filled, to the brim (if it had one) with STUFF. That would have been quite ok to tackle if it weren't for the fact that the room is filled with stuff too. And also the landing. And for that matter, the WHOLE house. There must be at least 4 generations' worth of belongings packed away in dusty boxes and dreaded carrier bags. A chair was stacked upside down on top of the pile of linen and crushed boxes. I went through 5 black bin liners' worth of old, dusty, smelly, mouldy curtains, obviously stored not with the intention of being left untouched for over 40 odd years.
Slaveboy was beginning to get quite wobbly with me as I was being quite ruthless and ploughing through the stuff without a moment's hesitation. That I can understand. Afterall, there is a lot of emotional attachment to the stuff we were going through - letters written by his Nan to her husband after he died. Old, dusty photo albums containing his grandparents' baby photos. We found Clarice Cliff's plates and jugs in amongst complete utter tat, a couple of very valuable figurines which would have fetched good money if auctioned off, had it not been for the fact that they had been badly packed, completely forgotten about and then damaged when the boxes were moved from pillar to post. No one remembered the existence of these items, let alone remembered where they had been packed away to. So, I can't help but wonder about the nation's obsession of collecting things, as I sifted through boxes and boxes of stamps (some of which would have fetched good money), coins, postcards, and, wait for it, 21 nylon(!!!!) bed sheets (oh yes, even my fetishism hasn't sunk that low to appreciate nylon). I come from a family that didn't collect things. No family China, although my Mum was fond of Pyrex's Autumn Blossom or something like that. We certainly didn't squander collectibles away to be reserved for a rainy day or for future generations. And I'm not saying that one is better than the other as I am very pleased with the fine bone china jugs and plates I have received from my late mother-in-law's collection but here is a family who are having to go through items that have been stored away for some reason or another - maybe for best, or for a grandchild or with the blind faith that one day, it would be worth a lot of money, and the sad reality is, as an outsider looking inside, the biggest thing that is hitting the remaining family members is that their elders just didn't sort their shit out at all, for some reason or another.
So a carload to the tip later, Slaveboy has some floor space to work with. The wood glue has arrived for our kitchen worktops. The sash window is about to be reinstalled. We'll just have to figure out how to deal with the rotting window sill. Oh, and the dog has yet to pee in the Belfast sink that is waiting to be plumbed in. It could be a lot worse, like bypassing breakfast and lunch completely and eating what Sainsbury's labels as their Taste The Difference Chocolate Gateau.
Which I just did. Why I insist on eating packaged supermarket cack when there is a homemade fig & lemon tart in the fridge is beyond me. 

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Lemon & Almond Cake - FAIL!!!

Lemons are a relatively new fruit for me. Back where I came from (and no, boys and girls, despite my gleeful claims, I do not originally hail from Bognor Regis), lemons were a pretty rare thing. We have limes, ickle ones which are thin skinned and very crisp flavoured. My Mum used to squeeze the juice out, dissolve plenty of sugar with some icy cold water for a refreshing drink. 

Only recently, do I sometimes choose lemon cakes over chocolate and they have to be pretty damn fine for me to do that - for instance, Spiker's lemon cake which she made for our Tea Party. The thing is, I can't help but make the deduction that only old people would prefer lemon cakes over chocolate - and because of this, I sorta fight this growing fondness for this sharp, unassuming and common citrus fruit. 

Disclaimer: I am quite happy for you to pronounce me as shallow for this very reason. 

So, I wasn't planning to bake any cakes for a few days. I have some bread baking to catch up with - two white loaves, 4 loaves of ciabatta and 3 loaves of soda bread should really keep me pretty busy for the next couple of days but those damn lemons keep beckoning me. I keep thinking of them sitting there in the fridge, just willing me to boil the hell out of them. 

Yes, this recipe requires you to boil them. None of this namby pamby zesting and squeezing the juice out and measuring the quantity in a measuring jug. This, my friend, is a good bit of honest, nonchalant baking. The sort that I don't have to have my contact lenses on for cos the recipe is so simple. 

So, you take 4 lemons (in this case, I used 5 cos mine were weeny), unwaxed naturally, and organic if you can. Wash them and bung them in a good sized pot and boil them on medium heat for about an hour. If you are a sad blogging muppet like me, you would be spending this time writing up your blog and fiddling with your camera and getting the photos uploaded. If you are the baking Goddess I aspire to be, you would seize the moment, take your lover to bed and make love. Logic dictates that you probably would still have a good 40 mins (let's not even try to bullshit and try to drop me comments protesting this) after that to get showered, write up your blog and get your lover to make you a good cuppa. It's a win-win situation! Unfortunately, the latter option is not available to me on account that Slaveboy is at our new house hoovering after his 29 year old son who is rebuilding our sash window. 

In the meantime, don't forget to watch your pot. While a watched pot gathers no dust (oh, how I love my mixed sayings), a not watched one would overspill and cause a fair amount of condensation in the kitchen. Like it has done with mine. This almost reminded me of the time we filled the heated birthpool in our last house when I was expecting the Mai-ster in 2006. The room filled with so much steam, the wallpapers were sweating and threatening to peel off.

Once the lemons have cooled down a little, cut them into wedges, dig out the pips (seeds, whatever you call them), and whizz the hell outta them til they become pulp.

In a separate bowl, whisk 9 eggs til it becomes thick and leaves a thick ribbon trail. Mix all the sugar (350g), ground almond (350g) and baking powder (1/2 tsp) together and fold into the egg mixture. Then lightly fold in the lemon pulp.

Now, this is when I tell you that this is the first time I have made this particular recipe. It is Gary Rhodes's and originally an Orange Almond Cake recipe but he did say that you could substitute the oranges with lemons. Now that I have made this cake and had some, I am n-o-t really convinced.

But I am going to go through the process anyway.

Here is a selection of photos. As you can probably figure out, I have discovered Picasa.

So bearing in mind, you would have read my mind and put your oven on to 180C, you are ready to divide the mix between two cake tins and bake them for about 40mins (believe me, 45 mins was a tad too long but not long enough to really affect the cakes).

So whilst waiting, I had this little pantalooned boy cat keep me company. He is very good at looking not amused but I assure you that this is his come-to-bed eyes.  He's also had a mini-stroke recently (legend says that it was due to the four twiglets I fed him) so he gets away with a lot.

That is not a natural marking on the tip of his nose. That is a I-shove-my-nose-in-the-foodbowl-all-the-time look. I reckon the female cats don't mind the scent of cat chow that lingers around him.

And then, Slaveboy came home with this. He thought the children might find it amusing. I hasten to add that we are trying to declutter. Not to mention move house.

Oh, and don't let me forget to tell you that he didn't come home with the hoover. Ooops. Apparently, he did. I just haven't seen it.

My verdict is, well, a bit meh really. It wasn't sweet enough. It had a lovely texture and it smelled lovely. 
But we will definitely be eating it with custard tomorrow. 
Sorry. Will try harder next time. Next time I will just cut my losses and use my usual Anthony Worrall-Thomson's (or however you spell his name) recipe. Even if it does claim to be GI friendly and all that stuff. 

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A friend of mine asked me to make some fudge brownies on Sunday. This is my staple comfort sweet food. I could make this with my eyes closed. However, I was pretty excited at the prospect of packaging them as I had never done this before. Previously, I had just made do with empty plastic containers, or even worse, cling film or catering foil. I spent the drive home from Tunbridge Wells the night before thinking of ways to package them(where both Slaveboy and I fell asleep at a gig because we we were just so exhausted - honestly, we were like two old fogeys sitting in a chair with our heads leant together, propping us upright - no alcohol involved, just some substandard £2 beef burgers).
I decided on using baking parchment and making two simple origami boxes (takes you to a video demonstrating how to make one - the bloke on there has a sexy schmexy voice). I had to use 5-ply of baking parchment so the box would be stiff enough and each box happily contained 12 squares of brownies, 6 in each layer. I then wrapped the box in a simple parcel method and secured the sides with a length of pretty lace ribbon, with a small card detailing when the brownies where baked and what the ingredients were. My friend was very chuffed with how the boxes looked and texted me at 11pm (funnily enough I was actually asleep by then, which is rare for me as I am often still awake at 1 a.m.) saying that her husband thought the brownies were sublime and that no way was she ever going to be able to eat other people's brownies again. That made me really chuffed.

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Yet Another Birthday

It was my sister-in-law's 60th birthday while we were away on our short holiday (an experience that I am yet to muster up enough courage to write about)  and both my niece and step daughter had planned a surprise party for her in time for when we returned. I agreed to do some of the baking, mainly the dessert part and also a birthday cake. I had written down a watertight schedule as to what needed to be done at what day when I got back and was sure that it would be failproof.

Except that when I got back on Wednesday evening, the designated night to make the peanut sauce, I was absolutely shattered. The most I could do was crawl into bed and silently sing some puja to the bed Goddess. In my head, I was calculating the days I had left (party was to be on Saturday and this was Wednesday evening).

So I had 2 days to make peanut sauce, 3 lemon meringue pies, 4 salted butter tarts and a birthday cake. Not to mention the four trays of homemade pizzas and 2 trays of sticky sweet chicken wings on the actual day.

And I didn't have enough pie tins in the house.

Plus I was skint, on account that the short holiday cost us more than we had anticipated.

But I was not going to be defeated, by golly, I didn't have six children to be defeated by lack of time, sleep and energy.

If I remember, I would post up more about the actual party. My step daughter was having a meltdown as she simply was pulling in too many hours to really have the time to organise the party and my niece was pulling her hair out because her mother was getting suspicious of their frantic attempt to tidy the place for a party. There was also the small last minute issue of my sister-in-law refusing to go out with her friend who was the designated distractor, deciding instead to go sing in the church choir for a wedding that morning. In the midst of all the panic in the last hour, my niece decided that she needed to make chocolate fudge (with Nestle condensed milk - tut tut). The peanut sauce alone warrants a post on its own because it is absolutely delicious. Then there was the incident where I had to baking parchment bandage the sides of the meringue pies. But it all came together in the end. We must have waited for what felt like 15 minutes from the time of first sighting of my sister-in-law walking towards her house. I just love the English - all that build-up, all that anticipation and the intention to create an element of SURPRISE!!!!! and when she walked into the room, I reckon about 4 party poppers went off (not in a uniformed fashion) and 1 failed attempt of getting a surprised look picture and a hell lot of people just standing there like lemons hardly even muttering SURPRISE!!!. You guys really know how to party.

But until then, I just wanted to share with you the cake I made her. It was my first attempt at making gumpaste roses and I am really pleased with them. I think I can make the petals thinner next time but I am amazed at how simple they are to make.

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My friend, Sadie..

Taught me a naughty word today. Vaffanculo. This was after I asked her if it is true that real Italians don't ever use dried herbs in their cooking. I think the vaffanculo was directed at that statement, although I did also ask if she thought it was acceptable to put soy sauce and blackstrap molasses in bolognaise sauce. Tee hee.

Anyway, she gave me a really great recipe for chocolate cake. I was going to publish it here but then, I just remembered that I don't have her permission to post it. So you will have to just make do with a picture of it.. until I get in touch with her and learn yet another useful Italian word and get her ok to post the recipe.

Wooo hoo, that Sadie, she said YES.

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Vanilla Extract Update - Day 8

After reading a blog about making vanilla extract with 80 proof vodka, I decided that this could be a fun thing to do, in a trainspotting kinda way. I reckon I will subject you to periodic photo entry of how my vanilla extract is coming along. Basically take a bottle of vodka, bung some vanilla pods in it - I used 5 Madagascan ones and leave it in somewhere dark and give it a shake every so often. I plan to keep it going for about a year so you guys are gonna SO fed up of these photo updates by the time Christmas rolls in. 

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