They’re sending me another set of galleys.**
Remember I told you they’re reissuing SUNSHINE?*** I hadn’t realised they were resetting it . . . although they may not be. One of the little mysteries of the printing process is that merely LIFTING a set of pages from the drawer equivalent and laying them on the worktable equivalent to create a new edition with may somehow draw brand-new typos and other bewitching errors out of the swirling perilous publishing ether, I don’t know, I guess like foxgloves attract bees and hellhounds attract dirt and mayhem and too much magic attracts thunderstorms and earthquakes.†
So any minute now there’s going to be a another thump at the cottage threshold and it’s going to be SUNSHINE.
And meanwhile this is me, having hysterics in the corner.
+ + +
Speaking of comfort food, which I should be, and of sorbet, sherbet and ice cream, which we have been, and of posting old favourite recipes that I can no longer eat because of dairy or some other banned substance, which I said Playing with Your Food was going to give me the excuse to do, I give you:
The Butterscotch Sauce. There Is No Other.
½ c thin/single cream
1 c dark brown sugar††
1 tsp vanilla
three grains to a pinch of salt
2 T butter
Cook cream and butter gently in a bain marie/double boiler half an hour, stirring occasionally. Add other ingredients and stir well. Chill and then beat well. It gets all lovely and gudgy and thick. . . .
My addendum from thirty years ago reads: If this lasts long, you’re sick.
I have no idea where the recipe came from originally. It was given to me by the admirable woman who used to make it for me every time I fetched up on her threshold†††. For civilised behaviour’s sake you glop it over ice cream–or cake; it’s glorious over spice cake or gingerbread–I am/was quite capable of going after it naked with a spoon.‡ The week/fortnight I’m having I may do it again, and if my digestion kills me, then I won’t have to read proofs.‡‡
* * *
* The General All Purpose Cry of Anguish Header. I’ve used it before. I will use it again. Life is like that. Okay, my life is like that.
** Or page proofs. I’ve been thirty years in this business and I still don’t use the jargon correctly. As far as I’m concerned, I say it’s spinach, and I say the hell with it. It’s typeset pages with my words on them and I have to read them.
*** With a woman in a red dress chained to a wall on the cover. Sigh. I’m told this will sell. Well, I like the wall.
† True. Ask any working mage. And a real nuisance it is too.
†† Wimps may prefer light brown. Feh.
††† Probably also with a thump.
‡ You can read that any way you like. This is a very intense and passionate butterscotch sauce.
‡‡ Oh–no–bother it, I have quite a few books to finish before anything kills me.
When I unveiled the Five Heroines a few days ago I got distracted, as I am inclined to do, but I’d been thinking about a recipe to commemorate all that noble and continuing effort. Chocolate, I hear you say. Well . . . believe it or not I don’t think chocolate is the answer to all of life’s conundrums.* And chocolate, while paradise,** isn’t sustaining in what I feel is the necessary manner here. And I was thinking about nursery food and desert island food and what I want when I get back from bell ringing or when I crawl miserably out of bed at 6 am to go to a homeopathic seminar*** as well as cheap, easy, requires no prior planning, development, or exotic kitchen equipment, and hot. Scrambled eggs.
I realise that there are people who think that cooked eggs are creepy and icky, but I feel sorry for them, as I feel sorry for people who don’t like LORD OF THE RINGS, or walking, or dogs. Or think that Stonehenge is boring, or Edward Burne-Jones’ paintings embarrassing or quaint. I know what you’re talking about, but what you’re missing. . . . I feel the same way about people who don’t like scrambled eggs.
I also wonder how many people don’t like cooked eggs, or scrambled eggs, because they’ve never had good ones. Or have had the wrong kind: I prefer them seriously gooey, but there are people who genuinely like them dry. If you’re a gooey kid growing up in a dry household you probably converted to Cheerios† and take out pizza at the earliest opportunity and have never looked back.
There are at least two controversies on the subject of scrambling your egg: the first is about the addition of milk or other pollutants and the second is the employment of a bain marie. Laurie Colwin has it right about bain maries: ‘The loveliest scrambled eggs I have ever had were . . . by an Englishman who insisted that scrambled eggs should be made in a double boiler. The result is a cross between a scrambled egg and a savory custard, and if you happen to have about forty minutes of free time some day it is certainly worth the effort. . . . Stir constantly. . . . Stir as in boiled custard until you feel either that your arm is going to fall off or that you are going to start to scream uncontrollably. . . .’ Yes. Life is too short. All you need is a heavy-bottomed pan and a low flame, and then you can scramble your eggs perfectly in less time than it takes to flip through the latest Peruvian Connection catalogue with your other hand.
But the question of milk! Ugh! No less a personage than Julia Child puts heavy cream in her scrambled eggs.†† And I say, so much for Julia Child. People keep telling you to add milk or cream because this makes your eggs softer and, yes, sure, you put some liquid into something and it becomes soggier. But in this case at an intolerable cost to the texture. Properly cooked scrambled eggs melt in the mouth. Scrambled eggs with milk–or, worse, cream–are slightly sproingy. Slightly too coherent, too muscular, because of what happens to milk when it cooks. The Joy of Cooking, which I admit I do not love †††, gives ‘3 T cream’ as optional, but in the instructions it says ‘When the eggs begin to thicken, break them into shreds . . .’ Shreds? You only get shreds if you’ve put cream in. Eggs do not shred. Cabbage shreds.
The ex-sainted Delia gets it about as right as anyone: http://www.deliaonline.com/cookery-school/how-to/how-to-scramble-eggs,9,AR.html
But in her current incarnation she’s probably using powdered eggs from a packet anyway, and I don’t want to know.
So this is how I make scrambled eggs: first, something that I feel is undervalued in the literature, get the size of your pan right. It makes all the difference in the homogeneity of the finished product. I have a tiny iron skillet–about five inches–for two eggs; I use the omelette pan, which is seven, for three. And I think it’s piffling mystique-making to say you must have a dedicated scrambled eggs pan that you use for nothing else. The iron skillet, for example, is my pine-nut and sesame-seed roasting pan. I also use more butter than I’ve seen anyone else recommend: I won’t tell you you’re doing it wrong if you want to use less, but it’s another of those missing-out things.‡ Too much is great.
Melt about a tablespoon of butter in your pan–put it on the heat only just till the butter starts to run and then take it off or it will get too hot. I beat my eggs in the frying pan, not a separate bowl‡‡, which means the pan can’t be too hot or the eggs will start to cook before they’re mixed. Also for lazy absent minded sluts it’s a useful back up to not having the pan too hot when you do start cooking them, because you don’t want that either. Use a fork; beat till blended. Then put back on the heat and start stirring. I use a wooden spatula for greater scraping prowess. This is the main thing: keep those eggs moving. That’s how you get them cooked evenly so every mouthful is as divine as the last. You can stir fairly leisurely till your spatula starts picking up solids on its business edge: then raise your stirring speed and possibly even take your attention off the fascinating Peruvian Connection catalogue. ‡‡‡ As soon as the eggs are almost but not quite the consistency you want, whip them off the heat, but keep stirring, and add another wodge of butter–okay, I use nearly another tablespoon; this is both why I have to walk hellhounds and why I don’t eat breakfast, because this is my idea of the perfect scrambled eggs, and having known perfection, I’d rather just miss out dull–and keep on keeping stirring, because you want the new butter to work its way into every interstice: this is what stops the cooking process and leaves you with eggs of the precise degree of gloopiness, or ungloopiness, you like best.
It does take a little time and experimentation to be able to do it right every go. Oh, and, possible note of warning to other lazy absent-minded sluts: the thing I still forget to do occasionally is to have that final wodge of butter already on the knife in easy reach before you put the eggs on to begin cooking. You lose precious seconds–stirring like mad, of course–groping for it after the fact.
And having learnt to scramble eggs, you can also now make the perfect omelette with only the minorest of adjustments.
* * *
* Yes. Conundrums. Why would five normal, sane . . . uh. Wait a minute. Why would five regular readers of the Hellhounds and Roses^ blog who are no doubt otherwise normal, sane, functioning members of society, want to run a recipe blog when there are so many more interesting things they could be spending time on. At least three of them, for example, live within range of a change ringing bell tower.
^ Even my piano’s name is just a fancy classical Greek way of calling her Rosie
** No doubt the inconvenient tendency to melt in contact with human flesh, which means it is inclined to get distributed all over your keyboard not to mention your shirtfront, has to do with what usually happens when something escapes Plato’s cave: the ideal version is slightly contaminated by mortal reality. In the Elysian Fields you can eat chocolate with your fingers and keep typing. Oh yes and your battery never runs down, in the Elysian Fields. Here in the humdrum world I stay plugged into the mains as much as possible, and I eat my chocolate with a fork. Since I’m always typing.
*** The mere shock of having breakfast is almost enough
† I was just looking Cheerios up on Wiki to make sure they still exist–I don’t eat breakfast, how would I know?–and I observe you can now get them cheese flavoured. Ewwwwwwww. Has General Mills no shame?
†† She also tells you to hold a spoonful of raw egg back, and stir it in at the end, after you’ve taken the pan off the heat, to make the result creamier. Yuck. I don’t want an oiling of raw egg, I want the entire dish to be equally soft and squidgy.
††† Which will no doubt cause many people to feel the pity for me I feel for people who believe Tolkien should have stuck to his translations from Anglo-Saxon.
‡ My usual caveat here about salted butter. If you’re using up to 2T salted butter, you don’t need salt. If you’re using a couple of teaspoons of salted butter, you probably do need salt. And of course if you’re using unsalted butter. . . .
‡‡ Lazy SlutTM, it’s in the rulebook.
‡‡‡ Do you suppose anyone ever wears the denim skirt with the ragged hem and the train?
We’re still sort of figuring out what we’re doing with the recipe blog (or the Five Heroines are trying to figure out what I’m doing) and we should have been more emphatic about this to begin with, which is to say I should have been. Sorry. But the idea is supposed to be that recipes are still initially posted to the main blog, here, Days in the Life, not the recipe blog, even if you want to respond to or gallop on from an old recipe you found there. If you want to cite an old recipe as inspiration, that’s fine. It’ll send us all back to the old recipe too.* Having them all come here first is chiefly for my convenience, I admit, but the bulk of the work of this blog does still fall on me** and I can use all the convenience I get. And I don’t want to miss anything. It also gives me a (brief) opportunity to use a new recipe as part of a post, although the Five Heroines are so disgracefully on top of this that recipes go up in PWYF while I’m still reading the ingredients list and wondering what the funny noise under the kitchen table is.*** I may indeed go so far as to post any comments I make over there here too, mainly as a time thing again: I don’t have time to write any more comments, unless I get some extra use out of them.† So, anyway, post here, please, and then the Five Heroines will copy it and hang it next door.
And I was going to talk about scrambled eggs, which is a Perfect Food, but I think I’ll save it till tomorrow. I will, however, note: http://lifeandhealth.guardian.co.uk/food/recipe/0,,2265305,00.html#article_continue
How is the rest of the world, or anyway the rest of the world as demonstrated by this blog’s readers, on Delia (Smith)? She’s god, over here, or rather the Great Mum Goddess. She taught the UK to cook–several decades ago now, I think, before cooking from scratch turned into the latest fashion accessory.†† If there hadn’t been a Delia there might not have been a Nigella (Lawson), a Jamie (Oliver), a Hugh (Fearnley-Whittingstall: no, really), all of whom are huge over here (and for all of whom I have varying amounts of use). But her latest is called How to Cheat at Cooking, and since I haven’t read it I’m not allowed to have any opinion, but–mmmMMMmmph–I’m not going to read it because I’m not the least interested in cooking from tins. Lazy SlutTM is all about streamlining, sure, but I still go to the greengrocer and the butcher, not the canned goods shelves at the local monstermarket.
How to Cook without Recipes by Glynn Christian, which sounds like it might be very interesting–even if I think I could have gone through life quite happily without knowing that pineapple and black pepper have a strong affinity–and which is almost what a lot of us here do already, but he lost me pretty comprehensively with this line: ‘. . . Umami [a perhaps somewhat controversial fifth taste after sweet, sour, bitter and salt] is the rich, stock-like taste that makes it better to be human than bovine or leonine or anything else: it is mankind’s ultimate reward, and perhaps his objective, for getting out of the trees, because umami makes roasted meats more delicious than raw.’ There are so many things wrong with this statement it’s hard to know where to begin. With the ‘mankind’ and ‘his’, perhaps, since I’m way too old and have lived through far too many decades of embattled feminism to put up with this any more: ‘humankind’ and ‘our’ would have worked perfectly well here. And I’d probably let the inaccuracy of ‘getting out of trees’ pass if I weren’t already bristling to twice my size. But one of the standard ways of obtaining the ‘umami’ flavour, from the culture that gave us the word, is miso, which is fermented soybeans (or rice or barley). And even those of us who eat meat may, in fact, like it raw.††† Back before the latest 1,000,000 health scares about one thing or another I used to get through a lot of steak tartare.‡ Which brings me to my culminating condemnation which is, so, as one might say, you meathead, what about vegetarians? Are they still in trees because they haven’t discovered the rapture of dead roast flesh?
* * *
* I’m really cross I forgot to mention, the other night, while gambolling among the apricots, that Susan of Athens’ apple pie recipe contains apricots.
** Well duh. Also, speaking of duh, I will grandly declare that at least a tiny, fractional part of my extreme idiocy concerning computers and the net is because I haven’t got time to settle down and figure it out from first principles. Well, third or fourth principles, helpfully channelled through some soothing filter like Computers for Dummies. Blog entries are words: I can do those.^ I’ve had kind of a bad day doing blog admin, and I’m feeling even more incapable than usual.
^ Speaking of the themes of Days in the Life:
- (a) lack of TIME
- (b) techno moronity
- (c) footnotes
That about covers it. (d) Subgroups are headed with the category Hellhounds. As I sit here I can hear them mulling over new villainies.
*** A beta version new villainy being tested to failure.
† For example, someone was worrying that her egg white was refusing to beat stiff for the cream-cheese sauce for my Hot Water Gingerbread.^ You don’t need meringue-quality egg white for the cream cheese sauce: the weight of the cream cheese is going to overwhelm all those fragile little air bubbles anyway. You want what lightness and volume you can get, but don’t fret yourself. AJLR, very properly, says that any speck of fat or protein will stop egg whites from beating up well, and recommends applying a slice of lemon on your instruments of destruction before use. Yeep. I’ve only ever used a paper towel–or, if you’re feeling environmentally friendly, a supremely clean^ dish towel–to wipe everything stringently till the varnish^^ starts coming off. Slices of lemon require prior planning: you have to have a lemon on hand. Then you have to cut it: which means washing the knife and the chopping board afterward.^^^ No, no, no, I’m not starting a new trademarked domestic science philosophy called Lazy Slut Ethics for nothing.+
^ Which, if you’re too environmental, you don’t have. I rang the washing machine man a few days ago because I’m tired of tiny flecks of dirt on all my clean clothing, especially the ones that aren’t dirt-coloured to begin with, which is most of them. It would be impractical to have a second washing machine for muddy jeans, All Stars, and dog towels. The washing machine man said there was nothing wrong with my washing machine, that the problem was that I washed at too low a temperature with wimpy detergent. Sigh. Oh yes and when’s the last time I ran it empty on boil? I may have to learn to buy lemons regularly.
^ And if you’re cooking in, on or with anything varnished, I recommend you step slowly away from the Chippendale sideboard, and go sign yourself up for the nearest outreach class in remedial water boiling and essential wooden spoon brandishment.
^^ We are assuming the possession of Basic Knife Skills, and that there will be no blood. Trust me, egg whites don’t like blood at all.
+ http://www2.xlibris.com/bookstore/bookdisplay.asp?bookid=28705 Hmmm. I wish it gave you a sample recipe in the excerpt. Oh, and I’ve just Lost All Control and ordered an OP copy of Peg Bracken’s seminal I Hate to Cookbook. I’ll let you know.
†† I mean, thank god. Thank the Great Mum Goddess. The UK came to it late enough. As someone who moved over here quite clear in her determination not to live a life of mushy peas and phosphorescent kippers^ I am very grateful that Delia had had her first best seller by then.
^ I like kippers. But not the ones that glow in the dark.
††† Kipling’s story The Mark of the Beast has always seriously scared the begeezus out of me.
‡ The basis of the name is the legend that nomadic Tatar people of the Central Asian steppes did not have time to cook and thus placed meat underneath their horses’ saddles. The meat would be tenderised by the end of the journey. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steak_tartare
Peter and I were caught out (as we not infrequently are) by Bank Holiday Monday. In this case it’s veg we’re short on–the greengrocer is shut, of course, and while the two tiny grimly elitist rival supermarkets in town were open today, they haven’t had any deliveries. So the fresh veg selection was somewhat thin and pale. Peter brought home several bags of mixed grimly elitist upmarket veg from one of them, containing . . . broccoli, asparagus and sugar peas. Now let’s sit here and think about this for a moment. Sugar peas cook in about the time it takes to put the steamer over the boiling water–say about a minute, two minutes tops. Asparagus takes two to three minutes. Broccoli takes four or five–and the broccoli in these packets has come in big fat five-minute chunks. Um. How are we supposed to cook this, please? Barring separating it out (which is, in fact, what Peter ended up doing).
So let’s look at the package. It says: boil 5-6 minutes or steam 8-9 minutes. EIGHT TO NINE MINUTES????!!! That’s twice too long for the broccoli, and sugar snaps steamed for nine minutes . . . I don’t even want to think about it. Green library paste. No wonder people think they don’t like vegetables: they follow these instructions they’ve never eaten vegetables: they’ve eaten (or possibly refused to eat) Instant Compost. (Straight from Your Refrigerator and Out the Back Door, with a Nine Minute Pause on the Top of the Cooker!*) Although I’m not sure that all the little wrigglies in your compost heap would be too interested either: overdone, they’d say, let’s try next door, they were out weeding this afternoon, all that lovely fresh creeping buttercup and groundsel and chickweed and celandine!**
And furthermore one mingy little packet contains three of your five-a-day fruit-and-veg? Three? I know I eat silly quantities of veg*** but please, veg is a staple†, it’s not the ornamental parsley†† with the soggy grilled tomato in the corner of your plate of steak that you don’t eat anyway!††† Rant rant rant rant rant rant. Blah blah blah health and future of the country blah blah.
Eat your veg. And don’t steam sugar peas for nine minutes.
* AKA more explanation for the staggeringly high food wastage percentages in this country. Sigh.
** Especially celandine, in my garden(s). And ground elder. We are not however composting our ground elder, because we know better.^ I read somewhere that ground elder is good to eat, so we tried it once. Nope. Boring. (And I didn’t steam it for nine minutes either.) Which is a pity, because weeding is much more amusing when you’re going to eat the result. Like you don’t mind bleeding picking blackberries: it’s in a good cause.
^ Ground elder laughs at all that composting stuff. It lies at its ease in its nice bed of weeds, grass clippings, and nine-minute-steamed sugar peas, filing its nails and enjoying the pleasant heat of a cooking compost heap, and then springs into diabolical life as soon as the so-called finished compost is put back on the garden it was so valiantly weeded out of.
***And let me tell you I resent the fact that I can’t leap tall buildings in a single bound
† like chocolate
†† One of my favourite bits of Vonda N McIntyre’s Starfarers is the concept of Decorative Food.
††† I am so sad a person that when I go out to a restaurant I eat everybody else’s parsley too. The soggy grilled tomatoes have to fend for themselves. The (Ubiquitous) Soggy Grilled Tomato: Another High Point in British Cuisine. I know where the idea for Attack of the Killer Tomatoes http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0080391/ came from: Dillon and De Bello had just spent several weeks touring around the UK, staying at B&Bs and eating at pubs, and looking at soggy grilled tomatoes on their plates three times a day till they were dreaming about the things at night. Ask me how I know this.