I have sat myself down on many an occasion and said to myself 'what are you good at?' 'what are your strengths?' (yes, I am afraid I do talk to myself and sadly I occasionally do it out loud as well, it's a wonder I haven't been thrown out of Sainsburys yet - or even banned from Tesco as I wander around muttering 'this place is crap') unfortunately I am not good at looking at my potential. I am brilliant at doing it for other people but not so for myself. Then I remembered those excruciating 'ice breaking' sessions I took part in for all the assertiveness classes I have attended (4 so far and none of them worked because you know what, people you need to be assertive with haven't read the manual and so don't follow the steps - which is plain unfair) and of course those 'wonderful' sessions the trainer at the organisation (the one who made me redundant -just in case I haven't mentioned them before) would run (for those of you not in the know these are 'how to be the most perfect manager/employee as decreed by the 'organisation' lessons - oops enough of the bitterness) whereby amongst other things you have to state your name, your identity (yep always a good one that - how do you identify yourself) and something you are good at!!!!! I struggled with the 'what am I good at bit' most and so, in a fit of panic, I always said 'I can cook'.
So, I thought, there is my potential. I am going to be a domestic goddess. Nigella eat your heart out. And as with my book - instant bestseller - made into a film - Meryl Streep playing me etc or with my art - hanging in the Tate gallery within a week of my painting it - bought by a reclusive, filthy rich Middle Eastern gentleman for a phenomenal amount - interviewed on South Bank Show (Melvyn brings it back just for me - again), so it is with my cooking. 3 Micheline stars at least, all by the end of the year of course. Gordon, Jamie, James, Delia and Heston having to queue for a table. Three cookbooks out by next June - all bestsellers - sorry Jamie. Ah that is what I am going to do!!
Having dedcided not to go with the chutney for reasons previously discussed I sat down to comtemplate in which direction my culinary future lay. Leafing through my many, many, many cookbooks I thought of casseroles. I would make casseroles for busy professionals which they could just pop into their ovens to reheat - and then I remembered the beef casserole I made - the one with the mushy squash in the bottom, the stringy meat and the potatoes that didn't seem to want to cook, the ragu that kept drying out and had to have a whole extra bottle of wine added to it to keep it moist and it's best not to even think about the moroccan chicken. Perhaps not casseroles then.
Then I hit upon it - afternoon tea - I just love afternoon tea - the ex signicant other took me to the Ritz for afternoon tea for my 40th birthday (which was the only time he ever spent any money on me but that is another story and one which you may well get to hear if I don't get a job soon). I will make afternoon tea thought I - sandwiches, cakes and scones. I will set up a tea stall at all the markets in Kent until I can get my own tearooms and then I'll charge £35 for afternoon tea thereby undercutting the Ritz and people will have to book 3 months in advance for a table and the Japanese will all come to me for tea when they visit England and what will set me apart from everyone else will be sandwiches made from my own homemade bread. Yes!! But before I get too ahead of myself here I thought I had better practise, just a bit. My scones need a little work. They are no longer flat biscuits thanks to Rachel Allens recipe (thanks Rach) but they are not quite 'scones' as in the pictures of risen and fluffy looking scones seen everywhere. So a bit of practise needed there but I can do it. However, I haven't made bread since I was at school. So this afternoon I made unleavened brown bread. Another Rachel Allen recipe - with an awful lot of ingredients in it.
Well, I had to throw the first lot of dry ingredients away as I didn't read the recipe correctly and put the weight for the bran in, using wheatgerm instead of bran and this I didn't discover until I had put in the rest of the million other ingredients. So I had to weigh it all out again which was just as well as I had forgotten to switch the oven on. The second attempt had me putting too much pinhead oatmeal in as it sort of fell from the packet in too big a quantity and when I tried to scoop some of it out I was taking some of the other ingredients as well so decided to leave well alone. It was only a few grams after all and it was taking me ages, which was ok really as the oven still needed to heat up. I then had to add 500ml of buttermilk and as I had 584ml in the carton I carefully weighed it out. Now the scales definitely said 500ml went into the mixture but for the life of me I don't know what happened to the other 84mls - they weren't in the carton as left overs. The recipe said to mix it all in with your hand - it is so 'messy' mixing bread this way. The mixture had to be loose and sloppy and believe me it was.
Yes, well, it might not look sloppy in the photo but it was (haven't worked out how to remove dud photos yet). Yuk. Anyway, that done I put it in the tin and shoved it in the oven. Now as the recipe was for 2 loaves but I was only making one you would have thought I would have cooked the loaf for a little less time wouldn't you? Well, actually you would be right (that got you didn't it!!!). I put the timer on for 10 minutes less and when it went off I reluctantly switched off Timothy Olyphant, stood up, went to the living room door and couldn't remember why I was there, so I sat down again until it came to me. Which it did some 15 minutes later. My loaf was, well yes, it was a little dark on top and yes, it was a little solid when thumped, as could only be expected from having been cooked for 15 minutes over its time but it was also 'shaped' - not as you would expect a loaf to be shaped. It was, how can I put this, well a portion had risen from the tin and thrown itself over the side, and there it dangled looking very much like - well - like this
Anyway, once I had sawed my way through the crust I found out that it was actually - quite stodgy inside. Sigh. I have tried it and the taste is ok-ish but then I am used to my cooking. I certainly couldn't give it to anyone else to eat, let alone sell it or turn it into a sandwich. I then remembered why I hadn't made bread since I was at school. After the breadmaking lesson at school I made a batch of bread and rolls one weekend that a friend and I took on a picnic after which we were rather poorly. She blamed my bread and I was inclined to agree with her. I also remembered a few other things from school cookery lessons in particular my predisposition to burning things. I managed to burn a packet lemon mernigue mix and for my home economics CSE exam I burnt not only the toad in the hole but also the coffee!!!! (I passed but only just). I think I am genetically programmed to burn things. Perhaps I am not destined to cook after all.
Anyway nil desperandum, I am going to try making bread again tomorrow, practise makes perfect but I don't think I shall be setting up my teashops or applying for any jobs as a domestic goddess any time soon. Ah well back to the drawing board.
Well I am going to go and clear up my kitchen now and saw all the crusts off my bread and feed them to the seagulls. How fiendishly clever of me, I have discovered a way to get rid of the seagulls. I wonder if I can patent it and make my fortune?