Tuesday

Posh or common? Or a little of both?

The sweet you can eat between meals without ruining your appetite. Remember that? 

How about:
What's got a hazelnut in every bite? 
Full of Eastern promise? 
Only the crumbliest, flakiest chocolate, tastes like chocolate never tasted before? 
They melt in your mouth not in your hand? 
A taste of paradise?

Treat yourself to a Milky Way, a Topic, a Fry's Turkish Delight, a Cadbury's Flake, a bag of Minstrels or a Bounty if you flaunted your age and got all six right. One or two jingles are probably ear-worming you as you read. Anyone who answered the second with 'squirrel shit', pull up your socks and go stand in the corner of the class!

(The links make for an intriguing chocolate history on both sides of the Atlantic.)

Then there were the unmistakeables. A finger of fudge is just enough to give your kids a treat. The Milky Bars are on me! And, the Bond-fuelled height of romance and sophistication (I was only 10 when it first came out): All because the lady loves Milk Tray.

Which is a neat segue to the elegant chocolates someone bought me last week:


They looked gorgeous: all whipped curves and fine tracery of piping, a constellation of gold dust on the orange heart. They felt gorgeous: a paper thin chocolate case, the imprinted medallion. But they tasted of confusion, like a bag of flavour hammers noisily competing for the attention of my taste buds. Of bewildering complexity, like University Challenge questions on advanced mathematics where I don't even understand the question. Enough for me to take a break, take a Kit-Kat.

In the 1980s, when I was living in St. Helier in Jersey, when the availability of Belgian Chocolates was the delightful exception rather than the predictable norm, I used to treat myself to hand-made chocolate truffles from a store whose name has been forgotten in the mists of Dry Martini & Soda. de Gruchys? Voisins? Neither of them fold comfortably into the pocket of memory that preserves those white chocolates made with fresh cream and flavoured with vanilla. Lindt's happy little white chocolate balls come the closest to imitating their taste, if not their fluffy texture, and rekindling that memory.


But despite my enjoyment of some 'grown-up' chocolate, of chilli and sea-salt and wasabi flavours infused into tablets of 70% + cocoa content, there is still something in my genes that pleads every now and then for a Galaxy, a Crunchie, a triangle of Toblerone, or a packet of Munchies whose biscuit hearts, I am sure, are diminishing with the years. Or an original Cadbury's Boost (made with coconut and caramel not the later peanuts or biscuit), that made my gums ache from the chewing and the absorption of sugar. But in a good way.  


Hungry Writing Prompts
  1. Write about something you were not allowed to do as a child.
  2. Write about what confuses you.
  3. Write a list of romantic gestures.
  4. Write about growing up.
  5. Write about aching.

Monday

And then there were bees... and cake

Two of our rented hives
Brett, the honey bee man, turned up at 9am a week last Saturday. It was probably the dark green cargo pants and lighter green t-shirt that made me think he was in the Territorial Army but he did have an authoritative, no-nonsense way about him too. 
'I thought bees had to be transported at night,' I said. 
'No,' he said. 'As long as it's cold enough.' 
And cold enough it has been.

We are renting four hives to help pollinate the apple trees whose eruption of blossom is about a month later than usual. They're tucked in pairs beside two of the poplar windbreaks although on the day I took this there wasn't the slightest buzz of activity, but Brett did say that they'd take a while to readjust to their new surroundings.

And he was right because a couple of days later there were hundreds of the tiny brown bees surging in and out of the slot at the bottom of the hive. As Brett lives about 4 miles away there's no risk of the bees heading home: apparently 2 miles is the average distance that you have to move the hives to prevent them from doing that. 

You'll have surely read that bees are in the news. One in three mouthfuls of the food we eat is dependent on pollination at a time when a crisis is threatening the world's honey bees says the British Beekeepers' Association. 

The Welsh government have taken steps to protect these essential pollinators. You can read about it here. But Westminster have not taken any similar action and the UK government refused to support a ban of neonicotinoid chemicals in pesticides last month. 

Our borrowed bees are safe. But they are a macroscopic part of the bee population in Kent, let alone in the UK. But it seems that the EU has the power to restrict the usage of those chemicals despite the absence of a majority vote. For our sake I hope that happens.

If the bee disappeared off the face of the earth, man would only have four years left to live. Albert Einstein 

In praise of honey bees I've made a cake that I last made 28 years ago, a statistic that makes me feel like Old Mother Hubbard! I made it as a dessert for one of the first lunches I cooked after I moved in with Tony in 1985. I'm trying to work out why I haven't bothered with it since and I think I remember one half of it breaking in two when I tried to take it out of the tin which resulted in a mini nervous breakdown complete with tears. I wanted to do things so perfectly then, in an attempt to impress and be the best.

Happily, there wasn't even a cake-scrape of stress involved in yesterday's baking session. Even when Tesco's shelves were bare of blanched hazelnuts. I used the chopped and roasted ones instead. You do need a grinder attachment on your food processor for this recipe as the hazelnuts need to be ground and I've yet to see them on supermarket shelves. Or you can use a coffee grinder, or robust biceps and a big pestle and mortar. I have an ancient electric coffee grinder that I keep for grinding quantities of spices and nuts... the same grinder I used for the first time 28 years ago. 

Hazelnut & Honey Meringue Cake
If you're wheat intolerant then this is a cake for you too: no flour. No fat either. Or sugar, at least not in its sprinkly form. Here's the recipe and the instructions from an old ledger I use as a recipe book. 

The only change I made was adding some Grand Marnier to the double/heavy cream before whipping it up for the filling. The next time I make it - which will have to be before another 28 years passes or I won't be able to bend down and get the damn thing in the oven - I'm going to go for coffee flavoured cream.

It's a cake that shouts 'afternoon tea'. It has both sweetness and lightness that make me think of doilies and antimacassars and bone china plates and cake forks. But it was only a doily that got anywhere near my attempt. I placed a small paper one on the top before I dusted it with icing sugar... but the sugar fell out of the jar and through the sieve in such a quantity I didn't quite get the effect I was after. More avalanche than light dusting. But it still tasted good.

Hungry writing prompts
Write about the sound of bees.
Write about cold weather.
Write about disappearing.
Write about what you were doing a quarter of a century ago.
Write something delicate.

And enjoy your cake.




Dreams of heat and light

Summer arrived in Great Britain a couple of weekends ago: the temperature rocketed higher than in Spain. We all peeled off our vests and long socks, sped towards the nearest coast and exposed our pale wintered skin to Vitamin D and sunburn. It lasted 12 hours. We are now back in our winter coats. In Folkestone, on the south coast, last Saturday I was wearing a North Face beany hat and lined leather gloves. It's the middle of May. This should be Spring. I stare at the online weather forecast in the hope that the depth of my desperation might change it. No such luck: this week is rain, rain, mostly cloudy, rain. And a nipple stiffening 12 degrees. 

My anticipation of barbecuing and get-togethers with friends and family around our new garden table and chairs is diluting with each cold morning wind and the inevitable downpour. Did I really make this chicken satay, grill it in the open air, serve it with sticky rice and chilled rose wine one balmy evening? 


Yes. Two years ago in the garden of our old house in Antibes. I suddenly miss being there, the reliability of the climate, living almost continually outdoors for 7 months of the year. 

all this green forgiving the rain - a haiku that gave me the title of my latest book. And when the sky does this, perhaps we have no choice but to forgive it. 

I once tried to find the end of rainbow, tracking one in my car along the twists and turns of rural Kent, always finding myself to its left or right. 'It can't be done,' Tony told me when I got home. A rainbow isn't fixed in a specific spot. We see the refracted colours of the water drops at an angle relative to the sun's rays. 

But Google 'finding the end of a rainbow' and you'll read people's accounts of standing in the ends of rainbows, or driving through them. Who's right? 

I didn't try to find the end of this evening's rainbow. Instead I tried to cheer up the new garden furniture whose chair cushions remain wrapped in thick plastic. And the barbecue that awaits assembly in the shed. Keep calm and think of heat, I said. And light. They'll come.


fresh figs and honey
the longest day seems as if
it will never end



Hungry Writing Prompts
  1. Write about taking off your clothes.
  2. Write about anticipation.
  3. Write about having no choice.
  4. Write about a rainbow.
  5. Write a letter of hope. 



Search and discovery: from custard to corned beef


My search for the perfect custard slice continued last week at Arthur Llewellyn Jenkins's coffee shop in Swansea. ALJ’s isn’t known principally for its coffee and cakes. It’s a furniture store of stadium proportions: the horizons in every direction are choked with plump cushions, waxed leather and wood, mirrors, table lamps and rugs, mattresses that come with latex or pocket springs, and some that feel like uncooked dough when you press your hands into them but are named for Japanese batter. Okay, they're not. The brand is Tempur but my mind goes to the batter every time. 
Custard slice from the coffee shop at
Arthur Llewellyn Jenkins 

The girl who served us in the coffee shop was confident that their custard slice would be a winner and it was nice (and the cappuccino was a goodie too) but the custard could have done with a little more flavour, more sugar or vanilla perhaps. So, the Greggs custard slice is still at the top of my CS League. And while I know that quantity doesn’t necessarily mean quality it actually does in this case. I bought a box of three from the shop in Port Talbot that had my wrist aching by the time I’d carried it back to the car. They weighed in at 1lb 10oz. That’s a ‘half pound +’ per slice. I’ve said it before: Custard Hunk. 


My hankering for Greggs' custard slices has led to another growing addiction: their Corned Beef Pasty. I’d like to show you a picture of the meltingly flaky pocket of pastry filled with a pillow of soft mashed potato and corned beef but once I'm out the door of the bakery with the paper bag in my hand I slip into immediate ‘chow down’ mode until every last mouthful is gone. Except for the bag of course. Although I have been known to tear that open with my teeth if I’m carrying something in my other
Not even a crumb remained.
hand. And they’re only £1 each. The custard slices are an anomalous 77p. I’m a cheap date.

I didn’t realise that corned beef pasties were particularly Welsh but according to Peter’s Pies, near Caerphilly, they originated in the 1940s and 1950s and are deeply rooted in Welsh history and tradition. Think the Welsh equivalent of the Cornish Pasty.

And while I’ve been writing this I’ve remembered the plate corned beef pasty my mother used to make, on the same clear glass pyrex plate she used for her apple tart, a concave plate that wasn't deep enough to be a dish. And here’s a recipe I found online. I’ll probably cheat and buy ready rolled pastry.  Mammy always made her own. Though I doubt you could buy ready-made pastry in the 1960s anyway. Rub the fat into the flour until it resembles breadcrumbs. The mantra drummed into me in school cookery classes in the late 1960s and early '70s. Before they became Domestic Science. Which has never made any sense to me. 


Hungry Writing Prompts
  1. Write about the smell of something new.
  2. Write about a clear horizon.
  3. Write about something cheap.
  4. Write about plates.
  5. Write about a school lesson.