Tuesday

The Mythic Biscuit: Oreos

My childhood biscuits were mainly plain but had lovely names: Marie, Nice, Rich Tea. Quiet biscuits. The kind of biscuits that would never interrupt a conversation. Polite, not pushy. At the other end of the spectrum, and only irregularly present, probably a result of practical economics, were cheeky Jammy Dodgers, irritable Garibaldis, and self-contented and reliable Bourbons. And even more irregularly, the flashy inhabitants of a Christmas Box of Biscuits: Pink Wafers. I ate them at the same time as not liking them very much, a bit like Miss World Contestants in sparkly dresses, too much eye make-up and a saccharine idea of world peace. 

I'm in the mood to think, and personify, 'biscuits' because the lovely team at Oreo sent me some samples of their new Oreo Thins. I hadn't heard of Oreos until the early 1990s when a friend asked if I would bring him back a packet from a Florida holiday. I forgot and pretended I couldn't find them. 'But they're everywhere in America,' he said, both astonished and suspicious. Which of course they were. Because the Oreo is a 'mythic biscuit', or at least that's the impression I have from reading their Wiki entry and talking to my American friend, poet and writer, Patricia Debney

'Yes, Oreos definitely have an iconic place in US food culture. To the point where I'm thinking 'thins'? Oreo THINS?' she said when I asked her about them. Because the whole point of Oreos is, apparently, the filling. And millions upon millions of American children, across a century, have gently eased off the top layer of biscuit, ate it, then scraped off the sugary white filling with their teeth, until not a smear of said filling remained, and then ate the second biscuit disc. Patricia, who's now in her fifties, told me, 'I'm not sure I have EVER eaten an Oreo whole.' 

Nabisco, the manufacturers of Oreos, capitalised on the filling's attraction in 1974 and marketed the 'Double Stuff Oreo' with twice the amount of cream filling which, if you were careful, you could pop away from both biscuit sides and eat on its own. 

And then there were THINS. 


I haven't shared a THIN with Patricia: I do not want to be the person to shatter the Oreo passion of her childhood and youth. And as I haven't ever before eaten a standard or super-size Oreo I can, perhaps, be more objective about their 'lighter' siblings. The Oreo Team describe them as the 'playfully, sophisticated addition' to the Oreo range, 'thinner, crispier and guaranteed to tantalise your taste buds and awaken your imagination!' That's a lot to ask of a biscuit but then Marcel Proust, in Swann's Way, the first volume of his seven volume novel, Remembrance of Things Past, showed the world how a madeleine, a simple sweet cake, was capable of conjuring involuntary memories: 


But back to the THINS. And tradition. Following Patricia's instructions, I gently flipped off the top layer of biscuit and ate it. Then I scraped off the creamy filling, but a little too enthusiastically. The bottom disc snapped like a crisp. But the 5th biscuit held up ... And maybe that's the appeal (or one of them) of THINS - you can eat so many more of them! 

And how do they compare with my own childhood biscuit memories? I'd classify them as cousins to the lovely Bourbon. Sophisticated city cousins. The ones that turn up in the countryside in silk gloves and high-heeled shoes but we still love them for their brightness; they're so much fun to be around. We serve them sherry (now there's an idea...) and listen, wide-eyed, to the stories they have to tell. 

Wednesday

International Women's Day 2017

I am running through the wondrous silence of history
  
past standing stones, invisible tombs, the route Chaucer's pilgrims took across the North Downs, the stone cold dead in churchyards, listening to the sound my feet make on lanes, on mud and stone, sharing my breath, the thump of my heartbeats, with sheep, the sky, the fields. Sometimes I wonder how I got here, what propelled me forward to this moment when the snags of fleece along a wire fence shine with glory, when another the bend in the road ahead is an inspiration not a defeat.  And I think of the words, 'yes', and, 'you can', and the centuries of women before me who said them out loud, or quietly to themselves, believing that something could change and making it happen for themselves, their families, communities and for the world. And here I am, each step, each clear thought changing almost nothing, which is still something, and feeling better for it.



Monday

Drunken Puffs - Pudding and Politics

One thing leads to another...

An online recipe for apple liqueur, back in October, asked for four pounds of apples to be soaked in sugar (halve the quantity of sugar if your apples are very sweet) and a bottle of brandy for two weeks. After straining and bottling the liquid - which doubles in quantity, by the way, so make sure you have two bottles handy - this is what remained: sweet, brandy softened apple slices that were far too delicious to throw away. So I froze them. Or, at least, I put them in the freezer, overlooking the scientific fact that alcohol doesn't freeze. But yesterday, two months later, despite having failed the total cryogenic test, they tasted fine to me so I let them sit overnight in the kitchen to relinquish their semi-frozen state, and created the following dessert. Although, given its simplicity, assembled would be a more accurate term.

Unroll a sheet of ready-made puff pastry and spread with a mixture of cream cheese (8oz), icing sugar (2oz), cornflour (2 tbsp) and one egg yolk, leaving a border of at least 1 inch.


Top that custardy layer with apple slices - tee-totalling slices would be fine, I'm sure, in the absence of drunken ones - and fold the edges of the pastry up and over. That's it.


It takes about 30 to 40 mins to cook at around 190C.

As usual, in my excitement to serve dessert I only remembered to take a photo of the golden Drunken Puff after four of us had demolished over half of it. I'd also been planning to dust some icing sugar over the top too for prettiness. Oh well, next time ...

Drunken Puff seemed a suitable name for it - those apples pack a significant brandied punch. But I couldn't help but think it was an equally appropriate description for the presidential inauguration in the US last Friday, for a man puffed up and drunk with his own self-importance.

'Give him a chance,' people have said to me on social media. And I'd really like to, if there was anything I could base that trust on, if there was anything he'd said throughout the whole of his campaign, right up to Friday's inauguration, that I admired or felt hopeful about. Perhaps his often ridiculous contradictions and lies will stop now that he's in office. Perhaps he won't feel the need to defend himself against the slightest of criticisms and will review his language to avoid being misogynistic, racist and bigoted. Perhaps he will temper his bouts of self-aggrandising although his first meeting, as president, with the CIA would suggest that experience is already trumping hope: read this report in The New Yorker.

I will not dedicate this dessert to him, not even in jest. But every time I make it I will think of #WomensMarch: the millions of women worldwide who marched in protest last weekend against the new president's flagrant disregard for truth and his incitement to hate, against his comments and policy positions over immigration, Muslims, the disabled and the environment, to name a few.

My friend, Rachel Scherrer, was one of the women who marched through Washington DC. 'RESIST' her banner says. Something we should all feel obliged to do when we confront inequality, the mocking or dismissal of the vulnerable, the abuse of power. Everyone of us is capable of standing up for what's good in the world, for fairness, responsibility and kindness. Small acts. Big acts. They all count. One thing leads to another. Rachel and millions of women cannot be wrong.

Rachel Scherrer at Women's March 2017, Washington DC
Photo © Jim Scherrer, reproduced with permission