I know, I know, oh, millions of adoring fans. It’s been quite a while since I posted, but I’ve been busy! And I’m still busy. Too busy to write in fact, but I can at least provide you with a selection of photographs from the buffet that our class did for a private function.
I will provide captions later. For the moment, it’s all visual.
This is my FIRST EVER character cake. I’d always wondered how these were done, and now I have a bit more of an insight. I’d never heard of Peppa the Pig—which just goes to show you how out of touch I am with the pop culture of the under fives—but here she is. The pattern came from a book full of characters that are shown on Nick Jnr Too. Peppa is actually a multiple winner of the British Academy Children’s Awards.
Anyway, in an effort to get the hang of Thursdays I’ve decided that the fourth (or fifth) day of the week is dedicated to special projects.
Peppa has, at her core, a dense sponge cake. She needs to be dense to support the weight of the fondant on top. The fondant itself is a basic White Fondant, with extra icing sugar added until it is almost the consistency of Royal Icing. The colouring is various concentration of Cochineal Powder that provides the intensity of the red. It is a rather tricky medium to work with and I have learned a lot today.
But gosh it was fun! It was like Xy discovering plasticine and Play Doh all over again, only you can eat this stuff, although I wouldn’t be inclined to eat too much of this too often.
For the die-hard perfectionist fans of Peppa, yes, I know her tail is normally pink, but she’s wearing a tail stocking because the weather is still slightly chilly up here in the mountains and Peppa is obviously a British Rose of a Girl—a person of refinement who thinks that a tail with goosebumps isn’t very ladylike.
NOTE TO SELF: In future, use gloves when handling intense food colours. I have now been caught, literally, red-handed.
OTHER NOTE TO SELF: A warm shower solves the cochineal staining problem, but I can’t vouch for the efficacy against any other colour.
CAKE VITAL STATISTICS:
LENGTH—45cm, BREATH—30cm, HEIGHT—9cm. WEIGHT—3kg.
Ma Cheffe: For inspiring the gig.
Mon Chef: For key instruction and demonstration.
Slick Wilhelm: For numerous attempts to discern a technique to get the white chocolate eyes right.
In case you didn’t know, the world of chefs, waiters and others who work in restaurants and hotels is riddled with drugs.
It’s the mega-sized elephant in the room that nobody wants to talk about. Because people calling each other out on their Scheisse is never fun although “shit” always sounds better in German. As a person who has spent a lifetime abstaining from drugs except in rare cases for medicinal purposes, I’m probably the least-qualified person in the world to talk about this, but since the vast majority of people in the world never let a little thing like ignorance or inexperience get in the way of having an opinion, I don’t see why I should be an exception to that or why I shouldn’t put in my five cents worth (yes, I know, it used to be two cents, but, you know, inflation …)
But first, need to set the record straight on a few things.
One: It was Father’s Day yesterday and my pal form school Mish-Mash innocently asked me, “Did you call your Daddy?” The following conversation ensued.
X: Well, actually, my father’s been dead since I was 19.
Mish: Oh! I’m sorry.
X: Oh don’t be! I’m not. He was a terrible person.
Mish: (wide-eyed but suppressing laughter) Well then, I guess you have a different take on Father’s Day then?
X: Oh yeah. I wake up on Father’s day like one of those people in mattress commercials all springy and bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and smiling thinking, “YES! Yet another year I haven’t had to live with, much less buy anything for that BASTARD!”
What I didn’t tell Mish is that one of the many reasons that I have a low opinion of the man who donated, arguably, the better half of his genome to me is that he was a chain-smoking alcoholic. My father wasn’t a cinematic drunk, tripping over furniture and being comical or witty. He was a real-life drunk—narcissistic, controlling and boorish. So being forced to endure polluted air and polluted behaviour throughout my delicate, formative years was pretty much a long, drawn-out torture—not the best or most nurturing environments for an “Orchid Person”. Being the observant type (when I want to be) I rapidly concluded, “Gee. If that’s what drugs do to you I want no part of it. You look bad. You smell bad. There’s NOTHING attractive about this at all.” Notice that my objections weren’t moral, they were aesthetic—typical orchid thinking. I’m telling you this so that you have a better insight as to why I have the opinion that I have about drugs.
Of course, there’s always that question hanging in the air. “Do drugs corrupt people OR do corruptible people seek out drugs?” I’m inclined to believe that it’s more of the latter, but it depends on your interpretation of “corruption.” I have argued elsewhere (in my book Women in Crime—be the first to write a review!) that people often do drugs out of desperate, clumsy, self-medicated pain relief and I still think that that point of view has merit and I’m disinclined to judge that sort of desperation too harshly, after all, I’m not a woman from a disadvantaged socio-economic background with a history of being a victim of physical and sexual abuse who takes a shot of heroin to make all that pain go away—at least not in this lifetime. I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about reasonably well-educated people who come from so-called “good” homes who think that drugs are cool or funny or “edgy” and who think that because they’re young and hip that they can put whatever they like into their bodies as a form of chemical entertainment and that by some magic there will be no consequences.
Well, sorry, there are. I grew up with a lot of people who “experimented” with drugs and kept it “educational” to the point where they experimented and educated their way into, in no particular order, permanent short-term memory loss, stupidity, paranoia, cancer and the morgue. I have NEVER met anyone who has taken “recreational” drugs, especially if they started at a young age, and who wasn’t worse off for it especially if the “use” continues for years. The effects of recreational chemistry are so well documented that I won’t bore you or myself by repeating any more of them here.
Having said that, I assure you that while I might be judgmental about it. I’m not at all smug about my sobriety. For whatever reason, evolutionary genetics, the spiritual evolution that only comes from lifetimes of trying EVERYTHING or sheer dumb luck in a Godless, mechanistic universe, I’m not a personality prone to compulsive or addictive behaviour at least not as far as chemistry is concerned. I have never smoked anything, except unwillingly and passively. I drink ethanol rarely, and when I do, it’s just a sensation, like any other food experience and a small amount suffices. I don’t feel like “Wow! Where have you been all my life, Baaaaaaby!” If there’s an “alcoholic gene complex” I didn’t inherit it from either parent and I’ve avoided the epigenetic influences too. The fact is, my early exposure to a lot of my father’s drinking wasn’t “sophisticated” cocktail bars full of “elegant”, well-dressed people sipping alcoholic alchemy, or of fine dining, but of the bar that was, literally, next door to the hotel where I did a lot of my growing up. The bar smelled of stale beer and ashtrays and full of men on stools who I’m sure could have been doing ANYTHING more life-enhancing at that time of the day and I still don’t get what the appeal is with either drug.
One of the many disadvantages in my case of being interested in food and fine dining is that people also assume that there will also be a concomitant interest in booze. This is because of the historical link between aristocratic food and wine and, to a lesser extent, beer, spirits and liqueurs. I have nothing against these various forms of ethanol per se aside from the fact that ethanol is actually a potentially addictive poison that needs a healthy liver to detoxify it. However, the culinary world has many common foods that contain poisons which, fortunately, can be tolerated in small amounts or destroyed by heat or other treatment, hence my lack of concern when cooking with alcohol. But aside from culinary uses my interest in wine, beer, spirits and liqueurs—or what I think of as “disguised ethanol”—is entirely intellectual. I appreciate the aesthetics of “matching” food and drink, but as far as ethanol is concerned, it’s like my attitude to salt, a little goes a very long way. However, at an “industrial” level the “foody industry” as a whole tends to fetishize ethanol. I guess that this can’t be helped since, if you think of food as just a bunch of chemicals, the whole food industry is built upon the fetishization of chemistry anyway. I fetishize proteins, fats and carbohydrates if they’re in a particular form while other people fetishize alcohol and other non-nutritive chemicals if they’re in a particular form. Stated like that, the various forms of fetishization sound more like religious prejudices than anything else. “My chemical idols are better than your chemical idols.”
So why is the hospitality industry riddled with drug abuse? Well it’s no different to anything else really. Human life as a whole has been riddled with drug abuse for millennia and has caused huge and immeasurable suffering. This suffering even includes the abuse of food. “Gluttony” wasn’t a deadly sin for no reason after all. The “drug scene” and the current fashion of the social acceptability of drugs is all part of a bigger issue about society as a whole. Unfortunately, in an age where we’re all supposed to be more “tolerant” of each other, it’s hard to point a finger at the Emperor of Chemical Addictions, and say that he’s naked, without being accused of being a stick-in-the-mud, a drag, a wet blanket or some sort of religious fanatic who thinks that the opposite of hedonism is aestheticism. This is because a lot of people find drug use pleasurable (pleasure is a good thing, yes?) and to argue against drugs is confused as an argument against pleasure.
In fact, an argument against drugs is actually an argument for pleasure.
I have nothing against pleasure, some of my best experiences have been pleasurable, but speaking as someone who is addicted to sobriety it doesn’t look all that great from my perspective. If you’re sober and looking at drunks—whether it’s drunk on booze, or high on something else—it’s no fun. And no, I’m not looking at drunks and thinking “Wow! They look as if they’re having fun. I wish I could join in!” I’m thinking. “Yuck. That looks really ugly (orchids—aesthetics again) and dumb and undignified (ditto, ditto) and they’re so going to regret this in the morning.” And I’m also thinking, “What is it about their lives that means that they have to numb or otherwise modify their natural, in-built reactions to their experiences?”
In other words, why don’t people trust their own, natural in-built capacity for pleasure? Our bodies have tremendous natural, inbuilt potentials for pleasure and I’m not just talking about sex. I’m talking about sensuality. And I think that that’s ultimately my objection to drugs. Yes, they’re addictive and expensive and they ruin lives. But they do this because they might “feel good” in the short term, but ultimately they rob you of your capacity for pleasure because that’s just the reality of living in a human body. The nervous system adapts and usually in a bad way. It’s all gluttony. If you’re constantly eating rich food you go numb. If you constantly listen to loud music you go deaf. If you’re constantly upping the ante on your nervous system with alien chemistry without all the in-built checks and balances of your natural “pleasure system” then you rob yourself of the capacity to ever really feel good again. And experienced drug takers who are honest with themselves KNOW THIS. You never, ever experience the first high again, no matter how much you pump into yourself, no matter how many jobs you’ll lose or relationships that you’ll destroy. It’s never as good as the first time.
So I think that people who work in the entertainment industry—and this includes cuisine, which is a performance art—who take drugs are idiots. Worse, they are hypocrites, betraying the spirit of the entertainment industry, which is, for the most part, to give pleasure, because “hypocrite” is the only word that accurately describes people who purport to give pleasure, while diminishing their own capacity to experience it. In that sense, the hospitality industry is full of deaf musicians. Want to talk about corruption? There you have it—corrupted sensuality.
And while I’m on my soap box I should extend my definition of corruption to insensitivity and absence of empathy. It’s been my experience that drug abusers are also incredibly insensitive and lacking in empathy. It’s all about them and their “pleasure” and the oblivion they seek makes them oblivious to the effects that they have on others. It’s hard to trust a drug addict. The numbness of their nervous systems seems to extend to insensitive treatment of not only themselves, but others too.
Look. I get it. Life is not always nice. Bad things happen to good people blah, blah, blah. You can’t always hide from the hideousness of what can happen in the universe, and the temptation to run away into some sort of opium dream, drug haze or even sugar coma must be overwhelming. Society can be awkward. We’re not all fun or witty or good looking or smart or have excellent taste or extraordinary presence or talent or wisdom, insight or have effervescent personalities and win personality contests without even trying. Some people even take drugs to “enlighten” themselves. I get it that many people take drugs as a “social lubricant” or for “spirituality”, but—!!!NEWS FLASH!!!—drugs don’t make you more fun or witty or attractive or closer to God, blah, blah, blah, they just numb or corrupt your senses to the point that you think that you’re a better version of yourself than you actually are and that the people around you are better, more “adequate” versions of themselves that they actually are. That’s not enlightenment, that’s denial.
And the sober, when they’re sober, see right through all that stupidity.
So sobriety is hard. Sobriety has a dark side. It forces you to bear witness to the painful displays of people who don’t think that their real selves are enough or that real life is enough. And you know, maybe they’re right. Maybe a lot of the time our real selves aren’t enough and that a lot of the time our lives suck. But the only way to cure that is to work at it. You have to expend some time, energy on building that better version of you. You’re better off investing your time, energy and money on becoming a more adequate version on your current self and of your current life than blowing it on some liquid or crystal that will only ever give you a brief illusion, a feeling of “better” without some sort of reality to back that up while everything else crumbles into crap around you.
And yes, a drug-free reality of sobriety is hard, but I’m not brilliant enough to have found a better alternative yet. Even spirituality and a “connectedness with the divine” is better with a clear head, if you can do the hard work, much as that might suck and not always feel good. If I ever find a better way, I’ll share it. And if any of you, among my millions of fans have found a better alternative, I’d love to hear from you.
There’s a sort of ‘flu-type bug going around at the moment that has turned all of last week into one long Festival of Phlegm and has really cut into my productivity, so I have to apologise to my millions of fans for not posting last week’s class until today. I didn’t even have my phone with me, so this week’s photos are thanks to Brilliant Barb, so named because of her excellent execution of Beef Cheek and Mushroom Pie.
In case you were wondering about the title of this blogpost, the dishes here are a requirement of The Certificate III in Commercial Cookery qualification. For those of you who are undergoing the course or thinking of undergoing it, here is an indication of what you should be aiming for so here is a showcase of various culinary efforts from my classmates. They’ll have to let me know who’s responsible for what if they want any credit since I didn’t keep track of what everybody was doing:
Rock Lobster Bisque
Macadamia-Encrusted Barramundi with Sweet Leek and Roast Tomato Risoni
Mushroom and Gruyere Tortellini with Burst Cherry Tomato and Caramelized Onion Sauce
Duck Confit, Parsnip Mash with Fava Beans and Duck Jus
Barb’s Braised Beef Cheek and Mushroom Pie with Some Chutney Thing I’ve Forgotten
Nervous Nate’s Chocolate Mocha Tart with Double Cream (for those times when single cream isn’t enough) with Chocolate Sand
Mille-feuille of Strawberries and Strawberry Mousse
This is the proper, puff-pastry variation on the miss-named mille-feuille of last week. This is a co-production from Mon Chef, Chuckles Charlie and Yours Truly.
A short blogpost today because I’m feeling a little poorly.
I’m writing “How to Boil Water” in response to a recent article on MSN that left out a couple of important points so I’m going to repeat them here plus add my own extra tips. I don’t know whether the person who wrote that blog was an overworked, under-timed journalist with no real interest in food who was ordered by an editor to create digital landfill or whether it was laziness but if you’re going to write about how to boil water you’d might as well do it properly.
Choose your pot. Choosing your pot is based around what you’re actually cooking. If you’re doing pasta, you’ll want a large pot to give the pasta plenty of room to swirl around in so that it doesn’t stick to itself. If you’re boiling whole potatoes you’ll also want plenty of water so that there is enough retained heat in the water to cook the potatoes right through. If you’re only going to blanch greens you might not need a huge amount of water but you might want to choose a wide pan that increases the surface area exposed to the hob heat so that the water boils faster.
Choose your temperature. “Boil” doesn’t always mean “boil”. “Boil” means “rolling boil” with bubbles of steam churning the water. If you’re doing something more delicate, like poaching an egg or salmon, you DO NOT WANT A ROLLING BOIL. Instead, at most, you want a gentle simmer. A simmer is defined as the gentle movement of small bubbles moving at the meniscus (look it up).
Choose your hotplate. Big pan, big hotplate; small pan, small hotplate as Mon Chef seemingly never tires of telling me. A big pan on a small hotplate simply won’t heat enough and a small pan or pot on a large hotplate won’t be stable enough if you’re cooking with gas.
To salt or not to salt. Yes, it’s true that salt lowers the boiling temperature of water. BUT for starters a noticeable difference doesn’t kick in until the salt reaches concentrations high enough to be really noticeable, like SEAWATER noticeable, so the effect of salting water in normal quantities for cooking, in terms of temperature, is negligible. Secondly, some people are on low salt diets or are hypersensitive to salt, and some foods don’t need it, so salting depends on circumstance. Furthermore, even if salting made a noticeable difference you might not want to lower the boiling temperature of the water before it boils. The recipe might require you to actually reach 100ºC (212ºF) so lowering the boiling temperature with an additive like salt will only give you the effect of boiling, not what you might need, which is to reach a certain critical temperature.
Further to the preceding point. Water boils when the pressure created by the steam bubbles within the water exceeds the counteracting pressure of the water surrounding the bubble and this water pressure is in turn critically and proportionally affected by (or as we like to say in science “is a function of”) atmospheric pressure. The less atmospheric pressure, the less counteracting water pressure on the steam bubbles. Water only boils at 100ºC (212ºF) at sea level. Atmospheric pressure lessens the higher the elevation and there are other factors like ambient temperature and humidity at play too. Now this might not mean much to you if, like a lot of the world’s population, you live on the coast or at about sea level. But what if like me, and millions of others, you don’t? In fact the difference can be quite startling. Here is a graph I borrowed from Wiki – The Goddess of Popular Facts:
My cooking school in The Blue Mountains is located at an elevation of 867 meters above sea level. Being the sensitive being that I am I feel my ears pop every time I go down to the coastal plain of Sydney. For those of you who know how to read graphs you will note that at that elevation water boils at around 92ºC (198ºF) which might or might not be significant depending on what you’re doing.
Further to that point most people boil water to make coffee or tea. In fact, my friend, Crazy Clara has a real thing about germs and insists on a rolling boil before she’ll make tea. That’s fine but it’s too hot for both drinks and killing bugs. In fact, most bugs are dead at about 70ºC (160ºF). By all means do the boil overkill if you want to kill the bugs and the bugs’ bugs and if you plan to sterilise your knifes prior to performing your do-it-yourself kitchen appendectomy, but let the water cool down before you make tea or coffee. The idea temperature for coffee is around 96ºC (205ºF) and the ideal temperature for tea depends on what tea you’re brewing and will be the subject of another blog when I get around to it. In either case it is almost NEVER 100ºC (212ºF). I’m fortunate enough to live at an elevation where water boils at around the right temperature so that I never burn my tea or coffee so I don’t have to think about it. For the sea level dwellers, you’re going to have to let your boiling water cool for about a couple of minutes before adding it to your tea or coffee. You will note that if you could live at an altitude of 10 000 meters—which is at about the top of Mt Everest, where the air so cold you need to look like a Yeti to survive and the air is so thin you need oxygen equipment, so you end up looking like a scuba-diving Yeti—water would boil at about 27ºC (80ºF), which would be pretty useless for tea or coffee but when you’re that cold and look that stupid, who cares?
Boil water over high heat. Absolutely, but, especially if you’re cooking with gas, not so high that the flames rise up the sides of the pot or pan. All that accomplishes is wasting energy and creating the potential for burning yourself. There is an upper limit to how fast you can make water boil safely in a domestic kitchen without altering the fundamental laws of physics. In a commercial kitchen, if I’m in a hurry, my standard hack is to find an urn that puts out near boiling water and use that in my pots before they go on the flame.
Lastly, and going back to Point Number 2, some foods, like whole potatoes for later baking or frying, need to be put in water as it boils and brought to boiling. Others, like batonnet (thick julienne) potatoes for parboiling for later frying, need to be put in after the water is already boiling.
Well, I hope that clears THAT up.
When I have time I’ll punch in some nice photos of pots on hobs to illustrate the bleedingly obvious.
PS. On a completely irrelevant and different note, I plan to supplement my income with the launch of The Trump Colouring Book. It’s cheap, because it only includes one crayon, coloured orange, because that’s all you really need.
Feel free to order a copy.
There. That’s my cheap political shot for the day.
PS – One of my other self-appointed trolls had this to say:
Deleece CookYou forgot points 10 & 11 Xy – (10) Stay in the room while you are boiling the water (so that it doensn’t all evaporate and ruin the pot, which I admit has been known to happen – X) and (11) Don’t forget to turn off the gas before you sweep past the stove in your full length Lama poncho 😀 (It’s an Alpaca Poncho, OK?!!! – X)
I wrote this blogpost in response to a request from one of my millions of fans, who wanted a further elucidation of my theory of what your plant preferences say about your personality.
You’d think that people who like citrus would be a mixed bunch. After all, in spite of their commonalities, citrus fruits are quite varied. Eating oranges, mandarins or even grapefruit is quite a different experience from eating limes and lemons. You’d expect there to be more than once kind of citrus person. And if you’re thinking “Well, it’s obvious. Sweet people like oranges and sour people like lemons”, then it’s also obvious that you know nothing about the psychology of fruit. For this I forgive you. Fruit psychology is one of those neglected areas of scientific enquiry, like a serious investigation as to how anyone could find the Kardashians even remotely interesting, which I would suppose would be a subject within the general science of Koalemology—the study of stupidity. Yes, it is a word because I just made it up using well-established principles of word coinage. My classical education was not wasted after all.
But I digress …
Further to my thesis that people project their qualities or even their aspirations onto things that they like, there really is only one sort of citrus person. People who have an affinity for citrus tend to do things well ahead of schedule, only to forget them later. This is in direct reference to the unusually long, by fruit standards, shelf life of citrus. Long after grapes have turned into furry slime and strawberries have turned into, well, furry slime, citrus sits there, almost but not quite impervious to time. Citrus people have no sense of urgency. Citrus people tend to think that they have all the time in the world to get around to doing things, only to discover all too frequently that perhaps they don’t. You’ll find them procrastinating their lives away until one day they discover that the parade has passed them by, and their fresh zesty selves have become a pale shadow of their former glory. but they can still be put in a drawer to make your underwear smell nice, if that’s the direction my your fantasies might go. Citrus people are in denial but they’re mostly harmless, unlike nutmeg people, who sit there, being fragrant but who’ll kill you with two or three teaspoons of themselves.
I hadn’t planned to post today, but my classmates Gigi Woo Woo and André The Not So Giant wanted access to my photos and the easiest way to get that happening was simply to say, “Go to my blog and feel free to drag and drop”.
Anyway, my stuff first, courtesy of Sponge Xy Spiralpants:
The swirly confection on the left is a Swiss Roll Filled with Strawberry Preserve and Kirsch Filling. It might look humble, but it’s technically difficult, requiring the creation of a sponge, which is easy to get wrong if you don’t do it really carefully, and then the actually rolling, which won’t work if the sponge has come out badly. In any case, in this particular instance Ma Chef did the rolling, while I helped.
And just to show that I’m not the ONLY person in my class who has a way with butter, eggs, sugar and flour, the rest of the plate is the creation of Gigi Woo Woo. In the centre is a Madelaine Cake, which I hope to try in a few minutes with the express purpose of evoking a childhood memory and perhaps kickstarting a major literary opus. If you don’t understand the reference then I feel sorry for you. On the right, Gigi Woo Woo’s excellent scones. Scones are also easy to get wrong if you overwork them.
The pots of cream and jam for the scones were arranged by André The Not So Giant. Notice the artful, off-centre asymmetry … not that I’m an obsessive compulsive neurotic about such things. I do have better things to mentally gnaw over while I lie awake at night than over such trivialities as the centring of a paper doily.
Really, Xy. Get a grip!
And as for the rest of the class there’s this …
… and this …
I invite the various classmates to take credit where credit is due by writing to me and complaining.
If anyone wants a recipe and technical pointers then email me and I’ll be happy to oblige in a future post.