Tag Archives: baking

It’s not you, it’s twee

23 Aug

Baking and sewing were long considered good wifely attributes. At a professional, high end level, of course, they were ‘man’ jobs – chefs and tailors, rather than bakers and seamstresses. Well, that was then. Gender equality and the drive towards teaching more skills to more people mean that many men are now much handier with a spatula and a thimble than a) used to be the case and b) many women. This is a GREAT thing. (One of my longest-standing crushes was for a guy who dedicated a large amount of his spare time to amateur bakery). My brother’s quite a good cook, these days. He’s never shown an interest in sewing and he’s a dyspraxic leftie, so my mum would have had a hard time teaching him anyway, but if he’d wanted to learn, she’d have had a go. One of my male friends was terribly excited when I mentioned I might bring my sewing machine to uni. Equality = on this reading, not that far away.

HOWEVER. What with the rise in sharing sites like Pinterest and Instagram, and the growing urge among posters to professionalise their food, their style and all that jazz, the increase in food blogging (I’m a culprit) and the nostalgia of postwar Britain for DIY homemaking, I’ve noticed that something weird is beginning to happen.

A section of the media has jumped on ‘Austerity Britain’ and the revived interest in self-sufficiency. This section is using tough economic conditions, a mental turnaround to better days, monarchical fanaticism/interest, etc, etc, call it what you will, to burrow into the hearts and minds of the nation like the cordyceps fungus spores lodge in stink ants (see here for simile explanation: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XDtMXrAjZkY ). Examples of this include but are by no means limited to: running articles about people who have set up small businesses in lost arts of basket weaving et al; making television programmes which revolve solely around food (I love the Great British Bake Off and I can’t help it); advocating a make-your-own/grow-your-own lifestyle; picking up on fashion trends that specifically hark back to ‘English Heritage’ and/or 50s styles. You get the picture. The clouds of nostalgia have rolled over this sacred plot and the sun (of York, perhaps?) does not look like it’s going to be coming out any time soon. I mean, we had Victorians reading Shakespeare in the goddamn Olympic Opening Ceremony.

There’s something that’s kind of cute about this and there’s also something unspeakably twee. Why do people suddenly want to make, or even just to eat, cupcakes? Why are crocheting your own tablemats and knitting your own bunting for your Prince George-themed street party things that are happening? Why have we slunk back with our tails between our legs towards all the glossy bits of mid 20th century culture? What is going on here? These are big sociological questions and I’m not qualified to answer them, not least because I would be speaking on behalf of a lot of people about whom I don’t actually know a thing. But. This is the situation.

There has of course been a response to this. The war against twee won its first battle when hipsters became mainstream objects of derision (sorry, hipsters). The cupcake is next. I don’t think The Hummingbird Bakery is going to go out of business any time soon, but changing foodie fads are becoming more knowing, more niche and more unattainable. Meringues (according to The Times, the next food fad) aren’t twee. They’re posh. The rising tide of the DIY gourmets has been redirected, forming a large oxbow lake which allows all the ‘righteous’ bourgeoisie to float along unencumbered. Articles have criticised this year’s two (female) Apprentice finalists for their intended business plans. A bakery?! This is a betrayal of all the feminists have fought for! AND it’s twee! Etc.

On the one hand, tweeness and archaism abound, frequently without nuance, often (though not exclusively) celebrating some ideal of femininity and heteronormativity[1]. On the other, the self-righteous nay-sayers who see no redeeming features at all in expressing a desire for home-made home comforts aren’t 100% guiltless, either.

The twee brigade and the anti-twee alliance have followers of all genders, sexualities, sexes and colours. Each army revels in its diversity. Rightly and fairly, and all to the good. Yet – and maybe this is just in my experience, and I’d love to be proved wrong – it seems that the people coming in for the most stick, on both sides, are invariably women, at the hands/voices/keyboards of women.

Aha! The anti-feminists cry. Further proof of the intrinsically back-stabby, bitchy nature of ALL WOMEN and thus further, further proof that we can treat them like this too.

Well, er, no.

Modern feminism – what’s beginning to be called the fourth wave – is, as far as I understand it, about respecting the (informed) choices of others, debating openly, disagreeing politely and coming to cordial conclusions. So it’s time we looked objectively at people who really enjoy being in the kitchen, and try and avoid the twin pitfalls of a) praising them for knowing their place or b) telling them off for surrendering to the patriarchy. Maybe some of them haven’t stopped to think about patriarchal oppression. Maybe they have, and they just like baking. Given that two of the last three GBBO winners have been gay men, I think it would be a bit unfair to say that all people in the kitchen fit a 50s-approved mould. Why don’t we extend the courtesy of believing this to be the case to more of the people it affects?

Similarly, we really ought not to harangue those who dare to challenge team twee and the damage that may be done by the mass commercialisation of items designed to remind women how ‘girly’ they are. There are two sides to every argument and it’s good to be reminded that you do not need to eat a cupcake with a butterfly on it in order to enjoy a cupcake. Accusing them of being kill joys, feminazis and all the other delightful insults the internet has to offer does no-one any good. It’s not you, it’s twee! They may be crying. We’re trying to help! Again, it would be excellent if we could assume that those who say this are trying to help – to help all women, and therefore, also, all men, too, because men don’t actually benefit from the subjugation of women (no, really).

It would be nice if there were less animosity on both sides. The choice of another does not invalidate your own choice, so you don’t have to get all defensive or attackety about it. Srsly. You should be able to have your cake and eat it, too. Or not, as the case may be. I like making Chelsea buns, but I can’t knit to save my life. My brother can make brownies but he can’t thread a needle. Somehow, I know who would come under more fire for opening a bakery, and I don’t think that’s right. Do you?

[1] I hope there’s at least one lesbian knitting society who pooled their resources to get a coach to St Paul’s for the Royal Wedding, but somehow, I doubt there are more.


Apologies for absence

16 Dec


I’m sorry. It’s been a while. There are various reasons for this. Rest assured I still love you all and I haven’t forgotten you. Promise.

The truth is, I’ve been beavering away (not like that, you filthy-minded people) on my latest project. I can tell it’s going well because I have been at it now (stoppit!) for a couple of weeks. I am writing something. At the moment, I am writing it to see if I can finish it. Maybe if I think it is any good, I’ll do something with it, but for now it is more of an exercise in perseverance. Anyway, it’s coming along nicely, thanks. I’ve just crept over the 10000 word mark, which I think is pretty reasonable going for under 14 days work.

Other significant things that have occurred:

1) I have discovered The Vagenda (tagline: ‘Like King Lear, but for girls’). It is brilliant and hilarious and reassuring and joyful. It’s like having a daily dose of How to be a Woman just a browser-window away. I’ve worked my way through pretty much every post on there, and now I’m telling everyone I know about it. It is a little bit of reality in a world that is still obsessed with what girls look like and how they should behave. And as a girl who is not very good at looking like one is supposed to according to Closer or Heat or Grazia or whatever, it’s rather pleasant to come across a bunch of people who think the same – hell, who go much, much further. So that has been a ray of sunshine.

2) Hanukah/enforced Christmas. Hanukah has been and gone, now, actually, but I got some pretty awesome stuff from the lovely ‘rents (most of it baking related, but that’s ok because I LOVE BAKING). I haven’t used my new blender or blowtorch or sugar thermometer yet but when I do, baby, it’ll be amazing. Meanwhile, at work, I am encountering increasing incredulity (too much assonance?) every time I have to explain that I’ve never had a Christmas tree or an advent calendar or a string of tinsel (I’m joking about the last one). My boss keeps trying to ‘educate’ me and get me into the Christmas spirit. Which is annoying. I’m not Scrooge – it’s just NOT MY RELIGION. He keeps on saying ‘yeah but Christmas is basically secular anyway’. That doesn’t mean my parents buy a Christmas tree and decorate the house with an extravagant LED display. Sure, there’s no religious reason to do those things. But there’s no secular reason to do them either. Just because everyone else is doing it, there is no obligation on me to participate. And it’s cruel to laugh at me when you make me put up the office Christmas tree because I patently have no idea what I’m doing (apparently you have to chop the end off before you put it in water. I suppose if I thought about it this would seem obvious. But seriously, if it involves a hacksaw, it’s not going to spring immediately to my mind). The whole thing is enough to make me shout BAH HUMBUG TO YOU ALL. Ok. Rant over.

3) I went to London to visit the Queen! Jokes. I went to London to see Emily and Maya (and Michael came too, complete with his comedy reindeer antlers, which he is wearing all over the place these days). We went to Holland Park, which contains the fattest peacocks you ever saw. They must feed on the flesh of unwary tourists or something cos srsly, they are HUGE. And quite menacing. And the squirrels – holy bejeezus, they are scary. They lure you in with their big innocent eyes and their fluffy tails and then you realise there are three of them, and they are following you. Herding you, almost. Anyway, we escaped from the park alive and went for a reviving drink in a nearby pub (winter Pimms! Yes!). A whole day out of the house for me. Excitement abound.

That’s pretty much it for big events, I’m afraid. The next couple of weeks provide much to which to look forward (in the shape of weekends and DAYS OFF and so forth) so I’m sure you’ll hear from me again soon.


Toodles! x


14 Nov
Hi guys. Sorry for the silence. I’ve been spending my evenings engaged in alternative creative activities. As you can see above. Yes, those two badboys right there are chocolate, almond and raspberry macaroons. And they are delish.
Yesterday I made lemon macaroons – with homemade lemon curd, obvs (what sort of amateur do you take me for?).
At the weekend I made chocolate macaroons with a hint of orange.
What, you may ask, has occasioned this sudden frenzy?
Well, I’ll tell you. It’s feet.
Now before you go getting grammatically correct on my ass, let me explain a little bit of macaroon terminology. The crispy bits round the outside, right, are called the ‘shell’. They are made of almond, two types of sugar + egg white, plus a flavouring of your choosing – eg cocoa powder, lemon rind, pistachio etc. The bit in the middle is the ‘filling’ (see, it’s easy, eh?). Now then. This is the tricky bit. The domed part of the macaroon shell does not have a name as such (you can call it the ‘dome’ if you want to be fussy). BUT – the bottom, where dome meets baking tray – is known as ‘feet’. Macaroons have feet. What will they think of next, I hear you cry.
Well then, the achievement of feet on a macaroon is widely held to be the hard bit about making them. I’ve had a bash at macaroons before – last Christmas, with Emily, when we made lemon and coffee and chocolate macaroons, ate them all, sugar crashed wildly and spent the rest of the afternoon basically comatose on the sofa – being one occasion. I’ve also attempted them more recently. However, due to oven temperatures (agas are just a bit too hot for most macaroon recipes), equipment etc I have not succeeded. My macaroons have been footless. Or possibly feetless; I don’t know how many feet each macaroon has. They always seem to be referred to in the plural. Anyway. Onwards.
So. On Sunday, I trialled my new, wider piping nozzle. And lo and behold, when I checked my macaroons – glory be, there they were! Feet! Feeeeet! I nearly cried with happiness. They were perfect. Even Paul Hollywood couldn’t have criticised them that much.
I had to make more, to check I hadn’t imagined it. So I made lemon ones. Now, I don’t know that the addition of the lemon rind and the removal of the cocoa powder was absolutely 100% successful but nevertheless, they still tasted great and the FEET were back! Yes!
Buoyed by my recipe altering success, I was flicking through my recipe books this evening when I realised I was being drawn, irresistibly, to macaroons again. So I added extra almond essence to just about everything, a bit of flaked almond, and then some raspberry to lighten it all up. And whaddayaknow, FEET AGAIN! Not only that, but the flaked almond on the top of the shells looked pretty dayum professional. I felt really smug. So I took an artsy picture with my posh teaset and posted it on every social networking site of which I am a member and now here I am, gloating about it. Gloat gloat gloat. By the way, did I tell you I made choux swans? Yeah. I did, too. And they looked great, with their little whipped-cream piped tails.
My baking star is rising. My mojo has returned. And I probably shouldn’t have eaten the leftover ganache. G’night, lovelies.


14 Nov
Sorry to leave you bereft for so long. Today’s theme – well, the theme of this post, at any rate – is caterpillars. Here are a few caterpillar-related little tales (would one consider caterpillars to have tails? They’re sort of all-tail, with added legs, really, aren’t they? Anyway. I digress).
Caterpillar tale 1: I have been rediscovering grooveshark (free online music streaming sans adverts, unlike Spotify). Over the weekend, I took this to new and unprecedented levels, especially with Disney choons. I’ve been listening to ‘Under the Sea’, ‘Colours of the Wind’, ‘Poor Unfortunate Souls’ and ‘Zero to Hero’ almost on a loop since then; they are brilliant. I have ALSO, however, unearthed a song from my yoof, which we used to own on tape and which tended to be played on long car journeys when we were all wee bairns. This song is ‘The Ugly Bug Ball’. I like this song very much. It is about a lonely caterpillar who feels as though he has no-one to love and believes this may be something to do with the fact he considers himself an ugly bug. He is invited along to an ugly bug ball by a spider and a dragonfly, where he meets a brilliantly coloured lady caterpillar, and they dance and fall in love. All the bugs are at the ball – ants, worms, fleas, spiders, dragonflies, beetles – and all of them are there because they think they are ugly – and they all have a superawesome time and go home happy that they came. It is a tale of reassurance that there is someone for everyone no matter how ugly you are, and you don’t have to be down about not having found the right person just yet. It is also a song about caterpillars. So relevant on all counts.
Caterpillar tale 2: This is more of a metaphorical take on caterpillars and stems from the mega rethink of my life ambitions that occurred around 10 days ago. I am emerging from my classical chrysalis and it turns out that I may actually be a bakery butterfly (or moth. As I said, ugly bug). Anyway. What I mean is that after cocooning myself in classics for many years and assuming that said cocoon would condition my state as I emerged from it, I am beginning to realise that maybe the material of which the cocoon is made does not affect what comes out of it. Well, that’s possibly not strictly biologically true, but whatever. I am not an entomologist. Anyway, my current thinking is rather more in the direction of ‘do something you love’ which is much healthier than ‘do something that will atone for not doing it right the first time’. Now this doesn’t mean I’m never going to do Classics ever again. Far from it. But I’m taking my time to really, really, properly think about why I want to study. So if I go back to it, then obviously I mean it, and I’m totally clear on why I’m doing it and what I want out of it. But if I discover that actually I was right to finally put it down, well, that’s good too. And what am I picking up instead? Well, I’m hardly picking it up. I’m experiencing my baking as a genuine passion rather than a useful hobby.
SO. In conclusion, before it all gets a bit too deep and I stretch the caterpillar theme too far, I shall say adieu, and you can expect many more pictures of cake. And to unite the imagery, here is a caterpillar cake I once made:
Don’t be alarmed. He is a friendly caterpillar.


14 Nov

You’re probably sick of hearing me witter on about baking, but the fact of the matter is I just LOVE it. Today I came home from work (sans Michael; he has gone to Oxford on the train, armed with his trumpet and his dinner jacket, natch) and once dinner and social shenanigans were dealt with I opened my recipe books.

I had a bit of a brownie fail yesterday. Well, that’s not strictly true; what I made was delicious, but unfortunately, due to one or two reasons, it was not exactly what I was expecting. I took the brownies out of the oven at 40 mins – standard – and shortly after cut into them to serve as warm pudding-type material to assorted family members (for the record, Michael is now considered family). But alas – brownies that are too warm do not react well to being deprived of their self-composed structural support, and the sliced brownies quickly turned into puddles of mush. M remarked they were like Melting Hearts, the classic dessert at ExColl formal events. They were. I mean, they were damn tasty. But a brownie you have to eat with a spoon is not exactly convenient for, eg, taking in a lunch box. After the brownies had been left to cool, I scooped what remained out of the tin and into a box to go in the fridge and hopefully rescue them at least somewhat.

All this only stoked the fires (as t’were) for my baking endeavours today. (It’s just occurred to me that pausing on the brink of opening my recipe books to tell you about a failed recipe kind of mirrors Catullus 68, where Lesbia is described stepping across the door frame to come to Catullus and he goes off and describes how much she – possibly – is like Laodamia. This pleases me. Anyway.) So. White chocolate cupcakes with white chocolate cream cheese frosting were swiftly whipped together, shortly followed by brownies 2.0. I have decided not to put faces on this batch of WCCCF cupcakes because last time my sister kept making sad noises about eating things that smiled at her. She is on the brink of vegetarianism as it is and I think the cakes were just a little bit too far. That didn’t stop her, she just moaned about it. So I am circumventing this problem by keeping them simple. Anyway. They are much as you saw them pictured in ‘bears’. I made the brownies in a slightly larger tin, because I think one of the problems I had yesterday was that they were too deep (as well as being served too early). I had a go at extracting them from the tin earlier but I decided to leave them where they are and I will tackle them tomorrow, when they will definitely have set. And then I will parcel selections of them up and bring them to Oxford, because I promised the Excellent Alison that I would bring tasty treats and as she’s basically tutoring me in her not-so-spare-time for no reason except because she’s awesome, it would be remiss of me not to have something to give in return.

AND as if that weren’t enough baking love for me to tell you about, I am downloading this week’s episode of the Great British Bake Off (surely the best talent competition on television) to watch on the bus to Oxford tomorrow. YES.

It might be a few days before I bake  blog again so til then, pip pip X


14 Nov

Hullo folks. It’s been one crazy evening. I got home to discover the egg whites I had been (mentally) saving to turn into a beautiful meringue extravaganza to take to work tomorrow for our country-themed bake-off had been appropriated by the mum and sis in order to make dinner. Alas! If I were my mother or my brother this might have been a much bigger problem than it actually was, but as I have grown up in a house with them, I was able to circumvent this minor setback with minimum raging. The day was saved by the arrival of the shopping and I was able to make a mango and strawberry meringue roulade with lemon curd and extra thick cream, and all before 9pm. Winning at life. I have also packed my bag and organised myself to go straight from work tomorrow evening to the X5, whereupon I shall journey forth to Oxford in readiness for the trip to Wales on Friday. And then it’s time for a WEDDING. At a CASTLE. YEAH. So excited. Which reminds me, I must pack my camera. Thanks, blogger.

Right. Before all this palaver occurred, I was thinking about Classics and about reception, as is my wont. I had been reading – on the bus to work, in my lunch break, and in the bus from work – various articles about reception theory; the point, the techniques, the dangers. All very interesting (and frequently verging on the really quite contradictory, but no matter). I had also been thinking about why *I* want to study reception, and what reception actually has to offer us, because I have various applications to write and people to persuade that I deserve money/a place at their Noble Institution.

So. There I was, pondering the reception of the Classics. When, like a bolt from the blue, I realised that reception is not, of course, limited to Classics. Once you have a theory, you can apply it to – well, whatever you like. So you can study the reception of Shakespeare in Keats, or the reception of Virgil in Tacitus (actually I had this idea in about February, but whatever. Don’t steal it, I might use it some day) OR – and this one I really quite like – the reception of Austen in contemporary literature.

Now the last one especially appeals to me because, yes, there are some pretty shocking takes on Pride and Prejudice et al around, but there are also some EXCELLENT ones. Bridget Jones is an example of the latter. So is The Marriage Plot, by Jeffrey Eugenides. The Marriage Plot is really interesting because it uses the idea of literary criticism (which in this case includes but doesn’t specifically refer to reception) as a plot device; the heroine becomes obsessed with Barthes’ The Lover’s Discourse after a nasty breakup with her bipolar boyfriend and later on she seeks intellectual refuge in studying the construction of female heroines in Victorian literature. This leads to the end of the novel which is itself explicitly a subversion of a female Regency/Victorian literary motif. And of course in Bridget Jones, the heroine is extremely aware of the fact that the guy her parents are trying to hook her up with is called Mr Darcy and how ridiculous this is. I think early on she comments   something along the lines of ‘it’s utterly ridiculous being miserable at a party when your name is Darcy. You might as well be called Heathcliff and spend all your time on the moors wailing ‘Cathyyyy, Cathyyyy!’. Added to this is the heroine’s own awareness of the current serialisation on television of Pride and Prejudice, and her love of Colin Firth (taken to bizarre lengths in the films, of course, by having Colin Firth play Mark Darcy). So in both these cases, the reception of the source texts is by no means a straightforward affair.

It occurs to me that perhaps this sort of analysis and awareness of what you can really do with a bit of clever reception and intertextuality goes far beyond what many Classical scholars are currently looking for. In these examples, we can see just from the merest glance at the storylines and characters that the authors of the texts are using their sources as entities within the new texts, entities externally influencing the texts, controlling plot devices and conceptual tools to explore relationships and even literary theory. If we turn back to our Classical texts and their receptions, why should we look at them any less critically? This is beginning to happen, of course (see Steven Yao, The Languages of Modernism, especially on H.D) but Classics seems, as ever, to be woefully behind. It’s time to apply some current thinking to our old texts, so we keep them fresh and don’t lose the chance to use them in the future.

Perhaps that’s a bit academic for you all, oh lovely readers. Sorry. You should see what I inflicted on my poor colleagues today in my ‘office’ blog. You can, in fact. Here’s a link. It’s the one with the title on a theme of pirates: http://shorttalks247.wordpress.com/


14 Nov

Hullo hullo hullo. I’m back. Didja miss me? I know you did.

It’s been a fairly busy week, believe it or not. I now have a blog that I run from the office, too, which is exciting. Rach came over for dinner yesterday eve and we ate a lot of biscuits and watched some truly dreadful television. Happy days.

Just as I was waiting at the bus stop this evening, I had a phone call from…

Emily! Hooray! We’ve been planning to ‘surprise ring’ each other for about two weeks, so it wasn’t that much of a surprise, but still awesome. We talked for aaaaaages, all the way home (ie over an hour). Happy days. I expect I was one of those people who everyone else on the bus hates, but I hope that I at least provided one half of an amusing conversation. Chats with Emily AND with Rachel in two days? Winning at life.
Mum has gone out this evening, which brings me to the title of this blog.
My sis said, as we were washing up after dinner, ‘have you got a social life this evening? By which I mean, can you do some baking…?’
So all the cookbooks came out (hooray!) and the ingredients (hooray hooray!) and the music went on and the pyjamas were assumed (baking in pyjamas is the best kind of baking) and the recipe was selected. HOORAY!
I made (with expert help from the sis, obvs) caramel chocolate tarts. Like caramel shortbread, but tart-shaped. Yeah, man. And then we ate the spare caramel (there was rather a lot…) with ice cream. Best. Tastesplosion. Ever. Although it did get to the point where sis and I were like… no, can’t eat any more. So I put the rest in a pot in the fridge. Mmmmmmm.
Anyway. Might put a picture up here for you. Might just eat them all first. Now watching Blackadder/Mock the Week with vati so slightly distracted from actually communicating at any length. More soon! xx