Dear Reader, I am sorry, but I lied.
It wasn’t pannacotta, it was a sweet flan – I was mistaken. I do still indeed intend to try pannacotta, but this is what I was intending to make. There were some Issues… let’s just say that when I thought the muffin tray was going to fit in the big tray I had, so it could act as a water bath, I was mistaken. I discovered this when I had already put mixture into the muffin tray, but nonetheless – we progressed.
They were tasty, despite the fact that I cheated and used vanilla extract (fake, even, I think) rather than vanilla bean. I made a bit of a dark chocolate ganache with the rest of the cream I had, and some dark choc melts… it was very tasty. Just ask J!
I just made Roasted Garlic and Goats’ Cheese Flan! Yay me! Why did I do it in the middle of the day? Because it’s the holidays, and I wanted to experiment, and when better to experiment than on a rainy Friday in the holidays, with Torchwood that J downloaded for me because I think I stuffed up the VCR? No better time!
It was really, really easy… and very tasty… I can foresee dinner parties with this as the entree, and me getting an awful lot of kudos for it. And I won’t be saying then that it was easy…. Now, perhaps, to attempt and conquer pannacotta…
So today really felt like winter – which does officially start tomorrow, so I guess that’s fair enough. So, in an effort to at least look a bit cheery, I wore my lovely bright red jumper to school. It’s very nice and warm… and I haven’t worn it (naturally enough) since we got home from the UK. It still has little bits of fluff on it from wearing it underneath my puffy jacket when we were over there.
All of this, also naturally enough, made me think about our trip. It feels like such a long time ago – only January! – and sometimes I still can’t believe we actually went. When I am over the next couple of weeks (report writing, NatCon (woohoo!), more report writing…) I really will blog more about The Trip. For now, just let me sketch Christmas, which is something we’ve had occasion to talk about a bit recently.
So we must have got up at sunrise – like about 8.30 or so (actually I’m sure it was earlier than that, but you get the picture), and I think we had toast or such like. We were staying with J’s cousins, and once their daughter and her boyfriend had arrived we opened presents. They were so generous to us – we got genuine Sheffield silver spoons, and chocolate enough that basically lasted the next four weeks, and I got a really nice pashmina. Anyway, all of this brought us to late morning, at which point we all piled into two cars and went to the cousin’s brother’s place. There, there was the other side of the family (J’s cousins, who are brothers, married sisters…) – we drank champers, darling, and ate nibblies. For an hour or two. Then it was back into the car and back to where we were staying. This bit I remember exceptionall well, because it was probably a 15 or 20 min trip during which I was balancing an entire turkey, in a foil tray, in my hands. It was at least 5kg, and because there were thre large adults in the back seat, it didn’t actually fit on my knees. So I balanced it with my arms underneath, hands on the sides, trying to watch the corners so as not to spill juices everywhere (I lost it once, and poured some on Matt – the cousin’s son (who is our age… the cousin mentioned earlier is actually J’s dad’s cousin… confused yet?) – who kindly forgave me). When we finally got back, and the turkey was taken out of my arms, I cramped. And my arms continued to ache for the next 48 hours or so.
We finally sat down to eat a real meal at about 3.30 or so. There was turkey, and ham, and lots of salads, and vegies, and sauces… and French red wine… it was incredible. We had bonbons – nice ones. After sitting a little, we had dessert – there was Christmas pud, but also a chocolate cake, because it was someone’s birthday, and it was brilliant. Complementing that was one of the nicest dessert wines I have ever tastes: from Samos. Bet you can’t buy it here.
And then, because that’s not enough for one day, we played charades (pronounced sharaaaads…). Competitively.
It was one of the most amazing days ever. Certainly one of the most memorable Christmas days I’ve ever had – it was just so different. And that was our third day.
Number 1: you have make-from-the-box-fajitas for dinner. And beer. And maybe chocolate too.
Of course, this could also represent the end of a fairly good day. Never said it was foolproof.
I finished Jack Turner’s Spice: The History of a Temptation yesterday. Overall, I really enjoyed it. It’s quite an idiosyncratic history, and deliberately so – writing about absolutely everything to do with spice, even just in western Europe and/or just in the Middle Ages would be an incomprehensibly huge project, I would imagine. So he hasn’t done that: although he does go into great detail in some things, in others he skips over stuff a bit. He does seem to have a fairly good bibliography at the back, so I guess if you were so inclined you could chase stuff up yourself.
The first part is about the spice race – Columbus, Magellan, and their cohort, who opened up the world for Europeans – at least the western ones – all, or at least partly, in the name of spice, I love the idea of Portugese or Spanish explorer getting to Malabar or other such places and finding Italian merchants already there; the look on their faces must have been priceless… much like the spice there were seeking.
The second part focusses on the palate – the thing that I was expecting most of the book to look at, to be honest, despite the fact that I know spices were used in incense etc. Anyway, this section was really interesting: it looked at recipes, it looked at how spice helped to create/maintain class distinction; discredits the idea that spice was used in the Middle Ages to hide the taste of rotting meat (it was rich people who used spice – do you think rich people would be eating rotting meat in the first place? It was at least partly to hide the taste of the salt used in curing the meat, probably).
The third part focussed on the body, in two ways: spice in medicine, and spice for love. Starting with cloves being shoved up Ramses II’s nose, as part of the mummification process, and then talking about the whole idea of pomanders and bad air (mal aria…) being respondible for disease. The section on spice as aphrodisiac was quite funny. And almost entirely male-centred – the remedies suggested, that is, not Turner’s treatment of it, since he himself points it out.
Part four is on the spirit: the use of spice in incense, for example. It mostly focussed, though, on the changing attitude of Christians towards spice in worship. The earliest Church fathers thought it was ok-ish – Christians were often anointed with spices for burial, since Christ was. Then people went a bit off it, because after all if God is incorporeal then presumably he doesn’t enjoy pleasant smells (personally I think this is a daft argument: so you’re limiting what God is able to do, then?). This is a very, very brief overview, of course.
The last chapter is called “Some Like it Bland,” which is a great heading. It talks about the movement – slowly – against spices, for a range of reasons, including that it was a drain of resources away from Europe towards those nasty, decadent Easterners; plus, interestingly, he links the development of the nation-state and national sentiment to the development of a national cuisine, which makes sense, and in England at least this led to a bland cuisine they were proud of, contrasting it with those very spices their forebears used to love.
As I said, this is a ridiculously brief overview, but it gives an idea what the book was about. It’s really well written, and a lot of fun to read; Turner’s not afraid of pointing out the humorous and ridiculous nature of some of the things he discusses.
I’ve been hearing the Spice Girls song, “Stop”, a lot recently, at school. This has a weird effect on me. A group of girls at college used to do the moves to this song all the time, and consequently when I hear it I have a vision of them doing so – and an urge to join in. Mainly to upset the kiddies.
What made me think of this is the book I am reading: Spice: The History of a Temptation, by Jack Turner. It’s very enjoyable – although I am dubious of his repeated use of the term ‘Dark Ages’ in referring to the time after the (now) official end of the Western Roman Empire. Nonetheless. He has a whole chapter, of course on spice and sex: looking at all the different ways it was recommended to use spice to improve sex in a variety of ways, as well as the problems the more prudish (and supposedly celibate) members of the community had with it. Throughout, he makes comments on some of the things that have lasted to the modern day, and towards the end he comments on the Spice Girls, saying they “shot like a gaudy, squawking comet through the outer orbits of pop stardom before, in obedience to the Newtonian physics of celebrity, the acrimonious plummet back to earth and bust-up.” Beautiful. No wonder he writes about spice; he certainly has the language for it.
My husband is totally obsessed with the chocolate moose skit from The Muppets. Mention chocolate, and he will generally say something like “and then de moose.”
Those nasty, evil, rude, unSPEAKable birds!!
They et my strawberries!!
Before I even got to put pictures up!
At least I do have the pics… and the memories. Yes, I have the memories that for a week or so, I had two lovely-looking strawberries ripening beautifully.
They were probably bitter anyway.