Maple sponge cake

Hooray! I decided to be inventive and it wasn’t a desperate failure.

I’d entered the ‘I want to make something and I don’t know what’ phase again, but then I had thought. I’d got almost a whole bottle of maple syrup left over from Shrove Tuesday (because maple syrup and bacon is the best thing to have on pancakes and I’ll cut anyone who says otherwise) and no real means of using it up.

So I made a basic sponge, and added a bit of maple syrup to the mix, just for ease of spreading in the tins, really. Then for the icing I made a buttercream and thinned it out with maple syrup. So yes, that’s butter, sugar, and then liquid tree-sugar basically. I ended up with so much icing that I managed to do a middle layer, and a crumb coat, and then fully ice it, sides included. I was only aiming for enough to keep the pecans on top.

Of course, I salted the cake batter and the icing, which was definitely a good thing. The salt, along with the slight smokiness in maple syrup means that it’s not too cloyingly sweet. Which is not to say that I can’t feel my arteries slamming shut after eating a piece, or that the sugar rush I’m feeling right now isn’t making me dizzy, or that I’m not fairly sure that I’m seeing unicorns. Because I can and it is and I am. Just that it doesn’t TASTE too sweet.

It looks like this:

I’m pretty pleased with it, to be honest. It’s not the wildest creation ever, but it’s something that I did without a recipe and it worked. I work without recipes all the time for savoury cooking, making sauces and what have you, but experimenting with baking is still pretty new. It gives me confidence to try more inventive stuff in future.


Please shut up about Adele

So. Adele, then. What an obnoxious twunt.

First off, let me stem any accusations of backlash, which is the favourite accusation of bleating morons who can’t comprehend that you might just not like somebody. While somebody being extremely popular and thus extremely media-present might bring your dislike to the fore because you can’t turn around without being exposed to them, but if you can’t see how that isn’t the same as disliking them because they’re popular I don’t know what to tell you. It’s second only to ‘you’re just jealous’ in the ranks of stupid cud-chewing internet defences that mean you don’t have to engage with the matter at hand. The political equivalent, of course, is ‘that would have happened anyway’, which allows you to deny your least favourite party credit for actions you agree with.

Anyway. Not backlash. Even when Chasing Pavements came out, I was singularly unimpressed. Bland Radio 2 pap with all the rough edges filed off. Well-produced, smooth and utterly soulless. Even the names of her albums – 19 and 21 – hint at the lack of real fire. That’s the bestthing you can think to say about your album? That you were a certain age when you recorded it?

I’m not trying to say she’s not talented. She can certainly sing, and as I’ve suggested, she’s got some brilliant producers working with her to make her records. Rumour Has It and Set Fire To The Rain, in particular, sound amazing. Rich. Layered. They sound expensive.

Then of course, we come to Someone LIke You. The song that makes everyone cry, apparently. Now, make no mistake, I’m a crier. I’ve cried at Futurama. I’ve cried at Law and Order: Sexy Victims Unit. Once, when I was very ill, I cried at an episode of Pokemon. I can safely say that the overwrought histrionics of a creepy stalker who turns up on the door step of her MARRIED ex and yells in his face about how happy for him she is, but she’ll find someone even better so fuck you buddy, have never brought me to tears. No matter how much appoggiatura she uses.

Lest we forget, she’s young. She’s prbably wrote that song when she was 20 about a relationship she had when she was 18. Even my dry crusted-over heart doesn’t deny young people the right to Feel. Things. Deeply. What’s worrying is the amount of seemingly mature and intelligent adults who’ve taken this song to heart, apparently finding that the rage-filled wailings of a rejected teenager capture their feelings about their ex like nothing else does.

This leads us to her sucess in America, where singing Someone Like You on Saturday Night Live apparently made the whole country grind to a weeping shuddering halt or something. She’s sold like a billion records the, and then won all Grammies. As if Grammies matter. When they have about 87,000 categories and try to draw a line between, like, ‘song’ and ‘record’ and ‘vocal performance’ and goodness knows what else, and give out awards for best cover art and best use of punctuation the sleeves notes, winning a lot of them isn’t so big a deal. The Simpsons had the right take on it.

Homer: I wish I had an award.
Lisa: You’ve got a Grammy!
Homer: I mean an award that counts!
(Note: Mr Simpson’s views do not reflect those of the producers, who do not consider the Grammy an award at all.)

Nonetheless, her wins led to much calloo callay. The UK Press, tabloid and broadsheet alike, lives in a weird double-standard of a world where they like to sneer at America, but equally want nothing more than its approval and validation. You see it every Oscar season with all the ‘The British Are Coming!’ bullcrap just because Judi Dench or Helen Mirren got a nod. America loves Adele! She’s one of us! Therefore they love us! It’s like the Mr Hankey song except with singers instead of anthropomorphic faeces. It’s not necessarily made explicit, but it’s there, lurking.

Selling lots of records means that Adele made lots of money. Which led to bemoaning the fact she had to pay taxes. The link summarises pretty well why that’s so objectionable, but suffice to say bitching about taxes, then saying everything is shit even though you don’t use it, then complaining about paying the taxes that are used to improve the sservices you think are shit is … inconsistent at best.

All this leads us to the Brits, where she sang a song and won some awards. Then, because the show was running late, she got cut off during her acceptance speech. The way people are reacting, you’d think she was punched in the tit and then pushed off the stage to be attacked by rabid dogs. Graceless as ever, she ‘made a rude gesture’. ‘”I flung the middle finger. That was for the suits at the Brit Awards, not my fans. I’m sorry if I offended anyone but the suits offended me,” she said.’ Yeah. Those bastards. Giving you awards. What rude fuckers. People get cut off at awards ceremonies ALL the time. The Oscars are constantly cueing the orchestra to make Gwyneth Paltrow stop crying or make Susan Saradon shut up about poor people. But apparently because it was Saint Adele, this was headline news, rather than the act of keeping a live show on schedule and making time for Blur to perform. Blur who also won an award, but apparently an Adele Award is more important than a Normal Person Award. James Corden had to act all sad and apologetic. ITV and the Brits both had to apologise. For keeping their show on time and giing her awards.

And if that wasn’t enough, it’s even been raised in Parliament. In amid a discussion about the value of exports and why music is good for that (and now desperately, wonderfully Tory to rate something as good only in terms of the money it brings, and how desperately wonderfully Tory to go on about the importance of music as an export while gutting the funding that’s available for allocation to music lessons), Sir George Young talked about how he was ‘disappointed’ that her speech was cut short. While NHS changes are rushed through because there’s allegedly no time to debate them, apparently time can be found to discuss why making money is good and why Adele being interrupted is bad. And then it becomes NEWS (at time of writing, number 5 most read on BBC news) that the Minister thought it was bad, because unless the press is All Adele, All The Time, they’re going to lose a reader or two.

I’m honestly not sure whether it being mentioned in Parliament or it being considered newsworthy makes me more worried.

I’m fully aware that I’ve just contributed to the thousands of column-miles about Adele bouncing around the internet, but can we please have some perspective? She’s a competent pop star with a good voice and talented producers, and she’s also kind of a dick. She’s not the kid from the Twilight Zone and she won’t turn us all into like lizard-dog spiderbabies with the power of thought if we stop saying she’s brilliant for thirty seconds. Let’s just take a few deep breaths and let her go and swim in her money like Scrooge McDuck while feeling sorry for herself for the double hardship of being incredibly rich and being interrupted at Brit Awards.

Yayoi Kusama at Tate Modern

Most of the time, I get the idea into my head that I’d like to see an exhibition, or a film, or a play, or whatever and then procrastinate so much that it closes. It was fortunate, then, that a trip to recover a lost mobile phone (which, serendipitously, was retrieved by someone who just happened to still be in the cab where the phone was when I phoned them, whose number I’d only got that evening; a whole passel of good coincidences) ended up being a trip to see the Yayoi Kusama retrospective at the Tate Modern. I wanted to go, but almost inevitably would have ended up delaying all the way to the closing date in June.

For someone as prolific as Kusama, it would have never been possible to do anything except a highlights package, so to speak, and the exhibition succeeded admirably at that. For someone who’s probably best known for large-scale installations, they gave ample space to her small-scale work. It can be hard to ‘review’ an exhibition and separate the exhibition as an entity from the art being displayed. Certainly I’ve been to ones in the past where the layout was poorly considered, or there was a disappoitning selection, or there were other problems with the set-up that distracted from what you were looking at.

Not the case here. It was terribly crowded, but that’s to be expected.. Less expected was the sheer amount of children and babies being dragged around. Get a babysitter. Just because she’s the polka dot lady, don’t bring your children and expose them to thousands of stuffed phalluses and the disturbing hallucinatory full-room installations and collages of insects being birthed from ladies’ chests. I mean, maybe your kids are into that, but when they’re crawling on the floor wearing a Dora the Explorer jumper, there’s a bit of a mental disconnect there.

Volume of people aside, though, it was brilliantly put together. I guess a chronological approach isn’t the most adventurous, but it allowed you to follow her progression and see her taking new approaches, and then, ultmately, doubling back on herself and returning to motifs and techniques she’d used before.

Her early inks and watercolours are stunning. ‘Flower Bud’ really drew you into its depths and nearly gave you a sense of falling. Without wanting to sound too pseudy, some of them practically throbbed with menace. Some of them  I couldn’t watch the video installation for long. Disturbing groaning noises with silent footage of a robed woman riding a horse, both of them covered in polka dots was all a bit too J-Horror for me.  The ultraviolet living room was disturbing in the best way; an entire living room set up covered in neon polka dot stickers – the dots seemed to float in your vision. The theory that it’s Kusama’s way of representing hallucinations and visual distortions definitely seems to hold true. Unsurprisingly, the highlight was the new infinity room that Kusama set up specifically for the exhibition. A whole mirrored room with colour-changing lights hanging at different heights. Like the best of her work, it’s simultaneously beautiful and hugely disconcerting. This was where the crowds were really problematic,  because you kind of have to keep moving and don’t really get to appreciate the room for what it is, but it’s still visually stunning.

Personally, I didn’t enjoy all the pieces. The accumulation pieces – shoes and bags and sofas and even a rowboat covered in stuffed cloth phalluses –  seem kind of crude and obvious. But given that she started making them in 1950, I think you have to appreciate them for what they would have been at the time. And given that she produces so much, in so many different mediums, it’s perhaps inevitable that not everything will hit home for everybody.

The exhibition is absolutely worth seeing. Kusama’s made some amazing pieces. Because they’re full-room installations, they really have to be experienced to be properly appreciated, and seeing the progression of Kusama’s work (and thought processes) is fascinating.







Project Runway and Top Chef: Worst. Challenges. Ever.

Oh, I just don’t have the energy to write about these shows in any detail.

Look, I get it. The challenges have to be fun and unusual. A whole series of ‘make your best thing’ would be stupid, and boring. But you can easily have challenges along the lines of ‘make your best thing under these very strict criteria’ as opposed to ‘make your best thing out of materials gathered that you skimmed from a canal while guest judges Itchy and Scratchy fire bees at you’. The difficulties should come from meeting the brief, not the execution of the brief.

I’m all in favour of PeeWee Herman, but Paul Reubens clearly didn’t want to be doing it and felt weird about ‘comedy’ judging something that was serious. Making them cycle around and use other people’s kitchens was just stupid. Not at this stage of the contest. The ‘street muse’ thing for Project Runway was a good idea, but the idea of making people give up their clothes was beyond stupid. Even if we did get a ‘hot’ dude in tiny underpants out of it. That’s an awful lot of air quotes for one paragraph, but they’ve brought it on themselves.

Two of the most obvious boots in the history of these shows. Tom cutting off Grayson at the knees the second he gets the chance. Whatever, totally worth it for the chance to have told him to suck an egg. I still don’t know how Sarah’s making it through. Two bad risottos and now underseasoning. These are big sins on this show. I hope Bev comes back and it’s an Ed, Paul, Bev final three and Ogre Heather and all the rest of them choke on the ASIAN FLAVOURS.

Anthony going home was absurd. It was obvious from about five minutes in when 90% of the episode was him talking to camera or getting strangers to undress. Clearly getting their monthey’s worth from how ‘funny’ he is. His outfit was fine. Little bit 70s loungewear, but fine. He mostly seemed to get ousted on a misunderstanding. He said he made ‘everything from the waist up’ from fabric from strangers, and they seemed to think he just made the turban and the purse. Regardless, he shouldn’t have gone when Jerell’s … Jerell’s whatever that was was in contention. I think that’s overtaken Ramon’s neoprene toilet dress, but not quite beaten Emilio’s washers and string bikini, as the worst garments EVER made on this show. It isn’t a unique vision. It’s just bad taste.

Oh, and Mondo? Wearing a T-shirt with your own face on it as tacky as all hell. Don’t do it.

Back to basics

I’ve been cooking for a good twenty years, now, to one degree or another. Baking for less than that, and never really to the extent that I’m doing it now. But the fact remains that I’ve never made a basic sponge cake. I can make/have made polenta cake, meringues, pineapple upsidedown cake, red velvet cake, and then all the things I’ve blogged about – the creme brulee and the Oreos and so forth. But in the same way that I’ll happily put together Christmas dinner for six people but wouldn’t be that confident about boiling an egg (because ew, why would I want to do that?), I’ve run before I walked in terms of baking.

So, given that I hadn’t selected a recipe to make, and that I’m requiring myself to make at least one new thing a week, it seemed like a good idea to go back to the starting blocks. I used the BBC’s recipe because none of the books I have tell you something as basic as a sponge cake and I didn’t quite trust myself to just work it out.

It was mostly fine, but god damn do I need a hand mixer at bare minimum, if not a proper Magimix-style upright mixer. Creaming butter by hand gets tiring, and I’m going to end up with one enormous gross bicep, like some third-tier Marvel mutant, or Rafael Nadal. Of course, I thought it was a good idea to make a buttercream for the filling, rather than just whipped cream, because, well, I don’t really like cream. I used the same one from the the Oreos because it was simple, and tasty. Obviously I didn’t blend any peanut butter into this one. However, it did involve more creaming of butter and sugar, although that’s hella easier with icing sugar than caster.

Second problem was that the BBC recipe called for 7-inch cake tins and mine are 8-inch. There’s no way I’m traipsing about buying cake tins just for the purpose of one recipe at the best of times, let alone when London has been hit by APOCALYPTIC HORROR SNOW FROM THE DEPTHS OF SIBERIA as we apparently have. Obviously this meant that the cakes were wider and shallower than intended, which isn’t great, but isn’t the end of the world either. It does look a bit sad and flat, but in a way I prefer that to gigantic foot-high cake that you need to unhinge your jaw to eat.

Taste-wise, it’s good. Even though the sponge didn’t rise a lot, it’s still very light, and there’s a crispness at the edges that I really like. I’m not going to immortalise my flat-sponge shame with a photograph. I think next time I’ll do half as much again for everything, to make a deeper cake. Anyway, I’m glad to have the basic recipe under my belt for future reference. Hopefully I’ll eventually be one of those unbearable people who just ‘whips up a cake’ because they feel like it. Dare to dream.