Things of Beauty Part Six: Birthday Swag Again


Time to share a few pics. and also share my tale of sweet potato pie woe. I wonder how many people have a tale of sweet potato pie woe? Hopefully not many. But first, the evidence of my wondrous gifts!

The woolly cakes and the apron! From my work colleagues – what a talented bunch we are. We clearly must open a shop that sells all of our wares. The pictures don’t really do justice to either, I’m afraid, but you get the idea. Ceggers is my work nickname – it’s nice to have a nickname, I haven’t had one for years. For a time I went by the name of Shortarse – one I chose for myself, incidentally. Having such a name makes me feel like part of a group, and adds another layer to my own sense of identity. Oooooh, get me! Really though, it is a warm, friendly feeling, even though it might sound like a silly name. Well, OK, it *is* a silly name, but in a lovely way.

Another gift was the food umbrella, and here it is doing its job and guarding my poor attempt at a sweet potato pie from any marauding flying or crawling insects:

Hee hee! It is a most excellent contraption, and fun to use in a very simple, ‘I can be easily amused’ kind of way. There is a few second delay between pushing the top of the umbrella in and it folding itself shut – hard to describe in words, but massively entertaining in real life. This picture also shows my long-neglected money plant, which is luckily extremely hardy as I am terrible at looking after house plants. I have a Japanese Peace Lily, too, which I have unnecessarily capitalised there for some reason. It survives, but it hasn’t flowered since I got it. I think it might get too much light, or something. Plants – not my forte. Cakes, yes. Growing things? No.

Another lovely present that I got was this antique, silver plated item. I say item, as I’m not really sure what it is for – I think it is a mustard bowl. I saw it one day that I was out doing local pottering with my mum, sister and almost-sister-in-law – I loved it, but couldn’t bring myself to buy it as I didn’t think I would use it. I have terrible trouble spending money on things that are just pretty to have, I crave practicality and function. Luckily for me, I have amazing people around me who will buy me things that they know I like, even if I say I wouldn’t use them – in this case, my mum. I may well use this little guy as a mustard or wasabi dish, with a little glass bowl lining it, or perhaps I will come up with another use for it. Regardless, I really love it, especially its little feet.

My parents also bought me another addition to my Le Creuset collection, two more lidded soup bowls, or bean pots as Le Creuset call them. Here is the whole family of them – two are matt black and two are satin, I think they complement each other rather nicely. I’m thinking French onion soup, or more likely a home-smoked garlic soup with blue cheese croutons… How I love to cook, and eat, and think about cooking and eating. It’s a hard life. I simply must have a posh dinner party – I have also recently acquired four lovely square bowls in black, so I’m on my way to having a set of nice dishes, one bit at a time.

As previously mentioned, I also got some decorating items – these have already been stashed in the pirate treasure chest, atop the kitchen cupboards, so rather than get out of my seat and look them down I’ll let them be revealed as I decorate cakes with them. It’s efficiency, not laziness. Here, though, is my beautiful cupcake stand, courtesy of the G man. At present it does not contain any cupcakes, but given that I also got a recipe book containing over 200 recipes, it soon will. I haven’t done as much cooking or baking as I’d have liked this week – today is the last week day of my time off. I was thinking of baking today and taking the results in to work later, since I’ll be going in to meet everyone for drinks. We have the good fortune to work in a building where the canteen turns into a bar of an evening. Actually, that makes it sound a lot more exciting than it really is – there are no revolving walls, disco balls do not appear, there is no magic pool table that rises out of the floor like something out of a somewhat more degenerate Thunderbird Island. What happens is that, from 5pm, the bottled beers, wines and spirits that reside behind the tea bar become available for purchase. Other than that, you’re still sitting in the canteen. However, many an excellent night out has begun there, and it is a good rallying point for the troops – lets people finish off their shifts and drift upstairs, and lets the people who finish first start drinking as soon as they’re ready… Anyway, I had thought of taking cakes to my own birthday party, yes. I just love to bake, and sharing the results means that I’m not left with a mountain of cake to eat through on my own, since that’s not really great for the waistline. I mean, I have willpower, but not so much that I can see cakes go to waste. Of my new recipe book, one particular recipe caught my eye, for camomile tea cupcakes. I would convert this to spiced chai, ginger mate or jasmine cupcakes – the spiced chai is an especially interesting one. The teabags have tea, for starters, but also contain cardamom, cinnamon and pepper, among other ingredients. It makes for an unusual, tingly cup of tea, and I think it would make for a cupcake that would walk the sweet/savoury line nicely.

It is now time for the tale of woe. Settle yourselves accordingly. I was excited to try a recipe for sweet potato pie, Miss L makes a storming one that I’ve tried and enjoyed very much. Also, to me, making a pie – pastry and all – is a really womanly thing to do. I don’t feel that it is the kind of thing that women *should* be doing, or should be expected to do, let nobody take the wrong meaning from my words and accuse me of betraying the sisterhood. Some things just make me feel womanly – not really feminine, so much, it’s more a sense of providing for others, of appearing like one of those 50s pictures you see of smiling housewives brandishing freshly baked pies and smiling like they’ve accidentally attached the corners of their mouths to their own ears but they’re simply getting on and making the best of it, because they are so busy that they have no time to do anything about it. I’m finding this a complicated concept to get across, or perhaps I am just making a meal of it (see what I accidentally did there? I’m leaving it in, terrible as it is). To me, cooking and baking are part of how I express my personality, and how I express my affection for others. I am a strong, confident, modern lady, and that includes the love of embracing this traditional – or perhaps outdated – female role. I am happy to be cooked for and waited on by a gentleman; more than happy, in fact. I think, though, that as a woman/lady/girrrrl/chick, my experience of the culinary arts is informed by the fact that there is that heritage of women as the rulers of the kitchen, or slaves of it depending on your point of view. I embrace it, I enjoy it, I love it, and I like to think that other people get pleasure from my love of it, too.

All this being said (perhaps in a laboured and lumbering kind of way), my attempt at sweet potato pie – or SPP as I like to think of it – didn’t go particularly well. I put this down to my lack of experience in this field of baking, I could have been doing with a recipe for children to talk me through the process step by step. Everything went fine up until I put the pie in the oven. Look, it was very pretty until then. I had bought a new pie tin for the recipe and everything. Sniff…

Anyway, it went in the oven looking like this, and it came out of the oven looking… well, looking quite different. The recipe told me that when it was ready to come out of the oven, the filling would be mostly set, with a slight wobble in the middle. I can only think that our definitions of a slight wobble are radically different, because after the alloted baking time the entire filling still had a definite, nay, alarming amount of wobble. So, I put it back in the oven. I checked on it after five minutes, then after a further ten, then after another five, and another five again… The wobble persisted. It was mocking me. By this time, the top of the filling was ‘caramelised’ and the pastry had dried out, which was a sad state of affairs. Also, the filling had expanded with the over-baking, and as the pie cooled it contracted again, cutting off its attachment to the pastry and starting a new life on its own, as a delicious yet out of context solo entity. Here is a factual rendering of the baked pie – this is it not long out of the oven, and before I turned it out of the pie dish. It only got worse from here, the pictures are too gruesome for general consumption.

To be fair to myself, the filling was lovely, and if I hadn’t over-baked it so mercilessly I like to think that the pastry would have been good, too. The other thing is that I left it to cool in the tin, when I really should have turned it out to cool  – I ended up with soggy pastry on the bottom, which further added to the feeling of extreme fail. The G man polished off a number of slices though, in a very generous gesture. I would have eaten more myself if I hadn’t seen the appalling fat content of the pastry – which I did tell him about, by the way, it’s not a very subtle plan to increase his saturated fat intake. The recipe called for vegetable shortening, which the internet assured me is an American was of saying vegetable fat. I duly bought some, but the very look of it… Not pretty. Kind of shudder inducing. Had the pie tasted great I still would have eaten as much of it as I fancied, as I’m on a holiday from food reason as well as from work, but sadly that was not the case. I won’t give up on pie baking in general, but will steer clear of the vegetable shortening option in future.

Thus ends the tale of woe, which has been chalked up to experience. Also thus almost ends my week of leave, although the whole weekend stretches before me and will culminate in a very relaxed Sunday, possibly by necessity rather than choice…

Tunes:  A tune that perks me up with its relentless nonsensical lyrics, and one which my neighbours probably don’t share my love of, given my propensity to sing along at the top of my voice: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ny7vW6dgnUY

Movie: TV rather than movie – The League of Gentlemen. All of it. I’ve watched all three series in the last week, I find it’s best viewed as an ensemble piece, although it may induce peculiar dreams and the urge to call everyone Dave for a while. This will fade in time. There are so many things to like about it – the character acting, the make up and wardrobe, the absurdity, the tragedy… I could go on, but I will not. This is one of the clichéd clips to love about the show, and there are many more subtle and engaging sketches, but I can’t help but love Papa Lazarou in all his sinister glory: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XM9x5tefjcY

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About Rock Salt

Seasoning while rocking out since 1983. View all posts by Rock Salt

4 responses to “Things of Beauty Part Six: Birthday Swag Again

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