Baking = bliss

Baking: sometimes nothing makes me happier.  Call it therapy, call it a reason to eat cake,  call it a way to fill up an empty weekend, call it whatever you like: the end result is still the same.  Satisfaction.

Perhaps it’s the fact that in less than an hour you can make something out of nothing.  Or maybe it’s because the finished product (hopefully) looks, smells and tastes really good.  Or maybe it’s because for a brief period of time, you can immerse yourself completely in flour, sugar and icing, and not think about any issues beyond whether you’ve added enough vanilla extract or if your oven is being temperamental.

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For several months at university, there was a bit of a running joke that I used baking as a replacement activity.  I was in a long-distance relationship, so baking kept my mind and hands off other things…  When one day resulted in 96 cupcakes, I think my friends might have had a point.  But ever since then, baking has become my ‘thing’.  Relationship statuses have varied, but baking has remained constant.

Naturally, I do not eat the entire batch of cupcakes/brownies/cookies – I’d soon start looking like a blob of sponge mix.  So another part of baking I take pleasure in is seeing others enjoying the fruits of my labours.  Even if it’s now got to the point where some colleagues are now disappointed when I don’t show up on a Monday morning without tupperware full of chocolatey cakey treats, it’s always nice to pass on a slice of that warm fuzzy feeling I get when I pull a tray of perfect red velvets out of the oven.  And this is not an ego-centric thing where I’m trying to seek attention by dishing out edible bribes.  To quote Donkey from Shrek: ‘everybody loves cake’.  So why not share the love?

And then there’s the competitive side of me that sees baking as something of a challenge, and something to be improved.  This has resulted in some messy mistakes.  Apparently putting fresh strawberries in cupcakes means that they’re impossible to eat without getting grey-ish pink goo everywhere, and not putting milk in a pudding mix turns it into a very large biscuit.  But then there are the successes: the brownie recipe that has so far resulted in five marriage proposals (none yet accepted), and my very own ‘Super Cake’.

So if anyone’s wondering what to get me for my birthday this year: an all-purpose mixer, a cupcake carrier, and a complete icing set would all go down a treat.

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The golden years

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In the Great House Move of last summer, a lot of flotsam and jetsam of family life was unearthed and thrown away.  I spent a great amount of time expostulating on the ridiculousness of keeping chairs with three legs, matchboxes, dog-eared books etc., and for the most part the dregs and crumbs of the last 50 years or so were thrown away.  But in amongst the tat and endless paperwork, we unearthed some gems.

The main memories I have of my grandmother are centered around weekends spent on the farm she managed with my grandfather, and my lasting image of her is of a frail and difficult old woman.  But of course she was not always this way.  My grandmother, Elizabeth Seymour (nee Herbert), was the only child of a general of the British Army, and as a result moved in several exclusive social circles.  One afternoon, my mother and I found a collection of items that painted a picture of glamorous evenings, elbow-length gloves, champagne and young love.  Dance cards, party invitations, hand-written notes and diary entries gave an immense amount of detail of my grandmother’s youth, and harked back to an era long-forgotten.

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One diary entry beautifully described an Oxford summer ball.  Tales of an inadequate hotel room, a hairy-chinned landlady, being picked up in a Bentley, and the heat of the evening culminated in the drama of a proposal.  The man in question was not my grandfather: instead, it was an ‘earnest young man’ that the young Liz Herbert had only met a few times. Of course, this request for my grandmother’s hand in marriage was politely refused, but to me it highlighted how much social life and romance have changed since the 1950s.

To us kids of the modern world, this world of balls, reeling, live orchestras and white tie is an enormously foreign concept.  And the way relationships and marriages were formed seem equally archaic and foreign.  Imagine if in the 21st century most of us married the first person we slept with.  Imagine falling in love after spending one evening with someone.  Scary thoughts.

And yet… to me there is something wonderfully simple about how our grandparents’ generation went about things.  There was no Three Date Rule, there was no texting (or lack thereof turning one into a quivering wreck for 48 hours until your phone finally bleeps), and the notion of a one-night stand was for whores only.  Call me old-fashioned, but the idea of ‘courting’ seems wonderfully romantic, and if you think about it, that prolonged period of playing by the rules and social conformity must have been extremely tantalising.  Picture this: you and the object of your affections have been to dinner, gone to the theater, gone on a country drive, maybe even met each others’ families… but you have not yet held hands, let alone kissed or had any kind of physical intimacy.  I would imagine that amount of  look-but-can’t-touch time would have driven most people (men especially) mad with pent-up desire.  Those were the days that the wedding night meant a hell of a lot more than it does now.

So yes, I’m slightly nostalgic for an era that I never even knew.  But what’s the harm in wishing for a bit more glamour and vintage-style gentlemanly behaviour?  My grandmother lived in a time where men knew how to dance, held open doors, and didn’t think that five minutes of conversation with a woman would result in a sexual encounter later that night.  I think that our generation’s quick-fix mentality of social encounters and sexual relationships could learn a lot from our predecessors: slow down, and take the time to know someone.  Of course, as night clubs have got louder and the way we live has sped up, certain things have had to adapt.  I’m certainly not expecting some nice young chap in the Anthologist to come along and ask me for a foxtrot.  But perhaps he could talk to me for a while, and not be offended if I won’t get into his taxi an hour later.

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