Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Adventures in Cookie-Land

I really should write about last weekend, when David and I walked 4 miles to a nearby town for High Tea. In fact, I planned to write about it today, because this is a work-weekend (writing & research with a deadline looming) for David which basically killed any hope of an adventure together, and signing up to do overtime at work killed any nascent plans for a Saturday of complete leisure. Then I decided to bake cookies.

The cookie recipe (which I'll put at the end of this) says "prep time: 10 minutes". I anticipated this would take longer—cooking with North American recipes is always an adventure in Britain unless you're willing to tramp around town looking for ingredients. And for any Cambridge area readers I may have, yes, I do realise that the big Tescos probably has what I want, but unless you're willing to give me a ride there I am using Sainsbury's. Thank you.

Back to the cookies. I bought ingredients on my way home from work. I was proud of myself for overcoming the obstacles of not being able to find things because the Brits place things in weird places/name them different. No chocolate chips to be seen, but a bar of white bakers chocolate should suffice! No jell-o, but hey look, something in near-identical packaging called "artificial orange-flavoured jelly". Overcoming these obstacles is what separates the sheep from the goats in the world of cooking.

Fast-forward to today. Preparation is key in cooking, so I give the kitchen a quick scrub and begin to make the chocolate chunks out of my bar of white chocolate. I hit it with a can of cranberry sauce (from the USA) and it gives a little, but not in the way I'm expecting. So I turn the can on its side and go at it, letting out my aggression. I stop after five minutes, the bar of chocolate still relatively whole but my cranberry sauce sporting a massive dent. I don't know if it's that American tins are weak, or if continental chocolate is strong, but there we have it. I try my rolling pin on it, again to no avail. Eventually I have to give up and use scissors, cutting the broken pieces into chunks and occasionally nipping my finger. But it's ok, because I'm being creative. I'm getting things done.

Mixing the dry ingredients goes well. Then time to cream the butter and sugar. Unfortunately the mixing bowl I have has very sloped sides, and the mixer I pillaged from the "give & take" box in the Clare laundry is good but not super powerful. It takes me probably 15 minutes to achieve something close to fluff. The walls, the floors, myself, all covered in clumps of buttery sugar. I hate mess so much, but I just have to keep going because every time I clean it up it returns like some nightmare monster.

Now it's time to add the jelly. I rip into the box, expecting to see friendly orange powder, and am instead greeted with a giant block of jelly the consistency of a gummi-bear. For a minute I consider admitting defeat, but the Slavic-Canadians of this world do not admit defeat when money has been spent! I try, for some stupid reason, to blend the jelly into my sugar mix. This only serves to coat it in sugar-butter. Then I get the bright idea of melting it on the stove. It's a gas range, so I have a lot of temperature control. One huge block of jelly turned into a soupy, smelly orange mixture. I questioned my sanity at this point, but to my surprise it worked! And it didn't burn!

There were only a couple minor hiccups after this—coating the kitchen in strings of quickly cooling jelly, having my dry ingredients overflow onto the counter when I tried to mix my dough (which I ended up having to do in batches in a sauce pan and then knead the chocolate chunks into), having to rinse my cooking stuff in the tub because the kitchen sink is too small (and I was terrified of clogging the drain with cooled jelly).

The last batch of cookies is in the oven. The recipe made about 66, which is a small victory as it was supposed to yield around 6 dozen and I lost a lot of ingredients on the way due to overflow. David and I sampled some still warm cookies and they are divine. Buttery, with a hint of orange and a cut of creamy chocolate… Yeah, my prep time may have taken 50 minutes longer than the recipe said, but it was worth it. And I feel like the Domestic Goddess crown is legitimately mine today, because in a world where people can't cook unless they can find the brand names mentioned in the Kraft Recipe and then use their $350 kitchen-aid mixer to combine them, I have made a successful 66 cookies by the sweat of my brow, relying on creativity when things didn't go as planned. I am a baking survivor!

Cookie recipe can be found here:

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

A rather belated entry on our Sixth Anniversary

I had something beautifully sappy written for our six-year anniversary, but then the day itself proved to be exceptionally magical. So—our last anniversary as "single persons" and our first anniversary abroad:

By some happy twist of fate (or math) our anniversary ended up on the same day of the week that it did the first year we went out. And since this day of the week happens to be a Saturday we had the very happy experience of being free for the entire day.

In the morning David made breakfast while I ran to the bakery for fresh bread (and cookies). The morning then unfolded like most Saturdays, by which I mean we strolled to town, stopping at the butchers on the way, and ran errands both fun and mundane. We did a little shopping, and this included getting a toaster. Why did it take us six months to buy a toaster? Because this is not just any toaster. No, this is a polka dot toaster. And having seen said toaster in December I was unwilling to settle for a cheaper, boring, white toaster. One has to have standards in these things! So I convinced David to go halves with me.

Then home for a relaxing afternoon. We had plans to go to The Old Spring, which could be described as a gastro-pub, for dinner, but due to a long-lasting Skype call we didn't even leave until close to 7. And since the Old Spring has a 3 hour window for serving food and just happens to be immensely popular we were unable to get a table (not knowing you could make reservations). Undaunted we walked back to town in the hopes of finding a restaurant…and in Cambridge eateries are dime a dozen, but finding the right one can be of epic proportions. I think we turned down about 10 potentials (too Italian, too expensive, not special enough) before a happy chance took us down Pembroke Street, and an even happier chance (and my habit of peering in windows) showed us the glint of candlelight. And there it was: Fitzbillies. Otherwise advertised as "Cambridge's best kept secret".

The restaurant looked way out of our price range, yet fate decreed otherwise and the menu just happened to have three mains (out of six) that fit our student budget. So we entered, and were swiftly seated in a small intimate room lit by candles and stained glass art deco sconces. The view out the large window was of a very European (ie: old in all the right ways) street. And then we commenced one of the best meals we've had since coming to England—smoked cheese, artichoke, pancetta, & tomato tart on a bed of sautĂ©ed green beans & rocket for me; pear, walnut, & blue cheese salad for David. We both had the beef bourguignon with mash & green beans for our main course. There was also perfectly fresh sliced baguette and creamy butter. Yet a good meal is not enough to take this dinner to extraordinary proportions for an anniversary—David surprised me with a bottle of champagne. It sort of tipped the balance into romantic overload, particularly as the ice bucket was held in a wrought iron stand that looked perfectly gothic.

So there I was, enjoying five-star food in an old restaurant on an old street in the heart of Cambridge, drinking fine champagne and just enjoying a completely carefree anniversary with my fiancĂ©. And I realised—it doesn't get much better than this. In fact this is one of those things that always seems to be happening to other people (skewed reality from books, movies, and people who travel) and which I never thought would happen to me. I am so *not* the type of person to ever plan to move to a foreign country. It was a great moment. Hell, it was a great evening!

After dinner we walked home, and the streets were bright with moonlight and some of the colleges stood out from the shadows like medieval castles. When we got to the fields by our flat the sky was huge with billowing clouds and a full moon. It was breathtaking, and so silent out… just lovely.

So here is to six happy years, and hopes for at least sixty more! Neither of us suspected that as we struggled to make non-awkward conversation over Vietnamese food on our first date that we'd be dining together in an English restaurant six years later. And I love it, because not only do I find it amazing I also find it so essential to one of the things I love about being with David—life is a constant adventure, because we seek new things and fun times wherever we are. It's pretty damn great.

I know you'd rather see a picture of my super-awesome-toaster than a picture of me & David!