Although some of my more rant-led blog posts may encourage you to believe that I am a constantly angry and occasionally violent grumpy old woman, I'm actually quite a nice person. However, there are certain things that you just don't do if you want to remain on speaking terms with me ever again.
For example, cook rice as you would pasta, in a vat of boiling water, draining it with a sieve. This is not acceptable behaviour and I will not tolerate it from anyone in my life.
Secondly, you never, ever, mess up the froth on my cappuccino. Drinking a cappuccino is a ritual, revolving around the steady scraping off of the chocolatey froth from the top with a spoon and the inhalation of its heady cocoa-rich aroma before indulging in the actual coffee lurking underneath. The chocolate is the best bit. I once went on a date with a boy who flagrantly ignored this, leaned over the table and swirled his spoon vigorously around in my cappuccino (which sounds like a euphemism, but is not). I was actually rendered speechless with horror for a good few seconds. Needless to say, it didn't work out. A person who could do such a thing is clearly evil and therefore not boyfriend material.
Thirdly, you don't announce that you can't cook, proudly and as if this is some kind of badge of honour. You say 'I can't cook'; I hear 'I'm a lazy good-for-nothing layabout'. Cooking is pretty much the easiest thing in the world. You don't have to rustle up a three-course feast involving foams, textures and an ingredient 'done three ways'. But to make something like pasta or a curry is about as difficult as cutting your toenails. If you claim you 'can't cook', I'm sorry, but I just think you're too lazy to try. ('Won't cook', incidentally, also hurts me to hear, but is at least more honest).
You don't wave your exposed wrists in my face when I tell you I have a phobia of wrists and blood. That, people, is just unkind and not actually very funny, because I have a tendency to pass out on such occasions and while that may sound hilarious, you really don't want to be responsible for my concussion. Because I will track you down and kill you.
You don't wear leggings that are slightly see-through instead of trousers, i.e. not concealed by some kind of skirt or shorts. This is never, under any circumstances, OK. I'm sorry, but I don't want to go out with you in public if everyone who walks behind you can read the slogan on your knickers.
Come to think of it, slogans on knickers are not really OK either.
On that note. Boys: Tom and Jerry boxers are not - I repeat, NOT - a thing that should exist. If they're made of silk, this does not somehow make it OK. In fact, I think it makes it worse, by suggesting said product is geared towards a hideous hybrid of pre-pubescent child and male porn star. Wearers of such things, you know who you are. If you're ever wondering why we didn't work out, there's your explanation.
You don't always arrive late and/or cancel things at the last minute. This drives me up the wall and is just bad manners. Just because we live in a luxurious world of technology where we can instantly let someone know if we're running late or unable to make it, it doesn't mean it's OK or socially acceptable.
You don't eat at Cafe Rouge. If you eat at Cafe Rouge, consider yourself judged. Like, as judged as you will be on the way into heaven. Except if you eat at Cafe Rouge, you are clearly not going to heaven. But don't worry, I think the food in hell is probably a marked improvement on what that ubiquitous, nauseating, faux-rustic chain serves up on a daily basis.
And, finally, you don't get in the way of my breakfast.
Breakfast, to me, is probably the best time of the day. It's a quiet time, a time of solace and reflection before the rush begins.
(OK, I admit, as a PhD student my life never gets much more of a 'rush' than 'Oh! I must hurry my five-minute commute so I can get to that seminar in time to make a cup of tea first!!! I hope I remembered to leave my lapsang souchong teabags in my locker for just such an occasion!')
It's a time to be on my own and enjoy the first meal of the day in peace. Sometimes I read recipe books or food magazines, or watch a food show on TV. I make sure I always have something delicious to eat and take my time over, whether it's a big bowl of porridge with fruit or a freshly baked loaf of soda bread with homemade jam and a big cup of tea. I have a special mug that I reserve for my breakfast cups of tea. (By 'special', I essentially mean 'giant').
For most people, breakfast is probably a bowl of supermarket cereal and a glass of juice or a cup of tea. Or maybe a couple of pre-sliced bits of flabby, plasticky, mass-produced bread. While I appreciate that a lot of people don't have much time in the morning, I've always felt it worth getting up a little bit earlier so that I can have a proper breakfast. For me, the prospect of a freshly baked loaf or a steaming bowl of porridge is infinitely better than an extra fifteen minutes in bed. I put more effort into my breakfast, I imagine, than most people, rarely eating the same thing for more than a few days in a row.
Take, for example, this recipe. It is inspired by one of the most delicious things I've ever eaten: Joy the Baker's 'Vegan Apple Cranberry Oatmeal Bake', which she posted on her blog a few weeks ago and which instantly shot straight to the top of my 'to-make' list. Lucky recipe - some things languish for years on that list without a second glance. I made it a few days later, and spent the entire time I was eating it groaning with delight in a slightly indecent fashion. I changed her recipe only slightly in that I used pears as well as apples, which I think made it even better. You get a gorgeous muddle of burst, juicy, tart cranberries, sharp apples and soft, grainy, perfumed pear pieces. This is all interspersed with clusters of spiced oats, crunchy and crisp in places and soft and gooey in others where they've come into contact with the fruit juices. It's one of those absolute keepers of a recipe, one that I know will become a staple in my kitchen for evermore.
It is the closest I've ever come to eating crumble for breakfast. Honestly, it's pretty much impossible to tell that it isn't crumble. What's more, it's markedly healthier. This is essentially the holy grail: dessert for breakfast, plus no guilt. That said, it could also be happily served as a dessert with some ice cream, as Joy suggests.
There are some gooseberries in my insanely middle class food hoard (freezer) that have been lurking there for months now; I bulk-bought them in the summer and didn't use them up, saving them - as always with things in the freezer - for a 'special' occasion that never arose. As my freezer was approaching bursting point and I'm going home for the holidays, I wanted to have a bit of a clear out before I left.
I made a wonderful gooseberry crumble a couple of months ago, infinitely better than any previous attempts due to roasting the gooseberries in the oven first with brown sugar then draining most of the juice, to prevent a soggy mess that has been the tragic downfall of previous noble crumbles. The result was beautifully tender, tart berries, slightly scorched in places and wrinkled in others, under a crunchy, buttery crust. It was probably the best crumble I've ever made. It suddenly occurred to me that I didn't have to wait for an occasion when I could justify eating huge amounts of crumble to use up those gooseberries...I could use the same principle of roasting the berries first then blanketing them with a crunchy topping, but in a form that could be eaten for breakfast.
I roasted the gooseberries with brown sugar until starting to burst. They didn't release too much juice, so I didn't drain them. Instead I tossed them with chunks of pear, some mixed spice and some cornflour, to thicken any juices that did emerge and stop everything becoming watery. The crust is a mixture of jumbo oats, spelt flour, salt, mixed spice and ginger, because ginger works very well with gooseberries. It's moistened with maple syrup, olive oil and almond extract, because almond also works very well with gooseberries. The result, which looks like flapjack mixture, goes onto the fruit. You stir it in very slightly, just so that some bits of the crust end up soaked in the bubbling fruity syrup, then scatter over some flaked almonds for extra crunch, and it goes in the oven.
Oh, my goodness. I know I tell you all my recipes are good, even delicious, because obviously I'm a gastronomic genius and I crave love and acceptance, but this is beyond good. As Joy herself said of the cranberry version, it's 'bonkers delicious'. Firstly, the smell as it bakes is better than any scented candle (which makes me wonder if there isn't a gap in the market for brunch-based scented candles). Secondly, it's just so, so tasty. Hopefully you can see from the photos, because words kind of fail me. Imagine the best crumble you've ever eaten. It's sort of like that.
The gooseberries turn puckered and wrinkled, lending their beautiful honeyed, fragrant sweetness to the syrupy juice under the oats. The pears soften but still retain their grainy bite, adding their subtle perfumed flavour to the mix. The juice bubbles stickily. The oats soften and turn gooey in places, crunchy and crisp in others, with a toasty, buttery flavour (but of course, this uses olive oil so has the bonus of being vegan) and a hint of warm spice. There's crunch from the almonds. The whole thing is a delightful medley of textures and a riot of toasty and sweet, syrupy flavours.
This is my new favourite breakfast. Eating it was a perfect ritual: big mug of tea, warm, spiced fruit, comforting crispy oats. I devoured half the dish in one sitting; Joy claims her original recipe served 4-6, but this is clearly some kind of conspiracy. I would be very, very surprised if you managed to make it serve four, let alone six. When I made it for friends a couple of weekends ago, I doubled the quantities, and it comfortably fed four of us. So be generous in your portion estimations.
I'm slightly devastated that I'm going to have to wait until summer to get gooseberries to make this again. Unfortunately it probably means I'm going to hoard even more of these fruits than last year, but at least now I'll know exactly what to do with them. However, out of season, you can use most berries for this: cranberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries. You won't even need to roast them first, in that case - just put them in raw with the pears, cornflour and spices and add the oat mixture. I reckon blackberries would be insanely good.
So, after that somewhat scary list of things not to do if you want to be my friend, I'm going to give you one suggestion of something you should do: make this. And invite me round. Just be prepared for me to eat nearly all of it. And make sure you serve my tea in a suitably large mug.
Pear, gooseberry and almond breakfast oat crumble (serves 2-3):
- 3-4 large handfuls gooseberries, topped and tailed
- 3 tbsp brown sugar
- 3 medium pears (I used Rocha)
- 1 tbsp cornflour
- 1 tsp mixed spice
- 150g jumbo oats
- 40g spelt flour
- 1 tsp ground ginger
- 1/2 tsp mixed spice
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 3 tbsp maple syrup
- 1 tsp almond extract
- 1 tbsp water
- 2 tbsp flaked almonds
Pre-heat the oven to 180C. Put the gooseberries in a medium baking dish with the brown sugar and toss together. Bake in the oven for 15 minutes or so until they have softened and started to release their juice. Quarter the pears and remove the core, then cut half of them into thin slices and half into small chunks. Add to the gooseberries, and toss together with the 1tsp mixed spice and the cornflour.
In a small bowl, mix together the oats, flour, ginger, mixed spice and salt. In a measuring jug or mug, whisk together the olive oil, maple syrup, almond extract and water. Stir this into the oat mixture until it is moist and starts to clump together.
Pour the oat mixture over the gooseberries and pears, then give it a couple of stirs to roughly mix it together - you still want most of it over the top, though. Sprinkle over the almonds. Bake for around 40 minutes, until the oats have turned crunchy and golden and the fruit has softened. (Check it halfway through, and if it looks like it's a bit dry, add a drop of water to the fruit). Allow to rest for a couple of minutes, then serve.