Sunday, 4 April 2010

With great power comes great responsibility

About a year before he died, my dad – the king of the fad and the fixation, the passion and the preoccupation – decided he would learn to cook. He was roughly 60, giddy with the liberty of early retirement and hungry for the new – or perhaps just hungry. Prior to this resolution, he was like many men of his generation – my mum could not leave the homestead for a few days without a significant investment in Vesta meals and malt loaf to ensure he would actually eat something while she was away.

And so it began. He bought knives and cookery books. He rolled up his sleeves. And for a few months, he rarely arrived at my house without some homemade offering – a batch of oatcakes, a bowl of exotic fruit salad with anxiously simmered syrup, selotaped shut to prevent a slow, sticky seep all the way from Norfolk to South London. That's how I remember it, at least. Maybe this only happened once or twice, but they're my memories and I'll misshape them how I like.

One of the last presents I bought him – and I don't remember if it was the last Christmas or the last birthday – was a kitchen blowtorch. It was the perfect marriage of man and miniature machine – flash, nifty, yet with a considerable capacity for foolhardy calamity. In my childhood, my dad memorably a) fell backwards through the glass of our living room window while trying to secure a rope on his hand-built boat which lived on our driveway, and b) almost perished under the weight of our car when he was working underneath it and the puny power of a sub-standard jack was dramatically exposed.

After he died – and incredibly, in the run-up to this event, he had managed not to set fire to his own eyebrows – my mum gave the blowtorch to me and I buried it deep in one of my kitchen cupboards, where it has been in the intervening four and a half years.

Until today. Today, with an appropriateness that is as pleasing as it is coincidental, the culinary blowtorch was resurrected. I made a Simnel Cake, according to the gospel of Nigella Lawson, to take to Miss W and
Marbury's for Easter lunch. I handrolled the 11 tiny marzipan balls that go on top – as you will know, they traditionally represent the apostles (soz, Judas – you're barred). Mine are of slightly uneven size and randomly spaced which, of course, is of considerable, if indeterminate, religious significance.

'Now for the bit I love,' says Nigella, introducing the notion of artfully scorching the marzipan topping, 'but you can ignore altogether.'

What are you saying, Lawson? That I am not up to a bit of live-action charring? Who do you think you're dealing with? I have won over £3.75 in
high-level baking competitions. Step back, cow eyes*, while I open the throttle and hit the ignition.

(You may guess from this that I am not a driver.)

Just so you know, blowtorching is AMAZING. I have rarely felt more alive. I may have found my inner superhero. She has a blowtorch coming out of the end of each limb and she is called The Caramelizer.

All back to my place for crème brûlée?

*I don't mean this. I love Nigella. I'm just showing off.


Shrimptowers said...

A lovely story and a super cake. Which lead me to think about what celebrations don't have a 'supporting cake' but really ought to. And so, my mind rested on the Tolpuddle Martyrs. Only six of them, food (or lack of) was pretty central to their cause... and there's a festival in their honour held the 3rd week of July (according to wiki). Your challenge, should you wish to accept it Miss Jones, is to invent a new cake to commemorate the Martyrs.

Karl James - The Dialogue Project said...

April and fathers mean a lot to me... no cakes required. But thanks for the delicious writing. Creme brulee with the right amount of burn... hard to find.

Wally B said...

I was once told by my mother that if she died first, my father wouldn't even know how many sugars he took in his tea, so I was a little worried when he became the sole caregiver to an Alzheimer/Dementia suffering wife.
While Creme Brulee is not likely to apper on their dining table anytime soon, he has managed to feed them both extemely well. In fact, I'm looking forward to going back to the UK for Sunday Lunch at the end of this month. Yorkshire pudding reports to follow.
Great post by the way

Miss Jones said...

Shrimptowers, I like the sound of that challenge. I am going to think on it.

Karl, thanks and welcome.

Legend In His Own Lunchtime, your dad rules.

Anonymous said...

Miss Jones, you always have the ability to move me with your writing. Lovely story, lovely cake, exciting new superhero too!

And what's more Miss Jones, I have found another you, unless of course you're living a secret double life as a 15-year-old schoolgirl who was in a dance show over the Easter weekend with my goddaughter, Tasha. If it was you (perhaps hiding under expert disguise make-up), you were extemely good during the "We're In The Money" tap dance and as Robin during the Batman modern dance routine.

V impressive. Hopefully see you soon.

AquaMarina. xxx

rich said...

If you like blowtorching, you'd LOVE welding.

Jane said...

I think there's definitely more mileage in the 'festivals without cakes' idea...

Anonymous said...

The delicious & delightful Miss Jones, methinks! Love this batch of Easter posts - you're at the height of your powers. Speaking of powers, love the blow-torching. I too learnt a new skill at the weekend, when the beloved taught me to shoot, first an air rifle, then an air PISTOL - much more my scene (Diana Rigg-in-the-Avengers pretentions). All licenced and on private land I should add. Imagine that, Miss Jones, your very own Lady C wielding a pistol! xxx