I drove to Florence to meet an old friend and his daughter. They had come in this kind of hellish way to spend two days sightseeing in the blistering heat with a billion other tourists. Even Florence is vile like that. Crowds and heat and the strong smell of faeces that pervades the city in summer (Italians are not big pooper scoopers). (Having said that, I bought cheddar at the Mercato Centrale cheese place – can’t complain). ANYway, his daughter is going to a girls’ school in September and we were talking about how she felt about this. I went to a girls’ school (City of London) for four years but I’m not sure it was typical – it was particularly odd and I don’t think any of us there were happy. I would say I’m probably projecting but I still know a lot of them and I don’t think I am. But this may not have been a gender-based problem. Probably wasn’t. In any case, I was thinking how amazingly odd it is to sort people on the basis of what kind of genitalia they have. Penis? Off you go that way and get muddy. Vagina? This way and make sure you look pretty – everyone will comment on your looks, good or bad, every day for the rest of your life. It’s because of your vagina. Really? Oh. Also, you will probably have to do a lot of menial shit and clean things and nobody will think it’s weird because of your vagina. My daughter once had a Russian mouse and it had a billion babies. We wanted to keep one or two and give the others to the pet shop. The vet sorted them, peering at their genitalia, desperately trying to sort the girls from the boys so they wouldn’t reproduce on us again. “Pipi?” “Pipi!” “No pipi!” The boys’ school/girls’ school separation reminds me of this. It’s such an arbitary distinction. Not much different from separating people by hair or eye colour and sending them to different schools to do different jobs, wear different clothes and be paid differently (blondes less? I bet). I mean, look, I’m not mad (or, at least, not like that) – I do get that female mammals have the babies and someone has to look after them. It perhaps makes sense for the female that carries them to look after them. But why that should mean anything else, why it should dictate where she sits in synagogue or mosque and what jobs she is or isn’t allowed to do, why her views might be taken less seriously and why she’s less likely to hold forth at a dinner table (Why the fuck do men do this? Italian men do it even more) – I have no idea. Makes no sense. Then again, what does?
Not this. Same friend. He’s a barrister. He was talking about a murder case where he was planning to claim diminished responsibility on grounds of insanity. I was thinking how odd that you have to be basically psychotic and delusional during the attack to be considered insane. Surely it’s far madder to plan for a year while maintaining an ostensibly ordinary life. But the jury wouldn’t go for that. You have to be in a psychotic state. I thought I’d write about it for Prospect and starting talking to psychoanalysts and barristers all of whom think the system is ridiculous. It’s a big issue and someone wrote a long piece called “Are All Murderers Insane?” (the answer being yes). Anyway, strange how some madness is forgivable and other madness is not.
So, I have to write a book which means I painted the whole kitchen the other day (meaning only to go over some of the yellower, greasier bits, but, obviously, once I started I couldn’t stop because then the whole rest looked yellow and greasy) and threw away four wheelbarrows of crap. Then I bought huge jungly plants for a sort of crap bit of the house that usually just has broken hoovers in it (why? why?). My son is stuck in London because his passport vanished. You would think that once he’d missed his flight and the money was wasted he’d have found it again. “Oh, NOW I remember where I put it!” But, no. So me and Mo are waiting for him. Well, I am. She goes to work at Canyon Park every day – a zip wiring and paddle board place down the mountain where they get paid an amazing fortune.
Here are some recipes.
Almond and Fruit Tart. This is a Michel Roux Jr raspberry tart recipe, bastardised for convenience. It is the best thing you will ever make. You will now make it all the time. Easy too.
600g sweet pastry – 180g butter, 375g flour, 90g sugar, 2 egg yolks, 1tbsp double cream. I add vanilla essence.
Almond paste – 100g, butter, 100g icing sugar, 100g ground almonds, 2 eggs.
Then fruit, ideally raspberries but really doesn’t matter. At all.
Roll out your pastry and put it in the tart tray. Here’s the thing – I never roll pastry. I line the tray with baking parchment so as not to have the buttering faff. I put the lump of pastry in the middle and then push it out with my fingers until it’s lining the tray. Then I freeze it for ten minutes, I can’t remember why and there’s probably no need. It is less pretty but, then again, it’s for eating, right?
Almond cream – beat all the ingredients together and tip the result into the pastry case.
Cook in the oven until risen and golden (about 25 minutes) on a low-ish heat.
I don’t usually bother with this bit, but….Boil some of your fruit with sugar to make a syrup. Brush the cooked and cooled tart with it and then put your fruit on top. Often, I just put the fruit straight on. Not mad about sticky syrups. Dust with icing sugar.
Coconut Milk Panna Cotta
I resent calling this panna cotta. I mean, Italian panna cotta is boring. This is delicious. Plus all cultures have some cooked cream/custard recipe, right? Anyway. Bleaurgh. It’s really nice. Makes six in standard ramekins. Do this…
2 x 400ml cans coconut milk, 400ml full-fat milk, 100g caster sugar, 2 x 12g sachets powdered gelatine, or five leaves of leaf.
Boil the milks and sugar either with a split vanilla pod or some vanilla essence. Leave it to cool a tiny bit then add the gelatine. Pour it into ramekins (or whatever, one big dish, doesn’t matter) and put it in the fridge to set. This all takes two seconds. Honestly.
It would be nice with mango on top, either just like that, or you could boil it in sugar for mango syrup for a bit. I did it with peaches because I’d used the mango for a tuna thing. I put a chilli and some salt in my syrup too (Mo nearly choked to death on a big bit of chilli though). So, when the puddings are set, slop a bit of your fruit stuff on top and a sprig of mint might be nice (I forgot).
I also boiled sugar until brown (do not add water) and tipped sesame seeds into it. Poured it out onto baking parchment to set into brittle. Put the sesame shards in the puddings. Cool huh?
This was pudding to a supper I forgot to take photos of. The starter was seared tuna and mango salad. Sear tuna in pan with sesame oil, add soya sauce and sesame seeds when it’s really hot. Cut up the tuna and toss with the mango, a chopped red chilli, some parsley and coriander. Dress with lime juice, soya sauce, fish sauce, sesame oil, sugar and salt (easy on the oil and the fish sauce). Da dah! I made this up – it was REALLY good.
Okay. Enough for now. xx
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