Yesterday I cleaned all the things.
Okay, not all the things, just all the things in the kitchen and livingroom. Fits of cleanliness are common for me, especially when I’m stressed or uncomfortable.
Many of my friends lived abroad for some time, free to wander and work and meet people and experience different cultures without the pull of responsibility or family. I never did this. As someone who quickly becomes uneasy in large groups, preferring one-on-one social interactions, my apartment, with all my carefully acquired things and hundreds of books, was my cave of solitude, especially since I had room to seat only 3 at a time.
Enter First World Problem: I miss my things. Mainly my books. And perhaps it isn’t that I miss the things that I own, but owning things, any things. When I first arrived I purchased 5 pairs of shoes. I’m not a shoe girl, the 15 pairs I left in Canada were collected over 10 years, and I only really wear one or two pairs until they are falling from my feet in tatters. I also bought clothes, just t-shirts that look like ones I brought with me, and hoodies, and some skirts, again I have a grand wardrobe back in Canada, but I’m not fashionable and most definitely leave the house in jeans and a hoodie almost every day. Buying things made it easier to go home at night to a tiny room with bare walls (which is certainly not to say anything against the house, it is lovely, it just isn’t mine).
As previously mentioned, while I knew the way all the Colonies know intrinsically about traditional English cooking, I never really looked into it. Maybe I just thought that they’d moved on, or that it was all stereotypical, like the drinking and the racism (which goes to show stereotypes are as such for a reason).
When I realized that everyone goes nuts for Bakewell tarts, Eccles cakes, puddings, fools, scones, I had to remind myself that I love learning new things and I’m an old hand at research so that’s great, but I also thought Seriously? You guys eat this stuff?
This is food people consumed during the depression. Sure, Britain went through a horrible economic slump in the early 70s, which is probably why things like Bacon Butty (bacon between two buttered slices – I’m sorry, but I still don’t qualify this as a sandwich) is still on menus, and one can procure a can of Macaroni Cream (like rice pudding, but made with the very inexpensive macaroni) at any off license.
Whywhywhy is an entire nation continuing to eat like this, in 2012?
After a weeks of straight rain, I realized why puddings and chip sandwiches and piles of whipped cream folded with jam is so appealing: this is shit that all parents feed their kids, and when you live in a rainy, dreary country where clothes that have been dried in the dryer become damp within 24 hours, when you have to travel 2 hours to and from work everyday or you think you’re getting trench foot because your boots are never dry, it makes sense that the entire population would make a proper cup of tea and eat something that reminds them of when everything was less complicated and less tiring.
Which might be why the Canadian and I had Kraft Dinner last night. It was from the USA and not Canada, so was actually Kraft Cheese and Macaroni Dinner, and it did taste a little stale, likely because the English buy their macaroni and cheese in cans (I didn’t even photograph that disgusting sludge before it went in the bin), and won’t pay ₤4 for a box of dried pasta imported from the New World, but it was delicious and reminded me of home.
Jellies are something the English are known for, but amazingly it isn’t easy to find artisanal jellies in London though, admittedly, I did a search on Google, found nothing of great interest, and became immediately distracted by Wikipedia. Marks & Spencer carries a selection of rather nice jellies; I had the black currant one and it didn’t remind me of baby barf, which is always a good thing.
Jellies in England are not like the name-brand JELL-O Canadians are brought up with. Jello has a higher gelatine content, so it sets a bit stiffer. It’s chewey. English jellies are very soft and melt in your mouth. They are also layered beautifully, and when turned out, their wobble is rather unencumbered as compared to turned out Jello.
I’ve always been fascinated by the wiggle wobble of gelatin-set foods, and was overjoyed when the executive chef, a very enthusiastic, wiry man in his late forties, set a piece of passionfruit bavarois on a chopping board, grasped both edges of the board, knelt down to get his face at eye-level with the mousse cake, and began to shift the board back and forth, causing the cake to flop in all directions.
“THAT is how you know you’ve got a good ba-vois.”
The last dish I made for the resto was a jelly-panna cotta combo, because the English only want their jellies from M&S, not restos. I wanted to sneak it in somehow, and I had some black berry purée lying around, so I made this:
Créme Fraîche Panna Cotta with Blackberry Jelly, Compressed Apples, and Candied Pistachios.
125g simple syrup
150g blackberry purée
2 tbsp blackberry booze of some kind
2.5 sheets gelatin
Warm the simple syrup if it is pre-made, or whip some up (75g of water, 75g sugar) and throw in the gelatin you’ve already bloomed. Stir in the purée and booze, strain, and carefully pour into glasses to desired quantity. Chill until set.
Crème Fraîche Panna Cotta
150g Crème Fraîche
150g Whipping Cream
2 Sheets Gelatin
Warm milk and sugar to just a simmer, stir in bloomed gelatin. Whisk together the crème fraîche and whipping cream and slowly stir into the milk. Give it a pass through a sieve, then pour carefully into glasses, layering it over jelly. Chill.
Honestly, this is really just like a glaze for the Panna Cotta, because the only things I think should be white are the plates and table linens, if that. Food shouldn’t be white.
Scrapings from 1 vanilla pod
1tbsp Lemon Juice
150ml Simple Syrup
1 Sheet Gelatin
1 tbsp Blackberry purée
I topped it with apples compressed with simple syrup, lemon juice, and vanilla, blackberries tossed in blackberry booze, and candied pistachios. The above photos are the test batch, below the final dish. I had to serve it in a different glass, one I don’t care for. Though it kinda looks like a tiny terrarium, which makes me a bit giddy.
And this totally happened tonight. What. The. Fuck.