And now, to make a move a little far beyond my usual purview – I turn to cooking.
Last year I decided cooking would become my thing. In a sort of Julie/Julia kind of way, I took on the challenge of, well, actually cooking anything at all. Despite it being the cause for many another kind of problem, being unmarried, I thought to myself, should not prevent me from learning how to cook for other people. I will say here and now that cooking for myself interests me not in the slightest. The idea of preparing for ages only to scoff my creation down in a few minutes is entirely unappealing and really quite frustrating to think of. This may explain my slightly esoteric personal diet….
Still, as someone has said to me – it turns out – I make a really great event cook.
I am perfectly happy to get utterly flustered, blustering about the kitchen rushing to prepare stuffed onions (a four hour vigil by the side of the hob), frantically stabbing at ground mince meat so that it doesn’t stick together while it’s browning – I’ve even learned to take a sort of perverse pleasure in my hardcore cleaning of raw poultry. All for the incomparable pleasure of watching other people eat my food and enjoy it.
Mistake me not – this is not some kind of alimentary selflessness that has suddenly reared its head after years of fighting tooth and nail for my own food at the table of my, considerably less culinary, mother – no, this is the supremely self-satisfying action of a prideful amateur cook who secretly believes she is the next Nigella Lawson. The only thing standing between me and her 40+ gourmet loveliness is half a lifetime, some bigger boobs and a good blow dry.
Still – back on topic.
After a successfully moist turkey or two (just bake in a roasting bag and drown in marinade for at least 20 hours before), a rich chilli, crusty breaded chicken, the aforementioned onions and my own invented dessert (read: add peanut butter in large quantities to any other recipe for baked goods), I was feeling pretty damn pleased with myself. I would putter about in the kitchen to the Chocolat score by Rachel Portman (what could be more appropriate) and gradually feel more and more invincible. Obviously a fall was nigh.
Chocolate mousse has long been one of my favorite foods. I am a sweet-tooth kind of girl, and clearly I cottoned on to the natural antioxidants in 70% chocolate pretty early on in life. In my hubris, I decided not only would I make chocolate mousse, but I would do it without an electric whisk.
For anyone who’s tried, and anyone who hasn’t, making chocolate mousse is like alchemy. The eggs must be separated perfectly. Then the chocolate must be melted and the egg yolks added but not too soon that the heat of the chocolate cooks them, nor too late that the chocolate has begun to harden. All this I just about managed to pull off, with only a couple of snags. No sweat. It was only as the chocolate was out of the precarious bain-marie I had constructed that I turned to the egg whites, and then realized my mistake. The chocolate needed to be folded in toot-sweet, and the egg whites were still disconcertingly liquid.
With gusto, and the added incentive of panic at the hardening chocolate, I began to whisk. And whisk. And continue to whisk. And still the egg whites were not nearly approaching meringue stiffness. I, in sympathy with them, was wilting with exhaustion. My arm hurt, and I was advised by a very kind roomate calling out instructions from her computer screen that I must UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES stop for even ONE MOMENT.
By the time the whites started responding to my tough love, I was closer to being whipped into submission than they were. But I soldiered on and was rewarded by a puffy cloud at least 4 times the size of the original liquid.
I won’t bore you with the details of the folding – another important part of the process that you have to get right if you want real fluffiness in your mousse, but suffice it to say that 3 hours of setting later the mousse tasted of perfection.
The point here is not to toot my own horn (although I’ve enjoyed that). It’s appreciating the quite simple fact that cooking rewards endeavour, in a very real, physical and often delicious way.
When I cook, I don’t labour trying to decide what to do – that part’s already been done for me. All my effort goes into making a formula a reality, and generally speaking, its not only a relief not to have to think for myself, but exceedingly reassuring to be almost certain that if I add flour to butter and then slosh in some milk, with a lot of hand whisking and a dash of faith – bechamel sauce will, indeed, appear.