Cupcake Rivalry

I have become middle-aged before my time and I have only a spongy, iced cupcake to blame. All it took was a simple charitable bake sale to turn a group of kitchen-phobic teenagers into fierce competitors in an unofficial, unannounced bake-off to produce the least disastrous looking red-velvet cupcake.

I was admittedly the most competitive, perhaps even the only one. In fact, I’m not even sure if any of the other girls really cared who made the best cupcake but then again maybe that’s only because they knew they had no chance of winning a competition that really only existed in my middle-aged mind. They were too busy laughing at each others efforts to take notice of my smug smile as I inspected their not so handiwork.

The morning of the sale I followed the Hummingbird book recipe for red velvet cupcakes and all was going fine until I took them out of the oven only to find that instead of a bright red colour they had remained brown. After, checking Wikipedia (a little too late), I regretted the shortcut I took in omitting the unusual looking ingredients, buttermilk and white wine vinegar, from the list as apparently they cause some sort of reaction that give the cakes their trademark red colour. Of course, it wasn’t my fault, the recipe should have explained the need for each and every single ingredient to prevent such a thing happening and so it can take full responsibility.

So, I arrived at school with my brown velvet cupcakes; annoyed and mildly embarrassed; ready to glare evilly at cupcakes redder and rounder then mine. Then, along came the cupcakes and my mood brightened considerably at the sight of them. I gave on sweeping look at the merchandise and suddenly felt proud of my comparatively miniscule mishap.

Observe for yourself, the unofficial candidates of my unofficial cupcake competition of which I am the unofficial winner of.

1) These hard, hollow disks were the result of someone’s impatience and inability to allow them to bake without opening the oven for a little peak at half-time. They were a bright red colour inside so we used them as crumbs to sprinkle on the better cupcakes once they had been iced.

 

2) Small, sticky and flat. A good try that would have stood a chance had I not been taken part.

 

3) Unpictured- These were unusual cupcakes that spouted water when pressed. They arrived late yet the girl had the audacity to proclaim them better than anyone else’s and contributed the entire success of the sale to her little sponges. I was a bit unnerved by her disregard of our joint hard work but was placated by my friend who tried them and assured me that mine where far superior, not that I had any doubt.

 

4) Of course, these are my little beauties. They may not be red but they are the closest we had to real cupcakes and I sold them with pride.

They looked even better with white buttercream icing on top and a satisfying sprinkle of the  red crumbs of lesser cakes.

 

In what could be compared to an episode of Desperate Housewives/Come Dine With Me, I got more than a bit carried away but it was all for a good cause, so I’m excused by the money raised for the children of East Africa. The sale was an overall success apart from the elderly man who grabbed two cupcakes and scampered off without paying, leaving us shocked and spluttering. Nevertheless, the man had good taste and of all the cupcakes chose mine to steal, further inflating my ego.

 

 

Save the Children with a Movie Morning

Roll up! Roll up! Come and get your tickets for the greatest movie event of the year, my school council’s movie morning for the Save the Children charity.

All of last week we we had been selling tickets and pre-selling snack boxes to students to raise funds for our chosen charity, Save the Children and we had been rolling in it. We all thought that we were making easy money, no stress, no fuss, just take the money and laugh. Ha! We weren’t laughing when someone (not me) lost the ticket records, we weren’t laughing when someone (not me) oversold tickets for a single movie screening and we weren’t laughing when someone (again not me) did not buy enough sweets the previous day and only realised early this morning.

Morning of the event, the clock was ticking, school council members were last minute shopping, the movies were scheduled to start, food was meant to be being sent out and we were all gathered around a chicken waiting for it to lay popcorn.

The frustration I felt at the incredibly slow chicken was unbelievable. Pop chicken! Pop! We have impatient kids with the munchies to feed! It even took a break to stop itself from heating up. Now, that’s what I call high maintenance. The frustration was that regardless of what I did, there was nothing that would speed up the process. We were all stuck at the chicken’s leisurely pace, until we called in microwave popcorn.

Disaster avoided, It was still hectic. I was all over the place, putting nachos in rooms, distributing lists, fetching DVDs, looking for the people I distributed the lists to, taking back the nachos because I had placed too many in one room, panicking when the DVD
Nachos and popcorn

failed to play, downloading a media player to play the DVD and urging people to getmoving, acting like a human egg timer. Phew. The best moment was when everyone had settled down, eyes glued to the screen, mouths stuffed with popcorn and I could move from classroom to classroom asking if everything was okay knowing that I would get a positive response.

Yesterday, after we had spent two hours in front of a spreadsheet typing up the names of the entire student body only to be told that we could have been given a copy electronically and saved ourselves the trouble, our headteacher suggested that we keep notes of all the things not to do and pass it on to the following school council as a parting gift but we shot her idea down in the interest of justice. Why must they have it easy when no one gave us a list? It would be an absolute pity if they were to miss out on the frantic scurrying up and down the corridors in harmonic panic. Besides, learning from your own mistakes is character building and definitely more effective than learning from the mistakes of others, don’t you think?

Today, I learnt that microwave popcorn is the way forward, planning is key and to always have a back-up. I wonder what I will learn tomorrow…

Kicking off the school year with a Baked Alaska

Today was my first day of my last year in my current school. The holidays have come to a close and it is time to get back into the routine; homework; exams and most difficult of all; normal human sleeping hours. I can no longer observe the sleeping hours of a fanged mythical being…what a pity. After a night of tossing and turning I am almost regretting the damage a summer holiday of “crazy living” has done to my body clock.

This year is a year of change for me. One that will lead on to even greater change and hopefully it will be a memorable one, for the right reasons of course. I would hate for it to be ingrained into my memory as the year were it all went wrong. I am hoping for positive change worth remembering. Our school has a new head teacher, after years of campaigning (moaning) we finally have a new uniform and my year group has formed the school council. To translate; responsibilities, uncertainty and a lot of hard work. But I’m up to the challenge or at least I’m up to convincing myself that I am.

Not to be disheartened by the end of our summer freedom, my little sister and I decided to put a twist on the original bang and kick off the school year with a Baked Alaska in celebration of our sister’s ascent into teenage-hood. Today was a milestone in her short life and she had requested a home-baked cake. Our eagerness to comply had nothing to do with the fact we were saving ourselves from buying presents.

After much deliberation, browsing down the frozen cakes’ and ready-made mixes’ aisles, we decided that we would make the effort and actually start from base. We refused to yield to our mother’s recurring suggestion that we buy a pre-made base despite the temptation. Instead, we put on our aprons and hit the kitchen like professionals with years of experienced cookery programme watching under our belts. We even did the exciting, dare-devilish thing of standing under the bowl of meringue, albeit nervously. It wasn’t as hard as we had anticipated and I survived with only a minor burn.

In the end, the look of delighted surprise on my sister’s teenage face was worth all the fun we had. I suppose she had not been expecting anything as edible as was produced despite her reassurance that she knew we would come through. Either she is a terribly proficient liar or she has a dangerous amount of faith in us.

So, it’s official. My sister has been a constant irritant at my side for thirteen itchy years and if it is up to her, many more. I wish her a Merry Birthday and a Happy School Year!

A bad cook blames her recipe

At last!  Finally, after two very demoralizing first attempts at this cake, I have been successful. I’d like to thank everyone who supported me and believed in me, cheering me on and telling me not to give up. If I ever write my own cookery book, you are all getting a mention. As to all those who doubted me…lets face it the odds were against me anyway so no offence taken.

Dignity regained, and pride now intact; the relief I am feeling at the moment is incredible. I would not have been able to face yet another failure so I’m glad it came out as it was supposed to; no leaks, explosions, deflations etc. Although, before you go thinking that I am completely incompetent let me share something I neglected to mention in my previous post; the reason for my struggle. I am not passing the blame or trying to excuse myself but really it wasn’t entirely my fault. It was the recipe’s fault.

Maybe that sounds a bit farfetched and the saying “a bad workman blames his tools” may spring to mind but in this case it was most definitely the tools’ fault. The recipe is not just any common recipe available to the masses, obtained from the world-wide web. It is exclusive. It is a cherished family recipe passed down from generation to generation, each holder of the recipe improving it and adding their own individual stamp then passing it on to the next in line, until it reached me and I completely annihilated it. I am not trying to garner any sympathy, although I will accept it, but if news gets out I fear I may be disowned!

A slight exaggeration but the cake is a family favourite; always present for birthdays, special gatherings and breakfast the next day. My grandfather has even won a few small competitions for his famous cake and prides himself in being the one who makes it the best, regularly competing with my aunt to retain his title. During last year’s visit, my sister eagerly took down his prize-winning recipe which he was all to pleased to share, glad that someone has taken an interest and would make good use of it. She didn’t. She gave it to me.

And so the blame is passed on to her… She noted down the recipe according to my grandfather’s measurements using a small glass cup, equal to half an ordinary cup. Therefore, every time the recipe required  me to measure an ingredient I would add double the amount. So, most of the dry ingredients were doubled whilst liquid ingredients such as eggs remained the same, resulting in an absolute mess! Now do you see how it wasn’t my fault? No? Then, you are not getting a mention in my book.

Thankfully by the second kitchen disaster I realised that I had interpreted the recipe wrong and so when it came to attempt number 3 I had no problems. Everything went well however I think I may have managed to annoy a lot of people with my eccentric behaviour. I refused anyone entry into the kitchen lest they spoil my concentration and attached myself to the oven, keeping watch for any explosions. Once it was ready and I was certain that nothing had gone wrong, I insisted that everyone taste it at the same time and threw a royal strop when nobody would take part in my eccentricities.

Fortunately, they did humour me long enough for me to take a couple of snaps. So, without further a do, I present to you… attempt number 3:

Look back at my previous post and see how many differences you can spot.

I can’t bake but I can make ‘em laugh

I’ve been trying to come up with a way to cover up or at the very least embellish the truth to save myself the humiliation of what I am about to report but I seem to be falling short. There is nothing I can do to improve the situation. Whatever way you look at it, whatever angle you view it from; it’s bad…very bad.

First Attempt- A.K.A “Citrus Gloop”

This weekend, I baked. Following a failed first attempt in which the cake exploded in the oven leaving me with a mess of lemon gloop, I decided to brave the kitchen again and persevere. “Don’t give up” my mum told me, “you can do it”. Despite many lame excuses she succeeded in getting me off my computer and into an apron, thinking that after my first disaster getting it right would be a great boost to my self-esteem and teach me a valuable lesson of determination. How wrong was she…

Second Attempt- A.K.A “Volcanic Masterpiece”

The sequel was initially an improvement on the lemon mess. I followed the same recipe but made sure to do so more precisely as I had been a bit lax the first time round, making my own amendments and substituting where I found myself lacking. Although not perfect, it actually bore some resemblance to a cake; the cracks and bumps on the surface being the only signs of my lack of culinary skill. Pride exploded out of me, in the same manner my first cake had, and I gave myself a premature pat on the back, celebrating my success. Little did I know that success would be short-lived. I was under the false impression that like many baked goodies before it, my volcanic master piece would taste much better than it looked. How wrong was I…

Following my mother’s firm belief that presentation is everything, I placed my cake on a dainty white cake stand in an effort to solve the issue of its appearance and to clarify that yes, that cracked up, bumpy mound is in fact a cake; hence the cake stand. Once satisfied, I readied my eager knife for the moment of truth. My family surrounded me, shooting distrusting glances at the foreign object on our work top, expecting it to explode at any given time; understandable given my previous mishap. Nevertheless, I was not disheartened by their lack of faith and laughed of their skepticism as complete nonsense expecting that they would change their minds as soon as I cut the very first slice of my gorgeous, mouth-watering, gooey, under-cooked cake!

Cake anyone?

I was incredibly disappointed as I had most definitely not been expecting such a tragedy to befall me after already having celebrated my victory. Once again I had been bested by a bothersome lump of flour, eggs and sugar that did not have the decency to rise when instructed to do so!! I am not over reacting. I was truly upset and although my mother tried to salvage as much of the cake as she could by carving the rock hard exterior around the sticky batter into pathetic slices it still felt like a failure.

Dig in. Seriously, it’s rock hard.

It was a shock to me but to the others, hardly a surprise. My sister, always the optimist, hoped that it would still taste somewhat decent and that there was so problem that custard could not solve. How wrong was she…

The cake, despite our hopes, lived up to its less than appealing appearance and was terrible, to say the least. My family made no attempt to spare my feelings and were brutally honest, unanimously agreeing that I was useless in the kitchen. How could I have got it wrong a second time? My sister felt cheated that she had given up an ice cream for it whilst my mother was just glad that she had not made the mistake of inviting any guests over for tea. My other sister was kinder and tried her very hardest to make it through a slice, promising to have some the following day for breakfast whilst my father could do nothing but laugh. In the end we were all laughing and in the future, when we look back on it, we will laugh. I may not be excellent in the kitchen and I may not be able to make a cake but what does that matter when I can make people laugh?

Anyone would think that after my adventures and disasters in baking I would take a hint and give up, perhaps have a go at something simpler like cookies from a ready-made mix, but I am not a quitter. I refuse to give up until I get it right. So, next weekend, I am giving it another try. If you don’t hear from me I am either to embarrassed, too lazy or my house has burned down. Wish me luck.

I grow my own vegetables. I live 5 minutes away from the nearest supermarket.

I grow my own vegetables.  I live 5 minutes away from the nearest supermarket.

Two sentences that really don’t belong together if you are a typical consumer in the big city. For many people the very idea of planting a seed in some soil and waiting for your dinner to grow seems ridiculous, especially when it is so much easier to just take it out of the freezer and pop it in the microwave for a couple of minutes. Why waste so much time, space and even money to grow a vegetable that you can buy quicker and cheaper in your local supermarket? Does it even make a difference if that carrot came from your garden or the fifth aisle on your right, next to the potatoes, opposite the cabbage?

To me it does make a difference and I find that growing your own fruits and vegetables is a great thing to do regardless of the fact that it may not be the most convenient. According to various professionals, surveys and studies it is definitely the healthiest, most eco-friendly thing to do. But, I’m not going to bore my readers with facts and statistics. Instead here are my non-scientific, not necessarily correct but none the less important reasons for growing your own fruits and vegetables:

1) It’s cool/wicked/sick…(whatever the kids are calling it these days)

I’m not an expert on the latest trends as they move too fast for me to follow but I’m sure that if I were to chase them they would lead me all the way to the vegetable plot in my garden. Growing your own food is cool. It’s not just something that loopy tree-hugging hippies do as a pastime. According to who? Well, that’s not important. According to me, our polluted planet and maybe even God, it’s cool. And if that’s not enough then I certainly wouldn’t mind being a tree-hugging hippie anyway.

2) Your celery stick doesn’t need a VISA

Our fridges are full of immigrants. The tomatoes are Spaniards, the green beans come from Egypt and the cucumber has lost its passport. It may sound like a kid’s nursery rhyme but it’s true.  When we go shopping, my sister and I like to play this game called “guess the origin”  and it’s really interesting to see just how few products were actually grown locally. Most of the fruits and vegetables that we put in our trolley have travelled hundreds of miles, using up lots of the Earth’s resources and emitting plenty of Carbon Dioxide.

3) They taste better (to you)

All men were created equal. All tomatoes on the other hand, weren’t. Freshly picked tomatoes, straight off the plant, taste a million times better than anything you can get off the shelves. They may not look as perfect or be all the same size but when it comes to taste, they win hands down. Some people may argue that it is not true; that there is no difference in taste but they are wrong. The difference between the shop tomatoes and your tomatoes is that you grew them yourself. It is the taste of satisfaction and pride that makes your tomatoes juicier and sweeter than anyone elses.

4) Something you can boast about

Yes, that’s one thing we all love to do; show off. When guests come over for dinner you can tell them of all the lovely fresh ingredients that are in their delicious soup before asking them smugly  “do you grow your own?” . When their reply is negative you can then go on and on about the benefits of growing your own fruits and vegetables, annoying them with your holier-than-thou attitude. However, if they answer affirmative then “GAME ON!”.  There’s nothing like a healthy bit of competition to bring people together. Who’s got the biggest turnips? Who’s got the tallest sweet corn? Have your strawberries ripened yet?

Of course I can appreciate that not everybody may be able to grow their own fruits and vegetables but if you can why not give it a go? It’s easy and requires very little skill. My mum started my family off last year with absolutely no clue of what she was doing  and apart from maybe one or two mutant carrots it proved to be a success. Here are a few pictures of this year’s  home-made vegetable garden if anyone needs a little inspiration.

My Personal Favourite- Sweetcorn!

Strawberries in a hanging basket

peppers and sweetcorn in bright and cheerful home-made pots

 At the moment they are all looking a little green, with not much variation but I can not wait until the coming Summer months when they will all be bright with colour and fresh with taste. Just the feeling of joy when you see the very first tomato gleaming in the sunlight or the very first strawberry peeking out from under the soil is enough reason to grow your own fruits and vegetables.