Guardian Girl

Hot date cake

Posted in Brain & heart, Fashion, Recipes by guardiangirl on April 30, 2010

My goodness me, Mr Lepard was underestimating this cake when he said it was in the running as one of the best date cakes around. I’d nominate it as one of the best cakes full stop.

My enchantingly intuitive and crurally balletic friend Emily came over to share it with me and, although she described it as “very nice, comforting, warm and old-fashioned tasting”, she did leave the crust on the plate. The fact that there was a crust to leave may, I concede, be part of the reason it was discarded. I didn’t particularly go out of my way to weigh any of the ingredients at all, but I did use my lovely measuring jug and my keen eye for a teaspoon to make the mixture. I used the right sized tin for once but the cake only took 30 mins to bake, not an hour. Maybe I put in too much sugary stuff and not enough flour.

To ring the changes and wrestle a bit of profit from the conglomerates I had done my shopping at Mother Earth this time, and I couldn’t find any tamarind paste in the shop. But no matter – I had foreseen this eventuality and thought of the sort of substances I might use to replace it. I don’t know if you’ve tried it but there’s this delicious pure fruit spread stuff called Sunwheel that’s a bit like molasses, but made of just apples and pears. In my experience of tamarind paste, this Sunwheel thing isn’t completely different, and it did add to a nice, moist cake. The walnuts didn’t even sink! The icing was a disaster, of course, but I don’t mind that much. To me it seems entirely natural that I would be able to bake a tasty cake but get the icing wrong, in much the same way that I can choose myself a lovely frock but my accessories will always let the whole thing down. Details or something. But who wants to be good at icing, anyway? That’s just a rubbish skill. Be good at cakes.

Here it is:

Tamarind date cake

Other kind of date cake

Other kind of date cake

I was intending to do a home styling shoot last night but, what with running, bathing, entertaining and putting the recycling out – which somehow seems to take me hours – I never got round to it. The dahlias also remained in their packet due to the heavy rains my neighbourhood was experiencing at the appointed planting time.

Other updates: the final outfit of the week has me replicating this young lad’s vibe. I’m sure you’ll agree my success is uncanny.

Checks

Vexed

Vexed

I think that pretty much rounds off the week, other than to say that I have carried in my heart and mind Oliver Burkeman’s words, as always, to test out their life-changing abilities. This week’s column had quite a positive impact on my daily life, as it happens. This Column WIll Change Your Life is often among the pages to capture my imagination the most when I open the magazine on a Saturday, but it barely gets mentioned in my blog. I think that’s because I’m so utterly rubbish at writing about it. I just had to delete a whole paragraph I’d written about this week’s because it made me feel nauseous. I seem to go extra pompous sounding as soon as feelings are involved. I think I’ll try to work on this. In the meantime, I trust you’ll find my writing lovably imperfect.

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Lazy Marmalade

Posted in Brain & heart, Fashion, Recipes by guardiangirl on February 25, 2010

Last night I arrived home to the not unpleasant task of baking Chelsea buns. They took a bit of time but I did try to be patient, which was made easier by the fact that there was plenty of leftover noodle soup to stave off my hunger.

I thought I already had vitamin C tablets and strong white flour at home, so didn’t buy any on the way home. Sadly I was wrong, so the buns had to be made with plain flour and no fizzy fluffening agent. That might explain why the finished buns had the collective mass of a black hole. Also, I took my usual ‘relaxed’ approach to measuring and rising times, which has now become such a feature of my cooking style that I rarely challenge it (much against this week’s advice from Oliver Burkeman, which I have otherwise been attempting to bear in mind.)

Despite their heaviness, the buns were tasty and a proper treat stolen warm from the oven. Housemate Nin has taken the rest of the batch – plus more leftover noodle soup – to her studio to feed her students with today, so the reviewing of Guardian-created foodstuffs has now opened up to include even more opinions. Their verdict on last week’s bean and cinnamon stew, incidentally, was unanimously positive. I suspect they might be less kind about the noodle dish (which had turned into a linguine dish, and very unsouplike at that), since it had become insipid and claggy by the time I revisited it last night. Most dishes are best served lukewarm, not least revenge, but this one lost its appeal as fast as it lost its temperature.

On another note I have cheered up slightly since reading this bleak NYT article on weight gain/sedentary lifestyles.

I’ve cheered up because without a broken foot I am back to my militant walking, running, stair-climbing, bag-carrying, fidgeting way of life, and this article says to me: “dahhrling, of course a broken foot and the subsequent three months of enforced sitting down are going to affect your lumpenness levels. Stop blaming the Guardian quite so damningly for introducing you to the joys of daily suet puddings. Just keep moving around and enjoy your life like a normalton again, please, with less of this monotonous whingeing about dresses not fitting.” May the glory of Chelsea buns be officially reinstated! Whoo-hoo!

Marmalade Chelsea buns

Marmalade Chelsea buns

Badly made Chelsea buns

Badly made Chelsea buns

Say hello

Say hello

Say goodbye

Say goodbye

Conclusions:

  • I am verily not enjoying today’s outfit or its accompanying centre parting. I have put a grey blazer over the top for work, which helps a bit. It’s the kind of ensemble that just about works in front of the mirror if you ruffle up your hair, hold your head at a precise angle, suck in your tummy, adjust your blazer so it falls right, stand up tall and dim the lights. In all other conditions I suspect the positive points of the outfit fall away rapidly.
  • I promise that I’ll stop talking about the pastry/dress size correlation very soon. It has become a rather significant element of the experiment, and it is turning my blog into some sort of Rosemary Conley confessional booth. This was not my intention at all. But my intention was to be honest in my documentation of living the Guardian lifestyle, so I am caught in a trap. As traps go, however, it’s not exactly life threatening, so we’ll just breeze our way out of it elegantly.
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The dregs of last week

Posted in Brain & heart, Fashion, Interiors, Recipes, The Measure by guardiangirl on July 27, 2009

Last week was an altogether tricky seven days for following this godforsaken plan. I was tired, unprepared, trying to track down an iPhone in every spare moment (a feat that has still yielded no success thanks to the momumental mess-ups of first Natwest – which did everything wrong, and then Carphone Warehouse – which gave away my reserved phone after promising not to while I sorted things out with the bank.) Here are the final dregs of things I managed to vaguely achieve despite the difficulty of cooking recipes, photographing complicated outfits and buying copies of foreign magazines to look at vampire photoshoots while also mantaining one’s daily life. You know the saying that punctuality is the virtue of the bored, or something? Well following the advice of lifestyle magazines follows a similar pattern. I’m certainly having to sacrifice a fair portion of my social life in order to do this project, as I keep having to rush home of an evening so I can make pastry

Here’s one of the outfits I copied last week but have been hesitating to publish because I hate the photo so much. As is plain to see, this blog is not about my aesthetic vanity, so I must forge ahead with the endeavour. God forbid, I keep thinking, they publish a swimsuit fashion shoot. I really don’t know what I’ll do. Still, this one involves jumpers, so how bad can it be?

Belt up

Belt up

Belt down

Belt down

The hat and the  cardie (another FARHI by Nicole Farhi delight) are great but it’s not a look that I can pull off easily and the main event, the belt, I hadn’t brought with me to the festival.

Last week I also cooked another of Rosie Sykes’ recipes, which was supposed to be  sea trout with samphire. However she had thoughtfully provided alternatives to both main ingredients for those who don’t have time to visit the fishmonger/seashore, so I was able to make an equally delicious salmon with fennel dish. In fact now I get to thinking about it, it really was very nice, and the portion I couldn’t eat is waiting in the freezer for my later delectation.

Sea trout with samphire

Sea trout with samphire

Salmon with fennel

Salmon with fennel

Mine’s a bit shady in the photographic sense but it tasted good enough even to serve to someone else, which is sadly not always the case with my cooking.

On Friday night I was supposed to dash home after work and make the next recipe in the magazine, which was an apricot puree, but my dear friend Michelle, whose design skills have enabled me to copy Lauren Luke’s tutorials in terms of layout finesse if not photographic content, has left my workplace to fly to her home country, the US. It was a sad day for everyone so instead of leaving on time to stew apricots, I went to the pub instead. I was supposed to cook the puree later but, as anyone might have predicted, I stayed in the pub until closing time instead, feasting on several kingsize twixes and baguettes fetched for me from the nearest supermarket by concerned friends who found it distracting when my eyes rolled back in my head as they attempted to discuss the merits of Indesign versus QuarkXpress with me. I then ate a kingsize (can you spot the theme?) packet of crisps, several flapjacks and a muffin on the way to the bus stop, topping up that little snack with a cream cheese and salt beef bagel as a treat to myself after walking home from Seven Sisters cos I feel asleep on the bus. I think the day I can fit back into my old jeans may be some way off yet, but this is not a subject to be worried about within a five-mile radius of a bagel shop. Anyway, the simple conclusion here is that no matter how dedicated you are to the cause of becoming the perfect liberal-minded domestic goddess, you have to push all this aside to wave bye bye to a good friend, and eat junk instead.

There were further failures to report last week.

I was supposed to have a picnic, which was meant to involve fizz and apparently annoying frisbee players, but there was no time for such daytime frivolity. The closest I got was consoling myself – after a Natwest battle – with  a bag of healthy (for once) lunch stuff from Tesco, which I ate at my desk. Some sad picnic, huh.

I also meant to find time to restyle my bathroom in the manner of the Guardian‘s home feature, but that fell off the bottom of the to-do list by virtue of its being so utterly unlikely to produce any success that there was little point even glancing at those pages.

 There were also a couple more outfits from the week that I actually captured pretty faithfully, especially one on friday involving – gasp – a scarf tucked into a belt! And I liked it! Sadly, though, there is an added level of effort involved in my copying of the lifestyle in question, and that is the photographing of it. I just forgot to ask anyone to do my picture for me and was a little too tired and inebriated to take it myself when I got home. So a couple of days’ outfits got lost in the ether last week, which is disproportionately upsetting to me as in some ways I do like to be thorough. In some ways.

In terms of heart and mind, I read Oliver Burkeman and Aspects of love with interest and bore their musings in mind. I noticed that I hadn’t experienced a visit from the Imp of the Perverse for quite some time, but thinking this seemed to be like knocking on his front door (probably in the trunk of a tree in some enchanted forest) and calling out ‘coo-ee, little imp, come out and encourage me to drive into oncoming traffic.’

Luckily I had no driving to do last week but I did read an article about some posh gardens in which one plant had been growing in the same spot for 135 years, and upon reading this I experienced such an overwhelming desire to go and cut the plant down in the middle of the night that I began to feel nauseous. Good job I don’t live in the Lee Valley or that fern would’ve been dead meat. Vegetable. Whatever.

 Aspects of love suggested that low self-esteem doesn’t in fact make you less lovable, which certainly made me prick up my ears. Every time I found myself walking around the supermarket (where I spend most of my time these days thanks to a certain magazine), thinking how I hadn’t put any make-up on for at least ten hours and how was I ever possibly going to meet my Mr Right next to the polenta, and more to the point how was Mr Right ever going to be convinced I was Miss Right when I was clearly standing in such a hunched and self-conscious manner while comparing prices of the aforementioned Italian dietary mainstay, I thought to myself : ‘No no, he might not like your face much, but at least he won’t mind that you don’t like your face much today. In fact, he will love that you don’t like your face much today.’

Overall conclusion in preparation for the next issue:

  • Must (and will) try harder.

Oliver Burkeman ponders the case of the disobedient shower

Posted in Brain & heart by guardiangirl on July 14, 2009

This was a very enlightening column, as ever. I love the idea of inanimate objects forming a stubborn household union against us, lurking around waiting to stub our toes and delete our text messages. I’ve tried nurturing anthropomorphism wisely before, for example by renaming spiders ‘velveteens’ and imagining them with cute, high-pitched voices, but it didn’t really work. However with inanimate objects it might be easier, since they provide more blank canvas on which to project. I practised OB’s advice and tried to edit my belongings a bit by shunning the things that routinely irritate me (cheap fork, awkward bag) and embracing those that work well (nice table, iPod). It makes sense. I’m keeping this in mind as a general principle and adding it to my Dad’s wisdom that you should quickly sort out any little niggling problems around the home such as loose carpet, dripping taps, ill-fitting doorframes, before you get used to them and they simply chip away invisibly at your quality of life. Imagining a flat filled with nice stuff and no leaky taps makes me feel instantly happier.

I also followed OB’s advice by cogitating on the fact that the most I know about any of my loved ones is a series of body movements and vocal sounds they’ve made throughout the time I’ve known them. This made me think of chimps, which made me laugh, but once I moved on from the chimp thoughts I felt sad and lonely, so I thought about something else instead.

Conclusions:

  • Simple and true: surrounding yourself with nice, just-right objects makes life so much better
  • Chimps are cheery, while solipsism, even mild solipsism – if there can be such a thing – is saddening

The worst that could happen? Bring it on

Posted in Brain & heart by guardiangirl on July 10, 2009

I love Oliver Burkeman’s writing so I’m looking forward to having an official reason to practise what he preaches each week. If any part of this project is going to change my life it will, apparently, be this one.

This week’s column covers quite a lot of ground so I divided it into separate, easily digestible points, as one should always do when contemplating the nature of reality.

Conclusions:

  • Don’t convince yourself it’ll all be OK – flesh out the worst-case scenario. As a life-improving technique this didn’t work for me. I asked myself:  ‘If I start a blog in which I have to follow everything the Guardian Weekend magazine suggests I might do, wear, eat, cook and think every single day of every single week, and then add unflattering photos of myself, paste them next to photos of models, attempt to write something hilarious about each task and publish the whole affair online so that anyone in the entire world – from my granny to my boss to my youngest cousin to my ex to a stalker to a prospective lover – can see it, what’s the worst that can happen?’ Then I fleshed out that thought for a while
  • Don’t visit meaningoflife.tv unless you have nothing pressing to do for the next month. This is wise advice, as it happens. I didn’t follow it and neither should you
  • Don’t hold on to the idea that the perfect relationship/job/house would make you happy. Yes, but what if I based each element of my relationships/job/house obsessively on a weekly lifestyle magazine? That would make me happy, wouldn’t it?