Friday, 29 June 2012

Goldilocks and the Three Cheesecakes

According to the fairy tale, upon creeping into the Three Bears' house Goldilocks was traumatised by porridge that was first too hot, then too cold, before she chanced upon one that was just right. Now I know how the poor girl felt.

Just recently my previously foolproof Blueberry & White Chocolate cheesecake has either been turning out too grainy - due to over whipping the cream and/or not letting the chocolate cool enough; or too runny -  the result of under-whipping the cream for fear of it going grainy. 

I awoke this morning to find last night's creation was just too gooey and clearly never going to set enough to be sliced neatly, so it went in the freezer for when my mum comes next week. I made another after breakfast (toast, not cheesecake), wondering whether adding a touch of gelatin would help. It didn't. Flavour was fine but it had the texture of sick and went straight in the bin:

I've just finished giving my third and final attempt my full attention, making sure I used an electric whisk for exactly one minute (more reliable) and letting the chocolate cool for 20 whole minutes in the bathroom (my kitchen is sweltering). Et voila! Perfect consistency accompanied by the fattest blueberries I've ever seen.

The knack? Concentration: don't make multiple cheesecakes at the same time. Phew. Another delivery ready for Ahmed in the morning.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

What have I let myself in for?

Last night I created two quite beautiful cheesecakes to trial at Bertie & Boo's coffee shop in Balham. When I got on the bus this morning with my big white cake box, the lady I sat down next to asked me what I had in there. When I showed her, she let out an 'Oooooohh...' and asked if she could take my card because a friend of her's owns a cafe on Clapham High Street. I gave her a spare copy of my menu that I happened to have with me and she wished me well and got off at the next stop. Bless her!

Sadly when I rocked up at Bertie & Boo I was told they couldn't stock them after all, because they don't have refrigerated cabinets on the shop floor. Clearly the staff I spoke to there last week were telling me porky pies. Grr. So I headed instead to the Fat Delicatessen, who were also interested last week, only to be cordially turned away by the owner who told me they made everything in house. Grr again. 

So on I plodded to a little coffee shop (whose name escapes me) next to Balham tube station which I hadn't approached before. I asked the lass behind the counter if she'd like a blueberry & white chocolate cheesecake. She clearly thought I was a bit mad but upon realising I wasn't, she looked at me as though  I'd just handed over a free Mulberry handbag. I do like to make people's mornings..... and if she raves to her boss about it as she promised, I could (could) have another stockist.

One cheesecake still to dispense of, I took the Mango cheesecake to meet Ahmed who owns the Nightingale Cafe on Balham High Road. Ahmed told me last week he doesn't sell  many cheesecakes - it's more a cafe-restaurant than a coffee shop  - but said vaguely that he might be okay with me dropping in a sample. 

After seeing the goods this morning, he said: 'I like the look of that and I like you. You have good energy. Can you bring me in three more on Friday?'

Yes I can, Ahmed.

'I'd like a discount for those three,' he said, 'but if it goes well I'll pay you full price after that and feature you on my website as our cheesecake lady. I did that for another small cake-making business once and now they turn over £50k a year.'

So there you go! Nothing might come of it; and there really are only so many cheesecakes I can make before I risk starting to resent them.  But I had a fun morning.

Friday, 22 June 2012

The wisdom of a dead squirrel

I saw a dead squirrel on my way to the tube on Monday. It has not looked any healthier as the week has progressed, and after walking home in the rain yesterday the Husband noted, 'That squirrel's pretty much just mush now.'

People today, especially in the West, and particularly city dwellers like me, don't really do death. Occasional road-kill is the closest we get on an everyday basis. Any imminent death of elderly or terminally ill relatives or friends is sanitised, wired up, dehumanised, put out of sight and dealt with by medical professionals.

We're no better at coping with the idea of our own deaths. Even people who profess faith in something beyond this life worship youth, fear death, and find talk of it morbid at best. Which is odd, because death is life's only certainty.

I spent Wednesday morning at Trinity Hospice in Clapham, talking with the Michael Savage who leads Trinity's Spiritual Care work. He's a really lovely, wise and grounded man. I've had in the back on my mind for many years that I'd like to volunteer or work within the hospice movement in some capacity, to offer love and care for those going through the dying process, irrespective of their religious beliefs. To listen to folk, to pray with them if they'd like to, but Not to try and 'save' them on their death beds. Frankly I'm not sure if I'm made of strong enough stuff emotionally, but I want to give it a shot at some point in the next few years.

Why have I only done something about this niggle now? Partly because this summer I've had the time, but partly for the purely selfish reason of my own spiritual development.

I had a very inspiring conversation with a Buddhist teacher recently, who has pioneered a lot of contemplative end of life care within the US prison system. Many of his stories moved me but he said one thing that really struck me:

"We should all live with an ever present awareness of our own death."

So that's what I'm trying to do a bit more of, while being deeply thankful for the life I have right now. Some people hear reminders and encouragements from God on their spiritual journeys in dreams or visions as they go through life; but I'll take divine wisdom wherever I find it. Even in a squirrel.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

A not-quite-kosher-enough cheesecake - and a Rocky Road delight

What a successful weekend - the highly experimental Rhubarb Cheesecake & Rocky Road Cheesecake worked out pretty darn amazing.

I realised the husband, an ardent anti-rhubarb activist, had turned a corner on the fruit front when I noticed the crumbs on his chin and the empty plate on his lap. A fine endorsement. It wasn't too stringy as I had feared, though I will try blitzing the baked rhubarb for even longer next time to try and make it super smooth. The downside is it's not the prettiest cheesecake, so will have to think about glamming it up before it's commercially viable.

I also nearly fed a slice to my Jewish friend Danny last night, then had to whisk it out from under him when he asked if it was gelatine free (sorry again fella!). He did inform me that Jews who keep Kosher can actually eat food that is less than one sixtieth non-kosher, but I wasn't confident my dessert quite fit the criteria. 

I've just checked this out and he wasn't winding me up - there's actually a principle called batel b'shishim, which means if a 'forbidden' ingredient is present in such tiny quantities it's barely there, then it's null and void and fine to eat. How wonderfully sensible. So can Jews eat smoky bacon crisps? Don't imagine there's much meat in them. Will have to ask Danny.

Danny and my other non-Kosher friends did also kindly help me to eat my first Rocky Road cheesecake last night. OH MY GOODNESS! Other than the base being a touch on the fat side, it was delicious. Just need to play around with the drizzled milkybar-almond-Oreo cookie-marshmallow topping to make it easier to cut and we're ready to rock & roll.

Friday, 15 June 2012

Rhubarb to football!

I'm going to be one crazy cat this evening. The Husband will be out watching the England match against..... Sweden (sorry for the pause; had to Google it). I am working late then having some quality time with a large glass of Rioja and 500g of stewed rhubarb.

Yes, the time for a Rhubarb and Ginger cheesecake has arrived! Given the retching noises made by the Husband  when I revealed this weekend's flavour I assume I'm going to have to consume most of this experiment alone. Both my next door neighbours are away this weekend, which I know because I've been asked to water plants on one side and feed Cassandra the goldfish on the other. So there are less folk than normal to distribute slices too, and something tells me Cassandra's appetite isn't going to be up to the job.

The rhubarb was baked yesterday with some light, soft brown sugar and ground ginger but it's still got some kick, which is just how I like it. It might end up a stringy curdled mess, but attempting to make it will be more fun than 90 minutes of football.

 Slice of cheesecake, Roy?

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Patience, Bus Stops and Dharma

How often do you have those 'What should I be doing with my life?' moments? 

I can't say I'm terribly prone to them but I've had a fair few over the last year as Husband and I have been pondering new cities, countries and jobs. Big life decisions don't, oddly enough, tend to stress me out all that much. I'm a glass-half full person and I trust that the doors that are meant to open or shut will do just that. 

I just get really fidgety when I have to wait for life to unfold - or for multinational corporations and estate agents to pull their fingers out. If the little scrolling screen at the bus stop tells me it's 3 minutes until the Number 319 arrives, I'll speed walk to the next stop because I can't hack waiting around. I like to get on with things. Now.

So patience is not a virtue I possess in abundance, but the last year has been a great lesson in it. I've tried to transform being narked about situations that are out off my control into a spiritual discipline of trying to realise two things more deeply:  That the universe does not revolve around me  - or rather it doesn't whizz by at the speed I'd like it to; and that invariably God has a perfectly excellent plan for me, I just need to wait and get on board as and when things unfold.

Buddhists and Hindus I've been chatting to recently have spoken about their Buddha-Dharma and Santana-Dharma in a similar way. I've found that some Buddhists and Hindus - and  a fair few Sikhs - use the term dharma  to describe both a person's own life path and the harmonious movement of the universe. Life is about understanding your particular dharma in the context of the bigger picture and getting on with it. I like the idea of my life getting caught up in the bigger picture of creation.

Cosmology aside, I'll finish with a wonderfully pragmatic verse that has been scribbled on a Post-It note on my computer screen since roughly this time last year:

"Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes." (James 4 v 13-14)

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Rocky Road Cheesecake: A Step Too Far?

Right. The classic flavours are getting close to being nailed, and I just need to tweak the texture of the vanilla. So on last night's long drive back from our Jubilee weekend in Shropshire I had a brainstorm of the next batch of flavours to try.

How do we feel about a Rocky Road Cheesecake?

A good Rocky Road served with a steaming cuppa can perk me up on the crappiest of days, but a bad one makes me want to smack the person who served it to me (Starbucks "baristas" watch out). So I only want to bother with a cheesecake version if it's going to be gurt lush. And if you don't know what gurt lush means then you need to spend more time drinking cider in Bristol.

The first step before I get to the Rocky Road is to see if I can make my own marshmallows to dwell on, and possibly in, it's crunchy chocolatey body. Mmm mmm mmm.

I have therefore purchased for this noble endeavour a sugar thermometer and dug out a recipe book for old fashioned sweets. Given I'd just as happily eat a bag of marshmallows as a big slab of cheesecake, I might be at risk of getting side tracked into a new sugary sideline (marshmallows are the new macaroons: you heard it here first).

Am hoping they will look like this:

Not like this:

But even if they do I'll end up spreading them on chocolate hobnobs and eating them for breakfast, so I guess I can't lose. 

Sunday, 3 June 2012

The Lord's Prayer

I've spend this morning planning for this week's service at The Sanctuary (, the first in our series on the Lord's Prayer. 

In the pretty informal church services I've attended since I became a Christian, I've always valued the freedom and encouragement to 'just talk' to God without the need for fancy words or eloquence; and the reassurance that sometimes silence or tears are prayer enough when you just don't have any words at all.

But Lord's Prayer is the anomaly. At times of trouble, trauma and thankfulness, it often runs through my mind and out of my mouth like a reflex action. I'm not at all sure where or when I learnt it, but given that even today I have a half-remembered tune in my head when I recite it, I have feeling I may have first sung  it in assembly at my primary school.  (Not a Christian school I might add; I distinctly remember also singing 'Are you going to Scarborough Fair?' and something to do with a Big Rock Candy Mountain.)

I've been pondering on the first line for the last couple of hours: "Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name." How often does God come first in my prayers? Do I use prayer as way of understanding God's nature more, or as an opportunity to download a wish list of stuff I want God to do for me? Do I take as much time, let along more, to sit and consider God as I do thinking about my needs and wants? Probably not. I wonder how thing would change if I did.

Oh - and the mango cheesecake was  triumph - making a double size one tomorrow for my in-law's jubilee street party.