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lessons in lemon polenta

Deep breath.  I’m calm again now.

The evening started off quite respectfully.  I’ve spent the latter half of my week off at Auntie Gin’s in Twickenham,  She’s struck the perfect balance: letting me do my own thing whilst propping me up with good worldly-wise advice and strong G&Ts every now and again (she’s called Auntie Gin for a reason).  Tonight she has plans so I’ve been left to my own devices.

I’m less wobbly lipped than yesterday so sophisticatedly decide to wander down to Church Street and see what the restaurants have to offer.  Besides I really can’t face cooking for just myself tonight.  To hell with practicality, budgeting and credit card concern.  Indulgence is what I need.

It’s been a balmy evening, more like July than March, so I think how fitting it would be to dine al fresco.  Why not?  Bowl of squid ink, crayfish and calamari risotto please and (“actually make it a big one”) a glass of house red.  It is lovely.  I’m sitting by myself on the pavement around the corner from the main drag of the restaurant, as workers bustle their way home for the weekend.  I’d kind of expected to feel at least a little bit self-conscious.  You know, people seeing you alone.  But the truth is that they just don’t care.  More importantly, I don’t care: by-product of being in your 3os?  I just like the fact that I can do this and feel strangely calm.  Anyway, you can really appreciate the taste of your carefully chosen food when there’s no one distracting you from the eating of it.  Best of all, you can take your time.  Often I find myself rushing, desperate to be first over the line in an unconscious race against my fellow diners.  Something about coming from a four child family I suppose.

My sister calls me just as I’m polishing the risotto off and wondering if I now have a mouth full of blackened teeth:

“Maybe you can take a sneaky photo of yourself?”

Mmm.  Much as I don’t care what people think, I’d prefer not to make myself look debatably mental.  In the end I ask the waiter, who says my teeth are fine, whilst seeming slightly bemused by my question and presence in general.  Or maybe he’s just intrigued.  Yep that’s what I’ll tell myself.  Although, as I discover by grimacing in the mirror when I get home, it’s probably more likely that he’d seen the two threads of parsley wedged either side of my two front teeth.  Parsley is green though, not black, so technically he was telling the truth.

“I’m going to make Lemon Polenta Cake” I tell Ruthie as she says goodbye, as if it’s the easiest thing in the world.  I’ve recently embarked on a wheat free diet in an attempt to work out what it is that causes my affectionately named ‘Easby-belly’ to keep swelling up on a regular basis.  Thing is, I miss puddings.  Hence the rather magnificent idea of a polenta cake.

You might already know this about baking: it’s always best to save it until you are in your own home.  In your own kitchen, you know what implements you have and haven’t got, whether your butter will be room temperature and which ingredients you are likely to have squirreled away somewhere.  First hurdle (should have thought) is insufficient amounts of unsalted butter (none), total absence of caster sugar and not an egg in sight (I need three).  I’ve decided now though so off I trot; just a quick fifteen minute jaunt to Waitrose and back.

Back in the kitchen I congratulate myself on not being totally unprepared.  Cleverly I’ve packed my retro chefette electric hand whisk (inherited from Grandma Easby).  Unfortunately a top to bottom search of Auntie Gin’s kitchen reveals there are no mixing bowls.

Not a problem.  I’ll just use this casserole dish.  Melt the butter a bit in the oven, add the sugar, and ….yep this isn’t really going to work is it? ….maybe if I just place my hand here to stop the butter flying out…erm…oh.  No movement and all the butter in the middle of the whisks.  I’m not going to get a lightly fluffed up buttery sugary mix like this.

Not to worry.  Just scrape the spits of butter off my hands with a bone handled knife, extricate the blocks of fat from the whisks with a second bone handled knife (the other’s handle is now too buttery to use) and onwards, with the wooden spoon!  It bloody hard work though, creaming eggs and sugar.  Why does every cake recipe ever (even the ones without wheat flour in them, damn it) call for this?  So only those with true determination will become cake bakers?!  Basically, it’s sadistic.

Eventually the mixture looks sort of creamy and kind of fluffy and we progress on to step two.  Add an egg, then some of the polenta-almond-baking powder mix, another egg, polenta-almond-baking powder mix, another egg, polenta-almond-baking powder mix.  Alrighty then.  Studiously I start with the wooden spoon but the chefette is posing coquettishly, semi-clad in scrapes of sugar and butter, ready, daring me to use her: “I’ll be quicker, I’ll be easier, I’ll make you a better cake”.  Two eggs in and I succumb.  The butter clumping issue is dealt with now after all.

There’s a saying in my family that gets used a lot more than it should: “Why do something the easy way, when you can do it the hard way”.

Which is the exact thought that pops into my head just as splats of lemon polenta cake find themselves new homes not only all over the back of my carefully placed ‘hand-shield’, but also my Aunt’s newly refurbished kitchen cabinets, spotless marble floor and a just-noticed pile of cleanly washed plates which are now reeling behind the massacre that is now the casserole bowl.  Have you ever tried to clean polenta cake mix off your sock?  Maybe not, but it’s not dissimilar to normal cake mixture so doesn’t really come ‘off’.  You just rub it in a bit.  Same for my nice flowery top (no apron, don’t be daft).

“Bloody mixer things” (why is it that when you really want to swear at inanimate objects you can never work out what they are called?).  Can’t find the first or second bone handle knives so get out a third and scrape the mix back into the bowl.  Again.  Back to the wooden spoon.  Fine.  It’s ok.  I like the wooden spoon.  Good for arm toning.

Next step.  Lemon zest.  Ah.  Grater?

You’ve guessed it.  So for the first time in my life (I will not be defeated), I zest a lemon with a knife.  Not a very sharp one.  Then I chop the (pithy) zest down into chunks of about the size that you’d get in Rose’s Lime Marmalade.  Not very zesty but hey, beggars can’t be choosers.  By this point, I’m ever so slightly narky (possibly unfairly?) with the lemon zest and beat it angrily into the rest of the mixture, whilst swearing under my breath.

Luckily I’ve had the foresight to place the baking parchment in the springform cake tin.  However, the recipe called only for greasing the outside edges (durh), so when I go to scoop the now rather paltry looking amount of polenta cake mix into the tin, the base starts to play a game of kiss catch with me.

Breathe.  Dollop.  Breathe.  Reposition.  Breathe.  Stab.  Breathe.  Scoop.  Swear.  Breathe.  Just use your bloody fingers.  Swift dollop.  Gotcha.

“Ha ya little git, thought you had me there didn’t you…Well, no!  I am the queen of the parchment lined springform baking tin.  Bet you didn’t realise who you were messing with!  I’m the daddy!  Oh yeah.  Lie down and be conquered!”.  (I’m allowed; this is war).

Smooth over the top with a fourth bone handled knife (where do they keep going?), and we’re in the oven.

So now I’m sat here telling you about it, which is helping my mood at least.  I have to say that my virgin attempt at lemon polenta cake actually smells quite nice, so perhaps it won’t be such a disaster after all.  Just the topping to contend with now: lemon juice mixed with a touch of limoncello, then boiled up with icing sugar and poured over.  What could possibly go wrong?

Update courtesy of Auntie Gin: “Mmm, it’s rather good this, isn’t it?”.

Also, I did also just find a suspicious, brown, lemony crumb behind my ear.  I know it was lemony because I tasted it.  (Which in hindsight might not have been such a good idea, had the outcome been different).

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