"Oh, I'm sorry, I can't talk now! I'm in the middle of baking a cake!"

I had my phone with me in the kitchen and was dying for someone to call so I could say that. (Nobody did.) I don't bake very often. I had been on the sofa finishing up a task, closed my laptop and looked around for something to do. "Go and bake a cake", said Maurizio. Well. That's the first time in our years together that he's ever suggested I go to the kitchen - mostly if I suggest it, he pales and shudders - so I thought I had best act on it.

I stood in the kitchen for a while. A long while, looking at the cupboards. Then I saw a photo of me on the wall, taken years ago in our old apartment - I've got a smudge of flour on my forehead and one on my cheek, and a mixing bowl in my hands. I think this is the last time I baked. It was 2008. (I remember putting the flour on my face so I looked more housewifely.) I opened the cupboards. They were full of stuff. There is a whole baking cupboard, in my kitchen! Bicarbonate of soda is one of those things I buy every month with a view to baking something, and this is where it all goes, apparently. Seven tins of that - alright, good start. Four of baking soda, which I think is the same thing. "All-purpose" flour, which always makes me raise a disbelieving eyebrow. Cocoa - I use that for my cocoa, which has rum in it. And I knew we would have eggs, butter, sugar, and milk, because those things are used to make other foods. Golden syrup we have, because it's only been six months since Pancake Day. We stick to the Old Ways here.

We also have a recipe drawer. I knew that, because I'm in charge of finding recipes. My mother's easiest chocolate cake recipe was in there - on fax paper. Lord. The shame. By this point I was quite fired up by guilt and feelings of inadequacy. A cake must be baked now. My one fear-slash-hope was that we wouldn't have the right cake tin. We did; my mother gave me that, too. Well then.

Stage one, lock the kitchen door. You don't want someone who knows what they're doing interrupting you, and just the thought of their imminent appearance might stop you making the baking attempt. Stage two, get your mother's recipe. Or you can use my mother's. Stage three, check on the availability of at least two baking friends or relatives, who will be your phone-a-friend. Once you reach stage four, which is to lovingly lay out all the ingredients on the countertop, you will get your confidence back. It starts to feel like a cooking show. It's at this stage you can take photos and post them, and you can murmur asides to the camera if you want, or if you're more contemporary, to the producer just out of shot. But then you must make all these ingredients into a cake.

Now, my mother loves me VERY MUCH and she is aware of all my strengths and weakness, so this recipe is probably quite different from any she would give for the same cake to any of my siblings. It's written specifically for an incompetent, feckless, short-cutting person who needs to let seven years of bake-less shame accumulate before pulling this recipe out of its drawer, and furthermore must be bought a cake tin, which is physically placed in her suitcase before she flies back to Oman one summer.

If the same applies to you, I can tell you that even you can make this cake, because I did, and it turned out like it is supposed to, and tasted nice. And even if you can bake, but you have run out of gas, you make this cake in the microwave, and it takes 9 minutes in there! Of course the cake tin is actually plastic - that plastic you can cook, what do you call it? - and is lined with kitchen roll. You'll notice my mother has included a small but accurate diagram of how to cut and arrange it, based on standard sized sheets.

And a couple of points of explanation. My mother recommends using the 750 setting on the microwave. On mine, it's a choice between one, two, or three wavy lines, and I used the middle one, and it worked.  When she says "allow to stand", that means taking it out of the tin and putting it on one of those gridded trays. This is crucial - I think it lets out the radiation or something. Obviously, butter "a little softened" here means butter taken from the fridge and walked at normal speed over to your preparation space. You'll also see that the amount of milk varies on the size of the eggs; that means, more milk for bigger eggs. The usual cartoon-looking eggs you get here take the stated amount of milk, though. Also, use an electric beater that differentiates properly between the button to make it go faster, and the button that releases the whisks from their holes, or one that for safety and hygienic reasons does not allow whisk-release mid-beating. Apologies for the hardened batter on the recipe.















*contains alcohol

I just discovered beer. Maybe you already know about it - if so, and you still want to learn something new from this blog, I suggest you click here to read my only post with a Latin word in the title.

If you're not familiar with beer, I can now tell you it's really a great thing to drink. It barely has any alcohol in it, for a start. If your usual choice is red wine, this is a revelation. You can drink as much as you want and feel nothing but a slight happy fuzz in your head. Used to be, I only drank beer when the night looked like it was going to be long...if you start early, don't start on red wine. And because I didn't actually like the taste of beer, it took me an hour and a half to finish a bottle. Perfect for, say, the Canadian Stampede, which is outside, starts at 7, and where I need a clear head for line-dancing and a possible late-night trip to the shot bar.

Also, beer goes with everything! And everywhere. Again, a winner compared with wine. You can drink beer with pizza. A burger. A sandwich! Even at my most faux-Mediterranean I couldn't justify a glass of wine with a lunchtime panino. You can drink beer with a curry; in fact you should. Beer is also the correct choice for barbeques, for pool parties, on boats. For summer weekends at home, it's a natural accessory for playing video games or watching a film. It goes with popcorn! Try carrying a beer with you when you do the gardening! You look far more normal hosing the trees with a beer in your other hand than you do with a glass of cab sauv, it turns out. And, where there is booze, you can always get a beer. You can't always get a decent glass of wine.

Beer is also very refreshing - when you drink the first gulp, you are justified in making that guttural 'ahhhh' sound, unacceptable with any other beverage. Even in my pre-beer days, and even before I drank any alcohol at all, I used to think about a nice cold beer when the weather got hot, because stuck in my head was a very clever advert, decades-old now, that was comprised solely of a lingering, close-up shot of a cold-beaded bottle of some beer or other, the camera travelling slowly from the bottom to the top, at which point the cap popped off - that's another thing, that satisfying 'tchuk' noise, just as good as the 'plomp' of uncorking wine. On the ad, you could see the fizz inside and occasionally the camera's gaze would catch a drop of condensation as it detached and made its way sensuously down the glass. Yes, sensuously. It's 44 degrees in the shade: Voltaren Cool Packs are looking pretty sexy these days.



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