Thursday, 31 March 2016


Another day, another half eleven scramble to post something, though today I have an excuse because it was book club and I was hosting, by which I mean, shoving all the child crap under the sofa, shoving the children upstairs and making some cookies, then some top quality fretting because my hostessing skills are about as good as my competitive snooker skills.

The book was The Versions of Us and it was quite poorly received generally ("confusing" or "gimmicky"), though I actually enjoyed it (I think I am quite a superficial and undemanding reader, I did not waste any time trying to distinguish between the three threads or remembering the character's children's names). 95% of the time was spent talking about other things, inc. terrorism (of course), multi-lingual presentation tips (inc. probably apocryphal Norman Wisdom joke and Gunther Oettinger), biting as a developmental phase, terrible mistaken paint jobs, books you grown out of, umlauts and the misogyny or otherwise of Milan Kundera (also, the pronunciation of "Milan Kundera").

The only other notable thing that happened today was I had cause to do a google image search on the phrase "French paraphernalia", which was very enjoyable, if confusing, thus (a selection):

French bulldog in a spaceman suit:

Pipe tobacco:

Armed Malian soldiers:

Whatever the hell this is:

And, erm, this:


Less than two days until holiday. I think the people I have told that I will be away with absolutely no access to email or phone believe I am joking. Uh oh. I mean, the landline works? Sometimes? If the rats haven't chewed it? Also I am having my picture taken tomorrow so my body has of course responded with conjunctivitis (left eye) and a massive spot (right cheek). 

15% Crudités
15% Gin
15% Unpleasantly sweet Gewürztraminer bought by me, not brought by book club members who have far better judgment/wine
20% Outfit dilemma
35% Holiday rage, as very accurately diagnosed by my great friend B, who also today sent me this story about police cats.


Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Barrel scrapings

I'm going to level with you - I have absolutely nothing to say today. Lots of child herding with associated expense, bits and pieces of work, couple of admin phone calls which revealed I have lost the power of speech, chips for dinner (#templefood) then F made us watch some of the Donald Trump documentary which was just distressing. I am going to put the bin out and wash my wig (long overdue) and see if anything comes to me.

Ok, here's what I have:

M drew my attention to THIS, owl lovers. I can't go but DAMN I wish I could. Go for me! Draw owl babies! Give me a full account!

(Very) minor drama on the metro this afternoon when three armed soldiers with machine guns cornered some guy on our platform and shouted at him really loudly, whilst brandishing their gigantic guns. I think it was to do with the fact that he was wheeling a giant toolbox around, but it was unclear and our metro came before we could do any detailed rubber-necking. The atmosphere does not feel specially tense to me - I have all the sensitivity of a house brick, I think - though our stop turned out to be shut due to terrorism, somehow, which was inconvenient. I bet the local BBC radio station which asked me to give my views about Brussels a week after the attacks, then thought better of it, are really kicking themselves now what with the incisive, flawless socio-political insight I am giving out here. This stuff is priceless.

Call from my father, very excitable, to say that a trailer full of ewes and tiny twin lambs with black knees had just been dropped off in the field in front of the house in the Dales. I like how Marie-Antoinette-ish this sounds, as if we have ordered them for our amusement (we have not) (I wish we could) (I would order a small family of goats too if this were a thing).

Text from my mum's best friend whilst I was panic buying baked goods in M&S with an actual (tiny) review she had seen in an actual magazine. This is all a bit real isn't it.

(Good Housekeeping, which is pleasing because my housekeeping is famously good, ahem)

I think there is also going to be an event of sorts in Brussels on 28th April, will furnish more details when I have them. 

I have been asked for my favourite line ever from any book for a bit of book promo. Do you have such a thing? I don't think I do, because I can't remember any at all. My only current contenders are "Up to a point, Lord Copper" from Scoop or "Reality" sa Molesworth 2 "is so unspeakably sordid it make me shudder". What would yours be? 

100% past midnight and sleep is necessary. I apologise for the foregoing.

(Just totally fiddled the publication date so it looked like I got this in before midnight. Repeat after me Emma NO ONE CARES)

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Les vestiges du Colin

You can't have religieuses every day. Sometimes you have to eat the leftover shards of Colin the Caterpillar's half price chocolate "apple" (crapple). Sometimes you're very glad of them.


- Toothache. They should just take them all out and give me wooden ones like George Washington. I'm still pretending it's not happening which is a fine long-term strategy with a proud Beddington history (my grandfather had 3 teeth at the end of his life, this seems plenty).

- The school holidays, chiz chiz. F spent much of the morning firing maths questions at me, simply for his own amusement. L is - unwillingly, of course - at a morning holiday gulag. "It looks like The Bridge Café in The Apprentice" he said this morning, then, gloomily, this evening "I still have nine more hours community service to go". They are both at a difficult age, holiday activity wise and I have no idea how we will all get through the endless summer holidays without feasting on each other's spinal fluid.

- Up since 6, which makes no sense since the clock change went the other way.

- Dozed off whilst lying on rug with dog and dropped phone heavily and painfully on my own face.

- My new mug is lost somewhere in the bowels of "ParcelForce Worldwide" due to "insufficient address".


- I only need to get through 3 more days and we head to the Dales.

- Ludicrous new professionals GBBO style show. I enjoyed this, despite terrifying pronunciation of the word "feuillantine" mainly due to snippy team recriminations and the outside possibility of sugarwork disaster. Obviously it is no Bake Off, nor indeed Qui Sera Le Prochain Grand Pâtissier, the French equivalent, which last year had someone fashioning an authentically rusted Le Creuset pot out of chocolate, then filling it with cakes and which features Christophe Adam, about whom I have Feelings. There is, however, this judge who is from Normandy and who is taking absolutely no shit from anyone and told one team they had to pull their next cakes "from your backsides" which sounds interesting but not delicious.

- Waking at 6 meant finally finishing the thing I have been dithering over for weeks and therefore having time to start a little lacklustre VAT.

- I think - though this may be premature - I can retire my parka for the spring. I managed to go out in a much lighter jacket today without succumbing to second degree hypothermia. If confirmed, this would be a good thing as my parka has been widely described as bringing shame on the family with its combination of biro marks, grime and escaping, broken lining.

- I really enjoyed reading this on a Hillary Clinton meet and greet.

- I caught the dog in my office snuggling a plush tortoise and he was thrilled to see me:

Then he got into a sulk and rested his head angrily on the storage heater for the remainder of the afternoon:

Hello, I am ridiculous


30% Constant catering
30% Easter/clock change jetlag. Why are we having our dinner so late? What day is it? Who am I? Why hasn't someone killed that chicken yet? 
20% General aesthetic consternation
10% Colin
10% Colin induced spots


Monday, 28 March 2016


Welcome back to I Attempt to Make Some French Cakes for Nebulous Book Promotional Reasons of My Own Devising!

Part 2: religieuses 

(You can read Part 1, Flan, here)


Do you have hens? I hope you have hens because you need a RIDICULOUS number of eggs for this recipe. Nine of them. Nine eggs. Religieuses, sponsored by Lipitor.


There isn't really a context to this. I mention religieuses in the book but for no more significant reason than that they are just brilliant, one of my very favourite French cakes. I mean, if you like an eclair, you'll love a religieuse, one choux bun on top of another larger choux bun, filled with crème pâtissière and stuck together with chantilly. Are you with me? YES OF COURSE YOU ARE. Not you, Jamie Oliver, you can stay where you are, crying into your steamed chard.

The process: 

It took me a lot of dithering to get started on this because there are so many stages it is terrifying. Do you start with the filling or the choux? Who the hell knows. I partly used the eclair recipe from my violently pink cake book and partly various randomly selected internet recipes many of which were so casual they did not give you any indication of cooking time other than "until they are cooked". THANKS, cake dicks.

First: crème pâtissière. Boil up half a litre of whole milk with a scraped vanilla pod. That's another €3, no pressure. Once boiled allow to infuse for ten minutes.

Separate six (SIX) yolks. Mix them with some cornflour and sugar. Beat until they either get pale (the Internet) or they don't (the pink book). They got pale, what you gonna do.

Bring the boiled vanilla milk back to the boil, having removed vanilla pod. Add a third of if (eh?) to the egg mixture, whisk, then add the rest.

Put the whole lot back in your pan on a HOT RING and whisk like fuck until it thickens. When it does - and this is a very alarming moment, panic like fuck, take it off the heat and whisk until your arm burns. If anyone comes into the kitchen at this moment, I suggest you screech "DON'T LOOK AT ME!" like a banshee, which certainly worked for me. When the whole thing becomes smooth and unctuous and beautiful, expect to begin to have sexual feelings about your whisk. I certainly did. You add 50g of butter here so it doesn't get a skin or some such nonsense. No idea. Pink book said so.

Whisk, phwoargh

Now, for some reason, you spread your crème pâtissière - because THIS IS IT, YOU HAVE MADE CREME PAT LIKE A BOSS, savour this moment - on a tray covered with clingfilm, then put more clingfilm on the top, then refrigerate.

Word to the unwary: ensure your crème pât is well balanced in the fridge if you do not want my fate to befall you - half the crème pât escaped off the slightly off-balance tray onto a cucumber and a bunch of spring onions, so I had to wipe it off them and eat. Licking crème pât off a spring onion: not a lifetime high.

Time for choux! Boil up 55g of butter and 125g of water and a ludicrously small quantity of sugar and salt (half a teaspoon each) that you add mainly for superstitious reasons. Add 70g flour and whisk like fuck. God, you love that whisk at this point. You are supposed to "dessécher la pâte" for 30 seconds. You have no idea what this looks like. Whatever. You and your whisk are invincible.

Remove from heat. Add three "small eggs" (thankfully your dickhead new hen lays small eggs), one by one, whisking like thunder. You have made choux dough. It is time for some undignified and regrettable business with a piping bag.


CHILD: Sigh.

I imagine some people might clear the table first. 

Make large choux (5cm?) for the bottom ball and small choux (3cm) for the top choux.

Word to the unwary: if you draw pencil circles on your baking parchment, you will end up with pencil circles on your choux. This may or may not bother you.

Place your choux in the oven! 180°C! Non fan assisted! Wait for half an hour-ish! YOU HAVE MADE CHOUX.

(No one is impressed but you. "Can we have lunch now?" they say. "Why does the kitchen look like that" they say)

This is where it really gets ugly, especially if your bastard family say they want chocolate religieuses when you have planned coffee ones. Be brave. Accept that basically everything in your kitchen will end up dirty and covered in fondant and you'll be fine.

The process. Just before I started shouting "I KNOW IT'S NOT THIRTY FIVE FUCKING DEGREES"

Make some holes in your choux with one of those things you put in the end of piping bags. A small one. I put holes in the bottom of the small choux because they wouldn't show, and in the side of the large ones because, I dunno. I should have put them in the bottom too. Whatever.

Liberate your crème pât from its clingfilm prison and whisk it up a bit, just to be fancy. For coffee crème pat, add a bit of Nescafé mixed into a small espresso. Not to much or it'll get too runny. For vanilla, just put in a piping bag and go for it. Ignore anyone who asks for chocolate. PIPE.

Chocolate topping: I made ganache (double cream plus dark Côte d'Or). It was delicious and too much of it ended up in my mouth.

Coffee topping: Get out your giant tub of fondant bought from a baking pervert website and attempt to heat it to "35°C". This is a fool's errand. Just get it a bit warm, eh.

Dip the balls in the topping! Assemble! The toppings will go everywhere, mainly in your mouth. It's fine. Go with it.

Whip up a bit of cream to a fairly stiff consistency. Put it in YET ANOTHER piping bag with one of those fancy pointy nozzles. Pipe a bit at the join of the two balls. Annoy your family by going "LOOK LOOK LOOK IT LOOKS LIKE A RELIGIEUSE LOOK!"

Continue until you have a significant number of religieuses.

The result:

Look at it! Look! 

"Can we eat them now" say your awful, unsupportive family. 

Snarl "I AM TAKING PICTURES" and fight them off with your trusty whisk. 

The verdict: 

I am so fucking proud. These are actual religieuses. Sure, the coffee icing is very dull and the chocolate looks like it was applied by a toddler, but they are recognisably what I set out to make. I have eaten so much leaked crème pâtissière off spring onions and spilled ganache off everything, I cannot actually bear to eat one yet, but all the components taste good and the family are grudgingly impressed. This is a serious success. I am never doing it again, but I consider this a triumph. I have fondant in my wig and ganache on my jumper. Everyone in this house hates me. I do not care. 

Have a large alcoholic drink, then write a blogpost liberally sprinkled with GRATUITOUS CAPITAL LETTERS to celebrate. 

Please buy my book for many more cakes and other things, including a sugarwork heron (not made by me), fascist shoes and poo in a bag. Thxbai. 

Sunday, 27 March 2016

Easter, ongoing

Happy easter! Don't get excited, I haven't made any cake yet.

Instead I went on our old lady hike yesterday which got harder than we were expecting and we had to haul ourselves up this bit using ROPES:

At one point we met a group of people walking an even larger group of French bulldogs, one of whom was called "Roger" and another "Marvin", which was very pleasing. I also saw a magnificent hen at the end of the walk and had to remind myself I spend large swathes of every day cursing the ones we have.

Easter weekend is a bit odd when your children are too large for egg hunting (not that it would have been possible outside given the absolute trashing our hens have given the back yard) and you don't have any family roasted animal and resentment obligations because your family lives in other countries, so we had pho (there was a power cut and I ended up with soy sauce in my coat pocket and noodles in my handbag), then went to see Batman v Superman which was the worst thing I have ever seen with my eyes. I have had to have a large martini to recover and my ears still hurt, hours later. It was so loud and so nonsensical and it went on for approx 6 hours, which were composed of 90% explosions, 5% homo-erotic wrestling, 5% inexplicable dream sequences. I only managed about 15 minutes sleep during, which is a poor score for me (I managed 40 minutes during Spectre) because of the irregular pattern of explosions. Since the martini I have been annoying everyone/amusing myself with questions such as "but why was Kevin Costner building a wall on top of a hill?" No one could tell me anything that made any sense and in any case I was only doing it to wind them up.

On the way to the cinema we walked past Brussels' Bowie wall, which is very odd. I particularly liked this, well, it's not a tribute exactly is it:

If you can't read it it reads: 

"Dear DB
My brother is so annoying please take him like you took toby in the labyrinth just this time i wont go looking 4 him. Thx (illegible) ME. 
"I wish the gobling king would come and take my brother away"
+ my mom"

That is all I have for you, I am going to put in some eye drops due to Batman v Superman Explosion Eye Strain and go to bed with a nice herbal tea, because I am 800 years old. Here is the dog pretending he likes me when actually he just wanted to get under my Max Mara coat because it was cold. 

It is apparent to me from this photograph that I am the picture in Oscar's attic, he is bright eyed and youthful and I am alarmingly haggard and prematurely aged. I need a month in a Swiss clinic being transfused with the blood of virgins, or naked mole rats or something. Here's hoping 6 days in the Dales with bacon, gin and horizontal sheets of rain blowing across the valley does the trick. 


20% MaltEaster bunny
20% Non-specific gloom
10% Vodka (for a change from gin, also works)
50% Kryptonite spear


Friday, 25 March 2016

Substandard Friday

Happy Easter from this photocopier!

Ah, bastard Britain with your "Good Friday" bank holiday (Netherlands too). It appears to be warm and sunny with you too from the happy bastard pictures I see on Instagram. A plague on your houses. Here I spent the morning drip drying in my grey attic of punishment after a very rainy dog walk. I am also working while my lotus eating children who are both off school DESPITE it not being a public holiday, lounge messily around the house, making crumbs and watching unsuitable (I assume) YouTube videos. It's not going well, the working, so I'm also pulling at little bits of dry skin around my lips until they bleed. Also there are Tensions, so all in all Good Friday can go and have a hard word with itself.


All of the above.

Caught sight of myself in a shopping centre mirror and looked so rough and old I actually gasped.

The thing I am working on is still shit despite hours of trying to make it less shit.

I have no authority.

Went on the Metro and it is pretty gloomy and filled with men with machine guns.


Have acquired hot cross buns and bacon and NO I am not going to put them together Sainsbury's, you attention-seeking fools.

Warm enough to go and get pizza from Bottega della Pizza rather than sub-standard delivery pizza.

Belgian flags everywhere out in the streets, big ones and little ones and the paper ones you get free at the fête nationale and even a tricolour bin bag on the back of this van:

which is heart-warming.

Going for an old lady hike with my friend tomorrow and I cannot wait.

If you happen to have a Times subscription, this is hilarious (if you haven't, email me if you fancy reading about someone having a shitawful "survival" experience).

Very late Swiss correspondence gave some indication of improvement, though did include the following: "we did two walks: one pointless, one to nowhere. Still no pyjamas :-1".

Another terrifying French cake this weekend. Watch this space (I'm not being mysterious, I have no idea what it's going to be. The least scary?).

Thursday, 24 March 2016

Claustrophobic shirt scythe bunny

I have left this far too late, it is past my bedtime.


Bulletin (school report) day, followed by Parents' Evening (ugh, ugh), hence lateness. If I were the GIF type there would be one here of eg. Carrie screaming or Death scything around or something. SOMETHING BAD.

I spent €35,64 sending my son his pyjamas express overnight delivery to Switzerland. Now he is back, he tells me he received them 8 days later. Eight days! DAMN YOU SWITZERLAND, where is your fabled efficiency now? I admit it is more likely to be down to my old friends at BastardPost but my rage is indiscriminate.

I cannot find a quote from Bernard Henri Lévy's wife Arielle Dombasle about how he always has his shirt so extravagantly unbuttoned because he is "claustrophobic", even though I am sure she said this. I have wasted a significant amount of time on this googling variations on "open shirt" "phobia" "claustrophobic" in two languages.

M has gone on holiday for a week and though I am very happy for her I am sad for MYSELF, because a day with no gchat complaining is a wasted day. Due to M my current gmail status reads "yellow penis travesty", which is extremely professional.

I have not dealt with Easter in any way whatsoever. I mean, sure, you can get chocolate eggs in this country, but what kind? I do not hold with quality chocolate as I have made clear over many years. Also, I have run out of hot cross buns, which is a bad scene on Good Friday Eve. I might have to brave the entirely fucked up "normal service" trams tomorrow for an emergency M&S trip.

Eyeball has gone red and disgusting, I suspect from squinting at terror liveblog for 48 hours.


Smaller child is back! Apparently it was not always like prison and he has managed not to get sunburnt unlike several of his classmates who I saw getting off the bus and actually gasped at. It is nice to have him back, it was too quiet without him and no one else in this house gives a shit about owl babies.

Line of Duty

Small medicinal martini, knocked back in approx 45 seconds.

Got lost so many times in giant secondary gulag tonight that I have far exceeded any necessary "step count" for the day.

I made an excellent "do you think we're made of bunnies" joke today about the ridiculous Gchat animations that pop up in your chat window if you type "happy easter". It fell on entirely deaf ears because M hates puns, but I was pleased.

Saw a picture of my final actual book today, can your eagle eyes see the cover quote? It made me so happy I nearly exploded.

I know what happened with the whole police incident next door, finally. It was quite grisly, but no one is dead.


40% Genuine parenting ??????? moment
20% Gin lust
20% Aromatherapy Associates Deep Relax
10% Unimaginative percentages
10% Bedtime


Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Baked goods

I went on a bit of a baking jag today, not in an ambitious French way, just in a comforting, occupy your hands and mouth with good honest British stodge way

Dan Lepard scones, literally the only thing I have ever cooked from Dan Lepard's massive baking book due to his fondness for Weird Flours.

 Self-explanatory, surely. Self-explanatorily delicious, certainly.

This unattractive thing is a flamiche aux poireaux (leek pie). It is very tasty due to its being mainly composed of butter and cream.

Did I not have work to do? Yes, quite a lot, but I also had the concentration span of a crack weasel, hence baking. I have been here all day twitching and consequently have nothing whatsoever to tell you. I promise to do better tomorrow. I am collecting "this is like prison" child from the ski trip coach at 8 tomorrow, because an hour in a chilly car park to collect an exhausted and monosyllabic 12 year old is a bracing start to the day. I have failed to engage with Easter in any way, there are no eggs, maybe I will have to hire that chicken costume and terrify my children instead. Given the eldest said he would "prefer money" this seems justifiable. I don't doubt he would prefer money, I would prefer a Shetland pony and some Elemis Supersoak, maybe half a Xanax, but we are both going to have to make do with a MaltEaster bunny and/or a murderous chicken. Possibly a murdered chicken given how loud and obnoxious evil Pepper is currently.


I wrote something for The Pool about the whole Brussels thing.

I am going to Shakespeare & Co on my launch date! This is very exciting. Observe how in the foregoing link I am giving the Man Booker International Prize Panel (well, their listing) a weird needy stare, the kind that will make them pretend to remember a thing they need to do urgently and back away apologetically but swiftly.


50% Genuinely obsessed with this bird. I especially love the deliberate, slow way he goes for the last green cup.
30% Bra misery, how can you both gape AND create torso weals? How is this a thing? It's like having simultaneous spots and wrinkles (yep, that too).
10% Annoyed by weird waffle enthusiast strangers including me in their waffle debates on Twitter. Today some bloke in Las Vegas tweeted a picture of a massive green waffle and @ed me in, and I have been drawn into people commenting on this horror waffle all day. Short of tweeting "I AM NOT AN ACTUAL WAFFLE" I can't work out what to do about it.
10% Oppressed by unwatched rapidly expiring Trapped episodes. Will anyone button up their overcoat, or remember their scarves? I doubt it.


Tuesday, 22 March 2016

22 March

I don't usually blog when something awful happens because who needs my entirely irrelevant two cents, but I had to say a heartfelt thank you, at least, for your many many emails and comments of concern which were truly appreciated. There has been a lot of kindness. People are so kind, especially at times like this, but actually, always. Everyone here and hereabouts is fine and safe, but oh, my poor, lovely, funny, weird city.

It was such a pretty day too, blossom and pale sunshine and there's a big bright moon tonight. I'm going to try and turn off the rolling news, pour a big gin and get into the bath. Hope you and yours are all safe and well.

Monday, 21 March 2016

Belgian Gothic

Hello muddah hello faddah
Correspondence arrives at the waffle residence from the child currently on (NON-POSH MUNICIPAL) ski class. It reads:

"This isn't the best trip. It's kind of like prison (:-/). Today we skied but we didn't go anywhere. Not very fun right now everyone is punished. Anyway, how are the chickens?"

So that's... cheery. I asked his brother whether this chimed with his experience and he said that sounded about right. However, since his own correspondence to us over his two week ski trip absence was a single dog-eared postcard that read, in its totality: "salut je vais bien" (hi, I'm ok), I cannot assess the veracity of this statement at all.


The Easter, erm, murdering chicken is here!

And so is his/her severed head!

Belgian Gothic Easter Bunnies:

Ah, Belgium.

I see from Twitter that it is national poetry day, so let's have MacNeice doing Bagpipe Music himself, which was often read/recited to us over dinner by my stepfather, a habit that would drive my mother demented, but which I now look back on very fondly. I can only hear this poem - especially "But if you break the bloody glass" in Prog Rock's voice now. MacNeice sounds so posh!

It is exactly one month until my book comes out. I am totes relaxed about it *vomits in a bush*. Soon I can leave you all alone again. Won't that be nice? So here's James Fenton reading In Paris With You. Sod off to sodding Notre Dame. Another posh reading voice, I note. Oh look you can even listen to Apollinaire reading Le Pont Mirabeau himself on the Internet! God, modern life is amazing.

50% No to this abomination, a candidate for being instructed to get in the sea if ever I saw one.
20% Relatively pleased with my work today, let the record show.
20% This Farming Life
10% Headache


Sunday, 20 March 2016

Flan Pâtissier

Hello and welcome to I Attempt To Make Some French Cakes For Nebulous Book Promotional Reasons Of My Own Devising, an occasional series.

Part One: Flan Pâtissier


Taking this picture was a colossal and unsuccessful ballache, as you can see. I cannot haz foodblog.


Flan pâtissier, which is a set, sweetened egg custard in a short or puff pastry case, has a starring role in my book. When I first moved to France in my year off to become an assistante, teaching entirely indifferent teenagers "English" by looking at the pictures in Smash Hits, I became rapidly obsessed by flan. I think it might have been partly a homesickness thing, because flan is the most comforting of comfort foods: creamy-beige in colour as all the best culinary comfort blankets are, undemanding, simple, sweet, even a little stodgy. If crème caramel has a sensuous wobble, flan has only the slightest of trembles, indeed often it doesn't move at all except to slip down and settle gently into your stomach. This is not a criticism, I love it still and always. I'll pick a flan above almost everything else in a bakery.

When I got back to England, I discovered it was almost impossible to find flan there - probably because it's so resolutely unglamorous and not at all how we imagine French patisserie, no frills, no colour, no curlicues, no grandstanding.

I eventually found one supplier - a crumbling gilt and stucco mittel-Europ bakery on Queensway called Pierre Pêchon, now sadly gone. They used to have flan occasionally, creamy yellow and sticky topped in a damp paper case, nestling between the fondant iced lemon boats and Viennese fingers. I would sometimes go there on my way to the Porchester Turkish baths down the street. My mum used to often send me thirty quid to get the bus to London and go to the Baths when I was mad and sad and bald in Oxford and it did help, sort of: you lie in the dark and the warm and it's very peaceful and for a couple of hours you can be gentle with your awful body that you hate, surrounded by other women being gentle with themselves. On the way there, I would buy a flan and hide it in my locker, sweating slightly in its white paper bag, waiting for me to emerge from the tepidarium. It was my escape from everything and I loved it.

When we moved to Paris, I spent most of my free time wandering the streets, buying flan. It was my tiny nugget of routine in our rootless early weeks, with a sleepless baby and an anarchic toddler; my treat, my self-soothing. I ate flan almost every day for months and only didn't get fat because I spent the rest of my time walking the streets, pushing a buggy, breastfeeding and getting into fights with pensioners. "The Paris Diet", recommended by 1 out of 10 survivors. 

You can't really get flan in Brussels. They sell something called flan, but it's a poor substitute, dense and claggy in a wet, soft, too thick pastry case with a leathery brown sponge top. It's no kind of cake at all, so it was about time I learned to make my own proper flan. 

The Process:

I found my recipe by searching for "flan pâtissier inratable" ('can't fail flan') on the Internet, then dithered for a couple of hours, decided on a combination of this one and this one and went for it.

I cannot pretend it was hard or that there was much culinary jeopardy involved, though obviously I would like to.

First you unroll your pre-made puff pastry because you are not a lunatic and have enough self-knowledge to know that making your own puff is an expensive and time-consuming fool's errand for a baking dunce such as yourself. You prick and refrigerate it thus:

I tried to fashion a sort of parchment cross to lift it out of the tin, which did not have a removable bottom. This was only partially successful.

Next, you beat up three eggs, a bit of cornflour and a glug from a litre of milk with an electric whisk

 whilst heating the rest of the litre of milk plus sugar and vanilla to boiling point

That's about €3 of vanilla NO PRESSURE HEY. 

When the milk starts to boil, you pour it into your egg/cornflour mixture, still whisking.

You return the whole lot to the pan and heat on a very low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spatula (at this point you realise the professional looking whisk you have purchased is entirely redundant for this recipe) until it starts to simmer ("laisser frémir quelques secondes, pas plus" warns the recipe) and thicken.

Emma's note: This last phase, which I expected to be a white knuckle ride of imminent curdling, took approximately ONE MILLION YEARS. I have RSI and back pain from stirring and my nerves are shot with the strain of wondering if there would ever be any detectable "frémir"-ing or not and of not giving in and whacking the heat up. I don't know whether it's supposed to take one million years or whether my very low heat was in fact far too low, but I was not risking it and thus the remainder of my life was spent, worriedly agitating milk and eggs.

When it starts to thicken or your confusion and dismay at the lack of frémissement becomes so total you can no longer stand it, take out the pastry case, pour the custard in and stick it in the oven at 180° for 35-40 minutes. This is long enough to take the dog for a short walk that it may or may not wish to actually go on. Leave to cool and eat cold, ideally the next day.

Emma's note: I did this on non-fan assisted and it took considerably longer than 40 minutes and several bouts of agonised poking and never coloured at all, palely loitering in the oven like a goth in hot weather.

I love how it looks like it has an actual halo. The thing underneath is a mini-flan I had to make with the leftover mixture, about which the less said the better. 

The result: 

Well, it's definitely a flan, just a flan that was wearing SPF 50, apparently. A Celtic flan. It tastes like a flan, though I am missing a glaze on top and were I ever to do it again (ha, unlikely), I would put some apricot jam on the top, I think.

This is probably its best angle:

I feel like it's giving flan realness? At least a little?

The verdict: 

Despite the flan's indubitable success at being a flan, my creation left me somewhat cold and empty. I don't know. I find I don't want to shove it in my mouth like I normally do with flan. Perhaps this is just because I now know what happens in the flan sausage factory? Is it the lack of apricot glaze? Or perhaps it's a side effect of all that stirring or simply the result of my natural ability to be gloomy about my all and any achievements, but there it is. Le Flan et le Néant. A big, creamy shrug. Bof.

Next time:

MORE CAKE. OTHER CAKE. CAKE. (I have no idea)

Please buy my book, thanking you.

Friday, 18 March 2016

Rolling news

Oh uh, hi? I wasn't expecting you yet?
(Not allowed in this chair and knows it)

I'm stuck in front of the incredibly repetitive coverage of Salah Abdeslam's arrest for hours even though there's really nothing much else that is going to happen and it is melting my already beleaguered brain (do you like how I always have an excuse for the day's post being a bit shit? You do? Good!). Other news ("news"):

1. I have not broken or fallen into anything today.

2. I do not think this is connected to Salah Abdeslam's arrest. He went to my eldest son's school for a while, have I mentioned that? We got a letter about it and everything.

3. I have also not eaten any hot cross buns. I suppose there is a hypothesis to be explored regarding whether hot cross bun consumption and falling over are correlated but I do not intend to do the necessary exploring.

4. I had to translate something about bottles of €35,000 cognac today. Seriously. Thirty five thousand of your earth euros for a bottle of booze in a fancy box? The horsemen of the apocalypse will be swilling this stuff when they ride in on their white, red, black and pale horses (what colour is pale exactly? Is it like Farrow & Ball Pale Hound?).

5. I found this very interesting on writing about yourself whilst being female. It deals with some of the questions I've been struggling with in a much braver and more articulate way than I have ever managed. My approach: decline into acute anxiety, then attempt to claw way back to normality with long walks, Dutch classes and disgusting "Bonne Nuit" herbal teas. I wouldn't exactly recommend it, though I'd like to write something about how helpful Dutch Class has been at some point, because it has.

6. I tried to elicit from a neighbour what happened in our street Tuesday night earlier and ended up with (a) no information; but (b) the maddest series of paranoid statements about being phone tapped, having to deal with a shadowy network of Bad People in the mean streats of Uccle and something really confusing about a bag of kiwis. We don't really have a common language which made it much harder. The moral of the story is: GO TO THE GUY IN THE CORNER SHOP. He can deliver straight up gossip with no crazy embroidery. He knows what we want.

7. Bald Eagle chick courtesy of excellent avian correspondent Sandra (ed's note: Sandra is not a bird) (ed's further note: well, I don't know for certain, but she writes in excellent English if she is a bird).

8. I have a small tax rebate! Are there any lovelier words? Free buffet? Cashmere gift? Miniature donkey foal? Debatable. The only problem is, as with last year's tax rebate I do not actually believe in it, and assume it will be reclaimed in the future, so I will be duty bound to hide it in the savings account I don't know how to access, rather than buying fripperies. Should I allow myself ONE frippery? And if so, what should it be? I need to get my eyebrows redone, but that, since it involves fairly painful head tattooing, doesn't count as a frippery, though it is extremely expensive. Hmm. Also, the rebate hasn't actually arrived, just the piece of paper saying it is coming one day. That day is likely to be some months away, so let's not get too excited.

9. Reasons why I love M (simultaneous, but not agreed upon) #28935746:

("Sesame ant" refers to the time we went to a promising from the outside but in reality terrible noodle bar in Ghent and found a live ant living in the sesame seed grinder).

10. Percentages:

20% Dry Martini
30% Pizza
30% The news
20% Need to go to bed now and can't think of any other percentages

You? What do you think is the happiest phrase in the English language? And what would you buy with a small but not ridiculous tax rebate?

Thursday, 17 March 2016

In brief

GOOD EVENING. I've had a Spritz on an empty stomach, also I have no charger and 15% battery and my family are watching that Lancastrian wolverine Guy Martin very loudly in the background, so if it's coherence or sense you're after, I recommend you move right along.


The fucked up relationship between the physical world and my body continued today when I tried to go behind someone's chair in Dutch Class and ended up hooking a large, heavy metal panel off the wall and into her back. It was HUGE and LOUD and the whole school heard it and I don't really know how the hell I did it or what the fuck is going on. Here is a photo which fails to illustrate the result in any clear manner whatsoever:

All I can tell you is that that hole full of wires and shit used to be a smooth cream WALL before. The teacher had to stop teaching and call the maintenance service to explain that one of her students had ripped a wall panel off causing a major health and safety issue.

M: Maybe your brain is trying to rearrange the universe

E: By breaking it?

M: Yes

E: Well it's not going great for either party.

Also in Dutch Class the teacher asked a man out of the blue about whether he was simultaneously seeing his first and second wives, which was (a) a bit forward even for a Dutch person and (b) quite challenging vocabulary wise.


I was texting my father absently earlier while refreshing Twitter (what shut up my work ethic is FINE), when I realised I had just scrolled past a photograph of him. He was opening the new Land of the Lions at London Zoo with the ACTUAL QUEEN (not to mention an ACTUAL LIONESS prowling around behind him looking pissed off) at that ACTUAL MOMENT. I was quite discombobulated, but also very proud. Look, here he is talking at the start, then generally hanging out with the Queen. There is also a clip of him showing her a highly decorated wooden cow. I would quite like a lion related honorific as his daughter, eg. Daughter of Lions? Surely this can be arranged?


40% Unbearably itchy eyes
10% Avocado disappointment
25% I shouldn't have started that large bar of salty chocolate
25% Salty chocolate


Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Flail away flail away flail away


I have been totally cool about the whole terror threat stuff, lockdown, whatever, but yesterday with two armed fugitives still allegedly en fuite (not that this necessarily makes them any more dangerous than when they were holed up in their nice arsenal in Forest I suppose, also how many armed fugitives are STILL en fuite since November? I have lost count), I did get slightly ruffled when the police closed down our street with cordons and tape and sat in their police cars right in front of next door for HOURS, literally about 4 hours.

"If the neighbour has been hiding Salah Abdeslam in his saxophone case all this time," I found myself thinking "I am going to be fucking FURIOUS." The atmosphere outside was not exactly one of febrile urgency, more bored standing around and there were no men in balaclavas and armbands, but nevertheless I double locked the front door and closed the shutters because you never know. This did not prevent me from falling deeply asleep within seconds.

Anyway, they had gone in the morning and I haven't had the mental wherewithal to go and get the full lowdown from Corner Shop Guy, so I may never know what was actually going on.


I am having one of those days when you are slightly, but critically, out of kilter with the universe on some basic physical level and many disasters ensue. I have forgotten my keys, broken a glass, spilled tea in my bed, misjudged the tipping of some spinach into my punishment soup (the tipping of spinach into already spinach flavoured soup was my first error here) causing the most ridiculous degree of splashing/spillage (jeans and cashmere jumper liberally coated in slimy green soup, also work surfaces and floor, dog uninterested in helping with clear up) and let us not even try and count how many times I have dropped my phone. This all culminated horribly in the supermarket an hour or so ago when, having foolishly chosen not to take a basket for my purchases, I made some kind of involuntary flailing movement and had to watch as my litre of milk flew up in the air, then, describing several athletic flips, landed with unerring accuracy RIGHT on top of a box of twelve eggs in the basket of the woman standing next to me. It was as bad as the time I catapulted a prawn into a woman's handbag in a Parisian noodle bar, actually it was worse because more noisy. I am a bit frightened for the rest of the day and indeed am sending a child for the traditional Wednesday frites because it seems safer. The child is thrilled. Apparently "you can get yourself a can" is insufficient blandishment for the over-stimulated, jaded, youth of today.


I have also made some kind of pecuniary declaration of intent by buying several key items for my proposed patisserie challenge, a spatule with an elbow, apparently essential, lots of vanilla, some whole milk (hence the supermarket flailing shenanigans), a cadre pâtissier and other nonsense. Jesus, I am fearful. What shall I try first? I am still waiting for a kilo of fondant pâtissier to be delivered from some esoteric French trade website so religieuses are out. Flan? Paris-Brest? Some kind of Opéra? Help. My percentage success rate with crème pâtissière currently stands at 0%. I have managed choux pastry in the past, sort of, but everything else is a mystery. I am using this book, which seems to make out that everything is a piece of piss as long as you have the spatule with the elbow and the cadre for patissing:

We all know this will turn out to be a grotesque lie.

One of the cakes is actually called "Success":

And yet I note that the first instruction involves boiling sugar and a sugar thermometer. That is CRAZY TALK, Christophe and my trust in you is already dwindling.

Dutch word of the day

Elleboog = elbow


50% Why are Belgian stamps designed by 8 year old girls giddy on a diet of Haribo and Cute Overload? Whither dignity?
50% Totally buying some of the kitten stamps for my next VAT return and will absolutely charge them to the 'business'.
0% En fuite


Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Dutch Class

When you’re alone and life is making you lonely
You can always go to Dutch Class
When you’ve got worries all the irregular verbs
Seem to help, I know, at Dutch Class

Just listen to an exercise on how to buy a TV
Linger over videoclips that date from 1980
Het of de?
The sounds are more guttural there
You can forget all your troubles, forget all your cares

So go to Dutch Class
Things will be great when you’re in Dutch Class
No finer place, for sure, Dutch Class
Iedereen wacht op jou*

Don’t hang around and let your problems surround you
There are games to play at Dutch Class
Maybe you’ll have to pretend to speed date
A shy Congolese guy, in Dutch Class

Just listen to the rhythm of the improbable vowels
Stilted conversation for three interminable hours
About hobbies
The talk is more awkward there
With limited vocab, and no Google Translate

But it’s Dutch Class
Don’t try the drinks machine, Dutch Class
The jokes are not so PC, Dutch Class
Maar heb je jouw huiswerk gedaan?

And you may end up paired with the guy who's walked into the wrong group
Someone who is quite confused and could use a gentle hand
To copy your homework
So maybe I’ll see you there
We can forget all our troubles, forget all our cares

In our Dutch Class
Six hours a week in this Dutch Class
Why did I sign up for Dutch Class?
Iedereen wacht op jou.

*I'd like to think this means 'everyone's waiting for you', but who knows really, I am only at level 2.1 which is barely above grunting and hand gestures and if you are asking me anything other than my hobbies or how to buy a second hand table through a small ad, I'm likely to struggle.
UPDATE: Now corrected thanks to commenter intervention
** But have you done your homework?

I do know this is not even slightly funny, but it is about all I did today, except falling painfully upstairs onto my middle finger, no, no idea, collecting a piece of paper at great psychic expense from the obstructive bastards at the town hall and yes, three hours of Dutch (paired with the Ukrainian chocolatière, I did well today). I'm now going to walk the dog and have a stern word with myself.

30% Further terrorist raid confusion
30% Fuck yeah, a flan in a box waiting for me
30% Concern I may have a tapeworm
10% Jowl expansion suggests otherwise


Monday, 14 March 2016


Pass-agg sleeping positions. "Oh don't mind me. I'm perfectly fine just here. In your filth"

I'm having one of those days where you just want to punch yourself in the face repeatedly. I'm going for a walk to see if that helps.

(Nope, it didn't. Nor did: shouting at the Roomba or eating my feelings to the tune of most of a large bar of chocolate, two hot cross buns and a gratuitous bagel. My son's homework on the sacrament of "réconciliation" (trendy priest name for confession?) definitely didn't help. This Farming Life did, including the nail-biting birth of Jumbo the GIGANTIC Limousin calf.)

M and I have been discussing Trapped.

M: What percentage of their life do you think people in Iceland spend trudging through snow? If Trapped is anything to go by I'd say 75%.

E: That sounds about right. What's the other 25%? Being in boats. Joyless sex. Terse conversation.

M: Putting on and taking off parkas.

E: Losing corpses.

M: Freezing fish. I can't say it's really making me want to go.

E: Not exactly.
1. Endless night
2. Avalanches
3. Dismembered bodies
4. People trafficking
5. Very low lighting.

M: Not even any good looking snacks.

E: No! What do they eat? It's so dark you can't tell. Brown things?

M: Yes, brown things. Mostly potatoes?

(I actually really really want to go to Iceland and not just for the Icelandic horses and their special gait or for their gigantic bear men who never fasten their coats, but because it looks beautiful and enchanting and everyone I know who has gone comes back crazy for it and also because of Names for the Sea, which I believe I have personally been responsible for selling three copies of)

Percentage occupations of the general populace in Uccle:

50% Making crap posters about lost cats and sticking them to lampposts
35% "Creative" tax "planning"
5% Queueing at the Saint Aulaye
5% Gossiping about Street Matters with the Epicier and/or the Barber
5% Saxophony

No to:

Horses in tweed
Unplanned trips to the town hall tomorrow for mystery pieces of paper the need for which is flourished in the manner of a conjurer removing a rabbit from a hat some days after said piece of paper is due by children
Realising you sent other child away with no pyjamas
Chapped lips
Own brain
Chocolate-induced spots

Yes to:

This chocolate
This easter egg


Sunday, 13 March 2016

Food matters

We saw younger child off on the 12 day school ski trip last night (this is NOT POSH, all the children in Belgian state schools go, I don't know why I feel the need to iterate this, but I do), half an hour lurking in a darkened car park to wave the coach off to universal indifference from the massed ranks of 12 year olds. Now there is only the oldest child to "parent", the one who ignores me 95% of the time and spends the other 5% either asking for money/juice/his mislaid property or playing, enchantedly, delightedly, with the loose skin on my neck. I have big plans to get a lot done and write fascinating blog posts, which will doubtless come to nothing more than catching up on back episodes of Trapped.

My lunch was very successful thanks to commenter Bad Bride's suggestion of Smitten Kitchen's Chicken Pho, which she described as "so, so stupidly easy you cannot fuck it up" this being EXACTLY what I want to hear about a recipe. It was delicious and I in turn commend it to you. There was not a single difficult element to it. Did I deep fry the shallots? Did I fuck, I bought some of those crispy onion bits from Tinie's which is my favourite shop in Brussels and which I also commend to you if you happen to live in Brussels and are in the market for some insanely well stocked no nonsense asian grocery good times. I have noted down all the other recipe recommendations for future attempts at "food other than Old El Paso and pasta" or "socialising" and thank you very much indeed for them, they all sounded excellent and quite idiot-proof.

I also made this chocolate mousse cake, which was as easy at it claims and a big hit, served with some slightly squashed 3 boxes for €4 raspberries off the market and some whipped cream, thus:

Wonky post cake carnage

Earlier in the day I also made some immensely delicious dark chocolate fleur de sel cookies, by sort of adapting this recipe so they were fudgy not chewy and adding milk chocolate chunks, thus:

Now I feel slightly bilious and have a champagne headache and my main plan for the rest of the day is to watch yesterday's 50 Minutes Inside, TF1's trashy celebrity magazine show, with a succession of cups of tea and Nurofens. I do not plan to cook anything even slightly ambitious again for at least a week. Though hang on, I have a vague plan to bake some of the cakes in my book to try and lure you into buying it, so that might be a lie. I'm not promising, I still have to buy fondant, several esoteric cake tins and a selection of nozzles and the mere thought exhausts me, so it may all come to naught and it will be my own fault if I only sell 1.7 copies of the book as a result.


35% Sinus/champagne head
30% Naptime

I hope Eric wins Crufts tonight. Here are some more pictures of him looking magnificent.


Friday, 11 March 2016

The habits of successful plague carriers

(not sponsored by Lemsip)

6:45 Woken by what, in my confused, sleepy, ears blocked with cold, state, I believe to be an owl hooting. Lie in state of confused enchantment, until....

6:55 ... realise it is of course the BASTARD HEN.

7:00 Hear a child on staircase, inevitably it is the child that has the day off and doesn't actually need to get up. Assume it is going to feed chickens. It isn't. Persuade child - from still prone position, by power of shouting - to feed chickens. This makes no difference to chicken volume. First Lemsip of the day.

8:30 Discussion with cleaning lady about how delicious the Jerusalem Artichokes were, no, no, thank you no more for now, keep some for yourself!

8:35 Walk dog. Dog spends many minutes tenderly licking patches of old pee. Listen to more of The Butcher's Hook. Continued cognitive dissonance of Janet Ellis, childhood Blue Peter queen, narrating tale of 18th century illicit sex 'n' butchery (still excellent).

10:00 Home. Rapidly become too annoyed about a minor work contretemps to concentrate. Look at some owls. Mutter.

10:30 Get intro trouble with B for sending him an article on dolphin masturbation:

"I send you photographs of tiny hedgehogs, news about adorable rescued gigantic rabbits, and you reward me with a man whose job it is to MASTURBATE DOLPHINS?  I'm not sure we're engaged in an equitable animal-information-sharing relationship.  

" la masturbation est répétée tous les jours" WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK"

10:40 Try and claw myself back into his esteem with baby elephants trying to be lapdogs courtesy of M. and caption "Baby elephants! Absolutely no masturbation!" Response "I feel like lack of masturbation in animal communication is a low bar"

11:30 Greet a selection of complaints/questions about Skype performance, broadband speed, wifi networks from child with a tetchy "why on earth are you asking me?"

12:30 Lunch. A contradictory combo of punishment soup and ruminant medley followed by heavily buttered hot cross bun. I contain multitudes (multitudes of hot cross buns).

1:30-3:30 Long, increasingly desperate, reflection on prospect of going to see my friends at Bastardpost. Denial, bargaining, anger, despair, acceptance, padded envelopes.

3:30-3:35 Post office trip. It's never as bad as you think it's going to be unless you set off in optimism in which case it is TERRIBLE.

4:45 Listen to excellent Nina Stibbe short story on Radio 4 FULL of ponies.

5:00 Sink into hell-cold stupor. Mouth breathe unhappily. Start fourth packet of tissues.

5:30 Review this "do these dogs look like their owners" feature with intense seriousness evaluating each one.

5:40 Afternoon snack: 4 Maltesers (all that were left in packet, it would have ideally been 400) and a Lemsip. Desultory laundry.

6:00 Walk dog. Take a picture of this alarming sight:

to prove I didn't hallucinate it.

6:30 Sadly acknowledge that I am too sick for gin. Give up. Self-medicate with Crufts.

How was your Friday?

Thursday, 10 March 2016

Dogs etc.

JESUS, I woke up with a filthy cold, I'd be furious about it if I even had the energy. What the hell. I haven't had more than two non-sick days in about six weeks, I don't know if it's because I gave up my previous regimen of vitamins/snake oil/hippie dust in disgust when I got the flu despite them all, or because all the evil within me is coming out or just dumb luck but this has been my worst winter in living memory, healthwise and if they ever find out that Lemsip Max is really bad for you I am screwed.

Anyway, it is Crufts, of which I probably should disapprove but love and, look, here is the majestic Eric, my hero of last year, winning his group tonight:

Hurrah! All hail the mighty Eric (named for Eric Cantona, show name Ch Yakee Ooh Aah Cantona)

"He's basically a hairy slug," said my son in tones of approving wonder.

We were also amused tonight to hear a dog on Crufts (the schipperke, fact fans) being described thus:

"it emerged from the Belgian canals"

which made it sound like it had evolved from the Belgian canals, dragging itself out of the primordial slime/shopping trolley infested murk of the Bruxelles-Charleroi, shedding its gills as it went, to emerge triumphant if probably quite smelly onto dry land. There is one of these dogs, daft looking thing, that is often in the park in the mornings and now I know it marks a Belgian evolutionary watershed, I will view it with new respect. Possibly.

Less pleasantly the children spent much of the "utility group" (a gross misnomer) judging session evaluating which dogs had bigger jowls/wattle than me. The answer was basically none, not even the shar pei. The runner up of the "utility" group was a doge called Leonardo Dicaprio.

Given you were all so helpful with the whole easy food for book club scenario I am going to try you with another. We are having some people (two, nice, ordinary, not judgey) round for lunch on Sunday and I must make lunch but the problem is the last time they came I totally fucked up with a stupid stupid Jamie Oliver recipe for mac and cheese which ended up basically making dried bricks of claggy pasta. How can I redeem myself? I was wondering about this though probably with something other than orzo because what the hell, why and I would probably just serve the yoghurt in a bowl on the side. Also, I wouldn't heat the oven to 1800°C because I don't have an industrial kiln, just a basic Electrolux. Any major pitfalls I may have missed? Any better ideas? NB: they are French, it must contain ANIMALS.

50% Self-pity
50% Snot