Seven Things that Act as a Flame to My Inner Moth: One: Kitchens.
As with everything on my radar kitchens are all about the story. I've spent my entire adult life trying to recreate a sense of three kitchens from my childhood: my aunt Eileen's, that of my aunts Marge and Elsa (they were sisters widowed too young), and my mother's.
Aunt Eileen's kitchen was enormous, at least four times the size of ours, light filled with a glossy black and white checked linoleum floor, and a large central island on which stood a toaster the size of a television set. It smelt of freshly buttered thick white toast, and gardens. The French doors were always open and we used to run out, past bustling aunts and paper reading uncles, to the garden to play, often circling toaster island a few times on the way. We were never told off for running in that kitchen, there was space for everyone. It was Ella Fitzgerald.
Aunts Marge and Elsa's kitchen was smaller, so there was no space for running, but it had a table and a breakfast bar, French windows onto a balcony that overlooked busy Earl's Court Road, and smelt of coffee. It was infused with the cool blue light of London skies and had the most desirable crockery I've ever seen: sky blue bowls and mugs with various pastel coloured interiors. I loved the mug with the butter yellow interior so much aunt Elsa saved it for me to have my breakfast milk in. The coffee smelt so good I remember begging my father to let me have a sip: 'just a taste, please, please!' But I was considered too young. I would sit at the table with my milk and watch my mother. As she took her first morning sip with all of London as her backdrop (I swear she was haloed by St. Pauls and London Bridge with a red bus on it!) she seemed briefly to transform into a film star. To this day coffee represents the height of sophistication to me. Very occasionally I manage to make a cup of coffee that tastes exactly how that kitchen smelt, and rejoice.
My mother's, our, kitchen was small with no room for a table, it was all about the food. Specifically the cake. My mother loved baking so the rewards were two fold: the cake itself with all its fragrance, flavour and texture, and a relaxed, happy mummy. Baking and decorating cakes was my mother's only opportunity for creativity and she made the most of it: when she died we found hundreds of photographs documenting her trajectory: birthday cakes iced to look like baskets of flowers, ballerinas, sports cars. As well as umpteen wedding and anniversary cakes she made for friends and friends of friends.
Kitchens, then, are warm, fragrant, happy places for me. So I tend to gravitate towards them. I love the hustle and bustle of bubbling pans; of chopping, adding, tasting and serving. The languor of rubbing butter into flour with cool fingers, peeling apples for a pie, creaming sugar and butter. I love mixing bowls, rolling pins with fragments from a historical paint-chart still visible on the handles, scrubbed table tops and chopping boards and thick cotton aprons. Every element of kitchen life acts like a moon.
My own kitchen with its scuffed floor and over-stuffed cupboards is the place I escape to when I need to relax. Like my mother before me I bake for therapy. Often as I try to work out how to get a character into a room I'll find myself craving Parkin or shortbread, and will end up in my green apron spooning cream of tartar into flour. When I get back to my desk with a slice of something still warm from the oven I'll just know how to write the piece.
Last Saturday, as I was struggling with haiku, lemon drizzle cake (thanks Nick!) kept imposing itself on my thoughts. Eventually I relented and donned my apron. I had never made lemon drizzle cake before and couldn't find a recipe. After trying to tempt myself with chocolate loaf cake, and failing, I decided to make it up by augmenting Nigella Lawson's 'Buttermilk Birthday Cake' recipe. The result may not have been a traditional lemon drizzle cake but it was divine:
The fun begins with choosing a bowl.
Organising the elements.
Creaming on an aproned lap.
Raw (I love the colour and texture of cake mix).
While the cake is in the oven there is syrup to make.
Reward ≠ 1: the first taste.
Back at my desk and reward ≠ 2: by the time I'd finished with it the lining paper was picked clean and,
reward ≠ 3: haiku made more sense.