blog, cake, Chichester, children, Crazy life stuff, egg white, homemade, meringue, Uncategorized, vanilla extract

On Approaching 40 & Acting Your Age

And what happens when you don’t.

Sometime just before my 38th birthday, I declared that I NEEDED a pair of quad rollerskates. I was going to relive the happy childhood I had, get fit and HAVE FUN doing it, goddammit.

My father was a Headteacher at a boarding school. We lived in a semi-haunted bungalow on top of a hill in the school compounds. I say semi haunted because I never saw anything but I gathered differently from the whispers I heard from the adults. My older brother, 8 years older than me was obviously privileged to these sort of information and everytime there was a power cut (this happened often) and he was in sole charge of me, he would frogmarch me down the hill to the guard’s Hut at the frontgate and insisted that we sat the until the power returned. Not that it really helped his nerves being there as there was one particular guard who saw it fit to reel out his spooky, eerie ghost stories about how the school field used to be the burial ground for Japanese soldiers and that some nights, he could actually see the tombs.

From time to time, normally during national exam periods when stress levels were spiking high, my father would be dragged out of the house at around dusk because the girls dormitories have relented to the Mexican wave of mass hysteria. It was hilarious, and eerie at the same time. You would hear one scream and before you know it, there would be a cacophony of screams and wailing and inconsolable sobbing emitting from numerous teenaged girls. Being a co-ed school, this is about the ONLY time it was permissible for the male students to enter the girls’ dormitory block and this they did. Swathes of 10st 8st puny boys rushing over, some still trying to secure their sarong (typical attire for evening wear) whilst putting forward their best attempt to be chivalrous. So, my father would get there and together with the Dorm teacher on duty, they would root out the ones who were being hysterical just because they could and finally get to the source of the hysteria. I’m not really sure what happened and what was done about it as it was never discussed, especially not with young girls like me then.

Anyway, I digress. What I was trying to get to was the fact that I never went to this school. In fact, I was being chauffeured daily to a Church owned Convent School in town, a school called the Holy Infant Jesus Convent School. It’s one of the privileges of having a head teacher for a father – strings could be pulled to make sure that you get into the best school around.

During my time off, I would spend a lot of my time cycling over to the neighbouring all male boarding school where my best friend lived. Her father was the head teacher there. Together with her little sister tagging along, we would cycle back from the main gate of my father’s school to the other side of the school, heading out the back gate and turning right down some undeveloped clay road leading to a small village on the outskirts of a forest. We would drop our bikes at the end of the village, which was fenced off from the forest and climb over.

You couldn’t really see the ground of the forest as it was overgrown with vegetations. Huge, leafy towering trees overpowered the surroundings and you could hear rustlings in the growth on the ground but I certainly never saw anything. There was a massive water pipe that ran from the gate to the never-never and my friends and I thought nothing of how dangerous it was that we were tiptoeing along this pipe which was probably some 10 feet above ground, going as far as we dared before turning back and returning to our bikes again.

I don’t think my parents knew that I even knew the village existed, let alone that I visited it often.

As I got a little bit older, and more chicken shit, I moved on to rollerskates – especially as the reality finally hit me that I was rubbish at cycling. I thought nothing of skating along the corridors of the classrooms while class was in session, and I would grant my father impromptu visits where I would sit in his chair at his table, maybe persuade him to take me to the canteen for a little of something. My favourite was the open basketball court. I was perfect for a good couple of hours of going round and round in circles, carried away in my thoughts, just existing and oblivious to the pupils who were trying to concentrate on their lesson.

The basketball court at Sekolah Menengah Tunku Ampuan Durah, Seremban

On my birthday, Slaveboy took me to Worthing so that he could buy me my first pair of adult rollerskates. Boy, haven’t they moved on a fair bit since I last owned a pair. Slaveboy didn’t really have any clue as to whether I could skate and was more than surprised to find me whizzing round the shop floor moments after lacing up the first pair. I left the shop with a pair of skates, elbow pads, knee pads, wrist guards and a bright yellow helmet with a silver skull design on it. It was badass. I felt like I was 7.

Two days later, I’d already made plans to go to my first roller derby fresh meat training. Slaveboy thought it might have been prudent for me to actually spend a few weeks getting my bearings but seriously, if I were that kinda girl, I wouldn’t have married him 6 weeks after getting together with him, would I?

The fresh meat training was at the most armpit arse end part of a particular town. Not Chichester. It was held at a Community Centre where they locked the door after 8pm. Slaveboy actually witnessed two youths walk into a grocery shop after him who went to get two crates of beer from the shelf and walked out again, only pausing long enough to assault the shopkeeper with a string of expletives.

But the roller derby girls were magnificent. They were encouraging, vibey and passionate. They came from all walks of lives and there wasn’t any Lycra in sight. Apart from at tattoo conventions, I’ve never seen more tattoos on a collective of females. The talk was filthy and locker-room style. Random quips about sniffing sweaty elbow pads and picking scabs. Supergirl y-fronts being worn as outerwear. You must have known girls in school who just didn’t play well with others? Well, they were all present and accounted for here, and they were all welcome.

Roller derby is hard, even harder when you have done NO exercise for years on end and you have just got over a major abdominal surgery. By the end of my first session, I literally had to crawl up to my bedroom and my legs were jelly in the morning. I was utterly banjaxed.

So jelly, that I fell over and twisted my thigh two days later on the way to the pub.

And did this to myself.

But I’m back there, still chugging along, realising that my body is taking a bit longer to respond to what I want it to do. Some friends who are with children and stable lifestyles think I am absolutely nuts to be doing this.

And they are probably right. I stand the chance of falling down and breaking my coccyx. There is a high probability of breaking my wrists and that would definitely affect all my plans to open a teashop.

But if you could do something that takes you back to that moment in time (and for me it was 11 year old Sponge, when my father was Daddy and he wasn’t this man who allegedly destroyed the family with his affair a year later and happiness was an a slice of cake with this ever so satiny textured buttercream icing) wouldn’t you want to do that again?

Which takes me to this cake really. Well, not so much the cake, but the icing. Back when my Mum baked, she would only bake mainly two things. Tiny little pineapple jam tarts and vanilla sponges. Her sponges were the fluffiest I’d ever tasted and it was my father’s favourite. He would extricate himself from his study where he spent a lot of his time writing and helped himself to a large strip of it. Not wedge. My Mum was never keen on baking round cakes. He would bake squares and he would have a strip of it. The only icing my Mum ever used was normal buttercream icing, if she were to use any icing but my favourite buttercream came from a cakeshop outside my primary school. It would be light, smooth and quite buttery. I never knew what it was called.

And years after moving to England, you would find me trying out cakes, hoping to rediscover this icing again. It was only when I started baking seriously myself (around 2-3 years ago) that I started reading up on Swiss meringue buttercream and Italian Meringue Buttercream. I was sure that this must be the icing from my childhood and I have not been disappointed.

Now, the main difference between the two is that Swiss meringue buttercream requires you to cook the egg white and sugar mixture while Italian meringue buttercream instructs you to turn the sugar into syrup and mix it into stiffly whipped egg whites.

The one I am going to share with you is the Swiss one as I find the Italian one a little more fiddly as you are dealing with hot sugar syrup which a) burns and numpty here can’t stop dipping her finger into it to check that it really is hot, an b) hot sugar syrup sets upon contact with the cold steel Kenwood mixer bowl.

You will need a table top mixer for this as even with one, you will be plagued with the surely life is too short moments. Just be strong, and keep the faith.

I am using Sweetapolita’s recipe, so please do give her blog some loving when you get to her link at the bottom of this post.

Set your bowl on a pan of simmering water. Do not let it boil otherwise you will scramble your eggs. Having a sugar thermometer will help significantly. What you are aiming for is 140F when the sugar and eggs are well mixed and mixture no longer grainy

One the temperature is achieved, you transfer the bowl to your table top mixer and whisk it with the balloon whisk attachment. You want to get it to the peaked meringue stage and for the bowl to be neutral in temperature

Like so. This is when it is ready. At this point, you have cooked meringue. You can lick the balloon whisk. Yes, really, you can. Go on. Get nice and sticky.

Change over to the paddle beater. Start adding the butter a cube at a time, allowing each cube to be well combined.

This is probably the time when you will be freaking out cos the misfire looks like sloppy blancmange. Have faith, young Jedi. We only have the attempt and the attempt is all that we have. Savour the journey. (Not Yoda, but some quote from a crappy B list American film with Joe Lynn Turner in it. He had long hair. Some groupie stole his knob from off his tour bus. Of the door variety.

And it actually gets like this around 2/3rds into adding the butter.

Tis done. Takes a awhile. But worth it. If you are going to chill it, whip it again before you go to use it or it will be cottage cheese-like in consistency.

To achieve this style, you need a Wilton #103 petal tip. Start from the bottom with the narrow end of the tip pointing outwards and just layer it on, moving from side to side. It is actually a relatively easy method and it looks very effective.

Sweetapolita’s Swiss Meringue Buttercream post


6 thoughts on “On Approaching 40 & Acting Your Age

  1. OUCH, that cut looks mighty painful!

    I used to have a pair of bright pink and purple roller skates, and my dad used to take me rollerskating every Sunday (I think in Milton Keynes), so much fun! One of my fav moments used to be when they called everyone off to let the ‘speed skaters’ only go on, and I was always in such great awe of them.

    All your talk of roller derby is really making me itch to try it out!!

    Hungry Jenny x

  2. Aida you never cease to amaze me! I absolutely love reading your blog and I to did a bit of roller skating but am too nervous to do it now – better o have built up my confidence when I was younger I guess but I admire your tenacity and determination. Sorry about your Dad, such a shame when the person you loved lets you down big time. But life is full of twists and turns and we learn from it. The Meringue buttercream looks fab – so delicious and tempting – must try it when I’m not attempting to shift my middle aged spread!

    • Yes, sides first. For the top, I used a normal 6 point star icing tip, I think. Just try to get the ruffles on the side to come right up to the top before finishing it off.

  3. Pingback: This Is Our 2011 « Sniff & Snort

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