Words: George Browne (He/Him)
As the sun begins its descent on a Sunday afternoon, a student kitchen is a place one never wishes to reside. The residue of the previous night oft remains: alcohol clings to your feet and sweat is embedded in the walls. You walk around muttering ‘never again, never ever again’ in a half-functioning state. The forthcoming week, while being tinged with the failure of the last one, offers a fresh set of carpes to be diemed. The opportunity to dispense of old habits and begin anew.
One particular weekend I was offered the opportunity to begin this weekly rejuvenation of self early, on a Sunday evening at a ‘Potluck’. Come Sunday lunch time conversational thermometers were inserted into ‘The Chat’, to check the group’s general mood had not become overdone over the course of the weekend. With the affirmative replies of: ‘yes’, ‘yer’, ‘yassss’, the dishes were delegated.
Now, to volunteer one’s own kitchen as the meeting point for this collection of culinary curations brings with it a guaranteed level of commendation; ‘Thnx for yday’, ‘Thank you for last night – so nice!’, etc., etc. Yet, while this praise is inevitable so too are certain adversities including but not limited to:
- Providing the meal’s centrepiece.
- An amount of washing up that far exceeds what any other attendees will receive.
- The act of returning, at minimum, one piece of crockery left behind by someone who has ‘so much on this week’.
Now one can skirt away from work in a communal situation such as this one and be the provider of a meagre side dish, or, more specifically, a salad. Yet, to occupy this role reflects very badly on one’s own character and can often cause one to be deemed little more than a tosser.
I realise at this point I have not revealed the role that befell me at this conference of flavours. My volunteering for this position was, if I may say so myself, gallant; it brings with it, though perhaps not recognisable by the more casual chef, a set of most delicate requirements. I am, of course, talking about the dessert. A dish which must in all circumstances fulfil the following criteria:
- Do not usurp the main course in either style or substance e.g. one cannot overhear ‘Oh, the crumble stole the show’ when someone has slaved away on a beef bourguignon.
- Fall within the ever-expanding list of dietary requirements – vegetarianism, gluten-free, lactose intolerant et al.
- Be achievable within an oven that pre-dates the fan setting.
One must understand that desert serves not as the leading figure but instead the enabler, the sidekick. We cannot all be Marx, some must be Engels. With this knowledge in my mind I decided on one of the more simple pleasures in life: Lemon Meringue Pie. An exquisite delicacy of lemons and meringues in a pie. Would this production of a ‘delicacy’ intrude past my clearly defined role as ‘sidekick’ or ‘enabler’ – would it paint me as a figure of pretentiousness? Yet one cannot deny this specific pie has a certain je ne sais quoi. Tu vois ce que je veux dire, chef à chef. Désolé, je m’aperçois que je me suis laissé emporter. No, Lemon Meringue Pie simply will not do. Now with the sun having finished its descent and time suddenly becoming an issue I settled on Tiramisu and strode, at double pace, to the shops.
As the automatic doors eloquently greeted my arrival I was immediately confronted with a dilemma that would have caused the more amateur chef to simply give up: they were out of both double and single cream. Yet one’s ability to improvise, make the most of what one has in the pantry, distinguishes the chef from the cook. With this confidence I reached for the Crème fraîche and returned home.
It was as I grated the third layer of chocolate onto the top layer of Crème fraîche glázè a feeling of dismay overcame me: how could I bring a cold desert in this most wintery of months! It would not do! With this I turned once again to the inspiration of spontaneity and threw the Tiramisu into the oven at 200 degrees for ten minutes. Within these ten minutes an eternity elapsed. I paced the kitchen questioning whether I may have committed the greatest faux pas or broken new culinary ground.
The timer went off and I threw myself at the oven. It appeared that the chocolate layer had melted into the crème fraîche. ‘Voila! Voila!’ I cried to the utensils who rattled a requiem of admiration back. Surely, to not taste this creation would be a sin in itself so I allocated myself half a tea-spoon. Mmm, oh, maybe, I would, hmm, say maybe, unique and interesting, oh actually, yurk, oh god, oh no, no! I launched the half tea-spoon of this dish, no longer be-fitting the name of Tiramisu, from my mouth at the nearest receptacle.
The beauty of the dream vanished, and a breathless horror of disgust filled my mouth. What was I to do! Alas, only inspiration remained – I raided every cupboard for brown powders and pastes that would disguise my abominable creation. Decaf coffee, cocoa powder, breadcrumbs, bovril, caster sugar. I loosely placed a layer of tin foil over my creation and fled to Finnieston.
My finger cautiously approached the buzzer. For all the troubles I had experienced on this most grave of Sundays, one still remained for a strong gust of wind shot down the street removing not only the tin-foil but the tiramisu from my hands. A cacophony occurred. As I stared down at my fragmented failure that was rapidly releasing heat into the frosty evening I realised that only one option remained – I’ll just run to Tesco. After all there is something truly avant-garde about a shop-bought dessert.