Go your own way

Sometimes even Famale can’t be bothered baking. A hangover, work and romantic re-thinking (not in that order) has led to what Rihanna calls ‘exhaustion’. She can sit and tweet a picture of a drip hanging out of her veins but the rest of us small-office workers just have to get on with it. The only sweet treat I have been enjoying for the last few days is a very synthetic ice-cream sundae made with said synthetic vanilla ice-cream, purchased in dehydrated haste after almost sabotaging my vote on May 3. Mamma and Papa Famale work at elections. I on the other hand can now not work out numbers 1-7 let alone 16 of my previous numerical baking party. “You’re just the kind of person we dread coming in” PF said, with a sad look of someone who has financed a very expensive education apparently in vain. So cheap ice-cream and cheap raspberry sauce were bought and devoured. The man in Morrisons and I discussed the virtues of raspberry v strawberry sauce until I had to politely skunk off into the butter aisle. If only I had paid as much attention to my ballot paper. Never mind, all is well in local politics. And now all is well in the Famale kitchen as I am heartened by the smell of two little Madeira cakes baking slowly in the oven. I have adapted the amazing Nigella Lawson’s original recipe after a hankering for apricots. So I’ll wait until I’ve done the taste test to put up the recipe. For now, it is 11pm Scottish time and I am heading towards bedrest. Tomorrow I am taking a short flight to another country to have a very required holiday from the very small office and some much needed reunions with some much-adored friends. I’m waiting up to put the cakes to bed…off you Famale family go to yours, and hello and g’day to the less sleepy family members on the other side of the world.

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I wanna be with you everywhere

If Famale were in a band, it would have been Fleetwood Mac. Spending the morning watching a documentary about the explosive group and eating Oreos and pears is my idea of bliss. To shun a corporate life of small hot offices and key fobs for life on the road, sometimes for 18 months at a time, is my idea of bravery. Saturday mornings are not for moving an inch. Not more than to the kitchen for supplies. Weekdays for The Corporates are neither interesting nor brave. They are also not conducive to creativity. But on Saturdays I can lock the door, stay in bed til 2pm and start baking at 3pm. Like musicians, bakers cannot bake at the click of a finger. Bad moods and rushing equals tough pastry and heavy sponges. Martin, being my personality polar opposite is shunning the more spiritual aspect of my advice. A very early morning text inquiring about Sophie’s birthday cupcakes kicked started my Saturday. He and Lawyer Laura are going to an engagement party tonight deep in the Scottish borders and they’re providing the sugar. But advice to only start baking at 3pm while listening to the Dermot O’Leary show on BBC Radio 2 fell on deaf fingers. So he will have 24 delicious cupcakes, but if they have the Famale light touch or not remains to be eaten. I on the otherhand have a very special visitor tonight. But that calls for a good bottle of Sangiovese, not butter icing. We might sample some of these delicious Empire Biscuits I made today but there are more important topics at hand…

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Breaking point

The very small office is far too hot for tea. Which poses the question – what does one drink at work all day? Water comes in plastic cups which is entirely uncivilised. Too many Diet Cokes make me jumpy. More than one disgusting Fairtrade coffee (for everything Fairtrade tastes of poverty) will send me over the edge into nausea. So tea is the only option but can it be done? Is it appropriate for a temp to bring in their own mug? Office etiquette is a minefield of property law. Ownership of ceramic goods, chairs and staplers is a very important topic and one which I do not enter into. The very process of making tea is a nice negation of these humdrum concerns. It is now the only acceptable time-wasting activity. Once upon a time smokers ruled. People even pretended to be smokers just to get the extra breaks. So making tea is a good eight minutes of time away from filing. And okay it’s Fairtrade but it’s free and drinkable. At casa Famale I would have drunk around four cups of tea by lunchtime. It soothes, it heals, it’s just plain delicious. It’s the most democratic of social networking the world over. And I don’t discriminate – I drink Scottish tea at breakfast time, Earl Grey in the afternoon and the odd cup of herbal in-between. I enjoy a cup straight before bed, much to the disgust of a certain ex-leading man who did not partake in the tea ritual and drank juice like a little boy. He thought tea-drinking was some sort of evil, or at least a weakness. He was not the man for me of course, and it only took four months of caffeine deprivation to find that out. There is nothing better than sticking on the kettle for the people you love. So non-hot beverage drinkers, stay away. You are not welcome, and your blood surely runs cold.

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Sunshine on Leith

In the words of Laurie from Little Women, my recipes are “mediocre copies of another man’s genius.” The only man I take baking advice from is James Martin. Sure, he can’t read an autocue, but boy can he bake. And I only ever wrote down my recipes for one man. I share my recipes here with my Famale family all the time, inspired by well-known bakers, bloggers and hereditary secrets. But I did actually write a cookbook once. It wasn’t worthy of publication, and Julia Child (R.I.P) wouldn’t have felt threatened, but it was all my own work. In the absence of any real worries (money aside) I often think I am simply imitating other people’s work. But we all have to start somewhere. We need a blueprint, especially with something as scientific as baking. I had made some really good peanut butter cookies a while ago from the Hummingbird Bakery book. So I used that recipe and a few others as the foundation. The result was not what I wanted. The first batch fell apart, from being too liberal with the butter, but the resident Famale hedgehog didn’t complain. I had used up all his peanut butter, so I apologised by leaving out some very greasy cookies. He was witnessed by Mamma Famale and I at 10.30pm on Saturday night tucking in. Hedgehogs are notoriously fussy creatures, so that’s good enough validation for me, a mere human. But the second batch were perfect – crisp, half-peanut butter, half-really dark chocolate. If you know something is worth it, you have to give it a second chance. The man I wrote my cookery book for actually learned how to cook from it. It’s definitely time to add a few more pages.

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Pig tales

Famale is good in emergency situations. None more so than answering the call for some last-minute birthday cakes. I say cake plural because the birthday girl is a big fan of cupcakes. So Famale Sister Junior and I did a post-work dash to M&S for some sweets and caster sugar. Sophie was arriving at 7pm and had had a wash-out birthday on Thursday with morning sickness. So we had to give our Soph a Famale kitchen party to remember. For the non-British, Percy Pigs are something of a phenomenon. They started out as humble sweets for kids by the ever-delicious M&S and have turned into a super-brand. They taste and look delightful on cakes as I have proven many times. All adults love kids’ sweets – it’s feeding the inner child what it really wants. So a quick batch of my usual bun recipe in greedy-sized muffin cases, a tonne of salty-sweet vanilla buttercream frosting and an array of teeth-rotting, eye-popping sweeties on top…happy 22nd birthday Sophie!

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Fat free

Famale is now gainfully employed. For a very short time only, I work in a very warm little office and I am glad. It’s true, I’m a drifter. However, my biggest decisions to flee have also been my worst. And I’m not talking about being a factotum, Bukowski-style. I’m talking soul decisions, the ones that hurt your very bones when you know they’re wrong. But as I’m starting to see, these decisions can be recalled. My fellow office-dwellers are very very nice but I found out something quite shocking about them. As they both munched their way through a multipack of salt and vinegar Chipsticks, they noted casually that they don’t like chocolate. They don’t even want baking. They want salt, and to look at wedding dresses in their lunch break. So what does a temporary, wedding-phobic, baking-obsessed sweet-tooth with a fear of greasy fingers do? Well, I couldn’t join in – think of the keyboard germs. I couldn’t judge, because the one thing a girl doesn’t do in a new office is mock women’s diets or lack thereof. I feel lost without my spatula, bereft of my usual role as office baker. In my last office, my baking legacy lasted longer than my office romance. In the one before that, my chocolate cake was celebrated on a weekly basis. On a Friday, my editor would “get the cakes in.” Even the office cleaners were at it! The strange but sweet couple who cleaned our office were so physically dirty that we couldn’t possibly risk their home baking efforts. But just to have it brought in to be shared was truly in the Famale spirit. What wasn’t was when I ditched the inedible loaf cake the husband had made in a bin up the high street. Every day was cake day, but not in this office. I know beggars can’t be choosers, but surely beggars can still enjoy a little dolce?

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Fly me to the moon

Now, you know I’m no food snob. I don’t like restaurants and dinner last night was macaroni cheese and tomato ketchup straight from the pan. So it should come as no surprise to the Famale family that one of my most favourite sweet treats is also the most simple. Mars Bar Krispy. It’s Lawyer Laura’s favourite and I’ve never met anyone who doesn’t like it. I even enjoy the badly made versions in cafes and the attempts that don’t work at bake sales. Some people cover theirs with cooking chocolate – I prefer 100s and 1000s. For the princely sum of £1 at a Scottish discount shop near you (Home Bargains) you can be the proud user of said sprinkles and their lesser cousins vermicelli, pink glitter etc, all in one handy shaker. Did anyone see the newspaper debate over whether or not ‘edible’ glitter is indeed edible? Who cares. Mamma Famale wasn’t overly fastidious about things being edible, or germs for that matter when we were growing up and it’s done me no harm. Apart from a cleaning obsession verging on OCD and severe hayfever. Well, you can always blame the parents. But there is no blame or guilt attached to these little delights. Very Scottish, very unhealthy and therefore very fa male.

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Me gustas tu

Most of The Diploma as it is unfondly known consists of role-play. Me and Steph feel that we have just completed a very expensive amateur dramatics course instead of leaving with any real law knowledge imparted. For my last act, Famale will play the role of mediator. To fully immerse myself in this softly-softly character, a nice sweater is in order. While rooting around one of my favourite charity shops yesterday I found just the ticket. And best of all? It’s food-themed! I just couldn’t resist this bizarre little number with its unknown Italian designer label and 80’s shoulders. There is one drawback however- it smells of my high school Spanish teacher. And that’s one blow not even the best mediator could soften.

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A special relationship

Life is too short to sever all ties through stubbornness. Love and friendship can be reignited with the right attitude and some good old-fashioned honesty. Some things are just meant to go together. This extends to the kitchen, where alchemy takes place naturally without the need for Heston-style trickery. Our American cousins are to thank for the now classic combination of cookies and cream. I wasn’t so sure about the deliciousness of Oreo cookies until I bought some yesterday and ate three with a glass of cold Scottish milk. The dark, almost black cookie is the perfect encasing for the synthetic vanilla cream. The Famale family has been joined by some lovely baking obsessives from over the Atlantic in the last few months, and it is they who inspired yesterday’s baking. I can’t take credit for the recipe – that goes to Lorraine Pascale. But the Scots and the Americans have always had an affinity. I had a real, live cowboy relative in Wyoming (until he died). And Casa Famale has echoed with American voices right from childhood: Sesame Street, Sabrina The Teenage Witch, Clarissa Explains It All, Keenan and Kel, Two Of A Kind, Sister Sister, Dawson’s Creek, Friends, Frasier, Gossip Girl, Sex and the City, The Good Wife, Mad Men, Homeland. How we managed to fit school in between these and countless other shows is beyond me. Famale fell out with America over ridiculous Bush and the eventual smugness of Friends. But Obama and Mad Men brought it back, and like true love, my relationship with America is here to stay.

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Starring roles

For the newest members of the Famale family, I thought it would be a good idea to introduce you to our cast of characters. Unlike Nigella and her fake multi-ethnic friend grouping, these people actually exist.

Mamma Famale

Loves: Anything homemade, making traybakes.

Hates: Cooking, mess left behind after baking.

Roles: Food-purchasing, cleaning, therapist.

Papa Famale

Loves: Big portions, trying baking before it’s ready, all baking.

Hates: Small portions, cheesecake.

Roles: Financing Famale, driver, emergency shopper, food taster.

Famale Sister Senior 

Loves: All baking, learning to bake, meringues.

Hates: Her too-small kitchen.

Roles: Taster, morale-booster, mother of Famale Junior and BB aka Baby Ben.

Famale Sister Junior

Loves: Behind-the-scenes observation and testing.

Hates: Mince.

Roles: Constructive criticism, social media expert, suggestions.

Martin – brother of Famale

Loves: Cooking, red wine.

Hates: Ice cream.

Roles: Literary consultant.

Lawyer Laura – Martin’s girlfriend.

Loves: Dairy Milk, all chocolate, home baking on a Sunday.

Hates: Dodgy office baking, ice-cream, meringues, strawberries.

Roles: Speed-reader, honest taster.

Famale Junior

Loves: Helping with “the cooking”, small aprons, licking the spoon.

Hates: Boring real food.

Roles: Kitchen assistant.

Antonella

Loves: The silliness of Famale, foreign beer, Italian food, Neil Diamond.

Hates: The Scottish diet.

Roles: Making Famale laugh, proofreading, London adviser.

Lindy

Loves: Famale’s fairy-light baking, Le Creuset cookware.

Hates: Lasagne, when her baking doesn’t work.

Roles: Fellow baking enthusiast, listening post, emergency supplies.

Mamma Morrison – Lindy’s mum

Loves: Cleaning, tidying, The Glasgow Cookery Book.

Hates: Dirt, mess, deep-frying.

Roles: Home economist, recipe adviser.

Don

Loves: Chicken, pop-culture references, Italy.

Hates: Carbs, Famale’s ramblings.

Roles: Dining companion, holiday companion.


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