Wednesday, September 1, 2010

On Plans and Cakes

Today's entry is largely a chronicle of failure.

I am aware that I probably eat too much meat, and in an attempt to do something about this, I've instituted the meat-free Wednesday rule: whatever we eat on a Wednesday can't have any meat in it, although that doesn't mean that it has to be vegan or even strictly vegetarian. Fish is okay, although it's slightly a cop-out. Since tonight I was only going to be cooking for myself, the Tortemeisterin having made other plans, I had decided last night that I would go old-school vegetarian and make falafel in pita with hummus. From scratch, too.

So last night I put some dried broad beans and chickpeas in to soak. Why broad beans? I hear you ask. Because Claudia Roden, who is my goddess in the matter of Middle Eastern finger food, advises in the Book of Jewish Food that the best falafel are made not with chickpeas but with soaked, dried broad beans. Fair enough, you ask, but in that case, why chickpeas as well? Because I wanted to be able to compare the two.

The first thing I did to make things difficult for myself later on was to put them both to soak in the same bowl. Why was this a stupid idea? Because if, later on, I wanted to make two different kinds of falafel, I was going to have to unpick the broad beans from the chickpeas, which would take time and therefore put my eventual eating time even further back.
The next thing I did to make things difficult for myself was go out in the middle of the day to have a coffee in the Elephant House and then go to the library to do a bit of preliminary swotting for my Greek class that starts in October, but then not do a proper shop on the way home. The result was that by the time the fussy one had been put to bed and I was good to go with making falafel, it was 8.20PM and I realised that I had no hummus, flat-leaf parsley or spring onions. This meant that a trip to Scotmid was in order. It was at this point that the Tortemeisterin asked a superficially shallow and cynical but actually, as it would turn out, very important, complex and difficult question, which was this:

'Why bother?'

'Because,' I replied with what I imagined was rocklike integrity, 'I've started making it so I'm gonna finish.' This was, in many respects, quite untrue. I had only got as far as soaking the pulses and buying pita bread. I had originally planned to make hummus too, from scratch, but as the evening had worn on it had become pretty obvious that there wouldn't be much hope of cooking chickpeas, cooling them sufficiently and blending them with my ample supplies of tahini in time to have usable hummus by 10pm or so. So, for the hummus, I was going to get some in Scotmid.

But already, the falafel-making plan was becoming perhaps fatally compromised. I took the rubbish out and made my way downstairs, fully intending to pillage Scotmid for all the hummus, flat-leaf parsley and spring onions they had. But I was barely out the door, carrying a bag of rubbish down the road in the cool blue autumn twilight, before I realised that there would be very little chance that Scotmid was going to have any flat-leaf parsley at this time of the evening. Their fresh herb supplies are erratic at the best of times and it's not unusual for even the herbs they have to be black and slimy before you've even bought them. If I had really wanted flat-leaf parsley, I should have gone to the greengrocer on Home Street, who sells the stuff in fat, verdant bunches but who closes at 7pm.

Okay, I told myself. This whole plan rests on whether or not Scotmid has flat-leaf parsley. You can't make falafel without flat-leaf parsley. It is an integral part of the whole thing. If they don't have it, it's plan B, whatever plan B is.

I arrived at Scotmid, picked up a basket and headed for the fresh herbs. And I looked, and I saw that it was in one way bad, because they didn't have flat-leaf parsley but only mint, coriander (my least favourite leaf in the universe) and basil, but in another way good, because it meant that I was no longer obliged to make falafel this evening, and therefore stood a reasonable chance of eating some time before 10.30pm. And when I did finally get to eat something, it wouldn't be bloody falafel, which I like, but which shouldn't be anything like this much trouble.

Which is why I bought a few beers, came home and ordered a Neptune pizza from Italian Connection in Bruntsfield. It has fish in it, so the no-meat rule is observed. The moral of this story? Darwin was right. Those individual members of a given species that adapt best to changing circumstances ensure the survival of the species as a whole.

The day wasn't totally wasted, culinarily speaking. Earlier on, I had been attracted by a big packet of raw peanuts in Sainsbury's that said 'perfect for home roasting'. I bought a packet, came home and roasted some (20 minutes on a baking tray at 200C, or 180C in our case cause we have a fan oven). The results were crunchy, complex and delicious and quite unlike the rather flubby taste and texture of a raw peanut. See the pictures for comparison. In both cases, the peanuts on the left are raw, the ones on the right are roasted.

It has come to my attention that I have been referring to the Tortemeisterin's prowess at cake-making but haven't posted any evidence of it. Here it is. On how and why she made these particular cakes, she refuses to go into any detail other than that they were kid's parties and "It's amazing what you can find on YouTube."

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