I blame Nigel Slater. Were it not for his BBC show back in November, Nigel Slater’s Icing on the Cake (the third in a series that also includes candy and biscuits), I’d never even have heard of Caroline Taggart’s A Slice of Britain. But in his search for British cake, Slater encountered Taggert and her recent book, and he interviewed her for the show.
I must have this book, I exclaimed, and promptly ordered it from Amazon UK. Then when it arrived, I proceeded to sort of ignore it for a few months, reading it in short bursts but not really enjoying it. To be fair, as a purchased book, it became my default reading when I didn’t have a library book or a book for an assigned review on the go. As well, injuries sustained to my neck and shoulders in February actually made it hard for me to hold a book for a month or so, which meant that Taggart and her cakes were sorely neglected. It didn’t help that I wasn’t originally enamoured with Taggart’s writing style – it felt too “bloggy”; a string of personal experiences as she travelled England, Wales and Scotland, searching out local baked delicacies, as opposed to a more factual, third person account with a clearly outlined history of each cake.
Determined to give it a second chance, I sat down again recently and plowed through half the book in an afternoon. Taggart’s chatty style grew on me and I found A Slice of Britain to be an enjoyable read. The idea to look up each cake on Google as I read about it helped immensely. Taggart includes recipes for many of the cakes she discusses (and “cake” is a loose term here – the book includes everything from scones to cookies/biscuits and full on cakes such as the ubiquitous Victoria sponge, as well as things we’d classify in Canada as a “loaf”, plus some candy items that are made in cake form), but with so many British cakes containing roughly the same ingredients, a visual aide (the book contains sketches but no photographs) was incredibly useful in determining the difference between, say, a Bath Bun and a Lardy Cake. Because, make no mistake, the Brits, or at least the ones in olde tymes in charge of making cakes, surely did love their raisins and dried fruit.
Dear women of the Western world, please have some cake. That’s right, get up right now, and go get yourself something frosted and gooey and decorated to within an inch of its life. I implore you to treat yourself, just because it’s a crappy, cold, grey Monday.
However, if you go have cake, there are rules. First, no hiding the cake. No sneaking it back to your desk, or hiding in a closet while you devour it. Eat that baby out in the open, and to hell with what anyone else thinks! Second, you must eat the cake and then forget about it. No making yourself feel guilty, no calculating how many extra crunches you need to do to work it off. Third, no remorse, after the fact, when a skinny girl walks past you on the street, and you start thinking about how much closer you’d be to that “ideal” figure if only you’d not eaten that stupid delicious bit of pastry and frosting.
I kind of hate Valentine’s Day. In a world where we should all be saying “I love you” any chance we can get, or where buying a partner flowers or candy should/could be a regular occurrence, there’s just way too much pressure to fill one particular day with a year’s worth of romance and caring. And because most people are out of practice when it comes to showing others that they care about them, they fall back on “tradition” (aka. the tacky and clichéd). So while, in truth, I don’t have too much problem with a heart-shaped box of assorted chocolates (I actually like the orange creams), so much of what falls into the standard Valentine’s Day gift list (a dozen red roses, champagne, romantic dinner for two) sort of makes me retch. Or at least roll my eyes and groan – and not in a good way.
Now while I can’t help readers with the other issues aside from advising that a gift that suits the recipient’s tastes is better than a gift that is simply “traditional” (ie. buy a cool plant or a bouquet of their favourite flower instead of those tacky roses; skip the teddy bear unless the giftee is under the age of 10; and wait until Sunday and go for a lovely brunch instead of getting shafted on an overpriced V-Day dinner…), I am able to recommend some non-traditional sweets and candies that show a lot more thought and creativity than a gift picked up at the gas station.