When I was eleven, I went on a school trip to France.
It was the first time that I visited Paris – a few short hours in between two five hour coach journeys. We saw the Bayeux Tapestry and spent a day admiring the cathedral in Rouen. I was, needless to say, very lucky to go on such a trip but, looking back, what I really remember was how much I didn’t want to be there.
It wasn’t so much that I didn’t want to be in France but I was just so bored of my life. The trip came towards the end of my last year at junior school; it was considered a final hurrah before we all moved onwards. Exams were done with and our new school uniforms had been bought. Come September, we – I and the people who had been my friends for nearly my whole life – would all be going our own separate ways.
Honestly? I couldn’t wait.
What I remember from that time in my life is how strong my desire to escape was; the knowledge that I had outgrown my current surroundings and was anxiously waiting for the next chapter to begin. I wanted to be grown up, to meet new people and have new experiences. To see how far and how high I could leap.
The first morning of our trip, one of the staff in the youth hostel where we staying – a French teenage boy who we all obviously feel in love with – showed us how he ate his yoghurt every morning. He tipped the pot into a bowl and spooned in some sugar before mixing the two together. I remember the contrast between the smooth yogurt and the crunch of the sugar, between the tartness and the sweetness. For a while, I thought that was how all French people ate yoghurt.
When I was in France with my family a few months later, I insisted on buying the same yoghurts and eating it like that, with a spoonful of sugar, and I felt so sophisticated. That summer, I made friends with the girl who was staying next door. She was a couple of years older than me and spent the summer working her way through a reading list that she had been given at school. This idea excited me hugely; I plied her with questions about what it was like to go to a proper school. I looked forward to the day when I’d be filled with the importance of having my own summer reading list (needless to say, when I was given my own reading lists in the years that followed, I never actually read anything on them. The next summer, my reading consisted of Sylvia Plath and Elizabeth Wurtzel which weren’t exactly the type of books that were recommended by my English teacher).
I don’t think I realised how much of the essence of our characters is there – is manifest – from such an early age. Emotions and behaviours that we may dismiss as childish whims are sometimes a blueprint for the way we behave now. The excitement of that time in my life, the anticipation. That’s something I still feel. The itchy feet and desire for something new, for something fresh. That’s something I feel right now.
It makes me realise that however grown up I am, or like to think I am, really I’m still that eleven year old girl.
Now I don’t have this same long and convoluted thought process every time I eat yoghurt and, you’ll be glad to know, I no longer eat it with a generous helping of sugar but I do still have a deep and abiding love for the stuff.
I had this cake when we celebrated my brother’s birthday at Moro back in the summer. The food at Moro, and its more casual restaurant next door, Morito, is splendid and some of my favourite in London. The flavours are slightly Spanish, slightly North African, slightly Middle Eastern and very delicious.
This cake, made with yoghurt and served with plenty more, really celebrates it as an ingredient. The tang of the yoghurt is enlivened by a generous helping of lemon and orange zest and a little texture from the pistachios scattered on top. It’s cooked in a water bath so the base sets, like a mousse or a custard, which you cut through a layer of fluffy sponge to get to. It’s lovely warm but I think I may slightly prefer it cold when the flavours seem brighter.
A couple of small notes on this recipe. I cut the recipe down to make a small cake for two people. On reflection, the dish I used (which I meant to measure but is about 20cm x 10cm at a guess) was a little too big and, as a result, my cake was a tad too thin. I probably would have been better off baking it in two ramekins so that it was deeper and there was more of a contrast between the cake at the top and the barely-set custard underneath. This cake was also slightly orange which I put down to the quite remarkable hue of the egg yolk that I used.
If you do want to make a full-size one, the recipe in the The Guardian serves six but I should point out that there is a slight error in the copy and it misses out the fact that you should only beat the egg yolk with half the sugar and reserve the rest for the egg white. As I was dealing with small quantities of egg yolks and whites, I used a handheld whisk. You could, of course, use an electric mixer (although bear in mind that you will need two bowls).
On a completely different note, I do hope that all of you who are have been in the path of Sandy are doing okay. I can’t even begin to imagine what it must have been like for you.
1/2 teaspoonvanilla bean paste (or extract at a pinch)
Zest and juice of 1/2 alemon
Zest of 1/2 anorange
120g (about 1/2 a cup)yoghurt (I used a 80:20 mix of natural yoghurt and greek yoghurt but all natural or greek yoghurt thinned down with milk will also do)
2 teaspoonsflour (I used spelt as it was on hand but you could easily make it gluten free)
A handful of unshelledpistachios, roughly chopped
Natural yoghurt, to serve
Preheat the oven to 180C/350F (fan). Place of pan of water in the oven to serve as a bain-marie (ie make sure your baking tin will fit inside it…)
In a bowl, whisk the egg yolk with half the sugar until thick and creamy. Add the vanilla, lemon zest and juice, orange zest, yoghurt and flour and continue to whisk until combined.
In a separate bowl, whisk the egg yolk with the rest of the sugar until stiff peaks form. Fold the egg whites into the egg yolk mixture.
Pour the batter into a small baking tin, dish or two ramekins. Place in the bain-marie ensuring that the water comes halfway up the side and bake for 20 minutes.
After 20 minutes, quickly sprinkle the top with the pistachios and bake for another 15 – 20 minutes until the top is golden and firm to the touch. The underneath should remain more liquid so the old skewer trick won’t work here.
In my day job, which I don’t really talk about here, I spend most of my time looking for connections and patterns. I piece together fragments of information to make a whole, creating order from a tangled mess. It’s a part of the job that I’ve always relished; taking at a string of seemingly random coincidences and discovering how everything links together.
As I’ve got older and more experienced (I hesitate to say wiser), I’ve come to realise that it’s not a bad metaphor for life.