I like to try to remain positive whatever life throws at me and I like to think I make a pretty good stab at it. Last week, however, something happened which sucked the positivity out of me for a while at least.
|The gruffalo was fun to make
Although I am not a great cook I do enjoy cooking for the family and experimenting with new recipes. I also love baking and typically make more cakes than are strictly good for us. There has been the odd disaster (such as the time that I bought kelp powder masquerading as matcha powder for use in some green tea cupcakes. I had to convince the kids that the seaweed cupcakes really were yummy!) but by and large I am a competent hand and turn out reliably tasty stuff even in the face of some true ingredient challenges.
|Kelp cupcakes... not really a success (although we
conned the kids into eating them).
When we arrived in Ipoh I felt very let down by our landlord who having promised to provide a proper oven declared when we arrived with family and stuff in tow that a tabletop one would be more than sufficient. I could cope with the filthy house, the lack of running water and the leaking roof but the lack of (promised) oven really got to me. He had us over a barrel given that we were on a quick move and some of the other houses we had seen had no walls. Our company had paid deposits and signed contracts on our behalf and as we could not move into a hotel with the dogs we just had to suck it up. Everything else was remedied, the house cleaning paid for etc and they did buy me a slightly bigger table top oven when I threatened to withhold a percentage of rent but it is not particularly good. It has no fan function, has a single shelf and while it has top and bottom elements to make up for that I have not yet mastered the knack of getting it to cook evenly. There is a spit for roasting but if I use that I can’t roast off potatoes at the same time (although there is barely space to get a duck in the oven) and the spit does not work for cakes.
|The dragon took ages (but it was green tea not seaweed flavoured)
To add to my expat kitchen woes I have a fairly useless hob, it has three burners but only one works properly and that has an ‘on’ ‘off’ function with no temperature control. These are real expat/first world problems. I have food in the larder and a means of cooking it so by that measure we are wealthy beyond belief. Nevertheless suffice to say that I am not getting much pleasure from cooking at the moment and I know I am turning out some fairly inferior meals. I am currently on the hunt for simmer plates to get some control over my gas hob but they are not a popular item in Malaysia and I get blank stares everywhere I ask for them.
|Hello Kitty was fine
|But in the absence of writing icing her cupcake siblings' whiskers took hours
The oven can just about cope with cupcakes although the ones at the back are always a little better done than the ones in the front a judicious use of icing deals with that problem. This year, as normal I sent my daughter in for the first day of school with cakes for her class. In every other school these have been lapped up but my daughter was rather upset to tell me that most of the children just threw them in the bin when she said that we had made them together. They wanted bakery standard or not at all! Now admittedly these were not the most beautiful cakes we have ever made but that is because our daughter wanted to help me so we decided to go for something simple (pink sprinkles) rather than a challenging design for her to get frustrated with. Her good friends had a few extra and the staff and security guards seemed to enjoy their ones so all was not lost.
|The butterfly was popular
She had asked for a grown up cake as opposed to a ‘design’ for her family cake so a chocolate sponge (slightly charred on one side and just cooked on the other) was covered in icing and decorated with strawberries much to her delight.
|A grown up cake for a 7 year old girl
The real disappointment came the next day. Having collected the older two from school I set about making the baby’s first birthday cake. I usually make a spiced pound cake for the baby as an iced cake is too sweet for someone age 1, I then decorate it with some writing icing. Our older daughter had a butterfly and I had a small sunflower tin ready to do duty for the small cake, I had visions of outlining the leaves in icing and filling the centre with some sugar flowers I had picked up in the shop. It would be beautiful! Sadly my oven had other ideas. I had enough mix for two tins, the sunflower and a loaf both to go in at the same time, I have made this exact recipe with these exact tins many times before with perfect results every time. Disaster struck – the tops and bottoms of the cakes cooked well enough but in some feat unknown to culinary physics my oven and I managed to arrange for the centres to completely fail to cook. When I gave up and took them out of the oven after double the usual time the sunflower collapsed in a mound, the top tasted like speculaas biscuit (I am quite proud as I have loved these since I was a child and always failed to make them when I try), the centre like a sort of wet, uncooked spiced pudding mix. It was clearly an unmitigated disaster. The loaf which had been intended to do lunch box duty for the rest of the week fared a little bit better; it at least held its outer form although the centre collapsed spectacularly. Not wanting to cook another cake at 7.30pm we filled the centre with cream and strawberries, put a candle in the middle and sang happy birthday. The baby loves strawberries so she was quite happy, but the cake was, sadly, completely inedible.
|The worst birthday cake in the world!
I now feel rather guilty that our third child had no proper birthday cake and I feel vaguely resentful of my kitchen which has sucked a lot of the fun out of one of my hobbies. I am trying to put a positive spin on it but failing at this point in time, nevertheless I know I need to stop the 'pity party' soonish. I have managed to bake better cakes where I have had to use a substitute for every single ingredient but this oven has stymied me. I guess I could look on it as just another expat challenge.
Posted as part of the My Expat Family Link Up.
Posted as part of the My Expat Family Link Up.