I watched Saturday Kitchen yesterday, for the first time in ages. I'm afraid I find cooking shows boring these days; everyone has an opinion and everyone is suddenly an expert. I enjoyed watching Rick Stein but more for the French scenery than the cooking, not that there was much - a few ripe figs covered with creme fraiche, sugar and vanilla isn't exactly cooking - but I appreciated the simplicity and I'm sure they tasted wonderful. 

The following programme was another cooking show with Lorraine Pascal. I have heard her name but I've never (to be brutally honest) been that interested in watching her but I do think it's important to keep up with the trends and she seems to be flavour of the month (no pun intended!) Now am I missing something here? She looked lovely and is clearly a very nice person but Scotch eggs? I watched her with increasing bewilderment as she constructed Scotch eggs. My grandmother made Scotch eggs, my mother made Scotch eggs, I made Scotch eggs. Not complicated and pretty bog standard fare but there she was enthusing over the way she made them as if it was something she'd invented (though the fact that she admitted stopping off at service stations to buy those plastic ones that no one with any functioning taste buds could possibly confess to liking did set little alarm bells off in my head). She followed this culinary creation with individual Beef Wellingtons - with shop bought pastry (as least I make my own) as if this too was something really new and exciting.Huh? Then she made something that she referred to as her Tipsy Trifle but was a really just version/variation of something I've always called Fraisier - a strawberry and cream cake. 

Don't get me wrong, I'm not putting her down at all. I applaud her clear enjoyment and enthusiasm but it was all very old hat and yet I got the impression that she, and many other people, think this is all ... well I'm not sure what really... new? It's like this whole baking thing everyone seems to be into these days. So many people talk about baking as if it's something new and wonderful and suddenly everyone's an expert and everyone is competing. It's baking. It's not rocket science. Anyone can bake a cake if they set their mind to it. There are plenty of recipes and books around to tell you how to do it.

Of course there are those who can bake really good cakes and often the difference is subtle but it is because they care about the process and really enjoy it. That's when baking goes just that one step beyond reading and following a recipe to engaging other senses like sight, sound and smell. (Like making a good coffee. Knowing about and being precise about extraction times, milk temperature, fine tuning the grind etc doesn't mean you can produce a good one because all machines are different, they extract at different times, milk temperature is only part of the foaming process and there are so many other things that can affect it. Making a good espresso is about sight and sound. Whenever you hear the milk screaming when it's being steamed, it's screaming for a reason usually because it's being burnt to death...). So it really comes down to this - if you enjoy doing something and you get a lot of pleasure from it, then you'll be good at at it because you're prepared to persevere until you are.

Recently I was actually (and I'm still trying to work out if I was awake or dreaming) stopped in Mill Rd by a young woman who asked me if I used the all-in-one or creaming method. Two things flew into my mind: who the hell are you and what the hell are you talking about? Before I had time to respond, or run away, she proceeded to give me a lecture (or harangue me) on what I should do to improve my cakes. I finally said thanks because I'm polite and was brought up properly and walked away quickly before I lost the will to live and threw myself under a car. It reminded me of those times in my little wool shop when young women (who had clearly learnt to knit from watching YouTube because they used US terminology) would come in and instruct me on various ways to cast on or 'bind' off or whatever. I've been knitting since I was 4 and I baked my first cake when I was 6 - I don't pretend to be an expert on either but I do think I've got a pretty good handle on how to do both. And I'm not interested in competing with anyone. If you like my cakes, that's great since I bake them for people to eat and I hope you do like them but if you don't that's your choice - everyone's tastes are different but I wouldn't be so arrogant as to assume my cakes are better than anyone else's and I certainly wouldn't instruct someone in how to make them unless I was specifically asked to explain how I do it. 

So what is this all about then? This 'discovery' of baking, sewing, knitting and so on. I look back and recall that among my contemporaries, there were probably only a few of us who did these things and a few of us whose mothers did them also. True, most of my friends' mothers did know who to bake, cook, sew, knit etc because they were taught to do so at school in 'domestic science' but I grew up in the 70s, the era of mass production, of emerging supermarkets, of cheaper food etc. And the second wave feminism. Woman wouldn't cook or sew or knit because it was seen as women's work; unskilled, unpaid and, therefore, of no value. You could buy these things in shops so now women were freed to do other things - mainly go out to work for less pay than men for doing the same job but that's another story.

So I realise that teaching/learning these skills has missed a couple of generations. The young women who came into my wool shop had learnt to knit watching YouTube because their mothers couldn't teach them because they themselves hadn't been taught. People learn to cook these days by watching TV or YouTube or reading magazines. I understand now how lucky I am that I have these skills but I am also aware that on some level I undervalue them because they're just things my mother taught me to keep me occupied when I was a child and they come easily to me. So I applaud Lorraine and the rest of you for taking up these skills and imbuing them with new life and giving them a status but please, please don't turn it all into a competition because that is turning back the clock to when women were judged by other women on the whiteness of their sheets or how well they scrubbed their front steps or the lightness of their pastry. I have tasted cakes recently that I thought were ordinary, quite tasty but nothing particularly special (made with margarine which I hate but that's a personal preference) yet all around people were raving about them. But that's just me and I don't think my cakes are that wonderful - like everyone else I have my off days. However, I would never assume that just because I don't like something, that it must then be substandard. Who am I to judge or criticise anyone else's offerings? Everyone's tastes are personal - just enjoy it or not. It's your choice but let's enjoy the handmade-ness (yes I know it's not a real word) of things that gives them an individuality that is just not possible with mass production. 

Off my soap box now...
To celebrate our first new open late evening on Friday September 20, we are offering a 10% off anything, food or drink, from 7:00pm to 9:00pm. 

Download and print off this voucher to bring with you. Or download it to your smart phone and , when you come to pay, just wave it under our noses!
Well, if I'd known how popular a supper club at the Cat would be, I'd have organised one a long time ago. 
The Autumn Feast in celebration of the Autumn Equinox has not only sold out but sadly several people have missed out. This is because we've decided to limit the numbers to 20 only. So sorry... we'll let you know as soon as tickets for the next event go on sale. In the meantime, we're look forward to the Feast.