Yesterday, the 8th March, was International Women’s Day. Did you notice? The Radio informed me in my waking stupor, and then the customised Google logo reminded me later. Apart from that, not much happened in this woman’s life. According to the official website IWD has been observed since 1910, and is now a national holiday in many countries around the world. There does however, at least in my little life, appear to be a considerable amount of Feminism on the loose. And no domain is sacred; certainly the “foodie” industry have jumped wholeheartedly onto the lady- wagon. Even Nigella’s at it.
Yes Nigella, the ridiculous cavorting, cooing,spoon- sucking, finger-licking, chocolate-dripping, clipped-vowelled, dulcet-toned, Twitter-whoring, glutting, guzzling, gabbling Goddess of our TV screens and our hearts. Ah Nigella, a quivering mountain of a woman; the groaning, gleaming chocolate gateau of femininity, the master (or should I say mistress) of self-parody. She knows how to work it, she really does. Watching a Nigella food programme is an acceptable way of experiencing porn at it’s most decadent, without the sickening feeling of shame, the tawdry setting, the shabby camerawork. Not only can this mamma cook (occasionally at least- always be wary of Nigella’s recipes, often they don’t work), she’s the queen of multi-tasking: she can sashay in and out of shot in a satin robe previously worn by Satan’s whore, lick chocolate cream off her perfectly manicured finger, croon orgasmically and glance coquettishly at the poor cameraman, who presumably by now harbours a hopeless and sustained erection. She has carved for herself the immaculate image of a sort of Jessica Rabbit/Mrs Beaton hybrid: boobs, brains, butter and buns. Perfect. What greater pin-up could 21st Century feminism or foodie-ism hope for? Nigella herself has described her book, “How to be a Domestic Goddess” as a “feminist tract”:
“Baking is the less applauded of the cooking arts, whereas restaurants are a male province to be celebrated. There’s something intrinsically misogynistic about decrying a tradition because it has always been female.I’m not being entirely facetious when I say it’s a feminist tract.”
I agree with her, to an extent. I’m not going into Feminism proper here- I have enough of that in my degree, but in terms of foodie-feminism, she’s got a point. The trouble is, recently baking has become so goddamned girly. I blame cupcakes. If in doubt, blame the cupcake. The cupcake is a heinous invention; a crime against baking. Back in the good ol’ days of my youth we had a delicate, delicious, innocent wee cakie called a Fairy Cake. Or a Butterfly cake. Or an Angel cake.
Whatever you called it, it was every happy little girl’s party cake of choice, and it was perfect. Or we had the humble bun. A bun was a simple sponge, yellow with eggs and butter, nestled in a blossom-specked paper case, it’s noble peak rising to meet the hungry eyes of the lucky beholder. But apparently these are no longer good enough for little girls. And apparently such sugary confections are no longer restricted to girls; the genesis of the cupcake has spawned an adult market, though still predominantly female, it must be admitted. Men, so far as i know, do not eat cupcakes. Well I have decided to head my own personal protest against such ridiculous frippery. Real girls eat cake. Real little girls eat buns. All the ridiculous flounces, the swirls, the pinks, the polka dots, the sparkles, the sprinkles can go hang. What annoys me most is not the ridiculous gender stereotype that cupcakes endorse, it’s the fundamental crapness of them as an edible commodity. Firstly, they’re a rip-off. Secondly, they’re generally fairly tasteless. I am willing to allow for a few exceptions, but mostly they have nothing on a good slab of fruitcake or wedge of moist carrot cake. The “red-velvet” idea really gets my goat. It’s just a dull chocolate- flavoured sponge with red food colouring in it. What??!! That is supposed to be baking innovation? That is the 21st century’s answer to the Chelsea Bun? Pah, humbug. Or should I say, Pah cupcake.
It occurs to me that this excessive over-egging and glamourising of the classic cake could be seen as a metaphor for the increasing demands placed on women in terms of appearance. The classic bun is perhaps the dowdy frump of the cake world, but she has inner depths; natural integrity, wholesomeness, comfort. She smells of milk and butter, of mums. She’s a good cuddler, she doesn’t stain your skin with her fake-tan, she looks fresh and delicious even sans glitz. The cupcake may look tempting, but she’s the very embodiment of false promise, hollow glamour and disappointment. Men may shag a cupcake, but they’ll marry a bun. Hmm, perhaps i’m taking this metaphor a little too far…
Anyway, cupcake diatribe aside, I decided to celebrate my very own foodie International Women’s Day with a lovely little salad, to welcome spring, and celebrate the delicacy of our subtle sex, with a delicous, attractive and simple combination of two seasonal elements.
Fennel and Pomegranate Salad
1/2 head fennel
juice half lemon
slug of very good olive oil
sea salt (pinch)
Slice the fennel thinly, put in iced water to crisp up for 10 mins or so. Deseed the pomengranate. Toss both in lemon juice and olive oil. This is also delicious with some feta crumbled on top.
I would like to dedicate this post firstly to Jeanie, our beloved friend and dinnerlady at my primary school. Jeanie was one of the kindest and best people i ever knew, and she made the very best buns. She was a marvel of a woman; she lived perpetually in slippers, smelt reassuringly of Cif, beeswax and buns, changed her hairstyle weekly (often a blue rinse) kept budgies, had a garden bursting with dahlias, azalias, busy-lizzies and gnomes, and was incredibly good to all who knew her. Jeanie died 6 years ago, but as long as there are buns and salmon pink geraniums in the world her memory will live on.