The other day I wrote a piece for The Daily Mail and as the paper arrived and I saw that I was on the front page (ack!) with some dastardly headline I felt ill and squeezed my eyes shut and clutched at my pyjamas and waited for the whole internet to fall in on my head all day long.
It didn’t, thank god. Thank you. I mean, I’m sure there were 4,000 comments underneath the piece, all vile, but I don’t read those – (you simply cannot and stay sane) – but I did get one, single, slightly unhappy tweet. “I used to love your blog,” it said, “but now you just troll yourself. How much do the Mail pay you to write this stuff?”
And I realised then, that I should probably explain what happens. I lose track of how many readers I have, I forget that I’m not just writing to Becky B and my husband.
(Becky B’s just had a baby by the way. No pain relief. None. There was briefly a story going round that she had her stitches with no pain killer either, but that turned out to be apocryphal, like that one about how she once put a mugger in hospital just by giving him a nasty look.)
But for other readers, seeing me in the Mail like that must be strange, like if your boyfriend suddenly turned out to be a contract killer, or a pimp.
So this is how is happens: one morning, some devastatingly charming girl emails from Femail, (they’re all charming at the Mail, that’s their deadly weapon), wanting to run a piece that you have already written and to give you, in return, enough money so that you don’t have to work for the next two weeks if you don’t want to, and pay the nanny AND buy a bottle of neon pink nail varnish from Models Own.
And you stop and you think “Oh but my photo will be in there, and some really horrifying headline and there will be pictures of my children…”and then you think “yes but this is my job.” And then you think “money…”. And then you think how pleased your mother always is when you’re in the paper, no matter what you’ve said. And then your husband comes into the room and reads the email over your shoulder and goes “You’re going to ask for more money, aren’t you? Great job. Don’t forget to invoice!”
Then you file your piece and wait. Presently the “edit” comes back to you, which is where they run your normal words through their computer and it comes out in perfect MailSpeak. And you go “fine – can you change this and this?” and they go “sure”.
And then you deal once or twice more with women who, as the deadline gets closer and closer, sound more and more tense, as they sit at their desks, talking to you and eating their lunch at 8.30pm, tapping in tiny tweaks here and there – none of which matter because the headline is going to be MY KIDS ARE SO FACKIN BORING YAH???? so the subtle word changes you are insisting on are like dusting the rotary blades of a helicopter that’s just crashed into the side of a mountain.
Then the paper comes out the next day and you feel crushed and sick until your husband goes “GREAT job!” and your mother, who quite often looks at you blankly like “which one are you, again?” actually rings up and says “They’re talking about your piece on the radio!!!!!!” And then you remember: “money!”. And, eventually, you square it all away and forget about it. Until the next time.
It helps that I am basically a sloppy hack at heart and don’t really mind – not really, otherwise I wouldn’t do it. If my children find these pieces later in life and want to have a go at me about it I will simply start charging them rent.
Another girl in my life who doesn’t judge me for this kind of caper is a French girl called Amelie, once described to me as the “rudest girl in London” but I don’t understand why, because she is simply charming, she is just a bit brisk and French. I think she is terrific.
We went to see her and her husband this weekend for lunch and Amelie calmly went out to the shops to buy some ingredients for Raymond Blanc’s much-celebrated Apple tart Maman Blanc and made it while guests were arriving. She had never made it before! And, she declared “I ‘aven’t cooked anysing for years.” I cannot imagine how relaxed you have to be to do something like this.
Anyway it was just fantastic. I didn’t help in the actual preparation, I just provided moral support and read out the recipe as she was cooking, which she declared was very helpful but I think she may just have been being nice.
This is how it goes: the precise recipe, including instructions for the shortcrust pastry, can be found on p246 of Kitchen Secrets, or online.
Amelie, like all good French girls, just buys her pastry pre-made. I think she used puff (she herself couldn’t remember if she had bought puff or shortcrust – such insouciance!!!) but you really ought to buy shortcrust.
So here we go:
Apple tart ‘Maman Blanc’
1 packet shortcrust pastry
3 dessert apples (like a Braeburn or whatever, just not a super-sour cooking apple)
15g unsalted butter
15g caster sugar
11/2 tsp lemon juice
7g Calvados (if you like)
icing sugar, to dust
1 medium egg
100 ml whipping cream
50g caster sugar
1 Roll out your pastry to fit your tart case and have it slightly higher than the rim of the tin because pastry shrinks on cooking. Prick the base with a fork and put in the fridge for 20 min.
2 Preheat the oven and a baking sheet (or any old tin big enough to take the tart tin) to 220C
3 Peel and core the apples and cut each into 10. Lay them closely together and overlapping in a circle in the base of the tart case.
4 In a small pan, melt the butter and sugar, then take off the heat and mix in the lemon juice and Calvados if using. Brush this over the apples slices and dust with icing sugar.
5 Slide the tart tin onto your now hot sheet and cook for 10 minutes. Turn the oven down to 200C and bake for another 20 minutes until the tart case is brown and the apples look a bit caramelised.
6 For the custard filling, whisk 1 egg together with 50g caster sugar and 100ml whipping cream and pour into the tart 10 minutes before the end of the cooking time.
Et Voila! As Amelie almost never says.
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