Cleaned toilet, washed basin and bath before doing my paper round. Came home, made breakfast, put washing in machine, went to school. Gave Barry Kent his menaces money, went to Bert Baxter’s, waited for social worker who didn’t come, had school dinner. Had Domestic Science—made apple crumble. Came home. Vacuumed hall, lounge, and breakfast room. Peeled potatoes, chopped up cabbage, cut finger, rinsed blood off cabbage. Put chops under grill, looked in cookery book for a recipe for gravy. Made gravy. Strained lumps out with a colander. Set table, served dinner, washed up. Put burnt saucepans in to soak. Got washing out of machine; everything blue, including white underwear and handkerchiefs. Hung washing on clothes-horse. Fed dog. Ironed PE kit, cleaned shoes. Did homework. Took dog for a walk, had bath. Cleaned bath. Made three cups of tea. Washed cups up. Went to bed. Just my luck to have an assertive mother!
The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, aged 13 3/4, Sue Townsend
This week has felt like a long, hard, relentless slog. I’ve been surrounded by brilliant people, have laughed endlessly, and have managed to do some wonderful things. But it’s been one of those weeks where everything seems to run together, job bumping up against job, a list of things to tackle so endless that it’s impossible to know where to begin. A thousand thoughts and plans have been running through my head in spare seconds on the train, or while the kettle boils, of books I’ve been reading, or recipes I want to trial, or plans I have for events, or columns, or the next book. They’re ideas for other weeks. Here, in the midst the frenzy, I returned to the familiar.
This morning, it was drizzling as I walked to work. I arrived with raindrops trickling down inside my collar and dripping from my hair into my eyes. When I shrugged back into my coat tonight, ten hours later, it was still cold, and slightly damp. It’s almost April, and we’d be forgiven for expecting that spring should have arrived in earnest. Instead, it’s likely we’ll see snow again this weekend. Selfishly, I’m thrilled; I missed most of winter this year, and this type of weather provides the perfect excuse for an evening of hibernation.
So tonight, I ducked out of the work drinks I’d hoped to attend, and walked a winding route back to the station, listening to Adrian Mole’s teenage diaries on audiobook. I read them when I was around his age – a young teenager – and have never tired of them; this first book in particular has provided endless comfort and amusement. You probably don’t need me to tell you, but it’s laugh-out-loud funny, packed with perfectly drawn characters, and genuinely moving in parts too. It is also filled with references to food: school dinners, a failed attempt at coq au vin, Sunday lunches, a warming slice of dripping toast. But tonight I latched onto the crumble – a mere passing mention – it’s the perfect dish for a cold night in.
The apples bubbled away in the oven while I stirred custard and listened to more of Adrian’s trials and tribulations. And then, late at night, I dished it up for some friends who had just arrived back; I’m not sure I can think of a more comforting dish to come home to. The ingredients are mostly humble, and probably available in your local corner shop. You can buy the custard, if you prefer, or make it according to the directions on Bird’s tin. You can add other fruit, if you like – rhubarb, of course, or a handful of berries, or some pears. Change up the spicing, if nutmeg isn’t your bag (cinnamon is good, as is cardamom, or ginger), or add chopped nuts to your crumble mix, if you fancy. You can even store crumble mix in the freezer, like my dear friend Liv taught me to do, in anticipation of a crumble emergency. There are so few rules here; it really is the easiest possible version of baking. This is comfort food, and comfort cooking, at its most reassuring: just what I needed this week.
Apple Crumble and Custard
Serves up to 6 (but 3 or 4 could easily polish it off)
1.25kg cooking apples
150g light brown sugar
200g plain flour
150g salted butter
50g porridge oats
150ml whole milk
150ml double cream
3 egg yolks
50g light brown sugar
¼tsp vanilla bean paste/vanilla extract
1. Preheat the oven to 180C (160C fan). Peel, core, and chop the apples, and tip them into the saucepan with 75g of the sugar, and a splash of water. Simmer until the chunks of apple have softened and are starting to break down. Turn off the heat and season with nutmeg.
2. Meanwhile, rub the flour and butter together with you fingertips until it resembles breadcrumbs. Mix in the other 75g of sugar and the oats, and set aside.
3. Tip the apples into the oven dish, and then wet your hands with cold water. With damp hands, squeeze handfuls of crumble together (to encourage them to clump a bit) and drop it onto the apples. Transfer to the oven for 25 minutes, until golden brown on top.
4. While the crumble bakes, make your custard. Warm the milk and cream in the saucepan, until small bubbles start to appear at the sides of the pan. Whisk the egg yolks, sugar, and vanilla together until light, and then pour the warm milk over them, whisking constantly.
5. Pour the custard back into the washed out pan, and stir over a low heat for at least fifteen minutes, until thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon.
6. Serve big spoonfuls of crumble with a generous pour of custard. Any leftovers are delicious cold for breakfast.