The Love-Hate Chronicles Part 1: An Introduction

Dear Reader,

At the end of 2014, WordPress sent me a rather pointed e-mail: “Hi Nuara, remember me? I’m your website. I miss you, and so do other people. Did you know that 970 people visited me in 2014, even though you didn’t publish anything new? They like what you have to say!”

Yes, I know it was a generic, mass-generated email. And I know that those 970 visitors may have just mistakenly stumbled upon my blog. And who knows whether they liked what I had to say or not.

But, still. Generic WordPress e-mail, you have a point. I should write more. I shall write more. Enter: 2015 and the Love-Hate Chronicles.

The Love-Hate Chronicles: an introduction

Many pages of mad rambles

Many pages of mad rambles

I kept journals throughout my childhood and much of my adolescent life. I wish I could say that all these musings were very profound and meaningful. But, they sort of read like this:

“Dear Diary,

Today is the first day of 1999! I am 10-years-old and have one 2-year-old brother. Today, I watched TV and played with my brother. It wasn’t a very exciting day. There’s only 365 days left to the Millennium!”

This:

“Dear Diary,

Since last year September we have had a temporary headteacher, Mrs. A*. She treats us like babies even though we are in year 6. I don’t like her.”

And this:

“Dear Diary,

Today was April Fools Day. I played some really funny jokes on people. My friend X* has a crush on a boy in our class called Y*. She says that she likes him 100%.”

*Names have been changed, of course. Although it would be cool to have a friend called X.

I was also fond of writing lists in these diaries. Specifically, Love and Hate lists. A neat line down the middle of the page, separating the things I adored from the things I detested.

“Love: My family, reading, chocolate.

Hate: Enemies, MATHS, assembly.”

I had a good laugh looking back at all of this. But it also made me think about the glorious simplicity of the world when I was a child. The black and white and 100 per cents. Love, hate and the strength of my convictions. You would have had a tough time convincing a 10-year-old me about any benefits of morning assembly. Well, in all fairness, 26-year-old me also struggles to find any love for the idea.

The world dictates that we are supposed to grow up, become more attune to the subtleties of the world, ditch the black and white shades for a more sophisticated grey.

But here’s the thing. Even as I began to stumble through the second decade of my existence, grey continued to allude me. I found myself being childishly stubborn on a number of things. Soup? I hate it! It’s like flavoured water. Stairs? Like I’m going to take the stairs! Yes, I will take the lift for one floor and I don’t care if you judge me.

Maybe I no longer wrote them up in journals, but my mind remained full of love/hate lists. Love: family, reading, chocolate. Hate: soup, stairs, pigeons. (At least one of the lists has changed).

However, recently, strange things have begun to happen. I had some soup…and I liked it. I’ve started jogging. I saw a pigeon and didn’t wish for its extinction (ok, I’m lying about this last one). Does this mean that I’m a grown up now? I’m not quite sure.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be writing my Love-Hate Chronicles. I will talk about things that I once hated that I have grown to love. Things that I continue to have a love-hate relationship with. And things that I will always love, eternally (a quick glance at my previous posts might give you an indication of the one thing I will never give up, ever).

Stay tuned :).

P.S. As part of a writing challenge with my weird and greedy friend over at Noodle and Egg, I was supposed to incorporate some assonance in this post. I shoulda, woulda, coulda but sort of failed.

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Chocolate Layer Cake, filled with Strawberry-Chocolate Ganache and topped with the Ultimate Vanilla Buttercream

Being back in London this time of the year has some happy implications:

1) The Great British Bake Off is back on TV (recent episodes have featured Paul the Octopus shaped bread, the most adorable miniature sized macaroons and custard espionage – what’s not to love?).

2) Last days of London summer! Sunshine, ice cream, lazy weekends and strolling around all my favourite places.

3) I get to be here for the birthday of one of my very best friends! I get to surprise her and turn her favourite cupcakes into a big fat cake! I get to eat a massive slice of said cake! Ah, happy days.

Birthday Girl!

Ever since I made these Chocolate Cupcakes Stuffed with Strawberry Chocolate Ganache and frosted with Chocolate Ganache Glaze and Vanilla Buttercream, they are the cupcakes my friends will always demand every time I am back in town: “Oh glad you’re back, Nuara, but when are you making the chocolate strawberry cupcakes?”, “These brownies are nice, but when are you making the chocolate strawberry cupcakes?”, “Your flight back is in a week and you still haven’t made me the chocolate strawberry cupcakes!”.

Handmade birthday card for the birthday girl (with her favourite cupcake on the front!)

So, no surprises as to why I went for this cake!

I adapted a Hummingbird Bakery recipe for the chocolate layers, and searched high and low for the ultimate vanilla buttercream recipe – was convinced by this one, and then tweaked it slightly by using vanilla bean paste instead of extract (vanilla bean paste is my new favourite baking ingredient, more on that later). I kept the original ganache recipe, just tweaking the quantities and the strawberry to ganache ratio (more strawberries, more!). And voila, the cake version is ready to go!

Chocolate Layer Cake, filled with Strawberry-Chocolate Ganache and topped with the Ultimate Vanilla Buttercream

Makes one, 2 layer 8-inch cake

For the cake layers:

200g plain flour
40g cocoa powder
280g caster sugar
3 teaspoons baking powder
a pinch of salt
80g unsalted butter, at room temperature
240ml whole milk
2 medium eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla bean paste (or extract)

1) Preheat your oven to 170°C/325°F/Gas Mark 3. Grease and line two 8-inch cake pans.

2) In a large bowl, mix together the flour, cocoa powder, caster sugar, baking powder and salt. Set aside,

3) In a separate bowl or jug, whisk together the milk, vanilla and eggs. Set aside.

4) Add butter to the dry ingredients and beat everything on a medium speed until the ingredients come together and the mixture has a sandy texture (will look like very fine breadcrumbs).

4) Add half of the milk mixture to your sandy concoction. Beat on a low speed to bring the ingredients together, then a medium-high speed for a few minutes to get rid of lumps.

5) Keep your mixer on a low speed and gradually add the rest of the milk. Beat for a few minutes until everything is well mixed and smooth. Do not overmix!

6) Divide the cake batter evenly between the two prepared tins and bake for 30-35 minutes. Cakes will be done when a skewer poked into the middles comes out clean (“clean”: a few perfectly moist and baked crumbs sticking to the skewer = yes, take me out, gloopy cake batter wrapped around the skewer = I know you’re hungry, but I need a few more minutes).

7) After a few minutes in the tin, pop out the layers and leave to cool on a cooling rack. Make sure to leave the cake layers to cool upside-down – this will help to flatten out the domed tops and will make your life easier when assembling the cake (see below!).

For the strawberry-chocolate ganache

Make this while your cake layers are in the oven, it will need some time to chill in the fridge before you use it to sandwich together your cake layers.

100g chocolate (at least 70% cocoa solids)
150ml double cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla bean paste (or extract)
a pinch salt
125g strawberries, diced into small chunks

1) Break the chocolate into small pieces and place in a heatproof bowl.

2) In a saucepan, gently heat up the cream until bubbles form around the edges. Once you see the bubbles, take the cream off the heat and pour it over your bowl of chocolate. Let it stand for one minute, and then mix together until the ganache is smooth and scrumptious looking.

3) Stir in the diced strawberries.

4) Cover with clingfilm and place in the refrigerator to set.

For the ultimate vanilla buttercream

After searching high and low for the ultimate vanilla buttercream recipe, I settled on this recipe from Cooking Classy – and I wasn’t disappointed! The one change I made was to use vanilla bean paste instead of extract – which I would definitely recommend. It has the most fantastic vanilla taste, and you get those beautiful flecks of vanilla seeds in your frosting – yummy!

85g unsalted butter, at room temperature
85g salted butter, at room temperature
280g icing sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons double cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla bean paste (or extract)

1) In a large bowl, beat the butters together on a medium speed for 7-8 minutes, until pale and fluffy.

2) Sift in the icing sugar, then add the double cream and vanilla bean paste. Mix on a low speed until all the all the ingredients are well blended, then crank your mixer up to a high speed and mix for at least 5-7 minutes. Be patient, and yummy, fluffy frosting shall await you!

Assembling your cake

1) Place a blob of frosting onto your serving dish/cake board. This will act as a “glue” to ensure that your cake stays put. Place one of your cake layers on the dish (place the layer “domed-side” down, so that you can put the filling and the other layer on top of a flat side).

2) Take your ganache filling out of the fridge. Stir it through with a spoon, then spread it over the middle of the cake layer. It will be a thick layer of ganache! People will thank you for it! I find it easier to pipe a circle of buttercream around the edges of the cake – it helps to keep the ganache in and not spread over onto the sides.

Assembly time!

3) Place the other cake layer on top of the ganache filling (domed side up, flat side on top of the ganache).

4) Using a spatula, frost the tops and sides of of your cake with one layer of vanilla buttercream. This will be your crumb coat layer, to seal in the chocolate crumbs and ensure you have a smooth, white finish on top. Once you have completed your crumb coat, place your cake in the fridge and leave it to chill for at least thirty minutes, to allow the crumb coat to firm up before you spread on the finishing layers of buttercream.

5) Take your cake out of the fridge and use the remaining buttercream to cover the tops and sides until you have a smooth, beautiful finish!

6) If you want, put aside a little bit of frosting and tint with food colouring of your choice. Use this to pipe a message onto the cake, or to add other decorative details.

7) Decorate with sprinkles, nuts or fresh strawberries (my preferred choice).

Cake time!

Big slice for me.

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Coconut Layer Cake

After all my stressing and preparation for my viva voce examination (read earlier whining here), results came out on Saturday – and I passed! Yes! Finally, I’m an enrolled Advocate in Bangladesh!

The first thing I do? Bake a celebratory cake, duh!

I can’t go out in all my lawyery awesomeness on an empty stomach now, can I?

Coconut Layer Cake with Coconut Buttercream topped with Chocolate Covered Strawberries

Coconut Layer Cake

Makes one, triple layer 8 inch cake – it wouldn’t be a celebration if it was any less than three layers!

This recipe has been adapted from two Hummingbird Bakery recipes – after a slight accident with the original coconut custard frosting and filling (the less said, the better), options had to be reassessed. I sent out my hungry, cake-anticipating friends to gather ingredients for coconut buttercream frosting instead. Ingredients were acquired, butter was very tentatively and briefly zapped in the microwave to soften (time restraints, I had no choice!), and the show went on!

Ingredients:

For the cakes:

120g unsalted butter, at room temperature

400g caster sugar

360g plain flour

1½ tbsp baking powder

40g dessicated coconut

¼ tsp salt

3 large eggs

260ml coconut milk

100ml whole milk

½ tsp vanilla bean paste (or extract)

For the frosting:

160g unsalted butter, at room temperature

500g icing sugar, sifted

50ml coconut milk

For the decoration:

80g dark chocolate, chopped into small pieces

1 tsp unsalted butter

half a dozen strawberries

a handful of toasted flaked almonds

1. Preheat the oven to 170°C/325°F/Gas Mark 3, grease and line three round 8-inch cake tins.

2. Put the butter, sugar, flour, baking powder, dessicated coconut and salt in a large bowl. Using an electric mixer, mix the ingredients together until you get a sandy consistency.

3. In a separate bowl or jug, mix together the eggs, coconut milk, whole milk and vanilla.

4. Keeping the electric mixer on a slow speed, gradually add the egg mixture to the mixture of dry ingredients. Mix until the two are combined.

5. Divide the batter between the three prepared pans and bake in the preheated oven for 25-30 minutes, until the tops of the cakes are a lovely golden brown, bounce back when the tops are pressed lightly with a finger, and a skewer comes out clean in the middle.

6. Leave the cakes to cool in the tins for a few minutes, before turning them out onto a wire rack and leaving them to cool completely.

7. While you are waiting for the cakes to cool, get on with preparing the decorations and frosting. Wash the strawberries and pat them dry to get rid of all excess moisture. Line a flat plate with cling film to have it ready for strawberry landing.

8. Place a heat-proof bowl over a pan of boiling water, making sure that the bottom of the bowl doesn’t touch the water. Place the chocolate and butter in the bowl and let the two melt together, stirring occasionally. Once melted, take off the heat.

9. Holding the strawberries by their green stems, dip them into the melted chocolate and twirl around until they are covered in chocolate. Lift up and twirl to get rid of excess chocolate. Place on the cling film lined plate. Once you have covered all the strawberries, place the plate in the fridge and leave to set.

10. Now, onto the frosting! With an electric mixture, beat the butter and icing sugar together until the mixture comes together (this may take some time, be patient).

11. With the mixture on low speed, gradually add the coconut milk. Once the coconut milk has been incorporated into the mixture, turn up the speed to high and mix for 5-10 mins. Make sure to use a rubber spatula to occasionally scrape the bottom and sides, to make sure everything is well mixed. Once the frosting is light and fluffy, it is ready!

12. Fill and frost the cake layers with the frosting, then decorate with the chocolate covered strawberries and flaked almonds.

13. (Optional) Once you have eaten a substantial amount of cake, dance around the room on a sugar high, singing “I’m a real lawyer now!”. Heck yes, baby. I am.

Lawyered!

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Homemade Dulce de Leche

What is dulce de leche, you ask? There was a time in my life when I too knew not the meaning of the words. Darker and sadder times. Dulce de leche, dear reader, is tinned caramel. And it is, quite simply, wonderful. Lick-it-right-off-a-spoon-delicious.

One of the big problems with baking in Dhaka is the lack of good quality ingredients. I have to process my own flour and sugar (to read how, scroll to the end of this post), searched in vain for hazelnuts and pecans (if anyone knows where I can find any, please share!) and the icing sugar here seems to leave a strange clingy aftertaste to the roof of my mouth. Sadness.

One thing, however, which is readily available here in Dhaka – is sweetened condensed milk. And sweetened condensed milk is the one, single ingredient that you need to make your own dulce de leche. YES. That’s all. I’ll give you a moment to blink in disbelief at your screen.

Read on. Make it. Lick it off a spoon.

Homemade Dulce de Leche

Ingredients:

1 can of sweetened condensed milk – you need a can that you would open with a can-opener and not one with a ring pull.

Sweetened Condensed Milk

1. Peel off the outer packaging/labels of the can until it is naked. Don’t do anything else to the can, you leave it unopened.

2. Place the can in a large saucepan. Cover with water.

3. Boil for 3 hours. Be sure to top up the water every now and then to ensure that the can is fully covered with water at ALL TIMES*.

4. After 3 hours, take out the can and leave it to cool.

5. Open the can. Gasp in amazement. 

Success!

*If the can is not covered, there is a risk it will explode. Please repress that thrill-seeker in you, and make sure that you keep topping up the water. Make dulce de leche responsibly.

My favourite things to do with dulce de leche (aside from licking it straight off a spoon): Use it to fill and top cupcakes, as a brownie topping or swirl globs of it into your brownie batter before baking, to sandwich together biscuits and whoopie pies, eat it still warm with sticky toffee pudding. The possibilities are infinite!

Chocolate Cupcakes topped with Dulce de Leche

Chocolate Cupcakes topped with Dulce de Leche

Banoffee Cupcakes filled with Dulce De Leche, plus extra piped over the top

Banoffee Cupcakes filled with Dulce De Leche, plus extra piped over the top

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Orange and Strawberry Victoria Sponge Cake

After a few weeks of indecisive flitting between hot and cold, the weather in Dhaka has taken a turn to the sultry. Back to fans and humidity-enlarged hair. Alongside the sultry heat is a somewhat (read: very) tumultuous feel in the air. Dhaka is not a happy city right now. As to the causes of unhappiness – voicing public opinions seems to be a health hazard these days, so I’ll stick to the neutral subject of cake. Everyone likes cake, let’s all be happy for a moment. Sit down with a cup of tea and a slice of scrumptious sponge cake. Scroll down for the recipe below if my blogging banter is boring you (I won’t be offended, it’s for the cake – I understand).

Enough said.

Hartal season is in full swing, and we are currently in the middle of a three day spate. With my Bar Council Viva Voce Examination around the corner, this is the perfect opportunity for me to utilise this time off work and revise. Today, I had all the intentions of buckling down and losing myself in all the intricacies of criminal and civil procedure (hah!). I sat down with my revision guide and was greeted with the enlightening words of encouragement in its introduction: “Destiny favours the brave. So do not be afraid of the oral test, however don’t show over-smartness before the Viva Board.” Got it. Brave, smart-but-not-too-smart.

But then…my 6-year-old cousin came to visit, with a gift for me. A grand total of three whole strawberries and the expectation that I must bake something wonderful because “stowbewies are my favourite”. As she gingerly transferred the strawberries from her small palms into my own and then looked up at me with an expression that said please-turn-this-into-cake, I realised that my hartal-turned-revision day was inevitably going to turn into a cake day instead.

Enjoy.

Orange and Strawberry Victoria Sponge Cake

I adapted this recipe from Mary Berry, changing the flavour of the sponge slightly to give it an orange kick that I think teams up quite wonderfully with the strawberries.

Slice of Sponge Cake

Ingredients:

225g unsalted butter, at room temperature

225g caster sugar*

4 large eggs, at room temperature

Grated zest of one orange or 1 teaspoon good quality orange extract

225g self-raising flour**

2 teaspoons baking powder

A pinch of salt

To finish:

Double cream, whipped

Strawberry jam

Three fresh strawberries, lovingly given

Icing sugar

1. Preheat oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4, grease and line two round 8-inch cake tins.

2. Cream together butter and sugar with an electric mixer until light and fluffy.

3. Add eggs and orange zest (or extract) to mixture and beat until well combined.

4. Add flour, baking powder and salt to the mixture and gently fold in until incorporated.

5. Divide mixture between prepared tins and bake in the preheated oven for 25-30 minutes, until the cakes are golden and the tops bounce back when lightly pressed.

6. Once cakes have cooled, sandwich together with whipped cream and strawberry jam. Decorate with fresh strawberries and sifted icing sugar.

Every day is a cake day

*I have not yet been able to find caster sugar in Dhaka. I make my own by processing granulated sugar until I am happy with the fine-ness of it!

**Self-raising flour is also quite hard to come by. It is ridiculously easy to make your own though: 1 teaspoon of baking powder to 200g plain flour. Whisk together, then sift together. I usually make a whole lot in one go for ease of use later on! It should be noted, the composition of American self-raising flour is slightly different, with the addition of salt too – see Smitten Kitchen entry on how to make it here.

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Return to the Natural Habitat.

After 8 months away from home, the moment when I looked out of the plane window and saw London blinking back at me pressed like relief against my chest.

But still. I don’t think it can quite compare to the feeling of being back in my Natural Habitat. I’m talking about being back in the kitchen (feminists, control the gag instincts). More specifically – the feeling of being reunited with my Oven.

Going 8 months without an oven has been cruel punishment indeed. It has meant no baking cakes and, more importantly, no eating cakes.

Dhaka really does not have Great Cake. It just does not. It has edible cake and ‘okay’ cake and ‘I-could-eat-this-I-guess’ cake. But not Great Cake. The only cake I have deemed worthy of eating, in all my cake-snoberyness, is CFC’s chocolate cake. Yes, only in Dhaka would the best chocolate cake find its home in California Fried Chicken.

Even then – there is a part of me that thinks – is this tasting better than it actually is because I have been deprived of Great Cake for so long? Has the lack of stimulation to my taste buds resulted in edible cake appearing to be Great Cake, like a frenzied mirage in a Desert of Great Cake-less-ness?

The horrors.

Let’s put aside the trauma and deprivation and talk about the happiness of reunion instead. The first bake that resulted from the reunion: chocolate cupcakes stuffed with strawberry chocolate ganache topped off with a chocolate ganache glaze and a fat dollop of vanilla buttercream. With fresh strawberries on top. Naturally.

Chocolate Strawberry Cupcakes

Chocolate Cupcakes Stuffed with Strawberry Chocolate Ganache and frosted with Chocolate Ganache Glaze and Vanilla Buttercream

Makes 8 cupcakes

I got this recipe from the Cupcake Bakeshop by Chockylit. After much drooling over photos and recipes, this is the first recipe I have tried from the blog and I’m really happy with how the cupcakes turned out. My only regret is that I didn’t double the recipe! 8 cupcakes disappeared far too quickly!

This is also the first time I tried using duck eggs in baking! They are supposed to give a richer flavour than regular eggs. I haven’t tried this recipe with regular eggs, so can’t directly compare – but the cakes were definitely incredibly rich!

For the Chocolate Cupcakes:

1/4 cup (57 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons granulated white sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature
1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons plain flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup cocoa powder (Green & Blacks recommended)
1/4 cup full cream milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4.

2. With an electric mixer, cream together the butter and sugar for around 5 minutes, until the mixture is light and fluffy.

3. Add the egg to the mixture and beat well until incorporated.

4. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, salt and cocoa powder. Use a hand whisk to mix the dry ingredients together.

5. In  a small bowl, mix together the milk and vanilla.

6. Add a third of the dry ingredients to the butter/sugar mixture and mix together until incorporated. Then, add half of the milk and vanilla to the mixture and mix together until incorporated.

7. Add the second third of the dry ingredients and mix again. Add the second half of the milk and vanilla and mix yet again! Finally, add the remainder of the dry ingredients and mix everything together until the batter is well incorporated.

8. Line a muffin tin with 8 muffin cases and fill each one no more than two thirds full.

9. Bake for 22-25 minutes. The cupcakes are done when the tops spring back after pressing them, and a skewer comes clean out of the middles.

For the Strawberry Chocolate Ganache and Chocolate Ganache Glaze:

128 g dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids)
3/4 cup double cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
a pinch of salt
1/3 cup strawberries, diced

1. Chop the chocolate (as finely as you have patience to do so) and place in a heatproof bowl.

2. Heat up the double cream until bubbles begin to form around the edge of the pan.

3. Pour the cream onto the chocolate and leave to stand for a minute or so, before stirring together until the two combine into gooey chocolatey goodness. Mix in the vanilla and salt.

4. Divide the ganache into two portions. Stir the chopped strawberries into one portion and then place in the fridge to chill and thicken. This will be your  strawberry chocolate ganache.

5. Leave the other half of the ganache on the counter to cool down and thicken. Voila! Chocolate ganache glaze!

For the Vanilla Buttercream frosting:

1/2 cup (113g) unsalted butter, at room temperature

2 cups of icing sugar, sifted

1 tablespoon of full cream milk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. With an electric mixer, beat the butter until creamy.

2. Add the icing sugar, milk and vanilla extract and mix together on a low speed until incorporated. Once incorporated, turn up to a high speed and mix until light and fluffy.

To Assemble the Cupcakes:

1. Once the cupcakes have cooled, using an apple corer, plunge through the middle of each cupcake and scoop out. Fill the hole with the strawberry chocolate ganache and then put the ‘scooped’ cake part back in the hole. (I wanted a generous amount of filling, so I plunged twice, creating a fatter hole for the filling).

2. Spread a generous helping of chocolate ganache glaze on top of each cupcake and then pipe or spread the vanilla buttercream on top.

3. Top each cupcake with a fresh strawberry. Not only does this look pretty, but the flavour of the fresh strawberry cuts through the sweetness of the buttercream and the richness of the cake perfectly.

:)

Omnomnom

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Day 3: In Which We Meet The Evil Fat Tramp of Scowdown Valley

Day 3 of my writing challenge. Read the efforts of Day 1 and Day 2 first, so that this part makes sense!

The Evil Fat Tramp of Scowdown Valley was keen to drop the “Fat” from her title. She had engaged the services of a local dietician and put herself through a rather gruelling exercise regime. However, she had an insatiable sweet tooth, and one trip past the candy store was enough to send her back to square one (or to be more accurate, up to square let’s-not-name-the-figure).

From a very young age, she had always been in the shadow of her taller, thinner and infinitely-more-skilled-at-the-art-of-evil sister – The Old Hag from Glargistan. Their’s was a tale of sibling rivalry in its most one-sided form; there was never any real competition between the two. The Old Hag was unbeatable in all senses.

The fact that King Pompotti had summoned her and not her sister, was a source of great joy (and although she would never admit it – even greater surprise) for the Evil Fat Tramp. She had donned her foulest, evil-est looking cape (which was, unfortunately getting a bit stretched around the waist) and hurried off to the Pompotti Castle.

King Pompotti was in a terrible rage when the Evil Fat Tramp arrived. Very Influential People become Very Agitated when things they need to get done, are not getting done.

“I need you to curse that wretched girl!” He shouted, as soon as the Evil Fat Tramp entered his room.

“Of course, your majesty.” The Evil Fat Tramp gave a gracious low bow, which didn’t really manage to be very gracious at all. Furthermore, her overstretched cape chose that very moment to give up on her, and tore with a very loud, echoing rip.

King Pompotti sneered in disgust. “Please, maintain some decorum. I knew your sister would have been a better choice.”

“Your majesty, I assure you that anything my sister can do, I can do better!”

King Pompotti snorted. “How about fifty sit-ups?”

The comment, the Evil Fat Tramp felt, was rather uncalled for. She tried to brush it off as she pointed out, “Well, you must have chosen me for a reason, your majesty!”

“Yes. The reason being that your sister is foolishly infatuated with the parents of that wretched Princess Sweetheart. I trust you have no similar disease of the heart?”

The Evil Fat Tramp shook her head vigorously. “Most certainly not, your majesty! What would you like me to do?”

“I need you to teach their foul-mouthed offspring a lesson. Curse her like you’ve never cursed anyone before!”

“Of course, your majesty!” The Evil Fat Tramp chose not to disclose the fact that she had actually never cursed anyone before. Curses were a Big Deal in the world of evil, and all things that were a Big Deal got offered to her sister instead. The Evil Fat Tramp had only ever received requests for minor hexes and the like, jobs that her dearest sister deemed to be too menial.

But she could do this, she was sure of it. This was her one big chance to prove her evil-ness to the world, and she was determined not to mess it up. It was time to brush the dust off her copy of ‘An Idiot’s Guide to Curses’.

(That the book was written by her sister was a fact that the Evil Fat Tramp tried to forget. She had even tried to burn her sister’s name off the cover, numerous times. However, it would always re-appear five minutes later. Damn her sister and her superior skills.)

If the Evil Fat Tramp had her way, Princess Sweetheart’s life was about to become very difficult, indeed…

To Be Continued…

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Day 2: In Which the Princess Insults an Influential Baby

Day 2 of my writing challenge. Read the efforts of Day 1 here.

There were many things that irritated Princess Sweetheart. Birdsong in the mornings. Too much syrup on her pancakes. Her stupid, stupid name. But none of these things irritated her quite so much as babies did. Silly, gurgling, what-on-earth-is-all-the-fuss-about babies. Smelly, crying, pooping babies. Seriously, she could never understand why most human beings within a five foot radius of a screeching infant suddenly seemed to drop twenty IQ points.

“Listen! She’s saying Mama!”

Princess Sweetheart stared down at the fat baby that was being shoved towards her arms. “Really?” She raised an eyebrow. “I didn’t hear Mama.”

“Wait, she’ll say it again, won’t you Mama? Mami-mama-googoo-baby, yes you will!” The baby’s mother proceeded to gargle in a language that sounded pretty repugnant to Princess Sweetheart’s ears. In the midst of this, the baby did blurt something out.

“I think I heard it this time.”

“Isn’t it just adorable? Mama.”

“I heard mammoth.”

“Excuse-me?”

“Mammoth. As in huge, humongous. Maybe he’s noticed that you haven’t managed to shift your baby weight.”

Her eyes flared viciously. “I’ve lost six pounds this week! AND SHE’S A GIRL!”

Princess Sweetheart shrugged. “Easy mistake. Babies all look the same, anyway.” She peered down at the tubby infant. “Although, your kid does have an unusually large nose. What did the doctor say about that?”

The exchange that followed must be censored, dear reader. Let’s just say the mother was not at all pleased that her darling baby was being insulted in such a blunt fashion. And Princess Sweetheart was never one to shy away from a heated argument. Things got pretty nasty, very quickly.

As unpleasant as all of this was, it might not have been all that catastrophic in usual circumstances. However, the circumstances were not at all usual. Princess Sweetheart had not just insulted any ordinary baby. She had insulted a VIB (Very Influential Baby). The baby in question was the child of King Pompotti, who was the most influential and important King in all the lands far, far away. As he was so influential and important, people actually saw very little of him – influential and important equals busy, busy. In fact, he was so busy that he had never actually met the King and Queen of Pleasantville. His secretary had always handled all the necessary correspondence.

The invitation that landed Princess Sweetheart in King Pompotti’s castle was actually in the name of her parents. Unfortunately, since they had both come down with the flu and were unable to attend the festivities, they sent their daughter as their representative.

Big mistake.

(To the credit of the King and Queen of Pleasantville, along with their daughter, they had also sent thirty bunches of flowers, five baskets full of the Queen’s scones and the most charming and endearing ‘sorry we couldn’t make it’ note. Unbeknownst to them, Princess Sweetheart had chucked out the flowers since the smell made her nauseous, ate the scones because the journey made her hungry and threw out the note just for the sheer hell of it.)

King Pompotti had not yet had the chance to be enchanted by the niceness of Princess Sweetheart’s parents. However, one thing was for certain – Princess Sweetheart had enraged him (dear reader, here’s a free tip: don’t insult babies in front of their parents – it will never lead to Good Things).

Princess Sweetheart was promptly kicked out of the castle, which was no bad thing in her view, since the entire household of Pompotti seemed like dreadful bores. Little did she know, no more than five minutes after she had left the premises, another person had been summoned to the castle by the King’s orders…

The Evil Fat Tramp of Scowdown Valley…

To Be Continued

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Day 1: In Which the Princess has no USP

Day 1 of my writing challenge. I spent far more time thinking about what I wanted to write than actually writing. The ideas that I mulled the most over all got thrown in the bin. The story below marks the beginning of an entirely random and unplanned adventure. Enjoy :).

The King and Queen of Pleasantville were the nicest, sweetest couple in all the lands far, far away. They were never at war with neighbouring kingdoms, since no-one had the heart to argue with folk who were so polite (and the Queen’s delightful scones were an instant pacifier for even the meanest souls). Their citizens were equally cheerful, since the generosity of their rulers knew no limits (four day weekends and free healthcare, to name a few perks). And ever since the King sent him a giant fire-resistant patchwork blanket for his birthday, the Evil Dragon of Garswick Mountains stopped using his fire-breathing for destruction and became the local co-ordinator for bonfire nights and barbecues instead.

However, amidst all the sunshine and laughter, all was not well. The King and Queen had a big problem. Their daughter, Princess Sweetheart, was without a USP (Unique Selling Point). Now, it is a truth universally acknowledged in all the lands far, far away that all eligible princes in possession of dashing smiles must be in want of a princess with a USP. Rapunzel had her golden locks, Sleeping Beauty was immune to alarm clocks and Princess Luna of the neighbouring kingdom of Lipton had a singing voice like the bark of a wolf.

How does one come to develop a USP? Simple – you need to make someone very evil, very angry. Tick off a bitter old witch – and bam! She’ll curse your dear princess behind. Annoy an evil stepmother – and score! That poisoned orange juice at brunch will enchant you away to a solitary tower somewhere in a land ever further, further away.

Without a USP, princes do not come-a-calling. Fact.

The King and Queen of Pleasantville simply found themselves unable to make anyone angry. All villains and witches directed their evil plans towards other kingdoms, and saved all their good, poison-free apples for their visits to Pleasantville (especially the Old Hag from Glargistan, who was an avid farmer in her spare time).

The years passed, and Princess Sweetheart edged ever closer to her thirtieth birthday, still without a USP to her name. The King and Queen became ever more anxious that their sweet, beloved daughter was to remain a lonesome spinster for life.

But here’s the dealio, dear reader: Princess Sweetheart was not ‘sweet’ at all. In fact, she was perfectly horrid. Her parents were blindly oblivious to this; in their eyes she was the sweetest of darlings. And since they were the nicest folks that ever were, nobody had the heart to break it to them that they had given birth to a certified meanie. Grumpy, scowling and deeply anti-social; Princess Sweetheart was the antithesis of her name. Many a villain found themselves tempted to curse her after making her acquaintance, but the sweet nature of her parents had somehow managed to shield her from evil throughout her life. As much as she was nasty, their niceness just always seemed to balance it all out.

However, Princess Sweetheart’s luck (of lack of, depending on your perspective) was about to run out. The fateful month of her thirtieth birthday is where our story really begins…

To Be Continued…

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Just shut up and write

There’s a recurring internal monologue that I’ve been having with myself recently. Every now and then, I lament at my lack of creative output and then find my mind conjuring up the excuse that I’m just too busy to find time to be creative. In truth, it’s a pretty shoddy excuse. If I accumulate my minutes of procrastination throughout the day, the end figure is embarrassingly hefty. If I wanted, I could easily take thirty minutes out of that time and spend it writing.

So why don’t I? The truth is less flattering than the shoddy excuse: I’ve become lazy and I give up too quickly. Five minutes staring at the blinking cursor on my screen is enough to make me click on my browser and internet-procrastinate for a while instead. Ten minutes later, the focus is lost and the motivation is gone. Blargh.

So, I have decided to set myself a challenge for the following week. I’m going to spend 30 minutes writing every day, for the next seven days. I’ll post the results on the blog (be kind, don’t laugh, *insert disclaimers of being rusty/out of practice/not too great here*) to be gawked at by the interweb and the one or two kindly folk who take a minute or two to peruse my rambles.

Go me! Self high-five!

Ok, a self-high five is, in effect, a solitary clap – which is a bit lonesome and sad. So I’ll stick with a Happy Face.

:)

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