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A few weeks ago I was listening to the radio. I say listening, but someone was interviewing the footballer Roy Keane, so it is more correct to say that the radio was on and I heard it. Roy is promoting a new biography and was talking about this and that. Then the interviewer said something that caught my attention.
“And what about that time you went on the fish and vegetables diet?” he said. “You went to skin and bone there for a while!”
“Yeah,” said Roy. “I would be a bit inclined to the extreme. Maybe that wasn’t such a good idea, I really lost far too much weight.”
Hmmm. I really like fish and vegetables.
Then the husband went off to France for a few days. When he is here, he has to have hearty, large meals, and steamed fish and vegetables just weren’t going to cut the mustard. So I made some lovely boiled rice, and served it with thinly-sliced fennel bulb, broccoli and a nice piece of salmon, which I steamed on top of the rice. I just added a bit of salt and pepper – and it was divine. I was pleased, and not a little smug.
Now I don’t normally head for the apron and wooden spoon after dinner. But once you start thinking about healthy food, you naturally start thinking about all the terrible things you have so sensibly denied yourself. Which, in turn, leads to mental images, and before you know it you’ve started thinking about the fact that you have all kinds of ingredients in the store cupboard, and how wonderful the outcome could be if you mixed together, say, eggs, sugar and butter, and added a little cinnamon, or perhaps a few broken-up chocolate pieces.
And before I knew it I was taking a tray of golden cake out of the oven. The outcome was indeed wonderful, and I share the means to achieve it here:
CINNAMON CHOCOLATE TRAY BAKE
50g slightly softened butter + 25g butter for topping
80g sugar + 25g sugar for topping
60g dark chocolate, broken up into small bits
100g self-raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tbsp cinnamon (I use powdered but grating your own or grinding it in a pestle and mortar is unbeatable, for the wonderful bite it gives)
Preheat oven to 180 degrees and line a square cake tin with parchment.
Note: Until I make these again (in about two hours’ time) these amounts are approximate, because I didn’t weigh or measure anything. But I’m pretty confident that the measurements are fairly accurate.
Whizz up the butter and sugar till creamy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Fold in the broken chocolate bits, self-raising flour and baking powder. Add the buttermilk. Fold together nicely and pour into the cake tin. Then, melt the butter in the microwave, add the sugar and cinnamon and mix all together. It will be very runny. Drizzle it on top of the batter and bake the whole lot for about 20 -25 minutes.
Far too delicious.
It may be a little excessive to paint the ingredients but that’s what I like doing…after I’ve put their contents into a tray bake. It’s just a still life after all. The cinnamon in powder was (a) unphotogenic and (b) finished, so I painted cinnamon in sticks. That was enjoyable. As always with watercolour, I painted the entire thing with the lightest colour: in the case of the cinnamon, that was a reddish-brown, and in the case of the chocolate squares, a neat burnt umber. Then, when the paint was dry, I built up the colour in the darker areas.
I used a white gel pen for the areas with white writing. This will only work for you if you make the background colour quite intense – the white won’t stand out otherwise. My brand is Gelly Roll but I’ve used other brands too and they are just as good.
The reason I drew the butter packet all smashed up was twofold – number one, I couldn’t be bothered smoothing it out, and number two, I thought it would be more interesting to draw that way. And so it turned out. I’m only ever going to paint butter packets all crumpled up in future, should I ever be commissioned to do such a thing.
I apologise for everything being truncated at the top of the page. This is because I started with the butter packet and by the time I’d done that I realised I’d left very little room for everything else…ah well, it’s not exactly Michelangelo!
I also used a Lamy Safari to do the writing on the sugar packet: there was this special limited edition of pink pens with pink ink, and like the sucker that I am I thought it would be really cool to have hot pink ink. As it turns out, I have no need whatsoever for hot pink ink, so I was very pleased to use it today.
Last night there were still a few left, and my son was doing a bit of late-night Spanish homework. He’d made a nice pot of tea, and a slice of cinnamon chocolate tray bake seemed like the perfect accompaniment. I heated it up a second or two, and poured cream on top. Mmmm.
“Are you actually going to eat that?” said my son. “That is, like, so fat.”
Back to fish and vegetables, I guess. Tomorrow.
Art Materials I Use and Can Recommend
My favourite watercolours are made by Schmincke. I use a very small set when I am on the move, or this set of 24, which is available to buy here from Utrecht Art Supplies (in the US):-
or in the UK and EU :-
I also use Escoda Versatil brushes (available from Dick Blick in the US) :-
or from Jackson’s in the UK and EU :-
There are three pens I always use. The first is the Platinum Carbon pen, which can be used with cartridges or a converter. A converter is useful when you are choosing your own ink. The Platinum has never let me down: they tell you to use it every couple of days to avoid clogging, but I have left it longer than that and I have never had a problem in many years of use. It is also very reasonably priced and is available to buy from Amazon :-
The second pen I am never without is the Kuretake Brush Pen. I always use waterproof Platinum Carbon ink cartridges in my brush pen. This is available to buy here from Dick Blick in the US :-
or from Jackson’s in the UK and EU :-
The third pen I really enjoy using is more expensive, but I chose it for its flexible steel nib, which gives a lovely variable line thickness. It’s the Namiki Falcon and is available here from Amazon :-
I find that grey ink gives a softer line than black – it’s more like a pencil line – and I always make sure at least one of my fountain pens contains grey ink. I use Lexington Gray by Noodler’s, which is waterproof when dry, also from Amazon :-
I use various types of watercolour paper, but one I come back to a lot is by Langton, available here from Dick Blick :-