12 MAY 2001, Page 58


OH dear! There I was, enjoying my Sunday, not doing very much, idly flicking through the papers, when I saw it. There it was. on page three of the Sunday Times, under the headline: 'Critics knock goddess off her pedestal'. To be perfectly honest, I don't usually get the Sunday Times. I'm more of an Independent on Sunday person. Or will be shortly. It's about to be taken over by my immediate boss at its sister daily paper.

Remember him? Well, he could take me with him, couldn't he? He could give me a big new job and car-parking space and my own ashtray overlooking the river and everything! He's still jolly handsome, by the way. Oh, yes. There has been no backward sliding on that score. He might even be more handsome than the last time I wrote about him. I don't know how he does it, frankly. Tristan, you just get younger every day! Janet Street-Porter, by the way, will shortly no longer be editor of the Independent on Sunday. Spooky old boot or what?

Anyway, back to the downmarket Sunday Times, and the article under the headline. It was all about the very lovely and gorgeous and beautiful Nigella Lawson, saying that her recipes don't work; the chefs have tried them and her flapjacks are difficult to remove from the tin, her blueberry muffins nosedive because of too much baking powder, and her cranberry upside-down cake collapses. Well, I was outraged. How dare they have a go at Nigella whom, as you know, I adore and worship and crave to be, what with her divine cashmere twinsets and hair as dark and glossy as a black Labrador's ears. OK, my own version of How to Eat (by Denisella Ross) didn't do too well but, as I can now see, the subtitle — Just Open Your Gob and Shove It In — might have done for it. Still, I am hopeful for the sequel. How to Be a Domestic Slobbess, which even comes with a free quiz to test how you score on this particular front: 1. Have yesterday's knickers ever fallen Out of your trouser-leg while you were walking down the street?

2. When you're draining pasta, and your hand slips and the spaghetti plops from the colander into the sink, do you scoop it up and serve it anyway?

3. In Tesco. do you always march past the manky, dirt-covered, overpriced organic rubbish and head straight for the Gingster's pies, Dairylea Lunchables and jumbo bottles of Panda cola?

4. Have you ever made Nescafe by running the mug under the hot tap?

5. Would you do more tests like these, if only you could ever find a pen?

6. Or one that worked?

7. Or could be bothered to get up?

Actually, who cares if the recipes work or not? I mean, with home cooking I've always thought that you get 98.8 per cent of the marks just for bothering. If your cranberry upside-down cake doesn't collapse into a big pile of mush, then that's just a bonus, isn't it? Plus, complaining that a recipe doesn't work is like saying that the clothes in Vogue won't do for ordinary-shaped people on ordinary budgets. Well, of course they won't. But that's the bloody point of Vogue, isn't it? I mean, it just wouldn't be Vogue if it featured tabards for size-16 school dinner-ladies, would it? It would be Bela. I once worked for Bela, you know. Oh, yes. And it had a very high class of readership, actually. There used to be this column, 'How To From You', which featured readers' tips, and I'll always remember the one that gave advice on how to make fresh pears taste canned, how to get rid of that nasty, fresh taste. 'Boil them in lemonade,' advised Pamela from Walthamstow. Now, how classy is that? Plus, do you think her father's name is Pam?

Anyway, no sooner had I read this piece of crass journalism of the kind you'd never find in the Independent on Sunday, than I'm off down the bookshop to get Nigella's How to Be a Domestic Goddess: Baking and the Art of Comfort Cooking. It's not cheap. It costs a hefty £25. But I don't mind. I consider it a contribution to the Nigella fund. It may help keep her in cashmere twinsets. Or not. I think her cashmere twinsets are very top-ofthe-range. It'll probably only keep her in a bit of a cashmere twinset. Or pay for a button, perhaps. Or the holes in a button. Or one hole in a button.

Whatever, it's a truly delicious, sumptuous, inspiring book, full of cakes and mouth-watering chocolatey things and pies. 'A pie,' says Nigella, 'is just what we all know should be emanating from the kitchen of a domestic goddess.' So. I decide, I shall make one of her pies. In particular, I shall make the double apple pie on page 117. 'I don't want to nominate favourites, but, even so, I have to say this is a pie I'm ecstatic about,' she writes. I tell my partner that I'm going to make a pie. 'Oh God,' he groans. 'Must you?' Sometimes he can be very unsupportive. I think that his main complaint is not that I can't cook and don't cook, but that I can't cook and do. Baking, though? I've never baked before. And I certainly hope that I don't have to bake blind. How will I find the oven?

But, no, I will not be intimidated. First off, though, I need a 'springform tin'. What is a 'springform tin'? I've no idea. So I dash over to my sister-in-law, Mary. 'What is a springform tin?' I ask. 'I can't believe that you're nearly 40 and don't know what a springform tin is,' she says. Mary, as it turns out, has springform tins in a variety of sizes. Mary may even be the Nigella of Friern Barnet. Mary doesn't want to take on the feminised version of her father's name, though, because he's called Denzil, and she doesn't think that `Denzilla' has much going for it. Mary has white carpets and irons sheets. Mary makes banana bread. Mary irons her children's underwear. Mary sweeps under the table after every meal. Thankfully, at least, her eldest, teenage son is beginning to show a healthy disregard for hygiene. 'He wears the same pair of socks for three days, puts them in the laundry basket for a day, then picks them out again. He thinks that a rest is as good as a change. He thinks that giving them a day off somehow makes them clean again.'

'Doesn't it? I ask.

Then it's off to Tesco, for something called Trex, which I know now is a kind of lard made, I guess, from compressed bits of postcar-crash Marc Bolan. Then it's home, where I go into a total frenzy of measuring and rolling and peeling and coring. You need Bramleys and Coxes for this recipe. The Bramleys to make a sort of background puree, and the Coxes to 'retain their shape'. You need lots of both. And so much butter it makes my hair stand on end — 100g in the pastry, 50g to fty the Bramleys, 50g to fry the Coxes. I am frightened of making pastry, but it's all done in the Magimix, and is remarkably easy-peasy, actually. And the result? Well, it took a long time — 90 minutes — to make, and doesn't look quite like the photograph, I admit. My version is much more concave. Still, it tastes pretty all right. Delicious. even. The Coxes do just kind of melt into the mushy Bramleys. It's given 'nine out of ten' by my partner and son, who demand seconds and then thirds. So, in conclusion, all I can say is don't believe everything you read in the Sunday Times; unlike the Independent on Sunday, which offers trustworthy journalism at a most reasonable price.

How to Be a Domestic Goddess is published by Chatto & Windus. Should you have any trouble getting hold of How to Be a Domestic Slobbess, it's probably because I haven't bothered to write it yet, and can't find a pen.