Sunday, 6 February 2011

Twitter and the Custard Tart Disaster

Last Sunday I spent the entire afternoon over a recipe to which I'd allocated about half an hour when flipping through the recipe book in the morning.

It was for a Fig Anise Custard Tart and I'd chosen it from the Thomasina Miers recipe book 'Cook', which lives on our shelf of cookery books. I'd been drawn to the recipe because the flavours sounded great, but also because of the breezy story which accompanies the instructions on page 198:

"This pudding was the result of having some friends over for lunch and at the last minute suddenly deciding they did need a pudding after all."

That was all I needed to hear... I made sure we'd got the ingredients and thought nothing about it until I re-entered the kitchen in the afternoon planning to make it.

Three-and-a-half hours later I was ready to serve a dish that tasted pretty good, looked only marginally better than the dog's dinner and for which I'd really lost my appetite.  


Well this recipe was really three recipes in one. I needed to make pastry, which needed to sit for at least half an hour before it could be put into the tin.  It then needed to be blind-baked before it could be filled and cooked again.  Separately, I needed to simmer the figs in a syrup of water, Ouzo and sugar for twenty minutes whilst also creating a custard from a million egg yolks, some star anise and orange zest, part of which needed to infuse for an age.

In and amongst all this, I stupidly grabbed the pine nuts rather than the dried white beans to sit on top of the greaseproof paper whilst blind-baking the pastry- the value of which easily exceeded the actual cost of the pie.  What's more, I forgot the greaseproof paper the first time and had to throw the lot away and start the process of making pastry all over again.

Eventually I got around to the custard,the last phase calling for at least 30 minutes stirring on a low light, only for it to curdle at the last minute!

I served the slop up and everyone was very kind... they had endured my drama-queen histrionics, the clattering of pans and Sunday-league language for much of the day and felt that anything other than meek thanks might just nudge me over the edge.

Now look.  I made some mistakes in there that weren't the fault of the author or the recipe, but even without those disasters, the recipe involved a whole world of juggling and complexity for a keen but workaday home-chef like me.

My point?  Don't lose your audience. 

Don't forget who your are writing for and don't get lost in your own fabulousness.  This isn't particularly a dig at Thomasina who I like a lot... I hear St Jamie of Oliver has also got into a spot of similar bother over the grassroots unachievability of his so-called '30 minute meals'.  It's not a dig at anyone, but it's a reminder to me, you and anyone who harbours a passion for anything.  Don't forget how much time and effort you've put into the subject that makes your heart beat faster over the years. Don't forget that you are probably more than a couple of pages ahead in the manual than many of your readers.  

Whether it is design, technology, social media, stamp collecting or ballroom dancing, it's brilliant that you want to share your passion, but even the basics are a lot harder than you remember.  Be patient.  Be realistic.

Think abut Twitter for example.  I always say that it takes an investment of up to 6 months to really 'get' Twitter.  To really, really, get it and make it work for you.  To know the tools, tricks and techniques.  To cultivate a following and to locate people who can offer great things to you.  

Twitter looks easy.  It has low barriers to entry with free apps, easy websites, ubiquitous mobile phones, but getting people to stay on board and overcome the apparent vacuousness and loneliness of the first few days in Twitter is hard.  They need mentors not teachers, they need patience and understanding, they need encouragement, support and ideas.  They don't need to be told, 'it's simple', when really doing it justice is far from that.

Everyone of us has a passion for something. Many of us want to share it. That's a beautiful thing. Don't waste it by forgetting who you're talking to.

pic credit:  Emilian Robert Vicol 

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