A Disaster in the Making

One of the oldest Heckler articles, this one still makes me smile. Very little in the story is exaggerated. No, really. I am this poor a cook.
Can’t Cook or Won’t Cook? Until recently I had never been able to decide to which camp I belonged. I would love to be able to declare with airy nonchalance that there is nothing in the world I enjoy quite so much as the preparation of my signature dish, Provencal pheasant stuffed with handmade herb and red onion stuffing and garnished with fresh quails’ eggs swimming in a delicate white wine sauce – but I can’t. Not only because I haven’t the faintest idea where to start – where in Aberdeen does one purchase a pheasant? – but also because my student budget would never stretch to such luxurious largesse. I can, on the other hand, boil an egg. This is a capability of absolutely no use to me whatsoever as I am violently allergic to eggs.

I can also make Fifteens. Fifteens, if there are any of you out there who have never had the indescribable pleasure of being formally introduced to the things, are an apparently Irish bun. That is, everyone in my home country of Northern Ireland knows what a fifteen is, whereas (tragically) not everyone over here appears to have heard of them, a convincing argument supporting the theory that Scotland is only a semi-civilised nation not yet ready for the responsibilities of devolved government. (Neither is Northern Ireland, by the way: every time we try it it gets confiscated, like an ocarina in a biology lesson). Fifteens are sweet, nut free and probably not good for you. To make them you require fifteen marshmallows, fifteen glace cherries, fifteen digestive biscuits, a tin of condensed milk and approximately half a blizzard of desiccated coconut shavings.

I tried to make them recently. I say tried because it rapidly became apparent that I was manifestly of the Can’t Cook brigade.

The first thing to do is pummel the digestive biscuits into fragmentary submission. Easily the best way to do so is to bung them into a plastic bag and crush them with a rolling pin while making the noise of a steamroller. (The noise isn’t strictly necessary.)

This was when my first difficulty made itself apparent. I had no rolling pin. Hortensia, my sister, suggested a bottle but the only one to hand was one which had until the night before contained Jack Daniels. Since it was square it was not a lot of use until she suggested I stop trying to roll it and just whack it off them. I fixed her with a withering glare. She is training to become a nurse. How, I rumbled belligerently, would she like it if the bottle smashed and my fingers were sliced neatly from my hand in the process?

I shall not relay her reply to you, Dear Reader, for fear of the ensuing damage to your purity of thought and substantial expansion of your biological vocabulary.

Hortensia stalked into her bedroom with all the queenly hauteur of a matriarchal preying mantis and I wandered into the living room, returning with the Norton Shakespeare Anthology. It had not been a lot of use to me in second year – I don’t think I even opened the thing – but it was probably the heaviest usable item in the flat. With it I pounded the biscuits for several minutes. By the time I opened the bag the contents looked rather like an aerial view of Dresden after a particularly trying night.

Since this was what I needed I poured the bag into a bowl and added the entire tin of condensed milk. I took up my wooden spoon and set to stirring with gusto. Rather too much gusto, I realised, as I flicked approximately half the concoction over my face and clothing.

I can be a stubborn individual when the fit takes me. I had a job to do and by Toutatis I was going to do it. Pausing only to take off my glasses, which left me with a sort of horizontal figure-eight splash-free zone around my (by now slightly crazed) eyes, I creamed the ingredients into a kind of gooey mess of rather smoother consistency than that with which I was so liberally coated.

I chopped the cherries and marshmallows into thirds and added them to the mix. Owing to the fact that my concrete-encrusted glasses were lying abandoned on top of the microwave I very nearly added the tips of my fingers as well but further disaster was narrowly averted. More stirring ensued.

I then spread greaseproof paper on the worktop and liberally sprinkled it with coconut. Then I sneezed, causing me briefly to feel like a figurine in one of those novelty snow-globes, and forcing me to throw the paper and coconut out and do everything all over again. I was not helped by the fact that some of the drifting coconut had adhered to me and I now resembled someone lackadaisically tarred and feathered, albeit with entirely edible components. I poured the mix carefully onto the paper, wrapped the resulting log with it (thus pressing the coconut onto every side) and set it in the fridge to set. This is Irish cookery. Instead of heating anything you chill it till it gives in and does what you want.
Finally, unable to move any facial feature due to the Nestlé cement which so thoroughly caked them (almost literally), I made my way to the shower a sad and embittered young man.

Dear Reader, I may be, by reason of incompetence, of the Can’t Cook brigade, but my heart belongs now and forever to the camp of Won’t Cook.

Your moment of Zen for today:

The Pannier Tank struggles manfully (not unlike myself) over nearly-insurmountable obstacles.

The Pannier Tank struggles manfully (not unlike myself) over nearly-insurmountable obstacles.


About Gavin

I am a 32-year-old PhD student in Aberdeen, Scotland. I work in QC at an e-learning company. I'm originally Northern Irish, though I've lived here in Aberdeen for several years. I am, essentially, somebody who is very normal, yet to whom very strange things keep happening...
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4 Responses to A Disaster in the Making

  1. starlingford says:

    As it turns out, this new format enables much larger pictures. Result!

  2. Eruntane says:

    Technically, if the Fifteens were edible at the end of the process, you can cook. The mess is just a by product. I, for example, would consider myself a tolerable cook, and could find you a few people who would agree with me. That did not prevent me on one occasion, however, from splattering cream cheese liberally across all three walls of Chris and Andrew’s kitchen.

  3. mercerd says:

    interesting material, where such topics do you find? I will often go

  4. Rachael's Mum says:

    I am also a can’t cooker but I was brought up in Belfast and I can make 15’s. In fact if I have to do baking for any coffee morning, sale etc that is what I make, as whenever things disappear into my oven, they invariably turn into a disaster. I have a few similar no bake recipes from the Cregagh Presbyterian Church recipe book circa 1982 that are equally messy, should you wish to expand your culinary repertoire.
    Useful tip – use scissors dipped into hot water to cut the marshmallows.

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