In a State of niksen and Oatmeal Cookies

I come around here every time I think I have important news for you. This time is not much different. 2019 was here and it went by before I could even grasp the concept of its being. And that’s saying something, because I’m all about grasping vague and useless concepts. I have cookies too, by the way, so stick around.

The word niksen stands for the Dutch concept of doing nothing. Like the character of Julia Roberts in the movie Eat, Pray, Love learns about the Italian art of doing nothing, il dolce far niente. The Dutch have their version. And let’s not be too snooty here with all our international-ness, because the Bengalis have their version too — the infamous lyaadh. Or as the Punjabis might say — vella (although vella comes with the negative connotation associated with someone not doing anything just because they’re lazy). But you know what I’m talking about. It’s all the rage now, niksen. First there was hygge, the Dutch concept of coziness and adoring comfort. Now you’ll be seeing the word niksen pop up everywhere.

Anybody who’s ever lived an adult life, single or married, in complicated or uncomplicated relationships, have dipped their toes in this practice. It’s a beautiful thing. Some are bad at it, some are good at it, and then there are those that excel at it at a level that is virtually impossible for a Type-A like me to ever reach.

2019 was the year when I was surprisingly thrown into a life I had assumed I wasn’t cut-out for. Actually, I surprised myself. I very enthusiastically jumped into it knowing full well that I might have to pretend to like the stay-at-home-wife act. I was up for it. But what ensued was a lesson in the practice of niksen. A whole year of dong nothing. And guilt begone, I loved it! It’s been quite a ride.

A whole year of doing nothing. A whole year of slow brewed, fresh coffee in the mornings, pottering about in the kitchen in the afternoons, lunches on the white enamel Ikea table with Kumar everyday, spaghetti dinners on the teal area rug, in front of the telly every night. A whole year of lying on the bed, with the memory foam mattress, covered in the softest duvet, staring at the stucco ceiling that’s so typical to Texan mass housing, and ultimately spacing out. A whole year of doing nothing but running Netflix and Hulu and Amazon Prime in the background, while I lie languorously on the teal-colored sofa we bought from Nebraska Furniture Mart. Now that I think of it, a lot of our apartment is teal in color — the area rugs, the sofa, the baskets that hold the yoga mats, the bathroom accessories. A lot of it is grey, white and black too. Oh well.

If someone looks closer they might not agree with me, that I have been blissfully practicing niksen or il dolce far niente. I’ve been part of six art exhibitions, we’ve traveled a lot (a LOT), a few writing workshops, studies to get my Project Management certification. And then there’s THE BOOK. At this point, I’ve toiled away at THE BOOK for seven months now. Which doesn’t actually seem like a lot of time in the world of book writing. But to me it seems like an eternity. And yet, I’m here regaling you with my pro-niksen stance.

THE BOOK

We took trips to Colorado, Washington D.C., and Virginia (and blasted Country Roads by John Denver on the stereo, while driving along the Blue Ridge mountains!!). We drove to New Orleans for a long weekend, and to Tennessee for another. Thanksgiving was spent visiting the Mammoth Caves in Kentucky with Kumar’s friends from Uni. Thanksgiving was spent eating. We’d all driven down to our shared AirBnb and we’d hauled cooked and uncooked food with us. Sandy got the turkey, I got the pork and baguette stuffing and a delectable chocolate pie. Maddy was in charge of all the booze, while Suvadip and his wife took care of all the chicken thighs that were barbecued to perfection the next day. We toured the caves a day after Thanksgiving. It rained on the third day. So naturally we started drinking from 8 am in the morning (Moscow mules and Bellinis with leftover turkey breakfast, anyone?), sat and laughed ourselves dizzy and ended the day with a horror movie.

Christmas was spent in the Grand Canyon. No, I don’t mean a town near to the Canyon. I mean we booked ourselves a cabin right within the Grand Canyon National Park and endured four days of snow, slipping and sliding (dangerously, like ignorant fools) around the rim of the canyon. Grand Canyon has been a bucket-list item of mine. One of the achievable ones, I think. Looking at photographs of it, brown and flaming red, sun-soaked and gleaming among clouds, I had imagined I’d be awestruck. Well, I wasn’t just awestruck. The Canyon was covered in snow. Inches and inches of it, pristine white powder, like someone had tipped a bucket loads of vanilla ice cream over the ridges. And I stood dumbfounded, till I realized I was crying. Yes, actually crying. Tears rolling off my eyes like I was in a movie or something. Kumar chuckled a bit, but he didn’t say anything.

We climbed and trekked to the topmost point of the South rim (after we realized that the North rim is usually closed to visitors during winter). The trail was cold and silent, the trees and rocks and ledges all sleeping under a duvet of white snow. It felt like we were trudging through the clouds, on a three feet slippery path, a 3000 million year old mountain on our left, and a 7000 feet drop on our right. At points we stood to catch our breaths and these were the times we looked out at the immensity of the structure. We stared at the canyon in silence and it watched us back in silence. There wasn’t a sound to be heard, except for the soft pitter patter of snowflakes on our windcheaters. There is a certain ancientness to the place, a majestic show of scale and endurance that made me very conscious of how insignificant I actually am in the grand scheme of things. I wanted to stay up there in the cold for hours, hallucinating about wild horses and bare-chested natives who may have run across the plateaus among the canyons a millennia ahead of my time.

After we had our fill of the Canyon, we headed to Sedona and then onto Death Valley. Death Valley. Another spot of natural history that completely silenced us and left us wanting for more. 7800 square kilometers of arid landscape, that has been appropriately named. We drove through Death Valley, using our time to do a couple of trails through mountains that look like Plasticine in a myriad of colors were fused together in a hurry and abandoned in the middle of harsh salt flats. Every mile we crossed, the landscaped transformed itself into a harsher version of itself. Salt flats led to sand dunes, to dried and mangled tree groves, to a jarringly rocky flatland through which a minuscule but pure stream of water flowed. Mountains led to more mountains and then to Ubehebe, a volcanic crater wrapped in almost black rubble.

I stood and watched all of it, while my husband insisted that I film him doing Naruto runs across the bleak landscapes.

Throughout the day we strained our eyes to see across miles and miles of baked valley. When night fell, and the skies cleared, the stars shone. They lit up the sky. Our reluctance on driving out of Death Valley was apparent. We stayed quiet on the drive back to our rented cottage outside of the National Park. The Valley is terrifying — I cannot imagine anyone being able to survive in the vast openness and desertion that it brings down upon us mere humans — and I think that’s what makes it equally striking as Grand Canyon.

All this and I can imagine you questioning why I’m declaring myself to be in a state of niksen. I mean, food wise, over the course of 2019, we’ve made pizza from scratch multiple times, we’ve attempted bread in a Dutch oven and pulled that off successfully, I’ve added two cakes, two cookies, ad at least ten other dishes to my repertoire. That doesn’t exactly seem like someone practicing niksen. But it’s the gaps that matter. The gaps in activities, the breaks that I’ve taken in between all of it — lying spread eagle on the living room floor, snoring peacefully through the afternoons, spacing out at the telly, spending scorching, sunny afternoons walking to my local Walmart and just aimlessly wandering around examining and picking up things I don’t need, eating pasta for breakfast and fried eggs for dinner, sitting out on the balcony and watching the city go by on its miles and miles of concrete-laden roads, while my neighbors wonder why this scantily-clad woman chooses to spend time out on a balcony when the temperature reads 45 °C.

It’s been fun. You should try it sometime.

Now onto the cookies. yes, its one of the two recipes I picked up over the year. It’s simple and easy and packs a punch in terms of flavor. Not purely guilt-free, because it does contain a whole stick of butter and quite a bit of sugar. But I keep telling myself that its mostly made out of oatmeal and dried cranberries (superfood!), and that’s healthy enough for me.

Oatmeal, Cranberry and Chocolate Chip Cookies

Adapted from Cooking Classy. You’ll get about 20-24 cookies out of this mix. Recipe doubles easily.

Ingredients:
1 stick (100 grams) of butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup of light brown sugar (if you prefer a sweeter cookie, use 1 cup of sugar)
1 egg
1 tsp of vanilla extract
1 + 1/2 cups of rolled oats
3/4 cup of whole-wheat flour
1/2 tsp of salt
1/2 tsp of baking powder
1/2 cup of dried cranberries
1/2 cup of chocolate chips

How to:
In a large bowl, whisk the butter and sugar together till the mix is pale and the sugar has almost dissolved. Add the egg and vanilla and whisk more. The mix will look congealed for a bit and then it’ll smooth out. In a separate bowl, add oats, flour, salt and baking powder and mix with a fork. Add these dry ingredient to the wet ingredients and mix with a wooden spoon. Add in the cranberries and chocolate chips and work those in. Rest the cookie mix in the refrigerator for 15-20 minutes. Pre-heat the oven to 350 deg C. Line and grease a baking tray or two. Roll the batter into 1-inch balls with your hands. You can wet your hands with cold water in between rolling the balls to keep them grease free. Bake for 15 minutes. Let the cookies cool completely before removing them from the lined tray(s). Store in an air-tight container. You can also keep them in the fridge during summer months.

What we eat

You know what the rains are like here. We get swept away and washed off of all our sins every season. Then we roll right out of bed, grab black umbrellas left behind by our grandfathers, go back to work and dream of khichdi.

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Khichdi with fried aubergines and cubes of potatoes coated in a poppy-seed crumb, crispy fried of course, and a large dollop of ghee on top for good measure. Khichdi, like this, or with flaked fish British-style, is something I will cook forever. I have done my research online trying to find poetry or pretty prose that might have been written on khichdi, but I have been unsuccessful so far. With fried hilsa fish, with popadoms and mango chutney or with an omelette on top. It is not a head-turner in any sense. It is not something you’d find in QP LDN’s menu for sure. But let’s be real here. As much as I enjoyed QP LDN’s food last summer, I did walk out of there still feeling a little hungry (and lighter in the pockets) and ended up gorging on a quarter-pounder form Burger King. That should tell you a lot about how we eat. And more importantly, what we eat.

A man I had dated for a very short while, had studied my Instagram feed very carefully. He said, “You really love food, don’t you..”

I do. But he wasn’t really asking a question, it was more of a self-assured whisper under his own breath, as if he was looking for clues to help him decide what to give me as a birthday gift. He then proceeded to observe, “You eat fancy!”

He didn’t last till my birthday, but I still think of that conversation.

The sausage salad

The truth is that we don’t eat fancy at all. We eat out. We visit our favorite Indo-Chinese establishments or stroll to the neighborhood burger place that has, in recent times, turned magnificent. We get biryanis home-delivered. But those meals, although scrumptious enough to swear by, are hardly ever the kind of fancy you would want the world to be envious about. Good food. Great food, even. But not fancy food.

Most of our meals are home-made. Cooked or slurried together due to lack of time. A mutton curry, the recipe of which was handed down to my mother by her mother, with fluffy white rice. A homemade vanilla cake my colleague baked for Christmas, that we had with coffee. I found myself with some cooked pork sausages yesterday. I threw them in a bowl with a 6-minute egg, day old lettuce that already had a few brown edges, and dollops of mayonnaise. I then called it a sausage salad. That’s my daily level of fancy-ness. It may be comfortable, mediocre or cherished. But it is what it is.

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We took a whirlwind tour of Bangkok, Singapore and Bali. I travel to eat — for the most part — and I was not disappointed. Big bowlfuls of kuay chap, rolled noodles with crispy pork, hokkien mee, unctuous plates of Hainanese chicken rice, nasi goreng, barbecued pork ribs, piles of seafood by the beach and cups of robust Luwak coffee with sweet coconut milk. Nothing plated, ready for Instagram. But everything made to fill an insatiable appetite for good food.

We returned to a rain-drenched waterlogged city. And within 24 hours of arrival, I was craving khichdi. A steaming plate of gooey rice and dal, to warm you up in the chill of monsoon. So we had khichdi for lunch. And a quiche for dinner.

Continue reading What we eat

32 years. And salted butterscotch.

32 years.

THIRTY TWO YEARS!

Sometimes it feels like I’m 22, bent over on rolls of tracing paper at my college drafting board, wondering when I’ll hear the roar of motorcycle engines outside, signalling the possibility of a midnight mini road-trip.

Sometimes it feels like I’m 42, bent out of shape, exhausted and wondering when they’re going to invent a bed that will be able to swallow me whole.

But I turned 32, almost a fortnight ago now.

I feel like I have to whisper it, lest it sets off people into asking me if I’m married or if I have children.

I’m not. And I don’t.

cupcakes-1

Does it feel weird?

Yes and no.

Yes, because when I was younger, much younger, I had imagined – not in too many details – my life to be somewhat different. Maybe a little more accomplished, a little thinner. With a toddler by my knees and a one-off house in Devonshire.

No, because it has been a roller-coaster ride so far and I’ve enjoyed every bit of it. Accomplishments have come, gone and come again. I could be much thinner. There are no toddlers around, but there’s calm and stillness, a complete command over my own life. I don’t wake up to wet nappies, I wake up to chocolate cupcakes.

Continue reading 32 years. And salted butterscotch.

Lemon cake to comfort us

Hellooooo.

I have cake!

And some news. But I will totally understand if you skip the news and scroll right down to the cake recipe.

The travel startup I started with Priya, a while back is in its final stages of conception. We’ve named it Altertrips.

You know, after the words “alternate” and “trips”. Get it?! Ha ha, LOL.

cake_1

After 12 years of being an aspiring nomad, of changing jobs and countries and continents and holidays, certain acute aspects of the travel industry has started to bother me. And we’re looking to address that problem.

As we’re inching towards the launch – December, yikes – my palms are getting sweatier, my fingertips are bloody with all the nail biting, I’m hoarse after continuously yelling at my co-founder and my tech guys (I’m quite sure they’re ready to strangle me by now, but that will be a battle for another day).

I will talk to you about it soon, in another blog post.

Let’s just say for now, that it has been lesson after lesson, on life and on overcoming obstacles. We’ve been deeply humbled, overwhelmed, excited, triumphant, confused and angry at times. Sometimes all of that at the same time. And the intensity strengthens as we near, what we will call from now on, LAUNCH DATE.

But until then, we have lemon cake to comfort us.

Continue reading Lemon cake to comfort us

A caramel worth its salt

creme_caramel

It is perfectly understandable that I cannot just come back to this space after two whole years and let a crème caramel wobble under your noses, just like that.

You’ll want an explanation. You’ll want to know why I disappeared. And all that is fair.

But before I tell you how I’ve spent the last two years travelling and eating and starting a new travel venture and getting my heart-broken, I have to tell you about crème caramel.

In case you happen to be a child from the colorful 70s or the padded-shouldered 80s, you will remember crème caramel with the fondness with which you recall the pink of prawn cocktails, or the nauseating cheesy-ness of an au gratin. Or chunks of white bread soaked in warm, sweet milk that mum made on a wintry evening, right before she’d tell you to do your homework.

With its Gallic roots, crème caramel can be quite the charmer. If the inner-thigh quibble is not enough to convince you of its sex appeal, then think of bittersweet caramel mindlessly dribbling down its sides into a wet, sticky pool around that eggy custard. You wield your spoon and the custard surrenders.

Continue reading A caramel worth its salt

best eaten cold.

It’s the middle of May and I’m here today to talk about Christmas.
Yes, I’m 5 months and a whole season too late, but this is how we roll over here. So, here’s a picture.

BREADPUD1

If you’ve guessed bread pudding, then you’re right. A large vat of messy, melt-y, boozy chocolate bread pudding with crusty bits at the edges.I made my first last Christmas and this one a couple of days back. We’ve been high on alcohol and carbohydrates (and episodes of Game of Thrones) for the last 36 hours.

My mother, though not much of an enthusiast in the kitchen, is a hostess to her bones. She doesn’t even need a reason to call up a handful of people in a moment’s notice for an impromptu dinner party and have them show up for a guaranteed good time. Continue reading best eaten cold.

the banana bread bandwagon.

Anywho, we made it. The bananas and I. We made it right into, and you may want to sit down for this, my first banana bread.

Yes, I know. I’ve been missing a lot in my life. I’ve missed out on boyfriend-made mix tapes, I’ve missed love at first sight, I’ve missed out on the last five bikini seasons and up until last week, I’d been missing out on banana bread. Mix tapes and bikinis I can make peace with but I’m still keeping my fingers crossed about the love-at-first-sight thing.

But a bit of bad news first, dear reader: It is not empty yet. That bag of coconut dust is not. Empty. Yet.

chocolate coconut banana bread

I dump cupfuls of it into baked goods and curries. My friends have started to greet my cupcakes with a tired “Does that have more coconut in it?” A couple of days back when I offered a spoonful of coconut crusted chicken to one of my friends, she actually semi-cringed. She loves coconut. She literally inhaled that cake I made three weeks back. And the chicken was definitely drool-worthy. And she cringed, only slightly though, before opening her mouth.

Continue reading the banana bread bandwagon.

48 hours

it's been raining for 48 hours

Well obviously that’s not the most cheerful photograph you want to start your day looking at.  But I am sort of tired of complaining about the weather. Especially one as stubborn and angry as the monsoon we’re having. Today marks 48 hours of near-zero visibility, noisy drops (or arrowheads) of rain, pitch black rooftops and trousers hiked up to your knees wading through the water-logged wonderlands that are urban Indian parking lots.

But I’m hoping this might cheer you up.

saffron and coconut macaroon tart

I’m sure you remember THE BAG. The one that sat on the counter and gave me the stink eye. That went on for a long time till I responded with cake. Cake kicked that bag’s ass. Cake is not just a shoulder to cry on, it is also a fighter of crime and injustice.

And for that matter so is pie. Pie, if need be, can be the hero you’ve been looking for. Or heroine.

Continue reading 48 hours

to explain the coconut

rainy_day

So far August has been a month of revelations. Apart from being irritatingly monsoon-y, that is.

First there was the fact that I actually enjoy cookies. Quite an eye-opener. Then, Saturday at the office we found out that I can sop up eight whole chicken rolls in 30 minutes flat, when facing a bet.

Wow. I’m like this whole new person.

And it doesn’t stop there. Yesterday, after a particularly long evening at the supermarket, I came to the conclusion that I should not be let loose un-supervised in a supermarket. Because if I am then I’ll return home with half a kilo (a little more than a pound) of desiccated coconut, half a kilo of dried and pitted prunes and a jar of crystallized ginger for absolutely no reason.

I love supermarkets of course. I love that I can look at a shelf of canned tomatoes and think of making pasta. Or, I pick a head of cabbage and I know I might want to make a sabzi out of it. And that’s enough reason for them to end up in my cart. But a half a kilo of desiccated coconut? Where did that come from? If you’re raising your eyebrows at me right now, well then, save it. I can blame the candied ginger to my subconscious mind; I’ve been wanting to do a ginger cake for a long time without actually DOING anything about it. I can understand the prunes — I loved them when I made Nigella’s Christmas Cake last Christmas, so I knew I’d be half-happy snacking on them all day. But the coconut? I’m not even going to try and explain it.

For the rest of the day I sat with my legs propped up on the balcony railing checking out all that’s fugly while the rain thundered on outside. And all throughout, that bag of coconut sat on the counter giving me the I’m-waiting-for-you eyes. Stupid transparent bag.

In the end, when there’s a persistent bag of coconut waiting, there’s not much you can do except turn on the laptop and get out the old cloth-covered monster that is my recipe book. The bright screen and a couple of folded down pages threw up a mix of mind-boggling coconuttiness. It was like I was in a snowball fight. Except that there was no snow, only white sweet powdered coconut.

Continue reading to explain the coconut

bragging rights and trashy almond butter cookies

homemade almond butter

If you ever walk out of the Barbican tube station and take a left, keep walking till you get to the four-point crossing with a Starbucks to your left. Clerkenwell Road. A short walk off that road should lead you to several points of culinary  bliss. Namely a deli-style salumeria, the glass windows of which are lined with deep and gorgeously gnarly looking legs of pig. There’s a pizza place that employed a cute delivery-boy who used to bring us discs and discs of late night pizza as we slaved away at the office.

Cross the road and there’s this Asian mom-n-pop place that serves laksa in bowls as big as the Canyon. The yellow of the laksa they serve always reminded me of haldi-milk, a mix of warm milk with turmeric, a.k.a. “cure for common cold” in India. There’s a quaint cafe that serves up freshly brewed coffee, a place so tiny that after you manage to squeeze yourself through other people’s arms and legs and bulky winter coats, you come out of the shop smelling of freshly ground coffee beans, aftershave and expensive leather wallets. Always a good thing when you’re in London.

Continue reading bragging rights and trashy almond butter cookies

chocolate beer tart. It’s all good.

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OK, I am aware that these gaps are getting longer and longer. Most of the time nowadays I find myself uninspired to cook. Sure, there are those days when I chop up eggplants for a sautéed something something, but on other days all the work I want to do is to reach for my phone and dial KFC. And after finishing off almost half a bucket, I sit around rubbing my tummy and wishing I’d actually made something. No, it’s not a pretty picture.

I know that this sort of information should not be advertised on a site like this one, where I’m claiming to lead a life in food and gluttony. But in about two seconds I’m going to make it up to you.

Come on in to my kitchen everyone. It’s a rainy day and we’re having pie!

Pie is just right for a rainy day, if you think about it. You’re stuck inside with not a lot to do. You want to get your hands wet and you want the end result to be magnificent. Pie does that. Cake does that too…but all the effort that goes into a pie somehow makes you feel happier.

Pie requires you to pay attention. It requires you to wait patiently with a warm cup of Darjeeling while the crust chills in the refrigerator. It builds up your expectations as you smell it through the oven door. And then it makes you run for a tea plate and a fork.

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I have an appropriate pie for you today. Its got chocolate (like you already didn’t know that) and beer. Yes beer.

I know you’re either probably rolling your eyes right now or not gasping in surprise. And why would you. What with all the Guinness Cakes in our lives, pairing chocolate with beer is hardly surprising at this point of time in Blogger Land. And that’s not where it stops. All that dark malt-y gorgeousness is followed by piles of dreamy boozy frosting. We know of the beer brownies, of the beer cake pops and of the beer puddings. In fact, sometimes I think food bloggers buy beer just so they can make a cake out of it. They’re saying, “Oh, we’re having a dinner party and all our friends are beer-drinkers!” but they’re secretly thinking “We’re making boozy chocolate cake sucker, and you ain’t gettin’ any!”

Oh well. My pie’s going to show them.

chocolate & beer pie

It starts with chocolate, as all great things should.

Continue reading chocolate beer tart. It’s all good.

carpet-kissed Sunday

Stating the obvious, again, but I like Sunday. Sunday is hard not to like.

I find that lately, Sunday has become quieter than before. Friends have stopped questioning me or looking at me weirdly if I declare that I have no plans on Sunday. Planning to “stay in” on a Sunday and doing nothing is suddenly perfectly acceptable. When I say nothing I mean lying spread-eagle on the carpet watching rain pitter-patter against the bay window. This is drastically opposite to the years we spent dying of mortification every time we had to admit that we had “no plans on Sunday”. A situation like that was nothing less than sacrilegious.

But Sundays have changed. You wake up to a cloudy day which slowly but reassuringly turns bright and sunny. You catch up with your shows on the telly and then have a perversely large lunch. By 4 o’clock you make a chilly Frappé, tuck your left leg under your bottom as you sit and balance your laptop precariously on your right thigh. Four hours later you’re a hungry but happy woman. Or man.

It’s great that you’ve stopped by this Sunday, because if you’re a cheesecake person then you’re going to be mighty pleased in a few moments. Although I don’t actually have a cheesecake for you.

All I have is a poser. Pretending to be cheesecake. Suffering from denial. It has a shortcrust for a base and thinks it’s a super-fancy something.

But it is something. It may not have the deep resonance of a biscuit crust, but it does have the butteriness of a tart-crust. Followed by cream cheese, who can sometimes be quite dominating, flavoured with oranges. Anyway, at this point I do think I should just shut up and stop trying to sell this to you. Let’s just move on to the recipe and on to more lazy carpet-kissed Sundays.

Orange Cheesecake Tart

Recipe for the pastry crust is right here.
Juice of 2 fat oranges
200gm of cream cheese [you could use Philly cheese, but Mascarpone would be fantastic too]
2 egg yolks
1/4 cup of powdered sugar
100ml of double cream

Pre-heat oven to 170° C. While the tart crust cools, whizz everything up in a mixer or processor. Pour into the cooled crust. Bake for 15-20 minutes [it may take a little longer depending on your oven], till the center looks set and the edges are firm to the touch. Cool and refrigerate for a couple of hours till set firmly. Cut a thick slice and go back to the Sunday telly.