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Madame de Douceur, Mon Amour

She never fails me. Brownies may be overdone, brownies may be underdone, hopelessly stodgy or black with a vengeance; but never she. Always gracefully, she reposes in her favourite candy-orange bowl, its near-translucence casting a warm halo around her velvet shimmering skin. Her skin always the same, somewhere between milk chocolate and white chocolate, yet some elusive hue above both. For she is my mistress, my sweet mistress Brownie Batter, ever faithful in her making, ever constant as the box of Clingfilm on the top shelf of the second kitchen cabinet.

The wooden spoon I dip into her centre emerges thickly coated in her essence, daintily sugar-speckled. And down she drizzles, onto my waiting finger. You feel cooler than I remember, I think to myself. She hears me all the same. Memory likes to play tricks on you, my dear. So that you all but forget me, so that you desire me always, so that I never grow old or tiresome. I raise her to my lips as she trickles down the length of my index finger, sugar crystals clinging intimately to my skin. The moment I have most longed for.

Her flavour, it strikes my palate with the force of a memory so long forgotten, so magically remembered in every detail. Chocolate kisses, so sinfully, sinfully sweet, coat my lips, the sugary graininess melts between my taste buds. So unbelievably exquisite, so painfully beautiful is she! I savour my first, drawing my finger out slowly, trying to extract every particle. But there, she still sticks to me in tiny granules with a teasing persistence. Had we but world enough and time, this coyness, Batter, were no crime. But we do not, I tell her as I pour still more over her essence over my hand. And so she complies, squeezing all her strength and all her sweetness into tiny globes, which roll down my finger and explode between my tongue and palate again and again and again.

“Oy! Ugh! Every time, you do this every single time! Do you know that you just gobbled up enough batter for TWO WHOLE BROWNIES?”

Sigh. The nagging background buzz of brownie-lovers. Batter is not meant to be eaten. Batter is meant to be baked. And we are waiting. Do they not see? Brownies cannot be trusted. Fickle things, they are; puffing up and sinking down and turning black in all of five minutes. And you can never tell exactly which five minutes those are going to be. And no two batches are the same. But Brownie Batter: you simply cannot go wrong with her. But no, conventional culinary ethics must leave the world ignorant of her tantalizing charms. Lord, what fools these mortals be!

But the Voice of Reason, her Voice of Reason gently interrupts my indignant train of thought. I wasn't going to be here forever anyways. It's what I was made for, after all, love. You know that. Besides, you aren't losing me for good. So go on, pour me into the baking dish. See shimmers up at me, accepting of her fate. Always the sensible one.

So I pour her onto the greased baking parchment and she falls, sunlight from the kitchen windows shining through her, and watching with me as her thin layers fold over each other and the spreads to the four corners of the dish, settling smoothly with her characteristic dignity, even as the prospect of being baked looms before her in all its uncertainty.

There remains of her only fingers of Batter clutching the sides of her orange vessel. Just like her; she always makes sure a little stays behind. Her way of working with the loopholes in said conventional culinary ethics. No one said anything about not scraping the bowl, the sugar grains wink up at me. So again, we sit together, to appreciate the wonder that she is. No one has any right to bother us now.

You know, I muse, pensively scraping Brownie Batter off the edge of the bowl, we really should do something about those preconceived ideas about brownie batter. You deserve that much, at least. What do you suggest, Delicious One? She curls softly around my finger in reply and looks up. I wouldn't be yours anymore then.

“Oh God, not again! Grow up! Kids stop doing that stuff at Six!”
They can't stop, can they? How about we just ignore them this time? Yeah, that sounds like a good idea. Does it look like we care?
“You do know that there are raw eggs in that stuff?”
Does it look like we care?
“Do you think anyone will want to use that bowl again?”
Does it look like we care?
“That does it!”

No! Cruel, callous hands grab her off the table, out of my reach, whisk her into the kitchen. But there's still some batter left! I'll sterilize the bowl once I'm done! The hands don't even twitch. I watch, helplessly, as a jet of water shoots out of the kitchen tap, rinsing her out maliciously. And there she goes.

All that sweetness, that promise…I turn away, disgusted at myself and the state of things. “Full many a drop of brownie batter is mixed to lie unscraped, And waste its sweetness in the kitchen sink.” But such is the nature of truth
Stupid rules of etiquette.
Oh. Look. The brownies have gone black.

By Risana Nahreen Malik

Book Review

One fine day in the middle of the night

One fine day in the middle of the night,

Two dead boys got up to fight,
Back to back they faced each other,
Drew their swords and shot each other,

High school reunions are always ripe with the promise of drama. There are the festering grudges, the slow burn of an unrequited crush, a slight sense of embarrassment at the complete ninny you once were, which is occasionally followed by this secret wish to show them all how far you've come. So what happens when you're given the chance to go back, with the knowledge and experience you have today? For Gavin Hutchison, former nobody, the school reunion he has been planning to host at his latest hotel project is a way of showing his old classmates what a shining star he'd become. For wee Ally McQuade, attending said reunion is just a matter of touching base, and if he can manage to gloat a little about being engaged to former teen heartthrob Annette Strachan, so much the better. Matt Black, floundering comedy sensation just made an impulsive decision to attend just to see if he can revisit the person he used to be. All of them are excited and apprehensive for different reasons. None of them have any idea just how exciting things are about to get.

William Connor, head of a mercenary agency had never been able to impress the inexorable Finlay Dawson, a man he'd always hated and looked up to with equal fervour. When Dawson actually seeks him out for his new contract - the hijacking of a private party on an oil rig, he's giddy with happiness. This is his chance to shine, even though he isn't completely confident about his crew, who are as likely to shoot each other as any of their targets.

A gloat-fest for one man, and a simple mission for a team. Neither party figured in the presence of certain uninvited guests would make a mockery of the best laid plans. Just as Hutchison realises to his chagrin, that, in spite of all his preparations, he is still invisible, what was supposed to be a cakewalk for Connor and his team turns into a nightmare of a bloodbath as some of those 'easy' marks decide to fight back.

A deaf policeman heard the noise,

And came to arrest the two dead boys,
If you don't believe this story's true,
Ask the blind man he saw it too!

Hector McGregor, former Lothian and Borders police inspector, has the first day of his retirement rudely interrupted when the fisted hand of a disembodied arm plummets from the sky and knocks him unconscious. When he goes to report the incident, instead of investigating the possible reasons behind the rain of body parts, the authorities subject him to a humiliating interrogation. When he hears explosions in the sky that night, he is annoyed enough to go and investigate...in his pajamas.
You like slapstick? You got it. Dark humour? Plenty of that in here. Sarcasm? All you could want and more. Brookmyre launches his assault on the funny bones in this mad, mad romp of a book, playing with different forms of humour and seamlessly weaving them into an action-packed plot that isn't lacking in either violence or romance. You'll be left breathless with laughter, even as you flip through the pages trying to see what wacky turn the story will take. If you like Quentin Tarantino movies, you will love this book.

By Sabrina F Ahmad



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