A couple of years ago I decided to give up cheese for Lent (I know, how utterly foolish). Cheese isn’t as bad for you as a McDonalds everyday – unless you eat the whole block – so my reasoning for this 46 day ban was rather pointless, except I wanted to see if I could do it. And, I’m proud to say, I did.
There were set backs, that goes without saying! I came home one evening to discover my housemates had arranged a cheese and wine night with friends. (I still haven’t received confirmation whether this was because of my abstinence at the time, although something tells me it was. I was the confirmed cheese-fiend of the group.) I spent the night with humous and some woebegone bread-sticks while the Camembert oozed and the apricot-studded Wensleydale winked coquettishly. Meanwhile, I endured my friend taunting me with cheese offerings, ‘Would you like some of this creamy garlic cheese on that bread-stick Ally?’ He received casual shrugs while I desperately scraped the consolatory humous tub.
Lent is the time of temptation. Tisn’t the season to be jolly.
In keeping with Lent’s traditions most people will sacrifice food whether wholeheartedly refusing a plethora of different temptations, or instead as a social experiment, much like my cheese fast. My mum and sister have given up sugar this year which, in my opinion, is shocking and terrible. Although, it is meant to be better for you. But not much fun. Those who give up alcohol have their work cut out. Isn’t it interesting how difficult alcohol is to avoid? It’s widely available, it is necessary for certain social interactions, and those who choose not to drink are regarded with surprise. While you’re at home it’s easy enough to dodge, but when you see friends (especially in London when there is no designated driver excuse) it’s a whole other matter. There are after-work pub trips, leisurely weekend catch-ups over lunch, romantic nights in. I gave up alcohol for another pointless yet determined experiment and typically it was summer-time when everyone is gallivanting around with Pimms full of strawberries and cucumber, cooling cocktails or sophisticated Sauvignon blancs. I proudly sipped my cranberry juice with a dash of disdain for my fellow drinkers but before long the novelty wore off. Anyway, I digress.
Temptations wouldn’t be what they are if they weren’t advertised, cavorting around everywhere you look. Chocolate companies are particularly devilish, releasing alluring varieties of mini eggs for the ‘limited pre-Easter period’. By claiming these naughty nibbles are ‘limited’ they are beckoning at you seductively, whispering that if you don’t take this opportunity you won’t get the chance again. Lent is then thrown haphazardly out the window.
Emboldened by my previous experiences of food sacrifice I have inevitably given something up. This year it is junk food. No more £1 bags of chewy cookies, no take-aways, no delectable mini Danish pastries glistening with apricot jam, no chocolate bunnies one of which is staring at me with its foil covered eyes as I write this, counting down the days until Easter like some evil sugar-filled china doll. However, I’ve allowed myself a loophole. Unlike Fiona and my mum, I could not cope without sugar – I just like cake too much. So, if I am ever drawn by temptation I am allowed junk food but only if I bake it first.
This sounds like a cheeky Get Out of Jail Free card but I must admit it is more frustrating than it seems. After dinner I always crave something sweet but now instead of nibbling on chocolate or helping myself to a Jaffa Cake I must take out my scales and start baking. What with the purists’ sugar ban elsewhere in the house I am only baking for myself which is quite alarming when you make a tray of biscuits and have to eat all of them. I’m well accustomed to the wave of regret when you see the empty tray a few hours later.
That said, I couldn’t resist baking hot cross buns. They are my Lent weakness (especially as you’re besieged by piles of them when you enter a supermarket – at only £1 a packet…) Golden and spiced fruit buns, they are integral to Easter, perfect with cups of tea throughout the spring. The heady scent as they bake is warming, sweet and doughy, although not the raw kind. It is the kind you want to crack open through the crust and steam your face with before you smother it liberally in butter.
I followed the Guardian’s How to Cook Perfect Hot Cross Buns recipe which has resulted in sixteen deeply golden pert balls stuffed with currants and candied peel. The dough is delicately spiced with cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, cloves and saffron, making these buns rich and far too indulgent for Lent. As you can see the crosses became a little erratic as the flour and water paste was slightly too thin and ran out quickly. I suggest doubling the quantity of flour, adding minute splashes of water until the paste is stringy and easy to dollop or pipe. Better to have excess mixture for proud pronounced crosses!
Now I just need to work out how I’m going to eat all sixteen without feeling guilty.