The making amends menu for a surprise birthday tea

I've been shortlisted for the UK Blog Awards 2016 Final.

TODAY is my wife’s birthday and I am going to make amends with a birthday tea. Being married to me is not much of a bargain at the moment. Too much doubt and worry, too many unprofitable words.

The tea is not a surprise but the menu is, so I have told Gina that she can’t read this until she returns from work. Two courses, nothing too enormous, as there will be more food tomorrow when my mother arrives. Both recipes are new to me, one an Indian salad, the other a marmalade cake.

The salad is vegetarian because my wife doesn’t eat meat or fish; she’s a vegetable as our daughter sometimes puts it mischievously.

I found the recipe in a newspaper supplement that usually contains a find or two. It is by the food writer Meera Sodha and is for paneer and mango salad with tamarind and shallots. And I hope she’ll like it shallot.

You make a dressing by bashing fresh ginger and green chilli and salt in a pestle and mortar, then add lime juice, honey and oil. After that you fry the Indian cheese until crispy, set aside, and then fry the shallots, mixing everything with the dressing and tamarind paste, and placing on mixed leaves with fresh mint and fresh coriander.

Heaven only knows how it will turn out, but the recipe sounded just the thing for a vegetarian wife. I shall serve it with flatbreads, not home-made for once, as we have some in the freezer.

The cake comes from my favourite baking book, Short & Sweet by Dan Lepard. I bought this book for the bread recipes, as is usually the way, but it also contains many cakes, biscuits and so on. One cake wasn’t so good, but everything else we’ve tried has been more than fine, including his caramel Christmas cake.

Cake making does not usually fall to these hands that knead. Marmalade layer cake, it’s called. The sponge has fine-cut marmalade in the mix, and the topping comprises double cream, vanilla extract and golden caster sugar.

It looks simple enough but there are bound to be ways to mess things up. Note to occasionally inattentive self: read the bloody recipe properly.

So that’s the birthday tea for the girl of the house (the other one is in Newcastle, and the cat doesn’t count, even though she causes me more bother than the other two combined).

In other news, bumps and bulges have been banned from the breakfast table. Not this breakfast table, but one at a hotel in New Zealand. Lycra shorts are to blame. The Plough Hotel in Rangiora has put up a sign that reads: “The bicycle is a beautiful object but they should never have invented Lycra! No Lycra shorts allowed please.”

The hotel’s co-owner, Mike Saunders, says he wants his café to be old-fashioned and for families, and that the “bumps and bulges” revealed by tight cycling shorts are “unsightly”.

Well, yes, and I guess they could put a person off their black pudding.

That story, incidentally, was the most read on the Guardian website this morning. It’s somehow cheering that with all that serious and weighty news to read, sometimes people would rather turn to a silly story from the other side of the world.

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