Who are you and what have you done with Catherine?

It’s been a little quiet around here, which wasn’t my intention.  Several of you have asked me for particular recipes – which I will get to, I promise! – but work has just gone into grant-writing mode again, and I find that spending a day attempting to ascertain from a remarkably detailed, and yet strangely unhelpful, set of instructions whether or not what we are doing counts as human subjects research leaves me with very little brain at the end of the day for writing about food.  And I’m feeling a bit on the seedy side this week, which doesn’t help.

The thing with feeling seedy and tired and (to be honest) hormonal, is that I become totally unreliable about grocery shopping.  For one thing, I want ALL THE RED MEAT IN THE WORLD.  Well, Koallah Farm sent me their weekly specials email today, so that took care of that particular urge.  What is more puzzling is the invariable urge to buy all sorts of unhealthy things that I don’t even particularly like.  Those fake chocolate mousse desserts, for example.  Or Edam cheese (which I don’t dislike, but I don’t like in *those* quantities).  Or really bad filled chocolates.  Or excessively sweet confectionery which I can make better myself.  Or donuts.  Which I don’t want by the time I get home, because I have also bought lamingtons, and cheese, and STEAK, and fake chocolate mousse, despite the fact that I remember perfectly well from last time that I don’t like it, but this time it will be different.

(Generally, grocery shopping becomes Andrew’s duty at this time of the month.  Though his tendency to call me from the confectionery or frozen dessert sections of the supermarket to make suggestions is not as helpful as he thinks it is…)

Anyway, today I did something I haven’t done in more than a decade.

O my Readers, I bought packet cake mix.

No, I still don’t know why.  I mean, it was chocolate brownie mix, which is a partial explanation, because we all know how important chocolate is, but still.  I make very good brownies.  I even make very good vegan brownies!  And I make them quite efficiently, too.  What on earth possessed me?

The last time I used a packet cake mix was in 1998 or so.  My friend N. invented a recipe for Tim Tam cake, which was made by taking Betty Crocker packet chocolate cake mix, making it according to the instructions, and then mixing in chopped up Tim Tam biscuits prior to baking.  Pretty hot stuff, we thought.  I made it a few times, and then one-upped it by turning it into Tim Tam Peach Melba cake, which also included raspberries and tinned peaches and made the cake fall apart.

Then I left the cake mix in a bowl by the sink for several weeks (yes, I know.  My housekeeping has improved since then, slightly), and the mixture didn’t go mouldy.

After that, I was too scared to use packet mix cakes any more.

None of which seems to have stopped me today.  Admittedly, I got the expensive, gourmet, Donna Hay cake mix, which actually includes ingredients that I recognise, rather than a cheap generic brand, but I still feel a slight feeling of shame.

And those of you who know me – or indeed, those of you who have been reading this blog for more than five minutes – will be unsurprised that I didn’t *quite* manage to follow the recipe.  I added about a cup of frozen raspberries to the mix, in fact.  This is probably why it took twice as long to cook as it said on the packet.

And the taste?  To my *extreme* annoyance, it’s really quite good.  I think my brownies are a little nicer – better quality chocolate, and less sweet – but I’d eat these quite happily, especially in my current mood.  Andrew claims that the brownies I make have a better texture, but I’m not so sure.  Mine are definitely softer, but I rather like the chewiness of this one.  Packet mixes have certainly made some leaps forward since I last checked.

Then again, perhaps it isn’t so surprising  that they taste OK – the ingredients list is pretty much sugar, flour, cocoa, milk powder and raising agent, along with chunks of chocolate to be added at the end, and you add melted butter and two eggs.  And raspberries, if you’re me (Are you?  You really shouldn’t be.).  That’s a respectable cake batter by any standard (though I prefer my milk un-powdered), so it isn’t so surprising that it winds up tasting like a real cake, and doesn’t have that weird packet mix aftertaste.  It doesn’t seem to be excessively endowed with preservatives, either (unless you count the sugar, which, really, you should), so, while I have no intention of letting either the batter or the cake hang around long enough to find out whether this one would go mouldy, I suspect it actually would.  And that’s a good thing.

It’s still a little disturbing, though.  I prefer to think that my baking is good enough to be distinct from things you get from packets (otherwise what am I doing writing this blog?), but this experience has shaken me a little.  And now I feel like I’m one of those adds disguised as a community service announcement, which I’m not.  I think my home-made brownies are better, I don’t want you to rush out and buy packet cake mixes because baking isn’t that hard and I also think it’s just better, somehow, to know exactly where your food comes from, which means making it from scratch as far as you are able to do so.  Also, if you’re cooking from scratch you can claim that you are burning calories in making the cake, which means you are allowed to go back for seconds.  Everyone wins.

Still, as packet mixes go, this one is very good.  And it certainly fixed the chocolate cake craving.

(But it’s still a little upsetting.)

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