Wednesday, 26 September 2007

The Glorious Fruity Caramel Nubbliness of Nigella

A few weeks ago the BBC started airing Nigella Express -- as if our favorite naughty kitchen doyenne was a microwave pizza or a 7/11. Apparently she was not suitably chastened by her failed attempt to enter the daytime talk show arena, which was obviously doomed from the start, since only sexless women are allowed on our screens before 6 pm, and we all know that as soon as Nigella spots a phallic object, she is incapable of not shoving it into her mouth and giving her viewers a naughty wink. (I hope Val Kilmer fared better than that pastry.)




Don't get me wrong, though; Nigella's naughtiness is what we love most about her. She is a true hedonist, in the best sense of the word -- she loves to touch and smell and eat, she revels in the physical realm, and she is absolutely unapologetic about enjoying food, delighting in its luscious, carnal pleasures. It's hard not to join in with her enthusiasm; it's sexy and inviting and inclusive. That is what is so awesome (and also, sadly, unique) about her, even when she takes her rapture to ridiculous extremes. She also -- I don't know if you've noticed -- has very big boobs.


So we were very much looking forward to seeing Nigella's new show, even though it had the "Express" bit tacked on, as if the BBC producers got nervous about just having a "regular" cooking show in the face of The F-Word and Hell's Kitchen and that woman who's supposedly the new Indian Nigella (I have seen that show, and you, ma'am, are no Indian Nigella). Apparently "express" is the word of the zeitgeist (I prefer "x-treeeeeeeme" myself, but there's no accounting for taste), so Nigella's weekly introduction goes something like, "I love eating and I love cooking. But with our busy lives, who has time anymore? I have a solution, and that solution is: express." It sets a sour note (pun regretted) for the tone of the series: it's obviously read off a prompter, and Nigella visibly has a hard time saying the word "express," for she is not of this workaday world that you and I inhabit, and "express" is a concept I'd wager she was befuddled by until it was pitched to her by BBC execs. Usually her shows start off with her rambling about some old recipe for mousse deep-fried in lard and topped with cream that her mother used to make, but now she's swanning about London in a black cab, because she is Nigella! Express!

We’re a few episodes in now, and the changes have become apparent. Nigella is...different. She talks about time-management now, not just because she’s lazy (more on that later), but because you’re a working parent and you don’t have time to slow-cook a lamb joint drenched in five cups of butter. She says things like, “Saves time on washing up — anything to make life easier!” And weirdest of all, she’s started gurning at the camera like a voluptuous English Jim Carrey. I don’t have a shot of her crossing her eyes at the camera, but she does it repeatedly in the second and third episodes. What the...? What? What is going on?



Another strange development is her constant self-deprecation. In her old shows, when she talked about not measuring something exactly because she didn’t feel like it, or how she used full-fat cream in every dish (which I was sure would culminate in a recipe called Lard Salad), it was an endearing admission — it made you feel better about being lazy with your recipes, and feel more relaxed about making things, knowing that not every step had to be absolutely perfect. And you knew she enjoyed herself and didn’t apologize for it — she’d eat fat with abandon and gusto, just like she’d gobble, um, cucumbers.

But in the last few episodes, she’s been putting herself down more than usual, and now the deprecation is starting to verge on outright insults. Is she a food addict? Will she soon be rolling herself around the kitchen in a Segway so that she doesn’t have to walk all the way to the sink? Is she just trying to make everyone else feel better? “I may look like a raven-haired goddess, but I’m really just a lazy fat pig like the rest of you. And my horrible father, who brushes his teeth with soot, named me after him.”


A few examples of Nigella’s recent insanity:

Corniness:

"I'm gonna get dealing with my squidlies." (Since when is Nigella cutesy? She needs to dip those squidlies in chocolate and then eat them ravenously, pronto.)
“I’m going to teach you how to make perfect pasta pronto So, avanti! It's the Italian express, and how could you not?”
“Speedy, speedy!”; “Last one, baby! That's it!” (and other assorted Rachael Ray-isms/double entendres)
“These are glorious. Yum yum!”

Gluttony:

"Some people can't face thinking about food early in the morning. Not me!"
"For me the evening meal is really important -- not just because I'm always hungry."
“Fit for angels to eat on their clouds. Though they would have to be quite weight-bearing clouds, obviously.”
“I'm just using half the packet [of cream, it should be noted]. Moderation itself.”
"Now when some people go on holiday, they engage in cultural activities. Not me! I go food shopping."
“Just the smell of bacon frying makes my tummy rumble. Not that it takes a lot, it has to be said.”
“I hardly ever go out, but when I do, I have to be bolstered in the knowledge that I have something quick and easy to eat at home.” (That last one I find especially sad/amusing. It sums up a lifetime of crushing depression in one breezy, dashed-off sentence.)

Laziness/incompetence:

“I can't be bothered to go to the sink.” (She says this several times, as she pours nasty leftover water from her kettle into her recipes. Where is your sink, Nigella? In Tibet?)
(Explaining why she uses whole mushrooms instead of cutting them up) “I think they look fabulous like this, kind of woodsy. But really I'm just lazy.”
"If I could get this kettle working properly...This goes to show that you can be clumsy -- I am clumsy -- and cook."
"I use lime juice from this sort of luridly green plastic container from the supermarket." (Nigella’s toffness cannot ever be fully expunged. “Plastic? How amusing! And vile!”)
“I can't be bothered to peel and chop a proper onion.” (and later...) “I mean, I know chopping and peeling an onion isn't hard, but it can feel tiring at times.”

Still, even the mighty evil PC brigade of the Beeb can’t ruin Nigella’s spirit entirely. In some segments she was back to her old self — sliding objects into her mouth with alarming expertise, and never using one adjective to describe something when she could use five. Some classic Nigella-speak:

"lovely silkiness"
"crispy perfection"
“Tumble the berries over the cream” (She loves using “tumble” as a verb.)
“glorious muskiness”
“sublime spikiness”
“All the meaty juices are getting drawn into my pond of cider.” (That’s what she said.)
“This helps keep the chops juicy. And I want them juicy juicy juicy.”
"It has a wonderful sweetness" (said of a sweet potato)
"vivid pepperiness"
“sharpness of the lemon and the depth of the olive oil”
“It's an insidious game, this game of favorites -- in food and children -- but I think thyme is my favorite.” (?!?!?!)
“Its gorgeous saltiness will meld with the garlicky oil.”
“add a note of leafy grassiness” (Glassiness? The closed captioning didn’t even attempt it.)
“luscious, smooth, flowing caramel”
“beautiful boskiness”
“mounding spoonfuls of my ivory cream” (snerk)
“crumble gold dust on top”
“bouncily yielding”
“wonderfully resiny rosemary”
“I love the rather sombre darker brown of the outline and the bright paleness of the interior. It's a painting on a plate.” (Bright paleness!! I had fun thinking of other Nigella-esque possibilities: “Rigid fluffiness.” “Spiky softness.” “Layered oneness.” “Feathered baldness.” “Black whiteness.” “Abstract concreteness.” “Foamy pile of nothingness.” “Hegemonic chaos.”)
“Leave a good amount of clumpage because if it's all too fine and sandy, it won't have the right nubbliness that a good crumble needs.” (This nearly made my head explode.)
“generous wodge”
“snuffle up small slices”
“The contrast between the scorched, caramelized fruitiness with the saltiness of the gorgonzola is frankly just rapturous.”
“I always like a bit of impaling.” (I bet you do, Nigella. I bet you do.)
“sudden hit of grassy green”
“Into each glass, a luscious pile.”
“jumbleberry crumble” (A recipe. Dear God.)
(And my personal favorite, because I am immature.) “I love it when people can smell the welcome when they come in.”

I was thinking of doing a sort of “create your own Nigella expression” thing, but I think you get the idea. Phrases so purple they would embarrass fanfic angst writers. But at least she’s got her spark back in those moments, and for that I am gloriously rapturous.

1 comment:

Dawn said...

Hard to imagine this...our gloriously fruity Nigella gone a little nubbly? Oh well, never mind, even "expressed" she's still better than all the rest mixed up together in a tumbly pile.