Conquering driving and pavlova

When we moved from London to the Midlands last September, I was incredibly nervous about the fact that I would have to start driving in England. While I had happily avoided this terrifying prospect during five years in London, I knew that if I didn’t get myself a bit more mobile – and stat – I’d go stir crazy in a small market town.

For the first few months I ignored the issue. We didn’t have a car yet, and when we did buy a car, I was too busy with other stuff to make driving a priority. But then I was bored. I needed a job. And I knew I would probably have to drive to the office. I was going to have to face my fears and get behind the wheel on the left hand side of the road. And navigate roundabouts. Eek!

I can tell you that my first few forays into driving in England involved: narrowly involving a collision on a roundabout, getting dangerously close to the left bank of the road, quite a bit of panicking and shouting, and an abandoned journey to Leamington Spa.

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But eventually, after a top-notch roundabout tutorial from Edward’s brother, I discovered that the key is confidence. (Coupled with my trust satnav friend Jane.) Just do it.

I still sometimes get nervous when I drive to a new place on my own (possibly because I missed my motorway exit on the way to work one morning and ended up on the way to Cambridge) and I have a pathological fear of meeting a roundabout such as this famous monster (it’s a roundabout with another five roundabouts off it!). But hey, I can drive on the wrong side of the road! And semi-competently navigate the UK’s bizarre and unnecessarily complicated road system! It’s a pretty good feeling.

I had that same feeling in the kitchen the other evening, when I finally conquered pavlova. In the past, meringue and I have not been friends. Either it would burn or stick hopelessly to the pan or collapse into a soft, gungy mess. I would marvel at how other people could make one with relative ease, with just the right balance of crisp crunch and soft marshmallow centre, and the greeneyed monster would secretly rage within me.

Given that I made this meringue on one of the hottest, most humid days of the year so far, I could have been forgiven for thinking it would be another disaster. But I was feeding it to company, so I knew I didn’t have the disaster option. It had to work. And it did! Remember, it’s all about confidence.

Raspberry Pavlova
Adapted from Appetite by Nigel Slater

6 egg whites (from large eggs)
350 g caster sugar
1/2 tsp white wine vinegar
3 tsp cornstarch
300 ml whipping cream
raspberries or passionfruit, for piling on top

Preheat the oven to 180C / 350F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Separate the eggs, and drop the whites into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. (You can also use a hand mixer.) Be careful not to leave any shell or yolk in the whites! Add the vinegar, and beat at at medium speed until the whites are shiny, thick and well risen. Add the sugar in one go, and continue to whisk for a minute or so, until the mixture is thick and glossy. (When you pull out the whisk, the mixture should slide off it very slowly.) Using a spatula, gently fold in the cornstarch.

Scoop the meringue onto the tray, and spread and smooth it into the shape you want – I did a circle a little smaller than the width of the tray. Bake in the centre of the oven for an hour – if it starts to look too brown at any point, turn down the heat a little. After an hour turn off the heat but don’t open the oven door – leave the meringue there until it is almost cool.

Meanwhile whip the cream into soft folds. When the meringue is cool, peel it from the paper and place it on a serving platter. Pile the cream on top and scatter the fruit on top, then dribble over any juices.