A couple of years ago, I went on a teaching course led by the enviably creative Literacy guru Pie Corbett. Please note, before you put the RSBP on speed dial, despite his name and the ‘magpie’ focus of the course, there was not the bird equivalent of Sweeney Todd’s pies on offer with token feathers poking out the pastry. There were mini pastries with coffee, but a hungry teacher being in the same room as FREE hot drinks and FREE vienoisseries in a HOTEL is an entirely different story*. Anyway, on this course, Pie taught us the concept of allowing children to ‘magpie’ ideas to improve their writing. Perhaps they could ‘magpie’ a word or two from a book or feel inspired by the way in which an author describes a setting. Perhaps they could ‘magpie’ an idea of their friend’s to use in a story, or use imagery created by the teacher to give their writing that ‘wow’ factor. Two years on, I still raise a smile when a child says “can I magpie that Miss Taylor?”
I suppose it could be argued that ‘magpie’ is a euphemism for stealing, but I prefer to think of it as a term which is largely underpinned by inspiration. Of course, I would never encourage a child to magpie an entire poem, story or paragraph, for this simple exercise of copying would be fruitless in terms of progression of learning, but using the ideas of others to help create an impressive something of our own is an ideal way of igniting that creative spark within us all. For me and many others, this is not only applicable in the classroom, but very much relevant in the world of food and cooking. In the recent 20th birthday issue of Sainsburys magazine, Nigel Slater states that “TV cooks (…) are inspiring and empowering people”, not necessarily because they are teaching us to cook, but because the simple act of watching them do their work makes us want to get up, cook our socks off and eat delicious food. Us amateurs may not produce exact replicas of what we see on our TV and read in our recipe books – our piping on our cupcakes may be wonky, our mash may be slightly lumpy and our presentation is more home kitchen than Michelin – but we are empowered by the range of ideas given to us by chefs and cookery writers.
Of course, unlike in the classroom, it is far from a ‘sin’ to copy a lot when cooking. Indeed, it is from copying others and reading recipes that I have learned how to cook, and it is an impressive skill being able to reproduce a recipe really well in a home kitchen. Nevertheless, there are times when I don’t want to follow a particular recipe, but instead magpie the ideas I have come across in recipe books, from watching others and from the TV, to make my own dishes. Yesterday, when Spring had finally sprung in the form of “you don’t need your winter jacket” sunshine, I decided to make cookie dough ice cream by magpie-ing two recipes which I know always work. For the cookie dough, I used the lovely Joanne Wheatley’s Chocolate Chip Cookies recipe, which can be found on page 183 of her wonderful book, ‘A Passion for Baking’ (a must-have book for home bakers). For the ice cream base, I used Jim Fisher’s foolproof techniques and ingredients which I learned about on a cooking holiday in France. This was the result:
Cookie Dough Ice Cream (double quantities if you’re feeding more than 4)
- 300ml double cream
- 3 egg yolks
- 50g caster sugar
- 1 tbsp vanilla bean paste or seeds of 1 vanilla pod
- Joanne Wheatley’s cookie dough
1) Put the cream, sugar and vanilla in a pan over a medium heat. Meanwhile, make sure the egg yolks are ‘waiting’ in a heatproof bowl.
2) When the cream mixture has reached boiling point, pour over the egg yolks and whisk like you have never whisked before!
3) To test if the custard base is ready, turn the bowl slightly in a clockwise direction. If the mixture ’tilts’ then goes back into position, it is ready. Leave to cool.
4) Once cool, add small chunks of cookie dough (as much or as little as you like. You won’t use it all – use the rest to make cookies!). Churn in an ice cream maker and enjoy.
Note – you don’t have to fork out on an expensive ice cream maker. I promise you, homemade ice cream is better than shop bought and this little beauty from Lakeland, which I use, won’t break the bank!
So, if you are stuck for inspiration in the kitchen, a little magpie-ing goes a long way. Figuratively, of course. Even Masterchef doesn’t go beyond pigeons.
*I pay nine quid a term for instant coffee and digestives. Free carbs and caffeine in a hotel will always, always be exciting.