Sunday, 19 August 2012

Dear Alistair Stafford (1982 - ),

I'm breaking with convention for this post, to honour an author who - though not published or famous, or, indeed, in the habit of writing - is possessed of great imagination and humour.

He has the kind of brilliant wordsmithiness (go with it) that feels wasted when confined to a text message, or an email, and delivered only to one person. Therefore, without his permission or knowledge, I am revealing to the world some of the wit and wisdom of Alistair Stafford, my cohabitant and beloved, on the occasion of his 30th birthday. He will possibly be shy about this, but being English, it is quite easy to placate him with tea and gingernuts. So here goes.

  • On his ability to sing: "I cannot and sound like a strangled weasel with a heart condition mowing the lawn."
  • On drawing philosophical insight from unreliable Auckland buses: "There will always be another bus."
  • On his tendency towards text-speak when tired: "I'm shore u cn four give me."
  • On his tendency to get bored with normal online chats: ".gnitirw sdrawkcab ylluf .siht yrt s'tel" 
  • On office work, according to Phillip K. Dick: "Why do bureaucrats dream of electric paperclips?
  •    O

    On elaborate emoticons: "This is me trying to hug you while fighting a debilitating spinal disease, and despite being decapitated."
Clearly,  Alistair's new status as a 30-year-old man is tenuous, since his writing suggests someone fluctuating wildly between the emotional maturity of 30, and the whimsy of an 8-year-old.

Not that I'm complaining. Living with an imaginative Englishman encourages me to test my culinary skills to present British classics in new ways. For instance, since we've already mentioned tea & gingernuts, how many ways can I pair them? Tea-rimisu has already become a staple. So the next step, I figure, (and a birthday-appropriate one at that) is to load tea-steeped cream cheese onto a lemony gingernut base in a wildly experimental tea-secake.*

 After all, in How the Mind Works, Steven Pinker famously used cheesecake to explain the evolution of tastes for survival purposes. We like sugar because it was in the interests of our survival on the plains to develop a taste for ripe (sweet) fruit rather than unripe (bitter and potentially poisonous) fruit. Similarly, we like a creamy mouthfeel because fats were also a key nutrient in early human survival. Cheesecake combines sweetness and creaminess into one, pleasure-button-pushing package. Of course, in Pinker's metaphor, the modern repackaging of sugar and fats into unnutritious cheesecake is an example of how the evolved brain doesn't support our best interests in modern society. But on a 30th birthday, I think the pushing of pleasure buttons is perfectly justified. Besides, the Anaise Irvine edition of How My Mind Works goes: "this is the anniversary of the birth of someone who makes me very happy. Cognitively, I am predisposed to celebrate this birth. Without this birth, I would not have my soulmate. Therefore: bake a cheesecake." (It's astonishing how many of my mental processes end in "therefore: bake a cheesecake".)

So, Alistair Stafford, 1982 - [ages away], here is your tea-secake, baked lovingly to celebrate thirty years of your existence, eaten over a conversation involving yet more of your wit and wisdom, and written up here with a hope that we will keep celebrating birthdays until the very notion of linear time becomes old-fashioned; then, around 33 years from now, when the Swiss develop liveable colonies in space, we can climb onto a spaceship and celebrate birthdays eternally, Tralfamadorially, in the chaos of quantum time.

*A note on tea: until I met Alistair and his family, I thought the idea of tea-drinking Englishfolk was just one of those cultural cliches, like New Zealanders munching pavlova (one of the few desserts I'll turn down). NO. This is no cliche. I have been taught a list of acceptable tea brands, so that when I go grocery shopping alone, I can pick out a single-origin tea and not a blend. And god forbid we order tea at a cafe! There is inevitably a rant about the designation of English Breakfast as a default tea, given that it is a blend and is therefore unacceptable. Plus there is a whole vocabulary opened up when you treat 'tea' as a verb. As in: Have you tead? / No, I am de-tead. / Well, we must tea you. Etc.

Englishman's Teasecake

Adapted from here

1 packet gingernuts (or other hard biscuits)
1 tsp lemon zest
50g butter
1 tbsp sugar
400g light cream cheese at room temperature
1/2C sugar
1 egg
1 egg yolk
1/2C cream
3 teabags (PG Tips or other single origin brand, if this is really for an English diner)*
2 tbsp strong tea


Preheat the oven to 170C. Line a 20 - 25cm springform pan with baking paper.

To make the crust: load all the crust ingredients into a food processor and combine. (Warning: gingernuts are tough cookies, pun intended. Your food processor will make a LOT of noise for a minute or two.) When the mixture looks like fine rubble, pull it out and press it into the springform pan.

To make the filling: warm the cream in a saucepan, and add two of the teabags. Rip the third teabag open and add the leaves. Steep the teabags in the heated cream for a few minutes, without letting it boil. Meanwhile, cream the cream cheese and sugar. Add the egg and yolk, and beat some more. Remove the teabags from the cream, pressing out as much flavour as possible. Add the tea-ey cream to the cream cheese mixture, and stir together. Pour over the gingernut crust.

Prepare a bain marie. Fill a roasting dish with boiling water. Cover the base of the cheesecake tin in foil if necessary, so that no water can seep in, and settle it into the bain marie. Bake for 40 minutes or until the filling is mostly set but still slightly wobbly. Let it cool, and then refrigerate until cold and set.

Serve with extra cups of tea and gingernuts. 


  1. Wonderful words and a lovely post. The cake looks divine too!