A couple of years ago, I unexpectedly met Miss World (2008) and Miss Universe (2008) on the same day. They both seemed jolly nice, although they were a bit too tall for me, so I didn't take their phone numbers. But the coverage of this weekend's Miss World in London, and of the feminists protesting outside, transported me back to that halcyon afternoon.
I was in Russia, on one of those potentially unethical press trips during which lowly journalists are treated to a few days of lavish hospitality so far beyond their means that they can barely help but write a glowing piece for the travel section when they get home. (And, let me tell you, Russia is fabulous: the Mariinsky Ballet; the Hermitage; The Kremlin; The Ritz, where the rooms contain Bvlgari shower gel and remote-control curtains. Remote-control curtains!)
The climax of the visit turned out to be a ringside seat at the Miss Russia contest. Dayana Mendoza, the Venezuelan Miss Universe, was one of the judges, and joined us for lunch beforehand. Ksenia Sukhinova, the reigning Miss Russia and Miss World, joined us for afternoon tea – and informed me, via her mildly threatening translator/bodyguard/boyfriend, that the key to victory was "inner beauty". Was inner beauty on the minds of the (mostly) male, middle-aged organisers? Or the fitness club mogul and Russian Vogue editor sitting alongside Ms Mendoza on the judges panel?
Miss World contestants may aspire to establish charitable foundations for the world's starving children, and they're certainly more wholesome role models than, say, the cast of TOWIE. But beauty pageants simply can't escape the damning indictment that is The Swimwear Round. I won't pretend I didn't enjoy it, but as I sipped champagne with all those wealthy Muscovites, and watched 19-year-olds parade before me in bikinis and high-heels, I felt a lot more patriarchal than usual.
Weeks after we met, incidentally, Ms Mendoza went to Guantánamo Bay and posted a blog entry that led even Hugo Chávez to question her inner beauty. "We saw the jails," she wrote, "where they shower, how they recreate [sic] themselves with movies, classes of art, books. It was very interesting." Then: "The water in Guantánamo Bay is soooo beautiful! It was unbelievable, we were able to enjoy it for at least an hour... I didn't want to leave, it was such a relaxing place, so calm and beautiful."
A supremely smug search for the perfect poached egg
The first issue of the supremely smug US food magazine Lucky Peach – to which I'll be subscribing immediately, of course – has a feature on how to home-cook "slow-poached eggs". According to top chef Dave Chang, 50 minutes in a 62.5C water bath produces "a perfectly runny yolk and a just barely-set white". Some say the point of this recent chefs' fad is to achieve near-identical consistency of white and yolk. At least one menu calls it "the perfect egg". I have eaten a lot of eggs, and the slow-poached ones were far from perfect. In fact, I found them gloopy and sputum-like. Give me Delia's poached egg any day: the white is firm, it takes 11 minutes, and you don't need a thermometer.