Baking For Britain

Lately I have become mildly obsessed with baking. Cakes, especially. There’s something so very comforting about baking a cake. Weighing out and mixing the ingredients, the warmth from the oven, the sweet smells wafting around the house, the sense that you are doing something that women have done for generations. It’s very soothing. Whenever I feel like the darkness outside is creeping into my soul, I go and bake a cake.

I’ve been doing it a lot lately.

At this rate I will never lose those last 10lbs. But hey, its winter. I need some insulation.

I’m especially drawn to old fashioned, traditional cakes and recipes. The sort of thing I remember from my childhood, and Tony from his. Did you grow up in a house where there was always something homemade in the cake tin? I did. I like that. Not good for the waist, but good for the soul. (If I could master the art of breadmaking, I’d like to always have homemade bread in the bread tin as well. Although this soda bread is pretty fantastic.) It’s nice to be able to offer guests a slice of something homemade, especially if you can do so casually, in a I-didn’t-bake-this-because-I-knew-you-were-coming-I’m-just-the-kind-of-cook-who-always-has-something-delicious-on-hand kind of way. Makes you feel like a domestic goddess.

Some of the recipes I’ve baked recently include: Nigella’s Clementine Cake (keeps beautifully, and naturally gluten and dairy free), Hot Toddy Fruitcake (I had high hopes for this one, but missed a crucial step in the instructions – double line cake tin with baking parchment – so the sides and bottom burnt black), Parkin (so utterly delicious that I made it twice in one week), Hot Cross Buns (left in the oven too long, they were a bit bullet-like), and Malt loaf (not as good as shop bought, disappointingly).

Do you like to bake? If so, what are your favourite recipes?

Lighting Up The Darkness

British Summertime (daylight saving) ended on Sunday morning. For many of us, that signals the beginning of darker months in more ways than one, as depression often worsens during winter time. The last couple of winters I have greeted with a touch of panic, but I feel rather resigned this year. I know there’s no need to wonder if it will affect me – it will. It is what it is. There is comfort in accepting that.

But then with every succeeding winter, I get a little more expert in managing my depression. I know the things I need to do in order to keep it reasonably under control. I need as much light as possible, so I will get outside as often as I can, I will keep lamps switched on all over the house, even during the daytime, I will festoon dark corners with candles and fairy lights, I will use a sunrise clock in the bedroom. I need exercise, so I will try to do something every day from now until Spring. Even if it’s just for 20 minutes. I need good nutrition, so I will stay off sugary stuff, caffeine, and alcohol, and try to get plenty of protein. I need sleep, so I will follow a good bedtime routine, drink sleepytime tea, and when necessary, taken medication without feeling guilty for doing so. These are my 4 foundation stones. I can’t lapse on any one of them without paying for it. I’ve learned that by experience. 

But there are more subtle tweaks that need to be made too. Socialising when it’s the last thing I want to do. Learning better ways to manage stress. Remembering to take time to rest and relax, instead of rushing around at 100mph all of the time. Reminding myself of the bigger picture of life, when all I can see are petty little things. These are smaller things, but they are harder to achieve, consistently. But, knowledge is power. The more I know about myself, how I work, and how I don’t work, the better equipped I am. That’s one of the gifts that an ongoing illness, mental or physical, brings you, if you can see it as such.

Because it’s not all bad, having depression, although to begin with you think it’s the end of the world (and there’s no denying that it is very painful and terrifying when your own mind starts to play nasty games with you). It has its flip side, and there comes a point when not only can you not imagine life without the challenge of depression, but you almost wouldn’t want it, because you can see the benefits it has given you. Patience. Endurance. Compassion. Resilience. Doggedness. Softening. Black humour. The realisation that few people are what they seem on the outside, (because to begin with you think you are crazy, no one else feels like you do, you aren’t normal, everyone else is happy and serene) that few people really are, and that how you feel is actually VERY normal!

So, winter isn’t going to be easy. But maybe it doesn’t have to be too hard either. We’ll get through it, if we help one another. Let’s light it up, together.    

Tea Time

Ok, I’m starting a campaign to reinstate traditional afternoon tea. Who will join me? I’m not talking about a mug of coffee and a measly digestive biscuit, either. I’m talking good old fashioned teatime treats: crumpets, muffins, scones, buttered toast, fruit cake, and PROPER TEA (preferably brewed in a pot with a cosy!). Any time between 3 and 4pm, I’d say. Spread the word! Tell your friends! Autumn is the best possible time to reintroduce this cheering tradition. Extra brownie points if you have something really old fashioned, like gentleman’s relish sandwiches!!

(for those who want to know, here is a brief clarification of the difference between afternoon tea, and high tea)

When Life Hands You Lemons……

……. if you’re lucky, someone else will make you lemonade!!!

Look at this amazing shawl. Last week, the postman delivered a smart black box, and inside was the most stunning shawl, a zingy lime/lemon colour (in Maisie, colourway When Life Hands You lemons), circular in design (the pattern is Daffodils by Marianne Kinsel) and delicately beaded, just the most beautiful amazing shawl. It drapes perfectly over my shoulders, folded in half, its just the right size.

Me and Tony sat and gazed at it for a solid five minutes. I can’t tell you how touched I am that someone would gift something so precious to me.

Did I tell you how much I adore my customers???


Heaven Is……

……. having a cleaner

……. an Amazon delivery

……. hitting a personal best

……. a glass of really good red wine

……. chip shop chips, with lots of vinegar and salt

……. a pair of jeans in a size you haven’t fitted in 10 years

……. a pile of sleeping cats

……. discovering a new author with a large back catalogue

……. orange shoes

……. tshirt weather

……. an up-to-the-chin steaming hot bath

……. waking up early in a sunny bedroom and drifting back to sleep for an extra half hour

……. wild flowers on every roadside

……. finally finding a really good gluten free pasta

……. the perfect marriage of yarn and pattern