“No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.” Aesop
We’ll call it a leave of absence, shall we? I think it’s justified, but then I would, I’m the one who disappeared and it suits me to call it that. A few weeks with my family in England, winding through the streets of central London. Reclaiming a version of my youth while introducing my son to the joys of London’s gorgeous parks and the unique political views of our taxi drivers.
There was a particularly bad day about a week in. I woke with my jaw clenched in tightened anxiety and immediately sought out the self-recrimination and self-loathing that can sear through my mind like wildfire since my marriage ended. Everything stood out in negative, the light in my mind utterly doused.
I left my son with my family and went for a walk, but nothing could shake my overwhelming fear and sorrow. Battered and broken by my thoughts, I wandered into an elegant cafe and ordered a tea, hoping to find some solace in the comings and goings of the world around. I turned my mind to the kindness I trusted still existed somewhere in the world, and asked desperately for some sign of hope.
Hunched over my tea a short while later, I nearly missed her as she shuffled in. A garish, floor length skirt under a shirt so small it rode up to show her ample stomach, her hair stringy and wild, dirt encrusted feet pushed into near-shredded ballet shoes, a big toe poking out from one in a gasping bid for more space. She stood in the middle of the floor, as out of place as a left shoe on a right foot, glaring around her with no seeming idea of where she was.
“I’m hungry!” She announced to the room, “Hungry! Hungry! I want food!”
The owner hurried over from the corner where he’d been smoothing a white table cloth onto a just-vacated table. He paused at the counter and then strode towards her. She shies away and I shy away with her because we both know what’s coming. He’s going to move her on; push her out. She’s smelly and bedraggled. They don’t want her sort in here making them look bad to the patrons who can actually pay a bill and may not if she’s here.
Instead, he stops in front of her and holds out a fresh blueberry muffin. He reaches onto the table next to her and pours a glass of water, “Let me know if you need a coffee love,” he says, eyes warm and inviting.
She snatches the food and crams it into her mouth, crumbs tumbling from her lips in protest from being overfilled. She doesn’t thank him, too far gone in her made up world to see his kindness.
I felt it keenly though, it stabbed through my self-pity and I immediately started to tear up, although I didn’t let them fall. Not in public anyway.
It’s so easy to find darkness at this time, to see where all my fears of how life might be cruel can dictate where I point the mirror I hold up to others. And a man in a cafe, surrounded by a halo of everyday kindness shatters my mirror and presents a new, gentler light. I can almost hear the universe whispering at me; all will be well, there’s more kindness in this world than not, keep walking, keep trusting.
She has the coffee after her muffin and stands outside waving it at people walking by. I smile at the man as often as I can while I finish my tea. He probably thinks I’m a little strange for the constant goofy grin. He doesn’t know that his kindness has given me back the smile I’m currently turning on him. That he’s my sign. He probably thinks his only kind act is giving a sick person some food — but that sustenance has already spread so much farther than he could possibly imagine. How many others in that cafe found their ease in that moment? And how many more experienced his kindness rippling out from me as I left lighter-hearted and hopeful?
And, of course, I immediately decided that some form of blueberry concoction with a joyful twist had to be my first recipe back. Those requirements, coupled with having numerous loving visitors in my new house gave me the idea for this deliciously tender and fresh cake.
- 150g (5 ½ oz) self raising flour
- 175g (6 oz) ground almonds
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 160g (5 ½ oz) caster sugar
- finely grated zest from 2 lemons
- 2 tbl sp fresh thyme, finely chopped
- 160g (5 ½ oz) cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
- juice from 1 lemon
- roughly 80ml full fat (whole) milk
- 2 eggs
- 100g (3 ½ oz) blueberries
Pre heat the oven to 180˚C. Grease a 20cm square baking tin and line with baking paper
Whisk the flour, almonds, baking powder, sugar, zest and thyme in a large mixing bowl until thoroughly combined and all lumps have disappeared
Using your fingers, rub the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs
Weigh out 220g of the mixture and sprinkle it evenly over the base of the tin before pressing down firmly, ensuring there are no gaps
Pour the lemon juice into a measuring jug and top up with enough milk to make 100ml
In a separate bowl, lightly whisk the eggs before adding the lemony milk and mix well
Using a spoon, gently fold the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients, one-third at a time. You want a smooth batter but want to make sure you don’t over-mix
Pour the batter into the tin and scatter the blueberries over the top
Bake for 35-40 minutes or until lightly browned on top and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean
Remove from the oven and allow to cool for about 10 minutes before removing from the tin and taking off the paper. Serve as you like with what you like