Breakfast, Easy, Morning or Afternoon Tea, Sweet

Choosing Life’s Colours / Apple, Goat Cheese & Elderflower Turnovers

“The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you truly are.” C.G. Jung

It’s the last limping steps of summer in our neck of the woods. We’ve been sneaking in as many beach days as possible, while slowly moving into long-sleeved tshirts, thicker duvets and autumn produce.

I love this time of year. I love autumn clothes, I love autumn food, I love that my Englishness feels increasingly comfortable as sunrises arrive later and the weather cools, I love that Melbourne sits in comfortably warm temperatures for many weeks yet. I love the anticipation of switching our summer wardrobes for winter ones; the gorgeous coat I haven’t worn for months, the new dress I bought for this Australian winter while in England last October. I love discussing the turning of leaves from green to gold with my son, the first time he’s been consciously aware of the change in season.

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Coincidently in line with this, I’m embracing all manner of change at the moment. My mood’s increasingly one of willingness to live a little differently, a little bolder. I’m no longer pushing down the rainbow of colours that flood through me, the parts I may have been embarrassed to show previously. I’m more anxious than I’d care to admit, and often more neurotic. Certainly more fragile than I’ve ever allowed myself to openly show. These have always seemed like negative traits, the dark sides I wished  away and tried to whitewash and replace with characteristics I once decided (and who knows when or how) were more acceptable.

I was standing outside my home yesterday, staring at a flat tyre on my car and wondering what comes next. Conversely, my friend was rummaging around in the boot, pulling out metal contraptions and wheels, asking where I keep my jack. Ummmmm… Moments later, two local boys came around the corner and asked if they could help and between the three of them I had a new tyre on my car within 10 minutes. The old me wouldn’t have let them do it, I’d have been ashamed that I’m not very practical and would’ve tried to hide it by assuring them I had it all under control. Yesterday, I let them help. And today I thanked them by baking for them. Practical I am not, but I know my way around an oven… So they got to feel good for helping, I got to practice honesty and humility by letting them and we all get some food.

Sounds like a fully coloured life to me.

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These creamy and sweet turnovers are a simple go-to on those days when a warm tummy is entirely welcome at any time. The soft goat cheese is the flavours’ foundation, tangy and decadently creamy; while the elderflower dances on taste buds with its cheerily floral notes; and right in the middle is the timeless combination of buttery, hot apples and a light flaky pastry. I like to sprinkle mine with sesame seeds before I pop them into the oven as the hint of smokiness adds an even great depth to this delicious combination of flavours.

Enjoy.

  • 800g (1.75lb) or 5 sheets of ready made puff pastry
  • 1kg (2.2lb) green apples (about 10 small apples), I use Granny Smith, only because we don’t get Bramley or Cox apples in Australia’s woefully limited varieties. If you can find something tarter, go for it
  • 75g (3oz) brown sugar
  • 3 tbl sp elderflower cordial
  • seeds from 1 vanilla bean
  • 75g (3oz) unsalted butter
  • 100g (3.5oz) Chèvre (fresh goat cheese)
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 3 tbl sp sesame seeds

Peel, quarter and core the apples before cutting each quarter into four (quarter them again)

Heat the butter in a frying pan over high heat until foaming

Add the apple, half the sugar, elderflower cordial and vanilla and cook, stirring, for about 10 minutes or until the liquid reduces to gooey sweetness

Transfer to a heatproof bowl and set aside for 15 minutes to cool

Stir through the rest of the sugar, cover with clingfilm and place in the fridge for 30 minutes or until chilled

Preheat oven to 200˚C / 390˚F and line a baking tray with greaseproof paper

Roll out half the pastry, using a lightly floured rolling pin, until about 2mm thick. Use an 8cm-diameter (about 3 inches) round pastry cutter to cut 12 discs from the pastry (if you’re using the ready-rolled stuff, you’ll need two sheet for this)

Place the pastry discs on the prepared baking tray

Pile 2 tablespoon of the apple mixture onto each pastry disc before dotting with the goat cheese and placing in the fridge (this can be a balancing act but trust me, it’s worth it!).

Roll out the remaining pastry until about 2mm thick. Use a 10cm-diameter (about 4 inches) round pastry cutter to cut 12 discs from the pastry (3 sheets of the ready rolled pastry). Brush the edge of each disc with the beaten egg

Remove the tray from the fridge and place the larger pastry discs on top of the apple mixture. Gently press the edges of the pastry discs together

Brush the pastry tops with egg and sprinkle liberally with sesame seeds

Cut a small slit in the top of each turnover before baking for 20-25 minutes, or until the pastry is puffed and golden

Serve with cream or vanilla ice-cream, if desired

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Breakfast, Easy, Savoury

Some Kind of Autumn / Apple & Nut Soda Bread

Autumn’s stealing in and bringing with it my favourite time of year. If spring and summer are cotton – joyful, light and simple, then autumn and winter are cashmere – cosy, elegant and complex. The trees banish their leaves to the soil beneath, food for next year’s growth. The darkness slips in a little earlier each day, a thief seeking to heist the light.

Now that I live in Australia, reality’s different to my childhood autumns. Reds, browns and the weeping bark of silvery eucalyptus trees dominate this land’s skyline, with temperatures never dropping low enough to need the comfort from layers of added warmth. It took me some time to forgive such mild offerings to my European blood. Now, a few years later, I’ve come to love the mostly dry, mild-weathered autumns that strengthen the roots my feet have gradually grown in the soil beneath. It’s a reminder of the things in life that really matter and a nudge to take the time to burrow deep.

There’s a natural settling down of my energies during this time, like the hibernation of evolutionary ancestors long gone still reverberate through my cells. I subconsciously allow my world to quieten. Meditations are easier to find, pauses in moments of agitation or doubt more natural. Stillness and silence feel like an organic honouring of the time. I ask less perfection of myself and hold onto fewer expectations. It’s like my soul has settled down next to a fire and spends its time revelling in the logs gradually melting to embers and ash.

Fruit is exceptional during Australia’s autumn. Cumquats, figs, persimmons, quinces, pears and apples are all dropping from the Australian trees and into our waiting mouths. Being predominately a baker I feel especially blessed in this season, a time of year seemingly created just so we can crank up the oven and pour out doughy offerings of baked goodness.

I bought some beautiful organic apples from my Green Mumma supplier last week (her of the incredible pears in my Pear & Hazelnut Cake) and have finally found and bought a buttermilk in Victoria worth raving about, thanks to the Myrtleford Butter Factory. It seemed entirely appropriate to honour these two ingredients with a bread that sings of both.

This loaf, that I’ve adapted from the fabulous The River Cottage Bread Handbook, is simplicity itself. No kneading, no proving, no fancy bread flours. It’s an ideal weekend breakfast, taking about 40 minutes from sleepily pulling out the ingredients to tugging on hunks of warm, fresh from the oven, bread. The apples and treacle add a rounded sweetness of texture and taste. Meanwhile a good quality buttermilk adds a hinted undertone of creamy sourness that makes this a truly worthy addition to any kitchen.

Enjoy.

  • 500g wholemeal plain flour
  • 10g salt
  • 4 tsp baking powder
  • 200g nuts, roughly chopped (today I’ve used almonds, pecans and hazelnuts, but only because I didn’t have any macadamias, which are divinely delicious in this bread)
  • 325ml buttermilk (if you can’t get good buttermilk, thin unflavoured yoghurt is a better option than the horrible, fake buttermilk from supermarkets)
  • 1 heaped tbl sp of treacle / molasses
  • 200g apples, peeled, core removed and cut into fingertip size pieces
  • A sprinkling of rye flour (optional)

Pre heat over to 200˚C / 400˚F

In a mixing bowl, combine the flour, salt and baking powder

Add the apples and nuts and mix well

Make a well in the centre

Combine the buttermilk and treacle together and pour into the well of the dry ingredients

Knead as briefly as possible, the less you knead the lighter this will be – you really want the mixture to be only just combined, should take no longer than a minute

Divide into two and shape into rough rounds

Pat to flatten until about 5cm high

If you like, and have any to hand, flour the loaves with a little rye flour and place on a baking tray

Cut a cross on the top of each loaf, almost through to the bottom and lightly stab all over

Bake for 20-25 minutes or until the bread sounds hollow when tapped on the base

Allow to cool for a few minutes on a wire rack and, if you can, eat while still warm either dipped in delicious foods or with lashings of top quality butter

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Breakfast, Not So Easy, Savoury

On the Scent of a Citrus Tree / Rugbrød (Danish Dark Rye Bread)

I am the west.

I am the drive-through over the home cooked. The shorthand email that replaced the hand-written letter. I work when I could rest. I dance instead of sleep.

I grew up in a central suburb of London, a city almost defined by its pace – heady, rushed, fun and powerful. It’s a magnificent drug this living fast business, it feels productive and successful even if nothing gets done.

And it no longer works for me.

I wish it did. That I was still someone who could fill a day with furiously productive activity and then seek a challenge the moment I awaken the next. I can struggle with my worth sometimes, when I compare my life to peers who are successful, wealthy and seem to manage multiple lives in every day.

But I live at my best – at my kindest and most useful, when I live life slowly.

Running late this morning, I dashed out of the house with my squirming, giggling toddler firmly tucked under one arm, and was unexpectedly captured for a moment by a breeze of beautiful scent from our flowering cumquat trees.

When I returned home, my head spinning with plans to clean the house so I could hide my familial chaos from a friend who was on her way over, I remembered the near-perfect smell and paused for a longer time beside our trees. Standing there, gratitude soaring for the life that’s brought me such moments of easy peace, I decided my friend would see the reality of my house. That, to challenge my fear of being judged, I was going to practise trust, vulnerability and imperfection.

It was hard to act on my decision, but I texted her to let her know what to expect and she responded almost immediately, “So is mine – I’ll fit right in.”

We had tea with handfuls of macadamias and hazelnuts. By letting go of my need to achieve an invisible line, I could simply enjoy her wonderful company as silence and words both skipped happily around the room. I wasn’t perfect at it, apologising more than once for the state of the house, but I’m new to this type of vulnerability and I find that the decision to act differently doesn’t remove my fear, it just takes away fear’s control and offers it to hope.

When I live a filled-up life I’m never able to see this side of people, or of myself. I spent a long time living with beliefs about myself that just weren’t true, but the certainty and power of them helped me feel safe. Like I wanted to have great prestige and power, and that financial gain was worth all the time in my day. It would have been unthinkable to do something frivolous like stopping to smell flowers when I was already running late.

I’m so glad that I’ve stopped trying to be what I’m not and am slowly building a trust in who I am, jumbled house and all.

Food today is a dedication to slower living. My husband loves the Danish rugbrød, or dark rye bread, and I found this recipe on a lovely TV show called Food Safari. The only change I’ve made is to remove their insistence on organic produce – although I try to only use organic foods myself, I’m never a fan of dictating any behaviour onto others, choose as suits you best.

It takes around a week the first time you make this, but once you have the bread starter sitting in your fridge it only takes about a day. I believe it’s worth every moment. For the more health aware it’s very low in fat, contains no oil or processed sugar and is rich in whole grains and dietary fibre. The taste is dark and complex, slightly sour and smokily sweet. This bread is also the base for the Danish smørrebrød – the open sandwiches which can be glorious works of art all on their own. However, as you can see in my main photo and in the sneaky toddler shot below, we often just spread a thick layer of best quality butter (I love Pepe Saya butter at the moment) and an amazing honey (this one is from the brilliant J. Friend & Co) for our gorging!

my cheeky toddler

Enjoy.

stage 1 (approximately 5 days)

sourdough starter

  • 250 ml (1 cup) buttermilk
  • 65 g (½ cup) rye flour
  • ½ tsp salt

stage 2 (12–36 hours)

sponge

  • 100–200 g sourdough starter
  • 750 ml (3 cups) cold water
  • 100 g (⅔ cup) wholemeal wheat flour
  • 50 g rye flour
  • 100 g (⅔ cup) plain flour
  • 75 g (½ cup) linseeds
  • 75 g (½ cup) raw sunflower seeds
  • 175 g (1 cup) cracked rye grains
  • 200 g (1 ¼ cups) cracked wheat grains
  • 2 tsp kosher or sea salt

stage 3 (3–12 hours)

  • 1 tbsp malt powder
  • 1 tbsp treacle / molasses
  • 150g cooked barley grains
  • 500 g (3 cups) cracked rye grains, soaked overnight
  • extra virgin olive oil, for greasing
  • melted butter, for brushing

To make the sourdough starter, mix all ingredients in a bowl. Stand, uncovered, at room temperature. Amounts given are approximate; mixture should be quite fluid. Add more buttermilk or water if starter thickens too much. You can also use good plain yoghurt instead of buttermilk, but add water if you do. Stir with a spoon at least once a day. Keep it loosely covered with paper or foil from the second day. Don’t refrigerate.

From the second or third day, little air bubbles will form in the starter, and it will probably have a more greyish colour than it did at first. It should also begin to smell slightly sour, but the smell disappears upon stirring. Usually the starter takes about 5 days to make. It’s ready when it has swollen somewhat in volume and the air bubbles are plentiful after resting for about 6 hours. The quality of the starter is not terribly crucial; rugbrød doesn’t (and shouldn’t) rise very much during baking, especially not the no-knead type. With many grains and very little flour, high-yeast activity would produce too-crumbly a result.

If you can remember, discard a little of the sourdough and feed it with water and rye flour a couple of times per month. Make sure it is fairly thick, though, to inhibit yeast activity and make it less vulnerable to forgetfulness. (see note)

To make the sponge, mix 100–200g of the sourdough starter and the remaining ingredients in a large bowl. Cover with a wet towel and stand in a warm place until the next day, or for at least 12 hours, but up to 36 hours is fine. Sourness increases with standing, but won’t be very predominant in the final result anyway. Dampen the towel when dry to prevent moisture loss from the sponge, which could affect the final result.

The sponge is very thin and liquid when just mixed, but will quickly become quite thick from the grains absorbing liquid.

To make the dough, add the malt powder, molasses, cooked barley and soaked rye to the sponge and combine well. Pour into a lightly greased 2-litre capacity loaf tin. If you think you’d like to make this bread again, save 1 cup of dough to use as a starter next time. Put this in a jar, sprinkle with 2 teaspoons coarse salt, cover tightly and refrigerate. The dough should be wet and just barely liquid, like a very thick porridge.

Stand bread to rise in loaf tin, covered with a damp towel, for at least 3 hours, or a day, at room temperature (or warmer if you use the shorter rising time.) The longer the proof, the more sour the taste. The bread won’t rise very much, perhaps only an inch or so.

Paint the top of the bread with melted butter or cold water. At this point you can liberally sprinkle poppy sand sesame seeds over the top, as I have done in the photo, but this is purely optional. Put it in a cold oven and set the temperature at 190˚C. From the time the oven is warm, the baking time is about 90 minutes. If the top looks like it’s blackening, cover with foil.

It can be difficult to tell when the bread’s done. Take it out of tin and knock the base with your fist. If it doesn’t resonate hollowly, it certainly isn’t done. If it sounds hollow, insert a bamboo skewer into the centre. If the tip comes out clean, it’s probably done. The crust should feel quite hard. If in doubt, leave the bread in the oven as the oven cools.

Place the bread on a rack and cover with a towel (unless you are leaving it in the oven). Stand overnight.

From the day after it is baked, store the rugbrød in a bread box or plastic bag at cool room temperature. It freezes quite well, but tends to become a little crumbly after thawing. Rugbrød stays fresh for about a week.

Note

If you use an old starter to make this bread, it’s a good idea to take it out of the refrigerator a day before making the sponge. Stir it up with water to a wet dough and let it rest covered at room temperature. This will revive the yeast activity and give you a better rise in the final bread.

If you don’t plan to use a freshly made starter immediately, cover tightly and refrigerate. It keeps for about a week. If you want to keep it longer, feed it with rye flour to make a somewhat thicker dough. That will keep for several weeks. When making this a second time, omit the salt since it has already been sprinkled on your starter.

If the bread seems very wet inside upon slicing, try putting it back in the oven to be warmed through at a fairly low temperature, about 30 minutes at 100˚C. Even a perfectly baked loaf will be a little sticky the day after it is baked, but it improves over another day or two.

If the crust stays extremely hard on the second day, try lowering the oven temperature a little and extending the baking time the next time you attempt it. Much depends on the shape of your loaf pan (wide and flat or short and tall makes a world of difference) and on the actual moistness of the dough. I can only recommend that you make careful notes about what you are doing so you know what to adjust a second or third time.

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Breakfast, Savoury, Super Easy

The Heart That Beats True / Bircher Muesli {Vegan & Gluten Free options}

Do you ever feel that your heart beats to a different rhythm than the rest of the world? That most people seem to live in the steady thump thump of everyday living, but that some of us have explosive arrhythmic beats driving us to something other than the ease of a regular life?

I tried hard over many years to live in a more consistent rhythm, I spent my whole life trying to ignore and evade the part of me that nature gifted. I went into a career I felt was suitably serious and appropriate for a wannabe grown up, instead of the silly hobbies that filled me with joy, like writing. It’s no wonder that the loneliness of trying to be someone else, instead of revelling in finding out who I really am, left me so bereft and confused.

I’m obviously feeling extra-cheery today… It’s definitely toddler-led sleep deprivation. Again. But I feel that it could be something else as well.

One of the interesting side effects for me about living a deliberately mindful life for a number of years is that, like the arthritic knee sensing when a storm is on the way, I’ve developed an instinct for when a layer of emotional skin is preparing to shed.

I’m told by those wiser and further along on this self-forgetting journey that a perfect storm happens about every five years. I can attest that the year-long emotional deluge at the five year mark, that rearranged large portions of my life, was a doozy. I must confess to not being comfortable enough about this journey yet to look forward to my ten-year iteration, which so far seems to have something to do with the consequences of letting my fear of being different dominate my life choices for so long, but it’s coming whether I like it or not.

Luckily the changes I made to my life five years ago, although almost crippling in their intensity at the time, led me to an internal life that’s been so content and peaceful I’d walk through it all over again just to get this result. But my old foe, unreasonable fear, means that I’m deeply cynical about a whole new kind of pain.

Each time the universe nudges me to trust a little more, I fear that I’m finally going to have free will ripped away and will end up as a dribbling, furrowed-brow numpty. That may be all these seemingly lovely and wise people have been lying to me, and seeking a relationship with any form of higher power will definitely make me a moron this time.

The cynic in me promptly harks up and firmly orders me to sprint in the opposite direction, pausing only to gather up my sanity as I skip out the door into intellectual freedom.

But the quiet, gentle voice that I’ve come to associate with the kindest, most peaceful part of me, whispers that the gift of increased freedom and ease in the world is just a series of blind courage-laden steps away. And that I have particular people, wiser than me in most every way, who can make sure I have guidance, laughter and company along the way.

To those who see this internal path as madness, it probably won’t make much sense, but the most courageous thing I believe I do is not find any way to numb myself or deliberately distance myself when I think I see pain ahead.

Admittedly, I’ve never been to war – never even been in a fight, preferring the cowards way of cracking as many jokes as possible to defuse any potentially awkward situation, and if that fails I am a loud, proud member of the ‘run away’ brigade. I’ve never experienced true poverty (most in the West haven’t). I’ve also never known genuine, torture filled physical pain. I’m not even that good with a paper cut…

So I’m sure there are those who’ll scoff at my assertion that this is the bravest thing I can do. But hell, this is my arrhythmic heartbeat – and my story to tell, in all its imperfection.

And this is my bircher muesli. Made in the traditional way and then nudged over time into something I find utterly delectable, and my family absolutely adore. It’s healthy, it’s super easy, it keeps for several days covered in the fridge, and I can pull it out when friends drop round for unexpected morning chats (the best kind!) so I seem highly domesticated, when really all I can think about at the moment is writing and sleeping. Also, with no processed sugars or saturated fats, it’s not a food that numbs my feelings, essential for my continued trudge to healthier living.

I’d also like to thank the super talented team over at My Little Tribe photography for this gorgeous photograph of my bircher recipe. Aren’t they great?!

Enjoy.

  • 4 cups rolled oats (use a mix of rolled rice flakes and buckwheat for a gluten-free version)
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • ½ cup dried cranberries (or dried fruit of your choice)
  • ½ cup chia seeds
  • 1 cup pumpkin seeds
  • ½ cup macadamia nuts, chopped in half (or nuts of your choice)
  • 4 red apples, roughly grated
  • 2 cups greek yoghurt (use coconut yoghurt for a vegan version)
  • 2 cups apple juice
  • 2 tbl sp pure maple syrup

Mix all the dry ingredients in a large bowl

Add all the wet ingredients and stir well. It might look a bit wet – don’t worry, the oats and dried fruit will soak up all the juices overnight

Cover with cling wrap and leave in the fridge overnight

Done!

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Breakfast, Savoury, Super Easy

Morning Routine’s Smashed Avocado, Feta & Pomegranate on Sourdough

I don’t know why I haven’t written a recipe for breakfast on here before. It’s easily my favourite meal of the day. We have a toddler who heralds the coming of the dawn with his own brand of rooster’s crow (Mummy? Muuuummy? Muuuuuuuuuuuuuummmyyyyy?) so now, more than ever before, a joyful breakfast feels necessary, else we offer up His Toddlerness on eBay. Free to a tolerant home…

There’s something magical about early mornings. I take the first ten minutes to meditate, the potential darkness of my mind receding with the night, so the rest of the day has a chance at lightness and peace. My husband and son play with a train set, or read The Hungry Caterpillar for the bazzilionth time. My meditations are often punctured by a cheer as a train crashes off the line, or the caterpillar metamorphosis’ once again.

Then, as the sun is announcing his majesty to the world, we potter around our kitchen. We have our morning routine honed, born out of necessity from our child’s perennial sleeplessness. My husband makes exceptional coffee, our son steadily dismantles the cupboards, fridge and my recipe books. I make our breakfast and sing whichever song currently has our boy in raptures (‘Old MacDonald’ a particular favourite at the moment, although our farmer has a lot of crocodiles according to our son, who’s rather obsessed with the snapping).

Pancakes and bircher muesli are both breakfast winners for us, made the night before and easily served while my grogginess is still in a pitched battle with the morning jolt of caffeine. But if I have a little more time, and the right ingredients to hand, some sort of avocado mix on bread is my favourite breakfast, and this version is near-perfection.

Don’t stint on portion size for this one, it should be completely impossible to close your mouth around the finished product. The flavours, colours and wonderful health benefits (for health alone should never be a reason to eat something, surely?) make this an almost ideal start to any day.

  • 2 ripe avocados, halved and stoned
  • 120g feta, crumbled
  • Arils from 1/2 pomegranate, plus a few more for garnish
  • 2 tbl sp lemon juice
  • Zest from 1 lemon
  • 40g almonds, roughly chopped (or buy the ready ‘slivered’ almonds)
  • 40g of baby spinach
  • 2¼ tsp dukkah
  • 2 thick slices of good quality bread, I recommend a sourdough
  • 1 tbl sp good quality extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 large clove garlic

Roughly chop the avocado and place into a bowl with the feta, pomegranate, lemon juice and zest, almonds, spinach and 2 tsp of the dukkah

Loosely smash together with a spoon, making sure there are still some bite size pieces of avocado and feta

Dribble the olive oil onto the bread and rub vigorously with the garlic

Pile avocado mix onto the bread and sprinkle with the remaining dukkah and pomegranate arils

Serve to sighs of joy!

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Breakfast, Not So Easy, Sweet

Teen Spirit / Spiced Apple Granola with Lemon Panna Cotta & Rosewater Raspberries

I remember hiding in a room with my parents’ record player when I was a young teenager, their huge bucket headphones precariously perched on my too small head, a twirling plastic wire winging it’s way back to the socket so I could dial the volume high and sink into the pounding, evicerating sounds of the 70s pouring like a deluge into my 90s-filled mind.

I was struggling at school, I was struggling at home. I was 14 years old and deep in the throws of teenage-hell. It felt as if my body couldn’t possibly contain all the confusion and rage and passion and terror that coursed through me. Reality was rapidly becoming a horror show and I wanted to get off the ride others had plotted.

It was in that room, sunk deep into a chocolate brown, corduroy bucket chair – the only remains of my father’s misspent twenties – that I discovered Pink Floyd.

The opening lines of Comfortably Numb, wailed in B minor, was a far cry from the upbeat, major key ditties of Kylie Minogue and NKOTB, the music I knew at 11 and 12. It siren-called to the chrysalis of my mind, tearing into the safety of my childhood and promising a fluidity I rapidly came to crave.

I became cradled by breath-stealing chords and hammered by lyrics of the greats: Floyd, Reed, Cohen, Marley, Hendrix. They spoke of war and passion and hate. They crooned of Them and Us. They turned me inside out and stuck themselves deep inside my teenage soul.

In the meantime I was being taught English and Physics and French and Maths in a very private school in central London. I would sit in a hard, wooden chair – the type that seem perennially destined for classrooms – staring at a blackboard that espoused the values of X and wondering how I could get to the end of class without screaming. It felt as if adults spoke about subjects that couldn’t possibly matter while my mind was splitting in two – representing both the me I was and the me I might become. Both sides indistinct, awkward and crying in pain. I didn’t want someone to teach me to understand the periodic table. I wanted someone to teach me to understand the periodic insanity.

It’s no wonder Comfortably Numb sounded like a promise to me. A promise I subsequently worked on for more years than I would now like to count, before I realised that comfort in numbness can only happen in moments. Moments that need to be surrounded by large doses of life. My life based on being numb was nothing but a lonely void.

The truth for me, is that I can only move through life’s obstacles – I tried over, and under, and running in the opposite direction, and numbing myself for years. It never worked, in fact it eventually hurt a lot more than reality ever could.

Finally, the relentless pursuit of fantasy broke and twisted me to the point that I would give anything for a quiet dose of reality. I started travelling the path of living gentler, I began to seek reality in tentative, fear-filled steps. I sought to merge Them and Us into a unity that centuries of seekers from all walks of thought-life assured me led to peace. And gradually, falteringly, I found the ease and joy that permeates my world most of the time today.

I’ve added the likes of Stevie Wonder to my music repertoire. I’m a pretty good head and shoulders bopper in the car. I brain-boogy to Earth, Wind & Fire (anyone who’s read my Versatile Blogger Award post knows that it needn’t go any further). I recently downloaded Pitch Perfect to my laptop. It sits alongside my laptop’s only other film, The Fog of War, and I think they secretly quite like each other. I’ve skipped to the last Barden Bella’s song quite a few times now and grinned in sheer delight – I think I might even be picking up on some of the moves…

To speak to both the torn teenager I was and the mostly content adult I’ve become, I’ve been playing around with granola – a dish I found far too grown up for years. The addition of a breakfast panna cotta, less sweet than the dessert version, is still rebellious enough to satisfy. My mother-in-law brought down some beautiful home-grown organic raspberries this week from her garden so I’ve soaked them in rosewater and added them as well – it turns out they were the balance I needed. Enjoy…

Granola (from Nigella Lawson’s Feast)

  • 450g rolled oats
  • 120g pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
  • 120g sesame seeds
  • 175g apple compote or apple sauce
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 120g brown rice syrup (or golden syrup)
  • 4 tbl sp runny honey
  • 100g light brown sugar
  • 250g whole natural almonds
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 2 tbl sp sunflower oil

Preheat oven to 170˚C

Mix everything together very well in a large mixing bowl

Spread the mixture onto two baking tins and bake, turning over about half way through – the idea is to get the granola evenly golden without letting any part cook too much

After about 40 minutes to an hour, when everything is nicely coloured allow to cool and store in an airtight container

Lemon Panna Cotta

  • 185ml double cream (heavy cream, if you’re American)
  • 55g caster sugar
  • zest from 1 lemon
  • 1.5 gelatine leaves
  • 250g greek yoghurt

Place the cream and sugar in a saucepan over a medium heat
Add the lemon zest
Stir until the sugar is dissolved, then just bring to the boil before removing from the heat
Soak the gelatine in cold water until soft
Squeeze out the excess water and drop the gelatine into the hot cream mixture and whisk until dissolved
Add the yoghurt and whisk until smooth
Strain the mixture through a fine sieve
Divide between four 125 ml (1/2 cup) ramekins, cover with plastic wrap and chill for at least 3 hours, or until just set

Rosewater Raspberries

  • 125g raspberries
  • 1 tbl sp icing sugar sifted
  • 1/2 tsp rose-water

Place half the raspberries in a glass bowl and crush with a fork.

Stir in the icing sugar
Fold in the remaining raspberries and the rosewater
Chill until ready to serve

Upend the panna cotta into a bowl, scoop a good size amount of granola around the pannacotta and spoon the raspberries on top.

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Breakfast, Easy, Sweet

Fear / Sweet Potato & Walnut Pancakes

When I started thinking seriously about resigning from my well-paid corporate job and writing full time I wrote a list of my fears. I called the list “Pros and Cons”, but that’s the cunning of my fear, to grab a classic movie quote, the greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.

There were surprisingly few once I distilled them down, but each of them hurt like a festering wound. “I will always be an average writer, no matter how hard I work”, “If I fail at this I will be too old to become successful at anything else”, “I will never earn enough money writing”, and the big one, “I’ve dreamed of this for so long, what if the reality is a let down?”

Fear can be a blanket fog in my life. It exhausts my courage, my dreams, my joy – and it’s always hungry for more. I’ve spent time so lost in fear that the world has seemed full of bleak and empty eyes, mirroring my own. And it always presents itself to me as being the sensible option, the practical voice in my mind. It works very hard at keeping me small and alone.

The bravest thing I even did was stop running, turn and challenge fear to prove itself. On that day I learnt that all darkness disappears in light.

On this day I spoke to a wise woman. Someone I trust implicitly. Someone who always seems to follow her dreams with clarity and a steady hand. I told her my fears and asked how she continues to find the courage to follow the pages her heart writes. There was a long pause on the other end of the phone, then she answered slowly and deliberately, like her soul spoke the words her head couldn’t translate.

“You can’t control your success. But you can control your regrets.”

I look at that sentence now and it seems so small. I know what each word means, the sentiment isn’t new. But something in me broke as she spoke from her soul to mine and I wept fiercely as my fears finally disappeared under a tidal wave of hope.

I spoke to my husband, resigned from my job and started to write on that day. I don’t know if I’m going to be successful, I may not be one of the greats – I may not even make much of a living from my writing. But I’ll never have to wonder what might have been.

Speaking of living without regrets, I contemplated not making this beautiful recipe from Chez CateyLou because some of the ingredients are hard to find outside of America. I’m so glad I ignored my initial thoughts and deAmericanised it (not a word? It is now!). The sweet potato and yoghurt add a lovely, sweet creaminess to one of my favourite Sunday morning breakfast dishes.

  • 1 cup self raising flour
  • A pinch of salt
  • 2 tbl sp light brown sugar
  • 1/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • Large pinch ground nutmeg
  • Large pinch ground ginger
  • Small pinch ground cloves
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup full cream milk
  • 1/4 cup greek yoghurt
  • 2 tbl sp melted unsalted butter
  • 3/4 cup mashed sweet potato
  • 1/3 cup chopped walnuts
  • Extra butter for frying

Mix flour, salt, sugar, soda and spices into a large bowl.

In another bowl, whisk together the egg, milk, greek yogurt and butter.

Stir in the mashed sweet potato.

Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and add the wet ingredients.

Stir until just combined.

Fold in the chopped walnuts.

Heat a large frying pan over medium heat.

Add a small dollop (about 1/2 tsp) of butter to the pan and wait until it melts and starts bubbling.

Pour about 1/4 cup of batter onto the pan for each pancake.

Let the pancakes cook until small bubbles appear on top and are brown underneath.

Flip the pancakes to brown the other side.

Remove to a tea towel or wire rack, wipe the pan with a paper towel, add more butter and continue cooking pancakes.

Eat on their own, drizzled in maple syrup or smeared with mascarpone.

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