Dessert, Super Easy, Sweet

Community Molecules Dancing / Mango, Saffron & Pistachio Cheesecake {gluten free}

“Every person is defined by the communities she belongs to.”
Orson Scott Card

Every Thursday night I drive across town to a cottage at the back of a long, gravel driveway surrounded by a white picket fence and winding rows of lavender. Wooden steps and glowing candles lead to the front door, always left ajar for those who come. I’m one of fifteen or so women who meet here weekly and have done so for a number of years. We range in age from mid twenties to mid sixties and from the outside there’s very little we share of each other’s traits.

Every week I say to myself, “I’m tired, I’ll only stay for a little while.” and every week I stay until the moon’s halfway through its nighttime journey, surrounded by a level of companionship and support I could barely imagine a few years ago. We talk of everything, and often of nothing. We laugh constantly and take our turns in tears. We have no leaders, although one in particular’s silently acknowledged as our wise woman, not that she would respond to the title with anything but a top-shelf eye roll.

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Every week we discuss something from books we read together, chosen by group suggestions and a vote at the end of the previous book. Every week we promise ourselves that we’re going to read more than a paragraph before conversation sweeps in to claim its place at the centre of our night. Every week we fail spectacularly and don’t regret it for a moment. If we rushed, we might end up missing something that a woman was about to find the courage to say but needed to sink into the flow of other’s honest and open conversation before she found her own voice. We might also not hear our own answers — the ones we didn’t know we sought until someone voiced them in a moment of their own introspection.

Every week holds a magical moment when the universe appears to tune in and the molecules that make up our separateness start vibrating at the same tempo, connecting the very centre of ourselves into the centre of each other. If there’s any true magic in my world, it’s this feeling of utterly belonging in a moment with others.

Every week I take that feeling and carry it into the world with me. And for as long as it lasts, others are recipients of the connectedness in me. I imagine that after they’re in contact with it, they spread it into their world and that, for a short while, molecules all over my city are vibrating together in a jiggly dance of belonging.

Another jiggly creation of my mind is this deliciously simple, no bake cheesecake. I made it for my Thursday night ladies but it didn’t set in time so I’m sharing it with you. The flavours are a well known community, although on the surface they’re quite different. The complexity of saffron helps hold down the higher notes of mango and the pistachio crust’s flavour is like the grounding, base note of a music cord, while adding a gorgeously textured dimension to the cake. It’s also gluten free, not because I made it with gluten free in mind, but because it genuinely tastes better that way.

Enjoy.

TIK - Mango, Saffron & Pistachio Cheesecake

  • 250g raw pistachios + extra for decoration
  • 65g caster sugar
  • Large pinch of sea (kosher) salt
  • 60g unsalted butter, melted
  • 200ml double (thick) cream, whipped
  • 250g cream cheese
  • 100g greek yoghurt
  • 600g mango flesh (I got this from three 350g mangos, you can used canned pulp if you can’t get fresh mangoes)
  • 1-2 tbl sp caster sugar (to taste)
  • ¼ tsp saffron powder

Grease a 20cm springform pan and line the bottom with greaseproof paper

For the base, place the pistachios, 65g of caster sugar and salt into a food processor and blend until the mix resembles sand

Pour the mix into a bowl with the melted butter and stir until completely combined

Tip the mixture into the springform pan and press it down to form a smooth base, with a ridge of about 1cm around the edge

For the filling, put 400g of the mango flesh into a food processor and blend until you have a smooth pulp, taste and add more sugar if required

Mix the whipped cream, cream cheese, yoghurt and saffron powder together in a bowl

Gently add the mango pulp stirring until all the pulp has been incorporated but there are still plenty of lumps in the mix

Spoon on top of the pistachio base, smooth over the top and place in the fridge for 1-2 hours, or until set

When ready to serve, remove the springform pan and decorate with the remaining mango and pistachios before serving

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Lunch or Dinner, Savoury, Super Easy

A Faint Hum / Roast Pumpkin & Goats Cheese Pasta

Sickness and exhaustion from my toddler’s nighttime antics have descended and taken over everything. My brain emits nothing more than a faint hum, reminiscent of the white noise that used to be produced by television sets before they commenced on their eternal entertainment existence.

TIK - garlic

I’m in no doubt how closely linked my mind, body and essence (soul? Spirit?) are. Rolling in negative thoughts quickly slows my mood, practising good principles of living (kindness, patience, love, self care) creates a lightness I feel from the very centre of my body. And physical exhaustion and sickness dull my senses, both physical and emotional, until I feel that everything’s under deep, dark water — heavy, weighed down and isolated.

The solution’s as immutable as the problem. Each day needs to be created from scratch: self care, refusing any nonessential activities, accepting any and all offers of help (a particularly difficult one for me), meditating both in company and alone, being useful to others to help distract myself, remembering that my thinking is compromised when exhausted, and the most important rule to follow is not to take myself so damn seriously… And repeat… And repeat…

TIK - Chilli

It passes. It always passes. Sickness will fade and my son will sleep. And even in these days there are long moments of laughter and light — always as a result of time spent with others; particularly with those I’m coming to cherish as I risk opening my heart to the world.

Meals like this are perfect for these days. Pan roasted pumpkin with chilli and garlic is offset by a gentle, creamy goats cheese and tossed through pasta. It’s incredibly simple, while offering flavours that both comfort and dance. I sometimes squeeze sausages out of their skins into little balls and add to the pumpkin for the last few minutes of cooking. In other seasons, I exchange the pumpkin for zucchini and cook for half the time. Use the recipe as suits you best. I know I do.

TIK - Pumpkin

Enjoy.

  • 800g pumpkin
  • 30g unsalted butter
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 1 – 2 cloves of garlic finely chopped, to taste
  • ½ – 1 chilli finely chopped, to taste
  • 400g spaghetti
  • 4 tbl sp soft goat’s cheese (I use Meredith Dairy’s goat cheese infused in olive oil, but any soft goat cheese will do)

Chop the pumpkin into bite sized pieces, (very) roughly 1.5cm squared

Melt the butter and olive oil in a frying pan

Add the pumpkin, garlic and chilli and cook, covered, over a medium low heat for 10 minutes

Turn the pumpkin and cook for another 10 minutes, until golden and tender when poked with a fork

In the meantime, cook your pasta according to the packet instructions

Place a tablespoon of goats cheese per person into the bottom of each bowl

Drain the pasta and mix into the goats cheese

Add the cooked pumpkin to each bowl and serve

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Dessert, Morning or Afternoon Tea, Not So Easy, Sweet

A Messy, Hopeful Path / Ginger & Lemon Panna Cotta with Blueberries and Thyme

“Some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.”
C.S. Lewis

This year’s been hugely challenging and revealing. I’ve had an unshakeable instinct that life’s been headed in the wrong direction and the quiet, steady voice deep inside’s been nudging me towards alternate routes I’ve been unwilling to walk.

The only outcome to battling myself in this way is heartache; and some days the pain of the struggle’s been immense. I’d love to be able to see things are headed into shaky emotional territory and sensibly guide myself back into grownup land. I’m just not. I fight and holler and stamp my feet until, eventually, I’m curled in a ball on the floor, begging for ease of mind and promising anything to the universe if it stops the pain.

After lots of searching, I’ve found that this path’s about authenticity; specifically to drop behaviours developed in childhood as a reaction to feeling unsafe and unprotected in the world. At a young age, I subconsciously took the hand of the small, scared child I was, placed her in the middle of my heart and started building walls around her to keep her safe from whatever was happening outside. Thick, heavy, impenetrable walls. And I’ve kept her there ever since.

Blueberries - TIK

I built a personality designed to keep her protected and ensure no one could ever hurt her again. I became tough, standoffish, controlling, funny, prickly. I chose a career that guaranteed no softness. I surrounded myself with emotionally distant people who also kept everyone at arm’s length, forming no real connections, making enough money that I didn’t have to rely on anyone, never allowing myself to fully love.

Now, having walked a gentler path these last ten years, having fallen utterly in love the day my son was born two years ago, and having continued to seek a path through this pain all year; the girl in the middle of my heart has found enough courage to poke her head above the ramparts and start asking for a place in the world. And it’s terrifying. I keep wondering who’s going to protect her if I can’t anymore (after all, she’s me and, no matter how multiple personality-esque this piece might sound, I don’t have a mind capable of being more than one person at once…) — she’s the writer, the introvert, the dreamer, the idealist, the one who loves without constantly looking for an exit. She’s also vulnerable, easily overwhelmed and very new to the world.

When I’m her, I’m clunky and awkward. I say clumsy things that replay in my head for hours. I talk to people I no longer want to keep at a distance and find myself ducking for cover mid-conversation. I’m writing, baking and photographing for a living even though I’m not making money and yet the thought of walking back into a big corporate leaves me feeling nauseous. I’m not the me of 3 years ago, but I’ve nothing to replace me with yet.

In short, life’s messy.

TIK - Thyme

But I’m back on the path that brings ease and comfort. It’s muddled and awkward with more challenges to come, but it’s also full of the kind of hope I’ve struggled to find for a while.

On walking this new journey, I’ve already found an unexpectedly loving community in my area. This week, after an impromptu breakfast with a local friend, she went home to find ‘just because’ flowers from a neighbour on her doorstop; and I got home to find a book for my son’s current sleep troubles from a lovely friend in my mother’s group, propped against my front door. The most amazing part is how commonplace these acts of kindness are around here.

I’m also challenging myself to seek people who intrigue me, to see if honest and whole connection is possible; I’m particularly excited that those I’m drawn to are funny, smart and irreverent, with a passion for life and a hefty side-helping of quirkiness. This, in particular, remains a fragile area, but intimacy doesn’t seem like the distant planet it once was.

And if I can keep opening my heart and stay on this tangled path that still makes no sense at all; it’s possible those big, tough walls will be dismantled for good. And who knows which paths I’ll be walking then.

A path I’m entirely happy to walk is the one that ends with this delicious Lemon Panna Cotta and Gingerbread with Blueberries and Thyme from Alisa over at The Family Meal. I’ve been in serious sleep deprivation land again with my toddler’s night-time antics and have been pretty sick for the last few days (which is why this post is so late) so food of any sort is not high on my agenda. Luckily, Alisa writes one of my favourite food blogs and I’m happy to share any of her recipes anywhere, the main photo is hers as well so any kudos go straight to her! I made this about a week after she posted it onto her site and it is truly delicious.

Enjoy.

http://familymealblog.com/2014/07/17/lemon-panna-cotta-and-gingerbread-with-blueberries-and-thyme/

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Dessert, Easy, Sweet

Lover’s Ache / Hot Chocolate, Orange & Szechuan Pepper Cake

“Every heart sings a song, incomplete, until another heart whispers back.”
Plato

I wander into one of my regular cafés and catch the eye of the barista. He’s the young surfer-dude stereotype; soft drawling voice, small scruffy goatee and dark hair cropped at chin length. I followed him here about 6 months ago from another café where he used to work. He’s just that good at making my drug of choice. We chat, as usual. He’s quiet, a little dampened. His fun and flirty banter doesn’t have its normal sparkle.

“What up?” I ask, “You look pretty flat.”

He sighs, ducking his head and looking up at me from eyes that I’d never before thought to meet, “Really? I mean, you really want to know? Cos I could seriously blurt today.”

I laugh, thinking if only he knew about the thoughts that whirl madly around my head on a daily basis, “Give me your best shot.”

Hot Chocolate, Orange & Szechuan Pudding - TIK

He sighs heavily, silent while grinding the beans and sliding the coffee basket into place before starting the machine, then glances around the cafe to make sure we’re alone, “It’s a girl. An ex.”

“Ah. The worst.”

“Yeah, well, we broke up, y’know, two months ago. I mean, I broke it off man, y’know? I was so into her and she just brushed me off all the time. So, I ended it. Thought it was okay, and she’d started seeing someone else, so y’know, time to move on.”

He breathes in deeply and stares at the last drips of coffee spilling into my cup.

“But, y’know, we got together again, a few weeks ago. And, ahhh man, I just love her man. I just fucking love her.”

His pain’s almost tangible as it comes up for air, his usual professionally shallow cheer swallowed down low. It’s tempting to dismiss his feelings as a naivety of youth, but he’s so raw and aching that I just ask whether he’d said anything to her.

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“Yeah man, I told her. I told her. She didn’t say anything. She’s still seeing this other guy, y’know? I dunno what to do. All my friends say I was so unhappy with her, but I love her, I just dunno.”

He huffs a small laugh, attempting to insert social acceptability into a pain that rarely shows in public, “Whatever man. Doesn’t matter. Fuck love, right? It’s all Hollywood bullshit anyway.”

I try to tell him that it does matter but he barely hears me, pride and vulnerability fighting for the same spot in his heart. There’s more silence as he steams the milk and swirls it gently. He suddenly leans back against the wall, continuing to stare at the milk like it’s holding more answers than dairy ever really could, before looking up at me, his uncertainty shining through. And in that moment, he’s not a surfer-dude barista, he’s a vulnerable and slightly fractured twenty-something man looking for the safety of certainty and not sure when he’d drifted so far from it, “What should I do man? Should I just give up? I just don’t know what to do.”

I look inside for wisdom and find myself severely lacking. We’re silent again as he pours milk over the coffee and pushes the cup my way. And, as I start to stumble over words that feel wholly inadequate, someone walks into the cafe and he quickly buttons back up his soul, flipping out the hospitality frontman routine. He’s good at it too, before long he and the other customer are laughing and chatting; you can barely see the pain leaking out, like an old ballpoint pen in his shirt pocket.

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I take my coffee and he vaguely waves at me as I wander out the door. And all through the day, the conversation keeps popping into my mind and I think about how much love aches, and how incredible it is, and how bloody confusing it can be and I decide that this bake’s going to be about the love that’s unspoken in Hollywood movies. The sweet, satisfying and bitter flavours of dark chocolate, layered with the light bite of orange and finally, szechuan pepper — both smoking for the good times and numbing for the bad. And all of them in innocuous little molten cakes, so innocent looking until your first bite of incredible, explosive, unforgettable flavour.

Enjoy.

  • 185g (6.5oz) dark chocolate
  • 185g (6.5oz) unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing
  • 3 eggs
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 6 tbl sp caster sugar
  • 3 tsp plain (all purpose) flour
  • Zest from 1 large orange
  • 1 tsp szechuan pepper

Preheat the oven to 230˚C / 450˚F and grease 6 moulds or ramekins

In a small saucepan, dry toast the szechuan pepper for 2-3 minutes until the aroma is wafting up and they are just threatening to smoke. Remove from the stove and grind into a fine powder using a pestle and mortar

Break the chocolate into small pieces and melt with the butter, either in the microwave or over the stove.

In a mixing bowl, whisk the eggs, yolks and sugar until thick and fluffy

Whisk in the chocolate and orange zest

Working quickly but carefully, fold in the plain flour and szechuan pepper

Divide the mix evenly between each mould and bake for about 8-10 minutes, until the outside is set and the centre is still soft

Turn each pudding onto a plate and carefully remove the moulds

Serve immediately with double (heavy) cream, ice cream or crème fraîche

Eat fearlessly…

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Morning or Afternoon Tea, Super Easy, Sweet

Six Dollar Man / Peanut Butter, Chocolate & Shortbread Blondies

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”
Plato

I met a guy at the petrol station this morning. Dark haired, Mediterranean heritage, wiry body. He jittered constantly, as those on large doses of speed do; his hands, eyes, legs and speech all falling over each other for attention.

He was standing in front of me in the queue to pay, quibbling over the cost of cigarettes and repeatedly asking about newspapers.

“How much are the cigarettes?… 25 dollars? But I’ve only got 23!… I’ll give you 23 for the cigarettes and the newspaper. Although I need two newspapers don’t I? What if I miss some news?… What?… No! I said I’d give you 23! I don’t have 29, I only have 23!… But I need them… Nonononononono, I need them.”

Peanut Butter, Chocolate & Shortbread Blondies - TIK

With four people behind me and the guy becoming increasingly agitated, I lean forwards and offer to add another 6 dollars onto my petrol.

The attendant looks relieved and immediately takes my card. The speeding guy spins around and peers closely at me, “Thanks mate. Thanks so much. I wouldn’t normally accept but I got to get them, see? I’m on my way to my parole officer. Just out of jail. Yup, just last week out of jail.”

I smile at him and start typing in my pin as he peers a little closer, “Hey mate, I know you, don’t I? Yes! I never forget a face! I know you from somewhere! Where is it?”

Peanut Butter Chocolate & Shortbread Blondies - TIK

I finish paying and look over at him. He looks vaguely familiar, but in the way that all strangers who insist they know you look vaguely familiar, “Maybe,” I say, “are you local?”

“Nope.” he jitters, “Nopenopenope. Not me. Just out of prison. Just out. Been in a long time this time. Ha! Got out though, yes I did! Hey! Are you on the prison board?”

“No.” I smile, watching the index and middle fingers of his left hand as they tap a furious, syncopated rhythm on his thigh, “When did you go in though? May be we knew each other before?”

He suddenly rears up on his toes and squeals in excitement, “Yes! Yesyes! I knew I knew you! You know Dave and Linda! And plumber Ron! You! I know you!”

Peanut Butter chocolate and shortbread blondes - TIK

And it hits me who he is. Eight years ago I was living with a woman called Linda, who was friends with a guy called Dave. We spent a bit of time together and he had a friend called Frank who would occasionally come along. Dave was worried about Frank because he was drinking too much and had just started taking drugs. Dave said that Frank was a guy who couldn’t help how much he drank once he started and became nasty after too many beers. Frank’s job as a high powered executive in an advertising firm was under threat because he’d attacked a client when drunk, and his wife was threatening to leave.

Eight years later, this man standing in front of me; just out of jail, off his head on speed at 10 in the morning, without enough money to buy cigarettes, was practically unrecognisable from the successful family man I’d been introduced to so many years previously.

“Ah!” he shouts, pointing at the road, “My bus’s here! Gotta go see my parole officer! Yupyup, gotta go! Good to see you mate! I never forget a face!”

And he runs down the road, cigarettes firmly clasped in one hand, the other waving frantically at the bus headed away from him, his flannel shirt ripped from armpit to stomach, his trousers held up by string.

Peanut Butter, Chocolate & Shortbread Blondies - TIK

I climbed slowly into my car, all worries and plans about my life temporarily stilled. And sent out a quiet word to whichever powers in the universe save us from the worst of ourselves, asking them to show him as much love as they could spare this day.

And then I came home and slowly made this bake. I’d planned something complex and a bit flamboyant this week. But in the end my heart needed simple and loving. Something to still the ache for those who haven’t managed to make it through this day without a painkiller for their soul. Something that reminds me of where I came from — and of where I am.

Enjoy.

Print this recipe

  • 150g unsalted butter, softened
  • 225g peanut butter (I’ve used both crunchy and smooth in this recipe and either work well)
  • 260g light brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1½ tsp vanilla essence
  • 185g plain (all purpose) flour
  • 1½ tsp baking powder
  • A pinch of salt
  • 100g great quality white chocolate, chopped roughly into small pieces (today I used Green & Blacks. Dark or milk chocolate also work well)
  • 100g shortbread, roughly broken into chunks slightly bigger than the chocolate, about the size of a fingertip

Preheat the oven to 170˚C / 325˚F

Grease a 20 x 20cm (8 x 8 inch) square cake tin and line with baking paper

In a large bowl, cream the butter and peanut butter together until very soft. Add the sugar, eggs and vanilla and continue to beat until completely incorporated

Combine the flour, baking powder and salt and gently fold into the peanut butter mix until just combined

Separate half the mix into another bowl and carefully stir in the shortbread

Stir the chocolate into the remaining half

Spoon the shortbread mix into the prepared tin and spread right to the edges before adding the chocolate mix on top and smoothing with a palette knife

Bake in the oven for 35-40 minutes, or until golden brown and almost firm in the centre (always err on the side of caution here, slightly underdone is gorgeously fudgy and definitely preferable to overdone)

Allow to cool in the tin, before removing and cutting into squares

Eat. Smile. Repeat.

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Easy, Morning or Afternoon Tea, Sweet

Making the Grade / Maltesers Madeleines

“It always seems impossible until it’s done.”
Nelson Mandela

This blog is about the inspirations and struggles of life and this week, a school in central London provided the perfect inspiration to write about a group of people, and one in particular, who I think are dedicated, passionate and wonderfully human.

If you don’t live in England, you may not be aware that national exam results for schools came out this week. It was the first time I paid much attention to the announcements — because my sister’s year at King Solomon Academy in central London, also the school’s inaugural year group, were receiving their grades.

Maltesers Madeleine - TIK

Here’s the thing about my sister’s school; it’s an organisational model of education that didn’t exist in England until only a few years ago. And because of that all the children receiving results yesterday, living in the poorest ward in London were, according to statistics like the one below, almost completely guaranteed to fail at school. 58% of her year’s students receive free school meals (children living below the poverty line receive free meals in Britain) and over 75% don’t speak English at home.

A universal and heartbreaking statistic about education is the more free meals in a school (ie: the more poverty), the greater the rate of failure in exams. It’s a well known and much debated fact.

Graph of Doom...

Graph of Doom…

There are lots of opinions and shouty people talking about this. I’m not going to add my voice to theirs, because what I want to tell you about today is my personal experience of watching my sister and her friends from Teach First who, in their 20s, started working with the ARK Foundation to build a school and education model from the ground up into a game-changer of British education.

These teachers regularly worked over 100 hours a week, teaching for 41 weeks a year. They were usually up at 5 each morning and worked until midnight almost every day for the last 5 years. My sister would be at the houses of her students frequently; calming parents while convincing her more intractable students out of bed and into the classroom. She spent hours reassuring parents who couldn’t speak English and so felt utterly overwhelmed, while desperately caring for their children’s happiness and success. And in frequent phone and email conversations with politicians and journalists as the idea of their school caught on. All that before she taught a single English lesson.

Maltesers Madeleines - TIK

During regular sessions from their first term onwards, the teachers set aside time to teach basic skills like how to get on and off a bus politely, how to hold a knife and fork, how to behave in public, how to speak in job interviews. When older, the students went on field trips to universities, theatres and concerts; they learned to play musical instruments (one of my favourite memories of my sister is hearing of her weeping incoherently as she watched her students perform in their first orchestral concert).

A large percentage of students had low levels of literacy when they came into her English classroom at 11, and the poverty-stricken local community struggles with all the usual crime and drug problems, based on their poverty alone academic failure can seem assured. But this isn’t just any group of teachers and, based on their principle of ‘Big Hairy Audacious Goals’ my sister had her students put on a full production of Shakespeare’s Macbeth when they were 12. In case you’re wondering, they rocked it. I visited one of her English classes when these students were 13, they were reading classical Greek literature and debating philosophy.

And they have so much fun. The teachers make up chants for the whole school to learn, they set the world record for the largest number of people rolling numbers, they create times table rock stars, students and teachers also Harlem Shake pretty well…

Amongst the successes were profound challenges. I can’t count the number of times my sister wept on the phone to me about a student’s living conditions, about the personal struggles some of them were experiencing, about her utter exhaustion, about the fear that maybe it wasn’t going to work and they were going to fail the kids — it was never once about her, always about the students she’d come to care for so deeply.

So this week, as her year group received Britain’s highest results ever for a school with over 50% of free lunches; and 93% of students received five A* to C grades, guaranteeing them places in further education and beating top private schools at the core subjects, I’m filled with overwhelming admiration for the tenacity and passion of these young teachers and their students. And I’m about the proudest big sister in the whole world.

A surely-as-inspiring idea I had this week were these chocolate, malt and honey madeleines… I was on the way to a completely different recipe and just wasn’t happy with it, before I was suddenly struck by a memory of my sister and I as children eating almost our entire body weight in maltesers before causing havoc with our sugar highs. It’s a lovely childhood memory and I wanted to honour both it and her.

Enjoy.

Maltesers Madeleines - TIK

  • 90g unsalted butter, very soft
  • 100g caster (superfine) sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • a pinch of sea salt
  • 80g plain (all purpose) flour
  • 20g cacao powder (if you don’t have cacao, a dark cocoa will work as well)
  • 10g powdered malt (I use Horlick’s)
  • ½ tsp baking powder

Cream the butter with a tablespoon of the sugar

Whisk the remaining sugar with the eggs and a pinch of salt in a separate bowl until light and fluffy

Hand whisk together the flour, cocoa, malt and baking powder in a separate bowl before gently folding into the egg and sugar mix

Scoop a third of the batter into the butter and whisk vigorously

Transfer into the remaining batter and fold very gently

Scrape the batter into a plastic piping bag and chill for at least 3 hours or up to 3 days

Preheat the oven to 220˚C / 430˚F

Butter a madeleine pan and dust with cocoa powder

Snip a small (8mm) hole from the tip of the piping bag and pipe the batter three-quarters of the way up the prepared moulds

Reduce the oven temperature to 180˚C / 350˚F and bake for about 15 minutes, until the edges are slightly crisp

Remove from the oven and leave to cool for a few minutes in the pan before turning out onto a wire rack

While the madeleines are still slightly warm, pop the piping nozzle of the honey malt cream (recipe below) into the mound of each baked madeleine and squeeze about a heaped teaspoon’s worth of the cream into each madeleine while slightly wiggling the nozzle to get into all the spongy crannies

Dust with icing sugar and serve immediately, while still beautifully warm

Honey Malt Cream

  • 80g double (heavy) cream, cold
  • 15g powdered malt (again, I use Horlick’s)
  • 30g set honey
  • Seeds from 1 vanilla pod

Place all the ingredients in a mixing bowl and whisk until the cream is super thick and all ingredients are well combined

Maltesers Madeleines portrait - TIK

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Dessert, Easy, Sweet

Find The Road Home / Pear, Juniper & Lemon Tarte Tartin

“All of life is a coming home. Salesmen, secretaries, coal miners, beekeepers, sword swallowers, all of us. All the restless hearts of the world, all trying to find a way home.” Robin Williams

The Welsh have a word, hiraeth, that has no direct English translation, but can be loosely defined as homesickness for a home you can’t return to, a home which may be never was. I imagine it as a longing for the place you can go exactly as you are without needing any protection around your heart.

It’s a place I find glimpses of; safety in moments of time, people who seem to calm the yearning in me, pieces of music that lead towards the soft glow from my home’s windows, meditations that sink so deep I can nearly step over the threshold. I’ve wondered at times if the culmination of existence is to find our way home.

Peeled pears - TIK

I’ve recently begun picturing mine during meditations. A light-filled cottage with wild flowers and herbs leading up to the front door, surrounded by a garden big enough to grow a myriad of edibles. It’s perched at the base of a hill, overlooking the sea where you can swim all day and catch fish for dinner. I cook the day’s catch over the garden’s fire pit in summer and in the cook’s kitchen in winter, and serve it with homegrown salads to the few I can be comfortably around without switching into the extrovert mode I use to hide from the rest of the world. We’ll laugh and play music and my son’ll fall asleep under the stars long before the apple pie’s out of the oven. Later, I’ll carry him to his bed before heading to the kitchen to knead some dough for morning’s bread, afterwards curling on an armchair in blessed silence to read The Windup Girl for the first time ever, again.

Two things hold us from home. The first is the path to get there is windingly long and often feels like being lost; sometimes the road dips so low we lose sight of home and wonder if we’ll ever find it again. I think many people stop at a waypoint along their path and think, “this is good enough.” and for many of those it seems it is. The second obstacle is the path itself; strewn with false routes, dead ends and seemingly bottomless precipices, it can sometimes appear a pointless task, especially since the promise of home is just a rumour, easily ridiculed and discarded.

But I have a mind and heart that offer me no choice but to keep searching. For long stretches in time it feels as if I’m blindly stumbling from one confused moment to the next, trusting that the precipices I come across are actually invisible bridges of light, that if I can find the courage to step off, they’ll lead me to the next challenge and so, incrementally, to home’s freedom.

Juniper Berries - TIK

Very recently, it’s been made clear to me that the precipice I’ve been walking towards for the past two years has been one of living authentically. That I’m not the woman I thought I was, and I never was. That even some basic beliefs about myself are painfully misguided, brought on by years of a noisy and busy life, where I never gave myself the time to ask if I was really on the right path to my home.

And so, I’ve been gradually letting go of the good girl who toes the party line and looking for what’s real. I’ve been letting myself be imperfect, first to myself and then to others. I’ve a long way to go. Some days it feels like this’ll be my eternal struggle; authenticity requires courage I’m still not sure I have the fortitude to wear. But the promise of home whispers through threads of constant hope, the dream that it could one day be a reality in every moment.

Until then, I’ve started to recognise people who seem to be walking this path with me. There aren’t many, surprisingly few in fact, but I feel their longing as a mirror of my own and they calm the yearning, some knowingly and others who have no idea that just the sight of them or the smallest touch is enough to still the ache for a moment or more.

TIK - Lemon Caramel Pears

I have a child who reminds me all the time to be present; to make up a song together, or chase each other around the house breathless with laughter, to keep my temper when he’s not keeping his, to hold him close as he weeps and to gently guide him to be who he needs to be.

I have these words, baking and photography which never fail to challenge me to be utterly authentic and to keep moving forwards.

I have music and books that inspire me and fill me up every day. And then there’s this guy

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And I have whole days in silence, where I can allow my rapidly expanding introvert to breathe, and the highly-honed performance skills of my extrovert can drop into increasingly adored quiet.

And this week I have this tarte tartin. I’ve taken the sweet and sharp flavours of caramelised pear and lemon before dampening them down with the earthy flavour from juniper berries. Shortcrust pastry (puff pastry always becomes a little soggy the next day, so I’d avoid using it unless you intend to finish this immediately) is tucked, like a loving blanket, around the pears. No matter where you are, the smell of this baking will bring a sense of home.

Enjoy.

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  • 4-6 ripe pears
  • 200g golden (raw) caster sugar
  • 20ml water
  • 30ml lemon juice
  • 50g butter
  • 12 dried juniper berries
  • 1 tsp of lemon zest
  • 175g shortcrust pastry (either buy or make your own — the recipe I use is below)

Peel the pears, then put in the fridge, uncovered, for 24 hours. This helps them dry out, so they won’t release too much juice and dilute the caramel when you cook them — don’t worry about them going brown as this actually adds to the finished dish

Put the sugar into a 20cm tarte tartin dish (I use an ovenproof frying pan, as it seems a little too far fetched to buy a pan just for tarte tartin) along with the water and lemon juice and leave to soak for a couple of minutes

Cook over a medium heat until golden and fudgy. Take off the heat and stir in the butter, juniper berries and lemon zest, until well combined

Half and core the pears before tightly packing them in a circle in the pan, ensuring that their more attractive rounded sides are pressed lightly into the caramelised sugar and place on a medium-high heat. The pears will shrink slightly as they cook, so don’t be afraid to add another pear half or two

Keep cooking for 15 to 20 minutes until they are a nice dark caramel colour and feel bouncy when pressed with a spoon

Take off the heat and allow to cool

Pre-heat the oven to 200˚C / 390˚F. Roll out the pastry to 5mm thick, and cut out a circle slightly larger than your pan before placing back into the fridge to rest

Put the pastry on top of the pan before tucking it down the sides, using a spoon or knife to lift the pears and tuck the pastry under. This will ensure the pastry ‘hugs’ the fruit as it cooks, keeping the tart nice and compact. Pierce the top several times with a fork

Bake for about 30 minutes until the pastry is golden, then remove from the oven. Allow to cool for 5 minutes, then place a plate, slightly larger than the pan, on top and then carefully invert the tart on to the plate. Best served warm, with crème fraîche

Shortcrust Pastry

  • 225g plain flour
  • 2 tbsp caster sugar
  • 120g cold butter
  • 1 medium egg, beaten
  • 2 tsp cold water + extra if needed

Sift the flour into a large mixing bowl and add the sugar and a pinch of salt. Grate in the butter, then rub together until it is coarse crumbs.

Mix the egg with the water and sprinkle over the mixture. Mix together into a soft but not sticky dough, adding more water (if required) very gradually. Shape into a ball, and then cover with clingfilm and refrigerate for at least 20 minutes before rolling out

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