Dessert, Easy, Sweet

Four Small Steps to a Big Life / Pecan & Chai Spiced Hot Milk Cakes

“Listen—are you breathing just a little, and calling it a life?” Mary Oliver

I’m thinking about living big. You may have picked up on the theme some time ago as I steeled myself to step out from my safe life and embark on this authentic one. The final days before leaving my marriage and home were a surrender, through gritted teeth and a shattering soul, that my problem wasn’t that I didn’t try hard enough, but that I kept trying to be a bunch of someones I can’t be.

So, in finally accepting I need a life that’s mine, the rest of the journey’s simple. Right?

Not so much. After all, the light can be blinding after so long in the false-safety of the dark. So, my recent behaviour’s been consumed with wild fears, obsessions, avoidance of practical matters, perfectionist-led procrastination and so many other unhelpful actions as I scrabble away from feeling exposed and vulnerable.

And damn it’s exposed. As I step hesitantly into a big life, I feel on the edge of failure most of the time and can rapidly turn into a dribbling mess. I may have been squashed into solitude before but at least I knew what each moment brought. Today, it can feel as if I know nothing.

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But then I remember that I know how to do this. Sure, I don’t know how to leap in a single bound to the end of this journey, but I’ve spent over a decade learning what it looks like to live big in each moment, and I’m finally getting to live it…

Firstly, just keep walking. Fear is a wily, sneaky, petrifying bastard and needs to be stared down. This week, I spoke with a friend about doing some apprentice work with a baker she knows whose work I adore. I baked and photographed. I wrote. My fear tells me I need to do so much more to be enough, but even one step forwards is a good day.

Secondly, in this moment, all is well. I’m currently sitting in my kitchen writing to you, while a thunderstorm rolls overhead. I lit some candles for my meditation this morning and they’re still flickering. Ryan Adams and Goldfrapp keep my reflective mood in good company, they mingle with the downpour as lightning cracks open the sky. Conversely, my head wants to be wrapped in future financial fears, while arguing with a person I’ve never properly met but who recently upset someone I love. I’m completely winning the argument (in my head), but am feeling hurt and angry (in real life) because they said things to me that I don’t like (in my head). My head can get pretty bonkers. So I focus on staying present. Far less madness…

Thirdly, don’t do it alone. I had to find my gang and let them see me. It’s horribly exposing to be vulnerable and human. But, once I found friends in the seas of people who weren’t mine, I no longer lived alone. This morning I had breakfast with one of those friends and spoke a little of my financial fears, they’re not gone but I feel so much better. Like now-I-can-eat-cake-and-grin better. I tell them stuff and they tell me the truth in return; lovingly, honestly and usually while teasing me. I just hear it better that way.

Finally, trust in life. I say and write this often. I need to write it often because I don’t naturally trust anything. I’m convinced a decreasing amount of the time that life’s out to get me. It’s exhausting and untrue. I had a bad case of the fears (again) last week, convinced (again) I was an idiot for trying something new, that culminated (again) in being unkind to someone I love. Afterwards (and I really do look forward to the day I can write ‘before’), I called a friend I trust to tell me the loving truth. After reminding me (again…) that I’d started walking this path to seek a bigger life, she sent a recording from Elizabeth Gilbert about creative fear, which I now listen to constantly. Another friend dropped in moments later to surprise me with a gift for a food styling course. Later, I was accepted into a photography masterclass I’d applied for. The friend who’d sent me the recording laughed, saying, “So it seems you haven’t been saved from drowning only to choke to death on the shore!” Trust. That is all.

Well, not all, because these cakes might be needed for everything to be completely right with the world. They’re super-light and fluffy, warmly spiced with superb chai flavours and dotted with pecans. They’re one of my most comforting bakes, set aside for those days when the past and future are crushing the present into misery. They stand proudly on their own merits, no adornments needed to improve them. Each bite reminds me the moment’s a deliciously preferable place to be, they’re best eaten in good company and, best of all, it’s a foolproof recipe; simple to follow and entirely trustworthy.

Enjoy.

  • 300ml (10.5oz) whole milk
  • 140g (5oz) unsalted butter, cubed
  • 1½ tsp ground ginger
  • ½ tsp ground cinnamon
  • ½ tsp ground cardamom
  • ¼ tsp ground cloves
  • ¼ tsp ground nutmeg
  • ¼ tsp ground black pepper
  • 1 ½ tbl sp of strong, black breakfast tea leaves (equivalent of about 4 teabags), I use Yorkshire Gold
  • 4 eggs
  • 250g (9oz) caster (superfine) sugar
  • 280g (10oz) plain (all purpose) flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 80g (3oz) pecans

Preheat oven to 180˚C / 350°F

Lightly grease two 12 hole muffin tins

In a small saucepan heat the milk, butter, spices and tea on medium, stirring occasionally, until the butter is melted and bubbles are just starting to appear

Remove the pan from the heat, cover and set aside to let the spices and tea infuse the milk

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, beat the eggs on high speed for a few minutes until they are thick, foamy and a pale yellow

Gradually add the sugar, beating until the mixture is light and fluffy

Mix together the flour, baking powder and salt in a separate bowl

Sift the flour mix into the batter, before gently folding with a wooden spoon until smooth

Gradually add the milk mixture to the batter, stirring with a wooden spoon until just combined

Gently stir in the pecans

Pour into your prepared muffin tins, filling each hole almost to the top

Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until a skewer inserted near the centre of a muffin comes out clean

Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack

Eat as many as you feel you need in this moment

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Morning or Afternoon Tea, Super Easy, Sweet

Leaning into Home / Banana, Coconut & Chocolate Loaf Cake

“And suddenly you know: It’s time to start something new and trust the magic of beginnings.” Meister Eckhart

I’m sitting in my new coffee shop just around the corner from my new house, watching my new neighbours pass by. It’s noisier and busier than my old area, the barista doesn’t know how I like my coffee, there are fewer trees, and I haven’t seen a child shoot past the window yet — and a crooning voice says this is a mistake, that I should go running back to my old life, that I can’t possibly risk all of this.

I know this voice so well, it’s the sprawling bad neighbourhood in the city of my mind, and have learned over time to gently and kindly ignore its sentiments until another voice wraps itself around my fears and murmurs comfort, finding courage in just doing this one small step at a time. That I don’t need all the answers all at once. That not knowing what my world looks like beyond today is just fine. That my only job is to making a beginning and keep trying.

And then the universe lovingly joins in to console by sending a little boy, about the same age as mine, racing past the cafe so that he can beat his heavily pregnant mother to the crossing and press the button for the pedestrian light.  An old lady is leaning on her walking stick, also waiting to cross, and the three of them share a big smile before the green man appears to propel them across the road.

In watching their ease with each other and in deliberately moving to the peaceful parts of my head, I know in this moment that we’re going to be just fine here. We’re going to find new spaces to be happy and to live fully. My son will do what he does everywhere we go and make friends with everyone on the street, even people who don’t warm to me will be swept up in the joy he exudes with every heartbeat.

I’ll learn where I can join in and where I can be still, I’ll learn to do it standing on my own two feet, I’ll learn to smile in a new house and in a new car and in a new neighbourhood. I’ll learn to take photos in the new light. I’ll learn to bake in the new oven. I’ll learn where my joy has travelled with me, where old joys can be let go, and where new joys can be found.

Grief and fear are still present, but in this moment they are stilled by the possibility of truly living a full and authentic life. I deliberately started walking down this path to make sure I lived that way, and with each seemingly trivial step, I’m living bigger than I’ve ever lived before.

So welcome back to The Imperfect Kitchen everyone. I’ve no idea what the road ahead looks like, but the road today’s looking pretty good.

All starting with this banana, coconut and chocolate chip loaf cake. I wanted something that was easily transportable while we moved house, something low in sugar so my son could eat some without becoming manic, and something that I could make with ease in an oven I didn’t know much about. Philip’s fabulous Home Baking recipe book gave me the base for this recipe. The great thing about this cake, other than the gorgeous flavours and that it lasts for days in a cake tin, is that it’s quite hard to mess up; something that my distracted mind needs at the moment!

Enjoy.

  • 200g (7 oz) unflavoured Greek yoghurt
  • 110g (4 oz) shredded coconut
  • A pinch of salt
  • 3 ripe bananas, mashed
  • 150g (5 ½ oz) raw sugar
  • 150g (5 ½ oz) wholemeal self-raising flour
  • ½ tsp ground cinnamon
  • 100g (3 ½ oz) dark chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 180˚C

Grease and line a loaf tin with greaseproof baking paper (my loaf tin is 22cm x 12cm, 8.5 inches x 4.5 inches)

Thoroughly mix the yoghurt, coconut, salt, banana and sugar in a mixing bowl before covering and placing in the fridge for about ½ hour (if you’re in a hurry don’t worry too much, it’s just slightly tastier to let the coconut soak and soften before baking)

Stir the chocolate chips into the banana mix before folding in the flour and cinnamon to create a smooth batter. Spoon the mixture into your tin to bake for about 1 hour, or until a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. I find that the top is brown enough after about 45 minutes but the middle takes another 15 minutes, so I place some tin foil over the cake to finish baking. Just keep an eye on it and do the same if you need

Remove the cake from the oven and rest for a few minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to cool

Eat in great big slabs. On its own or with butter if you prefer

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Dessert, Easy, Sweet

A New Beginning / Lemon, Blueberry & Thyme Slice

“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.

lemon blueberry & thyme

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.

lemon zest blueberries & chopped thyme

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.

Enjoy.

  • 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

Find joy

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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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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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Morning or Afternoon Tea, Super Easy, Sweet

Walking By Starlight / Triple Chocolate & Coconut Lime Cupcakes

“When a dove begins to associate with crows its feathers remain white but its heart grows black” German proverb

I’ve been woken each morning this week by the Dark Crow that once had a permanent place at the foot of my bed. Patient and dangerous, it snuck through unguarded shadows to taunt me once more.

“I’m glad you’re awake,” says the Crow, “we have a problem. No, I can’t wait for you to open your eyes, you have many things to listen to, it’s all bad I’m afraid… Remember that girl who wanted to have coffee? You know the one, she’s pretty and slim, so already better than you? Yup, you messed that up, here’s a flashback of the conversation at the exact moment you were an idiot. And remember that call with your friend when she was too busy to meet up? She’s not, you talk too much so she doesn’t want to see you, you’ve lost another one. And then yesterday when you…”

And that’s just the first millisecond as it warms up to the really good stuff.

I heard the Crow’s stories for so many years they became an indelible stain on my brain. So soaked into the fabric of my thoughts that the Crow could start half way through a monologue, knowing I already had the rest of my imagined failures embroidered into my soul.

TIK - Base flavours for Triple Chocolate, Lime & Coconut Cupcakes

It’s not the best start to a day. It’s not the best start to a life. I was about eight years old when I first heard the Crow, I didn’t know that it was something to be fought until I was 25. I didn’t know how to fight for 2 years after that. For 19 years the Crow was my bed companion, greeting me in the morning and talking me to sleep each night.

Today, my heart breaks for that child who knew no different, who didn’t even know it was unusual to listen to such things. If it had been a person outside my head, rather than a voice inside, it’d be classified as chronic emotional abuse. If anyone spoke to my son that way I’d happily hack out their tongue with a blunt spoon. And yet, I never thought to treat myself as I would anyone else. I never knew to be disgusted and horrified on my own behalf.

And today I speak with scores of people who live with their own Dark Crows, maybe you have one too.

I changed quite suddenly. About 8 years ago I woke up, the Crow opened its beak to start pontificating on my life failures and, Matrix style, I gripped its beak shut and thought, “Stop”. I looked deeply into the part of my mind that housed the Crow and said, “I will not be spoken to like that any more. It’s over. You’re finished.”

TIK - Finnish Proverb Lime & Coconut Frosting

From that moment, every time my Crow would arc up I’d firmly and gently stop it from saying any more. At first I’d catch it halfway through the monologue, I was so used to its noise it took some time to recognise. Gradually, I caught the chatter earlier. My mind became quieter. At the same time I began the work of challenging all the thoughts it’d been crowing at me, while actively focussing on the good in my world. When given a choice I would look for joy, peace and love. Even today it feels silly and naive at times, like I’m not being realistic trusting the light of the stars when the night sky is so dark. But I’d firmly decided on that first day that I’d rather be stupid than broken. And for the most part today, I’m neither.

But this week, my visitor smuggled the dark back into my mind. And today, my two year old son wore some of its hatred. He woke up in a challenging mood and we’d been at loggerheads all morning, I was unable to see anything past the Crow again and, frustrated with him and filled with self, I yelled primal fury into his little face. He immediately crawled under the table, weeping, and repeating over and over, “I’m so sorry Mummy, I’m so sorry.”

Is there anything more devastating than terrifying your child into tears? If there is I haven’t found it yet. The guilt, remorse and self-hatred were immediate and soul-crippling. The Crow won that round and so had more powerful material for future monologues.

I paused, as I’ve been taught to do, and pushed my self-absorbed self-loathing to one side, before creeping under the table next to my son and whispering “I’m sorry. Mummy’s having a bad day and that’s clashed with your bad day. It was very wrong that Mummy scared you and it’s never okay to shout like that. I’m so sorry I scared you.”

TIK - Triple Chocolate Cupcake tower

He immediately crawled onto my lap and we were friends again. Moments later he’s pelting me with ping-pong balls and laughing uproariously. His forgiveness is fast and complete. I’ll take longer to forgive myself for the monster breaking free around my son.

But if I don’t forgive myself the Crow wins, and I’ve made a silent commitment to all those who come into any contact with me that the Crow isn’t going to win any more. I’m starting the only way I know how and walking by starlight again. Because today I know that although the world is full of pain and tears and terrifying cruelty, it is also full of wonder and inspiration and heroes. And at the end of it all, I know which side I want to fall on.

Bloody hell… I need glitter, laughter and jazzy hands coming from my oven after this week. It’s a no brainer in this mood, it’s got to be the most frivolous of all bakes, cupcakes. I’ve a fabulous and super-easy chocolate cake recipe from Nigella Lawson that I’ve adapted for these cupcakes; dark, heavy and a good representation of my crow. I’ve then lightened and lifted the darkness with a liberal addition of a sweet, creamy and sharp coconut and lime frosting. I’ve topped everything off with sparkly bits to cheer myself up, feel free to ignore that addition if you’re already sparkly enough.

Enjoy.

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Click here to print this recipe

For the cake

  • 200g plain flour
  • ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 50g cocoa powder + extra to dredge the cupcake tins
  • 275g caster sugar
  • 175g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 tbl sp vanilla extract
  • 80ml sour cream
  • 125ml boiling water
  • 175g dark chocolate chips

For the syrup

  • 1 tsp cocoa powder
  • 125ml water
  • 100g caster sugar

For the frosting

  • 1 can of coconut milk (about 400ml)
  • 225g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 315g icing (powdered) sugar
  • Zest from 2-4 limes
  • 1-3 tsp coconut extract
  • Optional topping of your choice (sprinkles? Lime zest and coconut shavings? Shavings of dark chocolate?)

Preheat the oven to 170°C / 325ºF

Thoroughly grease two 12 hole cupcake tins and completely cover each one with about a teaspoon of cocoa powder (I put a the cocoa in the bottom of each hole and shake the tin around until each hole is entirely covered). Once finished, tip the tin upside-down and tap lightly on a surface to get rid of the excess cocoa

Put the flour, bicarb, cocoa, sugar, butter, eggs, vanilla and sour cream into the processor and blitz till a smooth, satiny brown batter. Scrape down with a rubber spatula and process again while pouring the boiling water down the funnel. Switch it off then remove the lid and the well-scraped double-bladed knife and, still using your rubber spatula, stir in the chocolate chips

Fill each cupcake hole about half way up before sliding into the oven, cooking for 20 to 25 minutes. When it’s ready, the cupcakes will be risen and a cake-tester, or a fine skewer, will pretty well come out clean. But this is a damp cake so don’t be alarmed at a bit of stickiness in evidence

Five minutes before you take the cupcakes from the oven, put the syrup ingredients of cocoa, water and sugar into a small saucepan and boil for 5 minutes. You may find it needs a little longer: what you want is a reduced liquid, that’s to say a syrup, though I often take it a little further, so that the sugar caramelises and the syrup has a really dark, smokey chocolate intensity

Take the cupcakes out of the oven and sit them on a cooling rack and, still in the tin, pierce each a few times with a cake tester. Then run a small knife around the outside of each cupcake to make sure they can come away easily before pouring a teaspoon or so of syrup over the surface of each cupcake

Let the cupcakes cool and then slip them out of the tin ready for frosting

To make the frosting, bring the coconut milk to boil in large deep saucepan over a medium-high heat (coconut milk will boil up high in pan). Reduce heat to medium-low and boil, stirring occasionally, for 25 to 30 minutes until reduced by about two thirds. Remove from the heat and cool completely. Transfer to small bowl. Cover and chill. (This can be made 2 days ahead and kept in the fridge)

Using an electric whisk, beat the butter in large bowl until smooth. Add the sugar, zest from 2 limes, 1 teaspoon of coconut extract and 80ml of the reduced coconut milk and beat until light and fluffy. Once fully fluffed, check the coconut and lime flavours are speaking your language loudly enough, if they’re not, keeping adding in each little by little until you have the flavour exactly as you want.

Using pastry bag fitted with large star tip, pipe frosting onto the cupcakes

Eat these at dawn, at dusk and amongst the stars

And, quickly, a big thank you to Michelle at King of States and the rest of the group at Blogging 201 this week. Anyone who thinks blogging isn’t a community effort hasn’t spent time surfing the loving halls of WordPress.

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Easy, Morning or Afternoon Tea, Sweet

10 Reasons to be Universally Grateful / Orange & Cardamon Yoghurt Loaf Cake

I rarely run out of words, stories, or an opinionated point of view; but this week’s one of those rare times when I think I have. And there’s a sneery voice in my head hissing that it’s all over and I’m never going to be able to write anything again. It can all be a bit scary.

To cheer myself up from this line of thinking, I read in-depth coverage of the news (which should tell you just how much of a grumpy, old person really lives inside my young-ish head) and at some point while reading about the ongoing conflicts in Syria and Iraq, the imprisonment of journalists in Egypt and the Australian Prime Minister referring to Australia as “unsettled” before the English arrived (presumably in the same way that places like North America and India were unsettled. That sort of thing.) I realised that I can so easily become blinkered by my own experience. And that, even if I never write another word, I’m going to be just fine.

Which lead into thinking about gratitude and how many reasons I, and everyone I know, have to be grateful. So I decided to make a list of the biggest global reasons to be grateful. A universal gratitude list for us to have a think about.

To set the scene…

The human species is just one of 8.7 million species on Earth. And our sun is just one of at least 200 billion stars in the Milky Way. And the Milky Way is potentially one of 500 billion galaxies.

Here’s those words in picture form — during which you’ll see why I never impressed my art or physics teachers at school.

This is not drawn to scale. Even a little bit.

Feeling small yet? Well, to keep you from a life of gazing at the sky in nihilistic awe, remember that of the 500 billion or so galaxies, as far as we know, Earth is the only planet that holds sentient life. And we’re it. And of that sentient life, if you’re reading this, I’m going to assume that you’re one of the luckiest people; and if you’re female, certainly one of the luckiest women.

And here are our 10 universal reasons why

  1. We could have been born one of the other 8,699,999 species on this planet and spent our lives trying to cope with humanity (I’d wager it’s not easy).
  2. Of the 6 billion humans on Earth, it’s almost a certainty that anyone reading this isn’t one of the 2.4 billion who live on less than US$2 a day, of which 70% are women. I paid 8 times the global daily poverty line just for my breakfast this morning. I’m one of the 2% in the world who can afford to do so.
  3. It’s extremely likely you’re not one of the 3.6 billion people who don’t live in a democracy. My government doesn’t prevent me from writing this blog, and your government isn’t preventing you from reading it.
  4. Without meaning to sound too obvious, if you’re reading this, you can read. Unlike 774 million people around the world, of which two thirds are women. The fact that women can read and write at all, let alone to a tertiary standard, is not as unusual as it was ten years ago, but still makes the women reading this one of 10% of women educated to that level globally.
  5. If you’re a mum reading this, it means that you didn’t die during childbirth, roughly 300,000 women each year aren’t so lucky.
  6. Your children are 95% likely to survive into adulthood and 70% likely to die at a ripe, old age, and those odds are getting better all the time.
  7. If your home is plumbed and your water is clean, you’re luckier than 2.5 billion people without adequate sanitation.
  8. If you don’t hear gunfire at night, you’re luckier than a third of the world population who live in so called ‘conflict zones’.
  9. You’re currently using a computer, which means you have access to electricity. 20% of the world (1.3 billion people) don’t have any access at all.
  10. It’s highly likely that you have some aspirin in your house, or even a medicine cabinet somewhere, which means you’re better off than one third of the world’s population who lack access to essential medicines. In the poorest parts of Africa and Asia this figure rises to half of the population.

How lucky are we?!

This isn’t written in an attempt to make you feel guilty. Some sort of annoying stop-having-a-good-time-and-start-fixing-the-world power drive. Really, I’m just trying to remind myself of the bigger picture and trying to keep hold of gratitude for the many blessings I enjoy. And I may also be quite grateful that I found something to write about this week. Something that can go some way to matching this operatic cake.

This cake’s untamed flavours swan onto your tastebuds and demand your undivided attention. I could go on about how I experimented to reach the exact ingredients; the addition of semolina for a soft density and yoghurt for tangy richness, how the cardamom is rounded out by a slight hint of cinnamon, and so on. But it really is just worth trying it for yourself.

Enjoy.

  • 100g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 245g caster (superfine) sugar
  • 240g natural yoghurt
  • 3 eggs, separated
  • Zest from 1 orange (I use navel oranges)
  • 150g plain (all purpose) flour
  • 150g semolina
  • 30g ground almonds
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp ground cardamom
  • ½ tsp cinnamon, ground
  • 125ml fresh orange juice (I juice the orange I’ve just zested)
  • 2 whole cardamom pods

Preheat oven to 180˚C/350˚F and line a loaf tin with baking paper (my loaf tin is 26cm x 11cm x 8cm, if you have a different size just adjust cooking times accordingly)

In a mixing bowl, whisk the butter and 180g of the sugar until pale and fluffy

Beat in the yogurt, egg yolks and zest, until completely combined

Put the flour, semolina, ground almonds, baking powder, cardamom and cinnamon in a bowl and stir with a hand whisk to combine (stirring with a hand whisk means you don’t have to sift)

Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, a third at a time. Completely combine each third before moving to the next

In a clean bowl, whisk the egg whites until soft peaks form

Gently fold the egg whites into the cake batter, until just combined

Pour into the loaf tin and bake for around 40 minutes, or until golden and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean

Meanwhile, prepare the orange syrup by simmering the orange juice, cardamom pods and the remaining 65g of sugar in a saucepan for 7 minutes. Make sure you don’t stir the juice while cooking, instead, occasionally give the pan a swirl to keep the sugar from catching

Once the cake is baked, pour the syrup on top and let it soak in

Set aside to cool completely before serving with generous dollops of cardamom cream (recipe below)

Cardamom Whipped Cream

  • 300ml double (heavy) cream
  • 
1 tbl sp icing (powdered) sugar
  • ½ tsp cardamom, ground

Combine the cream, icing sugar and ½ teaspoon of the cardamom in a bowl and whisk until stiff peaks form in the cream. Cover and place in the fridge until ready to use

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