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, 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, Super Easy, Sweet

This Stuff Called Joy / Spiced Rhubarb & Pear Crumble with Vanilla Custard

“Man is fond of reckoning up his troubles, but does not count his joys.”
Dostoyevsky

As a continuation of last week’s post on 10 reasons to be universally grateful, I’ve been thinking about the snippets of life that can’t help but break into joy.

Just to be clear, I don’t mean the schadenfreude joy that reading the annual Darwin Awards brings. Or even the cackling joy brought on by an unpleasant person’s public demise — I’m looking at you Robin Thicke (from a sexually safe distance), while thinking about my favourite #AskThicke tweet of your whole PR disaster, from @JoLiptrott, “When you’re not busy objectifying women, making light of rape and justifying sexual violence, how do you like to relax?”.

No, this post won’t be about the joy that’s dulled by the satisfaction of someone else’s suffering (although I think there’s a place for that in life). This is about the joy that sparkles through life and lights up our days. Unsullied joy.

Like these guys.

I posted this little gif in my Dark Chocolate, Whipped Peanut & Caramel Cookies recipe the other week and every single time I glance through The Imperfect Kitchen page it pulls joy from the base of my stomach, all the way through my chest and tugs at the corners of my mouth and eyes.

Another is my toddler’s singing. I’ve written before about his adventurous additions to the Old MacDonald song. Well now he has an ever-growing repertoire of adorable songs and dance moves. His refusal to sleep still drives me insane, but these days he so often couples his sleeplessness with a quiet rendition of ‘5 Little Ducks’ or a more rousing rendition of ‘Baby Crocodile, Don’t You Bite’. Hearing him sends shivers of love through me and I always have to smile — which only encourages the little monster.

There’s the silent joy at the end of a deep meditation, the belt-loosening joy of an overly full stomach, the breathless joy of uncontrollable belly laughter. The satisfied joy of a job well done, the relieved joy when there’s enough money to pay the bills each month, or when that brown substance around my son’s mouth is mud instead of…

The groaning joy at one of my Dad’s jokes. The excited joy of a reunion with my family on the other side of the world (15 weeks until we fly to London!). The sheepish joy in making up after an argument. The comforting joy of a loving hug at the end of a tough day.

The peaceful joy in writing alone in a cafe with great coffee. The parents-will-get-this joy of a slowly sipped cup of tea. The tastebuds-tingling joy of a beautifully crafted donut or a perfect slice of lemon tart. The incredulous joy at seeing my readers’ engage with The Imperfect Kitchen as it reaches out to more of you all the time.

The reassuring joy of talking honestly with a trusted friend and realising that I’m never alone in anything I feel or experience. The aching joy of facing loss and walking through the pain to a more sincere life. The tentative joy of allowing a friend to love me, without instructing them on how much is too much. The grown-up joy in setting an appropriate boundary of self-care. The releasing joy after great, gulping sobs of grief. The vulnerable joy of opening my heart to life even though my fears cry out.

The joy of getting it wrong and getting it right and getting it every shade in between. The joy of still feeling joy when life is steeped in sorrow. The joy of finding joy again after walking through seemingly endless darkness.

And the most fulfilling joy of bringing joy to others.

And you? Have I missed anything that scatters joy through your life today?

TIK_Spiced Rhubarb & Pear Crumble with Vanilla Custard

What about the joy of a simple and comforting pudding? I make crumbles all the time, they’re my ‘go to’ dessert when I feel like something sweet but can’t be bothered with too much effort. In this one, tart rhubarb and mellow pear are enhanced by smokey maple syrup and warmed throughout by a classic spice blend of ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg. This easy dish will impress all your dinner party Joneses, or is a perfect pud during lazy afternoons curled on a cosy chair with a good book and a cup of tea. If you’re cuddling up for winter, pair it with my creamy vanilla custard recipe below; or, if you’re lounging in summer, serve my apple and strawberry version with scoops of vanilla bean ice cream.

Enjoy.

  • 200g wholemeal flour
  • 150g light brown sugar + 2 tbl sp for the topping
  • 3 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 ½ tsp ground cinnamon
  • ¾ tsp ground nutmeg
  • 150g unsalted butter, cold and cut into small cubes
  • 4 ripe pears – peeled, quartered and cored
  • 500g rhubarb (trimmed weight)
  • 50g raw caster sugar
  • 1 tbl sp pure maple syrup
  • 3 tbl sp cold water

Preheat your oven to 200˚C/390˚F

In a medium bowl, whisk together wholemeal flour, light brown sugar and 1 teaspoon of ginger, ½ teaspoon of cinnamon and ¼ teaspoon of nutmeg

Add the cold, cubed butter and, using your fingers, mix the butter into the flour until the whole mixture resembles coarse sand and starts to clump together

Set aside

Chop the quartered pears in half, then chop the rhubarb into finger-length batons

Place the pears, rhubarb, caster sugar and water in a saucepan, cover and cook gently, over a low heat, for 8 to 10 minutes until the rhubarb is just softened, but still holding its shape

Stir in the maple syrup and remaining ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg before tipping into a large ovenproof dish

(Both the rhubarb mix and the crumble topping can be frozen for up to 3 months, just defrost in the fridge before using)

Use your hands to scatter the crumble on top before sprinkling over the remainder of the brown sugar

Bake for 40 mins until golden and bubbling at the sides

Spoon into bowls and serving with the vanilla bean custard

Vanilla Custard

  • 250ml milk
  • 250ml double (heavy) cream
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 1 tablespoon cornflour
  • 80g caster (superfine) sugar

Combine milk and cream in a small saucepan

Using a sharp knife, split vanilla bean in half lengthways and scrape out seeds

Add bean and seeds to milk mixture and place over medium heat

Cook, stirring constantly, for 5 minutes or until hot (do not allow to boil). Remove saucepan from heat

Whisk egg yolks, cornflour and sugar in a heatproof bowl until well combined

Remove vanilla beans from milk mixture. Pour hot milk mixture over egg yolk mixture, whisking constantly

Return mixture to saucepan over a low heat

Cook, stirring constantly, for 10 to 15 minutes or until custard thickens and coats the back of a metal spoon (do not allow the custard to boil, as it might curdle)

Eat in greedy joy

TIK_Spiced Rhubarb & Pear Crumble with Vanilla Custard all done

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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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Morning or Afternoon Tea, Not So Easy, Sweet

A Friendly Humiliation / Nutella & Pretzel Donuts

“There has been much tragedy in my life; at least half of it actually happened.” Mark Twain

My feelings recently took a tumble from a relatively new person in my life, who I thought was becoming a friend. They weren’t responding to texts and our earlier agreement to meet up had come and gone with a lonely whimper.

My self esteem promptly gives me a hard time

you’re such a loser 

you were a total idiot that time over coffee 

you pushed too hard

My ego jumps into resentment

they should have texted, even to decline 

how dare they not realise I’m lovely

I would never do that

Except I do. I do it all the time to people I like. I get caught up in my life, my cares and concerns and I let people down regularly. Most of the time I don’t even realise I’ve done it until I get a vague sense of guilt when I scroll past their name on my phone. It’s not that I don’t like them, it’s that I have so little time to do all the things in my life, I forget that others are looking forward to seeing me. That I matter to more than the necessary activities of my day.

This realisation wasn’t enough to move through the uncomfortable feelings though, so I spent some contemplation time on where my thinking had fallen in a ditch.

Nutella & Pretzel

My first thought was that I don’t know them well. I don’t know if they’re struggling with too many things on their plate, have a vague sense of depression, they’ve needed a new pair of shoes for months and really hate shopping, or that they have a ferocious amount of people in their life already and I’m just one of a thousand new acquaintances clamouring for their affection.

The second thought (which really could have been my first, if my thinking wasn’t so self absorbed) and most likely, is that they’re not thinking about me at all. I’m sitting here wondering if them not responding to texts means something, and the whole time they’re thinking, “I’d bloody love England to win the World Cup this year”.

But there is another awful possibility… 

I may be a slight stalker of someone who doesn’t really like me.

My entire torso curls in on itself as I type those words. There’s a muttering at the edge of my consciousness, like my ego’s about to rebel and my esteem’s ready to throw in the towel. But it’s the possibility that’s been playing over and over in the back of my mind, a phrase on repeat and I can’t find the off-switch. I’ve written before that I have a lot of people in my life and I’m lucky that I generally like people; but it’s incredibly rare I meet someone and can feel the click through my subconscious as it rears up to say, “Well, don’t you just rock enormously?”

Nutella & Pretzel donuts

On the few times it’s happened before, the other person seems to have felt the same click and are now lifelong friends, so it didn’t occur to me that this time I may have been the only one to feel it. I merrily swanned into this person’s life, planning our future awesomeness together, and the whole time they may have been increasingly thinking, “Umm. No, scary weird person. Just no.”

There’s no verbal way to explain how this feels. It sits somewhere between ick and gibbering humiliation. My subconscious offers up all the ways they’re clearly cooler, smarter and just better than me and then my conscious mind takes over and asks me what the hell I thought I was doing? A simpler way of describing my response to this line of thinking is a fervently whispered,  “Run. Run now. Run fast and far. Set up a new life deep in the woods where you never have to see them ever again.”

Once upon a time I would’ve done just that. Not literally, however tempting, but I would’ve immediately cut them from my life as the instinct for self-preservation became greater than my instinct to live lightly in the world. I may even have tried to show them how little they meant to me, in a misguided attempt to reassert my bruised ego. Which would, of course, merely add guilt to the hurt.

Today, I try to do things differently. I acknowledge the hurt and the particularly obsessive nature of my thinking, then I speak with someone I trust who can help me to laugh. I finally take some time to be still and focus my consciousness on the place I hurt, to allow the feelings without gripping onto them as reality. I treat the hurt as I would treat my child’s, as real but transitory. The feelings are not the story, they’re just the feelings.

Finally, I ask my better self to help me be kind, patient and tolerant of their humanity and of mine. That whatever the truth turns out to be, I can put my ego to one side and remain right sized. And finally, I back off from the friendship (quite quickly because, let’s be honest: ouch) and trust that more will be revealed in time.

Then I eat donuts. And maybe chocolate. But mostly donuts.

homer eating

This ‘fix feelings with food’ recipe is a homage to an excellent local bakery, Candied, who offer this donut combination on a regular basis. For those not lucky enough to have their own Candied around the corner, the recipe is as close as I can get to their version.

Enjoy.

Donuts (adapted from www.taste.com.au) – makes 12

  • 250ml milk
  • 500g plain (all purpose) flour
  • 60g caster (superfine) sugar
  • 3 teaspoons dried yeast
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 100g shortening, softened (known as Crisco in USA, Trex in UK and Copha in Australia. Failing those, replace with unsalted butter)
  • 3 egg yolks
  • Canola oil, for frying

Nutella & Pretzel Glaze

  • 80g Nutella
  • 30g thick (heavy) cream
  • 25g pretzels, roughly crushed + 12 for decoration

Heat the milk until it starts to boil, then switch off the heat and leave it to cool

Combine flour, sugar, yeast and salt in a bowl

Make a well in the mix and stir in the cooled milk, shortening and egg until a sticky dough starts to come together

Knead on a well-floured surface until smooth

Place in a greased bowl, cover and leave to rise for about 90 minutes (the dough needs to at least double in size)

Punch down the dough to take out the air

Knead on a lightly floured surface again until smooth

Roll out dough until 1cm thick (flour your rolling pin, much easier!)

Either use a donut cutter or an 8cm round cutter to cut out discs and a 3.5cm round cutter to cut out the centres. Re-roll the dough to be able to make all 12 donuts

Place the donuts on a lined tray and set aside for another 30 minutes to rise again

Heat your oil to 180°C/350˚F (use a thermometer, the temperature matters) in a large, deep frying pan – I test the oil temperature using scraps left over from the dough

Fry each doughnut for 30-40 seconds each side or until puffed and golden and leave on a wire rack to cool

Very gently heat the Nutella and cream in a small pan, stirring constantly, until combined

Take off the heat and carefully stir in the crushed pretzels

Dip each donut in the Nutella glaze and place back on the wire rack

Complete your Nutella and Pretzel Donut look by adding a single, whole pretzel to each one

Eat all twelve. Go on. I dare you.

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Morning or Afternoon Tea, Not So Easy, Sweet

And It All Came Tumbling Down / Pistachio & Almond Nougat

“This is the story of a man falling from a 50-storey building. As he falls, for reassurance, he repeats: So far so good, so far so good, so far so good.
But what matters isn’t the fall… it’s the landing”
La Haine

I’ve written previously about the decision I’d made a few years ago to only focus on my behaviour and choices, regardless of how others behaved and the decisions they made. Well, I’m ashamed to say that recently I haven’t been living in that decision. Fear and its life-partner, passivity, have been making my choices and the idea that ‘it begins and ends with me’ has been a distant possibility for other people to focus on, as I’ve stopped challenging myself to walk the most honest path I can.

I inadvertently read two books this week that were heavily focused on actions being the only true indication of our character. In the first book, Man’s Search for Meaning, a classic text of one man’s experiences in concentration camps during the second world war, the author states that

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

The very next book I read was Skin Game, the latest in a series of books that I would argue (loudly) is one of the best in modern fantasy literature, about a wizard for hire in Chicago — so I think we can all agree it’s a different genre to the first… Now, get this

“You think your power is what shapes the world you walk in. But that is an illusion. Your choices shape your world. You think your power will protect you from the consequences of those choices. But you are wrong… one day you will receive what you have earned. Choose carefully.”

I wonder how long my subconscious has been gently nudging me into seeing my selfishness. To be honest it seems as if a large plank of etherial wood is smacking me about the head with the message to work on my attitude and behaviour, and to stop looking to others to make choices for me. Generally, if my subconscious is in ‘shouting at me’ mode it means I haven’t been listening for the loving taps that would have been proceeding this for quite some time.

Now I need to decide what to do about it. It’s all well and good for me to proclaim, “I shall be courageous, kind and loving from now on!” but it’s only in action that I’ll be able to see if I’m actually changing.

“Our answer must consist, not in talk and meditation, but in right action and right conduct.” Man’s Search for Meaning

The first thing for me to do is acknowledge where this is happening. During contemplation this week on where I’m letting fear dominate my choices, I realise that it’s managed to trick me (once again) into thinking I’m being sensible by not acting rather than just hiding from actions I don’t want to take. Much like exercise, it’s a shock how quickly I lose my spiritual health when I stop working out.

I then make a sincere commitment that I’d like to change. And what always happens next is I’m presented with opportunities to change, to put some action into my life and to put my trust into something other than my, not-nearly-as-awesome-as-I-like-to-believe, mind.

I realise that I’m making it sound easy, but the simplicity of the choice hides the enormous challenge posed by healthy living, that it so often goes against my fiercely held desires and fears. Which can, unless tempered, be the driving force of my decisions, and the self-built dramas that unfold as a result. I have some probable actions coming up in the future that feel so terrifying and overwhelming it’s like I’m preparing to leap off a tall building, with the possibility there’s no net before I hit the ground. But, I know that if I continue to live so passively I’m going to slip off the building before I’m ready to deal with the consequences that may come with the fall. Like it or not, if I want to live with courage and honour, I have to keep taking the next indicated step.

And just as I’m writing these very words of my recommitment, my phone chimes with a text message from a friend who I know I can speak with honestly and openly. That’s how fast this stuff works when I commit to something. I’m immediately given the chance to stand by the decision I’ve made to live better. Or not.

Today’s recipe comes from a lovely baking book I bought recently called Paris Pastry Club. I’ve made a number of their delicious recipes and this nougat’s been an absolute stand out from the start. I’m not going to lie, it’s a challenging recipe. And I wouldn’t even start if you don’t have a stand alone mixer, or arms of steel. But cooking’s one place I don’t allow my fear to prevent me from action. And, more often than not, I end up with something I’m happy with.

Enjoy.

  • Icing sugar (confectioner’s sugar), for lining the baking tray, plus extra for dusting
  • 1 egg white
  • 260g (9oz) caster (superfine) sugar
  • 125g (4½ oz) honey
  • 100g (3½ oz) water
  • 50g (2¾ oz) glucose syrup
  • 150g (5oz) pistachio and almond mix, roughly chopped (or 150g of a dried fruit and nut mix of your choice)

Line a baking tray with baking paper and sprinkle it with a generous amount of icing sugar

Place the egg white in a stand-mixer and whisk on a slow speed until soft peaks form

Add 30g (1oz) of the sugar and whisk until stiff

Keep whisking on a slow speed while you make the syrups

In a small pan, heat the honey to 130˚C (265˚F)

In another pan, place the remaining sugar, water and glucose syrup and cook to 155˚C (310˚F)

With the mixer still on slow, pour the boiling honey down the sides of the bowl to mix with the egg white, increase the speed a bit and whisk for a minute or two

When the sugar syrup reaches the correct temperature, pour it down the sides of the bowl and crank up the speed to the maximum

Whisk until the bowl feels slightly warm to the touch

Remove the whisk and add the nuts (or whichever combination you’re using)

Mix in gently, using a wooden spoon

Scrape the nougat onto the prepared baking tray, dust with more icing sugar and top with a sheet of baking paper before rolling into a 2cm slab

Allow to cool at room temperature for at least 12 hours, then slice as you like and serve

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Dessert, Easy, Sweet

Streets of Satisfaction / Carrot Cake {dairy free}

I’m sitting outside our lovingly restored stormy-blue and crisp-white house, thinking about where to go from here.

A pair of main roads intersect a couple of blocks away and are definitely the fastest route anywhere. They’re also noisy and dirty, filled with huge trucks headed to and from the docklands on one road, and fleets of cars cluttering up the other.

The alternative route is packed with windy lanes, planted with apple trees and tomato vines, pale pink roses and dripping wisteria. Going this way, you’ll take longer to get anywhere, but there’ll be riotous colours, sounds of children playing and more than one conversation, while leaning on a front fence, about life and garden produce.

As I pushed my son’s pram to the playground earlier today, I thought about how happy I am to peacefully meander my way through a longer route when I’m relaxed about my destination; but that I rigidly stick to the certainty of main roads if I’m unsure about exactly where I need to be.

I become so focused on getting to the right place, that I’m willing to miss the potential for discovery that back roads always seem to offer. I may arrive a bit quicker, but I don’t have the looseness in my mind and the gentle smile in my heart when I’ve steeped myself in the little wonders that make roaming so much fun.

I’m beginning to think seriously about how I can start earning again, resolved not to go back into big corporate life, and determined to find a writing or editing role, maybe food and produce related. As soon as I start mulling it over, I can feel the panicked anxiety to reach an end point as quickly as possible, that I need to know immediately whether I’m going to end up somewhere I want to work, doing something I love and earning some money.

I’m completely unclear about where this new work could come from, or even if I’m good enough to do it at all. There’s a part of me, steeped deeply in cynicism and fear, that assures me it’s never going to happen and I’m a fool to even try. But, I also have hope that belief, passion and hard work can overcome a multitude of barriers, particularly those erected by a sceptical mind. And if I can keep taking the next written and edible step, it’s all going to work out, until I’ll eventually look back on this time and wonder why I ever doubted.

The big temptation with this fear is to grasp for the nearest solution, whether it fulfils my desires or not – to hop onto the biggest road I can find and arrive somewhere I’m not sure I want to be, but at least I can stop feeling afraid for a while. In the past, it’s been enough to freeze me in my tracks and send me scuttling back into monolithic office blocks with their recycled air and stultifying businesses.

However, this time, I want to believe it’s more important to live with a sparkle of trusting gratitude for the journey I’m walking, and that the destination will come as a result of purposefully enjoying the windy roads that make me so happy.

And who knows? Something wonderful could be just around the corner. As one of my friends regularly says, “Don’t quit five minutes before the miracle happens”…

Today’s recipe is the very embodiment of how rambling over a longer period of time produces something far, far better than a straight-lined solution. I’ve been making carrot cake for years, and regularly try something new. I have at least 70 recipes for carrot cake from all over the world, versions with pineapple or ginger, topped with nothing or whipped goats’ cheese, ingredients added as chunky or fine, and all manner of spices.

I won’t pretend to you that I’ve reached the end of my search yet, I’m enjoying my culinary wanderings far too much! But this carrot cake is a delicious waypoint in time. My current favourite and popular with absolutely everyone.

Enjoy.

  • 175g light brown sugar
  • 175ml vegetable oil + more for oiling
  • 3 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 150g finely grated carrots
  • 60g raisins
  • 60g walnuts (use organic or fresh if you can, to avoid the slightly bitter flavour of supermarket walnuts)
  • Juice and finely grated zest from 1 large orange
  • 175g self raising flour
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • ½ tsp ground nutmeg
  • 175g icing sugar

Pre heat your oven to 180˚C / 350˚F

Drop some oil in each of a 12 cup square muffin pan and, using your finger, smear around each square. If you prefer a single cake, oil and line an 18cm square cake tin.

Using a wooden spoon, mix the sugar, oil and eggs in a large mixing bowl

Lightly stir in the carrots, raisins, walnuts and orange zest

Mix the flour, bicarbonate of soda and spices, then sift into the bowl with the carrot mix

Gently mix all the ingredients with your wooden spoon until everything is just combined, be careful not to over mix or your cake will end up too heavy. Your mixture should be quite soft and almost runny.

Spoon the mixture into the muffin tin squares, filling each one nearly to the top and bake for 30-35 minutes (if you’re baking the single cake, bake for 40-45 minutes), until the cakes feel firm and springy when you press them in the centre

Cool in the tin for 5 minutes, then turn out to cool on a wire rack

Whisk the icing sugar and orange juice in a small bowl until smooth – the icing should be about as runny as single cream (pouring cream)

Drizzle the icing back and forth over the top of the cakes, letting it drip down the sides

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