Morning or Afternoon Tea, Super Easy, Sweet

Parenting in the Imperfect / Nutella Macaroons with White Chocolate Ganache

“Perhaps it takes courage to raise children.” John Steinbeck

My three-year old son spent most of today with at least one hand down the back of his nappy or up his nose. Although I can admire his tenacity, I felt the need to gently and persistently steer him away from this new activity. Partly because I can’t keep an eye on everything he touches after; and partly because the only other part of his body he’s currently obsessed with is the inside of his mouth. And he gives me lots of kisses, which can turn into licks. Just one of the many joys that come with parenting a toddler…

His other new activity’s opening his mouth as wide as possible and yelling a single note as loudly as he can. Mostly in response to something he doesn’t want to hear. Which, these days, could be just about anything. He has no compunction about doing this in the car, in a cafe, in the supermarket. I believe his preference is somewhere public and definitely where others are quiet.

I was laughing with a fellow mother the other day about our opinions on parenting before we had children. Before my son was born, I was judgemental towards parents who allowed their children to use electronics, once staring in horror at a family allowing their two-year old to use an iPad for an entire breakfast. My child was never going to have a dummy. My child was going to sleep through at 6 weeks thanks to letting him cry himself to sleep. My child was going to only eat organic, biodynamic produce, prepared entirely from scratch by me and was never, never going to have sugar, salt or preservatives in food. Before he was born I seriously considered cloth nappies and unpainted, Scandinavian wooden toys. I briefly played with the idea of changing all our cleaning products to white vinegar and baking soda, with the occasional whiff of diluted eucalyptus oil. He’d never have a temper tantrum because I’d read all the right books. I’d never bribe him to behave. I would exude patience, love and tolerance at all times.

DSC_1928

Three years on, as he’s eating chocolate covered sultanas (totally a fruit in there), watching his second hour of television (Dora’s educational, right?), wearing clothes probably made in terrible sweat shops in a third world country (Kmart have trolleys with child seats – my new essential for a shop), with an ugly plastic toy xylophone that keeps him happily entertained for the 20 minutes it takes for me to have a shower; I’m so very grateful that I’ve learned to be happy about being an imperfect parent. And beyond grateful for the parents who snort with laughter when I tell them about this, before responding with tales of their children sharing bites of food with dogs, of co-sleeping, of owning 14 types of dummy, of fish finger dinners and of having watched every episode of Peppa Pig… twice…

As part of my softening to all parenting ideas that involve parenting as happily as possible, my boy and I share a love for these macaroons. Hazelnut and chocolate is a completely delicious combination, as the Italians discovered many years ago by creating Nutella. As a side note; there are macaroons and macarons, two completely different nibbles. Macarons are the slightly fussy, often poorly made meringue biscuit sandwiched with something creamy. Macaroons are a very easy-to-make, robust meringue biscuit; super-light in texture, packed with flavour and last happily for several weeks in an airtight container  — perfect for toddlers (and adults) who need to be bribed out of a brewing temper tantrum (yup, I do that too) or for afternoons when your friends drop by and the only other food in the house is a honey sandwich…

Enjoy.

DSC_2015

Nutella Macaroons

  • 250g (9oz) hazelnut meal
  • 125g (4.5oz) icing (powdered) sugar
  • 50g (2oz) cocoa powder
  • A pinch of sea (kosher) salt
  • 150g (5.5oz) egg whites (about 4 egg whites)
  • 25g (1oz) caster (superfine) sugar

Preheat the oven to 200˚C and line two baking trays with baking paper

Place the hazelnut meal and salt in a bowl

Sift in the icing sugar and cocoa powder and stir to combine

Place the egg whites and caster sugar in a separate bowl and whisk together until soft peaks form

Gently fold in the hazelnut mix

Spoon into a piping bag and pipe walnut-sized balls onto the trays, about 5cm apart (if you don’t have a piping bag, you can shape using two teaspoons. The only warning I have with this is that when I tried it this way they looked like… and I don’t know another way to say this… cow pats. Yes, they still taste amazing but they will look slightly dung-like. My son thinks this is hilarious and now won’t let me pipe them. You have been warned.)

Decrease the oven temperature to 160˚C and place the trays in the oven, baking for 25-30 minutes or until the macaroons are lightly coloured and dry to the touch

Cool on the trays for a few minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely

White Chocolate Ganache Frosting

  • 440g (15.5oz) white chocolate (choose real chocolate, check on the ingredients that it contains cocoa butter)
  • 150ml (5.5oz) double cream (at least 35% fat)
  • Small pinch salt
  • 5ml (½ tsp) vanilla essence

Heat up your cream until it almost starts to boil and then pour over the chocolate

Let it sit for 30 seconds and then stir

If there are still lumps of white chocolate you can microwave it for 10 seconds and stir it again until it’s smooth

Leave it to cool

Using a palette knife (really any blunt knife will do), smear the ganache onto the macaroons in quantities and patterns that make you happy

Use for all your most important bribes.

DSC_2026

Standard
Easy, Morning or Afternoon Tea, Sweet

Are You Enough? / Raspberry, Lemon & Ginger Jelly Slice

“When you realise there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.”
Lao-Tzu

When I started this blog all I wanted was to write. But I’m gradually realising that what I also want to communicate is the idea that everything’s imperfect, and that everything’s already complete. I think it’s important people are writing this publicly because almost everything else out there seems designed to tell us we’re not enough. That we need to be more widely read, or wear a new mascara, or present a cleaner house, or have a more impressive sounding career, or drive a Porsche, or date George Clooney.

I have a fragility sitting just behind my heart this week. It’s not consuming me, but it is whispering dark vulnerability into my days. The catch cry of the perennially lonely, ‘not good enough’, is cranking up to subsume the ease of my mind and I can feel my old childhood panic rising up against it, begging me to fight using techniques that never worked, but still feel oddly safe.

Lemon - TIK

When life gives you lemons… make jelly

It’s the grain of sand in my pearlescent mind, this ‘not good enough’. The faulty belief around which all my attempts to hide from the world began. It’s living proof, for me, that the mind isn’t a single entity but a disparate collection of conflicting senses, each seeking power over the other. I joke sometimes that I don’t have an inner child, I have an inner playgroup. But behind the humour is a struggle that has, at times, taken over my grasp of tangible senses and turned the universe inwards.

At least one child in my mind’s playground is filled with vicious hatred towards itself and the world around. Another is whiny, pompous and self-pitying. A particularly powerful one is without physical form but instead, like a black hole, only visible by becoming aware of which parts of me are blacked-out. Sometimes it sits over empathy, or kindness, or the ability to engage with the outside world. In particularly bad periods it seems to block everything that sits behind my skin.

If I’m not careful and actively mindful, these are the only parts I see. The ones that demand rigorous and devastated attention from the moment my grinding jaw wakes me, until my clenched hands finally succumb to sleep.

Gelatine - TIK

Titanium strength gelatine leaves

It took time in meditation and conversation to find the other parts of my mind. They’re introverted and peaceful, never demand my attention, but instead wait patiently and lovingly for me to discover and nurture them. I didn’t for many years, I didn’t even know they were there. I honestly believed it was just me and the horrors in there.

The first time someone told me that I was doing the best I could, and that whether I believed it or not, it was absolutely good enough, I ranted and railed at them in furious denial. The hundredth time they said it, I wept without breath. These days, thousands upon thousands of tellings in the future, I can acknowledge the words; although, on bad days, the loss of fighting-to-be-more can still be enough to make me bow my head in momentary anguish.

The truth, as I see it on this day, is that it’s simple for anyone to write about finding eternal happiness and mining undiscovered potential and splashing in perfect romance and all that guff. So many bloody articles and books are written about it, the undertones of which hiss, “You’re not good enough. You’ll never be happy enough. You aren’t living up to your potential. You’re not loveable enough.” — Marketing relies entirely on the premise that deep down inside we’re afraid that we’re screwing this up; and they promise us a way to be a better version of who we already are, the clearly implied message being, “You’re right, you’re not enough… Yet… but just buy this new thing and you will be enough… Promise… Oh, I’m sorry, did we say that new thing? We meant this new thing… No, this new thing…No, this one…”

So, let me tell you, as you sit reading this, either flicking through from photo to photo with your eyes just skimming the paragraphs, or actively engaging with each word

You are already complete.

Raspberries  - TIK
Everything you’re doing and everything you are and everything you’re feeling and all you get done or not done today is enough. And if you feel you’re not enough, it’s not because you’re not enough. It’s because the playgroup in your head has tipped into the darkness. Our path to ease in life is not to fix a life that never needed fixing in the first place. Our path is to see our life as complete, exactly as it is in this moment. And in this moment. And in this.

With the darker personalities of my playgroup in force, I messed up the final version of this week’s recipe. I was thoughtlessly balancing the raspberries inside a slippery sieve, on a rickety rack, on top of a porcelain bowl, in the bottom of the fridge. Suddenly, the whole thing tipped sideways and juices poured into the already completed bottom layers. I flung vicious swear words into the fridge alongside the mess of food and had to literally bite my tongue to not shout my son awake. With the biscuit base smashed and the creamy layer afloat in raspberry juice, I tidied up the mess and took some time to breathe before starting the layers again. And what luck I did, as after reading The Family Meal’s delicious Lemon Panna Cotta and Gingerbread with Blueberries and Thyme recipe, I swapped out the standard oat biscuits in the base for a ginger nut version, which lifted the recipe to a whole new level of silent completeness while licking our fingers clean.

Enjoy.

  • 500g caster (superfine) sugar
  • Juice from 3 lemons (sieved to remove any pulp)
  • Juice of 1 orange (sieved to remove any pulp)
  • 1l cold water
  • 750g raspberries (fresh if you can get them, otherwise frozen is fine)
  • 250g ginger nut (ginger snap) biscuits
  • 175g unsalted butter
  • ¼ tsp ginger, ground
  • 250g cream cheese
  • 1 cans (395g) condensed milk
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • Zest from 1 lemon
  • 125ml cream
  • ¼ cup water
  • 6 titanium-strength gelatine leaves

Start the topping by combining sugar, juice of 1 lemon, orange juice and 1 litre of cold water in a large saucepan, stir over medium-high heat until sugar dissolves, bring to the boil, then add raspberries

Simmer until raspberries are pulpy (4-5 minutes), remove from heat and stand until cooled, then refrigerate for flavours to develop (overnight)

Transfer to a muslin-lined sieve placed over a large bowl and refrigerate until liquid has drained (4-6 hours; discard solids)

Start making the base by crushing the biscuits until they’re the texture of coarse sand (I either use my food processor, or I place them in a plastic sandwich bag and hit them with a rolling pin)

Melt the butter slowly in a medium saucepan

Add the crushed biscuits and ground ginger to the butter and stir until the biscuits are well coated

Tip the mixture into a slice tray lined with baking paper and press the mixture firmly and evenly into the tray

Place in the fridge to set

For the filling, beat the cream cheese in a mixing bowl until smooth. Add the condensed milk, lemon zest and cream. Continue to beat until smooth.

Soak 2 gelatine leaves in a bowl of cold water until soft (5 minutes) before squeezing out the excess water

Pour the remaining lemon juice into a small saucepan with the remaining water, bring to a low simmer over a medium heat, then remove from the heat. Add the soaked gelatine and stir until dissolved

Stir the lemon juice into the condensed milk mixture until completely combined

Pour over the top of the biscuit base and place back in the fridge until set

Returning to your topping that’s been draining, measure out 1 litre of the raspberry liquid (reserve any remaining for another use)

Soak the remaining gelatine leaves in a bowl of cold water until soft (5 minutes) before squeezing out the excess water

Transfer 250ml raspberry liquid to a small saucepan, bring to a low simmer over a medium heat, then remove from the heat. Add the remaining gelatine to the saucepan and stir until dissolved

Stir the gelatine mixture through the remaining cold raspberry liquid

Pour over the slice and carefully (!) place in the fridge to set

Once set, cut this slice using a sharp knife dipped in hot water and wipe the blade between cuts — this will give you the cleanest cut

Enjoy with all the happiest voices of your inner playgroup

Standard
Dessert, Not So Easy, Sweet

Unfulfilled by Unicorn Rides and Jazzy Hands / Caramel Chocolate Ganache Tart

I wrote last week about finding a reconnection with helpless laughter by singing and dancing to cheesy music. This week, I’ve been thinking a lot, after reading a thought provoking post from Kelly over at This Mom Gig, about the change that’s come over me in the last ten years that I was able to unselfconsciously sing and dance terribly, let alone write openly about it.

I then saw that Jon Richardson (a wonderful, occasionally vulnerable British comedian) is going to start filming a show where he travels around England to find how to grow into a ‘happy adult’. I ended up reading a little further and it looks like he’s not mindlessly jumping on the happy bandwagon, but for a moment I felt an insensible rage at this insistence of constant happiness, like a drug that’s only owned by a lucky few and we all have to scrabble for the best dealer we can possibly find.

I spent so many years knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt that something was wrong with me. That I had already failed as a human because I didn’t have a cloak of happiness always swept around me. That those who appeared in magazines, on television, in self help books and on the posters that adorned my walls had cracked the secret to eternal happiness and that, if I could just watch and follow them closely enough, then the constant fear and occasional emptiness and therefore obvious failure of my existence would be swept up into a sparkly mass of unicorn rides and jazzy hands.

What seems to have been at the base of my happiness misunderstanding was a belief that negative feelings were unacceptable and something to be feared. I’d spent years pushing down my feelings of depression, rage, ineptitude and failure to the point that I didn’t even know where to start being happy, other than hide everything I felt was the real me and only ever leave the house with an emotional mask in the contorted shape of happiness.

Lots of gurus promise eternal happiness, but I cast-iron guarantee you that the only reason you believe them is because you don’t know them. You haven’t had the opportunity to see the darkness that always pairs with light. They’re as imperfect as you and me and just as prone to the emptiness that they promise you can beat if you just buy their books and sign up to their podcasts and do a month of healing at the low, introductory price of $99.

They’re lying, or they’re insensibly stupid. I suspect the former, as they’re smart enough to make a business out of happiness. They have to lie to make a living and I feel sorry for them that that’s their life. But they’re making our lives more miserable by insisting that we’re doing something wrong and for that I don’t like them very much at all.

The truth is that life is frequently hard for everyone, and often full of things like washing the dishes, sorting out whites from coloureds for the washing machine and eyeing the fly that’s currently close enough to you that you feel uncomfortable, but not quite close enough to swat away.

Challenges are mostly there to be lost, especially when we’re young. Exams and friendships are to be failed horribly. And relationships are to be screwed up so badly you don’t even want to walk in the same country as that person for the 5 years it takes to stop wanting to hide under the floor every time you think about that last, dramatically pathetic, begging conversation (totally happened to me. Twice). It’s what makes life and people interesting. It’s what makes us relatable. It’s what makes us funny as hell.

Because here’s the rub about perennially happy people — I really don’t like them, and I’ll bet you don’t either. They’re annoying; like a really needy puppy — it looks like something you want in your life on first smitten glance, but after a short amount of time you will want to give it back. And they’re hopelessly unrealistic and unsympathetic; there are a couple of people I know who, no matter what’s happened, breathily utter something like, “You’re so lucky that you have the opportunity to walk through this.” I want to slap them when it’s about a parking ticket, but I know that one of them once said it to a mutual friend whose partner had just committed suicide. They’re not better than other people for their Pollyanna approach to life, they’re just more irritating and boring.

Happiness is a momentary feeling, sometimes of a few days or weeks, but more often it’s a fleeting moment when you finally learn all the words to the Frozen theme song, or your child’s singing Old MacDonald Had a Farm on his own for the first time. The reason it doesn’t last for longer is because it’s not meant to. It’s just one feeling out of many, and we’re evolved and capable of feeling them all.

Now, please don’t take the above to read that I’m saying there’s something wrong with being happy. I love feeling happy. But it’s only by fully engaging with all my emotions that my happiness has become completely free from the hangups that come from pretending it’s the only worthwhile emotion. I’ve quoted this passage before on my blog, but it seems relevant to quote it again

“But if in your fear you would seek only love’s peace and love’s pleasure,
Then it is better for you that you cover your nakedness and pass out of love’s threshing floor.
Into the seasonless world where you shall laugh, but not all of your laughter, and weep, but not all of your tears.”

He’s saying you’re going to be really boring if you only allow for the good bits. Don’t do it. There’s far too much life to be had in living a full, painful, messy, fun-filled life.

Speaking of full lives, I made a chocolate caramel ganache tart this week. The filling’s another one from the very talented head pastry chef, Chloë Thomas, at Stokehouse restaurant. I was going to save this one for later in the year, but I made these during the week and they were so delicious I just couldn’t resist.

Enjoy.

Puff Pastry

  • 250g strong plain flour
  • 1 tsp fine sea salt
  • 250g butter, at room temperature, but not soft
  • about 150ml cold water

Sift the flour and salt into a large bowl. Roughly break the butter in small chunks, add them to the bowl and rub them in loosely. You need to see bits of butter

Make a well in the bowl and pour in about two-thirds of the cold water, mixing until you have a firm rough dough adding extra water if needed. Cover with cling film and leave to rest for 20 mins in the fridge

Turn out onto a lightly floured board, knead gently and form into a smooth rectangle. Roll the dough in one direction only, until 3 times the width, about 20 x 50cm. Keep edges straight and even. Don’t overwork the butter streaks; you should have a marbled effect

Fold the top third down to the centre, then the bottom third up and over that. Give the dough a quarter turn (to the left or right) and roll out again to three times the length. Fold as before, cover with cling film and chill for at least 20 mins before rolling to use (you only need half for this recipe so save the rest for up to 3 months in the freezer for other recipes – like the delicious Imperfect Kitchen roasted garlic and pumpkin recipe!)

Lightly dust your rolling surface and roll out to about 3cm thickness

Spray olive oil on four 12cm tart tins with loose bottoms (or use melted butter)

Using a the tart cases as a guide, cut 4 rough circles, slightly bigger than the tins

Line each tart case with a pastry circle, ensuring you press into the edges along the bottom of the ring, before pricking the base of the pastry a couple of times with a fork

Freeze for at least 30 minutes

Preheat oven to 180˚C / 350˚F

Blind bake the pastry cases for 10-15 minutes until the cases are dry. Remove the baking beans (or rice, coins, or whatever you’re using) and continue to bake for another 10-15 minutes until the pastry is a satisfying golden brown

Remove from the oven and set aside to cool

Chocolate Caramel Filling

  • 500g single (pouring) cream
  • 600g dark chocolate
  • 400g milk chocolate
  • 400g caster sugar
  • 100g unsalted butter
  • ½ tsp salt

Heat the cream and salt in a small saucepan until it reaches the boil and then set aside to cool

Mix dark and milk chocolate in a mixing bowl

Heat a heavy-based saucepan over a medium heat

Once hot enough (you will know when this is reached as a small sprinkle of sugar will melt almost instantly) add handfuls of sugar at a time, stirring with a wooden spoon until melted and caramelised before adding the next handful

Once all the sugar has been completely melted and caramelised, add the butter and stir until melted

Slowly whisk in the hot cream

Pour the caramel mix over the chocolates and whisk until all chocolates are fully melted and everything is completely combined

Pour the chocolate caramel mix into the four tart cases and refrigerate for about 4 hours, until set

Standard
Dessert, Super Easy, Sweet

Do Monks Eat Chocolate? / Caramelised Pear & Hazelnut Cake

I’ve spent all week feeling deeply uninspired for something to write. It happens to me on occasion. The week solely consists of my regular day to day activities and the only movement occurring in my internal world is still murky and inexplicable.

I know that I have some movement in my internal life over the last year about self care and slowing down. I also have a fear that’s currently paralysing me when I challenge myself to write something other than this blog (a big shift from 6 months ago when I couldn’t even fathom having the courage to write here). And surrounding all this is a pain sitting in my chest that I believe, at the moment, has something to do with grief of letting fear keep me small in my desired life – but may have nothing to do with that at all, and really, I feel wholly unqualified to write about something that’s still so shadowed.

So I keep meditating and just trying to observe that part of me through the day as it twinges, without engaging or telling myself a story about what the feelings mean. I just let them come and go, trusting that when the time comes the acceptance and solution will become clear.

The reason I do this is not because I’m someone who woke up one day thinking, “this meditation and mindful-living malarkey sounds like a fun idea, and I just love the thought of trusting something I can’t see, hear or touch.”

I was dragged into meditation, a ‘spiritual’ path (there really needs to be a better word for this, doesn’t there? I can still cringe when I read the word ‘spiritual’ – thanks go to Robin Ince for bringing that to the fore for me again) and a search for something greater than the human experience, kicking and screaming. As I wrote before on my post about fundamentalism, I consider myself rather smart and educated – a dangerous pattern for someone who also gets lost in boggy mires of mental anguish from time to time. No matter how smart I was, how much I studied psychology and philosophy, I just couldn’t shake those long moments of pain, and they were getting worse.

So, I’ve found myself walking a path for the last ten years that I’m a natural cynic for. A journey that I take micro-shuffles on, saying at each step, “I have to do what?! You’ve got to be kidding me?  And trust which invisible friend? Pah! Rubbish!” – until sheer desperation has me turning a problem over to this way of living, all the while waiting for disaster to strike.

And you know what? Whatever it is that helps when I genuinely attempt to live mindfully, meditate, seek unheard guidance and trust unseen hands, works. It works every time. Not in a I-get-a-new-car-and-win-the-lottery way, but in a I’m-always-given-what-I-need-along-with-some-good-old-peace-of-mind way.

So I continue to be one of those near non-believers who does all the things that really makes it look as if I believe. Because whether I believe or not, I have a more peaceful, fun, engaged, full and joyful life when I do these things. And so does everyone who has to be around me.

Hazelnuts_Fotor

Raw hazelnuts in a beautiful handmade bowl by Mark Young

Having written the above, I found myself at a meditation session today being led by a women I like and truly admire. The meditation went well, there were about ten of us present and everyone was beautifully engaged. I felt a great energy during the meditation as my perennially clenched jaw relaxed and I could sit comfortably in the space behind my conscious mind.

She rang a Tibetan singing bowl to finish the session and everyone stood around chatting about the lovely sound it makes. She showed how running the mallet around the edge of the bowl created the singing noise, which produced a chorus of “oohs” from the room.

“I know,” she sighed, “it’s amazing what the Tibetans know, we just can’t imagine their wisdom in the West.”

Now, I’m traditionally not a fan of Eastern religion any more than I am of Western. I’ve seen John Safran’s brilliant TV show on Buddhism and also know that the Tibetan monks were fearsome and pretty horrific warriors in their time who murdered their own people for centuries and generally acted appallingly.

So, with no pause in my mind to check for my audience, I piped up, “yeah, like the monks slaughtering all their own people for years.”

Silence.

I mean… BOOMING SILENCE…

My wise woman smiled kindly and joked, “thanks for that!”

And everyone went on.

Meanwhile, I just wanted the ground to swallow me up.

What had I said?! Here I was, surrounded by lovely, highly educated, well-meaning people who want to believe the best about Tibetan monks, and it’s not as if that causes any harm. And I basically accused them of stupidly supporting evil in the world.

I stood in shuffling silence for a while, then made my excuses and left.

In the car on the way home, paying little attention to the road, I replayed the conversation over and over again in my mind. Really? I had to say that? I just had to be right instead of happy? Couldn’t I just leave them be? AAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRGHGHGHGHGHGH!!

I called a few friends but everyone was out. So I went and bought chocolate – I wont lie, it was a big bag of chocolate – and I sat in the car and ate it all before I went inside to my husband and son.

When I told my husband what’d happened he roared with laughter and asked why I hadn’t saved any chocolate for him. Sometimes I forget how completely normal he is, and that he just doesn’t get the mad panic that comes from being an occasional total emotional behemoth.

So, when people ask why I meditate and search continuously for a spiritual path, this is one of the reasons why. I may have been a bit of a tit today, but I haven’t been one for at least 2 weeks. Ten years ago I was making these gaffes several times a day and the self loathing was crippling. Today I can laugh at myself (after some time and chocolate) and get on with living a life that’s steady, fun and genuinely forgiving.

With all this in mind, I’m giving you a recipe today that’s stunning in its gentle and generous simplicity. Much like the spiritual journey, you may look at the given ingredients and think, “doesn’t look like much.” But this uncomplicated, untrendy recipe is actually the best cake in the whole wide world.

I’ve made it for years following the River Cottage’s recipe with pears and almonds, but I had some hazelnuts to use up and thought, “why not?”

The result is better than fabulous. Juicy, caramely rounded flavours and truly delicious. I can’t begin to describe how much I love this cake.  And if you have a day like mine today, you can eat the whole thing and not feel too guilty because, as cakes go, it’s very low in gluten, uses only raw sugar, and has fruit!

Enjoy.

Delicious organic pears delivered to my door by Green Mumma

Delicious organic pears delivered to my door by Green Mumma

  • 175g unsalted butter, softened
  • 125g raw caster sugar + 1 tbl sp for the pears
  • 2 medium eggs
  • 75g wholemeal self raising flour
  • 75g ground hazelnuts
  • ½ tsp nutmeg
  • 3 pears (reasonably firm, but not rock hard)

Pre heat oven to 180°C

Grease a 20cm square cake tin and line the base with baking parchment.

Peel, quarter and core the pears.

Melt 25g of butter in a frying pan big enough to take all the pear pieces, over a medium high heat. When it’s bubbling, add a tablespoon of the sugar and stir gently until it has dissolved into the butter.

Turn down the heat, add the pears and cook gently, turning once or twice, until they’ve softened and are starting to colour – 5 to 10 minutes. Set aside to cool.

In a mixing bowl, beat the rest of the butter with the rest of the sugar until pale and fluffy. Beat in one egg at a time, adding a spoonful of the flour with each to stop the mix curdling.

Combine the remaining flour, the ground hazelnuts and the nutmeg, and fold into the mixture. Scrape into the prepared tin. Arrange the pears on top and pour on any buttery juices left in the pan.

Bake for about 40-50 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.

Stand the cake in its tin on a wire rack to cool for a few minutes, then release the tin.

Serve warm or cold on it’s own, or with the thickest cream you can find.

Caramelised Pear & Hazelnut cake on a beautiful plate by Mini Labo

Caramelised Pear & Hazelnut cake on a beautiful plate by Mini Labo

 

Standard
Dessert, Easy, Sweet

A Bright & Light Friendship / Roasted Cherry, Almond & Vanilla Tart

I can’t remember the first time I met Jen. I know logically that I’ve only known her for a few, short years. But it seems that one day she was there and it was like the part of my heart reserved for friendship had been keeping a space just for her. 

We don’t catch up as much as either of us would like. She has three near-teenage children and a large, busy house to manage. I have a sleepless toddler and before him, a time consuming, important-sounding career. But whenever she walks into my space I can sense a busying of the molecules between us, like they’re preparing for the laughter that comes from a place few reach like the connection of two, inherently reclusive souls who’ve found each other.

Most who meet us at first would miss the spark of similarity. Jen is unashamedly shy and quiet with most people, she hates to speak in groups and is quite happy pottering in her home making bagels and curtains from scratch. She’s from a Detroit blue-collar family and utterly unpretentious. Her father’s driven the same truck a quarter mile back and forth for 40 years of his working life. She’s horrified that I’m writing about her today (ha!).

I’m loud and opinionated, always quick with a joke and story. First to speak and last to draw breath. I scour cities for top baristas and buy organic, unbleached flour. My family’s from central London and my Australian husband explains us by telling stories about going to restaurants, where every one of us changes the menu to suit our tastes better, regardless of how the chef might feel.

But something happened in Jen and my friendship from the very beginning. She becomes louder, and her gloriously inappropriate and leg-crossingly funny sense of humour shines. I’m just as loud, but she brings out in me a capacity for a supporting role as much as lead band member. I want her to shine when I’m around her, just because she makes my life so much more enjoyable when she does.

She’ll cringe when she reads these words (and I’m already laughing thinking about it). We don’t have a friendship based on lovey-dovey-ness. We tease, we play with words, we wind each other up constantly, we glorify our own flaws until the painful becomes the brilliantly funny. I’ve had more than one insecurity disappear under the weight of laughter from her when I’ve taken the piss out of myself.

And then, a few months ago, she called me to say that her husband had been offered a job overseas and they’d be leaving. I’ve shed a couple of self-pitying tears since then. I have a lot of people I get along with and like, but very few I adore and have allowed in past the heavily guarded gates of my heart. As one who strolled through, whistling, almost from the first, it seems particularly hard to see her go.

It’s been a little awkward at times since then. We both trust slowly and I think the knowledge that parting is going to hurt has kept us from pushing too hard. But I adore her, and I’m trying not to resent her husband for being an internationally successful businessman who’s providing an amazing opportunity and life for his family. I joke to her that he really should have considered me more carefully when applying for roles. I think I’ve nearly managed to convince us both that I don’t mean what I say.

She leaves in a few days and I asked her to cook with me for this post. I wanted something that was ours. A cut-out in time that I can look back on.

I chose a cherry pie. Something about it seems wholly American to me, with no proof at all. Cherries are also coming to the end of their very short season in my neck of the woods and taste divine.

We started by exploding a pastry base all over her oven and kitchen, I got the timing completely wrong and, when taking it out of the oven, she forgot that we used a loose-based tin. Sloppy almond pastry base still tastes lovely picked off the oven door, if anyone’s interested.

I completely messed up a crème pâtissière recipe I thought would be delicious. So, Jen came up with a straightforward alternative of cream cheese frosting that works far better than my snooty idea anyway. And now her kids have the beginnings of an ice cream that they’ll inhale, French pâtissière style.

So, here are the results of a day spent with someone I love. Someone who makes my life brighter, my darkness lighter. Someone I’m going to miss very much. But probably still wont Skype regularly, even though it’s just in front of me – because pfft, that just sounds too hard and organised. Luckily, she’s exactly the same.

Enjoy.

  • 250g plain flour
  • 175g ground almonds
  • 225g raw caster sugar
  • 200g cold butter, diced
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 800g cherries, halved and pitted
  • 60g flaked almonds
  • 1 tbl sp lemon juice
  • ½ tsp ground ginger
  • 250g cream cheese
  • 2 cups icing sugar

Pre-heat oven to 180˚C / 350˚F

Make the pastry by tipping the flour, ground almonds, 175g of caster sugar and the butter into a food processor, scrape the seeds from half the vanilla bean and add that as well

Pulse to the texture of breadcrumbs

Add the egg yolk, then pulse until it all comes together to form a soft pastry

Press the pastry evenly into a loose-based 25cm tart tin

Rest the tart in the fridge for at least 20 mins

While the pastry is in the fridge, place the cherries in a roasting tin, cut side up

Sprinkle the flaked almonds, lemon juice, ground ginger and remaining sugar over the cherries

Remove the pastry from the fridge and prick the base all over with a fork

Place the cherries and the pastry in the oven and bake for about 20 mins until the cherries are soft and golden

Remove the cherries from the oven and leave to cool completely

Continue to cook the pastry for 10 mins until biscuity and golden at the edges

Remove the pastry from the oven

Leave the pastry to cool, then carefully (!) remove from the tart tin and trim the edges with a sharp knife

Scrape the seeds from the other half of the vanilla pod into a mixing bowl with the cream cheese and icing sugar and blend until light and fluffy

Spread the cream cheese frosting over the cooled pastry and carefully spoon the cooled cherries on top

Keep in the fridge if not serving straight away

 

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2014/03/13/prompt-something-so-strong/

Standard
Breakfast, Savoury, Super Easy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enjoy.

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

Mix all the dry ingredients in a large bowl

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

Cover with cling wrap and leave in the fridge overnight

Done!

Standard