21 March 2018

Lemon & Blackcurrant Stripe Cake

If there were ever a cake that embodied my mum, it would be Ottolenghi's lemon and blackcurrant stripe cake. Bright, striking, curious, bold and beautiful – inside and out. I had to make it for her.

I knew this was my mum's cake the moment I saw it – about six months ago when I left my last job and my colleagues gifted me Ottolenghi's Sweet. It's a book that evokes joy in me through the simple flicking of its pages, catches of colour and thoughts of who I'd bake for popping into my head.

I went back to Abergavenny in Wales last weekend to celebrate Mum's 62nd birthday (I know, wow). After an evening stuffing my face with chilli cheese fries and drinking prosecco with my eldest sister, Sarah, I woke up early on Saturday – something I like to do on weekends to warrant the pursuit of a nap later on in the day – and spent the morning working through this recipe

The result: a punchy pink cake! As I rolled, iced, poured and sprinkled, I thought about my mum, how she loves blackcurrant and lemon, and how pleased I was for creating this cake without making a single mistake (seriously, how?) I couldn't wait to serve it for her birthday lunch the next day – mainly because I wanted to see the stripes on the inside – but also to taste it, and see what everyone else thought.

It was worth the wait, basically.

This cake reminded me of rhubarb and custard sweets – fruity, sugary deliciousness. Its appearance in Sweet is apt, but with the blackcurrant puree poured over the top (and some extra left over) the balance of sweet and tart balances nicely. Serve with tea, coffee, whatever you like, but – and this is important – serve only to your very favourite people. 

21 February 2018

The Joy of Sunday

When I was little Sundays were much the same every week: church in the morning, then the six of us gathering round the dining room table for a roast, followed by my mum's apple crumble or magic chocolate pudding. Once lunch had settled it was quiet time for an hour with our 20p mix-up sweets while my parents read the newspaper. My brother, sisters and I twiddled our thumbs, waiting for play-time to resume. Not that there was ever much play on a Sunday, anyway. Sometimes we'd go to the beach for a walk, but usually it was Songs of Praise and a slow evening with eggy bread for tea, a bath and watching Ballykissangel on the telly. Sundays used to be very... Sunday. But despite their monotony, Sundays were always comfortable and focused heavily on food, which can only be a good thing.

Before you get married and have children you have your twenties – a period of time I never anticipated until I was in the middle of it. Now, at 25, my friends are my family and these Sundays are the best ones I've had since I was six, sitting cross-legged in the fire-lit living room with a glass of milk and a biscuit while my sister plaited my hair.

There is something different about every Sunday now, but my favourites are those spent with my closest friends, catching up on each other's weeks and what we hope for the next one over baked goods.

Last Sunday's spread – brown butter banana muffins, chocolate chip cookies and blackberry and plum crumble cake – was enough to stir up all the memories of Sundays past. Balancing moments of reflection and being present helps me to be thankful for everything I have right here, right now.

Sunday food is indulgent and filling, particularly in winter but other seasons enjoy the abundance of it, too. While we warm up with cups of coffee and tea in February, ice cold glasses of milk and iced tea keep us cool in June. Baked goods work all year round, and so does great company. How do you like to spend your Sundays?

14 February 2018

Lent – What's the Point?

Mid-February is a good time to give something up; we're past the hopelessness of January and spring is in sight, but there's still a few dark mornings to wake up to before it's warm and we're all happy again. So, why not distract yourself from the misery of British weather and the winter-blues culture we have ingrained in ourselves and give up something you love? It makes total sense!

Cynicism aside, I actually love lent. For me, it's all about having a focus. I visited my good friend Jess last weekend, and while I was telling her about my plan to give up TV for lent, she pointed out that I always have to have a 'thing'. She's right. I'm a list-maker, a task-ticker. I like it. I don't know why - probably something a psychologist could figure out - but I know I'm not the only one.

It's easier to give something up when you know everyone else is doing it, too. I've got colleagues ditching the chocolate and friends taking up new fitness challenges. The solidarity is enough to make sure I stick to my TV ban.

Forty days and forty nights without Netflix, HayU (I cancelled my subscription, bye bye KUWTK), YouTube and, obviously, regular TV.

Why? The main reason is I hope to have more time to clear my mind and refocus on what I believe is important:

  • Being more mindful.
  • Nourishing my mind with literature - reading is so much better for your brain than TV.
  • Writing - in my diary, to my family, on this blog. I know it makes me happy so I'm making more time for it.
  • Exercising - namely running and yoga.
  • Morning/evening devotionals - last year my friend Emily told me about She Reads Truth, a Bible study app aimed at women who want to equip themselves with the word of God. I have tried and tried to get into a routine of spending time working through the studies available on the app but it's so much easier to eat breakfast in bed with the news on! I'm hoping to kick the habit once and for all and spend time with God instead.

Somehow, over time, TV has become more important than all of the above, and I'm worried it's turning me into a vapid, boring person I know I'm not. I dread to think how many hours I spend watching TV. Granted, it's mostly Netflix for an hour or so before bed, but when whole series are available to binge it's dangerous. So I've taken this challenge upon myself – no TV is my next 'thing'.

What are your thoughts on lent? Have you given up anything? Let me know in the comments below or tweet me @wnwrote
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