hiatus | the heatwave

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It has been a long time since I wrote anything for this space. A hiatus of sorts, perhaps a symptom of a busy school year.

Over Christmas we inevitably travelled, to India. It started with the flight and the queues of Heathrow, the temporary disorientation, remembering whether or not we flew out of terminal four last time. You do it enough, it's all some sort of mechanical, learned haze. Being carried along in the crush, down the jet bridge, through frigid air heavy with the stink of kerosene. Like the air’s coldness somehow traps the fumes, holding onto them through to the cabin, where in the first few steps into the early aisles fuel mingles with coffee scents and artificial air pressure. Our flight turns and taxies, clumsy. Slick tarmac, onto the runway. The plane pauses, composes itself, the engines gun and the floor shakes and the flight rumbles over the concrete awkwardly, until the wheels retract, the ground falls away, the wing dips, the cabin hums. London fans out below winking and blinking lights, carved into bays and headlands by swathes of black.  Then there was the bombardment of color and chaos and life that hits you after a trip to India, that stays with you through the flight home, then is sucked out of you by London's damp, clammy night air. 

It was cold after Christmas. Just as people saw the first few gleams of spring, the buds and their hope were engulfed by some of the most intense snow the eastern UK has seen since Tupac was rapper of choice. Flurries started and didn’t stop, it was beautiful, hypnotic, coming down harder in sloppy white sheets like puppy kisses. There was too much snow on sidewalks, the dogs played in the garden, chasing icicles and snowballs that sank deep, leaving tracks and furrows while plumes of grey smoke from a dozen chimneys muddled with the heather sky. Geese flew overhead in formation, shadowy onyx against towering somber cloud; peppery and rippled. Hands were dry and fragile like old paper, the ground was undisturbed feathery white until it met fields where the earliest wheat was fighting through; there it looked chunky and porous, like paper towel. The wind murmured and caressed the ribs of haggard trees, blowing powdery snow onto the roadsides. They were littered with abandoned trucks and cars looking overly bright and metallic so the place felt more like midwinter Alaska than spring Norfolk. More brilliantly brutal than subtle and charming. 

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And then summer came, like a flash flood of dry heat, no warning, no expectations, the ground and the people unable to absorb it all. The atmosphere just decided that was it, enough of winter's indecisive drizzle and mild, pale yellow rays, the sun seemed to go from being the color of butter to somewhere closer to an Indian temple marigold. No spring. No buffer period, no hesitation. There was no way to miss it. Europe basked and burnt in a heatwave. The sky was so clear it was a storybook cliché, or a childhood drawing, like someone had said, kids, let's color the sky blue. It was more as if the world was upside down, like looking at the Mediterranean Sea, suspended above you. The dogs would run out of the shade to where the sun cast blocky shadows through the needles of pines, chase a squirrel, and come back with their own fur like charcoal; hot, black, and sandy. I would take my car out and send up a plume of umber dust, winter's puddles were bone dry and left everything coated in a fine layer of what looked like cinnamon. I'd follow that usual rural route framed by fields and in the rear view mirror driving downhill fast it left a distorted smudge of pale green, flax and straw behind me. From above the countryside probably looked khaki, as if it was washed in sepia with patches of dun and tan like fading army combat uniform. 

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There is football on TV, most of which is bad, and a new Drake album, most of which is great, and the sun sets late and barely sets at all. It takes a short dip over the inky horizon then floats back up, between the russet roofs of houses to the east of our own, casting long shadows and cool blue shade. In the shade you shiver, maybe watch the swirling dust, or crystalline drops of dew forming on cut grass. But there are these tepid mornings when you walk out and the earth just smells warm, of verdant leaves and heavy fruit trees and every bush bristling with life and flowers, and you should be somewhere further south. France or Italy, maybe, somewhere with stone farm houses the color of caramel and where the roads aren't full of harassed holiday makers in packed cars. But another week of high pressure has been forecast, so another week of sunshine spilling over the yellowing grass. The sun will rise amber and brush early cloud with peach, it will fade the roses on the trellis to watery claret. The clouds will be rare, light, with pretty latin names like altocumulus, cirrocumulus and altostratus, which meteorologists call the clouds of fair weatherWait, until around midday, when everyone is where they need to be and the roads are quiet, the sun is sharp and the heat uninhibited. To hear kites call as they cruise the thermals miles above us, perhaps a light rustle of grass in a sliver of breeze, and absolutely nothing else.

"this bud of love, by summer's ripening breath, may prove a beauteous flower when we next meet"           
- juliet to romeo (Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet, what else?)

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** All these photos are from around Norfolk, taken over the past 3 summers. The cows were at the Norfolk Show a couple of years ago.

just bones | tahini chocolate chip cookies

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When I was young we had a picture book called Birthday Bear. I don't remember much of the actual story but the family lived on a farm and the book had the most beautiful illustrations - every time fall reaches this nook of Norfolk I think of those pages. The pictures were those quintessential countryside images: rolling fields that stitch together into a valley, patches of green and brown and maybe some gold, a blue gray sky, birds, maybe the skyline punctuated by a distant chapel. There’s a scene just like that one of the places where I walk the dogs - the landscape just flattens out and you can see far away. By fall the tones are more muted, if summer was a yell then by fall you have the whisper. Sage and faded olive from the winter beet crop, squares of field left fallow, plump soil in chestnut, coffee and hazel. A tractor ploughs, red and cheerful, alabaster gulls ride the wake, dipping and diving, bright against a concrete sky. There’s rain in the air, still a drizzle, lacing the wind like a promise.  A skinny stretch of tarmac traces alongside, a seam on the quilt. Pulling it all together.

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There are days when the sky is alive - Norfolk is empty, so there is a lot of sky. Early mornings they’ll be streaky gray and inky blue, scattered with whispy pink and coral. And there’ll be traffic. Swallows swoop and doves dive and the air is just filled with chatting geese. Hundreds and hundreds of geese, in their perfect formations, circling the fields to land or passing through or taking off again, as they have always. Compared to the quiet colours on the trees and on the ground sometimes the sunset seems overly loud - pyrotechnic violet and red, with the orange sun dipping below the tree line. Most of the trees are now just bones and black silhouettes but there are a few trees along the highways that are still fall poster girls - the whole spice cabinet of earth tones. Basil and dusky thyme green, saffron and turmeric, smoky red cayenne and paprika. As much as I love art I was never very good at it, forget being able to draw well. But I’ve always noticed colours and shapes and movement so when I look out at this time every year, I always wish I could draw. There's something about drizzle, moody light, ground frost, that sits well with creativity. It would be nice to draw, to capture the muted and the quiet and the feeling of more to come. 

“He found himself wondering at times, especially in the autumn, about the wild lands, and strange visions of mountains that he had never seen came into his dreams.” - J.R.R. Tolkien

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In my spare time (there's not much of that, trust me) I study cookie science. Yeah, it’s a thing. Cookies are intricate pieces of chemistry, or so you'll find if you read around. I may only have one real cookie recipe here and they’re honestly not my favourite sweet but I think about cookies a strange amount of time. They’re fascinating. So tahini cookies. You a tahini fan? I love middle eastern flavors - tahini, cardamom, pomegranate, cumin, sumac, things like that. A trick to cookies that spread well is sugar - you need a lot of it, and the bitter edge of tahini takes away from the cookies becoming sugar bombs, while adding some fat which also helps the spread. Hence palm-sized chewy cookies with cute bulldog wrinkles and soft centers aahhh so good. They're sort of nutty and... interesting. Much more three dimensional than your average ccc. Chocolate chip cookie. Anyway things to note: I don't like a chocolate overkill so I go on the lower end of the chocolate spectrum but take your pick - though use a dark (like 70% cacao) bar and not chips because chips are made to be un-melty and therefore un-photogenic. And this is by far my favorite brand of tahini, I order it from the States which may seem strange but it's like 500x better than anything I've found in Europe.

Also, the recipe is somewhat specific with the whole thing of taking the cookies out early, dropping them on the counter to remove air, and leaving them to firm up, but it's necessary for cookies that hold up but are still flat, soft and perfect. These cookies are so good, idk if I can now go back to the regular kind. A bit like once you've listened to the remix of a song and then when you hear the original it just doesn't sound right?
Ok good talk. Love you guys xx

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tahini chocolate chip cookies

makes around 10 biiiig cookies  // dairy free

1 1/4 cups (137g) spelt flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 c (120ml) tahini
1/4c (60ml) coconut oil, soft room temp (solid)
1 free range egg
3/4c (150g) coconut sugar
1/4c (50g) turbinado sugar
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
60g-100g (2oz-3.5oz) dark chocolate, chopped coarsely from a bar (70%-85%)

Preheat the oven to 180'C, 350'F and line two cookie sheets.
In a large bowl, whisk together the first three ingredients.

In the bowl of a stand mixer or in a large bowl (with a hand mixer), combine the tahini, coconut oil, sugars and egg . Mix on low speed until the batter is dark and smooth. Add the vanilla and mix once more.

Add the tahini mix to the dry and using a wooden spoon, combine the two. The dough will be very stiff and will look like it won't turn out because there's too much flour, but keep at it. It will come together. As it does, fold in the chopped chocolate. It's a good arm workout.

Once you have a dough ball, portion it out into large balls of 3 tablespoons or so each (I smoosh two scoops together) and leave a good amount of space in  between because they will spread.

Bake for 14-16 minutes, they will have spread. This is important - they will not be fully set yet, so drop the pan on a hard surface (scare the family dogs) for nice pug-like wrinkles. Allow to cool at least 10 minutes so they are set - otherwise you will have a puddle. Granted, a pretty tasty puddle, but if you want to hold your cookie rather than lick if off a baking sheet, wait a bit.

They taste best right after they're baked (obviously) but they still taste amazing a couple of days later. Try to make them last one afternoon.

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more chocolate

apple + molasses loaf |they took their chances

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I can't really boast to being a 'native' french speaker but I've studied it long enough that I can read 17th century literature; I can write it well and understand it almost word for word but my speaking isn't great. Considering my speaking in English isn't that great I guess I'm not too surprised that things look better on paper and sound better in my head than when they leave my mouth. I know more than enough of the language that words and phrases often pop into my head. The French have a way of putting things into words that I can't seem to find in English and I was recently stuck on the basic French verb 'profiter'. All over the local news, the radio, on TV... the UK's mini heatwave for a weekend in early October. Temperatures in the low twenties, sunshine like it was the Mojave, no humidity, it was barbecue time. A welcome surprise, as the leaves started to turn and we'd dusted off our scarves and gloves. I can't properly translate profiter. To make a profit, I guess would be the direct translation, but nothing's being bought or sold. Nothing monetary or countable about a feeling. Something fleeting. Taking advantage, a pleasant surprise, something unexpected. Better translations. That October weekend - on profite du soleil. We're enjoying the unexpected sunshine. Sounds clumsy. Isn't it funny that English has no concept of that - if you're taking advantage, have you planned and executed something? If it's unexpected, can you possibly enjoy it fully, or are you still recovering from the shock? In English it's almost like we imply that it's selfish to enjoy something. I heard it on the radio - people needed to 'sneak' in a barbeque. So we couldn't just... revel in it? Stretch out the fleeting moment?

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Maybe the Romans started it when they said carpe diem. Seize the day. Just take it and go. Get what you can, when you can. It seems ironic that English hasn't coined anything similar considering that the most... beautiful things crop up in the most unexpected places. Nothing particularly extraordinary. A hot weekend in October. Three perfect bubbles around the rim of a retail park filter coffee. A farmhouse, standing lonely and proud and windswept with the stubs of harvested wheat looking yellow like shafts of sunlight, you'd ease off the accelator. The two elegant horses who graze in a field nearby, trotting and bucking under ashen autumn skies, like they could feel a storm coming. When you've been watching a particularly good episode of a TV show and it has a particularly strong ending that makes you think. Maybe you'll watch it again and you'll see facial expressions and subtle gestures you'd missed but it won't get to you the way it did the first time, will it? 

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I mentioned it when I wrote about our trip to Normandy. It was spring, rubbing shoulders with summer, a cold morning, like heat was on the tip of the tongue, but not quite there. Every website and radio station and newspaper screamed it's summer, go get it. The French did. We had a short stretch of road before the exit and it was jammed as suburban Rouen and Caen headed to the coast in Le Havre, or Honfleur, or any other small seaside town. Maybe, if they'd planned, they'd have left on Friday night, or early Saturday morning, maybe have gone to the forest north of Le Mans instead. But they didn't know, and they didn't plan. They woke up to a hot spring day and took their chances. For tanned skin on a Monday and a memory card full of tacky beach photos in April. No doubt they got something out of it. A profit, in every sense of the word.  

"but beauty is like that, it is a fraction of a second, quickness of a flash and then immediately it escapes.” Clarice Lispector

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Oof I see it’s been a while since I last posted. Hi anyway. I have another loaf cake recipe because I’m sure you’re not bored of loaves yet? I know I have like 22,000 other loaf recipes on this site, maybe even more than scones but they’re so convenient. One baking dish, probably two bowls, easy to change up seasonal flavours and fruit, a long enough baking time you can get work done while you wait, so practical they’re basically leather boots. Which I have never owned. I digress. This guy is super seasonal - when it starts baking there’s no way you’ll forget the nights are getting longer and the trees are showing a bit more bone. In a good way, of course. Molasses and all those spices, it's almost like fruity gingerbread. The loaf isn’t too sweet but more rich in flavour and lasts well for a few days. A little unexpected treat on a cool morning. 

Big cozy hugs xx

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Apple + molasses spice loaf

makes 1  8x4 inch loaf   // dairy free
Adapted from
A Modern Way to Cook by Anna Jones

1 1/2 - 2 cups (165-220g) spelt flour*
1 tsp baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1/2 tsp nutmeg, 1/2 tsp cardamom
1/2 tsp salt
1/3c (80ml) extra virgin olive oil
2 large free range eggs
1/3c (80ml) cane molasses
1/3c (80ml) pure maple syrup
Chunk ginger, grated
3 large apples, coarsely grated 

Preheat the oven to 190'c, 375'f. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, spices, baking powder and salt.

In another large bowl or liquid measuring jug, beat together the oil, molasses and maple syrup. Pro tip: measure the oil out then measure the molasses directly into the same measuring cup and it'll slide right out. Beat in the eggs and ginger.

Pour the wet mix into the dry and gently fold together. Fold in the grated apple without over mixing.

Pour the batter into your prepared pan and bake for 45-55 minutes, until a skewer inserted into the loaf comes out clean. The top will mostly likely crack, it's ok, rustic and all that. Allow to cool a few minutes in the pan (the loaf is quite fragile so don't handle it too much) and then completely on a wire rack.

This cake is super moist and rich flavoured so it will keep for some time in the fridge, tightly wrapped, but tastes amaaazing warm. Freezing and warming works great too. Almond butter drizzle highly recommended. 

*I'm not sure why maybe it's the cake tin I use but my loaves turn out better, with better rise if I up the flour to 2c from the usual 1 1/2c. The ratio works fine here, so use whichever you prefer. Might also be because I live in an extremely damp climate... 

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up in flames | spelt + walnut bread

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I had started a post about something different altogether then it started to rain. I was wandering the back roads, Prune on the track ahead of me, off lead, we had no umbrella. Out of nowhere fat, cold drops fell fast and hard, a liquid sheet. Prune looked at the skies, she questioned our luck. It was an autumn shower and I started to count seconds of rain knowing it would be over soon. I counted to 130. That's just over two minutes and it felt like a very, very long time. My shoes were just water and I was cold and Prune was soaked through and we were miserable and it was only 2 damned minutes. I don't really like to comment about world events here because I never feel I have anything adequate to say but there are times when it's all burning up and other things seem irrelevant. I was thinking about how 11 minutes would be a very, very long time to listen to gunfire. How long do firefights last with professional soldiers in kevlar vests? Why do I doubt things go on that long? We seem to have a habit of tearing people, places, apart, either intentionally or not. 

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There are companies cutting posts in the city nearby and in a county nearby and there will be good hardworking people with no jobs and mouths to feed and more uncertainty and kids' birthdays will be a bit less shiny than before. Cities seem to be either up in flames or drowned or crumbling because the weather seems to think we don't cause each other enough pain already. I was at the supermarket, standing in one of my favorite aisles. The nut butter aisle. Half in a hurry, half indecisive, looking between cashew butter, crunchy almond butter and high eolic peanut butter (smooth), when I saw a box in another shopper's cart. Pampers, the ubiquitous British diaper brand. Diapers. I'd recently seen something online about the Texas diaper bank, in urgent need of donations in the aftermath of hurricane Harvey. I was there making a moral decision about peanut butter and there were parents who were struggling to give their kids even the smallest things they needed. I grabbed the PB and left. It doesn't happen often to me because I'm used to living in the developing world but I was humbled, for once, I just told all my small internal conflicts to shut up for a while. Maybe because I was going back to a working house and the place we live is safe and stable and my parents both had jobs and I had a dog who'd lived almost a year longer than her ordeal, so little miracles did exist. I had another dog who'd just had three gorgeous pups and there was a loaf of home made bread on the table and I'd just bought my fancy peanut butter. It's coming up to Thanksgiving, isn't it? My life is far, far, from perfect. Sometimes I just feel like I've jumped overboard, ditched my life jacket, I'm treading water, a constant battle of wills with the current and no palm-lined shores around. But really, I think that most of us will be able to find something, anything, your four walls, a tedious job that cashes in every month; a brave dog. Gratitude. Not something I'm familiar with, but it was there, and I'll have it back again.  

“Piglet noticed that even though he had a very small heart, it could hold a rather large amount of gratitude.” 
― A.A. Milne, in Winnie-the-Pooh

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What's it about home baked bread that makes me think of the simpler things? I found this pretty much fool proof recipe in the gorgeous book Panetteria by Genarro Contaldo, it's essentially about Italian baking (this bread is called pane alla farina di spelta e noci in Italian which sounds so pretty) and is so well written and photographed it's totally up there with my favourite cookbooks. It arrived post-Rome and I bookmarked this recipe. I've copied it pretty much word for word because it works perfectly, no adaptations. But the truth is that the last three photos are of my third loaf. I'll say this - if you're after a fool proof, really tasty spelt bread recipe you'll have your loaf day one. But I'll warn you it won't be super instagrammable and photogenic unless you're quite good at baking bread, which I'm not. My first loaf spread far too much while baking to look super rustic and bready... so did my second. There are good reasons for this. Not to lecture in the science of the loaf but especially with a flour like spelt you really have to knead - you need to develop the gluten for it to hold any shape at all. But even if I kneaded more and I shaped the original loaf into a height focused ball it wasn't doing what I wanted. So I read around and I found that many pro bakers seem to use a proofing basket, or banneton, which also leaves the pretty rings of flour and it held the loaf's shape and height. If you're not too uptight you'll get it the first time, no doubt. Otherwise, try the proofing basket.
Ok so I could talk on about bread but there are people here today to cut our trees and they've brought a unimog and a mulcher and I must actually be an eight year old boy because Prune and I are off to the window to watch.

Hugs, gratitude and fresh bread xx
PS. If you're looking for a new tartine idea, I love chunky slices the OG way with smushed avo, chilli flakes and salt, or with a slice of nice cheese (hi dad). Sweet toasts with almond butter and strawbs or Greek yogurt and a drizzle of honey + a sprinkle of cinnamon (so good! But weird I know). 

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Spelt and walnut bread

From Gennaro Contaldo's Panetteria // makes one loaf

1 3/4 teaspoon (5g) active dry yeast
1/2 tsp honey
generous 3/4 cup (200ml) lukewarm water
2 1/4c (270g) whole spelt flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/3c (40g) roughly chopped walnuts

Line a baking tray with parchment paper.
Dissolve the yeast and honey in the lukewarm water and leave to proof as necessary (usually around 15 minutes, check the package). Combine the flour and salt, then add the yeast mixture and mix into a dough. It will be quite sticky but that's ok.

Place the dough on a lightly floured work surface and and incorporate the walnuts, kneading for two minutes.  Shape into a ball and place on the baking tray*. Using a sharp knife, make an incision in the shape of a cross. Cover with a cloth and leave to rest in a warm place for 1 hour, or until doubled in size.

Preheat the oven to 200'C, 400'F.
Bake for 45 minutes, Remove from the oven, leave to cool, then slice. Or if you're ok with a loaf that looks kind of savaged and collapsed, go at it straight from the oven, because there's nothing like freshly baked bread. 

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