woodsmoke | gingerbread bundt cake

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I started this post a few days ago, well before Christmas Eve. In a quiet, dimly lit area of a fairly empty terminal in Amsterdam Airport. Before the boarding crush I could find a seat on tired, cracking vinyl, by the floor to ceiling windows that looked over the runways. The fields and the tarmac were dark, the bodies of planes loomed in gray shadow, brooding and immobile. Like the darkest clouds of a winter sky on the coldest days when rain would fall as snow, casting deep shadows, swallowing the moonlight. 

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I wasn’t at a window seat but when the plane, enlivened in flight, dipped its wing, Amsterdam played out in lights far below us. The warm golds from street lights, the cheery red blinking of cars heading home for the holidays, white glow from illuminated buildings. Like the lights on a Christmas tree, with the colour from strands of tinsel, full of memories, familiar. 
I had a long wait in Abu Dhabi. A wait with a lot of anticipation, eagerly checking my watch, wishing for progress. It reminded me of the night before Christmas when I was very young and impossibly charmed by it all. Finding it so hard to lie in bed and wait for the morning, the expectation so palpable.

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It was early morning when I arrived in Bangalore. Warm, thick tropical darkness, loaded with fumes, throbbing with action, like how the thin winter air clings on to the scent of pine and woodsmoke. Something celebratory in how India does chaos, like everyone is waiting for something to happen. The taxi guys with their windows open played the morning prayers and Bollywood pop, some background similarity to it all, something different woven into each. Telling the same stories to different beats, like Christmas music. Dawn breaks, the red roofs echo the pinky streaks of hot morning sky, doves cry from deep in the clumps of bougainvillea. There’s a whispering breeze through the palms and the clearing night clouds are violet, indigo, pillowy. Someone is cooking in another house, something with spices. Chilli maybe, red and intense; turmeric, powdered gold; ginger, the rounded spice.
There were lights and anticipation; music, people on the move, heady air filled with spices. There was Christmas everywhere, and all the time. 

"and all my soul is scent and melody"  Charles Baudelaire 


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Wow. Christmas Eve already. A little last minute perhaps but if anyone is considering some Christmas baking, this cake is perfect. If you don't have a small bundt pan it will also look cute as a real gingerbread loaf in a regular loaf pan (just keep an eye on the baking time). This cake somehow encapsulates the holidays so I hope you try it.

Merry Christmas to you all. Much love xx

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gingerbread bundt cake

1 3/4c spelt flour 
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg 
Pinch cloves
1 tsp baking soda 
1/2 tsp salt 
1/4c olive oil
1/3c pure maple syrup
1/4c pure cane molasses
1 free range egg
3/4c milk of choice 
2T coconut sugar (or other dark type of sugar)


Preheat the oven to 180 c, 350 f.

In a large bowl combine the flour, baking soda, salt and spices.
In another bowl beat together the egg, oil and maple syrup. Add the sugar, then the milk and molasses. If the molasses isn’t combining well it may help to heat the whole mixture a little.
Pour the wet mix into the dry and stir gently until just combined.
Prepare a 6 cup bundt pan: oil and flour it well so that the cake comes clean out with the beautiful shape. Prepping the pan right before baking means the oil won’t slide down the sides and pool at the bottom which wouldn’t help much for sticking. If using a different kind of pan, you can prepare it how usually works for you.

Bake 40-45 minutes, until the cake looks deep golden brown and a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean.
Allow the bundt a little time to cool in the pan, then gently release onto a cooling rack. It will be a little fragile to cut at first so if you can resist the ginger-y smells, it will cut cleaner after it’s cool.
This baby bundt will keep well for a few days in an airtight container and tastes as good (better?) with time. It will also frost and defrost nicely.

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so much of so little | blackberry & ginger spelt scones with honey

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I have a feeling that if I just started writing about my life in this space that my very, very small band of readers would desert me, like I desert me when I start writing randomly about my life. Or if I just started a post talking on and on about the recipe to maximise search engine hits by chucking in the key words 3000 times. Scone scone scone scone. They try for subtlety which makes things worse , because once you've read the recipe title three times in the main body, it's a bit hard to miss it. Then I don't need a discussion about how 'every one needs another chocolate chip cookie recipe' or a novel as to how the first time they used too much leavening. Or their justification for making and eating a whole tray of brownies. 'I'm just listening to my body', they say. Go for it! I tell them, but I'm not listening. Anyway. If it ever becomes any of those here; if I bore you with an in depth discussion of spelt flour or I start giving reasons for the extra bar of chocolate that ended up in my green salad just let me know, ok?

Which group do I fall into? I just write... what's in my head, I guess. And it looks like my head is a very chaotic place. I've kept journals all my life. I used to write two pages a day, now it's come down to one every other day, if I remember. But sometimes the writing cleans things up. It's like taking a charger or a cable out of a cupboard and detangling it, in the mess there's purpose and clarity. My blog is a bit of a journal, which is why it's such a jumble.

nutmeg and pear | healthy spelt scones w/ blackberries & ginger, honey sweetened + dairy free

Do you ever just look at the sky? Perhaps it depends on where you live. Maybe you look out to sea? I used to, when we first moved to Norfolk and we stayed by the beach. I could stand for ages on the cliff, in the wind, Prune girl sitting beside me. The sea was often gray, there'd be a halo of light in a slim parting of clouds, North Sea trawlers patrolling the horizon. But we moved inland, into deep rural Norfolk where there is... fulfilling emptiness. So much of so little. All fields and skies. I can look up and I can look across. At the chimney smoke rising from farmhouses in the valley. At the gaunt bodies of the winter beech, at the shine of frost on fallow fields. When there aren't fields, when there isn't the ocean, there's always the sky, for space and perspective.

nutmeg and pear | healthy spelt scones w/ blackberries & ginger, honey sweetened + dairy free
nutmeg and pear | healthy spelt scones w/ blackberries & ginger, honey sweetened + dairy free
nutmeg and pear | healthy spelt scones w/ blackberries & ginger, honey sweetened + dairy free
nutmeg and pear | healthy spelt scones w/ blackberries & ginger, honey sweetened + dairy free

Because there are some thoughts that no amount of writing can ever untangle. They are so tightly coiled and knotted and messy and heavy. The fields and the sea are good but the sky is better because it's sometimes black and cold, sometimes blushing pink and powder blue. There are birds; the bass chorus of migrating geese, the sweet songs of blackbirds, the doves who are the delicate harp. Sure, the sky doesn't hold answers, it can't get into that tangle of thoughts but it's empty and there's space where that coil can straighten itself. People tell me that I can so clearly put into words what I'm thinking, which is sometimes true; I'd rather write to you to apologise or to say thanks, because what I can write is with more meaning than I could speak. But still I laugh because I wish that I could neatly organize what's in my head and write it all down. If only my thoughts were as simple as punctuated sentences. What I think is more like this post. An abstract mess. Sometimes the chaos is worse than other times and I tell myself to remember that the stars I'm seeing, they're no longer alive, and they're little puddles of light. Apparently there's hot blood flowing through me, so surely somewhere inside there's light.

I still haven't answered my own question. How do I write, what do I write about? My bed is under the big window of my tiny room and when I lie awake, thinking, I can see the stars. It's something for which I'm grateful. Till I moved here, to this tiny blip where the country meets the sea, I'd never seen so many. At night, here the sky is white, not black. If you look at one spot of darkness, a thousand more stars will emerge, some tiny, others huge. I've never really found any constellations, the stars seem scattered and oddly placed, perhaps confused. I miss them on cloudy nights when the skies seem quiet and dark, but so often the morning will dawn clear and a few odd specks will be there; three stars in a tidy row, aligned with the moon. I write because maybe it'll straighten out those thoughts, they'll align, and light up the darkest patches of my head.

nutmeg and pear | healthy spelt scones w/ blackberries & ginger, honey sweetened + dairy free
nutmeg and pear | healthy spelt scones w/ blackberries & ginger, honey sweetened + dairy free

As I said in the first paragraph I'm actually really sorry that I can't seem to construe a normal post. Like just something down to earth and chatty, like other bloggers... but literally if I was just writing about the day to day, it would be an expletive filled passage about university, so I'd rather leave you with some abstract stuff that you (and I) can spend the rest of the week deciphering. Scones with a side of rambling! Just what you asked for. Two options: cut out the rambles and skip down to the recipe which is pretty damn good, or check back here in 20 years time when I have some incredible career and some sort of mental clarity. Ok. So scones.I was looking through my (tiny) recipe archives and I saw only one scone recipe. Only one! And I love them so much. So I knooooow they're nothing like the real deal since they're practically dairy free and they're wheat free but that actually makes them much less high maintenance. Yogurt instead of butter means no need to keep them cold, and the low gluten of spelt flour means they stay very tender and crumbly without worrying about over working the dough. Putting all the berries in the middle may seem odd but stops them sticking to the baking sheet and burning, and the color and sweet jaminess is such a great surprise. And obviously blackberries + ginger + honey is an amazing combination of a fiery kick, tartness and gentle sweetness. Especially if you grate your finger on the microplane while handling the ginger! So don't do that ok it hurts. And blood etc. I was probably too busy thinking. Anyway these are really very simple so I really encourage you to try them, they'll make someone and yo'self really happy. Thanks for putting up with me! You guys are the best.

nutmeg and pear | healthy spelt scones w/ blackberries & ginger, honey sweetened + dairy free
nutmeg and pear | healthy spelt scones w/ blackberries & ginger, honey sweetened + dairy free

blackberry & ginger spelt scones with honey

Cozy spices and vibrant blackberries leave these honey-sweetened spelt scones full of flavor. Ginger adds a warm kick and the berry layer in the scones makes a jammy, sweet center. They're easily dairy free if you use a non-dairy yogurt, plus are much easier than the traditional kind.

makes 6 medium scones // easily dairy free

1 1/3 cup (150g) whole spelt flour
1 tablespoon cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground nutmeg
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons (45ml) plain/ natural yogurt ( I used goat yogurt, use what you like)
1 free range organic egg
Big chunk peeled ginger root (bigger the better, these scones can handle the spice)
3/4 cup (100g) fresh or frozen blackberries plus a few extra for garnish
1 tablespoon turbinado sugar, to sprinkle if you’d like


Preheat the oven to 180’C or 350’F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and then stack it on top of another cookie sheet. This is to stop the bottom of the scones browning too quickly.

In a large bowl, combine the spelt flour, spices, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

In a small bowl, add the olive oil, honey (use the oil spoon and it will slide right off), yogurt and egg. Beat with a whisk till pale and creamy.

Using a micro plane grater or a small box grater, grate your ginger chunk into the wet ingredients and stir to combine. Mind your fingers.

Add the wet mix to the dry mix and gently fold together to form a rough, shaggy dough.

Flour a flat work surface liberally and dump out the dough. Divide it into two equal chunks and use your hands to form two rough rectangles, each about 15cm long. Onto one piece, sprinkle the berries and push them down slightly, heaping the berries a bit in the middle so they are not too close to the edges – this stops the berries burning on the base of the scones and creates a jammy, smooth center.
Once the berries are in place, gently lift the second dough rectangle and cover the first piece, pinching the sides together. Cut the new double layer rectangle into 6 pieces: 3 squares, then each one cut diagonally. Push  any extra berries into the top layer for garnish and sprinkle over the turbinado, if using.

Transfer the scones to the lined baking sheet. Bake for 16-18 minutes, till the top of each scone is darker brown and a skewer inserted into the scone goes through a crisp upper layer, and comes out without crumbs. Cool on a wire rack.

Serve as they are, or with some honey or jam, they are not overly sweet.

They taste amazing out of the oven but will keep in airtight container in the fridge for about 3 days.

notes

If you are using frozen berries, don’t let them thaw too much or they will release a lot of moisture and the scones will lose their shape a bit. Same if you’re using fresh – pat them dry after washing them so that they don’t make the central jammy part too watery.


recently

to want and to knead | cardamom-cranberry spelt wreath

nutmeg and pear | healthy spelt bread wreath w/ cardamom & cranberry (naturally sweetened & dairy free)
nutmeg and pear | healthy spelt bread wreath w/ cardamom & cranberry (naturally sweetened & dairy free)

There is a strange familiarity about the whole ritual. It usually involves climbing into some loft or burrowing through the shed to some degree to find the Christmas tree, that we swear to replace every year. The decorations are like meeting characters from an old book you haven't read for a long time - you remember all their quirks, where you were when you first noticed them. Someone plays Christmas music, the dogs sniff in the boxes and bash the shaky tree with their tails.

nutmeg and pear | healthy spelt bread wreath w/ cardamom & cranberry (naturally sweetened & dairy free)

A couple of years ago my dad passed the light-stringing-up altar to me. Nothing official about it, but he was travelling for longer and longer during the holidays and I was, perhaps inappropriately, deemed the most competent in this field. The lights still shine and twinkle in the evening, but I've never managed to curl them evenly round the tree like dad has, the lights themselves are so old that a few have gone out, but no one's really had the heart to buy a new set. We've been using the same decorations for as long as I can remember, the little round baubles and the intricate figurines my dad used as a kid. We are not so much of a family for tradition. We travel too much, the family as a whole is too spread out. And when I asked my parents, when I was young and these things mattered to me, they asked me what Christmas was really about. Did it have to be gifts around a tree, a big dinner, celebrated on the 25th? Or was it about the principle - the gathering with people you love, sharing food that you've made with love, giving, more than just material gifts?

nutmeg and pear | healthy spelt bread wreath w/ cardamom & cranberry (naturally sweetened & dairy free)
nutmeg and pear | healthy spelt bread wreath w/ cardamom & cranberry (naturally sweetened & dairy free)
nutmeg and pear | healthy spelt bread wreath w/ cardamom & cranberry (naturally sweetened & dairy free)
nutmeg and pear | healthy spelt bread wreath w/ cardamom & cranberry (naturally sweetened & dairy free)

It makes me wonder. This season of craziness... the crazy is everywhere. The pressure on mothers to cook a perfect turkey, to choose the best gifts for their children. The pressure on dads to put up the best outdoor lights, to earn the money to finance it all in the first place. Pressure on kids to stay cool throughout the affair, to get the best most expensive presents. Pressure on the dog to not steal the turkey from the table, dammit, and not to bark when an army of strangers rings the doorbell. Pressure on everyone to keep a good face, to laugh with family members you don't really know.

I go back to bread. We have no great expectations of the holiday, nothing to go back on, I doubt I'll make this wreath next year as a Christmas tradition. I started making my own bread some time ago, but that was after a long break from the habit. Somehow my hands remembered it, the smell of the yeast was familiar, my hands could fold and knead the dough without a second thought. It gave me something, some quiet zen, two minutes to think amid my crazy; travel prep and essays. I think about the puppies who'll be abandoned because the kids couldn't handle the well meant gift. About the wives who'll fall out with their mother in law because the turkey didn't work out. About the dads who'll feel like crap because they didn't get that promotion in time to get that shiny new phone.

nutmeg and pear | healthy spelt bread wreath w/ cardamom & cranberry (naturally sweetened & dairy free)

It's not that I don't have warm memories of Christmas, or that I have a problem with traditional holidays, I think it's great to have something to look back on, to warm you somewhere inside. Childhood Christmas for me was lots of light, more laughs, some fun gifts that I'd play with the whole year. This year will be similar. We'll celebrate after the India trip, on January 10th, when the people who've fought with their mother in law and chucked their puppies have moved onto the most depressing month of the year and salad diets. I just spare a thought for those people who believe that they're making it Christmas, and I go back to my bread. My thoughts on the puppies and the grains, on the holiday from which so many of us took the spirit when we first put up the lights.

nutmeg and pear | healthy spelt bread wreath w/ cardamom & cranberry (naturally sweetened & dairy free)

I understand that lots of people are scared of working with yeast but I promise that, like the aforementioned holiday, it's also overcomplicated by most people! Just make sure it's really puffy after proofing time, otherwise the yeast is dead and it will also kill the recipe. Also, the temperature of the water is important - I found a sneaky method to do this, see the recipe notes if that will help you. As for the swirly wreath pattern - I tried to get photos, but they weren't great so I will direct you to this site I trawled the internet for, which quite clearly shows how to get that pretty pattern going.The bread is gently sweet, a nice contrast to the sharp berries and fragrant cardamom - it's more the kind of bread for eating chunks plain, rather than slicing and slathering with jam. The best kind of bread, I'd say. It's kind of cozy but light, which is how Christmas should be. Whether it's the traditional kind on the 25th, or something a bit unconventional like ours, wishing you the brightest, warmest holidays with people + pets you love. xx

nutmeg and pear | healthy spelt bread wreath w/ cardamom & cranberry (naturally sweetened & dairy free)

[kindred-recipe id="1918" title="cardamom-cranberry spelt wreath"]

I am away on holiday (India!!!) right now, so it may be a bit quiet on my end. If you are looking for more baking inspiration, I will direct you to this baked oatmeal to serve holiday guests for breakfast, this granola for edible gifting and these scones because why not. and (coconut oil) gingerbread cookies. And again, I thank you for visiting this little corner of the internet, have a wonderful Christmas. I'll be back with a few photos in a bit.

you light up the universe | doggie oatmeal-ginger cookies

doggie- oatmeal- ginger-cookies

Pruney and Suzi, For years I tacked ' a dog' on to the end of my Christmas list. You two have been the best gifts I'll ever receive. Prune, you came just before my 13th birthday and Suzi just as I was taking some of the most important exams of my life. And you know my life can be crazy, full. School work, applications, work experience. The blog, editing photos, fitting in runs, more work. My world just seems to be spinning really fast, my seasons keep changing. But amid all of that crazy are you both. The real center of my universe.

What I won't do is say that because of you, every day feels like Christmas because that just wouldn't be real. But if Christmas is about goodness, light, and joy, then you two are Christmas. You two little monkeys light up my whole damn universe. Every. single. day.

doggie-oatmeal-ginger-cookies
doggie-oatmeal-ginger-cookies
doggie-oatmeal-ginger-cookies

I wanted to make my dogs a cookie, something a bit festive for when I am stuffing my face with gingerbread. Dogs can have ginger - in fact, it's often used as a natural way of easing travel sickness, so if you are planning on taking your dogs on any car trips these holidays, these cookies might be fun to take along. They are totally gluten free so they are a little fragile, but my two monsters have been pretty good at cleaning up any crumbs :) they also come together in one bowl, with really only one measuring utensil, because your dog isn't going to care whether you spent four hours making them or 20 minutes. mine always do know. though, that they are homemade. They were eaten in a ratio of 10:2 Prune:Suzi, hence the photo of Pruney doing what she does best.

doggie-oatmeal-ginger-cookies

Doggie oatmeal - ginger cookies

makes around 12 medium cookies    // gluten + dairy free

Now your pup can join in the baking fun, it just for the holidays! They are close to allergen free, just being oat based, but gently sweet and tender. Nothing stops you from adding a little more spice and keeping them for yourself.


1 cup(100g) rolled oats
3/4 cup (75g) oat flour
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 cup (60ml) melted coconut oil or neutral tasting oil, like organic sunflower
3 tablespoons honey
1 free range egg

Preheat the oven to 160'C, 325'F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, add all the dry ingredients and stir to combine. Measure out the oil using a tablespoon measure, add to the oat mix. With the same measure, add the 3 tablespoons honey (it will slide off easily), then crack the egg into the bowl. Stir till evenly combined.

Using a medium cookie scoop or with a heaped tablespoon, spoon rounds out onto a lined baking tray, and flatten gently with the back of the spoon/scoop. Leave a little space, but they don't spread much.

Bake for around 12-14 minutes till light golden. Allow to cool 10 minutes on the sheet then transfer to a cooling rack.

They stay pretty tender, but will firm up with time and keep well in an airtight container for about 4 days. My monkeys usually finish the whole batch in 10 minutes after cooling. Warm cookie feasting... my dogs, no doubt.

notes

you can literally mix the whole thing in one bowl. Sometimes I measure, mix and scoop with the same tablespoon... 


doggie-oatmeal-ginger-cookies

more to share with your pups