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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a background murmur | honey-oat nectarine cobbler

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I was driving to go shopping the other day when I turned off the radio in my car. I'd left the house just before 1pm so it was almost time for ads and the news; they were playing a pretty terrible song anyway so I thought I'd save myself listening through all of that. It went quiet. Inevitable consequence, really. In the year or so I've had my car I honestly don't think I've ever driven alone without the radio - it was so quiet it was striking. More like a yell. I'd come to a stretch of road just after crawling through the village at 30 miles and finally I could go 60, a bit like when you've been sitting on a flight too long waiting for the cabin crew to disarm the doors and then you walk off the shoot into the airport and just walk, really fast, even if you have nowhere else to go. Just to test your legs and make sure they still work, really fast? That's what I always do at that point. Test the pedals, just to make sure they work. Really fast, after all that crawling. I could hear the mechanical whir of the engine, a heady thrum of the Mini's electrics doing their thing. Tyres over the bumps in the road.

A sort of cher-chunk when I eased my foot off the brake. A background murmur, as the car was buffeted by wind over the open heath on both sides of the road. It was one of those perfect Norfolk afternoons; a few strands of liquid cirrus clouds, spilt milk on a toddler's table, the sky Malibu blue, so much so it fades to gray over a hazy horizon. The beech trees that delineated fields swayed enthusiastically, sheep grazed in said fields, a tractor ploughed. But it felt different. It wasn't just a Norfolk summer Thursday afternoon without the radio. It was a transplant of some kind. I was in France, maybe, in some region so rural we couldn't find a radio station that actually played. We'd been there before, many times, same thing, different places. I remember a few years ago we rented a caravan and toured the center of the country for the week, we were somewhere in the heart of the Loire where RTL waves didn't reach. We had parked the truck on a green outside a village under a castle, we were by a lake eating off a plastic table on unreliable plastic chairs, sourdough baguettes. I bit into a local peach, it was the juiciest and sweetest I've ever had, the juices dripped down my wrist but I didn't feel like going into the truck to wash it off, so I just sat there with a sticky hand in the hot sun, trying to lean back in the rickety chair, unsteady on the rough grass of that green. 

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The radio silence lasted me along that single lane in the heath and onto the two lane highway towards town. We used to drive over to England from Belgium and there was always this awkward patch of land around Kent and Essex where the radio would just sort of cut out, and my dad would put on BBC radio 2 instead, since it plays everywhere, and I hated it. The annoying channel switches would have started somewhere around Calais in France, but the French always seem to play decent music so that was ok. It was worse in England where in general the music was far less ok. But the first part after you disembark (from the Channel Tunnel) was bearable, despite the music, because back then England was a novelty, and it was fun seeing everyone drive on the wrong side of the road, there were these green fields, sort of hilly, with white chalk underneath, and they'd be filled with horses. Thousands, all colours, just take your pick and it would be there, like types of coke in a vending machine. There was this one rest stop where we'd break journey for a while, and the sun would be blindingly bright, the wind sharp as a slap, and we'd always say how the weather would just visibly deteriorate as we headed North. We were almost always right, but I never remember having a bad time. 

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I was almost at the grocery store by now but I didn't turn on the radio because I was stuck in a thought. I was thinking about that kind of silent city ride in a taxi. There have been so many, mostly in Asia. Not because we don't take taxis in European cities but because their drivers seem to like the radio. In Asia they don't, or not with passengers, something like that.  There'd be tired, sagging leather seats sticking to the backs of sweaty legs, feet with blisters. Window down, the heat inside when the car was idling would be so thick you could cut it with that proverbial knife, but you wouldn't be bored, because Asia has a habit of carrying on life outside of closed doors for the benefit of those stuck in sweltering taxis. Sometimes the cabs had AC, which was better, especially since most of those times I'd be wearing jeans and a sweater and we'd be heading to an airport on a tropical highway, which means the possibility of potholes and debilitating traffic jams and errant cows, and feelings would be mixed. It would be Europe, which would be home. Which could be good. If we lived in Asia then it was nice to drive on highways that were free of cows and potholes. But it could mean that's it, the end of the tropical highway was really the end of the tropical highway since the holidays were over and rainy winter loomed on the other side with piles of school work and a freezing cold house. We could contemplate it, either way. Like leaving something to cook in the residual heat on the stove. We could sit and think, stew it out, in the silence in the back of the cab, without the radio.

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I'm told quite often I'm a quiet person. I don't talk as much as people expect me to, considering I'm 18, female and spend an unreasonable amount of time getting ready in the morning. I prefer to listen, is what I usually say. Listen hard enough and my thoughts seem to take me back, snapshots, times and places and feelings I thought I'd misplaced. A lot to fill the emptiness; it overflows. 

"How free it is, you have no idea how free, the peacefulness so big it dazes you" Sylvia Plath

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I hope that you're all not too tired of stone fruit yet because personally I could eat them year round and I'll proceed to eat peaches and nectarines until they disappear from the shelves. I'd intended to make a peach cobbler but we only had nectarines, so be it. You could of course use peaches if you'd like. Not the most glamorous dessert, maybe, but the fruit really doesn't need much dressing up to be pretty gorgeous. I mean, just look at the colours of those nectarines. Hope that you're enjoying these sort of Indian summer days, this has got to be one of the nicest times of the year - cool mornings and evenings, mild days, sun still warm.

Hugs xx

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honey-oat nectarine cobbler

gluten + dairy free

1/2 cup (50g) rolled oats
1/2c  (60g) brown rice flour
1/2 c (50g) oat flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4c (55g)  coconut oil, melted and cooled
1/4c (75g) honey
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

//filling
600g-800g (5-7ish medium) ripe peaches
1 tablespoon coconut sugar
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1.5 tspn arrowroot powder / similar starch


Preheat oven to 180'C, 350'F.

Rub a little coconut oil around the sides of a baking dish with around 2L (2 quarts) real estate. An 8x8 square pan would work.

In a medium bowl, whisk together all the dry cobbler ingredients. Add the honey, vanilla and and oil and mix through with a fork until the dough looks, well, dough-y (like cookie or scone dough). Set aside.

Chop nectarines into slices and chunks - no need to peel but you can if you prefer. In your  baking dish, drizzle the lemon juice over the sliced fruit, toss with the arrowroot and sugar.

Top the nectarines with the cobbler - drop blobs, for want of a better word, over the filling. Not so glamorous.

Bake for 25-30 minutes, until the cookie blobs (sorry) are golden and the filling is bubbling.

You can keep the whole dish in the fridge for a couple of days and serve cold or warm, as you prefer. Some people like ice cream with these things, if that's you, go for it.  As a heads up, if you do keep the cobbler, the biscuits will soften from the fruit juices but it will still taste pretty amazing.


fruity desserts

spinning and marking time | summer berry crumb cake

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It's been a while. Where have I been? I ask myself that often. Away, I suppose. We had a full house, some warm weather. I was saying I'll get to it to a lot this year and I, well, finally got to it. Some things at least. That's how it goes in the summer - I scramble around for the first few weeks doing anything and everything then somewhere that fire just kind of ebbs. I'm one of those people who is used to having a life that's just way too full and doing nothing was like a nice act of rebellion. Against myself, of course. I started off going places to conquer the wilds of Norfolk and rack up mileage in my (now one year old) car, working on projects for the blog... it fizzled out. I took it. You get a flat bottle of club soda now and then. 

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I suppose I'm just looking for a nutshell. To put summer in. You start by acting, then you get to thinking, but thinking is dangerous so you start acting again. Illustrated by the fact that most of the summer has passed and there are at least three books on my desk I want to read, and two half finished projects and a spotfiy playlist that really needs updating. But there were days when the sky was bluer than your Twitter feed and the water was instagrammable and the wind was blowing my hair in my face and I was walking on that stretch of promenade and watching freighters cruise the North Sea. There were wind turbines spinning and marking time and my dad was laughing as he loaded our panting dogs into the car and there was traffic all along the ocean front.  There was the tie rope strung up between the side of the house and the shed and my grandparents hanging the washing out to dry and the dogs' towels were flapping in the breeze. There was Layla sitting with two pints of berries on her lap in my car and we were singing to a mediocre song and there had been berry fields and bushes heavy with fruit so ripe they burst as you touched them to pull them from the vine, maybe a sign that they were happy enough as is . Happy enough as is. As I was, in a pair of Nike shorts with my hair in a pony tail, with a DVD box of NCIS on my bed and a half read spy novel of sorts open on the desk and a growing to do list and tabs open and cherry tomatoes and clothes piled up on a chair. 

And that is summer. It's sunshine and downpours. You do so much, but it feels like painfully little. And it flies. Away, quicker than jet trails in a clear evening sky, and you start thinking of the things you could have done, should have done, that you did. It's like sticking your hand into a crate of berries. Some are sweet, some are less so, but they're all color. Color and life and memories and two seconds of quiet complacency. 

"I have only to break into the tightness of a strawberry, and I see summer – its dust and lowering skies."
Toni Morrison

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I hope that you guys have all been enjoying the summer and the gorgeous produce that goes with it. I love peaches, I love tomatoes, I love plums but berries. Berries first. This cake is very simple to make but the crumble adds a little something and the tart berries are little bursts of summer. You can really use any mix of berries you like, and frozen if that's more convenient. 

Love you xx

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Summer berry crumb cake

makes 1 8 inch (20cm) round cake  // gluten free

1 cup (100g) oat flour
1/2 cup (60g) brown rice flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 free range eggs
1/4 cup (60ml) oil (I used avocado*, melted coconut or olive oil would work great too)
2/3 cup (130g) coconut sugar
1/2 cup (120ml) plain yogurt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups (225g) mixed summer berries of choice, fresh or frozen ( I used raspberries, blueberries & blackberries)

// streusel
1/3 cup (30g) rolled oats
1/4 cup (40g) chopped walnuts (or almonds)
1/4 cup (50g) turbinado sugar (or natural cane sugar)
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons (30ml) coconut oil (room temp/solid is fine)


Preheat the oven to 180'C, 350'F. Line an 8 inch (20cm) springform pan (with removable sides + base) with parchment paper and rub a little coconut oil on the sides.

Start by making the streusel-y topping. Whisk together all the dry ingredients in a small bowl, then add the coconut oil. With your fingers, crumble the dry mix through the oil so it becomes clumpy with a coarse sand texture. You can do this a day or so in advance and refrigerate if that helps. 

In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, baking powder & soda, salt. 

In another large bowl, beat together the sugar, oil and eggs until combined. Beat in the yogurt and vanilla until smooth.

Pour about half the berries (around 3/4 cup) into the dry bowl and toss gently to coat with flour. This should stop the berries from sinking.

Pour the wet mix into the dry and gently stir until just combined. Pour the batter into your prepared pan and smooth over the top with an offset spatula. Sprinkle over the remaining 3/4 berries, then over that, evenly drop the streusel topping and press it very gently into the batter so it sticks a bit.

Bake the cake for around 60-70 minutes, until a skewer inserted in the cake comes out clean. Allow the cake to cool for around half an hour in the tin before attempting to remove the sides and transferring the cake to a rack. Cool fully before slicing, the cake can be a little fragile.

*I think the avo oil and coconut sugar contributed to the caramel color of the cake. If you prefer something lighter coloured (the berry streaks will show up better) I think melted coconut oil would be best.


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he'll be looking skyward | strawberry - oat muffins

For the last few weeks while I was studying for exams I was working at my dad's desk since mine is just too small. He's not here right now and he won't be back until August, so the arrangement seemed to make sense. There are a couple of bookshelves next to the desk and when my thoughts inevitably drifted as I was studying I found myself scanning the names of the folders, the books, the files. They seem to say so much about him. Maybe that's obvious? That if you look at a person's shelves, they do, typically reflect that person? But what's interesting with dad's shelves is that they're not necessarily scream this is me, these are my tastes and interests. There's an anonymous blue binder with a white label, the words "Naturelink Africa" typed in nice neat, clear script. A couple of others like that, a bit like pins on a world map. On the top shelf there's a model of a little crane, the kind that lift containers onto ships in ports, there are copies of the Nederlands - Engels Technisch Wordenboek; the Dutch to English technical dictionary and the 2016-2017 edition of the trade hardware store's catalogue. Books on Spanish, Portuguese and French, the Lloyds Maritime Atlas. There's the floppy cover of a scrapbook we made forhim years ago when we were spending chunks of time apart, a bit like this year. On the sill in front of the desk, porcelain models of the canal houses in Amsterdam. He has this other shelf, it's tall and narrow and just perfectly fits CD cases, the covers always take me back to when I was five or six.

I used to only go into his office when dad had been there and the lights were on, because it was quite a dark room and the shelves seemed to dominate the walls, I was also scared of the paintings of Egyptians (don't ask), but when I did, I was oddly entranced. I remember sitting in his office chair, just a basic plastic affair on wheels, that would spin around, and I would sort through all his CDs. They're all there, the original gang, Bon Jovi's Keep the Faith, Prince's Greatest Hits, The Best of REM. I remember thinking the shelf looked like an appartment block, one of those really basic buildings that were just above shanty towns. Dad travelled, in my mind, to those places, with those kinds of flats. I travelled too, from that young age, but never to anywhere remotely industrial or 'grim'. He told us stories, about where his work took him. I was (and still am) one of those people who could spin out clear mental pictures from descriptions and I had my pictures of cargo ships and dusty docks. The chefs on American ships who talked too fast when dad tried to order his eggs for breakfast, Nigerian border patrols who shot at his car, epic Mozambican floods, tapped phone lines on a one-off trip to North Korea. My favorite were the stories about the dolphins in Turkey who'd swim right into the port. People ask me about what my dad does, he probably sounds like some kind of special agent or something... it's always made me laugh that it was nothing so exciting, just port work. Shipping and bagging things, finding ways to move them around.

Movement. What he does for a living. My dad is one of the restless... in all senses of the word. He, like me, apparently shakes his leg when he's trying to fall asleep and jolts his knee up and down when he's sitting. He paces when he's on the phone, so do I. He trips when we're out walking because he'll be looking skyward, following the trails of jets and helicopters, he's always driven with this reckless caution. It's like his foot hovers above the accelerator, that he could drive so much faster than he does but he won't because it's not worth it and he doesn't need to. He's travelled for work as long as I can remember, buried in a box somewhere I have a barbie in traditional Vietnamese clothes, Chinese fans, cuddly lions, camels and monkeys... Maybe all this shows in the fact that I can identify the shipping company when I see a container on a truck and that trucks with containers were my favorite part of taking the ferry to France. When my sister and I used to play with Lego we would make them go on epic overland road trips through savage mountains, now when I'm studying law thing it's the shipping cases I find easiest to remember. Maybe it brings us closer to him. 

 It's hard to explain but despite us spending so much more time, in reality, with our mum than dad I always find it strange how much his niche lifestyle, his wanderer spirit have spread to all of us. I know all families have their own words for things, but I don't know how many others have the need for synonyms like agw (all going well, I should be in some airport or other by a certain time but this is unlikely), or have regular discussions about Heathrow terminals. I have said it before, he doesn't realize how much he's a part of us - passively, as opposed to my mum's active role as the present parent, who sat me down to do homework as best I could and taught me to thank the bus driver, and smile at him too. She did an A* job of raising a polite and decent human, but I think we can all attribute my quirks to dad. He was there even if he wasn't, like the Colorado River flowing through rock, over the years, and slowly carving out something as iconic as the Grand Canyon, just by doing what it does naturally.  

I don't really know what the message of all this text is meant to be, actually nothing grand or philosophical. Funny how someone so phlegmatic and unflappable can still be such a wanderer. He's thought it, I've thought it, we all have, maybe things would have been different if he'd been your average 9 to 5 dad... maybe they would, maybe we would. Maybe it would have crushed his spirit if he wasn't submerged in some kind of foreign element, driving a pick up over dirt roads and crossing African borders. I had sort of half written this post, mentally, sitting at his desk, drifting from cases and statutes, my fidgety hands pulled the model crane off the shelf and my thoughts wandered to the next place. The windows were open and a breeze whipped through, right to the dark ends of the room where his suit was on a hanger, and the wind ruffled it a bit. The door slammed, I jumped, from picturing him, as I always did. A formal blue shirt and a big wood desk, some indoor plants around, AC blowing in tropical sun. Calm, solid and familiar, but always someplace else. 

"Once you have tasted flight you will walk the earth with your eyes turned skywards, for there you have been and there you will long to return" Leonardo da Vinci

Happy Father's Day, dad, and thank you for everything (not least for eating my food), today and always xx

Hello again, after another looong hiatus. Hope you're all doing well and enjoying this heatwave craziness if you're in Europe. I made these muffs a while ago to send with my dad since muffins freeze well and I wanted to share them because they are just so good. They're very light and fluffy without sticking to the muffin liners (this is a triumph for me) and have such a nice vanilla tone with a little chew from the oats. The berries are sweet and chunky and really steal the show with the bright bursts of pink fruit. So good for spring and summer. You can use any berry you'd like instead of the strawberries, these are a great template to use all year.
Big shout out to all the dads, grandpas and father figures out there. I really don't think you're given credit for what you do, as compared to mothers, but I know my family wouldn't be the same without them and their calm, steady support. 
Love and muffins xx
 

Strawberry - oat muffins

Gluten free      //     makes 16-18  muffins

1 cup (100g) oat flour
1 cup (100g) rolled oats
1/2 cup (60g) brown rice flour or millet flour
1 teaspoon baking powder, 1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup (60ml) olive oil
6 tablespoons (95ml) pure maple syrup
2 free range eggs
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 cup (250ml) milk of choice (I used unsweetened almond)
1 tablespoon lemon juice / acv     (or use 1 cup/250ml buttermilk in place of the lemon juice and milk)

2 cups-ish / 300g strawberries


Preheat the oven to 190'C, 375'F. Line (or oil) two muffin pans, for around 18 muffins.

Measure your milk of choice into a mug or measuring cup and add the lemon juice or vinegar. Set aside while you continue with the recipe, for impromptu buttermilk. 

In a large bowl, whisk together the oat flour, rolled oats, brown rice flour, salt and leavening things. 

Prep your berries - wash them and pat them gently dry. Hull the berries then cut them as you wish - larger pieces will leave jammy pockets, smaller slices will leave a little berry in each bite, so it's your call.

In another medium bowl, beat together the oil, maple, vanilla and eggs. Retrieve your faux buttermilk and add to the bowl, beat to combine. Gently stir the berries into the dry mix so they are coated in flour, then pour the wet into the dry and stir to just combine. Try not to rough the berries around toooo much. 

Fill your muffin liners about 2/3 full, with about 1/4 cup (4 tablespoons) each. 
Bake for around 18-22 minutes, till a skewer inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean, and the tops are golden. 

Let the muffs cool for 5-10 minutes in the pan, then transfer to a wire rack. They will keep in airtight container for about 3 days on the counter, or will freeze and defrost really well.

 


spring recipes