maybe that's not a bad thing | mocha-chip loaf

It was my dad's birthday last weekend. He wasn't with us to celebrate, in fact I've not seen him since he was here in December. That was for three days. He was supposed to arrive on his birthday and the next day we were all supposed to leave for France. But my dad had to stay in Mozambique for work, and we left for France without him. Which was hard. Harder for him than for us, in general, because he doesn't change so much, but we do, and he misses that.

It's been a long time since I called him daddy.  I actually don't remember the last time I did. I think sometimes he misses those days - when we were small enough to ride on his shoulders, when we'd grab his hand and pull him places, the days when he would pick us up and pretend to 'drop' us, catching us just before we hit the ground. It's an occupational hazard of being a long-distance dad who spends huge chunks of time away. What he doesn't realize is that he's more or less always 'there'. We talk about him all the time. He's taught us so much. I'm quite sure I am the only girl (or maybe the only person?) doing contract law who has any idea about anything to do with ships - I heard someone asking what the stern of a ship was. I remember last year in class no one knew what it meant for a ship to be 'berthed'. A charterparty? No chance. Grabs? Bulk? No way. Not terms that are plastered all over facebook, not a typical dad-daughter discussion . He's the person who's taught me about hydraulics ('to do with air and water'), that brown bread is always better than white, that cumin should always go with cheese. That the best part of Formula One is when they splash each other with champagne, the best way to take a penalty ('two steps back and one to the side'), that baby birds are always worth saving.

He probably thinks, and you probably think, those are just small things. And maybe they are, but they make a difference, in  a not-so-every-day way. There are people who teach you other things - too many people actually. There's my mum to teach me to read and write and study hard. My dogs, to teach patience, my sister, to laugh. Then there's the internet, instagram, friends, books, who tell you how to eat, what to wear, where to go, how to act. But there's only ever been one person who's told me to take care of my tools, when he's putting away the chainsaw or the hedge trimmer; and I must have the cleanest Vitamix around. One person who's taken a look at my tripod, found that yellow bauble that shows when things are level and said, suspiciously, 'do you know how to use this?'. One person who's helped me to repot my indoor plants, who taught me that every room needs some green. The one person who, when it's supposed to be summer but it's freezing cold and raining and you're wearing shorts and standing with your bike sheltering under a tree by a cemetery, would say 'it's a bit dead around here', totally nonchalantly. 

He doesn't consider himself the teaching sort of person - he tried to teach me to ski, but I ended up with an instructor. Showed us that sometimes you just have to admit defeat, and you'll be better for it. But Layla and I grew up with him more present, and from the small things he did, we learnt. A little bit of discipline, we take care of our equipment. Huge attention to detail, a total love for plants and the smallest animal. We walk past a house where their fence stops short of the hedges by about two meters. That would never have happened with dad, we say, because he'd have measured the fence, or else have gone back to the hardware store and picked up another panel. If you're doing a job, might as well do it right. Wherever we are Layla and I gravitate towards the water. A lake, a river, the sea, we'll be there, if there are boats involved, even better. That's because our dad is the boat person, he's shown us that the best things happen near the water and he's almost never been wrong. Our mum always finds it odd and says 'you take after your dad sometimes'. Maybe we do, and maybe that's a good thing.

Love you dad xx

This is one of the first recipes I wrote with someone in mind. For my dad, who taught me the coffee-chocolate combination. It's a really simple recipe, just a dry mix, a wet mix, dump into the dry bowl, into the pan, a fresh loaf in about 45 minutes. This is a very low-key loaf,  it's more of a breakfast-y or snack-y every day type of cake, which are my favorites. There's not loads of chocolate so it's not super rich, the beautiful dark color is actually just from the espresso, nutty buckwheat flour and dark sugar. Together, they make this loaf look and taste quite special. A note on ingredients - I've made this without almond meal (brown rice flour instead) but I prefer the structure from the nuts. Hazelnut meal would be really nice too, so stick to something nut based if you can. I found that I had no chocolate at all, halfway through baking, but I had some chips lying around so I used those. If you have a chocolate bar, go that route, I always prefer the meltiness to the way that chips hold their shape. 

Here's to every day cake, and a not so every day dad of mine.


mocha - chip loaf

gluten + easily dairy free    //  makes one 9x5 inch loaf

1 cup (100g) almond meal
1/2 cup (50g) oat flour, gf if necessary
1/2 cup (65g) buckwheat flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 heaped tablespoon espresso powder (or finely ground coffee)
1/4 cup (25g) coconut oil, melted
1/2 cup (120ml) plain yogurt of choice at room temp.
2 free range eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2/3 cup (100g) dark muscavado sugar or coconut sugar*
50g chopped dark chocolate (70% is good) or chocolate chips


Oil & line a 9x5 inch loaf pan and preheat the oven to 180'C, 350'F.

In a large bowl, whisk to combine the flours, baking powder + soda, salt, cinnamon and espresso powder.

In a medium bowl, add the coconut oil, room temperature yogurt, eggs and vanilla and beat together. Add the sugar and beat again so the mix is smooth and dark.

Pour the wet mix into the dry mix and gently stir the batter with a flexible spatula. When it starts to come together, fold in the chocolate. The batter will be very thick.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for about 30-33 minutes. The top of the loaf will crack for sure, but I think that makes it look rustic :)

Let the cake cool in the pan for about 5 minutes, then gently release onto a wire rack and allow to cool completely.

The loaf is quite moist initially but almond meal tends to dry out, so it's best finished in about 3 days. Otherwise, it holds up well frozen + defrosted. 

Notes

*Either type of sugar will work, I've made this loaf several times with both. Dark brown sugar would work too if that's what you have around, but keep the sugar as dark in color as possible.


similar

can we dumb it down | chocolate + cherry rye oatmeal cookies

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I don't love talking about politics, not here or anywhere else. I also don't love valentine's day. But I think, considering everything that's going on right now, that it's a bit hard to miss the irony. I walked into the store the other day and looked at the news stand at the front. The newspapers, headlines to the back page, filled with hate. Hate from the people for a campaign that's built on it; the words of its supporters. People killed, families torn apart. The shelf next to the papers, the valentine's cards. The pinks and reds and roses, telling husbands and wives and friends you love them.

I don't propose we all start to love everyone, because we don't all live in some fair trade commune in southern Philadelphia. Maybe we need to rethink about how we think about love. Perhaps it's been over complicated. Perhaps we should just dumb it down to acceptance and quiet respect. Not even acceptance, just tolerance. That there will be people who don't want to celebrate valentine's day. That there'll be girls who want to show off their hair and others who'd prefer to keep it covered. That there are happy families with parents who never married and content kids with parents who married in a church. That there are some guys that love toting guns and driving tractors and there are some who curate art and live in lofts with exposed brick.

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chocolate + cherry rye oatmeal cookies

Maybe it's because we're actually scared. Maybe have good reason to be. Maybe we're not as accepting as we thought we were. Maybe it's because fewer and fewer families are actually composed of a mother, a father, two kids, a dog, a suburban detached house with a double garage and a toyota. Maybe the acceptance of change is on the outside. Maybe we did it because it's the cool thing to do, to feign openness; maybe it became trendy. Maybe, deep down, we cling to tradition. The tradition that love is romance, or perhaps duty to care. For soul mates, your children, a sibling. Maybe it's what we were taught. We grew up watching TV shows were people give each other candy hearts and pink cards and wait breathlessly for the popular boy to ask them to the dance. But maybe things have changed. Maybe now there are people getting hurt, pushed aside, loosing opportunities. And there's no moral high ground. You know how you read everywhere, every day, that we can't go on eating processed wheat and sugar because it's just not modern? Not sustainable. Not healthy. People have seemed very happy to jump off the ship of what health food once was, into a very stormy sea and onto a very shaky lifeboat that is what eating well has now become. In the same way, maybe love as it once was isn't sustainable, healthy or modern. Would we abandon our ship of chocolates and slinky black dresses and acceptance being cool? Watch the sinking of the concept with which we're comfortable? People will moan that we have jumped ship and that I said it myself. That we're not all married in churches anymore, we're ok that some people don't marry at all, some of us are hipsters these days. But love was simply supposed to keep people afloat, stop them from getting hurt, stop the coldness. Whatever we've done, then, is far from love.

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On the one hand we've hijacked the concept. Not just that it's cool to claim tolerance. The number of bloggers and social media people who sign off with a 'love you friends'. People ask you in class whether you know the funny guy, and you're supposed to say 'him? I love him! he's so funny'. We're supposed to love our friends, right? So is this our broader, trendy definition? If it is, why I am I so put off by saying that I 'love' the neighbours? They're fine, but to say I love them would be going a bit far. Because, like everything else, we've taken love out of context sometimes, when kicking the tradition is cool and ok, detached. On the internet, it goes out to too many people to really think about. The funny guy? He'll never find out you said that.

Your friends? Well, maybe, you love them in a way. If love can encompass actual, quiet tolerance of individual quirks, warmth and acceptance, then it's there. Acceptance of differences and that you'll never see some things the same way, that your values and priorities might even clash. Maybe it's just not been something people think about. That love could be much simpler than the marriage-or-not debate, than a cold analysis of the number of broken families, and a whole lot more simple than dinner dates and bouquets. More rational than trying to make acceptance the new in thing. Maybe it could just be letting people walk down the street without feeling unsafe; or being able to take public transport without funny stares or being asked where you're from. Maybe we do love our friends because we put up with all their eccentricities, like we do our own family. Tolerance for differences has always been there, as part of love, in our living with kids and siblings and soul mates. Maybe we can stretch that out a bit - just the tolerance, to all the people around us. The hate has evolved, maybe it's time that love does too. It's not love as we know it. But then it's not just candy hearts and popular boys and the world as they said it was, either.

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But there are cookies and there will be cookies as long as I'm around :) since I posted the house loaf cake a few weeks ago, I now present the house cookie. I pretty much sum up its amazingess in the recipe header but seriously. So good. Rye flour isn't bitter as you may have thought, it's actually quite mild if used with sweet, rich goodies (cherries, hi) and the cocoa really highlights the beautiful colour. The little flecks of oatmeal add some chunky texture and the cherries are so moist and sweet. They'll be a bit more puck-like than regular cookies because of the oil but still. So good. To share, on Valentine's Day. Whether with your little loved crowd or a bigger crew. treat yourself. Big hugs and cookies for you all xx

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Ps. I would've made something for any doggie loves you have but Prune is meant to be on a diet (!!!!) so you could make these if you'd like, my monkeys are crazy about them.

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chocolate + cherry rye oatmeal cookies

Little pucks of goodness - slightly malty rye, the color and richness of dark cocoa. Plump, velvety, sweet cherries. Light flecks of chewy oatmeal. Infinitely loveable. 
// makes 18-20 medium cookies // dairy free

1 cup (110g) rye flour
2/3 cup (70g) rolled oats
1/3 cup (40g) natural cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup (100g) dark muscavado sugar
1/4 cup (50g) turbinado sugar
1 free range egg
1/3cup (75g) melted coconut oil
1/2 cup (75g) unsweetened dried cherries, coarsely chopped if large
1 -2 tablespoons of any milk, as needed


Preheat the oven to 180’C, 350’F. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

In a large bowl, combine the rye flour, rolled oats, salt, baking soda. Add the cocoa powder, you may need to sift it into the bowl if it’s very clumpy. Mix together so evenly combined and set aside.

In a small bowl, add the melted coconut oil and the two sugars, stir well with a flexible spatula. Beat in the egg and vanilla extract.

Combine the wet mix with the dry oat mix and stir together well, you may need to use a stiff wooden spoon for this since the dough is quite thick. If it’s way too dry (this depends on the cut of your rye flour) slowly add a little milk, teaspoon at a time. Fold in the dried cherries.

Using a medium cookie scoop or heaped tablespoons, portion out the dough. Use the bottom of a glass/measuring cup to flatten each poof into a disk, leaving about 3cm/ an inch between.

Bake the cookies for 13-15 minutes, rotating the sheets halfway through.

Allow to cool on the sheets for about 2 minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely.

The cookies will keep for about 4 days in an airtight container, but are something else straight from the oven 

notes

I think these could take some other goodies as add-ins too – about 1/2 cup worth. Hazelnuts might be nice. If you’re feeling decadent, half a cup (75gish) chopped dark chocolate would be amazing. Next time…


more chocolate

in the back of my mind | Gingerbread cookies

nutmeg and pear|whole grain coconut oil gingerbread cookies - dairy & refined sugar free
nutmeg and pear|whole grain coconut oil gingerbread cookies - dairy & refined sugar free
nutmeg and pear|whole grain coconut oil gingerbread cookies - dairy & refined sugar free

They asked me to be Mary. I think it came more down to the fact that I was one of the few dark- haired girls, but the others were jealous anyway. All I really had to do was sit on the stage in some kind of a gown, behind the 'manger' and rock the baby every now and then. The village school was a Church of England School (I only recently realized I spent two years of my life saying a prayer every morning, without having any idea of what I was saying. ah the innocence of primary school ) so the annual nativity play was quite a show, even more so when you're five years old.

Most winters in that part of Suffolk weren't too cold. Usually clear, bright winter sunshine, sharp wind off the North Sea, I managed in tights and black suede boots and somehow avoided wearing a winter hat. Still, I was a sickly kid, one of those who was perpetually out with an ear ache, a scary cough, on antibiotics, vaguely asthmatic. The year I was Mary it was a chest infection. I remember the burning pain, like my little ribs were a cage, a cage too small for the bird that was valiantly flapping its wings to escape. I coughed so hard my whole body shook, I couldn't leave my bed, my mum gave up going to work and read books with me, my dad stayed up all night watching The Wombles (does anyone else remember them?). This year it was a gray winter, there was no watery sunshine through milky clouds to dry out my damp lungs, that ever-present wind left people hurrying from house to car with scarves up to their ears, hands shoved deep in pockets.

nutmeg and pear|whole grain coconut oil gingerbread cookies - dairy & refined sugar free
nutmeg and pear|whole grain coconut oil gingerbread cookies - dairy & refined sugar free

Those low hanging gray clouds were like the feathers of the doves that sat on our fence, cooing softly, like snowfall on a slate roof. My dad would look up at the skies and say "snow skies", my chest would burn, I'd hope he was right, I wanted a white Christmas, I spent another December afternoon at the doctor's office and coughing myself to sleep.

The other girls were probably hoping that I'd be too sick to come in and play Mary. It was clear that I wouldn't be in the choir, singing Little Donkey and We Three Kings, but the teachers said I could just come in and sit on stage as planned. My grandparents plied me with marshmallows 'for strength', I wore the gown and sat behind the manger, the others sang about Bethlehem and yonder star. I wondered if it snowed there, if Mary had been able to cough on her donkey ride, whether yonder star was that brightness I saw from my bed when I lay awake at night, the white light that left little pools of silver in the puddles.

nutmeg and pear|whole grain coconut oil gingerbread cookies - dairy & refined sugar free
nutmeg and pear|whole grain coconut oil gingerbread cookies - dairy & refined sugar free

It started to snow. I was back to school by the last week of term. Forced to wear a hat and scarf. I wasn't happy because it's not the kind of thing that princesses wore and jeez mum I am a princess. It was just a light flurry, airy white flakes, like the dusting of flour on country bread. I was sitting by the window, they were playing Christmas songs, I was making an ornament out of dried pasta and silver spray paint, then a chubby fairy. By the time it was break, the snow was gone, but it was like a promise. The skies were still dove gray, small puddles on the ground were freezing, I could feel the burn through my jacket.

nutmeg and pear|whole grain coconut oil gingerbread cookies - dairy & refined sugar free

One morning it started in earnest. I dropped my cheese on toast to climb up onto the couch by my sister, to watch the fat flakes come down hard. It was like those American tv shows we watched, where they could build snowmen and throw snowballs. We went to school feeling light, cheery as the Christmas mantel. The adults murmured on the playground that we'd be home by lunch, the boiler was on its way out. Our dad came to pick us up and we told him our big plans. We needed a snowfort, to make snow angels, teach us how to throw a snowball. My mum provided the warm clothes and wrapped a woolly, musty scarf around my neck, gave dad explicit instructions that I wasn't to get wet.

The doves sat on the roof of the garage and watched us. We built the world's smallest snow fort. My dad taught us tactical snowball warfare, involving sneaking up on the opponent from behind the shed. The snow was too shallow for snow angels, it wasn't cold enough for the snowman to last. But the magic was there. My mum wrapped me in fleeces and flannel, we turned on the little gas fireplace in the living room. I sat in that old blue chair and the Christmas tree's lights flickered, mellow, in the corner. It was simple, I was warm, I was wrapped in the quilt of a quiet and gentle childhood, the doves were my friends, at night I could watch the stars, my sister lay in the bed beside mine, my parents were in the room next door.

nutmeg and pear|whole grain coconut oil gingerbread cookies - dairy & refined sugar free
nutmeg and pear|whole grain coconut oil gingerbread cookies - dairy & refined sugar free
nutmeg and pear|whole grain coconut oil gingerbread cookies - dairy & refined sugar free
nutmeg and pear|whole grain coconut oil gingerbread cookies - dairy & refined sugar free

After we left England Christmas was never really the same. We started to travel, we were out in the bush over Christmas more often that not, the lights and trees and bells loose their sparkle. But sometimes I'm taken back to that living room, the Tweety blanket over my lap, red Ikea couches. Doves on the swing-set in the garden, the smell of ginger and cinnamon from the little Dutch pepernoten cookies, the refrain of Little Donkey forever engrained somewhere in the back of my mind.

Little Donkey, carry Mary, safely on her way, they said.

nutmeg and pear|whole grain coconut oil gingerbread cookies - dairy & refined sugar free

It was those little pepernoten cookies that inspired my gingerbread. I've never made gingerbread cookies before but I was curious to try because of their bold spices; the flavours of whole grain flours and unrefined sugar would only make them better. And molasses, obviously. I specify this directly in the ingredients list but there are a few options for flours. I'd planned on tried & trusted spelt flour but then some einkorn flour I'd ordered arrived and I couldn't resist. Einkorn in also an unrefined whole grain, similar to spelt it is an ancient relative of wheat (apparently the oldest strain of wheat) but is low in gluten, higher in protein than wheat and is a source of iron and vitamin B, which is quite special for a flour that's very easy to use. It's similar also to kamut, which would work here, but I understand that spelt it easier to find (I know this would not be of interest to everyone, but for other whole-grain obsessives out there). Even easier to find is whole wheat flour, which will probably work too - you may just need to add a couple of teaspoons of water to the dough if it's very dry. I just hope this gives you a way to have homemade & whole grain gingerbread this Christmas. And I want you to have the best holiday season ever. Laugh a lot, eat lots of good food and keep fingers crossed for snow. Big hugs xx

nutmeg and pear|whole grain coconut oil gingerbread cookies - dairy & refined sugar free

Gingerbread cookies, with coconut oil & whole grains

makes 30-50 cookies, depending on size of cookie cutters  //  dairy free

2 1/2 cups (290g) einkorn, kamut, spelt (or whole wheat) flour
2 teaspoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon finely ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup (75g) coconut oil, melted and warm
1/2 cup (120ml) unsulphured molasses*
1/2 cup (85g) coconut sugar/ dark muscavado sugar
1 free range egg

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, spices, baking powder & soda, salt. Set aside.
In a smaller bowl or liquid measuring cup, add the oil and the molasses, whisk till thick and combined. Add the sugar and continue whisking - it should be smooth, if your mix refuses to do this (more likely with coconut sugar) pop it in the microwave for a short burst or over very low heat. Once it's smooth (and cool) whisk in the egg thoroughly.

Pour the wet mix into the dry mix and start to stir. It will be hard work, but resist the temptation to add water! (I did, then it was too wet and I had to mess around with more water, so this is proven). When you're relieved it's finally coming together, ensure it's all combined. Cut two large pieces of plastic wrap and divide the dough between them, shaping into two discs roughly 2 1/2cm (1 inch) thick. Wrap tightly in plastic and refrigerate till firm and cold - at least one hour, or overnight is nice for really complex flavours.

The next day or once fully chilled, remove one piece of dough from the fridge and allow 5 or so minutes to come to room temperature.
Line 2 cookie sheets and preheat the oven to 180'C, 350'C. Adjust two racks to the lower shelves of the oven. 

Lightly flour a flat surface and a rolling pin. Take the dough and gently roll it out, remember that einkorn, spelt etc are much lower in gluten than wheat so the dough will be more fragile. Check that it's not sticking to the surface but don't add too much flour since you don't want to dry out the dough. It should be under a centimetre thick - about 1/4 inch.
If the dough isn't cooperating because it's too stiff and cold, allow it a few minutes to warm up. If it's very sticky, pop it in the fridge for a few minutes.

Once rolled, dip your cookie cutters of choice into some flours and cut away. Place on the baking sheets, they don't spread really, so don't need huge space. 
Re-roll your dough scraps, flour your surface, roll again and repeat with all the dough. You may need to rest the dough in the freezer for a few minutes as you sort the scraps, and you may notice it starts to dry out because of the added flour but it'll go a long way.
Once all the cookies are cut, bake them for 10-12 minutes, till a shade or two darker and firm but not yet crisp, they will crisp as they cool. You may need to do this in batches depending on how many cookies are preparing at a time and how many pans you have.

Allow to cool about 5 minutes on their sheets then transfer to a cooling rack carefully (an offset spatula is useful for this to avoid too many fatal casualties damaging the fragile shapes too badly) 
They'll keep in an airtight container for about 5 days and freeze well.
If you have small kids around (or you're just an icing person) you could make a simple icing/glaze with powdered cane sugar, water and lemon juice and maybe give the caribou some eyes and things.

a few things to note

The number of cookies will depend on the size of your cutters. I used these adorable ones and I had something like 50 cookies, but they're quite small cutters. I'd say around 30 would be expected, it's a big batch but it's the season for sharing (and treats).

I decided to only bake one disc because I knew I'd have a fair few cookies already (25) and fresh gingerbread is kind of unbeatable. If you'd like to do the same, just freeze a tightly wrapped disc and the day before you plan to bake it, allow it to sit in the fridge. Then just continue as normal and you've got fresh gingerbread to order. 

I specify this directly in the ingredients list but there are a few options for flours. I'd planned on tried/ trusted spelt flour but then some einkorn flour I'd ordered arrived and I couldn't resist. Einkorn in also an unrefined whole grain, similar to spelt it is an ancient relative of wheat (apparently the oldest strain of wheat) but is low in gluten, higher in protein than wheat and is a source of iron and vitamin B, which is quite special for a flour that's very easy to use. It's similar also to kamut, which would work here, but I understand that spelt it easier to find (and equally tasty and nutritious) but even easier to find is whole wheat flour, which will probably work too - you may just need to add a couple of teaspoons of water to the dough if it's very dry. I just hope this gives you a way to have homemade & whole grain gingerbread this Christmas. 


PS. I have a really fun mini-post that should come out on Friday. Pup friendly ginger oatmeal cookies, so no family member is left out of the fun this christmas. Keep an eye out for a newsletter! Also I'm leaving for our trip to India tomorrow, so the next post will be scheduled, but I'll be back with something special before Christmas. Gingerbread shall grace the subcontinent and a long haul flight.


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