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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eagerness to heal | maple + pear buckwheat scones

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I actually have no idea how this happened but a couple things of days ago I managed to hit my knee on the side of my bed. It was a really hard hit and oh god my knee was ringing so badly I had to sit down and when I looked at it there was a nice little stream of blood. Rich and red, velvety like errant drops of red wine on the edge of a coaster. Not that much blood, but my knee was open. When was the last time that happened?  I mean I cut myself now and then, on cans of coconut milk and the like but it's been a very, very long time since I last 'grazed' a limb. I was looking at that knee, at the liquidy bubbles, and there were so many other scars. All the knocks and bumps and scrapes. I heal pretty well and pretty fast but I suppose there's always a mark left behind. Knees, ankles, elbows, mostly. I can't even remember where some of them came from, especially on my knees... I remember taking a curve too fast on a scooter once and taking a knee instead. Burns from astro-turf back in the days when I played football and a tackle got too rough. A sketchy rental bicycle in Holland once and a gravelly side of the road and braking suddenly and tarmac and tears. 

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There are dark patches on the back of my heels from blisters, the constant tearing open of soft skin and the body's resilience, its eagerness to heal. From socks slipping in soaking wet shoes and tiny sharp stones from the forest trails, years of winter cross country running, sitting in the warm car finding my feet bloody and raw. As I got older trying out new fancy shoes and running for the bus through the pain and sitting on the upper deck texting and licking my wounds. Elbows that have seen school fields and playgrounds and ski slopes and ice rinks and cobbles and lawn. 

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They're supposed to be just layers of dead skin and cells and scabs and anti-bodies. But there are layers of memories and learning the hard way, proof of a life fully lived. Pain and healing and down time and recovery and monkey bars and rental bikes. I've never had stitches but my dad has a solid line over the knee and they must be... throwbacks, to his teenage days of football and penalties, referees and adrenaline. I have a scar on my hand from plastic casing, opening a new set of barbies. I used that scar when I was very young to tell my right hand from my left; that scar is novelty and creativity and trying not to cry when my parents left me at school. I have three thin lines over my left ankle from friction between the anklets I refuse to take off and a ski boot. Even through the thermal socks I could feel the dull pain at the end of the day, as the slopes emptied out and the bars filled up. Those tiny lines of light skin... sweat, stupidity, plain fun, courage. A throbbing knee and a bloodstain were a strange way for me to be reminded that my life is actually pretty full.  

"Underlined passages, fragments of happiness that traverse the body and raise bridges all around" Nicole Brossard

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Maple syrup, spices, pears... pretty autumnal? Feels much more like it, too, even all the Norfolk farmers have broken out the jackets and wool hats. Doesn't leave much hope for the rest of us, but I digress from scones. I know I've made a bunch of scone recipes before but they're really easy to customize and are nice snacks or maybe breakfast treats with a little honey and almond butter. These are the first time I made scones gluten free and the blend of flours worked really well, they were maybe a little fragile but nothing disastrous and also turned out really light. The buckwheat flavour is subtle but there, I always like it with these kind of spices. Anyways I seemed to have veered miles off my posting schedule but for some reason it's taking me some time to settle back into the school routine of studying and reading textbooks. Seems to get harder ever year... maybe a symptom of having been in the game too long?

Happy fall. Stay warm. xo

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Maple and pear buckwheat scones

makes 12-18 small/medium scones   // gluten free

2 cups (200g) oat flour
1 1/4c(200g) buckwheat flour
1 tablespoon arrowroot powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 tspn baking soda
1/2 tspn salt
1 tspn ground nutmeg
1/2 tspn ground ginger
1 free range egg
2 tablespoons (30g) coconut oil, melted
4T (80ml) pure maple syrup
1c (240ml) plain yogurt of choice
1 ripe pear, diced small 


Preheat the oven to 180'C, 350'F and line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. In a medium bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients.  In another small bowl beat together the egg, oil, maple and yogurt.

Pour the wet mix into the dry mix and stir with a wooden spoon to combine. As the dough begins to come together, fold in the chopped pear. The dough will be thick - once the pear is evenly incorporated, use your hands to gather the dough into a ball.

Lightly flour a work surface and press the dough out into a rectangle. Use a bench scraper or sharp knife to divide the dough into 9 squares, then cut each square on the diagonal so you have 18 triangles, or as you prefer. 

Lay the triangles out on your baking tray; they don't spread much. Bake 15 minutes or so until lightly brown and the top of each scone is firm. Serve as they are or with some honey and nut butter. So so good.

They taste amazing out of the oven but keep well for 5 days in an airtight container in the fridge, or will freeze and defrost well. They actually taste ok half frozen too, I found out. 


scones for every season

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.