It was our dad who picked us up from Heathrow the other day after our trip. He was waiting in arrivals, a smiling face in the crowd. Two weeks ago he'd been there himself. His homecoming. In three days he would be back. His departure. It's odd, in families like ours, where people keep coming and going. In families which are absence and reunion. We flow like rivers. Rivers run dry, it's a reaction to absence. Slowly, rain trickles down and the level picks up. The currents move you along as usual. There's a reunion and your river is full.
You learn to pick it up where you left off. Changing seasons, hair cuts, height. The same jokes, the same fights, the same people. Absence. Maybe it taught me things. You learn to appreciate someone's presence - waking up in the morning and knowing everyone is home. Small things. Seeing the coffee cup on the sideboard and knowing that someone's already awake and pottering around. Getting back from a cold, wet walk with the dogs and finding the lights on, fresh towels hanging in the hallway and knowing that someone is home. If people were around all the time, wouldn't I grow complacent? I know I do, because in the short periods that dad's work has been more from home, I just sort of get... meh, too used to it in a way. I wonder what it's like for those who have grandparents living in the same town; or where normality is having all your people under the same roof, a dad who works the 9 to 5 at an office. It's just not - not a concept to me, for some of us jobs are in other places, there are dusty port cities all over the world, nucleated families who are together but apart. The absence puts the every day, the ebb and flow, into perspective. Time seems to tumble down a waterfall. From above, from the outside, it seems to be barely moving. But deep in the swell, when you're swept up in the currents, things go fast. There are whirlpools of thoughts, everyday events that you only recollect when the spinning has stopped and you're on the other side, sitting on the banks with everyone and you're looking back and thinking "I can't believe that much time has passed". Because the truth is that it will rain. And your river will rise. And you don't notice it rising because you're in the water and totally taken along by the flow.
The last time dad was visiting I was still practicing for my driving test. This time, last week, I drove him to our local train station with a full license. The sky was smooth and slick, cool, monochrome gray, like tiles in a Kinfolk kitchen. The radio raved about the 4cm snow expected overnight and worse ice. Howling wind through the ribs of trees over the Broadland marshes, the landscape in muted green and brown, fields fallow and hedgerows bare. Dad and I stood on the platform, the wind eating through our clothing, looking over the tracks into the distance. A long straight path. We talked, just like normal, as if we were like the three other passengers. Just off to the city for the afternoon. Not that my dad had three trains and two planes and twenty four hours of travel ahead of him. Alone. But we talked, about trains and wood working and the London Underground, as dads and daughters do on drafty rail platforms in January. The train arrived on time. "Go", my dad said to me as he moved towards the carriage. The little station was eerily quiet. Down a country track, in the middle of the Broads, a part of that muted landscape. There was an old rickety bridge, the rail house needed painting, there were a few arbitrary tracks leading to it from the fields. I wanted to wait. To watch him and the train leave. But he didn't like to see me stand there. He wanted to see me go home. Always his little girl. That was absence, somewhere he'd missed me swim out of the shallows and into the channel. "Go now" he said again. Our rivers, running dry. By tomorrow they'd start filling again.
I went. Over the wooden bridge and his train left. I turned back to watch it, from the bridge, I waved to him and waved to the retreating train as it cut through the murky browns and greens.
My car was one of the few parked in the pebbled lot, nestled in the brambles and the naked branches. I sat for a few minutes, door locked, and listened to a blackbird, remembering all the boring day to day questions I'd forgotten to ask my dad. Never mind, I thought, there's next time, and next time, it will be spring, our rivers will be full.
So here's a lemon blueberry loaf. And a funny story about how this was the first gluten free recipe I wrote myself, and how I miscalculated and forgot a cup of flour, but it still turned out ok, albeit after three days in the oven. What I'm trying to say is that if you'd like to start baking gluten free, this loaf is ahem very forgiving and you can't go wrong because I've remembered the cup of flour. I'm calling it the 'house loaf' because I think it's the most requested recipe of mine, and I know it may seem slightly odd to pair lemon and blueberry but it's seriously so addictive. A zesty, sunny shock of citrus from the lemon and a bright sweetness from blueberries. Not to mention the vitamin C and anti-oxidants that winter loves to sap. This loaf has a very light crumb with all the yogurt and is not overly sweet, more of a breakfast or snack loaf. To keep it simple I generally do a 1-1 rice flour oat flour mix, but I see more people concerned about trace levels of arsenic in brown rice - if that's you, I've tried a new option, it's in the recipe notes. Either way, I really hope you try this. The comfy sweater of loaf cakes. Sending lots of winter brightness your way. Happy weekend xx
Lemon - blueberry loaf
// gluten free + dairy free option // makes 1 9x5 inch loaf
1 cup (100g) oat flour, certified gf if necessary
1 (120g) cup brown rice flour OR 1/2 cup (60g) brown rice flour and 1/2 cup (60g) millet flour *
2 tablespoons flax meal
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup (150g) light muscavado sugar or coconut sugar
Zest of one lemon
1/4 cup (60ml) melted coconut oil
2 free range eggs
1 cup (240ml) plain yogurt (I used goat yogurt, use non-dairy or regular as you wish)
1/4 cup (60ml) freshly squeezed lemon juice (this was 1 1/2 medium lemons for me)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup (150g) blueberries, fresh or frozen (frozen will make the batter a bit blue, but I find that so pretty)
Preheat the oven to 175’C / 350’F and line a 9×5 inch loaf pan.
In a large bowl combine the flours, flax meal, baking powder and soda, salt. Add the cup of blueberries and toss them through so well coated in flour – this stops them sinking to the bottom. Set aside.
In another large bowl, combine the coconut oil, two eggs, sugar and lemon zest. With a whisk, beat together till smooth and dark brown. Add the vanilla and 1/4cup (60ml) lemon juice with the yogurt and beat again till smooth and pale. It always reminds me of thin tahini at this point, probably a personal thing.
Add the wet mix to the dry mix and use a flexible spatula to combine till moist and even. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake till the top is cracked and golden-brown and a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean – probably about 1hr-1hr 5 minutes.
Allow the cake to cool in the tin for about 15 minutes then allow it to cool completely on a wire rack before slicing.
Being gluten free and fairly light, it will be a bit fragile but if you would like neat slices, wrap the cake in foil for a bit and refrigerate and then cut.
The cake will keep, in an airtight container in the fridge for about 5 days but freezes and defrosts very well.
*There are some concerns about trace levels of arsenic in brown rice. I’ve done some research into this and found that in the UK and EU, imports of rice are very closely regulated and surveyed for arsenic. There are strict standards and that seems to make brown rice products sold through UK/EU companies very much food safe because the sources are regulated . I buy my brown rice flour from a British brand. I don’t know in the US, though, how much regulation there is and I understand the concerns came out of the US initially. Either way, I know this can be off-putting if you don’t know the sources of your flour, so I’ve tried cutting the rice flour with millet flour . For the first time tested the recipe with half the quantity (1/2 cup or 60g) millet flour which acts very similarly in baking, and it worked just as well. So you have another option if you don’t want to go with all brown rice flour, though I wouldn’t recommend going above a 1/2 cup millet flour because it can be slightly bitter and also a bit pale yellow, which works ok here for the sunshine effect but it may become too much. Hope that helps.
nutmeg and pear favourites