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

the hedgerows are playgrounds | strawberry - rhubarb jam scones

I joked to my sister the other day that I should write a post about where we live, north Norfolk. Its little quirks. Do it, my sister said, people will find it interesting. It'll be funny, she told me, and your writing is usually so serious. So here starts a humorous tale about every day life in a small village with a thatched church and fields all around. The antagonists are the tractors. I'll start my story with an anecdote about how I'm often on the one-lane road, headed to the highway and I'll be doing 20 miles because I'm behind a tractor carrying hay on the trailer. It'll be far beyond legal weight limits but hey, this is Norfolk, anything goes. The car in front of me will be a black Range Rover, with a personalized number plate, something like HA1 D3R, and it will be the newest model. The driver will be a woman who is bleached blonde and will attempt to overtake the tractor around one of the hairpin bends. She'll be lucky because the traffic on the other lane is probably held up by a truck transporting a shiny new yacht to one of the marinas on the Broads; the rivers that crisscross the place.  

I'll also write about how we'll be standing on a grassy verge in the village where we live, the leg of my jeans will be soaked from local drainage issues and pressing it against Prune's wet fur to stop her swerving into the road and into the path of another tractor. The tractor will be new and fancy. Farmers do ok here. The roads are already narrow and cars spill out of driveways to park on either side, it'll start to rain, scattered showers, scattered dog walkers. Our house is flanked by forest on one side and a field on the other, where a family keep two horses. I say a family, because we can't really seem to figure out how they're all related, but in north Norfolk villages seem to be made up of a couple of interconnected families. The son (we think he's the son. He could be the brother?) is the local woodcutter with two labradors a bit like ours, a wood pile to rival that of those in northern Utah, and a unimog. When was the last time you saw one of those? He also seemed to have refurbished a Mercedes SUV that his wife likes to drive, off-road style, through the horse fields next door. Maybe it's a way of keeping their two toddlers entertained.

I'll say that the tractors don't stop, the whole year, and the size of their tyres is no joke. I'll recount the time that we were just walking along a genteel country lane, when a pick-up drove out into the middle of a field. We wondered what the driver, a farmer, was doing. He promptly lowered the window of the car, pulled out a rifle and let off a few shots to scare the crows. My heart didn't stop pumping the rest of the day. The car was not further than 25 meters from the road. I'll write as I did before about how people hang pheasants from their rafters, and rabbits from the mirrors of Land Rover Defenders, and about how one of the activities at the local primary school is plucking a pheasant for pheasant pie. My sister had a shock when she walked in to the school one day and found the pile of dead birds by the door. I'll mention that the next village is the winner of RHS Britain in bloom pretty much every year, and that from February onwards as you drive through there are great groups clad in overalls with shovels, preparing the beds and planting seedlings. That the post office is also in that village, owned by a family that everyone knows; it's a local institution. I was standing in line to mail something one day and there was a woman in front of me, collecting a parcel. She was wearing jeans tighter than mine; ankle cropped, with a frayed hem, and fancy Nike hightops, a flowy white blouse and big sunglasses. She was also twice my age (at least) and hugged the man when he served her, then drove off in a white Audi saloon. I tried very hard not to roll my eyes and for my efforts was bumped out of the queue by a man with a bushel of beets in one hand; wearing muddy boots and a deerstalker cap.

But I'll also write about how the kids from the village primary school literally fall out of cars waving to my sister who works there once a week; and little Archie calls from his bedroom window to say hello. There was the time a neighbor came knocking on our door, saying a rooster was in her garden and she was looking for its owner, fearing it would be eaten by a fox. About the elderly farmer with a Norfolk accent so heavy we wonder if he's speaking English (and we doubt he understands us) who stops us to chat and ask about the dogs, then waves from his ancient tractor.  About the bushes that are so heavy with blackberries come late summer the freezer is full the whole year; and the hedgerows that are playgrounds for robins and sparrows.

That there's an older couple with a gentle black Lab who often ask us how our grandparents are doing; they became friends. That in the fall I make applesauce out of apples from our own trees which in spring explode in color, and the roads turn pink from petals. I'll repeat, again, that winter nights are white, that I've never seen more stars in any of the unknown pieces of the wild where I've found myself. That from my bedroom I hear owls call and from in front of a sink filled with dishes I watch a family of blue jays teach their babies to eat from the birdfeeder. That I've seen young pigeons take flight after falling from their nest in a wild Norfolk storm, that the coast around here is one of the rare places that Arctic Terns nest. That someone aptly named it an area of outstanding natural beauty. The silence, early morning and late evening, is so immense it's haunting. That again I'll be standing trying to shelter my face from a biting wind, keeping a dog from under the tyres of a combine harvester, and watching a deer streak across fallow fields, not knowing whether to laugh or cry.  More than anything, I'll be charmed by the beauty in the chaos and the fine layer of red sand that is forever tacked to the bottom of my jeans. 

"And the peace which I always found in the silence and emptiness of the moors filled me utterly" James Herriot, All Creatures Great and Small

Hello there :) Are you seeing an acute case of seasonal fruit fomo in this post? Particularly if I add that I am on an asparagus-for-dinner-bender? It just so happens that I really like strawberries. And rhubarb. And I wait all year for asparagus. Asparagus aside, the former are obviously a classic pairing and since these early season strawberries are not quite the sweetest yet, they work so well in a compote with the sour tang of rhubarb. I call these babies jam scones but they're really just scones with a dollop of compote (which is really easy to make). You can adjust the amount of maple according to the sweetness of your strawbs, using the lesser amount when the berries are really at their sweetest. These scones are not  typical scones - like my other scone recipes, they are more fragile and bread-like than flaky and rich buuuut no need to worry about keeping butter cold or anything like that.  The pastry/scone part is just barely sweet, so feel free to add a fat sprinkle of turbinado before baking and make sure you choose a compote you really like (whether this one or store bought) because that jammy center really sings. The spelt flour makes the pastry mildly nutty, with a little bit of whole-graininess that is so satisfying. They don't really need any shaping or anything, so I hope you try them out this spring :)

Big hugs xx


strawberry - rhubarb jam scones

makes 8 large scones & 2ish cups / 500ml compote

for the strawberry & rhubarb compote (makes one standard mason jar - around 2 cups / 500ml)

450g / 1 pound rhubarb
600g / 1.5 pounds strawberries
1/3 - 1/2 cup (80-120ml) pure maple syrup, depending on preference and your berries
Juice of one large lemon (or around 3 tablespoons natural oj)

for the scones

2 cups (230g) spelt flour, plus a little extra for dusting
1 tablespoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 free range egg
1 tablespoon (20g) honey
2 tablespoons (27g) coconut oil, melted
1/2 cup (120ml) plain yogurt (I used goat yogurt, use what you have)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1/2 cup (8 tablespoons) strawberry and rhubarb jam, or your favourite natural-style jam


// To make the compote

Start by prepping the fruit. Discard the ends of the rhubarb stalks and cut to 2cm / 3/4 inch chunks. Wash and pat dry. Hull your strawberries, curing larger ones in half and leaving smaller ones whole.

Place a large, heavy based pan over medium heat.  Add to it the citrus juice and the washed + diced fruit. Pour the syrup over and stir together with a wooden spoon.

Let the fruit cook for about 20 - 30 minutes over medium-low heat, stirring often and letting it bubble and reduce. Initially it will look VERY watery because the rhubarb is releasing its moisture. Don't be put off, it will suddenly thicken and you'll see the juices really reduce. The time will depend on the juiciness of your berries but look for when the liquid is mostly gone, the fruit it soft and broken down and that it slops off a spoon rather than drizzles (very technical, as ever).

Immediately remove from the heat and pour into a heat safe container. Allow to cool before closing; it will thicken as it cools. Magic. The compote will keep around a week to 10 days in the fridge in an airtight jar.

// for the scones

Preheat the oven to 180'C, 350'F and like a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, salt and baking powder.

In a liquid measuring cup or small bowl, beat together the egg, oil and honey. Whisk in the yogurt and vanilla extract till smooth and pale. 

Draw a little well in your dry ingredients then pour in the wet mix. Stir together gently, but firmly with a wooden spoon. Once the dough becomes to come together (don't overmix), dump it out onto a lightly floured surface and knead to bring it together.

Divide the dough into 8 equal pieces - I used a scale and a bench scraper but you can just eyeball it if you prefer. Shape each piece into a round mound and place evenly spaced on baking sheet.

Dip the back of a  tablespoon measure in flour then press it into the mound of dough to create an indent. Fill the indent with a tablespoon of compote and continue with each scone.

 Bake for 16-19 minutes, till the top of each scone is golden and feels crisp to the touch. Cool on a wire rack, but or enjoy straight from the oven. Cooled and in an airtight container they'll keep well for about 3 days, but will freeze and defrost.

 


similar

a second black muzzle | Goat yogurt + honey tart

We had talked for a long time about getting a second dog to keep Prune company. The new dog couldn't be a puppy because we didn't have the time to dedicate to training, but Prune had come to us as a two year old and her breeder sometimes had other girls who were retiring (early) from competitions. That's how little Suzi came to us just after her third birthday. Dual's Hope Lovely Sue, more commonly known to us as Tiny,  Beanie, Little Bean, Small or Snoozie. Because Sue was just too... not her. Lovely, no doubt, but Sue seemed sensible and orthodox, neither of which she is. She's so full of love for life, playfully spirited, cheerful but sensitive. I have always wanted a puppy - like a real, baby puppy, and she acts so much like one. She still mouths my fingers when she's excited, wags her tail in these really short strokes when she sees you coming and is terrible at bringing the ball back when you throw it. It's hard to believe she's five. How did that happen? How do they grow up so fast?

I feel that I have maybe talked disproportionate amounts about Prune and much less about Tiny. Which is something I worry I do quite often.  But she's really found herself a special place in my heart, one way or another. Suzi girl really started life in our family as my sister's dog, I don't know why, but she adopted Layla and became her little pal. Suzi was not in such good shape when she came to us, perhaps being in a multi-dog household hadn't suited her, and she had retreated deep into a shell. Like the earliest of the spring flowers that tentatively bloom, and shrivel back into their buds as the frost hits. But she did settle in. She struggled to understand some things that Prune had grasped really quickly - that it was no big deal when we wiped their paws after walks, that they could sleep anywhere they wanted, that there is always fun food and toys on offer. Suzi just wanted to sleep in her crate, seemed confused to be offered snacks and hated (ok she's not over this one yet) us touching her paws. Slowly things improved, she trusted us, she'd ask for snacks, she'd take a slice of bread outside and lie in the sun with it in her mouth. She has a darling habit of crossing her paws when she lies down and keeping her glossy head held proudly high.  A charming way of nuzzling my legs with a cold nose when I'm wearing gym shorts, an endearing quirk in the how she sneaks under the table and pops her head out when we laugh. When she first arrived she wouldn't even come to us when we held out a hand for her to sniff, and now who manages to curl up in a ball, all 30 kilos of her flopped on my lap when she's in the back seat of the car? Yeah, a fully grown Labrador who thinks she's the size of a Jack Russell. That's my Suzi bean, in a nutshell. 

Before Suzi came I asked myself if I could ever love another dog as much as I loved Prune. With the same, crazy intensity, that meant her happiness was my own. Prune seemed to, figuratively at least, take up all the space in my heart. At first I thought that was that. But it seems like there are more cracks and gaps to hearts than I thought before. Which makes sense, considering all the downs a person goes through. Lots to patch up. It's hard to explain but it's probably a feeling to which parents can relate when a second child is born. Suzi bean came to us for Prune, as a companion for her, and has become so much more. Frosting on the cupcake, a missing piece of a very chaotic puzzle. She took her time to figure out life as a family dog but I can't imagine rides in the car without a second black muzzle peering over the seat and mornings without the sharp slide of her clumsy paws as she stretches.
Happy birthday, my girl. We're crazy about you and I can't believe how far you've come. 

"If I told you a flower blooms in a dark room, would you trust it?"
Kendrick Lamar ft. Drake, Poetic Justice 

I made this tart with Tiny in mind. She must be my dog because she usually adores yogurt, she always the licks the lid of our yogurt pots. What, your dogs don't do that? Anyway a while ago I started buying goat's milk yogurt after reading that the structure of the protein molecules in goat's dairy is such that it's easier to digest. Yogurt was never such an issue but I see a huge difference with goat's milk versus cow's milk... granted, it's not available everywhere, so it's your call.  Either way the bonus is that goat yogurt is easier for pups to digest too. Apparently New Yorkers make goat's milk popsicles for their dogs in summer... so I'm actually not totally alone on this one. You can of course use regular yogurt, and Greek yogurt would probably strain really well. If you're looking to make this dairy free I think that coconut yogurt would be a bit weird here but I've seen this almond milk yogurt making the rounds, if you can find it, it's definitely worth a shot. The filling is based around labneh - strained yogurt that started out in the Middle East but is pretty mainstream now. It's thicker so holds up well, but if you're looking for a super clean cut, freeze the tart for a few hours before you want to serve, and let the tart sit out a bit before slicing. 

Last thing to mention: I used sunflower seeds because they're 100% ok for dogs (most nuts are ok, though macadamias are actually poisonous, as are any rancid nuts) but you can switch in the same amount of any other nut or seed. Same for the oats actually, you can use more nuts if you'd rather. Have fun with it. Eat a slice for breakfast.
Hoping you have a lovely end to your week xx

Ps. I'm not wearing a bathrobe in the photos, the sweater is just fuzzier in real life than it looked online. Just fyi.


Goat yogurt + honey tart

gluten free     //  makes one 6inch/15cm tart, easily doubled for an 8/9 inch tart

For the strained yogurt/labneh

450g / 15oz full fat goat yogurt (or other yogurt ofc)
1/2 teaspoon salt
(you'll also need a fine mesh sieve and a cheesecloth/muslin/thin piece of material)

For the tart

// crust

1/2 cup (50g) rolled oats, gf if necessary
1/2 cup (70g) sunflower seeds (or other nut/seed)
2 tablespoons (30ml) coconut oil, melted
1 tablespoon honey
1-2 tablespoons water, as needed

//filling

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger (optional)
2-3 tablespoons (40-60g) honey, to taste
labneh from 450g yogurt (a bit here or there won't affect the outcome)


//To prepare the yogurt

At least 24 hours before you'd like to make your tart, line a fine mesh sieve with a few pieces of muslin/cheesecloth or a fine sheet of material. Place the sieve over a high sided bowl - it will look like the bowl is way too big, but the height keeps the sieve up.

Stir the salt through your yogurt (it will taste salty if you taste it, that's ok) and then dump all the yogurt into the cheesecloth in the sieve. Cover with a large plate and set in the fridge for at least 24 hours*

When your yogurt is strained, you can spoon it out of the cheesecloth and continue with the recipe or refrigerate it for a few days. The liquid that collects at the bottom of the bowl is whey; you can discard it or (apparently, I've never tried) use it in any baking.

// For the tart

Grease and line a 6 inch/15cm round springform pan (with removable base/sides) with coconut oil. If doubling the recipe, use an 8 inch/20cm pan.

Warm a large pan over medium-high heat and add the oats and seeds/nuts, stirring them around till they are darker in color and smell nutty + fragrant. This should take 5-7 minutes. Slide off the pan, onto a plate to cool.

While the crust things cool you can prepare the filling. Retrieve your strained yogurt from either the cheesecloth or container (if you made it in advance) and add to a medium bowl with the cinnamon and honey. Stir it around so all ingredients are well combined and it's creamy.

Add the cooled oats and nuts/seeds to a food processor and pulse till a coarse meal forms. You can either add the oil, honey and water to the food processor or if your machine is very basic (like mine ha), tip the ground seeds and oats into another bowl and add the oil, honey and water. The dough should come together when you squeeze it.

Pour all the crust things into your prepared pan and spread it into an even layer along the base, using your hands to pack it flat. You can then cover it with your filling, again aiming for some kind of an even layer (an offset spatula is helpful).

You're pretty much done. Let the tart sit in the fridge to set for 24 hours minimum, or more would work too. Depending on how thick your yogurt was after straining, you should be able to release the sides (gently) and slice it with a clean sharp knife. If it's particularly soft, you can freeze if for a bit and it will firm up, but it might turn into a yogurt-frozen cake rather than a frozen-yogurt cake.

In the fridge the tart will keep for about 5 days, again you could freeze it but it may come out a little icy. If sharing with a dog, that's probably not such a problem.

Notes

* You can make the labneh in advance; once it's strained just keep it in an airtight container in the fridge. If you strain it for more than 24ish hours, it will get suuuuper thick, enough so that you can scoop it into chunks to put in salads, like mozzarella / burrata balls. In case you were interested.

the thief that stole our hearts

the cold embrace | buckwheat rolls with blackberry, rosemary & apple - honey compote

buckwheat blackberry rosemary rolls 3-1.jpg

Winter has had Norfolk wrapped in its cold embrace this week. The village is quiet. The farmers in their pick ups have pulled wool hats low over their ears, the local tree cutter wears a tattered khaki fleece and the school kids are in their bright blue sweaters, like confetti as they run along the frozen sidewalks. The few dog walkers who are out wear hoods and scarves, any piece of skin exposed bitten by the easterly wind off the sea and echoing through the empty countryside.

It’s the empty fields and the windswept beaches that bring the place to life in the summer. It brings them here – the tourists. In cars packed to the roof with beach chairs and spades, pulling caravans and pitching tents, lighting barbecues and laughing, playing music till late. There’s traffic on every country lane, when we go shopping, we leave the house at 8am and don’t hope to be back before noon. It’s lively. The whole place buzzes with…happy chaos. New dogs to encounter on walks, the locals keep theirs on leads and wearily cross the road. Six months of long days, hope of heatwaves, beach days, the long sunshine hours giving so much. But the nights draw in, and the tourists leave. Maybe that’s why people say that winter is cruel, its grasp seems to take the life out of a place.

The squawking flocks of tourists are slowly replaced by hundreds of migratory birds. You hear the birds before you see them, in a field in the distance, circling like a low hanging dark cloud. Sometimes they fly so low overhead you can hear each wing beat, feel the warmth of their feathery bodies, admire their unity. The dogs too will turn their heads skywards, ears pricked, dew on each shiny nose from the frosty grass. They’ll listen to the other retrievers barking somewhere in the valley, busy on a hunt. The peace will be broken by stereotypically staccato rifle fire, the geese will lift off and fly, pheasants will fall. When we walk through the village, the limp bodies of the birds hang from the beams and rafters of garages and wood sheds, their rich red and green plumes still clinging onto their sheen. Ah, winter. There you go again, robbing life.

We only meet two other walkers. The usual tweed-jacketed and cheerful, Aigle-booted man, his stern wife and his wolfhounds, emerging eerily out of the frozen fog. We wait on the verge for the big, harmless dogs to pass and watch the chubby blackbirds skit about under bare hedgerows, picking at the red holly. Listen to the church bells ringing in the next village, no tractors ploughing the fallow fields, no caravans trundling through, no tourists asking for directions. After the walk and the girls are dry, curled up in two balls, I stand against the radiator and feel the burning heat on my back. Ran my fingers under the tap to get the life back into them. They’re dry and chapped from holding the dogs’ lead in the biting wind, my face is pale, my eyes used to a dim grey light and the sun setting by 4pm.

And still I’m a winter person. That cold embrace. Lots of people love the winter, perhaps up till Christmas. It’s a complicated, delicate personality that runs further than December. Further than pale skin and hunting season. It’s haunting and humbling. There’s quiet reflection. There’s life. The bird feeder on the cherry tree is in constant chaos, the robin and the little yellow birds darting in and out, swallows swooping low as the dogs chase a sheltering pheasant out of sight. The fields are empty enough to watch hares racing and deer jumping, the sky gray enough to match the doves cooing from the roof. It’s cold enough to throw a colourful quilt over my all-white bed, a shock to these weary eyes. The winter skies are clear enough to be lit by a thousand stars, it’s dark long enough to see them. When the dogs have been out first thing in the morning, they bring into the warm house a gust of bitter air, their fur is cold and their eyes smile from running on the frosty ground. You go outside and the cold burns your lungs when you laugh, it singes the wet tears off your cheeks. It reminds you that this is living, that you have lungs to burn and warm cheeks to singe.

The geese take off and fill the empty skies, going further south, perfect unison. From the wooded thicket, rifle shots fill the deafening silence. In the distance, the earliest of the year’s lambs bleats. Winter, hovering somewhere between taking and giving life.

So it’s been super cold here lately, but we don’t really get that much deep freeze in these parts so I don’t really mind. Especially when I have a box of these rolls in the house. They’re surprisingly simple to make, especially considering the compote can be made up to 2 weeks in advance! Because I like whole grains etc I usually go for spelt flour, since for being so grainy it still bakes up quite light, soft and mild, but I wanted something a bit bolder and slightly bitter, so I added a small amount of buckwheat flour. Not overpowering, but the taste is just enough to add another layer of flavour to the heady rosemary, tart fruits and floral honey. And in terms of rolls, don’t fear the yeast, this recipe is pretty much fool proof (no pun intended). In the recipe notes I link to my cardamom wreath recipe which has lots of details on proofing etc. You can of course also replace the home made compote with Store bought but just try to choose one without too many junky ingredients (I used to love Bonne Maman or St. Dalfour), but you might just want to add a little more rosemary and ginger to the dough for the fragrant, complex flavour that they give. As a side note, I have been having trouble with my domain and hosting services for the blog so I’m going to be switching providers and moving away from WordPress. This means the site may be down for a couple of days at the end of this week, but I’ll be back and hopefully things will be running smoother!
Stay warm, bake bread and have a good week xx


BUCKWHEAT SWEET ROLLS W/ BLACKBERRY, ROSEMARY & APPLE – HONEY COMPOTE

These rustic honey sweetened rolls are made with a combination of mild, supple spelt flour and earthy, slightly bitter buckwheat flour. The fragrant and complex flavour of rosemary and blackberries with Apple in the simple, spiced compote are a perfect, jammy filling. Try one straight out of the oven if you can, or heat leftovers and enjoy throughout the week.
 

//makes 9-12 rolls & about 2 1/2 cups (400ml) compote


//For the compote

1 large apple, whatever you can find where you are (about 150g)
Juice and zest of 2 lemons
8 cups (volume-wise, 2L) blackberries, fresh or frozen
2-4 sprigs fresh rosemary, to taste
2/3 cup (200g) honey
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon fresh ginger, finely grated

//for the buckwheat sweet rolls

To proof the yeast

2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 tablespoon honey
Pinch salt
1/4 cup (60ml) warm* water
2 1/4 cup (260g) spelt flour
3/4 cup (95g) buckwheat flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary leaves, chopped finely
2/3 cup (160ml) lukewarm milk (dairy or almond milk would both be good)
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon (15ml) melted and lukewarm coconut oil (or butter, I should think)

// for the compote

Into a large, heavy bottomed pot, add the lemon juice and zest.

Core the apple and chop finely, leaving the peal which helps with setting. Add the Apple to the pot with the spices and the berries. Mix so the fruit is covered with the lemon and spices, then pour over the honey and stir to coat.

Place the pot on high heat and let the mix boil enthusiastically for about 10 minutes. The fruits should be looking pretty wet and bubbly, especially if you’re using frozen berries. Reduce the heat to a simmer and leave the compote to reduce, stirring occasionally so nothing sticks to the bottom.

There will be a layer of foam as it bubbles quickly, but no need to skim since the dark color it creates works here well.

After about 20 minutes of bubbly simmering, start keeping an eye for consistency. This is less precise than jam so don’t worry about freezing plates or thermometers etc. You want it to be fairly thick and not too liquid – there may be some juicy liquid pooling at the sides, but when you take some of the compote out on a spoon it should largely hold shape. It will also thicken up as it cools and goes into a cool container. Give it 5 minutes more, simmering, if it looks like it needs to be thicker, especially for frozen berries.

As soon as the compote is done, pour it into a heat safe container like a glass measuring jug. Allow to cool, then pour into a clean glass jar and refrigerate; it will set further. The lemon helps preserving so it will keep about 2 weeks in the fridge.  Reserve a bit for the buns.

// for the rolls

Start by proofing the yeast. Take a small bowl and 1/4 cup/ 60ml body warm water- if you have a kitchen thermometer it should register 42-45’C (110-115’F), if you don’t, just add 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon boiling hot water to 2 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons cold water. Stir in the honey, a pinch of salt and gently stir in the yeast. Set aside for 10-15 minutes, it varies from brand to brand.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk together the buckwheat and spelt flours with the salt and spices. You can also very gently heat your coconut oil and milk together (too hot or too cold and it’ll

kill the poor yeast) then stir through the honey. Set aside. Grease a large bowl with oil and set aside.

After 10-15 minutes, if the yeast has bloomed and covered the surface of the water, you’re all set (see this page for troubleshooting). Add the yeast mix and the milk mix to the dry ingredients and gently stir together with a wooden spoon to combine. It will take some time but should come together, in a soft but firm dough. If it is too dry, add a tiny teaspoon of lukewarm milk at a time, likewise with the flour if it’s too wet.

Once it’s a handleable but sticky dough, lightly flour your work surface and dump out the bowl. Knead the dough for five minutes, till it’s supple.

Fold the dough into a rough ball and place into the oiled bowl. Cover loosely with a cloth and leave somewhere warm to proof (in an oven on the lowest setting, just outside a warm oven, in a cozy laundry room or something) for 1 1/2 to 2 hours. The dough should be double in bulk, the time will vary depending on the temperature of your house so keep an eye on it (see notes here for some help)

While you wait, you can grease a pan for baking – an 8x8inch square or 9×9 inch square will work for 9 larger rolls, a 9×13 inch pan for 12 minis. Your call. Line it with parchment paper for easily removal and find your compote (or make it now!!)

After the first rise, punch down the dough (literally punch it, to knock out the air a bit) and lightly flour a work surface once more. Knead the dough till just flexible, 2 minutes. Roll the dough into an oval/rectangle about 40cm long and 30cm wide. Keep an eye it’s not sticking.

Dollop the compote into the middle of the rectangle and spread evenly towards the corners, leaving about 2cm / short of an inch at the edges. Roll the dough from the long side, so you have a long log.

You can trim the edges of your dough where there isn’t enough jam (discard or

Keep for snacking). Use a pair of kitchen scissors to cut the dough into 9 even pieces (or 12 if using a bigger pan) and place them into prepared pan, with a little gap between. Cover with the towel and leave for a shorter second rise, 30 minutes or so till they’re puffy and likely touching each other.

Bake for about 30-35 minutes. They don’t turn particularly dark or golden so just give them a squeeze; the outside should be crisp but the inside still a bit soft.

They’ll keep for about 3 days in the fridge buuut just eat one or two out of the oven because the jam is warm and the bread is soft and yum. You might like to warm them before eating if you’re keeping them for a bit.

Notes

I made a bit of a hash of the sizes of my rolls, I was planning on doing 9 in an 8×8 square pan but accidently cut 12. My dogs were lying in front of the cupboard with my baking tins so I just did the 9 in the 8 inch pan then baked a couple more in a ramekin, so feel free to do whatever you like. Jumbo rolls maaay need a few minutes more in the oven


more winter recipes