I can’t quite believe I am writing this, my Dad has been terminally ill for over a year now, quite some feat in itself, I never would have thought I’d write this blog post. Last year I explained my dilemma to anyone who was reading, my Dad had a birthday coming up but didn’t want for anything. All Dad has ever wanted for his birthday is ‘three well behaved children’, so last year he got a tray of double chocolate brownies and I held a Macmillan Coffee Morning to raise some money for Macmillan.
This year, all bored of being well behaved and not around for The World’s Biggest Coffee Morning I have made a more conventional choice for a birthday pressie. My Dad served in the Navy and loves travel and has many tales about his time around the world so I’ve bought him a beautiful book, Atlas of Remote Islands: Fifty Islands I have not visited and never will by Judith Schalansky. I’m delighted with it, it is an atlas of remote and lonely places; the product description on Amazon says it better than I can:
Judith Schalansky lures us across all the oceans of the world to fifty remote islands – from St Kilda to Easter Island and from Tristan da Cunha to Disappointment Island – and proves that some of the most memorable journeys can be taken by armchair travellers.
The other thing I’m hoping to do is use Dad’s birthday as a chance to get some support for a mobile app I’ve put forward in the Department of Health #mapsandapps campaign. The app suggested is Picture Prompts, in my head it’s a directory of simple drawings and diagrams that can be shared with patients, carers and staff when explaining anatomy, procedures and treatment. You can read more about my thinking behind this app – essentially I think it would have helped a lot when Dad received his diagnosis of cholangiocarcinoma (bile duct cancer) and I’m sure there would be many other uses for it.
The way the campaign works, an idea needs votes to push it up the table – I’ll be honest with you, this is a little faffy and requires people to create an account (should only take one email) *but* that five minutes of your life, could make all the difference to someone else’s quality of life, if this app was ever developed.
So please, do go give it the thumbs up. Thanks.
I’ve spent this weekend at a wedding in Suffolk and had the chance to watch a craftswoman at work! Betty had offered to make her cousin and his wife their wedding cake as their wedding gift. They were delighted to accept and had a particular idea about what they wanted – three tiers of chocolate cake covered in white chocolate cigarellos and white roses. You can see the end result below:
How much do you think that cake is worth? Go on, what you reckon? £100? £200? £300? £400? Annoyingly I’m not going to give you the answer – mostly because I don’t know. Depending on where you live, and the quality of ingredients you’d like used, that cake could easily cost you anything between £200-500.
A few years ago I made my little sister’s wedding cake – she’s got modest tastes (not) and wanted four tiers. The bottom tier was fruit cake, followed by double chocolate cake, victoria sandwich and topped with lemon drizzle cake. Her husband is in the Army and she met him at Army Cadet Summer Camp (she was an adult instructor – nothing dodgy) hence the camouflage ribbon and little hearts. You can see it here:
What I can tell you is that the ingredients alone cost over £150 – I’m not a professional and don’t have access to suppliers for the things you need, so the ingredients were all from Sainsburys – yes I could have got them in Tesco or Lidl but it was a one off and my sister at that, so money was no object. So the ingredients alone – cake, marzipan, icing, dowels, cake boxes, ribbon, cake tin hire for the HUGE fruit cake – were over £150. Cost in the time, gas and stress and that cake was easily worth double that I’d say. Not to mention the number of times I did a dry run of all but the fruit cake.
The thing is when people get quotes for wedding cakes they nearly always think they’re extortionate – and to be honest I think I’d always sniff at a couple hundred quid and feel it was daylight robbery, after all anyone can bake a cake right. Well not so actually. The baking is only the first step, then there’s the icing, and the decorating, and the transporting, and the stacking, and the finishing. It really is much more complicated than you think. All of this is time consuming like you wouldn’t consider.
None of this even starts to consider the stress. The responsibility of making the centrepiece for someone else’s special day, takes a lot of the fun out of it. Watching Betty cutting, icing, stacking and decorating the wedding cake this weekend reminded me of just how stressful it is. Never again. Seriously. I did offer to help Betty out with her own cake (she’s getting married in three weeks) but she declined – and I am *so* relieved. Betty, in her real life, is a paramedic, so she’s trained to cope with stress and work under pressure – she is definitely more adept at it than I am.
My final thought is that the value of a friend or relative making your wedding cake is something that you can’t actually buy or put a cost on – it’s love, it really is a *massive* labour of love. So if you’re getting married any time soon, and someone offers to bake your wedding cake for you, please do accept, but accept graciously and spare a thought for the effort, time, cost and love that goes into it.
It’ll taste all the better once you appreciate the love that has gone into it.
The lovely @hadleybeeman was asking today if I had a gluten free chocolate brownie recipe. The truth is I don’t, but, I have adapted the Hummingbird Bakery recipe that features in their awesome Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook on three occasions – none of them came out perfectly, but they were all completely edible; let’ be honest with this much chocolate you can’t go wrong
200gm dark chocolate
175gm unsalted butter
325gm caster sugar
**130gm plain flour**
icing sugar, to decorate
a 33 x 23 x 5cm baking tray, lined with greaseproof paper
Preheat the oven to Gas Mark 3 (170C/325F)
Smash the chocolate against the worktop to break it up (very therapeutic) – put chocolate and butter in a bowl over a saucepan of simmering water (usual caution about not letting bowl touch the water but I have to confess that I’m way too impatient for that so I always make sure it is in the water, just not touching the bottom of the pan)! Leave until melted and smooth.
Take off the heat. Add the sugar and stir it all together. Then add flour** and stir until well mixed. Lightly beat the eggs and stir them into the mix until thick and smooth.
Pour/spoon into baking tray and bake in preheated oven for about half an hour – the idea is to get brownies that are soft in middle and flaky on top. I have cooked these loads of times and nearly always leave them in for too long! I check after 30mins, get concerned that the mix is still a little wobbly looking, bottle it and put them back in for five mins….only to end up with overdone brownies with crispy edges – which are still beautifully edible but not as nice as they should be.
Leave to cool before decorating with icing sugar. Serve with clotted cream, ice cream, yoghurt if you insist on pretending to be healthy, on their own. I’ve never had anyone complain about these!
**Gluten free alternatives**
As I said I’ve made these three times for those pesky people who don’t do gluten One of the times I did a straight swop for almonds, so instead of the flour just 130gm ground almonds; one of the times I replaced with a mix of half almonds and half rice flour; and one time I just used gluten free flour from Doves Farm.
IMO none of these substitutes work as well….but they were all still very edible and very yummy.
This week the ever resourceful @dalekdoctor spotted this and sent me a link to the Edge Brownie Pan – I have yet to indulge in a purchase but if I do I’ll let you know how I get on – it makes perfect sense to me as a solution for the is it raw…damn it’s crusty challenge I regularly seem to face.
Need an excuse?
Just in case you are one of those strange, restrained types who needs an excuse to get baking – don’t forget it’s @macmillancoffee today and let’s face it, we shouldn’t need a special day to eat cake or raise cash for them – they’re worth it anyday, so get baking
The other week I sat down to watch The Bucket List, I didn’t really know much about it, except that it was a comedy and that Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson starred in it. In a nutshell, for anyone who hasn’t seen it, it’s about two terminally ill cancer patients and their quest to achieve a number of things on their to-do list before they die. It’s a little cheesy, it’s easy watching, there’s a moral (kinda), you can probably take as much or as little out of it as you like. The tag lines of the film probably tell you all you need to know:
When he closed his eyes, his heart was opened
You only live once, so why not die with style?
If you’ve not seen it I’d recommend it.
Except it left me thinking. A lot. Regular readers (all two of you ), will be aware that my dad has terminal cancer, cholangiocarcinoma (you’d think after three years I wouldn’t need to double check how to spell that bloody word but no such luck). At his last appointment he decided not to have chemo for now (it was only likely to give him extra months not years) and to just carry on as normal – whatever normal is. The irony of the situation is that my dad is, or at least looks, fit and well; you wouldn’t know he was ill, indeed if it wasn’t for the routine scan earlier this summer I’m not sure we’d have been giving it a second thought. Dad was given three months to live, three years ago this week; he has surpassed all the odds already.
Last week was his birthday. What do you get a man who is dying for his birthday? Getting my dad a birthday present is an epic task at the best of times. He’s almost Buddhist in his approach to life and possessions – nothing is permanent so why want for anything? The only answer my dad has ever been consistent with when asked what he wants for his birthday – or for Christmas – or any other occasion is three well behaved children. We’re not too bad, us three, and we’re all adults now – so hopefully that need is met. So, true to form, what did I get him – I got him nothing, I baked instead. Double chocolate brownies for my pa on his 63rd birthday.
Which loops full circle to the point of this post – having just watched the Great British Bake Off on BBC2 I’ve decided that I’ll be baking tomorrow night for the World’s Biggest Coffee Morning on Friday. It’s not too late – you can still register to raise incredibly valuable funds for Macmillan Cancer Support. Trust me, Macmillan do really make the difference between a good and a bad day and just £25 could pay for a Macmillan Nurse for an hour; to be blunt that hour could change someone’s life.
You can help Macmillan continue their fantastic work – and you get to eat cake; what more could you ask for?
Photo by Mooganic
I love Wales and I love Welsh people. Earlier today I got a text off one of my Welshmates and even reading it made me smile because I can’t read a text from Jo without imagining her saying it – and I can’t imagine her voice without smiling; that shiny happy Welsh lilt
For me the great thing about Wales is the Welsh people. Sure there are one or two idiots, but most countries have a few of them. I am a bit biased, after all I lived in Wales for a quarter of my life and some awesome times were had there – I’ve watched some of my best rugby in Wales, and the most heartbreaking moment when Munster lost to Leicester in the Heineken Cup Final 2002 and the ref appeared to have gone to sleep when Neil Back was cheating…anyway I should be over that by now; I’ve graduated from Cardiff University – twice; I’ve assaulted my liver and enjoyed it every step of the way; I’ve celebrated birthdays, babies, weddings and civil partnerships; I’ve spent hours of my life volunteering, studying and working there – hell I even ran a B&B in Brecon for two weeks once! I’ve loved and lost and learnt a lot and on the whole have nothing but respect for the fabulous Welsh people who made it such a pleasure to live in their country.
So what made me waffle on with this diatribe…well I saw a BBC news story about a thanksgiving service that had been held in Kent to thank the people of Wales who took in refugee children during World War 2. One of the organisers recalled the generosity of the people of Blaenavon who took them in and it reminded me of my grandad’s story. He was based in Wales for training during the war and he often talks of the generosity of the Welsh people who donated him eggs from their farms for his wedding cake.
So there’s a long history of the Welsh being generous and noble – that’s got to be worth celebrating I’ll end with the words of John Lockyer, one of the evacuees. I may have been in Wales through choice not necessity but the generosity and welcome is one I recognised instantly.
“Comforting voices and outstretched hands gave us a sense of hope and security which those of us who survive will never forget….The love I was shown during that time has given me a deep affinity with Wales”
Rwy’n caru Cymru
My Gran is the best cook on the planet…it’s official, it’s not up for grabs, there’s no doubt, she is the bestest. She’s had years of practice as she has been baking since she was a child and she’s 90 now. She still cooks dinner for her and my grandad every day – well it’s a team effort really, he preps and cooks the veg, she does whatever else they’re having, he jokes that he’s the oldest sous chef in the street…which of course he is
My Gran loves tradition, routines and habits…she has made biscuits every Easter I can remember. I’m not sure about the history of easter biscuits or what makes them ‘eastery’ but I suspect it’s because they are made with all butter, easter being a celebration and all that. I have tried loads of different recipes for easter biscuits over the years, I’ve done them with currants and without, with lemon and without, with butter and with marg, with different flours and sugars and they are never, ever as nice as my Gran’s.
Last year I asked my Gran for her recipe….and she wouldn’t give it to me! I really don’t know why, it’s not like her at all, but she wouldn’t budge on it. I asked my mum to try and get it but she had no luck either; so my sister gave it a go – nope, no luck. It was so gutting because my Gran’s biscuits are the absolute best. This year I was in luck; today when I visited my grandfolks not only did I have two easter biscuits waiting for me (and two easter buns – we love an excuse to bake in our family) but my Gran had her recipe book ready and waiting.
When I looked at the recipe and asked Gran what her secret was….she proceeded to tell me all the things she left out the recipe, used instead and added in. She wrote her version out for me, on some cardboard from a box of tea (my grandfolks were into recycling way before it was chic) and I have it on my sofa next to me. I’ll treasure that recipe forever, all the more for waiting for it and for my Gran giving it to me. I’m not sharing it with you guys, it’s too special, but I’ll share the recipe it’s based on…taken from the Radiation Cookery Book. Enjoy.