While you were sleeping...
I’ve become a whiz at one-handed activities. Hanging out washing, deadheading dahlias, cleaning teeth and even some simple meals. And my feet have come in to their own too with dexterous toes picking up wet wipes, toys gone astray and the odd rusk tossed overboard.
When settling down for an evening feed I’ve got the remote, phone, drink and chocolate at the ready on my free handed side. My thumb muscles have become overly defined so I can trawl social media and play Dots whilst the little one snoozes. I’m slowly adjusting to my ‘new normal’ and although it still seems like glorious witchcraft that I’ve got a child, it’s an incredible gift which has addled my brain as well as prodding parts of it awake. One area I’ve struggled to adjust with is keeping up with my writing. I always imagine myself sitting at my desk, two handed with laptop, notebook, Radio 4 in the background and a clear mind. These days it’s more like sofa, laptop annoyingly out of reach, Homes Under the Hammer and a brain fogged with love, angst and confusion. Today it dawned on me that the only way to get my recipes and ramblings down is to do it the same way I do most things. So here’s to the beginning of my one handed blog writing, typed with an oddly muscular thumb on my phone in Notes, whilst Esme snoozes on me.
After a week of solo parenting an irritable baby with a rash and ear ache who wouldn’t be put down, I had the luxury of a second pair of hands for the day. Not only did this mean I could emerge from the shower without the heavy guilt of a crying baby to greet me, but I could go out for a walk on my own. Recently my walks are designed for one thing and that is to get Esme to sleep. No stopping to smell flowers, pick up conkers or talk to cows. It’s head down, dodging pot holes, avoiding people in their garden reaching for the lawnmower or who might want to strike up a friendly conversation ( who knew you could be so irrationally angry at anyone jeopardising your babies nap?!) For the past few weeks I’ve whizzed past hedgerows bursting with berries, turning my daydreams to tarts, cordials, jams and other homely treats that I can’t gather and create for risk of waking Esme. So yesterday I toddled out with my Tupperware pot and plucked my way round the hedgerows of Holt collecting plump blackberries and the last of the elderberries. I get this thing when I've been picking blackberries where I shut my eyes at night and see lines of hedgerows with glinting berries, almost like they are seared on to my retina. Does anyone else get this?
At one point a pang of guilt tinged my foraging fingers for how good I felt having time to myself to bimble about and be a bit more me again. Does anyone else get that? I love my little girl no end but by gum you really do need to leave yourself by the back door and get on with mothering pretty much all the time! Nevertheless it abated and I came home to a freshly bathed, grinning girl with her Dad reading her ‘Where’s Spot?’ and I popped into the kitchen to wash my blackberries.
And with this spare time, instead of tackling the washing up, putting my ever expanding pile of clothes away or catching up on sleep, I made a cake. I sort of threw this beauty together in haste, filled the tin far too much which resulted in that attractive 'cake poo' which plops on to the bottom of the oven and gently tinges future dishes with the smell of burnt until you remember to clean it off. I've made the adjustments though and wanted to share the recipe with you as it was dead tasty, extremely easy and stayed spongy and moist for ages. It's gluten free, dairy free and a bit lower on sugar and it's not suffered from being a free from jobby. I've used my favourite eggs from New Macdonald's Farm who I'll be blabbering on about in a future blog as they have lush eggs, happy chickens and Matt and Lou are rather groovy people too.
175g non dairy fat, softened - I had sunflower spread in the fridge but you could use coconut oil
125g fairtrade caster sugar/date syrup
3 medium eggs
150g GF self raising flour
25g cocoa powder
1/2 tsp baking powder
75ml non dairy milk
handful of blackberries
1 nectarine, sliced
Heat oven to 160C/140C fan/gas 3. Grease and line a 2lb/900g loaf tin with a long strip of baking parchment or use some of those cases to save on time. To make the loaf cake batter, beat all the ingredients except for blackberry and nectarine in a bowl until smooth and well combined (about a minute or so) and scrap in to your tin. Top with the blackberries and sliced nectarine and bake on the middle shelf for 45-50 mins until risen and a skewer poked in the centre comes out clean.
I’ve just tried Esme on the blackberries and she loved them. It was a strip her naked and lay towels on the floor sort of affair but it was worth it to see her enjoying natures bounty. I reckon she’d enjoy it mixed through her porridge or stewed with apple. You could make a big batch and store in the freezer in ice cube trays. And what about blackberry and banana pancakes? My Fussy Eater has a good recipe here if you’d like to give it a go.
The modest amount of elderberries along with a few sloes have been mixed in with a bottle of cheap gin which will be left in a Kilner jar until Christmas when it will be strained and supped, the boozy berries then being added back in to a rich gravy. It’s so simple and you can play around with this recipe depending on what you can get your hands on. How about adding a cardamom pod or star anise? As a basic recipe I use this one from Great British Chefs then you can have a fiddle.
I’m planning another blackberry raid when I’ll take a larger tub as I plan to freeze a load to use for my autumn supper club on 27th September at The Farm Camp just outside Bradford-on-Avon. I’ll be creating a proper magical veggie feast with carafes of wine, fairy lights, a fireside crackle, all under cover in the woods. Perhaps I’ll make little custard tarts with them. Or a semifreddo with pistachio and black sesame. Do you fancy coming for this evening? Oh go then, you can buy your tickets here.
A few handfuls will be saved to pop straight in to my face and some to make a rather jazzy blackberry vinegar, again with ingredients based on this recipe from Great British Chefs. I added a few caraway and coriander seeds to mine to see if that worked and it did. If I get time I’ll make some Belgian buns with berries, orange and loads of spices. Perhaps even an upside down cake. I’ve got an overexcited apple tree in the gardening threatening to boff me on the noggin every time I walk under it and apple and blackberries go wonderfully together.
I’m not sure if we will get that Indian summer I heard whispers of last week and there’s a distinct air of back to school lingering in the morning mists. The simple way to quash that sinking sad feeling is to embrace everything that is awesome about this time of year and for me there is so much. Natures got a tonne of free stuff for us in trees and bushes and there's a new crackle in the air muddled with the smell of wood smoke, a certain 70s hue to the trees and the sound of bees zipping about to bundle up the last of the pollen. Yes the days are shorter and nippier but this allows for candle light and knitwear. We've all got our simple pleasures to embrace and hopefully these will get us through.