#Domoreofwhatmakesyouhappy

One of my friends bought me this journal two years ago.  Turns out that the title has more significance for me, than I initially expected.

I thought there was an abrupt sea change in my blog, because I jumped from telling you about my hot season funk to the delightfully delicious best hot cross buns I’d baked in Phnom Penh and then offered a poem about love rejected.  Perhaps you thought that was for the best.  But it has been grating on me because it reads like I suddenly got all better again, when that is far from the truth.  Of course there was the year long gap of blank nothing…

So, this blog post is about how I’ve been putting one foot in front of the other, in restoring my mental well-being.  Quite literally in fact, because running is one of the things that I took up again to make myself happy.

First, I recorded in my journal my hot season depression and the thoughts I had begun to believe about myself or had resurfaced, so that one day when I was better I could go back to it and unpick what I’d thought into truth and lies.

Secondly, I was reminded of a verse in the Bible which says, ‘whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things’¹.  In light of this, I made up my mind to go back to doing the things that make me happy.   Read cookery books, bake, cook up new recipes, exercise, write, sit out on my balcony, look out for faces in places, have a facial…

But believe me, when it’s 44°C (or even 36°C) and you’re a 10kg heavier than what you’d like to be, it’s hard to do any of those things.

Who wants to put the oven on and make the room even hotter than it is?

Anyone want to go swimming when the water is warm enough to bathe in?

Nobody wants to go outside and run, specially in a culture where running outdoors in not the norm.

It’s so easy, isn’t it, to slump back into the same negative thought patterns, to think that change and recovery will never come about.  Refusing to believe I was stuck in the rut of depression in those first few months in July and August was such an effort.  I cut out as much refined sugar that I could live without.  No more khmer coffee with condensed milk for me.  I mean I’m a baker, so I wasn’t ever going to cut it out completely if I could help it.  But instead of baking sweet things, I baked and started selling my seeded wholemeal loaf.  I convinced myself to shell out a bit more on ingredients that I liked and cooking with and tried out a new recipe every week.  It took a wee while longer to get into a rhythm of exercising.  Eventually, I asked exercise buddy, Miri to help me by arranging to run or bike with her at certain days during the week.  It kept me accountable.  And I did something that I hadn’t done in over 15 years.  I got on the weighing scales every week to motivate myself to keep at it.

I also began to be deliberate about posting #domoreofwhatmakesyouhappy.  Willing myself to do all those things in the heat.  The more I did them, the more I realised that I needed to keep on doing things to keep me happy.  And changing my routine so that I could do them in relative cool of the morning to the scorching heat of the midday sun or the sticky mugginess in the evenings, just made sense.

As a young history student, specialising in the social and cultural history of the British Empire, I had researched the hill stations in India and judged those colonials for escaping to those cooler climes.²  Oh the joke was on me now.  Obviously I had never lived in a hot climate before!  My sympathy and empathy extended in historical retrospect.  Then I realised that I was also allowed to escape to cooler climes.  My nearest and dearest were not going to judge me for escaping the suffocating heat of hot season to the bracing, brisk breeze of the British Isle, to restore my well-being.  Consequently, in January, I made plans for a UK break and also to receive some professional help to sift through the fact and fiction.

It wasn’t until I lived through hot season again this year, I was able to see that I had done it.  I was okay.  In fact, more than okay.  As hot season approached, I realised that I was happy and thriving.  Yes, there was baggage still to unload. Back in the UK, I would have what felt like open-heart surgery to remove and heal what had caused so much pain and was affecting me.  But all that mental and physical discipline, putting one foot in front another, was paying off.  The Han-Na that went back to the UK, was excited about running a half-marathon in Phnom Penh and reflecting on the two things that she really liked about hot season and she was going to miss whilst back in the UK:

  • There is no distinction between khmers and foreigners in that we all feel that it is too HOT.
  • No mosquitoes.  It’s too hot, even for them!

¹Philippians 4:8 ESV translation
²Dane Kennedy’s, The Magic Mountains: Hill Stations and the British Raj provides an overview of the role of hill stations in the British Raj.

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I ran it! The Phnom Penh half marathon, 21km complete.

And for fun, I’ve included an instagram feed (if it works) of what people are posting about #domoreofwhatmakesyouhappy.

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Thursday, 3pm

Screenshot 2016-04-26 13.03.14Last year, the writing group that I’m part of asked for submissions for a Sputnik creative project, ‘What is it to be Human’.  I submitted this for inclusion into their anthology of short stories and poems and it was accepted.  You can buy the whole creative pack here or download the e-book for free, if you want.

I deliberately left it a year before posting this poem.  When honesty shakes up a friendship, some things are better left carefully tucked away to rest so that the friendship can recover and forge forward in a new way.  And then, at some point, when it’s healthy, I think these moments can be shared.

I remember that I found writing this therapeutic and surprisingly making myself write it in iambic pentameter was helpful: the discipline required in da DUM da DUM da DUM, forced me to take the time to work through each painful moment for what it was.  Normally I lack the patience to do that, but I convinced myself that this was an one-off – much like the conversation below!  As one of my friends remarked after the event, “It’s not like you’re planning to have these kinds of conversations on a daily basis!”

Indeed not!

But how necessary, it was.  And how my heart soared free, thereafter.

THURSDAY, 3PM.

They say that the heart is purely muscle
Beating, pumping, pushing blood through highways
of capillaries and veins. Coursing life
into every member of the body.
It has four chambers. The two small ones are
called atria and the larger ones are
ventricles. The aortic valve is
what controls the flow of blood out of the
left ventricle to the aorta
(the body’s main artery). I learned all
of this in biology. So, how then –
as I’m sitting opposite you, waiting
for my drink to arrive. “Carrot shake, please” –
Does it know to pump doubly hard, rush blood
upwards to my face. Cause my palms to sweat,
hands tremble so I have to sit on them.

Somehow, it has guessed it’s impending fate.
Ah, here’s the drink. “Thank you.” Sip. Swallow.
Breath. Out. In. Steady. I need slow, sure words.
This is a delicate operation.
It will require all my skill to cut
out my heart, in one piece, adeptly
manoeuvre it from the ribbed darkroom where
feelings develop. Reveal my heart to
you so that you understand. And I don’t
have to repeat this ordeal again.
Ever! “I like you, a lot.” Words spill out,
clattering across the table like
loose change, stunning you. Eyes widen. Dumbstruck,
Your swift ripostes rendered suddenly mute.
My eyes hold yours steady and assure you,
I’m serious. Your lips make to move, but
you stop and try to work and rework out
what to say and how. I know your answer
already. I want to tell you that. And
as you laugh in nervousness. I join in.

Hello, remember me?

I disappeared from food blogger cyberspace again, didn’t I.

I’m sorry.

A few years ago I did the same thing  and wrote about when I went missing in action.  However, that was only for a few months.  This time, it’s been over a year.   I’ve been drafting and redrafting this post ever since I listened to  Adele’s comeback single, Hello, it’s me back in December, and was inspired to get back into blogging again.  And therefore, if this post creaks a bit and the flow isn’t quite there, please understand and allow me a bit of time to adjust back into writing.

At the start of last year, one of my friends shared a picture of how this would be a year when I go deeper with God, richer like when you boil beef for a long time to make a rich broth that is delicious.

The beginning: beef rib bones to make a stock

I didn’t realise that this richness would come out of a (relatively) short season of depression, rejection, various relationship mishaps, misunderstandings, and self-loathing as I gained almost 10kg and couldn’t motivate myself to do anything.  This coincided with an extended hot season in Cambodia which exaggerated all the ugly parts of me.  Believe me, nobody tries harder than I do, to assassinate my own self-esteem and point out all my character deficiencies.  In that hot season, I felt like I was boiling in every sense.  Physically, emotionally, spiritually, and as a result, all the ucky scum of my nature was coming up to the surface.¹  You know like when you make a good stock.  *wink, wink*  It was an act of grace, someone chasing me up to hand in an essay that was long overdue, that helped snap me out of my funk.

It’s taken a few months of being honest, refusing to indulge in the negative thought patterns, eating well, exercising regularly and laughing A LOT to get my equilibrium back.  In the recovery, I’d choose to laugh and laugh SO hard that it felt restorative and that the joy would continue, past that evening and carry on into the next morning, and even the following week.

beef stock
The finished product: rich beef stock

So, I guess it makes sense that I tell you about a recipe that involves making a rich beef broth!  Except I won’t in this post.  Funnily enough, I made one recently with beef rib bones for Tteokguk, a.k.a Korean New Year Rice Cake Soup while I was in the middle of writing this post.  (The photos are from that time, which may give you an indication of how long this post has been lurking in the drafts folder.)  There was a lot of simmering, skimming of the scum and the resulting stock was indeed rich, but a bit too rich for me for tteokguk.  I’ll hone the tteokguk recipe a bit more before I write it up.  So, instead of a recipe, I’ll leave you with an excerpt from one of my favourite authors, Isobel Kuhn:

¹On the ship on the way to China, a veteran missionary was meeting with the new girls going over, and one day she said, “Girls, when you get to China, all the scum of your nature will rise to the top.” Isobel was shocked. Scum? Was that not a strong word? All of us were nice girls, were we not? Scum? A bit extravagant surely. And so I was totally unprepared for the revolt of the flesh which was waiting for me on China’s shores. The day was to come when on my knees in the Lord’s presence I had to say: ‘Lord, scum is the only word to describe me.’”  – Isobel Kuhn, In the Arena

Korean New Year Meal with friends
Enjoying Tteokguk with friends at Korean New Year 2016

Lemon Polenta Cake and the Last Time that I will…

cake for breakfast
Continuing the tradition of cake for breakfast

Each time, someone comes to visit me from the UK, I ask them to bring me over some lemons.  At 75 cents each here, they’re a much dearer ingredient than their equally delicious greener counterpart, the lime.  This time, I think that my sister brought me over a kilo of them; a much better suited present than the kilo of homegrown beetroot she once left in my fridge.  So now, I have a treasure trove of lots of lemony lemons living in the bottom of my fridge.

lemons, lemons
And so, I’ve begun to work through my favourite lemon recipes.  Last weekend, I came across this one, from 2013.  Don’t be put off by the name.  It’s actually a really simple cake to make and makes an elegant dessert.  When I mentioned it to Caroline, my housemate, she decided that lemon polenta cake was her preferred dessert over Kampot Pepper Brownies.  Actually, that Saturday evening, she declared that it to be her favourite of all my cakes that she’s ever eaten.

I wasn’t so sure.  I wanted rather a lot more tartness, than the original recipe was giving me.  So, I changed the syrup to a drizzle, reducing the amount of sugar and replacing the icing sugar with caster sugar.  The second time round, the lemony tartness complemented the sweetness of the cake beautifully.lemon polenta cake 1

So, let me set the scene, if you are reading this blog for the first time.  It’s June 2013. I’m preparing to leave one life behind and begin a new one in Cambodia.  I’ve just finished working my last week as a Skills Programme Coordinator at the University of Warwick and in the midst of packing up my Redfern flat.  I’m too busy to notice the misery and grief that will soon engulf me.  Thus, I have a much more pragmatic and much less miserable outlook to goodbyes than in this later post.

The last time that I will:

  • Have a tutor meeting
  • Wash my mug at work
  • Walk out the doors in University House as a Student Careers and Skills employee
  • Teach a Warwick Skills Workshop
  • Bake in my redfern kitchen

These last two weeks have been full of ‘last times’. I’ve been trying to acknowledge each one as they come round. It’s not a fully indulgent, let’s sit down and have a cry over them. I don’t really go for that kind of sentimentality. More of a passing nod to say – I saw you and I noticed.ingredients for lemon polenta cake

I realised that you know the last thing I’ve baked in each of my kitchens every time that I’ve moved. I think that I’ve chronicled each move with a recipe.  The countless hours of mundane wrapping and packing into boxes, only made bearable by thoughts of food.  Haha…  Reminisce with me. There was the lemon and ginger cheesecake when I left Cryfield. Then I was up til the wee hours making pots of bramble jelly when I moved out of Heronbank. I made a valiant attempt at using up my bananas and created whiskey, chocolate and banana cake when I moved out of the Subwarden flat in Cryfield 3, which I affectionately refer to as my rabbit warren years. Finally, I have to to move out of Redfern and I baked lemon polenta cake.

lemon zest for lemon polenta cakeprepare the dry ingredients

I’ve done better with each move. David worries less and less about whether I’ll get everything packed up in time for the removal men.

This time I packed away my baking equipment and books the Sunday I finished work; a week before the moving deadline and the day before my CELTA course is due to start.

Which leaves me sitting forlornly at my kitchen table, reminiscing about the huge amounts of baking I’ve done in this kitchen. I don’t know when I’ll be baking again in the next 4 weeks during my CELTA course and I feel bereft.

unbaked lemon polenta cake
baked lemon polenta cake
 

Lemon Polenta cake, adapted from Nigella

Ingredients

  • 200g unsalted butter
  • 200g golden caster sugar
  • 200g ground almonds
  • 100g polenta (try to find the finest)
  • 1½tsp baking powder – if you want it to be gluten free then use the gluten free variety.
  • 3 eggs
  • a pinch of salt
  • zest of 2 lemons

Lemon Drizzle:

  • Juice of 2 lemons
  • 75g golden caster sugar

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C, 350 °F, Gas Mark 4. Grease and line a 23cm springform round cake tin.

2. In one bowl, measure out the ground almonds, polenta and baking powder and give them a stir.

3. In another bowl, add the butter, sugar, salt and lemon zest.  Cream them together, preferably with an electric mixer or a stand mixer, for a couple of minutes until the mixture changes colour and becomes light.

4. Add in an egg and mix.  Then add a third of the dry ingredients from step no.2  All the time, keep on mixing.  Alternate between adding an egg and dry ingredients.  Nigella notes that you can make this cake entirely gluten-free if you don’t have gluten-free baking powder by beating all the ingredients really hard at that this point.

5. Splodge the mixture into the prepared cake tin and smooth it out with a spatula or a knife.

6. Bake in the oven for 40 minutes.

7. Meanwhile, make the lemon drizzle.  Measure out the sugar in a bowl and then add the juice of two lemons.  Stir together until the sugar dissolves in the lemon juice.

8. The cake is baked when it’s coming away from the edges, firm on top but still rather pale colour on top.  Prick holes to allow the drizzle to seep through.  As you can see, a toothpick can look rather unsightly.  But who cares, when it’s this delicious.  Pour the prepared lemon drizzle over the top of the cake.  Leave to cool as long as you can bear in the cake tin before eating it.

squeeze lemons for lemon drizzle

And I have to say – it’s even more delicious the morning after, when the lemons and almonds have had a bit more time to get to know each other and the flavours have melded together.

lemon polenta cake 2

Gasping

Talk about ghosts of the past. I found this poem biding it’s time in my drafts folder while I was looking for a creative piece of writing. It’s for an anthology that Catalyst are putting together this year. The anthology looks like an exciting creative project.

Can I share a secret with you?  I’m a wee bit nervous about posting this poem.  See, I’ve posted some poems in past. However, this is the first posting of any very personal poetry that I’ve written.  And I’ve gone and written one about love, of all things!

Well, this poem is unpolished. It’s raw. It’s unsophisticated.  I tidied it up a bit when I reread it.  And yet, I think I want to keep it in this form. I keep being reminded of how much I love poetry for being a medium to express emotion in such an honest way.  When I read it now, it takes me right back to the moment when I wrote it. I was trying to work through some issues *laughter* – there’s an understatement – of an unrequited love and an unresolved relationship.

Perhaps, you’ll empathise a little with the pain too.

Gasping

Time has rewritten the history of you.
You are no longer the hand that squeezed my heart
And gripped it, tight.

In fact, my face turned blue
And I felt nothing, for 5 years
I felt nothing. Comatose.

How did I describe it before?
Ah yes. Like I was frozen.
Not all of me.

Just that part of me that falls in love,
And notices the little cobwebs that grow around one’s eyes.
I wanted it to be
someone else’s eyes.

How can I explain it?
Like my heart had been put on hold. A pause button
You pressed.
No, I had let you press
When I couldn’t let go of that idea of us.

Get it?
Pretty good effort from an asphyxiated girl.

Reprieve came with your questions.
Those shock pads that you jollily jumped me with.

(See. You had claim to my frozen heart.
But my lungs were mine and had just been sucked of dreams.
Gasping. That’s when you shocked me.)

It’s summer and there’s somebody else.
He may not fancy me.
But I don’t care. My heart is free from you.

We’re crossing paths again. And,
Suddenly, you’ve become this figure in my future.
And in 30 days when we meet

I want to be “just friends”.
I need to dismantle “us”.
I wish I knew how this poem ends.
I want to know how this poem ends.

Time had written you out of my heart.
But I’ve found the ghost of you lurking and

I don’t how to –

Keep the cold out.

Making mincemeat of khmer (and two suet free mincemeat recipes)

Ha! If only.  It’s more like I’m butchering the language, particularly since I’ve been away from Cambodia for almost 3 weeks.  But, indulge me in my choice of slightly obscure title.  When I came up with it before Christmas, it seemed like the perfect lead into giving you an update on my language learning and include a Christmas mincemeat recipe, or two, at the same time.  Then my NZ holiday scuppered the timings, ever so slightly…

Mincemeat v.1

Well, 3 months into learning khmer and my efforts have been paying off to varying degrees of success.  It’s nice to get comments from people who kindly tell me that I speak khmer well, or that I know a lot. I realise that we are generally our worst critics when we are learning language, but honestly, their feedback couldn’t feel further from the truth.  I make a lot of Khmers laugh at how I trip over words, mix up words that sound similar (think bye and bike), struggle with the pronunciation of peculiar sounds that are foreign to the english and korean tongue.  To illustrate the kinds of mistakes that I’ve made, look below:

mürl (10 000) and mürn (to watch)
toe’it (small) and doe’it (similar/like)
ban cha’oo (Vietnamese pancake) and ban ???? I still don’t know what it is that I say.  But when I say it, it’s a swear word apparently. Can you imagine how nervous I am about asking for one from a seller?

It’s not just the laughs that make language learning so enjoyable. I think that I’ve said before how I’m really enjoying learning this very literal language. The other day, I learnt that the khmer for the colour burgundy is poah chreuk chee’um. The literal translation is ‘the colour of pig’s blood’; not quite as majestic sounding as burgundy, the word we use to describe a regal red colour!

IMG_3713

More recently, my improved language skills has meant that more and more Khmers feel able to have a ‘proper’ conversation with me.  Unfortunately, I only understand 50% of what they are saying!  So, I have to make up the rest of what they have said because I don’t want to break the flow of the conversation.  As you can imagine, this could lead to all sorts of misunderstandings.   I think that the real problem is with me not wanting to lose face.  I’ve been doing this in korean for such a long time that it’s become some sort of default setting in me.  In korean, we call this pretending, 아는척 – ah-neun-chug.  

Some people are much braver than me and stop to clarify meaning.  I’m going to have to adopt some of their bravery to force myself out of this habit.  You’ll have to imagine my big sigh, just now, in this realisation and resolution.

tart, tart, granny apples in the absence of cooking apples

Nevertheless, even with all my bad behaviour and language, the Friday before Christmas, I sat an exam, passed and graduated from the Survival Khmer language course. Hurrah! So, I celebrated by getting on a plane and going on holiday to New Zealand for a few weeks! Yeah 🙂 because that’ll really consolidate my language learning!

The all important lime zest and lime juice!

But my time here isn’t all about language learning is it?  I bake a lot too.  Simon had asked me to make some Christmas refreshments and baking for the church’s Christmas service.  So, I made two versions of mincemeat based on the availability of ingredients I found, or lack thereof!  Andrew gave me this recipe and normally I make this recipe with sultanas, currants, citrus peel and most importantly fresh cranberries. But my efforts to locate any cranberries, fresh, dried or frozen, in Phnom Penh have yet to bear fruit. Pun unintended. 😛  Even with the deviation from the original recipe, these mincemeat recipes were a hit and I was asked for the recipe – particularly for version 2.

Throw all the ingredients into the bowl

And that was my astonishing discovery whilst recipe testing.  The vast majority of Khmers like mincemeat, even amongst children.  Of my Khmer taste testers,  I found that only 1 in 20 didn’t like how it tasted.  Is that the same in the UK too?  Have I been long under the wrong impression that 50% of UK population don’t like mincemeat?

Or is it, just that this is just one of the tastiest mincemeat recipes out there?  Lol.  I’ll let you decide in due course.

Mix it all together

I don’t use suet in these recipes.  Instead, I use grated apple to give moisture and bulk.  The advantages of this approach are that you don’t have to cook it and you can use it immediately.  Taste-wise, I think that it’s superb.  It’s fresh from the apples (it’s even better with the cranberries) and zingy from the limes.  The only spice I added was nutmeg.  The nutmeg I used was ground already and thus, I used more than I expected.  Using freshly, grated nutmeg will have a much stronger flavour so add to taste.  You could always add cinnamon, cloves or a hint of ginger.  In future versions, I would like to add some alcohol of a sort, like rum or brandy.  This time, however, I had a budget to stick to.

Jar of mincemeat

Ingredients for Mincemeat v.1
Makes about 650-700g

2 green apples, grated (preferably cooking apples, but any tart green apple will do)
150g seedless raisins
250g mixed dried fruit – the pack I found had glacé cherries, raisins and citrus peel
75g roughly chopped blanched almonds
60g dark brown sugar or muscovado sugar also works.  I used light brown sugar because that’s what I had then added 2 tbsp of dark brown sugar later for flavour.  If I made this again, I’d only use dark brown sugar.
Zest and juice of 1 or 2 limes, depending on their size
2 tbsp orange marmalade or 50g of chopped candied citrus peel
Ground nutmeg to taste – I added 1tbsp in the end but do add it 1 tsp at a time

Ingredients for Mincemeat v.2
Makes about 650-700g

2 green apples, grated (preferably cooking apples, but any tart green apple will do)
150g seedless raisins
150g mixed dried cambodian fruit – pineapple, papaya and mango
75g roughly chopped blanched almonds
50g sunflower seeds
60g dark brown sugar or muscovado sugar also works
Zest and juice of 1 or 2 limes, depending on size
2 tbsp orange marmalade
Ground nutmeg to taste – I added 1tbsp in the end but do add it 1 tsp at a time

Method
Mix all the ingredients together in a large bowl.  You can use it straightaway or store in sterilised jars in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.

Happy helpers learning how to make mince pies
Happy helpers learning how to make mince pies

My 21 baking essentials

My boxes are currently winging their way over to me in Cambodia.  I am so excited about being reunited with them.  It’s been two months! I keep clicking on the ‘track your shipment’ link, like an excited child counting down the days until Christmas.  I’m looking forward to being able to hang up my artwork, rifle through my CELTA notes and of course, reacquaint myself with my cookery books.

But most of all, I’m excited about using my Microplane zester and dough scraper again.

track my shipment

Do you know, it’s weird reading facebook status updates of the first frost, gingerbread lattes and the Good Food Show – all of which I associate with Christmas – when it is 30°C and humid outside.  I never really liked the run-up to Christmas with all the commercialisation and hype.  Especially, when shops started selling Christmas decorations in October!!!  Ask my family and friends – I was more Mrs. Bah-Humbug than Mrs Santa Claus.  So, I like it that I’m kind of removed from it all in Cambodia; it still feels weird.  A signal of how life and time is moving on for my friends in the UK, while I feel like I’m still in summer.

Anyway, back to zesters and dough scrapers – why all the excitement about them?

During my two month moniversary street food dinner, Simon asked me what I was most looking forward to having again from my boxes.  Without a moment’s hesitation, I replied, ‘my Microplane zester.’  It takes zest off oranges, lemons, limes… so effortlessly.  My previous zester had me almost reduced to tears because it would get so slippery with the moisture from the peel but without producing any zest!  So, when my brother bought this zester for me for my 30th birthday present, I was thrilled.  Every time I use it, I think of him and how much I love him for buying it for me.

You see, I’ve been wanting to make all sorts of things with pomelo since I first ate it in Cambodia.  Cakes, curds, puddings… but I feel like I can’t until I have my Microplane zester.  Pomelo is a citrus fruit, by the way, for those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about.  I’d never seen, heard or tasted one until I moved out here. Now, I can’t go a week without eating one.

And then there’s bread.  The marble work surfaces here cry out for some proper dough slapping, folding and kneading.  But, I need my trusty red dough scraper for that task.  I am also dying for some wholesome wholemeal loaves and can I find any in Phnom Penh?

There are other things that I am really looking forward to seeing and using again.  While I was listing them in my mind, I realised that it was fast becoming a list of my baking equipment essentials.

And just so we’re clear – I don’t get commission from Microplane, nor is this a product placement ad.

  1. Microplane zester
  2. Dough scraper
  3. Piping bags and nozzles
  4. Rolling pin
  5. Pastry cutters for making shortbread and tarts
  6. An assortment of cake tins – but definitely a 23cm spring form tin and 2x 20cm cake tin
  7. Various Baking trays – definitely have a square deep baking tray (metal or stoneware) and a high sided baking tray in my collection for making roulades, swiss rolls, opera cakes…
  8. Large plastic bowl for making bread
  9. 12 hole tart pan
  10. 2x 6 hole muffin tin
  11. Pastry brushes
  12. Metal sieves
  13. Measuring jugs
  14. Loaf tin – 1.5lb-2lb size
  15. Flexible spatulas – small and large sizes
  16. Pampered chef measuring spoons
  17. Pyrex bowls – small, medium, large
  18. Electronic kitchen scales.  I’d already packed them with me.  I figured that my scales have always made baking a much happier experience and I’d have a more contented existence with them.
  19. Oven thermometer – my current oven has no temperature markings on it at all, so it’s currently all guess work.

Lastly, I’d include:

20. Electric hand mixer.  My £6 Sainsbury’s basic mixer served me well for years before I left the UK.  However, I foolishly gave it away before I left because I thought that it would be easy to source one in Cambodia.  I haven’t spotted one yet.

And because it’s me.  I guess, my final final baking essential is a stool: so that I can get things from cupboards without precariously clambering onto kitchen surfaces.

Short girl in the kitchen

Glamping and Saying Goodbye


applewood orchard
A few weeks before I left for Cambodia, one of my friends, Helen, organised a glamping weekend away with me and some friends as one of my leaving do’s and very wittily called it my Han-do. Nine of us girlies ‘glamped’ in beautiful bell tents in this beautiful orchard in Worcester.  Everything was set up for us when we arrived: tents, beds, cutlery, plates… They provided wood for campfires and charcoal of a BBQ. It was a brilliant set up and I loved the glamping experience.  We could just walk in and enjoy it. We played games, tried geo-caching for the first time, built camp-fires (some more successfully than others), spent an evening praying for each other, drank wine, caught up with each other’s lives and a few of us even braved the bracing temperatures of Droitwich Lido. I remember thinking what lovely friends I had, how we all got on so well with each other and that the activities were exactly the sort that I enjoy.

glamping: tea light lanternsglamping: bell tents
No surprises there as the whole weekend was for me!

At the beginning of the weekend, Sarah (of the Kenwood lending kindness) and I remarked to each other on how much we had been looking forward to the Han-do, until it had dawned on both of us separately that the whole weekend was happening because I was leaving. That made us both sad.

windfall apples

So, helpfully, or unhelpfully (I don’t know) I said to everyone at the start, that I was looking forward to the weekend but was sad because I knew it was because I was leaving for Cambodia. So perhaps we could sort of ignore that the tiny fact that I was leaving and focus on having fun and enjoying each other’s company. It made the whole weekend much less miserable for me.

Oh gosh, leaving!  How was that?

  • ‘Miserable’ is how I described myself to friends, family and colleagues in the 2 months leading up to my departure date.
  • ‘Unbearable’ to quote my mother, is how she later described me, in the lead up to our Berlin, Dresden and Prague holiday when I was tired from the CELTA course, packing, sorting and to top it all off had PMT.
  • I’d also add ‘selfish’, ‘out of character’ and ‘acting up’ to the mix.  When I saw poorly children acting up, I suddenly realised that I was behaving in the same way.

I knew that I was going through some sort of grieving process and that the intense sadness I felt was completely normal; it was still a difficult thing for me and those around me to go through. Some days, all I could do was pray, “God, help me, help me, help me…”  It’s not just the emotions; the never-ending todo list of moving my life across continents resulted in me developing atopic eczema because of the stress. I’ve moved countries, cities, houses many times before, but this time beat it hands down.

‘They’ (those experts in moving across cultures and countries) say that it makes for a better transition if you say farewell to people, places and things.  Imagine daily saying goodbye for the 3 months to such and it may help you to understand my misery.

IMG_3057
saying goodbye to Haribo (my car) and selling him onto my sister

Nor was it wasn’t an entirely joyless period of time.  Many people and things made me laugh.  I also deliberately did things that make me happy and/or take me out of myself.  My top 3:

  1. Playing with young children and babies
  2. Swimming
  3. Baking

When there were 2 weeks looming before my departure date and I was still miserable, I wondered whether Simon and Becci were going to receive a joyless wretch.  But then, God turned it around with 10 days to go.

Oh gosh, writing about my experience of leaving has rather taken over this blog post.  The glamping in the orchard bit was meant to be an introduction to Kat’s mum’s apple cake.  However, now that I’m in Cambodia and I’m happy, I don’t want the apple cake to be forever associated with the pain of saying goodbye.  So, here’s a photo of the apple cake that I’ve baked, since living in Phnom Penh and I’ll write up the recipe as my next post.

apple cake

Iced buns and some news: I handed in my notice

 

iced buns 1

 

I’ve handed in my notice at work.

In about 4 months time, I will be stepping onto a plane and waving good bye to the UK. Because… because (wait for it…) I am moving to Cambodia to join my friends Simon and Becci who lead a church in Phnom Penh. I haven’t got a job lined up for me, nor do I know exactly what I’ll be doing when I arrive, past the first couple of days of getting over jet lag. I imagine that my initial months will be spent learning Khmer language and culture. But, it’s all guess work if I’m honest.

iced buns 2
 

It’s both exciting and terrifying.

I don’t think that I’ve talked about this on the blogosphere before and that makes me feel somewhat dishonest with you. I’m sorry. So, let me give you a bit of context. Ever since I was young, I have wanted to live and work in another culture, specifically doing something that would help people have a better life and give hope. My earliest, serious career ambition was to live and work with street kids in a peruvian shanty town. I think that I was about 9 or 10 at the time and I definitely had some jacked up, romanticised ideas on poverty and ‘doing good’.

I’m 31 now and from what I know, romantic is definitely not the adjective to describe poverty or that kind of work. I’m expecting it will be uncomfortable as I adjust to a new climate and culture, confusing to be illiterate in a new language, hard work and lonely being so far away from my family and friends.

So, how come I’m upping sticks and moving to the other side of the world? Besides, what difference can one person affect?

Well, I know that one person can make all the difference. And that childhood dream never died, nor did I want it to. Instead, in all the intervening years, it’s been a real trusting game to wait for the right moment and opportunity.

About this time last year, I was sitting in a house, built on stilts over the sewers in Phnom Penh, thinking that sewage really did smell like durian. Between the floorboards, I could see faded, old rubbish lying a couple of feet below me. There were all these rustling sounds that kept distracting me from the conversation and I was trying really hard to curb my imagination as to what those sounds could be.

I think this was day 3 of a 10 day trip I was making with a team from my church, visiting Simon and Becci’s church. We had brilliant fun with them and I thoroughly enjoyed myself, even if the airline did lose my luggage for 24 hours and I got really bad diarrhoea for 4 of those days. I never imagined that I’d be joining Simon and Becci in Cambodia. In fact, I distinctly remember the thought passing through my head, ‘I really admire what Simon and Becci are doing, but there is no way that I could do that or move out here’.

Ha! God definitely has a sense of humour. Unbeknownst to me, Simon and Becci were thinking the exact opposite.

making coconut milkoverladen motoCambodia team 2012
So, towards the end of 2012, they sprung it on me, out of the blue. A couple of months later, I told them yes and now I’m finally telling you. And to balance out my earlier apprehensions, let me tell you some of what I am looking forward to:

  • Learning a new language and culture
  • Being part of Liberty Family Church, Phnom Penh
  • Making new friends
  • South East Asian food – this is going to be one culinary adventure!
  • Riding a moto
  • Having lots of fun
  • Travelling around the region
  • Blue skies and the sun

And the time just seems to be right.

Which brings me neatly (!!!) to the subject of iced buns. No, honestly it does. Remember how I spoke about trusting and waiting for the right time and how it can be a bit emotional, earlier on? Well, that’s kind of how it feels baking with yeast and bread: you can’t rush the time the dough takes to rise on that first prove; you have to trust that the yeast will work and nothing beats the thrill of seeing your dough doubled in size. I could continue the analogy but suffice to say, there’s quite of bit of emotion and waiting involved!

iced buns attempt no. 1

Attempt no. 1: glazed cream buns

 This is a brilliant recipe that I’d wanted to make from the Great British Bake Off Series 2and I finally got round to trying it out 2 weeks ago. The first time, I stuck to the recipe (except I added too much water to the icing by mistake so ended up with glazed buns) and baked them into 12 buns, which I shared with my triathlon club. However, they were pretty big portion sizes and the cream was a bit bland, if I’m honest, not that they complained! So, the second time, I made them into 24 ‘mini’ iced buns, coloured the icing and added vanilla extract to the cream. They weren’t that mini, as you can see. Being somewhat unpracticed in the skill of whipping cream, I overwhipped the double cream on this second occasion and had to use my palette knife as a makeshift cream shovel! Not as pretty as my first attempt but that’s alright when it’s homebaking. I can’t imagine Paul or Mary raving about my presentation but the buns still tasted great and looked pretty. I took them to a charity clothes swap that my friend was organising and the buns were all polished off.

So, here is my iced buns recipe, adapted slightly from Paul Hollywood’s iced fingers recipe.

Ingredients for the dough

  • 500g strong white flour
  • 50g caster sugar
  • 40g unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 large eggs
  • 14g fast action yeast
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 150ml whole milk
  • 140ml water

Method

1. Scald the milk in a small pan, by heating it up until it is just about to boil, and leave it to one side to cool down. I find that doing this creates a softer dough. Alternatively, use the microwave to heat up the milk until it is neither hot nor cold. I added in the cold water to bring down the temperature even more.

iced bun dough 1iced bun dough 2
 

iced bun dough 3iced bun dough 4
2. If you’re doing it by hand, then measure out the flour in a large bowl, mix in the yeast, then add the sugar and the salt, rub in the butter and finally add in the eggs, milk and water. I use a scraper at this point to combine the ingredients, but you can use just your hands. It’ll make a wet dough but don’t be scared by it. The wetness of the dough should ensure that it’s soft texture. Turn it out onto your work surface and knead. If you’re like me and a bit slow at kneading, it’ll take about 15-20 minutes. Of course, you could use a machine fitted with a dough hook. In which case, put all ingredients for the dough into a large bowl, ensuring that the yeast and salt are added to opposite sides of the bowl. Mix on a slow speed until it all combines and then move it onto a medium-high speed for about 10-15 minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic.

3. Pour a little bit of vegetable oil into the bowl and lightly cover the dough with oil. This helps the dough not to stick as it rises. Cover the bowl with cling film or a damp tea towel and leave in a warm place for at least 1 hour and doubled in size.

4. Line two baking trays with baking paper

5. Turn the dough out of the bowl and knock out the air by pressing your fingers over the dough. I like to strengthen the dough at this stage. Shape into a vague rectangle. Take hold of a longer side, fold one third towards the centre and press down with your thumbs or the heel of your hand. Fold the other third towards the centre and press down. Finally fold it in half lengthways, press down and roll it out a bit with your hands. The dough should feel stronger.

shaping rolls 1shaping rolls 2

shaping rolls 3shaping rolls 4

shaping rolls 5shaping rolls 6

6. Divide the dough into half, then half again, so that you have 4 sections. Work with one section at a time and cover the others with a tea towel or cling film so that they don’t dry out. Divide each section into 6 equal-ish pieces. Each piece will probably with between 35-40g. Shape these into rolls, using exactly the same steps as before when strengthening the dough. Place them onto the baking tray, leaving about 1cm of space between them so that they can double in size in the second prove. Cover with a tea towel for about 30-40 minutes.

7. At this point, preheat the oven to 220°C/425°F/Gas mark 7.

buns ready to prove
 

baked buns
 

8. Bake in the oven for 8-10 minutes. Check after 8 minutes and lower the temperature by 20C if they look like they’re browning too much. Then set them aside to cool on a wire rack. When the buns are completely cool, start on the icing.

Ingredients for the icing

  • 200g icing sugar
  • 5 tsp cold water
  • food colouring and edible decorations, such as chocolate curls, coloured sprinkles etc. (optional)

Method

1. You can just ice the buns and not fill them, if you want to. However, if you’d like to fill them with cream then use a bread knife to slice the buns in half horizontally, leaving one long edge intact. Do this step now, otherwise the icing transfers onto your hands and they get sticky holding the already iced buns.

2. Measure out icing sugar into a medium sized bowl. Add in the water, one teaspoon at a time until it becomes a thick paste. You want the mixture to be thick enough to stick onto the buns. I coloured half of my icing pink, just for fun, using a cocktail stick dipped into a tiny bit of red colour paste.

icing consistencydipping buns into icingsmoothing icing
3. Dip the top of the buns into the icing, smooth out with your finger and set them to dry on a wire rack. The icing may drip down the sides of the bun a bit, but that’s okay. Sprinkle on some decorations if you’d like. I used strawberry curls, white chocolate stars and sugar butterflies.

Ingredients for the filling

  • 300ml double cream or whipping cream
  • 1 tbsp vanilla extract
  • 5 tbsp jam – I used raspberry, Paul suggests strawberry, but you could use any flavour that takes your fancy

Method

1. Lightly whip up the cream with the vanilla extract in a medium sized bowl until it thickens but is pipeable. Fill a piping bag fitted with a small star nozzle.

filling
2. Spoon the jam into another piping bag and snip off a very small opening.

3. Pipe a generous amount of cream, followed by a thin line of jam into the middle of each finger. Gently fold the top of the bun down.

Et voila – iced buns! Enjoy.

iced buns 3
 

 

Martha Stewart’s Strawberry Cupcakes with the fabulous Strawberry Meringue Buttercream Frosting!!!

To be honest, I would never have made the strawberry meringue buttercream that makes this cupcake if it wasn’t for the beautiful photo in Martha Stewart’s cupcake’s book. I mean, the very name, Strawberry Meringue Buttercream sounds pretentious, preposterous and… p,p,p… what other word am I looking for that starts with ‘p’?. Come on, be honest. How many of you had heard of meringue in a buttercream before?

martha stewart cupcakesmartha stewart strawberry cupcake
Having said all that, I did make them, meringue buttercream frosting and all! Do you remember that last year I listed a fair number of things that stop me from trying new recipes... Well, dear reader, I tackled three just here:

  • a new/complicated technique
  • not being put off by a bit of baking equipment that I don’t have
  • and getting over my dislike of frosting

Having made the recipe and tasted it (so delicious!), please don’t get put off making both parts of this recipe. Particularly the pretentiously, preposterous (I’m joking now) strawberry meringue buttercream. This buttercream is YUM!

There were four noteworthy moments that I’d like to share:

I borrowed a Kenwood Mixer, which we nicknamed “Kenny”, and duly fell in love with it. I must confess that after the first time that I used the Kenwood, I sent a text message to Sarah, his owner, which stated “Kenny is a dream!” Kenny definitely made the experience a much easier and better one. But, as I have to remind myself now, if you don’t have an equivalent, then use the electric mixer.

You’ll want to use a big bowl to make the cake mixture. A glance of some of the ingredients list gives it away: 2¾ cups of flour. 2 sticks of butter.

Martha says that this makes 36 american sized cupcakes. I read in the Hummingbird bakery book that UK muffin tins are the same size as US cupcake tins. More cross-pond confusion. So, I duly baked these in a UK muffin tin, and excitedly found some pretty pink muffin cases to bake them in. In the end I made 42, but it could be that I underfilled the cases a little bit.

I still don’t quite get what the UK substitute is for US all-purpose flour. The baking forums are ambivalent on this. Martha’s recipe explicitly states that the ¼ cup of cake flour shouldn’t be self-raising flour. By that instruction, I deduced (rightly or wrongly) that I shouldn’t use self raising flour for the all-purpose flour bit. Unfortunately, at that point in my 6 hour cupcake bake-athon, I realised that I didn’t have enough plain flour. And then my kitchen scales started playing up. Anyway, to cut a long story short, I used mix of plain and self-raising flour (ratio unknown), and substituted the cake flour for cornflour. Martha – I deduced by cakeflour that you wanted a flour that would create a lighter texture to it.

So, Martha. My question to you: did I commit a great baking sin?

strawberry cupcake mix 2strawberry cupcake mixstrawberry cupcake mix 3
Looking at these photos now, I’m thinking that the strawberries have a very similar appearance to pomegranates. Hmm…. I wonder whether… Next time I bake this, I’m going to try it with pomegranates. I’ll let you know how I get on.

Anyway, back to Martha Stewart’s Strawberry Cupcakes, adapted by moi. And I converted the recipe into grams for my UK readers.

Ingredients for the Strawberry Cupcakes

  • 340g self-raising flour
  • 35g cornflour
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 225g butter, softened and cubed
  • 375g caster sugar
  • 3 large eggs + 1 egg white
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1½ tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 cups finely chopped strawberries – about 20 strawberries.

Method

1. Preheat the oven to gas mark 4/180C/350F. Line the muffin tin with paper cases.

2. Measure out the dry ingredients and sift together into a medium sized bowl. That’s the self raising flour, cornflour, baking powder and salt. You don’t have to sift, but the sifting helps it to be a lighter cake.

3. Cream the butter and sugar together until light in colour and fluffy in texture. This normally takes between 5-7 minutes with an electric whisk. If you’re using a mixer then use the beater attachment.

I think this is the moment I fell in love (again!) with the Kenwood mixer because I could just leave it to work its magic whilst I read the instructions again and got the eggs, vanilla, measured out the flour…

4. Add the vanilla extract at this point (one of my variations to Martha Stewart. I think that it helps to mix the flavour in evenly into the mixture). Then add in the eggs on a slow speed, one egg at a time with a tablespoon of the flour mixture, to prevent the mixture from curdling.

5. Now mix in the remainder of the flour mixture into the wet batter. Then pour in the milk and continue to mix well.

6. Finally add the chopped strawberries and mix the cake batter with a spatula or a wooden spoon.

Using a tablespoon, dollop out the cake mix into the prepared muffin cases. For each of the muffin cases, I estimated 2 dollops of the tablespoon worked well.

Bake in the oven for about 15-20 minutes, turning the baking tins once in the baking, so that the cupakes have an even bake. Test them with a tester/sharp knife and if it comes out clean, they are ready. Let the baked cakes cool in the muffin tray for 5 minutes and then cool completely on a wire rack.

uniced cakesiced cakes
So, by the time I got to make the Strawberry Meringue Buttercream, half of the strawberry cupcakes had been used up at the cupcake workshop. As I read Martha Stewart’s recipe on the meringue buttercream frosting, I just couldn’t quite convince myself to use her method. She pretty much mixes all the ingredients together, heats it and mixes it, and somehow that didn’t suit the perfectionist in me. So, I searched through Ruth Clemens’ Pink Whisk blog and found a meringue buttercream recipe that I could adapt. I think there’s also an element of me believing Ruth’s blog to be more honest over Martha’s book.

Besides, Ruth sold it to me, “This post also includes the recipe for the absolute best cupcake topping in the world – meringue buttercream frosting – I can eat this straight off the spoon! It’s definitely worth the effort and once you’ve tried it you’ll never go back to ‘normal’ buttercream!”

Okay, Ruth. Let’s give it a go and see whether it’s worth the effort.

It is. I don’t normally like buttercream frosting because it’s too rich and sweet, but I make an exception for this one. The addition of the meringue means that it feels much lighter and airier to eat. Also on the decorating front – it holds it’s shape really well. Once again, probably because of the meringue.

So, here’s my version of delicious Strawberry Meringue Buttercream, adapted from the Pink Whisk. From another of Ruth’s posts, I’d seen that she’d used Two Chicks liquid egg whites and approved. So, I decided to save myself the worry of wondering what to do with leftover egg yolks, and searched the aisles in Sainsburys to purchase some liquid egg whites.

Oh, and I also bought myself a sugar thermometer especially for the task too. That’s one way of tackling the issue of not having a piece of baking equipment.

Ingredients for Strawberry Meringue Buttercream

  • 5 large egg whites (I did indeed find and use Two Chicks liquid egg whites)
  • 50g caster sugar
  • 250g caster sugar
  • 100ml water
  • 500g unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 tbsp strawberry jam
  • 1tsp vanilla extract

Method

Top tip: This is much easier to do with a stand mixer. K-mix, Kitchenaid’s were made for these jobs. As a non-owner, I borrowed my friend’s Kenwood, I have much K-envy. So, if you have one, please make this just so that I know that they are being utilised for what they were created for!

1. Whisk the egg whites in a big bowl until they are soft peaks (foamy but don’t hold their shape). Keep whisking, this time adding in 50g of sugar, a spoonful at a time. Continue whisking until they form firm peaks (they don’t lost their shape when you take the whisk out).

2. Leave to one side. In a small saucepan, gently heat up the water and the 250g caster sugar so that the caster sugar melts into a syrup. Once the sugar has melted, put the heat up to full and boil it up th 121C.

Ruth said that it would take 10 minutes. I took about 20 minutes, but wondering whether I either have a faulty thermometer or did something wrong. Anyway, 20 minutes later, it had almost reached 118C and I decided that was good enough for me. Didn’t seem to affect it too much this time.

3. Start whisking the egg whites again at a low speed. Slowly, slowly pour in the sugar syrup into the egg whites. Keep whisking for another 8-10 minutes, until the meringue mixture cools. I had a break at this point to allow the bowl to cool down a bit.

4. When the bowl is cool to touch, it’s time to add the butter. This is a slow process and be patient with it. Basically you have to add the butter to the egg whites in small pieces. If you have a mixer – keep it on the whisk attachment. I didn’t weigh this out, but I estimate that I pretty much added between 10-20g each time. Let one piece of butter be incorporated fully, before adding the next. The mixture does look like it’s going a bit wrong because it becomes liquidy. But don’t worry, that’s normal.

5. Finally(!), when all the butter is added, (if you want/need to, use the paddle attachment on a slow speed to ensure that the butter is all fully mixed in). Then swap in the whisk attachment to whisk the mixture so that it has the consistency and appearance of whipped cream.

meringue buttercreambuttercream piping bag remnants
6. Add the flavouring at this point. I separated my meringue buttercream frosting into two batches and added 1tsp vanilla extract into one and 1tbsp of strawberry (and the tiniest smidgen of red gel food colouring) to the other.

7. Fill those piping bags and away we go 🙂

strawberry cupcakes and meringue buttercream frosting 2strawberry cupcakes and meringue buttercream frosting

IPHONE FALLS HEADLONG INTO FROSTING

UM! So yes, as I was taking photos, my Iphone slipped out of it’s case and crashed into the decorated cakes. Naturally(!), I ran to grab my camera, so that I could capture a shot of that moment.

when the iphone fell into the buttercream

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to interview the said IPhone at the time, and take a shot at what it had to say about all of this because some cupcake had got in the way.

picking iphone up

🙂 The salvaged cupcakes!

rescued cakes