Date and Ginger Cake


date & ginger cake in tin

I often feel as though I have an eating disorder. I seem to be thinking of food all the time, eating frequently. Sometimes, when I’m sleeping, I dream of taking a bite of some gluten-rich food, then I remember I shouldn’t be eating it and feeling horribly guilty while dreading the consequences. Sometimes I dream it is my doctor giving me the food, while at other times a family member will be present, ready to say: ‘See, I knew she was making it all up.’ And in the most recent of those dreams I was in a bakery, eating raw dough. Ugh. 

Last year around Easter I felt myself sink into a minor depression and I did not seem to be able to get out of it. This year it occurred to me that part of the drop in mood had been associated with the gluten intolerance and the realisation that I would not be able to eat my very favourite hot cross buns ever again. I had decided towards the end of last year that I would find out if I am eligible for the Coeliac diagnosis, and would eat those hot cross buns for three weeks, then have a blood test. Two events over Christmas caused me to change my mind. During the last week of the year I had some of the digestive symptoms return, and I briefly went into a state of anxiety and dread, wondering what food allergy I had acquired. It was only when I finished the box of chocolate truffles that I read the label and discovered they contained wheat (and later research uncovered the exact truffle that contained the gluten, the variety I didn’t share, so I had eaten two of them over the week).

The other factor in my decision was the eczma on the backs of my hands. It was mild but persistent. I could not think of what was causing it. It was not the sun block, as I was using that on all exposed skin, not just my hands. I had not changed any of my soaps or handcreams. Huh! The handcream contained wheat, and within a week of discontinuing use, the eczma cleared up and my skin has returned to normal. And now I realise I need to read even more labels as carefully as possible, glasses on my forehead, packaging near my nose. So, to overcome the disappointment of not eating the hot cross buns, to alleviate that sense of deprivation, I made myself a cake, a new recipe.

I decided to make a cake that I really wanted to eat. I looked through my handwritten book of favourite recipes, and found I could not decide between a date slice and a ginger cake. I realised both recipes began with the melting of butter and sugar, then the addition of sodium bicarbonate. So I combined the recipes. The ginger cake recipe came from a series of ‘Two Fat Ladies’, and was a long time favourite. The date slice had been passed on by a favourite aunt. But here is the combined cake, with flour substitutes, and could be made with regular flour instead, just not for me. The buckwheat flour is just what I had hanging around after making pancakes, otherwise I would have used just almond meal. It was an excellent cake. It cheered me up. I needed the intense ginger flavour (most people would probably want to cut back to, at most, half the quantity).

Notes:

I made this as a tiny square cake for one person to consume over a week, but feel free to double the quantities and bake it in a loaf tin. The cooking time will remain the same.

In the original ginger cake it was brown sugar, in the date slice caster sugar. We now use ‘LoGIcane’, which looks like raw sugar, but does not affect the behaviour of the sugar-sensitive in this house.

If gluten is not an issue, just use 3/4 cup regular flour.

If gluten is a problem, use whatever flours or nut meals you prefer, adding them slowly until the cake’s consistency looks right – the flour part of cakes does not need to be as precisely measured as the baking powder and such (active ingredients).

date & ginger cake slice

GINGER & DATE CAKE

Quantities for 10 cm square cake tin, double for loaf tin. This won’t affect cooking time.

INGREDIENTS:

60 g butter (1/4 of 250 g)

1/4 cup (60 mL) sugar 

1 Tab golden syrup

1 Tab treacle

1/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda

3/4 cup chopped dried dates

1/4 cup almond meal

1/2 cup buckwheat flour

2 tsp ground ginger

sprinkle of other spices (cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, tiniest bit of cloves)

1 egg, beaten

METHOD: 

Melt butter sugar and syrups in saucepan over low to medium heat while stirring.

Add bicarbonate, stir, mixture should ‘whoosh’.

Stir in dried dates, allow to soften for a few minutes, then remove from heat. 

Allow to cool. Good time to turn on oven: 160*C fan or 180*C regular, and to prepare cake tin.

Add flours, nut meals, spices, stir in. 

Add beaten egg, stir in well (don’t want scrambled egg in the cake).

Transfer mixture to cake tin. 

Bake for 35 minutes. 

 

 
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small frying pan

frying pan

I dithered for months before buying this frying pan. It is one of those small ones that seem to be everywhere at the moment, 14 cm diameter across the top, silicon handle, non-stick interior. I dithered because I don’t want to accumulate objects I don’t use, and I am over-proud of having very few pots and pans. This is a small kitchen with correspondingly small cupboards. I can’t afford to have anything in it that we don’t use, although there are exceptions and they are kept in the cupboard above the fridge, and on the top shelf of other cupboards, the spaces I can’t reach without a chair. There is empty space above the cupboards, where we keep Easter chocolates while they last, and where we used to place confiscated toys for very short periods of times if our warnings were ignored. 

Back to the frying pan. It has been incredibly useful. It fits in well with how I eat, and I imagine I will use it even more this winter. I used to be very fond of the toaster as a means of quickly preparing warm food when I felt cold. That is no longer an option due to my resistance to eating breads that have lists of ingredients that give the impression that they were created in a lab (I am referring to those gluten-free breads that I did not like during my gluten-rich days, so I have no desire to try them now). Instead of the toaster, I will be using this frying pan. 

At first, I bought it to make frittata, single serve single egg variety. It is perfect for that.

frittata

However, I succumbed to the appeal of a punnet of plums that turned out to be lacking in flavour, as stone fruits so often are when bought at a supermarket. I sensibly cooked them in the frying pan. Wow! I have been fiddling about ever since, and even buying plums with the intention of cooking them.

fruits in frying pan

So, a few ‘recipes’, or at least a few combinations that have been successful in the pan. 

Note: I keep the temperature of the hot plate (13 cm diameter, electric) medium low, a position corresponding to 4 o’clock on the temperature dial. I don’t want to risk cooking away the interior. And I always use a silicone spatula.

Fruit: 

Plums, apples, strawberries tried so far.

Sometimes with the juice of a lime (the tree has been bountiful this year).

Sometimes with a slice of fresh ginger.

Always with some ground spice: cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, ginger, speck of cloves – usually just one, but sometimes a combination.

Frittata:

Cooked vegetables (leftover roasties, or cubes of pumpkin and sweet potato, boiled for 12 minutes).

Small tin of corn kernels (125 g). 

Broccoli and mushrooms were not so nice, but that could be due to my mild aversion to broccoli (I prefer it cooked differently).

Many other vegetables to be tried, and I am especially looking  forward to asparagus in spring.

Warm the vegetables for a couple of minutes in the pan.

Then add 1 beaten egg.

Sometimes I add grated parmesan and sweet paprika to the egg, and the pepper is added whenever I think of it…

I let the egg cook with a larger lid balanced on the pan. Once it looks set, I remove the lid and place the frying pan under the grill until the frittata browns, and use a pot holder when retrieving the pan from the grill, as while the handle is covered with silicone, the pan came with a warning regarding heat transfer, and it is good for me to maintain the habit of using the potholder regardless of what is under the grill. 

 

cooking in frying pan
 
 
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Bike Pouch


bike pouch 

I did not buy a mobile phone until my son had been at school for a term. Until then, when he was at kindergarten or school, I was at home, where there is a perfectly functional landline phone. However, after that first term that I spent on the major uncluttering effort, I was ready to go out occasionally during school hours. So out of respect for my son’s teachers, I bought a mobile phone. I gave the number to a very limited number of people, because I don’t want to be contacted when I am out of the house during school hours. Generally I don’t want anyone phoning me when I am not at home. So most people don’t know that I have the phone, and those who do are aware that it is only on during school hours when I am not at home, or by pre-arrangement. I particularly do not tell the people who think that phones are to be used to summon people at their will. Several people have complained to me about friends or family who don’t have their phones turned on, or who did not answer their calls, or did answer while on the toilet. The list goes on. They are the people who don’t know about the phone, and probably consider me a crank. I don’t mind.

Recently, in a noisy shop, my phone rang and my son heard it while I did not. The phone was in my backpack and we were expecting the call. I began to wonder about other calls I had missed. Perhaps my cheap phone was not faulty, and perhaps I hadn’t left it in silent mode after a yoga class. Perhaps I just wasn’t hearing it behind me. So I have changed my habits, carrying it in my hand or pocket when using the backpack. And I made a little pouch for my bike handlebars, to use when everything else is in the basket on the back of the bike. 

The design is remarkably simple. I cut the leg of a pair of my son’s jeans that were on their way to the rubbish bin (nobody wants to buy jeans with holes in the knees, so not suitable for the op shop). I stitched across the cut edge to make the bottom of the bag, and across the corners to form a base. The velcro loops to attach the pouch to the bike handlebars were inspired by the velcro loops that held the pram bag in place – and those four velco loops reliably held many heavy loads. Then, to close the pouch, a couple of buttons and elastic loops – the open end just folds over, as on some fancy bike saddle bags. It was a very quick effort, and I am happy with the result. 

bike pouch other views

 

 
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too much crochet

sparrowatzoo

It’s been a while.

My friend did die, just before Christmas, ten years after diagnosis, which occurred six months after the first seizure, the first sign of the tumour. I am still amazed by how well he was for so many of those years. Of course there were times when he was not well, when the seizures returned, when he went through treatments and so much monitoring of a tumour that could not be completely excised due to its position. I felt I was lucky to have him as a friend for so long. The sadness is only hitting now, four months later. It is strange to realise that I knew him for almost half his life, and that he had his tumour for half of that time. The death was a much greater shock for our mutual friend who seemed to think that when an abnormal growth is called a tumour, it is not a terminal condition, even when it is a brain tumour. And that would explain the difference in our responses when it was diagnosed – I was almost hysterical, she was calm. I spent the next ten years enjoying every moment I spent with my friend, appreciating all that was unique in our friendship. So of course I wanted to email him when he died, to tell him he had chosen a terrible time, so close to Christmas. Could he not have waited another month? It would have been so much better for his family. And as with all other significant deaths, I find myself saving up anecdotes to tell him, or looking forward to asking his opinion on some matter. That is all a part of someone dying.

crochetblanket

On a happier note, I did finish the cotton blanket I was crocheting. It was only after joining all of the motifs (crochet slip stitch) that I noticed that people can crochet motifs together as they go along, and felt a little demoralised that after so many years of crochet it had never occurred to me that I could do that. I knitted too much, hurt my right index finger, but could still crochet, so in no time at all I used a lot of my scrappy 8 ply wool stash to crochet another blanket, this one copied from a really beautiful photo on Pinterest (that I did not reference at all, and I don’t have a Pinterest account, sigh). The main motivation was to use the approach of joining motifs as I went along.

crochetsquarestogether

After making a central square of motifs, about four or five motifs wide, I began to crochet enough centres for a side or two, then connected them to the blanket.

blanketwithcircles

I don’t know the origin of this pattern, and did come across it on another blog a week ago, slightly different in the final round… I am happy with my finished blanket, and the border that just happened on its own – the corners are very strange, I just made it up as I went along, then had to refer to previously worked corners to make them match.

blanketcorner

And now I have started another blanket, what an addiction! The motif is my favourite from the cotton blanket, with an extra round to be worked, and motifs to be joined as I go along. I especially ordered the yarn for this one, a special edition from Bendigo Woollen Mills. That shade card is very worn now, with all the folding I did as I kept changing my mind about one or two colours. I am very careful to avoid having multiple projects in any single craft, as I don’t want to ‘end up like my mother’, whose house is cluttered with works in progress (and probably just as many completed projects).

athenacardandsquares

We do use the blankets. But just how many do we need? Answer: as many as I need to make!

 
 
 
 
 
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poor blog

jumperband

Poor blog.

It has been terribly neglected. I keep changing my mind about its existence. Maybe life is just a little more busy at the moment than it usually is. I have given up on resolutions (aims) regarding frequency of posts. Maybe I will make a better effort next year.

When I began the blog, I had decided that I would no longer email a friend who lives in the same city, but I had not seen for seven years despite many suggestions of meeting for coffee, at times and locations that would suit her. I used to email her and not be bothered that I was not seeing her because she had depression, and assumed there was something about me that had her not wanting to meet up with me, yet wanting to maintain contact through email. However, she was meeting up with plenty of others, particularly over the last two or three years, so I decided it was time to end the relationship (in that wimpy delayed response to emails way, rather than through a direct message), and by Christmas it was over.

I assumed the time I had spent emailing her could be spent writing blog posts. Hahaha.

My friend with a brain tumour (diagnosed over nine years ago, so pretty amazing) has reached the manky stage, where it is affecting his mobility, and he requires more frequent treatment, and needs to avoid exposure to infectious agents. So instead of writing blog posts, I have been writing emails to him. He has been largely housebound. I know he spends a lot of time on the couch, in front of the television, and I find that unbearable. My mother used to burst into the lounge room when we were children, asking “What are you doing?” and then noticing us looking at the television, would answer the question herself, in one of two ways: “Oh, nothing” or “Wasting time again”. I cannot believe how much I have been influenced by that. So I indulge in crazy email composition, hoping I will motivate my friend to shuffle outside to breathe some fresh air, enjoy what little sun there is, watch some birds, and so on. Or that I will just remind him that he is still alive, that he is not just some blob on a couch absorbing whatever is shown on the screen in front of him. I don’t want him to ‘waste’ the rest of his life. And in all that, I am very much aware of how judgemental I am being, with my idea of what constitutes living and what does not. So I do not mind that he does not respond to my emails, or at least not very often. He is going through one of the many versions of ‘unimaginably horrible’. At least with email, if I am annoying, he can just delete the messages, unread.

So I am undecided about the blog. There is always too much to do.

I did pull out the jumper I was knitting, just after I wrote about it. I cast it on again, knit the band, then noticed I didn’t feel like working on it. I was sick of it, and it seemed to take so long to knit around to the marker. So I set it aside, and very quickly knit a jumper for my son – his classroom is not heated, and he has noticed that his jumper is much warmer than his polar fleece jacket (probably washed too often), so he needed a second one to accommodate washing needs. I returned to my jumper, knitted more than halfway to the armholes, decided it was too big, and pulled it out again. I think it will be okay this third time. I changed the band, and I am happier with it, and not bothered by the knitting.

Crochet squares keep appearing too, even though I am not sure when I am making them. Just a few minutes here and there.

crochetsquares

This square:

4 ch ring

Rnd 1: 12 treble (or equivalent) in ring

Rnd 2: 2 treble (or equivalent) in gap between each treble of first round

Rnd 3: (2treble, 3 chain, 2 treble) in first space; (2 half treble) in next 2 spaces – repeat to beginning of round.

Note: round 3 can look better this way:   (2 treble, 2 chain, 2 treble) in first space, (1 chain, 2 half treble) in next 2 spaces, 1 chain – repeat to beginning of round.

I just wanted 11 stitches per side for compatibility with the other squares I have crocheted, so mine are the less attractive version. And ‘equivalent’ is shorthand for all that writing about starting a round with two or three chain instead of a treble. It makes patterns messy for me. Similarly, rounds end with a slip stitch, to complete them.

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uncluttering poor ‘investments’

bearatzoo

Some variations on the ‘don’t throw good money after bad’ theme.

Why is it so hard to pull out a good chunk of knitting when an error is first realised? I am knitting a jumper that was almost no effort, just mindless knitting of a tube on a circular needle in those odd moments when I was sitting with my hands otherwise unoccupied. It seemed to take no time to knit 200 g of wool, then a little more to reach the point of armhole division. Then came the realisation that I should have had more stitches, not a lot more, just a few, but enough to make the jumper the level of bagginess I like. I don’t wear the jumpers that are the ‘right’ size, as this would be if I continued to knit. There was a time when I would have continued, hoping I would wear the jumper anyway once I finished it. But I am not going to do that. (If you find it hard to pull out a piece of knitting, leave it somewhere you can’t see it for six months – it is always much easier to pull out then – but I am going to be strong and pull this jumper out before the weekend is over!)

Some months ago I made myself a cup of chai tea, thinking how I looked forward to finishing that bag so that I could buy the brand I liked. Then I wondered why I was punishing myself. Sure, I had bought the packet of tea, but I wasn’t enjoying it, so why did I feel obliged to keep drinking it? It was not expensive, and even if it had been, did I really need to punish myself for having tried a blend from a different shop? I tossed out the packet of tea at that moment, and made myself a cup of Earl Grey instead.

Similarly, when I had my big wardrobe cull, I came across clothes I had barely worn. The jeans were the real lesson for me. There were several pairs of dark denim jeans, a few black, and lots of pale jeans with holes in the knees. At first I thought the lesson was that faded denim is weaker than darker denim, so a poor investment as they wear out so much more quickly. But then I saw the light! In the morning, when I get up, I feel like wearing faded denim jeans. It doesn’t matter how much better dark denim might look, I like looking at faded denim on my legs. And naturally, whatever is worn most frequently will wear out first. So now, I only ever buy faded denim jeans, usually two or three pairs at a time, and I tossed out all of the darker denim. The lesson has been learnt. I don’t need to force myself to wear the clothes I don’t like so much.

Finally, I need to buy a new mattress. This was the largest expense, by far. (I doubt I could ever admit to anyone how much that mattress cost.) But is another five years of insomnia really a good investment? I wondered what had happened to one of my crochet rugs. Ha! It is folded under the mattress protector, along with a large quilt and an eiderdown. Possibly the floor is more comfortable.

But oh, how I hate shopping!

And if you need a highly motivating guide to uncluttering, I can recommend ‘Throw Out Fifty Things’ by Gail Blanke. It was the best of the three books I borrowed recently on the subject. I have to do too much cleaning at the moment, and the load would be lighter if the clutter was reduced. Unfortunately, relatively little of the clutter is mine.

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model home

modelhome

I had been suffering a little too much from the ‘shoulds’ lately. It is a condition in which you are overly aware of all that the external world thinks you should or should not do. It extends to your house, your family, your occupation. I find schools are great breeding grounds for ‘shoulds’, and I cannot tell if I am alone in questioning them. A very sociable friend of mine alarmed me a couple of years ago when she told me that she does not interact with any of the other parents at school. Now I think I understand (I have not been overly sociable either, but I am an unsociable sort). I keep feeling as though I did not buy the instruction book that tells us how we should bring up our children, and I am not sure that I would follow the instructions if I did have such a book. There are people who seem to think there is only one right way, and that all the other ways are wrong. I enjoyed ‘French Children Don’t Throw Food’ simply because the generalizations demonstrated there were at least two right ways of bringing up children who will turn out okay.

Anyway, it was a relief for me to read ‘Model Home’, by Eric Puchner (2010). For me, it was about a family of people who were obeying the ‘shoulds’. The father had taken the risks in real estate, had the great idea and followed it, just as so many magazine articles and such recommend we do. He had given his family the life he thought they deserved by having them live in some luxury development that he could not afford at the time of the move. The mother was attractive in just the right way (I am grateful that was not overemphasised – there was a book I abandonned simply because I had had more than enough of every female character being so attractive that there could be no person inside them), and she had worthy employment making educational films. The eldest son is of friendly attractive appearance with the obligatory girlfriend whose limits he respects, but he is bothered by his appearance as he does not feel so friendly on the inside. The teenage daughter sounds fairly normal, but has been dropped into an environment of California beach types, so feels out of place. She fills a stereotype, as does the youngest son, who is meant to be just plain weird. However, although these people fulfil the shoulds of stereotypes and media messages, life does not go well for them. The book does not end in disaster, but it does not end well (let alone super-well, as happens in some best sellers). It is a bit like a Dorothy Whipple novel in that way. Life is always a little more uncomfortable at the end than at the beginning. I also liked the connectivity of events. With any negative incident, there was a web of incidents that led to it, and it was impossible to apportion blame, even on the father for his poor choice in investment, given the way such behaviour is encouraged.

I laughed when I read the questions for book club members at the end of the book. In one question, they asked: ‘Which character did you identify the most with, and why?’ I did not identify with any of them. Except to feel that sometimes life dumps things on us, and that small choices can have consequences out of proportion with the choices, and these people were as much victims of that as anyone else can be.

It was a good book for alleviating the pressure of those ‘shoulds’.

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