A confession, to begin with – appropriate, given the season. This is not a story of how I stopped worrying. It wouldn’t take a psychiatrist to determine that, in the last two years, I have used baking as a crutch, or a crude therapy. I have written previously about how pastries and breads and curds have helped me in times of mourning and misery and panic. I have been grounded by baking. But for a long time, I was scared of bread.
I know, I know. There are two problems with this ‘recipe’:
1. It is a salad. At Christmas. And I’m going to tell you that this will fill you with sparkle and festive spirit. I know; and
2. It is a salad. A recipe for a salad. I have the temerity, the GALL to give you a recipe for a salad. I know.
But here’s why neither of those things are a problem:
My intention to medicate all autumnal malaises and maladies with appropriate food has been… stalled somewhat.
I put my back out making meringues. Or rather, I thought I had put my back out making meringues. Last Sunday, I was making meringues and something very odd happened to my back and it hurt a lot.
There are some things which you bake, make or cook which are deeply calming, the very process of their creation, let alone their consumption, is enough to salve the stresses of the day. Pureeing roasted squash for soup is pretty satisfying, or chopping a host of bramley apples for crumble. That’s not quite what this recipe is, but that’s ok because that’s not its purpose, and it’s not always what you need. Sometimes what you need is something that is going to pep you up when you need it most. Something you can whip up in the evening, and take with you to see you through a particularly gloomy wednesday. And that is where I introduce you to my chocolate coated butter almond toffee brittle.
Suet pastry is a lovely pastry. It’s filled with flavour, it’s comforting, it’s softer than shortcrust, and far quicker and easier to make than flakey pastry or even rough puff pastry.
It is in fact incredible easy, I promise. You can read the recipe below, but in terms of ‘method’ you’ll just be shaking some pre-cut suet into some flour, and then mixing some water into it. That’s pretty much it.
Autumn is a funny old time. Throughout the rest of the year, I spend much of my time telling anyone who will listen (and many who won’t) that I adore Autumn, that it is my favourite time and, at some stage, will probably launch into an enthusiastic rendition of ‘Autumn Days when the Grass is Jewelled’. And yet.
I am not a very creative or inspired person.
A while ago, before we moved in together, Sam came round and made millionaire shortbread to take into work/class on his birthday (which OUTRAGED my housemate: ‘What is this FUCKERY? Why should one have to provide one’s own cakes on one’s BIRTHDAY?’). Anyway, he made too much caramel, and left it in my fridge. I peered at it this morning and said sagely ‘ah! I shall seek out a suitable recipe to use THAT up’, then went back to bed. But I didn’t. Which is why, when my case finished early, I found myself in Bedford M&S buying the other requisite ingredients for, well, millionaire’s shortbread.
I accidentally created the best strawberry jam in the history of the world by misreading the recipe.
Two years ago, I wouldn’t have dreamed of making my own jam, and would have scoffed at anyone who peddled the yawn-worthy line that homemade tastes better. But, unfortunately, it turns out they were right. And jams and chutneys are a really good way to use up left over fruit before it goes off. In all honesty, I tend to make it because I don’t know what else to do with the seen-better-days strawberries in the fridge, and because anything that can be slathered on toast is welcome in my house. But most importantly, it makes you feel smug, and I love feeling smug.
I have been quiet of late. Which may be seen as inadvisable bearing in mind I’ve just started a blog that I hope will ascend me to heights of adulation and adoration. Starting this blog had a strange, not totally unexpected consequence: people found out my mother had died.
For me, the purpose of learning to bake and cook was to give me something to do in the wake of my mother’s literal wake. Someone told me that in the first 12 months of a bereavement, anything goes: literally any response is legitimate. My response was then, I suppose, underwhelming to those around me. I just sort of, continued. I went back to work pretty much straight away (in fact I traveled back down form Newcastle to London for a prior work commitment in between the death and the funeral), I didn’t turn to drink, I didn’t have a breakdown, I didn’t beat my fists on my chest in despair. I know my father worried about me, and I imagine so did my close friends. I was asked (with the absolute best of intentions) whether I was ‘taking it too well’. I wasn’t.