Wednesday is St David’s Day, and in our household that means one thing: Welsh cakes. Sam and his family are Welsh, and Welsh cakes are a staple all year round for them. Of course this meant that the prospect of trying to pull together a recipe that stood up against those of Sam’s childhood was a daunting one.
When I was little and went out shopping with my Mum – not supermarket shopping, but proper driving-to-Newcastle shopping – we would go to the John Lewis cafe. To eight year old me, this was the height of sophistication, sitting up at the tall stools and slim bars. We tended to go there for tea and cake, and the lemon drizzle cake remains in my memory the best cake I have ever tasted, I’m sure more for its air of glamour than its baking merits. But there was one item that always called to me from the hot food counter: The Welsh rarebit. Even the name sounded exotic.
It’s the fourth anniversary of my mother’s death this week. I know this because I worked out the date prompted by an unrelated memory that sprung up on social media. And then I felt a shock of anxiety and panic that I’d had to work out the date. That it wasn’t, I don’t know, written on my soul, ingrained in my everyday life. That I’d forgotten.
I’ve been lonely this week. I didn’t expect to be lonely, I expected to embrace my partner’s ten day absence on a work trip in a haze of relaxation with occasional stabs of wild productivity. I would clean the oven! I would take bubble baths every day! I would read nineteen books! Instead, I’ve just been a bit sad and pathetic, moping around the too-quiet house.
I’m licking the last of this recipe off my spoon as I press ‘send’ on a pitch about the tyranny of wedding diets. Because honestly, even if I had even the slightest inclination to spend a whole year of my life not drinking wine and demurely declining puddings and pastries, sticky buns and smelly cheeses, not touching blisteringly hot, glassy roast potatoes or crumbling, buttery shortbread, this recipe would be my undoing. Let’s be real, I will never have that level of will power, and I don’t especially long for the ability to deprive myself of the things that bring joy to my personal and professional life, but even if I did, speculoos chocolate fondant would see off any such intentions.
I have a little electronic diffuser in the room I write in. It is a small white cylinder, that sits in the corner of the room, far away enough from my desk so that I have to actually get up to fiddle with it, but close enough that as it pipes out its scented steam, glowing and vibrating ever so gently, it feels comforting, as if it’s quietly breathing alongside me.
I’ve been back in London a couple of weeks now, and back at college one week. After ten glorious days of being hosted and cooked for and looked after, I came home ready to cook up a storm, flexing my now rested culinary muscles, which hadn’t really been exercised since last term’s exams.
Finally, I almost have my kitchen back. I feel like during Christmas, we give our kitchens over to a higher power: one who insists that we fill our fridges with enough prosecco to see us through a nuclear winter, that everything is spiked with brandy, and followed with a chaser of cheese. We didn’t even host Christmas this year: we were away for Christmas-proper and bookended it with visiting various friends and relatives. There is, really, no excuse, for such a high proportion of festive leftovers. And yet, for the last week, I’ve found soggy mince pies everywhere, and brandy butter I don’t remember buying.
For as long as I can remember, I have loathed New Year’s Eve parties. Perhaps my notion of them remains stuck in my teenage years: parents’ carpets sticky with spilt Bacardi Breezers, no middleground between painfully, eye-wateringly sober and sloppily, miserably drunk, and – the greatest sin of all – no snacks.
This week’s recipe is an absurdly simple one. As we nose our way into Christmas, and realise that four or so days at home with one’s family is not the idyll we’ve dreamed of for the last three weeks, any excuse to disappear away into the kitchen is a welcome one. This is a recipe for those stolen moments sought out to preserve sanity.