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Monday, 30 December 2013

Balance

My earliest memory is of lying in my pram looking up at two very tall conifers wafting against the sky. My mother used to put me outside in all weathers and, as I grew, I spent a lot of time in our garden, making the shady space underneath the broad sweep of those lower conifer branches into a little house, or cycling around the lawn on my bicycle, bouncing a ball against a wall, playing with our dogs; the adventures were endless. When I look back over my life, then and since, many of the happiest pictures which come to mind are from being outside.

My father fostered in me a love of gardening. I had a small semi-circular patch of earth at the edge of the vegetable garden. It was backed by a privet hedge and a tall, lanky, pear tree. Here I could plant exactly what I wanted. I still love my garden and feel my father's hand on my shoulder, his voice in my ear as I decide on which vegetables and plants to grow.

Last year life was hectic. Despite finally getting a greenhouse, planting some long-awaited autumn fruiting raspberries and being really pleased with my broad bean crop, I didn't get outside enough. Looking back, my life lost a degree of balance. There were friends and family who I didn't see as much as I would have liked. Too many things were done in a rush. There just didn't seem to be enough time to go around. So my resolution for 2014 is to try and restore some balance to my life. I am going to begin by getting outside more. Hopefully my garden, my friends and family, my writing and my whole life will benefit.

Thank-you for reading and wishing everyone health, wealth, love, luck and happiness for 2014.

Friday, 20 December 2013

All shall be well

'All shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well'
 
Julian of Norwich




For several of my friends and family 2013 has been a difficult year. Sometimes it is hard to know what to say or do when someone is going through a hard time. Words and even actions can seem to be inadequate. I do know that there are some inspiring people out there, those that bear their trials with grace and fortitude and teach the rest of us to be grateful for what we have.

The above quote has come into my life a couple of times over the last few weeks. I like it for its simplicity and message of absolute hope. 
 
 Not much is known about Julian of Norwich. She was an English anchoress who lived from 1342 - 1415. An anchoress is another name for a hermit, someone who has retired from the world in order to pray. Her name probably derives from the cell in which she lived, which was attached to St. Julian's Church in Norwich. When she was thirty and still living with her family Julian became seriously ill. As she lay on her deathbed she experienced a series of visions of Jesus. When she recovered, Julian wrote about these visions in a book which eventually became the Revelations of Divine Love. This is believed to be the earliest book by a woman in the English language.

Thank-you so much to everyone who has read this blog over the past year. It is incredible and humbling to see my stats and realise that there are people reading from Alaska, China, Russia, Malaysia, Poland to name a few, as well as many from the U.S. I would like to take this opportunity of wishing you all a very Happy Christmas wherever you are. Julian of Norwich was noted for her optimism and joyful outlook on life and I sincerely hope that for you in 2014 all shall be well.

Saturday, 14 December 2013

Writing Support

I have been undecided what to write about this week. I had two other posts which occurred to me, one after the other, and then something else reared its ugly head. It made me cross and it's important so the other topics have been pushed aside.

I have been lucky during my writing life. Not many people have tried to undermine my confidence. I can probably count them on one hand and there are many, many more who have supported and encouraged me. But the ones who knock you down are the ones who force you to question the value of what you do and the quality of your work. If you are not in a good place they can make you thoroughly miserable. I was reminded of this when speaking to a group of lovely, talented writer friends this week. A couple of them were talking about their work not being respected, which in effect means they are not being accorded respect themselves. The reason was this, because what they choose to write, (and are very successful at), isn't deemed 'serious' or 'literary' enough. As writers we have probably all had people who have undermined our confidence, some completely inadvertently. But when it is done by other writers, that is something else. That is unforgiveable. Other writers know that the words don't just flow on to the page and that your self-esteem can plummet when a piece of work is not going well or a rejection letter pops into the inbox or on to the doormat.

Writer friends, whether individuals or as part of a group, should be supportive, encouraging, motivating, inspiring, generous. That is not to say everything should be sugar-coated. If you want to improve your work, criticism should always be welcome, as long as it is given from a place of kindness, from wanting the best for the other person. Some people, I'm afraid, see other writers as a threat, especially if they occupy a similar genre. But everyone is unique and as a result we all have something different to offer. So choose your writer friends with care, do not read your work out to anyone who you do not trust and do not let anyone, anyone, make you feel small or as if what you are doing is inferior. Treasure those who support you in your ventures and feel proud of what you have achieved.

Thank-you for reading and I hope you have a lovely week.


Saturday, 7 December 2013

Wheat Free/Dairy Free Coffee Cake

Baking and writing seem to go so well together, as does eating cake and writing! All of that measuring, sifting and mixing is very soothing. It seems to be the perfect antidote to winding down after doing a stint of writing. It coaxes your mind gently away from your story and back into the real world.

I have to confess to eating cake every day, usually in the afternoon with a cup of tea. A few years ago, when I first became wheat intolerant, my cake eating became more difficult. Now, thanks to much more awareness, most tea rooms serve a form of gluten/wheat free cake and the gluten free flours for baking at home are much improved too. I particularly love making cakes for other people to share and a couple of weeks ago I made this cake for my eldest son's birthday. My daughter is dairy intolerant (that is still a problem when eating out) so this cake is not just wheat free but dairy free too. This recipe is an adaptation of Delia Smith's all in one sponge and I think it tastes just as good as a cake made with butter. If you try it, I hope you agree.



Coffee and Walnut Cake

4oz self-raising flour (I use Dove's Farm)
1 tsp baking powder (gluten free)
4oz soft margarine (Pure sunflower or soya spread)
4oz caster sugar
2 large eggs
2-3 drops vanilla essence
2oz finely chopped walnuts
1 tbsp. instant coffee mixed with 1 dessertspoon hot water

For the icing;
2oz soya/sunflower spread (at room temperature so it doesn't split)
3oz icing sugar sifted
2tsp instant coffee dissolved in a very small amount of hot water.

Grease and line two 18cm (7") sponge tins. Pre-heat oven to gas mark 3, 325F (170C)

Sift flour and baking powder into a bowl, holding sieve high to air the flour. Add remaining ingredients and whisk with an electric whisk until combined. The mixture should be soft and drop off a wooden spoon when lightly tapped. Gluten free flour tends to absorb more liquid so you may need to add a few teaspoons of warm water here and then whisk again until you get the right consistency.

Divide mixture between tins and bake on centre shelf o the oven for about 30 minutes. When cooked leave in the tin for about 30 seconds before turning on to a wire rack to cool. Sandwich with butter cream. If you want butter cream on the top of the cake as well just double the quantity of icing ingredients but I prefer just to fill the middle. Then finally decorate with walnuts, sift with icing sugar and enjoy! Enjoy whatever you are doing this week and thank-you for reading.