As I write this I am baking a fruit loaf. I am baking it because I am feeling sad and lonely and often when I feel that way I like to eat some cake. Especially some that tastes of nostalgia and reminds me that I am loved even if I happen to be alone.
This week has been tough. Being an interrupted family has many good parts. It affords us a certain lifestyle that we are very grateful for, not least because we have known what it is like to be flat broke and at rock bottom and are not so complacent as to think that we might not end up there again. However, often it is hard and it’s not just when bad things happen. In fact, I’m finding it’s often the most challenging when things are going well.
When the sun is shining and you have nobody to sit in the garden to enjoy it with whilst sipping a glass of chilled white wine.
When there is nobody to tell a funny story to from your day, or to big you up for something you have achieved.
When there is nobody to share your pride in your child’s accomplishments and you are sitting with tears in your eyes and nobody to squeeze your hand at a concert or reading their school report.
Then there is the chauffeuring from place to place without appreciation or company. Dealing with the emotional fall out of an exhausted child after a busy week without back up. Watching a great TV show with nobody to laugh with. Eating in a restaurant with only an eleven year old for company and the Marvel movie franchise back catalogue for conversation, without being able to drink your way through it because you are always the designated driver (and even if you weren’t, it’s too tragic and too frowned upon to get smashed with your child on a Friday night).
It’s digging the garden, feeding the cat, mowing the lawn, emptying the dishwasher and putting the bins out by yourself. It’s having no-one nearby who is likely to just pop-in for a cup of tea or you can reliably call on to help you move the fridge so you can paint the wall behind it.
It’s feeling sorry for yourself but feeling bad about that and unable to share it because, really what is there to complain about? I’m very lucky and I live in a nice house in a lovely village with my happy and healthy child. I am not divorced. I am not a widow. My husband is not risking his life in a warzone. I am living a life that I have chosen, and it makes me feel churlish and spoilt to complain, so I try not to and instead choose to sulk in a way that is particularly unsatisfying and depressing when there isn’t even anybody around to notice you are doing it.
So that’s where I am at. I miss my husband, my family and my friends but I am often a bit too proud to call up and tell them that or ask for help. I am jealous of life on the other side of the fence where the sun is shining and the grass is greener (even if it is fake or irrigated) and everyone is partying on without me, their lives having rudely failed to collapse into a miserable, meaningless heap in my absence. Instead I am sitting by myself at my kitchen table, baking a cake that nobody else will eat but me (because it has ‘disgusting’ fruit in it) and hoping it will make me feel better.
The recipe for this one is so simple that it doesn’t even really count as baking. My Mum used to make it for me when I was young and I loved it, even though it had raisins in it. A slice would often make its way into my packed lunch for a playtime treat. Wrapped in shiny tin foil and sandwiched with thick butter. There’s no fat or eggs in the actual cake, it’s more like a dense milk loaf, which in my opinion means you can lather on the butter guilt free! It takes about 60 seconds to mix and it’s best eaten slightly warm out of the oven, when the crust is thick and crispy and the inside is soft, warm and mildly spiced like a hot cross bun or a tea cake. Because it’s so easy, it’s one of the first things I remember being taught to bake. Only stirring and bowl licking is required. In short, to me it tastes like my childhood. Baking with my Mum, playing with my friends, being loved, confident, carefree and cared for. Who doesn’t want to be reminded of that feeling?
Making, and eating, cakes is something I have always loved. I remember sitting on the floor of my Aunty Anne’s kitchen being taught how to beat eggs until they were light and frothy. She owned a nursing home at the time and there was ALWAYS a tin of delicious, sticky cake to be found and eaten. I still pronounce ‘cake’ with a Dorset accent in my head in her honour.
Cakes conjure up happy memories for me. A special occasion, a birthday party, a nice day out. Whether it is my favourite chocolate hedgehog cake (requested for most of my birthday parties), cream cakes on a Saturday afternoon at my grandparents’ house in front of a boring Western, iced fairy cakes at playschool sprinkled with hundreds and thousands, stirring the Christmas cake and making a wish (FYI, I’m still waiting for my ‘A la carte kitchen’ to arrive), my first taste of exotic Black Forest gateau in the Debenhams café, a beautifully iced sponge for my graduation, scones thick with jam and clotted cream, the joy of finding a really lemony slice of lemon drizzle cake, a wedge of coffee and walnut cake, even a Mr Kipling fondant fancy or jam tart. I love them all.
So, I bake when I am sad to fill my tummy and my heart up with a little slice of nostalgic joy. There are no number of calories that can make me feel guilty about that.
I shall have my cake, and I shall eat it.
Interrupted family food for thought:
- What’s your go to comfort food when you are feeling sad? Where does that stem from? Allow yourself to explore some of those memories and emotions.
- Do you bake with your children? Cake recipes are traditionally passed down in the family so write your favourites down in a book for your kids to enjoy in the future.
- What was your favourite teatime treat as a child or the most memorable birthday cake you ever had? Take a trip down memory lane, dig out some photos, find some recipes and recreate some of the special moments, tastes and smells that brought you joy.
Super Simple Fruit Loaf
2 cups self-raising flour
1.5 cups dried mixed fruit
½ tsp mixed spice
1 cup light brown sugar
1 cup milk
- Preheat the oven to 180C (gas mark 4)
- Lightly grease a medium sized loaf tin
- Mix all the dry ingredients together in a large bowl. Stir in the milk until thoroughly combined.
- Pour into the loaf tin and bake for 1hr or until the top is risen and golden and a cake taster comes out clean.
- Allow to cool in the tin for 5 minutes before turning out onto a rack.
- Serve thickly sliced and generously buttered