Tread Softly

My mother-in-law said some very ominous words to me a couple of weeks ago.

‘You’ll have to move down here eventually, you know.’

She’s right; I will. John and I currently live on a hill a few minutes’ climb from the farmyard, in a huge, sun-filled house that we built largely ourselves, with a glorious view and fabulous neighbours. We made any amount of rookie mistakes building it, but it is nevertheless a place to which I am passionately attached, and I feel I will only be removed from here by someone who has just wielded heavy-duty bolt-cutters to good effect: severing me from whatever I have defiantly handcuffed myself to AND slugging me unconscious.

Which is a bit of a bugger, because A) we don’t own the house, B) John’s parents are fast approaching their seventies, and C) I always knew I’d married the job along with the chap. I currently do minimal stock handling and tractor cultivation work, as my in-laws are both still working and I’m not often required. In 10 years time: the dynamic will doubtless be different. I have no actual objection to taking on more agricultural work (although I always seem to be pregnant/trying to be pregnant during lambing time (sheep = toxoplasmosis = Eeep) and John will only install me in a tractor if he’s resigned to the anguish caused by my total lacksadaisicality in re: straight lines) but I’m trying to picture myself as a proper, fully-paid-up, working farmer’s wife, and the Venn diagram of the person and the role has only partial overlap.

John would be delighted if I were to return to work, I should add. Any work at all. I am a leetle choosier about what I undertake – which is a bit rich considering that I am sat spending his money while I survey a completely flattened and empty jobs market – and, again, I have been adopting a longer-term view concerning the type of role I might want to be fulfilling in ten year’s time. I have never done Long Term Thinking before, and I can’t help but think that I’m Doing It Rong.

There is a reason for all this looking and considering and cogitating and mulling, and it centers partly on Harry’s absence at school, but also on our current situation, which is a painful and difficult one.

John, you see, does not wish to continue assisted reproduction. And that is putting it gently. He would rather put his hand in a mincer. He has a son he is delighted with, a son he knows we were lucky to get, and now wants a family life that can go forward unshadowed by the caustic stress of repeated, harrowing and inexplicable pregnancy loss, misery, and financial pressure. He’s unhappy, and at the end of his personal road.

But. I want to continue. I, atavistically, want another child. If there is a way to peacefully roll over and surrender forever to this failure of mine – mine, mine – I simply don’t know what it is, or the path in me I must take to find it. I was not, it seems, made to go gently into that good night. For nearly 8 years, this, in differing forms and degrees, has been my struggle. I accept I am perhaps now, to some extent, characterised by it.

So, that, baldly, is where we both are. And our present, fortified, positions form something of an emotional scoured precipice, as you might imagine. Synthesis, real compromise: almost impossible. Either John, or I, must come to terms with their life taking shape quite differently to how they desperately want it to, and the potential for ugliness in word and deed has been strolling frighteningly close.

What can each of us bear? Both to suffer, and to forgo?

There is… dialogue. Counselling. Tomorrow: a short holiday, albeit with a cold-ridden, feverish, barking, just-been-calpol-ed-and-soothed-back-to-fitful-doze (AND generally-going-through-a-tough-developmental-temper-patch) child. And cake, of course. There is always cake.

The city’s manic, but my Love is sane.
He likes the hustle – doesn’t want to move.
My Love’s not only urban, but urbane.

I’d leave tomorrow – gladly pack it in,
but he prefers the lamplight to the stars.
We lie in bed marooned inside the din.

He has to stay in reach of Waterloo.
He has to travel in the outside lane.
I tell him that I’ve grown to like it too.
That’s love. You stack the loss against the gain.

Connie Bensley

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Ginger x 4

It appears to be mid-January. Colour me surprised. Consider me beaned over the bonce by tempus fugiting, in fact.

I promised you some recipes… umm. Last year. Queen of Broken Promises, me. You did, in fact, nearly have one, but it didn’t survive the ‘Save Draft’ button-pressing. I do, as it happens, have items other than cake that I would like to blather about here, but, before I can say anything about anything else, the ginger cake recipe staked first claim.

Oftentimes with baking, I gaily hurl other ingredients in also, depending on what is going spare/free/off, and pleasantly surprise myself, so, do have the confidence to go off-piste and piddle about with stuff. You never know what won’t work until you poison yourself. John, who can cook rather a decent roast dinner, a very mediocre Dolmio spag bol and put pizza in the oven, has watched entirely too many episodes of Masterchef, and his subsequent culinary forays into hitherto unmapped zones of ingredient-pairings have been crammed with interest, braggart flavours, and, in my case, digestive anxiety.

My own reputation as a shit-hot baker has been fraudulently acquired, I sincerely believe, unless the only true way to improve your baking is by failing big and failing often. Every fourth thing out of my oven generally evokes a pained cry of ‘what the buggery FUCK did I do wrong NOW?’ as I scan the textural ruin/burnt bits/sunken middle in horror. We make guilty of our disasters the sun, the moon, the stars, and my malevolent bloody fan oven.

However: this recipe is remarkably well-behaved, to the point where I have never actually failed to deliver it, edible, to the plate once embarked upon it, even when ad-libbing freely. Your own mileage will, of course, vary; plus I am so vague in my specified cooking times that you will be able to blame me with impunity if it all goes thoroughly Pete Tong.

Ann’s Quadruple Ginger Cake

I originally took the recipe from here, and tinkered a wee bit with the quantities and method. 

  • 250g/8oz/2 sticks unsalted butter
  • 250g/8oz brown sugar. Dark. Light. Soft. Demerara. Muscavado. Golden. Mixture. Whatever. It all works, it’ll just give you varying shades. I tend to chuck all the rock-hard lumps that have failed to yield to the sieve in my chocolate fudge cake recipe (another day!)into a pot and use them in a melting recipe like this, checking that they fully dissolve.
  • 150g/5oz black treacle/molasses    <——–
  • 150g/5oz golden syrup/pure cane syrup <—–  roughly 300g of treacly syrup is essentially what you are looking to get to here. You can use all treacle if you like; the end result will be very dark, particularly if you’ve used a dark brown sugar, and may well end up being effectively a Treacle Cake, unless you up the ginger-ante accordingly. I usually divide the sweetening honours, unless I have run out of either, in which case I mutter bollocks to it, and use whatever I can scrap out of whatever tin I find. 
  • 300ml/10 fl.oz milk
  • 2 eggs. Size, schmize, doesn’t matter. Whang ’em in.
  • 150g/ 5oz glacé stem ginger. At least. I hurl bushels of the stuff in. Chop it as fine as you can stand without dying of boredom. Save the syrup.

 

  • 375g/13oz plain/all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda/baking soda (Not heaped. Not quuiiiite scraped level. Sorta… a gentle hummock.) 
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder (As above. Bicarb has a bit more raising Ummph, theoretically, in the presence of acid ingredients (which it…doesn’t have here, now I actually think about it) but it also has a distinct taste, so I pair ’em together in the hope of finding the perfect compromise. Use 2 tspns of either one in a storecupboard pinch, and it’ll probably be fine.)
  • 3 teaspoons ground ginger. At least. I put in 5, usually.  

Topping: 

  • A handful of crystallised/candied stem ginger chunks, chopped about a bit.
  • Left-over ginger syrup from the glace jar, mixed with an appropriate amount of
  • Icing sugar/confectioner’s sugar.

Measure the butter, sugar, treacle and syrup into a saucepan and heat gently. Swish it about with a spoon from time to time. Don’t let it overheat.

Amuse yourself while everything dissolves by sifting the flour, ground ginger, bicarb & baking powder into a bowl, and smoothing it up the sides into an inverted cone.

Crack the eggs into the milk & whisk them about until they’re no longer lurking in lumps. When the saucepan ingredients have dissolved, remove from the heat, add the eggy milk into the melt & chivvy it about until it presents a smooth united front. You should be able to stick a finger in it without shrieking at this point.

Pour a smallish amount into the flour bowl, and start stirring in the centre, gradually drawing in the flour, a la Yorkshire Pud.

When it reaches a sticky paste, splosh a tad more syrup in from the saucepan, and stir again. Don’t be tempted to lob all the syrup in too quickly; the flour’ll be hell to work in properly.

When you’re done, add the chopped ginger. Don’t forget the ginger. Do not, for completely-hypothetical-instance, carefully pour your mixture (which will be fairly sloppy) into the tin and place it lovingly on the bottom shelf of the oven, only to wrench the door back open with an anguished moan of despair 5 minutes later, and try to lob handfuls of chopped ginger (lovingly sticky stuff, ginger) into the cake, through the fecking hot bars of the oven shelf above it. *ahem*

Oven Temperatures / Timing / Tin.

A dark art. If you are an anaesthetist, or a rower who spends their entire day manoeuvring to keep a rowing-boat in one particular spot mid-stream of a strong current, you will probably be good at baking cakes. The temperature/timing/tin triad is a hard thing to get right, as altering any one variable affects the other two. I, personally, cook this cake in a 7-inch round or an 8-inch square, greased foil or baking paper-lined tin (it’s a fairly liquid cake, so don’t bung it in a loose-bottomed tin without a lining or it’ll drip out) in a bastard contraption fan oven at 140c, for about an hour, probably a bit longer. (That’s Gas Mark 3/Convention oven 160C/325F.) I tend to just hang about nearby when it’s Time, clucking over it. Or I check it, forget to set the timer, wander off again, succumb to the internet, and burn the bugger; either or. I start having a look at 50-55 minutes, or when it starts to smell cooked, or whenever my spidey-sense screams ALL IS LOST!, whichever comes first. If you divide the cake into 2 smaller loaf tins, they still take best part of an hour, I seem to remember.

A waffle on baking in general: with rising cakes, I try not to open the oven until I know the cake must be set in shape (easier said than done, admittedly, and it does help if it isn’t your first rodeo with the recipe in question) so that the inrush of cold air doesn’t cause any significant sinkage. Dropping it on the oven shelf/floor or plonking it down too hard on the counter are also harbingers of doom, even if you HAVE (for completely-hypothetical-example) just burnt yourself inside a raggedy oven glove. Rise above the pain, good woman/chap! Or your cake… won’t.

Novice baker: there are approximately 1000 books that will explain this, but anyway: to see if a cake is cooked, insert a clean, cold metal skewer into the centre of the cake, hold it there a second or two, and then have a bloody good keek at the end. If you see smearage, the centre’s still wet. Pop it back inside again for about, say, 15% of the total recommended cooking time, and then have another g0 with your wiped clean skewer. Also, have a look around the edge, and see if the cake has shrunk away from the sides slightly yet. You can also assess springiness with a cautious finger-press: compare bounciness between the outer edge and the middle. If there is a soggy discrepancy in the middle: back inside. Cover with a double layer of baking paper if the top is already as brown as you’d like.

(Don’t leave the half-cooked cake cooling/sinking on the worksurface whilst you mess about cutting the right-size shapes to cover the top, mind: you must suffer for your art by replacing the cake, frantically folding your paper shapes, reaching inside the hot oven and negotiating the oven shelves in order to place them neatly on the cake top, and then realising you have cut them far too big to fit in the tin, at which point, if you have a fan oven, it will probably snatch the paper from you and plaster it to the back wall of the oven)

ANYhoo. You will proudly remove from the oven a bee-OOtiful ginger cake, cooked to a turn. No cracks, or other minor blemishes. Umm. 

Cool in the tin, and empty onto a plate.

Now for the topping: chop crystallised/candied ginger thinly and scatter it nicely across the cake top. Empty the glace ginger syrup into a bowl and incorporate sifted icing sugar until it turns into a delicious bowl of slow-moving icing loveliness, and drizzle it over the cake with a fork; the icing’ll anchor the crystallised ginger to the cake and stop it tumbling off if you heap enough on.

And this is where you expect to find a photo of the finished article.

But I’ve never got around to taking one, because I’ve always got my jaws sunk into it before the icing has set. 

<picture of empty plate>

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