Monday 24 September 2012

She can read

I thought it was the moment your child took their first steps that went down in teary-eyed, handheld-camera history. Not true. Today, Chotto-ma read. She sat on my lap, book open, and words stumbled jerkily out of her mouth. Much like her feet on their first walk.

Not her usual pretend-reading, this. She wasn't making up a long-winded tale as she went along. Her words matched those in the book. And for me, it suddenly made time a very tangible thing. She was growing up, whoosh. And even as she sat on my lap, a door had suddenly been nudged open. 

Surely something momentous happens when you learn to read? Surely something shifts, changes, re-aligns? Printed words spill in through doors and windows, and thoughts fester in the floorboards. Opinions are formed, minds are made. You question. You open latches that don't even exist.

You're no longer read to. You read. As of this day, Chotto-ma will read. And form. And fly.

It made me squeeze her, and squeeze her. And it made D squeeze her, and squeeze her. And it made us whoop a little.

And then we shut the book lest she should grow up too quickly.

Not today. Not just yet, Chotto-ma.

So we went to the woods to collect twigs and make dragon-flies instead.  We sat under tents and bent willows into wings. We walked amongst old, fallen treetrunks and looked for tigers and lions and bears.

And we baked a cake when we got back home.

It's the kind of cake that you bake when you're on the brink of something new. Something big, but in a quiet kind of way. Like the moment when you realise your child can read.

Almond & wild berry cake (or The-day-she-read cake)

My friend, Gabriela, made me a jar of luscious-red preserve of wild berries picked from her garden. When she gave me the little jar, I knew I wanted to put it into a cake. And I should've squirrelled away the jar for the long winter, but who does that with a good thing.

Here's her no-nonsense recipe first. The cake (but baked in a flan dish) follows.

Gabriela's berry preserve

Put berries (blueberries and blackberries in this case) in a clean, dry, 250 gm glass jam jar.
Fill only about 3/4th of the jar.
Cover the berries with 2 tbs of sugar.  Close lid tight.
Fill a pan with water that comes up to half of the jar. With the jar standing in water, bring it to the boil.
After 20 minutes, take the pan off heat. Let jar cool complete.
You can store the unopened jar of preserve on a shelf for a couple of months, but must refrigerate once you've opened the lid.

The cake

50gm plain flour
200gm ground almonds
200gm salted butter (yes, salted)
200gm caster sugar
4 eggs
Zest and juice of 1 lemon (unwaxed)
2 tsp baking powder (levelled)
Your jar of berry preserve

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C. Grease your cake tin with some of the butter. (Don't ask me why I baked mine in a flan dish - it was just one of those things)
Beat the butter and sugar till it's lovely and fluffy. Beat eggs in another bowl, then add the egg, a bit at a time, to the fluffy mix.
Sift flour and baking powder together. Add the flour to the mix, and beat it all in.
Add the ground almonds, lemon juice and zest. Fold everything into a smooth batter.
Pour the mix into your cake tin (or flan dish).
Gently pour the preserve on top, and with a fork, swirl it in in a concentric circle.
Slip it into the oven for 45-50 minutes.

This cake tastes even better when kept overnight. But do you think we waited?

Tuesday 4 September 2012

Araf, araf, araf

That's 'slow' in Welsh. Slow, slow, slow.

Slow, like the old train that trundled up Snowdon. Slow like the smoke that wafted out of the chimney of our bed-&-breakfast. Slow like a sheep's chew.


Because you want the time to last. Even as your car speeds through mountain roads, and curves around coastlines, you slow down. You melt a little bit, your shoulders lose their angles, and you breathe in-in-in. It's atrocious, the sheer beauty of Wales. Fierce, sharp and gentle, all at the same time.

D, Chotto-ma and I spent a week winding through North Wales. The first half in the mountains, and the second along the coast.

I've been waiting to share the week with you, so hop on, strap yourself in, and slow down.

The mountains
From Betws-y-coed, to Llanberis, up to the summit of Mount Snowdon. And down past mountain streams that giggled like a child and waterfalls that fell downdowndown. Faeries floated past I think.

The coast

We started with Portmerion - Wales' unashamed 'riviera' - which makes you walk around with a silly smile on your face.

Then on to the tiny fishing village of Aberdaron. From Aberdaron to Porthdinllaen, where a pub called the Ty Coch Inn stood like an old weathered boat on a small smuggler's cove. Tucked away from all the world. Offering warm, baked pots of food to only those who ventured far enough to find it.

Our Welsh week ended at Llandudno - the lively Victorian seaside town that leaned against the mountains and stretched its feet into the sand.

Araf. Araf. Araf.