Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Feeling sorry for myself tastes goooood!

Time to share another naughty but oh-so-tasty recipe!
I loosly based this on a recipe I've been making since I was a kid... it's ridiculously easy, and deliciously moist (chocolate cake can come out horribly dry but this one always seems to work, as long as you don't over cook it!)

Chocolate cupcakes with white chocolate and honey icing
Makes approx 12

To make the cake:
5oz self raising flour
1oz cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon bicarb of soda
pinch of salt
6oz brown sugar
3 eggs, beaten
1/4 pint veg oil
1/4 pint milk
1 tablespoon honey
To make the icing:
4oz butter, softened
6oz icing sugar
4 tablespoons greek yoghurt
150g white chocolate
2 tablespoons runny honey

1. Preheat the oven at 160C and set out a tray of cupcake cases (I used re-usable silicone cases as they keep their shape perfectly
2. Sift the flour, baking powder, bicarb, salt and cocoa powder into a large bowl
3. Add the honey and eggs and begin to mix
4. While mixing, pour over the milk and oil in a steady flow and keep mixing until you have a smooth batter
5. Pour into the cases and bake in the middle of the oven for around 15mins. Keep checking on them as cooking times vary from oven to oven. You want them to be springy to the touch.
6. While they're cooling make the icing: sieve the icing sugar onto the butter and beat until soft and fluffy
7. Melt the chocolate in a bowl over a pan of hot water. Do this slowly at a low temperature and take it off the heat as soon as it's all melted- if it overheats it will go crumbly.
8. Pour the chocolate over the icing mix, and stir in
9. Add the honey and yoghurt and mix until well blended.
10. When the cakes are completely cold, put the icing into a piping bag with a star shaped nozzle and pipe a generous swirl of icing onto each cake. Dust with cocoa powder and put into the fridge for the icing to set.
11. Nom nom nom nomnomnomnomnom om nom nom.

Creativity vs Analysis

One of the things I like most about my therepist is that she encourages me to tackle my depressions creatively. Sometimes I really do have to force myself to put work down for an hour or two- I have to fight the feeling that time is money and I should be doing something productive rather than selfish. But then I always remind myself that life isn't just about work, life is about health and happiness too, and not only that, but I will work far more productively if my head is clear and I am calm and positive!
Recently we've been talking about an unhappy period during my childhood, which has been difficult for me to do. I pushed that 14 year old me so far back into my head, I totally denied that she was in any way a part of me, and was actually a little disgusted to discover I still have a lot in common with her.
But once I got used to the idea, I decided that what I needed to do was to sort out this problem once and for all. I would look for answers. I would pick apart every bit of that 14 year old girl and work out who I am now and how she is a part of me. I would undoubtedly discover something if I just analysed the information at hand. I made a spreadsheet and started filling it in, and decided to discuss my findings with my therepist. I have to admit, she looked a little taken aback.
It was at this point that she suggested that instead of analysing and filling in tables, I produce some artwork based on the question of 'who am I?' No in-depth thinking, no tables or lists or spreadsheets, just art.
And my only thought was 'it'll never work.'
How could I possibly learn anything without thinking about it and breaking it down logically? That's just nonsense.
I told her 'Ok, I will do some artwork, but it probably won't help.'
So I went home and thought over and over, how was I going to do this? I tried a few things, nothing worked. I was bored, I wasn't finding out anything I hadn't already thought of... and finally, yesterday afternoon I gave up and decided to go back to her and tell her that, as I had predicted, it hadn't helped.
So I finished my work and curled up with my hotwater bottle and a book, and for the first time that day, I relaxed. As I let go of the day and slipped into a world where the earth is powered by gears and cogs, and people are captured and forced to mop the decks of giant zeppelins, I became aware of a physical sensation of something unhooking and freeing up.
And at that point a floodgate opened up to some part of my head I hadn't visited in many years. I picked up a pen and started doodling.
At first, something inside me fought the process. In fact, I was a little frightened of what I was doing, as if drawing these characters would make them more real and I would end up schizophrenic. I mean, I’ve always had conflict in my head, and have toyed with the idea that I have different characters that fight to be ‘me’, but I have never really considered them to be ‘people’ in their own rights, or wondered what they would look like.
But now I was finding them in my head, letting them fill me up. It was almost as if they were just using my hand to draw self portraits. I wasn’t exactly thinking, I was just drawing what felt right.
And then, several hours later, I put the pen down. There, looking back at me, were 5 parts of the inside of my head. Characters that made perfect sense and seemed so familiar, but were so suprising and new.
It HELPED. So much more than my spreadsheets had done! It felt free and easy and more than anything else, fun! As soon as I closed my notebook I fell into a sound sleep, and woke up feeling clear-headed and positive.
And so I suggest to everyone, even if you don't think you can draw, have a go!

Friday, 4 November 2011

Small Pleasures

I've been seeing a lovely emotional therepist for the last few months. Something I always said I'd never do, but that totally blew me away when I realised how much it actually did help!

She reminds me to enjoy the little things: that success doesn't have to mean achieving every life-long dream at once, it can also mean making your own face-mask and having a sleepover; putting together the perfect playlist on iTunes; or maybe carving a pumpkin and then using the inside to cook something delicious!

The first I haven't done yet (but am looking forward to making happen at some point), the second and third I have indulged in during the last week. The pumpkins you see here were carved the Sunday before Halloween, whilst watching my favourite Halloween movie, Hocus Pocus (gotta love Bette Middler), and then followed by a delicious meal with my housemate and her lovely new man. I made warm pumpkin salad as a starter for the meal. It was good.

So I thought I'd share some recipies that make fantastic use of the leftover pumpkin! A reminder to always enjoy small pleasures.

Recipe 1
Warm Pumpkin and Feta Salad
Serves 4
The seeds and flesh of 1 small pumpkin, flesh cut roughly into 1 inch chunks
Crushed chillies
Juice and grated zest of 1 lime, plus a little extra juice for serving
2 tablespoons runny honey
generous drizzle olive oil
6 sprigs fresh thyme
approx 1 teaspoon paprika
1 pack feta cheese
salt and pepper

1. Preheat oven at 150 C
2. Wash seeds and mix with 1/2 teaspoon chilli flakes, the lime zest and juice, and some salt and pepper. Roast in the oven on a baking tray for 30-40 mins, tossing once during cooking, until they're dry and crispy
3. Next place the pumpkin flesh in another tray. Mix together the honey, oil and thyme, pour over the pumpkin and mix until well coated.
4. Sprinkle over about another 1/2 teaspoon of chilli flakes, the paprika and some salt and pepper, and cover with foil
5. Turn the oven up to 190 C and roast the pumpkin for 20mins, then remove the foil and cook for around another 20mins, basting regularly until the sauce and pumpkin wedges have caramalised.
6. Cut the feta into 1cm cubes. Mix together with the pumpkin and finally squeeze over a little more lime juice and sprinkle with the seeds. Serve with creme fraiche and warm buttery bread.

Recipe 2
Proper American Pumpkin Pie
Serves 10-12 depending on portion size!
4oz plain flour
1oz icing sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2oz butter
1 1/2oz lard
A little very cold water
300g mashed, cooked pumpkin flesh
1 small tin evaporated milk
2 eggs, beaten
150g dark soft brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Start by making the pastry case:
1. Preheat oven at 190C
2. Sift the flour, salt and sugar together into a large mixing bowl
3.Cut the butter and lard into small chunks and mix into the flour using a knife, cutting up the lumps as you mix.
4. Once it's is in small pieces, use your fingertips to gently rub and mix the butter and lard into the flour, until it looks like breadcrumbs
5. Add a little splash of water and mix using your hands. Make sure the mixture stays cold- this is the key to good pastry! So use very cold water and keep a window open if it's hot in the kitchen...
6. Add enough water to make a dough. The bowl should be left clean. Then cling-film the ball of dough and leave in the fridge while you make the filling:
7. Cut a small pumpkin into 1 inch chunks and remove the skin, seeds and any stringy bits. Put the pumpkin in a saucepan and cover with boiling water, then simmer for approx 30 mins until it's soft.
8. Drain and leave to cool.
9. While you're waiting, you can take the pastry from the fridge and use it to line a 20cm flan dish. Put a circle of baking parchment in the centre to stop the inside from burning or bubbling up, then blind-bake the pastry case for 10 mins. Don't throw away the pastry cuttings, you can use these later on.
10. Next, blend/mash the pumpkin to a pulp. Weigh out 300g of the mash, and place in a bowl. (Don't throw the rest away, it makes a really good soup heated up with some cooked onions, coconut milk, thai spices and veg stock)
11. Add all the other filling ingredients to the bowl and mix till combined.
12. Remove the paper from the pastry case and pour in the mixture, then return it to the oven for 15mins, when the top of the filling should be starting to harden.
13. At this point, I take the leftover bits of pastry and cut out little star shapes, then carefully place them at random on the top of the pie. Just a pretty little touch, not exactly neccessary, but like I said, pleasure in small things!
14. Put the pie back in the oven and cook for approx another 20-25mins, until the filling is set but still soft.
15. Serve hot or cold (but I prefer it hot) with a generous dollop of fresh cream. NOM!

Funny picture of the week...

It's life Jim, but not as we know it

I had an interesting thought last night, just as I was drifting off to sleep.

In fact, now that I think about it, I don't really know why this wasn't obvious to me before.

So, I seem to have more or less got over my bout of insomnia, praise the lord! I was lying there last night, warm and clean after my nice long bath, tummy full of hot chocolate, and I was sleepily thinking about... well... a number of things, as you do when you're just about on the point of sleep, but no matter how hard I tried to forget it, this little song kept appearing there in my head, drowning out my other nice thoughts. I can't even remember what the song was now, but it kept going, over and over. I'd push it away, and it would come back again.

And that's when this brand new thought occurred to me. I've always assumed I have complete conscious control over what I do, how I act and what I think. I have this constant rational (and very often totally irrational) narration to my life, in my head. I assumed this part was the one in control, but there it was, telling this little song 'Go away, not in the mood for little songs right now, it's bedtime.' But the song wouldn't do what it was told.

My assumption had been that this controlling 'voice' (for want of a better word) was the one that made all the decisions. But now it seemed to be loosing control, like a supply teacher trying to scold a relentlessly unruly pupil.

And this is not the first time, by a long shot, that I've had this kind of subconscious argument between a part of myself that wants to be in control and another part that wants to act out. Except I don't think I ever really GOT it before.

Ok, so Mr Spock may have been in total control of his thoughts and emotions, but Mr Spock was a fictional alien! We are, none of us, in control. Not 100% anyway. There are parts of our brains and bodies that just act, because they are living material and they're doing what they do. No amount of self-scolding or mental pep-talks will stop this from happenning.

One might be inclined to worry about this sort of lack of control, but you know what, in this case, I personally find it quite comforting. Because it doesn't just apply to little songs. I can stop getting so frustrated and angry at myself for feeling and thinking things that aren't 'good'. It doesn't mean I won't still HAVE these thoughts and feelings, but at least they might not trigger the usual downward spiral of self hate that they have done in the past!

I don't think it's about not thinking and feeling things, I think it's about choosing which ones you want to act on.