I’m currently reading my way through Cooked by Michael Pollan, which I’ve been looking forward to since I first heard about it and was lucky enough to pick up for half price in Waterstones recently.

I love Michael Pollan’s food writing; he takes a great deal of responsibly for slowly changing my attitude to food and grocery shopping. I highly recommend Food Rules,  for more on this. In Cooked, he turns his attention to what is actually going on when we cook;  the chemical reactions for example. I’m about a third of the way through and I love it. There are lots of moments when I think “ah, so that’s why that happens…”, and it makes me want to try cooking something a slightly different way.

More importantly, for me at least, is the fact that it’s reawaking my desire to cook. I’ve enjoyed cooking for a while but not lately. I was struggling with depression again in the later months of 2013 and since January our family life has been completely overturned. But Cooked is helping me remember how much I like making proper, tasty food and rekindling an urge to get back into my kitchen, get my lovely recipe books down and spend some time planning meals that I will enjoy cooking.

An example, to ponder: Pollan has been talking about the chemistry of onions, followed by mentioning the fact that they contain powerful microbial compounds which help make meat safe to eat.

Cooking with onions, garlic, and other spices is a form of chemical jujitsu, in which the first move is to overcome the plants’ chemical defenses so that we might eat them, and the second is to then deploy their defenses against other species to defend ourselves. (Cooked, Pollan,

2013, p145).

And now after all this talk of food, I’m starving so I’m off for some chemical jujitsu…

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My heroes

You know when you try to think of heroes – people you’re inspired by, whose example you aspire to? I’m currently sitting in the swimming baths watching my daughter’s swimming lesson and I think my children might be my heroes.

Daniel is 6. He’s quiet, intelligent and analytical. But he’s quietly confident, an intelligent leader among his friends,  and a diligent, analytical hardworker. He has determination and he doesn’t shy away from a challenge. He’s caring and compassionate and draws people to him.

I want to be like my son.

Emily is nearly 4. She’s dynamite – she lands with a splash wherever she goes and she doesn’t know the meaning of quiet. But she is confident, funny and dances through

life. She has friends and she cares about people. She lives in the moment and she can focus when she needs to.

I want to be like my daughter.

My kids make me immensely proud; not just for what they can do,  though what they can do constantly astounds me,  but for the strong and wise people I see them becoming. They make me more than proud though, they set me an example, and this is a fairly new and startling revelation.

My children are definitely my heroes.


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Dieting fast and other food oddities

I’ve been struggling with my weight for a while now. Managing to hold on to my rather apathetic (to say the least) attitude towards exercise whilst losing the metabolism I had when I was 19 means that I am *cough* stone *cough cough*, have an embarrassing BMI and am heading towards diabetes faster than you can shout “jam doughnut”. The problem is, I like food. I enjoy cooking – especially baking; I enjoy eating – especially cake; I like small social occasions – that involve cake. So any time I’ve tried, rather half-heartedly  I’ll be the first to admit, to diet, I’ve fallen off the carrot wagon rather spectacularly and without much regret. Until I come to try some outfit or other on or see myself in the mirror or a photo.

I thought I’d found a solution to this in the 5:2 way of eating. Y’know, where you eat normally 5 days a week and fast, restricting yourself to 500 calories or a quarter of your recommended calorie intake, for 2 days. You can mix it up, fasting for more days a week or cutting down to 1 day’s fast when you’ve reached your target weight or you’ve had a particularly hectic social life. It sounded ideal, only limiting myself  2 days a week? Cutting out worries about fat, calorie or other monstrosity except for a piddly 48 hours a week? Plus all the other health benefits which were very convincing – hell yeah, I’m up for that.

At first it went pretty well. It wasn’t as hard as I’d expected and I lost a few pounds pretty quickly. Then there  were problems – I had the start of a down time with depression, I had an exam to study for, I had mad things happening at home and basically I struggled to both fit in fast days and enjoy them when I did. And the usual problem of dieting then stopping – the weight went back on, with interest.

Today I thought I’d give it another go. And I was miserable. Not that I particularly wanted to binge on Ben & Jerry’s Phish Food (oh, but now you mention it…) but I was just getting so uptight about the calorie restriction and thinking of some actually very healthy food that I could have been eating instead. Such as the lovely sandwiches Beloved Husband and Emily had for lunch from the new village deli, or the nice granary toast Beloved Husband had for breakfast.

My next approach, ladies and gentlemen, is to try thinking rather more holistically. For a start, as I mentioned above, exercise and I haven’t exactly been soulmates over the last 33 years. I’m pretty sure it’s exercise’s fault, not mine, but I’m prepared to be magnanimous and give it another chance. Our actual diet is pretty healthy to be honest – I could REALLY do with cutting my portion sizes down a bit and being more truthful with myself about how much I snack, but our meals are fairly balanced, nutritious and varied and my repertoire is expanding all the time thanks to books like Jerusalem, Plenty and the River Cottage gang.

It’s funny though, how such an integral part of life, like eating, can be so emotive. You comfort eat (oh alright, I comfort eat), you swing from diet to diet. You turn something meant to be enjoyable into an engorgement where bigger is better (XL Big King, anyone? 32oz steak? triple chocolate fudge cake with whipped cream?) and you lose all sense of proportion. Or you become afraid of food and the horrors of carbs, fat, calories… Speaking of horrors, we turn into horrors ourselves, messing with the food chain to get those bigger burgers, cheeper chickens (boom boom. sorry.) or GM crops. You measure yourself constantly against everyone else – that sinking moment when someone says how horrified they are that they’re so big, and it’s a good 3 stone below your weight – when what you should really be doing is measuring yourself against yourself.

I am overweight, I am unfit and I need to change but not because I’m x size and the mums in the playground or on Facebook are y or z size. I need to change because I don’t want to be monitoring my blood after every meal or feeling too big to wear the clothes I want to wear or avoiding pictures with my babies. I want to graduate in a couple of years with my OU degree and wear a lovely dress under my graduation gown. But I think I need to readjust my attitude to my body fairly significantly; start treating myself with a little more respect and doing what I need to do.

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Leisure and Relaxation

For various reasons I’ve been considering the relationship between leisure and relaxation. I suppose everybody has a basic definition of these two concepts – roughly, that leisure is what you do when you’re not working and relaxation is what? Something that makes you feel refreshed and calm? It’s a slightly harder one to pin down, although, as Beloved Husband said, you know inside when you feel relaxed. I know for example that I feel more relaxed when I’m lying down reading a book but it will take a more logical thought process to think through what exactly it is about that situation that is relaxing. And if it was a game of Taboo, in which I had to describe it without actually saying the word ‘relaxation’, I’d have to think about it a bit.

Leisure is slightly easier although, paradoxically, far more subjective. There is far too much that is leisure to one person but boring slog to another. I mentioned reading above – I know several people for whom reading is boring, hard work or just not their idea of a good time. Leisure could be described as what you do outside of work but I think it needs further clarification into ‘that which is not salaried’ and ‘that which is not obligatory’. Many leisure activities are not salaried but people still have to do them – mowing the lawn for instance is obligatory if you don’t want your garden furniture to disappear into the wilderness forever (possibly taking the children with them, depending on how caught up you are in your own particular relaxing activity…); it has to be done outside of work time unless your work is landscape gardening; and if you don’t find gardening enjoyable it is not relaxing although it is, technically, done in leisure time. Cooking is a relaxing activity for many people, a chore for still more, and obligatory for all as we all need to eat (unless we’ve disappeared into the wilderness created by not mowing the lawn in which case we can eat berries or whatever).

Conversely, there needs to be a little consideration of the definition of work too. Presumably, if you’re the landscape gardener I mentioned earlier, you enjoy gardening. So your work has the double bonus of being both enjoyable and salaried. Does this mean it’s not leisure, even though you enjoy it and it relaxes you? Or does the fact that you rely on it for a living take away the enjoyment and turn a relaxing activity into a chore? What a shame! And an excellent argument for not doing what you enjoy for a living; then you would presumably finish work and go home ready to use your leisure time to the fullest; at least, once you’ve done all those rotten jobs that you don’t get paid for but still have to do. Which would take all your time and energy and boom! You’re back at work again.

Hmm – it’s a thinker…

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Paraphernalia of one’s own

shutterstock_121678021I’m a carrier. I carry stuff around with me everywhere. If I get a new book (joy of joys) I carry it to bed, to each room that I go to, I have it sitting next to me. I have a box of things that I carry upstairs on a night and downstairs on a morning – this is actually part of my self-help, it’s a tip I picked up from I Had A Black Dog by Matthew Johnstone  and contains things to make me feel better, things that remind me of good stuff, of how to be myself.

All of this evidence leads inevitably to the question of handbags. I’m afraid I contribute to the stereotype of a woman obsessed with bags. I love them. I get a bag I like and I use it until it dies, or at least until I have to give it a little rest in the name of humanity. Bag-amity. Whatever. I could window shop for bags for hours as my long-suffering Beloved Husband knows. And I start with very good intentions, honestly I do. I try to limit what I put in my bag to the essentials – a wee bit of essential make-up, a notebook, purse, organiser and of course, my Kindle. It ends up becoming a receptacle for, well, pretty much everything.

But I feel slightly more justified in my hoardiness now, in my clinging to paraphernalia. Paraphernalia, I have learned, is derived from two Greek words, para -meaning beside – and pherne - meaning dowry (Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, p 989, 2009; also noted from Paraphernalia – The Curious Lives of Magical Things by Steven Connor, which looks like an excellent book). It refers to everything that a woman possesses besides her dowry, ie everything which is actually her own. This doesn’t have all that much meaning now but in a time when a woman’s possessions automatically became her husband’s upon marriage, this paraphernalia is actually very significant and, I imagine, quite precious.

It links very nicely with my recent reading of Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s OwnShe famously said that a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write. I’m quite sure she meant it literally, money and your own personal space are both precious and necessary for producing good work. But they are also important for the autonomy and sense of self-distinction that they indicate. Having a space of your own, like having possessions of your own outside your dowry, give you a chance to see yourself as your own entity, entitled to occupy that pocket of space and time in your own right and not merely as ‘wife’ or ‘mother’ or ‘daughter’ however important those roles are. That distinction has been important to women through history, surely? To all humans – that they, themselves, are entitled to occupy that particular bit of space and time despite the prejudices of those around them?

My paraphernalia, then, is a chance to stand up for my rights I suppose! I’m in the lucky position that I’m the only one trying to suppress me, although I am pretty good at that. My paraphernalia is a chance to express who I am – by looking at my paraphernalia, could you tell what kind of person I am? I think so. I have a little bit of make-up – I like to look nice but it’s far from the biggest part of my paraphernalia. I have a notebook – I like to note things down, things that interest me or arouse my curiosity; I’m also a writer. I have a organiser – I’m not very organised and a flick through this would show a stranger all of the lists and appointments and reminders I need to function in the same reality as the rest of the world. It also shows how important my family are to me, in the front there’s a picture of my babies and throughout the pages are appointments like ‘Daniel’s swimming lesson’ or ‘Emily’s nursery’. I have a kindle – books are hugely important to me, and scanning the books I have on my kindle would give someone the impression of a butterfly with a wide range of interests; the books not yet finished (oh, that tell-tale progress bar!) show how my concentration can be distracted by the new pretty shiny thing.

I’d say that’s a pretty good picture of me. So my paraphernalia has truly become, in a sense, my room of my own and my own self and I shall continue to carry my paraphernalia around with me and take up that pocket of space with pride. Or at least, without guilt.

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Flitting Around the Arts

It seems my whole creativity has been locked away somewhere, just out of reach. Like a particularly tormenting biscuit barrel that a child (oh no, Emily, whatever makes you think I was thinking of you?) can just see but is too high to touch. I keep saying, I will write, I will blog, I will draw, I will play but it’s never quite the right time for that. I’m beginning to reach it – picture a wobbly two year old stretching and balancing on tiptoes – and part of the reason for that is my recent plunge into the arts.

The Open University course I began in October – and somehow am nearly finished – is The Arts Past and Present and has been a breathtaking tour through history, poetry, art, classical studies, philosophy, religious studies, english literature, music history… have I missed anything? Probably. While the biggest gain from the course has been greasing my rusty old brain cells again, I’ve come away with a new appreciation of The Arts that I never had. I’m discovering the joy of wandering around an art gallery (including the stuff that doesn’t look like anything), reading new poetry (including the stuff that doesn’t rhyme), thinking new thoughts (including the stuff that doesn’t seem to make sense…yet).

Last weekend Beloved Husband and I went into the Laing art gallery in Newcastle. It’s the first time I’ve been to a traditional gallery and happily I had already covered and enjoyed the coursework on art history, giving me some basic skills to appreciate the paintings. I really did. It was awe-inspiring to be millimetres away from these wonderful paintings and to try to tease out what each one was making me feel. I’ll be back. Bwahaha.

And today I got a book of poetry by Carol Ann Duffy from the library in Durham. I’ve never really read her work, and I’m entirely new to poetry having blocked out GCSE English other than a few fragments of Owen’s Dulce et Decorum Est. All I know about poetry is an introduction via Seamus Heaney and Thomas Hardy in my course assignment, and Stephen Fry’s rather wonderful book, The Ode Less Travelled. Oh, and I tried some Sylvia Plath but struggled a little, despite really wanting to ‘get’ her. So today I fancied being brave and trying a whole book of poetry by one author and I took home The Bees, Duffy’s first anthology since becoming Poet Laureate. I devoured it in pretty much one sitting and then started again. I loved the language, the emotions she wrought, and the pictures she made real.

So while my own creativity is locked away, I’m feeding on the creativity of others and at the minute, I’ve got a reading list as long as my arm. I don’t know how long it will take me to reach that part of myself again but I do know I’m getting there, and that along the way I’m finding new and wonderful arts to enrich my soul a thousand times more than it was before.

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Five ways to help yourself through depression

It’s a couple of months since I posted about my depression and I’ve since been to see my doctor and started on anti-depressants. I’m a different person to the one I was a few months ago; I’m cooking, looking after my house and my kids, starting the first module of an Open University degree and even taking small steps to get back into writing and revising the novel draft I finished earlier this year.

I hadn’t realised until looking back over the past few months, years, whatever, how much of my life was lost to depression. Now that I’m getting my life back I think how lucky I am and how important it is that anyone who is worrying about depression gets some help. Anti-depressant medication won’t help everyone, or it might but only after much experimentation to see what suits you personally, but it has to be worth a shot.

Anyway, there are some small things I’ve found that help lift me, even with the drugs, when I feel that dark tug.

  1. Music. Make a playlist and put on your ipod, burn it to a CD, whatever. Make a couple, actually; one should be a wallowing CD, where you feel free to just feel miserable. IMHO this should be saved for certain occasions like where those blasted hormones add their tuppence’orth to the slurry pit of life. The main one should be any and all music that gets you singing along or dancing in the kitchen or nodding like the Churchill dog, whatever eclectic mix it ends up as. One of my mood CDs has some Breton folk music, the 1812 Overture and Christina Aguilera’s Beautiful all on the same CD and I love it. FYI, Queen are generally a good bet. Can anyone resist doing a Wayne’s World to Bohemian Rhapsody?
  2. Find a ‘hand hobby’. Mine is baking (Marian Keyes’ book is an excellent place to start), yours could be gardening, knitting, woodcarving. Something traditional and satisfying, that really uses your hands. For all though there’s something soothing about using your hands and sort of getting back to basics, I’ve heard too that actually stimulating the nerves in your hands produces happy hormones. Sounds good to me? Also, it’s very stress-relieving to knead the bejeebus out of bread dough or chop carrots with venom. Better the carrots than the husband, if you ask me.
  3. Light a candle. Yes, even in summer. The dancing light of the flame is hypnotising and soothing, and the scent should be one that makes you happy. Spend time, AGES in fact, browsing a good selection of scented candles to find one you like and remember that smell is quite a personal thing, with a scent that one person loves doing absolutely nothing for someone else. I have a Yankee Candles Black Cherry one that I love. It’s a very happy scent, fruity and sweet and ever so slightly decadent-dressed-up-as-wholesome.
  4. Get into nature. Gardening, as I said above, is fabulous although I’m no-one to talk since I’m generally acknowledged among the family as the Kiss of Death to plants. But I hear it’s very good for you and the time I do spend in the garden I feel peaceful and satisfied. Sally Brampton in her book Shoot the Damn Dog is a wonderful advocate of gardening. Plus you’ll be saving the planet and that’s a great thing for giving a teeny boost to your sense of self-worth. There’s also going for a wander in some greenery, going to the beach and running sand and/or water through your fingers or going to the top of a windy, exposed hill like in the Dales and letting the elements hit you. Even better if it’s raining, but try to have someone standing by in the car with a flask of tea and a towel and a hug. I love the feel of rain on me, it really reminds me I’m alive which is far too easy a thing to forget.
  5. Explore alternative remedies. I’m a great believer in aromatherapy and western herbalism, and I hear loads about the power of meditation and mindfulness. Close your eyes in the middle of a depressive spell and spend five minutes breathing deeply and listening. If there’s running water nearby that’s a bonus but it would be good if you weren’t distracted by needing a wee in the middle of connecting with your inner self.

These help me, but won’t all work for everyone. The important thing is to find what does work for you in my opinion. Some people find writing during depression extremely therapeutic; I couldn’t face a pen and am having to ease myself back in. And all of these are self-help tricks, not cures. No substitute for going to a trusted doctor and talking through how you feel. Most importantly, acknowledging to first yourself, then your closest family, that there’s a problem is absolutely essential and can take ages. I’ve had a problem for years but didn’t acknowledge it till last year, and even then it took months to come to terms with properly and even longer to ask for help in the form of medication. The important thing is to give yourself permission to feel how you do then you can start to look after yourself.

Now I’m off to pummel some bread dough.

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Eat Food.

A lot of different things over the last year or so have changed the way I react to the world. Last year I became more interested in cooking, for example. It was still just one of those things you have to do; I wasn’t particularly enjoying it (although more so than before) and I certainly wouldn’t have said it was one of my interests. It didn’t help that I had a tiny cooker with a bottom-burning oven (the flame was on the bottom of the oven. It didn’t burn my bottom. I mean…oh, never mind.) and fairly basic equipment that hadn’t been updated much since I was a student a million years ago.

I also had the struggle with my faith and an increasing sense of social responsibility, which led me to Quakerism, which fostered my growing sense of social responsibility. And so on, in ever-spiralling ethical, fair trade, recyclable circles. I’ve also developed a fondness for bees, and quite like the idea of having a hive; ‘idea’ is as far as it’ll ever get as Beloved Husband is not that keen on the very expensive and laborious idea, so I’ll have to make do with a bee hotel. Yes, it’s a real thing.

We moved house, which gave me both a brand-new, squeaky-clean cooker (with a proper oven! Of a decent size! With a second oven on top!!) and a garden, with enough room to begin thinking about growing my own herbs and vegetables for the first time in my life. I also saw a doctor about my depression which gave me a sort of permission to start thinking of ways to help myself – including baking. Now that I have a proper oven, I threw myself into baking and found a) that baking and cooking are really, really therapeutic and b) that I can do it. I can make things that make people’s eyes glaze over and cause them to do that little hum of satisfaction. And baking led me to savoury, ‘proper’ cooking, and thinking about our diet as a whole, which has radically changed over the past couple of years, especially the last 5-6 months.

I will admit here that I am pretty badly overweight, but since I enjoy food it’s been a horrible struggle to motivate myself enough to diet. Paul McKenna’s book I Can Make You Thin has been a huge help, with its emphasis on a few simple guidelines, more to do with the way you eat than what you actually eat, and I’ve gained a huge amount of control over what was previously mindless comfort eating. I really notice the flavour of food more now, and get more enjoyment from smaller but tastier portions. I listen to when my body tells me I’m hungry and try to stop when I’m full.

Daniel being a Superhero!Then, bearing in mind that I’m already picturing cabbages growing in my wee garden  à la The Good Life, we found ourselves in Cornwall on holiday, very near the Eden Project at St Austell.

Wow. I think, in a slowburning kind of way, it might have changed my life. I can’t recommend a visit enough. The range of plants they have growing there is incredible and they hammer home (HARD!) the fact that there is more to food than how it ends up on your plate or in the supermarket. Seeing rice growing, or coffee beans, or cocoa beans, or chilli peppers, makes you think a little bit more about what you’re eating, and appreciate it a little bit more too.

So we came home, and little bits of things are ticking away in my head. Discovering I can cook, along with Andrew’s preference for savoury things, and beginning to read cookery magazines with real pleasure, has led me recently to plan much more healthy and varied meals. We’re even trying vegetarian meals once a week; this is a major thing for us!

Thinking about the source of food, a disappointment over Morrisons’ decision to reintroduce eggs from caged hens into their stores make me look into food sourcing. I’ve bought free range eggs, fair trade coffee, tea, bananas and sugar for years; I’m going back to my brief pledge of a couple of years ago to eat (wherever possible) fairtrade chocolate; and we’ve started buying organic milk.

Then I read a sample (thank you, Kindle) of the wonderful Michael Pollan’s In Defence of Food, as well as his The Omnivore’s Dilemma  and I’ve just finished Food Michael PollanRules; yep, also his. These bits of writing have helped me bring together all the different influences on me over the past year or so and how I make changes for the better in our lives.

Basically, his rule is: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. Genius!!

The key thing here is to realise that he’s talking about FOOD, not food-like, processed, substances. Richard Bertinet, the chef, has a similar attack on bread, calling shop-bought mass produced bread not bread but a bread-like substitute (yes, bread-making is on the agenda for the near future too). Michael Pollan extends this to all packaged and processed food, and it’s not until recently that I realised just how much of this I bought. He recommends buying fresh, whole foods and cooking yourself wherever possible. He tries to get us to evaluate the nature of our relationship with food, and by extension, with where food comes from ie Nature. It all comes back to our connection to our world and how we impact on it. And how awareness of Nature impacts on us.

Now, I’m not naive (ok, not THAT naive). I know that, particularly now, good whole food can be expensive, and we’re still in the position of having to watch where our money goes. We may well have to go back to eating cheap processed food. But I’m also discovering that with some planning, cooking proper food is actually, counter-intuitively, NOT working out as much more expensive. Seriously. Obviously, some things make a substantial difference such as organic veg, meat, etc. But on the whole, our food bills are little different to what they were 8 to 10 months ago and our diet is changed beyond recognition. I’m throwing out my rules on fats, nutrients and sugars; we’re having some treats, some meats and plenty of veg. I’m also looking at Mediterranean influences and flavours as that’s what suits us as a family.

I seriously recommend that people have a read of Michael Pollan’s work. I’m in no position to judge anyone’s cooking or lack of it or their approaches to food, but I know that I had very, very bad habits which are now changing.

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Doing Ok

So, my posts lately, as well as being ever so slightly erratic, have not been particularly cheerful, have they? Apart from the Saved by Cake one. Cake is always cheerful, unless something goes horribly wrong. Well, I thought I might pop in and say, I’m doing ok.

What inspired this? I was hanging washing on the line, the children were playing with abandon and joy in the garden, the sun was shining and warm and I had one of those really special moments where you stop and realise “right now, I’m happy’. Actually happy, properly, daft-smile-on-your-face-for-no-reason happy.

A few weeks ago, no matter what anyone said, I couldn’t have counted my blessings if they jumped up and hit me in the face with a wet herring. I could reel of a list of things that were going well but that just didn’t translate in my brain into ‘These are things about my life that tell me life is good’. Now I can see them for the gifts that they are: my kids are happy and healthy (now that Daniel has got over the horrible tonsillitis that spoiled his last fortnight of term) and sun-kissed and soaking up fresh air and sunshine (yes, even in the north-east of England! Well, it’s all relative) and clever and inquisitive and loving and, most important, they know they are loved. My husband is tired but seeing real success and fulfilment through his business. I’m throwing myself into cooking and learning to enjoy being a housewife for the first time since taking on this, frankly, terrifying and exhausting role. And I am letting my brain tick over; I’m not saying I’m writing again but there are rusty old cogs beginning to turn again. Today’s blog post is tangible proof of that (can a blog post be tangible? The metaphysics of the internet!). I’m getting closer to my family and closer to my real self. Once I find my real self again, the Real Becca (scary, eh?) I can begin to reconnect with the world again; I’m starting, in my own little way.

One of the tv shows the Best Beloved and I enjoy together is Outnumbered, the semi-improvised sitcome about the Brockman family.. It’s mad, chaotic and messy, and funny and true. One of the ongoing character traits of Sue, the mum, is her we-all-so-do-that tendency to compare herself to all the other mums. But you know, I think the Brockmans have things pretty well-cracked. Sue has a job and her house is untidy but not dirty, more a ‘lived-in’ look, she has a stable marriage and they have a secure income and a gorgeous house. More importantly, their kids are hard work, yes, but they’re intelligent, sociable, conversational, curious and they have a strong bond to each other despite the frequent spats. I think Sue’s doing ok.

I think I am too.

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Saved by Cake

I remember hearing about Marian Keyes having a bad time but beyond feeling sympathy for her, I didn’t think too much of it at the time. Then over the last couple of years my own problems kind of took over everything.

Marian KeyesWhen I saw a copy of Saved by Cake on the shelf in Waterstones, it drew me in first by the gorgeous cover with its retro colours and style. Then I noticed the author and remembered her having troubles, which led me to pulling the book down and reading the intro, and flicking through the recipes. I then spent the next two weeks either drooling over the pictures I had seen or feeling drawn to Marian’s brutally honest description of her depression and her warm and witty way of writing until I got the book for myself yesterday.

I spent all evening reading every single recipe (when I was allowed to; Emily shows every sign of inheriting my penchant for cakes and insisted on looking at every picture herself. Two or three times…) and trying to restrain myself from rushing straight out to Sainsburys and buying a list of ingredients and cookie cutters (do read her take on cookie cutters. I love it!) a mile long. I decided to limit myself to trying a recipe a week (well, maybe two…) and this morning bought the ingredients for the first one to do some time this week, probably at the weekend.

Then this afternoon I went to a parent and toddler group. Now, I’ve mentioned my social anxieties before. They make these groups a particular kind of torture, and I’m serious, I think I get through the entire group without more than 5 words spoken to anyone except Emily. I spend all the time I’m not talking feeling miserable and anxious about not talking and it all goes horribly wrong. Emily goes home bouncing because she’s had time with new toys and I go home ready to burst into tears, every bad feeling about myself confirmed again and again. So this afternoon when I came home, I thought ‘Why not, let’s give Saved by Cake a go,’ and did the Blondie cupcakes (white chocolate and macadamia nut…).

Now, there’s a funny thing about baking as therapy. I do have a tendency to comfort eat, but that’s the weird thing. I found baking these cupcakes (and most of the cooking I’ve done over the last few weeks) unbelievably calming. I feel much better and I’ve only had half of a cupcake (just to test, y’know). It’s not the end result that’s the point of doing this, as nice as it is; it’s completely about the process.

It’s not like I’ve just discovered baking through Marian Keyes, I’ve been increasingly keen on cooking and baking over the last couple of years and it’s picked up madly since we moved house and I got a really nice oven (my last oven was no good for baking as the flame went under the floor of the oven and burned the bottom of stuff before the top was cooked. I daresay a good cook could have managed with it; I’m not that cook). I’ve done a few nice cakes lately, mostly plain sponges with cream and strawberries, and a couple of packet mixes – highly recommended for a quick and cheap cake fix eg for Sunday tea as they’re very light and tasty and did I mention cheap? But Marian Keyes’ book has opened up a whole new world of flavours and possibilities, both classic and traditional as well as more exotic like Chocolate, Cardamom and chilli tart, and it’s totally about the process, like I said earlier. If you want a cake for the sake of eating it, buy a packet mix or even a ready made one. If you want to bake and be Saved by Cake, buy this book and start exploring.

And incidentally, her simply wonderful voice shines through and has made me into the latest Marian Keyes fiction fan. Now I’m off to snuggle down with a Blondie cupcake and a novel.


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