September is finally here, although you wouldn’t know it. I dug out all my cosiest knits over the weekend and was reunited with my favourite fluffy grey jumper. I very proudly threw it on to head off to brunch with the dog and husband on Sunday only to end up throwing it in the wash when I got back because it was drenched in my sweat. Lovely. Why does September always do this to us? Just when you let yourself get excited for colder days, jumpers and boots chunky enough to crunch through fallen leaves, one of those trademark September scorchers suddenly arrives. Sadly my favourite fluffy jumper is going to have to wait for a while, but there is one Autumn tradition that’s well and truly under way in my house and that’s Autumn baking – especially with apples.
One of my lovely neighbours gave me a bag full of cooking apples the other day and I cannot wait to get stuck in making making Apple Fritters, Apple Cookies and of course, my favourite Apple Pie Cake. But the truth is that I got a head start on the Apple Bakes back in August when I whipped up this Apple Rag Pie. The original recipe comes from Nigella Lawson, who made a traditional Greek Rag Pie using feta, sesame seeds and plenty of honey. Problem is, I’m not a big fan of Feta, but the basic idea was definitely something I wanted to try and so I switched out the cheese for spiced apples and toasted flaked almonds. Crunchy and packed full of juicy spiced apple chunks, it’s not only a doddle to make but is banging served hot with a blob of ice cream and packs a little extra punch from some Calvados soaked sultanas. It also freezes well, so whip it up now and it’ll be there waiting for you when those cold nights really begin to draw in. 🙂
4 apples, skinned, cored, chunked (…is that a thing?)
1/2 tbsp ground cinnamon
100g caster sugar
100ml Calvados (or regular Brandy)
50g toasted, flaked almonds
Place the sultanas in a bowl, pour over the Calvados Brandy and leave to soak ideally overnight or until they’re plump and drunk. 🙂
Boil the apple chunks in water until they’re soft, but still hold shape. Drain, sprinkle with the sugar and cinnamon and then set aside.
To assemble the Rag Pie; line the base of a deep rectangular baking tray with one layer of filo pastry, then brush with a little melted butter. Next, separate the remaining filo sheets into three equal piles. Take the first pile; tear and scrunch the sheets of filo – loosely balling them and placing them into the tray (careful not to press down!). Scatter over half of your apple mix and sultanas, then pour over a little more melted butter. Repeat the process with your next pile of filo.
Scrunch and tear the last layer to top the pile, then pour over the last of the butter. Section the pie into equal slices with a sharp knife, being very careful not to squash down your layers of filo (otherwise you’ll get a soggy pie). Whisk together the eggs and milk, then pour over the pie. Top with the toasted, flaked almonds.
Bake in a preheated oven for 30 minutes at 180°C and serve hot with ice cream or whipped cream.
(You can also freeze it and cook it from frozen, just pop it in a cold oven, then heat it up at 180°C for 45 minutes. 🙂
I don’t know about you but I am officially done with the 30°C heat. In a country that rarely sees the mercury creep above 25, it’s been HELL; I mean, my house is made for drizzly Welsh winters, not stinking, sticky hot summers (emphasis on the ST-ICKY) – and neither am I. On a recent shopping trip I stumbled across an aisle full of thick woolly jumpers and winter coats and let me tell you, I am so ready to feel that cool September bite in the air. And while I’m not ready to say goodbye to the sunshine yet, the summer fatigue I get every year around this time has definitely started to set in.
Hopefully we’re done with the sweat and the humidity for now, but just in case we’re not – here’s the perfect antidote. I absolutely love fresh lemonade – and if you’ve never made it yourself before then why not? It’s an absolute doddle; there’s a reason why kids out in the states set up lemonade stands in the summer (American readers, do they really do that? Or is that just “Disney America?”). But limeade somehow, tastes even better – maybe because it feels just a little bit more grown up, especially with plenty of fresh mint. If you’re planning a late summer BBQ or picnic then you can’t go wrong with a ready made iced pitcher of the stuff – and you’ll be pleased to know it takes less than twenty minutes to make up. Shake some up ahead of the weekend and keep it chilling in the fridge and ready to pour for up to five days.
makes enough for 1 pitcher
200ml fresh lime juice (from approx 5 limes)
150g caster sugar
zest of one lime
mint leaves to garnish
Squeeze as much juice out of your limes as possible into a saucepan (don’t worry if you get some pulp in there; you’re going to strain all that out later). Add the lime zest, cold water and caster sugar, then gently bring it all to the boil – by which time the sugar should have completely dissolved.
Strain the liquid into a clean bottle/pitcher and then leave to cool.Before serving, give it a taste test and add a little more water if you find that it’s too strong.
Serve over ice with a slice of lime and fresh mint. (…and maybe a shot of Tequila? *shrugs* I don’t know…) 😉
time to level up your bog standard chicken salad sandwich…
I’m currently writing up this post at 4am with bat hair and Bungle snoring soundly at my feet (git). Turns out that one of the many charming side effects of pregnancy is a total inability to catch some Zs at night. AND THE BABY ISN’T EVEN HERE YET. From 2am until 5am I can currently be found either wrestling with the massive doughnut pillow I bought off of Amazon (you know, the one that’s supposed to HELP me sleep), or scoffing biscuits in front of back to back episodes of Escape to the Chateau in the dark. I’m knackered. And I’d quite like to move to France – apparently derelict chateaus go for pretty cheap.
Thankfully, when it comes to a lot of the other pregnancy symptoms – I’ve got off likely so far. I haven’t had any morning sickness (other than a weird one off the other week that could just as easily be put down to polishing off a large chips from the local chippy…), and I’ve been able to carry on eating pretty much all of my favourite meals and foods bar the few that I’m not allowed – like sushi. But I’ve even got that covered now; as soon as I saw these Katsu Onigiri over on Pinterest, I knew I had to give them a go myself and come up with my own recipe, and here it is. Crunchy chicken katsu fillets, lots of fresh greens and pickles coated in sushi rice and wrapped in nori – polished off with a drizzle of sweet and smoky Tonkatsu Sauce. Yum!
Chicken Katsu Sushi Sandwiches
4 chicken breasts
salt and pepper to season
1 large egg, whisked
50g plain flour
100g panko bread crumbs
150ml vegetable oil
300g sushi rice
1 tbsp mirin
1 avocado, sliced
4 spring onions, sliced
pickled purple cabbage
sesame seeds, to garnish
For the Tonkatsu Sauce:
4 tbsp ketchup
4 tbsp worcestershire sauce
1 tsp runny honey
2 tsp soy sauce
First, cook your sushi rice according to the pack’s instructions, stir in the mirin with a wooden spoon and then set aside and leave to cool.
To make the Katsu Chicken, first wrap the fillets in clingfilm and tenderise with a rolling pin until slightly flattened. Next, unwrap and season then with salt and pepper. Set up a production line of bowls, each filled separately with the flour, whisked egg and panko bread crumbs. Coat the fillets in flour first, then dunk them into the whisked egg, following up with an even coating of panko breadcrumbs.
Add the vegetable oil to a shallow frying pan and cook the katsu fillets over a medium heat, ensuring they’re golden brown and fully cooked on both sides.
Next, make up your Tonkatsu Sauce; add all the ingredients to a bowl and stir until completely blended.
Now you can make up your sushi sandwiches! First, lay out a sheet of nori and add a thin layer of sushi rice in the middle. Next layer up with your sliced avocado, spring onions and pickled cabbage, followed by a katsu fillet. Give it a good drizzle of Tonkatsu Sauce, then mirror a layer of avocado, spring onion and pickled cabbage on top – finishing with a bit more sushi rice. Sprinkle cold water around the edges of your sheet of nori, then fold the corners inwards – parcelling up your sandwich. Slice in half and then garnish with some more Tonkatsu Sauce and a sprinkle of sesame seeds.
Repeat step five with the other three fillets. 🙂
Have a lovely week (and pleeeeeeeeease send sleepy thoughts my way 💤 )!
For a sub-lime (ha ha) slice that’s perfect with a G&T…
…Not that I’m allowed an ice cold gin and tonic at the mo (see previous post). I mean I’ve got a bottle of non-alcoholic gin that’s absolutely lovely – but it’s just not the same, alas. At least I can still load up on plenty of cake – and this little lime number really hits the spot on a hot afternoon when you’re looking for a bit of a zing in your doorstop wedge.
Although not technically a Key Lime Cake since you’d need to use special Swingle Limes from the Florida Keys to own that title, it’s definitely a bit of a love note to one of my favourite places on the planet and to the massive slices of Key Lime Pie I like to scoff when I’m lucky enough to be there. The sponge is buttery and moist – thanks to a good dollop of sour cream – with just enough of a hint of lime, while the icing’s where the punch is packed thanks to plenty of zest, juice and boiling down the lime leftovers for an added flavour boost (I bet you could add a shot of gin too if you were feeling a bit frisky... 😉 ). The perfect summer, afternoon cake – and it’s dead easy to make.
Easy Lime Cake
For the cake:
2 large eggs, whisked
130g softened butter
130g caster sugar
130g self raising flour
2 tbsp sour cream
zest and juice of half a lime
1 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
For the icing:
200g icing sugar
zest and juice of half a lime
leftover lime skin
candied limes (optionl)
Set your oven to 160C (fan) and grease a 15cm cake loose -bottomed cake tin.
In a large bowl, cream together your butter and caster sugar – then pour in the whisked eggs. Stir to combine.
Next, sift in the flour, followed by the baking powder and salt.
Stir in the sour cream to create a soft, airy batter. Fold in the lime juice and zest(save the skin – you’re going to use it!)
Pour the batter into your greased baking tin, then bake for 40 minutes until golden brown.Leave to cool.
Whilst the cake is baking, pop your lime skin in a saucepan with 100ml of water and bring to the boil. Leave to simmer on a low heat for around 20 minutes.
Once the cake has cooled, whip up the icing. Combine your icing sugar, lime juice, zest and lime water. Ice the surface of the cake and then decorate with halved, candied limes if you like. If you’ve never made candied peel before then check out this post.
“Just so you know, I’ve only had miscarriages so far, so my expectations are pretty low,” I say to the sonographer as I unbutton my jeans and slide onto the bed. It’s the peak of the CoVid19 Pandemic and she’s wearing a mask, and while I can’t see a sympathetic look I can definitely hear one in her voice as she gels my belly and kindly suggests I look away from the screen for just a moment while “we have a look and see what’s going on in there.”
Probably not a lot, I reply in my head.
I’m cynical and pessimistic by nature, but after two miscarriages my expectations aren’t just low, they’re practically non existent. I’ve become so cynical in fact that the two days leading up to the scan have been spent cleaning the house from top to bottom and planning quick and easy meals for the rest of the week, convinced that I’m going to be spending the rest of it in bed, because yikes, is there anything worse than miscarrying in a messy house with dog floof all over the floor and anything more complicated than beans on toast on the menu? I’ve planned out my miscarriage with military precision; I even get my husband Sunny to pick up a massive pack of sanitary pads when he pops to Costco to bulk buy baked beans , bog roll and cider. When I leave for the hospital I find the clean floors and lack of clothes slurping out the side of the washing basket oddly reassuring – at least that’s one thing I can actually control in this crazy situation – one where feeling overwhelmingly helpless is the norm. Plus, I don’t want Sunny to have to worry about any of that stuff – he’ll be in for a tough few days too. Men might not go through the same physical struggle when it comes to miscarriage, but the emotional struggle’s much the same – and in some way, worse.
My first miscarriage happened back in the summer of 2018 after what can best be described as a honeymoon pregnancy. After a long weekend with my in-laws where I’d felt more knackered than I usually did hosting, I missed my period and was so excited to take a test that I did it at four in the bloody morning. Giddy at seeing those two blue lines, Sunny and I ended up taking Bungle around the block for a dawn walk – talking vividly about what colour we wanted to paint the spare room that would finally have a purpose other than for piles of ironing, what names we liked and what life was going to be like in eight months time when we suddenly had what everyone has eight months after peeing on that plastic stick, right? A baby. So blissfully convinced were we that we actually stocked up on eight months worth of Pregnacare right off the bat and even cancelled a looming dream holiday to the Far East because of the threat of Zika. So I was shocked and completely caught off guard then when suddenly, I started bleeding two weeks later – so shocked in fact that I didn’t really process it all until months later (and you better believe that I’m pissed off to this day that my uterus is still somehow ruining holidays just like it did with badly timed periods when I was a teenager – typical).
I’d known what miscarriages were of course, I just didn’t imagine for a split second that I’d ever have one myself. Weren’t they really rare? And aren’t we taught growing up that if you have sex when you’re ovulating then – whoops! – you’ll get pregnant and – bam! – have a baby? No one bothered to mention that as many as one in five pregnancies end in miscarriage. One in five. With most occurring during the first trimester – before the world even knows that you’re pregnant. Because of that, they tend to happen silently and behind closed doors. Even worse, they usually happen for no obvious reason whatsoever. A string of doctors and nurses at the time told me that, “It’s just bad luck” , that “It just happens sometimes, we don’t know why”, but “don’t worry, you’re young; you’ve got plenty of time”, and “you’ll be fine! Most women go on to have a happy, healthy baby next time”. (“Next time”; exactly the words you want to hear slap bang in the middle of a miscarriage.) All well meaning of course, but wildly unhelpful – because when you’re left without anything or anyone obvious to lay blame at other than plain old “bad luck” you go hunting for something or someone else to lay the finger of blame at – and when you come up empty then inevitably that finger ends up pointing inwards. I immediately blamed myself; I must have done something wrong. There was no other way of explaining it. Maybe I’d worked too hard, or drank too much tea, or used some random skin product pumped with chemicals… or maybe there was just something fundamentally wrong with me. It took months for me to accept and to recognize that it wasn’t anything I’d done, and even longer for me to want to try again.
Almost a year to the day later, I had another positive test. This time there weren’t any early morning walks or discussions about names, just nervous looks, shrugged shoulders and a collective “Well, let’s just wait and see”. For a little reassurance, we booked an early private scan and were surprised and excited when – although it was way too early to detect a heartbeat – there looked like there were not one but two eggs developing. Twins! Despite being told we’d have to come back in two weeks to confirm a heartbeat, Sunny and I went away feeling like we’d clacked all the way up to the highest point of a rollercoaster and were about to breeze down the other side. Phew!
But that’s the thing about miscarriages, they really are a rollercoaster – lots of breathtaking highs followed by stomach lurching lows. Two weeks later the scan confirmed that nothing had developed; I was experiencing something called a “missed” miscarriage, where the embryo had stopped developing but my body hadn’t quite clued in to what was happening yet. I had to wait another month before I actually miscarried – a month of phantom pregnancy symptoms and trips back and forth to the EPU at our local hospital to reconfirm what we already knew (side note: in The Heath EPU waiting room there’s a completely horrendous bit of waiting room art that Sunny and I titled “Tulips in Hell” and had us laughing through all those long waits in between scans – because laughter really is the best medicine in my book). Instead of a happy 12 week scan snap I took home a DIY at home miscarriage kit and spent the next few days in and out of a towel-lined bed with Bungle curled up beside me (at least I still had my fur baby). Again, I blamed myself. What the hell did I do wrong this time? I’d been so careful. And so I decided that there must be something wrong with me. One miscarriage could be put down to bad luck, but two? That was a pattern in the making.
I watched other pregnancies happening and seemingly perfect flat pack families popping up all around me with utter bewilderment; why was it as easy for them as heading to IKEA and whipping up a Billy Bookcase in the space of an hour, while for me – for us – it was impossible? The thing is that it’s not just the immediate loss that hurts with a miscarriage, it’s the loss of what could have been – and that echoes long after the actual event. You grieve for the future you were planning that was within arms length, now suddenly taken away, and – even though it’s no one’s fault – you’re constantly reminded of that on a daily basis, surrounded by it. It slaps you in the face when you’re least expecting it – a character in your favourite TV show falls pregnant, someone you follow on social media posts a scan snap or pregnancy announcement… or some absolute bellend asks you if you’re ever planning on having kids (can we just agree right now that that’s NEVER an okay question to ask someone???). It’s a difficult subject to bring up in a conversation even with your closest friends (“Oh hey, how are you?”, “Not bad, had a miscarriage – wbu?”) – and because of that, it tends to be an incredibly lonely experience – where you feel like an utter failure but have absolutely no idea how to make it right other than to keep on trying.
I was desperate to know why it felt so difficult for me and seemingly so effortless for everyone else; either it really was just that easy and I was full of scrambled eggs, or no one was really talking about how hard it actually – secretly – was. Where were all the miscarriages and missed miscarriages? With a one in five statistic they must be out there somewhere.
Whereas I’d stayed quiet during the first miscarriage – silenced by my own shame and sadness – I decided that I was going to be honest and open about the second. I posted about it on Instagram and was encouraged and comforted when my phone lit up with other women sharing their own stories of miscarriage in my comments and DMs. Women who’d had one, four, more. Some who’d gone on to have happy, healthy babies, and some who had struggled naturally and moved on to IVF – some with success, some not yet. What I found was that – contrary to how I felt – I wasn’t alone. None of us are. We’re all on the same difficult road – just at different stages – and what’s more – as discouraging as it can be to hear it – it really is sometimes “just one of those things”. All those feelings of guilt and failure are completely normal but totally unfounded, and whilst I still couldn’t shake the cynicism or regain the positivity I’d held pre-miscarriage – knowing at least that I wasn’t alone or special in any way really helped. It baffles me that in 2020 schools are still educating young women about sex and their bodies simply by chucking out free samples of Always and frightening them off sex with stories of STDs and teen pregnancy – missing out massive chunks of vital, useful, and – most important of all – honest information about their own bodies. Perhaps if I’d known how common miscarriage is – how it’s often a very normal part of the journey to motherhood – then maybe I’d have been better prepared to deal with it emotionally. It was never going to be easy of course, but knowledge really is power – and for women especially, knowledge is never more important or valuable than when it comes to our own bodies.
Still, when I found out that I was pregnant for a third time – and just as the country was heading into the Coronavirus Lockdown – I was pissed off. “I’m having another miscarriage, yay!” I announced sarcastically to Sunny one morning back in March, practically throwing the test at him while he was buttering his toast (…eww). I regret that massively now – but what I said came completely out of fear for what I knew was probably going to happen next. Whilst going through the sickness and fatigue of the first trimester under Lockdown may have seemed ideal on the surface – it was a disaster for me. With everything closed and being actively told to stay at home, it meant there was literally nothing for me to do other than to sit around and wait for the third miscarriage I was absolutely certain was going to happen – and because of Covid, I wasn’t going to get the reassurance scan at 8 weeks that I’d been promised after my second miscarriage. So, I spent weeks on the sofa waiting and worrying. Even though my pregnancy symptoms stuck around most days I didn’t feel like I could rely on them; they didn’t mean anything – I’d still felt pregnant all the way through my missed miscarriage, after all. And on the days that I felt completely fine I became convinced that my symptoms were dropping off and I was about to miscarry, ala miscarriage numero uno. The only saving grace was that Sunny started working from home because of the pandemic, so I was never alone or allowed to wallow for too long.
When I finally reached my 12 week scan, there was a massive sense of relief. Either way, the waiting was over. Miscarriage Hat-Trick or Third Time Lucky – at least we’d no longer be in the dark.
I’d made up my mind to write this post just before I went for my 12 week scan – whatever the outcome. Really, I should have written it sooner – in the midst of my perceived “failure” rather than from the relative safety of “success” (and I use that word both reluctantly and very cautiously). No one was more surprised than I was when the sonographer – not two seconds after telling me to look away from the screen – tapped a button and said, “Yep, everything looks good.” For the first time ever I saw more than just empty static on the screen and didn’t have to have an awkward internal scan. Everything looked normal – heartbeat and all. The only downside was that – because of CoVid restrictions – Sunny couldn’t be there to see it. And as of today I’m 21 weeks and sporting a very shy baby bump. This isn’t a happy ending by any stretch – I’m still terrified that things could go wrong at any second, hence the question mark in the title of this post – this is just for now a tiny, baby step forward (…couldn’t resist that one).
If you made it through all that then you deserve the gin and tonic that I’m not allowed. If you’ve been through a miscarriage yourself or are going through one then I’m always here to listen if you want to talk about it (and I genuinely mean that), whether that’s here in the comments, privately via email or over on Instagram. 🙂 Failing that, The Miscarriage Association is a great place to look for helpand advice.