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.
…Oozing with plenty of homemade strawberry jam and Chantilly Cream…
When it comes to summer cakes, you just can’t beat the basic (but beautiful)Victoria Sandwich. To paraphrase the famous glutton Mr Joeseph Tribbiani, what’s not to like? Cream, good! Jam, gooooood! It’s a classic; the kind of cake that’ll please everyone if you turn up with it at a picnic or at your Mum’s front door on a sunny Sunday afternoon. I mean you’ll be hard pressed to find anyone who doesn’t like a plain sponge cake, sweet cream and strawberry jam. Better yet, it’s very easy to make – even if you’re a bit of a baking noob. The classic, base recipe involves weighing your eggs first, then matching up with the exact same quantities of butter, caster sugar and self raising flour – but I’ve experimented and come up with a slightly more refined recipe with a little added baking powder and buttermilk for a buttery, moist but airy sponge. Sandwiched with a layer of slightly runny homemade strawberry jam (easier to make than it sounds and absolutely worth the added effort) and some piped Chantilly Cream (fancy pants for double cream whipped with a bit of powdered sugar and vanilla – yum yum), you just can’t go wrong. 🙂
Picnic Perfect Victoria Sandwich Cake
For the cake:
175g butter (softened)
3 medium eggs, whisked
175g self raising flour(sifted)
70 ml buttermilk
pinch of salt
1 tsp baking powder
For the jam:
100g fresh strawberries (pitted)
100g jam sugar
1 tbsp caster sugar
1 tbsp lemon juice
For the Chantilly Cream:
200ml double cream
50g icing sugar
1 tsp vanilla bean paste
The night before baking, prepare your jam strawberries; remove the leaves, slice them and then pop them in a bowl. Sprinkle with caster sugar, then leave in the fridge overnight.Sounds odd, but while you’re at it, put a small plate in your freezer – it’ll come in handy later.
Set the oven to 160C (Fan), and grease your baking tin of choice. (I like to use a deep, 10cm loose-bottomed tin and then slice the cake in half once it’s cooked. But two 20cm sandwich tins will work just as well.)
Cream together the butter and sugar, then stir in the eggs.
Stir in the sifted flour, salt and baking powder. Gently fold in the buttermilk.
Pour the batter into the baking tin and bake for around 40 minutes if you’re using a deep tin, and 25 minutes if you’re using sandwich tins – either way, an inserted skewer or knife should come out clean.
Once the cake is cooked, leave it to cool. Meanwhile, start making the jam; pop your juicy, pre-prepared strawbs in a saucepan and then either blitz them with a hand-held blender, or mash them. Add the jam sugar and lemon juice to the saucepan, and then gently heat the mixture on a low heat until the sugar has dissolved completely.Resist stirring!
Turn the heat up to a roaring boil and leave the jam to bubble for up to 10 minutes. Remember that plate in the freezer? That’s going to give you a helping hand in working out when your jam has cooked. Every couple of minutes, take a small teaspoon of jam and drizzle it onto the ice cold plate – when you turn the plate vertically, if the jam runs then it’s not quite done. If it sticks in a blob and doesn’t seem in any hurry to go anywhere, then it’s ready! If like me you prefer your jam a little runnier, take it off the heat when it runs slightly, then sets on the plate.Once you’ve reached that stage and the jam is cooked, take the saucepan off the heat and pour it into a ready sterilized jar to cool and set.
Once both the cake and the jam have cooled, you can whip up your Chantilly Cream – which is as simple as throwing the cream, icing sugar and vanilla bean paste into a bowl and then whisking them together until thick and airy.
To assemble the cake, sandwich the two halves with a layer of jam and a layer of Chantilly Cream – then decorate with some extra cream, icing sugar and fresh strawberries.
Today marks the day when a lot of us here in Wales can finally travel further than five measly miles from our doorsteps and even hug (hug!) our favourite people. It’s felt like a really long time coming, and although nothing’s going “back to normal” yet by any stretch – Coronavirus is still around and it’s still killing people – I cannot wait to give my Mum a proper cwtch, sit in my local beer garden (if the Welsh weather plays nice), wander a bit further than just local and see all those favourite corners of my hometown again, get my split ends taken care of (ugh), and – yeah – pop into T K Maxx to pick up a five quid candle just because I can. I cannot wait.
We’ve all got our “Buh-Bye Lockdown Bucket List” ready and raring, as well as a list probably a mile long of all those things about four months in hibernation that we’re definitely not going to miss – whether we’re stepping out today or in a few weeks or months time when we feel safe enough to do so – but what about the things that we are going to miss? There’s got to be at least a few! Whether we like it or not, the Lockdown has bound to have changed us all in some way, and the person stepping out of the front door tomorrow is not going to be an identical, unaltered version of the one who closed that same door back in March. From the physical to the emotional, there’ll be some marked differences. We might be a little softer around the middle; perhaps a little more anxious, a little less trusting. Maybe we’ve lost loved ones, or seen some of our closest relationships break under the strain of long distance, or from being smushed together under one roof for months on end. It’s been tough.
But what about the good stuff? What about all the ways in which Lockdown has changed us for the better? What about all those little discoveries we’ve made and the things we’ve learned about ourselves and others over the past few months? The new habits, hobbies and moments of happiness during those dark days – no matter how small. Are we going to say buh-bye to those too?
For me, the best thing about Lockdown has been the fact that – while it’s obviously complicated everyday life in so many ways – it’s made it simpler too. It’s made the things that matter most to me incredibly clear, and suddenly I’m so much more appreciative of the little things day to day – the simple stuff – that makes me happy. I’ve genuinely loved doing the weekly shop for my Mum and Dad; not just to keep them safe, but for the hours long chat in their garden at the other end. The plant and magazine swaps and TV recs – all those shows I’d never have watched and enjoyed if it hadn’t been for Lockdown (Future Man – who knew!). My skin – having had a four month long break from makeup – has never looked better (…minus a spot of sunburn back in May – whoops). My hair – even though it’s much longer than I like and that suits me – has definitely loved having a bit of a break from heat styling.
As soon as the rules eased back in May and my husband and I were finally allowed to exercise outdoors together again (and I use the word “exercise” in the laziest way possible…), we started taking the dog on long walks and suddenly discovered so much more of our neighbourhood – from public paths we never knew existed to lovely neighbours (and – more importantly – their dogs) that we’d never met. Around the house, we’ve got on top of a few chores and DIY bits and bobs – ticking things off a list I wrote well over a year ago. I’ve had more time to read (turns out travel books like Felicity Cloake’s “One More Croissant for the Road” are the cure to the Lockdown Travel Ban) and bake and to get into the habit of doing yoga (almost) every morning – and I’ve finally trained the dog to behave and not dig around in the garden… almost. Which has never looked better by the way. Oh, and I’m never going to take for granted the luxury of going for a stroll around the shops with a coffee and cake pit stop in my favourite café ever again.
Now that Lockdown is easing up and we’re heading into that “new normal” that everyone keeps banging on about, I’m suddenly in a weird place where I’m not sure whether I can or even want to go back to the Me that existed before. As well as accepting the new normal post Lockdown, we’re all faced with accepting a new normal version of ourselves too – and mashing together who we were before Lockdown with the best bits of ourselves that we perhaps only discovered existed because of Lockdown.
Which bits of Lockdown are you going to be sad to say goodbye to? Which habits are you going to be holding on tight to?
I cannot tell you how much I’ve been missing my local pub these past few months. It’s a tiny local boozer, but honestly, great things come in small packages; it’s blessed with a brilliant chef – and best of all? It’s pretty much right on my doorstep. Under normal circumstances (remember normal?) when I take Bungle for his evening walk, the smell of chips and pub curries and steaks (you know, proper pub grub) escaping from its walls and windows is just in-credible… and so it’s been kind of sad walking past these last few months and gazing at its dark windows and closed doors with the air completely unscented. I’ve missed it. SO much! And I can’t wait for it open its doors again. Unfortunately, it looks like it’s still going to be a while; although England is set to reopen pubs, cafes and restaurants in early July, Wales is a little but further behind when it comes to loosening lockdown.
So, craving a bit of good old pub grub, I tried to replicate one of my all time favourite bar orders at home. Good old Gammon, Egg and Chips. Instead of using Gammon Steaks, however, I picked up a Gammon Joint and slowly cooked it for an hour in cola and various other cupboard ingredients to make sliced gammon that’s both juicy, sweet and smoky (nothing chewy about this hunk of meat). The dregs make for a fabulous cola ketchup, and this pub plate wouldn’t be complete without a side of chunky homemade steak chips. Any leftover gammon and ketchup keeps well in the fridge for 5 days and makes for some tasty sandwiches. 😉
Pub Style Gammon and Chips with Cola Ketchup
For the Gammon and Cola Ketchup:
750g gammon joint
2 shallots, roughly chopped
1 clove of smoked garlic, mashed
2 tbsp olive oil
2 large tomatoes
1 litre of cola (non diet)
1 tbsp tomato puree
1 tsp soy sauce
2 tsp worcester sauce
1 tbsp maple syrup
1 tbsp cornflower
For the Chips:
4 large maris piper potatoes, peeled
2 tbsp sunflower oil
1 tbsp coarse sea salt
Fried Tomato halves
Add the olive oil and garlic to a large, deep pot and lightly fry on a medium heat until golden. Add the chopped shallots and fry them until they soften and start to brown. Add the tomatoes, frying lightly until they soften and start to burst.
Remove any wrappings and trimmings from the gammon and then add it to the pot. Brown the gammon – turning it regularly to colour and seal every surface.
Next, add the Cola, tomato paste, soy sauce, worcester sauce and maple syrup. Bring to the boil – stirring around the gammon (lightly puncture and press the tomatoes to release their juice) – then turn down the heat and reduce to a simmer. Pop on the lid and leave everything to cook for one hour.
While the gammon’s cooking, prepare your pub style chips. Slice the peeled potatoes into chunky chip shapes, then chuck them in a saucepan with plenty of cold water and salt. Turn the heat up and bring the pot to the boil – allowing it bubble for 5 minutes. By that time the chips should be soft but still hold shape.
Transfer the chips to a foil lined baking tray with the sunflower oil and sea salt.Toss them, coating them in the oil and salt and then spread them out evenly and leave to cool.
Once the gammon’s got 15 minutes left on the clock, pop the chips in the oven for 30 minutes at 200°C.
Once the gammon times out, remove it from the pot and leave it to rest under some foil for 15 minutes before carvingand serving.
To make the cola ketchup, blitz the remaining ingredients in the pot until smooth. Whisk in a tablespoon of cornflower to thicken it up over a low heat, then leave to cool.
Serve the gammon and chips with fresh peas, pineapple, fried tomatoes and a fried egg. 🙂