I recently heard of the concept of a ‘house-cooling’ (from the infinite wisdom that is Kinfolk magazine). This is pretty self-explanatory, being the opposite of housewarming: it involves saying a fond farewell to a dwelling that has provided so many memories, and welcoming in the transition and all its exciting new developments. My friends Alex and Heather have lived on a houseboat for the past 3 years. The time has come to say goodbye to the converted Dutch barge, and they are moving out of the boat onto dry land.
I made this dark and sticky ginger and date cake to take to the ‘boat–cooling’ gathering. I felt that feeling something stodgy and spicy might be in order, not least to fuel the impending sorting and moving of an entire boat-worth of stuff. We ate the cake huddled in the warmth of the boat, feeling the calm sway of the water and remembering all the many previous days and evenings spent there. This time felt poignant given the shift in seasons too – saying farewell to the boat and farewell to summer. There was a definite fizz of excitement around the anticipation of the next exciting phase, of things to come.
I got home from work one day feeling particularly frazzled. It had been a stressful day, for whatever reason, and I desperately needed a way to wind down and switch off from the day. I tried my usual technique of going for a brisk walk around the block, but this did nothing to calm me down. I tried watching TV to distract me, but this didn’t help either. After wandering around in a hapless manner for a while, I decided that the only thing that would relax me was baking. I wanted the soothing reassurance of putting ingredients together and seeing them transform into something else. And I decided that baking bread would do the trick. There is something about the process of mixing the dough, kneading it into submission, then watching it rise, that I knew would provide the calming effect I was after.
I read in a recipe book once that bread just needs flour, a yeast and a liquid, but these can come from all sorts of different ingredients. You could include things like beer for the yeast, and milk instead of water for the liquid. So when I make bread, I get tempted to chuck all sorts of things in. This time, I experimented with adding an egg to enrich the dough, and natural yoghurt for the moisture, both of which helped to make the dough silky and soft. I used several flours too – mostly wholemeal, but mixed with some plain flour to lighten it slightly. I also used a little bit of Emmer flour, made from an ancient variety of wheat, that gives an interesting nutty taste to the bread. At the end of the evening, the act of inhaling the wholesome, homely, comforting smell of freshly baked bread was exactly what I needed.
I am currently unemployed. The café that I was working at has changed hands, so I took it as an opportunity to move on, move out of home and get on with my life. However, for now I am still in fully-fledged holiday mode (which will only last a little while longer, or so I’ve told myself). This leaves lots of time to sit around in my onesie watching trashy daytime TV, eating toast and trying not to think about life. One of my many distraction techniques is to spend ludicrous amounts of time on Instagram. For the uninitiated, Instagram is like Twitter, but with photos. For those still dumbfounded, it’s an app that lets you post photos on a live feed, and follow other people doing the same.
One of the things that is (horribly 21st century word) ‘trending’ on Instagram at the moment is bee pollen. It is especially prevalent among the health-obsessed Instagrammers, the type of people who see a spinach, kale, kiwi and avocado smoothie as a desirable breakfast. Things like porridge topped with chia seeds, hazelnut butter and bee pollen (and yes, I did just quickly pop onto Instagram to do a search for ‘♯beepollen’) are appearing. Bee pollen is formed by bees when they gather nectar- apparently they roll pollen into balls then discard it. It’s supposed to be very good for you, allegedly containing all the nutrients that humans need, which balances out the large amount of butter and sugar in the cupcakes ever so slightly.
I thought I would sprinkle some bee pollen on top of these cupcakes, definitely more for aesthetic appeal than for taste. It’s fair to say it looks much nicer than it tastes – it has a pleasant chewy texture but tastes oddly savoury. I also used honey rather than sugar for the drizzling syrup, to stick with the bee theme and to give a sticky moistness to the cupcakes, which is complemented by the slight sourness of the yoghurt icing.