The Therapy of Baking and Why It Can Be Helpful to Not Be a Minimalist

 

Sometimes bad things happen. Things that you think only happen to other people. When you hear the stories you gasp and say ‘how awful, how terrible for them’. And then you move on. Until one day it is you being told the terrible news that something bad has happened.

Your brain goes in to a dream like trance – I think the official term is shock. I remember when I got the call from my sister to say that my Mum may not survive and if I wanted to see her one last time I would need to come to the hospital immediately. In the time between leaving for the hospital and trying to contact my husband I took to sweeping the floor.

There is comfort to be found in the domestic, in the mundane, when big bad things happen that your brain can’t quite process.  Busying one’s hands while one’s mind tries to swim through the reality of shock is oddly soothing.

Today I made one of my favourite cakes – the Bill Granger vanilla buttermilk cake. I made it to take away for the weekend to share with our extended family. I mixed up the ingredients in my Mum’s metal mixing bowl – it would be called vintage now. I sifted the flour using my Gran’s sifter. I remember using it as a child at her place in the country. There was always a cake at Gran’s house.

As my mind was reeling over the bad news we received the night before, I found solace in holding the bowl that my Mum had held and mixed, just as I was. And holding the strong metal handle on the sifter I thought of my Gran, and I thought of all the bad news they would have heard over the years; the deaths, the sicknesses, the losses… the sorrow, the sadness.

 

And now it was me. Holding their things. Being propped up by both of them. The scrape of the sifting handle being turned to sprinkle flour into the creamed butter and sugar. The clink of of the wooden spoon on the metal bowl as I stirred the in eggs, and I thought about both of them and their strength of character and their will to keep going, their mettle. To keep going, to not drown in the shock of bad news or from the sorrow of loss, or the fear of what will come next.

Often I curse myself for holding on to things, to stuff; for being so sentimental. Cursing the clutter and often wishing I could be as clinical as Marie Kondo. If it doesn’t spark joy – it goes.

But today I was thinking ‘thank goodness for my sentimentality’. Whatever those mundane domestic objects were imbued with over the years served as a crutch for me today. Their stoic utilitarianism brought the strength of my Mum and my Gran to life. The act of beating, stirring, and mixing was a salve to my troubled thoughts. To the chaos of shock, to that feeling of not being able to catch my breath.

Who knew baking a cake could be so therapeutic?

Baby It’s Cold Outside: How To Hygge With Kids in the House


While some say hygge, the Danish obsession with getting cosy, is passé, I say it is still very current and for the Danes, it’s not a trend, it’s a way of life. It is well and truly embedded in Danish culture. While there is no direct translation in English for hygge, it can be described as a feeling of unfussy cosiness, wellbeing and safety. It is loosely related to the English term ‘hug’, so in a way hygge is like a warm hug, but it’s not quite as straight forward as that.

Having just returned from three weeks in a hot (very very hot) climate, the winter is wreaking havoc in our house. I’m trying embrace the cosy, warm, snuggly things about life. Which, to me, says one thing. I need to get my hygge on. While hygge is not dependent on cold weather, the climate in Denmark means that warmth and cosiness are a big part of it.

As the parent of three small children I have looked longingly at interior magazines where the home has captured the essence of hygge. Simple Danish design, earthy tones, candles placed atmospherically around the room; simple, stylish and no clutter to be seen. Attaining hygge in my home seemed as likely as a family trip to the top of Mt Everest. Why would I even try?

Yet, having done a little bit more research into hygge, I now believe that hygge is an every-man’s concept and no matter what your circumstances, you can achieve elements of hygge in your life, even when you feel like you’re drowning in Tonka trucks and Barbie dolls.

Meik Wiking, Director of the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen and author of “The Little Book of Hygge: The Danish Way to Live Well” explains in his book that hygge is about “atmosphere, and experience, rather than about things. It is about being with the people we love. A feeling of home. A feeling we are safe…” On reading this I realised that not only was hygge possible with a busy and rowdy family life, it was necessary as an antidote to the busy chaotic lives we all lead.

Here are some of the key elements to hygge that Wiking outlines in his book and how, as busy parents, we can incorporate them into our everyday.

Togetherness

An essential element of hygge is human connection. Hygge is not about battening down the hatches once winter arrives and going in to hibernation. Inviting over a family, who have kids the same age as yours, for an afternoon or evening of sharing food and chatting is a way to create connection.

Part of hygge is the sharing of food so no need to take on cooking for the whole tribe, ask your guests to bring something to share. The kids play together and eat together, reinforcing their connection and the adults enjoy some conversation, wine and sharing of food while the kids play. Wiking notes in his chapter on togetherness that “the best predictor of whether we are happy or not is our social relationships.” So making the effort to create a connection will benefit your children, your guests and yourselves.

Food & Drink

Food and drink is another essential element to hygge, but it is simple low cost fare that wins the day. Slow cooked stews with meat and potatoes, cake, sweets with coffee or hot chocolate. The key that makes this hyggelige (meaning hygge-like, or hygge in nature) is the element of ritual attached to the food.

Spending a cold Sunday on a hike with your kids and coming back to a house smelling of a warming, slow cooked casserole. Getting your children to help bake a cake, it is the sitting down together for an afternoon tea of hot drinks and home made cake, that makes it hygge. A sense of smell is a wonderful trigger for nostalgia, and the smell of home made cakes or slow cooked stew can trigger wonderful memories for the gown ups, while making wonderful memories for their children.

Home

Wiking describes homes as the ‘hygge headquarters’, which makes sense given the element of warmth, cosiness and safety that contributes to hygge. The hyggekrog, which translates roughly as a nook, is a space in your home where you can snuggle down with a blanket, a hot drink and a book.

Our little nook

Australian houses are less likely to have a nook like this, partly due to the modern trend of open-plan living, but it can be as simple as a favourite chair or corner of the sofa that you can retreat to. Cuddle up to your kids in this space, read a book together under a blanket or share a treat (such as a piece of that cake you baked earlier).

Candles are also considered a not-negotiable for achieving hygge. Having small children doesn’t exclude you from burning candles in the home – just make sure you place them out of reach of little hands, and don’t forget to blow them out. All things wood are another essential ingredient; wooden toys, timber floors, a piece (or several pieces) of timber furniture. Wood is hardwearing and durable so is the perfect material for a family home. And of course, wood to burn, but many modern homes are no longer built with open fires. An outdoor fire pit or chiminea is a great alternative to to an indoor open fire place – and  no child would argue about toasting marshmallows outside.

Including elements of nature inside your home is another way to achieve hygge at home. Indoor plants, tree branches and leaves, twigs, pine cones and animal skins. Going on a nature walk with your kids is a great way to collect some of these elements, and spending an afternoon collating a nature display is a lovely way to do hygge (although probably leave the animals skins to the professionals!). Books and ceramics also make for a hyggelige feeling, and can be picked up cheaply in your local op shop.

Hygge isn’t expensive, in fact most hygge activities are frugal – encompassing connection, slow living and a feeling of wellbeing. Hygge is “humble and slow” according to Meik Wiking, which makes it a perfect lifestyle to incorporate into family life – after all, we know that our kids are happiest when life is simple, calm and full of love.

June Taking Stock

Whoa! It is June already. Most definitely time for a Taking Stock post. These posts are lovely to write and lovely to read, courtesy of the lovely Pip Lincoln from Meet Me at Mikes.

Taking stock is a great thing to do. This year has taken some interesting and unexpected turns, some good, some not so good. And in light of the awful events in Manchester and London over these past couple of weeks, checking in with yourself is a really good thing to do.

Obviously June is the start of Winter, and I would suggest it is the most unpopular season, but dare I say it, I totally loved Autumn this year and perhaps all that bad press that Winter gets is not totally justified. Don’t get me wrong, I do NOT like being cold; but there is something so lovely about being toasty and warm – winter food, open fires, hot chocolates, red wine… so many things.

Perhaps I’m engaging with the seasons more because my #100dayproject theme is #100daysofseasons – so I’m looking outwards to the seasons – not just the seasons of the climate, but other seasons. May/June are my season of sadness because my Mum died in early June, but the last time I saw her at home and was able to have a conversation with her, was on Mothers’ Day – so, it is a season of contemplation and reflection as well.

When I’m feeling a bit wobbly I look for comforting things, so the cooler months of late Autumn and early Winter are the perfect time to seek comfort. Staring in to a beautiful fire, cradling a glass of red wine and wearing some wooly booties will always life my spirits.

So on that, I’ll just launch straight in to another Taking Stock and make mention of a few other things that have been happening around here.

Making : Art! Lots of it, for #the100dayproject. This one is last night’s sketch, and you can see what else I’ve been up to here.

Cooking : Home baked bread. Thanks to Annette at I Give You the Verbs I got inspired to make a no-knead loaf of bread. It’s the best, the recipe is here if you’re keen to try.

Drinking: Tea. And red wine – but not together (obvs!)

Reading: “The Little Book of Hygge: The Danish Way to Live Well” by Meik Wiking.

Looking: At lots of travel websites – an adventure is afoot!

Playing: Scrabble. For the first time in ages my husband and I had a game. I got rid of all my letters in one word, and even with the bonus 50 points he still beat me! I need to pick up my game!

Deciding: when to put the kettle on. My husband has just baked the most incredible sour dough with apricots, fennel seeds, walnuts and saltanas so I want a piece toasted, with lashings of butter. The tea is just an excuse for a slice of the fruit loaf!

Wishing: this lurgy would clear off – I’ve felt unwell for eight days now.

Enjoying: the change in seasons.

Waiting: for our Vietnam adventure to begin!

Liking: the anticipation of another family adventure.

Wondering: what the rest of the year holds – it’s already been one out of the box!

Loving: my book club. We have met twice now and have read two fabulous books (Nina is Not Ok by Shappi Khorsandi and The Cows by Dawn O’Porter – both fabulous and highly recommended by moi!) Next is a memoir, and I cant wait to get into this – I have ear marked this as my holiday read.

Pondering: a few things on ‘imposter syndrome’ – I plan to blog about this, but have a little more pondering to do.

Considering: what direction to take once back from holidays.

Buying: (maybe) a new pair of bathers for our holiday.

Watching: The Voice. Yes, we are The Voice tragics in our house. (Go George!!!)

Hoping: that the Netball team I coach has success in their Grand Final.

Marvelling: at how far they’ve come in such a short period of time – this time two years ago (their maiden season) we had scored just six goals for the entire season.

Cringing: at being a Voice tragic (but also owning it!).

Needing: my headache to lift – please – the long weekend is coming and I’ve got plans.

Questioning: what else I need to do to slow our lives down a little.

Smelling: not much – too blocked up.

Wearing: a winter puffer jacket inside – I know! It’s this damned lurgy.

Following: I try not to be a follower, I hate that term, but I am enjoying the Slow Your Home blog and podcast, and looking at lots of beautiful art on Instagram.

Noticing: little things in nature – like this butterfly trying to be born.

Knowing: that it will be a huge struggle for that little mite, but it will be worth it for those 24 hours of life.

Thinking: about lots of things… too much in my head actually, so really thinking I need to be more disciplined about getting a regular meditation practice happening.

Admiring: my husband, he’s got this meditation thing down pat and is the most zen guy I know.

Sorting: out finances for our trip.

Getting: excited! Only 24 days till we leave.

Bookmarking: the no-knead bread recipe – it’s such a keeper.

Coveting: everything, but nothing really. So actually, nothing really.

Disliking: how sore my nose is from blowing it and how scratchy my throat is.

Opening: more tissues.

Giggling: at my daughter’s face when she realised the parcel that arrived from England was for her.

Feeling: lethargic.

Snacking: on home made fruit sour dough (soon, very soon).

Helping: myself to a cuppa (and see above).

Hearing: my husband put the kettle on – phew, that was good timing.

The Importance of Finding Purpose

The idea of ‘finding your purpose’ can be all sorts of scary. Call me a cynic, but the idea has been appropriated by all manner of gurus, counsellors, and coaches who don’t have entirely noble intentions. It is not uncommon to see ads proclaiming to help you find your purpose (at a cost) and achieve a lifetime of happiness.

It sounds cliched, I know this, but I have found that a sense of purpose can only come from within. While I acknowledge that it is not as black and white as this, as different people have different struggles, ultimately, it is as black and white as this.

It just requires honesty, and perhaps a little bravery.

I want to be clear also that purpose and passion are two entirely different things. Again, the idea of ‘finding your passion’ has been appropriated for marketing value and has come to be a meaningless statement. We’ve been sold this idea, but at best it may be something temporary, at worst it is a flakey premise with little or no substance. But purpose is something else entirely.

As soon as I let go of the anxiety around  ‘finding my life purpose’ (as if it was a singular golden ticket to a happy life) and sat with the idea of peaks and troughs, my life became much more purposeful and deeply satiating on many different levels.

For some, their purpose maybe getting up each day to tend to their children – creating and nurturing family life, for others it may be to create art, or for others, go to their place of work and do a day of honest graft. Different things appeal to different people. But finding your purpose, to me, is about feeling like you are home when you are doing what ever it is.

I’ve accepted that purpose is fluid; just like people. It seems crazy to me that you discover something and expect that one thing to fulfil you forever more. Growth comes through continuing to explore multiple purposes in life.

I’m grateful that I’ve never got caught up in the idea of status. I don’t care what car I drive, as long as it’s safe, I don’t care that I don’t live in a castle; I only want my home to be a haven. I’m not fussed about fancy clothes – I want to feel good and comfortable. I don’t care that I am not changing the world or saving the world from itself.

I’ve found purpose in doing enough paid work to help pay the bills, but not so much that my children never see me. I’ve found purpose in temporary projects, like the #100dayproject (which I’ve written about here), I’ve found purpose in planning our next family adventure to Vietnam, I’ve found purpose in baking a simple treat for my family.

I guess what I’m getting at is that purpose is fluid, and it can be whatever brings you joy, motivation, contentedness. Yearning is natural, that cliche “the grass is always greener”, it’s a cliche for a reason – because of the truth in it. I yearn for many things – sometimes those yearnings are in conflict and soon dissipate, other yearnings are more consistent, and longer lasting. When I follow these up it helps bring me my sense of purpose.

In paying attention to what brings me this sense of purpose, I’ve also established what I don’t want from life. I don’t want to be harried and rushed and hassled, because it leaves me irritable and grumpy. I don’t want to be anyone’s slave or a slave to any one thing. There’s no satisfaction in being a martyr. I don’t want to accumulate much of anything – not money, not clothes, not modern gadgets.

Filtering in both directions – looking at what you don’t want, and then seeing what nourishes you, is a great exercise. Essentially it is about being mindful (that ole buzzword!), and tuning in to yourself – often we have found our purpose already, but just haven’t taken the time to notice.

I’m interested in this idea of purpose and what it means to others.

I’d love to hear what brings you to your sense of purpose? 

Slowing Down: the Path That Brought Me Back to Golden Syrup Dumplings

The dreaded gastro visited our house last week. Fortunately only one of us got sick. There is nothing quite like being under house arrest with a highly contagious child to slow things down. My little girl felt pretty rotten for a good few days, so between the endless loads of washing and endless cuddles on the couch, on the bed, and back on the couch, and in the kitchen… you get the picture, there were lots of cuddles,  I got the chance to catch up on some blog reading. A happy upside to a pretty crappy few days.

Fellow blogger, Danni, from Eat My Street posted a lovely old recipe for a ‘Good Cream Cake’ that she found written on a slip of paper. I loved the idea of someone from another generation, perhaps passed on now, or maybe enjoying their old age somewhere lovely eating their good cream cake with a delicious frequency that old age deserves.

I was curious about the recipe as “Good Cream Cake” doesn’t give a lot away. I decided to look it up in my Mum’s go-to cook book – the PWMU Cookery Book. PWMU stands for Presbyterian Women’s Missionary Union. My Mum wasn’t Presbyterian but someone in the know gave her this gem – it was either a ‘glory box’ gift, engagement or part of a wedding gift – I can’t recall which one.

It was the go-to cook book for everything when I was growing up. The original version fell apart when I was a young adult, but was replaced again. After Mum died, I ended up with it. It is loaded with recipes from my childhood and beyond, as it was first published in 1904.

I looked up this Good Cream Cake but found no such description, although I did find a recipe for a ‘Plain Cake’ which had the same ingredients, but slightly different quantities and method. There was no mention of good or cream, sadly. I think both words add some excitement to what is essentially a ‘plain cake’.

However, as I browsed the pages of Mum’s book, something I hadn’t done since I was a child, I became very nostalgic. Recipes for pikelets, Lemon Delicious, Date Loaf, Tea Cake, lemon cheese cake (a regular birthday dessert growing up, which only yesterday I made for my husband’s birthday), and one of my favourites… Golden Syrup Dumplings.

Sunday Special Treat. 

I had completely forgotten about their actual existence. As soon as I lay my eyes on this recipe I knew that sometime over the weekend my family would be enjoying these little bombs of sugar and love – carb coma, here we come! In fact, I was so excited by these that Golden Syrup was my topic for The 100 Day Project the evening that I made them.

I don’t think there is a person in the world that deserves to miss out on the most simplest of pleasures, that is the Golden Syrup Dumpling. So here is the recipe for you to enjoy. It is so easy and quick, and perfect for a Sunday evening treat.

A word of warning: they are not pretty, any effort to pretty them up will be wasted. Golden Syrup Dumplings are a sensory taste experience, they deliver 10-fold on this front, to make up for their lack of aesthetic qualities.

Image courtesy of taste.com.au – ours were devoured way too quickly to snap a photo!

The Dumplings

1 cup of self-raising flour (150g)

2 tablespoons butter (40g)

milk

The Sauce

1.5 cups of water (375ml)

1 tablespoon of golden syrup

1/2 cup of sugar (125g)

juice of one lemon

Rub butter in flour. Mix to a stiff dough with a little milk. Form into balls (slightly larger than tea spoon size). Bring water, syrup, sugar and lemon juice to the boil. Drop the dumplings into the boiling syrup and cook for 20 minutes. Serve with cream or ice-cream. 

So, while illness is not fun, it can sometimes bring moments of lovely serendipity. It can make you slow down, look around (enjoy the multitudes of cuddles), and rediscover something lovely. 

I’d love to hear about your favourite recipes from your childhood.

Was there something lovely that your Mum used to make you?

Share in the comments below. xx