As you can see, this is a well-used cookery book. Although there are several recipes that simply don’t work (I don’t know anyone who has made Nigella’s Brownies successfully with only 25mins in the oven), it is the source of many of our favourite cakes – the dense chocolate loaf, the delicious gingerbread with lemon icing are two that I make again and again, both as tea time treats and also as puddings (the chocolate loaf is wonderful with raspberries and the gingerbread, without the icing, very good with homemade custard).
But the cake I make most frequently is the buttermilk birthday cake: a delicious vanilla sponge that can be tarted up in any number of ways. Matilda’s birthday is in June, so for her I usually pile it high with strawberries. Bea’s birthday is in September, and over the years she’s had several themed parties and the cake has been adapted to look like a snake, a dust and cobweb-covered witches’ cake and a castle. And Martha is seven this Sunday which is why the recipe is out once more.
I have been rather lax in my maternal duties, and completely failed to arrange a party, so I’m wondering what I might do to the cake to make up for this sorry state of affairs. Though I must explain, it is not as awful as it seems. When I realised that various other immovable events had conspired against us, I offered her a choice: we could do something very small this Sunday, or she could wait and I’d arrange a proper party during the Easter holidays. She plumped for the proper party of course. Although I love arranging parties for the girls (I even wrote a book about it), for a reason I cannot fathom, I always leave everything to the last minute. The knowledge that Martha’s party still needs to be sorted out has induced an odd sort of paralysis. I think this must relate in some way to my career in journalism – no matter how long the lead time on a feature, no matter how much research, I could never write anything very much until the deadline was nearly upon me.
And all this talk of birthdays brings me neatly to another birthday: Charlotte’s plot is a year old today (I marked the day with some banana bread, but not a Nigella recipe). And it feels like quite a milestone. I remember being concerned that I didn’t have a particular skill or any specialist knowledge to share, unlike many of the blogs I read regularly, but I had just finished a creative writing course, and I hoped that by writing on a regular basis, daily if possible, I’d keep on track with the novel I was trying to write. Well, that novel is still a random bunch on files on my computer, several notepads of illegible scrawl and no nearer completion.
Life got in the way. At the end of last April Matilda was terribly ill with a weird condition called Henoch-Schoenlein’s Purpura (HSP), and was twice admitted to the children’s hospital; building work started on our basement; the garden was off limits for weeks; and the summer was a crazy round of friends and family coming to stay. Then suddenly it was September, and everyone was back at school, including me, because in the midst of all the chaos I decided I wanted to do RHS level 2 in Horticulture. Fool!
But I’m glad I started this blog. During a lot of that time the parallel universe of the blogosphere (hate that term!) provided a wonderful escape from the drama and drudge of everyday life, just as it still does. That’s not to say that my blog is not a true reflection of my life, but more that it reflects the parts I feel like sharing. Frankly who needs to see the horror of my kitchen table at breakfast time? I notice that I didn’t write a single post about Matilda’s illness and yet it dominated our lives for over nine weeks. Instead I used the blog, and the self-imposed deadlines, to record my increasing fascination with with plants, photography and graffiti. With a little cake, knitting and other stuff thrown in for good measure.
This year of blogging has also enabled me to ‘meet’ so many really lovely people, and I’ve enjoyed reading all the responses to my posts. I’ve tried to reply to everyone, though I am a little haphazard about these things, so I am sorry if I’ve missed anyone out. I will do better this year!
PS If anyone reading this has a child with HSP and wants to know how we dealt with it, do please get in touch. Bristol Children’s Hospital was brilliant, and knew exactly how to deal with the various complications Matilda faced.