Walking and waking memories

What a beautiful morning for a walk. Today at 07.30, I joined a group of seven locals for a guided walk in Crowborough – part of the events programme scheduled for Crowborough Festival month. We were guided by Martin our bird expert, and accompanied by Dan the Ranger, who also looks after the Ghyll and the Bluebell Woods. The Bluebell Woods at this time of year always reminds me of my mum who used to deliberately park further away from Waitrose than she needed, just so she could walk through the woods to admire the bluebells. They are magnificent this year.

marsh tit
We took a stroll through Crowborough Country Park listening and, in my case, attempting to identify bird song. Martin assured us we heard 22 different birds this morning. The most noticeable of these was the Marsh Tit, quite rare nowadays as lots of woodland is not boggy enough, but the right conditions seem to be found at the Country Park.
The Country Park is a protected pocket of land. In bygone years it was a brick qtreecreeper_tcm9-18472 (2)uarry and, ironically, it is this very man-made destruction of the land that makes it unsuitable for building new housing.
My personal highlights were spotting a Blue Jay and watching a Tree Creeper as he crept up a tree swaying in the breeze. To my naked eye he looked rather like a mouse scampering up the trunk. But I also enjoyed watching a robin and his family, and listening to the blackbird, whose song reminds me so much of my dad whistling.
Whenever I hear a blackbird, I always think my dad is going to appear just around the corner on his way to one of his building projects. His whistling was such a happy sound – the sound of a man content with his life and his lot.

Broodling on those butterflies…

The concept of squashing the butterfly really got me thinking. This goes further than just writing, it effects every kind of creativity. I have many memories of my own creative projects not quite fulfilling the butterfly design I visualised.

When we were young, my sister and I spent many hours playing with our dolls. My sister had Sindy and I had Tressy. They both had versions of ‘Sindy’s boyfriend Paul’ (although my Paul was called John as I always rated John Lennon over Paul McCartney) Sindy had a lovely red sports car and, as Tressy was very jealous of this car, I decided to make my own. The design in my head was fabulous – a kind of American Cadillac. I requisitioned an old shirt box from my dad, covering it in paper, and creating doors, seats, windscreen and headlights. I used a pair of mum’s knitting needles for spokes, and made cardboard wheels. Sadly the combined weight of Tressy and John caused the wheels to buckle and Tressy’s car collapsed at even the gentlest of pushes.

When I was eleven I moved up to big school. During my first ever science lesson, our teacher set us homework – to build a model demonstrating perpetual motion. I spent all week creating a wonderful cardboard roundabout. When I proudly presented it next lesson, the teacher told me it failed. I believe this incident was responsible for switching me off science for my entire life.
Later, as an impoverished but fashion conscious teenager I used to design and make my own clothes. Despite many admiring compliments I judged them all to be less than perfect – I could always see the bumpy hem, uneven zip and untailored shoulder pads.
So here is my epiphany. Perfectionism is a curse I have carried my entire life. Perhaps it this that causes me to move on to another novel whenever I reach three quarters of the way through my work in progress. I need to accept the 80:20 rule – 80% is good enough.
As a recovering perfectionist, I need to squash those butterflies if I am ever to finish a novel.

Very Vegan Hungry Caterpillar Cake

Last week was a busy one for Granny with two grandchildren celebrating birthdays. Joshua was seven and wanted an Arsenal football cake – obviously. Eloise had her first birthday on Sunday, and her mummy and daddy requested the very hungry caterpillar – vegan version of course. As there are not many children’s vegan birthday cake recipes out there, I am outlining instructions for both.

The Very Vegan Hungry Caterpillar Cake

I decided to make a base as I wasn’t sure just the caterpillar would provide the quantity of cake needed for the party. As mentioned this cake needed to be vegan so I include my basic recipes:

Carrot cake base:

  • 265g of flour (I mixed plain and SR)
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • I teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
  • 3 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • Pinch low salt
  • 1 cup light brown caster sugar
  • 1/2 cup of unsweetened applesauce – 1 dessert apple peeled, cored, stewed with a little water and mashed with a fork
  • 1 cup almond milk
  • 1/2 cup mazola (rapeseed) oil
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 240 g grated carrot

Method – Mix all the dry ingredients in one bowl and all the wet ingredients in another. Combine the two and stir in the carrots. Bake in a rectangular lined tin at gas mark 5. Check after 45 mins and remove cake when springy to touch and a cocktail stick inserted comes out clean

Chocolate caterpillar:

  • 225 g plain flour
  • 20 g cocoa
  • Teaspoon baking powder
  • Teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
  • 150 g light brown caster sugar
  • 60 ml sunflower oil
  • 150 ml water
  • 10 ml white vinegar

Method – As above, mix all wet in one bowl, all dry in another, then combine together.

I used a savarin tin, greased and floured, but I’m sure you could use a loaf tin and cut it up into sections. Bake at gas mark 5 and check after 30 mins. Beware – this was tricky to get out of tin. I actually cut it in quarters before removing.

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Arrange caterpillar quarters, rotating the two ends and shape and trim to make a head and tail. (There will be off cuts)

Icing the cake

I gave the carrot cake a cover ofIMG_2319 non-dairy ‘buttercream’ icing, then a layer of white roll out icing. Place caterpillar sections on top of carrot cake base, using the buttercream to stick in place and to join sections together. Cover with a layer of buttercream. I used red and green icing for stripes and head, then odd bits of other colours to make the half eaten fruit and the caterpillar features (eyes, nose, antenna, feet) You can either colour your own white icing using vegan friendly food colour, or use Renshaw icing which is suitable for vegans and vegetarians.

Arsenal Football Cake

I made a basic 6 egg chocolate sponge for the football cake using a half sphere cake tin (from Lakeland). I gave the dome one layer of buttercream icing and one layer of roll out white icing as a base. Then my geometry skills came into play as I cut templates for a hexagon and a pentagon. (Using a protractor you need angles of 60 degrees for the hexagon and 72 degrees for the pentagon. Sides measured 4 cms) This all needs to be pretty accurate. I cut 13 white hexagons and 6 red pentagons, then used a plastic serrated tool to mark each edge with ‘stitches’, but a fork pressed lightly would do the job.

Start by positioning the top central pentagon and then carefully position the shapes on one by one, sticking on to the base layer with a quick brush of water. You can ease to fit but try to avoid stretching.

I finished off with a pair of football boots and added a hand created Arsenal gunners logo and Happy Birthday words using some very clever icing pens by Crayola (I bought mine in Waitrose)

Happy baking!

Squashing the Butterfly

So, you know when you wake up and you’ve just had the most amazing dream, and it’s like you’ve just lived through the greatest movie ever (this is not just me, right?) and you think, ‘wow that would make such a great film or book,’ so you reach for the notepad by your bed (my writer friends will understand this) or the notes section on your mobile phone (my ‘go to’ place right now) and you jot down the gist – characters, setting, action, plot, etc. And it’s like you can see the whole script in your brain, but it’s written in chalk on a pavement and, just as you are copying it down, someone walks over and tips a bucket of water over the words and you are left with…
“Chasing through the woods (who? me?) looking for someone (who?) Someone following (who?) Doorway opens, in a garden, then stairs, then all these people (party?) and…. and…”
Well, that’s what it is like to be a writer. Whether it be a novel or a short story or a poem, you have this amazing and original idea, and you nurture it and run with it, and you can see it and hear it and almost touch it, and then when you try to capture it, contain it, put it down on the page, poof – it’s gone.
Ann Patchett in The Getaway Car (thanks for the recommendation Beth) describes this as the point at which you must forgive yourself and put it down anyway. To catch the beautiful butterfly that is your novel you will need, a net, a pin to kill it and you will have to squash it flat with your fist. So, you either leave it as a wild butterfly, a dream, a fantasy, a ‘might-have-been’, or you accept that it will be less than perfect, and you lay down your best interpretation, and everyday you forgive yourself for the imperfections of your writing, accepting that you’ve done the very best that you can.