April A-Z: S is for Sweet Tooth

I have a sweet tooth, but not necessarily for anything and everything sugar-rush-inducing. Sweet is good, but overly-sickly-sweet is not, and I tend to find the current tendency towards an over-the-top overkill of elaborate confectionary concoctions to be just too much for me.

For example I prefer my chocolate and my ice-cream unadulterated with affectation – no additional sauces or sprinkles or extra distractions to spoil my enjoyment, I like both to be creamy and smooth and blissfully comforting just as they are. I’m not a great cake-lover in general but if I do indulge I prefer to keep any adornment sparingly simple – moist sponge with minimal decoration.

And freshly-baked home-made cakes always taste so much better to me. I really love plain flapjacks, too, there’s just something about that particular buttery, syrupy, oat-flake-y combination that just hits the perfect sweet-spot for me… Mmmm… 🙂

Life events have conspired to pull me away from blogging over the last couple of months, and the idea of taking part in this year’s April Blogging from A-Z Challenge seems like a good way to try to get back into the habit of reading and posting regularly. Originally I thought of just using any old random words to go with the particular letter of the day, but realistically without a clear theme to work towards I’m not sure I’d be able to keep my focus for a full month… So instead I’ve opted for a relatively simple, if slightly self-indulgent work-around: This year I’ll be posting 26 things about me, nothing too taxing to write about yet still fulfilling the brief!

April A-Z: F is for Food

Food has never been just fuel for me; over the years my love of eating has been both a blessing and a curse. We all need to eat to produce energy, and enjoying something so fundamental to human survival may be fine in moderation, but not so good in excess.

Historically I am one of life’s emotional eaters; I eat not only to comfort myself but also to punish myself, to soothe my sorrows and to swallow down my disappointments. I eat to find solace in the texture and taste of food, which has inevitably led to a lifetime’s failed struggle to maintain a healthy weight. I feel bad because I’m too heavy, so I habitually eat to comfort myself, and – yeah, yeah, you get the picture…

Sadly for me since I caught Covid 15 months ago I’ve never quite fully regained my precious sense of taste and smell, so I’ve effectively lost some of the deeply-engrained satisfaction of any nuanced savouring of comfort food. Yet still I search in vain for that elusive hit of old, trying this previous favourite and that previous favourite to no avail… sigh!     

Life events have conspired to pull me away from blogging over the last couple of months, and the idea of taking part in this year’s April Blogging from A-Z Challenge seems like a good way to try to get back into the habit of reading and posting regularly. Originally I thought of just using any old random words to go with the particular letter of the day, but realistically without a clear theme to work towards I’m not sure I’d be able to keep my focus for a full month… So instead I’ve opted for a relatively simple, if slightly self-indulgent work-around: This year I’ll be posting 26 things about me, nothing too taxing to write about yet still fulfilling the brief!

Maw-Maw T’s Cornbread Recipe

  • 1 block oleo (here in UK that’s 4oz baking margarine)
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 cup cornmeal
  • 3 tsp baking powder
  • 1 cup milk

Combine oleo, eggs and sugar until fluffy (about 5 mins), sift dry ingredients and add alternately with milk. Pour into a greased pan and bake at 350 degrees F until done (approx 45 mins)

After posting about my mother-in-law’s hand-written recipe cards for this week’s Weekly Prompt, a couple of people have asked me for her mother’s recipe for cornbread, a family favourite from my husband’s childhood and one he still uses today – so here it is, definitely cake-y rather than bread-y despite the name but lovely in its rich yellowy sweetness… Enjoy! 🙂

Firm Family Favourites

Tucked safely inside a small old cardboard box on our book-shelf sits a stack of well-used hand-written recipe cards passed on to my husband from his mother, detailing some of his favourite family recipes from childhood. Included are his grandmother’s recipe for cornbread – a firm favourite with our grandchildren – one for Mrs Simmon’s pecan pie (whoever she was), one for a luscious lemon meringue pie copied from a tin of condensed milk in the late 1950s, and one for sweet potato souffle which I just adore.

To be honest the whole concept of sweet potato as a dessert seemed a bit strange to me to begin with until I thought about carrot cake, which I also love.

If you’ve never tried it there’s absolutely nothing vegetable-y tasting about it at all, if anything it’s a bit caramelised over-sweet for some tastes. It’s basically cooked mashed sweet potato mixed with egg yolks, brown sugar, cinnamon and cream, then whipped egg whites are folded-in before it’s all put into an oven-proof dish and topped with dots of butter and mini marshmallows. Bake it for about 20-25 minutes until the marshmallows are all melted and browned and you have a gooey, scrummy sweet potato souffle to enjoy – yum! 🙂

Weekly Prompts: Recipe Cards

Rock Buns

I decided to make some traditional rock buns this afternoon – I used to make them often when I was younger, but haven’t made any for years. Rock buns are a favourite family tea-time treat that have sadly gone out of fashion with today’s more sophisticated tastes. Proper childhood comfort food to cheer me up – a real blast from my baking past.

They’re so easy to make, and thankfully their rough-and-ready appearance (rock-like, hence the name) means neatness is never a requirement. I love the crumbly, crusty exterior and the spicy, fruity interior that together creates such a satisfyingly perfect accompaniment to a lovely cup of tea. If you’ve never had rock buns, they’re not quite as sweet and rich as cake, not quite as light and airy as bread, and in spite of their strange name are not quite as solidly slice-able in texture as a scone, either.

Happily it seems I’ve not lost my touch and these have turned out a treat – I’ve already had one (OK maybe two, just to make sure!) with my afternoon cuppa, and hopefully they’ll be a nice surprise for my husband when he gets home from work later tonight – yum! 🙂

April A-Z: T is for Taste

When I first tested positive for Covid three and a half months ago, I still had my sense of taste. It had definitely altered a bit as the initial infection took hold, because I found for the first few days everything tasted metallic and yuk, but then slowly my sense of taste disappeared entirely, taking my sense of smell with it. It’s so weird eating and drinking stuff and not being able to smell it or taste it at all. Just when you most want a nice cup of tea to make yourself feel better, or to comfort yourself with some old familiar flavours, it’s so disheartening not to be able to taste anything.

I hadn’t ever realised before just how much my enjoyment of cooking depends on my sense of smell and taste – I found I was still able to make my usual food favourites by rote, seasoning things from years of habit, but frustratingly when it came to eating all I could discern were textures rather than tastes. I learned how strange some food feels in the mouth without your taste-buds zinging things up. Pancakes feel like rubber, chicken soup feels slimy, meat just feels chewy and heavy. If I closed my eyes, I’d probably be unable to name exactly what was in my mouth. If I knew what I was eating, I’d remember the expected taste and try to conjure it up.

As the weeks passed my sense of smell slowly returned first, along with a slight restoration in taste in that I could once more differentiate salty or sweet, spicy or sour, but little else. Suddenly food would smell good again, but still taste disappointingly bland and blah. Then things started to taste really weird for a while as I began to recognise a partial taste but nothing else – for example delicately smoked fish tasted so strongly of smoke I couldn’t even eat it. The sweetest green veg tasted really bitter, even good quality milk chocolate tasted mainly of cloying fatty solids, and wholemeal bread somehow tasted earthy – the balance of intensity was all wrong.

But more recently, thankfully there has been a marked improvement in the subtleties of taste I can decipher. We were eating crunchy home-made garlic bread the other day and I got really excited because I could actually properly taste the luscious herby garlic butter in my mouth – sadly it only lasted for a moment, for one meal, but at least it was there, and it’s a start! To be honest I really miss those delightful nuances of flavour dancing so delicately on my tongue, and I’m so tired of tasting all or nothing with my blundering blunt-instrument taste-buds. But I have hope that things will continue to improve day by day – watch this space! 🙂

For this year’s April Blogging from A-Z Challenge I’m aiming for an alphabetical exploration of my personal thoughts and feelings on the continuing Covid 19 pandemic one year on, using a mix of poetry, pics and ponderings…

Boiled Eggs and Toasted Soldiers

OMG I love the taste of real butter – I remember so well the creamy yellow full-fat butter made by my grandmother on their arable farm. They always had a cow, though, kept for the milk. First the cow would be milked by hand, the warm, frothy milk splashing straight from the cow into the milk pail. Then the milk pail would be left to settle in the ‘milk-house’ which was a long, cool, stone-built out-building by the back door to the farmhouse. In due course the cream would be skimmed off the top of the milk and it was this cream that would be made into butter.

The old labour-intensive wooden butter churn still sat in the milk-house, next to the cool marble-topped work surface, but by the time I was old enough to remember the process the butter was being made in the kitchen using a standard electric mixer. From runny liquid whipped up to a thick cream to making little yellow globules of fat solids in white opaque liquid with minimal effort – perfect! Once the butter was fully separated from the buttermilk in the mixing bowl it was taken out and washed in cold water and salted to taste, before being carefully formed into a small rectangular block using ridged wooden butter pats.

In my memory the residual buttermilk was always given to the chickens to help keep them healthy… Oh, and thinking of the chickens reminds me of the fun of egg-collecting, too. I remember us grand-children being sent into the hen-house to collect the eggs, nestling so gently in the straw all brown and fragile. Carrying them in to the kitchen so carefully, then having them soft-boiled and sat in individual egg-cups with a steaming little cap sliced off the top, just enough to be able to dip in lavishly buttered toasted soldiers – long thin fingers of toasted bread, just perfect for dipping into the egg…

Such wonderful childhood memories… Actually I couldn’t tell you the last time I had a soft-boiled egg eaten with butter-laden toasted soldiers, but I’m almost tempted to give it a go tonight! 🙂

Stream of Consciousness Saturday: Butter

Lockdown Lentil Soup

Yeah I know, not exactly exciting to look at but hello, we’re in lockdown – nowhere much to go and nothing much to see! So here is a pictorial record of the making of yesterday’s lentil soup from the initial smoked ham hock boiling to make stock, chopped vegetables waiting to join the red lentils and seasoning already added to the stock, the basic soup before and after cooking, and a lovely hot bowlful ready to eat on a cold winter’s day.

And the best thing about it was – I really could taste it! After a month of Covid blandness it was such a relief to actually taste something properly again, and hopefully fingers crossed this is the start of my tastebuds functioning like real tastebuds once more. I’ve got used to the disappointment of being able to discern little more than salty or sweet or spicy, relying on texture rather than taste to bring any enjoyment to my eating.

I do appreciate that there seems to be no rhyme nor reason with Covid recovery, no standard straight-line progression from sick to well. It seems to be more of a two steps forward, one step back dance of discovery around some symptoms coming and going, ebbing and flowing, keeping you on your toes – it’s exhausting and perplexing and just so damned frustrating to not know from one day to the next how you’re going to be feeling.

But in the meantime, at least I enjoyed my soup! 🙂