Recipe – double chocolate muffins


These are easy, and easily the best muffins I’ve ever made. This uses the measurements in cups, rather than grams, which I found very easy to follow (but I appreciate is not the norm for my fellow Brits).  The only downside is this recipe only makes 12 – they don’t last long! I suppose I should add that these would freeze wonderfully, but I have never needed to… nuts would be a good addition to these in place of 100g of chocolate chips – I’d recommend macadamia nuts with white chocolate chips, and walnuts with milk chocolate chips. Experiment and enjoy!

Ingredients 

  • 2 cups of plain flour 
  • 1/3 cup of light brown moscavado sugar (packed)
  • 1/3 cup of sugar (caster or Demerara)
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt
  • 2.5 teaspoons of baking powder 
  • 2/3 of a cup of full fat milk
  • 1/2 cup of melted, cooled butter
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 100g milk chocolate chips
  • 100g white chcolate chips

Method

  • Preheat oven to 200°C (180°C if fan)
  • In a large bowl, mix together the sugars, flour, baking powder and salt 
  • In a jug, mix together the eggs, milk, cooked butter and vanilla
  • Make a well in the dry mixture, and pour your wet mixture in. Stir until just combined
  • Add the chocolate chips, and stir until evenly coated 
  • Spoon batter into prepared muffin case/tins
  • Bake for 17-20 minutes, until a skewer comes out clean
  • Let muffins cool in the tin, on a wire rack for five minutes, then remove from tin to cool on the rack further. (I think this is what helps the texture be so good)
  • Apply to face!
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Love letter to wine 

I never thought we’d be at the point where I’d be writing a letter to you, over two years after our love affair ended. Time has given me a new perspective, I guess, and shown me how strong I can be without you. I thought I needed you by my side always; it turns out I don’t.

In the beginning, our love was pure, fun. You offered me a way to come out of my shell, showed me joy that I thought I was lacking. We had some good times, GREAT times, even. We could hang out with friends together and smugly enjoy the unique relationship we had. We’d stay up all night, laughing and giggling while surrounded by good company. Memories of these nights meant I stayed with you far longer than I should have done. I hoped that we could go back to those days, before it all went toxic and sour. I know now I can never go back.

Because eventually, your hold on me was so strong that my friends were just a distraction from the relationship of you and I. You made sure I was alone. My reliance on you grew, and my obsession with you was all consuming. While initially you had soothed my insecurities, and drowned my fears, soon you allowed them to grow and engulf me. My solution became my biggest problem, and yet I had no idea how to fix it; so I drank it away, and choked back the poison. The fun  had ended long ago. I was trapped in an endless cycle of needing you, wanting you, feverishly devouring every bit of you, only to hate you and hate myself. I feared myself, when I was with you. I feared you, and your grip of control on me.

I tried to break up with you, many times, before it eventually stuck. Each time you whispered in my ear reasons I should stick it out. That I needed you. That no one really understood the good thing we had going. That my life would be awful without you as a crutch. That it really wasn’t as bad as I thought, and one more time for old times sake wouldn’t hurt. At one time, you were my sole confidant, my only friend. You skewed my perspective so much that I didn’t see how fucked up that was. Although I couldn’t see it at the time, you were my only priority and consumed my daily thoughts. I got through the days on autopilot until we could be together again, until I could pour my first glass and feel your warmth envelope me.

I gained unexplained bruises because of you; my face and body changed because of the damage you were doing. More than once I was so physically ill I thought I could die. I lied and stole, cheated and spewed hateful words, that no amount of pretending it didn’t happen would ever take back. My demeanour changed, I grew afraid of everything. The only light at the end of the tunnel was you, despite the fact that you were making my world so small and dark. The Fear you instilled in me still visits sometimes in dreams, and each time I wake, shaking and confused. Terrified. And still, I stayed. Because you were right; I couldn’t handle life without you.

Except I could; I am. And though it took a while to see, I’ve blossomed and grown in leaps now I’ve cut you out of my life. No longer do I hide from the world; I’m like a new flower, stretching to greet the sun. This hasn’t been an easy road, to get here. But the road you wanted me on would have was me to absolute ruin. Of that, I am certain. It was hideous enough, our twisted entanglement, and would only have got worse.

I know I’ve seen a darkness to you that many won’t – they will be able to savour you, and enjoy you for the casual release you are. I realise not all your relationships will be like ours was. But I know also that your grasp will tether others to you, and you will set out to destroy them too. I can see the signs in others, and I hold my breath – for a minute, I am back there myself. I know too well though that they need to see it for what it is themselves; I cannot help with a problem they don’t see. I hope they find the strength to leave you behind too. I hope one day, people can see how I’ve moved on and realise happiness is possible, without you tainting it. That living is so much more than chasing the next buzz, the next drink.

I’m even grateful to you, in a funny way. Despite the misery you brought, you have also blessed my life with wonderful people. They are in recovery from you too, and had we not got to the point we did, I would never have met them. I would never have tried to become a better person. I would not now be so grateful for my life today, or the memories I make and remember. I wouldn’t be present. I wouldn’t have tried to make amends, or admit my wrongs. Gf

So, here we are. I did the typical things one does after a difficult break up – tears were shed, I was angry at the world, I grieved and yearned for you. I even got the post break up haircut. And now, I see I never really needed you. You certainly did not enrich my life. And I don’t now. As fun as it was occasionally, I can proudly say I’m glad i feel I never need you again. Though you still enrich my kitchen, you will never consume my heart.

It’s not you, it’s me. Goodbye.

Recipe – teriyaki salmon and sesame pak choi

This is quick, easy and delicious. I can’t believe I only made it for the first time yesterday, it’s now a form favourite and go to staple. If you can’t get (or don’t fancy) pal choi, cabbage or spring greens would work the same way. I serve these with rice, but the salmon is gorgeous with salad and new potatoes too. 

For the salmon:

Thinly slice a thumb sized piece of peeled finger, and four garlic cloves. In a bowl, add two heaped tablespoons of runny honey, three generous table spoons of soy, and one of rice wine. Add the garlic and ginger and stir to create a sticky marinade. Take four salmon fillets, and add to the bowl, coating in the marinade as well as sea salt and pepper. Store in the fridge for at least half an hour, but no more than two hours.

Heat two tablespoons of oil in a large pan. Place the salmon skin sides down and leave for two minutes. Add the rest of the marinade (it will bubble!) and cook for two more minutes. Baste the salmon, then turn and cook until the salmon is cooked through.

Meanwhile, cut the end off the pak choi and separate into leaves. Mince four cloves of garlic, and gentle fry in a little oil. Add the pak choi and stir through. After a minute or  so, add 75ml of vegetable stock and cover with a lid. Cook for a few more minutes – you want it to be softened, but still have some bite. Once cooked, toss in a tablespoon of sesame oil, and add sesame seeds.

Angels

I believe in them. Not the winged creatures that my more religious family members might envision, necessarily. But I believe that sometimes, people are brought into your life at such a time, with such a message or blessing that they surely can’t be anything but. Sometimes the way it happens is so coincidental, or with such unbelievably slim chances that it’s staggering. You were meant to meet them. They were sent to guide you on your path, or shed light. Offer hope. Angels exist, and are out there.

I’m lucky enough to have encountered this a handful of times, and each time they have offered blessings, and huge help. Each time there have been signs that our meeting is bigger than the two of us, strange similarities or links that cannot be ignored. Some have passed by fleetingly, never to be seen again but often felt in my heart and remembered. Others, stay, and you know that your life will never be without them in it. My friend Rachel is one of these, I truly believe.

This week my husband met an angel of his own. The odds of encountering this lady were minuscule; and yet there she was. With everything he needed at a time where he was low and despairing – kindness, expertise and a huge ignition of confidence. She has offered to help further, and I cannot stress what a blessing she has brought. In four hours, she brought a 180° shift to our circumstance. I’m not sure what our immediate future holds, but I know she will be there to guide us through it, as sure as I know the sun will kiss the horizon tomorrow morning.

I doubt she’s aware of her importance, or my angelic belief of her; in my experience, they never do. I’ve wondered if I’ve been an angel to anyone at a time in their life, when they’ve needed hope. I hope so, or that I can one day. 

Be kind to each other, be generous with your love, skills and experience and offer them as a gift to others whenever you are able. Your small contribution could be part of something so much bigger than you imagine; it could restore someone’s faith or love of life. You could offer something life changing , without even knowing it. I believe there’s an angel in all of us. And I will always believe they are among us, if we are open and try to keep a good heart.

Changes

This past week or so has been a doozy. I won’t go into details, but it started with travelling home to visit my sick grandma in hospital to probably say goodbye, to a series of bombshells dropped along the way. None fatal, but definitely life changing; I’m not wounded but very much affected. Every time I regain my balance, another tremor hits.

I know I’m not alone in this, we all face times where we wonder how we’ll get through them, or how much more body blows can the Big Guy deal at once (as I discovered – you can always take one more hit than you think possible) . But cope we do, and muddle through somehow. 

So there’s been lots going on, lots of talking and discussing and life altering decisions made. I tweeted earlier that if I’d had this week a year ago, I’d be drinking on it – and I’ve no doubt I would. I’m not sure I would have felt emotionally ready for some of what’s going on. In fact, if you’d have told me all this would happen six months ago I would probably wondered if it would have made me or broken me entirely. As it turns out, my emotional china has broken, but kissed back together with molten metal; I am forever changed and scarred but stronger for it. How grateful I am to be present and able to process, to trust my instinct more. For the gift of acceptance.

Instead, I feel calm. At peace with the situations – they is what they are, what will be, will be. If I can affect something I can act, otherwise it’s out of my control. It’s been a revelation to know I can just hand it over, and trust that I’ve actually been bestowed a gift, an opportunity, I just need to refocus a little to see it. This path is mine, ours, and it’s got rocky and treacherous before but I’m still here hiking, even if my breath is jagged.

And I’m resolved. I’m not sure where it’s come from, but a determination of steel has become my armour that I gather around myself and my family. I can’t describe it anymore than this – I know it will be ok. I know this is the right path, somehow. I know that we will be fine, and this is leading somewhere better. I don’t have 100% faith in many things, but I absolutely believe in my husband and I. Like the strong women in my family, we get shit done. And as long as we have all each other, and our health, we will figure everything else out. What I have under this roof is a blessing – a house full of love. And love always wins.

Recovering

I’ve talked here briefly about how I’ve had a difficult time recently, with anxiety and depression. It’s caused set backs, and difficulties, and I lost quite a lot of weight (when I didn’t really need to). I spoke to my doctor a few times and we’ve sorted out medication, and tweaked a few other things too.

After a few stops and starts, I’m in the process of healing, rather that just licking my wounds. I can tell I’m getting better! I cannot express how relieved I am to write those words. I think if you’ve experienced mental illness repeatedly, you always doubt if you will get better from each episode. Or if each new bout is just a new normal, and that your personality has forever been changed since the last bout. 

I feel better than I have in a long time. I’m not bouncing out of bed, or singing with the birds or anything. I’m still anxious at times, and have moments of bleakness or irritability. Who isn’t, right? But I’m excited about things, things that I thought I’d maybe never enjoy again.

I’m writing again, for a start. It’s not life changing, or ever going to be a career for me but I enjoy doing it. I’m thinking of starting fiction again, and maybe poetry too. I used to love those too, a lifetime ago. And I think I should give it a go again.

I’m motivated. I’ve cleaned, scrubbed, sorted and organised, and been more productive in the last few weeks than I probably have the last few years. And my god I feel better for it! I’m taking pride in keeping things tidy, of being organised. While I’ll never be thrilled at the prospect of housework, I’m cracking on and doing it – and more so than just the basics. We are even talking about doing some minor redecoration and I’m so excited – the thought alone of the change, effort and mess involved would have had me reeling.

And I’m back in my little kitchen again. I love to cook, usually. Feeding people and making them happy is a great feeling; pottering about trying new things was my happy place. I love watching cookery programmes, reading recipes, browsing spices and new ingredients to me. Until this latest bout, where I lost all enthusiasm for food – I couldn’t bring myself to eat, or keep food down I was so anxious. So the fact I’m cooking, and eating again means I’m definitely doing better. I haven’t put much weight back on, but I’m a little softer around the edges and eating in a healthy way.

I guess the main thing is that I feel able to do things again. For a while, everything felt so overwhelming that I thought I was suffocating. Even doing nothing felt impossibly hard, and going through the motions of life was all I could manage, in an anxious, panicked robotic motion. I couldn’t relax, or take pleasure in anything; I’m so thrilled now to be finding snippets of joy, no matter how small the pieces. And because I’m not choking on the tiniest of things, I’m able to be more productive with my days than I think I ever have been (it’s difficult to know whether I’ve always had underlying anxiety, or was just drunk/hungover. Could be both, neither or none. The main thing is I’m not like that today).

Dare I say, I’m even smiling at my bad days, or dips in mood, because for the first time in a bloody long time I can feel confident that it’s JUST A BAD DAY. And it will lift, and get easier. A bad day doesn’t make a bad life – seems to obvious but impossible to see when you’re stuck in the mire.

The only thing to be anxious about now is how I’ll be when I come off this medication… I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it, and just enjoy today instead. 

A Better Day

I’ll forgive you for choking on your tea when you realise this is a happy post. I know, right?! Yes, you are on the right blog. I think because I found it hard to see any joy for such a long time, that I’m overwhelmed with it today. I almost want to bottle it up, and keep it forever.

Today has just been a good day. Even at times when it felt incredibly stressful (that’s what two toddlers will do to you), we had a lovely day and did lovely things.

We went into town so I could pick my prescription up. And N chatted to me the whole time, explaining what he could see and giving me his tiny perspective on important things such as ‘rice really should be a vegetable or fruit mummy, if it comes from a plant’. And even though his incessant babble can sometimes be wearing, today I thought – how amazing is this? We can communicate, he can tell jokes, he can point out the things he loves to me, so I can share in his joy. He gets excitement from seeing a bumblebee, and I’m the first person he wants to show, and talk to me about it. And that’s a beautiful thing.

C has also been chatting away, blowing kisses to strangers and then very seriously waving and telling them ‘bye bye’. And it hit me how grown she is already, and how brave, charming and forward she is. Some of the qualities that drive me crazy (diva like attitude, death defying climbing, her insistence on escaping and determination to do EVERYTHING herself) will really take her far in life. She’s been signing to me that she loves me, and daddy, and she’s such a loving little thing that it’s hard to remember she was such a difficult baby who screeched if my poor husband dared to look at her. She learned some new signs today (makaton sign language) and she was so thrilled to do them, her joy was infectious. I don’t know which of us beamed the hardest.

We did some shopping, and N put everything in my basket, and helped me scan the items at the till very helpfully. I had comments about how lovely he was, and kind. And how happy C was. I saw them today as others see them – brilliant, loving and intelligent cherubs. I loved it.

We bought N some books and he proudly read them to his friend who runs the bookshop (they are truly lovely there). We had a chat and a biscuit with her, and he even used the staff toilet (no accidents! Still! And we were out for three hours!). And she touched my arm and said ‘you do wonderfully, look at how fantastic your children are’ and for a second I wanted to hug her. Because I must be doing ok, because they are kind, and loving, and fantastic.

As we ate strawberries on the railway bridge, waiting for a (late) train to spot, N counted the passengers and pigeons. C guzzled her strawberries and rubbed the mushy remains in her hair, making him laugh (‘look at that troublemaker!’). The train came, and he was beside himself with excitement, mimicking the sounds and waving enthusiastically to it. I felt his sticky little hand slip into mine as he said ‘I love you mummy. Today has been a wonderful day, with you here’. And you know what; he was right.