On the other side of the rain stained window, the world looks very grey this February morning. There is a distant mist shrouding the leafless trees on the opposite side of the field. Delicate and ghostlike, they stand perfectly still, with not a breath of wind in the cold air to help shake off their white winter shrouds. The window by my writing desk looks directly out onto a tree nursery. Rows and rows of saplings and young trees stretch out in regimented lines, many of which to the untrained eye look quite dead at this time of the year, their bare, thin branches waiting for the coming warmth of the spring sunshine to bring them back to life.
Inside the shelter of the kitchen, I too feel like I am waiting for some divine intervention to rejuvenate my tired brain. Not so much tired, but impatient. Impatient for change. I am getting fidgety, not a good sign for me as the last time I felt fidgety I shut up shop and buggered off to Tenerife for six months. I am certainly not planning anything as drastic as that this time round, but I do feel a need to take control of my ship instead of hiding in the hold, bobbing about aimlessly in a sea of self doubt and heading in no particular direction.
When I started the blog I used to write quite lengthy posts about growing up, my parents and family, stories intertwined with the food I associated with people in snapshots of time. Some of the articles I found quite cathartic, like writing about my mother’s dementia, the despair and lack of hope over her condition seemed to wane as I my fingers tip-tapped away at the keyboard and to hear from others who were dealing with the same problems made me feel less lonely.
After having a break from blogging and social media in general last year, I have noticed since returning my posts have been much shorter than before, consisting of not much more than a recipe. My Instagram account has gained a few followers since I began posting again last November, but it is not going up at the rate it was when I first started. Everything feels slightly stagnant, like there is something blocking my flow of energy and enthusiasm.
Over the past couple of weeks I have given myself a stiff talking to. After a good look in the mirror and some honest conversations with my inner self I have realised the only person holding me back from anything is me. And that means that ‘me’ is the only person who can take steps to change things.
Anyone can start a blog, but as every blogger knows there is much more to it than writing a few lines every now and then and posting any old photograph. I will be the first person to admit I am sadly lacking in the computer department, my 12 year old is much more knowledgable than I am and I have seen him roll his eyes at my incompetence on more than one occasion. So I need to pull my socks up and start learning some stuff. By ‘stuff’ I mean internet stuff, techy stuff. Stuff I tend to shy away from as, and this may sound very dizzy to anyone under fifty, basically I think it frightens me. I get worried that if I press the wrong button I am going to lose everything or a nasty virus will invade all the computers in the house or my email will start to be bombarded with viagra adverts or worse.
Taking time out to think about my predicament, I have come to the conclusion I really have no excuse. After all, if I can teach myself how to set up and organise my blog, something I had never done before The Eating Tree took shape, there is no reason I cannot teach myself how to make a film or upload a video on You Tube. There is nothing stopping me learning about how to write more effectively, how to take better photographs or even how to write a book if that is the path I wish to tread.
After confronting my inner demons and rapidly throwing overboard any non-achievable goals, apart from the technical side of things I was left with a few ideas that I can begin working on immediately. These small first steps will not cost anything apart from my time, a precious commodity which I currently waste with reckless abandon. The first goal on the list is to hone my writing skills and not dwell on what others may think of my ramblings. Secondly, I am going to try to be more confident in owning up to what I want to achieve. I need to have the confidence to promote myself, stand up and tell people what I do and get some ‘sharper elbows’ as my husband says. Thirdly, I am going to be more ‘me’. People who genuinely do not worry about what other people think must be pretty tough cookies, something I am not. Of course I spend my time sitting here writing because I want people to visit my blog and cook my recipes. I love hearing from people all over the world and engaging with readers who share a passion for food and what eat. I now feel the need to start thinking of it as my personal space where I can write about whatever takes my fancy, be that food related or not, without worrying if someone is not going to like me, be offended or storm off in a huff.
There, that wasn’t too bad after all. After getting that off my chest I feel much better.
Now, back to the cooking.
In the week I was shopping with my son and he asked for a malt loaf, one of those fruity, sticky loaves wrapped up in a packet, the same brand as my mother used to buy when I was young. When we arrived home, both of us were looking forward to our little treat with a cup of tea, but boy, were we disappointed. Not with the loaf itself which was how I remembered it: still sticky, still difficult to slice without squashing and still delicious with thick smears of butter. But the size! It was so small I could have just put butter on the top and eaten it whole.
Needless to say I decided to make my own and the result was so delicious I would like to share it with you lovely lot. The loaf is not as squashy as the shop bought one, which does not detract from the deliciousness whatsoever and makes it easier to slice. Like most fruit cakes it would probably be even better wrapped and stored or a few days before eating but I can’t see that happening here.
It may be difficult to find malt extract and molasses in a supermarket but they should be readily available in health food shops.
- 150g Malt Extract
- 30g Molasses
- 100g Dark Muscovado Sugar
- 150ml Hot Black Tea
- 100g Sultanas
- 100g Raisins
- 100g Dried Prunes, chopped
- 2 Eggs
- 250g Plain Flour
- 1 teaspoon Baking Powder
- ½ teaspoon Bicarbonate of Soda
- Preheat oven to 160C.
- Put the malt extract, molasses and sugar into a medium saucepan and cook over a low heat until the sugar has dissolved.
- Pour in the hot tea and the dried fruit and mix. Take off the heat and leave for 5 minutes.
- Stir in the eggs.
- Mix the baking powder and and bicarb with the flour then tip into the fruit mixture and beat in until combined.
- Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and bake for an hour.
- Remove from the oven. Brush the top with a little more malt extract. When cool enough to handle remove from the tin and leave to cool completely before slicing.
- There is probably no need to say serve sliced with thick butter!