Long post alert. I know…I have been away a long time. I may have forgotten who I am. I turned 73 in February. Whoa. How did that happen? I must admit it caught me a bit by surprise. I did have a second or two when I thought…so now what? Is it time to shift gears? Change my expectations? Maybe aim to do less? But no, I concluded almost immediately – keep going, carry on. See, smell, savour and enjoy.
Since we last connected, I’ve run three 10K races, in Cardiff, Aberystwyth and Tregaron. As always, there are not enough ways to say thank you to Lina Land, and all my running buddies in Team Land. I visited twice in Paris, my wonderful colleague, friend and former student Dr. Ilona Boniwell, founder of Positran.fr. Ilona has been a pivotal force in bringing Positive Psychology to Europe. On my second visit, she and I and a few others had dinner with Martin Seligman, a founder and father of Positive Psychology, after an event she organised for him at which 1,100 Parisians attended. I will say more about his new theoretical model of happiness shortly. I travelled to St. Petersburg to see my family where my wallet was stolen. That experience was truly a temporary loss of identity and took some time to sort out. But the family are great, and St. Petersburg, dazzling in its elegance as always. I’ve been putting the finishing touches on Badly Chopped Carrots: Recipes for Life, in collaboration with Pencoed Press. I’ve taken on for 6 months, a voluntary role as chief executive of HAHAV (Hospice at Home Volunteers Aberystwyth.) I am a founding board member and have been part of its extraordinary journey over these last three or four years. And I am working on my next project ‘Pathways to Well-being’. This is a smaller project, that includes some art work, some life enhancing quotations and short activities to take us through the seasons. I am combining my code for good living: See, Taste, Touch, Smell, and Listen with Martin Seligman’s model for achieving happiness: PERMA.-Positive Emotion, Engagement, Relationship, Meaning, Accomplishment.
Here is an example: Keep your heart in wonder at the daily miracles of life. (Kahlil Gibran)
For one week pay attention to what you SEE. How does what you see make you feel? Just notice and perhaps jot some notes on how what you see may interact with your level of engagement, relationship, meaning in your life and what you may accomplish.
Here is one of my responses.
This week, I’ve been seeing all the birds in the garden. It’s spring. They are flying in and out constantly enjoying the nuts and seeds we put out for them. I love watching how the different species interact. The small tits, the big jays, the bull finches. Some are quite polite and wait their turn. Others are a bit pushier. I have to say I feel a sense of joy when I see them. A sense of the busyness of life. That Life goes on. Watching the birds interacting makes me want to get out and meet up with colleagues, friends. In a small way, putting out the nuts and seeds feels like a deliberate act of care, of giving, and I am pretty sure, some of those birds have gotten significantly bigger, healthier, more energetic in the last few weeks!
Of course, you may not be spending a significant part of your day watching birds! Perhaps you take the train to work and back and you see people as they convey themselves on and off the train. Or you sit in the park occasionally and watch dogs of every description, sauntering, running, chuntering past. The point is, where ever you are, whatever you do, take a few moments to really see and notice how you feel this week.
For me, busy is good. Of course, too busy is not good! It’s about finding the right balance between life sustaining, life affirming action …and…enough down time to appreciate, to savour it all.
Speaking of savouring, I know I go on about my two very favourite life enhancements and this post is no exception: Home Décor and Home Cooking. At this time of the year, winter, wind, sleet, maybe a little snow (a lot of snow for the people in Ottawa!), all of this is getting a bit tiresome. My personal remedies have been to create as comforting, welcoming, nurturing, dare I say beautiful home environment as I can…always – flowers, candles, warm coloured cushions, and …space….which of course requires MASSIVE DE-CLUTTERING.
And…I know you’ve been waiting for this…Home Cooking.
Since we last connected, I’ve been following daily, two blogs, SeasonsandSuppers and SmittenKitchen. You met Seasons and Suppers last year on this blog when I introduced my variation on Jennifer’s Pear Almond Cake.
Shortly before Christmas, I discovered (I know not how) Smitten Kitchen. There are not enough positives in the English language to do justice to Deb Perleman’s effervescence, humour and humility, not to mention her outrageously delicious recipes. So much so, I am forced to share not one but two of my adaptations of her recipes.
Before I do that, I want to bring some of the outside in especially to conjure up a little hope for my family and friends in Ottawa, Vancouver, St. Petersburg. I know you can’t go out right now to ‘steal’ daffodils from the local hedgerows, but don’t despair… your chance is coming!
And now…you all know the problem I have with pumpkins. Too many of them, seized and displayed throughout the autumn until Halloween is long gone. What next?
Here is one amazing solution. Deb Perelman’s:
This is quite a long, somewhat complicated recipe, but I have to tell you it is so worth it. I have frozen most of it. It thaws perfectly and remains utterly scrumptious.
I have adapted it by making double the amount of crumb and scattering the top with them. I know the picture doesn’t show this but trust me…a real enhancement if you like a little more crunch and crumb. I have also left out her extra creamy topping.
For the crust and topping:
1 ½ cups gingersnap crumbs
1 cup (about 100 grams) pecans or walnuts, chopped finely.
1/2 cup (90 grams) packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar
8 tablespoons (110 grams) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
Two or three pinches of salt.
For the filling
1 ½ cups pumpkin (You can use either pure canned pumpkin or if you have a problem like mine, chop up and bake those chunks until tender. Scoop from skins and puree in food processor or blender.)
3 large eggs
½ cup (95 grams) packed light brown sugar
2 tablespoons (approximately 30ml) double (heavy) cream
1 teaspoon (5 ml) vanilla
1 tablespoon (15 ml) bourbon (I wasn’t sure I could get this in rural Wales, but sure enough…)
½ cup (100 grams) granulated sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
½ teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon fine salt
24 oz (three 8 oz packages) cream cheese, room temperature.
Heat oven to 180C/160Fan/350F/ Use a 9 inch springform pan or in my case, a 9 inch round pan with a removal bottom. Pat firmly half the crumb mixture into the bottom and slightly up the sides (possibly ½ inch) of the pan. Chill between 20 minutes and one hour.
For the filling you can either use an electric beater or a food processor. Deb recommends the following order for ingredients if you are using a beater: Whip together the pumpkin, eggs, brown sugar, cream, vanilla, and bourbon in a bowl until well mixed. Mix together granulated sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and salt in another bowl. To this bowl, add the cream cheese and beat for 3 minutes at high speed. Reduce speed to medium and add the pumpkin mixture beating all together until smooth.
Alternatively, you can use a food processor. This allows you to use cold cream cheese in case you have forgotten to take it out of the refrigerator. You will be putting the ingredients together in a different order from above: Put the sugars in the bowl and the cream cheese which you have cut into chunks. Blend together until completely smooth. Then add: pumpkin, cornstarch, salt, and spices. Once again, blend together. Add eggs, one at a time, blending briefly after each addition. Add cream and bourbon. Mix.
Either way, pour the mixture over your now chilled crust. Place in the middle of the oven on a shallow pan in case of leaking. Bake 50-60 minutes until centre is just set. Remove from oven for about 5 minutes. Sprinkle with the other half of the crumbs pressing down slightly just so they don’t fall off. Return to oven and bake an additional 5 minutes.
Cool cheesecake on rack about 3 hours. Chill covered at least four hours. When you are ready to serve, remove the cake from the pan and let it come to room temperature.
Deb says the cake keeps well, covered and chilled for up to one week. As I have already mentioned, it freezes beautifully. Truthfully, if you live in a small family, or are entertaining a small number of guests freezing is an important option. This cake serves 12-14 people!
The picture you see here is one I took before I put the crumbs on top. I have blurred out a slightly unseemly background with a new ‘app’ (for me) called Snapseed.
I don’t have a picture of the second of the Smitten Kitchen desserts I promised you. But it is so unusual, so delicious and so easy I just had to share it. By the way, Deb says this is a variation on a Nigel Slater recipe. Don’t you just love how our worlds have become so positively connected through food!
Chocolate Pear Raspberry Crumble
1/3 cup (40-50 grams) chopped dark chocolate (around 70% is good)
½ cup Dorset muesli (I am afraid I went off-piste here. I didn’t have rolled oats on hand)
¼ cup maple syrup.
Pinch of salt.
3 tablespoons (40 grams) butter
3 tablespoons (40 grams) sugar
2 pears, peeled, halved, cored and diced into small chunks (about ½ inch). It’s good to use firm pears.)
1 cup (115 grams or 4 oz.) raspberries
Heat oven to 180C/160Fan/350F/
I used a small cast iron Creuset dish about 8×5 inches.
First, mix the topping in a small bowl and set aside.
For the main body of the work, melt butter over medium heat. Add sugar and cook together until the edges start to turn golden. Add the pear chunks. Watch quite carefully so they don’t become overly mushy cooking about 5-8 minutes. Scatter the raspberries on top. Then sprinkle with the chocolate oat topping.
Bake 20-25 minutes until the oats in the topping are crisp and the chocolate melting.
Serve warm. With ….yes…a ball of vanilla ice cream.
This does offer 4 people an earthy, freshly memorable end of dinner treat.
…And…don’t worry, spring will come!
Yellow is the scent of spring in Wales. A.M. Rogers