Using my Loaf

There is nothing quite like the smell of baking bread. That nutty, wholesome scent that wafts warmth from room to room, lovingly stroking the senses and spreading feelings of comfort and content throughout a household. And there is nothing quite like the satisfaction of baking bread for those that you love, knowing that this small, straightforward action will cause so much happiness and please so many rumbling tummies.

Baking bread is a smell of my childhood. When I was about 10, Marge bought a miraculous new machine, one that soon had me springing out of bed on school mornings rather than reluctantly dragging myself, out from under the duvet, limb by limb: the bread maker. It was without a doubt the best alarm clock you could ever imagine. Being gently nuzzled by the smell of freshly baked bread was the gentlest and most lovely wake-up call a child could ever ask for and it soon caused a slow grumbling sound to rise from under the bed sheets before a stampede of hungry children raced down the stairs to wolf down the doughy, buttery goodness.

It is this kind of comfort that Marge needs right now, so baking bread seems like a natural thing for me to do. The beauty of it is that there are so many amazing and contrasting varieties that baking tow loaves over the course of two days didn’t seem in the least bit over-indulgent. The weekend started with a Wholemeal Soda Bread – that miraculously easy yet decadently wholesome loaf that, as Felicity Cloake eloquently states, “can be in the oven in less time than it takes to brew a pot of tea, and is ready to eat by the time you get out of the shower”. Despite being so simple, the moist, cakey texture of this bread means that it is incredibly dense and satisfying and will most certainly sooth even the most upset of tummies.

I have to say it was a triumph – not only did Marge enjoy a few slices alongside a warming, vitamin-packed Minestrone soup on Friday evening, but she helped herself to a couple of slices for breakfast the following morning too, topped with mashed avocado, a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil and a sprinkle of chilli flakes (I am so proud)! Soda bread it absolutely delicious toasted – its nutty flavour further enhanced by the heat and the charred, crunchy exterior acts as the perfect contrast to the moist crumbly middle.

The second loaf I made I was more nervous about – both making it and of Marge’s reaction – as it was a bread of a more unusual variety: Quinoa Bread. I came across the recipe when perusing through the beautiful and innovative cookbook The Detox Kitchen Bible and was immediately intrigued. I am a huge fan of this nutrient-dense grain (it provides a source of all the essential amino acids) and so to have it in bread form and to be able to pile on delicious toppings such as avocado, hummus, nut butters and fruit seemed like a dream come true. Plus it is an excellent way to help ensure Marge is eating enough protein, even when all she can eat is plain grains and simple fare.

Yet again, the loaf came out extremely well and went down a treat. Very different from the soda bread, it obviously didn’t have the same doughy, homely texture but, as you eat it, you feel as though you are doing something good for your body and that is a comfort in itself. It also has a subtle, nutty flavour, lifted by a touch of lemon juice, and a lovely light texture, making it an absolute pleasure to eat.

I loved spending pretty much my entire weekend pottering around the kitchen – it was a joy to see spoil Marge and see her slowly regaining her strength, gradually overcoming the worst of her side-effects. I know that it may just be timing and coincidence, but I like to think that these loaves helped her spirits and energy rise and that they played a part, no matter how small, in her beginning to feel a lot less crumby (pun definitely intended)!

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Recipe: Wholemeal Soda Bread

Makes 1 loaf.

  • 450g coarse wholemeal flour
  • 50g rolled oats
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 level tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 tbsp treacle
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 450ml buttermilk (or sour milk, or milk with 1 tbsp lemon juice)

Method.

  1. Preheat the oven to 200°C/gas 6/180°C and grease a baking sheet.
  2. Put all the dry ingredient into a large mixing bowl and mix to combine.
  3. Make a well in the middle. Stir the treacle and honey into the buttermilk until well mixed, then pour this into the well and, very quickly, stir together with your hands until you have a soft, sticky dough.
  4. Form this into a round on your baking sheet and cut a deep cross in the dough.
  5. Bake for 50 minutes to an hour, keeping an eye on it, until the crust is golden and the loaf sounds hollow when tapped underneath.
  6. Leave to cool before diving in. Eat as soon as possible, as it doesn’t keep very well.

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Recipe: Quinoa Bread

Makes 1 small loaf.

  • 30g chia seeds
  • 350g quinoa
  • 70ml olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • A pinch of flaked sea salt
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • A handful mixed seeds

Method.

  1. Put the chia seed sin a bowl with 100ml water, stir well and leave for 30 minutes to form into a gel.
  2. Preheat your oven to 200°C/gas 6/180°C. Line a small loaf tin (25.5 x 13.5 x 6cm) with baking parchment.
  3. Place the weighed quinoa in a saucepan and cover with three times its volume of cold water. Bring to the boil and simmer for 3 minutes – the quinoa will only be part cooked.
  4. Drain the quinoa in a sieve and rinse under running cold water until completely cooled. Leave to drain for a few minutes (this is important as if it is too wet, the bread will be stodgy).
  5. Combine the chia gel and quinoa in a food processor and blitz to combine. Add 150ml water, together with the olive oil, bicarbonate of soda, salt and lemon juice. Run the food processor for five minutes until the mixture becomes a similar wet texture to muffin batter.
  6. Pour the mixture into the loaf tin and sprinkle the seeds over the top. Bake for 1 hour until the bread is firm and slightly golden.
  7. Remove from the oven and allow to cool in the tin for 15 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and leave to cool completely. Wrap in clingfilm and keep in the fridge until ready to slice.

 

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Acts of Love

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“Food is symbolic of love when words are inadequate.” Alan D. Wolfelt.

It was, incidentally, Valentine’s weekend when I first came across this quote. Valentine’s day and the first weekend after Marge’s second chemo session. I had never really been in a believer in Valentine’s day (partly because I was always single, bitter and alone, partly because I never understood why we needed a specific day to demonstrate our love for others), but this quote seemed to puncture the heart of the weekend’s activities. I was spending my Valentine’s weekend in the kitchen, doing what I love for the people I love.

During the week Mum is at home by herself and is doing an amazing job of cooking for herself, despite being completely exhausted and suffering from worsening the side-effects of chemo: the treatment has completely robbed her of her energy; nausea has made its triumphant return; and the burning sensation in her stomach has reignited its flame. Yet, despite all of this, she is still managing to eat three good and (mostly) healthy meals a day and I even caught her making bircher muesli for my dad and sister one evening –  it seems even chemo cannot dampen a mother’s instinct to care for her family.

However, if I am at home then I can’t help but want to take care of her. For all of my 24 years, she has been the most incredibly doting and selfless mother, always putting us first and doing whatever is in her power to make us happy; I want to do the same. Though I am powerless against the physical effects of her treatment, I am powerful when it comes to improving her mood and making her feel looked after. Cooking and showing my love through food is my contribution to her well-being. So, despite not believing in Valentines day as such, the fact that this ‘day of love’ coincides with a weekend succeeding chemo has definitely given me an extra zeal. This weekend Marge is going to be filled with love, in the form of delicious food.

It is not often that I am in to make lunch, so I wanted to make sure I cooked something special. Yet, as I have already found out, when Marge is feeling her worst, the best approach is to listen to the demands of her stomach and cravings. Today, they commanded fishcakes (a pleasant surprise I have to say). With a simple meal such as this, so much of the love and care put into it is communicated by the aesthetic and finer touches of the dish, those little extras that scream immense affection. Presentation has such a significant affect on appetite – when a dish looks like love and care have been put it into it, the desire to eat it grows. So when the stomach ordered fishcakes, I answered with Tuna Fishcakes Topped with Spinach and Fried Egg, sprinkled with turmeric and chilli – to turn up the heat on Valentine’s weekend. The dish contains lots of protein to build Marge’s strength and is full anti-oxidant rich ingredients so her body is equipped to resist the nasty side-effects as best as it can.

Healthy Ingredients

Eggs are an excellent source of quality protein and are one of the few food sources of vitamin D – necessary for healthy bones and teeth. They also contain plenty of antioxidants that help prevent cancer and heart disease, choline and other B-vitamins that support healthy function of nerves and the brain and are thought to balance blood sugar levels.

Spinach is packed with vitamins and minerals and contains more than a dozen different antioxidant flavanoid compounds that have anti-inflammatory properties, protecting against heart disease and helping to neutralise the free radicals that weaken the immune system and are linked to cancer. High in vitamin K, it also helps to protect bones.

Recipe: Tuna Fishcakes Topped with Spinach and Fried Egg.

Serves 1.

  • 75-100g mashed potato (I had some left over)
  • 1/2 tin tuna
  • 1/2 tsp dijon mustard
  • tbsp flour (plain or gluten-free variety)
  • 3 tbsp olive oil plus extra, to drizzle
  • 1 clove garlic, sliced
  • 2 generous handfuls fresh spinach
  • 1 egg
  • salt and pepper, to season
  • turmeric, to sprinkle
  • chilli flakes, to sprinkle

Method.

  1. In a bowl, mix the mashed potato with the tuna and mustard and season with salt and pepper, to taste.
  2. Shape into two equally sized patties and coat each side in flour.
  3. In a frying pan, heat 1 tbsp of the olive oil over a medium heat and fry the patties on each side for about 2-3 minutes until they are golden brown. Remove and set aside.
  4. Add 1 tbsp more of the oil and add the garlic slices. Fly until lightly golden before adding the spinach, cooking until wilted. Season with salt and pepper.
  5. Whilst the spinach is wilting, in a separate frying pan add the final tbsp of oil and crack in the egg. Fry for about a minute before putting a lid on top, turning the heat right down and cooking for a further 1-2 minutes (depending on how you like your yolk). This will allow the egg to ‘steam’ cook and stop the underneath of the egg from getting too crispy.
  6. Serve the spinach on top of one of the fishcakes and the egg on top of the other. Sprinkle with a pinch of turmeric and chilli flakes, a grind of pepper and a drizzle of olive oil.