Chocolate maple cake

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This afternoon, Brunton number one declared that he had a hankering for something sweet. His immediate reaction was to grab some Angel Delight from the cupboard – if you didn’t grow up on this stuff, it is a sweet, powdered custard that you whip up with milk and leave to set. Although it may have been my favourite thing when I was about six, I’m less of a fan now (although top tip – if you have guests over for dinner and have forgotten to make pudding, mix the chocolate one up with double cream and melted dark chocolate, it’s remarkably good). Instead, I decided to whip up a chocolate cake.

Rather than do a plain chocolate sponge which I have always found to turn out a little dry, I decided to mix it up with a little maple syrup. So here it is – chocolate maple cake!

Chocolate Maple Cake

Ingredients:

– 175g self raising flour
– 50g cocoa powder
– 225g butter
– 225g caster sugar
– 4 medium eggs
– 80g dark chocolate
– 2 tbsp maple syrup

For the icing:

– 3 tbsp maple syrup
– 200g icing (confectioner’s) sugar
– 80g dark chocolate
– 2 tbsp butter
– 50ml milk

Method:

– Grease a 22cm cake tin and preheat the oven to 180°.

– Cream together the butter and sugar – beat until it is pale and fluffy.

– Beat in the egg until smooth, then slowly fold in the flour and cocoa, incorporating lots of air.

– Melt together the chocolate and maple syrup, and slowly fold into the cake mixture.

– Pour into the tin and bake for 40 mins, or until a skewer comes out clean.

For the icing:

– melt together the butter, chocolate, and two tbsp of the maple syrup.

– Beat this mixture into the icing sugar and mix in the milk. Leave to cool.

– When the cake is cool, slice it in half through the middle. Beat the last tbsp of maple syrup into the icing and spread half over the middle of the cake. Sandwich the two pieces together and then spread the remaining icing over the top.

Top tip: While spreading the icing, it will lift easily off the cake, picking up crumbs. To stop this, try and spoon it evenly on the cake, and then wet the knife you use to spread the icing to stop it sticking.

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The brand new Hot Pink Apron and why the feminist in me loves the internet

Those of you who have been following the blog will hopefully have seen that the all-singing all-dancing rebrand of the Hot Pink Apron website is all up and running, and the first few articles of this month’s issue are already online. It’s something I’m really proud to be part of and has already been amazing fun just in getting the first issue live. I’ve read all about Dana’s efforts in the kitchen and the trials and tribulations of being a mum of two small kids for the last couple of years with a certain envy – everything she cooks looks so damn tasty. If anyone knows how to make child-induced sleep deprivation look good, then it is definitely Dana.

That’s not the only reason I’m proud to be taking part in this project. As a kid, my mum was always keen for me and my siblings to learn to bake cake. If you can’t train your children to make and feed you delicious baked goodies as your own little kitchen slaves from an early age, then you are definitely doing it wrong. Whether out of some notions of gender equality or a three-cakes-are-better-than-two mentality, my little brother soon learned to be a baking pro alongside me and his twin sister. Whenever he had a yen for cake, my little bro always produced the lightest, fluffiest sponges, with far more patience than either of his sisters, and a natural talent for baking. Where my brother was a pro at victoria sponge, I excelled at muffins, and my sister surpassed us both with her skill at cookies and cake decorating. Needless to say, mum and dad were kept well stocked in cake through our childhood.

Presenting our baked goods to our parents one day, not for the first time dad praised little bro’s exceptionally light hand at cake and proudly told him, ‘All the best chefs are men’. Naturally argumentative and pedantic, and with the beginnings of feminism in mind, I objected to this. Granted, male athletes will usually run faster, jump higher and swim faster than their female counterparts. This is biological inevitability. But baking? I incredulously pointed out to dad that when asked what their favourite food is, most people will reply ‘so-and-so-meal, just how mum/nan does it’. Both my parents carefully explained that home cooking was good and all, but there really weren’t that many famous/celebrated female chefs. When things got competitive, men were just better at it. Ever impressionable, I swallowed this perceived truth (almost) whole, and for years believed it to be true that all the best chefs were men and my brother probably just had some natural advantage at sponge cake. Who knew?

As I got older I started to recognise something of a self-fulfilling prophecy about these statements.  The ‘fact’ that all the best chefs are men is not driven by a meritocracy, where the women just fail to cut the mustard – we often just aren’t expected to try. If a woman does try to make her way in a “man’s” field, she can expect to be met with a whole lot more resistance. It’s worth pointing out that my parents are pretty liberal minded and told their daughters and sons alike that we could do anything we worked hard enough to achieve. Some gender stereotyping is so ingrained it doesn’t even feel like prejudice – just fact.

While rebranding Hot Pink Apron, a huge amount of time was piled into how to market ourselves as writers, and as a magazine as a whole. We are keen to use the magazine to connect together foodies from every walk of life, irrespective of gender. But nonetheless I’m very proud of the voice Hot Pink Apron gives us as ladies. We represent everything feminism wanted for its daughters – some of us are stay at home mums on a career break to raise kids, some are doing both. Some of us have full time jobs and no intention to have kids. We are marketing specialists, academics, musicians and mothers, and from behind a computer can tell the world that being women doesn’t stop us doing any of these things. We are all talented with food and nobody is shouting us down with cries of ‘don’t you ladies know the best chefs are men?!’.hot pink apron

The world of feminism has been revolutionised by the internet, where anyone (for better or worse) can carve a niche for themselves, and it is hard to censor them out. We are free to define ourselves the way we want ourselves to be seen, and we are free not to give a hoot whether we are doing what women are ‘supposed’ to be good at. My great-grandmother could never have imagined a great-granddaughter who went to university, got a job AND got married, and wrote for an online magazine, yet I am conspicuously doing all those things and so far, no one is showing any signs of stopping me. Feminism and the internet make an awesome, Hot Pink combination.

The other side of suicide – An inquest

I missed the call a few weeks ago while I was running an event at work, and found an answerphone message that went something along the lines of ‘it’s the coroner’s office, call us back’. When I called back, no one knew who I was or why I had been called. I had an anxious wait while they asked around the office, and by the time I got through to someone, I was just relieved to know that the cause of the phone call was to ask me to give evidence for an inquest for someone I already knew was dead. My friend had committed suicide almost a year before and I had given a statement at the time, and now I was being asked to be interviewed in the coroner’s court and give further evidence.

Prior to the inquest, it would have been nice to deal with someone with some sense of tact, or with adequate training, who could provide useful information. This didn’t happen. Instead, I dealt with someone who told me the wrong date for the inquest (‘oh that’s funny, I gave you the wrong date!’ Hilarious.) who was unable to email me details of the date, time and location of the inquest. To top it all off, he called to tell me that my friend’s father had informed him he would be travelling to the inquest alone, and did I not think he should be travelling with someone? As it was, I didn’t. I was pretty upset and stressed about the whole thing, and in regular contact with my friend’s dad. If he needed someone to go with him, that was his own decision. I wasn’t even travelling from the same part of the country but this apparently passed the coroner’s office by. I’m sure the man at the coroner’s office thought he was being caring and helpful, but in reality, the emotional blackmail was inappropriate and stressful. We had no idea where to get food or if anything would be provided, or how long it would take. Apparently asking for an events co-ordinator capable of using a calendar, providing useful information, and speaking to the bereaved with tact was out of the question.

Thankfully, on the day they took slightly better care of us. The coroner herself was very kind and approachable and tried to put everyone at their ease. The inquest is never used to apportion blame – the only purpose is to establish who the person was, how they died, when they died and where they died. We heard evidence from the pathologist who conducted the autopsy, the cognitive behavioural therapist, the hospital psychiatrist, the police officer who conducted the investigation, the housemate who found the body, and me, as a character witness.

Leading up to his death, my friend frequently told me that the health’care’ he was receiving was insufficient. That he was routinely dismissed, downgraded from urgent care, talked down to and passed from one doctor to another. That he found the therapy sessions to be distressing and draining and that he would go from one person to another, asked uncomfortable and personal questions about his mental distress and suicidal urges, only to be told he just needed to try harder to engage with the therapies and not to kill himself. He would go back home, try harder, give up, try to kill himself, give himself over to therapy again, get told to try harder, get sent home. Wash, rinse, repeat. There are only so many times that a vulnerable and sick person can go through this process before they begin to believe it isn’t worth trying any more, and stop asking for ‘help’.

I was expecting (hoping) to find some poor psychiatrist that knew he was in need of urgent care, maybe even inpatient care, who just didn’t have the resources to treat him. Other mental health professionals I know have this problem all the time – that someone is sick and clearly needs more care, but that there just aren’t the resources to give it. To some extent we saw this with his therapist, who identified that he was far too complex a case for the level of care she was trained and able to offer, and when he came to her saying that he had planned a method and date to kill himself, and just needed to get hold of the pills, she rang all the alarm bells at the hospital she could to try and get him more appropriate help.

What I did not expect was that this was an utterly pointless dead end. The hospital had three levels of care:

Routine: regular three-month checkups

Urgent: a worsening in condition that merited being seen in the next ten working days

Critical: the patient needs to be seen in the next four hours. The patient will do harm to themselves, or someone else without intervention.

Despite outlining suicide plans to a therapist and trying other methods in between (it presumably took a while to get hold of the pills he needed to die) my friend was never considered critical. We were given no answers as to what he would have had to do to be taken that seriously, to have someone believe that he meant himself serious and immediate harm. The psychiatrist simply stated that he had seemed articulate, intelligent and ‘with it’ and was therefore not a high risk patient. My friend was a well-spoken, intelligent, English graduate. Even on the day he died, none of his closest friends guessed at his intentions. Because those who are mentally ill and unstable are not all raving, gibbering maniacs incapable of stringing a sentence together. I know this – the psychiatrist on the other hand seemed flabbergasted.

All I heard all day was ‘we followed protocol’, or ‘it’s ‘XXXX’s responsibility really’ or ‘it didn’t seem like he was going to do it right away’, even when he told his therapist he expected to be dead within the month. My friend told his therapist he wouldn’t give her all the details of his plans as then someone would try to stop him. So when after a hospital appointment where the psychiatrist sent him home after another ‘try harder at your therapy’ consultation with nothing more constructive than a self help book, my friend discharged himself from care, and they simply wrote up the discharge letter the next day. No one saw the appalling lack of support as an issue. No one saw him telling the therapist that he ‘wouldn’t need anyone’s help anymore’ as a sign for concern. And then a few days later, he was dead.

But apparently, this is fine, because protocol was followed. Apparently this is fine, because he wasn’t a ‘critical’ case. Apparently, unless you are a raving lunatic, frothing at the mouth, you never will be. And nothing more will come of this injustice and that practitioner will just go back to following routine. I have never been more angry. I left the room, and called the man a bastard, a shite, a fuckwit, an uncaring cunt, a shit-for-brains and briefly felt better until I realised that I didn’t have the words to express my contempt for this man or the system he represented.

I don’t think that even with proper care my friend could necessarily be saved. He wanted to die. But I do think he deserved better – a better chance at getting well, more compassion, more dignity. And this inquest, distressing as it was, will do nothing to change the system that failed him so badly. And so I ask for three things from you today.

1.) Take mental health seriously. Attention-seeking isn’t a cause for contempt, it is a crude acknowledgement that help is needed. It is not a cause for shame or blame any more than cancer, diabetes, flu, or any other illness is.

2.) Mental healthcare isn’t always up to standard. If your friend tells you they aren’t getting help, take them seriously. Believe that some therapists are unhelpful and condescending or that care isn’t always available. Help them build a network of support so that they don’t have to rely on whatever the doctor offers.

3.) Talk about it. Change it. Don’t keep this issue hidden. Donate to Mind. Fundraise. Raise awareness. Don’t suffer in silence.