Taking fun where you find it

This is a post about being happy, because sometimes being an adult is no fun at all. It’s a bit circuitous, but stick with it.

I left work last night (late) and phoned my husband to say I was going to be late. It was bloody cold outside and I had a four mile cycle ahead of me in temperatures appreciably below zero, and where I had left so late, it was completely dark.

As I left work I got a message from my sister saying she was sending me something that had to be signed for the next day so I called her to find out whether it *actually* had to be signed for, or if it just wouldn’t fit in the letterbox. My sister is sending me something because she is a nice sister, and had just heard that I have been asked to give evidence at my friend’s inquest. For those of you who haven’t read this blog much, my friend killed himself last May, so now there has to be an inquest to establish cause of death. You can read about my friend and my resulting charity exploits here and here. It’s a sad business.

Being British my sister and I complained about the weather – being in York, she has had a lot of snow. I complained how long it took to shift when we had it here, and commented that although it was quite cold enough to snow in Cambridge, we thankfully hadn’t had any. Snow makes it so hard to get to work. Snow is cold. Snow makes cycling a real mission.

As I spoke, of course it started snowing. Just what I need, I thought. I got off the phone to my sister and stopped. I love snow. I even went to Canada in the middle of winter for honeymoon because I love snow so much. Since when did my life become so defined by getting to and from my 9 to 5 that I didn’t have the time to enjoy snow?

I cycled as fast as I could down Adams road (pretty speedy considering it’s downhill) with my tongue hanging out like a dog, catching snowflakes. I looked like a cretin. But a happy cretin. Because doing stupid shit like this is what being happy is all about. I laughed out loud at how ridiculous I must have looked.

I think about my friend who died fairly frequently, and not just because in a few weeks’ time I will stand up in a courtroom and try to explain to a stranger why I think he killed himself. I think of him at moments like this to remind myself how grateful I am to enjoy catching snowflakes with my tongue. How much I love the view from Garrett Hostel bridge on my way into work (pictures at the top). How chirpy it makes me to cycle into work on a sunny morning. Because the last time I spoke to Burgess at length before he died, he told me that he went for a walk in Weston Park on a warm sunny spring day, listening to cricket on the radio (he was a massive cricket fan) but didn’t feel anything. He knew that the warm sun on his face, the ice cream, the children playing and the cricket should all make him happy, but he just didn’t feel it. The depression he suffered told him that these things weren’t enough to sustain lasting happiness, and refused to allow the connection in his brain to be made between enjoyable spring days in the park, and the resulting feeling of contentedness.

I try to remember this when I feel too much like a beleaguered grown-up and stop enjoying the little things. The logic is flawed: my enjoyment at these simple pleasures was never transferrable – I couldn’t make Burgess happy at the things that made me happy. And I certainly can’t do anything for him now. But I can take from this sad experience a sense of gratitude at what it feels like to be alive, and not feel as though that is an inestimable burden even when being alive feels like being cold, tired, and sad. Because even when we can’t see it – for whatever reason, stress, fatigue, depression, illness – there is so much to be happy about if you are willing to start small.

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Search engine optimisation – a hopeless case

One of my blogging idols The Bloggess does a yearly roundup of the search terms that bring people to her blog. The fact that “I hate it when I’m eating and a t-rex steals my chair” directed 14 people towards her site is either a testament to the weird, weird people who inhabit the internet, or to Jenny’s writing. Or maybe both.

When I discovered that wordpress will actually log search terms that directed people towards my site I decided to have a look, hoping to find ways to optimise how to tag my posts. Unfortunately, I’m still really not sure how some of you got here.

The results.

 

‘anglesey abbey tea’ (9)

So far, so normal. I did blog on this after all.

‘amanda brunton blog chickens’ (6)

Well, I do talk a lot about the chickens. So far so good. The girls say ‘hi’ by the way.

‘slut dropping and surprise rape’ (3)

So far, so… wait WHAT? As opposed to that *other* kind of rape?

‘r2d2 drinks tray’ (2)

I have looked these up and I want one. So do at least two other people out there apparently.

‘wood chipper cider’ (2)

There are at least two other country bumpkins out there with both the classiness and ingenuity to make booze from a wood chipper. I salute you.

‘understanding asperger’s syndrome’ (1)

it’s in the title. *shrugs*

But through the list of recipe requests, and bizarre Star Wars related search terms came this gem. And I was afraid.

‘zombie virus recipe’ (1)

I have no words for this. And am still none the wiser how to optimise my blog, but on reflection, that may be for the best.

 

Hello 2013

561252_10151128991805934_1799017796_nI’m not a big one for New Year’s resolutions and all, which is probably why it’s taken me an inordinately long time to write the obligatory New Year post. 2012 was a year of very mixed blessings, so I wasn’t really sure how to round it up. If my life were a book, I think chapter 2011 would be entitled ‘Winning’ – I got married (twice… long story), I graduated with a first. I stayed in touch with most of my friends from university, and most of us got jobs (eventually). It would not be fair to call chapter 2012 ‘Disaster’ but it might be reasonably be referred to as ‘Running out of steam’.

There is a lot to be thankful for – I got my first full-time permanent job, and after four years of living apart, I finally get to live with my husband, who just graduated. My ever patient in-laws have not thrown me out. Brunton number one not only found full time work back at the bank, but has been promoted. Right at the end of the year, I also passed my probation in my new job. Our debts (not huge, but there) from university have been paid off, and we have some savings. Oh, and we have chickens.

It has also been a very tiring, stressful year with a lot of sadness. Coming up for nine months ago now, my friend Burgess killed himself after a long, drawn out battle with depression. Not only was this the first time I had experienced bereavement by suicide, but it was two weeks into my first job. The following ten days were a blur of tearful phone calls to mine and Burgess’ nearest and dearest and retelling the sad news. At the end of the week, my parents and I went to visit my nan, who was recently discharged from hospital. She was a little cross and off colour, although pleased to see us – she had asbestosis and emphysema, and was not a well lady. The following morning, she died peacefully in hospital.

Having never attended a funeral before, I found myself going to two in a week. Without Brunton number one, I would undoubtedly have lost the plot, but in the middle of this grief, he was finishing his finals at university. Cue a long, tedious battle to get his dyslexia assessed and have these circumstances taken into account in the marking of his finals. We have both never felt so tired.

Following Burgess’ death, I took part in a ridiculously long bike ride for the charity Mind and auctioned off my choice of fancy dress. The more money I raised, the fancier it got. I ended up spending several hours out in the pouring rain, dressed as Princess Leia, with a (surprisingly robust) papier mache R2D2 strapped to the back of my tiny bicycle, and I raised over £800 for my trouble. It was a huge highlight to the year out of the worst of circumstances.

Towards the autumn fatigue set in, and so did its friends – panic attacks and stress. Add to this the difficulties I have had in adapting to these changes to my life and home environment, and I find myself doing something I had never expected to volunteer myself for – getting assessed for Asperger’s.

This has perhaps required one of the greatest mental adjustments although I am hoping that the payoff will be increased support and help with aspects of day-to-day life and socialisation that I seem to find harder than other people.

So this year is going to have challenges but I’m calling this year out as ‘Recovery’. The Bloggess, a blogger with a serious fear of the number that comes after 12, is calling this year the library. The library is a nice place to be, where you can quietly prep for next year. This year is going to be spent getting back to normal, and being ready to take on whatever comes next.

As for resolutions – I detest the idea of making a new year different to the last with a short-term goal, intended to force yourself into something you dislike. You want to diet? Then diet. Nobody keeps to that sort of resolution, because it’s something they never wanted to do, and as the year wears on the incentive that the New Year gave is less and less. Instead, I choose to make investments, that is, do things that make me a better or more interesting person. I don’t do it every year but when I do, it’s an enriching enough thing that I stick to it. The aim is, at the end of each year, to feel as though I have done something to be a better person, not just to be richer, thinner or whatever. The year before last I wanted to learn how to make bread for myself – those of my friends who regularly get a fresh-baked loaf can testify to that investment!

Last year I belatedly told myself I had to keep up a blog, and get out and do or learn enough exciting things to fill it. As my readership appears to have expanded, it looks like at least some of you agree.

This year’s investment – keep up the blog, and make new things. I’ve got posts planned for new recipes, at least one film review-come-essay and one or two adventures. I’m also re-learning calligraphy because it is never a bad thing to learn new and interesting skills. Above all, I resolve to take care of myself, enjoy my time in ‘the library’, and get well. Get back to feeling like the old Amanda who was nutty in a good way, and not in a miserable, panicky, fruit-loop kind of way. There is only so much fatigue and sadness that can be thrown your way before you have to stand up to it and say ‘I am better than this’ and move on.

So here’s to 2013 – Recovery.

Asperger’s part 3

So I had planned to blog this out in real time – but we’ve actually skipped a few stages requiring a bit of recap. Nonetheless, this seems to be a long and repetitive process, so I’ll summarise.

I went and saw my GP, who is a lovely lady. She listens, she cares, and she doesn’t have any truck with bullshit. The consultation didn’t really go as I expected. This is probably partly due to how I described by problems, partly due to her initial strong impression that the problem might be social anxiety, partly due to the fact that my expectations for how it would go were way off kilter.

Let me explain that a little. My husband (who has dyslexia which took ages to diagnose) came along to the appointment, and was really impressed. The GP listened, set up an action plan, and arranged a follow up appointment. In my head, it would be a case of me stating my case, getting asked some detailed questions about Asperger’s, and then being passed straight on for a referral. What actually happened was that my GP understandably said that only having known me for 10 minutes, she couldn’t really make that sort of assessment, and asked me what the main reasons I had for asking for help were.

Now I have lots of difficulties dealing with people, but the worst of them is a tendency towards panic attacks/anxiety attacks. So when she asked me what precisely it was that brought me in asking for help, I quite honestly answered, ‘the panic attacks’. This has obviously triggered a whole line of investigation into social anxiety that I wasn’t really expecting, and very little questioning on the AS front. The trouble is that the problems that I think may all add up to something on the Asperger’s spectrum (even if not full-blown AS) are not so definable, obvious, and tangible as the freak outs are. They are all things that other people experience to a lesser extent, and not in themselves outrageously weird – together though, I think they build up to a bigger picture.

They are things like an utter mental blank at the idea of small talk. They are a serious dislike of unasked-for physical proximity to other people – crowds, or just someone sitting too close, or well meaning but huggy churchy-type people. There is the difficulty at seeing other people’s point of view, a very literal sense of humour which often gives the impression that I have no sense of humour at all, and some fairly OCD obsessions with touching things, or having things in the ‘right order’. There is the difficulty with having to have my whole day planned out, and also with changing those plans. There is also my apparent inability to spot other people’s emotional distress unless they are actually sobbing their eyes out, in which case I am probably the most uncomforting person out there (you have a problem? How do we fix it?!). This also translates into frequently offending people and not realising it, or talking someone’s ear off with no idea that they are bored stupid by my monologue. Ask me about something I’m interested in and expect to be there for days.

Where the GP consultations have focused on solutions for the immediate problems of panic attacks, and a suspected root cause of social anxiety, we haven’t discussed the above problems much. Nonetheless, she has given me a referral to the ‘Gateway’ service – which is actually a remarkably efficient system. The GP refers cases such as panic/anxiety/depression/developmental concerns (such as AS) to the gateway worker, who assesses the needs of the patient, and how quickly they need to be seen. An appropriate referral is then passed to the relevant services, and the patient hears from them directly. I have to say, I’m very impressed so far. The gateway assessment people are under the impression that while I remain concerned that AS is an issue, it should be fully investigated – so I am now waiting for a letter to hear about when my appointment will be. I’m not really sure what the assessment itself will involve, but I’ll obviously write it all up.

Next steps

I’ve been told there is a wait for up to a year for AS assessments, so this could take a long time. The gateway worker is hopeful that it could be as little as 3 months, but either way, there is a bit of a wait involved. In the meantime, I think the idea is that they will be my point of contact for further care. So we wait and see!

*UPDATE* The above section actually needs a bit of clarification in light of recent events. When my GP discussed referral with me, I had two options. The first was Cognitive Behavioural Therary (CBT) for social anxiety. The second was a route towards an assessment for Asperger’s. Wanting it at least ruled out/confirmed, I of course plumped for the Asperger’s assessment.

As soon as I said this, I was told that my GP had spoken to the Gateway services person, who had told her the wait was to be at least a year. She asked me if I was sure that I wanted this option. To my mind the waiting time makes no difference. If I were to come into a doctor with a migraine to be told, ‘you can wait a day for migraine medication, or have a lobotomy right now’ I’d probably wait for the treatment that seemed more appropriate. I was non-plussed, but went with it. I was then told I’d be contacted by the Gateway service in the next two weeks to arrange an appointment with them, prior to the actual Asperger’s referral.

Three weeks later, I called the Gateway service. They were efficient, friendly and helpful. They had only just got the letter from my GP. Not only that, but I didn’t need to see them at all. They are just the centralised service that passes around referrals. Furthermore, when I asked the guy there about the wait for an Asperger’s appointment, he casually replied ‘Oh, no more than 2-3 months’. I was obviously suprised and told him my GP had predicted about a year – he told me that there has never been a waiting list that long, and he would never say that.

A few weeks later still, and I called the Asperger’s assessment people I am being referred to in order to get some more information on the process of referral, and what I would need to do. They got the referral from the gateway service very promptly, and were reviewing my case. All well and good. When I asked about the waiting list, I was told it was, and only ever had been 2-3 months. They gave me lots of helpful information, and I came away happy.

The weak link here appears to be at the GP level. I work in sales and I know the theory of the ‘unattractive option’. It is a technique used as a bargaining chip either to ascertain that the customer (or patient in this case) really wants what they are asking for, even if you make it sound unattractive. You either talk them round to what you want, or make sure that their mind is going to be unchangable. I have been ‘unattractive optioned’. The process to get a referral was made to sound unduly long and complicated, with many appointments with various different agencies – where actually it looks like although I’ll have a bit of a wait, it’s remarkably simple.

My opinion of my GP and the consultations I have had are somewhat modified by this experience, but it is at least a familiar one. In getting my nephew diagnosed, his parents found that it involved 4 or 5 different non-specialists telling them that the kid definitely didn’t have AS, until they finally got to see some specialists whose reaction could probably be summarised as ‘well duh, yes this child does have Asperger’s’. If I had to cite one of the biggest hurdles of this process so far, it’s been in getting taken seriously enough to get the referral through, and being reliably informed about the process. Hopefully, the worst of this is now behind me. Now to sit tight and wait for the letter from the Asperger’s unit!

Getting ready for Christmas part 3 – Fudge!

So I’ve been promising this recipe for a while and have finally  found the notebook it’s scrawled into. This recipe is a little trickier than the truffles in as far as there’s more that can go wrong, but it’s super worth it. As usual, this will be a long winded recipe that will hopefully steer you clear of the pitfalls I have already come across.

Fudge

Ingredients

– 1 can condensed milk

– 115g butter

– 450g Soft brown sugar

– 150ml milk

– Few drops vanilla essence or other flavouring

Method

– Grease, and preferably baseline a tray to set the fudge in. I have a sheet of teflon which is ideal for the job.

– Melt the butter, and mix together the ingredients in a large, heavy bottomed saucepan. Try to mix as thoroughly as you can to avoid lumps. Take a short break to pick the condensed milk tin clean.

– Put the pan over a medium heat and bring to the boil. As with the Turkish Delight, you will need to get this to softboil stage in order to have it set. This takes around 15 mins or so of fairly intense boiling the mixture, and the magic temperature is 115*. I personally think the most consistent way of achieving this is with a sugar thermometer but have made it without one before – just google ‘softboil sugar’ and there are plenty enough videos of how to test sugar temperatures.

The difficulty here is that stirring tends to lower the temperature, but this stuff will burn to the bottom of the pan if left unattended. We have a lovely double ring gas hob for really packing heat into something – if you don’t, then the best thing you can do is at least get it to reduce a fair bit – that 15 mins of heavy boiling should do the job.

– Once it has reached softboil temperature, take off the heat and tip into a fresh, cold saucepan. Although this will add to the washing up it’s very difficult to cool it without it. Put the original saucepan in to soak straight away. You also want to add your vanilla at this point.

– Your next task is to beat the fudge mixture until it sets. This takes time. Your arms may fall off. You’ve been warned. It needs to crystallise and cool – you’ll be able to tell when it’s done when the texture is grainy, and not glossy. You can double check by cooling a spoonful and seeing if it sets nicely.

– Once it has been set, spoon the fudge into the tray you prepared earlier (if you’re like me, you didn’t, but we can pretend you did. You should go prepare that tray now). Smooth it out, and wait for it to cool. Slice up, and eat. Nom nom nom.

Getting ready for Christmas part 2 – Chocolate Truffles

This is a recipe I found on a forum back in the day when I was about 17. I have no idea where the original came from any more, but I had never seen anything like it at the time and have been using it for years. Now that people like Jamie Oliver and Delia Smith (whose recipes, incidentally, I can’t stand since the great coffee cake disaster of ’06…just ask my poor nan!) have websites, there are a proliferation of similar recipes all over the internet now. They’re very simple to make and taste delicious. Great for Christmas, or in fact, just for scoffing. Either way, they’re going in the hampers!

(Pictures to follow on Friday once I have actually made them – just thought I’d give you all the recipe as early as possible!)

Chocolate Truffles

Ingredients

– 225g dark chocolate (milk doesn’t set so well – plus you’re adding loads of cream. Dark is fine milky chocolate lovers.)
– 250ml thick double cream
– 55g butter
– Unsweetened cocoa powder to dust
– Flavouring of your choice – more on that at the end!

Method

– Chop the chocolate into small chunks. A pain in the backside, but important to have it set properly.

– Put the cream into a heavy bottomed pan and slowly bring to a gentle simmer. The intention is not to boil it to death, just get it hot. Tip in the butter, and keep simmering until it is melted.

– Pour the cream and butter mixture over your melted chocolate in a heatproof bowl. The smallness of the chunks of chocolate is important here because you want the chocolate to gently melt under the influence of warm cream – slowly and gently. This will make it set better. Don’t cheat by just nuking your chocolate – if it persistently won’t melt, make a bain marie by putting it in a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water, and stir constantly. Don’t let the water touch the bowl – we’re going for a gentle heat here.

– Sometimes it separates a little at this stage. I don’t fret too much as once it’s chilled this usually resolves itself with a bit of stirring. Leave to cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally, and then give it a little time in the fridge until it’s quite firm and cool to the touch.

– Spoon out the mixture into truffle sized pieces and with COLD HANDS (run under the cold tap if necessary) roll out into a surface dusted with cocoa to get a good shape. Keep refrigerated (fresh cream won’t keep that long at room temperature!).

– Eat. Or give away as presents. Or serve at your Christmas party. If you have the self restraint.

I said I’d talk about flavourings didn’t I?

Don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten. You have a few options here – your imagination is the limit. Some flavourings are better added to the cream, some are better added to something approximating the finished mixture.

  • If you want to add cinnamon or similar, I’d recommend adding this to the cream as it heats up, then strain the cream before tipping over your chocolate to remove any chunks. This will make a lighter, more delicate flavour.
  • Whiskey, rum, and most spirits are pretty delicious with chocolate. I add a tablespoon or so to the cream just before pouring over the chocolate as it is the easiest way of incorporating the liquid.
  • On the other hand, citrus, such as orange, is easiest to add to the hot mixture – a tbsp of juice plus a little finely grated zest is good. Decorate the top with a tiny sliver of sliced peel, or candied peel if you can get it.
  • Chilli! Chilli chocolate is the business. Add some finely chopped chilli to the mixture and decorate with a thin slice of chilli so everyone knows these chocolates are HOT.
  • Cracked black pepper – also nice. Go for something fairly coarse.
  • Mint – I add a touch of mint essence to the cream. Be sparing.
  • Alternatively, roll your finished chocolates in flaked almonds, or stir in chopped nuts – hazelnuts are good, as are walnuts.
  • I personally can’t abide coconut but there are some depraved individuals who might consider ruining some perfectly good truffles by rolling them in dessicated coconut. I’ve heard they exist, anyway.

Hopefully these are enough ideas to get you started! Fudge recipe will go up shortly – once I find it!

Getting ready for Christmas – or how to make Turkish delight

The dried strips These are the ingredients - wine does not go in the Turkish Delight but is recommended as part of the process The chopped up Turkish Delight All dusted and ready to serve

Last year at Christmas Brunton Number 1 and I had no money. We had negative money, in fact. He was a student, I was a temp, and we were both in our overdrafts. Instead of cementing our debts further with expensive Christmas presents, we made hampers of home made gifts for our friends and family including booze, chocolates and fudge. This year we both have reasonably well-paid jobs, and for the first time, we have money. Having begun asking what our relatives wanted for Christmas though, the resounding answer was: ‘moar sweeties’.

I’ll probably supplement some of the hampers with other non-edible home-made gifts but they will be the basis of all our Christmas presents this year. Some of the items have been specifically requested again – Irish Cream in particular – other things are being replaced or added to with more challenging recipes, the first of which is Turkish Delight.

My mum loves the stuff. She can scoff in seconds what a lesser woman wouldn’t be able to stomach. For those poor souls who haven’t encountered the delicacy that is real Turkish Delight (or Lokum as it is properly called) it is like the inside of a jelly bean, but lightly flavoured with lemon or rosewater, and usually full of hazelnuts and pistachios and dusted with icing sugar. The chewy, soft texture is basically the most luxurious foodstuff there is – and real Lokum bears no resemblance whatsoever to Fry’s Turkish Delight before you ask.

The maker of the original recipe of this delicious sweet came up with the idea mid 1700’s – and his descendants still run a shop in the same premises today. It swept across the Ottoman Empire as a delicacy and quickly became popular in England, best exemplified perhaps by Edmund’s deception by Turkish Delight at the hands of the White Witch in The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe.

Modern recipes recommend the use of gelatin as the setting agent – I don’t. I tried making one of these recipes, and you will achieve something with the same consistency as one of those jelly concentrate cubes, and the flavour is nothing like as rich. The real stuff is set with starch. First of all you prepare a sugar syrup, then cornflour is boiled with water to form a gel. The two are mixed together and then boiled and reduced to form the slightly springy, yet ultimately squishy texture of real Turkish Delight.

What you will find by doing it properly is that the sweets may have a tendency to ‘sweat’. You’ll make something that looks gorgeous, dust it in icing sugar, all for it to be instantly absorbed. After a day or two, the box you put it in will be covered in sugary water and your beautiful plump Turkish Delight will resemble nothing more than pink, rose scented mush. This is a bitch.

I have since tried the recipe again with a few amendments and a bit more science to much more success. I would recommend being slow, patient and careful all the way through this recipe – it’s the only way to ensure you keep the firm texture.

Yay, science!

So apparently Lokum is the confectionery of choice for the discerning geek. First – sugar syrup. Mix together more sugar than would ordinarily dissolve in water and heat the water. It will now absorb your sugar (win!). Keep going and the water will evaporate, leaving behind an increasingly dense sugar mixture. The boiling point will keep rising and at the magical 115*c, you will have reached the ‘softball stage’, that is, the point at which if you tipped a drop into cold water, it would form a soft, pliable ball when cool enough to touch. 3* too high, and you have ‘hardball’ stage sugar and it will form a solid, crunchy sugar. This is not desirable for soft squishy Turkish Delight. If I impress anything on you today, let it be to buy a sugar thermometer. They cost around £15 and are the only way to do it without risk of scalding your fingers trying to test the damn sugar. Confectionery is a precise art, and it requires precise measurements.

The cornflour gel is also a lot of fun. Under heat, the starch molecules begin to break up, and can be persuaded to take on more water. You’ll be merrily mixing away something with the consistency of skimmed milk, and then in a matter of seconds you can stand your whisk up in it. Crazy stuff.

Your mission after this point is to boil and reduce the mixture and drive out as much water as you can without making the Lokum too dry. This is what will ultimately determine whether or not you get sweating mush, or plump delicious sweets. After you have made your Lokum if you dust it with sugar/cornflour too quickly, you’ll draw out all the liquid and make mush. The recommendation is to leave it to air dry first, then lightly dust in cornflour, and leave for half an hour to form a protective crust of sorts before smothering with icing sugar.

I normally credit recipes that aren’t mine to the appropriate sources but in this case I have honestly read the whole of google on ‘Turkish Delight’, ‘Lokum’ and variants thereof so I don’t really know where to start. This recipe uses a basic mixture I found here, but amended a little and with enough of my own experience and advice thrown in I’m pretty happy to say that this is tried, tested and edited. So here’s the recipe!

Turkish Delight (Lokum)

Ingredients:

– 400g caster sugar
– 70g cornflour (cornstarch if you’re from the other side of the pond)
– water
– ½ tsp cream of tartar
– 1 ½ tsp lemon juice

To dust:
– extra cornflour
– icing sugar

To flavour:
– I split mine in half and used 1 tsp rosewater (and some red colouring) in one half, and ¼ teaspoon lemon essence (a bit strong actually, you could use even less!) and a little yellow food colouring. You can chuck in pretty much anything though, and lightly toasted pistachios or hazelnuts are traditional as well.

With regard lemon essence – it’s more than worth your while to get something reasonably fancy – namely the ingredients should only be oil, and lemon oil. It will be strong tasting, delicious, actually made of lemons, and won’t have any additional stabilisers etc that will affect the stabilisers you’re already using in the mixture. Be sparing with it – it’s usually strong.

Method:

Preparation

– Be anally retentive. There aren’t that many ingredients and it’s easier to have them weighed out ready. You’ll also need to cover a mould in oiled greaseproof paper for your Lokum to set in. Make sure you oil it with something fairly flavourless like corn oil – do not use olive oil.

Make your sugar syrup

– Mix together the sugar, lemon juice, and 185ml water. It doesn’t look like much water but that’s the idea. The lemon juice isn’t for flavour – it’s a stabiliser. The citric acid will help stop crystals forming in your sugar syrup and it’s pretty essential.
– Put on a medium heat and bring to the boil. Brush down the sides of the pan with a wet pastry brush to avoid sugar crystals forming.
– Use your sugar thermometer to test when it gets to 115*. Try not to stir it too much or you may struggle to get the required 115*. This takes time. The water has to evaporate for this to work and that isn’t instantaneous – it can take up to about 25 mins. Once it has hit the magical 115*, remove from the heat. Give it a few minutes to cool and decant into a pyrex jug, and soak the pan in hot water IMMEDIATELY or you will live to regret it.

Make the cornflour gel

– Cornflour is weird. Under heat it will go nuts for water and form an odd sort of wallpaper paste. Mix your cream of tartar, cornflour and 250ml water thoroughly before heating. If you don’t mix thoroughly you’ll get lumps that you will be able to do NOTHING ABOUT.
– Whisk constantly over a low heat, taking care to get right to the edges of the pan. All of a sudden it will start to get lumpy – man up and whisk harder. Get it so that it is so thick that your whisk/a wooden spoon will stand up in it unaided. Again, your aim is to drive out excess liquid, so make sure it really is crazy thick. This is your main setting agent. Take off the heat once it’s sufficiently cooked.

Mix it up!

– Gradually pour in the sugar syrup, beating until smooth after each addition. Take your time. This recipe will not reward you for rushing.

– Boil gently on a low heat for half an hour and stir constantly. Most recipes at this point will tell you to stop once it’s golden brown – mine was golden brown from the start when I added the sugar syrup. This advice is balls. Keep going until it’s so thick that when you drag the spoon across the bottom of the pan, the mixture doesn’t rejoin the gap. My sugar thermometer read somewhere between 82-88*C (ish) for this whole section if this helps. Getting this sufficiently set is the key to stopping the sweets going mushy.

If you’re making double the quantity – double the cooking time. If it’s not sufficiently gloopy, give it another 10-15 mins. You can always test it by taking a bit out and cooling it down – it should be chewy like the inside of a jelly bean.

– Add your flavouring and colouring of choice. Smooth out into your moulds but DO NOT TOUCH THE MIXTURE IT WILL BE LIKE SUGARY NAPALM. It sticks, and it retains its heat remarkably well, and it will unforgivingly burn you. Use an oiled silicone spatula if you need to, but not your hands.

– Leave to set overnight. Again – no rushing.

Do your washing up right away. You’ll regret it if you don’t!

Finishing off

– Get the Turkish Delight out of the moulds. Getting them out is a tricky process because it sticks terribly. I ran a sharp knife under it a little at a time, dusting with cornflour as I went until it was all free from the greaseproof. The dusting is essential because otherwise as soon as you let go it will stick to the greaseproof again.

Put the blocks of Turkish Delight on some fresh greaseproof lightly dusted with cornflour, and dust lightly with cornflour on top. Slice into strips, and dust the exposed sides with moar cornflour. I’ve heard other recipes recommend dousing them in sugar and letting it dry them out, but to me this sounds like it will only produce wet mush like mine did. Air drying seems to be key. Suffice to say do not put them in the fridge or any other moist environment.

To to try to avoid the sugar sweating you may need to give this a while: if you give it a couple of days to reach a sort of equilibrium that seems to be best. Save yourself hours of wild goose chase online and believe me that two days seems to be the recommended drying time. It may need slightly less if you’ve got a dry mixture (I overboiled mine a bit, so it was quite dry, and only took a day). You’ll know if this is the case if when you lightly dust it with cornflour, it doesn’t absorb it up over the next couple of hours.

Once they have dried, cut your slices into chunks, and dust again with cornflour. After half an hour, dust with 3 parts icing sugar (confectioner’s sugar if you’re north American) one part cornflour.

Store in more icing sugar, on greaseproof paper. They should keep for at least a week.

Nom nom nom!

Next stop – fudge!