Margaret Ann Spence Coming Home

Home to Woefield

By Susan Juby

Harper Collins, 2011

From the time of the last recession comes this very funny book by an author who usually writes YA (Young Adult) fiction. The satire pumps it up to adult level. Prudence, an idealistic 24-year-old from Brooklyn, inherits a dilapidated farm on Vancouver Island.

She has dreams of growing enough produce to sell at a farmer’s market, but what she finds when she gets to the farm is a scrubby, rocky landscape, a half-shorn sheep, and Earl, a grumpy farmhand who can hardly nail two boards together. When Seth, the alcoholic blogger whose mother has thrown him out of the house, arrives looking for a place to stay in exchange for work, Prudence has her hands full. Then a bossy eleven- year- old demands they build a home for the chickens her parents insist she donate to someone else.

If you need a laugh-out loud book to enjoy in these dark times, this is it. Juby’s novel skewers the way we live now, yet the characters are rounded and even hapless Earl and lazy Seth are appealing. A scene describing shopping at Home Depot is worth buying this book for. I kept on reading, chapter after hilarious chapter, and didn’t want this book to end.

There’s a sequel. I’m buying that, too.

Living in a Strange Time

When I was a child, I used to imagine the years of life as a ladder. Each rung represented a year, and in my imagination, the rungs had different colors. Now I am at the top end of the ladder, and I can look down, and look back, and I have some advice.

1. This too, will pass. These odd times of social distancing and world-wide economic slowdown will be over eventually. I do not mean to minimize the pain of people who are ill and those who have lost loved ones, or the worry of those who’ve lost jobs. I’m just trying to put it in perspective.

2. Response to the pandemic may seem chaotic and spotty. But in fact, the world has never seen such swift, severe action in the face of a common enemy. That’s because, in other eras, communication was slower. The world has seen pandemics before, and they come to an end. We’ve become so used to healthy populations because of vaccinations and antibiotics we’ve forgotten the dread of disease. We’ve been so lucky.

3. Some of the things we have been forced to do in these weeks have benefits. We catch glimpses of these despite all the negative newscasts. Air pollution is down because people are driving and flying less. Doesn’t the air smell beautiful, these spring days?

4. Nesting at home, we have no commutes. We can still communicate through technology, and yet we have time, now, for family and stay-at-home hobbies. Crafts are coming back. Sewers are stitching, knitters are clicking their needles, painters are sorting through their watercolors, writers are pushing out words, and gardeners are putting in their seeds.

5. We’re advised to go shopping less, and to buy two weeks supply of food at a time. If there are temporary shortages of eggs and flour, that’s because people are cooking. And baking. I’ve been experimenting with bread recipes and coffee cake. There’s always a pot of soup on the stove and I’m contemplating making jam.

6. Meal-planning is back. When my kids were small and we didn’t have much money, I’d plan each week’s menus and shop accordingly. When you do that, leftovers don’t go to waste, nor do they repeat themselves. Instead, new combinations of the same or leftover ingredients form delicious meals. Remember, chicken bones, and all those little bits of carrot and celery and onion you might ordinarily throw away when chopping vegetables can be frozen in plastic bags and later turned into a nutritious stock. It costs you absolutely nothing but your time. Which now we have.

7. We owe a debt of gratitude to those who bravely tend the sick and do other essential jobs. Your grocery clerk deserves a smile and a thank you. And a smile and a thank you is not out of place for everyone we meet. Thanks for doing your bit!

Irish Soda Bread for St. Patrick’s Day

For the love of the Irish! Even though I never met my three long-gone Irish great-great-grandmothers, I like to imagine them making soda bread.

This year I am really into making bread. For this St Patrick’s Day, I made Irish soda bread.

Instead of the traditional method which uses only baking soda and buttermilk as leavening, I added yeast. Buttermilk adds acid which reacts with the soda to rise the bread. Some bakers add an egg also, to give it additional rise. This recipe adds a little sugar because the bread is studded with raisins, which makes it more of a tea-time rather than a breakfast loaf.

This recipe makes two loaves.

½ cup warm water (105-110 o F)
1 package instant yeast
6 cups of bread flour or half bread flour, half all-purpose flour
3 tbs plus 1 tsp sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1 ½ tsp kosher salt
4 oz cold butter cut into cubes
1 ½ cups warm buttermilk
1 ½ cup raisins

Heat the water to the required temperature, testing with a thermometer, or put a finger in and if it is a little warmer than your body temperature, it’s probably fine. Too low and the bread won’t rise, too hot and you kill the yeast. Put the yeast in the warm water and stir, then add 1 tsp sugar and stir again. Leave till it blooms, (spreads across the surface of the cup and begins to bubble) about 10 minutes.

Whisk the dry ingredients, then add the butter and mix with your fingers or a pastry cutter till it looks like cornmeal. Then throw in the water/yeast mix and the buttermilk warmed just so you can feel it. Stir. Then mix in the raisins. You will have now a shaggy dough.

On a floured surface, form the dough into a rough round shape, and knead for 4 minutes. Turn and roll it, flatten it out and poke holes in it with your fingers. This creates air in the dough. Fold the dough like an envelope, then roll into a ball. Repeat and repeat for 4 to 6 minutes.

When you can achieve a smooth ball shape, put the dough into an oiled steel bowl, and cover with a cloth for an hour. If the temperature is at least 70 degrees F, it should rise to double its size.

Punch it down, roll into a ball again, and let rise for another hour.

Preheat the oven to 400 F, and flour two cookie pans.

When it has risen well, prepare another floured surface. Take out your ball of dough and cut it
into two equal pieces. Roll each into a ball.

With a serrated knife, score each ball of dough in the shape of an X. This allows heat to enter
deep into the dough while cooking, which allows for further stretching and expansion of the

Sprinkle a little flour on top of each loaf, or if you fancy, brush on some beaten egg white or
milk to give a glaze.

Put a large shallow pan full of water on the bottom rack of the oven, and spritz the oven’s sides
with water to create steam.

Bake for 30-40 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean. The bottom should sound hollow
when tapped.

I recommend eating this bread when it is still warm. When I made this the other day and served it
to friends, it was demolished before it had a chance to get cold.

A Psychologist Brings Insight to Fiction

This week I’m sitting with psychologist, Dr. Kixx Goldman. Her book, Speak from Your Heart and be Heard will launch at Changing Hands bookstore, Phoenix, on February 27 at 7pm.

I asked some questions about her writing practice.

Q. When did you know you wanted to write a book?

A. I knew I wanted to write when I was around ten and I sat at the kitchen table with my mom while she sewed frumpy jumpers for me. I hated sewing but I liked making up characters, like my favorite super glam, career woman, “Karen Taylor.” After that I got caught up in school, marriage, kids and developing a professional career, instead of characters. My profession required lots of technical reading and writing and creative pursuits suffered. About ten years ago, with fewer work responsibilities I got back to fiction and was in awe reading Alice Munro. I began to wonder if I could ever write like that. To me, it was the ultimate challenge. I took some classes, where I was encouraged to “just write.” After that I hired a writing coach and started crafting my stories. The key to it all was finding a good developmental editor.

Q. Your book is unique in that you use your knowledge as a psychologist to create fiction out of your experiences as a therapist. What portion of your stories are based on fact and what are created out of whole cloth, i.e. entirely fictional?

A. I like your description, Margaret. It seems apt for what I wrote, even though I didn’t start out with that intention. It’s interesting to me now to realize that there isn’t one story that isn’t based in some way on my experience. But, out of the eight stories, only four are based on my experience as a therapist. The other four are based on my life experiences. And only one, “Caught in the Crossfire,” is entirely fictional. But, the main character in that story is reminiscent of a client. Another story, “The Promise” is largely fictional but was inspired by an event in the life of a young dancer I worked with many years ago. I remember thinking, if I were to tell this simply based on what really happened, it wouldn’t be as engaging for readers. I guess that’s true for all the stories.

Q. That’s what writers, do, isn’t it? We take our experience and transmute it in some way, ideally breaking down the essence of what we want to say into a story that engages. A beginning, a middle, and an end. Of course, life is often messier than that. Your book cover, with its “blue heart” signals life’s challenges. In your stories, you talk about following your intuition to speak openly about your feelings, despite the risk. As a psychologist, do you have any tips on how to
take that leap?

A. One way of taking the leap is start more gently with a less direct approach, I learned from Communications expert, Marshall Rosenberg. In a one to one conversation, before you express your thoughts, start with indirectly empathic question or statement to the other. For example, in my story, the Replacement Child, Rachel wants to express her concerns about her friend Betty’s treatment of her daughter, Lucy. She could say to her, “I know you want the best for your
daughter.” This gives Betty a chance to express her feelings first and allows her to “hear” Rachel’s suggestions better.

Speak from Your Heart and Be Heard Book launch at Changing Hands, 300 W Camelback Rd, Phoenix, AZ 85013, Thursday, February 27, 7 pm.

A Fundraiser for the Australian Fires

My publisher, The Wild Rose Press, has authors from all over the world. Perhaps unique among publishers, it encourages friendship between its authors through an email loop.

One of the writers is Stephen B. King of Western Australia. He has been keeping us apprised of the bushfire situation in Australia. As we know from daily television and news reports, the bushfires have raged up and down the East Coast, and the West Coast as well, taking human lives, killing millions if not billions of insects, birds and animals, and causing choking smoke to pollute the major cities.

About three weeks ago, Steve floated an idea: What if the authors of The Wild Rose Press were to put together an anthology of short stories and to donate all profits? Within 24 hours, he had offers for short stories from 40 authors, and by a few days later there were 48 of us with stories ready. There were so many stories offered that the press decided to create three volumes.

The publisher acted swiftly. Contracts were sent out in record time, the editors volunteered to copy edit and proof read, a brilliant cover was created, and a release date of February 14 was anticipated.

It all went so well to plan, with such enthusiasm all around, that Volume One was released this week. Australia Burns – Show Australia Some Love is advertised on Amazon for $13.99.

However, in order to avoid any profit being made on this book by third parties, could you kindly purchase this book through the publisher at HERE.

My story, The Ring, is in Volume One.

Volumes Two and Three will be forthcoming. The entire project is a voluntary one and all profits will be donated.

As far as I know, The Wild Rose Press is the only publisher to make such a contribution. Rhonda Penders and R.J. Morris, owners of the press, deserve accolades for this superb feat of organization and quick turn-around, and gratitude for their generosity. And to all the authors as well, a huge thank you from this Australian. Their outpouring of support has been incredible.

To everyone who has wondered how they can help, this is a wonderful way. And you’ll enjoy the read!

Why Little Women Endures: How A Woman Who Hated Sex Keeps Us Reading

The new movie, Little Women, is on my to-see list. It reminded me of an article I wrote in 2018 about how that book influenced me to become a writer. Here it is: How Childhood Reading Shapes Identity. That article has been retweeted continuously since publication – a testament to Alcott’s evocation of family life and the psychological complexities of the thinking of girls on the cusp of womanhood.

I am not alone in wondering if Alcott’s enduring hold on the imagination of girls and women is her very complicated, not to say confusing, attitude to sex. Jo, the future writer, rejects the handsome boy next door, Laurie, because she wants to be an author. We understand from the subtext that she thinks she can only write without being a wife and mother. Then Alcott has her marry a much older man. At first, Jo thinks Professor Bhaer is an intellectual companion, but then he belittles her literary aspirations, and they go on to run a school together, a school for boys. Jo’s writerly aspirations are set aside.

Historians say that Alcott’s publisher pushed her into making Jo marry. Alcott seems to be putting up a little rebellion by creating a character in Bhaer that is quite unattractive. This conflict is at the heart of the story.

Alcott’s own childhood of genteel poverty led her to a dim view of a man’s ability to support his family. Her own father was an idealist who could not, and the household was held together by her mother, and later, Louisa herself. She seemed unable to imagine a true partnership of a man and a woman where respect and passion comingle. That aspiration, so dearly held by girls today as a real possibility, drives the book’s popularity. It is an aspiration still very far from reality for
many women.

I read Little Women first at the age of eleven. That is a magic age for girls, or was for me. It is a time when I felt I could do anything, aspire to anything. That was before puberty, when girls feel the pressure to attract the opposite sex. When advertising suggests that they are not worthy unless they spend time, energy and money on their appearance. Alcott seems to be saying that that a career should trump those concerns. But sacrificing one for the other is not what girls want, in my experience. The psychological battle continues for woman’s lifetime. That’s why Little Women has us flocking to the movie theatres.

The Christmas Chook

At Christmas time, we ate chicken. This was a rare treat for us. Not that we were vegetarians, far from it. In Australia in those days, meat was cheap, and we ate lamb chops and beef stews often, and had roast lamb or beef every Sunday. But a few days before Christmas, Dad chopped off the head of a chicken. He caught one from our coop, tied its legs together, then lay it on his tree- trunk chopping block and decapitated it.

The deed done, soon the “chook”, as we called it, was draining into the laundry sink. Then Granny came out and plucked and gutted it. She was practical and matter-of-fact about this procedure, which we kids found disgusting. Our pioneer grandmother told us we were spoiled suburban children and was not patient as she taught us her methods. She muttered under her breath at my squeamishness as she attempted to demonstrate this essential housewifely skill.

I stood by her, gripping the side of the sink as I balanced on a wooden crate and leaned over, getting in the way as her reddening hands worked in the steaming water. As she pulled the white feathers, I grasped one or two as they fluttered into the water. Despite the summer heat, Granny wore thick lisle stockings and black lace-up shoes. My prancing made the water slosh on them, but her apron kept her cotton striped dress almost clean as she prepared the so recently-alive bird. Once it was cleanly plucked, Granny drained the scalding water and closed the laundry door against the flies. Here came the yucky part. She laid the chicken on a bench covered in newspaper, pulled from her pocket a very sharp knife, and with an expert hand sliced the chicken at both ends, pulling out guts and crop, which she threw in a bucket under the counter. The hot closed room became claustrophobic as the smell rose. Sweat beaded my grandmother’s brow. It was hard not to flee at this point, but a sharp reprimand that the flies would get in if I opened the door left me stuck by Granny’s side till the job was done. My job then was to turn on the water in the sink so she could rinse the bird over and over before leaving it to soak in cold water. Then she carried it by the legs into the kitchen to nestle it in the refrigerator. Later it would be stuffed with milk-softened stale bread, apples, onions, and herbs from the garden for our festive dinner.

Did she later chop off the feet, boil and declaw them and then make of the collagen-filled feet a nutritious broth? Probably, for nothing was wasted in Granny’s world. Even the chicken guts had been buried near the fruit trees, decomposing slowly into fertilizer.

Ironic how “organic” food has become the watchword today. It’s what we ate when we were kids because we didn’t know anything else.

My London-born grandmother showed grit and determination when she moved, as a young woman, to teach in Western Australia. When she met my grandfather they moved into the remote Outback, where goods we take for granted were in short supply. She was an amazing cook who brought up four children on food she and my grandfather raised. Her mastery of often-maligned British cookery was the inspiration for Camilla, my caterer protagonist in Lipstick on the Strawberry. Take advantage of the season and what’s at hand, and turn it into something delicious is Camilla’s motto, as it was my grandmother’s – and come to think of it – mine.

I’ll think of my grandmother these holidays, grateful for her teaching in more ways than one.

Wishing you all very happy holidays, full of memories past and made as you sit round the table.

Camilla’s Thanksgiving Nightmare

With America’s favorite holiday approaching, I’m mapping out my days carefully, planning a party the last day of the weekend and pondering what to bring to my son’s house for our family Thanksgiving with a cast of sixteen. As I perused Brussel sprouts, nestling like tiny cabbages in their display stand at the supermarket, I thought back to writing Lipstick on the Strawberry. The Thanksgiving scene in the book shows my catering heroine, Camilla, having a very bad day. She saves it by a flash of ingenuity. Here’s the scene, below: I hope your Thanksgiving is much, much better!

I went into the kitchen and turned on the oven. A light went on satisfactorily, and I pulled the turkey out of its carrier and into a metal pan. I just glanced at the oven after turning it on, and looking at my watch, started bustling. It’s all about the timing, I always told my staff, and now Mrs. Reilly’s pressure to get the meal on the table earlier than I’d planned had set our plans askew.
“Paige, can you prepare a bed of ice for the oysters and slice this lemon and rim the tray
with parsley?”
I put the pies on the counter, pecan, blueberry, apple and pumpkin. I checked the oven temperature. Lukewarm. My heart started to race. Surely it would heat up soon. I hoisted the heavy pan to slide it in the oven. The bird’s breast bone stuck halfway in. I pulled out the bottom rack and moved down the middle rack as far as it would go. The turkey still would not fit.
My blood pressure rose. Mindy had come to visit the client. This order had come in while I was away. Surely this was the most basic information she should have noted. Small oven. Will not fit twenty-five pound turkey!
Mrs. Reilly poked her head around the door. “Are we nearly ready?”
“We’re getting there.” No point in blaming the client for this lapse. It was the caterer’s responsibility to make sure all the bits and pieces were in place.
“We’ll serve the oysters first, of course. Would you mind if we plate the main course from the kitchen?”
“I really wanted to serve it family style. Sort of you know, like I cooked it.”
“Uh huh.” I hated this type of client, the sort who pretended they made the food that someone else had slaved over. “Well, we could bring the turkey in on its platter and everyone can have a good look. But really, Mrs. Reilly, the turkey is difficult to carve at the table and it is easier and more elegant to serve everything on its plate from here. Paige can bring the plates out,” I said. I lifted a pot, exaggerating its heaviness. “Very few Thanksgiving tables, I find, are large enough to carry eighteen place settings and the serving dishes. Let us serve from here, please.”

“I’ll have to bring the china into the kitchen.” Mrs. Reilly’s brown bodice heaved. “The table won’t look so pretty!” With a huff, she left the kitchen.
“God.” Paige looked terrified.
“Don’t worry. Just start shucking the oysters now. Sorry, I know I said I’d do it, but I have to manage this disaster with the turkey.”
“How are we going to give them turkey that’s not cooked through? They’ll get salmonella.”
“Nonsense! It is cooked, but it’s not hot. We can fix that. First we’ll show off the turkey like she wants, then carve it in here. Heat up some broth, then we’ll put in a bay leaf and some thyme, and simmer the cut slices and the legs so they get nice and juicy and warm.” I opened a can of chicken broth as I talked. “We’ll pop the potatoes and squash and stuffing in the microwave, cook the beans on the stove top, and toss the Brussels sprouts in their sauce on top of
the stove. All you have to do is –oh Lord!”
Paige had dropped the oyster tray. Pinky gray crustaceans slid over the wooden floor. Ice formed puddles around them and parsley skidded under the sink.
“I didn’t see that. Quick!” I ran cold water in the sink and pulled open a cabinet to get a colander. “The three second rule. They should be okay. Just rinse and rinse again. And again.” I bent and picked up the few that had landed on their tummies, so to speak. “I think these would be fine, see how the shell’s curve stopped the actual oyster from contacting with the floor.”
For a moment, I stood there, hatred of wastage battling with my reputation.
“No. Throw those ones out. We’ll just use the others. Put extra parsley on the plate so we
can put fewer oysters on each one.”
While Paige mopped the floor, I cut up more parsley, and the refrigerator’s icemaker ground out another pound of cubes. I nestled them around the oysters. “Now. Let’s get the sauce on the side of each plate, put three of these babies on each one, and you take them in, nice and easy. Look calm. Don’t say a word.”
I stopped, a parsley stalk in hand. The compulsively honest Paige would likely apologize publicly to the hostess. I grabbed the platter. “No. I’ll do it. Let’s get the gravy going, then take it off the stove. Line all the veggie dishes up so we can microwave and cook everything in order.
Remember the order – potatoes and squash and stuffing in the microwave, heat the water for the beans, get the simmer broth on for the turkey which I’ll carve just as soon as we’ve shown it to the owner – God, it’s not brown enough!”
Deep breaths. “I wish Hannah were here – she’d put shoe polish on it or something! Just joking. What can we use? Can you look in the pantry – there might be some soy sauce in there?
Maybe some molasses or honey?”
“Soy sauce?”
“Yes, it gives a nice brown sheen. Probably adds a nice taste, too, to the turkey.”
Paige frowned doubtfully as she sidled into the pantry. In a minute or two she emerged, brandishing a bottle of soy sauce.
“While I’m doing the oysters, could you run out to the car and grab my hair dryer – I’ve got an idea.” I picked up the oyster plates and laid them across my arm.

A babble of voices rose from the dining room, Laughter tinkled and glasses clinked as I walked in. Mr. Reilly went from diner to diner pouring wine. His voice was loud, and he seemed a little unsteady on his feet. By the time I finished serving the oysters, he was back at his place, wine bottle in hand, and sliding into his seat, almost lost his balance. He caught me by the waist to steady himself and said, “Ah, oysters, food of the gods. Served by a goddess.”
I felt one beefy hand squeezing my middle while the other reached under the table, under my skirt, to caress my thigh. His hand was warm and aggressive, rising higher. I recoiled. No one appeared to notice, except Mrs. O’Reilly. She glared across the table with furious dark eyes.
“I hope you enjoy the oysters,” I said, and pulled away. The tablecloth in front of Archer Reilly started to pull with me. The Coalport china and the Georg Jensen silverware teetered. I pushed my assailant on the shoulder, trying to get my own balance, and his red face veered dangerously close to the table. The hand fell away from my leg. I flicked his wobbling glass upright and, with as much dignity as I could, walked back to the kitchen.
Trembling, I stood at the sink, pushed my hair back away from my face, and took a long glass of water. The groping made me feel utterly humiliated. Archer Reilly had treated me like a thing. A maid, a sexual object. Not that men hadn’t tried it on with me when I was younger. But this was in public, in front of his wife, and I was not a lowly employee. I was a business owner, the daughter of people who took it for granted that they, too, would be waited on at table, the ex- wife – here I bowed my head into the sink – of a Harvard professor!
I sensed Paige’s alarm. Turning, I saw the hair dryer in my assistant’s hands. I took it from her and placed it next to the turkey.
“How are the veggies coming along? Is the oven behaving itself yet?” My voice quavered. I opened the oven door, and waved a hand inside. Still lukewarm.
The pies sat thawing on the counter, little beads of moisture twinkling on their surface.
They were not ready to serve at all.
“We’ll just have to put them in this pathetic oven and have them heat up, slowly. They might be all right. If we microwave them, they’ll get soggy crusts. At the end of the day, that might not matter. Judging by how these people are going with the wine, they probably wouldn’t notice.”
“Maybe you should go in there again and serve more wine!”
“I think Mr. Reilly’s doing that. They didn’t ask for bar help or a wine server. We’ve got enough to do in this kitchen. These dishes are all going to have to be hand-washed; the best china and all, too valuable for the dishwasher.”
“I can wash the oyster dishes while they eat the main course.”
“Good girl. Now, we’re on a schedule here. Give me the hair dryer.”
“You wouldn’t.”
“I would. I am.” I plugged in the hair dryer and blew hot air over the turkey, sealing the soy sauce, which I had mixed with honey, onto it. We lifted the bird onto its platter, sprinkled parsley around it, and carried it into the dining room. The guests clapped, and Mrs. Reilly, not looking at her husband, raised a toast.

The World’s Easiest Chocolate Cake

The trouble with labor saving devices is that often they create labor. Take, for example my electric stand mixer. My mother used have one called the Mixmaster. It sat on the crowded countertop in our kitchen and was rarely used, unless my grandmother wanted to whip up one of her sponges.

It took up so much space. My own very heavy mixer sits in a cabinet with pull out shelves. I had those installed to make it easier to lift out the mixer but it is so unwieldy that pulling it out is like wrestling with an elephant. So it was with joy that I found this recipe for the most delicious chocolate cake, made with three pieces of equipment – two mixing bowls and a whisk. And of course a baking container. I use a spring form pan sitting on a cookie sheet to catch spills. My go-to cake pan is usually the spring form. It prevents bits of cake from refusing to come out of the pan and makes a pretty presentation.

I’m making this cake for my birthday this week. Credit for the recipe goes to Helen Goh – and to Yotam Ottolenghi for his adaptation, which appeared in The New York Times, 19 September, 2017.

Helen Goh was born in Malaysia but grew up in Melbourne, Australia, my home town.

A psychologist by training, Helen leapt into running a café without any experience and taught herself to bake. This fudgy chocolate cake from her tiny café, Mortar and Pestle, was deemed “the world’s best chocolate cake” by an enthusiastic journalist. Not one to sit on her laurels, Helen then went over to one of Melbourne’s best restaurants, Donovans, where she was pastry chef for several years. Now, she works for Ottolenghi in London. She introduced him to Australian patisserie and has a book called Sweet.

What You’ll Need:

2 sticks plus 1 1/2 tablespoons butter at room temperature and cut into 3/4-inch cubes. If you use butter to grease your pan, you’ll need a little more. (Butter is recommended over spray.)
7 ounces dark chocolate (70 percent cocoa solids), chopped into 3/4-inch or smaller pieces
1 ½ teaspoons instant espresso coffee granules
1 1/2 cups boiling water
1 ¼ cups granulated sugar
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 ¾ cups plus 2 tablespoons self-rising flour, or, if you can’t find it in the supermarket, whisk together 1 3/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour and 2 3/4 teaspoons baking powder and use this mixture instead.
⅓ cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder
¼ teaspoon salt

7 ounces (70 percent cocoa solids), broken or chopped into 3/4-inch or smaller pieces
¾ cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, room temperature

THE ESPRESSO CINNAMON MASCARPONE CREAM (not necessary but the final splurge)
1 ½ cups plus 1 tablespoon heavy cream
¾ cup mascarpone
 Scraped seeds of 1/2 vanilla pod or 1 tsp. vanilla
2 ½ teaspoons finely ground espresso
¾ teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 ½ tablespoons confectioners’ sugar

Heat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease a 9-inch spring-form pan with butter and line with parchment paper.

Sift flour, cocoa powder and salt together into a bowl and set aside.

Dissolve the coffee granules in the boiling water.

Put the butter, and chocolate in a large metal bowl and pour in the boiling hot coffee. This will help liquefy everything so you can mix until it is all meltingly combined.

Whisk in sugar by hand, making sure it all dissolves.

Add eggs and vanilla extract and whisk again until smooth.

Pour the dry ingredients gradually into the melted chocolate mixture, and whisk till smooth and liquid.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 1 hour, or until a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean or almost so. I was alarmed to see that the top had cracked, but Helen says this is normal. Remove the cake from the oven and let cool. After 20 minutes release the spring of the pan or remove from the layer cake pan. Let cool overnight.

Chop the chocolate very fine and put into a heat-proof bowl. Or, if you have a food processor or blender, use this to mix until fine, then dump it all into the bowl.

In a small pan over medium-high heat, mix the cream and corn syrup. Just before it comes to a boil remove from the heat.

Add the hot cream-corn syrup mixture to the chopped chocolate, and stir with a wooden spoon till it is almost melted. Then add the butter. Stir again till smooth. Or if you are using the chocolate-filled blender or food processor, pour in the hot cream-corn syrup. Process for 10 seconds, then add the butter and whirr again till smooth. That’s Ottolenghi’s suggestion, but I wanted to use as few utensils as possible. I used the wooden spoon-in-bowl method and it is one less item to wash, for one thing. Chocolate, hot cream and warm butter make a lovely, easy to mix combination.

Cover the ganache in the bowl with plastic wrap, allowing the plastic to touch the top of the ganache.

Set aside until it has set. For a thin layer to spread over the cake, pour it over while still liquid. For a thicker ganache with a spreading consistency like a regular frosting, leave it for about 2 hours at room temperature.

The ganache can be stored at room temperature for 3 days or kept in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.

1. If you insist on the final touch, whipped mascarpone and cream flavored with espresso, cinnamon and confectioners’ sugar, you may have to resort to the electric mixer. Place all the ingredients in the bowl of the mixer and beat until soft peaks form.

2. Peel the parchment from the cake and discard. Transfer to a serving platter and spread the ganache, if using, on top of the cake. Slice into wedges, divide the cake among plates and, if using, spoon the mascarpone cream alongside. With or without icing, the cake will keep well for 4 to 5 days in an airtight container.

Wilding – Returning Nature to our Farm

By Isabella Tree
The New York Review of Books, 2018

North America has lost a third of its bird population in the last half century, we learned in a recent news report.

So it is with other parts of the world, too. Isabella Tree has written a fascinating and beautifully written book about her corner of the world, a 3,500 acre estate in Sussex, England, a place which had been farmed for centuries until costs outran income and Isabella and her husband Charlie Burrell could no long afford that way of life. All the equipment, pesticides, and herbicides they needed to farm the difficult clay soil had them deeply in debt.

In a radical move, they let the place run wild.

And the birds came back. And the butterflies, the worms, numerous insects, and a riotous resurgence of plants, trees, and scrub.

It all began in 1999 when a tree expert diagnosed the reason their ancient oaks were dying. The soil had been compacted when underground earthworms and mychorrhizae were destroyed by the action of tractors and the elimination of wildlife. Twenty years later, their estate is teeming with life, visible and invisible, and the Burrells have reintroduced to the land red, roe and fallow deer, Old English Longhorn cattle, Exmoor ponies, and Tamworth pigs. The couple now run safari tours of their land, and sell the organically raised meat of their cattle, making more money than they ever did as farmers.

Making money is not entirely the point, Tree emphasizes. But the need to survive financially drove the decision to rewild their estate. The miraculous regeneration of the land through letting nature take its course has astonished them as it has others. While some of their neighbors complain about the untidiness of their once neatly hedged farm, the Burrells revel in its rampant sexuality. That’s a big theme when animals and insects are closely observed. Who knew a purple emperor mating display could be so riveting? Tree’s gorgeous writing keeps the reader glued to the page.

This is an important book, and a hopeful one. The degradation of the planet through monoculture, through the use of artificial fertilizers and heavy equipment has taken place over the last hundred years. But in only twenty years, Isabella Tree and Charlie Burrell have reversed the course in the land they own. It’s a lesson for everyone.