The Depressed Cake Shop at Suzzle

greyscale_topviewI promised a more in-depth post earlier this week on this subject, so here we are. Honestly?  I’ve been putting it off to an extent, because I want to do it justice and also, perhaps, because I don’t necessarily want to have to tell the story as often as I may have to if all my lovely regular customers ask me – not unreasonably – “why here, why you?” As you’ve probably gathered, I have personal reasons for being involved in this project. Just because I’m prepared to speak up, doesn’t make it less painful, but if I remain silent I perpetuate the problem of people not talking about mental health. So here goes. This won’t necessarily make for light reading: consider this a ‘trigger’ warning, if triggers are something you have to watch for.

greyscale_cake, greyscale cake with grey ombre icing

The Depressed Cake Shop is the idea of Miss Cakehead. When it comes to charity cake pop-ups, she’s got form: I first met her at the London Cakes for Japan pop-up, then at the Geek Cake Shop, and the formula works. Keep it short and – pretty much of necessity – sweet and, most important of all, make sure your theme or concept is strong, while leaving room for creativity.

So: short (3 days for the London shop) and sweet (cakes, biscuits, macarons, I could go on …) and a theme which has been strong enough to raise eyebrows, as all of the cakes will be grey on the outside. Yes, of course we know that not everyone’s experience of depression in particular, or mental illness in general, can be characterised by the colour grey. But we wanted to make an impact, and the one thing you can guarantee is that grey cakes turn heads.

Grey is good for a number of reasons. It works for those who feel their mental health issues have leached all colour out of their lives. It works for those for whom a latent mental health problem is ever lurking in the shadows, waiting to catch them unawares and drag them under again. It works because most of us naturally try to avoid the ‘nutter on the bus’, even though they’re just another human being. And it will work because one of the first things anyone says on seeing a grey cake is “why is that cake grey?”, and this gives people an opening to discuss mental health as an issue, instead of sweeping it back into the shadows.

For a lot of us involved in this project, mental illness and baking are linked: a lot of us turn to baking when we’re feeling low. Some of us even started baking because they were ill and needed something simple as a focus. And there is genuinely something very therapeutic about baking. I have, for years, turned to my kitchen and cooked, savoury or sweet, because I get some relief in the creation of something that, in and of itself, is goodness, love, nurture – sometimes even beauty – when all I feel I am is ugliness, pain and a drain on all around me. And being part of this project has made me realise I’m not alone in this. Being one of some 800+ people involved in Depressed Cake Shops all around the world is somehow simultaneously wonderful, humbling, sad and inspiring.

As a group, we’ve had some mixed reactions to the concept – some comments on this Guardian article seem to have missed the point, for example – and I felt obliged to respond. To quote my comment (as meelzebub):

The target audience for this pop-up is the public at large, not specifically those affected by mental illness, although they’re naturally also welcome. The point of The Depressed Cake Shop is that there is still massive stigma encountered by the mentally ill, and it’s mostly discussed as something that happens to other people. Some of us lose jobs even for admitting there’s a problem. Some people never seek help because they’re afraid to admit to a weakness. Some of us learn to shut up because if we once admit it to someone, or if a suicide attempt is leaked to ‘friends’ and family by someone well-meaning, we have to endure the pity – even if intended as sympathy – of others, some of whom genuinely care and want to help, others who are secretly hoping you’ll freak in front of them so they can partake of the drama they imagine associated with a melt-down, and still others who are terrified that what you’ve got might be catching.

And even so, I’m hiding behind ‘some of us’. Yes, I lost a job for telling my boss I had been prescribed anti-depressants and needed to cut my working hours to something closer to 60, instead of 75. I’ve had to face a family party comprised mostly of people I’d never met (my boyfriend’s aunt’s birthday, IIRC), who knew I’d tried to kill myself a couple of weeks previously. It’s one hell of a first impression, and it endured for years. Small wonder those of us with ‘issues’ hesitate to open up and talk about them.

Getting treatment has not always been easy, but I have a good support network who have helped me fight for what was needed, and in particular a husband who has been tireless in trying to get to the bottom of things. 15 years and a lot of pain later, and we finally have a diagnosis. I have borderline personality disorder. Frankly, it explains a lot.

But I’m in danger of straying from my point. Cooking and baking have, on occasion, very literally saved my life, giving me an outlet for emotions I couldn’t handle. Most importantly, it gave me a way of translating something enormously negative into something positive. The lovely Emmeline, one of our customers in the shop, has said that she likes our food because it’s clear that it’s made with love. She’s right, but perhaps more so than she knew.

Hence another part of my comment in the Grauniad:

If these pop-ups – there will be several across the country – tell only one person who was feeling desperate that there is help, and that it’s OK to need it, and gives them the means to access it, or gives them the courage to speak up so someone else can help them get the treatment they need instead of topping themselves, I would personally consider that a bloody good result. If, as is likely, it gets more people thinking and talking about mental health issues in general, and in its own small way starts normalising them for those touched by the event so depression et al become as acceptable to talk about as, say, arthritis, migraine or the common cold, then that’s also a result that’s worth having, and all of us involved will feel our efforts have been worthwhile.

I’m one of the 1 in 4 that gets mentioned in every campaign about mental health. I’m told I don’t look obviously mentally ill, whatever that may mean, and yet my mental illness has, on occasion, been damn nigh fatal. And I’m one of the lucky ones. This is why Suzzle is hosting the Depressed Cake Shop from 2-4 August this year.  Proceeds will be going to CALM, and to the establishment of a new charity to provide baking therapy.

md.

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Shades of grey

While I’ll be back in a couple of days to say more about this project, I thought it was probably wise to confirm here that Suzzle will indeed be hosting the rather wonderful Depressed Cake Shop from 2-4 August.  This is the lovely Miss Cakehead’s charity project for the year, and it’s struck a chord not only here in London, but in places all over the UK, the US, and now possibly even in Australia.

So why the shades of grey?  Because every single cake, biscuit and macaron sold will be grey.  This is a pop-up that is close to my heart for a number of reasons, and it will be held not only to raise funds for CALM, but also to raise awareness in general of mental health issues and spark discussion.  Too often, people don’t talk about their mental health problems until they’ve become very serious or, in the saddest cases, until it is quite literally too late to save them.  We’re hoping this will go some small way to change that.

This is one of the rare occasions where we will be selling cakes with gluten in, but there will still be gluten and lactose free cakes available as well as  – I believe – some vegan cakes, too.  So pop the dates in your diary: it’ll be on for three days, including a Saturday and Sunday, and this much deliciousness in a good cause should not be missed 🙂

Gluten-free fig, asparagus and stilton quiche recipe

As a card-carrying Brit, I’ve just enjoyed a fabulous long weekend, courtesy of HM The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.  Like much of the country, we got caught up in the street party thing, eating and drinking far too much, but enjoying spending time with our neighbours in the sun while it lasted – our street party was on the Saturday, so we were much luckier with the weather than some.

Anyone who follows a gluten free diet knows how hard events like street parties can be from a food perspective.  You either take a lunchbox and stay in a little culinary ghetto of your own devising, or you take along a couple of dishes to share but make sure you dive in before anyone else can contaminate your hard work, and hope a couple more people might have brought something that could work so you don’t have to look stand-offish.

In the case of our street party, we were lucky enough that a certain level of catering was to be provided by Angela Hartnett, our local celebrity chef, but since the number of people responding was higher than anticipated, we were all asked to bring food with us to share so there was enough for us to eat, and those with special diets were warned that this would apply particularly to them.  Fair enough, I thought, and started thinking about what to take.

In the end, I settled for my trusty balsamic anchovy potato salad and a quiche.  I hadn’t been sure what kind of quiche to make, but since I had asparagus and some fresh figs in the house, and some stilton in the fridge that was beckoning, putting them together seemed the right thing to do.  And it really was.  Seems I’m not the only one to think so, either, since a mention of the quiche on the Coeliac UK Facebook page this morning led to a request for the recipe so here, for Hayley – and anyone else who would like it – is my recipe for fig, asparagus and stilton quiche.  I hope you enjoy it.

Fig, asparagus and stilton quiche

For the base:

  • 400g Dove’s Farm GF plain flour blend
  • 250g mature grated cheddar
  • 125g butter
  • 1 large free range egg
  • 1/2tsp xanthan gum
  • 1/2tsp cayenne pepper (optional)
  • 1 8″ loose bottom flan tin

 For the filling:

  • 100g mature stilton, crumbled
  • 8 asparagus spears, steamed until just tender
  • 4 fresh figs, tough stems removed, halved
  • 3 large free range eggs
  • 100ml Lactofree (or normal double) cream
  • 1tsp thyme
  • 1/2tsp salt
  • A good grind of black pepper, to taste

First of all, pre-heat the oven to 180C.  Now let me say that the amount of pastry the base recipe will make is rather more than you will need, but since this is actually the recipe I use to make my cheese and chilli biscuits, I simply roll any leftover pastry into a sausage and cut 1cm slices to make biscuits afterwards.  Throw all the ingredients for the base into a Kenwood Chef/Kitchenaid stand mixer if you have one, until it’s all thoroughly mixed, then bring it together with your hands.  If you don’t have the mixer, rub the cheese and butter into the flour, then mix in the egg and a little water or milk if needed to make a fairly stiff dough.

Chill the dough for 15 minutes in the fridge, then roll it out between two sheets of clingfilm until it’s large enough to cover your flan base.  Remove the clingfilm from one side, then turn the pastry onto the flan base and remove the other sheet of clingfilm.  Press the pastry into the flan base and then trim round the edges.  Cover the inside with a crumpled sheet of baking parchment, weight with either baking beads or 250g rice, and bake in the oven for 10 minutes.  At this point, remove the parchment along with the beads/rice and cook for a further 5 minutes.  Remove from the oven and allow to cool.

While the case is cooling, beat the eggs together with the cream, thyme, salt and pepper and leave to stand.

Once the case is cool to the touch, arrange the asparagus in it to radiate out from the centre.  Sprinkle the stilton all over, then place the fig halves evenly round the base between the asparagus stalks.  If the figs are particularly plump and look like they’ll be much taller than your pastry case, simply trim some of the skin from the outside of the fig.

When you’ve arranged all these ingredients, pour in the egg mixture, avoiding pouring over the top of the figs if you can.  Place the quiche in the oven and allow to cook for 25-30 minutes, or until tipping it no longer results in obvious fluid movement or wobbling – my fan oven plays very differently to my gas oven on this, so start checking at 5 minute intervals from 25 minutes onwards.  Et voilà!  Remove from the oven and serve hot, cold or cooling, depending on how much willpower you have.

Gluten-free Heroes Part 3: The Bell and Jorrocks, Frittenden

It probably won’t surprise anyone who knows me that I’ve included a pub among my gluten-free heroes.  I think this is called getting your retaliation in first 😉

The Bell and Jorrocks is not just any pub, however, but a place dear to my heart that I enjoy visiting when I’m with my family in Kent.  I’ve probably been going there on and off since I was about 15, even working behind the bar once upon a time, and it’s one of two focal points in the village community, the other being the church.

Over and above all the many other good reasons I might have had for going there – good beer (when I was still drinking it), delicious cider (now I’m off the beer), great company, friendly welcome, etc – there is now another one to add to the list, in the form of the pub’s chef, Steve, who is a fellow coeliac and therefore understands completely what I can and can’t eat, and delivers something safe and extremely tasty every time.  And, what’s more, he can offer a choice of dishes, not just the one token jacket spud and cheese like some places I could mention.

The Bell and Jorrocks is proof that you can offer good, coeliac-friendly food at a sensible price, on a regular basis, without the backing of a chain like Wetherspoons.  Thanks, Sean and Rosie, landlords extraordinaires, and thanks Steve 🙂

Gluten-free Heroes Part 2: Dove’s Farm

My second gluten-free hero this week is Dove’s Farm.  It’s fair to say that, without them, my diet would be a lot less varied and baking would take a lot longer.  This is because I would have to blend flours myself in order to get the right characteristics and, frankly, I simply don’t have the time or the energy to be doing that most of the time, especially given how much I bake.  So I probably wouldn’t bother.  Yes, I know, other GF flour blends are available, but since so many of the prescribables contain either lactose or soya, they’re not going to work for me, and those that don’t contain any nasties somehow don’t result in the lovely texture I get with the Dove’s Farm flours.

They don’t just do flours, either: they have a range of breakfast cereals that appeals to my 5 year old, even thought he doesn’t have to follow a gluten-free diet, which is praise indeed, and must be a godsend for parents of coeliac children.  Their chocolate stars really do taste very good, as well as being appealingly packaged.  And don’t get me started on the biscuits… once the packet’s opened, that’s it!

I’m less keen on their pasta, which you’ll find used by restaurant chains like Zizzi, but then I’m not all that gone on corn pasta in general.

Anyway, if you’ve ever tasted one of my cakes and not been able to tell the difference between that and a cake made with wheat flour, it’s at least in part because of these guys. Thank you 🙂

Gluten-free heroes part 1: Look What We Found

I first came across the Look What We Found range by accident – I was looking for arborio rice in Sainsbury’s one day, and in its place found packets of LWWF meatballs.  Since it said gluten-free on the front, I had a closer look and lobbed one in the trolley to try at a later date.

Since then, I’ve tried many of their range, omitting only those that contain lactose (I’m lactose intolerant as well as coeliac, so daren’t risk the cream in some of the recipes) and they have all been delicious.

Beyond the flavour, though, there are other reasons why I think LWWF is so good.  Part of it is the focus on finding smaller local suppliers for their ingredients and promoting them and their produce, but the other major factor is that they’ve gone the route of ambient, long-life presentation of the meals, which means you can take them more or less anywhere.  This is a real bonus when you have to go somewhere and are unsure what provision (if any) there may be for your diet – makes day trips across the Channel a lot easier – but don’t want the faff of dragging a cool bag with you.  I’ve taken these all over the place in my handbag, along with a pouch of Tilda microwaveable basmati rice: decent, tasty, safe food, all in about 5 minutes flat.

Particular favourites are the Tees Valley Beef Chilli and the Beef and Pork Meatballs, but I’ve yet to come across a single duff one in the range.  Definitely worth keeping a couple of these in the cupboard as a backstop either to take with you, or for those evenings when cooking from scratch just feels like far too much effort.

So here’s a big thank you to the team at Look What We Found, for making it so much easier to go anywhere, gluten-free.

Coeliac awareness week is coming!

14-20 May 2012 is Coeliac Awareness Week in the UK.  Now, I know, somebody somewhere is always marking something, but since coeliac disease is something that affects me personally, as well as many other people who have yet to be diagnosed, and who could have a much better life if they were, this is one awareness campaign I feel honour bound to support.

If you’re wondering what on earth coeliac disease is, it’s an auto-immune condition that is reckoned to affect some 1% of the population, many of whom remain undiagnosed.  Left untreated, the malabsorption that is the result of coeliac disease can leave sufferers exposed to such nasties as osteoporosis, bowel cancer, etc, as well as fertility problems and, at a more basic level, some pretty unpleasant gastro-intestinal symptoms.  All because of the body’s response to eating or ingesting gluten.

The good and bad news about this, is that there is only one known treatment for coeliac disease at the moment, and that’s a gluten-free diet.  It’s good news, because it’s nice and clear.  It’s bad news because – despite how easy it can be to cater for gluten-free diets – so few places offer a decent selection of gluten-free food, or only offer it with a risk of cross-contamination that negates the good intention of offering gluten-free menu items in the first place.  And yes, cross-contamination is a real problem: I’ve been made ill in the past by a few crumbs lurking in the butter, for example, even though I’ve conscientiously followed a gluten-free diet for years.  It’s also slightly scary – and very frustrating – just how many products seem to contain gluten for no apparent reason, when a simple adjustment could make them safe for more people to eat.

While the quality of foods in the free-from aisle of the supermarket has improved a lot over the last few years, there are still manufacturers who appear to think that we ditched any sense of taste or texture on receipt of our diagnosis.  My carrot cake, for example, has beaten carrot cakes made with wheat flour in open competition, so I know from personal experience that you can make things as good as – or better than – their gluten-containing counterparts, if you try.  But you wouldn’t necessarily know this from some of the offerings out there, which are dry and crumbly and lacking in flavour.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not ungrateful, and I’m glad that these products are available, even the not very nice ones, because it is at least an option when you’re hard pressed to find anything to eat on occasion, and the poor quality can act as a catalyst for others to improve on what’s out there.  It’s a win-win of sorts.  But still.

Gluten-free food can be excellent.  At the risk of shameless self-promotion, ask anyone who has enjoyed a Suzzle cake, most of whom have bought the cakes without knowing they were gluten-free… and then come back and bought more.  It can be done, and without filling the food full of junk like soya flour, palm oil and ingredients known better by their number than their name.  So, for the next week or so, I’ll be using this blog to celebrate some companies who are making or supplying really good, gluten-free food, and making the lives of coeliacs like myself much richer and more enjoyable as a result.

In the meantime, if you’d like to know more about coeliac disease, please do visit the Coeliac UK web site, where you can find information, recipes and support the excellent work the charity does.