Banana and Cardamon – and 50th birthday parties #50in50

Many people suffer from seasonal mood variations and for some this can be a severe problem. I’m sure you will be aware of the term Seasonal Affective Disorder – a type of depression that comes and goes in a seasonal pattern. Over Christmas I read ‘The light in the dark‘ by Horatio Clare, who has seasonal affective disorder. It is a beautiful little book which he describes as ‘a refuge’, ‘a thing to do, something to put work and time into, a defence against the hopelessness’. Yes, it describes some of the darkness he experiences, but it also contains some exquisite descriptions of nature and the countryside. it is written as a journal, enabling me to read it in bite-sized chunks, and giving me time to think about what I’d read afterwards. I’m sure there are many people who, while not so seriously affected, find the winter months a bit of a struggle. I love the excitement and joy of Christmas and New Year celebrations and usually start the New Year on a bit of a high, full of anticipation for what lies ahead. For me this tends to dissipate fairly quickly as I remember all the stuff that needs doing that I had put off til the New Year, the weather (at least in the UK) is a bit rubbish and I go to and from work every day in the dark…. A running injury, a heavy cold and an endless supply of excuses, means that I’ve not been doing much exercise either and this definitely influences my mental health.

This year I did have something to look forward to – my good friend Emma celebrated her 50th birthday at the start of February with a party in Aberfeldy, a small town on the banks of the River Tay in Perthshire. Before the party we had time for a walk in the Birks of Aberfeldy – along the Gorge of Moness through the ‘birks’ (birch trees) to the Falls of Moness. The area was made famous by Robert Burns who penned ‘The Birks o’Aberfeldie’ in 1787, and it was absolutely magical on a freezing winter afternoon.



Here’s the song, in case you’re wondering…. Probably not written on a freezing day in early February

Robert Burns: The Birks of Aberfeldy

Now simmer blinks on flow’ry braes,
And o’er the crystal streamlet plays,
Come, let us spend the lightsome days
In the birks of Aberfeldie!
Bonnie lassie, will ye go,
Will ye go, will ye go,
Bonnie lassie, will ye go
To the birks of Aberfeldie?

The little birdies blithely sing,
While o’er their heads the hazels hing;
Or lightly flit on wanton wing
In the birks of Aberfeldie!
Bonnie lassie, will ye go…

The braes ascend like lofty wa’s,
The foaming stream, deep-roaring, fa’s,
O’er-hung wi’ fragrant spreading shaws,
The birks of Aberfeldie.
Bonnie lassie, will ye go…

The hoary cliffs are crown’d wi’ flowers,
White o’er the linns the burnie pours,
And, rising, weets wi’ misty showers
The birks of Aberfeldie.
Bonnie lassie, will ye go…

Let Fortune’s gifts at random flee,
They ne’er shall draw a wish frae me,
Supremely blest wi’ love and thee
In the birks of Aberfeldie.
Bonnie lassie, will ye go…

The party was fancy dress (Emma’s parties always are) – and many friends had travelled some distance to be there and made the effort to look suitably ridiculous. You probably know Emma, if not you almost certainly know someone who does; she has a massive circle of friends and pretty much everywhere I’ve travelled in the world I’ve met someone who knows her (not so much six degrees of separation, more like two in her case). Rather than birthday presents for her 50th, Emma asked for donations for a charity she helped establish – ‘Just Wheels’ which supplies wheelchairs and tricycles to some of the poorest and most vulnerable individuals in the world: disabled people in Tanzania and Malawi. Having a set of wheels helps disabled people to access education, work and a social life. The charity also supports the development of wheelchair and physiotherapy services to ensure ongoing support. Emma worked in Tanzania for some time and really understands the importance of a ‘good-quality, well-fitted set of wheels to enable a person with disabilities to participate in society’. If you are interested in taking a look at what the charity does, or even donate, there is a link here.

We ‘danced’ the night away to some fabulous 80’s tunes and all found ourselves feeling a little, how shall I put it? – jaded? the next morning (not to mention hoarse from too much ‘singing’). My fitbit reports that I did an aerobic workout lasting 95 minutes, burning 476 calories, including 47 minutes fat burn and 41 minutes cardio. Fun and exercise, what a bargain. Yep, a good party certainly lifts the spirits and I’m now ready to face 2019.

I can’t think why I hadn’t added cardamom to a banana cake before – this cake is ultimately comforting and perfect for a winter afternoon (highly recommended if you are feeling somewhat jaded)…..

Banana and cardamom cake

banana and cardamon

170g softened butter

5 cardamom pods

4 ripe bananas, mashed

50g caster sugar

2 large eggs

350g plain flour

1/4 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

2 3/4 teaspoons baking powder

~50ml milk

  1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees/160 degrees fan. Grease and line the base of a 20cm round springform cake tin
  2. Crush the seeds from the cardamom pods and mix into the bananas
  3. Combine the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing in well
  4. Fold in the mashed bananas. Sift in the flour, baking powder and bicarb and mix well. Finally stir in enough of the milk to give a thick batter consistency.
  5. Spoon batter into the tin and bake for 45-50 mins when a skewer comes out clean, covering with foil after 40 minutes if browning too quickly.
  6. Turn out to cool completely on a wire rack. Prevent anyone from eating immediately even though it smells so good (Mr McGregor dived in as soon as I left the room…..)

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