As a child I used to draw and paint happily and unselfconsciously – I imagine my mum still has loads of my old scribbles stored away in the loft. I recently found one picture of a fairground that I can remember drawing – looking at it I am immediately back as the 6-year-old me, sat at a little table clutching my felt-tip pens. I’m not sure when this love of ‘creating’ vanished, but certainly by the time I got to senior school I knew for sure that I was just no good at art. This always seemed a shame as my aunt is a very good artist and I just wished I had inherited some of those arty genes. I did develop a love of fabric dyeing and used to tie-dye t-shirts and scarves, although I also stopped doing that after I started work and splashy, messy clothes seemed less appropriate on the wards……
More recently I have had a yearning to do some more arty stuff and went on a course to learn how to do basic lino printing, an art form I have always loved. I was absolutely delighted to find I could make things that look kind of OK. I started the course feeling like that embarrassed schoolgirl in the art class who knows she is no good and ended up really proud of what I achieved. I have made a few linoprints for our house and given a few as gifts to friends who seem happy to display them on their shelves (at least when I am visiting). Although my designs are mostly copied at the moment, the activity of creating them gives me a great sense of satisfaction. My youthful experiences meant that I was interested to read an interview with Jackie Morris, a brilliant painter, illustrator and author in which she reveals that one tutor at university said ‘your attitude is as substandard as your work’ while another noted that it was good that she wanted to learn, as she ‘didn’t have much talent’. This struck a chord with me – although I am not sure anyone actually said I was talentless, that was certainly how they made me feel. And Jackie was determined enough to prove those tutors wrong and make a career of it. While, obviously I do not have Jackie’s talent, I sure am going to continue to make things that I like.
Having mentioned Jackie, in case you don’t know her work, I first came across it in a book she created with the author Robert Macfarlane – The Lost Words; A spell of words. The book came about when she was asked to sign a letter expressing concern at the omission of a number of common ‘nature’ words from the Oxford University Press Junior Dictionary. These included words I thought would be very familiar to children – such as bluebell, conker, heron, acorn and kingfisher. Instead, they are all, apparently, disappearing from common usage. It’s a beautiful book, combining Robert Macfarlane’s words with Jackie’s beautiful illustrations – and there have been various crowdfunding campaigns to get the book into as many schools as possible. Follow the link above to get an idea of just how lovely it is.
Pictures by Alexander Klarmann, Sean McGee and Vincent van Zalinge on Unsplash
My recipe for this ginger cake is based on Harry Eastwood’s ‘Stem Ginger Syrup Cake’ from her Red Velvet Chocolate Heartache cookbook. It’s gluten free, low in sugar and fat and has a load of butternut squash in it. And it tastes delicious! Could it be the perfect cake?
The perfect ginger cake (pdf: The perfect ginger cake)
2 large eggs
50g demerara sugar
250g finely grated butternut squash
150g white rice flour
100g ground almonds
2 teaspoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 tablespoon stem ginger syrup
5 balls of preserved stem ginger (~60g), finely sliced, plus some more for the top
- Preheat oven to 180 degrees/160 fan, gas mark 4. Line the base of a 21cm springform tin and grease lining and sides
- Whisk eggs and sugar in a large bowl for about 5 minutes (yes, that long)
- Whisk in the butternut squash and then add the flour, ground almonds, ground ginger and baking powder and mix well. Stir in the ginger syrup and sliced preserved ginger
- Spoon into tin and bake for 30 minutes
- Leave to cook for 10 minutes before removing from the tin. Arrange the ginger slices on the top