Clementine Cake

It is the last day of 2014. I counted that I only posted 21 times this year. (This will be 22.) That’s almost two posts a month, but still a far cry from the one post a week I am always aiming for, although, I guess, not a total disaster, numbers wise. I continued to blog whilst writing up my thesis (into a now first-draft-with-massive-corrections-to-do-stage) and interning and having things fall into chaos and confusion for several months. (Thank goodness for friends with spare rooms and sofa beds.) And now the year is turning once again and I am feeling all philosophical about life and living. I am fantastically behind on my thesis deadline – the holy grail of a three-year September hand-in has now passed and I am aiming for sometime in the summer (possibly late-summer), which will make me much closer to finishing near the four-year (be all and end all) deadline.

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I have been beating myself up about this failure-to-hand-in-on-time for a while now. I have always tried to do everything well – working hard (I will admit at a whole variety of careers, although everything has food as a common denominator), achieving good grades (although never being an all-A’s type student), surviving the four-hour cooking school finals, handing in my MA dissertation slightly early; never mind being a supportive/good/not-freaking-out daughter and sister. I never handed any essays in late, they were always done with plenty of time to spare. (I will admit to blowing off most economics revision until the absolute last moment and then learning entire syllabi in the week before the exam. I do not recommend this. Someone should have told me not to take economics.) And so I am quite surprised at my inability to write a decent thesis and get it finished to agreed deadlines. But mostly, the not-finishing has made me wonder about the pressure to finish in three years, preferably with publications. (My other failing, I am not yet published, although I have various articles in process and others in ideas form and I have presented at various conferences.)

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I am new to this whole higher education schemangle but the continuous pressure to write my thesis as fast as possible has made me wonder about the process of getting to the end. There is so much pressure on us to finish quickly, analysing and writing at top speed, that I think the process of completing a thesis (possibly the biggest and most stressful thing I will ever do), is lost in the rush to finish. This is exacerbated by the lack of jobs and postdoc opportunities and the hugely competitive market place. (See this rather funny essay on why you shouldn’t do a humanities PhD.) Don’t get me wrong, I love my research and I have loved my whole PhD experience – there have been opportunities to do the most amazing things whilst I have been researching (starting a community garden, travelling extensively, meeting interesting people, becoming completely immersed in academic discussions on food) and I find the whole ‘challenging my mind towards understanding’ incredibly satisfying. And, I am working towards publishing (hopefully loads) from my research. But sometimes, when I think of all the work there is to do, my lack of publication record, and the 9 months I have left, my heart constricts and I find it difficult to breathe. And then I am angry with myself again, both for not finishing already and also for not being able to enjoy the process.

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And yet, I am going to get it done. It may take longer than I expected and it may be harder than I could ever have anticipated but, by the end of 2015 (hopefully many months before), I will have handed in a thesis. More than that, I want to enjoy the process that leads to the end. The last six months of this year were chaotic, thesis-wise. After interning in the US for 6 weeks, I intended to come back, tie all the chapters I already had into a draft, write a conclusion and let my supervisor read the first draft. All by September. Instead, my grandmother became gravely ill, a summer fling ended, and I had no where to live for a while. I ended up being at home in South Africa for nearly 5 weeks between August and October, doing virtually no thesis work. But this is life, I guess. And I think, sometimes, when we are working towards a goal like a decent thesis, and life is getting in the way of productivity and progress, we forget that this is life. My thesis has to form part of my life, it cannot consume me. My family and friends (and all their important happenings and events and catastrophes) are as important as (dare I say possibly more important than) this work, and I think we have a tendency to forget this. I cannot continue to blame myself for life happening and taking part in it.

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Instead I have made a few resolutions, to start off the new year. Firstly, I am going to stop giving myself a hard time for taking longer to finish my thesis. And I am going to stop comparing myself to other PhDs who have completed their work faster than me (or better or with more publications or whatever). I am going to get it done. And I am going to accept that it is going to take more work, more revision, and more time. Secondly, I am going to get very organised. I have this tendency to avoid routine and planning, simply because I think I am good at it. I think, in truth, I am not and so I have hauled out a calendar for 2015 and added in dates, birthdays, important events etc so that I can work out exactly when I can work on my thesis and when I can work on other things, like this blog, and do work that pays money (the joy of being a 4th year means I have no steady income anymore). Thirdly, I am organising my blogging month by month. A new post will appear every Wednesday and I’m deciding at the beginning of each month what to make each week (and writing it onto the calendar so I don’t forget). That way, I don’t necessarily have to think about what to do too often. And I won’t panic that I don’t know what to make. Most of the recipes are ones I’ve had bookmarked or saved for ages and ages. I want to spend more time with this space and being organised about it I think will help. Fourthly, I am going to try to read one book a month. Something inspirational, maybe books on the art of writing and living or maybe just some trashy novels. Books that are not necessarily to do with my research. I’m starting with Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. Lastly, I am going to remember to remain perfectly calm and take deep breaths. Even when all seems overwhelming. And I shall try and do more exercise and possibly yoga. (Doesn’t everyone have that as their resolution every year?)

I started the inspirational reading this week with a few articles online about life and living. The ones listed below have been the most helpful so far – reminding me that all is not lost from being slighter slower than the pack, and that sometimes, good work takes time. (And, in my case, many many deep breaths.) Mostly I am resolved to enjoy the process of getting to the end, however long (and however much sweat, blood and tears) it takes.

Brain Pickings: 7 Things I Learned in 7 Years of Reading, Writing and Living

Vulture: 10 of the Best ‘Dear Sugar’ Advice Columns

The Thought Catalog: This is How We Date Now

Holstee: The Holstee Manifesto

Explorations of Style: The Craft of Revision

I have also been listening to Stephen Fry read Harry Potter. Because, really, Harry makes everything better.

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And of course, because this is a food blog, there is cake. The mothership asked me to make this last week but I never ended up doing so. (We had a ‘duvet day’ on the 26th, the day I was supposed to make it. She and my sister managed to watch the entire first series of True Detective whilst I pottered about – I have lost the ability to stay still and concentrate on TV shows it seems – slept, and then went out. And we had too much food leftover from the 25th to really consider making anything other than the obligatory chicken and ham pie.)

So I’ve made it for the New Year instead. This is a fantastically seasonal cake – all gooey, moist (yes, I said it), damp, almost sour citrus with a slightly grainy texture from the ground almonds. There is a lot to be said about cake with four ingredients. And it’s gluten and dairy free too, for those of you making weird diet-related resolutions in the new year. It keeps well over several days and may even be better on day two. Best eaten just by itself, it will also work as a dessert with creme fraiche or ice cream… I like it while still a little warm from the oven.

Clementine Cake

Adapted from Nigella’s Feast

4 small clementines (you need around 380g worth)

250g ground almonds

220g golden caster sugar

6 eggs

The process of making this cake is reasonably simple. Essentially, you boil the clementines in water for around two hours until they are soft. I put a cartouche over mine (a small round-ish piece of parchment held down by a saucer) so that the clementines would be evenly immersed in water. (They float and so part of their flesh is otherwise exposed, pesky little things.) This worked well and I topped up the water after an hour and kept them so they were simmering, rather than rapidly boiling. You then leave these to cool. (In my case, for a few hours in a sieve in the sink, whilst I went grocery shopping to get the remaining ingredients. See, organisational skills need work.) Once they’re cool, slice them into smaller pieces and blitz them in a food processor until smooth. (If you have a food processor of magnificence, feel free to blitz them whole, but mine is teensy tiny and so I sliced them first and blitzed them in two batches.) Then whisk the eggs and sugar together until combined – no need to put much air into this. Add in half the ground almonds followed by half the pureed clementines. I whisked these in but I suspect a wooden spoon would do the trick just fine. Repeat with the rest of the almonds and clementines. Pour into a 23cm round cake tin, with a piece of parchment lining the base. Bake at 180C for approximately half an hour. The cake will be risen and golden but a skewer inserted should come out clean. When I checked the first time, thinking the cake looked done, the knife came out with batter still attached, so I had to put it back for a while. Allow to cool completely in the tin before turning the cake out and dusting it with icing sugar to serve.

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And now for champagne to toast out a terrible year!
Happy New Year all!

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