Last year I was over the moon when I spotted that Marian Keyes had brought out a cake baking book. I have read her books and love her sense of humour. The books are perfect for taking away on holiday and whiling away the hours on a sunlounger! The last part of the previous sentence doesn’t always ring true. After all when you’re a parent who does get to sit on a sunlounger on holiday, though you can dream can’t you? Marian Keyes’ books are perfect though as pure escapism.
When I picked up the book Saved By Cake I was in the middle of my local Sainsbury’s in Harrogate. It was a quick shop for me on my day off running around the supermarket picking up cake ingredients for an order I had to fulfill that afternoon. I thought I would get an early lunch in Starbucks then head home to start baking. Coffee in one hand, I sat down in Starbucks and started to look through the book. The introduction leapt out at me because staring at me in the face was Marian Keyes going through a lot of the things that I had been going through.
My Story- Dealing with Depression
If you have started to read this post and you think that it is “all in the mind”, “you should pull yourself together” or that “you should think yourself lucky, you have your health!” then you obviously have never had depression. Stop reading right now. Or you can choose to read on and might get an inkling of what is like to suffer from depression. I am not going to go into all the ins and outs of depression, only I wanted to share my story and how baking and also cross stitch helped me to get through the black tunnel I found myself in sometimes. Depression does not favour people rich or poor, young or old. I know some people can be more prone to it than others but I am passionate about making ignorant people more aware of what it is like to suffer from depression.
As with most women I suffered with PMS before I had my two teenage children. I did get the odd day of feeling low, underconfident, fat, bloated and ugly which only lasted about 3 or 4 days prior to my period starting. My problems with depression started after the birth of my children.
Please for one moment don’t think that it was my children who made me feel depressed. Along with my husband they are the best things that have happened to me. I feel utterly privileged to have them in my life and they have always brought me great joy even though they do have their ups and downs just like any normal family. My depression was down to how I felt about myself, my abilities as a mother, a wife. I still feel as if I am a useless fat lump and what on earth does my husband see in me? I also felt inadequate against other people: people who are more popular, more talented, slimmer and this in turn made me want to turn in on myself to be on my own. Then again, I would protect myself from feeling even worse. I even used to avoid nights out or girlie weekends away when I was in a bout of depression as even though I loved all my friends dearly, I just felt hopeless and they just wouldn’t understand how I was feeling.
This is when I discovered baking when I was at home with my children. I had loved baking as a child, stood up on a chair pulled up to the kitchen worktop, hands covered in flour making jam tarts with my mum. One of my favourite smells ever is the smell of gingerbread men baking in the oven and that immediately transports me back to childhood. This is why my Sam’s Smart Cookies logo is a gingerbread man design. This early interest in baking soon disappeared big style when I started at secondary school in the Home Economics lessons. The teacher didn’t like me and was always breathing down my neck. She chastised me for being slow in the lessons, which was mainly down to the lack of a left-handed peeler when I was trying to peel apples to make apple crumble. She then stood over me when we were making fairy cakes so much so that I dropped my egg on the floor with nerves. So, as Mrs Dragon Features thought I was useless at cooking, then I thought I must be and I stopped doing it. That was until I became a mum myself and found myself trying to bake cakes for my daughter’s birthday party. It was a wonderful moment for me and made me realise here is something I CAN do and it kept my mind occupied. The same went for cross stitch. Focusing on my latest cross stitch project and knowing I had that to look forward to made me feel a million times better.
When my son started school my depression returned like a black cloud. To begin with I relished the time at home on my own, the house was clean and I could indulge in my cross stitch and baking hobbies. After a while though, as I had no money I felt depressed. I felt as if I had nothing to offer any more as I had given up teaching full time when my daughter was born and had gone back to do supply until my son was born two years later. Once the two of them were around it just was not worth two lots of childcare, we did not have family locally to help out and I had to give up my job. I felt as if I was on the education scrap heap as one headteacher told me at an interview that I had been out of the profession too long. I baked my way through my son’s first couple of years in primary school, if there was a local fair or coffee morning, you bet I donated some cakes. At least I felt as if my life had a purpose!
Finally I got a job as a teaching assistant which gave me another focus in life. I was delighted at last to be earning some money. I still have this job nearly seven years later but now cover the class I work in as a supply teacher as well. I do get odd bouts of depression, mainly when there’s lots going on in life and I did have a downer when my son started high school. I think it was because I would never have that aspect of taking my children to school again and I thought my baby’s all grown up now! I began to turn my baking into more of a business and now take orders for cakes and I have the odd stall when it fits in around my job and home life.
The other thing in my life to cheer me up was joining The Clandestine Cake Club last year. That has given me a lot of pleasure, making new friends who I have something in common with and also the events give me something to look forward to in this chaotic mad world we live in nowadays.
Marian Keyes’ Saved By Cake
Marian’s frank and honest introduction to her book explained about her battle with depression and how she felt to have it. She then went on to say how her love of baking came about, by baking a cake for a friend that was visiting. She enjoyed it so much that she went on to bake another and another! She ended up baking for others as she couldn’t eat it all herself. This was exactly how I felt when I baked at home, I would take cakes into school for my children’s teachers, I would donate to coffee mornings, we would eat it at home and I would gain weight! I enjoyed every moment of it and when I baked I felt as if I had actually achieved something. Something I could be proud of. I might not have continued “properly” in the teaching career I had originally but I felt like I was doing SOMETHING.
My first attempt at making one of the recipes from Saved By Cake was actually one of the very first recipes I baked for my family when my daughter was one year old. I had always loved Sunday roasts although I used to buy a ready made pudding. After all my cookery teacher at school had said I was a messy cook and I couldn’t do it properly. I had never attempted any puddings after that until I thought well why don’t I try an apple crumble and see how I get on?
Marian’s recipe is actually for Rhubarb crumble but my children don’t like it so I substituted eating apples and a teaspoon of cinnamon and reduced the amount of sugar mixed in with the fruit. She describes the recipe as “a pure delight to make because it is so quick and easy, you just fling everything into the dish and it all cooks together, fruit and topping”.
First I peeled,cored and chopped 900g apples and placed them in the bottom of an ovenproof dish. I sprinkled cinnamon and caster sugar on the top of that. The topping was made with butter, sugar, plain flour and porridge oats rubbed together. It was put on top of the apples and baked in the oven for about 40 minutes. Served warm with custard, it was a real treat and not too dissimilar to the apple crumble I baked for my family as my first foray back into baking 14 years ago.
I think baking, along with other crafts and hobbies is really therapeutic and should be available on the NHS! I hope you all enjoy baking as much as I do and it is lovely to have made so many friends who share my love of my “addiction”.
Lots of love Sam xx