Nightmares, Time Travel, and Chocolate Cake

I am a bad blogger, I have half-written posts whirling about in my head and none of them finished. I take photos of things with great bloggerly enthusiasm and then somehow the moment passes and I think you probably don’t want to see or hear about old stuff from the week before or even last month. Is blogging supposed to be in the here and now, is it ok to  backdate one’s blog life diary, even relate stories out of synch? How do you feel about this if you blog? How related to a personal timeline should a blog be? Would you as reader mind seeing photos of flowers that have now passed on to the great seed pod in the sky?

My favourite David Austin climbing rose

On a completely random note, I have just waded my way through the first of a two-parter on time travel set in the London Blitz by Connie Willis, called ‘Blackout’ and debating whether to read the second part; truth is I haven’t really engaged with the characters, maybe they will get more interesting if I wade through the second chunk of this.  The only thing I really want to know is whether they have to stay put in the 1940s or get back home; I always prefer it when people get back home in time travel stories.  I really liked an earlier story called’ Firewatch’ and her ‘Doomesday Book’ novel, which are all part of the same series, which is why I bought these two.  If you like time travel stories by the way, my favourite is one called ‘The Book of Kells’ by R A MacAvoy. I read the Connie Willis books because a friend of mine who is now dead, was a great fan of hers and so I read them for her and imagine the conversations we might have had about them once we had both read them.  We all have our own ways of remembering friends who are gone and this is what I do to comfort myself for the loss of this friend.

One thing I do know is that the book has given me nightmares of cities built out of red sandstone where the streets and buildings fall into holes in the ground and one can never find one’s way back to where one was, just keep on going and hope that somewhere, some place it makes sense. I know that this dream is in part derived from some of the passages in the book, but there are no bombs in my dreams, just huge clouds of red dust and buildings silently sliding into crevasses, of running up and down staircases, through courtyards, along passageways and corridors, pushing doors open and always looking for the people I have lost, out on the street, through a building here, round the crest of a hill there, I am exhausted when I wake up. Nightmares have a way of making waking reality preferable most of the time.

Baby Starling having a Think

In my waking reality today it is Sunday and grey and a bit chilly with this strange North Westerly wind howling about round these parts, so I thought that this could be a two slices of chocolate cake sort of a day. (Did you like the way I steered this post away from the  books I read and the madness of my dream life to food?)

I made this rather wonderful choc chip Victoria Sandwich cake last night and it was too late to eat it by the time I finally did the icing thing so I have decided that today I can have yesterday’s slice as well. Flawless logic as ever.  →The recipe is by Dan Lepard ← and can be found on the Guardian’s website for Friday 21st June. I have been thinking about chocolate cake for a while now and how most chocolate cakes these days are squishy and dessert like which is great but sometimes I just hanker after a cake that is not made of pure chocolate, butter, eggs but has flour in it, the sort of cake you can carry off on a plate to a chair somewhere and eat without feeling you have just consumed a box of artisan chocolates that were very nice but you wish you had only eaten two of them.

This cake is,  as promised by Dan in the recipe,  chocolatey but not overwhelming. It is light and moist with a slight tendency to crumbliness, which I like. After all there is nothing quite like chasing cake crumbs around a plate either decorously with a fork or more prosaically with a damp finger.

I used a few bowls in the making ; there was a worrisome moment on mixing in the cocoa batter into the creamed butter and sugar as it looked a bit weird but after that it all came together and I am more than happy with the result.  If I were to open my garden for National Garden Day this is the sort of chocolate cake I would make for my visitors, in fact I would be happy to make it for anyone who came for tea.

I used four large duck eggs and half and half light brown and dark brown soft sugar as I didn’t have enough of either, Green and Black’s cocoa, and some Lindt dark cooking chocolate and a rather expensive tube of Waitrose own brand chocolate chips.

My oven temps are slightly different from Dan Lepard’s. The equivalent of Gas 3 on my chart is 165 C so that is what I used and I reckon you need about half the icing quantity to do this cake, but I don’t like an inch of filling and icing, less is more for me but…

Dan Lepard's Chocolate Chip Victoria Sandwich Cake

…excuse me, I have cut this slice and am terribly sorry but I have to go and eat it before the mouse carries it away. Life is very hard sometimes.

47 thoughts on “Nightmares, Time Travel, and Chocolate Cake

    1. Joanna Post author

      Hehe ! I have to say that the excess icing was found by somone who spread a little extra on his piece last night on the basis that this was really two cakes and he ate the top piece first and then the bottom piece had no icing….

  1. heidiannie

    I do love you, Joanna!
    I do the same thing with books- reading them for friends/family that have gone and having imaginary conversations about them in my brain. I am constantly waking from one dream scene or another inspired by my night time reading- and a constant theme is looking for a way to get back to the safe and familiar places that contain faces that I love.
    Also- the bad blogger thing? That is a quandary I am everyday subjected to- I have the posts half written- the pictures taken- the recipes figured- but they are old- and I’m not sure if anyone would be interested anyway.
    The chocolate cake looks perfect!
    Eat two pieces and enjoy!
    Great post, my friend.

    1. Joanna Post author

      How lovely to strike a chord here with you Heidi. I re-read this and wondered on how strange it was to be posting my dreams, like I was sitting in a room somewhere with a counsellor, but sometimes the way to dispel the nightmares is to take them out in the light of day and just look at them properly and then they don’t recur. I remember nothing from last nght, so maybe it worked. The imaginary conversations too are helpful. My friend Betty would have adored blogging and messaging and all the social networking. She was from Alberta in Canada and worked in the college I taught in for several years and then returned to Canada once more. We had a long and good friendship, both here and then by letter and phone with visits every so often back and forth. Her passion for creativity was extraordinary, she wrote, painted, sculpted, sang at Church and was one of the dearest and kindest people I have ever known. And she always read the ends of books first, because she didn’t like surprises. And she would have approved of my cake too :) So now I have introduced you, I am sure you would like her.

      As to the bad blogging thing, well it is just a way of saying I feel ambiguous about the whole process, and that feeling never really goes away. Thanks for reading and writing back to me, have a good week, Jo x

  2. Misky

    For me, and yes, Molly concurs, sequence is immaterial. Who’s to know, besides you, that a beautiful blossom is sitting on the compost pile rather than on the bush as a photo might show. A rose is a rose no matter where and when it’s shared. Dreams: I no longer drink coffee before bedtime, and I no longer read novels before falling asleep. Instead, I read cookery books on my iPad, browse Amazon’s marketplace app, look at photos of Emma and Ethan. Cake: Oh, yes, please! xx

    1. Joanna Post author

      Dogs live in a sort of eternal present don’t they? Their memories triggered by smell and sound and to a lesser extent sight, but particularly when it comes to people I reckon a dog trusts its nose and ears. Smell and voice don’t change much, whereas us humans have this way of growing bigger and changing our clothes and hair and so on. I think I would find it odd to show photos of flowers as if they were now and they had gone, but I could always describe them as been and gone I guess. I think that because it follows a sort of diary form, with posts linked to dates that it makes me uncomfortable and I would know, even if the reader didn’t. I like the vision of you reading recipes in bed at night and looking at photographs. Have you found a comfortable way to use an iPad in bed? I find they are very awkward to hold. x j

      1. Misky

        We have those beds, 2 singles clipped together, where the head bit elevates and the foot bit does too. Makes reading in bed fabulous. Almost better than sitting in a chair! At the moment, Molly is sitting by the door waiting for Gabi to come home, but she’s not coming home here anymore, Molly. (Sigh)

  3. drfugawe

    It is lunch time here, and I eyed your lovely chocolate cake with great desire. I only recently broke a lifelong habit of eating something after dinner while watching my documentaries – as a student of behavior, I know that 2 months is a good gauge of success, and I’ve passed that mark. But now I realize a new problem, when during the day can I now eat my ‘legal’ desserts? I’ve never been one to have a dessert after dinner, and certainly not after lunch – I’m thinking mid afternoon – teatime! Somehow, it doesn’t seem right, but I guess with time, it may.

    Sorry, but your delicious cake got me thinking – enjoy a few bites for me.

    1. Joanna Post author

      Brian suggests cake for breakfast might be worth considering! I too am trying not to eat late at nght. Afternoon tea, or as they say in Germany, Kaffe und Kuchen, at 4 pm is always a good meal. In my childhood there was also a meal known as ‘high tea’ usually served to children at around 5 pm. Usually sandwiches and a piece of cake or something dessert like. I have been reading about Pomona pectin lately, have you tried that, apparently it uses calcium to gel not sugar, or the Ball freezer pectin (which a friend gave me from the US) which allows you to make fruit spreads with fresh fruit and very little sugar or an alternative sweetener that you can keep in the fridge or freeze. I made one with cherries and one with apricots this week, they are very quick and taste good and fresh. Would make a good dessert spooned over some thick Greek yoghurt.

  4. ardysez

    I don’t think it matters the sequence in which you post writings. In fact one of the (many) things that makes your blog a great read is that you write the way most of us think, I think! I often write drafts, mostly fleshed out, and then go back to tidy them when I have time. I do find that some of them don’t seem nearly as good an idea upon refection as they did when I had that first burst of inspiration, however, and just this weekend I ditched a couple. I do think the writing is therapeutic for me, though, so sometimes I’m happy with that and don’t need to publish or perish! I decided Life is too short to read books I am not really ‘into’… in fact I have a blog post I was working on yesterday about doing what you like to do, and not what you think you ‘should’ like to do! All that red dust sounds like a dust storm here in Central Australia, disturbing and well… dusty, and unpleasant.

    Now, about that yummy, scrummy cake you’ve made…. of course you should have two slices, and enjoy one for me if you will!

    1. Joanna Post author

      I don’t know if I think like lots of people but I guess the ones who come back and keep reading must be ones who are either amused or recognise something familiar in what I share. I resist the urge to ‘teach’ for the most part, though it creeps in sometimes in spite of myself. I have a huge pile of ditched books that I haven’t finished but for some reason, I kept hoping that the characters would become more fleshed out in this one and they are very very flat. The detail kept me interested, the descriptions of tying up parcels in the old London department stores and the kidney stew and so on, or at least interested enough to plough on to the end. I think of Alice Springs as very red, maybe looking at your blog has also coloured my dreams x J

    1. Joanna Post author

      What an amazingly spicy recipe, all those chillis! I have added that one to the list and will make them in the autumn or when the new pickling onions are in the shops. Congratulations to Sue !

  5. Celia @ Fig Jam and Lime Cordial

    I love reading your posts, and like Heidi, I love you too. Lots and lots. Sometimes I pour a cup of tea whenever I see you’ve written something and imagine that we’re chatting over a cuppa. I have oodles of backlogged blogposts that never got finished, maybe some day they’ll come out and be written, but probably not. I know exactly what you’re saying about chocolate cake – I found a chocolate pound cake that made me happy last year – lovely eggy moussey cakes are delicious, but they’re not proper chocolate cake. :)

    1. Joanna Post author

      Ready to face another week and nice to have some time to spare to chat back over our cuppas, what does it matter that we are half a world apart, sending love back, x Jo

    1. Joanna Post author

      I haven’t started it yet, but the title is promising ‘All Clear’ so maybe I will give it a bash this week :)

  6. Robyn

    Hello Joanna
    Your blog, add to it as the time/inclination suit you! No ‘right way’, no ‘shoulds’.
    Perhaps I’m not the best to make comment because I don’t always have time to read the many blogs I follow and sometimes do a catch-up (like watching a TV series on DVD!) so pay little heed to ‘now’ and as I’m in the southern hemisphere, northern blogs tend to be out of synch for me anyway.
    Cheers, Robyn

    1. Joanna Post author

      They do take on a certain life of their own, a bit like the fermenting pots of stuff in the kitchen, the blog sits there in cyberspace, saying feed me, give me fresh photos, give me new thoughts, I am lonely, I miss my readers and so on. (Did you know I was a little crazy?) Thank you for reading Robyn :)

  7. hotlyspiced

    That is a super looking cake and it must have a wonderful chocolatey flavour and it looks so moist. Perfect with a few raspberries on the side too. I don’t mind stories out of sync as long as I’m told when the story happened just so I can put the images into perspective – this is winter, this is from Spring etc xx

    1. Joanna Post author

      The raspberries are particularly good at the moment and I am eating small punnets of them, despite the allergic one wrinkling up his nose when he sees them. Yes, I could date the stories and tell them from a looking back sort of a perspective, you are spot on there.

  8. Ann

    I love reading all your posts Joanna – and I don’t care whether they are in sync or not. Though I do agree with the comment above that it would be a bit odd to have a story about being snowbound in July. Actually given the strange weather you have had this year it might not be so strange!
    I noticed that cake when I was reading the Guardian on line the other day and thought it looked yummy – it seems I was right. Dan does it again!

    1. Joanna Post author

      I know there are other cookery writers out there and I have lots of other baking books by lovely people like Pam Corbin, and Rachel Allen, Stephanie Alexander and more. I just like making Dan’s recipes for some reason, habit probably. I am pleased that you like reading my stuff and given the weather you are right we could yet be snowbound in July :)

  9. Anne @GtSlamseysFarm

    Proper chocolate cake that looks delicious. More times than not, the quantity of icing stated in a recipe is far too much for my taste but though I hate too much icing on a cake, I can quite easily eat the excess on a spoon as I clear away.
    I don’t think it matters if blogs aren’t in true date order.

    1. Joanna Post author

      Thanks for reading Anne! Those are the cook’s perks – the licking of the spoon and the checking that the chocolate is still good enough to go in the cake. I saved the excess icing for something but I see that it has been attacked by someone with a spoon already :)

  10. themondaybaker

    The cake looks lovely. I’ll be giving the Victoria Sandwich version a go at some point. I’m very partial to Victoria Sandwich, though it has to be the old fashioned kind with a good slab of buttercream filling that makes your teeth tingle. I’m also building up a decent sized collection of draft posts and photographs many of which will probably never be seen by anyone else. I don’t think it matters if your blogs aren’t “live” as it were – what matters is that you think it’s worth posting at the time that you post it. I love reading your blogs and I don’t mind seeing lovely photos of flowers that are no longer in bloom.

    1. Joanna Post author

      Wise words on posting what you think is worth it at the time, though there is always a little hesitation when you press Publish and usually I immediately spot a typo or two after I have done it, even when I have read it through several times before. Thank you for reading my blogs. I am going to look forward to seeing your VS soon!

  11. Suelle

    I hope the cake is finished now – Dan did say that it was best eaten the day it was made! I’m not keen on Victoria Sandwich cakes for that reason, but I would like to try his plain version, with it’s different method to the traditional. I just need a gathering of more people!

    1. Joanna Post author

      Haha! Of course it’s not finished! It’s a huge cake and there were only two of us here. It’s sitting in a nice plastic cake saver thingy at the moment. I thought it tasted just fine yesterday and it was a day old then. I think chocolate cake keeps better than the plain vanilla sponge sort which is the one Dan was referring to in his two part post I believe, but to be honest I am perfectly happy to eat old cake and old bread anyway. I am just not that fussy :)

  12. helenbeee

    your chocolate cake looks delicious!
    I have been preoccupied with chocolate cakes too doing a bit of research trying to find (I know you will be horrified by this) a choclate cake low in fat, sugar, cholesteral and carbs. Its been a bit of a challenge finding substitutes and a bit of cobbling together of ingredients and methods from various recipes. I baked my first attempt yesterday it didnt rise much but it was reasonably light though a little dry but that was me baking it at a temp that was too high. It was more a little more teabread than cake but it was rich in flavour and I think Im onto a good thing here just needs adjusting.

    Enjoy your week


  13. helenbordeaux

    your chocolate cake looks delicious!
    I have been preoccupied with chocolate cakes too doing a bit of research trying to find (I know you will be horrified by this) a choclate cake low in fat, sugar, cholesteral and carbs. Its been a bit of a challenge finding substitutes and a bit of cobbling together of ingredients and methods from various recipes. I baked my first attempt yesterday it didnt rise much but it was reasonably light though a little dry but that was me baking it at a temp that was too high. It was more a little more teabread than cake but it was rich in flavour and I think Im onto a good thing here just needs adjusting.

    Enjoy your week


    1. Joanna Post author

      Hi Helen

      I am not horrified at all by your preoccupation. Are you allowed to eat ground almonds, do they count as a good carb in your view? There are lots of nice cakes made using those instead of flour.

      There is a cake in Dan Lepard’s book Short and Sweet called the Alchemist’s chocolate cake, the original version of which can be found here, though it might have been modified by the time it was published in the book, and is very low in just about everything. It wasn’t my cup of tea particularly but it ticked a lot of boxes for some people who were looking for low in rich ingredient cakes. A chocolate tea bread sounds like a great idea!

  14. maree

    Oh Joanna, your cake looks wonderful and I totally agree with your logic regarding eating yeaterdays slice along with todays…makes perfect sense to me. I have just taken a sticky date cake with a caramel coconut topping out of the oven. I have not tried it before and the aroma of date, cardamon and orange blossom has filled the house. It is for desert tonight, but my husband wont be home for hours and I am debating if I should give it a little try. What do you think? Will he notice? Do I try now while it is still warm or wait it the topping is really crunchy? Perhaps I should just carry on with the ironing instead!!
    Thankyou for your lovelly posts…they always seem to strike a cord with me.
    Take care. MareeXX

    1. Joanna Post author

      Hi Maree, thank you, I hope your course ended on a note of triumph. I would personally wait to try the cake, because they usually slice better when cold, but it does sound beautiful! Are you going to have a blog one day to share photos of these gorgeous sounding cakes? I am glad you enjoy reading the posts and thank you for commenting, it is very kind of you, all best xx Jo

  15. narf77

    Sorry about the nightmares. I commiserate with you. As a small child I was prone to them and remember how awful it was. I am so tired now when my head hits the pillow I am practically asleep. Nice segue away from the dreams and books to the food by the way ;). No-one knows the sequences in your life apart from you. I have been guilty on more than one occasion of using older photos in my posts. Sometimes I do the equivalent of those revisited television shows in order to get a post out. I am one of those people who LOVES rich, dark, moist and unctuous cakes. Preferably full of fruit or nuts and that are full of substance. I don’t like fluffy light cakes covered in icing or overly sweet. My cake has to give me a lot of bang for my buck because I don’t eat it very often so it needs to be worth it :). After seeing the image at the bottom of your post I have NO idea how that cake lasted as long as it has! Here, it would have been heartily inhaled to the last crumb by breakfast this morning. Gorgeousness in a simple little chocolate brown dress. I am off to pilfer Dan’s recipe post haste. Can’t be missing out on a recipe that promises so much. Cheers for the share :)

    1. Joanna Post author

      Morning Narf,thanks for the empathy on the nightmares which are on a roll at the moment; last night no reading no tv, dug out old strip of flower bed most of day, so worked physically, removed many bits of builders’ rubble (still present after seven years of digging) slept like a log and woke up from horrendous London Transport system lost dream, tube stations, late for work (teaching, no longer do) and so on and so on. So I am in a nightmare cycle right now and it will stop soon enough. I view them with some equanimimty these days, unlike childhood, but they are tiring and that I resent, waking up feeling more tired and ‘unrestored’ than when I went to sleep. There is at least half that cake left, a person can only eat so much cake, well I can only eat so much, B can stuff it away like no tomorrow. He wanted to have it for breakfast yesterday. If you like rich dark moist fruit and nut, then maybe you would like this Christmas cake recipe of Dan’s. I remember it being fabulous! My pic in this post and recipe here.

      1. narf77

        I love anything of Dan’s and adore a good moist fruitcake. Mum used to make one of the best. Her brother worked for a cake and biscuit company (well known here in Australia) and managed to fandangle their most prized (and loved by Aussies) fruitcake recipe when put on the fruitcake gang one Christmas and wrote it down for his mum who then promptly made it her own (after whittling it down, it was for about 100 fruitcakes!). I have it tucked away somewhere but as mum used to make us all fruitcakes at Christmas and she has only been gone a Christmas I don’t feel much like baking it yet. I also love those stained glass cakes with lots of sticky glace fruit and nuts…YUM! I think B should be given the rest of the cake and told “GO NUTS!” :). I sometimes think that nightmares are your bodies way of cleaning out something that you aren’t dealing with. I had a lot of stress as a child and was powerless to deal with family problems and I had some horrific nightmares. My mind was trying to work through my stress in the only way that it could. Do you drink chamomile tea? Sometimes that’s a good idea or some warm milk and honey before you go to bed and to have your evening meal well before you go to bed. Other than that, as you say, they don’t last forever, they just set you up for a while. Hopefully they are over now for a while :)

        1. Joanna Post author

          One day I would love to hear more about your Mum and her cake too. I don’t know the stained glass cakes but they sound very beautiful. I haven’t been drinking my night herb tea lately, as I have been experimenting with a ginger, galangal and turmeric one whch is supposed to be helpful for aches and pains, but you are right I had better get back to the right night time herbs, (can’t drink warm milk). Thankyou for the loving thoughts and I am sure the nms will stop soon. :)

          1. narf77

            Turmeric is a stimulating and warming spice along with ginger and galangal…no WONDER you are having nightmares! The stained glass cake is called a St Hilda’s Stained Glass cake and is packed full of glace fruit and nuts. It only has 1/2 cup of flour holding it together and when you cut slices they look like stained glass…lovely and moist and packed to the brim with goodies. I adore it like others adore chocolate :). I will rootle out her recipe and will send it to you if you like, it was a small (now defunct) factories top selling fruitcake every single year when they made it :)

            1. Joanna Post author

              YES! I hear and will not drink it at night again !! and would love a rootled out recipe one day xx

  16. maree

    Hi again Jo,
    I was a good girl and waited till the beloved came home before attacking the cake…under his guidance of course. Yes it was yummy and I mean was, because there is very little left. I was pleased with my final assesment, even if the sugar casting decided at the last minute to fall apart and required a quick touch up with the blow torch. My course finishes this week and that will mean a tick on the old bucket list. Not sure about having a blog, maybe one day, who knows.
    Talk again soon.

  17. Jan

    Such a lovely rose is a joy to look at no matter that its bloom has faded or that the little bird has flown; it doesn’t matter that the chocolate cake has fallen into lip licking oblivion – they’re all parts of your life that I enjoy looking at and reading about. Nightmares are horrible especially those frantic running and hunting ones and I’m sorry you are going through a patch like that. But … I don’t think those books will be helping! Have you read Alexander McCall Smith’s ‘No 1 Ladies Detective Agency’. They have such gentle humour and lovely philosophy and guaranteed not to give you nightmares.

    1. Joanna Post author

      There are more blooms unfurling and the baby starling is still around, bigger and fatter and more adept at jumping on the feeder. The cake is indeed gone :) I think I have read that book but as I have forgotten it totally shall read it again. Lovely to hear from you Jan !

  18. Gillie

    I love time travel/dystopia/apocalyptic novels. My first book was a time travel book and it was only when I wrote it that I realised how flipping hard it was to keep everything and everyone in the right place at the right time! Oddly enough my father (a blitz boy in London during the war) has just copied me in on some correspondence with a historian about the Blitz. My father wrote letters to my first daughter (when she was far to young to read them but for her to read later) about his childhood, university days, early career etc. It was wonderful to read because I found out so much more about him. Silly little things that he put in the letters that wouldn’t normally come out in a general conversation.

    1. Joanna Post author

      Hi Gill, i imagine they can be quite tricky technically to put together as you say. Lovely to have your father’s letters to read for an alternative point of view.

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