When life gets in the way…

It has been a while, that’s for sure. When I first started this blog, it was as a bit of fun after a rough few years after the birth of my first daughter. I’d always been obsessed with cooking and baking, and Baps & Buns was a welcome escape from post discectomy chronic pain and the perils of parenthood. What I didn’t expect was that quite a number of other things were about to happen to us which would push updating this blog very much to the back of the queue. It’s only now that I feel that I am able to, and that I want to, write about it in any public way on this blog. I must warn you that it’s all got nothing to do with cooking!

First up was the death and subsequent delivery due to late miscarriage of our baby at 17 weeks gestation. The post mortem and myriad blood tests revealed that I suffered from the autoimmune condition Hughes Syndrome / APS, and it was this syndrome which was to blame for the loss of our precious son. Needless to say, it was a horrific shock and a terrible trauma to go through, something which altered us permanently from that point on.

We were encouraged to try again, during what then became a horribly stressful time because our then 4 year-old daughter was in the process of being diagnosed with Autistic Spectrum Disorder, specifically Aspergers. The process of her starting school, something which should have been wonderfully exciting, was full of dread, and quickly became disastrous.

And in the middle of all that, we were expecting another baby. Despite a treatment programme centred around Clexane, we lost the child, again at 17 weeks. The delivery and subsequent funeral (just me and my other half in the crematorium) were nightmarish in a new way. Those people who had struggled to find things to say to us first time reaaaalllllly didn’t know what to say when it happened all over again and the isolation we felt hit very hard. It was like a sucker punch just when you’d started to drag yourself up from the floor. It was hard to go on, but life relentlessly insists that you must; there’s no other alternative, especially when your only living child needs you.

Despite our assumptions, our consultant was adamant that she could achieve “a successful outcome”, and batted away our fears about it all going wrong for a third time. One of our bereavement midwives had previously remarked that the only thing which made anything bearable for parents was the subsequent birth of a healthy baby and we had begun to feel that she was completely correct. Thus, with a very deep breath and no optimism whatsoever, we agreed to give it one more go.

Life wasn’t about to let up. Our next shock was the loss of my beloved job. As I began the search for something new, there was always the thought in the back of my mind ‘but what if I get pregnant…’ – what a burden for a new employer. Looking back now, however, I am drawn back to the old cliche that everything happens for a reason. At the risk of boring you, I can sum up what came next: new job (amazing new boss), pregnancy (longest 9 months of my life filled with Clexane, aspirin and steroids), live birth at 37 weeks.

I sit now in the living room of our new home and feel every single atom of my good fortune. We have an almost 6 month-old daughter, and even though we never ever felt safe enough to dream for even one second that she was going to make it – I’ll apologise to her for that in the future – I am beyond grateful for the healing and the peace she has brought us. Complications and losses absolutely do enhance the miraculous joy of a baby.

Life is still testing and complex, and I can still find myself overwhelmed by the grief for the loss of the two precious children we will never have the opportunity to get to know. As our daughter’s personality emerges, I often wonder about just who we and the world have lost. The legacy of our troubles is varied; courtesy of 2 self-administered Clexane injections per day for 41 weeks, I now have a phobia of needles. But I am very glad to have been exposed to the work of the charity Sands and support groups for those with APS / Hughes, and will fundraise for them for the remainder of my life.

So that’s what’s been going on. I now hope to be reporting from the frontline of our new oven a bit more regularly. And it’s a beauty. Seven rings on the hob…good things come to those who wait?

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Auntie Margo’s rock cakes

An alteration in the treatment of my APS / Hughes Syndrome – more meds, many more meds – is rendering me seriously redundant at the moment. And that includes keeping me away from the kitchen. Unfortunately for my other half, that means that he has been subjected to lots of easy repeat meals and ready meals when he makes it in from work after a long day.

I did make a major effort today to put together a slow roast lamb shoulder – not that it takes major effort, of course. I managed to serve him the lamb accompanied by red cabbage, green beans and roast potatoes. It might have knocked me for the rest of the day – I haven’t moved off the sofa since – ┬ábut he was mightily appreciative of some proper home cooking.

Since I have been slogging along, I have turned instead to my cook books and to my archive, reading through to find some recipes I have missed to tackle when I eventually get back in action. And I came upon something I requested from someone a long time ago, but haven’t yet shared on the blog.

When I was young, I was looked after by a woman named Margo, an absolutely wonderful lady who I still call ‘auntie’ and visit to this day. Every day when I arrived at her house after school, I’d enter the back door to step right into a kitchen full of wonderful aromas and counters laden with home baking.

In addition to whatever she was making for her own family that evening – my dad would have long picked me up before that was served – she always had cooling trays and tins of homemade buns and cakes on the go, including shortbread, drop scones, regular scones, fairy cakes (with the proper ‘fairy wings’ on top), plain buns with raisins or chocolate chips and, my favourite, her rock cakes.

When I took my place at her kitchen counter, she’d let me have one of them halved and buttered along with a glass of milk. It was a really lovely regular treat, one I look back on fondly, and so a few months ago, I wrote to her to ask for the recipe.

IMG_7050She was as modest as ever in her reply – “as you know I’m no baker” – but take it from me, she could whip up delicious treats in no time with no need for a recipe. She was an absolutely wonderful home cook. And she had included her recipe for my favourite rock buns along with her version of queen cakes plus the lovely mince dinner she’d given to me when I stayed with her during school holidays.

I will keep the letter and the recipes in her handwriting for all of the rest of my life and I’m so chuffed to have them. She means the world to me and these simple little cooking memories are a surprisingly powerful source of joy. While I’m feeling a bit rough, I’m more than happy to indulge in this trip down memory lane.

A therapeutic chocolate (with a swirl of peanut butter) banana bread

We’ve had a rough time of late, hence the lack of any cooking action on this blog. Sadly, we lost another baby boy to Hughes Syndrome (APS) and I have been distracted by illness and, of course, the grieving process.

I have been dementedly trying to occupy myself, however, tidying and cleaning and working from home – anything to prevent me from sitting still, thinking about things and failing to cope with the day.

A very welcome distraction came when I spotted this sight on top of the microwave…

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Who could resist turning two blackening bananas and their soft companion into Nigella’s banana bread?

The recipe is one of my favourites – it’s from How to Be A Domestic Goddess – and I always tend to make the chocolate version which she details at the bottom of the page. I don’t bother preparing the sultanas with the rum and it has still never tasted anything less than magnificent.

This time, I needed to use up some Hershey’s swirled peanut butter and chocolate morsels, so in they went instead of the usual dark chocolate. Banana and peanut butter are a good combo, and it proved to be a very successful experiment.

I revelled in the smell of the kitchen as it cooked, and after cooling and cutting some generous slices, I finally dared to take a moment to sit still and enjoy it. Two days later, it’s going strong – and is especially nice with some butter on it, Northern Ireland-style (we love a bit of butter on anything).

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