Somewhat selfishly, going home often gets trumped by more exciting places. October meant four sunny days in Barcelona. Christmas was a narrow escape from the snow to Australian beaches. February half term, tea in Munich. Easter, Milan. This summer will be the first time back in Hereford for almost a year.
Home is a beautiful house with a flowery garden, an orchard full of chickens and a trampoline. Big airy rooms. Two sly cats looking to hop up onto a spare lap or an open newspaper. Always something baking in the oven.
But in two or in three, the big rooms echo a little. The dining table seems a little too long. We often end up on the sofa instead, a pan of Sunday-night risotto on the coffee table. Or in the new conservatory with fried eggs and green leaves.
Coming up the drive, lined with daffodils in the spring, I muddle through a tangle of emotions. Comfort, nostalgia, missing. Is missing an emotion? But by not going home, I don’t get to avoid that black hole. In fact, I miss out. I miss out on the familiar. This December, for the first time in years I had to cancel the Christmas Eve Eve tradition of biscuit making.
Five girls (although once one of them was so far away we had to bring a photo replacement) and batches of chocolate and speculoos biscuits to hang on the Christmas tree. Because my mother is Australian, and proud of it, we mainly used patriotic cookie cutters: kangaroos, sheep, the Sydney harbour bridge and opera house. The sheep would always tragically lose a leg in the cutting.
Someone would invariably end up with white flour handprints on their black jeans. There would probably be a mad dash around the counter chased by a demon with a flour shaker. Lots of dancing, lots of raw dough eating. By the time the trays and trays came out of the oven, we didn’t even want to look at the sugary morsels.
This year I’m hoping we can have a summer version of the biscuits tradition. Certainly a summer party: a strange jumble of friends and family milling around outside, eating strawberries, playing croquet. But it would be nice to have a flour fight again, to swap stories of all the grand events and small insignificant moments of the last year. To fill up the house with people.
I will bring my new cookie cutter to rival even the favourite kangaroo. A scalloped rectangle with a grid of letters to be inserted as you like, to spell out love and profanities. I can already see “Hello Sunshine” and “Minger” crookedly stamped onto hearts as we all fight to write our own messages.
Today, I made Alice in Wonderland EAT ME biscuits with a hint of cinnamon and cardamom, appropriate for May but dreaming of December. Sweet and sandy, backed by dark chocolate, they beg to be shared.
Alice in Wonderland cookies
makes about 35 cookies
140g butter, room temperature
125g light brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon/cloves/cardamom spice mix
pinch of salt
Blend the butter with a hand blender/food processor until smooth. Add the sugar, blend until incorporated. Add the egg, blend to a silky consistency. Stir in the flour and pulse the blender until large clumps start to form. Gently push the dough together with your hands into a ball. Divide into two balls and press into a flat disc. Wrap in clingfilm and cool in the fridge for a couple of hours.
Preheat oven to 180°C. Flour your worktop and rolling pin. One disc at a time, carefully roll out the mixture to an even thickness of about 1/2 cm. Stamp out your cookies with a floured cookie cutter. You might need to go over the lettering to make sure it is properly stamped. Place them about 1cm apart on a large baking tray lined with baking paper. Bake for 10 minutes. They will be just set and a light beige colour, not yet brown. Leave to cool.
Melt the chocolate in the microwave in a small shallow bowl. Dip the bottoms of the cookies in chocolate. Or if you have no lettering on top, dip half the cookies in chocolate for a contrasting effect.
The mixture will keep for a few days in the fridge, or a few weeks in the freezer, so you can make a batch at a time.