English Cherry Cake for the English St. George’s Day. Happy St. George’s day, England!
Serves 12 – 16
280g self-raising flour
225g brown caster sugar
100g place cherries
2 tsp baking powder
Preheat oven at 160C/gas 3/320F. Cut the cherries into halves and coat them lightly in flour, so they don’t sink when you mix them in the batter. Lightly grease 8″ cake tin.
Whisk butter and sugar in a large ball until creamy, then add eggs one by one and mix well. Once smooth, add the flour and baking powder and whisk until combined well. Then add cherries and mix some more.
Once happy with how smooth and even it looks, pour the mixture into the greased cake tin and bake in the oven for 1 1/2 hours or until skewer or fork comes out clean. Take the cake out, when ready and leave it to cool for about 10 minutes and then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
Serve with cream, clotted cream or vanilla ice-cream and enjoy just like we did today.
Today is March 8, International Women’s Day. The first time this Day was observed was not that long ago, 1909 in New York on February 28, but it was not until 1914 that March 8 was set as International Women’s Day. Throughout the past century or so there has been many controversies, marches, political arrests, scandals, bans, strikes and protests starting on or around this day but I will not go through the history and discuss them.
Instead, Dear Women, I would like to celebrate all of you I have been fortunate enough to have in my life. You took part in my life at various times and occasions, some only once, some more than once and some of you came in and became a constant ingredient of my days. You are spread all around the world, living and working in some of the most dangerous places on the planet, places like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Mali, Uganda, South Sudan, in Sri Lanka, Kenya, Bolivia, Kosovo, Bosnia, Jordan, Nepal, Japan, Serbia but also in places like Germany, UK, Ireland, Australia, France, US, Greece…
Many of you went through hell and back in your lives. You were political prisoners, victims of domestic violence. You were subjected to intimidation, gender, ethnic and racial discrimination and violence. You survived attacks, rape, miscarriages, exile and displacement, loss of your dearest ones to senseless crimes… but you won all the battles.
Each and every one of you goes through your everyday lives with admirable endurance, bravery and strength and you are committed to making the world a better and safer place through your personal actions, immensely difficult jobs and immeasurable love and dedication. And you always, always do it with a smile.
Every one of you is my inspiration and I consider myself exceptionally fortunate for being given an opportunity to cross paths with you, to work and learn from you and enjoy your company. I am tremendously grateful for that.
A friend of mine asked me once, ‘Don’t you hate?’ and I said, ‘No.’ I gave up hate. I had to. It was the only reasonable thing for me to do in order to raise my children as decent human beings. The only reasonable thing for me to do in order to be able to raise my children as decent human beings.
I hated. I did, with passion everything that was connected in any sense with the place where the attackhappened. The country, its people, its food, mementoes, the memories, I hated it all. Dozens of scarves that I bought there, rugs, books, I gave almost all of them away. I believed that I’d never wear or use them again and I hadn’t, for a long while.
Initially, I was busy with grief, guilt and rage.
The time stopped, my little universe was shattered in thousands of pieces and I was in a complete dark. Dungeon. Pitch-black all over and all I could do was feel my way around searching for something. A light, a twinkle of hope that somehow I was just stuck in a terrible nightmare and that I needed to wake up. Somebody had to wake me up. I WILL wake up! There is no other way!
Then, I went through the surgery. It gave me the initial push to start moving again and reach out of the dungeon. I went through the physical recovery, physiotherapy and I despised it because I had to be among other people, speak to them, answer their questions, pretend that I cared about what they said when I didn’t.
I hated it all and I hated myself.
The time passed. Life started happening again.
I travelled, started a relationship and joined my efforts in recovery with my soon to be husband. We were there for each other in every way. Able to understand and support one another, to leave each other in peace and silence when we needed it. I’m the silent type while my husband is a talker. It was a bit of a difficult match at the beginning, especially because I had the notorious passive-aggressive approach to personal relationship matters for most of my life. It took me a terrorist attack to break that cycle too. (Yup, you got it, I learn the hard way).
Anyway, my soon to be husband and I had a lot more going for us, so the differences between silent vs talkative type were not a dealbreaker. Our relationship was the front line against the cycles of misery, rage and hate that both of us created for ourselves respectively.
‘I will permit no man to narrow and degrade my soul by making me hate him.’ – Booker T. Washington
I am not a hater. My parents didn’t raise me that way. Hate is unnatural and uncomfortable feeling for me. Yet, I felt it and wore it without thinking of it too much. What burst the hate bubble was a week of another emotional earthquake that shook me only eight months after the attack.
We set the date for our wedding and although I hadn’t had a great relationship with my dad, I was still excited to share the news with him. I knew the news would make him happy and it did. Dad started making different plans straight away. Two days later, he called me back but I missed his call. Another two days and we found out I was pregnant with our first child. The following morning my dad passed away. I never returned his call.
Although the relationship I had with my dad was weak and shaky as we rarely saw each other and we didn’t really talk much, certainly it was far from hate. The news I received was sudden, unexpected and devastating and one thing that it did was deepen my feeling of guilt.
All I could think of were good memories I had with my dad growing up. The thick snow on the ground, big beautiful snowflakes quietly falling while my dad is pulling the sledge explaining the nature to me. How we collected conkers together for my school assignment while dad talked about chestnut trees and answered my questions about anything and everything. How we chose books to buy and talked about them after reading them together…
As a contrast, a memory of us sitting on the roof during the attack became a constant. We were sweating, sitting on the tiled floor in the blood puddle, listening to the noise of bullets and RPGs. A helicopter that was sent to extract us had to pull out because the shooting in and around the house intensified. We could only wait as we had in the previous few hours. My husband now sat next to me with tourniquet high up on his arm but still bleeding. We were all quiet when he put his hand on mine,
– We gonna get out of here, you know.
– I know – I said, thinking – No, we won’t…
We went quiet again and just sat there. I felt as if I were detached from my body sitting on top of the water tower, watching us in pain and fear but calm, tired and waiting. The day was bright and hot. Mum… Would I see her again, have coffee with her or laugh with her again? When was the last time I told her I loved her?
Going through all these files of memories when my dad passed away unlocked the door that I shut tight and chained after the attack. Plus, pregnant?! I’m going to have a baby! We’re going to have a baby! It felt as if the missing piece were put in the right place in the puzzle and the whole puzzle illuminated, revived me. I felt ready to get up, brush my teeth and start the day.
‘A baby is not the answer’
Broken relationships cannot be patched-up with babies, we know that, but this was different (how many times have you heard that?). I never thought I’d say this, but the baby was an answer. It patched-up broken relationship between myself and I. At the time, I was nervous, worried, insecure and although I said after the attack that I’d not have children, the knowledge of the new life that we created rekindled me. It was the best surprise ever – there is a new life within me that bears my new self.
As if I pulled the curtains and opened the window, the light was back in and I took a deep breath of fresh air. I could see my life in a perspective again. The road opened up ahead of me and I could stop going in circles now. It was the time for me to focus my energy on creating and nourishing my new life instead of hating the old one.
The only reasonable thing for me to do was to give up hate. I had no energy or time for it anymore and it was not an option. ‘New’ was the word of the day and we decided to live it. Nothing represents the New better than the change of environment, so we changed countries and distanced ourselves from our triggers.
I gave up hate to recreate myself and build a new life for us.
We closed the first book in a series and opened the second one. The clean sheet before us, quill in hand.
Photo: ‘Embryo’ by Bisa Jelisavac. Farewell gift from a family friend before we moved back to the UK.
Today is my little anniversary that I love to mark for more than one reason. Seven years ago on this day, I stopped smoking and I haven’t had one cigarette since then. How is that such a big deal? To me and to anyone who knows me, it is a humongous deal!
I was one of these passionate smokers who never left the house without a new pack of cigarettes. The content of my purse was always keys, phone, money and cigarettes and lighter. My morning coffee with cigarettes was almost an hour-long ritual that was not to be interrupted unless there was a matter of immediate death. Even then, only if I really cared about the dying person. Like really cared.
A cigarette after meal another favourite of mine. Or after hard physical work. With a glass of wine at the end of a long day. Not after sex, though. It spoiled the moment for me. Going out, drinking with friends and end up waking up with nicotine hangover worse than the alcohol one? Bring it on! Terrible morning feeling, but always a great night before.
To all the usual ‘smoking is bad for you, it shortens your life, it is horrible, stinky, filthy habit’ I always responded with ‘I love to smoke, I enjoy it and please leave me alone!’ I was devotedly smoking for eighteen years. Then, December 2009 came, I was working in Afghanistan and, after nearly a week of feeling badly ill and realising that it is more than just a case of serious food poisoning, so frequent in that part of the world, I went to the doctor and found out that I contracted parasites and typhoid. That week I lost 7 and in the next two weeks another 5 kilogrammes. I was weak, exhausted, couldn’t concentrate and all I wanted to do is sleep. Not good when you are working on your project portfolio for the next year that needs to be submitted in the first week of January.
The treatment of my undesired guests consisted of three different courses of antibiotics that altogether lasted for 28 days and amounted to about a million milligrams in total. Daily, I was taking between 3,500 and 5,000 milligrams of antibiotics depending on the course. That killed not only parasites and Salmonella Typhi bacteria but also all the other, so-called, good bacteria that sit quietly in the corners of your intestines and play with pets or read books at the party.
Anyway, in order to recover from all that and rebuild my physical strength, I had to start an intensive workout and good, balanced diet packed with protein and fibre. In addition, I was not to drink any alcohol for about six months but I was to consume plenty of dairies, especially yoghurt.
It was this diet that made cigarettes unpalatable, disgusting. I never tried to stop smoking before. As a matter of fact, I never wanted to. All of a sudden, I reduced from smoking, at least, one pack of 20 cigarettes a day, to maybe 4 or 5 and even they tasted and felt foul. That was also the moment when a friend of mine gave me Allen Carr’s Easy Way To Stop Smoking book and said it worked for him to help him stop smoking. I was sceptical, yet decided to give it a go. It was evening, sometime after dinner and I was reading the book and smoking. The author actually instructs the reader to smoke while reading his book. It is quite interesting, really.
What I think happened was that the book managed to tip me over to the other side, the non-smoker side. But I wasn’t enjoying smoking anymore. It was really a pure habit and I was smoking because that was what I usually had been doing for 18 years. I was thinking what am I going to do when I go out, how am I going to have a drink without a cigarette. Or coffee? How the hell am I going to enjoy my morning coffee without my cigarettes?! The truth was, I was ready to stop. All I needed was a little nudge and that is exactly what I got. The timing for that little bookish wrap up was perfect.
Now, maybe this method is a tiny bit unconventional and I can’t say that I would recommend it. How do I stop smoking? Well, first things first: parasites and typhoid. If you want to hit it hard, go straight for typhoid. One month of heavy-duty antibiotics, physical weakness and speedy loss of weight and you’re done. Congratulations, you are a non-smoker! Somehow, I don’t see it catching on. On the other hand, it is a highly effective method, no doubt about that.
So, finally, why do I celebrate this anniversary? Because I can take a deep breath without feeling dizzy again. Because I don’t cough anymore and I can actually smell and taste food again. I celebrate it because it is one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life and it makes me feel amazing!