If you didn’t already know, I’m currently doing an Applied Drama module as part of my English and Drama course, meaning for the next 5 weeks I have to go and give workshops to the paediatric ward of the RD+E Hospital. Yes, that means that the majority of my working hours right now are spent sat in a workshop making a glittery space ship for the children to sit in, creating a space monster costume out of felt and deflated balloons, and cutting out 60+ children’s masks. But it’s not as easy and fluffy as it sounds. For one, the glue gun is fucking painful after a while.
I wanted to write about this because our very first session on the ward was yesterday, and we took it as a kind of test run for our ideas; we had no idea how many children we’d get in the session, we had no idea how old they’d be, and we had no idea how much of our allotted hour we’d actually get to use. Turns out the answer to all of these is: it’s going to be totally different every single week, meaning our plan needs to be totally flexible and adaptable every single week. This week, we started off with 3 children, only for 2 to leave, 1 to come back and leave again, and 3 to come in right at the end, when we’d finished all the activities we’d planned to do. To top it off, the huge kind of space ship control panel I’d spent 2 days making with the upmost care and love, broke in two with the loudest possible crack right in the middle of the quiet meditation section of the workshop.
But I didn’t really want to focus on all the things we shitted up on the day; I wanted to talk really briefly about something I noticed that really had nothing to do with our workshop – just something that took me back more than anything else. One of the children came into the workshop with her mum near the beginning, took one look at us dressed in our oversized novelty glasses and my fake monobrow, and started bawling her eyes out. Shit, I thought, we’re just scaring them. Not the desired effect. But it turns out her crying had nothing to do with us and our stupid costumes – she’d just had an operation, and was obviously in serious physical pain. Every time she’d come over to join in with an activity, she’d suddenly stop, her tiny body would seize up and she’d start screaming again. One of the most heartbreaking things I’d witnessed first person. But the extraordinary thing was the way she managed to calm herself down.
Whenever one of these fits of crying would occur, her mum would pick her up and tell her to take some deep breaths and calm down. And that’s exactly what she did. She would slow her breathing down, look upwards in concentration for a moment, and her body would begin to relax until she was comfortable again, and could continue with trying to join in. Given she can’t have been older than 3, she’d learned to completely take control of the obviously crippling pain she was in and overcome it by a simple command to ‘calm down’, in a room full of noisy children AND 3 terrifying looking girls dressed as scientists. I was literally amazed. People study meditation, self awareness, hyponosis etc. for years to do what she managed to do with such ease.
So I’m dedicating this post, and the recipe below, to possibly one of the bravest people I’ve had the honour to meet. I’ll think twice before wingeing about a shaving cut or a bruise on my bum from a night out, as I so often do.
The recipe below was originally going to be for the satisfyingly rich and wintery meatballs in slow cooked tomato and romesco sauce with a cauliflower, white bean and parsnip mash seen on my Instagram a few days ago, but I think this girl deserves something sweeter dedicated to her, so instead I’m giving the recipe for a tea-soaked spiced date and parsnip cake, based on the recipe in the River Cottage A-Z. It’s got a spicy, Christmas-is-coming-closer-but-not-quite-enough-to-justify-buying-mince-pies taste and smells unbelievable. It’s dead easy to make, so there’s no reason not to.
Tea-soaked spiced parsnip and date cake adapted from The River Cottage A-Z
150g dates, roughly chopped
150g hot, freshly brewed strong tea
150g butter, softened
100g light brown muscavado sugar
150g wholemeal spelt flour
1 tsp bicarb of soda
1tsp baking powder
Pinch of salt
1 tsp mixed spice
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
150g grated parsnip
- Preheat the oven to 150 degrees c, and grease and line a 20cm loaf tin. Soak the chopped dates in the tea for at least 20 minutes.
- Meanwhile, cream the butter and sugar together until pale and fluffy, before cracking in the eggs, one at a time, whisking vigorously to combine each time.
- In a separate bowl, combine the flour, bicarb, baking powder, salt and spices, before serving into the wet mixture and folding carefully to combine. Drain the dates, reserving the liquid for later, and add them along with the grated parsnip. Stir to combine.
- Spoon the mixture into the loaf tin and flatten with the back of a spoon. Bake for around 45 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean.
- Meanwhile, heat the reserved liquid until it reduces down to 2 or 3 tbsp.
- Either brush the cake with the reduced liquid, or poke small holes in the cake with a skewer and pour the liquid over (I did the latter to ensure the liquid reaches right down to the bottom of the cake).
- Allow to cool completely in the tin before taking out and consuming on mass.