Snow days are fun but only with the promise of a warm house and hot drink after. My local night shelter tried to stay open as long possible during these recent freezing temperatures so the homeless guests didn’t have to spend any time outside during the day. Run by churchgoers and volunteers, they do their best to try and help people get back on their feet. Freelance life and the knowledge that I didn’t want anyone to be out in the cold meant I could volunteer my time there at short notice, and so, donning my fanciest pair of pyjama bottoms and baggy jumpers, I set out in the snowstorm to walk to the shelter.
Fuelled by endless cups of tea, we sat down to enjoy each other’s company as the afternoon drew to a dark close. An ancient version of Trivial Pursuit was soon brought out of the shadows, surely donated by a kind, elderly churchgoer as most of the questions were best suited to anyone over the age of 55.
I felt pretty smug, like my history degree hadn’t been for nothing, when I answered my second question right in a matter of minutes, thus elevating me to ‘likely to win’ status – this time on a presidential leader. Slowly and unsurely, the name ‘Richard Nixon’ escaped my lips, sent there by an otherwise blank mind, and it turned out to be right. Cheers to you Nixon.
To which ‘mature’-aged homeless guest Trevor* lovingly retorted, ‘you’re like a bad ecstasy pill, nothing happens for ages then you come up all at once’. I’ve never been likened to the effects of a bad ecstasy pill before but I suppose he was on to something. I can usually be found worrying, drinking water, peeing or sweating, with a tendency towards feeling hyper or low. Even though I’d just started hanging out with Trevor, he’d described me down to a T.
Now, back to my fancy pyjama bottoms. They’re pretty hygge. Soft and warm with an unmistakably Scandinavian-inspired vertical flower pattern. Pretty chic. But apparently these paired with two baggy jumpers, unbrushed hair and mildly puffy eyes made Pam and her daughter Gemini think I was one of the homeless guests. I didn’t realise this until Gemini started gushing ‘you’re all amazing people and you deserve to be treated with respect and like actual human beings’ when we snuck outside into the snow for a cig together that she was referring to us homeless people. (And yes, they do deserve to be treated like humans, a million times over). Hilarity ensued as they thought they’d somehow seriously offended me, like I cared and wasn’t utterly amused that homeless chic was a look and I’d apparently and inadvertently nailed it.
Back home, I mused over what to bake for my dad’s birthday the following day. I felt like re-creating something comforting and reminiscent of childhood days, and I had been brimming with excitement a couple weeks earlier when I spotted blood oranges finally gracing the fruit stalls with their seasonal presence. Their ruby red flesh tastes better than any other fruit I’ve had, and they look aesthetic AF on baked goods. So I knew I wanted to incorporate them into a baked birthday present somehow. I thought about lemon curd tarts, a firm favourite of mine to sneak off the table as a kid. Was vegan curd a thing? Was blood orange curd a thing? Who knew, but I decided to make it a thing.
How gorgeous is the colour of that curd? Now, I would give you the exact recipe, but I hastily wrote it down as I was going along on an envelope that’s since been thrown away and I used more cornstarch than I’d like to admit. But hey, it’s not like you’d eat these mini tartlets all day every day. I can tell you that I used fresh blood orange juice and zest, lemon juice, cornstarch, cane sugar, hemp milk and vegan butter, and that it was simple and relaxing to make – how every baked birthday good should be.
After making a huge amount of curd, enough to fill 3 jars, (it does not last long but can be frozen for blood orange curd-y goodness throughout the year weyhey) I left it to chill overnight in the huge pan I’d concocted it in. The next morning, I sleepily but altogether excitedly plodded downstairs, expecting to see shiny glossy thick heaven, and what I saw was a beautiful sunset-coloured and sickly-sweet runny goo. A slurry of lemon juice with cornstarch and a gentle reheat saved the day, plus a few more squirts of lemon juice. I now had wonderful curd and Jus-Rol shortcrust pastry to go with it, which is vegan by the way, HELLO! All I did was use icing sugar instead of flour when I rolled it out, to make a slightly sweet pastry ideal for tarts or tartlets (what a lovely word).
Dazzling white snow was the perfect background to photograph my blood orange curd tarts on my old iPhone 5s, thanks nature. Looking pretty is of course not enough when it comes to food, but my No-Holds-Barred Nan and Dairy-Lover Dad both adored the curd and tarts, so that’s praise enough for me that I made a vegan dish right.
*Name has been changed.