Marble cake: When home is a place you carry with you

For most of my post-university adult life I have lived abroad, away from my family and the place where I grew up. It started the year I turned 21, when I left to work in London for a spell. Then I went home and came back to Edinburgh. Then I went home again and came back to Nottingham. I’ve lived here now for 8 years. We have just bought a house here (got the keys on Friday!) The longer I am away, the less often I visit. Life gets complicated. There is only so much holiday to take each year and it must be shared out with other family commitments.

But, despite having lived away for so long, I still refer to the country of my birth as home, and my use of the word ‘home’ has had me wondering. Whenever we visit, I talk about ‘going home’ as if I now live some place other than ‘home’. What does that mean exactly? I have lived in this city longer than I have lived anywhere continuously since I was about 14. And yet this city has not felt like our true home. I still feel like a visitor, someone whom at any moment might pack up and leave for somewhere else.

Maybe that will change now that we are putting down roots. This weekend we have been choosing paint colours for the living room, mooching around outside in our backyard, talking about our potential cat, making friends with the neighbourhood kids.

I saw a counsellor this week, to talk about various things, and she asked me: if you were told you only had three days to live, what would you do? I knew my answer immediately. I would grab the Princess and A-, and hop on a plane home, to be with my family.

It is funny how, when it comes down to it, life is really about family, friends, love, relationships, sharing, and community. I battle a lot with work anxiety. But when I think about the bigger picture, work is not really a factor. It falls away, far down the list of things that I consider truly important to me.

Of course now, connections are easier. This week I facetimed a cousin to catch up. It was her daughter’s birthday and we talked as I was walking to get dinner. They couldn’t believe how light it still was here. (We are entering that most blissful time when it is not really dark at all, one of my favourite times of the year.) We have a family group on WhatsApp where we constantly send photographs and stories about our lives. I love it.

But as I’ve been thinking about this life beyond work success, I have realised that becoming more mobile in my work is increasingly important to me. I want to be able to take off for three months and hang out with family and friends, but still be able to work. I want to be able to spend longer periods of time with my family and with A’s. I am not yet sure how I am going to manage this, but it feels good to have finally identified this need.

And in the meantime, I have this chocolate orange marble cake. My Ngonu used to make this cake, and then my mother baked it. I have a recipe book that belonged to Ngonu, her handwritten recipes (with their origins) filling every page. Every time I eat this cake I am transported home. Food does that.

Notes: This recipe is written in ounces and because I have a cool scale where you can change the measurements, I measured in ounces. I used blood oranges because I found a late supply, but I usually make do with regular ones.

Chocolate Orange Marble Cake

6oz unsalted butter, at room temperature

6oz golden caster sugar

zest of one orange

4 eggs

10oz white spelt flour

3tsp baking powder

pinch of salt

125ml milk

2tbsp orange juice

2tbsp cocoa dissolved in 2tbsp water

Preheat the oven to 170C and grease a bundt tin with butter and cocoa powder.

Cream the butter, sugar, and zest until light and fluffy. Add the beaten eggs. In a separate bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder and salt. Add the flour to the butter-egg mixture in three goes, alternating with the milk and orange juice.

Divide the mixture in half, and add in the cocoa mixture to one half of the batter.

Alternate spoons of the batters into the tin, then swirl with a knife. Bake for 25 minutes, until a skewer comes out clean and the cake has pulled away from the edges. Allow to cool in the tin for ten minutes before unmoulding and cooling completely.

To ice, combine one cup icing sugar with a few teaspoons of orange juice until you get a thick, gloopy consistency. Drizzle this over the cake. Serve slices with cups of steaming tea.