I’ve arrived at my first actual home in England! Loll’s house is in the small but mighty village, Calstock. It is reached only a few times a day by a tiny train that runs across the impressive arches of a high stone aqueduct bridge. At night the bridge blends into the dark and the lights of the train float detached, high in the air above the water. The first time I visited I, embarrassingly, tried to buy a ticket just to “Cornwall.” That’s my great American geographical knowledge at work. It’s kind of like trying to buy a train ticked to “Pennsylvania.” Calstock, as it turns out, is on the bend away from the coast once you hit Plymouth, and only about a half hour from sea green, brooding, Dartmoor hills dotted, I was very excited to see, with ponies! It’s an incredible train ride south from Paddington; in the rain mist hid any views of the ocean and the only thing I could see just along the tracks was the continual surges of waves. How is it safe, I think, to be so near the coast and so precariously balanced on tracks?
Loll sometimes suggests that her home is a little boring and I will admit it’s definitely secluded, but the area actually has everything anyone has ever needed. There is a good pub, a town hall talent night, and a women’s rowing club that might be accused of doing more gossip than exercise. There is also an excellent herd of cows that live directly across the river from Loll. This is one of my personal favorite visiting perks. From every window in her home one can check on the daily activities of the cows. As it turns out, cows are incredibly active and constantly on the move, trekking in mass up and down their pasture hill. At every hour they seem to have a sudden need to run an errand in a new and exciting corner of the grass. Where are all those cows going? To a cow party? A cow party up the hill? Hopefully someone else read Go Dog Go as a child.
My other favorite part about the Haywood house is that, except for the odd and exotic male visitor, it is entirely female. The sisters and their mother are a sort of fantasy combination between the legendary Amazons and legendary Jane Austen heroines. Loll, Nell, and Cecily are all accomplished musicians, painters, and chefs. Nell is the pianist. Loll plays the guitar, recites classic poetry, and is an amateur but talented mixologist. Cecily bakes, paints, and photographs. Melissa, their mother, has an impressive sense of guiding taste. She knows all about selecting brands of food, types of cheese, places to travel, places to eat, plants to grow in the garden, and pleasing but inexpensive wines for parties. Their house, even when quiet or winding down for sleep, feels perpetually like it might suddenly be flooded with various sounds of music, variations of light that inspire painting, and smells of flowers from the garden or ingredients mid-baking.
There are, however, despite my romantic literary fantasies that hit while I’m staying in Calstock, some critical differences between the Haywoods and Jane Austen heroines. Jane, for example, isn’t quite as appreciative of the joys of pasta, wine, brownies, and cocktail hour. She had no idea how attractive and talented John Mayor is, despite his potential to be the model for the character of a deceptive enchanter later revealed as a womanizer. Certainly there were also no Austen women who had healthy respect for the necessity of a great drum and base I-pod speaker rave to aide with washing the dishes at the end of a big meal.
So, really the best part of the house is the fun of seclusion. There’s no one say anything against eating homemade brownies at midnight, finishing two bottles of wine just during one course of dinner, or using a ridiculous amount of eggs just to extract egg whites for amaretto sours. There is no one to record it except the cows watching our human party at night… and my annoying camera and questions.
A small sample of things from the interior: Cecily’s brownie recipe. She’s a math wiz and therefore a perfect baker. Seriously. Do the recipe justice by eating your brownie while imagining looking out at an energetic herd of cows, sipping a glass of red wine just as the clock ticks 5pm. When you put your plate into the dishwasher pretend to be Beyonce for just a few seconds or sing a few words of Shawn Colvin.
These are Cecily’s own written instructions…
Ultimate (overly detailed) brownie recipe.
- 180g plain flour
- 3 heaped tbsp dark muscovado sugar
- 180g butter
- ½ tsp baking powder
- 40g cocoa powder
- 4 level tbsp golden sugar
- 300g plain/milk chocolate (NOT 70% or more cocoa – I often use half plain, half milk for perfect sweetness)
- 3 eggs
- 1 tsp Vanilla essence
Preheat oven to 170’C and line a baking tin (approx 25 x 15cm) with baking paper
Melt chocolate, butter, golden syrup and vanilla essence over a very low heat in saucepan. Stirring until smooth. Then leave to cool.
Sift together flour, cocoa, baking powder in separate large mixing bowl. Stir in sugar. You may need to crush the sugar to get rid of hard lumps (not necessary for any refined sugars, absolutely necessary for dark muscovado)
When chocolate mixture is cool, beat in eggs until glossy.
Fold in chocolate mixture to dry ingredients.
Pour into prepared baking tin
Bake for 25-30mins. Test by sticking a skewer into the middle, it should NOT come out clean but with some of the mixture sticking to it. However, the centre should be hot and not completely liquid.. you want to cook the egg. The top should be springy, not sticky even in the centre for a nice crunchy crust.
Either serve immediately as a chocolate pudding (the centre will be melted and runny) with crème fraiche or leave to cool, cut into 15 and serve as brownies.