Carrot cake with orange and mascarpone frosting

One of the more unwelcome realisations in my life was that finding the right man and getting married doesn't solve your problems.

It solves some of your problems - i.e. the problems that go "Am I going to end up with someone I hate?/My family hates? Will I die alone never having known domestic bliss?" But it turns out that when you lift that particular weighty rock from your life, a thousand other shitty things scurry out.

It's like when you find out you're not HIV positive. My friend Julia was sympathising with me the other day about my genuine fear that I was HIV positive. I was convinced I had this, or Hepatitis C, because I've had two tattoos. And they were not performed in clean places. They were down backstreets, one in Guatemala (I think... or was it Mexico...) and the other one in Australia. The guy in Australia, I remember, had kind of a runny nose. Anyway, so about six months later I became convinced that I was going to die. And that was 11 years ago. A long time to worry that you're going to die without doing anything about it.

"Just Get. A. Test" said Julia. "You haven't got it. Although, I used to worry about being HIV positive, so badly that it would keep me awake at night, and then I got a test and it was negative and on my way home from the test I was suddenly gripped with panic about my dissertation, like so badly I couldn't breathe. So, you know, watch out - you may replace one fear for another."

Well, then I got pregnant and I had to have a blood test, there was no escaping it. They took pints out of me without even saying please; they measured it and weighed it and dipped things in it and I got sent in the post a list of all the diseases that I don't have. Negative for everything. I've even got negative blood - B Negative - which is one of those rare ones they're always advertising for on the radio. (Which I think means that if I get hit by a car and I need a massive blood transfusion I'm toast.)

Anyway, finding out that I'm not HIV positive and I don't have Hepatitis C was like getting married. It solved one problem, but released others that have been suppressed.

Although anxiety and depression is, I find, all relative. It's not as bad right now as when I came back from a bad final year at university and promptly went insane. For about three months, every time I was about to cross the road, I would see, out of the corner of my eye, a car accelerating fast towards me, like it was going to hit me. And I'd turn my head and stagger back from the corner and clutch myself - but there'd be nothing there.

When Natasha Kaplinsky started talking to me out of my TV, that was when I went to the doctor. It was back when she was doing breakfast telly and I was getting ready to go somewhere, or just staring out of the window, and I distinctly heard her say: "Esssstheerrrrrrr!" And I spun round, heart pounding, to find her chatting amiably about alopecia. Then it happened again, the next day, just the same.

Well, I'm no idiot. I was clearly mad.

"You suffer from depression and anxiety," said my GP, Chris, looking bored. "You can either have cognitive behavioural therapy, or I can give you Prozac, or you can do nothing. But," he continued, "if Natasha starts asking you to do things, you must ring me immediately."

I made a "duuhrr" face at him. "I have seen Joan of Arc, you know," I said, as nastily as I could, and left. But it's okay, Chris has known me for a really long time and didn't take it personally. I didn't go on the pills, although I'm one of those people who believes that Prozac saves lives. Instead, I chose to get a book on CBT out of the library, read it cover to cover and Natasha never spoke to me again.

If only I'd discovered cooking back then. Although I dislike the bleat that cooking is "therapy", (no, lying on a sofa talking to a trained professional for an hour, four times a week, for three years, is therapy), mindless activity, routine and small accomplishments are the best friend of the depressive.

I happened the other day on a recipe for carrot cake with a orange frosting in Nigel Slater's Tender I. I've never made a carrot cake although I absolutely love it, because there's a slight issue with the fact that there isn't really a neccessity in my house for cake. My mother begged me long ago to stop bringing sweet things round to hers because she thinks my father is going to get diabetes and my husband doesn't like desserts or puddings of any description. And, I have always thought to myself "I want to make a carrot cake but I can't because I'll eat it all and get fat." But now I'm pregnant and depressed for no reason so I don't give a shit.

This cake is truly wonderful. But it is also complicated, so I'd advise you do a thing that I never do, but did today, which is get everything out of the cupboard and measure it all first before you start putting it together. Also read through the recipe all the way first so that the egg whites thing half-way through doesn't come out of nowhere and scare the pants off you.

A carrot cake with a frosting of mascarpone and orange by Nigel Slater

For the cake

3 eggs
250g self-raising flour
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon
pinch salt
200 ml sunflower oil
25og light muscovado sugar
150g carrots
juice of half a lemon
150g walnuts, roughly chopped

For the frosting

250g mascarpone cheese
200g Philadelphia
150g icing sugar
grated zest of half an orange
some whole walnut halves

1 Set the oven to 180C. Butter 2 x 22cm cake tins and line each bottom with a disc of baking parchment

2 Separate the eggs. Sift together the flour, bicarb of soda, baking powder, cinnamon and salt.

3 Beat the oil and sugar in a food mixer until well-creamed then introduce the egg yolks one by one. Grate the carrots into the mixture, add the lemon juice and walnuts and stir. At this point, the sunflower oil will float to the top of the mixture and look gross. Don't worry, this is normal.

4 Fold the flour into this mixture. I did this by hand, but Nige says do it in the mixer.

5 Beat the egg whites!!!! I didn't see that one coming... until stiff and then fold into the mixture with a metal spoon.

6 Divide the mixture between your tins and bake for 45 mins, or until a skewer comes out clean-ish ... because this is supposed to be quite a sticky cake.

7 To make the frosting, beat the mascarpone, Philly and icing sugar together in a mixer until smooth and creamy. You stand a better chance of this happening if the cheeses are at room temperature when you start. Stir in the orange zest. Splash some in between your cakes to sandwich together and the rest on the top and on the sides. Decorate with walnut halves.

Eat while reading Sylvia Plath.

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