Friday, February 6, 2015

A good movie, a bad memory and a great cake

I went to the cinema to see The Theory of Everything last weekend. It’s the story of a young woman who falls in love with a young Stephen Hawking and the struggles she faces as they build a relationship, a family and a life together as his body deteriorates and eventually gives way to severe disability.

The two central performances are wonderful and this film is enormously affecting on a personal level. So, I’d recommend that you see it. But I’m not really here to give a film review. I’m here to write about a scene in the film that brought back memories of one of the worst times in my life with MS.

Most of you will know that Stephen Hawking has motor neuron disease, a disease of the central nervous system that leads to progressive disability and ultimately to death. Early in the movie, when he is being tested prior to his diagnosis, he is asked to do a simple task – to touch the thumb of his right hand to each of the fingers on that same hand.

Eddie Redmayne (who plays Hawking) is so convincing at portraying the confusion he feels when he realises he can’t do this.  Later, there’s a look of sheer anguish on his face as he tries to do it again at home. He suddenly understands he can no longer bid his body to do as he wishes. He’s losing control of his physical self.

My stomach churned as I watched this scene and I can feel it churning still. It could have been a scene from my life because my neurologist asked me to complete that same task before I was diagnosed with MS (I suppose it’s a standard diagnostic tool) and I remember the sense of shock I felt when I wasn’t able to do it. Although my brain was thinking the thoughts that had always previously resulted in moving my fingers, I couldn’t make them meet my thumb. My disbelieving eyes saw them miss every time. Despite trying over and over and over again, I couldn’t get them to do what I wanted.

This persisted for the six weeks that the attack lasted. At random moments of every day, I would try to complete the task again only to have my heart sink when I saw that I still wasn’t able to do it.

However, I did eventually recover and was once again able to make my fingers and thumbs do exactly what I asked of them. But I have never forgotten how frightened I felt when I lost control of my body. Sometimes, when I’m sitting at the dinner table or watching TV or being driven in a car, I absentmindedly find myself touching my fingers to my thumb, as if subconsciously reassuring myself that all is still well – that I am still well.

And so far, I have been.

I attribute my continued good health to my diet. And whenever I feel tempted to eat butter, cream and chocolate, I remind myself what it felt like not to be able to use my right hand properly.
I used to have to remind myself of this quite often, especially when I would think of Mary Berry's banana bread - which was once my go-to banana bread in the café and at home. 
But I don't have to control myself with such mind games anymore - at least not when it comes to banana bread. I've come up with a recipe that is not the same as Mary Berry's but it's just as delicious and it packs a much bigger nutritional punch.

I thought I'd share it with you today.
200g mashed ripe bananas* (this will require two to three bananas, depending on their size)
1 tablespoon almond milk
50g olive oil (choose one with a mild flavour)
25g cocoa powder
50g plain flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
75g sugar
60g walnuts, chopped 
20g banana chips, chopped (optional)
3 tablespoons cocoa nibs (optional - especially if you are strict about OMS)
1 egg

  • Preheat your oven to 170 C/340 F.
  • Line a small loaf tin with some baking parchment. I find that the easiest way of doing this is rubbing a left-over butter wrapper over the inside of the tin, scrunching the parchment into a ball with my hands and then using my fingers to shape the parchment to the bottom and sides of the tin. The scrunched-up nature of the paper makes it much more pliable.
  • Combine all of your ingredients in a bowl and mix thoroughly.
  • Pour into the lined tin and place in the centre of your oven.
  • Cook for 30 to 35 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean.
Enjoy the cake with a cup of tea (and if you can, go to see the movie!)

* There's no such thing as over-ripe bananas. The blacker they are, the better they will be for baking, producing super-moist cakes.


  1. Ooh, this looks so good! It's next on my list of things to try.

  2. Let me know if you like it, Steph. I love getting feedback from readers!