I don’t think I really understood before I started my PhD the toll that it can take on your life. I’ve been in school since I was 3 years old and university in Ireland, with its long periods of self study before an exam, is fair preparation for the intensely internal focus of a PhD. And the first year or two were not actually that different from my undergraduate and masters studies – but the last year or so, when I’m doing some serious writing and approaching the end (the first draft will be ready by the end of the summer term), it’s been incredibly insular to spend so much time in my own head. There’s only so many reports by charities one can read and analyse and condense before you just want to veg out on your couch and watch The Real Housewives of New Jersey until your brain unmushes.
I’m so proud of the work I’m doing – when I finish there will be a tiny piece of research that I will know and understand better than anyone else in the world, but it’s an exhausting and isolating experience. It’s made me feel a bit scatty outside of studying – like my brain can only hold so much and its limit is reached. I’m frazzled and anything from a delayed train to a cancelled exercise class can make me nervous. People keep reassuring me that this is normal right before submission, everyone feels stressed and tired, but I’m definitely constantly stress eating and wearing myself out.
I wanted to be honest that right now, I’m feeling overwhelmed, as I think the stress of being so internal and intellectually focused is really understimated. No, I’m not doing manual labour for eight hours every day – but constantly having my brain on high alert absolutely takes a toll.
As a result, I do not want to make complicated recipes at the moment. Easy comforts like cookies and brownies and cupcakes rule the day. When I brought some strawberry shortcake m&ms back from America, I didn’t take the easy option of throwing them on top of a Eton mess. I wanted something warm and flavourful and reassuring. So I devised an Eton mess brownie – all the delicious taste in a more snuggly food. I hope you find it as reassuring as I do.
Eton Mess Brownie (adapted from a recipe from The Velvet Moon Baker)
175g white chocolate
175g unsalted butter
2 tablespoons strawberry pudding powder
250g caster sugar (unpictured – I had to make an emergency run to buy some. What did I tell you about being scatty?)
75g plain flour
Crushed merengue pieces to taste
Strawberry shortcake M&Ms
Melt the chocolate and butter together.
Mix in eggs.
Mix in dry ingredients.
Pour in M&Ms and merengue pieces.
Pour batter into lined brownie tin.
These needed to be baked for quite some time – I gave them about 50 minutes at 170C to make sure that the inner layer of batter was completely cooked. You may need to look inside the top crust. Allow to cool and set.