A number of years ago I had a motorcycle accident. I was in the hospitality suite over the pit lane garages in Mondello. The event was a global tyre manufacturers Irish launch for a new product. While I was waiting to sign my life away I noticed that the company man was looking for someone to show him around the track.
Rather quickly it became obvious that there was no one with a car available to do the job, there was no one dressed in their kit and I as a ‘professional’ was co-opted into the role. So I was introduced to the guest /host. Down the stairs and onto our bikes we went.
I headed out on cold tyres and rode the circuit appropriately. That was until I got about halfway around the track. As I rolled into turn 7a and turn 7b I forgot what I was at and normal service resumed. A few corners later and as I came on to the left hander before the back of the paddock the cold rear tyre reminded me to always pay attention and never to show off.
Suffice to say it all went horribly wrong. Two hospitals in one day wrong. Waking up and knowing that I should recognise the love of my life, but not being able to wrong.
Never the less I made a full(ish) recovery. An important part of the management of my getting well again was talking to a Neurology Consultant. On one visit he commented on my rapid weight gain. Apparently in some people concussion allowed depression a free reign. Mine had resulted in what’s politely known as “comfort eating”. The high ranking doctor suggested that I learn to make my own sugar rich food rather than buying it. The idea was that if I wanted a piece of apple tart, or three, I should only eat it if I baked it myself. My consumption would, therefore fall as I couldn’t be bothered.
So liking biscuits, apple tarts, baked cheesecake, white chocolate chip buns, I took up the challenge. I had a look at some recipes, I discovered that there was actually an oven in my kitchen. So driven by a huge sugar craving I gave it a lash. It’s now become my quiet place when I can’t get out on my bike or smoke a cigar.
I really like the taste and smell of shortbread. The prep and baking time is really short. This suits my ‘neurodivergent’ personality. First thing you need to do is to put the ingredients together. You’ll need some butter, flora will do if you live with a vegan, icing sugar, flour, cornflour and baking powder. You’ll find all of these things in Aldi.
Speaking of my bike being my number one happy place, I recently bought myself a new MT 10. It’s a simply fantastic motorcycle. Every time I look at it I’m simply delighted with myself. Indeed I almost have to pinch myself when I acknowledge that I’m the owner. It’s so good and so mine that I haven’t written it up yet. This is because I own it and I want to keep it to myself. While it makes a great road bike, “delivering real world sports bike performance in a road friendly manner” and all that marketing twaddle, it shines on the track.
Start by heating the oven to 180c while you go and find yourself a bowl, a sieve and a scales. Put 225 grams of the butter, which you should have let soften, in the bowl. Add 85 grams of the sugar, via the sieve, and mix them both to a paste. You can use a thousand euros worth of bespoke food mixer, you could also use a whisk or you can just use a pair of forks. If you’re really stuck just one fork will do.
So after a near death experience, getting really fat, learning how to bake, not being able to find anywhere remotely comfortable to enjoy a decent Cuban cigar here in Ireland, joining a gym and getting less fat I’ve found great comfort and my very, very perfect quiet place by attending European trackdays with the team from Motocraft.
Meanwhile once you’ve beaten the sugar and butter to a paste add 200 grams of plain flour, 85 grams of cornflower and one level teaspoon of baking powder. Once again, shake this through the sieve. Mix it together until it looks like crumble. Just looks like it though. It doesn’t need the same texture. I find that having a cup of tea on the go while you do this is a great help, but not at all necessary. Lyons, definitely not that foreign Barrys stuff.
I think that if I’m in anyway honest I’m a bit of a mental health mixed salad. That depression has never fully gone away. To quote one of my musical heroes, the legend that is Mr Nick Cave, I can identify, at times, with being a ‘ten tonne catastrophe on a 60lb chain’. But I can still keep the beast away in a variety of ways. The most effective being when I’m on a motorcycle. And when I’m riding my bike in an environment where I can ride as fast as I like, with a group of people who are of a similar mindset, the beast sulks away with its tail between its legs.
These events feature the hilarity of skilled motorcyclists hiring the cheapest cars from the airport, unprintable swear words being used as punctuation and one of the most offensive ones being delivered to fellow riders as a form of affection. On the down time between sessions I’ll have a cigar on the go. It’s a sort of heaven on earth. Not even flying in on the ‘blue plane’ can put a dent in how good this feels.
Once you have the ingredients mixed the real fun starts. Dust the kitchen counter /table or whatever flat surface that you can find with some more flour. Again, using the sieve helps. Having also dusted your hands with some of the flour lift your creation out of the bowl and place it on your chosen flat surface. And you guessed it, sieve some more flour over the top of the mix. You’ll really need the flour on your hands so that they don’t stick to the mix. Then with your knuckles press it down gently until you have it levelled out to a consistent depth. You can now cut the raw shortbread to a shape of your own liking. Use a cookie cutter or something as simple as a butter knife. Our youngest son has a fish shaped cookie cutter that he really likes. It doesn’t matter what you use.
On the three days that I’m away with the crew I ride in the slowest group I can find. My laziness and acquired mechanical incompetence mean that I don’t bother to remove anything from the bike other than the mirrors. I also run the MT 10 on trackday tyres that don’t need warmers and can be ridden legally on the road. I don’t have anything to prove. Since I bring nothing along with me Mick Walsh, of MotoMojo fame, really likes sharing my stillage as it gives him a lot more space to carry all that stuff that deep in his soul he knows he really doesn’t need.
Lift the shapes that you’ve cut, perhaps with something like a fish knife, because you’ve dusted the table with flour they'll lift without sticking, and place them on a baking tray. Slide the tray into the, now warmed, oven. Take a moment to admire the epic mess that you’ve made of the kitchen. Then, using a spatula or just your fingers, you can wipe the side of the mixing bowl as well as the whisk and eat the raw dough. It’s awesome.
Getting on with life can be very difficult at times. Paying the mortgage, getting the bills sorted, meeting deadlines, running for flights, ungrateful clients, getting older, being a parent, enduring change that is beyond our control. All of these are challenges that many of us carry alone. As one motorcyclist recently noted, “We’re not exactly a socio economic group that asks for help with our feelings”. And we’re not, but we do need somewhere to loosen off the shackles of modern life. Riding a bike is, for me, a simply wonderful way to do so.
A 2nd gear entry to the straight. Holding it back to the stop until the rev limiter prompts the loaded up shift through the rest of the box. One after the other with rapidity until the reference point at the end of the straight appears. Then back down the box. The exhaust replies with a volley of gunfire. The corner gets leaned into. The tyres do their work. The noise and the violence of the engine. In the madness and the immaturity comes a peace. A silence that no one who hasn’t done this could ever understand, let alone explain.
The next entry. The next apex. The next exit. And nothing but the quiet still space of the noise and the speed. The tinge of fear confirms that I can only feel this alive when I get a little closer to the edge. Money can’t buy you happiness. It can, however, buy you a Yamaha. And that, my friends, is sometimes all we need. After all, no one has ever complained about being melancholic at 290kph.
Check the oven after ten minutes. You want the top of the cookies to be slightly browned, but not too much. The baking time depends on the thickness of the dough. Mine take a little over 15 minutes. Once you’re happy that they’re baked well enough take them out and leave them on a cooling rack. If you cover them with a cloth and leave them overnight they’ll have that wonderful shortbread snap. Then in the morning use the sieve to dust them with icing sugar. I double the mix and make two batches of cookies. Then I split the second batch into two and give one to each of my neighbours. I’ve found that this minimises any whinging generated as a result of my bike being fitted with an Akrapovič.
I’m lucky. A posh doctor called me on my eating, someone who should have known better introduced me to smoking cigars and I fell in with a group of societal outliers who liked the madness of riding high powered motorcycles. Then I got a job in the madhouse that is the motorcycle press. I’ve never felt so safe from harm.
Sure if we weren’t all a little bit mad we’d lose our minds.
If you’d like to enjoy three to four days on a world class race track see www.motocraft.ie.
It’s important to note that not everyone finds what they need on a motorcycle. Not everyone finds peace in the kitchen. Most people are too sensible to smoke cigars. If you need help please, please, reach out to someone. Anyone can ring Samaritans on freephone 116 123. The number won’t show up on a phone bill and you don't even need credit on your phone. Samaritans are there for anyone going through a difficult time, whoever they are, however they feel – 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. When I say this, I know that I do so on behalf of so many people, the world would be an emptier place without you.
Go neiri an bothar leat.