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By Tamu Bakery, Jan 22 2016 03:43PM

"Anytime I feel lost, I pull out a map and stare. I stare until I have reminded myself that life is a giant adventure, so much to do, to see"

- Angelina Jolie


My mum says ever since I was born I just couldn't keep still. I didn't like sleeping either. Always on the go, always socialising with people. She says I have the genes of my grandmother, who like me likes to travel and needs to always be with people. Maybe that explains why at the age of six I left my grandma’s house on my own and made the journey across our large town to see my other granny. My little sister kept asking me along the way "What if we will get caught?” and “What if both grannies get scared we got lost?". My reply was firm "We are going to have an adventure. Don't worry. Besides, I have packed us some biscuits for a picnic". Do I need to spell out the kind of ‘shot of adrenaline’ I received when my father jumped on the first plane from Kiev (where he was training to become a police officer) to talk to me about the dismay I had caused in the community when we had been reported missing for a few hours?!


The desire to have big adventures continued during my school years. Organising trips to neighbouring Moldova to sell vegetables (which my grandma was growing simply for family use) or begging my dad (and once he gave in) to take me along to a police operation to catch contraband smugglers. As soon as I started university, I become a reporter at one of the local TV channels. Once I helped an elderly lady by taking the local council to task over her leaking roof. The following year I spent filming all sorts of social and community problems in the big city of Odessa. TV viewers even called me and my cameraman "Chip and Dale to the rescue"!


During the Orange Revolution in Ukraine I would spend seven days a week on the road filming political rallies, recording people's hopes and the birth of a new Ukraine. I remember the day when during one of the press conferences all the journalists were prohibited to leave for a day until the politicians had decided what we should say in our reports. And again the adventures that I got myself into by deciding not to follow that order!


Tamu has taken my adrenaline need to the whole new level. Kenya. My first ever experience of seeing soldiers with guns on the streets during an ordinary lunch break. My first ever experience of being the only "muzumbu" on the village street. The list goes on…


I have no idea how to explain to someone why I go to such ‘dangerous places’ on my own and work with vulnerable women, putting myself potentially at risk. I would be lying if I said I had never been scared. Then why? Because I believe in humanity, I believe that a shared problem is half a problem.


Someone recently told me that the area of Tanzania I am off to very soon is potentially a place of unrest. Maybe. But people live there too. Women bring up their children there. The sun is rising there too. And as usually happens, in the end all the places I visit end up taking a huge part of my heart because of the beauty of the people and their lands.


And Angelina is so right. When I feel lost, I stare at my map of the world and choose the next destination. There are so many places to see, so much to do to help others...


By Tamu Bakery, Jan 22 2016 03:35PM

“Let's face it, a nice creamy chocolate cake does a lot for a lot of people; it does for me.”- Audrey Hepburn


The wheels of my shopping trolley were groaning under the weight of cake tins of all possible shapes and forms, poppy seeds and nuts, vanilla sugars and assorted baking powders, baking magazines, five types of bread rolls and many more cake related items. I stopped, looked at it all and gasped. "How on the earth I am going to fit it all in my tiny rucksack?". I was in the middle of a Tesco in Brno, Czech Republic, my plane was due in a couple of hours, and I only had a hand luggage allowance and a huge list of cake places still to visit! It was day three of my expedition around the Central Europe or, to be honest, great cake places in Central Europe. Thanks to my understanding husband and son who had to adjust their sight-seeing to appease my cake-invaded mind!


Cakes and baking has had a constant presence in my life for the past five years. My oven hardly ever gets a day off. I bake for occasions, weekends, rainy mornings, business meetings, lunch boxes... I bring cake to work - boardrooms, brainstorming sessions, supervisions etc. Towards the end of working day my mind starts to wander, mentally combining flavours and textures. The more stressful the day, the more complicated the cake I will bake that evening. Recently I had a job interview and naturally the conversation turned to cakes! It is important to know whether my future colleagues are gourmets or sweet tooth owners! Working in the NGO sector, where contracts are just for a year or two, I often receive emails from ex-colleagues which start "Yana, we miss your cakes!".


So does my little sister, who says I am torturing her via Skype every time we have a chat as there is always a cake on the middle of my kitchen table. She is very stressed at the moment as very soon she is defending her PhD. If only I could walk into the university on that important day and open a bag filled with cinnamon pastries, letting the warm sweet aromas clear the minds of those doctors of psychology.


Doctors - they receive my cakes too, as so do my son’s teachers, beauty therapists, driving instructors, postmen and so on... My poor friends have been my cake testers for years, each time trying out a different bake. Presents for birthdays, weddings, christenings and job promotions all varying in taste and structure, but it is something that just keeps coming out of my oven. I remember once I was filling boxes with sweet creations for a friend who just done a cake photo shoot for Tamu. She looked at the mountain of cakes and said "Yana, you have to think of my wellbeing!"


But it is hard to stop when your life is totally invaded by baking. And do I need to stop if it is my escapism, and my way to help others? I don't know which cake does it for you, but for me majority of life events, along with kindness and laughter, simply require a CAKE!


P. S. As I am finishing this blog, my cake-invaded mind has a new challenge. When I am away in Kyrgyzstan to work with abused women, my son has a cake fundraising day at his school. And he has to have my cake. So if only..... )))


By Tamu Bakery, Jan 21 2016 06:43PM


Hooray! I did it - three love cakes in 2 days! One wedding cake and two wedding anniversaries.... September is the month of weddings. Or so we say in Ukraine. Traditionally, people got married at this time of year simply because it was the harvest and food prices were more affordable when catering for a big wedding.


I vividly remember my own wedding, even though it was 8 years ago. Strangely though I can't remember my wedding cake at all! But I am glad that Tamu's customers remember theirs. I had an email from Paul, asking me to make him and his wife Jessica a first wedding anniversary cake - lime and pistachio flavour, - as he remembered this cake from their wedding a year ago. I was touched. Well, who wouldn't be?


Or my friend Rami who asked for a chocolate cake for her wedding anniversary. In fact, I made an orange, marmalade and chocolate truffle cake for her family. Because marriage is like that - sometimes it's sweet, sometimes it's bitter, sometimes is fresh and full of flavour like a fresh orange, and sometimes you get so busy with the life that opening a jar of marmalade is the only exciting thing!


But when you first get married.... Well, its all about white cream and ideas about the "ideal" union. That's why for my friend Carly's wedding I have just made a lemon crème fraiche-meringue cake in the shape of a sandcastle with two vintage toys cars on the top - as in marriage you support each other to reach as high as you can.


If I were to describe my married life as a cake, it would be probably be tutti-frutti, full of surprises and unexpected things. But dieticians say that fruit is good for you, hey? But to be serious, it's not just about the flavours, for me it's all about the love. Recently I was talking to my husband about the prospect of two exciting baking trips to help fight GBV against women. Finishing I said "but how can I get all this money together?!" "Don't worry, Yana, if it will come to it we can always sell our sofa to fund it". It was enough for me to understand that eight years ago I made the right choice, marrying this man only knowing him for six months prior that.

I think now it's explains to everyone who tell me how brave I am to go to all my trips around the world to help women. According to Lao Tzu, I have both the strength and the courage!


Happy anniversaries, Paul and Jessica, Rami and Alin! Happy wedding day, Carly and Stu! May your lives together be sweet and delicious and thank you for your generosity, guys. I am deeply touched...


Love, Tamu


XXX


By Tamu Bakery, Jan 21 2016 06:26PM

"I dream of giving birth to a child who will ask, ‘Mother, what was war?’" ~Eve Merriam


November 2013. Peaceful Odessa, Ukraine. My sister's wedding.

My dad - "So where are you planning to go next to empower women?". "Not sure yet, but I am sure I will find out soon. I am waiting for some kind of sign".


December 2013. Verona, Italy. Airport.

Waiting for my flight. Looking at the destinations board. Tirana, Albania. Something clicked inside me.


February 2014. Cornwall, UK. Skype conversation.

"Dad, after a long search for my trip, I am off to Kosovo. Something is telling me this trip isn't just about delivering help in Kosovo, I feel I will learn what is waiting for Ukraine...."

"We are having a crisis, but it won't come to anything as serious as war".


May 2014. Gjakova, Kosovo. Medica Kosova office. Conversation about international marriages.

"So women in Kosovo sometimes marry guys from Macedonia, Albania...Sorry for my insensitive question.... but why even 15 years after the end of the war do women here still refuse to even talk about Serbian men?" - me.

"I shall give you just one example. We are aware of some cases of violence during the war when Serbian soldiers would force a father to rape his own daughter in front of the whole extended family..." - my colleague from an organisation helping women affected by the war.


May 2014. Gjakova, Kosovo. Medica Kosova office. Baking session with local women.

"We have heard about the conflict in your country.... Poor people of Ukraine. We know what it’s like." - my fellow bakers. Conversation goes on about a village nearby where 500 men and boys were killed in a massacre during the years of unrest.


July 2014. Cornwall, UK. Tamu Bakery Fbook post.

"Dear supporters of Tamu Bakery,

Thank you for your concern and support regarding the situation in Ukraine! Next Friday I am travelling home to visit my family and to see for myself what is going on. I have heard from my parents that a refugee camp has been set up close to where they live, so I am planning to visit there and help as much as I can. What I am asking here is I am ready to donate one week of my time from this Friday baking cakes for you all in return for a small donation towards helping the women and children of Ukraine who are currently displaced. Please get in touch and share this with your friends. If you know me and my fight for equality, I hope you will help. God bless you all and I wish you never see your country in the news like mine. Lots of love, Tamu"


August 2014. Mayaki, Ukraine. Refugee camp.

"Here are some toys, children’s books, baby wipes and tampons for women, nappies and clothes for disabled people and some pictures for you all from children in the UK" - me on a microphone in front of 200 refugees.

"Thank you for your help" - says an apparent female leader taking our bags.

"Where are you from? Are your relatives OK" - me.

"I am from Street N in Donetsk, next to my house there is ongoing fighting. Lots of dead and guts everywhere" - said the woman.


August 2014. Cornwall, UK. Writing this blog.

"Dad, you said our conflict wouldn't get as serious as the one in Kosovo. But it did. Women in both places have lost their children, husbands and brothers. And I don't know how to explain to your grandson why mummy had to go to help women affected by war in his favourite and before today peaceful Ukraina".


"I dream of giving birth to a child who will ask, "Mother, what was war" - Yana Spencer

By Tamu Bakery, Jan 21 2016 06:16PM

"That's the role I've always seen myself play - a bridge" - Roshaneh Zafar

Last weekend I was promoting Tamu at a local event. Offering samples of my cakes and showing photos from my recent trip, I realised how difficult it is to explain the concept of my venture to a complete stranger.


Childhood.

I was a fussy eater - so fussy that both of my grandmothers had to invite the children from the whole street just so that I could get an appetite through eating in company. Imagine huge stacks

of pancakes with at least five types of freshly-made summer jams as toppings. At the end I would judge whose pancakes were thinner, crispier or who had used more egg yokes to give the pancakes a

lovely yellow colour. My grannies and the neighbourhood kids were happy...

My favourite winter activity was to make ‘pirojki ‘- savoury pastries with different fillings, pan fried in fresh sunflower oil. Again we invited loads of children and ended up with even granny's gates covered in flour...


Girlhood.

My mum is the queen of yeast pastries, pies and bakes. Full stop.

The smell of yeast dissolving in warm milk was a regular occurrence. But the best time was Easter, when my mum would work her magic on traditional Ukrainian Easter bread. You were only allowed to bake them on the Thursday or Saturday before Easter. Nobody was allowed to even speak loudly or (God forbid) argue when pasochki were being baked. Once the egg white icing had settled on the top of the freshly prepared holy bread, I would take it to the church in the middle of the night to be blessed.


University

Five hectic years training to be a journalist. Leaving the house at 6 am to travel 40 miles by bus to university, lectures until the afternoon, then off to work at a TV channel until the last bus home at 9.30pm. Surviving on just a few hours sleep. I was busy, so food was not my main priority. On the rare occasions when I was at home during daylight hours, my mum would encourage me to bake with her. But my response was always "I will never need this skill. And I am not good at this!". My mum used to answer "Your poor future husband will never eat properly!".


Marriage.

During the early days of my marriage, I was not the best of cooks (despite my English husband’s polite protestations to the contrary!). But he did get spoilt rotten by my mum and grannies, who every weekend would cook him a whole range of Ukrainian cuisine.

The happy days were over when emigrated to the UK. Without my close family, without my proper four seasons, without my career and friends - I was struggling. What did help me were the kicks in my tummy of my unborn son. On those cold Autumn days when I was missing everyone and everything, I would open jar of jam, made by my mum - and the smell of summer kept me calm.


Motherhood.

When my son was born, I understood the meaning of the tale about the woman who runs with wolves. It is about finding your inner you, your natural roots.In those early days of becoming a mum and still missing my community, I started occasionally baking traditional Ukrainian recipes, once a month or so...


Cancer.

"I am really sorry, Yana. You have a lung cancer. We don't know the stage and can't give you any prognosis at the moment". After many months of investigations and benign biopsies...I couldn't walk to my husband and baby boy. How would I tell them? I was not ready to die at the age of 25...

All I remember about that period of time is baking. Practically every day. Anything. It wasn't the best of baking, but it helped me to stay me. It saved me. I couldn't tell my parents, I couldn't go and cry on my sister's shoulder, I didn't want to overstretch my supportive husband. And I had a little boy to look after.


Human rights.

Whilst recovering from cancer, I found out my employer didn't want me back as I was not part of his vision for a profit-making magazine anymore. At this challenging time, lying in my hospital bed, I prayed "God, please, show me the right way to go. If I survived, it has to be for a reason".

A couple of months later I had a job offer to run BME women’s groups. That was the start of my new life. My NGO life, a life of a short-term contracts, fighting for people's human rights.


Women's empowerment.

In January 2012 I received the best present ever - my husband invested his time and money into my first women empowerment trip to Kenya. I went there in April, simply teaching two hundred girls how to bake and stand up for their rights. It was amazing. To bake in the middle of a village with no electricity and very basic facilities. We baked and sang together.

A few more trips down the line we had created the way Tamu works. People in the UK ask me to bake them an unusual and tasty cake, originated in another part of the world. In return I never give a price, but just ask for a donation. This money, along with the consultancy fees I sometimes get for delivering human rights training, goes towards my next trip. When I arrive somewhere in the world where women are denied their basic human rights I buy ingredients for baking with the money donated. And we bake. And women talk about their experiences. They cry. They laugh. They sing. They dance. They LIVE again. Thanks to the therapeutic power of baking that once helped me.


The future.

Of course, in real life organising a trip isn't that easy. Not because I am scared of baking loads of cakes to fund it, nor because of the lack of women needing help. But because of the lack of Tamu supporters. Often Tamu is not welcomed at fairs, often chefs are too busy to help, often people are simply not interested.


But I am saying a huge thank you to YOU for reading my story, for supporting my cause and for letting me be a bridge between YOU and a lady on another end of the planet who really needs encouragement and support.


Love, Tamu



By Tamu Bakery, Jan 20 2016 06:22PM

Bake me a man as fast as you can!


"The ability to cook is actually built in our genes"


No matter of our gender, status, traditions or cultural norms.


The book Bringing Up A Boy has been on my shelf for years. I bought it some few years back when my son was newborn. "Around age two, children begin to reflect awareness of the gender distinctions - and stereotypes! - that the culture has been signaling since they were born. Only at a later stage of development can boys begin to understand that their first understanding of gender was superficial, confused, and rigid". For centuries we have been creating these models - 'boys should do this' and 'girls should do that'. In many societies if a boy or man admits to cooking or baking he is labelled as "gay". Cooking is a really interesting medium for considering gender roles (certainly for me anyway, being a foodie and founder of Tamu).


Whilst in my family all the women can compete for the badge of "best cook", one of my earliest memories is my step-granddad cooking most of the Summer evenings (because my granny was the head of a huge electronic department store and most of the time would come back late and shattered). I can't remember much of the taste of his cooking but I remember appreciating that cooking is just one of the jobs which men and women share equally. I remember my dad coming back from Central Asia placements as a young policeman and working in our kitchen on the "top secret" recipes he had been taught while abroad in our kitchen. There was something magical about watching dad cook whilst he told me stories about places and people he had met there. I remember the first lasagna my husband cooked for me and my sister 10 years ago. The bechemel and bolognese sauces had splashed all over the kitchen tiles, and it took ages to clean off, but he had managed to surprise me with a dish I never knew existed before. I remember my son's first salad he made for me last year - he was so proud of his beautifully cut cucumbers and tomatoes!


Men can cook and many enjoy cooking (not all, of course, like not all women). So let's not stereotype. Especially in the countries where it is seen as something abnormal! Last year, I was teaching basic baking skills to teenage boys in Tanzania. At first, they felt uncomfortable to even wear aprons and to whisk butter and sugar. But a few hours later after we had talked about gender roles and stereotypes, I could see the pure enjoyment on some of their faces, and the embarrased laughs had stopped completely. This was because we didn't just bake, we tried to break down those walls which separate the prescribed roles of mothers and fathers in their rural Tanzanian homes.


Recently I overheard a conversation between some mums here in Sri Lanka. For various reasons their sons didn't have a clue how to cook. So here's the deal, guys. I am putting together a session on how to bake a simple loaf of bread. You come and learn. And dedicate this learning to one woman in your life - be it mum, soulmate, sister or teacher. It will be fun, informative and with loads of cake (Tamu's cakes). Imagine her reaction when you bring back that loaf of bread, freshly made by you. The best gift ever. For her and you. The gift of equality.