And there's nothing like a little bit of snow to reinforce that preconception.
Almost every conversation I've had this week, whether with friends, family, colleagues or total strangers, has be preceded with a discussion about the snow, the subsequent and inevitable transport chaos and our general inability to cope with any kind of weather at all really.
It's such a wonderfully polite form of conversation. Everyone has an opinion on the weather and there is nothing we enjoy more than a good moan. You can easily steer a conversation away from more dangerous territory with a quick question of whether people think it's going to rain at the weekend.
The whole thing is even more joyous because our weather is really not that extreme at all. I was half-watching television one Sunday afternoon when we were in LA last summer. All of sudden, the screen started flashing and a scary automated voice warned that 'extreme storms carrying the risk of death' were on their way. While that promised storm didn't materialise, the fact is that there are plenty of places in the world with far more exciting weather than the UK but which are not half as obsessed with it as we are.
The weather has not really been very enjoyable here for quite a while now. Christmas was marked by mild temperatures but pretty much constant rain. We didn't leave the house for days at a time because it was too miserable to contemplate going outside.
More recently, we've had freezing temperatures and snow-laden clouds. I can count the number of times I've seen a patch of blue sky in the last few weeks on the fingers of one hand. The constant grey is getting a little wearying.
The only brightness in the last few weeks, therefore, has been the arrival of the season's citrus fruits bringing with them the scent of Mediterranean sunshine.
For some reason, the woman in the fruit and vegetable shop looked at me like I was slightly unhinged when I bought a brown paper bag full of Seville oranges. She asked me several times if I knew how bitter they were (yes, that's why I want them) and that you couldn't eat them (why would I want to when I could make them into a cake?).
I like things that are slightly (or quite a lot) bitter or sour or just have another dimension other than 'sweet'. And Seville oranges, most often used to make marmalade, definitely are bitter enough to add that extra dimension. The crunchy, sugary glaze stops the cake from being too sour but there is still that wonderful catch when you take a bite; it almost makes you wince with enjoyment. A taste of warmer climes to brighten up even the most gloomy of days.
Bitter orange and olive oil cake
Adapted from Martha Stewart's orange-scented olive oil cake
Yield: A 2lb loaf cake (serves 8 - 10)
The original recipe calls for blood oranges, a chocolate glaze and an orange compote. All of these things sound wonderful but this version is a little more simple. I can imagine this cake would work well with a lot of different types of citrus fruit - the bitterness of Seville oranges is particularly welcome but lemon or grapefruit would also be good. You might want to check the tartness of your glaze if you're using a different type of fruit and adjust the ration of sugar to juice accordingly. This cake works best when pleasingly sour.
For the cake:
- Zest of two Seville oranges
- 225g (1 cup) unrefined caster/granulated sugar
- 120ml (1/2 cup) juice from 1 1/2 - 2 Seville oranges
- 120ml (1/2 cup) plain yoghurt
- 3 eggs
- 160ml (2/3 cup) extra virgin olive oil
- 200g (1 3/4 cup) white spelt flour
- 1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/4 teasppon baking soda/bicarbonate of soda
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
For the glaze:
- Juice of 1 Seville orange
- 55g (1/4 cup) unrefined caster/granulated sugar
- Preheat the oven to 180C/350F (fan). Grease and line a 2lb loaf tin with non-stick paper.
- With your fingers, rub together the zest and sugar in a large bowl until it becomes fragrant.
- Add the yoghurt and orange juice and whisk to combine.
- Add the eggs, one at a a time, and the oil and whisk again until everything is combined.
- Fold in the dry ingredients until the mixture is smooth.
- Pour into the load tin and bake for 40 - 50 minutes until the top is firm and golden.
- While the cake is baking, mix together the juice and the sugar for the glaze. Set aside until needed.
- When the cake is ready, take it out the oven but leave it in the tin. While it is still hot, make a few holes in the cake with a fork and pour over the glaze.
- Leave to cool in the tin for about half an hour until the juice is all absorbed before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.