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Saturday, 31 August 2013

A Matter of Taste


Following on from last week I made the sesame peanut crispies.  I'm afraid to report that they were disappointing, failing to evoke any childhood memories and only attained a seven out of ten vote from the family. (Things need to get at least an eight to be repeated). The main disappointment was that they were not crispy! If I had read the recipe properly in advance I would have realised this and completely randomly was reminded of the Benjamin Franklin quote on Thursday at my writer's group - 'By failing to prepare you are preparing to fail'. Maybe that is a little strong in this case. The baking wasn't a complete failure, as you can hopefully see from the picture...



...and if we had been expecting cake we may have not been quite so harsh in our judgement. But as baking and tasting are subjective and you will be expecting soft, squidgy cake rather than crispy biscuits I'll write out the recipe here. On the positive side, the peanut crispies were moist, not too sweet and did keep very well. They were also quite filling too so would make a good addition to a packed lunch or a picnic.

Sesame Peanut Crispies

30ml smooth peanut butter
75g soft brown sugar
few drops of vanilla essence
75g self raising wholemeal flour
50g unsalted peanuts - chopped
15ml sesame seeds
75g margarine
1 egg - beaten
75g porridge oats
100g chopped dates
45 ml milk

Pre-heat oven to 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4. Grease and line 7in/18cm square tin.
Beat the peanut butter, margarine, sugar, egg and vanilla thoroughly until combined.
Stir in the oats and flour, then mix in the dates, nuts and milk to make a firm mixture.
Turn the mixture into the tin and mark with a fork. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and bake for 25-30 minutes until golden and firm.
Leave to cool in the tin for 10 minutes, then cut into 12 bars and cool on a wire rack.

As I am wheat intolerant and my daughter is dairy intolerant there were three substitutions - Dove's farm wheat free flour instead of ordinary self-raising, soya milk instead of cow's milk and soya/sunflower spread.

Every cloud has a silver lining and as a result of the peanut crispies not living up to expectations, my daughter decided to do some baking herself. These chocolate pinwheels were delicious and another bonus is that the dough keeps well for 3/4 days in the fridge and for up to 6 months in the freezer, ready to slice and bake as you need.



Chocolate Pinwheels

150g self-raising flour
100g butter/margarine
100g sugar
1 egg yolk
1tsp vanilla essence
1 tbsp. cocoa
2tbsp milk

Place butter and sugar in warmed bowl and whisk together until mixture is pale and fluffy. Add egg yolk and vanilla essence, continue to beat until blended. Incorporate sieved flour and milk. Divide the mixture into two and add cocoa to one half, beating thoroughly. Allow chocolate and vanilla mixtures to rest in the fridge until firm enough to roll out. Roll  to the same size rectangles of about 3mm thickness, on a well floured board. Carefully place vanilla sheet on top of the chocolate and roll up lengthwise as for a Swiss roll. Wrap in foil or waxed paper and chill for several hours or overnight in the fridge. Slice into 6mm slices and bake on an ungreased tray in a hot oven, 400F/200C?Gas mark 6 for 7 minutes.

Sit back, put your feet up and serve with a nice hot mug of tea or coffee. That's what we did, with enough cake/biscuits to last for several days!

Thank-you for reading and I hope you have a good week.



Friday, 23 August 2013

Recipe for Happiness

When sifting through my Mother's old recipe books I found this;-



 My husband and sons are fanatical about cricket and I have made many a cricket tea in the past; cheese and tomato, egg and cress and ham sandwiches being obligatory, sometimes with the fourth loaf being made of tuna, salmon or cucumber. Then there are the cakes; flapjacks, Victoria sponge, ginger loaf, chocolate brownies, melting moments, fruit cake. Everything taking hours to make/assemble and being devoured in a matter of minutes. But I wouldn't have it any other way! Cricket has brought many friendships and much laughter into our lives.



I have no recollection of my Mother using The Tea Interval but she obviously did. She was a good cook but a messy one. I can tell which pages she used from the splodges! She obviously made the onion quiche, the apple and cinnamon cake, the tangy lemon cake and the marmalade tea loaf. From the state of the page, the sesame peanut crispies were very popular although strangely I don't remember eating them.

But it wasn't actually the recipes themselves which caught my eye, it was the message on the first page. Here it is:-

A Recipe for Happiness


                                  4 Cups of Love
                                                                                     2 Cups of Loyalty
                                  3 Cups of Forgiveness
                                                                                 1 Cup of Friendship
                                  2 Spoons of Hope
                                                                            2 Spoons of Tenderness
                                  4 Quarts of Faith
                                                                                 1 Barrel of Laughter

                                  Take love and loyalty
                                  Mix thoroughly with faith
                                  Blend it with tenderness
                                  Forgiveness and understanding
                                  Stir in friendship and hope
                                  Sprinkle abundantly with laughter
                                  Add in some sunshine
                                  And serve in generous helpings to everyone you meet

There are many variations of this recipe but they all convey the same message - in my opinion, not just a recipe for happiness, but a recipe for the game of cricket, at its best, and even more than that, a recipe for life itself.

Thank-you for reading and may you be on the receiving end of all of these qualities this week. Next week I plan to bake those sesame peanut crispies. I'll let you know what they are like.

                                  
 

           

Friday, 16 August 2013

Loss

Synchronicity and serendipity are ethereal. They seemingly come out of nowhere and sometimes we miss their signs but occasionally they just land in our laps, refusing to be ignored.

I was already planning to write about my Mother this week when an episode of synchronicity and of serendipity came along to help me. At the moment I am editing my next book for Templar which is about the loss of a parent so I've been thinking a lot about grief. My Mother was only twenty when she gave birth to me so while I was growing up she always seemed young and glamorous. Here we are sitting together on the old well in the garden of my childhood home.



It is eight years since she died and I miss her every single day. Those eight years seem to have passed so quickly and yet it seems like a lifetime since I saw her, heard her voice, hugged her. There are so many times when I long to pick up the phone and tell her about something that has happened. There are so many times when I am cooking that I wish I could ring her and ask her advice. When I go to a garden centre I think how she would have enjoyed it. She knew such a lot about plants, remembering all of their Latin names. The longer I have been without my Mother by my side, the more I wish she was still here. In my mind I have a vivid picture of her standing by her front gate waving to me as I started the engine of my car and set off for home, or sitting in the garden in Summer time serving tea from the silver teapot which I now possess, pouring it into her Crown Derby cups.



And here is the synchronicity. I was thinking about photographing these cups for this blog and I went downstairs one day last week to discover my daughter had taken one from the back of the cupboard and was drinking a cup of coffee from it. As she has never done this before and I hadn't mentioned my thoughts to her is was one of those strange, almost telepathic moments.

My Mother was a great baker. Tucked away in my attic for the last eight years have been her recipe books. I have not looked at them once. Until this week. Suddenly it seemed wrong to keep them in the dark, unused so today I took those books out of their hiding place, flicked open the page and drank in her rounded, generous handwriting. I touched the curls of the pen with my fingers and pictured her sitting on her sofa copying these recipes from a magazine or a newspaper.



And so I come to the serendipity. Last weekend I went for a walk and called unexpectedly into my friend Bridget's. I came away with a bag of blackcurrants, picked from her allotment that morning.
One of the puddings my Mother used to make over the Summer was blackcurrant tart. As a child it was one of my favourites and I still love blackcurrants. Thank-you Bridget for prompting me to make this. The fruit was delicious, all the more because it had been given so spontaneously and unexpectedly.




 We talk about my Mother often. My children spent a lot of time with her when they were young. They built up a precious bond, one that cannot be broken by death. And in many ways she is all around me, from the plants in my garden to the tapestry cushions on my sofas and the jewellery which I wear. So although thinking of her sometimes makes me sad, I remind myself that I was lucky to have her in my life, that I am lucky to be her daughter, and I am grateful for all the wisdom, love and time that she selflessly gave to me.

Thank-you for reading and I send good wishes for a happy week ahead. If you fancy putting your feet up and indulging in a little light romance my adult novel Every Cloud... published under the name Lucy Cooper, is available as a free Kindle download this weekend.

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Holidays

I love holidays. Obviously it's nicer if the weather is good but that's not the most important thing. I love being with my family, having time to talk and walk, to read and dream without the pressures of everyday life. We have been to Scotland, just three of us this time, my husband, myself and my daughter and it was our first holiday for over a year - too long. But it was worth the wait.

These are the things I shall remember from our holiday, the things which will sustain me and inspire me in the months to come.

On the way North my husband and I stopped off at the Tatton Park Flower show. The sight of all those beautiful flowers was the perfect way to put us in a holiday mood.


On the second day we had to pick our daughter up from Carlisle station to we took a detour to Blackwell in the Lake District. This is a stunning Arts and Crafts house overlooking Lake Windermere where, at the end of a dark, oak panelled corridor I entered one of the most beautiful rooms I have ever seen.

 
It was so light and airy and had bookshelves and little seats either side of the fireplace. I could imagine myself sitting there on a winter's evening.
 

 
 
There was also a bigger window seat with stunning views down towards Lake Windermere. You'd never get bored with that view.



Then, on the third day, we reached Scotland where we were staying in a little whitewashed forester's cottage not far from Castle Douglas in Dumfries and Galloway. This also had beautiful views - this time of the Solway Firth.

These are some of the things we did while we were there:-

We attended Scottish night at Kirkudbright, eating delicious fish and chips whilst watching dancing and listening to bagpipes in the square. I don't have any Scottish ancestry to my knowledge but the sense of pride and the way it brought the whole community together brought a lump to my throat.



We walked to White Horses beach and, having it totally to ourselves, lay on the sand in the sun before strolling along the shoreline to collect shells.

 



We watched the birds in our garden, siskins, great tits, two greater spotted woodpeckers who hogged the bird feeder but best of all were the beautiful red squirrels who honoured us with their presence on the fifth day.

We visited Threave Gardens near Castle Douglas which are some of the most stunning gardens I have ever been to. And memories of the cornflowers in the wildflower border will light up the winter months to come.



There was another stop at Tatton Park on the way back, this time for a visit to the house where they had an exhibition of Beatrix Potter's drawings. I have seen some of these before but they never cease to amaze me with their delicacy. They are just sublime!

What made this holiday extra special was the friendliness of everyone we met. If you've never visited Dumfries and Galloway do go. The scenery is stunning with forests and hills, coastline and streams but above all you will meet some of the most welcoming people on the planet. We definitely hope to go back but for now it's back to work and to put some of those resolutions I made into practise.

Thank-you for reading.