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Saturday, 26 November 2016

Lizzie Lamb's Clootie Dumpling Recipe

On Wednesday, November 30th, it is the Feast of St. Andrew, the patron saint of Scotland and several other countries, Russia, Cyprus and Greece to name a few.  Although, (to my knowledge), I don't have any Scottish blood, my guest this week does. Lizzie Lamb is a hugely successful romantic novelist and inspiration to all of those who know her so I am thrilled to welcome her to my blog sharing her childhood memories and her recipe for the wonderfully named, Clootie Dumplings. 

    So, over to the lovely Lizzie.

Relax and enjoy!

I only have to unscrew a jar of cinnamon and I’m seven years old again, making my way home from school through the deep snow of a Scottish winter. But I don’t mind the cold because I know that there’s Clootie Dumpling waiting for me. Not Lord Snooty’s Christmas pudding, as dark and round as Guy Fawkes’s bomb - I mean Clootie Dumpling, its bigger, more substantial Scottish cousin, a cross between a Quatermas Experiment and a Desperate Dan pie.  

On Clootie Dumpling day (we simply called it dumpling) the kitchen was a blissful warm fug of steam, redolent with the scent of cinnamon and ginger, like some medieval banquet, the clatter of pots and pans and lots of happy chatter. Just the antidote for dark, northern December days. The dumpling would have been mixed by hand (not wooden spoon) earlier by my mother and grandmother in a huge bowl. No weighing of ingredients for them, everything was done by guestimate and experience.  

The copper would be fired up, filled with water from the immersion heater and brought to boiling point. (We always had lots of hot water because my grandfather was a coal miner and we had a ton of coal delivered twice a year) Then the dumpling cloth would be brought out - my mother swore by a square of linen sheet she’d bought at the Glasgow Barrows. String would be filched from the large hairy ball of twine my granddad guarded jealously and we were off. From my point of view, the best bit was smacking the dumpling’s bottom - for luck - just before it was wrapped in its wet, flour sprinkled cloth, tied at the neck with string and immersed in the copper for three hours. 

Then came the great reveal, the steaming dumpling was taken out of its cloth, rolled onto a large turkey plate and put in front of the coal fire to ‘dry out’ and form a skin. There’s nothing finer on a cold winter’s day than sitting by the fire waiting for the first slice to be ready. We always ate the first slice hot with the top of the milk poured over it. Next day, I’d take a slice to school as my ‘piece’ for break time, wrapped in a ‘loaf paper;’ while the adults ate theirs with a friend's egg, and sometimes baked beans. The poor old dumpling never lasted long as slices were given to neighbours - who reciprocated when they made their dumping - but theirs was never as good as my Mammy’s.   

When we moved to England in 1962, we left the copper behind and my grandma hit on the idea of boiling the dumpling up in the twin tub. I don’t know how, but the mixture never seeped through the cloth into the water. Too dense I suppose. Then Mammy found a huge catering saucepan [with handles on two sides] on a stall on Leicester market, and we carried it home - all the way up London Road. That saucepan became the family dumpling pot.  

When we no longer had coal fires, we dried the dumpling in the oven - but that always seemed a poor show, somehow. The making of dumpling and other Scottish treats like tablet, stovies, tatties, sausage and onions, and the traditional peppery steak pie on New Year’s Day passed into folklore when first my grandmother and then my Mammy died. But I only have to unscrew the lid of a Bart’s spice jar to be transported back to those happy childhood days - when dumpling was king.

Ingredients For Clootie Dumpling:
125g suet
250g plain flour
125g oatmeal
250g mixed sultanas and currants
1 tablespoon of golden syrup
75g sugar
2 lightly beaten eggs
1 teaspoon of ginger
1 teaspoon of baking powder
1 teaspoon of cinnamon
4 tablespoons of milk
1 tablespoon of flour for the cloth

Cooking Directions for Clootie Dumpling:

1. Rub the suet into the flour and add oatmeal, baking powder, sugar, sultanas and currants and the ginger and cinnamon. Blend together and add the eggs and syrup. Stir well and add just enough milk to firm.

2. If you are using a cloth (cloot), put it into boiling water first then spread onto your table and sprinkle a liberal amount of flour over the inside. Put the mixture into the middle and tie up, leaving a wee bit of space for the mixture to expand.

3. Place an upside-down saucer at the bottom of a deep pan and put the tied cloot in and cover with boiling water and simmer for about 3 hours.

4. If you'd rather use a bowl it will need to be greased before adding the mixture. Leave an inch space at the top for the pudding to expand. Cover with greaseproof paper and tie.

After teaching her 1000th pupil and working as a deputy head teacher in a large primary school, Lizzie decided to pursue her first love: writing. She joined the Romantic Novelists’ Association’s New Writers’ Scheme, wrote Tall, Dark and Kilted (2012), followed a year later by Boot Camp Bride. Although much of her time is taken up publicising Tall, Dark and Kilted and Boot Camp Bride, she published a third novel SCOTCH ON THE ROCKS in July 2015. It achieved Best Seller status within two weeks of appearing on Amazon. Lizzie is a founding member of indie publishing group – New Romantics Press. In November 2014 they  held an Author Event at Waterstones High Street, Kensington, London - the icing on the cake as far as they are concerned. In March 2016, Lizzie was a finalist in the prestigious Exeter Novel Prize for Scotch on the Rocks. And, in November, she will be hosting an author event at Aspinall, St Pancras, talking about writing and handing out prosecco and macaroons.  Lizzie lives in Leicestershire with her husband David (aka Bongo Man) and a naughty parrot called Jasper. She loves to hear from readers, so do get in touch . . . 

Scotch on the Rocks – a contemporary romance set in the Highlands of Scotland

Boot Camp Bride - Romance and Intrigue on the Norfolk marshes

Tall, Dark and Kilted Notting Hill Meets Monarch of the Glen

Take a chance on us - a tapas of novel openings guaranteed to pique your taste buds
Hocus Pocus 14 short story anthology

Lizzie’s Links

twitter: @lizzie_lamb      

Thank you very much to Lizzie for a lovely post and Happy St. Andrew's Day to everyone! 


Friday, 23 September 2016

Judy Bryan's Mars Bars and Memories

A few weeks ago I was thinking of my favourite things and these include reading, writing and

CAKE! So I thought, why don't I combine these three gorgeous things on my blog and ask some

of my lovely writer friends for their favourite cake recipes. So, to get the ball rolling and following

on from my own honey cake recipe, here is the very talented Judy Bryan's recipe for Mars Bar

cakes, with some lovely memories thrown in.

Mars Bars and Memories

When Alex said she was intending to blog about people's favourite recipes, I 

immediately thought of my husband’s grandma. When my husband and I married,

32 years ago, we used to visit her every Saturday morning for a cup of tea and a 

slice of cake. Although she baked a huge variety of recipes, everyone’s favourite

was Mars Bar Krispie slices. Now aged 96, she still makes it when someone calls

in to see her.

Over the years I’ve made many trays of it with my children – as toddlers, they used to

stand on chairs to stir in the Rice Krispies, and as they grew up they enjoyed making it

themselves, although most of the mixture was ‘tested’ before it made the tin! As a 

teenager, my daughter even made a batch in the early hours one morning. She couldn’t 

sleep and needed comfort food to get over a boy who had broken her heart.

My husband and I are going to visit her at university next weekend and she’s asked us

to bring the things she’s forgotten: shoes, clothes, phone charger … plus a Tupperware

full of Mars Bar Krispies to share with her housemates. I laughingly mentioned this to my 24-

year-old son, and without missing a beat he asked for a batch when I next see him!

I hope I’m still making it when I’m 96!

Mars Bar Krispie

This is such a simple recipe, but is really delicious.

50g butter

2 Mars Bars

Rice Krispies

Chocolate to cover (1 x 150g bar of milk chocolate)


1) Melt the butter and Mars Bars over a low heat

2) Stir in sufficient Rice Krispies to saturate the mixture

3) Spread into a non-stick baking tray

4) Leave to chill in the fridge

5) Melt the chocolate in a heat-proof bowl over a pan of boiling water (without the bowl

touching the water) or in a microwave on a low setting

6) Spread quickly over the chilled mixture

7) Chill in the fridge, then cut into slices

8) Enjoy!

Judy Bryan is the author of Playground Politics, Beyond the Clouds and Behind Closed


Judy's books are all available on Amazon and you can find them here;-

Thursday, 8 September 2016

Quick Honey Cake

My mother was a wonderful cook and one of her favourite things was baking. We always had cake in the house and she loved trying new recipes. Recently, more than ten years after she died, I have been re-visiting her cookery books, not the ones she bought but the ones she compiled herself; recipes which enticed her, copied out from magazines, newspapers or passed on from friends and family. It is a poignant exercise, seeing her generous rounded hand-writing and the ingredient spattered pages. In some ways it brings her closer; in others it deepens my sense of loss.

My children, now grown, often talk of 'Grandma's recipes' and many have become our own family favourites but I had forgotten about this one. I can't remember whether we were out one day or watching television but as soon as I heard the words 'honey cake', I thought, Mummy used to make that and, sure enough, rootling through her books I found it.

It is a lovely cake, so quick and easy to make and it gets even better after a few days as the honey flavour develops and moistens the sponge. It is equally good with a cup of tea or coffee or served as a pudding, (as I did last week at a family get-together), with soft fruit and ice cream. It also freezes well.

You can use any honey but I used a truly beautiful English heather honey from Littleover Apiary, (available from Waitrose), where, during late Summer, the hives are placed on the moors in the North of England for the bees to do their work. The taste transferred from those flowers is sublime!

So here it is - one of the cakes my mother used to make:-

Quick Honey Sponge

4oz butter or margarine
1 good dessert spoon of honey of your choice
2 eggs (unbeaten)
3tbsp milk
4oz castor sugar
5oz self-raising flour
Half tsp baking powder

Chop up fat and place in warmed bowl with other ingredients. Beat until smooth. Pour into loaf tin and bake for about 20/25 minutes.

That's it! Couldn't be simpler. I'm afraid that I can't tell you what temperature to bake it at as my Mum hasn't specified and I have an Aga. But I'd definitely check it after fifteen to twenty minutes and if it looks as if it is catching a little around the sides just put a piece of foil over the top for the last few minutes of cooking. It doesn't make a large cake, probably about 7/8 medium slices. Last week, when we were a bit of a crowd, I made doubled the quantity and made two, just whisking the whole mixture up together and then dividing it into two loaf tins.

As usual I have to make a few substitutions as I'm gluten free and my daughter is dairy free but it still makes a lovely cake. Instead of butter I used Pure Sunflower Spread. The self-raising flour was Dove's Farm Gluten Free Flour and the milk was Alpro soya milk. If you're baking it for someone who's gluten free don't forget to check the baking powder as well - some of them do contain gluten.

I hope you enjoy it!

Monday, 11 July 2016

Hidcote Manor Gardens

In June we took a family holiday to Gloucestershire. There were 9 of us, 7 adults and 2 children. Most of us have visited Hidcote Manor Gardens before but I always forget just how beautiful it is and how personal despite being a National Trust property and visited by thousands of people each year.

These Arts and Crafts gardens were created by Lawrence Johnston and over 30 years he transformed a few fields into what he called 'a garden of rooms', using 'only the best forms of any plant'.

He says that he 'carefully designed the garden spaces to slowly unfold, revealing a different atmosphere or new vista at every turn.' But it is not just the garden that unfolds. Immersed in its beauty you can feel yourself doing the same.

There is tranquillity...

and fun.

The opportunity to reflect...

...and to marvel.

You can enjoy Hidcote at any age.

And if you do get a bit tired there is always somewhere to sit.

The borders are spectacular...

...but I think this white bench and the wisteria was one of my favourite spots and my daughter-in-law's too.

And if you want to head off on your own and get away from everyone for a while you can do that as well!

These lupins will probably be over now but the garden will have new treasures waiting to be discovered. If you are get the chance to visit Hidcote, please do. It has inspired generations of gardeners but I am also sure that, rain or shine, within its boundaries it has provided solace and joy, respite and regeneration too. It truly is a magical place.

Thank-you for reading. Have a wonderful week.

Sunday, 29 May 2016

Acne Rosacea

When I was small I had flaxen hair and very fair skin. We lived in a seventeenth century thatched cottage without central heating and often in the winter there was frost on the inside of the diamond paned windows. I felt the cold and would sit as close to the open fire as was safe. In retrospect the extremes of temperature were probably not at all good for my skin but I never had any problems with it through my teens. It was after a family trauma which brought on the peri-menopause that things started to go pear shaped and I developed acne rosacea. At first it was just a little patch but then it spread and gradually got worse and worse. Initially I went on a low dose of anti-biotics which helped a little but I didn't want to stay on those for ever, although some people choose that path and I have no problem with that. But, after reading about an increasing prevalence of acne rosacea I thought it might be helpful to relate my own ways of coping with this challenging and frustrating condition.

At its worst the state of my skin badly affected my confidence; it was red, flaking, breaking out in pustules and nothing really helped until my husband found The Sher Clinic in London. Unfortunately The Sher Clinic is no longer around but the principles I learned there have helped me enormously over the last eight years. I'm not a medical expert and obviously a doctor should be your first port of call but if you have been down that route and are still looking for answers hopefully the following might help. I'm very aware that some of the things which have worked for me may not work for others but if my methods of coping help just one person it will be worth it because I know just how confidence sapping acne rosacea can be.

Firstly, in my case the rosacea definitely is not helped by stress. At The Sher Clinic they did say that a lot of people who suffer from it can trace the beginnings back to an extremely stressful experience in their lives. Obviously we all experience stress from time to time but I do try to keep things calm and balanced as far as is possible.

Secondly, I have avoided wheat products for many years as I am severely intolerant to them. But several months ago after a recent worsening of the condition, I went gluten free as I read that synchronicity in breakouts (which was occurring to me,  i.e. if I got a spot on one cheek, a couple of days later I'd get a spot on the other in exactly the same place), can be an indication of gluten intolerance. Cutting out gluten has definitely helped. It took a few weeks to notice an improvement but I am sure this change for the better is not a coincidence.

I have begun to drink Clipper organic green tea which I am also convinced has helped. (My sister in law also credits green tea with calming her asthma). I do try to wait until it has cooled a little - I was prone to drinking my drinks when they were very hot. I rarely drink coffee but dandelion tea is good as it helps to cleanse the liver.

My daughter and I make smoothies, the one which my skin seems to like the most is banana, soya milk and a handful of spinach. Trust me, it tastes a lot better than it looks!

I try to eat as well as possible although I am partial to a piece of cake every afternoon!
When my rosacea flared up a few months ago I did try an alkaline diet for a few days which seemed to help, but I did find it hard to stick to. I do think it probably kick-started the healing process though.

Avocados are good and lots of salads which I think of as cooling foods.

Alcohol is not good but I don't drink much anyway, although I am partial to the odd glass of prosecco and you can't deny yourself entirely!

I take zinc supplements and vitamin B. At the Sher Clinic they also recommended a tablespoonful of Cool Oil (I take it in some juice) which is a combination of Omega 3,6 and 9.

Another Sher Clinic recommendation was to drink a glass of water before and after every meal, room temperature, not too cold.

Then there is the skincare itself. The Sher Clinic had their own products which are no longer available so I have devised my own routine.

In the morning I wash my face with Balance Me Cleanse and Smooth Face Balm. Following this I splash my face with tepid water at least fifteen times.

Gently pat dry skin.

I apply Jason's vitamin e oil, 5,000i.u. It seems strange applying oil to your face when you have spots but trust me it does work. The Sher Clinic had their own oil and I don't know what it contained but after trial and error I have found this vitamin e oil to suit my skin the best.

Apply moisturiser - again Balance Me Moisture Rich Face Cream. I just love their products and the eye cream is lovely too.

I have changed my make up and try to buy organic products so that I am not applying any nasties to my skin. At the moment I am using Bourjois Healthy Mix foundation. To be honest it's not perfect. I'm still on the hunt for that perfect coverage and colour.

In the evening I remove my make-up with tepid water on cotton wool, followed by washing my face with the Balance Me again. More splashing! And that is it. I don't apply any night-time products, just let my skin rest at night.

It may sound complicated and time-consuming but to be honest it is part of my daily routine and is worth it. I know that I am more than my skin but when my rosacea was at its worst I thought that was the first thing which people saw and at times I just wanted to hide away. I accept that this is something I will always have to live with and in the grand scheme of things it could be far worse. But the face we show to the world can impact hugely on our confidence and if you suffer from rosacea or know someone who does I hope that a few of these tips will help.

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Keukenhof 2016

There was a report in the paper recently which stated that our gardens are where we feel happiest at home. I love getting out in the garden, especially now the days are getting warmer and longer. But I also love visiting other gardens and Keukenhof in Holland is somewhere my husband and I have wanted to visit for ages. Last week we finally made it.

I honestly didn't know quite what to expect. I knew that I was going to see a fantastic display of bulbs. I knew that it was in a parkland setting and I knew that the theme this year was 'The Golden Age', but it was so much better than I imagined. There really is only one word to describe it and that is WOW! Words really can't do it justice so here are a few pictures to hopefully brighten your day.

Thrushes are normally so shy so for this one to come almost within touching distance felt like a real treat.

And across the waterways at the back of the gardens were the rainbow hues of the bulb fields.

According to a study in the journal Urban Forestry and Urban Greening being in a garden allows stimulation of the senses, the experience of positive emotions and the restoration of impaired mental resources amongst other things. Keukenhof must surely provide all of those things in abundance. The colours, the patterns, the combination of flowers, the sheer beauty of it all is just so uplifting. We didn't want to leave. But I plan to make a collage of my photos and put them on my kitchen wall so every day I'll have another little taste of Keukenhof 2016.

Thank-you for reading. Hoping you have a lovely week.

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Evolving Resolutions

I'm not a great one for making New Year's Resolutions on 1st January. I prefer to let them evolve over the first few weeks of the year. But one resolution I have already made is to read more classics this year. Having visited both New England and California over the past 3 years I planned to read some John Steinbeck but my local library had other ideas. They were out of Steinbeck so I ended up with Edith Wharton instead and what a treat.

Ethan Frome is meant to be her bleakest book but it is beautiful and will certainly linger with me for a long time to come. If you haven't read it I would highly recommend it and it's very short so a good one to start with.

Serendipitously the BBC have been doing a radio adaptation of John Steinbeck's East of Eden so I've actually been able to enjoy that as well. It features David Yip and Holliday Grainger amongst the fabulous cast and you can catch it on the BBC I-player. I'd really recommend that as well.

My second resolution is to explore more of my local area. I often visit Uppingham, a pretty little market town in Rutland which is the smallest county in England. Sometimes I visit to go to the dentist or maybe to meet friends for coffee or, in the summer months, to watch my husband and sons played cricket. I have bought beautiful olives and crisp vegetables from stalls in the market square, I have browsed in the little gift shops but before last week I had never ventured inside the church of St. Peter and St. Paul.

The main entrance is off the market square, tucked between two buildings.

To begin with I had the whole church to myself. Sun shone through the windows, dust motes hovered in the stillness. My rubber soled boots seemed intrusively noisy on the smooth floor. I lit a candle and sat in a pew.

On the pillar next to me was a statue of St. Peter, the first Pope, founder of Rome and patrol saint of fishermen, bakers, butchers, horologists and locksmiths to name a few.

On the opposite pillar was a statue of St. Paul, also the founder of Rome and patron saint of missionaries, public workers, saddle makers and authors.

Ahead of me the most beautiful stained glass window..


...behind me the early medieval font.

To be alone in this sacred space was such a privilege, the perfect antidote to a hectic Christmas and New Year.

Not all of the places I visit in my local area will be churches. I hope that there will be gardens and houses, previously unexplored villages and footpaths but St. Peter and St. Paul seemed like the perfect place to start.

Thank-you for dropping by and Happy New Year to all.