Cake is in the house – Flapjacks.

I was having a lovely few moments flicking through Martha Collison wonderful book on baking called Twist making mental notes about cakes I would like to try but don’t at that precise moment have all the ingredients to bake them with, when Flapjacks hit me square between the eyes. ( Although I am getting much better at the buying of the ingredients,  now I make a mental note and then place the cookery book that is involved in the execution of that weeks cake on the table by the laptop so when I do the weekly online shop, I can flick to the page and order the ingredients, it works like a charm. No more trudging around a supermarket racking one’s brain thinking ‘what was that item I needed?’)  Oooh Flapjacks, those buttery, crunchy yet soft and chewy,  sweet and sticky treats, what is not to love. I’ve been making flapjacks for nearly 50 years, firstly at my mother’s aprons strings, then in school cookery classes,  next in various lodgings during cold winter nights and onto feeding hungry boys during summer holidays, although then they would barely last the day, but not recently and they only take four ingredients. Butter, brown sugar, golden syrup and oats. Weighing all the ingredients to Martha’s recipe, mine being long since forgotten,I melted the butter together with the golden syrup and sugar until all the sugars were dissolved. mixed the gloopy buttery syrup into the oats.then poured it into a lined baking tray and flattening it evenly with the back of a metal spoon and popped it in a hot 180 c oven for 15 minutes. let it rest for 5 minutes when it came out the oven and then cut it into squares and left it to carry on cooling in the pan.  When they were cool, I broke them up and popped them in a cake tub. Reserving a sweet treat to have with a well deserved cup of tea.

I really liked Martha’s recipe, the flapjacks were luscious compared to my old recipe which had probably came about from maximising the amount of oats to sugar and butter ratio, Martha’s flapjack was sweeter and richer and much more delicious, they are definitely on the to do again list.  


Book review; My Grandmother Sends her regards & apologises.

I recently joined a book club, I used to read avidly but sometimes I stop reading as I don’t find an author that I gel with and then I get lost when I look around a bookshop and just don’t know in what direction to go. So I thought I would join a book club and allow others, more knowledgable than I to guide me and so far it has been one of the best decisions I’ve made.

The book this month was My Grandmother Sends her Regards & Apologises by Fredrik Backman. 

Book description

‘Granny has been telling fairy tales for as long as Elsa can remember. In the beginning they were only to make Elsa go to sleep, and to get her to practise granny’s secret language, and a little because granny is just about as nutty as a granny should be. But lately the stories have another dimension as well. Something Elsa can’t quite put her finger on…’

Elsa is seven years old and different. Her grandmother is seventy-seven years old and crazy. Standing-on-the-balcony-firing-paintball-guns-at-men-who-want-to-talk-about-Jesus-crazy. She is also Elsa’s best, and only, friend. At night Elsa runs to her grandmother’s stories, to the Land of Almost-Awake and the Kingdom of Miamas. There, everybody is different and nobody needs to be normal.

So when Elsa’s grandmother dies and leaves behind a series of letters apologizing to people she has hurt, it marks the beginning of Elsa’s greatest adventure. Her grandmother’s letters lead her to an apartment building full of drunks, monsters, attack dogs, and totally ordinary old crones-but also to the truth about fairytales and kingdoms and a grandmother like no other.

My Grandmother Sends Her Regards and Apologises is told with the same comic accuracy and beating heart as Fredrik Backman’s bestselling debut novel, A Man Called Ove. It is a story about life and death and one of the most important human rights: the right to be different. Seven-year-old Elsa does.

Some might call Elsa’s granny ‘eccentric’, or even ‘crazy’. Elsa calls her a superhero. And granny’s stories, of knights and princesses and dragons and castles, are her superpower. Because, as Elsa is starting to learn, heroes and villains don’t always exist in imaginary kingdoms; they could live just down the hallway.

As Christmas draws near, even the best superhero grandmothers may have one or two things they’d like to apologise for. And, in the process, Elsa can have some breath-taking adventures of her own . . .

About the Author

Fredrik Backman is a Swedish blogger, columnist and author. His debut novel A MAN CALLED OVE was a number 1 bestseller across Scandinavia, has sold over one million copies worldwide, was a Richard & Judy summer read in the UK and an instant New York Times paperback bestseller, and has been made into an acclaimed film. Fredrik’s subsequent novels, MY GRANDMOTHER SENDS HER REGARDS AND APOLOGISES and BRITT-MARIE WAS HERE, also went straight to number 1 in Sweden on publication.

My own review is ‘oh wow’ the lightness of language as it weaves the story with such tender tiny details is delightful.  You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, your heart will stop as you speed read to find out what happens next, and you’ll linger over the buttery biscuit crumbs and smell of strong coffee.  It truly is a beautiful book, I’ve gone out and bought the next book in the series Britt-Marie today and will start with a Man called Ove as soon as I have finished that.


Leamington Peace Festival.

I remember planning my timetable and scraping together my pocket money to catch the bus there and back into Leamington and being very excited about marching down The Parade in the summer of ’78 as we  stopped traffic to support CND to protest against the nuclear bomb and then went onto the first festival in the pump room garden then called the Leamington Festival.  It was lovely, there were talks and a few stalls and it was just a good vibe, small but very friendly.  I can remember my mother squealing with horror when I told her I had been on my first march, but then I was just 12 – shades of things to come about being an independent butterfly.

Since then I have always tried to get to the Leamington Peace Festival, it has always been a lovely day, padding around whilst listening to the beat of the music, talking to like minded souls and enjoying the tastiest of treats while gazing at the lovely stalls containing the brightest of fabrics, what is not to love.

A few snaps, I stopped snapping and immersed myself in the moment.




As with all hobbies they become so much more than the sum of their parts and so photography has become for me. I’ve always enjoyed detailed work, having a personality that will automatically lean to the obsessive when learning something new, detailed work comes quite easily to me from learning CAD for drawing complex circuit boards, to more leisurely pursuits such as knitting or sewing, although tailoring hand sewn tiny stitches at 4.00 a.m. for a deadline could hardly be considered leisurely!  I think I just love the learning.

And so it has been with photography. Firstly learning what all the buttons do takes quite some time, and even now I know there are a few tools deep in the camera menu that I need to dust off and play with.  But putting the camera to one side for the moment, the greatest joy that photography has given to me is being able to look at the world in a new and most playful way.  It literally makes my imagination spin when I see things that I know just 6 years ago would probably have passed me by.

It often takes my breath away to see the changing  colour of light, that until a few years ago I hadn’t really noticed before. Photographers talk about the golden hour, and boy can it be golden, so I thought I would show you a couple of snaps taken moments apart, unedited in raw. Hobby sitting on a branch.

Moments later. Hobby sitting on a branch bathed in golden evening rays.

Spectacular isn’t it.

After this we have the blue hour, which can be just beautiful.

There are writers that will go into great detail about the whys and wherefores, I just wanted to share these images that illustrate the golden hour so beautifully.

Cake is in the house – Delia’s Sticky Prune and Date Cake.

Or should I say it will be in my Dad’s house on Father’s day. The last two Father’s Day I have sent my Dad a very nice cake through Fortnum and Mason, and he has enjoyed them very much.  The unwrapping of a Fortnum and Mason box which included tea fit for a King and let us not forget a Queen along with a delicious marmalade dundee cake with a gold greeting card inscribed with a personal message had never happened before in mandycharlie’s  parents home so you can imagine just how tickled pink he was by that idea.  So the next year on Father’s day I repeated it, and he was just as enchanted.  This year I am home so I can make my own – although I am not sure if he will be just a little bit sad about that idea, I’ll have to send him a random box of F & M’s finest cake during the year if he is.

But what to choose to bake him?  As soon as I saw Delia’s Sticky Prune and Date Cake  I knew it was the one, the combination of a goodly amount of four fruits, prunes, dates, currants and sultanas warmed with condensed milk and butter and then with the addition of a generous scoop of marmalade in the mix and also having a thick coating of sticky orangey marmalade on the top, what was not to love.

Firstly weigh all the fruits, butter and condensed milk and warm; don’t you just love the flat scales we have these days where we can pop whichever pan or bowl we are using and weigh straight into it. Next warm up and then let gently simmer for three minutes not a second more, stirring nearly all of the time to prevent it catching on the bottom. It turns into this glorious  burnished toffee sticky concoction. Then let it cool for half an hour which is vitally important.  The raising agent in this cake is bicarbonate of soda and this works by releasing gas as it warms up, through heat. So if you mix the dry ingredients into a warm hot sticky mess the cake rise will happen while you are still mixing it in the bowl and not as you want it baking in the oven.

Bake it for nearly two hours on a low light.

Soon you will have this. I burnished it with thick cut orange marmalade and packed it in I hope a pretty way. I’ll include a box of my favourite tea and a hand made card with gold lettering..

And hopefully he will even cut me a slice.


Sad news on the barn owls.

We went to watch the barn owls last week as we do nearly every night and overnight the behaviour had changed. I recognised it instantly, others thought we might be seeing the same two birds. She didn’t come out to greet him and then she came out late and started to hunt, and we didn’t see him at all, although you can never be sure with barn owls. A week later we are all pretty sure that the male barn owl is no more. It happened the night after those wonderful images of where he does a fly around to show off his catch to her, he is so obviously in love, so I am rather upset about it really., tears spring to my eyes when I think about it, I’d rather fallen a little in love with him myself at that point, having seen his deeply abiding love for her.

Research suggests that barn owls are life long partners, so its unlikely that he has gone off with some floozy, much more likely that he has been hit by a car or some other kind of accident as he would have been concentrating on the job in hand.

We know they have ringed these owlets and there are four, so it is very much fingers crossed to see if she has the stamina and luck to finish raising them.

I do hope so.

But she is working hard, she hunts presumably for herself before dusk to feed herself and then starts bringing the food in for the owlets when dusk falls, presumably when they wake up.  We noticed last night that she is quartering nearer to the box, where I hope she finds enough voles and mice as it will help with her stamina as the chicks continue to grow and demand more and more food.

A few photos from last night. 

Cake is in the house – Lemon polenta cake

I must say last weeks Cake is in the house Parkin went down a storm with the boys in the hide, after a few days resting the delicious treacly, oaty, gingery, stickiness of the cake came into its own and it certainly fuelled that evenings session of owl watching. One to make again, but perhaps when the weather is cooler to get all the benefit of an injection of turbo fuelled cake.

Which left me wanting something a bit lighter in the cake tin this week. I had thought of a lemon drizzle but then I thought that might be just a bit too light and miss its mark after the Parkin. So I needed something in-between a feather light cake and one that you could use as ballast to sink concrete godfathers into, when my mind wandered over to an old favourite that I used to make regularly when I was at college, Nigella Lawson’s Lemon Polenta cake.

Let me tell you a little about this cake should you wish to have a go at it yourself and I strongly suggest you do. It has made Angels weep with joy at its magnificent buttery, lemony, slightly eggyness, think lemon curd but in cake form. When made with fine polenta, it is perfection. When made with a medium grain polenta, fine not always being readily available, it becomes a slightly gritty, but equally lemony, buttery version, just as fine and definitely worth making a second pot of tea for for that straightening the cake up slice.

My version today is made with a medium grain polenta, I prefer the smooth polenta version, but really we are talking the difference between a perfect 10 and a 9 and 3/4’s.  This cake is so easy to put together, it takes no time at all.Icing sugar dissolved into the juice of the lemons drizzled over the baked cake. And the grand reveal. It was everything it was supposed to be, a tiny piece of comforting lemony buttery goodness on a dull British summers day, just perfect.

Barn Owl in daylight.

As I am sure most of you are aware some owls come out at night, notably Tawny’s but Barn Owls are crepuscular, which for a photographer is tantalisingly close to getting a decent image, except it isn’t and its always going to be full of grain. There are all sorts of trickery available in the way of software to help to get rid of the grain and pushing one’s exposure compensation to the right is supposed to help, except it doesn’t for me because I am in manual, so I just head to the right a little depending on the shadows and what I am trying to create.  It becomes a juggle with speed, and ISO and F stops.. while the light changes from the moving  fluffy clouds and the sun setting,  my fingers are constantly twirling the buttons while I take test shots.

So if one can get the advantage over an owl, photographically speaking, it is going to be a huge bonus.  Generally speaking Owls won’t hunt in the rain for I believe two reasons, firstly their feathers are not waterproof and  they will get waterlogged and probably die and the second they can’t hear as well so can’t locate their prey.  So if its been raining heavily for a night and most of the day, its generally a good idea to go barn owl hunting when the rain stops on where you think that barn owl might be, luckily I knew just where that was. And sure enough, out popped this little beauty mid afternoon and there she stopped for a couple of hours..  
Eventually she came out for a bit of a stretch, most comical it was.

And a think. 

And then she was off in search of food. She didn’t come back until much later into the evening, probably having fed herself first, so the light was down to what it normally is. But it was very nice to get these images on a much lower ISO than is normally possible.


The Kenilworth Agricultural Show.

On Saturday hubby and I wandered over to Stoneleigh to see the Kenilworth Agricultural Show, to our shame it is the first time we had attended and we should have gone sooner, we had a fabulous day.  There were all the usual suspects one has come to know and love at an agricultural show and  in no particular order included various hot food venders serving freshly cooked delicacies in buns, two beer tents, several fudge stalls, lots of tasters of cheese and beer and cake, pigs, sheep and cows, several large bulls. Tractors, there were lots of tractors and vintage cars.  A birds of prey exhibition, a side saddle demonstration, collies herding runner ducks (always a favourite!) and gorgeous stunt horses with stunt riders and a heavy horse and dray.  There was also a very well attended Home Craft Marquee with some very interesting and unusual entries my favourite being the lampshade made from old fashioned photographic slides, I wonder how that would look when lit up as your holiday snaps gazed back at you from your walls.

And the bits we didn’t get to see as we ran out of time was in the countryside area which included a dog show, clay pigeon and air rifle shooting, archery and crossbows, croquet and mini quads! A side saddle demonstration,a gorgeous collie herding runner ducks, always a favourite of mine, runner ducks are just so cute.  A few pics of the many birds of prey on display. And exciting times were had  with galloping horses and brave stunt girls and boys.A lovely heavy horse and dray, one of only two breweries still working their horses. These boys do a 3.5 mile round delivering their ales to the local pubs.  They keep three horses so one of them is always having a rest day to ensure continuity of service. There was a wonderful display of vintage tractors going right through to modern machinery.  I even managed to video most of it.  It was interesting to watch, I quickly spotted the tractors I knew as a young child which soon after had to have by law covered cabs and realised just how much tractors had changed in the last 45 years or so. It is kind of cute watching them go from tiny dots to huge mountains of a tractor, how much easier it must be to be a farmer these days than from when my father and uncle were working the land. I think this must be the best display I have seen with so many tractors all together, it must certainly have been a feat of organisation.

Last but not least and was certainly one of my favourite moments, the Grand Parade of the livestock, which actually meant cattle, I’m not sure what happened to the sheep. It was fun, there is nothing like watching a bull have a bit of a moment while being handled around an arena, the handlers certainly knew what they were doing.  After this we had a quick trip around the food stalls to gather essential supplies, bread, cheese and beer with which to have our own ploughmans supper and headed home happily weary having had such a lovely day.