21.8.17

Southport Flower Show






We enjoyed a wonderful day at the Southport Flower Show this week, on a bright sunny day. There were thousands of people present.
                                            

And lots of wonderful events as well as flowers, veg and food and other items on display or for sale. It's always worth a visit.
    


16.8.17

St Kilda


We enjoyed a wonderful cruise around the Scottish islands in June, visiting St Kilda, the Orkneys, Hoy and Shetland. Full of history, beautiful countryside and generally pretty good weather. Such a treat. St Kilda was fascinating and thankfully a sunny day. Now owned by the National Trust it still has a graveyard, post office, small shop, and a museum house.





We explored the curved row of ruined houses and the replacements built in the 1830s after the original ones were damaged by a gale. Now they are no longer occupied by anyone as occupants finally departed in 1930. Some have been reformed and are lived in by members of the NT.






It was interesting to see the byres where folk used to store their food, often used as shelters by the flock of primitive sheep who occupy this land. It’s very much considered a Natural Nature Reserve. There are many wonderful seabirds including puffins, gannets, fulmars, shags, cormorants, oystercatchers and many others. There are also meadow pipits, snipes, wheatears and St Kilda wrens, plus field mice who happily live there too.







There was a small church with a school room attached. We listened to a young man entertaining us by playing his violin brilliantly.





There’s also a Military Base, to which there is no entry. They are no doubt present for defence purposes, having occupied parts of this land for some years. They keep watch over all the nearby islands and also provide some basic facilities such as electricity and fresh water for the tourists etc.


Being a remote island it is said to be the remains of an ancient volcano in the Atlantic ocean, west of the Outer Hebrides. Originally part of a group of remote islands called Hirta (now known as St Kilda), Soay and Boreray. It could have once been occupied by people who were ‘pirates, exiles or malefactors’, escaping justice for whatever reason. There’s nowhere to stay there, so definitely a place to visit on a cruise. This was the view of it when we sailed away.
 

21.1.17

WARTIME RECIPES

Borrowed from my grandmother’s old cookery book. 

Bread and Butter Pudding
Several slices of thin bread with margarine or butter
2 ounces of sugar (if available) otherwise one grated apple.
2 oz of dried raisins
1 beaten or dried egg
1 pint of milk
½ teaspoon of cinnamon

Line a pie dish with layers of the sliced buttered bread, raisins and a sprinkle of sugar or grated apple between each. Beat up the egg or add the dried egg to the milk, then pour over the pudding and all to stand for about ten minutes.
Cook at around 175 degrees for an hour or so.

Lord Woolton Pie 
Chop a selection of potatoes, cauliflower, swedes, carrots, onions or whatever other vegetable you have available, and add one tablespoon of oatmeal. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring regularly. Put them in a pie dish, add a sprinkle of herbs, thyme, sage or parsley, as you wish, and a little brown gravy. Line the top with sliced potatoes or wholemeal pastry and bake in a moderate oven until the pastry has browned.

Mock Cream
1 tablespoon of dried milk
2 oz margarine or butter
1 teaspoon of sugar
½ teaspoon of vanilla essence

Beat the margarine and sugar, slowly add the dried milk then add the vanilla and beat until smooth.

Chocolate Haystacks
8 shredded wheat
1 tin sweetened condensed milk
2 oz cocoa.

Mix and shape in an egg cup. Set out on a tray. Do not cook just leave to harden.

Courting Cake
8 oz flour
4 oz marg/butter
2 oz sugar
1 egg (fresh or dried)

Mix to a stiff pastry with a little milk. Cut in half. Roll out one round and spread with jam. Roll a second round and place on top. Or cut and form the other half into tiny balls and place evenly on top. Bake approx 40 - 45 mins at 180C until golden brown.

Bran Loaf 
4 oz All Bran
4 oz brown sugar
6 oz mixed dried fruit
½ pint milk
4 oz Self Raising flour
1 tsp Baking Powder

Soak bran, sugar and fruit in the milk for 30 mins in a mixing bowl. Add the sifted flour and BP and mix well. Put mixture in a greased loaf tin. Bake for approximately 1 hour at 180C.

Brenda does quite a bit of cooking in my book Always In My Heart, although it doesn't always do her any favours with certain members of the family.
 

Brenda Stuart returns to her late husband’s home devastated by his loss only to find herself accused of bestowing favours upon the Germans. Life has been difficult for her over the war, having been held in an internment camp in France simply because of her nationality. Thankful that her son at least is safe in the care of his grandmother, she now finds that she has lost him too, and her life is in turmoil.

 Prue, her beloved sister-in-law, is also a war widow but has fallen in love with an Italian PoW who works on the family estate. Once the war ends they hope to marry but she has reckoned without the disapproval of her family, or the nation. The two friends support each other in an attempt to resolve their problems and rebuild their lives. They even try starting a business, but it does not prove easy.

Published by Mira Books
Available in most good book shops and online.

WH Smith

Amazon UK

Amazon US

Kobo

14.1.17

Work on the land in World War II

At the start of the war because of the blockade around our shores, there were fewer imports, and farming exports fell. The amount of food people could find went down and people turned their flower gardens into vegetable plots. They would keep hens and maybe a pig too. Women and youngsters would go out each autumn to pick acorns, collecting those that had fallen from the oak trees and use them to feed pigs. Children often had plots at school where, with the help of teachers, they too grew vegetables.

 Throughout the war the government maintained good prices and strived to avoid a post-war farm recession, as happened following World War I. Farm labour shortage did become a problem, most men having enlisted. A farmer’s first reaction was to get his wife and children to work with him, being required to produce more food. Eventually an emergency appeal was made to recruit members for the Women’s Land Army. Many had not worked on the land before, some having been hairdressers, shop assistants or simply wives and mothers, so had a great deal to learn. It could be difficult at times for them to cope with the cold and mud of winter, the long hours and heavy work involved in the vital tasks of digging, weeding and ploughing, but the land girls grew proud at being able to contribute to the war effort.

Later, the government allowed German and Italian prisoners of war (POWs) to be used as farm labourers, which is what happens in this story. Were they welcomed, and were there rules that had to be kept? They were often involved in caring for sheep and hens. I too have experienced that when running a smallholding. I found that great fun, if quite demanding and took me a while to learn how to do it.

A friend supplied me with a number of battery hens, which I could give the freedom to be free-range. Being a lass from the mill towns of Lancashire I barely knew how to deal with them, except for a vague memory of helping my grandfather with his hens when I was a small child. She explained the routine, reminding me to shut them up last thing at night. What she didn’t tell me was how to get them safely into the hen hut. I diligently attempted to pick them up. They ran around avoiding me and I finally fell headlong, catching none on them. I went off to have a cup of tea to puzzle over how to resolve this issue, then saw them forming an orderly queue. Presumably in correct pecking order they hopped through the pop hole and onto their perches. So simple! I used this experience in the story, just for fun.

Despite rationing of raw materials for farm equipment, farmers during the war became keen on new technology. The arrival of the Ford Tractor provided valuable equipment for the task of food production. When the war was over, most of their previous hired labourers did not return to the farm. By then most farmers were much better equipped, having used their increased income to buy machines, so they no longer required anywhere near as many workers.

Brenda Stuart returns to her late husband’s home devastated by his loss only to find herself accused of bestowing favours upon the Germans. Life has been difficult for her over the war, having been held in an internment camp in France simply because of her nationality. Thankful that her son at least is safe in the care of his grandmother, she now finds that she has lost him too, and her life is in turmoil. 

Prue, her beloved sister-in-law, is also a war widow but has fallen in love with an Italian PoW who works on the family estate. Once the war ends they hope to marry but she has reckoned without the disapproval of her family, or the nation. The two friends support each other in an attempt to resolve their problems and rebuild their lives. They even try starting a business, but it does not prove easy.

Published by Mira Books
Available in most good book shops and online.

WH Smith

Amazon UK

Amazon US 

Kobo


10.12.16

Fat-free Christmas Pudding

4 oz prunes or dates
4 oz candied peel
4 oz grated carrot
4 oz sultanas
4 oz raisins
4 oz currants
1 cooking apple, chopped
½ allspice
½ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground nutmeg
½ tsp ground cloves
juice and zest of 1 orange and 1 lemon
4 oz fresh wholemeal breadcrumbs
2 oz chopped hazelnuts or flaked almonds
4 oz self-raising flour
6 oz dark muscavado sugar
2 large eggs
¼ pint Guinness or 2 –3 tbsp brandy

Mix all the ingredients together, stir well and make your wish, then fill a 2 ½ pint or 1.4 litre pudding basin, or divide between two 1 pint dishes.
Steam initially for 6 hrs and cook for a further 3 ½ hrs on Christmas Day prior to serving. You can use the microwave to reheat before you serve it. But if you bake it in the microwave, it won’t have the keeping qualities of the traditional method. You can store this pudding in a suitable container in the fridge for twelve months. Enjoy and have a happy Christmas.

22.10.16

A Canadian Cruise

We’ve just enjoyed a wonderful cruise from New York to Canada on Queen Mary 2.


It began with Newport on Rhode Island, a pretty town founded in 1639 that is rich in history.



We enjoyed a lovely walk around admiring beautiful houses, and a Quaker meeting house. It was apparently once a most popular town for well-off families including the Astors, Vanderbilts and Wideners, where they owned summer homes. Would love to have explored it a little more.


Sydney in Novia Scotia was our next port of call where we were free to explore, the waterfront most delightful. You can take a bus tour to explore further afield but we were happy to walk around a part of the town as it was most fascinating, having a connection with Scotland, many immigrants coming from there in the nineteenth century. Jost House and Cossit House were also interesting, dating from the eighteenth century. Cape Breton Island very Celtic.


We particularly enjoyed Quebec, which yes, is very much French but a lovely and interesting walled city. We walked and walked, explored the harbour, visited museums, the ruins beneath the chateau, the Citadel, shops and enjoyed lovely lunches.





Boston was a part of the trip, but as we’d already spent some days there we took a rest day. But it is a fascinating and lovely city.


Next came Saguenay, a small rural town that very much welcomed Queen Mary 2 with a band and celebrations. Many locals were in costumes, Indians with their wigwams and children dancing. Great fun!



Finally, we called at Gaspé and Halifax. Gaspé is quite small and rural; Halifax large and commercial but we enjoyed a visit to the Citadel army museum and then an ancient boat.


It was a most enjoyable cruise. Excellent food and most entertaining.

11.10.16

A String of Pearls - Cantoria

They call Cantoria the pearl of the Almanzora but in my view it is only one of a whole string of pearls. Here you will find a scattering of tucked-away, white-washed villages in which time seems to stand still.

Situated 7km north-west of Albox, Cantoria seems a world away from its more commercial neighbour. Protected by the Sierras de Filabres to the west and Oria to the north, the village lies in a tranquil valley, dominated by its fine church. According to Donna González Linnitt from Rural Cantoria Estate Agency, some of the more adventurous British are indeed falling for its charms, enchanted by the cortijo life-style. The Spanish tend to work in the village during the week and move to their farmhouses at week-ends and fiestas.

The marble industry is its greatest source of wealth yet we saw no eye-sore quarries to spoil the view, these being well hidden at the far end of the village. British children now settle happily in the village school, retired couples can enjoy a healthy, outdoor life, with good walking, sports and fiestas. Best of all, for less than 200,000€ you can buy a fully restored, four-bedroomed, two bathroomed farmhouse, together with a plot of land, terraces and outbuildings, and perhaps even with an orange grove.

In Cantoria we enjoyed a coffee in the Plaza de Constitucion while senior citizens played cards in the morning sunshine. Evidently a favourite pursuit. The small town was buzzing with morning traffic although hardly a rush-hour; people chatting; old ladies doing their shopping, mothers and children sitting on doorsteps enjoying the sun.

We took a short detour to Albanchez, a delightful village clinging to the hillside overlooking the rich Almanzora valley. I am told it boasts a fine restaurant but we didn’t have time to linger today to taste its delights, as we were keen to move on to our next pearl.

If you love Spain, you might enjoy my latest book Forgotten Women.


It is 1936 and Spain is on the brink of civil war. Across Europe, young men are enlisting in the International Brigade to free their Spanish brethren from the grip of Fascism, leaving sisters and lovers at home. 

But not all women are content to be left behind. In Britain, Charlotte McBain and Libby Forbes, friends from opposite sides of the class divide, are determined to do what they can; in Spain, Rosita García Díaz, fiercely loyal to her family and country, cannot stand by and watch. Three brave women, inspired by patriotism, idealism, love and even revenge, dare to go into battle against tradition and oppression. 

Tying them all together is Jo, Libby’s granddaughter. Five decades later she travels to Spain hoping to make sense of a troubling letter hidden among her grandmother’s possessions. What she learns will change all of their lives forever. 

Deceit, heartbreak, and a longstanding fear of reprisals must all be overcome if the deeds of the forgotten women are to be properly honoured. 

Amazon UK

Amazon US 

Blogs about Forgotten Women and the Spanish Civil War