Sunday, 27 March 2016

Cake! Wholemeal Apple and Orange Cake (Nigel Slater Recipe)

After all that reading, writing and researching, I thought it was time for some cake!
Wholemeal Apple and Orange Cake
220g butter 
210g light muscovado sugar
4 eggs
250g wholemeal flour (I used self raising)
 lightly heaped teaspoon of baking powder
½ tsp ground cinnamon (I used Holy Lama cinnamon spice drops rather than ground)
200g apples (peeled weight)
100g sultanas (recipe says you can use raisins)
125g orange marmalade
finely grated zest of an orange
Demerara sugar for sprinkling on top
20cm round cake tin with a removable base, lined with paper.
  1. Oven set to 160C/gas mark 4.
  2. Beat butter and muscovado sugar together until light, fluffy and pale coffee-coloured.
  3. Lightly beat the eggs with a fork.
  4. Sift together the flour, baking powder and cinnamon.
  5. Core and roughly chop the apples into 1cm square pieces.
  6. Mix the chopped apples with the sultanas and marmalade.
  7. Add the beaten eggs a little at a time to the creamed butter and sugar, adding a spoonful of flour if the mixture curdles.
  8. Gently but firmly fold in the rest of the flour.
  9. Fold in the fruit and marmalade mixture, along with the grated orange zest.
  10. Spoon into the prepared cake tin, scatter a fine layer of Demerara over the top and bake for an hour and 15 minutes, or until a skewer comes out moist but without any cake mixture sticking to it.
  11. Cool before serving.

I made this 3 days ago and the first couple of pieces were really lovely, although I was a little disappointed that the flavour wasn't more 'orangey'.

We had a piece this afternoon and it has become rather stodgy, probably because there is a load of fruit in.

I would definitely make this again, but it would be where I knew it would be eaten within 2 days.

100 Letters from Arthur - so much more I couldn't include ...

.... it was quite, no very, frustrating not to put in everything I wanted in the book.  It didn't take me long to realise that I was never going to finish the book if I kept interrupting myself with research, searching for more information etc.

I therefore decided I was going to keep the book to 200 pages (OK, it was 201 pages, so not far wrong) and from that the discipline was made easier.

The only time I allowed myself to deviate was when I came across any soldier's name in a letter - I did my best to identify them, mainly using a great site called Lives of the First World War -

I tend to agree with their statement on the opening page

We believe that each and every one of the 8 million who served during WW1 deserves to be remembered.

I felt that every soldier I could identify helped to remember them.

Anyway - the book - two things I did want to include - maps - one of where Arthur was captured by German Troops ...

... so here it is, above, with the Lancashire Fusiliers not far from the number 18 top right.  I couldn't find a good enough image to pass the publishing checks unfortunately.  I felt this would have given Arthur's capture some context, but anyway, it is here now.

The other image was what I thought of as 'The Freedom Walk' - in Arthur's last letter to home in November 1918, he listed all the towns he had walked to, and through, when he'd been freed.  Again, couldn't get one clear enough for the book, so here we go ...

In Arthur's letter of 21st November 1918 he confirmed he had travelled through Namur, Mons, Valenciennes and Peronne – this would have meant walking, or marching, for around 170km – estimated time 36 hours!  Here's the text of that letter too:-

Dear Father & Mother

You will perhaps have got my F.C by now and will understand we are now free. It may surprise you to know that I have never been in Germany but have been behind his lines working all the time and we have retreated with him from in front of Peronne to as far back as Namur where he done a jerry and left us without a bite we would have been in a stew if it hadn't been for the Belgians who couldn't make us welcome enough in their houses, we marched back and came in contact with our fellows. I left Mons this morning and am now in Valenciennes its good to get a crust of English bread in your mits it's like cake to jerrys. Well I hope I shall be home for Xmas as I'm making for Blighty Tuts suit. So Good Luck and Health to all. Arthur.

Friday, 25 March 2016

100 Letters from Arthur

Well, I've finally finished my 'non-fiction' effort!

From working in his father's Carlisle Clog Shop, Arthur Sproat joined the Army as a Private in the Lancashire Fusiliers.

His letters to home, starting in 1916, came from Colchester Barracks, where he received training and preparation for active service.

During 1917, Arthur served in France and Flanders, sometimes in the trenches, and continued sending letters home.

In March 1918, Arthur was gassed, captured by German troops and became a POW until November 1918.

His sister kept both his own letters, and some written by family and friends, and most are in good condition. I have transcribed the letters, as far as possible, to provide a unique insight into his life and wartime experience. Some additional material has been included to complete Arthur's story.

One third of royalties earned from any sales of '100 Letters from Arthur' will be given to Combat Stress, Registered Charity No. 256353. (

It took far longer than I'd imagined it would.  We'd had 'Uncle Arthur's' World War 1 letters from the trenches since they were passed to us when my partner's mum passed away in March 2013, but the idea of sorting through them, trying to read them, putting them in date order .... was overwhelming for quite a while. 

It also seemed a bit weird, trespassing on such personal property, but now that it is done, it will always be available for reference of such important times.

I started last year, picking out postcards, seeing if I could familiarise myself with any of the people on there. Luckily, some of them had been posted, or even just had a name written on them, so that helped.

Arthur Sproat - they're his letters!
But every postcard with a name on had me searching online to see if I could find out more about the World War 1 soldier it portrayed, so that didn't work.
I finally set aside some time and scanned every letter, postcard and other document - over 100 letters from soldier Arthur to his family, plus sundry letters and cards to him from his friends and family - and other photographs and documents to give it a bit of context.
At the moment, it is available as a large paperback only - - just waiting for it to be uploaded to Amazon too - because the book contains so many scans of original letters etc. I'm not convinced it will be that great on Kindle - but I plan to experiment this weekend and find out.
But I think I'll enjoy a bit of the Easter Break first!

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Frog Fest, Bereavement, Reading and (not) Writing

We haven't had a frog pile up like these in the picture for a few years now.  When Spring/Summer was really hot, there would sometimes be up to 20 frogs in a 'tower'.  It's probably a bit difficult to see the half dozen or so in the image clearly, but over to the left there's a huge female frog, a smaller male to the right and then a few small ones in the middle.  They sit like this for ages in the sun, and you occasionally hear a quiet 'snap' when they attempt to catch insects.

The azaleas and rhododendrons are out.  We only have a small garden, so these varieties won't grow very tall, but they're colourful.  The yellow scented larger one to the right does have a tendency to get a bit carried away, but with the lovely smell it produces in warmer weather, it's worth leaving until after the flowers have finished before cutting back.

Our neighbour's apple tree is completely covered in flowers.  She is currently visiting family in Florida, so I sent this image to her.  In her 80's, she has never embraced technology, although her brother has.  This evening, I received a scanned handwritten letter thanking me for sharing the blossom, particularly as she hasn't been able to do much given the very high temperatures over there.  Unlike here - despite a bit of blue sky and what appears to be sun in the images, we haven't really had a lot of good weather yet.  I find myself feeling quite sad sometimes when I see all the plants and trees producing flowers and blossoms, with no insects visiting them.
Writing etc. has been on hold for some time.  Unfortunately, my partner's mum passed away in March and life has been very strange, probably since Christmas.  She enjoyed a few months in a lovely rest home prior to her death.  Whilst she had been ill for such a long time, when it actually happened, I did experience a level of 'shock'.  She and I had never been close, probably because I am so close to my parents, we'd never formed that sort of bond which other people are lucky/able enough to.  Since April, we have been trying to sort everything out.  Her flat had become a time capsule from 20 years ago when her husband died and she resisted any change to its d├ęcor or furniture.  Obsessive storing of various items like batteries, stamps, cleaning products, hidden in strange places.  Drawers and wardrobes crammed with old clothing, unwanted gifts, old make up and jewellery.
I must admit I've started looking at home here in a much different light - there's so much 'stuff' that we keep - for example I'm terrible when it comes to throwing away cards and letters - photos from years past with a promise that one day I'll scan and catalogue them, when I know it isn't ever going to happen!  And really, as I've realised through the treasures which my partner's mum held on to, they don't mean much to anyone but me.  I wonder, though, how it would feel to become more minimalistic in my approach - no bookcases stuffed with literature from past obsessions like gardening, psychology, science fiction?  After all, virtually everything can easily be found online, but someone that doesn't have a sense of 'self' attached to it.
A recent trip away and it was brilliant to download a few books onto my Kindle, rather than fill up my suitcase with heavy paperbacks (maybe minimalistic could work?!).  I really enjoyed all the books I read too - Robert Goddard's The Fault Line, Michael Connelly's Nine Dragons, Robert Crais' The Sentry and Douglas Preston's The Codex.  Such different writing styles, especially Robert Goddard's, whose 'jolly British' writing always makes me smile.  Quite a contrast when you follow that with Connelly's Triad inspired novel!  I still have a few free novels which I've been steadily downloading, in an effort to support indie authors by hopefully reading and then reviewing.  I have come across a couple of these which regrettably I haven't been able to finish because of poor or no proof reading and editing.  It is something which spoils the story for me, when there's a lot of repetition or spelling/grammar mistakes.  I used to cringe at the cost of Kindle books by shall we say 'famous' authors, but no, now, 'I get it' - you get what you pay for.

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

The Garden Today

Still quite a lot of colour in the garden, even though the day has been damp, grey and sunless. 

Garden Notes
Pyracantha - covered in berries, more so than this time last year
Viburnum - in flower

Bird Record for Today
Starlings - 10+ on suet
Blackbirds - on bird table (sultanas)
Blackcap, female - on suet
Robin - meal worms
Blue Tits - eating insects from shrubs near the house
Chaffinches - have had 20+ in the garden for most of the day - bathing in saucer on the ground and feeding on the ground and on nut pieces on birdtable
Siskins - two visited briefly, mild interest in the niger seeds
Goldfinches - 10+ visited a couple of times today - nuts, sunflower hearts, niger
Wren - solitary, very close to house looking for insects, plus spent a lot of time in the yew back left
Wood pigeon - I'm reluctant to include these as they are more or less a permanent fixture in our garden!  The minute food is out on the table, they appear. 

I was sent a link to this site:-

There is a live daylight webcam on there pointing at Brownsea Lagoon.  As Brownsea Island is closed off season, this is a good way to 'see' avocets, snipes and other waders.  I spent a while watching, saw avocets for sure, but then had a lot of difficulty identifying the less colourful birds - the standard webcam image is too small, but when you blow it up to full screen, everything becomes blurred.

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Looking forward to a long break from work!

Someone commented via Twitter last night about the flowers etc. on my blog here - it was only then I realised I hadn't posted anything at all since September!  Not only that, but apart from a brief week or so when I knocked out a few chapters on my new novel, I haven't written much either.

The main reason has been dealing with the deterioration in health in an elderly relative - hospitalization, subsequent admission into a residential home - and all the other things which such an upheaval for that person involves.  It certainly is a sure way of completely killing off any creative thoughts - instead my head has been filled with routine stuff which has to be sorted - selling a flat, sifting through someone else's belongings, which has been very sad.

It certainly made me think, how much 'stuff' we all hold on to, when really, we don't need very much at all to enjoy life.  Once the sorting out has been done on the elderly relative's behalf, I need to have a serious declutter here.  Things like the hundreds of books we've accumulated over the years ... I've got a Kindle now, so surely I don't need half of them.  I was amazed to find out that even charity shops aren't as keen to take hardback books any more and was advised that the demand for lesser known or less popular works have declined.

The elderly relative has held on to some very interesting papers which were passed to her by her aunt who died twenty years ago.  These hadn't been moved from an old metal crate thing since she'd inherited them and I was delighted to find original 'letters from the trenches' written by a serving World War 1 soldier who was apparently captured and kept as a prisoner of war.  The letters are all neatly folded, in date order, and kept in a box with various Forces communications confirming he had been captured, periodic notifications that he was still alive, and in the box are his original medals too.  I feel that these would be of interest to someone and I think I'd like to scan them and reproduce in a book - plus want to research exactly where he was and at what stage of the war etc. 

As the post title confirms, I'm really eager to finish work for Christmas and enjoy a couple of weeks doing as little as possible, apart from perhaps starting the 'trenches' work.  Oh. and decluttering :)

The picture above was taken last winter - Waxwings - around twenty just appeared and cleared the cotoneaster berries.  We haven't had any yet this year, just a few redwings and a fat song thrush.  The brief cold spell brought loads of birds to the garden - wrens, blue tits, great tits, various finches - and a male and female blackcap (I love them!) - but we are back to heavy rain and slightly milder temperatures, which seems to stifle bird activity.

If you are still reading, and interested ... I'm using my last free day with Amazon's KDP programme on Thursday 20th December - my novel The Splintered Circle is historical fiction, set in the UK and Channel Islands, with some mystery in there too.  Includes various locations in the UK and a look back in time to when the Channel Islands were occupied by German troops during the Second World War.

Monday, 3 September 2012

Some Pretty Visitors

The heat today was unexpected.  Watching the weather forecast last night .... well, wrong again.  Temperatures were 5 or 6 degrees higher than that.  On my way to work, I noticed hundreds of gulls swirling around high in the sky catching the flying ants which had presumably hatched as a result of the heat and humidity.

It was so nice to have a couple of pretty visitors to the garden today.

A red admiral butterfly attracted to the last few buddleia flowers.

A humming bird hawk moth taking nectar from white phlox flowers.

Sad, though, that even three years ago, we were seeing dozens of butterflies and other insects in the garden.  This year, thanks to the prolonged rain in June and July, there's been hardly anything.

#amwriting.  Well, yes, surprisingly.  I don't find much time to do so, but I'm on Chapter 3 of my historical mystery, yet to be named, and the characters and ideas are coming through.  It'll be Dorset based, which will mean visiting a few places for inspiration.  Wimborne will feature at some stage.  It's one of those olde worlde village type places (in places), with the Minster and traditional thatches near the centre.

The Corn Market, Wimborne

I also need to continue working on my plants book, non-fiction of course, but my motivation on this one has waned given the poor summer we've had.

#amreading.  Again, a surprise.  I find I only now read on holiday, but Deep Storm by Lincoln Child is enjoyable and needs to be finished!  It also made me feel a bit better about my own lack of reviews on Amazon when I saw that Mr Child has only received 9 for Deep Storm.  Next up - well, I think I need to stay with this author, he's paired up with Douglas Preston a few times and I fancy 'Riptide' next.