Archive | January, 2011

Books 2011 – the results

27 Jan


Here are the books I’ve read this year:


Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

One Day by David Nicholls

The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards


Nourishment by Gerard Woodward

The Great Lover by Jill Dawson

The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald – our book club book for March


Naomi by Junichiro Tanizaki

History of a Pleasure Seeker by Richard Mason

Room by Emma Donoghue


Ascent by Jed Mercurio


Kamchatka by Marcelo Figueras

One Good Turn by Kate Atkinson

The Bullet Trick by Louise Welsh

Purge by Sofi Oksanen


Toast by Nigel Slater

Snowdrops by AD Miller


Sin by Josephine Hart

The Pornographer of Vienna by Lewis Crofts (novel based on the life of Egon Schiele)


Weight by Jeanette Winterson


When God Was a Rabbit by Sarah Winman

The House of Rajani by Alon Hilu


Started Early, Took My Dog, by Kate Atkinson

What Was Lost by Catherine O’Flynn


The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller


The Tenderness of Wolves by Stef Penney

Me and You by Niccolo Ammaniti

Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal by Jeanette Winterson (not finished by end of year)

So.. the grand total is 26 books, and a half.  Not bad going for this year I think.

Millionaire’s Shortbread

24 Jan

This is surely one of Scotland’s greatest culinary triumphs? Hey, I think of it as Scottish, but perhaps it’s not?  Does anyone know? Also, I note that it is called Caramel Shortbread or Caramel Slice these days.  Do millionaire’s have such a bad press nowadays? Or is it some trades description ruling gone mad?

Anyway, the exquisite combination of smooth creamy chocolate, squishy sweet caramel and crisp shortbread is a true winner.  Traditionally it is served in decent sized slices, but I prefer to cut them into canapé style bite-size squares.  That way you can have one as a wee treat and it’s not toooooo calorific. OK, it is. It probably contains the total recommended calorie intake for a rugby team for a week, but surely that’s what treats are all about?

I wasn’t in my usual kitchen this last week, staying at my Mum and Dad’s, so I didn’t have access to my usual recipe books, or to an easy internet connection to look up recipes online.  I found a shortbread recipe, which I adapted, in a charity cookbook.  And I guessed with the caramel, and it seemed to work well.

Millionaire’s Shortbread

6oz butter

3oz caster sugar (I used vanilla sugar, out of the jar)

6oz plain flour

1oz custard powder

For the caramel

1 large tin of condensed milk

about 2oz butter

about 2 oz caster sugar (vanilla sugar again will give it a lovely subtle vanilla-y flavour)

a wee bit of milk if necessary

A very large block of Dairy Milk chocolate

So, I started the night before, making the caramel.

  1. Put the condensed milk, butter and sugar in a heavy based pan and warm gently.
  2. Stir constantly for a good ten minutes, or possibly more until it is a delicious golden toffee colour. You could test it at this stage, by dropping a wee bit on a cold saucer and seeing if it’s a squishy consistency when it cools. Once it seemed ready, I walked away and spent the rest of the evening watching Brideshead Revisited on DVD.
  3. Now for the shortbread – Beat the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.  This will be oh so much easier if you start with soft butter, so if you have a cold kitchen you might want to leave it in a warm place for an hour or two, or soften it in the microwave if you have such a thing.  Being at home, I left mine beside the Rayburn overnight, and it was perfect.
  4. Now add the flour and custard powder.  You should probably add a wee teeny pinch of salt too, although I’m not sure it’s entirely necessary and in these days of trying to reduce our salt intake it probably is no longer recommended.
  5. Mix all together to form a dough.  Don’t be over vigorous about this, as I think it makes a better crisp bisuit if it’s not over-worked.
  6. Press into a buttered tin, and prick it all over with a fork.  Cook in a moderate oven (it was a Rayburn, I don’t have any more precise details than ‘moderate’) until it’s golden and ready. Yes, I said “until it’s ready”, probably at least 30 mins, possibly longer.
  7. While it was in the oven you could turn your attention back to the caramel.
  8. Here’s the cunning bit – as the caramel is now cool, you will be able to tell if it has the right consistency.  If it is too solid, just warm it gently (really gently) in the pan and add some milk to loosen it.  Stir it well once it’s warm. If it’s too runny then you’ll need to boil it up for longer (but this wasn’t an issue with me).
  9. At the same time you could be melting the chocolate in a bowl over a pan of water.
  10. When the shortbread is ready bring it out of the oven, and leave it in the tin. Spread the warm caramel over the shortbread.
  11. Leave it for a few wee minutes to cool slightly and then pour the melted chocolate over the caramel. Give the tin a wee shoogle to settle all the chocolate evenly and smoothly.
  12. Leave in a cool place, and carefully cut into bite-size chunks.

Winter salad

5 Jan

After Christmas, I’d been craving vegetables, and particularly fresh salad-type vegetables.

I was also determined not to do more shopping so did a search in the fridge and the cupboards to see what could be rustled up.  I had a couple of little gem lettuces, but no other real salad veg. But I also had some vac packed beetroot and some pears.  I could see something tasty coming together…

Winter salad

This serves two, and is plenty as a starter, or a light snack with some crusty bread or oatcakes, or part of a legendary Wolffe Lunch.

Enough lettuce for 2 people – I used a whole little gem, but you could just as easily use part of a bag of mixed leaves. Watercress or spinach would be nice

1 beetroot, cut into small cubes – use fresh if you have one, if not those vac packed beetroot are fine. I HATE pickled beetroot though – why smother that deep earthy flavour with all that sharp vinegariness?

1 pear, peeled, cored and cut into equally small cubes

Some crumbled blue cheese – I used stilton, predictably, it being Christmas and there being leftovers in the fridge.  I’ve got some Bleu D’Auvergne which will be tried next

A small handful of walnuts, toasted to bring out the real walnuttiness of the flavour, and extra crunch

Put all of the above in a decent-sized bowl, big enough that you’ll be able to mix them all up once you’ve dressed it.

Now make the dressing.  You can, of course use your own favourite dressing, but these are the flavours that are doing it for me right now:

A good glug of olive oil

A sploosh of vinegar – I’ve been using a combination of a wee bit of balsamic, with a healthy slug of homemade elderflower vinegar (made with elderflowers and white wine vinegar).

A big teaspoon of dijon mustard

An equally big teaspoon or more of runny Scottishflower honey

Put all the dressing ingredients in a small bowl with a twist of freshly ground black pepper and give it a good beating with a teaspoon, or perhaps more conventionally a fork.

Pour the dressing over the salad and lightly mix everything together.

I’m tempted to swap the cheese out for some smoked trout which was pressed into The Captain’s hands on the street in Gatehouse on Boxing Day. Another story.


Books 2011

4 Jan

Following the lead of a couple of friends, I’m going to set myself a slightly different reading challenge this year.  In previous years I’ve just set myself a target of a number of books (and a couple of years ago I set an overly ambitious target and ended up judging books by how quick they would be to read, not how satisfying they might be).

So, this year, I’ll draft a list of books I want to read plus an overall target.  The list will only be a small proportion of the books I want to read, and will only include books I already own.  That’s my rules.

And here’s the list – I’ll come back to it and embolden things as they are read.  I may even do the odd book review, although I suspect they will be very odd (and rarer still).

  1. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell.  My first book group book of the year, and also my first book of the year.  Half read at the time of first writing this.
  2. One Day by David Nicholls. Bought at a charity shop the other day.  Oxfam in Hamilton if you want to know.
  3. Room by Emma Donohue – it was one of the favourite books of staff at the Book Fest in 2010.
  4. One Good Turn and When Will There Be Good News by Kate Atkinson.  I own both of these, and loved the first in the series: Case Histories.
  5. The Siege by Helen Dunmore, recommended by my friend and fellow bibliophile Louise K.
  6. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides.  I bought this ages ago, as it had been on my wish list for a while.  But I never read it, and it’s still sitting on my shelf, occasionally winking at me.
  7. An Elizabeth David book – not sure which one yet, but I feel I should read one of them.
  8. The Tenderness of Wolves by Stef Penney.  I bought this as soon as it came out in paperback, before it won the Costa.  But again, never got round to reading it yet.
  9. Away by Amy Bloom – received from my sis-in-law for Christmas 2010 and looks good (and relatively short).
  10. The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood.  I think I got this last year for Christmas as part of a Not So Secret Santa Surprise from a bookcrossing buddy.  I feel I should read it and pass it on, especially as I’ve never read anything by La Atwood.
  11. Ulysses by James Joyce – received with The Blind Assassin as part of the same Surprise.  I suspect that I may only start this in 2011, and take some years before I manage to read it through from cover to cover.

I suspect I’ll also read the new Niccolo Amanitti book and the latest Gerard Woodward (Nourishment).

I’ll strike through books as I read them.

24 January 2011

I have now read One Day. It was an engaging enough read, but I spent the whole of the book feeling as though I’d read it before, or seen the movie.  I know I haven’t, but it all seemed so familiar (or perhaps predictable).

Sugar biscuits

1 Jan

These are a classic roll ’em and cut ’em out biscuit.  They are plain, in that they are vanilla flavoured, although the recipe suggests you could add some finely chopped nuts or coconut to the recipe.  I’ve never tried this, and not sure it would be worth it.  Sometimes you are just in the mood for an ordinary biscuit.

Sugar biscuits

175g / 7oz SR flour

pinch of salt

25g / 1oz cornflour

100g / 4oz butter

100g / 4oz caster sugar

1 egg (or it says you can use 2 egg yolks, which I guess would work if you were making meringues, or a mousse)

1/4 tsp vanilla essence

a little milk

More caster sugar, or glace icing for dredging once they are cooked

Grease 2 or 3 baking sheets. Oven 200ºC / 400ºF / Gas Mark 6.

  1. Sift the flour, salt and cornflour into a bowl.  I don’t think you need to do this any more.  This is an old book – I must have bought it in 1979 – and in those days the flour needed to be sifted.  The milling process has since improved and there is less need to sift flour for baking).
  2. Add the butter in wee chunks (straight from the fridge, it works best if cold) and rub in with your fingers until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.  Try to add air into the mixture at this stage, by lifting your hands up from the mixture to rub, and letting it drizzle back down through your fingers.
  3. Beat together the egg and the vanilla essence and add to the mixture.
  4. Mix together and slightly knead to form a fairly soft dough.  Add a little milk if necessary.
  5. Wrap in cling film or  foil and leave to cool in the fridge for 30 minutes.
  6. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and roll out to about 5mm / 1/4″ thick.  Use whatever cookie cutters you have to cut shapes (preferably about 5cm / 2″ diameter) and place on the baking sheets.
  7. Bake in the pre-heated moderately hot oven for 8 – 10 mins or until lightly golden brown.
  8. Remove to a wire rack and either dredge with caster sugar while still warm, or wait until they cool and ice with glace icing.

This should make 30 – 40 biscuits.

This recipe is from one of my oldest and most loved and used recipe books: Cakes and Cake Decorating by Rosemary Wadey.  I bought it when I was in my early teens, and spent many a happy weekend and evening trying out new recipes.  I ticked each recipe off as I tried it at one point, but sadly left no notes, or other comment, such as a date.

I fell in love with the Grantham Gingers, a surprisingly hollow wee dome shaped biscuit, light and crisp, and delicately gingery.  And then there were the Danish Pastries – a triumph! And after my grandfather died, I made virtually every teabread in the book for his wake.   Perhaps it was then that I first discovered the  therapeutic power of getting into the kitchen and baking.

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