Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Things I Take for Granted About The Country I Call Home

I love where I live, I have many happy memories of growing up in Scotland. I have always had a desire to travel and see the world, but as yet I have not ventured far from home. As I was driving to Dundee the other day, I was thinking about how beautiful  the scenery was and the children were commenting on the lovely farmhouses and lush green fields around us. It made me think about the reasons I love my home turf.

1. The hills, no they are not alive with the sound of music, but they sure are stunning, from small hills in the lowlands to huge ranges in the highlands hills often dominate the skyline. I never appreciated that till I flew to Lincoln a few years ago to stay with my brother and saw how flat everything was. I knew I was near home on the flight when the landscape changed again.

2. Being near the sea, in Fife we are blessed with a large coastal area and you are never really more than 30 minutes from the sea. You can take your pick from rocky shores bursting with pools hiding sea creatures to long sandy stretches in St Andrews which are great for kite flying. If you are lucky you may get a couple of curious seals following you. When I lived in the north west of England the sea was one of the things I missed the most.

3. The language we use, although all areas of the UK have local variants and dialect it is not till you have left that you realise that people sometimes don't have a clue what you are on about. I love these Scottish children's  books, they are a joy to read.

These are just some of the things I love, but often take for granted. This year I plan on exploring more of my home ground to help the girls find the love I have of the country I call home. What about you?

Here is a tasty sweet treat you will find in many bakers across Scotland


Fruit Slice aka Flea Cemetery


For the pastry
750g plain Flour, plus extra for dusting
pinch Salt
225g margarine or Butter
250g Butter, (at room temperature), plus extra for greasing
250g caster sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
1 egg, beaten

For the filling
550g currants
1 heaped tsp ground Mixed spice
4 heaped tsp granulated sugar
2 heaped tsp custard powder, mixed with a little cold water to make a thick, smooth paste

1. For the pastry: sift the flour and salt into a bowl. Using your fingertips, lightly rub the margarine and butter into the flour until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Stir in the sugar, then add the beaten egg, mixing until the ingredients bind together to make a soft dough. Knead the dough until it is smooth, then pop it in a polythene food bag and leave it to rest in the fridge for 20-30 minutes.

2. For the filling: put the currants, mixed spice and sugar in a large pan and add enough cold water to just cover the fruit and no more. Bring to the boil and simmer gently for no more than 5 minutes, then remove the pan from the heat. Gradually add the custard paste, stirring until the fruit mixture has thickened slightly - bear in mind that it will thicken even more when cold.

3. Preheat the oven to 170C/gas 3. Grease a 30 x 18cm Swiss roll tin and line it with non-stick baking paper. To assemble the fruit slab, divide the pastry in half. Roll out one portion of pastry on a lightly floured surface and use it to line the prepared tin, pressing the pastry over the base and up the sides of the tin. Lightly brush the top edges with water.

4. Spoon the fruit mixture into the pastry case, spreading it evenly and packing it in well. Roll out the remaining pastry to a rectangle just slightly larger than the size of the tin, then lay this sheet of pastry over the filling and pat down lightly.

5. Trim away any excess pastry from around the edges using a sharp knife, then decoratively crimp the edges. Cut two slits in the middle of the top of the pie, then bake in the oven for 50-60 minutes or until the pastry is cooked and golden. Sprinkle with caster sugar while still hot, then leave to cool and serve warm or cold in slices.
Often in bakeries they have one slice with the sugar coating and one with a thick layer of white glace icing on top.

Saturday, 24 May 2008

Birthdays, Parties and Cake

I had a busy weekend last week, my eldest was 16 one day and my youngest was 10 the next. It made me think about how differently they see birthdays.
When I was young very few people had parties, and if they did it was generally in their own house with the usual sandwiches, sausage rolls, fizzy juice then ice-cream and jelly for pudding. Simple, kid pleasing food. I can't recall anyone having a party every single year and it was not presumed that if it was someone's birthday that there would be an invitation winging it's way to you.
When I became a Mum I never felt the need to have parties for the girls, when they were really small we would maybe have my parents round, but that would be it. They were not really bothered till they went to school and it all seemed to change.
It then became the done thing to have a party, and as time went on the parties changed, long gone was the way I remembered and in came McDonalds parties, Bouncy castle parties, Fairy parties, and Bowling parties. It seemed every child had a party and each would be different. It was now expected to have a party and I felt saddened that the children that could not afford a party would often not make a fuss of their birthday as they did not want to highlight the fact that they were not having a party.
Thankfully I have noticed a shift again and not so many parties are going on, and often children just have a get together with a few good friends and have a nice time together.
My eldest is not a fan of cake at the best of times and although I tried to tempt her with a chocolate cake she did not want one. My youngest is like me and loves cakes and all the food you should not eat. She only wanted a victoria sponge for her cake so that is what she got, but not just any victoria sponge. I had a disaster with one layer so I made another batch and ended up making a triple layer sponge with chocolate spread, pink cake, pink butter icing and topped with fluffy yellow butter icing. She refused the maltesers and mallows on the top and instead opted for sprinkles.

Victoria Sponge

100 g (4 oz) margarine
100 g (4 oz) caster sugar
2 medium eggs
100 g (4 oz) Self Raising Flour
1 tsp vanilla extract (optional)

1 Heat oven to 180ºC, 350ºF, Gas Mark 4. Grease an 18 cm (7 inch) sandwich tins.
2 Cream margarine and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time, adding a little flour with each.
3 Gently fold in remaining flour.
4 Place in prepared tins and bake for 20-25 minutes in 2 tins or 40-45 minutes in one tin.
5 When cool, fill with jam or cream. Dust with icing sugar.

Saturday, 17 May 2008


Having sent the children to school on Tuesday morning I took some rare time to myself to get ready for a hospital appointment.
Off I went, the day was going well, I managed to get a parking place at the hospital, I was early for my appointment and was taken straight away. I was glad that I was going to be back at work earlier than I had thought.
Driving back to the village, minding my own business, then I saw 4 teenagers out walking and just thought och they are on study leave and out for a walk. But no, as I got closer I looked at them and they looked at me and we both did a double take. I stopped the car, put on my hazard lights and rolled the window down to say to DD#2 what on earth was she playing at. For the 4 teens were not on study leave, but were DD#2 and her friend skiving school with their boyfriends. Well she ran away screaming and would not come home till late at night.
If I only could have had a picture of their faces when they realized it was me. I was the last person they would have expected to see coming along the road at the time as I would normally have been at work.
Now this is where choices come in,

1. Stay and face the music, take the grounding or whatever consequence was to be dished out and admit you were in the wrong.

2. Run away screaming, leaving your friend and the 2 boys standing not knowing what to do, then don't go home till after 9pm, cause a riot in the house by shouting and being cheeky, then storming out again till 10 pm.

I guess you can decide which option my daughter chose. It never ceases to amaze me how so many young people today are not able to admit they are in the wrong, it is always someone else who is at fault, or made them do it. I try really hard both at home and work to help the young people I work with understand that choices are important and we make so many in the course of a day, never mind our life that we really should stop and consider now and again if the choice we make is the best one for us.

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

What is a right?

Answer this question in one short sentence, one word would do it.

We had an in-service day at work last Tuesday, now these can be a really good chance to get things done, or a day to get given all the horrible jobs to do.
Fortunately it was a mixed day and the most thought provoking part was our visit from a UNICEF representative. As a school we have many groups for the children to be involved in, Pupil Council, Eco Council, Snag group, School Travel plan and our newest one, the Rights Respecting School group.
I was really lucky to be asked to run the group with one of the teachers. So, on Tuesday we had a chance to talk to all the staff about rights and responsibility. He came out with some shocking figures and sadly the UK is one of the worst places to be in the developed world as a child.

How can this be? We have free health care, a state benefit system, a good standard of education, yet we are going seriously wrong somewhere.
I was brought up by parents who had been children during WWII, my Dad and I were talking about how most of the youth at the time were being brought up in single parent families as the Fathers were doing their bit for the war effort. In fact one of the facts given to us was that Holland is the best place to be as a child growing up, and incidentally, they have a high percentage of single parents.

Our group is hoping to enable the children, staff and community to respect each other, know our basic rights and the responsibilities that come with it. It will be a long journey, but one that will hopefully change some attitudes.

Patience and understanding, rather than fiery tempers and the want want want of young people is what we need to see more of.

Oh by the way a right is a need. plain and simple, do you need water - yes
do you need that new pair of shoes that you adore - NO! that's a want and we all have too many of them.

Sunday, 11 May 2008

In the Garden

I had planned on writing a post about something that had happened last week, but I never got time to get it finished so the moment had passed.

I have spent the weekend trying to get my wee garden ready for planting. I am sure some of you busy Mums out there will agree with me that although summer is great, think BBQ, Strawberries, fresh salad, long warm nights, ice-cream, it also brings on an extra workload in the form of an ever changing garden.

I do not profess to be green fingered, but I am interested in trying to grow things in my own garden, this year will hopefully see, potatoes, onions, french beans, purple broccoli, carrots, spring onions, corn, peas and a host of salad leaves. I have good intentions of spending many a happy night pottering about in the garden, but they rarely happen as I end up being overloaded in the house. My OH seems to forget that he has not been working for ages, yet other that running the Hoover over or having a quick tidy (means hiding everything in a cupboard or pile in our room) he does nothing. I will tidy the kitchen at night, only to find the fairies have been really hungry and made sandwiches and a cup of tea in the wee small hours.

My DD's also seem to think we have a super douper washing machine that will actually sniff out the dirty clothes, wash, dry and fold them and return them to their rooms automatically!

Yesterday I decided to spend the day in the garden and I got so much done I felt better and even though there was a lot left to do in the house it was worth it.

I must leave a note for those fairies about putting a new toilet roll on the holder and the lid on the toothpaste as it wears me down eventually.

I made these lovely dropped scones last night for pudding. DD#2 had hers with pears and maple syrup, but DD#3 likes just butter.

Dropped Scones

Dropped Scones aka Scotch Pancakes

Makes around 14 small pancakes.

4 oz SR flour

1/2 oz margarine

1 egg

4 to 6 tbs milk, beaten with the egg

1/4 tsp salt

2oz sugar

6 drops of lemon essence (optional)

Sift the flour and salt and rub in the margarine.

Stir in the sugar.

Add the beaten egg and milk slowly to make a smooth batter. I found it too thick with only 4 tbs milk so added a little more till the mix was smooth and spoonable, not unlike a cake batter.

Add essence if using, I never have.

Drop spoonfuls onto a hot buttered griddle of heave frying pan.

Cook for a few minutes on each side.

Keep warm in a clean tea towel.

Monday, 5 May 2008

Exams, not just stressful for the student..

Today sees the start of the exam season for High School pupils across Scotland. In Fife it is an in-service day for teachers and all other staff in school today, so most children have had a lovely long weekend behind them and only 3 days ahead till the weekend.

Unusually there is an exam today and DD#1 sits her standard grade English today, I think she is more annoyed that everyone else has a day off than the fact that she has an exam to sit.

My DD is not the most studious person, and over the years I have encouraged her to study, but she finds it a real challenge. I grew up in the shadow of a very clever brother, who even now after over 20 years in the British Army, is studying to be a radiographer. This put enormous pressure on me when I was going to sit my exams. I was not a high achiever in exams, even though my coursework was excellent.

DD#1 has always had difficulty with reading and spelling. Each year I would bring it up at parents night, but the teachers were not to concerned. Today will challenge her and hopefully the pressure will not be too much in this first exam as she has several over the next few weeks.

As a parent I will be thinking about her today, I have always wanted my children to do their best, whatever that is.

I was lucky enough to know the job I wanted to do from a very young age and achieved it by the time I left college and worked away from home as a Nanny. DD#1 has no firm ideas of what she wants to do, and it really makes you stop and think about how young we are when we have to make decisions about our future.

Broccoli and Potato Soup

Broccoli and Potato Soup

Now I don't really have any set measurements when I make this soup, I really just gauge it by the size of the pot I am using.

1 tbs vegetable oil

1 onion diced

1 clove garlic sliced

1 head of broccoli

some potatoes, peeled and diced

good vegetable stock (I like Marigold Swiss Bouillon)

Freshly ground black pepper

Soften the onion in the oil, add the sliced garlic and cook gently for a few minutes.

Add the broccoli, separated into florets and the potato.

Fill the pot with boiling water and stock powder or hot vegetable stock.

Bring to the boil, pop on a lid and cook gently till the potatoes are cooked, about 20 minutes should do it.

Season to taste and blend before serving with crusty bread.

If you like you can sprinkle some grated cheddar on the hot soup before serving.

Sunday, 4 May 2008

How to Embarrass Your Teenage Daughter.....

1. Stop colouring your hair so all the grey comes through.

2. Dress like a bag lady.

3. Wear funky shoes.

4. Blow her kisses in public.

5. When out walking, talk to everyone you meet.

Although my 2 teenagers think all these things are highly embarrassing, I am sure that there are many parents out there whose own children would have a list of different things.

I remember as a teenager dreading having to take anything back to a shop, or make a complaint as my Mum could be quite snippy and my heart would sink, not just for me but for the poor shop assistant who was dealing with us. I had to laugh about situations like this last week, my middle daughter was staying with my Mum and she had been in a clothes shop getting some trousers. My DD came home and told us she had been mortified when the assistant had folded the item and placed it in the bag as my Mum promptly pulled it out and said to the assistant " You cant get good service nowadays!" while re-folding the item and putting it back in the bag.

Now I may be an embarrassing Mum, but I am a Mum all the same and I know I can put things right by making these lovely biscuits and all will be forgiven....

Custard Creams Makes 18

For The Biscuits:

2 oz icing sugar

6 oz marg

¼ teaspoons baking soda

2 oz custard powder

6 oz plain flour


1 oz marg

2 oz icing sugar

Few drops vanilla essence

Pre heat oven to gas mark 5 or 350oF.

Cream together margarine and sugar.

Sift flour, custard powder and baking soda together and add to creamed mixture. It is quite stiff to work with, but will come together in the end.

The recipe says to roll out the mix, but my Mum always took teaspoonfuls of the mixture and rolled it into a ball before placing on the baking tray and flattening with a fork. The mix had a lot of margarine in it and would benefit from chilling if you had the time.

Bake for around 15 minutes.

Allow to cool slightly before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

Saturday, 3 May 2008

Who am I?

I know who I am really, well I always thought I did. I was the good quiet girl that did what she was told, she tried so hard not to upset people. I then became the teenager who did not rebel, but went to church and had a good group of friends there, not for us was the under age trips to clubs or pubs, no line of boyfriends or gangs going about looking for trouble.

I left home to become the lovely Scottish girl, taking care of a little boy who always said goodbye with a “cheerio”.

Next came the first boyfriend at 19, flattered that someone was interested and caught up in something that would become life changing. I would call home happy, only to be disappointed in the cool response from home. I then changed to the girl who was caught out, the one who really disappointed her parents so much that they would not talk to her for a while; within weeks I was to become a wife.

I was not a wife for very long, for my most important job was about to begin, that of a Mother and within 16 months I was one again. My husband became increasingly difficult and if I had known the signs I would have seen the violence coming. There and then I changed and became strong, where that strength came from I do not know, but I am so glad it did. It allowed me to go to a safe place, even though I was hundreds of miles from my family I made it home.

That little girl who was quiet and did what she was told is still very real, but when she needs to, the strong and resilient woman surfaces to remind me that I have come very far in my life and that is all my life experiences good and bad, that make me the person I am today.

Here is a lovely dessert I like to make, it is so much better than the packet pie filling.
Luscious Lemon Meringue Pie Serves 6

1 cup caster sugar
2 tablespoons plain flour
3 tablespoons cornflour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups water
juice and zest of 2 lemons, unwaxed
2 tablespoons butter (not margarine )
4 egg yolks, beaten
1 (9 inch) pie crusts (bought or homemade)
4 egg whites
6 tablespoons caster sugar

Preheat oven to 350°F, 175°C.

Filling: using a medium saucepan, whisk together cup of sugar, flour, cornflour and salt. Stir in zest and juice of lemon and the water. Cook over medium heat till just boiling. Stir in the butter. Beat yolks together well in a bowl big enough to add a cup of the hot mixture to. Add a cup of the sugar mix, whisking all the time then add this back to the saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring all the time till thick. Remove from heat and pour into pie case.

Meringue: Using a large clean bowl ( wipe out with remains of lemon and dry with paper towel to make sure there is absolutely no grease/residue in the bowl), whisk the whites till foamy, can be done by hand but I find the electric mixer does the best meringue for this. Add sugar gradually, whisking till you have the stiff peak stage (or you can try holding the bowl upside down above your head to make sure!)Also check at this point that all the sugar has dissolved by rubbing a small amount of mix between your fingers. continue whisking for a few minutes if it still feels grainy. If its smooth, drop the mixture all over the warm pie filling making sure to go right up to the edges smoothing out the gaps as you go. I like to make sure there are peaks all over the meringue as I love the chewy bits too.

Bake in the preheated oven for 10 minutes, or till meringue is golden brown.

To enjoy at its best, let it cool down for a wee while before chilling for a few hours then serving with cream/ice cream.