How to Make a Mahoosive, Celebration Cookie

Fudge icing and Smarties to decorate a mahoosive cookie

It’s really easy to make a celebration cookie

I have a confession to make which might shock:   I don’t like cake. There, I said it!  I don’t ‘do’ puddings and cakes.  The only thing I might eat, to be sociable, is biscuit or cookie. So here is my mahoosive, celebration cookie recipe…

A little help may be needed with the decoration of the cookie
Get help with decorating the cookie

Don’t buy one, make one!

To buy a celebration cookie from a specialist cookie maker at the shopping centre can be fraught with problems.  Celebration cookies can be expensive and they are difficult to get home.

It’s fun!

It is far more rewarding to make your own.  And it is really easy.

You will need:

White sugar, brown sugar, chocolate chips, butter, eggs, flour and essence
The ingredients needed to make a giant cookie

Ingredients for one 14” cookie

(I got the icing from

The equipment you will need:An electric hand whisk, a seive, greasproof paper and a round, 14” metal pizza tray


Now, make a mahoosive cookie:

Preparation time 15 minutes Baking time 20 minutes Decorating time 10 minutes 

Cream the butter and white sugar
Cream the butter and white sugar
  • In a large bowl, beat the butter, caster sugar, dark brown soft sugar and vanilla extract until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well.

    Cream the butter and sugar
    Cream the butter and sugar
  • Gradually add flour, salt and bicarbonate of soda, beating until well blended. Stir in chocolate chips/chopped chocolate.

    Fold in the flour and baking powder
    Fold in the flour and baking powder
  • Line a 14 inch round pizza pan with greaseproof paper.
  • Evenly spread the mixture onto the paper

    Spread the mixture onto the greasproof paper-lined pizza tray
    Spread the mixture onto the greasproof paper-lined pizza tray
  • Bake at 190oC for 20-25 minutes. 
  • Cool the cookie in the pan. 

    The baked, giant cookie
    The baked, giant cookie
  • Decorate as desired.
Go mad with the Smarties
Go mad with the Smarties

By the way.  It can stay in the pan, it doesn’t make any difference.  It freezes well – also in the pan.  You can serve it from the pan too!

All you ever wanted to know about gin

Is it the weekend yet?

I like gin and so was delighted to have the opportunity to visit Plymouth Gin on a recent visit to Devon.  I discovered everything I ever wanted to know about gin.

The Plymouth Gin Distillery
Plymouth Gin Distillery

A visit to Plymouth Gin Distillery

The cost of a tour of Plymouth Gin is £7 (no concessions) and it is worth every penny.  There were about 18 others on the tour too.  We were asked to lock away our bags and cameras and switch off our phones.  A strict ‘no photography allowed’ policy is observed. Which is a shame, I  would like to have iincluded an image or two of a Victorian copper vat or perhaps a few ‘botanicals’. 

Good value

The tour lasts for forty minutes and is finished off in the bar with either a complimentary gin and tonic or a miniature gin or sloe gin to take away with you.  

The oldest distillery in England

Plymouth Gin has been on the Barbican near the famous harbour since 1793.  Parts of the building date back to the 1400s when it was a monastery inhabited by the Black Friars… and their distillery – it is now the oldest working gin distillery in England.  

The entrance to Plymouth Gin
The entrance to Plymouth Gin

A link with the Pilgrim Fathers

Plymouth is renowned for its associations with the navy.  One of its most famous sons being Sir Francis Drake.   It was also the last port of call for the Pilgrim Fathers before they set sail for the New World in 1620   A wooden plaque in the upstairs cocktail bar lists some of those who boarded the Mayflower on their way to lay down the foundations of what we know today as the United States of America.  An image of the Mayflower, the ship on which the Pilgrims departed these shores, is on every bottle of Plymouth Gin.

A wooden plaque with the names of some of those who boarded the Mayflower in 1620 on their way to the New World
A list of some of those who boarded the Mayflower in 1620

Dutch origins

From its earliest origins in the Middle Ages, gin has developed from a herbal remedy to a major player in the spirit industry. Gin was based on the Dutch drink known as jenever.  It became popular in Britain when William of Orange became King William III of England.  English soldiers who fought in Holland in the 17th century, drank jenever to calm themselves before battle.  It soon became known as ‘Dutch Courage’ which we know today as drinking alcohol in order to steady the nerves.

Mother’s ruin

Gin was also known as ‘Mother’s Ruin’.  In the mid eighteenth century the effects of gin on the family and economy were disastrous. Gin was the poor man’s drink because of its affordability.  Drinking it had started out as a medicine but as it was cheap and readily available, men became impotent and women became sterile.  This caused the London birth rate to drop.  Also, drinking a pint of gin and having an extremely hot bath was recommended as a way to induce a miscarriage during the 1950s and 60s.


Botanicals are the core flavouring agents for gin.  They can be roots, fruits, herbs or spices.  The botanicals used vary but all must contain juniper berries by law.   


Juniper is the most important botanical in gin. In the 16th century it was used as a remedy for indigestion. The juniper is a hardy bush and grows wild all around the globe. And it is juniper that gives gin its pine aroma and bitter(ish) taste. 


When dried the essential oils obtained from coriander seeds provide an unexpected citrus top note to gin.


Cardamom is one of the world’s most expensive spices.  It is from the ginger family and is often found in the rice portion of your Indian takeaway.  Not much cardamom is needed.  It can provide gin with a distinctive, spicy flavour that works with juniper and coriander.

Orris root

Orris root is from the rhizomes of the Iris plant and has a faint, sweet aroma.  If you are old enough to remember Parma Violet, then it is very similar to that.  However, it is not used for its scent but for it’s fixative powers. 

Angelica root

Angelica root, which we know as the crystallised green streams used in cake-decorating and trifles, adds another earthy note to the gin and marries the other botanical ingredients together.

Citrus peels

The oil derived from lemon and orange peels is used as flavouring in gin.  Different brands of gin use varying blends of botanicals which gives them their individuality.

Wheat-based alcohol

The alcohol that carries the botanicals in Plymouth Gin is wheat-based and comes from Yorkshire.

Exit through the shop

Three types of gin are on sale in the shop at the end of the tour: Regular Plymouth Gin is 41% and is generally used for a standard gin and tonic. (Tonic water originally contained quinine which was used to protect against malaria in the tropics.  The gin was added to disguise the bitter taste of the quinine).

And Navy Strength

Navy Strength Plymouth Gin which is 57%.  It seems that ordinary strength gin – if leaked onto the gunpowder on board ship – would render the gunpowder useless.  But they found that the higher proof gin, if accidentally spilled onto gunpowder, would enhance the properties of the powder.  And so Navy Strength was provided for officers of the Royal Navy, which they drank with water.  Ratings, however were still issued with their rum ration.

Plymouth Gin Navy Strength
Plymouth Gin Navy Strength

And Sloe Gin

Sloes are harvested locally from Dartmoor.  They are stored in sugar and gin for four months to make a delightful, slightly almond-flavoured liquer.  It goes well with Stilton as an alternative to port.

Copa Balloon Glass

I also purchased a Copa glass.  This is the type of balloon glass that has a stem, a bit like a red wine glass.  The Copa de Balon glass dates back to the 1700s – so not as modern as I imagined.

The distinctive navy blue packaging of Plymouth Gin Navy Strength
Plymouth Gin Nay Strength and Copa glass


A Gimlet is gin mixed with lime cordial.  Again, this has its roots in the Royal Navy, the lime provided the vitamin C and is where English sailors got their name ‘Limeys’ (from the Yankees).

A Pink Gin is again thought to have originated from the Royal Navy. Plymouth gin is a ‘sweet’ gin, as opposed to London gin which is ‘dry’, and had angostura bitters added as an antidote for sea sickness.

A typical pink gin is one part gin and one dash of angostura bitters.

A classic gin and tonic with a slice of lemon
A classic gin and tonic

So there you have it, everything you ever wanted to know about gin.  Drink anyone?

How to Make the Perfect, Braised Red Cabbage

How to make perfect Braised Red Cabbage

Ready to serve. Colourful, tasty, braised red cabbage
Ready to serve. Colourful, tasty, braised red cabbage

This is the perfect vegetable accompaniment to many of our favourite,  comforting, winter dishes.  It goes just as well with a hearty Cottage Pie as it does with Christmas dinner!  And it’s the perfect fruity, side-dish for game – particularly venison.  It is so easy to make and it freezes well.

All the ingredients needed to make the perfect, braised, red cabbage
All the ingredients needed to make the perfect, braised, red cabbage

It’s definitely a family-pleaser – even for those of us who aren’t that keen on their veggies… well not yet anyway!


These quantities make enough for a decent-sized portion for eight to ten people.

Chopped and sliced! All the lovely ingredients prepared to make braised, red cabbage
Chopped and sliced! All the lovely ingredients prepared to make braised, red cabbage

What you need to do

  • Put the cabbage, onion, apples, sultanas, sugar and seasonings in a large pan
  • Pour the stock and vinegar over
  • Cover and bring to the boil. Turn down to simmer for approximately 45 minutes until the cabbage is tender
  • If there is still some liquid left at this point, leave the lid off and boil for a few minutes until reduced and syrupy
  • Serve hot or cold

This dish can also be cooked in the oven.  Place all ingredients in an ovenproof dish, cover and bake in a preheated oven 180oC for about an hour.

Ready to serve. Colourful, tasty, braised red cabbage
Ready to serve. Colourful, tasty, braised red cabbage

Make it now and put it in the freezer for Christmas!

So that’s another job crossed off the ‘Christmas-to-do’ list. Get it in the freezer!

Poppies… to remind us to remember

Bright red poppy transfers which look like tattoos on the back if our hands

Poppies – Grandpa 1914…

Poppies, to remind us to remember.

My Grandpa was in the Royal Navy during the First World War.  He was injured and ‘invalided out’.  He suffered ‘brainstorms’.  As  a young child my memories of him are that I was not allowed to ‘run around’ near him, or make too much noise.

The war to end all wars.

…and Dad 1939

My Dad was also in the Royal Navy throughout the Second World War.  My sadness is that he is no longer here to talk to about it.  I can’t say much about his war as he never spoke of it.  Although I do know that he was ‘shelled’ and suffered injuries but that’s about it.

The Tower of London

In  November 2014 – we visited ‘The Weeping Window’ at the Tower of London.  It was poignant.  This was the beginning of four years’ of commemoration.

The ‘Weeping Window’ art  installation was commissioned to commemorate the centenary of the beginning of WW1 in 1914.  It had a profound impact.  .

This set the tone.  The country remembered the huge sacrifice paid by so many.  We have so much to be grateful for – freedom and democracy.

The Tower by Night

Weeping Window, London 2014
Nightfall at the ‘Weeping Window’ Tower of London, 2014

And in the morning…

It was an emotional atmosphere as visitors filed, quietly along the walkway.  Night fell on the poppies.

And in the morning, the sun shone on the vibrant, red artwork.  The impact was magnified.

Weeping Window, London 2014
The sun rises on the ‘Weeping Window’ display at the Tower of London

The entire country caught poppy fever

Later in 2014 we visited St Mary’s church in Whitby and saw the Christmas Tree Festival.  It had a thought-provoking,  poppy-themed tree. It outshone its neighbours.

British Legion Poppy Christmas Tree
A striking British Legion Christmas tree on display at St Mary’s Church Christmas Tree Festival, Whitby 2014

And poppies in 2018…

Now poppies are appearing everywhere and rightly so.  All along the highways, on cars, dogs, houses and shops.

There are many thoughtful and creative ways to pay tribute to all those who did not return home from conflict.  Nottinghamshire village signs and lampposts are particularly vibrant as they catch the low, autumn sunlight.

Nottinghamshire village name signs with poppy
Nottinghamshire villages get their own extra large poppy

Even our house wears a poppy

Large poppy
Our house has its own personal poppy

As this four year period draws to a close, there will be many more commemorations.   Although when we think of poppies we generally think of the British Legion but it is not just poppies, for which

It provides support for the Armed Forces community – serving men and women, veterans, and their families.

Bright red Poppy transfers that look like tattoos

Not just poppies

It is not just poppies that will help us to remember this year.  A coordinated peel of bells across the country is planned plus many services of remembrance.  I imagine that such events will see a greater attendance than in previous years.

Say goodbye on the beach

Melanie Hill, Jeremy Irons and Danny Boyle are marking the date by inviting people to gather on beaches around the UK – to say ‘Thank you and Goodbye’

Or where it all began four years ago

‘Beyond the Deepening Shadow’ at the Tower of London

I shall be with my grandsons

On this armistice day I will share it with my grandsons.  They will be representing the uniformed organisations at their village church.

I have a foot in the past and a stake in the future.

All we have to do is remember, that’s all

However we choose to remember it is important this year, more than most, that we continue to remember.

Poppies the symbol of Remembrance – to remind us to remember to be grateful to those who fought for our democracy and freedom – but did not come home.

How to Make a Traditional Christmas Pudding

All about the traditional, humble, Christmas Pud

It is thought that the humble plum pudding’s association with Christmas goes back to medieval England. It seems that the pudding should be made on the 25th Sunday after Trinity and that it be prepared with 13 ingredients to represent Christ and the 12 apostles, and that every family member stir it in turn from east to west to honour the wise men and their journey in that direction. 

A colourful array of fruits and spices to make A traditional, British Christmas pudding
All the ingredients needed to make a tradional, British, Christmas pudding

The Church and the Pud

However, recipes for plum pudding mostly start to appear in the 17th century. It had a very strong connection with the church. 

The ‘collect’ for the Sunday before Advent in the Church of England’s Book of Common Prayer begins with the words ‘Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works.’

This led to the custom of preparing Christmas puddings on that day which became known as ‘Stir Up Sunday’. Stir Up Sunday for 2018 would be 25 November.  I am ahead of the game this year.

Fruits from all corners of the world

There was a variety of ingredients and methods of making plum puddings.  Many pudding recipes often contained meat, as well as the sweet ingredients.  Before being steamed in a cloth the ingredients were sometimes stuffed into the stomach of an animal – similar to that of the Scottish haggis or sausages. 

I like to think that the fruits and spices represent all the corners of the world and symbolise the harvest and survival food for winter.  A pudding fit for a king!

A favourite recipe

It’s really quite easy to make Christmas pud.  Especially if you have a tried and trusted recipe – like Delia’s.   It’s always a winner and it always turns out just right.  Thank you Delia… although over the last 30 years,  I have made it my own.  It makes 3 – 4 puddings dependent on the size of your bowls.

The equipment you will need

A bowl, wooden spoon, sharp knife, grater all needed to make Christmas pudding
The utensils needed to make Christmas pudding

Ingredients (a few more than 13!)

  • 225g shredded suet
  • A heaped teaspoon teaspoon mixed spice
  • A heaped half a teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • A heaped half a teaspoon cinnamon
  • 110g self raising flour
  • 450g dark soft brown sugar
  • 225g breadcrumbs made from stale bread
  • 225g sultanas
  • 225g raisins
  • 560g currants
  • 50g chopped nuts
  • 50g chopped mixed peel
  • Grated rind of 1 orange and 1 lemon
  • 1 Apple peeled and finely chopped
  • 4 large eggs
  • 150 ml barley wine
  • 150 ml stout
  • 60 ml rum

Ten easy steps

Get help with the stirring of the pudding
Stirring the pudding. Don’t forget… east to west – and make a wish!
  1. Mix the suet, flour, bread crumbs and spices in a bowl.
  2. Carefully add the dried fruit, peel and nuts to the flour.
  3. Add the chopped apple, and grated orange and lemon peel
  4. Beat the eggs in a roomy jug, add the alcohol to the jug – pour over all the other ingredients
  5. Stir (you may need help) and make a wish – don’t forget to stir from east to west – and make a wish!
  6. Line 3/4 pudding bowls with greaseproof paper – no precision required.
  7. Microwave on high for 5, 6 or 7 minutes – dependent on the size of the bowl (a half litre bowl 5 mins) and the power of the microwave
  8. Allow to cool
  9. Wrap each pudding well in greasproof paper and either store in an airtight container or freeze
  10. Then, when needed, steam the pud for as long as possible – all morning if you can, just keep checking the water level.  My mum told me that the longer you steam your pudding the darker it will become.
Bowls ready for the pudding mixture
The prepared pudding bowls

When it is time to serve the pudding, unwrap, turn upside down on a large plate – flambé and serve with brandy sauce.  Amazing and quite a finale to Christmas dinner.

So, now you have time to get everything you need – just in time for ‘Stir Up Sunday’!

Savour a Long Walk in the Lowlands of Scotland

The Loch Leven Heritage Trail

A view across the icy blue water of Loch Leven
The view across Loch Leven, Perth and Kincross

A perfect path

Get your boots on and get ready for a long walk in the lowlands of Scotland!  Loch Leven is the perfect place for a long walk in the lowlands.  There is an excellent, all-abilities path around the perimeter – the Loch Leven Heritage Trail.  The trail can be accessed from several points around the loch where there are good car-parks.  It is a freshwater loch near Kinross in Perth and Kinross, central Scotland.  The loch is about 6km at its longest.  Kinross lies at its western end and Loch Leven Castle lies on an island just offshore.  Mary Queen of Scots was imprisoned there in 1567.  There are ferry trips across to it during the summer.  And it is here that we chose to take a long walk – and a bike ride!  

Part-way round Loch Leven is a surprise beach. Great for dogs!
Part-way round Loch Leven there is a small beach area

Walk it or bike it

My friend and I started the walk from Loch Leven cycles where our husbands were kitted up with helmets and bikes.  The lady there was extremely helpful.  I would definitely recommend a visit, especially if you are a ‘pedal-head’!  Anyway, my friend and I got a head-start on a glorious, bright, chilly morning. The path was easy to navigate and easy to walk.  Nice and flat. Just how we like it.

A glimpse of Saint Serf’s Inch Island can be seen in the middle of Loch Leven
Another stunning view of Loch Leven with a glimpse of Saint Serf’s Inch island

A view of St Serf’s Island

As we left Kinross behind us Loch Leven opened out before us.  If you are lucky, and the water level is right, several islands can be seen in the loch.  St Serf’s Inch is the largest of the islands and it was the home of a  Culdee (a Christian monastic community) and then an Augustinian monastic community,  St Serf’s Inch Priory.

Not a soul in sight, just the bronzed bracken and the icy water of Loch Leven
Not a soul in sight, just bracken and Loch Leven

There is a good choice of refreshment stops.  Take a short detour off the trail to Loch Leven’s larder,  where I am reliably informed that the carrot cake was the ‘best ever’.  Then there is the RSPB Visitor Centre about half way round.  Again, good facilities – and cake!

The final stretch

Finally, it’s worth having a wander around ‘Todd and Duncan’, to have a look at the cashmere – some gorgeous stuff in there. Oh and cake too!  This is where our 13 mile walk around the loch ended and we met up with our cyclist partners.  It seems they had a great day too.

The baby-blue, endless sky ove loch Leven
The endless sky over the the Loch Leven nature reserve

National Nature Reserve

Loch Leven is the main part of the Loch Leven National Nature Réserve.  It is the largest lowland loch in Scotland and an important site for waterfowl.  Over 35,000 birds can be around during the winter months.  The birds arrive at Loch Leven from some far flung places, such as Greenland, Iceland, Siberia and northern and central Europe. A bird-watcher’s – and fungi spotter’s paradise!

Red, forest fungi. All manner of wildlife can be spotted on a walk around Loch Leven
Red, forest fungi