I came across the name Windrum and wondered where a family with that name might have originated; it was so unusual, I’ve never heard of it or seen it anywhere before.

I looked back in the nineteenth century censuses and the first time it appears in 1851; in Scotland there was a family of Windrums, the father William was a fisherman and he and his wife Mary had two little girls, Helen and Jennet, pretty names. Jennet is obviously a Windrum family name, because in the same place is another family, a Chelsea pensioner named George, and his wife Jane, and their children, Jane, Peter, and another Jennet. There is another family of Windrums in Paisley and they work in the textile industry; however in the workhouse in Anwick it is a different story, poor Harriet Windrum and her five children are in the workhouse, described  as paupers – it doesn’t mention whether she is a widow, but nor does it mention a husband.

There are Windrums in subsequent censuses, but never very many of them; it is indeed an unusual name!NUNNEY (42)

Bulgur wheat pesto style

I was looking through the cupboards and came across some bulgur wheat. I had a sudden inspiration! I had pecorino cheese, I had pine nuts, I had fresh basil… I could make a pesto style bulgur wheat salad!

As I was preparing it I began to wonder what exactly bulgur wheat is; I guessed it was a wheat product, probably made from ordinary wheat, but then I wondered if may it might be a particular variety of wheat, so while it was soaking in some vegetable stock, I looked it up.

Apparently bulgur wheat is also called burghal wheat and it is, as I guessed made from ordinary wheat, although different varieties would I daresay give it a slightly different flavour maybe. Bulgur wheat is made by parboiling, drying and then coarsely grinding grains of wheat; cracked wheat isn’t parboiled, it’s just wheat which has been slightly milled or cracked. It’s rich in protein and minerals, and has a nutty taste which makes it a very tasty base for all sorts of recipes and used deliciously all across the middle and near east and North Africa. I use it most often when I make tabbouleh, but I like it just as a side dish as well.

Here is my recipe – I haven’t properly given precise quantities because it depends on how much you want to make:

  • bulgur wheat – whatever quantity you want, cooked however you normally cook it in a vegetable stock. I soaked it in stock until it was all absorbed, then put it in the microwave for a couple of minutes.
  • olive oil, I like Greek olive oil – use whatever you prefer but the olive oily taste should be apparent
  • fresh basil  finely chopped, and a little for decoration – I only wanted a flavour of basil, so I used about six big sprigs, chopped up; the stalks were soft and green so I chopped them up too. Don’t pick and chop the basil too much in advance, you want it to be really fresh
  • pine nuts lightly toasted in a dry frying pan
  • parmesan or pecorino cheese finely grated, I didn’t use too much as I’m not that keen on a strong cheesy taste – but if you like it stronger, then add more – taste as you make it!
  • small amount of finely chopped or minced garlic – a little goes a long way and I didn’t want to overpower the other delicate flavours
  • pomegranate molasses (optional)
  • salt – if necessary
  1. prepare the bulgur wheat with the stock
  2. while it is still warm add the olive oil – you need plenty, stir it really well so every little grain is coated
  3. add the pomegranate molasses, tasting as you go so it adds sweet and sourness but isn’t really sweet
  4. add the cheese, stirring well to disperse it through the bulgur
  5. add the minced garlic
  6. when the bulgar is still slightly warm, add the chopped basil, stirring it through…if you don’t think you have enough for your taste, add more
  7. when it’s cold, add the toasted pine nuts
  8. I didn’t need any more seasoning than was in the stock, you might want to add more salt

It really is delicious and I have to confess I ate quite a bit before lunch time, too yummy to resist!


Going to the seaside

It’s Bank Holiday Monday… and fairly typically for England, it’s raining. However, I guess there will be plenty of people heading towards the coast, hoping that the saying ‘rain before seven, dry by eleven’ will be true… actually it often is, apparently a weather front generally takes that amount of time to pass, so although it can sometimes or even often be true, it’s not actually an accurate prediction!

These days people have more flexibility and more holidays but when I was young a Bank Holiday was a treat to be taken advantage of. We lived in Cambridge, and it was about seventy miles to the coast; I can’t remember how we got to the seaside before we had a car when I was about seven or eight, I guess we went by coach from Drummer Street, or by train. We would go to the Norfolk coast where I know my dad would have gone as a boy, not the south coast where my mum’s family came from.

There weren’t all the amusements and shops and attractions at the places we visited, but we were happy to dig in the sand, paddle and swim in the sea however cold it was (and the North Sea is very cold!) and however dull the day or even rainy… a picnic on the beach, even huddled under raincoats, it was just such a treat to be by the seaside. We would find jelly fish, sometimes huge ones, and my dad would tell us the best thing for their stings was tomatoes – he had learned that from the Arabs during the war, and do I remember him extracting a slice of tomato from a sandwich to put on my leg where I had been stung? later when we had a car and could travel home more quickly, we would dig for cockles, but we never ever collected razor clams which are so popular now, even though we picked up their long, pretty shells. We would make pictures and patterns on the sand with seaweed and pebbles and empty shells, we would dig deep holes, or channels for the sea, or make castles, we would collect things we found…


There were often interesting things on the beach, huge decomposing sea creatures, dolphins maybe or seals more likely, and occasionally there would be an old sea-mine washed ashore, and roped off – not very securely, but maybe people were more sensible or more aware of how dangerous they were. There would be driftwood, some of it very old which had no doubt been at sea for maybe years, some of it planks of wood washed off ships taking cargoes to Lowestoft.

I hope the weather brightens up today for all the visitors to our west coast seaside town… but I guess whether there is rain or shine, there will be lots of children digging in the sand and having fun as their parents shiver behind wind breaks, huddled in jumpers and raincoats.


Rain before seven… find out more:

Talking about beer

In our local, the Dolphin tonight, and we got talking about beer.  We’re not connoisseurs, we’re just ordinary beer drinkers, but we have enjoyed beer for long enough to know not only what we like, but what makes what we like the way we like it.

It was  beer which brought me and my husband together twenty-five years ago. If you can imagine, I was writing, working on my computer, engaged totally in the story I was telling and the phone rang. Still with my head full of the narrative I answered the phone… Hello, it’s Bari from work…  I barely listened as Bari from work wondered if I would like to go out for a drink… Still thinking about my story I inadvertently agreed to go ‘out for a drink’. I put the phone down and thought ‘Oh ****! Well, at least he will take me somewhere which serves decent beer.’

Bari took me to the Old Sair Inn which served excellent beer… a year later we married and before long we had children and we are still enjoying beer! Tonight in our great local pub, the Dolphin, we were talking beer. We were drinking Otter, from Otter Brewery, but we talked about Bank’s beer from the Midlands, and Hanson’s from the Midlands too, and Bass. We talked about a company which took over two breweries, which went on to produce two beers from exactly the same recipe… the difference was they each had differnet warer, one’s water was supplied by Shropshire, the other by West Midlands… the two beers tasted completely different, differnet water, different beer. That’s the sort of things we beer drinkers talk about!

Home-made yoghurt

It all started because we had too much milk; we have a milkman who delivers three times a week, and sometimes we don’t seem to drink as much milk… maybe we have gone out for the day, or away for a weekend, or maybe we just haven’t consumed as much, no white sauces, no pancakes, no custard which all take milk.

My recipe is 1 litre of milk brought to about 40º C and 60 ml of yoghurt stirred in; leave it for 24 hours in a warm place such as the airing cupboard (make sure it is standing on something solid unless you want all your clean bedding and towels covered in yoghurt!) You can go on using the yoghurt to make more yoghurt, until maybe it becomes to acid or has a slight flavour you don’t like, then just buy some more plain yoghurt and start again.

I was looking through a recipe book all about using yoghurt and cheese in different ways… Christmas scones sound nice using mincemeat (of which I have jars and jars… I get carried away making things which we are much slower to eat!) and sheep milk yoghurt… I guess it would work with cow’s milk… But the recipe I want to try is spinach soup. I tried making some and to be honest it wasn’t that nice. So here is a different recipe:

  • 1 lb of spinach, washed, shaken and torn
  • a little butter
  • 1-2 onions depending on size, chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 1 pint of chicken or vegetable stock
  • cornflour mixed with a little milk or yoghurt so it’s runny
  • ½ pint of thick yoghurt
  • salt, pepper and freshly grated nutmeg
  1. gently cook the onions in the butter
  2. add the spinach, cover and cook for just a few minutes, until the spinach has cooked down and gone soft
  3. add the stock, then put in a blender until it is smooth (I might sieve it, but you don’t have to)
  4. pour into a saucepan and add the cornflour, stirring well so it doesn’t go lumpy
  5. when it has thickened, add the yoghurt and continue to stir – it doesn’t need to boil or any more cooking, it just needs to be mixed in
  6. season to taste and serve with crusty bread

Finding people

Like many people I have a fascination with the stories of missing people… it seems so heartbreaking when someone disappears from a family, sometimes for no apparent reason, sometimes for a hidden or secret reason, and sometimes it is just the end of a long drift of gradual separation. Sometimes a family have been split, or a child adopted, and children who are powerless to do very much, are separated from a parent or siblings, or grandparents; tragic for all concerned. There are many charities which try and find ‘lost’ people, and of course sometimes perhaps many times, the lost don’t want to be found. This interest that I have, the interest in the story, and the hope for a happy or at least satisfactory resolution, is shared by others, hence the TV programmes and media articles, and books about finding people who have become apart from family or friends.

As a writer I have written about ‘lost’ characters many times, and the search for them is a theme of several of my books. In Farholm, a woman has found an extraordinary secret about her dead husband, and  is seeking the man she has lost; in Loving Judah, a father travels to India to find his lost son; in Night Vision a man has lost his brother; my Radwinter stories feature not only a search for lost relatives from the past, but the main character, Thomas is also commissioned to find lost people in the present – a missing daughter, a disappeared friend, a lost father.

I don’t use any real people as models for characters – well, I should modify that and say that I don’t base my characters on anyone I actually know. So a person I fleetingly see, like the young man in my featured picture, a woman on the bus, a couple walking along the sea front, the person who works in my local bookshop, a TV chef… any of those can become a model for my characters, Sometimes I have the outline of a character in my mind, maybe i can’t quite imagine what the character looks like, or walks like, or sounds like; then I have to look for my ‘missing’ person.

BOSTON (60)Friends? Or just colleagues? What are they talking about, does one love another? The glimpse of a group of ordinary people can send my imagination racing…

You can find my ebooks available here:


Following my success a few weeks ago with corn bread, I’ve made some more to go with a chilli. Sweetcorn, cornflour, polenta… they are so often part of things we cook and things we eat, it’s sometimes easy to forget that like potatoes and tomatoes they didn’t arrive in Europe until they were brought back from the Americas.

The word corn however was used long before maize was introduced and described as corn, originally called Indian corn. Originally ‘corn’ just meant grain and could be applied to anything but was usually understood as wheat or oats. The actual word is Old English, meaning grain, and you can see the connexion with ‘korn’ in our cousin language Friesian and our grandparent language Saxon. There were other varieties of the seam word in kurnam, coren, kärna and kaurn. In that old sense it was the seed which was understood, not the actual plant, and it’s present in barleycorn, meaning the see to grow barley.

Corn as a grain crops up in one well-known meat product, corned beef! Here the preserving process for the beef used corns of salt, grains of salt, and it was corned or salted meat. I’ve had success with cornbread, I don’t think I’ll try making corned beef though!