Walpurgis Night… if only I’d remembered!

Bonfire night is a tradition going back way before Guy Fawkes and his associates tried to blow up the Houses of Parliament in 1605; having a big blazing fire, lots of japes, traditional food, a big feast before winter sets in… that must go back millennia! However, we don’t have a similar celebration to cast off winter and welcome in the longer, better days. In Northern Europe, many countries do have an end of winter festival, Walpurgis Night.

Walpurgis Night is the night of April 30th, and actually Saint Walpurga’s day eve. She was an 8th-century abbess who had come from Devon (not far from where we live!) to the Kingdom of the Franks – who, so I understand it, were mainly Germans – or where Germany is situated today. However, as Guy Fawkes Night took over a much older festival, so St Walpurga’s Eve did the same – it is the night when witches meet so it’s necessary to have bonfires and noisy celebrations to keep them away! People enjoy the fun these days across Northern Europe, the Netherlands, Germany, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Sweden, the Baltic states…

If only I had realised earlier, I could have made some special doughnuts, traditionally eaten! Here is a link to more doughnut details, and a recipe:


… and here is some more information about Walpurgis Night:



I was recently posed a question about reading, and my reading habits. If someone just asked me in conversation, I would say I read mostly fiction, and mostly detective or crime stories. However, when I came to think about it, in answering the question, in actual fact, I’m reading three books at the moment and none of them are fiction!

Q: You’re a writer – are you also a reader, and if so what do you like to read and what are you reading at the moment?

A: Yes, an addicted reader. I like books which contain some mystery or puzzle, so often they are crime books and police procedurals; I particularly like Icelandic authors such as Arnaldur Indriðason, Ragnar Jónasson, Viktor Arnar Ingólfsson and Yrsa Sigurðardóttir. However at the moment I am reading ‘Perverse and Foolish’ by Lucy M. Boston (author of the Green Knowe books for children) ‘South: The Story of Shackleton’s 1914-1917 Expedition’ by Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton and ‘Success and Luck: Good Fortune and the Myth of Meritocracy’ by Robert H. Frank… So no fiction! The last fiction I read and really enjoyed was ‘The Red Tent’ by Anita Diamant. I am really not very keen on ‘women’s literature’, and I am very intolerant of pretentious writing – and novels written in the present tense!

I wrote recently about Lucy M. Boston; she write six books about a house called Green Knowe, which in fact was her own home, The Manor in Hemingford Grey, Cambridgeshire. She write this autobiographical piece when she was in her mid-eighties and yet her memories seem bright and vivid, even back to when she was little more than a baby.

‘South’ by Shackleton could hardly be more different; Ernest Shackleton and his crew set out on an Antarctic expedition in 1914, just as war was declared. Their ship was wrecked and destroyed  thousands of miles from the settlement. They were so far from the nearest human contact their radios were useless; the war was raging and  no rescue attempt was made. However, by sheer heroism, Shackleton and his men survived… I know all this but I haven’t got that far in the book yet! They are still making their way through the ice floes at Christmas 1914!

Robert H. Frank’s book is exactly what the title suggests, a debate on the part played by luck in anyone’s success – and what ‘luck’ actually means! I’m having to read this quite slowly, to fully grasp all the arguments he is making, but it is absolutely fascinating!

Potato peelers

There seems to be a tool for every conceivable kitchen task these days; I have to be very strict with myself when I am anywhere near the household department of a big shop, or a cookery shop, or a hardware shop which has a few racks of interesting things… Last year when I was trying to get rid of one item a day – given away, recycled to a charity shop, or even thrown in the bin, I had a great clear out of my kitchen drawers and cupboards. When would I need a melon baller? Why had I even bought a cherry-stoner? I bought egg poaching pods and never once used them, we have a poaching pan, why do we need  pods? There were many more items which I don’t even remember… I confess I did keep a few, for example a little press for making pirozhki (I’ve never used it, am I ever going to make pirozhki? Maybe I should today)

When I first started peeling potatoes, and other vegetables, I used a small sharp knife, and for preference I still would today. However when I visit friends and help by peeling the spuds, I’m given a whole variety of different peelers… some have a short concave blunt blade with a slot in it, some are a variation on that but with a wobbly, hinged blade suspended like a slack bowstring, some  are catapult shaped but with a blade instead of elastic… and I usually revert to a small knife having lost the battle with the friend’s favourite implement.

I looked on the Lakeland website, twenty-three peelers, including:

  • potato peeler
  • potato straight peeler
  • swivel vegetable & potato peeler
  • fruit & vegetable potato peeler
  • palm peeler (to hold in your palm, nothing to do with palm fruits!)
  • vegetable peeler
  • julienne vegetable peeler
  • corn stripper
  • garlic peeler
  • fruit peeler
  • orange peelers
  • multi peel julienne
  • 4-in-1 y-shaped peeler
  • ceramic peeler
  • sharpener and peeler
  • straight peeler

I love Joseph Joseph kitchen ware, and ‘in the interests of research’ just had a little peep,

  • Rotary Peeler – 3-in-1 vegetable peeler, green/pink
  • Multi-peel – Multi-function peelers, green/yellow/orange
  • The Peeling Perfectionist – 3-piece peeling gift set, multicolour
  • Scroll – Silicone garlic peeler, green/ grey/ red
  • The Foodie – 4-piece gadget and utensil gift set, multicolour

I know we’re trying to downsize, I know we are trying to get rid of unwanted unused items, and I know a small sharp knife is my preferred utensil, but…



Delicious pirozhki!

Perverse and foolish

I was a voracious reader as a child; I read all the book sin our house, and all the books in the children’s library, before borrowing my mum’s library tickets and having a go at the adult section. However, I would go back to the children’s books for my favourites, and ones I read and reread many times were the Green Knowe series by Lucy M. Boston.

There were six novels,

  1. The Children of Green Knowe
  2. The Chimneys of Green Knowe
  3. The River at Green Knowe
  4. A Stranger at Green Knowe
  5. An Enemy at Green Knowe
  6. The Stones of Green Knowe

… but I think I only read the first three, as the latter ones were published in 1961, 1964 and 1976. Green Knowe was an old house, full of ghosts and spirits which the children in the story had adventures with… actually, I really ought to read them again as I have forgotten much of what the stories were about. Green Knowe was such a magical place, I have such a strong sense of it, and I never realised when I read the stories as a child that it was based on a real house.

Lucy M. Boston is a fascinating person, and I’m reading her biography at the moment, ‘Perverse and Foolish’. if only I had known when I was young and reading the stories, that green Knowe was actually The Manor, a house I had passed dozens of times in Hemingford Grey where our cousins lived! I may have well passed Mrs Boston in the village street!

In another curious thing, I was talking to friends of ours who live just down the road, and it turns out that they also had relatives in Hemingford Grey, and on one occasion, they met Mrs Boston who invited them into the Manor to look round! The house, it seems is open to visitors, so next time we are in the area, I am going to ring in advance and arrange to visit… I will read the novels again before I go!


Cardamom, Cardamon, Cardamum

Cardamom is one of those what you might call Marmite flavours, love it or hate it – and like Marmite, which I love, I also love cardamom. I do agree though, that a little goes a long way, and it can overpower other flavours, but subtly used it can enhance all sorts of recipes, sweet and savoury! It’s also vital as a part of a curry or tagine  mix, when combined with other spices it can produce the most delicious and aromatic dishes.

I don’t actually know much about it except it can be black or green, and is a husky pod with small black seeds belonging to the ubiquitous ginger family. As you might imagine it has been used since the most ancient times, and its’ name derives probably from an ancient Indian word – where the plant originated. It now grows in many other areas, including South America where it was planted by German coffee growers .

It doesn’t just taste delicious, on its own or mixed with other spices and herbs, it has some healthy aspects; it contains vitamins C and B-6, and also calcium, iron and magnesium – although I guess you would have to eat rather a lot of it to benefit. Health benefits seem to be everything which might be wrong with you, including hiccups!

Here is what the plant looks like, courtesy of Wikipedia:

I’ve recently been trying to make halva – my attempts haven’t been too bad, but I have yet to make the perfect recipe… needless to say, cardamom features!

In case you’re wondering, my featured image is of a dessert I made from some offcuts of an Icelandic cake recipe… waste not want not!

Þam beancoddum – the bean pods…

I’ve mentioned before that I go to a group where we discuss Anglo-Saxon… we aren’t trying to learn it, we don’t have a teacher, and to be honest, I think it’s a bit beyond us! We do have most interesting meetings, though, and we always overrun our time together!

We met yesterday and talked about many things, and then our leader shared this short story; here is the first part, which I’m sure you are familiar with in modern English!

He cwæð: Soðlice sum monn hæfde twegen suna.
Þa cwæð se gingra to his fæder, “Fæder, sele me mine dæl minre æhte þe me to gebyreþ.” Þa dælde he him his æhta.
Ða æfter feawum dagum eall his þing gegaderode se gingra sunu ond ferde wræclice on feorlen rice ond forspilde þær his æhta, libbende on his gælsan.
Ða he hie hæfde ealle amierrede, þa wearð micel hungor on þam rice and he wearð wædla.
Þa ferde he and folgode anum burhsittendum men þæs rices; ða sende he hine to his tune þæt he heolde his swin.
Ða gewilnode he his wambe gefyllan of þam beancoddum þe ða swin æton, and him mon ne sealde.
Þa beþohte he hine ond cwæð, “Eala, hu fela hyrlinga on mines fæder huse hlaf genohne habbað, ond ic her on hunger forweorðe!”

…and here is a version you may be familiar with:

He said, “There was a man who had two sons.
The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.
“Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living.
After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need.
So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs.
He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.
When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death!

I can’t find a recording of this to share, but here is the Lord’s Prayer:

Not in love…

This is a song which takes me right back to a particular time… not because it meant a specific thing to me then, but it did to a friend, and I must have heard it dozens of times as he played it over and over, and thought about the girl of his dreams… I love this song because – well, it is just such a great song!

I’ve never seen 10cc live, but maybe one day… in the meantime, isn’t this a great performance from a gig in Swansea in 2011?!