The Ultimate Recipe for Flapjacks

Ultimate? Well, the flapjacks are popular and I’ve been asked for the recipe several times by people who have actually eaten the results, so I’m calling it a success. This is what I do and why.

I really don’t like flapjacks that pull out loose teeth or fillings, so I aim for something that is buttery, chewy, and with a distinctive toffee flavour that doesn’t actually necessitate a visit to the dentist. This is what I have come up with.

– because these are fairly quick to prepare and cook they make a good start to a baking session. It’s easy enough to weigh out the ingredients for these and a cake, use these to warm the oven while preparing, say, a lemon drizzle or two and save on fuel costs.

– liner – this is essential equipment in my opinion. Do not skimp. It allows you to lift the flapjacks out of the tin without leaving most of it behind. Liner can be bought from Lakeland and can be cut to fit. Poke a sheet into your pan (making sure you get right into the corners) and cut off everything barring a rim of 1 cm or so. It helps if you have one corner lined up so you trim the 2 opposite sides only. Then cut into the base of each corner (cuts should be at 45 degree angles) so the excess liner overlaps to make a tray.

Yes, I know it sounds complicated. Yes, I know it’s a faff and extra expense, but I have used these liners for years, hundreds of times, and never had to replace them, and they make flapjacks just so much easier. Once you’ve done it you won’t have to do it again for at least a decade, at normal usage.

8 inch square tin
heatproof liner cut to fit tin (see notes above)
Stirring and scraping things. Wooden spoons, silicone spatulas, whatever you prefer.
scales and tablespoon measures.

7 oz oats – value or essential oats are actually better for this recipe than premium large oats.
3 oz butter
3tbsp or 2 oz golden syrup (this is critical to measure as accurately as possible, otherwise you end up with syrupiness. Not rounded, Not heaped.)
4 oz soft brown sugar
handful of sultanas.

Place the liner into the tin.
Dry toast your oats in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Stir well as they heat. You should see steam rise and smell popcorn, which will tell you they are done. If they look different you’ve overdone them.
Put your toasted oats into a large mixing bowl, add the sugar and sultanas and mix well.
Once the saucepan has cooled a little, put the butter in to melt. If you time it right you won’t need any extra heat. Once the butter has melted add the syrup.
It is critical that you do NOT cook the butter and syrup together or you will end up with teeth-removing toffee.
Once the syrup and butter are amalgamated, pour into the mixing bowl and stir well into the oats, sugar and sultanas. Turn the mixture into the lined tin and press down.
Put into a COLD (yes, I really mean unheated) oven at 180 degrees Celsius for 15 minutes.
Take out immediately the 15 minutes is up and leave to cool.
When your patience runs out, lift out of the tin using the liner, slide off the liner onto a chopping board and cut into squares or rectangles depending on how many people you’re prepared to share with.
If you are impatient they will crumble as you eat them. If you are made of stone then cutting them up and portioning out when they are absolutely cold will make them more stable.

If you’re being fuel canny, place cakes in your oven as you remove the flapjacks.

If you’re on a diet, too late. You probably shouldn’t have followed the instructions this far. Sorry. Maybe you could give them to the nearest fund-raising coffee-morning?

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Wild mint

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Portrait of the dog, as drawn by my daughter.

Shadow, drawn by Lydia 001

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Do we get the culture we deserve?

I’ve been pondering various things around this theme for a while but I read a tweet this morning that brought things into sharp focus. As a society we are often too separated from the consequences of our actions, so we don’t recognise the actions we need to take in order to bring about the outcome we want. That’s a pretty abstract and amorphous idea, so let me give a few examples of the things I’ve been considering.

There has been a fair amount of angst over the actions of certain newspapers over the past few years: there are often complaints about press intrusion; their hounding of people; their objectification of women; their demonising of immigrants, the disabled, single mothers, the unemployed…the list could go on and I haven’t even mentioned the specifics of phone-hacking yet.

Yet how many people still buy the newspapers? Read the articles on-line? Comment below articles? The problem is that newspapers are funded by advertisements and that advertisers want to know how many people are likely to see their advert, whether it be in a print newspaper or as a sidebar on a website, before they hand over their money.

Advertisers don’t care so much whether you agree with the article or not, they’re simply interested in whether you visited that page. So from a newspapers point of view an article that generates a flame war running into hundreds of comments below the article, that goes viral because links to the article fly around the world accompanied by phrases such as ‘guess what [insert name of controversial paper here] has printed now, how awful’ is actually incredibly valuable to them.

By contrast an article that produces a gentle head-nodding in agreement in most of it’s readership, with perhaps one reader sending a letter to the editor agreeing with the article in measured tones once he or she has fully digested the ideas in the article, well that’s not going to be so useful as a way of bringing in money to keep the paper going.

To change tack a little, I once had a conversation with an atheist whose daughter was about to get married. She had chosen the local church to get married in, which he didn’t mind so much because she was only doing it because of the lovely setting – it was one of those stone-built medieval churches. He complained about the amount of money being charged for the privilege, which was probably less than £50. He thought the Church of England shouldn’t charge anything, because they were parishioners and the Church ‘had loads of money’.

The thing is, that’s not the reality as I have experienced it.

My husband works in IT and at one time he was a consultant. One of his roles was to work on the central accounts for the Church of England and their systems. Yes, there was a lot of money in those accounts, but it was an amalgamation of all the money from all the churches in the country, It’d be like the entire population of the UK sharing two bank accounts, a deposit account which you kept for emergencies, such as when the lead is stripped off your roof and the rain is coming in (more of that later) and a cheque account which you used to pay wages, food bills etc. Now imagine that the money in those accounts totaled £50 million. That sounds like a massive amount, doesn’t it? The thing is, there are currently over 64 million people in the UK, so that makes less than a pound each. To live on. For a year. That suddenly doesn’t sound like so much, does it?

It’s a similar thing with the church accounts. Yes, there is a lot of money in there but it has to go an exceedingly long way. Obviously there are some parishes that are richer than others, but the Church of England has a system whereby they subsidise other, poorer, parishes. Even so sometimes there is still not enough money, and these parishes amalgamate and sell off the old church buildings they can no longer afford to maintain to developers. Guess what? People complain they can no longer get married in their local parish church and that the lovely old building is now some swanky house or set of offices.

The trouble with lovely old buildings is that they are old. They are quite often listed, which puts the price of maintaining them up by a wide margin. The cost of materials to repair them is higher than modern material. The cost of specialist tradesmen who know how to handle things like lime mortar is more expensive than your average brickie – and that’s if you can find one. If a building is listed you need planning permission to do so much as replace a rotten window – planning permission which costs money.

Then there’s the lead stripping and petty vandalism – bricks through stained glass windows etc. Yes, churches are insured but insurance companies don’t pay out every time your lead roof is stolen. If it happens more than a couple of times they won’t pay any more. That’s it. Nada. Not a bean.

So, my view is that if you aren’t contributing to the upkeep of your local, beautiful, parish church week in and week out but still want it there and in pristine condition for a wedding or baptism or funeral then you can pay for the privilege.

To change tack yet again, the countryside is a wonderful place but, to quote Rudyard Kipling;

Our England is a garden, and such gardens are not made
By singing:-” Oh, how beautiful,” and sitting in the shade

I live in the country and am constantly amazed at how much rubbish people throw out of their car windows as they drive around, tip out of trucks because they can’t be bothered to pay the council for proper disposal, leave bags of dog mess lying around. I mean, seriously. Dog mess unbagged would at least rot down eventually, but why on earth would you encase it in plastic and then leave it in the hedgerow?

Cleaning all this up takes money and resources. Frankly I’d rather the council spent the money on repairing the roads properly because I’ve had more punctured tyres than is reasonable.

And so to the theme of this morning’s tweet. Over the past few days I’ve seen references to the falling income of writers. According to the article it’s fallen below the accepted level necessary to be considered a living wage. Unless you are as successful an author as JK Rowling the odds are that you would have to do something else to earn money besides writing.

Does this really matter?

In some ways, no it doesn’t. People have always had a variety of roles in order to gain an income they could live on, and you could argue that getting out into the ‘real world’ just provides more experience and material for a writer to work from.

There are problems, though. For one thing there’s not exactly a wealth of other jobs to choose from out there. Just how is a writer supposed to go and magic a job out of thin air if the 2.5 million listed unemployed are already chasing the 0.5 million vacancies?

Assuming that the writer is successful and finds a job. There’s a constant pressure to work longer and longer hours. People who leave a company are often not replaced – employers often parcel out the work to existing employees. If you know there are a dozen people who would love to be in any job, your job, then it’s not always easy to say no. If you’re working extremely long hours to pay the rent and food bills then there’s not going to be a lot of time or energy left for writing.

Even part-time work to top up income isn’t necessarily easier if it’s shift work. Irregular hours play havoc with life in general.

Of course, I’m not pretending that writers are some special, delicate, breed of human who must be protected at all costs from the irritations and injustices other people have to contend with on a daily basis – far from it. It’s just that there will be an inevitable trade-off. If someone is working a 12 hour day in an office, what’s the likelihood they’ll also be writing the sequel to a favourite novel?

This morning I saw a tweet by Ben Aaronovitch, author of ‘Rivers of London’ and its sequels, amongst other things (if you haven’t read them yet then please do, they are wonderful) which linked to a review of ‘Resistance’, the latest book by Samit Basu. It’s a sequel to ‘Turbulence’ which apparently explores what happens when superpowers appear. I say apparently because I haven’t read it (yet, I shall be going to my local bookshop to obtain them later today).

I could blame the publishing industry for not promoting the books enough to catch my attention. The thing is, the publishing industry is also trying to survive. If we choose to buy millions of copies of something simply because of the buzz about it then who is really to blame?

If we want to read good, challenging literature then we should take responsibility for going out and finding it and reading it. Buying it or borrowing from libraries. Share it with friends. Spread the word.

The tweet that made me sad and prompted this long screed of a post was from Samit Basu. When asked when the next book was due he replied, simply ‘Will start work on it as soon as I can afford to.’

If we want a vibrant, worthwile, culture then we’re going to have to learn to pay for it. If we have limited resources then we need to choose wisely. If we buy only fleetingly relevant pulp fiction then that is all we’ll be given, because the rest will disappear.


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Pink Wild Orchid

WP_20140619_18_18_42_Pro   A wild pink orchid for pink shirt Thursday.

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It’s Pink Shirt Thursday

It’s Pink Shirt Thursday, which is something I’ve considered blogging about for some time.

Kidnapping is not the answer – wait, isn’t this post about Pink Shirt Thursday, since when were we talking about kidnapping? Well, yes, we are talking about both. I can’t write about one without the other.

Taking somebody hostage, taking them, for some purpose of your own that you know they won’t agree to willingly, that is wrong. It doesn’t matter who you are, what you think your cause is, your needs are, it’s plain wrong. It doesn’t matter if you think the person you are taking deserves it in some way, is complicit in some wrong that has been done to you, it is still wrong.

It’s wrong that three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped and killed in the West Bank, and it’s wrong that many Palestinians are taken and incarcerated, children included, without much, if anything, in the way of judicial process. And it’s wrong that a Palestinian teenager has been kidnapped and killed in apparent revenge for the three Israeli lads.

It was wrong when westerners were kidnapped and held for years in Lebanon years back and it’s wrong of western governments to use extraordinary rendition and it’s wrong that various governments across the globe and across the years have conveniently ‘disappeared’ their critics. It’s wrong that various terrorist organisations have kidnapped those they think will either give them some leverage or have offended them in some way, even if they suspect the person has been informing on them. Yes, even then it is wrong.

Where there is a legal process it should be used. If there is no legal process then why not, for the love of all you hold dear, use the local power, organisational skills and resources that you are currently using for kidnapping and put them to better use.

If you are feeling like life has given you the extremely fuzzy end of the lollipop stick that is still not an excuse. Kidnapping is wrong. Period.

It’s been wrong since before Africans were kidnapped and traded into slavery and it will continue to be wrong long after the last hostage held by Somali pirates has been released.

And so to Pink Shirt Thursday.

One morning many months ago I was waking up to my husband getting dressed for work. There was some rifling through the wardrobe when he exclaimed that he’d found the correct shirt for Pink Shirt Thursday.

Is that a Thing?

Yes, it’s a Thing.

Back many years ago Bob Levinson started Pink Shirt Thursday at his place of work, which happened to be the FBI. I have no idea if it was an idea that came out of the blue (!) to him, or whether he’d heard of it being done elsewhere and thought it would be a good idea to introduce it. Whatever, it became a Thing.

Years later Bob retired and became a private investigator. The next bit of the story seems to be contentious, as there are some who cannot believe the official story, just because it’s the official story, and there are some who believe that anything FBI, even anything American, is just inherently untrustworthy. These people have posted online in comments below the line in other articles various ways of disbelieving the official story which pretty much add up to, ‘He deserved it’, ‘what do you expect?’, and many more along that theme.

To all of which I refer you to my preamble about kidnapping and it always being wrong, above.

The official story (which is the only one I have access to apart from equally unsubstantiated conspiracy theories) is that Bob traveled to Iran to investigate the smuggling of pirated cigarettes, and there he was kidnapped on March 9th, 2007. There is more detail here:

Exactly who kidnapped him and why has never been fully established, although there are suspicions and rumours. Somebody, somewhere, does know, but they aren’t telling.

One of Bob’s daughters works at Deutsche Bank, and has started Pink Shirt Thursday there. To raise awareness of the fact her father now has the dubious distinction of being the American held as a hostage for the longest period. To try and keep the issue at the top of the American government, to put pressure on all those who can do something to actually do it.

No matter what you think of Bob’s previous employers (he also worked for the DEA, as well as the FBI), no matter what you think of what he was doing in Iran, no matter what you think of the fact that he’s an American – he’s a kidnap victim and his family and friends are dealing with the fall-out from that and it’s just plain wrong.


UPDATE: the recently implemented US policy of separating children from their parents, just because those parents happen to have crossed a border to seek asylum, is as wrong as any other form of kidnapping. It’s wrong on absolutely every level. There are no excuses, no possible justifications.

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Wild Orchid

Wild Orchid

The bluebells in the woods are well and truly over and it’s wild orchid season now. I’ve noticed that these two wild flowers tend to live in separate areas, with a No Man’s Land between their domains were you can find the occasional specimen of each but neither really flourishing.

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Black Taffeta (Iris)


Another beauty from Sissinghurst

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Bearded Iris


We found this handsome chap at Sissinghurst Castle on Thursday

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