Holiday Time!

Over the weekend, I was talking to my friend about childhood holidays and it brought back a million memories. Throughout my childhood until I was about 13 or so, we always went to a Pontin’s holiday camp. We generally went to one of three places: North Wales, Somerset or just up the road in Sussex. I have vivid and strong memories of all of those places and the journeys to get there.

I wanted to capture some of those memories before they slide off back into the quagmire of my mind again so here is a non-exhaustive list.

  • I used to get car sick. I still shudder at the flavour of Strawberry Chewits because I remember clearly that they taste much worse coming back up. To a degree, the same with the smell of freshly cut grass (not that I ate it, you understand: just the smell of it triggers memories of car sickness). I remember taking ‘Quells’ before each trip with varying degrees of success. To this day, I am a terrible passenger.
  • Mum’s packed lunches that we’d eat sitting in a layby somewhere.
  • Milk that came in bags and the blue jugs you used to put them in! I’d forgotten about these until recently when the hospital Costa Coffee had bags of milk and the memory surfaced like a wallowing hippo.
  • Embassy (even number chalets) vs Castella (odd number chalets). We always invariably ended up in Castella and I still remember the one time we were in Embassy being like some kind of rare treat. Naturally, we were mortal enemies.
  • The Dragon Club song to the tune of Glory, Glory, Hallelujah . (‘We’re all in the Dragon Club, our best we try to do… some of us are Embassy and there’s Castella too… we have a secret password of which we’re very proud but we won’t shout it out loud… fishfingers is our password, that’s the Dragon Club’s own password… fishfingers is our password, but we won’t shout it out loud!’) Note: ‘fishfingers’ should be whispered at each occurrence, because it’s secret. How the heck I remember that song the better part of 40 years later is anybody’s guess.
  • My mum winning the jackpot on a fruit machine in 10p pieces and having to carry them back to the chalet in her handbag. I can remember sitting there counting it all up. It was like £100 or something, which at the time was a HUGE pile of cash. Still is, really. Note: £100 in 10p pieces is heavy.
  • The ‘spot the new car registrations’ game.
  • All the kids getting kicked out of the ballroom (which I can remember reeking of stale tobacco and beer in the way that pubs used to when you’d walk past them in the morning) at x o’clock so the adults could do adult things, whatever boring stuff that was. What could possibly be better than a group of pre-teen kids charging at top speed around the floor?
  • Prize Bingo! Oh my god, that was so much fun.
  • The year my mum, dad and brother left the camp site to go do a Thing (I think it was go to Cheddar Caves) and I stayed behind. I was 11 years old. Can you imagine leaving an 11 year old alone for a whole day now? I randomly entered a talent contest and came second. I still have the trophy somewhere.
  • Making friends with a boy called Peter whose birthday was the same day as mine and us being friends all week. I still sometimes wonder if he remembers me too.
  • The only time we had a two week holiday being the ultimate in excitement. If I recall correctly, the first week was sports week (and there were various sports celebrities of the time on-site – I became firm friends with Tony Gubba’s daughters) and the second week was arts and crafts.
  • Locking everyone out of the car at Stonehenge.

They were simple holidays, but they were so special. My mum never travelled well and the idea of an overseas holiday just never came up. (I didn’t even go on a plane until I was 18 years old). My dad worked hard to make sure we were all looked after and these holidays, the kind of thing that people today turn their noses up at, were so wonderful. I still remember the many times I cried when we left on a Saturday to go home, wanting desperately to stay in this magical wonderland where nobody knew me. To this day, I will stoically defend those holidays against the snobbish reaction it seems to draw from people.

That’s it, really. I just wanted to get some of these memories down. My brother doubtless has many others he could add to this list!


The amazing Neil Kleid posted on Twitter recently about how finding it easier to deal with imposter syndrome as he gets older and it set me off thinking about my own experiences with this terrible thing. So I figured I’d try putting it down in writing.

Let’s start with the great news! My latest novel, a prose adaptation of Benjamin Percy’s amazing audio drama, was announced and the cover released over the last couple of weeks. Look at it. Look at how lucky I am to have been gifted the most incredible cover by the effortlessly awesome Steven McNiven. Look at how lucky I am to have been given the opportunity to write something for Marvel – whose comic imprints I have been reading since I was thirteen. Look at how lucky I am to have been given the opportunity to do this. And how lucky to have been involved with the scripting in Darktide. And how lucky I am to have written stories for Twilight Imperium, Wild West Exodus, Warhammer, World of Warcraft…

How lucky I am. Also, it’s here.

So I find myself thinking – and if you know me at all, you’ll understand how big a leap of faith this next statement is – that I’m not lucky at all. I’m capable. These people – Games Workshop, Warcradle, Marvel (freaking Marvel), all of them, have trusted me to represent their intellectual property and that’s not lucky – it’s an honour. I’ve always written stories for the same reason and that reason has been to entertain people. I have a very vivid memory of my first teacher – so I was 5 or 6 years old at the time – asking the class to write and draw their own version of a Mr. Men story. I chose to write a story about Mr. Happy planting an acorn and standing in the garden waiting for it to grow.

“He’ll be there a long time,” laughed Mrs. Chapman, delighted by the image I’d drawn (badly) on the page of Mr. Happy with his watering can and a huge, beaming smile on his face (he is Mr. Happy). “What a lovely idea!” From that moment, I wanted nothing more than to see people smile after they’d read something I’d written on the page. For me, it’s the single most rewarding thing about being a writer. I love to tell stories. It’s genuinely as simple as that. That all these people have given me the chance to build castles in their sandboxes is glorious and I adore it.

And yet…

And yet.

I’m not good enough, my brain tells me. There are people whose standards I’m never going to reach. What am I doing? How did I get here?

I had a lot of this writing the Star-Lord book. Not only was it writing for Marvel, which was a burden in and of itself to someone with a brain like mine, but it was handling a well-known character. I focused harder on writing this book that I think I’ve focused on anything else. I thought like Peter Quill for several weeks while writing it. I found little things: gestures and quirks that I dropped in. I heard his voice whenever I wrote one of his voice lines. It was a project of complete passion and devotion. The whole time, I was telling myself this is fine. This is all fine.

Then I sent the manuscript off to my wonderful editor. The second it left my mailbox, I went into a quiet anxiety meltdown. Would it be good enough? Will it be OK? Is the fact the first draft ended up nearly 10k words over the agreed total but I managed to edit it down to only 5k over be OK? Will she like it? Will she hate it? She’ll hate it. Oh my word, what am I doing?

Then Christmas happened. Then the manuscript came back to me with eloquent and thoughtful edits – none of which were huge and/or major and which all served only to make the story even better. So I did the edits within the allotted timeframe and sent them back. Everything was fine and then it was time to send the manuscript to Marvel.

To actual Marvel.

Well, given everything I’ve said here, you can imagine where my poor, overthinking brain went at this point. It packed a suitcase and took a long vacation in Paranoia City. From the moment it was sent to the moment it came back, I was certain that it’d be rejected. That the excitement bubble would not only burst, it would explode, sending shards of bitter shame and disappointment flying over a large area. I refreshed my inbox about twenty times an hour. When it did come back, it was on a Monday. I saw my editor’s name flash up on the email notification and I think my heart stopped for a good minute.

I opened the email.

I opened the attachment.

I looked through the edits back from the Marvel editor.

I emailed my Aconyte editor.

“Hi,” I wrote, because I’m a writer and I know how to start an email. “Just wanted to check that I’ve got the full thing back? Because there’s like… less than a dozen changes here and…”

It was the right thing. There were barely any changes and two of them were slight tweaks to stuff on my acknowledgement page.

My own imposter syndrome practically throttled me over writing this story and yet, everything was fine. Everything was more than fine. Everything was great. And for perhaps the first time ever I realised that I’m more capable of this writing thing than I give myself credit for. Imposter syndrome is a real thing when you’re writing stories, it absolutely is, and it’s a many-headed monster with a metric fucktonne of sharp, pointy teeth. But then you take a step back and it turns out to be a fluffy kitten. Sure, the claws can be sharp and they can lacerate you quite badly, but you know what? You get better.

And that’s lucky.

WWX: Lazarus [Extract 4]

And finally… Sergeant Irwin.

“Orders ma’am? The Indestructibles are ready to do their duty.” The voice was tinny and synthetic, like a scratchy gramophone recording being played through a loud hailer. Doc turned to find a hulking, armoured simulacrum of a man standing to attention. On one shoulder were painted sergeant’s chevrons and where its eyes should have been, was a softly glowing slit.

“What in the name of thunderation are you?” The words were out of the Lawman’s mouth before Willa could address the thing’s question. He’d seen GI bots before, of course he had, but he had been caught unawares and his tendency to distrust walking, talking engineering spilled out of him.

“We are Union UR-31E General Infantry Automata. Unit designation IR-1, sir!” It snapped off a startlingly smart salute. “You may call me Irwin.”

“Irwin?” Doc’s incredulity was comical, and Willa watched the exchange with a moment’s much-needed amusement.

“Correct, sir. Sergeant Irwin of the Indestructibles.”

“Irwin’s Indestructibles!” The unit of mechanised soldiers standing behind the unlikely sergeant all chorused at once in their synthetic voices.

“Sergeant Irwin and the other 31Es are a masterpiece,” Willa said, feeling that she needed to explain the automata’s remarkable manner. “His difference engine programming is extraordinary. Like all automata his speech is really just pre-recorded phrases played when needed. But he’s part of Tesla’s newer generation. Teslabots, they call them. These sergeant models have ten times as many phrases as the old GI-Bots did. I’m told they can even splice parts of the recordings to give more appropriate responses. The job of these Indestructibles…”

“Irwin’s Indestructibles!”

The GI-bots chorused again, and Willa tapped her finger against the side of her mouth thoughtfully.

“Did you order them to do that, Sergeant?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

The teslabot sounded so pleased with itself that she let it go.

Book is here:

WWX: Lazarus [Extract 3]

Next up, we have the young Spirit Priest, Stone Fur – a quiet and reluctant hero to his people.

There was little alcohol consumed among this community. That was not, of course, to say that the occasional bottle of bourbon didn’t find its way in from the nearby settlement. One such bottle was being surreptitiously passed from young warrior to young warrior, each daring the other to pretend they liked the acrid taste of the alcohol. Stone Fur watched, something between amusement and longing in his expression.

Once, he had been able to engage in games like that. Now, though…

Now… he had responsibility.

The weight of it all briefly touched on his shoulders, and he felt the sheer oppression of the task he had to perform. As a Spirit Priest, he would be looked upon to perform rites for the dead, for the newborn, to bless and prepare hunting parties… to perform marriage ceremonies, to call forth the blessings of the Great Spirit when and if the People went to war… somewhere in there he would also be expected to continue the contributions he made to the community in the form of hunting and trapping game.

There was no lack of equality amongst Stone Fur’s people. The women and men hunted and fought alongside one another and often, marriage bondings came about as a result of two young people forced into hunting as partners who found their kindred spirits.

There will be no kindred spirit for me, mused
Stone Fur. Only the Great Spirit. That is all I will ever need.

Some of the People were now dancing before the fire, working out their grief for the loss of the old Priest with shameless abandon. Tears streaked the faces of many, and Stone Fur kept his head held high as he watched the outpouring of grief take on a new form.

The sorrow at Curved Bear Claw’s passing became unashamed joy at all he had been, and tears prickled behind the Priest’s eyes. Tears of affectionate pride. A zephyr kissed the bared skin of his neck, behind his ear and despite the comparative warmth of the April night and his proximity to the fire, the Priest shivered. A hand came up to scratch at the now itching spot and when he brought it away, it was covered in blood.

Book is here:

WWX: Lazarus [Extract 2]

Second extract from ‘Wild West Exodus: Lazarus’ (link in comments).

Next up, Mrs. Kelly, the indomitable undertaker from the town of Little Beam.

She’s amazing.

Mrs. Kelly was aiming for where its heart should have been, where any natural, living thing would have been vulnerable.

“Damn thing’s tougher than stewed boot leather,” said the old woman as every shot she fired passed cleanly through its flesh with no effect. “An’ my guns sure as hell ain’t powerful enough to put it down. Ain’t you got somethin’ bigger? Better? There’s gotta be somethin’ else we can try.”

Shaw’s eyes raked over the creature,assessing it, measuring it, taking in how big it was and how tiny the window of destructive opportunity actually was. The answers to those two questions were ‘goddamn huge’ and ‘ridiculously tiny’ respectively.

“We need those cannons back,” she said, simply and Mrs. Kelly nodded. Then the undertaker’s face split in a mostly toothless grin and she jumped from her mount. “Cover me,” she said, without affording any sort of explanation whatsoever.

Before Willa could so much as say a word, the woman peeled away from the group and began running directly at the rampaging monstrosity. It registered her with a strangely childlike curiosity, its lumpen head tipped to one side. Then it took a flailing swipe at her with one of its massive fists. The old woman smoothly dropped into a diving roll that seemed incongruous with her age and passed cleanly beneath it, coming out the other side. As distractions went, it was most certainly effective. Mrs. Kelly ran at full pelt toward one of the other abandoned ‘Horses.

“Fire at it!” Willa screamed the order at the
top of her lungs. “Keep it off her!” She glanced at the big man. “Is she completely out of her mind?”

“Don’t look at me,” said the man mildly, shrugging easily. “Mrs. Kelly is totally her own person. I ain’t gonna start questionin’ the whys an’ wherefores of what she does now. Besides, she’d take my head off if I tried.”

Book is here:

WWX: Lazarus [Extract 1]

First of a few little extracts from ‘Wild West Exodus: Lazarus’ – link in comments.

First up… the very impressive Loud Thunder of the Warrior Nation.

Bright, azure sparks began to stream from the warrior’s skin as he rode, leaving retina-scarring contrails in his wake until his flesh glowed with barely contained radiance. Then he opened his eyes, revealing smouldering pits of blue-white fire. Incredibly, impossibly, the big man leapt from his horse but continued to lead the charge, his huge stride pushing him ahead of the mounted host. Hamilton’s army raised their claws and blades to greet him.

There was a blinding flash at the point of impact and a dozen broken, ragged bodies were flung high into the air. Where the warrior had been was now a huge, spectral buffalo. It charged, ploughing through the shambling horde as though they were nothing more than toys. It crushed and rent, trampling everything in its path.

As it burst free of the first rank of creatures,
Willa realised that she and her companions were also in its path.

“Move,” she bellowed as the massive animal
bore down on them. “Move!”

The blue, ghostly form of the buffalo took more solid form as it passed and it lowered its head, great horns pointed at the shambling corpses that still advanced in the wake of the wild charge.

The book can be found here:


December 10th, 2000.

It was 7.30am on a Sunday and the phone rang, a shrill silence-shatterer. My then-husband wandered off to answer it and I can remember lying there, staring up at the bedroom ceiling, just steeling myself. Because you just *know* when the phone rings at that time on a Sunday it’s one of two things: it’s a spam call, or it’s bad news.

Oddly, when he came back into the room, somber and serious-faced, my instinct was that my grandmother had passed away. She was in her nineties at that point and had been in decline for a while. My mother, while never in the best of health, didn’t even cross my mind.

There was no easy way for him to break the news to me of what had happened and so he told me straight. Shot from the hip. I’ll be forever grateful to him for it: he didn’t wrap it up, he just fired those seven words in quick succession, his own shock evident in his eyes at the time.

Seven words. That was all it took to completely upend my world, to shake my belief in everything.

Seven words.

“It’s your mum. She’s collapsed and died.”

As soon as the last syllable slid from his lips, my body went into what I can only describe as Extreme Coping mode. I got out of bed. “I need to call my dad back,” I informed him. “Can you get The Child out and ready, we will have to drive down today.” I called my dad back. He answered the phone from across the other side of the country, five hours or more away and he sounded so tired and sad.

“I love you,” I said when he answered. It was the first time I can remember saying it to him with such bluntness, such utter certainty and such conviction. He gave me the details: mum had suffered what the paramedics were fairly sure had been a massive heart attack at about 3am and had passed away in my dad’s arms despite efforts to resuscitate. It was quick, he reassured me. He also said that he’d wanted to call me straight away, but my brother had stopped him, saying it would be better to let us have sleep so we would be safe driving down.

I told him we would be there just as soon as we could be, then hung up.

An infinite period of time passed. A period of time that was perhaps five, maybe six seconds. We’re talking 22 years ago and yet I can still quite clearly remember those moments. I can remember walking into the living room. I can remember the feeling of utter, awful loss. I can remember actually crying out, like they do in books, ‘not my mummy’.

And that was it. It looks pitiful written down, but there was real, heart-felt emotion behind it.

Then I turned my mind to the important business of dealing with everything that was suddenly going to be thrown at me. I stood in the shower. I gave my son his breakfast. I laughed and gurgled along with him. I sat in the car as we drove south, an awkward silence between us. He didn’t know what to say, I didn’t know what I needed to hear. We stopped on the M1 halfway down and I can remember him pushing a sandwich in front of me and gently telling me I needed to eat.

“Yeah,” I said.

I didn’t eat.

When we got to my dad’s house, I hugged him for the longest time. I soaked up his grief like some kind of sponge. I took my brother’s grief as well. And by this point, I hadn’t shed a single tear. I remember, at some point, going up the road to see my mum’s friend who welcomed me with her tears and sorrow. I soaked that up, too. Then she said something very simple, very sweet and which I have carried with me every day since mum died.

Seven words.

“She was a kind woman, your mum.”

Yes. Yes, she was. She was kind and she was thoughtful and she was funny and she was the buffer that stood between teenage me (a hormonal monster) and my dad (politically diametrically opposed to me in every way) and stopped us from actually killing one another. How was life going to go on without her? I can clearly remember going into town for some reason or other with dad, sitting in a coffee shop and watching people going about their Christmas shopping business like nothing had happened.

Don’t you know the news? I wanted to scream. Haven’t you heard?

And I realised with the cold shock of water to the face, that life goes on.

The funeral came and went. It was so close to Christmas – 21st December – that we decided we’d have a Christmas carol instead of a hymn, because mum loved carols. Silent Night will never be the same for me. After the funeral, a friend came to me and said the fact I stood so straight and without tears throughout had been the thing that made her cry the most.

I soaked that up as well. For a good couple of years, I didn’t release all that pent-up grief and when it finally burst, it was a relief. Because I’d been afraid there was something wrong with me. How was it I could cope and manage all this tragedy without emotion? Was I too hard?

All of which is preamble to today. HM the Queen’s passing is a sad thing, certainly. Yes, she was born into a life of wealth and privilege. Yes, there are all sorts of political reasons for not giving a stuff. I am sorry for her family on her loss: losing a beloved relative is an awful thing. But I cannot for the life of me fathom out the Queue.

The Queue, in case you’ve somehow missed this bit of news, is perhaps the single most quintessentially British thing to emerge in years. Even before HMQ was settled at the Palace of Westminster in her lead-lined, solid oak coffin (pity the pallbearers), the Queue began. People pouring from all over the UK – and apparently the world – to stand in line for an opportunity to walk past the coffin, perhaps incline their heads respectfully, or curtsey, or whatever – and then go on with their day. Queuing is a British pastime. The world knows that as a nation, we love nothing more than an orderly queue.

But this Queue (capital letter justified) is – at time of writing this – five miles long. Five miles. The estimated wait time is at least eleven and a half hours. HMQ’s lying-in-state is being live streamed and out of some sort of morbid curiosity, I switched it on. A seemingly endless sea of (mostly middle-aged, white) faces filing past. The silence is deafening in this stream. The little nods of respect are strangely touching. I saw one woman blow a kiss to the coffin.

I’ve never really understood this thing people have of being overwhelmed with grief due to the death of someone they’ve likely never met. In this instance, I have concluded that the end result of the Queue has become secondary to the experience of being in the Queue; being part of this utterly, utterly weird piece of history. According to some news reports, people are travelling to look at the Queue. There is a Queue for the Queue. It’s… bizarre.

There’s no real conclusion to this brain dump. My feelings on the monarchy are for me to keep to myself. I feel sadness for those who have lost a beloved mother, grandmother, aunt… but just like that December day so long ago, life goes on.

What I will say, though, is this.

If you have a family member you love, who you’ve maybe not called for a while, or spoken to in a while – particularly if they are aging – then take those five minutes to get in touch. Never forget that every time you speak to someone, it might be the last chance you have. Cherish every precious moment you have with the people you love and never, ever forget to tell them you love them.

Pay your respects while they’re still living and can appreciate it.

Love you all.

Back to the Seventies

Welcome to December! Never mind autumn, that literary season of mists and mellow fruitfulness. Let’s talk about December, the seasons of… dark mornings, gloomy days and fairy lights gleaming through the grey to bring that sprinkle of joy at the end. It also happens to be the birthday month for both me and Himself (mine is 17th, his is the 20th). When this month’s baking box arrived with its glorious 1970’s offering of a Black Forest Gateau, it took us approximately fifteen seconds to decide that would be our joint birthday cake.

Off he went to do the shopping for the bits needed. Therein lies comedy of errors part one, but more of that shortly. Let’s talk about Black Forest Gateau a little bit, shall we? Check out this Wikipedia definition.

Black Forest gâteau or Black Forest cake is a chocolate sponge cake with a rich cherry filling based on the German dessert Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte, literally “Black Forest Cherry-torte”.

The article then goes on to explain that under German law, it MUST have Kirsch to be called a Schwarzwalder Kirschtorte. This makes me sad, because there is no Kirsch in the finished product. Then I stop being sad, because it’s a chocolate and cherry cake and how can that even be wrong?


On this misty, moisty Saturday morning, my cat decided that 7.30am was a perfect time to drag me from my warm cocoon, where I was having dreams about Henry Cavill in the Witcher (we were binging season two the previous evening. These were good dreams. My cat and I are presently not on speaking terms). I left Himself sleeping and came downstairs to feed the cat. Once awake, I’m always awake, so what else do people do on a Saturday morning at 8am but make cherry jam for a cake.

Frozen cherries, introduced to sugar and a splash of water… and wait.

And wait.

Boil, cherries. Boil, I say!

Then, to break the monotony, wait a bit more. It was my clever strategy to make the jam early so it had time to set. This part of my plan worked brilliantly. The cherries bubbled away contentedly, never once threatening to turn my stove top into a chaotic murder scene and I left the pan to one side to… en-jamify? Bejam (wait, wasn’t that an actual shop in the 1970s?)… jamulate? What is the right verb for something becoming jam? Oh. Set. What a dull option.

Moving onto the batter. Usual state of affairs here: butter, sugar, eggs, dry bits. Bash it all together and you get batter enough for three tins. Two were the same size. The third one was just ever so slightly bigger, but eh. I’m a rogue. But they looked passingly acceptable pre-oven.

See the jam in the background trying to be a jammy hero?

What I will say about this bake is that I’m fairly certain it used every bowl, pan and spoon I own. Because once the cakes were baked – and let’s just take a moment to appreciate how deliciously glorious they looked… mostly… (also check out that beauty in the background – these are Baked In’s new Cookie Jars, and they are stupendously pretty – see them here as part of the cooking kits range).

There were the ones in the same size tins. Not shown: The Leaning Tower of Cake PIsa on the other side of the room.

Then came the fun that was making a) ganache; and b) the whipped cream for the filling. Himself’s trip to the shop highlighted a gap in his understanding of cream and it wasn’t until I took it out of the fridge that I discovered he’d bought extra thick double cream. By ‘extra thick’, we are talking clotted cream levels of rigidity. Do not overwhip, cheerfully stated the instructions and I stared between them and the cream in some sort of dairy-based paralysis. In the end, I just attacked it with a whisk and hoped. It sort of worked. I count ‘sort of worked’ as a win.

Constructing the cake though, that was actually genuinely fun and it all felt so 1970’s that I should have been wearing roller skates, a kipper tie and listening to ABBA. I honestly thought for a moment I might have opened the fridge to find a prawn cocktail manifesting in there. Cake. Cream. Jam. Cake. Cream. Jam. Lop-sided cake. Ganache. Remaining cream. Cherry liquid. ‘Swirled’. (Or at least manhandled with a skewer). Decorated with chocolate curls.

And what do you know… this happened.

Let us overlook the bit where I forgot to dust it with icing sugar. Nothing to see here, move along.

So there we have it, folks. The Black Forest Gateau birthday cake for two children born in the 1970’s feels weirdly appropriate. All in all, a brilliant cake to make, super-easy and weirdly rewarding.

The washing up? Less so.

For now though, have a splendid seasonal holiday of choice, enjoy your baking fun times and see you on the other side for what can only be a better 2022.


It’s All About That Base

The new kitchen is settling in nicely. I’m starting to appreciate the nuances of my new oven, still marvelling over the fact that I can fit my roasting tin in sideways and generally finding that being in the kitchen makes me even happier than I was before I replaced units that were basically older than Methuselah. So when this month’s box arrived, I was well prepared for the fun and challenges ahead. Little did I anticipate the tragedy at the end of it all… but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Note: Pecans, not Toucans. Toucans are birds. These are not birds.

I am a great fan of pecan pie, I freely admit it. It took all my self-control not to eat the pecans straight out of the bag before I even started baking. But I managed to remain focused and began the first all-important job of creating brown butter for the base.

I feel we need an aside here. How did someone discover that by staring at a pan of melted butter for a specific amount of time produced something that is almost but entirely not unlike the starting product, only COMPLETELY DIFFERENT at the same time? Was it a happy accident? That’s got to be it, hasn’t it? A chef, at some point in the past left the butter on the stove for too long while he popped out back for a crafty smoke or something, then said ‘uh, this is a new creation, I shall call it Brown Butter, for lo! It is brown and verily, t’is also butter…” and thus it came to be.

I digress. It happens.

This is butter. It is extremely boring to watch and in no way offers any form of entertainment.
This, however, is its demonic counterpart, brown butter which is bizarrely exciting. I kept shouting OH MY GOD LOOK, BROWN BITS until my husband quietly shut the door.

Butter excitement level sixteen duly reached, I moved on to adding the other ingredients, mixed it all up, chucked in into the tin and stared through the door of my eve-level oven for a while. I was harbouring a deep, deep suspicion that what would emerge, forty minutes or so from that point would be either:-

a) Horrendously wrong; or
b) Outstanding.

I am proud to announce it was the latter and this picture is so glorious, its content so screen-lickingly delicious that it is worthy of presentation without comment. Imagine some soothing background music is playing while you look at it.

Words would render this worthless.

Onward then, to the joy of the topping! Melting more butter (fortunately not to heart-racing levels of excitement this time), then adding the sugar mixture from the bag to produce what can only be best described as sugar napalm. The ‘roughly chopped’ pecans were added to this (sidebar: ‘roughly chopped’ in this instance involved my setting about the innocent nuts with a rolling pin whilst still in their bag. Eh. It worked). Entire mixture was set aside to cool a little and looked very much like Squirrel Nutkin had been out the night before on the booze with Peter Rabbit (don’t judge them, Mrs Tiggywinkle is known to be far worse) and his stomach had rebelled. But it smelled phenomenal.

Squirrel Nutkin needs the Resolve, STAT.

So I moved onto the final part. Spread the topping over the base, then melt the white chocolate in the microwave, put it into the piping bag and then drizzle onto the finished bake.

So simple, right?

I’m going to break that sentence down a little and analyse it so that I can share with you what I shall call ‘Topping: A Tragedy In Three Acts’.

Act One: Edges Are For Losers

In this act, there was comedy as I realised there was not quite enough of the pecan napalm to cover the entirety of the base, but you know what? It didn’t matter. It was enough. So despite a few naked bits on my bake, I girded my loins and moved onto part two.

Act Two: Death and Loss

‘Put the white chocolate into the microwave in ten second bursts, stirring between each burst until melted’. Ten seconds. Stir. Twenty seconds. Stir… ooh, it’s melting. Twenty two seconds… uh, pretty sure that the microwave shouldn’t make fizzing noises and melted chocolate rarely smells like burning electrics in my experience, hello power switch…

Yes, the microwave had run down the curtain and joined the choir invisible. The only remaining item from the Kitchen of the Before Times had decided to go toes up during this final, critical phase, leaving me with a half-melted bowl of chocolate chips. I improvised using some water boiled in the kettle and sitting my small bowl in a larger bowl like some kind of weird baking Russian Doll thing, but it wasn’t good enough.

Act Three: Self-Flagellation (or ‘I Don’t Do Piping Well’)

So there I was. Half-melted chocolate, frantically being scooped into a piping bag. It wasn’t melted enough and my attempt at ‘in a circular motion, drizzle over the base’ became a desperate race against time before the dratted stuff solidified again. Thus, we ended with more of a Pollock than a da Vinci, but hey. This blog was always going to be warts and all, so here’s the horror of what happened.

Quiet in the cheap seats.

Regardless of the nightmares, the end product was nothing short of utterly delicious. I meant to take a photo of a singular piece to share with you, but I mostly ate it first. But here you are anyway. This bake may well have surpassed the Brookies for me. I can’t emphasise enough how delicious the base is. Would I make it again? Yes. Absolutely. So until the next bake… enjoy!


Buttery Biscuit Base!

In Which Some Things Go Well. Others… less so.

So… here we are again, this time looking at one of my Baked In cake options. This wasn’t the mystery monthly box for October (I’m scared of that one), but a re-make of a previous box which I enjoyed so much the first time, I did it again. Welcome to the grand Brookie bake.

As ever, there’s always a ridiculous thrill on opening the box and seeing your ingredients so nicely packaged and laid out. One of the things I genuinely love about these boxes is the extreme lack of waste (both in terms of ingredients and in the eating of what’s left).

Things! Stuff! Stuff! Things!

So off we go. This is a lovely bake: a soft, chewy brownie on a chocolate chip cookie base and I remember it as being delightfully easy to make (and unfortunately easy to eat as well – they’re bordering on the obscene). Straight into weighing the butter for the Buttery Biscuit Base. 110g, says the recipe card. Well, would you believe it? This is a good sign, right?

It photographed appallingly, because FML, but it’s exactly 110g on just two guesses.

Add sugar. Cream sugar/butter together. Pause for thought and wonder which genius it was who discovered that these two unlikely ingredients, smashed together, produced what is indubitably the single most delicious by-product of baking. Don’t pretend you’ve never tried the sugar/butter mix, I know you’re fibbing. Egg, added. Flour, added. Chocolate chips added. We’re on a roll, guys. Everything is going 100% according to plan. Splat mixture into tin and use my shiny, brand-new offset spatula to spread into the tin before putting it into the fridge to chill while I make the brownie.

Whole process interrupted by my contemplating of the fact that an offset spatula is, without a doubt, the thing that I’ve been missing all my baking life. I’ve frequently wondered why people wax lyrical about the virtues of this handy little utensil and now I know why.


Then comes the joy of making the brownie mix and I just don’t even care. Some of this fell out of the bowl into my mouth before it ended up on the chilled biscuit base. It was a terrible catastrophe and there’s so much regret. So much.*

*this may be a small lie.

No caption required.

Then, into the oven with it for between 35-55 minutes (turned out that 42 was perfect in my oven) and remove to sit for a while in the tin before stripping it of its papery coat and leaving it to cool fully on the side. We (Himself and me) stood in the kitchen and admired it for a while. “Are they ready?” The hopeful question was dismissed with the stern announcement that no, there was still white chocolate drizzle to be done and he moped sadly out of the kitchen, a man robbed of his chocolately joy.

This is the point at which things didn’t QUITE go to plan. This is nobody’s fault but mine. Don’t blame it on the Baked In, don’t blame it on the chocolate, don’t blame it on impatience, blame it on the boogie. Actually, impatience. Blame it on that, because I couldn’t be bothered to let the white chocolate melt properly. Thus, exit drizzle stage right, pursued by bear and enter the world of the white chocolate splat.

The moons of Jupiter were in my eyes.

Fear not, with assistance from my now indispensable sidekick, the Offset Spatula Kid, I managed to get something passably presentable – and I mean, just look at it in its completed glory. Note: chef’s privilege is the right to claim the first corner piece as your very, very own.

I mean…

The Brookie bake is really a very simple one – and the results it yields are nothing short of utterly delicious. I’m glad I decided to go for it again, but I fear my waistline may want to have words with my willingness to make them again!

Tune in next time when I may attempt the terror that is the Toffee Apple Drip Cake…