Thursday, 31 October 2013


October in Scotland - season of rain, more rain, armpit deep mud and hurricane force winds.  Also, by happy coincidence, the month we began our house build.

It’s been two years since we moved to the country from Glasgow.  It was a decision that surprised us – we’d talked about it for years, but a combination of great work and better friends had kept us far longer in the city that we’d intended. 

I was writing and making documentaries, Nichol had a thriving business in fine art, and we had close friends who were like extended family – we ate together, socialised together and our kids had grown up like siblings.  It was hard work and it was fun, and our dream of building a house in the country seemed certain to stay just a pipe one.

Then came a double whammy.  Art is rarely an area to make money, and when the recession hit, it hit us hard.  We spent as long as we could keeping the business afloat, paying our staff out of our savings and not taking wages ourselves, but it was soon clear that this was going to cost us all we had. 

Then, worse news.  Our best friends had got jobs in Ireland and were leaving within months.  We had a choice, we could stay and struggle or sell everything we owned, find a plot of land and create our dream home. 

We both knew what we’d always wanted.  My dream had been a hobbit hole, underground, with curved walls and windows and filled with quirks based on my favourite children’s books.  Nichol fancied a castle, or perhaps a stately home.  Then we looked at our budget; we could afford a box.  So the task began, to find a plot, agree with each other about anything, and fill our box with as much interesting stuff as we could manage. 

The plot part was relatively easy.  We found a piece of land in central Scotland, and started to think about what to make.  We definitely wanted an eco-house, something that we could run at the lowest cost possible, and which would sit naturally in the land.  It also had to be something the kids loved, so we enlarged the site plans to table top size, filled it with toy trees from a train set, and let the children ‘play’ in the garden. 

As they played, we moved our ‘house’ round behind them, keeping well out of the way of the ‘bike trail’, the ‘treehouses’, the ‘rope swing’ and the ‘unicorn paddock.’  Avoiding the ‘crocodile swamp’ was far trickier.

It worked though.  We quickly found a location for our wonderful new home.  All we needed now was an architect…

Thursday, 24 October 2013


When I set out to bake the remnants of my Halloween decorations, I admit that I wasn't intending to create anything quite so... spine chilling.  Whether it was really the influence of the undead, or whether I'd simply been talking too much while I cooked and accidentally added a teaspoon of baking powder to my self-raising flour, we may never know.  But the cake was delicious regardless, although it provided rather more of a talking point than had originally been planned.

Pumpkin is a fantastic ingredient.  You can make soups, curries or cakes with it, and even the seeds - when roasted - make a wonderful snack. Given its versatility, it's surprising how few people know what to do with it, and many pumpkins simply get carved into Halloween lanterns then thrown in the bin.  It's a shame because, flavoured with the right spices, pumpkin is both healthy and delicious, and probably one of the cheapest foods around at this time of year.

Here, to use up your leftovers from last night, is Halloween Pumpkin Cake.


225g self-raising flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
225g sugar
225g pumpkin puree (this is easier to make than you think)
118ml olive oil
2 eggs, beaten
4 tablespoons of water
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon all spice


1. Preheat the oven to 180C
2. Open your pumpkin, scoop out the seeds and stringy bits, and cut the remainder into chunks.
3. Place the chunks in a steamer over boiling water, and steam for 20 minutes.  Allow to cool and peel off the skin, pureeing the soft flesh with a hand blender.  A whole pumpkin will make far more puree than you need, so weigh as you go. 
3. Mix the pumpkin puree, olive oil, eggs, spices and water together.
4. Add the flour (preferably sifted), salt and sugar.  Mix gently to ensure there are no lumps.
5. Pour the mixture into a greased cake tin and pop in the oven on the middle shelf.
6. Your cake will take 50-60 minutes to bake, possibly less, so make sure to check it regularly after about 45.  It is ready when golden and risen, and a skewer or sharp knife comes out clean.


1. Don't throw out the seeds!  Separate from the stringy bits (which you can bin as I've yet to find a use for them) and soak them over night in salty water
2. Preheat the oven to 140C.
3. Drain the seeds and pat dry with a tea towel.  
4. Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil, and half a teaspoon of salt.  Mix well.
5. Spread the seeds in a single layer on a baking tray lined with foil, and cook for approximately half an hour.  If you listen, you might hear them pop.
6. See?  Delicious.  And to think they were going to end up in the bin... ;-)