Swedish Ginger Biscuits Recipe

Nothing beats the evocative smell of ginger biscuits. The recipe below is Swedish and makes the best biscuits I have come across. After baking and allowing them to cool, we have a family decorating session with plenty of icing and silver balls while Christmas carols are belted out. Later I use a needle to thread a loop on them and we hang them on the Christmas tree as they keep for weeks – that is if the children (mice?) don’t nibble them!

300g butter
450 castor sugar
6 tbsps. golden syrup
2 tbsps. cinnamon
1 tbsp. ground cloves
1 tbsp. ground ginger
1 tbsp. bicarbonate of soda
2 tbsps. cardamom
200ml water
900g plain flour

Cream the butter, sugar and syrup and beat in the flavouring – cinnamon, ground cloves, ginger, cardamom and bicarbonate of soda. Add the water and work in the flour, kneading well on a lightly floured surface. Place the dough into the fridge and allow it to rest for 24 hours. Roll out the dough and cut out shapes using biscuit cutters and place on a greased baking sheet. Bake at 200°C – 225°C for 4 – 5 minutes.
(I tend to halve the ingredients as it make a lot of dough. If too sticky, add extra flour.)

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I was planning to see Turner for this month’s exhibition this month but when I came to book tickets for Saturday it was fully booked so it will have to wait. Instead, my daughter and I went to see a printing exhibition called Outlines at the Oxford Castle. It explores the shapes and patterns created by the British countryside and what is particularly exciting is that much of it is local to us such as The White Horse, Boar’s Hill and Wittenham Clumps. The three artists work predominately with lino prints and Susan Wheeler is a favourite of mine. I was very pleased to see some of her newer works and I also feel delighted as I received some of her prints as a gift last year – they are still waiting to be framed but I feel inspired to get on with it.

This exhibition has now come to an end however the Oxford Printmakers have their Christmas sale next week and it is well worth visiting as the artists (including Susan Wheeler) donate one of their prints and they are then sold at rock bottom prices but arrive early!

About this post: My 2014 resolution is to visit a creative place every month.
January – The Ashmolean: Malcolm Morley
February – Oxford School of Photography
March – The Ashmolean: Cézanne and the modern

April – The Jam Factory
May – Art in Ardington
June – On Form exhibition
July – Crossing Borders
August – David in Florence
September – The Vale & Downland museum
October – The Art of the Brick

After reading the post about Norah, my uncle Martin who has researched the family tree sent me an interesting email with more information about Norah which also corrects dates and facts especially that she left for Canada not America and it was before World War One. It reassured me that Betty went to family, just not blood relations. But it also raised questions about a mysterious Joyce who no one had spoken about. Norah had another daughter who was older than Betty. Was she not spoken about because she was born out-of-wedlock? Was her father Fred Newman (Norah’s husband) or someone else? What happened to Joyce – had she died as a child or did she remain in Canada? Martin doesn’t know what happened to Joyce as his mother (my granny) never mentioned her at all, and Norah’s sister (my great-granny) was very secretive about certain things.

Ethel Norah Ellery was born in 1891. Her name is on a school register near Milton Keynes. He mother died in February 1898 and in April she was bundled off from Dorset to this location. In the 1901 census she and her siblings are shown to be staying with the woman who was to become their step-mother while their father was working in the South Wales coalfields.

According to the 1911 census she was working as a kitchen maid for a doctor and his family who lived in Dinton, Wiltshire (about 5 miles SW of Stonehenge). Her age was given as 20. According to the 1921 Canadian census, she was married to Frederick Alfred Newman and had a daughter aged 6 called Joyce. Her age (and her husband’s age) was given as 32. The census also gave the year of her arrival in Canada as 1911. Fred Newman’s age was also given as 32 and he too arrived in Canada 1911. The Quebec marriage registers show that they were married in 1917 with Fred’s occupation given as ‘Private in Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry’.

I understand from Granny Mom that Fred was gassed during WWI so when Betty came over, he was not a well man. I believe that Betty was born in 1922, the same year as Granny Mom. I have not found Joyce’s birth certificate, nor have I found the birth certificate of Betty nor have I have found death certificates for anybody, either in British, Canadian or Australian records. Granny Mom’s cousin Betty married a Thomas Cousins in 1944. They emigrated to Australia where, in about 1962, she died of cancer, aged 40, leaving a husband and five children. According to Granny Mom, the ‘family friend’ was great-grandad’s brother and sister-in-law (Granny Mom’s Uncle Harry) who had five sons and who always wanted a daughter. (Norah was great-granny’s niece by blood, not great-grandad’s niece).

Somehow Norah aged 12 years between 1911 and 1921! It is well-known that some women ‘forget’  birthdays, but gaining two is pretty rare. I suspect that when she ran away to Canada, she lied about her age, adding two years so that she did not need parental consent. Great-Granny always told me that Norah was born in 1889, keeping up the pretence.

Author: Martin Vlietstra


We will remember them.

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Betty gmom's cousin

Norah’s daughter, Betty

Looking at old photos reminds me of Norah’s story that my grandmother told me. Norah was also affected by World War One and her story is a sad one where you see the ripple effects of the war down the generations.

My grandmother’s aunt was Norah Ellery and she is the eldest child in the photo on the previous post. Norah ran away to America after World War One and left a letter saying that by the time it was being read, she would be on a ship to America. She met her husband-to-be on the ship – was it a ship romance? They married and had a daughter called Betty and Norah worked as a housekeeper or a cook in America. Eight years later, Norah returned to England to visit with Betty who was seven years old. Norah caught a cold and pneumonia most likely on the ship and died ten days after arriving in England in 1926 and was buried in Bridport aged 37. My grandmother was a little girl of about 3 or 4 and remembered her aunt being unwell and asking her for a glass of water.

The problem was what to do with Betty, a girl of seven in a ‘foreign’ country. These days the obvious solution would have been to send her back to her father in America. However a policeman said although he couldn’t advise them what to do, he know what he would do… implying it would be best for the child to remain in England. My grandmother’s mother couldn’t keep her niece as she already had three children and was expecting her fourth. However, a family friend who had five sons said that she would be delighted to take Betty as a ‘ready made daughter’.

I was quite shocked that Betty didn’t go back to her father in America who had now lost his wife and daughter in one foul swoop. But America would have seemed very far away and I understood that the father had suffered from shell-shock and was in and out of hospital. The marriage was also perhaps not that strong. I wonder if Norah ever planned to return herself…

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When I mentioned my great great-uncle, John Ellery, in the previous post I got up from my desk to check his date of death. I found a school project that my son had done about his ancestors and a letter that he and I had written to my great-aunt Lyla four years ago. Lyla had taken much trouble to reply to Nicholas about her uncle John although she had never known him herself. I found it moving to reread her letter and to think about that young man who died so long ago. Below are extracts from Lyla’s letter.

22 November 2010
“Dear Nicholas,
Thank you for your letter and I will try to help you with a few of my memories passed on to me by my father and mother. They were both living in Bridport during the war (WW1) but were married after the war ended. My father was not conscripted into the army as he wasn’t fit enough. My mother was living with her father and her step-mother. Her brother Jack (John) was in the army serving as a regular soldier and joined the army when he was 15 or 16 in about 1911. His regiment was the 4th Royal Irish Dragoon Guards. Jack was in France in 1915 and sent his father a postcard from Rouen. Jack was a part of the fighting force in France and sadly he was killed in battle in 1916 at the age of 22.

When I was growing up I didn’t hear my parents talk about the war. I know my mother was very sad when she talked about her brother Jack. I realised many years later, after the 1939/45 war, how terrible it must have been for my mother to have lost her only brother.

With love, and I hope your project is successful.
Aunty Lyla”
(Lyla was my grandmother’s sister and died in January 2012)

The photos that Lyla included with her letter where very poignant especially the one of the 3 little children. This is of John, Norah and the youngest girl, Elizabeth (my great-grandmother) which was taken on the day of their mother’s funeral!

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Poppies: to remember our war dead however there is the double-edged symbolism as poppies are associated with opiates which promise an end to pain and oblivion – to remember no more. It was extremely moving to visit the installation at the Tower of London to see Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red‘ where ceramic poppies are being planted to represent the 888,246 British fatalities in World War One. They stream from a window, carpeting the moat and it is sickening to comprehend that each one represents a man. And one of those men was my great-great uncle John Ellery who died aged 22 on the 6 January 1916.

The installation is up until the 11 November when it will be dismantled, do go and visit it if you have an opportunity.

Monetlr Monet2lrDavidlrblue figurelrMy boy1lr My boy2lrBrick artlrLego…what’s not to like? So when I heard that Nathan Sawaya was exhibiting over 85 sculptures made from Lego, we headed into London to see ‘The Art of the Brick’. The exhibition was in Brick Lane – how cool is that? Nathan has interpreted some of the most famous artworks such as Michelangelo’s David and some of Monet’s paintings out of Lego. He has also created Lego figures that take your breath away.

But is it art? I struggle to call it art or sculpture not because of the medium but because somehow I didn’t feel they pushed conceptual boundaries or encouraged one to reconsider accepted ideas or create an emotional response. I found it difficult walking around wanting it to be art but actually considered it high-class entertainment. There were possibly two pieces that I would call art. One was called ‘My Boy’ and was inspired by a sad story told by a parent. In this piece, I felt the sheer agony a parent experiences when their child is ill or worse, dies. The other powerful piece was a short film by another artist using Nathan’s pieces as props. In the film, an old man creates a wife and daughter from Lego and when they are complete, they become real. Did they really become flesh or was it a lonely’s man’s imagination? The film explores the way our imagination makes things real for us or perhaps it was a fairytale and in the film’s reality they became human – in a similar way to Pinocchio.

Final word? Brilliant family fun, not cheap, but an excellent day out. (And definitely go to trendy Spitalfields Market for lunch). www.artofthebrick.co.uk

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About this post: My 2014 resolution is to visit a creative place every month.
January – The Ashmolean: Malcolm Morley
February – Oxford School of Photography
March – The Ashmolean: Cézanne and the modern

April – The Jam Factory
May – Art in Ardington
June – On Form exhibition
July – Crossing Borders
August – David in Florence
September – The Vale & Downland museum


My mother and sister have recently completed a superb collaborative project. Megan Kerr wrote Rope of Words over a period of five years, most of which it spent in the drawer, in various stages of disrepair. She finished it in 2012, when it won the British Fantasy Society Short Story Competition. Lin Kerr used the story to create an illustrated book with 14 watercolours of models drawn from life and then stylised. She also designed a font called Elva which you can see on the book cover.

The story is about a woman and her lover who collected words. The Woman lost both her words and her lover and spends the rest of the story looking for them (vowing never to cut her hair until a reunion). She had to find her words to get back to her lover. If you love words, illustrations and beautifully printed books, then put Rope of Words on your Christmas list, or even better treat yourself now.

It is being sold as a limited first edition of 600 copies, numbered and signed by the author and the artist and has full-colour artwork printed on fine paper and is hand bound. The price is £15 and can be bought from Rope of Words Website.

“With some customers she bartered for hours, word for word; others would pop in for a quick word in the lunchtime rush and never consider the cost. She even sold misspellings in a bargain bucket – wikkid, lite, fink, alrite – which the teenagers bought until someone from advertising came in and snapped up the lot.


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This month I visited a place a little closer to home – exhibitions at The Vale & Downland museum. The are a number of exhibitions throughout the year as well as a permanent museum about the Vale and its surrounding area which I have enjoyed visiting many times. I have a lot to thank the museum for as they were the first stockists of my cards and also inspired me to exhibit my book called ‘Journey‘ giving me a confident boost.

I saw Notes from a Potter’s Diary by Jo Bosley and Lyn Harrison who are both potters. They draw inspiration from the countryside and then interpret their images into ceramics. I loved the way they made sketches and notes but found that the pottery objects lost something of their loose, fluid lines and became a bit ornamental. I thought their best works were when the subject matter was most stylised.


I also popped into the exhibition of the Wantage Art Group –  a group for practicing artists, beginners and those who are trying to start. It was good to see people ‘having a go’ and I know from experience how important it is to finish a piece of artwork, not just try different techniques. Having an exhibition to aim towards is an excellent impetus. Through the Trees 2 by Amanda Hislop using paper, acrylics, and stitching caught me eye with its gorgeous textures.

About this post: My 2014 resolution is to visit a creative place every month.
January – The Ashmolean: Malcolm Morley
February – Oxford School of Photography
March – The Ashmolean: Cézanne and the modern

April – The Jam Factory
May – Art in Ardington
June – On Form exhibition
July – Crossing Borders
August – David in Florence

Plant1 lr

This year’s autumn lasagna ingredients

Plant2 lr

Layer 1 – Tulip bulbs

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Layer 2 – Narcissus tete-a-tete bulbs

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Layer 3 – Crocus bulbs

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Top with winter flowering pansies

I have been working incredibly hard on various design projects and decided it was time to take a break and grow a lasagna. Inspired when off to buy chicken food at my local garden centre, I bought 3 different types of bulbs and wintering pansies.

A pot and compost
20 x crocus bulbs
12 x narcissus tete-a-tete bulbs
10 x tulips bulbs
6 x winter flowering pansies

Place gravel at the base of the pot
Fill the pot halfway with compost
Place the tulip bulbs on the surface and cover with compost
Place the tete-a-tete bulbs on the compost and cover
Place the crocus bulbs and cover over with compost
The final layer is the winter flowering pansies. In the past, I have also used ornamental cabbages which look fabulous and amusing although they can smell a bit… cabbagy.

The beauty of this lasagna is as each layer dies, the next will appear in a blaze of glory taking you all the way to April. And I feel very pleased as normally I’m shivering in November and trying to poke frozen soil forcing daffodil bulbs into the ground – too little too late. Go on… and cook your own floral lasagna.

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On our backpacking holiday, we allowed ourselves one luxury item each. Mine was my camera and my son, Nicholas, brought Brick. An intrepid Lego man who experienced Italy from a new perspective – from BIG pizzas to the scary heights at the Duomo. Brick borrowed my Vespa on the Spanish Steps and peeked into Vesuvius – luckily he wasn’t lost, dropped or stolen on his travels.

I enjoyed taking my own photos of Brick – a quirky take on Italy and Nicholas loved creating Brick’s blog – go visit it on backpackinglegoman.wordpress.com



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What a pleasure to visit Florence which made a change from the dynamic but run-down southern Italy. We stayed at the same youth hostel that I stayed at 18 years ago as a student. Either it had grown shabbier or I had grown up – but it was clean and safe and we enjoyed the faded glamour of an 15th-century villa. The girls made friends with the carved elephant banisters which they named ‘Elmer and Ellie of Florence’. I was delighted to see the Duomo which appeared like a dramatic black and white ink drawing and I loved its clean, sharp lines which contrasted with the colour and excitement in Florence whether it was the carousel, the ice-creams or the exuberant albeit slightly sickly pastries. It was fantastic to climb the 463 stairs to the top of the Duomo: its dome is made of two ‘skins’ (or domes) and you climb in a narrow space between the two domes to spectacular views.

Florence was our final destination before heading home after our adventurous holiday with many memories to process.

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We caught a train down to southern Italy which was  very run down and the train station looked a bit like Pompeii. Vesuvius, however, surpassed all expectations as there is something very raw and primeval about climbing a volcano and looking into its crater. We travelled up in army-like jeeps and then climbed the last 30 minutes to see spectacular views with the whiff of sulphur and hint of danger. The children kept wondering if it would erupt but we reassured them that it was monitored 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and there was an evacuation plan for the area. (Most of the 800 thousand inhabitants don’t know the plan and without a great infrastructure how it would work in reality is debatable). I certainly wouldn’t live permanently under a live volcano!

Pompeii was interesting to visit as it was something I had always longed to do but it was so very hot and dry that we all wilted. All the artifacts are in the Naples Museum, so you only have half the story when walking around the site. I liked the fact that there are stepping-stones across the road so that when the roads were sluiced down of debris, the citizens could still cross without wetting their feet. You can also see the ruts between the stone made by the waggons and their width set our current day railroad gauge. Twinkling quartz stones set into the road acted as cat’s eyes. It was certainly a very advanced city.

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August holidays: and we went backpacking with the children to Italy, taking only what we could carry in our rucksacks we headed off for Rome, the Bay of Naples and Florence.

I’ve a kaleidoscope of impressions of age, grandness and decay. The English romantics went to see Rome’s glorious decay in the eighteenth century and 300 years later, it has progressed further. It was a shock to wander out of our apartment and look down our street to see mammoth pillars that are 2000 years old at The Forum and to marvel at how enormous they actually are. We rushed off to see the Sistine Chapel suitably attired as men, women and children have to cover their knees and shoulders. It was very sweet to see Isabel, aged 8, in one of my skirts. As we stood in the queue being harassed by touts, the realisation hit us that it really was a four-hour wait in the baking sun. It was a bitter pill to accept but I had to admit defeat and that I wouldn’t be able to see Michelangelo’s paintings. Water fountains are situated through the city and run with fresh water, courtesy of the Romans, so we cooled down and found a street cafe to eat delicious pizza which brought back the sense of contentment. I gloried in the colours and drama, graffiti and mess of this crazy city although Isabel took one look at the Colosseum and dismissed it, “It’s broken.”

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