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Saturday, 31 December 2011

Happy New Year Cake!

I hope you are still enjoying the Holiday Season, and that you aren't completely worn out by it all yet. Just in case, here's a simple treat.

I've used the past couple of weeks to try out lots of new recipes on my family. The star of the show was undoubtedly this Chocolate Fruitcake, which I made to replace our traditional iced Christmas cake this year. It was originally a Women's Institute recipe, and I must admit I had my doubts before making it (chocolate and mincemeat?) but it's delicious. It is really easy to make, too, and doesn't need to be made in advance and matured so it would be good at any time. In fact, it was so popular we're having it again for our New Year celebrations! Here's the recipe:

INGREDIENTS:
5 oz (150g) soft margarine
5 oz (150g) soft brown sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
6.5 oz (185g) self-raising flour
1.5 oz (40g) cocoa powder
1lb jar (or  400g of home-made) top quality mincemeat
3 oz (80g) sultanas
3 oz (80g) raisins
2 oz (50g) blanched, chopped almonds
4 oz (100g) packet of chocolate dots

Line an 8-inch (20cm) cake tin with two layers of greaseproof paper/baking parchment and pre-heat the oven to GasMark 3/Electric 160 degrees C or equivalent fan temperature (generally around 145 degrees C)

Put the first five ingredients in a big mixing bowl and beat together for a couple of minutes until they're completely mixed. Then fold in the mincemeat, dried fruit, almonds and chocolate dots. 

Spoon into the prepared tin and bake in the oven for around an hour and three quarters, or until a skewer pushed into the middle of the cake comes out clean. Check after it's been in the oven for about an hour, and if the top's browning too much, cover it with some foil.

When the cake is cooked, take it out of the oven and let it cool in its tin for a few minutes before turning it out on a wire rack to cool completely (if you can wait).  You can ice it like a traditional Christmas cake or give it a simple chocolate icing, but the family verdict was that might make it a bit too rich.

Thanks to everyone who has commented on my blogs and blog tour, or written to me over the past year. I hope 2012 will be happy, healthy and very productive for you all! 

Thursday, 15 December 2011

The Party Starts Here!

Long, long ago or so it seems, I started a Big Blog Tour to celebrate the release of my latest Modern Romance for Harlequin Mills and Boon Ltd - Weight of the Crown. A lot of sand has blown across the desert kingdom of Rosara since then, and I'd like to thank Nas Dean of Romance Book Paradise (http://nas-dean.blogspot.com/), all the kind hosts who have published my blogs and interviews, and everyone who has been kind enough to read and comment on my work, whether on my blog, by emailing me direct or by entering the competition on my website. Today's the day it all wraps up: everything closed at 12 noon GMT, so while you enjoy a virtual feast of Cyber champagne and mince pies around my Internet Christmas Tree and toast your toes at the roaring webcam log fire, I'm going to collate all the names and come up with the names of some winners.
Watch this space...
(Much mince pie munching later....Congratulations to Sonali, who won first prize and LibraryPat, whose name was second out of the hat. If you could both email me at christinahollis at hotmail.co.uk (removing the gaps and replacing 'at' with @) with your snail mail addresses, I'll get your prizes in the post asap.
Thanks again to Nas for organising everything, to everyone who said such lovely things about Weight of the Crown,  and to all of you who commented on my Big Blog Tour, whether online or privately. Happy Holidays, everyone!

Monday, 12 December 2011

H.E. BATES - MY KIND OF WRITER...

I’ve been writing all my life, and my inspiration comes from many different sources. My father was a great countryman, and he introduced me to the descriptive prose of H.E.Bates. There was always a book or two of his about the place. As Dad was a great one for reading aloud,  over the years our family must have heard almost everything Bates ever wrote. He was writing fifty years or so ago, and his use of language can feel a bit dated now but his themes are constant. His short stories are often bittersweet, focussing on ordinary people whose futures seem bleak and limited. A common theme is someone’s silent dilemma: they are worrying while all around them life goes on cheerfully. The First Day of Christmas, for example, focusses on a man who has taken refuge in a pub after a lovers’ quarrel, and faces up to some hard thinking while his companions are dabbling in celebrations.
Thanks to film and TV adaptations, the five novels H.E.Bates wrote about the Larkin family are some of his best known work. The Darling Buds Of May, A Breath of French Air, When the Greenwoods Laugh, Oh! To Be In England and A Little of What You Fancy are set in the years after the Second World War but with Pa to duck and dive and Ma to cook, they are full of fun and feasts. Now foreign holidays and fast food have taken the place of fruit picking and home cooking, that way of life has practically disappeared. I can just about remember country living being as the Larkins knew it, but my children look on those stories as something from a different world!
My favourite work by H.E. Bates isn’t actually fiction at all, but his garden writing.  A Fountain of Flowers and A Love of Flowers in particular are two wonderful books, full of his keen observation and humour. His writing makes plants interesting in a way few others can. I could never see the attraction of one particular tree until I read his description of it in flower. He thought its white bracts looked like a flock of white doves - what’s not to love about that? And he’s dead right when he says tulips are always doomed to be “Very expensive mouse food”! I tried to collect all the plants H. E. Bates recommended in my own garden, but I suffered from the same problem he had - the dead hand that steals away treasures the moment your back is turned. “I had them all,” he sighs after listing a lovely range of plants, “but I do not have them now.” Celebrity horticulturalists on TV never own up to their failures, but every keen gardener recognises the resignation behind the words of H.E.Bates! 
"A garden should be in a constant state of fluid change, expansion, experiment, adventure; above all it should be an inquisitive, loving, but self-critical journey on the part of its owner."
This could equally apply to writing. A writer can put anything down as a first draft, simply to disrupt the cruel white plane of an empty page. The care taken to design, mould and perfect a piece of work through many drafts can be seen as similar toil to building a garden. Writers and gardeners enjoy the same sense of satisfaction - a job well done is always worth celebrating.

Monday, 5 December 2011

Have Yourself a Berry Little Christmas...

This may be the only holly we will have to decorate our house this year, as the birds in our garden have been eating all those juicy berries as fast as they ripen.  Unusually, they stripped our yellow-berried holly tree first. Normally, the traditional red berries go first. The yellow ones must have been tastier!
I've had some very welcome news this week. My latest book for Harlequin Mills and Boon has been accepted, and it will be published in the summer of 2012. I'll let you have all the details as soon as I can, but for the moment I can tell you that it will be called The Count's Prize.
My Big Blog Tour for Weight of the Crown has given me a great chance to chat to readers and writers alike. Everyone who has posted a comment will be included in the wrap party draw on December 15th, so drop by to share  a virtual mince pie. If you haven't had a chance to call in on any of  the various blogs yet,  you can catch up on the remaining few dates: see http://rbpp-ch.blogspot.com/