Omenakakku – Finnish Apple Cake

It’s been a long week.  A good week. But a long week.

The high points have included finally clearing my marking in-tray (hurrah!) and winning a pub quiz (joy!).  The low points have included the actual process of clearing my in-tray and a couple of crazed pupil outbursts in class: the first of which involved a boy getting in such a temper he actually tore his school shirt off a la The Incredible Hulk.  I’ll spare you the details of the second incident as it featured language which probably isn’t suitable for these pages!

What is suitable for these pages is telling you that tomorrow our school is taking part in the World’s Biggest Coffee Morning in aid of MacMillan Cancer Support.   The Geology classroom will once again be filled with homemade cakes, teas and coffees.  For this reason D and I have taken a break from marking and planning and have instead been battling each other for baking space in my teeny weeny kitchen. 

He’s made his ever popular Coffee Kisses and Mars Bar Munch-Cake, and I’ve knocked up some more of Holler’s Mum’s Fruit Loaf, a batch of apple muffins and a Finnish apple cake.  The latter is probably my favourite cake in the world.  It’s appley and moist and ever so slightly tangy. 

Amazingly good with a generous drizzle of vanilla scented cream.  🙂

 Omenakakku – Finnish Apple Cake

(The measurements are in cups because it was easier to convert decilitres to this measurement than to the normal UK grams)

100g  butter (soft)

2/3 cup caster sugar

1 egg, beaten

1 & 2/3 cups plain flour

2 tspn baking powder

2/3 cup sour cream

2 dessert apples (not too tart, preferably)

  • Whisk the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
  • Add the egg and mix until a smooth batter is formed.
  • Combine the flour and sour cream into the batter.  Don’t over mix!
  • Peel, core and slice the apples. 
  • Pour the batter into a cake tin and submerge the apple slices.
  • Sprinkle with a little sugar and bake in a 170oC oven for 45 mins – 1 hour.

Update:  A request has been made to see D’s cakes so here they are!!  Coffee Kisses and Mars Bar Munch-Cake.  🙂


Bubble or Butterbean?

Rather hungover.  Short post.  Just for fun.  🙂

Whilst reading the paper online this morning I discovered that yesterday was International Literacy DayThe Guardian marked the event by inviting readers to share their favourite words.  Some of the responses interested me greatly and others made me laugh out loud.  They all put a smile on my face. 

Tomorrow I’m going to ask my pupils to think of their favourite words and create a fun display with them.  Realise this is asking for trouble in some cases (it’s amazing the amount of synonyms some body parts have) but my room needs a new display and it’ll be fun to hear the kids’ ideas. 

Today, however, I’d like to ask you guys what your favourite word is.  Food related or not.  Semantic reasons or just how it feels rolling off your tongue. I’d like to know.  🙂

Personally, I can’t choose between bubble and butterbean…


“Crabbit” is another great Scots word meaning grumpy.  Crabbit reminds me of my sister when she’s been woken up too early (i.e. before noon) or D when he loses a mountain bike race to his brother-in-law or Gen when I tell her to slow down though she’s only driving at 40mph.  Crabbit is me after a crappy day at work.

Frankly, I’ve been avoiding writing about school recently because quite a lot of my days are crappy just now.   The problem is that I am really struggling with the youngest of the five classes I teach: the first years.  Never ever ever have I come across such a badly behaved bunch.  And, my goodness, have I had some crackers!  Moreover, I have never come across such a low ability group before.  Despite being 12 years old, most of the kids have a reading age below 8 years old, the lowest being 6. 

It’s a chicken and egg question whether their behaviour is the source of their learning problems or whether their learning problems are the source of their bad behaviour.  And even if we could answer that question, we’d still have to ask what was causing the behaviour/learning issues in the first place.  Undoubtably, much of it stems from less than ideal home lives (just call me Queen Understatement).  It’s a heartbreaking situation and one I (and the rest of the staff, of course) are desperate to improve.

The question that’s keeping me awake at night is how?  All the strategies I usually employ with difficult classes are having absolutely no effect at the moment.  Am I expecting too much too soon?  It’s not even three weeks into term yet.  Perhaps I am.  Just got to keep on trying.  My main worry is that so much of my energy is being drained thinking about and dealing with this group that my general enthusiasm for teaching is waning and, as a result, my other classes are suffering.


If you are wondering about the photo, it’s one I took last night in the garden.  A dirty spider’s web nestled between a rotten wooden post and some garish blue tarpaulin.   Isn’t it strange the things that can cheer you up for a while?

Gremlins, Gizmos and Broccoli

Last night I left school with a dark cloud hanging over my head.  At some point during the previous six weeks a large number of my lovely, fluffy pupils had been fed after midnight and had mutated into hissing, fidgeting, sneering gremlins with wild, wild looks in their eyes.  It was a hellish day.  A day which had me driving back down the A9 wondering if I was in the right job.  

Released some tension on arriving home by ripping out the forest of sweetpeas which had taken over my garden and furiously forking the soil over in preparation for my winter planting.  It was a cathartic experience but I still wasn’t relishing the thought of going back to school the next day.  I had to sit down and think very carefully about how to deal with the boy who wouldn’t stop singing, the “am I bovvered” girl, the writing refuser and the multitude of monkeys that are my new first year class. 

A couple of hours later, still muddied and grass-stained from my earlier gardening, I was satisfied with my plan of action and ready for a treat.  A hot shower, a cheesy crime novel and my favourite pasta meal.  🙂

This dish was adapted from  a Nigel Slater article.  Lost the original recipe sometime last year but I make it so often I really don’t need it anymore. 

 Broccoli, Anchovy and Herb Pasta

(for 1)

2 tblspn olive oil

3 anchovy fillets

1/2 onion, chopped

1 garlic clove, chopped

1 tsp chopped rosemary

1 tsp chopped parsley

6-8 black olives, chopped

Big handful of sprouting brocolli (or normal brocolli if the sprouting isn’t available)

75g wholewheat spaghetti


Parmesan shavings

  • In a heavy based frying pan, melt the anchovy fillets gently.
  • Once the anchovies have melted into the oil add the onion, garlic, rosemary, parsley, and olives and fry gently until onion is softened and the flavours have combined.
  • Meanwhile, cook the spaghetti in plenty of salted water.  Add the brocolli to the pan 5 minutes before the spaghetti is cooked.  Save a little of the cooking water.
  • Drain the spaghetti and broccoli and add to the onion mixture.  Loosen with a little cooking water.
  • Season very carefully (remember the anchovies and parmesan are salty) and serve with parmesan shavings.

So did any of my carefully planned strategies work?  They might have if I’d had any reason to use them.  Today the gremlins had vanished and instead I was faced with classes of coo-ing gizmos.  Well, perhaps that is a slight exaggeration but I did have a great day.  Love this job.  😀

P.S. This is my entry for the Food in Film event.  Tenuous in the extreme!!!

Surprising Success (lentils and greens)


 I’m off on holiday tomorrow.  First stop Karlstad, Sweden then onto Turku, Finland with a quick stop in my beloved Stockholm enroute.  It’s always exhilarating to go overseas but this trip is extra exciting as I get to spend lots of time with some very good friends who I haven’t seen in a long time.  Hurrah!

 Shamed by Brianna’s good example of using up everything in her fridge before leaving Japan, I have tried my best to do the same.  The result was really very good indeed: a sort of pilaf with green lentils rather than rice.

 Spiced Lentils and Greens

(for one, very rough quantities!)

75g  puy lentils

1 cardamon pod

1 cinnamon stick

1 clove

2 peppercorns

1 tblspn ground nut oil

1 small onion, sliced

1 garlic clove, finely chopped

1 tspn ginger, finely chopped

1/4 tspn turmeric

1/2 tspn garam masala

1/4 tsp coriander

1/4 tsp chilli powder

1 courgette, quartered lengthways then cut into chunks

Handful of broad beans

Two handfuls of spinach

Fresh coriander and yogurt to serve

  • Cook the lentils along with the cinnamon, cardamon, peppercorns and bay leaf according to instructions.  Drain and remove the spices.
  • Meanwhile, fry the onion in the oil until just brown.
  • Add the garlic and ginger and cook for two more minutes.
  • Add the spices and stir.  Fry for one minute.
  • Add the courgettes and broadbeans and cook until courgettes start to brown and are just cooked though.
  • Add the spinach and cook until wilted.
  • Add the lentils and combine gentle until heated through. 
  • Serve topped with yogurt and fresh coriander.

Yogurt Cheese with Dill (and blatant procrastination)


 Despite having more than two weeks of my summer holidays left, last night I lay awake for hours planning lessons in my head.  It wasn’t intentional.  Indeed, I tried very hard to switch off and drift into oblivion, but I simply couldn’t stop thinking about how much there was to do in the coming term and how unprepared I was for it all.  Was also very aware that the next two weeks are chockablock full of fun things, leaving me perhaps only one weekday free to head up to school and get organised.

Hence, on this windy Sunday afternoon I am sitting on my sofa drinking coffees surrounded by a self made fort of novels(Millions for my third years and Fat Boy Swim for the seconds years); essays (another child who thinks Steinbeck wrote a story called Of Mince and Men); old teaching diaries (not sure why though – my writing is totally illegible) and scrumpled up pieces of paper (arranging seating plans can be sooooo frustrating – those of you who have planned a wedding will probably know what I mean).  Playing in the background is Polanski’s MacBethGoodness, it’s gruesome!  The seniors are going to love it.

Meanwhile, dripping away slowly in the kitchen sink is tomorrow’s breakfast.  Inspired by my ricotta making success, I began investigating other types of cheese which could be easily made and discovered yogurt cheese.  Almost entirely effortless, yogurt cheese is lovely and light, and takes very well to being mixed with herbs and spices.  The following recipe is adapted from Madhur Jaffrey’s rather daunting Eastern Vegetarian Cooking.  There is just so much in this cookery book, though I’ve had it for several years now, I have barely scratched the surface of its promise.

 Yogurt Cheese with Dill

500g natural yogurt (I used fat free and it worked well – not as creamy obviously)

1/2 tsp salt

2 tblspn fresh dill, chopped finely

  • Line a colander with three layers of muslin or cheesecloth.
  • Add the yogurt and salt.  Tie corners of material together to make a loose parcel.
  • Hang from a kitchen tap and let drip for 6 – 9 hours.
  • Place yogurt cheese in a bowl and mix with the dill. 
  • Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

Vegetable Lasagne & Compliments


All teachers know one of the most powerful ways to keep pupils motivated in class is to provide encouraging, relevant and timely feedback. Without this the kids have no idea how well they are doing and loose their focus entirely. Plus, everyone likes a compliment. 🙂 In this respect I am no different from my pupils.

The other night I cooked dinner for D and a couple of friends. It was a summery vegetarian lasagne that I’d made many times before and as I dished up the portions I was feeling rather proud: the vegetables looked colourful and juicy; the cheesy sauce oozed richly between the sheets of spinach pasta and the top had crisped up perfectly. Everyone loves the crispy bits!

Chatting happily with friends over a meal is one of the nicest places to be and this evening was no different. Spirits were high – we’d had a fun day in the Aviemore area and were heading out that evening again – and everyone was very animated. Then suddenly, as we were halfway through the meal, I realised that no-one had mentioned the food at all and I immediately felt quite dejected.

Was it not good? Was it bland? Did I make an error cooking vegetarian food for a group of meat eaters? Is it disgusting? Are they choking it down?!

By the time the meal had finished and we were clearing the dishes away I was seriously questioning my own palate! D saved the day. Having noticed I was furrowing my brow as I stacked the dishes beside the sink he asked what was wrong. When I told him he laughed heartily and simply stuck his empty plate in my face. Followed by another empty plate. Another. And another. He then walked out of the room chuckling, leaving me alone to remember that:

a) Compliments to the chef don’t have to be verbal
b) I should chill out. 🙂

One of the great things about this dish is that it can be prepared a couple of days in advance and then just popped in the oven. I tend to make it for guests when I know I’m going to be short on time.

Vegetable Lasagne

1 large aubergine, diced
2 red peppers, cut into chunks
2 large courgettes or 4 small, sliced thickly
1 large red onion, cut into chunks
Whole bulb of garlic, separated into cloves
500g cherry tomatoes
1 tblspn dried oregano
Olive oil
8 sheets of spinach lasagne, cooked according to packet
1 ½ tblspn butter
1 ½ tblspn plain flour
750ml milk
150g grated mozzarella
Generous grating of parmesan

  • Place the aubergine in a colander and salt. Leave for 30 mins then squeeze out the excess moisture in a clean tea towel.
  • Put the aubergine, pepper, courgette, onion and garlic in large roasting tray (or 2). Season well, sprinkle over the oregano, drizzle with olive oil and mix with your hands.
  • Place in a 180oC pre-heated oven for 25 mins.
  • Remove tray from oven and add the cherry tomatoes. Mix well and place back in oven for 25 mins. Allow to cool slightly.
  • Cook sheets of pasta according to instructions and drain.

For the béchamel sauce:

  • Heat the milk in a large pan.
  • In a separate pan, create a rue by melting the butter in a pan and adding the flour. Mix well and cook for two mins.
  • Ladle by ladle add the milk to the rue and stir well to create a thick sauce. Once all the milk has been added cook gently for 10 more mins stirring frequently.
  • Add the grated mozzarella and stir well. Remove from heat and season to taste.

 To assemble:

  • Add a layer of vegetable to a large oven proof dish (4 small separate dishes), pour over a little béchamel sauce and place 4 lasagne sheets over the top. Repeat.
  • Pour the remaining sauce over the top and sprinkle generously with grated parmesan cheese.
  • Bake in a preheated oven (180oC) for 30-45 mins until bubbling and crispy.

Serve with a green salad and garlic bread to mop up the juices.

Creamy Walnut & Parsley Pesto

Walnut & Parsley Pesto
Originally uploaded by wjharrison77.

Earlier this week a bolshy, fourth year pupil, L, marched up to my desk and demanded to know if the rumours were true. Was I moving school? Was that true? If it was true there was no way that L was going to speak to me ever, ever, ever again. Luckily, the rumours were not true and L and I remain on speaking terms.

I’m not moving school but I am moving classroom. My colleague, Mrs D, is emigrating to Egypt (exciting stuff – though she’s rather regretting calling her son Cairo now) and before the replacement teacher arrives I am going to claim Mrs D’s room. Very excited about this as for the last three years I have been teaching in a room which acts as a corridor to another classroom: a highly annoying situation. Plus, Mrs D’s room is bigger and is not located next to the noisy 4th year common area. Hooray!

So though school breaks up at the end of the month I intend on spending the firsts week of July at work organising my new domain. Might even paint a mural on the wall. Of what I’m not sure. Any ideas will be gratefully received.

Moving on.

Whenever my Mum is in town we go out for a girly lunch together. Our favourite haunt is Contrast, the swanky Glenmoriston’s more affordable brasserie. Located on the banks of the River Ness, beautifully decorated and offering a set two-course lunch for only £5.95 it’s a lovely place for a leisurely meal. The food is very good though perhaps more suited to smaller appetites. I’d never take my partner D there for fear he’d loudly exclaim: “is this it?!”

It was in Contrast that I was absolutely wowed by a pasta dish: tagliatelli in parsley sauce. The dish was incredibly simple and all the better for it. The colour was a vibrant green and it tasted fresh and creamy at the same time. Yum.

Since that day I have been trying and failing and trying and failing to recreate the sauce. My only consolation is that the following recipe was born from one of my failures. In its own right it’s very good too.

The ragged pasta in the photo was an idea I got from “Totally Addicted to Taste”. Simply break dried lasagne sheets into large, irregular pieces and cook as normal.

Creamy Walnut and Parsley Pesto

Small handful of walnuts, bashed
Large handful of parsley
Glug of olive oil
Pinch of salt
Very small clove of garlic, chopped
2 tblspn crème fraiche
Squeeze of Lemon

  • Briefly whiz the walnuts, parsley, oil, salt and garlic in a food processor.
  • Add the crème fraiche and whiz again briefly. Pesto should be lumpy textured (light green with flecks of parsley and nuts) rather than a completely smooth consistency.
  • Add a squeeze of lemon juice. Stir and taste.
  • Happy? Add to freshly cooked pasta and sprinkle with a little chopped parsley and walnuts.

Highland Games & Apple Green Tea

Food 051

Oh, I’m so lazy.  I have done absolutely nothing since arriving home from school.  Worst thing is that it’s a lovely day outside.  


 Hee hee.  Writing that last paragraph made me feel so idle I took my bike out of the garage and went for a short cycle.  Extremely glad I did so.  Not only has my mood gone from slightly grumpy to rather jaunty, but I also discovered a little wooded glen with a  stream running through it.  It’s only a five minute ride away from my house.  Wonderful!  Will take Rosie (brother’s dog) there this summer. 

Perhaps my earlier lethargy was brought on by the lack of pressure at work just now.  I’m just not used to it!  It’s an odd time of year in school.  Though we have more than two weeks left of this term, there are so many activities taking place during class time that I rarely have a full class.   

Keeping track of who has missed what is virtually impossible and I have all but given up doing so.  Instead I’m leaving the responsibility of catching up with the pupils.  This statement caused some guffaws in the staffroom as, though this method tends to work well with the more able classes, it doesn’t tend to work at all with the poorer classes.  These latter classes, one could argue, are the pupils who most need to keep up to date with their work.  What to do? 

One of the major events the school is preparing for is the Alness Highland Games.  On the evening of Wednesday, 20th June the field beside the school is going to be transformed into a huge events arena with pipe bands, Highland dancing, Gaelic singing, sporting events and stalls.  We’re expecting approximately 6,000 people to turn up on the night.   

I should take this opportunity to clear up a little misunderstanding – for Genna in particular.  During the staff meeting informing us of exactly what events were scheduled for the night I must admit to being somewhat tired and confused.  For the record: there WILL be a Scottish Infantry parachute jump taking place on the night; and there WILL be a display from the Nothern Constabulary’s Police Dogs.  However, despite what I excitedly told Genna and a huge amount of other people, there WILL NOT be dogs parachuting into the event! 

That’d be really cool though… 

A drinks suggestion today.  Green tea is apparently very, very good for us.  Unfortunately, I can’t stand the stuff.  Have tried to like it – you can’t help but try when you’ve lived in Japan for a year – but to no avail.  This concoction is delicious though.  I can almost feel those anti-oxidants working… 

Apple Green Tea 

700ml boiling water

2 green tea bags

300ml unsweetened apple juice (I like the cloudy stuff)

Juice of one lemon

Ice cubes and slices of apple to serve 

  • Steep the tea bag in the water for 10 minutes.  Remove.

  • Add the apple juice and lemon.

  • Chill.

  • Serve with apple slices and ice cubes.

 This keeps well in the fridge for several days. 

Aromatic Crispy Duck

Crispt duck

Originally uploaded by wjharrison77.

It’s Sunday evening and around this time I usually start to think about the school week ahead. Tonight is no exception. First thing tomorrow I’ll be teaching my seniors. Really looking forward to it as we are reading a favourite of mine, MacBeth.

Thankfully the class are enjoying it so far. I was worried they wouldn’t as their previous experience of Shakespeare was not terribly positive. Despite their former teacher’s best efforts the class absolutely despised Romeo and Juliet. Not even Luhrmann’s dazzling adaption managed to win them over – weirdos.

The Scottish play is a winner though. The graphic battle descriptions (Till he unseam’d him from the nave to the chaps/ And fix’d his head upon our battlements) and hirsute witches (you should be women,/ And yet your beards forbid me to interpret/ That you are so) seem to have caught their imaginations. And when, with a little rearrangement of the original text, they figured out that “Aroint thee thy rump fed runion” basically meant “bugger off big bum” it swiftly became the insult of choice in the fifth year common area.

Tomorrow they are going to meet Lady MacBeth for the first time. Expecting her to raise a few eyebrows!

This evening we are having an Asian feast! My mum loves aromatic crispy duck and requests it whenever she visits. Have also made vegetable spring rolls, Thai basil rice, steamed greens and a pineapple granita to finish with. A mish mash of our favourites rather than an elegant array of dishes. 🙂

Aromatic Crispy Duck

A big duck (excess fat from around cavities cut away)
1 tblspn salt
1 ½ tblspn Chinese five spice
½ tsp black pepper
½ tsp ground ginger
Thumb of fresh ginger (cut into chunks and smashed with a mallet)
3 spring onions (chopped into large pieces)

To serve:
Cucumber (finely sliced)
Spring onion (finely sliced)
Plum sauce (don’t bother making your own unless plums are in season, which they obviously aren’t just now)
Chinese pancakes (from Chinese supermarket – I have to go to Aberdeen for them. And I do!)

  • Blot the duck with kitchen roll until dry.
  • Combine salt, spice, pepper and ground ginger. Rub ALL over the duck and on the inside.
  • Stuff duck with fresh ginger and spring onions.
  • Roast in a deep roasting tin at 170oC for 2.5 hours. The duck will render a huge amount of fat. Pour this off every 30 mins or so.
  • Turn up heat to 225oC and roast for another 20-30 mins (until very crispy).
  • Leave duck to cool before using two forks to shred the meat and skin off the carcass.
  • Serve the steamed pancakes, spring onion, cucumber, plum sauce and duck in separate dishes so that the diners can assemble their own wee duck rolls.

PS  Disturbingly, as I was taking the above photo a large drake was sitting atop my neighbour’s house and quacking loudly. At me?