Monday, 19 October 2015

Pumpkin Fail and a Nice Day Out

Okay, I could lie and say that this was the result of many months of nurturing, tender loving care and quiet anticipation...


But I don't like porkies so this is the honest truth. The seed packet promised breath-takingly juicy, giant pumpkins in perfect time for Halloween. This is what I got...

Alan Titchmarsh must be quaking in his wellies

I tried really hard. Honest. I even dug out my flared dungarees and knitted sweater so I could fulfil my fantasy of being Barbara Good. But I've never been very green fingered, so what promised to be an encouraging start back in April...

Little pumpkin seedlings enjoying a warm windowsill

 And through the Summer months...

...sadly resulted in a less than impressive 'crop' of one pimple sized pumpkin.  I'm not sure what went so disastrously wrong but I'm quite sure the fat slugs and snails could provide the answer if they stopped chomping on my vegetation long enough to tell me.

So, it was with a heavy heart that I came to terms with the fact that there would be no homegrown pumpkins from which to create some delicious recipes to accompany Bree McCready and the Realm of the Lost.

Sandy and Honey's pumpkins turned out better than mine!

My stint at The Good Life taught me something. 

Gardening is like life. 

You have to be very patient, you have to get your hands dirty and you must deal with things that are out of your control. You need to be willing to put in rather a lot of effort even though the results might leave you frustrated and disappointed. The pleasure is very  much in the process and not in the end result and ultimately you have to sometimes admit defeat and move on. 

So, that's what I did.

All was not lost because my pumpkin fail provided the perfect opportunity for a nice day out with Junior. My plan had been to make Pumpkin and Lentil soup over on the Bake With Bree blog. I had all the ingredients I required except for the pumpkin, which, let's face it is a pretty important component for pumpkin soup. 

I knew the perfect substitute for homegrown was tinned and the only place I have ever been able to source good quality, organic pumpkin is Real Foods. They do Libby's and it's perfectly yum.

I've used this before in my Pumpkin Pie so I knew it would also work well in my soup. 

Now, it just so happens that Real Foods is situated across the road from "Our Special Cafe". We don't often go there as it involves a car and a tram ride but it was the last day of the October break so it felt right to kill two birds with one stone.

This is our special cafe...

Junior and I have had some lovely times at Cafe Nom de Plume. The atmosphere is great because it feels like sitting in someone's living room. You always get service with a smile. Good memories have been made here. I used to live in this part of the world so it's nice to visit again and show Junior where I spent my misspent youth.

Junior had the garlic bread with cheese (and brown sauce) and a raspberry milkshake...

I had a latte and a gingerbread cookie.

A day out at Cafe Nom de Plume (which incidentally means 'pen name' - a pseudonym adopted by an author) would not be complete without indulging in the gigantic bowl of popcorn and paprika. Junior has it every time. 

Here it is, a mountain of warm, salty popped corn.

I'll never manage all of that!

Fine, I'll give it a try then.

Taking a break halfway through for some hydration

Finally making a dent!
I can't manage another...single...piece...

On the way home I set Junior a challenge. Every time he spotted a pumpkin I would stop and take a picture. They were quite literally everywhere!

Lovely window display
Outside Real Foods
Pumpkins with an...erm, Christmas twist
Pumpkin overload

A pumpkin for a Munchkin
Literally a Munchkin Pumpkin

So it seems this is the perfect time to make Pumpkin and Lentil Soup. And very delicious it was too. Click here to get the recipe over on my Bake With Bree blog.

Thanks, Junior for making the day so special.  This is for you...

Sometimes I find it hard to believe I got something so incredibly right. I guess my boy is proof that I can grow and nurture something pretty spectacular. Single handedly, all by myself I have produced a perfect little pumpkin X

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Life's a Beach!

It was a typical Scottish day at the beach. We arrived there equipped with suncream, picnic blankets and sunglasses but ended up sheltering under a huge golfing umbrella, forced to eat our picnic under an itchy blanket in the car with the heater on full blast! Still, the kids had an absolute ball and swam in the waves despite the freezing temperatures. The sun even came out for a short while in the afternoon, warming our skin and allowing us to enjoy an ice cream on a bench. It was the kind of day where memories are made.

As we strolled along the sand I stopped briefly to write a message using the metal tip of the umbrella - BAKEWITHBREE - well, someone might've spotted it before the tide washed it away. Promotion doesn't stop, even on a family day out. My niece took it one step further, adding - GO AND SEARCH IT ON GOOGLE by HAZEL ALLAN. It took her ages and I was really touched by her dedication to the cause.

She pointed out the pawprint dot above the letter 'i' which was completely unintentional but cute nevertheless. 

I think we took most of Gullane beach home with us. Judging by the amount of sand in the boot of the car and in the shower tray I am surprised there was any left at all on the beach! We all had weather beaten cheeks and by 6 o'clock my niece's legs had turned from blue to healthy pink and my old Dad was spark out on the recliner. Smiles all round.

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Topics and Treats

I've decided I'd like to branch out and add to my skills as an author/presenter! I am now available for baking/storytelling/arts and craft workshops in Edinburgh and the surrounding areas. I am prepared to travel a bit further and this would be reflected in the price.

The idea is to combine my skills as a writer, Mum and Early Years Educator to bring classroom themes to life through the medium of baking, rhymes, songs and arts and craft activities. By blending my passion for storytelling, literature, education and food I believe I can bring a unique and dynamic spin to classroom learning. 

I have an A-Z of themed ideas, ranging from Animals, Christmas, Butterflies and Fireworks to Road Safety, Vikings, Weather and the Zoo! These themes are added to on a daily basis and are always child centred, fun and educational. With my expertise, creative flair and catalogue of good ideas I will be able to adapt and extend any theme to suit any classroom or nursery environment.

All baking ingredients will be supplied so all that I require is a suitable, clean space to bake, a cooker/oven and some enthusiastic children! I cover all ages from babies to teens (adults too), tweaking recipes to ensure they are age appropriate and suited to the learning needs of the children. I am happy to work in private childcare or council schools/nurseries. I am Live Literature funded through The Scottish Book Trust.

Children benefit from baking in many ways:

Not only are you offering them lots of fun while they create something amazing but you're also teaching them science, laying down some basic maths and reading skills, building confidence and creativity, giving them a sense of control and accomplishment, enhancing vocabulary, fostering social and important life skills AND providing them with an important introduction to health and safety. 


Who would have thought baking cakes could be so educational and rewarding? 

A typical "Topics and Treats" session would take place during a morning or afternoon session (maximum 2 hours but I can be flexible) and would cost in the region of £100-£150, depending on time, travelling, resources, materials and planning. This is in line with the Scottish Book Trust and Society of Authors rates of £150 per 1 hour session.

The session would ideally start with a 'sit on the carpet' introduction and a stimulating but controlled discussion. I would then read a story or poem - I'm an expert in the art of keeping little ones focussed and I am also skilled at facilitating discussion with any age group. I will sometimes read books by other authors but if I can't find a suitable story to fit the theme I also enjoy writing my own.

Staff can then select a smaller group of children to come and bake. Staff can discuss with me prior to my arrival (via email) how many children I will be working with, any special arrangements or dietary requirements and whether there is a particular focus of my visit - for example weighing or texture. I could also prepare some name labels in advance so every child has their name on show - this helps me but also ensures the children feel relaxed and valued.

I am extremely organised and will come prepared with ingredients, some equipment and materials and a laminated recipe card to make things attractive and as easy as possible for the children to follow instructions.

After a tidy up and while we wait for any cakes to bake we can either go back to the carpet for another story or a sing song, which would be tied in with the theme. Sometimes I will bring along props, like puppets. Depending on how long the session is we could also do an art and craft activity.

Here is an example of a typical session for nursery aged children

The theme is Minibeasts or Halloween.

The children have expressed an interest in spiders and you would like me to visit your nursery to read some stories and make something nice with them.

When I arrive we all gather together on the carpet for a relaxed introduction and I read 'Aaaarrgghh, Spider!' - a "rip-roaring, shout-aloud picture book about a spider who wants to be the family pet". I also like to write my own stories and often enjoy storytelling as an alternative to reading from a book.

Staff then select a smaller group of children to come and bake. A maximum of 5 or 6 children would be best but we can discuss this prior to my arrival.

We make Incy Wincy Delights or if you'd prefer we could make a healthy Spider Pizza using vegetables. It's always nice to make enough to share with the other children.

After the baking session we gather together again to sing some songs or if there is time we could do a simple art and craft activity - making spider puppets for example.

This is simply an example. I am happy to take the lead but I am equally happy to discuss in an email prior to my visit what you would prefer me to focus on.

Sound good?

I have 20+ years experience of working with children of varying ages and abilities. I have vast experience working with challenging behaviour. I have an N.N.E.B qualification in Child Care and Education and a BA Degree in Community Education. I currently work in the Learning Support department at a busy Edinburgh school. I am PVG registered.

In addition to my career in education I am a published author with three acclaimed children's novels. 


I have a passion for literacy and creating good quality, exciting stories for young children. I thoroughly enjoy encouraging language and communication development through books and stories. Being a children’s author has not only offered me a keen insight into what young people look for in fiction but has also given me a passion and determination to reach children who might otherwise approach reading and writing in a reluctant way. I regularly visit schools where I talk to young people about my love of words and my life as an author. I have been invited to speak at many literary events, including the Edinburgh International Book Festival. I have also devised Teaching Packs to accompany my novels.

Baking is my other passion. I love food almost as much as I love books!

Making learning fun. It's what I know, it's what I live, it's what I'm good at.

So, if you are interested in me visiting your establishment then drop me an email at

I promise you won't be disappointed. 

Incy Wincy Delights 

Click her for Flipagram recipe

Some very simple ingredients. This is a no-bake recipe, suitable for very young children. The only 'cooking' involved is melting the chocolate!

I used a mixture of Original Oreos and Chocolate Creme flavour. Smarties are good for eyes but you could also use Skittles, white buttons or M&M's. Not the healthiest recipe ever created but what is Halloween all about if it's not about eating sweets? Everything in moderation, that's my motto.

Melt 200g of Milk Chocolate over a simmering pan. Be careful not to let any of the water touch the chocolate as this will ruin it.

Twist the Oreos apart. This can be quite tricky for little ones and they'll probably need a bit of help to avoid their biscuit getting broken. We don't want any tears!


Lay out the bowl of melted chocolate and plate of sprinkles on the table.

Let the children choose their biscuit and then spoon a teaspoon of melted chocolate onto one half. This will be messy...and FUN!

The children then take a Cola lace and carefully cut it in half and then half again so they end up with four pieces. This is a brilliant opportunity to do some counting and talk about measuring and basic fractions. Great chance to introduce simple mathematical vocabulary - Half, quarter, four equal lengths, measure etc.

Show the children how to lay the four pieces of Cola Lace across the centre of the body of the spider. This would be a great time to discuss how many legs a spider has and another ideal opportunity for counting.

Gently replace the top half of the Oreo biscuit, pressing lightly so the chocolate squishes everything together. 

Spoon another small amount of chocolate onto the top of the spider's body and follow this with a good scattering of chocolate sprinkles. This is where the fine motor skills and hand-eye co-ordination comes in.


The main body of Incy Wincy is now complete and all that's left is to decorate his face. You can do this any way you like. I chose Smarties and black writing icing for the eyes, and a jelly diamond cut in half for the mouth. Tiny strawberry lace pieces also make good mouths as you can shape them any way you like.

Incy Wincy Spider - ready to gobble up. YUM!

The little 'web' Oreos are a nice addition and use up any leftover chocolate (if it hasn't already all been scoffed!). Easy peasy - just spoon a little chocolate over the top of an Oreo biscuit, draw four circles of white writing icing, one inside the other and then use a cocktail stick to draw six evenly spaced lines from the centre of the biscuit to the outside edge giving the effect of a spider's web.

Don't worry, we're friendly!

Wriggle, jiggle, tickle!

A plateful of Incy Wincy Delights and web Oreos. Perfect for a spooky Halloween or minibeast theme.

 Love and sticky fingers, Hazel X

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Bake With Bree - My New Blog!

Introducing my new blog! 

Bake With Bree

A Collection of Recipes to Accompany the Bree McCready Book Series

I like making things. Whether that’s stories, cakes or drama it is something that’s been in me from day one. And I like to think my handsome, clever son is the perfect evidence of my creative skills. 

Baking and writing are really not that different. Both require some carefully measured organisation, a generous spoonful of inspiration and a sprinkling of patience.  Both can be messy and time consuming and sometimes both can go spectacularly wrong. But ultimately both can result in a wonderful feeling of accomplishment, a perfect moment when you step back with dishevelled hair, sweaty brow and tear stained cheeks to admire the results of your hard work. It’s easy to compare the process of baking a batch of cupcakes with writing the first chapter of a novel. Firstly you must gather together some essential ingredients – character, plot, conflict, resolution (or flour, sugar, butter and eggs) - throw them together, tweak, alter, add a pinch of this and a pinch of that and then wait for everything to come together to form one perfect product. 

Combining my passion for writing with my love of food has been an exciting and enjoyable venture. I always knew I would incorporate recipes into the Bree novels, not simply because I love food but also because it helped to bring the stories to life and give a different dimension to my descriptive writing. I found the warm, fruity aroma of Castle Zarcalat Scones helped me to better visualise the dark confines of Don’s castle chamber and when I tried my Honeypops for the first time the tingle of space dust on my tongue really helped to connect me with the wacky, sassy side of Honey Pizazz. The books are set during different seasons and the recipe ideas have reflected this – whether it’s the waft of spicy apple squares on a chilly Autumn morning in Bree McCready and the Realm of the Lost or the thick icing dripping down the sides of Mrs Matlow’s Christmas Cookies in Bree McCready and the Half Heart Locket. The zingy taste of Lemonade Lovelies never fails to transport me up onto Bree’s rooftop garden on a scorching afternoon with Madeleine McCready serving up ice cold lemonade as the trio enjoy a lazy summer in Bree McCready and the Flame of Irenus.

Lemonade Lovelies

Baking and writing have offered me the perfect outlet over the years, a way of escaping some difficult times.  I have a reputation for completely immersing myself in any project I take on and I find that while I’m busy making and baking there simply isn't any space left in my head for the other stuff that weighs me down. I am completely and utterly in the moment which, according to Buddha and the Dalai Lama, is a very good place to be. When I slide my baking equipment out of the cupboard I can squeeze my stress and worries into the space left behind and firmly shut the door. They don’t shrink or disappear but I do get to forget about them for a while. Rolling, sifting, kneading and stirring are therapeutic in much the same way as scribbling, typing, cutting and pasting are. Granted, there are a few more calories involved but nobody is forcing me to swallow my creations, tempting as it may be. Treats are nice but it’s the added joy of serving them up to others that’s the real cherry on top of the cake. There are always plenty of willing volunteers on hand to provide feedback. It feels like I’m giving away a little slice of myself every time I present my baking for someone else to enjoy. Food and love are so closely intertwined and giving pleasure to others leaves me with a warm, fuzzy feeling that money can’t buy. I especially love watching my son bite into one of my culinary creations, waiting for that moment when his eyes roll, followed by a long “Mmmm” of appreciation as he licks his fingers and scrapes the plate for every last crumb. 

Perhaps one day (I can live in hope) he will devour my books with a similar enthusiasm.

So, off I trot on this new and very delicious adventure. I hope you enjoy the recipes in the Bake With Bree blog as much as I have enjoyed putting them together. Please feel free to email any questions or comments (positive or otherwise) to I’m always open to constructive feedback about my books or my baking.

So, get messy, lick the spoon and bring the world of Bree to life!
Love and sticky fingers,
Hazel x