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Now first things first. These are called SC-OH-NES. Not “scons” as my father says, bless his cotton socks (that are clearly not helping his pronunciation). Right then.

So I have had the opportunity go home sweet home for the first time in – gosh – almost three months (thank you obstetrics), and whilst there, I clearly had to raid my beloved and abandoned ingredients cupboard. I also did a biteen of shopping and picked up yumloads of fruit, strawberries included. I’ve been hankering for some old-fashioned sweets and treats of late and I figured let’s go with scones. And then I saw the strawberries being devoured by the family and thought strawberry scones! Well I beat off the offending gobbling family members with a rolling-pin and rescued the remaining fruits  from their evil clutches.

There’s something really nice about spending a morning out on the farm and coming back in to tea and strawberry scones before heading out again (or in my case up to my room to study) to tend to horses or planting veggies or fencing. It’s normally fencing actually. Not the swordy type, the wire and fence posts and those little U-shaped nail type thingys that I keep finding all over the shed. So much cooler really…

Anyhoo, these are really nice, a lovely light mixture and the strawberries work nicely.

Ingredients: (Makes 16-20 wedge-shaped scones)

375 g self-raising flour

200g unsalted butter

100g sugar

2 teaspoons of baking powder

1/2 tsp of baking soda

150ml milk

100ml buttermilk

About 2 handfuls of strawberries – I used about 10 medium-sized ones – sliced.

Method:

Preheat your oven to 160 degrees Celsius. Line and grease a baking sheet or flat tin.

Rub the flour (with the baking and bread soda added in) and the butter together until they resemble coarse breadcrumbs. You can give them a blitz in a food processor either, just don’t overdo it.

Mix in the sugar and give it a stir so that its evenly throughout the mixture. Add the sliced strawberries and stir.

Make a well in the middle and add your liquid, leaving about a tablespoon of it left. Mix it until it’s all combined.

Turn out onto a well floured surface and knead lightly.

Divide into halves, shape each half into a disc about an inch thick and cut into 8-10 wedges each.

Place on your prepared tray, brush each one with a little of the leftover milk (which you can mix with an egg if you want really shiny scones) and bake in the preheated oven for about 15 minutes or until golden on top!

Serve with clotted cream and an optional spoon of jam.

Sarah Nicholson is a medical student who, when not staring at medical books that weigh more than a small child, tends to wander around the kitchen spilling flour and devouring chocolate at a rate that could challenge Usain Bolt. Has a penchant for polka dots and puppies. Also runs the monthly Irish Foodies Cookalongs. Find her at Cake in the Country or at @cakeinthcountry on Twitter.

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There is really nothing like catching up with friends and family over a long summer’s evening dinner. A friend of mine cooked me a version of this recipe and we caught up over a couple of bottles of wine after not seeing each other for many years. Since that night she has regularly cooked me this gorgeous tart and we reminisce over our ill-spent days in NUIG, Vokda and Orange in Bransky’s and five quid into Liquid on a Thursday night.  I have had so many times where I’ve sat talking well into the night with some of my favourite people munching this gorgeous tart. I made this for my Mum and Aunt and they both gushed over how it was the nicest meal they’d had EVER. My Mum did ensure she told me as I was about to plate up that she didn’t like things “too eggy”. I don’t either – and it’s not.  It’s a real fail safe go-to for having friends over and is a springtime/summer staple. I love eating this outdoors with a large glass of white wine on a summer’s evening. If having a dinner party you can easily double the amounts.

Spinach and Gruyère Tart with Summer Salad

Ingredients:

Pre-rolled short crust pastry (or make your own if you’re a sucker for punishment) – BLIND BAKE  at 180 before hand)
½ bag of fresh spinach – remove stalkey bits if not using baby spinach
100g Sorrel (optional)
3 eggs
200ml cream
Grated fresh nutmeg
350g grated Swiss Gruyère cheese – Fallong & Byrne and Sheridans both have a lovely aged Gruyère
Salt and pepper
100g pine nuts, lightly toasted

Method:

Lightly grease a large tart tin (approx 20”)

After blind baking the pastry at 180 degrees, set oven to 200 degrees/gas mark 6.

Blanch the sorrel (if using) and spinach together in boiling water for a few seconds and then drain and squeeze the living daylights out of it, you can use a clean tea towel. I use cheesecloth which you can buy cheaply in the baby section of Tesco beside the nappies. Its invaluable and I use it for making almond milk when I’m feeling brave/silly. Once the spinach is squeezed to death, chop it roughly and set aside in a bowl.

Beat the eggs, add the cream & grate in a good couple of pinches of nutmeg .  Mix well, add the cheese and season really well. Lightly toast the pine nuts… then  add the nuts and the spinach to the mixture.

Patch any gaps in the pastry after blind baking with leftover scraps.

Spoon filling into the tart and bake for 12-15 minutes.  The topping should be golden brown.  Allow to cool for about 30 minutes. THIS IS A REALLY IMPORTANT STEP. You wont want to leave it to cool because it smells awesome. Dont be seduced by your stomach! It’s so much nicer when its cool and the egg sets. My mother complained of the starvation the entire time. Don’t listen to the whingers. Carefully remove from the tin and serve with a crisp green salad  with veg of your choosing – I use spinach that’s leftover, a few pine nuts, a fresh green salad bag or fresh salad leaves from your veg box, avocado, red onion, spring onion, finely sliced red pepper and cherry tomatoes.

The dressing is olive oil, honey and grainy mustard.  Plus loads of black pepper.  Pop the dressing into a jar or bowl and either whisk or shake the hell out of it until the oil emulsifies (goes cloudy). The salad goes PERFECTLY with the tart so do give it a go. Its delicious.

Serve with a very large glass of wine to someone who you need to catch up with.

Ciara O’Connor is an avid amateur cook and veggie. She works for Women’s Aid as a project leader and have been working in women’s health for many years (previously working in reproductive rights with IFPA). In my spare time she likes to read, cook, drink wine, and am a student homeopath, sometimes cabaret performer and occasional yogi. Follow her on Twitter: @ciara_oc

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Feminism and the art of burlesque have traditionally had a complex relationship. It is empowering? Degrading? Subversive? Creative? Clichéd? Pandering to the male gaze? Subverting that gaze? Here feminist and burlesque fan and performer Ciara O’Connor gives her view.

The word “burlesque” has cropped up in polite conversation quite a lot recently. Christina and Cher’s affront to the word notwithstanding, every so often someone brings it up when out for drinks if I say I’ve just been to a show… and often there is a reductive remark about strippers. Take for example Maeve Higgins’ recent comment on the Tweeter : “Burlesque is so shit. Stupid middle class women stripping.” I’m not sure if Maeve has ever been to a show, but I know her comment was a reflection (if a slightly more abrasive reflection) of some peoples ideas and conceptions of what Burlesque is and is not. There are always people who are indifferent towards any medium, the decriers declaring Burlesque is dead, those who say it is anti-women, and those who couldn’t care less.

Feminist burlesque performer Blackbird, aka Emily

Because I’m a fan of the art form, and I occasionally perform at cabaret shows and see a lot of different types of burlesque, I thought I’d throw my two cents into the ring.

Burlesque’s etymology denotes a send up, it is a derisive imitation, grotesque parody. Burlesque is close in meaning with caricature, pastiche, parody and travesty, and, in its theatrical sense, with extravaganza, as presented during the Victorian era (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Victorian_burlesque). From the Wikipedia entry on Burlesque we see that it isn’t just all 1950s pin-up wither, its been around a long time: “”Burlesque” has been used in English in this literary and theatrical sense since the late 17th century. It has been applied retrospectively to works of Chaucer and Shakespeare and to the Graeco-Roman classics.“

Later forms of burlesque came in the popular variety show format. These were common from the 1860s to the 1940s, often in cabarets and clubs, as well as theatres, and featured bawdy comedy and striptease as part of the show. Burlesque has historically been seen as a cheeky, low-brow and very bold form of adult-only theatre.  Performers draw from theatre, mime, improvisation, movement to music, as well as all forms of dance. They are also usually loaded with cultural reference and spoof.

There has been a resurgence of interest in classical Burlesque in the 1990s which quickly became popular in the US, the UK and the rest of Europe. This resurgence also birthed what is referred to as Neo-burlesque (see Hot Press this month for a very interesting round-up of Neo-Burlesque in Ireland). Neo-burlesque often removes the nostalgic aspect of burlesque and uses contemporary music and themes, so you may find yourself watching Jessica Fletcher do a striptease to Gothrock. The beauty of burlesque is that it can be anything and everything, as creative as your imagination and the boundaries you put on yourself as a performer.

A friend writing a blog on fashion and feminism recently described me as “someone who I imagine came into the world screaming ‘I am a feminist!’.” As a feminist-from-the-womb – or at least a young age, I was needless to say not immune to the impressions the media give out about burlesque, and my inner feminist was in twitch-overdrive when I went to my first ever burlesque show. My twitching quickly subsided – and not only was I completely hooked: I was fascinated, enthralled and excited, brimming over with ideas after it – I was convinced that in my eyes, burlesque was decidedly feminist.

As I wrote recently in a guest blog for Dr Sketchy’s,  decontextualised women’s bodies are everywhere in society.  Disembodied perfectly round arses in Reebok trainers, floating breasts selling car insurance…. our world is saturated with nudity, implied nudity and women’s body parts, exposed, scrutinised, made grotesque and vilified… or portrayed as perfection and symmetry and the ideal we should all strive for/compare ourselves to. Burlesque shows are one place where you get to see real women’s bodies… not on display for the sexualised gaze, nor for “auntie Gok” to truss up like some Christmas ham and stuff into magic knickers to try to fit into normative beauty standards, but just – celebrated.  Cheered.  Whooped at and hollered for.  Breasts, bellies, smiles of all ages and types, none of them detached from the woman they belong to.  In fact, firmly in context as the performer is not only showing off her body but her creativity… her body can be tattooed, pierced, decorated with body paint, breasts all different shapes and sizes adorned with nipple tassels; they have meaning, they have context.  These are real bodies, (ab)normal, individual, all appendix scars and jiggly bits.  In a society where nudity has become so… meaningless… here it is loaded with meaning.

Also, the burlesque scene in Ireland is decidedly radical. The performers are smart, creative and quite amazing men and women who do fantastical things with the medium. A great example is my friend and fellow fabulous feminist Emily. She is a stunning performer – she creates acts that are thought provoking, political, visually stunning, sometimes hyperfeminine, sometimes very masculine, always impeccably costumed and gripping from beginning to end. She tells a story and makes a statement in a way that is firmly tongue in cheek and yet quick off the mark and very intelligent.

Lilly DeValle's barbershop act gradually turns from cute to creepy

Another burlesque performer, Lilly DeValle, cuts a striking figure on stage, playing a cheesecake cutesy character who has a dark and evil side – for example her cute barber shop act which quickly transforms into a bloodbath as she hacks up the poor unsuspecting customer in her barbershop chair. She is a true storyteller and has impeccable comedic timing. One of Dublin’s queen’s of the burlesque scene Miss Bella A Go Go is one of the most creative people I know, sewing and handmaking all her costumes, her  incredible mind is full of fantasy which she expertly brings to life on stage with incredibly intricate themed shows, such as her recent Steampunk Cabaret.

So for those who may reduce burlesque to “stupid, middle class women stripping” – I’d like to extend an invitation to come and see a show. The scene here is vibrant and bristling with life and energy. The performers (male and female) are dedicated to making you smile, cringe, cower and giggle like a kid. I asked my friends when writing this why they attend these shows, and the consensus was strong – the striptease element is the last thing on the list. They come to find something different, something entertaining, to find like minded people and to have fun. The nudity in the shows is a great leveller. It’s an opportunity to dress up, to drink cocktails and smoke cigars, to travel to another world for one night only. And who among us doesn’t enjoy some escapism now and then?

If you think you’d like to give a show a go, then I would highly recommend any of the following nights:

The League of Decadent Bastards

This will be the show of the summer – an all male cast and an amazing line up including some of my favourite cabaret artists, a proper treat for the senses!

Burlesque and Cabaret Social Club

The mainstay of the Dublin scene, mostly classical and vintage burlesque and music, monthly, at the Sugar Club

The Love Cats Burlesque

Fabulous troupe of burlesque artists, comedians and musicians in Dublin

Dr Sketchy’s anti-art school – for the artists among us – where life drawing meets cabaret

AND watch out for shows from: Sedition Industries, AWOL tattoo studio Galway, The Pony Girls, Midnight Burlectro, Sideshow Cabaret and many more over 2011.

Ciara O’Connor is an avid amateur cook and veggie. She has been working in women’s health and education for many years. In her spare time she likes to read, cook, drink wine, and is a student homeopath, sometimes cabaret performer and occasional yogi.
Her twitter is ciara_oc

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Yes, we’re all being told to make do and mend and embrace craftiness. But actually, making stuff yourself often isn’t cheap. So let’s hear it for Regina de Búrca, who offers a guide to being crafty on a budget.

I come from a long line of women who knit, sew and crochet. My forebears’ sole purpose of making things was to saving money. My grandmother’s Aran jumpers were undoubtedly beautiful yet their main function was a practical one, while my mother was a prolific dressmaker who made everything from our ‘good room’ curtains to my Communion dress. She taught me how to sew so that I could make clothes and repair them. But by the time I grew up, culture had turned disposable and the importance of skills she taught me had dwindled.

In the past, craft was often a necessity, not a hobby.

It wasn’t until my grandmother’s death in 2002 that I became interested in craft work. When we had the heart-breaking task of packing away her things, I was reminded of the significant role crafting had played in her life. We found her ‘work box’ – a hand-decorated box containing a wealth of supplies, neatly stored away with a half-finished jumper and blanket. I decided I couldn’t let her legacy go to waste and so I took them all home with me.

My grandmother’s forte was crocheting; something I’d had little experience of. When I went online to find resources to teach myself properly, I discovered that the world of handicraft had changed dramatically. Once an old-fashioned, staid pursuit, the art of crafting had become subverted; reclaimed by a dynamic, sassy generation who wanted to make things for the fun of it and had set up initiatives such as the ‘Stitch and Bitch’ groups.

I have been making things ever since then. But my approach to my hobby has changed over the years. At first it was simply a relaxing and rewarding way to spend my time. But as my salary has decreased and my expenses have gone up, I couldn’t justify spending more on say, making a jumper, than it would cost to buy one, so I gave up crafting as an overindulgent hobby.

However, it wasn’t long before I missed it. The last time I moved house, I happened upon my grandmother’s work box. I thought back to the times when making things was a good way to save money, so I became determined to find a way that I could save cash while doing something I loved so much.

It has been challenging – there will always be cheaper alternatives to homemade clothes and accessories. It is impossible to compete with mass-manufactured low-price products. But what I have found is that the items I make myself endure longer than many budget items I have purchased, so in the long term they can work out cheaper.
Here are my top resources for craft supplies on a budget. Some are online, others based in Dublin. I would be very interested to hear of any other budget retailers that I don’t know about, particularly around the rest of the country!

Wool

My first port of call for wool is always The Liberties Market in Dublin 8. It is the cheapest place I have found in the City, and the best choice when looking for wool for a pattern that requires a lot of the stuff.

The ‘special offers’ section of the Spring Wools website is a treasure trove of unusual wool and knitting kits. They deliver quickly, too!

Etsy’s knitting supplies section is useful.  it’s the most economical place I’ve found for specialist wool, I’ve found some really unique types here in the past.

I keep an eye on Aldi’s and Lidl’s special offers – they often sell bags of wool.

Charity shops can sometimes stock it – a friend of mine once bought five balls of mohair wool for two euro in a charity shop on Capel Street! Granted, I’ve scoured all the charity shops in the area to find a similar deal but haven’t… yet.

Fabric

The fabric wholesalers, TWI in Dublin’s Mountjoy Square is the most budget-friendly walk-in fabric shop I’ve found – . It sells an amazing range of fabrics.

http://www.fabrics-n-stuff.co.uk/ is the cheapest online fabric retailer I’ve used. The service is fast and the shipping costs not too painful, so needless to say, I’m a regular. Their range isn’t as extensive as most online sites, so often I enhance the fabric myself using batik techniques or sewing on collars or feature pieces (see vintage market in the ‘Other’ section, below).

The clearance page on Fabrics.com has some great deals. It has the best range of budget fabric that I’ve found online, so that excuses the postage costs… just.

The fabric supplies section on Etsy is an Aladdin’s cave of fabulous materials of all kinds –

The ‘Online Fabrics’ special offer page has some good deals – but with £10.99 postage costs regardless of weight of the package, I only use it for a big order no more than once a year. Don’t forget to request samples – they are 75p each for a fat quarter. Each customer gets a maximum of ten samples.

Best way to stock up on low cost fabric is to ask any backpackers you know who are jetting off – they can pick up stunning pieces in places like Morocco or India very cheaply.

Patterns

My all-time favourite craft site is at Craftown. From patterns to easy to follow illustrated guides, the website is a fantastic resource for all other types of crafting.

The member-only http://www.freepatterns.com/ is a wonderful site. Once you sign up (for free) you can download their patterns in PDF format. They also have a e-newsletter service, which provides interesting tips on various kinds of craft work.

The All Free Crafts site is an amazing compendium of patterns. And with no login to set up, it’s very accessible.

Other

K & M Evans sells supplies for teachers and sells a huge variety of paper and paint and lots of other crafting tools, for much cheaper than high street art shops

Vintage markets are great places to pick up buttons, collars and other pieces of fabric that can be repurposed. I keep track of the fairs in Dublin through Vintage Ireland’s Facebook page.

The Craft Council of Ireland has a ‘for sale’ section on its website that sells everything from pottery kilns to screen-printing frames.

The supplies section on Etsy is a super resource for all types of craft work.

Aldi and Lidl sell the cheapest sewing machines I’ve found. I got mine in Aldi a couple of years ago for 70 euro.

Freecycle is a great place to find crafting staples such as sewing machines and dressmakers’ dummies.

DIY stores can be the cheapest places to find glue, wire and paints.

One of the main ways I save on my craft budget is by pooling resources with my friends. By sharing things like sewing machines, Lomography cameras, tile cutters (for mosaics) and bookbinding tools, we have access to far more supplies than we would normally. And it follows that we all have a shared knowledge base, so we save on tuition fees as well.

Handicraft in itself has added value because it can be so fulfilling -there is something very satisfying about making your own things. It brings me joy look at what I have made over the years, in particular the jumpers and blankets co-crocheted by my grandmother and I. I hope it’s a tradition that will be kept up through this generation and future ones.

Regina de Búrca hails from the West of Ireland. She has been a Liverpool FC fan since the age of four. She writes books for teenagers and has a MA in writing for Young People from Bath Spa University. She currently lives in Dublin. Twitter: @Regina_dB

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Yes. These are seriously good. I’m a firm believer in dessert before/instead of dinner, not to mention the use of food to butter somebody up. Now if you make these you shall be in the good books for at least weeks if not months…

In the mood I was in on one glorious Friday, I was craving something between some kind of brownie, some kind of fudgy chocolate cake. I was discussing this (a common topic) with some of the girls in the tutorial room when everyone seemed to simultaneously come up with ‘lava cakes’, or ‘melty yummy chocolate things’ if one were to go by my original thought. And would you know it, Nigella had a recipe for them and I had the recipe in my grasp! I may have added a wee biteen more sugar, which I think stood to it. I’ve had these in some restaurants and it’s just not actually sweet enough, so I didn’t take that chance.

The chocolate: I used a mixture of a 60% and also a 73.5% gorgeous Claudio Corallo chocolate that I’ve been meaning to use for ages. It has cocoa nibs in it and is just delicious.

Ingredients: (this makes six – maybe double the recipe)

12 oz chocolate – see above!

70g butter

180g castor sugar

4 eggs, beaten

Wee pinch of salt

1 tsp vanilla extract

50g flour

6 custard/pudding tins – the wee ones. I also used some ramekins but the custard tins worked better!

Baking non stick paper

Method:

Pre-heat the oven to 200 degrees, and put in a plain tray.

Trace and cut out little circles for the bottom of the tins. Butter them, pop in the parchment, and butter a wee bit more! You don’t want these little gems to stick.

Melt the chocolate in a heat-proof bowl over simmering water and set aside.

Cream the butter and sugar.

Gradually beat in the eggs bit by bit along with the salt and vanilla. Add the flour and combine until it’s all mixed in.

Add in the cooled (ish) chocolate and beat it until it’s a nice smooth batter and divide evenly between the six tins.

Take your heated tray out of the oven and pop the tins onto it. Return to the oven for 10-12 minutes.

When done, gently remove, turn upside down onto your plate and gently tap the top. It should slide out pretty easily.

Give it a dusting of icing sugar and watch this happen…

Sarah Nicholson is a medical student who, when not staring at medical books that weigh more than a small child, tends to wander around the kitchen spilling flour and devouring chocolate at a rate that could challenge Usain Bolt. Has a penchant for polka dots and puppies. Also runs the monthly Irish Foodies Cookalongs. Find her at Cake in the Country or at @cakeinthcountry on Twitter.

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Salvete! Abigail Rieley on the joys of learning Latin.

The Eagle, based on The Eagle of the Ninth, by Rosemary Sutcliff, hits Irish cinemas this weekend – I’m counting the days. Every time I see those toilet brush helmets my heart gives a little flutter. It’s not the sight of Russell Crowe wielding a gladius or the cast of the TV series of Spartacus wielding a lot more that has me this way, this is an obsession with much older roots. When it comes to all things Roman, I’m a total groupie. It might have something to do with growing up in London and being told that if you dug down far enough you could find the layer of ash from when Boudicca burned Londinium to the ground. It might have been the crumbling romanticism of the grassy piles of stones called Caesar’s Camp near where I grew up in Wimbledon. But if I’m honest, I was too much of a bookish kid to root my obsessions so much in the fresh air. This one has a lot more to do with a wonderfully dotty Latin teacher and the Cambridge Latin series of text books.

My school before I left England was the kind of place they used to make Ealing Comedies about back in the day. We celebrated the school’s birthday every year with lime green, sickly sweet cake, there was a school song as well as a school hymn and a glass case at the end of the first floor gallery had its tiny compartments filled with the tourist tat of an Edwardian past pupil who’d taken the Grand Tour of the Holy Land – piece of the True Cross – check, stone from the island where Jason and his Argonauts stopped off – check. Around this same wood panelled gallery hung heavy black boards with the names of those who had left with flying honours to a glittering Oxbridge education. It was a minor public day school, stuck in amber and tradition, smelling of chalk dust and furniture polish.

Miss Bickersteth was one of those traditions. If she had been a character in one of those Ealing films, Joyce Grenfell would have been a shoo-in for the part. By the time my class came to her we were primed with stories from older siblings, mothers, aunts. Her legendary status crossed generations. She was a slight, wiry woman with greying hair sculpted in Art Deco pin curls. Every class she would stride in, in her tweed pencil skirt and sensible brogues and stand behind the teacher’s desk, almost crackling with enthusiastic energy. She had a passion for a dead language that was ridiculously infectious and she was one of those rare teachers that everyone loved. No matter what we threw at her (even if our ideas of playing up in class were embarrassingly lame) she would take in her stride. When we decided to play dumb she followed suit and then threatened us with a test, when she arrived in class to find all the desks and chairs upside down she ignored them and made us sit on the floor. The woman was unruffleable – except on one occasion I can remember.

Now, I know that Latin isn’t generally seen as one of the sexiest subjects on the school curriculum, but you never heard one of Miss Bickersteth’s classes on life in ancient Rome. We learnt that doctors would use spiders webs to coagulate the blood in an open wound and, on one memorable occasion, how prostitutes used to ply their wares under the bridges of the Tiber. I think we were mistaken for the Upper Fifth, because half way through the description her hand flew to her mouth and she actually blushed. It took us several minutes to convince her that we had heard worse, before her embarrassment would subside. We had heard worse though. On Miss Bickersteth’s recommendation the whole class had been avidly tuning in to the BBC adaptation of I, Claudius, currently getting a second airing at 9 o’ clock on a school night. For kids raised on a diet of Enid Blyton and Adrian Mole the sex, madness and political intrigue of Robert Graves’ classic novels were intoxicating indeed. It was in I, Claudius I saw my first sword’s-eye view of a beheading (which still makes me rather queasy to watch) and we were all shaken by John Hurt’s crazed performance as a Caligula who ate the baby he had ripped from his sister’s womb in the hope it should sprout from his head as Aphrodite. Then there was Livia – the Joan Crawford of toga-ed divas – poisoning her way through her nearest and dearest.

Miss Bickersteth’s Latin classes had a Brother’s Grimm knack of showing us that life could be a dark, bloody affair. There was nothing dry or dusty about them, even if the verb conjugations formed an academic litany reaching back to Tom Brown’s Schooldays and beyond. But gifted and all as Miss Bickersteth was as a teacher, we wouldn’t have had that description of medicinal cobwebs without the Cambridge series of Latin text books. There aren’t many school books, with the possible exception of Soundings here in Ireland, that have wormed their way so into the psyche of those who studied them that they have their echoes in some of the most popular of popular culture. Like Soundings the Cambridge books worked because they had great content. Instead of pages of exercises and verb conjugations (worthy of repetition – they figure a LOT in Latin classes), these text books told a story. Book 1 was set in Pompeii. You knew from the beginning the ending was going to be harsh, with explosions. We were shown videos of the sad, frozen, ash-covered bodies, seen the all too visible silent screams frozen in their last moment of fear. We knew that the family going through day-to-day life with the express purpose of introducing us to the next stage of vocabulary were destined for a fiery end. Prosperous banker Caecilius, his lady-who-lunches wife Metella and their grown up and rather hunky, in a way that can only be captured by black and white stylised illustrations, son Quintus. By the time we got to the final chapter and laboriously translated the initial rumblings of Vesuvius, even Miss Bickersteth was rather sombre.

We had read about Caecilius getting anxious about a swan being slowly roasted to entertain a business associate or irritating his wife with the purchase of a particularly comely female slave. Now his final hours had come we all read the last instalments together. It came as rather a shock when, researching this post I visited the Cambridge website . The books are as I remember, although the green covers I remember have been long since revamped. Quintus now doesn’t look half as hunky as I seem to remember but I discovered, when I read that final chapter again, that I can still read the Latin after all this time. The chapter must have left one hell of an impression! Reading it again after all those years I’m amazed at how strong it still is. Read it yourself if you’re interested – it’s here. But I warn you – it’s poignant stuff – Caecilius gets hit by falling masonry and the family dog, Cerberus, also succumbs.

Actually I’m obviously not the only one scarred for life by that final chapter of first year Latin. Reminiscing recently with a fellow alumni of those slim green books Caecilius and his family are cemented in the adolescent brain. They even pop up in the Dr Who episode The Fires of Pompeii. A scriptwriter perhaps keen to exorcise a haunting image has given Caecilius a new start with the ever faithful Metella and Quintus, who will now not have to face the British weather in Book 2 with the irascible but memorably named local big wig Cogidubnus.

These days my Latin might be rusty but I’ll still be booking my tickets to soak up the Romano-British action. Ancient Rome was the first thing I was ever a geek about and for that I’m forever thankful to Miss Bickersteth and Caecilius et al.

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These are the best rolls to have with your breakfast, brunch or an afternoon tea. They are incredibly buttery and work well with both jam and runny cheeses. Amusingly, I’ve mainly eaten them at a Dane’s house in Ireland, but this is the recipe from our family cookbook and it works out very nicely.

Ingredients:

1 tbsp Dried Yeast (2 x 7g packets)

200g Butter (Divided into 150g and 50g)

450g Flour

225ml Milk

1 tsp & 1 tbsp Sugar

½ tsp Salt

1 Egg (beaten)

2 tbsp Poppy Seeds

Utensils:

Rolling pin, pastry brush, baking tray, wire rack

Method:

Measure out the milk and warm in the microwave for about 40 – 50 seconds until it is warm. You can also do this in a pot but it’s faster and leaves less washing up in the microwave.

Mix in the yeast and the teaspoon of sugar to the warm milk and leave until it has become frothy, about 15 – 20 minutes.

While you’re waiting for the yeast to activate, measure out the flour and rub in 150g of the butter. When you’re finished the mixture should have the consistency of breadcrumbs. Add the remaining tablespoon of sugar and the half-teaspoon of salt and mix through.

It’s now time to go back to the yeast mixture. By now the yeast should have foamed up and will be ready to add to the dry ingredients. Give it a quick stir and pour the yeast liquid in with the dry ingredients and mix together into a soft dough.

Once the dough has come together in the bowl, tip it out onto a floured worktop and knead for approximately 5 minutes, until it becomes smooth and elastic.

When you’ve finished kneading the dough, put it into an oiled bowl and cover with Clingfilm. Alternatively, you can put the dough into an oiled freezer bag. Leave to rise for 20 minutes until it has become slightly puffy. While the dough is rising, turn on the oven and preheat it to 220°C.

After the dough has risen, put it on a lightly floured worktop and roll it out into a large rectangle measuring approximately 20 x 50 cm. Make sure that the edges are as level as you can get them.

Take the remaining 50g of butter, it should be quite soft, and spread it across the bottom half of the dough.

Now comes the slightly tricky bit, fold the top half of the dough leaving a slight overhang. Flip the whole lot over so that the overhang is on the top and seal it down, using a little more butter if necessary.

Seal up the edges at each end in the same manner. Flip the folded dough back over so that the seal is now on the underside.

Brush the dough with the beaten egg and sprinkle the poppy seeds as evenly as possible along the length.

Cut the dough into triangles. You should get between 12-14 triangles out of this batch.

Place the triangles onto greased baking trays and place into the oven to bake for 15 minutes until they have turned golden brown.

Once baked, remove from the oven and allow cool on wire racks.

Enjoy with more butter and jam.

Joanna Schaffalitzky set up smorgasblog.ie, in order to share recipes from the Danish and Irish sides of her family. She enjoys all forms of cooking but is most fond of baking, especially if it involves copious amounts of butter and sugar. She can be found on Twitter: @joannaschaff or @smorgasblog

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