Thursday, 17 April 2014

Chocolate Fruit and Nut cookies and a slice of my imagination

I stayed awake all night, last night. And all the while I watched back-to-back episodes of Most Haunted, a very popular Paranormal Investigation Series in the UK and one of my major pastimes during my university days. The show takes you to the many purportedly haunted locations in Great Britain -- medieval castles, opulent mansions, dilapidated churches, abandoned theatres -- where the team conducts an over night investigation equipped with various ghost detecting gadgets and a couple of psychics and mediums. The show isn't scary, in fact it is funny mostly and at times annoying. OK a few episodes do send that chill down your spine but what I love is to to hear about the legends, local lores and stories associated with these sites of immense historical value. 

Since I share bits and pieces of my life with you here I thought I'll share this with you too. I am sucker for stories about the paranormal. No I am not fearless. I am in fact, very very scared of ghosts. Should I ever have the good fortune of an otherworldly encounter, I ll perhaps not come out of it sane. And yet spending a night at a haunted house is among the top things on my 100 Things to Do before I die list. Yes I have that list too. Yeah, go me a clown. 

Anyway so I love horror films and stories about spirits and astral beings lingering in the shadows of the night, apparitions vanishing into nothingness, vengeful wraiths and disembodied cries piercing the still of the night. Like I said, during my university days I have spent hours watching Most Haunted. What made it even more exciting then was the fact that I was in England at the time, and I could visit these places if I wanted. Actually I did. 

I went to the University of Sussex in Brighton, a charming beach resort in the south of England. And in Brighton was this stately manor house, the Preston Manor. On a cool spring afternoon, after I had returned from my classes and got on with my daily routine of watching videos on YouTube I happened to chance upon an episode of the Most Haunted featuring Preston Manner and I decided I had to check the place out. 

The stately manor house with its ornate gardens, is surrounded by the lush expanse of the Preston Park. The fascinating history of the manor goes back to the late 16th century and the house has passed through many hands in its time. And with it have passed down tales of unearthly noises, mysterious apparitions and disembodied voices. According to one legend a nun had been murdered on the grounds of the house and her body unceremoniously buried under one of the ground floor balconies. Her remains were found hundreds of years later in 1896 or 97. The story seems probable because, adjacent to the manor is an 11th century church with a graveyard around, reportedly haunted as well. Read more about the manor here 

Now we (I had dragged three of my friends along) went to Preston Manor on a March afternoon and while we were thrilled and almost hoping to have a brush with the other world, the Edwardian interiors of the house with its opulent setting betrayed nothing. No eerie feeling, no cold spots, no disembodied whispers and definitely not a full blown apparition. We ventured underground to check out the kitchen and servants' quarters where the bells seems to ring on their own though they are no longer connected to electricity and a feeling of foreboding overcomes visitors. Blah...NOTHING. I was rather disappointed. 

So I went ahead and asked one of the men at the reception. An older man, of about 60. He seemed rather amused but confirmed the news of the haunting. In fact, he called his colleague who had experienced something in the house. Supposedly she was locking up one evening, when she heard footsteps on the floor above and heard people talking. She thought it was perhaps a colleague and went up to check. Of course there was no one. But no, the ghosts of Preston Manor didn't say a hi to us. However, all of us were overcome with this unsettling feeling when we visited the church grounds. I couldn't wait to leave. Later no one confessed, but we were all pretty uncomfortable there. Could it be? 

However, while we were taking the final batch of photographs in front of the house, we saw a scary face against the ground floor glass window.The SCREAM kind a face. We were a little startled but oh it was the good old man with a this skeleton mask he had pulled out from somewhere. And what a laugh he had. 

Then he called me to the window and told me "Young lady remember this, these are times when you ought to be more scared of the living, than the DEAD." 

And where do these gorgeous chocolate cookies crammed full with almonds, cranberries, cashews and raisins feature in the scheme of things? Well after my nightly rendezvous with the paranormal of course I couldn't sleep. I was imagining things despite willing myself to think happy thoughts. And so I baked some cookies at 4 AM. I had made a lot of cookie dough so I baked another batch this afternoon. And let me tell you, these are delicious. I started my day with some cookies, a glass of chilled milk and my favourite author. And it has been a happy day so far. 


Plain flour - 200 g
Butter - 180 g
Cocoa Powder- 30 g 
Castor Sugar - 90 g 
Vanilla essence - 1/2 tsp 
Chopped almonds - 75 g
Chopped cranberries - 50 g
Chopped raisins - 30 g 
Halved cashews - 22 


Cream the butter and sugar together until sugar almost dissolves. 

Add the vanilla and cocoa powder and mix well. 

Add the chopped nuts and dried fruits. Mix well. 

Finally add the flour and mix to form a soft, mushy dough. Use your hands at this stage. 

Divide the dough in two or thee parts, shape into a log, wrap in aluminium foil or cling film and keep it in the freezer for about 1/2 hour - 45 minutes. 

Pre heat oven at 180 degree centigrade. 

Line a tray with parchment paper or aluminium foil. Grease it little with a little melted butter. 

Now take out the dough logs from the freezer, cut into 1 cm roundels and line of the baking tray. Do not crowd the cookies in, give them enough space to expand. 

Bake in the over for 12-15 minutes at 180 degree centigrade. 

Once out of the oven, let it cool completely before removing them from the tray. 

Store in air tight jars

PS I am sharing a piece of fiction I wrote here. It was published by the American Speculative Fiction E-zine Fiction Vortex. If you have time read it and leave a comment here. Good, bad , whatever. Would mean a lot to me.

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