Happy Birthday to me!


Birthday cakeAnother week, another year older. Any wiser?

Well that remains to be seen. Having celebrated birthdays over the last month with my two boys who are now 16 and 20 years old, it was my turn to play the numbers game!

And before I say anything more, I really do have to thank all of you who made me some truly beautiful birthday cards. Babs, Celia, Ann, Tina, Marilyn, Yvonne, Daryl and Christine, you are incredible!  Having presented so many craft shows with Dawn and Leonie, I know what you begin with, and to see the finished result – with examples matting and layers, embossing, decoupage, you name it you've done it – was lovely.

It wasn't just cards I was spoiled with either, but some fab presents including a digital photo frame, which is now on my bookcase and, because you can put your memory card directly into it, has photos of my birthday popping up every five seconds!

I have soundtracks to both Hello Dolly (one of my favourite musicals) and also Slumdog Millionare – brilliant film. I got an arm-band to hold my iPod in place while I pound the pavement in training for this year's Race for Life.

I also got books, scented candles, a dress, a pair of suede gloves, bulbs for the garden and a pussy-willow tree.  To top it all, my partner Colin completely surprised me with the most beautiful birthday cake (pictured above). And… he'd made it himself!

Considering he's never baked a cake in his life (and this is a seriously rich fruit cake), marzipanned or iced anything before, and certainly never piped words (he normally writes songs), I thought it was a masterpiece.

It took him weeks to make (with the help of his sister Moira) and is quite seriously wicked…rather too wicked…so I'm grateful to my Slim n' Lift for allowing me to squeeze into a rather slender pair of trousers last night to work with Michele Hope! 

In fact, staying with food, Lucy made Thai green curry for eight on the night itself, and that too was delicious, rather more exciting than the cottage pie I made the following evening, but it set off a debate in the household, which I'm hoping you might be able to help with.

 Is it shepherd's pie or cottage pie?  If it's made of minced lamb would it then be cottage pie, or is to do with having a pastry or potato topping?  And what about including Branston Pickle in it? I always do!  Sam won't eat it, but as I pointed out, if the likes of Gordon Ramsay have followed in my footsteps (I lay claim to this little addition), then it can't be wrong.

Gordon's actually got a recipe for it in his latest book and he uses potato, but he also calls it shepherd's pie…doh!  So what do you think?  What do you normally call it, and do you have any other tasty ingredients you add in?  Looking forward to hearing from you.

I have to tell you I finally caught up with Julia Roberts last night. We have been trying for nearly a week to speak with each other but keep having to leave messages. That's the problem when you both work shifts, but I'm hoping to pop down and stay next week and check out her decorating. She's a very clever girl at choosing colours and her house would put Laurence Llewellyn-Bowen to shame!

Anyway, we managed to cause a traffic jam in the corridoor at 10.30pm while we chin-wagged then she had to rush off and I had to get home, some time later though as I lost my keys!  Another year older, but certainly no wiser.

Have a great week, and do let me have your recipes won't you?

Ali xxx


  1. Lou Elliott March 20, 2009 at 6:41 pm -  Reply

    Hello Alison
    Belated Birthday wishes to you. You are a lucky lady indeed to have a partner like Colin who made you that fantastic cake …. my husband just peeked at your blog (over my shoulder I might add ~ ooh how rude!!) and made comment on the cake. I told him that a it was all a mans work and that I would be expecting something similar on my birthday – hmmm I won’t hold my breath!!!
    Re the Shepherds/Cottage Pie debate my thoughts are that it’s all to do with the meat content. Lamb = shepherds pie (well shepherds like lambs don’t they??!! haha) and Beef = cottage pie. I’ve never heard any mention of the name being to do with a potato or pastry topping but hey, what do I know??!! I like the idea of adding some Branston Pickle to my shepherds or cottage pie and might do that next time.
    Best Wishes
    Lou xx

  2. Cheryl March 20, 2009 at 7:39 pm -  Reply

    Hi Ali
    Glad you had a great birthday.
    Re the Shepherds pie/Cottage pie debate Shepherds is with minced lamb and Cottage is with minced beef.
    Looks like Colin could have a change of career from the photo of his masterpiece.
    Hope that your birhday is the beginning of a great year for you and your family.
    Love Cheryl in Morecambe xx

  3. Magda Chetty March 20, 2009 at 8:33 pm -  Reply

    Hi Ali
    Many happy return, you do not look old enough to have a son of 20, and for sure you do not need to wear slim n”lift, you always look silm and lovely. Iam like you, during the month of July I have 6 frinds and family”s birthdays and also my birthday, all within the 15th and 31st. So I did order the slim n” lift in advance, as there will be lots of cakes to eat.
    I have been watching QVC most of the day today, and you made me feel so full of life with talk about Spring and sun and flowers, QVC always put a smile on my face.
    I have moved to Mallorca(SPAIN) 8 years ago, and QVC is my link to England, so I watch you all every day, so I don”t get home sick. God knows where will I be without my QVC.
    Love to all, you all do a great job.

  4. Carol Yates March 21, 2009 at 9:05 am -  Reply

    We always say it is Shepherd’s Pie if it is made with lamb, cottage pie-beef, bt always a grated cheese topping whatever the meat!

  5. gill graham March 21, 2009 at 9:48 am -  Reply

    Belated happy birthday wishes Alison!!!
    You always look so elegant, but have that twinkle and warmth which makes all your shows very enjoyable.
    Tops marks to Colin for that stupendous cake; I’ve found as we mature our choice in partners improves no end !!!!!!
    Wishing you many, many happy returns of the day.
    Gill xx

  6. Daphne Dean March 21, 2009 at 11:29 am -  Reply

    Hi Alison,
    Just read about your birthday, your Mum had told me when it was, and glad it was a good one.
    NOW I always say Shepherd’s pie if made with minced lamb because if you think about it, shepherd – sheep. Cottage pie made with minced beef. Sorry couldn’t add Branston – only for a cheese roll or sarnie thanks.
    Daph xxxxxxxx

  7. sue schofield March 21, 2009 at 4:35 pm -  Reply

    dear alison,
    i always call my shepherds pie just that, i was told that mashed potatoe topping finished by a fork represented the shepherds hair and sliced potatoe topping represented the roof tiles of a cottage, hence cottage pie, hope this helps,
    best wishes,
    sue schofield

  8. Iris March 22, 2009 at 10:11 am -  Reply

    Hello Alison,
    I love reading the presenters blogs. I`ve just seen your Cottage Pie / Shepherds Pie comments. If it`s got lamb in it, it`s Shepherds Pie, if any other meat is used it is Cottage Pie. Must always have mashed potatoe on top.
    Iris xx

  9. Margaret Coates March 22, 2009 at 3:50 pm -  Reply

    Hi Alison,
    Just wanted to wish you a belated Happy Birthday. Your cake looked beautiful. I hope you had a wonderful day.
    It was my Birthday on the 2oth March, but no wonderful cake for me unfortunately.
    Mags. x

  10. Vix Mcgowan March 22, 2009 at 4:29 pm -  Reply

    Hi Ali! If you use minced beef it’s cottage pie and if you use minced lamb it’s shepherds’ pie. As for the additions to meat or potato, it’s whatever flicks your switch is fine as far as I’m concerned….eat and enjoy!!

  11. Lynne Ryan March 23, 2009 at 11:12 am -  Reply

    Alison – Shepherds pie is definitely made of lamb mince and cottage pie is made of beef mince. Simple! they both have potato topping.
    Lynne xxx

  12. Alison Keenan March 23, 2009 at 12:03 pm -  Reply

    Hello Lou!
    Yes I do count myself lucky, and not only did the cake look good but it tasted delicious!! I hope your man surprises you on your birthday too – even if he buys one! It seems the common concensus is Lamb for shepherds and beef for cottage but do try the brannie. Have a lovely week and great to hear from you.
    Ali x

  13. Alison Keenan March 23, 2009 at 12:06 pm -  Reply

    Hello Cheryl,
    Lovely to see you getting involved in our debate! And I agree Colin’s cake is a masterpiece – not sure how many he’d be able to knock up in a year as this one took 6 weeks, but well worth it! I hope you too will have a very happy year ahead and thanks for taking time out.
    Ali x

  14. Alison Keenan March 23, 2009 at 12:08 pm -  Reply

    oh and Cheryl, I meant to say the last time I was in Morecambe was when I was 7 with my aunty edna and uncle ian, and I have never seen such a huge beach in all my life. Perhaps I should come visit again. X

  15. Alison Keenan March 23, 2009 at 12:11 pm -  Reply

    Hi Magda,
    You say the nicest things thank you! I actually have a daughter of 23 too but they say kids keep you young…. not so sure! I wish you a very happy month of July with all those birthdays, and do make sure you at least have an elasticated waist band for all the cake. I so envy you living in a sunny country although the weather here has been fab over the last week or so. Very glad that you are the other side of the camera and part of the shows. Take care and keep in touch.
    Ali xx

  16. Alison Keenan March 23, 2009 at 12:15 pm -  Reply

    Carol thank you for your kind words, it was lovely to read them. And I certainly agree with your wise words about choices of partners…. if only we’d had the wisdom when we were younger! I’ll pass your compliments re the cake onto Colin. Have a good week.
    Ali x

  17. Alison Keenan March 23, 2009 at 12:24 pm -  Reply

    Carol, sorry I attributed Gill’s comments to your message! Thanks though for your decider re: cottage or shepherds pie, and I agree that cheese is a must on the top of the potatoe although we have to section an area off for Jack cos he’s fussy! Have a good day and do keep in touch.
    Ali x

  18. Alison Keenan March 23, 2009 at 12:27 pm -  Reply

    Hello Daph!
    I think the last time I saw you was when we came over for the day and I sat on your back door step in the sunshine eating sweets out of a bowl! Then played ‘Fatty and Skinny’ with your children for hours upstairs. Lovely to hear from you and I like your reasoning for it being a Shepherd’s pie cos of sheep! Must try and get mum to comment now… as she taught me how to make it in the first place. Hope all’s well with you and yours.
    Alison x

  19. Alison Keenan March 23, 2009 at 12:29 pm -  Reply

    Sue I love the idea behind your naming of the two dishes!! Particularly the potatoe slices being roof tiles. Very original. Thank you for taking the time out to write to me. Much appreciated. Keep in touch.
    Ali x

  20. Alison Keenan March 23, 2009 at 12:31 pm -  Reply

    Hi Iris,
    Glad you like reading the blogs, cos I love writing them, particularly when I get your comments! We all seem in agreement with regards the potatoe topping, and also the choice of meat, and now that the weather’s turned, I think another cottage pie is in order for later in the week. Hope life is good for you.
    Ali x

  21. Alison Keenan March 23, 2009 at 12:34 pm -  Reply

    Belated Happy Birthday to you Mags,and I hope that although you didn’t get a cake you were spoiled in other ways. Perhaps a cottage pie would be an tasty alternative? Hope the week finds you well and happy and definitely not feeling a year older.
    Ali x

  22. Alison Keenan March 23, 2009 at 12:36 pm -  Reply

    Vix – you’re absolutely right – do try it with the branston though, it really adds a tang to it – oh and cheese on top of the potatoe as Carol suggested. Thanks for taking time out to comment. have a good week.
    Ali x

  23. Alison Keenan March 23, 2009 at 12:37 pm -  Reply

    Dear Lynne, Rarely have I seen the outcome of a debate so unanimous! All in agreement Lamb for Shepherds, and beef for cottage. May need a winter warmer for supper this week now the weather’s changed so it’ll probably turn up on my menu once more. Take care and have a good week, and thanks for commenting.
    Ali x

  24. alison keenan March 23, 2009 at 7:40 pm -  Reply

    Hi Gill,
    Having confused your reply with Carol’s comments, just wanted to thank you for taking time out to be so complimentary, and making me feel younger than my new number of years!! You were right though about more mature choices….. shame we don’t have the wisdom in our youth, but then again I wouldn’t change most of it! Hope all is well with you and yours and do keep in touch. It’s lovely to hear from you.
    Ali x

  25. Samantha March 28, 2009 at 10:07 am -  Reply

    Alison you always look fantastic on QVC. Where do you shop? Is there a favourite brand that you can recommend?

  26. alison keenan March 31, 2009 at 9:38 pm -  Reply

    Hi Samantha, Thank you so much for your complimentary message and as far as brands are concerned, I really mix ’em up! I wear a lot of Kim & Co skirts and Beth Terell devore tops on air. Shoes are my weakness, and boots too, and I’ve just got a drop dead ridiculously high heeled pair… I plan to wear them tomorrow. Thanks for writing to me, Ali x

  27. julia roberts April 1, 2009 at 10:51 pm -  Reply

    Hi Ali, as we so rarely get to see each other I just thought I would add my thoughts on the ‘Great Shepherds Pie ‘ debate !! No-one mentioned Quorn! I make a mean shepherds pie with Quorn , onion and diced carrot, topped with forked mashed potato and of course mature grated cheddar. I have sometimes heard ir referred to as ‘Shepherdess Pie’ – I’ll have to make it for you next time you come to stay
    Jools x

  28. alison keenan April 20, 2009 at 11:23 am -  Reply

    Hi Samantha thank you for your kind compliments. I tend to frequent small boutique type shops, some in Harpenden, some in Berkhampstead, and a couple in the Kings Road in Knightsbridge. It’s amazing what you can find there. Kim and Co’s range are great for their skirts and trousers on air, and I’m hoping to get a few dresses from Tiana B too both of course are lines here at QVC. Sorry i can’t be more specific! Have a good week,
    Ali x

  29. Alan Harrison April 29, 2009 at 1:36 pm -  Reply

    Hi Alison,
    Shepherd’s pie was originally named because they used the shepherd in it, so would you really eat a shepherd? Some meals are named after the ingredients, what we eat we should really give a lot of thought to, cottage pie is with minced beef but the only one that i’ve seen is with potato and then cheese on top and some sliced tomato, if you really do your research you would not entertain some meals, i personally could not eat lamb.

  30. alison keenan May 1, 2009 at 11:14 am -  Reply

    Hi Samantha, Did try and send a reply a little while ago, but just to reiterate, I tend to seek out little boutiques in some of the villages near where I live, so I don’t end up wearing the same things as the other female presenters! That said, Kim and Co’s skirts and trousers are fab on air as they are incredible comfortable to sit for long periods of time in and I’ve got my eye on a couple of Tiana B dresses too. I also own, at the last count, four Centigrade coats and one Dennis Basso mac… all fab! Have a great weekend and thanks again for writing.
    Ali x

  31. Jan Riley May 27, 2009 at 10:00 am -  Reply

    Hello Alison,
    I just wanted to say I watched you on the bedding programme the other evening when you wore a beautiful beige dress with long or maybe three quarter sleeves which looked so lovely on you and then again this morning with the Liz Earle programme you had on a green and white spotted outfit which was simply gorgeous. Are you allowed to tell me where you bought these two outfits because they are both very much my kind of clothes and I adore dresses too.
    Hope you dont mind me e.mailing you.
    I just think you are the perfect person for QVC. Your sales technique is second to none. Keep up the good work.
    Best wishes from Jan

  32. gary July 25, 2009 at 8:44 pm -  Reply

    hi im not sure what milestone you hit on your last birthday,but i was watching you last night on the treasures of india show, and wow you are a stunner!
    enjoy the summer

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