Geeses and Eggs

I keep putting off talking about the geeses and lambing time, because I haven’t any pictures at the moment. The weather has been too miserable and fraught for good pictures. But let me just tell you about the geeses.

We now have four: Gander and three geese. One of the geese is Blueleg, from the second half of our first batch. One is from the 6 we carted home from Mytholmroyd in two buckets in the back of the car, and the last is possibly one of our two hatchlings from last year. I have no idea which gang Gander came out of, but he deserves his own mention.

Gander stands proud guard over his harem, always on the watch, while the ladies nibble at the grass, chatting. He lets himself eat too, but he has one eye on the world all the time.

Himself lets them out (when he remembers) and puts them to bed most days, since they live on his site and he’s there more. He tells tales on Gander, but I think they reflect more on him. The other night, Gander apparently climbed the trailer’s back door as Himself closed it. He was clearly an alarming and impressive sight. He’s never done that with me.

He spends a lot of time hissing at me, telling me to go away, but it’s all posturing, nothing more. He’s never nipped me, bashed me or done anything else. He doesn’t want to. He has to posture in front of the ladies, even though he knows (and they know) that I don’t pose a threat.

I suspect Himself has jeered at him many times. Gander has to then make a real effort because he’s being belittled.  Okay, maybe not that, but there’s something very male testosterone about the relationship between those two.

I admit I cheat. I take the geeses a little something; cabbage / cauliflower leaves, a scoop of grains. This is probably the real reason Gander doesn’t hate me. He knows I represent nice things. When he sees me arrive, he either flies shrieking down the compound, ladies in tow, or he marches them down: “One two, one two, one two!”

We’ve now got 30 eggs either in the incubator, or waiting to go in. Eleven this week! Although the geeses came and shouted at me when I took the most recent batch of eggs, they didn’t even check the nest immediately. Just marched over to their feed tray and ate grains.

On the way home, some of the eleven tumbled out of their straw bucket after it fell over going round a bend. I have no idea if they are okay or not, so I’m bringing them up to room temperature before putting them in the incubator tomorrow.

Wish me luck, please.

Interviewed again!

So today, as anyone who gets my Twitter feed will have realised, was my interview with Johnny Worthen, venerable author and gobshite of deepest Utah. It was fun seeing the questions he was asking, but hellfire, it was hard thinking up the answers.

I wished I could have been as smart-funny as Tammy Maas, and Erin Britt but t’was not to be. I do tend to panic when someone turns the spotlight on, and I even had to go through my entire book to work out who got killed, because I couldn’t be sure I’d remembered them all. Hardly spontaneous, but still fun.

It was very nice to be asked questions and not to be interrupted halfway through the response.

Thank you Johnny!


Who Cares What Katie Ate?

I know. It probably sounds like some kind of professional jealousy, but it isn’t professional and I’m not jealous. Sure, I blog about food a fair bit, but I wouldn’t define myself by that. Katie, from the famed What Katie Ate blog, is a professional foodie. She does photoshoots and even, I suspect, television. I can’t – and wouldn’t try to – compete.

I get her blog (when she can be bothered to write it – sorry, I mean when she has time throughout her busy, television camera imbued life) in my inbox, but there’s nothing about it to make me want to open the email and see what she’s written.

Today I did that, and now I wish I hadn’t. Her entire post was about how busy she has been as a professional foodie and how she simply hasn’t had the time to create lovely food, test it, mess with it and then type it up. Sorry, Katie, I expect you’re a lovely person, but we all have busy lives, and their minutiae as to why everyone else is less important than you are quite boring, just like yours are. It’s like when a ‘professional’ explains that they haven’t done something because life is treating them so hard. It’s annoying. You don’t care why, you just want to know when. Same with Katie. I don’t care why, just show me the food!*

Oh, and by the way, her food does look amazing, but there are an awful lot of ingredients and different flavours sometimes. Makes me wonder if you can fully appreciate the combinations when there are so many conflicting, fabulous flavours to comprehend.

*This coming from someone who blatantly hasn’t had time to make food and photograph it. But then, as a foodie I don’t claim to be professional.

Level 3 Panic Warning; or, Cooking up a Panic

From what I can tell, blogging gets in the way of writing (my new novel), and work gets in the way of life. Add in there a few insecurities, miscommunications, and stick in lambing time for good measure, and you’ve got a nice, stressful base.

The tangled mess of modern life can either be organised – fairly strictly – so that everything has a time slot; or it can be left to mulch into a squelching wet mass. Sometimes it looks like roadkill.

It’s almost a recipe: take one tired person, two Weetabix, half a pint of milk, a strong coffee, an effervescent vitamin tablet and 330ml water. Shake. Transfer onto a baking tray, make it prove itself for about 8 hours in a tepid, air conditioned atmosphere, then give it a roasting for 40 minutes at 220 deg C. Transfer into warm, fuzzy clothing, switch on a flashing, noisy box in the corner, and that’ll keep it nice and soft until you want to use it. Not that it’s clear what it’ll be good for after all that. Too long in the fuzzy clothing, and it’ll go off its game. Miss out the last part of the process and something may grow (and that’s not necessarily a bad thing – remember penicillin?).

The media have been on about this for years. It’s some kind of culture-trap we’ve fallen into, this idea that there’s no time for anything and that everything should be quick, easy and accessible. But it isn’t. But we think it should be. Of course there’s no time for anything if you sit in front of the TV every night. (More people do this than actually admit it. I can’t prove that, but I observe the defensive reply that ‘the TV is hardly ever on’ from nearly everyone I meet (those that don’t know me) after I say I haven’t got a TV; as if there should be guilt attached to the association. As if. I openly stare, unashamed, at the ever present box in other people’s houses. I love TV and sometimes miss it, but it’s a time killer and mustn’t win.)

‘Time killer’. See what I did there? Look at the language used now: ‘grab a sandwich’; ‘hit deadlines’; ‘kill time’. How violent it is. And fast.

It’s easy to understand how people can become nervous wrecks through being exposed to the constant panic of time running out. Stress anywhere – even if home is a happy place – permeates your reactions to outside stimuli, like parents, children, choir practice … Even in your comfort zone, there’s no protection from its effects.

At least one of the entertainment devices used to reduce the stress probably induces it further by propagating the so-called ‘culture’. Even if you’re not a rampant consumer blown by the winds of buy-and-sell, you’re still bombed every 17 minutes with half-baked utopias sponsored by mobile phone companies and banks. More, if you use the internet regularly.

The world will never really be like that. Those utopias? Bullshit cooked up by a ‘creative team’ in a ‘breakout zone’ in an otherwise corporate office, but everyone knows that, right?

We’re all thick skinned and media savvy, trying to reject such blatant begging for our custom. We on purpose refuse to compare our lives to the dramatised ones on the goggle box. But what we don’t realise is that underneath our thick skins we’re already in a panic. Not only is our world not idyllic, but we’re running out of time. If you don’t keep up, you might never catch up. If you can’t afford it, you’ll never fit in.

Giant bills from massive companies, with the threat of prison if you’re too poor to pay (but not poor enough). No news is good news, especially if it’s national or international. Weather reports are now characterised by the alarming ‘weather warnings’ on a scale of 1 to 5. Doesn’t leave you much room for the inbetween variations of weather. A sudden overnight snow storm of wet, sloppy stuff – vanished by 1pm – gets a Level 3 warning. What does that even mean? What about the documentaries telling tales of the disappearances of species and habitats – whose fault do they usually put it down to?

All this, without even mentioning the demon ‘convenience’ food. More panic when uncaring people fed us something without our knowledge and we couldn’t do a thing about it. What if it hadn’t been horsemeat? What if it’s something else?

The ‘culture’ doesn’t just promote sales. It promotes hazardous panic and unpleasant stress, subtly, subliminally, and without ethics. Welcome to Britain.

Parkinson’s Law and A Very Specific Writer’s Block

Today, someone very kindly held my hand virtually throughout a job that he had given me. I feel very lucky and relieved, and I hope I did a good job.

My confidence was utterly thrown by being given an opportunity (*sigh* why does that happen?), and my hang ups about the subject area also came into play. Every word was squeezed out, like blood from stone, drip, drip, drip. It was agonising and frustrating, because I felt I was missing a trick that would allow the words to flow; the subtle disparity between what I was inclined to write, and what the client wanted.

I am many things, but subtle isn’t one of them.

Something else I noticed: I needed to be finished by 8pm to set off on my bed shift. I had about 1000 words to write.I’ve written that much in under an hour before now. I worked on it solidly from 1:30pm to 7:55pm, an unbelievable 6 hours. Is it coincidence that I finished at just the ‘right’ time or did I manifest that? Did I subconsiously know?

Or is it further proof of the existence of Parkinson’s Law: work always expands to fill the time available?


Murdock’s Mocha Cake

Even without a particularly sweet tooth, sometimes you can just feel like a cake, can’t you? I love coffee flavoured sweets and cakes, but I know it’s not for everyone, (and there are people I am compelled to share cake with) so I made a coffee cake (with ground almonds), with chocolate butter icing, swizzled with runny chocolate icing and scattered liberally with toasted pumpkin seeds.

As I was making it, the mixture split at the egg stage, and the curdling remained even after I added flour, so I wasn’t expecting great things. It was a nice surprise when it came out perfectly cooked and moist.

Set oven at 180 deg C (possibly 350 deg F, dunno). Weigh three or four eggs -as close to 200g as you can get. This means removing them from their shells and weighing their liquidities.

Match their weight in butter and sugar – cream these together; mix in the eggs one at a time (don’t dump them in all together and then over mix them, trying to get the lumps out!); and finally sift in the same weight of self raising flour.

I replaced about half the flour with ground almonds and added some baking powder through sheer paranoia of it not rising, (I hate the taste of baking powder but my love for almonds overpowers that).

Coffee and nuts go together so well. Not to mention chocolate and coffee, and chocolate and nuts. I know that anyway, but Nikki Segnit of The Flavour Thesaurus says so too, so it must be true. So go on, throw about 5 teaspoons of espresso powder/granules into a small cup, mix with warm water until dissolved and add to the cake mixture.

Stick it in the oven in a tin as greased and lined as you care to do. If you do both, the paper peels away more easily. Or, put another way: if you don’t grease it, the paper takes a few chunks of cake with it. Ask me how I know.

Cake pops out of the oven 35-45 mins later; mine was a bit wobbly on top, but surprisingly it didn’t sink, and when I stuck a knife in it (I’ve lost my cake skewer), it said it was done.

The chocolate butter icing is 4oz unsalted butter, soft, and 8oz icing (confectioner’s) sugar, creamed together (stick blender time!) with 4 very heaped teaspoons of cocoa powder. It isn’t shiny like the photo seems to show.

Spread it roughly on the top – be generous, go right over the edges.

Make some ordinary runny chocolate icing – so much cocoa, so much icing sugar, and enough water to make it run. The runnier, the better. Drizzle that across the top of the butter icing in lines or swirls or whatever.

I toasted a handful of pumpkin seeds on 180 deg C for about 10 mins. I thought it would have looked nicest if I could gold leaf some of the seeds, but who does that? I was after a nutty flavour to top it with, but nuts are expensive (and have you seen the price of pine nuts?!) so toasting the seeds and sprinkling them on the top (along the sticky brown icing lines) was a smart budgetary thing to do – a cheaper alternative – and gave a strong flavour to break through all that cloying icing.

The result was a rich but not over sweet cake (made with soft brown sugar, by the way), topped by an icing so rich it’s a megalomaniac, and little green nuts.

I give you … Murdock’s Mocha Cake.

If I could change anything, I would put more cocoa in the butter icing.

Murdock's Mocha Cake

*I’ve noticed my recent cakes look a bit puddingy in the photos, but honestly, they’re not, and I would admit it if they were. This one was moist, but the texture was perfectly cakey.