Interviewed!

This is me on Susan Dorsey’s blog (you know, author of A Civil Death, A Discriminating Death, and the soon-to-be-released A Haunted Death) .

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Smartphones are the Devil

My Search for a Smartphone that is not Soaked in Blood by George Montbiot

What gets me about this article isn’t the point he’s making. I understand a little about the malevolent conflicts around the mining of precious minerals in parts of Africa. A very little. But he is writing it from a NOW point of view.

What leaps out at me is two-fold: firstly, it seems that politics is using companies’ business positions to leverage politics and policing. It isn’t surprising that the companies are resisting it, but there’s no reason why they should be allowed to handle what is effectively stolen goods or goods obtained through force. No ordinary person would be.

Secondly, I’ve recently learned about Hanlon’s Razor.

Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.

Can anyone explain to me why it is that all these new technologies, communications devices and fancy games consoles need to use rare minerals and metals anyway? Why has no one started inventing things that work differently? What is wrong with the people running the mining companies, do they not realise that it will run out?

Of course they do. They don’t care. Why would they? They’ll either just sell up and move the business to something else, or they’ll be worm food anyway, so why does it matter to them what happens to the earth.

You would hope that those companies are financing technology research into inventing a completely different method of communication; not just making a quick buck out of twenty years of mining a rare mineral, but how stupid would that make you?

Maybe the best we can hope for is that they work out how to artificially create the same mineral compounds before they use everything the earth has to offer.

Makes you wonder.

Good Cafe Tip: Truly Scrumptious, Kendal

Amid the melee of half a day’s work, a visit to my mum and dad, the handing over of the first goose eggs to a more experienced, better equipped hatcher, and helping to feed seven pet lambs, I managed an hour’s lunch with a lovely lady at a very nice cafe near where we used to work together.

Truly Scrumptious is an attractive cafe in Stramongate, Kendal (Cumbria, the centre of my world). It’s got a slightly Continental-but-in-London look about it (though as we’ve established, it’s 271 miles north of London), pretty things adorning the walls, mixed up pink, cream and yellowy tones, blackboards along the longest wall. There’s even the odd bit of gingham in the shape of a bunting flag or two. That’s right: it’s a cafe with bunting. Indoors. Very nicely done.

Truly Scrumptious Truly Scrumptious, KendalIt’s also got the number of tables right. They’ve shoehorned about ten or eleven square tables into the space, each with at least a capacity for two people. What this creates is that noisy, busy atmospheric that Italian restaurants are so good at producing (it isn’t Italian, though there is pasta on the offer). It can be a bit awkward getting round people to sit down, but elbow room is plentiful once you are seated.

Their food is lovely but I found it surprising that they hadn’t changed their menus. I don’t think there was even a Special which was a new idea. Since I started going to them in April 2012, their blackboards have always boasted cheese tortellioni, lasagne, cottage pie, chicken liver pate, something with goats cheese, something with either smoked or poached salmon and cream cheese, and soup of the day. Now, doesn’t that all smell lovely? It is.

Soup of the day is regularly changed. Perhaps that’s partly why my friend always chooses it. Also she knows I don’t do soup when I’m out and her lunch will not be stolen from her. I prefer to eat out on food I can’t or don’t cook.

The main menu is thematic: goats cheese and onion marmalade, smoked or poached salmon with cream cheese, chicken and mango, greek feta and olive. All these are paired with staples of a modern cafe; baked potato and a good sized side salad, or large salad, or theme sandwich with a large salad, and presented beautifully.

The whole format obviously works very well for them. At lunchtime most people just want to get on back to work, or talk to each other. (Not me – food comes first – but I know plenty. Some of them are my best friends.) Knowing the menu and trusting the quality helps this.

I think the pleasance of the product offsets any sameness. Everything is nicely designed and arranged. It’s not always practical  – my side salad needed dumping on my plate before the whole thing landed in my friend’s lap – but it’s so pretty; you can forgive a lot for beauty.

So, enough ramble preamble. Introducing …. Lasagne and salad:Lasagne and salad yum

And Onion Soup with a scone:Onion soup and scone

Top two images C/O Google

 

 

Dull Weather Soulfood

There are many ways to get through a dull weather Cumbrian day, and one of those is to make something that hints at spring and summer. I know that’s corny, but it’s true too.

Onion Tart (nicked from Nigella and tampered with) with Avocado Salsa 

Onion tart with lancashire cheese

Starting with the pastry (which is divine, I promise), take 4oz wholemeal flour (you can pretend it is good for you), 2oz cold butter and whizz in the food processor until the butter’s more or less incorporated into the flour. Tip it out into a bowl and slowly add cold water, a bit at a time, mixing it into dough with a dinner knife. On no account do this with your fingers.

Clag it together into a dough ball with your hands, but don’t touch it more than you have to, and tip it immediately into a plastic bag and leave in the fridge.

Yes, I’m saying Treat the uncooked pastry like a bomb. Do not disturb it.

Put the oven on at 200 deg C.

So, then you move on to the filling. Slice at least two onions into rings (as much as possible without losing a finger) and dice a third. Melt about 1 tbsp butter and dash in some oil to prevent the butter burning.

Turn down the heat and saute the onion for as long as you dare before it starts trying to stick (about 20 minutes).

Into the onion mixture, upend a couple of capfuls of brandy (think Nigella used marsala) and an extra splash for luck. Salt it, stir it around. If it’s sticking, turn down the heat.

Take a sheet of kitchen foil and fit it to the inside of the saucepan, touching the onion mixture so it acts as a really close lid. Put the lid on the saucepan.

Cook the onions for maybe ten more minutes, but keep checking them under their cap and give ’em a stir. When the ones on the bottom start turning brown, the others are quick to follow and that’s when they’re cooked.

While the onions are cooking (or after, if you’re the cautious type), get out the pastry and roll it with plenty of flour to fit the dish. (Mine was about 20cm size).

Blind bake the pastry at 200 deg C for about 15-20 minutes. Use baking beans or whatever to keep it flat as it cooks. (Mine is a cake tin that fits perfectly inside the pastry base).

After the pastry is baked, turn the heat down to 180 deg C.

Tip the sludge of browned onions into the cooked base and crack open two eggs into a bowl. Separate a third egg and add the yolk to the bowl – use the white for meringues, maybe?

Beat about 150ml double cream / creme fraiche into the eggs to make the beginnings of a custard. Salt it quite well, grind a sensible quantity of black pepper into it and grate in nutmeg – as much as you think.

Pour the egg mixture gently into the onion tart until it’s about half full, then place it in the front of the oven and pour the rest in, careful not to ship it over the edges. Top it with a bit of grated Lancahire Cheese (not cheddar, it can be way too overpowering – if there’s no Lancashire, do without, it’s the sour taste which is important).

Bake for about 20-30 minutes. It’s supposed to be set but not firm. I overcooked mine, but it was just lovely.

Avocado Salsa

As much avocado as you think, a large tomato with the seeds discarded and sliced as thinly as possible. A quarter of a red onion. A clove or two of garlic, grated into a pool of extra virgin olive oil, and a fair lot of lemon juice squeezed over everything. Salt, pepper. 
The End.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Creative Process, by an addict.

Creative ProcessThis image is one of my favourite ever Facebook pick ups.

I used to think I was rubbish at creative jobs, spending most of the time panicking and crying while working them. This image proves that other people feel like that too. Not necessarily creative geniuses, but some ordinary creatives like me. Someone else drew the diagram. I’m not alone.

It also reminds me that the Deadline can become the end product in itself. Not a good focus. It should be about creating, not making the date.

If I’m under any kind of scrutiny at all during the process, my creativity drops away. So then we’ve got panic mode with no ideas at all and a billowing deadline. Nobody is comfortable in that scenario. Creative jobs of this kind are not for me.

Deadlines don’t just affect creative activity. The Creative Process deadline hell is transferable to Real Life. Everything with a deadline attached is done in the All The Work While Crying Period.

Leaving everything to the last possible minute isn’t a strategy. It’s a mislearned way of life. It’s a two-parter, the false endlessness of the Fuck Off Period followed by panic building into a frenzied burst of activity, sometimes with weeping.

I’m kidding myself that the main rehabiliative step is recognising it. Like an alcoholic saying “I accept I’m an alcoholic, but I can’t /won’t do anything about it”. Recognition isn’t the big deal; the highest leap is to changing the behaviour.

Part of the procrastination this evening was spent making dinner. Mini cheese puddings with ham, and salad. Very tasty. No deadline and therefore no panic. Just food love.

cheese bread pudding with ham

Creative Process Image C/O GraphJam

Carrot Cake Take 2 or Eat It and Weep

Happily, the price of creating edible failures in the kitchen is having to make them again. After all, there’s no way to tell what lessons have been learned without repeating the exercise. I knew when I finished my novel, that even if it wasn’t picked up by a publisher, I would still have to write another, to prove what I had learned.

Bearing in mind the vast quantity of walnuts I ate during the failed experiment, I had to give it a few days before restarting the investigation.

I knew this particular recipe would work, since it is based on the one used by the famous author, Jane Isaac in place of Christmas cake (buy her book, An Unfamiliar Murder, here). She has clearly been through many recipes over the years, in an attempt to find the best ever rendition of her favourite cake, and has taken a combination of Delia’s cake (thank you, Delia) and someone else’s topping. And, quite frankly, if it’s good enough for the elegant Ms Isaac, then it’s damn fine for me!

Except that I can’t use a recipe without altering things. I expect it’s a pathological symptom of some personality malfunction. Dysfunction. Whatever.

Here goes:

The Bastard Child of Jane Isaac’s Carrot Cake.

The number of eggs that gets you as close as possible to 200g eggs (without shells).

The same amount of sugar  (my eggs came to 221g so that’s how much sugar I put in). I used two thirds molasses, one third white. Is supposed to be soft brown.

120ml melted butter (should be sunflower oil).

Whisk the above till you have a smooth batter.

Sift in 175g white self raising flour (should’ve been wholemeal), and make the 221g up with bran. Didn’t have wholemeal.

Also add 3 rounded tsps mixed spice at this juncture.

You’re supposed to add 3tsp bicarb too, but I don’t like the taste, and with the balance of eggs to dry ingredients, it ought to rise anyway.

Fold in and beat like … Like … Well just beat it really hard, you need lots of air in there.

Add in 200g grated carrot, 75g sultanas soaked for so long in brandy, a tablespoon of marmalade and 100g chopped walnuts (should be 175g sultanas, some orange zest and no nuts).

And again, beat like you know what.

Pour into two lined, greased tins and bake for 35-40 mins on a mere 170deg C.

Make a syrup (Jane recommends using juice from half an orange, a tblsp lemon juice and 40g dark brown sugar) out of a scant tablespoon of marmalade, some extra sugar and some water.

When the cakes come out of the oven, stab some holes in ’em and scopp the syrup over.

Topping:

Take one tub of philly, sift about 4 tablespoons of icing sugar in there and about a teaspoon of marmalade. Whip up about 4 tbsp double cream, and fold that in.

Some for the middle, some for the top, not too much (it’s really sweet) and you’ve got a perfect gorgeous example of what carrot cake should be. Not too sweet, not dry, lovely and moist and moreish.

Now feast your eyes:

Carrot Cake

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And the lessons learned regarding the other carrot cake? We … ell … okay, I would guess that flour was the main issue. But that was hardly my fault! Ha. No lessons learned here today!