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Hello and welcome to my Little Willow blog, well welcome to those who might stumble across it anyway as I have yet to give this address to anyone :) I thought I might try and see how I get along with just writing in it first. It's all a lot of random stuff, but hey, hopefully there'll be something interesting for people

Thursday, 30 December 2010

Spelling error

I came across another spelling error today - and once again on a menu! This time it was on an online menu for What's Cooking at the Albert Dock. This spelling mistake was only made once, that I noticed, and it wasn't a food item. Unfortunately I am unable to copy and paste the sentence in but it reads 'Children's Meals are suitalbe for children up to 11 years.' As you can see, the word 'suitable' has been misspelled, or there has been a mis-type. A simple mistake yes but one I wanted to mention (especially as I haven't noticed anything else out there for a while lol).

Restaurant Review - Viva Brazil, Castle Street, Liverpool

My friends and I went to the new Brazilian Restaurant that opened in Liverpool City Centre, Viva Brazil, for our annual Christmas meal.

The restaurant looks like it once used to be a bank, which is Liverpool is highly likely. The decor is simple and elegant and it was a lovely atmosphere to walk into.

This restaurant is a meat eaters heaven - waiters actually walk around with meat on sticks - ok so it's a little more elegant than that but in it's most simple form... :-) You pay a set price and this allows you to eat as much as you like from the salad bar, the traditional dishes and the meat - it is quite expensive but worth it in my eyes.

You initially go up to the salad bar to get your plate and get yourself something to go with the meat. They had plenty on offer - bread, cheesy bread, rice with onions and garlic (heavenly), vegetable lasagna, lettuce tomato, cucumber, pasta salad, amazing deep fried rice balls, a variety of dressings and many more options that I can't think of right now. At your table you have a circular disc (which resembles a coaster) that is red on one side, with the message 'no thanks' and green on the other, with the message 'yes please', indicating to the meat waiters that you do not/do want meat to be brought to you.

The waiter then proceeds to slice the meat at your table, while you use a metal pincher thing to transfer the meat to your plate. On this night we had plenty coming around to keep us from starving including chicken legs, chicken wrapped in bacon, gammon, caramelised pineapple, homemade sausages, beef and garlic beef - though even more is available (approx 15 meats per evening).

By the end of the night, I felt as though I wouldn't be able to move without bursting and that I would never eat again. I would highly recommend this restaurant to anyone and hope everyone gives it a try, it was amazing. I would give this restaurant a 9 out of 10, losing that last star because it is highly priced and the waiting staff could have been a little more attentive with drinks etc.

To go to the restaurant website click here

Sunday, 26 December 2010

Christmas

Hello everyone

How has your Christmas been? Mine has been good but not quite what I was expecting. Originally my oldest brother and sister-in-law were supposed to be coming to visit from Sunday 19th December to Thursday 23rd but then pretty much everyone in our family got sick and they didn't want to catch anything which is fair enough. At the same time, my other sister-in-law Kirsten was taken into hospital with stomach pains, which they eventually learned was due to the new baby's head being stuck under Kirsten's ribs, causing some internal damage and infection. So not a very good time all around, not helped at all by the weather conditions.

My original plans of doing a 'baking present' for everyone ended up flying out the window, which is a shame cos I've bought loads of stuff and was really looking forward to doing it :-( but we were told that Stephen and Mandy might be coming up to visit on Boxing Day (today) but we got a lovely Christmas surprise when they rung and said they were coming up on Christmas Day, so our intended very quiet day turned into something a bit more jovial which was nice. Though it is a shame they will probably miss seeing Mike and Kirsten as they have gone to visit Kirsten's dad and will be travelling home the same day Stephen and Mandy will be leaving :-(

Unfortunately last night, things got worse...we were all rudely awakened about 4am to a cascade of water leaking through the bedroom light in the little room, spilling mostly all over Stephen and Mandy's clothes! Because it had jolted us out of sleep everyone was a bit groggy and kind of stared at the water for a minute then it became action stations and Stephen ran downstairs to get a bucket or something and ended up going flying in the kitchen as the water had all started leaking through the bedroom floor into the kitchen! Not something you need at 4am. We all chipped in and managed to get buckets in all the right places and towels to mop things up as best we could but we had to leave the clothes until this morning - and they have so far been spending the day in the tumble dryer.

I don't think 2010 will go down as the best Chrismtas ever but I suppose you can't say it was boring :-)

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Writing update

Hello again

I've been having a think recently about my writing course and I think I'm going to abandon the non-fiction part of the course, for now at least, and move on to the fiction assignments. As I've said numerous times, I fnd non-fiction very difficult, especially when it comes to generating ideas, it just doesn't come naturally to me. There are a couple of assignments in non-fiction that I would be interested in doing - travel writing and photography but I am hoping to back and finish it all, if only to complete the whole course.

I think what made my decision was when I didn't really want to think about my assignment, because it was hard, I did have a couple of ideas but I couldn't get anything coherent onto the page. Plus, not being a magazine reader, I think, is a bit of a disadvantage as most magazines hold no interest for me and reading through them to find a market was a chore and also a drain on money!

I think this is the right decision for me and hopefully in 2011 I can be more creative :-)

Oh, by the way, I'm really hoping to reach 100 posts by the end of the month, for no other reason than it's a nice, large, round number to finish out the year with. Of course, this means more than one post a day to be able to reach my target, so apologies if any (more) drivel is churned out

Christmas cake - the taste test

So yesterday was my dad's birthday and I decided to use the Christmas cake as a birthday cake for him as he likes fruit cake and originially yesterday was supposed to be our first Christmas Day with Stephen and Mandy.
As it turned out we saw Michael, Kirsten and Ella yesterday as well as Kirsten was allowed out of hospital so they came to visit - more guinea pigs for the cake were my thoughts :-)

It seemed such a shame to cut into it and ruin how it looked, but it had to be done, so I cautiously cut into it and laid out slices for everyone, just waiting to hear the choking sounds from everyone. But everyone seemed to like the cake, myself included - especially as there was no candied peel to look out for! It was a little crumbly which my mum said can be prevented by baking it a couple of months in advance, so I may do that next year :-)

So all in all the cake was a success so I'm very pleased with that

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Christmas Cake

As you all know, I have taken up baking cakes as a hobby this year which I am fully enjoying. So this year I decided to make my own Christmas cake and I finally put the finishing touches to it today. I initially made the cake at the beginning of December and I decided to wrap it up and leave the marzipan-ing, icing and decorating til nearer Christmas. I don't ordinarily like fruit cake much, mostly due to the glace cherries and candied peel (which is just disgusting) so making my own allowed me to improvise and remove items I disliked and include those I did - i.e. cranberries which I hope will make a nice addition and it remains very Christmassy.

So today I dragged the cake out of its hidey hole and got to work. I must say at this point I did cheat slightly and buy ready rolled marzipan and icing - I figured making and decorating the cake for this year was challenging enough. One thing I should have read carefully on the boxes though was the size of the cake they covered - 20cm and my cake is a larger 23cm - but I made the best of it without having to trek up to the shops through the snow for more.

Marzipan'd
For the marzipan, it doesn't matter so much about presentation as it will be covered with the icing. So firstly I placed the cake on the marzipan and cut around it, thereby producing the top - easy done. The next bit was a little harder as the remaining shape was like a crescent moon, when it would have been more ideal to be a long rectangular shape which could then be rolled around the side of the cake -but no such luck :-( I did the best I could and even shmooshed some of the marzipan together and rolled it out and cut it to the shape I wanted (ish). I then took all the marzipan off so I could stick it down with apricot jam! Despite these challenges, I managed to cover the entire cake - thereby finishing step one.

Iced
Now the next step was to be a little harder as there's no way you can just stick random pieces of icing all over the cake to plug little holes. In a very ungainly fashion I picked up the circular piece of icing and plonked it on top of the cake. the icing only reached part of the way down the sides of the cake, but I thought I'll deal with that later and get on with smoothing it out. So I tried smoothing it down but didn't find a good way to do it without causing some pleating but I did the best I could to smooth these pleats out. I managed to smooth the icing a bit further down the sides of the cake, leaving only a small amount of icing free cake at the bottom but I decided this was acceptable as no-one would really be looking at it from that angle anyway :-) Plus it's a first attempt, it's not really meant to look spectacular - I didn't want to show off and look like a pro my first time out :-p

Glittering
Next came the fun part - decorating! I had purchased some white holographic edible glitter to play the part of snow - and it played its part very well indeed and sparkles every time you move you head slightly. I then decided to make a little bit more icing and craft a snowman - my very first modelling attempt (I even bought black food colouring for the occasion!). I managed to do the head and the body (although to be fair, I'm sure a small child could do this). It was a little more tricky doing the small intricate bits like the eyes, nose and buttons. I firstly used my newly purchased black colouring to create the eyes and buttons, which I used more apricot jam to afix to the snowman. Now unfortunately I couldn't find any orange colouring so I made do with a mix of yellow and red which came out red. The nose was the most difficult part of it and I'm still not really happy with it - from certain angles it looks like big red lips haha :-) but never mind, it'll do, I couldn't do any better with the materials I had (couldn't possibly be down to my crap modelling skills hehe).
So starts the decorating...

The next thing to do was to add a variety of the Christmas style toppers that I purchased, along with others I was given for my birthday. Firstly I used a template and red glitter to put a lovely red bow on. I then added my inedible purchases to the middle of the cake - A Merry Christmas sign and 2 pieces of holly, as well as a cute little robin which I placed next to the snowman. From there on it was a case of putting lots of different things on the cake, hopefully in a fashion that made it look nice and not overcrowded - I did use some restraint. Also, in an attempt to disguise the missing icing, I places little toppers all around the side of the cake, hopefully drawing people's eyes towards them rather than the bottom of the cake!

The finished cake!

The finished product is to the left and below. I enjoyed every step of making the cake and will be doing it again next year. This cake was supposed to be seen and enjoyed (hopefully) by all my family this year (barring the Americans) but fate has worked against us and Stephen and Mandy never made it up due to everyone in the family being unwell and the weather didn't help either. Michael and Kirsten are also unwell - Kirsten is in hospital with suspected shingles, but they're not really sure. The baby seems to be doing ok though so that was good news. So it will be just me, mum and dad eating it on Christmas Day (probably), although Stephen and Mandy are hoping to come and visit from Boxing Day instead.
Close up

The side toppers









I hope everyone else's Christmas baking has gone to plan :-)

Thursday, 16 December 2010

It Burns!!

I discovered a brilliant invention a couple of years ago called Little Hotties. These are literally little packages of heat that stay warm all day, once activated.
Now, the packages do carry warnings of high temperatures with a chance they can burn you if left next to your skin for any length of time. Usually I will keep the hotties either in my cardigan/jacket pocket or if there are no pockets then in my jeans pocket for lovely cosy warmthness :-) Putting them in my jeans pocket does usually result in a red mark on the top of my legs, but it soon fades away and leaves no lasting marks.

However, yesterday, I wore a pair of new jeans for our work Christmas lunch and I'm now thinking the material of the pockets is much thinner than on my other pairs of jeans as when I went to the toilet in the afternoon and pulled my jeans down, pieces of my skin also came away and left red raw skin there, which let me tell you is extremely painful! I didn't feel this happening at all, I didn't notice my skin slowly burning away.

I spent last night constantly reapplying lovely cooling cream and now have a lovely plaster on it to avoid it getting irritated. Safe to say, I  don't have any hotties with me today. That being said, it won't put me off using them, I'll just take more precautions next time and maybe not put them in my jeans pocket or if I do, wrap it in a few layers of tissues :-)

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Film Review - Skyline

I had been looking forward to seeing this film as it looked like a cross between Independence Day and Cloverfield, two films I very much enjoyed. End of the world disaster movies do appeal to me in general though.

The film, however, was quite weird and even now, a few weeks after seeing it, I still haven't really made up my mind what I think about it. It wasn't what I expected, but I wouldn't go as far as to say it was a bad film, but then again, I also wouldn't buy it on DVD.

It would appear from the trailer that aliens invade Earth but you don't see an awful lot more of the aliens in the whole film as you do in the trailer, it would have been better, I think, to see a little more interaction between the humans and the aliens. The characters are a little weak, in that they seem to behave as most humans in that situation would - they're scared, they try to hide and they try to evade capture, there's no real talk or action towards the main characters becoming the heroes and ridding the world of the aliens, this moment never really comes.

I suppose the best way I can describe it is that it was anti-climactic. On the plus side though, it was quite gory and violent at times and the ending was different and unexpected. It was kind of left open for a sequel, but also finished satisfactorily as a stand alone movie - though I do hope they leave it alone, I'm not sure where they could go with a sequel.

Writing this has made me realise my feelings towards the film are more negative than positive, though I do stress I didn't hate the film, but I doubt I will seek to watch it again.

My rating would be 4 out of 10

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Book Review - The Hunger Games trilogy

The Hunger Games Trilogy consists of the Hunger Games, Catching Fire and the Mockingjay written by Suzanne Collins. The synopsis is Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen regards it as a death sentence when she is forced to represent her district in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV. But Katniss has been clse to death before—and survival, for her, is second nature. The Hunger Games is a searing novel set in a future with unsettling parallels to our present. Welcome to the deadliest reality TV show ever..

I actually heard about the first book on Stephenie Meyer's website (author of the Twilight Saga) where she claimed it was a brilliant book. So I thought since I like what Stephenie writes, I would possibly like what she reads. So I bought The Hunger Games, not knowing it was an intended trilogy and I literally read it in a day - I sat on the futon in my brother's old room and devoured it. Although it's technically classed as young adult fiction, it was still brilliant, as so many are these days.

The story is set in a dystopian world which consists of 13 districts, all of which are controlled by President Snow in the Capitol. In remembrance of an uprising against the Capitol many years previously (which resulted in the destruction of District 13), the capitol puts on the Hunger Games each year. The Hunger Games involves taking 2 children from each District and placing them all in an arena to fight to the death - there can only be one winner. The Games are supposed to serve as a reminder to the Districts, of the Capitol's power.

As you can guess, Katniss is the female representative of District 12. For the Capitol and surrounding Districts, the Games are a source of entertainment, a reality show to be enjoyed, to the point where some of the Districts see it as an honour to be chosen rather than a sick and twisted game where lives are lost. Due to the nature of the games, all the contestants have stylists, designers and make up people to help them through their interviews prior to the Games, all in aid of gaining sponsorship which can aid you in the Arena.

The Arena is different every year with new challenges to face. As the book is targeted at a young adult readership, the book isn't overly graphic, but neither does it shy away from the horror of the situation these teenagers find themselves in. Many comparisons have been made with the Japanese horror story Battle Royale and I would say that some of these comparisons are fair, it's possible the author had either read the story or seen the film and gained inspiration from this. I have seen the Battle Royale films and find enough differences between them to find both enjoyable.

I can't write any more about the story without giving away too much of the plot so I will leave it as it is...other than to say I found the first and second book better than the third, though I loved all three.

Overall I would give the trilogy 8 out of 10

Writing Update

Well how do I update you? I suppose 'what writing?' would be the most accurate. I have to say I've not done very well at all with any kind of writing. I did attempt the NaNoWriMo challenge but unfortunately November flew by and I really didn't have time to write - though I did manage about 3100 words, which was more than I expected, though I would still have liked to have done better - maybe next year? At least I can be more prepared next time.

Also I've not done any work on my assignments, again down to time constraints. I haven't even attempted my next assignment in recent weeks...oops. I'm hoping the break over the Christmas period will afford me some writing time :-) I promise though that I haven't lost interest in writing and it is all purely down to time.

Here's to doing better and also knowing my first New Year's Resolution :-)
Good luck to my fellow writers out there, I hope you're all faring better than me!

Film Review - Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part One

As with most of the other Harry Potter films, I booked my ticket in advance for the opening day - 19th November 2010. I was excited for weeks and the day itself went very fast as it happened to coincide with Children in Need. Me and Carol were booked in to see the 20:15 performance and decided to meet at Frankie and Benny's for 6:30pm and head over to the cinema half an hour before the start time.
Despite going along this early, we still ended up in a big queue! The showing was a sell out but we luckily managed to get good seats.

The critics had said how they felt this film was just there to set up the second part, which I think is a little unfair as the book itself has less action in the first half and more in the second, but you couldn't have the second part without the first. I feel that the action that there was in the film was very well done - the broomstick chase with all the Harry's at the beginning, the end to both Hedwig and Dobby were very sad, the death eaters arriving at the wedding party, Harry, Ron and Hermione taking Polyjuice potion to sneak into the Ministry of Magic and many other points throughout the film.

I was surprised at the amount of humour in it, but it did well to balance the very dark themes of this installment. There were moments were I felt the film could possibly have been awarded a 15 certificate, taking into consideration the death of the teacher and the torture of Hermione. Plus the random naked images of Harry and Hermione - what was that all about? For me personally though, I'm glad it was so dark and wasn't diluted down for the kids.

I very much enjoyed the film and can't wait to see Part 2 - I wanted to just carry on watching and I'm sort of hoping there will be the opportunity to watch both halves in the cinema next year :) There were a couple of moments missing in the film which I had loved in the book, most notably for me was Dudley saying goodbye to Harry and letting him know he didn't hate him - it was told so well in the book, but not touched upon in the film which was sad. I know they have so much to fit in, but I think it would have been a nice addition. One thing I particularly liked that wasn't in the book was where it showed Hermione wiping her parents memory of her and making them want to go to Australia - it was a very touching scene.

I am looking forward to seeing the film again and I award this film 9 out of 10

Monday, 6 December 2010

Baking Review - my birthday cake

It was my birthday on 1st December and despite being told it was very sad, I made my own birthday cake. But I wanted to, especially as I had recently purchased the giant cupcake silicone mould I wanted to try out.

So the day before I had all the ingredients ready to go and used a sponge recipe courtesy of my friend Melissa. As it turned out, I had to make a second batch of the mix as the mould holds more than you'd think - or more than I thought anyway.

I'm not entirely certain how I feel about how the cake turned out, aesthetically-wise anyway. The cake took a lot longer than I expected to cook through - the outside was starting to get burned and the middle was still like mush for a long time. The burnt part of the cake was easily scraped off without losing too much of the look of the cake. I put a layer of buttercream and layer of jam between the base and the top and then covered the top in buttercream.

I was a little worried how it would taste but I needn't have worried as it wasn't too bad to be honest and did taste quite birthday cake-like. Next time, however, I will add another layer of buttercream and jam to the base as there was a lot of cake and it needed breaking up a little more.

On the same evening I also made chocolate cupcakes from the Hummingbird book to take into work for my colleagues. And for the first time, my frosting worked out well enough to be able to use the squeezy piping thing I have and I was pleased with how they turned out :-)

Spelling error

I've decided it might be fun to write about any spelling or grammar errors I find out there in the world - especially being an aspiring writer, it's good to be aware of these things. Although I imagine there are so many mistakes out there - more than we notice day to day as the human brain has the capacity to read things you expect to see rather than what's actually there staring you in the face, so it's very easy to miss these mistakes.

This one I found was a few weeks ago in an Italian restaurant called Quattros and as you will see from the picture, they misspelled the word 'cheese', writing instead 'chesse'. Now this I did immediately notice but then I did get worried that this was some Italian version of the word but I googled it and nothing was forthcoming so I came to the conclusion that it was a mistake. I apologise that you will have to turn your head to read this as I don't know why it's uploaded like this when it is the correct way up at the source, but never mind, the error is still legible.

I'm curious in a situation such as this whether the restaurant are aware of the mistake, or if it has passed by unnoticed. I imagine that even if it had been noticed, it would be too expensive to replace all their menus just to change this one spelling, which most people will probably read as cheese and not notice as that is what you expect to read after the word mozzarella.

I also have a vague memory of reading a really poor piece of writing with many spelling and grammatical errors and I remember this being in a notable publication - however I can't for the life of me remember where it was so I think I possibly dreamed it :-) Oh well, I will report back if I realise what it was.

I realise writing about spelling and grammar errors leaves me completely vulnerable to getting comments on any mistakes I make, but I am open and willing to hear back on these and will promptly fix as I know I am as fallible as the people who make the mistakes I will write about. In the meantime I hope you enjoy these mistakes I come across.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Children in Need

Pudsey cake
How the year flies by! Children in Need was upon us once again last Friday (19th November). Myself and my colleague Sara decided to organise a few things to do in work to help raise money for this worthy cause.

We planned and executed a huge cake sale - with any cake you could imagine, including cupcakes, cake slices, biscuits and cookies. Everything looked fabulous and the vast majority of cakes were homemade by some lovely volunteers, ourselves included. We also held a 'Name the Teddy' competition (Edward), had a tombola and held a raffle for 2 beautiful pudsey cakes made by another colleagues mum who is a professional cake maker.

Victoria Sponge Cake
I took last Thursday off work to spend the day baking (well half a day) as I had planned to do so many things and pretty much spent at least 7 solid hours baking, frosting and decorating! I made a victoria sponge cake, carrot cake cupcakes, sugar cookies (in many different shapes), chocolate chip cookies, fairy sponge cakes (decorated Pudsey stle with yellow icing and hundreds and thousands) and a couple of "cheat" Betty Crocker boxed cupcakes. So as you can see, I had my work cut out for me! My mum was a huge help -she made all the boxed cakes for me while I got on with the "proper recipe" cakes. I had a fun day making everything though.

Vampire Hayley and Punisher Rob
Some of the team also dressed up for the occasion - some using the open theme and coming as anything and others wearing red and blue, or wearing a Pudsey t-shirt and Pudsey ears. We had a vampire, The Punisher, a musketeer, a goth and an Egyptian, so quite an array of interesting costumes.
Egyptian costume

I really enjoyed getting into the mood of Children in Need and selling the cakes and to top it all off we made an astonishing total of £655.08!!! £100 of this was a very generous donation by one person. Who'd have thought so much could be made by selling cakes??

Chocolate Fudge Cupcakes
Cake Sale
To give you an idea of what we sold, in addition to the above mentioned cakes I made we also had - apple muffins, chocolate fudge brownies, pumpkin muffins, marble muffins, strawberry muffins, chocolate muffins, red velvet cupcakes, chocolate fudge cake, lemon drizzle cake, Tom and Jerry cakes, Christmas Princess cakes, Magic Wand cakes, blueberry cake, jam cake, Shrewsbury biscuits, crunchie cupcakes, fruit cake, gingerbread men, chocolate gingerbread cake, victoria sponge cupcakes. I'm sure there are more that have slipped my mind-  but can you blame me after seeing that list?
Pudsey's Little Helpers


Tombola Prizes
Cakes!





More Cakes!



Sugar Cookies
Last hug of Edward the Teddy






More yummy sugar cookies
Selection of cakes


I hope you all had a good Children in Need day - I think it'd be best if we started organising next year's event now!

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

NaNoWriMo Write in

I went to a write-in thing at Waterstones Liverpool 1 last night where fellow writers from the Liverpool region would congregate to write. Only 4 of us came and I was only able to stay for an hour, but the people I met were very nice and I'm glad I went along. All of them were vastly beyond my meager word count, but they were very supportive and are trying to get me to get to 10,000 words by the end of the month as they think this is perfectly doable. It might be, I don't know, but I can only give it a try -though I do feel slightly defeatist already in that I know how many things I have planned for the remainder of the month, none of which are conducive to writing. But I will try and stay positive and give it a go. I'm just under a third of the way there.

As you will see from my lovely word counter below (or not as I can't get it to work properly :( ), I am now up over 3000 words woo! Triple what I anticipated.

Anyway I just wanted to say that it was nice to meet up with other writers and especially others who are involved in this challenge, even if it did make me feel very inadequate lol

http://www.nanowrimo.org/widget/LiveSupporter/680546.png

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Baking Review - Carrot Cake/Carrot Cake Cupcakes

Today I made some carrot cake cupcakes using a carrot cake (cake) recipe - hence the long name at the top, from the Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook. I thought I would give it a go to see how it would turn out. I used the exact ingredients and method as though as I was making the cake, except for the decorating part (oh and I also removed the walnuts).

Ingredients

300g soft light brown sugar
3 eggs
300ml sunflower oil
300g plain flour
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, plus extra to decorate
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
300g carrots, grated
100g shelled walnuts, chopped plus extra, chopped and whole, to decorate (or just leave this step out)
2 quantities Cream cheese Frosting (or 1 if making cupcakes - or even half as it does make a lot of frosting)

You will need three 20cm cake tins, base-lined with greaseproof paper (if making the cake) or you will need 12-18 cupcake cases, depending on how large you want your cupcakes to be

Method

Preheat the over to 170oC (325oF) Gas 3

Put the sugar, eggs and oil in a freestanding electric mixer with a paddle attachment (or use a handheld electric whisk) and beat until all the ingredients are well incorporated (don't worry if the mixture looks slight split). Slowly add the flour, bicarbonate of soda, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, salt and vanilla extract and continue to beat until well mixed.

Stir in the grated carrots and walnuts (or not) by hand until they are all evenly dispersed.

Pour the mixture into the prepared cake tins and smooth over with a palette knife. Bake in the preheated oven for 20-25 minutes, or until golden brown and the sponge bounces back when touched. Leave the cakes to cool slightly in the tins before turning out onto a wire cooling rack to cool completely.

When the cakes are cold, put one on a cake stand and spread about one-quarter of the cream cheese frosting over it with a palette knife. Place a second cake on top and spread another quarter of the frosting over it. Top with the last cake and spread the remaining frosting over the top and sides. Finish with walnuts and a light sprinkling of cinnnamon.


Frosting:
300g icing sugar, sifted
50g unsalted butter at room temperature
125g cream cheese, cold

Beat the icing sugar and butter together in a freestanding electric mixer with a paddle attacment (or use a handheld electric whisk) on a medium-slow speed until the mixture comes together and is well mixed. Add the cream cheese in one go and beat until it is completely incorporated. Turn the mixer up to medium-high speed. Continue beating until the frosting is light and fluffy, at least 5 minutes. Do not overbeat, as it can quickly become runny.


My variation to the above was I placed the mixture into 12 muffin cases and cooked them for a similar amount of time (20-25 minutes) as the mixture was obviously thicker than it would have been in a cake tin, despite the smaller volume. Don't be put off by the look of the mixture - it is pretty nasty and definitely reminds you of something you'd rather not think about when looking at food - especially as there is carrot in it...

You could easily spread the mixture into more muffin cases as these ones came out huge and considering I'm making the next batch for Children in Need, I'll be doing about 15-18 instead as obviously we need more cakes to make more money!

I had a bit of an issue with the frosting - it was too thin, despite me beating it for no longer than 5 minutes, as told. The frosting didn't look particularly thin, but when it was put onto the cupcakes, it started running down them a bit :-(
I've discovered that frosting is my weakness I think, I can never seem to get it right, especially when it comes to wanting to use the piping squishy thing I have to put the frosting on with, it just never works right and I'm not exactly sure what it is I'm doing wrong to be able to fix it. Just keep trying I suppose.


The taste test did well though and they are very nice - nice and moist cake and the cream cheese frosting just sets it off nicely

Monday, 8 November 2010

Chapters

Oooh 2 posts in one day, aren't you all lucky? :p

I had a sudden moment of realisation at the weekend when thinking about my Nano story and that was "chapters". Because I have written very little and those stories I have started, haven't got very far off the ground yet, it occurred to me that I don't actually know how to write a chapter - as in, where do I make the break and the end of a chapter generally has to conclude with either a moment of realisation, a moment of dread or a shock, generally speaking anyway. I realised that with my Nano story, I have just been writing away and I then thought what will I end the chapter with and is there an average length to a chapter? I personally prefer reading a book with quite short chapters so I will probably go with that.

As I didn't have much time before Nano to construct a plot or even much of an outline, I didn't consider what would happen chapter by chapter, but i can now see that this would be a useful thing to do and I can understand why writer's do this. Maybe I will try and do something like this tonight? From what I have written so far, I believe I am coming to the end of a chapter. I also can't imagine how many paperbak pages my story so far would have taken up and whether I am actually as near to the end of the chapter as I thought. does anyone have any idea about how many words are per paperback book page? If not, I'll just count one lol

NaNoWriMo - Week 1

Hello all

We're now a full week into NaNoWriMo and as you'll see from my dismal word count, I'm not doing very well with it. To be fair, I've had a few obstacles, the main one being that I haven't been very well, the worst symptom of which has been massive headaches, which I'm sure all you writers out there know isn't conducive to writing. Thinking up plots and characters became a bit too painful, and after having worked all day on a computer, the last thing I wanted to do was go home and switch on my computer.

My other reason is that I seem to have suddenly become popular and my time has been required elsewhere, away from my story. It's probably the busiest I've been in a while, which is just all happening at the wrong time! lol. I've been to my book club and movie quiz - both of which I did know about in advance but still it prevented me from writing. Although I have to say, the time I spent in Caffe Nero prior to my book club was well spent and got me started on the novel trail.

I also had a family thing on this weekend, 2 of my brothers I don't see often (one lives in Cambridge and the other in America) were both home and I did feel it more important to spend time with them, which I'm sure some of the more serious Nanoers would disagree with lol, but I'm just happy I've already reached my said target of 1000 words.

I do aim to improve my word count though, hopefully drastically, but it would seem that there is a plot against me as more of my time is required over the next couple of weeks, some of which were organised before I'd even heard of Nano and some of which are newly made plans that I would still like to do. I am free tonight though and completely forgot there was a write-in at the Waterstones in town :-( I would have liked to have gone along and met some people from the Liverpool region forum, but there's always next Monday. Looking at the weather, I'm kind of pleased I will be going straight home though! But, aside from watching Dexter, I will attempt to dedicate my evening to my story and hopefully progress it further.

good luck to all taking part...

Monday, 1 November 2010

NaNoWriMo Day One

Wow, this has come about so fast and we're already at the end of Day 1. And what a day it has been for those participating. I've just been on the website and there is an overall wordcount from everyone taking part and just after 1 day of writing, almost 55 and a half MILLION words have been written! There have been some busy bees today. I imagine the rise of the word count will begin to slow down in a couple of days as people's lives take over or they get stuck with a plotline.

I used my time in Caffe Nero wisely tonight and wrote 440 words in half an hour and was very proud of myself as that is almost half way to the amount I said I would aim for in the month. So after my book club, I typed up the words I'd written and then carried on the story and have ended the day with 1078 words written! I feel very happy with that and all those words from just over an hour of writing - so imagine what could be done with a day off work! Not that I have any in November unfortunately.

I uploaded my word count onto the website and was very excited to see that it did translate onto my little word count widget in the previous post. I am however going to repost the widget on each post about NaNoWriMo so no one needs to go looking for it.

The month has started well and I'm pleased with my word count, but it does make me want to go and write some more now (but it's bedtime) so I hope that I haven't peaked already and this will be the best I do. I would appreciate people asking me how it's going and if I've been getting a good word count - purely as a motivational tool.

Sunday, 31 October 2010

Pre NaNoWriMo

So today is Halloween, the spookiest day of the year; although for a slightly different reason this year for me. Tomorrow sees the beginning of NaNoWriMo. The idea fills me with dread, as well as excitement. I'm very much looking forward to having a go and seeing what happens. As I've said in previous posts, I have no intention of reaching 50,000 words as I know life will just get in the way. I'm already booked up most of this week!

However, tomorrow I should be able to get a bit of a start as I'll be going to Caffe Nero before the book club starts in Waterstones, giving me  abit of writing time. It is suggested, however, that you write about 1667 words a day! That seems like a lot, especially when there are work commitments and social commitments that people have. But I understand the reason behind doing it and I think it is a great thing.

If anybody wishes to sign up, the website is http://www.nanowrimo.org/. It'd be ideal for those who already have a couple of stories floating around in their heads, but haven't put anything to paper yet, especially as it starts tomorrow. There is lots of help and support on the website, which you will find when you join the group from your region. There are meet ups for write-ins and plot plotting etc, and the forum is there to help answer any questions you may have. The general forum also has lots of information on writing for you genre.

Good luck to anyone who gives it a go and I hope that people will be wishing good luck on me also, as I know I will need it!

Below is a word count widget which I'm hoping is linked to the NaNoWriMo website but I have no idea whether it is! But I'll keep posting it on new blog posts about the challenge so you can see where I'm up to - if I don't please ask me about it, nothing like lots of people going on about it to you to motivate you!
Happy writing :)

Monday, 25 October 2010

NaNoWriMo update

I think I have an idea for NaNoWriMo, which is a start I suppose. I won't go into much detail here but I will say it involves me doing a bit of research into Ancient Egypt and the gods and goddesses, which is quite interesting to be honest :-)

I only have a basic outline for a story at the moment, well not even a full story just the beginning of one really which pretty much sucks, but I'll keep working at it and hope for the best :) As I said in my previous NaNoWriMo post, I have no doubt I will fail miserably at achieving the 50,000 word count so I'm aiming for just some words in general and I think I can do that!

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Baking Review - Double Chocolate Fudge Cakes

Hello, I've been baking again - and with my new shiny electric mixer which is very cool (although ssshh it's a Christmas present!), I had to try it out to make sure it worked though of course.

The recipe for these double chocolate fudge cakes was taken from the Sainsburys Magazine October 2010.

Makes 12 (mins made 10 but I had a 6cm cutter)
This knockout gluten free caking recipe is quick to make but looks so impressive.
Prep: 20 mins (took me a little longer as took forever to whisk the egg whites and cream of tartar into soft peaks, by hand that is). Total time: 1 hour 40 including cooling.

Ingredients:
200g dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids), broken into pieces
100g unsalted butter, cubed
4 medium eggs
50g arrowroot or cornflour, sifted (I used cornflour)
175g icing sugar
25ml rum or milk (I used milk)
100g ground almonds (I omitted this)
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
For the icing:
100g dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids), melted
50g creme fraiche
75g icing sugar, sifted
sugared violets or other decorations

Method:
1. Preheat the oven to 180oC, fan 160oC, gas 4 and line a 4cm deep, 20x30cm baking tray with nonstick baking paper. (My baking tray was 24x36 I think - bigger than they say anyway)
2. Melt the chocolate and butter in a large bowl over a pan of simmering water; cool. Beat in two whol eggs and two yolks (save the whiles), then the arrowroot or cornflour, sicing sugar, rum or milk and almonds until smooth.
3. Whisk the two egg whites and cream of tartar to soft peaks (took forever by hand). Fold into the chocolate mixture with a metal spoon until barely combined.
4. Spoon this into the baking tray, smooth the top and bake for 15 minutes until barely set. Leave to cool in the tray.
5. Tun the cold cake out on to a board and use a 5cm cutter to stamp out 24 discs. Beat the melted chocolate with the creme fraiche and icing sugar until smooth (it will split slightly). Beat in a few teaspoons of boiling water (which I just realised I forgot to do!) until the consistency turns satin-like and creamy. Working quickly, spoon a little onto each disc. Stack them two high and decorate with sugared flowers or similar.

383 cals; 22g fat (11g sat fat); 42g carbs; 38g total sugars; 0.0g salt

As I just mentioned above, I completely forgot about adding the boiling water, though the icing didn't turn out badly at all. It would appear from reading between the lines (working quickly...) that even with the boiling water added, the icing starts to harden quite quickly, so you do need to be quick with adding it, don't make it while the cake is cooling and ad it later, I think you'd find you couldn't.

I found that the mixture itself only made about 15 circles, with a 6cm cutter, however, I came up with the ingenious idea of squishing the remaining mixture together and managed to make about 5 more, slightly deranged, slightly crumbling circles. I found that putting then on the top was the best plan as it was nicely restnig on top of a stronger circle and not left to hold everything up.

I haven't actually tried a cake yet so I can't really repor on the taste, though I have tried a bit of cut off cake and it tasted very nice - but may be a bit rich for some people as it's quite a lot of dark chocolate in it overall. My dad liked the cake though. But anyway, try for yourselves and see...

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

NaNoWriMo

Hello everyone

November 1st sees NaNoWriMo start - National Novel Writing Month; a concept first conceived in 1999 in the San Francisco Bay area by Chris Baty, who got 21 people together and they decided they would spend the whole of November writing a 50,000 word novel. A heck of a feat you might think - and you'd be right. Since 1999, NaNoWriMo has gone global with more than 200,000 people now "officially" taking part - those that sign up to the website - there are probably countless others joining in from the sidelines.

I read into this yesterday and really liked the sound of it so I have decided to sign up and try and do it. I don't actually expect to reach anywhere near 50,000 but I think it'll be a good motivational tool to get some words down. The whole point of NaNoWriMo is quantity and not quality - basically just get the words down, don't read over your work and start editing because you'll never get to the finish line. The idea being that even if a lot of those 50,000 words aren't useable, there are probably some gems in there, or ideas to spark off better writing.

I signed up to the website yesterday and joined the Liverpool Forum - woo hoo, people in the actual area I live taking part. There are a number of events scheduled in October and November to get the region through the month. These include meet ups, supply shopping and write-ins. And it just so happens that each Monday in November, the write-ins are in Waterstones Liverpool One and since I seem to spend most of my spare time in there, why not spend a little more? The first one coincides with my book club, so I'll just go to the first half hour and see what it's like, knowing I'll be escaping at 6pm.


Apprently it is advised that you tell as many friends and family as you can that you're writing a novel in November, in the hope that the thought of public humiliation if you don't succeed will spur on your motivation, should it start to lack. I have told a few people but will not be aiming for potential humiliation thank you very much. I've also taken the same laid back approach with telling people as I am here - by stating that I doubt I'll reach 50,000 words, so I'm technically setting myself up to fail already, but never mind I can live with that :) But it would be useful if anyone who reads this asks me from time to time what my word count is, maybe every few days, as a sort guilt trip, if you will.

I bought a little writing kit when I was in America, about 2 years ago but it's pretty much just stayed in the box but I noticed that loads of people were saying on the NaNoWriMo website that they always had their handy copy of 'No Plot, No Problem' near them during November - which just so happens to be the kit I'd bought, so I dug it out yesterday and now realise that I have owned this little kit for 2 years, which tells you all about this writing challenge and is written by the founder of it! I could have tried this out for the last 2 years - I could have been like all those other people on there stating how this was their 3rd NaNoWriMo and how wonderful it was and how they'd "won" at both previous attempts. Ok that may sound a little facetious, but I don't really mean it, I'm just jealous :) It's pretty admirable to be able to write so many words in so little time, especially if you're working and have family and social commitments.

Ok so here is where I need your help people - I have so little time before November 1st and I have no ideas - it's like being told to think of something on the spot-  like when someone says 'say something' -nothing ever comes to mind except 'something'. Now other people doing this challenge have spent months thinking about their plot and their characters etc - although they are not allowed to write any actual words until November 1st, but you are allowed to write notes and work out what will happen in your story. Which is why I can't use any works currently in progress, it has to be something brand new. So if anyone could jump start my imagination, that would be fantastic - I'll acknowledge you when I get my million pound book deal :-p Or even if you let me know what genre you think I'd be good at writing - I'm always drawn to fantasy, but would be willing to explore something else if anyone thinks anything else is better suited.

So now I will sit here and wait for all the comments to flood in...and wait...and wait...

Monday, 18 October 2010

Cheltenham Festival - Day Three (and four)

On my final morning in Cheltenham I had to check out of the hotel by 10am even though my final talk wasn't until 2pm and they wouldn't let me leave my car there until the end of the talk, so I had to go back and pick it up about 1pm so I wouldn't have to pay for as many hours.

This final talk was at the Playhouse Theatre and was How to get published the unconventional way. This talk was a little strange and I'm not sure what to make of it but there were definitely some useful points to take out of it.

I made the long journey home after this talk - which took longer than normal since I left about rush hour on a Friday evening and there were roadworks and the like - silly me!

I drove home, knowing I'd be driving back down again very early on Sunday morning for a second writing workshop which I very much wanted to go to as it was about Writing for Teenagers. So bright and early I got up on Sunday morning (silly o'clock) and set off about 6:45am as I had to be there for 10am and I wasn't exactly sure where the venue was.
I arrived about 9:30am at the Parabola Arts Centre. The lady taking this workshop was Celia Rees a much published author of teenage novels.
This workshop was definitely worth the drive back down as it was very interesting and she directed all of it and gave us all lots of interesting tips and advice, not just specifically on writing for teenagers, but on writing in general and the 3 hours just flew by.

I'd definitely like to win the lottery and go back and do loads of things next year, but the chances of that seem slim to none - but in the meantime, I can dream and I can write...

Cheltenham Festival - Day Two

So on Day 2, I had 3 events planned, one of which was a writing workshop. But my first event wasn't until 2pm again so I could have a lie in - well best made plans and all...I slept really badly unfortunately so was up quite early. I managed to procrastinate a fair amount once I was up though. But I still decided to leave much earlier than necessary so I could have a further wander around - plus I needed to find the venue for my workshop.

I managed to spend more money this day also, but part of it was on a planned Christmas present for my family so it can't be bad :-) and a book on how to write Science fiction and Fantasy. I found the Church very easily so I decided to go and get lunch - in a different Caffe Nero this time and I spent a good long while in there, eating, but also doing some writing and reading and searching online for a variety of things.

The writing workshop was on Writing Convincing Characters with Diana Souhami, which was 3 hours long. I did enjoy the workshop and especially liked that Diana didn't make you read out your work from the exercises she gave us, if you didn't want to and just asked for volunteers - of which there were plenty I can tell you. some people definitely love others out there to know they can write and feel the need to be validated in this, to hear people say, oh yes that was good. Of course all writers want to be published but there are maybe more subtle ways to advertise this? I dunno, maybe I'm the weird one who doesn't let anyone read anything?
The only thing i didn't really like about the workshop was that it didn't seem to have a strong structure and consisted mostly of people asking questions - some very good ones of course, but it felt a bit like we (or rather the people who actually asked questions) were leading it rather than the guest speaker.

After this, I spent a lovely hour in a cupcake cafe, eating a cupcake of course, and also having a read of my newly purchased book of the day. Following this, I went to the talk of the Myths of Ancient Egypt, which was definitely my favourite talk of them all and I really enjoyed it, it was fascinating and I considered buying her book also, but it was £25!!! and was convinced I could probably find it cheaper online and a quick search on Amazon proved me right-  it was £14.49 on there; bit of a difference! The speaker was a lady who teaches the subject of Ancient Egypt in Manchester University and she chose just a few myths but they were all very interesting and I'd like to read more on the subject.

My final talk of the day wasn't until 9pm, so I took myself to Bella Italia for dinner, which was a slightly odd experience on my own, but I've eaten alone in restaurants before, it's not so bad and I didn't really have time to feel alone as they brought my food very quickly.
This final talk of the day was called Horror Stories and there were 2 horror authors there talking generally about the appeal of horror stories and obviously spoke about their own books they'd written and both read a piece from their latest book. Strangely enough, when they said who the authors were, I recognised one of them as being the author of my book, How to write science fiction and fantasy so that was an interesting plot twist :-) so I got her to sign it for me.

Cheltenham Festival - Day One (well my day one anyway!)

Hello all

I went to the Cheltenham Literature Festival last week - well part of it. I drove down on Wednesday and spent 2 nights there at Central Hotel.

I had prebooked everything I wanted to do - well not everything, I could have done so much more and stayed the whole week - when I win the lottery that's one of my plans :) I hadn't booked to see oads of things due to cost, which for each individual talk, wasn't that expensive. but when you add it all up, including the hotel stay, it amounts to more than you'd think/

So on Wednesday I had booked to see The History of Magic books - looking at Grimoires throughout history. which was at 2pm. I'd arrive in Cheltenham just before 12pm and was too early to check in but they let me keep my car in the car park. So I just left my stuff and wandered around Cheltenham, getting my bearings and I picked up a few tickets from the Box Office that I'd bought too late for them to be posted to me.
I found where I needed to be - the HSBC Book It! tent which was a small marquee at the back of the Town Hall, but I was still too early, so I went and had a look around the Waterstones tent they had up, selling books from the author's and actors and comedians who were there during the week. It was here as well that you could get your book signed after an event, should you so wish to purchase it :-)

I went and had my lunch on a bench in the park, which was unfortunately a little chilly but there was nothing to be done about that! Finally it was time for the talk. The tent wasn't very full, maybe about 25 people. The talk itself was very interesting and was looking at magic books throughout the ages and explaining the power various peoples gave to these books. The guest speaker also told of how these books, mostly he mentioned the sixth and seventh books of Moses, were banned, yet still managed to spread throughout cuontries. I did buy this guy's book at the end and got him to sign it - I think it may be helpful with my bigger story idea I have as it involves magic and magic books, so that should help with my research.

My next talk wasn't until 8:45pm that night, so I decided to make my way slowly back to the hotel to check in, stopping in a variety of shops along the way, and not being able to help myself in buying things :) but they had pretty shops! And one thing was a very important purchase - a cupcake Christmas tree decoration. I also stopped in Caffe Nero for a hot chocolate and a bit of a relax and a write - I love coffee shops, they're definitely a place of their own brand of magic - I've yet to figure out what that is though.

The downside togoing somewhere alone is you spend more time in the hotel than you would were you with someone. So having checked in, I made dinner and ate it my room and just watched a bit of TV and played Professor Layton until it was time to leave to go to the Playhouse Theatre. Unfortunately I didn't know how to get there, though I knew it wasn't far but since it was dark and I was on my own, I called for a taxi. This talk was more of a comedy act and was called Fruitcake: the ten commandments of the psych ward. it was a one man show and the guy was telling tales of things he'd experienced while he was a psych nurse (while obviously maintaining confidentiality). It was very good and I'm glad I went although I'm sorry it was at the expense of the Vampires Bite Back talk I'd originally booked to go and see, yet was cancelled :-( that would have been very interesting!

Ah well - on to Day 2...

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Film Review - Buried

The synopsis for Buried is:
"Paul is a U.S. contractor working in Iraq. After an attack by a group of Iraqis he wakes to find he is buried alive inside a coffin. With only a lighter and a cell phone it's a race against time to escape this claustrophobic death trap."

I hadn't realised before seeing the film that the whole film was shot just inside the coffin and the only other people in it were voives on the other end of the phone. uite a brave move for Hollywood to make - could have gone either way; a success or a dismal failure.
Just to slightly contradict the above synopsis, Paul (played by Ryan Reynolds) has also been left with a pencil, a torch, 2 glow sticks and his hip flask. It's quite interesting how the film makers managed to make good use of all these items throughout the film.

The cell phone was of course the most important item he had and it was used to try and contact his family, the American police, the FBI and eventually hostage people working in Iraq, who try to rescue American citizens who have been taken. It is also used to communicate with the kidnapper himself, who gives Paul a variety of demands and promises his release if he complies

There were slow moments of the film, which was to be expecred when there's essentially only one person in the cast but I think the film was very good and there were a few different ways they could have ended the film but I think they chose the best option.

Overall I enjoyed the film and give it a 7 out of 10

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Book Review - The Passage

I finished this book at the weekend - all 784 pages of it - and that's only book 1 in an intended triology. I will also forewarn you that should you decide you like this review and wish to purchase the book, but in paperback form, it won't be out until 12th May 2011 and will be 944 pages!

So anyway, the synopsis of the book, written by Justin Cronin, is
"Amy Harper Bellafonte is six years old and her mother thinks she’s the most important person in the whole world. She is. Anthony Carter doesn’t think he could ever be in a worse place than Death Row. He’s wrong. FBI agent Brad Wolgast thinks something beyond imagination is coming. It is. THE PASSAGE…"

This synopsis and various others on the internet don't really give much away about what you will find in the book. I think there are about 10 "parts" to the book, but 2 major ones. The first 200 pages or so are set in the near future where experiments are taking place on death row inmates. Following on from this, the book jumps ahead approx 100 years and examines the outcome of these experiments. The experiments created a group of "virals" which could be, and are occasionally, described as vampires. They are humans injected with a virus and appear to have longer than normal life and feed on blood and can infect others.

From reading reviews on Amazon, there is a lot of controversy surrounding this book and you will find that each star rating has attracted a large number of people to it. Many of those giving it a low score felt more engaged in the first half of the book, which admittedly did have more action in it, and it was shame to lose the characters you'd gotten to know over those 200 pages. The second half I would say would be most similar to The Stand by Stephen King in style - form what I've read anyhow, and also The Host by Stephenie Meyer. The story revolves around "survivors" and how a group of people live in this new time, when there are very few people still alive who remember the "Time Before". The story follows this group of misfit people throughout the rest of the book as they try to survive in a world of "virals".

I really loved the book and wanted to read it all the time and just wished of a morning I could get the train all the way to Southport instead of getting off at Moorfields, just so I could keep reading! I enjoyed both parts of the book, although I understand some people's frustration with the second part. It's a particular type of storytelling that I think only appeals to some people, whereas I can imagine some people want the virals to have a much more active role, thereby creating more action.

Highest so far, I give this book 9 out of 10

Thursday, 30 September 2010

Stuff

I sat down to watch Castle last night on the channel Alibi and episode 2 of season 2 (Double Down) was showing. Now normally, me watching Castle with my mum would be nothing of note - but then again neither is what I'm actually going to say - but I had to say I really enjoyed it. As a normal Castle episode I enjoyed it, but my favourite parts of this episode were the conversations about grammar, spelling and punctuation. Now, that may sound extremely sad, and you would be right about that, but grammar, spelling and punctuation are some of my favourite and worst things, depending on how they're used.

It's one of those frustrating nit-picking faults that people have. Bad grammar, and the rest, is something which I tend to pick up on and often feel the need to bring up. However, now that I'm writing about it, I do feel a huge pressure to ensure everything is correct on this page and I just know something will slip through - so I apologise in advance and welcome all the comments :-)

But anyway, it made me smile that it was brought up in the show, which I suppose shouldn't be very surprising considering the main character is a writer!
Anyway that was all, I apologise for wasting your time...

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Baking Review - Fast Apple Muffins

Yes guys and gals, you heard it (well read it) - a baking review! I'm branching out - who knows what could be up for review next!

Anyway this is an old recipe which I "borrowed" from Mel at work and photocopied - it was on a cookery card - very old fashioned yet somehow retro cool. Mel had made these and brought them in for our office to try and they were soooo nice so I really wanted to have the recipe which she happened to have on her (convenient wasn't it?). So below is the recipe and preparation followed by my thoughts on how mine turned out, plus other real life people's opinion on it. For the future I will take photographs :) And as you can see I have updated this blog with pictures from my second batch!

For 16 muffins (which for me turned out to be more like 11)

175g (6oz) plain flour
100g (4oz) caster sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
Pinch of salt
50g (2oz) butter
1 egg
75ml (3 fl oz) milk
1 cooking apple, peeled, cored and chopped
2 pieces stem ginger, chopped
40g (1 1/2 oz) walnuts, chopped

Variations to the above:
Omit stem ginger and add a few chopped dates or raisins instead. Use soft light brown sugar rather than caster. Add a finely grated orange or lemon peel.

I personally swapped out the stem ginger for raisins and omitted the walnuts altogether, but kept everything else the same.

Preparation:

1. Heat oven to 200C (400F/Gas 6). Grease 15-16 deep bun tins (or just use cake cases). In a bowl mix together flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Rub in butter finely until mixture resembles breadcrumbs.

2. In another bowl, beat together egg and milk. Add to dry ingredients in bowl and mix together. Stir in apple, ginger (or raisins) and walnuts (or not).

3 Spoon mixture into prepared bun tins. Cook in the oven for 15-20 minutes or until lightly golden, well risen and cooked through. Remove from the tins and cool on wire racks. Serve warm or cold.

Good served with: These are delicious served on their own (mmm yes they are), but for a special treat, cut in half anf sandwich together with butter or cream cheese.

Calories per muffin: 125
Can be frozen for up to 1 month (not sure if that's the muffins themselves or the mixture - I'm assuming the muffins).

So after making these muffins (and using my new muffin baking tray - yes very exciting I hear you say), 6 were gone within an hour so I think they may well have been a success! Usually I make chocolate cupcakes or vanilla ones, both with lots of yummy frosting on the top. These muffins however didn't need frosting I don't think, they had a more savoury feel to them with the fruit in and I don't think frosting would have complemented it very well. I can understand possibly going with their suggestion of cutting it in half like a scone and putting butter or cream cheese frosting in the middle, that would actually make more sense, but I think I will continue to eat them without anything added.

So based on all that I would definitely recommend anyone to make them :-)

Friday, 24 September 2010

Book review - The Brentford Triangle

This book is September's Science Fiction and Fantasy book club book of the month and was written by Robert Rankin.

Now one of the many conventions I have been to over the years had Robert Rankin as a guest and I went along the the Q&A session he did and I have to say he was the funniest guy I have ever seen, he had the whole audience in stitches and if I could buy a DVD of that talk I so would as unfortunately over time, my memory of what was said and done has faded :-(

So anyway, after this convention I went out and bought one of his books - I can't even remember the title now, but it was quite disappointing as it didn't have the same flair as he did in person. But I stuck it out and thought it was ok and I did buy another book, which I don't think I managed to finish as I just wasn't enjoying it, so I wasn't really looking forward to reading this book to be honest.

The Brentford Triangle is technically book 2 in a trilogy but it doesn't appear necessary to read book 1 in order to understand book 2, and I found this to be true. The backcover synopsis is:

'Omally groaned. "It is the end of mankind as we know it. I should never have got up so early today" and all over Brentford electrical appliances were beginning to fail...'
Could it be that Pooley and Omally, whilst engaged on a round of allotment golf, mistook laser-operated gravitational landing beams for the malignant work of Brentford Council?
Does the Captain Laser Alien Attack machine in the bar of the Swan possess more sinister force than its magnetic appeal for youths with green hair?
Is Brentford the first base in an alien onslaught on planet Earth?

Despite the novel being only 240 pages long, it did take me a little while to get through as I wasn't finding it the most engaging book, even though I was desperate to finish it early so I could read one of my own books from the ever growing pile of 'waiting to be read books'. To put things in perspective, it took me 12 days to read those 240 pages, but the current book I am now reading (The Passage by Justin Cronin) has taken me 5 days to read 269 pages - and the day isn't over yet.

I like the tongue in cheek way that Rankin writes his novels, but it all gets a bit samey and too much for a full length novel. I feel he tries too hard to make his characters feel normal and everyday-like. I actually found it a little confusing that he called one character Neville and one Norman, I did at times forget which one was which.

Overall I didn't think too much of it and I haven't even gone in to any details of the book as I can't be bothered going through the story as it just wasn't that great. Although the book did include aliens and strange happenings, I didn't feel it was overly science fiction-y or fantasy, but not sure what I would class it as.

I'd give this book 4 out of 10

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Film Review - Grown Ups

Right, it's actually been a week since I saw this film, so bear with me while my memory tries to catch up - so much has happened since then...like sleep.

The above film follows 5 childhood friends who are reunited at the funeral of their once beloved basketball coach. It is a heartwarming film about life, love and learning new things about yourself.

The film stars Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Chris Rock, David Spade, Rob Schneider as the 5 friends and Salma Hayek, Maria Bello, Maya Rudolph and Joyce Van Patten play their wives.

For the funeral, Adam Sandler's character, Lenny, has paid out for a lake house for them all to stay in. All the friends, wives and kids have their own eccentricities, from Lenny's children not knowing what a CRT Television was and are so spoiled that they text their nanny when they want something. Eric's 4 year old is still being breast fed. Rob has a thing for the older woman, shown plainly in his choice of wife. Marcus is free and single, but completely immature and Kurt is a house husband constantly demeaned by his mother in law.

This time away from their normal lives allows them to have fun and remember what it was like to be young. The family's have their ups and downs and finally reach breaking point near the end of the film, with a lovely happy resolution to end with.

I enjoyed the film, it was easy to watch, with no thinking necessary and sometimes it's nice to just sit back and relax and have a good laugh. There are many funny moments to be had with lots of silly fun. Probably one of Adam Sandler's better films.

6 out of 10

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Assignment 4 - The results

Hello again

I got my feedback for assignment 4 and got another Grade B - I use the word another not in a bad way, just purely in a descriptive way as it is another B - I now have 3 B's, but I'm happy with that, a B is good :-)

I do feel I got better feedback for this assignment, or rather more constructive feedback and here it is verbatim:


(1) Letter to Easy Living
If this was just the straightforward ‘pat on the back’ type letter it first appears to be, it would probably go into a very large pile, since most magazines get many more of this type than they can actually use. However, you’ve also used the letter to refer back to a previously published article – and this creates the very feedback and response that letters pages need for their life blood.
(1) Letter to Sainsbury’s Magazine
Much the same comments go for this letter – although you are also making the point that their policies have helped you as an individual, so you are personalising the comment. This might encourage other readers/customers to write similar letters – thus continuing that process of feedback etc.

(3) Letter to Writing Magazine
The fact that this was printed as the star letter says it all, really – doesn’t it? This is the way to write letters that get printed. Now all you have to do is to concentrate your efforts where cash or prizes are offered in exchange.
(4) Article for Prima magazine
You’ve done your research well here, identifying a specific magazine, its main core of interest and typical readership. Using this information, you have been able to produce an article which is directly geared to those criteria.
I’m often dubious about these ‘do-it-yourself’ craft articles, since many of them either end up looking cheap and tacky, totally impractical or are so fiddly and time-consuming that no-one is ever going to bother trying them out. Here however, you’ve come up with a reasonably simple method of making an attractive-looking, practical gift which would probably be appreciated by many new mums. The step by step photographs are a definite bonus – but you’re probably right about shooting them again with a plain background.

It all sounds very positive, I just need to sort out those photo's for the article and get it sent off and hopefully it'll be a first acceptance! One can only hope - for if there's no optimism, it'll show in the writing and it'll never get accepted. So having hope is good, but also a good dollop of realism helps, so I'm always hopeful an article will get published but I don't 'expect' it. Perhaps if I had received my prize from my star letter I'd be able to find more markets to write for :-p I've won a prize and I want it now lol - how very selfish of me lol.
Anyway, onwards and upwards to assignment 5 - after this I'll be halfway through the non-fiction section and that much close to getting to the fiction bit! keep going, keep plodding on, I'll get there in the end. nd to my surprise I've actually already started on an idea for this assignment, so maybe there won't be a moaning blog looking for inspiration. I just have to find the right angle...