Pastry. Gah.

As it’s the Season of the Pear and I have a couple of dozen of them to shift, I’m dabbling in whatever pear-based recipes I can find. Today was “Pear and blueberry tarts” and “Pear and Black Pudding Pies”.

The recipe for Pear and blueberry tarts was an adaption of one from “Long Nights and Log Fires: Warming Comfort Food for Family and Friends“, as featured in a 2009 edition of the Candis magazine. Book seems to be £1.92 on Amazon. Hmmm…

Cooking the pears and blueberries in the syrup was easy enough. I rolled out a block of puff pastry as I didn’t have a sheet of the ready-rolled and cut it into 6 instead of 4 as there seemed to be more area than I’d expect from a roll. Each square was piled up with syrupy fruit and put into the oven. The syrup and fruit left in the saucepan was incredibly tasty and didn’t go to waste (on top of a couple of scoops of ice cream). Meanwhile, in the oven, it became apparent that there was a LOT of moisture in the topping and purple puddles started forming. So I ended up with cooked fruit on uncooked, flat pastry squares which had puffed up only at those edges which weren’t weighed down with fruit. Would have probably worked if I’d let the fruit drain more before putting on the pastry and maybe not so much of it. Also, maybe you can’t do a straight swap of pears for apples without compensating in some way. I’ll give my effort 3 out of 10.

Next was an attempt at making pear and black pudding pies, as demonstrated on the Food Network by Andy Bates. This recipe looked so simple that I really thought I had a good chance of success. And pouring boiling lard and water into flour to make a dough? Why didn’t I know this existed? Even I could do that, surely.

The mixture was easy enough – pork mince, black pudding, pear, sage and nutmeg. Still had some fresh sage leaves left over from another recipe – weird chopping up leaves instead of using the dried stuff in jars.

The dough rolled out well and was soon wrapping balls of filling. I cut heart-shapes out of the spare pastry to stick on the top and made sure to create little steam vents.

Don’t these look lovely? I think I should stop writing and finish the blog post so you think I’m amazing.

I’d put the pies on a sheet of foil and noticed toward the end of the cooking time that there was a puddle around the base of each pie. When I tried to lift each pie, the base would be soggy and stuck to the foil. To try and rectify this, I peeled the bases off the foil and stuck them on the now-upside-down pies for more time in the oven to dry out, which seemed to help.

And, finally, time to test the pies by cutting one open. After an hour in the oven, the pastry still didn’t look cooked through on the top and sides. Also, just tasted like a sausage roll. Most disappointing. Visually better than the tarts so 5/10.

1 – Try to keep the pastry consistent in thickness when wrapping the filling balls. The heart-shapes should have been much thinner as they didn’t help in this regard.
2 – Make more (or larger) steam vents so that, when the one you make blocks up, the moisture isn’t trapped inside the pie.

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Jelly Writers (October 2019)

Jelly Writers
2nd Tuesday of month, 6.30pm to 7.30pm
Jelly Studios, Broad St Mall
A group for adults who want to improve their creative writing. Join us for discussions of writing techniques, writing exercises and critiquing each other’s work. Please bring something to write with and something to write on.

This session was Jelly Writer’s 2nd birthday and this set the theme. Exercises were “Flash Fiction” – very concise short stories (and NOT the same as Slash Fiction, I had to remind myself). There was a twist – each exercise was to re-write the previous story in half the words (300, then 150, then 75 words). The idea was to see if you could maintain the core of the story whilst pruning non-essential content, made all the more difficult as time was limited.

300 words (managed 271 but ran out of time):

Toddlers everywhere. The noise was incredible, Kevin thought. Mothers hovered over then, like protective hawks, waiting for their child to drop whatever they were eating on his mother’s carpet. Or, worse still, pick up something that another little one has left there. Kevin wasn’t happy about this. Sure, he liked his brother but wasn’t Stephen too young for a birthday party? How could he appreciate it? The presents were rubbish and Stephen was more interested in the wrapping paper than the contents. Couldn’t mum start the birthdays when Stephen was five or something? That way Kevin would be older and not have to sit in the corner with a plate of crisps and sausages wondering when he would be able to watch the TV again. His mum had asked Kevin if he wanted to invite a friend from school to keep him company. Kevin replied that there was no one at school he hated that much. She didn’t seem to appreciate how much of a bind it was to celebrate Stephen’s second birthday. Inviting mates to his birthday he could understand as that would be great. But not to suffer with him for a couple of hours in the noise and yelling and crying. That wouldn’t be fair. It wasn’t like mum was going to make Stephen sit through Kevin’s birthday. Why should Kevin have to sit through Stephen’s? Hoping no-one would notice, Kevin sneaked out, pretending he needed to go to the toilet. Maybe his mum would forget he’d left? Fingers crossed, he tip-toed behind two of his mum’s friend and turned the living room’s door handle. And was away.

150 words (managed 136 so half the original word count):

Toddlers everywhere. Kevin thought the noise was incredible. Mothers hovered like protective hawks, waiting for their child to drop whatever they were eating, or, worse, pick up whatever food some other child had dropped. Kevin liked his brother but wasn’t happy. Why bother giving Stephen a party when he’s too young to appreciate it? The presents were rubbish and he was more interested in the wrapping. Why not start when Stephen was five so Kevin would be old enough not to have to sit in the corner eating crisps and sausages. Kevin had been asked to bring a friend for company but there was no one at school he hated enough for that. With a sigh, Kevin decided to pretend to go to the toilet and not return. Just sneak behind a couple of mum’s friends.

75 words (Nowhere near – 99 words this time):

Toddlers, toddlers everywhere. Such an incredible noise. Mothers hovering like protective hawks, waiting for food to be dropped from hands onto the carpet. Kevin watched from the corner where he was eating crisps and sausages. Why bother giving Stephen a party he was too young to appreciate? Why not wait until maybe his 5th so Kevin didn’t need to be there? Mum had asked him to bring a school friend for company but there was no one there he hated enough. With a sigh, Kevin decided enough was enough, sneaked behind two of his mum’s friends, and was gone.

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Jelly Writers (September 2019)

Jelly Writers
2nd Tuesday of month, 6.30pm to 7.30pm
Jelly Studios, Broad St Mall
A group for adults who want to improve their creative writing. Join us for discussions of writing techniques, writing exercises and critiquing each other’s work. Please bring something to write with and something to write on.

This month the exercises are List Poetry. I don’t think I really got the idea but here are my two time-constrained attempts. One is a list of places I pass and the other is a sequence of events.

On the theme of “where we are“:

In through the doors of steel and glass
And shops selling mobile phones I’ll pass
On to the moving steps I’ll speed
As passers-by fulfil their shopping need.
At the top, turn left at Wilks ((Wilkinson’s))
The Post Office goes by as free
to reach Jelly.

On the theme of “someone moved in across the road“:

“Pickfords” in large letters drives past.
And stops.
A blue Renault pulls up.
The drivers confer and survey the house across the road.
Passengers appear from both van and car.
All huddle together, looking first at each other and then the green door at the end of the short garden path.
And they wait.
Mobile phones are consulted
Nothing seems to be happening.

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“Just write every day of your life. Read intensely. Then see what happens. Most of my friends who are put on that diet have very pleasant careers.”~Ray Bradbury

Here’s an attempt to do so. Four pages written in a note book whilst we travelled somewhere.

“We’re here. Time to get off.”

“But I don’t want to get off here. I’m not ready. Can’t we go round again?”

“No, you’ve done that already. You’ve got to get off this time.”

Steve gently propelled her towards the open doors and onto the waiting platform. Moths fluttered around the bright cob-webbed lights hanging from the ceiling. A man stood waiting in the shadows cast by the coffee shop awning. She nervously approached him, and offered her hand in greeting. He quickly accepted and grunted welcome. Steve looked up and down the platform.

“Just you this time?”

“Yes, just me. You should be grateful I’m here at all.

Jilly looked towards Steve and frowned. Pleasantries over, the man started walking, off to the exit and the car park beyond. A black cab with the ‘Taxi’ light off but engine idling sat nearby, the driver staring intently at them. The man opened the passenger door and gestured inside to them both, following them in when they were settled. Without prompting, the driver slipped the taxi into gear and moved away from the kerb. The man sat facing the travellers on one of the fold-down seats, feet set far apart to balance the driver’s enthusiasm.

“Are you ready for this time? Really ready?”

Jilly looked away and stared out of the window at the empty shops going past. Steve responded for her.

“Of course she’s ready. She has to be. We wouldnt be here if she wasn’t. Would we, Jilly?”

She turned from the window long enough to give a weak smile that convinced no one. The taxi speeded on, the driver whistling tunelessly as he steered between the pot holes. The passengers rode in silence until the taxi reached a theatre, unlit and locked, in between plays. The driver waited for everyone to get out before driving off, switching the orange light on as he did. After walking round the building, to the stage door, the man pulled a bunch of keys from his jacket pocket and quickly let the others into the theatre. A cat glared at the intruders from the comfort of a worn sofa outside the manager’s office.

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The ethical use of numbers

The local LibDems annoy me, or rather whoever writes their leaflets does. The writing style is often an attack on the Conservatives – obviously not necessarily a bad thing but it always seems so negative an approach; it can look like you have nothing good to say about your own efforts so have to resort to slagging off the opposition.

A recent leaflet went a step further and decided to just straight out distort numbers to try and show Labour were not worth voting for in the area if you wanted to evict the Tories.

Doesn’t Labour’s portion of the vote look tiny? The Conservatives look like having three times the Labour vote! Not surprising as this is a bar chart missing a vertical axis starting at zero. Classic way of cheating with graphs.

And doesn’t the LibDem vote look really close to the Conservatives? Almost neck and neck. Except that that is where the LibDem bar should be if they had 760 votes. As there is no scale on the left, you can’t quickly see that what’s been done.

The real graph should look like:

As you can see, Labour is still in 3rd place but not miles behind. Similarly, LibDems are in 2nd but not right behind the Tories. And that’s on a 45% turnout.

I expect that whoever produces this leaflet thinks that the end justifies the means. I would prefer to vote for an ethical party, though.

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When does the train leave?

I have a range of times to leave the house for work:
8:50am for the train; 9:00am for a bike ride; 9:15am for a drive.

I’ve just got my bike back from the amazingly helpful husband of a work colleague who fixes bikes ~for fun~ ! The seat needs adjusting from the cloud-scraping height it was set to during repairs so I can touch the floor but I’ll do that another time.

So I set off at 9:00am for the train… After waving goodbye to Sue, and waving goodbye to Sue, and waving goodbye to Sue, I check my watch and realise I have 3 minutes before the train is scheduled to leave.

Praying to Jon Lockley, the patron saint of delayed conveyances, I starting running (a.k.a. gently jogging) to Earley station.

I am impressed with myself in that I managed to get onto the train as the guard’s whistle went and didn’t collapse in a heap of laboured breathing.

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DIY the JB way

Now that Samantha has moved out, her bedroom has been requisitioned as an artist’s retreat by Sue. The wardrobe therefore needed to be converted into a materials cupboard. The truncated metal broom handle that Samantha’s clothes were hung from was removed but the little shelves to the side were left in place. This meant a large squarish gap to put shelves in. Should be a piece of cake – square shelves secured to wooden battens.

“John, do you have a number of sheets of wood in the loft that could be conveniently cut into square shelves?”
Oh, yes, several.
“And lots of pieces of wood to use as battens?”
Must be dozens.
“Will this occur to you or will you drive to Wickes for supplies?”
Couldn’t you have asked before I got in the car?

Whilst in the loft looking for tools, and admiring the several sheets of wood that have been there for a number of years, I spot some adjustable metal shelf brackets that had been donated to us by Helen some time in the distant past. I no longer need the batten wood…

“John, will using the metal brackets make the job harder as you will now have to cut notches into the back of the shelves so they reach the wall, and also drill holes for bolts?”
Yes, but look – adjustable!

Hmmm. The bolts will need to quite long at the back to reach through the wood and out the hole in the bottom of the bracket. Longer than any I have in my “random DIY bits and bobs” box. I’ll buy some from Wickes. Joy – the thread is too wide to fit through the holes. I’ll now buy some long M5 bolts, washers and nuts from people on the Internet as even Screwfix couldn’t help.

“John, will you go for a simple square cut shelf or instead try a curved front to fully use the difference in depth between the left and right sides?”
A curved front will optimise the surface area and let me play with the electric jigsaw cutter thingie in the loft.

Which I can’t find so I’ll use a ropey hand jigsaw instead. And when I do find the electric jigsaw, I’ll realise that the Black & Decker workmate with its clamps will be essential. Of course, the workmate is in the loft as that’s where I used to do DIY – bags of space, no problems with mess and the rafters are boarded over. Perfect for woodwork. Also perfect for storing years of accumulated stuff so now insufficient space to even erect the workmate. Pretty sure it can’t fit down past the loft ladder either. My, hand jigsaws are fun and so easy to keep straight. Luckily I have some rasps to smooth out the bumps and dips.

“John, will the cardboard template you have used have any allowance for slight imperfections in the walls?”
But I like planing things down to size. And trying to orientate them around shelf supports into tight fits. And back out again to remove a few more microns of wood. Why are sawdust and wood shavings so tricky to get out of carpet?

After a little searching, I have found the charger for the bright LED torch. Aha! I can now see where I put the bloody rasps! Note to self – sawdust is much easier to clear up from kitchen lino.

Job done – only took a month or two…


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