Disaster cakes

Preheat an oven to… what was it last time? I think I did it at 180 but I can’t remember if that was too high or too low? Try 160 just to be on the safe side

Weigh three eggs, and add the same weight of fat, self raising flour and sugar to a bowl. I use vegetable oil to save having to faff with getting butter to room temperature without melting it, at a fraction of the cost and without too much taste compromise. I was supposed to be using caster sugar but somehow someone put granulated in the caster pot last time it was refilled so I suppose that will have to do.

Zest a lemon – cripes, that one’s in a bit of a state, oh well, it’s what we have. Joe Public won’t be able to taste it by the time it’s cooked – into the mix and stir until well incorporated.

Spoon the batter into 12 cake cases, realising towards the end that whilst this mix usually does 12 easily, this time it looks a bit hit and miss and there’s only really enough for 9. Oh well, the first six were a bit over full and will probably spill in the oven so I can spoon two tea spoons out of those into the remaining cases. Oh drats, the case came away with the batter and now there’s bits of cake mix all over the tin. That will be a bugger to get off later.

Cook for I dunno 15 minutes? 20?  Check they’re not burning after 20 but they’re nowhere near done so turn the oven down, or maybe up? after that and put them back in. They’re done when a skewer – where the heck have all my skewers gone? Oh there they are – comes out clean.

Leave to cool while you watch Only Connect.

Put a pointy nozzle in a disposable piping bag and place inside cocktail shaker. Spoon in a few dollops of home made lemon curd. Pff, yes of course shop bought will do. Pipe the curd directly into the centre of the cupcakes with a firm pressure and oh god there’s lemon curd everywhere, all over my hands, oozing over the top of the bag, and out around the nozzle instead of through the hole at the end.

Neatly use a teaspoon to cut holes in the remaining unruined cakes and spoon the curd in before placing the top of the cake back on and hoping the crumbs don’t make too much of a mess.

Juice the lemon you zested earlier and add icing sugar to make a fruit icing. Not that much icing sugar you dolt! Eek, this is very firm, it won’t spread at all. Oh, well, it will be fine. Normally it’s too runny anyway. Spoon the icing over the cakes taking care not to… oh… the bit you cut out might come away a bit. Yes, there will be a horrid mix of icing and crumbs and it will look awful.

Garnish with jelly lemon slices, which for no good reason are not on sale in Sainsburys any more and don’t seem to be found for love nor money anywhere other than Evil Amazon. These jelly lemon slices were actually ordered before the summer holidays and have been sitting in my pigeonhole for six weeks, but they don’t seem particularly harmed and are still well within their date so meh.

Select six of the least worst looking cakey horrors and pack them in a box for work tomorrow.

Disaster cakes

What I read over the summer (tl;dr 7 crime novels)

Nothing that isn’t crime fiction or magazines!

I am currently working my way through several series of novels on my Kindle as a way of absolving myself of what to read next. No agonising decisions, just the next one in one of the series. Most of what I read fit that criteria.

I am particularly liking Evil Amazon’s new (?) thing where they have a page with all of the books in a series, in order, so you can check what you have and whether you’ve missed any. I am even still at the start of some of these series so have many hours of reading pleasure ahead of me.

In a tent in the Peak District, instead of going on a rainy walk, I finished P D James: A mind to murder. I loved the period detail – the bureaucracy of how a clinic used to be organised, and little details like the building the crime takes place in still needing its own switchboard and operator with potential for eavesdropping.

I began C J Box: Three Weeks to say Goodbye and finished it on my sofa when I got back. This is not part of Box’s – Joe Pickett novels, but a standalone thriller in which bad people try and get back an adopted child. It’s a thiller with the page-turner impulse brought in through one average guy’s attempts to protect his family and the lengths he will go to do so.

Whilst camping dahn sarf my old Kindle failed – the buttons became unresponsive. This has happened to me before but has been fixed by charging. In the field, this wasn’t possible as I was camping without power.

I did take a paperback with me for just this eventuality (in fact I have been carrying it around for ages, and it has somehow in my bag got food mushed into the pages and the front cover. A raisin, I think. I hope.) so the next book was a classic. Raymond Chandler: Farewell my lovely. Part of the Phillip Marlowe series, but I am not sure if I have read any of the others. I suspect I have them on a shelf somewhere. It took a number of pages to get used to the old slang used, but as is often the case, after a while I read so fast I am not puzzling too much over new words. I guessed an important part of the plot a page before it happened – perhaps just because of a slightly clunky plan. The stated reason is not quite enough to invite character X to character Y’s flat – there must be another dénouement afoot.

I couldn’t quite resist pre-ordering and reading Sue Grafton: X pretty much as soon as possible. I think for each of the previous 24 books I have waited till the paperback edition, but in the early days I was many years behind the publication dates. Now I’ve caught up I want to read them as soon as I can! This was in my view a return to form for Kinsey Millhone, without extended passages in the third person, but a narrative almost entirely from Kinsey’s perspective, in which she solves a number of cases, not just the main one.

Sara Paretsky: Blood Shot was next up, slightly out of sequence as for a minute I couldn’t find Bitter Medicine on my new Kindle. It was there so I went on to read that one too. The V I Warschawski series also has some patterns emerging. Almost any documents that get removed from somewhere and left in her flat or office will lead to a burglary. She also takes an awful lot of beatings. In book 5 of 17 she has been routinely injured in the course of her work, including this time a facial scar, that by the end she must be in a seriously bad way.

The new Kindle is lovely. I realise it’s just a machine to make me funnel more money in the direction of Evil Amazon, and there are alternatives available. Some even waterproof! But I have a lot of unread books on the Amazon system already and it just works quite well, so in the end I stayed with them. Now… what to do with the old, probably broken 2010 Kindle Keyboard device?

My final title here – although it is warm and sunny so I am about to head into the garden with the hammock and start another – is a Ken McClure / Dr Steven Dunbar novel. I found the first of these by accident a few years ago- in fact I can remember reading them on Kindle on my own on Shell Island, so that must have been the holiday I took immediately after losing my council seat in 2011. I don’t recall ever talking about them with anyone or hearing about them from anyone else, but they’re brilliant. They follow a former SAS doctor and his exploits with the Sci-Med directorate, a secret home office body that lends technical support to local police forces out of their depth with scientific or medical issues. Eye of the Raven starts with a detailed deathbed confession from a convicted psychopath of a rape and murder for which someone else is already imprisoned on dead certain DNA evidence, and explores how it might be possible that the DNA evidence is not all it could or should be.

Found poetry

This is a piece of writing from the website “Streetlife”

It reads to me like a poem. I wonder if that was the intention.

It was formatted exactly like this in the original.

Credit: Ali R

I do running in sherwood ,
but With the Dogs who’s
Owners, have let them off there leads,!!
it’s difficult
Surprisingly Friendly! but intimidating when they jump up snarling and barking
At Me
When 1 go’s another one comes!
its like a b***dy incestation!

I am particularly fond of the cracking malapropism “incestation”.

Parkrun #3

A personal best today at Forest Rec where I shaved 8 seconds off my previous PB!

I can’t get my head around how I achieved what I did the first time I did this.

My personal achievement this time was about the amount of time I spent running vs walking. It’s always my target to keep running without a break for ten minutes, and that is usually a significant challenge. I think it’s much more a mental problem than a physical one. My breathing is fine these days, the asthma is no longer a problem at this stage (I even forgot my inhaler this morning), I’m not cramping, my legs don’t hurt. I just can’t keep running.

This morning I managed a wopping twenty minutes of running before first breaking to a walk. Never done that before.

Looking at the splits afterwards I was pretty chuffed too – three of the KMs were roughly the same at 7mins, the final amazingly under 6mins (half of it is downhill, which helps). I deliberately start really slow and end up at the very back of the pack – but I am pacing myself well and keeping reasonably steady. My earliest 5k had wildly different times for each different split. Is this what you are supposed to do?

My second parkrun

In May 2013, I found out about Parkrun, in April 2014, I did my first timed 5k at the Forest Rec. So now it’s clearly time for my annual three mile run!

Last week I planned to go to Colwick, which somehow technically is my home run, even though the Forest is closer. I got my running clothes ready so I could grab them quickly and get out of the house; I made sure I didn’t drink too much, I got an early night, and I set an alarm for the only day of the week I can usually get a lie-in. I then spent the whole night tossing and turning and being woken by cats and at about 6am I felt so miserable I turned the alarm off and resolved to sleep through the morning.

This week I was still watching TV at midnight, I had had at least two large gins, but felt properly tired after an extremely busy week and as soon as I hit the sack I was in deep sleep. Which meant I woke without an alarm just before 8am feeling refreshed and able to bound out of bed, find the clothes I had not set out and head off to Colwick with plenty of time to spare.

I have once recce’d Colwick to try and work out the parking and start line arrangements as it is much less clear than the Forest Rec and might involve paying for parking. But although I vaguely knew where I was going the free car park I was trying for had a locked barrier on it and I had to park in the street by the racecourse. Walking around the park I got completely disoriented and ended up walking past the 2km marker with 15 minutes till the start time – in other words, I was halfway around the course and had to turn back. I ended up having to run a bit to get to the start in time. The whole point of Colwick is that you run around a lake – so the only short cut back to the start is a little bit damp!

The event is huge – well over 200 runners. Lots of very thin, very well equipped people. I’m not sure if I was grumpier by the time I got to the start, but it didn’t quite feel as nice as the Forest. The team and officials were welcoming and professional but no other runner spoke to me. At the Forest, there were lots of chats at the start line, and I had a nice talk to a lovely lady in the later part of life who told me about her continuing battle to get under 30mins, even though she ran every week.

My reason for trying Colwick as well as the Forest, even though the Forest is closer, cheaper and easier, is that the Forest has a very hilly section you have to run twice! Colwick is definitely flat. This week it was windy and dry and the paths were compact. It is apparently famously muddy.

My focus in the 5k is running further at the start – keeping going for longer before I break into a walk. I can now routinely run a whole mile on the treadmill, sometimes in around 8mins. I can run a 10-minute mile without really losing my breath. But yesterday in the field I didn’t quite get back to the 2km marker without stopping for a bit of a walk, mainly because I had already run a bit in the other direction!

I did complete, in 37’21”. Despite the lack of hills, my time increased slightly, but I definitely comfortably beat my awful Spooky Sprint time. I can’t possibly see myself ready to do a 10k if the Parkinsons event happens again.

Parkrun has lots of interesting ways to crunch the data, so I know: I came 209th out of 229. Only four men were slower than me, most of the people who finished at the same time as me were older women. There was one nice moment when I overtook a walking woman close to the end and called out “only 400m to go!” (which I knew because I also had the RunKeeper app running, the curve of the course means you can’t see the finish from the last KM) she replied “Oh really? is that all?” and managed a sprint finish. 373 men my age have run that course, and only four of them have EVER run it slower than me.

Now my knees are giving me grief and I’m not sure if this amount of knee pain means a) I have just used them a bit and it will be fine or b) I am on track for a sports injury and should stop running. I don’t meet the threshold for seeing my GP about it, according to the NHS website.

I will definitely run Parkrun again. I can’t guarantee it will be next week and I can’t promise it won’t be a year till I get around to it again!

One piece of interesting news the team passed on: yesterday was the day Park Run ran in France for the first time.

The next wodge of 8×5 cards for my Zentangle card index

Over the last month in quiet moments I have made more cards for my index box. The children are beginning to use them and occasionally contribute cards themselves. We had a session where they tried to create a tangle, with varying degrees of success.

The popularity of my club varies wildly, with a classroom full of children on, erm, lunchtimes when it rains and when it is close to freezing outside. Presumably by the summer term I will have no students at all.

An initial thought when starting to make these cards was that when I had enough it might be interesting to scan them and turn them into a deck of cards. There are printers on the internet that can take a set of artwork and print them as 52 playing cards, with or without suits and numbers, for a small sum – the more you print, the less it costs per deck. I think one of the famous blogging CZTs sold a deck of cards in her Etsy store, but didn’t ship to the UK. I think this would be fine for personal use but if I wanted to sell them (eg to other UK teachers interested in the idea of a Zentangle club) it would be awfully complicated from a copyright point of view.

One final set of info before we progress to the tangle designs: here are some sources of information for people wanting to find out more, including the students who come to Zentangle class.

Zentangle.com – where it all began. Now you can buy equipment, sign up for the newsletter, read the blogs, and learn new tangles as soon as they are published. You can be inspired by the worldwide community of tanglers.

Tanglepatterns.com – the most comprehensive and organised list of tangles on the internet, along with regular updates and a huge list of suggested string patterns. Well worth the couple of dollars to pay for the PDF index to all of the patterns the author knows. You can use this index for inspiration (eg she suggests printing on card and cutting out all the tangles and putting them into a scrabble bag) or as a reference when you have seen something and are trying to work out its name and how to draw it.

Zenpopper.com – As I write, the main website is suspended. Hopefully it will be back soon. But their youtube channel is still going strong. They have a hundred or so videos showing you how to make the patterns. Perhaps this will make it easier for some people to understand how to make one of the tangles, rather than the step-by-step instructions? I do like the speeded up, machine drawn versions – some of the other hand drawn ones lead me to getting a bit distracted by the state of the manicure. The main website includes a random machine which produces three tangles to use today, if you are struggling to make your choice. I particularly like the sort of stalagmites in their header image, and I can’t work out a name for that pattern, although I think I can see how to draw it.

The Diva’s weekly challenge – The Diva is a CZT with a blog. Every week, she makes a suggestion for people to use in their own tangling, and over the week, a hundred or so people draw a tile to her suggestion. Full instructions are always given, including on how to publish on the internet, and it is fascinating to see how people interpret the same thing differently. I showed the challenge to my students one week, and we all learned how to do “Unbatz” (see below); the following week they asked to see what the current week’s challenge was too. AS yet, no-one has completed a tile within the week that can be shared.

Anyway, without further ado, here are the new cards for my index box:










Knightsbridge variations






Strings - ideas





Solar panel performance – 2013

Another year, another desperately late solar panel performance post. It’s been sitting on my to-do list since January 2nd, but at least writing this will let me tick off something today.

solar 2013

2013 has an ever so slight edge on 2012 so we’ll estimate the kWh as 3,800. Sadly once the year is over the more detailed records are not accessible through the controller app.

Nottingham Energy Partnership have an Energy Costs Comparison table. I neglected to look at it last year, so will have to use the data from last month now to estimate the financial value of the heat we got from the sun. I use the gas rate of 4.19p/kWh, since if the water were not heated by the solar panel, it would be heated by gas. Interestingly this is the lowest price for gas since 2009, according to my records.

That means the solar panel gathered around £159 of energy last year.

The running total to the end of 2013 is therefore £990 and will clearly top a thousand pounds next year.

There are all sorts of flawed assumptions being made to come to that figure, so take it with a fairly large pinch of salt.

If you are considering a solar panel of your own, whether for hot water or to generate electricity, and you live vaguely near Nottingham, do please get in touch with Sungain at Nottingham Energy Partnership, who would be delighted to let you know what to do next. You can also follow them on Twitter, and they also have a very helpful service on their website that lets you compare your electricity and gas tariffs and see if you can save money.

Buckets more information about my own solar panel under this link.

And a declaration of interest: I’m on the board at Nottingham Energy Partnership, where they very kindly describe me as an “energy expert.”