Education double dactyl

The first line of a double dactyl is supposed to be gibberish, like hickory dickery or jiggery pokery.


Ofsted improvement plan
Nicola Morgan was
Rather mysteriously
in charge of schools.

How did this lawyeress
End up at the helm of
This ship of fools?

I last got excited about double dactyls in 2008, which is a rather horrifyingly long time ago. I blogged here, here and here on the subject.

Fun with mascarpone

I somehow ended up with a surplus of mascarpone after buying a second tub forgetting I had the first. It keeps quite well but the last has just had to be discarded with blue furry bits. Here are some ways I’ve been using it, with nary a tiramisu in sight.

For a good old while I’ve been making vanilla mascarpone as an accompaniment for dessert instead of cream, custard or icecream. It’s astonishingly delicious and easier than homemade custard.  Just slash and scrape a vanilla pod to get all the tiny black seeds out and beat into a small tub of mascarpone with two tablespoons of icing sugar.

In 2009, a Lib Dem colleague suggested we should make lemon curd as something we could make and sell at Nottingham’s Green Fest. I duly did, and it was rather a pain and quite expensive. Smaller jars might have been a way of getting more money out of the endeavour since I found it took a pound of sugar and six eggs just to fill two empty Bonne Maman jars.

Anyway the reason for reproducing this story here was that the colleague who suggested I make it ended up buying a jar and reported back a lovely idea to use it in a simple dessert – she mixed the lemon curd with the same amount of mascarpone and used it to sandwich shop bought mini-meringues.

The same simple mix makes a delightful simple cheese cake. You can even make it with shop bought lemon curd, and make it in small quantities – so cheese cake for two – by making it directly into recycled Gü pots or shot glasses or espresso cups like this lovely set found in a charity shop when we were staying in Scotland for my brother’s wedding and used exclusively for desserts ever since.

Chocolate mousse

(pictured here on the old kitchen floor, as presumably at that point after making chocolate mousse, all of the available surfaces were covered in saucepans and whisks and bowls)

Mary Berry makes something similar using a ginger biscuit base.

Having successfully deployed the lemon curd / mascarpone mix sandwiched in meringues and as a simple fast cheesecake, I started to wonder if it could be mixed in other ways too.

Returning from Brussels last year I invented a recipe for a speculoos trifle – and blogged that recipe here.

Working further on the same idea and feeding a friend who does not like a dessert to be too sweet, I wondered about mixing the mascarpone 1:1 with bitter marmalade with thin cut shred.  This was… interesting. I piped it into shot glasses and instead of making a buttery biscuit base, I just scattered a biscuit crumb – speculoos again – over the top. Even for my friend’s savoury tooth this was not sweet enough. The bitterness of the marmalade did not quite overcome the sourness of the cheese and it was an interesting, not entirely unpleasant, but not brilliant flavour.  If I make anything like this again, I will sweeten it with icing sugar, I think. I was also wondering about how you could incorporate chocolate as chocolate and orange is a classic flavour combination. You could microplane chocolate into the mix, or include chocolate chips.  Dark chocolate would be a fab flavour to consider, but the multiple sources of bitterness from chocolate, marmalade and mascarpone would need something to lighten them.

What are you favourite ways of using mascarpone?

Homebrew… disaster?

Annie Gray suggested on the Kitchen Cabinet making basil wine and gave instructions here on her blog.

I had a go at it a few weeks ago and  have had a demi john sitting and bubbling in front of the telly right in front of me.  I carefully sterilised the demi john with brewing powder before adding the sugar syrup and basil leaves, but as I did so I wondered about whether the fresh basil leaves, harvested from a supermarket plant, would stay the course of the brewing process.


And of course they didn’t. They are now a festering morass of mould sitting on top of a pale green liquid with a yeasty mess underneath. This could have been avoided, I think, if I  had just boiled them with the sugar syrup, as that should have been enough to kill off anything nasty.  Similarly, it’s odd to have a recipe that only half fills the demi john. Why not simply double and fill up the space?

Is this normal? Should I throw it out? Siphon the liquid out carefully and strain?

(I don’t have a more recent photo because the camera on my phone has stopped working😦

Slightly more optimistically, the crab apple tree in the garden is looking highly healthy.


So I had a go at this recipe for crab apple liqueur – basically halve and steep in vodka and sugar.





This has very quickly turned a highly satisfying deep ruby colour and as the weeks pass, the apple halves are slowly sinking down the kilner jar.

Nutribullet banana loaf

With a little help from Mary Berry I have been making a banana loaf most weeks for the last two months or so. Since my Nutribullet lives on the counter it’s quite tempting to use it for other things, and making cake is definitely something it can do.  Even with the blender available to me I have found myself overoptimistic about how many bananas I can eat in a week.

I prefer my banana loaf less plain than the Berry version, so here is what I have been making:

Wet/blitzable ingredients
100 gr melted butter (using melted not softened makes the nutri vessel easier to clean)
175 gr caster sugar
2 eggs
2 bananas
1 other fruit – pear or apple?
good splosh of milk
generous teaspoon of mixed spice

Dry ingredients
225 gr SR flour
2 big handfuls of sultanas
a good sprinkle of nuts, eg walnut pieces, whole shelled hazelnuts
glacé cherries if you have them

Preheat the oven to 180 deg / 160 fan.

Line a 2lb loaf tin – I use Loaf Tin Liners.

Put the dry ingredients in a bowl.

Blitz the wet ingredients in the nutribullet.

Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir well. Pour the batter into the loaf tin and bake for an hour.

Check after 45 minutes. If the cake is browning on top but still moist inside, cover with tin foil to stop the crust burning.

If after an hour the skewer is still not coming out clean – this is a moist, heavy cake, after all – turn the oven off and allow it cool with the cake still in.

The same fundamental method works with other fruit, not just bananas. I’ve tried a pear and chocolate cake by substituting three pears for the bananas and adding two tablespoons of cocoa into the flour.

Since the nutribullet means you can blitz any fruit into a liquid, rather than mashing bananas with a fruit, you can turn pretty much anything into a cake.  On much the same basis that you can hide vegetables you don’t like in a nutribullet with fruit you do, you can also put vegetables into cake this way.

I don’t see the need to use baking powder as well as SR flour – too much and you end up with a cake that gives you heartburn.

Solar panel performance – 2014 and 2015

Forgive me reader, it’s been over two years since I last blogged the annual performance of my solar panel.

Solar panel performance 1/1/16

A photo this time rather than a screen shot as since I upgraded my computer I have been unable to re-download the software that would allow me to connect my new computer to the controller. This is rather annoying because I paid extra for the computer control facility.

Rather suspiciously, the controller reports almost identical kWh outputs for the last three years.

I will estimate it as 3,800 kWh per year. 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 5.19p/kWh, since if the water were not heated by the solar panel, it would be heated by gas.

That means the solar panel gathered around £197 of energy in each of 2014 and 2015.

The running total to the end of 2014 is therefore £1,187 and at the end of 2015, £1,384.

September will see the ninth year of operation. When it was installed, we needed to put in a new hot water tank which was bigger than the old one, so the installers had to demolish my airing cupboard to fit it in. In the nine years since, I have yet to sort it out.

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.”

French and German weather haiku

I wrote these last year in July as we were approaching a weather topic.

My aim was for Y7 students to make sure they understood them, then translate them into English, then fiddle with them until their English versions also met the syllable pattern to be a haiku.  This proved incredibly hard to explain!

Looking again at what I wrote after 9 months have elapsed, I still quite like them.

The ultimate aim is for students to write haiku of their own in the target language. This is a stretch for many.

Working with haiku in French and German is something I first did on teaching practice and is not really something I have managed to embed.

Please let me know what you think of these haiku – especially language errors, should you spot any.

En avril, il pleut
La pluie mouille la terre afin
que toutes les plantes poussent


Soudainement, la
pluie s’arrête. Puis le soleil.
Un bel  arc en ciel


Coup de foudre et
Le ciel de nuit s’éclaire
Des gouttes de pluie tombent


Quelques mois sans pluie
Des grandes fissures dans la terre
Temps de secheresse


L’hiver s’approche vite
L’automne est déjà parti.
Les arbres sont nus.


La planète congèle
Le lac et la rivière
Sont durs comme le plomb.


Die Klassenzimmer
ist so heiß wie ‘ne Wüste.
Ich brauche ein Eis!


Bald ist es Winter.
Die Bäume sind total nackt.
Herbst is schon vorbei.


Winter gibt es Schnee.
Frühling und Sommer, Regen.
Nur Herbst ist trocken.


Während des Tages
hat es heute geregnet.
Ich will draußen geh’n.


Heute morgen – Schnee.
Der Schneefall mag ich gucken.
Weihnachten kommt bald.


Schwitzen und streiten,
Beim sonnigen Wetter kann
Nichts gut herauskomm’n


Regelmäßig kalt.
Ohne Mantel nicht ausgeh‘n!
Handschuh‘ braucht man auch.

2014 in review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here's an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 16,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 6 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.