Week 5 of the GBBO and this week it was pastry week. Linda was incredibly excited and then promptly managed to mess up all three challenges, which was a shame as I liked her. But, that’s the way the pastry crumbles. Both me and my lovely wife, Helen, are enjoying this series, probably because the bakers and challenges are a bit more normal. However, no one would ever in their right mind make a pastry cage.
This week the signature bake was Cornish Pastries and the technical bake was eclairs. I have never made Choux pastry and it must have been over 20 years since I made regular savoury pastry. Therefore we decided that my challenge today was to bake some tasty Cornish Pastries.
First up I chopped and roasted some potatoes, carrots, onion, squash and cauliflower, tossed in turmeric, cumin, coriander and chilli powder. Once softened I added some frozen peas and fresh chopped coriander. I then left it too cool.
Next up was the pastry. Using a Mary Berry recipe it came together easily and quickly. While I mentioned that I haven’t made pastry for years, I do often make crumbles, so I knew the basics. The pastry was then left in the fridge for 20 mins.
I then split the pastry into four pieces, rolled each one out, spooned in the filling and tried to seal and crimp the pasties. Again, this is where I came unstuck as they all looked different and only one of them looked good. I had also made far too much filling (or not enough pastry). I egg washed them and popped them in the oven for 25 minutes.
As you can see my egg washing was very slapdash.
The inside did look good, and the pastry was very good, in fact my amazing wife said that it was the best pastry and the best pasty that she had ever tasted. Proud moment for little old me, especially as once again it was my first attempt.
Next week is a first for Bake Off with Japanese week, whatever that means.
American Scream is one of many unauthorised biographies of the late great comedian Bill Hicks. Obviously all biographies will be unauthorised as he died way too young at the age of just 32 from pancreatic cancer.
Bill Hicks was almost unheard of in America, but over here in the UK he was huge. He appeared at the Playhouse in Oxford when I lived there, but I was too slow to get a ticket. Fortunately the live show became available as a CD where you could hear him riffing with the audience. When someone told him that they were a student Bill asked if he went to Cowley High. An in joke.
Bill could be crude and vulgar, but he was also savage in his hatred for Republicans, pro-lifers, George Bush Snr, the first Iraq war and fundamental Christians. Famously he once said that humans were a virus with shoes. He could also do very funny observational comedy. Finding himself in a waffle house in the deep south of America the waitress came over and asked him ‘what are you reading for?’ Not, what are you reading, but, what are you reading for? There are some deep pockets of humanity.
Bill began his comedy as a 15 year old, escaping out of his bedroom window and performing at open mic nights in Houston. In his 20’s he went from being tea-total, non-smoker, non-drug taker to the complete opposite almost overnight. His comedy became more confrontational and he ended up burning a lot of bridges. His agent tried to hook him up with recovering alcoholic comedians, which worked as he went cold turkey and his comedy benefited. He would still indulge in the odd magic mushroom, which he found incredibly funny that it grew on cow shit.
To end, Bill Hicks was one of the greatest comedians of all time and I would encourage everyone to check out some of his stuff and if you’re easily offended find his Letterman stuff.
This was another booked that I picked up for free from the Free Little Library on the next street, and it had been sitting on my bedside cabinet for months and months. Recently I have made a concerted effort to plough on through all of my ‘waiting to read’ books, instead of using my Kindle. I am pleased to say that I am nearly through them all, although there are always more books.
Anyway, The 5th Wave is all about an alien invasion. A very large spaceship arrives and hovers above the planet, not saying anything or trying to make contact, until after a week the 1st wave is unleashed. A huge electro-magnetic pulse is unleashed, disabling everything; cars, phones, electricity, etc, sending the human inhabitants back a couple of hundred years. The 2nd wave floods the coasts with tsunamis, and the 3rd wave is a pestilence, wiping out almost all of the remaining humans.
From this we have our two main characters, although they are leading very separate lives. Cassie and her very young brother find a safe camp, until the army arrives and takes away her brother to ‘safety’. Cassie is then on a mission to rescue her brother and meets the mysterious Evan, while Ben tries to look after Cassie’s brother as they are trained to be killers. The 4th wave is where we learn not to trust anyone, and the 5th wave…
The book started off with a bang, and hooked me in immediately. Unfortunately as I progressed the plot twists became increasingly obvious, and when revealed in the book I uttered ‘about bloody time’. I don’t usually guess what will happen in a book, but the plot was telegraphed a 100 pages earlier. While the ending was exciting, I was slightly annoyed with it all.
There are another two books in the series, and it is unlikely that I will look for either of them, which is a shame, because as I said earlier, the start of the book was brilliant. I gave it 3 out of 5 on Goodreads, which was probably a bit generous.
Back in the summer I wrote about a new ’round’, the Bay Limestone Round (read about it here). My amazing wife was part of a relay where she completed the final leg, but we both wanted to have a look at the other ‘legs’. Helen would like to do another relay, but doing a different leg, and she also thinks that I could manage doing the whole thing, all 55 miles of it. I’m not sure about that, but over the winter we’re going to have a look at all of the legs.
Today though, Helen wanted to go for a walk/run, and I suggested Leg 4, although we would have to add on a few miles to get back to the car. Leg 4 goes over Farleton Fell and Hutton Roof, and at 7.8 miles long it is the shortest leg in the round.
We parked up at the ‘official’ start of leg 4 and headed off towards Farleton Fell, which I’ve never been up before. The route skirted round the back taking an easier path to the top. The views were amazing, as we could see across the Bay and the Lake District, with the Howgills behind us. Unfortunately the photos didn’t do it justice, so here’s a selfie with the three of us.
There were great slabs of limestone as we dropped down a bit before heading up to the top of Hutton Roof. The top is fairly flat, but a handy trig point indicates the top. Once again we were foiled in the photography department as there were too many other people there, so we found the correct path and headed onwards. We almost missed the turn taking us towards Burton-In-Kendal, but fortunately Helen is a whizz with navigation.
Dropping down there was a lovely footpath with bushes both sides, making it safe for Nelly to run an ahead. Through Burton, across the M6 and another sheep free field for Nelly, and before we knew it we were at the end of leg 4. Not the end for us though, as we still had close to 4 miles to run to get back to the car, but at least it was flat and safe for Nelly.
Back home and Nelly is asleep in her bed, and me and Helen are planning on doing ‘not a lot’.
Overall impression of leg 4 was that it was much more pleasant than leg 5, and we are all looking forward to having a ‘recce’ on the other 3 legs.
Week 4 of the GBBO was chocolate week, with the signature bake being Brownies. However, the technical bake was Babka which my lovely wife liked the look of, so today I have been making my very first Babka.
First off, what is Babka? It is a Jewish celebration cake, made with an enriched dough, filled with chocolate and hazelnuts. I’ve never made an enriched dough, but it wasn’t too difficult, especially when using a food mixer fitted with a dough hook. Enriched dough means that along with the flour there was eggs, butter and milk. Once finished the dough is rolled out and a layer of chocolate added and then a layer of nuts. This is all rolled up, cut down the middle length-wise and plaited. It’s then left to prove for a couple of hours before baking. Once out of the oven the final touch is to coat the top in syrup.
I was using a Paul Hollywood recipe and once again I didn’t find it as easy as a Mary Berry recipe. This might just be me as this was first time making an enriched dough. My dough was very sticky and I struggle to roll and plait it, but it did almost double in size when proving. A proper Babka should have definitive swirls running though the loaf, which mine doesn’t. However, it tasted bloody brilliant.
This was the second of three books that my brilliant wife gave me for my 51st birthday, the first was The Institute by Stephen King (read my review here). Most of you probably know that Joe is one of Stephen and Tabitha King’s children and that he writes under the pseudonym Joe Hill as he didn’t want publishers or the public to be swayed by his famous father. However, once people saw Joe it was fairly obvious who he was related to.
Heart-Shaped box was Joe’s first published novel, and he had almost resigned himself to earning a living as an un-credited comic book writer. However, a small publisher wanted to put out an anthology of Joe’s short stories, most of which had already seen the light of day, but asked for a couple of new ones. Heart-Shaped Box was supposed to be one of them, but it grew as the unlikeable main character refused to die.
The main character, Jude, is an aging rock star who buys himself a ghost, as you do. As expected, the ghost isn’t a fan and wants Jude dead. The book feels slightly cliched, especially when Jude and his girlfriend use an ouija board to talk to the dead. However, the it is well written and there are a couple of neat twists and turns. At one point Jude mentions that him and his girlfriend might not be the bad guys in this story.
Over on Goodreads and there are some very polarising reviews, with more than one or two 1-star reviews. I gave it 4 stars, but 3 and a half would be more fair. It would appear that his later books have been better received, so I probably will look out for them, or maybe even watch the film version of Horns staring Daniel Radcliffe.
A few days ago I made a savoury soda bread (read about it here), as was half of the signature bake in week 3 of the GBBO. The other half of the challenge was a sweet soda bread, which I have never attempted before.
I had some marzipan left over from my week 1 Battenburg cake (read about it here) and some glace cherries left over from week 2 Florentines (read about it here), so it seemed like a good idea to combine them and attempt to make a Bakewell Tart flavoured soda bread.
I won’t go into detail of making it, but it took longer to bake than expected, hence why it looks a little burnt, although it wasn’t really.
My first taste and I wasn’t very impressed. It didn’t seem to work for me. However, my lovely wife thought that it was really good, and even preferred it to the savoury soda bread from the weekend. It grew on me, but my overriding feeling was that if you wanted a sweet soda bread, especially one full of cherries, you would be better off making some cherry scones.
Moving on and last night’s GBBO was chocolate, with the signature bake being brownies. I’ve made brownies in the past many times, and even made some that were ‘the best brownies in the world’, but I have never made a Babka, which was the technical bake. This weekend then, I will be having a go at creating a Babka, albeit using the complete recipe and not the paired down version that the contestants were given.
Both me and Helen are enjoying the new series of Bake Off, especially as they appear to have simplified some of the challenges. Remember the time they had to bake over an open fire, or the multi-layered grilled cake!
Are you enjoying the new series, and have you baked anything from the show?
Week three of the Great British Bake Off and it was bread week. The technical challenge was to bake two soda bread loaves, one savoury and one sweet, plus make some butter. I’m definitely not going to be making any butter, and time kind of got away from me this weekend, so no sweet soda bread either. If I have time I might attempt it during the week.
Anyhow, soda bread is relatively easy to make, and doesn’t require any proving, where you leave the dough to rise for a few hours. Most commonly soda bread is made with buttermilk, and while I have made soda bread a few times in the past, I’ve always used regular milk. This might explain why my soda breads have been a bit heavy. The main reason why I’ve never used buttermilk is because I’ve never been able to find it in the supermarket. Yesterday my lovely wife came with me to Sainsbury’s and found the buttermilk. Helen was also picking up baking supplies as she was making some florentines as a gift for friends up the road who are moving. (You can read about my florentines here, but trust me when I say that Helen’s looked much more professional.)
After watching the bakers in GBBO I decided to try to keep it simple, and used a slightly modified Paul Hollywood recipe. In the past I’ve always used a recipe by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, and Hugh’s bread book is one of the best around.
Back to the baking, and you begin by sifting flour and bicarbonate of soda into a bowl, add some salt and a little butter, rub it all together, and then add the buttermilk, chorizo and cheese. Add a bit more liquid or flour if too dry or too wet, and then shape it into a round loaf. I was using Gruyere cheese as it is fairly hard and is good to cook with. The oven also needs to be very hot and then leave the loaf in there until the top has almost burnt, resulting in a very crusty crust.
I was very happy with how it looked, with some melting cheese oozing out. It also smelt amazing. Inside wasn’t quite as good. It probably needed a couple more minutes.
Still warm and it tasted better than I could have hoped for. Chrizo and cheese might be an easy combination, and maybe slightly too boring for GBBO, but both me and Helen loved it.
Next week is chocolate week, so who knows what the signature bake will be.
At the start of January I blogged about the races that I had entered for 2020 (read about it here). I can laugh about it now, but like everyone, nearly all races were cancelled. The Oldham Way Ultra in April, cancelled, Castle to Coast triathlon in July, cancelled, Coniston one way swim, not cancelled but I deferred to next year as swimming pools have only just re-opened. The last race that I had entered was panther takes the hindmost, an elimination race. This wasn’t cancelled and it went ahead yesterday.
There were some issues. The race was originally planned to take place around the Fewston and Swinsty Reservoirs near Blubberhouses. Me and my amazing wife even went for a post lockdown run in the area (read about it here). Unfortunately the area was deemed to be too busy for a safe and socially distanced race. Punk Panther, the race organiser, opted to move the event to the Leeds-Liverpool Canal on an out and back course starting and finishing at Hirst Lock.
The format of the race is quite simple. Starting from 9am you have until 2.55pm to run four laps of the 10 and a bit km loop. At 3pm the elimination part of the race would begin. Whoever was last, but inside the 90 minute lap cut-off would be eliminated, and then everyone remaining would go again. My aim was to run 6 laps, which would be my longest run only run. I wasn’t too optimistic about going longer, as my longest run this year was 26 miles from Kendall to Lancaster along the Lancaster Canal (read about it here), back in June, and then a week before the race I managed a gentle 30km run.
The day before the race I stopped off at Asda to load up on snacks for the event, as well as setting out everything that I would need, plus a load extra that I might need; two pairs or running shoes, extra socks, gloves, hat, thermal layers, etc.
Race day, and first problem was that our Satnav didn’t recognise the postcode. A quick search on Google Maps showed a bakery very close to the start, which had a postcode that was recognised. Driving there was a bit grim as the weather was horrendous, and the route was a bit of a dog-leg taking almost two hours. In the end I made it to the start with time to spare. I grabbed my number and chatted to the organiser and fellow competitors. At 9am most people set off, with 30 seconds between each runner.
I set off at a nice gentle pace, not worrying if it took me 5 hours for the almost marathon distance first part of the race. Most people had a similar plan, although some walked more than others, all except for one woman who didn’t start until I had almost finished my first lap. She then proceeded to smash it, finishing in 3 hours 10 minutes. It took me an hour longer, but I still had almost two hours to recover before the ‘race’ part of the race began.
The 5km out and back route went past the famous Bingley five rise locks, which upon first glance looked like a wall of locks rising skywards. In fact they only rise 18m, but they do look impressive.
We also passed the slightly less impressive 3 locks rise where I took my one and only selfie of the day.
During the first 4 laps the weather had been changeable. I set off in rain wearing gloves and a hat, and within a mile the sun had come out. On my fourth lap I went out in bright sunshine only for it to hail ten minutes later.
Back in the carpark and as people completed their 4 laps they would set up a camping chair behind their car, resting their legs and eating and drinking. I went for a short walk in an attempt to prevent my legs from seizing up, as well as a few stretches. And then before I knew it, it was time for the elimination laps. 17 of the 18 starters had made it this far, with the other runner missing the cut-off but continuing anyway to complete 5 laps. No medal or t-shirt if you didn’t complete 5 laps.
We were lined up with the slowest runners setting off first, in ten second intervals. This made it a little trickier as you could finish in front of someone, but actually have taken longer. In the end not an issue. I was 7th or 8th to set off, and as expected my legs felt terrible and I was soon passed by almost everyone behind me, although I did overtake most of the people who had started in front of me. As long as at least one person finished within the 90 minute lap time limit behind me I would be OK.
It was a struggle but I finished lap 5 in almost exactly one hour, with four people behind me and one other missing the cut-off. Twenty minutes rest and we were off again. I was amazed by how good some of the runners looked, having already run just over 50km, whereas I was shuffling along like an old man. Mentally I knew that lap 6 was going to be my last, but I finished in one hour and ten minutes, well within the time limit and not eliminated. I informed the organiser that I was pulling out, as were another 2 or 3 runners. One of the runners who stopped when I did said that she had completed a 97 mile run along the West Highland Way the previous weekend!
Once the remaining 13 or 14 runners started lap 7 I was handed my medal and t-shirt. Everyone loves a bit of bling.
After finishing off the coffee from a thermos that I had brought with me I headed back home, feeling very tired and sore, but also happy with my longest run, 38.7 miles. Back home and Helen had lit the fire, she ran me a bath, handed me a beer and then fed me chilli nachos followed by a meat pie. The best welcome home ever. Nelly, our silly pointer, could also relax as everyone was home and accounted for.
This morning, just before writing this blog, I had a look on Strava to see how everyone else had got on. The winner did 10 laps, with 104km, while second place didn’t do a full 10th lap and was happy completing 100km. Third place completed 9 laps. It also appeared that 6 or 7 people dropped out on or at the end of the 7th lap. In hindsight it would have been very foolish for me to attempt the 7th lap, as I could feel various niggles blossoming. I would definitely do another elimination race, or a last runner standing race, and full marks to Punk Panther Events for a very well organised and rewarding race.
This book was one of the presents that my lovely wife gave me for my recent 51st birthday, and I plowed through it in no time.
The first forty or so pages tell the tale of a former small town policeman who is hitching from Florida to New York, but gets waylaid at an even smaller town in South Carolina. He finds himself a job as a nightwatchman and slowly becomes a part of the small community. He’s likable, hard working and friendly; a ‘good’ man. We don’t meet him again in the book until the last quarter.
Luke is no ordinary 12-year-old. Insanely intelligent and looking at applying to colleges, his life is turned upside down when he is kidnapped and taken to ‘The Institute’. All of the children are told that they will have their memories wiped later on and then released unharmed back to their parents. This is obviously a lie, and the children know it. Luke is just one of many children housed there who are subjected to numerous tests, many of which are deeply unpleasant. After a few weeks most of the inmates are taken away to the mysterious ‘back half’ of the institute, never to be seen again. What nefarious activities are occuring there?
As with many Stephen King books it could has lost a few pages, especially when we first read about the institute, but overall I thoroughly enjoyed this, giving it 4 out of 5 on Goodreads. Towards the very end of the book an idea is touched upon, which formed much larger themes in 11/22/63 and The Dead Zone. I don’t want to give away too many spoilers, but if you can guess what the theme is from those two books, you are probably a huge Stephen King fan who has already devoured The Institute.
Anyway, another great book, and a big thank you to Helen for buying it for me.