Week 7 already, and it was 80’s week. The signature bake was quiche, the technical bake was a filled finger doughnut and the showstopper was an ice-cream cake. Not having an ice-cream maker of a deep fat fryer the only bake left was for me to have a go at a quiche. Obviously from a baker’s point of view the pastry is what it is all about, but for regular people the filling is equally as important. I opted for a Lottie inspired recipe of beetroot, walnut and feta cheese. Over the 7 weeks Lottie had become one of our favourite bakers, so we were both sad to see her depart.

Anyway, Mary Berry quiche recipe, and all I needed was some walnuts and baking beans, although 5 minutes after returning home with beans my lovely wife found a jar full of them. My pastry the other week when I made Cornish Pasties was very good, so as expected this time it went really badly. Pastry was too crumbly and too thick, I didn’t use enough baking beans to prevent it rising and the oven was too hot. It went in the bin, which I hate to see.

Second attempt and I used half butter and half lard, which apparently helps, and my lovely wife showed me some tips on rolling out pastry and placing it into a tin.

Blind baking was another new skill for me, and second time around it looked good. I left the pastry to cool for a bit before adding the beetroot, walnuts and feta. Then I poured on the cream and egg mixture. Mary Berry recipe was all cream rather than half cream, half milk. Very indulgent.

What was the final result? In short, very tasty. Crumbly short pastry, rich and tasty filling. As usual with me it looked a little disheveled, which is something I definitely need to work on. I liked how the beetroot added a splash of colour. There was some leakage through the pastry but fortunately the tin kept it from leaking any further. I should probably also practice making pastry with a food mixer instead of doing it by hand. Finally, as the tin was so large I probably could have added more filling. I tend to be overly critical of everything I cook.

Overall I was very pleased with my first attempt at making a quiche, especially one without a dish or tin to keep it in place once cooked. When Bake Off is over I will continue baking something every weekend, and hopefully one day I will feel confident to enter the GBBO (not next year, too soon).

Book Review: The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

This book definitely took me out of my comfort zone. Historical novels are not really my thing, but I felt that I had to read it. Two years ago my parents stayed with us over Christmas, and my Dad had obviously been told to behave. He was still very active, gardening and walking, and his mind was as sharp as ever. It was the last time that I saw him alive, as a few weeks later, on his 84th birthday, he went to bed early as he wasn’t feeling well and never woke up. What has any of this got to do with The Miniaturist. My Dad, much like me, always needed to be occupied, so he perused our book shelves and picked up this particular book, which he then promptly finished over the next couple of days.

My lovely wife enjoyed it and when Helen was about to donate it somewhere I saved it so that I could read it. Historical novels are not my thing, but I stuck with it, and took a few months of off and on again reading to finish it, but I am glad that I persevered.

So, what’s it all about? Set in 17th Century Amsterdam, among the traders and ship merchants, a young country woman marries a rich and successful trader. She is lost and tries to make a home although the servants and her new husband’s sister all keep numerous secrets. She is given a miniature replica of her new home as a wedding gift, and sets about decorating the interior. Apparently at the time these miniature houses were very popular. She finds an elusive and enigmatic artist whose tiny creations mirror their real-life counterparts in eerie and unexpected ways.

There are a couple of large twists in the book, the first one looking back probably wasn’t so unexpected, but it did change the whole dynamic of the main characters, shifting each person’s roles. I suppose that if I knew about the history of Holland I might not have been surprised by the ending.

Overall I’m pleased that I persevered and finished it, although I am not in too much of a hurry to read more historical novels. They’re just not my bag. Anyway I gave The Miniaturist 4 out of 5 on Goodreads.

Book Review: Unnatural Causes by Dr Richard Shepherd

or to give the book its full title, Unnatural Causes: The Life and Many Deaths of Britain’s Top Forensic Pathologist. Dr Shepherd is arguably the country’s top pathologist having performed over 23,000 autopsies. Obviously many of the deaths are more macabre and require forensic detective work to help find the probably cause of death, working very closely with the police.

His career starts off in the deep end with one of the UK’s very few mass shootings, this one in the village of Hungerford. He discusses shootings and stabbings, serial killers and possible suicides. The book can get very ‘real’ and it’s definitely not for everyone, however both me and my wife found it to be interesting and absorbing.

Dr Shepherd doesn’t shy away from some of the high profile mistakes that were made. The most prominent would be the sinking of the Marchioness, where 51 people tragically and needlessly drowned. There wasn’t a full and correct manifest, so identifying the bodies proved to be incredibly difficult, especially if the body had been in the water for a number of days. I won’t go into the full details, but suffice it to say that one of the processes used for identification was modified after a public outcry.

His personal life is also written about, the break up of his long term marriage and how he suffered from PTSD, along with his recovery and what the future holds for forensic pathology.

A very well written and interesting book.

Running Report Card

One of the good things about Strava is that they like to share the data with third party apps. The most famous is obviously Veloviewer, but City Strides is another site that I like to use. An ultra-running Strava friend recently shared a link to the Running Report Card.

It’s all very easy, just follow the link and connect with Strava. You then get your own personalised report card with a whole load of interesting stats.

As you can see with all of the climbing, Lancaster is fairly hilly.

A fun filled five minutes, but if you run on Strava you should check it out.

Strava Anomaly

I upload pretty much everything to Strava, even two mile walks with my lovely wife and our silly pooch. I used to add walks as a ‘run’ but now that there is a separate walking challenge each month, walks are uploaded as a walk.

However, my Garmin 920 doesn’t have a walk function, so I use the run function, and then when it comes to uploading the walk I change the sport from run to walk. This is where the anomaly occurs. Strava thinks that as this activity is now a walk, it must remove this distance from the monthly running challenge total. As of yesterday I had run 14 miles so far in November, but when I uploaded last night’s 2 miles walk, this total dropped down to 12 miles.

Fortunately there is an easy fix. Leave the challenge and then rejoin and it will display the correct total.

Book Review: A Land of Two Halves by Joe Bennett

Back in 2003 I travelled to New Zealand to represent Great Britain in my age group at the World Triathlon Championships. It was an absolutely amazing experience. We were based in Queenstown; the extreme capital of NZ, with every kind of extreme sport on offer. That’s an aside, however, my overriding impression of the south island was just how friendly everyone was. It took a few days to get used to, and New Zealand would be the country I would move to if we were ever to leave the UK.

I also love a good travel book, especially if it is slightly off the wall. So when I spotted this little gem hidden in our local Free Little Library I knew it was going home with me. Once read it was returned.

The ‘hook’ with Joe’s book is that he is hitch hiking his way around the country. He has a very dry sense of humour, likes to smoke and drink, and doesn’t particularly like touristy places. Overall he’s very amiable. The book never delves too deep, just touching the surface on socio-political and historical issues.

Maybe I enjoyed the book more because I knew what a great place New Zealand is, however, I found it to be an enjoyable piece of fluff, giving it 4 out of 5 on Goodreads.

Book Review: John Cooper Clarke double bill

When I was growing up I had a couple of good friends who were slightly older than me, and were fans of much of the music which came out of the punk scene. Not necessarily punk itself, more the post-punk music. One of the artists that my friends introduced me to was the punk poet, the bard of Salford, the one and only John Cooper Clarke. He Started out way before punk and is still going today, although he will forever be linked with the punks.

John has written his autobiography, I Wanna Be Yours. The book mostly covers his childhood, becoming a poet and his glory years, up to about 1990. The last 30 years are skimmed over in the final 40 pages. It is a very interesting read, although I think you do need to be a fan of his work. Interestingly his first proper paid gig was at Bernard Manning’s Embassy Club in a very rough area of Manchester. John also writes extensively about the punk scene, and how he would have liked to have appeared more often with the Sex Pistols, but you never knew if their gig was going to be cancelled until the last minute, as well as the tours he did with Elvis Costello, Joy Division (and then New Order) as well as The Fall.

Unfortunately, the overriding theme of the book is drugs. The vast quantity of heroin that John consumed, and how his whole world revolved around his next hit, and how every penny he earned went into his veins. He doesn’t come across as a very nice person and he admits as much himself.

An interesting part of the book was where JCC describes how his poems are never really finished. He improves them, edits them, adds to them or removes parts, and as such he was initially reticent about recording them, because then they are seen as the finished article.

Eventually he cleans up, gets married and they have a daughter. At the start of the century three of his poems were included on the GCSE syllabus, along with Simon Armitage, another modern day poet who I admire. It was at a low-key gig in Sheffield where he met the Arctic Monkeys, who along with the DJ Mark Radcliffe, the Elbow front man Guy Garvey and numerous other fans that John had a renaissance, culminating in appearing on Channel 4’s show 8 out of 10 cats do countdown and having Evidently Chicken Town on the Sopranos. He was also commissioned by the National Trust to create a poem about the English coast, one of the few poems by JCC that my wife likes. (I can understand how his poems are not everyone’s cup of tea).

Back in the 90’s JCC was very much not in demand, and only appeared live sporadically. I was fortunate enough to catch him in a pub on the edges of London in the mid 90’s. John was sat on a stool at the bar, sans microphone, and there can’t have been more then 25 paying punters. In the book he describes how he hadn’t written anything new for ages and how his live shows had become more stand up than poetry. Unfortunately, JCC isn’t very good at stand up. During the gig I remember wishing that he would read more of his poems as they were so good. Tens minutes of poor stand up (sitting down) followed by two minutes of utter brilliance. It was also the first time that I had heard Hire Car, one of his best. He did of course perform all of his ‘hits’; Salome Maloney, Evidently Chicken Town, I Married a Monster from Out Space, the It Man, Beezley Street, etc.

At the weekend, making the most of pre-lockdown, me and my lovely wife headed into town to Waterstones, where I purchased Ten Years in an Open Necked Shirt, a collection of John’s best early poems. This book is the good stuff. I very much doubt if I will read his autobiography again, but this slim volume of poems will be devoured again and again.

Anyway, I Wanna Be Yours is for fans only, while Ten Years in an Open Necked Shirt is for those interested in reading his poems. Of course, you can go on You-tube and watch the man himself reading most of his work, although I prefer to read them myself.