Monday, January 10, 2011

Jedi Baking: Use the Force Luke

Turns out I'm a reasonable baker, given the ingredients & a kitchen equipped with everything a master baker needs. And so now, in an effort to build up my CV for when I'm offered my own cooking show, which given their proliferation must surely be only a matter of time, here are some of my sure fire baking tips learned from more than a month's experience.

Know that recipes are guidelines only. Like business plans, budgets and laws. And subject to fluctuation as accorded by each individual situation and availability of ingredients. There are only 2 or 3 ingredients in any recipe that matter, get those right, the rest is up to your imagination.

Basic Bread

Firstly, use a breadmaker. They know what to do. Only trainspotters knead their own, they probably grind their own flour from wheat grown in community gardens too.

Your bit, is to get the ingredients right. Recognise what's important, which is the sugar, salt and the yeast, the rest is padding and texture. The order in which things go in makes a difference too, salt will kill the yeast, so they should go in separately.

Dissolve about 1.5 tbs sugar (any sort except icing), and 1 tsp salt in a glass of warm water. Pour into the breadmaker.

Add about 2.5 cups flour (white, or a 2 cups white & half cup wholemeal mix).

Put about 2.5 tsp yeast on top of the flour.

That's it, turn the machine on. Just check during the kneading now & then to see if it's too dry or wet (add a squiff of flour or say, or a dash of milk to adjust), the mix should be maintaining a stretchy skin.

Three and a half hours later, the result is a large white, medium baked loaf

Easy muffins

The only inportant ingredient is the baking powder, the rest is padding, texture and taste.

2 cups or so of self raising flour, 1 tsp baking powder. 1/2 cup or so of cocoa, or drinking chocolate, and about the same of castor sugar (less if using sweetened drinking chocolate.) mix up & adjust to taste.

Whisk 2 eggs, a slop of vanilla essence, half a cup of milk, third of a cup of oil & add to the dry mixture.

Add some dark chocolate chips, nuts, or chopped dates, all, some or whatever, and a big slurp of your favourite home made jam, mix till you've got a big, gloopy, sticky mixture which sticks to whatever you're using to mix it.

Gloop the stuff into one of those cup cake baking tray thingeys and bake at 180 for 25-30 mins. Makes 12 large muffins.

Can't miss.

Coming soon: Guilty Pleasures, and I don't mean baking.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Have a Shot (Heartland channel now & then)

OMG - Have a Shot (NZ Idol of its day - which looks like late 1940s, but it has to be after TV came here) has me wondering whatever happened to Ron Smith? You may or may not have heard his original song, "Reach for the Sky." I have.

And somebody should track down those two guys with kilts and accordian and hold them to account.

A sign of the times perhaps, though which direction the sign pointed is obscure, but "In An English Country Garden" seemed an odd choice of song for the Maori guy.

Earlier, I caught the much promoed Spartacus. I was expecting a softcore, but pornographically violent, Swords & Sandals romp. And that's exacrtly what the makers delivered, filmed in glorious Bucket-o-fake-bloodovision.

I got confused at one stage, when Craig Parker appeared to be approaching the Gates of Mordor with a Roman Army, but that wasn't important anyway. It's not for the squeamish.

I'll tune in next week.

Friday, August 20, 2010

I set it free, and it feels good.

I've had a nice exchange on Trademe this week.

I'm shifting stuff around - I've lived spread around multiple properties for the last decade or so, I always seem to be shifting stuff around. But this is going to change. I am decluttering.

I didn't think I was a hoarder, but finally, after moving them around from student flats, to first home, then next home, etc, it is time to open up those old boxes at the back of the wardrobe & dispense with stuff that otherwise will stay there until some descendant comes to settle the estate.

This process requires patience, a dust mask, and a lot of city council rubbish bags.

Some stuff I will keep of course, but only that which I really shouldn't toss (say, with family significance) and that which I will dust off and actually use again.

There is the elegant steel butane cigarette lighter that I was given at my 21st (I doubt such a thing is an appropriate gift these days), it's been in a box for probably two decades - it actually lit on the first go, it must have some impressive seals in there. And another - a black Zippo I was given by my cats, the card had their inked pawprints (they also gave me my Swiss Army knife one year, I still use that almost daily). I have no idea what to do I'll do with the lighters yet. But they're tiny, they can keep for now.

I also came across the first watch that I chose for myself. It was a mission at the time, I knew what I wanted broadly (analogue face, day and date, alarm and waterproof), but the local models left me cold. In the days before Google and internet shopping, I somehow located the exact model I wanted in the UK.

Long story short, a relative visiting the UK, armed with exact specifications, and instructions NOT to buy anything else if the specific model wasn't there, picked it up for me. A Seiko Sports 100, gold analogue face, stainless steel body, with a discreet multi function LCD display, and waterproof to 100 metres. I used to tramp a lot, and frequent beaches for days or weeks on end, everything needed to be shock and waterproof. It is also a dress watch, small by today's men's watch standards. The almost indestructable (and waterproof, with day/date - cellphones do everything else I need)  thing I wear now is easily twice its size.

I probably wore that Seiko watch almost constantly for the next 20 years. It never made it 100 metres underwater, but around half that & worked fine; it wasn't allowed in coal mines, because battery powered watches just aren't in case they spark, I had to hand it over; it's travelled around the world. It's pretty much been in a box for the last 15 years although a couple of times I did replace the battery to check it was working fine - batteries last so much longer these days.

I decided to sell it on Trademe.

I got a couple of pretty trainspottery questions about the model numbers and measurements, but years ago pal, I already checked it's not one of the mega-collectibles.

It sold to a woman who says it reminds her of one she lost. Her email showed she has a website.

I'm not particularly sentimental about possessions, but it's occurred to me that that watch was literally attached to me for 40% of my life. It pleases me it'll be back out there.

Friday, August 6, 2010

The Interview

The imposing building in the middle of a football field sized carpark was a real bastard to get to. A wicked southerly was coming in from the beach, and an icy rain was beating in sideways. You'd think these guys would have a tunnel or something.

The reception area was spartan, but comfy. Whites and a few splashes of primary colours, no pretentious or novelty artworks.

A woman came to meet me, she led me through a door that seemed to sweep gracefully open at her approach.  I was sat in a functionally furnished interview room.

Presently, a nurse joined us to hook me up to what I think was a polygraph machine, and to manoeuvre something that looked like a small camera up to within a few inches of my right eye.

With my left eye, I could see my interviewer and the nurse poring closely of the image of something on a laptop.

"We have some questions to ask you, and also some tests to administer."

I saw the nurse check the contents of her bag. I felt a cold sweat coming on, "Hang on, I did the Myers/Briggs for the agency!"

"We have our own testing methodologies here at The Corporation. They've served us well over the centuries."

I was asked my name, my date of birth, and sundry questions about my experience and suitabilty for the job.

I was told I would be asked a series of psychological questions next, and to answer honestly and sincerely.

"Question 1: You’re in a desert walking along in the sand when all of the sudden you look down, and you see a tortoise, it’s crawling toward you. You reach down, you flip the tortoise over on its back. The tortoise lays on its back, its belly baking in the hot sun, beating its legs trying to turn itself over, but it can’t, not without your help. But you’re not helping. Why is that?"

"Uh... can I ask questions as we go?

"You will just answer the questions. Now, question 2: You are given a calfskin wallet for your birthday..."

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

How do I sign up to that random phrase thing anyway?

I'd pay extra.

Some years ago, I worked for a branch of a big global corporation. We had this office automation system taking up a tiny portion of a huge mainframe (mini really) whose primary purpose was accounting and inventory management.

Anyway, we had internal email, and we must have been one of the first corporations to hook up to the fledgling internet in order to be able to extend our email capabilities to our HO in London. The implementation was smooth, mostly because the software actually worked. We were gobsmacked. And chuffed.

The point of this, is that we knew we'd also opened email channels to everyone else on the internet. In those days that really only meant your mates who were doing Information Science degrees at Varsity. Yeah. Right. Hackers.

So, to protect ourselves from industrial espionage being carried out from up the hill, we beefed up our password regime with an off the shelf random password generator, which forced a change every 30 days. You could of course, choose your own. This was about the extent of the defenses available to us at the time.

And ohmigod, this package also worked as it said it would. truly, computers were coming of age. Best of all, the "users" loved it, because it spurned gobbldygook impossible to remember things like )F6G7b3d^7(, and presented two words of between 6 and 8 letters long, with a space between them.


One drawback, was that while these two words were allegedly drawn completely at random from an extensive dictionary, some extremely amusing combinations occured with alarming frequency, and the word SAUSAGE was anecdotally appearing far more often than mere chance would surely allow.

Our users were sharing their passwords, posting the funnier ones in the in house magazine.

Our fearsome and dour IT Manager did put a stop to that promptly. Our password generator remained many years, until operating systems caught up. People enjoyed using it. I should have made a note of who what the programme was called, maybe they're still making useful stuff.


I'm kind of warming to Twitter and Facebook (I'm still not enchanted with Linkedin, it's not enough fun), mostly because I've figured out how to text Twitter, which then posts to Facebook and Linkedin. If I could figure how to get those tweets onto Blogger, I'd be sorted.

At first I thought the 140 character limit was a curse, then I came to embrace the unfinished sentence (much as I really liked that Telecom bug, which apparently appended random sentences onto peoples' texts. That's so funny.

Twitter itself seems to me to be river of trivia, a Tweet flows from the top to the bottom of the screen and you're either there to see it or you're not. Or maybe I just don't know how to drive it properly :)

I loathed Facebook at first, I've always mistrusted it enough so that there is very little actual information on there about me, and I assume that anything I post can be seen by the entire world. Sure, my name, but heh, I'm not even in the phone book. And how do you know that's my real name, and all those "relatives" on there are just my other accounts? Hah. Other than that would be a really stupid and pointless waste of time.

Anyway, I tried to delete my account once, and found I couldn't. Then a few years later, I found that by signing back in, all was reactivated, friends, snowball fights and all.

Incidentally, what happened to all that snowball/vampire/which-kitchen-utensil-are-you shit anyway? Did I somehow turn it off? Or did everyone get bored with it. And don't get me started on "poking" people.

But I can see that it's a great way for friends and family to keep up, and it's as good a way as any to share all your holiday photos. So now I can post and reply with ease, I'm back in. I've had some odd comments from Linkedin contacts, I must say.

Oh say Harve, the copy of Mr Pip that I just read has your, er... mark of ownership in it. So we must catch up for a grand returning ceremony.

What is that anyway? Did you get a stamp made up? 'Cos I'm impressed. Actually maybe I should keep it, in case you become famous, and one day I'll appear on Antiques Roadshow with a Molloy Family stamped copy of Mr Pip. But we should catch up anyway.

I fancy reading some Daphne de Maurier now. I've never read Rebecca, but I do like a good tale of sinister housekeepers.

And I must say that it's a real pleasure to have the broadband to bring up my iGoogle page (The Current Moon Phase is Waning Gibbous, 88% of Full), and the 837 unread blog posts in my RSS feed, are like Twitter, gone. Although they flushed, rather than flowed to be truthful. All while listening to Jimi Hendrix on YouTube. Sweet.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

What Now?

The house in town will probably sell this week. Funny, despite it not feeling like home for the last 6 months, its imminent loss makes me extremely sad. I’m not sure why.

Another new page beckons. I am about to be homeless again. It remains to be seen what comes from it, but at the very least I hope to be debt free.

In a few weeks I’ll begin a house-sitting gig for 2 or 3 months. It’s even further in the ‘Burbs than I am now. Still, freeloaders can’t be choosers.

I have a huge amount of furniture and stuff, and nowhere to put it. I suppose some can be sold, the rest stored. Or maybe all sold, except the Rocket coffee machine. It’s only stuff.

I guess these things will work out in time. But today is a sad day, the saddest in months. I don’t quite know why, maybe it’s just time for a blowout.

Tomorrow I’ll be fine. I’m out and about with people all day.

And the Ripliad? In some ways I liked Ripley’s Game best of all, in this one, Ripley plays a game with a neighbour & gets him in over his head in a plot to turn two mafia families against each other. The book really takes off when a contrite Tom appears on a train & whacks a couple of Mafiosi for the neighbour. It gets worse when the mob figure out who Ripley is, and where he lives.

The next book, The Boy Who Followed Ripley, was a little disappointing, mostly because the boy in question is a bland character.

The last, Ripley Underwater, is reminiscent of Ripley Underground: an American couple move into the neighbourhood & begin to harass Ripley about suspected past crimes. As you can imagine, this is not a good lifestyle move.

And Heloise Ripley is in all three. Not quite as complicit in Tom’s escapades as in Ripley Underground, but supportive nonetheless.

Lessee... since then I’ve read what... biographies of Zsa Zsa Gabor and Greta Garbo, and Mr Pip. I need something new to read.

And a new life to live. Anyone know how to go about getting a job in the islands?