Friday, 30 April 2010

My first animation

I have to say that this was really fun. I know the image is carp but it was my first attempt at animation.


Thursday, 29 April 2010

Medlar Cupcakes

OK - so what was the point in giving a recipe about autumn fruit at this time of year? It was so I could share my recipe for medlar cupcakes. Made today. I would suggest replacing more of the sugar/milk with medlar jelly, the flavour is very subtle in this version, but it's up to you.

130 g caster sugar
40g butter
2 generous teaspoons medlar syrup
110ml semi-skimmed milk
1 egg
120g plain flour
1.5 heaped teaspoons baking powder

a small pinch of salt

Heat oven to 170 C.
Line a 12-hole bun tin with muffin cases. The recipe is slightly mean for muffin cases but leaves lots of space for icing.

Beat the sugar, butter and medlar syrup until smooth.
Add the egg and gradually add the milk, beating as you go.

Sift the flour, baking powder and salt into the liquids and stir in. Beat lightly to incorporate but don't overdo it.

Spoon into the cases and bake for 20-25 minutes until golden and springy, but not overdone.

Cool, eat.

Medlar Syrup

If you have a medlar tree, or can get hold of some fruit from a friend who doesn't know how good they are, then make some medlar syrup in autumn. You will have to blett them (store like apples for 4-6 weeks to allow them to ripen fully off the tree).

Wash and roughly chop the fruit, skin, stones and all. Cover with water and simmer for about half an hour. Then strain through a muslin - be patient, this can take all night.

Measure the liquid and add 1kg of sugar for each litre of liquid. Bung in a couple of teaspoons of lemon juice. Boil until you get bored (at least 20 minutes). The longer you leave it the more it will set. If you have enough patience you may end up with medlar jelly which can be eaten like jam.

Jar up like jam. With that amount of sugar in it, it should keep till the next millenium but it's a rare year I have enough to last until the next season.

The taste is difficult to describe, fruity and sweet, a bit like honey but not so strong.

Use in place of honey or golden syrup in any recipe. Pour over ice-cream or on steamed puddings.

Monday, 26 April 2010

Ripples in a pond

I used to say that accountancy isn't like brain surgery. No-one will die if I don't get my month end figures in on time.

Sadly, during the Farepak debacle, we heard of two people who had tried to commit suicide as a result of losing money belonging to their friends and families. Farepak truely was brought to its knees by an accountant.

Amtrak, the parcel delivery company went into administration as a result of not being paid by Farepak and even Woolworths blamed Farepak for starting their demise (most of the vouchers would have been spent there).

It made me realise just how much our every single action affects others. Like ripples in a pond, even the tiniest of issues can spread out, growing as it goes.

Is incompetence a good enough qualification to be a director?

So the customers of Farepak are to receive 15p in the £ for their losses. Does that really make up for over 3 years of misery, heartache, and uncertainty?

It must have been the easiest company to run from a cash flow perspective. Farepak customers placed their orders and paid for them in advance. The directors knew pretty accurately, what quantities of goods (mostly vouchers) they would need to order and should have had the money to pay for them.

It really does take a special kind of idiot to cause a company like Farepak to run out of cash.

Sadly, the new directors: William Rollason, Nicholas Johnson et al thought they knew it all. They would be better off spending that money on other things, such as Kitbag, I Want one of Those, Cabouchon and a new TV company, EezeTV. Did it never occur to them that to blow all their cash on such a spending spree within a period of 3 years, would leave them slightly embarrassed when it came to paying the bills?

I could, maybe, have had a little sympathy for them if they had come from a world away from finance. But William Rollason is, I'm ashamed to say, a Chartered Accountant, trained at one of the largest firms of accountants in the world, KPMG. He, of all of them, should have known better. And, where were the finance directors in all this? Why weren't Chris Hulland and Stevan Fowler putting the brakes on?

Don't go blaming the directors of Farepak, the subsidiary either. They had very little say in how the business was run. The strings were firmly pulled from the top. I know, I was there!

A gratuitous picture of a chicken

Trull House Sculpture Trail

Forget the London galleries, if you want to see the best of modern sculpture, you can't beat the sculpture trail at Trull House and Gardens near Tetbury . I believe it truly is one of the lovliest houses around and the gardens are delightful.

The quality of the sculptures this year was as impressive as ever. There were no unmade beds here. How about a glass apple to hang from the tree, a sheep for the lawn, or maybe a bird of prey to keep the pigeons away? All of the work showed a serious understanding of form, colour and the importance of the quality of execution. The tea and cakes were worth the visit on their own.
I shall definitely be going again next year.

Friday, 23 April 2010

Environmental Injustice in Swindon

I bet the developers of the new Swindon Academy ( wouldn't have dared build it so close if these had been large, expensive, detached homes. But they're not, they're affordable houses or council homes and now they have huge classroom windows within spitting distance of their bedrooms, overlooking their gardens and peering into their bathrooms.

Even if the building couldn't have been sited further away (which it could, there's plenty of land), why have the windows looking directly into these houses?

The upstairs classrooms could have had skylights instead or, at the very least, opaque glass.

Badly done Leadbitter (developers), badly done The United Learning Trust (sponsors), badly done Honda (sponsors), extremely badly done Aedas Architects.

A job well done

Swindon Council resurfaced the pavement outside my house earlier this week.

Nice of them to leave me this little patch of grass.

I hope they mow it regularly.

Don't Waste That Chicken Soup

I get a weekly organic fruit and vegetable box from Abel and Cole I love having fresh fruit and vegetables delivered directly to my door but sometimes I don't use up all the vegetables by the time the next box is delivered.

My local Co-Op sell large packs of chicken thighs and drumsticks. If you get down there early, they nearly always have a pack reduced.

You will need:
One pack of chicken thighs and drumsticks (or a whole chicken cut up into bits or any other pack of chicken bits you like, preferably free-range or ethically produced).
A potato or two
Some onions
Any other vegetables you have hanging around such as carrots, celery, broccoli. One tip is to co-ordinate colours, so go for all greens or use carrots and red peppers as this will make the soup more appealing, visually but whatever the final colour, it'll still taste great.
Salt and pepper
A bay leaf or two, some basil if you have it and/or some parsley.

Pop the chicken in a large saucepan and cover with cold water, add the bay leaves and season gently.

Bring to the boil and simmer for about half an hour or until cooked through. Test this by taking a joint out and opening it at the thickest part.

Allow to cool slightly and strain the stock into another container. It's important to do this before the stock gets too cold or it will turn to jelly and you'll end up with slimy, sticky, cold chicken.

Once the chicken is cool enough to handle, remove it from the bones and skin. If you are on a health kick, feed the skin to the dog. Otherwise either keep it with the chicken or with the bones, you chose.

The chicken can now be used in salads, sandwiches or tossed into a stir fry. Freeze some to use later. Keep some to put back in the soup.

Put the bones in another saucepan, cover with water and simmer for half an hour. Two lots of stock from one lot of chicken!

Chop your vegetables into rough lumps and boil in the stock until tender. The smaller the lumps, the quicker they cook. When cooked, allow to cool slightly.

Pop the boiled vegetables and both lots of stock into a liquidiser and process until you get a consistency you like. Add the chopped, reserved chicken.

This is such a great soup as it's completely different depending on what vegetables you use. Add cooked lentils, pearl barley or pasta to make it much more filling. It freezes really well (without the pasta/lentils/barley) or keeps for 3-4 days in the fridge.


Waste food

According to This Is Rubbish we waste enough food in this country each day to provide lunch for 60 million people. WHY?

I recently went for lunch at the Windmill Pub in Freshbrook. It was a great meal but far too big for me. Why can't pubs offer small, medium and large sizes? If I can't eat all of the main, I certainly can't justify leaving it and then eating a pudding. So the pub would probably make more money not less.

Wasting food is bad for the planet. All across the globe, land is scarred forever by agriculture. Vaste fields of monoculture crops leave little space for nature. Wildlife is considered a pest and chemicals are sprayed to get rid of it. Fertilisers used in agriculture do an amazing amount of damage to the natural environment and use an incredible amount of fuel in their manufacture. Animals are reared and forced to live in horrible environments. Yet something like a third of the food that is produced is simply thrown away.

So don't waste food. Check out my recipe for Don't waste that chicken soup coming soon.