Saturday, 3 December 2016

Christmas Baking


This weekend we've decided to get cracking on the Christmas decorations.  The tree took a great deal longer than expected, as I couldn't find the lights from last year - reasoning that we'd had them a number of years and was due some new ones, I headed down to our local supermarket, and bought two packs of white lights for a reasonable amount of money (£6), returned home, and set them up.

Ready to decorate.
They weren't particularly impressive.  True, with the aid of a microscope, you could indeed identify a faint luminescence from within them, but otherwise they were pretty rubbish.  Fortunately my wife was out shopping, so I sent her a text message requesting that if she happened to be in the vicinity of a shop selling lights that she get some.

She returned later with the lights, we put them on the tree, decorated it, and it looks very impressive.

Then I found the old lights.

Anyway, to my main experience of the day - every year, I state that I am going to bake a Christmas cake.  And every year, I don't.  I don't do a great deal of cooking, and I do even less baking, generally restricting myself to turning out a few cupcakes once or twice a year.

This year, I decided, would be different.

After soaking a kilo of fruit in alcohol last night, I made the cake mix.  All went reasonably well, until I put in the flour.  Using scales, I measured the right amount of flour, sieved it in, and mixed it up, but it seemed like a bit too much.

Then I weighed the remaining flour, and discovered that I had somehow managed to put twice the required amount in.

I endeavoured to resolve this by putting in more of the other ingredients (butter, sugar, and eggs) to balance out the flour.  This resulted in an increased amount of cake mix (batter?) for cooking.

At this point I discovered from my wife that I actually needed proper cake tins to cook in, I couldn't just use any old metal tin I found lying around, so went to the supermarket to get some (this was the same visit as for the underpowered lights)

After baking for about an hour and a quarter, the cakes came out like this:


So, they appear edible, and, possibly with the exception of the one on the right, aren't overly burned.  They've had another douse of alcohol, and they're now wrapped in foil and resting in tins, awaiting further dousing over the forthcoming weeks, until they get iced a week or so before Christmas.  Whilst I'm clearly going to endeavour to eat all three of them myself, I should warn anyone who might be considering visiting our house over the festive period to think twice before accepting my offer of a slice of Christmas cake :)

Do let me know how your seasonal preparations are going, if you are indeed preparing for anything seasonal! And I should say that my wife has added some new lines to her selection of needleminders, do stop by www.denkaidesigns.com and check her things out :)

And if you want more Christmas stuff, my last post was all about Christmas cakes and puddings :)

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

The REAL Christmas question - cheese or no cheese?

EDIT: Brief explanation of what Christmas cake and Christmas pudding is: Christmas cake is basically a fruit cake, generally iced or covered with marzipan. It's often (although not always) quite heavily laden with fruit. Christmas pudding meanwhile is made up of various dried fruits (often soaked in alcohol) and mixed with suet and with various spices. Both Christmas cakes and puddings may well be made months in advance of Christmas, provided that the alcohol content is sufficiently high to prevent spoiling.

It's rapidly heading towards Christmas - less than one month to go - and in Castle Raven we are rapidly taking stock of what Christmas presents we have bought, and what is still to be purchased.

And the wonderful thing about the internet, and indeed blogging, is that you discover things that aren't the same in different countries. In the US nappies are called diapers, kettles aren't seemingly the essential piece of kitchen equipment that they are in the UK, and across most of the world people drive on the wrong side of the road, due to a French chap named after a brandy. Or something like that, history has never been my strong point.

However sometimes, you discover things close to home that you don't expect.

We were talking in the office today, and one of my colleagues was having difficulty understanding the difference between Christmas pudding, and Christmas cake - for reference, below are pictures of both:

By James Petts from London, England (Christmas pudding) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons


By James Petts from London, England (Christmas cake) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

But more shockingly, they were seemingly aghast at a common practice of ours, and many other people (I thought).

I always thought that it was quite usual for people to have cheese with their Christmas cake.  A decent wedge of Christmas cake, with a healthy slice of cheese - probably Cheddar, or Red Leicester, I would suggest - goes down very well on Christmas Day, accompanied with a nice glass of something.

My colleague couldn't understand the idea of cake, especially with icing, and cheese.  I wholeheartedly acknowledge that it does sound odd, but in practice it is delicious.  Several people in the office found the cake & cheese combo perfectly normal, while others rejected it.

So, I'd like to throw it out to you - do you have Christmas cake, and if so do you accompany it with cheese?  Or is this a horrible idea?  And does your family have any traditions that apparently are at odds with society?  Let me know in the comments!

Thursday, 24 November 2016

Thanksgiving!


The traditional Thanksgiving breakfast curry.  Well, it is when the night before Thanksgiving you have a takeaway.

I have a bit of a fascination with Thanksgiving, as a British person it always sneaks up on me a bit by surprise.  I think it's the combination of being near Christmas (in the UK we have NO holidays anywhere near Christmas, there's a day off in August and then a long, long stretch without public holidays until Christmas) and also being on a Thursday - with the exception of Christmas and New Years Day, all of our public holidays are on Mondays and Fridays.  The idea of having a holiday on a Thursday this close to Christmas is just a little hard to imagine.

We in the UK have got our heads around Black Friday, although it also seems wrong to me - In November and December, when we're buying presents for Christmas, we expect our retailers to gouge us on prices, and not have a day of big sales a month beforehand.  We believe that we deserve to pay over the odds for trinkets that will appear in massive sales on the 26th of December, because if we were REALLY organised we'd buy all of our presents in the January sales, wrap them up then, and then put them away in the attic for the following Christmas (just like that one relative/friend that we know that we would emulate if we weren't so disorganised)

At any rate, if you are celebrating Thanksgiving, I hope you have a great day, I'd love one year to experience (aka eat) a traditional Thanksgiving dinner and afterwards fall asleep in a chair while watching TV! If you're celebrating Thanksgiving let me know in the comments what's planned for your day :)

If you'd like to watch something funny, my wife's channel trailer for her YouTube channel is now live :)

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

www.denkaidesigns.com

 

Why am I looking so surprised at a blank computer screen, in this totally non-staged photograph?

It's because I've heard that my wife's Etsy shop is now online, and can be found at www.denkaidesigns.com, and my jaw has dropped simply in anticipation of the amazing things she's going to have on offer!

See how surprised I look when I actually get to the website!  My cup of coffee has even disappeared!

My wife Cherise is a keen flosstuber - if you're not familiar with the term, people who cross stitch, and vlog about their hobby, are called flosstubers.  She's been making videos for a few months now, over at youtube.com/denkai (I particularly recommend the bloopers at the end of most of her videos!)

However, she has very foolishly allowed me to edit her videos, so I make GIFs like this...

Cherise has recently started making needle minders, which cross stitchers use to hold their needles in place.  She's put a ton of work into the design of her needle minders and also into the packaging, so that they're like lovely little presents that arrive in the mail.  She's also looking at expanding her range so if there's something that you want which she doesn't have in her shop currently do get in touch with her.

Cherise's latest video, check it out here :)

For myself, I'm off to Sheffield tonight to act as quizmaster at the 2016 Student Challenge Quiz Night, which should be good fun!  One of the teams is coming with me in my car so I've had to ask that I don't get a copy of the questions until I reach the venue, so there can't be any question of favouritism :)

Saturday, 19 November 2016

The Robin Hood's Bay Roadtrip!

Having made it back from our epic Robin Hood's Bay roadtrip, it's time to blog :)

So, on Monday me and my dad went up to Robin Hood's Bay (RHB) in North Yorkshire for 3 days - RHB is a small fishing village, popular with tourists and known as historically being a home for smuggling!

Monday we spent in RHB, checking out the various pubs - of special note are the Laurel, Ye Dolphin, the Bay Hotel, and the Victoria Hotel.  This had been the first time for some years that we ventured into the Victoria, and had a very nice time, which included a weird bluey purple pint, and a quiz night, which we'll certainly be checking out again if we're in RHB on a Monday.

After a big Monday exploring the pubs, on Tuesday we were feeling a little sensitive when we went to Whitby, the nearest town to RHB, popular with tourists, and known for fishing, Whitby Jet, and Bram Stoker's Dracula.  Nevertheless, we checked out a lot of decent pubs, bought some presents, and enjoyed an excellent meal at The Humble Pie :)

And then onto Wednesday, which we spent in RHB, taking in a ghost walk but mainly chilling out with a few DVDs :)

Notable signs we saw:

1) The fish and chip shop which had a phone number - in fact, two phone numbers - to take bookings.  I never imagined that there was such a demand to book fish and chips!
2) The stairlift company that offered stairlifts, to rent or buy (again, never really thought that people would want to rent a stairlift, they've always seemed a fairly permanent piece of kit to me)
3) The sign we saw outside an office which was apparently for "The Moors and Whitby Prevention Hub" - personally I quite like both the Moors and Whitby, having an office dedicated to preventing them seems a bit harsh.

All in all it was a great opportunity to explore a couple of the places that we like so much in a bit more detail, there's some pubs in Whitby that I'd now definitely like to revisit, and it was great to just have a bit of time to relax and not do anything too taxing.

The trip wouldn't have been the same without our supporters - thank you to our amazing sponsors:
deano_1
cinders1980

And here's a few photos:
Bag packed!

View down onto Robin Hood's Bay

My dad with lots of glasses, somehow having fallen off his chair


Apparently the soup of the day was Beef Wellington, onion duxelle with a smooth chicken liver pate. Bit of a fancy soup if you ask me, I'd have been happy with tomato.

The bay

If this was a computer game, this would definitely have been a hidden area of some sort

I've also done a video of our time away which can be viewed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mhf2PTUah_8&feature=youtu.be and there will also be one or two more videos coming that we recorded while out there :)


Saturday, 12 November 2016

Pizza


So, with all the exciting events occurring in the world at the moment, let's focus on one of them.

Yes, apparently today is Pizza With The Works Except Anchovies Day (really) - I'm a big fan of pizza, it's a wonderful invention, a sort of hot open sandwich .  In a way, it's just a sort of cheese on toast (open grilled cheese sandwich for Americans) with extras, isn't it? Yet it tastes totally different to cheese on toast - and I do love cheese on toast also, in fact it's a source of disappointment to me that the grill in our oven doesn't work at the moment, so the only way of doing cheese on toast is to toast the bread, arrange the cheese upon the toast, and then microwave it, which just seems a bit wrong.

When ordering pizza I generally go for some sort of meat feast, although if I am going to Domino's it's more likely to be a Texas BBQ, and ideally I like a thin crust pizza, not deep pan.  Sometimes I do try the "Chef's special" which is basically everything except anchovies, I don't really know what an anchovy is to be quite honest, I'm very inexperienced when it comes to fish - I like haddock, cod, and pollock when fried in batter and served with chips, I've discovered that I like tuna, perhaps with melted cheese in a sandwich or on pasta, or mixed with mayonnaise and on top of a jacket potato, but apart from these types I have very little experience of fish.  Swordfish I tried once and it was very nice, but whenever I'm shopping, spot the fish counter, and think "hey, swordfish is okay" I then see the price and realise that actually I ought to work on clearing the mortgage rather than having to apply for a new credit card to pay for the swimming thing.

I have had tuna on pizza, and it was actually okay, but it did still seem a bit strange to me, I felt uncomfortable eating it, in a similar way to how you might feel uncomfortable changing seats on the third or fourth day of a week-long training course - theoretically you can certainly do it, and there's nothing necessarily wrong in doing it, but you wouldn't.  Social norms, and all that.

What's your favourite pizza toppings?

I'm delighted to say that the Robin Hood's Bay roadtrip is coming up very soon (Monday, in fact), so tomorrow I'll be packing!  I did a quick update video this morning, talking about beers and our planned itinerary, I must thank all of our supporters:

Diane Lynn of www.thegratitudeletters.com - The Gratitude Letters is a great blog which makes you stop and think for a moment about all those things in life that we should be grateful for.  I find it very beneficial, I'm a nightmare for rushing from one thing to another without allowing enough time to contemplate.  Do check out her blog.

Denkai Designs - my wife kindly supported us, I presume so that we'd not run out of money and have to come home early!  She's a flosstube YouTuber (she videos about cross stitch) so do check her stuff out, she's annoyingly good on camera.

Also thanks to deano_1 and cinders1980 who also both kindly supported us!

Sadly, the sponsor t-shirts that we were planning to wear I just can't make happen, I'd love for them to but it would just take too much out of the contributions to do.  Nevertheless we'll be recording videos while we're away and I'll be blogging and videoing when we get back (internet access in Robin Hood's Bay isn't the best, plus I don't have a laptop to take anyway) which I hope will be good fun for everyone!


Sunday, 6 November 2016

Dealing with spam email


I've been getting spam email recently from people that I've apparently agreed to buy things from. For a long time, I've simply ignored or deleted these emails, but today I decided it was worth making use of these, so I've sent off some replies.

---------------------------------------------------------

Email from Jumadelto:
Subject: African mount


Greetings,


The African mount you are intrested un purchasing is going for 200.00 without delivery
Regards,
Juan


Sent from my LG G Vista 2, an AT&T 4G LTE smartphone


My reply:


Juan,


I could never do business with someone using an LG G Vista 2.


Regards, Mike


---------------------------------------------------------


Email from Mahe M Avinashi Gounder:
Subject: Close5. Womens shoe.


Hi Micheal. Got ur msg in close5. U said u interested in buying the item. Winter shoe. Women. Size small. When shall we meet.


My reply:


Firstly Mahe, mispelling my first name REALLY annoys me. Now, to business.


Is it a left shoe or a right shoe? I am purchasing on behalf of a female pirate, and she requires a left shoe. If it is a right shoe then we really are wasting each others time.


Assuming it is a left shoe, please meet me and my client at Port Royal in Jamaica on the seventeenth day of November, she assures me that she will be "bringing home the booty, shiver me timbers" to port on that date. We may have to be on the lookout for Customs Officers.


Regards, Michael

---------------------------------------------------------


Email from Eddie:
Subject: TV Stand


When do you want to pickup the tv stand?

Sent from my iPhone


My reply:


Eddie,


I was really rather hoping for delivery, this being the Internet and all. How much is it for me to subscribe to Eddie Prime?


Best wishes, Mike


---------------------------------------------------------


Email from Christine vargas (with an email address starting "tina"):
Subject: Bread Box


I will sell it off on sunday so email then early I wake up at 7am


My reply:

Christine (I don't accept the name Tina as a shortening of Christine),


It is currently 7.17am on Sunday. I assume that you've already been up and about for 17 minutes whoring your bread box all over the internet, and as a result I've missed the boat. I wish you all the best in your future endeavours.


Regards, Mike


---------------------------------------------------------


And the one that I've had a reply to...



Email from alfredo valadez:
Subject: 49ers jersey



Hello I do have the jersey still. I stay in the eastlake area chula vista.


My reply:


Ah Alfredo, I was really after a 48ers? Any chance you can remove 1?


Cheers, Mike


Alfredo's reply:


What ???


I feel bad for Alfredo.


In other news, we are rapidly coming up to the end of the Robin Hood's Bay Roadtrip crowdfunding campaign - currently we have 3 amazing sponsors, Diane Lynn of the Gratitude Letters, Denkai Designs, and deano_1 - for just £1 (which, for non-UK readers, the current exchange rates makes cheaper than ever!) you can join that list, be promoted, and most importantly, fund the purchase of alcohol. Check out the campaign now at https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/the-robin-hoods-bay-roadtrip-friends-fun

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Rabbits!



Rabbits!

It's the 1st of November, when apparently you're supposed to say "Rabbits" for good luck, I generally forget however :)

Today I shall recount my experience attempting to get some shopping a couple of weeks back.

Shopping has become this wonderful thing that can be done many different ways - once upon a time, you needed something from a shop, so you went to the shop, found the object in question, picked it up, took it to the till (aka checkout for our American friends), paid for it, and the job was done.

Now, there are many amazing options!  Would you like to order it online and have it delivered to your house?  Or to a drop off centre near your house?  Or somewhere else entirely?  Or would you like to go to the shop, pick your items, then go home and wait for it to be brought round?  Or would you like to order online, and then go to the shop to collect it?

All these options, and I'm sure some more, are available in this hyperconvenient shopping world.

You may recall that we had a brief caravan holiday the other weekend, well ahead of going away we needed to get some supplies to take with us.  My son wasn't well so I was staying home with him, when I had the bright idea of using one of these many shopping options.

I found that, using my favourite supermarket, I could order all the shopping online and then drive round and pick it up - this seemed like an ideal option, as although my son was up to a quick car drive, I didn't really want him to have to face a walk round a big supermarket.  The ordering went very well, and I arranged to collect it between 12pm and 2pm on the day before we were going away.

I showed up at the appropriate place, QR code in hand (and the order number should there be a problem with the QR code), parked up next to this fancy automated locker system which, upon recognition of the QR code, would release my shopping



I scanned the QR code, and the helpful little machine decided, rather than to release my shopping, to give me an error message.  I tried typing in the order number.

No luck.  The machine have me an error message saying say it was the "Wrong Order" and that I should ring their customer service line.

Ringing the customer service number, I spoke to an operator who explained that all she could do was to rebook the shopping for the following day - which wasn't ideal, as I really wanted some of the stuff that dinner than evening, but like a fool I accepted, and went home to do some studying, lunch break used up on the unsuccessful trip.

Getting back home I noticed on the new confirmation email that the price had increased - I wasn't desperately pleased with this, so I fired off a quick complaint, and the price did come down again.

Later on that evening I checked the emails that I've received from the supermarket, and I was perplexed to see that they made reference to "delivery" rather than a collection, and my favoured QR code was nowhere to be seen.  A veritable mystery!

Looking further into it, I noted that the delivery address for the shopping was the supermarkets address, which made no sense to me.

So in the morning, I rang the store itself, to try to establish whether my shopping would be sat in a locker waiting for me and my QR code (which I hadn't yet received), or whether it would be dropped off at my house by a cheerful delivery driver.  After working my way through somewhere in the region of seventeen automated options ("Hi, and welcome to ShopQuick. Press 8 if you'd like to talk to the HR operative in charge of employee flexible spaniel leave"), I finally spoke to someone, who didn't know what was happening with my shopping, but took my details and said that they'd get someone to ring back right away.

Three hours later, I'd gone out to get some medicine for my son, and decided to swing by the store just to say how things were progressing with my particularly challenging shopping order (which I'd received emails for, confirming that it was being picked in the supermarket, and being prepared for delivery, again to the supermarket).  After a sufficiently long wait, someone came to me and confirmed that yes, the order would be in the lockers between 2pm and 3pm.  We went home, satisfied.

At 2.30pm I showed up, at the locker, order number ready (still no sign of that ubiquitous QR code), typed it in, and....

Got the same "Wrong Order" error message as before.

Going back to the supermarket's customer service desk, the customer service assistant started looking into it for me, and told me "It's down to be delivered"
 "But when I came in this morning," I said, with that particular combination of rage and triumph that I think only an English person can feel, when they absolutely know that they are correct, and have also been sufficiently inconvenienced, "I was told that it would be in the lockers."
 The assistant then said "Ooh, there's a delivery van at the lockers NOW!" and sent me back out to the lockers.  Perhaps I could catch the delivery van in the act, and wrestle my shopping out of their hands.

At the lockers was two delivery guys, manfully trying to handle a series of people who couldn't get their shopping out of the lockers.  Eventually they got to me, and were very certain that I simply hadn't typed in the order number right.  I typed in the order number.  It didn't work.  The delivery guy typed in the order number.  To his consternation, it didn't work, even with his magic touch.

One of the guys happened to have the mobile number of someone inside the store who was involved in home deliveries.  He rang, and spoke to his colleague, explaining the situation.  He turned back to me.
 "If you go to the drop-off point at the front of the store, he'll bring your shopping out to you."

And so finally, after three visits, several phone calls, and at least one barely contained explosion of destructive anger, did my shopping show up.  I loaded it as quickly as I could into my car, worried that the store manager might appear, explain that my shopping couldn't be simply given to me in this way, and that I'd have to go home and wait for it to be delivered.

Most annoyingly I used the supermarket in question because my wife always goes to a different supermarket and I wanted to show her that we could use a different supermarket to get our shopping - as you can imagine I well and truly lost that argument!

There's just a week left on the Robin Hood's Bay roadtrip campaign, so if you're thinking about spending £1 (yes, just £1) to sponsor us, head over there now!

Cheers!

Sunday, 30 October 2016

A Walk Through The Woods

Yesterday I and my son visited my parents, to get my mum's new computer up and running (which it is very nicely, although it needs a network cable to get the internet at full speed - it's currently using a WiFi adapter I actually bought for my Raspberry Pi, and I'm quite surprised that it works at all on a normal PC).  Once we'd finished, and ate whatever I could find in my parents house that we could categorise as lunch, we made our apologies and farewells and left.

While heading back to the car my son expressed his enthusiasm for "an adventure", and having the afternoon to spare we decided to go for a wander.

After walking through a couple of fields and through an echoey tunnel (I should note that my son enjoyed hugely discovering a landscape feature that allowed him to be even louder than usual) we took a stroll through the woods near my parents, down to the river bank, where he spent a good while half way up a cliff playing.



We had a really nice time, I used to walk through those woods all the time when I was a kid but it must have been years since I went through them, so it was nice to make the memories come back.  And on the way back my son told a dog that it was cheeky because it came up to him and viciously wagged.

Today, meanwhile, we've been to the park, run around a good bit, found a ladybird, and then took a detour to the pub for lunch.

My son with the aforementioned ladybird

Pub!

The pub we went to had a jazz band, Adrian Ingrams Jazz Dawgs, playing, which helped the time pass pleasantly, and I even got to eat most of my lunch except for two pieces of toast which my son informed me were actually his.   All in all it's been a nice weekend :)

How's your weekend been?

PS - Mike is still gathering sponsors for his Robin Hood's Bay roadtrip next month! From just £1 you can sponsor a third of a pint of beer... :)
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