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    Blogging about baking (and alcohol)

    I know it looks like I’ve abandoned this blog, given the amount of time it’s taken me to post something but that’s not the case – honest!  I have, however, been writing another project I’m working on.

    Having worked for a pub and a bar (and soon to be a steak and ale house too) I figured it was about time I learnt more about alcohol.  So as well as attending some of the training sessions, rum clubs and asking a lot of questions, I thought I’d combine it with another hobby – baking!

    At the moment it’s a cross between using found recipes and making up my own, but please take a look.  And if I can help tempt you, here’s my recipe for Whisky Cake using Chivas Regal Scotch Whisky.

    Ingredients for Whisky Cake
    175g Caster sugar
    185g Self raising flour
    175g Butter
    3 Eggs
    1/2tsp Vanilla extract
    75ml Whisky (I used the Chivas Regal 12 year old Scotch whisky)
    1/4tsp cinnamon
    30ml freshly brewed coffee (I used Ethiopian Mocha coffee)
    75g Butter
    175g Icing sugar
    25ml Whisky
    1/4tsp Orange liqueur

    Pre-heat the oven to 180c
    Cream in the butter and sugar
    Add the eggs one by one, making sure they’re combined
    Add the cinnamon, whisky, vanilla extract and coffee
    Sieve in the flour and fold in
    Bake for about 45mins-1hr, then leave to cool.
    The icing is a basic buttercream; cream in all the ingredients and ice the cake once it has cooled fully.

    Whisky Cake using Chivas Regal with a slight orange and whisky buttercream icing


    Making paper garlands for Christmas

    The German Market is back in Birmingham and the John Lewis advert nearly had me in tears, so it has got to be time to prepare for Christmas.  And what better way than with some crafting!

    Cut outs ready to new sewn (by machine)

    Cut outs ready to be (machine) sewn

    Last weekend I wandered down the first of a series of workshops being held by Oh Buttons at the Jewellery Quarter branch of Urban Coffee Company.  The first session was the simple yet hugely delightful paper garlands workshop.

    Being a bit of an emo-kid I decided on doing a garland of stars.  Hannah from Oh Buttons had brought along a bunch of Christmassy papers and pieces of inspiration.  So once we had our idea and sketched it out, we had to cut out 24 pieces 8-10cm in length.  I’m pretty sure you could do smaller or larger pieces if that’s the affect you were going for, and I’ve seen versions with much more intricate paperwork than I’ll ever be able to manage.

    Anyway, once the cutting was done it was onto the sewing.  Sewing machines always make me a little nervous, even my own, but feeding through the bits of paper to make the garland was pretty therapeutic.  And the good thing was that a little gap sort of needed to be left in them so they’d have some movement…so there really was nothing to worry about!

    And behold the finished product!

    Star paper garlands

    The finished product - paper garlands sewn and displayed!

    I’m pretty pleased with mine and I’ve already hung it up in the house (as you can see).  I’ve got some butterfly templates which I picked up from a papercraft shop years ago and once I can find some suitable paper I’m going to try again and make some for my bedroom.  But first I think we need more to add to the Christmas decorations in the house!

    Hannah is running another three sessions on Sundays in the run up to Christmas.  The one this Sunday (20th Nov) is on felt Christmas tree decorations, then after that its things which can be made as gifts – embroidered brooches on the 4th Dec and Phone/MP3player cosies on the 11th December.  Sessions are two hours long, only cost £10 (more than reasonable in my opinion) and they’re good fun and easy to remember so if you want to make them again you can.

    Now, to try and convince my housemate to let me put up more decorations…


    Baking vegan cupcakes

    I seem to be making a lot of cupcakes recently.  The last few batches have been made from recipes from the Primrose Bakery, but I was invited to an ex-vegan-now-vegetarian friend’s birthday and thought I’d finally have a go at making vegan cupcakes.

    I’ve always shied away from vegan cupcakes because a lot of them seemed to involve adding things that just seemed odd to have in cake.  Admittedly since eating beetroot and courgette cakes I’ve relaxed a bit on that, but we’ve never had tofu in the house and it seems odd to start now.

    Thankfully I found a recipe on The Vegan Society website where the weirdest ingredients are oil and vinegar.  That’s okay; we have those in the house (well we didn’t have vinegar, but we needed it).

    8floz (230ml) soya milk
    1 tsp vinegar
    5oz (140g) caster sugar
    3floz (90ml) vegetable oil
    1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
    4oz (125g) plain flour
    1 1/2 oz (45g) cocoa powder
    3/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda
    1/2 tsp baking powder
    1/4 tsp salt

    1. Preheat oven to 350F/175C/gas mark 4 and line muffin pan with paper or foil liners.
    2. Whisk together soya milk and vinegar in a large bowl and set aside for a few minutes to curdle. Add sugar, oil and vanilla extract and beat until foamy.
    3. In a separate bowl sift together flour, cocoa powder, bicarbonate of soda, baking powder and salt. Add in two batches to wet ingredients and beat until no large lumps remain (a few tiny lumps are okay).
    4. Pour into liners, filling three quarters of the way. Bake 18 to 20 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean. Transfer to cooling rack. Eat while still warm or allow to cool completely and ice with chocolate ‘buttercream’ .

    From Vegan Cupcakes Take Over The World by I C Moskowitz & T H Romero ( with thanks. Makes 12.


    I couldn’t get the soya milk and vinegar to curdle and I replaced the vegetable oil with sunflower as we had it in the house, but everything seemed to turn out fine.  My housemate did say that the batter looked like melted chocolate and once baked they did look pretty dark with chocolate, but actually they weren’t too sickly.  Even with a load of vegan chocolate buttercream icing on top.

    I’m not a huge fan of baking chocolate cake, but these were easy enough to do, didn’t really require anything too odd and apart from an issue with the silicone cupcake cases (silicone ones went wonky, paper cases were fine) they weren’t really any different to regular cupcakes.  Definitely a recipe for the binder.


    New beginnings…

    That’s it, I’ve bitten the bullet, bought a domain name and I’m giving this blogging malarkey another go. The rather silly URL hopefully conveys a sense of whimsically jumping around subjects with a kind of enthusiasm that one can only expect from someone as curious and slightly eccentric (I say slightly, this is often debated) as I.

    I’ve moved over posts from three old blogs, mainly to give myself some encouragement that I am indeed capable of blogging, but also as a reminder of things I’ve done and might want to write about again. They seem to have little in common, other than I’ve written them, but go from music reviews, to bread courses and how the Internet is a bit awesome.

    So, going forward, what to blog now? Who knows? Probably fairly similar to what I’ve blogged before, just with more regularity. I’ll blog about: the monthly book club I run and the weird and wonderful questions we discuss; interesting things I find in my home town of Birmingham UK, as well as when I wander the country visiting friends; charity projects and events; things I’ve read about that bother me; stuff I attend; probably a blog post on the stresses of trying to do an AS level when you’ve only got time to give one night a week to it; attempts at making jewellery and a raft of other things.

    Here goes…


    To card or not to card – When is a Christmas card appropriate?

    My housemate came home earlier with a festive dilemma that made wondering how many minutes to the pound to cook a turkey a doddle.  Christmas cards: who gets one and who gets listed on them.  Actually it’s more complex than that – a near half hour conversation boiled down to the following…

    When do you include a significant other – when they’re living together, when they’re married, if you’ve met them?

    When should you/your significant other be included in the sending of card – when you’re living together or if you both want to wish that person/persons happy holidays?

    Or is it household to household?  In which case, when is it appropriate to stop including family members that have flown the nest?  And if you’ve moved out, should you expect and send a separate card?

    And is the use of ‘partner’ or ‘and family’ just a bit rude, especially if they’re not married, they have no children or are just living together?  Should this be used if you’ve no idea who their significant other is and if so are you wishing random strangers happy holidays?

    If, as I am, living with friends, should we be sending and receiving cards to mutual friends as a household?

    When do you send cards to friends – when you won’t see them near the festive period, people you’re especially close to, people you see on a regular basis (work people)?

    Do facebook/text messages on the day make this whole concept redundant?

    And finally, are we overthinking this?

    I haven’t sent out Christmas cards this year, mainly because I’m only just beginning to catch up with my own life.  But given the in-depth conversation I’ve just taken part in, I think it was probably wise!

    *This was originally posted on my old blog Sisyphean Solutions*


    Fighting fascism with fascism?

    Yesterday evening I happened across an anti-BNP protest in Birmingham city centre. I’m not entirely sure why they felt the need to protest then – as far as I know there was nothing specifically BNP happening in Brum yesterday. I suspect it was to echo the protest in London where BNP leader Nick Griffin was holding a press conference.  Nevertheless given the lack of elected BNP officials in B’ham over say, Stoke, it seemed like an odd choice.

    What seemed like an even odder choice was their method of protest.  They chanted, the abused and generally they professed their hatred through intimidating and aggressive methods without really educating anyone on why the BNP are racist/fascist/homophobic/sexist/generally reprehensible humans. Sure they said it, but they never once gave examples. They could’ve pointed to comments from prominent BNP supporters that women should enjoy rapelinks to the National Front or well-publicised Holocaust denial.  For the entire time I was observing I didn’t once hear them tell people why the BNP are bad, only that they are.  And the protest in London was worse at echoing the uninformative sentiment.

    Anti-BNP protest in Birmingham on 9/6/09

    Anti-BNP protest in Birmingham on 9/6/09

    But what’s the point?  Why should ordinary people passing through the city centre believe protesters without evidence?  And why should they believe people who act in a manner that echoes one they are fighting against?

    Surely the way to argue against a group who you believe will erode democracy, remove free speech and employ violence and interrogation is to not to use their methods as a template to get your message across.  Yes, what they propose is nothing short of terrifying, but hounding them out, not giving them a chance to speak and refusing to nobly argue your point and show your point of view is correct can only be viewed as undemocratic and equally oppressive.

    The way to get people round to your thinking cannot be to deny the opposing side a voice, that can only serve to drive them underground and make their message more dangerous. And even if you did succeed in stamping out the opposing view through intimidating, what kind of victory is that?


    Bank Holiday pancakes

    Continuing the ageing of my good self to that of the middle years, I got up early and cooked blueberry pancakes for my housemates before we trekked off to the cinema to see Coraline in 3D, buy cables in Maplins and eat ice cream in Selfridges.

    The recipe came from Olive Magazine’s May issue where they had a recipe a day article and this was the one for today.  It’s incredibly easy and uses sensible, everyday ingredients – which is always a plus.  The last time I made blueberry pancakes was about three years ago and I distinctively remember failing to find buttermilk in Lancaster in December.  I know the supermarkets in Birmingham sell it, but it’s not exactly an everyday purchase that I’ll use again.  So the fact this used things we would already have in the house (minus blueberries) sold it to me.

    200g self-raising flour
    1tsp baking powder
    pinch of salt
    1 egg
    300ml milk
    25g melted butter
    85g 100g blueberries (I used more because some of the pancakes had lots of blueberries and towards the end some were lacking)

    • Mix in the flour, baking powder and salt into a bowl.
    • Mix together the wet ingredients – butter, egg and milk.  I had some problems with the melted butter in the cold milk – best to leave it to room temperature before adding.
    • Add the wet ingredients to the dry and whisk.  The recipe said to do this in parts, but it was fine all in.
    • Stir in the blueberries.
    • Heat some butter in a non-stick pan and drop in tablespoonfuls of the mixture.  Cook for about three minutes on one side and then flip for another three.

    Easy to make and very, very tasty.  Housemates well fed – possibly too many for three people.  Would be good for four.  Yummy.

    *This was originally posted on my old blog BeanHeartBatman*