Saturday, 30 July 2011

Individual Cheesecake Portions

I promised I'd tell you about my favourite new kitchen purchase just as soon as I had chance to use it, and of course I wanted to use it as soon as possible.

I've wanted one of these for a couple of years, but I haven't been able to find them on sale anywhere. Now, Lakeland have finally introduced them as a new product. What am I talking about? Loose-based muffin tins.

I have - and love - several full-sized loose-based cake tins, but I really wanted to be able to make individual dessert portions in mini loose-based tins like these. For example, miniature cheesecakes.

I made two different flavours of cheesecake this time, so I'm including the recipe exactly as I prepared it: for four of each kind. Of course, you could double the quantities for either the raspberry or ginger flavours to make eight of one kind.

I found it helped to put the muffin tin on top of a clean baking sheet, to stop myself accidentally prodding the loose bases with a stray finger.

Individual Cheesecakes
Makes 8 (4 ginger, 4 raspberry)

For the base:
85g ginger biscuits, crushed
35g butter

For the basic topping:
100ml double cream
200g cream cheese
35g icing sugar

Additions for the ginger cheesecakes:
35g candied ginger
¼tsp ginger extract

Additions for the raspberry cheesecakes:
12 fresh raspberries
1 inch of vanilla pod

  1. Melt the butter and combine with the crushed biscuits. Divide the mixture between eight mini cheesecake pans and press into the base. Refrigerate.
  2. Cut eight thin slices of candied ginger, and set aside for decoration. Chop the remaining ginger into small cubes.
  3. Thoroughly combine the cream cheese and icing sugar in a mixing bowl. Separate off half of the cream cheese mixture into another bowl.
  4. To one set of cream cheese mixture, add the seeds from the vanilla pod.
  5. To the other, add the ginger essence and cubed ginger.
  6. In a separate bowl, whip the cream until stiff.
  7. Divide the whipped cream evenly between the two batches of cream cheese. For each, fold in with a spatula until mixed.
  8. Spoon a little filling onto each cheesecake base, to make four of each kind. Smooth the surfaces with the back of a teaspoon.
  9. Use the sliced ginger to decorate the ginger cheesecake. Arrange three raspberries on top of each vanilla cheesecake.
  10. Refrigerate for at least two hours - or ideally overnight - before serving.

Thursday, 28 July 2011


No, not poking friends with swords - though that's exactly the sort of thing I'd be likely to do. I spent this weekend somewhat differently: painting wood preserver onto a stretch of fencing.

It's a surprisingly satisfying way to spend time, actually, because you can really see progress unfolding before your eyes. I was a bit concerned about the colour when we first opened the tin, it looked orange - but it dries to a much more subtle shade, and just looks really fresh and clean.

On two successive days I started early in the morning, and worked through until it was too hot with the midday sun. I'm about half way along the fence, now.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Collecting UNESCO: 40 out of 936...

I happened to see someone mention on Twitter the number of UNESCO World Heritage sites they'd visited. Until that moment, it hadn't even occurred to me to find out how many there were, but just for fun I thought I'd look through the list and see how many I've already visited.

It isn't really a list that you can just work through from beginning to end - quite aside from the length of the list, sites are being added and removed from time to time. But it's quite fun to skim through and see which ones you've seen, and any that jump out as interesting places to aim for.

Anyway, in case anyone's interested, here are the tiny proportion that I've already visited:

La Grand-Place, Brussels, BELGIUM
The Forbidden City, Beijing, CHINA
The Great Wall, CHINA
Summer Palace, Beijing, CHINA
Temple of Heaven, Beijing, CHINA
Ming and Qing Tombs, CHINA
Havana, CUBA
Vi├▒ales valley, CUBA
Cienfuegos, CUBA
Camaguey, CUBA
Trinidad, CUBA
Roskilde Cathedral, DENMARK
Tallinn, ESTONIA
Suomenlinna Fortress, Helsinki, FINLAND
Banks of the Seine, Paris, FRANCE
Le Havre, FRANCE
Ilulissat Icefjord, GREENLAND
├×ingvellir National Park, ICELAND
Canal area, Amsterdam, NETHERLANDS
Warsaw, POLAND
St Petersburg, RUSSIA
Kremlin & Red Square, Moscow, RUSSIA
Lake Baikal, RUSSIA
Old town & Aquaduct, Segovia, SPAIN
Las Medulas, SPAIN
Castles in Gwynedd, UK
Stonehenge & Avebury, UK
Fountains Abbey, UK
Blenheim Palace, UK
Bath, UK
Roman Empire frontiers, UK
Tower of London, UK
Edinburgh, UK
Maritime Greenwich, London, UK
Liverpool, UK
Cornwall & West Devon mining landscape, UK
Statue of Liberty, New York, USA

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Pasty Production Line

I had a bit of a shopping splurge in Lakeland yesterday. And while you're going to have to wait a little longer to hear about my most exciting purchase (just until I have chance to use it!), I thought I'd show you something I have already used:

I spent a couple of hours this morning making pasties ready for freezing, and I reckon I've done five dinners' worth (including the ones we ate for lunch). Of course, it's perfectly possible to make a pasty without a press like this, but they're quite handy: the bottom edge acts as a pastry cutter to get the right shape of pastry circle, and then you can put the pastry in the mould, fill it up (not too full!) and fold it over to crimp the edges. It took a bit of trial and error to get a nice routine going, and to figure out the right amount of filling, but I think I've got the hang of it now. I had to put a piece of greaseproof paper between the pastry and the crimping edges to stop it from sticking, too.

For my filling, I used a mixture of fresh vegetables (carrots, red pepper, courgette, broccoli, peas, and red onion) with cheese and a little ground black pepper. Basically a version of the vegetable pie recipe that I make regularly. I cut everything into really small pieces, and part-cooked the carrot, sweetcorn and courgette in advance. Next time I might experiment with a more adventurous filling, but today's were certainly delicious, and it's nice to have a stock in the freezer for easy suppers on busy days.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Thinking In Streams

I'm on a computing course this week, learning about data processing in a streaming environment. For anyone who doesn't know what that means: basically, instead of writing code to process everything in a database (or a file) that already exists, with streaming data you have to be prepared for new pieces of the puzzle to appear at any time.

Much as learning a new language involves subtle mental shifts (I think of it as looking at the world through a different filter), I find that I have to learn a new way of thinking every time I try to pick up a new style of programming. You have to shape the problem you want to solve according to the available tools (in this case, programming languages and patterns).

The necessary mental shift doesn't always come naturally: it took me a couple of years of object-oriented programming to wean myself off the 'goto' statement. They say that a man with a hammer treats every problem as a nail... this is more like learning how to use a screwdriver.

The exercises tend to deal with small examples of precise points, and are easy enough to solve - but what I'm really trying to learn this week is a new pattern of thinking, and that can't quite be taught.

So far as I can tell with streaming data, the tricky part is in deciding what to grab from the stream of data flowing past, what to calculate, what to keep, and how to update it. It's certainly a fun challenge, and I'm looking forwards to applying it to real problems.

Monday, 18 July 2011

Chocolate Cherry Pots

Inspired by a dessert that my husband ordered on one of our recent ferry trips, I knocked this together yesterday evening. It's quick to make but tasted great. I did wonder after the fact whether I should have used amaretto instead of rum to flavour the cream, to go with the amaretti biscuits, but it definitely worked nicely with the rum.

Apologies for the blurry picture, I haven't freed up my normal camera's memory cards post-holiday yet.

Chocolate Cherry Pots
Serves 2

1 tin of black cherries, drained
100ml double cream
2tsp dark rum
100g chocolate
4 amaretti biscuits

  1. Melt the chocolate over hot water.
  2. Whip the cream lightly until it begins to stiffen, then add the rum and most of the melted chocolate, and combine thoroughly.
  3. Spoon a little of the cream mixture into each of two glasses. Arrange a layer of cherries on top, and crumble one of the biscuits over the cherries in each glass.
  4. Spoon on more cream, add another layer of cherries, and crumble the remaining biscuits on top.
  5. Finish with a third layer of cream, top with cherries, and use th remaining chocolate to decorate.
  6. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Our Baltic Route

By the time you read this, I should be almost home. I have a hundred stories forming in my head - all competing for space in my mind, competing to be written, competing to be blog-worthy. There'll be time for all that once I'm curled up comfortably on my own sofa again. Likewise the thousands of photos I need to sort, process, and upload.

As I write this (on Sunday) I'm sitting in a hotel room in Lithuania, almost at the end of our trip. So you'll have to make do with a route plan sketched in 'paint' on my little laptop.

Our final route wasn't very different to my initial ideas, but we managed to reduce the number of flights to nil (ideal since I'd just come off a longhaul flight home from Portland) and we're doing the sections on land by a combination of trains and coaches. There was also some influence from practical considerations: for instance, there was a three-nights-for-two offer at the hotel in Tallinn where I wanted us to stay, so staying for two nights would have been certifiably daft.

This, then, was our final itinerary:

  • Stroud to London to Harwich by train

  • Harwich to Esbjerg (Denmark) by ferry, overnight

  • Esbjerg to Copenhagen by train

  • Copenhagen to Malmo (Sweden) by train

  • Malmo to Stockholm by train, overnight

    • One night in Stockholm

  • Stockholm to Tallinn (Estonia) by ferry, overnight

    • Three nights in Tallinn

  • Tallinn to Riga (Latvia) by coach

    • Two nights in Riga

  • Riga to Daugavpils by train

    • One night in Daugavpils

  • Daugavpils to Vilnius (Lithuania) by coach

    • Two nights in Vilnius

  • Vilnius to Warsaw (Poland) by coach

    • One night in Warsaw

  • Warsaw to Amsterdam (Netherlands) by train, overnight via Germany

  • Amsterdam to Hook of Holland by train

  • Hook of Holland to Harwich by ferry, overnight

  • Harwich to London to Stroud by train

More detail in due course. (Soon, I promise.)

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Social Media Strategizing

I offered to help a friend to develop a social media strategy for her business, and it got me thinking about my own "strategy" - which is to say, I realized didn't really have one. I had a bunch of sites I'd signed up for and was using, but there was no particular coherence in the way they linked together.

My intuition about social media (as a user) is that it works best when everything is tightly connected. It's just simple stats: if there's a chance I might see your latest blog post on Twitter, or on Facebook, or on my Google Reader feed, that makes it much more likely that I'll see it somewhere.

So I got out a notebook, wrote down the various sites I use, and tried to put in arrows representing routes users could easily take from one site to another. For example: my reviews on Goodreads auto-publish to Twitter, which makes it easy for Twitter users to click through to the Goodreads site, but there's no easy way from my Goodreads profile to my Twitter account. On the other hand, this entire blog is syndicated onto my Goodreads profile. (The dotted line between Twitter and Facebook indicates a service I use that will synch between them, but only when I tell it to do so for specific updates). Drawing it this way made it easy to see where the gaps were, and when possible I've tried to make the arrows go both ways.

Of course some of these sites, like Amazon, are only applicable if you happen to have written a book. And when I did the same exercise with my friend to help her "socialize" her campsite, we included some services like 4square that only make sense for physical locations. In her case we started with a blank sheet of paper, drew out what we wanted, and then went about setting up the various profiles and links. For mine I had a partial network to start with, and I just had to work through and add as many extra links as I could.

How many social sites do you use? And what do you do to keep on top of it all...?

Friday, 8 July 2011

Food Carts in Portland

I read on Wikipedia (a reliable source for all kinds of knowledge!) that Portland is one of the most vegetarian-friendly cities in the USA. So of course, I was excited to see what I'd find to eat when I was there.

One really unique feature of Portland's restaurant scene is the food carts. There are dozens of them, serving pretty much every cuisine you could imagine, and it's pretty much all cooked fresh to order.

There's a disadvantage to this informal style: we queued for ages by one stall, only to be told when we reached the front of the line that they'd run out of veggie ingredients.

In the end, I paid $6 for a huge helping of Thai satay tofu and vegetables - very tasty, and a fun way to eat out once in a while.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Before I'm 30 (Update 3)

Half way.

Hmm, that sounds wrong. Half way to 30 would seem to make me 15 again, and that would just be weird. But I am half way between setting myself this challenge and reaching the inevitable birthday-related end point.

I'm so glad I gave myself this list of goals, honestly, even though I look at them sometimes and understand in my heart of hearts that some of these things will carry over onto the next list (whatever that may be). The list is still motivating me by reminding me of what I planned to work on - even though I sometimes get sidetracked and work on something else instead. Most importantly, it's still fun.

Just like last time, I'll use green for finished items and pink for progress since the last update (January).

I'm also adding a couple of new ones - things that were on my general goal list and now seem likely to happen before my 30th birthday. Cheating to boost the stats? Maybe, but it's good to keep the list both current and challenging.

Previous 6 Jan 2011Latest
6 Jul 2011
Complete my PhDFirst tranche of experimentsMore experiments...
Publish in an academic journalNot startedDrafting a paper
Present at a conferenceOne unsuccessful submission in 2009Presented a short paper & poster in January
Install a woodburning stoveHad the fireplace rebuilt, and purchased stove.Waiting for final fitting
Redecorate the houseCarpentry & plastering done. Waiting for new carpets.Upstairs completed
Install solar water heatingNot started
Build raised vegetable bedsNot started
Go to GreenlandJune 2010
Visit the southern hemisphereProbably New Zealand in 2012
Have visited 30 countriesStarted at 20; up to 23 by Jan 2011.Planned a Baltic trip that will add three to this total
Writing & Speaking
Have a novel publishedDecided to DIY my first book - getting great reviews so far
Finish the Charanthe seriesRebellion (vol 1) complete & editedAlmost finished writing Revolution (#2), and 13k words into Reformation (#3)
Finish writing one standalone novelOdd first-drafts lying around
Record and podcast an audiobookDone some test recordings
Have articles printed in 10 different publications1/10 so far; a few further queries ignored.Writing a travel series for a local talking newspaper/magazine
Average 5,000 hits a month on my blogStarted ~1,500, avg. ~2,200 in early 2010Over the past six months the average is ~4,100
Get a slot on the local radio stationTook a short course in radio production and broadcasting
Take at least 5 public speaking engagementsFound a couple of leads for possible bookingsOne completed so far
Crafts & Skills
Hand-knit a jumper or cardigan for myselfKnit myself a cardigan
Learn embroideryStarted learningContinued with my flag project
Learn 10 new juggling tricksNot started
Use manual camera settings most of the timeCurrently rather erratic
Get my Guiding warrantAround 1/4 donePast half-way
Develop a board gameMade an initial prototype (lots of work still to do!)
Make all my own Christmas cardsAbout half in 2009, all in 2010
Complete a triathlon** NEW July 2011 **Started training
Sew a dress for myself** NEW July 2011 **

Monday, 4 July 2011

Rows of Roses

On Wednesday there was an admin-type meeting in the middle of the conference programme, so I skipped out with a group of colleagues (it's called "networking", right...?) to go and look around a bit more of Portland. After some confusion over just exactly how much of the public transport network in the city is free, we reached the International Rose Test Garden. It's basically a little park, packed with a huge variety of roses. Everything was labelled but I didn't really pay much attention to the names - only to the pretty blooms!

Of course, having so many varieties of rose in one place means that some of them were already turning and dropping petals, while others were still in bud. There can be no single perfect time to visit a garden like this one - but I'd still recommend dropping in if you're in the area any time during the flowering season. It's free admission, and a nice spot for a stroll - the colours brightened up an otherwise rather grey day.

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