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Saturday, 30th January 2010

Recipe: Gingerbread

I have it on good authority from multiple sources that this is the best gingerbread recipe ever. Proceed with caution.

Makes
25-30 small cookies
Ingredients
  • 200g plain flour
  • 75g dark soft brown sugar
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • ¾ tsp cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp ground ginger
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 85g butter
  • 35g black treacle
  • 1 tbsp milk
Preparation
  1. In a food processor workbowl fitted with a steel blade, process the flour, sugar, cinnamon, ginger, salt, and baking soda until combined (about 10 seconds).

  2. Scatter the butter in pieces (about 1 tbsp each) over the flour mixture and process until mixture is sandy and resembles very fine meal (about 15 seconds).

  3. Add the treacle and the milk; process until the dough is evenly moistened and forms a soft mass.

  4. Roll the mixture into small balls of about 1 heaped teaspoon each and place them on a baking tray lined with greaseproof paper. (Or if you're feeling really adventurous, roll out the mixture and cut out gingerbread men!) Space them out at least 1 inch apart otherwise they may spread into each other.

  5. Bake at 180°C for 10-12 minutes just until they start to crack on the top.

  6. Eat.

Wednesday, 19th December 2007

Recipe: Christmas almond rum truffles

Makes
50-60 truffles
Ingredients
  • 4oz (115g) butter
  • 4oz (115g) caster sugar
  • 4oz (115g) plain chocolate
  • 6oz (170g) ground almonds
  • 4oz (115g) cake crumbs
  • chocolate sprinkles or cocoa powder
  • rum or rum flavouring
Preparation
  1. Cream the butter and sugar.

    (The original recipe tells you to add some almond essence at this stage, but I couldn't be bothered to buy any and so left it out.)

  2. Melt the chocolate.

    (As discussed in the previous post, nothing ever happens when I try to melt chocolate by microwave, so I recommend the melting-over-a-saucepan-of-water method. But not having the water so hot that it steams and scalds your knuckle. *cough*)

  3. Add the ground almonds and the melted chocolate, and beat the mixture thoroughly.

    (If you don't like the taste of almonds, you can swap them out for biscuit crumbs or more cake crumbs.)

  4. Add a few teaspoons of rum or a few drops of rum flavouring, and beat in the cake crumbs until a thick paste is formed. Knead it well.

  5. Get ready a bowl of chocolate sprinkles or cocoa powder. Take small amounts of the mixture, form them into balls and roll in the sprinkles/cocoa.

  6. Place into sweet papers.

    And clean up the million chocolate sprinkles (or the dusting of cocoa powder) that went everywhere in the previous step.

Tuesday, 18th December 2007

Recipe: Christmas soft chocolate fudge

And why is it Christmas fudge? Well, because it's only ever made at Christmas. (By law.)

Makes
64 pieces, if you cut it up exactly like I did
Ingredients
  • Mixing bowls, bereft of delicious mixture8oz (225g) dark chocolate
  • 8oz (225g) plain chocolate-flavoured cake covering
  • 15oz (405g) can of sweetened condensed milk
  • ½ tsp vanilla essence
Preparation
  1. Brush a 7" square cake tin lightly with oil.

  2. Melt the chocolate and the cake covering and stir until no lumps remain.

    (The presence of the cake covering – which, by the way, although it sounds bizarre and unnecessary, is apparently what makes the fudge soft and delicious instead of hard and more traditionally fudge-like – meant that I could melt the two together in the microwave rather than over a bowl of hot water. I can never get chocolate on its own to melt in the microwave.)

  3. Add the vanilla essence and the condensed milk, and mix with a spoon.

    (This is where the fudge mixture will really thicken up and start setting, so get ready to pour into the tin.)

  4. Pour into the cake tin and smooth the top.

    (You may or may not have time to smooth over before it sets. Still, this makes for nice swirly patterns on the top.)

  5. Cut into squares, see if you can lever them out of the tin, and place them into sweet papers.

Wednesday, 28th November 2007

Jerky scrolling with Logitech mouse in Internet Explorer 7

Since IE7 was released over a year ago I've had issues when using my mouse's scrollwheel to scroll within a webpage in IE7. Instead of normal scrolling, smoothly moving 1-3 lines with one jog of the scrollwheel, it would continue moving downwards in a series of large jerks until a) it reached the end of the page, and b) I cursed myself for forgetting to not use the scrollwheel in IE7.

I've been meaning to update my mouse drivers for ages to see if that would do the trick, and finally managed to get a Round Tuit this afternoon for this very purpose. Unhelpfully, it appears that the driver I installed in April 2005 is the latest version, and obviously did not contain a fix for this problem.

Googling, however, revealed the solution repeated in dozens of forums – it seems that this is a known Logitech mouse / IE7 compatibility issue. I couldn't find a good canonical source to link to, so I will repeat the internet's wisdom here:

Start → Control Panel → Mouse → Buttons tab. For "Scroller", set to the following: Check the box labeled "Use MS Office compatible scroll only." Also, check the box below labeled "Scroll in active window only."

Works like a charm.

Friday, 12th October 2007

Breaking apart

I am generally rather careful with my possessions and look after them well, in return for which they rarely come to harm. I am happy with this arrangement, as are they.

This week, however, has seen a series of organised, parallel breaches of this agreement.

Pen sliding into the screen On Tuesday I was fiddling with the clip on the pen for my tablet PC when it broke through, and then broke off. I wasn't too put out until I tried to re-house the pen – it lives in a little hole at the bottom of the laptop screen, and one presses a release button to pop it out again – and found to my chagrin that I was merely pushing it further and further into the hole without it slotting into place. The release button confirmed that the clip is needed both to slot the pen into place and to push it out again.

Superglued When I got home Kevin managed to hook a bent paperclip around the pen and draw it out again, whereupon the clip was reattached with superglue and I am currently treating it very delicately, since I don't want to pay £35-£40 for a new tablet pen just for the sake of a small piece of plastic.

Clasp This morning I tried to open the clasp on my laptop case, but I couldn't. It is of the kind where it juts out a bit (because there's a tiny spring behind it), you push it in to make it lie flat and then you can slide it through the opening. (I don't think I'm describing it very well.) I couldn't push it in because, further inspection revealed, some of the parts inside (the locking mechanism, and the tiny spring) had come off and were rolling around inside the housing, getting in the way. I managed to fish them out with a pen, and joy at being able to access my laptop dimmed at the realisation that the case now wouldn't stay closed.

Improvised locking mechanism I had a small metal chain handy though, and had the brilliant idea of looping it through the clasp when it was closed in order to prevent it from coming open. (This idea is rendered rather less brilliant when you have to keep spending 20 seconds fiddling to try to open or close your case.)

Kneeling chair This is my kneeling chair. I originally wanted to buy it when I went to university, because I had just spent a year working in an office and knew that my lower back didn't appreciate sitting in a cheap office chair for hours on end. (Of course, we weren't allowed to bring furniture of any kind to the halls of residence, and so I was stuck in a totally non-adjustable desk chair for hours on end which resulted in, um, back pain. Maybe I should have got out more.) I got it two years ago when Kevin and I moved into the flat and it has proven to be a remarkably good choice.

Broken underneath After coming home today I swivelled around on it in order to stand up and heard a small cracking noise. Checking underneath I saw that the metal soldering that holds the seat to the frame had snapped through on one side, which has left me wobbling rather precariously whenever I forget and shuffle around slightly. (Actually, a closer look showed that the metal plate it was soldered to wasn't even made of metal, but some kind of chipboard material coated in metal.)

They say these things come in threes. I certainly hope so.

Tuesday, 9th October 2007

Careering around

Since last week I've been back at university for my fourth and final year. Today involved traipsing around the Careers Fair where a few dozen employers have set up stands and sent representatives who will talk to you about their company's graduate scheme and hopefully will give you free stuff. (Unfortunately, I walked away without a single free pen! Shameful.)

It is a mutually beneficial arrangement. Students get inspiration and information about prospective employers (and free stuff, as aforementioned, but see above re: lack of pens), and employers catch the attention of students and try to convince them that they should apply to their company (and get rid of all the free stuff which they would otherwise presumably have to cart back somewhere).

I stopped at the stall of EDS, a large "IT solutions" consultancy, and waited while the representative finished talking to an interested student. He seemed a bit salesman-esque, but courteous and helpful. The guy walked off and the representative turned his attention to me.

Now, what do you think might have been an appropriate form of address for him to use at a graduate careers fair such as this?

If you chose "Can I help you, my love?" you'd be incorrect, but would have come up with the same answer as he did.

From there we went onto him boggling at the fact that I'm doing a Masters degree in Computer Science, asking whether that meant I'd want a technical role and checking whether I actually liked computers and wanted to work with them. (Kevin pointed out later that it's a valid point – after all, cancer scientists don't like cancer...)

Once he'd worked out that I was serious he called over a manager to talk to me, which was a smart move on his part since the manager was actually... what's the word? ah yes, professional.

*sigh*

I decided not to apply in the end, partly since the manager I spoke to recommended not applying until June at the earliest, and I'd like to get employment sorted before then. But they did give me a free phone charger, so hurrah for that.

IBM squishie asterisk Microsoft had a stall populated entirely by attractive women in their 20s and early 30s (there, I imagine, to show the Other Side of Microsoft), and yet were still looking incredibly grateful for anyone who could bring themselved to stop at their stand :-) Mind you, the woman whom I spoke to seemed more interested in delivering her pitch to me rather than letting me ask questions of her – I think I managed about three and then gave up.

IBM seemed to have the most personable representative that I talked to overall (though I did go on an IBM open day last year, so I knew quite a lot already about their graduate scheme), and as a further plus they gave me a yellow squishie asterisk. Yay corporate freebies!

Thursday, 23rd August 2007

Yearly update

*tap tap*

Is this thing on?

*blows months of dust out of microphone*

That's better.

In an attempt to pretend I still blog every now and then, I thought I should provide a slight update on Things Wot Have Happened in the last few months.

Since I see my last post was in *cough* May *cough*, that takes us all the way back to finishing up my third year project, doing the this-counts-for-15%-of-the-module presentation (oddly enough I wasn't nervous before or during the presentation. The nerves hit me in waves a couple of hours afterwards, including shaking limbs and general feeling of dread. Useful timing, that), and writing the 15,000-word this-counts-for-80% report in ten days (plus a couple of thousand words for user documentation).

My computer overheated from having it on until 2am for printing out hundreds of pages (two copies), so I had to switch off and do the last bit in the morning before going into uni at 9am to bind them. (The queue of students waiting for binders at 9am, three hours before the deadline, was an hour long.) The fan in my power supply sounded a bit funny after having overheated, and a couple of weeks later it died entirely. I was in the second week of exams and concentrating rather furiously on revision (luckily I could work from my laptop), so I asked Kevin to find me a new PSU. I was quite distracted at the time so I can't tell you what I ended up with, but Kevin was drooling over the webpage, so I take that as a good sign. (Actually, it came whilst I was at an exam, and Kevin installed it before I got back, so I've never even seen it. He did take a photo of it for me though.)

I felt my exams went okay, none of them brilliantly but none nightmarishly either. I was quite nervous waiting for results though — I felt unable to predict whether I would get a 2:1 or a 2:2 (the last two years I got a mid-high 2:1 and then a lowish 2:1). I was staggered (to put it mildly) when I found out that this year I got a First — 76%. If my maths skills are still up to scratch, this means that overall for my degree I'm dead on the First borderline at 70.5%, so next year an average of 70% should mean I'll end up with one. *crosses fingers*

Lately I've been greatly enjoying Cracked Pepper, which is a mashup album of Sgt. Pepper and also Revolved (listen here), a mashup of Revolver. These two prompted a two-week run of playing nothing but Beatles music, one album per day (in order, of course). The trouble is that once you get to somewhere around Rubber Soul you can't then listen to earlier stuff again, because most of it just doesn't compare. And now I think I'll be in a Beatles phase for the next few months.

This month Kevin and I have been for a walk around Kenilworth, and a drive around the West Midlands Safari Park (and managed to go on a day when they let us drive a Chevrolet around, for free).

Tomorrow we're going camping (camping!) in Buxton for the weekend, so we'll see how well I survive that.

And today I lost an earring in the shower because I forgot to take them out first.

Wednesday, 16th May 2007

My Amazon saga

About five weeks ago Amazon.co.uk emailed me to confirm an order for £415, the bulk of which was a £382 Nokia phone, which would be dispatched soon to somewhere in Liverpool. Needless to say, the order was not mine.

I immediately phoned the bank to cancel my debit card, and got Amazon to call me so I could cancel the order. At this point I noticed that although the order was made using my Amazon account, it wasn't made with my debit card after all, but with one I didn't recognise. Oh well.

The Amazon rep went through account identification stuff with me, confirmed that the order hadn't been charged or dispatched, and cancelled it after checking I didn't recognise the delivery details or (stolen, presumably) credit card details, telling me it would be forwarded to Amazon's investigations department.

He then ensured that I had changed my account password, seemed happy that the account was secured, and thanked me for bringing the matter to their attention. The matter was all done and dusted; the only problem being that I couldn't use a debit card for the next half a week until a new one was sent to me, but that was a minor issue.

The next day, however, I received an email from Amazon:

We regularly perform reviews of customer orders and during one such review discovered activity on your account which we believe to be unauthorised.

Please understand that due to unauthorised access, your account at Amazon.co.uk has been closed with immediate effect and for security reasons cannot be reopened.

Oh, Amazon, sneakily taking credit for discovering suspicious activity...

But I was rather put out at being informed that my account was gone forever given that the rep I had spoken to the day before seemed content that everything was secured and no further action would be taken. I like my Amazon account. It has my wishlist, my DVD rental list and rental history (and permanent 10% off all DVDs), and my ever-growing list of likes and dislikes which I hoped would, one day in the next few decades, allow them to provide me with vaguely accurate recommendations. I got their customer service to call me back again to ask why, why, why this had to happen.

The answer was as follows: a) It's routine, but b) should only be temporary while the investigation takes place, and c) they'll get the investigation team to call 'tomorrow' and tell me what was happening. I also mentioned that I use Amazon's DVD rental and currently had a DVD to return; once posted back would it go into limbo since the account was 'closed', and when the account was re-opened would they tell me that it showed as having one DVD out?

They said that DVD rentals would work completely normally even during the temporary closure of the account since it was really only my ability to log into my account that had been revoked. (This turned out to be true until they tried to charge my now-cancelled debit card and stopped sending me DVDs.) I sat back and waited for the investigation team's call.

A week passed.

I phoned again to ask what was happening regarding my closed account. The customer service rep stated that a) it's routine, but b) should only be temporary while the investigation takes place, and c) they'll get the investigation team to call and tell me what was happening.

A further week passed.

The next guy I phoned was rather more helpful, telling me that the investigation team doesn't ever call customers, and no one should ever have promised me they were going to. He told me instead to email them at investigate@amazon.co.uk to ask when my account might be reopened. I duly did so.

A week passed.

I emailed again. I received a useless form email the very next day! telling me that although they couldn't provide me with more details about the unauthorised activity, I shouldn't worry because none of my financial information was compromised. I responded, asking them to kindly please just answer the damn question that I asked in the first place.

The final email from them, which arrived on Monday, states:

We can assure you that your account can no longer be accessed through the Amazon.co.uk website. I am sorry that the information that you received was incorrect. This account can no longer be opened and you will have to open a new account if you wish to purchase from Amazon again.

So. This has dragged out over five weeks and involved three different versions of the truth told to me by four different employees and finally it seems that my account with all its valuable (to me) data is forfeit because their right hand is incapable of talking to their left.

I'm glad I did mistakely cancel my debit card, otherwise it seems they would have kept billing me for my DVD rental on my completely closed account to which I had no access. Also on the plus side, I've now opened a new account and apparently I'm still eligible for a 14-day free trial of the DVD rental. Take that, Amazon.

Thursday, 12th April 2007

Lucky me, lucky mud

The Last Rites of the Bokononism:

God made mud.

God got lonesome.

So God said to some of the mud, "Sit up!"

"See all I've made," said God, "the hills, the sea, the sky, the stars."

And I was some of the mud that got to sit up and look around.

Lucky me, lucky mud.

I, mud, sat up and saw what a nice job God had done.

Nice going, God.

Nobody but you could have done it, God! I certainly couldn't have.

I feel very unimportant compared to You.

The only way I can feel the least bit important is to think of all the mud that didn't even get to sit up and look around.

I got so much, and most mud got so little.

Thank you for the honor!

Now mud lies down again and goes to sleep.

What memories for mud to have!

What interesting other kinds of sitting-up mud I met!

I loved everything I saw!

Good night.

I will go to heaven now.

I can hardly wait...

To find out for certain what my wampeter was...

And who was in my karass...

And all the good things our karass did for you.

Amen.

Kurt Vonnegut dies aged 84

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