Saturday, 26 March 2016

Simnel-Cake: a Traditional British Confection for Easter


[Image description: simnel-cake on cake-plate]

In commemoration of my Grandma's funeral, today I am posting my simnel-cake photographs. Each Easter my Gran would make us all a simnel-cake. Last year, due to her death, there was none. So, this year I decided I should follow the tradition she set and I baked a cake for home and a cake to give away. I hope I have done you proud, Gran.

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I chose a recipe produced by Waitrose (a high-end, UK supermarket) in March 2012. The recipe is © copyrighted, so I am not permitted to reproduce here. However, I doubled the amount of Cointreau and mixed spice, tripled the amount of nutmeg and increased the butter by 20%.



The ingredients (see image above) include:

mixed fruit containing citrus peel
sultanas
Cointreau liqueur
unsalted butter
caster sugar
Chinese stem ginger in syrup
eggs
plain flour
freshly ground nutmeg
ground mixed spice
marzipan
icing-sugar

This is not a cake that can be made in a hurry. The recipe suggests that the fruit is soaked for an hour. I covered and soaked overnight, having carefully stirred the alcohol through several times.

I am arthritic, so creaming butter and sugar is too difficult without my little trick, which traditional bakers will no doubt bemoan: I melt my butter in the microwave before adding the sugar, which part dissolves into the warm liquid. Beware adding eggs too quickly as one does not want them to curdle in the heat. I also added the roughly grated ginger and the sieved flour.

 [Image description: cake mixture]

Having lined my baking-tin, I spooned in half the mixture. Then I added three-eighths of the marzipan which I had rolled into a ball in my palms and then flattened with the heel of my hand (image below).


The resulting 'circle' is then placed atop the mixture (image below).


Then all remaining cake-mixture is spooned into the cake-tin and smoothed (image below).


The cake is then placed into a pre-heated oven (image below) for between 130 and 145 minutes. My oven seems to work a tad faster than that of Waitrose's kitchen.

  
On this occasion I weighed out and so on ingredients for two cakes. Interestingly the first took a good fifteen minutes less to cook thoroughly than the second. When a skewer comes out clean, the cake is done. The cake then has to cool in its tin (image below) prior to being removed.


Once cooled a further three-eighths of the marzipan are used for a circular topping and the remaining two-eighths to make eleven or twelve marzipan eggs.

 [Image description: the decorated cake]

The recipe goes with the former number, but my Grandma went with twelve to represent the eleven loyal disciples and Jesus. Plus, twelve is an easier number to use for slicing the cake!


Then the simnel-cake is ready to be toasted, just long enough to brown the topping and eggs (image above).

By the time I had finished my simnel-cakes, my kitchen smelled divine.

 
The recipe suggests Madeira to accompany. My guests however will be offered the half bottle of Cointreau not used in the cake-making! %P

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Finally, for anyone wondering what the heck "simnel" means, it comes from an Italian word for semolina, which meant "fine flour".

 
 

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

With Love from Manchester to Brussels




[Image description: different races' hands wrapped around the globe; © & courtesy Alan blog]

Yesterday, I needed to know my Belgian friends were safe and sound. I know, I'm a terrible worrier. I suppose as in situations like this one in Brussels, Ankara, Paris, etc. it makes me feel so impotent.

[Image description: destruction in Manchester; courtesy Wikipedia]

Of course it also brings back memories of when Manchester was bombed in 1996. In those days most of us did not have mobiles (& obviously no internet, no facebook, no instant-messaging) and the telephone system, as happened in Brussels, could not cope.

My father was frantic as I used to take my nephew into the city every Saturday. Thankfully, we were saved due to it being my Grandma's birthday: I had taken the wee one to see his great-grandmother with a little gift to Hale, a suburb approximately nine miles/fourteen kilometres from the city centre. We heard the resounding and powerful boom. And then the awful silence. I shall never forget it.

Nor shall I forget just how much I cared for my loved-ones at that moment; indeed, for all Life.

I am a pacifist and wholeheartedly believe that violence only begets further violence. We have to sit down and talk and not walk away from our enemies until we can thrash out solutions.

Please, let's give Peace a chance.



Saturday, 5 March 2016

Towards a Theory of Art

“What is Art?”

The question has and will continue to vex as long as individuals ask it. So, I am not about to offer the ultimate answer. Rather, I intend to put across my suggestions and perhaps a framework in which to ponder the matter.

Firstly, how does one access Art? I suggest there are three ways: using our senses; thinking; and, responding to or with emotion.


[Image description: screen-shot of my tumblr blog, "criquaer: uncensored"]

Senses:

I am reaching nearly twenty-five thousand posts on my tumblr blog. This prompted me to look at the various items I have posted to my scrapbook of images. Straightaway this led me to consider the senses. I almost exclusively post imagery (sight); but many bloggers also post items containing sound (hearing). However, I suggest that other senses can also be involved in or activated by Art (such as taste and touch). This naturally may even involve some synæsthesia whereby Art incites or tricks other senses to become engaged. It is important that all senses are an option for Art, as only then can it be accessed by all, including those of us with any sensory impairment.

Thinking:

Art will most likely make one think: perhaps changing one’s perceptions or opinions; alternatively maybe re-enforcing them. Thinking may not always occur at the time Art is encountered. Art may seep into one’s conscious or unconscious and stir waking thoughts, daydreaming or dreaming whilst asleep. At other times Art may be quite in-one’s-face and agitate for some quick-thinking reaction.

Propaganda is included on my list (below) of potential art-forms as it, like advertising or rhetoric, has the ability to manipulate our thinking as well as our emotions.

Emotions:

Quite naturally, as it is our nature to be emotional, our emotions will be touched by Art. Political Art might stir up feelings of anger and a desire for justice. Erotica can stir sexual impulses. Some artworks create a sense of tranquility and help calm the viewer or listener or toucher.

Comedy, to my mind at least, is a clear example of an art-form that elicits emotional responses, although it often stirs thought also.

The Purpose of Art:

The next issue is to explore what Art is for. I suggest that for Art to be considered such, it ought to contain two or more of the following elements:

* challenge &/or reflect preconceptions of culture & the Zeitgeist;
* æsthetically please &/or prompt an æsthetic response;
* stimulate one or more of the senses;
* aid expression of thought &/or emotion;
* highlight &/or improve our environment.

I posit that Art is effectively a record - either for posterity or ephemerally - of a thought, an emotion or a sense.

Artist v. Art-Work:

Whilst Art may reflect the artist’s intentions, it is the interaction of the individual to the specific piece that is paramount. The art piece is like a child, once raised it has to be let go to make its own way in the world; whilst the hand of the parent will always be upon the individual, for good or ill, it is the child we encounter. It may be interesting to know about the artist and his or her or their intentions, however it is the meeting with the artwork itself that is of primary importance. Of course, I am not denigrating artists; but they are not gods to be worshipped. Most artists consider that it is the Work, their Art, Art that comes first.

As interacters with Art we are living, constantly changing, often contrary beings. However solid we perceive ourselves, we none of us know how we might act until our metal is tested. We never fully know ourselves. When a new employee joins the team, each of the pre-existing members sees different things about the newbie, based on their own judgment, emotions, experience, exigency… In quintessence Art, like the artists who create it, is ever-changing, multi-faceted and impossible to pin down. So what exactly is Art? One cannot exactly say.

An Alphabet of Art-Forms:

I have provided a list of potentially what can be or might be considered art-forms. It is not exhaustive. Inclusion on the list implies no moral judgement whether for good or ill.

Either work through the list or pick a letter at random and ponder whether, within the parameters I have set out, such can be considered in some way a form of Art.

A.
acting
advertisements
animal sanctuaries
animation
architecture
aromatherapy
B.
blogging
body-sculpting
books
C.
calligraphy
cartography
carving
ceramics
charity
cinema
collage
collecting
collections
comedy
comic book 
comic strip
community events
concepts
costumes
counselling
crime
culture
D.
dance
décor
design
documentaries
drawing
dreaming
dyeing
E.
eccentricity
ecology
embroidery
emotion
engineering
erotica
ethics
F.
fabrics
farming
flash-mobs
flower-arranging
fonts
food
friendship
G.
gaming
gardening
geology
glass
graphics
H.
hair-styling
haute couture
haute cuisine
holograms
I.
illustration
infinity
J.
jewellery
jurisprudence
justice
K.
kabuki
kaleidoscopes
kisses
knowledge
L.
landscapes
landscaping
language-learning
lectures
lights
linguistics
living
love
M.
magic
make-up
massage
mathematics
medicine
meditation
metal-working
mime
modelling
model-making
models
musea
music
N.
nature
O.
objets d’art
opera
P.
painting
paper-making
paragons
peace
perfumery
philosophy
photography
playing
poetry
pornography
portraiture
posters
print-making
propaganda
pyrotechnics
Q.
queers
R.
recitation
religion
rhetoric
S.
science
sculpture
sermons
service
sex
sexology
singing
skies
song-writing
sound-design
sound-management
sport
stars
T.
tattooing
taxonomy
teaching
television
theatre
thinking
3-D technologies
time
touching
toys
travel
U.
urban-planning
V.
virtual reality
W.
war
water
weather
web-design
working
writing
X.
xenology
Y.
yoga
Z.
Zeitgeist
zero


Feel free to engage in debate or simply comment below.

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On 1st May this year, for the international Blogging Against Disablism Day 2016 (#BADD2016), if all goes to plan, I shall be hosting a gallery of images pertinent to disabled folk. Additionally, I intend to blog on "Art for All" at the same time. I do hope the reader might care to return at said time.

Friday, 4 March 2016

Longsands Beach, Tynemouth

There's something for anyone happy to entertain themselves on a beach at Longsands.

[Image description: view of the beach at time of writing;
from live-cam, © & courtesy tynemouth.org.uk]

Parking is very limited here. The pathway and roadway from the road to the beach and beach-café is very steep. If one cannot park near the bottom, I would not want to be wheeled down in my wheelchair and I certainly could not self-wheel down the steep gradient.

We were lucky to stake claim to a parking-slot. My chum & I sat on the verandah of the beach-café and observed my companion teaching and helping her son fly a kite. That kept them occupied for a good hour. Occasionally needing to avoid the one other kite-flyer.

There are rocks to explore and plenty of golden sand for castle-construction. Many locals use this particular stretch of sea for surfing. Others play soccer matches in livery or simple kick-about in casual clothing. Still others just stroll from one end to t'other some with dogs by their sides. There were lots and lots of folk using the beach for one thing or another the day I visited, despite a cold wind blowing onshore.


Looking forward to returning. I know the lad wants to fly his kite again. %)

Grey Street, Newcastle-upon-Tyne


Georgian Elegance. Sophisticated Shopping. Fine Dining.

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[Image description: the honey-coloured stone façades; © & courtesy FreeFoto]

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Grey Street street gently curves down-/up-wards, so even mobility-impaired me can hobble down/up it. Every time I have done so it has been a day not unlike the photograph: blue sky, wispy clouds and a chill in the air or a cool breeze. I always feel at some point in my descent/ascent that I am in some Georgian or Regency novel. This is not an area for discount stores or bargain-hunters, one has to pay for the high-end clothing or haute cuisine.

Worth strolling along even if one's purse does not permit any spending here. Maybe even daydream being in an Austen or Brontë novel. ;)

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There & Back Again: Over the Tyne Bridge


[Image description: close-up of the bridge's structure; © & courtesy photoeverywhere]

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What is a visit to Newcastle-upon-Tyne without touching base with the Tyne Bridge. Three-headed Victorian street-lights stand to attention every few metres across the span. We had no reason to travel south of the river, but I insisted upon a quick jaunt over the mighty Tyne. Even my friend and driver enjoyed going over to the other side and of course back again. What is it about boys and going over bridges (rhetorical!).

Do not fear that you will end up in Gateshead, or even Sunderland, before being able to turn around: whilst it cannot be seen at first, there is the equivalent of a roundabout which enables an about-turn without having to risk doing a U-turn. It is not well sign-posted though, so one needs to keep one's wits about oneself and eyes trained.

Enjoy & marvel at the wondrous engineering! %)

Gosforth Palace (née Poon's), Newcastle-upon-Tyne: a Review

I have been a regular visitor of the Chinese restaurant Gosforth Palace (it's dropped the Poon's part of its name now) for twenty years this year. Nigh on every time I visit Newcastle, I go over to Gosforth to dine with a chum from my undergraduate days. I have never once had a bad meal in all these years, so naturally I recommend it. Even more so now that I am disabled, for despite the long flight of stairs up to the dining area, there is a chair-lift for those of us who cannot mount on our own legs.

[Image description: a shot of © Gosforth Palace when still signed as Poon's]

On this occasion we were five folk: myself & my best friend; my chum; her son; and, my chum's mother.

The family decided upon duck pancakes for their starter. My friend and I for different, but warming, soups. The duck was demolished and not a pancake was spared. I think we can say it went down a treat! My companion had won ton soup. Sometimes won tons can be slightly gristly or have a faint taste of fat. Not here. My companion was oohing over them. I opted for chicken & sweetcorn soup: there was plenty of the maize but little poultry. I have had better, but the soup was perfectly acceptable.

Everyone opted for different main courses. Nothing went back to the kitchen, save for empty plates and dishes. The wee lad has eaten noodles ever since he saw the first Kung Fu Panda film. He has them plain with egg-fried rice. It was lovely to see him eat so heartily.

My chum's mum and I both opted for noodle dishes. They serve the least greasy/oily noodles I have ever had. I chose a mixed seafood chow mein. It was perfect: the right amount to not over face but to satiate. I did not recognise everything I was eating; but it was all quite tasty.

My friend & my chum both commented on how light the egg-fried rice was, again no greasiness nor oiliness.

Service is just right: there if you need it, but not in one's face. I did not need to use my hand-gel, for towels are offered both prior to and post dining.

The food is not cheap, nor particularly expensive; for the quality and quantity I should state very reasonable.


Of course I shall be back next time I am in the North-East. %PPP

Quilliam Brothers, Newcastle-upon-Tyne: a Review


The place is packed, upstairs & downstairs, on Friday evenings, so one has to wait to be seated. The fact that so many folk do (at one point the queue was out the main entrance and down the side of the windows) is testament to the food & service at Quilliam Brothers. To ensure fairness, as soon as anyone new enters a server approaches them and then adds them to the board - no queue-jumping here.

[Image description: architectural drawing of the building occupied by the tea-house;
at the meeting of Barras Bridge (B1318), Claremont Road & Eldon Place,
directly opposite the iconic tower of the civic centre; © Quilliam Bros.]


After approximately ten to fifteen minutes we were escorted to table and menus were proffered. We were given ample time to peruse without feeling rushed nor frustrated. Just right. Our waiter served us with a smile, the right level of chattiness and affability.

My best friend took Earl Grey tea - perfectly steeped and served with fresh lemon. My Newkie chum and I had hot chocolates laced with cream and crumbled chocolate. Her wee son took a Fentiman's cherry cola for a special treat. I cannot recall the others' reactions to their drinks, as I was too busy being envelopped in warm, creamy chocolatiness…… Perfect: not too bitter, not too sweet.

We had tasty treats to accompany our beverages. My best friend and I both selected the ginger-beer scones. Oh my! Laced with chunks of stem ginger, a scone that packed a wee punch. Should love to have that recipe!

Shall defo return to Quilliam Bros next time I am in Newcastle city centre - just a couple of minutes walk from Haymarket Metro station.

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No hot meals after 3pm - their web-page could do with being updated to make this clear.