(Almost) According to Someone: Apple Crumble

This time of year is apple-picking, cider-making season, for fruit just off the trees, and apples don’t get tastier than that.

At no other time of the year, do apples taste as good as they do from the end of August to the middle of October.

It’s also the time of year when that wonderful pudding we call a crumble really comes into its own. It seems in recent years to have been supplanted by the pie, which is a shame, if you ask me, because for a proper pudding, with a dollop of cream, a spoon or two of ice cream, or a splurge of custard, you can’t beat the humble crumble. And a pie isn’t really a pudding, which, for me, invokes thoughts of farmhouse baking, and pies should be savoury. Don’t get me wrong, I’m partial to sweet pies too, but crumble beats pastry any day.

And apple crumble is probably the best sort of crumble.

photograph to follow. Technology not working.

This recipe was collected at some point while I was still at school – I have vague recollections of making it in cooking-class. I also have recollections of arguing with my teacher about how to make it. She wanted me to stew the apples first, I wanted to just use slices. I still prefer my crumble to have sliced apple rather than stewed. Partly laziness, partly because that’s how my mother used to make it. Life’s too short for stewing…

Anyway.

You’ll need:

2 Bramley (or other cooking) apples, peeled and sliced (I didn’t peel them)

75g butter

125g sugar

150g self-raising flour

Soak the sliced apples in salty water for a few minutes, then drain and spread in your baking dish and bake them for about 10 minutes. 180C should be about right.

To make the crumble, mix the butter, sugar and flour until it looks like breadcrumbs. Pour over the top of the apples. Maybe sprinkle some extra sugar on top. I was taught to trace a snail-swirl in the top, but that’s optional.

Bake until it smells ready, or about 20 minutes.

Serve with cream, ice cream or custard.

And never mind about granola for breakfast – this cold! So much tastier than granola or cereal.

Behind the Picture

The thing about cross-stitch as a form of embroidery is that it is very simple to do, ignoring, if you will for the moment, all the counting involved. Not only is it uncomplicated, but it is generally done on fabrics with holes already clearly marked.

So simple, in fact, that even a child can do it. Provided, of course, that they have the attention span for it.

But complications caused by cross-stitch arise when it comes to the reverse of a design. It is the back of a piece which, allegedly, shows the talent of the stitcher. According to some, the back should look very very similar to the front.

Now, obviously, when you first start cross-stitching, the back’s the last thing you’re going to be worried about:

Christmas ShoppingPenguin Cross-stitch

Admittedly, this penguin isn’t the worst, but I’d rather not reveal the depths of my terrible stitching.

On the other hand, fortunately, the more you stitch, it becomes easier to keep it tidy:

Christmas HouseChrismas House Reverse

There’s still some way to go before the reverse of my stitching matches the front, but it is much easier to identify what it is from the back.

These two were stitched the better part of a year apart and, as you can see, the stitching’s much tidier, although I’m not sure that I’ve really changed my stitching all that much. I aim to stitch as efficiently as possible. I stitch the bottom stitches of a colour /// before going back over \\\. I suppose the biggest difference is that I’ve started consciously being neater with the thread-tails. But otherwise, I’m a Life’s Too Short kind of a person, so I don’t tend to pay too much attention to the back.

What about you? How neat is your stitching? Or are you like me, and only worry about the front?

Getting Old Today

Lady Bracknell: Thirty-five is an extremely attractive age. London is full of women of the highest birth who have, of their own free choice, remained thirty-five for years!

The Importance of Being Earnest, Oscar Wilde.

Birthday Cake

I’m not thirty-five, yet, but this quotation always pops into my head when people talk about getting old, which (particularly younger) people tend to do around birthdays. I’ve always believed in loyalty: finding an age you like and sticking with it.

I was going to try and come up with something profound about growing up or age just being a state of mind or what-have-you, but really, what I’m going to say today is this:

Happy birthday to everyone who shares my birthday, which happens to be today. I hope you all have a wonderful day.

And it’s only three months until Christmas…

For Your Eyes Only – Ian Fleming

I have never been a great watcher of the James Bond films, although I don’t object much if one is on, and I hadn’t read any of Fleming’s novels until earlier this year, when I happened across Moonraker, and was enthralled by the description of the bridge-game in which Bond fleeces Drax of vast sums and Drax is shown to be the bad guy: no Englishman would cheat at cards, oh the horrors. Yes, I’m weird and nerdy like that; I like a good game of cards (my preference is whist).

So, having been won over by a thrilling game of bridge, when For Your Eyes Only happened across my path, I picked it up.

For Your Eyes Only is a collection of five short stories about James Bond, with the missions not really being matters of National Security: From a View to Kill, For Your Eyes Only, Quantum of Solace, Risico, and The Hildebrand Rarity. 

I enjoyed all of the stories, even the relatively unexciting Quantum of Solace, in which Bond hears the story of a Colonial Civil Servant and his unhappy marriage to an air hostess. Never having seen the film, I would be very surprised if it bears even the slightest resemblance to the original story.

One of the things which I like about the Bond novels is that Fleming doesn’t waste words. There’s not a lot of flummery, and yet there’s just enough to set the scenes. I like that in a writer, because otherwise I just skip the vast paragraphs of largely unnecessary description. It’s a talent which so few modern writers seem to have, probably because it’s much easier to write reams if it’s done straight onto a computer. Perhaps if first drafts were always done in longhand first, it might discourage some of the doorstoppers…

Kittens and Wool

Sometimes, when I’m wandering around craft-shops and haberdasheries, I pick things up and think Oh, this would be perfect for…! or I wonder…Would this work…? I think it might. And then I buy whatever with that plan in mind, but never get around to testing my theory.

I have no doubt whatsoever that I’m not the first crafter to think these things, and nor will I be the last.

On one of my recent trips to Hobbycraft, I picked up a drawstring, plain cream cotton, bag having studied the weave and decided that, you know, I think it might work for cross-stitching on.

And then I put it to one side, because I had the far more promising linen found in IKEA. I’ve got other IKEA fabrics, which second thoughts are making me doubt whether they will work for cross-stitch.

But, with my family’s birthday season (and Christmas) almost upon (kick-off this week with mine), I finally got around to testing this draw-string bag, which I reckon would make a nice, if small, bag for wool. I found a cute design in the September CrossStitcher of a kitten playing with a ball of wool. And I spent an hour and a half or so stitching, after discovering that I only needed one strand of my floss.

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As you can see, it worked, but the count on this is quite high, so the stitches are small. It was also more time consuming than it might have been if I’d been using “proper” cross-stitch fabric. I doubt if it would be worth trying to stitch anything larger on it though, but Hobbycraft also do pencil-case-style items in the same, plain, cream cotton, which would be quite simple to turn into make-up cases or similar. Wonderful time-saver, to have it already made up into a bag or make-up case.

(Almost) According to Sainsbury’s: Bread and Ham Pudding

As with odd lengths of threads left over from cross-stitch kits, it’s impressive how collections of recipes and recipe books gather. And then usually gather dust.

It must be admitted that most of my collection has something to do with chocolate, but I have also managed to collect a large number of those give-away recipes that supermarkets use to inspire or to get you to buy some new and expensive ingredient.

Some of you may remember back before I was Gainfully Employed full-time, with my series of Delia recipes. Sadly, I have not the time to bake every week, and it is difficult to balance the desire for cake with the desire not to get too fat (because I’m too lazy for exercise), so I haven’t made any Delia cakes recently (but watch out for the Christmas cake in a month or so). But I thought that the (Almost) According to…series might be revived, for these other recipes, since most of them are main meals, and Mark and I have finally decided to try them all and (oh shock! Oh horror!) get rid of the ones we don’t like. And those we do, can be written into a recipe-journal, and the original also got rid of.

This week, a savoury take on the good old Bread and Butter Pudding.

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Served with salad, as per the suggestion, but without artful placing. Because Life’s too short.

It’s quite simple: layers of bread and ham, with a handful of spinach, slices of mozzarella, and maybe slices of tomato, drenched in a milk and egg mix (4 eggs to half a pint of milk and seasoning to taste).

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Okay, I’ll be honest, we used chicken, not ham, and skipped the tomato. Neither of us are particularly keen on slices of tomato.

And then bake for about half an hour.

As meals go, we gave it a 5/10. It was all right, a bit bland, a bit too much like omelette and bread mush, but omelettes taste better, and not nearly filling enough for an evening meal. It might have been better if the bread had been buttered, and it’s an excellent way to use up bread, milk and eggs, but our final verdict was that it isn’t good enough to make its way into the recipe book.

In the World of My Mind

It’s a strange thing to write about writing without writing about what it is that I’m writing. It’s the same to talk about dreams, and living the dream, without actually saying what that dream is.

I’ve never been very good about talking about specific plans. Vague ones, about the utopia of working from home and the self-employed dream of being about to drop everything to have lunch with friends or to go shopping, well – sure, no problem. I can talk about those plans until the cows come home, while bemoaning the boringness and drearyness of the job which currently fills so much of my time. That’s easy.

But committing myself to a specific plan, sitting down and working out exactly how to make those vague dreams a reality? Well, that’s a smidgeon harder. And I’ve never been one for explaining my process or talking about what I’m up to. I much prefer to present things as fait accompli. I suppose if I don’t let anyone know, I can’t disappoint anyone. Except myself, when I continue to be doing a deadly dull and creatively stifling job. Ah, but one day -! One day, all this shall be over, and that dream, which I’m still just dreaming, shall be true.

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The World of my Mind has been flitting recently. Having given me an Ah-Ha about my current novel and potential series for the world, my mind got me a quarter of the way through the re-write and then decided it would much rather cross-stitch and sketch patterns. When I’ve got my Christmas stitching out of the way (and yes, finally done the 24th mini-kit for the Advent calendar!), I shall begin to stitch samples of them and plot them on my shiny cross-stitch software. And then, maybe, I shall begin the process of talking to HMRC.

And maybe also, I shall find days when I can sit and write, especially now that those two chapters which were giving me such grief seem to have concluded themselves in a suitable fashion, at least for this draft.

To return to the opening statement about writing about writing without writing about one’s writing, I suppose one reason why I don’t like to talk about this work in particular, except in vague terms, is because it’s a fantasy, sort of, but it’s not an epic, or fantasy in the stereotypical sense (and here’s where fantasy-readers shout me down about the stereotype being unfair). What I mean is, it isn’t a quest, or full of fights and warfare, or particularly full of magic, or any of the other things normally associated with fantasy.

It’s about a relatively peaceful world and an Emperor chosen by the Gods who is, perhaps, not the greatest choice, because he is the youngest son and the baby of the family. And it’s about the prophesised end of this world. And it’s not a trilogy. It’s a stand-alone, although I have plans for other books for this world.

This, then, is the World of My Mind now, as I come to the end of my early twenties.