If You Can’t Stand the Heat…

Recipe post today. I’ve been busy in the kitchen again and since a couple of people have asked, here’s the details.

Gluten Free Cherry Scones

8oz gluten free plain flour

3tsp baking powder

2oz low fat spread

1/4pt skimmed milk

1oz glacé cherries, chopped

Preheat your oven to 230C (210C fan). Sift the flour and baking powder together into a bowl. Rub in the low fat spread until you get a breadcrumb texture, mix in the cherries and then make a well in the centre of your bowl. Pour in the milk a little at a time, mixing all the time, until your dough comes together in a ball without it being too sticky. Split the dough in half and form up into two balls. Flatten each one out into a round about 2cm thick (or there abouts!) on a prepared baking sheet. Mark up eight ‘slices’ on each round and then bake for 8-12 minutes.

Note: you can use self raising flour (in which case, omit the baking powder) and add more fruit to suit your tastes (I designed this to be low in Weight Watchers smart points – it works out at around 2sp per slice). One addition I think I’d make next time is a couple of drops of either almond or vanilla essence.

Butternut Squash Lasagne

1 package of butternut squash lasagne sheets (or one medium squash, peeled, deseeded and sliced into 2-3mm sheets)

25g Parmesan, grated

For the bechamel sauce:

500ml semi skimmed milk

1 small onion, halved

5 cloves

1 bay leaf

30g unsalted butter

30g plain flour

for the ragu:

1 onion, sliced

1 carrot, finely diced

1 stick of celery, finely diced

3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped

500g lean beef mince

250g chestnut mushrooms, wiped and sliced

400g tin of chopped tomatoes

250ml beef stock (made with half a stock cube)

1tbsp tomato puree

2tsp dried oregano

2 bay leaves

1tbsp fresh thyme (or a good shake of the dried thyme jar!)

1. To make the bechamel sauce, put the milk, onion, cloves and bay leaf in a pan and heat gently. Just before it boils, remove from the heat and and allow to infuse for 20 minutes.

2. To make the ragu, mist a large pan with cooking spray. Heat on medium and add the onion, celary and carrot. Cook for 8-10 minutes until softened. Add the garlic and cook for a further minute. Add the beef and cook for 6-8 minutes until thoroughly browned. Add the mushrooms and cook for 3 minutes, then add the tomatoes, purée, oregano, thyme, bay leaves and stock, stir and leave to simmer for 30 minutes (or until you have a nice thick sauce).

3. Meanwhile strain the milk and discard the onion, bay leaf and cloves. Melt the butter in a pan and gradually add the flour. Cook for 2 minutes over a low heat then remove from the heat and gradually whisk in the infused milk until you have a nice, smooth sauce*. Return to the heat and boil for 3-4 minutes until thickened. Grate in some fresh nutmeg and season to taste.

4. Assemble the lasagne, top with the Parmesan and bake in a preheated oven (180C or 160C fan) for 40-50 minutes until golden and bubbling.

*if it goes lumpy (mine did!) use a stick blender to deal with the issue!

Serves 4 at 10sp per serving.

So there you go 😄


Wonderwoman – A Film I Wanted To Love And Couldn’t…

I was going to just do this on Facebook, but the more I thought about it, the more space I realised I needed, so here we are: a full on blog post.

One thing to get out of the way first (in the interests of full disclosure): I’ve never really been a DC kind of girl. I grew up on Marvel. The X-Men, the Incredible Hulk, Spiderman and Friends. I saw some of the DC properties – the 50s Superman; the 60s Batman; the 70s Wonderwoman; the 90s Flash – but I never really connected with them. I’m not a fan of Superman. I don’t get the fuss over Batman. By rights, I ought to like both of them – the whole secret identity/crime fighting/vigilante thing is normally my catnip, but for some reason, the DC characters have never attracted me and often out-right repelled me.

Second thing to state, up front: I didn’t hate the Wonderwoman film. It was well done. Many of the characters (I’ll come onto this) were well drawn and the fight sequences were well put together. I may have rolled my eyes at the love story aspect, but from a character point of view, it made sense and they faded to black (metaphorically speaking) rather than gratuitously showing what happened next – which is a refreshing change.

I also very much liked the way the film showed the multi-ethnic, multi-national mix of soldiers (the Sikhs with bicycles unreasonably amused me). I’d have to watch the station sequence again but it left me with the impression that they’d managed to include everyone who’d actually fought in some way. Too often that sort of thing gets missed. And, for that matter, the village of Veld and the casualties and the Trenches were all well done without being gratuitous. Well researched, well shot and just generally well done. (I’ve little doubt there are historical goofs in there somewhere – nobody’s ever perfect! – but they’re small and this isn’t, at the end of the day, intended as a historical drama.)

Thirdly: by necessity here be spoilers. If you haven’t seen it and want to remain unspoiled, nope out at this point!

So, caveats done, I can safely say that I have some pretty big issues with the film.

First and (probably most minor) was the choice of using a real World War I German general as one of the primary antagonists. Everyone else (give or take) was fictional, so why involve a real person? Especially a real person who not only survived the war but played an unfortunately large role in helping to cause the next one?

Second: a missed opportunity. I’d pretty much pegged that Sir Patrick was not a good guy so I wasn’t especially surprised by the revelation that he was actually the ultimate bad guy. But. I think a more interesting story would have been if Ares had actually turned out to be Dr Poison. It would at least  have given her a bit of an arc and agency – that she was actually the one pulling all the strings. As it was, she was just a mad scientist with no particularly compelling reason for why she was doing what she was doing.

Third: the overall story. You have a gang of rag-tag misfits, going into occupied territory, going up against a mad scientist with a facial disfigurement, who just happens to have a plane loaded with a deadly weapon that one of the party has to some how bring down without killing anyone on the ground. And there’s a gentle love story between him and the woman of the group. I could be describing Wonderwoman, or I could be describing Captain America: The First Avenger. You decide.

There are, obviously, differences. It’s a different war (WWI for Wonderwoman, WWII for Captain America), Peggy Carter isn’t out in the field with the Howling Commandos – except for during the actual climax of the film – and, as I’ve already noted, the mad scientist isn’t even really an antagonist in Wonderwoman. Beyond that, play spot the difference.

Fourth: pacing. This can be summed up in a DC-appropriate fashion. Holy Info Dump, Batman. Any time you tell an origin story, it’s a trap you’re liable to fall into (Iron Man partially fell into it; so did Antman; Captain America came close, with the exposition about Red Skull, but by virtue of both Stanley Tucci and brevity, it just about dodged the bullet) but in the case of Wonderwoman it felt very much like every time it happened, the film came to an almost screeching halt. It would have been better if they’d actually structured the movie to properly show the final battle with Ares – it could have even been worked in as Diana’s bedtime story, with them coming out of the battle and showing Hypolyta and very-young Diana. They could have even dropped a few more hints about who/what the God Killer really was.

Fifth: enough with the training montages. I know I said the fight sequences were well done, but when your first twenty minutes is almost exclusively a training montage that doesn’t even slightly advance the story, you are DOING. SOMETHING. WRONG.

Sixth: Boob armour. Do I really need to explain what’s wrong with this?!

Seventh (and this is not a gripe with the film so much as it is with the general world wide educational standards): WWI did not feature Nazis. Yes, I know the Allies were fighting the Germans (and the Austro-Hungarians, and the Ottomans), that still doesn’t mean they were Nazis. No, it doesn’t count if people who later became Nazis featured because (read this carefully) Nazis did not exist prior to 1920. WWI ended in 1918. You see how that works?

So that’s my rant done. I will buy the DVD when it comes out and I wish it well at the box office (because, just maybe, if it does well Marvel will give us the Black Widow movie we’ve been wanting since she kicked Happy’s butt in Iron Man 2), but it’s not going to be a favourite of mine and it’s not made me even slightly interested to see the Justice League (or any of the other DCEU movies).

Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep…

It’s been a week of two halves. On the one hand, I managed to more or less finish two complete chapters of writing and have got a notional plan now for the first third of the whole book.

On the other hand, Monday proved to be a bit of a…challenge and I spent a lot of yesterday in a bit of a fog as a result.

Normal service should resume next week.

It Sounds Like Waves on the Sea

It’s been one of those not-a-bad weeks I sometimes have. Work is still being maddening (of course), but as I’m not last in God’s great chain of creation at the moment (thank you Ben Elton), I’m not looking around for an earwig to persecute – though I am spending large chunks of my day not doing a great deal because of waiting.

So far (at least) this hasn’t actually led to productivity of another sort, but as my boss is out of the office tomorrow, I may be able to dodge in some writing between hands of solitaire (!).

For those who don’t follow me on Facebook (I figure there’s an off chance there’s one or two!), I’ve set myself a goal for April of writing at least 7k words a week. So far this week, I’ve managed just a shade over 1k (no writing last night), which is not a bad start.

So far, what I’ve written isn’t coherent (in the sense that I have the start of three completely separate scenes from within the same overall story) but the three scenes are a challenge in their own way. One is an action piece which (tentatively) I’m leaning towards being the opening of the whole story. One is follow up on the action piece (which doesn’t sound like a challenge until you realise that I haven’t actually nailed down all the details of the action sequence – though doing the reaction sequence actually helps on that score). And the third…the third is a scene written from the point of view of the character I’ve been actively developing for nearly four years now. The challenge here isn’t just keeping her back story straight (because my sainted aunt has that ever changed!): she’s essentially blind. Remembering not to just casually write “He nodded” is an obvious point, but there are other visual cues that just automatically creep in to your writing – things like colours and shapes – which are more of a challenge. And working out what else she would pick up on and how in the heck to describe smells and feelings and…


At the back of my mind, I’m conscious that I don’t want her to end up as either a caricature  or an offensive stereotype so sooner, rather than later, I may be looking for someone (or several someones) to take a look over this scene. Volunteers welcome!

The other thing I’ve been doing this week, is going back to my roots – musically speaking. A couple of weeks back, I started building a playlist of the music that, for me, was seminal in shaping the way I listen to music. The only criteria were:

  1. Either released between 1986 and 1999 or
  2. Something that was played at/to me in the same period
  3. Should be something that fits into the rock genre

Beyond that, anything’s been fair game – although I’ve tended to gravitate towards the stuff that got played heavily rather than the one hit wonders (so no Stiltskin, then!). The end result is (so far) a Spotify playlist of 57 songs of a reasonably eclectic mix. There’s some Metallica, there’s U2, there’s Deep Purple and The Who and Guns n Roses and ZZ Top and Tom Petty. There’s not as much Def Leppard as I wanted (they’ve only got either their most recent stuff or live albums available) and there’s no Chris Rea (ditto) but I found Albatross and Bat Out Of Hell and Money For Nothing (all of which bring back memories of long car journeys in the back of my father’s cars). And Queen, of course, because Spotify play lists are like cassette tapes – no matter what you do, you end up with Bohemian Rhapsody* on there somewhere. (Thanks Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett for pointing that one out!)

It’s not earth shaking, it’s not radical, but listening to it feels like a reset button’s been pressed – and we all need a reset, sometimes.


Is This Thing On?

Well, nearly a full year later and…I’m back. I think.

If you want to skip the teal deer (of which there is much as I whine aboue the last nine months), there’s a couple of questions at the end of this post which are about 40% of the reason for posting and I’d be grateful for any answers.

With that out of the way, some teal deer (say tl;dr out loud) of the whiny variety…

In the nine months I’ve been away from here, I’d love to say that I was super productive and successful…but I would, in fact, be lying.

I attempted (and failed) at NaNo

I attempted and (mostly) succeeded at Yuletide but in the process stressed myself out so badly over one of the stories that I ended up orphaning it (something I never thought I’d do) because that seemed like the only way to get it out of my head (note to self for next Yuletide: if, after the first month, your impulse is to default, just default, it’ll save you the heartache). Of the stories I didn’t orphan, my fix-it for Jason Bourne was definitely my most popular story; my attempt at historical fiction for the Mughal Empire (yes, really) is the story I was most pleased by. And no, I’m not saying what it was I orphaned – that’s sort of the point!

I also attempted to apply for something that would have been pretty much my dream job.

Note the use of the verb attempt.

There’s been some health issues, there’s been some (a lot) of notivation and there’s been so much stupidity that I don’t even really know where to start (and as that stupidity is veering into political territory, I’m not even going to try – suffice to say, throw a dart at a newspaper and you’ll hit some).

But in between all that, there was a lovely vacation and seeing friends and a Christmas Eve Eve moonlit swim (yes, really!) and a job that is still employing me even if it drives me around the twist sometimes. (Why yes, my boss IS on vacation this week – how did you guess?)

So it hasn’t been all bad.

And it seems to be getting better (she says tentatively). I’m writing again. Nothing too substantive and nothing I particularly want to share yet, but it’s making progress. I’ve also solved another of my world building problems on Sunday with an idea that is, frankly, so utterly genius and simultaneously so blindingly obvious that I’m torn between an epic facepalm and yelling it from all the high places in town.

Lastly, a couple of questions:

  1. What is the shortest work of fiction you’d consider buying as a standalone unit? (Options: Short story [1000-9999 words], Novella [10k-49k], Novel [50k+]
  2. If you’d consider buying a short story, how much would you expect to pay? (Assume we’re talking about an eBook of some description rather than a physical book!)


Home Sweet Home

Just a short posting to note that (for those of you following the office saga) we’re now into our new abode. We have boxes everywhere, and getting into it is a little like an obstacle race (!), but we’re in and by the end of the day things should be back to normal.

Oh, and did I mention this new office has aircon?

Given that we’re essentially moving in on what will be likely to be the hottest day of the year (again), that’s a definite bonus!

If you’re awaiting a writing update, well that will come later in the week – though I’m still not sure when my new regular posting day will be.

These Are Better Days, Baby

And they are – this last week has been much better. I’m still working from home (and will be for another week or so), but I’ve had more to do and I’ve generally felt better about the situation – mostly because it is now, finally, done. We know when we can move into the new office, the lease is all signed and done, our clients now know about the change of address and the story is now well and truly out in the public domain (it was in the local paper), so…yeah.

It still sucks for the folks I know, of course, but unless I were to win tonight’s lottery draw there’s nothing I can do to fix their situation and as my own position shows, this shit does come right by degrees.

So that’s the last of that subject.


What also helps is that I’ve had a decently productive creative week as well. A few more building blocks have slotted into place, and while I’m not totally certain that the story unfolding is going to be earth-shatteringly original, I am fairly sure that the characters are engaging.

Well, they’re engaging the heck out of me, at least – and that’s half the battle. Let’s face it: if the writer doesn’t go much on her characters, what hope has a reader got?…!

I’m also working on something to help me nail down all the boring bits of administrivia and world building which is precisely as tedious as it sounds, but it’s also necessary because, at this point, I have notes across three notebooks (paper variety), two computers (ironically, one a notebook!) and in Evernote as well. Nothing’s where I need it when I need it. Thus the tedium of building my own database.

And in amongst this frenzy (for certain values of frenzy!) I haven’t forgotten everything else I’m supposed to be working on. I’m tentatively giving myself until the end of July to finish up with the world building and to have something (or six) ready for posting. We’ll see how that goes.

Working From Home…

Well, we managed the improbable and got virtually* all our stuff out of the building by close of business on Friday. Given subsequent events, I’m relieved to say the least. We’ve also secured a new office (again, pretty good going, given we had three and a half days to do this in!), unfortunately, we don’t get to move in there for a couple of weeks (for a number of reasons), which means that I’m working from home.

And I’m absolutely hating it.

I’m missing seeing people. Granted, when I was working, I didn’t necessarily talk to people, but there were smiles and hellos and the occasional chat while the kettle was boiling in the kitchen.

Here, there’s just the cat and mum – and mum is being very careful not to “disturb me” while I’m working. (The cat isn’t giving a fig on that score – he’s just seeing my presence as translating to an early dinner!)

Again, I know I should be happy to still have a job and everything, but like the whole rest of the sorry mess, it still sucks.

And it doesn’t help that I’m horribly under employed at the moment, which means I’m sitting at my computer with very little work to do, but conscious that, because I’m working from home, I really shouldn’t be messing around.

So there we are. Another self-absorbed whine – though if I can’t whine on my own blog, where can I whine?!

Hopefully next week will have some better news and better content.



*We had to leave the furniture – fortunately, the new office comes with desks and chairs, so that’s less of a bind than it might have been, and we may yet be able to rescue it


Of Offices and Jobs

Well this week has been comfortably the worst I’ve known in a while (and given it’s only Wednesday, that’s saying something).

The reason I’m posting on a Wednesday morning, rather than my normal Thursday evening is that, simply, my normal Thursday evenings are no more. I don’t really want to get into the exact circumstances (because that will make me rather more identifiable to the outside world than I’d necessarily like), suffice to say that a number of very good people have lost their jobs and while I’m not one of them, my own job is in a considerable state of flux.

And I know that I should be grateful to still have it (because, see above), but I can’t help feeling a little guilty that I do and my friends don’t.

With Prophecy Skills Like This I Ought To Do The Lottery

Writing done at the weekend: nil – though the family visiting didn’t entirely go to plan I was sufficiently zombified on Saturday (thanks to a dying carbon monoxide detector and an as-it-turned-out unnecessarily early start) it was an utter non-start, and Sunday was the day things did (mostly) go to plan so…

Work this week: quiet to the point where I spent Tuesday being paid for playing Solitaire. Haven’t had a day like that for a while, I can tell you! Unfortunately, with my boss actually being in the office, no writing was accomplished, but I did get some done yesterday and I’ve done a little more today, though none of it’s terribly substantial yet.

Oh, and yes, I’ve done more in the line of world building for my original fiction universe.

Three for three, I think!

So what do I see for the coming week. More of the same, I think – if I’m honest. Again, the work thing is a bit touch and go as to whether I’m going to be overworked or playing solitaire, but having had my day doing solitaire, I should be in a better place to use my spare time more wisely, so if it does come to pass, I will have at least one story finished this time next week. The world building thing will likely continue apace – if nothing else, it’s letting me make good use of my studies of Roman politics (to say nothing of the current political shenanigans that are going on on both sides of the Atlantic) – and it probably means that, for the third year in a row, I’m likely going to be working in this universe for NaNo…though I have plenty of time to think harder about that!

As for whether or not I’ll manage some writing over the weekend…there I’m making no predictions. I don’t have any particular plans, so I guess we’ll see what happens!

Oh and at least the temperature’s dropped. Should make PT a little more livable with in twenty minutes’ time…