If I Lose You / If I Lose You

Sure, everybody (rightly) loves Sea Shanty TikTok. But can I point out that Life Without Buildings TikTok is also a thing?

Yes, that’s right, a British band that was obscure even at the time (I don’t think I’ve ever heard them outside of…when I play them), currently a big sensation with The Kids, most of whom probably weren’t even born when The Leanover came out. On the one hand, I feel old. On the other:

It feels like I’ve embraced normcore. I know some people that are continuing to dress up for work even though they’re at home, as a way of keeping the separation between work and free time clear. That makes a lot of sense, and I hope it works for them! I…gave up around April or May last year and my slide continues. I bought (and was given) a bunch of nice jumpers last January which I refuse to wear. There is a good reason for this: due to how I sit on my work chair, the chair itself, and my psoriasis, I have discovered that I’m in danger of rubbing away the fabric on my left arm really quite quickly.

So I’ve been building up a collection of cheap jumpers from Amazon and the good clothes are put up away until a better time awaits us. And I have definitely got over any embarrassment about wearing tracksuit bottoms to go shopping. Not that I do that much right now either, mind you…

Finally, I think it’s a year since I saw New Order for the first time! A weekend where I wandered the streets of Miami with an odd, severe virus that left me exhausted and very ill…look, if I was the vector into Florida, then I’m very sorry, and I didn’t know…

Are We Supposed To Work During An Attempted Coup?

Quiet week, really, eh?

Okay, so I didn’t really expect to be living in a time when an armed insurrection and invasion of the Capitol occurred. Or that I’d be watching it in real-time (although as it turns out, watching it unfold in real-time was somewhat deceptive, as it’s become clear in the days following that things were a lot more dangerous than they initially seemed Wednesday afternoon, and one officer had not noticed a Senate entrance was undefended, it could have been a bloodbath). But what’s a little sedition and the attempted assassination of the Vice-President and Speaker of the House between friends?

Still, at least we’ll always have Friday night and the Social Media Presidential Whack-A-Mole Event to tell the grandchildren. “When I was a lad, we had to open up our social media accounts! T’were all fields of whitespace and suspensions!”

Otherwise, the usual trepidation of returning to work, though this time with the added 20202021 pandemic dread. On the bright side, I did realize yesterday that it’s MLK Day next week, which is one of the few times that the US holiday schedule provides something over the traditional British Bank Holidays (no days off until Easter for you!). It does help the transition back into working while Winter deepens all around you. At least, I think it does; I’ll report back next week!

Oooh, but I did accomplish one thing this week. I actually completed Breath of the Wild. I have finished a Zelda game for the first time! What with that and my successes with Hades, I think I’ve actually got better at computer games than I was as a child, when I could only complete about 10 from a sizeable Spectrum collection — though, to be fair, Jet Set Willy is so hard that even DeepMind would struggle to get all the objects. Or else games are getting easier. Which is probably a touch more likely (thank goodness for save states).

First Snowstorm of The Year

Less than 24 hours to go now. And I can’t help but feel I squandered the days off, even if when I look over the list of things I wanted to get done over the past two weeks, I’ve done most of them and made a decent stab at those that were not completed. But still, the feeling of running out of time just won’t go away, and the looming restart of January 4th is hanging over what’s left of today like a shadow at the edge of the fog.

Apparently, I’m in a cheery mood this morning…

Let’s take a break with a picture of a biscoff & crunchie single-serving Viennetta which closed out the past fortnight of baking.

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Last Snowstorm of The Year

“You’ve forgotten how to relax,” they said, about an hour or so before I started planning this week’s baking tasks. Admittedly, only two desserts, but one essentially takes three days to complete, and the other is a recreation of something that I only found out about last week. Totally sane.

I have watched things (mainly finishing off the one-series tale of a Labour MP in 1976, oh yes), I have plotted, in all senses of the word. I have sat on a seat as the winter light shines through the window, reading of tales set in the Thames Valley (incidentally, how come it took me this long to read The Dark Is Rising Sequence?). I tidied, I organized, and yet at the end of it all, I still feel like I haven’t done enough.

There were so many plans for 2020, and almost all of them lie twisted and burned in pieces on the ground as we trundle off through the last hours of this terrible, no-good year. As for 2021? No plans, no resolutions, just hunkering down and hoping that by the middle of the year, things will start to look a little more hopeful.

Happy Christmas!

In case you were wondering, the moment I broke about not being able to go home for Christmas was, of course, during the last minute of The Snowman.

I was forty-one years old.1

But! Yes, it was not the Christmas we were expecting, but we still had a good time, with foam bullets flying here there and everywhere. And now, a rundown on THINGS THAT WERE MADE!

  • Preston Bus Station — a moderate success. It didn’t exactly match the idea in my head, but I don’t think the gingerbread would have maintained integrity if the bay sections had been too much longer.
  • ANZAC biscuits — simple but tasty!
  • Bakewell tart — I’m actually getting pretty good at these by now.
  • Pavé potatoes — Yes, I did make a Thomas Keller recipe and then slathered it with HP Sauce. You’d have done the same.
  • Tiffin — dubbed the Marie Antoinette Tiffin after I realized I had made it with Valrhona chocolate, amaretti biscuits imported from Italy, and raisins soaked in Foursquare Rum. I will be first up against the wall when the revolution comes. But I did also buy a three-year subscription to Tribune this Christmas, so maybe that offsets some of the crimes?
  • Mince Pies — I decided against going to Jungle Jim’s again this month, so instead I built my own mincemeat using this recipe from The Guardian. Complete with a single malt from Oban.
  • Sous Vide Carnitas — cooked for 24 hours and always great.
  • The Roses tin. This consisted of:
    • Dark / Mint / Milk / Orange Neapolitans — made the custom molds I had made back in September. Perfect for the Cadbury miniature machine you have stashed away in your loft somewhere.
    • Milk chocolate & hazelnut — straight out of the Roses tin circa 1984
    • Hazelnut and Caramel — from the Roses tin in 1985.
    • Muscovado Ganache — om!
    • Laddie — a bit of an afterthought, but it actually turned out to be one of the best chocolates I’ve ever made. A water ganache with a shot of The Classic Laddie added.
    • Toffee — what happens when you cook caramel just a touch too far? Why, a festive treat that you always intended to make and not something that happened because you weren’t paying attention to the induction hob, oh no.
  • Christmas Dinner — I think my favourite part of this was that there were no surprises. A standard roast dinner with everything that just came together at the right time (okay, some burning of the parsnips and carrots, but that was actually a popular outcome) and shared with everybody.
  • The Black Forest.

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Again, I feel this didn’t turn out exactly how I’d have really liked (there’s actually four more trees in the freezer. Oh, and I should probably mention that Tammy and Robert saved Christmas by loaning me their new freezer after mine apparently died last weekend), but the trees that did get sprayed do look good. Inside, they’re a mixture of Luxardo cherry, kirsch white chocolate namelaka, kirsch 71% water ganache, milk chocolate & almond discs, and supported by a dark chocolate cake. The snowmen are white chocolate panna cotta, with a Migoya-inspired liquid red cake ball inside. I didn’t come to play. Oh, and the logs are a fig & cinnamon ganache coated in velvet spray, because my log wall mold didn’t arrive in time.

There’s a few more desserts to come next week, but the week of dawn-to-dusk baking has drawn to an end. Tomorrow is Boxing Day, of course, and I will be having Mexican / British fusion (carnitas sandwiches with brown sauce. Trust me they’re going to be great), and attempting to make pickled onion crisps like a crazy man.

  1. My antipathy towards The Snowman and the Snowdog is legendary back home, but I stand by it: the mistake that the sequel makes is that the sense of loss and grief at the end of the film is the central point of the story. And that the Boy is left with the scarf at the end of the original is perfect: it’s a trinket that lets him know the night happened…but it could be easily explained away by other factors. A dog? Not so much. In short: burn the Snowdog. [return]

A Gingerbread Preston

Normally at this time of year, I’d be writing this blog entry through the haze of jetlag, having spent the weekend wandering around random airports on the East Coast and failing to sleep on an eight-hour overnight flight. This year is different, obviously. It’s nice of the British Government to unlock a secret new Tier just before Christmas…although over here the administration doesn’t seem to care that the daily death total has broken past the four thousand barrier. We just continue to countdown the days until the baby has its pram taken out of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. With arms, if necessary.

But, given I’m trapped here for Christmas, we’re going to make the best of it. Including a return of BRUTAL GINGERBREAD!

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The last time I attempted something like this, it was a very 2D version of the Trellick Tower. This year, I scaled my ambitions a bit too high and tried to pull off Preston Bus Station. It’s not too bad - I had to shorten the width of the thing for stability reasons, but the curves have turned out really well (thanks go out here to Tammy, who suggested the casserole dish after I’d spent a day experimenting with other, less good ideas). There is a lot of royal icing behind the scenes to try and improve the structural integrity, and I don’t think my attempt to replicate what I call “the Arndale tiling” really came through on gingerbread once it was baked. Still, it holds together! And next year, I have plans for something that’s a little grander, but will probably be easier once I work out how to use Tammy’s new CNC machine that she’s getting for Christmas…

(yes, it’s a bit twee, but heck, it’s celebrating a fantastic building made at the height of the post-war consensus. We never had it so good)

That counts as 1 of the next two weeks’ 26 desserts. I need to start picking up the pace!

(more to come as the week goes on)

Tenko & Crackers!

For the record, it was Tenko that made me realise I’d forgotten to sort out crackers. And it was the Internet that allowed me to pay a somewhat extortionate amount to get a box on its way (Amazon does have Christmas crackers, but none of them have snaps inside, which seems to defeat the entire point of the things. Americans).

Again, though, not a week where a lot happened otherwise. I have begun planning and experimentation for a gingerbread construction that will hopefully take place next week, and the upcoming Sunday may in fact see the first real addition I add to the house. It’s just a chalkboard wall, but it has also been three years. I also dreamed I owned a shed last night, so apparently my lockdown dreams are also getting lockdown fever. Oh! And I have Christmas lights up now. It’s pretty festive now. Roll on the 26 desserts of Christmas! (yes, that is a real thing. I have told Americans it’s thing a we do. Don’t ruin what I’ve got going here…)

Check back here next for…well, it’s not going to be all that exciting, as I’m still not going anywhere…but it is my final week of work for the year, so after that’s it’s going to be festive pictures on here until 2021. You have been warned.

Mask On Mask Action

After talking about remaining indoors as much as possible, I think this week I went outside more than I’ve done in the past month. But! I employed the ‘double-Biden’ mask set-up (N95 mask covered with a normal disposable cloth mask on top), and I have all the meat sorted for Christmas. In the first week of December! Planning! Or something like that.

Quiet week otherwise, so have a picture of a cat being somewhere she shouldn’t:

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Another Dessert, Perhaps?

“We won’t go too crazy for Thanksgiving.”

Also: “How does twelve desserts and 15lbs1 of meat sound?”

In fairness, I think it’s fair to say that we’re getting rather good at this. There was a checklist and everything came out at the correct time (except the carrots and the parsnips; they were sadly forgotten and left in a 220ºC oven whilst we were eating. They were discovered hours later, even though we switched the oven off shortly after dinner itself). But they turned out pretty good despite that. Behold!

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Highlights? Obviously, the croissant cubes were pretty amazing, and the disc eclairs make me want to do a lot more choux pastry work. The Viennetta came together quite well, but next time I’d want to make the chocolate sheets even thinner. Perhaps the greatest surprise, though, were the crisps. They were little more than the idea of “hey, we have a lot of potatoes and the Japanese spirializer here…”, and yet they were some of the best crisps I’ve ever tasted. And yes, I am already at work putting together a pickled onion variant for Christmas.

It was a great few days; the house was packed and yet everybody still had space, food was plentiful, and we watched Addams Family Values. A good proper Thanksgiving, held safely even during a pandemic.

The tree is up, and snow is forecast for the coming week. The December of 25 desserts is coming. Be afraid…

  1. Tammy would like it to be noted that the “15lbs” weight includes the bones in the chicken, so it’s not as bad as it sounds. Everybody needs a kilo of meat for dinner! [return]

Bunkering Part Two

Given that this country seems to be looking at this Thanksgiving as a way to get a breakout section in “crazy things people did during the pandemic” when the history books are written, we’re locking things down again.

The country is broken, and half the population is acting like the infected in Crossed. So, one more shop outside just before Christmas, but for now, it’s the contents of the freezer and home delivery until…well, maybe March?