Peach Custard Pie

Four years of upheaval not only interfered with my writing, but other pastimes. I used to enjoy baking and cooking to a greater degree than has been possible recently. Having had a chance to cook the other weekend, I thought, completely off the topic of writing, to share one of my favourite and easy dessert recipes. I found it in a cookbook many years ago (couldn’t tell you which one) and have adapted it a bit over the years so now make it following my own notes.

Ingredients at a glance:
Shortcrust Pastry
1 large tin of peach slices and/or fresh, or a mixture of both.
1/4 pint soured cream or yogurt
2 eggs
4 oz sugar
1 oz plain flour

Ingredients in more detail:

Shortcrust Pastry — I have to admit I tend to cheat with this, mostly because I’ve found a store bought one I like. Jamie Oliver has often said store bought pastry is fine so if it’s okay for him it’s good enough for me. I do sometimes make fresh pastry with a lot less fat than the recipe states. In fact, I often use less fat and sugar than most recipes stipulate. Atora suet or its equivalent (beef or vegetable), also makes good pastry BUT only if baking and eating fresh. I wouldn’t advise freezing suet pastry; it’s never the same.

Peaches — it’s fine to use tinned or fresh and I have used a mix of both when I didn’t have quite enough of one or the other. This recipe also works with other fruits. If using particular moist fruits drain first on kitchen paper. If using fresh peaches, peel or don’t depending on preference.

Soured Cream/Yogurt — the original recipe stated soured cream but it’s not something I have available as often as yogurt. If you want an especially rich dessert there’s no reason not to use cream, and for a more healthy option use a vanilla or natural yogurt.

Eggs — I’m sure the original recipe stated egg yolks, I forget how many. Again, if going for a richer dessert then use yolks but I’ve found this works fine using the whole eggs.

I tend to use 3 or 4 ozs of sugar. The actual recipe stated more but I always use less and even seem to recall halving the original amount. I made this the other weekend with 4 ozs and thought it a bit too sweet so I can’t imagine using more. Depends how sweet your sweet tooth is, I suppose.

1 oz plain flour — definitely needed to make the custard ‘set’.

Instructions:

Preheat oven to around gas 6 (that’s 200c and about 400f, I think — better check). Roll out dough and use it to line a 8-9 inch shallow pie dish. I use a fluted flan pan with a push-up base.

Arrange the peach slices in two concentric circles, one inner, one outer, slightly overlapping.

In a bowl, beat together the cream/soured cream/yogurt (whichever you’re using) with the eggs, sugar and the 1 oz of plain flour. Pour over the peaches.

Bake for approximately an hour, or until the custard sets. The tip of a knife should come out clean.

If the edge of the pastry looks as though it will burn it can be covered with some foil mid-way through cooking. I usually get away with it going a bit brown.

Note: this recipe also came with a streusel topping. I really don’t bother with it but, if wanted, make a crumble type topping and sprinkle on half way through the cooking time, or sprinkle with a little brown sugar and cinnamon or, as I often use, some finely chopped nuts with or without a little sugar and spice.

Serve warm or cold.

So, to recap: pastry in a flan dish, line with fruit, beat the rest of the ingredients together, pour in and bake. It really is simple.

 

 

 

Experience something bitter, something intoxicating

2011? How was this 2011? Seems like yesterday and still one of my favourite stories because I got the writing and story just as I wanted. Thinking of including it in a collection.

I also remember sshhhing the husband while putting on the final polish.

My inspiration was the title of the anthology and the ‘Green Muse’ painting by French history painter and illustrator, Albert Pierre René Maignan.

***

Bitter and Intoxicating

Émile beheld the rough lines of age and labour in the hand before him. The network of passing years bisected by a scar and punctuated by torn cuticles threatened to entrap him in a labyrinth of wanting. If only he could capture the essence of that hand, the person it belonged to, in a drawing.

Where the Spirit of the Wolf and the Fox meet

That is in my short story ‘The Wolf Moon’ and ‘Fox Spirit’ books in their anthology ‘Winter Tales’, which appeared early 2016. When I saw the submission call, I instantly knew which story to send. ‘The Wolf Moon’ is one of a body of work, thirteen short tales based around a theme, equally possible to read independently (I’ve published more than one with magazines), but would make an eerie collection. Fox Spirit was the perfect match for ‘The Wolf Moon’ one of the last written in an project that’s taken me a few years from conception to completion.

Shortlisted for the Best Indie Press twice by the British Fantasy Society, Fox Spirit’s mission statement summarises the belief that day to day life lacks a number of things, namely the fantastic, the magical, mischievous and a touch of the horrific. They aim to produce books ‘full of wonder and mischief delivered with a sharp bite’. My short story definitely applies and I couldn’t ask for a better springboard for a ‘Kernow’ tale.

Diana may or may not be a hunter, but Gabriel is no angel.

Excerpt:

Minutes ticked by, the hush fragmented by whispers. The door creaked open, muzzling free expression. Diana became aware of a large presence, prodigious in stature, colossal in self-possession. The longing to look was almost too much for her, made more difficult by other people’s reactions. The tide parted, made way for the newcomer even if that meant they must move closer to her.

Carver suddenly had a dilemma. He stopped in mid-flow on his way to her, gaze darting from the man standing in front of him and down to the end where Diana stood controlling the urge to smirk. He compromised—shoved her goods into the hands of his helper, nodded to the new arrival, and hurried out back to get whatever he’d come for. Diana took her time placing the items in her basket, although there were only two, and only the small sack of flour was cumbersome. As she turned to leave she tried to make the act of lifting her head look natural, the direction of her gaze an accident or coincidence.

See me.

By wish or bewitchment, he did. Man and woman gazed at each other. She saw blue eyes so bright as to illuminate the darkness like moonlight, a head of shaggy peppered hair, dark stubble along a strong jaw, and muscle. Hunter and hunted. Diana suppressed a shudder.

Without pause, she completed the turn and headed to the door. Remarks followed.

‘Witch,’ one woman said, following up her pronouncement with spittle. Diana smirked at the thought of Carver having to wash the floor, ignored her, and enjoyed the woman’s confusion.

‘Those raised by wolves should stay in the wild,’ another said. Diana agreed and breathed in relief as the cold of the day held out its welcoming arms. She plunged into snow and freedom.

***

Frost pierces through everything. Your bones ache in the icy wind. Harsh winter storms rage and the sun is leaving, not to return for many months. The cheerful men arriving to the mountain bothy in the midst of the winter storm, why do they unnerve you so much? The hunter who follows after you on your way home from the store, what does he hunt? The old neighbour lady seems so innocent, but you know the truth: you saw her that night. Why will the police not listen to you?

Dark, grim, beautiful and grotesque. We are delighted to bring you a collection of speculative winter stories and poems from new and established writers. The collection is edited by Margret Helgadottir. Winter Tales released early 2016 from Fox Spirit Books.

Cover art is by S.L. Johnson

Garden update July 2017

A few weeks ago I promised to take anyone interested along with me in my latest and probably hardest garden project to date. I have to admit when we first saw our garden space we thought this was the smallest garden we’d ever had. Now it’s taking shape we’re realising it’s far larger than we first thought, and a lot harder work. There’s more than what I’m going to show today finished, but it’s difficult to reveal all at once when there’s stuff piled in the way making photo-taking impossible.

What I can show you is one side of our first three tiers, which, if you remember, we’ve taken from this (top view looking down):

with the help of these:

to this (view looking up):

Can’t wait for the plants to establish. Further along we’re getting on with the herb garden, and a lavender bed among other things. I’m shoveling dirt in my sleep and can barely keep my eyes open when awake.

Not so lovable Groot

Guardians of the Galaxy is one of my favourite films. While I didn’t adore the second installment, I still found much to enjoy, but the trouble with any follow-up is the level of expectation and the pressure to surpass that first experience. It’s a problem every creative person understands too well.

That’s not the subject of this post. Most of us love Groot, but did you know he wasn’t always the adorable character you may think you know and love?

$1 Dollar Deal for the 5th July

To celebrate 7 years of JMS Books grab a copy for just $1 dollar but only direct from the publisher on 5th July.

Should a writer have favourite books when it concerns their own work? That may be up for debate but while I have a fondness for many titles, there are a handful where no one can deflate my deep sense of a job well done. Hard Pressed is one such title.

Blurb:

Can absolution arrive in three little words?

When one man has the worst of reputations and believes any misfortune befalling him is deserved, it’s hard to feel worthy of love. Can absolution arrive in three little words?

Journalist, Phillip Drake, is beginning to doubt the career he’s chosen, his motivation, his whole existence. When an assignment arises to trail up and coming, and coming out, actor, Gary Caldwell, he’s well aware it’s his duty to dig for dirt…and when Caldwell seems less than co-operative, Phillip half-convinces himself he’ll be happy to do so.

Gary has always been attracted to the reporter and finds it difficult to maintain a distance. Something is going on with Drake, not least of all the surprising revelation when Gary realises Drake is gay, and the attraction is mutual.

After an intimate encounter, Drake disappears and Gary sets out to unravel a mystery that not only involves tracking down the reporter’s whereabouts, but may also explain why Drake has done the things he has, why Drake harbours more than a little self-hate and more than emotional scars, and why the one thing Drake doesn’t believe he deserves — love — is the one thing he’s worthy of.

Get the $1 dollar deal on 5th July.

Previously the editor’s choice when originally published at Musa (trading ceased).

 

Bad Sex Award

Many have heard of the yearly Bad Sex in Fiction Award, which has been going since 1993 — the purpose to ‘honour’ an author for producing an ‘outstandingly’ bad sexual scene in what might otherwise be an excellent novel. The prize doesn’t include erotic fiction and mainly exists to throw light on often unnecessary sections of sex given a superficial treatment.

This is part of an old post where I drew attention to the 17th Annual Bad Sex in Fiction Award that went to author Jonathan Littell for some hilarious passages in his novel The Kindly Ones. However, some of the sentences aren’t as good/bad as they’ve been in some years and this is a translation from the French, which can affect some meanings. It’s also difficult judging for oneself when reading these lines out of context. Read more on the book and the award at BBC News.

Cringe worthy? Spiteful? Personally, I think it would be a fun award to win and, as they say, any publicity is good, although I’m not sure that’s always entirely true.

However, this I wish to put forward my own contender/winner even though it’s for a book published some years ago:

“She kept a secret spring surrounded by sweet moss, and there he was refreshed.”

And the winner is…

Stephen King for this line in his 5th Dark Tower novel ‘Wolves of the Calla’. It does read slightly better in context but made me roar with laughter so unless that was his intention (and even if it was) this has got to be a dodgy euphemism if ever I heard one. Otherwise, I love the Dark Tower series and finally got to read the whole series in one sitting. I love the character of Roland but my hero is Eddie.

I’m going to keep the award in mind when constructing such sentences.

A Life Lesson Learned

I’ve had more than one run-in with ‘celebrity’, but this incident was my first. A few years ago I was working in an office and answered the phone. When I realised with whom I was speaking, I experienced a ‘gulp’ moment where time slowed enough for ‘I really don’t want to be dealing with this’ to pass through my mind. I had heard enough ‘rumours’ to square my shoulders and straighten my spine, preparing for a not-very-nice-guy. Still, I am, if nothing else, generous, prepared to give anyone the benefit of the proverbial doubt…in this particular instance short lived. The moment of good grace passed with the first words to come out of his mouth, the ‘conversation’ something like this:

“Get ****** *******.”
“I’m sorry, she’s not at her desk right…”
“I want to speak to her.”
“… now. Maybe I can help, or take a message?”
“I am ******* **** so Go.Get.Her.Right.Nowwwwww.”

My cognitive reasoning instantly translated this to: “I’m a toffee-nosed blowhole who expects the world to bow instantly to my every whim. I’m so full of my own self-importance, I kiss my reflection first thing in the morning and last thing at night because no one else is good enough to kiss me, at all…except maybe my feet, when they are down there grovelling.”

I went to fetch the person in question (the toilet of all places) because it was my job and because, unfortunately, she was the other side of a similar coin. They deserved working together. She had the art of obsequiousness down pat when it served. Alas, in the real world, people management escaped her skillset.

“You got the photocopying done?” she asked one morning, staring at the pile in my arms. “You got it done ‘today’?”

“Yes,” I replied, somewhat puzzled.

“However did you manage that? ***** never does the photocopying for me that quickly. She sometimes makes me wait days.”

To clarify, some offices have had a photocopying departments, particularly if a lot of duplicate documents or leaflets were regularly sent out.

How did I get my photocopying done in a blink where this other person couldn’t? Compare her, “Get this done,” to my “Good morning, *****. How are you today? How’s your daughter?” In reply, I’d listen (and I do mean pay attention) to how well the woman’s daughter was doing, how proud she was of the young girl’s latest achievements, all of which swiftly concluded with, “I’ll put your work up next.”

No, I did not wish this woman a good morning in order to get my photocopying. Her doing so was an amazing bonus, but that was not in my mind the first time I said hello, or when I asked how she was anytime after. It’s called respect and being polite. I didn’t see her as the ‘photocopying woman’ as did so many. I saw her as someone deserving the same regard as anyone — a lesson the other two people of this blog could have done with learning before anyone gave them a job.

No one is generally more important than anyone else. If I were famous I would not expect someone to hurry off the toilet barring a life or death situation (that call…was it important? No, not at all). I wouldn’t turn up without warning and expect to jump the queue. It’s a crazy world where a recognisable name or face expects preferential treatment, particularly if it’s to the detriment of others. It’s odd we bestow such care, not on a nurse who maybe saved a life that day, but on people (famous, or not) who treat others with rudeness and arrogance. Respect should be earned. The person who does the photocopying or served coffee that morning, are all the same. My father served coffee for a time, and though he might have ended up in the Tower of London, had the Queen turned up he would have expected her to pay and to wait in line. He would have been polite, he would have been respectful, but he did not like any individual having privilege over another. Maybe the picture he painted with this declaration was more allegorical than actual, but, as a child, that was something I would have been tickled to see. I never knew if he exaggerated, but the principle sure stuck in my mind.

Garden update June 2017

It’s been just over a month since I first mentioned my garden, usually the one part of my personal life I don’t mind sharing. Some, particularly those who hang out with me on Facebook, will know I’ve had many types of gardens including a large landscaped one. This time we’ve started with the smallest space we’ve ever had (a somewhat deliberate choice), and nothing more than a pile of…well, mostly clay. One cannot call it soil. There are ways to work the ground to make it nutrient rich but we’re not at that stage. First, we need to create tiers.

A month has gone by since I showed you an expanse of ‘dirt’, held up by choosing and awaiting delivery of supplies and the weather. We’ve had a lot of intermittent rain as evidenced by the sudden flash growth of unwanted greenery. To create the tiers we’ve decided to break the garden into thirds. One stone wall either side of the steps and a sleeper wall at the far end as we want a small veggie patch. The tiers will also be in thirds.

Before we even get to creating the tiers we’ve had to attack the plants that have taken over. These are dock leaves:

Dock leaves. Dock leaves everywhere!

No one wants these things. They grow large and the roots are thick and deep. Fortunately (or not depending on viewpoint), we’ve had a lot of digging out to do so taking this lot down was the least concern. May not seem like it, but it didn’t take long. That’s the Dear Husband with a spade and shovel hiding at the edge of the photo. He did the shovelling and I’ve been swinging the mattock (a type of pickaxe) to help ‘hook’ soil down so he can move it out of the way in order to create a trench.

This is only the beginning of the first. We need to fill this to a required height of ballast (arriving this week) and compact, then add a layer of sand to set the walling in, then back fill with gravel before packing the soil back to create the layers. We also need to mix the clay/soil with good manure and compost before shovelling it in, repeat three times to make three tiers. The good thing is, because of the required height and depth, we won’t be creating too much pressure. I’ll let you know how we got on.

 

Shakespeare’s Influence

Couldn’t resist sharing. Think you know Shakespeare? Or maybe you think you’ve never read him, never watched a play, and don’t care to. Maybe you think you don’t know any Shakespeare at all. Think again.

Love or loathe, Shakespeare influenced our language like no other writer. My personal tip is, if you can, visit The Globe (or any theatre) and watch a live performance. His work are plays and meant to be watched rather than read. The Merchant of Venice was one of the many fantastic performances I’ve seen, and yes, I was lucky enough to see it at The Globe on a balmy summer evening. Watch for a fast and fun whirlwind tour of how Shakespeare has influenced our lives: