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Archive for April, 2011

Come Into My Gingerbread House, Little One…

This pudding is a great way to kick-start your child’s social life. Once you’re made it for one child once, the word will spread, and you will then be able to lure not only that child, but all future children, round to your house to play with your child – merely with the promise that chocolate pudding will be made at tea-time.That sounded a lot less sinister in my head.

Before someone calls the police on me, I should add that the fun of this pudding doesn’t stop with the acquisition of small-sized dinner-guests. This pudding is almost indecently delicious. It requires no skill whatsoever to make. Because all the quantities are based on volume rather than weight, you don’t even need to get the scales out. It can be prepared in about five minutes (three if you’re really motoring) and it then takes three minutes to cook. One pudding is frequently too much for one child, so you get to scavenge off their plates afterwards. And it’s also hilariously good fun to watch while it cooks. On the downside, it’s strangely hard to clean off the mugs afterwards. But it’s worth it.

Serves two children (with scavenging potential for mothers), two adults, or one outrageous pig 

Ingredients

4 tbsp self-raising flour
4 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp cocoa
1 egg, beaten
4 tbsp milk
4 tbsp oil
2 splashes vanilla essence
As many chocolate chips as you feel you can justify
2 mugs you don’t like very much (or 1 mug if you’re going for the Outrageous Pig option)

Method

1.      Take your two mugs you don’t like very much.

2.      Into each mug, put:
2 tbsp flour
2 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp cocoa

…and mix well. Get right into the crevices with the mixing-spoon, otherwise you’ll have little patches of flour left over.

3.      To each mug, add:
2 tbsp oil
2 tbsp milk
a splash of vanilla essence
half the beaten egg.

4.      Mix some more. If it turns into a sort of weird chocolate cement, add a bit more oil and / or a bit more milk.

5.      Add the chocolate chips, and stir them in a bit. If you let them sit on the top, they will melt and run down the sides, which isn’t a disaster, but seems like a bit of a waste.

6.      Microwave the mugs on full power for three minutes. Gather the children around the microwave in the manner of savages witnessing the making of fire, and watch in genuine fascination as the puddings rise up the insides of the mug, threatening to erupt like volcanoes. Be prepared for quite a lot of discussion from any small people watching regarding vital questions such as whose pudding is “winning”, what constitutes “winning” anyway, whether the rising puddings look more like hats than monsters or more like monsters than hats, and what might happen if the pudding filled the whole microwave / grew all the way up to the ceiling / collapsed over the side and tried to escape. Don’t worry. Three minutes from now, a beautiful silence will descend on your household.

7.      Remove your pudding from the microwave and serve with ice-cream and cream. Enjoy knowing that your pudding will soon become a legend in the playground, and your child will now be able to secure anyone they want, even if their idea of fun is to tie up their guests and pointlessly torture them for an hour. If their idea of fun is to tie up their guests and pointlessly torture them for an hour, remember to book a therapist. But finish off the remains of the chocolate pudding first.

 

Stupidly Easy Recipes are just that – stupidly easy. Every single ingredient they contain can be bought from my local supermarket, and most of them are stuff I just happen to have in the house most of the time. They all produce results which are insanely nice compared to how little work you need to put into preparing them, and most can be eaten one-handed, with a fork, over the head of a Moray Eel nursing baby. Quantities are usually for two people.

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I’m one of the ten contributing authors to Legend Press’s 2010 “Short Story Re-Invented” collection, Ten Journeys.

My first time in print! I suspect it’s deeply uncool to be as excited about this as I am, but since I have spent my entire life being deeply uncool, I suppose this shouldn’t surprise me too much.
Legend Press are a fantastic new Independent publishing house, and it was a great experience to work with them.

So, what’s it all about?

The latest in the acclaimed Short Story Reinvented Series, 10 Journeys offers a unique array of poignant journeys both literal and psychological. Evocative and highly engaging, the stories transform everyday accounts into the most accessible yet powerful collection possible. Presenting a host of talented writers, each story compares and contrasts to encapsulate the individuality of short fiction. Sometimes dark and stimulating, other times charming and simply beautiful, these stories illustrate a portrait of unexpected wealth in ten bite-size chunks.
The collection features 10 talented authors: Guy Mankowski, A.J. Kirby, Dave Foxall, Cassandra Parkin, Josie Henley-Einion, Paul Burman, Anne Devereux, Ari O’Connell, Brendan Telford and Alistair Meldrum.

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Because We All Know The Zombiepocalypse Is Coming One Day Soon

 

Team Z leaders
Team Zombiepocalypse is divided into three contingents:

Cassandra is in charge of Great Britain
Kim is in charge of the US East Coast
Heidi is in charge of the US West Coast. Special attention shall be paid to the population of California. With specific reference to Hollywood.

When the Zombie outbreak hits…
Cassandra will round up her friends and family, and make a brief and perilous stop-off in London, to collect her portion of the Repopulation List. She will then hightail it down to the West Country, and locate a suitable port. Bristol seems like a good choice. She will then commandeer, de-Zombify and rapidly learn to pilot a Cruise Ship.

Kim will also round up her friends and family, and will also be commandeering and de-Zombifying a Cruise Ship. This Cruise Ship will remain in port, and be fiercely defended against all comers, awaiting the arrival of Heidifrom California. All other US team members are encouraged to make themselves known to Kim and make their way to the Cruise Ship as soon as possible.

Heidi will occupy the months leading up to the Zombiepocalypse in building a Dirigible. When the inevitable happens, she will collect the agreed World Repopulation list (assuming they have not been infected) into her Dirigible, and fly across the country to the East Coast rendezvous. Although the dangers of this task will be high, the wearing of the appropriate Team Z Outfit (see separate blog entry) should do much to ensure survival. Also, Dirigibles are awesome.

Both the British and American cruise ships will then set sail for Iceland, which will become the new centre of the civilised world and the base from which the human race will re-build, stronger and better than ever before. While the inherent difficulty of piloting a very large ship in difficult conditions is recognised, it should be remembered that, what with one thing and another, the High Seas will be considerably quieter places than they used to be.

The case for Iceland
1. Iceland is sparsely populated. The fewer people there are to start with, the fewer Zombies there will be to deal with.
2. The bulk of Iceland’s energy is generated from geothermal sources, meaning that survival in a world without fossil fuels will be a much more comfortable proposition.
3. Iceland is already set up for the growing of fruit and vegetables under difficult conditions, including geothermally-powered greenhouses.
4.Iceland is staggeringly beautiful. This will be extremely good for morale.
5. Iceland has a school devoted to Elf Studies. This may just be the most awesome fact about any nation, anywhere, that we have ever heard. Awesomeness is a critical factor in Zombiepocalypse survival.
6. Iceland is the home of
<content deleted in the interests of protecting everyone’s secret FFN identities>
7. We all want to see the Northern Lights and the Midnight Sun.
8. Look, we just like Iceland, okay? This is our Zombie Plan and this is how it is.

What next?
Repopulation of the world will then commence. The Repopulation List has been carefully selected to ensure a good mix of intelligence (Professor Brian Cox), raconteurial ability (Stephen Fry), vital skills (Nigella Lawson), and beefcake (Russell Crowe). The full Repopulation List is available on request and new names can be added to it. In the interests of making the most of a limited gene pool, the generous sharing of everyone’s genes will be encouraged.

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It May Surprise You To Know That Needlepoint Is Actually A Totally Kick-Ass Hobby

When my friends and I were at university, we went through one of those rebellious phases you do go through in your late teens and early twenties. Some people choose the traditional vices (sex; drugs; alcohol; live music; World Of Warcraft), but we always liked to think of ourselves as unconventional. So the only possible choice for us was…Needlepoint.

Okay, now you’ve finished laughing, I will now explain why we are not even faintly ashamed of this. Needlepoint is almost ludicrously easy to do, and the results are out-of-all-proportion beautiful. We all still have the cushions we made, and they are still beautiful even [information deleted] years after we made them, and we still get a massive kick out of people coming round and admiring them and casually replying, “Oh, thanks…actually, I made it.” And these people look at us in amazement, and say, “Gosh, I’d never have the time…how do you do it when you’ve got kids?” And the answer, of course, is that we don’t have the time either; we are exactly as tired and frazzled as everybody else in our life-stage. Instead, we made them when we were students, and had all the time in the world.

Anyway. That’s all just a huge piece of defensiveness about our hobby, which is clearly unnecessary anyway, since Needlepoint requires no apology. The real point I wanted to make, is that the one downside of needlepoint as a hobby is that you end up threading a lot of needles with wool. And as it turns out, this is a surprisingly technical task. First off, wool has a “right way” and a “wrong way”. If you thread your wool the “wrong way”, then both the threading of the needle and the subsequent embroidering of the canvas will basically be like trying to thread a cat through a cat-flap backwards. All the fur goes the wrong way, and catches on the edges. Even if you succeed in threading your cat, it will look ruffled and scruffy at the end, and you will regret it. And secondly – even if you’re threading your cat the right way through the cat-flap, you will quite often find that bits of your cat (like its paws, or its head, or its tail) get caught on the way through, and you have to retrieve it, lick it all over to smooth it down, and try again.

This metaphor is probably getting slightly out of control.

My best friend Lisa, who is clever, thought there would probably be a gadget to make the threading of a thick piece of wool through a slightly-too-small needle-eye an easier task all round. And she was right. The solution is a needle-threader, and the picture above is one of these fine gadgets. Because she is lovely as well as clever, she bought two – one for her, and one for me, and brought one round to me as a little present.  The way it works is, you hold onto piece with the picture of the dude’s head on, and post the little wire loop thingie through the eye of the needle. Then you post the wool through the little wire loop (first stroking it both ways to check you’re going the right way through the cat-flap). Then you pull the little wire loop back through the eye of the needle…and holy guacamole, your needle is threaded.

Now, I am one hundred per cent certain that Lisa told me at the time what this thoughtful and incredibly useful present was for, because after [information deleted] years, she happens to know me rather well. However, I clearly wasn’t concentrating, because after she left, I found this….inexplicable little device….in a paper bag, and thought, “Huh. No idea what that is”; and, and, and – and I threw it out. I then spent the rest of my needlepointing career threading needles slowly and badly, and swearing a lot.

I only found out about the true purpose of the threadpuller when my eight-year-old daughter explained it to me a couple of weeks ago. She had been given one by her grandmother, and couldn’t believe I hadn’t come across them before. I was far too ashamed to own up to the truth, so instead I told her that they probably hadn’t been invented when I was little. Let’s hope she never reads this.

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In The Beginning, God Probably Had A Lot Of Useless Stuff Left Over When He’d Finished. And He Insisted On Keeping It, And That Made His Wife Really, Really Angry

Many years ago, back when Prince Charles was still on his first wife and nobody in the North had electric lights, the boyfriend at the time and I moved into a small country cottage. In this cottage was a wood-burning stove. And lying on the hearth, next to the wood-burning stove, was this…thing.

I have tried and tried to find a picture of this thing online, but there doesn’t seem to be one. So until I manage to track one down, we’ll have to make do with words instead. It looked as if it had been made of a large metal bar. It was very heavy, and it had a sort of folded flange with a notch in it at one end. The only thing we could think of that it could possibly be used for was to beat in the head of your partner, so we light-heartedly named it “the wife-killing implement”, and forgot about it. And, since neither of us was actively planning on killing the other one, my immediate instinct was to throw the thing away. It only didn’t get thrown away because the boyfriend insisted on secreting it away somewhere, possibly in the nest of apparently priceless Alan Moore comics which filled one entire spare bedroom.

Then, because we were a couple of clueless idiots, we let the oil-tank run dry, and for a while the wood-burning stove was our only source of heat in the house. We discovered that the Wife-Killing Implement was strangely good at prying open the stove door when we let it get so hot that we almost managed to weld it shut. Amazing! The Wife-Killing Implement had a function other than Wife-Killing! I remember being rather impressed that the previous residents had discovered a use for such a strange, pointless tool.

However, despite the fact that the Wife-Killing Implement now had a function, I still wanted to throw it away. I simply wasn’t prepared to keep a large, ugly, useless hunk of metal around the house just because someone had miraculously managed to improvise a use for it. We should, I felt, get rid of it, and buy a proper door-opening gadget, like proper people used.

The mystery was finally solved when I went down to my brother’s house in Devon. My brother also has a wood-burning stove, which heats his whole house. We sat down in front of it one night to watch a Zombie film, and…and there, on the hearth, was another Wife-Killing Implement.

At this point it finally dawned on me that the Wife-Killing Implement had not been re-purposed for the opening of wood-stove doors. Wood-stove door-opening was in fact its whole, only purpose. There was no better tool for the job. I already owned exactly the right object. And I had spent five years secretly fantasising about chucking it away one day when the boyfriend was out. (As it turned out, he rarely, if ever, went out. This might explain why our relationship didn’t survive.)

I gabbled out some version of this to my brother, and he laughed and said, “But you always do that. You’re always throwing away things just because you don’t understand them. You’ve been doing it for years. I think it’s hilarious. In fact, I think you should keep a list of them..”

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