Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Resurrection of the Ghost Blog

Because dear Toby asked about a cake.

This cake was born out of a few unusual circumstances: first, I'm on a diet (and it isn't going fantastically well) in order to get a bit sexy before flying out to LA and trying to impress people by being a totally serious professional photographer type while dressed as Nyssa from Terminus; and second, it was only after I'd measured my first two dry ingredients that it occurred to me, at 20 to 9 in the evening, that I was out of eggs.  All things considered, I count my blessings that I apparently have enough baking know-how that it didn't turn out like a fruit-studded brick.  I could weep with joy, though that might also be the fact that it's 2 in the morning and I've reached that hysterical state of tiredness where everything makes you weep if you're not careful.  My point is, it's a healthier bake, kind of: the yoghurt replaces some of the fat in the recipe, which itself, I'm pretty sure, is one of the good fats.  It's not one of the worst fats, in any case, and there's less of it.  And there's fibre and fruit in here!  It's kind of wholesome!  I hope my kilt still fits by Gally weekend!  *tries not to panic*

135g oats
180g self-raising flour
6-8 shakes cinnamon (if I’m honest, I wasn’t counting – I eyeball a lot of this stuff)
2 decent pinches of sodium bicarbonate
¼ teaspoon salt
150ml soy yoghurt (or soymilk, whichever’s handy, or regular yoghurt or milk if neither’s handy and you can have dairy and/or aren’t vegan)
125ml canola oil
½ teaspoon vanilla
60ml maple syrup – this is important – pour this into your 125ml measuring cup, realise you haven’t enough maple syrup when you reach about halfway, and top up with sugar. If you’ve recently become suddenly unemployed like me, the golden organic sugar you always pocket a few extra packets of from coffee shops works wonderfully.  Slightly overfill your measuring cup for good measure.
1 medium-sized apple (I used Worcester), cored, peeled, and chopped
45g (give or take) sultanas, raisins, and chopped dried apricots, soaked in strong hot tea (I used assam, because I think it’s jolly lovely)

Preheat oven to 180/160 fan.  Line 2 sandwich cake tins with baking parchment.  In a large mixing bowl, combine oats, flour, cinnamon, bicarb, and salt.  Add yoghurt or soymilk, oil, vanilla, maple syrup/sugar (can you tell I super hadn’t planned ahead?), apple, and carefully drained dried fruits.  Gently fold together until mixture has just come together – be careful not to overmix, as vegan cake batters are more temperamental than others, overmixing can result in a poor texture, and if you’re anything like me, you’d sooner stick your head in an oven out of shame than serve rubbery-textured cake to your beloved friends.  Spoon mixture gently into prepared tins, place on the centre rack of the oven, and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the centre comes out clean.  Transfer to wire racks to cool.


By which I mean, empty a few packets of that sugar you took from Starbucks because 3 quid for a chai latte when you’re unemployed is a bloody luxury and you’re skint and afraid and they’re really not going to miss a few extra organic sugars anyway, and add to a small saucepan with a splash of soymilk and bring to a gentle boil.  When the mixture has reduced slightly to a delicious caramel, scoop into a little wee piping bag, and squizzle in whatever pattern you please over your little squares of cooled cake.  There you have it, petal.  Eat!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Almond and cardamom cake with sticky orange caramel

I may slightly be bringing this blog out of retirement simply because I needs to preserve this recipe for posterity.  It is good.

200g butter, brought to room temperature
200g caster sugar
4 eggs
1 tsp almond extract (didn't measure if I'm honest, but eyeballing it tells me more or less a teaspoon)
120g self-raising flour
80g ground almonds
pinch of salt
pinch of baking soda
4-5 cardamom pods
a handful of sliced almonds (optional)*

about 6 satsumas

Preheat oven to 190 degrees; line 2 sandwich tins with baking parchment (if you're fancy like me, the silicone-lined baking parchment means you don't have to grease it.  La dee da).  In a large bowl, beat together butter and sugar until creamy.  Beat in eggs, one at a time, then stir in almond extract.  Stir in flour and ground almonds until mixture has just come together, then sprinkle over just a lit-tle salt and bicarb, just to assure yourself that the cake will achieve an adequate rise, and stir in.  Set aside.

Carefully remove the cardamom seeds from their pods, and bash well with a mortar and pestle, or chuck them into a freezer bag and bash against the kitchen counter using the blunt end of a knife.  It's very therapeutic to use this time to think about, say, the fact that you've no bloody idea how to get people to let you narrate proper things when you've only ever worked as a voicemail auto-attendant, or that time a man you went out with 12 years ago got back in contact to see how you were doing and he's happily married with 4 kids and is doing his dream job and you live alone in Salford and you're pretty sure the only reason your friend kissed you that time was that he'd had many glasses of wine and his judgment was horribly impaired and it's getting more scary instead of less scary asking people to be in your Doctor Who photo show and you're afraid to ask any of the people you're actually friends with because you'll be terribly heartbroken if they say no and if the fact that you're considering a job in retail isn't the darkest nadir of your artistic working life, you should just give up.

Once the cardamom seeds are as broken and smashed as your dreams and ambitions, fold them into the batter, and distribute evenly among your two tins.  If desired, sprrinkle sliced almonds over one cake.  Bake for 20 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the centre of each cake emerges clean, and they are lightly golden brown in colour.  Transfer to wire racks to cool.

While the cake is baking and cooling, prepare the syrup.  Pour enough sugar into the bottom of a small saucepan to cover the bottom well.  Warm the sugar over medium heat until sugar has just begun to melt.  Add the juice of your satsumas (go on and leave some bits in - it makes life more interesting), allowing the sugar to dissolve into the liquid.  Bring to the boil, and simmer for a few minutes, until mixture has reduced and has just begun to thicken; it will continue to thicken upon standing.

When your cakes are ready, liberally drizzle the syrup over your unadorned cake, covering as much of the surface as possible. Top with its almond-studded counterpart and drizzle artistically with the remaining syrup.

(The almond-studded counterpart likes to go on top.  By all means, however, feel free to change it up from time to time, keep things fresh and spicy, ooh la la.)

(I'm almost sorry I went there.)

Cut into slices or squares or just tear off chunks if you're feeling ravenous, or have had a few glasses of wine and no longer mind getting a bit sticky.  I won't specify how many people this serves, as I expect you could get a good 16 squares from it, or you could hoard it all to yourself and eat it alone in the dark in bed while bingewatching The Web Of Fear, again.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Tea! Just what the Doctor ordered.

Basically, I’m such a big nerd that I accidentally stayed up until about 4:30 yesterday morning making tea blends based on the first eight Doctors.  Thus:

The First Doctor tea starts off a classic Granddaddy assam, tempered with chestnut and cream, making a surprisingly lovable blend.

The Second Doctor tastes like a safety cling: sweet, whimsical, and a little bit sexy.  Warm and comforting chai spice and vanilla, then packs a little extra ginger punch for good measure.

The Third Doctor, velvet and aikido.  Bright, flamboyant and flirty flavours of cherry, hibiscus, and orange.

The Fourth Doctor would like to know if you’d like a jelly baby.  Raspberry, currant, and pomegranate are evocative of The One With The Scarf’s favourite sweet, foregrounded by serious business black tea.
The Fifth Doctor is precious and understated and just a little bit sassy.  A suitably beige blend of caramel and almond cream tea that pairs wonderfully with celery.
The Sixth Doctor is bold and brilliant, brash and clever secretly a big bowl of snuggles.  Bold chai spice, with undercurrents of surprisingly cuddly hazelnut and vanilla.
The Seventh Doctor is a big bowl of mystery with a special relationship to the letter R.  Dark, roasty yerba mate and rooibos are a little bit nutty, with brighter, warm notes of vanilla and honey.

The Eighth Doctor is sweet and full of love, elicits vast amounts of feels, and is prone to amnesia.  This blend of cherry and almond with a little apricot won’t actually restore your memory, but you’ll feel warm and happy, and as a bonus, you won’t turn you into Zagreus.

Friday, November 09, 2012

If you don't think this is awesome, I don't think we can be friends.

Seriously.  I'm stupidly, ridiculously excited to be taking on this project.  I'm going to knit a Six coat cardigan.  Squee!

For the uninitiated, Six looks like this:

Whoops, how did that picture get there?  What I meant to post was that Six looks like THIS:

And here he is with his long-suffering wife:

And here's the yarn I've ordered from Purl:

And here's the pattern I'm adapting:

Basically, this is the best decision I have ever made.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Slides Will Be On The Website: When Pegagogy Meets Technology

... and my head explodes in frustration.

It's been almost two years now since I parted ways with the academy and began, in earnest, to make my own way in the world.  So far, this has more or less amounted to me continuing to do the same part-time job I had before I started my degree.  Do I feel cheated by the academy?  Only moderately.  What I keep coming back to these days (probably because of the academics on my facebook feed who like to talk about academia and make me feel moderately still some kind of a part of that magical world that's so super great that everyone who lives within it likes to complain about it all the time) is the ongoing debate over how emerging technologies are integrated into the practice of teaching.

See, I like to engage with emerging technologies.  Boy, do I ever.  How much does technology pervade absolutely every waking and sleeping second of my life?  I have a thing that attaches to my trousers and tells me how many steps I take in a day, I have twitter in my pocket (ok, so it's a phone, but when was the last time I actually used it to make a call?) and about 90% of the time I spend at home, I spend doing some kind of work which involves my desktop, my netbook, or sometimes my desktop AND my netbook.  Most of the quality social interaction I get in a week is livestreaming classic Doctor Who with people I like who don't live anywhere near me, and I can barely remember the last time I set foot in the mall, because I do nearly all my shopping online.

But please, please don't tell me I don't need to take notes in class because the powerpoint slides will be posted on the class website.

I was one of those weird old kids who brought a shitty spiral notebook to lectures instead of a laptop, not because I didn't have a laptop, but because I process and retain large amounts of complicated information best if I'm actively engaging with it by writing it down.  Passively skimming a set of powerpoint slides is kind of a substandard educational experience by contrast.  And sitting behind as many laptops in as many classes as I did, I can attest to the fact that most students behind laptops are multitasking - Farmville, I seem to recall, was a popular choice in that last year - if they're typing up notes at all.

And really, you're not doing students any favours by telling them it isn't necessary to take notes.  Dumping everything onto a set of slides and reciting it verbatim in front of the class, then dumping the slides onto the class website, is fine, I guess, but it does sort of render attendance at lectures redundant.  I once had a professor who would speed through an hour and a half's worth of lecture material in 30 minutes or less, then dismiss class early, every week.  His argument was that all the slides were available online, so no need to take notes.  Except that I always did take notes, because SOME KIND OF ACTIVE ENGAGEMENT WITH THE MATERIAL ACTUALLY HELPED ME RETAIN AND UNDERSTAND IT ALL BETTER.  You might as well just hand us a textbook, ask us to read it, and then have us sit the final exam in three months' time.

What needs to happen in a lecture is for there to be some kind of active element: don't just read what's on your lecture slides, we can do that perfectly well ourselves.  Expand on your bullet points, provide further examples, relate some anecdotes.  Actually force students to have to write down some of the stuff you're telling them.  They may resent the effort in the short term, but they'll probably have a better time taking what they've learned and extrapolating on it later as a result.  This should be common pedagogical sense, but my experience tells me that in some cases, it's kind of not.  Passively reading stuff off a slide is a great first step, but actually writing it down, copying it out, paraphrasing it, that's how you really get to know the material.  I can only assume in my absence from academia that the focus on technologies and online resources in the classroom may well exacerbate this issue that continues to get my goat, even long after my degree has begun to gather dust in a pile on top of some unfinished knitting and a few paintings of Doctor Who, next to a stack of Boston Legal DVDs in my living room.

But I'm no expert on learning or education.  I'm just somebody who recently took a lot of classes, and made some field observations along the way.

I'll make it up to you by sharing a picture of my doofy face, hanging out at the art show I did last week.

Don't feel bad for not coming because literally like three people showed up.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

It's the Sami Kelsh art show of magic and wonder!

Yep, this Friday, for one night only, the Guelph School of Art is hosting a whole bunch of exciting new works by me.   Featuring illustrations and photographs of people, places, and things!  Things from space!  Classic Doctor Who!  Mysterious places in large cities I've been to!  Experimental photographic weirdness!  It's going to be pretty spectacular, so you really ought to swing by.  DJ Sarah Jane Smooth (also me) will be spinning some serious tuneage, and there might even be baking.

RSVP here!

Thursday, September 27, 2012


It's nearing the end of September, and I'm suffering greatly from the tail end of a doozy of a cold, that lingering unpleasantness that leaves you blowing your nose in vain and coughing endlessly for the next few weeks. Needless to say, I'm not feeling too sexy. The best solution I could come up with was to make sweet potato and coconut soup. It was a really good idea.

1 tbsp canola oil
1 small onion, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 thumb-sized piece fresh ginger, peeled and minced
2 medium sweet potatoes, chopped
1 tsp curry powder
1 tsp ground coriander seed
1/4 tsp cinnamon
4 cups vegetable stock
1 400ml tin coconut milk
freshly ground black pepper, to taste

In a large soup pot, heat oil over low-medium heat. Add onions and celery, cover, and steam for 5 minutes or until they have begun to become translucent. Add garlic and ginger and cook for another minute. Add sweet potato, curry, coriander, and cinnamon, and stir, steaming for another minute or two. Add stock and bring to the boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 20 minutes, or until sweet potato has become soft. Whizz until smooth with an immersion blender, or whizz in batches in a blender or food processor. Add coconut milk and stir to combine, cover, and simmer 5 further minutes to warm through. Serve with a bright, autumnal salad (my favourite is mixed greens with thinly sliced apple, dried cranberry, pecans, and balsamic) and enjoy the heck out of it. Nom nom nom.