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The older I get, the more cynical I get. It is not a fact I am proud of, but it is a fact. I disbelieve just about everything the establishment and the media tell us. I am convinced that we are manipulated into being the submissive, law-abiding robots that we have become. It grieves me greatly.

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Bake Off Episode 3 Series 6

This week ten bakers baking.  Having read back to my blogs on the first two episodes, I realise this is an incredibly boring subject and written because I am not in the mood to write, but I have started so I shall finish

My favourites are Mat the fireman from Kent and Nadiya, a full time mum from Leeds.  My least favourite is Paul the humourless Prison Governor from Wales. 

Challenge 1
Quick bread 
To me quick bread would mean nipping to the Coop for a loaf, but to Paul Hollywood it is bread raised with a raising agent other than yeast

Along with the dough raising agent, there are a few eyebrow raising ingredients.  Flora's rye and fig bread might not work.  Dorret has taken the ingredients from a waldorf salad and is putting them in a bread - walnut, sultanas and blue cheese. Tamal has also gone for figs, his is with goats cheese - on bread yes, just not sure it goes together in bread.  Alvin has a mediterranean theme - manchego cheese and prosciutto.  Pick a country and stick to it Alvin, none of this wandering across borders.  Paul has gone for orange and cranberries.  There seem to be a lot of cranberries in recipes this year.  Has the cranberry marketing board got at Mary?  Ugne's bread has chocolate. I love chocolate, but I don't like the sound of it in a bread.  Sue tells us that soda bread must not be kneaded, as the camera pans to Mat and Nadiya kneading their soda bread.  

The judging proved Sue right, Mat's bread was not crumbly enough and Nadiya's looked too much like yeast bread.  Ugne's chocolate bread worked surprisingly well, as did Flora's blend of flours and the addition of figs.  Dorret's lumps of stilton could have been bigger for more of a flavour.  Paul's bread was so good, Paul Hollywood shook his hand.  Paul was almost overwhelmed.  Ian's pesto and wild garlic was a 'work of magic', but no handshake for him, so clearly not masonic magic.  Worryingly, Mat does seem to be bottom of the pack at this stage. 

Technical Challenge 
4 identical crusty french baguettes

Paul shows us how it is done - steam in the oven, Paul expects them to know that.  Mary thinks Paul is being particularly nasty.  

Mel advises Alvin not to think about ciabatta.  Sandy's french accent is abysmal, let us hope her bread is better.  Alvin seems to be quite knowledgeable about the slashing technique, everyone else seems quite daunted by it.  Ian, Tamal, Sandy all knew to add water to the oven for the steam.  Mat ignores such techniques and seems to think a few French words will be sufficient to assist his bread, although the baguettes come out underproven, but he takes some consolation that they are consistently underproven.  I can't help but worry that Mat may be going home.  Paul and Nadiya are both on all fours, peering into the same oven, bonding over the bread.  

Picky Paul is looking for 4 equal sized baguettes, crispy.   

There are a lot of 'under proven' and a couple accused of being more like ciabatta - Alvin being one of those who did not heed Mel's advice.  They hadn't all mastered the scoring, Dorret in particular over doing the cutting.   Paul Prison was at the bottom of the baguette heap, closely followed by Nadiya and Mat.  Tamal was a very respectable 3rd, even though his were under baked, with Flora's underproven baguettes second and Ian, last week's star baker Ian, came first.  

The challenge was to make 3D bread sculptures, using at least three types of bread, one of which has to be filled.  

Tamal - bread bicycle
Chelsea buns, fennel dough frame, five spiced buns in the basket.  

Alvin - cornucopia - horn of plenty.  
Alvin has really gone for the plenty in his roll filled horn, he overstretched himself last week and then panicked. Interesting to see that he has gone for the same approach this week.

Paul - King of the Jungle
All very Alpha Male, a sculpture of a lion with different kind of breads.  

Mat - Brighton Pavilion
Curry flavoured loaves representing Brighton pavilion.

Nadiya - snake charmer's basket
Nadiya has also gone for Indian flavours.  Do she and Mat copy each other's homework? 

Sandy  - basket with flowers 

Flora - herb couture 
Herb breads in the shape of a corset and skirt 

Ian - flowering plant 
black olive & parmesan plant, brioche flowers.  

Ugne - soft bread, easter basked, truffle infuse brioche bunnies with maple syrup and crispy bacon.  As Mary says 'wait and see'.  

Dorret - Tracey Emin's unmade bed.  
Dorret's sculpture will replicate Tracey Emin's unmade bed.  For me that didn't work as art, I particularly remember the dirty underwear on the floor - will Dorret try and copy that as well? Dorret admits that she has not practised it though. For me this is reminiscent of Marie admitting her biscotti had broken, highlighting your own errors is a sign of impending doom.  It also deprives Paul Hollywood of deflating egos by pointing it out.  


Tamal - spectacular, different technique in each.  Paul Hollywood says his Chelsea bun - doesn't get much better.  It could have a sweet filling in it - that would make it a lot better for me.  

Sandy's basket of flowers - clumsy, Paul H asks if she was going for cardboard with her pita bread poppy petals - ouch! She is redeemed somewhat by her pesto grisini. 

Alvin's horn of plenty - achieved a lot, texture is beautiful, craft is perfect, each piece is baked to perfection.  Paul H gets quite concerned that he might have heaped too much praise and draws some back by pointing out that Alvin has not quite followed the brief.

Ugne baking is good, but Paul is not sure about truffle oil with brioche.

Ian's Flour Power plant sculpture, is deemed magnificent, with a lovely flavour, just baked.  

Flora's herb couture is praised for its delicacy.

Nadiya's  snake charmer basket has great colour and tastes, but just needed a bit longer in the oven.  All good together.  

Paul's king of the jungle looks absolutely fantastic to me.  Paul H agrees, stating it is exceptional, and the detail is amazing.   

Mat's curry inspired Brighton Pavilion was deemed very effective, simplified, with nice flavours, however it was underproved and underbaked bread.  

Dorret's unmade bread - Mary suggests that choosing something untidy to start with is not a good impression.  The bedhead not defined enough, flavours work well.  The chelsea bun bed base was baked on the outside but raw in the middle due to apricots.  

This week's star baker - Ian (again!).  

An extra award for Paul because of his lion sculpture, which is the best bread sculpture Paul H has ever seen.  It was amazing.  

Going home - Dorret. 

I feel very sorry for Dorret, as I always feel sorry for the baker going home.  Nadiya and Paul were not far behind her and may also have gone.   Paul was saved by his showstopper.  There were a few comments on Twitter that Paul should have won, but Ian's breads were excellent in every category whilst Paul came bottom in the technical challenge.  Also Paul Hollywood is the master baker, not us, so we will allow him to know what he is talking about.  

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Bake Off Episode 2 Series 6

We've all forgotten Stu and his hat already.  Who will go this week?  Apparently there has been such a run of betting on one of the participants that betting has closed.  I hope it isn't leaked, I like the 'who will go, who will win' side of it.  

This week is biscuits.  We are shown a clip of Nadiya engaging in fighting talk - and yet she looks as though butter biscuits wouldn't melt in her mouth.  

Challenge 1 - the signature challenge, to create 24 crunchy biscotti.  Mel loves saying biscotti, so much I have to wonder if she has already been at the limoncello.  Alvin is first up with his biscotti, fresh jack fruit (no, I didn't know either) and pistachio.   The other bakers have all gone for dried fruit rather than fresh.  Matt, our Kent firefighter, is going for cranberry, pistachio and biscotti.  Orange, cranberry and rosemary sounds disgusting, but I am sure Ian has done this before.  He also has orange caramel and almonds in there.  Sandy has gone for chocolate and hazelnut - if only she had the dull cranberry too, Paul H would be in heaven.  

Paul Prison (to distinguish him from Paul H) has gone for chocolate, hazelnut and fig.  Paul H doesn't waste a second in pulling all his confidence out from under him, by pointing out that it is hard to tell when chocolate biscotti is cooked.  Can you imagine Paul as an adjudicator in an exam hall, going round lifting people's papers up and tutting?  I love fennel biscuits, so I quite like the idea of Flora's biscuits.  I feel as if it has been on for hours, but only 9 minutes have gone by. 

Nadiya has gone for coconut, fennel and pistachio, with coconut brittle on the top, adapted from a recipe of her mum's.  I quite like the sound of it.  Their next hurdle is having sufficient time for the biscotti to cool before decorating.  Marie is making the mistake of telling Paul her errors -as if he needs help in criticising them!

Flora comments on how stressful it is just making biscotti.  We feel your stress Flora.  Now the glazing is going ahead.  Nadiya forgot the fennel so is adding it with the coconut crumb, not so sure about that.  

Mat's - beautifully even, good crunch, 'nice biscotti'
Nadiya - even, fennel works well, 'nice biscotti'
Marie - don't look too bad, but not uniform, chocolate not set.  Nice crunch and flavour, Paul expected more ingredients.  
Ugne - texture bang on, flavour lovely, 
Alvin - flavour beautiful, needed a little more time
Sandy - good, flavours fantastic, bake is good
Dorret - not much flavour, not strong enough, doesn't think sugar works, 
Tamal - good flavours, nothing over-riding, need to pick a key one.  
Paul - texture as it should be, tricky for chocolate, Paul H would have them again, great biscotti, Mary doesn't feel nuts and fruit and chocolate go together.  I do, even if it is Paul Prison
Flora - not quite uniform, flat, and hasn't overpowered with fennel 
Ian - really nice biscotti, almost ginger flavour, fantastic biscotti

Challenge 2
Mystery biscuit - an arlette - which none of them have heard of, and neither have I - it is a a cinnamon flavoured, wafer thin puff pastry biscuit - like a thin round palmier. 
Paul H says that it's all about the lamination.  
Ian has got the clue that it is puff pastry dough.  The rest of them are not so sure.  

Being thin the biscuits will cook quickly, so whilst they are in the oven, there is a lot of biscuit watching - I could have helped out with that, I look at a lot of food.  
Mat's are like flip-flops - but he is a firefighter from Kent, so I shall support the home team until the end.  Nothing has gone in the bin, always a good sign with Bake Off.  Many of them looks quite close to the desired biscuit.  Marie has not finished hers and can only put 4 on display.  I hate it when they get stuck, I feel so sorry for them.  

In the judging there were several too chewy and undercooked, a lot of comments from Paul about 'butter pouring out', and 'could be thinner' - couldn't we all Paul, particularly me.  Marie was last, she had got her oven times wrong, such a shame.  Paul Prison was 10th and Nadiya 9th. Flora was in second place, and Dorret was first.  I am so pleased for her after last week, that must be a huge relief.  

Paul suggests before the showstopper that Mat, Ian and Alvin are all in the running for star baker. 

36 biscuits presented in a biscuit box made from a different type of biscuit.  Paul wants to see architecture, Mary wants to see lots of techniques.

Paul - gingerbread box and macaroons in honour of his wife, which is sweet.  Sue suggests the whole world is in love with Paul. I am not so sure.  Paul is my least favourite, but I am not quite sure why.  I think it is the lack of humour.  

Over half of the bakers are making gingerbread boxes, although Nadiya's is gingerbread and cayenne pepper as she is "all about the drama".  I love her sense of humour.  Tamal is making an anise biscuit box, Flora's tea chest is earl grey and honey, Ugne's is lithuanian honey cake and Sandy is the only one making savoury biscuits - with a sundried tomato and cheese biscuit box.  Ian's box is shortbread - made in a cyclinder in a mould he made himself.  I was impressed, Paul points out it could burn on one side and not cook on the other.  I have to wonder at Paul's need to always undermine them.  It may be showmanship, but it comes across as mean.  He then goes on to undermines Dorret for using a biscuit stamp.  I wonder if he was bullied at school?  

When it gets to box assembly, they are all nervous.  I am nervous for them.  I have also had to put away the biscuits I got out, before I am also wobbling for them.   When Sue says 7 minutes, Nadiya looks terrified.  Flora's amazing lid snapped - it looked so gorgeous.  Sue dents Nadiya's chances by breaking her bowl lid, at least she claimed she broke it, but I am not too sure, I saw her saying she had broken it and then confessing to Paul, but don't recall seeing her break it - but I am confident Nadiya has done too well this week to be the one to go.  Nadiya deals with it calmly.  Alvin's snaps look gorgeous.  Both Ian and Prison Paul's macarons look fabulous.  

Ian: cylinder works, macarons look perfect.  Making that cylinder is really impressive (now you admit that Holywood).
Flora: Ambitious box - but snapped, which is such a shame as it was so beautiful.  Great bake, good piping.  Tea bags - great bake 
Alvin: he didn't have time to get his gingerbread house together, he is so upset.  Beautiful flavour, nice biscuit.  Brandy snaps great flavour - and colour and bake.  I hope that is enough to save him. 
Marie: Russian box looks elegant, biscuits look quite plain, good scotch shortbread biscuit - Paul thinks her flavours are muddled.  The box is not crisp. 
Sandy: biscuit box looks "breathtaking" - I have to agree, I want one.  The cheese biscuits inside are delicious but a bit soft.
Tamal: good flavour and crisp all the way through, the lid has softened up slightly, star anise 'bang on'.  
Ugne: 'over the top', it is too garish for Mary (how can she say that with her taste in jackets?).  Paul loves the biscuits inside.  
Dorret: box of frogs - crisp, not much flavour,  Paul thinks the biscuits are bitter, the gingerbread is fantastic flavour, but soft.
Nadiya: box of fortunes, such a shame she didn't have time to decorate the replacement lid.  The fortune cookies - are all equal, Mary and Paul are impressed with them. 
Paul: memory box - clean cut, different sizes for his biscuits inside, over generous with filling, overpowering top.  Gingerbread lid is very good.  
Mat: fire engine - nice and crisp, looks fun, tea bags, even bake, flavour is good - lid is beautifully crisped, tasted great well baked.

Star baker - Ian!  

Leaving today is Marie.  She was star baker last week.  That is the ups and downs of Bake Off.  I was quite surprised that she went and not Paul Prison.  Google tells me that the run of bets was on her.  Apparently she trained with Escoffier 30 years ago, and many think that gives her an unfair advantage.  Would it?   I was in the armed forces 30 years ago - put me at Bisley on the Great British Shoot Out, I still couldn't hit a target to save my life.  (If anyone now creates a shooting reality show, I want credit for coming up with the horrendous idea).  

Next week is bread - and there will be ten contestants with buns in the ovens.  Mat and Nadiya are still my favourites, with the other seven all a very close third, and then Paul Prison.  I must try harder to like him next week.  Maybe he could try laughing? 

Saturday, 8 August 2015


'Dreams can come true' sang Gabrielle back in 1993.  For most of us, our dreams are so random and surreal, it is probably a good thing they don't, but I still find dreams fascinating.  
What we dream about is only of interest to the dreamer, so I won't go into my dreams in detail here - just be assured that if I did, I would be the exception to the rule and you would be fascinated.   Why we dream and what we dream about has always interested me.  I am not alone in this, there are thousands of books on the subject and there is an entire field of study devoted to it, 'oneirology', although it looks at the process of dreaming rather than analysing the surreal content of our dreams.  

Thirty years ago a friend gave me a dream dictionary and I still use it.  If the interpretation is favourable, I think of it as accurate.  If the interpretation is negative, I completely ignore it, much as I do with horoscopes, allthough I have not yet ignored a horoscope on the basis that it was probably caused by something I ate or drank. Favourable or not favourable, I like dreams and I feel a bit cheated if I wake up and cannot remember anything of them.  I feel equally cheated if the alarm wakes me from a particularly good dream.  

Some people claim to never dream, but it may be that they just don't recall their dreams.  I pity them, it is like your own personal film inside your head every night, who wouldn't want that?  It has been put forward that everyone dreams and scientists (not Russell Grant and co., actual scientists) also propose that all mammals and birds dream too (link to article).  My dog used to run and bark in his dreams, he was blind so I always hoped he could see perfectly in them.  My eyesight is horrendous, but I have never dreamt that I needed to put my glasses or contact lenses on.  

Thinking about having 20/20 vision in my own dreams made me wonder about people with different disabilities and whether their dreams reflected that.  Studies have shown that people born blind have visual experiences in their dreams and the profoundly deaf hear spoken language whilst dreaming.  Recent studies indicate that paralysed people dream of moving about without their disabilities, whether they have been paralysed since birth or whether paralysis occurred later in life.  They dream about walking less than able-bodied people (link to BPS summary of study here), 46% compared to 64%, but the study proposed that this may be because they dream about dancing more.  I love that aspect of dreams, your legs work, you can do anything with them and so people dance.  Equally I would like to hope that the deaf here nice things in their dreams and not party political broadcasts.

It was previously thought that we dream mainly in black and white, but more recent studies show that most people dream in colour, but older people mainly dream in black and white.  A hypothesis put forward for this (here) is that their initial exposure to television would have been black and white television.  This seems a bit far-fetched and even the study itself proposes potential biases in reporting by the dreamers as possibly impacting the results.  Did everyone have silent dreams during the silent era (1894-1929). What about people who have never watched television or films?  Everyone dreams, so how do their dreams differ?

Part of the aspect of dreams that I like so much is the fact that it is unconscious and therefore may be free of many of the shackles that bind us. If the physical aspects of life that handicap us are not always present, then it is to be hoped that some of the mental fears and blocks are also absent.  I like to think we are more free in dreams.  Flying is one of the most common dream subjects, which makes me wonder what birds dream about as an alternative.  Perhaps it is downing aircraft or forming a bird army and eradicating cats once and for all.  I originally put 'rising up and eradicating cats' there, but it isn't the rising up that birds have an issue with.  

Lucid dreams fall outside of this lack of awareness (more information here). Lucid dreams are dreams in which we are aware we are dreaming and can control the dream, or as I think of it 'cheating'.  Is it a proper dream if you are controlling it, or is it a fantasy?  Lucid dreams require a level of consciousness or awareness, sleep requires us to be unconscious.  I have on occasion woken myself from a nightmare on the basis that it is 'just a dream'.  I see that as a protection mechanism, rather than the dream becoming a lucid dream.  My opinion and dismissal of lucid dreams are not based on any research at all, merely that I like dreaming and I like the lack of conscious control I have over dreams.  However scientists who have done considerable research into this, such as Dr Patrick McNamara and Professor Malcolm Norman (link here) are sceptical of the existence of lucid dreams, seeing it more as a phase of brief wakefulness.  There is of course other research supporting the existence of lucid dreams, but that detracts from my enjoyment of dreams so for now I will leave that alone.

As with the dream dictionary and horoscope readings, I am picking and choosing the research on dreams that fits in with my own understanding of them.  It is a fascinating subject and any research that involves me sleeping for long periods is something I would be happy to sign up for.  This is the most research I have actually read up on since finishing my OU Psychology Degree and I have really enjoyed it.  

(If you are wondering whatever happened to Gabrielle, she is still recording according to Wikipedia)