Thursday, July 21, 2011

Houston, We Have Touchdown.

It was a sad day for me today as, at about 11 o clock this morning, the last NASA space shuttle touched down at Kennedy Space Centre.

Space shuttles have just always been around, they kicked off the project in the early 80's (when I would have been a baby) and therefore I grew up with the space shuttles missions going on.  When you're young you don't think about what would have come before, it's all about the now, and space is pretty much the best thing in the world (probably even better than dinosaurs!) - one thing is for sure is that you don't ever imagine it ending!

Above the normal boys fascination with spaceflight, I felt especially engrossed with the whole adventure.  We were living in America when the Challenger disaster happened, and I remember very clearly seeing the TV around the breakfast table breaking the news to the nation that morning.  I will also never forget going to school that day, the way it effected everyone, and how a dark cloud just seemed to descend over everything.

Whilst in the States we also visited Kennedy Space Centre, and I remember having a large toy of the space shuttle.  However, at seven years old it was more fun to believe that the booster rockets were for a destructive purpose than just to provide propulsion.  I also got a load of photos from the visitor centre which I happened to think about, and collect from my Dad's, a few years back.  They are tucked away in a drawer upstairs now.

And so, with the news that NASA was winding down its space shuttle programme (which had been coming since the Columbia disaster) I wanted to catch as much of the action as I could.  I watched the launch of Endeavor a few weeks back and was blown away by the way the thing accelerates (and for how long it keeps accelerating!)  If you've the sort of person who only really sees a few seconds of a launch on the news in the evening then watch this!

A few moments after the launch there was an awesome photo that went around the went like a bushfire in the Australian outback!  It was a photo of the shuttle coming through the clouds, taken from a passenger on a commercial flight.  Its a great photo.  But then today I found this video!  This is fantastic!

I missed the launch of Atlantis, the very last flight, but was determined to watch it re-enter our atmosphere and arrive back on terra-firma.  It was due to land at about 11am (GMT) and I had the live stream going from about 8am!  It was great to see what goes on in mission control, and the screens they see.  The shuttle orbits the earth SO fast!

Who knows what will replace this, and what Alfie will have to amaze him when he is six years old.  And for that reason I wanted to try and show him what was going on.  Sadly the landing was at night, and so most of the images were through infa-red and night vision cameras - none of which are particularly good at grabbing the attention of a 19 month old boy.  Especially as by now he had got hold of my phone case, and whacking the keys on the laptop were far more entertaining!

Once stationary there was a fantastic image on the laptop screen, it even captured Alfie's attention!  I noticed later on in the day someone else had photoed their laptop screen and the BBC were circulating it as the "first picture of Atlantis"

And just like that it was over.  30 years, 135 missions, millions of miles.

I think what saddens me most is that the World seems to be becoming a place where instead of pushing the boundaries of what is possible we are consolidating on what we have with a fear of world destruction or financial meltdown.  Where are the next generation of scientists and engineers going to come from when these type of projects continually disappear?  What are kids going to have to aspire to, and dream of becoming?  You can have as many battery powered or solar charged ideas as you like, but it'll NEVER have the appeal of space flight.  I thought we were always being told that be 2030 we would all be able to holiday in Space - clearly not.

In space, we had the shuttles.  In the sky, we had Concorde.  On land, I can't see anything after Bloodhound SSC.  That's it, adventure over.

I grew up in an era where every eight year old dreamt of being a spaceman ... but by the time Alfie reaches eight spacemen might not even exist.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

On The First Day, He Baked!

I don't write too many recipes on the blog.  That isn't cos I want to keep them under my hat only to be passed down to family members when I'm on my death bed, its cos I'm bloody aweful at writing them down!  I often get an idea in my head, research similar recipes, write down my concocted recipe on some scrap of paper and then head to the kitchen to bake.  What happens next is I bake something tasty, and leave behind me a trail of destruction which includes said recipe.  If Tash then clears up, its anyones guess as to what'll happen to my scrap of paper.  I just never seem to have the inclination to write it down in my recipe book, instead believing that I will be able to go through an identical research process to reconstruct the recipe the next time I want it.  It will be interesting this winter when I need to try and do my Christmas pudding again, last years was awesome and i NEED to recreate it!

Anyway, something must have been in the water on Monday cos things were a little odd.  I fancied a day of baking and Alfie fancied a day of sleeping.  Very unusual, but a perfect match!  Its been wet recently which means you can pretty much listen to the courgettes growing!  They go absolutely batshit when the rain falls.  This is our plant, and it may not look like much, but after a nights rain it will have fruit the size of baseball bats on it!

And so I wanted to reduce our courgette numbers, and what better way than to bake a cake.  We had loads of lemons still kicking about, and so a Lemon Courgette cake was planned.  The house was also needing bread, and I fancied throwing the rest of my appropriate ingredients into some cookies.

With the bread dough made and set aside, courgettes were harvested, I stole an egg from the chooks and I set to work. 

Dead easy this.  Whack the oven to 160 and line your trusty loaf tin.  Get two bowls.  Into bowl one goes 200g grated courgettes, 150g caster sugar, uno egg, 125g veg oil.  Mix.  Into bowl two goes 200g plain flour, half tsp salt, half tsp bicarb, quarter tsp baking powder and a tsp cinnamon.  Mix.  Sift your dry ingredients from bowl two into your wet ingredients in bowl one.  Mix.  Stir in the zest from one grande lemon and throw it in the oven for 45 minutes.  Its done when a cake tester comes out clean.  Let it sit for a few minutes in the tin, and then turn it out into a wire rack.

With the cake baked I set to work on some cookies.  Kinda like a cross between choc chip and spicey raisin/oatmeal cookies, with a few other things thrown in lol.  Baked in several batches, I soon had a loaded wire rack!

Which was later joined by our weekly loaf.
And finally taken over by a small batch of baguettes.

This week has mostly been spent eating!

New Homes All Round!

I've been a little slow in updating the blog recently, perhaps due to my reluctance to sit down for long periods.

Perhaps that seems an odd statement to make, but a couple of weeks back (Friday 8th July) Alfie and I made the trip down to Devon to deliver Red to his new (old) home.  Red had become increasingly anxious around Alfie, and it was clear his quality of life was deteriorating as he shifted around the house to stay away from the little thing that likes to yank doggy's ears.  Tash spoke to Angela, the lady we had got Red from, who jumped at the chance to have him back - her daughter still has his name scrawled on her schoolbooks!  And so, four years and four months after we collected him, I embarked on a dog related journey to deepest darkest Devon to return him to from where he came.

We entered Alfie's room before 6am, and were greeted with an unbelieving "Oooooh Nooooo!" as he was awoken from his slumber .  With the car loaded with drinks, roadsnacks and CD's, we were sticking £70 worth of finest 95RON in the Benz and leaving Tash in Rickmansworth by 7am.  Come 10:30am we were at our destination having only had to pitstop once!  I truely couldn't believe how well the journey had gone!  Considering I was travelling around 500 miles in a day, accompanied by an 19 month old child and a car sick dog, is it any surprise I had been preparing myself for a journey as stressful as the one endured when we tried to day trip to France in December?!

We had some time to kill and so wandered down to a local pub to relax and enjoy a coffee.  Well, what actually happened was I had a coffee, Alfie ran about and climbed over the sofa and Red did a poo in the car. 

Still, we managed to get the formalities done by 12:30pm which meant I was still doing good for time.  As sad as it is to rehome a dog, he certainly seemed to remember the house and the people, and his tail was high the whole time I was there - it gave me peace of mind that he was happy to be there, and also that he we had done well by him to see him so confident so far from 'home'.  As a nice reminder, here's one of my favourite photos of him.

Leaving at 12:30pm, and based on a return journey like our outbound, we should hit Rickmansworth for 4pm ... exactly the time Tash finishes work!  You can see where this is going, can't you?  Cruising at 70(ish) the Benz was munching the miles, and the boy was being surprisingly chipper ... until we hit the M5 outside of Bristol where everything came to a standstill.  But the boy was asleep, so it was OK.  However, two hours later and we were still in previously mentioned traffic jam ... and now Alfie was awake.  And unhappy.  And hungry.  And thristy.  And his arse was numb (i'm guessing that bit, but mine was so his must have been!).  We got through it though, but it was already clear we were going to be late to meet Tash from work.  But progress was swift and for a time we were making good progress ... until the M4 decided to stop outside of Swindon.  Another hour was spend crawling along yet another horrific British motorway, which passengers in the Mighty Benz passed by waving at similarly frustrated passengers, trying to catch the magic uppy downy window, and generally playing with ones feet.  I have no idea what time we made it through, but after eventually navigating the rest of the M4 and then the M25 we made it to Rickmansworth.  It was gone 7pm, over 3 hours since Tash finished work!  We had only managed one stop on the way back, and so we decided to reward Alfie with a meal at the Chinese before completing the last hour of the journey home.  On the whole he had been fantastic, and crispy chili beef was just what we needed to raise our spirits!  We got home after 9pm, 15 hours after we had left in the morning - and poor Alfie woke up the next morning sporting a bruise on his backside from all the hours in his car seat!

So that's Red in a new home, but he wasn't the only one.  After Alfie showed a consistant joy at playing in playhouses, and tactically choosing to get attached to one at Mothercare, we decided to get him a little home of his own.  Tash detailed it fully in her blog but he is loving having a door of his own to swing on!  How long do you reckon till I find him sat on the roof?

And so with the Alfie and the Red sorted that just leaves Tash and I.  We're writing this down on an I.O.U as we're sure our time will come to call this one in!

Monday, July 04, 2011

Sour Cherry Meringue Pie

I love it when June comes around, it means it will only be a matter of days until I can collect cherries and that means Sour Cherry Pie!  Best of all it means I get to climb trees!

However this years sour cherry pie was going to be different!  Tash came up with the idea when we were putting together Bake Off recipes, and although there was zero chance I would ever have actually made this (due to the fact it would have been 6-8 weeks too early) I thought it was such an awesome idea we had to give it a go this year once this years cherries filled the trees.  The plan was to take my traditional cherry pie to the next level with a 'meringue twist' - my first ever meringue pie.

So click back a couple of weeks and I'd just got back from the fishing trip.  I took the dogs out for a walk, and took a route that takes me over the railway line to check out the cherries.  As I approached the row of trees I could see an endless collection of cherry stones on the floor - the birds had beaten me to it!

As I walked on feeling pretty annoyed I happened to look up, and was greeted with a sight of unrivaled beauty! (?)  I didn't even know that tree was there!

And so that evening I wandered back over to the tree, and armed with a Waitrose plastic bag I set about collecting as many of the little bubbles of cherry filled joy as I could gather!

The next few evenings saw me revisit the tree and in totally I took over 2.5kg of cherries AFTER they were stoned.  Ah yes, the stoning.  Much time was spent amidst the following layout.  Cherries, stoner, bowl for stoned cherries.  Every evening I ended up with backache and stained fingers, but no pain no gain, right?  Thankfully the accompanying glass of Rioja helped ease the pain and monotony of stoning 4275 cherries (well it seemed that many to me anyway!)

Knowing I was going to make a meringue I decided to give my baking a kick up the backside and bring it into the 21st century - I bought an electric handmixer!  These kinda gizmos go totally against my way of baking, but I knew the meringue was gonna be hard work without one, plus  there was a certain something that sold it to me!

A rough recipe was drawn up, pastry was made, a boat load of sugar was added to the cherries and I set about making the meringue pie.  Putting my 'turbo' button to good use I made the meringue, and got the pie swiftly in the oven.

A quick peek in the oven confirmed one of my worries - there was way too much juice from the cherries!  Still, that's easily amended for next time and overall I was pretty pleased with the way it came out.

I'd probably go for a touch more meringue next time, but it tasted bloody amazing - quite possibly nicer than
my sour cherry pie!  Alfie certainly seemed to think so!