Monday, 27 January 2014

Not Quite Burns' Night Haggis Tea

I've never been that into Burns' Night - it always struck me as a bit odd and something the man himself would find ridiculous. Then again, I'm a sucker for any excuse to eat haggis, especially when the shops suddenly have some in stock where I live. As I was out on the night itself I instead made something for Sunday dinner and it was soooo delicious I have to tell you about it.

So, to start off; what is a haggis?  Those of you thinking it's some disgusting lump of offal in a bag are only slightly right - it's true that less desirable cuts of meat can be used in haggis but this is one of the things I love about it. Too much perfectly good meat is wasted and not appreciated in my opinion and haggis is a great way to use up those bits you might not want to think about but are just as tasty. The McSween ones are made with cooked minced lamb and minced beef mixed with oats and lots of other secret herbs and spices. I love the McSween one because it's actually a proper spicy haggis, unlike some that can be bland as hell. If you've ever had a spicy sausage it tastes a lot like that. If you still think "eeew", then I hope you don't eat hot dogs - those have far worse ingredients.

Now, because haggis has quite a distinctive flavour it can be a bit much for folks on both sides of the border. I hated it when I was a kid but saw the error of my ways as a teenager. But I've rarely made it at home as I was never sure if I could get my man to eat it. Well thanks to a friend of mine I now have a regular go-to recipe that I know both of us like - and I really think everyone should try it. Head to Megabekatron's site for Haggis Pie. The cook is a friend of mine and I've been meaning to give one of her recipes a go for ages - Sunday proved the perfect opportunity. I'm not going to tell you how to make it - go to the link and see for yourself. And if you do want to experience the glorious scrumchousness make sure you get a decent haggis - MacSween is lovely.

Below is the results - served with some spinach and green beans along with a more tradition parsnip or two. The recipe made enough for four hungry people, so I have leftovers to look forward to later in the week. Assuming I can hold off and not eat it tonight... The plate below was eaten clean very quickly!

Monday, 20 January 2014

Morning Starts Have Begun

Managed to get the first draft of my short done, at just under 4000 words. This waking up early lark is turning out to be a big help to productivity - I can see why Hemingway and others prefer it. Your brain is all fresh and doesn't have all the bewilderment that can come from a long day at work. If you're really lucky some weird dream will cast its shadow on the story, turning it into something far more magical than you intended. I've got a lot of editing to do with this short (which will likely make it longer) but ripping it into parts should do the trick when I need to put it back together again.

The other thing I've started to do in the a.m. is going to the gym. This is a big deal. I hate running and have avoided as many sports as I could throughout my life (I still get chilling nightmares about PE classes). But I'm at an age where I need to do something otherwise I run the risk of turning into a computer dude, with the chair fused to my ever increasing ass. The most shocking thing about all this is, so far, I'm actually enjoying myself. I may even turn into one of those people, the ones who wax lyrical about "what a rush" they get from the treadmill. But I'll try not to - I hate those arseholes.

Sunday saw the launch of a new version of The Three Musketeers from the BBC - I must admit I wasn't optimistic after the car crash that was Atlantis. However I was more than pleasantly surprised. As the book is one of my top 5 favourites of all time I can find "re-imaginings" of the story painful at best or just damned embarrassing at worst. This though was a decent adventure, with nice characterisation of our leads made quickly, creating a distinction between them within the first fifteen minutes. The acting wasn't too bad either. All in all I'm looking forward to the next one and hope it lives up to the promise of the first episode.

I'm writing this as I watch Lincoln (very good but very long!) so I'd better get back to pay attention - Lewis is making another speech about freedom or such.

Friday, 17 January 2014

Flash Fiction: Dog Star Peacock

So I've got the writing monkey stuck to my back again and boy is she bossy; not content with my improved efforts at writing my own stories she now demands I try a Chuck Wendig Flash Fiction challenge. To stop her scratching my face off or eating my ear, here's my first 2014, 1000 word story. It was another pick two random numbers to come up with a title and I got:

15:Dog Star

13: Peacock

Okaaaaaay… Bit random but I like a challenge. Hope you enjoy!

Dog Star Peacock

Thursday 28 August 1725

The winds are gone and the men are restless. These damned seas are silent. A fight broke out over the water rationing so I instructed my second Mr. Ealing to store what we have left in my cabin. I have the only keys. Those responsible for the fight were flogged in front of the others. One man, who killed another in the brawl, was thrown overboard; I will not have murderers on my ship.

Friday 29 August 1725

It is unclear how much longer we can continue. A week gone by and barely 5 knots done. Mr. Nibbens, on night watch in the nest, reported seeing a light on the horizon but there is no land here. I’ve removed him from watch duty. The men have started telling each other tales of some pirate known as “Dog Star” to lift their spirits. From what I recall he is known mainly for leading lost ships to fortune and glory by seeing the stars no matter the weather. A myth no doubt or else greatly exaggerated. I have told Mr. Ealing to discipline any man wasting his time on stories.

Saturday 30 August 1725

The light Mr. Nibbens reported has been seen by all and is shining through my cabin window. It’s an odd blue glow coming from a Western bearing, cascading over everything it touches. I have instructed the men to oars, winds be damned; if this is land we need it. One of the men jumped ship today, screaming about sirens. He was drowned before we could reach him. Please Lord let this light be your kind hand guiding us to salvation.

Sunday 31st August 1725

We came across an uncharted small island where the light was coming from. The light stopped as soon as the watch cried land. We reached land mid-afternoon and of all the things to find we came across a lone woman. She names herself Henrietta Peacock, marooned there a week ago by pirates. She wept and the men all agreed she would be travelling with us, despite the known ill-luck women bring to ships. Even I must admit this woman is a vision; raven black hair and a dark tanned complexion around the brightest green eyes I’ve ever seen. She directed us to food and water. Restocked, we plan to set sail tomorrow morning. I have no doubt the Lord himself has sent us this angel to lead us home.

Wednesday 3rd September

The weather has improved markedly and the change in the men is clear. Mr. Ealing and I have entertained our guest as much as we can but she asks to remain by the bow, looking at the figurehead or at sea. It’s as though she’s looking for something. I have witnessed some of the men speaking with her and they seem well pleased. I must confess to being surprised at their politeness; this crew were not of my picking and so far they have been rough and rude at every turn. But the change in them is a relief; we may make it back to port in time for our delivery.

Sunday 7th September

I am perturbed. Though orders are being filled I sense the men are not themselves. They have grown quiet and too polite. Mr. Ealing believes I am imaging things. I suspect our beautiful guest has something to do with it. She has an unnatural way of looking at you in the dark, long past the hour a woman should have retired. Her eyes have a glow I do not like.

Monday 8th September

I have become certain that Miss. Peacock (if that is even her name) is not what she says she is. Today I saw her talking to deck hands and walking among them as though she was one of their own. Despite my protests she has started assisting the cook Mr. Tawson. He assured me a woman’s touch was just the thing our meals needed. But my insides twist with a deadly certainty; this woman is unnatural. I have seen her speaking to the sea as though it can hear her - and it responds! Our way became clearer upon her words. It is against God to tolerate a witch. We are only five days from port; she will be in chains before we get there.

Wednesday 10th September

I write this from the life boat, headed to port, minus my crew and ship. Yesterday in the early morning I was awoken by four crewmen storming my room. They bound my arms behind my back and covered my head with a bag. Once I was on deck it was removed and of all people there was our very own Miss. Peacock, smirking at me. She offended my eyes by being dressed as a man, with a sword by her side. She said my services were no longer needed. I replied she needed a beating and was met with cries of “we’ll kill you first” from the crew. They were all bewitched by her. I stated as much and was struck by none other than Mr. Ealing. He said the crew were no longer under my command and would follow Captain “Dog Star” Peacock where she chose. The audacity of the woman; to wear that moniker for her own benefit.

The men were calling for my death, but Miss. Peacock refused. She ordered them to place me in a boat and send me on my way, unbound and unarmed. As the boat was lowered she threw down my logbook and pen and ink, saying she looked forward to the new legend I would write. Is there anything worse than a deluded, arrogant woman? I hope to reach land in a day or two, with the favourable winds that have moved me on far faster than I had hoped. Then we will see how much longer this “Dog Star” can run from justice.

Monday, 13 January 2014

TV Review - Hatfields & Mccoys: Episode 1

So far my writing is going well, with 1912 words added to a short story in the last week, over 1000 of that on Saturday. Hopefully it means my new way of achieving goals is working - only time will tell. In other news I've just started Hatfields and McCoys and if the first episode is anything to go by the series is a good one. I've been meaning to watch this for a long time, being a fan of anything set in America around the time of the American Civil War. It's also caused me to add some samples to my Kindle for history books based on the real events the show is based on and the Civil War itself. I think we can agree that's a win for the History Channel.

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Reading Resolutions

As always I've set myself some goals for the year, except this time I'm breaking it down into 12 week chunks. Every 12 weeks I have a number of things I'm going to do (there is no try!) and one of those things is to read more. It may sound strange but I find I only read when I'm travelling now and while it means I have regular reading time everyday, it's hard to get into a story when I know I'm going to have to stop within 40 minutes of starting. I'll also try to record on here or on my other social media what I've read as I finish it, but I'm more interested in trying to get through at least three books every 12 weeks (depending on length).

This has all come about because I was given a lot of books for Christmas this year; not just new ones but also my Mum's sci-fi/fantasy collection, as she's looking to clear out some space. It's a bit like getting my inheritance early as I've been coveting her books for as long as I could read. The picture below includes a lot of her books:

See all those Tanith Lee, Anne McCaffrey, Megan Lindholm and (out of shot) Sheri Tepper books? All of those (and the ones behind them) are my Mum's, collected over the last 40+ years. Most are original publications and I think I'm going to have to learn how to repair books as some of their pages are coming loose. I've read a lot of them already, in my formative teen years (thanks to Mum) and would love to read them again as an adult. But I want to keep reading stories I've not read before too, hence the reading goals.

Right now I'm reading "The Passage" by Justin Cronin and "Percy Jackson and the Sea of Monsters" by Rick Riordan. They're different enough from each other that it's refreshing to read them at the same time (well not literally of course - even I'm not that good) and I'm finding I'm noticing the writing techniques a lot more as a result. It also helps that one is on Kindle and one is physical, which is something I might try to continue as part of the goal. That and because I just bought a tonne of Kindle books for cheap in Amazon's 12 Days of Christmas sale. There's no such thing as too much to read after all.

Oh, and I also got a load of art and comic books over Christmas too. I need to fit them in somehow…

I'm interested if I'm the only one who finds it a struggle to keep up the reading rate, with the many shiny distractions the world has for us. How do you ensure you keep up with reading? Or do you not? Do you have any tips on how to fit more reading into your life? All comments and muttering will be welcome.