Friday 13 September 2013

Blog Break

Hi everyone,

I don't want to disappear without letting you know, so this is to say that I shan't be uploading new posts here until mid October, because I am in the final stages of finishing my DPhil thesis, and it's very time-consuming, exhausting, and a little bit stressful.  Something has to go, for a bit, and I'm afraid that's Stuck-in-a-Book.  I probably won't have much time for reading blogs either, sadly.

My deadline is 3 October, and then I will be in America for a couple of weeks - during which time I'll be seeing a couple of American bloggers, so I'll be able to report back on that.

There is another series (the fourth!) of My Life in Books coming - apologies if you're one of the lovely people who has taken part, I had intended to have it prepared to appear while I was in America, but that's also not going to be possible.  But look forward to hearing from fourteen more bloggers about their lives in books at some point in October or November!

And I'm also afraid this means no more Great British Bake Off recaps for a while.  I don't know if it'll still be on when I'm back from America, but I'll make sure I blog about the final, at least, even if it's happened a while ago.

Right, I think that's everything.  Next time you hear from me I won't be a student any more, marking the end of my, hmm, 23 years of education, I think(!)  Hopefully I'll have lots of books read and bought to tell you all about.

love, Simon

Wednesday 11 September 2013

Great British Bake Off: Series 4: Episode 4

This week in Bake Off news: I unfollowed Paul Hollywood on Twitter.  He used the wrong 'your', and then he missed out an apostrophe by writing 'Bake Offs on', and I couldn't bear it anymore.  He's taking it pretty hard.

Last week: The Great Custard Robbery 2013! Trifle! Frances created a life-size model of the Leaning Tower of Pisa from flaked almonds, and it's now the country's most lucrative tourist attraction!

And now.... pie week!  Or Soggy Bottom Week, as it's come to be known across the nation.  I've been following the Bake Off on Facebook (no grammar misuse yet, so they're not persona non grata yet) and they've got into puns in a big way.  PIEtanic was a personal favourite this week - excellent work, social media minion, you'll earn yourself a Golden Pun Klaxon before long.

Mel and Sue open proceedings with some fake food bumps, because of course they do.  I love that one of the most watched programmes in Britain has all the finesse and production standards of an enthusiastic village pantomime - those 'costumes' must have taken all of five minutes to craft.

Can we talk about Ali's hat for a moment?

I have no words.

He's apparently come as a pixie this week.  A pixie who matches his hats exactly to his T-shirts - and note that subtly rolled up sleeve!  He's heard that Mary is using GBBO to launch a fashion line (N.B. this may not be a true) and he wants a slice of that pie (PIE JOKE).  Well, he would, but I can only assume the pie is added to the pantheon of everyday food items of which he's never heard.

Ooo, listen up, I have a (tenuous) excuse for putting Bake Off recaps on a book blog - Mel references the Life of Pi(e)!  And after we had a quotation from Jane Eyre last week (which I forgot to mention in last week's recap, but which Thomas mentioned in the comments - it was a 'Reader, I married him' moment, which is always nicer to say on television than, say, "I meant to be a bigamist; but fate has out-manoeuvred me.") it's become a regular little book group.  (Ali has never heard of books.)

Exhib. 1: pastry

The signature challenge is 'double crusted fruit pie', which is apparently the correct way to describe a pie which has pastry on the top and the bottom.  Well, to me that's just the description of a pie.  Pastry is my favourite part, and if it's only on top I would feel CHEATED and ANGRY and probably pull a RUBYFACE.  I've been asked by Keen Reader Becci (er, my friend Becci) to include a catalogue of her faces this week - but they're essentially all variations on 'Angrily Considering Whether Stabbing Is An Overreaction And Deciding In Favour', with the odd beatific smile thrown in.  She has no spectrum of faces.

Ali, of course, has never made a pie.  But even he should probably be aware that clingfilm isn't the best ingredient to include...

"I love to use ingredients from around the world," he says.  This invariably means using ingredients that nobody, anywhere in the world, would even briefly consider using.  It's a euphemism for 'fondness for the inedible', isn't it?  He admits that he doesn't like - nay, loathes - fruit pies, and I think it's time for our first Mary Berry Reaction Face, don't you?

The Great British Bake Off so gradually became a
sequel to The Exorcist, that I barely noticed the change.

It's no secret that I now adore Howard and could listen to his voice all day long.  My new favourite Howard Word (Howord?) is 'polenta'.  I can't express how wonderfully he says it.  It's a mini-play all by itself.

Apparently it gives the pastry a 'more biscuity' flavour.  Since he's previously used the adjective 'cakey' of his cake, I can only assume that he just sticks 'y' on the end of everyday baked goods when describing things.  Get ready for his bready meringues, desserty cottage loaves, and pastryey crème brûlée.

His VT can't possibly compare to Joggingate - I've come to terms with the knowledge that the rest of my life will be an anticlimax now - so instead we see him hand out cakes in an office.  I'm absolutely certain that he has never been in this office before.  Those women clearly have no idea who he is.

Is that even a real office?
It looks suspiciously like it's been crafted at the back of the tent.
By Frances, from isinglass.

Taking up the jogging mantle is lovely Beca - appropriately enough, since she is rivalling Howard for the place of my favourite - and she looks more competent, but rather angrier.  Compare and contrast, you ask?  Why, yes, of course.

Note the scandalous words on Beca's T-shirt.  I'm wearing a shirt which says 'Bad grammar makes me [sic]', which just goes to show the difference between us.  Let's look at some food, shall we?  I must remember to do more of that in these recaps... and here is what Beca is planning for her 'cherry-apple' cake.  Apparently a cherry-apple is what her grandmother used to call rhubarb to get them to eat it.  Beca, the minx, is just perpetuating a vicious lie.  Won't SOMEBODY think about the children?

Apparently her grandmother's pies did have soggy bottoms, but "it didn't never bother us."  God bless Wales.

Frances is playing fast and loose with my affections.  She is treading such a tightrope.  I love the inventiveness, I love the mad creativity... but it has to come with a dollop of self-consciousness.  I was at a wedding last weekend, and discussing GBBO (obvs) - my friend Rachel loathes Frances.  I still like her, but... just don't become Holly, Frances.  This week she is making a James and the Giant Peach pie, which is yet another link between books and pie.  It's almost as though this review had some sort of place on this blog.  As Sue says, "It sounds like it needs planning permission."

Glenn solemnly intones "Moisture is the enemy of everything today."  I just don't know what to do with that sentence.  But - he's in a Scrabble club!

There are some pretty colours going on in Glenn's bake - I missed what he used to get this colour, but it doesn't look super-appetising.  Is now a good time to admit that I don't get very excited about fruit pies?  I think it's because I don't much like cooked apple unless there is a very high ratio of blackberries or something else.  So I wasn't particularly tempted by the bakes for this challenge.  Sorry, folks. (But my housemate Ellie did make an AMAZING apple and blackberry crumble this week, so sometimes it works brilliantly.)

Curiously, Ali turns towards the camera and says in a kind of robotic voice "Gas mark 4 for 35 to 40 minutes".  Is he auditioning to be the new audio-description-for-the-visually-imparied person?  More power to him.

But it's not as strange as Christine, who starts rhyming... "I'm bending down to have a look / Because I'm waiting for my pie to cook."  Well, it's better than anything Andrew Motion achieved in ten years as Poet Laureate, I'll give her that.  And Kimberley seems amused.

Is now a good time to tell you about the time I went to buy a pastie, and somehow put 'pastry' and 'pastie' together and asked for a 'paystie'.  As in 'pasty', as in a pale and unhealthy appearance.  Good times.

Sue is her usual helpful self, with pro-tips for baking excellence: "I think that brown stuff is burn."

She's not wrong.

"It is what it is," says Glenn, and my soul shrivels up a bit.  As mentioned before (I admit this far too readily) I watch a lot of bad American reality shows, generally with people aiming to be models or fashion designers or join the cast of Glee, and "It is what it is" is their go-to expression.  It's unutterably fatuous.  Of course it blinkin' is what it is.  It's hardly investigative journalism, is it?

On the topic of investigative journalism, I have one question for you.  Is Glenn Paul's illegitimate son?

Inconclusive.  (Can we talk for a moment about Beca's EXCELLENT photobombing here?  But, also.... is it me, or has 'horror movie' become the inadvertent theme of this recap?)

Let's whip through the judging.  My favourite moment during the critique is when Paul tells Kimberley that her pie is the best one he's eaten in a long time, and Mary just tells her what it is: "It's a toffee apple pie!"  Other than that, biggest shock is when Frances is given a 'style over substance' talk.  "You're miles away from the flavour point," says Paul, incomprehensibly.  But... look how pretty!

My favourite post-critique moment is this, frankly terrifying, staring-down that Christine is giving Ali.

Right, it's the Technical Challenge, and this week (despite Sue's suggestion that they just have a rave) it's sponsored by Lionel from As Times Goes By - that's right, custard pies!  Paul goes into eulogies about the pies put in front of him, and shows off a fine specimen.  He talks about how they must have 'a slight wobble', and shakes a tart which does not, for the merest moment, show the slightest sign of a wobble.  But it certainly holds shape when it is cut in half, and already I have images (some of which, admittedly, come from the what's-coming-up bit at the beginning of the episode) of pies self-destructing all over the place.

As per usual, the instructions for the technical bake are ludicrously brief.  As Beca notes: "Make the custard. Helpful."  There are distinct schools of thought over whether it should be heated or not, and there's quite a bit of staring and self-doubt

In the midst of a baking frenzy, we have an oo-er-missus speculation on Howard's sexuality: "that would be telling!"  The Bake Off becomes ever more like a village panto.  And, in this case, "she's behind you!" would be apt.

Beca is such an excellent photobomber, yet again.

"Already time is against us," laments Glenn.  He is taking on the role of John from last series, who just said melodramatic and vague warnings, like a pessimistic sooth-sayer of the middle ages.  Shortly afterwards he says he is "pouring like a buffoon", so maybe he's more like a Jennings character.  Can't decide.

"We're all going to die one day anyway.  Fossilized fishhooks!"

Ruby has a very clever technique for making her sure her pies come out easily - which I think others might soon wish they'd thought of - and I'll certainly be copying it in the future.

BAKING HISTORY is actually quite interesting this week.  But I'm still going to gloss over it.


Mel's fatuous voiceover advice this week?  My favourites are "The pastry must reach the top of the mould." and "The oven must be hot enough to cook the pastry."   But what role does gravity play in this, Mel?  And should - or should not - the bakers close the oven doors?  Enquiring minds want to know.

Everything's going wrong in the tent.  Ali sticks his tarts in the freezer, Frances is genuflecting, and Glenn has started hitting himself in the face with a baking tray.

Horror film. Again. 

Ruby's tabs have worked a treat, but her pastry isn't cooked... and this is happening over at Glenn's station.

...and Howard's.

It's all a bit of a mess, with only a couple people coping.  We haven't such despair and haplessness since the Fondant Fancy challenge of 2012.  Paul is positively gleeful at the idea of all these disasters.

My friend Meg pointed something out to me on Facebook during the week, and I made sure I checked it out this week... Rob's face on the placard identifying him in the Technical Challenge.

Good lord!  What a beaming smile, and what a discrepancy between that, and this usual 'delighted' face.  Let's remind ourselves...

Glenn is last in the Technical Challenge.  Top three are Rob, Beca, and Frances...

Another day, some incidental pictures of sheep, and we're back in the tent for the Showstopper Challenge - which is a filo pastry pie.  I am intrigued as to how they can make filo pies look 'showstoppery' (officially a w word - I used to work for Oxford Dictionaries, m'kay?) but I am ready to be impressed.  I also know that there isn't the smallest chance I'd ever try making filo pastry, because it looks incredibly difficult... Paul says "It's like a membrane - you have to open it up and throw it over a newspaper."  One can only be grateful that his career as a surgeon never came to much.

Christine is making a Roasted Vegetable Filo Pie with Feta Cheese - which sounds delicious - but is it just me, or does that BBC-colouring-pencils sketch look far more like an octopus than the depiction of Rob's octopus ever did?  Compare and contrast time again...

Bakers are slapping their filo pastry over the desks with gay abandon, and then suddenly the show decides to become everything I ever hoped or dreamed for.  In quick succession, there are several moments which, individually, would each have been Highlight of the Week.  It's like they read my blog, and decided to give me a helping hand.  First up, OFFICIAL ANDREX PUPPY MOST ADORABLE MARY BERRY MOMENT:

I'm not one to question the decision-making of our great monarch, but I've got one burning question - why the heckitty d. peckitty is Mary Berry not a Dame yet?

Frances is using a shower cap on her pie, which is pretty impressive, but before I can pay close attention, Rob says this: "I have joined a local mushroom club.  I do like to forage.  It is a very unforgiving pastime."

Is this foraging?  It looks a lot like getting stuff out the fridge.

He adds that he's making 'piethagoras'.  Can we declare the Great Age of Television over?  It's all downhill from here.

Frances is making a baklava cherry tree...

As I say, to Ellie watching it with me, "Of course she is."  And then Mel says the same thing on the voiceover.  I adore baklava, but her description of combining the pistachio of baklava with cream cheese (was it?) and orange sounds rather disgusting.

This post has been going on far too long, as usual, so I'm afraid we're going to fast-forward through to the results.  Which is a shame, because the manipulation of filo pastry is pretty amazing.  We see pastry covering two-metre expanses of table, and quite extraordinary preparations.

Check out Rob's craftily made ruler thing.  I have no idea what function it's supposed to perform, or whether it was successful.

He's long behind, because the mushrooms took half an hour longer to clean than he expected.  Couldn't they just have provided clean mushrooms?  He does have a lovely moment with Sue, when he tells her to get lost but "I'll call" - to which she replies "They all say that!"

Favourite pun moment?  Mel saying that she might be "throwing a spanikopita in the works".  Golden Klaxon to you, m'lady.

The angst highlight is the three-person job of getting Howard's pie out of the dish - Glenn gurns in the background, saying he can't look while obviously looking, the liar, and it's treated a bit like the big scene in The Great Escape or The Dam Busters.  I have never seen either of those films, but I'm guessing they have big scenes, no?

Here are my favourites, appearance-wise:

Bonus points to Ruby for saying "It's a lot better than what I normally knock up."

And time for the results!
Star baker is...


But going home - and thus removing the promised meltdown for which I'd been waiting, is:

Ruby's eye here provides the last terrifying moment of the episode.

He claims not to recognise Mary Berry, or to know his own name, or to understand the word 'out', but sadly these technicalities do not keep him in.  Bye, Ali!  It's been emotional.  Bless poor Howard, he has a little weep, and I love him x 100.

Hope you've enjoyed this week's recap, and if you have a sad moment this week (Howard) just think about Mary Bezza threatening Paul H with a lump of raw filo dough.