Yeh, I know it’s about five hours after the usual time but things got out of hand.

Two different types of treasure this week. First the lovely one that is McOther. Ah bless him. This week he was sixty, a thing that I find almost incomprehensible. He looks about 45 if that. Anyway, in order to mark the occasion I decided I needed to do something. After a bit of discussion with a friend, and McMini, I hit on a series of days out at air museums. I’ve offered him four and he can pick one although there are a couple that I might buy for all three of us at Christmas so long as enough people (or anyone) buys some of my books.

Meanwhile our ‘bubble’ decided we would meet and sort out a birthday evening along the themes of Not France. But clearly the ‘not’ was the same as the ‘nothing’ in Nothing To See Here. We had tarte flambé and wine, obviously. Quite a lot of wine. And then we had Scottish salmon, as a nod to his country of origin. Then to acknowledge where he grew up, we did a Canadian delicacy. Tortine which was, basically, meat pies. I got the recipe from my Canadian sis in law.

As you can imagine, not much of the organising here was done by me. It was very much a group effort because my inability to arrange … well … anything much is known and understood by all our friends. However, I was tasked with the pies and some salmon bites for the champagne. In order to ensure I got this right, I bought everything I needed at the market on Saturday, and from M&S on Sunday. The salmon things were easy to assemble, the pies looked like they were going to take a bit more cooking. For starters the ingredients was all in cups. That’s fine because I have purchased some cups or at least, North American cups because I believe Australian cups are different and New Zealand cups different again.

As a metric raised child with imperial parents I can do lbs and ozs and I can do kg and grammes. Cups are weird but so long as they stick to cups and teaspoons and don’t start suddenly throwing in 200 grammes of something I’m usually OK.

The recipe called for shortening, which I have never heard of until recently, but now I know this one! It’s lard. So I went up to town and M&S had something called baking block, which looked more like margarine when I got it home and, more worryingly, seemed to comprise mostly palm oil. Fucking Nora, I’m killing the planet. Never mind. Press on.

Casting an extremely blind eye to the rain forest murdering ‘lardgerine’ I was using I consulted the recipe and hit a snag. It comprised two cups of flour and one cup of shortening. I looked at the green plastic scoop and at the thing that was not butter but looked like a pat of butter on the counter. A thing that was, undoubtedly, very solid. How did I cupify that? Did I just squelch it into the plastic measure or what? Maybe I was supposed to melt it. Except that I didn’t really know what I was making, but the recipe was echoing somewhere in the dark recesses of my brain. Yeh. If this turned out to be bog standard pastry I was making here, melting it would be a bad idea.

In the end I decided that if it was two cups flour and one cup shortening it must be, basically, two to one. So I tipped the flour into the scales, worked out there was roughly 8oz and so I put 4oz of shortening in. Though I say it myself, the result was a reasonably decent bash at what did, indeed, transpire to be shortcrust pastry. It may be that if I’d found some actual lard it would have been proper meat pie pastry, you know, pork pie style. Not sure. It was alright though. Sure, I could have got some JusRoll but sometimes it’s nice to make this stuff and have it without all the extra additives and shit.

The mince bit of the recipe was much easier; mostly in lbs and ozs and standard tablespoons etc with the odd ‘cup’ of chopped onion or whatever thrown in. Having successfully combined the ingredients for the pie stuffing and made what I have to confess was a really quite decent filling, I got to the bit where it said I should put two tablespoons of corn flour.

We had cornflour. I knew we did. McOther had bought it to thicken something or other a few weeks previously but he’d also tidied the larder so I couldn’t find it. There was none. Now, I only have a certain number of ‘spoons’ on the energy front and it’s not many. I’d used most of my energy quotient for that day going up to town to get the ingredients. Any left I was using for cooking. Furthermore, I was at a point in that cooking when I couldn’t easily leave it. I was going to have to improvise. OK so we didn’t have cornflour but we did have custard powder. If you look on the side of a tin of custard powder, the ‘ingredients’ are corn flour, salt and yellow dye. So I put two tablespoons of custard powder into the pie mix. That was great, except I’d already salted it so now it was way too salty.


Only one thing for it then, more water and wine in the mix. Luckily it didn’t do it any harm and – bonus – meant I didn’t have to produce the traditional gravy to go with!

The pies came out looking a lot tidier than the kitchen.

Eventually I managed to bake a couple of experimental pies and hit on which dishes I’d use. All my round biscuit cutters, the ones I was going to use for the pie crusts, they’d moved to somewhere else during the great larder tidy and of course, when pressed, McOther had long since forgotten where. Luckily we had one of those rings they press your veg into when you go to a posh restaurant and have potatoes dauphinois or something in a perfect circle. So I used that for the lids. For the Scottish pie style hole in the middle, I found a thing to put in the top of olive oil bottles which had a little plastic stopper that went on top. The stopper was the perfect size for cutting a small hole in the middle.

Eight decent pies and a dodgy experimental one at the front.

Come Wednesday morning, when the chips were down, I managed to produce some reasonably decent looking pies to heat up that evening. I glazed them with an egg and ate the rest of it, scrambled, for lunch afterwards. I’d already tasted one of the experimental pies and enjoyed it but that doesn’t always mean much when serving them up to Michelin star husband and friends. When I cooked them that night, because they were a bit of an unknown quantity and we’d already eaten a lot of other stuff, I cooked four between the six adults. They made me go and cook two more. So all in all, I think they were a success. So much of a success that I might even cook them again.

Next lot of treasure … some stuff I found. I have upgraded my metal detector. Or at least I have a new one on sort of HP from a friend. It’s like my old one only lighter and even easier to understand.

Yesterday I went metal detecting. I learned many things, principally that my new rain mac is not waterproof, that my waterproof trousers are also no longer waterproof and that detecting all day is probably too many spoons. But after searching some areas where the farmer wanted us to search for lumps of iron, during which I also happened upon a rather lovely watch winder, we went and had a quick hour and a half looking on a field where there was less iron to remove and some other, rather more interesting non-ferrous items as well.

Here’s a picture of the watch winder, which looked rather straightforward but turned out to be rather pretty when I cleaned it up.

For the non initiated, iron usually equals junk. Not always, but a lot of the time. To my delight, the new detector gave me a very accurate picture of what was what. I also found the fifth best find of all time for me, a silver thimble from the 1650s. We’d just been discussing our favourite eras as we walked to the field and I’d said I thought it was the 1600s for me because it was such a turbulent century.

Because the thimble is over 30o years old and more than 10% precious metal it’s actually classed as ‘treasure’ officially.

That means I have to hand it in to the representative from the portable antiquities scheme. I may get it back or it may be purchased by a museum for about £10 because it’s worth seven tenths of bugger all. But it’s interesting because it’s rare. Many of these were handed to the commonwealth and melted down to make money so there aren’t so many left. It’s an interesting thing. I was chuffed because I worked the date out from the type of writing and the fact it reads, ‘Fere God Truly’ which, I felt, pointed to turbulent times. I also found a James 1 penny, too, which was interesting.

This is my second find that is officially ‘treasure’ the other was a bit of a silver Saxon strap end. I think it takes two to three years for the process to go through.

Well … it is the civil service and government after all. The little thing next to it is a James 1 penny. It’s a pity a bit’s broken off because the detail is lovely.

The new detector is called an ORX and bears more than a passing resemblance to the SSS Enterprise, which amuses me. ORX is usually pronounced as the letters in turn, an O-R-X but actually, if you say them, as if they’re a word, you get orcs.

The orcs found me treasure. Bless ’em. That’s a first for us all. Even so.


I have done very little new writing this week but I am editing Too Good To Be True like a demon. I am struggling with a canal boat chase though. Canal boats and barges here in Britain have a top speed of about 4 knots. A knot is about 1.2 something miles per hour.

As you can imagine, I loved the idea of making K’Barthan barges and canal boats the same, and then having two parties in boats that go at walking pace in a grim-faced, slow-motion chase to the death. I want people to run along the tow path throwing bottle bombs and our hero to smack them back with an oar, I also think he should probably give them a tow with his snurd, except I don’t think I can quite jemmy those bits in. I have to have the folks on the barge handing him something, in full view of the pursuing hoards. Naturally, that’s thing the ones chasing are after, so our hero can then fly away to draw off any airborne pursuit. Which he does. And they then disappear into the … fog … night … trees … tunnel? Sheesh. I dunno.

The folks in the boat live on it. It’s their home so they can’t give it up. However, they can give it a make over so it looks completely different in about thirty minutes. They can’t get caught at that point because I’ve written a show down that I really like – mainly because it involves Big Merv. I really like the whole book. No-one else will, but I do. Which makes it tricky.

Also, the canal boat chase is something I have to write straight, because otherwise it won’t come out funny. And I love the idea that some people will see it in their heads, see the incongruity of it and laugh their heads off while others will completely miss that. But if it still works it won’t matter and either path will be fine.

It’s tricky though. I might have to rest it again for another couple of months.


If you’re impatient for the next book in the Hamgeean Misfit Series why not try listening to some of my books on audio.

Read by the distinguished and extremely talented Mr Gareth Davies, who has turned the K’Barthan series into a bit of a gem. You can find out more about them here:

Also, Small Beginnings is on its way to market in audio format. Once again, read by Gareth who is a bit of a dab hand at comedy. It’s available on Kobo already and should land at the other retailers soon.


Filed under General Wittering

20 responses to “Treasure

  1. Shortening just means fat. In Mexico we had a brand of vegetable shortening, Inca, which was a block of white purified vegetable fat – and Mother made the best pies from it.

    Lard is the animal equivalent – rendered, cleaned up fat. You could use bacon fat for savoury ones.

    You do NOT melt it – that is something else entirely. The Mexican one (and the equivalent vegetable shortening and butter-flavoured vegetable shortening which is yellow) are meant to be cut into the flour with knives or a pastry cutter, making something with the consistency of meal. Melting ruins that and just gives you soggy flour.

    And last, but not least, weights and volume measures are NOT equivalent (unless everything has the exact same density), so yes, you are meant to mash the shortening into the cup, and then it is removed with a plastic spatula.

    But sounds like you did good without my cooking instructions – impressive performance from the non-pro side. With encore, even. He is well and truly celebrated, your OH. Excellent job.

    • So you’re telling me that if I was doing it properly I would squish it all into the cup. 😱😱😱 Noooo. So basically that means …. No. 🤣🤣🤣 I can’t even go there! That’s just insane that means a cup is … it’s a proper measure … 😱

      I thought it came from people not having a set of scales so it would be, two parts of thing a and one part of thing b could be netted out approximately delegations on the size is vessel people had in their homes and it would give you a reasonably consistent recipe. 😱😱😱 But what you are saying is like … it’s not two parts to one because density etc so it has to be that actual cup.

      So like the Americans invented this method of doing recipes and a whole new weights and measurements system just to piss the rest of the world off. 🤣🤣🤣🤣 Like wow.

      And then if I’d managed to squish it into the cup I’ve have had to freeze it and get it out so that I could grate it into the pastry so that it was all nice chopped little cold bits for rubbing in. 😭 No time for that sort of phaff. OMG! 🤣🤣🤣 I’m speechless. Weights and measures is so, so, simple by comparison. How do you guys even begin to work with this weirdness? 🤣🤣🤣



      On Sat, 29 Aug 2020, 18:30 M T McGuire Authorholic, wrote:


      • We call this ‘the English system.’

        On the prairies, everyone had a cup. Few probably had scales.

        Julia Childs wrote The Art of French Cooking, and I learned my fancy cooking from her. She must have translated weights into measures, because I don’t remember weighing anything. She may have mentioned it. Or my memory could be selective. My mother taught me to cook – in Mexico – from cups. And an American cookbook she’d probably gotten from a bridal shower.

        The only takeaway is to NEVER melt shortening, butter, fat – unless the recipe calls for that. It is completely different than using it unmelted.

        You do have to remember that you people invented English, but the US is a HUGE market.

      • ‘We call this the English system!’ Mwahahahrhgh gotta love that! I think that people used to have books ‘translated’ I don’t remember publishers expecting Brits to read recipes in cups or novels in American spelling until fairly recently. Then with Word, which makes it really and I mean really hard to spell in anything other than American, it’s just gradually become the kind of, there are more Americans so everyone else can fuck off. That is how it feels when you’re on the receiving end. Because we can understand and read American spelling, American big business has decided that it will no longer extend the rest of the English speaking world the courtesy of reading, listening or browsing in our own language. It’s why Brits and Australians get chippy from time to time. Especially when most of us can understand American but they can’t understand us. We will all end up adopting the worst of everything that is American and all that is best and good and true of both American and our indigenous cultures will be discarded. Sorry I’m being cynical, but that’s how it feels. America now, is probably how Britain will be in twenty year’s time on the absolutist, lacking grey and react knee jerk and emotionally rather than taking a few minutes to think or rationalisefirst front.

        But like I say, just ignore me, I’m very cynical



        On Sat, 29 Aug 2020 at 19:24, M T McGuire Authorholic wrote:


      • I do not ignore you. I HONOUR you, British spelling. Old, cranky, cantankerous sometimes – but in the same category in my reading as the Latin I used to be the only one who understood in church.

        You made me special – because I understood YOU, and others didn’t.

        I love being clever: two of my characters are American, and the third is Irish. He gets all the little touches in HIS pov – the doubled consonant before ‘ed’ or ‘ing,’ the ‘ou’ in the right words instead of ‘o,’ and a few more as appropriate. He gets petrol and lorry and cooker.

        I feel I’ve been waiting my whole life to show I get it – because of all the British novels I’ve read, though I’ve never been privileged to study the language.

        I think you can set Word to British spelling.

      • 😁 you can set weird to British sorting but you also have to change a lot of other really hard to pin down Windows settings or it’ll only change for that document or flip back to US the minute you close it.

        Lorry. 😁👍 Love you 🧡

      • Me, too. IF I get it wrong, and I will, I happily accept corrections.

        Word is American, at least in genesis, and many other programs have the same problems of staying consistent when you make changes (iPhones, Scrivener, and anything with a dictionary…), but we humans are supposed to be smarter than our smart appliances.

        I still wonder why you gave up English units, but maintain English spelling, but I guess it’s TRADITION! Which shows so much more on road and store signs, and so little at the petrol pump.

        Carry on.

      • We just like to be contrary. 😉

      • Whilst I’m trying to be correct. Yes, Andrew gets ‘whilst.’ Stupid spellchecker missed that I misspelled it ‘whist.’ My sharp-eyed beta reader caught it, blessings on her and her kind.

      • Also, it is highly irritating that the British use the METRIC system, and the US did NOT make the transition back when it would have been easier and cheaper, and I had to teach my children the English system (AFTER thoroughly homeschooling them in METRIC – they thought I was joking).

      • It’s a glorious irony isn’t it. 🤣🤣🤣

      • Irony isn’t what it used to be. But yes.

      • Oh, yes, and ‘ise’ for ‘ize. I knew I’d forgotten an important one.

        I won’t be perfect – but I really do try.

  2. Somewhere I have a conversion chart from cups to grams/ounces; it has proved useful on occasion. I agree with you completely regarding your cynical rant about English English and American English and the fact that many of the good things and the interesting differences between us all are being lost and will eventually be replaced by ‘bland’ or by fear.
    I am so pleased your husband’s birthday celebrations went so well. Congratulations on those wonderful looking pies!

    • Thanks and thanks. I had a conversion chart too at some point but I don’t know where it’s gone. Since I found the set of cups I’ve been using those. 😁

  3. I can cope with cups when I use my older Pyrex measuring jug which has cups clearly marked on the left and the cl up the centre (floz on the right). The later one has grams clearly marked and the cups up the centre. But I do know that this is a volume thing, so weighing doesnt help a bit, unless you discover you have a cookbook which can translate cups of flour into grams or ounces and cups of marg into ounces, and cups of milk into floz (or litres). I have one. If only I could remember which one it is!

    • I haven’t a conversion chart at all. I have plenty of short crust pastry recipes though so luckily I eventually realised what I was making and could guess. 😁

  4. tallerbooks

    I *love* the treasure-finding ORX – and the treasure! ❤

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