Friday Flash Fiction – It’s A Holiday Theme

Ay yes, Cava was consumed. It helps with creativity, scientists have proven.

Ay yes, Cava was consumed. It helps with creativity, scientists have proven.

Dear reader, Friday 1 November finds me back staring out of windows as the rain lashes down. Autumn is here and it’s being shoved heavily from behind by winter, desperate to join the party too. How is 1 November with you?

It’s a far cry from my activities of last week which included spending the bulk of my time outdoors dressed in shorts and t’shirts. Did I fulfil my mission, did the lap top I took with me make an appearance out of the rucksack? Was it fired up? Were writing duties undertaken, despite the siren call of Cava, sunshine and walks on the beach?

Well reader dear, ahem – WRITING WAS UNDERTAKEN. Sorry for shouting, but it’s just that I did rather surprise myself. There is a lot to be said about sitting on a balcony to write. Since returning home, I’ve been Googling ‘living abroad’ and indulging in fantasies which involve six months of the year spent in sunnier climes and a little apartment, complete with bijou balcony, where I perch myself every day and tip-tap-type out words of wisdom. Or words that get me paid at least.

Anyway, back to the Friday flash fiction challenge! I’ve taken on a holiday theme for this one. Of course, it does not reflect anything that may or may not have happened last week…

Manners Maketh The Man

Penny bristled to herself – was it really that hard for holiday-makers to learn the words ‘por favor’ or ‘gracias’?

The group had been getting on her nerves all week. The loud singing, the crass remarks and the lack of manners particularly piqued Penny.

Tony, the biggest and loudest of them, was now at the bar. “Oi Manuel,” he snapped his fingers. “Six vodkas and cokes.”

As he passed Penny’s lounger, she stuck out a foot. Tony and his tray went flying. A nasty accident, but not one which could be blamed on the hotel. The waiter and Penny gave each other the ghost of a wink.

Words, Words and Superfluous U’s

Greetings friends. I wish you Friday felicitations from afar this week. As you read this, I am sunning myself and sipping on a Cava or two in Costa Teguisa, Lanzarote.

I have, as you may have guessed, scheduled this post well in advance. How organised of moi! As I write this, my intent is to take Katie and the Deelans (working title) with me and proof-read it, edit it and re-write the ending as per a friend’s excellent suggestions. Have lap top, will travel and will WRITE.

You are allowed, mes amis, to have a little bet to yourself. “Friend,” you may well be thinking, “you do kid yourself if you think an iota of work will be done when there is sunshine abounding and drinks a-pouring. C’mon, know yourself dear girl and know that little if anything will be done to that book.”

10 to one I do anything? Or would 100 to one be more accurate?

Anyway, in the mean time here is a teeny piece of fiction for you to enjoy…

Words, Words, Words

  • What’s with the z’s instead of s’s friend? I’m not a fan.
  • Hey, it makes sense. When you hear the word, the sound is closer to an ‘ess’ or a zed. Say it out loud for yourself.
  • I maintain the s’s rock. I’m not keen on all your missing u’s either. Neighbor, flavor etc. Urgh. And as for your missing o’s. Really, estrogen and celiac are vulgar.
  • Haven’t you heard about the world’s letter shortage? Our economic policies re letters will ensure that words never run out. Did you hear me? You’ve gone awfully quiet.

 

It’s Friday – And That Means a Short Story

Is there anything more appealing than a freshly-made scone?

Is there anything more appealing than a freshly-made scone spread thickly with jam and cream*?

Blimey – why I didn’t think up a regular blog slot beforehand, I do not know. It’s much easier to write (and schedule ahead) when you know exactly what you are going to be writing on a particular day…

Once again then, friends, we find ourselves at Flash Fiction Friday. There are quite a few other flash fiction blogs out there and words counts vary – anything from 20 words (or the Twitter 140 characters) up to 1,000. In my book, 1,000 words counts as a short story, but I have also noted that Prima looks for 800-word stories every month for its magazine. And you can win £100. Worth trying, hmm?

Anyway, here’s this Friday’s flash fiction effort…

Baked to Perfection

I’ve been making cakes,” announced Jed, “baking’s really therapeutic isn’t it?”

Anita looked at what he’d done. Covering the kitchen table were beautifully decorated cupcakes, slices of malt loaf, treacle scones and an elaborately iced, three-tier fruit cake. Her mouth watered.

Where to start? Should she try scones, fresh from the oven and thickly buttered? Or should she slice into fruit cake and cram her mouth with dried fruit, marzipan and sugar paste?

I’ll get a plate,” she murmured, the doctor’s prescription still in her handbag. Blood test results back that morning: type 2 diabetes and coeliac disease…

 

*Photo taken from the BBC Good Food website. The recipe for this scone is here.

Baking and Fund-raising – Natural Partners

Pic of home-made millionaire's shortbread

Ah the joys of baking sweet stuff; and baking for a good cause too.

My sisters, mother and I love baking so we’re in the process of getting ready for a coffee morning on 2 November.

It’s a fund-raising event for Motor Neurone Disease, as last year my aunt was diagnosed with this awful illness. MND is name for a group of illnesses which cause damage to the nerves called the motor neurones, the nerves that carry messages to the muscles. It can result in difficulties with walking, lifting your arms, chewing or swallowing. It’s also a progressive condition which means the damage gets worse in time and there is no cure at present.

The money we raise will go towards important research. There is awful lot of important medical research which is funded through charity and people’s donations to a cause; choosing between so many valid causes can be difficult, but obviously this is a personal one for my family and I. If anyone reading this does feel moved to contribute, there’s a link to my sister’s Just Giving Page here. (And thank you ever so much in advance.)

Anyway, for our baking morning I’m planning to make one of Nigella Lawson’s chocolate cakes. It’s gluten-free and dairy-free, which makes it sound terribly earnest and “a good for you kind of thing”, but it is absolutely delicious because it’s so chocolate-y and moist. I’ve adapted it slightly according to my own baking experiments.

I’m also planning some millionaire’s shortbread with a marbled chocolate topping as most folks love the combination of buttery shortbread, super sweet caramel and the crisp chocolate topping. I was toying with the idea of coconut ice too – retro but pretty, hmm?

 

Nigella Lawson’s Dairy and Gluten-free Chocolate Cake

  • 50g good quality cocoa powder (Green & Black’s make a nice one)
  • 125ml boiling water
  • 150g ground almonds
  • 3 large, free-range eggs
  • 150ml olive oil (the mild stuff, not the extra virgin kind)
  • 225g golden caster sugar
  • 1tsp gluten-free baking powder
  • 2tsp vanilla extract or paste

Pre-heat the oven to 170 degrees C. Grease and line a loose-bottomed square 20cm cake tin.

Mix the cocoa powder with the boiling water and whisk until smooth. Leave to cool.

Using an electric hand mixer, beat the eggs and sugar together with the vanilla extract for three or four minutes until you have a smooth, pale-yellow coloured mix.

Add the eggs and whisk in one by one. Add the cocoa and water and the ground almonds and mix thoroughly (using a wooden spoon to keep the volume the eggs have added). Add the baking powder and mix in.

Bake for 40-45 minutes. If you stick in a skewer or a knife it should come out with a few crumbs sticking to it. Turn out, leave to cool and cut into squares. You can serve as a cake  dusted with icing sugar just before serving, or serve warmed with a spoonful of sweetened cream or ice-cream.

 

 

 

Another Friday Flash Fiction Challenge…

Better late than never on the regular (ahem!) flash fiction feature, eh?

I certainly needed a 100-word brain break this week as readers I have worked like a SLAVE. I’ve written one cook book, edited a diet book, written 12 blogs (14 if you include my own too), applied for various jobs and indulged in a little light banter on various social media networks.

I have sweet Fanny Adams left in me and plan to spend my weekend doing nothing more stimulating than reading celebrity gossip mags (I’m desperately behind on updates to the progress of Kim’s post-baby diet, and as for Kerry Katona pregnancy news, the lord only knows what has happened in the last two days…) and watching famous folks try to dance. A soupcon of Cava or five may accompany these reading/watching efforts and I may well do all three in bed.

Anyway, without further ado here is Friday’s flash fiction challenge…

All Bagged Up

“Mercy me!” cried the old lady, “please don’t take my bag. It’s got all my belongings and savings in it.”

The thief paused. Conscience wasn’t usually a consideration, but today his own granny had gone into a home and he was feeling more merciful than usual. On the other hand, that care was going to be expensive. He pulled out a handful of notes, thrust them at the old lady and ran off with the bag.

Sadly for him, he’d just had his first (and last) encounter with a witch. The bag twitched ominously. An enchantment had been triggered…

Plan B – TV, Blackberries and Coconut

Young girls, chocolate and lots of, what else is going to happen?

Young girls, chocolate and lots of, what else is going to happen?

Always have a Plan B, eh? That’s what the wise believe, so my plan B career options currently involve tactics such as:

  • walking past occasional filming crews in my home city; this walk subconsciously translating to the crew (and indeed myself) my latent acting talent and this resulting in a moderately successful TV acting career
  • bramble domination – using the wild blackberries that grow in abundance around me to start a moderately successful cottage industry producing bramble jelly and a blackberry liquer which sells in vast amounts in deli’s, top-notch department stores and high-end hotels
  • winning the Lottery.

As option C is unlikely and not one to base the hopes of your life on, as blackberry supplies can’t be depended on and as my life experience so far has revealed no latent acting talents, an intelligent guess would negate all three options as money-making options. Time to think up something else instead in case the freelance writing gig doesn’t work…

[Incidentally, if any of you are being targeted by affiliate marketers – the folks who post up all the pics of themselves surfing, or drinking a beer whilst dressed in a tee shirt because they only have to work four hours a week blah blah – here is a quick explanation:

[Affiliate marketing for the uninitiated is where you place an ad on an affiliate's website (someone you sorta know through internet acquaintance). If nothing happens, nobody loses out, in theory. If, as a result, hunners of folks head to your website from your affiliate ad, then bingo... But then you do have to share that exposure with your affiliate if you are an honourable individual. And if you have taken up an affiliate ad, but not checked out your source properly and they are a devious kind of cad who doesn't pay you their due then, bummer...]

No, my plan B is rather more stellar. The other week I babysat. I opted for active babysitting, which involved the nieces and their assorted friends, and we all embarked on a little chocolate moulding and sweet creation. We came up with some Bounty Balls. Post my babysitting/choccie efforts, I learned that the family of one child so liked the Bounty Balls they would be willing to pay for them. Plan B is looking more achievable don’t you reckon folks?

BOUNTY BALLS

Recipe: makes a lot…

  • 1 x 397g tin condensed milk (it is just me or is that a really weird serving size?)
  • 350g desiccated coconut
  • 400g milk chocolate (you will have extra left over, but better to start with more)

Prepare a baking sheet with a layer of grease-proof paper. Empty the condensed milk into a large bowl and add the desiccated coconut and mix well. Roll into small bowls (about the size of a large marble) but bear in mind that you will probably need to wash your hands after every two or three rollings. Place the balls on a large plate or tray and place in the freezer for about 30 minutes to an hour.

Melt the milk chocolate either over a pan of boiling water or in the microwave (see here for proper chocolate melting techniques) and, using a cocktail stick speared into each coconut ball, dip in the chocolate fully to coat and place on the prepared baking sheet. Leave to set (they won’t take long because of the freezing) and enjoy…

Take a Brain Break – the Friday Flash Fiction Challenge

Greetings friends, I thought I’d introduce a spot of regularity to my blogs. It’s what experts recommend after all…

Usually, my blog modus operandi is to wait for the muse to strike me. Honestly, that lady hits hard when she eventually gets here, but she is a fickle creature; I leave the door open for her and she only deigns to appear on rare occasions. T’uh! So I remembered the lessons of my newsletter writing years where regular columns, features and photo caption competitions were the stuff we editors and writers relied on to fill our pages.

Participation – from you, you and YOU

Hence, lovely audience, I am hoping for a little participation from you, yes you, in the Friday flash fiction challenge. I stumbled upon this idea one Friday. Having spent several hours writing about products for a client, I felt my brain needed a break. It needed to shift from research, facts and key word placement (subtly done, I promise) to fictional creativity. But only a little.

I opened a new document and typed out a 100-word story. I rather love flash fiction (and there’s a great guy out there who posts a 300-word flash fiction story every day) and its neat exposition, rising action and climax, otherwise known as beginning, middle and end. I then posted the story on the LinkedIn writers and editors group and asked for contributions, so thought I’d try the same idea here in lovely, lovely blog world.

Veni, Vidi, Vici

There are writers amongst my esteemed and valued audience, but then aren’t we all to a certain extent? Someone replied to my Friday flash fiction challenge with Veni, vidi, vici – which of course counts as it falls within the 100-word limit.

Anyway, here’s my own effort and a promise to post one a week every Friday. I’d love it if you could contribute – post your efforts below. Thank you!

The Case of the Disappearing Cat

Alice loved her cat. He was everything to her – friend, companion, substitute child and hot water bottle, so when he went missing she howled.

She paced the streets seeking him out and sticking posters on lamp-posts, but it was no good. He had disappeared.

She was, however, approached by a private detective agency. They had noted her patience, tracking skills and determination to leave no stone unturned. Would she like a job with them?

Would she ever! Alice signed up with joy. A day later, her cat returned. The agency was glad to see the back of him.

The Standing Desk – A Revelation in Health?

Looks comfy, hmm? And that great view...

Looks comfy, hmm? And that great view…

Ladies and gentlemen, a small but significant development in the offices of Highheelsandpinkglitter has taken place in the last week or so – I have been experimenting with the standing desk.

Throughout my working life, which now spans more years than the years I spent not working (why, why, why?) the bulk of my time has been spent stationary in front of a PC/iMac/laptop. Hence, according to experts who know stuff about the human body, my hamstrings have seized up and my glucose levels are in a permanent state of elevation. Boo.

Last week, I decided to embark on a standing desk experiment. Now, one can buy desks that are specially adapted to standing – fancy bits and pieces you can juggle around to hold your keyboard and monitor at precisely the right angle for your upright position, but I decided to go for the more basic, no-cost version.

I fetched two file folders from upstairs, positioned them on the kitchen counter and propped the laptop on top.

So, my wrists are in freefall  – I am not sure if this has long-term health implications for them, but heck standing does feel a lot more comfortable than sitting all day. Particularly as I, ahem, had elected to do so at the dining table sat on a dining chair and not one of those proper back support computer chairs.

I started a discussion on LinkedIn – does anyone else use a standing desk? A lot of people replied; yes, they do, yes they prefer it. A lot of them included useful links to sites which outlined the virtues of standing rather than sitting, or lists of famous authors who have done so (and when they died – now, not all of them reached a grand old age).

Anyway, here are the reasons why you should ensure that you’re not sitting down for the majority of your day:

Sitting for too many hours a day is harmful to health. It increases your risk of cardio vascular disease and cancer, and offsetting this with exercise (two and half hours in the gym a week) doesn’t seem to counter the risk.

Certain studies have shown that it is better for your health to be active all day – stand as much as you can, walk around, take the stairs instead of the lift or escalator, do household chores, get off the bus one stop early etc – than sitting all day and then going to the gym for an hour. I know what I’d rather do…

Whole body muscular inactivity – or sitting for long period – can also increase the risk of metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome is a group of risk factors – high blood pressure, high blood sugar, high triglycerides, Low HDL (or good) cholesterol that increases the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

Sitting all day causes weakness in the gluteus maximus (I’ve always loved the Latin name for one’s bottom), which results in lower back pain. It also causes poor posture because of poor alignment of the neck, shoulder and back, fatigue in the limbs, painful leg cramps and clots.

And finally, standing burns roughly 50 calories an hour more than sitting. Now that figure stacks up and anything that increase my calorie count over the day is good with me.

For further reading, there’s an interesting account of a standing desk experiment here, and for a great infographic, see this one on mashable. And finally, if you do elect to stand for your working day, it feels like the most incredible luxury to finally sit down at the end of the day… (Promise).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Amazon, Erm – Not so Bad After All?!*

No relevance whatsoever, but royalty and copyright free, so y'know...

No relevance whatsoever, but royalty and copyright free, so y’know…

An ambition was realised this week in the Highheelsandpinkglitter household… It was not that I finally managed to do a handstand (since childhood, I’ve always wanted to be able to throw my legs up into the air and perhaps even ‘walk’ a few paces on my hands) as, sigh, that has yet to happen…

…no, instead this week I am a published author finally! Now, I realise this is somewhat disingenuous. Words have been written on this blog about words I have written elsewhere; namely words that have made up my first entirely amateur attempt at fiction.

So perhaps a few of you got a bit of a jolt there – “Blimey lady! You told us that book – and a first attempt at that, mind! – got finished a mere six weeks ago or so. And now you’re saying it’s been published?! Who the heck is your agent/publisher or have you hastily attempted your own edits and rushed it out as a self-published e-book in an act of sheer, hasty folly?”

Sheer, hasty folly was not committed dear reader, I promise. The book in question was not THE BOOK, it was instead a commission I got as a freelancer to write e-books on diets. I bid for the job as I do read a lot about health, dieting and fitness and I thought I might as well write about something I might not need to do much research about. [I was wrong about the latter].

So this week, the book has been published on Amazon. Setting aside any qualms about Amazon and its employment policies in the UK (oh woe, my pitiful lack of principles is exposed once more), I have looked at the particular page quite a few times. [“C'est moi!! C'est moi name! C'est moi book – oh all right, I'll stop with the awful, pidgin French]. I sent the link to my mum in an email, subject line: You are now the mother of a published author. Cheesy hmm?

[As my husband was not around that day either, he too got an email, subject line: You are now the husband of a published author. My sisters got one – You are now the sister of a published author. My aunt will get one – You are now the... OK, I think no further explanations of this sort are necessary].

With Amazon though, one runs the gauntlet of customer reviews. At this early stage, there are none. I’m debating whether getting no reviews would be just as terrible as awful reviews… Hmm. Double hmm.

Anyway, it was a terribly thrilling and hopefully (oh please) a taste of things to come. I’m now off to look up ‘how to’ videos on YouTube. Handstands specifically.

*Sincere apologies to zero hour contracts folks, and doubly sincere apologies to independent book sellers, video sellers and any other independent sellers whatsoever…

A Writing Reward; Mars Bar Crispy Cake

A tray bake topped with choccie - winner, surely?

A tray bake topped with choccie – winner, surely?

Esteemed audience, as a reward for finishing off writing jobs I often bake or cook. And sometimes as an additional treat, I write about cooking as well.

For the past few weeks, I have been writing about dieting. My scribbles have been for a series of diet books shortly to be published on Amazon (do please forgive my lapse of writing etiquette with such a shameless plug of my own material) so tonight’s writing antidote is to provide you with a recipe for… Drum roll… Mars Bar Crispy Cake.

Ah, the joys! This is possibly the world’s easiest tray bake. Everyone loves it and if you ever want to achieve sell-out status at your local community bake sale or just curry favour with family, friends and your boss, bags full of cut-up Mars Bar Crispy Cake will probably achieve your aim.

The other bonus is this. If you need to babysit children (those aged 6-12, say) this is a great recipe to try out with them. I did this with my nieces (in-law) recently. There’s two of them so I divided the jobs – “ok, you grease the pan and you chop up the Mars bars (I watched!), whilst you mix up the Mars bar and butter and you get to mix up the rice crispies with the melty Mars bars” (this was the task of choice). Oh no it wasn’t. The task of choice was melting the Dairy Milk chocolate topping in the microwave was the task of choice. One square in bowl, one square in mouth etc.

Anyway, here’s the recipe. Enjoy… [I've used American measurements for the rice crispies because it's easier to measure them by volume than by weight.]

Mars Bars Crispy Cake – makes 16-20

  • 3 x Mars Bar (British weight, 48g)
  • 120g unsalted butter
  • 50g mini marshmallows
  • 200g Dairy Milk chocolate
  • 4 cups rice crispies

Grease and line a 20cm square tray. Chop the Mars Bars and put in a thick-bottomed pan with 90g of the butter and melt over a low heat slowly. Keep stirring. Add the marshmallows and mix well until it resembles a smooth sauce.

Add the rice crispies and mix well. Tip into the prepared tray and press down well until it is flat. Leave to cool.

Melt the chocolate and the remaining butter together (30 secs at a time in the microwave is the easiest way, stir well after each 30 secs and remember that food will continue to cook outside the microwave so it’s better to stray on the side of undercooking). Top the crispie cake with the chocolate/butter mix and allow to cool. Cut up into the slices (about 16-20).

Thanks to Milky Mouthwatering Chocolates for the pic.