Milk and Chocolate Shortbread

This is another Offspring special, a basic shortbread recipe with added chunks of Plaistowe dark cooking chocolate. My contribution was the milk. 😀

The photo is a little washed out because it was taken at night with a flash. The shortbread actually looks more like this:

For those who have never tasted shortbread before, it’s an odd combination of dry, crumbly texture that literally melts in your mouth. It’s very easy to make and we love it. If you want to try it yourself, the recipe follows:

Traditional Shortbread [with added chocolate]

Note: the recipe is on the back of the McKenzie’s rice flour packet, and you will need rice flour in addition to ordinary wheat flour.

Ingredients:
  • 225 gm of plain flour [all purpose flour], sifted,
  • 115 gm of rice flour, sifted
  • 115 gm of caster sugar, sifted
  • pinch of salt
  • 225 gm of unsalted, room temperature butter [do NOT use spreadable butter as the oil and/or process used changes how the butter works in recipes].
  • about 1/4 cup good quality cooking chocolate, chopped into smallish ‘chunks’. We used Plaistowe cooking chocolate because it’s actually good enough to eat on its own so long as you don’t like your chocolate very sweet.
Method

Pre-heat oven to 150 C. This is a slow oven.

Grease your baking tray [we didn’t, we lined it with baking paper instead].

Combine both flours, sugar and salt in a bowl.

Rub in butter and knead gently until a smooth dough forms.

Add the chopped chocolate and gently mix into the dough.

The recipe says to transfer the dough to a floured surface and ‘shape as required’. That basically means you can cut pretty shapes out of it. We don’t do any of that. We place the dough directly onto the baking tray and spread it out by hand or with the back of a spoon until it’s about the right ‘depth’. Shortbread should not be thick! 1/2 an inch is more than thick enough.

Prick the dough with a fork. We also ‘score’ the surface lightly with a knife. This makes cutting the cooked shortbread easier.

Bake for 20 – 30 minutes until a light, golden brown. The end.

A tip from us: leave the shortbread on the tray and gently cut along the scored lines while the shortbread is still a bit soft and pliable. The shortbread will firm up as it cools. Cutting it once it’s cold and crumbly is…not very successful.

And there you have it. Another day, another treat. If you have favourite treats of your own, please link to them in comments. Oh, and if you have favourite cups or dishes to go with the treats, please link them as well.

Cheers
Meeks


Digital Housekeeping – Update July 16, 2020

Bad news for WordPress.com users – the progress bar can only be installed by those using WordPress.org. The reason? Only the paid, hosted version allows bloggers to install plugins. And the progress bar is a plugin.

How do I know? This is a screenshot from the download site for the progress bar. It shows what the plugin looks like after it’s installed:

For newer bloggers, that’s the old Admin. Dashboard. With WordPress.com you cannot add anything to the Dashboard menu. Nothing. Zip. Rien. Therefore, the screenshot must be of the WordPress.org dashboard. And that means us Freebloggers can’t use the progress bar. -cries quietly-

<<end update>>

While looking for something else entirely, I discovered a WordPress widget called ‘Gallery’. And voila! There it is on the sidebar to the right. The images are a little small, but it’s nice to be able to do something useful with all those faces!

And the gallery provides a nice introduction to the price change for the Innerscape Omnibus. In line with most other bundles on Amazon, I’ve raised the price to $5.99. This price point makes it slightly cheaper than buying each book separately, and it allows me to do ‘specials’ every now and then without having to do an exclusive via KDP.

And finally a word about the widget I was actually looking for – a word count progress bar: https://abtoolz.alanpetersen.com/wip-progress-bar/

The instructions mention that you can get this app via the WordPress widgets. That’s not quite right. It is not available on the free, WordPress.com widget page. I assume it will be available to the paid WordPress.org sites. If someone could check that out for me I’d be eternally grateful!

Still on the progress bar, there is a manual way of inserting it into your blog but I haven’t tried it out yet. If I get it to work, I’ll post a mini how-to about it. Alternately, if someone out there gets it to work, please post some instructions, preferably with pictures so we can all start using it!

Ahem, and the reason I want that progress bar is because, as Robert Chazz Chute says:

‘The meters really get me amped and moving. I don’t want to see a static progress bar and measurement gives me a sense of momentum. That which cannot be measured will not be improved.’

https://chazzwrites.com/2020/07/13/two-simple-tools-that-work-for-writers/

Like Robert, I’m all betwixt and between at the moment. Once I sit down and start writing, I’m okay, but getting myself to that point has never been this hard before. I know what’s causing at least part of the problem – that miserable virus – but knowing and ignoring are two very different things. So, I’m hoping a progress bar will give me that little bit of extra incentive to ignore the outside world and escape into Vokhtah again.

Okay, I feel as if I’ve been productive enough. Time for some lunch. Cheers!

Meeks


WordPress – how to add a slideshow to your blog

The following how-to uses the WordPress interface [as at July, 2020], not the old Admin. Dashboard. When you’re done, you’ll end up with a small, slideshow of images that can be quite effective at catching the eye of casual visitors.

Requirements

You will need at least one sidebar in your theme – i.e. a visible area next to or below the spot at which your blog posts normally appear. I have two sidebars on my theme and they both appear to the right of the blog post area:

WordPress sidebars depend on the chosen theme

My particular theme also allows me to have a ‘footer’ bar, and this is where I’m going to put my slideshow.

Next, you will need to have images to place in your slideshow. Yes, obvious, I know, but you will need to:

  • edit the images so they’re all the same size – it looks better,
  • upload the required images to the WordPress media library before you begin creating the gallery.

Once all the images have been uploaded* to your media library, you’re ready to begin:

  1. If you are in Reader, click the tab for ‘My Sites’ [top left of your WordPress screen],
  2. From the list of available options in My Sites, click ‘Design’,
  3. Design has two further options – Customize and Themes. Click ‘Customize’,
  4. From the Customize options click ‘Widgets’,
  5. You should now see the areas that can take Widgets**

As mentioned earlier, my particular theme has three such areas and they look like this:

Areas capable of taking Widgets

Finally, select the area in which you want your gallery [Widget] to appear. For me it was ‘Footer Widget Area’.

You should now see a button for ‘+ Add a Widget’. Click it to be taken to a list of available widgets [listed in alphabetical order]:

List of available widgets

Scroll down the list until you reach ‘Gallery’. Select it. You should now see the gallery widget, ready for you to use:

Type a title for your gallery [because you can have more than one], and then click the ‘Add Images’ area as shown above [big red arrow].

You should now see the images in your Media Library. Unfortunately, there is no helpful message to tell you what to do next. A simple ‘Select an image’ would have been so helpful…ahem.

Click the first image you want to include in your gallery. Don’t worry about the order because you can change that later.

On the right of the library of images you will now see a box for adding information about the image you have chosen. Type in the title and…

DO. NOT. CLICK. ‘Add a New Gallery’ ! ! ! This is not how you complete the selection of your first image! ! !

Okay, I’m really going to get grumpy here with the WordPress developers. Not giving any clues as to where bloggers are supposed to go next is just asking for trouble. Most people are not mind readers. Really poor design.

To complete the selection of the first image and go on to select a second image…just click another image. Yes, I know, about as intuitive as a kick to the head.

Continuing clicking images until you have selected all the images you want to place in your slideshow. At this point, mine looked like this:

Images selected for the gallery/slideshow

Down the bottom of the screenshot you can see the six images I chose. The bit on the right shows details for the last image I chose. I added a title for clarity, but you will get a chance to add a caption later. Last but not least, there is the blue ‘Create a new gallery’ button. Now you can click it.

The next screen will be the ‘Edit Gallery’ page. Here you can re-order the sequence of images by dragging and dropping them into the correct position. You can also add captions to each image and change the size of the image [Thumbnail is the default]:

The Edit Gallery page

I only added two captions to these images, but I did move the image for The Vintage Egg to the end of the list.

When I was happy with the sequence of images, I clicked the small down arrow next to ‘Type’ to show the available display options [the default is Thumbnail Grid]. Down the bottom of the list is ‘Slideshow’. Click it and then click the blue ‘Insert gallery’ button as shown.

Almost done! You should now be looking at a preview screen. As my gallery is in the footer, I had to scroll all the way to the bottom to see it working:

The preview screen showing the slideshow working

If the preview doesn’t work as expected, click the ‘Edit Gallery’ button to the left of the preview. If everything does work as expected, click ‘Done’ [to save the gallery].

Finally, click ‘Save Changes’ to save the whole lot.

To exit from the customize area, click either the back button or the ‘X’ button [to the left of Save Changes].

Apologies for making this such a long how-to, but I wanted it to be suitable for even the newest blogger. And some of the interface was down right murky.

Have fun,
Meeks

p.s. this post was created using the block editor. To get the * asterisks down the bottom to show as asterisks [instead of automatically beginning a bullet point list], I had to press the spacebar a couple of times. Apparently this ‘told’ the block editor that I wanted to stay in the paragraph block. -rolls eyes-

* Please contact me in Comments if you need help getting to this step.

** Widgets are small ‘apps’ that you can insert into your blog to make it work the way you want it to. Widgets can include anything from images and buttons to galleries and links. Widgets can only be placed in certain areas of your blog. Those areas will depend upon the type of theme you chose when you first created your blog.


Digital Housekeeping

While looking for something else entirely, I discovered a WordPress widget called ‘Gallery’. And voila! There it is on the sidebar to the right. The images are a little small, but it’s nice to be able to do something useful with all those faces!

And the gallery provides a nice introduction to the price change for the Innerscape Omnibus. In line with most other bundles on Amazon, I’ve raised the price to $5.99. This price point makes it slightly cheaper than buying each book separately, and it allows me to do ‘specials’ every now and then without having to do an exclusive via KDP.

And finally a word about the widget I was actually looking for – a word count progress bar: https://abtoolz.alanpetersen.com/wip-progress-bar/

The instructions mention that you can get this app via the WordPress widgets. That’s not quite right. It is not available on the free, WordPress.com widget page. I assume it will be available to the paid WordPress.org sites. If someone could check that out for me I’d be eternally grateful!

Still on the progress bar, there is a manual way of inserting it into your blog but I haven’t tried it out yet. If I get it to work, I’ll post a mini how-to about it. Alternately, if someone out there gets it to work, please post some instructions, preferably with pictures so we can all start using it!

Ahem, and the reason I want that progress bar is because, as Robert Chazz Chute says:

‘The meters really get me amped and moving. I don’t want to see a static progress bar and measurement gives me a sense of momentum. That which cannot be measured will not be improved.’

https://chazzwrites.com/2020/07/13/two-simple-tools-that-work-for-writers/

Like Robert, I’m all betwixt and between at the moment. Once I sit down and start writing, I’m okay, but getting myself to that point has never been this hard before. I know what’s causing at least part of the problem – that miserable virus – but knowing and ignoring are two very different things. So, I’m hoping a progress bar will give me that little bit of extra incentive to ignore the outside world and escape into Vokhtah again.

Okay, I feel as if I’ve been productive enough. Time for some lunch. Cheers!

Meeks


Covid-19 and Proud to be a Victorian!

I know we’re all worried, and overloaded with bad news about this damn virus but…please read this first hand article by a nurse doing testing at ‘the Towers’: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-07-11/testing-residents-in-melbournes-public-housing-nurse/12443060

If you only have time for a few snippets, this warmed my heart:

‘I left that day with a full heart thanks to all the “thank yous” and “I love yous” from the residents.
We were invited into many homes, and even offered tea and coffee. I went into a few rooms with elderly, frail people and young children (this was optional and only if we felt safe).
We felt like guests. ‘

Near the end the nurse writes:

‘I have so many wonderful memories of the past few days, all positive. I’d like the broader community to understand that sometimes media portrayals of what goes on are not necessarily true.’

For a very long time now, I’ve noticed that 9 out of 10 news stories are about people who are not infected by the virus ‘doing it tough’. I don’t deny that a lot of people are doing it tough; a massive drop in weekly income will do that to you. But where are the stories about our local heroes? The doctors and nurses and paramedics and yes, police officers who are risking their own lives to keep everyone safe?

And how about the heroes who keep our cities alive? The jobs they do are poorly paid but vital. Can you imagine what would happen if our rubbish were not collected? Or if the power went off and there was no one there to turn it back on again? Or how about food? It doesn’t just appear magically in supermarkets.

We owe every one of these heroes a huge vote of thanks, yet the media ignores them.

And last but not least there are those who have been infected. Why aren’t we hearing their stories? I’ve heard one story about a 23 year old man with Type I diabetes. He came down with Covid-19 and survived, but it wasn’t fun, not be a long, long stretch of the imagination.

If governments want us to co-operate then we need to be told the full story, the good, the sad, and the scary, not just the stories that confirm that life is not ‘fun’ at the moment. If we are to have any kind of life during this pandemic, we all need to rediscover what it means to be socially responsible. We all have to become heroes.

Stay well,
Meeks


Editing as a Pantster

A pantster is a writer who ‘writes by the seat of their pants’ – i.e. doesn’t outline in advance. I’m a pantster, mostly, and I learned a long time ago that pantsters have to trust their subconscious. If that little voice says ‘no’ then we have to listen, even if that means deleting thousands of perfectly good words.

Today I deleted 3688 words from the second book of the Suns of Vokhtah. I replaced all those words with just 490. To give those 490 words some context, the MC, Kaati snuck into the Healers’ Settlement as a refugee, not knowing that refugees were locked up like caged animals. It needs to escape but the other refugees are too beaten down to help. Or so it thinks :

Kaati woke to the sound of voices raised in anger. Propping itself up on one elbow, it peered across at the lattice and saw that the Big Twin was shouting at a group of iVokh armed with buckets and baskets. Clearly, the drudges had arrived, and they were not happy.

Rising to its feet, the young Trader was edging closer to hear what they were arguing about when Hands appeared by its side.

“Wait!” the Refugee hissed, grabbing Kaati’s wing with one hand. “Drudges not wanting to take body. In case being contaminated. Insisting that Healers should being called.”

“Not being sick!” the Guard shouted as it flung open the door. “Seeing for self. Dying of wound.”

Two drudges entered and placed their loads on the sand before gingerly peering down at the still form lying on the ground. One of them nodded, albeit reluctantly, and the Guard retreated back down the tunnel.

“Getting ready,” Hands whispered as a small group of Refugees began drifting towards the door. Were they trying to escape?

Apparently not. As soon as the small group reached the baskets left by the drudges, they darted in and began cramming their mouths with food.

“Ho!” Hands shouted, its voice shrill. “Should sharing!”

“S’so!” Someone else cried.

The cry was quickly taken up by all the Refugees in the cavern, and in moments the area directly in front of the door was a pushing, heaving mass of angry iVokh.

“Guard!” a drudge shouted as it pushed inside, using its basket as a ram.

But the Refugees were in no mood to be intimidated. One tore the basket from the drudge’s hand while the others shoved it up against the lattice. The whole structure creaked and groaned as more and more iVokh pressed against it.

“Now!” Hands whispered as the space before the door suddenly cleared.
The two took off at a run but were still five wingspans from the opening when the Big Twin stormed into the cavern. Shrilling in fury, it began lashing out with its switch, and wherever the switch landed, iVokh keened in pain, Refugees and drudges alike.

They all fell back, except for Kaati. Ducking under the Big Twin’s arm, it grabbed the switch with one hand and a bunch of cilia with the other. And then it snapped the guard’s head down onto one bony knee. The iVokh was dead before its body hit the ground, delicate echo chamber smashed like an egg.

The young Trader roared in triumph as it brandished the switch in the air.

“Out!”

The drudges in the tunnel dropped their loads and fled. A moment later, a bone jarring crash came from behind.

Spinning around, the young Trader saw a band of iVokh pour over the fallen lattice. At their head was Hands. The two locked eyes for a moment before Kaati turned and ran after the drudges.

It felt good to be a hunter once more.

Despite losing so many words, this scene was very…therapeutic to write. This is the music that drove the words:

Aeterna by LiquidCinema

For those who are interested, LiquidCinema is a music production company similar to Two Steps From Hell, but not as well known to listeners. I’ve just discovered their music myself, and I’m totally in love.

Now I’m going to log on to ESO and kill some different kinds of monsters.

cheers
Meeks


The Swedish Experiment

I almost missed this interview in which Dr John Campbell talks to Swedish whistleblower, Dr Jon Tallinger. I was shocked. Then I went to Dr Tallinger’s Youtube channel and watched him tell the world the truth about the so-called Swedish experiment. In brief, it boils down to this:

  • Sweden didn’t expect Covid-19 to hit and hit hard,
  • the Swedish government did not have a plan for dealing with Covid-19,
  • once the virus hit, the plan became to ‘let it rip’ with minimal interference,
  • All the way from the top to local councils, the directive was to not treat Covid patients over 80, or the over-60’s if they had co-morbidities,
  • People from this vulnerable population were not to be sent to hospital if they presented with Covid-19 or Covid-19 like symptoms,
  • Instead, care homes and GPs were to administer palliative care only,
  • This palliative care included morphine to make the patients comfortable, but also to make them appear as if they were not suffering when family came to visit,
  • Morphine is contraindicated for people with respiratory diseases because it depresses their breathing. In other words, it speeds up the moment of death.
  • The people in this vulnerable population were not even to receive oxygen to help them breathe. Top health officials lied about this directive saying that administering oxygen outside of a hospital setting was too ‘dangerous’.
  • This is a lie with just enough truth in it to make it plausible to the public. A small number of people with certain kinds of respiratory problems shouldn’t be given oxygen, but almost all Covid-19 sufferers should. Remember Boris Johnson of the UK? When he was hospitalised with Covid-19, the press made a big point about how he needed oxygen but wasn’t sick enough to need a ventilator.
  • There has been a cover up at all levels of government, and the reason could be that health care for these unproductive members of the Swedish population is just too…expensive.

These damning accusations don’t begin until minute 8:30 because Dr Tallinger clearly fears he won’t be believed and because…this is his own country doing what amounts to involuntary euthanasia:

“…that we let the virus, Covid-19, effectively eliminate those that aren’t contributing. And they [the Swedish government] are doing this with open eyes…as a strategy for Sweden.”

Transcript starting at minute 13:31

The architect of Sweden’s strategy for Covid-19 is Anders Tegnell. On June 3, 2020, the BBC reported that Anders Tegnell now admits that too many died. In that report, Tegnell implies that the deaths of the elderly were an unforeseen accident. Dr Jon Tallinger has called him out as a liar, pure and simple.

If anyone believes that going for ‘herd immunity’ is a good thing, then watch what happens to Sweden in the coming months and years.

Meeks


Covid-19 and ventilation

Just a very quick update regarding the possibility of viral spread via air conditioning in close, confined spaces:

I remember some years back there were a spate of Legionnaire Disease outbreaks caused by contaminated air conditioning units. You’d hope that the technology has improved since then, but if it hasn’t, then shopping malls, supermarkets, trains, trams, buses etc could be pathways for the spread of this virus.

If true, the wearing of masks becomes even more important.

cheers
Meeks


Covid-19 in Melbourne [Australia] and Viral Load

For those in other parts of the world, my city, Melbourne, is in the middle of a Covid-19 resurgence, and we’re being locked down again.

Much has been made about the so-called ‘error of judgement’ that led to a private security company being tasked with keeping travellers in hotel quarantine. The truth, however is a lot more complicated:

  • yes, the security guards assigned to the hotels were not properly ‘educated’ about the virus,
  • and yes, some of those security guards caught the virus themselves,
  • and yes, the infected guards did bring the virus home to their friends and family,
  • but…they would not have been able to infect as many friends and family if Scott Morrison, Prime Minister of Australia and leader of the Liberal National Party had not pushed so hard for Victoria to reopen.

Part of the re-opening in Victoria included the ability to visit more people outside of our immediate families. This led to big family get togethers, especially in migrant families for whom family connections are not only strong but vital.

Now think – what would a family get together be without kisses and hugs?

‘The government said it’s okay to get together so it must be safe. And if it’s safe, why should we not kiss and hug?’

One of the reasons why social distancing is so important could well be viral load.

No idea what that is?

I was struggling with the concept myself until I watched Dr John Campbell’s video this morning:

There is some technical stuff in the video, but Dr John is very good at explaining complex ideas in simple ways so please don’t skip this one.

For those who only want the bottom line, it’s this:

  1. a small viral load – i.e. about 10 viral particles – will likely get caught in the mucus membranes of the nose and throat, giving your immune system TIME to mount a counter attack. By the time the virus has spread enough to reach the lungs, the body is already fighting back. This could explain why some disease is less deadly.
  2. a large viral load – i.e. about 100 viral particles – goes straight to the lungs. Once in the lungs, it begins causing pneumonia before the immune system has had a chance to fight back. The lungs are a perfect place for the virus to reproduce and spread, so it does. This could explain why lung infections can be so deadly.

The mechanism determining whether we get a mild infection or a severe one is much more complicated that just viral load, but understanding the impact of viral load can make a difference in how we behave.

If I walk down the street, wearing a mask, and I pass you, also wearing a mask, the chance of being infected with a large viral load is almost zero.

But if you and I are in a crowded bus, and neither of us is wearing a mask, the chance of breathing in a lot of viral particles goes way up.

And finally, if we are friends and we kiss and hug when we meet, the chance of becoming infected or passing on the infection sky rockets. Why? Because the pathways for the virus include:

  • breath to breath
  • contact to contact, via saliva
  • hand to hand and then from hand to mouth/nose/eyes
  • passive droplets in the air
  • passive droplets on surfaces
  • passive droplets on uncooked food such as salads, or cooked foods that may have been touched by hand [after cooking], or breathed on accidentally [after cooking]
  • passive droplets on plates, cutlery, towels, toys

I could go on and on, but I think you can see where this is going. The more contact, the greater the likelihood of severe infection. So yes, in hindsight, a private security company obviously wasn’t the right choice. But who would have been? The police? What makes us think the police or the ADF [Australian Defence Force] would have been better educated about pandemic protocols?

And finally, let’s not forget the bloody great elephant in the room: the reopening. If people had not been allowed to visit each other, the virus could not have spread from the security guards in the first place. Or if it had, the clusters would have been small and manageable.

It takes two to tango, and Victoria’s dance partners included:

  • Scott Morrison and henchmen like Dan Tehan, the Federal Education Minister who castigated my Premier for being too cautious and not opening up the schools faster.
  • And let’s not forget Michael O’Brien. Michael who? Michael O’Brien, the leader of the LNP here in Victoria. Yes, the man in the same party as Scott Morrison et al. The man so desperate to gain political advantage that he made attack ads against my Premier, telling Victorians that they were missing out, being left behind, doing it tough because we weren’t opening up fast enough.
  • Smarmy Tim Wilson should probably rate a mention as well. Yet another LNP politician in Victoria looking to cash in on Covid-19.

I’m sure there are more, but I can only handle so much anger in one day so I’m not going to go online to research who else played a part in what’s happening to my city and my state. For me, the bottom line is that my Premier, Dan Andrews, has fought long and hard to keep people alive. Those other politicians I named care only about one thing – the economy.

I ask you to remember those names when Covid-19 stops being an inconvenience and starts hurting the people you love.

Meeks


Music for a Villain?

I’m a pantster and I love characters ‘on the cusp’, so I’m not sure yet which side of the Good vs Evil divide Death will occupy, but as soon as I heard this piece on Soundcloud, I knew it was Death’s theme.

Enjoy? Maybe?
Meeks


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