Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Computers, Plagues and Baking

You haven't heard much lately as we have been having computer problems, followed by two days in Alexandria, followed by more computer problems. They are not significant and damaging, but we have been trying to network the computer we brought from home with the one here. We only have a modem connection here, and it has no modem (we had broadband and hadit purpose built), so this seemed a solution.

I tried initially to just plug in the telephone lead into the back of my laptop as that seemed an obvious solution since it has a modem. However - the connection seemed to have been glued in to the Embassy computer.

Nermeen (a lovely computer expert at the) managed to get it out with a sharp knife. She linked all the computers up but they wouldn't network. After three hours of muttering they decided we had the wrong lead - after trying every possible configuration, and using my laptop in the loop as well.

However, they then left. We had the plug in the laptop at that stage, couldn't plug into ours without a modem, and couldn't get the darned thing back into a too-small hole in the embassy one. So - I am on the laptop, on a very short telephone cable which means I am straddling the end of a wide chest of drawers to work. Ten minutes of this is a bit uncomfortable. Yes, I could work off line, and should, but there is a level of sheer inertia and laziness operating here.

So - at the moment emailing seems a chore and I haven't updated my blog in ages. We were also in Alexandria for two days – and almost stayed forever at Al Alamein. We had a very near miss from a large vehicle traveling at speed.

We are having, with the warmer weather, a plague of tiny insects. I keep remembering that those biblical plagues came from this region. They come to die in droves on every surface, especially wet ones. This includes coffee and tea and beverages, and the floors of showers. They look like tiny mosquitoes but I haven't been bitten yet, so don't think they are harmful. However, I have probably swallowed hundreds, so they might not think the same of me. In the light of our windows at night you can see what looks like swirling smoke - as they try to work out, with their tiny brains, how to get in. Any light on has a deep pile underneath an hour later – and all dead. I am glad I am not Buddhist.

I had a cooking disaster today - but more or less fixed it.

I made lemon bars for the diplomatic ladies visiting me today. I made the base (1/2 cup butter, 1/2 cup sugar, 2 cups flour, buzz in processor to fine crumbs) and pressed it into a buttered pan.

I lit the gas oven and retained most of my eyebrows.

I looked at the strange numbers on the sides of the dial and decided half way should do cakes.

I put the tray in the preheated oven Five minutes later smelt smoke and the edges were black.

No time (or butter) to make the next bit so I lifted out the black bits, scraped out the whole base and reversed it in slabs like pancakes, then patted it down firmly. It hadn't burnt too badly underneath, but I still had to bake a topping onto it!

I poured on topping (buzz 1/2 cup lemon juice, two cups sugar, 4 eggs, 1/4 cup flour and 1/2 tsp baking powder).

I baked it twenty five minutes (having cranked the oven right back after leaving it open for five minutes). I had added a tray of water below the tray to try to prevent belting heat from gas burning the bottom again. After twenty five minutes I still had liquid dough on top.

I turned it up a bit more, tentatively. After another twenty minutes it was puffed around edges and set in the middle and I deemed it cooked. I removed it from the oven.

Darkish brown bits of precooked and not-pressed-down-enough dough had floated up here and there and looked speckled - like a nice brown egg. The rest looked unappealingly custard-ish and pallid.

Recipe said 'dust with icing sugar'. Well, I could see why. Only problem is that I haven't found it here yet. What could I do to make it look appealing?

I melted sugar (as if it needed more?) to make a caramel, and drizzled swirls from a fork all over the top. It looked great – professional and interesting.

I decided (guests due about now) that I had better cut it while the toffee was hot.

HA! the toffee was hard but still bendy, and bent to the knife straight through all layers, like trying to cut through tough calamari floating on two inched of dip with the side of a cake fork.

The lemon topping looked surprisingly wet so I licked my finger after wiping some off the knife.

Disaster! It was still raw and tasted of flour.

Whole thing was dumped back into the oven for another fifteen minutes, turned up again, and then the doorbell rang.

My guests were due, so I decided to give them a long and voluble tour of the house while the cake baked and the toffee on top probably burned, and slicked my hair back as I went to open it.

It was three men and a very, very long ladder.

The whole thing progressed rapidly into what felt like an episode of Keystone Cops. They had come to hang my Desto Roll- two days early. The ladder was so long they had problems turning in my huge entrance hall. Then it turned out to be broken and they were all afraid to climb it – so out it went again.

Somewhere in the middle of all this my three ladies arrived to talk to me about running a quilting group under the aegis of the Women's Association of Cairo (think Cardin suits, REAL Hermes scarves and Prada bags). Actually, these ladies were not like that and were just delightful, but I had been nervous.

The slice cooked, the toffee softened after the second bout in the oven. It was soft and edible. Veronica managed to cut it (scissors through the now-softer toffee, then knife for the rest).

They all inspected the house and studio and quilts while the Keystone Cops played games on ladders - and failed to hang my desto roll. I could see someone dying when they showed me the process they intended to use – and stopped them, with frantic phone calls to an Embassy interpreter while my visitors admired the quilts. The men will come back when they have a longer ladder which is not broken.

I am of to have a drink with a friend! My legs feel as if I have done ten kilometers on a carthorse, thanks to this strange computer position.

More another day - and I haven’t even talked about Alexandria.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Jenny, Have really enjoyed today's entry. Just as well you have a sense of humour! I look forward to your blog, photos etc.
Thank you.
Dorothy, the Kiwi one!

1:49 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Jenny, my dh and I just laughed and laughed over your cake rescue episode! You have such a wonderful way with words. I'm really glad you guys made it back safely and I look forward to more words of wisdom etc. Thanks

Ros in Wellington, NZ

6:47 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Jenny, the only thing left out of your lemon squares and Key Stone Cops adventure was that the insects didn't decide to pepper your lemon square sugar topping. Thank goodness for some restraint on their part. Thanks for keeping your journal and letting us take a peek into your new lifestyle.
Sandy in UK

7:45 pm  
Anonymous Angus and Anita said...

Hello Big Sister and Bob,
We just got your blog adress - I thought your email update was a little late - and have spent the afternoon catching up. Great to hear you are both well and your diet is rich in protein.
Take care
Angus and Anita

4:53 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You make icing sugar by putting regular white sugar in the blender and letting it go until it has become icing sugar.

If you have gas and the oven is not properly insulated the gas will go straight up rather than the heat "filling" the oven.

11:51 pm  

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