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Archive for December, 2013

ALSO not that one

Posted by Dirck on 24 December, 2013

A brief thrusting-in of head before I enter seasonal incoherence in a proper way– a Freshly Pressed item yesterday alerted me to this little film, and I’m providing a link to an entirely different presentation of it with slightly less commercial additive.  If you haven’t had quite enough Dickens this year, here’s the oldest known film version of his yule parable:

Compact narrative in film-making, back in the then, wasn’t it?  Ho ho ho, one and all, and may the chonologically-arranged ghosts have no cause to upset your sleep tonight.

Today’s pen, writing on the paper of idleness: Sheaffer Thin Model Triumph
Today’s ink, hopefully spent on merry letters once the festivities settle down: Herbin Lie de Thé


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The Feast of Feasting

Posted by Dirck on 23 December, 2013

As the sun huddles by the horizon with its shoulders up by its ears, asking all above 45ºN “What is wrong with you people?” and leaning upon its parihelia for support, we prepare for the long creep back to easily-endured weather by cramming unnecessary calories in us.  Those south of 45ºN with the exception of Antarctic explorers suffer under the compulsion of the calendar and the spread of European traditions, I’m sure, but for we of the north it’s very nearly worth the long-term artery damage.  In keeping with that spirit (and don’t I make it sound glamorous?) I’m offering a couple of recipes that I spent the weekend working on.

To keep pens in the mix– a client dropped off a sage green Snorkel Sentinel off while I was preparing for the rolling out of some dough.  Because I’d spent the day working valiantly to lovingly poison all my friends and family, the dropping-off found me as yet in my pyjamas.  Mild embarrassment all-round.

Now, on to the recipes.  The first is a little out of date, being more attached to Sinterklaasje than Kirstmis in the paternal homeland, but since the whole of December is more or less Christmas/Saint Nick-flavoured in Canada it lies easily enough on a platter beside my maternal grandmother’s shortbread:

Speculaas (being a Dutch spice cookie)

  • 1 cup Butter, softened (the recipe I base myself on suggests unsalted; I find the saltiness balances the sugars better)
  • 1 tablespoon Vanilla
  • 1 cup White Sugar
  • 1.25 cups Brown Sugar (Demerara for preference)
  • 2 large Eggs
  • 3.5 cups Flour
  • 2 teaspoons Baking Soda
  • 1 teaspoon Salt
  • 2.5 tablespoons Spice Blend (all ingredients ground or powdered):
    • 8 parts cinnamon
    • 2 parts nutmeg
    • 2 parts cloves
    • 1 part white pepper
    • 1 part ground ginger
    • 1 part cardamon
  1. Combine spices well ahead of cookie-making; I used a tablespoon as my measure, and keep the resulting quantity of mix in a marmalade jar.
  2. Start at least eight hours before you want to eat cookies; instruction 7 is not a frivolous one.
  3. Cream butter, sugars and vanilla until light coloured and relatively fluffy.
  4. Add eggs and blend well.
  5. Combine flour, soda, salt and spice in a separate bowl.
  6. Slowly add dry ingredients to wet while mixing.  Keep going until dough begins to pull away from the bowl.
  7. Divide dough in half (or thirds; this is for ease in step 9), wrap in cling film and leave to sit in the refrigerator overnight.
  8. Heat oven to 350F/175C.
  9. Roll dough to 2.5 to 5 mm thickness.
  10. Apply speculaas molds, cookie cutters, or just render into decent cookie sizes with a pizza cutter, and arrange on a pan lined with parchment.
  11. Bake for 9 to 12 minutes.  Thick and brief cooking produce a relatively soft cookie, thin and long make more of a sweet cracker.

Also inspired by the Netherlands, the other recipe I want to inflict upon you is much more a work in progress.  I’m trying, like a daft mad fool, to recreate the results produced by Smits Ambachtelijke Chocolaterie at Wilhelminastraat 50, Breda; if you can get there by foot, car, or bus, you might as well go and get a superior product.  The trial nature of the recipe leads to furious annotation.

Slagroomtruffels (cream truffles)

  • 200 g fine Sugar (Berry Sugar for Canadian readers; I think in the UK you’d want extra finer or even caster)
  • 500 ml whipping Cream (about 30% milk fat)
  • 2 tablespoons Vanilla 1
  • pinch of Salt
  • 180 g Butter2
  • 1 kg dark chocolate
  • Cocoa powder (used for dusting, but you end up going through about a half-cup)
  • Loads of plates
  1. Combine cream and salt in a pot and carefully bring to a boil (medium heat or less), then remove from heat.
  2. Add vanilla and sugar, stirring until sugar is entirely dissolved.
  3. Leave butter standing in a bowl, and cream syrup off heat; both must come to room temperature.
  4. Whip butter until well aerated and pale.
  5. Slowly add syrup, mixing constantly.
  6. Mix like mad; you’re trying to go well past the consistency of whipped cream, into something more closely resembling butter.3
  7. Cover a plate or baking tin with parchment, and make blots of filling slightly less than a tablespoon’s size; one can use a piping bag or a spoon, depending on available tools and preference for neat or more naturally truffle-ish appearance.  Put blots in freezer for about an hour.
  8. Melt chocolate in a double boiler over low heat; chocolate melts at just above room temperature, and if it gets too hot it congeals, so don’t try to rush it.  The blots don’t mind being in the freezer for longer than an hour.
  9. Transfer blots ten at a time to a chilled plate; drop one at a time into chocolate, using a fork to retrieve them and place them on a different chilled plate covered by a piece of parchment.  When all ten are done, put them in refrigerator for a couple of minutes to set.
  10. Put some cocoa powder in a bowl, and three or four at a time toss the chocolates in a bowl to coat; this both gives the appearance of a natural truffle and keeps them from sticking as seriously to each other or fingers.
  11. Store in refrigerator.

“Vanilla” in this case being the tincture resulting from leaving four slit vanilla beans in a 750ml bottle of Appleton Estate V/X rum for six months– it’s cheaper in the long run than buying commercial extract, and feels vaguely illicit which adds to the fun of cooking.  The recipe I was working from suggests a single slit bean left to simmer in the cream for 20 minutes.  This may reduce the cream as well as flavour it, and I intend to try it some time when I’ve spare cash for another bean and lots of time.

The recipe was silent on salted or unsalted butter.  I used the former, as cheaper and also as a counterweight to all that sugar.  I’m seriously thinking of increasing butter and reducing cream for a firmer filling, as the results of the above are rather loose.

The loose filling “problem” again; I may have stopped too early, but I became alarmed at the appearance of whey in the bowl.

That’s it for this year.  I’m off to lapse into a combined hyperglycemic/alcoholic coma for the next couple of weeks, and I hope you’re all free to do the same.

Today’s pen: Parker 75 Insignia (festive!)
Today’s ink: Skrip Turquoise (ditto!)

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No, Not That One.

Posted by Dirck on 20 December, 2013

The weekend before Christmas, and what do we do?  We watch Alastair Sim, as it’s less rough on the Whos.

…and when I was looking for something to stick up here in that line, I found a perfectly terrifying overlap of two favourites– Alastair Sim making Scrooge noises, but not in the usual shape, as he’s being animated by Chuck Jones.  How did I not know about this before?

Now, to finish the shopping….

Today’s pen: Cross Century II
Today’s ink: Noodler’s Tulipe Noire

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Lettres, Arts and Kraft

Posted by Dirck on 19 December, 2013

I’m very slowly making my way through Hensher’s The Missing Ink, last spoken of here, and I’ve a couple of thoughts I want to share.  They probably haven’t incubated long enough, so you’ll forgive the only partial formation they exhibit.

First, an interesting repetition of something that seems blazingly obvious once it’s pointed out–  the teaching of writing that doesn’t have “creative” stuck in front of it is something that shouldn’t be strictly thought of as a language skill.  While the things one builds out of letters on a page are words, and thus language, the act of writing has a foot in physical education and another foot in arts ed (this makes it something with at least three feet, of course, which probably explains why some people approach handwriting as if it were a vicious creature).  This has come up in my reading today of the chapter on Marion Richardson, whose name never came up once during the formation of my teaching degree, probably because I was specializing in secondary education; she’s sort of an English counterpart of Montessori.  It appeared earlier in a brief examination of “foreign” writing, where Hensher reveals that French schools’ early instruction in the motions of writing comes through instruction in dance.  This latter point tempts the boor in me to make some kind of joke at the expense of France, but my internal boor is sufficiently house-broken to shut up when useful concepts are in sight– I now wish I had more time to give my son’s education at home, and more access materials concerning Richardson’s notions and the exercises of graphisme.

German writing also floats past in Hensher’s book, wherein he mentions a couple of times the now-defunct Sütterlin script that was until the start of the 19th century the Teutonic standard hand.  He mentions it for two reasons– its remarkable illegibility and its remarkable ease in use.  I found a site, as one will, that reveals Sütterlin in its squiggly glory, and he’s quite right on both counts.  Any script that one has difficulty telling the difference between u, n, and nn is going to be a bit of a bear for the reader, but the paucity of push-strokes in the formation of those dubious letters makes it a joy to write in.  I’m half-way tempted to try to absorb Sütterlin for my own use, as it would make my journals quicker to complete at day’s end and rather private (none but scholars specializing in Germany of the 1800s could read it, and they’d be expecting German), but there is the fear that one day one might want to go back as see what was written on a given day.

Do, though, if a free moment offers, have a look for yourself and even give it a try.  Perhaps we might form a small circle of correspondents, sending around mutually incomprehensible notes and reveling in the knowledge that it took the writer very little effort.

Today’s pen: Sheaffer Targa
Today’s ink: Herbin Bleu Myosotis

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Rare Who-Roast-Beast

Posted by Dirck on 18 December, 2013

I forgot yesterday that today was Regular Job Office Lunch day, so I’m not here.  I suggest as an alternative a review of a terrible Christmas film I hope to never see (the ads when it came out offended deeply, and the review puts a stake through the coffin).  I don’t agree with everything the reviewer says, but this…

 I’ve never known a kid who likes seeing other kids in movies. As kids we want to see adults doing the things we imagine ourselves doing as adults, that’s why we loved STAR WARS and JAWS.

…is a long-held belief I’m so happy to hear from an other mouth that I can’t but love him for it.

Although as a kid, Jaws was entirely too much for me.

Today’s pen: TWSBI Vac 700
Today’s ink: Wancher Imari

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Posted by Dirck on 17 December, 2013

A little story about the unexpected, with a happy ending.

Once upon a time… well, actually, it was last month.  In any event, I had a pen sent me by a client which had taken a terrible injury from something it drank.  Not only was the diaphragm turned to a mass of corruption, but the metal components of the filler had been slightly compromised and no longer moved past each other properly.  A little bit of gentle scaling after a complete dismantling, and it was back to work.  Reintegration and return followed.

And then came a note from the client.  “I don’t remember the filler shaft spinning freely,” he said.  Nor did I, and I asked him to send it back.  Spin it did, and on once again dismantling the filler I found this:

Graphic content may not be suitable for all viewers.

Graphic content may not be suitable for all viewers.

Look carefully at the tops of the slots in the upped part of this component.  They’ve gone topless.  This is a problem in a lock-down filler– there’s a little crossbar that bridges those slots which acts as the holder for the stem when it locks and as the thing the stem’s spring presses against to run it up.  The slot should not be open-ended.

The exact mechanism of the damage eludes me.  Obviously, 75 years or so of fatigue has a role, as does the assault of the ink on the part.  It was also travelling from me to him in some rather cold weather, so that may have added to the brittleness already inherent.  The corrosion which caused the stem to bind as it passed through that collar may also have worked to induce some preliminary cracks.  I’m trying to think of a blow to the parcel that would have been transmitted to that part of the pen which wouldn’t have done other injuries to it and the two it was travelling with, but nothing occurs.  As I said to the client, it would have been nice if the thing had shown the courtesy of failing during the first trip to me rather than on the way home.

The solution, since I have none of this part in spares, was to make a ribbon of metal to go in place of the cross-bar.  Wrapping around the top of the collar, it catches under the shelf at the top, and is held in place nicely by the threaded over-collar that fixes the assembly in the pen.  It’s not elegant, but it’s also not visible and it works.  In the absence of spares and a machining shop, it’s the best I had, and the client (with some understandable reservations in the area of long-term service) seems happy enough with the solution.

I had over the past weekend a pen of the same specs from another client, the diaphragm of which had also gone off, but which had not introduced ink to the metal bits.  It very nearly fell apart in my hands when told it was getting new rubber, presented no resistance to reassembly, and is on its way home even now via Canada Post’s oppressed workers.  I’m confident that it isn’t going to pull the same trick in transit, and a brief superstitious dread of Vacumatic filler’s I’d begun to foster has vanished.

Well… mostly vanished.  The spectre will be entirely dissipated when I’ve head that pen is home and doing its job.  For the moment, it and Hubris are hanging around behind a corner of my subconscious, having a smoke.

Today’s pen: Italix Parson’s Essential
Today’s ink: Herbin Vert Empire

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Step Off

Posted by Dirck on 16 December, 2013

I have a Christmas wish to say aloud; I understand Santa, like some national governments, has loads of staff devoted to watching the internet.  First, though, let me show you some contextual pictures:

I have a very small problem with a design element which these pens have in common with a lot of other moderns.  Let me steal some pictures from elsewhere so you can see more of it.  First, from a news item on FPGeeks


— and then from Montegrappa’s own site.


I invoke “fair comment” for the above and some material to follow.  The thing that is giving me a problem, which is actually muting my enjoyment of fountain pens, and which I’m going to ask Santa to leave notes in the stockings of the world’s pen designers, is the substantial step where the section meets the barrel.  In many cases, it doesn’t affect the function of the pen except of a minority of the tender-skinned, but it’s a threat, a constant menace to the mind if not the hand.  The reason for it is clear enough, as it makes for a smooth transition from cap to barrel when the pen is closed…

…but it isn’t necessary to make it a large step.  Today’s pen, for example, has a smooth cap/barrel interface, but the step is very small.   It’s not necessary to do silly crap like this


…unless you’re only interested in a pen that people stare at.  The smooth transition isn’t too hard to accomplish with modern materials, and I notice that some of the grander pens like the Mont Blanc Meisterstück and the Pelikan Souverän aren’t troubled by the cap overhanging the barrel.  Perhaps umlauts help.

In any event, I hope it will stop.  That thing I lifted from the Geeks has a Zeppelin tie-in, so it combines two things I find really neat– fountain pens and rigid bodied lighter-than-air flight– yet it leaves me doing little more than shrugging.  I’m asking Santa, in essence, for a renewal of my joie de vivre supplies.

Same as everyone else, really.

Today’s nigh-stepless pen: Sheaffer Targa
Today’s quietly festive ink: Herbin Bleu Myosotis

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Follow That Duck!

Posted by Dirck on 13 December, 2013

As a sort of irreverent mash note to the endangered folks of Canada Post, today’s film shows the joy mail delivery can bring:

Let’s hope public outcry works for a change.

Today’s pen: TWSBI Vac 700
Today’s ink: Wancher Imari

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Delightful Umbrage. Warmest Disdain.

Posted by Dirck on 12 December, 2013

While the taste of yesterday’s outrage is still in my mouth (and it is, I’m delighted to find in today’s news, shared by many others a mare usque ad mare and points north), let me paddle off down another course of societal collapse– the cheapening of the coin of expression.  I promise it’s only a short rant.

The cheapening I have in mind is the sort in which people seeking to emphasize a matter fish around for words that should be left for weightier things.  I’m old enough to remember a time when “impact” was reserved almost entirely to describe a physical interaction (the impact of asteroid on planet, for example, or of fist against chin) with very infrequent excursions to indicate something so emotionally overwhelming that the effects were nearly the same.  “Impact” now is so over-used it has no juice left in it, and it might as well be a mere synonym of “effect”.  “Awesome” and “awful” are other examples, erstwhile synonyms which parted ways a long time ago but which only in the past generation did the former turn into a mere approbation– what word shall we use now if we see a mountain walking?

Today’s example is in the same camp as “awesome,” since it is not only cheapening but is actually overturning the original meaning of the word.  There is a company which I will coyly not name– they make car batteries, and their name sounds very much like dying without leaving a will– whose slogan is evidently the work of an ad-man with little grasp of the language and access to a thesaurus.  Let me present that slogan as it appeared on the side of the truck I’ve just seen:


I’m sure that they didn’t mean to imply that the dependability of their batteries is such that buyers will be driven into a fury of anger.  I’m sure what they meant was that these batteries are the zenith of reliability.  Oh, wait, “zenith” got used by some other company, right?  And of course “apogee”, “summit”, “paramount”, and “sans pareil” are all out for having been used elsewhere or being slightly incomprehensible to the modern buying public.  I think I might even look more happily upon “awesomely dependable” since awe’s underpinning in a brush with the numinous has more room for a positive inclination than does being put on the far side of rage.

Dictionaries are, of course, descriptive rather than proscriptive.  At least, that’s the way it is in English.  Sometimes I do pine for a slightly silly body like the L’Academie Française to materialize and apply its powers to our dictionaries, that we might be somewhat spared the loss of diversity of meaning in the vast vocabulary of English.  A little ossification, perhaps, but balanced out by keeping a greater subtlety of expression available.   Yes, indeed, that would be way super wicked.  Outrageously awesome.  To the max.

Today’s pen: Pelikan 120
Today’s ink: Pelikan Brilliant Brown

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Merry {Expletive} Christmas!

Posted by Dirck on 11 December, 2013

Let me quote myself from yesterday’s tiny appearance:

I am all in favour of anything that that puts money in the pockets of Canada Post….

Now let me qualify that– “…apart from massive reductions of service and staff, and rate increases should be kept to a dull roar.”  When I speak of Canada Post, I speak of the people that comprise it rather than the corporate entity.  That entity is apparently a bit of an Anti-Claus, as we have in the news today Canada Post’s announcement of how they mean to address what is described as a perilous collision of cost rises and reduction of traffic.  The announcement itself is here, but let me show the the plan:


Very jolly. I especially enjoy the increase in postage, which is about a 25% rise over the current price; I hear on the radio that single stamps may be going to a full dollar.  This, in my untutored opinion, is not the sort of thing that is going to encourage people to return to traditional mail as a means of communication, the dropping away of which has been cited as one of the causes of Canada Post’s current difficulties.  I would, from my place of gross ignorance, view a massive increase in the price of stamps as effective a treatment for declining amounts of letter-mail as suggesting a daily dozen cigars for miner’s lung.  I am, as I say, not schooled in business, so I’m probably missing something.

Similarly, “Please write often so I have more reason to stagger out in a raging blizzard to check the communal mail box” doesn’t sound like an effective strategy.  I’m one of the strangely pampered one-third that gets home delivery, so I’ll admit there is a tone of personal laziness in any complaints I make about this innovation, but I’ve always thought it was a terrible idea since the “Superbox” was introduced for newly-developed neighbourhoods a couple of decades ago.  Apart from the inconvenience, there is also this– that much centralized other-people’s-stuff is bound to be attractive to both vandals and enterprising thieves.  As someone who regularly has the property of others coming to me in the mail, sometimes quite valuable (commercially and moreso sentimentally), I find that’s rather a concern.  We may also consider the position of Muriel Dodderington, retired lace tatter and part-time allegorical figure, who maintains contact with what remains of her friends and family non-electronically, and who finds walking a block or two on wind-polished ice something of a challenge; mail delivery is a social good.

I’m also quick to look sideways at any cost-cutting measure that looks at the staff as something of an accumulation of barnacles.  “Canada Post has a much higher cost structure than its competitors” seems to me to mean that unlike the private haulage companies (U Pay Sucker and FedExtortion are how I refrequently refer to them) they charge somewhat less for the act of moving your stuff while paying the workers enough to keep them from taking out their frustrations on said stuff.  If we heard that there were going to be some substantial voluntary cuts to the ranks of the management, this might sit a little better.  “Attrition” sounds well enough, of course, but I can’t help but wonder if there’s really so many Posties on the cusp of retirement that it won’t simply develop into yet another enhancement to the numbers of unemployed people.

I shall write a letter to my MP on the matter, which by law is to be carried without charge by Canada Post, to complain about this once I’ve had a little more time to formulate my arguments.  I don’t expect it will bear much fruit, my MP being something of a throw-pillow upon which the Prime Minister props his feet occasionally (and under whose regime “A Mare Usque Ad Mare” is being replaced by “Anything For A Buck” as national motto), but it’s about all I can do other than read Terry Pratchett’s Going Postal again and wish for a von Lipwig to take over here.

Today’s pen: Waterman Phileas
Today’s ink: Diamine Steel Blue

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