Wednesday, December 24, 2008
This is likely to be my last blog post of the year. So, have a good Christmas, a good New Year, and I'll see you again in January.
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
This is the final "Experimental Cookery Tuesday" of this year (although...), and it's another pasta dish. Sadly, as with the "Baked Camembert Pasta", it really felt lacking due to the absence of some meat. I mean, it was nice enough and all, but...
This one was really on a par with last week's effort. It was nice enough, and I won't have any problems eating up the other three servings that were made, but I don't expect I'll be making it again in the future. It's too much hassle for what results. Shame, that.
Since I didn't award Jamie the point last week, I'm withholding it again this week, for much the same reasons. This means that he is now 2-1 down in the pasta chapter! Worse, next up is "Macaroni Cauliflower Cheese Bake", which again forgoes the meat portion of the meal. In fact, of the remaining four meals in this chapter, only one features meat at all.
This could become a monstrously long post, as it has been quite an eventful year. In order to try to avoid this somewhat, I'm going to gloss over an awful lot and speak in generalities. If you want more information, it can probably be found elsewhere in the blog, as I've blogged about many things over the year. If not, then by all means ask, and I might answer. Or not.
My Year in... Work
How to comment on a year in work, when the one solid rule of this blog is I don't talk about work? Well, probably the key thing is that I'm still in work, and we're still relatively busy at work, both of which are very much good things. All in all, it has been a pretty good year, although not the banner year that 2007 turned out to be.
In 2009, I intend to do better again, and I also intend to actively seek out new challenges (within the same job). Mostly, though, I'm hoping to get through the next year or two, which could be quite hard given the economy.
My Year in... Band
Perhaps the biggest disappointment of 2008 were the competition results for the band this year. There was, initially, some hope that we might do quite well, but this was soon dashed. Okay, we won at Calender, but that was really a fluke. There were also too many last places, and the failure to even qualify at Cowal.
However, the year ended hopefully, with the band learning some new tunes, and improving in general. The fund-raising performances over the past two weekends were also very encouraging.
And, finally, the band once again have a full and (I hope) stable committee, and a dedicated and stable (I hope) Pipe Major and Lead Drummer. This shift in personnel leads me to be optimistic for the year ahead.
My goal for 2009: I would like to see the band continue to improve, for us to win a few minor prizes, to not come last in any competition this year, and to at least qualify at the four Majors we are attending. Also, we have trips to Ireland and France to look forward to.
My Year in... Gaming
I might as well get through all the disappointments together, I suppose. Gaming was the second one. This year saw the release of the fourth edition of the "Dungeons & Dragons" game, which should have made it a really good year for gaming. Alas, it's not a particularly good game, so that was disappointing.
More disappointing, however, was that we found it really quite difficult to actually get together for a game. Frankly, I'm too busy, especially on Saturdays, which means missing a lot of weeks. And there's a certain extent to which the group has now gone too long without any new members - we seem to repeat the same patterns over and over.
In 2009, some of this will have to change. It is my intent, certainly, to block off the first several Saturdays in a row for gaming purposes, and to make these an appointment not to be missed. We'll also need to try to find some new players, and I need to come up with some idea what we'll do if (now) we have, indeed, rejected 4e D&D as our game of choice.
My Year in... Love
There is absolutely nothing to report here. More depressing still, this is in no way surprising.
Something will have to be done here.
My Year in... Resolutions
I don't make New Year's Resolutions, as I discussed in January. However, back then I did put together a list of things I wanted to get done this year. Every single item on the list was resolved to my satisfaction. (The big move didn't actually happen, but it will happen in February. My only real concern now is that I need a bunch of new furniture, and I have a horrible feeling I'll just miss out on the sales.)
My Year in... Travel
Another success. This year I visited a new State in the US, a new country in Europe, and two quarters of the UK. Oh, and France.
Next year, I'll probably be cutting back on the travel, as money is likely to be a bit tight for a while (a mortgage and a whole new bunch of insurances to pay, a new car to save for, and furniture to buy). Plus, the exchange rates make this a poor time to travel. Still, I already have a trip to France booked, and if I can just contrive a reason to visit Wales I will hit all four quarters of the UK next year.
My Year in... Faith
In 2006, my faith was rocked right to its core. Rebuilding that has been a long, slow and painful journey, fraught with setbacks. Progress is still being made, but remains slow. And I'm still not back to where I was, or its equivalent.
My Year... Overall
Actually, 2008 has been quite a good year. It's something of a surprise that it's over so soon.
There have been a number of lessons learnt, and a significant number of things done. More than anything, though, it represents a good platform from which to move into 2009. Now, I need to come up with a to-do list...
And finally... the last weigh-in
As of this morning, I was at fourteen stone and eleven pounds, down two stone and one pound from my starting position three months ago. This is a little over halfway towards my target. I fully expect the next two weeks to represent something of a setback, and have decided not to worry about it too much (nor take my scales with me).
However, the big weakness of the diet remains that it is supposed to be matched with a series of work-outs, none of which have happened. That will have to change.
Monday, December 22, 2008
This year, or rather early next year, it will be Mum's birthday. Of course, most people have a birthday every year, so you might be wondering why this is significant. Apparently, due to chronomatic looping, and/or a failed experiment involving reverse-polarity neutron flows, Mum only has a birthday occasionally. And so, it's quite a big deal.
So, we got together, my siblings and I, and had a discussion - how shall we mark this significant event? Of course, the very first issue was the practical. The specific date is actually just after the schools return in the new year, which would make for a suboptimal date for a party.
Eventually, we settled upon a plan. We would pack up just after Christmas, and head oop North for a week away over New Year. And, while we were there, we would celebrate an official birthday, according Mum an honour usually reserved for the Queen. Also, there will be cake.
And so we shall. It will be good, I hope, and when I return I shall blog about the event. And so, that is The Reason.
Anyway, the band were out playing in Falkirk High Street again on Saturday. Once again, I was in charge, on account of my PHENOMENAL COSMIC POWERS. That, and the Pipe Major had to work.
The day was considerably better than last week. The weather was actually dry, and not very cold, which was nice. And there were more people around. The band also played much much better than last week, which makes for a good way to end the year.
We made just over £500 in two hours of playing. We could have done more, but by that point a lot of people were really starting to suffer, and some mistakes were creeping in, so I called it a day at that. Anyway, a good haul for two days of fund-raising - this should pay for at least two buses to competitions in the new season.
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
I think the problem is that Jamie overhyped it, and so I expected more from it than it delivered. Plus, it was pasta with cheese, which meant it seemed rather lacking in something. Meat, I think it's called.
Will I have this again? Well, I made four servings, so I kinda have to, although I suspect the remaining ones will become lunches over the next several weeks. After that, though, I can't see myself having this again. It's not that I disliked it; I just didn't particularly like it.
So, I'm not going to give Jamie the win on this one. So, that's 1-1 in the "Quick Pasta" chapter, surprisingly.
Next week, I might try to fit in two "Experimental Cookery Tuesdays", as I won't be able to do one the following week because of The Reason. The next thing on the list? "Broccoli and Pesto Tagliatelle".
Incidentally, I've noted that most of the blog entries in the past several weeks have been food-related in one manner or another. For the next few weeks, I'm going to try to cut back, and talk about other things instead.
Of course, the economy decided to mock us by collapsing. Annoyingly, the crowds were still out and about, which meant finding parking was difficult, as was moving against the crush. But, if you looked around, although you saw lots of people, there were very few bags in evidence. The Crunch at work there, I suppose.
And it decided to rain. Which further dampened the spirits of people, persuaded them to go about from store to store with great haste, and cut into our efforts.
Oh, and it turned out that the prime fund-raising spot, dead centre by the steeple, was reserved for the Salvation Army. That's fair enough, but did prove to be something of a weakness. Instead, we got to play at the bandstand, where nobody ever goes.
And, finally, we didn't play all that well. Between the damp and the cold, too many reeds (drone and otherwise) were causing problems. And there were too many mistakes. It basically wasn't very good.
Still, I consoled myself, this meant that we had now staked a claim for next year, when hopefully things would be a bit better all around. And we'd given the band a run out and gained a bit of much-needed exposure. So, if we managed to raise £50 pounds, well, that would be a bonus.
We raised £399 in two hours. It's fair to say I was stunned.
We're playing again next weekend. The economy won't have improved, but it will be the last Saturday before Christmas (and so the busiest of the year). The weather might have improved (I hope). The play really should have improved. All in all, it looks promising.
Curiously, in thirty two years of living in Scotland (or even eight months in England) I somehow had never tried porridge before. There was something about it that never really enticed me. But, on a cold December morning in a flat with heating that doesn't quite seem to work, the notion of a hot breakfast certainly seemed appealing. And especially that lovely orange outline that comes from it.
It turns out that the orange outline only comes with ReadyBrek, which I wasn't having. Oh well.
Still, it was a success. I had banana and cinnamon porridge today. I will be having it tomorrow also (as I have half a banana that needs eaten up). However, it's a bit of a hassle having a pan to wash up, so probably not something for every day. I'll grudgingly give Jamie the win on this one, despite that hassle, which puts him at 2-0 for the chapter (out of a possibly 12).
Next up is some sort of pancake and mango effort. Once again, I don't know what that might be, as Saturday will once again be the full Scottish, and the weekend after that is out due to The Reason.
Monday, December 15, 2008
The last time I had a full (English) breakfast was the morning after Uncle Mic's birthday party. (The 'English' is in parentheses because there is also such a thing as a full Scottish breakfast, wherein you replace the optional black pudding with haggis. The haggis isn't optional, since without it you're back to a full English.) Now, while the bed and breakfast at which we were staying was very nice, the staff were friendly, and the food was mostly good, the breakfast was less than ideal, coming as it did in a pool of grease.
And therein lies the problem with the full (English) breakfast - eat it more than twice a year and you are guaranteed to drop dead. And if the health fascists got their way, that would be changed so that even thinking about eating it would be terminal. Because we will be healthy, even if it kills us.
Anyway, tangents aside, on Saturday I made my first foray into the "Kick Start Breakfasts" chapter of Jamie's book, the first entry for which is "A Healthier Full Monty". Huzzah!
So, last week in Tesco I purchased the requisite things: Some best quality sausages, "Healthy Living" bacon (where they take the bacon, remove all the unpleasant bits around the sides, and call the remains healthy. Not being keen on the unpleasant bits, I call it "a good idea"), haggis (not listed in the book, but essential given my location), some eggs (of food nemesis fame), tomatoes, mushrooms. I already had the beans (though I absolutely reject his cravy "low salt beans" suggestion) and the bread.
And, as it turns out, the trick for making a healthier full monty is... grill it instead of fry it. Gosh, I wouldn't have thought of that. Though there is one thing I wouldn't have thought of, which was to bisect the sausage so it would cook faster and shed more fat.
So, anyway, I put together the full monty, including poaching the egg. Then I ate the full monty, noting that the egg remained unmistakably the weak link in the whole.
How good was that? So good.
The only slight glitch is that it took about twenty minutes to prepare, and longer to wash up (plus some time to actually eat). While I normally take a grand total of eight minutes for breakfast, where I make cereal. (How does one "make cereal"? One puts the box next to the milk. Obviously.)
In answer to the usual questions: yes, I will have it again, and not just because I split the packets of bacon, sausages and haggis four ways, and yes, that's 1-0 to Jamie in this chapter also. However, since this chapter features dread eggs quite heavily, I suspect he might not triumph so easily this time.
I don't know when the next experimental cookery Saturday will be. Nor indeed do I recall what it will be, and I don't have the book to hand. I'm sure it will be thrilling.
And so, since I don't have anything better to talk about, here is the rogue's gallery of my food nemeses.
1) Fish. Ah, fish, the destroyer of worlds. My oldest and most feared adversary.
What is it about fish I don't like? Is it the inherently slippery nature of all those things that dwell under the sea? Or perhaps it could be the inherent contradiction in fish claiming to be 'brain food', while we all know goldfish have such short memories.
Mostly, I think it has to do with those awful fish fingers we got served as children, along with the adamant rule that we absolutely had to clean our plates. Or perhaps the battered fish we were served (from back in the day when frozen fish was of extremely low quality). Or perhaps the fish cakes...
The bottom line is that forcing children to eat foods that they really don't want to eat is not really the way to instill a life-long respect for those foodstuffs. Still, it could be worse - I never resorted to hiding the fish in the shoes on the shoe-rack while nobody was looking.
(Oh, also, I've eaten fish more often in 2008 than in any year since I was about twelve. So there.)
Now, eggs are a fine food, the staple of many a meal. Boiled, fried, poached, scrambled. Yum yum. But not for me, thanks. I eat them if they're baked into something (a nice cake perhaps), or if they are otherwise used in cooking, but as food in and of themselves? No.
Although I did eat a poached egg for breakfast on Saturday. Along with some sausage, bacon, haggis, beans and toast. Oh, and mushroom and tomato. Frankly, while it was okay, it remained the weakest link in that particular chain.
3) Butter. Or, actually, margarine. Whatever - that yellow stuff you spread on your sandwiches.
Now this one I know exactly why my aversion to the stuff started, and it all happened because of the aforementioned sandwiches. See, somewhere along the line, Mum became more than a little over-enthusiastic with the spreading of margarine on the bread, which meant that instead of having cold meat sandwiches (as I think they were), we ended up having MARGARINE sandwches with just a hint of meat.
And so began a long-standing tradition - I don't have butter/margarine in my sandwiches. Ever. Unless someone else has prepared them and has happened to put some on, but that happens less and less these days.
I'm afraid that this is another one of Mum's (or maybe Dad's). As I see it, sauces should really be something that you have to complement the taste of whatever you're eating at the time. And, in particular, gravy should probably be something like you see in the adverts for the stuff - distinctly runny, and generally pleasant.
Curiously, the gravy at last night's dinner was almost exactly like that, a property for which Mum apologised. Apparently, in my parents' house we prefer our gravy to be a meal in itself. They do, after all, provide knives with which to cut it.
If ever there were to be a cartoon featuring talking vegetables and their adventures in an animated world, parsnips would clearly be cast as a villain of the piece. Fortunately, nobody would be mad enough to make a show like that, so it seems Bob and Larry are probably safe for the time being.
Still, this leaves the menace of the dread parsnip active in the real world, where people still dare to inflict this grave indignity on us in the form of "Parsnip Surprise", "Roast Lamb with Parsnips", or even without even such fair warnings. And they look so innocent, too - like innocent albino carrots. But don't be fooled, for within that innocent exterior beats a heart of blackest night.
They must be stopped!
6) SPAM and Corned Beef.
Oddly enough, I forgot this one in my first draft, which is amusing since unlike all my other food nemeses, this entry actually has some sense behind it, and is just me complaining about foods I don't like. I'm not sure quite what it is, but there's something in the packing material used in these canned products that I have a bad reaction to. They gie me the boak.
Plus, there's the whole viking angle with SPAM to worry about, but that's frankly a lesser concern these days.
And so, there they are: my food nemeses. I think it's a good list.
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
But, what exactly is common sense? Presumably, it must be some sort of sense that is, in some way, common.
Now, if a common sense is to be developed, it must be borne out of our experiences, as we pick up a set of facts and trivia, and use them to develop best practices to deal with the world. But, of course, everyone has a different set of experiences, which means each person will learn different facts and trivia, and so develop different practices. That's just common sense.
Fortunately, though, there is something that will bridge the gap between a person's 'unique sense' to a truly 'common sense' - and that is an intuitive grasp of how things work. Push that button, and this happens, eat that and get food poisoning, and so forth.
So, that's that, then? Well, no.
There are two significant problems with such an intuitive grasp. The first is that it simply doesn't work with complex systems. Push this button, and that might happen, but not if it's too hot, too cold, or a Thursday, and only if you ask nicely. But that's okay, because how many complex systems are there out there? Well, the population of the world is somewhere in excess of 6.6 billion, so that's quite a lot, and doesn't even include such things as the weather...
And even if we restrict our thinking to things that are not complex systems, we don't have to go very far at all in maths, physics or probability before it becomes increasingly apparent that many things are simply counter-intuitive. In other words, using intuition to understand 'how things work', and thus bridge the gap between 'unique sense' and 'common sense' just won't work.
Actually, what people who complain about others lacking common sense are generally saying is, "I knew X, and I assumed that you knew X as well, where plainly you did not until now. Therefore, rather than admit my error, I'm going to belittle your intelligence." It annoys me just a little.
Tuesday, December 09, 2008
This is quite important, because I am now entering the murky world of "Quick Pasta", the second chapter in Jamie's book. This chapter is positively heaving with carbohydrates (of course), with a side order of cheese of many sorts. So, if I were on a real low-carb diet, this one would kill me. Fortunately, I'm not.
The first item in the chapter is Classic Tomato Spahgetti, and let me tell you right now, it's lovely. Frankly, it would have been hard pressed not to be, being a simple combination of pasta, tomatoes, and various leaves and cheeses.
I made the spinach/goat's cheese variation listed in the book. The spinach turned out to be a good move; the goat's cheese not so much. To my surprise, I had actually had goat's cheese before, while in France, and hadn't really cared for it at the time. I don't really care for it now. Still, it was a very small part of the whole.
Unlike many of the recipes in the first chapter, this one is neither particularly expensive or particularly fiddly. Indeed, the biggest problem I had was that the spaghetti took fifteen minutes to cook, the sauce only five, and I hadn't realised this when I started cooking. Thus, instead of storing half the sauce for later use, I ended up using it all on two days' worth of spaghetti. Still, that wasn't too bad.
Also surprising was that the sauce was quite hot. This shouldn't have been a surprise, as one of the key ingredients was chilli, but I had thought this would be largely swamped by the tomato. This proved not to be the case, which was a good thing.
Anyway, this is another winner from Jamie, and one that should improve next time I make it (although I'm torn whether to go for a different variant or not next time. Perhaps the prawns/rocket option?). So, that would be 1-0 to Jamie in the second round of our little game (he won the first round 6-1).
Next up is "Baked Camembert Pasta", which is another pasta/cheese double threat. However, before that I'm going to try his "Healthier Full Monty" breakfast on Saturday (which means daring yet another of my culinary nemeses, the egg - scary stuff indeed). Also, tomorrow I'm making waffles, assuming that that is actually what they turn out as. So, it's all go in the House of Mirth.
Friday, December 05, 2008
It was turned down.
After thinking the matter through, and then sleeping on it, and thinking about it some more, and sleeping on it again, followed by a bit of mulling it over, I put in a revised offer. This latter offer was accepted.
So, subject to getting a survey done (which should just be a formality), and arranging finance (which should hopefully also be a formality), that will be that. I'm provisionally scheduled to move at the end of February.
Thus is completed the last outstanding item from the to-do list I posted back in January. Huzzah! Of the secret to-do list (that I'm still not going to reveal), only two items remain, neither of which will be possible in the remaining time this year. But that's okay, because they weren't particularly important or time-bound anyway.
Of course, this now means I need a new quest.
Wednesday, December 03, 2008
What happened was that as I set up the viewings on Monday, I was informed of a new property that they'd just been made aware of which, on perusal of the web-site, demanded that it be viewed. So, it was quickly added to the list, an appointment made, and off we went.
So, the first property, the most expensive of the three, impressed Aileen. This property was set out such that I would have had to do nothing to it - just move in and I would be good to go. A very nice property, with the sole weakness being the price (and even that was well within my budget, so it really was just a comparitive measure). As we left, Aileen said I should definately go for that one.
Then we saw the second property, the least expensive of the three. This one would require a bit of redecoration, but nothing of any great significance. It was interesting to see Aileen's reaction change on viewing this one. Where before she had been all in favour of the first, that quickly changed here. And that was a good thing, since it confirmed the opinion I'd more or less formed myself - the second was actually a nicer flat than the first. The only comparitive downside was that it wasn't in quite such a nice area, but it was certainly nice enough.
Then we saw the third, which was the new property, and sat nicely between the other two in terms of price. And, to be honest, I'm still not sure that there hasn't been some sort of big mistake made here, since this was far and away the best of the three. It's bigger than the others, it doesn't need anything done to it (though I would probably repaint one room in short order), and it's in a better area than the second of the three. All in all, it was a clear winner.
And so, that was the decision made. In the end, it actually wasn't hard. Any of the three would have been great, but the third was the winner.
Now comes the scary part.
Tuesday, December 02, 2008
Well, it's hard to say. In terms of cost, there was virtually nothing in it, as you might expect. Many of the ingredients were the same, and where they were different Jamie was calling for things that are now in my standard kit anyway, which means they essentially have no cost. Jamie's version is less harsh on the pan, which may prove to be a massive boon over time.
In terms of prep time, they were also much alike. The boxed version requires a little less work, since it comes with a pre-made salsa, but that's it.
In terms of taste... well, I think it's a wash. They're very different propositions, with the boxed option being far spicier, which is good, but on the other hand the fresh version is certainly more subtle.
So, have I been converted? Actually, I don't know. I think I'll have to investigate options to making these fajitas a bit spicier. But they're certainly good.
Anyway, that's 6-1 to Jamie. As this is also the end of the first chapter, that means he wins this round of our little game. Next up is "Quick Pasta", specifically "Classic Tomato Spahgetti". Should be a good one.
On Saturday, I spent the afternoon having pictures taken (for my new side-line as a male model, of course. You may have seen me on the cover of "Green Towel" magazine this month. Alternately, it may be because of The Reason, but that's far less amusing.), then ventured to Andrew and Aileen's house for pizza and TV.
Amongst the TV, I watched "The X-Factor" for the first time, which was a less than wonderful experience. However, I've largely recovered from the travesty that is the best performer on the night being voted off, while the girl who has been selected as the eventual winner was truly woeful in both her performances. (I mean really, really bad.)
I also saw Britney's performance on the show.
In the news over the last couple of days, Britney has been harshly criticised for this performace, with one of the key complaints being that she mimed her way through it. Which rather raises the question: what did people expect? Britney doesn't sing live. Even when she's at the very top of her game, she doesn't sing live (although then it's because her performance is so energetic that she simply couldn't).
A rather better criticism might be that "Womaniser" is an absolutely terrible single. So bad, in fact, that it doesn't even deserve to be labelled a song. Still, this also is not new: Britney doesn't exactly have a back catalogue bursting with good material.
Actually, it's lucky that they had the contestants sing twice on the show on Saturday, because doing a Britney-night was really not a good idea. Frankly, doing artist-themed nights isn't a good idea when dealing with widely varied voices and types of performers, but in the case of Britney, there really isn't much to choose from. Of the five contestants, only one managed a good performance (and that of a track that Britney herself had covered) while a second managed an okay performance. The others ranged from abysmal to poor. With the second performance, three were vastly improved, one slipped from excellent to not great (but was much better with her 'farewell' performance), while the fifth remained dire.
It's odd, though. While Britney was doing well, the media took great pleasure in criticising her at every turn. As her life fell apart, the glee was almost palpable. It got to the point where even South Park started saying, "this isn't funny any more". Then, finally, she reached rock bottom, and the media seemed to back off a bit. She was allowed to get herself together.
And now, just as things start looking up, and she appears in the UK for a comeback performace, the knives come out again, as vicious as before. Is it just a reflex action that they have to hate anyone they perceive as doing well?
Also, I can't believe I'm defending Britney Spears. Again.
Monday, December 01, 2008
- My Christmas decoration is now up. This actually went up yesterday, being the first Sunday in Advent. It is a piece of green tinsel on top of the TV.
- I have now ordered all but one Christmas present. The final gift requires a trip to the Early Learning Centre, but should be finished this weekend.
- My mutlitude of Christmas-themed socks have once again been added into rotation. This effectively doubles my sock collection, thanks to the efforts of the Sock Conspiracy.
- I'm still debating whether to go for a festive beard this year. On the one hand, it's Christmas, but on the other the festive beard lasted until March, so perhaps I should have a year off to compensate.
- I had a quick sing of "Jingle Bells" on my way to work this morning, when no-one was looking. This fulfils my obligatory quota of festive cheer for this year.
So, that's Christmas well in hand. Huzzah!
(Also, this is the 450th post on this blog. Huzzah again!)
Saturday, November 29, 2008
As of this morning, I have lost twenty-five pounds, just under half of my target (52 pounds).
So, it's going quite well.
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
Today marked the introduction of not one but two new vegetables to the diet, those being the mighty asparagus and the dread spinach. Both were green, but while one was spear-like and fierce the other promised cartoonish strength. Or something. In any event, they were both nice enough, I suppose, but somewhat unremarkable.
This recipe also proved somewhat tricky in the gathering of ingredients. In the end, I had to substitute powdered ginger for fresh, and the limes proved to have let fame go to their hea, having completely sold out. Therefore, I used an orange. I mean, how different can they be?
Other than that, the recipe went on in a fairly standard manner. Jamie had warned that it involved some multitasking, and so I had read the whole thing before I started - this proved to be a wise move. In any event, it went mostly without a hitch, although everything was constantly on the edge of burning, and you should see the mess I made of my hob!
So, how did it taste?
Well, I don't know quite where I went wrong, but I definately overdid something, because it was like eating molten lava. In a good way, of course, but still... burny hot. Ouch.
Other than that it was great.
Will I have it again?
I think here again the answer is "yes and no". I think in future I'll probably turn it into a stir fry, or perhaps cook it as I did but get rid of most of the broth before serving. That didn't really add much to the whole experience. Still, I'm giving Jamie the mark for that one, so that would be 5-1.
Next week is "Chicken Fajitas", which I actually have quite frequently, but usually make from a box. However, the book has me making the coating and the salsa from scratch; will it convert me? Next week also marks the end of the "Twenty-minute meals" chapter, after which I shall be moving into "Quick Pasta". In addition, I think I shall also start tackling the "Kick-start Breakfasts" chapter on Saturday mornings. So, it's all go here.
Monday, November 24, 2008
Actually finding one that was up for sale was slightly more difficult, since I had to leave the apartment to achieve that goal, but that was also successful.
And then finding an apartment that was up for sale and that I actually liked was another challenge, but I duly rose to that challenge, and succeeded! Indeed, I succeeded so well that I did it twice.
Now all I need to do is figure out which of the two I actually want to bid for (if, indeed, either), and proceed with that. And then I will be able to tick the last box for this year, and call it a success.
The day began much as it went on, being very cold. However, despite the hanging clouds, there was an absence of rain. Apparently, a very small amount of snow fell during the day, but I missed it. All in all, this was about as good weather as can reasonably be hoped for in November.
Naturally, I arrived at the hall early, resplendent in my kilt and other assorted finery, not least of which were some rather spiffy Dalek cuff-links that were presented to me as a gift from the couple. As an added bonus, my kilt and jacket now fit rather better than they did a few months ago, as my weight has now returned to close to where it was when I was measured for these things (actually, I may now be just under where I was back then).
Now, if I'm being honest, I have played better. To a very large extent, this can be blamed on the cold, which not only numbed the fingers quite badly (not a terribly good thing when playing a demanding instrument), but also caused the chanter to become rather shrill. However, there was a rather high incidence of errors.
That said, there was only one that was serious, and it came in the first set, before many people had arrived: as the set was coming to the end, so buoyed was I with the early success that I decided to segue straight into another set entirely. This would have been a great idea, except that I segued into the wrong set, and specifically a set that I hadn't played the second tune of for some months. So, suddenly I found myself playing... I don't know what exactly. It was not good.
(See, you'd think that a person could just play whatever tunes in any order and at any time. After all, a tune is a tune, right? But, actually, this isn't the case at all; the brain gets used to one thing following on from another, and simply shifting gears doesn't work terribly well.)
Still, I cut that short, and retreated to more familiar ground. The rest of the piping was okay, if not brilliant. (I will, however, need to do something about that. In the next months there may again be call for my services...)
Anyway, I played, and the appointed hour came. At this point, I wondered how much longer I had to play - the piper plays until the bride arrives, and it is her prerogative to be late. And, with only one exception, every bride I can recall has been late, to one extent or another. Still, it was a nice day, so there would be no harm in carrying on for a bit...
But no! Shona arrived almost exactly at the appointed time. So, that would be two brides in the history of the world. Surely there could never be a third...?
(For those who want to know: it was a classic white dress with a short train. Mostly, I remember the veil.)
At this point, then, I offered my standard salutation, congratulation, and compliment. (These three elements are standard; the form of the three varies. In general, I've found that 'lovely' and 'radiant' are good compliments to use; 'magnificent' is overblown, 'splendid' disingenuous, and 'spectaclar' mis-spelled.) Then I ventured into the church, my work done for the time being.
There then followed the service, which was nice. Weddings generally are. This time, the couple took what I considered the risky step of inviting people to come up and offer a blessing and/or prayer. This is a fine idea in principle, but I say risky because one never knows what a person is going to say. Still, it went fine.
And then it was back outside, a couple of quick pieces of piping (on the emergence of the couple, and then playing them to the car), and then the wedding party departed to the Botanic Gardens for their photos. And so, I had some time to kill.
Some time later, the wedding party returned from what was, by all accounts, a rather chilly time. There was then a short period of mingling, and then a gathering of powers for a group photo, and finally people took their seats for the meal. Then I piped in the top table, the happy couple, and so I was done for the day. Huzzah!
Then came the speeches. Placing these before the meal is, in my opinion, quite wise. Public speaking is apparently the #1 fear of people in general, and at an event like a wedding this must be even more true. Of course, it has the down-side that the bride (in particular) hasn't eaten since the hairdresser arrived, and so is probably starving by this point. (And, besides, many brides don't eat for some weeks before the wedding in order to fit in their dresses. Frankly, it's a miracle more brides don't go on crazed cannibalistic rampages. Perhaps I've just been lucky that I've only seen this happen a few times.)
The meal was provided in a multiple choice format. With the invitations, we had been asked to express a preference for food, and had duly done so, and had duly forgotten entirely what options we selected. The starter was prawns with melon or a tomato and coriander soup (so, soup for me); the main course either chicken or beef, either way with potatoes and seasonal vegetables (chicken); the dessert was an alcohol-free trifle or a fruit salad (trifle). It was very nice indeed. No chips, though.
Over dinner we discussed saving the planet, fast food, and John Sergeant. Sadly, these were separate topics, and not the proposal for a new show in which John Sergeant will don the golden arches as the symbol of his new superhero guise.
After the meal, while they rearranged the hall for ceilidh purposes, we retired to other rooms within the community centre. Indeed, we found ourselves in a meeting room, where we took advantage of the opportunity to discuss the Africa Situation. There was a significant amount of thinking outside the box, the better to leverage our potentials. Or something like that.
And then, that silliness completed, we returned to the hall for the first dance, and then for the ceilidh itself. There are too few ceilidhs, I feel.
Anyway, as I hold the title of Knig, hail from a place that sounds a bit like Camelot, and an considered to be the lord of the dance-floor (despite that pretender to my throne, Captain Ric), I felt the need for a quest. As I already have a grail, though (it's verrrry nice), my quest would be to dance every dance at the ceilidh. Except the first dance, of course, but that doesn't really count.
Of course, dancing every dance is no easy challenge, on several counts. The first is the sheet exhaustion that this will inflict. People laughed when I revealed that I had come prepared with my very own towel. They laughed slightly less when they realised the genius of this move, for indeed it was genius.
The second challenge is that one inevitably requires a partner if one is to dance. And around half of my usual card were absent from the festivities, while several others were laid low by myriad non-ceilidh-related injuries and illnesses. And, as the state of my love life will attest, boundless confidence is not something I can call upon when dealing with women. (Nor did it really help that I had to drive home, and so must needs had to remain sober. Then again, maybe that did help - alcohol tends to make me really quiet.)
Fortunately, I am never caught without a backup plan, and it was this: for the first ceilidh dance, I partnered with one of my friends. While traversing the room, then, I kept an eye peeled for all those girls who were watching from the sidelines with a "oh, how I wish someone would ask me to dance" look about them. See, it's quite crafty.
And so, as the evening progressed, I made my way about the room, inviting one poor girl after another onto the floor. Indeed, it was noted that I did not dance with the same girl twice (except right at the end, when most people had left, when I again danced with one of two partners from a Dashing White Sergeant, but that doesn't count). Mostly, I just didn't want to get tied down.
And so, willows were stripped, Swede masqueraded (possibly as turnips; I wasn't quite sure), and two-steps were stepped twice. Even the dreaded helicopter dance was a triumph unheard of, as Gordon and I were paired with two fairly slight girls, allowing for a far greater degree of lift than is frequently the case.
And so, the quest was reckoned a success. And there was much rejoicing. Huzzah!
Of course, the ultimate challenge remains. I have heard it said that there may be a barn dance in the offing in months to come, and so the question: will the lord of the dance-floor continue his reign? Truly, this is a mystery of great depth, especially as I have been forbidden to study the dances ahead of time. As if I would be stopped by so minor a thing as not having a clue what I'm doing...
Thursday, November 20, 2008
I am therefore making quite a mess while still present in the apartment. I'm not sure just why that is considered an improvement.
Anyway, the task is now almost complete. The block of ice became sufficiently loosened to remove from the freezer to the sink, where it was broken up with some hot water. Now all that remains is several hours of dripping and drying.
Once this is done, I think I'll leave the power off on this fridge. I'll work solely from my own, larger fridge, and accept that my ability to chill has therefore been reduced.
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
Naturally, as I walked through the streets, bottle in hand, I elicited a number of disapproving stares from people out and about. Apparently, care for the environment is frowned upon. Or, more likely, they mistook me for a NED (non-educated delinquient, for those not up on the local parlance).
Still, I'm not entirely sure I got it right. I was under the impression that the NED's tipple of choice was Buckfast, as opposed to a rather pleasant Sauvignon Blanc. I'll try to get it right next time.
Still, the next thing in the book was a stroganoff, so who am I to argue. Off I went to the supermarket, there to pick up some butter, some leeks, but not the wine that was called for as I got that from my parents (one of the joys of having tee-total parents working in education is the free alcohol that comes with the end of term).
Now, before I proceed, a word about butter, which I described as one of my culinary nemeses. In truth, it's not really butter I object to, but rather margarine, and even then, it's mostly in sandwiches. The reason for this aversion is that many moons ago, back when I were a lad, those who would prepare sandwiches were somewhat over-generous when applying the margarine to the bread. And so, instead of having a cheese sandwich, or a chicken sandwich, or such thing, one would have a margarine sandwich with hint of cheese. It wasn't entirely pleasant. However, rather then try to explain this, it was simply easier to drop the margarine from the sandwiches entirely.
Anyway, while making dinner today, the first thing I made was a real mess. There were bits of food flying everywhere - the walls, the floor (none on the ceiling, though). I'm not entirely sure what went wrong there, but never mind.
Eventually, the meal was complete, and the moment of truth.
4-1 to Jamie. It was good.
Will I have it again? Well...
The problem with this one is that it's not going to be easy to cut down for one person, and I'm also extremely dubious as to the prospects for reheating. Perhaps one day, when I have someone to impress. Like that's ever going to happen.
Next up is "Asian Chicken Noodle Broth", which to me says 'starter', but I guess we'll see next week. Tomorrow, I'm having lasagne.
And it was almost perfect. The living area, in particular, was very impressive.
But, alas, that almost would have been quite painful, for two reasons, one fairly minor and other quite major.
The relatively minor issue was that the ceilings were quite low, and whoever had done the interior design had then had the bright idea of using low-hanging light fittings. So, all the lights were five and a half feet from the floor. As I'm six feet tall, this would have left me constantly walking into them. (After all, it's not like lights are easy to see - especially when they're switched off.)
Incidentally, this just proves that interior design is an art, not an engineering discipline. None of the people I work with would have made that mistake. Also, it seems quite apparent that the designer was either a very small person or, more likely, never actually visited the flat before doing the design.
Still, that would have been surmountable, as it would merely require replacing all the fittings in short order.
The bigger problem, though, was the kitchen, which seemed to be of a decent size, but actually wasn't. It would be fine for a person to whom 'cooking' meant 'heating things up', but as soon as you have to prepare food it becomes an issue. There was a lack of cat-swinging space.
Actually, I think what happened there is that the people who built the block have tried to split it into slightly too many flats. Or perhaps they have tried to split each flat into one too many rooms. Either way, the kitchen was not a room I could have used, and so proved a deal-breaker.
Rather unfortunate, that. Still, it was probably too much to hope for to nail it on the first time out.
Only they haven't. The letter we've been issued offers two possibilities:
1) Keep the traffic calming measures as-is.
2) Remove the traffic calming measures and instead spend money on a scheme that will be utterly ineffectual, and which no-one in their right mind would be willing to support.
Apparently, the sane option 3 (remove the offending part of the scheme, but leave the parts that are actually effective in place) isn't an option. Because....? Well, they don't say.
And people wonder why I'm cynical about democracy.
Monday, November 17, 2008
I'm aware that it's only Monday. However, as I am on holiday this week, and as I missed a week when I was in France, I elected to use today playing catch-up, and also knocking off the last of the three fish dishes.
This week was prawns.
Now, I first had prawns almost exactly ten years ago, when they were served as part of a hibachi platter at the hotel restaurant I was visiting while on a business trip. Since I had ordered the platter, since the company was paying, and since there wasn't really any alternative, I ate them. (The main meat of the platter was chicken; the prawns, like the salad, were extras.) But the thing is that prawns, like calamari, are actually on my list of acceptable seafood. I tend not to seek them out (since that would be insane), but I won't object to them. So, when Jamie said I was to have prawns this week, I wasn't too dismayed, despite my aversion to fish.
Anyway, you know the deal by now. The recipe this week was quite cheap (fish - cheaper than meat; avocado - fruit, so not too expensive; and a bunch of common items, most of which I already had). Only the whisky part of the equation was expensive, but here I plumped for a cheap and nasty blended whisky (Grants, if you're interested). Our VP (who knows this stuff) would call this sacrilege, and I'd agree with him, since it's not very nice, but since it's for cooking, the good stuff would just be a waste.
This recipe was actually not terribly fiddly - I started my preparations at 5, cooked, ate, and cleaned things away (didn't do the washing up), and then started this post at 5:30, which is pretty good going.
And the taste? Well, mid-way through the recipe it says to test the sauce, and when I did it was just foul. Awful stuff. I thought this would be a huge rant about the evil lurking in marie rose sauce.
But something changed when the whole thing was put together. Perhaps it's that the sauce was diluted by everything else. Perhaps it just needed to sit for a few minutes. Or perhaps it just wasn't as bad as I expected. Because the meal I ate was very nice indeed. A bit on the light side (and no carbs that I could discern), but very nice.
Would I have this again? Absolutely. It needs some sort of light pudding or dessert to go with it, but the meal itself is absolutely fine.
So, that's 3-1 to Jamie. And, what's more, he might actually manage to change my mind about fish during this experiment! So, I have to hand it to him: he clearly knows his stuff. (And, since I'm now a convert, here's a link to the book in question, which Amazon seem to have at 60% off.)
Next up is "Chicken and Leek Stroganoff", which I will be trying tomorrow. I'm actually looking forward to it, despite the recipe requiring me to go and buy another of my culinary nemeses: butter.
Saturday, November 15, 2008
Now, at the time it was first introduced, the term was not unreasonable: the ladies in question were, at the time, playing a distinctly supporting role to their husbands and boyfriends, while the spotlight shone on their efforts.
What I don't understand, though, is why, absent that initial context, the term WAG is not considered horrifically offensive.
Here's the thing, a person cannot be a WAG in isolation. To be a Wife or Girlfriend, one necessarily must have a Husband or Boyfriend out there somewhere. Get divorced or dumped, and you lose the status.
In effect, therefore, to be a WAG is to be defined by the man in your life.
Contrast this with Cheryl Cole, probably the alpha WAG at present. Now, I'm certainly no fan of "Pop Stars: the Rivals", of Girls Aloud, "The X-Factor", or Cheryl herself, but the simple fact is that Girls Aloud have been extremely successful where virtually every other spawn of these talent shows have not, largely through some very hard work, and Cheryl herself has clearly been very canny in taking advantage of her opportunities.
And yet, label her a WAG, and she becomes nothing more than Ashley's wife.
Why is this considered acceptable? Why do so many girls aspire to this vaunted status? And why exactly are feminists not up in arms about it?
Friday, November 14, 2008
I think I shall spend my time in finding somewhere to live, and perhaps in reading some books. I might even consider doing all my Christmas shopping, despite being morally opposed to the Christmas season expanding before the start of December.
Thursday, November 13, 2008
As of this morning, I have gotten rid of the weight I gained while in France. I have also (re-)attained the third mini-goal for the diet. I find this to be good news. (Although, I'm not entirely trusting of my scales. They're mostly good for ensuring that the trend remains downwards, but not necessarily an exact figure, while both the mini-goals and the final goal are exact figures. Still, they're probably good enough for government work.)
In case you're wondering, the title of this post is, indeed, Klingon. It means, "Success!" Yes, I know that the use of Klingon is both bogus and sad. I don't care.
Oh, and to the person who complained about a lack of updates when we spoke at the weekend: this makes five for this week. Does that meet your expectations?
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
Still, he is right: health insurance, at least as the sole means of getting healthcare, is fundamentally flawed.
The problem is that those who will most likely need health insurance, being the poor and those with pre-existing health conditions, are also the ones who will face the harshest health premiums (not unreasonably, since they're the ones most likely to need a pay-out), and are also the ones least likely to be able to afford coverage, assuming that they can get it at all.
Still, maybe you think that's okay - it works, as long as you're willing to turn people away (possibly to die) when they can't pay their bills. Personally, I think that's monstrous, but it would let the system work.
Of course, Americans, not being monsters, aren't willing to stomach that. And so, instead of turning people away when they can't pay, instead treat them at the ER. Where, of course, treatments are more extreme ("a stitch in time...") and more expensive. And someone has to pick up the bill, even if the recipient of care can't pay for it.
And so, the US spends more on healthcare per person than most other nations, which pays for substandard care for those who can't afford insurance.
I know Americans have a pathological fear of socialism, but in this case I think it really is the best solution to this question.
On the one hand, "Fringe" is somewhat like "X-Files", only less good. On the other hand, it purports to be about the fringes of science. What this actually means is "stuff we make up, but pretend sounds good".
But what really bugs me about "Fringe" is not so much that the 'science' is utter tosh, but rather that every single week Pacey explains that the science is utter tosh, and then gets harrangued by Denethor for his lack of imagination. That really doesn't help with the show's credibility.
Typical "Fringe" script excert:
Blonde FBI Agent: Oh no, we've hit a dead end in our investigation. Whatever shall we do?
Denethor: Not to worry, I'll just technobabble a bit. If my hypothesis is right, we might just be saved.
Pacey: You do realise that that it utter tosh, right?
Denethor: When did you lose your imagination? Was it when Joey married Tom Cruise instead of you?
Blonde FBI Agent: Can we just focus on the technobabble, please? I want to go home and try to work out whether I'm upset because my boyfriend died, or because he turned out to be eeeevil.
Denethor: It worked!
Blonde FBI Agent: Huzzah, we're saved! We get to use some entirely different technobabble next week!
Denethor: Huzzah! Ice cream for everyone!
Or something like that.
Meanwhile, also in TV land, Heroes is well into its third season, and unfortunately really really sucks. Too many characters, too many plots going in too many directions, not enough focus, and no clear idea where the story is going. A lot of people said that the second season was where it all went wrong, but I actually liked the second season (although it was too slow at the start, and too rushed at the end due to the strike). Season three, though, isn't even worth watching at the present time.
Fortunately, not all is doom and gloom, for Terminator is back for its second season, and it is excellent. They've really managed to capture the menace of the terminators, and actually do seem to have a plot arc that they're unfolding. Nice. (Naturally, it's apparently set to be cancelled.)
And then there is Clone Wars, which I am enjoying a great deal. Episode 4 was on this weekend, and for the first time it really felt like they'd captured the spirit of Star Wars. I presume that the episode number was just a coincidence. Regardless, this is a fun show.
Finally, there's Merlin from the BBC, a sort-of retelling of the Arthur story. This is the show that has succeeded Robin Hood in the "Doctor Who" slot on Saturdays, and it's thankfully much much better than Robin Hood (not that that's terribly difficult). Although it's strange trying to work out which bits of the Arthur story they've kept, and which they've discarded, and I'm not sure why they chose to make Gwen the blacksmith's daughter, when they could have used a different name for that character and done better. However, of particular note is Anthony Head's Uther Pendragon, who is a marvellously nasty piece of work, and yet probably a good king.
So, TV just now isn't bad. Still, I'm eagerly awaiting the return of 24, and the last half-season of Battlestar Galactica.
Oh, also, although it's not TV: "Saw IV" is rubbish. Truly, truly bad.
The good news is that the nonsense surrounding my latest gas bill has now been cleared up. They've issued me with a revised bill, and although it is considerably higher than the amount they were first charging, that was something I was expecting. There still remains the oddity that each time they give me a discount for paying by monthly direct debit, and yet each month they fail to take the money from my account by direct debit.
Anyway, with a bit of luck I won't be paying a gas bill for much longer - one of the things I'm looking for in an appartment is electric heating (although gas isn't an absolute deal-breaker).
I also received my electricity bill this month, which was somewhat lower than I'd expected. Having paid this off, I then got in touch with them, and arranged a monthly direct debit so that I don't need to worry about this again. I wonder if they will actually manage to take the money we agreed.
Of course, a consequence of all this bill-paying is that I'm now broke. Guess I'll have to lay off on buying any silly hats for a while.
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
Some people have asked me: why, if I don't like fish, do I not skip these recipes? Or, perhaps, cook them out of order to break up the ordeal? Well, there are three reasons:
- If we go breaking rules just because they're inconvenient, even (especially) self-imposed rules, how are we to have the discipline to achieve anything? Truly, that way lies madness! Madness, and hippydom!
- If I were to take the meals out of order, the reality is that I'd cook up all the things I would think I'd like, and somehow end up leaving all the boaky fish dishes to the end. Which really wouldn't be at all pleasant. No, better to cook everything in order, and thus break up the pain a little.
- And besides, fish is really good for you. Except that we're not supposed to eat it, because of all the mercury. So, the addition of a couple of fish dishes really is no bad thing, unless it actually is.
So, in many ways, this was part two of the great fish trilogy. But, would it be an "Empire Strikes Back", or would it be a "Mission: Impossible 2"? Let's find out.
My first impression of the recipe was that it was a tad fiddly. There were a couple of odd things on the list this week, which wasn't a great problem, but meant poring through the shelves at Tesco at some length. In the end, I don't think I got quite the right curry paste (I got Tikka Masala paste, instead of the specified Tandoori paste), but I don't think that particularly affected the outcome.
I also made sure to get a very high quality piece of fish from Tesco. I suspect that did have a great bearing on the outcome; it also boosted the price somewhat, although it remained cheaper than the Steak of week 1.
It's also worth noting that the instructions miss out two steps: they don't mention that you should actually stir the yoghurt mix, which I assume is required, and they don't say how long you should warm the naan bread. (In fact, the naan bread was a complete disaster. I should have followed my usual policy of just sticking it in the toaster, instead of using the over. In the even, I discarded the resulting naan biscuit, and instead toasted the spare one from the packet. Which was an excellent move.)
I also ended up discarding the instruction to use the back of a spoon to apply the curry paste to the fish, and just rubbed it in by hand. This worked much better.
And for the taste?
Yeah, it's a winner. Once again, Jamie got the cook time for the meat (fish) part of the meal exactly right, leaving the fish soft and juicy, but also ideally cooked to crumble under the fork. Also, much to my surprise, the fish taste mixed extremely well with the tikka taste.
I will definately be having this one again. In fact, I'll have this again more readily than the Butterflied Steak Sarnie, as this seemed rather less fiddly to prepare, and was definately cheaper.
So, that's 2-1 to Jamie. I think he might be on a winner here.
Next week is the third fish dish in the trilogy, Prawns and Avocado with an Old-School Marie Rose sauce. Despite it being fish again, I may find I don't care - the recipe calls for the use of whiskey.
Saturday, November 08, 2008
I found this out when I received a package "FAO: Name" that seemed to be correctly addressed. I had assumed that this person was a previous tenant at this address, but this turned out to be incorrect. Unfortunately, I have been unable to redeliver this mail, which means getting in touch with the couriers, who expect me to be available on Monday morning for them to deign to pick up the item!
The other annoying consequence of this was that for the past year I had been receiving mail from Scottish Gas addressed to this person, but bearing the legend "Important information for the current occupant of Steph/ven's address". So, naturally, I opened the letters, to be informed that my gas meter needed replaced.
I finally got this done last time I was on vacation, and was told by the engineer that my new meter would be logged into their system, and all would be well. Naturally, this proved to be screwed up when my gas bill arrived. (I assumed this was just another case of general incompetence, an impression compounded when I was forced to spend an hour on the phone to them, having to shout to make myself heard and understood, and eventually just about managing to explain what had happened.)
So, that mystery has been resolved. Of course, it still leaves the more telling question: just what exactly where they thinking when the numbered my street thus?
Thursday, November 06, 2008
Seriously, though, travelling is always a major diet-breaker. Not only is the routine shattered, leading to eating odd amounts at odd times (in restaurants that tend to use rich oils and fats to improve taste at the cost of high calories), and not only is one expected to take a drink when others do (oh, the horrors!), but there's also the problem that you never quite get to sleep as much as you should, which further knocks things out of alignment.
This particular trip was also expected to be really bad: on Monday we were taken to an expensive French restaurant and treated to a five-course feast. Oh, and unlike previous 'five course' meals I've had, this one didn't include coffee as one of the courses. Oh no, this was a proper five course meal, consisting of a pre-starter (salmon), then a starter (foie gras on couscous), main course (beef steak with more foie gras and potatoes), cheese course (a goats' cheese and apple pasty - which seemed quite odd, but was rather nice), and a desert (chocolate cake with caramel sauce and ice cream). Plus copious amounts of red wine, and coffee.
So, it was with a measure of some trepidation that I stepped onto the scales this morning. By Sunday, I had managed to shed 20 pounds, but how far had this set me back?
The answer was 4 pounds, which is less than I had feared. Still, a setback. The diet has resumed this morning. Hopefully, the new weight should be removed almost as easily as it was put on.
Oh, one other related fact: on Tuesday Kilt/Man was in action at the photo shoot. My kilt was purchased almost three years ago, and was made for me as I was then. It had become a little snug in the interim (one of the reasons for the diet starting), but is now back to fitting as it should. I'm told it created quite a stir.
Saturday, November 01, 2008
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
So, yesterday I spoke with Tesco's fishmonger, yesterday I bought some fish, today I cooked the fish, and then, at great risk to life and limb, I ate the fish.
So, how was it?
Well, as with last week, it was rather fiddly to put together. Lots and lots of steps, that were individually simple, but had a cumulative weight to them. However, it was significantly cheaper than last week - fish is much less expensive than good quality steak.
And in terms of taste?
Well, I'm not a fan. It was okay, and amongst the nicer fish meals I've had (better than sushi, not as good as calamari). But, still, very far from being the best thing ever.
I don't think I'll be having this one again.
Sadly, next week is another fish dish: Quick Salmon Tikka with Cucumber Yoghurt.
Monday, October 27, 2008
This has the key advantage that the traffic is noticably lighter at 7:10 in the morning than it is at 8:10, and therefore has the advantage that I've already done three-and-a-half hours out of my week.
It has the key disadvantages that I had to get up at 6 this morning, and also that I'm completely out-of-sync with the whole of the rest of the universe. Except France.
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
Now, as we all know, the rule with cookery books is that you're supposed to flick through them, rule out all the things you just know you won't like, all the things that look like being too much hassle, and anything with a vowel in the name, until you're left with a handful of things that you probably cook anyway. Whereupon you put the book on a shelf, never to be referenced again. (It's a well-known fact that cookery books don't work. I know people who have dozens of them, and their cooking isn't any better...)
Based on this, and with a reputation as a maverick to uphold (in case I ever want to run for President), I decided that I would buck the trend, and would instead try my hand at every single one of Jamie's recipes, one per week, until I hit something that I just couldn't do, got food poisoning, or got bored.
And, as an added bonus, you get to read about it. Don't blame me; Captain Ric was complaining at the weekend that I hadn't blogged in too long, and so I have had to adopt the first subject to spring to mind. Can't let him go get bored, now can we?
Anyway, the very first offering in the book is "Butterflied Steak Sarnie", made with fillet steaks coated in herbs (note to any crazy American readers: that's pronounced 'herbs'), and cooked on a high heat for a short period of time. Then served with ciabatta bread and a shifty mushroom. (Never trust a mushroom.)
So, how was it?
Well, the first answer to that question is: pricy. Good quality beef is expensive, and anything less than good quality beef isn't worth the money. Then there's all the various bits and pieces, which added up something fierce, and some of which were simply wasted, because I don't generally have a use for half a packet of rosemary.
The second answer to that is: fiddly. Although this took about fifteen minutes to prepare, which is far from unreasonable, it did involve sawing steaks in half, chopping rosemary 'finely', and a bunch of other steps. Frankly, about the time I was ready to actually cook the steak, I was getting sick of the whole process. Oh, and I burnt the ciabatta, but that's probably my fault rather than Jamie's.
But the third answer is: delicious. Oh yes, it was very nice indeed. The instructions he gave for cooking the beef, in particular, were absolutely spot on. That was a winner.
Would I have it again? Well, I kind of have to, since I now have half a ciabatta that needs eaten up. But the real answer is, "yes, but..." When I have it again, I think I'm going to ditch the fresh rosemary in favour of some from a jar, and ditch the cress altogether - it was just much more hassle than it was worth.
Otherwise, that was a bit of a winner.
Next week is "Spicy Moroccan Stewed Fish with Couscous". Not one I'm really looking forward to, since I hate fish, but rules are rules. Next time, though, I think I'll check that the book doesn't have three fish dishes in a row before I set up the rules. Silly Steph/ven!
Wednesday, October 08, 2008
As I said, it's something of a theme.
As per usual, I'm not going to talk about why work is busy, or any of the marvellous plans I have to complete the assigned tasks on time. Let me just say: it's very busy, and I'm planning. Oh, I have such lovely, grand plans...
The band are playing at events in Falkirk on both Friday and Saturday, both this week and next. Saturday of this week is particularly notable as I'm going to be the guy in charge. A chance to flex my PHENOMENAL COSMIC POWER, I think. Additionally, this may well be an opportunity to shmooze some local dignitaries, and perhaps arrange some fundraising gigs over the winter. While all this is going on, we also have our first committee meeting of the year on Tuesday, at which I once again will have to make use of PHENOMENAL COSMIC POWER in the chairing of the meeting. It will be important that what I said about "not just talking about all the fundraising we could do, but actually getting on and doing it" actually gets put into action. And we're also learning lots of new tunes for next year, both for regular use and for competition purposes.
It's quite busy.
As a consequence of the band being in action over the next two weekends, my weekly RPG has had to be cancelled. This is somewhat unfortunate. However, when we do get back, we should be shortly finishing the Warhammer campaign that has been running these past months, whereupon we will start a test game of D&D 4th Edition. This should be interesting - I have deep misgivings about the new system, but am determined to at least give it a fair assessment.
And then there are my so-called leisure activities. See, in order to fit everything in to my absurdly packed schedule, I have to schedule such things as reading books and watching TV with the same rigour as everything else. So...
In fiction, I have just finished "Krondor: the Betrayal", which was a decent book but definately not the author's best work. The next book on my list is "The Pale Horseman" by Bernard Cornwell, which is a good read thus far (but then, I'm only 14 pages in!). I should get that mostly read by the end of the month, I think, after which it's "Twenty Years After" by Dumas (because I do sometimes read actual literature).
In RPGs, I'm currently reading "Barony of the Damned" for Warhammer, which will be followed by the third book in the "Castle Whiterock" set, followed by the "Pathfinder Chronicles Campaign Setting", and then the fourth book in the "Castle Whiterock" set. This probably doesn't mean much to many people, but this might: that's about 550 pages of reading, of which I'm hoping to complete at least 300 by the end of this month.
In TV, I'm all caught up on "Prison Break" and "Bones", and am only two episodes of "Heroes" behind (the BBC - I believe American TV is slightly further ahead). "South Park" starts this week, and I've decided also to give "Fringe" a go, despite hearing some bad things. So, that fills up a good five hours a week, which is rather more than I can really spare. Additionally, I have five movies on my Sky+ box that are waiting to be cleared (something I really want to get done - I've been too far behind for too long). The plan there is to watch all those movies by the end of the weekend, and then move into a maintenance mode.
The diet proceeds apace. Last week, it looked like I might have hit a plateau, but now it appears that I may have broken through it. The diet has now passed it's 30-day trial, and will proceed onwards. I'm now a little over a quarter of the way towards my target, which is pretty good going, I think.
And not-quite-finally, there is THE BIG ONE. As we know, the last remaining undone item on my (public) annual to-do list is the purchase of a house followed by a move into said house. About six months ago, I decided to wait-and-see what house prices would do in Falkirk over the following six months, which proved to be a wise move. House prices in Falkirk seem to have dropped rather sharply this year, meaning that a property that was sitting right at the limits of what I thought I could afford a year ago has dropped about a third of its value. (It's still right on the edge of what I can afford, but that's due to the credit crunch - previously, I was constrained by the amount I could borrow as a multiple of my income; now I'm constrained by the deposit I could afford to put down.) Add to that today's significant drop in interest rates, and things are really starting to come together nicely.
And that's where things stand at present. Naturally, with everything this tightly organised and scheduled, something is bound to happen any moment to throw my schedule out of alignment. I dread to think what that might be.
Thursday, October 02, 2008
While I would normally be in favour of anything that would discomfort Captain Ric on principle, I really feel I must object to this. Indeed, the mere notion that it might be done makes me extremely angry.
Firstly, there is history to consider. Tony the Tiger is over fifty years old, the Honey Monster thirty, and Coco Monkey twenty. These characters were fixtures at my breakfast table growing up. I remember with dread the horror of having to eat 1,000,000 boxes of Sugar Puffs in order to get a special stuffed Honey Monster (which turned out to be rubbish!). They are every bit as significant as Fred Flintstone, He-Man, or even Optimus Prime himself. Unless you're Michael Bay, you don't get to mess around with such things lightly.
And what's more, in an age of tarnished celebrities and edgy anti-heroes, these are characters that have never lied to us. You see Tony the Tiger on a box, and you know the contents will be a sweet taste of childhood. Coco Pops really do make the milk turn chocolatey.
Besides, I doubt this is actually going to change anything; it would just make the world that bit less bright and enjoyable. What are kids going to eat for breakfast instead?
Weetabix? Shredded Wheat? 'cos I remember being a child, and when we had these we would heap spoonfuls of sugar on top, just to make them palatable. At which point any dubious benefit of the switch has been undone.
Perhaps instead they'll go for Fruit & Fibre, Special K, or All Bran? No, I didn't think so.
Perhaps they'll just have nothing? Yep, that's an improvement.
Okay then, obviously parents will step into the breach, and cook a hearty and healthy breakfast for their children? Actually, I was barely able to type that, as the effort of suppressing my laughter caused my whole body to shake.
No, what will actually happen is that most of the kids who currently eat Frosties, Coco Pops, Sugar Puffs, Ricicles (or, horrors, Rice Krispies) will continue to eat those cereals because those are the nicest ones. It isn't the characters that have made the cereals popular; it is the cereals that made the characters popular.
Perhaps I'm over-reacting. Being stuck in the midst of the diet, each morning I eat my Shredded Wheat. And each morning, I think to myself, "I'd rather have a bowl of Coco Pops!"
Tuesday, September 30, 2008
Once again, I found myself in a church consisting of a very small number of children, then a big gap, and then a whole load of older people. As far as I could tell, with the exception of the minister, there was no-one within ten years of my age, on either side.
This isn't some new revelation, and shouldn't come as a shock to anyone. However, it really doesn't bode well for the church in Scotland at all. Indeed, it suggests that within 20 years, the church is likely to lose 80% of its membership, simply as they die off (perhaps not, since people are living longer than they once did. However, add twenty years to the average age in most congregations, and the church is likely to become really quite moribund).
I don't know what the answer to this is. I'm not sure there even is an answer. But it seems rather unfortunate that there seems to be a new generation of younger and very capable ministers just coming into their own, but it looks like they might find themselves preaching to empty pews.
(Actually, I tell a lie; I do know the answer to this. The way to attract more younger people is to attract more younger people. In youth groups, and indeed groups in general, there's such a thing as 'critical mass'. If you get enough people together, the group will naturally expand as they pull in others. If you don't have enough people, the group will gradually shrink, as people naturally drift away to do other things. But going from the current one or two to the requisite twenty or twenty-five... that's the real trick.)
For the past year or more, I have been watching my way through a friend's DVDs of "Stargate SG-1", which ran for 10 years, accumulating some 200+ episodes. Having finally reached the end of the 10th season, I find that this, too, was cancelled without being able to resolve the hanging plot threads. Still, not to worry, because they, too, had a TV movie, "Ark of Truth", which is designed to resolve things. And, fortunately, I happened to have recorded this on Sky when it was on in March.
I watched it last night, and it suffers from exactly the same problems as "Serenity". Firstly, it will make little or no sense to those who haven't seen the show, but that's a forgivable feature. However, it also compresses what should have been a story told over 20 hours of TV into around 2 hours of movie. And so, we have characters changing sides at the drop of a hat (the change was hinted at in the series, but really needed longer to play out), we have people making massively stupid mistakes (where, again, they could have arrived at that as a measure of last resort over the course of a year, but to just jump straight to it was jarring). And I'm pretty sure the climax isn't how they would have done things had they had a full season to work with.
On the other hand, it's an awful lot better than all but one of the "Babylon 5" TV movies, not that that's saying much. It's probably on a par with "Battlestar Galactica: Razor".
Anyway, next up is "Stargate: Continuum", which is their next TV movie. And I'm sure that at some point I'll be compelled to watch "Stargate: Atlantis", but I'm hoping to put that off until next year. I still have quite a lot to do this year, and only 92 days (after today) in which to do it.
Sunday, September 28, 2008
In any case, the diet remains intact. The party itself was fine, although I left early. There was karaoke, and I decided not to give the other band members the opportunity to force me to sing again. You'd think they'd have learned their lesson after last time, but no.
The diet itself is proceeding apace. I finished the Sugar Puffs this week, and have brought the Shedded Wheat into play. This makes for a far less pleasant breakfast experience than was enjoyed before, but is also rather effective.
As of this morning, I have hit my second mini-goal, having lost 12 pounds to date. Also, the Korean Style Pepper Steak stir-fry I cooked yesterday was something of a success, although it was a little too sweet, and not quit savoury enough, for my taste.
This morning, I'm going to attend my local church, instead of travelling 20 minutes to my 'home' church, on the grounds that most of the people from my home church are away for the weekend, affording an ideal opportunity. Of course, if things there work out too well, this could create a controversy going forward...
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
Not really. Actually, I had maintained the slight but fading hope that I might manage to get voted off the committee (unlikely), but the more realistic expectation that I might be asked to take over as Treasurer, due to the other guy wanting to stand down coupled with my facility with numbers.
Neither of these came to pass. Instead, when the voting came up for the very first position, that of Chairperson, my name was nominated, and no opposition was proferred. Apparently, they seem to think I'm "a sensible lad", and someone suited to taking the role. And since no-one else seemed willing, I accepted.
Frankly, though, I'm annoyed. I mean, where's the fun of building the empire if you don't even get to stab someone in the back?
Having found the details of the dentist I actually went to in March, I proceeded to phone and make an appointment. Said appointment occurred this morning, where it was found that my teeth remain basically okay, but that one of the fillings has sprung a leak, and must be replaced.
So, I'm back off to the dentist next week to have this done.
It's not terribly exciting, I know, but then I feel this blog sometimes gives a false impression: my life really isn't a continuous whirl of mad parties and other associated debauchery. At least, not all the time.
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
Under the influence of the dijon mustard I purchased a couple of weeks ago, my tomato ketchup, mayonnaisse, and similar relishes have formed an advisory council, whose purpose it is to guide me on all culinary matters.
According to my sauces, it is deemed acceptable to switch out the mustard in favour of mayo in my turkey sandwiches, but replacing it instead with chocolate spread would be going too far.
Monday, September 22, 2008
On Saturday, Grangemouth Sports Stadium was host to the "Relay for Life", a very worthy event which saw teams of people walking around the stadium in relay teams over a continuous 24-hour period. The band were asked to go and play to mark the start of this event, which we agreed to do so. It was a non-paying gig, but plays into our 'community focus' agenda, and also raises the profile of the band. And, as I noted above, it was a very worthy event in aid of cancer research. Jackie Bird was there.
Anyway, while this was being done, I arranged with my drinking buddies (see, I have drinking buddies now!) to meet with them in the evening for a quick drink. And so, that evening, on returning from my game, I made the final ever use of my old phone to find out the details of where and when we were meeting. Then I walked the two miles to said pub, and met up with the lads. Apparently, it is now our band's local, by virtue of them displaying the trophy we won in Callendar this season. And they have promised, when we do better next year, to put up a special shelf to display all our prizes.
Later in the evening, we went to a Falkirk nightclub (I think it's the only one, but there may be another), which these days is called "Storm". This is the same club I visited once before.
Yeah. It's rubbish.
For all that Saturday night is supposed to be their busiest night of the week, the place seemed really quite devoid of people. Perhaps most of Falkirk actually travel to Glasgow of a Saturday night, and the club is therefore busier on Thursdays and Sundays.
The other issue was that I rapidly came to the conclusion that I was just too cool for the place. And that's a fairly damning verdict right there: I've rarely been too cool for anything in my life. But there it is, and I don't think that was an inaccurate assessment.
Anyway, I eventually got to bed at 3:15 in the morning, and got up at 9:30. One of the advantages of 'nightclub measures' is that, while they cheat you horribly, there's so little actual alcohol in anything they serve that you wake up quite clear-headed. That said, with only six hours of sleep, I was always going to be suffering.
Still, I manfully made the effort to get up, eat breakfast, dress, shower, get changed into dry clothes, and head to church. Only to find them in the midst of a PC meltdown, with the resident expert nowhere in sight, and therefore to be called into immediate service. It seems God really can be quite mischievous at times.
Oh, and I'm never partying again. At least, not until Saturday, when I'm off to an eighteenth birthday party.
My new phone isn't the newest of phones, isn't the most full-featured of phones, but since I use my phone for occasional texting and even more occasional telephone calls, it will do. (Oh, the other feature I absolutely have to have is international roaming to America and France, but every phone has that now.)
Of course, since the controls on the new phone are just ever-so-slightly different from those on the phone I've been using for the last four years, I'm going to spend the next six months complaining about how I hate it and everything it stands for. You have been warned.