Tuesday, April 23, 2013

We Found Them! They're Here!

Rather shockingly, the week before last saw LC and I reaching the epic milestone of one year married. Truly, such a feat is deserving of being immortalised in song.

Anyway, we decided to spend a few days away. And LC selected Alnwick as our destination, although I'm sure that had absolutely nothing to do with the poison garden... So, we found a suitable B&B, made a reservation, and off we went.

We drove down on the Thursday, a journey that was largely uneventful, although I did note the existence of a disputed zone at the border, with both England and Scotland laying claim to a thin strip of ground. Which I'm sure the "Better Together" campaign will promptly declare to be one of the unresolved issues that the SNP absolutely, positively must answer. But I digress.

We stayed in "Aln House", a rather nice B&B with some six rooms. We didn't see any of the other rooms, but ours was very nice, with everything you might expect - a bed, a TV, several chairs, more cushions than any self-respecting gent can bear, and an en suite bathroom. Very nice. One nice touch was that there was also a common sitting room where people could, in theory, socialise while staying there. And the proprietors were very nice also.

For dinner we ate in a sit-down fish and chip (not fish supper) restaurant, which was rather nice. I had chicken. And then bed.

Friday was the day of the anniversary, and so we spent some time opening the various cards and presents that we had either arranged for one another, or brought down with us. LC got me a rather nice book of soup recipes, while I gave her a package containing all the newspapers from our wedding day (which I referred to in the blog post about the wedding, lo those many months ago). Oh, and tickets to go see "Sleeping Beauty on Ice" (which was very good also).

We then spent the day seeing Alnwick Gardens and Castle, including the poison garden (which I survived), the haunted cellars (which I survived), and the Quiddich demonstration (which was wierd). We had a rather indifferent lunch in the gardens (which I survived - no oranges anywhere!). And, at some length, we returned to the B&B to change for dinner.

Dinner was at "The Treehouse", which is exactly what the name implies. Alas, my hopes that we might be served by Ewoks came to naught, although since Ewoks are cannibalistic that's probably a good thing. The meal was absolutely fantastic, which was fortunate as it was priced to match.

On Saturday, we went to Barter Books, a huge second-hand bookstore. And, incidentally, the place where that "Keep Calm and Carry On" poster was found, thus causing that dratted meme. LC bought some books; I decided against.

In the afternoon, we went to Banburgh Castle. Which I didn't realise until we got there was once 'Bebbanburg', one of the key locations in Bernard Cornwell's Saxon series. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Before going to the castle, we went for a walk along the beach. And in the course of getting to said beach we encountered these little guys...

Yes, it's true. We now know the answer to the question "Where are the frogs?"!!

We then went to the castle, which was absolutely fascinating, because I kept seeing just what Cornwell meant when he kept commenting that that place couldn't be taken. It's going to be fascinating to see how (or if) he resolves that particular issue. And then we walked around the town for a bit, and then we went home.

That evening, we watched "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel", which was interesting enough, although I found Maggie Smith's character somewhat hard to bear - it was a good performance of someone rather unlikeable.

And on Sunday we came home, stopping along the way at Lindisfarne to see another castle. Which was interesting, although it seems that the castle would have been absolutely ideal some centuries before it was built, but rather redundant by the time it was actually built. Still, interesting enough. (The players in my various games may have noticed a sudden increase in frog- and poison-related matters in games recently. They may well find that there's an increase in castles and monasteries shortly, too.)

And that was our holiday. I actually really enjoyed it, being a good opportunity to just leave things behind and have a few days of stress-free relaxation. Given that the start of that week had been a rerun of the disaster that was Christmas (LC was busy with an essay; I was ill), this was a really good thing. Of course, we came back and were immediately caught up in a week of madness. But never mind...

Dear Tesco...

I appreciate what you're trying to do with your "Price Promise". I quite like the fact that you care enough to check whether my shopping would be cheaper elsewhere, and give me a voucher back for the difference.

However, there's a small problem.

See, what you're actually doing is reminding me, week after week, that I would be better off shopping elsewhere. It hasn't escaped my attention that I have received several vouchers for money back and very few indicating that I actually saved. And while it doesn't matter so much as long as the Price Promise holds (since we get the vouchers), there will no doubt come a day when you'll stop this promotion. Knowing that, and putting those two facts together, what do you think I'll do?

So I'm sorry, but this particular move was not your best. You've gone and shone a great big spotlight on one of your key weaknesses, and in doing so have created discontent where before there was none.

Of course, there is a way out. And it's probably your only way out at this point. Basically, you need to lower your prices, right across the board of your "comparable items". That way, where just now I get a voucher back almost every week, instead I'll get more and more notifications that I've saved.

But good luck with that - Asda are rightly proud of their "lowest priced supermarket" tag, and I'd wager they will fight to keep them.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Experimental Cookery 2013: "I Can't Believe You Made That" Cake

Well, yes I did. I even have a picture to prove it.

It was LC's birthday on Friday, and the plan was that various family members would come around to celebrate it. In preparation for this event, then, I asked LC what sort of birthday cake she would prefer. At which point she declared that she would like the "home-made sort", and then specified that it was this cake that she would like. Alright-y then.

So, I dug out Lorraine Pascale's "Baking Made Easy", read through the recipe, gathered the ingredients and then, on Thursday, proceeded to start on the cake.

I actually did this in two parts. On Thursday evening I made up the chocolate sponge that was the core of the cake, and then on Friday I decorated the thing, starting as soon as I got home, and then completing it once we'd been to Tesco and picked up the requisite strawberries. (Incidentally, I used Matchmakers for the outer ring; the mint ones, though if I were doing this again I would probably use the orange ones instead.)

I think this is the first time I have ever tackled an actual birthday cake; I am similarly reasonably sure that I haven't actually made anything with "cake" in the title since high school, though it's possible I've forgotten something. So I made sure to buy a backup cake, just in case.

Anyway, it came out like this:

And, yes, it tasted as good as it looked. Although the last two slices weren't quite so good when we ate them on Sunday.

Would I make this again? Perhaps, but it would need to be a special occasion. In truth, I felt that the cake was actually a bit sickly-sweet to me - if it were a cake for my own use, I suspect I would have gone for a vanilla sponge or similar instead. But it wasn't for me, so that's fine.

#14: "A Crown Imperiled", by Raymond E. Feist
#15: "City of the Fallen Sky", by Tim Pratt
#16: "Last of the Gadarene", by Mark Gatiss

Monday, April 01, 2013

Experimental Coolery 2013: Custard-based Vanilla Ice Cream

I'm adding this post for completeness; the truth is that these posts about ice cream are largely redundant because there's not much to say - mix the ingredients, use the ice cream maker, and the results are very nice. So, feel free to insert all the appropriate text here if you wish. I'll even leave a gap for you...

Anyway, there is perhaps one thing of note about this particular ice cream: when I first mentioned it to Lady Chocolat, her immediate response was that I shouldn't bother, but should do some other type instead. Basically, she objected to the "custard-based" part of the description. I chose to go ahead anyway... and it turns out that I was right to do so. This is the best of the ice creams that I have done to date, and by quite a long way.

Did He Miss By A Day?

Ages ago, I suggested that the best thing for Scottish Football would, in fact, be to simply wrap the whole thing up and to lobby for an amalgamation of the Scottish, Welsh, and English leagues (and national sides) into a single British setup. I still fear that that represents almost our only chance of seeing a major tournament in the next decade.

(Incidentally, if I get around to it, there may be a post forthcoming about league reconstruction. But that's for another day.)

In addition, a few weeks back it occurred to me that the UK government have a couple of cards to play in the fight against Scottish independence (not that I think they actually need them): specifically, I expected their first gambit would be to offer Devo-plus, then perhaps Devo-max. And if things got really desperate they would persuade the FA to offer Celtic and Rangers entry to the English leagues. But I didn't bother mentioning that as I felt it was rather too absurd.

And then, yesterday, David Cameron came out with a statement almost exactly to that effect. It must really suck to be a political satirist these days - the reality is so absurd that it's hard to tell the difference.