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!)