Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Experimental Cookery 2015 #39: Hearty Spanish Paella with (not-)Sherry, Chorizo, and Prawns

As I said, I wanted to venture into a different book this week - this week's recipe comes from Lorraine Pascale's "Home Cooking Made Easy". I should also perhaps note that I've done paella before, at which point I noted that I'd want to try some other variants before settling on one.

This method was both quicker and easier than the Hairy Dieters one, and was also better - the use of chicken breast meat instead of thighs was an improvement, plus I didn't feel the need to remove the mussels from the whole! (We did use white wine in place of sherry, as I didn't want to invest in a whole bottle of something we'd almost never use.)

However, I did feel that this is a meal that would be much better reserved for a large number of people - the recipes I have are for six people, and cutting it down to two is difficult. Plus, it doesn't seem like it will reheat easily, which cuts down on the ability to make up big batches.

All in all, though, this was a success. Though I think I'm going to continue trying other methods.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Experimental Cookery 2015 #38: Gorgeous Greek Chicken, Herby Vegetable Couscous, and Tzatziki

It's a bit of a shock to think that yesterday was already the end of week 38 of the year. Fourteen weeks on Friday, and it will be 2016.

Anyway, this week's Experimental Cookery was again from "Jamie's Fifteen Minute Meals", a book that has, obviously, been doing me some great service in the last little while. And it was another good one, except...

I think when I do this again, I'm going to simply omit the peas. They were okay, I guess, but the main thing they added to the meal was a lot of moisture that really didn't help.

Likewise, in future I'm going to try to get the couscous a bit dryer, for much the same reason. I think the key here is to use a bit less water - ironically, Jamie's foolproof method of 1 mug couscous to 2 mugs water doesn't quite work for me. So I'll stick with my previous "just cover it" method.

Oh, and we need a bigger serving dish!

Other than that, this was a real success. In particular, I found the base of the herby veg to be quick and easy to make, and yet quite flavoursome, and I also enjoyed the tzatziki - we've had it before, but I've never made it. (And, coincidentally, a colleague of mine had some excess cucumbers to give away yesterday, we the tzatziki was made with super-fresh ingredients. Huzzah!)

And that was that. I think I'm going to try to use some other book for next week's Experimental Cookery, and indeed may be coming to the end of this book's usefulness (lots of fish in there!). But we'll see.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Jam!

About a year ago, LC and I took a walk along the canal to the Kelpies, during the course of which we happened to notice that the path was bordered on one side by a significant number of fruit-bearing brambles. Alas, at that point we had no bags with us, and as we were at the extreme tail-end of the season we didn't ever return. However, we noted to ourself that we really should come back in a year's time to harvest a crop.

Saturday being a nice day, we went out for a walk along that same path, this time armed with plastic bags. There then proceeded a flurry of berry picking, slowed only by the discovery that my bag had a hole in the bottom resulting in the path being strewn with berries. Gah!

Anyway, we picked some berries, and then we picked some more. LC wanted to be sure we returned with at least a kilo of brambles, as that was the quantity called for by the recipe in her book. And so we returned home with two plastic bags veritably heaving with fruit. Indeed, it turned out that not only had we picked a full kilo of brambles, but we had in fact picked a kilo each, with one of us picking slightly more than the other. (Though I'm reliably informed that it wasn't a competition...)

Of course, jam making is now one of those skills that is both little-used and, for most people, in little demand. The stores can, after all, supply a wide variety of very nice jams, marmalades, and preserves, and the cost is generally less than it would take to buy the ingredients.

But it does have its uses, of course - for example if one were to suddenly come by a large quantity of free fruit. So that's convenient.

Long story short: we now have an enormous supply of bramble and apple jam, and a corresponding need for scones.

(Oh, and you'll note that this is not an "Experimental Cookery" - because it was LC, and not I, who went to the enormous effort of turning that vast quantity of fruit into jam. It's probably important that I make sure to say that.)

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Experimental Cookery 2015 #37: Beef Kofta Curry, with Fluffy Rice, Beans, and Peas

As anticipated, on Friday I took the opportunity to get caught up on the Experimental Cookeries. It's another entry taken from "Jamie's Fifteen Minute Meals", and again it took a good bit longer than the fifteen minutes, mostly because I chose to take my time and relax over it rather than to rush it to the table.

This was an excellent meal, and one we will definitely have again. I think next time I'll use a bit more chilli and curry paste, and a bit less coconut milk, in order to add a bit more heat to it, but other than that it was generally great.

I'm only planning one EC2015 this week, as I'm now hoping to stay up-to-date rather than rushing ahead in my sequence. And, again, it will be from this same book.

#46: "Liar's Island", by Tim Pratt

Friday, September 18, 2015

Mock the Week

I was pleasantly surprised to find that "Mock the Week" was back last week. It's a show I very much enjoy.

But I have to ask: why is it that there is always exactly one woman on the panel of the show?

The thing is, I don't consider myself a warrior for social justice, and for reasons I'd rather not address right now I don't consider myself a feminist either. I don't even think it's necessarily true that the panel must include any women at all - if the occasional show went out with seven men on the show it wouldn't be a disaster.

But the flip side of that is this: if the panel were assigned by any sort of merit, or availability, or by random assignment, or anything of that sort, then by now we would have seen at least some shows where that 6-to-1 balance wasn't maintained. That it is always exactly one woman on the panel tells me that someone at the BBC has decided that that is the proper level of representation for women on that show.

Which is wrong.

So I have a simple request: I'd like to see an episode of "Mock the Week" with two women on the panel, please. (Yes, I know, I'm shockingly radical.)

And, if the powers-that-be are stuck, I'll suggest who they might be: Katherine Ryan and Sara Pascoe have both been on the show many times, they're both funny, and they've worked together well before (on Frankie Boyle's referendum/General Election shows in iPlayer if nowhere else). So they would seem to be ideal candidates - though other options exist, of course.

A Fair Assessment

I've been fairly horrified by the vitriol in the media ever since Jeremy Corbyn's election. I mean, I knew it was coming, but I didn't expect it to be quite this bad. It's been particularly shocking seeing the supposedly-Labour-supporting Guardian attacking him on all fronts, and indeed the legally-impartial BBC. (Indeed, if anyone was doubting bias at the BBC, do you still?)

And make no mistake: Corbyn couldn't win. Had he appointed a woman to one of the key cabinet roles, it would have been attacked as tokenism, or he would have been accused of over-promoting someone without the requisite experience, or it would have been a snub to someone. Had he sung the National Anthem, he would have been accused of hypocrisy. He genuinely could not win.

But...

I watched as much of "Question Time" last night as I could stomach (which wasn't much), and even on a fair assessment, Jeremy Corbyn is doomed. The problem is that both he and John McDonnell genuinely have said some extremely troubling things in the past. And, yes, some of these have been taken out of context, and some of them are perhaps excusable.

But the big problem was that John McDonnell was forced last night to apologise, repeatedly, for things that he really had said, and that he should not have said. And the next time he's on, he'll have to do so again. And again, and again, and again.

All of which makes it impossible for him to get his message across - and it would even if the media weren't rabidly opposed to him and everything he stands for.

It looks like Labour under Jeremy Corbyn really is unelectable.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Experimental Cookery 2015 #36: Turkish Flats with Shred Salad, Feta & Herbs

Damnit Jamie!

This was yet another meal from "Jamie's Fifteen Minute Meals", and it was both quick and easy to put together. And it was going really well - the mince had browned nicely, the salad was looking really good. The last step was to put the tortilla wraps in the oven for five minutes to brown, and it would be ready to serve.

And the over burnt them to a cinder. Disaster!

Fortunately, we had some more tortillas, so I was able to salvage something by blasting them in the microwave for a few seconds, but the oven approach just didn't work. And it meant losing a lot of flavour, as the juices from the mince had soaked into the original, ruined tortillas.

The meal itself was basically fine, though, except that there was way too much salad and not enough mince to make a good balance. I'll need to correct that in future. It also felt much better suited for a lunch meal rather than a dinner - perhaps the lunch after a roast lamb dinner?

All in all, a recovered disaster and something that might be tried again. But a major disappointment given how well the meal had been going to that last point.

This is the end of the 37th full week of 2015, meaning that I'm now exactly one EC2015 entry behind schedule. I'm hoping to set that right on Friday, and then I'll try to stay up-to-date without going very far ahead.

Too Late

The Guardian today has an article in which a former senior civil servant suggests Westminster need to make a big, bold offer to Scotland with regard to further devolution, in order to head off the SNP surge and prevent independence.

It's too late.

Here's the thing: I am fully convinced that there is a majority in Scotland in favour of Devo Max. I'm firmly convined that most Scots would be quite happy for Scotland to remain nominally as part of the UK, while at the same taking responsibility for running its own affairs. Had Devo-Max been on the ballot paper last year, it would almost certainly have won, and indeed I do believe that the Vow proved to be the knock-out blow in the Independence Referendum (it probably wasn't decisive, but it was probably the difference between a victory on points and a victory by KO, to use a boxing metaphor).

And, had Westminster delivered what people thought was being promised by the Vow, the issue would now be done and dusted.

But it wasn't. What people thought was being promised was Gordon Brown's "modern form of Home Rule", and "close to federalism", or what Alistair Darling agreed was Devo-Max. (Technically, the only thing that was actually promised were the things listed in that Daily Record front page with the leader's signatures attached. That is, to make the Scottish Parliament permanent, "extensive" new powers, and a timetable for bringing this about. When dealing with lawyers, and most of our MPs are lawyers, it's always important to read the small print.)

So, the Smith Commission fulfils the letter of the Vow. But it most certainly does not fulfil people's expectations. Virtually nobody in Scotland thinks it goes far enough, and all of the parties in Holyrood agree. And in politics, it's what people think that matters, not whether you've technically met the letter of what you've said.

So it's too late for more "offers" or "discussions". If Westminster wants to head off the SNP surge, they need to deliver Home Rule before campaigning starts for the Scottish elections next year.

(Of course, Westminster, which really means the Tories, have no real interest in heading off the SNP surge. They've lost Scotland already, and they know it, and they also know that the SNP have peaked - since they only stand in Scotland they can't advance much further. Heading off the SNP surge only benefits Labour, who are an at least theoretical threat to the Tories. And as for independence, as I said in another post it's easy enough for Westminster to at least delay that one for a good long time.)

#44: "Pathfinder: In Hell's Bright Shadow", by Crystal Frasier
#45: "Crime and Punishment", by Fyodor Dostoevsky (a book from The List)

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Experimental Cookery 2015 #35: Sausage Fusilli and Creamy Garden Salad

This was actually Wednesday's dinner, but it has taken me a few days to write it up. Once again, it's from "Jamie's Fifteen Minute Meals", which is seeing extensive use at the moment. And, once again, it took considerably longer to put together - closer to 45 minutes end-to-end, though perhaps only 20 actually cooking.

This was basically a simple meal: pasta in a tomato-y sauce, with grilled sausage on top, and with a green salad. In the event, I over-did the fennel in the sauce quite significantly, and also over-catered the salad. The dressing on the salad was also okay, but not as good as some others we've had.

Despite that, it was a fine meal, and something I might well be inclined to have again. Though it is by no means threatening my "nominated nine!".

This coming week should feature two more meals from this book, thus finally getting me back to where I 'should' be. After that, things should hopefully start to get a bit more sane around here.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Han Solo, Rhett Butler, and the "good guys"

For reasons that should be obvious, I was thinking about Star Wars the other day, and a question crossed my mind. As we know, for the Special Edition of Star Wars, George Lucas decided it would be a better idea to have Greedo fire first, thus setting off one of the greatest controversies in cinema. He had decided that he didn't think it was right that Han Solo, clearly one of the "good guys", should outright blast Greedo under the table.

But is Han really one of the "good guys" at that point in the film?

Now, before I go any further I should note that of course Han Solo becomes one of the heroes of the films. I have no question about that. My question is about where he starts, and in that regard I do have a fairly serious issue to raise.

At the start of Star Wars, Han Solo is a smuggler, operating on the fringes of the Empire. Now that, by itself, isn't a mark against him, what with the Empire being eeeevil and since the reason he's an outlaw is apparently that he rescued Chewie from slavery. No problem there.

But where I think there is a problem is the other thing we know about Han. The reason Greedo comes after Han is that Jabba the Hutt has put a bounty on his head because Han was carrying a shipment for him, was boarded by the Empire, and so had to dump his cargo to get away. That cargo being illegal glitterstim from the Spice Mines of Kessel.

Han Solo is a drug runner for a vile gangster. He's only on the outs because of a deal gone bad. I'm really not sure how that squares with him being one of the "good guys".

(Again, I need to make clear - I have no problem with Han then going on to become one of the good guys. That's just a classic redemption arc and entirely reasonable. It's just the start point that's an issue.)

I also thought it was quite instructive to consider Rhett Butler from "Gone With the Wind", who as we know is one of the very significant inspirations for Han. (Indeed, GWtW as a whole is clearly a significant influence on SW, as indeed is the American Civil War as a whole.)

Rhett Butler is also a smuggler and a scoundrel (sorry, varmint). However, in his case he mostly smuggles food and war materiƩl in and cotton out, which is considerably more benign than illegal drugs. (Let's leave aside for now that he was smuggling them to the Confederacy. I don't really want to get into the question of "good guys" and "bad guys" in history, and besides...)

However, while the items Rhett smuggles may be a bit more benign, there are other things that clearly aren't. Specifically, he most definitely engages in some horrific profiteering from the war, charging absurd sums (and making huge amounts of money) from doing so - and it entirely open and unrepentant about that. But, also, he makes no bones of taking his employer's money, investing it in materiƩl that he then stores in warehouses in England to be brought in later at an even more inflated cost. (And when the war ends, that means he's left holding all this stuff, and therefore profiting accordingly.)

Rhett's hardly one of the "good guys" either. And, unlike Han, although he does get somewhat better over the course of the novel, he never really has the same redemption and so remains at least somewhat ambiguous. "Gone With the Wind" is actually quite an interesting read in that regard.

(Another of the many ways I think GL went wrong with the SW prequels was in the timing. I rather suspect the prequel trilogy should have ended much closer to the start of the originals. The plot should probably have had the Outer Rim planets rebelling against the Empire, probably led by Tattooine (a lush, green planet), while Alderaan maintains a studious neutrality until the last film when it finally sides with the Empire. Anakin should fall at the end of the second film, with the third film showing the emergence of Darth Vader and the end of the war, and in particular the ecological devastation of Tattooine. And we should probably see a young Han Solo seeing his dreams of a free Confederacy gradually being crushed, leaving him the disillusioned cynic we see at the start of episode IV. Oh, and the twins should probably be born some time in the second film and then 'killed' due to Obi-wan's negligence, thus bringing about the conflict between master and apprentice. Or something like that.)

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Ten Years!

Assuming the scheduling works right, this post will publish exactly ten years after this blog started! Which means I've been writing it for a little more than a quarter of my life, and in that time it has outlasted three home moves, two TVs, two computers, and two editions of D&D.

Huzzah!

I really must think of some suitable way to celebrate. Some sort of blog birthday log perhaps?

Experimental Cookery 2015 #34: Grilled Steak, Ratatoille and Saffron Rice

That was some fifteen minutes!

Another one from Jamie's book, this took closer to 45 minutes than 15. But it was really nice, and a mostly relaxed time, so that's fine.

There's not much more to say about this one. I doubt I'll make it again, simply because of the amount of time and effort involved. But it wasn't a disaster.

Monday, September 07, 2015

Experimental Cookery 2015 #33: Lamb Kofte, Pitta and Greek Salad

This was another one by Jamie, and for the first time came close to the fifteen minutes threshold. So that's good. Sadly, the lamb did get a little burnt, but not badly.

The end result was fantastic, making this by far the most successful meal from this book to date. I'll definitely be cooking this again at some point (though it doesn't quite make it on to my "top nine").

And that's that. I have another two experiments planned for later this week, so we're rapidly getting caught up.

Update on Goals

It seems like no time at all since the last update, and yet here we are in September, and day 250 of the year. That means it's time for the antepenultimate update on goals for the year.

I've decided to add two more goals to the list, as there are two things that I've been tracking that didn't actually make the list, and they really should be on there. So...

  • Weight: This one has actually been going fine since returning from my holiday, although I'm yet to make any great progress towards my actual target - I've managed to shift the weight I gained earlier in the year, but remain 'stuck' at that point. Annoying, but not the disaster of previous updates.
  • Books: By day 250 I should by rights be at 41 books read, so I'm obviously well ahead on that one!
  • Games: I'm currently on six sessions, thus being two behind target. However, I have a second campaign starting up soon which means that I should be caught up before too long, and expect to actually end the year ahead of target.
  • Work: Work is extremely stressful, but getting back towards being manageable.
  • Band: Done.
  • Super Secret Goal #4: This is looking good, but we'll need to see how the last four months of the year go. My expectation is that we'll actually move early in the next year, but it could go either way.
  • Experimental Cookery: By this point I 'should' be at 35.6 entries in this series for the year. At the time of writing I'm actually at 33, placing me a little behind. However, I've been rapidly catching up, so hope to end this one on target. (I haven't had a chance to blog about #33 yet, but we ate it on Friday.)
  • The Imaginarium: For the past several months I've operating with a secret goal of ending the year with 60 posts on that blog written, giving an average of 5 per month. I spent a fair amount of the year behind on that goal, but have recently caught up, and expect to end the year on target.

So that's that. The last several weeks have gradually seen lots of things come back under control, meaning that of the eight goals I now have one done, four at or ahead of target, and two very definitely catching up. The only one that is of real concern is the weight issue, which remains problematic. We'll see how the remainder of the year goes.

A Good Ride While It Lasted

Some time ago, I blogged about Scotland's chances for qualification for the Euros in 2016. At the time, I said we'd need to beat Georgia on Friday to make it.

Unfortunately, we lost.

It's worth noting, of course, that it's not over yet. After all, we could beat Germany tonight, at least in theory. And even if we lose tonight, it's still entirely possible to make it to third if we beat Poland at home next month and then Gibraltar away.

But, alas, I don't think so. Of course, I don't really rate our chances of taking anything from Germany (though I'd love to be wrong). I do think we've got a decent chance against Poland, and we really should beat Gibraltar.

The problems is that I don't think that third will be enough. With the results against Gibraltar being discounted, we're unlikely to be the best third place team, which means we'll go into a playoff. Where I fully expect those matches to be seeded, and I expect us not to be one of the seeds, and so we'll have to play one of the better teams in the playoff, and I don't like our chances there.

Still, it was a good ride while it lasted. Maybe next time.

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Experimental Cookery 2015 #32: Chilli Con Carne Meatballs

This was yet another meal from "Jamie's Fifteen Minute Meals", and this one actually clocked in somewhere close to the fifteen minute mark, which is nice. It basically consisted of some lightly-spiced beef meatballs in a tomato sauce, served with bulgar wheat, and it was very nice.

Two things do occur to me about this meal in future: rather than serving with grilled chillis, which proved too hot to be pleasant, I think I'll instead add the chillis directly to the sauce to give that some extra heat; and I must remember to rinse the bulgar wheat before cooking it so that it doesn't need it afterwards.

Otherwise, I was very happy with this one, and I expect we'll have it again before too long.

#43: "Firefly: Ghosts in the Black", by Robin D. Laws