Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Experimental Cookery Tuesday #43: Mediterranean Chopped Salad

Being on holiday today, I had to actually think about what to have for lunch. The horrors of this cannot be overstated - I work really hard to avoid having to make decisions. In the end, given that I'm having takeaway tonight (for my birthday celebration), I decided to have the salad for lunch. Why not?

Anyway, it was really easy and quick to prepare, as all the chopped salads have been - wash some ingredients, then chop them all quickly, mix, dress, and serve.

And, like the other two chopped salads, it was fantastic. In fact, this one was considerably better than the previous effort, probably due to the absence of seafood. I'm even a little disappointed at having reached the end of the chopped salads, as they really have been quite good.

The salads are now at an unassailable 7-3. However, they have no chance whatsoever of unseating the curries as my favourite chapter - the high points just haven't been that high. (And, incidentally, this is the highest point of the chapter to date.) Next week, I finish the chapter with "Rice Salad". The countdown to burgers is now at 14 days...

Monday, June 29, 2009

The British Championships

Last weekend was the second of the Major Championships of the year, being the
British Championships held in Banbridge, Northern Ireland. The big advantage of
this event was that it meant I could actually get some time off work for the
event. Huzzah!

We were scheduled to leave Falkirk at 10:30 on Friday morning in order to
catch a 3:00 ferry to Northern Ireland, and thus get to the hotel about 6. In
the event, however, our bus was delayed by the traffic in Edinburgh, so we left just before 11. Still, no matter. We had allocated an extra 90 minutes for the journey, so that was plenty of time.

I forget who it was, but just as we passed Glasgow someone asked, "Can you smell burning?"

Sure enough, when we looked backwards, the door to the on-board toilet was open, and black smoke was emerging. Naturally, there then followed an inquest into who had had the curry the previous night. However, once it was established that no vindaloo was harmed in the preparation of this journey, we were forced to stop.

And so, we found ourselves enjoying the sunshine on the side of the M77 just past East Kilbride. Fun times!

About 90 minutes later, a police driver saw us, lit up his lights, and stopped. He then had to explain to the driver of the gray van than he had not, in fact, intended to pull him over, but rather was coming to talk to us. Minutes later, our repair team arrived. Then another, and another, and then one of those mobile "Police Incident" signs.

It was all quite exciting. Fortunately, it was dry and sunny, though I was starting to regret my choice to not wear sunblock.

Eventually, we got going again, having well and truly missed our ferry. We phoned them, and were told we could get on a later ferry at 8pm (instead of 3), which would get us to the hotel about midnight. Better than nothing, I guess. We were lucky enough to be called back and be offered a space on the 4:30 ferry.

The ferry journey was positively dull by contrast, punctuated only by a very expensive steak-and-guiness pie. Also, we took the opportunity to mock M for his lack of subtlety while checking out all the cute girls. He's sixteen, and hasn't quite realised the joys of peripheral vision.

Once we had arrived in Larne, we set off for the hotel. Cunningly, we decided not to tell the driver where we were actually staying, which led to him driving right past the hotel, and on towards Banbridge. It wasn't until some time into the journey that someone thought to question this, and we turned around and went back. Still, we got to the hotel just after 8.

We were staying in the Hilton in Belfast. I'm not entirely sure how, but we managed to get a deal on the rooms so that we stayed for £30 per head. Still, the point had to be made (and then repeated) that we were getting a really good price on a really expensive hotel: under no circumstances should anyone eat at the restaurant, open the mini-bar, or otherwise run up a bill.

A quick shave, shower and change of clothes later (as per my guide to surviving the long journey), and we went out on the town. The first order of business was to find a McDonalds for the kids - apparently Pizza Hut is an inadequate substitute. Then, as they returned to the hotel, it was on to a pub and some Guiness. About 11, some of the members of our team elected to head back, but I and one other headed to another pub. It seemed wasteful to retire so early.

In the event, we called it a night just before midnight, recognising that it was important to remain fresh for the morning. (Later, I would be texted and asked if I had "pulled yet". This confidence in my good looks and charm is both touching and sorely misplaced... in any event, that had never been my intent. I am not actually a free agent these days.)

Sleeping in an unfamiliar bed is not easy. And this summer it is nigh-impossible to find a room that is not excessively warm. Even the other side of the pillow isn't as cool as normal. Fortunately, I had allocated six hours for sleep, which was plenty. I was then woken just after five by the Americans in the next room, who had missed their alarm call and desperately needed to tell the world of this misfortune.

Another shower, the application of sunblock, and a dressing later, and I was in fighting trim for the day. It being too early for breakfast, I then went for a short walk in the sunshine, then returned to the hotel at the appointed hour.

I must say, the breakfast was the high-point of the weekend. It was, quite simply, the finest breakfast I have ever eaten in any hotel anywhere. Although there was almost an ambush by some black pudding, before I realised my mistake (not haggis).

Thus refreshed, we piled onto the bus and went to the competition. Spirits were high - one person had had food poisoning in the night, most of us were sleep-deprived, and there was one really bad sore head (actually not caused by alcohol this time). So, we got there, we wandered for a while, we gathered again, we made our preparations, and we waited our turn.

The proportion of the time we spent playing is comparable to the proportion of this post that is dedicated to it. Despite all our preparations, the moment we started playing for real the mistakes started coming thick and fast. There was the usual early-E, the bad blowing, sloppy play of the tunes... It was bad.

We were in a qualifying group of seven bands. Of those seven, six would go on to compete in the final. We came seventh. And so, we travelled for ten hours on each of two consecutive days in order to compete for a grand total of three minutes.

We hung around for a while, then returned to Belfast (rather than continue dwelling on our failure). We then split up, with me going with a few others first to McDonalds for lunch, then to a park for a sit, then to a coffee house for some shade, and then rejoining the others in a pub for one final drink. (Yes, this is a story of many pubs. I make no excuse.)

The journey home was considerably less pleasant than the journey out. For a start, everyone was depressed. Many people were drunk. It was hot, and close, and sticky. The toilet smelled worse (and, even worse, there developed an insistence on spraying it was absurd amounts of air freshener, despite the toxic chemicals therein and the complete lack of circulation). And it seemed to take much longer, despite actually being a lot faster.

The ferry featured a vastly overpriced chicken tikka masala (still, better than the steak pie), and then a number of card games.

And then we raced to get home before midnight, at which point the bus would turn into a pumpkin. (We didn't make it, and were forced to gnaw our way out.)

And so, that was the weekend. All in all, it was actually a good weekend, albeit a very disappointing result. It also leaves us with a lot of work to do - we have to get out of this habit of losing.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Experimental Cookery 'Tuesday' #42: Posh Chopped Salad

I popped into Tesco on my way home last night and picked up the missing chicory, allowing me to complete the salad. From there, it was a simple task to wash all the veg, and then proceed to chop them into ever smaller pieces. Mix, season, and we're done.

I'm actually quite enjoying these chopped salads. I rather wish he'd done a pick-and-mix guide to this style of salad as he did for other salads, but alas it seems it was not to be.

Anyway, the posh chopped salad was another winner, despite its reliance on smoked salmon. Of particular note were the radishes, which I had had before, but not for a great many years. This brings the score to 6-3 in favour of salads, with two to go.

Next week, we have a "Mediterranean Chopped Salad", followed by a rice salad, and then I'm done. The next chapter is soups, but I'm skipping that until I have finished the breakfasts, and so I'll be moving to "Homely Mince", which starts with burgers. Huzzah!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Grand Experiment Concludes

This week was the fourth and final for shopping at Asda, and also marked the first at which I actually made it to the Asda in Falkirk, as opposed to making the trek to Grangemouth. I managed to get all but one item from my list (no chicory, which will impact in this week's salad), but otherwise did okay. I did buy a couple of things that weren't on the list, but these are deducted below.

Unfortunately, the receipt for this week is almost illegible. Consequently, I only think these prices are correct. I know the total is correct, but since I'm discounting a couple of items, there isn't a guarantee that the total is 100% accurate.

The list is as follows:

  • Sandwich meat, £2.47
  • Smoked Salmon, £2.64
  • Yoghurts (12), £5
  • Poppadums (20), £2
  • Mouthwash (2, blue), £3
  • Milk (4), £1.53
  • Almonds (300g), £2.96
  • Ice Creams (8), £3
  • Carrot (1), £0.08
  • Dill, £0.68
  • Fennel (1 bulb), £0.78
  • Bananas (8), £1.26
  • Tomatoes (6), £0.88
  • Radishes, £0.57
  • Gem Lettuces (2), £0.88

From this, I am discounting the ice creams, half the mouthwash, and half the poppadums. The latter two items were on 2-for-£X offers, and so I bought twice the quantity that was on the list. The total was £27.73, but the deductions come to £5.50, which reduces this to £22.23.

Plugging this total in my spreadsheet (which has neatly highlighted all the failures in my math thus far), Asda gets a revised figure of £147.21 for four weeks, which actually comes out as the most expensive of the three supermarkets.

The revised totals for the three supermarkets are as follows: Tesco £133.63, Morrisons £142.30, and Asda £147.21. Given that Asda have been "Lowest Price Supermarket" for twelve years, this is something of a shock.

So, what happened?

Well, a large part of the difference is to do with specific quantities and specific purchases. For example, I had to purchase washing liquid from Asda, which I didn't deduct as it was a 'standard' expense, but it turns out my previous purchase had been just before the Grand Experiment started (or, perhaps, in the week between Tesco and Morrisons). Conversely, I had to buy dishwasher tablets from both Tesco and Morrisons, but not Asda. And, similarly, I bought 48 cans of Irn Bru each from Asda and Morrisons, but only 24 from Tesco - this represents a difference of £6 or so.

But it is probably lunch that does the most damage to Asda (and, to a much lesser extent, Morrisons). Two items that I purchase every week are on a continuous offer from Tesco, but are much more expensive at the other supermarkets. The yoghurts I buy are always £5 for 12 from Tesco, but it was only this week that Asda matched that price. Similarly, a week's worth of sandwich meat is £1.80 from Tesco, but much much more expensive elsewhere. (This week's sandwich meat is only half a week, and is £2.47!)

But ultimately, this exercise has shown that each supermarket is the cheapest on some things and the most expensive on others (and also that the amounts may well vary with time). A loaf of bread from Tesco averaged £1.30, while at Morrisons it came to £0.85 and Asda was £0.78. A can of Irn Bru was 28.25 pence at Tesco, 20.17 pence at Morrisons and 26.625 pence at Asda. And a banana averaged 12.4 pence, 14.3 pence or 14.76 pence respectively.

(By the way, bananas turned out to be cheaper than apples, at 12.4 pence vs 33.625 pence at Tesco. This was something of a surprise, as my previous recollection had been that they were more expensive. Of course, said recollection was forged two summers ago, when the crop failed.)

The end result of all of this is that I'm off back to Tesco, which means that in twelve weeks I have determined that the best thing to do is "what I was doing anyway". However, it is at least now based on numbers, rather than just random guesswork.

Some other conclusions:

1) I am using the wrong brand of toothpaste. It seems that MacLeans costs £1.95 per tube, while Colgate is a mere £0.95.

2) I suspect that there are significant benefits from going to the biggest local supermarket, rather than looking for a specific chain. I say this because of my experience with buying soap from Asda recently. At Tesco, I paid 19 pence for a bar of soap. At Asda, it was 40 pence. (I didn't buy soap at Morrisons.) That's a massive difference. However, it's not a like-for-like comparison: at Tesco I bought own-brand soap, while at Asda I bought Imperial Leather, purely because it was the only soap they had and I had reached the point where I couldn't really delay any longer. Bigger stores would seem to have better stock levels, and certainly have a greater range of options, which means that cheaper options are available.

3) Buy (non-perishable) things when they're on offer, and buy in bulk where possible. That's not exactly a revelation, of course.

4) Always buy the cheap option where you won't notice any difference, but consider spending more where you will. The afore-mentioned soap is a good example - in the shower in the morning I'm rarely conscious enough to spot the difference between no-name soap and the premium brand. Likewise with rice, tinned tomatoes, and the like. However, the same is not true of cuts of meat, for example, where a more expensive cut is likely to be considerably better.

And that's about it, really. I hope it hasn't been too boring these last three months.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Steph/ven's New Counter-intuitive Economic Policy

As we know, there is due to be a General Election next year. I fully expect to win by a landslide, and thereafter to be installed as Dictator for Life, in the old Roman style. Because that's an extremely likely sequence of events. (Yes, that's sarcasm. I'm trying it out; it's new and exciting.)

Having watched the unfolding mess, I have developed a new and entirely untested theory for the best way to run the economy. Clearly, it is infallible, and I shall therefore share it with the world.

As we know, we live in a global economy. This means that, in good times or bad, the government of the day actually has relatively little impact on the condition of the economy. They should no more take credit for the good times than they are really to blame for the bad. Governments should also recognise that there will always be good times and bad times. While, in theory, the current problems could have been avoided by some more ethical trading, a realistic appraisal of human nature, coupled with an understanding of the nature of the system itself (where the mandate is "increase stockholder value") should lead one to conclude that we would never have avoided this problem. And besides, even if we'd avoided this problem, there would just have been another.

However, what governments can and should do, recognising the inevitable cycle, is use the good times to prepare for the bad. And this means adopting a counter-intuitive approach to economics.

When times are good, lots of people are working, confidence is high, people are spending, tax revenues are coming in, and so there is the strong urge and temptation to cut taxes and spend money on services and projects. When times are bad, the reverse is true: people aren't working and aren't spending, confidence is low, low revenues are to be had, and there's a need to raise taxes and stop spending.

But it doesn't have to be this way. Instead, we should use our magical powers of divination to determine that there are going to be seven years of plenty, followed by seven years of famine. (It all came to me in a dream about sheaves of corn and big fat cows. It was bizarre.) More seriously, while we don't know how long the good times will last, nor how long or how bad the bad times, we can be sure that things will play out that way. They always do.

So, the thing to do is this: when times are good, judiciously raise taxes, and ease back on public spending. It won't be hugely popular, but the people won't be too upset because, hey, times are good. When you're working, and making enough to support yourself and your family with a bit left over, it doesn't hurt too much to have a bit less left over than you otherwise would have had.

Doing this will allow the government to build up a fairly substantial 'war chest', money that should be put aside somewhere safe, and not dipped into. Resist that temptation. No, RESIST!

When times are bad, then, we hit problems. People are out of work. People have less money coming in, or fear that they're about to have less money coming in. They stop spending. The whole system becomes gummed up.

This is where the 'war chest' proves its value. At this point, the government of the day does two things. First is a moderate but real tax cut. This gets more money to the people, gives them some more to spend on the little luxuries, and generally improves confidence.

At the same time, now is the time to increase government spending, by comissioning all those wonderful government projects that you've been holding off on. But you don't just throw money around like crazy - these have to be real projects, building real things that will really help people. And, ideally, things that will allow your country to come out of the bad times stronger than ever.

And so, the bad times are the time to invest in that efficient high-speed rail network you've always wanted. It is the time to build the infrastructure to ensure everyone in the country gets high-speed internet access. It's the time to invest in alternate energy sources and power plants. And new schools, and new hospitals. Doing so creates jobs in the immediate term (helping get things moving again), but also gives the country a long-lasting legacy.

But, of course, it all works together. In order to pay for the bad times, there is a need to gather money during the good times. Failure to do so leaves the country floundering, and being forced to take on absurd and cancerous amounts of debt, debt that our children will be paying off. (And, in a year or two, higher taxes and cuts in services, all for no appreciable benefit.)

Sadly, it will never work. Governments are elected for five years, and a policy like this would require a long-term view. A government that spend four years in 'good times' raising money would find the temptation to spend the 'war chest' in the fifth year almost impossible to resist. So, there's no choice. Dictator for Life it is...

Another victory over The Man

My energy supplier, who shall remain nameless, sent me a letter the other day informing me that there was a shortfall in my monthly payment, and that therefore my direct debit would have to be increased. This made sense. What made less sense was the amount - over the past three months (split evenly between 'winter' and 'summer' usage) I had used X amount of energy, and therefore my monthly debit should be X/2. Obviously.

So I called them. I was all ready to argue my case, with hard figures, discussions of how the computer was wrong, how the correct answer was X/3, and how clearly this was an oversight that they'd be delighted to correct.

The automated switchboard proved intractable. For reasons unknown, they have decided it should ask me to give my street name, and the voice recognition software just isn't able to decipher my broad and inpenetrable accent (despite the switchboard actress also having a Scottish accent). I guess it must be that I live on such a bizarre and obscurely named street.

Eventually, I was put through to a real person. I stated that I'd received the letter, and that the amount was too high, and was all ready to start arguing my case, when she asked me to hold while she checked the computer.

And, lo and behold, the computer decided that the revised estimate based on my actual meter readings (which were extremely close to their own estimates) should have me paying X/3 per month!

So, that's X/6 per month saved, at least until the computer decides to change its mind. Score one (more) for the good guys.

(I decided not to finish this post off with a cynical interpretation of events. It's too depressing.)

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Blue Skies

For the first time in I forget how long, the horizon is clear.

This afternoon, after spending several days we couldn't afford tracking a really nasty issue that evaded my best efforts to debug, I finally spotted the cause of the problem. Now, normally with bugs of that type, the best we can hope for is to put in patch that we think will get rid of the problem, and hope that it doesn't show up again. This is never fully satisfying, but is sometimes necessary. However, with this bug on this day, I spotted what I know is the cause, and implemented a fix that I know will correct the problem.

Which is fantastic.

And, for the moment at least, this reflects life generally. I'm experiencing a general and deep contentment about things that has evaded me for a long, long time. Finally, at long last, things are right with the world.

It won't last, of course. It never does. There will be new problems around the corner. But for now, at this time, life is good.

Experimental Cookery Tuesday #41: Everyday Chopped Salad

I tell you what, if I ever buy another cookbook (which I might), I certainly won't be doing a week-by-week review of the contents! I might still work through it in order (I think that has worked really well), but I won't be posting more than once per chapter!

The "Everyday Chopped Salad" had an inauspicious start, as I found myself making really slow progress, and making a bit of a mess. I thought I was heading for another culinary disaster. Then I switched to using my big knife, as the book had suggested, rather than the knife I had used to chop the tomato for my lunch, and suddenly it worked a whole lot better. Who would have thought?

It turned out that the chopped salad worked really well. The combination of the cheese and the avocado was a particular highlight, I thought. All in all, quite a success.

This brings us to 5-3 in favour of salads. Next week is another salad from the chopped family, this being "Posh Chopped Salad". Presumably because it includes smoked salmon, which is a particularly haughty fish.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

The Grand Experiment: Week Eleven

Another week, another trip to Asda. This week, my only complaint was that they didn't have my preferred brand of toothpaste. Oh no, how will I survive?!

The list:
  • Irn Bru (24 cans), £6.00
  • Shredded Wheat (16), £1.60
  • Rolls (12), £1.00
  • Yoghurts (6), £2.88
  • Bread (2 loaves), £1.74
  • Lamb Fillet, £6.95
  • Fruit Juice, £2.50
  • Shampoo (2), £3.36
  • Basil, £0.68
  • Peanut Butter, £1.57
  • Onions (3), £0.81
  • Tinned Tomatoes (4), £2.00
  • Garlic, £0.68
  • Cress, £0.24
  • Avocado (2), £1.38
  • Spring Onions, £0.64
  • Tomatoes (6), £0.88
  • Lettuce, £0.50
  • Toothpaste, £0.94
  • Yoghurt, £0.78
  • Cheese (200g), £1.66

There was nothing on the list that I couldn't get, and there was nothing that I got that wasn't on my list. Additionally, there are no deductions to make from the total this week, which stood at £38.79.

This brings the total for Asda to 120.52. Given that the total for Tesco came to £123.36, I think it's fair to say that Asda won't be coming out as the cheapest supermarket.

I must say, I'm more than a little surprised by this result; not so much that Tesco came out on top, but rather that there's going to be quite a significant difference once the totals are tallied. I'll going to have to go through and make sure there hasn't been a mistake here - Asda have just won the award of being Britain's cheapest supermarket for the twelth year running, so it seems odd that they've just been thrashed mercilessly by their rival. I'll do that analysis next week.

Thursday, June 11, 2009


While I'm on the subject of goals, I have started taking steps towards my stated goal of "Pick up a new skill". Specifically, I have decided to learn Spanish, and identified the most likely method - a ten week night course in Edinburgh.

(Naturally, ten weeks is only enough for beginner's Spanish - I spent five years at high school learning French, so wouldn't expect miracles. Especially since the brain becomes much less flexible as we age. Anyway, the long-term plan would be to continue with the language beyond this year, and gradually build up fluency. But the longest journey starts with a single step, as they say.)

There are two courses, one starting in July and the other in October. Sadly, while I think I would prefer the former, I will have to go for the latter. In mid-July I'm going away for a week in France, and it's probably not a good idea to miss one of ten lessons, not to mention the confusion that would come of trying to juggle three languages at the same time.

(Did I mention my theory that I'm not really bilingual, but rather monolingual in two different languages? My reasoning is that I speak French reasonably well, but I speak it best when I'm fully immersed in the French, don't have to speak in English as well, and can go so far as to think in French. Which does very little for my ability to interpret for others, of course.)

So, anyway, that's the plan. Expect lots of posts from me in October and November, complaining about how hard it is to pick up a new language after all these years.


Late last night I finished "Emperor: The Field of Swords" by Conn Iggulden. I thoroughly enjoyed it, as I have the previous two volumes in the tetralogy. I will be reading the fourth volume some time later this year.

This book was also #26 of the year, which places me halfway to my stated goal for the year. Huzzah!

I have also picked out many of the books I will be reading for the second half of the year, which include:

  • "A Sword From Red Ice" by JV Jones. This is next on my list.
  • The remaining James Bond novels by Ian Fleming, plus the new novel "Devil May Care" by Sebastian Faulks.
  • "Nineteen Eighty-Four" by George Orwell
  • "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" by CS Lewis. Somehow, this is the only volume of "The Chronicles of Narnia" that I haven't read. I'll have to borrow a copy, and try to get it as a standalone volume, as if I get a compiled set of them all I'll have to read them all, and I don't really have time.
  • Lots of "Pathfinder" volumes from Paizo Publishing.

That accounts for about twenty of the remaining books for the year. I have a few more on my 'to-read' pile, but these aren't particularly noteworthy and so aren't listed here. It promises to be an interesting six months.

#26: "Emperor: the Field of Swords", by Conn Iggulden

Making a Mockery of the System

Yesterday, the SNP and Plaid Cymru used one of their "opposition days" to call for the dissolution of parliament and a General Election. The House of Commons therefore duly debated this matter before voting against.

Now, it should be noted that this was a very self-serving move. A General Election now would almost certainly see a Conservative win by a landslide... but not in Scotland. In Scotland, the Tories would probably gain a handful of seats, with the SNP making big gains. And then, when the Scottish Elections rolled around, the SNP could campaign on a platform that "we're being ruled by a Tory party that Scotland didn't vote for", and would probably make big gains again. That could then give them a platform to move for independence, and probably represents the best chance for independence to be achieved.

I also can't say I really support the move for a General Election at this time anyway. Voter confidence in any elected official is so low right now that we'd probably see a very low turn out, which means that any result wouldn't really represent the settled will of the people, so what's the point?

All that said, I was more than a little angry at the scenes shown from the debating chamber. Hardly any Labour MPs bothered to turn out for this debate, and virtually no-one from the government bothered to show. And, of course, when the vote came up, they all duly appeared, trooped to the appropriate places, and defeated the motion.

Of course, if asked about this, the various MPs will claim they were all catching up on important other work. If pressed on how they could possibly vote on the issue having ignored the debate, they would of course say that they were watching the debate from their offices.

Uh-huh. I'm sure that's true. I bet every single one of them watched the debate in appropriate detail, gave the matter all the consideration an issue of that importance should demand, and then went and voted in the manner their constituents would want them to, in order to best reflect the will of the people. I'm sure they didn't ignore the debate for all those hours, and then show up and vote because the whips told them to.

If we're going to pretend that "opposition days" are the right way for parliament to go about its business, then it should be mandated that the ruling party be appropriately represented at these debates. Take them seriously, or don't have them at all. Otherwise, they are little more than a sham.

And yet, they wonder why it is people are so disillusioned with politics in this country...

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Grand Experiment: Week Ten

Two weeks to go, and the Grand Experiment will be complete. I was surprised at the size of the bill this week. However, many of the things on the list are restocks of things that I need once in a great while, and so won't be counted (they just happened to all run out at once).

However, this week has shown up one more quirk in this experiment, and that was the price of soap. Asda had only one brand of soap in stock, that being the very expensive Imperial Leather. By contrast, the local Tesco has always had several brands. Now, it is likely that Adsa are cheaper for the specific brand in question... but it doesn't help them if I was intent on buying the cheap own brand soap at 30p for four bars.

Anyway, the list is as follows:
  • Yoghurts (12), £5.92
  • Crisps (12 bags), £3
  • Milk (4 pints), £1.53
  • Bananas, £1.25
  • Coconut Milk, £1.10
  • Soup (4 mixed tins), £3.28
  • Chicken, £7
  • Baked Beas (4 tins), £2.36
  • Soap, £1.60
  • Snickers Ice Cream (8), £3
  • Olive Oil, £1.85
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil, £3.98
  • Chocolate, £2.40
  • Chicken Pies (4), £1.50
  • Yoghurt, £0.78
  • Bin Bags, £2.50
  • Salt, £0.40
  • Ginger, £0.30
  • Gem Lettuce, £0.88
  • Red Chillies, £0.54
  • Peanut Butter, £1.57
  • Mouthwash (blue), £2.93
  • Rice, £3.36
  • Almonds (2 x 150g), £2.96
  • Tomatoes (6), £0.88
  • Sandwich Meat, £6.54
  • Celery, £0.68
  • Lemons, £0.68
  • Card, £1.46
  • Magazine, £3.95

Annoyingly, I wasn't able to get Dijon Mustard. Apparently, that store doesn't even stock it; I would have to go elsewhere to get it. I find that very disappointing.

The total came to £70.08.

However, there are many things to be taken off that total: the crisps, chocolate, magazine, card, olive oil (and extra virgin olive oil), ice cream and rice. This gives a total deduction of £23 exactly, reducing the total to £47.08. Combined with last week's total, Asda currently stands at £81.73.

To be honest, I'm surprised at how poor the showing from Adsa has been. It is fair to say that the bill should come down in the next two weeks, since I won't have many main meals to purchase, but they are still somewhat behind Tesco. And given that the store isn't terribly well stocked (and this is the bigger Asda in Grangemouth!), this isn't exactly a selling point. Anyway, next week I'll be using the Asda in Falkirk; perhaps that will be better.

Experimental Cookery Tuesday #40: The Philosophy of a Great Salad, Pick-and-Mix Style

Another week, another salad.

This week we had the pick'n'mix salad, which sadly didn't involve a trip to Woolworths (or their successors) for a big bag of mixed sweeties. Instead, I was presented with a page showing a grid of ingredients, six rows of four items each. (There was also a secret seventh ingredient, being one of the "jam jar dressings".) The instruction was to pick one element from each row, and combine them.

In effect, therefore, this page presented a possible 16,384 combinations. Indeed, if one considered the possibility of a 'none' entry on each row, that number rises to 78125 combinations, although it should be noted that that includes a salad with nothing whatsoever in it, and also four made up of just the dressing but no actual content. (There is also the possibility of using two of more elements from a given row. I'm reasonably sure it is possible to have both cucumber and tomato in the same salad. This gives about 320,000,000 possible combinations, assuming you only ever use at most a single dressing.)

Obviously, I didn't try all these combinations. Instead, I tried only a single variant, combining a couple of lettuces, basil, celery and parmesan into a reasonably effective salad. It worked quite well, and was a distinct step up from the salads I grew so bored with some years ago. It could perhaps have done with some colour other than green - either switching the celery for tomatoes, or even daring to go off-book and use red (or yellow!) pepper instead.

I was rather disappointed with the dressing, though. Having now tried all four of the jam jar dressings, I can rate the French dressing as the best, followed closely by the lemon dressing, with the balsamic dressing some way behind, and with the yoghurt dressing a distant fourth. (Yesterday was the yoghurt dressing.) If I were scoring dressings, it would be a win by 3-1.

So, that's "The Philosophy of a Great Salad, Pick-and-Mix Style". It was a win, bringing the score to 4-3 in favour. Next week I tackle an "Everyday Chopped Salad". And I can finally see the light at the end of the chapter; there remain only four salads to go, and then I'm on to mince.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Public Transport and the Environment

I'm more than a little skeptical about environmental issues. To a very large extent, these seem to have been adopted by the political parties as their latest cause celebre, while the government also use them as a handy excuse to riase taxes for this, that and the next thing. And yet, if the issue were really as serious a threat as we keep being told it is, then the measures that are being adopted are laughable. In fact, if climate change were really the threat we keep being told it is, then radical and immediate action would be required, even if that action would wreck our economy (as George Bush said once... something I actually agreed with him on).

However, just because I have my doubts doesn't mean I'm going to take no action at all. There's an awful lot to be said for not causing damage where it can be avoided. So, I try to recycle as much as possible. And I will reuse where possible, to delay replacement (see, especially, the car thing - a brand new car would be more energy efficient, but the costs to actually make that car negate the advantage).

This morning, I have read about another study coming out of America questioning the environmental benefits of using public transport. Apparently, it is more energy efficient to take drive an SUV into town than use some modes of public transport, as low seat usage mean that the cost per commuter on the metro/bus/whatever is considerably higher.

Slightly sloppy thinking there.

The cost of using the SUV is only lower if this is done instead of running the half-empty trains/buses/whatever. However, given that these run anyway, whether they have ten seats filled or a hundred, they represent a fixed cost. That being the case, the SUV can only ever add to the total.

Unless, of course, those SUV owners are going to each ferry one or two of the other train commuters with them when they go?

No, didn't think so.

(Of course, public transport shouldn't be getting a free pass on environmental issues either. They're better than cars, but they could and should be better still. For example, the average bus is basically a big brick on wheels. A more streamlined design would improve fuel efficiency greatly... as would the simple measure of properly maintaining the vehicles. Where possible, vehicles should be powered electrically, and preferably using non-fossil sources. And so on.

Or we could do nothing - it's not like the government is currently looking for good investments for public money, in a bid to help the economy, is it?)

What I did on my not-holidays

Undeterred by not actually having a holiday in which to do things, I nonetheless set out to do many things.

  • Dentist's appointment. Shockingly, he seems to have actually fixed my teeth, which is nice.
  • Some Prison Break. Didn't get it finished, though.
  • Band Practice.

  • More Prison Break.
  • Evolution Carrot Salad

  • Finished Prison Break. Got caught up on all other TV. Huzzah!
  • Vote.
  • Take car for its MOT.
  • Saw "Terminator: Salvation". I enjoyed it a great deal.
  • Had lunch. It was lasagne.
  • Band practice.
  • Worked late.
  • Watched a couple of films from the Sky+ box. One was "Hitman", which was poor. The other made such a great impression that I can't even remember what it was!
  • Early to bed.
On Saturday, I cooked up a Chicken Tikka Masala, thus going some way towards restocking the fridge. Still, it is far from the gallery of wonders that I had envisaged creating over the week. I also failed to do any significant prep work towards the Warhammer campaign, to watch "Wall-e", to clear out the Sky+ box, or to clean the apartment.

Given that I also had a fairly productive week at work (especially Friday, hence the staying late), this actually proved to be a spectacular week.


Before taking my car in for its MOT, I worked out for myself a neat threshold for how much it would be worth spending to get it repaired, should that be necessary. I decided that I'd be happy to pay £200 or so, but that anything over £300 was too much, and at that point I would cut my losses.

Naturally, the estimate for the repairs was £270.

I thought this was rather unfair, and yet shockingly inevitable. A bit less, and the decision would have been easy. A bit more, and the decision would have been easy. But instead, it sat right in the middle.

In the end, I decided to go ahead and get the car fixed. It's a risk, since at this point there's no real guarantee that it will last the full year. However, it's probably a bit less of a risk than the alternative, since that would leave me completely without Emergency Fund at a time when the economy remains uncertain. (Sure, it seems to be gradually improving, but I still don't trust it.)

As a result of this, I should get my car back tomorrow, all ready to go for another year. In the next year, I expect to take the car all the way up to 150,000 miles, which is quite a distance. And it removes the difficulty of making a decision next year: I knew going in that this would be the last MOT for this particular car.

As a consequence of this, some of the money I had saved for the car can now be freed up for other uses. Which means I can once again contemplate the possibility of going away on holiday to some exotic land. I even have four days of vacation allowance freed up from last week, so it all seems to fit together nicely...

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Markinch Highland Games

Today was not a good day. We came seventh out of eight, which was really quite disappointing. Also, it was a fair result, which is rather worse.

The one small crumb of comfort is that last year we came sixth out of six, so this does represent a very marginal improvement - at least we weren't last.

Bow Tie Issues

After the competition last week, amongst many other things, we had a discussion about ties. Should we mandate a specific knot, and should it be the Windsor, the half Windsor, or something else entirely? Should we go for a bow tie, or was that just silly.

There was a certain move towards replacing the ties entirely with clip-on ties. Which of course is a horrible abomination. If nothing else, the very reason they're called ties is that, well, you tie them. I expressed my dissatisfaction at this development in no uncertain terms.

Last night, I was attending the birthday ceilidh of a friend, at which I decided to wear a bow tie, for no good reason (other than that I always do well in formal wear, and the more formal the better). However, horror of horrors, my bow tie is, in fact, a clip-on. Tsk tsk.

So, off to Marks & Spencers I went, and soon emerged with a new and shiny bow tie. Sorted! Or so I thought...

Sadly, it turns out that real bow ties are almost pure evil, and nigh on impossible to tie. Perhaps the worst thing is that because you're working directly under your chin, there's no way to see what you're doing, save with a mirror. But using a mirror just gets really confusing, what with left and right being all mixed up. Plus, in the mirror universe, I have a goatee, and that's just not a good look...

In the end, I was consumed by rage, and cast the offending bow tie to the ground. I then resorted to the use of the clip-on, accepting that this was merely playing into the hands of the foul clip-on lobby. One day, though, I will work it out, and on that day all will be well.

Anyway, the ceilidh itself was quite good, although it does appear that the enthusiasm for the form may be dwindling - few people got up to dance, and more reluctantly than has previously been the case. Shame. Still, that does take the ceilidh-count to 3 for the year, so that's good.

(I find myself wondering if there is a Breton equivalent to the ceilidh, and whether we will be treated to such a thing during our visit to France. I daresay that could be quite... interesting. "Je ne sais pas les pas... et j'ai deux pieds gauche.")

Why I voted SNP

As I implied in a previous post, I had been concerned that I might find myself unable to vote on Thursday due to a freak bureaucratic cock-up. See, despite my informing the powers-that-be as soon as I moved home, it wasn't until a couple of weeks ago that I got a letter noting that I appeared to have moved, and should give my new details to be added to the Electoral Roll. I filled in the enclosed form, and posted it back within 10 minutes of reading it (literally, 10 minutes).

Late last week, I got two more letters, the first being another letter noting that I appeared to have moved, and should give my new details to be added to the Electoral Roll. The second (from the same office, with the same post-mark) noted that they had received my new details, but that I was unfortunately too late to register for the upcoming elections. It seems that the drop-dead date for registering was the day before they sent out the previous form. Yay!

The letter also stated that if I was still registered there, I should be able to vote at my old polling place on Thursday. Naturally, I assumed this wouldn't be possible: inevitably, they would surely have been very efficient in removing me from one list, and monstrously inefficient at adding me to the other. I had visions of being the only person in the whole of Falkirk to actually turn up intent on voting, only to be turned away because the computer says no.

Turned out I was still registered at the old polling place. So, a grand total of one vote was cast in Falkirk. Never let it be said that democracy isn't alive and well.

Anyway, it took me about ten seconds to vote, and as I noted above, I voted for the SNP. This proved to be something of a surprise to me, given that I fundamentally disagree with their key policy. Some might consider this to be something of an issue, but not me.

The thing is, independence really isn't on the agenda in the European elections, which rathers opens up that choice. And that neatly allows me to evaluate their other policies, leaving a pro-Europe centre-left party. Plus, they seem to be doing an almost bearable job running Scotland at the moment, so...

Anyway, that's why I voted SNP. At the General Election, I will almost certainly also vote SNP, mostly for the same reasons. But, come the Scottish Elections, I absolutely will not be voting for them: by that point I fully expect independence to be firmly on the agenda, which knocks them out again. I wonder who I will vote for then?

Friday, June 05, 2009

Experimental Cookery Tuesday #39: Evolution Carrot Salad

I wasn't expecting much from the carrot salad, except perhaps to grate another nasty hole into my thumb. In the end, I was pleasantly surprised on both counts.

The carrot salad turned out to be a real winner. I think the key move here was the addition of clementines to the whole, which was an unexpected hit. The combination of the goat's cheese and the toasted seeds also worked very well - for the first time, the goat's cheese represented a positive addition to the whole.

So, that would be a win, bringing the tally to 3-3 in salads. Next week, I'm pondering "The Philosophy of a Great Salad, Pick-and-Mix Style". It's all very zen.