Monday, November 30, 2009

First Sunday in Advent

Yesterday was the first Sunday in Advent, and so I promptly went all Christmas-y. To that end, and having completed a rather nasty cleaning job on the apartment, I proceeded to put up my decoration.

I have also donned my Christmassical Trevor t-shirt once more, and have started work on my festive beard, making an heroic return after its year in the wilderness. I felt there was a need to return to the traditional fripperies of the season.

Experimental Cookery Tuesday #64: Pork Kebabs

I did indeed do the Experimental Cookery Tuesday last week, but just never got around to updating the blog with the results. I've been absurdly busy.

The short version is that the kebabs were quick and easy to make, and they tasted much as I would have expected, which was quite nice. Also, I managed to avoid poisoning myself, which is always a plus.

That's really all there is to say about that. Next up is "Crunchy Garlic Chicken", which I'll actually be tackling on Friday as I won't have time tomorrow.


Apparently, Swine Flu has reached my place of work. This is not a good sign.

One advantage we do have is that the office is not air conditioned, which should hamper the spread of the virus. Also, the person involved caught the symptoms early, and has promptly isolated himself. Still, it doesn't bode well.

That said, I suppose if I have to catch it, it would be better to catch it before Christmas, rather than over the break. That would suck.

But not tomorrow. I refuse to get sick before tomorrow.

Gaming Revisited

A couple of months ago, I blogged about the cancellation of the regular Saturday game, and how I suddenly found I was no longer "a gamer", so much as "someone who games occasionally". I also said at that time that I found this entirely unsatisfactory.

So, not being one to just accept when things aren't right, I set about fixing the problem.

To that end, and after some investigation, I set up a Meetup group dedicated to D&D in the Falkirk area. This has proven to be a success, meeting and (perhaps) exceeding my expectations. The second meeting is tomorrow night, during which we will probably kick off a new D&D campaign set in Eberron.

There's just one problem: in amongst all the chaos, I've been so busy that I haven't had time to do more than jot down a few very basic notes for the outline of the campaign. I didn't really want to have to run the first session without proper preparation, but it does look like this may well have to happen.

At the same time, my Saturday game seems to have found itself a new lease of life. After a couple of false starts, we finally managed to get together for a game two weeks ago, and then again on Saturday. It's starting to look like the interest may be starting to come back there, and we may be able to pick up the pace again.

Of course, that means I now have two full campaigns to juggle, two sets of players to manage, two sets of characters to challenge, and two sets of adventures to prepare. And that on top of band practices twice a week (and probably bag packing most weekends), my Spanish course, and then a trip to the Squirrel Ballet. Plus, somewhere in there I am supposed to do some Christmas shopping.

Life is quite hectic at times.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Christmas Lights and the Environment

In pretty much every town centre up and down the country, you will now find they have put up their Christmas lights, which are lit for several hours every night. They're quite pretty, and generally rather nice (despite it not being December yet).

They are also, fundamentally, a waste of large amounts of energy.

So, here's the thing: if the powers-that-be are really, truly as worried about climate change as they keep telling us, why is this waste of energy acceptable? Sure, it wouldn't be much fun to ban the lights... but it would be rather less fun (I imagine) to find the world becomes uninhabitable.

(I expect the likely response to this is that they'll claim the lights are used in a "carbon neutral" manner - they've offset the cost to the environment by planting some trees, or paying for China to build a cleaner coal power plant, or something equally silly. The problem with this argument is that carbon offsets are a big con, a way for people to salve their guilt without actually having to give anything up. If they're really, truly as worried about climate change as they claim, they should be paying the carbon offsets and not putting up the lights either. In fact, they should then be using the money saved on all that power they're now not wasting to pay for more carbon offsets. A Christmas present for the whole world, if you will.)

Monday, November 23, 2009

Experimental Cookery Breakfasts 12: Fresh Fruit Platter

I finally got around to finishing off the breakfasts chapter of Jamie's book.

To be honest, I think it was a bit of a cheat to have a 'recipe' that was essentially, "Get some fruit. Put it on a plate. Add yoghurt. Eat."

Still, never mind. It was nice enough.

That concludes the chapter at 7-5 in favour. (Yes, I had to go back and find that number.) The result would have been much better, except for all the many eggs. I think my favourite was the smoothies, while the loser was clearly one of the eggs. But which one? We hates them all... I think the omelette, purely because it was more hassle than the others.

I have now moved my secondary bookmark to the start of the soups chapter, and will probably work through that chapter gradually. Between now and Christmas, I also intend to tackle the remaining half-dozen 'meats' in "Quick-Cooking Meat and Fish", and then I think I'll retire this book and move on to something else.

(Incidentally, I've noticed that this is beginning to turn into "Steph/ven's Food Blog". That's not really my intention. However, at the moment my internet connection is down, so I'm trying to do the minimum online I can get away with without letting tasks just pile up.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Experimental Cookery Tuesday #63: Spanish Style Griddled Steak

So, another Tuesday means another Experimental Cookery. This one almost didn't happen - I was late in due to traffic, and had to go out again fairly quickly (more on that later). Still, I checked the book, and it claimed to be a 5-8 minute cook-time (6 minutes in practice), so I decided to go ahead.

I'm glad I did. The preparation for this one was a breeze, and it cooked very quickly indeed. The results were also rather impressive. I particularly enjoyed the peppers, although was a bit less impressed with the chillis, which were extremely hot.

Anyway, that makes for another success, taking this chapter to 3-0. It also confirms my opinion of the buttered spinach - I was going to try that again, but didn't have time. As a result, I had a handful of spinach raw, and it was rather better than the results of cooking it.

Next week is pork kebabs, which could be interesting...

Monday, November 16, 2009

Experimental Cookery 'Tuesday' #61: Perfect Roast Lamb, and #61: Baked Carrots in a Bag

I tackled the fourth and final roast dinner last night. It proved to be a rather stressful experience, especially when I dumped the entire contents of the salt shaker on to the meat. Still, it all turned out okay in the end.

The lamb turned out to be okay. As with pork, I find that that largely comes down to the choice of joint used; beef and chicken appear to be much more consistent. Plus, it all seemed to be rather a hassle.

However, the baked carrots were far more successful. Indeed, these worked extremely well. This was good, as I had been somewhat unhappy with the results of roasting them - they seemed to come out burnt more often than not.

Anyway, that's the "Family Roasts" chapter finished, with a 5-0 success rate. There are now only a few weeks left before I'm going to have to face up to the army of fish dishes that are at the end of the book. (Or, I might abandon it at that point. I really don't fancy ten consecutive weeks of fish - that's the very thing I wanted to avoid by working through the book sequentially!)

Edit: I forgot to note - that's us up to 2-1 on the "Delish Veg".

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Experimental Cookery Tuesday #59: "Grilled Beef with Hourseradish Sauce" and #60 "Buttered Spinach"

So this week we have a two-for-one: the second of the "Quick Cooking Meat and Fish", being "Griddled Beef Fillet with Horseradish Sauce", and the second of the "Delish Veg", "Buttered Spinach". It made for quite an exciting cooking experience, let me tell you.

This was all very quick and easy to prepare. The spinach took about four minutes to cook, the beef about fifteen (start to finish). However, when it came to the actual eating, it was something of a mixed bag. It seems that the cook times for the beef were a little off, or perhaps the book had assumed thicker steaks than I was using. Either way, instead of coming out medium to well done, the steaks came out as being very well done. Mostly, this was fine, but it was something of a surprise.

Unfortunately, the spinach was nowhere near as successful as the beef. Simply put, it had far too much salt, far too much pepper, and far too much garlic, which totally overpowered the taste of the spinach itself (which, let's face it, wasn't that nice anyway). So, that was something of a disappointment.

The end result of that is that we'll count the beef as a 'win', but the spinach as a 'loss', bringing the "Quick Cooking Meat and Fish" to a total of 2-0, and the "Delish Veg" to 1-1. Next up should be "Perfect Roast Lamb" on Sunday.

#54: "Pathfinder: The Sixfold Trial", by Richard Pett

Monday, November 09, 2009

What Steph/ven Read Next...

It's a funny thing: as long as I had so many goals running, I found myself constantly looking forward to getting them finished and off my radar, and thus having an opportunity to relax more. As soon as I finished off most of my goals, and got the opportunity to relax more, I found myself drifting aimlessly and being unsatisfied at not getting anything done.

Since reaching my target of 52 books, I have eased back on the reading quite a lot. I didn't ever actually stop, but due to the nature of the books I have been reading, I haven't actually managed to finish anything, and so haven't updated the blog to that effect.

I have decided that, between now and the end of the year, I really want to "clear the decks" as far as accumulated reading material is concerned. I have had a number of books sitting on my "to read" pile for some months, or even years, and it is time to clear this out. The books are as follows:

  • "Lankhmar" by Fritz Leiber. This is a compilation of the first four Lankhmar stories (and is identical to another compilation, "The First Book of Lankhmar"), which I got a couple of years ago as part of a "classics of fantasy" kick I was on at the time. I never really got around to reading it, largely because I couldn't be bothered.
  • "Elric" by Michael Moorcock. This is another compilation, but does at least appear to include all the Elric stories. I got this at the same time and for the same reason as the previous book, and similarly never quite got around to reading it.
  • "Forest Mage" by Robin Hobb. This is part two of a trilogy, the first part of which was okay but not spectacular (good enough for me to try another book by the same author, obviously). And, again, I just haven't ever mustered the enthusiasm to read this one.
  • The "Conqueror" series by Conn Iggulden. I picked up this trilogy because I saw it on offer in Asda, so got it cheap. As this is one of my current favourite authors, I actually want to spread these out - I don't know when he'll be writing another novel.
  • The "Pathfinder Core Rulebook" from Paizo Publishing. This is a massive book that I'm working through rather slowly.
  • "Pathfinder: The Bastards of Erebus" and "Pathfinder: The Sixfold Trial", both from Paizo Publishing. I get a book in this series delivered every month, and have built up a slight backlog. These are the first two designed for use with the new Pathfinder game, hence the delay in reading through them.
  • The "Pathfinder Bestiary" from Paizo Publishing. Finally, the monster book for the Pathfinder game, which I picked up on Saturday.

My revised 'reading goal' for the rest of the year is to clear off all the books from this list, with the exceptions of the Conqueror series and the Pathfinder Bestiary. This will allow me to proceed into 2010 without carrying the baggage of a large number of books to read. To that end, I'm currently reading "Lankhmar", the "Pathfinder Core Rulebook" and "Pathfinder: The Sixfold Trial". After "Lankhmar" is finished, I'll move on to "Forest Mage", and then finish out the year with "Elric", all being well.

I haven't yet settled on a reading goal for next year. I'm not sure whether to go for "another 52 books", or to tie it to a list of books, or perhaps a list of authors, or even perhaps to just not have a reading goal at all. I'm also leaning towards setting a writing goal for next year, but I'm not sure about that either.

#53: "Pathfinder: The Bastards of Erebus", by Sean K. Reynolds

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Experimental Cookery Tuesday #58: Pan Fried Glazed Pork Chops

It's been a couple of weeks since I've done one of these - it's not that I've abandoned the experiment, but rather that I just haven't had a chance to do the roast lamb that is, by rights, the next thing on the list. Plus, I didn't really fancy skipping on to the next chapter, "Delish Veg".

At length, I decided to skip ahead to the "Quick Cooking Meat and Fish" chapter. The first item in this rather long chapter being the aforementioned pork chops.

Well, they certainly were quick-cooking. And the results were fairly agreeable - I have no complaints. The only thing is that I'm really not a big fan of pork, and while this was nice pork it wasn't really enough to change my mind.

Still, this one does enough to score 1-0 in favour in the chapter.

Incidentally, there are a total of seven unfinished chapters left in the book. The roasts chapter and the breakfasts chapter each have one outstanding entry, and then there are "Simple Soups", "Delish Veg", "Quick Cooking Meat and Fish", "Classic Fish", and a chapter on sweets. I have decided to omit the "Delish Veg" and sweets chapters from the experiment - I'll try these when opportunity arises, but won't work through them entry by entry. I do intend to complete the rest, though. (Unfortunately, the "Quick Cooking Meat and Fish" chapter ends with several fish dishes in a row, and is then immediately followed by "Classic Fish". This means that the book ends with exactly what I had wanted to avoid - a couple of months of nothing but fish. I foresee a certain amount of badness coming up.)

Monday, November 02, 2009

Hidden Costs

I've ranted about this before, but how on Earth can low-cost airlines possibly justify their pricing structure?

I am in the process of booking up my holiday next year. This involves flying from either Glasgow or Edinburgh (or, I suppose, Prestwick) to La Rochelle, probably via Southampton. So, off I go to FlyBe (or EasyJet, or RyanAir, or wherever - they're all much the same), and put in the details, and lo and behold, they offer a flight from Edinburgh to Southampton for £1.56.

That's not a typo.

Fantastic, I think, I'll get and book that. And so I do.

Only, as soon as I select the flight, the total cost in my Basket increases from £0, not to £1.56 as you might expect, or even to something reasonably close to this. With "fees and taxes", it jumps to £51.56.

That's also not a typo.

And, in fact, since I'm booking four flights for two people, and each person has to check a bag for each leg of the journey, the total cost comes not to the £80 I had estimated (one leg advertises at £26. The others were all about £2.), but rather to just under £600.

I wouldn't mind so much if these were, realistically speaking, avoidable fees. But they're not - you have to pay tax, and although you can strictly-speaking avoid the "booking online" fee, you can only do this by incurring a higher "booking by phone" fee.

Basically, it's a lie, and not even a small lie - £520ish isn't exactly pocket change. (And, of course, I didn't even get to the "credit card" fee that you also can't realistically avoid, or the "use the toilet" fee, or the "check-in online" fee, or the higher "check-in in person" fee, or the "silly hat" fee, or any of the others. It all drives me crazy - tell me up front how much it will really cost, so I can make an informed choice!)