Saturday, January 26, 2013

Experimental Cookery 2013: Onion Soup with(out) Lincolnshire Poacher

The first recipe I've done from my latest book, "My Kitchen" by James Martin, this was a nice, easy winter soup. It was quick and easy to prepare, with the only tedious bit being slicing up the onions. In future, I won't bother being quite so careful about it (since they get pureed at the end anyway), so that should help.

The resulting soup was fine, but... it seemed a little bland. I think perhaps the "optional" cheese may well actually be a very key part of the whole. When I take it to work on Monday, I'll be sure to take along some for sprinkling, and then will update with my findings.

Still, not a bad way to get set up for the afternoon.

Experimental Cookery 2013: "Dad's" Penne All'Arrabbiata with Crispy Pancetta & (no) Basil

This recipe came from Lorraine Pascale's "Fast, Fresh and Easy Food". The "Dad" referred to in the title is, I presume, her dad. Not mine - he doesn't do pasta. Also of note, Lady Chocolat threw out our basil a scarce few hours before I needed it for this recipe, and I couldn't be bothered going to Tesco for some more. So I made it without.

The stated purpose of Lorraine's book is that the meals within are supposed to be quick and easy to put together - it's almost a riposte to Jamie's "X minute meals" books. Well, as far as this meal is concerned, she succeeded - the recipe indicates that it should take 25 minutes start to finish, which is about right. There are also no particularly difficult techniques involved; it's just a case of adding things to the pan in the right order and at the right times.

The resulting meal was very nice, full of heat and flavour. It's a fair bet that we'll be having this again. Success!

#2: "Master of Devils", by Dave Gross
#3: "Pathfinder: Into the Nightmare Rift", by Richard Pett

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Two Things: a Micro-rant

  1. If you buy a beef product, you can reasonably expect that it does, indeed, contain beef. And, more importantly, not pig, horse, rabbit, or other meat (unless it specifically says so). It is, therefore, entirely reasonable to be angry about this. And that applies even if it's right at the bottom of the budget range.
  2. That said, horse is good eating. Our aversion to it is entirely cultural. I ate it in France, and very nice it was too. In fact, had I not been told, I would never have distinguished it from beef. So there's no need to worry about these particular products.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Experimental Cooking 2013: Really Simple Sri Lankan Chicken Curry with Coconut Milk & Cashew Nut Rice

The second meal cooked from Lorraine Pascale's "Fast, Fresh and Easy Food", this proved to be an interesting experience. The meal looked interesting, and we had almost all of the ingredients in the house, so I figured "why not?" But...

I have two big observations about this meal. Firslty, it took considerably longer to cook than the 20 minutes listed in the book. To a very large extent, this was because I was uncertain that the chicken was cooked through, so gave it a good while longer, but it was also partly because the recipe assumed I was doing prep for later stages while earlier ones were cooking, where in fact those earlier stages were cooking too fast for that - if left alone, they would rapidly be burning.

The second observation was that the resulting meal really looked very little like the picture in the book, although it tasted fine.

I'm pretty sure I know how to sort both of these issues out, and the key is in preparation. As I noted, the book assumes you will be preparing later stages while the earlier ones are cooking, but the heat involved makes this an impossibility. The solution, is simple:

Before you start cooking anything...

  1. Put all the spices into a single bowl - the curry powder, garam masala, cinnamon, ginger, and chilli powder. These are all going in together, so get them measured out and gathered together so you're ready to go.
  2. Cut the chicken into small pieces, and season with salt and pepper. Again, put these on a plate ready to go.
  3. Make sure you open the tin of coconut milk ahead of time.
  4. Trim and chop the spring onions, and finely chop the garlic.

Having done that, you'll now be in a position to work very quickly as you go - when the instruction is to add a whole bunch of ingredients, you can get the last one into the pan before the first one is burnt!

On balance, this meal was actually suitably easy to prepare, and tasted quite nice. And given that the issues I had with it are easily fixed, we'll almost certainly be adding this to our repertoire of curries going forward.

#1: "A Blink of the Screen", by Terry Pratchett (which has already laid down a very strong marker for book of the year!)

Thursday, January 03, 2013

Oh Coaster, Why Do You Mock Me?

As we know, the main purpose of a coaster on the desk is to display a nice picture (well, until someone's wife should accidentally spill nail polish remover on it...). And, of course, in the late 90's, they had a secondary purpose, which was to provide a use for all those millions of 'free' AOL discs that were being sent out everywhere.

But the other use of a coaster, one that is seldom worthy of mention, is to prevent coffee rings from appearing on furniture. See, the coffee ring forms on the coaster instead, thus sparing the shame of having beringed furniture. It's an important, if seldom-acknowledged, job.

Except that what happened this morning was that the coffee ring formed on the coaster, the coaster then attached itself to the mug (damn you, surface tension!), and then when the mug was lifted the coaster leapt to freedom, presumably to start a new life as a paratrooper, fell to the desk, landed face-down, and transferred a wonderfully neat coffee ring to the very surface it was supposed to be protecting!

In other news - I'm now back at work for the year. It has been good so far.

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

My Year in 2012

2013 has sucked so far. Due to a bout of illness, we were unable to go out last night, something that LC took particularly hard - she had gone to some lengths to look nice, only for me to be unable to go.

2012, like 2011 before it, was a very mixed year. It had probably the single best day of my life, but it has also featured some really difficult times. My overall impression was that it was a good year, but that the next year really needs to be better in some key respects.

My Year in... Work

2012 was a bad year in work. I got a bad performance review, and deservedly so, in the first part of the year. This was due largely to extreme tiredness, coupled with the stress of preparing for the wedding.

The first several months after returning from honeymoon were considerably better, but again I went too long before taking a break. Then, when I did take that break, it was not at all restful. The last few weeks before Christmas were something of an ordeal. And, unfortunately, this break has again not been very restful.

My determination for the new year is to focus more on what needs to be done, but perhaps more importantly to insist on taking regular breaks, and getting enough rest. But, more important than that...

My Year in... Health

2012 was a pretty bad year here, too. I've been suffering some severe digestive problems for quite some time. In fact, in February we actually made a trip to the hospital for an out-of-hours appointment because I feared my heart might be in trouble. That turned out to be a false alarm, but shows the seriousness of the complaint.

It actually cleared up in the middle of the year, mostly, but has been back with a vengeance this winter. I visited the doctor two weeks ago, and he thought it was a consequence of the drugs I've been taking for my neck, but the proposed fix seems not to have had the desired effect.

As things stand, I don't know what is at the root of the problem. However, it's obviously the #1 priority for the next little while to get to the bottom of it, and to get it sorted. That's pretty much key to the entire year, because nothing else can really be done without.

My Year in... Gaming

2012 was a very good year for gaming, albeit not the blockbuster that was 2011. The RPG Meetup moved to a new site once again, and continues to go well. We seem to be at about the same numbers as last year, with the same range of games on the go.

This year saw me return to "The Eberron Code", which remains one of my "big four" of especially satisfying campaigns. It should come to a close around May this year.

I also ran two one-off games. The first was a "Str Wars Saga Edition" game entitled "Through a Glass Darkly", which stands as one of my best-ever games. The second was a "Black Crusade" one-shot that... didn't go so well. I've talked about that at some lengthon my other blog, so won't dwell on it here.

I played very little in 2012, managine (I think) a solitary session of "Dark Sun". It was a good game, but I do hope to play more in 2013.

One final note of sadness: 2012 saw the final end of my Saturday Game group. We never quite managed to get together before the wedding, and at that point I let them know that I was leaving - I just couldn't commit every Saturday to a game that never quite happened. A shame, but it really was time.

In 2012, in addition to finishing off "The Eberron Code", I hope to start a new campaign, "Imperial Fist" in SWSE, and to run a handful of one-shots. I also hope to play a little more than in 2012. Perhaps more importantly, I hope to cut down on cancellations - 2012 saw both a "Mutants & Masterminds" game and the Christmas Game being cancelled, which I hope not to repeat.

My Year in... Band

2012 was a bad year for the band. We had a series of bad results, and then the pipe major left in acrimonious circumstances. This led to the one highlight of my year in the band: I got to lead them out for a single, solitary competition in Ireland.

However, this was quickly followed by another blow. I had hoped to defer the appointment of a new permanent PM until the AGM, and to lead the band out myself to the Worlds' and at Cowal. However, this was not to be - our lead drummer insisted on an election, and I lost narrowly.

That was a bitter, bitter blow, although it is probably worth noting that the guy in charge would have been my choice for permanent PM. Additionally, by that point I had decided to leave - I merely wanted to see out the rest of the season and to take an opportunity that I wouldn't have again.

So, at the AGM I left the band... mostly. As it happened, I remain in charge of the website, and remain as the Chairperson of the Committee. I'll almost certainly see that out for the year now, since it's actually not too bad.

However... I am finding that I miss playing quite a lot. As feared, I have barely picked up my pipes since leaving the band, and don't really want to lose it. Given that this band remains the "best fit" band for me in the area, I may consider rejoining for the 2014 season. We'll see how I feel in a few months.

My Year in... Resultions

I didn't really set any goals at the start of 2012. However, I did meet the target I later set of reading 52 books, so that's something. I've set some more appropriate goals for 2012.

My Year in... Travel

2012 saw me taking three trips. The second of these was the band's annual trip to Ireland, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

The other major trip was the honeymoon, to Mexico in April. It was awesome, entirely great from start to finish. It was hot, but not too hot, we went swimming with dolphins, and exploring in Chichen Itza, and snorkelling in the most amazing biosphere, and clubbing in... okay, that wasn't so good. Plus, I was able to take LC for a romantic meal overlooking the sea, complete with a totally unexpected birthday cake. Basically, it was the best holiday ever.

The final trip, and one that is important to note, was down to England to enjoy the wedding of James and Zo, cousins of mine (well, a cousin and a cousin-in-law, if you want to be picky). This was, of course, another great family occasion, and a good opportunity to actually speak to people - something we ironically didn't get much chance to do at our own wedding!

My Year in... Faith

2012 was a somewhat boring year in terms of faith. We remained somewhat involved at the church, and even attended one of the "small groups"... but that's not really faith; that's just doing stuff.

LC and I also spent some weeks trying to find a local church in Falkirk to attend. However, this proved rather disheartening, as we didn't really feel at home in any of the churches we visited. I'm not sure whether we'll bother resuming the search in 2013 - it may or may not be worthwhile.

So, 2012 was a little boring. It remains to be seen what 2013 will bring.

My Year in... Love

Awesome. That is all.

Just kidding.

The wedding in April in many ways was the culmination of a long, long journey, and the start of another. It was the best day of the year, and simply could not have gone any better. There's a much longer post about this, so I won't say any more here.

Things since the wedding have had their inevitable ups and downs. There have been occasions when I have been less than tactful, and there have been times when we just hven't stopped laughing (usually at each other).

The first couple of months were almost certainly more difficult for LC than for me - I was extremely busy and she was not yet working or started her course. This meant that things had to proceed on my schedule, and it meant that she had lots of time to fill with not much to do.

Conversely, I've found the last few months to be something of a challenge. Teacher Training, it seems, is absurdly tough. Seriously - a few years ago I did an MSc in addition to working full-time, in addition to being heavily involved in a BB company and two bands, and in addition to running a weekly RPG campaign... and while I was doing all that, I was less busy than LC has been these last months. That shouldn't be read as a complaint against LC (though I fear she wmay do exactly that), merely a statement of fact.

For 2013, there are some things that we'll need to do a bit differently. In particular, it will be important to make more time for each other, and to stop living on my schedule or on her schedule, but rather blocking our time out together. I think we also need to make some time to get away for a while, alone, together - both Falkirk and the flat are very nice, and we enjoy spending time with both our families, and such... but it can get to be rather oppressive after some months of it. And the prospect of another 12 months like the one we've just had...

My Year... Overall

As I said, 2012 was a mixed year. The high points were very, very high. The low points, though not quite so correspondingly low, did seem to drag on for most of the year. On balance, it has been a good year... but we need the bulk of 2013 to be better than the bleaker parts of 2012.

And so, that's where we are, I think.