Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Experimental Cookery 2014: Scrumptious Spicy Chicken Fajitas with Guacamole, Salsa & Sour Cream

The first Experimental Cookery of 2014 came from Lorraine's "Fast, Fresh and Easy Food", which is definitely one of my favourite books. The method did lie, unfortunately - it took rather more than 30 minutes to prepare these!

This was actually rather good fun. The salsa, and the guacamole were both hand-made, while the sour cream was improved by the addition of chives. At no point in the process was it particularly difficult; it just took a while.

The end result was... curious. It wasn't even close to as spicy as I had expected, nor as I think I would have preferred. But they were a distinct improvement on the Old El Paso ones, and were also a bit better than Jamie's ones from the "Ministry of Food". I think I may have found the version that persuades me to switch away from the pre-bought packs, although I'm going to do some tweaking of the spice mix next time.

Beyond that, there's not much to say. Unlike the Old El Paso version, we weren't left with way too much food, which was nice, although LC was able to get tomorrow's lunch from it (which is also nice). So, all in all, a winner!

Ongoing Sleep Woes

As a consequence of yesterday's fiasco, we set no fewer than 3 alarms last night - the unreliable alarm clock, plus the alarms on both our mobile phones. Two of these went off as expected - I cancelled the third before it also did its job.

Unfortunately, though, the consequence of not really trusting the alarm clock was that actually getting to sleep was rather difficult. So, any benefit that we might have derived from those two hours of extra sleep yesterday were lost overnight. Which is not quite ideal.

Meanwhile, as a result of this we've concluded that the time has come to ditch the current (unreliable) alarm clock and replace it with a 'real' alarm clock. Which is probably a long-overdue step. My inclination at this point is to go for a "sunrise lamp" device, which should help with those dark winter mornings, though this is by no means fixed.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

What is the Point in a Clock that Doesn't Strike?

This morning, my alarm clock didn't go off. It was set; it just didn't sound. The consequence of this was that instead of waking up at 6:40, we instead woke at 8:40, to the rude shock of realising that we were horribly late.

Now, for me that's not too bad - I got to the office at 10, I get the joy of working until 6:30, and that's it done. (It's a little unfortunate that I also left a bit early yesterday so have some more time to make up, but that's an aside.)

But for LC it's obviously a much more serious matter. It seems it could have been worse, but still...

This is the second time that clock has let us down. The first, it decided the 5-minute 'snooze' should be half an hour long, which cause a panic but no lateness. This time, obviously, was much worse.

But, really, unreliability is unforgivable in an alarm clock. It has precisely one job: to wake us up on time. (The other potential role, of telling the time, is one with plenty of coverage.) If it was consistently late, we could deal with that, by setting the alarm sooner. But if it randomly decides to sound late, or indeed not at all, that's not something we can adjust for.

And it's not even as if we can give it another chance. The consequences are just too grim. Time to introduce that clock to the bin, I fear.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

My Second Attempt at Pizzas

A couple of years ago, I did a post about making pizza. At the time, I noted that the results were okay, but not without their problems. Since then, we've resorted to Tesco's pizzas - although they weren't as nice, the homemade ones weren't "better enough" to justify the effort. And yet, it seems every cookbook I get has some variation on pizzas, and they were all pretty easy-looking.

Today was the day for my second attempt as pizzas. This time, I took the method for the base from Paul Hollywood's "Bread", the method for the tomato sauce from "The Great British Bake Off Winter Kitchen", and the toppings from, well, Tesco I guess (for the record: mozzarella, onion, green pepper and, of course, pepperoni).

Making up the dough was easy, as before, and the results were good, as before. I tried tossing the pizza in a most professional manner, which actually worked quite well (though I've since seen a flaw in my technique). Then, in a variation from last time, I part-baked two of the bases for freezing. These were then cooled, topped, placed in the freezer for an hour, and then wrapped for 'proper' freezing. So, those should be good for a later date.

The third pizza was tonight's dinner, with the addition of some homemade chips. (Mmm, chips!)

And it was lovely. It seems that about 8 slices of pepperoni per pizza is right while one small onion, one green pepper, and two balls of cheese are the right amount for three largish pizzas. So, huzzah!

The only downside of this is that this pizza was definitely "better enough" to compel us to abandon Tesco's efforts (which, frankly, have slipped away quite badly of late anyway). So I'm going to have to put in yet more effort in keeping the freezer stocked. On the other hand, they're nicer, they're cheaper, and I've even managed to get some of the mess under control, so really, what's not to like?

Monday, January 20, 2014


As I noted a few weeks ago, I wasn't at all sorry to see 2013 go - it wasn't a bad year, but it wasn't a particularly good one either. And 2014 has thus far proven to be rather better, with things appearing to start up pretty well, and with lots of good stuff to come later in the year.

There's just one problem: I'm knackered!

Really, the issue stems from this weekend, when I didn't really do a huge amount, but unfortunately I also didn't get enough sleep, and when I did sleep it wasn't of very high quality. Especially with the spider-related interruption, but I digress.

Somewhat ominously, the previous two weeks have actually been 'light' weeks in terms of business, with things only now returning to their full, manic glory after Christmas - the game resumes tomorrow, and I'm out on Wednesday also. Coupled with band, then, that means I have something on every night this week until Friday. Eek.

Still, it should be good. I'm particularly looking forward to the game tomorrow, when I get to start taking advantage of the work I've been doing over the last month to make the game both easier to prep, and also in taking it in a new direction. (One of my players has also dropped out, thus confirming that my change of direction was indeed the right call.)

Now all I need to do is survive...

#3: "Stalking the Beast", by Howard Andrew Jones

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Firing the Canon

So, in a fairly depressing, but in no way surprising, move, Disney have decided to prune the Star Wars canon down to a manageable size. They decided to clear out the existing 'levels' of canon and revert to a simple "this is canon/that isn't" model.

That's not terribly surprising. Lawrence Kazdan, being a scriptwriter and not necessarily an obsessive Star Wars junkie, isn't au fait with the entirety of the Expanded Universe, so in writing Episode VII, he was sure to trample on a few things. And it's right enought that he should probably be freed up to write the best script he can, without worrying inordinately about minutae of established canon.

But it's also not without its problems.

It appears that this pruning isn't going to take a simple "the movies are in/everything else is out", or even "the movies plus Clone Wars are in/everything else...", but rather they're going to go through the existing EU material and choose based on what's 'good' and what's 'bad'. So it seems likely that Mara Jade, a fan-favourite character from the EU who became Luke Skwalker's wife, will make the cut, while things like the "Dark Empire" graphic novels will be out.

Two problems with this: firstly, those of us who have paid any interest to the EU can't selectively edit our memories. So, not only do we have a bunch of stuff rattling around in our heads that we're not entirely sure we remember, but now we're expected to remember what is and is not included. That's not a 'simplification', it makes things more complex.

Secondly, the EU actually has a pretty strong continuity to it. This means that later material builds on the earlier stuff - "Fate of the Jedi" depends on "Legacy of the Force", which depends on "New Jedi Order", which depends on... If you start knocking bricks out of the Jenga tower that this represents, pretty quickly the whole thing is going to fall apart.

Honestly, a selective pruning is probably the worst thing they can do. Far better to go for a simple in/out approach, based pretty much only on the movies (and maybe Clone Wars). Perhaps take a leaf out of Marvel's book (actually, more DC's book, but that's a nitpick), and label them alternate timelines or alternate universes.

As for whether they should clear out the EU at all...

One of the responses in favour of this move has been that much of the EU material is so very, very bad. And it is. But is "Darksaber" really worse than Greedo firing first? Or "oota groota Solo?", or the "Jedi Rocks" music number in Jabba's palace? "That's so wizard Anni"? Or all the other bits of the films that are likewise so very, very bad? (And before answering, remember also that the EU contains quite a lot of material that is likewise very, very good - see Timothy Zahn's books, the "X-Wing" series, etc. Remove the EU and you lose that, too.)

Here's another issue: the people who would complain most about an inconsistency between Ep7 and the EU are those fans who have obsessively pored over all things Star Wars. They're the people who buy every book, every comic, who make their own Star Wars costumes, who queue for days at the cinema to see the new film on opening night. In short, they are the absolute most dedicated part of the fanbase. Pissing on your most dedicated fans is seldom a good idea (just as WotC about 4e Forgotten Realms!).

The most immediate impact of that is that your fans, having been burned in this way, now have no motivation to buy into your future tie-in materials. Why would they buy the new Star Wars books, comics, etc that you produce knowing both that (a) the quality is ropey as hell, and (b) these are only "the continuing adventures" up until the next time you feel like a cull? Merchandise has always been a huge deal for Star Wars... and now its value is diminished.

(Naturally, I do also have one other reason for not wanting the cull, this one being a little more personal. Most of the foundations of the EU lie in the excellent work done by West End Games for the original Star Wars RPG - to the extent that when Zahn was contracted to write the new Star Wars trilogy way back he was sent those roleplaying books as his research guide. And, amongst other things, that's where the name 'Coruscant' comes from. Being a gamer, I'd rather not see that just getting scrubbed.)

Ultimately, of course, it doesn't matter. Disney are going to do this, and as the owners of the IP they have that right. I just think it's a mistake - in my opinion, the Star Wars galaxy is a bigger, better environment for the Expanded Universe (good and bad) than it is without.

And that's all I have to say on that.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Not My Doctor

As I noted a couple of weeks ago, one of my book series for this year are the "Doctor Who" 50th anniversary books - one novel for each of the eleven Doctors to date, plus an anthology of short stories, one for each Doctor.

January, of course, was the month of the First Doctor.

Sadly, I wasn't hugely impressed by either the short story or the novel. In both cases they were okay, but no more than okay. I felt the "Peter Pan" motif in the short story, while cute, was also rather overdone, and I wasn't too enamoured of the Doctor's robot hand issues. The novel, meanwhile, was a murder mystery that started okay, got bogged down, and then ended well.

But what I really felt was difficult was actually the character of the Doctor himself. I found it hard to relate to this character who had a name I knew well but who wasn't anything like what I've become used to.

I guess it's just a matter of it being a product of its time. I came in right at the end of the Tom Baker years (or, at least, I just barely half-remember some Tom Baker stuff that might have been reruns), but in many ways Peter Davison is 'my' Doctor, just as he was for David Tennant (see "Time Crash"). And I find I can relate to every Doctor since then, even the Sixth although he's... difficult. And the Third isn't so far removed from the Fourth, so that's fine.

But the First Doctor is something of an outlier, being really quite different from all the other Doctors. So, it seems that he's just not 'my' Doctor.

(It will be interesting to see what happens with the Second Doctor story and novel next month. Other than "The Five Doctors" and "The Two Doctors", I don't think I've ever seen the Second in action, largely because of the time factor, and also because so much has been lost. And it seems unlikely that he's 'my' Doctor any more than the First. So...)

#2: "Ten Little Aliens", by Stephen Cole

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

My Latest, Greatest Discovery

On one level, Irn Bru is awesome, and the greatest thing ever. On the other hand, Irn Bru is the bane of my existence, being absolutely full of delicious, delicious sugar, empty calories, and orange colouring. It's the single worst aspect of my diet in general, and the hardest thing for me to give up.

One of the things I have found whenever I've given it up is that I don't just miss the taste, which I can live without, but I also miss the texture - the fast that it's a fizzy drink. That shouldn't be a real surprise - flat Irn Bru tastes the same but is, frankly, an abomination. (Not as evil as Diet Irn Bru, of course, but still...)

At the weekend, though, I had an idea. And, armed with this marvellous epiphany, off I went to Tesco. On my return, LC exclaimed, "why did you buy...?" But it's so simple, so ingenious. Frankly, sometimes I amaze even myself.

(I'm about to reveal my idea. You're response will probably be, "well, of course! We've been doing that for years!" But it was new to me, so there.)

If you take Robinson's Fruit & Barley (orange flavour) and dilute it with soda water (£1.45 for 6 litres from Tesco), you get something that tastes pretty much like Fanta (actually, uncannily like Fanta). More important than the taste, though, it has the same fizz but with almost none of the sugars and with negligible calories.

It's a tiny change, but it makes a huge difference. And it wasn't something I had really considered for years, largely because soda water by itself is pretty awful stuff.

#1: "The Commodore", by Patrick O'Brian