Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Experimental Cookery 2015 #26: Spaghetti Tetrazzini

Taking this series to the halfway point for the year, we have one more entry from "Jamie's Italy". I said before that I thought I'd mined that one out, but there was one recipe that I had been interested to try but that LC rejected - even after I suggested cunningly switching the mushrooms for bacon. So, since I had mushrooms in stock, and since LC is currently away, I thought this was the time to give it a try.

This proved to be another quick and easy meal to make, not surprising for a pasta-based dish. By the time the spaghetti was cooked the chicken and mushrooms had cooked in their sauce. At which point it was a case of tossing everything together, seasoning with salt, pepper, and cheese, and then baking in the over for a good long while.

The result was very tasty, probably better than last week's farfalle, which was a surprise. The only slight criticism I might offer is that the quantities are way off - the recipe claimed to be for four, I made a third of it, and ended up with two large helpings. Which conventiently gives me lunch for tomorrow.

This is another one that I would happily have again, but that LC wouldn't even touch. A shame, but never mind - I'm sure I'll find occasion at some point.

And that really is "Jamie's Italy" done, I think.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Helensburgh Highland Games 2015

Yesterday the band took part in the competition at the Helensburgh Highland Games. This was, again, one of the smaller events, but quite a nice one for all that. This was also one of the few competitions with no Grade 4A contest, meaning we played at Grade 4(B) and again at Grade 3. This gave us a rare opportunity to play our "four marches".

It was quite a nice day, with only a few light showers to mar the weather. And, unusually, it was a somewhat civilised start time - the bus picked us up at 9:45. Nice to actually get some sleep! (This was also the second of two "double headers" the band has this year - weekends when we've been playing on both the Saturday and the Sunday. I really don't like those.)

So, we went, we made ready, and we played. And when we came off I was convinced that the Pipe Major was about to say something - he had the same vibe as at Bathgate. And yet, there was no such reaction. Odd. (It did turn out that there was an explanation for that - nothing to do with our performance.)

Then there was a wait of two hours, and we played again. And another good performance, building on last week's successes. So, that's good.

In the end, we came third out of three in grade 4 (3rd for piping and 2nd for drumming), and third out of four in grade 3 (3rd and 4th). So, another two prizes, although one was courtesy of the two sweetest words in the English language.

Next week we don't have a competition. It was going to be Forres (site of the dread bus breakdown), but we elected not to go as we didn't think we'd have a drum corps. Then it was a fundraising event at the Kelpies in Falkirk, but in the meantime LC and I had made other plans.

And the weekend after is The Riding of the Marches in Annan, a competition that has generally been good to us.

This week's mug: The penultimate mug anecdote truly is a mug bearing an anecdote. Specifically, the mug bears the image of the Rooster of Barcelos, and the text of the story of how a dead rooster provided a miraculous sign of the innocence of a man condemned to hang for a crime he didn't commit. I got this one, not surprisingly, when I visited Lisbon some years ago, and I don't think I've ever actually used it!

Next week will be the final mug anecdote, and I have consequently saved my very favourite mug to feature in the last entry in the series. I'm sure you're all looking forward to it as much as I am... or at least looking forward to the end of it as much as I am!

Strathmore Highland Games 2015

This one's somewhat delayed, but included for completeness.

Last Sunday the band attended the Strathmore Highland Games. I'm not sure why I missed this one last year, but I do know I'd intended to go but in the event didn't. It's a fairly small event that takes place in the grounds of Glamis Castle.

The day didn't seem promising when it started - as I left the flat I discovered it was raining quite heavily, and so I returned to get an umbrella. However, as we headed further from Falkirk the weather improved, until it turned into quite a nice day.

We were playing twice, once in grade 4A and again in grade 3. Unfortunately, during the preparations for playing the first time, something went wrong with my drones, which just would not strike up. So I had to drop out at the last minute. The band went on, and played pretty well.

We then got the drones sorted between the two performances, by the expedient of replacing the reeds with an old set I had. This meant I was able to play in the second contest. We played well. Alas, this was the grade 3 competition, where we really didn't have any chance. Still, nice to get a good performance under our belts.

Then there was the usual waiting and the march-past. In the end we came third out of six in grade 4A (3rd for piping; 4th for drumming), and sixth out of six in grade 3 (6th and 6th). So, out first prize of the season, and quite a successful day all told.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Experimental Cookery 2015 #25: Mushroom Farfalle

Once again, I'm on my own. LC has gone out for the evening. Which has the advantage that while she's away I can cook whatever I want! Which, once again, means mushrooms. This one comes from "Jamie's Fifteen Minute Meals", which is a book we actually don't have, but having seen him do it on TV a couple of times I felt I could give it a go. (I'm going to have to pick that book up, actually - the series has been very impressive.)

The pasta for this dish is farfalle, which is the bow-tie style pasta, therefore being the coolest of all pastas. Huzzah! The other component of the meal is a mushroom sauce, which came together very quickly and easily. The whole meal did indeed take me about fifteen minutes to make. (In fairness, I didn't do the salad that goes with it in the show, but I doubt that would have added much - I can multitask!)

This was definitely a success, and one I suspect would be ideal for the vegetarian in your life. I would certainly have it again. Indeed, as soon as I finished I thought I'd quite like to have it again! LC, of course, wouldn't even touch this.

I have a couple of nights alone as well next week, as LC is away again. So they may be another Experimental Cookery featuring mushrooms coming up...

Monday, June 15, 2015

A Really Good Idea... or a Really Bad One

In order to win back Scotland, Labour will need to have a compelling message to deliver, and also someone capable of delivering it. That's one of the reasons Jim Murphy had to go - the evidence was that the electorate had stopped listening, and it doesn't matter what you say if nobody listens.

Unfortunately, though, Scottish Labour find themselves in a difficult position when it comes to selecting their new leader. The pool of candidates is small and, frankly, unimpressive. Worse, the job is something of a poisoned chalice, as they're likely heading for another battering in 2016 and depending on the scale of the defeat they may well expect the leader to resign. (They're busily saying otherwise, but what politicians say before an election and what they say after aren't always the same.)

However, before leaving Jim Murphy has presented Labour with a recovery plan, including the advice (which has been accepted) to reopen selection for the regional lists.

The reason this is important is as follows: in the worst-case scenario, Labour could find themselves losing every single Constituency MSP, and reduced to a core of about 16-18 regional List MSPs. (It's worth noting, of course, that this is a worst-case scenario; it's not a prediction!) In addition to being an absolutely devastating result for 2016, what it would also mean is that they have only a few voices in parliament speaking for Labour - and only a few voices therefore who are able to deliver the messages they need for 2020.

It is vitally important that Labour get the very best people possible into the top positions on the regional lists. Because those are the only people they can be sure of getting into the parliament, and thus the ones who will have to lead any possible recovery. Mess that up, and they'll find themselves in a worse state than the Tories (but not the Lib Dems - things aren't quite that bad).

As I've said, the current batch of Labour MSPs are, mostly, a fairly uninspiring bunch. It's probably fair to say that they're not the people to handle the fight back from that worst-case scenario. And so, reopening the regional lists is a very good idea.

In theory.

But an awful lot now depends on who gets onto those lists. And this is where a large part of me expects to start seeing a lot of the "big beasts" make a reappearance - those former Labour MPs who have just lost their seats and who might now think they want to transfer to Holyrood and want a list position to ensure that it happens.

The reason that would be a problem is quite simple: the people of Scotland have just rejected that group of candidates, and done so emphatically. And if the electorate aren't listening to Jim Murphy, why would we listen to Douglas Alexander, or Anas Sarwar, or anyone else we've just voted out?

So if I were in charge over at Scottish Labour, right now I'd be laying down a strict policy that any former MP who has just lost his seat cannot be placed on the regional lists. Further, any former leader of the Scottish party, and indeed the two failed candidates who stood against Jim Murphy in September, cannot be placed on the regional lists. And, yes, that includes Iain Grey, despite his current role as interim leader. Fair or not, the truth is that none of those people represents the future of the party, and with so much at stake, the party cannot afford to mess this up.

(For what it's worth, I would also be ditching the idiotic Bain principle. The moment you stop defining yourself by what you're for, but rather by who you're against, you've lost - your opponent can then force you into all sorts of contortions, including pushing you to vote against your own policies.)

You might well ask why I care. After all, I haven't voted Labour since 1997, and won't be voting for the next year either, regardless of who they put in place. So, why do I care what they do?

The answer to that is two-fold. Firstly, there are an awful lot of people who do vote Labour, and those people are absolutely entitled to proper representation. Secondly, though, in a democracy it's not healthy for one party to have overwhelming dominance - it's far better if the opposition parties have strong voices of their own, and can present a potential alternative government. And the reality is that in Scotland Labour are that alternative government, and indeed are the only possible alternative government. So I would much rather see them recovering, and thus providing a strong opposition, than continuing on their current path.

(You'll also notice that I haven't said anything about the policies I think they should adopt. That's not my business.)

This Week's Mug: I briefly, and incorrectly, described last week's mug anecdote as the antepenultimate entry in the series, but I then realised that it is this week's mug that bears that honour. This week's mug is a speckled grey mug with a frog on it, as is appropriate for this blog. I forget when and how I received this mug, but it was almost certainly a Christmas present from my parents. This is usually my mug for measuring rice and pasta, but for this week has been brought into service for coffee. Of course, I washed it thoroughly first!

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Jurassic World

A short review for this one, I think. And no spoilers.

LC and I went to see "Jurassic World" last night. She had been anticipating it for some time. Our cinema trip was somewhat marred by a spilled Coke, but that's not really the film's fault.

For about three quarters of the film, this is pretty great. It's not as good as the first one, of course, but it's the best of the sequels by quite some distance.

And then... something happens. I don't want to say what, but you'll probably know it when (if) you see it. And for the last quarter of the film, it just sucks. And then it sucks some more... and some more... and yet more.

And then it ends, and that's okay.

Such a shame - it could have been a great film, too.

Anyway, next week is "Mr Holmes", which looks rather good.

#28: "D&D: Dungeon Master's Guide", by Wizards of the Coast

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Experimental Cookery 2015 #23: Transylvanian Meatballs with Garlic Sauce, and #24: Fattoush

A double-header this week, as I did two recipes from the third Hairy Dieters book, "Good Eating" (the green one). This is the least successful of the three books, IMO, but it does have a few things worth trying.

The process for both these meals was fairly straightforward, but also quite time-consuming and messy. All in all, the meal took about an hour to make, start to finish. I could probably cut this down a bit if doing it in future - as it is, we have a pack of 10 meatballs in the freezer now for next time.

The results were... okay. LC liked the meal; I was less keen. The Fattoush was rather nice, and quite spicy, but I was a little disappointed in the meatballs, which tasted of mince more than anything else - I'd expected rather more of a garlic hit. Still, there wasn't anything wrong with the meal. I just wouldn't necessarily have it again - and both Jamie's meatballs and the lamb meatballs from the Hairy Biker's curry book are better.

This Week's Mug: The mug anecdote for this week is brought to you by Yorkie. I received this mug as the companion piece to an Easter Egg (I think) some years ago - usually, the egg is accompanied by one or two bars of chocolate, but this time it was a mug (and a smaller egg!) for reasons unknown. As with some of the other recent mugs, I've never actually used this one before.

#27: "Forge of Ashes", by Josh Vogt

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Experimental Cookery 2015 #22: Chicken Fajita Burgers

This week's effort is truly experimental - I've taken some inspiration from Lorraine's fajitas and some from those Hairy Dieter chicken meals, and some also from the burger that LC had at The Filling Station recently, but this was mostly just me.

So, I made up my fajita spice mix in a jar. I actually made up a full batch, even though this meal uses a tiny amount - we'll use the rest next time we have fajitas. I use a mix of oregano, cumin, smoked paprika, salt, pepper, a little hot chilli powder, garam masala, and a little cayenne pepper. The chicken was bashed flat and then seasoned with half a teaspoon of spice mix per breast per side.

The chicken was then cooked on a screaming hot griddle - 2 mins on one side, 2 mins on the other, 90 seconds on the first, 90 seconds on the second... and then a further 90 seconds on each side as it wasn't fully cooked. Then set aside to rest.

I then griddled a red pepper, a green pepper, and an onion in the same griddle (with some lime juice) for about a minute, and then toasted the buger buns in the same griddle.

Then assemble: cover a third of the lower bun with soured cream, a third with mild salsa, and a third with guacamole. Add a slice of green pepper and two of red, and then a little of the onion. Add the chicken, then the second slice of green pepper, and then the top bun.

And serve with half a dozen rather disappointing micro-chips. Those could be better.

The result was extremely tasty... and even more messy. Stuff fell out all over the place! It was great though.


This Week's Mug: I'm using a mug marked with six flags: Bretagne, the Isle of Man, Cornwall, Wales, the Republic of Ireland, and Scotland. I bought this mug while on a band trip to the Festival de Saint Loup a few years ago - the flags show some of the countries or regions involved in the festival. That was a good trip. Incidentally, I've done an inventory, and it looks like I only have four more mug anecdotes to share.

Charles Kennedy

I was rather shocked and quite saddened this morning to turn on my TV only to be confronted by the news that Charles Kennedy had died. I always liked him - he was manifestly a decent and principled guy, and both intelligent and a good communicator.

Indeed, he was probably the single mainstream politician who most closely matched my own political position. He was right about Iraq. He was right that Federalism is probably the only way forward for the UK. And he was clearly concerned with working for a better, fairer country. And indeed it was after the Lib Dems forced him out that they lost my vote (though in fairness, he probably did have to go - tricky beast, politics). And he was also one of very few Lib Dems I was sorry to see lose last month (though, again...).

So thank you, Charles Kennedy. You never knew me, but you certainly made an impact. Rest in Peace.