Monday, December 27, 2010

Later That Night ...

New Jersey declared a State of Emergency, but we were already out and looking around, as most of the local crazies were off the roads. Here are a couple of pictures of The King's Highway in Haddonfield.

 This is stitched together from three images.

As you can imagine, it was rather cold. It was also very windy, with a lot of snow blowing around - hence the shakes in the camera!
You don't see the snow in most of these pictures, despite the long exposure times, but here (left) I had turned the camera off and on again and forgotten to turn off the flash! Snowflakes are amazingly good at reflecting light!

Below is a set of three pictures of a house display where the lights weren't flashing, but the colours were cycling nicely.

So we came home (everywhere was closed, excepting 7-11 and Wawa) to have a snack. 

Near where we live one guy has some decorations up - no! that isn't the afternoon sun! It's a halogen street-lamp!

Took one picture of the edge of my building as I came home. There's a large light at the corner of the building, which is causing the lens flare.

 So, the weather report says that there's about 18 inches of snow near Atlantic City (since around noon), which is a sustained rate of about two inches an hour. It's about half that where I live, maybe a little less. Even so, work will definitely be done with tele-commuting tomorrow!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Another Christmas Done!

Time once again to look back at another Christmas. The presents and wrapping littering the floor (thanks to all who gave!), the list of thank-you cards to send (should really be doing that right now!), the beautiful weather (until about 10 am this morning!).

It's a little later than last year, by two days, but we have snow again! Just a little so far, but it's settling in for an evening's snowfall. This is the view at about 4 pm from the front door - hopefully I'll be able to get out to take some more pictures later on.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Airline Food

So you're sitting in the airport lounge and contemplating your Tums and wondering if you've enough to last you through the next seven or eight hours of cramped flying with airline food attacking your stomach walls. Dismal thoughts of days of diarrhea and gastric pains occupy you until the voice on the speakers stops asking for various passengers to please turn up immediately, and suddenly welcomes you to your flight and invites VIPs and people with kids to board now.

Your stomach lurches in fear again, as if it was to be left alone to face Voldemort on a dark night. Your seating range is called, you walk down the ramp and are greeted by the young ladies in scarlet who direct you to your seat. You definitely aren't a size zero model,, and just manage to squeeze into the seat, but the belt won't cover your artificially-protruding gut. Oh the shame of it! You clamber to your feet in search of an attendant, and ask with red face and downcast eyes if they have such a thing as a belt extender. "But of course, sir. I use one myself at times. Here you are." and the object is discreetly handed over. Score one for the service on this airline!

Take-off and you get given a little plastic goodie-bag. Wow ! - socks, blindfold and ear plugs, toothbrush and paste. Still, you remember that next comes food and drink and the stomach lurches again - all I've had on Delta recently is salty pretzels and no liquids (peanuts are suddenly too dangerous), and Southwest hasn't been much better. I got the cheapest flight from NYC to London that I could ($624 return) so who knows what'll be offered. Hard tack and weevilly biscuit, maybe!

Ah! Here come the drinks: Water, juice, half a dozen sodas, including English lemonade (like Sprite), red & white wines, scotch, vodka, gin, ... is there some mistake here? Maybe they're getting us drunk and will stage a mid-air mugging later!

And now another pair with a food trolley. "Would you like beef stew or chicken curry, sir?" It took a couple of seconds to parse that, given the environment, but I managed to ask for the curry, and the AG got the beef stew. Serious surprise. There's a cup and a container of water, a small salad (lettuce, some veg, and fruit, all very fresh) with a tasty dressing. The main course is a very reasonably-sized (and very hot!!!) foil-sealed container. The curry (more a korma, really) turns out to be very tasty indeed, great flavours, and not spicily hot in the least (the AG doesn't do spicy-hot, and lots of other people are likewise disabled).

If you bought this as a frozen instant dinner in a supermarket you'd give it about an 80% overall approval mark; compared to normal airline food in 2010 it gets about 120%! It doesn't compare with my first time across the pond ("fish or steak, sir ... and how would you like you steak, sir", along with real metal steak knives), but that airline is no more, for obvious economic reasons, and steel knives are forbidden! For today, however, it's outstanding. The beef stew was, I am reliably informed, just as good. 

On the way back the overall treatment was the same, except that it was a choice of sweet-and-sour chicken (the AG claims it as very good) or "bangers and mash", which I chose. Ever the pessimist I was expecting a pair of ratty hot dogs, but receive three nice plump savoury sausages, a good helping of tasty mash, and a generous helping of onion gravy. Excellent flavour all through.

So, if you're flying the pond, my recommendation is to fly Virgin Atlantic. The prices are good and the service and food are way beyond what you'd expect these days.

Go here! French food the easy way!

Another Version of Omlette
The Spawn wanted omlette and I was really dragging, so I chopped some spring onions (3 or 4, without most of the tails), and a good handful of sliced ham. We broke six eggs into a measuring jug, added the onion and ham, some salt and pepper, and summer savory.

We also added a couple of good handfuls of grated cheese, fresh from the freezer, and then took the stick blender and blendt the mix so well that it was entirely aerated, had turned somewhat greenish from the onions, and had about tripled in volume!

This made us two "omlettes", which were rather strange because they were really difficult to cook, 'cos the mix wouldn't flow around the pan when you pulled some back off the surface, as you do with a beaten egg mix. However, with perseverance we managed to persuade them to cook, and they turned out to be absolutely excellent on toast!

Fast Shepherd's Pie
Empty a can of diced tomatoes, some frozen green beans, and a heap each of frozen peas and corn into a big casserole dish. Fry an onion (or use onion powder, like I did, 'cos the onions were all eaten!) and mix in a pound of sausage meat (I used some "hot South Carolina" sausage) and a pound of ground beef. Cook until it's all brown and well cooked. and then add the solids to the casserole, reserving the liquid. Use Bisto (Wegman's or a British store near you) or equivalent with water to make a fair amount of gravy (at least a cup or two) in the frying pan, and add that to the casserole. Add three bay leaves and mix everything well.

Boil a kettle and make four servings of instant mash (Idahoan brand) - just follow the instructions on the tin. Smooth the spuds over the meat mix and then cook at about 350F for about 45 minutes. Serve. You'll get a very quiet table, I promise you!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Yarn Store Reviews - DC

Well, this is a little late, but I mislaid the chip with the pictures on. In fact, as is usually the case, it was in exactly the right place ..... but I'd not remembered where I'd decided that "exactly the right place" was (this time).
A couple of weeks ago I was down in DC and the AG decided that that just wasn't good enough, and that she should also get a chance to go to the nation's swamp - sorry!- capital. I've been there enough times to realise that anyone running for office in Washington, DC, is not only totally untrustworthy (pre-requisite for being a politician), but also certifiably insane (the federal government got DC because nobody else wanted it!). Have you seen the rats there? - bigger than most cats.
So, after leaving the Spawn off after taking him to the PA Renaissance Faire (seriously recommended!), we set off for DC and our hotel room. Bless Red Roof Inns - we got there at about two in the morning and there was a guy in reception, wide awake and smiling to say "hi" and give out keys and directions. Way more awake than we were!
Next morning, after a looong stop at a World Market, where we bought one of about 10% of the whole store, it seemed, we drove off to find WoolWinders. After that, we went further on to an absolutely wicked good chicken lunch at Pollo Rico and then chased down The Yarnista who was visiting at at The Yarn Spot.
Now the photos. They're all from a phone camera, I'm afraid, but seem reasonable, all the same.

This shop is on a street in a modern area of Rockville that seems to be just a suburban residential area, but then you find shops interspersed into the housing, just like in Europe and, just beside a Quizno's, the Local Yarn Store, Woolwinders.

It's been run by a new owner for almost a year, is spacious, airy, and was full of sunlight on the sunny Sunday morning when we visited. My AG is mainly on the look-out for sock yarns, and commented that, although it didn't have a huge amount of the "standard" brands (Opal, Trekking, Regia), it did have a lot of "indie" labels. The AG bought some Spud & Chloe Fine Sock yarn, so doubtless you'll see pictures of that here in a few months, after it hits the needles.
One yarn that Woolwinders has quite a bit of, and which has great (to my fingers) texture and certainly great colours, is Blue Ridge Yarns, from a lady in Amissville, VA.

Another nice thing about this shop is that, with all the light, they also have lots of knit-up samples, so you can see just how a colourway will turn out - useful if you've no experience with the dyeing patterns.
For all the pictures that I took of Woolwinders please see this album on PhotoBucket. You'll see how roomy and well-lit the shop is.

The Yarn Spot
Laid out very differently to Woolwinders, The Yarn Spot on Georgia Ave, Wheaton, was actually our real reason for being in DC ...... the AG belongs to the Three Irish Girls yarn club, and the Boss Lady of the three was due to teach and have a trunk show and sale there that Sunday. As she's been moved to the far northern wastes of Duluth, MN, for most of the year, getting a chance to meet her in the area (well, only 150 miles away) was irresistible. As a result, I regret to say that the photos are almost all of her yarn, and not of The Yarn Spot, which is a rather nice and very friendly shop, despite being totally overrun with Yarnista-fans!

Here's the AG with The Yarnista herself (fresh from the wild northern wastes, of course, first discovered by the Sieur de Lhut). I, of course, was handed her rather swish Nikon to take a picture of her with two other customers, and blazed off three in a row to demonstrate that only a man can make the same mistake twice in under a second! (She might have warned me that it was on burst repeat [grin]).

To the right is what the AG scored from the afternoon. I'm now looking forward to more sox!

Here are some pictures of the Trunk Sale.

Please excuse the odd blurred area - if you look closely you'll see that most of them are actually people taking or replacing items, and being "caught in the act"!

For the rest of the pictures please see my PhotoBucket album here.

So thank you to both stores for being welcoming, friendly, having great wool, and being totally worth the 300 mile round-trip.

Just one item today - for those involved with SSIS there's a great resource at Sherry's BI Corner.


Sunday, October 24, 2010

Comfort food!

Here's the product of owning just two pieces of modern kitchen equipment - The Magic Bullet and a Slow Cooker. The former means that you can make smoothies without all the elbow-grease, and the latter that you can good food slowly without having to have an open fire going for about three days!

[Today's Smoothie]
We needed to clear out bananas, so I split four, each halved, between two cups. Apple "cider" (american name - no alcohol, so really just unfiltered apple juice) to about two-thirds full, two or three teaspoons of syrup, two tablespoons of vanilla ice cream, and top off with milk. Wizz! Wizz again!! Open, drink, and let the world envy you!

[Beef Stew]
  • Slice an onion and chop another; fry them gently with three heaped teaspoons of chopped garlic (BJ's, of course) until they are getting translucent. Add parsley (a big pinch), sage (another big pinch), rosemary (a teaspoon), thyme (a teaspoon), and bay (two leaves), stir well in with some salt and pepper and let fry some more. The mixture will start to dry out as the herbs absorb the fat: after a few minutes put the mixture into a bowl.
  • Slice up and fry (in butter) about a dozen button mushrooms; once done, these go into the slow cooker.
  • Chop up about a dozen baby carrots and put them into the cooker, along with a good helping of peas (fresh or frozen).
  • Cut up about a pound and a half of chuck into cubes about 2 cm (3/4 inch) on a side. I cooked the meat in thirds - it depends how big our frying pan is! Fry it in some oil for a minute or so, stirring to get it browned all over, and then add in a portion of the onion and herb mix. Fry on for another 3 or 4 minutes and then add to the crock-pot.
  • Repeat the last step for the remaining portions of meat and herbs.
  • Add a bottle of red wine (Not too expensive, but try not to use the cheapest plonk!) to the crock-pot, put it on High until it starts to boil, and then set on low and leave for three days or so. Remember to stir every few hours and to turn off when you go out!
  • When getting ready to serve, take two teaspoons of Bisto powder (buy at Wegmans or any English Store), put into a small bowl or large cup, and add about a cup of cold water. Mix until smooth. Then add lots of juice spooned from the crock-pot, mix well again, and return the whole to the pot. Bring to the boil and the liquid will start to thicken.
  • Serve when thick enough with mashed potatoes and more veggies like peas, broad beans, carrots, and the like.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Food, Study, and a New Job


I was out at the green-grocers (Produce Junction) the other day with my son, and we picked up a couple of cauliflowers. A few days later I gathered a little flour, some butter, some whole-seed mustard, and set some water to boil. I cut off the bottom stalks and broke the flowers into florets and, once the water was boiling, I dropped them in for about 7 minutes. Meantime I melted the butter in another pot, put in three teaspoons of flour, and stirred rapidly on a fairly high heat. From this point I had to alternate the ingredients of this sauce - first some water to thin it out and then some grated or shredded cheese to thicken it up again .... and repeat, and repeat ... until there's a full pot of sauce.

After the cauliflower has cooked for about seven minutes it'll be cooked but still pretty hard. Drain the water and put the cauliflower into a dish for baking. Add the mustard (2 or 3 teaspoons will be enough to have black specks through the sauce) and then pour the sauce over the cauliflower. Bake uncovered at 350F for a good 40 minutes.

I'm slowly getting into the PL/SQL studies, with the intent of shelling out the $125 for an exam in a few months time. Hopefully it won't be a case of studies getting overtaken by work events, as has happened to me before. Oracle's version of SQL is somewhat different to Microsoft's, so it'll definitely be a matter of concentration. However, it looks like I may be using it in the near future, which will make life easier all around. One neat thing that Oracle has done for many years, and which Microsoft only started relatively recently, is to make full copies of their flagship database available to developers for almost or actually nothing.

You have been able to download - or get on CD - the latest version of Oracle since, I believe, version 8 (maybe even before then). Microsoft has offered a "mini" version of SQL Server since 2005, but also a Developer version - essentially the Enterprise Edition - for just $50, which is an absolute steal! You just have no excuse not to learn how to develop for one of these two systems other than that you don't have the time or interest!

Oh yes - and before I forget. The email restore I mentioned the other day was to recover a backup from 2005 - I didn't know I had it, and it brings back emails from 1998-2005. Some of these I already had, but many not. I now have about 250,000 emails on my hard drive, managed by my email client, RIT Lab's The Bat!. Take that, you overbearing Exchange Administrators, trying to keep me locked in to 5,000 messages!

For those who are configuring computers and looking at what to use for security, I use Alwil's Avast! for anti-virus and Check Point Software's ZoneAlarm for a firewall. Yes, I know ZoneAlarm can come with an anti-virus package, but Avast! was there first, and ZoneAlarm came to my machines second! I happen to like the way Avast! works, and also the fact that the three programs all work together well. Now if I could get something that would take an Outlook appointment announcement and set it up in my Google calendar I'd be very happy!

[The Bad News and The Good News]
The AG has decided that she doesn't really relish freezing her pretty little buns off again at Rhinebeck, so we're not going. So there won't be a picture gallery of images from Rhinebeck this year unless some ShutterFreak sends me a heap to comment on and put up for you all to see.

On the other hand, we're going to the PA Renaissance Faire this Saturday, and a yarn store in DC on Sunday, so I should have pictures for you RSN (real soon now)!

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Notes to Self

1. Take photos of food!
2. There was something else but I can' remember what right now - probably to keep a to-do list!
A few random thoughts to pass the time as I'm waiting for a few tens of thousands of emails to restore ...
  • Don't Panic! (Douglas Adams)
  • On a clear disc you can seek forever. (Anon)
  • The only reason for time is so that everything doesn't happen all at once!
  • Programming is like pinball. The reward for doing it well is the opportunity to do it again. (Rick Cook)
  • We can lick gravity, but sometimes the paperwork is overwhelming. (Wernher von Braun)
  • In the fight between you and the world, back the world. (Franz Kafka)
  • A Polar bear is really a Rectilinear bear after a coordinate transform!
  • If you think the problem is bad now, just wait until we've solved it! (Arthur Kasspe)
  • Adding manpower to a late project makes it later (Fred Brookes)
Ok. The stuff's recovered and it's time to quit for the night!

Monday, October 04, 2010

More Greek Food!

Last night we had the Sister Missionaries over to dinner. One had expressed a hankering after Spanakopita, so they got the Tiganites to start with, and Spanakopita for main course. They must have liked it, as they refused ice cream on the grounds of being over-full already, and went off happily with all the left-overs. Next will have to be something Hawai'ian for the new arrival. In the meantime, though, here are last night's details.

[Food part 1]
Tiganites is a variety of Saganiki, or fried appetiser. So, you beat up a couple of eggs (about 1 per two people you're cooking for, and lay out a good healthy carpet of flour mixed with some salt and pepper. Put a fair old amount of olive oil into a frying pan - about 3 or 4 mm deep - and set to heat. Slice block feta into slices about 5 -7 mm thick. Dip each slice in the egg, dredge it very well in the flour, and lay it gently in the hot oil. By the time I have six pieces in (all that will fit in my smallish pan) the first ones should be almost done on the bottom - a rich golden-brown with some darker specks. Turn them all ... by the time all are turned and another couple ready and waiting these should be ready for taking out. You can put them straight onto the plate with some veg (I used chopped orange peppers and slices of tomato, for colour), but they can come a little drippy with oil. If you think that this may be too much for your guests, lay them first on a slice of plain white bread to soak up the excess fat before putting them onto the plate. The bread later can give wonderful toast!

[Food part 2]
Spanakopita. Spinach and cheese pie. Lots of people love it at the Greek restaurant, but never dare to make it at home. That's a shame, because it really is very easy to make. Here's how.

You'll want a box of frozen phylo dough, 2 pounds of frozen chopped spinach, a pound of crumbled feta cheese, a stick of butter, a couple of eggs, half an onion, and salt and pepper. You'll also need a baking dish that's about the size of a piece of letter-sized paper - 13 by 9 - as that's about the size of pieces of phylo dough. Before you start you'll need to leave the phylo out of the freezer for zbout two hours, and the spinach too - unless you like getting frozen hands! Before starting cooking, take the phylo out of the box and unroll it to let it warm evenly while flat.

Chop the onion up and start frying it gently in a prety big frying pan - it should take about 5 minutes for the onion to get to the translucent stage. In that time you can open the spinach (thawed, of course), put it in a bowl, and dump in all that cheese. Mix the spinach and cheese and then take it out in handfuls, squeeze it hard to get the water out, and add it in to the onion. Stir it all up and pop it back into the big bowl you mixed it in, add some salt and pepper, and let the mixture cool.

Now the delicate part! Melt the butter (I use a microwave) and brush the inside of your baking dish with melted butter - all over! Now gently peel off just one single sheet of phylo dough from the pile of sheets and place it carefully onto the bottom of your dish. Smooth it gently down, rather like wall-paper, and then brush it over with some more butter. Now repeat this with another half-dozen sheets, remembering to "paper" the sides, ends, and corners.

By now the spinach mix should be down to room temperature; mix in well a couple of eggs and then fill the dish with the mixture, getting all the corners well-filled. That's the easy part done - now back to being careful! "Paper" over the top of the dish with more phylo - at least another 7 sheets, brushing off the last sheet with butter too so as to get a good golden colour when it cooks.

Put in the oven for between 45 and 60 minutes at about 300F, checking at about the 45 minute mark: it should be all crisp, flaky, and golden when it's done, and it smells unbelievably good!

Computers are wonderful things - utterly reliable and safe. When they're turned off!

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Two High-speed Efforts at Feeding People

[Food 1]
On Wednesday I get to the ex-wife's at 6 pm, with a 6.55 departure ETA for "Back To School Parents Night" and a hungry offspring (male, 13) to feed. I brought Spaghetti, eggs, and bacon, and the memory of the Spaghetti Carbonara that my wife made from a Ruth Reichl book some months ago (warning to reader: Ruth's page is here: eat before you go to visit there - otherwise you'll suddenly start to feel excruciating hunger pangs). As the Offspring seemed to have no homework I enslaved him and sat back to instruct.

Fill that pot with water, salt it, add a few drops of oil, and put it on to boil. Then open that pound of bacon, take half out and return the rest to the fridge. Put a frying pan on to heat. When the water gets hot, put in the spaghetti. Chop the bacon up into pieces about a centimetre long and put them into the frying pan. Fry somewhat gently until about half-done, and add two large teaspoonfuls of chopped garlic. While the bacon continues to cook, break four eggs into a bowl or measuring jug and beat hard.

When the bacon and garlic are done, take them off the heat and leave them in their pan to keep warm. By now the spaghetti should be just about cooked, so pour out the water and pasta into a sieve, replacing it in the pot with the eggs. Add the spaghetti back in again and start mixing it up to get it coated with egg - the heat of the spaghetti will cook the eggs. At the same time, add in the bacon and garlic mix - just pour the whole pan in! Keep stirring until the egg is just about all solid, and serve!

Time taken - 16 minutes!

[Food 2]
This afternoon I was in BJ and saw some smoked salmon at a good price, so bought a pack. Later, I needed to feed the Offspring and AG. Put a pound of tagliatelle on to cook, and take out about 4 ounces of salmon. Chop the salmon and put it on to gently fry in some butter. I added basil and chives - nice green flecks! When the salmon is nicely cooked (it changes colour) add some milk and some cream in order to create a sauce. Keep adding the dairy to get the right volume, and add shredded cheese to thicken it up.

When it's done, drain the pasta and replace it in the pot: pour the salmon and sauce over the pasta and mix before serving. Again quick, about 20-25 minutes. Enjoy!

[Food 3 & 4]
Thursday night we'd been doing far to much and I didn't feel like cooking in the slightest (besides which there wasn't too much in the fridge to cook!) so we went to Balsamo's for a 16" Works pizza. Definitely hit the spot, as I'd missed lunch (as the AG realised as she watched almost half the pizza vanish in a matter of minutes). Friday night we had the Offspring, and he wanted pizza, so back to Balsamo's for a Conway (lots of ricotta and ham). You'd really think that pizza two nights in a row, with lunch in between, would jade the palate, but not yet.

Today was clear-out day. Two AMD-based towers went off to the computer store for refurbishment and whatever happens to PCs when they retire. That means that we're down to six computers in the house (not counting the fridge or the car), a level not seen in at least three years. Tomorrow is Oracle-study with overtones of PL/SQL until I have to cook for visitors.

Monday, September 27, 2010

New Socks!!

I got a new pair of socks!

The marvelous AG sent me to get yarn a few months ago and I got some Noro Kureyon (S148). As a result she handed me these this afternoon.

They're quite weird: they're thin and quite tight to begin with, but stretched out nicely. They're definitely very comfortable and nice and warm.

However, I would offer this health warning: the coefficient of friction between this yarn, when knitted-up, and a surface like a linoleum floor is as near to zero as makes no odds.

(Layman's Translation: wearing just these into the kitchen without caution may result in you being very quickly a**e over t**s !!)

Oh yes - and I do like the colours, despite what the AG was worrying about in advance. They'll be on show on Tuesday!

So happy at getting new socks this evening, I tried my hand at a form of saganiki (fried appetiser) called tiganiti (fried cheese; usually feta). The Wikipedia page has a good picture of a square piece - I did mine in slices, but they looked the same. It was a little saltier than I'd recalled, but ace all the same. No pictures, I'm afraid - I was hungry!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Autumn is Finally Here

That's right! The Philadelphia area's finally getting into the 80s (F) with some reliability - yesterday was 89 and today almost got to 80. Maybe the cooling will have some effect on the area's drivers, who have been demonstrating wild and reckless stupidity (at least, on the roads that I travel) for the last six to eight months. I doubt it though: given the economy, there has to be at least one occupation that's looking for more workers - the auto-repair business! Honestly, though, I get the impression that about 50% of the drivers here only have intact cars because they've sold their souls to the devil in exchange for a crash-free life!

We'll be having guests soon and one of them is a vegetarian, so that takes a little thought - she's not vegan, but I don't think that it's fair to offer a dish made with vegetables fried in meat fat, for example! So, one possibility is going to be cheese tortellini in tomato sauce ... and who knows what goes into the tomato sauces you get at the store. Hence you'd have found me yesterday afternoon slaving over a huge pot of bubbling redness.

It turned out really easy to make: just get two 3 lb boxes of tomatoes from BJs, chop them up, and dump them into a really large cooking casserole - I used one from IKEA that's oven-proof as well as for the stove-top, and non-stick into the bargain. It holds about 5 litres, and ended up about 80% full!

In with the tomatoes goes about quarter of a litre of water and half that of olive oil. Three heaped teaspoons of chopped garlic from a jar of the stuff in oil (BJs again!), and two very heaped teaspoons of chopped dry Basil (sorry mum - I just didn't have any fresh!). If it's destined for kids, a little sugar (a soup spoon or two) will make a lot of difference to the sweetness (so don't go overboard, or you'll be having it with ice cream!)

All this just about fits into the casserole, so fine! Turn on the heat, pop on the lid, and get it to the boil. Once it's there, lower the heat pretty much as low as it will go and let it simmer for about 45 minutes. After that, take your trusty stick blender and totally obliterate any lumps of any sort. Then you can let it cool off, put it into food savers, and keep it in the fridge - up to a week is safe. For longer than that it should freeze fine.

Oh! You don't have a stick blender? Well, aside from making off with granny's, you can part with about $25-$30 for on in most shops, although they do come more expensive. I don't see why, as all they are is a miniaturised outboard motor, but what do I know? In fact, if you're really in need, and really want to make sure that you never ever, ever have to buy another on (and probably your great great grand-children won't, either!), you can go to MyChefStore and splurge on a RoboCoupe MP450 Turbo model. They tag it with a "Lowest Price Guarantee", but I can't see anyone willing to shell out $572.42 as being unduly worried about another dollar or three! It boasts 3/4 of a kilowatt of power and a maximum speed of 12,000 rpm, so I'd keep it securely under lock and key if your other half is doing anything like mixing concrete (not that the concrete would have an ice-cube's chance in hell against this beast!) By the way, I would have added a picture, but Chrome 5.0.375.127 (55887) for Ubuntu 10.04 doesn't seem to get on too well with BlogSpot, for uploading images.

Pet peeve of the week. Companies that think that they're really "with it", but don't test their stuff properly before pushing it out, and don't offer enough support when the inevitable happens. I'll not name names, but a company should, in my opinion, use a technology like Flash on a site where its new recruits are required to log in and fill in information about themselves, etc. Adobe aficionados will immediately rise up and threaten to stone me but it remains a fact that, so far, the maker of the most popular hand-held sate-form computing device, the iPad, still does not support Flash. Many many young people use iPads as their primary computing devices - and why not? Anyhow, I recently saw a site, obligatory for new recruits, when Flash was used throughout. One or two of the links to other pages worked fine, but ..... most didn't come up as links at all, and the page as a whole was very slow to load. On a 2 GHz machine with plenty of memory and a good high-speed connection it took over four minutes to load when the user tried - as suggested by the support people - to use MS IE!

Guys! Testing is everything! You can have the most wonderful product out there, but if people can't get it to work then it isn't just useless - it's actively promoting your bad name!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Fruit Destinies

Just a few thoughts that came from a friend about a year ago. I saw a "Like" on Facebook for part of this, that reminded me...

This should probably be taped to your bathroom mirror where one could read it every day.
You may not realize it, but it's 100% true.
1. There are at least two people in this world that you would die for.
2. At least 15 people in this world love you in some way.
3. The only reason anyone would ever hate you is because they want to be just like you.
4. A smile from you can bring happiness to anyone, even if they don't like you.
5. Every night, SOMEONE thinks about you before they go to sleep.
6. You mean the world to someone.
7. You are special and unique.
8. Someone that you don't even know exists loves you.
9. When you make the biggest mistake ever, something good comes from it.
10. When you think the world has turned its back on you take another look.
11. Always remember the compliments you received. Forget about the rude remarks.
Always remember..... when life hands you Lemons, ask for Tequila and Salt and call me over!
I would rather have one rose and a kind word from a friend while I'm here than a whole truck load when I'm gone.

Which was rather nice.

For all you programmers out there, take a look here. It isn't always what you might want to hear, but very possibly the best thing that you do hear at times.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Meeting Old Friends

Meeting a friend that you haven't seen in a long time is a great experience - it lets you catch up on lots of things that you never finished talking about. The AG and I went into NYC last weekend to meet her brother who has just finished a year studying at Durham University in England. He used to live in NYC before departing for England, so it was a kind of homecoming for him too, seeing places he had missed for a year before heading off to family in ID.

[Sharp Pointy Sticks Part]
At the behest of the AG we went to a LYS called Purl, on Broome Street in SoHo. That's their picture of the shop-front, and here below are some more of the interior.

The rest from Purl are here on PhotoBucket.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Doubting Your Own Life

If the fabric of your life as you live and like it depended on some particular thing, would you attack that thing? Would you adulterate it and dilute it ? You might, if you wanted to replace it with something better or longer-lasting, but surely not out of ignorance or spite.

We see our advanced world dependent on oil for much of its energy supply. So much so, in fact, that if the demand for oil stays exactly as it is today then we'll have to discover new reserves equivalent to four times that of Saudi Arabia to keep us driving for the rest of the century - maybe less. That's a very large target, so finding replacement sources is a good idea. In fact, it's an absolute necessity!

As an engineer by education, I have to say that with situations like this there's a requirement to look at every single possibility, and, maybe, use them all. Even if we were to manage to make pocket-sized fusion reactors in, say, 20 years' time, we'd still have a need for oil - if for nothing else then for lubrication! Eventually we won't be using oil as a portable energy source, but some other substance will have to make do. Petrol is just too darned convenient - easily transported and dispensed and with a lot of stored energy per unit volume.

Task for all of us: support all the people trying to replace oil-based fuels.


Monday, August 23, 2010


You may recall that I posted a number of photos of where I used to live when it snowed during the first couple of months this year.
It does also rain here in NJ. We got an inch or two this afternoon in about an hour's downpour. This is a snap of the woods; unfortunately the camera is good enough to peer through the rain - visibility was actually quite limited, so I used flash and you can see the raindrops captured en route to wetting my toes! Yes, those big circles are raindrops - the camera lens stayed dry throughout (not sure how!).

Sunday, August 22, 2010

A Healthy Attitude Towards Work

Quite some time ago, in a workplace that shall, hopefully, remain nameless and unidentified, I was sent this email. It surfaced the other day as I was doing some cleaning-up, and I thought I'd share it with you all.


  • It is advised that you come to work dressed according to your salary. If we see you wearing Prada shoes and carrying a Gucci bag, we assume you are doing well financially and therefore do not need a raise.
  • If you dress poorly, you need to learn to manage your money better, so that you may buy nicer clothes, and therefore you do not need a raise.
  • If you dress just right, you are right where you need to be and therefore you do not need a raise.
  • We will no longer accept a doctor's statement as proof of sickness. If you are able to go to the doctor, you are able to come to work.
  • Each employee will receive 104 personal days a year. They're called "Saturday" & "Sunday".
  • Entirely too much time is being spent in the toilet. There is now a strict three-minute time limit in the stalls. At the end of three minutes, an alarm will sound, the toilet paper roll will retract, the stall door will open, and a picture will be taken.
  • After your second offense, your picture will be posted on the company bulletin board under the "Chronic Offenders category". Anyone caught smiling in the picture will be sanctioned under the company's mental health policy.
  • SKINNY EMPLOYEES get 30 minutes for lunch, as they need to eat more, so that they can look healthy.
  • NORMAL SIZE EMPLOYEES get 15 minutes for lunch to get a balanced meal to maintain their average figure.
  • CHUBBY EMPLOYEES get five minutes for lunch, because that's all the time needed to drink a Slim-Fast.
Thank you for your loyalty to our company. We are here to provide a
positive employment experience. Therefore, all questions, comments,
concerns, complaints, frustrations, irritations,
aggravations,insinuations, allegations, accusations, contemplations,
consternation and input should be directed elsewhere.

Busy Month

Well that's been a busy month, that has! I've been hard at work all day and studying for a lot of the evenings too. Hence the utter lack of a squeak from me.

[Tech Stuff]
I've been doing a lot of studying recently, mainly on SQL Server things but some Oracle too. The most visible result - aside from me appearing tired out half the time - is that the links on this blog have split, spawning a Tech Links section. This is because I use this blog as a hub where I know I can find the most important places to go and read and relax, and sometimes it just has to be somewhat work-related.

So recently I've been the beneficiary of webinars from quite a few well-known luminaries in the field, including Brent Ozar, recently of Quest and now of SQLSkills, Brian and Devin Knight of PragmaticWorks, and Kevin Kline of Quest, amongst others. My brain is definitely moving in the right direction, but boy does it hurt at times !

[Not Tech]
We visited The Fudge Shop in Flemington (on Rt 202 in NJ) again today, and spent way too much on chocolate. There's only one problem with that place - it's not too far away to go to when one really needs a chocolate fix! They hand-make all their own things - today there was a guy just behind the counter making chocolate bricks! - and the aroma that hits you as you walk in is as tangible as a brick wall! If you like chocolate, GO THERE!

My son and the ex are down at the shore on LBI this week, so the weather's suddenly getting less oppressive - and the water's about 80F - ! Hopefully we'll be able to go to the PA Rennaissance Faire in September; I know that my son's eagerly looking forward to seeing Barely Balanced again and, to be honest, so am I. The RenFaire crowd are all happy and friendly, despite the huge numbers of people there every weekend, and BB are just one of the acts that stand out.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Power of Writing Back!

I really like some newspapers - I suspect that most of us have preferred ways of getting information about what's going on in the world. The other day I read an article that was most unfortunately un-proofed, and wrote a letter to the editors about it. The next day it had changed to this.

Here are a couple of parts of the current story, with the original lines just below then, shaded in teal.

Mrs Cromar, from Murray, near Salt Lake City, Utah, has been told she is due to have a boy and a girl.
Mrs Cromar, from Murray, near Salt Lake City, Utah, has been told she is a boy and a girl.

Less than 100 people in the world are known to have "double pregnancies".
Less than 100 people in the world are known to have given birth to babies that are not twins.

As you can see, the new version is a lot more believable, but the original was definitely very entertaining to read.

The food item I forgot to blog was one a few weeks ago, and is called Cheese and Onion Pie. It's a recipe from my mother, is great hot, and, strangely, is really good cold too, especially in this weather. Before we start, however, I should reassure all of you who think that onions are round stinky things that make you cry. This doesn't have to be so - onions can be tamed, and we'll see how here.

Ingredients and Things
  • You'll need an oven-proof "thing", like a casserole or fairly big pot to bake it in. If you can, use one with a lid, to cover it after you've served.
  • A normal pot to cook the onions in.
  • Enough onions to fill the casserole twice when raw - when cooked they fill in the holes!
  • At least a pound of grated cheese - maybe two.
  • Salt & pepper.
  • Frozen pastry - two pieces (one to line the casserole, one to top it. The top one may well "lend" to help the lining.
  • Some butter.
What To Do
  1. Put water into the pot and boil it
  2. Peel the onions (probably as quickly as you can - use running water to rinse them as you cut to stop the tears) and chop each into 8
  3. Put onions into pot and boil for about 8-10 minutes. They'll start falling apart, which is good, and begin to go soft. Take them out as soon as they begin to soften.
  4. Wipe the inside of the casserole with butter so that the pastry doesn't stick too much when you serve.
  5. Line the casserole with pastry.
  6. Put in a layer of cheese, topped with some salt and pepper.
  7. Add a layer of onion pieces.
  8. Add another layer of cheese, salt, and pepper, and another of onions.
  9. Continue until you reach the top, or run out of something!
  10. Use the rest of the pastry to make a lid.
  11. Cook in the oven at 350F for about 30 minutes. The top should be brown and crisp now.
  12. Serve hot!

Bon appétit!

Friday, July 02, 2010

Another Sufferer

Just over a year ago my AG was suddenly struck down with the most terrible pain, which turned out to be caused by gall stones. She had them removed and all has been lots better. The writer of the Bold Soul blog, in Paris, has just gone through the same thing. Here's hoping she gets well soon.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

On the Feeding of Guests!

Last night my son and ex were to dinner, along with two sister missionaries, making it six to feed. I'd been promising the AG a reprise of Tortellini alla Panna, so here it is; intro, story, and all.

A long time ago I used to work in Frankfurt, West Germany, in an office just down the street from the Bourse (stock exchange), so it was common to see young men in the street with the most garishly-coloured jackets (from the exchange floor, where each company had its own colour). There was a tiny Italian restaurant - almost exclusively stand-up and spread over, I think, three floors - literally stuffed into a street corner near the Bourse. It was very popular with the brokers and you'd often find the place packed with them, standing on the steps between floors and drinking glasses of wine or beer while waiting for their meals to be cooked - few people actually got to eat there; it wasa almost all take-out ("essen zu mitnehmen") food.

This is a dish that I first found there and have loved ever since, as it is really simple to make, has a surprisingly immediate flavour, and is almost impossible to destroy!

Tortelline alla Panna
The ingredients are:
  • 1 lb of Tortellini of whatever style and content you desire. Frozen, dried, chilled, or fresh - there are lots of types to choose from with lots of different fillings, and you can get them in red and green as well as white, which makes a nice change.
  • 2 rashers of bacon, chopped finely
  • 1/4 of a medium white onion, chopped
  • 1/4 of a stick of butter
  • 1 teaspoon chopped garlic
  • 1 large handful of chopped mushrooms
  • 1 large handful of frozen peas
  • 2 large pinches each of Basil and Thyme
  • 3-4 slices of cooked ham, chopped finely into squares about 1/8 inch on a side.
  • Half a pint of either chicken stock or white wine - some people don't like cooking with alcohol, but the alcohol will be long gone before anyone eats this!
  • Half a pint of full milk or heavy whipping cream (cream is better, of course!)
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
Now to make it:
  • Read the instructions for cooking the Tortellini carefully: the people who make it usually have a very good idea of how long it will take to cook it! You can make the sauce mix and keep it hanging around for a long time as the tortellini cook. So, I'm not going to address timing - that's up to you! I'm concentrating on the sauce.
  • Melt the butter gently in a medium pot (preferably with a lid), drop in the onions, bacon, and garlic and let fry until the onions are getting soft; this may take between 5 and 10 minutes.
  • Next, add the mushrooms, cover, and let the mushrooms absorb butter and flavour - probably about 10 minutes.
  • Now add the herbs, the chopped ham, and then the wine or stick. Stir well, cover and leave bubble away for another five minutes or so. Stir a few times during this time to make sure it's not getting too hot and burning.
  • At this point you can add the peas (they'll thaw happily) and stop cooking the stock, set it aside, and cook the tortellini.
  • For tortellini you have to remember that, despite their shapes, they do actually swell by about a factor of two - even the fresh ones. So you really need quite a big pot for a pound - I had to use two pots last night and do some panicked redistribution half-way through!
  • When you cook them, get the water good and boiling before dropping them in, and don't forget to put salt in the water and also some olive oil to stop them sticking together.
  • When you consider that the tortellini are almost cooked, put some gentle heat back under the sauce and add your milk (or cream!).
  • Drain the tortellini, return them to their pot over very low heat, and pour over them the sauce mix. Stir well to mix the sauce and paste well, and serve.
Stuffed Cantaloupe
This is a recipe from one from my mother's cookery book. It's actually three books all bound into one, and the one I was using was Good Housekeeping's Picture Cookery from the 1953 edition, copyright The National Magazine Co., Ltd. I had been looking through it for a recipe for possibly making a trifle, but wasn't that enamoured with any that I found. In that same section (Fruit Salads and Trifles) I came across Fruit-filled Melon (page 132 if you're looking!), which looked rather good, as I'd seen that the local Produce Junction had an offer on melons, so off I went, hot-foot in search of a large cantaloupe and lots of little fruit to fill it with.

I chose the largest melon that they had, which wasn't really large enough, and some strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries. I got all this home, beheaded the melon about a third down, and then eviscerated all the innards to the trash! Then I cut out almost all the remaining orange flesh, chopping it into bits. I left some at the bottom to ensure that I didn't go completely through the bottom, and filled it up with some melon but mainly berries. I poured about a quarter of a pint of cream over the content, popped the "lid" back on, and put it into the freezer (I was about two hours from serving time, and all the fruit and berries were warm).

I mixed most of the melon flesh, the rest of the berries, and the content of a jar of mandarin oranges into a fruit salad mix, which was consigned to the fridge to cool. The remaining pieces of melon were made into smoothies, using some ice cream, cream, and orange juice and the not-so-tender ministrations of what must be the ultimate smoothie machine, The Magic Bullet Blender.

So, everyone came, was introduced, and we sat down to eat. The main course was tortellini, of course - two pounds of tortellini expands to fill a huge bowl! Everyone who cam enjoyed it, and the SMs went with boxes of "thirds"! Dessert was greeted with some curiosity when the unadorned, apparently untouched, melon was brought out, but as soon as the lid was off everyone was surprised and eager to eat! All went well, thanks in no small measure to the efforts of my AG in making the apartment neat and presentable.

Food, Glorious Food!

Yesterday and today I've cooked dinner - yesterday for three and today for six. I'm tired now, but happy that it all seems to have gone down well (pardon the pun).

Tilapia en Papillote
Strictly speaking this should be something like Tilapia en AluFolie, but I can't remember the French word for AluFolie, and anyhow, it wouldn't sound anything like as elegant as the title, so I'm leaving it!

I had to feed my son and wife, so three tilapia fillets were sufficient (I get them individually wrapped and frozen from BJs in six-packs). That's really for two reasons - cost and sloth! I'm getting mean and lazy in my old age - !

Anyhow, tear off three pieces of aluminium foil each large enough to wrap a fillet in, lay them down on a flat surface, and put a fillet in the middle of each. Drop a knob of butter on each and some salt and pepper. Pop on some chopped onion, and whatever other herbs you feel like, all sparingly. I put in garlic and some chive. For me alone some dill (the AG's not keen on it).

Then fold up the foil around the fish, so that you've made walls all around it (important, this, as the butter will melt and run! Now fold the walls in gently over the fish, lowest wall first to make an envelope. Pick up the now-encased fish and place it onto a cookie tray or similar to cook. I cook them at about 350F for about 15 minutes - you know that they're done because there's suddenly a wonderful smell of cooked fish from the kitchen!

I served this with couscous, which took all of five minutes to cook, so it waited almost ten for the fish, which is about right. I put about a third of a stick of butter in a pot, melted it on low heat, added almost three cups of couscous (yes, we have some left over!) and stirred well for a minute or so, to let it get hot. Then I added between a half and three-quarters of a cup of chicken stock and stirred that in very well, so that every piece of the wheat got to see its own liquid! I fluffed it up a couple of times while waiting for the fish, and then served the couscous in the pot and the fish in their foil. There's a fair amount of liquid with the fish, which helps moisten the couscous for eating. During cooking it also makes sure that the fish stays moist and doesn't dry out, so you should get nice succulent fish to eat.

I'm tired and going to bed, so I'll edit and finish this tomorrow.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Visiting some Friends

Phew! Back home, and almost time to go to Balsalmo's for some pizza. That's right! We haven't Balsalmo'd yet today! So we'll be going in just a little while to get pizza. Meanwhile I'm here to write about yesterday.

J, this good friend of mine, asked me to go up to White Plains and visit his mum, M, and give her a hand with some computer problems that she was having. I duly did so and, after some to-ing and fro-ing, we decided that the easiest and most effective way to get her computers all straightened out would be to ditch one old one completely and replace it with a little eeeBox. The eeeBox could act as Network Attached Storage and, in a pinch, take over for the Vista-powered hp that is the main computer.

So I got the disk from the old computer last week and the new eeeBox during the last week. I had time to copy all the files from one disk to the other, and the AG and I made our way to White Plains yesterday morning.

It took about 30 mins to unveil the little ASUS eeeBox and connect it all up; M was amazed at the lack of size of the thing, as is almost everyone who sees them. Then I had to fix up the network, and do some other housekeeping, but nothing much, and we'd be ready to roll on deciding what could stay and what could go. Then came the surprise. M had to go out and I was being left to cook. Now I knew I would be cooking that evening, and had brought some things, but not totally alone in a strange kitchen! This may sound weird, but cooking in an unfamiliar kitchen is a very difficult thing. Nothing is ever where you expect it to be - in fact, nothing ever seems to be quite where you left it five minutes ago! In short, all the inanimate objects of the kitchen - like knives, forks, spoons, plates, can openers, etc. - all seem to conspire against you, and the ingredients appear to try to hide from you in order to sabotage your efforts.

Whatever! I thought: dinner has to be made. So I got myself finished on the computer side and got stuck in to the food side. The target was to be a traditional Italian-style tomato-based meat gravy to eat on some paste - target pasta last night was Ziti, although my personal preferences are Farfalle and Spirale.

0. Ingredients
Before starting, look at this list of ingredients. Best to actually do the chopping before starting.

1 lb Italian sausage - sweet 1 lb Italian sausage - hot
1 lb commercial sausagemeat (Jimmy Dean or Bob Evans)
1 lb three-meat mix (veal, beef, & pork).

1 large onion, chopped.
About 2 oz (three heaped teaspoons) chopped garlic (I use a jar from BJ's!)
2 28-oz cans of diced tomatoes, opened
1 can of tomato paste, opened
1 egg, a bag or pack of breadcrumbs
Olive oil

Salt, pepper
Basil, Oregano, Bay leaves
Red Wine (not sour, but cheap is fine)
One Baguette (per four diners)

1. Make the Meatballs
First off was to mix together a pound of ground three-meat - veal, beef, and pork - with a fair amount of breadcrumb in a bowl. It's difficult to accurately estimate how much crumb to use because the idea is to get the meat to be somewhat dry, and how much you need depends on the condition of the meat at the outset. Once the meat mix is getting somewhat dry and sticky, beat off an egg, some salt, and pepper, form the meat into a cup, and add the egg. Now carefully mix the egg in to the meat mix, and add more crumb to help dry out the meat again (it'll be plenty wet with the egg!). Keep squidging and squeezing the lump of meat until it has a nice, pleasant, firm texture.

Now you have your meatball, you'll want to reduce it to cookable, edible pieces - meatballs. Make a huge ball and cut it into four; then do the same again and roll each piece into a ball, so you have sixteen balls of about an ounce each. That's about the right size. If you find that you have meatballs with gaping cracks then you'll want to squeeze them hard and roll them into cylinders and then back into balls and the cracks tend to vanish. You do want to get rid of the cracks if you can, or they tend to fall to bits during cooking.

2. Cook the Sausage
Next, we want to part-cook the sausage so that we can cut it up without having bits of sausage all over. Usually I get a pound of hot and a pound of sweet Italian sausage, each in one long sausage. This time I experimented and bought individual ones, in packs of five to the pound. They worked well and were easier to brown! Either way, don't forget to stab the sausages lots of times all over with a form, to relieve the pressure when they get hot.

I put them into a pan with about a cup of water and a tablespoon of olive oil - a strange mixture, but I'm looking to cook the sausage, not fry it. You get this up to close to boiling in the pot you'll use for the whole gravy in the end (so it's big enough to do all the sausage at the same time), and then add the sausages. Cook them, turning every minute or two, until they're good and cooked all around. Probably about 8 minutes.

3. Cook the Meatballs
Take the sausages out, put them on a plate, and reserve for a moment. Meantime, add some more oil, the chopped onion, and the garlic and set to a low heat so that the onion slowly gets to be translucent. As the onion cooks you should cut up the sausages. I cut them into thin pieces for sweet and larger ones for hot, so guests who can't take the heat know what to avoid. However you cut them up, cut them carefully with a sharp knife and you should find them only partly cooked, but cooked enough that they will cut properly. Oh by the way! run some cold water over each sausage before cutting - they stay really hot for quite a time, and burning your finger-tips really hurts!

After you've cut up the sausage the onion should be ready: add about a teaspoon of Basil and another of Oregano, some salt and pepper, and four large Bay leaves. Mix this up (you may need a little more oil) and let fry very gently for a minute or two.

Now add the meatballs. Gently!! Don't break them! Nest the meatballs in the onion - not on the base of the pan - and let them cook for about five minutes. Turn them over (tongs are great here!) and give them another four-five minutes before taking them all back out and setting them aside.

Now we've introduced the meatballs to the joys of herbs and spices, we leave them to finish cooking on their own while we start the gravy brewing.

4. Make the Gravy
You've got the onion-garlic-bits of meat mix gently simmering in the pot, so now add the pound of commercial sausage-meat. I've tried both of these brands and they both work well. Traditionally one would use sausage-meat from the butcher's, but butcher's shops almost don't exist any more, here in the USA. Use a fork or spatula to break up the sausage-meat and turn up the heat to get it to brown in all the herbs. You need to get it to break up into little bits - no large lumps, please!

Once you've got the sausage-meat all cooked and broken down into bits it's time to start some liquid. Turn up the heat and add about a third of a bottle of the wine! Stir it in and keep the heat up and it'll soon start to sizzle.

Once there, add the sliced pieces of sausage back in and let them cook in for a couple of minutes, before adding a can of tomatoes. Let this get hot, stirring well to stop it burning on the bottom, and then add the tomato paste and another third of the wine. Keep stirring and the whole mixture should start to bubble again, at which point you add in the last can of tomatoes. Get that hot again, and then turn down the heat to the lowest point possible and cover.

Leave for about an hour!

5. The Finishing Touches
ok. You've about 30 minutes left before everyone will be expecting food on the table. Get the water on for the pasta (don't forget salt and some olive oil in the water for stopping the pasta sticking together. Get the heat up under that water and also get the heat on in the oven - to about 350F!

Pour the meatballs into the gravy mix and gently submerge them. They need to come back out in one piece! Up the heat some.

Cut the baguette in four, and then slice each quarter to give a top and bottom half. Drizzle about a teaspoon full of olive oil onto each eighth of the baguette, along with at least a teaspoon full of chopped garlic (BJ's - I love you!). Put the baguette halves back together and lay on foil on a cookie tray. Cover the bread with foil too, but don't seal it off - the bread should dry a little.

20 mins to go: put the pasta into the boiling water, put the bread into the oven. Make sure that the serving dishes are ready and that the table is laid.

10 mins: taste the gravy: if it is too sweet, add some more wine. If too sour you can add some sugar if you like, but be very cautious! Too much would be bad! Remember: this is your last chance to tweak the taste!

0 mins: take the bread from the oven, plate, and serve it, maybe with foil over it to keep it hot. Get the pasta drained and into the serving bowl. Lastly, shut off all heat and start ladling gravy over the pasta - be careful of those meatballs! Every few big spoonfuls you should stir up the pasta mix to make sure that it's all well mixed.

Serve. Relax. Eat. Drink. Sleep and let the others clean the kitchen!

2010.05.24: P.S. I just got told that I have new socks. Admittedly they look like one was knitted in a straitjacket and the other fed LSD while growing, but they'll be warm and comfy, so who cares!
The AG rules - big-time !

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

"Official" Spam ?

No, that isn't an oxymoron. I would, and I would think that you'd probably agree at first blush, that it might mean things like election materials, public safety notices, etc. I'd have agreed - until the last few days - about that. However, I'm revising my opinions to broaden the scope right now.
I recently started working on a small project and am using my own laptop for some development. To do this I have had to install Access. This is not something I really want to do - I have been working to keep on this m
achine as the only office suite and, so far, its worked pretty well. However, Access is needed, so Access gets installed. Access 2003, that is. After that, I run Microsoft's update program to see what I need in the way of patches and fixes and find a whole list of items for MS Office 2003, about 5% of which are for Access, so I install the appropriate ones and continue.

It's been about two weeks now, and every day or two I find the machine demanding to install new software patches. I look at the demand, allow the Access ones, and tell it not to bother me again with the ones for Office, Outlook, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and whatever else might have come along for the ride! A day or two la
ter I get the same sort of demand for the same sort of patches! Usually they're new patches, but I've got this message three times today already:
and I've unchecked the two items, because I don't want them, and clicked OK. Then I get this message:
Here I check the "don't do it again box, and click OK. Then the *%$*&%$* thing comes back a little later. In fact, right at this moment, as I type this, there's a little yellow shield in my tray, with a hint saying "Downloading updates: 14%". What's the betting that it's the same pair of unwanted updated for products I don't have?

Now, I'm sure that Microsoft isn't producing patches at the rate of several a week, so I can only think that this is some weird sort of marketing campaign to get me to install the rest of the MS Office suite. Something along the lines of "look what good care we take of users of our software". Well, it isn't working: I know the saying "any advertising is good advertising", but in this case it's just telling me how bad, buggy, and generally unfit for use this whole suite is, and that I'm far better off without it. It's acting rather like aversion therapy, and being rather good at it too! As you can imagine, I'm looking forward to the day that I can get rid of Access again!


Sunday, May 16, 2010

Lunch in Ten Minutes

We woke late today. So late, in fact, that I stumbled up and realised that I would have to do something very quickly indeed about lunch or face the Wrath of Wife!

Half a stick of butter went into the pan on a very low gas while I washed and plucked some cilantro. Passing the pantry I grabbed pots of Basil, Mint, and Chives together with the couscous jar; then a couple of tomatoes, some scallions, and some chicken broth from the fridge.

The butter is melted, so dump in a couple of cups of couscous and stir well to make sure the butter is well mixed in. Leave it on the same really low heat to warm through, stirring occasionally. Then chop the tomatoes and scallions and put by in a small bowl. Open the herbs ready for use.

The couscous will be beginning to turn a little brick-red in places - it's done!!! Add about 3/4 cup of broth to the couscous and stir well; turn off the heat. Wait for about 3-4 minutes and then fluff up the couscous. If it seems (smells, mainly) done then add the veggies and cilantro and mix in well. Add a good shake of basil and two of chives and some mint.

Mix the lot together and wait for a couple of minutes for the dried herbs to gain moisture and start to offer scent and taste; then start the process of tasting and (if necessary) adding mint and tasting again (and so on), until the mint gives a nice, slightly tart, tinge to the salad. Each cycle will take about 5 minutes with dry mint. Of course, if you get it right to start with then the time taken will be nothing! Finally, put in fridge for about an hour to cool, then remember to fluff up well when serving.

Saturday, May 15, 2010


Medium-sized pieces of beast, with a little olive oil, salt, and black pepper rubbed in to each side. The potatoes have been peeled, sliced, and boiled soft already and the AG is pounding them into smash with milk, butter, and pepper to assist. The corn has thawed in boiling water and is hot and put into a serving dish.

The flesh hits the almost-red-hot pan with an angry sizzle. Some smoke vanishes up the exhaust fan and the outside starts to brown.

A minute slowly ticks past.

Another minute slowly ticks past.

The spatula and tongs flip the flesh - more seething sizzle and two more minutes of heat. The top is nicely etched with medium-brown lines on a grey background; the bottom suffers more.

Two minutes are up ... slice into a steak.......really pink. good.

Serve it all quickly and everyone's happy with flesh-in-face.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Scallops & Rice

So, here is the recipe as promised by the AG on Facebook. It started with a very hungry AG, and me looking in the freezer for something fairly quick to cook for her. What we had left over was about a quarter of a 2 lb bag of Bay Scallops from BJ's. They're shelled and cleaned and frozen raw, and about a centimetre across – that's about 50% too big to fit through the hole in a CD, for all you empirical measurists out there! We had a good portion over, and last night I made the recipe again, scaling it up from smallish portions for three to decidedly small portions for six. We had a main meal of the Italian favourite in America – meatballs and sausage in a thick tomato sauce.

So, the ingredients are:
¾ lb Bay Scallops
3 rashers of streaky bacon, if possible left out for 2-3 days to get dry!
½ bottle of white wine (the alcohol burns off in cooking!)
1 medium onion, chopped fairly fine
2 good teaspoons of chopped garlic, or three cloves, crushed. We use chopped in jars from BJ's 'cos I'm lazy!
1 teaspoon of Allspice powder. This makes the dish a little bitter ...
2 teaspoons of Ginger powder. This makes the dish a little sweet and very slightly hot!
½ stick of butter (1/8 lb)
3 teaspoons of dry chives
10-12 chopped leaves of fresh cilantro, preferably, or else 3 teaspoons of dried cilantro
2 cups of brown rice.

1.Put a pot of water on to boil for the rice. Don't forget to salt it! Least of all, don't forget to put the rice in when it comes to the boil! Stire the rice well when you put it in, and occasionally thereafter. It should take about 30 minutes to cook.
2.Melt the butter gently in a frying pan and set the onion and garlic to simmer. Minimal heat is best here.
3.Chop the bacon up as finely as you reasonably can, so that slices across the rasher are about 2 mm thick, and you slice the rashers 2 or 3 times length-wise.
4.Drop the bacon in to the onion mix to start frying. The onion should be getting translucent by this stage, but resist the temptation to turn up the heat, or the onion and butter will brown and burn.
5.Add the ginger and allspice to the fry, making sure that you stir them in and, if the mixture starts drying out, add another ½ stick of butter.
6.Add the cilantro now, again making sure to stir it in well. At this point you should have a mixture of herbs and spices with an infusion of cilantro that will gently change the taste of the scallops as they cook in it.
7.Break the scallops apart from each other (run warm water over them in a sieve) and then add them to the frying mixture.
8.Stir this mixture well, so that the scallops are well covered by the mixture in the pan, turn up the heat to about ¾, and keep frying for about 5 minutes, stirring to make sure that the scallops get cooked from all directions and don't burn at all.
9.Add the wine. It may seem like a lot, but about 15% will vanish as the alcohol evaporates, and you'll want a reasonable amount for wetting the rice.
10.After the mixture reaches a boil turn it down to a simmer and let it cook for about 5 minutes. Meantime, check out that rice! It should be almost done by now – lots more chewy than white rice.
11.When the rice is done pour it into a sieve and then into a serving bowl, and cover with a plate to keep it warm.
12.Back at the scallops, pour the whole mixture out into a service bowl.
13.Take everything to the table and wow your friends!

Monday, May 10, 2010

An Anti-Stress Diet ..... ?

Doing some re-arranging recently I came across a very very faded fax sent to me when I lived in Eindhoven, The Netherlands, in May 1993.

Under this Far Side sketch (see here) a friend had sent me a suggestion for a diet. Now, I wouldn't, in all honesty, take this up for the next ten years with the expectation of slimming down from a 300 lb tub to a size zero beach-blonde bombshell in line for the next episode of Legally Blonde, but it looks like a fun set of principles to live by. Or not!

1/2 a grapefruit
1 slice of whole-wheat toast, dry
31/2 oz. skim milk.

4 oz. of lean broiled chicken breast
1 cup of steamed spinach
1 cup of herb tea
1 Oreo cookie

Mid-Afternoon Snack
Rest of Oreos in package
2 pints of Rocky Road ice cream
1 jar of hot fudge sauce (topping for ice cream)
Nuts, cherries, whipped cream, to taste

2 loaves of garlic bread, with cheese
1 large sausage, mushroom, and cheese pizza
4 cans or one large pitcher of beer
3 Milky Way candy bars (unwrapped!)

Late Evening News Snack
1 frozen New York cheesecake (eat directly from freezer)

Dieting Rules
(These all-purpose rules may be applied with equal effectiveness to any diet, with similar results)
  1. If you eat something, and no-one sees you eat it, then it has no calories.
  2. If you drink a diet soda with a candy bar, the soda cancels out the calories in the candy.
  3. When you eat with someone else then calories don't count so long as you eat less than they do.
  4. Food used for medicinal purposes never counts in a diet. Examples are hot chocolate, brandy, toast, Sara Lee cheesecake.
  5. If you hang out around fat people, or fatten up everyone else around you, then you will be thinner.
  6. Movie-related foods don't count, since they are part of the entire entertainment package, and not part of one's personal fuel. These include - but are not limited to - Milk Duds, buttered popcorn, Junior Mints, Raisinets, and Twizzlers.
  7. Cookie pieces contain no calories since the process of breaking causes calorie leakage.
  8. Foods licked off knives and spoons, like peanut butter and ice cream, don't count if you are in the process of preparing something for someone else.
  9. Foods that have the same colour have the same number of calories. For example, spinach and pistachio ice cream and mushrooms and white chocolate have the same calories. Note: Chocolate is a universal colour and may be substituted for any other colour.
  10. Food eaten over the sink, without dirtying a dish, does not count.
  11. Using the adjective "just" cuts the calorie count in half - as in "I'll have just one more cream puff!".
  12. If you make it a habit to eat continuously, you need not worry about between-meal snacking ruining your diet.
  13. Smoked fish eaten over the weekend has no calories and no cholesterol, even when eaten with creamed cheese.
I rather liked it!