November 14, 2012
We fancied a ready meal and Sainsbury's offered us a whole crispy aromatic duck with pancakes and hoisin sauce for £9, which is only slightly more than they sell a duck for. It proved to be a bit of a bargain; as well as feeding us that night, I scraped enough duck off the carcass to make my son a duck wrap (using the last solitary sad tortilla) for a packed lunch, and the very last scrapings of duck and the end of the hoisin will go into special fried rice. The duck was provided in a really sturdy foil tray, ideally suited to packing up a pasta bake for the freezer. And that left the carcass, which got boiled up for stock.
I often plan my runs so that they end up in the market. This time I was looking for cavolo nero but ended up with some very lovely spring greens. I have a deep-seated conviction that winter soups are improved by greens, the darker the better. I googled 'kale soup' and turned up many recipes for caldo verde; a happy chance as I also had a big sack of potatoes and some leftover chorizo. I was much taken by the Hairy Bikers' recipe, which starts you off by drinking a small glass of port, but in fact I think Nigel Slater is more on the mark, with his suggestion that this is food for when there is precious little in the store cupboard.
This Portuguese website says helpfully 'it's not kale. The green cabbage you want is the one known as 'spring greens' in England. Splendid, because that's what I've got; I can see that it would be hard to cut kale as finely as is recommended for caldo verde. Even more reading persuaded me that it's not even spring greens, it's collard greens or walking stick cabbage. But spring greens are fine; I used the outside leaves of two big heads, keeping the sweet insides for another day. And I cut them very fine.
Slater warns against over-fussing with this soup, which slightly worrys me because my normal way with soup is to sling in everything in the fridge. But I stole one of his suggestions; as this was a main course soup, I added tiny pasta (adorable concligliette) like I do with minestrone. I doubled the quantities other than the chorizo, and I fried up the chorizo separately (and first, so that I could use the bucket of fat it released to cook the onions and garlic in). The duck stock was thick and rich and this soup was delicious. It generated five main course portions, but only because I made everyone stop eating so that we could have rhubarb crumble for pudding. So. Serves four.
Oh, and have some Groucho:
November 13, 2012
The Automatic Journaller
For some time now I've wanted an automatic journaller. Not to write blog posts particularly, but because I write stuff, all over t'internet, every day, and have done since about 1993. And if you mashed it all together it would be a journal. Like Pepys except with a lot less nookie. There was an iPhone app, Momento, which did some of this, but for some reason it only grabbed summaries of much of the data, and hasn't been updated for a while. Also, I don't primarily want to store this material on a phone; I want it on my desktop and properly backed up. Day One Journal is a really lovely journalling app, with all the stuff you want for your day to day journalling, invisible iCloud syncing between Mac, iPhone, iPad, and an elegant, intuitive interface. It also makes it really easy to create backdated entries. It doesn't yet have automatic journalling, but they have promised it for early next year. In the meantime there are scripts available, but the developers have said 'our solution will be awesome'. And everything else about the app is awesome, so I believe them. In the meantime, I've been sucking some of my old writing in manually -- watch out for features like '20 years ago today' coming shortly on Macadamia. How much stuff is there? I have over a thousand entries and I feel like I'm just scraping the surface.
Hello to Charlie, who said 'I like what you're doing with recipes on your blog'. So I'll try to do a bit more of that too. This week's food was bought without doing any meal planning first, which is normally a bit of a mistake but seems to be working out ok this time. Today we will be having a broccoli and pasta bake, probably augmented by bacon and with rosemary breadcrumbs on top. The recipe should make double so that I have one for the freezer. And tomorrow I plan to roast a shoulder of lamb using a recipe for anchovy lamb from Kitchen Revolution. This recipe is particularly notable because last time we had it (using a leg rather than a shoulder), it fed four of us six times: the three dishes described by Kitchen Revolution, and then the last of the lamb went into moussaka, the leftover gravy flavoured a bacon and mushroom pasta sauce, and I boiled up the lamb bone for soup.
Studying: I scraped through the first half of the SaaS course and have, perhaps incautiously, signed up for the second half. MIT 6.00x is going well (and so it should as it's an introductory course), but Harvard's CS50 'do it when you like' approach is having its usual effect and I'm behind.
Exercise: I've sort of finished C25K now; finished in the sense that I can run continuously for half an hour, and finished in the sense that I can run/walk a 5k without feeling exhausted, but not finished in the sense that I can run 5k continuously. So the next step is working progressively on improving my speed and endurance. We will probably do a Park Run in a few weeks; we've been slightly stymied by being busy every single Saturday morning.
Christmas: approaches like an oncoming steam train.
September 17, 2012
A Day out in Walthamstow
We went to visit the newly re-opened and refurbished William Morris Gallery on Saturday.
The rooms are themed, illuminating different aspects of his life and work; his home life, designs, workshop, shop and his socialism. My favourite room was probably the one for Kelmscott Press; I am a bit soft for lengthy explanations of font design and typographic disagreements.
In modern style, there are interactives scattered about the rooms. I liked the two computer-based ones very much; one allows you to scroll round Waltham Forest learning about how it was in Morris's time, and the other lets you play a game running a version of Morris and Co., and try to make beautiful things and not go bankrupt. There are also entertainments for younger children, such as model-making, dressing up, and brass rubbings, in most of the rooms. This sort of arrangement, which I first saw at the Bethnal Green Museum of Childhood, actually allows families to visit galleries and for the adults to have a sporting chance of seeing the exhibits.
My children, for whom the dark, poky, undernourished version of the Gallery was a key childhood memory, do not like the refurbishment. I think this is more a 'why do things have to change' wail, but there were one or two adult visitors on Saturday who had the same view.
Alterations to the back of the building have carved out a new gallery for temporary exhibitions, and an airy tea room (of which more later). The launch exhibition for the gallery is Grayson Perry's Walthamstow Tapestry.
We chose Saturday to go to the gallery because Lloyd Park, in which the gallery sits, was celebrating its own refurbishment.
That means, of course, that there are two café's in the park now. Previously, it didn't really sustain one. The gallery tea room is a lovely spot to lunch, perhaps with a salad and a glass of white wine; the hub café, run by the catering students of Waltham Forest College, is more in the 'Coke and kitkat' mould. But the Friends of Lloyd Park have had influence here; the opening hours are much longer than they used to be, and there's good coffee, cheap paninis and a wide range of child-friendly snacks. So if you're in Walthamstow, use them both! The hub café, in particular, is opening from 8:30am to an hour before park closing; this means that it's straightforward to go for a run or to walk a dog, and then grab breakfast, or go down after school in the warmer months and have a light supper.
One change is that Aveling Fields, the larger area behind the original park, is now more clearly part of the park. On Saturday it was hosting a variety of have-a-go activities, all enhanced by the fantastic weather.
The second thing I tried was riding a Segway. Yes, I know everyone has done this years ago, but it was free. I wasn't very good; it involves steering which is always a problem for me. "You look like a middle-aged woman on a Segway" said Marianne, helpfully, in between generally scowling at being required to spend a Saturday afternoon outside in a park in lovely late summer sunshine.
The third thing was the Bushcraft area, operated by Groundwork. They taught Jonathan, and by association me, how to light a fire using a fire steel. That's actually quite a useful thing to know, and also a lot of fun. We did have to drag Jonathan away before he created a massive bonfire.
We passed over many other free activities including bungee trampolining (which I've done before). There was also a little cluster of interesting food stalls. We really liked SolSnack, a combination of popcorn, amaranth and sorghum flavoured with salt and honey. A quick trip to Istanbul for ices finished our day.
August 03, 2012
Olympics so Far
So far, the Olympics has been not particularly disruptive and rather good fun. We're going for a mix of glued-to-the-telly and actual London experience.
The only tickets we won in the ballot were for Wednesday's archery. It was really good. The audience was a mix of about 10% UK archery enthusiasts (lots of club shirts in evidence), 10% Korean fans, and 80% clueless. Arriving early would have been good for that latter batch, because there was a very clear exposition of what was going on. It would have helped with the endless stream of questions from people around us of very basic things about the sport ('what's with all the metal bits on the bow', 'how do they know where to aim', 'why do they all wear bucket hats'). I don't know what can be done with people who don't know how to turn the flash off, or mute, their digital cameras, or who witter on to their mates as people draw. There were sharp words from the commentator but I think the legions of volunteers should have had Quiet boards like at the golf.
Overall it was a brilliant day out; our top tickets were much less pricey than for most sports (and in particular, every seat in this small venue will be better than all but the £1000 seats for the athletics). We got to see two plucky Brits be knocked out, the top ranked man get beaten, and the awesome Iraqi woman on a wildcard getting to lose to the top ranked woman. Round the back it was possible to do 'have-a-go archery', too. Infrastructure was good because obviously Lord's normally has a lot more people visiting than this, but the food and drink choices were pretty limited.
Yesterday we had park-only tickets for the Olympic Park, so that we got the other half of the Olympics experience. These tickets were the one clear benefit for host borough residents; they weren't free, but they were very cheap. Our plan to buy sandwiches was foiled because we entered from West Ham and were funnelled through a shop-free 25 minute walk to the site. We had spent the earlier part of the day at South Kensington, lured there by free exhibitions, some of which were interesting and some of which appeared not to exist. The Science Museum milk shake bar is becoming a regular for us, too. By the time we got to the Olympic Park we had already walked for several miles. Possibly a mistake. The park is beautiful in fine weather and you could easily spend an entire day there, especially if you have cameras, even without event tickets. The plantings, which are all sort of like wildflowers only better, are exceptionally lovely, and the buildings are interesting (and interestingly lit at night). There are interesting sculptures, random music, a range of things to see and do, and lots of walks. Much of the art and activities are small-scale, like micro-programming, so you sort of stumble over it. The park has sturdy permanent benches set in all over the place, and agreeable grassy banks. And rivers. And the new Royal Yacht Gloriana.
The only downside is food and drink choices; water fountains are plentiful and free, but otherwise it's overpriced and not very good. We bought burritos, our standard go-to festival food because they normally fill you up deliciously with mostly plants for little money. This was no more expensive than the excellent burrito I had the other day from a burrito shop, but was much smaller, and had been made earlier and left under hot lights so the tortilla was crispy. So take a picnic and empty water bottles. And if you're going to an event, also take a Union flag; they're sold out everywhere in the park, with new shipments being sold instantly as soon as they turn up.
We stayed till about 11pm, fetching up for much-needed crepes at the still busy Westfield shopping centre before catching a fast bus home. The space between Westfield and the rest of Stratford was the only place all day where we saw significant numbers of police; perhaps a dozen mounted police and 50-100 other officers, clearly focused on preventing trouble from Stratford. Which does not, to me, seem excessive.
As everyone else has pointed out, the army of volunteers are wonderful; unfailingly cheerful and delightful to talk to. Trained by McDonalds; they did a good job there.
Exercise notes: I walked 28 thousand steps yesterday, doubling my previous Striiv best.
We have early bird guaranteed tickets for the Victoria Park Live Site today, but after exhausting ourselves yesterday I think we are going to go for the Walthamstow Living Room Live Site instead.
And tomorrow, wonder of wonders, I have got last-minute tickets off the 2012 ticket site for the morning athletics. This is a treat for my mum, who has loved the Olympics for her whole life, especially the athletics, and didn't get tickets. So we'll be back then. And then I am done with Olympics live and am back to telly.
July 11, 2012
Exercise: Lots of the regular exercisers like the Free Step on Wii Fit Plus, which provides a pulse on the Wii remote so that you can step while watching tv. I watched QI, and this worked pretty well; best for a rest day or as additional exercise because the Wii Fit is not a very high step and the rate feels quite slow (I raised the pace and would like to raise it more). I plan to do this while watching the Dallas reboot or other junky TV: if it becomes a regular thing I will buy a riser for the balance board.
Culture: Many of my home-based friends swear by Woman's Hour so I am giving it a go. The original plan was to do cardio to it, but the timing probably doesn't work out. I suppose there's Listen Again. Today we've had a rather worthy segment on Melinda Gates and global contraception, and a rage-inducing segment on young men's attitudes to women. Now it's the Cultural Olympiad, which I'm benefitting from without seriously paying much attention to. Yesterday I picked up free tickets to one of the Olympic events-in-other-parks -- so we'll be in Victoria Park on 3 August. Those events are free, and there are some interesting bands playing and other events, so they're well worth checking out. That week is becoming our Olympic week; we have archery tickets, olympic park tickets and Victoria park tickets. After that we're mostly ignoring the fooferol, though we are worried that transport will be blocked all over London.
I do very much want to see Sacrilege, which is coming very close to here but we'll need to organise our life very carefully to do it.
Food: The pea and bacon pasta was really good. We adapted this recipe with 500g not 400g of pasta, additional mushrooms and fennel, and much less parmesan (perhaps 30g instead of 150!). I also used chervil instead of mint. But I think adding a stock cube to the pasta water is quite a good hack, and this ended up serving 4 people plus 3 lunch portions. So probably 6 dinner portions. Tonight: stretchy mince. With turnips probably.
Study: I am still very very stuck on convolution in Signals and Systems, and the software testing course is boring me -- the first Udacity course that hasn't consistently engaged me. I press on though.
July 09, 2012
30 Minutes of Exercise
A month, or so, ago, I said I'd like to re-structure my days so they included 30 minutes of exercise. It took me a bit longer than that to get properly started, and buy some relevant toys, but it feels like it's embedded now, so I thought I'd write a bit about it. If you'd like a blow-by-blow account in rather more detail, I am user 'BohemianCoast' on My Fitness Pal.
By '30 minutes of exercise', I mean '30 minutes of cardio'. I'm being pretty relaxed about what the minimum for that is; a 30 minute stroll is fine. I'm also just beginning (as of today) to do strength training; probably about 10-15 minutes three times a week.
I sorted the living room out so that there was room to play physical wii games again, and fished out the Balance Board.
I resolved that I didn't mind putting some cash into this. Exercise gear isn't that easy if you're a big size; a lot of stuff that's supposedly 'active wear' in larger sizes is completely useless. Particularly trousers if you don't want sweatpants. Sweatpants are far too hot; they also tend to be about 6" too long for me.
I found some nice things at Sainsburys, of all places. They don't go up all that far in size (up to 22), but the clothes are reasonably generously cut, well-priced and stretchy.
Although I'm doing some stuff outside the house, the constant rain doesn't inspire. So I 'refreshed' my Wii games with a new dance mat game, mat-free dancing games, and a walking game. I also fished out some older dance mat games and Wii Fit Plus.
Wii Fit is still as maddening as ever; although they have put more longer routines into WF+, the strength exercises range from pointless to impossible, with very little in the way of recommendations, and require more room than there is in my living room to do them. The cardio is fun but doesn't always work as well as you'd like, and it's still far too easy to find large gaps between games. The kids like it a lot though. Best for: kids.
The 'Just Dance' style games have rather taken over from Dance Mat and I thought I should give them a go. Abba: You Can Dance uses the 'Just Dance engine. But although it's fun dancing to these tunes, I like proper metrics in my exercise games, and the scoring method is just too arbitrary for me. In particular, you don't really need to move your feet to get points, which is a bit of a problem. There are karaoke modes and you can plug in a microphone. When I was ten or so, my friends and I spent hours singing Abba songs into our hairbrushes. This game would have been the *best thing ever*. Best for: parties, girls' nights in, too much Lambrusco.
Dance Dance Revolution is as fun as it's always been, and it's now possible to play the full game while also on workout mode and play full-length songs. They've also adjusted the difficulty calibration so that dances are ranked out of 20 instead of 10. This is brilliant for working out because it makes it very easy to set up dances that are pitched at exactly the right level, interspersed with some that are just a bit too hard, and some to warm up/cool down. In theory it also allows you to play double (the best mode for both fun and exercise, with one person dancing across two mats) on the Wii. Irritatingly, this feature only works with Konami mats, not after market dance mats. That would be fine if the Konami mats were as well-made and padded as my FutureMax pads. But they're not. I do have two of the Konami-style mats, and I think it will be ok if I turn jumps off. Best for: getting a proper workout on the Wii. Have water handy.
That same restriction applies to using dance mats with Step to the Beat (Walk it Out), but in this case the game is walking (and light jogging) only, so it's ok. This is a bit hard to find, but has a passionate user community. It's sort of like a more extensive and structured version of the jogging section in Wii Fit. You walk around an island to the beat of J-Pop songs, and use your step count to unlock a wide variety of things (houses, trees, zodiac signs, events, bridges, music, people) on the island. The tunes vary in intensity so sometimes you have to walk quite hard or even jog for a few minutes before returning to a gentler pace. It's fun to do with family or friends because you can chat while you're walking and the time just slips by. It's not very strenuous (and has options to make it easier), so I think this would be absolutely brilliant for people who are limited in what they can do through age or infirmity. I use it on rest days. It's no longer distributed in the UK but there's the odd copy around. Due to its rarity some people are selling it for very large amounts of money. Best for: 45 minutes non-stop, relaxation, elderly people.
Outside, the main newish thing I'm doing is playing badminton with the family. Steven bought me a fancy racket for my birthday, and we got a cheap racket for Jonathan so that he stopped complaining about using Steven's 30 year old ones, but otherwise the only serious expense here is the courts, which cost about £10/hour. We've been doing this for a couple of months; if we carry on then after the summer one of us will need to get a gym membership that includes court booking privileges because we're currently spending a fortune.
Food notes: Thai Peanut Turkey Burgers are very nice, and something you can do with turkey mince that doesn't make you wish you were using beef mince. We had homemade pizzas on Saturday night (healthy ones with less cheese and mostly veg toppings), and an actual ready meal yesterday (we don't do this much); an Asda Chinese feast for 2 and half a crispy duck. The duck was great and everything else was sort of ok, so next time we might just get two ducks. Tonight we are having some kind of bacon and veg based pasta sauce; perhaps this one.
Study notes: I'm (just) keeping up with Udacity CS258: Software Testing, which I'm finding a bit serious and worthy. Udacity ST101: Intro to Stats is still easy, though the week 2 programming exercise was harder. I'm slightly behind my self-imposed week-ahead schedule on 6003z, because I got a bit stuck on convolution and have to do some more worked examples. And I haven't picked up any of the self-timed stuff for a week, so hopefully I'll get back on track this week.
July 03, 2012
I'm explaining to the kids that they'll need to be able to cook for themselves one day. Plus I'm only feeding two of us tonight. Pizza Toasts are a gift under these circumstances. This is a classic student dish, but it's still completely delicious.
Lightly toast sliced bread. Top it with proper tomato sauce if you have it, or passata, or tomato ketchup in a pinch. Add grated cheese. Top with toppings (in this case red onion, red pepper, chorizo), whack under the grill till it looks cooked. 2 slices of toast for a main meal, one for a light meal. I've just counted these up on My Fitness Pal and they come to about 350 cals per toast. Obviously you could use less cheese, or thinner toast, or have one and a half instead of two.
I think onion is essential if you're going to do this without pre-making tomato sauce (and you are, let's face it). But otherwise just about anything that you'd put on a pizza goes, and it generates about 80% of the joy of pizza for about 5% of the work. Though you probably wouldn't serve it to guests.
June 26, 2012
The Shape of the Summer
Udacity has launched its new hexamester. I am enrolled in four courses. One is ST101 introduction to statistics, which I do not expect to trouble me unduly, and one is the CS262 programming languages course that I'm about 60% of the way through. I am excited about CS221 Logic and Discrete Maths, which hasn't quite launched yet, and I've made a start on CS258 Software Testing. That one requires you to understand objects (classes and methods) in a Python context, which I don't, so I am going to have to find some remedial support on the web for that (Steven says that CodeCademy has some good stuff on beginning object oriented programming) but otherwise I think it will be ok but challenging for me.
I'm trying to do German on Duolingo daily, at least until I go to Castellans Folksommer, and Japanese (on Anki and Read the Kanji) daily. I'm also doing the self-study 6.003z. I'm intending to exercise and play music for half an hour each daily, cook my family delicious food made from fresh ingredients, and squeeze in a bit of sketching, knitting, blogging and reading. Hmm. And, as Marianne said, 'isn't it lovely that you have the time to be a full time homemaker and mother'.
And I'm back on My Fitness Pal, or as my wicked mate Ang calls it, 'My Fat Friend', trying to track food and exercise. An acquaintance of mine has started Michelle Bridges 12 Week Body Transformation, which is a regular sort of online diet and fitness plan except that it runs in structured, deadline-focused, lumps, like the Udacity courses. I know from Udacity and 6.002x that this sort of structure suits me. But the result of it being in lumps is that I can't start yet, and it costs a lot of money, which violates my 'taking advantage of free online courses' model. So I thought I might just try regular old 'eating less and exercising more' for a month or so first before deciding whether to shell out my cash.
Food -- Gordon's Lasagne again, this time with absolutely perfect Natoora fresh pasta sheets. Which are expensive but the packet is twice as big as you need for this dish so I have frozen the rest. Natoora has a partnership with Ocado, which is good because I don't think I could possibly afford to do all my shopping at Natoora! We make this recipe serve six (four large dinner portions and two smaller lunch portions), and it is full of vegetables (I think I use more than Gordon calls for; particularly more mushrooms this time). This time I skipped the creme fraiche, used whole eggs rather than yolks, frozen spinach, and much less parmesan than recommended because I made Marianne grate it and she lost heart after about an ounce. Still delicious. Tonight will be a soup, roughly in line with the Minestrone from How to Eat Nigella Lawson, and homemade bread.
Finally, Dallas is back! Not properly on television in the UK until September though, because in Channel 5's world nobody in the UK who wants to see this has access to the internet.
June 21, 2012
But Where Did The Time Go
Three quick links before I zip off to spend the weekend camping. In the rain. Again.
I certainly learnt a lot from Portal, mostly about not trusting psychotic artificial intelligences. So I was cheered to see that Valve are marketing Portal to schools.
I thought this video from McDonalds Canada on 'how our food stylists photograph and retouch a Quarter Pounder with Cheese' was really interesting.
And this might be the single most offensive thing I've seen on the Internet ever, so be warned:
The really sad thing about this is that the actual website has a dozen or more fantastic videos of female scientists talking about their work and their life. But how would you possibly tell?
June 20, 2012
A new Matt Dancing Video
I think this is worth an entire inspirational video post of its own really. One of my all time favourite things on the internet, now in new mass participation mode. See it before everyone else does!