Sunday, 11 December 2011

Carrots and washing lines

It's been some time since I posted anything but, as I'm in a bloggy frame of mind right now, I thought I'd stick a few sentences down on life around here at present so...

Back in about March the Daily Mail (sorry about that) provided a free packet of carrot seeds in each paper one Saturday.  Not one to look a gift horse in the mouth I decided to plant them somewhere within "the grounds".  Now it has to be said that there aren't too many places to plant anything at our place.  Most of the "gardens" are laid to flags, surrounded by trees,or filled with perennial shrubs.  So it's hard to find anywhere with sufficient space and light to grow veg.  Notwithstanding this I put the seeds down anyway - in the half-shade of our front hedge.  This is nothing like a perfect spot to grow carrots and, I have to say, that I probably didn't help them much by basically giving them very little attention at all.  Anyway, the seeds have been in the ground for about 6 months and some plants have grown so I thought I'd lift a couple to see how they've got on.

We live in a town surrounded by countryside and it's not hard to find carrots growing.  The plants in the fields look bushy and very green above ground and mine, basically, didn't.  But I lifted some anyway and this is what I got.

"Bonsai" carrot action

Now I know many of us still cleave to the spirit of "size doesn't really matter" but in the realm of carrots (oo-er missus) I think we are probably wrong.  AJ was making soup at the time but she refused to sully the pan with my specimens on the basis that they "would be a waste of time".  I couldn't argue.

Now is the time when long-suffering house-holding men like me get sent up into attics to drag down dusty boxes full of trees and decorations, including those infernal lights.  More recently, of course, this so-called festive decoration has included stuff to exhibit outside the house as well as inside and our house is no different to what is increasingly becoming the norm.  Thankfully for our neighbours our outdoor decorations are limited to the back garden (or yard as I call it).  We started with some white(ish) icicle things and last year supplemented these with some blue lights.  Now there was a little issue with the blue lights because AJ thought she'd bought more icicle type things but actually these came as a simple line.  

Today I was fortunately presented with a gap in the current gales and/or torrential rain which offered the perfect opportunity to put the outdoor lights up.  These had already been tested and "fixed".  Fixed in this case means reducing the number of train elements which show no glowing lights at all by testing bulbs and replacing duds with working bulbs from another part of the chain - simply put I minimise the duds sections.  It seemed a relatively simple task this year and has provided us with a 90%+ light-up  rate (for now at least).  I was also asked to take down the washing line as, it being winter, no washing gets hung up.  It was whilst I was taking down the line (a blue plastic one) that I hit on a notion - why not replace the blue washing line with a line of blue lights.  Excellent idea.  This was made to appear like an even better idea when I found that the line of lights is about twice the length of the washing line so they were easy to string up.  Halfway through the exercise AJ came out wondering what the heck I was doing.  She then saw the "artistic merit" of the exercise and is currently humouring me.  I think it looks pretty cool....
Electric washing line

Monday, 10 October 2011

Pineapple peeling paradise

For some reason I've been getting busy with the bloggin this week so here we go again...

Pineapples are the flavour of the month at the moment, helped by the fact that Morrisons have them on offer - truly huge pineapples for a little over one British pound.  I must admit that I have a taste for pineapple, as much as I have a taste for anything fruity, but they are a real bind to prepare.  Sorting out the inedible core and then sorting out the peel generally takes a while and ends up with much juice on worksurfaces, hands and other places that you didn't mean to get juicy (clothes, the floor, etc. etc.).  Sometimes you wonder whether it's worth the effort.

With this in mind AJ noticed that Lakeland are advertising a pineapple peeler in their latest catalogue so she decided that she wanted one.  I looked at it and decided instantly that it probably wouldn't work and wasn't worth the few pounds of outlay.  As usual, she completely ignored this and ordered it anyway alongside a bunch of toilet-related stuff...

Last week the bundle of plastic "goodies" arrived and a pineapple was bought to test it out.  Now, despite the fact that AJ bought this device, it turned out that I was the lucky guinea-pig chosen to test it out.  I did so and was surprised at how well it worked.  So much so that I thought I'd phograph the process and blog it the next time.  So, here we go.

First of all, chop off the top of the pineapple and decide which size of cutter to use (there are 3).  Then attach the handle to the top of the cutter and start on the pineapple.

Pineapple & peeler ready to go

Note that the cutter has two sets of "blades".  One is in the middle - it takes out the core as you cut through the fruit.  The second is on the outside edge of what is a slightly corkscrew shaped part of the device.  The turning action gently cuts into the soft fruit on the outside edge whilst at the same time taking the blade further down into the fruit.
Peeler part way in - a bit wonky but getting there...

So, midway through the process you've dug into the pineapple.  Then comes the clever bit on the user's part...  You have to work out roughly when you're near the bottom of the pineapple.  If you don't then you end up going through the bottom of it and juice will flow out of the bottom of the hole - that's what happened to me the first time.  Not a total disaster but it can be messy.
The finished product

Staying above the bottom of the fruit you then simply lift up the whole device.  This should bring out the pat of the fruit that you want to eat.   
Leaving the waste and juice...

It also leaves the core and some juice inside the pineapple.  I poured the juice into a glass and drank it.  Lovely.

An important part of the process is choosing the right blade of 3 in the first place. Too small a blade leaves edible fruit inside the pineapple, too large means you would have to trim the fruit once extracted (kind of defeating the object of the exercise).  So, pick carefully peelers!  

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Inspired parking award

We have these awards in work they call "Inspire" awards.  The idea is that someone does some really good stuff and you can nominate them for this award.  It's a good idea in principal and up to a point.  Someone wins an award at each site every month - except that we don't seem to have had a winner since May.  My guess is that the person who organised it at our site maybe left the company?  Who knows. 

Anyway, that's the background.  The key is that the winner of the award gets two prizes.  One is an extra day's holiday, which is fantastic.  The other prize is a prime parking place right outside the door of our main Head Office building.  The space is marked by a "golden cone".  This is a nice idea assuming two things - firstly that you drive to work, secondly that the parking space is convenient for you.  The office I work in is next door to the main office and some people who won the prize didn't actually use the space because it meant they had further to walk in.  Well done to the competition organisers.

None of this is the reason why I posted today however.  The reason I posted is because someone parked in the space today.  I'm guessing that they didn't actually win the award (because nobody seems to have won it for months) and also that they are a girly.  The picture reveals all - this month's inspired parking award (note the cone).

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Lunchtime irony

This is one of the dishes available from our staff "restaurant" today. I couldn't resist snapping it.  I'm not sure whether it contains real vegetarian shepherd or not.  Why they couldn't call it something different I don't know.

They also serve a vegetarian scotch broth sometimes which I think should be renamed "english" broth...

Apologies for the poor picture quality but that's phone cameras for you (well my phone camera).

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Jus-rol pizza base and Vuelta on ITV4

I just thought I'd write about these because they have something in common - neither have lived up to expectations so far in similar ways.

I've used Jus-rol stuff before - usually the puff pastry, occasionally the filo and, on one previous occasion the vol-au-vent cases (fancied a blast of 70's past).  Note that I've never used the shortcrust because that's quite easy and quick to make.  Generally this stuff does what it says on the packet and if there have been any usage issues they have been down to my making.  You really do need to keep an eye on puff pastry and I have let it burn in the past...

I had 2 problems with this product - the amount of dough in the packet and it's usability.  The weight on the packet is 600g which, in my mind should be enough dough to make 3 pizzas.  However, some of that weight is a jar of tomato sauce.  The weight of dough, therefore, is probably no more than 300g (I didn't weigh it) which effectively meant  that I had to go straight back out and buy yet more pizza dough if I wanted to make 3 reasonable sized pizzas.

So.  Usability.  One thing I should say about this pizza dough is that I didn't use it as instructed.  The dough is wrapped inside a tin just like a swiss roll so you are supposed to open the tin, unroll the thing and place it on a rectangular baking tray.  That wasn't what I wanted to do.  What I wanted to do was make 3 pizzas and, for me, pizzas are almost invariably round.  So I wanted to reshape the stuff.  Now it may be that there are instructions on the pack telling the baker to under no circumstances try and roll out the dough into a different shape.  But I don't read instructions so... 

I separated the dough into three lots, one lot being a combination of 2 lumps.  Then I tried to make 3 discs of dough using a rolling pin.  This was not a good move.  The dough turned out to be anything but pliable and each disc took a few minutes of rolling and huffing and puffing to achieve a desired size.  The kids are lucky that they didn't end up with drips of sweat on their dough but they certainly got a base combined with mumbled swear words... 

Toppings were applied, the things were cooked and (looking pretty Ok I have to say) served up.  They didn't go down well though.  In fact one, KT's, didn't all go down.  So, on the face of it, that was the first and last time that the Jus-rol dough will be tried in our house.  The only other stimulus to use it again would be if I was similarly time-constrained (busy working mum and all that) and was happy to serve square-shaped pizza.  And another thing - the tomato sauce wasn't that brilliant either but I've got a spare jar of it now that's good until 2013 if anyone wants to put a bid in.

The question you may now be asking after all that blah is how ersatz Italian pizza dough links to a bike race in Spain.  Read patiently and all will be revealed.  ITV4 have been covering the Tour De France for a few years now and they do a pretty good job of it.  They have a travelling studio set up and several people presenting and commenting through the whole series and it's a very good package.  It's no surprise, therefore, that interest is increasing in the race and in cycling in general and the production team (as well as ITV4) can take a lot of credit for this.  They do what they say on the packet as it were.

With all this in mind I was quite interested in watching the Spanish tour, aka Vuelta a Espana.  Unfortunately the coverage of the race has not lived up to the hype in my head.  Firstly, there are no people for ITV out in Spain so everything comes out of a studio.  That, in itself, isn't an issue but the knock on effect is that there's no scope to do "on the plot" extra material that embellishes the programmes, gives more insight into what's going on, and generally brings the tour to life. 

The other issue is the commentary coverage.  They've clearly bought in a service from another station so we've got an Australian guy telling us what's going on.  To be fair, he seems quite knowledgeable and isn't bad but he doesn't give us the same experience as Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwin.  It's great that the race is being covered and it's live every day as well (suggesting that the rights to screen it must have been cheap) so I suppose we should be grateful for that but it's not a quality job and it's a bit of a shame.  The issue I see is that it won't drag enough punters in as an audience and we may never see it back.

To give an idea of how uncompelling the coverage is, CJ isn't even watching the highlights.  He has the option to watch it live in the afternoons (having probably just surfaced by about 2) but he's not doing so.  If ITV4 can't catch him then they're not really trying.  Fair play to Ned and his Gollum-like mate in the studio.  They're doing an OK job but not enough to really bring it up to a compelling show.

Jus-Rol, ITV4, spot the difference.

Monday, 22 August 2011

Paintblog or... gloss paint is runny or... get someone in to decorate

Now then, I was trying to work out how many years I’ve been painting and decorating.  My first recollection of a painting job was when my dad asked me to paint the shed.  I was young and stupid enough to think that it sounded like a fun job and don’t recall asking for any dosh – probably about 11 or 12.  Little did I know…  Still, I took the job and (eventually) finished it.

The suggestion from that little tale is that I have been decorating for the best part of 40 years, so there are a number of lessons that I have learned over that period.  Lesson one is that nearly all paint is quite runny – in fact I even manage to get non-drip paint to run from time to time.  Of the runny paints, gloss is generally the runniest so it’s the one we should take most care with isn’t it.  The second lesson is that you should take appropriate precautions whenever a paint job needs doing.

The job yesterday was to gloss up the garage door, it having been undercoated the previous day. The undercoating went without a hitch so there was no reason to suggest that the gloss leg would be any different.  It was a nice sunny morning and, because I know gloss paint is runny, I put a couple of dustsheets down.
Everything started off well.  I got a brush out to do the edges of the door because the roller doesn’t get into the gaps and seams.  

No problems there – I used the step to stand on for the top of the door then went down one side.  I opened the door a bit to bring the bottom of the door up to painting height and worked along the bottom.  Whilst doing the bottom, however, I took a small step to the left, for whatever reason, and just dinked the paint tin.  I didn’t knock it over but this was a full tin of paint so I hit it hard enough to knock about a saucer full onto the dust sheet.  

Expletives were muttered and I got down and scooped as much paint as I could back into the tin with my brush.  I then checked that the paint hadn’t gone through the dustsheet (old duvet covers being used for this particular job) and found that, unfortunately, a little had.  Garage door up, into the utility room and out with a cloth.  I cleaned up and got back on with the job – no worries.
The door edges were finished so now it was time to get the mini roller out.  This, of course, comes with a small tray.  The first job was to pour some paint into the tray – not too much because gloss is runny and we don’t want it dripping all over the place.  So I poured a bit in.  Then, somehow, I managed to over tip my paint tin the other way (towards me) so that a little paint came out of the “wrong” side of the tin.  I was holding the tin at this point so the paint was now also going over my hands as well.  More expletives – paint tin down, back into the utility room.  White spirit and soapy water came out this time and my hands got cleaned.  I also cleaned up the tin and checked the dust sheets yet again.

The bloody (OK, painty) result of the spills 1 & 2
Now.  Because things clearly weren’t going to plan, and because I’ve learned that precautions are generally a good thing where runny pain is concerned, I did 2 things.  The first thing was to turn the dust sheets around.  The paint I was using is a red colour and the garage floor is also a red colour.  The garage floor is also due for repainting.  So I figured that if any of the previously spilt paint did leak through it would do so onto surface that didn’t matter.  I was also conscious of the distinct possibility that I would tread in a patch of spillage and end up walking red paint all over the place.   

By this point in the story you will doubtless be unsurprised to know that I have managed to do the "paint trodden through the house thing" before as well…

That was the first thing.  The second thing was to place another dust sheet under the first two sheets.  The idea here was that there was every chance that I would spill more paint so I thought a dustsheet belt and braces approach would make sense…

OK.  I started painting the top of the door with the roller.  I was stood on the step and holding the paint tray in my left hand.  The thought then occurred to me that holding the paint tray, given what had already transpired, probably wasn’t the best idea – if I didn’t keep it really flat the chances were that further spillage would occur.  The other thing was that I didn’t need to dab the roller in the tray very often so why hold it? 

So, instead, I put it on the floor next to the step and everything went well.  I got near the end of the top bit of the door and thought I’d spotted a patchy bit where I’d already been, so I stepped sideways off the step to deal with it and went straight into the little tray…   

Paint went over the dustsheets, some went on the driveway, and also on my trainers.  Brilliant.  More expletives and a continually rising blood pressure.  

First thing was to take the trainers off.  Then, YET AGAIN, garage doors up, in for a cloth and white spirit.  I folded the dustsheets back and attacked the drive with the white spirit.  That got most of the spillage up out of the drive but then created a pink slick.  So, it’s back into the utlity for a big bucket of soapy water to dilute the slick and then mop it all up.  

Spill 3 result (to the edge and beyond)

Eventually, I finally cleared all of that up and carried on, except now I had watch my step around the patches of spillage that were left on the dust sheets.  The rest of the job went without a hitch but what was a 30 minute job probably ended up taking about an hour.  It also took a while for the blood pressure to recede.  Some people think painting is a relaxing job (including me – sometimes).   And there’s still at least one more coat of gloss to go!!!

A trainer on the way to the tip

So, folks, don’t ever underestimate the runniness of paint and remember, if you can afford it, that there are plenty of decorators looking for simple jobs like this to pick up from divvs like us.

Still...  It could have been worse

Until the next time

Friday, 19 August 2011

Rant of the week - Morrisons latest version of the self-service till

I'm a regular shopper in Morrisons, primarily because they're the biggest supermarket near home and they are good value without being rubbish.  I'm also a regular user of their self-service tills.  Generally I've had little problem with them and fly through without too many hassles but they've changed the software on them now...

I think every time I've used them on the last half dozen occasions I've had to call for help.  The reason for this seems to be mainly because the scales think something hasn't been put into the bag or is the wrong weight.  The poor assistant has to just reset stuff so it all seems like a waste of time.  I've also found out that you don't now put newspapers into the bag because it confuses the till (sounds like I could get away with a free paper there... people are bound to catch on to that).  Similarly, if you put a bag onto the scale at the start of proceedings and there's already shopping in it the till also gets upset.   More help required.   It didn't use to be this bad...

We were away last week and visited a Tesco and used their self-serve tills.  Absolutely no worries.

Last time I used one at my local branch the whole thing just froze.  The assistants hadn't got a clue and hit random buttons until the till woke up again and carried on.

So... Morrisons... Get your act together with the self-serve scene and sort out that dodgy software.  I can see that you are trying to make sure that shoppers don't rip you off but we shouldn't have to nab assistants every time we do our shopping.  If you don't sort it out you'll just put people off using the infernal devices...

I think I've done well not to swear on this one.  Think I'll probably do a weekly rant which I'll try to make more amusing than  this one