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Apricot Wine

Story location: Home / food_and_drink / wine /
30/Apr/2006
  • 600g of dried apricots.
  • 500g pears.
  • 1kg sugar.
  • 1 small tin of white grape concentrate.

Wash the fruit in a dilute sodium metabisulphite solution, then chop and put into a large pan. Add the sugar, cover with water and bring to the boil. Turn off the heat and leave to cool.
Pour into a sterilized fermentation bin. Add 1tsp of pectin enzyme, 1tsp of yeast nutrient and the yeast. Leave for a few days, occasionally mashing the fruit to get more juice out. Strain into a demijohn, add the grape concentrate and top up to 1 gallon with water. Fit the airlock.

When the fermentation has stopped (or the wine has reached the desirable sweetness), add some wine stabiliser. The wine will need to be clarified either by adding finings or syphoning into a 2nd demijohn and leaving to settle. Or both if the wine is quite cloudy.



Mama Mia

Story location: Home / Blog / food_and_drink /
28/Apr/2006

We saw this when we were in Ellesmere Port visiting my parents. We didn't have a camera handy so had to wait until my Dad could take a photo and send it to me:

Mama Mia's Indian Take-Away



Tonsillitis Day 2

Story location: Home / Blog /
27/Apr/2006

Yesterday my Doctor told me I should rest for 'anywhere between a few hours and a few days'. I decided I would wait until I woke up naturally this morning and see if I felt well enough to go to work.

I always feel guilty about staying off work if I'm able to be up and about but yesterday I was too tired and work would have made me feel worse. This morning I was feeling a bit better so after a late breakfast consisting of yesterdays uneaten bacon sandwiches dunked in soup, I wandered off to the station to catch the train to work.

It doesn't hurt as much when I eat now but I think it's wise to stick to soft foods at the moment so lunch was more bread and soup, along with some cherry tomatoes and a hard boiled egg. As long as I remember to take my penicillin an hour before eating, I should be ok.



An Interesting Diversion

Story location: Home / Blog /
27/Apr/2006

After leaving work I walked to New Street Station as usual. I glanced at the board to check that my usual train was at it's usual platform. The train left the station only a couple of minutes late. I looked out of the window at the industrial units we were passing and thought they looked slightly unfamiliar. Also the BT Tower seemed to be in a different direction. We then passed through an area of housing, looking down onto the rooftops. I don't remember seeing that before. We passed a park with a pond. Wait a minute. There's definitely no park like that along the route home.

The train slowly trundled through a station. I looked out of the window to read the name. Perry Barr. Holy Crap! We're heading in the wrong direction. None of the other passengers look worried. Am I on the wrong train? If the next stop is outside the West Midlands, my railcard won't be valid to get me home. The LED display in the carriage still claims the train is heading towards London Euston via Birmingham International and Coventry but we are going in the wrong direction.

The voice of the train manager wafts through the train. We are being diverted because a lorry hit a bridge near Adderley Park station. The train has to pass over the bridge so the line is closed while they do safety checks. Ok, I'm on the right train. We pass under the A38. I look at the road signs and notice we are going from west to east so at least we are now in the right direction. We pass Aston Villa football stadium and Star City. The next station we pass is Stetchford. Phew. We're back on the right line now.

We arrive in Coventry almost half an hour late. I step onto the platform. Puzzled. I don't recognize this place. What platform are we on? The sign says 1. The other sign says Coventry. Ok, right place. I look down the platform one way then the other. Ah, the exit is over there. The train came in 'backwards' so I was at the unfamiliar opposite end of the station. I wander the length of the platform, under the road bridge and towards home.



Bye Bye Mazda

Story location: Home / Blog /
26/Apr/2006

The old Mazda 323 went to the scrap yard today. It was only ever a temporary car between the Rover Metro and the new car.

It was my Dad's old car and he only kept it because it would have cost money to have it scrapped. The scrap yards here seem to be better and we got £25 for it. Anyway, back to the car. It would take around 5-10 minutes to warm up before it was safe to drive, due to the engine management being faulty. For most of the warm up time, I had to sit with my foot gently on the accelerator. When it started to blow black smoke out a couple of months ago, Emma insisted that we started looking for a new car. Occasionally while driving, the engine power would drop and then return, giving the car a bit of a jolt. It was also a high insurance group and we couldn't afford to get Emma insured to drive it.

On the positive side, when I was emptying the car last night, I found a bottle of wine under the drivers seat! That probably explains the creaking and clanking noise I heard when I last drove it. It sounded like the seat was about to collapse.

The old Mazda 323 went to the scrap yard today. It was only ever a temporary car between the Rover Metro and the new car.

It was my Dad's old car and he only kept it because it would have cost money to have it scrapped. The scrap yards here seem to be better and we got £25 for it. Anyway, back to the car. It would take around 5-10 minutes to warm up before it was safe to drive, due to the engine management being faulty. For most of the warm up time, I had to sit with my foot gently on the accelerator. When it started to blow black smoke out a couple of months ago, Emma insisted that we started looking for a new car. Occasionally while driving, the engine power would drop and then return, giving the car a bit of a jolt. It was also a high insurance group and we couldn't afford to get Emma insured to drive it.

On the positive side, when I was emptying the car last night, I found a bottle of wine under the drivers seat! That probably explains the creaking and clanking noise I heard when I last drove it. It sounded like the seat was about to collapse.



Tonsillitis

Story location: Home / Blog /
26/Apr/2006

I woke up this morning with a sore throat. I took a look in the mirror and there was a huge white spot on one of my tonsils. Emma insisted that I go to the Doctors so I phoned up for an appointment. The Doctor told me it was tonsillitis and gave me a prescription for penicillin. I was told to stay home and rest.

The lump on my tonsils felt like there was food stuck in the back of my throat but of course it was stuck there and felt uncomfortable every time I moved my tongue or jaw. Swallowing food was painful - most of today's diet comprised of fruit smoothies or soup.



Banana-ripened Pears Part 2

Story location: Home / food_and_drink /
24/Apr/2006

The pears are definitely ripe now. I brought one to work to eat today and it got a bit squashed in my bag. There was a big dent in one



You can't eat that here

Story location: Home / Blog / food_and_drink /
24/Apr/2006

I was supposed to be meeting Emma and some of her Uni friends tonight - they were going out celebrating the end of their final exams. The plan was for me to take the bus in and join them at Varsity for food and a few drinks before going to the Students Union. Unfortunately Varsity wasn't serving food for some unspecified reason so I was asked if I could go via KFC and pick up a couple of meals and a bucket. Although KFC is on the bus route, I would be stuck waiting for the next bus while holding a rapidly cooling box of chicken bits so I had to drive. Which meant I would be on soft drinks for most of the night

We sat outside Varsity eating our food and drinking jugs of cocktails from the bar. As we were getting towards the end of the meal the manager came out and told us that we shouldn't eat our own food on the premises and we'd have to stand on the pavement if we wanted to continue. As most of us had finished eating, this wasn't a problem. She took away the rubbish we'd generated. (So much fat had come out of the chicken in the bucket that it had dissolved away the cardboard at the bottom. Yum!)

After we had all finished eating we went back inside to buy more drinks. The manager seriously considered not allowing us to be served! Fairly stupid really because the pub was fairly quiet and they probably needed all the custom they could get.

On leaving Varsity we went into the Students Union for the Top Banana night. It was empty when we got there but by the time we left it was really crowded. Probably something to do with most drinks being £1 each. Of course I was driving so was relegated to tap water.



What I'm Watching

Story location: Home / Blog / tv /
23/Apr/2006

I don't watch much TV these days - a few comedies and films, and sometimes the shopping channels on freeview to see what kind of horrible tat they're selling. There are a few programmes I regularly watch:

Everybody hates Chris
Much funnier than Everybody Loves Raymond. Narrated by Chris Rock, this is like some kind of anti-Cosby Show about a hard working but poor black family growing up in New York.

Doctor Who
The second series of the new and improved return of Dr Who. The BBC have given it the budget it deserves so at last it has decent special effects. It's a pity that so many of the stories are Earth-based but what we've had so far has been good.

Invasion
A very strange programme. After a hurricane, strange things started to happen in a small Florida town. People who went missing during the storm were found later, physically unharmed but somehow 'changed'.

My Name is Earl
One of the most original comedies currently on tv. About a petty criminal who lived a crappy life til he found out about Karma. He figured that this was why bad things kept happening to him so he made a list of all the things he'd done and tries to make amends.

House
Hugh Lawrie as an american doctor. Now into it's second series. The stories follow a few familiar patterns, usually: patient is admitted, doctors think they know what's wrong, start treating patient, patient gets worse, doctors realise some odd combination of ailments was giving misleading symptoms.

The second series of Lost is starting soon so that's another one I'll be watching. Most of these programmes are American - British tv seems to be going through a bad phase at the moment. One of the few watchable British comedies at the moment is My Family but that has a writing team based on the american way of writing sit-coms. And even that isn't as funny as it used to be.



Mr Pinchy

Story location: Home / Blog / food_and_drink /
22/Apr/2006

We went to Tesco last night and noticed that they had half price lobsters, down to 'only' £5. There were none on display but I asked if they had any left and thankfully they did.

We ate it for lunch with bagels and cream cheese. There wasn't a lot of meat, only enough for a bagel each. It was only a small lobster and more like a Tesco Value lobster really, but it was worth getting just the once.
lobster lobster and bagel



Strange dream

Story location: Home / Blog /
20/Apr/2006

We went out to a restaurant from work. Some of the bosses were there as well. For main course I ordered beef and chicken pie and roast potatoes but what came was hotpot. A plate of roast veg was brought out and put in the middle of the table but there were only 4 bits of veg on it.

After the main course I somehow ended up at home. My house was very dark inside and I had to crawl between some scaffolding to get into the front door, as if the place was derelict.

I was back in the restaurant for dessert, which was a huge plate of fruit salad. There was a hollow or well in the centre of the plate which was filled with fruit juice. Assorted fruits were arranged around with a different one in each sector of the plate, including gooseberries which were about 1 inch round but cut in half and had a furry texture which I likened to eating a hamster! They also tasted quite like kiwi fruit and not sour at all. Despite the texture they looked more like gooseberries with hair, and not like kiwi fruit with fur.

The dessert also came with a large clear plastic and cardboard mug (the same shape and size as a fast food soft drink) full of a thick dark coloured juice drink with whipped cream floating on top. I was drinking from the top of the cup before I noticed one of my colleagues drinking from a straw which was sticking out of the side of the cup.

Unfortunately then my alarm went off and I had to get ready to leave for work.



Banana-ripened Pears

Story location: Home / food_and_drink /
19/Apr/2006

We bought two bags of pears from the supermarket over a week ago (bought one, got one free). They were very hard and under-ripe. We also bought some bananas at the same time so I thought I'd try a bit of an experiment.

I had heard about bananas helping to ripen fruit, due to them giving off small amounts of ethylene gas. I tore a small hole in one of the bags of pears and poked a couple of bananas in, leaving them there for just over a week. I ate one of the pears today and it had ripened 'just right' - soft enough to eat but not too soft or juicy. When I got home I tried a pear from the 'control' group. It was of a very similar ripeness. The bananas seemed to have had a negligible effect



Brain Asleep

Story location: Home / Blog /
19/Apr/2006

My brain has been half asleep this week. Forgot to check email in work this morning and nearly missed out on some free biscuits which someone brought back from holiday. They'd been left in the kitchen and an email was sent out to let people know.

I was like this last night as well when I kept mis-reading prices in the supermarket.



Chocolate Macadamia Shortbread

Story location: Home / food_and_drink /
17/Apr/2006

Based on a recipe in the Mail on Sunday 'You' magazine.
To make the base:

  • 170g/6oz butter
  • 75g/2½oz sugar
  • 100g/3½oz ground almonds
  • 150g/5oz plain flour

Use a food processor to mix everything together until it all sticks together into one lump. Put into a well buttered baking tray (approx 6x6 inches) and press flat. Put into the fridge to chill for around 1 hour. Prick the base all over with a fork and bake for ¾ hour on gas mark 3 (around 150°C). Leave to cool while you prepare the topping.

To make the topping:

  • 200g bar of plain chocolate
  • 200ml double cream
  • 100g macadamia nuts

Break the chocolate into chunks and slowly melt over a pan of boiling water. Beat in the cream until well mixed. Pour the topping over the base and generously scatter the macadamia nuts, pressing them gently into the chocolate (you don't want them to fall off when you eat it). Cover and put in the fridge for a couple of hours before cutting into very small fingers (at least 12-15 servings). Warning: this is loaded with calories. Depending on the cream and chocolate, up to 300 calories per serving!



Welcome to Coventry. No Right Turn

Story location: Home / Blog / coventry /
17/Apr/2006

I find it strange that despite Coventry being the birthplace of the British Motor Industry, it is not a very car friendly city. There are a lot of strangely designed junctions with strange restrictions on them. Near where we live, there are:

  • The junction with Melbourne Road and Spon end - no right turn from either direction.
  • Hearsall Lane, no left turn onto Allesley Old Road
  • Queensland Avenue, no left turn onto Hearsall Lane
  • Broomfield Road, no right turn onto Albany Road
  • Broad Lane, no right turn onto the A45, which brings us to...
  • The strange 'island' full of fast food eateries next to Sainsburys which you need to go all the way around to get onto the A45 if you want to go towards Birmingham
  • Junction 4 of the Ring Road where you turn onto the slip road to stay on the Ring Road
  • Added 3/11/06: A roundabout on the A444 where you can never leave if you try to obey the 'no left turn' signs on all the exits

One of the worst junctions though has to be Toll Bar End, near the airport where the A45 and A46 meet. This is one of the busiest roundabouts in the midlands, and is quite horrible to drive around. There are far too many lanes and it is nearly always busy so if you're not in the right lane early enough it can be difficult to navigate around.

The image below is from Google Maps and shows the junction as it is at the moment. Thankfully, there are plans to replace it with a 'grade separated' junction where the main carriageway goes straight through so the roundabout would only be needed to switch roads.
toll bar end junction



Rescuing my Shirts

Story location: Home / Blog /
17/Apr/2006

I think our back garden somehow attracts the wind. A couple of weeks ago the plastic table was found upside down in the bushes at the far end of the lawn. I hung some laundry out this afternoon and it must have got windy after I went back indoors because about half an hour later I looked out of the window and the clothes horse had blown over. I moved it to near the back door where it shouldn't be too windy and went back inside. Shortly afterwards I looked outside again and the clothes horse had blown over for a 2nd time and my shirts had blown off the clothes line and were lying in the bushes. Thankfully they didn't need washing again.



Turkey Burgers

Story location: Home / food_and_drink /
15/Apr/2006
  • 1lb minced turkey
  • 1 medium onion
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 4 slices bread
  • 1 egg (beaten)
  • seasoning (salt, pepper, herbs etc.)

Use a food processor to make breadcrumbs from the 4 slices. Add to the mince. Finely chop the onion and garlic (preferably using food processor again). Mix everything together, adding the desired seasoning. Jamaican Jerk seasoning works very well.

Shape the mixture into small patties and fry gently for about 5 minutes each side.



First Barbeque of the year

Story location: Home / Blog /
15/Apr/2006

We had our first barbeque of the season this afternoon. The weather stayed ok, not as warm and sunny as this morning but still warm enough. We provided chicken breasts, sausages and home made turkey burgers. Ben turned up and brought pork steaks. Emmas's friend Andrew turned up and helped eat them.



A Hamster's Home is his Castle

Story location: Home / Blog / Hamsters /
14/Apr/2006

The last time I wrote about Zac, he was living in a seperate cage to Ira and Gel. About a month ago we decided it was worth trying again to get them to live together. Like last time we started off by getting them out to play together. Then we'd leave them in the same cage during the day while we could keep our eyes on them. We would put Zac back into his own cage at night (actually alternating cages so one night Ira and Gel would be in one cage with Zac in the other, then next night they would be in the other cage).

This time we left it longer before having them in the same cage at night. This seemed to make a difference and everything seemed better with much less fighting and pushing.

See more ....
Emma wanted to get a larger cage so that they would have more room to run around. She saw the Hamster Castle for sale on ebay decided it would be ideal to keep the three of them in. It is huge (2 foot square), much bigger than the habitrail cages, and required the furniture in the upstairs front room (aka the Hamster Bedroom) to be rearranged.



Fare Dodger

Story location: Home / Blog /
10/Apr/2006

There was a fare-dodger on the train this morning. When the ticket inspector appeared at the far end of the carriage, he stood up and disappeared towards the other carriage.

Thee ticket inspector obviously knew what was going on because after he had finished his rounds, he came back into our carriage and sat down opposite me, where he could keep a watch on the toilet door (where presumably the fare dodger was hiding). Another Central Trains employee arrived on the scene to offer reenforcements, but I didn't see how the scene played out because the train arrived at New Street and I had to leave.



Lunchtime blog update

Story location: Home / Blog /
10/Apr/2006

After moving my website to a new hosting company last week, I've been a bit busy making sure the site works properly, that the blog software is set up properly and that all the links work. This has meant that I haven't had time to add many entries, so I am spending my lunchtime today writing a few brief notes for last week, and back-dating them so they appear on the right days. So any short entries below don't reflect any new found brevity, just a lack of time.

Update:
Lunchtime might not be the best time of day to do this, at least in work. It seems that everyone starts surfing the 'net and everything slows down, pages fail to load and lots of DNS errors appear.



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8 Go Ape in Nottingham

Story location: Home / Blog /
09/Apr/2006

Venue: Go Ape at the Sherwood Pines forest park near Mansfield.

It involved rope ladders, swinging from trees into nets, walking across wobbly bridges, sometimes proper rope bridges, sometimes logs suspended from wires. I managed to put my fear of heights behind me and completed the course.

We were late getting started because on the first obstacle after the training area there was a little kid too scared to swing across onto one of the nets. Various members of staff tried to talk him into it but without success. He was even too scared to climb down the rope ladder to the ground and didn't realise that he needed to make a decision otherwise he'd be up there for the rest of his life. We wasted about 45 minutes while all this went on.

Each stage of the course followed a similar pattern:
Rope ladder to a platform halfway up a tree
Several crossings to other trees
Zip wire down to the ground.

One of the crossings from tree to tree was an aerial zip slide from one platform to another. Normally the zip slides take you to the ground so you go at quite a steep angle and there are wood chippings on the ground to help slow you down and cushion any landing. In this case though, the end of the line was on a wooden platform so the approach was slower and not so steep. The idea was to get your feet onto the sloping approach to the platform and climb to safety. Unfortunately Emma's legs were too short and she started to slide backwards and ended up suspended from the cable, 30-odd feet above the ground. Now my fear of heights was at it's worst when I was standing on the narrow platforms up in the trees, but I think it would have really kicked in if that had happened to me. It took quite a long time for a member of staff to hear the cries for help and to come to her rescue.

Despite this minor setback, everyone seemed to enjoy the day out, including Jill, who's recent birthday was the reason for going.



Mr Mince

Story location: Home / Blog /
06/Apr/2006

Most mornings while I'm walking across the car park, the London bound train is pulling into the station. This is usually accompainied by a frantic increase in activity as commuters hurriedly park cars and race to the platform.

This mornings participants included the occupants of a black Range Rover with blacked out windows. This tough looking vehicle parked and a man and a woman climbed out. They both sped towards the platform, the man mincing his way across the car park, his running action completely at odds with the tough image suggested by his car.



New Car

Story location: Home / Blog /
03/Apr/2006

We were supposed to collect our new car on saturday but as I've already mentioned, we were away. I left work early this afternoon so we could go and collect it today.

It's not a new car (just over 4 years old) but it's low milage and in good condition. When we took it for a test drive, the speedometer wasn't working but thankfully that had been fixed and we were able to drive it away safely and legally.

We chose to buy a Kia Rio because they don't hold their value, so second hand ones are much cheaper than most other similar sized cars. As long as we get a couple of years motoring out of it, we'll be happy.



New web host

Story location: Home / welcome /
03/Apr/2006

Over the weekend, I moved the website to a new web host. A lot of the addresses and configuration for the blog script needed changing but hopefully I've got everything sorted now. Most of the links now work but occasionally you'll get an error message explaining about the site moving. That probably means there's a link I've not fixed or a page I've not uploaded yet. It will probably take me most of this week before everything's working properly.



Up North

Story location: Home / Blog /
02/Apr/2006

We were away this weekend, up north visiting our parents. We started off at my parents house, then drove to Emma's mums place (via Bolton to collect a castle shaped hamster cage, more about that another day). On the saturday night we all went out (me, Emma, her mum, her mum's husband) to an Italian restaurant. On sunday we drove over to see Emma's dad and his wife. We were taken out for a pub lunch. On the way home we stopped at Ikea to get some of their really tasty Punschrolle from the food shop.



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