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Being in Chicago

Story location: Home / Blog / usa /
31/Mar/2011

I'm in Chicago for a week, attending a conference. We got here on tuesday but our luggage didn't arrive until last night thanks to our 1st plane being late and the airline not having enough time to transfer the luggage over to the 2nd plane. Unfortunately my laptop charger was in the luggage so I had to restrict computer use because I didn't want the battery to run down and leave me unable to do any work.

I'll upload some photos eventually but I'll just waffle on slightly at random for a few minutes first.

There seem to be a lot of 'news' style programmes on in the mornings and I found myself watching a lot of 'Good Morning America' on ABC but I had to give up because they were spending so much time talking about the upcoming Royal Wedding. I'm sure I've seen more about it here than back home.

I really can't watch Fox News. It seems to be aimed at 10 year olds, or at least aimed at people who like inane comments and slightly stupid sounding presenters.

Why did CNN give Pierce Morgan the Larry King job? Surely they could have found someone better, or at least less annoying.

About half the adverts seem to be for pharmaceuticals of various types. A lot of these have a spoken warning at the end which seem to imply that one of the side effects might be death. I know they have to be careful and try to cover all eventualities but that would put me off wanting to take some. Also I mocked an advert for a product aimed at people who couldn't produce enough tears and so needed something to lubricate their eyes. I really wouldn't have thought there was a huge need for such a product and couldn't understand why it was being advertised so much. That was until I spent 2 days in an over-air-conditioned conference centre which seems to be sucking all moisture from my body. Now I understand. If most offices are as bad as that then there is definitely a need for the product, but surely a simpler solution would be just to turn the air conditioning down a little. Where I am right now, there is a bridge between the conference centre and the hotel and there is often a howling gale blowing though, probably caused by an imbalance in the air conditioning in the two buildings.

OK, I spent longer prattling about medicines and air conditioning than I really intended. One thing which has impressed me about Chicago is the public transport. The buses and trains are cheap at $2.25 for a journey or $23 for a pass which is valid for an entire week. This even includes a trip from the airport to the city centre. The buses also have a loudspeaker which gives the name of the next stop or road junction, which makes it really easy to find out where you are and when you need to get off. This is so much better than the buses in Coventry, which are expensive and not part of a properly 'integrated transport' system and half of the drivers don't seem to know their route very well so if you try to ask them if they go past a particular place they can't or won't answer you. The 'Travel West Midlands' company which runs most of the Coventry bus service can't even be arsed putting prices on its website so as an infrequent bus user it's a pain finding out the prices because all the buses are 'exact change only'. The Chicago buses are also exact change, but since all journeys are the same price and that price is well publicised, it's a much friendlier system.

Beer is quite expensive here with pints being between $5-8 depending on bar and type of beer, but a lot of bars seem to stock a good range of 'proper' beers and not just industrial factory-made tasteless lagers. I've been impressed with the beer selection in most of the places I've been to so far.

Food in bars is reasonably priced and of course the portions are enormous. We've not been disappointed by either size of quality. Food in shops is quite expensive, with fruit often costing $1 a piece and snack bars are at least that much too. I was terribly disappointed with the american Tropicana juice. Back home, Tropicana is a premium brand and is nearly all 'freshly squeezed' or at least not from concentrate. All the juices I've seen so far here have been made from concentrate and have other flavours added, usually listed as something like 'Naturally occurring flavours not from Orange' or something similar. The flavour is nowhere near as good as the UK Tropicana.



Running a marathon in a hamster wheel

Story location: Home / Blog / coventry /
20/Mar/2011

There is a bloke in Broadgate in the city centre who is running marathons in a giant hamster wheel. His aim is to raise money for charity.

Charity Hamster Wheel



Orange Drizzle Cake

Story location: Home / Blog / food_and_drink /
17/Mar/2011

It is the monthly cake day in work tomorrow. Normally it is held on the last friday of the month but it's been moved to coincide with Comic Relief day and the cakes are going to be sold for charity.

Since I like lemon drizzle cake I decided to have a go at making an Orange Drizzle Cake, based on the recipe in the Daily Mail. I followed the recipe fairly closely and only made a couple of small changes: I used granulated sugar instead of the caster and icing sugar and I reduced the amount of sugar used in the syrup because my oranges weren't very juicy.

I made one full-sized cake for tomorrow and two small 'samplers' in bun cases for us to try tonight. The cake turned out well - definitely a recipe I'd recommend.



Castleton

Story location: Home / Blog /
13/Mar/2011

Some photos from Castleton in Derbyshire.

Peveril Castle

Peveril Castle

Castleton Church



Rainbow Cake

Story location: Home / Blog / food_and_drink /
13/Mar/2011

Emma recently bought some professional quality food colouring. She made some 'practice cupcakes' before making a full sized cake.

Practice Cupcakes
The first cakes were made by adding the different coloured cake batter to the cake cases.

Practice Cupcakes
The colours had settled a bit in the cup cakes.

Rainbow Cake
The full sized cake was built up from several thin cakes which were made individually then assembled.



Ricecake with trout

Story location: Home / Blog / food_and_drink /
08/Mar/2011

The rice cake was made using a mixture of wild and long grain rice, with a beaten egg, grated cheese and chopped chilli added. I fried the rice cake on one side for a few minutes until it was firm enough to slide onto a baking tray to finish cooking in the oven. The hot-smoked trout was heated through in the oven while the courgettes and leek slices were fried in a little butter.

Rice cake, trout, courgette and leek



Sweet peppers

Story location: Home / Blog / house /
08/Mar/2011

I have been attempting to grow sweet peppers for a couple of years but have never had much success. The yield has always been poor with a lot of the peppers failing to ripen. Last year I decided to keep some sweet pepper and chilli pepper plants over the winter because I had read that it gives the plants a good head start. The chilli plant was looking a bit sad - the leaves had gone dry and turned brown. I expected the worst but some green shoots have started to appear. Last week I noticed some flower buds appearing on the sweet pepper and now a tiny pepper has started to form.

small pepper bud

I only planted this years pepper seeds last week (sweet, cayenne and jalapeno) but it will be interesting to see what results we get compared to last year's plants.



Around Alcester

Story location: Home / Blog /
05/Mar/2011

Yesterday was fairly warm and sunny so I was looking forward to some decent weather over the weekend. Unfortunately it was cloudy today which means any photos will have a pale featureless sky.

ruined barn
An old barn in the middle of being renovated. Some metal supports have been installed and there piles of bricks and roof tiles stored nearby.

ruined barn close-up
A close-up of wattle and daub in the walls.

Snowdrops
Some snowdrops.

Cloudy day in Alcester
A street in Alcester.