Category Archives: Personal

Me – A Progress Report

It’s been a month or thereabouts since I made the post about trying to get healthier. This is how it’s gone so far:

So, lets start with the bits where I’ve been reasonably good. In the space of a month, I have biked about 50 miles, been swimming once and swam about 600m, I have been talking walks with my colleagues at lunchtime and have walked somewhere between 15 to 20 miles during those times. Over the easter break, my girlfriend and I went on holiday to Holland (yes, actual Holland, not just the Netherlands) and we must have walked three laps around the centre of Amsterdam. I’ve done a fair amount of exercise.

On the downside, I wanted to do considerably more exercise in that time (50 miles on a bike and 600m of swimming in a month is pretty pathetic really) but a bout of illness and my time on holiday put a crimp in those plans.

I need to work harder on my diet. I have improved my breakfasts a little and my evening meals are not excessive but it’s during the working day that I need to be better. I don’t usually give myself enough time in the mornings to prepare decent lunches for myself so that inevitably means that I need to buy lunch at work. I work for a sixth form college and as much as it distresses the catering staff there, the meals that they serve are, shall we say, suboptimal. Please don’t interpret that as an attack on our catering staff, they are hard working and very skilled. The trouble is that when the catering staff prepare healthy meals for our students, they don’t buy them. I suppose it’s better to serve them chips and burgers and at least get them fed than it is to waste money on healthy food which doesn’t get sold and leave them hungry. This means that my choices when I’m buying food at work are rather limited. I’ve also learned through experience that I can’t eat in the cafeteria because when I try, I end up getting interrupted by a member of staff who thinks that their IT problems are more important than my lunch break and I end up abandoning it.  They have a food shop on campus. They sell sandwiches but they’re generally ones which I don’t like, they either have fillings which are not to my taste or they’re lathered with mayonnaise which I loathe. The shop is also loaded with confectionary and sugary drinks. There is a fruit basket at the till but there is generally only about a 50% chance that I’ll find something in there which looks edible. Pretty much the only place where I can buy filling food at college which I can eat at my desk or away from the servery is the cafe which sells panini, sausage rolls, pastries and cakes. Ultimately, it doesn’t make for a very good lunch.

My diet while I was on holiday wasn’t very good either, we ended up having chips or other junk food most days and we even stopped at a McDonald’s at a motorway service station because we were desperate and there was nothing else. I tell you, I wasn’t expecting much from it but amazingly they still ended up disappointing me. That burger was vile. It’s a mystery to me how McDonald’s are so popular.

Anyway, over the last month I’ve lost about half a kilogram. It’s progress but not as much as I wanted. I want to lose at least 15KG (32lb, 3 stone, 4lb) more and 4″ from my waistline and I am determined to do it. Again. I just hope it won’t take me 30 months to do!

Merry belated Christmas

Well, Merry Christmas I guess.

This has been a bit of a strange one for me. For starters, I’ve been sick with the flu for a good chunk of it and really have only started to feel myself again now.

The other strange thing about is that I think that this is the first time I have started and finished the day completely on my own. With previous Christmases, I’ve either still been living at home, have stayed with my parents for the duration of the holiday or stayed with my girlfriend’s family. This time around, with my parents moving to a smaller house and my girlfriend spending it up at her parent’s in Scotland I’ve started and ended the day in my own flat.

I spent the day with my family of course but it was a bit weird all the same. Oh well, time marches on! I hope that anyone who reads this had a good day on Thursday and enjoys the rest of the festive period! Best wishes for 2015.

Ian’s Pasta Sauce Recipe

Right, I’m going to try to write about something other than bloody computers for once and share a recipe for a pasta sauce that I think I’m quite good at. I think that it’s classed as a ragout, I’m hesitant to call it a Bolognese as it has whole tomatoes in it rather than tomato puree and beef stock and if I did, I’d probably offend the whole city of Bologna and have a Nonna from there chase me down the road with a pickaxe. Anyway, it’s a good recipe and it generally goes down very well with my family when I do it. It’s a lot better than buying a jar of Dolmio or similar, it tastes better and you have a better idea of what’s actually in it!

Serves 6-8. It freezes well so if you don’t have 6-8 people to give this to, just put the leftover sauce in the freezer.

Ingredients

  • 500g Minced beef, 15-20% fat content
  • 2 tins of chopped tomatoes
  • 1 red bell pepper, coarsely chopped
  • 1 large chilli pepper, finely chopped (Optional)
  • 1 large red onion, finely chopped
  • 1 large carrot, grated
  • 4 cloves of garlic, crushed or finely sliced
  • 1 tbsp tomato puree
  • 50g hard garlic sausage such as salami, finely chopped. If you’re in the UK, Pepperami is a good one to use
  • 100ml red wine
  • Some herbs such as basil and oregano. Fresh preferably but dried will do too.
  • Salt and pepper
  • Mild olive oil

Method

Put a large pan on a medium to high heat. Heat around 2 tbsp of the olive oil until it’s very hot. Add the onion, pepper, chilli if you’re using it and the garlic sausage and fry it all for around five minutes or until the onion is soft and translucent, stirring occasionally. Add the garlic and fry for another minute. Make sure that you stir the mixture constantly so that the garlic doesn’t burn. Add the tomato puree and fry for another couple of minutes.

Add the beef mince and fry it until it’s browned. Add the grated carrot and cook for a minute. Add the red wine and let it simmer for about two minutes. Finally, add the chopped tomatoes and give the whole thing a good mix. Add a splash of water if you think it’s necessary. Bring the mixture to the boil then reduce the heat. Simmer for about 90 minutes to two hours or until most of the liquid has boiled off and the mixture thickens. Add the herbs and season the mixture with the salt and pepper towards the end.

Serve with your favourite pasta (I suggest tagliatelle) or with gnocchi. It’s quite good with an Italian hard cheese such as Grana Padano or Pecorino Romano grated over it.

I’m aware that this recipe is about as Italian as I am but I’m just end with “Buon appetito!”. Enjoy!

Variation

Sometimes I substitute the beef mince for sausages squeezed out of their skins. It’s very good with some of the flavoured sausages that you get in the more upmarket supermarket brands such as Taste the Difference or Finest (Other supermarket brands are available).

You can use this sauce for lasagnes and for pastistio. To make a pastistio, make up a quantity of the sauce and some cheese sauce. Cook some tubular pasta such as macaroni, penne or rigatoni. Mix it in with the pasta sauce and put the mixture into a ovenproof dish. Top it with the cheese sauce and bake for 30-40 minutes or until the top is browned. Take it out of the oven and let it stand for five minutes then serve.

queen

Cashing In – Queen Forever album review

I was listening to the Chris Evans Breakfast Show on Radio 2 on my way to work a few weeks ago. Brian May and Roger Taylor were guests. They were talking about their upcoming album and the new tracks that were appearing on it. This piqued my interest. He even played a couple of the new tracks which was quite exciting.

I am a huge fan of Queen. I have loved them since I was about eight. I remember quite well the day that Freddie Mercury died and being very upset about it. I was 11 years old. I have all of their studio albums in one form or another. I have all three of the Greatest Hits albums (They were bought for me before I got the studio albums), I have the Rocks compilation album, I have a couple of the live albums, I have the Mr. Bad Guy solo album and I even have (and quite like!) the Barcelona album that Mercury recorded with Monserrat Caballe. So when I heard that they were releasing a new album with new content on it, I did what any fanatic does and I went to iTunes to pre-order the Deluxe version of Queen Forever. Fast forward on a few weeks and it’s in my iTunes library waiting to be listened to.

What a crushing disappointment it is. Out of the three tracks, only one is actually new (Let Me In Your Heart Again). The other two, Love Kills and There Must Be More to Life Than This, are remixes of two of Freddie Mercury’s solo songs.

The Love Kills mix is quite good, it’s slowed down a little and there is some nice acoustic sounding guitar playing in there along with Red. It’s a good mix but the reverb effects are a little excessive. There Must Be More to Life Than This is the more interesting of the two. It features vocals from Michael Jackson. Apparently There Must Be More to Life Than This was supposed to be a collaboration between Queen and Michael Jackson from the start. Both Michael Jackson and Freddie Mercury made some recordings but the project eventually got sidelined and the song ended up being developed by Mercury alone and appeared on his solo album.

The remaining members of Queen haven’t made it a secret that Jackson and Mercury didn’t actually sing together on this. They both recorded the song separately and the Michael Jackson recordings were thought to be either lost or buried somewhere. They recently found a high quality copy of the Michael Jackson vocals and put the two together in the mixing studio. The trouble is, I think it shows. I don’t know how to explain it, I’m not a sound engineer but it sounds to me that there is a level of post-processing on Mercury’s voice that isn’t there on Jackson’s. When the two are put together, there is a really jarring difference between the two recordings. It puts me in mind of the recent mashup of We’ll Meet Again with Katherine Jenkins and Dame Vera Lynn. That had a war-time or slightly post-war recording of Dame Vera singing then a modern sounding recording of Jenkins. The difference in quality between the two, although inevitable, was absurd and distracting. The same, although to a much lesser degree, is happening with the new Queen track.

Of course, it could just be the mix that is on the album. Brian May mentioned during the interview that there was a mix that he did and one that William Orbit did. The William Orbit version is on the album, the Brian May one isn’t. I’d like to hear the Brian May one and hear the differences.

As for the rest of the album, it’s yet another compilation album. There are some more obscure tracks on here, a lot from their earlier albums in the 70s and some of my absolute favourites such as Love of my Life, ’39 and In the Lap of the Gods. All of the tracks on the album been remastered which is nice if you can hear that sort of thing (I can’t). The second disk on the Deluxe album has five tracks from Made in Heaven which is, frankly, three too many. I quite like that album but they have far stronger songs which they could have put on there.If you haven’t got these songs and if you’re unfamiliar with Queen’s earlier work, I think this would be a fantastic compilation. The trouble is, I do have these songs. I bought them long ago. Having them on yet another bloody compilation does nothing to enhance them. I have paid £12 for one song that I’ve not heard, remixes of two songs that I have and 33 remastered songs of which I already own copies. I know that it was down to me to make sure I knew what I was buying but it feels like I’ve been conned and I’m not especially happy about it. The whole thing feels like a cynical money grab, especially considering how close it is to Christmas.

So in conclusion, buy the album if you haven’t heard Queen’s earlier material. Just buy the new songs if you have.

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