Monday, 22 January 2007

In the Post....

... well, nearly.

My End of Course Assignment for the Open University course I signed up for last summer - Studying Mammals - is all packaged up and ready to go! The course was based on the BBC television series, The Life of Mammals, and covered many aspects of mammalian biology.

Both the television series and its accompanying book are available through Amazon (DVD, Book), and I'd highly recommend either of them.

Despite the fact that making time to study has been hard the last few months, and indeed most of my work for the course has been done in the last three weeks, my innate thirst for knowledge (or lack of common sense...) has not been overcome, and I've signed up for another course Molecules, Medicines and Drugs: A Chemical Story which begins in February.

Saturday, 20 January 2007

Time for something a little different

As ever, my decision to go to the hairdresser today was made on the spur of the moment, mostly triggered, I suspect, by the fact that I should have been busy finishing off an Open University assignment, tidying my appartment, and generally occupying my time with worthy tasks, before I go out to Fiona's birthday party this evening. Instead, I find myself with short hair for the first time in over 10 years!

Team Cultural Event

Well, perhaps "cultural" is a bit of an exaggeration for what was essentially a team get-together at the house of a colleague, to which each of us brought a culinary offering, in most cases something that is traditional from our land of origin.

My contribution was a steak and kidney pie, whose construction was fraught with difficulties. Lacking a normal sized oven, I took it round to my colleague's the night before to cook, and then brought it into work on Thursday, but without the puff pastry for the lid which I was planning to add at the last moment. Unfortunately, because of the storms that hit on Thursday afternoon, I couldn't get back home to collect as the trams to Delft weren't running, so I had to compromise with some filo pastry that I found at a nearby evening shop.

Avocado with prawns (South Africa)
Potato pancakes (Belarus)
Raw Herring (Netherlands)

Main Courses
Pilaf (Kazakhstan)
Spruitjes (Netherlands)
Steak and Kidney Pie (UK)
Vegetable Curry (UK)

We had a very enjoyable evening, and finished up with a walk on the beach at Scheveningen.

Sunday, 14 January 2007


Since joining the choir last year, I've also been receiving education in the area of Belgian beer from my friends Darby, Fiona, Chris and Alex. Now only Fiona and I are left in Holland, but my education is continuing!

Ever since my first trip to a specialist beer cafe with them, I've heard stories of the almost mythical Westvleteren beer, brewed by the monks at the abbey of Sint Sixtus in Westvleteren, Belgium. The monks only brew enough beer each year to support the abbey, and despite the beer's popularity, have no intention of increasing production, making the beer very hard to find.

Last night, we managed to get our hands on some at Locus Publicus, our usual Delft haunt. They have a limited supply, and are rationing it - we sampled all 3 varieties, and pretty much cleaned out the evening's supply single-handedly. Even Ivo, an avowed Duvel drinker, had to sample it...

Saturday, 13 January 2007

The Story of Soup

Growing up, I learnt from Dad that a good soup never has a recipe, only a story describing its roots and evolution. At home, soup is usually born from a Sunday roast, and evolves through the week depending on the meals that grace the table.

Here in Holland, my soups are usually a little more predictable. They are usually born from a trip to the market on Saturday where I sometimes buy a chicken for a treat. Indeed, a whole chicken is not such a simple thing to find in a Dutch supermarket and I now consider it a luxury item! After it's been roasted and nibbled at, the chicken finds its way to the pan where it becomes my stock.

Unlike Dad's changing array of ingredients, my soup tends to contain the following ingredients - shiitake mushrooms (with the occasional chanterelle for variety), onion, ginger, the remaining chicken, pearl barley and a little chili to give it that element of surprise. When my cupboards are well stocked then a few more exotic ingredients might be added - kaffir lime leaves or lemongrass both give a nice oriental slant.

Granny's Mulled Wine

Every year on Christmas Day Granny arrives for lunch armed with an orange flask full of mulled wine. This is her recipe:

1 bottle of red wine
1/2 pint water
1/3 rind tangerine
6 tablespoons sugar
6 cloves
1 cup of brandy (optional).

Warm the ingredients (except the brandy) gently until it steams but don't let it boil. Remove the tangerine peel and cloves, and then add the brandy before serving.

Monday, 8 January 2007

Holidays are over...

I flew back to The Netherlands this afternoon after a lovely extended stay in the U.K. Having seen cousin Tim last night for the first time since his wedding in August, I bumped into him again today at the airport - he was the dispatcher in charge of my flight! I've had a nice leisurely evening settling back into my appartment - hard work starts again tomorrow....

Sunday, 7 January 2007

Skiing Lesson

My Christmas present from Mum and Dad was a skiing lesson at the dry ski-slope in Rossendale, which I took on Sunday afternoon.

The name "dry ski slope" is in fact a misnomer - the skiing surface is made up of honeycomb patterned brushes, which are sprayed constantly by a sprinkler system in order to provide a snow-like skiing surface. That, coupled with the rain, made for a very wet, although thoroughly enjoyable, experience.

I had a two hour private lesson, and really noticed the difference in how far I was able to progress, compared to the group lesson that was also taking place. By the end of the lesson I had graduated from the nursery slope on to the main slope, and apart from a small slip-up on the tow-lift the first time round, stayed on my feet!

The centre was quite busy - as well as providing ski and snowboard lessons, they also have snow-tube parties for younger children. There was a birthday party taking place whilst I was there, with a large group of 5/6 year olds. I was little surprised when one of the lads nudged his friend, pointed at me and said "Look at that old lady on ski's" - I guess the grey hairs are showing more than I realised!

Thursday, 4 January 2007


I've been trying out WikiLoc as a site for posting GPS trails.

Here's an example, from the walking trip Darby and I took in Italy last summer: Logs from Lago di Como

WikiLoc lets you upload tracks along with photographs, and displays them using GoogleMaps or overlays from other map servers appropriate to the region.

Tuesday, 2 January 2007

Shetland photos uploaded

A selection of photos from my trip to Shetland are now available on Picasa.

Monday, 1 January 2007

Bird's Eye View

After many monotonous flights recently in Boring 737s, it was great fun to include 4 flights on propellor planes during my trip to Shetland - on a Dash 8 between Manchester and Aberdeen, and a Saab 340 between Aberdeen and Sumburgh.

The flight home from Aberdeen yesterday was particularly good due to the storms covering most of Northern England and Scotland. Sitting right under the wing, I could see the spray generated by the wheels on the runway as we took off, and that great moment as the hydraulics of the undercarriage stretch as far as they can in an effort to remain earthbound, until finally the upward thrust is too great, and the wheels leave the ground.

Once in the air, we were buffeted about like a small gull caught in the wind. We had a small period of respite once we cleared the clouds and headed over the ocean, but as soon as we came back over land the winds hit again with full force.