Monday 31 December 2012

London Photowalks - need suggestions!

So, as part of my Things To Do In 2013, I want to do a photowalk around something/somewhere in/near London.

I need suggestions for where to go, and possibly thematic ideas.

This could be something like iconic pubs, a museum (that allows photography, obviously), a location, a theme (possibly developed over several walks, like Famous SF Locations or something), or ... anything really.

Things to keep in mind:
  • I am a wuss when it comes to weather. My camera is not rainproof, and it rains a lot here. Also, it's cold out there this time of year.
  • My back hurts a lot, camera gear is not light. At least in the early part of the year, keeping things to locations where I can sit down and put my bags down a lot is a great idea.
... that's about it, really.

So, non-Londoners, is there something you'd like to see photographs of?  Londoners, what's interesting to see around here?

There will be prizes for the 12 I pick - namely, I will print out and send you a photo of your choice from the nominated photowalk. In case of duplicate successful suggestions across different social media, I will duplicate prizes up to the limit of my laziness.

See my smugmug galleries for what I've already taken pictures of.

Sunday 30 December 2012

Christmas noms

This is a post about what I cooked for Christmas.

It started with a great deal of planning menuwise. First thing to get cooked was beef stock, as a base for the soup. It sat in the fridge for a couple days.

Then, the turkey. Oh, the turkey. It was removed from the fridge, had the remaining feather shafts plucked out (a good half hour or so of icky ewww), and then was put into a brine. A simple brine, of french sel de mer, about half a cup, to about 4L of water, a full head of peeled garlic cloves, and a few peppercorns.

Awesome. So far. Then there was the cutting up of many onions, and the placing of onions into the slow cooker to caramelize. It was about half a kilogram of onions all up. The caramelising went slowly. Oh so very slowly. Perhaps 2 hours all up, if I recall correctly.

Once the onions were nicely browned up, the stock, bay leaves, thyme, peppercorns, and salt were added to the mix, and stirred a bit before being left to their own devices overnight.

Om nom nom. Waking to the smell of that cooking was FABULOUS. Dare I say, even, GLORIOUS. And horribly tempting to have that for breakfast instead of well, breakfast.

I popped the first bottle of bubbles (Verve yellow label) about 11am or so, when I also pulled the turkey out of the brine and rinsed it off. That started off the day's cooking; I plucked most of the remaining feathers off while waiting for it to get to room temperature. Note for next year: gloves and needlenose pliers.

I put the neck in some water with an onion, bay leaf, peppercorns, and carrot to make the stock for the gravy. The veges got peeled and chopped, and doused with goose fat. The turkey got an onion put in it, some more garlic, and rubbed with more goose fat.

There was a bit of a rush as I got a few timings wrong, but eventually the turkey got cooked to perfection, as did the brussels sprouts with chestnuts and bacon, along with the roast potato, and turkey gravy. It made a wonderful looking plate, I have to say.

Delicious, wot? Of course, the last thing to happen was the Christmas pudding, and the cleanup. I hate cleaning up.

Sorry about the funky picture spacing, I don't have the patience to tidy it up right now. Why blogger can't just do a nice grid I don't know. Oh well. That's a whole other rant, I guess.

Still, Christmas dinner was lovely and awesome, and well received. And we're still eating the leftover turkey. It was also 100% dairy free, and gluten free except for the Christmas pudding (because I couldn't find a nice gluten free one before Christmas, and I couldn't be bothered with DIY).

I have much more confidence in doing a turkey next year (possibly for things other than just Christmas) - I will probably use a saltier brine, and maybe a more complicated one. Maybe. Or maybe not!

I hope your Christmas foodage was as awesome as mine was.

Obligatory Year Changeover post

So, 2012 is drawing to a close, and 2013 is about to start. It's fairly traditional at this point to look back over the year that's gone, and look forward to the new one.

What happened in 2012?
  • I was depressed for most of it, but I seem to be out from under the worst of it
  • I went to Bendigo, Ballarat, Florence and Seattle for the first time ever
  • I saw the Olympics
  • I cooked a turkey for the first time ever, and in fact, made roasts a regular thing
  • I bought a slow cooker and have been using it with wild abandon
  • I have successfully not killed plants
  • I have tried (and failed several times) to exercise regularly
  • I changed medications from dexamphetamine to modafinil
  • I got out more - although I also did spend a couple of stretches housebound for a month
  • I lost 10kgs
  • Moved to vibrams as my main shoe choice (good for my footsies and spine)

What do I want out of 2013?
  • I want to establish regular exercise, with a view to doing parkour classes regularly
  • I want to go to Florence again, and also Paris, maybe Wales, Cornwall, or Scotland
  • Continue to not kill plants, and establish a working kitchen herb garden on my windowsill
  • Do a photography walk in/around London at least once a fortnight - suggestions for locations solicited
  • More firmly establish the practice of home cooked meals for both of us
  • Establish and grow closer friendships with local people
  • Not lose contact with my friends in Brisbane or around Australia
  • Write more consistently
  • In general, live a more consistently active life, the does not have quite so many bust cycles where I am housebound/bedbound for days/weeks/months at a time
  • Work out what my immediate (2-3 years) goals are, and pursue them
  • Lose the remaining excess weight of about 15kgs
  • Have a more even emotional keel than the previous 3ish years

Well, those are quite some lists. I feel in 2012 I was in a bit of a holding pattern - I didn't accomplish much, not obviously - but getting the better of the diagnosis-related depression is actually kind of huge. I've also mostly got over the culture shock from moving, with a related decrease in my general stress/anxiety levels, which is also noteworthy. 

I'm moderately ambitious for 2013. I'm hoping to establish a new baseline for life that I'm happy with - nothing too major, but enough so that I don't feel like I'm rotting away, or doing the non-tv-watcher's version of sitting at home all day watching daytime TV.

Questions, comments, and suggestions welcome.

Tuesday 18 December 2012


Triggered largely by shopping for jeans yesterday, I am once again undertaking to seriously pursue losing weight.

I have been losing steadily, if somewhat irregularly, this last year. I'm down about 10kgs or thereabouts from my starting weight.

As Steve of frequently states, 90% of the battle is food. This is, in fact, what's tripping me up the most.

It's an energy problem. It is profoundly hard for me to cook and eat food. The cooking more than the eating, but there are many days where most foods are too hard to eat. For example, doing fried eggs and bacon in the morning is usually beyond my capabilities. That's a pretty easy 5 minutes at a stove.

Something that's been suggested in the past is to prepare a great quantity of food on a high-energy day, to be eaten on low energy days. In theory, that sounds great. In practice, I've just never been able to make it work. Usually I have too many important/urgent things to do on high energy days to spend them cooking. Sometimes I have prior commitments. Frequently, I just don't have all the ingredients on hand to make a week's worth of food straight up. Even without all the other factors - that kind of effort seems to trigger a low energy period lasting longer than the prepared food. I have fairly specific dietary requirements, based on intolerances and also what I've found suits my body best.

There's also a problem of storage. I have limited storage for both ingredients and prepared food. More than most Londoners, this is true. Less than what I'm used to in Australia, despite having the largest kitchen I've ever had (in terms of floor area).

And last, but far from least, I'm picky. Especially when I'm tired and hungry. A lot of foods I would normally enjoy start making me feel ill. And the ones that don't make me feel ill are frequently not amenable to being prepared and stored. Or are outside my dietary restrictions.

Leftovers are an option I utilise with gusto and enthusiasm ... when I have leftovers. Which is unfortunately currently not quite that often. This is due to both not cooking leftover-producing recipes and not cooking dinner sufficiently frequently (2-3 nights a week). I have acquired a slowcooker, and this is helping somewhat. I now at least make most of my own stock.

I realise that I've painted myself into a corner a bit. "Just suck it up and deal" is not a helpful response to this dilemma. I have tried, failed miserably, and have decided not to beat myself up about it anymore.

Summary of Requirements:
  • No diary, no gluten, mostly paleo.
  • Will not eat even if starving: most fruit, salads, most cold foods.
  • More often than not, only enough energy to press buttons on microwave.
  • Sensitive teeth, raw veg (such as carrot/celery) is too painful to eat most of the time. As are a lot of spicy foods. And cold food.

Current non-dinner meals:
  • Sliced ham
  • Premade egg fried rice (this is not paleo, especially not when eaten with soy sauce)
  • Leftovers
  • Premade fish balls with mayonnaise
  • Oven-baked chips with gravy
  • Mashed potato (made with duck fat and stock)
  • Eggs (poached or fried or scrambled) with hash browns (oven cooked), optional bacon and mushrooms

Standard dinners:
  • Tuna bake
  • Roast dinner
  • Colcannon
  • Chicken and pasta
  • Beef and Beer stew with dumplings
  • Sausage bake
  • Sausage and mash
  • Bolognaise

Some of these meals don't produce leftovers, which is not useful for my ongoing nutrition. Most of what I eat is at least okay, if a little light on leafy green vegetables. Unfortunately, most of the leftover-producing meals are also high-effort, and the effort increases with quantity.

So ... I dunno. More husband help with making leftover-producing meals, and larger ones of those? Maybe that's a way forward. Suggestions welcome, because frankly, I'm out of ideas.

Saturday 15 December 2012

First flower!

I've managed not to kill all my plants, and this morning I awoke to see that one of my sunflowers has decided to bloom, hurrah! The other two have buds developing on top, but they haven't been quite as lively.

The nasturtium is doing pretty well, too, and is energetically climbing up the window. It is a dwarf compared to some of the ones I grew in the backyard, but still very enthusiastic. I'm tempted to plant another couple of seeds in the sunflower box, where whatever it was I seeded (I don't quite recall) didn't sprout.

   The other plants ... hm. I've managed to kill off most of my poppies - they don't like being repotted. The gerbras seem to be doing well enough after being transplanted. The thyme died, and so did its replacement after becoming infested with something picked up from the mint, which got binned. I now have a new thyme plant, and hopes that it will stick around for awhile.

The orchid isn't dead yet, either.

I think project Greenthumbs is, while not an unqualified success, going reasonably well. Not only that, I was inspired enough today to take a few photographs, which hasn't happened in a while.

.... on the other hand, blogger as a display medium for photographs is driving me slightly insane. I am unsure about how the positioning of photographs and text is interpreted exactly, and I'm spending more time dicking with the html than I am with taking the photos or doing the writing.

Monday 10 December 2012

"I just wish I was normal."

I'd bet that most people reading this have said this at least once in their lives, usually without any understanding of what normal actually might be.

I've thought about what being normal is quite a bit over the years, because it seems quite normal to question whether or not oneself is normal.

Because I've had quite a lot in the way of education, I've come to understand normal (with respect to any given aspect of life) in a more mathematical sense than most people, I think. I generally sum it up as 'within two standard deviations of the mean'. Okay, so pull out your rusty statistics knowledge, while I explain that a bit. Or you could go look it up on wikipedia, because that would be faster and probably clearer.

The mean is what is generally known as average. That is, you take all the responses, add them up, and divide by the number of responses - that number you end up with is the mean. If you plot all the responses on an axis, you often end up with a Bell Curve. It's been noted for quite some time that a number of things - including human responses - tend to fall within certain ranges, and with some mathematical tricks, these are easy to quantify. About 50% will fall within one standard deviation, 90% within two standard deviations, and 99% within three standard deviations.

So when I say 'normal' I usually mean 'about 90% of the population'. Of course, the fact that I use numbers and mathematics quite consciously to define that puts me outside that 90%, I suspect.

I suppose it's all part of how I am very rarely normal.

I know that there's a lot of promotion of the idea that being other than normal is good, and you should try and stand out from the crowd, blah blah whatever. This kind of thing ignores the other side of outside normal - the negative side.

I've been known to describe my life as an inverse bell curve - that is, that I have amazingly awesome and shockingly awful things in my life, and not a hell of a lot inbetween.

On the amazingly awesome side, I have the dearly beloved, with whom I have just celebrated 11 years of happy marriage - and at age 31, that's definitely not normal. He loves me just the way I am - however that happens to be at the time. I'm unusually bright. I have had an enviable career. I have an unusually broad range of hobbies and interests. When I can exercise, I tend to be very, very good at anything involving patterned movement - which is what a lot of people find difficult to master, and have really fast muscle development. I've successfully lost weight. I read really fast. I've been elected to a community organisation without running a campaign. I've been relatively wealthy.

On the shockingly awful side, I have autism. I have Idiopathic hypersomnia. I had an astonishingly bad case of PTSD, the resolution of which allowed the idiopathic hypersomnia its day (turns out the anxiety was the only thing keeping me awake). I have a fullblown dairy intolerance. I'm allergic to paracetamol. I have spinal bone density distortions of the type that ends up as crush fractures before age 60. I have crazybad myopia for someone under the age of 90.

In the normal range, I'm female-bodied. I have blue eyes. I am 161.5cm tall. I am probably about an average weight - which is to say, overweight. I wear jeans and tshirts. I play computer games. I'm an Australian (this is probably no longer normal, as I live in London). I have one sibling. My parents are still together. I like cats. I don't have enough savings to buy a house, and I spend a fair amount of worry on money. I dislike housecleaning. I like tea, and wine, although not together. I've spent most of my adult life with a caffeine addiction. I have one piercing in each ear, in my earlobes. I've struggled with depression.

In the neither positive or negative but simply outside the normal range - I have an unusual configuration of bust and ribcage. I have unusually pale skin. I have amazingly narrow feet. I have tiny hands. I can hear up to 23 kHz. I have one and a half bachelor's degrees, in two utterly different fields, both technical. I'm a female with an engineering/IT degree. Before moving, I had an unusually wide social circle, and had an unusually high number of people I considered close friends. My hair is hip length and red - naturally.

I'd love to have a normal level of health, for instance. No unusual medical conditions, allergies, or intolerances. Hell, I'd settle for the idiopathic hypersomnia being under control to the point where I can work full time, maybe workout a couple times a week, and not burn out.

Most of the other normal stuff - troubled relationships, limited interests, lack of passion, children, dead end jobs - that I can live happily without. I am curious as to what it's like to live that way, but not enough to try and experience it myself.

Looking over what I've written, the only normals I really yearn for are physical. Which is probably pretty normal for someone with a chronic medical condition that impacts their physical day to day life.

In that sense, I guess, I've gotten what I wished for - I'm normal.