Month: April 2019

Holidays are coming

The flights are booked, I’ve already got my packing list started, and we’re sorting out what things we might do when we get there.

We fly in to New York, and then drive up to Boston for a day or so. Then we have a couple of days to pootle around Cape Cod, Providence, Hartford et al, before we head for Manhattan. A few days in the big apple and then on to Staten Island (for a wedding). So far we’ve got a day at Six Flags booked for some rollercoaster fun, an afternoon of kayaking in the lakes near Cape Cod, and plenty of time to wander and explore the towns we will be staying in before we head for the big apple. Bliss.

I have been in Boston before, I had a day to potter around before an evening flight. I did the duck boat tour along the river, with glorious autumn foliage on a beautiful clear day, I wander the city a little and I’m looking forward to having a bit more time to explore at a more leisurely pace.

I have never been to New York and, the closer it gets, (28 days to go!) the more excited I become.

This building excitement isn’t quite what I expected though, as New York has never really been on a list of places I wanted to visit. I’m not sure why, probably because it kinda feels familiar already, and kinda because it’s a massive city which will be rammed full of tourists and I can’t stand tourists even though I’ll be one too.

Yet as we start to figure out what attractions to visit, what places to eat, and what weird and wonderful things we can try out, I can feel the excitement building. We’ll be visiting Central Park, getting on the NY Subway, blasting down the river to see the Statue of Liberty via speedboat, and crossing the river on the Staten Island ferry. There will be hotdog vendors on the streets. We will visit Katz Deli and I’ll order ‘whatever she’s having’, just like a million tourists before me, there will be Times Square, Madison Square Gardens, pretzels, pastrami on rye (hold the mayo), yellow cabs, and I’ll likely spend most of the time remembering scenes from movies and being amazed by just how big those skyscrapers are.

New York exists in my brain as a fiction, a place only read about, or seen on screen. That is the New York I know and it’s a mish-mash of names and places and cultural references that, the more I think about it, the more it starts to overwhelm and the higher my excitement climbs.

Not only that but this is my first proper holiday in a couple of years, the last was a few days in Barcelona in March 2018.

I cannot wait.

Holiday weekending

More by happenstance than any form of planning, this past holiday weekend was a busy one, and ohhh so very good!

On Friday one of my best friends was in town which means beers and tasty foods (courtesy of Platform). it’s always good when we congregate, much laughter and nonsense, including curing my hiccups; the trick is to stand arms outstretched, chest out, and let someone help you take a couple of sips of beer/water, then a deep breath, and you are cured. It actually worked, although by that point in the evening, trusting it wasn’t a prank was not easy!

Saturday and we head out with Dave (the socialable one) to the Glasgow Vet school Rodeo! We met my sister and niece and then spent a glorious afternoon wandering the field taking in the various stalls, letting Dave cool down by belly flopping in numerous paddling pools, and then we watched a (hilarious) duck herding display! Add in ice cream, petting snakes and lizards, and some great photos of a very happy Dave and we headed home happy.

Saturday evening we helped celebrate our friend Sharons 40th birthday with fancy dress; I went as a Space Hopper, Becca as Sully (Monsters Inc). A great turnout (no surprise there, Sharon is good people!) and some great costumes. The theme was ‘S’ in case you haven’t figured it out…

Sunday was another sunny one, and we popped the bikes in the car (note: get a bigger car) and drove through to Linlithgow to hit the canal path. Originally aiming for a couple of hours, we all ended up happy to pootle on, crossing the viaduct, going through the Falkirk Tunnel (which was VERY cold inside) before a brief stop for ice cream and coffees at the Falkirk Wheel before heading back. Wonderful.

As we drove back home, we formulated a plan to get up early the next morning. Knowing it was going to be another hot one, we figured we’d take Dave and Sasha out super early before it got too hot, and we had Ben A’an in our sights. Sure the 5.30am alarm wasn’t much fun but by the time we got to the top with nary a soul in sight it was well worth it. Sitting at the bottom end of the Trossachs, despite the hazy morning mist, the views were stunning!

And that was the weekend.

How was yours?

Draft Posts

I have a habit of starting to write posts but not finishing them and then complaining (to myself) that I don’t have anything to write about. The moment will pass and then a few days later the urge will come rolling back in like a gentle tide and I’m back at the keyboard, typing out yet more nonsense to post on this blog.

My approach to writing blog posts hasn’t really changed in the past 20 years – which says something in and of itself – I get an idea, I start typing and don’t stop until I stop. I tend not to plan what I write, preferring to just get some words in place, hoping that I can rearrange them later into something that resembles a coherent thought or two.

For my regular reader, you’ll already know that it doesn’t always work out. Sure, I can get the words out but finding a semblance of order and common thought can prove a challenge at times. So I save a draft and go and read something else written by people with actual talent, and then spend far too much time (entire minutes!) wondering why I still bother.

I’ve tried a variety of things to get around this in the past; I’ve posted some creative writing here and whilst that’s something I’m keen to back to it’s not always that easy and takes more time than your average brain dump of a blog post, I’ve tried a regular schedule (3 posts a week all the way through 2018) and that at least forces me to think about what I’m going to post and made me take a little more time to make it ‘good’, and I’ve looked for inspirational lists for ideas. None of these seem to have stuck, and then I remember that this is a hobby and something I do because I enjoy it and I relax and move on to something else.

All of this means that I have a number of draft posts that have never really made the grade. Yes, it’s a very low bar, but looking at the drafts I currently have sitting here I can see what I was trying to say in some, can’t really see it in others, and frankly some should never ever see the light of day.

Draft posts are not a thing to be ashamed of, and so I thought I’d give them a little light by listing them here, in reverse order based on when I last modified them, although what I should do with them. It’s been quite cathartic!

  • iOS Apps – Every now and then I update the list of apps I use on my iPhone. Not done it for a few years and this draft is dated from Sept 2017 as it is. Also, not so much a wordy post but more of a list.
    Update & publish.
  • Writing space – A post about why I wasn’t writing, and how that is based on fear and trying to get back into the habit. Dated Oct 2017 I’m not sure why I didn’t post this one as it was accurate at the time. Alas, time moves on so it is actually talking about circumstances that don’t match my life as it is now so it needs some editing, which is why it’s still in draft. A lot of it is still valid though.
    Update & publish.
  • Clothed for life – I wrote this fairly quickly after reading another post about sustainable clothing. It’s very much a draft and doesn’t really say anything I haven’t since said.
    Delete.
  • Nanette – Safe to say the Hannah Gadsby show Nanette hit several nerves. I started to try and get my feelings out, on things like toxic masculinity and my own role within it. It’s mostly a circular journey of ‘I know I am not as woke as I think I am but I’m trying’ and reads very much like just another cis white male adding his voice and is dangerously close to ‘I’m a nice guy though’ territory. None need ever read that.
    Delete.
  • TV for sale – in which I look at why I watch TV and discuss some of the shows I watching. Written in July 2018, it’s out of date.
    Delete.
  • Glasgow man – written in direct response to an awful tweet from the “Glasgow man club” – which seems like just a good awful place veiled with good intentions; “Glasgow Man Club will give you the tools and teach you the protocols and routines to create a strong, powerful man. A better husband, partner, father, brother, son and friend; create better relationships with your partner, re-light that sexual fire, no more begging for sex; prove to your kids how awesome a father and role model you can be.”.
    Fuck that shit, say I. This draft remains unposted but I do want to revisit it because this is definitely a place where my voice needs to be added. (Dear guy, stop being that guy, thanks, yours, a guy).
    Update & publish.
  • Why am I STILL blogging? – I occasionally feel nostalgic. Or envious. Or a strange mix of the two when another blogger looms into view with tales of earnings and supplied products and… well I’m not doing this for THAT but it does feel like I could’ve made different decisions. But then this blog wouldn’t be THIS blog. My thoughts on how things have evolved then.
    Update & publish.
  • Apple no longer excites – I upgraded my 6 year old MacBook Air and the entire experience was smooth and… a bit dull. Same with iPhone upgrades. Mostly just me ranting about that and then countering those rants with ill thought through comments on WHY this is the case. Meh.
    Delete!
  • Dogs – As those on my Instagram will know. I now live with two dogs – Dave & Sasha – who I adore. It’s been a big change but a welcome one.
    Update & publish.
  • Going Monzo – My new bank account, and our joint account, is with Monzo. A ‘fintech’ company that offers an excellent app with instant notifications, balance updates and more. It has, in a short space of time, given me a renewed focus on my finances, just because it’s easy to use (the ability to syphon off money into distinct ‘pots’ has been a life changer). That said, this is mostly me waxing lyrical and linking to my sign up link.
    Delete.
  • Story of a back – Just me moaning about my sore back which, since I wrote this draft, has been treated and is on the mend.
    Delete.
  • 20 years – written in preparation of the 20th year of my blog.
    Update and schedule to be published on the big day itself.

So, it turns out I have plenty still to write about, I just need to focus on finishing what I’ve started.

Ohhh were it ever so!

Six by Nico: Paris

Bonjour mes amis, le moment est venu de revoir le dernier menu du Six by Nico. Cette fois-ci, nous visitons Paris!*

Don’t worry, I won’t be testing your translation skills any further. I’d heard good things about this menu and managed to sneak in to try it before it disappears at the end of the week; Six by Nico is still proving popular enough that we could only get a table at 9pm on a Tuesday night!

  • FRENCH ONION – Braised Onion / Compte Espuma / Brown Butter Croutons
  • COQ AU VIN – Chicken Terrine / Crispy Bacon / Soubisse
  • PETIT POIS A LA FRANCAIS – Slow Cooked Egg / Pea / Charred Gem / Ham
  • BOUILLABAISSE – Sole / Confit Fennel / Roasted Pepper / Rouille
  • PARISIAN GNOCCHI – Gnocchi / Lemon / Capers / Parsley (substitute for above cos fennel and pepper, bleuch)
  • BEEF BOURGUIGNON – Ox Cheek / Mushroom Duxelle / Shallot & Bacon Crumb / Red Wine
  • CREME BRULEE – Raspberry, Rose & Lychee / Pink Peppercorn Meringue / Brown Sugar

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Six by Nico: Paris. One of the best yet!!

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A cheeky little apertif, La Marais Belini – French Elderflower, Lemon juice, and Prosecco – got the palate going ahead of the arrival of our snacks. Billed as “Croque Madame” the snack was a good example of the type of dish I wish Nico did elsewhere, just a bit larger as this would easily sit as a ‘small main’ sized dish. A slice of bread pudding, smothered in egg yolk jam, topped with a crispy slice of salty ham, with a rich parmesan espuma on the side, I’d happily eat it twice over.

But alas it was gone too soon and it was time to crack on with the main menu.

As much as I like onions, I’ve never really enjoyed onion soup but then I’ve never had it like this before. Dark heavily braised onions, a sharp but not overpowering compte espuma with dark brown butter croutons adding a nice crunch nestling at the bottom. This was more a tiny meal than a soup, a tiny pot of heavy flavours that was at once very rich and nicely comforting, just as a good soup should be.

Coq au vin is a dish I’ve actually eaten in Paris but of course Six by Nico offers a different twist. A triangle of shredded, most, delicately spiced chicken, radish, onion, and pickled mustard seeds, with a crispy bacon slice on top. Possibly the weakest dish, it was still very good but I think the chicken could’ve had a little more flavour. That said, pickled mustard seeds were a revelation that definitely gave this dish a lift.

French peas by another name, this was a very fresh and light dish, with a wonderfully salty slice of ham, a perfectly poached (sous vide?) egg, a richy creamy sauce, and vibrant green peas. It’s dishes like these, with such simple ingredients that really shine, and make me appreciate the skill level of what is being offered.

I decided to switch out the Bouillabaisse for the vegetarian option as I’m not keen on fennel or peppers. I’m happy to say that I don’t think I missed out at all. The Gnocchi was perfectly cooked, with crisp tops and a gooey middle, and accompanied with warmed raisins, samphire, and capers, with a dark raisin puree. Quite sweet for a main course it was still delicious, with capers adding a nice zing against the sweetness of the raisins, all of which sat well with the gnocchi. A much better dish than I first expected.

Star of the show for me was the next dish, the Beef Bourguignon. Melt in the mouth Ox Cheek, a smooth carrot puree, and the mushroom duxelle was wonderfully rich and sweet and garlicky, with the crumb on top giving the entire dish a bite of bit. Wow. What a delight, perfectly cooked ingredients, expertly delivered and with a wonderful linger on the palate. I’d have happily had two plates of this.

Except it was time for dessert. A friend suggested this could be the ‘best of’ for this year (already!) so I was keen to see it and I have to admit, he might be right!

Arriving en flambé this was a superbly rich creme topped with a wafer thin brulee, accompanied with delicious rose and lychee sorbet, and thin slivers of meringue. The technical ability on show here was astounding, with each item on the plate delicate and well balanced, each flavour combination well considered and is one of the best desserts I’ve ever eaten at Six by Nico, or anywhere else.

What a menu! Not a bad dish in sight, some new flavour combinations (that gnocchi!), a new take on french onion soup that I might actually try, and THAT dessert.

Superbe repas, tout à fait délicieux! Bravo et merci, Six par Nico!*

As I’ve said before, food of this quality, served by knowledgeable, efficient and friendly staff, at £28 for six courses – plus £5 for an apertif and £5 for snacks (between two) – and I think Six by Nico must be the best value for money in Glasgow. If you haven’t yet been, and are swithering because the menu is ‘set’, know that you can swap every dish for a veggie alternative, and they can omit specific items if you require.

And, in even better news (for me), I’m back there next week for the next menu… The Orient Express!

* Hello my friends, it’s time for another review of the latest menu at Six by Nico, this time round we are visiting Paris!
* Superb meal, utterly delicious! Well done and thank you, Six by Nico!

The latest doohickeys

My Dad is a bit of a gadget fiend. From the colouring change LED light in the toilet (it hangs inside the toilet, lighting up the bowl…) to a myriad of motion sensing lights, web cams, and remote-controlled stuff, he is always happy finding little whatnots and thingymajigs to make things a little easier/better in their home.

I think it’s safe to say it’s bordering on an addiction. What can I say, the man loves a rummage in a pound shop and it seems like every time I visit my parents there is something new he wants to show me. It’s not just physical gadgets either as this addiction extends to the number of applications he has installed on his PC (which itself is the receiver of multiple USB devices). I’ve lost count of the number of versions of software he’s been through to find exactly what he wants to produce a leaflet for the Burns club, or the constant quest to find the best app that will create a slideshow of holiday photos (timed to match his music track of choice, of course). The man is dedicated!

The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree – although my Dad remains stubbornly outside of the Apple ecosphere – but, dare I say it, I do seem to have a little more self-control for such things. Or maybe it’s that I’m a little more indecisive and tend to enjoy the freedom of researching to find the best X for doing Y rather than having to make the decision to buy said X. However all that research means that when I do finally make the plunge to buy a gadget, device, doohickey, or gizmo I tend to veer towards those that are well designed and well thought out and, invariably, that means it has been made with an eye on the user rather than the number of features.

Less is more, in my eyes, in that respect. I’d rather have a few very well designed single use products than one gadget that did 5 things badly.

Considerations

We live in an age where we can easily buy things and have them delivered the very next day, a service that wasn’t available to my parents, yet the lack of friction in those decisions – one-click ordering on Amazon anyone? – is something I’ve deliberately been trying to counter when it comes to making my own purchases. Whilst this is helped by my indecisiveness, I am focusing on not just ordering the first thing that looks ‘ok’. So all that research ultimately means the things I buy and own are well considered, and will offer better and longer value to me than something I’ve done a quick search for and bought without much, if any, consideration.

With a focus on owning fewer things, the things I do choose to own have at the very least got to be built and designed around removing an annoyance. Why would I buy something that irks me every time I use it? This is another barrier I put in my own way and I apply it to everything I buy these days. More barriers can be found with considerations for sustainability, and the ethos of who I’m buying from, and it starts to get easy to discount a lot of ‘stuff’ for several very good reasons.

This is a long-winded way of saying that these days the things I own were bought only after meeting my standards and benchmarks for what I consider an ‘acceptable purchase’ and I apply similar considerations to everything I buy from large expensive items to smaller everyday ones. At times compromises have to be made but by and large I’ve had a similar approach for the last few years and it’s stood me in good stead.

It’s safe to say that the everyday items I own have probably gotten more focus and attention as I figure out what’s best to buy precisely because I know I’ll use them every single day; the track belt around my waist, the Trove Swift wallet in my pocket, and although my OrbitKey keyfob is suffering due to an overly long mortice key that we have for our new front door, until I can find a similar, longer, style keyfob it remains my choice du jour.

Yeah it’s fair to say that before I’d even heard the name Kondo I was finding delight in everyday items. It might only be for a few fleeting moments, and largely these items are forgotten delights that do what they do so well I mostly forget about how niche and useful they are to me, but I do occasionally pause to remind myself. This thing does what it does perfectly for my needs. It’s a lovely feeling.

And, dearest reader, I’ve found two more things to add to my list.

  1. A rechargeable under unit light
  2. A new belt

Ohhh yes, it’s all rock and roll here!!

I have seen the light

Not long after we moved into our new home, we both realised that one spot in the kitchen was not well served by the existing ceiling lights. As we rent, a temporary solution was needed. Off I went, hunting for something that would cast some light under a particular unit and I eventually stumbled on the wonder that is known as… wait for it… the “RTSU Touch Light, Rechargeable Wireless Magnetic Stick-on Anywhere Night Light Closet Lights Wardrobe Light, Dimmable LED Tap Light Bar Under Cabinet Lighting, Portable Push Light, Under Desk Lamp” (via Amazon). Catchy, huh!

Despite that long product name, it’s really simple to use. Stick a couple of metal ‘feet’ to the underside of a unit, and the little LED bar attaches to that via magnets. It’s rechargeable (by USB) and needs the barest of touches to turn on and/or off. You can tap it again to increase the brightness and it will remember what it was set to the next time you turn it on. The batteries are lasting about a month at a time although we are a little prone to leaving it on by accident….

It is simple. Well designed. Cheap. Perfect for what we need. And every time I turn it on I’m reminded of what a great find it was.

Belt up!

Now, remember that track belt I mentioned? It was a present from my parents and at the time it was a good improvement on the more classic buckle belt, especially with my fluctuating waist line (alas both out and in!) but it has a couple of flaws, with the buckle becoming detached from the belt on more than one occasion (bad design!). It wasn’t enough of an issue to make me get rid of it, at least it wasn’t until I finally succumbed to an Instagram ad* that kept appearing and bought a GRIP6 belt.

It’s a revelation!

The concept is simple enough, a webbing belt and a simple pass through ‘buckle’ which grips the belt fabric. No holes, no teeth, infinitely adjustable, I’ve been using it for a couple of weeks now and it’s not failed once (which was my main concern, if not THE main concern for a belt!). With no moving parts, just a metal buckle with two slots, and the webbing belt itself, the only potential part that could break is the ‘end stop’ at one end of the webbing but it feels very very solid.

There are a variety of colours of buckle and belts to choose from so you can customise exactly what colours you want. At £30 (inc P&P) I was a little sceptical of the price for what is a slab of laser cut metal and some webbing material but given how comfortable it is to wear, I think it’s a worthwhile investment.

A simple idea, well executed, and stylishly delivered. Delightful.

Definitely my kind of well-designed doohickey!


* Ugh. If anything is gonna turn me away from Instagram it’s going to be the rise of the number of adverts which, given recent news about easier payments through Instagram, is only going to get worse. And yes, I’m aware of the irony of saying this after my recent purchase (which I didn’t click through to buy from Instagram, I’m not a complete hypocrite).