Old Soldiers

I had a bit of a rude awakening today, when I came across an article on the Guardian news blog about the Warhammer battle game.

This was a game that I used to rather enjoy playing in my youth and it was a bit of a shock when the article pointed out that the game is now 32 years old.  Admittedly it shouldn’t have been too much a shock since I’m well aware that I’m several years older than that and I am mathematically literate.  Somehow, though, the realisation of how long it is since Warhammer came out made me feel somewhat older than reminiscing to the (younger) friends with whom I was watchingsome of the Star Wars movies last weekend about how I saw The Empire Strikes Back when it was first out in the cinema, even though that was several years earlier.

As I recall, my brother got a copy of the first edition Warhammer rules fairly shortly after they first came out (and when, of course, they were not “first edition” but just “Warhammer”) and it wasn’t too long before we had our first battles.  We later got a copy of the 2nd edition, as well as Warhammer 40,000 (the futuristic, sci-fi version, which was my fairly firm favourite), and played these from time to time over the next decade or so.

In fact, we were generally more into roleplaying games (including the Warhammer spin-off, Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, which was our main RPG for a while before being supplanted in our affections by Shadowrun and various other games) but it was always nice to be able to have a bit of a tabletop battle for a change, even if we were limited to fairly small armies.  That limitation, incidentally, was more due to our available playing space (growing up in a fairly small terraced house) than the size of our miniature figure collection, which was fairly extensive (and provided an early boost to my interest in painting – though in later years I’ve tended to paint pictures, when I get round to painting at all, rather than figures).

It’s been quite a few years since I’ve played Warhammer, or indeed any other tabletop battle game (I did have a few games of a Napoleonic battle game called Shako with a friend about 10 years ago, and I’ve a vague feeling we may have played a little bit of Warhammer then too) and I don’t particularly have any great desire to go back to it.  I’d be much more interested in getting back into playing real RPGs – I still play occasional CRPGs (i.e. Computer RolePlaying Games) but it’s really not the same.

Nevertheless, Warhammer and other wargames did definitely have an important if not particularly large role in my early life and are a part of that rich tapestry of experiences that make me who I am.

And I’m probably not the only one to ever consider how the real world might be a much nicer place if, when opposing groups had a territorial dispute or some other such cause for conflict, they got together round a large table with a bunch of miniature figures, a bag of dice and a tape measure and settled their differences that way without having to tear up the lives of thousands or millions of real people.

In praise of green goo

An occupational hazard of doing your own bike mechanics is that your hands are liable to get dirty.

Bike mechanics is certainly not the only thing I do that requires a bit of a clean up afterwards, but it’s definitely one of the activities most likely to stretch ordinary soap and water beyond the limit of what they can handle, especially if I’ve been working on the chain or other greasy bits of the bike.

Fortunately there are stronger cleaning agents out there than just soap and water.  Over the years I’ve tried several different ones with varying degrees of success.

Recently I’ve returned to swarfega, which I used to use quite often when I was growing up but haven’t touched for probably the best part of 20 years.  I discovered that it’s actually just about the most effective hand cleaning agent that I’ve tried.

As an added bonus, its distinctive aroma and green, gloopy appearance and texture give me a nice nostalgia trip every time I use it.  And you don’t need to use a huge amount even if your hands are properly grubby, so the small pot that I bought about a month ago should last me quite a long time.

 

On the fundamental interconnectedness of all blog posts

Okay, so the title is probably exaggerating slightly (and yes, in case you were wondering, it is somewhat inspired by Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency), but I noticed just after I posted yesterday that it was my second consecutive post to feature the word “sweet” in the title.

Not only was the last post connected by its title to the post before it, but it was connected thematically (albeit loosely) to the post before that because they were both more or less about cheese (mascarpone – one of the major ingredients of my newly discovered pasta sauce – being a type of Italian cream cheese).

I’m sure if I didn’t have better things to do with my time I could probably discover a connection between tomatoes and Welsh grannies or Navajo rugs too!

Two sweet finds

Last Saturday I found myself at the other end of town from my usual stomping grounds.  This gave me a chance to nip into Aldi and pick up some of their pesto sauce, which I think is rather better than the one sold by my regular supermarket.

It was fairly crowded in the shop and I was in a bit of a hurry so I just dived in, grabbed 3 jars of red pesto (noticing that they didn’t seem to have any green in stock – not a problem as I prefer the red anyway) and made for the checkout.

Only later, when I got home and went to stow my purchases, did I realise that I hadn’t actually bought pesto after all.  Instead I’d picked up jars of a “Creamy and Smooth Tomato and Mascarpone Stir-In Pasta Sauce”, which happened to be in very similar looking jars (from the same manufacturer) as the pesto ones, and in the place I’d usually expect to find them.  In fact, outwardly, there was little apart from the writing on the label (which, admittedly, does fairly clearly say “Tomato and Mascarpone Sauce” rather than “Pesto Rosso”) to distinguish the two.

This is probably not something I would normally have bought unless it was on a particularly good special offer (actually it may have been, since it cost me about 50p less than I was expecting for 3 jars of pesto) but I decided that, since I’d got it, I might as well use it.  Like pesto, it appears to be the sort of thing that you can just stir into some freshly cooked pasta, though I’m sure you could do fancier stuff with it as well (I recently discovered that pesto works well in bubble and squeak, but I digress).  That’s what I like about pesto, incidentally, the fact that it’s very versatile and particularly useful for being able to put together a tasty (and reasonably nutritious) dish very easily when you’re in a hurry or feeling tired.

I opened the first jar for lunch yesterday and was very impressed by the lovely, creamy taste.  On that occasion I also threw in some sweetcorn that I had left over from the previous night’s dinner (tuna pasta – yes, I do eat quite a lot of pasta).  This evening I used up the remainder of the sauce jar just with pasta and it was still very delicious.

I found an old pesto jar waiting in my recycling box, so I was able to compare the labels.  To my surprise, the tomato and mascarpone sauce actually contains fewer calories (and also less fat, sugar and protein, though marginally more salt) than the pesto.  I guess that’s probably due to the fact that nuts (well known to be a good source of fat, sugar, protein and energy) are a staple ingredient of the latter.

Now that I’ve discovered this sauce, I’ll probably continue to get it from time to time, though I hope that Aldi hasn’t stopped stocking their pesto sauce since it’s a very useful addition to my food cupboard.

I made another exciting culinary discovery recently too.  I’d been given a little pot of cream cheese (something I don’t usually buy, though I quite enjoy eating it from time to time) by somebody who couldn’t use it and I randomly thought to try it on bread with honey.  It was very tasty and is definitely another one I’ll try to remember for future use.

 

Short and sweet

My latest category on this blog is apparently going to be a particularly short-lived one.

I set up a knitting & crochet category a few weeks ago as a result of my renewed interest in these (and related) crafts, which was a mainstay of my previous blogs but had waned by the time I started this one.

My interest in them is still going strong (at least for now – past experience suggests it will probably continue to be somewhat up and down) and I’ve decided to set up a separate knitting blog in order to be able to post as much (or as little) as I like about knitting and other fibre crafts without drowning my main blog.  I’m also intending to repost all the knitting-related articles I can still find from my previous blogs, so that I have them all in one handy place (this was prompted by the recent realisation that one of the old blogs no longer seems to be online – fortunately I have an offline backup of the text).

As a result, this blog will probably feature few, if any knitting posts.  I’m planning to keep the category open, though, just in case.  If there’s anything particularly notable – like my cunning new Firefly hat – I may put a note up here to direct you to the other blog.

The new blog is called Ar y Gweill (Welsh for “On the needles”, though the blog itself will be written, at least mostly, in English).  Unlike this one, posts won’t be automatically published to my Facebook wall.  If you want to follow my knitting posts, that blog (like this one) has an RSS feed available – or you can follow it directly on WordPress or just bookmark the site in your browser.

One of the reasons for keeping my knitting blog separate is so that I can link my knitting posts to my Ravelry profile.  Ravelry is a pretty big online fibre arts community, of which I’ve been a member for quite a few years.  It’s free to join and well worth checking out if you’re at all interested in knitting, crochet or similar crafts.  To see anything there (apart from a login screen) you’ll need an account.  On my knitting blog, I’m making the assumption that anyone sufficiently interested to want to see the details of my Ravelry profile or project pages etc. will either have an account already or be willing to get one.  If you are a member of Ravelry, feel free to give me a shout on there.

Holy Cheese

There are some questions I don’t recall ever asking myself but when I hear an answer for them I get the feeling that the question has always been floating around somewhere in the back of my subconscious.

One such question is why Swiss cheese has holes.  I’m fairly sure it’s not a subject I’ve ever particularly thought about until today when I came across an article on the BBC news website about some research that gives an answer to that very question.

In case the link to that article should become invalid within the lifetime of this post, I’ll repeat the answer here.  A group of Swiss scientists believe that the holes are caused by microscopic particles of hay that get into the milk during the milking process.

Only some Swiss cheeses, such as Emmenthal (one of my favourite cheeses, incidentally), are affected by this phenomenon and apparently such cheeses have been coming out with fewer holes over the past few years, which is believed to be due to changes in milking techniques that lead to less hay contamination in the milk.  The research was done by adding small amounts of hay dust to milk before turning it into cheese, so I suppose that if a traditional hole-filled cheese was wanted without reverting to traditional milking techniques they could probably add some hay dust to their milk for production purposes.

(Another interesting point from the article is that the cheese industry refers to holes in cheese as “eyes” and calls cheese without holes “blind”.)

The article noted that this research has not been peer reviewed, which indicates that it’s not yet quite ready to be considered a scientific fact.

As quite often happens, the answer to one question brings forth several new questions.  The ones that immediately spring to my mind are whether the same explanation would hold for non-Swiss cheeses with holes (such as Jarlsberg – another of my favourite cheeses, this one from Norway), why only relatively few varieties of cheese seem to experience this phenomenon given that hay contamination of milk must presumably be fairly common with traditional milking techniques (presumably there’s something about the cheese recipes that make them more or less susceptible to it) and whether you could get some interesting results by introducing hay particles (or other things) to other cheeses.  Also, the research indicated that the holes are caused by hay particles but didn’t seem to offer an explanation for the mechanism by which this works; this would seem to be an obvious follow-up question.

 

Welsh Grannies and Navajo Rugs

After a break of several years, I’ve recently taken up knitting and crochet again (I never officially stopped but I didn’t get around to making anything – apart from a case for my mobile phone – in the last 3 or 4 years).

Having refreshed my memory on the basic skills, I’ve plunged straight into trying a few new things in crochet.  In particular, I’ve finally got round to entering the worlds of granny squares and thread crochet.

Granny squares are probably the stereotypical crochet motif, as well as a staple of 1970s fashion.  They are relatively quick and simple to make and can be very colourful and versatile, offering plenty of scope for the imagination as well as a good opportunity to use up scraps of yarn without having to worry too much about carefully following patterns.  Just the kind of thing I like, so it’s perhaps fairly surprising that I never got round to making one in my earlier crochet career.

Last week, though, I bought a book entitled The Crochet Answer Book (2nd Edition) by Edie Eckman.  This contained a simple recipe for granny squares and I decided to try it out as I was reading.  The result, in the space of half an hour or so, was my first ever granny square, made using some oddments of yarn (which happened to be in the Welsh flag colours) and a hook I had to hand:
Granny Square #1

This, like all the crochet I’d previously done, was using yarn.  However, there’s also a strong tradition of using thread (and much smaller hooks) for crochet.  The basic techniques are the same, but the scale is somewhat smaller.

I decided last week that the time had come to try out crochet using thread, since I’d acquired a set of hooks that included several thread hooks as well as yarn ones and I wanted to put these to use.  I ordered 3 balls of #10 crochet thread (pretty much the standard size, I gather; it’s made of mercerised cotton and is quite a bit thicker than standard sewing thread but much finer than yarn), which again happened to be in the Welsh flag colours.

My very first attempt with thread, on Saturday morning (once the threads I’d ordered had turned up), was a quick Möbius band.  After this, I decided to try another granny square using thread.  My thought was that this might make quite a useful coaster.

I went for the same design (including colour scheme) as the first granny square but extended it to six rounds (instead of 3) in order to make a suitable size to sit under a mug.  It was worked with a 1.75mm hook and took perhaps a couple of hours to work up (I did quite a lot of it simultaneously with some other tasks, so it’s difficult to say for sure).  Here it is, fresh off the hook:
Granny Square #2 (FO); AKA Welsh Granny Coaster

If you look carefully at the lower left corner of this photo, you may spot what I noticed shortly after I’d finished tidying up the thread ends (i.e. the point at which it became too late to do anything about it) – a slight mistake whereby I accidentally worked an extra group of 3 stitches (in the red thread) into the middle of one of the groups in the previous round.  The result is effectively that there’s an extra stitch group along one side of the square in the last couple of rounds and a bit of a hold in one of the stitch groups in the white round.  Fortunately it doesn’t seem to have distorted the square shape too badly and it’s not too noticeable unless you look carefully but it does break up the symmetry a bit.

I could rip half the work out and redo it (this would probably require the removal of the entire last two rounds), or just put up with the mistake.  However, I remembered something I was once told about Navajo rugs, namely that they are always made with one deliberate and obvious imperfection woven into the fabric.  Apparently this is supposed to let the spirit in and out of the blanket.  Using Google, I managed to track down a reference to this on Brian McLaren’s blog and I’m fairly sure that when I first heard about the idea it was Richard Rohr who was being quoted (as McLaren does on his blog).  I don’t believe that the rugs (or my coaster) need a hole for spirits to get in or out, and I can’t claim that I incorporated the imperfection on purpose, but I like the idea that perfection “is not the elimination of imperfection… [but] the ability to recognize, forgive, and include imperfection!” (to quote Rohr directly) and therefore I can view this as a reminder rather than a mistake.