There are planes in my pocket
Posted on Tuesday, 26th June, 2012 under games.

This weekend I managed to play a single game for probably 20 odd hours from my sofa. It wasn't exploring the fantasy world of an RPG, tearing around the streets of an urban open worlder or blasting people's heads off from in a war based shooter. Nothing quite so exciting as that. Nope, I was taking aim at becoming the next Richard Branson, building a my very own airline empire in Nimblebit's latest iOS time sink, Pocket Planes. It's a simple time management game in which you oepn airports around the world, buy planes and then direct them around the work picking up and dropping off passengers along the way. The aim: to earn money to open more airports and buy more planes to carry more passengers. Simple and repetative but boy is it addictive!

Early on there's no rest what-so-ever. With only light, short range, aircraft available you're constrained to flights lasting little more than 5 minutes. With 4/5 planes on the go it's a constant barrage of notifications to say a plane has landed and needs refilling and setting off on it's next flight. Yes you could ignore it and wait a few minutes until all planes have landed to make your next move but that would be less efficient, all the time the plane is on the ground it's not earning me money! As you level up your planes can travel futher and now I've got a well oiled Eurasian airline operation in place spanning from London to Seoul. A few local airports served by small aircraft at each end act as feeders for the main hubs with larger faster planes making the hour long journey across continents.

It's a deceptively complicated game wrapped up in characterful pixel art clothes. And as I said, it's taken over my life. To show the degree to which it's taking over I've started building web tools to help me plot each next move in the expansion of my empire. After a Sunday night coding binge I'd created an airport distance calculator that will determine the distance between two airports and tell you which aircraft can make the hop.

I'm working on a few other tools which hopefully will start to see the light of day soon.

Check out my Pocket Planes Tools page.

Bakin' Bacon
Posted on Sunday, 29th April, 2012 under cooking.

As mentioned in my last post I've been on a bit of a baking kick recently. As I've been taking the results into work this resulted in a joking comment that I should bring in bacon rolls next week. Well thats not baking and doing 20+ warm rolls for Monday morning with a 10 minute walk is a timing nightmare. But, a challenge is a challenge and I'm not turning this down.

With my birthday in a week I've decided I'll give myself this weekend to experiment and turn up after next weekend with hot bacon based treats for the team to kick off their working week with a bang.

To the all important question: what am I going to bake with bacon? Well that took me a few hours of research but I've settled on bacon, tomato, onion and cheese puff pastry pinwheels. Hopefully they'll be nice and bacon-y, stay crispy from the puff pastry and feel slightly less unhealthy as they've got some veg in there.

Process is simple, basically lay out the tomato, spring onion and grated cheddar on pre-rolled puff pastry.

Then fry off the bacon till just starting to brown and add.

Then roll up the pastry and cut into one inch slices. Position on a baking tray and pop into a 200 degree oven for 12-15 mins to produce beautiful bacon treats.

They tasted great straight from the oven but importantly after a few hours and cooled their still crispy and full of flavour, perfect for taking into the office after next weekend. I'll make a few tweaks, mostly I think refrigerating the roll after construction over night. I'll then cut and cook the, in the morning. That means they should hold shape better and the early arrivers at work can have warm ones.

Baking Blitz
Posted on Sunday, 29th April, 2012 under cooking.

Not been up to much over the last few months other than working (well i did go skiing I suppose!). As such not much here but over the last few weeks I've been doing lots of baking. It's been great fun and provides something sweet for my team in the office to (hopefully) brighten their Monday morning. Unfortunately I was a complete idiot and didn't ale any photos! So descriptions only I'm afraid.

It started with chocolate cake with a condensed milk based icing which was brilliant. The cake itself had a slight brownie like texture and the icing was something different from the classic butter ones.

Next up a friend challenged me to make Battenberg. I accepted it and set about the project. Comparatively it's quite simple to bake and more of a construction effort. Turned out well accept the complete lack of the pink quarters. I don't know what happened: into the oven went one pink and one white mix, out came two white sponges! A complete mystery. Or I didn't use enough food colouring. Either way it tasted great, sweet and nutty and light.

On the final weekend I had no plans to bake. I didn't go out to buy anything but realised with eggs, butter, flour, sugar and cocoa I might be able to whip something up. A quick scan online and I settled on brownies. Simple and quick to mix up they were in the oven in no time. A little thick in my tin they took a little longer to cook than expected. When they came out and slightly cooled they were still a touch wet inside but after 30 mins they cooled to the perfect consistency. Chewy outsides with meltingly soft and rich middles. Scrumptious. Went down a treat at work.

By this point I've started to build a reputation and my next colleague based challenge was set by the joke that someone wanted me to bring in some bacon rolls. Savoury instead of sweet! Also clearly not baking o some thought was required. Read my next post for details of my approach.

Counting coins
Posted on Saturday, 14th January, 2012 under shopping.

Everyone treats loose change differently. Mine lives wild in my pocket and I refuse to pick up coins worth less than 10p in the morning because carrying any worthwhile monetary value in 1, 2 and 5 pence pieces weighs too much (and no one likes waiting in line for the guy in front to trying to pay with as many coins as they can). This, combined with shops love of prices ending with 5 or 9 leads to me building up a lot of change in a plastic bag at home. Once every few years I get round to cashing it in.

Being the lazy man I am sorting it and taking it to the bank strikes me as a pain so it's Coinstar to the rescue. I love the sound as the coins pour into the machine and the ever increasing numbers on the screen as it counts your random unloved leftover money. The final part is the best, looking up to see how much your accumulated.

Today's haul was the last two or so years and meant my weekly food shop was funded by my coin collection and I've got the ingredients for a big batch of Mexican chilli beef. Should be a good weekend.

Simple Sunday chicken
Posted on Sunday, 8th January, 2012 under cooking.

I adore a Sunday roast in all forms and so try to do one every few weeks even if it can be a bit of a faff cooking the meat and all the trimmings for one. This week I settled on chicken because it's delicious hard to go to far wrong and leaves nicely portioned and flexible leftovers for the week ahead. My default roast chicken recipe is vey simple: smear some English mustard all over the bird before cooking to increase the crispiness of the skin and add a spicy kick. But today I wanted to do something different and get some more vegetables on the plate with adding much extra effort by cooking them in with the chicken.

I halved the chicken to allow more flavour to get in and reduce the cooking time. In to the dish went a few crushed garlic cloves, a chunkily chopped carrot and red pepper and a few whole shallots. For depth of flavour I mingled some fresh thyme and rosemary all around meat and veg and topped it off with the juice of lemon and a glug of olive oil.

That lot went into the oven for about an hour until the skin crisped up. Served with roast potatoes and a wonderfully vibrant mix of peas and sweetcorn it was a great low effort Sunday roast which will provide a couple of meals later this week too.