Burn Night (haggis again!)

Yep, it’s Burn Night. Every 25th of January, fans of Robert Burns, Scotland’s most favorite son (and most famous poet) gather to recite Burns’ poetry, eat haggis and have whisky.

I’ll be celebrating in a bit with:

  • the haggis I got from Costco
  • neeps (mashed turnip with salt, pepper and butter)
  • tatties (mashed potato with salt, pepper and butter)
  • whisky (Glenfiddich 18-year old, yum)
  • a couple of Burns poems (why the hell not! Traditionally, ‘Address to a Haggis’ and ‘Auld Lang Syne’ at a minimum, but many others in between – get them all at Project Gutenberg)

A complete running order with videos of past televised Burns Night Suppers is here on the BBC web site.

I won’t be piping in the haggis, but maybe a small toast, just for tradition, is in order!

Haggis, haggis, haggis!

So I’ve been having haggis lately. It’s just £4 for a small one at my nearby Costco, that’s £1 per serving. That’s a large serving, too, about 120g for what I can get in the store – restaurants in Scotland serve less than half the amount I have, even less if you go to an expensive place.

The English folks here won’t eat haggis because a) it’s Scottish and b) they don’t even know what goes in it.

Well…here’s what goes in it, according to Wikipedia and many other websites:

Haggis is a dish containing sheep’s ‘pluck’ (heart, liver and lungs), minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices, and salt, mixed with stock, and traditionally simmered in the animal’s stomach for approximately three hours.

Alright, I’ll admit that a sheep heart, liver and lungs doesn’t sound appealing. There’s maybe a reason why this stuff (plus stomach, kidneys, etc.) is called ‘offal’.

However…have you ever eaten sausage?

I won’t go into the old ‘lips and assholes’ myth (which is probably true for very cheap sausages), but let’s face it, unless you’re paying full whack for the best handmade, top rank gourmet sausages from an actual butcher you’re getting reclaimed meat and tendons at best, and at worst you’re getting fat with pink food coloring. Oh, and MSG, sugar and other crap.

Want to know what sheep eat? Grass. Pigs? They eat feed out of bags, and food scraps at best.

Here’s some facts and figures about British sausage, from Channel 4, one of the major TV networks:

A typical economy sausage recipe might look like: 30% pork fat, 20% recovered meat, 30% rusk and soya, 15% water and 5% assorted e-numbers, flavourings, sugar, flavour enhancer, preservatives and colourings.

Premium sausages look hand made. Good sausages use joints of meat, minced; you’ll be able to see the granules of fat and meat through the skin.

At the top end, the ingredients list is much shorter; something like 40% belly pork, 40% boned shoulder of pork, 10% breadcrumbs, 5% water and 5% herbs and spices.

What is meant by ‘meat’?

(I love how this even needs to be defined)

The definition of meat is hard to explain. Meat can contain certain percentages of fat, connective tissue and skin and still be considered ‘meat’. What most consumers consider ‘meat’ is what we call ‘visible lean’. A pork chop is 90 per cent visible lean. A sausage label may say that it contains 60 per cent meat but that could be as low as 15 per cent visible lean.

What is connective tissue?

Gristle and the tissue that holds muscle to bone. The definition of meat is understood to include some connective tissue; good butchers don’t abuse that understanding. In cheaper sausages connective tissue is used to bulk up meat.

Does it matter that economy sausages aren’t all lean meat? Isn’t this a good way of eating the whole pig?

You could construct an argument that using connective tissue and fat is better than wasting them but the fact that extra flavourings, salt and fat are added to the pork slurry undermines this. Nearly two thirds of sausages at standard and economy level contain MSG. Good butchers won’t use it.

So, pay loads for quality sausage, or get the stuff people won’t eat because of their sensibilities and pay much much less. How about that?

This doesn’t mean I don’t eat sausage – far from it. I love a good sausage, but only buy the good stuff. No frozen bulk variety packs for me. But the idea that haggis is disgusting or nasty or whatever…come on, if you don’t try it how can you know?

By the way, haggis tastes and looks like a meaty stuffing, like what you’d put in a turkey or duck dinner. In fact, some people use it as a stuffing for pheasant, grouse, goose, etc. And posh haggis is made with venison and other top-drawer meats, just like gourmet sausage…I’d love to try that stuff!

Steak toaster!

So let me get this straight: Someone, somewhere, has combined a George Foreman grill with a toaster, to make what is essentially a steak toaster.

Wow. Now, I’ve been lazy about lighting up the charcoal and just plugging in the big George Foreman grill I used to have, but well this just takes the steak.


Product page 

Just what every person who thinks ‘well, we’ve got everything else under the sun, let’s get that‘ needs…

Oh man, sometimes I just really love capitalistic opportunism.

2008 exercise regime

I’m on a weight program that I’ve cobbled together from loads of reading online, and started an 8-week fat-burning weightlifting workout. One day a week I do legs, shoulders, chest and arms; three days a week I do abs; two or three days a week I’m supposed to do running or rowing. For 8 weeks I’ll be doing various exercises for each group, 10-12 repititions, after that I’ll see how I’m doing and if I want to build more muscle I’ll add weight and drop the reps to 6-8. Fairly basic stuff according to the weightlifting websites but I had yet to try it.

I say ‘supposed to’ run because let’s face it, it’s wet and cold 🙂 but now that it’s starting to lighten up I may actually do the running. I was doing rowing because it can be done indoors but the machine I bought a while back was pissing me off because of a bad bearing and thrown chain, so it’s on eBay now 🙂

So that’s exercise being done, just have to do it every day pretty much. It’s a good way to blow off steam, literally, although on some days I end up taking 2 showers, which I’m not used to 🙂

As far as diet goes, I’m pretty much there I think, I eat as much organic & free range stuff as I can afford, trying to keep up on 5-a-day for veg and whatnot, but a few times a week a candy bar or loads of crisps still end up in my hands. I’m pretty much off sodas now, as long as I keep bringing a water bottle with me.

So…it should work (seriously, it really should, it can’t get much simpler – ‘diet and exercise’), I just have to stick with it. :))

Yesss! Provolone cheese found!

I’ve been dying to make a Philly cheese steak for ages, but can’t find provolone cheese in the stores here. The selection of American and continental (i.e., European) foods in markets here has improved even in the time I’ve been in the UK (3 years), but I have yet to find very specific items like provolone cheese. Until now! Normally I’d be wary of ordering food that should be refrigerated online, but I might give this a go. I just have to make sure to line up the meat and bread supply when I order the cheese. Butchers here don’t know what ‘top round’ is (the traditional cheese steak cut of beef), and Italian bread will be impossible to find (slighty chewy crust, chewy inside) but I’ll give it a try with a roast cut of beef and French bread. Have to just make do, sometimes!

Have a good 4th?

I didn’t do much of anything, really, did some shopping and that was it. I did get a couple of emails saying ‘happy 4th of July’ from British mates, which was nice.

I did get a kick out of this story from Reuters UK (Reuters is one of the biggest and oldest news groups in the world, and based in England) about the annual 4th of July Nathan’s hot dog eating contest. This year’s contest was the first in 6 years that was won by an American, and they ended the story and interview with this paragraph:

“The United States has the highest prevalence of obesity among developed countries, at about one-third of the adult population, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 60 million adults are obese.”

That’s good, innit?


Yay for barbecues! I don’t recall having BBQ’s on the fourth of July specifically, but hey it IS summertime and hopefully you’ll get to do some BBQ-ing in between rain showers. We’ve had nearly a month solid of rain in the UK, which kind of sucks but keeps us on our toes.

I found this cool grilling guide, complete with meat suggestions and PDF cheat sheet! Use it the next time you do some grillin’

Still on the diet

Yep, I’m still on the diet. I’m doing pretty well, considering I haven’t really been exercising as much as I should. I’ve been telling myself I’ll start exercise once I’m over this cold, or I hit 210 lbs, or whatever, but I just haven’t really started yet. I go walking on the weekends, usually, with my girlfriend, but that’s about it. It’s usually a nice long walk, but fairly level and I’m not really pushing myself hard at all.

But even with all that I’ve lost about 7-8 pounds since the January, that’s about 0.6 pounds a week, a healthy loss. Here’s my weight chart:

Not bad, eh? It looks more impressive than it really is, I think, but it’s still nice to see 🙂

The way the chart works is, my average weight is the blue line. Every time my daily weigh-in is below the average, the daily weight is shown in the green. Every time my daily weight is above the average, the daily weight is shown in the red. Very simple and visual, perfect for someone like me.

Some people weigh themselves once a week or once a month, but that doesn’t take into account daily weight fluctuations at all. This method filters all that static, or ‘noise’, out and shows you very simply what you’re actually doing, and how you’re doing at any given time. Yes, the weight goes up from time to time but on the average it’s going down.

So how am I losing the weight? Simple. I’m just eating less. More salads, more fruit, more water, less alcohol, less creamy foods, almost no chips/fries, etc. The great thing about it is that it’s FREE, I’m motivating myself, and I can eat what I like. If I pig out for a day or two the chart shows it (the red spikes!), but on the whole I eat what I like, when I like, and I’m still losing weight.

If anyone is really serious about losing weight, I’d heartily recomment the http://www.physicsdiet.com website. It’s free, you don’t have to make your chart public and you can add all kinds of details like body fat percentage, calories you take in and lose, etc. It even figures out your BMI if you want to put in your height. The only thing is, it’s only available in US standard measurements (pounds and feet), so if you’re in the UK you’ll have to convert from stone to pounds, or kilos to pounds. There are other ways to do the math, I’m sure there’s an Excel chart one can download, but this site does it all automatically.