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  • Thu, 17:22: So how long does the BBC website need to be down before the submarine captains will launch the missiles? #BBCdown


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  • Fri, 18:58: Just on my way home after a Wimbledon Warmup on the Wii event at work. Full of sandwiches, strawberries, and a small splash of Pims.


My tweets


My tweets


My tweets

  • Sat, 21:24: Well fifteen #eurovision songs so far and not really a bad one. Couple a bit dull, but none bad.
  • Sat, 21:39: Could not last, number 19 (Latvia) is just weird. Time to get some fresh nibbles.
  • Sat, 22:38: Ok, falling asleep, and there is about an hour more of voting to go.


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Summer Holidays

So I have just finished my summer holidays; I took them fashionably early this year. "What did you get up to?" I hear you cry, well this year I decided to take part in a very popular national pastime and join the mass ranks of the unemployed. This was an interesting and informative thing to try but not really my cup of tea.

I had hoped it would prove a relaxing diversion from the world of work, and while it did have some good points it did not suit my temperament.

The main good point came in the form of the East Sands Leisure Centre, which I almost live next door too. I discovered that once I had signed up to the ‘mass ranks’ I could buy a whole months daytime membership to the ‘gym and swim’ for only £10. This meant I could be in the gym about 10:30 and then afterwards swim until lunch. This provided an interesting structure to the morning three or four days each week. Near the end of my break I also took part in three of the Aquarobics classes they ran, these were great fun but cost an extra £3.30 each.

I found I had more time for cooking and drifted into cooking in a style that was more that of my grandmother that my usual approach. As I was planning meals more and cooking sequences of meals I found I was doing thinks like using animal fat to cook in more. This was just because there had been some dripping produced from a previous meal. It was tasty and of course reduced waste, but not sure what affect it had on waist.

Ok, on the bad points. The paperwork, the delays, the phone calls, the confused answers, the endless repeating yourself.

The process of joining is just not very thought out. It starts with a couple of online forms to fill in, like a lot of things these days. The forms were a bit over the top, one took 45 minutes, and the other 30 minutes the first time, then crashed! Even then you had to race about with extra paperwork and attend to discuss your application to join.

The discussion did not go smoothly as it was a bit rushed. By the time I got to the ‘rep’ who processed memberships I was to see it turned out she had been waiting for me for about 15 minutes. She asked if I had been delayed by the traffic, I said no I had noticed the roadworks so arrived 15 minutes early to make sure. I had been sitting in the waiting room where I was put by the receptionist for the last half an hour. The rest of the discussion was as bit rushed as we tried to make up time.

All my application information had been entered into the computer by me at home. The lady had a print out of that, so proceeded to re-type it into her computer, then print that copy out for me to sign.

I went on my way with more paperwork to fill in throughout my holiday so they could see what new activities I was trying. But this new paperwork was just for a record, they also wanted me to put the same info into yet another website.

I also had a number to phone if I had questions. I found if I did not like an answer I could phone again and probably get a different one. This was a little confusing and it proved costly to a certain degree. One answer I got cost about £75 as it turned out the helpline was incorrect.

The main problem I had though was concentration. There were days with organised trips to companies to do things like the logic problems and coding challenges. Those were great and I got to have interesting conversations with some nice people, but the days out were the exceptions. Mostly you were just left hanging about waiting for the next activity to start.

As there was not much notice of these challenges you needed to be ready to attend I found it impossible to concentrate on worthwhile tasks like DIY or sewing. I kept feeling I should be busy doing something else.

Part of the mantra of the people behind organising the ‘mass ranks’ was the belief that you should make as many new friends as possible. To this end you had to send out potted versions of your life history to all and sundry so new people who thought you interesting could get in touch. I found it hard to constantly sound ‘chipper’ on the phone as I was getting all these calls from these new people wanting to know all about me. There was just something a bit insincere in these conversations as you were left feeling they had there own agenda. But it would have been impolite to not sound enthusiastic and delighted that they had bothered to call me.

There where two or three people I genuinely had a connection with and I had several conversations with those. One of whom was instrumental in convincing me to I give up on the ‘mass ranks' altogether.

So all in all I am glad the holiday is over, not something I would choose to try again. And it also felt a bit long at just over 6 weeks, but with all the paperwork would it make sense for much less?

I can see why the number of members of the ‘mass ranks’ has fallen over recent times.

My tweets

Molecular Cuisine

As part of my leaving present from old work I got given a Molecular gastronomy starter kit. When Helen and Kev were coming for Sunday lunch the other weekend I thought it would be a good chance to experiment with it.


The kit has a collection of tools and some sachets of chemicals that allow you to try three techniques.

You can do spherification, reverse spherification and frozen reverse spherification using Calcium Lactate and Sodium Alginate. These create bubbles of gel with a liquid filled centre. The techniques differ in whether the alginate is in the bubble and the calcium outside or vice versa. Which you use depends on if your liquid already contain calcium, what mouth feel you want, if it can survive freezing, and how far ahead you can make them.

You can do emulsification, which in this case means the creation for semi-stable foams on liquids that would not normally have them. For this you use Soy Lecithin.

And finally you can do Gelification using Agar Agar. This is a bit like using regular gelatine but agar agar has some odd proprietaries that make it stable over a wide temperature range 35°C to 80°C. If liquid it stays liquid till its temperature falls below 35°C, but if solid it does not melt till over 80°C, so at say 50°C it could be either depending on whether being heated or cooled. This allows you to pull some weird tricks.

After watching all of the recipes on the included DVD I decided to make a starter and some bits to go with a cheese board, but serve a regular roast pork main course. (Had to borrow a DVD drive from Toby to read the disc!)

I decided to do a take on an Italian salad of cheese/tomato/basil as starter and some port caviar to serve with stilton and honey caviar to serve with fresh figs.

For the tomato I decided to modified the recipe for lychee bubbles so step one was to make some clear tomato juice. I bought some very ripe vine tomatoes from the veg shop on South Street while I was at my Job Centre interview. I deseeded the tomatoes into a plastic sieve, then blended the tomato pulp and skin into a smooth red pulp. This was then added to the sieve with the seeds and all the red pulp forced through. This red pulp was seasoned with a little salt and sugar to help break down the cells and release the juice. From there it went into the freezer in an ice cube tray overnight. The next day the frozen cubes go into a sieve lined with two layers of cheesecloth. This all goes into the fridge to defrost. The result is a process which has the over-the-top name of cryofiltration. As the cubes of pulp defrost slowly the ice crystal formed in the freezer slowly turn to liquid and flow through the cheese cloth.


As the process is so gradual the impurities are left behind so you end up with a clear liquid. In my case this was a pale yellow colour and tasted of fresh tomato.

Into a measured amount of this you dissolve the calcium lactate. I cut tiny cubes of fresh tomato and picked some very tiny basil leaves. Each of the hemispherical ice cube moulds in the tray received one cube and one leaf and was the filled with calcium tomato solution. Then back into the freezer overnight.


Ok, while that all froze I got on with the cheese for the salad. This was going to be Pecorino Romano spaghetti. This is a whey made from the grated cheese and water that is set using agar agar inside a plastic hose to produce the spaghetti shape. Step one is to make the whey. The water and cheese are melted together and stirred until you end up with a milky liquid and a solid layer at the bottom of the pan. The whey is strained and popped into a tub to cool in the fridge.


This left me with a blob of what looked like melted cheese which the original recipe did not use. I did not like to waste it so remembering some parmesan crisps I had at the dundee rep cafe years ago I spread the cheese blob on a baking sheet and popped it under the grill. The result was some toasted cheese crisps I could add to the cheese board. Should have oiled the baking sheet better as it was a bit of a pain to get off.


Next some dressing for the salad, starting with the vinegar. As vinegar is acid you cannot use the alginate based process to make liquid spheres, but you can make agar agar gel pearls instead, so the measured quantity of two vinegars (white wine and shallot) was heated with agar agar. I filled a tall jar with vegetable oil and popped it in the freezer to cool for 30 minutes. You then use the eye droppers from the kit to release a stream of drips into the oil. As they fall into the oil they form a small spherical drop, which cools as it falls through the oil, so by the time it reaches the bottom of the jar it has set into a soft gel pearl. When all the vinegar has been dropped you strain the oil through a sieve and tip the pearls into cold water and stir to rinse. Most of the oil floats to the top of the water so you end up with clean pearls of vinegar when you strain again. These are then stored in the fridge till needed.


Ok, back to the tomato, you now have frozen calcium tomato hemispheres, each contain a small tomato cube and a basil leaf.


You prepare a sodium alginate bath. This is a bit of a process as to get it to dissolve without lumps you need to use a blender which puts air into the solution, which is slightly gloopy, so you need to then let it rest in the fridge so the air bubbles rise and the solution clears. Ok, so now we drop the calcium tomato ice cubes in a few at a time. They must not touch or they will stick. You then need to stir them gently for three minutes while the outer surface of the cube melts and the calcium alginate gel forms on the outer surface. You need to make sure they turn and not float so an even layer forms all over.


After the three minutes they are lifted one by one into a water bath to wash them and stop the process.


After this rinse each tomato bubble is placed into some of the clear tomato liquid (this was left from before the measure amount had the calcium added), this is to hold the bubble until you are ready to serve them. It stops the surface drying out and breaking, and unlike holding in water as the outside and the inside taste the same there is no flavour dilution.


Making the spaghetti, it was not hard but producing enough for the 6 dishes did take about 90 minutes. More plastic tubing would speed up the process. The technique I used was this one:

The other part of the dish was the basil foam. This is created at the last minute so there are no pictures of the process, I had other things on my mind, you use a hand blender to blend a couple of cups of basil leaves with some milk and the soya lecithin. This results in a green tinted foam being formed. It did lose its colour very very fast, so even by the time I had scooped a mound of the foam onto each plate it had started to lose the bright green for a dull green.

I bought eight value teaspoons from Morrisons for 59p and attacked them with a vice to bend the handle. I plated the dish as follows. Two dots of the remaining tomato pulp to act as glue, one with the cheese spaghetti on it, the other with a tomato bubble. The tomato bubble was dressed with some wine vinegar pearls. The spoon was balanced on the spaghetti and held another tomato bubble, some shallot vinegar pearls and some basil foam. More basil foam was placed on the plate.


As part of the desert I made vanilla yoghurt spheres (yoghurt + calcium, dropped using a spoon into alginate bath), served on spoons with a rose syrup. These were harder to make than the frozen method and I burst some in the bath. You let the mess set then strain the bath to remove the gel bits and begin again.

The port caviar and honey caviar were hard to do. They had the alginate mixed with the port/honey and were dropped into a calcium bath. This is suppose to produce balls with a better mouth feel, as the gel layer is much thinner, but this also make them much harder to handle and I ruptured some of them getting the out of the rinse bath so they all clumped back together. Also the alginate really seamed to dull the taste of the port, it was better to just drink it!

I still have some of the chemicals left so I will play again sometime.


Andrew Patterson

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