Supply Chain

When I go into the supermarket, I see foods from all over the world. I’m not talking about the items in the so-called International section, but even the stuff on the other shelves. I just picked up the nearest supermarket purchased item that came to hand. Batteries. They are packed locally, but are manufactured in China. When I say locally, I mean almost 500 kilometres away.

Much of the fruit and veges that I purchase come from overseas. Bananas and pineapples don’t grow here and are imported from various countries. If I want to buy a t-shirt it will almost certainly originate in Asia somewhere. I just looked at the t-shirt that I’m wearing at the moment, and yup, while it has a designed featuring a local attraction it is manufactured and printed in China.

All our electronic gear come from Asia, our clothes from Asia and plastic ware like laundry baskets also originates overseas.

This is not unique to this country though. It’s much the same in any other country. This country produces dairy products, meat and meat products, fruit and wine which are exported to other countries. The world is full of goods being shipped from one place to another, and sometimes a product will go to more than one location on its journey from where it is produced to the supermarket that it ends up in.

I don’t know if this actually happens, but one can envisage that milk taken from a cow is turned into milk powder here, sent elsewhere to be turned into mozzarella cheese, which is then sent to a pizza manufacturer, who sends the finished pizza to an pizza outlet where it is cooked and then sent out to satisfy the appetites of people somewhere else yet again.

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There’s a term for this. It is “supply chain”. Actually it’s more like a supply network as, if we consider the pizza case, the pizza is made up of multiple ingredients all of which pass through several stages. Even the box that contains the pizza may have a complex history before the pizza is dropped into it and it is sent off.

It’s also possibly that the box may be made of recycled material. Cardboard collected at a recycling station may be pulped, processed and made into pizza boxes. Some of the collected cardboard may be old pizza boxes.

Generally, though, the components or ingredients of a consumer item, like a cell phone or a pizza with extra pepperoni start out by being harvested or dug out of the ground. If you want to cut out the supply chain, you could grow your own, but then you need to source the seeds, you need to buy in compost, unless you make it yourself from vegetables that you’ve sourced somewhere else, which come from goodness knows where, and you need to feed the plants with chemicals which have all come from somewhere else, and most likely have been processed in various ways.

So what would happen if the supply chain broke? People in the cities, who have no other way to acquire things except through the supply network would quickly starve, and would likely flee the city for the countryside, where things would be much better, and where they could settle down and grow things, right?

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Except that most useful productive land in most countries has already been taken for farms, and the fleeing city folk would be forced onto marginal land and would starve, or they would be forced to steal from the farmers who are already there, or maybe they would beg for food from the farmers or work for them for food. Or they would fight to displace the farmers from their lands. In any case a flood of refugees from the city would likely be a trigger for conflict.

Actually the farmers would not be that much better off than the city folks. Most farms these days are more like little factories feeding into the supply chain and would concentrate on one or two crops. A beef farmer would have a surplus of beef, a potatoes farmer would have nothing but potatoes, and so on.

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So, it is likely that even farmers would have severe problems if the supply network broke. Even if the farmer could trade most of his produce with other farmers so that he did not have to subsist purely on potatoes, he would have great difficulty in producing more crops after the first one. He’d quickly run out of fertiliser and without insecticides he would probably loose a lot of his crops.

The problems would be even worse if his land was deficient in some critical mineral. Many farmers these days have to add traces of minerals to their land, either to help grow bigger produce or to add the trace elements that the crops need to even grow.

Of course, not everyone would starve. Some non-city dwellers would eventually, after a period of realignment, be able to feed themselves. But many, many city dwellers would die, and a significant number of non-city dwellers would also die before an new balance is found. All trade would be local, probably barter based, as the city dwellers are the ones who keep the banking systems going, and they would be dead.

I haven’t yet considered what sort of catastrophe could disrupt the global supply network. If the oil ran out, and couldn’t be replaced by some other source of energy, that would do it. Local power could be generated using solar energy or water power, but the ships that ship goods from one place to another run on oil. That means that we would not be able to source solar cells in sufficient number.

If someone started a global nuclear war, then that could cause significant disruption and throw many countries back on their own resources, especially those who are more isolated than most. Similarly, if a super volcano were to erupt anywhere in the world, and as a result the world would become shrouded in clouds of dust for years on end, killing all food crops, then there would be no food to be shipped, even if the ships were to keep on working. And without food crops animals would starve, and so would we.

Say Cheese!

Cheese board
Cheese board

Cheese – let’s see if I can come up with one thousand words on cheese. OK, that start is a bit of a cheat, so let’s get into it.

When humans started domesticating animals, my guess is that they would have started small, with goats or sheep. We can’t know why the first cave man or woman first milked one of them. Maybe it was a cave woman who could not feed her growing kids on her own milk and decided to steal some from the goat or sheep. Of course, if the child was too small it would not have worked because the milk would not be suitable for babies. It’s not the best thing for older children too, but it’s better than nothing.

Of course, there would inevitably have been milk left over after feeding the kids, and this would have “gone off”. It’s possible that cottage style cheeses were made from “gone off” milk, though the present day process for making cheese is more complex than simply allowing it to clot. Milk that is clotted is closer to yoghurt than cheese.

Cottage cheese
Cottage cheese

The cave man or woman who first tried eating the curds from clotted milk would have to have had a strong stomach. After all, most clotted milk smells terrible. As I understand it, it depends on the type of bacillus that gets into the milk and causes it to clot.

Proper cheese needs rennet to cause it to coagulate, and according to Wikipedia’s page on the history cheese, it was probably discovered by carrying milk in bladders made of ruminants’ stomachs due to their inherent supply of rennet. It would still have required some person who was desperate or brave to have tried it first.

Cheese curds floating
Cheese curds floating

Once the liquid is removed from the coagulated milk, the solids are processed into the myriad of types of cheese we have today. There was once a shop near us which sold the unmatured and unprocessed cheese as milk curds. They formed quite a nice snack.

There are thousands of types of cheese. France is known for her cheese and former President Charles De Gaulle once commented “How can you govern a country which has two hundred and forty-six varieties of cheese?” In fact he was probably underestimating by quite a wide margin. There are apparently over seven hundred named British cheeses.

Tentation du Vercors
Tentation du Vercors

I presume that this doesn’t include those cheeses which are merely a named type of cheese with added herbs and spices. I’ve seen cheese with added nettles, of all things. If you are interested, it tasty OK. I think that this trend may have sprung from the small, often called boutique, cheese producers. If you are a small company, you will not have the facilities to produce more than one or two types of cheese, and an easy way to provide variety in your range is to create herb infused varieties.

Cheese types presumably fall into various broader types of cheese. There are the soft cheeses, some of which are almost spreadable, such as Brie. Others are denser and more solid, such as the various Cheddar cheese types, some are really hard, such as the Parmesan that is shaved and used as a condiment.

Mottin Charentais
Mottin Charentais

Some cheeses crumble easily and others are more easily sliced. Some supermarket cheese is so processed that it is almost plastic! In fact supermarket cheeses could be considered to be a separate type of cheese. It is almost always highly processed and formed into blocks, slices and spreadable wedges. Even the more conventional cheeses, such as Cheddar cheese, is sold in supermarkets as a block, which seem to me to be a long, long way from the original Cheddar cheese which came in the form of a wheel.

Sometime during the evolution of cheese some cheeses became infected with a penicillin mold and developed blue markings or veins. Once again, some brave person tasted it and liked it, and so blue cheese was born. Blue cheeses are among the tastier of cheeses, and to me, beat all other cheeses that I have tasted hands down.

Shropshire Blue Cheese
Shropshire Blue Cheese

Cheese is used in many recipes, one of which is Welsh rarebit. There are many variations of this recipe, which basically involves melting cheese with several optional ingredients on toast. I particularly like the one which involves soaking the toast in red wine before the cheese is added, although I’ve never tried it.

Cheese scones are another favourite. I always add more cheese than the recipe calls for, as I don’t think the standard recipes call for enough cheese. Cheddar cheese, grated, is the best cheese to use, I find. One thing is important, though. If you like cheese scones hot, it is best to eat them almost direct from the oven. At a pinch they can be reheated in an oven, but heating them in a microwave cooker turns them into something leathery and, to my mind, not particularly nice.

Cheese scones, mmmmmmm!
Cheese scones, mmmmmmm!

Macaroni cheese is a familiar dish from most peoples’ childhood, and even adults find it a tasty meal. It is essentially cooked macaroni, covered in a cheese sauce, covered in breadcrumbs and reheated. Some people put ham in it, some add  herbs, and there are many, many other variations.

Speaking of cheese sauce, cheese and pasta go together. Pasta without cheese sauce is a bare gluggy mess. Pasta with a cheese sauce, with maybe some ham or sausage or even seafood can be heavenly. Some tomatoes or tomato paste make it even nicer.

Farfalloni
Farfalloni

Cheese also goes with pizza. What would pizza be without the stringy mozzarella cheese? Cheese producers around the world have spent large amounts of money, I’d guess in the millions, developing cheese which melts properly and has the requisite stringiness when it cools slightly, so that you can do that twirly thing with your finger to wind up the stings of delicious cheese.

One particularly tasty, but probably not good for you, use of cheese is in cheese straws. These are basically strips of slightly puffed pastry infused with cheese. the strips are twisted to make a spiral shape. The bit is crunchy, the biscuit a little flaky and delicious.

Just one more. Oh no, they’ve all gone!

Cheese straws
Cheese straws

Celebration of Cavewoman

Woman grinding seeds between two stones
Woman grinding seeds between two stones

My daughter and I were discussing innovation and inventiveness. Well, actually we weren’t but the subject got mentioned in the context of “what if….”. What if our caveman ancestor had not banged together two rocks and invented fire starting? My opinion was that it was probably our cavewoman ancestor who did it. Our caveman ancestor would probably have banged his thumbs together between the two rocks.

This started me thinking. Inventors are usually man. Rarely, in recent times anyway, is a great inventor a woman. Why is this? Is there really a gender gap in inventiveness?

Fire making tools
Fire making tools

Thinking back to the caveman and cavewoman days, it is likely that the woman was responsible for the invention of clothing. The caveman was probably happy to chase pigs through the scrub with his dangly bits flopping in the wind, while the cavewoman would be inventing the loin cloth, which the caveman would likely adopt with glee, as it prevented his said dangly bits coming in contact with the gorse and other spiky plants. For the cavewoman there was an advantage that it hid the dangly bits from her view.

Then when the woman in the next cave over, the blonde one with the big … assets, starting wearing that fitting badger skin outfit, cavewomen had invented fashion. Hmm. The charcoal from the newly invented fire really enhanced the under eyes, and the lighter ash really made the cheekbones stand out. Your move, blondie!

Fur Coat
Fur coat

And cooking too. Caveman probably dropped his slice of bear loin in the fire and discovered that it tasted great, after you brushed the burnt bits and the ash off. Cavewoman then got a stone, put it on the fire and sizzled her steak on that. With a few grilled veges on the side, for the healthy touch.

Of course when caveman was unsuccessful in bringing home any meat, the family had to subsist on berries and seeds. Crushing the seeds between two rocks probably made them easier to eat and that a short step from grinding them up, which is a small step from mixing them with water and then dropping them on the hot stone. Somehow I don’t imagine the caveman doing that. He’d be too busy describing the ones that got away.

Tibetan flour mill
Tibetan flour mill

Then when the caveman invited next door over for tea, then something special was required. So wrap the grilled meat pieces in the flat bread, add a few herbs and spices, and hey presto! Instant cuisine. I bet blondie couldn’t even boil an egg. Oh, wait a minute, we haven’t invented boiling things yet.

What if we take that coconut shell and fill it with water and balance it on the fire? Add a few leaves from that bush over there, and we’ve invented tea. A few ground beans from that other bush and we have coffee. Hmm, let’s domesticate a goat, so that we have an assured source of meat, and hey, we can put some of the goat’s milk in the tea.

A cave
A cave

My semi-serious point is that all these things that were developed in the dim and distant past were likely invented by the women. While the men were out chasing pigs, goats, and badgers and developing weapons and warfare, and all those men things, women stayed in or around the cave inventing, well, home.

When the men came home with pig-on-a-stick, the woman would break down the animal, with a stone knife probably invented by a woman to make it easier, remove the tubes and other gruesome bits, and set it on the fire to cook. She probably accidentally domesticated the dog by feeding it the bits she didn’t want. The cat was always there.

Miling a goat
Milking a goat

Of course, when you spend your days, sitting on the ground, keeping the fire going, accidentally inventing smoking of meat by hanging it over the fire, the ground begins to get a bit, well, hard. Animals skins help somewhat, but animal skins with dried grass under them were even better! But to keep the grass from leaking out from under the skins, woman had to invent sewing.

Of course, sewing helped the skins look a lot better. Take that blonde girl. What? You bought yours! You invented shopping? Go, girl!!

I’d bet it was a woman who invented agriculture. While man was out chasing deer and tripping over rocks, while he was gathering a paleo diet on the side from bushes and shrubs, woman was at home noticing that some of the seeds gathered last year were sprouting. What if she were to scratch some shallow lines in the ground and plant those sprouting seeds? What is she were to water and weed them and, well, let’s invent a word, cultivate them? Then they wouldn’t have to go so far to find seeds when that idiot man couldn’t find any prey! And if they did grow, she’d save some seed for next year rather than just eat it all.

Wheat in field
Wheat in field

Then when the cave gets too small for a growing family, it’s the woman who looks around, finds a bigger, better cave, and pays the occupants half an antelope for it. It’s the woman who invents real estate.

It’s the woman who sticks a few palm fronds in cracks in the rock to give them shade from the sun in summer, and who piles up some rocks to block the wind in winter, it’s the woman who diverts the stream away from the living area. Yes, this cave has running water! No need to go down to the stream to drink! It’s the woman who invents home improvement.

Cave entrance
Cave entrance

Of course, my hypothesis above, that from fire to home improvement, these things were invented by women. The women were, in general, left behind while the men went hunting. The men didn’t have time to invent things, but the women were able to put their minds to work on improving things around the cave, but people give them little credit for it. But when push comes to shove it seems to me that civilisation is the greatest achievement of womankind.

Sappho
Sappho

 

 

Too Much Sweetness

English: Macro photograph of a pile of sugar (...
English: Macro photograph of a pile of sugar (saccharose) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sugar is a the name given by chemists to a family of compounds comprised of Carbon, Hydrogen and Oxygen in various configurations. Generally there are the same number of Carbon and Oxygen atoms and twice as many Hydrogen atoms, but this is not always true.

So far as I know all living things contain sugars, which supply the body with energy through a complex series of chemical reactions which function to slow down the release of energy from the sugar, which would otherwise be released in an unusable burst of energy.

English: Basic overview of energy and human li...
English: Basic overview of energy and human life (See also Wikipedia:Energy#Energy_and_life). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The end result of these reactions is the release of water and carbon dioxide. The cycle of reactions needs as many Oxygen molecules as there are sugar molecules, more or less, assuming the the sugar is fully broken down, and that is why all living things need to take in Oxygen and why we breath out carbon dioxide.

We don’t normally notice the sugar that we take into our bodies as it is largely contained in the foods that we eat. With the exception of the sugar in our tea and that we may scatter on our cereals, it is invisible to us. We actually take in a lot of sugar when we eat things.

WLA vanda English Tea Set 18th century
WLA vanda English Tea Set 18th century (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In fact we are told that we take in far too much sugar in a modern diet. People drink tea and coffee with sugar, or drink copious amounts of sugar filled soft drinks and we know that this is bad for us. It rots our teeth and makes us fat. It predisposes us to diabetes and other metabolic problems.

The reason that it makes us fat is because early humans (and other animals) had a life which saw feasts and famines as the food supply fluctuated. The body evolved to take advantage of the feast phases by storing energy for the famine times by converting the excess sugars that were ingested to fat. Fat is harder to break down to release its stored energy, and the body preferentially uses any sugars circulating in the body (in the form of glucose).

The aldehyde form of glucose
The aldehyde form of glucose (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As a species we have a taste for sugar. The body wants to take in as much as it can, in order to keep itself running, and to store up energy as fat for the lean times. However, these days, there are rarely any truly lean times for most people, so they take in more sugars than they need and store it as fat.

There is debate sometimes as to whether or not our desire for sugar amounts to an addition. Personally I don’t feel that it is truly an addiction, just a very strong desire to eat as much sugar containing food as possible. People don’t suffer intense reaction to the withdrawal of sugar from their diet as they would if it were an addition.

Chocolate cake with white chocolate squiggles.
Chocolate cake with white chocolate squiggles. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Generally they don’t suffer hallucinations, pains, or other mental or physical symptoms. Quite often they even feel better. Quite often they lose weight. Diabetes symptoms may abate, they may sleep better, and other physical problems may disappear.

It seems a no brainer that we should reduce the amount of sugar that we consume in our food and drink, yet we continue to consume it to excess. In my opinion there are at least three reasons for this.

Soft drinks 800x600
Soft drinks 800×600 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Firstly, the body itself makes us crave sugary foods, as it has evolved to make us feel pleasure when eating something that it can use for fuel and additionally store up for the leaner times that never come. We are predisposed to like sweet things, and our experience tells us that a chocolate bar is sweet.

Secondly, we have been given sweet things as a treat from the time that we are small, and we expect our treats to be sweet. In a restaurant the main course is about protein, usually with some meat or other as the star, but desserts are treats and therefore must be loaded with sugar.

Portuguese cuisine - Azorean sweet desserts
Portuguese cuisine – Azorean sweet desserts (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Thirdly, it is absurdly easy to obtain sugar these days. The confectionery aisle of the supermarket has the most shelf space. Cakes and desserts take up shelves of their own, as do soft drinks which are laced with sugar.

That’s a big issue. Everything has sugar in it these days. In the past there was sugar in many things, but I believe that the quantity of sugar was lower. These days there is a large slug of sugar in almost everything.

It’s even crept into the main course. Glazes and marinades have always had sugar in them as the sugar caramelises on the meat as it cooks, and gives it a nice colour, but many pouring sauces and dressings also contain copious amounts of sugar. Even the humble meat pie contains sugar or so I heard. Something to do with giving the right consistency to the gravy, I believe. So what was wrong with the original ways of thickening it?

This has all led to an issue, so far as I am concerned. I can see all the health benefits of reducing one’s intake of sugar, but so far as others are concerned their bodies are their own responsibility. If they wish to make themselves fat and ill, that is up to them.

English: This is a graph showing the rate of o...
English: This is a graph showing the rate of obesity in adults and the rate of being overweight in both children and adults in the United States from 1960 – 2004. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What really annoys me about the sugar in everything trend is that almost everything tastes of sugar! I gave up sugar in tea many decades ago, and I didn’t miss it, but now I hate the taste of tea with sugar in it. I can’t drink it. I also gave up sugar on my morning cereal, which was harder, but I now don’t miss it. There’s already some sugar in it of course so why add more?

But everything else? Everything that you touch at the supermarket is laced with sugar, from the white stuff they call bread to the pickles and sauces you put in your sandwich. As a result, you can’t taste much of anything under the overpowering sweet taste.

A plate of fairy bread, cut into triangles.
A plate of fairy bread, cut into triangles. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Someone once commented when I complained about the overbearing sweet taste of everything, that I could just make my own. That’s fine, and I do do it as much as I can, but it’s not always possible, as the ingredients may already contain sugar, and sometimes i just wants the convenience of picking something off the shelf.

English: Organically produced blackstrap molas...
English: Organically produced blackstrap molasses produced in Paraguay. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Milestones


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The previous post that I made was the 200th since I started writing this blog. I started in January 2013 and intended, at the time to make it about cooking and my successes and failures in that respect. However the cooking has pretty much disappeared (at least for now) and I’ve been writing about things like science, politics and philosophy. It’s strange how things turn out!

200 posts mean 200,000 words, more or less. However some of the early ones are shorter and so I’ve probably not quite reached the 200,000 word point yet. I aim to keep going at least until I hit 250 posts which implies a word count of 250,000 or so.

Marker post, Tattenham Corner - geograph.org.u...
Marker post, Tattenham Corner – geograph.org.uk – 923637 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I, and most other bloggers I guess, blog about things that interest me. I don’t do it as a job, and I don’t seek out to address any particular set of people or demographic. I just hope that what I write is at least mildly interesting to those who stumble across it. I have around 100 “followers”, people who have subscribed to this blog, but I can’t tell how many of those skip over the emails that tell them that I have posted a new article.

Posting articles must fulfil some need that I have, but I don’t really know what it is. This is the first time that I’ve done something like this and not failed to keep it going. My random ramblings don’t spring out of a need to “reach out” to those out there. I don’t have a burning desire to see that my message is promulgated to all that will listen. I don’t even have a message.


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Nevertheless, blogs are a way of putting out there the things that interest me, like science, religion, and, basically, philosophy. It’s not a way of sorting out my thoughts and rubbing the rough edges off of my ideas. I don’t even think that my ideas are unique! When I do what little research I do while writing these articles, I often stumble across some article that addresses the same issues that I am writing about, probably in a more organised and coherent way.

I cite Wikipedia quite often, not because I think that it is the best reference collection on the Internet, but because I can almost always find an article on there on whatever topic I am searching for. Wikipedia is often criticised for being potentially inaccurate, and to some extent that is true as it is maintained by enthusiastic amateurs, after all. It does represent a good starting point for research and is generally not that bad.

Wikipedia events haunt you forever. It's true....
Wikipedia events haunt you forever. It’s true. I heard it on the internet. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I started blogging I didn’t have any time schedule in mind, and I hadn’t settled on the target article size of 1000 words. As I recall the first few posts were sporadic and short. Some of the really early ones have been removed. It wasn’t until I settled on an article size of 1000 words and a publishing schedule of once a week that the blog took off (so far as I was concerned anyway) and I have been able to maintain the schedule over the last three years or so.

I originally intended to publish on a Saturday. This has slipped to Monday and I write these articles mainly on a Sunday. I’ve maintained this schedule for three years or so, and the nearest that I came to breaking the chain was when my sister was visiting and I didn’t have the time to write the articles. After she left I worked out how many weeks that I had missed and wrote and published the missing articles over a couple of weeks. It was one of the hardest things that I’ve done.


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I’ve taken inspiration from other bloggers. A friend of mine has a blog that he, until fairly recently updated with his photographs on a daily basis for many years. Well done, Brian!

Deadlines and milestones are, for me, the key to keeping up with this blog. Making a contract with myself to publish weekly affects no one else, unless someone out there is really waiting on the latest instalment of the blog, which I doubt.

English: Deadline Falls on the North Umpqua River
English: Deadline Falls on the North Umpqua River (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Douglas Adams said about deadlines : “I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.” However, when I’ve blogged before I’ve found that missing a deadline has been fatal to my attempts to keep a blog going. Sure, I’ve missed a few but caught up again, and my self-imposed deadline has slipped a couple of times, so there must be other factors.

I think that I probably passed a watershed where I might have stopped if I missed a deadline and that watershed may have been at the 50 or so mark, where I would have been reaching about a year of posts. Anyway the longevity of the blog certainly aids in continuing when things get sticky.


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Things do get sticky. Sometimes I sit down to write, on a Sunday usually, and nothing comes to mind. I’ve never experienced a total “writer’s block”, though. I get through it by basically waffling about something until a theme comes to mind. That is not the case this time though!

Milestones are what we strive for. I want to keep going at least until the 250 post mark, but earlier on in the blog the milestones were far more modest. When I reached 50 posts that was a significant milestone, as where 100, 150, and now, 200.

Madagascar milestone
Madagascar milestone (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Milestones show us how far we have come, and if we have a destination in mind, how far we have to go. The thing about milestones is that they shouldn’t be too far apart, and indeed a mile could probably be very loosely described as a reasonable distance that can be covered in a reasonable amount of time, and is roughly one thousand paces as measured by Roman legions on the march.

If milestones (general ones, not the specific distance related ones) are too far apart, then we often break that distance down into smaller parts. For instance, if we have a boring job to do, say weeding a garden we may break it into chunks – this bit to that shrub, then that bit to the peonies, then the bit to the small tree, and so on.

Maple Walnut Fudge chunks. From 'Truffles, Can...
Maple Walnut Fudge chunks. From ‘Truffles, Candies & Confections” by Carole Bloom. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

All the smaller, quicker to accomplish tasks give targets that are short to complete but which still add up to the larger goal in the end. It’s funny how we fool ourselves in this and other ways.


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Cooking

cooked in this case. I'd like to try the raw v...
cooked in this case. I’d like to try the raw version even though this was good as is. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Most people have a hand in food preparation at some time in the day. Even those who subsist on “instant meals” will at least zap it in the microwave for the necessary amount of time. Some people however cook intricate dishes, for their own amusement or for friends and families.

Most people eat cooked food although there is somewhat of a fad for raw food at the present time. All sorts of diets are also touted as having some sort of benefit for the food conscious, all of which seem bizarre when one considers that many, many people around the world are starving.


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Cooking can be described as applied chemistry, as the aim of cooking is to change the food being cooked by treating it with heat in one way or another. All the methods treatment are given names, like “boiling”, or “baking” or “roasting”. In the distant past no doubt such treatments were hit and miss, but these days, with temperature controlled ovens and ingredients which are pretty much consistent, a reasonable result can be achieved by most people.

Chemistry Is What We Are
Chemistry Is What We Are (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’d guess that the first method of cooking was to hold a piece of meat over a fire until the outside was charred and much of the inside was cooked. However, human ingenuity soon led to spit roasting and other cooking methods. A humorous account of the accidental discovery of roasting a pig was penned by Charles Lamb. In the account the discovery came as a result of an accidental setting fire to a pig sty, and consequently, as the idea of roast pork spread this led to a rash of pig sty fires, until some sage discovered that houses and sties did not need to be burnt down and it was sufficient to hang the pig over a fire.

English: Slow-roasting pig on a rotisserie
English: Slow-roasting pig on a rotisserie (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’d suspect that while roasting may have been invented quite early by humans, cooking in water would have come along a lot later as more technology is needed to boil anything. That is, a container would be needed and while coconut shells and mollusc shells can contain a little water, and folded leaves would do at a pinch, when humans invented pottery, the art and science of cooking was advanced immensely.

Although the foods that we eat can pretty much all be eaten raw, most people would find cooked food much more attractive. Cooked food smells nice. The texture of cooked food is different from the texture of raw food. I expect cookery experts are taught the chemical reactions that happen in cooking, but I suspect that cooking breaks down the carbohydrates, the fats, and the proteins in the food to simpler components and that we find it easier to digest these simpler chemicals.


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Maybe. That doesn’t explain why cooked food smells so much nicer than raw food. If food is left to break down by itself it smells awful, rotten, and with a few exceptions we don’t eat food that has started to decay.

Maybe the organisms that rot food produce different simpler components, or maybe the organisms produce by products that humans dislike. Other carnivores don’t seem to mind eating carrion and maybe a rotting carcass smells good to them.

Carrion Crow (Corvus corone)
Carrion Crow (Corvus corone) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The rules of cooking, the recipes have no doubt been developed by trial an error. It is likely that the knowledge was passed from cook to cook as an aural tradition initially. After all, cooking is likely to have started a long time before reading and writing were invented. Since accurate measurements were unlikely to be obtainable, much of the lore or cooking would have vague and a new cook would have to learn by cooking.

However, once the printing press was invented, after all the bibles and clerical documents had been printed, I would not be surprised to learn that the next book to be printed would have been a cook book. I’ve no evidence for this at all though!

English: Fanny Farmer Cookbook 1996 edition Fr...
English: Fanny Farmer Cookbook 1996 edition Français : Livre de la cuisson Fanny Farmer 1996 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Cooking changes the texture of meat and vegetables, making them softer and easier to eat. Connective tissues in particular are released making a steak for example a lot more edible. Something similar happens to root vegetables, swedes, turnips, carrots and parsnips. These vegetables can be mashed or creamed once they are cooked, something that cannot be done to the rather solid uncooked vegetables.

Cooking is optional for some foods – berries and fruits for example. Apples can be enjoyed while raw when they have a pleasant crunch, or cooked in a pie, when they are sweet and smooth. Babies in particular love the sweet smoothness of cooked apple and for many of them puréed fruits or vegetables are their first “solid” foods.


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Chicken eggs are cooked and eaten in many different ways. The white of an egg is made partly of albumen and when this is cooked it changes from translucent, almost transparent, to an opaque white. Almost everyone will have seen this happen, when an egg is cracked into a frying pan and cooked until the clear “white” of the egg turns to opaque white of the cooked egg.

Many other items when cooked change colour to some extent, but the white of the egg is most apparent. When you pair that with bread which is slightly carbonised on the outside, covered in the coagulated fat from cow’s milk (butter) and you have a common breakfast dish – fried eggs on toast.

English: Two slices of electrically toasted wh...
English: Two slices of electrically toasted white bread on a white plate (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There’s a whole other type of cooking – baking – that relies at least partly on a chemical reaction between an alkali (baking soda or sodium bicarbonate) and an acid (often “cream of tartar” which is weakly acidic). When the two are mixed in the presence of water, carbon dioxide gas is given off, leading to gas bubbles in the dough. When the dough is cooked the bubbles are trapped inside the stiffening dough, give the baked cake the typical spongy texture.

Some cooking utilises biological reactions. When yeast, a fungus, is placed into a liquid containing sugar, it metabolises the sugar, releasing carbon dioxide, and creates alcohol. In bread making this alcohol is baked off, but it may add to the attractiveness of the smell of newly baked bread. In brewing the alcohol is the main point of the exercise, so it is retained. It may even be enhanced by distillation.

I’ve just touched on a few highlights as regards the mechanisms of cooking (and brewing!), but I’ve come to realise as I have been writing this that there are many, many other points of interest in this subject. The subject itself has a name and that name is “Molecular Gastronomy”. A grand name for a grand subject.


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Quite a Quiche

Late... Again ?
Late… Again ? (Photo credit: M_AlPhotography)

Ooops! Late again. I really have to get myself organised and get a post out on time. On time is sometime before last thing Sunday. Today is Tuesday!

Anyway, this time I’m going to do a cooking post as I can’t remember the last time that I did one. (It was 15th May 2013, actually). I cooked a quiche this weekend and it turned into two quiches. As I usually do I looked on the Internet for a recipe and came up with this one here. Yes, you are correct, I was using up some of the Christmas ham, but I do like quiches with ham in them. I also like quiches with leek or silver beet, but I didn’t have any of those at the time.

Ham and cheese quiches
Ham and cheese quiches

The recipe that I found doesn’t include the pastry and uses two 9 inch pastry shells, but my dish was around 10 inches across and I guessed that the area would be about the same. If I’d done the maths, I would have seen that one 9 inch shell would have an area of 81 * pi square inches, so two would come to 162 * pi square inches and the 10 inch pie dish would have an area of 100 * pi square inches, so I’d likely have around a third of the mixture left over.

imaginary calculation
imaginary calculation (Photo credit: monkeyinfez)

Anyway, I ploughed on, not realising the problem. I made some ‘short pastry’, which is basically just fat and flour and a little water to bind it. I mixed 5 ounces of margarine and 8 ounces of flour in a bowl. I used the technique of “rubbing in” the fat to the flour and this markedly changes the consistency of the mixture. It starts off with the flour being, well, powdery, but after mixing it with the margarine, the consistency changes to a more “bread crumb” structure. That is, the mixture has a more particulate structure, and the powderiness disappears. When just a little water is added and the mixture is kneaded a little it changes again to a smooth consistency and becomes a ball of dough. There are good reasons why these changes occur, physical and chemical ones, no doubt, but I find them fascinating. What early cook discovered these changes and thereby started the whole culinary business?

Baked pastry dough
Baked pastry dough (Photo credit: 3liz4)

I rolled out the pastry and lined the dish and stabbed the base of the pastry case with a knife. Then I put it into the oven (at around 200 degrees C for 15 minutes). As an experiment I didn’t line it or cover it and I didn’t fill the pastry case with beans or pastry beads or similar. It came out fine and that may be because the oven has a fan to circulate the heat.

The recipe calls for two cups of chopped ham and two cups of cheese. It also calls for dried onion, but I used half a normal onion, which I lightly fried first. Two cups of chopped ham seems a lot when you are slicing it off the bone and then cutting it into small bits. The cheese was OK, and grating that amount doesn’t take long. I had the cheese, ham and onion in a bowl and it already looked a lot.

Grated Cheese
Grated Cheese (Photo credit: Annie Mole)

I used two cups of milk instead of cream and added the four eggs to it. It became obvious that there was too much mixture for the pie dish that I had! I put a large part of the ham, cheese and onion into the pastry case and tipped a similarly large amount of the liquid mixture over it and put it into the oven for the requisite 35 – 40 minutes.

Large quiche
Large quiche

While that was cooking I grabbed a smaller dish and made some more pastry to line it. Half of the above quantities was enough and I put the pastry in the oven with the first quiche for 15 minutes. Again it came out OK, and I filled it with the rest of the mixtures and they filled nicely, so into the oven it went. At this stage I managed to burn myself a little on one of the oven racks.

Smaller quiche
Smaller quiche

Both quiches came out looking fine, and I’m pleased to report they tasted fine too!

Two quiches
Two quiches

Some people may be wondering what re-ignited my interest in cookery. Well, I’d been complaining for some time about my wife’s scales, as it is difficult to measure small quantities on them. So she bought me a small electronic scales for Christmas and I love them! They have an incremental function on them so that you can put a dish on the scales, set the scale to zero, add the correct amount of an ingredient, set the scales to zero again and add another ingredient into the dish and so on. The scales also have a timer function for the actual cooking.

Electronic cooking scales
Electronic cooking scales

Before Christmas I bought a heat pad, so that I could raise bread and other yeast doughs in a more consistent way. Watch out for more blogs about bread making!

Heating pad

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Wine

Assortment of wine from Domaine Chandon in Yar...
Assortment of wine from Domaine Chandon in Yarra Australia showing their sparkling Chardonnay and Pinot noir wine as well as a still pinot noir. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Most cultures have some substance that they use to relax inhibitions and induce euphoria. Overindulgence leads to intoxication, the word acknowledging that the substance, whatever it is, damages the body in some way. It is toxic. The most widespread substance that is used is alcohol, and the reason it is so common is probably because it is easy to produce and acquire. Just let some fruit go rotten.

Of course, rotten fruit is pretty nasty, and people are ingenious, and it was soon discovered that fruits and grains and some root vegetables could be made to ferment without first going rotten. In fact it is a yeast that is the agent which facilitates the necessary chemical reaction, which takes in sugars in some form and produces carbon dioxide and alcohol. “Alcohol” when referred to in relation to recreational drinking is ethyl alcohol or ethanol, a substance that has now and then suggested as a fuel for cars.

English: Bai jiu, or Chinese white hard alcoho...
English: Bai jiu, or Chinese white hard alcohol that was made locally in Haikou, Hainan, China, and sold in a dedicated alcohol shop. The signs hanging on the stone bottles show alcohol percentag above, and price in yuan (2009) below. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Alcoholic drinks can be made from practically anything and can contain varying levels of alcohol, from relatively low alcohol drinks like beers and ales, through to wines, which represent the strongest drinks that can be made by simple fermentation and on to distilled alcoholic drinks which contain large amounts of alcohol.

English: Elderberries Ripe elderberries growin...
English: Elderberries Ripe elderberries growing by the Roman wall at Calleva Atrebatum. Elderberries can be used in a number of ways, including making elderberry wine. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Wine is these days made from grapes, and alcoholic drinks made from other fruits are usually referred to as “fruit wines“. There is an unfair implication that “fruit wines” are not real wines and are inferior to grape wines. While “fruit wines” are generally not as good as grape wines, the reason is probably more to do with the centuries of development and improvements that have gone into modern grape wines than any inherent superiority of grapes as a prime ingredient of wines.

Wines are typically made from the grapes of Vitis vinifera though occasionally other grapes are used, and hybrids of V. vinifera with other species are not uncommon. Wines are classified as either white or red, the colour coming from the colour of the skin of the grapes that were used in the production of the wine. Rosé wines are usually pinkish or pale red and are usually made from red wine grapes. The paler colour results from the removal of the skins at an early stage of production.

Several French rose wines from the Rhone Valle...
Several French rose wines from the Rhone Valley and Provence. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There are all sorts of varieties of wine, named after the varieties of grape vines that produce the grapes. I’ve a couple of books on wine which detail the genealogy of grape vines and it is a complicated messy and incestuous family tree. There are stories of skullduggery, stealing, and smuggling. There are stories of cataclysmic crop failures and noble experiments and migrations between countries.

Climate change comes into the picture too. Grapes are grown in areas of southern England where grapes have not been grown since Roman times, when younger and more robust varieties were grown. But the ability to grow grapes commercially in England can’t all be put down to global warming since techniques for protecting vines from frost (the main cause of crop failure in grape vines) have been vastly improved.

Madeleine Angevine growing in England
Madeleine Angevine growing in England (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Smoke producing machines are used to protect vines from frost and helicopters have been used to good effect too. I’m not sure how these techniques work, but I believe they do. One of the most bizarre protection methods is to spray the vines with water which instantly freezes and cocoons  the buds in an envelope of ice apparently protecting them from freezing.

I find this stuff interesting, but the reason people buy wine is because of the alcohol in it, and the reason that they prefer some wines over others is the taste. I prefer red wines, because white wines seem astringent and too sweet. Which is odd because red wines can also be astringent and sweet! Well, maybe I am exaggerating somewhat, but the beauty of the wine is definitely on the tongue of the taster.

When tasters taste wine, they have a problem. Sweetness or dryness is pretty much describable, as is the tannin level, which gives all wines, red or white, its astringency, but when the subtleties of the flavour have to be described, especially to someone who has not yet tasted the wine, then there are issues.

Vineyard owned by California wine producer Fer...
Vineyard owned by California wine producer Ferrari-Carano in the Dry Creek region of Sonoma county. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Wines may be described as “fruity” or “full-bodied”, which gives some impression of the experience of tasting the wine. The taster may have to descend to using analogies for further details. To quote from a bottle label : “This wine is fruit driven with flavours of red berry fruit and black cherries….”.

However, if you actually taste the wine, you won’t taste berries or cherries. What you will taste is firstly the major type, red or white. Secondly you are likely to be able to distinguish the variety, for example Pinot Noir, or at least the style for a blended wine. Then you will get the overall ‘shape’ of the wine (robust maybe, or delicate). You will note different aspects of the wine at different stages of drinking, at first hit, in the mouth and the aftertaste. I find that some wines have distinctive phases of this sort and others don’t.

You certainly don’t want to be analysing every sip of every wine when you drink it, but I do try to taste it like above at least on one mouthful, but I don’t always remember to do so. It does help you when you choose a wine in the store though.

Typical shape and design of a white wine tasti...
Typical shape and design of a white wine tasting glass. New Zealand wine (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

To get back to the red berries and cherries for a moment, you may taste a wine and not be able to detect them in your tasting. That’s because, in my opinion, those tastes are not there as such. So what do the tasting notes mean by these comments? They mean that the taster is reminded by some flavours of the wine of some aspects of the taste of berries. A faint echo of the richly complex flavours of red berry fruit echoes in the mind of the taster, and that is all that he has to work with when trying to describe some of the flavours in the wine.

In terms of familial relationships the flavour being described by the taster is not as close as brother or sister to the flavour mentioned by the taster. It’s more a second cousin twice removed relationship, and the taster is not saying that it is the second cousin twice removed, but that it reminds him or her of the second cousin twice removed. So you may think that there is hint of gooseberry in flavour of the wine and for you there are.

I think that the ability to even register some flavours varies from person to person and not just in wine. One person may taste something complex and say “mint”, while another may say “cloves”.

Wine tasting bar at Ridge/Lytton Springs, Sono...
Wine tasting bar at Ridge/Lytton Springs, Sonoma, California (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So where does it leave those of us who read wine labels and try to match the description with the label? Well, unless you drink a lot of wine and have an ability to distinguish the flavours that is practised, and have a similar sort of palate to the usually anonymous taster, then the bottle labels or tasting notes don’t mean a great deal. If it says “robust” or “full-bodied” for example, most people would be able to agree, but if it says “hints of gooseberry” you may well not agree that those flavours are there. It might remind you more of apples.

Image of an old Kazakhstan wine bottle.
Image of an old Kazakhstan wine bottle. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Back to the beginning – Cheese Scones.

Cheese scones
Cheese scones

I think that the first thing that I ever cooked was cheese scones. They are an ideal project to start cooking on as they are so simple. I’m not going to mention the actual recipe that I used since there are probably millions of them and they all work pretty well. Basically cheese scones are made from flour (usually self-raising), some shortening (butter, margarine, oil), a small amount of liquid (water or milk), some baking soda (to give the typical scone ‘tang’), salt and a little mustard to taste and of course cheese, usually a fairly strong variety.

They are simple and quick to make and cook and equally simple and quick to eat! I like them hot with butter and apparently so do most people, and in fact I doubt that many scones get to cool to room temperature! If you fancied it, you could add a touch of chili I guess, or some ham or prosciutto. Of course, they don’t have to be cheese scones – I’ve always liked date scones. I suspect that with sweet scones you’d need to reduce or remove the baking soda though.

Anyway my efforts are shown above and below. The pictures don’t really show how toasty brown they were. They look a little pallid in the pictures. I can assure you that they tasted great!

Cheese Scones
Cheese Scones

(I intend to try to post to this blog at least once a week – I haven’t posted since the end of last month and that is not good!)

Soda Bread

We had run out of bread through an oversight, so I decided to make a loaf of Soda Bread (from a recipe in “The Cookery Year”, Reader’s Digest, 1974). This is a non-yeast recipe and uses Bicarbonate of Soda and Cream of Tartar as raising agents. These ingredients produce the Carbon Dioxide in the dough that would be produced by yeast in a standard dough.

Bubbles of Sourdough
CO2 bubbles in a Sourdough ‘starter’.

I decided to cook the Soda Bread in a loaf tin instead of on a tray and it came out looking great. However, there was a tiny bit of uncooked dough at the centre. The outside was beautifully crunchy, so I’m guessing that the mixture was too deep in the tin and it would have been cooked all the way through if I had let it spread more thinly by cooking it on a tray.

IMG_20130425_125046
Soda Bread 1
IMG_20130425_125101
Soda Bread 2