Time for a diet?

Diet is a concept I always find inseparable from the words “of worms” – a less than tasty option, but one which might well lead to weight-loss.  I do seem surprisingly prone to such foolish memes.  Earlier today, I learned that part of the scherzo from Borodin’s String Quartet No. 2 in D was used in the musical Kismet (or should that be Kiss Me?) as the basis of the ventriloquist’s least loved song, “Baubles, Bangles and Beads”.  I now find I can only think of the composer as Gorodin (best said with the teeth clenched): yes, a mere 62 years after Educating Archie hit the BBC Home Service, I am now trying a vent act in text (and I bet you never saw my lips move!).

I would seem to have digressed further from the plot than is traditional, even for GofaDM, for this was to be a post about cycling.  A little earlier in the week, the Guardian reported (as I’m sure did other organs of the fourth estate) that there had been a rush to the cycle shops of this sceptred isle following Bradley Wiggins’ victory in the Tour de France.  Whilst wishing to take nothing away from Mr Wiggins – as a cyclist myself I’m frankly amazed that anyone can perform to that degree for that long and can only imagine the state of his knees and backside – I do wonder if this is really the correct explanation (or at least, the whole explanation).

This last week I had reason to have some work done on the warhorse: my heaviest duty velocipede.  Doing so, I discovered that my local cycle shop – the excellent Cambridge Cycle Company – had seen a major (and much needed) upsurge in business.  They had a much more convincing explanation: viz the sudden cessation of continuous heavy rain and the shamefaced re-appearance of our local star in the skies above South Cambs.  It may be that the fortuitous combination of victory in France with this shift in the weather increased the effect, but I would hazard that had the Tour de France taken place a few weeks earlier, the exploits of Messers Wiggins, Froome and Cavendish would have had a much diminished impact on the cycle traders of the UK.

Anyway, my reason for taking my cycle to the shop was unrelated to the Tour de France or the weather: I know what happens when warhorses are taken to France and I continued cycling through the recent record-breaking moistness.  No, I went to take advantage of a serious discount on Ridgeback titanium bike frames and so the aluminium of the warhorse has now been transplanted with light and durable titanium (proof against sea water, chlorine and aqua regia – not that I plan on taking it near any of these as my own frame is rather less durable).  So strong and corrosion-resistant is titanium that this frame should “see me out”: a phrase I wasn’t expecting to use for a good many years yet  (though, it is some comfort that the same would have been true had I acquired the frame when still a teenager).

As part of the delicate surgery on the warhorse, a couple of other issues with its existing components were discovered.  I had somehow managed to break both the saddle and the bottom bracket (oh yes, I have all the jargon): and also contrived to remain blissfully ignorant of both facts.  I like to imagine that my frame is somewhat sylphic, but both sets of damage would be expected to arise from a rider of more than usual girth and mass. Perhaps it is down to the power of my pedal strokes?  Or am I just like catnip to the Higgs boson?  If so, then perhaps a dream job at CERN is closer than I think: even if only as an experimental subject.  I suspect that more prosaically, it may only be an indictment on the condition of the roads of South Cambs: where’s the Olympic regeneration when you need it?

Adventures in organic chemistry

Fear not, this will not involve adding colourless, odourless chemical A to colourless, odourless chemical B (via pipette) to produce colourless, odourless chemical C.  Or at least, that is my main recollection of organic chemistry at school – with only the blackboard to convince you that C had indeed been produced after the long minutes of titration.  Perhaps I’m being a little unfair, we did once make an ester which was not odourless.  I fear even this limited excitement may be denied students of chemistry today – part of my last OU Day School took place in a chemistry classroom and not a Bunsen burner or chemical was in sight, just a rather small (and empty) fume cupboard.  Where will the next Andrea Sella come from, if this is the way the young experience chemistry?

Oh no, my experiments took place in the moderately well-equipped laboratory that is the kitchen of Fish Towers.  Sadly, no Bunsen burner; a ceramic hob just isn’t the same.  Some of you may cavil that my works are mere cookery, and not organic chemistry at all – but I would respond by asking what is cookery other than applied organic chemistry with a (hopefully) delicious result?

The first took advantage of the sudden, miraculous appearance of summer, to make a semi-freddo – something I’d been meaning to do for several years.  This process used every bowl I own and every whisking device at my disposal – and I quickly decided this would be my one and only venturing into the world of the half-frozen.  Well, that was until I came to eat the fruits of my labour after it had spent some hours languishing in the freezer.  Sadly, it was seriously delicious – and so it should be, using as it did a pint of double cream, four eggs as well as a vanilla pod and a little sugar.  Given its very low sugar and almost non-existent salt content, from a certain perspective it could even be considered a healthy option.  I think halving the ingredients would make its future manufacture a more practical option (assuming further summer is delivered to South Cambs) – but perhaps I should also investigate the related concept of the parfait.  I’m not sure this is much lower in fat, but its construction does seem possible with a lower whisk and bowl count.

My other culinary experiment of this last week was the roll.  I’ll admit it may seem rather prosaic, but I’d never made them before – and I was looking for a home-made bread product that would allow the slow consumption of the still fresh article over an extended period.  I have made loaves, halved them and then frozen one half  – but dividing a load any further (without a specialised slicing machine) does not seem a very viable option: any middle portions of the load tend to lose too much structural integrity.  So, I turned to the humble roll   – the bread maker forms the dough and I then divide it into unevenly sized rolls, prove and then bake them.  A slightly more interventionist process than the basic loaf, but a more flexible end product.  At this stage, I am using recipes provided by Mr (or Mrs) Panasonic as I was breaking new ground – but greater customisation may be introduced in subsequent batches.  Once again, a highly successful and tasty experiment – and with very modest workload for the dishwasher in this case.  I may also have gained important insight into the proving process which may yield dividends in future bun making -it all comes down to air (or such is my current theory).

For those disappointed by my rather limited experimental palette, I can recommend the blog-work of James Devine: a very tall chap with an engineering bent who has the great good fortune to work for CERN (and had the less good fortune of meeting me when I visited 18 months ago).  He performs proper experiments for fun (not just work) of a form I have only dreamt about – and only occasionally do these exploit the fact that he has rather more access to particle accelerators than do I.  I am somewhat jealous of his perspicacity – though try and comfort myself with the fact that his essays on the art of Benin are probably less well reviewed than mine.  His latest work is on the subject of cooking – though he has gone for sous-vide whereas I usually balk at a the hassle of a mere bain-marie.  Once again I find I must try harder: should I be studying engineering rather than the Arts?  I suspect I have significantly more chance of becoming an engineer than I an artist – though who knows what hidden talents I may have…