August 31st, 2009

mace and nutmeg

Above: Beautiful illustration of the nutmeg fruit in Franz Eugen Köhler’s Medizinal-Pflanzen published in 1887 (now in the public domain).

I recently made some dutch spekulaas cookies (the kind you get with coffee, sometimes even in other countries), excluding the mace that was in the recipe, because I didn’t have any. Little did I know, mace is very similar to nutmeg, which I had. It even comes from the same plant.


Isn’t that a bizarre and beautiful thing? The nut within the fruit of the nutmeg tree is where nutmeg comes from, whereas the red laced tissue surrounding it is what becomes mace.

Via “the encyclopedia of spices” at the epicentre:

Mace and nutmeg are very similar, though mace is somewhat more powerful. Mace is a lighter colour and can be used in light-coloured dishes where the darker flecks of nutmeg would be undesirable. A small amount will enchance many recipes, adding fragrance without imposing too much flavour. Mace works especially well with milk dishes like custards and cream sauces. It contributes to flavouring light-coloured cakes and pastries, especially donuts. It can enhance clear and creamed soups and casseroles, chicken pies and sauces. Adding some to mashed potatoes or sweet potatoes creates a more interesting side dish. Some beverages improve with a little mace, especially chocolate drinks and tropical punches.

August 30th, 2009

creating a place to live

Above: Forest Hills Gardens

One thing I found disheartening upon visiting middle-America was how one cannot really walk anywhere at all — a car is the only way, not only because it’s a big place. There’s a lack of design in that respect. Every establishment and every place is sprawling and independent of every other place. The only unifying design in a town or city tends to be the road that invariably runs through it. There’s no sense that the place has evolved a unique character through centuries of planning or even trial and error.

Apparently there is a growing desire for so-called “walkability” in the more cosmopolitan areas of America. Slate has a nice slideshow-based essay about Forest Hills Gardens, a concept town built 100 years ago in NY State whose well designed community schematic never really caught on back then, but may offer solace in a more health conscious contemporary America.

What makes Forest Hills different from—and much better than—most modern suburbs is not just the density, walkability, and architectural variety. It is also the attention to detail, whether in Olmsted’s planting strips or Atterbury’s distinctive street lamps. The designers understood that one of the great challenges of building a planned community from scratch is creating an instant sense of belonging. They achieved this by harmoniously integrating planning, landscaping, and architecture. That may be Forest Hills’ most important lesson: Community building is an art. Not a pictorial art, but an experiential one, appreciated when you walk through the dark arcades of Station Square, beside the shaded town green (where a person sat in a deck chair the day I was there) and along the looping curve of Olmsted’s greenway. This is not merely planning or building; it is place-making.

Check out the slide-show essay in full at Slate.

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August 30th, 2009

5 a day & the truth about orange juice

5 fruit & veg a day is pretty easy to get if you know how much of each item constitutes 1 portion. The NHS website lists the most common ones so you get a pretty good idea.

Also interesting:

Because they are considered a ‘starchy’ food, potatoes don’t count towards your 5 A DAY. (Starchy foods are foods like potatoes, rice, pasta and bread.) We’re not suggesting you don’t eat them, but they should form the ‘starchy carbohydrate’ part of your meal


A glass (150ml) of 100% juice (fruit or vegetable juice or smoothie) counts as 1 portion, but you can only count juice as 1 portion per day, however much you drink. This is mainly because it contains very little fibre. Also, the juicing process ‘squashes’ all the natural sugars out of the cells that normally contain them, which can be harmful for teeth – especailly if you drink a lot of it in between meals

Which reminds me of the rather unappetizing way fruit juice is made commercially. In this article at the Boston globe website, the author of “Squeezed: The Truth About Orange Juice” unravels the sleight of advertising:

IDEAS: What isn’t straightforward about orange juice?

HAMILTON: It’s a heavily processed product. It’s heavily engineered as well. In the process of pasteurizing, juice is heated and stripped of oxygen, a process called deaeration, so it doesn’t oxidize. Then it’s put in huge storage tanks where it can be kept for upwards of a year. It gets stripped of flavor-providing chemicals, which are volatile. When it’s ready for packaging, companies such as Tropicana hire flavor companies such as Firmenich to engineer flavor packs to make it taste fresh. People think not-from-concentrate is a fresher product, but it also sits in storage for quite a long time.

IDEAS: What goes into these flavor packs?

HAMILTON: They’re technically made from orange-derived substances, essence and oils. Flavor companies break down the essence and oils into individual chemicals and recombine them. I spoke to many people in the industry at Firmenich, different flavorists, and at Tropicana, and what you’re getting looks nothing like the original substance. To call it natural at this point is a real stretch.

IDEAS: Why isn’t orange flavor listed in the ingredients on the carton?

HAMILTON: The regulations were based on standards of identity for orange juice set in the 1960s. Technology at that time was not sophisticated at all . . . I don’t think the concern is so much “are these flavor packs unhealthy?” The bigger issue is the fact that having to add flavor packs shows the product is not as fresh and pure as marketed.

After having read that I generally don’t drink much fruit juice unless it’s freshly juiced. Still, it’s even better just to eat the fruit itself.

August 30th, 2009

Coronal Mass Ejections

The latest Material World podcast discusses the apocalyptic reality of “Coronal Mass Ejections” — massive solar flares, one of which we are apparently long overdue! They describe in beautiful detail what it may have been like to witness the last recorded solar storm, The Great Solar Storm of 1859.

August 30th, 2009


Alleen in mijn gedichten kan ik wonen,
Nooit vond ik ergens anders onderdak;
Voor de eigen haard gevoelde ik nooit een zwak,
Een tent werd door den stormwind meegenomen.

Alleen in mijn gedichten kan ik wonen.
Zoolang ik weet dat ik in wildernis,
In steppen, stad en woud dat onderkomen
Kan vinden, deert mij geen bekommernis.

Het zal lang duren, maar de tijd zal komen
Dat vóór den nacht mij de oude kracht ontbreekt
En tevergeefs om zachte woorden smeekt,
Waarmee ‘k weleer kon bouwen, en de aarde
Mij bergen moet en ik mij neerbuig naar de
Plek waar mijn graf in ‘t donker openbreekt.

This poem, Woningloze (meaning homeless person/vagabond, from the 1930 collection Serenade), was introduced to me by my dutch teacher, Alice. The poet speaks of how he never found a better sanctuary in his life than that of his poetry.

It’s from the dutch poet and novelist Jan Jacob Slauerhoff, whose life was characterized largely by tragedy and isolation.

August 30th, 2009

what happens to seeds in a compost heap?

You’d think with all the waste vegetable matter thrown into a compost heap, the seeds of all the fruit and veg would thrive in such a fertile environment… Not so:

A properly functioning compost pile gets hot enough that few seeds will germinate, and the chemical composition of a compost pile is simply too rich for most plants: so many nutrients are actually poison. (Remember back to your childhood when your neighbors over-fertilized, and killed, their lawn.) So compost away, seeds and all. A few seeds may tough it out, but it’s unlikely you’ll end up with a pepper plant in your compost pile.

Well well! From Re-Nest

August 30th, 2009

pan & scan

Pan & Scan has always distressed me. video via kottke

August 29th, 2009

podcast culture & the strand

I’ve been glutting on the BBC podcasts page today. Lots of generally highly produced podcasts, lots of variety in terms of content. I’m liking The Strand, BBC’s Global Arts and Entertainment program.

It fills the void left in my heart by Newsnight Review, which doesn’t seem to be on TV at the moment (or at least not this week). It was one of the few TV shows I enjoyed on a regular basis, when I still had TV, and I was looking forward to watching it whilst staying at my parents’ house…

This week The Strand has, amongst other cultural news, an interesting piece on a trend in children’s literature which according to them has seen a shift towards realism and depressing topics of death and misery.

Edit — I like these too:

Best of Natural History Radio
60 Second Idea to Improve the World
Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo’s Film Reviews
The Film Programme
World Book Club
Gardeners’ Question Time
Natural World
Arts and Ideas

Posted in Radio | No Comments »
August 29th, 2009

Attenborough’s Life Stories


Above: Coelacanth preserved in the Natural History Museum, London. Pic from wikipedia.

Ooh, David Attenborough has a natural history show on Radio 4 — Life Stories — and you can listen to it online here. On the latest show David talks about the ancient Coelacanth.

More radio: Natural History Radio

August 29th, 2009

BBC Nature


The BBC’s Nature website is quite marvelous, from what I’ve seen so far. It lists many species according to their taxonomic rank (class, order, family, genus and species). It’s beautifully illustrated and quite informative. This part of the site basically takes wikipedia content and makes it pretty, but there is exclusive content too.

The above image is from the page for the order hymenoptera (ants, bees, wasps, horntails and sawflies).

August 26th, 2009

Such is life.

From Wikipedia:

A thought-terminating cliché is a commonly used phrase, sometimes passing as folk wisdom, used to quell cognitive dissonance. Though the phrase in and of itself may be valid in certain contexts, its application as a means of dismissing dissent or justifying fallacious logic is what makes it thought-terminating.

See the wiki page for examples. Via bestofwikipedia

August 26th, 2009

lentil super stew

Above: Dad’s chillies. I’m the only one who eats them!

I made a very satisfying and flavoursome lentil stew last night. Some of the ingredients came from my dad’s vegetable patch (as seen in the photographs posted previously).

In case I want to make it again, I’m writing the recipe down here. If you want to make it according to this recipe, be ready to improvise and use whatever and however many vegetables, spices, herbs, etc.

Feeds approx six people.

2 medium onions, chopped coarsely
2 small/medium courgettes, cubed
approx 3 cups french beans, chopped into 1-2″ pieces
2 carrots, diced
5 small-med potatoes, cubed
4 cloves of garlic, diced
8 cups water (add more if necessary later)
1 stock cube
3 medium fresh vine tomatoes, chopped coarsely into chunks
1 can diced tomatoes
1/2 tsp ground allspice
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 tsp salt
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried mint
1 bay leaf
2 cups green lentils
1 small red chilli, diced
Olive oil.

Get a large pot on a medium heat. Drizzle in olive oil and add the allspice and turmeric, wait a few seconds, add the onions, cook, stirring, for 8 minutes or until they turn translucent.

Add diced garlic and red chilli. Stir for no more than a minute. Add chopped fresh tomatoes. Stir for a minute.

Add the water, stock cube, and the lentils. Bring to boil and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring once or twice.

Add the other ingredients except for the herbs. Bring to boil and simmer for 20 minutes.

Add herbs (oregano, mint), simmer 5 minutes, serve with crusty or toasted bread.

August 25th, 2009

Venus the Spoilsport

Systemic (a blog mostly concerned with extrasolar planets) has a nice entry which charts how our perception of Venus has changed in recent history.

Venus used to be thought possibly habitable, if extremely humid. Greg of Systemic posts the opening paragraph of Ray Bradbury’s 1950 short story The Long Rain, which paints an imagined picture of Venus:

The rain continued. It was a hard rain, a perpetual rain, a sweating and steaming rain; it was a mizzle, a downpour, a fountain, a whipping at the eyes, an undertow at the ankles; it was a rain to drown all rains and the memory of rains. It came by the pound and the ton, it hacked at the jungle and cut the trees like scissors and shaved the grass and tunneled the soil and molted the bushes. It shrank men’s hands into the hands of wrinkled apes; it rained a solid glassy rain, and it never stopped.

Read Greg’s post in full.

August 22nd, 2009


I’m at my parent’s house for a while and I took some photos this morning. More at flickr

August 22nd, 2009

digital photography today

Digital snapshot cameras these days are cheap and trustworthy. What’s left to improve? The frontline has been moved from megapixels and body size to night-time photography and the holy grail of digital photography: getting that elusive “film” quality.


The NY Times gushes for the nighttime supremacy of Sony’s XD1 in this article, in which their XD1 is pitted against the Canon SD880 (see result above).


Above: The Digital Harineuzumi. It has a digital display, but only for viewing images. To take a picture you look through the old fashioned viewfinder. I like.

Toy camera company Superheadz has released its first digital camera (the “Digital Harinezumi”) that, instead of going for clarity and technical efficiency, aims to mimic the picture quality of the light-leaky hipster-toted Lomo camera. Lomos offer warm, fluid, washed out colours. They make fun, pretty pictures, and they have a cult following.

Via Biased Cut

August 22nd, 2009

design in the balance


I like how the handles of these vessels, designed by Kristy Whyte, has a double function: firstly handles, secondly supports to make the novel shape of the bottoms a possible design option.


Check out Kristy’s other designs on her site. I like her wine carafe (above).

August 15th, 2009

these living bodies that we wear

Andrew Young, Passing The Graveyard:

I see you did not try to save
The bouquet of white flowers I gave;
So fast they wither on your grave.

Why does it hurt the heart to think
Of that most bitter abrupt brink
Where the low-shouldered coffins sink?

These living bodies that we wear
So change by every seventh year
That in new dress we appear;

Limbs, spongy brain and slogging heart,
No part remains the selfsame part;
Like streams they stay and still depart.

You slipped slow bodies in the past;
Then why should we be so aghast
You flung off the whole flesh at last?

Let him who loves you think instead
That like a woman who has wed
You undressed first and went to bed.

August 14th, 2009

Hubble Ultra Deep Field

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