Snow, Interrupted

This week was supposedly going to be full of wacky adventures whilst being up in Boston for a week. Mounds of snow preventing me from crossing roads, covering up with all the blankets in the hotel room as the temperature goes below 20˚C, and just why I keep on eating the flatbreads from the hotel restaurant next door when I really don’t like them (mainly, that’s because I can’t eat at the Copper House Tavern all week, which becomes more of a problem with the aforementioned snow).

Unfortunately for this blog entry, my flight got cancelled twice, and when it got delayed again on Tuesday morning, I decided that Boston probably wasn’t going to happen this week. So I went home and spent several days living on a self-imposed subsistence diet because I refused to go to the shops in the dark.

(look, I’m working on the driving thing a little still, okay? Plus by the time I get back from work, the thought of spending an hour to two hours doing something that isn’t sitting down and drinking tea is less than fun. I’ll probably be a little better when the evenings get lighter)

And then the fridge failed. Again.

But! This time, instead of me taking a hairdryer to it for two hours, I wanted to get somebody out to either fix it properly or pronounce it dead (as it dates from 2000, I was expecting the worst). While their website is just a stage above Geocities circa 1998, I can definitely recommend Durham Appliance Thrift; they came out the same day I called, fixed the issue, assured me that as it is a mostly-mechanical fridge it’s probably good for five more years at least, and left me with yet another thermometer (I will start losing count soon).

Next weekend: I have cocoa beans now. I have cocoa butter. So next weekend, I’m going to make my first bar of dark chocolate from scratch. There will be samples! Provided I don’t hate it and throw it away before anybody even looks at it, obviously…

And Then The Warp Core Failed. With Hilarious Results

If you’ve heard my cries of anguish and terror that recur every Boxing Day, you’ll know I hate board games. Many years of Monopoly and Trivial Pursuit have taken their toll and at the mere suggestion of a board game, I wilt and attempt to run to the nearest exit.

(I exaggerate. A little. But only a little.)

However, I have so many friends that extol their virtues. Even talking of worlds beyond the hateful realms of Monopoly. And I have, off and on, been reading Shut Up & Sit Down, an entertaining blog hosted by Quinns (formerly of Rock, Paper, Shotgun), which is all about board games and their various forms. I was rather intrigued by Risk: Legacy, but I couldn’t drum up the interest needed for a continuous campaign that it called for. But, for Christmas, I bought one of my friends, Tammy, a board game. And last weekend, we played it.

Space Cadets is slightly different from the traditional board games we’ve known and hated with pure fury of beings beyond the veil, shot through with venom and insanityloved in that instead of working against each other to victory, it involves everybody working together to die in the endless void of spaceachieve success. The players control a starship and have to retrieve crystals and defeat xenos filthalien starships out to destroy us all.

Now, Space Cadets has a bit of a reputation of being a touch complicated. Each station on the ship has its own mini-game to play, and these mini-games (mostly) all take part at the same 30 second time period. There is chaos, confusion, and inevitably hilarious consequences, which almost always involve the death of the entire crew.

As I was the only person who had seen anybody play the game before, the task of Captain fell to me. The datacorders may judge my decision to place the fate of weapons and damage control in the hands of children, thus breaking all sorts of Federation child-labour laws, but I think they did quite well, all things considered. We even managed to pick up a crystal before the Nemesis blew out our shields, caused a warp core breach, and I explained the core breach repair game to a wide-eyed group of Cadets. Who then died in a torrent of warp-fire as we failed miserably, of course.

So yes, I had fun. Playing a board game. Shut up.

Meanwhile, in non-board game related news, I should be in Boston right now, but all flights to Logan seemed to end up cancelled by mid-afternoon. So I’m back here in Durham, waiting for the next flight out. Which might be Tuesday. On the bright side, I will miss the big snowstorm…

Dustbin_Lorry

Quick release this week: dustbin_lorry - a small piece of Rack middleware that will dump changes in the method/constant caches after a request to the current logger (rack.logger or Rails.logger if you’re running it under Rails). Hopefully, it will be of some use when debugging MRI performance issues (needs Ruby 2.1 or above to work).

Please Stand By

I spent most of the week inside with a bad foot, so:

This Week In Chocolate — White

Ingredients

Grinding (repeat this picture for 10 hours)

Setting

Tempering

Poured into mold)

Unmolded

Tempered, with a firm snap!

This weekend, then: ten hours of running the grinder, and my first batch of white chocolate. You’d be surprised about how hard it was to find whole milk powder in Durham instead of non-fat (and non-goat, though I’ve got some goat powder for later). It is not the best white chocolate I’ve ever had, I’ll admit, but it’s pretty good nonetheless, and now that I’ve done white, dark and milk will follow as soon as I source the beans…

This Year In Chocolate

Wet grinder

If you’ve ever heard me talk about making chocolates before, I’m normally at pains to point out that I don’t make the chocolate myself; I merely melt, temper, and refashion chocolate into other forms, whether it’s molded bonbons, truffles, or bars.

And there’s nothing wrong with that - the vast majority of chocolatiers operate in this fashion, buying chocolate from companies like Valrhona or Callebaut. But I won’t deny that I’ve always wanted to go a step further and make my own chocolate at some point.

Above is a wet grinder. It’s the last big piece of equipment for the chocolate room. It has large granite rollers which are used to grind down all sorts of things into pastes; grains, nuts, and cocoa beans. Using it, I can grind roasted beans, add cocoa butter and sugar, and 48 hours of grinding later, I will have made chocolate.

So that’s the plan for 2015: full bean-to-bar chocolate production. I’m going to be working up to that process rather than simply grinding beans from the off; firstly, I’m going to make white chocolate (and perhaps a goat’s milk variant, just for fun), then I’ll purchase 100% chocolate liquour to have a go and at and milk chocolate. Finally, I’ll get hold of some cocoa beans and grind them instead of using the pre-ground liquour.

2015, then: beans go in…chocolate comes out. Fully-artisan, all the time!

2015 - The Year of Griff

Happy new year, everybody! I’m back in the US again after a good trip back home. Felt like it went by too quickly, but at least my family will be coming over to visit in April.

Some interesting news on the chocolate front to come this weekend, by the way…

Home Again

Red-nosed Casper

Yes, Casper would rather be with the reindeer than inside in the warm with me. Possibly because we made Misty wear a Santa hat yesterday.

Counting Down, Time Goes By So Slow

As it gets closer to going home, there comes a point where I start making mental countdowns in my head and lock myself away in an attempt to speed time up. Unfortunately, I started that process last weekend, and I still have another five days until I go to the airport. And I’ve been packed since Tuesday (and I’m not kidding: I have to put my Advent Calendar in the case on Friday morning, but that’s about it). So, er, to everybody I’ve essentially disappeared from in the past fortnight: sorry.

(I have just discovered that X-COM: Enemy Unknown is now out for the iPad too, so that’s not going to help one bit, really. Though at least I know what I’m doing on the plane home to the UK now!)

Next update: hopefully from Oxfordshire. Are We Festive? has cleared 100k tweets, though I’m wondering if I should add some additional keywords to the tweet filter in the next few days to see how festive things can get…

Public Service Announcement

This is mainly a warning to all those currently residing in the Colonies, but if you are travelling abroad, it could be a vital piece of information. Consider this photograph:

IT IS NOT HP.

Yes, it looks like a bottle of HP Sauce. But there’s something odd about it. The layout is wrong, the label is the wrong shade of blue, and it is labelled ‘Steak Sauce’ in an attempt to gesture that it may be used as a substitute to a product on these shores known as A1.

You may ask yourself: well, it’s still HP Sauce, isn’t it? What could possibly go wrong?

Dear Reader, I once thought the same as you, standing in the middle of a supermarket, mourning the lack of dark chocolate digestive biscuits. And I thought, ‘it has just been relabelled, surely.’ It went into my basket, and then into the fridge, until later that weekend it was pressed into service for a bacon sandwich. A typical task that HP Sauce excels at (there will be no digression into Daddies’ sauce here).

The first bite.

Instead of the sour taste of classic HP, I was hit with a sense of sweetness that made my teeth itch. The rest of the sandwich was consumed with increasing resentment as the cloying sugar taste spread across the bread and the pointless sacrifice of crisp bacon. I attempted to seal the accursed bottle up, but as the cap is half the height of the proper version and about a quarter of the weight, it ended up flying across the kitchen, leaving a trail of sweet brown ooze as it skipped along the tile.

Incensed, I looked at the ingredients, contrasting it with the empty UK bottle I was about to throw out:

UK: Tomatoes, Malt vinegar, molasses, high fructose corn syrup, spirit vinegar, sugar, dates, modified cornflour, rye flour, salt, spices, flavourings, tamarind.

US/Canada: White vinegar, high fructose corn syrup, tomato puree, molasses, dates, orange juice concentrate, spices, onion, tamarind concentrate, apple juice concentrate, garlic, ground chili peppers, caramel color (sic), mustard flour

Well, that explains things, doesn’t it.

To sum up: DO NOT TRUST THE COLONIALS. ONLY PURCHASE VERIFIABLY AUTHENTIC BROWN SAUCE.

Thank goodness for returning home next week so I can stock up on supplies. Including digestives.