It Rained

It rained on Tuesday. That’s something of an understatement, as I have been told that four inches of rain came down in less than an hour. And, as it turned out, most of that seemed to end up on my roof. Coming home to a leaking roof is not a pleasant experience.

One year on, I’ve started turning my eye to what work the house is going to need in the near and medium term. I had already planned on fixing and extending the guttering (when the roof was repaired on Thursday, the contractor said it was likely due to all the pitched shingled roofs sending rushing water down onto one spot, where the concentrated force caused a crack in the flat metal roof below. I didn’t even know I had a part-metal roof, to be honest!), but it’s now a higher priority.

I’d also like to get the rotting and exposed windows in the back room replaced, though over the weekend, this has bloomed into an idea of adding doors that open out onto a hypothetical deck. I can get a little ahead of myself with my plans, so probably best to start out with just getting the broken windows fixed.

And then there’s the crawlspace. When we bought the house, the inspection report said that we should get a vapour barrier installed. So we hired somebody to do that (as well as some other tasks). Unfortunately, he did a terrible job and then disappeared when we tried to get him to correct the problems. A year later and I thought it might be time to find somebody to do the job properly. My first quote involved an eye-popping figure of $17,000. As you might imagine…I’m open to trying to find other, somewhat less terrifying offers.

Also, I guess as the clawfoot tub is not going anywhere, I should try and get the shower attachment fixed at some point…so much to do!

Further Adventures With MRIs


Quick tip: if you ever want to shock a bunch of British people into silence followed by twenty-thirty minutes of raging, telling them how much you had to pay for your MRI scan is a great way of doing it.

So, my first MRI! Lots of whomp, whomp. No results yet, so no idea what’s wrong with the foot, only that it’s very sore and I would like some idea what I need to do to fix that. If possible.

Also, I hardly slept last night at all, so today’s blog is going to suffer from that. Though it probably won’t end up being much different than usual.

Anyway, it’s been an odd week; I’ve been at home most days as I was having serious pain walking, meaning that I missed the arrival of two new people over at Mammoth Data, though they’ll still be there tomorrow, I guess (well, one will, the other will be back on his boat). I continue working on preparation for the demo we’re going to be giving in a couple of weeks time.

Meanwhile, back in the kitchen, I spent the days making vegan marshmallows, mixing a steel-aged cocktail (I’ll let you know how it is come the end of July!), and also, after coming across the EZTemper earlier in the week, I attempted to replicate its functionality using a water bath instead of another ~$1,000 piece of equipment. And it does work - seeding the chocolate with melted cocoa butter tempers it almost instantly (at the slight expense of changing the chocolate characteristics a little, but not so much that you’d notice). I rolled out a sheet of orange flavoured 55% chocolate mixed with feuillantine which tempered quickly and tasted pretty good. It’s not going to replace my industrial temperer for large runs, but I can see using the cocoa butter method for smaller batches (one drawback is that you still need to plan in advance, as the butter needs to sit in the water bath for a fair few hours before you can use it).

I have a rant building about TFI Friday and how I’m not ready for I Love The 1990s. But maybe that’ll keep for a few days. From what I heard about the show, though, it summed up TFI Friday almost perfectly: fun to begin with, then it petered out and got lost in Evans’ obsessions. And then you question whether the first bit was any good to begin with either…

Crazy Crazy Weekend (includes recipe!)

Okay, so there’s times where I might go a little overboard. The idea was that I was having some people over on Saturday night (including a visiting Tammy, complete with her two GIANT DOGS on a road trip), and I was going to try and replicate a favourite from Kokyu: their Korean BBQ spare rib slides with fried tater tots. And along the way, I thought it was also time to experiment with the vacuum sealer. So in the vacuum sealer, we made:

  • Asian slaw
  • Pickled cucumber
  • Compressed watermelon
  • Compressed watermelon infused with tequila
  • Compressed watermelon infused with vodka
  • Compressed pineapple
  • Compressed pineapple infused with rum
  • Compressed mango with spicy ginger beer
  • Maraschino cherries (Whole Foods ran a sale on Friday: $2 for a pound of cherries. My fridge now has 2kg of cherries inside)


Compressed watermelon

Oh, and I also used the sealer to help make ice-cream. Time for a recipe break!

Everybody loves speculoos biscuits. And a lot of people love biscoff, where those biscuits are ground down, mixed with fat and soy lecithin and turned into a glorious spread of deliciousness. In the further interests of science, I wondered what would happen if I changed their state once again: from biscuit, to spread, to ice-cream.

The recipe was adapted from Eddie Shepherd’s chocolate ice cream recipe:

  • 210g cream
  • 125g biscoff spread
  • 75g caster sugar
  • 20g butter
  • 115g whole milk
  • 55g egg yolks
  • pinch of salt

It’s a fairly easy recipe, providing you have a chamber vacuum sealer and a sous-vide set up (though probably manageable through traditional means too!). Melt the cream, butter, and biscoff together on a very low heat until mixed together. Blend together with all the other ingredients, pour into a vacuum seal bag, seal to a 40% vacuum and then cook for 20 minutes in a water bath at 82˚C. Chill in an ice bath, massaging the bag a few times as it cools. Store in the fridge overnight, and then churn for fifteen minutes or so in your standard home ice-cream maker. Leave it to set for a few hours in the fridge for serving.


Speculoos Inception: Spoon out a table spoon of the ice-cream and sandwich it between two speculoos biscuits. YESSSSSS

speculoos inception: we heard you like speculoos

(if you do have the equipment, it’s worth doing it this way - there’s very little active work involved, you never have to worry about over-cooking the custard, and the ice-cream was favourably received by all, including those that normally abstain from sugar).

And then came a question: what would happen if you put pound cake in a vacuum sealer? We made a sacrifice. FOR SCIENCE.

cake slices, pre-vacuum

It’s…odd. It almost ends up looking like slices of cheese. Surprisingly tasty…and as Stacie pointed out, you could potentially toast it afterwards to make cake crostini. Which make happen in the near future.

cake slices, post-vacuum

Although the dinner went well, one occupant of the house was not happy. Oscar took one look at Max and spent the day hiding, either outside, or jammed tight under a bed. He never even saw Rory, which is probably just as well, seeing as how he’s almost twice the size of Max. As I write, he’s making rounds around the house, just making sure that the scary monsters have gone.

Anyway, I also had to go to Chapel Hill this weekend. Chapel Hill Comics has been my comic shop haunt going all the way back to 2002. They even held both series of Phonogram on a pull list for me when I was coming to NC twice a year, which was pretty amazing seeing as how I wouldn’t pick them up for about six months. The owner, Andrew Neal, has decided to sell the shop on after eleven years of running the business, and today was his last day of ownership (he’ll still be around over the next few months to advise the new owner). So I had to go and say goodbye to the owner of the first comic shop I’ve regularly visited that has lasted longer than six months (I…had a very bad record in the 90s to the point where I felt bad visiting any).

Also, lunch at IP3. It is never a disappointment, but today, at 12 noon, it was already full of Argentina fans with drums, dancing, and singing. Plus four Germans in the corner looking a bit sheepish. I’m guessing that a few hours later, the Germans had a little more to smile about…



This is heavy. 45kg of heaviness, actually. It took about an hour to move from the front porch to the back room and unbox (moving it wasn’t too much of a problem. Lifting it out of the box, on the other hand, was a bit more involved). This is a chamber vacuum sealer - imagine a FoodSaver but so much more powerful, able to pickle things in thirty seconds flat.

30 second vacuum

(cucumbers pickled in a vinegar brine for thirty seconds)

However, if you’ve seen Heston Blumenthal work with chocolate for any length of time, you’ll know he’s fond of making Aero chocolate. Back long ago during In Search of Perfection, he used a household hoover and a space-saving bag. These days, at The Fat Duck, he uses…a chamber vacuum sealer. The process is fairly simple: you melt (and optionally temper) chocolate, add a small amount of oil, and then you add bubbles, normally by pouring the chocolate into a whipper and charging it with several canisters of nitrous oxide. You then expel the chocolate into a container or molds…and then place it in the vacuum sealer. A vacuum is pulled and the chocolate is left to set.

My sealer has a limit on how long it can pull a vacuum - ninety seconds maximum. Once the air rushes back in, it’ll cause the still-liquid chocolate to explode everywhere. But, if you turn the sealer off mid-cycle, it’ll retain the vacuum. So Aero can still happen! Unfortunately, whilst I got the chocolate to initially rise about three times in volume, I didn’t leave enough time for it to set properly, so after thirty minutes, I released the vacuum and got this:

Deflated chocolate

Which looks like what happens anybody tries to make a soufflé on MasterChef. Sadness. Still, next time, I’ll leave it in there for an hour or so, and hopefully then the chocolate will have enough structure to hold steady as the air rushes back into the chamber. In the meantime, next week there will be pickling and alcohol fruits aplenty!

We'll Just Pop Out To The Liquor Store


Another week down in Boston. I now get smiley faces drawn in my key card sleeve and everybody at the hotel knows me. And recognized a lot at the restaurant across the road. At least I haven’t been spotted in Target yet. Though I haven’t yet been to a Target in the Boston metropolitan area, so it may just be a matter of time.

Nothing that much to talk about this week, aside from mentioning that it seems you can get good deals on Scotch at SF liquor stores. Next weekend though…well…a package is going to be arriving later this week that may need to be talked about…

We'll Go On Getting Bad Results

Honestly, I wasn’t expecting much from England in this tournament, but they managed to impress with how poor they were this time around. There’s still a chance that they’ll pull off a face-saving but ultimately pointless victory over Costa Rica, but yes, another four years, another crushing disappointment, coupled with the shock that in Euro 2016, ‘fifty years of hurt’ will fit the lyrics just fine.

And I’m not even a fan of football, really.

Otherwise, it’s been a mostly quiet week. Repairs to the hail damage on my car are estimated at just below $5,000, which is an impressive third of the cost of the car itself. Hailstorms are fun, children! I’d like to say that the reason it’s so quiet is that there will be exciting news on the horizon, but I don’t think there’s anything coming up on that front. I watched fifteen year-old episodes of Law & Order and Homicide: Life on The Streets last night. Just so you know the excitement levels going on.

(which I guess is slightly unfair, since I had a great time in Charleston last week. And after this coming week, July 4th falls on a Friday, so yay - long weekend!)

Currently, I’m in RDU airport, about twenty minutes away from boarding for my monthly working visit to Boston. I’m planning on finally getting back into Boston one night during the week (probably either Tuesday or Thursday), though that depends on how successful work goes. Any and all ideas on where to eat that evening in Boston will be appreciated. As long as it’s not seafood.

16 Things About A Trip To Charleston

  1. It turns out that RVs sometimes decide that they want to be the lane you’re in. And they don’t care that you’re in it. My first experience with being run off onto the hard shoulder, everybody!
  2. Horse-drawn carriages sound so romantic, don’t they? Nobody really seems to think about the consequences of having lots of horses in 30˚C+ weather and high humidity. Always work out where downwind is, and don’t stand there!
  3. At some point in the mid 1980s, an architect stood in the middle of Middleton Plantation and said: “FATHER, IN THE MIDDLE OF THIS LUSH SCENERY, I WILL BUILD A BRUTALIST HOTEL!” And fair play to the owners for not having said person carried off the grounds. I’m now trying to work out if I can replicate part of the bathroom design at home.
  4. Apparently, I can detect a Library Book Sale from miles away (though I did have help in this one, so you can blame the second upcoming bookcase on Tammy and Robert)
  6. Okay, technically, I had pancakes at Hominy Grill. But then a fusion chicken biscuit at Xiao Bau Biscuit and more fried chicken at Cru Café. I had to restrain myself at Husk the next day. And the fries at The Glass Onion tasted like fried chicken, too.
  7. I like to place all the blame for hating audience participation on the time I was abandoned as a small child in the middle of London and taken in by performers who tried to get me to beat one of them over the head with a plastic hammer. (this really happened, though my parents dispute how long they were away. They still left me in the middle of Covent Garden, though.)
  8. It’s odd walking through a lovely planned garden knowing that it’s very existence is due to slave labour. And that the family who owned it went from signing the Declaration of Independence to signing the Declaration of Secession within a hundred years. Also, apparently three-year vacations to Europe were a thing.
  9. Jeni’s Ice Creams are indeed quite splendid.
  10. If anybody knows just why there was a three-float parade in the middle of downtown Charleston on Saturday afternoon, do let us know. We were quite surprised.
  11. You’d be surprised just how much it can rain in an hour. Especially if you’re outside at the time.
  12. Steve Mcmanananananananananan is during the commentary for ESPN’s World Cup coverage. On the one hand, things like ‘HYUNDAI HALFTIME!” On the other: no Phil Neville.
  13. The trip ended up being focused on a very small part of downtown but with lots of circles around it. But great company on the Saturday!
  15. Stingrays get quite animated when taken out of the water.
  16. There. Are. Snakes.

Driver - One Year Later

This time last year, I was high on Vicodin and signing lots of legal papers. The prospect of owing $120,000 to a bank seemed less remote than the worry I was going to lose my leg. And for a further week after that, I had a house, but I couldn’t actually visit it, because I couldn’t walk more than a few steps.

But eventually (thanks to the quick eye of Tammy, who got me to the hospital before the cellulitis got too problematic), I recovered and we moved across Durham to @314Driver. The house is pretty much the same as it was when I signed the papers back last year; a door has moved, and of course there’s a lot more bookcases, but we’ve spent the first year settling in.

The second year is probably going to involve a few changes. I keep looking at the big bathroom and feel like it all needs to be ripped out so a proper second shower can be installed. But don’t worry, I have decided that the clawfoot tub should stay after all. People like baths, it seems! Also, maybe in the coming year, we’ll rip up the carpet tile in the back room and put down kitchen tile, giving us more space for food preparation. The dream of taking an axe to all the knotty pine and replacing it with stainless steel and concrete as far as the eye can see is however still a way off.

On the whole, then, a successful first year in the house. Here’s to a few more at least.

Twister, SC

It was a great idea. A Memorial Day trip down to South Carolina to visit Tammy and Robert, go to IKEA to pick up some things, and add to my driving experience. When I left Durham on Friday afternoon, it was spitting a little, but by the time I was approaching Mebane, that had gone and it was brilliant sunshine once more. However, at that point, I was finally facing the daunting prospect of driving two hundred miles…and my first thought was to turn back and spend the weekend hating myself in Durham.

But I pushed on. And until I reached South Carolina, it was okay. I was still incredibly nervous and locked to the speed-limit on the right-hand side of the road, but I was still moving. But then I crossed the border and things started to get a little odd.

Firstly, there was what seemed like smoke on both sides of the road, swirling and changing directions. Then the interstate was filled with bits of tree. And then? Well, my car started veering left and right rather quickly, and I realised that I was in for an interesting drive. At least it didn’t get much worse than that. In terms of wind anyway.

Brilliant sunshine again. But then, as I got closer to Columbia, the skies darkened again, and rain began falling. And then came the hail. Which was terrifying, as it wasn’t your common European hail, which is bad enough. Oh no. This hail varied from golf ball to tennis ball and rained down upon my roof with a loud THUD-THUD-THUD. Really, I should have probably pulled over to the side and waited for the storm to pass…but by this time I just wanted to get to where I was going (also, I would have been exposed for the second round of hail).

The last twenty minutes or so of the drive were basically hail and thick rain preventing me from seeing more than five feet in front of the car, but somehow, when I pulled up to the house, it eased off enough to let me get my things inside.

Of course, then the clouds above started shifting in all directions rather rapidly, so, fearing a tornado strike, we all huddled in the downstairs bathroom until the next hailstorm passed.

And that was how I got to South Carolina. And this is now my roof:

the dented roof

I’m happy to say that the rest of the weekend passed by without any further weather incidents (though Robert and Tammy’s house took a battering with hail, as did our cars). Sadly, IKEA didn’t have the bookcase I was looking for, so I will have to head back in the months to come. But we had a great weekend of Bakewell Tarts, pizzas, camouflaged sticks (camouflaged as…a stick!), the difficulties of parking in downtown Columbia, and a 2012 CGI animated series of Pac-Man, dubbed Mission: IMPACABLE. It is as bad as you could imagine. And then some more.

Now back in Durham, where the ambient temperature is 27.4˚C inside and the air conditioning is still not fixed. I may take to ice baths before the week is out…

I Shall Diminish And Listen To Radio 2

A rather disturbing fact jumped out at me this weekend. I hadn’t updated my Smart Playlists in iTunes to include a separate one for 2014. Once I had rectified that, I discovered to my horror that I had only bought one album all year. And that was something that came out last year in the UK and I pre-ordered the US release by mistake (Lanterns On The Lake, in case you’re interested). What had happened? I used to buy at least an album a week, sometimes more. Now, it’s true that I’ve been busy and that most of the new music I’ve found myself exposed to in the past few months has been bland electro-pop that makes Sarah McLachlan seem like the front of the avant-garde. But I also haven’t been seeking any new act out which has led to a bit of a dearth of new music around my speakers.

There’s another thing nagging at my brain, too, which mostly occurred whilst looking to see if New Order were playing anywhere near me this summer (the answer: not really). While I’d go see them regardless, it popped into my head that going to see New Order in 2014 is like going to see Bill Haley and The Comets in 1984. Which is terrifying.

Anyway, I am old. But, having a trawl about, I did discover that Ronika’s album is out next week, plus I finally got around to hearing Martha and on the basis of this, I ordered their debut album (also out next week):

Boston has less snow in it these days, but I didn’t really get much further than the hotel and its environs this time. That will hopefully change in June…