enismirdal: (main draggy)
Salad burnet tzatziki

Because we've been growing salad burnet in our garden for a few years now. When not being nibbled by grazing animals, it grows really well - and as a plant of grazed grasslands, it's quite tolerant of having bits pulled off it. It has a cucumbery-taste, but without the slimy texture of cucumber, and a bit of a sharper/plantier/herbier overtone, so less gross and more fresh. I'd been meaning to try it in tzatziki for a while, and finally got around to it after noticing the salad burnet is trying to take over that flower bed and needed some cutting back!

Ingredients:
About half a cup of creme fraîche, or greek yoghurt, or your preferred dairy-free alternative
A good generous handful of salad burnet (Sanguisorba minor), not gathered from a local chalk grassland, finely chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 tsp sugar

Chuck in a bowl and mix together. Use as a dip for crudités, breadsticks or other tasty dippable things. Would also work as a nice side-dish to curry, I would imagine.

Store in fridge in a bowl with cling-film or a tupperware or something and eat in a couple of days.
enismirdal: (Bee!12)
Stuff:

- My lovely Geoffrey car was in a wee accident. CRI was driving, I was at home. He was turning right on a green light, so perfectly acceptable behaviour; some bleep in the oncoming lane decided red lights didn't apply to them, so shot through and hit Geoffrey's rear quarter, causing some dents and scratches and requiring a replacement bumper retainer. And the bleep didn't stop, so no chance to get their insurance company (if they even had one) to pay up. Generally fairly painful repair in monetary terms, but all sorted now. A cyclist came forward as a witness to confirm CRI was not at fault, but police have given up any hope of catching the bleep.

- Lots of travel this year: Trinidad, Singapore, Tanzania (+ Malawi maybe), Ireland, as far as I can predict. Generally sort of looking forward to it. Singapore should be nice as my godparents live there. Got a new project starting, based in Tanzania and Malawi, looking at bean fields, pollinators, invertebrate biodiversity, etc. Quite excited.

- On that note - anyone have any tips on driving automatic medium-sized to large cars after learning in manual superminis? I think I will actually go nuts if I spent 2 weeks in Trinidad without a vehicle, but all the rental cars are automatics there, and to be honest some of the hills would actually give me panic attacks (literally) if I had to hill-start a manual on them, so not making a knob of myself in an automatic is kind of a must.

- Annual entomology dining club jolly this week, looking forward to that, catching up with good friends and drinking a moderate amount of wine.

- Trying to be less inactive and do some short, gentle jogging again. I think it's doing me a bit of good.

- Had a paper accepted this week - not a high profile journal, but I think the paper is pretty good and shows some nice, novel things, so will be glad to see it in print.

- We are trying to get our stick insects to product hatchable eggs, or rather, trying to hatch some, any of the numerous eggs produced by our stick insects. No luck so far, but we will keep hoping - they can take months to hatch, apparently.

- Had a builder chappy round this weekend and last to fix various niggles with the house (leak in bathroom ceiling, shelf falling off bathroom wall, engineer who replaced boiler failing to actually remove or cover old flue, etc.). So far so good, except he fixed the leak in the bathroom partly by extending a drainpipe, and seems to have extended a bit too far so that in heavy rain we get a sort of water spout across the patio. May need to chat to landlord.

- Slightly terrified of what is going to happen in the upcoming election.
enismirdal: (Bee!13)
I update far to little on here. Life mostly seems to consist of travel-write funding application-travel-travel at the moment, which is fun, but this isn't a travel blog so you probably don't want constant updates on Jamaica and Tanzania and France and things, nor does everyone need to hear constant essays on my Geoffrey-car.

So today I will talk about yoga, because today I learned that I've quite possibly been doing a whole load of yoga poses/movements wrong for years.

We were doing some balancy/stretchy exercises involving standing on one leg, head down, other leg in the air, which works your hamstrings to buggery, and the teacher said, "It shouldn't be hurting the back of your knees."

But aren't hamstring stretches meant to do that? Apparently not. )

So that was enlightening.

In other news, I've been writing A LOT again, but nothing postable - some OCs who have been resident in my brain since about 2001 decided to get chatty again and have been demanding I write EVERYTHING with them. It's nice, as they're old friends and I've co-habited my brain with them for a very long time now, so it's very comfortable and some of the most effortless writing I've ever enjoyed. It's also not so much a coherent story as a narration of their entire life histories, not always with a context for the uninitiated, so it'll never be suitable for sharing...and I like it that way. There's no pressure to make it "good", no reason to worry about style or originality or whether it's cheesy or clichéd, because it's just for me. And them. Mostly them, I think.
enismirdal: (Bee!14)
CRI and I went to Wales a few months ago. I managed to talk him into going via Dad's - train up to northwest England, and then rent car and drive across to remote bit of Wales where Sci-fi convention was being held. I also managed to talk him into letting me go on the car as another named driving so we could share the driving on the way back (good plan! He'd gone to the closing party and although hadn't drunk much there, was tired and grotty the next day, whereas I'd got an early night and was fresh as a daisy).

In any case, we got a lovely little Toyota Yaris, and I took the first 90 minutes' driving of a ~3 hour drive home.

It was*:

  • my first time driving since my motorway lesson the week after passing my test
  • my first time driving anything other than Ford Fiesta
  • my first time driving in Doc Martens since very early on in my lessons (I switched to ladylike boots after realising DMs have soles so thick I couldn't feel the pedals through them so had no idea if my feet were even on the pedals never mind pressing down or not!)
  • my first time driving outside my current town of residence
  • my first time driving a petrol car
  • my first time driving a car with CRI in it


*aside from being allowed to have a very brief try in my dad's vintage car about a 18 months ago, but that really didn't constitute "driving" it in any useful sense

tl;dr I quite enjoyed it, and have decided it might be nice to own a car. )

So I decided I wanted a car. After doing some research, I decided a 5-6 year old Toyota Aygo would be a good bet. Cheap to tax, cheap to insure, cheap to run. Bingo. Insurance quotes suggested they'd be half the price I'd braced myself for (perhaps cos I added CRI as an additional driver), and so my car-buying process began.

tl;dr buying a car is frustrating, car dealers are frequently deeply unhelpful and I am glad I have the time to not rush this! )

I think maybe I expect too much of the salesmen. In the end, I guess their margins are lower than you expect so it's not as if each customer on a small car like that is potentially worth thousands. But probably with the right sort of buttering up I could be talked into buying more quickly and less cautiously, and I expected them to try harder to win me over. Well, their loss. I am not in a hurry and if I still haven't bought a car in 3 months, it will save me 3 months of petrol and staff parking permit!

But sooner or later, I WILL get myself a wee car for shopping and commuting and going to the garden centre. It will also, hopefully, make me a better driver if I can get more practice!
enismirdal: (Bee!12)
International travel has become a fact of life for me these days. I don't mind as long as it's in moderation - I never like the leaving bit (as CRI will attest when I spend the night before, every time, whimpering about how I wish I didn't have to go), but once I'm en route and then there, it all tends to be fine and I'll just count the days till I can return to normality. And it certainly offers a break from routine.

This time, it was Jamaica. My second trip here.

I like Jamaica. It's both like and unlike Trinidad. Or rather, it's what Trinidad might be if Trinidad didn't have oil. It's a country with a big gap between rich and poor, some serious crime issues and yet an amazing vibrancy. The biodiversity blows your mind. The scenery is stunning (at least where the Chinese haven't dug up sections of it in the process of mining for molybdenum, vanadium or whatever can be retrieved from the hills). The people we've worked with have been efficient, accommodating, punctual, warm and generous to a fault.

I spent the week teaching a course on insects. I had a classful of really keen, friendly, fun students who worked really hard and learned really well. I had my favourite Trini colleague over as well to assist with the course (he relieved me for a couple of half-days so it was slightly less intense and taught them some other skills). And as we were both staying on campus, we got to hang out in the evenings and gossip (and get eaten alive by mosquitoes, but that's par for the course).

There was a field trip to a cocoa field where it turned out cocoa was perhaps not the primary crop and I was so absorbed in insects I didn't even notice. I tried all sorts of random foodstuffs. I found a large (dead) cockroach in my guest house room and brought it to class the next day to pin. I discovered the Black Witch Moth. I taught a whole week in a room with no aircon in the tropics...and it was fine.

It's been an adventure but it's now nearly over and I'm ready to resume normality. I'm heading home in less than 24 hours now. As usual at the end of these trips, I'm craving pasteurised milk, proper tea, quality chocolate and fresh broccoli. On this occasion I'm also looking forward to battered, thin old pillows, naturally cool bedrooms and hot showers. Much fun was had over the last week, and in terms of work it's been fantastic (multiple project objectives achieved), but being back home with CRI and the little things that make life comforting and familiar will be the best thing now.
enismirdal: (Bee!13)
I have discovered a new Thing. This Thing is bringing me enormous happiness. This Thing is Shadow Unit.

It combines three of my favourite other things into an overdose of awesome, namely:
1. Criminal Minds
2. Elizabeth Bear
3. Sarah Monette

It started off when some published authors started encouraging each other to write Criminal Minds fanfic to reinvigorate themselves and remind themselves of writing purely for fun.

And then they sat down together and said, "Wouldn't it be awesome if we could be screenwriters on Criminal Minds?"

And then they more or less figured, "Well, why don't we be?" Except they threw in a bit of a supernatural element, so instead of setting stories in the regular BAU, they created the Shadow Unit, a mirror unit who specialise in "anomalous" crimes with a supernatural element, but otherwise work the same way. Some of the characters are sort of alternate-versions of Criminal Minds characters, though not the same, and others are totally original, and all are brilliant. The plots are of the same genre but with the literary talents of the brilliant writing team involved and without the restrictions of 15-rated television constraining what can be done. Basically, they've produced a book version of a hypothetical spin-off TV series.

The books (mostly eBooks) are pretty cheap and are like the discs you get in a box set, with about 4 "episodes" per book, with "deleted scenes". The stories seem to be taking me just over an hour each to real, so better value for money than your typical 37-42 minute long Criminal Minds episode!

It seems they've got really into this and there are now 3 "seasons" of the "show". Awesome! It has its own fan wiki, the characters have livejournals (not all of them updated frequently, but still), Twitter feeds, and because it's a fun project for the writers, they contribute regularly to the fan forums.

Altogether, I think it's a really exciting project, a fantastic concept from the start and a really cool way for writers to keep themselves enthusiastic. I am on to book two less than a week after starting this (having, in the meantime, demolished one and a half paper books as well - hooray being on holiday), and thoroughly hooked.
enismirdal: (Bee!14)
Could someone please explain to me what Thranduil thinks he's doing with his stick thing in this shot? Playing snooker on a vertical table? Twirling a majorette's baton? Hitting a softball with a really skinny bat?

Actually, let's just make it a caption competition. Suggestions?

Disclaimer: I haven't actually seen the new Hobbit movie yet so although I don't care about spoilers, people who don't want to be spoiled may want to avoid the comments.
enismirdal: (Default)
It occurs to me that as of this month, I'll have had an LJ for a decade.

Which also means I'll have been an on-off fanfic writer for considerably longer1.

It's kind of scary to think about how naive and bless-my-little-cotton-socks2 I was when I started this LJ...and no doubt how 10 years from now I'll think exactly the same about 2013-me (and will no doubt be quite right).

Perhaps I should set some resolutions for 2023-me to try and have achieved by then? Read some stuff, learn some stuff, take responsibility for some stuff. Nothing too ambitious, just stuff to make me a more interesting human being. I'll think on it.

In any case, it's quite interesting reflecting on a 10 year period and all that's happened in the meantime (2 degrees, 2 changes of city, a couple of romantic escapades, an embarrassing incident involving trying to poach an egg in the microwave, several publications and 5 hamsters). Thankfully, my body clock has at least recalibrated itself to permit moderate function in the real world so a 7am alarm doesn't cause me physical pain (though I doubt I'll ever start enjoying getting up in the dark).

So yeah...10 years. Still here. So are a good few of you. I'll raise a cup of tea to that.

1Yes, I know it's been about 3 years since the last bit of Elf-related fiction appeared here, but I have been writing again. I just happened to switch fandoms and ended up writing something that is sheer self-indulgent probably-tripe, but I feel utterly unrepentant about that. I'm old and crochety enough now that I really don't give a hoot whether anyone else likes my fic or not, I write it because the process of writing makes me feel happy, in much the same way that eating chocolate cake, drinking good red wine or having a hot bath makes me feel happy. So I've been writing...in bed, on the bus, in hotel rooms. It's been nice.

Also, Felix Harrowgate needs a steady boyfriend and that's final.

2Incidentally, I still probably own some of those selfsame cotton socks, though perhaps not many. I certainly own - and wear - several of the same T-shirts and jumpers, although I may have managed to cycle out of most of the trousers by now.
enismirdal: (Bee!13)
Yesterday I went to a conference about wildlife and biodiversity monitoring in my region.

One of the talks made me a bit angry and depressed - not because of the speaker, who was very good, coherent and interesting, but because of the findings.

In which people (in genera) like the idea of biodiversity but don't really appreciate it when it's there )

How did we get so detached from nature? How did it reach the point where so many people are so far removed from their surroundings they don't even realise what's there? No wonder it's so hard to protect our biodiversity when people only have an abstract concept of what it is and why we might care. I need to do something about this.
enismirdal: (Bee!12)
So I called up Be to ask for my MAC key.

As expected, they wanted to keep me and offered to keep me on Be until probably the end of the year (apparently as a Static IP customer, I will be among the last to migrate), but on a reduced price of £9 a month.

I figured 6 more months of Be, who I like, rather than Sky, who I don't, is probably worth staying with for now so agreed. I've assured them I will leave as soon as I'm migrated to Sky.

I'm basically happy with this arrangement for the moment so I guess that's a win. We'll see how it goes; they can consider themselves on probation!

In other news, currently doing some contracted consultancy type work for a company, and it means I have to do some recording of insect mortality 12 hours after the start of the experiment. One way or another, this has only been one day a week so far, but 8:30am till 8:30pm isn't my favourite kind of work day. Has also required recording the mortality daily for 7 days, so a fair bit of coming in on weekends for 45 minutes to sort the insects then go home again. Given that the journey itself takes 45 minutes each way, it's not my favourite...but the client wants so the client gets, I guess!
enismirdal: (Bee!14)
Seriously, Sky? Pull the other one!

They called me up today. As everyone is probably now aware, Be/o2 broadband have been sold to Sky. The letters I'd received basically implied that it'd all happen magically and that essentially the only difference would be that letters from Be would now be headed "Sky" instead. Not so, it seems.

Background info: my broadband with Be is approx. £18.50 per month. It's more expensive than average but I regard it like a Tesco Finest pie: I pay more because then I get a better product. (In the case of Be, better customer service, and the courtesy to not cut me off right away if my bank buggers up the direct debit and forgets to pay them at some point, etc.) My phoneline is with the Post Office and costs about £13 per month with a negligible number of calls. The Post Office are cool for phones as they reactivate dead phonelines for free but unlike BT, they don't tie you into a 12 month contract with them for the privilege. I originally planned to jump ship but was happy enough that I chose to stay instead.

So, back to Sky...How not to win a customer, I guess... )
I agreed I'd do that. "Thank you for your time, but I don't think I want to be your customer."
"OK." She puts down the phone.

So once the Be cancellation phoneline opens tomorrow, I guess I'll be getting my MAC key and ordering new internet from Zen or Plusnet.
enismirdal: (Default)
Yesterday, CRI got a very early train to Oxford, with the intention of attending the British Entomology and Natural History Society AGM, which has cool talks and workshops.

Unfortunately, on arrival we discovered it had been called off! Some of the speakers were stuck in Yorkshire thanks to snow, others in Cornwall thanks to flooding, and even some semi-local people would have struggled to make it! Unfortunately, neither of us had checked the website the day before.

Still, one of the curators of the insects collections gave us a first class tour of the collections, his work, the mystical art of insect taxonomy, and how one deals with 30,000 drawers of pinned insects, some of which are over 200 years old and some of which aren't properly labelled or catalogued. It seems that as well as the entomology skills, one has to be a graphologist (to compare handwriting between letters, diary entries, labels on the specimens, and labels on other specimens of unknown provinence). One has to be a literary historian, digging through old papers, old notebooks, old diaries and old letters ("Dear Hope, I enclose 42 beetles, of the following species..."). You even have to be an expert in metal pins - the construction of a pin can tell you who collected an insect, and what period it dates from, enabling you sometimes to match up totally unlabelled specimens with their collection information. Especially interesting, it seems, is tracking down lost "type" specimens. (When a new species is described, you have to designate a "type" specimen as the example. All future insects that might be this species would then be compared to the "type". It also means that if future work decides to split a species into two, you have an example to decide which set of features is the "type" and which is the new offshoot species.)

We got to see some of Darwin's own insect collections, and Wallace's giant bee (it was big!), and various other insects collected by historical greats. We saw a whole room stacked up to the ceiling with trays of insect specimens collected by other people and willed/donated/gifted to the University Museum in the past. Some will be mostly common things, some will have rare exotic things, new species, and new records - but of course, taxonomy is not the most fashionable science (despite underpinning most other biology), and so there's never enough money to employ the people needed to sort these drawers, not to mention reorganising some of the drawers already stored in the collections that need attention and preserving existing insects so they don't degrade. It's a busy job!

We stopped for lunch, then spent the afternoon at the Ashmolean museum looking at mummies, Islamic art (currently reading My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk so wanted to see what miniatures were really like), Chinese paintings, etc. It's a very good museum and has some really nice things!

And then we got some cake omnomnom and got the train home. Altogether, given that the day didn't go anything like how we'd planned, it was rather good fun!

Today was our last whitefly transect. It wasn't raining so we figured we'd go for it and get the thing over and done with. It was BLOODY cold, with snow on the ground even in the woodlands (though not thickly) and rather a lot of mud. The whitefly numbers seemed low to me - maybe they've retreated into more sheltered places in the face of adverse weather. I've had enough of winter now. It's nearly April. It's not meant to be freezing and snowy! But that's complete now, so yay.
enismirdal: (main draggy)
I understand that Be broadband has been sold to Sky (first I heard about this was when they wrote to me and told me though, so good on them for keeping their customers in the loop). Apparently Be is being subsumed and will exist no longer, and Be customers will be moved to Sky.

I went with Be precisely because I didn't want to buy my internet from a big faceless company with dubious ethics, indifferent customer service and a bad reputation. I don't particularly want to be a minion of the Sky empire. I'm therefore planning to jump ship the moment I become a Sky customer, if not before.

Where should I go next? I am pretty certain I am not going near TalkTalk, BT, Virgin Media or Sky. I understand o2 broadband, being owned by the same people as Be largely, is going the same way: into Sky. At the moment, Plusnet sounds like it could be the best option. But I'd like personal recommendations.

I don't particularly care how much it costs if it's good (well, as long as it's less than around £20 per month). I want a decent speed (10Mbps or better), unlimited downloads, GOOD customer service (don't care whether the call centres are UK or international, as long as the staff are competent and knowledgeable and I can follow them on the phone without needing all my spoons).

Our phone is currently with Post Office (basically a BT line, but without having to deal with 12 month contract boringness) - no problems with them so far. Anyone tried their broadband?

tl;dr: So, folks...who is the best broadband provider? Reliability and top-notch customer service are my main criteria.

ETA: Oooh, John Lewis does broadband! What's the buzz on them? Any good?
enismirdal: (butterfly)
- I went to Trinidad and it ROCKED! Cocoa is fascinating, Trinidadians are amazing, sunshine is extremely welcome in November, the food was top-notch and I am feeling pretty smug about going back in February!

- Came back with about 3 dozen tubes of insects to sift through and identify (looking for cocoa midges).

- I did a training course at work on Safety and Security when working abroad. I now know what to do if I find myself in the middle of a firefight, if I'm kidnapped or abducted, how to respond to police roadblocks, how to avoid carjacking and the correct procedure when straying into a field of landmines. It was a bit surreal and extremely unnerving, but some of the crime bits were useful.

- I need to open a debate on "Bus Etiquette". I want to address several issues, but for now the question is: when is the appropriate time to ring the bell on a bus before your stop? Personally I think that assuming there's about 400m between stops, ringing it immediately after the previous stop is overkill and makes you look silly (I am of course excluding people who don't know the area/route, who might ring at all kinds of odd times and that's fine and not their fault). Equally, ringing it right before your stop, giving the bus driver almost no time to pull over, is extremely rude. This weekend I thought I'd timed it perfectly - there's a right turn just before my house, with the bus stop perhaps 50m into the side-road. So I rang when the bus stopped at the traffic lights before the right turn. Apparently this was a bad place to ring, as the bleeping bus driver just cruised past my stop and went to the next one (which someone else had rung for, incidentally). Should I have rung sooner, before we reached the lights? Should I have left it until the lights went green and we were moving again? This seemed rude, as then the driver would be navigating the right turn, which is a busy one. And leaving it until we got round the corner was clearly too late. Bah.
enismirdal: (heart 2)
Huh. CRI and I have now been living together for 9 months!

It feels both like not that long at all, and also like forever. Not that long at all, because I'm not sick of him yet, I still adore him, the house, our lives together, and how contented I feel here. And like forever because it feels so completely natural. There's basically no stress involved - even when, like tomorrow, a builder is coming because something's a bit wrong with the house (in this case, leaky drainpipe).

We sleep generally very well (if we don't, it's generally as a result of drinking too much tea/napping on the sofa/not getting enough exercise), we get on fine with our immediate neighbours, the garden has too many slugs but otherwise does really well. CRI is becoming a very good cook and seems to find my cooking acceptable*. He hasn't keeled over from any obvious nutrient deficiencies yet so I guess I'm doing things OK! Everything seems to be basically affordable, landlord seems happy to keep us as tenants for the foreseeable.

We own a dining table! We own an airbed for guests! We have had overnight guests and overfed them on toast and bacon for breakfast. We've got a tub with a stupid adult moth, and a tub with a hawkmoth pupa waiting for spring. We've got a wardrobe in the bedroom!

We're not like a married couple who, thanks to wedding presents, have a matching dining set, a full 24-piece set of china, a "posh" cutlery set and matching teacups. We haven't done up the kitchen and bathroom suite according to our own tastes. But...we're happy like this. We have all the important stuff, and many things that aren't that important. Being in the house together is relaxing and nice. Being in the house alone when the other one is out is also relaxing and nice, and welcoming the other one home and offering tea is relaxing and nice.

I feel I am a fortunate person.

*He says nice things about it and it eats it all and never complains. It's good for my self-confidence.
enismirdal: (butterfly)
There's a Nigerian restaurant near to us. Originally it sort of sold itself as Afro-Caribbean, but over time it seems to have tended increasingly towards Nigerian food in particular.

Traditionally, I always had joloff rice and curried* goat in there, but recently I've become more adventurous. The restaurant takes a rather laid back view to the menu and service generally (the atmosphere is more like a family's front room than a restaurant really!), so it is often better to ask what foods they have in rather than try to order anything in particular if you're not sticking to the obvious chicken, rice, beans and plantains based dishes! (Going in with a group, you'll definitely get something, it's bound to be tasty - though often fiery hot! - but it may or may not resemble what you think you ordered.)

So recently I have been learning about pounded yam, which is rapidly becoming a new obsession. It has almost no flavour on its own, but dunking chunks of it in hot sauces works really well as it offsets the chilli. It also fills you up fast! In fact, if I didn't know it was West African I'd probably have assumed it was Polish or something like that - it feels like good hearty stodgy food for cold weather!

This comes with one of a variety of soups. I'm looking forward to trying bitterleaf soup at some point, as the bitterleaf herb (Vernonia) is actually one I work on as a possible pesticidal plant, but for now I've been trying their other soups (based on, "Which of these soups do you have in?" "OK, I'll have that, thanks!"). "Soup" in this context is more of a thick stew/curry type of dish.

I decided to cut this after talking about meat in it )

The other cool thing I like about the Nigerian restaurant is that it serves malt drinks (supermalt and the like). It's a drink that is actually as tasty as beer, but completely alcohol free. And 2 bottles of it is 700% of your recommended daily allowance of vitamin B1. Awesome!

I'm going to Kenya early next year, so hopefully they won't serve boring European food the whole time and give us chance to tuck into tasty East African food, and I can compare and contrast!

*The curry sauce is like no other. I think they must use a lot of cinnamon and nutmeg along with various herbs and spices and stocks and things, as it's got a really rich flavour along those lines, rather than coriander-y or turmuric-y like Indian curries or lemongrassy like some Thai ones...
enismirdal: (butterfly)
Good things about this week:
- paper accepted into a well-respected journal
- another paper close to being ready for submission, hopefully of a quality where another respected journal will take it
- contract for our Caribbean project has finally been signed after some hiccups, so we should be able to go ahead with that. May involve spending a month away (in the Caribbean) early next year, but science should be interesting
- I PASSED MY DRIVING TEST! Took 3 attempts, but third time's the charm as they say. Quite pleased as tests are a blooming expensive business after paying the booking fee, and your instructor for 2 hours of their time and use of their car. I've booked a motorway lesson in a couple of weeks' time. (In the UK, learner drivers are not allowed on motorways. This means that often people's first go on the motorway can be in a regular car, not dual control, and without an instructor present. Which seems a bit crazy to me. So I am going to learn about motorways with my amazing instructor who I trust and who can pretty much drive the car from the passenger seat if I do have issues.) Not needing to have weekly lessons any more frees up disposable income to spend on other things. CRI and I may be taking up horse riding again...

Bad things about this week:
- had to call in sick on Monday, and haven't defeated the lurgy quite as fast as hoped. I've been calling it a throat infection as people freak out when you say "tonsillitis", though that's basically what it is. But since I haven't been feverish and it hasn't been that painful except at 4am (between painkillers + dry throat from sleeping), I'm fairly sure it's just viral and probably not massively contagious. Though seems to be going around - driving instructor has had several students cancel with similar issues. Still, I've now moved from needing painkillers every 4 hours to painkillers every 8 hours, so I think we're making progress. Throat didn't bother me at all during test.

I promised myself I'd buy some cute lingerie when I passed my test so I may need to do some shopping soon!

In other news, I read Mary Doria Russell's The Sparrow and Children of God and found the richness of the worldbuilding and the intrigue of the characters was outstanding. I am sad she doesn't appear to have done any more sci-fi!

So on the balance of things, I'd say this counts as a Good Week by a long way. Despite having singlehandedly propped up the ibuprofen and paracetamol production industries and probably burned a hole in my liver...
enismirdal: (tardigrade)
- I went to Korea and came back and at some point need to post some photos. Whether or not this will ever happen is anyone's guess
- I have been left in charge of the honeybees whilst various members of staff travel. This is taking up more time than I'd like given that I'm supposed to have plenty of work I'm actually being commissioned to do, but it's interesting and we have harvested more honey.
- We went on a BioBlitz yesterday (in a set area, see how many species of plant/animal/fungus you can find in a 24 hour period) at Osterley Park in West London and we found a few late bees and butterflies, and most excitingly, ash whitefly, honeysuckle whitefly and cabbage whitefly, along with several of their natural enemies - Clitostethus arcuatus, my all-time favourite tiny ladybird, a tiny fly whose larvae eat whitefly, and a couple of tiny tiny tiny parasitoid wasps. We were overall very pleased with our spotting. We were the only serious entomologists who came, so we've contributed a goodly majority of the records, and have made friends with some of the grounds managers so are planning a return visit in the spring/summer of next year to do bee walks and whatnot.
- Ash whitefly is our new thing, after discovering it on huge numbers of the ash trees we've checked and realising that it probably has some extended dynamics that indirectly interact with honeysuckle whitefly as they share some predators and possibly some parasitoids, though that has yet to be fully explored. It means that the way whiteflies and their natural enemies inter-relate in woodlands is probably far richer and more complex than we'd guessed at previously, but also means we have a lot more work on our hands! But it's cool because there's so much to discover!
- I think at some point I need to write an essay on the topic: No, that yellow ladybird is not "poisonous". At some point in the past, some individual here in the UK (and abroad...?) perpetuated the entirely untrue myth that whilst ordinary seven-spot ladybirds are fine and dandy, yellow ladybirds are "poisonous". As a result, our poor seventeen-spot ladybirds, which are entirely harmless, and our twenty-two spots, which are not just harmless but actually vegetarian, are getting entirely unfair press and probably quite a bit of abuse in gardens. It's amazing how many people have been told about "poisonous" ladybirds - not their fault if they have never known any better, but very unfortunate for the ladybirds!
- Attempting driving test the third in about a fortnight from now. I will pass this time, dammit!
- We bought a dining table! It's an old, lovely dark-stained oak drop-leaf table. It's immensely battered and has a great big heat-scorch on one leaf, but it all still works and it's solid wood, so should last an awful lot longer than your average Argos/IKEA jobby! After poking my dad and getting impressively detailed instructions on resurfacing tables (need to borrow an orbital sander!), it seems like it could be a good project for a bank holiday weekend or similar. Maybe at some point I'll just take a few days off work and do it. The results from pro table restoration jobs are amazing and although I don't expect anything that dramatic, I reckon if I can manage even 20% of that level of improvement it'll be stunning!
enismirdal: (butterfly)
CRI and I seem to have this unwritten agreement that if we're eating together (so most of the time), whoever cooks doesn't have to wash up and the other one will do that instead. Lately I've been doing quite a bit of the cooking and have been assuming I've been getting the easy job of things as a result (given the choice, I'd generally prefer to cook than wash up) - but he's mentioned before that by and large he regards the washing up as the preferable task. So maybe I'm not being as unfair as I assume.

What do the rest of you think?

[Poll #1859171]
enismirdal: (hello cthulhu 1)
At work at the moment they're running some taste panels on kenkey. Apparently they're trying to work out how to promote it to a Western market. It's...an interesting project.

What kenkey is: a "fermented maize product" from Ghana/West Africa. What this means is that they get maize flour (basically fine cornmeal) and let it ferment for hours/a couple of days at room temperature using naturally-occuring lactic bacteria. I'm not sure why, whether it improves the shelf-life, the digestability, or if it's just for taste. You then steam it (in banana leaves or something else) and end up with a sort of dough ball. Then you tear bits off it and dunk it in a rich, spicy sauce with meat or fish. Something like this.

Flavourwise it's...an acquired taste. I can see how, if you eat it from childhood, you'd get quite into the flavour and probably crave it if you were deprived. For someone new to it, it's very odd! The texture is a bit like mashed potato, only a bit more elastic. The taste is a bit like sourdough bread (which is, of course, another lactic-fermentation product). But the more acidic versions also have a distinct overtone of sauerkraut (yet another fermented product) and a vague smokey flavour like Bratwurst.

The taste panels I've been going to...well, the first was trying to work out how to make the product appeal to Westerners. The conclusions seemed to be that people would need to know what to do with it (use it as a mashed potato substitute? bake it till it goes crispy? have it with jam?), it might need sauces or flavours providing (I still think it'd be good, if unhealthy, with bacon bits in!) and people are slightly freaked out by the fact that its calorie content is four times that of mashed potato. On the plus side, it's got a better shelf-life than fresh mash (weeks in the fridge), is very safe from a hygeine point of view (the acidity controls bacterial growth) and is low-allergen (gluten and dairy-free). So I'm still not sure where the niche is given that the Western "starches" market is kind of saturated, but who knows!

The other taste panels were trying different blends/makes of kenkey to see what we thought of them (objectively, not subjectively) - looking at things like acidic flavour, the colour, the graininess of the texture, the stickiness of the texture, the sweetness, etc. I've done this before with strawberries (admittedly the strawberries were somewhat more fun - kenkey is really heavy and even just tasting little bits gets hard work when you're on sample 7 and you have already had lunch), so the procedure was familiar.

I got the feeling that most people definitely prefer the milder flavoured samples that are less acidic and more sweet, but a minority of people seem to like the very sharp, acidic, almost vinegary samples. I'm waiting to see now whether they start trying to change the kenkey recipe to make us like it more in future panels, or if we'll just be trying lots of different variants on the traditional recipe.

The weird thing is, the more I have the more it's growing on me. After a while, the acidity is less shocking and your tolerance for the moderately acidic ones starts to increase. And the odd sour-umami-sweet flavour becomes more "normal". I'm starting to wonder if this is going to join things like sauerkraut, pierogi and uttappam that I get a craving for about once a year and go out and buy.

It did occur to me that it would probably be an amazing bulking-up food for a convalescent hamster! (Hamsters like slightly sour-milk flavours as well, so I imagine that would go down a treat.)
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