Friday, February 28, 2014

BrewDog London: Craft Beer and Cheese Tasting

Beer and cheese tasting at BrewDog, Shoreditch.

The tasting was presented by Tida who took us through the four pairings. All the beers are Brewdog's own, all the cheeses came from Neal's Yard Dairy.

  • Punk IPA (5.4%) paired with Parmesan. Hints of citrus (grapefruit) match the tangyness of the parmesan; a good match.
  • 5am Saint (5.0%) paired with Coolea. A creamy cheese from boggy grass fed cattle; not as successful as the Punk / Parmesan pairing.
  • Dead Pony Club (3.8%) paired with Hafod Cheddar. A california style beer with hints of tropical fruit (pineapple); the most complementary pairing of the session.
  • Ripe Tide (8.0%) paired with Stichelton Blue. An imperial stout with some sweetness; like drinking port with Stilton - a classic combo.

This squirrel is one of the bottles that once contained "The End of History" the world's strongest beer at the time with an ABV of 55% (yes, that is fifty-five percent). More from the BBC: "Dead animal beer bottles at £500 each 'perverse'"

After the tasting we stayed on to chat and drink a couple more half pints of Rip Tide - at 8% ABV more would have been foolish. A fun way to spend a Sunday afternoon and meet some new beers.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Madeline Bell at Ronnie Scott's

Saturday 22-Feb-2014

A busy day starting with a cream tea and mulled wine at Southwark Cathedral refectory after which we did a quick circuit of the cathedral proper. I worked five minutes walk from the place for a year but never made time to look around at lunchtime, so now I have.

To get to Ronnie Scott's we walked over London Bridge and caught the Number 15 bus which uses the traditional, old-style Routemaster bus. A nice bonus.

Straight from Trafalgar Square to Ronnie Scott's for a pre-show cocktail followed by a meal to the sounds of the Ronnie Scott's All Stars.

Madeline was brilliant, she was clearly having way too much fun. She chatted with the audience, she cracked jokes, she told stories, she forgot what she was doing next and she sang. She obviously was not taking it seriously but in a good way. She sang songs old and new and was just superb; Mary's verdict was "one of the best fun concerts ever".

Photograph by David Sinclair (
More photos on FaceBook

Ronnie Scott's is always described as an intimate venue and it is for shows like this that the membership fee is worth every penny - early mailings and discounted tickets - that got us into sold out, much in demand gigs. This was one of those experiences you only get with live performance by great artists in small venues. Fantastic.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Dental Implant Number 3

An extraction, an implant, a bone graft and two stitches.

This tooth goes back to pre-1993 when I foolishly tried to tighten the knot in a black bin bag using my teeth. The upper left incisor snapped off at gum level. Ouch! you may say. Fortunately I felt nothing at the tooth was dead and hence brittle.

The solution was a post and crown which lasted until 2007 when it fell out and had to be replaced.

That replacement lasted until last month when I made an emergency trip to the dentist yesterday with a wobbly incisor. The crown and post popped out easily because the root was cracked. Doubleplusungood. So I booked in for an extraction and an unplanned implant. Nothing showing above the gum so the extraction could be tricky.

As it turned out the extraction was straightforward - not that I could tell as I was sedated. Then the operation preceded with the cleaning out of the canal and drilling and inserting the implant. The sedation was starting to wear off so I was aware of the disconcerting sound of hammering as the plug was tapped into place - eew!

The bone on the facial side of the implant needed a little building up so to encourage bone growth, in preference to gum, Rash put in some bone biomass and a collagen membrane (more about Bio-Oss and Bio-Gide). The biomass acts as a framework for bone regeneration and the collagen provides a protective membrane.

I now have to wait a couple of months for bone regrowth before the implant surroundings are firm enough to take the strain of the post and crown. Until then I can either have a gap or install a mono-toothed plate. That makes me feel like I'm lisping and is purely cosmetic so I will save it for "best".

Monday, February 17, 2014

Improving water quality on the River Wandle

Mycofiltration Project - a pilot study using fungi to filter water from road runoff before it enters the river.

The experiment involves installing hessian sacks filled with mycelium at various sites along the Wandle and monitoring the water quality before and after.

We are using blue/grey oyster mushroom mycelium for this project because it is widely available and displays vigorous growth. It is also particularly good at concentrating heavy metals and hydrocarbons, which are two key pollutants from vehicle exhaust found in road runoff water. It is also good at absorbing excessive nutrients and silt that can cause problems in watercourses. It is harmless to people and wildlife.

The first step is to pack some hessian sacks with a layered mixture of damp straw, wood chip and fungi. Then we pop the hessian sacks into plastic bags to help retain moisture and protect them from the elements a bit. After a few weeks the spores should generate mycelium throughout the sacks at which point they will be moved to the test sites.

Unloading the equipment and getting set up.

Sutton Ecology Centre

The magic ingredient - the mushroom culture.

Weighing out the spores

The straw bales needed unbundling and soaking prior to layering into the sacks with wood chips and spores.

Soaking the straw

The first few sacks helped test out the ratio of substrate to spores.

Filling the first sacks

We will take the sacks home and leaves them in the garden checking twice a week until the spores start to sprout.

The first four sacks

Once the white threadlike patches of mycelium have appeared all over the hessian sacks, they will be ready to install at the study sites. This may take several weeks, watch this space...

UPDATE: There will be a follow up session, see Straw bale packing and collection day - Sat 22nd Feb, Sutton Ecology Centre SM5 3NY for more details.

The Wandle Trust is an environmental charity dedicated to restoring and maintaining the health of the River Wandle and its catchment. They hold community river cleanups on the second Sunday of every month, up and down this unique urban chalkstream – pulling out everything from shopping trolleys to shotguns, and improving the environment for birds, fish, insects and local people. For more visit:

Monday, February 10, 2014

Sotto Le Stelle 16 - Storage is at a premium

The main change from our last visit in December is doors for the bathroom but no picture as we forgot our cameras.

The main change should have been gas central heating but the Italian bureaucracy has been grinding along since September and still failed to deliver approval of the connection of town gas. We are all plumbed and ready to go.

Empty gas meter cupboard

Also storage in Sotto Le Stelle is at a premium - basically there isn't any. We need to maximise use of every niche. So we asked our builder to install glass shelves in the niche behind the sink and the niche in the valley wall. They looked good and add storage capacity.

Cisternino in January is pretty quiet. Many of the restaurants were closed even on a Saturday night, some of them for an off season holiday. We wandered around on our arrival Saturday night looking for food and settled on Le Tre Lanterne in the main square (Piazza V. Emanuel).

For years Bar Fod was the only bar in the main square. Then a young upstart rival bar cafe appeared. Now it has gone and is replaced by Le Tre Lanterne, a "fornello pronto" - lit. "speedy oven" - basically a butcher that cooks meat for you. Le Tre Lanterne was more like a proper restaurant but we're not complaining. I had some excellent wild boar sausages with a half bottle of local Primitivo.

Wild Boar Sausages

The next day was lovely and sunny. As it was Mary's birthday we ate and drank - celebration was a four hour lunch at Osteria La Valle. It was so typically Italian at the next table: a multi-generational group of about twenty family and friends chatting, hand-waving, greeting friends who dropped in to say hello. Love it.

Sunny panorama from Sotto Le Stelle on January 26th

The next two days were shopping and furniture rearrangement, respectively. How is it possible to spend eight hours shopping? It is all part of creating storage space in Sotto Le Stelle so we can clear our stuff out of Trullo Azzurro:
  • The space under the basin now has a towel rail and hooks for a curtain. We have commissioned a glass shelf to go in there.
  • The alcove beside our bed acquired a hanging rail, an assembled, flat-pack chest of draws and a curtain rail to cover it all. 
  • The old toilet niche would have have a cheap set of wooden shelving in but the dimensions lied - the shelves were 0.5 cm too wide! Wednesday's activities included sawing one end of each of the shelves ready for assembly next visit. 
  • We bought a set of sliding shelves to go under the kitchen sink but they would not fit so they are now installed in Trullo Azzurro. Next time we will check the depth as well as the width.
Basking in sunshine on January 29th

Every morning after breakfast in Sotto Le Stelle we repaired to Trullo Azzurro for a shower as we had no heating in the apartment. The last morning was spent basking in the warmth of the sun trap that is Trullo Azzurro courtyard after a most productive visit. Then home to a cold and rainy UK :-(

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Burns Supper 2014 Bis

Mary fancied a Burns supper and went googling; we ended up going to not one but two Burns suppers.

Burns Supper 01 - The Ceilidh Club, Town Hall, Hammersmith on 18-Jan-2014.

Canteen style haggis, neeps and tatties followed by some dancing. It was a huge function room holding what seemed like hundreds of attendees. We sat out some and danced some. There were so many people it got a bit like Piccadilly Circus despite heroic efforts from the caller.

The piper leaving after the ode

Halfway through they did a full Address to a Haggis with attendant piper to escort the sonsie sausage in and out.

My advice to my unattached nephews is to forget the disco or nightclub and to get down the local Scottish dancing club - there were babes! And they'd be able to actually hear their best chat up lines.

Burns Supper 02 - Hix Mayfair, Brown's Hotel on 24-Jan-2014.

At the other end of the sophistication scale - a designer chef, celebrity host and a famous guest. The chef was Mark Hix, the host was writer and TV presenter Hardeep Singh Kohli (wearing turban and kilt) and the unexpected fellow guest was the acerbic critic A. A. Gill. I got to chat to all three albeit briefly.

We kicked off with a potent and delicious cocktail. As Mary was still doing the Dryathlon for Cancer Research I drank her cocktail, several whiskies and glasses of the wine which were included in the price. A misguided attempt to get our money's worth which I mildly regretted the following morning.

Address to the Haggis with Piper

Amusing anecdotes from Hardeep and genial conversation with our fellow diners.

And, of course, excellent food. We did "The Bard" proud.