Experimental Cooking Jive

A couple of days ago, I adapted an online recipe for “Sprite Zero Cake”, and pushed one of the resulting very springy, slightly bready, slightly sticky but perfectly acceptable cakes onto Delightful Boyfriend. The man in question inserted one into his face hole and declared it “all right”, because boarding school has destroyed his taste forever and what it hasn’t broken his staggering addiction to hot sauce has pretty much finished off.

Then I told him what was in it (no butter), and what I planned to replace next time to reduce the calories further (sugar replaced with sukrin), to which he made a face and said “It sounds pretty joyless to me.”

I believe I said something curt about him enjoying it before he knew what it was, but really the fun in these things is at least as much from the challenge as from the food itself.

On that note, welcome to further adventures in Teaching Myself To Cook. I’ve included some experiments, which I probably could just have looked up online, but as I prefer to find things out for myself by doing them, that didn’t happen. If you’re more reading-oriented these might be useful, I don’t know.

Raspberry & Vanilla Sugar “tea”.

I bought some raspberry powder on a whim a while back and it has made a sterling flavour addition to yogurt, fromage frais, and occasionally cream cheese ever since; I bought vanilla sugar on an even bigger whim and it makes terrific icing.

Night shift requires no further tea after about 4am in order to be able to sleep, and while I have decaf tea sometimes I want something hot that doesn’t even pretend to be tea. I hate herbal teas because they invariably taste of cardboard (pro-tip: stop bulking up your tea bags with hibiscus seeds, you asshats), rather than what they smell of.

Chiming with the Packetsu philosophy, I dumped 1/4 of a teaspoon of vanilla sugar and 1/2 a teaspoon of raspberry powder into a sachet and while the end result contained a certain amount of flavoursome sludge at the bottom, it was delicious and hot and tasted of raspberries and the sludge yielded another half cup.

Flour?

I acquired a sack of gram flour because I’d heard it contained fewer calories than wheat flour (which it does, marginally) and nowhere seems to sell it in smaller quantities than “sack”, so after a lengthy period of suspicion and indolence I have begun experimenting with how gram flour (made from chickpeas) holds up against wheat flour.

The major discovery was that gram flour takes up water much more effectively so you don’t need as much, or you end up with a very sticky dough. The obvious is that gram flour isn’t as elastic as wheat flour and it doesn’t rise as much, but makes a surprisingly good flat biscuit.

gram/wheat flour mix base with cumin, spinach powder, garlic, and black pepper.
gram/wheat flour mix base with cumin, spinach powder, garlic, and black pepper.

That by the way is a quail egg, to give you an idea of scale. This was a 2/3rds gram to 1/3rd wheat base, and the end result – cooked for about 15 minutes – was a firm, snappy biscuit rendered a little softer where the tomato paste was.

The results of further experiments with flour:

I had a hypothesis and I colour-coded my baking with food colouring. REAL SCIENCE.

(PINK)

Oven pancake (1 tsp gram flour, 1 quegg, 1 tsp milk, baking powder,
to scale up to a hen egg/suitable quantity of egg substitute use 1
tbsp instead of tsp) would make good topping for something but not
good base, a bit rubbery.

(BLUE)

plain gram flour base (1 tbsp gram flour, baking powder) does not
need much water – less than 1/2 a tsp – and needs to be spread
smoothly like a paste not a dough onto the baking tray/muffin hole.

(YELLOW)

gram/wheat (2 tsp gram, 1 tsp wheat) needs more water (1.5 tsp) and
rises more, is rougher on top than the plain gram flour, with less
water might make a serviceable dough.

All need salt.

I made a second attempt at pizza base dough:

you can make perfectly serviceable dough balls with gram flour
instead of wheat flour – a little denser but not perceptibly. (i
coloured the wheat flour with spinach powder this time to differentiate from the gram).
needs a different water ratio – 1 tbsp of gram flour takes 0.75 tsp of
water as opposed to 0.5 of a tbsp with 1 tbsp of wheat flour – but
you get a nice dough from that which makes 2 x mini dough balls
(then just scale up i guess) and also if you squash it flat and fry
it briefly in a reasonable amount of oil for a very short time on
each side: chapati.

The exchange there is from emails to Scientist Friend On Hiatus, who is also vegan and gluten-intolerant, and therefore likely to be interested in ways of making food that don’t egg or wheat.

Yesterday I made Traffic Light Mini Naan, coloured with spinach powder, tumeric (and garlic), and paprika. I remembered the salt. They were fantastic.

Baking Fail

Having succeeded in the Accidental Biscuit Pizza Base (which was pretty nice and a good way of eating pizza), I decided to have a go at some Deliberate Biscuits using a similar recipe. Wheat flour, gingerbread spices, and Stevia to replace sugar.

Let me say this: don’t do the thing with the Stevia. Use a sugar substitute intended for baking. What I got were rock-hard and all the spices had granulated into dark spots. I mean, they tasted okay, but they were very much not biscuits.

Parting Shots

Spending a lot of time on slow nights at work reading recipes which are of an increasingly paleo/gym lunatic variety, trying to find a balance between “author is mad and just listing health benefits no food can actually bestow” and “food is actually four million calories and being described as healthy because an apple looked at it once”, I wandered across some recipes for treats and the like which didn’t have the restraining factor of “I am trying not to consume more energy in a day than the ISS uses in a year”. Most of them, which might previously have appealed to me, now look thoroughly gross. Or, as described to a friend:

after changing my eating habits a lot of the things that I
previously considered delicious now taste greasy and disgusting (i
can’t actually say this on most social media for fear of being
yelled at for… changing my tastes? being entirely non-judgemental
about what everyone else is eating? i don’t know, but man people
will yell if you express a preference that is out of line with
theirs)

Which means that whenever someone talks about what a chore it is to replace, for example, Reese’s with raspberries, I just find myself a tiny bit alienated… and a tiny bit worried that if I mention preferring raspberries I’m about to get shouted at for being “smug”. I know there are people who will bang on and on about the benefits of eating nothing but raw food (I grew up with a borderline orthorexic); but the immediate response of “liar” or “smug cunt” to “actually I like X” is one of those modern tribalist things I really don’t understand.

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Origami Clothing

The main themes of my stupid unintended design week are of course convenience, portability, and “why are you so obsessed with travel gear, you never go anywhere”, the latter of which is a question revolving to a certain degree around a permanent fear of homelessness. [Solutions which aren’t, alas “more social housing”]

Back in my more venturesome days, when I had the flexibility, Young Person’s Railcard, and high number of friends at different universities that made it less imprudent to abandon things at a moment’s notice and get on a train to wherever for the privilege of getting drunk and sleeping on someone’s floor, I packed absurdly light. My major concessions to hygiene were to stuff into the pockets of a very large pair of Cyberdog trousers a pair of clean pants, a toothbrush, and some deodorant. Admittedly during the same time period my major food group was “vodka” and the major export of the State of Del was “bad decisions”, somewhat linked to that particular foodgroup.

On the occasions that I’ve needed to take a change of clothes anywhere more recently I’ve been wildly indignant about how much space the wretched things take up, requiring me to do things like “bring a suitcase” on planes or “have a bag with me” when I don’t feel like it. The Cyberdog trousers, with their crisp-packet texture and eight enormous pockets, are long dead.

Exploration into the world of garment bags and packing assists along those lines has been fruitful but insufficient: while I like being able to mash an outfit into a small case and chuck a series of small cases into a bigger bag, I feel more can be done, and the existence of the cases themselves seems cumbersome. After five years at boarding school and various wildlife camp weekends (I am a cool kid, a very cool kid) I’d say I’m relatively adept at wrangling clothing into the most efficient configurations, but sometimes you really do not WANT to spend time turning each t-shirt into a spiral with a balled-up pair of undergrunts in the middle.

T-shirts are also the least of my worries. They condense down small. They compress logically. They’re made of jersey, which is cooperative in the “taking any shape without being a nuisance” stakes.

Recently I bought a Matador, because I live my life on gift and gadget websites and have been misguidedly given control over my own finances under the shaky idea that I am in some way a responsible adult rather than a poorly-contained bundle of impulses who, by the way, bought 7 books on T E Lawrence in under 3 minutes last week. Who allows me to have a debit card and why?

The relevance is this: the Matador is a very thin water-resistant nylon blanket with fold lines and an attached pouch. Condensing down to the approximate size of a wallet, it spreads out to cover enough ground that two adults can comfortably lie down on it. This is, of course, magical. And also enticing. Thin, light, water-resistant fabric which is already shown to take up less than no space and to weigh nothing – I’ve been carrying it in my pocket for a couple of weeks and it’s a damn sight lighter than the wallet full of USB drives, spare change, and soy sauce bottles I insist on keeping in the hip pocket.

Also, attached pouch.

I’m hoping that, if I can get my hands on some of this fabric, I’ll be able to replicate this level of compression and convenience as a pair of trousers, or at least shorts. In the meantime, I intend to test the idea with jersey, since I’ve got some knocking around and, unlike everything else that’s come up in Oops It’s Design Week I Guess, I CAN sew and design clothing. CAD and 3D printing may be beyond me. Dehydrating and powdering food definitely are. I can’t fund a housing project. But I can probably make a pair of shorts with one pocket that is an inverted storage pouch, perfect for flipping the whole garment into, yanking on some drawstrings, and transforming “fuck, my clothes are everywhere” to “I have a couple of small bundles that will fit in my jacket pocket” in seconds.

But why stop with these shorts? I mean, shorts are wonderful, and I want these to exist in lightweight fabric for reasons besides convenient folding (why are all the shorts I want to buy made out of fabric that is apparently intended to make me sweat to death when every summer it gets above 30C now? I’m English! I can’t handle hot weather! Or cold weather! Or weather!). BUT.

I think there’s scope for a wider range of products. A whole line of origami travel clothing, designed to be shoved into itself and carried with immediate ease, or with a secondary function, and these people clearly already agree with me. See?

I promise I’m not going to call this “Productsu”

“Productsu” is just the name it has in my notebook.

If you’ve been following this disjointed series of design/concept posts, you’ll have noticed a certain theme besides the letter “P” (which I am about to ruin in the next post anyway). Packetsu and PodLife and indeed to a certain degree Balb are focussed on philosophies like “I don’t have a lot of space” (I live in a one-bedroom flat in London with two other people and my kitchen is roughly the size of a toilet cubicle), “shit could be more convenient than it is”, and “I am going places a lot”.

I spend a frankly unhealthy amount of time looking at travel/camping goods for design purposes, as generally speaking if you’re going to lug something around with you to work (liable to be plunged into the joyless state of eight hours outside of the normal operating time of shops, it’s not like you can just pop out and grab something) it’s better if that thing is small and convenient and tessellates comfortably in the bag you have chosen for its ability to be carried three miles first thing in the morning. Also it shouldn’t be heavy, because three miles, first thing in the morning, after working all night.

This has led to some interesting and useful discoveries and some experimental purchases, most of which have a limited shelf life but are handy while in use. One thing that pains me, though, is the aforementioned bag.

Bags are kind of annoying. I mean, they’re flexible and useful but effectively they’re just a sack you hurl things into in order to lose them. They try to rectify this by having the odd pocket here and there, but that’s just a miniature bag for you to lose smaller things in and forget about as and when.

Also, bags are kind of a discrete unit: you can’t really make the bag smaller to fit the situation, or if you want to take something out and not have that turn into everything slopping around the bottom of a whole even bigger, more empty sack, where you still can’t find anything, and everything is deeply annoying, and stuff shifts around while you’re walking, which is no good for transporting delicate things, and you get thrown off balance if you decide to run anywhere.

You want smaller for your less stuff, you have to buy a whole other bag, which will come with its own set of inconveniences and annoyances. This is some serious stone-age technology. We really have not updated the situation and while I gather that it’s a case of “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it” —

Bags, man. They’re sort of the least worst solution to the “I need to carry shit” situation.

Packetsu to Productsu

While I was mulling over the possibilities of Packetsu (remember: I work night shift, this is the kind of thing that happens to your brain), it occurred to me that a system of discrete units which can be put together to create something else would work in other areas. For, say, travel. For transporting food and electronics and books and suchlike to work every evening, for example.

I thought wouldn’t it be neat if anything you bought – a top (as they do sometimes in UniQlo and American Apparel come in sealed bags), an iPod, a wallet, a pair of flipflops – really, anything… came with an option to purchase it in an object-fitting water-proof/resistant nylon pouch that exactly fitted the thing. Perhaps padded, for more delicate stuff, but overall the kind of small tough thing you could later roll up and pop in a pocket. And what if that pouch had various attachments/attachment areas that allowed you to, for example, connect it in a number of configurations with any other pouch, as many as you liked, until you had a roll or a mat or a tube or a belt or whatever, and what if every since pouch also had the ability to connect a carabiner or a keyring or some clip on/off straps for over the shoulder or rucksack carrying, or a wrist loop?

And what if you could buy all that shit separately, the way you can buy individual shelves for systems in IKEA?

And what if you could buy waterproof wrappers for when your roll of bags needed protecting more solidly from the elements? And what if you could have stiffer, more durable pouches for more rugged travel? A place for everything, everything in its place, everything transportable via as many ways as is convenient. Heck, have an individual lipstick tube bag. Have a small make-up case bag and wear it like a bandolier. Have each component available separately. Have “Bag/Not Bag” options of any given product. Make life easier, more convenient, and make me spend less time trying to play bag Tetris with a paperback and a travel mug and a fucking umbrella every time I want to get access to a packet of crisps.

Please.


 

Edited to add: An option a little like this but of course without the product-tie in exists. Modular luggage is a step in the right direction, but not far enough!

Book Bragging!

A break from Inadvertent Design Week, which will continue with Productsu (shut up) and Origami Travel Clothing, to let you all know:

Between the Shores, an anthology in which my story Vine is featured (under the nom-de-smut “Melissa Snowdon”), and which is live on the Kindle Store, is also in the top 100 Books & eBooks for the tag “Bisexual”

Why not buy a copy, and help it to stay there? If you prefer your book in paper form, the publishers have put a discount code on the Createspace edition for you:

You can also tell your fans about a special Createspace discount code we’ve created: 5MQV88KN will take $2 off each book.

I’ll leave the final word on this with the publishers again:

The anthology is now available as an ebook and paperback at many websites, including Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and iTunes. A complete list of retailers is available on our blog.

Concept Design or Philosophy? Packetsu!

Another instalment in what’s turning into Design Week, this is going to be broken up into three sections because it kept expanding and expanding. Whether that’s a sign of a great idea or merely an obsessive mind is up to you.

First things first:

What’s with that name?

It’s a stupid name, I agree. Mainly it stuck because I came up with it in an Itsu, where everything was something-su, and the Resident Australian started referring to my bag full of packets of things as Packetsu, and habit is habit. A better name will, I am sure, occur to someone else.

Yes, but what is it?

Bearing in mind that I have a powerful fascination with the following things:

  • exact measurement of food/calories
  • tidy, exact packaging
  • choice

and that the majority of retailed food items do not manage to allow any of these three things, it occurred to me in the process of making my rice cooker that many instant noodle and rice and so on products could be hugely improved upon by selling the plain item on its own and then selling separate flavour and embellishment (dried beef, dehydrated vegetables) packets cheaply and individually, to allow people to both pick their own flavours on a whim and also mix and match. Choice, you see.

It then occurred that this didn’t really need to be limited to flavour: different sizes for different diets. Multibag buys.

Sounds a bit packaging wasteful.

Except now of course there are endless options for low-impact packaging which makes that concern rather less of an issue. You can make compost with those extra layers, or eat them, or reuse them. The individual packets work well for vending machine culture – endless variations and one slot to dispense them. Preparation pots sold separately, but cheaply. Just add hot water.

Where do you see this going besides the supermarket aisle and the vending machine?

Well they’re terribly convenient in those aspects. Why not corner shops? Why not move on from the savoury rice and noodles and stir-in pasta salads to fresh, vacuum-sealed produce in individual serving sizes (80g bag of peas, vaccuum sealed. Pull the strip to perforate, pop in the microwave. Three veg bags, one potato bag, some fish fillet: a proper meal in the microwave at work with whatever sauces and seasonings and combinations you want instead of the three flavours previously made up by the supermarket cold food section). Why not introduce wallet-sized sachets for emergency spicing-up of snacks at eminently reasonable prices?

Remember that this revolution is already expanded from “just noodles or rice”: The Food Doctor sell couscous pots. Various diet companies have put out bean-chilli pots of the “add hot water” variety, and Itsu do famously delicious massive pots as well as their little crystal noodle ones.

Move on from the savoury to the sweet, even. Muller Corners, hot chocolate sachets, astronaut ice cream, popping candy paper sachets, porridge pots (with dried milk, so all you need to add is water) – the rudiments exist already, and only need to be rejigged to really sell the “mix and match”, “individual”, and “durable” aspects across them all. Porridge can be altered with the substitution of powdered soya milk or similar for the vegan option. The “add your own toppings” deal is already the staple of deli counters and ice-cream bars and the philosophy can be expanded easily into take-away or assemble-yourself.

So the idea is: tiny packets?

Ah, but also a choice between a) specialised containers or b) one all-purpose container: “fill the multi-purpose to the GREEN line with water” etc.

Of course there’s also the possibility for themed containers/cups (Hello Kitty? Rilakkuma? Movie tie-ins?), children’s lines… folding silicone ones for camping…

Tiny packets and containers?

You make it sound so unfulfilling! There are so many options! It’s so convenient! You could go batshit and have raspberry powder and soy sauce and coconut and beef on your tapioca and no one could judge you for it.

Let There Be Light: Balb

In the second in a series of “dumb/fantastic ideas I have at work around 3am”, a thing which had a friend who edits at The Engineer tell me “check this website and see if there’s a patent”.

Spoilers: I checked the website in question but it was impossible to tell if there was already a patent for something like this because the search function is not great and I have no idea what search terms to use to make it spit out a reasonable reply.

What have you done this time?

Look, it’s very simple.

You know lightbulbs, right?

Yes, we’re not stupid

Okay. And you know torches, right?

Again, not stupid

Well, I think I’ve come up with something that is both, and also means that you only really need one or two lightbulbs in a house.

Pardon?

Bear with me. What I want is a rechargeable battery in the centre of a near-total sphere of outward-facing LEDs (full-spectrum if possible), encased in diffusing layer of plastic. Are you with me so far?

For the sake of getting to the end of this quickly, we’ll say I am.

Okay. Attached to the battery you have a switch and a standard lightbulb fitting – a bayonet, or a screw, whichever works with the light sockets you have. Ideally these would be interchangeable but I suspect you might just have to sell two types of “balb”.

Before we go any further, please tell me you’re not calling it that

It’s a bulb that is a ball!

Oh god. Alright, go on.

When you pop the lightbulb fitting into a socket, the light goes on, and the battery charges.

Have you figured out how that works?

I’m not an engineer.

You did an electronics engineering class, this should be simple.

Yes but I only passed that because Charles didn’t want to have to see my ignorant face again. Anyway, when you take the balb out of the socket it switches to the battery, which given that LEDs don’t use much battery, shouldn’t be a problem at any point after the initial charge.

That’s a bit iffy. So: you carry your orb of light from room to room and plunk it into a socket, is that the idea?

Yeah, I was thinking you could have a little net on a keychain to carry it by your side as well or around your neck or–

Do you have any idea how ridiculous that would look?

Hey, wait until you see the branding I came up with.

“balb”.

Exactly.

Places to Eat in London: Around the World in Three Meals

Welcome back to my continuing mission to be the unpaid tourism board for my city.

Central London has a baffling amount of places to ingest food, most of which are good, none of which are cheap, the majority of which appear these days to be in Kingly Court at the expense of, variously, the Soho Book Exchange and any kind of shop.

Yesterday I plunged into the waters of London Cuisine to bring you a report on places to eat on the fringes of Soho: covering Japan, Mexico, and India, with a small detour into Anglo-French; looking at the deli, the chain take-away, the tea room, and the informal/haute restaurant. All of the following places are within easy walking distance of both each other and the tube. No main dish will cost you more than £20, and most of them cost less than £10.

1. The Deli: The Japan Centre, Shaftesbury Avenue.

Closest Underground Station: Piccadilly Circus is less than a minute away from the entrance.
Price range: Most dishes are under £5

Photo courtesy of Deserted World, click on image for their post
Photo courtesy of Deserted World, click on image for their post

The Japan Centre is fundamentally a deli counter and tiny food court in the middle of an import supermarket. It is accessed via a mirror-lined escalator which is just wide enough for one person, through a kind of straits between two take-away stands selling takotaki and and buns, and a row of shelves threatening you with cheap donburi bowls and cat-glazed sake cups.

Your options on arrival are to either browse the cold shelves for pre-prepared sushi, sashimi, donburi bowls, assembled throwaway bento boxes, etc, or to go up to the deli counter and ask for food from the array there, which can be heated on request. You pay at the tills, along with the people buying from the supermarket section, and get red tape on your eat-in purchases to assure staff you’re not just arbitrarily eating things off the shelves without paying for them.

As this is a food hall, don’t expect much in the way of lavish comfort. As this is a deli, also don’t expect to pay a fortune – I took a chicken katsu onigiri from the fridges, a piece of pork tempura, and a shiso salmon stick from the counter for my brunch and the whole thing came to less than ten pounds. The onigiri wasn’t even £2. You come here for food which is quick-to-immediate, very affordable, and excellent value: everything I bought was straight-up delicious and exactly the way I wanted to start my day.

Given that you’re in the middle of a supermarket there’s also pretty much an endless array of choice if you want to supplement your hot & cold purchases with packet desserts or cold puddings: the dessert fridge contains a huge selection of fresh cheesecake pots, individual mochi, and just next to it is a freezer full of tiny ice cream tubs.

Definitely the place to go for cheap Japanese food: don’t waste time and energy trying to find a branch of Yo!Sushi (similar price range) when you can come here and have something a hundred times better and spend, often, less.

2. The Take-away Chain: Chipotle, Charing Cross Road

Closest Underground Station: Mid-way between Leicester Square and Tottenham Court Road
Price Range: A standard burrito is about £6.50, with guac around £8.70 (who eats burrito without guac anyway)

Photo courtesy of FluidLondon, click on image for their information/reviews
Photo courtesy of FluidLondon, click on image for their information/reviews

A warning to visitors from North America (Americans, Mexicans, Canadians): this is probably not what you’re expecting when you suffer from a burrito craving and decide to go and avail yourself of one. “It costs more than two dollars!” you cry, angrily, outside the grey frontage. “Where’s the limitless soda pump? Why isn’t this fifteen tonnes of grease and corn syrup? I QUIT.”

The elements which make this Not A Real Burrito Ugh Omg according to my American informants are however the elements that make me enjoy it.The brand here appear to be committed to fresh ingredients: the lettuce certainly is crisp and the steak chunks came to me fresh out of the fryer because the servers didn’t like the look of the ones that were already waiting in the basket. The servers: not me. Another blow for the culture of complaint! Similarly, the whole thing isn’t swimming in relentless grease, doesn’t taste of HFCS, has normal rice in it, and in general looks fairly wholesome both in its assembly and consumption. Also: is a sizeable meal for the hungry without being a watermelon-sized monstrosity. For the sake of completion I’m letting these two paragraphs stand: I was given the impression by a loud, disgusted complaint of being unimpressed as we passed the TCR branch that said American was talking about the UK iteration of the US chain (as regional variants are pretty common in chain eateries), and based on my own sad experiences of American food I filled in the gaps: she’s since explained that actually it’s Chipotle in general that fails to fuel her fire. For all I know, there’s no difference at all. There’s always Wahacca!

An ethos of fresh/vaguely healthy food isn’t for everyone – indeed, if you’re suffering from the acute need for something dirty and satisfying Chipotle probably isn’t the place for you, but there is fortunately a greasy pizza stand every three metres in this part of London so you shouldn’t despair. As to the rest of us: sit down on one of the squashy-topped stools at the brushed steel counters or stroll out onto the street with your fat burrito baby and enjoy a hot meal.

2.5 The Tea House: Camellia’s Tea House, Kingly Court

Closest Underground: Oxford Circus
Price range: a pot of tea or hot chocolate will set you back £3.50, afternoon tea is more.

In terms of ambience and cheerful, friendly service Camellia’s is a solid winner, tucked away on the top floor of Kingly Court and stuffed to the rafters with pretty tea ware, attractive cakes, tins of different teas, and helpful staff. A clear winner with the Afternoon Tea crowd, we spotted two tables of separate groups of young ladies Instagramming their towers of cake and sandwiches: as well they might, because the array was highly attractive.

Unfortunately, I made the mistake of going to a speciality tea house and ordering a hot chocolate, which arrived watery and badly-mixed, with the chocolate grounds lurking malignantly in the bottom of the cup no matter how hard I stirred. This was unfortunate, as the pistachio macron I ordered with it was an exercise in restrained heaven. Caveat emptor, then, and stick to what they’re good at: tea. Though I heard no complaints about the coffee, either.

Instagramming our own tea adventure.

3. The Restaurant: Cinnamon Soho, Kingly Street

Closest Underground: Oxford Circus
Price range: around £20 maximum for a main, £8-10 for a cocktail, under £10 for a starter.

Image courtesy of the restaurant's website
Image courtesy of the restaurant’s website

No flies on Cinnamon Soho. Part of a brand which includes far more upmarket and haute cuisine offerings from the subcontinent, the Soho branch is significantly more relaxed and informal without compromising on décor (slick, black, minimal, comfortable, and intimate) or, importantly, taste.

Being somewhat full after a day of tramping around London consuming chocolate and doriyaki every three steps, the restrained portion sizes at Cinnamon were distinctly welcome, as was the unexpected two-for-ten-pounds offer on the cocktails. I opened with tandoori salmon (tender, thoroughly-cooked, crisply-spiced, served with pea purée), moved on to spinach dumplings made with paneer, in a tomato & fenugreek sauce and served with rice (crisp and delicious, with just the right amount of sauce to keep the dumplings and rice moistened but not enough to swamp them: a scientific proportion I am sure has been worked out carefully through experimentation), and finished with an excellently-poached peer served with rice kheer (which I haven’t had since I lived in the country 25+ years ago but apparently still miss) and cinnamon ice-cream, plus the mandatory smears of coulis which I can’t bring myself to mock because they genuinely did add to the flavour.

Accompanied by a long, cool Garden Martini (elderflower and cucumber, as I vainly try to guilt summer into happening), the only snag was that I’d ordered Masala mash and didn’t receive – although as by that point I didn’t have room for it and we weren’t billed for it I’d say that wasn’t as much of a problem as it could have been, and certainly not worth complaining over. Great service, from affable and unintimidating waiters (certainly compared to our last dining-out experience at Wilton’s, which was frankly too frightening to write about!), and a timely and unhurried meal was just right to wrap up a long day savouring the delights of Soho.

Save Soho

On a sadder note, a day in Soho has made it all the clearer that the area is being blasted into nothingness. There are already gaping holes in a once-familiar skyline, blank shutters on Berwick Street, and nothing new or similar to replace the emptiness. Many moons ago, ahead of the curve, The Correspondents lamented, “Oh, no, what’s happened to Soho… oh no, where did all the reprobates go?” and now the rest of the arts fraternity have caught up:

Save Soho

Don’t let a unique and important part of London turn into yet another slew of luxury investment flats for people who fail to so much as live in them.

Confidence is a preference for the habitual voyeur of what is known as: PodLife

A round-up of the facts:

  1. My job involves reading a lot of articles about housing.
  2. I am almost obsessively interested in efficient use of space and small-area housing solutions/short-term accommodation like pod hotels. (I thought I’d made a blog post about this, which I was going to link to as an illustration of my point, but I have gone through my entire archive and it’s not there, so clearly I imagined it).
  3. Gadgets delight me providing they are actively useful and address a need (as opposed to a lot of the stuff on websites like ThinkGeek.com which are “stuff that already exists, but made to look like something from a TV show/film that I don’t watch or care about”, or “no one needs or wants this”).
  4. I like inventing things at an ideas level but do not have the skills or resources to actually bring them into being, or the necessary contacts, so when people say “you could make a fortune” the correct response is “no, someone else could make a fortune, I am not ever going to even see this thing constructed and it pisses me off“.

How we got to this point:

  1. At work, read an article about how Helsinki airport are planning on installing GoSleep pods.
  2. Intrigued by this notion, Google the aforementioned product, and find that – like pod hotels – this is a disappointing end point in which people have decided that “enclosed, lockable space” is unnecessary when sleeping around hundreds of strangers.

    As someone who went to boarding school before staying in a few hostels both in the UK and the Netherlands, allow me to correct the assumption of anyone who thinks that just putting people in beds in a room together when they are total strangers is a good, safe, practical idea: it’s not. It’s a recipe for theft and accusations of sexual assault (and probably actual sexual assault, given that false accusation rates are fairly low).  Give people a space they can close off from other people and you’re onto a winner.

  3. Searching about for people who understood the importance of privacy and security with sleep pods, I found these people.

    6 3

  4. Now this is a lot more appealing, and combined with the features of embedded extras in some other pods – power points, TV screens, a little shelf, etc – plus the ability of the podtime pods to stack – set me thinking.

PodLife Towers

Click for a larger image
Click for a larger image

Alas, I am not blessed with much in the way of architectural drawing skills, to put it mildly, but you have the starting point of the podtime sleep pods above: try to imagine that the blue and green oblongs (probably slightly out of proportion here) are two tiers of those. One is for sleep, the other possibly for a second person or for storage of belongs/luggage/a folding bike. As with the podtime pods, these would feature power sockets, a small shelf, and a TV screen. I suspect they could extend further to the right than they do in the diagram.

For the “shower” module, image something like this, but fully tubular:

shower

And with doors that slide all the way back out of the grey area to the interior wall, allowing access to the cookpod or toilet as well as the communal area at will. The doors should also be opaque, of course, although the outer rim that protrudes past the outer wall and through the insulation/plant* layer should have a window in it at around head height because a) natural light is important and b) who doesn’t want to look out over the landscape when they’re scrubbing their crevices?

The toilet (jokingly referred to in my internal planning session as a “peepod” [peapod. Get it?] because I’m a deeply undervalued human being) is fairly self-explanatory. A tube, with one door that slides back either way to the edge of the grey area, a small hand basin, a mirror, and a toilet. Presumably also a head-height window, for similar reasons of daylight, ventilation, and hey, maybe you would like to grow a small houseplant in your smallest room? I know I would.

This leaves only the Cook/Utilipod, or “kitchen” if you want to be optimistic.

Think of an almost entirely-round fitted kitchen with enough space to rotate on the spot in the middle. Mini fridge, freezer, microwave oven, a micro washer/dryer, cupboards, all ranged vertically and set into the sides. A small inset alcove with a mini sink, a kettle/power points, and one induction hot plate. Above the sink, a dish draining closet saves on space, and expect the ceiling and every edge to have LED lighting areas.

To those used to spacious kitchens full of appliances and equipment I’m sure this sounds like hell on earth, but as I live in a flat with a kitchen that’s not perceivably much bigger than that and a lot more poorly-designed, I think this is actually workable and reasonable. The idea is to get the comprise between extreme space efficiency and still having everything that is necessary to prepare most basic dishes and keep clothing clean.

(Feeling generous, maybe there could be a grilling section – I don’t want people to have to do without toast!

Unlike the sliding doors of the shower, toilet, sleep, and sleep/storage pods, the kitchen needs to maximise usable wall space, and so the door should be a roll-up shutter, like the kind that protect shop fronts. For a swankier version, this can be app-controllable (as indeed, can many automated functions within the tiny apartment: water temperature, toilet flushing, sound – speakers embedded everywhere, anyone? – and any of the kitchen appliances. In fact, it could in theory be possible to get your kettle boiling while still in the elevator). Really, it would be a great test bed for the tinier aspects of a Kitchen of the Future.

Aircon/heating throughout, sound systems, and ubiquitous wi-fi should be a piece of cake. An app-controlled lock on the main door, or indeed the individual pod doors (for allowing a cleaner access to one pod but not another) is remarkably easy to imagine.

Access to the podpartment is through a tubular elevator, or in case of a fire, through a window/ladder arrangement on the side of the building, as shown in the diagram.

Expand.

Like any good modular system, this should be expandable. With daylight-range LED panels replacing windows in the bathroom pods, it’s easily possible to place two end-to-end, or at the opposite end and with roll-up doors on the elevator, if you’ll excuse the hasty diagram:

double

In fact, by doubling up again, leaving a couple of gaps for stair access, you get more space in each podpartment:

stairs

The brown areas here, of course, are staircases, and the somewhat larger central elevator shaft has four potential exits, along with enough space to pop a full-sized bike down the side of the storage/sleep pods. The communal areas backing together instead of the beds also minimises the chance of sleep being distrupted by other people’s TV viewing or sex lives, and means you can keep your windows all around the apartment, although in this design a unit must be sacrificed on the ground level to allow people to get in and out, that can easily be a post room or a lobby.

Uses

Being highly compact, I envision that PodLife would slot well into small spaces in urban environments, including between existing blocks and in commercial areas. Self-service hotels for people on city breaks who are short on cash and likely to be out a lot; temporary accommodation for individuals in need of re-homing including unaccompanied asylum-seekers**; a safe place for refugees from domestic violence; week-time accommodation for long-distance workers; corporate crash pads; base-line student accommodation which doesn’t result in cold, unwashed students; or just apartments for the financially-embarrassed, possession-light, and terminally busy. Not great for people who want to be at home a lot, but great for the kind of people who mostly live and work out of coffee shops and keep their lives on tablets and phones. With space for a bike, and even the tiny windowsills for a little horticulture, a compact starter home for single people is not out of the question.

* If you’re unfamiliar with the terminology, “plant” is basically the stuff that makes a building run – plumbing, electricity supply, phone cables, gas pipes, aircon stuff, etc.

** If you want my commercial/capitalist ideas, you have to occasionally sit through my socialist/liberal ideologies.

In Which The Blogger Acquires a Veg Box

A very long time ago, before the fall of the Roman Empire, before the evolution of warm-blooded life, before Mars lost its water, I did not live in London, but a place that can most charitably be described as a damp rural backwater littered with increasingly impoverished farmers and a lot of hippies who really ought to have known better (about what? About everything). This was less a matter of my own choosing than of financial and legal necessity, as I wasn’t yet 18 and had saved up slightly less money than it takes to get one student rail fare the hell out of dodge.

In my glorious West Country arsenic dump, there was then as there is now a strong movement towards Organic food. Now, my views on most things have changed a lot since I left home: for one thing, I no longer think vaccines are the devil’s work and nor do I subscribe to any explanation that involves handwaving about “energy”, which is problematic for NPower when I start being cranky about bills. I’ve drifted away from the stridency of support for organic farming and now occupy a position of moderate ambivalence about it: I think the option to buy that way should exist in a choice-driven economy and I think the opportunity to buy more cheaply should be available while we live in a capitalist hellscape where a large portion of the population are more concerned about not letting their kids die of malnutrition than they are about whether or not pesticides on their apples will accumulate to cause Little Phillippa to break out in a bad case of dysfunction.

Back in the glorious day, though, I worked for an organic seed/growers’ equipment mail order company, in a warehouse in a plantation in what definitely felt like the frozen, musty middle of nowhere. They had a compost toilet, which I think is about as much as you need to know about that job.

Via this job, and via my mother’s impressive network of people who were determined to save mankind, the planet, and all the structures and organisms there in, yea, largely by Centring Themselves, Practising Forgiveness, and growing stuff, I was quickly acquainted with the existence of Riverford Organic Farms. Somewhat earlier than the Trendmongers of Islington, owing to them being a supplier of ours and Riverford being significantly closer to Wet Nowhere than to Canonbury.

Thus when I finally snapped this week and insisted that, in an attempt to reduce the amount of time I spend walking to and from Morrisons on a work week (this may sound petty: it is less than a mile round trip, but night shift and 2-3 mile walk commutes don’t agree with grocery-shopping) trying to make sure there are enough fresh vegetables in the house to stave off my persistent and possibly slightly delusional belief that I am one missed lime away from apocalyptic and fatal scurvy, I already knew where to look for “people who will bring vegetables to my house”.

The first, one-off, experimental box arrived today, and with uncanny insight they’ve predicted at least two of my current eating fads: bloody big mushrooms (I started on this because it was 39p for 3-4 of these in Morrisons and they’re practically a meal in themselves), and fried carrot hash.

It also came full of fantastic-looking fluffy heads of lettuce, which is how the following recipe came about.

Vegan, Gluten-Free, Summer Snack “Wrap”.

YOU WILL NEED

  • Some carrots
  • Possibly some other root veg, I’ve tried parsnips so far
  • Several leaves of a big, floppy lettuce like Batavia
  • Some oil
  • Whatever spices/salts/peppers you’re into
  • A frying pan or wok or chef’s pan or something
  • A grater/microplane
  • A heat-proof spatula
  • A means of heating your pan.

WHAT YOU SHOULD DO IS

  1. Get that pan hot.
  2. But with oil in it. Also put in the spices at this point if you’re using them, so that the oil tastes of stuff.
  3. When the oil is hot, grate your root veg very finely into the hot oil, or if you enjoy making washing-up for yourself, take pre-grated veg out of a bowl and dump it in the hot oil. Do not, as I did, grate part of your knuckle, as blood is not vegetarian.
  4. Let the gratings go a bit crispy, maybe a little burnt (but not a lot), then move them around a bit.
  5. Keep doing this until you have a darker, more crispy mass than you started out with.
  6. Divide this up into golf-ball-sized amounts.
  7. Wrap in your big, floppy lettuce leaves.
  8. Eat hot.
  9. Feel powerful and virtuous and full of carrot.

Other upsides to this recipe: it’s easy to make lots of servings if you happen to suddenly have a lot of vegans who want feeding; anyone who doesn’t like carrot is an actual monster and may be disregarded; it’s adaptable; it is very quick which is good if you suddenly have lots of vegans; it’s immediately portable because the big floppy lettuce leaf acts like a tortilla/wrap; the hot/cold combo is really satisfying; uses virtually no equipment so washing up will not result in agony and woe.

Also it’s a nice colour combination.

Heraldic Tweaks

I am not actively trying to redesign the crest every year, for heraldry should be eternal, but sometimes I like to improve on it.

The crest is available as a bunch of stuff on redbubble.

And also on paom.

(Everything else is going very slowly at the moment due to the apparent existence of a social life and a career, what the hell happened).