Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Day 54, 280409

(I have a couple of things to write up, but it'll be in separate entries; this one is a biggie.)

This week has all been about the chocolate. And commuting to Whitefield, but aside from saying that I've never been so road-ragey in my life, least said the better.

Task 8 is "learn how to make chocolates". I didn't really know what I wanted out of this, as I've made chocolates in the past but really wanted to learn how to make them properly; the week-long course I've just finished did this in spades.

Slattery's is a fab place. It's a choccy and cake shop, where they decorate cakes in the back room, have a cafe on the first floor and a school in the attic. A former pub, this place is a brilliant building and it's still too small for them; the shop is enormous and still they're short of space. People are in and out all the time, between two sites they employ 60 people and 14 saturday staff, they're seemingly unaffected by the current economic climate and make some pretty stunning stuff. They also sell ingredients in small batches, which is bloody brilliant from my point of view.

So, day one was making stuff in moulds; bears, boxes, truffle shells. We also made a quick ganache - simple truffle mix - and learned that you can temper chocolate by careful use of a microwave. And a huge chocolate lolly. We learned about presentation being important, too, so it was put together on a baseboard with choccy scribbles, and cellophaned.

Day 46

Day two was more about truffle mix; flavourings, expiry dates (quick ganache needs eating in 6-10 days, the one we did today was good for 6 weeks), practicing filling moulds, more tempering, making circular boxes out of cooking rings, lids, and decorative techniques; hand-rolling, dusting, transfer sheets, how to make dominoes, the importance of cocoa butter and colourings (shiny!), and more presentation.
Day 47

Day three was shoes and handbags; these things sell for astonishing amounts of money. This was more coloured cocoa butter, decorative techniques, piping, care and attention to detail and contrasts, all arty stuff you pick up over the years by osmosis. This was probably my least useful day, and I'm not terribly happy with one of the pieces (the handbags are rubbish), but still fun. Unfinished the shoes looked like this:
Day 48

Finished, they looked like this:

We ended the day with a talk on packing and legislation that was fascinating and very useful.

Day four was cake decoration. Nearly everybody started with the idea of making a cake suitable for a wedding, so we ran out of white chocolate (seriously, 15 Kg of the stuff). We learned how to make chocolate paste (alternative to marzipan), pouring ganache, chocolate fans and ruffles, marbles, more (neater!) dominoes, curls, twists, pillars, and how drawing shapes on sugar can make some lovely effects. My cake ended up looking like this:
Day 49

See the cigarettes on the right-hand side? I'm very proud of them; two-tone, they're not something you normally see on cakes or in shops.

Day 5 was insane; we had individual oval cakes, truffles, truffles, more truffles, more dipping, decorating, rolling and tempering, caramels, Q&A, more truffles, shells, gathering everything together and buying ingredients. As I have no need of 10x10kg sacks of chocolate I was happy to pay a bit extra to just buy the 2.5Kg ones. Just some of the stuff I made on Friday looked like this:
Choccy selection

I loved this week. It was outstanding, the food was good, the students lovely, the tutor knowledgeable (a former patissier) and an excellent teacher, the staff incredibly helpful and willing to chat to us no matter what was going on. I'm stunned at how happy everybody there was, and it's all down to the management, who is a couple of people who have known the business since it was four people selling hand-rolled truffles. No kidding, if you're at a loose end for a week and have the money to do it, this is an outstanding course to attend. If you don't have the money or the time, do the 2-day chocolate excellence course instead. Really.

So, I'm looking into getting the kitchen up to the sort of standards an environmental health officer wouldn't have a problem with. This might take a bit of thinking about.

Currently running habitual tasks: #3 (53/365), #13, #26, #66 (19/250), #85 (2/4), #87, #88
Currently running exploratory tasks: #38 (1/18), #17 (1/54+), #57 (1/9+)
Currently running growing tasks: #41, #52
Completed: 6
Remaining: 95

Friday, April 10, 2009

Day 36, 100409

I love bank holidays. Being off work is huge fun, especially when it's a weekday and you're (i) not ill and (ii) not using a day's leave.

So what can be better than updating my blog with what I've been up to? Let's see, now...

On day 34, April 8th, I popped into the Art Gallery on the Headrow in Leeds to get my "visit all the museums with a LS postcode" task (#57)started. After leaving werk I found myself in the not uncommon situation of going "oh, I've not taken a photo yet today. What shall I snap?" and found myself outside the art gallery. There's quite a well-known statue by Henry Moore outside the gallery, so I photographed that, and then popped in to see what they had on.

There was an exhibition called "Rank". All about social orders on a local and global scale, it contains works as diverse as the frontispiece of Hobbes' Leviathan, cartoons from publications in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, an edition of Polyopoly, some of the maps from those lovely people in Sheffield Uni's geography department blown up to enormous sizes, and print 18/20 of Chad McCail's Compulsory Education.

I've come across Chad McCail before; his work freaks me the hell out. A couple of years ago I saw Snake in the Baltic in Gatehead, which was complex social commentary reduced to a poster that wouldn't look out of place in a schoolroom, despite the context and imagery being utterly beyond kids. Compulsory Education is no exception to this; he's back to using robots again, very stylised based on those capable of taking orders, those who pass on orders, and those who make the orders in the first place. I like the juxtaposition (concept vs design), but at the same time it really does give me the wig. Not as much as Snake did, to be fair, but still. About a year after I first saw Snake I wrote:
"I'm not sure what I make of it, or even whether I like it or not. It's a disturbing piece of imagery and I need to ask myself... do I enjoy being disturbed?"

Five years later, I'm still not sure.

Anyway, if you get 10 minutes one lunchtime and you're in Leeds, go & see it. The exhibit finishes on April 26th, so there's not much time left.

Oh, and the picture?
Day 34

I failed at looking at the Atkinson Grimshaws in the LCAG while I was there, but ran out of time. Another day.

Today I've been out for a run (although I'm not comfortable enough to say that I'm in training yet), and turned my handwriting into a font. Yes, I've finished another task, this time #71. I tried doing this last week and came up with something that approximated my handwriting, but was even less legible than usual, so I re-did the process and came up with something better.

The process: go to YourFonts.com, download a template, print off the template, fill out the template, scan the filled out template and upload the scanned, filled out template back into their website. Provided you've followed all the instructions on ink, scanning and how to stay inside the boxes, about 40 seconds later you'll end up with a TrueType Font (strictly speaking, it's an ODF with TTF wrappers) that looks like your handwriting, and Word is intelligent enough to bold and italicize it if you so wish. Seriously, this is everso cool and I can't thank Emmy enough for pointing me at it. Give it a try.

My handwriting looks like this, eventually:


Currently running habitual tasks: #3 (36/365), #13, #26, #66 (15/250), #85 (2/4), #87, #88
Currently running exploratory tasks: #38 (1/18), #17 (1/54+), #57 (1/9+)
Currently running growing tasks: #41, #52
Completed: 5
Remaining: 96

Monday, April 6, 2009

Day 32, 060409

Tropical World (item 23) is fab, let's get this straight. Forget the parking, the location, the traffic, the insane number of people and the fact they had no ice cream. It was a total delight. I'd never been before, and was looking forwards to it after C* suggested a trip earlier in the week. After eventually finding a parking space we headed in (free for Leeds Card holders), where it got progressively warmer and warmer and warmer. The first room wasn't too bad; plenty of butterflies, some turtles, interesting plants, koi and ants. There were some vivaria in the next bit, then it got warmer again and more, well, tropical, where there were fish and a waterfall and ducks and birds and all sorts of stuff. We had a dark room with fruitbats (yay!) and other nocturnals, some degus, lizards, and snakes. They had golden lion tamarins! And meercats! A huge blue iguana, and a brilliant gecko with stunning red and blue colouring. It was warm in there, although with such a name it's hardly surprising.

There's a pile of photos on Flickr, but one I particularly wanted to share was this one:
Day 30

So, that's another thing completed! I know 23 was supposed to be part of 22 (visit Roundhay park), but the park is so big I'm going to have to take more time to have a poke around in there.

It's day 32, so I need to Wordle the blog (item 37). Yes, I said I was going to do it every 30 days, but there's no difference between day 30 & day 32 in terms of content, so I'm safe :)
From Wordles

Currently running habitual tasks: #3 (31/365), #13, #26, #66 (15/250), #85 (2/4), #87, #88
Currently running exploratory tasks: #38 (1/18), #17 (1/54+)
Currently running growing tasks: #41, #52
Completed: 4
Remaining: 97

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Day 28, 020409


I'm down to 98 (so that's three things done)! Seeing as, on average, the idea is to complete one task every ten days, I'm right on the money.

The completed task is #7, Appear on Telly, which I did last night on ITV's Taste the Nation (from time of writing you can still get it on their catchup viewer for the next 13 days).

Taste The Nation


Some people have read about this elsewhere; the filming (in London and Masham) was an experience and a half. What they showed in the final edit was, yes, reasonably close to what they filmed with all the "look, I'm vegetarian because I don't like meat very much, not for any moral reasons" edited out. Perhaps for brevity. The judge's comments on the show were much nicer than those said in the studio, thanks to careful edits - my food was described as looking like "a gorilla's paw" by one of them on the day, which (thankfully) failed to get into the programme. I had a great time doing it, and I'd do it again, and all things considered it was a really, really good thing to do. If passing through life is about grabbing it and doing stuff, then this ticks both those boxes.

I've now done two Exposure Leeds sessions (#85), and in this one I gave a talk on exposure, the balancing of shutter speed and aperture size. It was pretty well received by the 40-odd people who turned up, with one of the audience saying they'd wished I'd been their physics teacher, which I thought was a lovely thing to say. My slides, if you want to see them, are on Google Docs: here. I love getting up in front of people and talking about stuff I like, getting my enthusiasm for it out there, and getting people equally involved in it. Saying that, though, I've done quite a lot for Mr Eland in the past year :)

In addition to those things, I've also got a march on #17, "visit every library with an LS postcode" as I was able to gain access to The Leeds Library, a private subscriptions library that's been around since 1768, and some of its books havn't been taken out since then.
Day 27

They have tea and coffee, comfy seats, a reading room, books you want to pick up and marvel at, a paper catalogue, and spiral staircases. What's not to love? They also have maps. I love maps. These are good maps.

So it's been a busy couple of days! I'm really pleased by progress so far, and I'm getting some fab experiences into the bargain.

Currently running habitual tasks: #3 (27/365), #13, #26, #66 (14/250), #85 (2/4), #87, #88
Currently running exploratory tasks: #38 (1/18), #17 (1/54+)
Currently running growing tasks: #41, #52
Completed: 3
Remaining: 98