Archive for September, 2016

Kezie Foods review

Tuesday, September 20th, 2016 | Food, Reviews

kezie-foods

I ordered some exotic meat from Kezie Foods. They offer a great range of non-mainstream options including horse, kangaroo, camel, crocodile and edible insects.

The problem is that they are delivered via a standard courier. You might wonder how they keep them frozen in transit. The answer seems to be that they do not. They put the products in a polystyrene case that they pack with dry ice. This is supposed to keep everything frozen for 48 hours.

However, when I received their delivery, everything had defrosted. I spoke to their customer services and they were very nice about it, arranging another delivery. The problem is, the exact same thing happened the next time.

Maybe I have somehow misunderstood the definition of frozen. But it feeling exactly like defrosted meat does not seem correct.

So I am giving up. I cooked what I could from the latest batch and will leave it there. At least until I can progress my backup plan of starting an ostrich farm. The products themselves seem good quality: the meat I did manage to eat very good.

Brioche

Monday, September 19th, 2016 | Food

brioche

The last time I tried to make brioche, it was a total disaster. The recipe book made it out to be this terribly complicated process. The River Cottage bread Handbook dismisses this as nonsense however. Following the much easier to understand instructions, I managed to successfully produce two lovely looking loaves.

You’re reading this!

Sunday, September 18th, 2016 | Thoughts

youre-reading-this

Years ago I remember a bus advertisement that read “bus ads work! You’re reading this aren’t you?” The concept recently re-appeared on a billboard on York Road. The question is: do such adverts work?

My guess would be no, because they are so stupid.

Even if you haven’t heard of availability bias, my guess is that most people can work out that those reading it is a self-selecting group. I was reading the billboard but there is no guarantee that anyone else does. In fact, I could have been past a thousand similar billboards and never noticed them, but you would never know if you had. It’s insulting to our intelligence.

Second, I am not sure that anyone who works in marketing is so bad at their job that they use their gut instinct of driving past a billboard to pick their advertising channels, rather than relying on hard data about the audience and conversation rates of different channels.

Finally, if you are going to use this message on a billboard, at least have someone proof read it. You would be barking mad not to.

The fire alarm that cried wolf

Saturday, September 17th, 2016 | Thoughts

fire-alarm

The apartment building I live in is mixed-use apartments and office space. That means that every now and then there is a fire drill in the middle of the day. I say every now and then: give how little I am home and how often it seems to happen, I would guess at every month. This is really annoying.

We don’t get a warning, so all of a sudden the alarm will go off.

There are two ways you can react to this. One way is to panic. That makes sense, because there might be a fire. But, you are at home, so what state are you in to run out of the building? You might be naked. In the middle of a toilet visit. Asleep. In the shower. In the middle of cooking.

The second is to assume that it is just a drill. They happen so often that this is a good bet. Apartment buildings basically never catch on fire. In fact, it is so rare that even when it happens in Dubai it is a major news story over here. Which is fine, until there is a fire for real and you are burnt alive.

Not to mention that the fire alarm is incredibly loud. If you are of a nervous disposition it probably causes a significant amount of stress, and even if you are not, you are probably running for the exit with fingers in both ears as I saw someone doing today.

Fire alarms are for when there is a fire. That should not have to be something you have to state. It should be obvious. But people keep setting them off and calling them “fire drills”. That should not be acceptable, any more than yelling “fire!” in a theatre is acceptable, unless there is an actual fire.

If you do want to test the systems, that makes sense. But doing it without telling everyone is irresponsible and breads complacence about what a fire alarm actually is.

How often do you need to bathe your baby?

Friday, September 16th, 2016 | Family & Parenting

human-baby-in-a-bucket

How often should you bathe your baby? Many parents do it every day, out of a sense of responsibility, or merely because they enjoy it.

It may turn out that I do enjoy it, but right now it sounds like a massive hassle. Recently, I was talking to a friend who said that he did not bathe his baby at all. As long as you clean them properly when changing them, how dirty do they get lying around? Which leads me to the question, how often do you need to bathe your baby?

The evidence is not apparent. The NHS guide, washing and bathing your baby, says that you don’t need to do it every day. However, it offers no guidance on how often you should at a minimum.

Other research suggests that there is a reason you should not bathe your baby every day. Daily baths may contribute to dry skin and eczema. The theory is that bathing removes the protective oils from the baby’s skin, which actually does more harm than good.

This actually fits with the bigger picture. We have known for years that showering every day removes an important layer of oil from adult skin. A new study earlier this year backed this claim up.

Perhaps the answer to the question is, whenever the baby smells.

How to plan a dinner party

Thursday, September 15th, 2016 | Food

dinner-party

You probably know how to cook a meal for a group of people. You do not need the many gems of wisdom on offer from Pippa Middleton. Nevertheless, I have a clear and well-defined process for how I prepare for a dinner party, and I thought it might be useful to share that so that we can compare notes.

Decide what to cook well in advance

I do my grocery shop weekly and I don’t really want to have to spend any other time shopping. Therefore, ideally I want to know what I am going to take a week in advance of the event so that I can get it included in that. If I need something fresh I might go out a day or two before to get it, but I want all of the dry and store cupboard ingredients to already be there.

At the planning stage, I make sure everything will work together. Like most people, I have just one oven and four hobs. Therefore everything has to fit on them at one time. This is a limit that is easily reached if you have your starter and your main overlapping.

Draw up a plan

I get pretty detailed with my plan. I tak an A4 sheet and divide it into 5-minute segments. In each of these I can list actions like “turn potato on” and “remove chicken from oven”. If required, I can put multiple columns into the sheet to deal with each part of the meal. This means I don’t have to worry about what I am supposed to be doing while in the heat of battle because I just need to check what is on the plan.

This normally includes two sections before the clock starts rolling: morning prep and evening prep, both discussed below.

The other thing you need is a clock. This is a strange thing to have these days. Many people have replaced their clocks and watches with using their phone to tell the time. However, if you don’t want to be constantly checking your phone every few minutes, you will want a nice big visible clock so you know when each 5-minute segment is up. The solution: more technology. I have an alarm clock on my iPad that I put in a prominent position in the kitchen.

dinner-party-plan

Morning prep

The first stage of prep I do for the party. This is anything that can be done on the morning, or even the day before. This could include baking bread, making a marinade, preparing batter mix for Yorkshires or baking and chilling a dessert.

Evening prep

Second round of prep. This is stuff that I want to do as late as possible, while still doing before my guests arrive. Things like chopping vegetables and pealing potatoes for example. I want to do these as late as possible to keep everything fresh. However, it’s not as important as talking to my guests, so it is stuff I want to get out of the way ideally just before they walk in the door.

This section should include as much stuff as possible, such as:

  • Laying the table
  • Lighting candles
  • Putting some plates in the plate warmer
  • Getting all the utensils and making trays out
  • Cleaning the kitchen
  • Preparing a pan full of potatoes so I can literally just turn the pan on
  • Slicing bread

Cleaning

Nobody has a kitchen as big as they would like, so I find it important to keep it as clean and tidy as possible. That means ensuring it is clean and tidy before I start. I make sure that the dishwasher is empty and after it runs its last cycle in the afternoon I tend to wash everything by hand to ensure I have everything I want to hand: the only things that go in there are things I know I definitely will not need.

Then I clean as I go. If I find myself with a spare minute as I bring a pan to boil I will wash something up. Or, when I clear the table I will load it straight into the dishwasher, rather than dumping it on the side for later. This does take a bit of time away from my guests, but also makes for a far less depressing end to the evening when I am left with a far smaller pile of clearing up to do.

TED Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking

Wednesday, September 14th, 2016 | Books

TED Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking is a book by Chris Anderson, curator of TED, on how to deliver a great talk. It is aimed to give advice to everyone, not just people speaking at TED, and while all the examples are from TED, there is much to be learned from anyone looking to give a speech.

As with a great TED talk, Anderson starts the book by creating a vision. An idea is a thought pattern in your head, and your challenge is to replicate that thought pattern inside the mind of each of your audience members. He then goes on to explain how to do this, step by step.

Most of the book concentrates on the idea of getting your message correct. This makes sense because it is more important than delivery and you can do in written form. If your body language or voice is not perfect, this matters less than having a great message. Nor can you teach these skills effectively in a book.

There are also discussions of the fine lines you run into when speaking. Sharing personal stories for example. Generally speakers don’t do enough of this. Showing an audience your vulnerabilities and being open about some of the challenges you have faced really helps you connect with an audience. But you can overshare and even make them feel uncomfortable if you go too far.

Similarly, how much should you rehearse. Should you do it word-for-word or just rehearse ideas? Word-for-words means you will know it better and get it right: but it can also sound forced and unnatural. Both approaches can work. However, in general word-for-word is better. Many speakers, usually with high opinions of themselves, will talk about how they just blag it and it comes out brilliantly. For a tiny proportion of speakers this may be true. However, for most they simply do not sound as good as they think they do. In comparison, I am often complement for how natural and unrehearsed I sound. The speeches that people usually make those comments are the ones I have rehearsed to death: my guess is that that style only comes from the confidence of knowing your speech inside out.

I was quite pleased when the book suggested you should use blank slides to bring the audience back to you. I use this in my speeches, but I have never seen or heard anyone else suggest it before, so it was nice to see TED recommends it too.

One interesting point of contention was the pace you should speak at. At Toastmasters, we always tell people to slow down. TED says the opposite. People can digest faster than you can physically say things, so why would you slow down for anything other than the complicated bits that cause a high cognitive load on your audience? I see their point. If your audience can comprehend you speaking at normal conversation speed, why not pack in more information?

I think both these points of view can be reconciled. A Toastmasters, we’re typically teaching nervous speakers to get over their fears. When people are anxious they speak faster. Slowing down is a skill you need to learn and practice because otherwise you will go a million miles per hour. However, once you have learned to go at your own paces, to add pauses in the right places and to speed up and slow down as required, then you can use that skill to speed up as appropriate.

ted-talks

The Paradox of Choice

Tuesday, September 13th, 2016 | Books

More choice is always better, right? Not according to Barry Schwartz, author of The Paradox of Choice. In his book, he argues that more choices actually make us less happy.

He begins by talking about buying a pair of jeans. He went into a shop and asked for some. The shop assistant asked him a lot of questions: what colour, what fit, what treatment, what distressing, and what type of fly did he want. His answer: “I want the kind that used to be the only kind.” Not only did he now have to make a decision, which takes cognitive effort if you want to make the right decision, but the increased choice raises our expectations that we will get something better.

This is something I strongly identify with. When I need some new trainers I walk into a shoe shop and look at the choices. If you head down to Sports Direct in Leeds you will find literally a thousand shoes on the wall (I might be over-estimating, but not by much: it’s huge!). Does that make it easier to find the shoes I want? No! It makes it harder. Much harder. I spend time searching for the perfect shoe. If there were just six choices my life would be so much easier.

All of this choice might be okay if we made good decisions and were happier for it. But neither of these are true. Humans are terrible at making rational decisions and Schwartz summaries a lot of Thinking, Fast and Slow as well as other research to prove it. Anchoring is a big one, but there are many. Sunk cost fallacy is another big one: why continue to eat when you are uncomfortably full? I do that all of the time.

He goes on to say that people fear regret and try to avoid it. Therefore people often opt for reversal decisions: buying items you can return, booking things you can cancel for free, etc. However, the research shows that this makes us less happy because we continue to meditate on the choice after having made it. Whereas, if it is reversible we just get on with it. This affects small decisions, like ordering food from a restaurant menu, to life-changing decisions like marriage.

How does Schwartz recommend we remedy this? He has a number of suggestions. The most important is be a satisficer, not a maximiser. A satisficer wants something that is “good enough”. A maximiser will spend as much time as possible making the perfect decision. You could spend a month of weekends travelling around stores to find the perfect coffee table. Or you could buy the first one that would look good enough in your house. Which option do you think will make you the happiest?

It’s option B by a long way. Option A not only wastes all of your weekends, but you will regret all the possible coffee tables you did not buy, and the happiness of finding the best one will wear off over time. Which brings me onto another one of his suggestions: be aware that your happiness is making a good decision will wear off over time. If you expect it, it is not as bad.

Finally, consider artificially limiting your choices sometimes. Do you know one of those people who always chooses the same thing when you go to a restaurant? They’re usually really happy with their food. Instead of considering twenty different locations to visit on holiday, consider two or three. Make a non-refundable booking so you don’t get tempted to change your mind and you will enjoy it more.

The-Pardox-of-Choice

It is also worth noting that not everyone agrees with Schwartz. I wrote about this last month in a blog post about Schwartz’s TED talk on the same topic.

A Man’s Guide to Having a Baby

Monday, September 12th, 2016 | Books

A Man’s Guide to Having a Baby is a book on parenting by Dominic Bliss. I picked up the hardback edition. It’s a short book and you can knock through the entire thing in an hour or so if you’re not religiously re-reading everything. I have read a few books already, so I was pretty relaxed about it.

It is straight forward as to what it offers. It is for men and makes no bones about it. It strikes me as a book that is more useful than most out there. There are diagrams on how to do things. That is far more useful than the books that say “you’ll pick it up” or talk you through it in general terms. There is even a short troubleshooting guide for common problems and how to fix them.

a-mans-guide-to-having-a-baby

Breaded pork tenderloin

Sunday, September 11th, 2016 | Food

breaded-pork-tenderloin

Another recipe for the Fish Market cookbook. It is difficult to get the tenderloin cooked all the way through while still keeping the breadcrumbs crispy. The green bits were seaweed, which could do to be smaller too.

tenderloin-table

To serve, I stole some ideas from Cara’s Anglesey Come Dine With Me.