Chris Worfolk's Blog


Is fresh yeast better than dried yeast?

March 4th, 2017 | Food

Buying, storing and using fresh yeast can be rather time-consuming. But does it produce better bread?

Some cookbooks will insist that you simply cannot bake nice bread without making your own sourdough and using fresh yeast. Others, such as the River Cottage Handbook: Bread says that using fresh yeast is too much hassle most of the time. But what is the truth?

The biggest advantage of dried yeast is that it stays alive for a really long time. A packet may have a shelf live of 6 months or longer. In comparison, fresh yeast needs to be bought when you need it. It will stay alive a little while in the fridge, or you can freeze it, but then you need to remember to defrost it in advance of using it.

You also need to find it. None of the major supermarkets stocks it so you need to find a friendly baker or local health food shop and make an additional trip there to get it. The tried stuff just sits in your cupboard, ready to go.

How about the taste, though? Surely that makes it all worthwhile. Well, in reality, probably not. When I tried both, I could not tell the difference between the bread I had baked with fresh yeast and the bread I had baked with instant yeast.

This is surprising because you would think that I would get at least a placebo benefit from the fresh yeast. But there really is little to choose between the two, at least in bread, you make in your own kitchen.

Fresh yeast might be nice to try once in a while. However, it is unlikely you will notice any difference, and the additional complication makes it a lot of effort for little gain.

Are premium nappies worth the money?

March 3rd, 2017 | Family & Parenting

With most products you can find in the shops, there are premium brands and supermarket brands. Is it worth paying the extra money for? It varies from product to product, but often the answer is no. Can you tell the difference between Kellogg’s corn flakes and supermarket corn flakes? My guess is that if you did not have the box there in front of you, you couldn’t.

Sometimes, the supermarket own brand products are made by the premium brand companies and simply re-packed. This is not always true, though: some products there is a measurable difference and the only way to work it out is to try them. Bare in mind though that there is also the placebo effect. You may think something tastes better simply because you paid more for it. It is clear that people cannot tell the difference between cheap and expensive wine for example.

But what about nappies?

According to the independent consumer magazine Which, the answer is yes and no. Based on their surveys, Pampers do indeed come top being rated as the best nappies you can get. However, they do not score well in one category: value for money. In comparison, some supermarket own brands, including Aldi, score almost as well while being much, much cheaper. How your supermarket fares depends on where you shop: see Which Magazine for full details.

My personal experience mirrors the findings of Which. Pampers are great: they have a wetness indicator on the front and the mesh lining inside them means the waste seeps through while Venla’s bottom is given a bit more protection. For us, it is worth the extra £3 a week we spend to upgrade.

It may come down with how much you want to spend. The premium brands do seem to be slightly better, but for the increased cost means that it is certainly worth trying the cheaper versions first.

How to write a good eulogy

March 2nd, 2017 | Public Speaking

Writing the perfect eulogy is a tough business, especially when you want to do justice to a loved one. These tips will help guide you in the delicate task.

Writing and delivering a eulogy is rarely a pleasant thing to do. However, when you are called upon to do it, chances are you will want to do the best job you can do in honouring the loved one you have lost. You rarely get extended notice, so it is best to be prepared. Here are some tips.

It’s not a biography

The structure of a eulogy will typically talk through a person’s life. This is a good guide for how to lay out your speech. However, it is important to remember that it is not a biography. Everyone at the funeral is likely to have known the person and their life story, so there is no benefit in parroting it back to them. Instead, you should concentrate on distilling the essence of their personality. Pick out a few bits to talk about that really show what kind of person they were.

Unless they were a complete bastard, in which case you should show a mix of their personality. There is no point denying their faults but focus on their good points also.

Use humour

At my public speaking club, I’m noted for adding humour to any situation. In fact, I used to joke that I thought it was always appropriate, though I hadn’t had a eulogy to try it out at yet. That was years ago, and now I have had a eulogy to try it out at, and still stick by my conviction.

Humour is a wonderful tool for keeping people engaged and breaking the tension. it can bring the mood of a room right up. You might think that a funeral is not the place for a eulogy, but I could not disagree more. You need to use humour to lighten the mood not just in spite of it being a funeral, but because of it. You want to leave attendees with a positive memory of the deceased, not a solemn downcast version.

Tell stories

This goes for any speech, ever. Stories have an emotional attachment. People will quickly forget what you said, but how you made them feel will stick around much longer. Humans love stories. So skip the boring details and lay out your speech out hopping from story to story.

If another member of the family has a lovely story about the deceased, invite them up to give it.

Why I got plenty of sleep during Elina’s labour

March 1st, 2017 | Family & Parenting

Sleeping might seem like the last thing you should be doing when your wife has gone into labour. But there is a good reason to get some rest.

She has gone into labour, while you are snoring your head off in the bed next to her. Something wrong? You might think you should be awake to support her, but there is a good reason for you to be asleep.

Millions of years of evolution have made mammals pretty good at giving birth. Like breathing, most of it happens automatically. Hormones pulse around your body, directing your emotions and subtlety controlling your behaviour.

One of the hardest things about labour is not the pain itself, it is the sheer exhaustion of the whole thing. You can be in labour for days, with little or no sleep, and yet somehow women find the strength to go on. They do so because their body makes sure they do, injecting careful amounts of oxytocin and adrenaline at the required times.

Birth partners do not have the benefit of this of course. Things have changed a lot in the past 50 years. We are no longer in the waiting room with a cigar; now we are at our partner’s side helping her through the birth. Mother Nature has not cottoned on to this, though, and leaves us with a few vicarious hormones at best.

So, after 72 hours of sleep deprivation, exactly how helpful are you going to be as a birth partner? This is an important question because when your partner reaches transition, she is going to rely on your support to get through it. If you are barely functioning because you have had no sleep, you are not going to be in a great shape to do that.

Sleeping through half of the labour might seem a selfish thing to do. In reality, though, a somewhat rested birth partner is going be to able to offer far more support than one who is utterly exhausted.

How to support your wife when she wants an active birth

February 28th, 2017 | Family & Parenting

Waiting for the labour pains with a well-timed “I told you so” might seem like a good idea, but turns out not to be if you like your balls attached to your body.

The active birth movement has now been going for 50 years and is almost certainly here to stay. That makes sense. Research suggests that active birth reduces the number of complications and interventions, and allows the mother to recover quicker.

As with everything in pregnancy, though, there are benefits and there are also drawbacks.

First, labour can be really painful. It varies from person to person and from birth to birth, but often the amount of pain management required is going to be dictated by the situation.

Second, not everything goes to plan. So you may be planning to have an active birth but the situation could change quickly if there are any issues with labour. Therefore it is important to go in with a mindset of being ready to adapt to the changes required.

How should you handle it? The most important step is to be supportive. Active birth offers a lot more chance for the father to be involved, supporting your partner through the process and helping with non-drug based pain relief (such as massage, and helping her in and out of the bath).

It is also important to be supportive if things to not go to plan. If she decides she does need pain relief after all, remember to reassure her that almost everyone does, and there is no “failure” in resorting to it.

Overall, active birth is a great decision, especially for dads. The advantage is the reduced chance of intervention, and the disadvantages of additional pain are only felt by the father vicariously.

Why age disparity in relationships matter

February 27th, 2017 | Religion & Politics

On average, men choose to marry women slightly younger than they are. But for would-be dads, this can have a profound impact on family life.

Most people enter relationships with people of a similar age. In western culture this is normal, and indeed doing anything other than this is considered abnormal. However, in different cultures, and at different times, this as not always been the case.

If we look at the 2013 US survey data, we find that a third of heterosexual married couples are within one year of each other. It is not an equal curve on each side though. Women are far more likely to marry older men. In 20% of marriages the man is 2–3 years old, and in 13% 4–5 years older. Compare this to 7% and 3% for women being older.

This makes sense. OK Cupid data, as documented in the book Dataclysm shows that men prefer younger women, and up until the age of 30, women prepare a slightly older man. As many relationships are formed before the age of 30, the older man younger woman setup is likely to have the broader appeal to both parties.

Why is it important, though?

I think it is important because it contributes to the imbalance of women staying at home to look after the children while men continue working. For would-be stay-at-home dads and passionate career women, this is not a desirable situation.

People who are further along in their career earn more money. Nothing controversial there. This means that if you enter into a relationship with someone a few years older than you, on average, they are going to earn more money than you.

When it comes to starting a family, it would be nice to think that childcare could simply be divided as you see fit. However, this is simply not the reality that most of us live in. Many of our decisions are driven by economic factors. That is to say, there are bills to pay and we need to earn enough money to pay them.

Therefore, when it comes to starting a family, many people are faced with the decision of giving up the father’s wage or giving up the mother’s. Unfortunately, for many would-be full-time dads, giving up their own higher wage is not financially viable for the family.

Exactly what can be done about this, I am not sure. You could say that if you want to be a stay-at-home-dad you should marry someone older, or in a more lucrative career than you. However, as most of us know, love does not work that way.

Will suicide nets stop jumpers at the Golden Gate Bridge?

February 26th, 2017 | Health & Wellbeing

When it comes to stopping people throwing themselves off the bridge, the question is, can a one-time intervention really save lives?

When thinking of iconic places to take a suicidal jump from, the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco has to come pretty high up that list. In fact, 1,6000 have jumped to their death from the bridge since it opened. It is a fairly reliable way to do it. In that time 26 people have survived, a 98.4% “success” rate.

Now the Golden Gate Bridge are spending nearly £60,000 on installing suicide prevention nets. These wire nets will hang below the bridge, in an attempt to mostly hide them from public view, and be made of steel. It is not going to be a pleasant fall, but should at least save the life of the jumper.

But will it actually work?

According to The Bridge Rail Foundation, a group that has long been campaigning for suicide deterrents to be installed, there is no question that they will help the situation.

They argue that it is simply not the case that once someone has decided to take their own life, nothing can be done to stop them. In fact, most people who fail to take their own life do not try again. 90% of those who are stopped before they can jump go on to live our their remaining lives without suicide. This is a high suicide rate compared with the general population but suggests that intervening once is overwhelmingly successful in keeping people alive.

Experience from around the world suggests they will be effective as well. A similar scheme in Bern, Switzerland was put into place for bridges and city cathedral. Since the nets were installed at the later, nobody has decided to risk the jump. Since 1998 the only creatures to be pulled out of the nets were two dogs. Presumably, they ran over the ledge by accident.

Start running with Parkrun

February 25th, 2017 | Sport

Just going outside and running is simple. But for us adults, we often need something a little more structured to get started. Parkrun is a great option.

If you are thinking about getting started with running, Parkrun is a great way to go. Founded in the UK it was quickly spread to almost every town and is rapidly spreading across the rest of the world too.

So what is it? It is a timed 5km run that takes place every Saturday. It is free, so you can simply turn up and do the run. At most Parkruns there is a huge ability difference between runners: some will complete it in 15 minutes, others will take 50. Everyone goes at their own pace.

As a Yorkshireman, one of the major appeals to me are the free t-shirts. When you reach 50 runs, 100 runs and 250 runs you get access to a special t-shirt for that “Club”. Actually, it is not free, but all you pay for is a few pounds postage. There is also a “25 Club” for those who volunteer as marshals.

Here are the technical details. You register on the website and are given a unique barcode to print out. Take this along with you to the run and when you complete the course a volunteer will scan your barcode so that your time can be sent to you.

Men twice as likely to be without emotional support

February 24th, 2017 | Religion & Politics

Men have an almost one in ten chance of having nobody to turn to. Could peer support fill a much-needed gap?

In June, mental health charity Mind published research suggesting that men were twice as likely to have nobody to rely on for emotional support. 9% of men, compared with 5% of women, said that they have nobody to turn to in times of need. The research also suggested men are less likely to feel comfortable talking to the people close to them about their problems, with 52% agreeing.

This is a big problem for a number of reasons.

As Susan Pinker explains in her book _The Village Effect_, having a strong social network and close emotional support is critical to both good mental and physical health. When you eliminate the bias for women to have a stronger circle of close friends to rely on, you find that the disparity between men’s and women’s life expectancies closes dramatically.

Second, with men three times more likely to take their own lives than women, having someone to turn to at the crisis point could mean the difference between an intervention that saves someone’s life, and a successful suicide attempt.

The question is, that can be done about this problem?

To an extent, the problem could lie with our gender itself. If we built stronger relationships and invested more time in building those relationships, we would have a wider circle. However, many men feel like they simply don’t have the connections to do this, that it would not be viewed upon as socially acceptable in their circle, or simply that they feel too uncomfortable to do this.

Another option would be to increase the number of peer support groups available. The advantage of being able to talk to people going through similar problems, and therefore being able to bypass the chance of people not understanding, or judging, may provide a critical avenue for men to get the emotional support they need.

Is organic food better for you?

February 23rd, 2017 | Food, Science

Organic food sellers are constantly touting the superior taste and health benefits of their products. But can they back this up with any evidence?

Organic food can often cost far more than the “non-organic” alternative. But is it really worth paying more for it? Is it any better for you, or for the environment?

So far, the scientific consensus is clear: no. Organic food is not any more nutritious, does not taste any better, nor is any safer than traditionally grown crops. It does not seem to be any better for the environment either, especially compared to genetically engineered crops that, by design, require fewer pesticides that traditionally-grown or organic food.

In 2012, a study by Stanford University confirmed what the rest of the scientific community had already been saying. There is just no evidence that organic is better.

So why do some people swear by it? The most obvious reason is the placebo effect. Because the branding will typically make claims about it tasting better, and because people will almost certainly have paid more for it, they are likely to receive some placebo effect from expecting it to be better.

However, when it comes down to the option of buying a luxury brand or an organic brand, the choice is clear. Even if the luxury brand is no better either, the placebo will probably be even bigger. For the rest of us, it is time to save some money guilt free.