Saturday, 12 January 2013

The Sunday Muse!

Small "Panther" in the sun flecks!

Looking forward to spring!

 +Philip Spalding

This week has been the darkest of the year so far in the UK.  Dark  during the day because of the cloud.  Dark at night because of the cycle of the moon which ha made it apparently the best viewing conditions of the night sky.  We have had our astronomy "festival" on BBC TV Stargazing Live (may not open outside UK) with the comedian Dara O Briain (a comedian with a degree in Cosmology and Maths) and Professor Brian Cox current successor to the great Sir Patrick Moore.  As a nation we are captivated by these great televisual experiences.  We have even had Professor Brian Cox commentating on what to see in the Sun Newspaper (a British tabloid or red top) as I discovered while having a coffee in Deja Vu , local coffee shop that is run by local people.  Was almost tempted to get my telescope out (a Sky-watcher Reflector) but must be getting old as was a little too cold!

Looking forward to spring and the sun flecks starting to come through the leaves of the apple tree has started me thinking about vegetable gardening.  I have touched on this in previous years when blogging about micro-farms  or square foot gardening and green thumbs.  At the moment with snow predicted for tomorrow will probably have to make do with making vegetable soup.

The planning of the veg patch can start now.  The experiences I will relate in this blog as in previous years.  I have started an online learning community for Haverhill (Haverhill Online Learning Community or HOLC).  We have specifically marked in  a week for Urban Gardening on the Calendar of events starting the 11 th February 2013.  The Urban Gardening  page link will soon be available on the Projects Page.  There is a great increase in interest  in the UK in growing your own, with demand for allotments up in these times of austerity.  If everybody was to turn even one square metre of their back or front lawn  into a veg growing area we would not only reduce air-miles (and that's just the start) but also gain that satisfaction of producing our own food.  It does not even have to be a square metre even growing lettuce and salad leaves in plastic bottles tied like a terrace to a balcony wall can yield good results!

To finish off for this post then the new year's resolutions have been written.  One was to eat more Cretan/Greek food which I will do so once I have found my Cretan Cookbook.  Certainly I will be blogging more about the county that I love to be part of, Suffolk and it's great food and culture.  Will have to wait a bit for some more ducks to become available I think but you never know!      

Saturday, 29 December 2012

New Year for the 2 point five age of man

Resolution time

Time of the year when thoughts are turning to the new year of 2013.  We have survived the Mayan Calendar predictions.  Saw a good pic on Facebook "If the Mayans were so good at predicting the future, where are they now?" or words to that effect.  The continuing austerity imposed in 2012  is according to the UK politicians starting to work. So here's to a more affluent time for 2013.

Top five Key "moments" for the UK in my opinion in 2012

  1. Queens' Diamond Jubilee celebrations.  Not just for UK but for the whole of the Commonwealth
  2. London Olympics and Paralympics
  3. Signing of Better Broadband agreements across the UK
  4. UK not getting involved or "taking the lead" in Syrian Civil war by sending troops
  5. Continuing Bank misconduct exposure (not really one key event)

Top Five Tech moments for 2012 again  IMO
  1. Rise of Android as the leading mobile OS
  2. Google Plus Communities feature launched 
  3. Start of first Online Universities such as edX and Coursera
  4. Apple not winning all it's legal cases
  5. Rise of Phablets and Tablets over Desktop PCs
Obviously there are a myriad of other events that have shaped 2012.  The defining  moments may change through time as their impacts are felt. 

The major personal milestone for 2012 has been the setting  up of Haverhill Online Learning Community. This is going to occupy quite a bit of time through 2013.  Have look and if interested join or copy the idea for you own local community!

Will resume normal content of blog from now on based on good food, well being and stories about my home county Suffolk.

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Blogging through 2012

A year of Change!

The year 2012 is almost over.  One of the advantages of writing a blog is you start to record those defining moments.  At the time they may appear trivial or monumental but as you get past them and look back they become just what they actually are a series of events.  

In 2012 I have undergone some major changes in circumstances. I have sold home, undergone severe financial hardship, and managed to career change.  Both of which are up there with the top events in life of being stress inducing.  The major ones I haven't yet had in 2012 are bereavement (fingers crossed not to happen in next week), divorce (not had the marriage yet) and imprisonment (do not intend or am not aware of criminal activity).  So far then we are hitting the level playing field and cross country skiing rather than skiing uphill.

Blogs we have written in 2012 have included

  • The 2pointfiveageofman blog ( which has now been going since the 2nd December 2010.  This was set up as reflective journal as a self administered attempt at CBT.   Good call to do this as we are in the position of going forward positively.  And there have been over 5000 page views.  Not too bad considering there have been times when I have abandoned the blog for months at a time!
  • The KritiRecharge 2012 Life Long Learning Blog (,  a blog that has been the basis of my professional realignment to a sustainable work situation.  Along the way I have met some very interesting people via Google Hangouts from the Bank Street College of Education's Online Learning Collective.  Nearly 850 page views since it's inception on the 27th August 2012
  • In the course of professional development I have set up the  the Haverhill Online Learning Community and the  The uk online learning communities blog ( has received about 350 views from 4 posts.
In total when you consider that most blog posts have averaged about 650 words and we have about 6200 page views for 196 posts, there has been  127,400 words posted and 4,030,000 words read.  At approximately 300 words per printed A4 page that is 13400 pages read and 424 A4 pages written. 

So onwards into 2013 and more blogging.  The only  intentions to create blogs being one for the  Haverhill Online Learning Community and one for my own personal business KritiRecharge 2012.  The name KritiRecharge coming from some thinking time on Rhodes  and later Crete.  The idea of being able to Telework almost achieved!

Friday, 21 December 2012

Google Plus the Cooking!

Who's cooking in their Kitchen?

Christmas period coming up and I am starting to get back to the lifestyle blog.  Small potatoes it may seem can have many uses (  The traditional use of the potato at the time of year is the Roast Potato for Christmas day lunch/dinner.   There are many debates over what makes the best roast potato  Obviously not the specimens of Arran (pictured left) grown in my own garden this year since this is a first early variety. 

How to find out the best way of preparing and cooking the best Roast Potatoes is a bit of a challenge!  Looking through +Natalie Villalobos's Google Plus posts I came across this link to Thanksgiving Google Hangouts  Similar idea to Christmas, Turkey and as many different types of root and tuber vegetables mashed, bashed, diced and roasted.  Be interesting to see this Hangout in action could be a whole new slant on the televisual Come Dine with Me experience.  

So what does make the best roast potato? Answers and comments would be appreciated!  Here are some of thoughts on the solution.

  • The potato itself, which variety to choose?  In the UK we have red and white in most supermarkets.  You do often get told the variety on the bag but sometimes just the generic red and white description.  Many years ago I did my Masters Research at the Scottish Crop Research Institute  near Dundee.  This august body like the way of many things in the UK has been amalgamated and technically does not exist any more. The SCRI has been responsible for many varieties of potato (and soft fruits) including the Pentland Series of varieties.  A potato with a light fluffy texture is needed for roasting, so even though there are some great potatoes bred in Scotland the UK favourite is still King Edward .

  • Parboil or place straight in? Definitely par boil!

  • How to get the crispness on the outside of the potato?   Once the potato has been parboiled there are two ways advocated  for producing crispness.  The first is to coat the potato in a little flour.  The second is to slightly roughen the outside of the potato by gently shaking them in a colander (my preferred method).  

  • The cooking!  You can pre-heat the oven and a dish containing some vegetable oil, dripping (beef dripping can still be bought) or goose fat.  Vegetable oil can also be used over the top of the potatoes placed in a cold dish before going into the oven.  This does reduce the danger of hot oil splash but does "fry" the outside of the potatoes as you would do if placed in hot fat or oil.  The external colour develops better using hot oil better than the cold method.   
There is a definite science to the perfect Roast Potato with many factors that can cause a poor roast potato.  Although most people after champagne or sherry (a good fino in straight ) on Christmas morning may not appreciate the subtlety considering the amount of food they will consume!  Hopefully somebody bought them a gym pass for the new year!

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Christmas is coming, is the Goose Getting Fat?

Almost another year over!

The last time I blogged about food was over a month ago!  A bit a year of change since the last Christmas since I no longer live in the house to the right.  Many things have moved on from January.  What will 2013 bring?  Probably more change! Will do my end of analysis a little later.

Been a really busy last month have been setting up some Online Learning Communities.  Trying to do some study with edX.  Oh and teaching a bit in the Isle of Ely!  Also taking on a  new role as an online tutor!  So really taking the bit between the teeth.  

Career change has now been effected.  The system we had in Suffolk Schools 2 years ago has changed whether for the better I will let the reader judge (a good article being   ).  The school outside the control of the education authority to have made the most progress is Samuel Ward, my old school, named outstanding academy  for the year (    A little bit of pride for Haverhill since we have not had the best of press over the years, even the "great" BBC made the mistake (

So Online Learning Communities, I have set up the Haverhill Online Learning Community  and .  Come along and have look for ideas for Life Long Learning!

Well have been working on the said communities since about 4 am this morning so will update the food blog later in the week!  Trying to figure out who has the best advice for cooking Turkeys, Jamie Oliver or the Poultry advisory board.  My money is on the producers board!    

Saturday, 10 November 2012

The Saturday Foodie Bit! Newmarket Sausages!

National Sausage Week and the Newmarket Sausage!

The past week (from the 5th November to 11th November) it has been National Sausage Week.  On Tuesday I was in Newmarket, the place of my birth.  Tuesday is market day in Newmarket.  You still see old guys (getting fewer by the year) who wander in from the Fens and potter about the market.  The more eccentric still wear leather gaiters and look as though they have just come off the field or the fen.  They often look as though they have been collecting produce;  wild fowl, fresh caught eels or fresh dug vegetables.  

 Stroll just off the market down a side street and you start to come across two local butchers Musk's and Powters.  Recently the age old argument of who has the real Newmarket sausage recipe has been slightly resolved between the two.  The Newmarket Sausage has now been granted protected status. Three butchers applied for the status the two pictured left and Eric Tennants featured in the video attached to the BBC series.  The Wikipedia article on the Sausage gives some information but does need revising.  The area is not just Newmarket itself but Dullingham, Woodditton and Kirtling (over the border in Cambridgeshire).

Having wandered down the street to Musks they had an offer to try a sausage in a roll to celebrate their new status.  Who has the actual authentic recipe? It is probably lost in time, now probably largely irrelevant as you buy the one like. The sausage Queen Victoria enjoyed is probably subtly different since the Pork used today will not be the same owing to diet and progressive breeding of pigs.  If the regional foods of England are to survive PGI status is route. 


Saturday, 3 November 2012

Fire works!

Celebrating an English Tradition!

Autumn through to winter is gathering pace.  The annual warning to keep your   dogs and cats indoors has gone out!  Some strange animal sacrifice ritual that unwary pet owners have to avoid? No, it's Bonfire Night! Or approaching closer to it's origin Guy Fawke's Night.

In England Bonfire Night is celebrated with a Firework Display, Bonfire and the burning of an effigy or Guy.  A bit Wicker Man in context given the time of the year (5th November) when it traditionally takes place or a punishment for a heretical act. The notion of punishing the heretic is closer to the origin.

Without going too far into the history (you can follow the Guy Fawke's Night link) it is essentially a celebration of the capture of a group of Catholic gentlemen. Their intention to raze Parliament (in Westminster, London) to the ground.   The stocks of Gunpowder secreted into the cellars of Parliament are the origin of the association with Fireworks.

Nowadays the religious connection to the tradition is mainly forgotten.  The film V for Vendetta uses the Guy Fawkes theme as the basis for it's storyline set in a futuristic London.  The masks from the film are now used by the Anonymous Group in protests both online and offline as signature and badge of support.  The image of the lowly watchman of the gunpowder below Parliament now has world wide coverage, but it's origins are probably unknown to the majority of mask wearers.

Usually in this blog I talk about food (usually British or ideally from Suffolk something to do with my botanical and agricultural training).  One of my favourite food writers is Hugh Fernley-Whittinstall and his River Cottage Odyssey  (he has now produced a lot of books and TV series).   An episode showing a traditional Bonfire night can be seen via the Channel 4 website .  In an almost seamless flow  Halloween and Samhain traditions have amalgamated with Guy Fawkes Night.  

A  lot of American cultural food such as hot dogs and Pumpkin Pie seem to be making appearances at British Guy Fawkes parties.  The traditional drink of Cider in the countryside of England was usually just about ready at this time of year after the apple harvest.  One way of preparing the orchards for the following year was to clear any disease laden debris such as leaves and branches, fallen or pruned.  Straw was then put on the floor of the orchard between the trees and burnt.  This was in the days before the effects of sulphur containing smoke was known on  hitherto unseen fungal spores.  It worked there was less disease the following compared to other orchards that had not been managed this way.  Might be something to note in the current Great Ash Tree Die-back crisis .  Atmospheric pollution and coal fires I would mischievously suggest might not be all bad.  So what do you do with all the debris?  You have a bonfire.  Contact with  ancient cultural traditions maintained (Samhain), a bit of crop protection, showing your support for the Protestant English State and a very good party.  Party probably the most important.  Still tradition for young Brits abroad so nothing changes!

In a round about way we have reached the issue of traditional food for Bonfire night.  We have mentioned the drink cider.  We have the bonfire from the apple debris and any other donations of old wood from the vicinity.  Into the bottom of the fire go potatoes to be cooked slowly (in foil or without foil).  Apple bobbing for the adventurous and those can hold their breath underwater.  Toffee apples for the young and the young at heart.  The Apple runs through as theme here going with it's cultural importance since pre-Biblical times.

This picture taken from one of Nigel Slater's recipes, real home made look to them.

Recipe this week is the traditional Toffee Apple.  Hugh Fernley-Whittingstall has produced a toffee apples I seem to remember on one of his programmes.   On the website and various books I own I could only find a recipe for Hot Halloween Pumpkin fold overs.  Trying to avoid American cultural influences I have sourced this recipe for experimentation from the BBC website (


  • 8 Granny Smith apples
  • 400g golden caster sugar
  • 1 tsp vinegar
  • 4 tbsp golden syrup

  1. Place the apples in a large bowl, then cover with boiling water (you may have to do this in 2 batches). This will remove the waxy coating and help the caramel to stick. Dry thoroughly and twist off any stalks. Push a wooden skewer or lolly stick into the stalk end of each apple.
  2. Lay out a sheet of baking parchment and place the apples on this, close to your stovetop. Tip the sugar into a pan along with 100ml water and set over a medium heat. Cook for 5 mins until the sugar dissolves, then stir in the vinegar and syrup. Set a sugar thermometer in the pan and boil to 140C or 'hard crack' stage. If you don't have a thermometer you can test the toffee by pouring a little into a bowl of cold water. It should harden instantly and, when removed, be brittle and easy to break. If you can still squish the toffee, continue to boil it.
  3. Working quickly and carefully, dip and twist each apple in the hot toffee until covered, let any excess drip away, then place on the baking parchment to harden. You may have to heat the toffee a little if the temperature drops and it starts to feel thick and viscous. Leave the toffee to cool before eating. Can be made up to 2 days in advance, stored in a dry place.

So here's to maintaining a Great British tradition.  Just thought will, the unintentional SEO technique of mentioning Anonymous increase increase the number of government security personnel who make toffee apples.  If you are reading this I hope you enjoy the recipe!