Newton’s hams & birds

We visited Newton’s house at Woolsthorpe Manor yesterday. Hugely atmospheric, exciting and an very emotional place. And to hear a talk on the year 1666; his Annus Mirabilis and the most important, intense period of scientific discovery until Einstein, 250 years later.

His kitchen reminds me of the old farmhouse ones we used to live in. Flagstone floors, pantry shelved. Ham (see how I got the pig element in here?), birds and rabbit. Finest kind.

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and his apple tree. Protected but still thriving.

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I love this man. As well as the scholarly “The Cambridge Companion to Newton”, by the erudite Professor Rob Iliffe who we heard lecture yesterday, I’d also suggest you’ll enjoy reading the fictional depiction of Newton in the beautifully written “Baroque Cycle” by Neal Stephenson.

The UN & 193 countries finally agree to fight antibiotic resistance …

And as well as allowing the use of antibiotics to carry on saving our lives, this will make a huge difference to the current over-use of antibiotics in animal husbandry. It could have come sooner but it’s a hugely important development and one that we should be shouting to the rafters. It will also be a massive issue for the drug saturated US agri-business, which accounts for around 75% of all antibiotics sold in US every year. But this is big pharma. So fuck ’em.

A microbiologist works with tubes of bacteria samples in a US antimicrobial resistance and characterization lab. Photograph: David Goldman/AP

A microbiologist works with tubes of bacteria samples in a US antimicrobial resistance and characterization lab. Photograph: David Goldman/AP

There’s more on this in The Guardian piece. But let’s make sure we keep up the pressure to ensure the UK doesn’t try & wriggle out of this. Especially as a certain Mr Alexander Fleming warned about this over 70 years ago…

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Happenings in Hackney. Or I hope I didn’t get on your Wick?

Saturday was a non-work day. But Sunday? Ah, Sunday was different. Hard work, new concepts, interesting people, challenging ideas and great fun. And pig related. As you’ll see at the end.

We spent all day at the London Centre for Book Arts workshop

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a great space, right next to the locks on the River Lea, learning about Letterpress wood-type, the correct way to setup the gorgeous old presses

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how to lock-up the type (upside down & back to front)

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how to “make ready”

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and how not to get too much ink over everything  (I may be lying about how well I did in that last claim by the way).

We were so busy that we managed only 20 minutes for lunch — see the sacrifices I make for our art — eating (a recommended simple burger & blackened mackerel taco) at The Plough at Sun Wharf which backs onto Fish Island Labs which I imagine, during the week is an achingly “drowned under hipsters” area but on a Sunday was quiet, reflective & felt both old-industrial and relaxing, chilled residential.

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I also warned them about gators. They didn’t seem overly exercised by the possible danger. More fool them; we’ve lived in Florida…

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And after lunch, we carried on for another 5 hours. You can’t rush this process — it’s both contemplative and at the same time, quite stressed — making sure the type is aligned, kerning is right and that it won’t move at all when locked-up involves more than a little mathematics and multiple trips to the “furniture” store to pack things tightly.

This was the resulting set of prints, using various techniques and also playing with some ideas that we’ll be using later on. Not too shabby by any means. I fully intend going back; this stuff is seriously addictive.

And one final shot of some laser-cut type — an experiment and proof of concept only at the moment but something that may work out…

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Brewing up a naval storm

WARNING: This post contains no pork. This will not damage your health though. So don’t stop reading.

As well as containing a none too shabby hostel-type hotel (“Pension Homeland“), the grounds of the (still partly security gated & armed sailors guarded) Dutch naval marine base (not far from Franks Smoke House from the previous post) also is home to the Homeland Brewery.

It’d only opened late last year; it certainly wasn’t there on our last trip to the city. And I stumbled across it when cycling back from Sumatra Island, so a serendipitous discovery.

It’s a small (but perfectly formed) operation, crammed into the back of the pension. And the three main people involved…

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…intend for it to stay that way. No “Watneys Red Barrel“* for this team. The immaculate, gleaming pipes and 1,000 gallon kettle speak to their dedication and passion.

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It only seemed polite to accept the offer of a tour around the brewery and a sample of both of their beers. It’d have been rude to refuse, no? The handsome bearded one in the photos below, dear reader, is of course, your intrepid guide, who you’ve encountered all through the roller coaster ride that is this blog.

You get to the brewery section through the kitchen. [And a shout out here to the one-armed chef who gave me some great tips for pig related eating in town, of which more later].

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So, how did I like the beer? A lot actually.

There’s a pale ale, hoppy (English hops I’m told) around 4.7%. Lovely notes of summer and fruit (was that pretentious enough for you?). A great breakfast drink (for indeed, this was happening around 9am). Then there’s the spelt beer. And that’s even better. More complex, deeper flavours, nicely cloudy and subtle hints of treacle and toffee coming through. It would work really well with the great rijsttafel dishes that are available all around Amsterdam. So, beers well worth coming back for. Believe me, we will. We will.

Thanks to the two team members there, Jamie & Rob, for taking the time out of their busy morning to run through the tour and chat.

And one final shot of the Heineken dray horses who still walk, slowly, through the town, holding up the traffic, to the chagrin of foreign drivers but the delight of the tourists. It’s a show now, not really part of the huge industrial complex — third only to SABMiller and InBev in sales terms — that Heineken have become, but equally, they’re a reminder that Amsterdam generally cherishes their history.

But there are too many Dam tourists (see what I did there?). And that’s an increasing problem. But no more on this subject today; no ranting today.

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* NOTE: This was a “beer” common in England in the 60s & 70s. It was, quite simply, disgusting. A keg beer, filtered, pasteurised, no yeast left, CO2 gassed & chilled. But for many drinkers from that era there really wasn’t anything else on offer, apart from a few very small regional breweries. No tears shed for this one, consigned, unloved, un-mourned, to the cellar of history.

“Waste not, want not”

This is a repeat of the first post from the blog, back in 2013. Not so much to inflict this on you again but as a reminder that some things do still need changing…

If you’re of a certain age, you’ll remember the arrival at school of the local farmer with tractor & flat bed trailer, there to collect the waste food (hardened semolina pudding, cabbage steamed well past its death-throes, grey, leathery beef(?) etc.), the remains of your school lunches, kept in noxious, malodorous (and in summer months, steaming) bins that you tried very hard to steer well clear of.

Pig food swill bin © IWM 1943

But, despite the smells, they were a good thing — taken to the farm often only a few yards from the school, boiled up (another source less than enticing smells) and all the waste food was then used to feed the pigs that were at this point, still often slaughtered and sold locally. Everyone won. A virtuous circle.

And then it all changed as such traffic was banned…

For 9,000 years, humans have lived alongside domestic pigs. Traditionally, pigs consumed human refuse and humans ate their flesh. So useful was the pig that people domesticated it in regions as far apart as the Philippines, Western Europe and Africa – right across its natural range of habitat.

By the end of the 17th Century, when the pig population of England alone had reached 2 million (by way of comparison, the entire human population of England & Wales at that time, numbered only around 5 ½ million), the author Gervase Markham remarked that the pig:

is the Husbandman’s best Scavenger, and the Huswives most wholsome sink; for his food and living is by that which will else rot in the yard …; for from the Husbandman he taketh pulse, chaff, barn dust, man’s ordure, garbage, and the weeds of his yard: and from the huswife her draff, swillings, whey, washing of tubs, and such like, with which he will live and keep a good state of body, very sufficiently.

We need to stop this ridiculous waste of resources — when we see huge swathes of the Amazon rain-forest being cut down, to provide space to grow soya-beans that are then shipped thousands and thousands of miles at huge cost and massive carbon footprint to feed to animals who live, often just down the road, from large quantities of freely available swill and catering waste that are now being wasted and buried in land-fill sites, again, at huge expense.

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So, “The Pig Idea” was born and is being supported by some very nice and bright people inc. Yotam Ottolenghi, Jimmy Doherty and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. And you should support it as well! It merely needs a small change in legislation allowing this ban to be reversed. So, what are you waiting for? Sign-up and donate here, today!

Gin & sausages. The marriage made in Heaven.

A Saturday morning at Brandt & Levie making some sausages from their great tasting Baambrugse pork. Using two of my favourite things in the world (Val Littlewood and Apple tech aside).

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What’s not to like?

Well, this painting they have on display for a start. “Could do better”, written on their school report card…

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Anyway, art critic aside, onto the lesson.

Held in their purpose-built atelier, a lovely, open airy space with Wouter Leeuwenburg — who’d in a previous life studied marketing at the VU in Amsterdam — an enthusiastic tutor. Further thanks are in order to my fellow Dutch sausage makers, all of whom remembered to speak in English for (almost) the entire morning, making my life a lot easier.

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Nothing really new in this process but great fun nonetheless and prior to arriving, I’d worked out a recipe based around gin. In the end, the guys found me some genever, so even more Dutch authenticity.

Gin sausage — ingredients assuming 1 kilo of good pork meat

Sage: 10g.

Juniper berries: 10g.

Fennel seeds: 1tsp.

Pepper: ½ tbsp.

Salt 12g.

Celery seeds: 2g.

Gin (I used a great smoked genever) ½ cup

Zest ½ orange

Garlic cloves

We’d been provided with some belly pork already diced into approx. 2″ cube pieces. This needed to be ground and again this was handled by the tutors but at home you’d use your own grinder. I chose a coarse grind as it’s such good meat; no need to worry about sinews & skin harshing your mellow with this pork. Put it back in the fridge for 30-45 minutes as the grinding process starts to warm the meat and it’s best used cold and is easier to handle.

Firstly, grind all the dry ingredients. I used a pestle & mortar they had there but an electric mixer or even by hand is OK. Add the result of that process to the remaining wet ingredients and then put it all together with the minced pork into a large mixing bowl.

Mix. By hand. You get to know the feel of meat very quickly and it’s a whole sensual feeling. And relaxing. Well, for me anyway. A contemplative time.

This blending encourages the proteins in the meat to start unravelling and commence binding with the other ingredients, so the mix starts to hang together, with no need for any bread or rusk additives. And the way to know when the mix is the right consistency? Take a small piece in the palm of your hand, invert your hand and if it stays in place, it’s ready. Remember when throwing a piece of spaghetti at the wall & checking if it hung there was recommended?

At this point; stick it again in the fridge. For 30 minutes to chill it back to a workable temperature.

Then have a drink

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And then it’s the the last part of the process, filling the skin. Make sure to use natural bungs — that way the entire sausage is edible, none of that rather plastic mouth feel that some cheap, shop bought ones can give. But then, I’ve told you before about this: DON’T BUY FROM THE SUPERMARKETS.

And the end result? Not too shabby. Especially as I was assisting one of the Dutch people there, so this is my recipe & mix, his skin filling efforts. Cheers Hans!

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We gave some as a gift to a local Dutch friend and ate the rest. Finest kind. The recipe works. I know, because Val told me 🙂

Go on, why not try it at home. And then experiment yourself with other ingredients. There’s some good ideas here from the Brandt & Levie team. Or in some of the books that I’ve mentioned in earlier posts.

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And one last thing? If you’re in Amsterdam and fancy some smoked meat or fish, there’s no finer smokery available to you than Franks Smoke House, just along from the Maritime Museum (itself worth a visit).

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Another passionate man. And the produce reflects that, as you can see below

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