Notes from the Green Party MEP for East of England. Biographical reflections on life as an MEP. Longer reflections and discussions on issues relating to policy, the good life, justice, equality, anti-austerity economics and the future of the planet. This is also a forum for exchanging ideas on how to tread lightly on the planet and avoid supporting exploitation and corrupt practices. Here we go...

Monday, 4 May 2009

A list of my bicycles again

It's a while since the series of posts in which I described my collection of bicycles, and things have moved on since then, so I think I should do an update.

I now have three bicycles in Cambridge and two in Norwich. In addition there is "Chris's bike" which is a man's bike, so I don't count that as mine.

Among these five (or six) remaining bikes is, of course, horrid pink bike. I thought for a bit that I had found someone who would like to use it, but it's come back to haunt me again. It's in Norwich, and it's not locked, and I'm waiting to see if it will ever find someone who loves it enough to take it.

Also in Norwich is a new blue bicycle, with a fine new basket and carrier and bell. This is a replacement for the green bike ("New Norwich Bike") which, in my earlier posts on this topic, I was just trying to take to Norwich. That New Norwich Bike is now no more, or rather it was taken by someone when I'd parked it at Earlham Road Shops, so I have it no more.

I've also lost the horrid black mountain bike, which is sad because it had a nice dynamo and two very fine new tyres. I took it to the bike man at UEA and asked him if he would buy it from me. He said I'd get more money if I advertised it, which was doubtless true—or would have been if I'd got that far— but I could hardly be bothered. But I did take it away and lock it up outside the Arts Building. Never saw it again: couldn't find it a week later.

So I've lost two bikes in Norwich and I'm trying hard to lose a third.

In Cambridge, I reclaimed the ten speed purple pioneer from Christian, thinking I would take it to Oxford and then to Norwich (to replace the one I'd lost at Earlham Rd Shops). But it was too uncomfortable to ride, so I traded it in for the new blue one.

In Cambridge I also have a very nice old fashioned green bike, three speed, with full chain case and rod brakes. Excellent: I bought it second hand from Kingsway Cycles a while back. Also my mother's bike (described previously) and spiffy bike (ditto). I don't really need three, but the one to lose would be my mother's and I don't think I can just discard that for sentimental reasons. Perhaps I should look for someone to borrow it, though at present it's the one to ride to the station on days when I have to go to Norwich with a brief case. Perhaps I do need it after all...

Mod cons 2: cooking with chocolate

Here's another mod con we've been conned into: recipes that use chocolate (meaning by that bars of ready made chocolate) in order to flavour something that is supposed to taste of chocolate when it's finished. This is a dotty idea.

Of course, if you want chocolate chips in something you need to put bits of chocolate in. If you want a chocolate coating on something, you need to coat it with chocolate, or something that ends up like chocolate. In those cases it may make sense to start with something that is a bit like the finished article. But if you want to make something taste of chocolate, it isn't chocolate you want to put in it, but the stuff that makes chocolate taste of chocolate.

I mean, think of it this way. If you start with chocolate that tastes nice, nice and chocolatey, and then you mix it with something else that is not nice and chocolatey, the end result will be less nice and chocolatey than it was before. No matter how much chocolate you put into a pudding or a cake it will always be less nice than pure chocolate, because it will have a lower proportion of cocoa solids. So how do you increase the proportion of cocoa solids? Well, clearly the way to do that is to add cocoa solids. If you add more chocolate, you will also be adding sugar (mainly sugar) and fat and a few other tasteless things: this won't help to make your cake or pudding tasty. It will make it sweet and tasteless. Besides which it's difficult to use, because chocolate is made to be hard and snappy, so you can't mix it into a recipe without melting it first, and that is a very tricky job. Why choose to use that then? It's mad, because it wasn't designed for the purpose and is very ill suited to it.

Here's another mad example: someone gave me some supposedly luxurious "hot chocolate", which was supposed to be nice because it was made of flakes of "real Belgian chocolate". What a stupid idea! For, (a) flakes of chocolate do not melt well, and certainly don't mix into hot milk. There is no easy way to generate a mug of hot chocolate from a mug of milk and a pile of chocolate flakes. And (b) however much chocolate you put into the milk, it will never taste sufficiently of chocolate, because if the chocolate tastes right on its own it will taste of virtually nothing when you've diluted it with half a pint of milk.

The way to get something to be luxuriously chocolatey is to put lots of chocolate powder into it: by which I mean plain cocoa powder. Cocoa powder contains no sugar, just cocoa solids. 100% cocoa (not 90% or whatever the best of chocolate has). Cocoa powder contains 21.7% fat: that's the cocoa butter that comes naturally. It contains no sugars. It has 23.1% protein. 1375 kJ energy per 100g. It's good stuff: rich and tasty. If you put three 5 ml spoons of it in a mug of milk, and one spoon of sugar, THEN you get a really luxurious rich chocolatey drink. Yum.

85% plain chocolate (which is certainly among the best) has 2515kJ per 100g, 9.7% protein, 15.9 % sugars, and 51.5% fat. In most cases you will also find it has some rubbish in it, such as emulsifier and so on. And that's before you've mixed it with whatever else you are supposed to be adding in your recipe.

So why do we get tempted to buy something when it says "made with real Belgian chocolate"? There's no reason to suppose it will be at all nice. In fact, rather the opposite.