Food for Thought – 5 tasty little tidbits you might not know

Happy Summer folks. We are now officially past the longest day and apparently supposed to be enjoying one of the hottest summers on records….which I’m sure is just around the corner.

Anyway, I’ve decided to take a slight diversion for this week’s blog. We’ve recently spent a lot of time listening to the QI Elves – a group of the researchers for QI who have a weekly podcast entitled “No Such Thing as a Fish” where they present their four favourite (and usually bizarre) facts of the week. So inspired, I have put together a little listicle of my own favourite facts – though they’ve all ended up revolving around food (which says a lot) – to share and educate you all.

I would like to present these with the disclaimer that it’s all pretty much off TV, the internet or radio 4, so take what truthfulness you will. Without further ado – here goes:

1)      These are not the bananas you’re looking for…

I read the first one these facts in a tumblr post about Captain America I think (because I am a giant nerd). In it, there was a discussion thread about how confused Steve Rogers would be by the taste of bananas in the 21st Century *side note – for those not in the know, Steve Rogers is a young American during the second world war who is turned into a super solider and then accidentally frozen only to be awakened in the modern day*. Obviously this confused the heck out of me – what banana based mystery was this? Never one to be daunted by the dark recesses of what the internet holds, I delved in head first to find out what was going on. It turns out that the bananas we know and love today are not the bananas enjoyed by our predecessors during the 20th century – Say whaaaaat?

Originally, the bananas that were commonly cultivated and sold worldwide were a breed classified as a Gros Michal (literally translating as “Fat Michael” or “Big Mike” to his friends) – a squatter, much brighter and stronger tasting variety more similar to its plantain brethren. However due to the Great Banana Plague (or Panama disease) of the 1950’s, the Gros Michal breed was almost completely wiped out and no longer sustainable (oh no!). The continued high demand for bananas was not to be stopped though, and this led to the introduction of a new, more hardy and durable type of banana…the Cavendish! Now, most of the bananas we enjoy today are of this Cavendish variety, and indeed it is the most popular breed world wide. However I am sure you will have either thought (or heard someone say) how most banana flavoured things (think those foam sweets or banana milkshakes) don’t taste very banana-ry. This is because the extract used to flavour them is based of the original Gros Michal rather than the Cavendish; meaning when you’re eating or drinking these products, you’re actually closer to tasting the original bananas that you are if you eat an actual banana! Mind – BLOWN!


2)      Attack of the (Banana) Clones (who knew bananas and Star Wars linked so well?)

So you might actually be surprised to learn (or not, because I do love these facts) this isn’t the only banana fact I have. Those little buggers are chocked full of history.

My second fact goes back to the introduction of the Cavendish banana to the United Kingdom. One of the first shipments ever created were brought over to England actually cultivated in the greenhouses of Chatsworth House. Now, whilst Chatsworth doesn’t seem like a typical birthing point for a global banana industry – nearly every banana eaten in the western hemisphere is directly descended from one of the plants grown there (freaking science man!) 

The reason for this is that commercially cultivated bananas are propagated through “vegetative reproduction” rather than sexual reproduction (you can tell by their lack of seeds) – which means they are sterile and each new banana plant has to be taken as a cutting from a currently existing tree and planted manually. Basically, each of the Cavendish bananas are actually classed as clones and are genetically identical to the original source banana (that is some next level sh*t right there). This has been done to quite a few fruits and veg, but not on quite such a dramatic scale. Whilst this makes cultivating the plants easier, it does hold quite a high level of risk – if a fungus (such as the Panama disease which is slowly encroaching again) infects one plant, the banana have no chance of naturally evolving a defense and will be practically wiped out. BANANA-DRAMA!

3)      Jelly is basically a coma patient

I have never trusted jelly. A bold statement you might think, but I’ve always thought there’s something very unnatural about it. I will give most foods a chance, but texture can be a big no-no for me, and anything that wibbles in my mouth so aggressively is not going to stay there very long.

Well, it turns out that jelly moves in such a fashion it could actually be classed as alive (and so I feel validated in my intense distrust). Experiments have been done in which jelly’s have been hooked up to electroencephalographs (EEG machines) and have responded very much as a healthy human brain would. (I’m not too sure why these experiments have been done, but I like it none-the-less).

It turns out that the jelly picks up and responds to particular signals within the room (such as the vibrations of the machine it’s plugged into, people moving, even telephones ringing) and does so in such a strength that it exhibits alpha rhythms which mimic that of a human brain when a person is awake but has their eyes closed. In fact, based on EEG results alone, jelly qualifies as “alive”. (Cue mad scientists shouting “it’s allliiiivvvvveeeeee!” whilst jelly monsters lurch about awkwardly).

This has actually had quite a serious impact on the validity of EEGs being used as a sole measurement of response. (Huzzah for real life applications of silly science!) It is possible that, like jelly, the brains of certain coma patients might actually just be mirroring outside stimuli even though they are no longer technically classed as responsive. A positive response may not mean a patient is alive, and similarly a negative response does not necessarily mean they are dead.

Or it might just mean prove that jelly is an alien life force sent to freak me the hell out. I think we all know what the real fact is here.

4)      Mushrooms will not play the game

We’ve all been on long road trips or camping and played endless games of “Animal, Vegetable or Mineral”. Well, thanks to this fun fact, you can now annoy the hell out of everyone by picking something which fits into none of those categories! The humble mushroom is indeed humble no longer, but actually strutting out all on it’s own.

Typically labelled as a vegetable, the mushroom actually falls under the “fungi” category (insert awful joke here) which is actually much closer to animals than plants and technically is a separate kingdom altogether.

{Side note, there are actually 5 “kingdoms”; Bacteria (Monera), Eucaryotes (Prostista – a catch all for anything as yet not specified as any of the others), Fungus (Fungi), Plants (Plantae) and Animals (Animalia). Bonus fact ftw}.

Mushrooms do actually grow like plants, but contain no chlorophyll and don’t perform photosynthesis. Instead, they get their energy and nutrients from non-living organic matter – meaning they break down and “eat” dead or decaying organisms (limited to but not excluding, compost, dead animals and even human feet!) – basically like little zombies.

They follow a very similar evolutionary path to animals but grow from spores, rather than seeds, and a single mushroom can drop up to 16 billion in it’s life time.

They’ve also been proven to grow bigger than any plant or animal – often with individual heads growing out from one giant organism that is spread out underground. Indeed, most of the work goes on away from prying eyes; the living body is a web of tiny little filaments that grows under soil and can be as small as a single ant or cover acres (some can even expand up to half a mile a day). It’s from this that the “fruit” (the puffballs or caps that we see) grows from, leaving the main body hidden and unknown.

Mushrooms – actually magic and more than slightly terrifying…

 

#FungusAmongUs

 5)      Let’s Avo cuddle

The last but certainly not the least fact, is that I have discovered that Avocados are scientifically proven to be the most adorable of all the foods. Seen as the Aztec symbol of love and fertility – often seen as so sexually potent virgins were banned from eating them. This belief is though to have sprung from the appearance of the fruit (THEY LOOK LIKE TESTICLES!) and the fact they typically grow in pairs on the tree, like little berry buddies. They are also only able to partially self-pollinate due to the fact the female and male flowers open and close at different times, and most avocado trees require other avocados trees to be close by in order to grow (awww). Basically, they are the panda of the fruit world.

Excitingly, the avocado evolved alongside the Pleistocene Mega fauna (basically GIANT F*CK OFF ANIMALS) such as giant sloths and armadillos in order to facilitate seed dispersal through poops – which is why the seed is so big. However, once the mega fauna died out, it is only due to human intervention that the avocado escaped extinction. Bless their little green hearts. 

The most commonly consumed variety of avocado today; the “Hass” is quite nails though. Each fruit is directly descended from a single mother tree, which was cultivated by a Californian postie named Rudolph Hass. Unaware of what he was actually growing, he soon patented the tree (incidentally the first US patent placed on a tree) which outlived him by 50 years, finally dying of root rot in 2002 (the tree – not the postman). The avocado is now one of the most popular fruits worldwide and loved by health nuts and hipsters alike.

 

And there we have it. Just 5 little snippets of the things my brain finds fascinating. I hope you enjoyed and please let me know if you have any other food facts, because, let’s face it, I will totally be intrigued by them.

Something to write home about…

So over the last few days a lot of politics has occurred and once again nobody really has a clue what’s going on, which doesn’t really make much of a difference to how everything usually is. Still, record numbers of young people went out to vote so it can’t be all bad. I remain mostly detached from the situation (I research, I vote, I still despair), but I am now at least a little less cynical towards the voting public. The fact that UKIP have no seats has instilled a small light of faith within my soul.

On a slightly more personal note, we’ve had new flooring in the bathroom(s) and finally the dreaded carpet is no more. HOORAY! I can now leave the shower and not have to cringe at the feel of shag-pile under my wet toes. I have smooth, stylish linoleum to look forward to after my next shower, and I’ve also realised (somewhat sadly) it means that cleaning will be much easier. Everything will be delightful and wipe clean and  I will actually be able to remove splodges of escaped hair dye rather than trying to smush it about and sighing exasperatedly. This is just another step towards my big house cleaning overhaul and I have to say, considering how much I hate it, we’re not doing too badly. The upstairs is nearly done now (still got the back room and the jewellery to do, and we also need to rearrange the bathroom(s) after the flooring) but I’m feeling V POSITIVE. LOOK HOW POSITIVE I AM (so positive). TMM I think is feeling slightly less positive due to my rather hysterical mania, but he’ll be happy enough once it’s done I’m sure. I’m also in full swing with the bedroom gallery wall I’ve recently decided I desperately need in order to compliment my upcycled bedside cabinets. One giant tropical print (+ homemade frame) is just waiting for hooks, and I’ve got 5 smaller prints (frames to be sanded) on their way. Hopefully everything will be in place by next week’s post and you’ll be able to see my new paradise for yourselves.


 New Floor. Check out that artful slate design. Though it would have been nice if the fitter had at least pretended to clean up after himself.

 In other news, you may have noticed our new Instagram account too (because we have been flogging that horse like there’s no tomorrow) @curiousreads. For those of you who haven’t (a bit rude), we’ve decided to join the hipster masses and make our own “bookstagram” – an instagram account that allows us to display our deep love of books through my English Degree and TMM’s pretty decent photography. In order to get our “social media presence” out there, TMM has had a bee in his bonnet and has not allowed me to rest on my laurels. I’ve been churning out reviews left, right and centre, and we’ve even roped in some friends to provide some guest opinions too.

Now that the first week is done with, I’m allowed to calm down a bit and we’re going to aim for 1-2 reviews a week, rather than 1-2 a day. Half the work is already done in that TMM has already got an excellent stock of photos prepared, and we’ve put together a rather repulsive number of stock #s that can be copied and pasted onto each post to draw in the punters. However, this does mean that, somewhat peevishly, I’m left to cobble together some thoughts to match the books that we can get out there. 

I sound somewhat bitter about this and I honestly don’t mean to. I love writing. I mean I really LOVE it. I have over 50 notes on my phone – a technological advancement from the countless number of notebooks that are still scattered over 3 houses (mine and my respective parents’) and it is rare I go through a week without writing something. Admittedly that sounds a bit better than it is – in no way am I the Ernest Hemingway of my day. I might have hundreds upon thousands of ideas but getting them on paper (electronic or otherwise) can sometimes prove a little tricky. I like to think that my strengths lie in the quality and not quantity of the work. Not to toot my own trumpet, but I’m great at short snippets. Single lines pop into my head that suggest a novels’ worth of hilarious content. Whole plot arcs spring, fully formed if not at all fleshed out, to the forefront of my mind and beg to be marked down. Characters for stories I don’t have, or stories for character’s that don’t belong to me sit patiently, waiting to be allowed to do something rather than just hang about in the dark waiting room of my mind drinking lukewarm tea and flicking through outdated magazines.

To succinctly put it, I’m great at writing single scenes, completely in detail (often with stage directions and everything) that have no place or setting, and just float about, popping up now and again just to remind me not to forget them.

Now, whilst it can be quite annoying for me, and is really starting to take up too much room in people’s cupboards and my phone’s memory, it has never been a huge problem. I’ll never be a great novelist, but I might eventually get around to publishing something small. I am happy in the, possibly somewhat fatalistic notion, that there’s no rush and I’ll get there eventually.

However now that I’m being but to the test, I’ve realised that the trouble with the whole situation is having to do what I do to a deadline. Writing to a time constraint (be it mine or someone else’s) isn’t the greatest, but I think that’s more due to my natural butterfly like nature of fluttering around rather than a lack of ability. Typically, the urge to write (which is strong within me) arises at the most inopportune moments or places; just as I’m about to drop off to sleep, in the back of a car late at night, walking home from work. However, the moment I try and set myself down to write something with intent and purpose, my brain is immediately blank and all that can be found within is bubbles bouncing around like an early 2000s windows screen saver. When you’ve promised to update a weekly blog though, or agreed to provide numerous book reviews, this isn’t really acceptable.

I am fighting to combat this though; another one of my #NotAResolutions. This very blog has been good encouragement to try and break this sporadic writing habit, instead forcing me to write something once a week (no matter how much like garbage it is). This new bookstagram is hopefully going to be another useful technique – if I can write a 20-30 word review on command, I’m almost half way to being able to write a full length novel! Sometimes, admittedly, the whole process does still find me sat on the kitchen floor staring at my phone with a rather ferocious frown, muttering petulantly about “how it’s just like homework and I’m a grown up I shouldn’t have homework anymore”, but I think I’m getting better. Like most habits, repetition is key, and If I can (mostly) keep a weekly blog going, I can definitely do an bookstagram. Honest.

 

Look how profesh this Bookstgram Front Page is!

 

 

To Hip or Not to Hip? Is that the Question?

So I’ve started this week with freshly dyed hair again. The blue was starting to fade rather dramatically and my roots were coming through at a drastically unnecessary rate. I wouldn’t mind so much if I had a decent natural colour or even a nice big white mallen streak (which I am still holding out hope for) but unfortunately it’s a no go. I’ve got that bog standard mousey brown which is pretty much identical to when you mix all the paints together in the hope of creating a rainbow and instead get a sad muddy sludge. (Apologies if anyone actually happens to a) have that hair colour or b) like it. You probably look glorious with it. I just look like a drab Victorian peasant).

I have rebelled against the status quo as always though, and this time I’ve gone for a delightful mishmash of green shades; a summery selection of daffodil yellow, spring, apple and UV blue. TMM was excellent as always, frolicking about in his pants with the bleach brush and helpfully shaving the pattern on my under cut (before napping HARD). I was hoping for a kitty cat design, but he said he’s starting small and stuck to simple chevrons, and after the last incident (when I was left as bald as the proverbial) I suppose I can’t blame his caution.

Whilst doing my hair though and staring gormlessly into my own dye splattered reflection, I was led to pondering upon a deep philosophical dilemma – a generational query that has plagued millennials for a while now…

Is it hipster to have been hipster before hipster was cool?

Now I am firmly of the belief that as much as I laugh at the hipster culture, I am unapologetically ensconced within it. I may scoff, but I like an underground subway tiled, steam punk inspired cocktail bar as much as the next person, and I already own two Edison light bulbs. It’s definitely an undeniable fact as well that there are quite a few new additions to my lifestyle that could be laid at the feet of the hipster gods – having fruit and yoghurt for breakfast every morning in branded Kilner jars (because apparently we’re jar snobs) and spending our weekend making furniture from pallets that I like to describe by using vulgar terms like “bespoke” and “neo-vintage”.

I mean, we own all of those things. Not even pretentiously.

The thing is though, I was doing a lot of these long before it was cool. Big framed Jarvis Cocker glasses and rainbow hair have been part of my life since the early 2000s, and even though my blog is a relatively new addition, my need to offer DIY self help advice through rousing motivational speeches and/or Facebook messages is a lifelong past time. Whilst there are many of aspects of this particular fad that I love, I love them because I want to, not because pinterest encouraged me to. Men with beards have been a fascination of mine ever since I was a tiny tot (seriously I had such crushes on Wolf from Gladiators and Worf from Star Trek because of the amount of fantastic hair on show) and I will happily stare lovingly at anyone in trouser braces, regardless of age, gender or how creepy it makes me look.

I think the trouble stems from the fact I’ve always been a bit of an oddball. I am unaccountably shy, but desperate to be noticed and I will wear what I like and damn the consequences. I remember having a pixie cut in high school, knowing full well it would lead to bullying (and that REALLY awkward moment when the prefect in the girl’s toilets thought I was a boy and shouted at me) but it was still worth it. (Super healthy hair, no time spent faffing about in the morning and I totally looked like an adorable fairy – just ask my mum). Dying it was something I was DESPERATE to do, and after a few years of sensible (read boring) school appropriate hair, I got my mum and sister to dye it the most vivid pink we could find. I could never go back to normal hair now, and I laugh in the face of anyone who tells me I have to. When I started this hair based vanity project, only weird punks in inner city Manchester or arty kinds on TV had rainbow locks. Now, it’s all the hipster rage to have a flash on colour or an ombred pastel do. I’m not sure how many people see it as such an integral part of who they are, but I for sure know that I do it not because of the impact it has on other people (though that is pretty awesome), but because of the impact it has on me. It does help that both my sister and dad have had bright hair in the past, and my Neens has purple hair right now (a more hip and happening septuagenarian there has never been) and I WILL tell people that the bright coloured hair runs in our family DNA just to watch the confusion blossom on their faces.

Whilst my “style” (or possibly lack thereof) lends itself to this hipster curve, I hate to say it wasn’t really that intentional. The way I look, just like my annoyingly nerdy personality, are elements of me that have been around long before hipsters were. I’ve always been a complete sci-fi/fantasy nerd and been involved in more than one argument with someone who thought that just because I was a girl I wouldn’t have any clue about Farscape or the characterisation of Jean Grey. The good thing about this social movement is that it’s much more acceptable now to be weird and I really can’t say that’s a bad thing. We might laugh at the notion of the “hipster”, but what’s wrong with making these things something to be proud of? I like that there’s pop-up organic cafes popping up all over the place, and that playing the accordion whilst wearing herringbone trousers is the “done” thing. It’s not hurting anyone and it’s definitely one of my preferred movements (surely it’s better than the tight pony tails, shell suits and choreographed dance routines of the 90s?)

Who knew though, that I would eventually fit into the “IT” crowd? I still remember looking in a mirror a few years ago and being shocked by the fact I looked just how I wanted myself to look when I was a little girl dreaming of growing up. I mean, I would have maybe liked more tattoos and less mental issues, but I always knew how I wanted to end up, and it’s quite rewarding to know that there’s a huge chunk of my generation who thought it was a pretty cool place to end up too.

Of course there’s still a kind of soft cultural mockery directed towards hipsters, just like there is with every generational fad, and it’s completely understandable. It is pretty hilarious that moustache waxing and banjo playing are encouraged, and it’s a little bit weird how much of my instagram feed is filled with artfully displayed avocado based meals and hilariously depressing cat memes. Whilst I poke fun though, it would hypocritical of me to fight against the label. I’ve spent today wearing non-ironic dungarees and writing a ridiculously verbose post-modernistic hipster-ception commentary blog post. I am just as much to blame as anyone else, but I can’t say I really mind. Fads will come and go, and even though I might be cool now, I can bet you a dollar I won’t be in a few years. The real question though is, does it  matter? Will I care that in the future my colourful hair, my love of space and my inordinately large stack of country CDs will be laughed at rather than lorded?

Will I boot.

dungarees

My Sunday Scene – Sunshine, Screws and Sanding

Now I must start today’s post with a little apology, as I have been somewhat remiss in my writerly duties recently and left you all sadly lacking in blog posts. I would like to be able to give you valid excuse for my absence; like how I was too busy fighting deadly ninja bears or coming up with a plan to end world hunger, but mainly I was a bit busy and lacking in any kind of inspirational spark. This week I will be much better though and keep you all thoroughly updated. You’ll no doubt be proud to hear that I’ve been continuing in my action plan of regular planking, cross training and watching Fast and Furious. My motivational work out wall has some new members (shout out to Vin Diesel’s tank top and Gal Gadot who is just repulsively perfect) and I feel their patiently encouraging stares as I sweat my way unhappily to fitness. We’re going to be taking on the Press Up Challenge next week (oh joy, oh rapture), though I think there might be a couple of false starts with that one. I can’t even remember the last time I tried a press up, and with my weirdly locking elbows there is the slight concern I might get into a position and then never be able to get out again. Still Ross assures me there is at least one wash board ab hiding somewhere in my noodly body, and hopefully I’ll be able to keep going until I can see it.

Motivation Wall.jpg The Motivation Wall. There are some bonus pictures round the fireplace and a lovely shirtless one of Captain America that is stuck to the inside of the kitchen cupboard door – providing motivation whilst preparing lunches 😀

Continuing in my action vibe, I’ve been very social this weekend. We had Granddad Pendlebury’s 80th birthday party on Friday night, and we were out until 1am (which was a shock to the system for both of us) having a jolly old time. Saturday was spent in Manchester for a friend’s birthday with a good rabble of people. We visited many lovely bars, had many lovely beverages and I spent a good hour or so deliberating the merits of selling body parts for money in order to fund my dream of becoming a stinkingly rich Contessa living on the coast somewhere. I often forget how much I miss Manchester and it’s nice to be reminded of what a lovely city it is now and then. Even though I was born and bred there, I still sometimes get a bit panicky about having to wander around with that many people (god I’m such a wimp), but after a little “What Would Stu Do” chat (curtsy of my ridiculously social dad), and a hipster pub or two, I’m back in the groove. We were home slightly earlier than the previous night (read about 9pm), but I still had to have a good 12 hour nap to recover for all the excitement.

I also branched out to carpentry as well this week. After replacing the diaphragm on the toilet (fyi – don’t google diaphragms on the work pc), and changing a tyre, I’m now convinced I’m the new improved Handy Andy and can turn my hand to pretty much any task. This time, I made the executive decision that we should make a coffee table from scratch. There were a selection of influences leading to this – mainly the fact that our original coffee table had a rather disturbing lean (one leg was making a desperate bid for freedom in an upsettingly creaky manner) and that Pinterest encouraged me to believe that hipster DIY is clearly a far superior choice to buying something. After much deliberating, we decided pallets were the way forward and I then spent the next three weeks bullying The Man Muffin to bring some home from work.

Cut to a few days later and I’m pinning things left, right and centre and bombarding my friend Em for guidance over what kind of drill I want and which make of electric sander will work best. She was very supportive and I am now the proud parent of a Black and Decker Mouse sander and a lovely blue driver drill (you can tell it was pay day, can’t you?). There were emails flying all over the place with various tutorials and pictures requesting TMM’s approval and the weekend was set aside (weather pending) for our creative endeavour.

The fun started when, possibly true to form, we got outside on the Sunday morning, tooled up and raring to go only to realise the pallets we actually had weren’t quite the same as the ones we imagined we had, and our original plan was gracefully thrown out of the window. Somewhat depressingly, most of the things Ross and I attempt start with four hundred years of planning and end up with a slapdash half an hour of panic and the table wasn’t really much different. Still though, I don’t think it came out too badly in the end. I spent about 2.5 hours sanding the pallets down (I had, quite literally, all of the fun with that – my hands went numb at one point and I had to be forcefully told to take a break), TMM did some lovely painting (and got it all over his nice new jeans *facepalm*) and then was a fun five minutes trying to match up wooden pegs with drilled holes that did not go anywhere near as smoothly as we imagined whilst Bucky serenaded us loudly (and unhelpfully) from the kitchen. We persevered though and everyone got to use the new drill, nobody cried and we now have a lovely new table (with wheels) and limited storage space (so we can’t continue to hoard crap) in pride of place.

 

Just look at the action going on right there. I’ve even got gloves

 Seeing as how we are now two pieces of furniture handmade up, I’ve (somewhat punch drunkenly) told TMM that from now on we can just make everything we need and live like Tom and Barbara in the Good Life. I’m not too sure that I’ve thought through the logistics of that particularly thoroughly, but I’ve got a pair of denim dungarees, a new tool belt on the way and a bucket load of gumption – so what can go wrong?