Getting ready for July…

…when we are going to Germany to watch the Grand Prix. It is going to be a road trip and anyone that knows me and my obsession with Formula 1 could imagine how excited I am about it. I am now wasting half of my life thinking of ways to meet Sebastian Vettel.
Anyway, we are going to make this a road trip round Belgium for a few days and then head to Nurburg. I’ve been preparing myself by sampling a few belgian beers. Last week, I was in a pub up north and, to my surprise, they had a good collection of them. We decided to sample a few and share.
But before we did that, we thought we’d get in the mood by having lots of nice Fruli, which I would recommend to anyone who doesn’t like beer. That probably says a lot about it, very fruity and not very beery. But still really yummy. As Alex said, you just expect to find loads of strawberry puree at the bottom of the glass!
The favourite was Kwak. It was recommended to me by someone I can’t remember a few weeks ago, mainly because of the entertaining glass. We were advised that there is £7 charge if we break it, which kind of made sense when we realised how thin and fragile it was and that it was their only one!

It looked good, it was fun to drink (although I was a bit scared about breaking the glass) and it tasted great! It was actually surprisingly smooth and drinkable given the high alcohol percentage (8%). Well, I suppose that is low for a belgian beer, but it did help towards my hangover then next morning.
We also tried Rochefort 10, a strong 11.3% trappist beer that I have had before but in that case it just smelled a bit of cleaning products. Not great. When I had it in the past it was dark and bitter, and very very rich. I remember enjoying it, so maybe there was something wrong with that particular one!
We had a nice Chimay Blue for a bit of reference really since I knew I was going to enjoy it. Chimay is good, pretty and dark and just a bit bitter.
The Delirium Tremens that we had, was ok, although the highlight was probably the entertaining name and the “manly” glass with the pink elephants! It was tasty, but not exciting. I’d rather have a Hoegaarden!
Anyway, today I made a strawberry cake and got a sudden craving for strawberry beer. Unfortunately, out local Wine Merchants didn’t have any, so I had to settle for some interesting looking honey beer, called Barbar.
The smell is very sweet and you can really tell there is honey in there. Fortunately, the taste isn’t as sweet and it is very smooth. I will be buying that again!
Anyway, I might just go back to reading F1 news now. Crazy things happening there nowadays. The beer diary shall continue…..


This weekend I was supposed to be writing a talk. Instead, I spent all of Saturday baking a cake and all of Sunday recovering from a hangover. I thought it might be more interesting to talk about the first one.

It was a friend’s birthday a few days ago and his girlfriend decided to throw a surprise party for him. Apparently, the friend with the birthday likes pirates (hmm..), so there was a theme. Sophie and I spent ages getting excited about the prospect of making a cake in the shape of a pirate boat, although I have to admit I was terrified that it would be a complete disaster. Hoping for the flavour to compensate for appearance, I suggested we made one of my favourites, Nigella’s Guinness and Chocolate Cake.

It is a really easy cake to make, and I think it is also quite a safe one too, given that the first time I made it I managed to put the oven on 110 degrees rather 170 and only realise after it had been in there for half an hour. It still turned out great.

So, the recipe (from Nigella’s website):


250ml Guinness
250g butter
75g cocoa
400g caster sugar
142ml sour cream
2 eggs
275g plain flour
2 1/2 teaspoons bicarb of soda
vanilla extract

Basically, it’s a one-pot cake. You melt the butter with the guinness. At this early stage, it looks disgusting. When it’s all melted, take it off the heat.

Then, you add cocoa and sugar and whisk, and it’s starting to look amazing, really really dark and smooth. Next, you beat the eggs with the sour cream and the vanilla extract and add to the mix. Finally, sieve the flour and bicarb soda and whisk until smooth.

We made an extra 50% to make two cakes. The recipe is supposedly for a 9″ tin and that will give you a tall cake. We made two of them.

Then, the fun started!

Basically, we cut each cake in half, stuck the two halves together with chocolate icing and put them in the freezer for an hour or so. That gave us the two boats, which looked a bit like this after we covered them in chocolate ganache:

At that point I was just a bit worried that no one would be able to tell what our cakes were supposed to be, and that they would probably be put off by the way they looked too. But thanks to Sophie’s creativity it turned into a real ship battle!

She decorated the rest of the table too. It was a great party, especially after Phil decided to make some more punch. But that’s a different story.

Happy Hour

Being a hard-working (!) PhD student, you have to look forward to the social event of the week, happy hour. I know it sounds bad: lots of mathmos drinking beer in the maths department. But, it’s actually surprisingly social. And the drinks are cheap. And nice, since I choose them.

Now, I love beer and I’m not a cider fan. I’m not a cider-drinker fan either. So, when people requested some cider on the happy hour menu, I got a bit annoyed. Anyway, I know I said I don’t like people that choose cider over beer, but sometimes you have to accept your friends with their flaws, and that’s what I’ve done with my French friend who has been introduced to the concept of pubs but still can’t get her head round beer. Weird.

Her favourite is Henney’s Frome Valley cider. Since it has been available at happy hour, it’s one of the most popular drinks. It comes from Frome in Herefordshire. You can get sweet, medium or dry. I’ve only tried the dry one, and it’s awesome. At first it tastes like apple juice, fruity and sweet, but the aftertaste is crisp and dry. In Paul’s words (see picture): It’s GOOD. And he isn’t a cider drinker either.