Tag Archives: #London

Negating Seasonality

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The future, according to Hildebrand's Chocolates in 1900. Roofed cities. Source: PaleoFuture

The future, according to Hildebrand’s Chocolates in 1900.
Roofed cities.
Source: PaleoFuture

When we look into the future, it’s always the same stuff that catches our fancy. Transportation, climate control, surmounting daily inconvenience. The postcards here show a light-hearted vision of life in the year 2000, as illustrated on chocolate boxes circa 1900.

I’ve noticed, however, that older ‘future-visions’ from this era rarely include farming and food supply, maybe because basics of the food infrastructure either didn’t seem like something that needed to change, or it seemed like something unchanging. With the exception of mechanization, farming has been a life constant since human civilization began.

French Victorian postcard. The caption reads: In the year 2000 - the busy farmer. Image: Jean Marc Cote

French Victorian postcard. The caption reads:
In the year 2000 – the busy farmer.
Image: Jean Marc Cote

Our current visions of the future almost always involve the increasingly knotty issue of food production and distribution. Where to grow, how to grow, the shortest distance between growers and consumers. Every conceivable urban space is imagined covered in agriculture, from building walls and roofs to the tops of buses.

A group of entrepreneurial urban farmers have descended into the depths of London’s old WWII bunker system to test out underground farming. Using LED lights and hydroponic growing beds, the new Zero Carbon Food project is intended to create a city farm that is weather-independent, organic and carbon-neutral.

The bunker extends over 2.5 ha (6 acres) and was originally a bomb shelter, a series of tunnels that could hold up to 8000 London residents. For the time being, the farming project is only using a small corner of the bunker, but the group hopes to expand. The temperature can be maintained at 20 C° (68 F°)  for ideal growing, there are no pests (yet), and the water that is usually pumped out of the tunnels could be used to irrigate the farm. The creators say that farming underground negates seasonality, providing an environment that can be constantly controlled.

The underground test farm, lit by LED lights. Source: Zero Carbon Food

The underground test farm, lit by LED lights.
Source: Zero Carbon Food

An interesting notion, putting farms underground. Futuristic scenarios always seem to put the humans either underground, on water or in outer space once Earth’s surface becomes too volatile for our fragile needs. If we can envision farms on space stations, then certainly a London bunker farm seems entirely plausible.

The future, according to Hildebrand's Chocolates in 1900. Vacationing at the North Pole. This one is seeming less far-fetched these days. Source: PaleoFuture

The future, according to Hildebrand’s Chocolates in 1900.
Vacationing at the North Pole. This one is seeming less far-fetched these days.
Source: PaleoFuture

Dickens, Luck & the Woolly Mammoth

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A Mammoth tusk extracted from ice complex deposits along the Logata River in Taimyr, Russia.   Photo: Per Moller / Johanna Anjar  via Reuters

A Mammoth tusk extracted from ice complex deposits along the Logata River in Taimyr, Russia.
Photo: Per Moller / Johanna Anjar via Reuters

“Life is made of ever so many partings welded together.” Charles Dickens (born 7 February 1812), Great Expectations

So many of Charles Dickens writings are concerned with those who succeed and those who fall by the wayside. Usually in his novels, success (or at least, survival) can be due to a number of factors in life, chief among them being that fickle friend, Luck. Failure (or death) comes often enough in the form of hunger or at the hands of those stronger and more brutal.

And so to the survival or demise of prehistoric megafauna, the woolly mammoth, the cave bear, the giant sloth, the woolly rhinoceros, the great creatures that once wandered the planet and still populate our imagination.

A new study out in Nature set out to find a strategy to predict which creatures might survive the current climate change based on past extinctions. What they found, finally, was that Luck played as much of a role as human hunting and encroachment, habitat destruction, and changing temperatures.

A visit to my favorite tree-of-life site, OneZoom.org, shows that only a fraction of the megafauna around 40,000 years ago are still with us today, with the numbers dropping regularly. The fact is that some species were just more fortunate than others.

Tall forb park, Swift Creek Research Natural Area, Montana. Photo: Susan Marsh / Bridger-Teton National Forest.

Tall forb park, Swift Creek Research Natural Area, Montana.
Photo: Susan Marsh / Bridger-Teton National Forest

The woolly mammoth, for example, had long been thought to have gone extinct due mainly to hunting. However, the study points to the woolly mammoth’s reliance on foraging for the protein-rich forbs, flowering plants, that once carpeted its northern territories. As the climate changed, the prairies and fields of forbs gave way to less nutritious grasslands. The woolly mammoth, like many of Dickens’ most virtuous characters, simply starved to death.

Dickens’ world was nothing if not unfair in whom it chose to favor.

From Sketches by Boz (1835), essays by Dickens on Seven Dials, a poor section of London. Source: Smithsonian Magazine

From Sketches by Boz (1835), essays by Dickens on Seven Dials, a poor section of London.
Source: Smithsonian Magazine

For the extinct heat-sensitive Eurasian musk ox, rising temperatures proved too much for it to survive.

For the dwindling number of elephants and rhinos still alive today, it may be a human hunger for their tusks and horns. For the polar bear, receding ice.  Some of them may just surprise us by proving more adaptable than expected.

But in the meanwhile, it might be a good idea to take a lesson from Dickens on the 202nd anniversary of his birth, and do all we can, for as many as we can.

Luck doesn’t have to be the name of the game.

Whisky Thanksgiving

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We’ve had our Whisky Advent Calendar sitting on a shelf for weeks now, and it was a consolation to us yesterday. Yes, we have already entered the final month of a year that has flown by, but on the bright side, we got to open the first day of our whisky calendar.

The first red-waxed dram was a nice surprise, 17-year-old Balvenie Doublewood. As the 12-year-old Doublewood is one of our standards, we were happy to try its more aged sibling. Both are aged in oak casks before being switched to sherry casks. DSC01955

This is a lovely whisky, from the meady, sweet apple aroma to the smooth oak, fruit and spice taste. It’s got a lot of body and depth combined with that light Balvenie touch.

The bad news is, it’s quite expensive and not always easy to come by.

The good news is, although it’s excellent, we found that it drifted a wee bit much into sweet liqueur territory for our taste.

Maybe it’s because we just spent an expat Thanksgiving weekend gorging on pecan pie and pumpkin pie and our taste buds have been strangely affected, but we’ll be sticking with the more pedestrian 12-year-old version.

Between the Advent Calendar, and the fact that we got through our Thanksgiving in London without alerting the local fire department, it was a pretty good beginning to winter’s dawn.balvenie-doublewood-17-year-old-whisky

Hashtags and Picklebacks

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The Tasting Samples and Set-Up Photo: PK Read

The Tasting Samples and Set-Up
Photo: PK Read

Hashtag: TweetTasting

Every so often Fortune smiles down upon me and hands me a treat. Last week, the treat came in the form of a tasting across the Internet via Twitter, courtesy of The Whisky Wire and Arkwrights Whisky and Wines.

With around twenty very game tasters, many of them quite knowledgeable, we cracked five sample drams of American whiskey and shared our thoughts. If I can’t by any stretch of the imagination count myself among the knowledgeable, I was at least as game as anyone else to try the products of my native country.

Like any tasting, sharing the same sample is no guarantee of sharing the same flavor. What’s fascinating about a live online tasting is the range of different subjective impressions, the overlap of impressions, and the complete lack of cues as to what anyone else is thinking until the tweets hit the feed.

Last week I felt very lucky to be able to participate in the #LiquidAmericana, a TweetTasting sponsored by The Whisky Wire and Arkwrights Whisky and Wines.

By way of example of how diverse the impressions can be, one fellow taster seemed to taste a hint of chocolate in just about everything, but also admitted to suffering from an acute chocolate craving. Another quoted the taste of candies or fruits which were likely spot-on in terms of description, but which tasters outside that country hadn’t ever experienced. One whisky inspired a characterization of strong tea flavours, which a couple of tasters didn’t find no matter how thoroughly they searched their palates.

Image: Luc St. Pierre via National Geographic

Image: Luc St. Pierre via National Geographic

Finally, with a virtual web drumroll, the sample drams were revealed:

Elijah Craig 12 Year Old Small Batch Bourbon,

Noah’s Mill Small Batch Bourbon,

Bernheim Straight Wheat Whiskey,

Pikesville Supreme Straight Rye Whiskey

High West Double Rye Whiskey

You can visit the TwitterTasting to see what our impressions were of each sample. Personally, I liked the Bernheim Straight Wheat for its sweetness, and the High West Double Rye for its complexity – but the ranking of favorites was as diverse as the aromas and flavors tasted.

Many, many thanks to The Whisky Wire and Arkwrights Whisky and Wines for the opportunity to educate myself in faraway France as to the diversity that is American whisky, and to Steve Rush of the Whisky Wire for running a great tasting.

Pickebacks and a doomed Buffalo Trace double Photo: PK Read

Pickebacks and a doomed Buffalo Trace double
Photo: PK Read

Picklebacks

On a slightly related note (American whiskies, to be exact), we stopped by the Honky Tonk Bar in Chelsea, London last night and I saw something I’d never seen before at the rustic, rough-hewn bar on a very posh street: Tiny little jars, the kind used for single jam servings, filled with either brown or opaque liquid. Two cheerful drinkers at the bar (who had about twelve small jars, all empty, before them) told me these were Picklebacks.

Whisky in one jar, pickle juice in the other. “From dark to light, out of the darkness and into the light,” is what the friendly barkeep said as he served us our own round and showed us how it was done. Whisky first, pickle juice second, in quick succession.

This is not for sipping, this is for shooting. And it’s not a technique devised for fine whiskies – the pickle juice back cuts the taste of the whisky as well as (I imagine) imparting some of vinegar’s health benefits to the liver when under assault.

Image: Jughandles Fat Farm

Image: Jughandles Fat Farm

Now I’ve done my homework and found out that the Pickleback, also known as a Piskey, has been popular Stateside for a little while now, and the picklejuice can be just as finely tuned as a fine neat whisky – nectarine pickle juice, artisanal pickle juice, pickle juice served like a martini, etc. If it has to do with drinking, trust people to dress it up.

I can’t say its something I’ll be doing on the regular, but I can say it was fun. Also, I can say the Buffalo Trace neat that I’d ordered was completely lost on me because after that initial Pickleback, pretty much everything tasted like pickle juice.