Thursday, August 25, 2016

A stop in Stroke Bruerne

DSC03076A thousand years ago, the Domesday Book took note of the outlying hamlet of Stoche, lying in the rolling hills and waterways of today’s Northamptonshire.  By 1254, its name had augmented to Stokbruer after a prominent local family, and six hundred years later the village became a transport stop along the Grand Union Canal linking London and Birmingham.  The Waterways Trust established a canal museum, one of three, in the centre of the village, along the canal between the locks and the Blisworth Tunnel.  The tunnel is over 3000 yards long and is the third longest navigable canal tunnel along the UK waterways network.

All of this makes today’s quaint and DSC03106tidy village of Stoke Bruerne a magnet for summer tourists who want to linger in the pubs, browse the history, and sail long boats through the artifacts.

Myself?  Well, I was simply lost.

I got a late start home after a long day at Colworth, and the commuter traffic was piling up along my usual route.  Maps suggested an overland alternative through Milton Keynes.  But backups at key turns forced me to amble through the back roads, eventually crossing a single-lane stone-arch bridge that edged Stoke Bruerne. I got a glimpse of shops, boats, and an idyllic shimmer of water.

The traffic could wait.  I pulled in at the Boat Inn for a pint and a walk.

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Its actually a lovely little spot.  The Inn sits alongside the locks, across from the Canal Museum.  One lick lies dry, a rusted keel filling the center.  The other was busy with a family from South Carolina, leaning how to operate the valves and gates to move their boat upstream.  A small group of locals gathered to give advice.

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A long line of coloured long boats had moored along both margins of the canal, half a mile of the tunnel mouth.  Most seemed to have settled in for the night, occupied with drinks on the fantail, strolling the towpath, or playing guitar and singing.

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I explored a quarter-mile either direction, a collection of cottages, pubs, and small shops giving way to woodland and fields.

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And more boats.  This must be a favoured stopover, or maybe a choke point at the lock and tunnel.  But it reminded me of the evenings  boating through the waterways of the Fens or the Broads, when everyone pulls in and starts cooking, then leans over to share drinks and to swap stories.

‘kind of a nice cruising lifestyle or a long late-summer weekend, watching the skies change colour and listening to the quiet settle into the evening.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

On camera

DSC03047 (2)The company website has been in sad shape for some time.  Out of date, incomplete, it marks the space for the company rather than excites people about the great things we are attempting and accomplishing.  As our product moves towards market, there’s no question that it deserves a better home (frame).

Our COO brought in an inbound marketing team, unusual for the medtech space, but a different approach might be the right one.  We spent time recounting what we do, describing our characteristics and aspirations, and gathered the assorted sticky notes into a brand definition.


A new logo was one of the first outputs, then a redesigned website.  The graphics were livelier, the messaging sharper, and the company instantly became more professional.  We were telling our story more clearly and completely.  Curated content will be added soon using Passle, then a blog, newsletter, and an inbound program through Hubspot.  It will be exciting to see it all come alive.

Early on, we storyboarded a five-minute video that we could create DSC03044around the campus and production facility at Colworth.  We set a date: I got a new dark shirt to stand out against the light backgrounds (get advice from a woman who’s taste you respect) and made sure that teeth, hair, and chin were sparkling.  We started at 8 am, meeting the cameraman, director, producer, illustrator, and getting  the campus shots done in low morning light.   The script arrived the night-before, but I was pretty relaxed about being on camera.  (I’d done Radio, back in the day, after all…).

Of course, that is nothing like actually *being* on camera.

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We did most of my filming in the atrium, repeated takes in front of the crew and company, curious tenants and visitors wandering past.  Don’t close your eyes when you start talking, the director admonshed.  Don’t look to the side when you stop talking.  Keep your eyes here.  Obey punctuation: it’s there for a reason.  Use your hands to stimulate your voice.  Crank your emotions up a notch.

All very natural.

DSC03044We did five story segments, and then a full voiceover (mostly cut in favour of a professional who could get more  excitement (and the right accent) into the intro).  I closeted with the illustrator, an Oxford-trained artist who tried to render the narrative of biofilm formation and disruption into a single graphic.  Our lead chemist peered into microscopes and donned his clean suit on cue.

We finished (wrapped) at six, they really put in a lot of effort on our behalf.  I’m looking forward to seeing how it all comes out in a week…

En dank je, wezen, voor mijn mooie overhemd.

imageSupplement: Here’s the link to the finished site: the finished video is at the bottom of the home page.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Breaking eggs

“Life is a competition,” we used to joke.  It’s the stereotypical male/American perspective on work, friendships, love, and life. So when my w.wezen sent an early email with links to omelet recipes and the note You are brilliant at poaching, so now omelet-ting! …well…it was gAME oN.

As with all things me, it takes three tries to begin to get it right.  DSC03177The first is a mushy disaster, fit only for the trash bin.  The second overcooked, sticking to the bottom of the pan and taking the consistency of bread crust.  This can’t be that hard: I mumbled, channeling the countless hotel breakfast buffets I’d visited that made scores of omelets to-order.

Fortunately, the pollen is still thick in the UK and my breathing is wheezy inn sympathy.  So, as I sat up at 1 am waiting for the Benadryl to take hold, I went back through a dozen online videos, each promising the perfect omelet.

They fall into two camps: the ‘leave it and let it be’ French style, and the ‘fiddle with it and then some more’ British approach.

DSC03178The first, as seen in videos by Mike’s Perfect Eggs and by Jack Scalfani, involves keeping the edges free and popping bubbles in the crust,  but otherwise not disturbing the natural diffusion of heat through the layer (it is a bit like fried eggs).  

DSC03182The second, promoted by the BBC ,  by David Kinch, and by Jamie Oliver, suggests drawing the edges into the center, creating folds in the mixture and tipping the liquid potion back over the edges (it looks like scrambled eggs).

Otherwise, both techniques are almost identical:

  1. Crack the eggs into a bowl, add salt and pepper, whisk briskly until the texture is pretty uniform.  Some suggest adding cheese and veg at this stage, but I like my ingredients layered into a filling.
  2. Put a good glug of olive oil and a knob of butter into the pan and heat.  There needs to be a layer of oils in the pan, more than the modest amount used when I sauté onion or garlic.
  3. Pour in the egg and proceed by method A or B: let it lie or stir it.  Delia likes to use a very hot pan, but it speeds everything up far too much for my taste.  Medium-low heat works.
  4. Keep the edges from sticking and check that the egg moves, free of the pan, once the edges have set.  I find that a rubber spatula works best,  a fork second, and a metal spatula ‘not at all.
  5. Once the edges have firmed and a good base is laid in, put a line of filling down the center.  Cook to about 80% of what you want, as the egg will continue to cook once its off the heat: that means its still runny in the center.
  6. Turn up the heat to high for a few moments, then flip one edge over the center.   Slide the omelet towards the edge and onto the plate, flipping over the trailing edge as it leaves the pan to get a good tri-fold.

DSC03187We’ve tested both ways, and the French version always looks better, but the British version is always fluffier and has better taste and feel.    The photo is my ‘third try’ experiment, when it all came together: my aesthetics have improved markedly since.

It takes half the time of the French, gives better results, and will likely stay my go-to technique for satisfying the Challenge.

Sasha Martin at Global Table is in the same camp, and he does literally approach this as a competition: I learned from a drill-sergeant chef how to make a perfect French Omelet. For my final exam I had to cook, plate and walk it across the kitchen to the chef in less than 90 seconds.

Ah, but minus my grilled veg and scones that make it Sunday Morning…