Tag Archives: Behind the scenes

Something a little different for Random Recipes #18

For this month’s Random Recipes challenge Dom has changed things up a little and asked us for “something a little different.”  The whole concept of Random Recipes revolves around every participating blogger’s respective collection of recipe books, and whilst there’s no cooking involved this month, the recipe books themselves get to be the stars of the show post.  Dom wants us to take a photo of our cookbook collection, perhaps feature a couple of our favourites, or share the stories behind some of them.   I think this is an excellent idea, mostly because I’m rather nosy and I like knowing what the homes of bloggers that I follow regularly look like, so then as I read their posts I can picture them in their environment and better imagine the stories they tell.  Is that creepy weird?

You won’t be surprised to read that I’ve enjoyed seeing other bloggers’ entries pop up.  Not only because of my general nosiness but because I’m pretty sure this is the first time that I can describe myself as ‘restrained.’  (Anybody who knows me in real life is probably laughing at the idea of me showing restraint.)  Whilst I frequently browse the cookbook section in bookshops, there’s such an overwhelming choice that I can usually never decide on just one and end up going home empty-handed.  My single shelf of books probably makes me a contender for the smallest collection of cookbooks amongst the Random Recipes participants.

Here are a few of my cookbook statistics:

  • 23 cookbooks, 3 recipe folders (plus a tonne of recipes saved on my laptop from blogs, books I’ve borrowed and magazines – I type up or photograph the recipes that interest me rather than write them out) and 3 reference books (one about wine, one about cheese and the Flavour Thesaurus)
  • 13 of the cookbooks (that’s 57%) are in French
  • 16 of them (70%) were gifts, and 12 of those are in French – clearly my French family and friends know me well and have the right idea
  • 25 magazines waiting for me to file away the recipes that interest me…  I should probably get onto that.

I’m terribly OCD about alphabetising things (having a librarian as a mum probably had an impact), but cookbooks are my one exception – I organise them by height, because it’s more aesthetically pleasing.  And some don’t have named authors, so then it all gets terribly complicated.  With only 23, it’s pretty easy to find the one I’m looking for anyway.  Incidentally, a word about the rest of my bookshelf – aside from my cookbooks, I left most of my other books (fiction and other non-fiction) in Edinburgh and since books take up a fair bit of space are thus expensive to cart around the world, I’m trying to avoid buying any whilst I’m here (thank goodness for libraries!), hence the dearth of other books.  As well as that, a lot of my uni-related books and folders live at my uni desk rather than at home.

I think my favourite book has to be my copy of Larousse des desserts, a (brilliant) gift from my French aunt and uncle and a bible of all things dessert-related.  I frequently turn to for tips, techniques or just simply ideas, as well as when I’m unsure about a recipe from another source, and aside from the caramel sauce saga, it has never let me down. If you’re looking for an all-encompassing dessert book that ranges from pastry to cakes to pastries to chocolates to elaborate desserts, and speak French, then I highly recommend this one!

I was given several student cookbooks before I went to uni, and since they were from my mum and my French aunt and uncle (they give the best gifts), they’re all French.  I’ve flipped through various British cookbooks aimed at students, but they really don’t measure up – as a general rule, they all seem to be over-simplified and aimed at students who can barely even cook pasta.  Books for students who already have some cooking skills and are just looking for cost-effective but tasty and, importantly, healthy meal ideas seem to be pretty few and far between.  Student cookbooks in France, however, suit me perfectly.  I still regularly refer to these books for meal ideas, as well as simple and straightforward everyday desserts.

I also have to mention my well-thumbed and slightly batter-splattered copy of Mad About Muffins.  I’ve tried over half of the recipes from this book, most of them more than once, and I’ve yet to be disappointed.  If you’re looking for a dedicated muffin book, this one is definitely worth consideration.

I’d actually really like two comprehensive books about meat, one in French and one in English because the cuts are different between the two countries and so is what you do with them.  The same goes for fish.  I’m also looking for a good vegetarian cookbook because I struggle to come up with interesting main courses when inviting vegetarians over.  Any recommendations are welcome!  Since I really enjoyed the TV series and the book seems pretty comprehensive, I’ve requested River Cottage Veg Everyday from the library to give it a test-run, so we’ll see how that goes.

Whilst we’re on the whole behind-the-scenes thing, for those of you who are as nosey as I am, I thought I’d include a photo of my little kitchen here in NZ, complete with totally pointless dishwasher (although I guess it does make a pretty good drying rack).  I’ve probably moaned about not having much counter space…  I haven’t been exaggerating.  At least I have a fair bit of cupboard space, although one of the cupboards is taken up by a microwave, and the rest are full.  I might not have that many cookbooks, but I have a hell of a lot of kitchen paraphernalia.  I don’t, however, have a proper utensils pot, because I have yet to find one that jumps out at me.

So there you have it, a little sneak peak at my cookbook shelf and kitchen.

Enjoy the rest of your day, wherever you are in the world!

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Toothy’s Travels – Edinburgh: Behind the scenes at the Virgin Money Fireworks Concert

Every year the Edinburgh International Festival ends with a spectacular fireworks concert, which involves a concert by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra in the Ross Theatre in Princes Street Gardens, set against the backdrop of a fantastic fireworks display timed to the music and launched from the ramparts of Edinburgh Castle.  This year’s Fireworks Concert is this Sunday evening (4th September) at 21:00.  This year, the event has a new sponsor in the form of Virgin Money, and in order to increase awareness of this, yesterday evening they organised a little behind-the-scenes tour of the firework preparations for interested Edinburgh bloggers.

Now, I realise that fireworks are a bit of a departure from the norm on what is primarily a food blog, but… uhm, hello, fireworks are awesome, of course I wanted to see behind the scenes!  I’ll be honest, I wasn’t really sure what to expect, but it was really rather interesting, particularly since I know absolutely nothing about fireworks, except that they’re pretty and can be dangerous.  The little tour was given by Keith Webb, the Project Director for Pyrovision who are responsible for putting together the display which involves over 100,000 fireworks (uhm, wow!).  Here he is showing us the set-up for a wave of fireworks that will make up a grand total of around 7 seconds of the 45-minute show.

What I found very interesting to learn about was the huge role of technology in the firework display.  Now, my grasp of electronics isn’t exactly fabulous, so here’s the disclaimer: whilst I took notes, I might be using totally the wrong terminology, but hopefully you’ll understand what I’m trying to talk about.  Keith explained that alternating fireworks on the frame above are on different circuits, in case something goes wrong, so that at least half the fireworks will still be able to go off for the show.  I’d never realised how much technology and electronics are involved in modern firework displays.  It totally makes sense, but I guess I’d never really thought about it – I may or may not have had a vague mental image of people running around with hand-lighters to light the fuses on the fireworks, kind of like you see in cartoons.  Like I said, I’d never really thought about it…

Every single firework in the entire display is set off by an electric match (I didn’t even know that such things existed) which is connected to a cable, which is ultimately connected to and controlled by a computer.  It’s totally mind-blowing, particularly when you consider that there are over 100,000 fireworks, plus spares, just in case.  That is one heck of a lot of cabling.  Obviously, there have been lots of technological advances since the Firework Concert first started, and the control of the display has moved from human fingers pressing buttons (or lighting fuses) to the use of computers to programme the display.  Keith explained that one of the huge advantages conferred by the use of computers is that it allows them to time the fireworks much more closely to the tempo of the music, particularly when the music reaches a tempo faster than a human would be able to press all the firework buttons.  Amazing!  Of course, this make it sound really easy – programme the fireworks, sit back and relax as they all go off in time to the music – but of course, the fireworks are timed to a live show and the tempo of the music depends on the conductor down in Princes St Gardens.  Therein lies the challenge – continuously monitoring and altering the tempo of the programmed display to match that of the music that the display is accompanying.

As well as monitoring the live music, the technicians (professional pyromaniacs?  Not really sure what their official job title would be) also keep an eye out on the weather and if the wind speed picks up too much (we’re in Scotland, so obviously that would never happen), they can cut off the really big fireworks from the display programme, in order to keep the display as safe as possible for the public.  As I briefly mentioned, there are plenty of spare fireworks and a lot of redundancy is built into the whole system and display, in case of technical failures and malfunctions, to ensure that the show still happens regardless.

I think Keith had planned to show us the apparatus to set up the firework cascade that comes down the North wall of the Castle, but sadly we ran out of time.  The cascade is by far the most expensive part of the whole display, but also the most popular (it is so impressive to see the sparks fall from the Castle’s ramparts and down the sheer cliff), and the timing of the cascade within the concert is a closely guarded secret.  We’ll have to wait until Sunday evening to find out when it will happen…

Which brings me onto my final note – the concert itself.  This year, the Edinburgh International Festival was celebrating the wealth and diversity of Asian cultures, and the Fireworks Concert pieces have been chosen along this theme (you can find the listing here).  Even though the Fireworks Concert happens every year, I can’t help but feel that the long history of fireworks in Asia (and I think particularly China) makes this event a particularly fitting end to the Festival this year.  Perhaps even more apt that most of the fireworks come from China (apparently it’s more cost-effective, but I’m sure they also produce really good fireworks.  They’ve been making them since the 7th century, so that’s quite a lot of practice!).

Setting up all the fireworks requires about 15 people, with an additional four on the night of the concert, supported by additional staff from the Castle.  I take my hat off to all of them for A) being able to understand all the cables and B) being able to put together such an impressive event, and look forward to an exciting Fireworks Concert on Sunday evening!  If you’re in or near Edinburgh, I strongly recommend that you try to watch the event – whilst access to Princes St Gardens is ticketed, I believe watching from Princes St is completely free, and if you’re watching from elsewhere in Edinburgh, I think that the concert is broadcast on local radio so that you can enjoy the music, too.

Thank you to Virgin Money for this wonderfully eye-opening behind the scenes tour!

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