Pies, Pizza at the Gowlett, Instagram photos of food

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My pieI love pies. But until last week I’d never made one. While pies seem simple — pastry and some filling — the thought of making pastry and cooking up some filling seemed like too much work. I guess I also knew deep down that pies were unhealthy. The pie I made certainly was.

It came from the Pieminister book a friend kindly gave me. Like many cookery spin-off books it is beautifully produced, everything looks wonderful but takes a pile of ingredients the likes of me doesn’t keep around the house. However hidden at the back was the Hunter Chicken Pie which didn’t call for something I wouldn’t buy on a normal shop.

Admittedly I did cheat and use ready-rolled puff pastry. But the chopping of onions, cooking with rosemary then adding tomato, Worcester sauce and balsamic vinegar was me. Then cooking up the chicken, bacon and 150ml of double cream was me. I did get a bit of help laying out the pastry.

The result was gorgeous. I’m pleased I’d had my blood cholesterol test earlier in the week before eating it.

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Pizza at The Gowlett

Gowlett's pizzaI should love pizza but I have an on-off relationship with it, mainly because pizzas disappoint me too much. I’d given up hope on shop bought pizzas. Pizza Express’ efforts do nothing for me. The occasional delivery pizza is OK but only it if has BBQ sauce on it.

I’m down to two places that do pizza really well. One is Yard in Shoreditch which sells pizza by the yard with different toppings to share. I’ve only been there three times and it hasn’t failed me. But the best place I’ve ever found for pizza is The Gowlett in Peckham.

It often tops charts of best pizza in (South) London and deservedly so. What I cannot work out is why. It is a backstreet boozer that’s purposely been kept plain. Although it tries to make a virtue out of its beer selection it is average. But their pizzas stand out. The base is perfect and the toppings tasty and inventive.

Not skimping on the quality of the toppings is certainly a factor. Last night’s chef’s special featured a runny egg that tasted better than most I’ve made.

Their pizzas come from a hidden kitchen out back so you cannot even see how they are prepared. The only clue was a sign I once saw that said they are made by Polish chefs.

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Instagram photos of food

The face of cruditésInstagram photos seem to fall into three types. Cool photos made even cooler with the filters, pets and home cooked food. Lacking a pet my photos fall into the first and third categories (although I’d accept the criticism they aren’t that cool).

This is nothing new. In the early days of Flickr people would take photos of what they were about to eat but the fashion fell away. Now it is back on Instragram and I think I know why.

For a lot of people Instragram is about showcasing artistic creativity. The filters make this easy to do. Most people I know don’t have the time to create nice things but they do cook. I was very proud of the pie I made and my breadmaker produced its best ever loaf. I wanted to share those ‘achievements’ and Instagram made that quick and easy.

I find myself taking fewer Instagram photos as I feel like they have to be good. In the winter there are less opportunities to find interesting things to photograph. But I’m cooking more. The food pictures will continue.

The Artist, LetterMpress, State of Play

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The Artist

The ArtistSo, everyone is raving about the film The Artist. A modern silent film that is styled like and set in the era of old silent films. I saw it over a week ago and still find myself asking if I thought it was good. Robert Elms didn’t think it was and has blogged his objections:

…I found this was laboured, hammy, uninvolving, clever beyond tolerance and thoroughly pointless…by setting it in the time of silent films and so obviously playing on those techniques, it simply became an exercise in stylised French retro chic.

Seeing Robert’s thoughts made me realise I agreed. Now, I didn’t hate The Artist, in fact I rather enjoyed it, but it didn’t blow me away. I’m wondering if people are getting over excited because it is different and they felt special at seeing something so retro. I did find myself wondering if I would have enjoyed a ‘classic’ silent comedy more.

Further proof that people have been caught in a whirlwind is the number of awards nominations it has. Why is it up for best sound at the BAFTAs? Best score maybe but The Artist’s sound design is nothing special (for obvious reasons).

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LetterMpressLetterMpress is an iPad and Mac application that recreates an old fashioned letter press and lets you make your own prints. It beautifully captures the look and actions of a real large letterpress.

You create prints by dragging individual letters or graphics on to the press. This is where you first realise how much effort goes into letter pressing. It isn’t just a case of dropping the letter where you want it because they don’t stick the press, they slide around as you knock other letters into it. To keep things fixed and straight you have to add magnets. Then you need to set up each colour separately and print them on top of each other. And you have to do everything reversed like looking in a mirror. Suddenly getting the multi-coloured print you want takes time and practice.

It is a fun challenge and the app will let you cheat (for example showing you the letters the correct way around). Graphic blocks are limited so you can only really produce text prints but it is a cool way to make cards and posters.

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State of Play

State of PlayThis is actually one from last month. In fact State of Play was the best thing I watched on TV last year — not bad for a series made in 2003.

It is a six-part conspiracy thriller written by Paul Abbott and staring David Morrissey, John Simm, Bill Nighy, Kelly MacDonald and James McAvoy. Starting with a young man being shot by a hit-man, and then quickly introducing the death of an aide to a high-profile MP, it shows a world where the press, government and the police interact.

It was particularly interesting to watch in light of the phone-hacking revelations of 2011. The story is driven by a bunch of broadsheet journalists who use all sorts of nefarious methods to get information. Their relationship with the police is particularly interesting – they don’t pay but they trade information and withhold facts to protect their story.

It feels strange to say this but if one of your TV highlights of last year was The Killing with its mix of investigation, politics and human consequences then this early 2000s series is for you. And you can get it second hand on play.com for a few quid.

Tallinn: Wifi’d city, KGB Museum, Occupation art and design

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Tallinn – Wifi’d city

TallinnI spent a lovely Christmas in the Estonian city of Tallinn. Digitally it is most famous for being the birthplace of the Skype software. Possibly coincidently it was first city I’ve been to where free wifi is prevalent. All hotels, most bars and restaurants, and some public spaces had fast connections without any need to register/login.

With 3G in the UK, checking things on the move has become second nature. It has also made life easier and more enjoyable now that days out don’t have be researched and planned before setting off. In Tallinn at Christmas this was particularly useful to find out where was open.

A day trip to Helsinki took us back to the normal world where the few places with wifi wanted money. I appreciate it costs money to install and run a wifi network but in the ‘connected world’ easy access to wifi is going to be a big win for tourism. I thought Skype Wifi was going to be the answer but in Estonia it would have cost me €1.20 for 10min.

Like hotel internet, everyone is after the business dollar at the expense of the tourist pound. Wouldn’t it be nice if city tourist boards (which spend millions advertising cities) did something to give cheap and easy wifi to their valuable visitors?

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KGB Museum, Tallinn

Abdandoned radio equipementEstonia has had a painful history. Its location has made it a popular country to be invaded and ruled by others. Most recently it was the Russians who, until 1991, ruled it with its iron fist, sending 20,000 to the Gulag. Tallinn was flooded with Russians to diffuse its culture and people. The KGB watched over everything.

In the 1960s the Soviets needed more foreign currency so set about opening a hotel in Tallinn to attract the tourist pound. Naturally the tourists were spied on as they stayed in the specially constructed Hotel Viru. Several rooms were fitted with listening devices and guests in the bar could be targeted with microphones that were routed up to a secret room on the top floor.

That room has now been opened as part of a KGB Museum on the 22nd floor. There we learnt of a hotel with more staff than guests, but where staff were not allowed talk to guests. Stories of people commenting in their room they had run out of toilet paper, then hearing a knock at the door where a porter awaited with fresh supplies.

The most surprising thing was this was a modern concrete multi-storey hotel and these practices went on into the 90s. I had expected to be visiting an old brick hotel and hearing stories from the 60s.

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Occupation art and design

Radio standThe trip to KGB Museum left me thinking life in Estonia under the Soviets must have been horribly oppressive. And yes, horrible things did happen. Yet visits to both the Museum of Applied Art and Design, and the 1945-1991 floor of Kumu (Estonia’s national art gallery) showed that creativity continued.

Estonian product designers fitted in well with the industrial values of the Soviets and worked to create furniture and household items that could be factory produced. Much of what was displayed at the Art and Design museum would fit in any design museum.

At Kumu the art was split into those who followed the state-sanctioned style of socialist realism and those who produced work in secret. Again both stood out.

Estonia is compared to Iceland for its high concentration of artists and, having seen their work, it was no surprise Tallinn was European City of Culture in 2011.

Guitar bands, Streetview photography, Pricing psychology

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Guitar bands coming back in 2013

Ed SheeranOne of my annual highlights is getting free tickets to T4’s Stars of 20##. It’s a fun afternoon of drinking and watching the pop artists of the year doing their greatest hit. This year there seemed to be less pop, and the crowd were loudest for The Wanted and Ed Sheeran.

I knew Ed Sheeran had a strong fan base but I was not expecting the reaction he got. On stage, alone, playing acoustic guitar through effects pedals, he had the entire audience hanging off every note and singing along. He’s not a conventionally attractive boy but you could tell that girls loved him.

I’ve always believed that kids’ passion/obsession with pop bands when 11-16 gives them a love of music that grows into a proper appreciation when 16+. Boy/girl bands are important to this. Take That/Spice Girls led to a shift to more serious music of the mid-2000s. Now we have girls getting far too excited about One Direction.

In the past, the ‘serious’ music has been grunge, indie, rap and singer-songwriters. I’m willing to bet the influence of Ed Sheeran will lead kids to pick up guitars and in a few years we’ll have a new breed of guitar bands.

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Streetview photography

A New American PictureI’m fascinated by photographs by decaying America. Usually it is photos of closed diners or cinemas but there’s also something moving about seeing streets in the supposedly developed country that are crumbling with poverty. I always wonder about the photographer’s set-up: were their photos staged, did they take hundreds of pictures to get that one shot, did they just chance upon that location?

Via Mashable I found Doug Rickard’s A New American Picture. His photos have the poignancy and power of other photos I’ve admired, but they are just more grainy and blurred.

The reason for this low quality is they are taken from Google Street View. This puts their ‘realness’ without doubt. And the answer to how many photos were taken is millions. I suppose Doug had a good idea of what streets to look at but it is still an impressive project. It makes me want to try the same in the UK.

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Pricing psychology

Woolsey MenuThis is not new but something I saw an enlightening talk about recently. It will come as no surprise that pricing is all about psychology and making you feel comfortable about paying more.

Restaurant menus turn this into an art form. As Wired explains tricks include putting an expensive dish top to make the others look better value. Boxes draw the eyes and statistically diners are more likely to order whatever is in them. And something as simple as removing the £ signs increases spend.

For digital services it’s all about the tier pricing plans. Here the free plan needs to be just enough to tempt you in, start using the service and then find it doesn’t quite give you everything you need. Then there needs to be at least three paid-for tiers with the middle one being the feature set you know most people want.

The cheapest should do just a few things that probably don’t add much to the free offering. Price this just below the middle one, so it looks like you get everything you need for just a few pound more. Go to town on the most expensive offering features most people don’t need for a much higher cost. This makes the medium one look like great value.

The expensive one will still make money. There’s a small group of people who panic at seeing choice and always go for the full expensive package just to be sure it does what they want. There are also the corporate clients who aren’t spending their own money and don’t want to risk buying something cheap which doesn’t deliver.