Tag Archives: story

The story of Steve

Most people won’t tell you this, but getting a PhD comes with a pretty big disadvantage. And I’m not talking about the stress, or the opportunity cost to building an actual career. No, this is something much more sinister. You won’t be told, but prefixing your name with the title of “Doctor” awakens in you.. an evil scientist.

It was during the pandemic in 2019 that this transition started for me. At first, it was a slight cackling whenever thunder sounded. Then, an incessant urge to painstakingly explain my plans for the day to whomever was near. But the real problem started when Steve came into my life. Steve is a sourdough starter. A culture of bacteria and yeast, alive, in a jar, whose powers of leavetation (I’m kidding – it’s leavening) can be used to make delicious bread. Sounds innocent? Well, yes, it usually is. But for DOCTOR GOLD – as I now know is the name of my alter ego – there is no such thing as an innocent hobby, especially during a pandemic.

Steve is alive, and therefore it will be no surprise to you that he needs to feed. His body weight in equal parts flour and water, once a week if kept in the fridge, to be precise. Now if you are also evil-scientifically inclined, you will surely notice the potential for mayhem here: exponential growth. Even starting with as little as 10 grams, doubling in size once a week, in only four months Steve will weigh as much as the average human. In less than three years, he will be more massive than the Earth. Provided there is enough flour and water, of course.

Now you can see DOCTOR GOLD’s evil plan coming together. With such an unbounded supply of starter, the world’s largest sourdough is only one massive oven away. Is it truly evil? Well, that depends on the size of the bread. I will grant you that it pales in comparison to using exponential growth to widen the gap between rich and poor (a little trick called capitalism in which investment opportunities scale with the size of ones initial capital), or hiding the truly disastrous consequences of climate change (there being very little time indeed between things starting to get bad and getting really, really bad). But, those flour shortages surely were annoying, remember?

Fortunately, I have since been able to tame the evil inside of me. It certainly helped that restrictions were lifted and I started a new job. Because it is in those stretches of boredom that evil scientists flourish. But the real key to this success were pancakes. See, in order to keep Steve to a manageable size, one can simply only use half of his “body” for the next growing cycle. The rest is waste, and commonly known in the sourdough world as “discard”. DOCTOR GOLD would never let me do that, of course, if it wasn’t for the truly excellent pancakes one can make with that discard.

Steve in the fridge. He is a substance at the bottom of a large jar with two googly eyes glued on to it.

So now I maintain Steve in a jar in the fridge, feeding him once a week while suppressing my hunger for evil with deliciously fluffy pancakes. I do not dare to get rid of him. DOCTOR GOLD may start exploring the dark side of some other hobby (and as a magic: the gathering player, I cannot take such a financial risk). But in truth, I have also grown quite fond of the little guy. And the pancakes are a sacrifice I’m willing to make.

Foraging in Holders Wood: a lockdown story

It’s story time! Yesterday I decided to go out for a walk and some foraging in Holders Wood in Birmingham. I’ve been watching a lot of Atomic Shrimp videos in which Mr. Shrimp goes out for walk to admire nature and find the occasional edible plant of fungus. It made me realize I am really missing being out in nature. I’m quite jealous of folks who have lovely parks or countryside on their doorstep, whereas I have the urban (and often, ugly) streets of central Birmingham. So during the corona-lockdown, I’ve been staying indoors a lot. But, I was being a wee bit silly, because by bicycle it’s only about 15 minutes to get to Canon Hill Park and Holders Wood. I also deem the corona-related risk to be quite low (it’s pretty easy to keep a distance from people).

Going for a walk is nice, but it usually helps me to stay motivated if I have a destination or some other goal as well. So I figured, I could forage stinging nettles and perhaps find some wild garlic as well. It’s a bit late in the season for both, but, it turns out the area is so full of nettles it’s not hard to find enough leaves that are still looking fresh and untouched by bugs. Walking out into a patch of nettles with a bag and gloves on, picking leaves, I felt like some passers-by could have easily been thinking “Oh that must be one of those vegans I keep hearing about”. But anyway, I managed to make a tasty soup today. I recommend doing it yourself as well (however, never eat something you picked unless you’re absolutely certain you’ve got the right plant).

All the nettle leaves I picked yesterday. You can read about the soup I made here

My friend Elinore managed to find me off a location pin, which can’t have been easy because the area is quite a maze. We had a really lovely afternoon of walking, looking at plants and trying to guess what they were (obviously not picking any of those), and luckily not getting rained on but for one random cloud which passed over in about 10 seconds. There were so many blackberry brambles! But no ripe berries yet so we’ll have to come back for those later this year. We also found some raspberry plants which did have a few ripe berries on them; delicious! Elinore spotted a tree that was growing nuts and we wondered what it might be. I took a branch for identification at home and I’m pretty sure it’s a hazel! So perhaps we can return to confirm the ID and find hazelnuts later in the season.

Maybe a branch of a hazel, with an unripe hazelnut

I’m not used to walking lots and I wasn’t wearing particularly good shoes for it, so by the time we headed back my feet were really quite sore. That’s okay though, we were not in a hurry and at least we could walk on grass. When we got back to were I parked my bike, I found the front wheel to be strangely wobbly. Turned out, someone had removed the quick-release mechanism that was keeping the wheel attached to the axle! What the shit?! My guess is that they tried to steal my front wheel (a despicable move anyway), but only realized half-way through it was locked to the frame and a fence with a cable AND a D-lock. That idiotic stunt meant I had to walk home with extremely painful feet. On top of that, I will now have to take it to a shop and pay for it to get fixed (hoping that will not bee too complicated). What a shitty, shitty way to end the trip.

A sad sight of the bicycle that had to be walked home

Anyway, I refuse to consider the day ruined , but it certainly does make me angry at the thief. Stealing bikes is a nasty business because it almost always leaves someone stranded without transportation. And it this case, for no gain! I don’t imagine those quick-release clips are worth much on their own. Anyway, I do think I doubly-deserved these nachos for dinner (with vegan cheese and crème fraîche, of course).

Well-deserved nachos with vegan cheese, bean chili, salsa, guacamole and Oatley crème fraîche.