I’m currently in the UK having been awarded a fellowship grant to do some collaborative research at the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton. I’ll be in the UK for three months, so I have plenty of time to find some foodie gems!
Tanners was probably my first fine dining experience. My family hosted a beautiful celebration there for my 21st birthday and the Tanner brothers are now frequent features on food programmes in the UK. My mum decided to randomly book us in to attend their first Winemaker dinner last week and I was more than happy to make the journey from Southampton to Plymouth for the occasion.
The winemaker in question was Matt Thompson of Saint Clair Family Estate in Marlborough, New Zealand. Living in South Africa, I’ve had relatively minimal exposure to New Zealand wines, with the exception of a few Pinot Noirs and Bens insistence that even he could enjoy a Chardonnay from NZ. Coincidentally though I had tried the Pioneers Block Pinot Noir from St Clair a few weeks ago, in Oxford. At the time I’d found it really lovely, though a little underwhelming, possibly as we’d just given all our attention to a bottle of the Chard Farm Pinot Noir without any food distraction. Anyway, I’ve mostly been in to white wine lately (blame the stunning South African summers), particularly Sauvignon Blanc, which our local Constantia wine region is famous for. As a Sauv. Blanc fan I’ve obviously heard about the success of this varietal in Marlborough, so I was excited to try St Clairs and compare with my South African experiences.
Each course (of 7) was paired with a different wine from St Clair. We started off with a glass of the 2011 Omaka Reserve Chardonnay in the courtyard. I should mention that Tanners is located in the gorgeous, grade 1 listed, Prysten House (built around 1490) on Plymouths Barbican – a suitably glamourous setting.
Paired with the Chardonnay was a selection of canapés including a squid ragout, fishcake with parsley mayonnaise and a cauliflower and cucumber shot. These little nibbles paired fantastically with the Chardonnay, which is definitely another of my favourite varietals. Flavours were a mix of the classical citrus, oakey and butterscotch flavours, though I found this wine less buttery than I would typically go for in a chard, nonetheless – delicious…I had two glasses, which I would later come to regret somewhat as our glasses were generously filled all evening!
With James Tanner in the kitchen and Matt giving us a fantastic introduction to each wine, it was shaping up to be a wonderful evening. The second course was to be paired with the first of two Sauvignon Blancs, the 2011 Pioneer Block 18 ‘Snap Block’. With great excitement I took my first overly enthusiastic sniff of this wine and was met with a massive smack of passion fruit. I’ve never had a wine that smelt anything like this one. I’m usually averse to tropical fruit flavours in Sauvignons, preferring the crisp, green flavour often found in the cool climate Constantia Sauvignons that are my usual go to summer wine. So naturally I was a little apprehensive that, despite the amazing scent, I wouldn’t like this wine. I was totally wrong, though the passion fruit flavours continued in to the taste, there was none of the cloying sweetness I would usually associated with these tropical type Sauvignons. The wine had a wonderful acidity, with plenty of those green notes I love. This complimented our second dish of seared scallop, asparagus and lemon really well. Mum found the flavours a little contradictory – the sourness of the lemon vs the sweeter fruit flavours of the wine, but I really liked it, thinking the flavours of the dish were balanced by those of the wine. Matt was more than happy to take questions, so I felt I had to ask why, despite similar climate, the flavour and perfume of this wine were so different to those of Constantia. Matt explained that there is a lot of variation in geology throughout the farm and this may be responsible for these differences and indeed, the differences with our third wine…
The Wairau Reserve is made with grapes from a combination of vineyards, in contrast to the single vineyard ‘Snap Block’. This wine represents the best of each years Sauvignon Blanc harvest. It was more subtle than the previous wine, with the salty and chalky soils imparting less fruit and more fresh green flavours. I think this wine and the food paired with it were possibly my favourite course of the evening. I’ve never eaten bone marrow before, but crumbled over the top of a whipped goats cheese and complemented by sweet peas, made for a spectacularly simple yet incredible dish.
By now mum and I were well on the way to the far side of sobriety, and you can tell from my little notes made in the great little tasting book we were given with the meal. Next up, was a Pinot Gris Rose (2012), which I have to say is not my favourite varietal/style. However when paired with a line caught bass, with tomatoes, wild fennel pollen and creme fraiche, the pear/strawberry and creamy flavours of the wine really came out. Not a wine I would have on it’s own, but very pleasant with the food. The fish was cooked perfectly, I don’t normally eat fish skin, but this was so crispy and, with the pollen, really, really delicious.
Our fifth course was paired with the 2011 Block 14 ‘Doctors Creek’ Pinot Noir, which I had tried in Oxford a few weeks previous. To be honest, this tasted like a totally different wine this time! Much richer and powerful flavours than I remembered. Asking the Maitre d’, they had allowed this wine to breathe for several hours – which may have been our mistake before and something I will definitely bear in mind in future. The wine stood up really well to the rich rump of lamb and sweetbreads served with broad beans, turnips and pearl barley. This was a really classic dish, with lovely ingredients – particularly the delicious sweetbreads, though I did not like the dark sauce/puree it was served with, which was a little bitter.
A big plate of cheese arrived next, with such variety that mum and I in our slightly(!) tipsy state continually forgot which ones were which! The cheeses were mostly from around Devon and Cornwall and the soft Sharpham Elmhirst, Sharpham brie and nutty Haytor proved favourites with us. A second Pinot Noir accompanied the cheese – the Omaka Reserve 2009. Matt suggested this wine was a little young and could do with a few more years, I would agree, although delicious, it didn’t thrill me as much as the previous Pinot Noir.
Dessert was a very pretty little dish with Yuzu curd and sorbet, compressed mango and coconut meringue – paired with the Awatere Valley Reserve Noble Riesling 2009. The meringues were fantastic – the addition of the coconut was lovely and they were perfectly cooked – chewy in the middle. However neither mum or I liked the Yuzu which was quite sour/bitter – though this was tempered by both the sweet mango/meringue and the sweet wine. I struggle with dessert wines, I actually prefer to have them with savoury foods (at christmas we made chicken liver pate and pork belly and mincemeat chutney pies to go with our Vin de Constance), so perhaps I’m not best to judge this wine. I liked the flavours of honey and orange peel, but I think I would need to taste it again and give it some proper attention to get the best out of it.
A coffee, some cute petit fours and a pic with James Tanner ended our evening. On the whole I think this sort of event is great – it’s always good to be able to chat to people about wine, especially if you are fairly new to it all (like me) and can ask (perhaps dumb) questions. I’d highly recommend booking in if Tanners does another event like this.
I’ve written before about how teaching and tutoring have greatly enhanced my own understanding of my subject. Teaching is something I really enjoy and the longer I spend in academia the more I see the value in having, and now being, a great teacher. So I was very excited to hear that this years Deans visitor for the Faculty of Science is Professor Saundra McGuire from Louisiana State University in the USA. Professor McGuire gave several talks during the last few weeks and I attended a morning workshop aimed specifically at tutors like myself.
I’ve come away from the workshop feeling thoroughly inspired and decided I had to share a few insights from her talks. I feel like I’ve gained not only an array of new ideas to help the students I work with but also a better understanding of how I’ve learnt things during my time at University.
We started off our workshop by examining what it is to learn something, and asking what do students really need to get out of their university education? Whilst school may be the time to memorise and repeat facts, university makes very different demands on learners. It is no longer enough at university to remember facts, students have to progress from knowledge to understanding and application of concepts. This can be a bit of a blow for many students, who’ve recently been successful at school and achieved a coveted place at a top university.
Teaching at this level, and tutoring in particular, becomes more about equipping students with the skills to learn, understand and crucially, apply concepts to problems. And mostly, teaching the students that this should be their motivation. Professor McGuire showed us that students know a lot of this already – they know that you have to understand a subject better to teach it, than to get an A on a test, but they also recognize that if you know a subject so well that you can teach it, you’ll probably get that A!
Professor McGuire introduced us to blooms taxonomy as a way of understanding how learning changes through high school in to higher education. The taxonomy is basically a hierarchical triangle with the following sections (starting at the bottom):
According to the taxonomy, undergraduate students should progress from the knowledge and comprehension skills gained at high school on to application and analysis (synthesis and evaluation is the domain of the researching graduate student, an equally difficult jump I’m sure many of my fellow PhD candidates will agree!).
Here are a few other tips Professor McGuire shared which I think will be very useful for me in future:
- Don’t use textbooks to work example problems. Have a go first then check the answer and try to work out where you went wrong BEFORE looking at the books method! Take home message: Making mistakes is a great learning experience. I personally think this is the only way you ever learn how to code.
- Use a study cycle:
– Preview – Prepare your mind for what its about to learn about.
– Attend – All the lectures.
– Review – Move new knowledge from to long term memory.
– Study – 2/3 short intense sessions during the day, 2 at night.
– Assess – Consider: Am I learning well? Be aware of the process.
- Use reading strategies:
– Get the course materials – textbooks etc
– Give an overview – make a big picture – spider plan etc based on chapter structure. Summarise from bold print/italicized text, graphs etc.
– Think about questions you might want answered.
– Consider differences between concepts and importance to other topic areas.
– Read paragraph and put in own words/translate in to your home language.
- Remind students that their mindset determines their reactions. See challenges as something to embrace rather than avoid; see difficult tasks as the path to mastery, rather than being fruitless.
- Attribute failure to correctable causes and success to effective strategies.
For more information about effective teaching, check out courses and other resources available at the Centre for Academic success (www.cas.lsu.edu) and the book “How people learn” by John D. Bransford, available here.
Many thanks to Professor McGuire for the fantastic lecture and workshop!
Most PhD students will get at least one and often even many opportunities to attend a summer school during their studies. Are they useful? And how do you pick the best one for you – especially if you’re work falls between multiple disciplines? I’ve just taken part in my second summer school – a week long workshop run by Greenseas, which was quite different in structure to my first – a bio-optics summer lecture series in Villefranche last July (if you skip between hemispheres, it can always be summer :P)
Time is of the essence in the third year of your PhD – if, like us in SA, you only have 3 years, now is the time to be wrapping up ideas in to concise and well explained conclusions and writing chapters and papers. So a decision to take a week or two off to cram more information in to your already overworked brain is not one taken lightly. For this reason, I was a little concerned in the few weeks before last weeks Greenseas workshop. The last year has been a tough one where I’ve had to push through coding difficulties, endless hours of trying to form a coherent data set from years of inconsistent in situ data and try to understand plenty of theory rooted in complex physics. I guess this is the status quo if you want to produce “new science” as a researcher, but anyway, most PhD students I’m sure will be familiar with that feeling of being completely overwhelmed and overstretched. The thought of spending a week trying to learn more, or spend time on things not directly related to my work, was unnerving. But my last summer school had been really helpful, giving my bio-optics knowledge a much needed boost, so I determined to keep an open mind about the upcoming workshop.
The Greenseas project has a detailed list of aims but in short, the project brings together knowledge and data on phytoplankton from in situ, satellite and modelling methods and aims to make this available for answering global scale questions. My PhD research falls pretty well within this, and so I applied for the summer school as a good arena to discuss my ideas. The week started with a few days of lectures about in situ data collection methods, ocean colour remote sensing and biogeochemical modelling, with a big focus on how we can combine and assess these data sources, despite their vastly different assumptions and spatio-temporal resolutions. Lectures and practicals on statistics and data processing, supplemented these sessions, providing tools in matlab and R that would be useful for the second part of the course. Though a lot of the academic content of the lectures was not new to me, it provided a great set up to explore the statistical and data processing tools which I know will be vital for my work in the next year – the scripts provided to regrid data, extract time series and conduct meaningful statistical analysis will only need minor adjustments to apply to my data – saving me a lot of time coding!
After the first few days of lectures and practicals, we were split in to groups of 5, with at least one student with a specialism in each area of in situ, remote sensing and modelling data. Our task was to investigate a particular ocean region, using in situ data from the Greenseas data base, combined with ocean colour data and output from a model. I had previously felt this would be a waste of time, why would I want to spend days working on a region unrelated to my own? But the case studies actually proved to be an incredibly valuable experience. Though I consider myself an interdisciplinary scientist, I became very aware of how stuck I am in my own little sphere of work. Being forced to work with others, using different data sources, was a great exercise in learning how to communicate across disciplinary boundaries and recognising how to draw expertise together. A side effect of this approach, was to go someway to alleviating that most dreadful of PhD conditions – imposter syndrome. Most students (and probably many senior academics) I’m sure will admit to feeling like they aren’t smart enough or don’t deserve to be working where they are. Being able to share your skills with others, certainly makes me realise that I do have things to contribute and has given me a big confidence boost. With the pressure of a deadline, a report to write and presentation to give, I managed to develop some new skills in R in a very short time, whilst simulataneously getting lots of ideas and new contacts to help with my own work. If I ever organise a workshop, I will definitely try and bring in the case study approach used during the Greenseas summer school.
I’ve found that one of the most valuable things I’ve gained from summer schools I’ve attended, is a sense of perspective – both about the interdisciplinary field of oceanography itself and my place in it. Here’s a few things I would recommend thinking about when trying to find a suitable summer school to apply to:
Guide to picking a good summer school:
• Look for one that’s not directly in your field. If you’ve been doing your PhD for two years, the chances are you know the basics through and through already, so maybe think about looking for a school that will bring added value to your work. E.g. a workshop on statistical techniques, or one on different data sources that you could use to support your understanding of your system of interest.
• Look for one that will give you cross-disciplinary skills and tools. I may have given up a week of work for Greenseas, but the tools provided would definitely take me more than a week to develop myself.
• Home or away? I’ve attended two summer schools – one a significant distance away and one at my own university. There’s benefits and disadvantages to each. Obviously travel takes time and money, so it may be easier on your budget/schedule to attend a summer school at least in your own country. However the opportunities to network internationally are also very worthwhile. I got the best of both with Greenseas, being an international project, the students came from all over, but being held at my university made it very easy for me to keep in touch with work commitments here – much less stressful.
Do you have any experiences at summer schools? What aspects did you find most useful? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
Many thanks to the Greenseas project (funded under the European FP7 Environment Program, Grant agreement no.265294), everyone who attended the course, especially the lecturing staff and my team – “baklawa”.
Also thanks to Lauren Biermann and the Greenseas team for the photos used in this blog.
I’ve never really been one for new years resolutions, but 2012 was a little bit of a let down after the crazy excitement of 2010 and 2011, don’t get me wrong, there were plenty of highlights, but mostly the weight of PhD second year ground me, Ben and our friends down a bit. So I’ve decided to make a list of things I’d like to work on this year.
I’ll be continuing with my slow and steady fitness plan, after much success in 2012 with finally getting my arse off the couch and out trail running! To begin with I’ll be attending an Adventure boot camp, then I’ll be running the long races of the Cape summer trail series and the Two Oceans half marathon.
At some point I’ll probably try and finish this PhD too, but to keep me sane and healthy I’ve got a few things I’d like to work on in my food endeavors!
Salads: I love salad, but I find it hard to make a truly special one. After visiting the beautiful gardens of Babylonstoren and purchasing their book, named after their restaurant “Babel”, I’ve been inspired to experiment with different vegetables, dressing and protein combinations to make delicious, healthy salads. I’m also hoping to sign our house up for a Harvest of Hope veggie box.
Mushrooms: I love them, Ben hates them, I think this should probably change. Regardless, I need more of them in my life.
Sustainable seafood: Cooking with seafood is a relatively new thing for me, but you’ll have seen from various banners and blog posts that I’ve been involved with the South African Sustainable Seafood Initiative (SASSI). I’d like to up my commitment to this great initiative this year, to develop some lovely, home-style recipes to make the most of our great sustainable options in SA.
Tapas tuesdays: Ben and our good friend Janine are planning to play some gigs this year and so will be practicing at our house on tuesdays. I’ve decided this is a good opportunity for me to work on finger food/tapas type recipes, a style of social food that I really love.
Low budget and stress free eating: This year is likely to be one of the toughest of our lives, whilst Ben, myself and housemate Emily try and finish our PhD research. Funding will be running out, and time will be of the essence. I’m not happy for this to mean poor diets, so I’m going to be working on some recipes for simple, cheap food, that can be prepared quickly or in bulk, for those days where time and money are tight!
Beer and food pairing: Our fellow oceanographer Brett has recently started his own blog about the excellent variety of craft beer in Cape Town. Inspired by his trip to the Stone Brewing Company in the USA, Brett proposed that we do some beer and food pairing soon. I have some experience with food and wine pairing, so look forward to this new venture!
Watch this space for new recipes and foodie thoughts!
HAPPY NEW YEAR!
Our love of cheese and wine tends to leave little time, money and tummy room for desserts. But every now and then we need a little something sweet for a party or dinner. For my research group braai (bbq for non-SA readers!) we adapted this recipe from BBC Good Food. The cake is very indulgent, having a more mousse than cake like texture, and can be made gluten free (check your chocolate).
Almond, chocolate, pear and rum cake
85g butter, plus 1 tbsp to grease the tin
85g caster sugar, plus 1 tbsp to coat the tin
85g dark chocolate (I used 80g and then topped it up with some of Willy Cacao)
1 tbsp dark rum
1 tsp cinnamon
3 eggs, separated
85g ground almonds
2 large pears, peeled and sliced in to four.
Icing sugar to dust
Whipped cream with fresh vanilla pods to serve.
Preheat your oven to 180 degrees. Melt 1 tbsp of butter and coat the base of a springform tin, line with a circle of baking paper, coat this with some more of the butter and sprinkle with caster sugar. Melt the chocolate and butter together in a bowl, mix in the rum and let this cool. Whisk the egg yolks and add to the cooled chocolate with the almonds and cinnamon. Whisk the white until the form soft peaks and fold gently in to the chocolate mix. Pour the mixture in to the tin, add the pears and bake for 35-40 minutes. Dust with icing sugar, serve with whipped vanilla cream and a nice glass of rose!