Archive for March, 2011

Weird Science As Explained To Emmy The Dog

Sunday, March 27th, 2011

I have been reading “How to Teach Quantum Physics to your Dog” by Chad Orzel, because I love reading about quantum physics, relativity and the creation of universe, partly as I am a geek and also as I do not understand what is going on at all and reckon that sooner or later I will get there and I will have a Eureka moment.  This book is really quite light hearted, yet tackles many of the core underlying themes in modern physics, e.g. wave particle duality, Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, Schrödinger’s Cat and the Quantum-Zeno Effect.  It is built off the back of his amazing blog – http://scienceblogs.com/principles/.

So while Chad was banging on about Heisenberg, he wrote:

“You can make the momentum change smaller by increasing the wavelength of the light (decreasing the momentum that the photon has available to give to the electron), but when you increase the wavelength, you decrease the resolution of the microscope, and lose information about the position.  If you want to know the position well, you need to use light with a short wavelength, which has a lot of momentum, and changes the electron’s momentum by a large amount.  You can’t determine the position precisely without losing information about the momentum, and vice versa.” [p48 from Chad Orzel’s book]

It was then that I had one of those small moments of understanding where I felt that physics teachers have been deliberately misleading me, obfuscating and confusing me and making it all seem harder than it really is: wave-particle duality does not mean that light, matter etc is two things at once, which is how they explain it.  Rather this idea of duality is simply artifice to explain light’s properties mathematically and physically, i.e. a model to explain the behaviour of things in the universe.  Light is light, matter is matter, the lamp post outside my window is a real physical object and the sycamore on the green lives and so on.  However, the physics and so maths needed to explain the properties of these objects and how electrons and light work needs more than one theme to get it all sorted out.  So measurable stuff comprises a physical form (the particle bit) and energy (the wave bit), and we need both bits to sense things.  By the way, both of these are relative to other things, so it is really relative physicality and relative energy, hence I cannot feel something that is too small for me to sense.

This raises an interesting thought, being what happens if you have energyless particles and particleless energy.  Now modern physics says that even the lowest energy particles have velocity and so you cannot get a no-energy state.  But what if you can decouple energy and physicality?  If you could get these “things”, then you would not be able to measure them and so they become voids or “dark”.  Is this what dark energy and dark matter are? Formless energy and energyless form.  Humanity is not coded to be able to sense these, or even really to understand such things.  But what happens if that is what these missing bits are, i.e. 23% for dark matter and a whopping 72% for dark energy of mass-density of universe? Could you actually measure them rather than infer them – the only way to measure these two missing parts of the universe would be to give them back what they have lost, i.e. give energy to dark matter and form to dark energy, but would that actually be possible, or even for that matter a good thing.

Thinking about it why shouldn’t there be energy without a physical side and matter without an energy side.  Yes that’s not what we see/measure, but these are things you cannot measure or see, so why not?  In fact, it makes physical things more unique and basically says that there is something special about “normal” matter and energy as these are things where matter and energy are linked together rather than separated.  It is quite easy to envisage energy without shape as that is simply energy, i.e. just a wave and no particle bit, however how do you have matter that you cannot see as wouldn’t we just bump into it as we try and measure things.  Perhaps dark matter is shape than has folded in on itself until it is so infinitesimally small that you just cannot measure it and that there is something about adding energy that enables pre-matter to unfold and become detectable.  But now I am really lost in my own explanation.

Another thing that Chad Orzel writes about is why quantum mechanics does not work in the real world very often and that systems collapse into old-fashioned Newtonian mechanics.  This is one of the reasons most of us simple punters find quantum physics so complex as it does not marry up with our experience of the physical world, even if the maths works and so has allowed loads of new discoveries.  The theories, or philosophies, as to how the quantum world collapses when things are measured/observed includes theories like the Copenhagen Interpretation, Everett’s Many Worlds Ideas and Feynman’s Shut Up and Calculate Concept [actually not Feynman but David Mermin, but he’s way less iconic].

I feel all these are too complex and perhaps too overthought and overwrought, i.e. everyone is simply trying to hard.  I think it is really just a matter of scale, so quantum theory works fine at a small level where there are very few components to a system.  However, as you scale up, you just need a new way of looking at things.  Nothing has changed with quantum physics as it still works at a micro level, but it just does not work on larger scales.  Different things need different ways of looking at it.

However, should you still want a mechanism for why it changes, here goes.  Everything can be described by a wave pattern using Schrödinger’s rules.  These are all different shapes and sizes, but everything big and everything small has a wave that describes them.  At a small scale where there are not many things about and the gaps between everything are relatively large, these waves have the space to take shape and grow to their full size, hence the properties of that wave become paramount in their behaviour.  So at this small scale and with little noise from other stuff kicking about, quantum physics and all those ideas work.  However, as you scale up, other waves start getting in the way, interfering with each other, changing the shapes of the waves, filling up the space with other waves and so preventing them fully expressing themselves.  In effect, quantum waves interfere with other quantum waves and they reduce their influence on their behaviour, so their impacts are nullified.  This means mathematically, there will be a point at which simply adding together quantum waves will cancel their individual effects and there will be no more measurable individual quantum effects anymore and classical mechanics takes centre stage.  I call this idea entanglement.

Size matters.  QED.

By the way, this means there are no parallel universes going on right now, ones where I am rich and famous or am the world’s greatest painter, and much of science fiction is well science fiction.  Sorry about that.

But it does mean that the sycamore tree on the green can exist even if no-one ever has observed it or a falling tree actually fall if not observed, because as all the individual waves of each particle entangle and interfere with each other they create existence, fixing things into space and time.  This philosophy and physics problem can be seen in works by George Berkeley or in physics forums, where a load of strange and complex answers are given.  Pragmatism should always rule over philosophy, as many things just are without being measured or proved; whether you can explain it is a different matter, but that does not stop it being so.

Brownies Recipes From Cakes By Pam Corbin

Saturday, March 26th, 2011

We have just been at the International Food Exhibition 2011, IFE 2011, at Excel in London, where we have been exhibiting. 

It is one of those strange and massive events, where you can be treated to delicious, lovingly made cheese from the Wensleydale Cheese Company with their Jervaulx Blue through to the tasteless, sweaty industrial cheese of AB Technologies Alimentaire, who initiated me into the delights of chocolate flavoured cheese strings (revolting) and wasabi flavoured cheese strings (not great but strangely I think it is a possiblity, but you would need more wasabi for a kick and tastier cheese).  The other weird flavour from the show was Purbeck Ice Cream’s Horseradish and Beetroot Icecream, which was intriguing and would work well as an amuse bouche.  The Steenbergs (our) stand was quite busy, but opposite us was Higgidy Pies – now they have done massively well and are now in most of the major multiples which from a start about 7 years ago is truly immense. 

In fact, most of the businesses around us at the IFE trade show were all in Boots, Sainsburys, Tesco and Waitrose etc, so it was slightly weird being one of the few to hold out and say “No thank you” to the big multiples, and long may we be able to resist the temptation even if it means we are all the poorer for our positioning.  It is also interesting to note that inspite of the fact that customers are always telling us “Don’t got into the multiples” and so on, they were happily swarming around Higgidy Pies despite the fact that they are listed in Asda, Boots, Budgens, Ocado, Sainsburys and Waitrose.

And just round from us was Thursday Cottage, which is now part of Tiptree, but was founded by Pam Corbin.  Pam now does courses in jam making and writes books for River Cottage.  She is one of the world’s beautiful people – lovely nature, light and fresh manner and a great cook, as well as a real fan of Steenbergs ingredients.  Pam has just finished her book from River Cottage on Cakes and she has kindly mentioned Steenbergs spices on more than one occasion, for which we are so grateful.

Anyway to the book.  The aptly-called “Cakes” is number 8 in River Cottage’s series of indispensible handbooks, covering the basics of core areas like jam making, baking cakes etc.  They are hard-backed but the size of a normal paperback, so they are handy and convenient rather than big and bulky.  What’s more they make difficult topics, really easy.  There are masses of cakes – real cakes as this is full of lots of delicious-sounding flavour combinations, but they are classic British-style cakes and not the flouncy, airy and chic cakes of the superchef catwalk scene.

Chocolate Brownies

Chocolate Brownies

So I have chosen a couple of recipes to try: firstly “My chocolate brownies” in this blog, followed (perhaps) by “Wholemeal orange cake“, “Simnel cakelets“, “Cut and come again” in subsequent blogs.  But please make sure you go out and buy her books, because Pam is really lovely.

Ingredients
(Adapted from Cakes by Pam Corbin)

185g / 6½ oz plain chocolate (60-70% cocoa solids), broken into small pieces
185g / 6½ oz unsalted butter
3 large eggs
275g / 9¾ oz Fairtrade golden caster sugar
85g / 3oz plain flour
40g / 1½ oz Fairtrade cocoa powder (even Cadbury’s is Fairtrade these days)
50g / 1¾ oz white chocolate, roughly chopped (I tried out Morrisons Best for this)
50g / 1¾ oz milk chocolate, roughly chopped (I used half a bar of Cadbury’s Fairtrade Dairy Milk, then ate the rest)

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F.  Put the plain chocolate in a heatproof bowl with the unsalted butter.  Place over a barely simmering water on a low heat and leave until melted.  Stir to blend together and take off the heat.

Whisk the eggs and Fairtrade golden caster sugar together with an electric whisk or mixer until pale and quadrupled in volume, which takes 5-10 minutes.  According to Pam, this is the key bit as it increases the volume massively and makes the whole brownie more succulent.
Whisk The Eggs And Sugar To Much Bigger Volume

Whisk The Eggs And Sugar To Much Bigger Volume

Fold the chocolate mixture into the mousse-like egg mixture.  Sift the flour and cocoa powder and fold into the mixture as gently as possible.  Then fold in the chopped chocolate pieces.

Fold Chocolate Into Egg-Sugar Mix

Fold Chocolate Into Egg-Sugar Mix

Pour the mixture into the baking tin and bake for 35 minutes, or until the top has just stopped to wobble and then take out and leave to cool in the tin.  You are trying to leave the brownie partly uncooked and stop it becoming a chocolate cake.

When thoroughly cooled, turn out the brownies onto a tea-towel and then place onto a chopping board.  Cut into squares.

The brownies can be stored for 4-5 days in an airtight container, but brownies never last that long in our household and these are truly scrumptious.  The ones from the centre of the cake tin are the best as they have that delicious, moist mouthfeel.

Matcha Tea Cupcakes – Green, Healthy and Tasty Recipe

Monday, March 21st, 2011

The terrible events in Japan lay bare to us all how much we are still at the mercy of the elements, rather than completely in control of our earth.

Steenbergs Matcha Tea And Cocoa Powder

Steenbergs Matcha Tea And Cocoa Powder

So I decided to revisit my recent post on matcha tea and create these Matcha Tea Cupcakes ideal for charity events to raise money for the tsunami victims.  They are really delicious combination of matcha and cocoa, with with the cupcake tasting just of chocolate cake and the very mild seaweedy taste of the matcha in the icing complements the classic sweetness of the chocolate.  As an aside, this is great way to get some of the benefits of matcha without needing to drink a cup of slightly bitter matcha tea

Matcha Cupcakes

Matcha Cupcakes

Recipe for Matcha Tea Cupcakes

1 tsp (rounded) organic matcha tea
120ml / ½ cup milk
100g / ¾ cup plus 1 tbsp organic plain flour
1¼ tsp baking powder
2 tbsp Fairtrade cocoa powder
Pinch of sea salt
150g / 1 scant cup Fairtrade caster sugar
1 large free range egg
1 tsp Steenbergs organic Fairtrade vanilla extract
50g / 3½ tsp unsalted butter 

For the topping:

80g / 5 tbsp unsalted butter
2 tsp (level) organic matcha tea, sieved
2 tbsp fromage frais
250g / 2 cups Faitrade icing sugar

1.  Preheat the oven to 180C / 350F.

2.  Pour the milk into a milk pan, then sieve the matcha tea into the milk.  Whisk the mixture with a matcha whisk or a fork.  Then carefully heat the milk until hot to touch but not starting to simmer.  Take off the heat and set aside.

Infuse Milk With Green Matcha Tea

Infuse Milk With Green Matcha Tea

3.  Sieve the plain flour, baking powder and cocoa powder into a mixing bowl.  Add the sea salt and then tip in the caster sugar.  Mix the dry ingredients together.

Put All The Dry Ingredients Into Mixing Bowl

Put All The Dry Ingredients Into Mixing Bowl

4.  Put the egg and vanilla extract into the dry ingredients and mix up a bit with a fork.  Chop the unsalted butter into small cubes and add to the mixture.  Mix thoroughly with an electric whisk or in a blender.  When creamed together, add the matcha milk mix and throughly mix.

Mix In The Matcha Milk

Mix In The Matcha Milk

5.  Spoon the mixture into paper cupcakes until about three-quarters up.

Pour In Mixture Three Quarters Up Cupcake

Pour In Mixture Three Quarters Up Cupcake

6.  Place in oven and cook for about 25 minutes, or until spongy to the touch.  Remove from the oven and leave to cool on a wire rack.

7.  To make the matcha icing, simply mix all the ingredients together and put a dessertspoon of the matcha frosting onto each cupcake.

Mix Together The Ingredients For Matcha Frosting

Mix Together The Ingredients For Matcha Frosting

8.  Enjoy the taste straight away.