Cake or Death 2: Caraway Carrot Cake with Poppy Seeds vs Global Pandemic

It’s another weekend, and it’s another chance to choose between cake, or death!

Obviously, there is far too much going on [travelling, home-hunting, suit-buying, job interviews, etc] for this to happen every weekend, but I will have to see what I can do about midweek occurrences.

The Cake


Caraway Carrot Cake with Poppy Seeds, another of Ruby Tandoh’s creations, the recipes for which are no longer available on the internet.

This is not my Mother’s carrot cake, and I’m pretty sure it isn’t your Mother’s carrot cake either. It is mainly two things. One, amazing. Two, very little to do with carrot cakes.

Adding poppy seeds to a cake is something that most people will come across, and the caraway seeds are a bit like that, except turned up to eleven. I really like caraway seeds, and they have a very distinctive taste, which is really well suited to the brown sugar and carrot background to the cake. Adding the poppy seeds.. I’m not entirely sure why the poppy seeds are there. Perhaps the caraway would be too overwhelming without the attempt by the poppy seeds to distract.

I did lots of things wrong with this cake. I had the wrong type of sugar, which I think is one reason why the cake didn’t rise as much as perhaps it ought to have. Also, instead of improvising some way to crush the caraway seeds I just through them in whole. I don’t know, I used to put so much effort into following every tiny detail of a recipe, but I never seem able to bake anything without deviating at least twice.

The Death

Global Pandemic

This makes for an interesting contrast with the first week’s death, in that a global pandemic is pretty close to being a viral revenge from animals upon humanity, minus the conscious decision-making, moral culpability and possible feelings of guilt afterwards.

A novel virus certainly has the potential to kill an awful lot of people pretty quickly, and while it’s a bit of an evolutionary dead-end for a pathogen to kill all it’s hosts, these sorts of things can happen by accident. That said, it’s very unlikely that any such pathogen will emerge that is simultaneously very infectious and very deadly – at least deadly to a doomsday extent, rather than a that was an awful event in human history extent.

The two worst episodes of this type that have occurred in history are worth briefly considering. The Black Death immediately comes to mind, the effects of which you can simulate on your family and friends by rolling a pair of six-sided dice for everyone you know. Score a six or less, and they’re dead. Rosie’s told her History teacher about that one. While devastating, it’s possible to read histories of the period, say of the Hundred Years’ War, which treat it as something of a footnote. Hardly a doomsday.

The arrival of diseases such as smallpox in the Americas, brought by Europeans, arguably did have doomsday-scale impacts. Yet this was only possible because the diseases had spent many years in an evolutionary arms race with the immune systems of Europeans. This process wouldn’t happen with a new pathogen that had just jumped the species barrier.

The book argues that one key difference with the Black Death is that society is now so inter-dependent that the disruption created by a pandemic would lead to the flows of trade breaking down, and society collapsing. In 14th century Europe, the importance of trade for survival was minimal. Most people were mostly self-sufficient, and they needed to be in normal life. Thus they wouldn’t be all that affected by the disruption to trade created by the deaths of ~40% of the population.

This really isn’t the case now. What that means is that in the case of a pandemic, the greatest risk to your life is not the disease itself, but the social panic that results and the consequent failure of energy and food supplies. This death might also have been called Mass Hysteria.

Cake or Death – what is your choice?


Cake or Death 1: Chocolate Fudge Cake vs Mass Extinction

This Christmas my elder brother bought me The Doomsday Handbook. The book details 50 ways in which the world may end. I like to bake cakes. I very much enjoy this lego animation of an Eddie Izzard sketch.

So naturally I am hoping now to write a ~weekly series of posts where I present the choice between cake or death.

The Cake

DSC_0359 - Edited
Chocolate Fudge Cake by Ruby Tandoh. The Guardian’s copyright has expired, but I have a paper copy.

This chocolate cake is really very good. I like the texture of the cake, which I think might be better than the texture of, say, the Devil’s Food Cake recipe I most often use.

The ganache used to fill and cover is also a bit interesting. The cream is heated with sugar, which means that it can reach a higher temperature before boiling, thus more easily melting the chopped chocolate. I have always had problems when using hot cream to melt chocolate to make chocolate truffles, but with the higher temperature there was no need to heat the proto-ganache to melt stubborn lumps of chocolate. I ended up not having enough chocolate, and so also mixed in some nutella.

The Death

Mass Extinction

This is really the end of the world for most other life on Earth, except humans, those plants and animals that we eat or grow for pleasure, and the plants and animals that can survive on our detritus. It’s also probably different from some of the other ends-of-the-world in the book in that it is happening now.

The book suggests that this is an end-of-the-world that we cannot prevent – though it muddles this by discussing the difficulty of reversing the effects of extinction. I’m a bit more hopeful. If the human population peaks in the middle of the 21st century, and technological developments are used to reduce our impact on the environment, then it’s plausible that by the end of the century we would have managed to reduce the extinction rate, and returned large land areas to wild habitat.

Cake or Death? What is your choice?

Yay parkrun!

I’m very glad that I went out in the rain this morning to the parkrun. Was completely soaked by the end, and there are a few spots on the tarmac where the rain likes to pool – so I have my runners tied to the washing line to dry.


I really enjoy the collective nature of parkrun. Today the rain meant there were “only” 76 finishers, and running as part of a crowd somehow makes it easier and more rewarding. I’ve also liked being able to volunteer to help make the events happen.

This is something I want to do more of – working with others to make good things happen.

Fog squared

Today was one of those special mornings when it was really foggy – one of the better things about autumn. There isn’t really a good place to take a photo of fog on my normal way to work, but I did my best when I reached there.


The odd thing about this photo is that it doesn’t look nearly as foggy as I remember it – but that would be due to the “fog-squared” effect.


I’m pretty sure that some people will know exactly what I am talking about, but others will not. So for them, let me explain. I wear glasses, and in fog my glasses will collect a layer of fog as I move through the fog cloud. And yet there is more. If it is cold enough, the efforts of my exertion on my way to work will lead to condensation on the inside of the glasses too.

Thus, the fog will often appear to me to be really dense, but when I peer around the edge of my glasses – although the world becomes a lot more blurry – it’s still obvious that it’s a lot less foggy.

This isn’t so bad, because I like fog, but it could be inconvenient.

On the advantage of height

One of the circumstances in which fog really comes into its own is when there is a contrast in height so that one can look down on the fog from above, or move through the fog layer to emerge into the sunshine above. R has experience in this regard, because she lives on the edge of Snowdonia, and so this evening she was able to tell me about the times that she had been able to look down on fog from her lofty home, or to move out of the bottom of a fog/low cloud layer on her way to school.

Talking with R reminded me of my early communications with D, which were during an autumn seven years ago in which there was a pleasant quantity of fog to discuss. Fond memories are good.

I’ve never lived anywhere particularly hilly, but it occurred to me during that conversation that height has many great advantages when it comes to observing the weather, and that I might be properly situated were I to gain a bit more height than my current ten or so metres above sea level.

A shell within a shell

This last weekend I was visiting R in Wales again, which is a long way away, and she navigated our way to Red Wharf Bay on Ynys Môn. Although Red Wharf Bay does not appear to have a Red Wharf – which I can’t help but hear as “Red Dwarf”, which I have now told R she is old enough to watch – it is a very interesting place to watch the tide come in and out. Naturally, R did as any child would do, and began constructing earthworks in a futile attempt to hold back and channel the tide.

As she did so she discovered this rather excellent shell, or pair of shells, where one shell has grown inside, or on top of, another shell. Something I have never seen before. And now you can see it too:


Another view from a different angle

And that was really rather magnificent.

Two Hundred Is Just A Number

The ethereal voice on the radio spoke thus:

The front page on such-and-such disreputable rag of a newspaper today is that two hundred women soldiers have been sent home from warzones after discovering that they are pregnant.

…with a note of incredulity in his voice (I paraphrase slightly).

It is obvious what the disreputable rag of a newspaper wants us to think about this:

Pregnant! In a warzone! Why do we allow women to become soldiers?!?

There are, in my mind, two separate questions here. Firstly, there is the issue of whether, in principle, one should allow women to become soldiers. Secondly, there is the question of whether – having decided to allow women to become soldiers – two hundred unexpected pregnancies is a small or large number.

I am sure that the disreputable rag of a newspaper holds a very strong view on the first question, and it wishes to win people to its point of view by presenting the number of two hundred warzone pregnancies as being a shocking and unacceptably high figure. And this really annoys me. It really annoys me because, without context, two hundred is just a number with no meaning.

To provide meaning for the two hundred number we need to know more information about the situation.

  • What is the rate of accidental pregnancy among female soldiers on deployment, and how does this compare to the rate of accidental pregnancy in the population as a whole?
  • What contraception is made available to female soldiers when they are on deployment?
  • At what rate are male soldiers sent home from warzones, and for what reasons?
  • How do the overall figures for male and female soldiers being sent home from warzones compare?

For some unfathomable reason I have my doubts that the disreputable rag of a newspaper will have provided this information to set the two hundred figure in context. Why is this?

It is because the disreputable rag of a newspaper has no interest in discovering the truth. Their only interest is in finding pseudo-facts that they can use as part of their rhetoric to advance their preconceived opinions. They have already decided that having women soldiers in warzones is a bad idea, but rather than argue this case for the reasons of principle that they hold it, they wish to use pseudo-facts to convince people who do not share their principles.

This is a deeply dishonest way of conducting debate.