Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Mountain Climbing

I hope to be able to climb walls like this. In the future.

Monday evening, Sam and I went and did a rock climbing course at the local climbing centre. We'd decided we'd like to be a little more impulsive when it comes to trying new things. Last week I had a hankering to go climbing, so I booked us in for a course.

I'd been climbing before, on exactly two occasions. Both well over five years ago. The first time I climbed was on a St John Ambulance summer camp. There were two sessions run, with the opportunity to climb either the 20 metre wall or the 40 metre wall. Of course, after carefully considering that I'd never climbed before, I chose to do the 40 metre wall. The climbing wall at this place was basically just a tall, narrow tower. Think Big Ben without the clock and the pointy bit. It was rigged up so that the guy on the ground was using a one way knot of some kind; it was impossible to fall, but also impossible to climb back down.

The idea was, you'd climb to the top, have a quick change over and abseil back down a different side of the tower. Which was all well and good, except there were a few people who decided they wanted to come back down.

I didn't have a problem with the height. My problem was twofold; lack of technique and lack of upper body strength. I wasn't using my legs to push up as much as I should and my arms weren't strong enough to drag me the whole way up. So about 10 metres from the top, my arms gave out, and I just stayed there for a bit. I was way too high to contemplate coming back down, so I had to make it to the top. I was half dragged the rest of the way up, but I made it after a few falls. Abseiling down the other side was one of the most exhilarating things I've ever done.

My second climbing session was also with St John, but at a much smaller indoor wall and was much less terrifiying.

Sam had never climbed before, and has a bit of an issue with heights, which sounds like an utterly disastrous combination for rock climbing. But he said he'd try it and along we went. I remembered how awesome climbing was and settled in quite quickly, though I didn't climb to high on the  first wall due to strength issues. Sam started off apprehensively but quickly got into the rhythm. He got to the top of the wall before I did and when he cam down he looked absolutely elated. We completed the course, and are now lifetime members of the centre. We can go back any time we want, and we plan to.

Today, I still ache in place I wasn't aware could ache. But it felt good to move my body, to exert myself and to sweat. And I want to get stronger and faster, so we'll continue to climb.

One day, we might even tackle the great outdoors.

Monday, 20 February 2012

Change of Focus

Note, pressing the button won't actually do anything.

You may notice that there have been one or two changes around here. There's a reason for that.

I've come to realise that I'm really quite rubbish at keeping a blog, and even worse at keeping a blog dedicated to a specific topic. Therefore, in order to try and stimulate my writing juices (ew!) I've converted my blog from one solely about my PhD to a general all purpose blog where I can keep thoughts on any topic whatsoever.

In addition to changing the focus of this blog, I've also closed my other blog, and imported the posts here. In fact, this blog now represents all of the combined blogging I've done in my life as I've imported my livejournal from way back when. Feel free to browse all the embarrassing content.

It's nice to keep everything in one place.

Expect infrequent ramblings that may cover topics including my PhD, Fat Acceptance, Juggling and random stuff I've found on the internet.

So, what's the new blog title all about. It's a bit of a silly play on two nicknames that I have acquired. Captain Raz has been my nickname since I was about 14, and it now my handle for just about anything I do on the internet. Raz has been a nickname for so long I don't really remember how it came about. All I know is that I became Raz because I had friends calling themselves Fraz, Maz and Gaz. You see the pattern there?  Raz was my most prominent nickname during the time I was in the Scouts. The Captain got added into the mix due to my propensity for wearing sailor's captain hat whilst kayaking. I even wore it whilst rafting in the North Sea. my raft got overturned by a wave, and when I resurfaced I was still wearing the hat. I still think that's one of the coolest things I've managed to achieve in my life.

Tonks has been my major nickname since I came to university. It is far more ubiquitous than Raz ever was; so much so that my boyfriend refers to me almost exclusively as Tonks, and I have friends who forget my real name because they didn't find it out until we'd been friends a few months. Doctor Tonks is a nickname I intend to take that far off day when I've completed my PhD. It's a hopeful title, as getting there is far from certain, but with a little luck some of that journey will get written down here.

Cooking Injuries (Not What You Think)

Originally published at Chuck-It Cook 28 July 2010

Food isn’t the only thing that gets cooked up in my kitchen, or rather, my mother’s kitchen in this case. One of the odder things I have a tendency to cook up is fake flesh and fake blood.

Yep you read that right.

See I’m a member of St John Ambulance and have been for years. A while back I did a course on casualty simulation (i.e. making people look like they’re injured) and its kinda become one of my specialities. I’m particularly good at making people look like they’ve chopped their fingers off.

In order to do this I have to make my materials. Now the stuff I use isn’t the sophisticated latex and bought stage blood. I make everything myself out of kitchen ingredients. Technically speaking you couldeat this stuff, but I often use out of date ingredients. And eating lots of the fake flesh would probably make you sick.

One of these days though, I’m going to make eating my severed finger my party trick.

I honestly can’t remember where I got this recipe from. I think the recipe came with the casualty simulation kit I acquired. But anyway, here are the recipes for fake flesh and fake blood.



  • 2 cups Self Raising Flour
  • 1 cup salt
  • 4 teaspoons Cream of Tartar
  • 2 Cups water
  • 2 tablespoons cooking oil
  • Liquid foundation to match skin colour (optional)

Add all ingredients to a pan, stir and cook until mixture forms a soft dough ball

This is a basic salt dough essentially. And although I primarily use it to create wounds I do also plan on cooking up a few batches of different colours and have my own (incredibly cheap) playdough.



  • 4 dessertspoons Cornflour (or custard powder)
  • 2 cups water
  • Few drops red food colouring
  • Few drops yellow food colouring
  • Teaspoon instant coffee granules
  • 1 tablespoon golden syrup (optional)
Make paste of flour and a little water and blend in the rest of the water. Add the rest of the ingredients. Slowly bring to a simmer and stir constantly until mixture thickens and darkens.

Add water to thin.

I prefer a nice dark red colour, achieved by adding the coffee. The consistency I prefer is almost like jelly, which is really good for filling in the wounds. It can always be watered down to provide a stream of blood.

When I have my materials I use them to put together a few things like this;

Happy Cooking.

Green Food

Originally published at Chuck-It Cook 27 July 2010

My diet recently has been extremely green. I’ve been experimenting with green smoothies, after hearing so much about them on various food blogs. The first one was utterly delicious, the second one slightly less so. For the second on there was more green than other ingredients and I guess I need to strike the balance.

Green smoothies are ridiculously easy to make. Add fruit and milk/yoghurt to a blender as you normally would for a smoothie and then add in a couple of handfuls of some tender greens. I used baby spinach both times but I’m told you can also use arugula, parsley and even carrot greens.

The next green recipe I’ve been cooking up is something I dubbed Swamp Soup. It started out life as a way to use up some leftover kale and carrot from Sunday dinner, and turned into something utterly delicious that I’d definitely cook from scratch. So without further ado, I present you with the recipe;

Swamp Soup


  • 1 medium onion 
  • Curly Kale (about half a cup) 
  • 1 Carrot (I had about 1/4cup leftover cooked carrots) 
  • 1 stock cube (made up to about ¾ pin stock) 
  • ½ cup cous cous 
  • Butter 
  • Herbs to taste (I used about 1 teaspoon of mixed herbs) 
  • Pinch cayenne pepper 


  1. Chop the onion and fry off in a little butter. 
  2. Add the kale and carrot 
  3. Season to taste; add herbs and spices 
  4. Add the stock and bring to the boil. 
  5. If using leftover veg simmer for about 5 minutes. 
  6. If using fresh veg simmer until carrots are tender 
  7. Remove from the hob and blend to an appropriate consistency (I used a hand blender in the pan) 
  8. Add cous cous and let stand (cous cous will cook in about 4 minutes) 
  9. Either serve immediately or allow to cool and refrigerate until required.

Profiterole Adventure

Originally Posted at Chuck-It Cook 7 July 2010

I’m lead to believe that every cook has something that they’re nervous about making. It doesn’t matter how many people tell them it’ll be fine, or how easy it is to do, they’re still scared to do it. In my case it was choux pastry. I desperately wanted to try making choux pastry as it is an integral ingredient in one of my favourite desserts, profiteroles. And no matter how many times I was told how easy it was, I was still a little nervous. I’m not good with pastry.

I’ve tried my hand at a few pastries and they turned out exceedingly mediocre. I put it down to my having warm hands which isn’t good for rubbing butter and flour together. Anyway, that’s not a problem with choux pastry. What I was worried about was ending up with scrambled eggs.

But I took a deep breath and had a go. I’ve now made them twice and, to be honest, they turned out pretty well the first time, and even better the second. I don’t know if the second batch were so good because they were cooked in my mum’s halogen oven. I don’t think I’ll ever cook choux pastry in a conventional oven again, because that second batch was absolutely magical.

The second batch were also extremely fun to make because I had my first ever go at piping. The first time around I did the old cut the top of the pastry off and spoon cream in method. Which isn’t as good and I used whipped Elmlea, which really isn’t the same as whipped double cream.

The piping went fairly well though I did end up squirting cream all over the kitchen. There were one or two issues with getting the cream into the piping bag and then controlling the flow of cream into the profiteroles. The cream also kept squirting out the wrong end and hence all over the kitchen.

But the most important thing is they were damn tasty, and I’m now armed to be ale to combine my two favourite desserts to create the ultimate decadence of a profiterole cheesecake. I’ll keep you posted on that one.

The recipe I used can be found here, and I baked the profiteroles in the oven at 200*C (gas mark 6) for 10 minutes, then at 220*C (gas mark 7) for15-20 minutes. They went nice and golden brown and were utterly delicious.

I’d post pictures but I’m afraid they all got eaten before I could get a camera out!