Coffees of the Month – Bolivia Machacamarca and Ethiopian Harrar

As you can see from the title, the coffee of the month series has gone plural. My home coffee consumption has risen and I now seem to be using around 500g of coffee a month. Ironically, however, this has actually made a real term saving as I find I don’t buy so much coffee from the coffee chains on the way to work any more.

I’ve also abandoned my continent rotation policy and am now just going for the coffees that look interesting at the time of purchase.

Bolivia Machacamarca
This was the coffee used by Colin Harmon, the Irish champion at the World Barista championship (where he came fourth in the world) so again my expectations were quite high. As usual I tried a few different brewing methods, the aeropress and the french press, and while this was fine for both it worked best I thought in the aeropress from which I usually make americano. I guess this should be no surprise as it was as an espresso that it was used in the WBC.

This was one of those wonderful rich, luxurious and chocolaty coffees that was fairly complex yet very drinkable and moreish. This is pretty much my favourite coffee of the ones I tried this year and I would highly recommend it.

Ethiopian Harrar
Well, here I am essentially going back to the home of coffee, the only place in the world where it grows naturally in the forest and probably the place it originated. I’ve been wanting to try an Ethiopian for a while and picked this one more or less at random.

Very different from the Machacamarca, this is a bit rough around the edges and far less sophisticated. In fact the first couple of times I drank it I was even thinking to myself that I might not finish the bag. Since then and with a little perseverance it has grown on me. I’ve almost got to quite like the slightly harsh taste for my morning ‘wake-up’. This is no thoroughbred, but worth a try. I did wonder if this would work better as part of a blend maybe?

Ice coffee

Frappaccino
Frappaccino

It was a hot, weekend afternoon, I wanted some caffeine but hot coffee just seemed inappropriate. What I fancied was a frappaccino and thought i’d have a stab at making my own.

I made a quadruple espresso in the aeropress which I let cool and popped in the blender with some ice, milk and ‘taste the difference’ vanilla ice cream and gave it a buzz. What turned out was quite nice but I realise I got my ratios a bit wrong. Next time I’ll use less milk and more ice and ice-cream. Great for those afternoons in the garden with the paper.

Drinking vs tasting
Just wanted to pass on this little video from the sweet maria’s blog. Like so many of the best idea’s it’s so simple – don’t juts drink coffee, taste it. Watch the video as they explain it better than I can.

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Photographing my first wedding

Katherin and Aris Wedding
Katherin and Aris Wedding

Since the summer of 2005 when I got my first DSLR my skill and passion for photography have flourished (the passion anyway). I’ve gradually built up a collection of nice lenses and accessories such as tripods and flashguns but up to now it has strictly been an amateur affair and just a hobby. Particularly since the birth of my daughter money has naturally been tight and so shiny new stuff has kind of been out of reach. Any new purchases from now on will have to pay for themselves.

Not stock
I’ve been thinking for while about trying to make a little bit of cash from my pictures, but mostly that thought has been around the idea of stock photography. I’ve put a few of my landscape and wildlife shots on iStockphoto but have only had one download which has earnt me 22p. Wedding photography seems lucrative but how do you break into it without having shot a wedding first. I mean, who in their right mind trusts the recording of the happiest day of their life to someone who’s never done it before?

The answer appears to be someone who wasn’t even going to have a photographer at all, but as I seemed cheap, what was there to lose?

Advice

Katherin and Aris Wedding
Katherin and Aris Wedding

Remembering how important the choice of photographer was for my own wedding and how much responsibility there it is precipitated a few nerves. There is little room for error, few chances to get key shots and most importantly – no re-shoots. I felt I needed some advice. Luckily I know a few semi-pro’s who’ve shot weddings and they were able to give me some good advice, plus I just tried to emulate the photographer at my own wedding who was excellent. The top tips I gleaned were:

  • Try to get a written schedule of the day in advance, that way you can keep track of where you need to be and when.
  • Have a shot list from the bride of both the formal and informal shots that you MUST get.
  • Factor in 3 min per formal shot. Doesn’t sound long, but 20 will take an hour.
  • Have a great usher/best person who can organise and cajole people (bride and groom included).
  • Check with priest/registrar beforehand what photography they are happy with during the ceremony.
  • Have a spare camera, batteries (for everything including flash), lots of memory cards, lens wipes.
  • Get to the venue early, scope out the best places for photos with nice backdrops and have a plan B. Plan out where your position yourself.
  • During speeches, don’t forget to photograph people’s reactions, laughing, clapping etc.
  • If you have a chance, get pictures of the small things – bouquets, champagne glasses, reception tables and settings, flowers, favours etc.

The Day

Katherin and Aris Wedding
Katherin and Aris Wedding

I felt quite calm before I left, I’d prepared all my gear, the bride had given me a clear brief and I felt ok. My main worry, if I had one, was getting to the venue – it was a two hour drive into deepest Kent. I gave myself plenty of ‘getting lost’ time and ended up arriving very early indeed, which perhaps is not such a bad thing.

I took the time to scope out the various locations that I would be covering during the day. Luckily for me, the ceremony and reception were going to be held at the same place and included a beautiful garden and big, light marquee. I got some shots of the empty venue, the tables and the cake and then kind of hung around for a bit with not much to do.

Action time
After a bit of a wait, the guests started arriving so I got some snaps of them before everyone was seated for the big ceremony.

Katherin and Aris Wedding
Katherin and Aris Wedding

It was a wonderful setting in a beautiful garden with an attractive flower entwined pagoda where the ceremony would take place. The bride made a graceful entrance with her father and so the real work started. I soon found that whilst the pagoda looked great it made for really awkward photography as the pillars blocked one or more of the wedding party and I found it tough to get nice shots.

I was also quite conscious that my darting about might be annoying for the guests although I tried to push this out of my mind and concentrate on the job in hand.

Katherin and Aris Wedding
Katherin and Aris Wedding

It all went swimmingly well and I think I did as well as I could have done given the tricky circumstances. I was certainly helped out by a very photogenic couple and reasonable weather.

I did find the formal shots hard, partly as it was quite difficult work just getting people in place but mostly because there was so much to think about. For instance I failed to spot that one key person was hiding in one of the family shots. I’ll know better next time.

Things were a bit easier once we were in the marquee for speeches and dinner although there was still little chance to relax. I was keen not to have to stay till the end and felt I may have slightly badgered the bride into cutting the cake and having a first dance. I got the shots though and my day was done. I then just had a long drive home.

And relax…

Katherin and Aris Wedding
Katherin and Aris Wedding

Of course that’s not the end of the work, it’s then about downloading and sorting through 625 photos to find and post process the good ones. After my initial scan through I realised that I pretty much nailed the important shots and there were only a few that were iffy. Not too bad for a first time anyway.

I did find the day quite exhausting, mainly through having to concentrate for 7 hours, but I didn’t find it too bad and not really that stressful.

I’d definitely do it again, although my fee will be going up now that I know how much work it all is!

Stevie
Stevie

Triathlon 2009 – training plan

I completed the Edinburgh Marathon on the 31 May 2009 which I was very glad to finally get under my belt but now it’s back to triathlon.

I’ve not done any cycling since September and I’d more or less cut out the swimming in the latter stages of marathon training so of the three disciplines it’s only my running that is in form. I therefore feel like I’m starting again more or less from scratch.

I’ve decided not to try and be too ambitious this year, particularly as I’m starting late in the season. I’ve therefore decided to do only one triathlon this year, the Southwater sprint relay. This gives me 12 weeks to get in shape but without too much pressure of an imminent race.

Time
One of the major problems I have with any kind of serious training is finding the time. I’ve a young daughter and family commitments that I don’t want to miss out on so it can be tricky. Previously I’ve been restricted to training in the evening or at weekends which became quite limiting.

My attempted (partial) solution has been to join the gym near my work and do at least some of my workouts there. I can use their pool and the running machines and catch up doing some proper outside runs and cycles at weekends.

Strength training
Seeing as I’m at the gym I’ve also decided to try to add some compound weight training to my regime. This will involve some squats, dead-lifts and some bench pressing. I’ll also be doing a little core work too.

In theory this should make me stronger in the right places for my endurance training. I’ve no desire to bulk up, but lets hope this proves useful.

If I’m honest, I’m also keen to just try something different.

I’ve had my first session and I’m feeling a bit sore (in a good way) and I’m looking forward to improving.

Let’s see how it goes. I’m pretty excited.

Coffee of the Month – Australian Skyberry

Welcome to the fifth instalment of ‘Coffee of the Month‘ and this time I’m drinking some Australian coffee. Yes, you read it right. Who’d have thought our antipodean friends made coffee? In my continent rotation policy, this is counting as ‘Asia’.

French press
French press

Australian Skyberry
The cupping notes from the roaster I bought it from said that this coffee has many of the properties of Jamaican blue mountain but at a fraction of the cost. I’ll have to take Steve’s word on that as it’s been a long time since I had some blue mountain.

What I can say about the skyberry though is that it is immensely balanced and consistent. I tried this coffee in the aeropress and the french press and it was equally good in both. I suspect that it would work well as an espresso too. It doesn’t seem to be outlandish or funky in any way, but neither is it bland. I really liked it and would be happy to drink this every day.

Brewing habits
Over the last couple of months I’ve been refining my brewing skills and I feel that I’ve got my french press nearly perfect. I generally start the day with a couple of cups. At work we also have french presses, but the coffee is just normal stuff and pre-ground. I find myself wrinkling my nose at this stuff now.

I think I’ve become a coffee snob. Oh dear.

Edinburgh Marathon

The finishers medal
The finishers medal

It’s been a long road, it’s not been easy but I did it, I finished my first marathon. Thank god that’s over.

The build up
The trouble with this marathon lark is that the training period is so long and you’ve invested so much time and effort that it becomes quite a big deal. I’ve been really quite concerned over the last week, almost convincing myself that I’d not done enough training and that it would end in ignominious defeat. When I saw the weather forecast for sunny and hot I got even more worried, not only wouldn’t I finish, but I might die.

My family and I got the train up to Edinburgh the day before the race, booked into a very decent b&b and of course I settled down to a big plate of pasta and a galleon of water. That night I could hardly sleep and woke up tired at six for my breakfast of cereal. I covered myself in generous amounts of Vaseline and not quite enough sun block, strapped on my energy gels and I was ready.

Got to the start in plenty of time, but as usual there were enormous queues for the loos. 9500 runners and about 40 toilets or so it seemed.

The Race
Due to my optimistic predicted time I was in the 3rd out of 6 starting groups which at least meant that it wasn’t long for me to get over the start line. The sun was shining and the views were good, firstly through town and then beside Arthur’s seat before heading over to the firth near portobello.

Apart from the nice views my main thought was not to go too fast, the one piece of advice everyone seemed to agree on. I therefore concsiously reigned myself in and fought against running my natural pace. As it turned out I think this really worked for me.

I sailed through the 13 mile marker having run for 2 hours thinking to myself ‘I’m feeling pretty fresh, I might be able to do it after all’. At 16 miles Deborah and Rose were there for my first bit of family support. It was great to see them and it helped spur me on. At around 17 miles I distinctly remember starting to feel a bit tired and I could also identify the start of some blisters. Nothing major, but I could feel them. At 18 miles the route down the coast did an about face and we now headed back the way we had come. I really felt from this point that I was definitely going to do it.

At 19 miles I passed the family again, grabbed a quick kiss from wife and daughter and feeling confident now.

It more or less struck me at the 20 mile marker that my legs were now shot and that it had suddenly got significantly tougher. I’d been told beforehand that 20 miles is the real half-way point and having got through it I think that’s pretty true. From here on in it was just about metronomically keeping my legs going.

I’d kept to my nutrition plan which was to have an energy gel every 5 miles, drink 100ml or so of water at each water station and the odd lucazade. As temperatures were so warm I also poured a bottle of water over myself at each station which was a great relief.

At 23 miles I was dead on my feet and would have happily sat down but kept grinding out each step. It was about this time that I made my only mistake in the race. I took and ate a couple of jelly beans being handed out by a friendly bystander. For some reason they made me feel quite nauseous and I really wish I hadn’t.

The last three miles seemed to take forever and I’m sure there was a point between 24 and 25 when I thought ‘maybe I’ll just walk for a bit’. There were a lot of walkers by now, but I’m glad I didn’t join them.

They tease you with a mile marker at 26, which it’s tempting to think is the finish, but of course there is still another 200 yards which felt like another mile.

Crossing the finish
Crossing the finish

The end
Four hours, twelve minutes and forty seconds. Not bad, in fact it was much better than I’d hoped for and was spookily bang on the estimator time from the runners world website (based on my long run time). Of the 8,257 finishers I came a respectable 3367th.

I gamely tried to look happy at the finish line and raised my arms, but if I’m honest, I just wanted to collapse. Somehow I managed to stumble through to get a medal, water, banana, t-shirt and goody bag. I then picked up my rucksack from the truck and sat down. My legs were just awfully painful and I was feeling quite ill. I wish I could have stayed there for a while, but I needed to find my folks.

Deborah was fantastic, getting several trains to various bits of the route and then to the finish. I couldn’t wait to meet them.

There I was, I’d done it, yet I felt strangely free from elation (and still do as I write this the day after). I feel like I’ve been through some kind of trialalthough I think I passed. I’m actually really pleased with the time and feel that I’ve made a good account of myself. It seems you can do a marathon with no more than three training runs a week. It was also pleasing that my race plan really worked.

As things stand at the moment, I don’t feel the need to do another one.

Thanks
I have to give a special thanks to Deborah who has had to put up with my training, my moaning, my worrying and occasionally my tetchiness. I couldn’t have done it without her.