Archive for June, 2012

Chocolate Marshmallow Cake

Saturday, June 30th, 2012

It has been rather a long time since I last made cake, but on Wednesday I made one and people seemed to like it. My cooking is frequently somewhat experimental and this was one of those occasions so I will record the interesting bits.

None of the recipes I looked at put marshmallows in the cake mix before baking the cake. The reason for this is that they float to the top and explode. However I put a ring of mini marshmallows around the bottom edge of the cake tin before pouring in the cake mixture (A mixture using 200g dark chocolate as its main ingredient and very little flour) this make the the edge of the cake more chewy and resulted in an entertaining crown of exploded marshmallows around the edge.

I put most of the marshmallows into the ‘icing’ which was ~150g of very dark chocolate with a couple of bags of marshmallows melted in (glass bowl in boiling water). It takes a long time to melt the marshmallows in with the chocolate and requires a lot of stirring. You want enough chocolate in that it can transfer the heat to the marshmallows properly. I kept mixing until the consistency was a completely even sticky brown. It might be better to stop slightly earlier leaving lumps of partially melted in marshmallows in the mixture to add some more variety to the texture. Decorating with dark chocolate drops might also increase the nom factor.
With a cake containing 350g of chocolate what can go wrong anyway? ;-)
(remember the greaseproof paper on the bottom of the cake tin)

I should fix my camera.

Review: “Stop dating the church – fall in love with the family of God” (Joshua Harris, 2004)

Saturday, June 30th, 2012

This is another classic Josh Harris book, easy to read, challenging and engaging with serious issues. It is also great to see the way the author has grown further in wisdom since his first book “I kissed dating goodbye”. It shares a similar theme – dating is silly, it is all about commitment.
I picked it up at Departure (the Eden Baptist Church student weekend away) where 10 of those were doing some good offers. We had some great teaching from 1 Corinthians 12-14 on the Church there and I thought I would read a little more about it.
It is quite short with only 129 pages using a large print so can be read in a couple of hours.

The first few chapters are most applicable for people who are ‘dating’ the church which essentially means not totally committed to your local church. It has been a while since that was me – the church is the best thing God ever made. However it is good to be reminded again of the things that we know to be true and to think again of how we can apply that.
Chapter 5 “Choosing Your Church” is a good review of the fundamental things that a church has to have and of the attitudes etc. that are important to have while choosing.
However my favourite chapters were 6 and 7 “Rescuing Sunday” and “The Dearest Place on Earth”. Sunday has been the best day of the week by far for me for at least 3 years now but “Rescuing Sunday” contains lots of practical steps for making it even better. “The Dearest Place on Earth” is a great conclusion by exposition from the end of John and really calls us to go out and live this.

In summary, a good book well worth reading on the heart theology and application end of the spectrum – “you know this is true, now go live like that, you know you want to”.

Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs) should be encouraged, not restricted

Saturday, June 2nd, 2012

One of the key differentiating policies between the Liberal Democrats and Labour at the recent local elections was that Labour were considering restricting the proportion of Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs) that could occur in a section of road of a certain length. Labour won (at least in my ward) and I think that imposing such a restriction would be a particularly bad idea. Hence it is my democratic duty to try and explain why this is the case and so help prevent this happening. Essentially this proposal is equivalent to a proposal to throw me or people like me out of our houses so I should probably take this reasonably personally.
A House in Multiple Occupation is one in which 3 or more people who are not of the same household are living where household is defined by blood or by marriage or similar.

As I understand it the main reasoning behind restricting HMOs is that they are bad for the community due to lack of involvement by the residents (and perhaps bad behaviour on the part of the residents) and that they tend to be poorly maintained and so be bad for the area (house prices etc.).
Now those things might be true, or at least there might be a statistically significant increase in poor maintenance of HMOs and of lower community involvement by the residents of HMOs or even a higher incidence of reports of antisocial behaviour against people living in HMOs.
While it seems perfectly possible that those things might be the case I have not seen studies that have shown that to be the case I have not seem them (to be fair I have not looked). If there are no such studies then clearly no restriction should be imposed because before you start throwing people out of their houses (or at least saying “no you cannot live there”) you should at least be sure that the reason you are doing that is valid. It would be rather embarrassing to find out that this sort of thing had been done on the basis of a lie.

However even if it is true that residents of HMOs are more likely to be antisocial/anticommunity and take poor care of their property that is still no reason to restrict where residents of HMOs can live. It boils down to a “We don’t want your type around here.” attitude. Sorry I thought we were living in a free society in the 21st century where anyone could come and live next door as long as they are not currently in prison and can afford it. Perhaps if there was some sort of causation between being a bad person and living in HMOs there might be some more justification but even then – really is that the kind of society we want to live in?
So who lives in a HMO, well clearly people who don’t have a big enough household to fill a house or enough money to have a house to themselves and have done so. So mainly single people, probably also mainly young people. So after high levels of unemployment and debt young people are put at a further disadvantage by being discriminated against when trying to find houses to rent not only by the letting agents and landlords who would already much prefer families (and make this clear) but also by their local government. That does not strike me as a good move and seems likely to further alienate a group of people who might legitimately feel let down by society and so rather apathetic about supporting it. There are already quite enough problems to deal with this century without further unnecessary building of inter-generational tensions.

Now I think marriage is important so I would not get married just to be able to get a house but if people start getting told “Well if two of you got married then you could all live here.” some people might decide otherwise. This renders the whole thing unenforcable.

Monitoring which houses are HMOs in order to prevent the concentrations of HMOs exceeding defined thresholds involves some significant bureaucratic overhead which will have its own cost, it also means that the information on which houses are HMOs must be publicly available in order for letting agencies etc. to be able to work this out and hence know who they can rent the houses to. This would be a violation of the privacy of those living in these houses and would be likely to allow targeted advertising (and perhaps political campaigning) based on this information.

So if people are not allowed to live in HMOs what is the alternative? Well they could live in a family house instead. So they could go back and live with their parents (and leave their job, sounds like a great idea) or they could get married but that is not something someone can necessarily do. Or they could live in a house of single occupancy. However that would be a really silly idea.

It is significantly more efficient for a house to have more than one person living in it because then the constant costs of a house (such as kitchen space etc.) can be shared out between multiple people this also reduces the rent, utility bills etc. per person. Leaving more money for other things like saving up for a house or paying off student loans. This also reduces CO2 emissions and so HMOs help save the planet. There is currently a significant housing shortage in the country and to a significant extent that is due to a reduction in the number of people living in each house rather than to a increase in the number of people. So our current housing shortage could partly be addressed by encouraging people into houses of multiple occupancy or at least to fill spare bedrooms with people.

In summary restricting the number of HMOs is discriminatory, unenforcable, bureaucratic, privacy invading and precisely the opposite of the kind of housing policy we should be encouraging.

So having rejected that policy as a thoroughly bad idea what kind of policies might actually address the problem?
People are more likely to invest in their local community if they feel they have a vested interest in its success and if they do not feel like they are outcasts from it.
If people are not sure how long they are going to be living in a location then it will not feel as worth while for them to get to know their neighbours when they might be moving in a few months or a year. Hence policies which increase peoples assurance that they will be able to stay in their present house long term are likely to encourage community involvement. Policies that make people think they might be forced to move by their local government because of who their neighbours are on the other hand…
Encouraging community is a very important thing to do and a very hard thing to legislate for because fundamentally it is a thing that people need to do collectively. Government can encourage it though and I am sure that there are many things that can be done by government to improve the situation. Society as a whole needs to decide it wants community and then to go out and do that. All of this is hard so we better get started.
Anyone for tea? coffee?