Book Review: Bloom by Ruth Kassinger

“Bloom – From Food to Fuel, The Epic Story of How Algae Can Save Our World” by Ruth Kassinger.

My Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars.

From her own garden pond, back in time to when life began and fast forward to today where algae can be in soup, sushi and running shoes, Ruth Kassinger takes readers on a journey through the complexities, triumphs and tribulations of algae. Through many facets that most people won’t simply be aware of to those that could be fundamental to the future of the human race.

Now when I was asked to review this book, I had to confess that I already know a little about algae, I’ve been involved in microalgae projects that look to harness them to produce products of value. So this book for me is part Bus-man’s holiday but it was so much more than that. It is truly mind expanding, regardless of how much you already know – or think you know. Whether the author is talking about the blue-green algae (cyanobacteria), microalgae, or macroalgae (seaweeds), there is just so much information you’ll probably end up wondering how you never heard of a lot of this before, and perhaps why.

It’s extremely well written, and in a style that is engaging from first page to last, and if you think the subtitle might be a little over-the-top, then prepare to have that illusion shattered. The author clearly knows her subject and her first hand research has taken her to many places that many people won’t know exist or perhaps won’t have even considered that they have a connection to algae, but as you read you’ll realise that some pretty well known brands are investing in algal technologies and that many others probably should be.

I particularly enjoyed the parts on food and fuel, expanding my culinary knowledge, and gaining a better understanding of why some projects and companies pivoted their business models the way they did. The untapped potential in some areas is still huge, but timing or political will can be everything

This is science writing at it’s most engaging and rewarding for the reader, whether scientist themselves or just plain interested in widening your knowledge.

The book also comes with some recipes at the end for algae (mostly seaweed) dishes, which is a really nice touch (although I haven’t had a chance to try any of them out yet, I’m planning to).

Bloom – From Food To Fuel, The Epic Story of How Algae Can Save Our World by Ruth Kassinger is published by Elliott & Thompson Books on 4th July 2019.
(Published as “Slime” in the US by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt).

About The Author: Ruth Kassinger writes about the intersection of gardening, history and science. In addition to her several books, Ruth has written for the Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, Health, National Geographic Explorer and other publications. Find her online at: www.ruthkassinger.com

Disclosure: The publisher provided me with a free copy of this book to review.

Ladybird Weather Bomb TWTW # 23

img_20190622_173753_897I’ve worn a tie more times in the last two weeks than I’ve worn all year. When I left full time employment I said that I would rarely wear one again and I’ve pretty much stuck to that, but two funerals in two weeks. If you’re interested there’s a quick tie origin story here.

Sadly it is funerals and weddings that bring families together these days. I realised this week that there are some members of my family that I’ve not seen since the last family funeral and some a little longer than that. It’s good however that we can all gather and pick up where we left off, it is sad though that there is always notably one person missing.


I harvested the last of the broad beans this week, now they are all either in the fridge, freezer or my stomach. I do like them and make sure that I grow more than enough to keep a supply of them for several weeks after they’ve been cleared from the allotment. I’m not sure what I’m going to be putting in that spot now that they’ve gone. Possibly some more salad crops or maybe next years purple sprouting or kale. Need to get it dug over first.


It’s been a good week work wise. Something got in the way of a site visit last week that was postponed to this one, and then it looked like thunderstorms might put pay to it for a second time. It went ahead however as the predicted weather didn’t come to pass, and so it satisfies one aspect of some work for a client. It also lead to an interesting conversation that lead to a request for a proposal. Which if it is agreed will be a new client. I didn’t have a lot of time to complete it in but managed to get it done and submitted by the deadline of Friday. They say they want to make a decision on who they are going to instruct for the work early this coming week, so fingers-crossed!


img_20190622_205000841This arrived from Elliott & Thompson books on Saturday for a review. I have a little bit of a professional interest in algae, so I’m looking forward to reading it. The full review will follow in due course.

 

 

 

 


Speaking of weather, you’d better make sure that it’s not ladybirds on the weather radar.


And then there were two. The disaster prone buffoon and the moron who tried to destroy the NHS. Oh joy.


Inside Neil Gaiman’s rural writing retreat.

Posting the link above reminds me that I haven’t written about watching the Amazon adaptation of Good Omens. It is so good, and I thoroughly recommend it. It doesn’t matter if you haven’t read the original book, but if you have it’s a joy to see how some of it translates to the screen. It is very much a fitting tribute to the late Terry Pratchett. Go watch it.

Oh but just to be clear it’s on Amazon and not Netflix as these people thought.


Well that’s about enough from me for these week. Be careful out there.

Shaking It Up Some – TWTW # 22

It’s been a busy week that has been changing quite fluidly throughout, not a day passed where what was originally going to happen did actually come to pass. I had meetings and appointments cancelled, a funeral to attend that I hadn’t planned and the weather generally disrupting proceedings throughout like an interrupted cricket match. We got there in the end however, although the knock-on effect is that this week is a little busier than originally planned.


That said, there’s not a tremendous amount to write about. I did make some broad bean falafels, and I read “A Wizard of Earthsea” by Ursula Le Guin. The former were very tasty and the latter was a reread. I last read the Earthsea series when I was at school, about 11 or 12 years old. It stands up well, and if you are one or know an 11 or 12 year old I’d recommend it.


Much of the news cycle this week has been around the election of a new leader of the conservative party and by default the political leader of our Country – our Prime Minister. From the soundbites it sounds very much like whoever it is they will be putting the needs of their party above those of the Country.


I’ve been listening to Jonny Miller’s new podcast this week. I’m quite selective when adding new podcasts to my feed, as I often don’t manage to listen to all of them each week anyway. Adding a new one is a time commitment that I don’t often have. In this case I’ve listened to the first two episodes and I think I’ll hang around for the next one, and see how it goes.

I’ve also added Joe Minihane’s Floating podcast to my list this week, which I really enjoyed, and although there’s only one episode so far, it’s another one that I’ll keep at least until the next episode.


That’s it for me – hopefully more to talk about next week.

Black Swan Smackdown – TWTW # 21

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I feel a little like I’ve been running around a lot this last week. Ruled to some extent by the timings of appointments with my Mum’s doctor and with our vet, for Wilson. Just one of those weeks, and the upcoming one is looking like being a little similar, although with a different set of appointments and people to see and places to be.


On Tuesday I walked down to the creek to see if the Mute Swans that nest there had hatched any cygnets yet, and I was treated to a bit of a surprise. Here’s what I wrote on Instagram:

This Black Swan got a little too close to the nesting Mute Swan pair, and kept coming back despite being chased off by the Cob a couple of times previously.

The Cob eventually went all in and pursued the Black Swan up on to the mud where he pinned it to the ground and then proceeded to attack, pecking at the back, neck and head of the Black Swan. It was brutal to watch and went on for several minutes. Here’s the last 30 seconds where the Black Swan managed to escape and appears to be okay.

Nesting Mute Swans are very territorial and won’t tolerate other swans on their “patch”. The female is still sitting on the nest, no sign of chicks yet.

The video is below, it’s a bit blurry because I was so far away, but you get the gist of what was going on.


I’ve been watching Jo and Michael’s travels on their narrowboat on YouTube for a while. They posted this video yesterday of their crossing of the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct (best watched full screen).


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I’ve been reading “The Sixteen Trees of the Somme” by Lars Mytting this week. It’s probably one of the best books I’ve read this year so far and I thoroughly recommend it. It’s a little different to my normal fair, and although there is a mystery at the heart of the story it is much more about the characters and the people.

 

 

 


img_20190607_155746699I also got sent some surprise back-catalogue books from my friends at Elliott & Thompson Books. I haven’t had a chance to properly look at them yet but hope to get to them later this coming week.

 

 

 

 


How do authors earn a living


Six Weeks, One Hundred Miles of Walking in Japan


That’s about it for this week, I’m hoping to get my tomatoes set-up in the potting shed this week at some point, and there are several other things that I’d like to get done in the gaps in my diary. We’ll see how that goes!

 

The Short One TWTW # 20

As mentioned last week I spent Bank Holiday Monday on my allotment – digging. This weekend I made good on the areas I’d dug by planting out a range of things – cucumbers, pumpkins, courgettes, gherkins, butternut squash & patti-pan squash. The plot is now looking quite full, although as we continue to harvest various things, notably at the moment the broad beans there’ll be some space opening up in due course. Those broad beans have been spectacular too, I don’t think I recall a year when we’ve had such a bumper crop.


We had a nice picnic lunch one day last week, just some basic provisions and a quiet spot in the woods. I think it’s something we should / could do more often, but it is sometime easier just to have a sandwich and a sit down.


My Mum’s health isn’t so great at the moment, and that’s taking up a lot of time. I guess old age comes to us all, and that sooner or later we’ll all need some support of one kind or another.


I’ve been reading “My Midsummer Morning” by Alistair Humphreys this week. It’s the authors story of retracing the journey of Laurie Lee across Spain, busking for money with a violin. Whilst the two covers bear a striking similarity, the main difference I can see so far is that Laurie Lee could play the violin whereas Alistair Humphreys is a beginner. I’m enjoying it though, well written and very much about the author’s experience of his adventure rather than his predecessor.


That’s it for this week, catch you again soon.

Jellyfish Endgame – TWTW # 19

This weeks missive is a little late as I took advantage of the Bank Holiday weather i.e. overcast; to go and do some digging on the allotment. Although most of the plot has been dug over the winter, there are a couple of spots (were the overwintering veg was) that could do with turning over, as could a couple of spots where I want to direct sow some seeds.

Over the weekend I’ve also been putting in some runner beans, and sowing some more lettuce and beetroot seeds. I’m having trouble getting lettuce seeds to germinate for some reason, but I’m hoping this later sowing into properly prepared soil will do the trick.


img_20190521_101629_318I was walking the dogs along the creek on Tuesday morning when I noticed a stranded Moon Jellyfish (Aurelia aurita) on the shoreline, it’s been a little while since I’ve seen one even though they are relatively common at this time of the year. Sadly this one had been stranded by the tide, but may have been able to last until the next rising tide as it was in a relatively sheltered spot so might not dry out.

Later that night I had the weirdest dream that the dog and I were being pursued by Portuguese Man-o-war jellyfish, who in a rather Doctor Who-esque scene had been able to rise from the sea and chase us up a cobbled street.

I’m not sure whether this was related to seeing the Moon Jellyfish that morning or the fact that I saw Avengers: Engame in that same afternoon.


So yes, finally went to see Avengers: Endgame. Nearly had my own private showing, although three other people turned up just before the last of the adverts were rolling. I know I may be one of the last people to see this, and having successfully avoided all spoilers myself to this point, I’m not going to say anything about the plot. Suffice to say I enjoyed it, thought it was a worthy addition to the MCU. If you haven’t seen it yet, I’d recommend it.


Great little radio documentary about Roger Deakin and wild swimming and the legacy of his book “Waterlog” – listen here

 


The best writing tips from 150 writers – read here


I seem to have been on Twitter for 12 years (@tontowilliams). It’s a very different place now to what it was when I first joined. I can even remember that I had to keep quiet at work that I had a twitter account, as it was in someway considered a bit subversive (I think basically my employer was paranoid that I might be tweeting bad things about them), as a public sector body they now use it to great effect, having multiple accounts to cover all the different things that they do.

I’m not sure whether I want to continue with it though. As I say, today it is a different place, and it is definitely a more angry and hate-filled place than it was in 2007. I am seriously considering taking a break from it completely while the conservative leadership contest is on. Whilst I am interested in politics, the amount of bile and vitriol that has been thrown around over Brexit and the EU elections, makes for some very unhappy reading, and I suspect the same will be true of the leadership election. Given that 100k Tory party members get to decide who the new PM of the UK will be rather than the Country as a whole, I really could care less who will eventually be chosen. From all of those who have declared an intention to stand so far, none of them are fit to lead the Country as far as I can see, so perhaps I am better just staying out of it altogether.


I’ve been reading a few different things this week, including what is considered to be the first of the Maigret books – Peitr the Latvian – I have to say I think if I’d started here I might not have bothered reading anymore of the Maigret books. It’s not that it’s a bad story or that the style is significantly different to the others I’ve read, but it is just different. So I guess my top tip for reading this series is not to start at the first in the series.


The Seafarers: A Journey Among BirdsThe Seafarers: A Journey Among Birds by Stephen Rutt
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Last week I was sent a copy of Stephen Rutt’s first book – “The Seafarers – A Journey Among Birds”, by the publishers, Elliott & Thompson.

It was an unexpected surprise and “The Seafarers” is one of those great joys of a book that is part autobiographical of the author, biographical of the birds he writes about and full of information and detail of those birds. Be they the charismatic Puffin or the extinct Great Auk the author writes a treatise on each and every bird he sees on his journey, and their homes and habitats.

Stephen Rutt has written a lyrical and delightful story, it is a book written from the heart and takes the reader to the homes of the birds where the author has been as part of his career and where he has escaped to, away from a more hectic life. He writes delightfully about each of the species he encounters, some that will be very familiar to the reader, but possibly many that won’t be and in each case he writes so that we all become familiar with each one. He makes the facts and details of those species accessible to the reader in such a way that it is easy to loose oneself in the story and picture each bird for it’s own character.

The book is also full of references and sources so that the reader can also look further for those species that capture their imagination or want to know more about – I found myself tapping in urls to look at other details of species. I know that I’ll be returning to this great book to reread the sections on those species that are close to my heart, but also as a point of wider reference to other species.

I look forward to reading the next book from this author, although I acknowledge that he has set his own bar very high.


I’m getting pretty close to completing my GoodReads reading challenge too. I think I’m only one book away from my target of 30 books


Workwise things have been quite quiet this week, waiting for things to happen elsewhere. Also it’s half-term next week, so I suspect the calm will continue. Maybe get some plants out onto the allotment if it looks like being a very quiet week.


So going out on a high note (see below) I’ll catch you next week.

Dough Monster – TWTW # 18

This week feels like it’s been full of lots of good things, it’s been fairly busy but in a good way, and yet I’ve had time to spend on some of the things that I love.

It’s also been blessed by being mostly warm and dry for the better part of the week, with a little rain at the weekend to help the garden and the allotment along. I can’t complain.


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It’s been a week of books this week. It started on Monday went I had to go into town to run a few errands and I popped into the library to look for a book that my other half wanted to read. They didn’t have it, but by chance I was looking to see if they had any Maigret books on their shelves – I always look, but am usually disappointed – and they had two. I’ve mentioned it before but Maigret has become a bit of a thing for me, and these two (Maigret, Lognon & the Gangsters and Maigret & the Reluctant Witnesses) didn’t take long for me to read. I had a reasonably long journey on Thursday and finished the second one on the train. I’ll take them back this week and see what else they have.

I also received a surprise from E&T Books – “The Seafarers” by Stephen Rutt. I’ve reviewed a few books for E&T and this one came in the post and I am about halfway through. I’ll post a separate review when I’ve finished it. Finally Nigel Slater’s latest cookbook “Greenfeast” came. This is actually a two part set, and this volume covers Spring and Summer. Autumn and Winter is out later this year. It’s a lovely book, although I haven’t had a chance to indulge properly yet!


On Tuesday morning I was walking the dogs along the creek when we chanced upon a Hedgehog. Haven’t seen one in a while, and a little surprising that it was out so late (they’re mostly nocturnal). Normally this isn’t a good sign, as it means they are staying out to find food, but this one seemed to healthy enough and was of a good size so I left it be.


The Marshes of America’s Space Programme


The Day I Tried To Love Ticks


The Bitter Truth About Starbucks Coffee


The Poetry of Painting: how to paint loss and life


On Puerto Rico’s ‘Forgotten Island,’ Tesla’s Busted Solar Panels Tell A Cautionary Tale



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Had a bit of a bread adventure at the weekend too. If you’ve been reading here for a while, you’ll know that I’ve been experimenting with sourdough bread for a while. Well last week we had a bit a of a lack lustre starter mix, that although it turn out a nice loaf, it didn’t really seem to rise all that much. Anyway, as is my habit, the leftover starter went into the fridge in a Kilner jar for the next time. On Saturday morning I noticed that the starter in the jar was rising at quite a fast rate (normally there is very little or no rise when it’s in the fridge). When I checked on it a little bit later in the day it had risen even more, and was into the lid of the Kilner jar.

I thought that I should take it out of the fridge and release some of the pressure from the jar, which I did and the jar open with a loud pop, and the starter started to ooze over the edge of the jar.

I decided to use some of this to make another loaf, so I measured up my ingredients and put the remaining starter back into the fridge (where it has been behaving itself since). I must have made a mistake with the measurements however, as the resulting dough was very wet. Too wet to do anything much with, so I had to add extra flour, which I did and kneaded in, and then put to one side for a final rise.

It worked out okay in the end, even though I’m still not sure how this happened I got a good loaf out of it.