Category Archives: Cookery

Critical Path Analysis – and all the trimmings

I don’t suppose John Lennon had Christmas dinner in mind when he wrote Come Together, the opening track of the Abbey Road album. But it’s the song that I found myself singing all the way through the process of cooking our festive feast (my turn …) this year.

p1020889The challenge is to get all the food, piping hot, onto all the plates at exactly the same time – an unreachable goal, of course, but an ideal that we strive to attain in the true tradition of Man’s enquenchable desire to control the natural world.

I tend to think of cooking Christmas dinner as a problem of project management. It’s all about planning, using estimates, making assumptions and peeling sprouts. It’s a situation in which I try to apply a touch of the old Critical Path Analysis, mostly unconsciously, but always with it in the back of my mind.

I remember first finding out about CPA (as we exponents routinely refer to it) in an edition of Reader’s Digest (still, by the way, the largest circulating magazine in the world), when I was a boy. In some respects, Reader’s Digest was our equivalent of the smartphone, as many people would be seen with their heads bowed, swiping through its A5 pages, oblivious to the world around them.

It featured all sorts of interesting stuff like updates on space technology (asking questions such as “Will Man ever walk on the Moon?“), “The Challenge of the Desert” and (a regular favourite) “It Pays to Increase Your Word Power“. One of the most popular strands was an analysis of what happens in a car accident. In the cover below, you’ll see the 1957 story headline “Slow Motion Picture of Death on the Road“.

readersdigest

Articles on this specific theme were included very often, providing readers with a gory, millisecond-by-millisecond analysis of what happens to “Gerald” (say) as his cracking forehead begins to pass through the ever-so-slowly shattering windscreen. There’s an example of this kind of thing in this classic reprint, the original published even before my time.

But I digress.

One such fascinating piece was about Critical Path Analysis, and it included all kinds of thought-provoking advice on how to plan the timings of a project so that everything “comes together” on time. And now, of course, it comes in so useful in situations such as cooking Christmas dinner.

cpa280I got up especially early on the day, and began planning my approach. Clearly getting the turkey underway early enough was of “critical” importance. So I immediately built that event into my CPA plan. Next I analysed the time differentials involved in peeling the potatoes, parsnips and swede, allowing a suitable period for key elements such as the relative time:space in the oven:temperature variation quotient.

onnode

In a matter of a few hours I was able to see that the project was coming together really well. I allotted some fast tracking variables to creating the gravy pathway, prior to building in an Activity-on-node diagram, showing my revised critical path schedule, along with total float and critical path drag computations. With the project planning nearly complete, I prepared a PERT chart insert to ensure that the pudding arrived at exactly the right time.

With all planning documentation, drag factor diagrams and PERT scheduling completed successfully by 1.00pm, I began unwrapping the turkey.

 

 

Image credit: on-node analysis – By NuggetkiwiOwn work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

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November 2016 garden diary

I can’t help noticing that jars of medlar jam don’t take up much space in our local supermarkets. In fact, they’re noticeable by their absence.

Well, to me at least. So it appears that the only way of finding out whether it’s worth making the stuff is … to make it.

First catch your medlar(s), as Mrs Beeton might have said, or not. All the experts say that the end of November is the best time to pick one’s medlars. That’s the time when they will be just starting to ripen.

“Ripen” … err, yes. “Go rotten” would be a better way of putting it. But, strangely, that’s just what is needed. Medlars need to be in a state of decomposition in order to be suitable for eating or cooking. Well, my timing does seem to be about right. There are medlars on the tree …

tree

… and also on the ground. I’ve put off pruning this tree for far too long. The fruit look like small misshapen apples. But in fact medlars are members of the Rosaceae family – roses. So the fruit of the medlar (or Mespilus, to give it its official designation) are effectively rose hips. I’d prune apples in about April, avoiding pruning off the fruiting spurs, of course; but in my book roses need shortening in autumn. No excuse that we moved in last June. But I’ll hope for a slight rise in temperature and catch up then.

The colours of the fallen medlar leaves seem to me the very definition of autumn.

windfalls

I don’t eat much jam. I’m more a marmalade person, though only at breakfast. My media buying company, Fox Media, worked on the Tiptree business (Wilkin & Sons) many years ago, planning and buying advertising campaigns for them. It was quite an interesting business, completely geared to the tsunami of fruit of all kinds that suddenly matured at the end of the season, on their 1,000 acre estate. I see they do a medlar jelly, which is clear; not sure I can be bothered with straining through a muslin cloth and all that. So it’ll be jam for me, bits and all.

Interesting to find out how many different types of jam there are, though. And people make some very unusual jams (fancy some Raspberry and Chocolate?).

Well, I’ve picked the fruit off the tree and gathered up the windfalls. In terms of numbers, I’d say it was half and half – 50% on the tree, 50% on the ground.

basket

Doesn’t look as though I’ll get many jars. And how long will the jam take to mature? As I recall from previous jam making exploits, it’s best to leave the stuff for a few weeks. So no “jam tomorrow”.

I first heard that expression as a boy. When we moved in to our new bungalow (I was about ten years old), the road wasn’t ‘made up’. In contrast to the carefully tended new gardens of the bungalows, it remained a muddy, potholed street for four or five months. My father wrote and complained to the council and made numerous phone calls. Eventually, in exasperation, he wrote to the local paper, explaining his frustration at being fobbed off by the council with their “jam tomorrow”, as he put it, promises. The letter got published in a prime spot on the Letters Page, under the quite clever heading “Tomorrow’s jam?” – and in a matter of days surveyors turned up and work started on the road in rapid order.

The origin of the phraselet “Jam tomorrow” is in fact Lewis Carroll‘s “Through the Looking Glass and what Alice found there”. The White Queen explains that jam is served every other day, and as today isn’t an “other” day, there will be no jam. “The rule is, jam to-morrow and jam yesterday – but never jam to-day”.

Now then, I think the first thing to do is to sort the medlars into rotten ones and the ones that are still hard.

rottenones

I’ll store the others on a tray and wait for them to rot. How very strange … but this is definitely the prescribed method. And, to be fair, although they look revolting, they do taste delicious. So delicious, indeed, that D. H. Lawrence wrote about them in his poem Medlars and Sorb-Apples. Here’s an extract.

me2I love you, rotten,
Delicious rottenness.

I love to suck you out from your skins
So brown and soft and coming suave,
So morbid, as the Italians say.

What a rare, powerful, reminiscent flavour
Comes out of your falling through the stages of decay:
Stream within stream.

Something of the same flavour as Syracusan muscat wine
Or vulgar Marsala.

Though even the word Marsala will smack of preciosity
Soon in the pussy-foot West.

closeup2What is it?
What is it, in the grape turning raisin,
In the medlar, in the sorb-apple,
Wineskins of brown morbidity,
Autumnal excrementa;
What is it that reminds us of white gods?

Gods nude as blanched nut-kernels,
Strangely, half-sinisterly flesh-fragrant
As if with sweat,
And drenched with mystery.

 

Anyway, I’ve tried squeezing the flesh out and that doesn’t seem to work. I’ve just about managed to get most of it with a teaspoon and put it all into a saucepan.

saucepan

It’s interesting that The White Queen talked about jam as being a treat, with which sentiment most of us would concur. So, why is it that when we get into difficulties, we talk about being “in a jam”? I suppose the implied image is that we’re in a sticky situation, rather like an insect that’s fallen into a jam pot.

Let’s pour on some water and add some sugar …

sugar

Now, did you notice that I used the phrase “just about managed”? Actually, the last few weeks have seen the rise and rise of a new application of the word “jam” (although the expression seems to have been bubbling under for some time). The “JAM”s are the people who are “Just About Managing“, the “squeezed middle” group who are still solvent but are finding the going quite difficult financially. Where would we be without acronyms?

boiling2

Well my jam has been bubbling away for about 15 minutes or so. To think that Wilkin & Sons go to all this trouble every day … amazing.

I’ve got some old jam jars but what to do for labels? All I’ve got are some old Fox Media labels.

jar1

I don’t think it’ll win any design awards. But it’s the taste that counts. Well, here we go. I’ll start spooning the mixture into the jar …

Oh dear, only enough for one jar – but it’s filled nearly to the top. I must confess, it does look a bit murky. But no doubt it will make up in quality what it lacks in quantity.

And if I survive the initial tasting, at breakfast in a few weeks time, who knows? I might have a whole new business on my hands!

jar2

 

 

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