Eat Your Heart Out

Last Thursday I was thrilled to deliver some cookies and a cake which I’d been planning for months.

Eat Your Heart Out took place over the weekend in the Pathology Museum at St Bartholomew’s hospital in London (part of Queen Mary’s University). This most unusual pop-up cake shop brought together my two passions: baking and science. As an interested non-scientist I am drawn to projects which use unusual ways to engage and educate me about scientific concepts.

I knew that it was going to be amazing from reading Miss Cakehead’s blog in the run up to the event, and have to admit to being somewhat in awe of the talent shown by my fellow cake decorators: in particular the work of Miss Insomnia Tulip, Nevie Pie Cakes and the Conjurer’s Kitchen really stand out.

I was completely thrilled then at the reaction to my Necrotizing Fasciitis cake.    Ben Stansall (AFP/Getty Images) took the most fabulous photo of my cake which was named on the Guardian newspaper’s website as one of the “Best News Pictures”  from around the world that day! (Scroll down the page to 17:24pm for my cake.)  That was just the start of a whirlwind couple of days in which we saw the photo of my cake appear on news websites from Spain, Greece, Bulgaria, Chicago USA, and various other European countries.  There was even some video footage of me finishing the cake by AFP (lots of shots of the other cakes too).

If you’ve never heard of Necrotizing  Fasciitis before (and many haven’t) then you can find out more about it here and on Wikipedia – but I would suggest only clicking the links if you’ve a strong stomach!

The cookies I made were inspired by the Wellcome Images competition.  I love the colours and shapes of individual cells and so the idea of producing some cookies based on deadly bacteria and viruses was bound to emerge.  I did some research on mortality statistics from across the world, then narrowed down my selection further based on what images were the most visually appealing.  Spanish ‘flu may have wiped out millions, but it wasn’t going to make a great looking cookie!

You can see more of the event on the Eat Your Heart Out  blog and Facebook page.   The following are just a few of my own pictures of the cake and cookies I made.  Apologies for the poor quality of the photos – we were working very late at night in order to get the cake and cookies finished, and so I didn’t have much time to set up the photos.

sponge carved and ready to cover

fondant cut away to form diseased section of the leg

Injured / Infected Leg Cake

The Finished Necrotizing Fasciitis cake

Infected Leg Cake

Necrotizing Fasciitis Cake Details

Petri Dish Cookies

Bacteria & Virus Cell Petri Dish Cookies

Top row left to right: Salmonella, Legionella, Smallpox.
Bottom row left to right: Bubonic Plague, MRSA, Ebola.

A huge thanks goes to Miss Cakehead and Carla Connolly at the Pathology Museum for organising such an inspiring event, and for asking me to contribute. This was definitely one of the highlights of my cake career so far.

Science Grrl

Regular readers will know that we like nothing better than to spend as much time as possible in the Quirky Kitchen baking geeky treats and boy, have we been geek baking this month.

This week saw the launch of the Science Grrl Calendar- a fabulous idea that emerged from the backlash against THAT video from the European Commission. It was a really inspiring evening, listening to fabulously glamorous scientists enthusing about their subject.  WID & I were delighted to be there along with quirky junior Hannah who was particularly inspired by some of the younger women there.

The cookies I designed for the launch party at the Science Museum took direct inspiration from the calendar photo shoots. I’ve been working on and off at developing a way to make my cookies glow in the dark for a while now but as soon as I saw the first pictures from Lia Han and Ceri Banner’s photo shoot I knew I had to make it work for the launch party. Well, I’m happy to say we did it!

Glow-in-the-Dark Laser Cookie

Some of the cookies depicted individual inspiring scientists.  These included Jill Tarter (of SETI), Jocelyn Bell Burnell (who discovered Pulsars), Rosalind Franklin (whose x-ray diffraction images helped Watson & Crick work out the double helix structure of DNA) and Hedy Lamarr (who along with being a famous Hollywood actress was a talented mathematician and inventor).

Jill Tarter & Jocelyn Bell Burnell Minifig Cookies

Rosalind Franklin & Hedy Lamarr Minifig Cookies

The other cookies were inspired by both the photo shoots themselves and the various scientific disciplines in which those featured work.

Earth, Sun, Stargazing & Exploding Supernova Cookies

Tsetse Fly & Neuron Cookies

PET Diagram & Magnet (with “Iron Filings” sprinkles) Cookies

Petri-dish & DNA Cookies

You might recognise the Babbage Difference Engine No. 2 and the circuit board cookie from my post about Ada Lovelace Day.

Babbage Difference Engine No. 2 & Circuit Board Cookies

What better than a glass of champagne to illustrate bubble physics?  I couldn’t resist adding popping candy to this one too.  The pump shown is the famous Broad Street Pump which had the handle removed when John Snow linked the water from the pump to an outbreak of cholera in 1854.

Broad Street Pump & Champagne Cookies

Of course, I had to make lots of the minifig scientists.

Minifig Scientist Cookies

We had so many lovely comments, but I think I was most thrilled with the reaction to the Glow-in-the-Dark Laser Cookies and my Rosalind Franklin Minifig Cookie.  It was also great to hear more from the scientists about how accurate I had (mostly) managed to be in icing them.  Thank you to all those who took the time to talk to me about the cookies and how I can improve them.
Do take some time to find out more about Science Grrl.  The calendar has already inspired both my girls.  You can buy yours here and help “inspire a generation” not just in sport but in science too.

Ada Lovelace Day

I’m continually inspired by science in producing the cookie designs for Quirky Cookies & Cakes.  So in honour of today being Ada Lovelace Day here’s a sneak preview of two of the cookie designs I’m making for the launch of the Science Grrl calendar at the Science Museum this Thursday.  Can you guess what the cookies are?

Do have a read about Ada and what she accomplished in her lifetime,  She really was an inspirational woman.  You can find out more about her on her Wikipedia page or there’s a Radio 4 programme about her here.  Why not join in with the celebrations and share a story about a woman scientist who has inspired you.

Maths & Baking – Part One

I’ve been thinking about this blog for a while.  It all started when I did the Geek Calendar cookies last October.  Here’s some of my maths cookies from that night, ably modelled by Matt Parker & Alex Bellos.

above photo courtesy of Ben Thompson and Geek Calendar

By the way, please, please do go and read Alex’s book “Alex’s Adventures In Numberland“. Now.  It’s utterly absorbing.

Now, I want to start by admitting that maths was about as far from my favourite subject as was possible when I was at school.  In fact I always thought that I was pretty rubbish at maths.  Six hours of possible brain injury testing after the accident proved otherwise, but that’s a whole other story.  The point is, I THOUGHT I couldn’t do maths.

It’s only with the passing of time, (well that and listening to Matt Parker talk about the beauty of a Möbius Loop), that I’ve realised that I really like maths.  I’m relatively good at it too: cue competitive “discussion” with Mr Quirky as to who’s best at navigating & packing the freezer (although I have to admit, that time he navigated through London using only the sun was awesome!).

The reality is I use maths all of the time in my work. From simple multiplying and dividing ingredient quantities, through working out percentage profits to the more complicated geometry for some of the sculpted cakes.  Whilst leafing through Hannah’s GCSE Higher Maths book, I even came across an example of using maths to ensure the right number of trays of eggs is ordered, a “Real-Life problem” I calculate every Monday! Although Ed-Excel, I have to point out that a tray of eggs is 30 not 24!

So in honour of this being Pi Approximation Day, here’s  some fun maths cookies and cakes.

Quirky Junior’s fantastic maths teacher Mrs Boyd is leaving us for the USA, and to mark this sad day  Hannah made some fabulous maths based cookies this week.

They reminded me of some I helped her make 3 years ago, before I set up Quirky Cookies & Cakes.

You can see how her piping has improved from age 11 to now.

I’d been thinking about a Möbius loop cookie for quite some time, so Mrs Boyd’s departure seemed the obvious time to have a go.  My normal cookie recipe didn’t stand up to the cooking process so I decided to try a fortune cookie mix.  I’d never made them before but I just about managed to get it to work. Next time I’ll know to make the strips of fortune cookie at least 30cm long, as most of the ones I made simply weren’t long enough to fold back on themselves.

I’ve had some helpful suggestions as to possible improvements from BakeMe.Com and my good friend Jules of  Butcher, Baker I’ll be returning to that one as soon as I’ve got the energy!

I couldn’t let today go by without making at least one pi cake.  Having compared methods with @standupmaths following his pi cupcakes earlier this year I thought it should be possible to use the marbling method to make a cake which, when cut, showed the pi symbol.

Well, it clearly needs more work, and if I hadn’t been spending most of the day finishing these and a plethora of other things, I’d have made another one.

One final thought…we were honoured to welcome Matt Parker to Quirky Towers earlier this week when he was working in Derby.  Whilst we happily chatted about maths and baking, I suddenly had the idea of a Venn Diagram pie.  I’m working on it now…so watch this space for more maths baking fun soon.

The Geek Calendar

Here at Quirky Towers we are pretty geeky.  Mr Quirky is an analytical chemist, and in my former life as a wannabe academic researcher (although I started my PhD, the accident meant I didn’t finish it) my chief interest was in exploring how a teacher’s own knowledge of science impacted on their ability to communicate scientific ideas and knowledge to their pupils. I read physics books for fun, even though I didn’t even take physics ‘O’ Level, and have a not-quite-secret ambition of one day doing the physics degree I probably should have done all along.  Pretty geeky so far.

As a family, our main geeky obsessions are Harry Potter and Lego.  In fact, our very favourite even combines the two.  We’re currently wading though rebuilding all our Harry Potter Lego (and since we’ve got almost all the sets ever issued, you can guess what a tall order that is!)  And of course now we’re into advent, I’ve added my santa minifig keyring to my keys and put out the Lego Christmas decorations.  If you follow me on twitter, you’ll also have been hearing recently about my Lego baking obsession, but more of that another time……

Yes, we’re geeky and proud!

So when I heard recently about the Geek Calendar, I knew that it had to be the perfect addition to my study / office for the new year and ordered one straight away.

above photo courtesy of Ben Thompson and Geek Calendar 

And that was the beginning of one of the more surreal experiences of my life so far which ended with Mr Quirky and I attending the launch party in London recently, bringing with us my collection of geeky and quirky cookies.

Geek Calendar Cookies
Copyright Wendy Staples

The Geek Calendar has been produced to raise money for the Libel Reform campaign.  It features lots of my geeky heroes and heroines, including Imran Khan of the Campaign for Science and Engineering, Simon Singh, Dr Petra Boynton, Jonathan Ross, Ben Goldacre and Professor Brian Cox with fellow science tv presenter (& his wife), Gia Milinovitch.  You can still order one here until 15th December for UK orders (10th December for international).

We had the time of our lives, met some really interesting people (I learned lots about the ‘flu virus) and I drank what can only be described as probably far too much gin and tonic! You can just spot Mr Quirky on the right hand side here, in the appropriately geeky grey cardigan!

above photo courtesy of Ben Thompson and Geek Calendar 

And the highlights of the night?  Well, this photo is pretty special….

above photo courtesy of Ben Thompson and Geek Calendar 

It’s really hard to pick just one highlight, but I think what I shall always remember is being inspired to go back to my academic work.  Giving up my PhD was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do.  Over the years I had reconciled myself to the idea that my life had taken a different direction, but I’ve vowed to myself that I’m going to at least start reading again, and the one lesson I have learned is that you never know where life might take you.  Now don’t all panic at once…..I’m not giving up the baking…..but maybe, just maybe, I’ll be able to combine the two over the next few years.

 Science, libel reform and baking, all in one event. It doesn’t get much better than this!