Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Get fit...ride a Pashley!

I had to nip down to the shops this morning to buy some more printer cartridges, and thought I'd take Petunia the Mixte for a ride in the lovely spring sunshine. I deliberately haven't ridden her since I bought Penelope, as I wanted to get to know Penelope inside out and get used to riding her with her extra 7 kilos.

So I was astonished today at how much fitter I seem to have become in the last three weeks. Honestly I think I was channelling Cadell Evans this morning :-). I was pelting up the little hills in a higher gear than I used to ride Petunia in, and not even blowing by the time I got to the top. Doing the same route on Penelope leaves me gasping, with aching legs, but perseverance is the key, and today's little exercise tells me Penelope is doing me a lot of good.

I'm lucky to have two lovely and very different bicycles to ride, luckier too that spring is here and the sunshine is a siren song to get out there and enjoy them both.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

iSnack 2.0...or shouldn't that be Cheesypuke?

Vegemite has been a staple in the Australian pantry since the 1920s. It's an icon, an institution for those of us Down Under. It's one of these spreads you either love or loathe; made from a yeast extract it's very savoury and salty, and the colour of old sump oil. Americans and Canadians in particular have a hard time with it, as there is no sweetness about it. But if you're someone who doesn't always want a sweet spread like marmalade or maple syrup on your morning toast, Vegemite is your best friend.

I grew up on Vegemite and like many Australians was very concerned when US company Kraft bought the brand several years ago. Would Kraft change the formula to make it more palatable for Americans and Canadians and increase the brand's market share there? Thankfully they didn't and Vegemite stayed intact.

Until now. There's a new snack spread out under the Vegemite label. Would you believe it's called iSnack 2.0 - which is dreadful enough in itself - and is a blend of Vegemite and cream cheese. The name iSnack 2.0 (which will undoubtedly, in the way of the interweb, be obselete by next Tuesday I imagine... maybe Thursday) was chosen in a competition which attracted more than 35,000 entries. I did consider entering myself, with the suggested name being Cheesypuke, but decided on reflection it probably wouldn't get past the first round of judging. It seems I'm not alone in thinking the name was daft if today's The Australian is anything to go by. I do like the marketeer's view that the name was so bad it would see the product off the shelf in six months' time :-)). Don't change the name, folks!

Personally I can't think of anything more revolting in the world of snack food. Well, yes I can ( let's not get too literal here). For example I think it's Kraft who has a spread that blends ketchup and mustard, and that's pretty stomach turning for me as I can't get within a metre of ketchup without wanting to throw up from the smell. And then there's some seriously weird snackfood from Asia which includes things like cockroaches cooked on a hotplate but it's too soon after breakfast to think about that.

Digressions aside, mixing Vegemite and cream cheese is pretty sickly. Vegemite goes well with butter. Very well indeed. But butter isn't cream cheese. Vegemite can be palatable with a little bit of cheddar, too. But that isn't cream cheese either.

On t'other hand, softening Vegemite's remarkable taste with something innocuous may have given Kraft a way to increase Vegemite's market share in North America. Which I suspect was the ultimate desire behind this concoction. Just don't mess with the original, Kraft. Or the bunyips will get you.

Monday, September 28, 2009

How hard can it be...

... to buy a nice, linen-look old fashioned stationery set?

I still write notes to people from time to time. If I send my stepdaughter a parcel I'll slip a note in. I still have relatives who don't know one end of a computer from another so letters replace emails for them, and if I'm feeling really virtuous and old-fashioned I'll hand write them (often using a fountain pen for the total experience) rather than type them.

Years ago someone gave me a gorgeous linen stationery set: crisp plain white A5 paper, white envelopes lined lusciously with burgundy. I saved it for "best" - you know, the letters to the favourite aunts and so on. But now I'm down to my last sheet.

And do you think I can find anything out there on the big wide interweb to replace it? I thought I'd try eBay but most of the stationery sets there are poxy. No other word for it. Covered in awful bloody graphics and probably thin paper too. I'm not at the age where I want to send a Hello Kitty letter to anyone. And garishly-coloured bunches of flowers don't do it for me either. I then did a google search for all kinds of permutations on 'writing sets', 'stationery', 'recycled paper stationery', 'notepaper', you name it. I tried my usual art stores, the ones I buy pastels and paper at, I tried online gift stores. Nothing suitable or nothing at all.

I found a couple of likely replacements at $60US for 10 sheets and 10 envelopes, but my love for my steam-powered relations doesn't quite reach that far, even though the paper ticked all the boxes for quality, colour, texture and plainness of design. There's a supplier in Tasmania who has some good looking papers on recycled stock (including Roo Poo. I thought I'd seen it all in the World of Paper today, but that's even more exotic than elephant dung) which I've bookmarked.

You might ask at this point why I don't get out on my own two feet and find a shop, but the cost of driving (and the time cost of public transport as an alternative) to get to the Sydney CBD or other likely places that might sell beautiful writing paper outweighs the cost of buying online and paying postage. Where I live the shops aren't exactly aimed at the creatively-minded or those with a penchant for posh paper.

Disgruntled, I remembered about an hour ago I had some remaindered A4 thick creamy paper from a job I did in the corporate world ten years ago. It was bought for a tender response, and left over when the response was completed. Nobody wanted it...there wasn't enough left to do anything meaningful with. I pulled it out of my bookshelf and while some sheets are a little foxed near the edges, most of it is OK. Sadly it's not linen or textured, but it's thick and feels expensive. I have a paper guillotine in the garage.... so I think I've solved my problem. And I can get envelopes that sorta kinda match at 10 for $2 on eBay. So all is well with the world again.

Now I just have to unclog my fountain pen :-).

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Oh sugar!

I decided to do marmalade batch number 3 today and because our shopping centre is only a kilometre away, all I needed for the recipe was 2kg of sugar so it was a no brainer to ride Penelope there. I had very little cash on me, only coins and enough for the sugar, and didn't want to bother taking my wallet, my ATM card or anything else. I mean, who is going to EFTPOS $2.19 of sugar? I'm not even sure the supermarket will do an electronic transaction for such a small amount.
The wind was blowing a southwest gale, and a headwind at that as I rode to the shopping centre. Had to drop down a gear from my usual up the rises as the wind was so strong. Ugh; it was a hard slog despite the short distance.
Sugar procured, I headed happily back with a tailwind.
Until I hit the driveway of the train station car park I usually cut through.
There's a bump there, and the sugar went FLYING out of the basket and SPLAT on the driveway. Unrescuable. There was only a cup left in the bag, the rest was on the ground or already being caught and dispersed by the wind. A feast for the ants and local parrots however.
I cursed. There was no way I was turning back as I didn't have the cash or the ATM card, and that horrible headwind wasn't a pleasant thought. I cycled home with my depleted sugar and resorted to getting the car out, I'm ashamed to say. Time was getting on, the oranges were almost ready for the next stage in the process, and I mentally apologised for my carbon footprint.
Anyway Batch Three tastes great - finally.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Error in earlier marmalade recipe

Having just made batch number two, I realise I should never rely on reciting recipes from memory. There's a fatal flaw in my marmalade recipe, and I've corrected it in bold and italics. If you've downloaded the original, please check and download the changed version or your marmalade won't work. I'm really sorry - it wasn't a deliberate attempt to hide the secret in family recipe or anything. I think I must have had a dose of the Dufus at the time!

Batch number two...

...of this year's marmalade is underway. The oranges are simmering at the moment. I'm upstairs typing and the smell is all throughout the house, rising up the stairs. Oh yum.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Now the skies are clear again...

... we went for an early morning cycle before breakfast this morning. The sun is rising earlier now and it's light by 6am, so we were out on the bikes at about 6.30.

Not far from our house is a field with a couple of ponies in it. Being a horsey person from long ago I often stop for a chat and today was able to give them a couple of apples. The owners don't seem to mind them getting treats, and I'm mindful to only give them things that are good for them. So many people feed horses fresh bread and that's NOT good - it's an invitation to colic. Old, dry bread is OK though. Anyway, I digress.

I took Penelope for my ride this morning and I think that was probably a mistake. My body was low on fuel and I found the last half a kilometre quite hard going. I'll experiment tomorrow or the next day and take Petunia for a pre-breakfast ride instead.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Red sky in morning, er....dust storm!

We had our storm last night, thunder, lightning and rain. And wind. There have been strong winds all over NSW, blowing dust from the red centre to the coast. I woke at 5.30 this morning to run a breakfast meeting and the light outside was apocalyptic - a curious, otherworldly orange. The sun was rising but you couldn't see it, the dust was so thick. After my shower I took this first pic at 6am. The second photo was taken at the golf course where my breakfast was being held. This was around 7am and there was still a strange dusty tint to the air.
It's worrying for anyone with asthma or other breathing difficulties. Even inside our house with the windows shut you can still taste dust. It's 11.15am now and the wind is still blowing steadily, swirling the red dust around our city skies. The sun is a faint white disc trying bravely to shine though the amazing haze.
My car, which is usually white with a dusting of leaves and a cobweb on the left hand wing mirror, has been restyled in orange.
One of my friends just rang me to tell me a guy down her street was hosing his car off. In the middle of the dust storm. I ask you -!!! What kind of idiots are there out there? Firstly we have water restrictions here that don't allow you to wash your car with a hose between the hours of 10 am and 4pm, secondly it's only going to get filthy again - even filthier in fact as the dust will stick to the wet car. And she said another guy was hosing the dust from the tiles on his roof. Some people have no sense of the environment. Some people have no sense!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The speedy approach of summer

Every year we get a hot few days some time in September, as if nature is teasing us and reminding us that a stinking hot summer is on the way. Today is one of those days. It's in the high 20s if not 30 degrees here at the moment, with a warm north west wind (in a normal world it would be in the low twenties). This is the kind of day that ends in a storm before or at sunset. My mother has a theory about such days - they are sent to destroy her magnificent azalea display. Her azaleas are looking just lovely at the moment, a riot of pale pinks, purples, and variegated pink and white. One particular pale pink one has a scent to die for, and it's planted near her front door so the smell wafts inside. We always joke about the wind and rain ravaging them when they're at their best.

Pic shows Penelope with the scented azalea - this bush is about 2metres/6 feet tall and wide.

Monday, September 21, 2009

This week in Spring...

We had a super little storm last night - pounding rain for about ten minutes, then lighter rain on and off for the next hour. It freshened up the garden and this morning everything looks freshly washed and happily hydrated. Some of this week's treats are:
Above, my Tomgirl ivy-leafed pelargonium. I have two of these in hanging baskets and they are loving the early spring sunshine; they're covered in buds.
Arab's Eye/Black Eyed Susan. I put these bulbs in three years ago. The first year I was rewarded with dozens of flowers and the last couple of years they haven't given me a single one but simply drooped to the ground. This might be the only flower I get this year so I recorded it for posterity.
Sweet peas, just coming into bloom. Behind them the red flowers are pineapple sage/salvia, with a bank of white daisies to the left.
Dutch iris.
Viburnum Anne Russell. Heavenly scent. Unfortunately only one lot of flowers this year on this young plant. My helpful cats, always keen to lend a paw or tooth, chewed off any other buds. Little horrors!
Primrose. This is called Sundance I think. Sweet little flowers... you can see how small they are by comparing them to the flat leafed parsley leaf top left in the pic.
Native jobby.... not sure of its name. Beautiful French Lavender behind it.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

New Season's Asparagus

Oh joy! Oh bliss! The first of this season's asparagus was in the grocer's today. Realistically asparagus, along with all other fruits and veggies, is available all year round these days at the cost to your palate and the vegetable's own carbon footprint.(Peruvian asparagus has been on the shelves for ages.) But I like to eat and cook with local seasonal produce whenever practicable. So on the menu tonight is the first bunch of this year's asparagus. Some of the spears are a bit thin and will I think be a little stringy and tough - but as I haven't had asparagus in months I don't care.

Accompanying it will be butterfly pork steaks, done on the griddle and served with a little Char Siu sauce, and a French dish which includes aubergine, eschallots, mushroom, parsley and pan-fried breadcrumbs. Mmm.

Sydney Olympic Park

One of our regular weekend rides is Sydney Olympic Park. If you get there early enough, the cycleways (shared with pedestrians) aren't too hectic and you can get a bit of speed and constant movement going. There are around 35km of paths in the park, and we typically do about 22-25km of them on our rides. More info about them can be found here. While the presence of families cycling slowly can be a hazard to navigation, the nice thing is that the paths are for the most part off road, and the scenery along the river is always cheering. You ride through bushland and smell the crisp eucalypts, or the heady scent of wattle. Birdsong trills about you, and aside from tracks that run beside the roads, there is no traffic noise.

The whole area is relatively flat,with a few hills and rises, some of them optional. On a gorgeous day like today heading out there after breakfast was a no-brainer. For Penelope, it seems these bike paths and the bike lanes on adjacent streets are her native territory. The winding, undulating paths are like any you'd find in the UK, just right for a British bike.

The whole area was developed around ten years ago, so the roads themselves are smooth and pothole free. Any bumps are treated with disdain by Penelope. I found my lovely Pashley just as easy to ride as Petunia this morning, quite light despite her steelness, and nimble in mid-range acceleration. Cycling on the shared paths can be stop-start, or slow-go as you negotiate pedestrians, dogwalkers and cyclists who just go too slowly. We generally ride on the roads for a little while as well, as this part of Sydney is geared for cycling and has a superb bike lane structure. She came into her own on one of the back roads - a long, sweeping bend, no traffic... I pedalled madly and was rewarded with a smooth, blisteringly fast (for my level of fitness :-) few minutes. Greg had to drop a gear and go like mad to catch me.

And - nice to know - I CAN stand up and pedal on hills. It feels rather precarious compared to a road bike or MTB, but it works. Greg led us down a wrong turn in search of a different entrance into the park, and it was up hill and down dale for a bit. The down dale was brilliant, and the up hill surprised me. Yesterday's ride must have done my muscles some good as I was getting up the hills easily enough, especially when I got the hang of standing up.

By the time we got back to the car it was getting madly busy; on weekends cyclists outnumber cars in this area about 10 to 1. Next weekend there's a special family cycling day at the Park so we'll give that a miss and head out into the country instead.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

A journey back home

What a gorgeous spring day! Temps in the early to mid 20s, sunshine, the incredible scents of everything floral bursting into the air. We loaded our bikes onto the car and drove to my childhood home, where my mother still lives. This is such a gorgeous, graceful part of town. Old stone houses, tons of trees both native and European. In particular, the azaleas and wisterias which dot just about every old, established garden were in full swing, heaven to look at and heaven to smell.

This was the first time I'd ridden around here in about ten years. Back then I was riding a 21 speed mountain bike and able to negotiate all the hills in this hilly bit of town really easily once I'd got fit, standing up and pedalling like fury. Taking Penelope there for a ride was a different matter. She's much heavier and her lowest gear doesn't match the range on an MTB or hybrid. On the flat bits she was just brilliant, so easy to get her up and speeding along, and down the hills she flew like a bird, giving my other half on his road bike a serious run for his money. But I'm ashamed to say that I got off and pushed on the biggest hill (just as I did the first ever time I tried that particular hill on my MTB). My legs were aching like mad and I was gasping. Even low gear wasn't enough, so I think I'll have to get the bottom gear lowered, aside from working on my personal fitness. More disturbing was the realisation that it's really, really awkward if not unsettling to try and stand up on the pedals to get up hills. The geometry of the bike doesn't really allow it.

That being said, she really is lovely to ride and it means adapting to her geometry and gearing as well as making such mods as I can afford. Sydney is a hilly ci
ty, more suited to bikes with more gears and in particular more low range gears if you're an unfit lass like me.

Next time I take her to Mum's I'll be fitter and more used to her. She's worth all the perseverance, all the aching legs and gasping breath, as she is a diamond on two wheels.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Pimping my ride

Having taken delivery of the delightful Penelope, she does need a bit of personalisation. Particularly in the handlebar grips department. I'm surprised that, since they produce and sell leather handlebar grips, Pashley doesn't offer them as standard on their top end bikes such as the Princess Sovereign. The only bit of my bike I don't like is the cheap rubber grips, which are actually not comfortable when you ride for more than a few minutes.

Petunia the Mixte has been prettied up with lovely Brooks leather handlebar grips, which replaced her own cheap rubber grips. They not only look nice, they feel fantastic. As you can see. They match her pretty champagne-coloured frame. (She is still to get her own Brooks saddle though it's in the pipeline.)

I'll be getting Brooks grips for Penelope in the next couple of weeks - they are more readily available than the Pashley grips and I suspect a little more padded and comfortable. I've found two on eBay - one is the same colour as Petunia's, which complement the brown Brooks saddle. Currently they're very affordable but the auction ends on Sunday. The other option is a Buy It Now from the USA for GREEN leather grips which echo Penelope's shiny paintwork. They are a similar hue only lighter in shade. Both eBay options are cheaper than buying through a bike store here in Oz; the US one is more expensive than the auction due to the exchange rate and the postage (international postage seems to have increased significantly lately).

My heart says go with the green grips and be a bit different. Not everyone has green grips. :-)

Obesity crisis gains weight

Blimey I'm posting a lot today. But I read something in yesterday's newspaper which appalled me. Taxpayers could be forced to fund lapband surgery for obese teenagers. Now the appalling bit isn't the bit about the taxpayers (although that's bad enough), it's that there are so many young people out there seriously and dangerously overweight. Apparently one in four children here in Oz are obese or overweight.

It wasn't that long ago that Australia was considered a bit of a paradise, filled with lean, healthy people, outdoorsy types who spread the legend of the Bronzed Aussie throughout the world.

Fighting middle-aged spread is not uncommon throughout the western world on western diets - our metabolism and hormones change the way we store and use fat. But my goodness there are a lot of sadly big children around. It can't all be "just big bones" or "genes". When I was a kid in the 60s and 70s we were all pretty lean. I was slightly chubby compared to my friends but looking at pics of me in my youth I wouldn't have been considered overweight. We used to run around outside all the time, we rode bikes, we flopped into bed tired after busy, active days. We didn't have fast food several times a week as to be honest there wasn't any back then. There were a few pizza shops but KFC and McDonald's didn't appear in Australia until the late 60s/early 70s and even then they were considered a twice a year event in our family. Now there is a scary wealth of fast food options for busy parents to fall back on, or for teens to stop at on the way home from school.

Pre-teen kids these days have a different life. At school, many of them aren't allowed run at lunchtime unless the school has a grassy oval. In my childhood we belted around the concrete playground heedless of skinned knees and other injuries. Nowadays schools are mindful of insurance premiums and parents taking out lawsuits if Little Johnny breaks an arm at school. So kids can't run unless it's during supervised sports.

The careless play my friends and I indulged in after school isn't always an option for today's child either. All the kids in my street would congregate in the bamboo grove at the back of my next door neighbour's. It was a cave, a house, a castle, whatever you wanted to make of it. We'd perhaps go for a bike ride together, or play chasing or some kind of ball game. Our mothers would get a little concerned near dinner time and call us in, or take turns to check periodically we were all still there and in one piece. Today's child often stays in 'after care' until his or her parents get home from work. If Mum doesn't work and picks up the child from school, it's usually in a car, and the child has to stay at home rather than play in the street with friends as parents are justifiably concerned about paedophiles. My mum used to worry about me getting kidnapped, but compared to a lot of today's kids I had amazing freedoms. So today's kid stays at home in front of the telly or computer after school. Many modern suburbs encourage big houses on small blocks so the classic backyard, the home of cricket, footy and everything else, is diminished.

Teenagers don't 'play' like younger kids. There's even more temptation for them to spend their money on junk food after school, and unless they are passionate about their sport, they aren't the most active beings if any of my friends' teens are an example. If both parents work, your average teen will go home from school and either hit the computer or the tv or chat to friends on the phone. There's no-one to tell them to get up and move around. Where I live I see a few teens and younger children being active after school either on bikes or walking, but nowhere near the number I used to see when I was younger. The lure of technology encourages sedentary behaviour. It's all very well to buy a Nintendo Wii and play tennis on it but don't kid yourself you're getting fit - you'd be much better off playing tennis for real.

Our government is currently engaged in a 'measure up' campaign for adults, encouraging them to measure their waistline and do something about bringing their weight down if they are overweight. They are also seriously considering banning fast food / junk food advertisements during children's tv time. Major supermarkets are engaged in advertising to make fruit and vegetables exciting choices for kids to eat (but still have long, full aisles of sugary soft drinks and fatty or sugary snacks). There's a real push to get people out there in the fresh air, exercising - there is a spring family bike ride next week, 45km across Sydney; Ride To Work day next month etc. But is it too little too late for families who take the easy option with pizza and chips and use the car to travel 500 metres?

Is Australia now Paradise Lost?

Blissful bike!

Oh, the joy of it! I went out for a ride on Penelope yesterday, and it was sheer bliss! Having NOT ridden on Petunia first for an hour beforehand, I was fresh and fit this time and gave my lovely new mount a good tryout on my usual 30 minute exercise route.

My husband came with me on his road bike and I discovered I was no more disadvantaged in the 'keeping up' stakes than when I ride Petunia. Well, perhaps a smidge more but not uncomfortably so. I even managed to leave him standing on a downward slope :-). AND pass him going up a hill!

She's a tougher ride in that my legs really feel it, but her solidity and smoothness more than make up for it. She really does glide along graciously - never was a bike more aptly named than the Princess.

I feel quite different when I ride her... more happy to dawdle along, head up looking at the scenery. In my quest to find a gracious, old-fashioned outlet for my mind and heart in the midst of technology and stress and today's too-fast pace, she (even more so than Petunia) is a vital addition. In her saddle, I can forget everything else.

Can't wait to finish my work for the day and get back into her saddle :-).

Marmalade for everyone

In response to a request, here is the recipe I use for my Seville orange marmalade. It's relatively simple and quick compared to some of those which require leaving overnight. What you need:

1kg Seville Oranges (or ordinary oranges if you can't get Seville)
2 Litres water
2 kg sugar
1 lemon
muslin or a fresh new j-cloth and some cooking twine
two saucers
a candy thermometer (optional but it does help)

Use a big pan with a thinnish bottom - you need to be able to control the cooking temperature easily so forget cast iron casserole dishes. Put your oranges in the water, bring to the boil and simmer for about two hours, covered, until the skin is soft and you can pierce it easily with a fork. Turn the heat off and take the oranges out. Leave the water there.

When the oranges are cool enough to handle, cut them into quarters and gently scrape all the flesh away from the skin. You need to leave the skin itself, and remove most of the white pith. Separate the pips from the flesh and put them on a square of muslin. Put any juice from the flesh back into the water.

Put your two saucers into the freezer.

Cut the skin into thin strips. Leave in a bowl for now.

Add the juice of your lemon, tie the pips in muslin and dangle it into the water. Bring to boil again for about ten-twelve minutes. Put your candy thermometer in the water and keep your temps at about 220 degrees F.

(At this point, preheat your oven to a very slow temperature, about 140 celsius (not sure what this is in fahrenheit). While this is happening, wash your jars - you'll need approx 8 x 250 gm jars or equivalent. When your jars are washed and rinsed, don't dry with a towel but put them on a tray in your oven for about 10 minutes to sterilise.)

Take your pips out. Now add the orange skin, and boil gently until your liquid is reduced by one third. Tip: use a wooden skewer. Dip it in at the start, and mark the level on the skewer. Keep testing until it's down by a third.

Slowly, slowly add your sugar, stirring all the while to help it dissolve. Now simmer uncovered at 220 for about 20 minutes. Stir occasionally.

After 20 minutes, take a saucer out of the freezer and put a little dollop of marmalade on it. After a couple of seconds push it with your finger. If it has a 'skin' on it which wrinkles when you push it, your marmalade is ready to cool. At the most, you should cook your marmalade for no more than 25 minutes or it'll be really thick and gooey and won't spread well. If you find your mixture doesn't set, you can buy pectin from the healthfood store and add a little bit. Your pips in muslin add pectin to the mixture to help it set.

Let the mixture cool somewhat and spoon it into your jars, and seal immediately. Enjoy!!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Meet Penelope

OK, I'd had my heart set on a Velorbis Victoria, but after testing riding a Victoria and a Pashley Princess Sovereign (which I'd INITIALLY had my heart set on until I found out how much they weighed), the balance fell in the Pashley's favour.

Why? Ride quality was good on both, and the Shimano gearset on the Victoria is lovely. It was very tempting. However. The Victoria costs an additional $700 compared to the Pashley. Could I find $700 value in the difference? Um...the Vic's headlight stays on for a minute when you're stationary (quite a nice touch for a dynamo light). It's got more gears and there's not much to choose in quality between Shimano and Sturmey Archer. The Victoria is 4kg lighter, which was tempting. Ultimately I found it hard to justify the extra money for the Victoria, given that one or two people on the internet have questioned build quality and longevity.

So Penelope Pashley has joined our family. This is easily the nicest bike I've ever had - so stable, so smooth. When I sat on her in the shop yesterday I was stunned at the stability even standing still. This is a Rolls Royce of bicycles.

My test ride in both cases was on fairly flat ground with minor upward slopes, which was a bit of a concern. I'm 20 years older (and 10 kg heavier and heaven knows how less fit) than when I first got a mountain bike with 21 gears, I ride a 25 year old 12 speed road bike and get up hills these days without too much gasping, but I'm buying a bike with 5 hub gears which weighs 7kg more than Petunia my mixte. When I bought Petunia last year I hadn't ridden for about ten years; I felt every nuance in the terrain heartily for the first few months.

My first real ride on Penelope today told me I'll be feeling every nuance all over again. Honestly my legs felt like chewed string at the end of 8km (which includes a hill or two). I guess it didn't help that we'd taken our road bikes out this morning for a 16km ride in a park which includes The Long Slow Hill From Hell so my muscles had worked hard already. But what a bike... she feels so stable and once she's up and running the momentum of her weight carries her effortlessly on the flat. I think I'm in love :-).

Here's Penelope, just after I paid for her and took her out of the shop. I'm considering a sugar rush to get over the shock of paying a four figure sum for a bicycle LOL! Thanks to the fantastic Kate of Steel City Cycle Works for importing these wonderful bikes.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Behold marmalade

And here's the first batch for the year. We've tried it and it's absolutely delicious.

My mum gave me another batch-worth of empty jars today so I'll have to return them to her all filled up. While my husband, when on form, can go through a 250ml jar a fortnight, I hope I'll have enough altogether to last us for a year and enable us to supply our family and friends with some orangey delight as well. This year we ran out two months ahead of schedule. I had no idea of my husband's capacity for home-made marmalade - it's twice the capacity for shop bought!!

Friday, September 4, 2009

Sometimes you just gotta do a POETS day...*

Today was the blissful kind of spring day when the air smells of floral scents and the sun on your back actually has a wee bit of warmth in it. Not a hugely blissful day for me to begin with, I'm having a bit of a health scare at the moment and went to see my doctor this morning. Results of tests on Monday so a nervous weekend for me.

To cheer me up my lovely husband, who drove me to the doctor's in case my mind wasn't wholly on the road and traffic, suggested we head out for lunch afterwards. As the doc was running an hour behind schedule and we were both famished by then, I thought it a fantastic idea so we spent two happy hours at a delightful pub in the pseudo-countryside ten minutes' drive from home.

It was almost four by the time we got home - time for a cuppa and realistically not much incentive to get back to work. So we didn't. I did a cursory check of my email, returned some phone calls and headed out into the back garden with my husband, the dog and the cats, watching storm clouds gather. (No day this warm this time of year is complete without some kind of meteorological change.) Picked some lavender to dry for the underwear drawers, pruned a salvia, and tried very hard not to think about test results and the implications if they aren't good.

The weekend is a continuation of this idyllic sunshine so I'll be making marmalade and riding my bike. We haven't decided which bike tracks we'll take this weekend. We've done Homebush Bay and Olympic Park the last two weekend rides and I'm happy to do them again as it's lovely cycling by the river. It'll take my my mind off Monday morning, which is a good thing. Fat lot of sleep I've had this week!

* POETS day: P*ss Off Early, Tomorrow's Saturday

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Marmalade in the raw

No, the title isn't what you think. Get rid of those smutty images of unclad people smeared with marmalade!

Today I got my year's supply of Seville Oranges from a lovely lady who lets people pick from her tree once she's taken all the oranges she needs for her own marmalade. She doesn't ask for payment and is happy to help others. She also has a couple of really lovely Siamese cats, but as it was raining today, and Siamese will be Siamese, they had elected to sleep in the comfort of indoors rather than 'help' me pick oranges as they did last year.

So this weekend the business of making marmalade will begin. I have enough oranges for about five batches I think. Making a batch takes you at least half a day although you can do other things while the oranges are simmering for two hours.

If I am very, very lucky this haul of flavoursome fruit will last my husband most of the next twelve months. He was reasonably greedy with last year's batch and had licked the spoon clean on the last bottle by June. He's Marmalade Man. He's been eating it since he was a wee bairn in Scotland. I love my marmalade too but not to the extent he does.

For me a lot of the pleasure comes from making it rather than eating it. There's something old-fashioned and delightful about making preserves. And the home-made variety leave the supermarket stock in the shade when it comes to taste.

Roll on weekend!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Ahh, spring!

Spring started here officially yesterday. Australia is practical like that - start your seasons on the first of the month regardless of the solstice. Spring really does seem to start at the end of August, particularly where I live. Over the last week green shoots have started to appear on just about everything, the daffodils are out, the jonquils have almost finished, the sweet peas are in full bloom. Golden wattle (a blessing if you love the look and scent, a curse if you get hay fever) is brightening up the local parks. And best of all anyone who grows jasmine is delightfully responsible for filling the air with perfume. Here's ours out the front, looking towards our front door.

And a few more around the front... jonquils, and our new and sparkling hanging baskets with the pelargonium Tomgirl. I love this deep red, it's crimson gone to the dark side.

I've enjoyed my rides the last few days even more than usual with the heady scents of early spring emanating from peoples' gardens. One guy up the road has his entire front fence covered in jasmine, and you can smell it several doors away.

The ponies in the little field a few blocks away are starting to shed their shaggy winter coats, and are enjoying the lush new green growth.

Hibernating winter gardeners (not that we have a particularly cold winter here) have been busy with the compost and fertiliser, and the less attractive scent of chicken shit mingles with the florals.

This is the perfect time of year to do stuff outdoors. In summer the heat and humidity is punishing, but right now it's a pleasure getting out and pedalling after lunch. The warm sun on our backs, the air still cool enough to stop us overheating.

Life just doesn't get any better than early spring.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Charley the Catburglar

Sharing a house with two blue-eyed mischievous cats provides us with a daily giggle. They're always up to something daft, evil or funny. Charley is one for choosing his own toys - which are items that were not designed with that purpose. As an adolescent he nicked a furry koala that is supposed to grip onto your bookshelves or act as a page marker or something. I had it high up on my bookshelf. Then it was on the floor. Then he was chucking it around. Two years later he still chucks it around but there's not much left of it.

At Mum's house he has a thing for clothespegs. When the animals stay with her, when Greg and I go away, she finds clothespegs in the living room and kitchen, or catches him in the act of ferrying them about. Unrepetant, he gives her a "What?" stare. It's not that he and Annabel (and Rosie the dog) are shortchanged on toys. They have dozens between them. Annabel scorns them all and plays with sweet wrappers.

Now Monsieur has decided he wants the clothes brush for his very own. It lives on the top shelf of our walk-in robe, and three times in the last week I've found it on the floor in the morning. On Sunday I found it downstairs hidden under a seat, tucked away next to my footstool (which he also covets and pushes into his favourite hiding place under cover of darkness). Yesterday I heard a thumping in the robe and there he was, picking up the handle in his mouth and pushing it towards the edge of the shelf before dropping it. He's doing it again now. We could find a different hiding place for it but then I suspect we'd BOTH forget where it was....until Charley found it again for us.