Tim Tam Salted Caramel

April 19, 2014 at 20:13 | Posted in biscuits | Leave a comment
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salted caramel tim tam packThe innovation labs at Arnott’s must be in overdrive at the moment, with so many new Tim Tam varieties coming onto the market. Hot on the heels of the Strawberry flavour, we now have new ones inspired by Adriano Zumbo.

Adriano Zumbo, for those of you who are not familiar with the name, is a Sydney patissier who has been wowing the crowds with his combination of bizarre macaroon flavours and high-energy dance routines. People queue outside his bakery just to get a hint of ‘vanilla and sardine’ biscuit and to lose a few kilos with some coordinated star-jumps. I have to say, I have never visited his shop, despite it being quite close to where I live. As you would expect, being a paid-up curmudgeon, I am resolutely Not Impressed with such new-age tomfoolery.

Arnott’s seem to have jumped on the bandwagon, however, releasing three new varieties ‘by Adriano Zumbo’. Whether this means Adriano himself is actually baking them, or he was merely paid to put his name on the packet I will leave for you to decide.

caramel tim tam biscuitThe ones I tried first were the ‘salted caramel’ variety. These look and smell pretty much like regular caramel Tim Tams, and indeed taste a lot like them too – albeit with quite a significant salt hit. Actually, really quite a lot of salt. So I guess if you wanted to try these without forking out the exorbitant amount Arnott’s now charge for those little snack packs which seem to be the packet-du-jour,  you could simply buy a regular pack of caramel Tim Tams and sprinkle them with Saxa.

They are actually quite good, I have to say. Generally speaking things that are even more bad for you do taste better. However, I would say that crediting this whole innovation to some patissier is clearly misplaced. Arnott’s have had a far superior, salted sweet biscuit on the market for many, many years – Zumbo is just a Jonny-come-lately to this whole thing, and his effort lacks the poise, charm and addictiveness of the original.

For all that, they are pretty good though. I’m going to give them an eight out of ten.

New commute

March 11, 2014 at 18:42 | Posted in bicycles | 2 Comments
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mowbrayI have a new job. And with the new job comes a new location – I am now riding in pretty much diametrically the opposite direction, heading west to Chatswood, instead of into the city.

Although not especially different in terms of distance (just a few kms more), it couldn’t be more different in terms of route. Previously I could ride into work in the CBD pretty much on separated bike paths / SUPs the whole way. Now I have to negotiate the cycling glory that is Gladesville Bridge before braving the wonders of Mowbray Road.

It’s interesting in a number of ways, and has certainly given me pause for thought about many aspect of cycling in Sydney. I am the only person in my new office who rides to work. In the city, I was one of many. My office in the CBD was right on the Kent St cycleway. Built it and they will come.

2014-03-11 20.35.17Some facts. My new route takes me from Five Dock over Gladesville Bridge, then on to Centennial Avenue and then right onto Mowbray Road. I follow that over the Pac Hwy, and then a few kms further on turn left down some local streets to get to Chatswood. It’s about 13km, and is mostly uphill on the way there – which makes for a good workout in the morning, and a cruisy ride home. That means it’s quicker coming home – 33 minutes as opposed to 38. I fired up Strava again, and this is what it had to say (this was from the ride home).

It certainly made me realise how spoiled I was before. ‘Spoiled’ and ‘Victoria Rd SUP’ and not words that often go together, but for all its faults there is something to be said for getting out of the traffic. Anyone could have ridden my old commute, but that certainly isn’t the case with the new one.

I now have to mix it up with cars. Lots and lots of cars. For motorists the route is very stop-start, with queues at the various traffic lights frequently so long that it takes two or three phases for the cars at the back to get across. My tactics for this vary; on Mowbray Road I filter through the cars, either on the left or down the middle of the two lanes. Heck, I’m not sitting there just because all those idiots chose to take two tonnes of metal to work. Burns Bay Road is a little more tricky, as it’s uphill. This means I end up getting stuck in the jam, and then in turn holding up the cars as the traffic moves and I’m grinding up the hill. I’ve actually taken to riding up the hill on the footpath – just because it’s faster for me, as I don’t have to keep stopping. It’s far from ideal (and slower than riding on the road would be if the road was not busy), but as it is my average speed is pretty much exactly the same as the traffic.

On the faster sections (which is a lot of the ride home) I’m mixing it up with the cars – for much of the time going faster than they are, zipping past on the inside and then filtering at the lights. It’s kind of exhilarating, and not something you do much of in a CoS cycleway. But this is riding for the 1% of lunatics, not normal people. It speaks volumes about cycling culture in Sydney, the safety record for bicycles and just how high the barriers are to making cycling an everyday activity. I also see a little more aggression from motorists, with some close passing and crazy swerving in front of me at traffic queues. It’s not bad, but again it’s something you are insulated from on even a very poor SUP.

My new co-workers are somewhat bemused by my behaviour, and even after three weeks still ask me ‘still riding then?’, as if it is some kind of aberration and I will soon give up. One of the women in my team drives eight kilometres to the office – and it usually takes her about half an hour. On a bad day close to an hour. To me, this behaviour seems much more extraordinary than riding. My allocated parking space outside the building goes empty – which does make me smile somewhat. I’m tempted to get a bike rack installed in it. Built it, and perhaps they will come…

Shapes – Chicken Crimpy

February 23, 2014 at 19:30 | Posted in biscuits | Leave a comment
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chickencrimpyboxWell, here we are with another Shapes review, despite your protestations and howls of derision. However, in my defence I will say that these ones come in a box, and are much larger. indeed, they are more reminiscent of Jatz than of the rest of the shapes range.

They also feature the ‘flavour you can see’ line, but I have to say I’m confused by this. There is no ‘flavour’ to be discerned on these biscuits (unlike the Barbecue Shapes, for example). I suppose you could argue than pretty much anything comestible has ‘flavour you can see’, in the sense that you can see it is an edible item which presumably will taste of something. Perhaps Arnott’s are merely reassuring us that these biscuits are not invisible.

chickencrimpybiscuitThe biscuits have scalloped edges (hence the ‘crimpy’, I suspect), and are about four centimetres across. They are crunchy, and for all the world taste like plain biscuits for cheese sprinkled with a lot of chicken salt. Perhaps that’s what they are. Given the saltiness, I’m not sure they would go with cheese very successfully, but they did dip quite well into a guacamole salsa that I had in the fridge.

I’m going to give these a five out of ten.

Shapes – Barbecue

February 16, 2014 at 13:30 | Posted in biscuits | Leave a comment
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bbqshapespackIs this a step too far, I wonder? I have begged your indulgence to write about savoury biscuits, and you have responded magnificently,with an overwhelming response asking for cheesy reviews. But this? Sold in a bag, and clearly not meant for putting with a cheeseboard? Well, dear readers, let me know what you think as we step into the dangerous waters of the savoury snack biscuit.

There are a number of things about these that Arnott’s are very keen you should know. Firstly, they are ‘baked not fried’. Well that’s alright then. Clearly slathering fat all over something and then putting it in the oven, rather than merely dipping it into hot oil is to be applauded. After all, potatoes baked in duck fat are practically a health food.

The other thing is that they have ‘flavour you can see’. This seems strange to me. Personally I prefer flavour you can taste. Maybe it’ one of those post-modern things, like paintings you can hear. I looked at the flavour long and hard, but didn’t really get any hint of barbecue – more pencil shavings or bits from the dust-pan. Nothing to suggest burned sausages or parrafin lighter fluid.

bbqshapesbiscuitsTo eat, though, you do get some flavour. It seems the flavour is not just for looking at after all. The biscuit is crunchy and quite OK texture-wise. The flavour is of the generic ‘barbecue’ type, which is to say it really has very little to do with barbecues, and a whole lot to do with monosodium glutamate. Salty, spicy and slightly sweet tasting with a chemical edge that strips your tongue. Oh, and very addictive. The packet will be gone in a flash.

Of course, they are terrible. Artificial, gimmicky and lacking all depth and subtlety, But, for all that, they do deliver on expectations for the genre.

I’m going to give them a four out of ten.

The Night Circus – Erin Morgenstern

February 9, 2014 at 19:24 | Posted in books | Leave a comment
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nightcircusThis book was given to Mrs Chillikebab a few year ago, and she has not yet got around to reading it. So one evening when I fancied reading a book, I pulled it down from the shelf, knowing nothing about it at all.

As it turned out, it’s a fantasy novel that revolves around a magical Victorian circus created by the two main protagonists, Marco and Celia. They compete to create, manage and hold together this complex construction as part of a strange contest to which the rules are never made clear. The contest was set up by two shadowy figures who drift in and out of the novel. There are also a host of other characters who play parts in the drama, and one of the good things about the book is how all these disparate threads slowly come together towards the finale.

The writing is richly descriptive, and very evocative. There are some lovely passages describing the environments of the circus, as well as other locations that are beautifully realised. This is really the main strength of the book – you can loose yourself in the rich scenery, and it stays with you after you have put it down.

Where the book is let down in is its characterisation. The main characters particularly seem very two dimensional, and there are some truly cringe-worthy moments when they declare their undying love for each other that make you wince. How can someone who can create such rich backdrops write such trite dialogue better suited to a teen romance novel?

That said, it was an entertaining enough read that I rattled through in a couple of evenings. It’s not great literature, and there are all sorts of holes you could poke in it (not least the way the characters in no way seem to behave or reflect the era the book is set in – their manner, style, behaviour and language are all completely contemporary. And the ending is, to be honest, somewhat predictable.) Overall though its strengths outweigh its faults, perfect if you are looking for a light read to take on holiday that’s  a step or two up from airport fodder.

Tim Tam Luscious Strawberry

January 29, 2014 at 18:29 | Posted in biscuits | 1 Comment
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timtamstrawberrypackHold the front page! Stop the presses! There’s a new Tim Tam in town.

Actually, dear reader, I have to admit to noticing these prior to Christmas. I suspect they are a seasonal line. My sincere apologies that it has taken so long for this news to get to my blog. I hope they are still available, in case you want to try them. Or perhaps, after reading the below, you may not…

At the risk of introducing some bias and prejudice before we even start, I have to confess a strong suspicion about strawberry-flavoured sweetmeats. Whilst I love a fresh strawberry as much as the next person (although possibly not as much as my two year old daughter, who can consume them by the punnet-load before them hurtling around and around the house in a hyperactive frenzy), anything ‘strawberry flavour’ is inevitably a disappointment. (With the possible exception of strawberry jam, which can be quite good with thick cream on scones ).

However, I tried to put this thought out of my head an approach these with an open mind. To help counter my bias, I also invited a colleague to sample them with me, and to share his views.

timtamstrawberrybiscuitThey are constructed like any regular Tim Tam, with a regulation-issue milk chocolate coat and the standard chocolate biscuit. The creme filling, however, is lurid pink – quite startlingly so. As you bring one to your lips, the first thing you note is the strong strawberry aroma. This is actually very promising; it has good strawberry-ish tones and certainly seems a step up from the average.

When you first bite into the biscuit, you get quite an overwhelming strawberry taste – the chocolate hardly gets a look in. And it’s not too bad – eyebrows were raised at this point, and my colleague was heard to remark ‘Hmm- actually quite good!’. However, as you continue chewing it starts to pall; it all gets a bit sickly and overdone. When you swallow, you’re left with a strong aftertaste – and one that, unfortunately, has  a distinct artificial tang, like a cheap ‘strawberry’ lolly.

Notwithstanding the sickly filling (which I guess might be to some people’s taste, rather like the Turkish Delight Tim Tam), this aftertaste is really the only fault. On balance, them, Arnott’s have done pretty well as far as strawberry flavour goes, but being better than a weak competition does not make for a great biscuit. I’m going to give this four out of ten.

Those Scofflaw Cops…

January 25, 2014 at 11:58 | Posted in bicycles | 2 Comments
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copsonfootpathI came out of work at lunchtime the other day to see two bicycle police officers riding on the pavement outside our building. The ground slopes away a little bit, and one of them instead of being on the pavement proper rode up on the paved area outside the office block. When he got to the end he realised that the pavement had dropped away, and there were a few steps down back to that level – so he just rode down them, clatter clatter. The two officers then continued their leisurely ride along the pavement, through the throng of people on the pavement of the CBD at lunchtime.

Now, for sure, they were riding slowly and I’m sure carefully, and not really inconveniencing anyone. And I’m not really averse to careful pavement riding – I do it myself sometimes. But, technically, they were breaking the law – road rule 250, to be precise. I know that the police are able to break the rules in an emergency, or when attending an incident – usually with sirens wailing and so on. But these officers were just meandering along chatting, with no sense of urgency.

Now, on the one hand I don’t really mind. After all, I think careful footpath riding should be legal, as it is in for example Japan (where, despite the hectic streets, it all works rather well). But I can’t help feeling a bit piqued when those same cops pull me up later in the day for flouting rule 256 – one that it seems to me creates less danger and inconvenience to other road users than footpath riding. I didn’t get a ticket – my magic indemnity saw to that – but it was annoying just the same.

Actually, I have to say I have never ever seen a bicycle police officer riding on the road.  I think it’s  pity – it seems to be bicycle cops would be ideal for catching motorists using mobile phones, blocking junctions, driving through red lights and the myriad other dangerous behaviours that can be seen on the city streets every minute of every day. Perhaps they think it’s too dangerous…

A cycling pot-pourri

January 16, 2014 at 20:46 | Posted in bicycles | 3 Comments
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Various blog-worthy things have occurred to me over recent weeks, but I’ve been too lazy / busy to write them up into proper articles. So here’s a few vignettes for blogs that could have been..

Firstly, what’s the difference between these two photos?

signcar_servo_polesThe one on the right I took a few months ago, to accompany this article detailing just a few of the infrastructure fails on the Victoria Road ‘SUP’.  The picture was also included in a Sydney Morning Herald article on the same topic. The picture on the left was taken a few days ago. Magically, the right-hand pole has been relocated to the centre of the path, making it sort of possible to ride between the poles. The power of my blog, or the SMH, or just coincidence? Of course, it’s still an epic fail – the poles are a bit uncomfortable to ride between, and if you choose not to you are forced even further to the right. It really does underlines the incompetence and lack of imagination of our roads authority. I daresay that moving that pole has used up most of the budget for cycling upgrades on this route for the next few years…

pyrmontbrDemolition teams are busily removing the monorail from Pyrmont Bridge, and I have to say now it’s gone I can appreciate just what an eyesore it was – as well as how hard it made negotiating this busy shared space. With the poles gone from the western end of the bridge the sightlines are so much better, and there’s more space for everyone to spread out into. It’s just so much safer and more comfortable for all. The problem though is that now you can see better, some cyclists seem to think it’s OK to ride faster. See that risk compensation in action…

lightsignAlso on Pyrmont Bridge, I see the City Council have put up new signs explaining how to get the bicycle lights to trigger (if you’re lucky). I note that this time they have included the roads authority complaints line – evidently they (and I) are hoping this triggers a deluge of complaints to the RMS. Although I doubt it will, cyclists will simply continue to ignore the lights as they always have.

fishmarketsignAlso on the subject of signs, I felt smug as always heading to the fish market to get the Xmas seafood. Three or four kilometres away and the signs were warning of delays, and sure enough there were queues if cars everywhere and police directing the traffic. I just cut straight through and rode in, of course. One of the cops on traffic duty was an officer I know quite well due to all my helmet shenanigans, and we exchanged a cheery ‘Merry Christmas!’ as I rode past.

Happy New Year everyone – may your 2014 be filled with enjoyable cycling, reading and snacking!

Chocolicious Bites – Gooey Caramel

December 17, 2013 at 11:28 | Posted in biscuits | Leave a comment
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chocolicious_caramel_packHaving looked at the Dark Chocolate variant of this new line a few weeks ago, I thought it was time to turn my attention to one of the others in the range- in this case the ‘gooey caramel’ version.

Now, as you may recall my previous encounters with caramel Tim Tams has not been all that successful in large part because what was gooey caramel was falsely advertised as ‘chewy’.

I’m glad to say that Arnott’s have clearly been reading my blog, as this new range casts no illusions – we are told up-front that the caramel is going to be gooey.

But just how gooey will it be? Well, as it happens, not especially gooey. Yes, it is gooey, but I’d say no more gooey than in the aforementioned Tim Tams. In fact, these biscuits taste pretty much identical to the regular Chewy Caramel Tim Tams – which I take as an admission that Arnott’s got it very wrong with the whole ‘chewy’ thing.

chocolisiouc_caramel_biscuitOverall, then, quite pleasant, but nowhere close to the sophistication and decadence of their Dark Chocolate brethren. Yes, the packaging might be fancy, but these are pretty much common-or-garden caramel biscuits wearing a posh frock. Which makes the whole thing a bit of a disappointment, really. It just seems that Arnott’s have a bit of a blind spot with caramel biscuits. I’m going to give these a five out of ten.



The Great Game – Peter Hopkirk

December 15, 2013 at 18:17 | Posted in books | Leave a comment
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the great gameThis book was given to me recently by a colleague. As he gave it to me, he mentioned that it was his favourite book – which is always a bit of a worry, in case it turns out to be terrible. That worry was even more acute in this case, as the colleague in question is actually my boss.

I read most of it on a couple of long plane journeys, and it passed the time very satisfactorily. It documents the machinations and manoeuvres of the British and Russian empires in the central Asian region from the late 1700′s to the start of the First World War. Throughout that entire period, the British and the Russians never engaged directly, but moved to occupy and then cede various areas of what is now Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and other neighbouring central Asian states. In the process, of course, various Khanates, kingdoms and city states were variously sacked or occupied, puppet regimes were installed, and various promises and treaties were made and broken.

The primary concern of the British was to protect India from hordes of Russian troops funnelling down the various passes across the Karakorams and into what was the ‘jewel of the empire’. The Russians, for their part, were keen to extend their influence eastwards to gain riches from the trade routes from the east, and find ways around the virtual monopoly the British had on the sea trade routes.

The story is a fascinating one, and in so many ways sounds very contemporary, with ‘hawks’ pushing for ever more intervention in the region, whilst others called for ‘masterly inactivity’; relying on the difficult terrain and puppet ‘buffer states’ to maintain the status quo.

It’s also a story of considerable heroism, with individual explorers undertaking journeys of extraordinary hardship in order to return maps and intelligence to their superiors. Disguises, deceptions and canny negotiation with local chiefs were necessary to survive in this hostile environment – all whilst battling some of the most extreme geography on earth.

Balancing the heroism is sheer ineptitude. Huge but ill-equipped armies setting out at the wrong time of year, only to perish in the bitter winter snow. Bungled negotiations with local chiefs that result in months or years of degrading imprisonment. And the constant misreading of the enemy’s intentions leading to yet more misadventures.

The scale of operations in the region was staggering. Parties would set out with tens of thousands of troops, thousands and thousands of camels and horses (including such delicious details as two camels dedicated to carrying nothing except cigars for the senior officers, and another four pack horses to bring the brandy) and a multitude of camp aides. Enormous quantities of gold and fine gifts would be carried, to bribe local tribes and pay off populations as necessary. And huge artillery pieces would be literally dragged over the highest mountain passes in the world, with men marching for weeks or months before reaching their intended quarry.

Forming a backdrop to all of this military activity were the local tribes. Hard, canny people all to often used as pawns in this Great Game – and yet again and again gradually driving out their occupiers in an endless war of attrition and shifting allegiances. The nature – and ultimate futility – of the current operations in Afghanistan are brought into sharp relief when reading this history. Global powers have been attempting to impose control on this region for  over two hundred years – and yet the situation today seems little changed from the mid 1840s, with endless attacks on British forces by local tribesmen unhappy with the regime installed by the Empire.

Peter Hopkirk’s writing style is natural and the book flows along nicely – the narrative is often quite gripping, and Hopkirk follows individual stories and people as a way of bringing the story to life. This is not a dry and dusty history book. The one thing I wish the book did have is better maps. My knowledge of the geography of this region is somewhat hazy, and whilst there are some rough maps I struggled sometimes to place where the various pieces of the jigsaw lay. Reading on the plane meant, of course, that I did not have the internet nor an atlas to refer to, which would have solved that problem. Still, it would have been nice to have some plates showing not just the contemporary borders and states, but also the modern day borders, to help with context.

Anyway, it was a book I enjoyed – which is a relief, as I can now refer my boss to this blog to read about his favourite book without fear of an upset. But by the same token, dear reader, you must weigh up the possible conflict of interest I have in presenting a favourable review in order to further my career…

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