Delta Cream Jaffa Orange

May 25, 2015 at 19:29 | Posted in biscuits | Leave a comment
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jaffachocThe last of the ‘twisted faves’ range is finally here to take a look at – this one an attempt to ‘twist’ the Delta Cream with the additional of Jaffa Orange. So far we have one hit and one miss in this new range – so does this biscuit tip the balance to the positive, or the negative?

It’s worth noting that the biscuit this is based on is rather unprepossessing. I”m not a big fan of Delta Creams, and it has to be said my correspondents are not much enamoured either. “We only eat them if we have a desperate need for sugar’ comments Vanessa. So given that, I have to say my expectations for these was rather low.

jaffachocbiscuitWhen you open the pack there is quite a strong orange scent, which is actually rather attractive. The biscuits have the same cocoa outer biscuit as the original, but the filling is replaced by an orange cream. It seems more orange in colour than the filling in the Orange Slice, although this might be an illusion owing to the darker biscuit. At some point I really must get a pack of Orange Slices and these new Jaffa Deltas to see if they are actually the same. And how about the filing in the Choc Orange Tim Tam? And can you still even get Choc Orange Tim Tams? Goodness, the mind boggles.

Anyway, the upshot of all of this is that these biscuits are really quite good. Certainly a huge improvement on the original. As I proffered them around at work, there were various nods and ‘umms’ of approval as they were munched. The orange is nicely done, not to overstated, and blends well with the cocoa biscuit. Overall they are less sugary and sweet that the original, and are much more sophisticated. Well done Arnott’s. They do seem rather good at creating orange-flavoured biscuits.

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

This tyre is too hard…

May 15, 2015 at 09:16 | Posted in bicycles | Leave a comment
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tyrehardI finally got around to buying a new set of tyres for my fixie; you may recall the one on the back was rather the worse for wear, and I had to rather hurriedly replace it with whatever I could get at the time.

Well, the new tyres arrived, and sat in the shed for a few more weeks until at last I decided to put them on the bike. All easy-peasy,I thought, and within a few minutes I had taken the old one off the front, ready to replace it with a shiny new one.

Put it over the rim; bit of air in the tube, tuck it in, press the other edge over the rim, la la la – I hummed to myself as I worked, figuring this was all be done in a few minutes and I’d be swishing along on my new rubber.

And then I got to the final bit of tyre – you know, the really tight bit that’s a bit of a fiddle to get one. It did feel very tight, but I went back to the other side, worked the tyre around, pulling it around – something that is usually enough to do the trick. But no, it still stubbornly refused to pop on. I had a go with a tyre lever; I have a flat yellow one that works well for this.Then I tried a more heavy duty one. And another. Then I snapped one of them in half. And then bent another. No joy. That last bit of tyre just was not going on the rim. I scratched my head. Why was this so hard? I’ve replaced hundreds of tyres over the years, and never had one this intransigent. I’ve also never snapped a tyre lever, let alone two.

I took the tyre completely off again, and started from scratch. Round we went, popping it on, la la la, until – the same problem. I wrestled with tyre levers some more, but nothing. This was getting ridiculous!

Mrs Chillikebab came out to see how I was doing, and I had to admit that I actually could not put the tyre on the wheel. She suggested I might have to put the old one back on and go to the bike shop, and that made me feel simultaneously cross and ineffectual. Buoyed up by anger, I had one last go at the tyre with two tyre levers, and – pop – it finally went on. Phew.

I got my pump and started to put some air in. Whoosh. The air was leaking out as fast as it was going in. I had ripped a hole in it with the tyre levers; something that all the books say to watch out for, but which I had never before done.

leversIncandescent with rage I grabbed one of the few intact tyre levers I still had left, wrenched the tyre back off the rim, took out the tube and patched it.

This was not going to defeat me. I started again, this time paying a little more attention to where the tyre bead was sitting on the rim as it went on. It was sitting quite high on the rim, quite firmly held in the groove around the edge of the rim. I realised that by squeezing it in I could pop it deeper into the rim, against the rim tape. This gave me much more slack at the other side, and it was a doddle to pop the last bit of tyre over with just my thumbs. All so easy. As I then put air into the tyre, I could hear the tyre bead popping into its correct place all around the tyre.

So why the dramas? Have I never had a rim with such a pronounced groove just around the rim before? I have no idea, but I was able to put the rear one on with no fuss at all – and this is a different rim (the original Salsa one, rather than the Velocity one on the front).

So finally I was done. My thumbs hurt, I was dirty and sweaty, had broken four tyre levers and spent nearly an hour wrestling with it. But there is always that slight glow of satisfaction that comes with overcoming adversity…

Arnott’s Monte Carlo Salted Caramel

May 6, 2015 at 13:31 | Posted in biscuits | 2 Comments
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montesaltedpackA week or so ago, we looked at the first in the new ‘Twisted Faves’ range. Today, we come to the next one – the salted caramel version of the Monte Carlo.

Salted caramel is certainly all the rage at the moment. It seems to be everywhere. Salted caramel popcorn, salted caramel ice-cream, salted caramel burgers, salted caramel latte – you can’t go anywhere in Sydney without seeing it. In terms of announcing ‘I am a cool hipster’ it seems to have taken right over from ‘artisan sourdough’ in the past few months, and no trendy cafe worth its, er, salt, seems to offer anything else. Of course, this is not the first time Arnott’s have jumped on the bandwagon – they already did it a few months ago in conjunction with that icon of hipsterism, Adriano Zumbo.

montesaltedbiscuitSo how does this new twist on the Monte Carlo work? Well, the first thing to note is that it does lose a great deal of its ‘Monte-Carlo-ness’. That strange, chewy centre is replaced by a much softer creme; so much does this change the character that it’s hard to believe they are the same biscuits either side if it.

But that said, they are very nice. Not overly salty (less salty than the Zumbo creations, for example), but quite luscious, with the crubly biscuit and rich creme. You can chow through a lot of these in one go; they are very moreish. Hurrah Arnott’s, you’ve redemmed yourselves again, and shown that this ‘Twisted Faves’ line has promise. I’m going to give these eight out of ten.

I wonder if how choc-orange Deltas will measure up? All will be revealed in a week or so…



Riders on the storm

April 29, 2015 at 20:49 | Posted in bicycles | Leave a comment
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‘The storm of the Century’. “Stormpocalypse’. These were the headlines after Sydney recently copped some bad weather. Some areas north of Sydney had some truly appalling weather – with significant flooding, houses washed away, and tragically a number of people died.

Central Sydney, however, got some heavy rain and it was a bit windy. Yes, there were a few local streets a bit flooded. A fair few trees came down. Some houses were damaged a bit. But it did seem a bit odd that the Sydney Morning Herald seemed to devote so much space to the problems of umbrellas being turned inside out. Umbrellageddon indeed…

pathblockedThings did all get quite exciting when the NSW Premier, Mike Baird, told everyone to go home early to avoid the storm. This prompted a mass exodus from our office, and many people offered me a lift, as surely I wasn’t going to ride?

Well, of course I was. As I said to my colleagues, I’d get wet, but get home on time. They were going to be stuck in a traffic jam for five hours. So I rode home, and yes, it was wet and rather windy, but not that bad. I did pass a lot of stationary traffic, however…

The next morning, there was a problem, however. A tree had come down over the path leading to Gladesville Bridge, completely blocking the way. This is the only way to access the path over the bridge, and is a busy commuter route. The steel fence made it rather hard to get round, although I (and several others) managed to lift our bikes over and then climb over ourselves.

pathclearSo the following morning I took a pair of secateurs (I couldn’t fit anything bigger in my bag), with a view to cutting my way through. Cutting through a fallen tree with some small shears is actually rather hard, I discovered, but I am rather stubborn and once I get started I like to finish. So I hacked away at the thick foliage, working the blades round and round each branch until it yielded. After about an hour, I had cleared a small path through. Just as I finished, someone rode through on a mountain bike, barely slowing down. My path was open!

I did report the fallen tree to both the council and the RMS (Sydney roads authority), but as yet it has not been properly cleared. I daresay there is quite a backlog of work to be done; however one wonders if the trees that blocked major commuter motorist routes were attended to rather sooner…

Finally, I must tip my hat to this mystery cyclist, whose image has been flashed across the globe as he powers through Sydney floodwaters. If ever there was a picture that demonstrated the practicality and exuberance of cycling vs the impotent, soulless scourge of the motor vehicle, it is surely this!



Arnott’s Shortbread Cream – Strawberries and Cream

April 24, 2015 at 16:40 | Posted in biscuits | Leave a comment
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strawberriescreampackWell, those folks at Arnott’s have been busy, with the innovation department churning out yet another new range – called ‘Twisted Favourites’. There seems to be three in the range so far – a salted caramel version of the Monte Carlo, a choc orange version of the Delta Cream, and these, based on the Shortbread Cream.

I must say, I quite like the packaging. It’s nice to see the Arnott’s parrot in all it’s glory – this decidedly retro and un-digital-friendly logo should be used more, IMHO.

When you open the pack you are immediately assailed by a phenomenally strong smell of strawberry flavour. Not, unfortunately, strawberries, but that immediately recognisable artificial flavour that you get in cheap lollies. Except here it’s dialed up to eleven. It instantly fills the whole room; everyone who came within ten metres of my review packet commented on it.

strawberriescreambiscuitAnd then, when you bite into it, that flavour is dialled up yet again. Wow. That’s a lot of strawberry flavour in there. Now, if you absolutely love strawberry flavoured lollies, you are going to love these. Unfortunately, I do not. It’s too overwhelming, it obliterates the buttery goodness of the biscuit, is too sweet and has that slightly ‘dirty’ taste that seems to be ever present with cheap strawberry flavour.

Hmmm. Sorry Arnott’s, but this one’s another dud. I know. I hate to do it to you again. But for whatever reason, lately you’ve just seemed to have lost you mojo. Fingers crossed the others in the range are better – I’ll be getting to them in due course…

But for now this gets just two out of ten.

Double radish!

April 22, 2015 at 12:36 | Posted in bicycles | Leave a comment
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Well, my youngest finally outgrew the little BoBike seat. Her knees were practically jammed up against the handlebars, so it was time for an upgrade to a ‘big girl seat’.

doubleradishI showed her the colours available, and (somewhat unexpectedly) she chose black. So I ordered one from the internets, and a week or so later it arrived and we were ready to roll.

Fitting it to the bike was very easy; just move the other one back and put it in front. Because this entails bolting two adapter thingys to the rear rack, the bonus upside is that I now have a long flat surface back again, which will negate the need for extra bits when transporting my trombone.

Tthe rear seat is definitely rather ‘economy’, with the seat in front quite close. Perhaps I could fit a tray table..! I might move the front one forward another notch (the holes are spaced about 5cm apart) – we’ll have to see how close to my backside the youngest daughter ends up when we’re riding. In the meantime, it was all good, although the extra weight on the rear made it much more unstable when loading, even with the double stand. It also exacerbated the flex in the frame that Xtracycles tend to have, given it’s not a one-piece frame but a bolted-on extender.

Strangely, however, my youngest seems to have developed some sort of phobia about going on the bike. She’s fine when we get going, and loves going fast down the hills,  but every time we stop she starts crying and gets all panicky because ‘it’s wobbling’. Not quite sure what that’s all about – hopefully it will wear off soon, as it’s quite hard to find routes where I don’t have to stop..!

New pedals – at last

April 17, 2015 at 09:28 | Posted in bicycles | 1 Comment
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pedalsI’ve been riding my fixie for nearly ten years, pretty much every day. And, for the last few years I’ve noticed that my feet seem to slop around in the pedals rather, even with new cleats.

Anyway, I finally got around to buying new pedals to replace the ones that I got with the bike all those years ago.

It was only when comparing the old ones with the new ones that just how worn they were became apparent! Still not bad going for a set of basic, no-frills pedals (Shimano PD-R540, for those interested). Amazing how much of the actual metal structure of the thing has work away!

So now I have my shiny new ones on the bike. I daresay I’ll probably find them really stiff to unclip and end up doing a sprawl of shame. Hey ho! In another ten years they should have loosened up nicely…

Riding in Hannover

February 16, 2015 at 03:48 | Posted in bicycles | Leave a comment
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I had reason to go to Germany on business recently, which entailed staying in a hotel, and then going into the Hannover offices of the company I work for every day for a week or two.

bikehireBut how to get to the office? Well, the vast majority of my colleagues in the same situation would jump into a taxi, but I prefer to ride. It’s my daily commute that keeps me sane. Well, sort of. So I found a place to hire bikes form in Hannover, which was conveniently located near both the station and my hotel, and borrowed one. It was also a bike maintenance and parking garage, and it was a bustling place, with a steady steam of people bringing in and dropping off bikes.

stationbikesThe offices are not in Hannover itself, but about twenty kilometers away, so I mostly got the train to the nearest station and rode the rest of the way (which, at less than two kilometers, wasn’t really far enough…!). There are a lot of people riding bikes in Hannover, and it’s all setup for it very well. Bike lanes and shared footpaths abound, the the burgers of that city all zip around. Everywhere you look there are untidy piles of parked bikes. I’m not sure if Hannover has more cyclists than is average for Germany, but it was fantastic to see.

Also fantastic is the way motorists treat cyclists. As mentioned, there are quite a few bike lanes, but for the most part they are no Copenhagen-esque bike freeways. Often they are half the footpath, and sometimes weave back onto the road. But motorists are very aware of cyclists, invariably waiting well back from junctions to allow the bike traffic to cross before pulling up to the line, and giving cyclists plenty of room.

biketrainTaking the bike on the train was also a breeze, with a special carriage dedicated to bicycles. However, after taking the train for several days, I decided to ride the 20km back to Hannover one afternoon, to get a bit more exercise and see a bit more of the place. I checked the route, made plenty of notes and sketch maps and set off.

And got lost. The office is really in the middle of nowhere, in a rural area. So the route suggested by google was actually a lot of very small lanes, dirt tracks and forest pathways. This made it harder to navigate than expected, but as I rode along salvationbikecountry2 seemed to come in the form of cycling signposts. I followed the directions for Hannover, looking out for the small red bicycle route signs as I went, and for some time all seemed to be going well. I passed signs for Hannover saying 18km, 16km, 12km, 8km – this was going really well, and the route was fantastic. Not on roads at all, but following unsealed tracks across open land and alongside fields. There was barely another soul to be seen – just an occasional dog walker or jogger,

bikecountryAnd then the signs ran out. The path split three different ways, and there was no hint of which way to go. I had just passed under a main road, and could see a sign for Hannover on the road which headed to my left, so I took that direction.

It was around this time that the bike, a sturdy city bike with a seven speed hub, started to fall apart. Evidently bumping down unsealed tracks for fifteen kilometers was not what the hire place had in mind, as bits started to fall off it; the most important of which was the back brake blocks. Given that the brake levers were connected up the reverse way round to ‘usual’, this meant that when I wanted to slow down and instinctively pulled the right brake lever, absolutely nothing happened. I continued somewhat cautiously, by now realising I was very lost. And then it started getting dark. What to do?

Of course, in times gone by the answer would been to flag down a local, and attempt communication in my third-rate schoolboy German. Or perhaps get out a compass and map, and maybe a sextant to check the stars. However, in this day and age, I simply fired up Google maps on my phone (trying not to think about roaming data charges), found out where I was and navigated to a main road. Form there I was able to follow bike paths that ran along the broad footpaths, and made it back to the Hauptbahnhof without further mishap. A journey that should have taken an hour or had taken me about two and a half hours, and given that the temperature was around freezing, my toes and thumbs were starting to feel quite numb. However, I felt quite satisfied to have made it, and I felt I earned a grosse Bier vom Fass in the hotel bar that evening…

Broke Spoke

January 16, 2015 at 13:12 | Posted in bicycles | Leave a comment
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spokeI’ve been riding bicycles for a long time – since I was about four, I suppose, although there was a fairly long hiatus when I was in my twenties and early thirties. And, remarkably, in all that time, I’d never broken a spoke.

Others I know seem to face this as a perennial problem. They break spokes if not daily, then quite often. I see people talking in revered tones about certain master wheelbuilders who can build ‘bombproof’ wheels that finally rid them of the scourge of the broken spoke.

Well, I’ve been riding all sorts of cheap, mass-produced wheels for ever, and never had a spoke break. So when it happened on the way home yesterday, I initially didn’t know what had happened. There was a ping, and then some scraping, and then a ting ting sound as the wheel went round, and it got really hard to pedal. I assumed I’d got something jammed in the wheel, so it took me a while to realise what the problem was.

So what should I do now? I had no idea. So I lashed the broken spoke to it’s neighbour with a piece of wire (that’s why it looks so bent; I was wedging it in place), released the brake calipers (the wheel had gone wonky and out of true, and it was thing rubbing on the brakes that was making it hard to pedal) and carried on my merry way.

Hey ho. A first time for everything. Hopefully I won’t see another broken spoke for, oh, about thirty-five more years?

The Magic of Reality – Richard Dawkins

January 13, 2015 at 13:53 | Posted in books | 1 Comment
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When I was at  high school, I took classes in both French and German languages. My grades in both had been patchy, until in my third year I was taught French by a lady called ‘Miss Smith’. She was an excellent teacher, and suddenly French became much easier for me (and ultimately became the subject for which I got the highest grade when graduating). So in my fourth year, I was thrilled to also score Miss Smith for German classes too. Weirdly, friends who had had her for German previously all seemed to hate her, but I ignored them in the lead up to the new academic year. And yet, she turned out to be a terrible German teacher. She shouldn’t have been; German was her primary subject, and she was a native German speaker. But therein lay the problem; she was so familiar with German she struggled to teach it; couldn’t understand why we were struggling and got impatient, shouting at us rather than helping us.

I got a Richard Dawkins book for Christmas this year – The Magic of Reality. Unlike his other books, which focus on his own field, biology, this is a science ‘primer’ aimed at a general audience – specifically a non-scientifically literate audience. So here we have one of the worlds’ foremost scientific minds trying to make his subject accessible to those who may have in the past struggled with science, whether in school or more generally.

It is clearly a work of passion. Dawkins really wants everyone to know, understand and be inspired by science. In this book he covers not only his home turf, the evolution of life on earth, he also covers a range of other topics in geography, astronomy, physics and probability. he does this by asking a question (What is a rainbow?, Why to bad things happen?) and then using this as a springboard into the underlying science.

He also starts each section not with the science, but with some examples of how such questions have been answered in the past, with various myths, legends and religious stories. These then form a comparison with the actual explanation, with Dawkins intent to reveal that the scientific answer has more interest, awe and ‘magic’ than any explanation cooked up by shamans or prophets. As a structure this works well, with Dawkins amply demonstrating that the wonder of the natural universe far exceeds those limiting and colourless tales.

It’s an easy book to read, although the subject matter was all very familiar to me. However, at times the tone come across as rather condescending. Now, I’m not in the target audience for this book, so perhaps it’s just me. But there was a few things he keeps doing which really started to grate.

One is when he is explaining something, and either he uses a generalisation or there is an exception to the general rule. He just kind of leaves with a brusque ‘Actually, in this case they are not… blah blah… but I’m not going to go into why that is.‘ He does this over and over in various ways, and it started to get a bit maddening. Perhaps it’s because I already know the material, so those exceptions and side-points are actually more interesting to me than the main text, whereas Dawkins is trying to not confuse someone new to the topic. But it would have been better I think if he had either just left them out altogether (although I can just see the dilemmas that would have left Dawkins with, being pathologically unable to write something not 100% accurate!), or (more elegantly in my view) perhaps put in a small footnote to say that this is a slightly simplified explanation, and you can read a better one somewhere else, with some kind of reference. Heck, he could even write them himself (or invite others to do so), host them on a website somewhere, and use it to deliver audience engagement and various other marketing spin-offs. I’ll waive my usual marketing consultancy fees for that idea, if you’re reading, Richard…

The other one is is his exhortations to see his metaphors solidifying in your mind. ‘Can you see it … developing in your mind as you read this description?’ Can you? Can you really? Really? Now, I realise he’s trying to be chatty, but it’s a bit like a slightly crusty Oxford don trying to connect with a slightly disinterested teenager. Either your metaphors are going to good enough for us to grasp, or they are not, Richard, and no amount of exhortation is going to change it…

The penultimate sentence in the last paragraph is laced with deliberate irony, because of course that is exactly what this book is. Dawkins is a slightly crusty Oxford don, and this book is aimed at a non-technical audience probably slightly disinterested in science.  I’m not in that target audience, so perhaps not a fair judge of this book. But whilst it is customarily well written and accessible, I have a horrible feeling Dawkins has missed the mark slightly. He hasn’t fallen into the trap Miss Smith fell into, and shouted at us. But it’s notable that the chapters not on evolutionary biology are much easier to read and more interesting than those covering his own specialty.

A comparison point is Bill Bryson’s 2004 book  A Short History of Nearly Everything. This too aims to introduce a non-technical reader to the wonders of science, but I remember it to be a much more entertaining read. Tellingly, it’s written by a non-scientist; indeed someone who by his own admission initially knew nothing about the world or how it was made – it was going on that voyage of discovery that led to him writing the book. It’s a bit out of date now in some respects, but whilst ‘The Magic of Reality‘ has a lot to recommend it, I’d still recommend Bryson over it to anyone interested in broadening their scientific horizons.



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