Arnott’s Jatz Cracked Pepper

April 13, 2018 at 14:01 | Posted in biscuits | Leave a comment
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What is it with snooty Italian waiters and pepper grinders? You know, when you go to a trying-to-be-upmarket restaurant, and you want some cracked pepper on your pasta. So you ask for some, and the waiter disapprovingly comes over with a huge wooden grinder (surely he’s compensating for something?). You smile weakly, and gesture at your plate. Whereupon he gives a cursory twist of the top, leaving a  homeopathic quantity of pepper on your dinner. Forcing a smile, you ask for more, and another half turn is grudgingly given, before the pepper is whisked away, never to be seen again.

The whole charade drives me nuts, which is why I take my own pepper grinder out to dinner with me. I furtively pull it from my pocket to administer a heavy dusting when required. I guess it could also come in handy if I were to be mugged, sort of as a middle class pepper spray. I’d just grind it into the muggers face.  Although muggers in the Inner West of Sydney would probably complain it’s not single-origin tellicherry.

Anyway, I’m glad to say that Arnott’s have not been measly with the pepper in the Jatz cracked pepper. It has a good peppery flavour, and goes well with rounded cheeses, or indeed as a snack on their own. Indeed, the only criticism (which is not really a criticism per se) is that they make a less good snack than the original Jatz simply because the pepper becomes a bit overwhelming by the time you reach the fifteenth biscuit or so.

One interesting aside – those black bits you can see aren’t peppercorns. They are poppy seeds. I’m going to give them an eight out of ten. Very tasty.

 

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The Auschwitz Violin – Maria Angels Anglada

April 6, 2018 at 08:43 | Posted in books | 1 Comment
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This slim volume is a delicately written novella with an intriguing premise. A luthier, interred in the terrors of Auschwitz, is forced to make a violin for the camp Kommandant. If the violin is not of an acceptable standard, he faces terrible consequences.

The story is told in flashback; by the now owner of the violin – which possesses a rich and sonorous tone. The story is simply told, and quite affecting. That said, on some level the characters seemed to fall a little flat for me; it’s hard to pin down quite why. Each chapter is preceded by a fragment of a real document from the camps – a regulation, report or correspondence – which are in some ways the most powerful thing in the book.

That said, this is a great read, and being short is easy to take in in a single sitting. It will certainly stay with you for a while.

Kohinoor: The Story of the World’s Most Infamous Diamond – Dalrymple / Anand

March 29, 2018 at 12:05 | Posted in books | Leave a comment
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I got this book for Christmas, and read it whilst on holiday in January, so sorry it’s taken so long to get to it. It’s the story of the Kohinoor; the ‘Mountain of Light’, one of the worlds most famous diamonds that was owned by various Persian kings and moghuls before eventually arriving in England and becoming part of the Crown Jewels.

It’s a well researched and well written book; the first section (the early history of the Kohinoor, as it passed between the Mughals, Afghans and Persians), and the second section covers its expropriation by the British, as they subjugated the Indian subcontinent. The first section is written by William Dalrymple, the second part by  Anita Anand.

The second part I think is actually slightly easier to read, though that is in part because the history is much clearer and the thread of the narrative more contained. The first section deals with early myths and possible mentions of the Kohinoor; its possible origin in India and the various wars and gifts that saw it passed around various different kingdoms and treasuries in the region. The extraordinary riches, expressed in gemstones, of the region prior to the British invasion is quite staggering.

The section dealing with the way the British treated those territories; the way those treasuries were plundered and the last remaining Punjab prince, the child Duleep Singh, is made unwittingly to sign over all of his vast riches to the British is quite movingly told.

The book finishes with some discussion of the various voices still calling for the Kohinoor to be returned to India.

It’s a great book, and well worth a read.

 

 

Arnott’s Iced Coffee Tim Tam

March 20, 2018 at 11:34 | Posted in biscuits | Leave a comment
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Some years ago, a good friend of mine married an Italian girl. (But not in Algiers). And when we went to visit, she made tiramisu. I also remember her trying to get us to say it correctly (‘Tieer – ra – meeee – su‘), with little success. Anyway, it was quite the best tieerrameeesu I have ever tasted.

If you want just a hint of how it tasted, you could do worse than go out and get some of the new Iced Coffee Tim Tams. They are the last in the new Messina flavours, and one that several of my work colleagues were particularly excited about. What is it with Australians and coffee? Just the mere mention of ‘going out to get a coffee, anyone want one?’ elicits a collective orgiastic groan, followed by excited gasps of ‘Yes! Yes! Yes!’. Honestly, no decorum. I just drink tea. Bah humbug.

Anyway, these new Tim Tams sort of taste a little like coffee, but a whole lot like tiramisu. More creamy vanilla, less coffee. That said, they are really quite good – not too sweet, with a good balance of flavour. I’m going to call it – these are the best Messina flavour so far. They get a nine out of ten.

Arnott’s Choc Cherry Coconut Tim Tam

March 14, 2018 at 11:08 | Posted in biscuits | Leave a comment
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When I was a boy we would often gather around the pianoforte as a family to sing. And if that sounds weirdly Victorian, well, yes it was. I remember Mum’s crinoline used to get terribly in the way in our small dining room.

Anyway, one of the songbooks we used was the News Chronicle Songbook. It was a very old edition, quite possible also dating from the period. And one of the songs was called ‘Cherry Ripe‘:

Cherry-ripe, ripe, ripe, I cry,
Full and fair ones; come and buy.
If so be you ask me where
They do grow, I answer: There,
Where my Julia’s lips do smile;
There’s the land, or cherry-isle,
Whose plantations fully show
All the year where cherries grow.

I remember learning this song, which I would play on the piano as my father sang in his rather fine high baritone.

Goodness, enough reminiscing. What on earth has this got to do with Tim Tams? Well, here we are with the second in the new range of Messina flavours. Choc Cherry Coconut. Now, when I think of dark chocolate, cherry and coconut, I don’t immediately think of ice cream. In fact, I have never ever seen choc cherry coconut ice cream. Is it even a Messina flavour?

You see, when I think of choc cherry coconut, I think of something else. Yes, you are thinking it too. (And here’s a question – does the name of that particular sweatmeat have anything to do with the seventeenth century English poet Robert Herrick?)

Anyway, the link between these Tim Tams and all this cherry tomfoolery is very marked. You see, these Tim Tams taste exactly like a Cherry Ripe bar. The filling even looks like it. They are more crunchy, and the chocolate ratio is greater, but to all intents and purposes they are the same. Well, I would venture perhaps ever better, as the biscuit texture and additional chocolate actually improve on the somewhat flabby original.

I like Cherry Ripe. So I liked these, and an going to give them an eight out of ten. Well done Arnott’s. If you don’t like Cherry Ripe, then steer clear.

Arnott’s Turkish Delight Tim Tam (Messina)

March 7, 2018 at 20:09 | Posted in biscuits | Leave a comment
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Oh dear. They did it again. Twice.

You see, I wasn’t that much of a fan of the original Messina flavours, but it seems Arnott’s were so thrilled with the success of the collaboration (or ‘collab’, as it seems to be called these days by those millennial types) they have done some more.

Then, it seems they based it on another dud from the archive – the Turkish Delight flavour. This one, as you will recall, holds the honour of being the joint worst Tim Tam flavour ever created (or at least reviewed by yours truly). Oh dear. My expectations for this are not high.

Still, there is some excitement in the packaging. This new range of ‘gelato inspired’ flavours is labeled not ‘Tim Tam’ but ‘Chill Me’, and you are urged to keep them in the fridge and consume them cold. This I would say is good advice for any flavour of Tim Tam, so it’s encouraging to see Arnott’s finally taking notice of my exhortations. To make the whole fridge thing even more thrilling, the words change colour when they get cold. Yes, you read that correctly. The words change colour when they get cold. Oh my goodness. Will the excitement never end?

Anyway, what are they like to eat? Well, to be honest, they are exactly like the previous Turkish Delight flavour. I did perhaps think they were slightly less sweet, but maybe this is due to them being dutifully chilled. They still have that artificial tang, they still have that strange chewy filling and still have the pink tinged creme – although perhaps a bit pinker this time? Anyway, they are still pretty ordinary, and I’m still giving them a three out of ten. I do hope the others in the range are a bit better…

 

Perfect Pass

March 2, 2018 at 12:09 | Posted in bicycles | Leave a comment
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Anyone who rides a bike on the roads occasionally experiences car drivers passing rather too close. This is, of course, illegal, but given the cops are utterly uninterested in ever doing anything about it, I don’t see that it’s going to change soon. My new commute has a few spots where this is a particular problem. I’ve been planning to write a blog about it for a while replete with hair-raising video of people skimming past whilst texting on their phones.

However, I’m also nervous such a post might be Whispering. So instead I’m going to talk about a good experience. One of the roads I ride on is Australia Avenue, going through Olympic Park. This has a ‘bike lane’ painted down the side, but as is often the case with paint (as opposed to proper infrastructure) it sort of makes things worse not better. Why? Well drivers somehow see that paint line as a magical defence, and don’t consider how close they are to you – the logic is that I have a bike lane, they are in the car lane, and everything is OK. Well, when the bike lane is only about one metre wide in total, and you are driving a large truck where the back wheels are grazing that white line, it’s not OK. It’s terrifying.

Against that background, take a bow the driver of this Toll truck. Not only did he go very wide when overtaking me, he was also aware of the potential conflict when we both pulled up at the traffic light, and waved me past to ensure I was safe and that I knew he had seen me. Well done. I took the time to send in a compliment to Toll via their website, which I hope reaches the driver in question.

And, as is often the case when this happens, I find myself thinking, ‘I bet he rides a bike’…

More Bikeshare adventures

February 24, 2018 at 11:34 | Posted in bicycles | 1 Comment
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On Friday, I had a event in the evening after work. It was too far to cycle, and I was going straight from work. What to do? Leave my bike at the office all weekend? No, of course not. The answer seemed simple – ride a share bike!

This would also have additional benefits. There used to be a fair few share bikes around the industrial estate where I work (mostly ReddyGo), and I often hopped on one at lunchtime to ride to a cafe to get lunch. Strangely though, they all seem to have vanished. I even took most of a lunchtime walking farther afield to where there were some marked on the maps for each of the brands, but each time I got there there was not bike to be found. Is the local council removing them? Are they being stolen? Whatever the reason, it’s a bit frustrating. So I figured that by riding one to work, I would at least get one bike there that I could use. And I thought I might park it on company property (although accessible), under the watchful eye of a security camera, to dissuade councils and thieves from taking it.

Given it is a fairly long ride, I wanted either a ReddyGo or an Ofo. And, checking the map in the morning, there was an Ofo right there on my street, just down from my house. Perfect! I jumped on board, and set off – rather more ponderously than usual. The Ofo is an OK bike, but it is just that bit too small, which makes it rather tiring to ride. Still, I got there. According to Strava, my average moving speed was 18km/h, as opposed to my usual 23km/h – overall it took me about eight minutes longer. This is not really very much. It just goes to show that plodding along is still a pretty efficient way to travel – you don’t have to be super fast to cover distances in a reasonable time on a bicycle.

When I parked the bike, I got a warning that I was outside the GeoFence area – in other words, I had ridden the bike further from the centre of Sydney than was allowed. I mentioned this GeoFencing in my review of Ofo, but since then they have expanded the area quite considerably. Given that I had seen several Ofo bikes on the map near my office (although, as mentioned, none of them were actually there when I went to find them), I assumed that the area now extended out that far.

Apparently not. So I have a 20 point penalty on my score. I did use the same bike at lunchtime twice – once to go to the shops, and once to come back. I got the warning message again both times, and was wondering if I would end up with a 60 point penalty – although that seemed a bit harsh. Borrowing a bike that’s already out of area surely shouldn’t result in further penalty just because you didn’t ride it back inside the GeoFence. I think it would be helpful if Ofo shaded the whole area outside of the GeoFence on the map a different colour, as it’s quite hard to see otherwise if a particular suburb is inside or outside the area.

I suppose at some point I’ll have to ride it back into the area, and perhaps swap it for a ReddyGo. Ho hum.

 

More bikeshare – Ofo vs Mobike vs Earthbike

January 1, 2018 at 14:58 | Posted in bicycles | Leave a comment
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Hot on the heels of ReddyGo and Obike (click here for my in-depth review of those two schemes) three more bikeshare companies have arrived in Sydney. And, of course, your intrepid correspondent has tried out all of them for your enjoyment and education.

First up, Earthbike. These black and orange bikes have been appearing a lot around Olympic Park, although I have’t seen many of them elsewhere. So I downloaded the app and tried one out. Or rather, I tried to. You see, the app is completely non-functional. It’s horribly translated from Chinese (with occasional Chinese prompts and messages flashing up, and a weird thing where it refers to bikes as ‘cars’) and riddled with bugs (e.g. you end up having to use your phone number as your password, because of the way the sign-up form is designed). The map does not show any bikes on it, despite the fact I was standing next to three of them.

And ultimately doesn’t allow you to actually unlock a bike, as when you activate the camera to scan the code it gives an error – and there’s no way to type in the bike number either, as the scan screen closes after the error. It’s completely hopeless. And I’m not the only one with problems; it has universally one-star reviews on Google Play, with everyone complaining that it just doesn’t work at all. I did see someone riding one of these bikes the other day, so evidently it is possible – perhaps the iOS app is somewhat more functional. But I’m sorry, dear readers, I was unable to even try this scheme out – which puts it firmly at the bottom of the list in terms of quality. How on earthbike these people are going to make any money I can’t imagine.

In better news, both Ofo and Mobike are much more polished, and work pretty much as you’d expect. Ofo was the easier to sign up to – much like ReddyGo you can initially scan and use a bike without needing to enter payment details and so on, which is great when you start. Mobike you need to immediately enter a credit card, which is a little bit painful (no PayPal?), but isn’t a showstopper. Overall the two apps are OK, but both had problems in showing me my rides – Ofo gave me a ‘data parsing error’ (which later cleared up), whilst none of my rides actually appeared on the Mobike app – possibly a side-effect of the free rides promotion they are running in December, but a bit of a shame as it’s nice to see where you went afterwards. Overall, I’d still give ReddyGo the title for the best app, but Ofo is pretty close.

One thing the Ofo app has which the others don’t seem to is the concept of ‘operational zones’. There’s actually nothing in the app that explains this, but on their website they explain that you should only leave the bike inside the ‘operational zone’ to avoid having points deducted. This could really do with a clearer explanation, I think. I didn’t try riding outside of the zone, so I don’t know if the app warns you or not – I’ll have to try this another time. The operational zone is pretty tight to the centre of Sydney, so it would be easy to go outside of it.

But what about the bikes? Well, the most striking of the two is Mobike. These bikes just look cool, with their monofork wheels and crankshaft drive system. The Mobike drivetrain sort of hums as you ride, which is somewhere between cool and annoying. There are no gears, so you just get one low-ish gear to manage with.

Ofo is a much more conventional design, with a three-speed nexus hub, normal mudguards and a chain drive. The Ofo has roller brakes, but they work fine (so much better than the woeful oBike ones). I have to say though, the Mobike brakes are awesome. It has a disc brake on the back, and some sort of fancy roller brake on the front, and they work really well – smooth, powerful and without grabbing or locking-up.

Both companies seem to have heeded my complaints about how hard it it to adjust the seats on the ReddyGo and oBike, as they have a spring-loaded seatpost that pops up to its highest point when you release the cam, and can be easily pushed down and adjusted. Both worked really well; the cam was easy to turn and held the seat firmly.

Yes yes yes, but what are they like to ride?

Well, the Mobile is horrible. I really really wanted to like it, as the design is so cool, but it’s just a terrible bike. For one thing it’s tiny – feeling even smaller than the oBike. And the most weird thing is the length of the cranks. They are really, really short. I didn’t have a tape measure on me, but they are only one mobile phone long – or about two-thirds of the length of the ones on my regular bike. This means it feels like riding a kids toy – your feet seem to twiddle round, and you can’t get any leverage. Even with the low-ish gearing, this makes riding the Mobile extremely tiring. Just riding along on the flat is hard work.  Such a shame, as the design is really eye-catching – I got some admiring(?) looks as I rode along on it.

The Ofo, by comparison, is terrific. The seat gets a bit higher, and it just feels like a normal bike. The airless tyres are less harsh than on the ReddyGo, and it’s also surprisingly lightweight, which makes it easy to pedal. The gears allow you to both tackle the hills and speed along on the flat. It’s the most comfortable bikeshare bike by some margin – and so dethrones the ReddyGo as the best one to ride.

So which one should you sign up for? Well, Ofo has the best bikes, but check the operational zone thing carefully. I live outside the zone, for example, so it’s no good for me to jump on one to ride home from the pub. ReddyGo has reasonable bikes and the best app, so is also definitely a contender. oBike seems to have the most bikes out there – they are the ones you see everywhere, so if you’re looking for convenience, then it’s a good choice although the bikes are hard work. And if you’re a hipster who cares more about how you look than how easy it is to ride, go for Mobike with their trendy design.

Or, like me, sign up for all of them. That way, you can get the best one for the occasion and enjoy maximum flexibility. Now I just need someone to create an aggregation app, which shows the location of all the different types on one map…

Arnott’s Cheeseboard cracker assortment

December 29, 2017 at 17:08 | Posted in biscuits | Leave a comment
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Christmas. Cheese. Those two words are intimately associated in my mind. When I was growing up, Christmas was that time of year when the fridge was piled high with more then just the usual economy Cheddar or Cheshire – delights such as mellow Stilton, rich Camembert, tangy Danish Blue. Later other more exotic offerings were also included – Shropshire Blue, Stinking Bishop, soft goats cheese. Mmmmmm. And, being Christmas, you were allowed to eat it – normal rationing was suspended for the festive period.

This is a tradition that Mrs Chillikebab happily has adopted, so as I speak the fridge is groaning with a cornucopia of cheesy delights. And to go with such a feast, you need crackers.

Arnott’s to the rescue – or more specifically, the Arnott’s Cheeseboard Assortment to the rescue. So how does this selection work out? Is it a worthy partner to my festive cheeseboard?

The selection features six different crackers – Sesame Wheat Cracker, Water Cracker, Harvest Wheat Cracker, Sesame Water Cracker, Stoneground Cracker and Entertaining Cracker.

Keen followers of either this blog, or Arnott’s biscuits (or perhaps both) will immediately realise that most of these crackers are not ones you can actually buy on their own. It’s a bit odd. ‘Entertaining Cracker’, but not Savoy or Jatz? ‘Harvest Wheat’, but not ‘Country Cheese‘? ‘Stoneground’, but not ‘Multigrain‘? Indeed, the only bone fide variety from the main range is the water cracker – probably the most boring one of the lot.

When Arnott’s make sweet biscuit selections, they include ‘all your favourites‘. But here, it seems they have taken a different approach. Rather  that giving a selection from their rather wonderful range of crackers and savoury biscuits, they seem to have baked some lower-quality alternatives and served them up all together the hope we won’t notice.

Boo, hiss, Arnott’s. These are not up to your normal standards. They are dry, flavourless, lacking in texture and boring. I’m going to give them a three out of ten. This is not worthy of accompanying my cheeseboard.

Oh, and ‘Entertaining Cracker’ is a terrible name. And it isn’t.

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