Orphaned bike and crazy motorists

March 2, 2012 at 08:44 | Posted in bicycles | Leave a comment
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In the subterranean garage at work sits a lonely bike. A poor Reid hybrid. Nice Aussie bike, well set up with flat bars – perfect for commuting. It’s actually a bit of a pain, as it’s front-wheel into the rack, which means it tends to fall over when knocked.

It’s been there for over six months now. Never moved. Has it been abandoned?  I wonder who the owner is, and why they gave up on it. How are they getting to work? Since we moved house in December, my commute now takes me across Iron Cove Bridge. Depending on how I’m feeling, I can either take the back streets, ride around the Bay Run, or scoot straight down Victoria Road from Drummoyne. The latter is the fastest, so it’s what I do in the morning if I’m running a bit late. It’s super easy; there’s a bus lane all the way, so I just fly along.

Of course, there are a few buses, but usually I can squeeze past them at the bus stops, so they don’t hold me up much. But what is truly extraordinary are the lanes devoted to cars. Three or four pretty much stationary lines of vehicles all the way from Drummoyne to Anzac Bridge (and frequently across the bridge too). One day I am going to count the number of cars I go past on the way to work. It must be hundreds. I’m tempted to say thousands, but one other astonishing thing about these jams is just how few cars there actually are.

It’s a distance of about three kilometres, so if each car takes up ten metres of road, that’s about 300 cars per lane – say 900 in total. Each car only has one person in it, so that’s less than one thousand people sitting there, clogging up a huge amount of road. I’m in awe of these people. They sit there patiently for hours in the morning, day after day. Jeez, I would go crazy if I had to do that. As it is, I’m past them all in less then ten minutes, whereas it must take them the best part of an hour to cover the same distance.

Maybe I should tell one of them about the orphaned bike in our work garage. Perhaps they could make the owner an offer, and get the poor thing out in the sunshine again – and save themselves a couple of hours a day in commuting time.

Raspberry Shortcake

November 12, 2010 at 10:22 | Posted in biscuits | Leave a comment
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One of the things I like about Arnott’s is that they don’t flog an idea to death. Having introduced a Raspberry Shortcake, many other lesser companies would have gone on to produce strawberry, apricot, chocolate and tropical mango shortcakes. Arnott’s, however, are content to stick to just classic raspberry.

The biscuit appears to consists of two shortcake biscuits sandwiched together with jam. However, if that’s what you thought you would be mistaken. It’s not jam that sandwiches the two biscuits together. Oh no; it’s fun. Yes folks, that’s right; as the strapline on the pack proudly proclaims: ‘Raspberry Flavoured Fun in a Shortcake Biscuit‘.

The top biscuit has a hole in it, allowing the fun to peep out somewhat in the manner of a Jammie Dodger. There;s something about this that just makes you want to press your index finger into the hole, and then examine your fingerprint. If you see a fingerprint in the fun before you start, then I’d say that was cause for concern.

The shortcake itself is quite soft and crumbly, which immediately alerts you to the fact this is a wholly different beast tot he aforementioned Jammie Dodger. The fun lacks a really distinctive raspberry flavour, although this could be because it is overwhelmingly made from apple. Only 1.8% of the fun content is raspberry.

So just how much fun are they? They are quite pleasant, but I’m not sure they are really dance-around-the-room fun. That said, the soft shortcake is quite moreish and it’s quite easy to chomp through half a pack without really realising it. I’d give these a six out of ten.

Mini Wagon Wheels

October 26, 2010 at 17:03 | Posted in biscuits | 2 Comments
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The Wagon Wheel is a biscuit that has an international heritage. They were first baked by Westons in the UK;  when old Mr Weston died his three sons took over the business – one took the UK part, one the Australian and the other the Canadian. Subsequently Westons Australia were taken over by Arnotts. Interestingly the Australian full-sized Wagon Wheels are larger than the UK model (at 88mm vs 74mm). Perhaps this large size is what inspired Arnott’s to create the ‘mini’ version at just 54mm across.

The Wagon Wheel is a classic. It features a thin chocolate-flavour coating, a sort of stale biscuit, foamy mallow and cheap red-coloured jam. Really not a very prepossessing set of component parts. However, when they are combined, something magical happens; they meld together in some sort of quantum union that makes the whole thing a triumph.

Not everyone agrees, of course; they are a divisive biscuit that you either love or hate. I’m in the ‘love’ camp, however, and highly recommend everyone try them. It’s just one of those things you should do at least once in your life. I’d give these an eight out of ten.

PS My apologies for the poor quality of photography in some recent entries. I take the pictures for this site with my phone, and I have a new ever-so-up-to-date model that is far superior to the old one. Or so the guy in the shop says. That superiority does not appear to extend to the ability to take an in-focus picture, however…

Monte Carlo

October 1, 2010 at 21:56 | Posted in biscuits | 2 Comments
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Monte Carlo. A name imbued with decadence and romance; casinos and royalty, James Bond and Formula One. Just how have Arnott’s distilled this heady mix into biscuit form?

The Monte Carlo is a ‘jam and cream’ biscuit, and is a remarkable feat of biscuit engineering. On first inspection it seems like it has some sort of pink cream filling. However, you soon discover that actually that is a layer of sticky jam wrapped around a regular cream interior. I have no idea how they achieve this; I sort of imagine them making round balls of jam-coated cream, and then squashing them between two biscuits. The jam is really sticky; it gets into your teeth and adds a kind of chewiness to the thing which is somewhat unexpected.

I actually think this is a companion biscuit to the Iced Vovo. The Iced Vovo is a kind of throwback to British high tea, and this is the same. It’s an attempt to distil a jam-and-cream Victoria sponge cake* into biscuit form. I guess the ‘Monte Carlo’ thing is to give it a kind of continental sophistication – like taking English tea in the Hôtel de Paris. Like the Iced Vovo, its all rather fussy and overdone; this is a blowsy biscuit that is really trying too hard. It features some up-market ingredients – but only in trace quantities. The jam, for example, does contain raspberries – but is mainly apple, with raspberry not featuring until after such additives as food acid. The biscuit part contains honey, but way down the list along with raising agents and the like.

In terms of re-creating the experience of eating a Victoria sandwich cake, however, Arnotts have excelled themselves. Victoria sandwiches are rather heavy, sickly affairs that make you feel a bit ill if you eat too much. The Monte Carlo re-creates this perfectly; there are twelve in a packet (a refreshingly even number), but your correspondent had to admit defeat after just seven – and the last one was really ill-advised and brought back memories of eating too much cake at parties.

I’m going to give this a four out of ten. Clever engineering, but not a great biscuit.

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*For those interested, here is the recipe for a Victoria sandwich. Note it is important to only use British Imperial measurements; if you use metric equivalents or any kind of electric beaters the cake will not work properly.

Cake ingredients
8oz butter or margarine, softened
8oz caster sugar
4 eggs
8oz self-raising flour
2 tsp baking powder

For the filling and topping
4 tbsp strawberry or raspberry jam
5oz butter, softened
10oz icing sugar
1-2 tbsp milk

Method
Grease two 8 inch cake tins and line the bases with baking paper. Set the oven to 350F.

Tip the cake ingredients (butter, sugar, eggs, flour, and baking powder) into a large bowl and beat vigorously for about two minutes with a wooden spoon.

Divide the mixture evenly between the tins and level the surface with the back of a spoon.

Bake for 25 minutes, until risen and golden in colour. The cakes should be springy when lightly pressed. Leave the cakes in the tins for a few minutes, then run a knife around the edge of the tins and turn out on to a wire rack and leave to cool.

To make the filling, beat the butter for the filling in a large bowl until soft. Add half of the icing sugar and beat until smooth. Add the remaining icing sugar and one tablespoon of the milk and beat the mixture until creamy and smooth. Beat in the milk, if necessary, to loosen the mixture.

Spread one of the cakes with the jam, then a thick layer of the buttercream filling, and then put the other cake on top (top upwards) and sprinkle with icing sugar. Serve on a doily.

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