Friday 19 January 2007

So much for the safe route

When I cycle, I am always on the lookout for a safer route. Even roads that are supposedly cycle friendly can be death traps. This photo, taken on the way into town, shows part of Lilyfield Road. There is a bike lane down the side of the road, but halfway down the hill, there is a bus stop, and there are usually 2-3 bloody big buses parked in it and of course the bus area is not wide enough for a bus.


So the big fat arsed buses stick out into the bike lane and no one in their right mind would stay in the bike lane and try and squeeze between the buses and a car. You'd end up being very squished.

The good thing about this bit of road is that it is fairly steep, so you can easily hit 50km/h going down it without trying too hard. Well, I can at least. Lot's of wimps just coast and then have problems when they try and merge into the traffic beside them that is going 50 km/h.

Anyway, I have recently taken to cycling around the Casino on the way home because it saves me crossing at a very nasty intersection near Darling Harbour. It is one of those wierd intersections that is quite safe when you are heading into town and a total death trap on the way home.

Going around the Casino was working out quite well until one night this week when I was sitting at some traffic lights at the entrance to the Casino car park, they went green, I took off and this bloody Chinese woman P-plater turned left in front of me - from the right lane - and had the temerity to beep as she went around me. I was too gobsmacked to give chase and give her a piece of my mind - I just couldn't believe it. Some people are so stupid, it makes my eyes water.

Making the perfect pizza dough

I have been trying for some time now - years in fact - to make the perfect pizza base at home. I have tried using different flours, such as several types of white flour, wholemeal flour, gluten and some wierd flours that we got from a health food shop.

I have found that a 1/3 wholemeal to 2/3 plain flour is a good start, especially if some semolina is thrown in to add to the crunchiness (we all hate pizza with a soggy base). However, the bloody things never rise. They sit there like sheets of cardboard when cooked.

I was reading an article in the paper last week by a chef on the subject of bread making and he mentioned making a starter of just 100gms of flour, yeast and water and leaving that for some hours (or even overnight) before adding the remaining ingredients. I tried that, mixing it up in my mixing bowl and leaving it covered on the bench overnight.

The next day (which was a weekend), I made pizza for lunch.

The photos that I have attached show the results. The base was light and puffy with some huge air pockets in it. You could fit a ping pong ball in some of them. Clearly, using the starter was the best thing since... sliced bread. Plus, it gave the dough and incredible yeasty smell, which is something that I love.

The pizza itself was very basic - just bocconcini, basil and a bit of parmesan. I was out of the gooey cheese, so we just had a two cheese pizza. It was rather excellent. Only problem is that I am always short of basil these days. I had to buy a packet of seeds today in the hope that I can germinate 10 plants or so - that's how many we need to keep up with basil consumption.

Sunday 7 January 2007

Ice Baird

I think I spotted Bruce Baird at Bondi this morning. It looked like he was preparing for the rough water swim. I wonder if he survived?

I used to see Peter Debnam running on the beach when I went down for an early morning swim before work. He's a fit looking sod.

Bruce is not.

Bondi breakfast

I have pretty much given up on the Bondi Kiosk, so I have started going next door to Aqua Bar. It used to be two cafes next door to each other, but the other must have gone belly up as both are now combined into the one cafe, although they are still two premises.

I don't like it as much. The tables are small, so you can really only have 4 people for a meal. I don't mind as I am on my own most of the time, but it will be a problem when the whole family attends.

Still, I asked for poached eggs and crispy bacon, and they managed to do that without totally screwing it up. The coffee was not too bad. The service was a bit touch and go as my waitress spoke so softly, I couldn't hear and bloody word she said. Either that, or my ears were full of salt. Good thing I can partly lip read.

The worst thing about the place is that it is full of Paris Hilton wanna-be chicks. The Kiosk was great because the regular crowd were people like me - men and women of all shapes and ages who had been down for a good swim, and now wanted a good feed. It was the sort of place that you could sit there happily in your wet speedoes and no one would give a damn. Aqua Bar, as the name suggests, is a lot more pretentious. Women wear lipstick at Aqua, whereas at the Kiosk they just have wet hair.

I am now conflicted.

My choice was made simple this morning as Aqua did not have a free table, whilst the Kiosk was half empty. That is a bit of a turnaround. Aqua used to be half empty and the Kiosk would have a queue at the door. I queue for no one, so I ate at the Kiosk again today. I asked for crispy bacon, and didn't get it. Never trust a blonde waitress who can't remember what type of coffee you ordered.

The worst thing about this morning was the drive home. Due to the water temp, my balls were seriously frozen. When I sat in the car, they started thawing and were quite uncomfortable as they expanded back to their normal size and position. If I was swerving all over the road, you can blame thawing balls.

It's summer right?

I missed having a swim at Bondi yesterday, but made it today. When I got there, I found that half the beach was closed off for a rough water swim. Normally, when they have some kind of carnival like this, it is impossible to park within cooee of the beach and the boardwalk in front of the North Bondi surf club is crowded with people. You can't get into a cafe for love or money.

I didn't notice any overcrowding in the cafes when I walked by from my usual parking spot in a back street close to the beach. The boardwalk was quite clear of bodies. There were not many people standing around on the sand (almost none in fact) and no one in the water having a warm up swim.

I soon found out why. As I strolled down to the water, a life saver asked me if I was going to be long as they were going to close off that park of the beach in 20 minutes to prepare for the race. Since I can't swim out of sight in a week at the moment, and the waves were breaking too close in for comfort, I doubted I would be 20 minutes.

When I hit the water, I found out why there were so few people around. Normally, the water temp is around 20 degrees. When I swam on the 1st or 2nd of July, it was still 19 or 20 degrees. Cold and miserable out of the water, but not bad in the water.

Today it was 16.

Almost froze my nads off. My forearms hurt when I put them in the water. I had trouble with my breathing when I stuck my head under. Through my goggles, it looked like my fingertips were going blue (they weren't). I gave up on the idea of a swim and caught a few tragic waves - essentially they dumped me in about 1 foot of water.

I struggled out of the water less than 5 minutes after I went in. I passed the life saver and she laughed a bit. She was how I found out what the water temp was.

As I was walking up to a cafe for breakfast, I heard an announcer on the tannoy giving instructions to the entrants. He said something about the cold and mentioned that if anyone got into trouble, they should just stick their hand up and wait for a rubber ducky or board to pick them up.

I think they would have been busy.

Saturday 6 January 2007

Can't bake, can't washup...

One big problem with the markets is that it is really hard to avoid impulse buying. You are in a huge hangar surrounded by lots and lots and lots of food. Some of it looks good. Some looks downright wierd. It all looks cheap. Not a trip goes by without me impulse buying a couple of items.

Last week it was passionfruit. I ended up with a bag full, which equates to a bit over a kilo. Now I like passionfruit, but eating a kilo suddenly looked really daunting when I got home.

Solution - bake a lemon cake and cover it with passionfruit syrup. I didn't make that up of course - thank Donna Hay.

So I whip up the cake and stuff it into the oven for 40 minutes as directed. At the end of 40 minutes, I stick a skewer into it and it comes out a bit gooey. So I give it 5 more minutes. Then another 5 minutes.

Then I find that I have overcooked the bugger. It's dry. No amount of syrup poured over the top will save it.

Only one solution - eat it with lots of runny cream. That seems to do the trick.

I feel like a bloated frog as a result.

Blood jelly

I am not having much success in certain aspects of the culinary arts at the moment.

I have just tried to make plum jelly the old fashioned way. It does not involve opening a packet of Aeroplane jelly and tipping the crystals into hot water. Instead, you cut up some plums, add sugar, vanilla and water and boil for a while, then strain out the lumpy bits and add gelatine. It seems to be a lot of effort to make a few little jellies. The only thing that makes it feasible is that I was able to pick up plums at the markets for $2 a kilo. They were not great looking plums - Coles would never sell them - but they were perfect for chopping up for jelly.

I don't think I added enough gelatine - I now have stuff in the fridge that looks like partly congealed blood. Part of the recipe instructions say, "strain through fine muslin cloth", with the aim being to create a clear jelly. I don't have any fine muslin cloth, so I do not have a clear jelly. Like I said, it looks like gooey blood.

If they don't set, I am just going to add them to vodka and drink them.

New Years Crap

One of the spectator points for the fireworks was quite near us at the end of Timbrell Park - the park backs up against the water, so you have an uninterupted view over the water towards the city and the big sky sparklers.

Hundreds of people turned up to yell and scream and generally yahoo on the night. I don't know why they bothered - the fireworks looked like little poof-poofs from where we were. Five Dock is just too far away. The only way to experience fireworks is to be right underneath the buggers, so that the noise is deafening and you get sprinkled with bits of exploded, burning firework. Of course the safety nazis don't allow that kind of thing anymore, so fireworks for me are about as much fun as mowing the lawn.

Anyway, on the 2nd I decided to have my first swim in the ocean for the year, and that involved driving past where all the yahoos had been carrying on. Surprise, surprise, the bay contained the largest floating slick of empty bottles that I have ever seen. It was like an aircraft carrier of crap. You'd almost need a small barge to scoop them all up.

Happy new year. Let's welcome it in by throwing crap everywhere. Yay!

Kipper spuds

I have a nice collection of recipe books. Enough to fill an entire shelf about six feet long. Some of the fancier ones wax lyrical about kipfler potatoes, but I have no idea why. They're just spuds right? Plus I have had a gutful of celebrity chefs going on and on about this silly kipper potato.

There is a spud guy at the markets that sells nine different varieties of fancy spud. Yellow skins, purple skins, really dark purple skins and yes, the kipper potato. I have always turned my nose up at this celebrity spud, but relented last weekend in order to make a spud salad for new years eve.

The kippers are an odd looking spud - more like a sweet potato tuber than a normal round spud. I steamed them and then had a taste. What do you know - they are the king of spuds! Unbelievable.

The great thing is that the spud guy sells them for $3 a kilo, which is less than what I pay for ordinary mashing spuds at my local supermarket. So we're going to be eating kippers from now on, and I will be able to look down my nose at people that serve ordinary spuds.

Monday 1 January 2007


We viewed the fireworks from the North Shore last night - the Cremorne foreshore. Normally, I'd never have attempted to get down there through the hordes, but friends have a house nearby so we had dinner there and then trotted down to the water.

Having seen about 50 million fireworks in my time, I spent half the night fiddling with my camera trying to get some good photos. I failed utterly. The camera has a fireworks setting, which essentially means it leaves the shutter open for 2 seconds and that is it. I forgot to take my tripod, and there was not room to stand, let alone put the camera on something solid and shakefree. I had to make do with holding the camera and trying not to wobble too much.

Two or three photos came out like those above - a nice blob of colour. Next time they are lighting up the sky, I will take the tripod.