Sunday, 20 December 2015

The Bike to Work project

​Now is a good time to tell you about my New Years resolution - from last year. I set myself the challenge of riding the bike to work 50 times in 2015.

I work four days a week, and it's a very long ride. I CAN ride all the way there and back, but I'm slow and it's a long way (26km each way). So, I have number of ways I can do it, and still get a good work day:
  • Some days I rode all the way in, and got a lift home (we have two learner drivers, so they fought for the chance to drive us in on school holidays).
  • Some days, Jeff and I put the bikes on the car rack, and drove half way, then rode in and back (12km each way, very nice).
  • Some days took the bike on the train for part of the trip home.
  • We moved offices, from Collingwood to the city, so now I can also ride to my choice of bike cage (Bicycle Victoria is installing fantastic bike cages at railway stations), lock up there, and train into the city.
There have been challenges.
  • Any option that involved the car needed MY car, the one that fits the bike rack. But that's the one Catriona drives too, and she often has evening commitments. So I didn't ride some days.
  • In winter it gets dark really early, so some options don't work.
  • I don't mind riding in the warm or the cold, and I can manage drizzle and breezes, but rain, extreme heat and strong wind make it too dangerous for me.
  • A few days I had early meetings.
  • And the odd sick day, and bike-getting-repaired day, cuts out some rides too.
So, it has taken some effort to get to the fifty rides. I've been keeping a spreadsheet.

And I'm pleased to say, I'm nearly there. I've hit 49 rides, and I have just two work days left.


Post script. I made it. The next day. Wasn't that hard really!

Sunday, 13 December 2015

Come and meet the new queen!

The queen I refer to, of course, is "Kougin-amann", pronounced "Queen Amann". It's a pastry, and it's from Brittany (and that's a region of France).

I learned the name of it when I was looking up another recipe entirely, and decided I had to try it. It's made of a dough just like croissant dough, but with sugar added between some of the layers along with the block of butter. The various recipes I've read disagree in just how to do this, so for now, my method is to sprinkle sugar generously over the dough just before it gets folded the last time.

And the result? Oh, goodness me, delicious. Here's one from the batch I took to a Christmas party. The kids had some too, and they didn't last long.

So today, I tried the very same recipe, same methods, and one difference - using sourdough in place of yeast. It certainly needed longer to rise, but that's no surprise. Hey, it's Sunday, we have all day.  After that, I handled it the same. 

Here's our pastries before baking:
See, it's just a simple corners-to-the-middle fold. Those couple that are trying to unfold are splitting along the layer where the sugar was added. So, that'll be why there are different methods around. The next try, I'll be blending sugar into the butter, then making a butter block from that.

And here is one of my sourdough Kouign-Amanns. I am pretty much thrilled with that!

Saturday, 12 December 2015

Seasonal baking tip

Adding ground cinnamon to your baked sweet treats can add a festive touch. Ground cumin, not so much.

Friday, 4 December 2015

Coffee quest part 4 - gosh, we settle quickly

Our first visit to "In a Rush" was completely satisfying, and, we couldn't help noticing, they have several varieties of coffee for us to try. Combined with a convenient location, we visited them again (we have a loyalty card now, AND they like filling my reusable cup.)

And so, our quest to find an excellent coffee shop seemed to be at an end.

And then this...
I discovered there's ANOTHER "In a Rush". Gasp! Because, I may not have mentioned, the unwritten rule of this game is, no big chains. Gloria Jeans make a fine coffee in a food court, but we were looking for the best of city life.

Oh well, maybe the In a Rush folks were just so good at making coffees, they decided to open a second store.

Then another twenty seven.

Turns out, there are a lot of them. They grew from the soup place (you know the one, selling yummy soup from big pots, before that was a thing).

So, is the coffee quest still on? Are we going to abandon a nice welcoming cafe, just because they are good at what they do?

Obviously not.

But then, one afternoon, sitting at my desk, puzzling out the latest Python program I'm working on, a delicious aroma walked past. I had to look up, and it was my colleague Ben, drinking from his big Google mug. I demanded to know what he was drinking - it smelled amazing! 

Turns out he'd made the coffee in an Aeropress (latest fashionable coffee maker, quite low tech) from beans he'd just ground by hand in the kitchen. And he'd bought the beans from...

Code Black!

What will happen next? Will we go back to Code Black? Will the twisty stairs be too much for us? Are we too old for somewhere so fashionable? Or will the aroma work its magic? 

There may be more episodes, but who knows? We are in the process of getting the coffee machine installed again. Nobody thinks it makes the best coffee, but it's pretty convenient.

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Want to see my new bike bag?

Our friends at Topeak make some really good bike bags - they are expensive, but they work really well. I've given you a link to the bag I own - it can hold your day's goodies and clothes for a ride-to-work day, or some groceries for a chores day, or plenty of picnic for a day off.

To use a Topeak bag, you need a special carrier on your bike. But once you have the special carrier, you can slide ANY matching bag onto it.

So, what happened was, I managed to tear my older Topeak bag (it was a bit less cool than the one in the link). I repaired for a bit with duct tape, but it was pretty torn. I replaced it with the cool one I have now. I finally decided the torn one had to be retired. But first, I took it apart (as you do). And discovered that the whole mechanism that clips onto the special carrier was just fine!

So, I bought a pretty canvas bag at a local op shop, and here is my new bike bag!

Thursday, 26 November 2015

New coffee quest - day 3

Today we left the building and went in the other direction. A pleasant downhill stroll to "In a Rush", a nice lunch place with the full range of goodies. They have chemistry lab equipment too (I think that's just a requirement now). A range of homely cakes, like the classic hedgehog, as well as fancy stuff. I admired the "open Nutella calzone", which didn't look open, or much like a calzone, but did look tasty.

An artful display of vegies on the counter advertised the very, very green juices they would be prepared to make. Gorgeous salads too.

Coffee came in three sizes, and the large was the big size Jeff normally prefers, at $4.50. The medium was my usual size, at $3.90. And we started a loyalty card.

Generic paper cup here, and now that I know the cup sizes, I will be able to bring my nice reusable cup.

This coffee was good and powerful. Tasted like, hmm, chocolate, and liquorice. Perhaps from Honduras? Oh, alright, I read that on their sign. So, another successful coffee run, and still no favourite selected.

Looking for a new favourite coffee

We've moved into a new office. Instead of the hipster delights of Collingwood, we're now amongst the hustle of the city. Collins street, no less,

And the coffee machine hasn't moved yet (and we do prefer a well made coffee anyway) so the challenge is on. We used to go to the Glassworks Cafe in Gipps st, where a medium latte is actually quite big, costs $3.50, and is well made by the barista who knows what everyone has. Loyalty card, one free in every ten.

So, is there somewhere near the new office to buy coffee?

Ok, it's Melbourne, there's about twelve places inside a minute's walk.

But which is the best? Where will we get delicious, enlivening coffee, from baristas who make us feel welcome? And don't sneer at the thought of making a (gasp) latte?

Will anyone give us a biscuit? Or other treat?

Each day, we've tried a new spot. 

First we try Bonnie Coffee. Friendly welcome. So much scientific apparatus, they obviously make very fancy coffee. Or maybe it's a meth lab. Excellent pastries, possibly just an art installation. The staff work at both sides of the center table, so you can't really tell where to wait. All smiles when we asked for latte. We asked for "large", which is about what we called "medium" until last week. $4.50, plain white paper cup. We introduce ourselves as new to the area. The coffee pusher gives us fizzy water while we wait. Because that's a completely normal thing. 
Bonnie's coffee was delicious, but later in the day, I wondered about a top up. I had tea instead. I know, I know, if you want your coffee strong, don't be drinking latte, but it's what I like.

Second day, we get more adventurous. Down an (almost) spiral staircase into what could only be described as a dungeon, we find Code Black, a properly serious coffee spot. The aroma could sustain you for at least half the day. We order our (gasp) lattes, and tattooed barista is unfazed. She knows that's what lots of people drink. I was amused at someone buying a tiny espresso in a tiny takeaway cup. 

We went for "large" again, still about the size of a Glassworks "medium". $4.20, but there was a happy skull on the cup, so that's a huge plus. Pastries also excellent. We introduced ourselves. They'd already met our IT guys. You know I work in IT, but we have IT guys that make OUR computers work. They are seriously smart IT guys, and they like their coffee. No fizzy water. No other treats.

Code black's coffee definitely sustained me all day. So that's a plus. And, the cup had a funny saying on the other side. But if you want to know what it was, you'll have to go and get one.

So that's the search so far. There will be another one today.

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Just love those adult colouring books...

We got a pretty new quilt cover just recently. And it comes with an activity!
So I got out my best colouring pencils...
Phew, that took frickin' ages!

Urgent citrus news

This is an orange:

This is a grapefruit:

And this, the guy at the market assured Jeff, is a "Yellow". It's yellow outside, and full of orange inside.

The things they can do these days.

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Catriona caught singing at Monash Open Day

Catriona is well established at Monash Uni now, and here she is singing with the MONUCS (Monash Uni Choral Society) choir. Miss C is second from the right.

They are drumming up support for their next fabulous performance, Gilbert and Sullivan's The Gondoliers. This event seems to have not quite made it to their web site (students, eh?) but it's on September 19, one night only. Catriona will be playing A Woman.

Canon camera vs iPhone camera - who would win?

I have a cute little Canon camera, an Ixus 510HS. It's tiny, and pretty (it's white!), and for its size, it brings a heap of features to the table, including wifi, which is super handy on holidays. I expect it's completely obsolete now, being, oh, several years old.

But I also have an iPhone 6, so that means I have the camera that comes in that too. So, I find myself wondering, does this mean I can ditch the Canon and just carry the phone?

I mean, here's a photo I took on the phone, and I adore it. The full size version is my background on my work PC.
Credit for this cool photo also has to go to Cicerello's fish and chip shop in Fremantle, Western Australia, which as well as selling delicious dinners, has an aquarium quality display of local marine life.

So, that's one excellent thing the phone camera can do. But how does it fare in that other photography situation I like so much - I see a cool bird and want to snap a photo before it flies off?

This situation arose the other day, when our garden was visited by a Gang-Gang Cockatoo, which I thought was pretty cool. I had the phone in my pocket, so I snapped this:

Well, you can see the bird. If you knew your birds, you might be able to identify it.

Fortunately, this cockatoo was very patient, and waited while I went to get the Ixus. And this was what I managed with that camera:

Which I think is rather a lot better, and still with a pocket sized camera you can afford to carry everywhere.

So next time someone says they don't know why anyone would bother with a camera when they could just use a phone, show them this cockatoo!

Monday, 20 July 2015

Brrr, it's cool in Melbourne

This was the scene when we parked the car in Collingwood this morning. Frosty frozen leaves, and an icy path going past the station. It warmed up later. I'm using this photo as my desktop at work, though!

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Secret Bunky

We're getting our bathroom renovated - yeah, I know, super exciting to you. But, here's a fun thing. On the wall where the mirror will go, the builders have marked up measurements. And drawn a funny face. I like that. So when the mirror is installed, we'll know that the goofy face is still there.
Here he is.

So I thought, I could add something! And it would stay there too! And it would be FUNNY!

So I added Bunky the Art Sparrow.
Here's the scene in the bathroom Before Mirror.
So in years to come, when I wonder why I feel like I'm being watched, this will be the answer.

Sunday, 12 July 2015

Baking showdown!

Cruffin vs Scoll - who will win? That's the question on everyone's lips.

Actually, the question is really "can I have one of those?".

Jeff challenged me to try making "cruffins" - croissant dough turned into a muffin shape.

Well, croissant dough is fun to make, so I had a go. And to compare, I made some muffin style treats, and some scroll style treats. All filled with creme patisserie (that's fancy custard) and milk chocolate chip - tiny ones.

First up we have : the cruffin! Nicely shaped, well baked, and inclined to rise out of he pan where possible.

Verdict - very nice indeed. Crusty top, slightly doughy inside, they layers are visible.

Next up : the scroll! Exactly the same when uncooked, but baked on a flat tray instead of a muffin tin. Wider and flatter.
Verdict : nice crunch to the outsides. And there are a lot of outsides. Layers are more visible. More irregular looks, but I've trained my family to prefer that anyway.

Overall, scrolls win!

Trash and Treasure goodies

Yesterday's scout hall Trash and Treasure was fun as ever. Here's some of the goodies:
So that's a real Portmeirion dish (I think it's a mini casserole dish, missing its lid), an Australia stencil like we used in primary school (it says "note, Tasmania to be drawn freehand"), and an old medicine bottle. Cool stuff!

A lovely little walk

I have an app on my phone, that I use sometimes to track my exercise. It works for walking and biking - it tells me how fast I'm going, and keeps a handy map of where I went. That's nice when I find a pretty tree, and want to go back to it.

But sometimes I forget its on, and it runs for hours. It often collects hours of me sitting at my desk at work - that's a bit boring.

On Friday I mapped a walk around the block before dinner (and forgot to turn it off). The next twelve or so hours were disappointing, exercise-wise. But on Saturday morning, I got up early to go to a Trash and Treasure sale at the scout hall. And the whole trip got captured!

Here's me "walking" - actually driving - to the scout hall.

Here's me parking the car, walking away, walking back later, and finally driving away.

And here's me walking around inside the scout hall.

See, you don't get workouts like that when you just go from A to B!

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Bird spotting in the inner suburbs

Jeff and I have seen two birds feeding on the ground in Collingwood. We've seen then a few times, so it looks like they were not just passing through. The nice thing is, they've found a grassy home, right by the extremely busy Hoddle Street. Hoddle Street is so big, we take our learner driver kids there when they are ready to learn about big multi lane roads. There's a vet there. I think that's what has attracted them.
Here's my photo:
I know, awesome shot, right? 
I took is with a camera phone, zoomed in the most it can, so I can't complain. The picture was good enough for me to identify it as a Red Rumped Parrot, a fairly common bird, but not one we get around our house (we're Rainbow Lorikeets folks).
Here's a way better shot of some of these guys, from Toby Hudson (I found it on Wikimedia Commons).

Citrus season again, folks!

So you know what THAT means ... Eat oranges every way you can. They are cheap and plentiful in Melbourne. I figure were helping the growers if we really nosh in. Orange cake is good! This one has lime icing too.

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

In the garden of mushrooms

The winter weather has come to Melbourne, and our lawn is covered in little mushrooms!

Saturday, 13 June 2015

Triffid finally picked

Look what just came in from the garden!
This is the only pumpkin on the plant. I'll try again though!

Sunday, 24 May 2015

Pakenham Picture to Page - why you should spend Sunday here

I just helped at Picture to Page yesterday, and we're on again today.

Here's why you should be popping down to the Cardinia Cultural Centre today:

There's make and takes - with a view! Our gorgeous room overlooks the lake.

There's fancy papercraft stuff you might not have seen before...

There's elephants (this was the Kasazz make and take from yesterday)...

There's paint and Gelli Plates (I'll be likely to be demonstrating these today)...

There's more pretty stuff you might need...

Mixed Media Art have those stamps you need (even the bird ones)...

Kids area (hey, how did they get the cool view!)...

And whenever the boss is looking the other way, I get to use the goodies on our stand, and make another tag. When asked nicely, I DO give them away.

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Roadside toy alert

I've been on a mission in recent months to spot and photograph toys on the roadside. Time to collate them here.

We started with this doll strung up in a tree by the Eastern Freeway, near Hoddle street.

That was quickly followed by the perplexing sheep's horn...
Closer to home I found Little Barbie resting after a night out...
And just this week we added Prudence the Pig, seen inbound on the Eastern Freeway, just after the Doncaster Road exit.
You see, children, there's magical things out there to look at, if you just keep your eyes open.

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Triffid getting quite big

And there is an army of little ones following.