Sunday, October 20, 2013

Shiny Steed

A couple of weeks ago, we went out on the bikes. It was less than a successful trip. My confidence was at an all time low, I kept freaking out about the traffic. I was ready to say 'Do you know what, I've given this a good go and I'm done.' I kept on thinking about the unhappy experience and I was really down on myself. 

Then, last weekend Dave wanted to check out a new bike shop. So in we go and I try one on for size. It was great, but it pushed the limits of my budget. I still wasn't ready to commit to buying a bike. If I came off the bike and never went on it again, it would be a helluva lot of money to waste.

In the meantime, my exercise regime is going very well indeed. I splashed out on a food processor with a blender attachment and that's been really good fun. I've been making smoothies to take into work as breakfast/snack and they've been really tasty. I have also been whizzing up veggies in the evenings. No, not juicing. I don't have a juicer and I don't have the space in my kitchen for one. 

Raspberry and Mango Smoothie

I found this great website called Nerd Fitness. It's a bit frenetic and geeky, but I love it. I've picked up some great tips from them and I just like the idea of a fitness website that doesn't advocate going to the gym and/or spending lots of money. It's a website for people who are trying to get fit while they try and have a life. 

One of the things they keep going on about is to keep trying, to dare to fail. The only way I was going to improve and learn the road craft is by going out and doing the time in the saddle. Being hard on myself wasn't a good time and I wasn't going to learn anything that way.

The more I kept thinking about it, the more I realised that part of the issue I was having was the fact that it's not my bike. It's Dave's bike. Bless him, he set things up as best he could for me, but at the end of the day: it's a mountain bike, for a bloke of his dimensions. But, the more time I spent on a bike that wasn't quite right for me, the less I would enjoy it. It could become a chicken and egg situation. On Friday, we set out to go bike shopping.

I fully expected to go back to go and get the Forme we'd looked at the week before. Dave was fairly determined to put me on a Specialized Vita. If you've bothered to click the links, you'll notice we were looking at hybrid bikes - good on the road and can cope with a rough farm track without too much stress. 

Dave decided we'd first check out a little bike shop in a quiet Norwich suburb called Streetlife Cycles. As you can tell, he is a great believer in making informed decisions. He'd already called in and thought he'd found the one for me. In we went. The guy serving us pulled out the bike for me to sit on. We went through the usual spiel I've been perfecting for the last few months: yes, I know I should be on tippy-toes, my confidence is not what it should be yet; yes, I really need to have something with good shocks for my back, even if I only ever go out on the road. I sat on the Specialized Vita for a few minutes trying to see how I felt about it, when the guy announced "You don't look comfortable on there. That's not the bike for you. I think I've got the perfect bike right here."

With that he gets me off the bike, wheels this other one out and before I know it, he's adjusted the seat and I'm on it. 

When I heard his announcement I thought 'great stuff - hard sell'. 

I could not have been more mistaken. I didn't want to get off the bike at all. I couldn't tell you what it was, what the differences between the height, width or set made. All I can tell you is - it was love at first sight.

I trust that feeling implicitly. Instant comfort and confidence, once you've experienced them, you know you're onto a good thing.

And the price? It was £150 cheaper than the Vita. It's a Specialized Globe Work 01. It's a basic, functional piece of equipment that just screams BIKE and does what it says on the tin. I love it so much.

We picked it up yesterday morning and I rode it from the shop, along a cycle path called Marriott's Way from Norwich to Drayton and then on a few quiet roads and a rough farm track to Dave's house at Horsford. I learnt some very important things.

1.  I don't like going first. Dave likes to ride behind me so he can keep the cars from getting too close. It also means he can advise on gears and my biking form. However, I over-anticipate issues and have panic-attacks when I don't know what I'm supposed to be doing. If I follow his lead, I learn from his example. And yes, I still need to work on my gears. I tend to be in much lower gears than I should, simply because I like to feel the resistance as I pedal. I know, I'll get over it.

2.  I really like going off-road. We were nearly home and crossed a road and had to go on a rough farm track. Dave shot off in front and picked his way along and I followed. It was great. I loved it! I did as he suggested and kept my fingers near my brakes, hovered over the saddle and let the bike find it's way along. When we finally got to the end of the track, I was buzzing! I would have happily done it again. Give that was the second time Dave had done the track that day, you can understand why he was less than enthusiastic at my suggestion.

Last night, there was talk of us going out this morning for a quick blast round the country roads...that lasted until I realised how much my butt hurt. As well as my confidence, it seems I also have to build up the muscles in my butt!

Isn't she pretty? All black and silver with a splash of red (spacer from Dave)

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Moroccan(ish) Veggie Stew


Since I started watching Jamie Oliver's Money Saving Meals, I really have been getting ideas above my station. I've got it into my head that I can experiment with all kinds of things. This month I'm economically challenged, but I haven't wanted that to stop my social life. So rather than go to the pub and drink tap water in the corner, I've been inviting people round.

Yesterday, I opened my cupboards and thought - veggie stew...with dumplings. Perfect for a lovely autumn evening. I looked up the recipe for the dumplings and of course, I had to muck about with it. It seems I am incapable of following instructions. Like that's news to you, Ladies and Gentlemen. There was some interest expressed last night on Facebook, so people here it is:

Moroccan(ish) Veggie Stew with Dumplings

You will need:

1 tsp paprika (heaped)
1 tsp turmeric (heaped)
1 tsp ground coriander (heaped)
celery salt
quarter of preserved lemon*
chilli oil**

1 red onion
1 red pepper
2 carrots
2 small sweet potatoes
1 tin green lentils
1 tin haricot beans
handful apricots
1 carton chopped tomatoes
tomato paste

250g self-raising flour
125g butter
1 tsp dried mustard
pinch of salt
1 handful grated parmesan
cold water

I chopped everything up, drained the tinned pulses. I got a heavy casserole dish and sweated the onion, pepper and carrots until soft, I then threw in the dried spices to toast for a bit and then added some water to stop it sticking to the pan. In went the chopped tomatoes and everything else including the garlic, ginger and preserved lemon. I brought it to the boil, and topped with boiling water so the veggies were covered. It was then left to simmer uncovered, while I did the dumplings.

Easey peasey. Measure your ingredients. Jamie suggests grating cold butter into the flour. Ain't nobody got time for that. I used a fork to mix flour, butter and dried mustard together until it looked like fine breadcrumbs, added in the cheese and then dribbled iced water in until the mixture formed a dough. I squished it around for a bit and then made little balls of dough. I did not play with it. Once it was done, I stirred the stew made sure there was enough liquid in it (the dumplings are thirsty), popped the little balls onto the top with some space for them to spread out and then put the lid on and left the stew on simmer for about 35 minutes.

I served in bowls with garlic bread and it was damned tasty.

* I had some homemade preserved lemon and I've found you don't need very much at all. I know you can get them ready made, but they are expensive.

** Chilli oil was also homemade. I filled a clean jar with dried bird's eye chillies, covered them with oil and left them to soak for a few weeks. I just dip a teaspoon in every now and then to warm up a dish. 

The garlic and ginger are frozen. Another tip from Jamie. You can get frozen herbs in little plastic trays from Sainsbury's. Just squeeze out however much you want: a cube = a clove of garlic or a tsp of fresh ginger. I don't know whether there's the equivalent in other supermarkets. If you aren't like me, use fresh. I just got fed up of desiccated ginger and squidgy garlic in the bottom of my fridge.

I used tinned pulses that were in my cupboard. They are quick and easy. I have no patience anymore for boiling the hell out of things any more. Been there, done that.

If you do have a go, let me know what you think.