Monday, January 24

Curried Parsnip Soup, or - How to use up the veg box

Like many people nowadays, we have a weekly veg box delivered by a local farm (SB Organics, if you're interested) - and like many people, by January we're getting a little bored with the endless supply of root vegetables.  Luckily, many, many years ago my dad taught me how to make curried parsnip soup - in fact, it was one of the first things I cooked by myself.  I've tweaked the recipe over the years, replaced the original potato with a little rice, as I have spare rice more often than spare potatoes (one or the other is fairly essential though to give a smooth soup) and adding some extra vegetables - the celeriac adds a wonderful depth of flavour (and is another regular veg box orphan in need of use!) but can be omitted if you haven't any, alternatively carrot and swede add sweetness and colour.

Curried Parsnip Soup (serves 2 to 3)

1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tbsp butter
1 small onion, sliced
1 clove of garlic, crushed with the flat of a knife
an inch of fresh ginger, crushed with the flat of a knife
2-3 medium parsnips, peeled & chopped
1 small celeriac, peeled & chopped
1 small apple, peeled, cored & chopped
2 tsp curry powder
2 tbsp rice
2 pints stock or water

Gently sauté the onion, garlic and ginger in a large saucepan. When they are softened & beginning to turn golden add the parsnip, celeriac, apple, rice and curry powder, stir well then pour on the stock.  Simmer gently for 20 to 30 minutes (until all of the vegetables are soft) then blend until smooth.  Serve piping hot with crusty bread, and a swirl of yoghurt if you're feeling fancy.

Monday, January 17

Project 2011

As well as my cycling goals and the January to-do list (which will be updated soon) I've a number of other projects bubbling under, waiting until I've a little more time or energy on my hands.
  • The allotment and garden - it is my intention this year to give up the allotment and plant up the front garden as a vegetable patch and cutting garden instead.  We got as far as turning over the lawn and digging out a few of the "keepers" from the allotment before the snow came, and until this week the ground has still been too frozen to do any more. I don't know how many of the uprooted plants will have survived the coldest winter in my lifetime, but watch this space for some garden planning posts!

  • Photography - As a student, I built up a portfolio of thousands of photographs, and I still have folders full of negatives tucked away in a box. After being reunited with the subjects of many of those photographs, the Haggis Horns, I realised that digitising the images was the way forward, making them easy to catalogue, sort and print.  MrB very kindly bought me a negative scanner for my birthday, but scanning and uploading so many images is going to be a big job and will have to wait until later in the year.

  • Study - my involvement in work's global responsibility inquiry has reignited my love of learning.  Coincidentally, the University of York is offering a set of part-time courses on the subject of sustainable food production, and while I'm too late to enrol this year I shall be looking out for the courses to run again in the next academic year.

  • Culture - As a student I spent an awful lot of time in art galleries and museums and at gigs.  Since moving from Leeds to York there has been much less culture - high and low - in my life, and that Haggis Horns gig last September reminded me just how much I love it.  This year I am determined that I will see a proper "event" exhibition, go to the theatre (a ballet or an opera would be my preference) and see at least a couple of bands that I love.  I've already got a few things in mind - Orquesta Buena Vista (an offshoot of the Buena Vista Social Club) are touring this spring and Opera North have a production of Carmen that I'd love to see.

  • Health - For over twenty years now, I've had problems with my knees,*  which has always made me shy away from exercise.  I've rediscovered cycling after a long break, which is doing wonders for my general fitness, but I'd quite like to try something else, too.  So this week (probably.  I reserve the right to chicken out!) I'm going to give yoga a go, in the hope that the stretching and flexibility aspects of it will help a little with the pain and stiffness in my joints.  Maybe it'll even, as all the alternative health people seem to claim, help me get pregnant.

  • Cooking - Like most people, my kitchen repertoire could use a little bit of expansion.  Most of my cooking is fundamentally British, Italian or French, with the odd curry or stir-fry thrown in, but there are a couple of cuisines that I have never really cooked, namely Spanish and Vietnamese.  I'm hoping that Them Apples' suggestion of Movida Rustica can help with the former, and if anyone knows of a good book on Vietnamese food I'm open to suggestions (or gifts!)
 So.  Six little things to do in 2011.  Someone remind me to come back and check on my progress later in the year!

The Haggis Horns - funk-spirational!

*I have fairly mild case of an inherited condition called "kissing patella," which isn't nearly as nice as it sounds, and has led to early-onset osteoarthritis in my knees and hips.

Sunday, January 16

Let the sunshine in!

The prettiest day of the year, so far

Friday was possibly the first sunny day of the year, and shattered, stiff & sore as I was after a couple of long work days and an arthritis flare-up it felt almost immoral to not go out & enjoy it.  I drank more coffee (always the answer) and got lycra-ed up - without waterproofs for the first time this year - and headed out into the wide blue yonder with the sun on my face and a song - this song, in fact - in my heart -

(go on, turn it up, I challenge you to not smile at that refrain!)

The music, the sunshine and the newly dry, ice-free roads kept me smiling through potholes (even the potholes have potholes around here), the bad drivers and even the little climb up to the A166.  A wrong turn at Dunnington meant that the new route I had intended to check out was off the agenda, but as I was running short on time and daylight that seemed to be for the best - and so it proved.  As dusk fell I pulled over to switch my lights on - and as I got back on the bike the chain came off.  I put it back on, it promptly came off again.  And again.  By this point it was getting too dark to closely examine the bike and try to work out just what had gone wrong, though a passing cyclist and various twitter pals had suggestions and advice, so I was faced with a three-mile-plus walk home (via an appointment at the University) in cleats and padded shorts - a revelation in bike-comfort but absolutely not designed for walking any great distance!

One tiny little bolt, loosening its grip on one tiny little spring, equals a long walk home

I eventually got the bike home and handed her over to my pet mechanic, who reckons I have a screw loose - it appears that all of those potholes have shaken loose the bolt that attaches the tension-spring to the derailleur - and no spring equals no tension equals no chain.  She's booked in for surgery in Mr's man-cave in the morning, and hopefully on Monday I'll be able to investigate that longer route...

The route (clockwise.) The marker is the point where the mechanical occurred.

Ride: 9 miles 
Walk: 3 1/2 miles
Total time: about 2 1/2 hours
Painkillers on Saturday: 4 with breakfast, 4 with lunch
Effectiveness of painkillers: Virtually zero

Tuesday, January 11

Good Housekeeping

New, Improved National Cycle Network Route 65 -  makes me wanna get my head down & pedal!

I devoted a little time yesterday to revamping my weekly schedule.  Last year I set up a Google Calendar for all my household chores (and bike rides, of course!), with each room or task given a specific day and time and SMS alerts set to remind me when to do them.  Much as I wanted this system to work, I quickly discovered that it wasn't for me as I found it all too easy to ignore the reminders, or they'd come when I was out of the house and be forgotten before I got home.  So, the new system is this:
  • Monday is bike day - a long ride to push myself.  I also need to devote a little time to either cleaning the fridge or sorting the recycling in readiness for...
  • Tuesday, which is either bin day or recycling day (our council now collects on alternate weeks.)  Tuesday is also housework day.  By the time I've gone over the kitchen & bathroom I have a reasonably comprehensive shopping list, too, so I can spend the afternoon doing a shop.
  • Wednesday morning is when my veg box arrives, and as I don't usually start work until lunchtime there's a little time in the morning to plan my menu for the week.  In addition, as my commute takes me past the Household Waste Recycling Centre, once a month I'll load up my panniers with the bits that the recycling collection doesn't deal with. 
  • Thursday is a work day so I've tried not to commit to anything extra, though as it's also pay day it's a good day to get any extra bits of shopping done, especially the odd boring supermarket bits.
  • Friday I usually only work until lunchtime, making it a good day to get another ride in - lack of light will necessarily make it a shorter one for the next couple of months, and having to be on my feet all day Saturday means I need to take it a bit easier than on a Monday.  Also twice a month I need to pick up meat from the Community Supported Agriculture groups I'm part of, so my rides will have to come home via the collection point - and I'll have to remember to carry a rucksack!
  • Saturday is a work day (and the busiest of the week) so the only item on the schedule is a hot bubble bath when I get home!
  • Sunday always, always begins with a long lie-in, featuring breakfast in bed, the Archers omnibus and Saturday's papers.  Sunday being Sunday it's not a very structured day, the afternoon may involve a gentle social ride or just be spent watching old movies or pottering in the kitchen.  My aim is for it always to involve a proper Sunday dinner though.
The rest of yesterday was given over to a ride - a slightly windswept loop north of town, taking in the newly improved NCN Route 65, Skelton, Sutton-on-the-Forest, Flaxton and an ill-advised stop at the new "improved" Evans Cycles store at Monks Cross (the less said about that the better!)

Still a few icy spots.  This corner's tricky enough on a good day - 90 degree bend on a narrow path, at the bottom of a steep slope.  With the addition of ice & standing water I got off & walked.

The first half of the ride was great fun - Route 65 has had its gates widened, so you no longer need to come to a complete stop to manoeuvre your bike through, and at long last the final off-road half mile (leading to the Overton road) has been paved.  Having that set of beautiful swooping bends (see pic, top) finally covered in race-track perfect asphalt instead of sticky mud and gravel put a grin on my face that lasted for miles!

Song of the day.  For some reason this popped into my head somewhere around Clifton Ings & didn't go away.
Almost every pedal-stroke was helped along by a gentle breeze from the south, making for swift progress, until I turned the corner to leave Sutton-on-the-Forest where the gentle tailwind become a stiff headwind - the sort that forces you to change down a gear even downhill.  After barrelling along at a pretty fun pace (I haven't yet got round to fitting a cycle-computer to my bike so I don't know how fast I was going) the remaining two-thirds of the loop was a tedious slog.  The fact that it was apparently heating oil delivery day didn't help, with three or four cold, mucky showers from passing tankers doing little to improve my day (though fortunately going out in full waterproofs saved me from the worst.)  There were some lighter moments on the homeward part of the loop, like discovering a village I'd never even heard of before, despite having lived in this area for almost all of my life.  I didn't quite make it all the way to Farlington, but it looks pretty on StreetView and has a pub so maybe it'll be the target of another ride soon. 

Route map
31.1 miles
3 hours
average speed 10.4 mph

Friday, January 7

I want to ride my bicycle...

A week into the new year and I've managed three rides, but I'm going to have to put in a lot more miles to prepare for what's coming:
  1. Last summer I had the pleasure of meeting a bunch of crazy guys who were riding from Sunderland to London in 36 hours... and when they announced that they were planning to ride to Amsterdam for the last weekend in May I signed up to go with them.  It's an easy enough ride, pretty much completely flat, and the distances are manageable: about 35 miles to the ferry port at Hull, then 40 from Rotterdam to Amsterdam, with a night on the ferry in between.
  2. While organising my new year twitter ride with Rich, we got chatting to Louise, one of the north-western girls, & set to organising a "Ride of the Roses" somewhere between York & Lancaster.  Unfortunately, given my aversion to hills, most of the area between the two cities is taken up by the Pennines... We've more or less decided on the area around Settle - near enough to halfway, but mostly flat(ish!), on the first weekend of March, and at the last count had about half a dozen riders on the guest list.
  3. After reading Jen's blog I decided that I needed a real challenge to work up to - time to sign up for my first sportive!  I chose the York 100 mainly because it's local and on roads that I know, and because it raises money for a great charity, Action Medical Research, who fund research and support for sick babies and children.  There are two routes to choose from, 100 km and 100 miles, and I've signed up for the shorter one.  You can sponsor me here!  Within hours of announcing on Twitter that I would be doing the ride I'd heard from eight or nine others interested in joining me, so it looks like being a pretty fun day, despite a couple of scary climbs!
So, having committed to all this, I reckon I need to get into the habit of riding regularly - at least twice weekly, regardless of weather, busyness and my riding buddies' availability.  Having been given an extra day off work today, I'd decided in advance that I'd use it to get out on the bike - then I woke up to a dusting of snow on the ground, temperatures hovering around zero and reports of blizzards coming in from various parts of the country.  Tempting as it was to just stay in bed I got layered up and rode off into the freezing rain.  We're very fortunate to live within 300 metres of a National Cycle Network route so the first mile or so of my ride was traffic-free, with much of the rest on quiet country lanes.  For reasons best known to the masochistic part of my subconscious, I found myself heading towards my nemesis - Northgate lane.  Now, it's not a big hill, the total elevation gain is only 20 metres or so, but it's steep and it catches me out every single time - just as you think you're about to crest it, it gets steeper. I'm clearly fitter than I was when I tackled it for the first time, last summer, as I got to the top on the bike and without crying, but it did make me swear a little bit (well, it would have done if I'd had breath to spare for swearing.)  Much as I hate this hill on the outbound part of my ride, it's a (relative) joy on the way home, a far easier climb followed by, in ideal conditions, a fast, straight descent*.  Today's conditions were far from ideal, sadly, with both this and my other favourite descent still icy in places, and a careful pottering descent isn't anything like as much fun as a flying one.

Today's route

17.5 miles
90 minutes
Average speed 11.7 mph
Items of clothing: 10, excluding helmet & shoes!

*In my head, descent is always pronounced, a la Magnus Backstedt, "dee-sent."  Much more Pro!

    The Pantry

    Neat, tidy, clean, organised (it'll never last....)

     Time for a progress report on that to-do list. December 30th was spent - yes, in its entirety - taking inventory of the food in the freezer and pantry. Many ancient jars and packets found their way to the compost heap and recycling bin, shelves and containers were wiped down, re-arranged and refilled, and the conclusion reached that, certain perishables aside, I probably don't need to shop for most of the month of January.
    The list itself ran to about five pages, so I won't be posting it in full, but here are some of the meals I am planning:
    • braised lamb with beans.  (had this on Sunday, served with carrot & swede mash & roast potatoes)
    • pumpkin & artichoke lasagne. 
    • lamb kebabs with naan bread (a quick & easy post-inventory supper)
    • Jansson's temptation. 
    • shepherd's pie. (made with leftover lamb & beans on Monday)
    • chicken stew & dumplings. 
    • roast chicken & stuffing. (coming up on Sunday when the family are here for lunch)
    • seafood linguine. 
    • macaroni cheese. (post-ride comfort food on New Year's day. Given the amount of cheese in the house this will be repeated often through the coming weeks!)
    • risotto. 
    • curry. 
    • kofte.
    • cheese-stuffed chicken breasts. 
    • sausage & black pudding bake. (Tuesday, with the remainder of Sunday's beans)
    • lamb chops & polenta. (with sherry-vinegar reduction & some brussels sprouts, a special New Year's eve dinner)
    • corned beef hash. 
    • nut roast. 
    • paella. 
    • tagine. 
    • pizza. (Tonight. Probably. If I get organised enough to make dough.)
    As for The List:
    • schedule some bike time  - and how! more to come on this later
    • catch up on the laundry, take inventory of my wardrobe & look to fill any gaps in the sales
    • write a workable chores schedule - and actually use it!
    • finish up the final bits of the guest room - frame & hang pictures, make the sheer curtains & swag, buy some new bedlinen - & share the results here.
    • sort out & tidy our bedroom, which became the dumping-ground for all the stuff that was in the spare room
    • wallpaper the stair risers, make curtains for the hall, hang pictures & buy lampshades. Again, a project to be photographed & shared!
    • make the second curtain for the bedroom (I'm ashamed to say that we've had one curtain & a blanket clothes-pegged to the rail for over a year now!)
    • tidy away all the Christmas decorations, wrapping paper etc.; find homes for the presents we received & dispose of anything that a new item is replacing
    • count the small change in the "penny jar" & bank it
    • take inventory of the pantry & freezer, write a shopping list to fill any gaps and plan meals for as far ahead as possible - can I do a month's worth of menus in one go?
    • prep for a work project & contact the people I need to speak to about it.

    Ride, January 3rd 2011

    A couple of years ago I discovered that Twitter was a good place to follow bike racing - it was during the Tour of California, and I had heard somewhere that Johan Bruyneel was live-tweeting the race from the team car.  I signed up, picked a few people to follow & sat down to "watch" the race.  Pretty soon, fellow cycling fans began to find me, and one of the first was a local guy, Rich, a.k.a. @hardboiled2006.  We chatted about the pros at first, who we were cheering for in California and then in the spring classics & the Giro; we moved on to discussing our own cycling (him: a regular rider putting in hundreds of miles a year on a flashy road bike; me: just taking it up again after 12 bikeless years, pottering about on a tatty old rescued-from-the-tip mountain bike.)  Often we just chatted, getting to know each other through an online presence of 140 characters or less.  Finally, a year or so later, we met, and when I got my first road bike we rode together.  We got in a couple of rides over the summer - easy, chatty social rides for him, which left me feeling pleasantly pushed (it's far too easy to relax & slow down when you're riding alone,) but when autumn came around life - and filthy weather - got in the way.

    Weeks went by when we half-heartedly agreed to arranged something, then a new year's eve coffee and a twitter-chat and the ride was on at last: something between 20 and 35 miles, a nice relaxed pace, the all-important coffee stop.  We met at the Minster on Monday morning, joined by Tom and another twitterer, Matt, and headed out of town for a 21 mile loop through some of the prettiest villages to the south of town.  We set off along the river to Bishopthorpe, then on to Appleton Roebuck through the middle of a pheasant shoot - I'm used to checking the road for hazards, less used to looking up and dodging falling wildfowl!  The one "hill" of the day was the double railway bridge at Colton, from where we crossed the A64 (lordy, how I hate that junction!) to Askham Bryan and back in to town to my favourite café, Gray's Court to refuel and thaw our toes.

    21 miles, plus to & from the city centre starting point
    1 hour 58 minutes riding, another hour or so drinking coffee

    Thursday, January 6

    Packing up Christmas

    Well, the festivities are over and twelfth night is upon up already - and with it, it's time for the decorations to come down.  I'm sure I can't be the only person who finds the prospect of an un-decorated house a little bleak, so I like to make a little ritual of putting everything away.  The tissue paper is smoothed out and stacked up and one by one I wrap the baubles, reminding myself of the story behind each one.

    The three tin Santa Clauses (or more properly Père Noëls) were discovered in a very chic Parisian homeware boutique.  Tom had surprised me with a weekend in Paris for my 29th birthday - he'd organised everything from Eurostar tickets to hotel to presenting me with a guidebook as we got on the train to London, and even arranged my time off work!  I spent much of the weekend half expecting him to propose (which he did, a year later, on a second trip to Paris.)  As it was October, I really didn't mean to start shopping for Christmas, but these guys were just too sweet to resist, and I'm so glad I didn't as every Christmas I have a special reminder of a wonderful trip.

    The beaded fruits were collected on trip to Italy.  One winter I took myself off to Rome to do my Christmas shopping.  I found a cosy bed and breakfast near the Porta Pia and spent four days walking all over the city, exploring the Colosseum and the Pantheon, buying delicious treats from the Christmas markets and little delis, refuelling on pizza, gelato and incredibly good espresso.  I was a single girl then and never bothered with a Christmas tree, instead I would pile a beautiful bowl with fruit and baubles, so when I found these in one of Rome's most glamorous department stores they seemed absolutely perfect for me.

    My Gnomies have been with me for as long as I can remember.  As I understand it, they are a German tradition, brought into our family through my Steiner education.  Every December, instead of an advent calendar, my mum and I would construct a Gnomie garden.  Moss would stand in for a lawn, some twigs & pine-cones became trees and a scrap of tinfoil made a shiny little pond.  The Gnomies would magically appear overnight (in reality, painstakingly handmade by mum from pipe-cleaners, felt & wool), and each night in Advent they would bring a new gift - something simple like a tiny purse, a pretty gemstone or a sugar mouse.  Although it's years since I made them a garden, I still like to bring the Gnomies out of hibernation each year.

    New decorations are added to our collection every year - the angels, snowflake and the handmade green glass bauble were gifts from my best friend and her parents, the tiny solid glass fruits were a sale find a couple of years ago - the boiled-sweet colours catch the light so beautifully - and the red mercury glass baubles were bought in the faded gentility of Jenners in Edinburgh, for the first Christmas after Tom and I moved in together.  And now they are all wrapped in tissue paper and cardboard and put away in the big box marked "Christmas," ready to come out again next December.

    Saturday, January 1

    Ride, January 1st 2011

    Not *all* of the ice has melted yet...

    At long, long last my road bike has mudguards, fitted just in time to allow me to enjoy a long-standing new year tradition: wherever I am & whatever the weather I like to begin the year with an hour or two outdoors, breathing in the cold air, getting my body moving after the excesses & idleness of Christmas, and if at all possible escaping the city crowds.

    As well as Christmas, the great British weather & a lingering cough had conspired to keep me off the bike since mid-November, and the lack of exercise has begun to show on my mind as well as my body.  Despite the fact that today was one of those grim winter days when it never truly got light, nothing was going to keep me indoors!

    We chose a nice, easy, mostly flat route - a little loop out through the villages to the east of York.  The road surfaces were terrible after a month of snow & ice, hundreds of potholes, huge patches of loose gravel & wet leaves, even still ice in places, but it felt so good to be back on the bike!  I only returned to cycling a couple of years ago, and only bought my first road bike last spring, but I really do feel like that little Raleigh is an extension of my body.  Cycling feels so comfortable, so natural to me, even more so than walking.  I may never go as fast as Emma Pooley, but by God riding my bike makes me feel great!

    14.6 miles
    1 hour 12 minutes
    average speed 12.1 mph
    highest speed 21 mph

    It's a new dawn, it's a new day, it's a new year...

    ... and I'm feeling good*

     I'm not one for new year's resolutions, I know all too well that I never keep them up beyond the first week or two of January, but a tweet from fellow cycling fan @_Pigeons_ got me thinking about how I'd like to begin 2011
    I love the Spanish tradition of not making Resolutions, but doing a little bit of everything you want to happen in the coming year on NY Day

    So far today has seen a long lie in (complete with breakfast in bed, natch), a little bike-tinkering and dancing around the kitchen to this:

    Coming next, an hour or two on the bike and some baking.

    *No, internet, that song ISN'T by Muse, or, God help us all, Michael Buble, but the great Nina Simone (well, technically Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse)