Sunday, October 14

A bit of foraging and preserving, and Coffeeneuring 2018.

If you are wondering what "coffeeneuring" is, then have a look at this blog, Chasing Mailboxes, where you will find a full explanation. Here's a brief summary from the blog -

"The Chasing Mailboxes Coffeeneuring Challenge is a relaxed cycling endeavor for people everywhere, and it’s coming your way once again, starting October 12, 2018. If you like riding a bike and enjoy drinking coffee or tea (or even hot chocolate or cider), consider this fall challenge."

The challenge started in the US (the spelling gives it away...) but has spread to many parts of the world. Participants can join the Facebook group and post details of their exploits, or blog about them, or just record them on Strava perhaps (there has to be some proof that you've actually done what you say) and what is rather nice is that the number of people participating still seems small enough to almost get to know these people and their cycling and drinking habits. Interesting bits of discussion crop up on the Facebook group; never mind the order of scone/jam/cream discussion - does the cheese in beans on toast go on top of the beans or underneath?!?

 It's a very easy and pleasurable challenge - not like some cycling challenges, where hundreds of miles and probably lots of hills are involved. Having said that it can be a bit too easy to just cycle somewhere, have a cup of coffee/tea, 7 times in 7 weeks, so I like to add in a challenge within the challenge, as do some other Coffeeneurs. However I only came up with one the night before the challenge started, but, "Orf we jolly well go!" as I'm sure someone said, somewhere, once. Maybe it was my bicycling hero, Mrs Armitage, as it sounds like exactly the sort of thing she would have said. So, this is my challenge within the challenge -

Every Coffeeneuring trip has to be combined with a bit of foraging, and preferably for something different each time. 

Actually, I am using the term "foraging" rather loosely, and am including getting anything for free if it has been "foraged" is some way, like out of a skip, but I'm not including getting it for free via Freegle, as I would definitely deem that cheating. There are plenty of apples to be had locally,  but I have not picked anything else before at this time of year, so again that means the challenge will be more difficult. I have been looking up things that are available now, like chestnuts. All the hazelnuts have been taken by the squirrels. Sloes, haws and rowan berries are possibilities, none of which I have used before. [Update: On a walk yesterday I found some blackthorn bushes which were very heavily laden with sloes, so I am about to make sloe gin. Never had gin in my life.....]

And on that note of foraging, I have only made a few preserves since we moved to this house, and I have asked myself why this is, when in the old house I had made lots of jams, chutneys and syrups.  I realized that it's because I don't really like working in our present kitchen as much as I did in the old one, which was lighter and a squarer shape. Husband doesn't quite get this sort of thing and when I talk about what I would do to the kitchen if it was ours (it isn't!) his eyes glaze over. However, I resolved to ignore my feelings and make the effort, and have made elderberry and rosehip syrups. I had two foraging trips to pick elderberries, and one to pick rose hips, though I was very disappointed to find that just before I was going to pick rosehips the very bush that I had had my eye on for weeks was removed when I found that said bush had been ripped out in order to put a new fence in! Gutted! However, I managed to find enough from our own garden, and some from the side of a local track. There are still plenty to be had elsewhere.

I made a new jelly bag, from calico, as the one I had was rather small and not very well made, and I've always thought the stitching might not hold much longer and I would end up with an incredible mess to clear up and all my hard work gone to waste. I also had to find a new way to hang up the bag, as when we moved here two years ago I stupidly sold the stool I had used before, completely forgetting that I had used it as a jelly bag stand.

The thing that takes time with the elderberries is removing them from the stalks, with a fork, but I just turn the radio on, set my mind to it and think of the lovely syrup that's going to result.  With the rosehips it's the mincing that takes time. I don't have many electric gadgets in the kitchen as I like doing things manually, but I must admit that using my 1950s mincer (Ebay purchase) is very slow. Next time I shall try using our nut chopper. However, I got there in the end!

And here's the new hanging method, with the new bag -

After boiling the resulting juice with sugar, comes the bottling -

I'm still trying to find a source of more some small bottles. One pub has agreed to save some for me. There's a new cafe in town where I shall go and ask next time I'm shopping. Actually I think that might well come under "foraging"!!

I now have several bottles of both elderberry syrup - plenty to last us the winter I hope - and a few of the rose hip. Elderberry is absolutely delicious poured over puddings, particularly anything lemony or chocolatey. You can of course drink it as a cordial, and it also has medicinal benefits. The rosehip can also be used in the same ways, but Husband and I like to drink it neat, which sounds rather indulgent somehow! The first time I tasted it I wondered why the smell in particular seemed so familiar, and then my mind wandered back a very long way to the 1960s, when my mum used to give me a spoonful of it in the form of Delrosa. I had completely forgotten - it's fascinating how memories are stirred by smell.

I have read conflicting opinions about the effect of the boiling on the vitamin C. Apparently in the war they were very careful to use a method which hopefully wouldn't destroy too much of it, but here's an interesting extract from "Food for Free" by Richard Mabey -

I forgot to add that I added brandy to some of the elderberry syrup. I think I added about a tablespoon to a wine size (750ml) bottle, but that's bit vague so it might be best to find a more authoritative source for the quantity to use! You can see my recipe and more detail in this post

Here is my much annotated recipe for rosehip syrup -

Other preserves I have made this year have been -

Rhubarb and Orange Marmalade (back in the spring)
Sweet Pickled Damsons (September - another extremely yummy one!)
Apple and Onion Chutney (this week)

Hopefully my next blog post will contain details of the fruits of my Coffeeneuring labours!

Monday, October 1

Thoughts on "Bike Nation", by Peter Walker

I've had terrible trouble with writing this post, as everything I was writing was jumping all over the page (must be Blogger's fault) or disappearing! I've also had trouble getting the font size to what I want, so forgive me if it alters where you wouldn't expect it to. After having to delete everything (couldn't even copy and paste) here goes for the umpteenth time.....

This is the book I'm talking about -

Here's the blurb - 

"A revolution on the roads is approaching. Is it time for drivers to Give Way? Guardian news correspondent, Peter Walker, takes us on a journey around the world, exploring the varying attitudes to cycling on our highways.
Visit the shining examples of Amsterdam and Copenhagen, where cycling culture is an intrinsic part of the approach of politicians and officials. How have these cities made provision for cyclists and what are the extraordinary benefits?

And then take to the less welcoming roads of Britain, USA and Australia, where cycling can still be a terrifying experience. What are the tragic mistakes being made when planning and developing cities, and how do these mistakes lead to aggression towards the cycling community?

Millions of us find ourselves frustrated by the motor mentality and fighting for our rights to ride. This brilliant, shocking investigation will prepare you with all you need to know to confidently claim your place on the road."

"the less welcoming roads of Britain" - yes !! and the potholes.....

frustrated by the motor mentality” - yes again!!

The book is incredibly informative on the provision made for cyclists in many other countries, and how the attitudes to cycling are so different to here in the UK. Reading it was a real eye opener. 

If only people in the UK could be persuaded of those "extraordinary benefits"..... Ever since I was a teenager I have been infuriated by people who drive unnecessarily, and since doing a lot more cycling myself in recent years I have become even more infuriated! The pollution, the noise, the road building...… but I've realized that getting infuriated with people doesn't really help, and that the carrot approach is better than the stick. We need to make cycling in this country a much better experience.

I understand that in certain circumstances and at certain times in our lives, driving may be necessary - it was for me when our children were all young and, due to the awful (and now non-existent) bus service, any longer journeys had to be undertaken by car. But since I have started cycling more, I am constantly asking myself why more people don't cycle, when it has so many benefits.

There are probably lots of reasons, but one of them is undoubtedly being scared of riding on the UK roads due to the traffic. Another is probably just being scared of cycling, full stop, because even though most people learn to ride as a child, most of those same people give up cycling as soon as they learn to drive (or sooner....), and getting back on a bike takes some getting used to again. It took me some getting used to when I started cycling more back in 2012. Previously I had only cycled short distances on our fairly quiet, local country roads (although overtaking in the wrong places and too fast is often worse on these roads than elsewhere) but now I was cycling the 5 miles into and around our local town of Wantage, and that took some getting used to. I also started cycling much further afield and found I was loving it!

Although I have not (yet?!) cycled abroad in cycle-friendly places like Holland and Germany, in those countries it is just accepted that many journeys will be made by bike and cyclists are seen as normal rather than slightly freaky and geeky as we are here! Go on, admit it, if you're reading this and you're not a cyclist I bet you think we're a slightly freaky and geeky lot!! 

A Norwegian blogger Well Dressed Dad that I follow, after a recent holiday in the UK, wrote this in answer to a comment of mine on his post -

"Hi Lizzie, I agree totally with what you’re saying, both about a self-limiting attitude to travel and consumerism. At one point though you’re on your own and that’s cycling in Britain! I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a dedicated cycle path in the UK and with the mostly narrow and twisty roads available, it seems extremely hazardous to venture out on a bike. I see people cycling and can only imagine they have a death wish! Which is a huge shame, as cycling, and especially electric bikes, are a great alternative to fossil fuelled cars. I cycle all year round here, from -25C to +30C, in snow and rain, but mostly I can cycle anywhere I want to go on cycle paths, with no hassle from cars!"

 "I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a dedicated cycle path in the UK " Well, I can assure you, they do exist!! In fact, I cycled on some in the summer in the very area where he was, in Somerset!

Mostly twisty and narrow roads? I would disagree with that "mostly" - in Somerset,  quite a lot are, and in Devon, Cornwall, Wales........(OK stop there) but on the whole I don't think our roads are mostly twisty and narrow! 

Cyclists here have a death wish? Quite the opposite!!! 

 But it sounds like Norway, just like Holland, is a lot more cyclist-friendly than Britain. 

The book shows how one of the benefits of improving conditions for cyclists is that it improves them for drivers too - if more people cycle, there are fewer cars on the road, which makes it better for the drivers! It's a win-win situation!
I always hope that just being seen out on my bike might encourage others to do the same, but after reading the book, I realized that I wanted to be a bit more pro-active in encouraging others to cycle/cycle more, and in getting involved generally with improving conditions for cyclists. I thought that my local Cycling UK group might be a good place to start. Cycling UK (the old Cyclists' Touring Club) does a huge amount of good work in promoting and encouraging cycling, and last year I had decided to support them by becoming a member, but hadn't been out on any rides with my local group. I don't generally cycle with other people. If I'm not using the bike for purely utilitarian reasons, such as shopping, but am going for a nice trip out, then I love being able to just go off where I want, at my own speed, and stop when I want or need to, for whatever reason. If you cycle with a group of people it's a whole different ball game! You can't just stop to eat, or drink (I'm not one to grab my bottle from the bike and drink as I go) or for a call of nature whenever the need arises..... 

back in the summer, I joined my local group for one of their rides. They have different categories of rides, from 1* to 4*, depending on how far and fast you want to go, or whether you want to go off road. This year also happened to be their 25th anniversary so they were having all four categories of rides on the same day, with everyone meeting up in a village hall for tea and cakes. On that day I joined the 1* ride, which was at a nice pace of 8-10 mph, and about 21 miles, with another 12 added on for me, to get to and from the start point. It was a lovely sociable ride. I also did a 2* ride at a later date, but while this was also very enjoyable, I preferred the more relaxed pace of the 1*.

However, most of the people riding were already regular cyclists. For those who aren't, and need encouragement, there are lots of schemes around the country, e.g. Bikeability, to help people of all ages get into it -  they are rather like the old cycling proficiency scheme that was run for years in schools, but vastly improved. 

I have only come across these organisations since I have been cycling more myself (except Cycling UK, which, interestingly, I had always been aware of in its earlier form as the CTC) but I think that the general public will become more aware of them as they make themselves felt. Here's one which has recently come to my notice, not so far from me in Witney -  the Windrush Bike Project; they do cycle training, cycle maintenance, campaigning and also sell refurbished bikes. I hope to cycle over there one day to pay them a visit, and would love to see something similar set up more locally.

I did feel very encouraged when, sitting on Didcot railway station earlier this month (have you noticed how these days "railway" stations have somehow become "train" stations? I wonder why......) awaiting the first of my four trains to Scotland to visit our daughter, I got chatting to a lady, probably in her forties, who sat down beside me on the bench, having just parked her (very ordinary) bike nearby. I said I'd like to try putting my bike on the train again one day, but that I'd read negative stories about it that put me off. It turned out that this lady was starting a new job in Oxford that day, and had bought the bike only a couple of weeks ago  and was taking it on the train for the first time. I thought that was brave - two big new things on one day! She had had a shortish ride to the station and would have another one at the Oxford end to her new job, and had sensibly enquired beforehand about taking it on this particular train. It would work out cheaper than driving to Oxford. She had already discovered that cycling into Didcot to do some shopping was surprisingly quick and easy compared to using her car. I was impressed, even more so because this lady didn't look at all like your typical cycle commuter, but she was going for it! Good for her! 

And here's a video on how France is intending to triple the number of cyclists. Now that would be quite something!

If you are reading this and you are not a cyclist, I would really welcome your comments! Would you like to cycle/cycle again, and if so what stops you? Would you like to cycle with someone else?

If you are a cyclist, have you read this book? Do you cycle, like me, only in this country, or have you cycled in countries where cycling is seen as more normal than it is here?