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Two new recipes

Story location: Home / food_and_drink /

We made two new recipes today. The first was carrot cake. Emma's aunt recently gave us some apples from the tree in her garden. I ate most of them and we decided to bake something with the rest. Emma had read about using apple sauce as a replacement for vegetable oil in recipes. Last night I chopped the apples and simmered in half an inch of water until they had started to break down. I then liquidized the apples to make a smooth sauce.

We usually follow Delia Smith's recipe so I used that as the basis but replaced the oil with an equal volume of the apple sauce. I also reduced the amount of sugar from 6oz to 4oz. Delia's recipe suggests baking for 35--40 minutes but we found that it needed closer to 50 minutes.

Carrot cake with apple sauce

This evening I make tuna and chickpea burgers, based on a recipe from the BBC Good Food magazine. I used leeks instead of onions and parsley instead of coriander but apart from that I followed the recipe fairly closely. The cooked burgers had a fairly soft texture but they tasted good.

Tuna and chickpea burgers

Chicken and Roast Veg

Story location: Home / food_and_drink /

Tonights tea was chicken and roast veg, using a jar of Marks & Spencer's garlic, lemon and parsley roast veg sauce. I think the cooking times might need to be increased a bit. Their instructions suggested adding the carrot after 20 minutes but I put them in at the start, so they had the full 50 minutes (at gas mark 6).

I do roast veg fairly often but I usually forget how long things take to cook, so this is as much for my information as anything else.

  • Carrot and Celeriac: at least 1 hour
  • Sweet potato: 50 minutes.
  • Onion, Pepper, Courgette: 30 minutes.

All of my oven-based recipes use gas marks because we have a gas cooker. For conversions to electric, use this table.

Car Service

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We took our car for its first annual service today. When I phoned to book the service, I was told that the first service wasn't due until the car was 2 years old but I didn't feel comfortable leaving it that long. We've been happy with the car. It drives well and is reasonably economical. The only problem is an occasional reluctance to go into 1st gear but since that's a fairly minor intermittent problem it's not worth making too much of a fuss over it.

We were given a courtesy car for today. I was about to drive off when Emma noticed the glass was missing in the passenger side wing mirror. Whoever had the car last didn't report it and the garage obviously didn't check the car very well.

Our replacement courtesy car seemed to be intact though.

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999 mpg

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Our car has an on-board fuel consumption monitor which can report fuel usage in real-time. We were driving along the motorway today, doing around 70mph down a slight hill. I lifted my foot off the accelerator to let the car coast down the hill. The fuel economy briefly peaked at 999mpg. If only it could be that efficient all the time.

Cruise Control

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Part of the drive home was along the A46 Fosse Way between Lincoln and Leicester. I thought I'd take advantage of the long almost empty road to check out the cruise control on our new car. It felt strange having the car drive itself, without me needing to use the pedals. The car also has a speed limiter which seems more useful. Cruise control just didn't feel safe. It was too easy to relax and not keep your feet near the pedals which would slow down reacting to anything happening. The speed limiter felt safer because it was more like normal driving.

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What's that smell?

Story location: Home / Blog / food_and_drink /

Since monday, there has been a strange 'fart' like smell in the car. We couldn't work out where it was coming from so we sprayed the upholstery with Febreeze to try to remove the smell.

We were at the supermarket this evening and I picked up one of the reusable carrier bags from the car boot. In the bottom of the bag I noticed a pack of mozzarella cheese which had burst open, spilling the cheesy brine all over the inside of the bag.

Mystery solved.

The cheese must have been sitting in the car for over a week. The heat over the weekend will have caused the pack to expand and burst. I rinsed out the bags when we got home, so hopefully that will get rid of the smell.


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I'd forgotten that March was an expensive month for the car. The road tax, insurance and MOT were all due.

I took the car for it's MOT yesterday but was told that it needs new tyres. The tread was a bit low but looked more than the 1.6mm minimum depth. I got some new tyres fitted this morning and was amazed at the difference it made. Before, the steering had been quite heavy but I put that down the the car's lack of power steering. With the new tyres, the steering is much lighter. The tread is so deep it feels like you could lost a finger if you poked too deep.

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Automatic for the People

Story location: Home / Blog / coventry /

I was driving a hire car today. I don't know whether the University regularly hires automatic cars but that's what I got. It's only the 2nd time I've driven one - I'm more used to a normal manual gearbox. It feels weird driving a car without a handbrake or a clutch, and the sluggishness from a standing start is a bit annoying (although the last point may have been because it was also a diesel).

When I got back this afternoon and returned the car, I got back into my own car to drive home. It then started to feel weird needing to press the clutch. The steering also felt strange - the hire car had very light steering whereas my car doesn't have power assisted steering so it felt very heavy.

While I was out, I heard about an unexploded 2nd World War bomb found in the city centre. Later this afternoon I read about the ring road being closed in an anticlockwise direction, but it was open and moving freely when I drove home. It looks like I got home just in time.

Top Gear

Story location: Home / Blog / tv /

Thanks to the BBC iPlayer, I finally managed to watch the episode of Top Gear where they 'celebrate' 40 years of British Leyland cars. Unfortunately the episode I originally downloaded failed to work - the licence had 'expired' despite having 5 days left - so I had to watch the version with the sign language person 'flapping' in the corner of the screen.

In the episode, the presenters had to go out and buy an old BL car each, and then perform various tasks. They drove to the sites of some of the old factories, but most of them had since been demolished. The only one still in use is now owned by BMW. Others had been demolished and (like Longbridge) were derelict land or had been turned into hotels or offices.

At the site of the old factory in Coventry they commented on how it had turned into a hotel. They complained that there was nothing to commemorate the site of the factory, apart from a few road names (Herald Avenue, Dolomite Avenue). They must have missed the metal plinth which gave some of the history of the site.

Plinth at site of old car factory in Canley
Plinth at site of old car factory in Canley
The Canley factory has gone the same way as most of the motor manufacturing in Coventry. A lot of the sites have been converted into flats, offices or shops. The Canley site has an industrial estate, a hotel and a Sainsburys. The Peugeot site at Stoke is now flats and offices. The only cars made within Coventry are the Black Cabs, made by London Taxi International, at the factory on Holyhead Road. This factory (tucked behind the BMW/Mini dealership) is opposite yet another shopping centre built on the site of an old car factory - the Alvis Retail Park.

Anyway, back to Top Gear. They took their old cars to a test track and had to drive along a bumpy cobbled road, with a colander of eggs taped over their heads. They scored depending on how how much egg was still in the colander, and lost 'points' for any trim which fell off. The biggest bit of 'trim' lost was the back door from Clarkson's Rover SD1.

Another of the tests was to drive up a 1 in 3 stretch of road, apply the handbrake, and see if the car would stay there. Now 1 in 3 is very steep - lesser gradients make it feel like the car is tipping over backwards. The Rover had great difficulty even getting up the slope. The wheels lost traction and the wheelspin hid the car in huge clouds of smoke.

Back when I lived in Aberystwyth, there was a 1 in 4 road between Waen Fawr and Llanbadarn. At the bottom of the hill there was a T junction and I had to approach it very slowly because it always felt like the car wasn't going to stop. Heading the other way, up the hill, unless I managed to get a good run up I had to take the hill in 1st gear. At the time I only had a Rover Metro with a 1.1 litre engine so it struggled when presented with challenges like that.

We got rid of the Metro a few years ago, but we noticed the address in the back of the handbook was given as 'Canley Road' - the site now occupied by the hotel/industrial estate/Sainsburys. I did a search for the postcode on Google maps but it doesn't exist any more.

Getting back to Top Gear, the tests became more surreal. They filled the cars with water and drove around the track to see which would go the furthest. The surprising winner was an Austin Princess driven by Captain Slow.

Top Gear is at its best when they have the silly games and challenges. Most of the car reviews get very tedious. They tend to be either overexpensive cars being driven fast around the track while being compared with other overexpensive cars, or small/affordable/economical cars being accused of being dull and boring. I can't be the only viewer who gets tired of hearing about the latest supercar with zero relevance to everyday life. It's like a car version of the pathetic Celebrity type of magazine.

Despite these problems, the banter between the presenters is good. The 3-way reviews, where they all go out with similar cars and compare them, tend to be more interesting than the one-off reviews with individual cars. Hopefully they'll continue to do more of the motoring challenges - the one where they had to drive old cars across Africa was one of the better episodes of the series.


Story location: Home / Blog /

My new car insurance starts today, with Emma down as an additional driver so she can get more practice, ready for her driving test in december. She was really excited but I must admit to being a bit nervous at first. My old heap of a car isn't as easy to handle as more modern cars with their power assisted steering, automatic chokes and responsive brakes.

We didn't go anywhere exciting, just to Tesco and back, although we did get stuck on the A45 for a while because the traffic was held up by an accident near the Broad Lane junction.