Tag Archives: cycling

A bike ride, “gluten-free” cake, X-Men and orchids. Lots of orchids

Bank of orchids near Lewes

One of the things that bugs me about the whole anti-gluten issue is that bakeries are induced to label products as “gluten free” even if they’re traditional types of cake or biscuit that have always been made without wheat flour. It’s not like these things have just been invented to cash in on a food fad / epidemic of wheat-related health issues. Think things like the classic sachertorte, its south Italian cousin torta caprese, various Sicilian almond paste delights. Never mind other things made up by celeb chefs more recently, like this lovely citrus polenta cake that’s based on a Nigel Slater recipe.

I adore cakes based on ground nuts or featuring alternatives to wheat flour, like polenta, which is maize, Zea mays, or what Americans call corn (when I was growing up we still used the word corn in the old English sense as a generic term for cereal grain). Maize, being a cereal plant and a member of the Poaceae (grass) family does contain proteins related to those that people have issues with in wheat, which specifically contains gliadin, one of the proteins that forms “gluten”. I also enjoy things made with other non-cereal flours like potato and buckwheat, which isn’t a Poaceae cereal or grain, it’s the seed of a member of the rhubarb, sorrel family and Japanese knotweed family, Polygonaceae. They can create all sorts of interesting textures and moistness. But sometimes you just need wheat.

More orchids

So anyway, today I took a quick jaunt on my bike from home in Lewes up to Uckfield, about nine miles away. Not exatly being overburdened with employment at the moment, I don’t have any excuses to not keep relatively fit. I was also toying with the idea of catching a matinee of X-Men Days of Future Past. As a former film critic, sometime comics journalist and increasingly reluctant comics collector (that stuff is just so heavy!), I was keen to see it, especially as the original comic storyline the film is loosely inspired by, first published in 1981 and created by Chris Claremont, John Byrne and Terry Austin, is an utter classic.

While in Uckfield, I checked out Hartfields Produce Store. It’s a cool little place with the right attitude – “a small independant produce store and cafe based in Uckfield. Our aim is to provide great, fresh food, locally sourced wherever possible and always full of flavour!” [Sic] As I love the aforementioned ground nut-based cakes I had to try their chocolate and almond torta, despite it carrying the now-essential sign declaring its gluten-free status.

I know this shouldn’t rile me, but I’m a baker, and wheat is the backbone of baking. I’m a firm believer that many people wouldn’t suffer their wheat-related issues if they ate properly fermented bread, and avoided any and all shit industrial wheat-based products, that are made in a rush without sufficient fermentation. I touched on the evils of the Chorleywood (so-called) Bread Process here, but also went into more detail about this subject here. So I won’t rehash here. Suffice to say, I don’t consider industrial wheat-based products fit for human consumption. And frankly, I wouldn’t feed white sliced “bread” to my pigs or chooks (if I had any).

Hartfields chocolate almond torta

Anyway, back to Hartfields. In total, my bike-ride apparently burned 697 calories – presumably kcals – according to Strava. I know nothing about the calories (ie kcals) in food, as I’ve always tried to have a sensible attitude to food and fitness, and not get hung up, but I’m guessing there were at least half the number of kcals I burned on the ride in the slice. But you know, that’s why I cycle and walk regularly – so I can enjoy cake. And this was great cake. Bravo Hartfields.

After the cake, I stopped by the cinema to discover it was a parents-and-babies matinee, so as I didn’t fancy earnest X-dialogue combined with potential squalling, and as it was a nice day, I headed home. Into a terrible headwind on the final five miles heading south down the Ouse river valley on the A26. But that’s fine – the whole stretch was utterly littered with orchids, with some patches of dozens, even hundreds. I’ll have to check with my brother, who’s the family expert on such things, but I believe they were common spotted orchids (Dactylorhiza fuchsii), in varying shades of pale pink through to a darker almost-purple, some of them up to half a metre tall. Wonderful.


Hartfields Produce Store, 71 High Street, Uckfield TN22 1AP

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Moto city

Found a little bike shop in Rome today, near the Campo de’ Fioro, selling various hipster bikes (fixies, old-fashioned town bikes etc) and Bromptons. I’m not convinced they can be doing a roaring trade though, as Rome is very much a city of roaring motor traffic.

The only places I’ve seen cyclists pootling about is in the older, more maze-like areas of Trastevere, round Campo de’ Fioro, in the Centro Storico, as well as people in lycra doing circuits of the magnificent Villa Doria Pamphilj, a park we’re lucky enough to live near. There are some fine looking, two-lane cycle tracks along the Tiber, but I’ve never seen a single cyclist using them. Not a one. Rome just isn’t a bike city.

If cycling in a city like London can be intimidating, cycling in Rome doesn’t bear thinking about. One persistent element of the city’s auditory landscape is the distinctive uh-eeh-uh-eeh-uh of ambulance sirens. I hear them all the time. Some of them may be hallucinations; I can’t tell. Stop and strain your ears at any moment, it seems, and you’ll hear those sirens. And every time I do, I wonder – splatted pedestrian? Cyclist? Motorino-rider? Or just plain old traffic accident?

New arrivals in Rome – like us – can be easily identified standing perturbed on the pavement, trying to work out how to cross the road. Even at things that resemble zebra crossings it can be a baffling, frightening proposition. In fact, even when you’re wandering the cobbled streets and alleys of the above-mentioned antico parts of town, you have to keep a weather ear out for motos, even vans squeezing between the buildings.

Time Out’s Shortlist Rome 2008 provides some statistics that feed that perturbation. It quotes a 2004 study that says Rome is the most dangerous EU capital, with 8.37 dead per 1000; second in the list is Copenhagen, with a mere 1.47 per 1000. It attributes this to the sheer number of vehicles: “around 950 per 1000 population, three times that of London.”

Ironically, this all means travelling on Rome’s (admittedly meagre, two-line) metro, for example, is fairly civilised compared to the London Tube or New York Subway. Natives just don’t seem to want to use the public transport.  In their defence, at least you don’t see as many people who absurdly choose to use the descendants of military/agricultural vehicles as town cars, like those odious denizens of Chelsea, for example, with their notorious SUV “tractors”. Rome is a city still largely dominated by scooters and sensibly proportioned vehicles like Smart cars and Cinquecenti. Though it’s amusing when you see a vintage Cinquecento parked beside its modern namesake, or likewise with Minis. Not so Mini now.

So, yes, as much as I miss cycling, I don’t think I’ll be riding the streets of Rome any time soon. Though I would very much like to score a mountain bike to hit the paths of Doria Pamphilij.

Update. Unprompted, my Italian teacher gave us this expression today:
“Roma è uno citta molto caotica.”

Quick addendum
Two years later, Sept 2013. I’ve been cycling in Rome about six months now and although I’m still nervous, I’m not dead. In fact, just packed my Brompton up to send it home and I’m missing it already.

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