Friday, January 20, 2012

Read the signs

In 2009/10 there was a brief outcry in the UK about the amount of unnecessary road signs on British roads.  The consumer group called Civic Choice submitted information that there were tens of thousands of excess road signs and that too many signs were confusing and distracting.  

The AA results of a survey can be found here and the Campaign for Plain English also supported some of the findings.

I think this problem has ‘gone global’, well at least ‘gone European’ OK maybe just ‘gone Portuguese’.  There is certainly a road sign disease spreading on the IC8, one of the major highways in Central Portugal.  This disease seems to have reached its peak in the area between the turn off for the IC3 and Castanheira de Pera.  The disease is spreading, the spores of signs scattering along the roadside and new signs growing all the time.
In this short distance, it takes just 10 mins to drive, it has been reported to me that there are a whopping 400 plus signs.  I tried to count them recently, I gave up at 234, it got too confusing...had I counted that one before, does it count if it is not on the road but visible from the road etc etc... 

Needless to say, there are plenty of signs, all telling the driver to slow down, turn right, put lights on, turn lights off, I could go on, but this short (and possibly the most boring bit of film ever) video will show you just one small section (sorry, camera on it's side when I took this, but you get the idea).

So, are the signs useful or does someone high up in local government own a sign making business on the side?  Disclaimer - this is a joke by the way, I certainly am not suggesting that this is the case and no one should assume that this is the case. In my opinion, there are just too many signs, each unnecessary one disfigures the landscape just a little bit more, but I do hate to get all preachy about this! 

But, with Portugal having one of the worst road accident death rates in Europe - twice as many people are killed in their cars in Portugal than in Italy, per head of population, and four times as many as in the UK – maybe these signs perform a useful function, maybe Portuguese drivers need the extra help, the added stimulation to keep your mind focused?  Maybe looking at the pretty signs all shinny and bright help to punctuate a drive across country with lively way-points and stimulate the mind into thinking ‘I must slow down, I must turn left’ just maybe we'd be lost without them?

In the end I’m just not sure, but 400 plus signs on a section of road that takes less than 10 mins to drive is surely just a little over the top?

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Oranges and lemons

It’s orange and lemon season here in Portugal, so here is a recipe to try out.

If you are using oranges just replace them where I have put lemons.

For the cake
Zest of 3 lemons (from your local tree or supermarket, whichever is closer)
Squeeze of lemon juice
Splash of vanilla extract
6 ounces butter at room temperature (sorry when baking I work in ounces)
6 ounces of light brown sugar
3 medium eggs (from your local hens or supermarket, whichever is closer)
6 ounces self raising flour
For the syrup glaze
Juice of 3 lemons
4 ounces of white sugar

Line a loaf tin.
Put on oven at 180 degrees.

Check out the size of this lemon
Cream together (in a food mixer) the butter and sugar, add a squeeze of lemon juice and the vanilla extract.  Finely grate in the zest of 2 or 3 lemons (more zest more zing to the cake, but I wouldn’t use more than 2 orange zests). 

Add the eggs one at time and mix together.

Add flour and mix (don’t over mix, just do it until it looks like all the flour has mixed in)
Pour into your loaf tin and put in the oven for 25 to 30 mins (check after 25 mins, insert skewer into the cake, if it comes out clean it’s ready, if not then try again in 5 mins).  Don’t open the oven in the first 15 mins of cooking or your cake will sink.

Be careful if you taste it, it'll be hot
Meanwhile, make your syrup glaze,  juice your lemons and put in a saucepan with the sugar.  Heat gently until the sugar has disappeared and the mixture is slightly thicker – so it coats a spoon – bring it to a boil and watch it that it does not boil over.

 Once the cake is cooked bring it out of the over and stick a skewer in it lots of times.   

 Bring over your syrup glaze and pour slowly over the cake, it is amazing how much the cake will ‘drink’.  If  the cake cannot ‘drink’ anymore, leave for a couple of mins for the syrup glaze to soak in and then go back and pour some more over (any left over syrup would be lovely in a vodka and tonic).

Leave the cake in the tin for 20 mins then lift out using the paper to hold it together onto a wire rack.  The cake should have a lovely sheen to the top and be very moist inside.  Serve warm with a cup of tea or posh it up a bit for a pudding with some crème fresh and lemon zest.