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Ugh! It's French for on your bike

I'm wondering what age you need to be to turn up at day-to-day activities and it's cool to be wearing ugg boots. Meetings, a lunch date, operating a forklift, sitting at an airport awaiting another delayed flight, or heading into a meeting room with impatient people in suits, bent over their electronic gadgets, iphones, ipads, blackberrys, with Bluetooth earpieces.

Clearly, I just got a pair of ugg boots as a birthday gift from a loving wife, which basically gives me the green light to wear them anywhere. And I'm impressed. Where have they been all my life? I'm sure it's just a life-stage thing. Ten years ago, I was hanging around in athletic all-terrain sandals wondering what to do with my spare time, since Twitter, Facebook and doodle bowling hadn't been invented. I would have thought ugg boots weird.

Leg of lamb, ready for some French treatment.
Leg of lamb, ready for some French treatment. 

And yes, I am going to dwell on the age thing again, because, well, I can. As the magic 50 - there, I said it - approaches, you get the excuse to do anything you want, and you start thinking about all the things you should have done earlier: skydiving, inventing Instagram, competing in at least one Tour de France, travelling more. I noted on my iPhone through a Facebook feed - see I'm all over this electronic-social media speak - an app that passes on to all your supposed friends how many countries you have visited. I look with an unreasonable pang at my meager 21 countries, including my first trip, a 1985 stopover in India where I had to identify my brand new backpack on the steamy tarmac while a soldier guarded me with a submachine gun.

So to put one of these bucketlist activities to bed, I've ordered a new exercise bike. The young guy at the sports shop kept a straight face and some personal space between us when he looked down at my warm and comfy en-sheeped feet. This isn't just any exercise bike. It's the Proform Gen-2 Tour de France exercise bike. So cool. You can follow the peloton, as the entire course is programmed into the onboard computer, complete with wind drag coefficients so you get to displace the same amount of air that the real cyclists are displacing. Only you are in your living room with some worried kids in this elaborate way of parting with $2k, resplendent in a Rabobank spandex one-piecer and streamlined Giro timetrial racing helmet. Just as long as I don't do the peeing thing the way the real riders do with such brazen abandon.

Ugg boots (from the ABC documentary The Good, the Bad and the Ugg Boot): birthday presents when you reach that certain age.
Ugg boots (from the ABC documentary The Good, the Bad and the Ugg Boot): birthday presents when you reach that certain age. 

As far as crazy, mid-life activities go, my family has witnessed worse. Like now, just watching me try to stick a needle into my two black pigs. I rocked up to the Yass vet - which has just extended its buildings on the revenue raised from me owning two pigs and a spoodle - and asked for pig-worming tablets, s'il vous plait - you know I'm riding in the Tour de France this year? With a smirk and furtive glance at my uggies, the vet disappeared and came back with two syringes. No, she says, pigs need to be injected, and into their leathery muscle, and good luck with that, Lance.

Hang on. I'm just getting a Bluetooth message in my left ear. OK, I'm meant to be talking about food. And maybe even a recipe. Did I just say this out loud? So I guess we are vaguely on the topic of lamb with a French twist. It is a tad early for the normal French-themed Le Tour rollout of Gabriel Gate-like recipes, so I'll be ahead of the pack with a little over a month to get in shape for the 99th running of the great race.

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NAVARIN OF LAMB

2kg boneless lamb (or hogget) shoulder, in one piece

salt and pepper

olive oil

4 cloves garlic, chopped

1 tbsp plain flour

1 lt chicken stock

1 tin peeled tomatoes, chopped

2 tbsp chopped rosemary leaves

1 bay leaf

10 small pickling onions

butter

10 baby potatoes, peeled

10 baby turnips, washed and scrubbed

2 bunches baby carrots, washed and scrubbed

1-2 bunches of greens: kale, spinach, silverbeet, cleaned and sliced

Rub the lamb with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a casserole dish and brown the lamb on both sides. Remove the meat, and slice into thick, juicy pieces.

Drain off the fat except a tablespoon or so. Saute the garlic in the remaining oil. Add the flour and cook until it colours a little.

Add the stock, stir well to make a loose veloute. Add the tomatoes and herbs and reintroduce the lamb along with the onions.

Cover with pleated greaseproof paper and cook in an oven set at 130C for about one and a half hours.

Meanwhile, bring a pot of water to the boil, blitz in with one of those hand blenders a big chunk of butter. Cook the turnips, potatoes and carrots in this separately just for a minute or two each.

Cook the greens briefly in butter in a big pan just to tame them.

In the last 20 minutes of braising of the lamb, add the blanched vegies. Cover again and finish.

Serve simply with good bread to mop up the juices.

Bryan Martin is a winemaker at Ravensworth and Clonakilla, www.bryanmartin.com.au

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