It's almost November, which means that for the third (??) year in a row I will be participating in National Blog Posting Month (NaBloPoMo) - which is probably a good thing as my creative juices could use a bit of waking up!
Topic suggestions or questions you want answered most welcome. I'm clever, but I don't think I'm thirty days worth of clever!
Tuesday, October 25, 2011
It's almost November, which means that for the third (??) year in a row I will be participating in National Blog Posting Month (NaBloPoMo) - which is probably a good thing as my creative juices could use a bit of waking up!
Sunday, October 23, 2011
Things I have in common with Jesus:
1. I'm Jewish.
2. I was born on December 25th.
3. I've been to Israel.
4. I quite like wearing Birkenstocks, even in cold weather.
5. I don't get my hair cut quite as often as I should.
6. I've got a mate named Mary who is a mother.
7. I've slept in a barn. On hay.
8. I know at least 3 wise men.
9. I don't mind a bit of sugar and spice and frankinsense and myrrh.
10. I enjoy wearing clothes which do not require ironing.
I've always wanted to celebrate Christmas. I love all those beautiful decorations, and the whole 'matchy matchy every year a new colour scheme' thing, and the handmade decorations kids make out of macaroni and string, and the carolling, and all the other commercialised shiny crap which comes along with modern Christmas. In short, many times in my life I really, really wanted to be able to buy trees and tinsel and baubles. Hell, I even love the WORD 'baubles.' I love how it kind of rolls off the tongue like that: bbbaawwwwbbbuuuhhlllssss. I love ALL the cheesy fibre optic, moving, singing, bell ringing, hip swaying, tinny-voiced decorations. If I was a Christmas celebrator, oh hell yes I'd have the fake snow. Even in Australia, where Christmas is a summer holiday. I would have CANS AND CANS AND CANS of that fake snow crap.
And can you imagine me with the lights?? I'd totally have one of those houses people drive by to see and need to wear sunglasses in order to not be blinded.
This week, I got my chance. The shop needs a Christmas display (one small table's worth), and I need to go and get a bunch of gorgeously Christmasssy stuff to put on the display. I wandered into ONE store today, just to gather some info on what the options were and what I might need to spend and what colour scheme I might like to go with.
OH. HOLY. NIGHT.
There is literally TONS of stuff out there for the taking. TONS. And I love it all and I want it all and the business can actually afford it...(not) all, but most of it.
The 2 metre fibre optic reindeer whose head moves from side to side.
The Santa figurine who sways his hips and rings his bell. He comes in 3 sizes!
The colour changing light box thingie which shows different Xmas themed images.
The bells. OHHHHHH the bells.
Did I mention the baubles? There are a LOT of baubles out there. Lots.
Tiny baubles the size of marbles.
Basketball sized baubles (seriously. Who knew??)
Stockings. Even stockings for DOGS.
A really really big inflatable snow globe which actually blows fake snow around.
(that's the one I liked the best. It blows snow around. FOR REAL.)
I'm pretty certain that when Biz Guy and I went through all the financials and budgets and projections and cash flows, there was no line item for "giant inflatable snow globe." (But I might double check that, just to be sure.)
Of course he *tried* to be all Biz Guy about it and ask me what the ROI was for all this crapola I wanted to buy, but I kindly ignored him. This is one of those rare times when Biz Guy can take his logical, practical advice and shove it right where Santa does not dare to go. I was fully prepared to blow a sleigh load of money in that store today and feel not one skerrick of either Jewish or Catholic guilt about it.
BAUBLES. There were *thousands* of baubles.
I walked out of there with a bottle of water and a small bag of chocolate covered banana lollies...and not even one string of tinsel.
Not even the cute little Santa figurine which bobbed back and forth if you pushed it over with your finger.
Not even the itty bitty cutest baubles in the entire WORLD which were stripey. In different coloured stripes.
Not even the - SO DAMN CUTE I WILL DIE RIGHT NOW IF I DO NOT BUY IT - sparkly little table top Christmas tree which changed colours and SANG SONGS and other cool stuff.
I know, right? I wait 35 years to be let loose in the Christmas aisle...and I totally choke. Not sure what happened there, but at a guess I just got totally overwhelmed by sparkly glittery awesomeness, and my brain could not handle the adorable overload.
The Christmas display needs to be done this week. I've got 3 days to get this stuff sorted out.
Maybe I need to go the Jesus route and find me some disciples to help out.
I love being a mother, wife, friend, sister, business owner etc etc etc etc - but as much as I love being all of those things, I also love just plain BEING ALONE. My world is a noisy one. My kids talk to me endlessly, my husband talks to me (although I of course complain he does not talk enough to me, but there's another post altogether), and my gorgeous friends call or text me often. My clients call a lot (thank god. I have school fees to pay), my email beeps on my phone endlessly (thank god. I have a mortgage to pay) and in general my world is nearly never a quiet one. Even when there is no other living soul around (either virtually or physically), my brain is often going at a million miles an hour and that means that quiet - blessed, calm, sweet silence - is something I rarely ever get.
I do not know the experience of quiet contemplation, navel gazing, meditation, daydreaming, chilling out or doing nothing at all. The few times I've tried it, I've lasted all of 3.4 seconds before I get bored or my mind wanders to the shopping list or the dinner menu. My version of "quiet time" is the 20 minutes I allow myself most mornings to eat breakfast, read the paper (or check email), or read a book between the kids/gym/crazy morning routine and the time I head out the door to work in the morning. 20 minutes. That's it. I don't get it most days - but I get it a couple of times a week and that's enough for me. I used to consider my gym time as quiet time, but now there are all these annoying ladies who know me and want to TALK to me while I am there, and I have yet to master the "shut the fuck up, would you?" look in my eye as I lift the hand weights.
Various things have conspired in my life in recent weeks so that my beloved quiet time (well, the emzee version of quiet) is disrupted - and I didn't realise quite how much this is annoying me until this afternoon. Through some clever planning on my part, this afternoon I had about 25 minutes on my own in a shopping mall, and then went to see a girly movie all by myself (kids and DH were at boy/kid movies). Rather than enjoy it, I spent most of the time feeling as crumpled as an origami crane. I struggled to really just enjoy myself. Ridiculous, right? I finally get some peace and quiet, and I didn't enjoy it much at all. I'm not entirely sure why that is - after craving my alone time, I finally get it, so I should be happy, right?
The funny thing is, I was always one of those people who believed you could rest - and be alone - when you're dead. So now, while you are still taking breath, is when you should be hanging out with people and doing stuff and being busy. I think I still feel that way, but in recent weeks I've suddenly understood the value and joy in just being alone.I have no desire to go back to being single and childfree and anti-social. I love my life and consider myself extremely blessed to have all the noise I have...it's just that sometimes, I'd just like to be left alone.
And this, my friends, is currently my biggest guilty pleasure - that for a small block of time, a couple of times a week, I answer to NOBODY. That 20 minutes feels ridiculously decadent. I sometimes feel guilty about it, or selfish about it, or somehow even a bit wicked for coveting it as much as I do....but I'm just going to keep on trying to fit it in.
What's your guilty pleasure?
Monday, October 17, 2011
This is a story about a pastry chef on a mission. I'm sure there is a lesson here somewhere if you look hard enough.
Some months ago I had a sudden inexplicable urge for torrone - which is Italian nougat made (usually) with some very simple ingredients: honey, glucose, egg whites, and nuts of some kind (often almonds or pistachios.) I've got no idea WHY I wanted some, but I did. I do adore meringue (and that's pretty much all it is), so it's possible I was after a non-meringuey yet meringue-ish fix.
Torrone is temperamental as hell to make, but I decided to give it a go anyway - because I'm just painful and determined like that. It definitely falls into the category of things to which my sister would say, "I don't get it. You can walk into a store and BUY some perfectly good ones. Why on earth would you MAKE it yourself?" She has at various times said this to me about bread, jam, conserves, pickles, biscuits, cordials and all sorts of other stuff readily available in shops. It never stops me though - because I adore the challenge of it.
Without further ado, emzee makes Torrone in 5 Acts:
Attempt #1 - Pistachio - I was lacking almost everything one needs (sugar thermometer, rice paper, the patience of a saint) but gave it a go anyway with a dodgy recipe from a dodgy cookbook. Result: Tastes fab, but was so sticky it removed most dentures and you needed a tiny little crow bar to get it off the plate. But you know, you really *wanted* that crow bar because it tasted amazing.
Attempt #2 - Almond - Still no rice paper, no thermometer, but a brilliant fool proof recipe from my friend The Sicilian, who is basically the grand poo-bah of torrone making. It's practically what she uses as mortar for her house. She also said a thermometer was a useless item for this exercise. Result: Tasted good, but never set so it was a runny sticky mass which was impossible to remove from the tin at all unless you froze it. So we did - freeze it I mean - then chopped it into small pieces and mixed it into vanilla ice cream. OMG. YUM. But sadly not exactly what I wanted.
Attempt #3 - Almond - Back to recipe #1 but this time with almonds and doubling the recipe and WITH said sugar thermometer. Result: Disaster and a half. So hard it would break the dentures you replaced from the last effort. Pretty sure I'm still picking it out of my back molars.
Attempt #4 - Pistachio and Cranberry - Downloaded a recipe from the internet with a bunch of good reviews and even a video on how to do it. Epic fail. Pretty sure this one just landed in the bin altogether - after lots of judicious tasting though. (Can't let ten bucks of ingredients go to waste, can we?!)
....and then I gave up for a while, but not before buying two giant packets of rice paper and shoving them down the back of the pantry. "Meh," I figured, "I'll do it eventually." This exercise was getting *very* expensive - what with all the nuts and glucose and whatnot. That was about 8 weeks ago. Last week I was in a doctor's waiting room, reading a copy of Gourmet Traveller. I flicked to a page which had a recipe for Pistachio nougat...and I thought, "Hey, this recipe kinda looks familiar!" I flicked to the front of the magazine and realised it was over 10 years old (it's a doctor's office, what do you expect?). I also realised I HAD this recipe in my giant binder of "someday I will make all of these" recipes which I've copied, begged, borrowed, stolen and written onto the backs of envelopes.
With renewed interest in torrone making, I went back to it - using my photocopied recipe, with the sugar thermometer AND the rice paper. I attempted a vanilla and almond version (yes, I know, not what the recipe called for, but it's all I had on hand.
It was perfect. Absolutely, gloriously, deliciously, delectably, amazingly PERFECT.
Tasted brilliant, texture was brilliant, and it was just DIVINE. I am fairly certain the heavens opened up and the angels sang as I took my first bite of it.
The only minor complication was that I failed to grease the sides of the torrone tin, so it did require some blood, sweat and tears to get the slab out of the tin around the edges...but once I did, it was SO worth it. Seriously, ridiculously awesomely awesome torrone.
Problem? Now that I've achieved it, I'm bereft without a decent culinary challenge. I've made my own sourdough (and lots of other breads, including one which had a 3 WEEK long starter), various jams/chutneys/preserved/pickled goods, nut mixes and muesli and granolas, hell, I've even made fortune cookies from scratch. In short, I love making all the kinds of things one can buy at a shop but it's way more fun to do at home.
Suggestions for something new to drive me crazy are most welcome - and if you'd like some torrone...well, sorry. Ate it. ALL.
Sunday, October 16, 2011
Balebuste (Bah-leh-boos-teh) - Yiddish word which loosely translated means "hostess with the mostess."
DH and I are the kind of people who quite enjoy hosting family and friends over for various affairs of the 'eat drink and be merry' variety. Sometimes it's a regular gig, where it's just a friend coming over to watch a regular TV show with us and enjoy a family meal. Sometimes it's a more formal but regular gig, like a Friday night meal of several courses and with several family members, and sometimes it's a "all in for a BBQ" sort of thing. In any case we entertain fairly often and I really like it. I've noticed, though, that other people are not like this...and it amuses me no end when we go to someone's house and they seem to be totally lacking the Balebuste gene. I know they mean well, but...really...when they're serving a Hawaiian themed meal and you're anaphylactic to pineapple, there is no hiding who among us has the Balebuste gene and who does not. While I would not say that I am the world's best hostess, I like to think I've worked out some of the 'rules' involved in having people over.
Mind you, the rules are flexible based on who the guest is and what sort of meal it is, but generally speaking, if you're going to be a Balebuste, you really should not:
1) Yell at your kid in front of guests, unless said kid has burned the house down, or just walked away with a fistful of matches, some lighter fluid and an evil glint in their eye. Really, yelling at your kid is embarassing for them, embarassing for the guest, and surely something which can wait until later. Really. It is.
2) Tell your guests off for not using the right cutlery at the right time and then refusing to get them the correct piece, which means they then need to eat their mousse with a knife as a result. Ummm..yeah. You're meant to go get me another spoon even if it means YOU are left eating your mousse with a ginsu knife.
3) Wait to serve your guests still the end. Serve your guests first no matter how whingy your kid is. If you serve the guest last and there is not enough to go around...it's just awkward. You as hostess are kinda required to have the small mangy bits left at the end. Suffer. It's what a Balebuste does.
4) And speaking of - there needs to be more than one potato per person. Especially if they are small ones and even if they are not.
5) Find out ahead of time that your guest is deathly allergic to or really really hates (insert ingredient here) and then DO NOT put (ingredient) anywhere in anything you serve that night. I do not give a shit if your signature dish is pineapple flambe. Learn to flambe some other fruit. Or whatever.
6) Do not at any time say, "Right, well, you've eaten me out of house and home, now, time to go!" and shoo your guests out the door within 5 seconds of their last bite passing their lips. Being a decent hostess does actually involve more than feeding people (although that's the main bit.)
7) Leave the toilet bereft of paper or soap. Just...gross. Toilet paper and soap need to be bountiful. Always.
8) Actually *be prepared* that you've got guests coming over. This means the table is set, the food is cooking or on it's way to be cooked, you've got clean dishes organised, you are not in your pyjamas eating a take away. It will save you opening the door and trying to look like you did not forget people were coming (hint: the pj's and noodles were a dead giveaway.)
9) Fail to eat at the table. Oh, I hate this one. I don't understand hosting people and then spending the entire night in the kitchen or doing dishes. You actually need to BE THERE to be a host. You've got to keep the conversation going (not abandon everyone to their own devices), keep the drinks flowing, make sure everyone is well looked after, and the dog is not throwing up in the corner. You can't do ANY of that if you're hiding out in the kitchen. See #8, and get your shit together so you can eat with your guests.
10) Never, ever let them see you sweat. Key to this whole Balebuste thing is making it all look effortless. Eighteen course meal? EASY! Tidy house? No worries. Groomed kids? Naturally. That your bedroom closet is groaning with the crap you flung in there 10 minutes before they arrived, and that the outside trash is brimming with take away containers which held the dinner you will claim is home made? Not their damn business, that's what.
...and if you're a guest rather than the host, here are your rules:
1) Regardless of what you've been fed or not fed, how wierd their kid is, that the dog did not stop humping your leg under the table, that the cutlery had encrusted god-knows-what on it, that the meat was one step short of being suitable for shoe leather, that you were afraid to sit down anywhere because the place was so dirty....just smile and be complimentary. Learn to lie. Skillfully. It's your job as guest to pretend like everything is fine and Armageddon (eg their little angel darling) did not creep you out when her head began to spin on it's axis a la Poltergeist. Repeat after me, "It was really lovely, thank you SO much!" and then RUN LIKE HELL back to your car and pray nobody follows you.
2) Offer to help, and DO help if they take you up on it. Nobody likes a lazy guest.
3) On the way home swing my McD's and grab something decent to eat, make a mental note to offer to GO OUT next time these people invite you.
(edited to add)
4) Do not show up empty handed, it's not really that hard to buy a box of chocolate or some flowers on the way there. Showing up with nothing as a token of your thanks is just plain rude.
...and of course by writing this post, I'm fully opening myself up to the possibility of nobody wanting to come over ever again (because they know I'm hiding shit in my closet) or never inviting us over again (because I'm going to count those damn potatoes.) C'est la vie. There's always McDonald's.
** FYI none of these things have happened in recent months, so if you're reading this and thinking, "Oh shit, I'm guilt of most of that!" when we were over your place last, rest assured you were *not* the impetus for this post.
Thursday, October 6, 2011
Several months back, DS and DH and I embarked on the Couch to 5K Running Program. I've done this before but wanted to tackle it again, so I recruited my son and husband to suffer right along with me. I was actually quite surprised at their enthusiasm to join me - for either of them, athletic pursuits are not exactly high on the priority list. So we got all enthusiastic, set a start date, invested in a stop watch, bought new runners, and christened ourselves "Team Shufflin'" (as in the shufflin' in the song Party Rock Anthem). We were determined to set the running world on fire.
Most amazing of all was my son's transformation over this time period - in the first few weeks he whinged about it, grumbled about it, and made as much of a half-assed effort as one can make. He would quite literally drag his heels along the pavement, in what was meant to be running but was a bit closer to galumphing. I'll admit it, I caved in and told him he could quit if he wanted to - no guilt, no giving him a hard time, he could just throw in the towel and I wouldn't be fussed.
If I'm honest, it was ME who wanted to throw in the towel. Firstly because I did not morph into a natural runner between the last time I did this program and now (can't seem to fall into that rhythm that real runners talk about) and secondly because Melbourne at 6am is dark and really damn cold. God love this kid, though, he refused to give in. Never mind that he hated it, that he would literally cry almost every morning before leaving the house, that it made him tired for the rest of the day, and that he would rather be anywhere in the world other than in that cold carpark. He just doggedly went about it, and eventually the tears stopped and he'd be the one bouncing down the stairs in the morning.
Then DH started to limp a bit, and then his run (faster than either me or our son) slowed a bit, and then he'd cringe with every step...and then it was all over. He'd done something or other to his foot, and the GP and podiatrist told him his running career was effectively over.
I wasn't too sad. I was cold. It was dark. I hated every second of it. Running ceased being fun about 5 seconds after the first session of it was over. While I wish my darling husband no pain, frankly, I was kinda glad he was down for the count.
My son, however, was not willing to give up on this for even one second. "It's okay, Mum," he said, "You and I can just keep shufflin'." He decided that it was unfair to leave Dad in the dust, so we'd stop the C25K but keep on walking together, and then when DH was capable again, we'd take up the running again. Oh. Damn. Really?
I wasn't sure if I should laugh or cry - laugh because my boy was showing all the qualities I'd like him to have, and cry because I'd much rather have slept in those cold, dark mornings. He was very insistent, my boy. Very. As in he would set his alarm early enough to bound down the steps, wake my lazy ass up, and then go lace up his shoes, clip the lead on the dog, and wait for me to be ready.
It's been several months now that my son and I have a standing date for 'shufflin' twice a week - sometimes 3 times if my work schedule allows. The night before we go, when I tuck him in he always says in a sing song voice, "Mum - Tomorrow we are shufflin'..." and smiles about it. The seasons are changing, and it's not nearly as cold and dark in the mornings as it used to be - and both of us are quite enjoying the time alone together (but I'm no better at enjoying the morning wake up time.)
I've got no idea how long this little quiet routine of ours will go on - and I have no expectations of it going on forever, but for now, it's really a nice thing we've got going. Some mornings he talks ten to the dozen (gee, I wonder who he gets that from?) and some mornings neither of us say much at all. Some mornings we really set a cracking pace, other mornings we just sort of slowly meander along. This morning I asked him why he is so keen to go shufflin' with me...and in true boy style he looked at me as though that was quite possibly the stupidest question on earth. He shrugged and said, "Well, I guess just because I like shufflin'. And I like being with my Mum."
So I guess tomorrow we'll go shufflin'....
Sunday, October 2, 2011
Two of my three kids are involved in the Scouting movement - and this makes for some very entertaining moments. Now I don't know about you, but as long as I've known it existed, Scouts has had one of those "love to hate it, hate to need it," reputations. Scouts are the kids we all think of as being the big ol' nerdy burgers wearing ridiculous outfits who we poke fun at...but then we get lost in the woods with no mobile phone and it's damn certain it's going to be those nerdy Scouts who will save your ass from certain death. And it's going to be their little kerchief thing which makes the tourniquet which keeps you from getting blood poisoning from the bear bite which you got because you ignored the Scout's advice to not eat a drippy meaty Big Mac right on top of a bear house.
So we love to hate them, but god help us if we are in the woods without one at our side. Me, I let my kids join up purely because I knew at some point in my life I would need to build a fire using only a hat and a scrap of paper.
Two of my kids are Scouts - or more accurately, I've got one Cub and one Brownie at my house. Recently I decided to get more involved in the kids' lives, so I joined the parent committee of the Boy Scouts. Oh, Lord. There was an entire *discussion* about this whole "Scouts are nerds" thing, because apparently most of these parents (themselves ex-Scouts) had NO idea that this reputation was around. Those who did know about it thought that they had somehow 'outgrown' this reputation - and it took the females of the group to remind them that, no, sorry boys, but you've always been nerds and probably always will be. There was an entire discussion about recruiting more kids to Scouts, and how some of the (very active) current Scouts themselves don't want to recruit because it makes them seem UNCOOL to their friends (but secretly they're loving that whole knot tying thing.)
There were parents who were somehow surprised by this. Oh you poor, poor delusional souls.
Today, we dropped off my DD1 at Girl Guide camp - an experience which she loves, adores, begs to go to and will not stop talking about for weeks before and weeks after said camp. The girls who are running the camp are themselves Rovers - older Girl Guides - and never have you met a nicer, sweeter group of young ladies. Sorry to say, though - every last one of them is a complete and utter nerd, of the extreme variety. Moustaches, poor skin and all (oh how I only wish I was kidding about that moustache thing...) I jokingly said to DH on the way out, "What? Do you HAVE to be a member of the nerd squad to be a Guide, or what?" to which he just laughed self consciously (he would. He's an ex-Scout himself.)
Don't get me wrong, here - I'm not deriding either these organisations OR these amazing kids. I wouldn't let either of my kids have joined if I did not think they would enjoy it, learn a lot of life skills, and basically have the time of their lives. And as a self-confessed card-carrying nerd myself, I totally think it's AWESOME that there is an entire WORLD ORGANISATION dedicated to the world of nerding. It's freakin' AWESOME. I truly think that it's not the meek who shall inherit the earth, it's the nerds.
I think an ad agency needs to take on the mantle of improving the reputation of Scouting across the globe - but in such a way as to keep the cool kids out. Because once Scouting becomes cool, it's going to lose it's inherent fabulous nature. Scouts relies on being filled entirely with nerds because who on Earth is going to save the world when the cool kids fuck it up totally?
I'm seeing a tag line something like this:
"Cool Kids. They're what's for dinner."
(When there are no Scouts around to stop the bears.)