I'm trying to keep my business, my triplets, and my waistline under control. I excel at one of those, fail at another one of those, and one is a work in progress. Which is which is day dependant.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Yes Ma'am

Before I launch into this post I feel I need to say that I have been hesitating over writing it. I've actually had this topic in the back of my mind for several months, and I've not written about it until now. My hesitation stems from the fact that I know it will potentially hurt and even offend one or more of my nearest and dearest. While I don't really want to do that, at the same time I feel a need to get this off my chest. Bear in mind The Disclaimer, and here goes.

Some months ago I wrote about someone giving me some advice about the business, and about how her advice was annoying me. Anyway she and I had a heart to heart about it, and she commented that I am the kind of person who seems to always need a "yes man" around me, and that unless I had people giving me positive platitudes, I wasn't happy with them. I have spent the last few months doing a bit of soul-searching about this. Do I really take criticism that badly? Do I really only want to hear good news? As someone who likes to think they are always aiming for improvement on personal and professional levels, this was hard to hear. At the same time it's something my MIL and I tend to butt heads about - she feels as though I often bite her head off, and I feel as though she won't let me just be happy about something.

In the intervening weeks I've been trying to look at my behaviour and that of those around me. One thing I noticed is that when DH (or I) tell his family about something good that happens (or might happen), the reaction is often the same. They question him, investigate his motivations behind decisions, and generally start a (well meaning) verbal assault on him. Several times I've listened to this and thought, "Geez! Would it KILL them to just say something nice for once?" Having observed this countless times, I now know that it's just their way. Their concern, their questioning, their playing the Devil's Advocate is their way of saying they love you, care about you and worry about you enough to make sure you're making the right decisions in life. I understand that, and I certainly cannot fault their motivation or their obvious love for DH (and me.)

I still find myself wishing they could just say something nice.

I've often watched DH go from being excited about sharing an announcement, to being rather down about it in the space of a minute or two. A little...deflated, if you will. In the interest of full disclosure, I will also say DH is somewhat famous for making some colossally bad decisions, so his family's desire to help/protect him may come from his history in poor choices. However I don't have that same history, and yet they react the same way when I have an announcement. These days, I hesitate many times over before sharing any news of any kind. I know they will be disappointed to read that - because they love me, and they want to hear my news. And yet...

I still find myself wishing they could just say something nice.

I've also listened to how MY family respond when I say something good. I've discovered that their reactions are completely different to DH's family. My Dad, generally, isn't all that supportive of me or my endeavours- but even HE will (eventually) ruffle my hair and said, "Good work, kid." My siblings and Mom are always offering ideas, suggestions and trying to make contacts for me - and it's normal for me to get a call or email from someone saying my sister sent them to me for a cake. Do they question my decisions? Sure they do. Do they sometimes suggest a different or better path? Absolutely. Their type of support, though, means that they will START with a positive, and THEN ask questions. So if I say, "I got a HUGE cake order today!" they might say, "WOW! That's GREAT! How are you going to handle that on your own? Will you need help? Did you charge them enough?" I'm not saying their way is necessarily better. There were times when I wish they were MORE involved in the decision making, MORE concerned for me. I'm just saying that I've noticed the difference.

So having watched both these families at work, and knowing that the differences are partially cultural, I'm still left with the questions I had before. Culture does play a huge part in this - Australians are far, far more quiet, restrained and reserved than Israelis are. So the differences in approaches are not exactly surprising - but what do those differences mean to ME? Is it really that I can't handle criticism? Is it really that I either want to hear "yay you" or nothing at all? The bigger question might be, what is the ROLE of the family in life? Are they there to be your "yes man" or are they there to always play the Devil's Advocate, potentially protecting you from bad decisions or harm?

I think for me the answer is somewhere in the middle. Generally speaking, even though I'm prone to moodiness, I'm a fairly positive person. So it makes perfect sense that I would prefer a more positive approach. Does this preference mean I don't take criticism well? I'm not sure. I think the issue is more one of delivery. Criticism which starts with the positive is almost always better received than criticism 'cold turkey.' I don't think that's exclusive to me personally - I think it's just human nature that we'd rather hear the good AND the bad, not just the bad. I will freely admit that I find cold turkey questioning/discussion to be a negative thing, EVEN if it comes from a place of love and affection. It just carries (for me) a negative energy to it. You don't have to mollycoddle me, or tell me how great I am all the time - just temper your questioning with a bit of a positive comment now and again. Basically, throw me a bone and I'm less likely to bite your leg off. You can still question me, criticise me, and tell it like it is...but really, in the first instance, I just want you to acknowledge my happiness and excitement. I want you to see me bubbling over with happiness...and revel in it with me, even if only for a minute. That's it. I also (since I'm being so demanding and all) need people to realise that sometimes, I tell you things, JUST to tell you things. I don't want or need discussion. I just need to share, and have someone else be excited with and for me.

Now that I have some commenters (and can I just say, YAY YOU commenters) - what do you think about this? Opinions welcome. Is it really that I need a "yes man"...?

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Binge and Purge

After several months of not having a cleaning lady, DH and I finally hired a company to come and whip this place into shape. [Note: Cleaning ladies are my idea of heaven on a stick. I hate cleaning, I'm bad at it, and I have no time. Don't hate me because I'm practical.] In addition to a weekly clean we opted for what they call a "mini spring clean" - where 3 people come for almost an entire day and clean, scrub, dust and rejuvenate your nasty dirty house. Sad to admit but also sadly true, it IS a nasty and dirty house at the moment. Suffice it to say the bathrooms make me visibly shudder...so Tuesday can't come soon enough.

In anticipation of the GREAT HOUSE CLEAN of 2008, I decided that as a family we needed to spend most of today chucking stuff out. Now I'm a throw-out person rather than a hang-onto person, and I get a natural high from throwing stuff away. I have even been known to cackle with unbridled glee as I lob something into the great grey monster.

Among the things I threw out/gave away today:

  • Valentine cards from the early 00's
  • Scraps of wood which previously had gum nuts glued onto them but now only have bits of dried up glue left
  • Books with titles like "Do What You Are" and "Women Writers" and "Father and Child"
  • A really ugly mini photo frame. It was green pleather with gold accents.
  • Schoolwork (mine) dating back to before the new millenium
  • Kids toys which they played with 5+ years ago and which have crusty bits stuck to them
  • Engineering magazines which pre-date the dawn of time (thanks, DH)
  • An entire box of VHS tapes
  • ...myriad other crap we should have gotten rid of ages ago but didn't.
The house looks noticeably cleaner, although my slash-and-burn self just keeps seeing more shit we could throw away. We filled a recycling bin, a rubbish bin, and I have 6 bags of things to take to the 2nd hand shop. Plus there is a small pile of stuff to EBay this week. So we've achieved quite a lot...but strangely, I find myself feeling a little sad. Sad because I've gotten rid of stuff that maybe, one day, my kids might like to have - like the toys. I wonder if I'm not somehow being MEAN by chucking all this stuff out. In my heart of hearts I know that I'm glad some of it is going to people who need it all WAY more than we do...but I can't help feeling as though I am somehow throwing out a bit of their childhood. We *do* keep some things like select baby clothes, their first soft toys, and so on. Still, today I really felt with a painful awareness that my babies are not really my babies any more.

I'm not particularly sentimental about stuff - massive sheets of paper with one blue stripe don't make me weep, old cards don't make me want to cry (okay, sometimes) and I definetly don't mourn the loss of those tapes. At the same time, I'm not exactly sure what my criteria for keeping stuff should be - how am I supposed to know what sorts of things like might like to have? For example, today we got rid of a bag of their bibs...but I still have a whole stack of their bottles which probably won't last past the next purge. My Mom is also a thrower-outerer, and as a result there is almost nothing left of my childhood possessions. It does make me sad, in a way...but is also makes me bloody grateful that I don't have to store that crap.

Go on, confess. What do you keep and what do you pitch? More importantly, how do you decide what to keep and what to pitch?

( ...and for those of you wondering about the "binge" part, renovations are coming! Renovations are coming!)

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Death Night Food

Later this year, one of the organisations DH and I support is holding a fund raising night - a "Newlywed Game" night where married couples get to answer questions about one another. (Have you ever noticed that the word newlywed looks weird? It's one of those words which looks misspelled even when it isn't. Okay, sorry, tangent.) Anyway today DH asked me if I would be willing to subject myself to being a contestant in this going-to-be-embarrassing spectacle of human behaviour. Me being me (an attention seeking fame hound and overall competitive person) immediately agreed.

Of course, me being me, I also came to the conclusion that DH and I *must* win this game. I commented that we would win because we know each other so well. So well in fact that it's almost a bit scary, to be honest. He then rightly pointed out that some of the other recruits have been married for 20, 30, 40 years, while he and I have been married for only 10 (and a half) years. What chance have we got against the old fogies? Ha! (says I) Ha! We will win because....we will study! So I immediately bombard DH with a whole load of potential game questions. Favourite colour? Colour of your toothbrush? First concert? Favourite hobby? Lucky undies..or lucky socks? and so on...until I came to, "If you could have one last meal before you die, what would it be?"

Now I tried to guess what DH would have, before he said it.

My Guess: Anything involving loads of meat, and probably something fried, too.

His Answer: A really, really, really good roast beef sandwich with loads of horseradish cream(not unlike the one we had in York), some really, really, really properly cooked chips (hot, golden, salted, delicious), minted peas (WTF??), some roasted veggies (again, I say, WTF??) and then he mumbled on about dessert which involved mostly dark chocolate ice cream and a pavlova without the fruit.

Result: One point to the Green team (note meat products mentioned, and fried stuff, too.)

His Guess: Bread, bread, bread, bread and a side of bread and for dessert more bread. Did I mention your Death Night food would include bread?

My Answer: An unlimited basket of crunchy fresh baked bread served with loads of softened, salted French butter and extra salt flakes, a big ol' chicken schnitzel (breaded!), a mound of sticky rice cooked in chicken stock (oohhh...comfort food), a side order of a grilled cheese sandwich done in butter (with white bread and crappy American orange cheese...there goes the bread again), and for dessert a big wedge of fresh fruit tart (with custard and pastry base) and some seriously good, premium ice cream (probably oreo flavour.)

Now at this point I came to the conclusion that if I actually ate all of that, my heart would sieze up due to the cholesterol, fat and sugar overload. But then who cares, since I'm dying soon anyway?

Result: One more point to the Green team (note bread/bread products mentioned more than once.)

Needless to say this got the kids talking about what their last meals would be...with DS deciding that "fruit, fruit and more fruit....like twenty hundred plums and eight million apricots and a zillion peaches and don't forget the watermelon" was a good choice. Hey, at least he was dying knowing he was getting some nutritional value out of it (unlike his mother's meal).

Clearly with as long-winded answers as these, DH and I have a lot of work to do if we're going to kick the asses of the octogenarians. Then again, maybe not. If we talk as much at the event as we do in real life, the old buggers will just fall asleep.


Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Define Healthy & Brave

I just read these two articles:

- about a "healthy" girl who has only eaten chips for 10 years


- about a "brave" girl, who has only eaten Tic Tacs for years

And there I was thinking *I* had food issues. My goodness. How can either of these girls be described as either "perfectly healthy" or "brave"? Sure, your doctor might say you're healthy, but emotionally? One of them can't hold down a job, the other needs therapy...stories like this just make me so very, very sad. And then I want to go eat a steak.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

More Lazy Bread

This recipe has been making the rounds on various foodie blogs for a while now, promising decent bread in under 5 minutes. Lazy bum that I am, I had to give it a try. This challah recipe is also the reason why I dug out the Pepsi Max Bread recipe (found below)....because I couldn't possibly have gotten all floury and messy just to have to wait four days for a decent loaf of bread. Lazy and impatient, obviously!

The final product did look great, and it tastes quite yummy. However, if I were to lob it at your head from fifty paces, you'd be dead on the spot. This sucker was seriously, seriously dense. Since making it I have come to a few conclusions: 1) It's probably best to use fresh yeast rather than stuff which is some months out of date, 2) a cold room is not the best place for it to sit and prove if I want it to actually rise, and 3) my oven is buggered! I noticed that while the challah was baking the bottom was getting dark. As in Darth Vader dark, even though it was nowhere near finished baking. I also noticed that the top was pretty dark, and I had the oven at 10 degrees below recommended.... but I kept blaming it on me or the stars or whatever.

Today I baked some white chocolate chip cookies. About 4 minutes into the baking time, I look in and notice a) my cookies are not flattening out and b) the bottoms of them look suspiciously like Darth Vader. *lightbulb moment* My oven is buggered! So for you out there who are going to try this, I will say the recipe is easy, quick, and tasty...as long as you don't have a buggered oven. I'm going to try it again (given the above info) and report back. Stay Tuned.

It should also be noted that this produces a gorgeous, elastic dough which kids will find easy to work with (evidence as per picture above.) I'd gladly make this every week just so my kids could have some fun with it.

Master Challah Dough
(originally from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois, but in reality cobbled together from various food blogs)

1 3/4 cups lukewarm water
1 1/2 tablespoons instant yeast
1 1/2 tablespoons coarse salt
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
7 cups all purpose flour

In a large bowl mix together the eggs, water, honey, butter, yeast and salt. Stir well with a wooden spoon. Add in the flour and stir until you don't see any more dry bits of flour. Cover lightly (not air tight) and put it in the fridge for up to 4 days. The longer you let it sit, the better the flavour (or so they claim.) You can also let this dough rise for 2 hours and then proceed.

When you eventually decide to take it out, shape as per challah (want more info on this, feel free to email me - emzeegee[at]hotmail[dot]com. I've got instructions on how to braid in 3,4,5,6,7,8,9 and herringbone shapes which I'm happy to forward on.) I would make this into two loaves rather than one huge one. Cover and allow to prove in a warm place for 1 1/2 hours. 20 minutes prior to baking, preheat your oven to 350/170.

When dough is ready, brush with beaten egg wash and sprinkle with seeds. Bake 25 minutes or until the bottom sounds hollow when tapped. Enjoy!

Monday, February 4, 2008

Cheap Alcohol And Me

Here are two things you may or may not know about me:

1. Before I was ever a really-and-truly pastry chef, I was a mad crazy baker. In winter I would bake breads most weekends (by hand). I own a whole lot of bread books, and I loved trying all sorts of interesting things - quinoa, toasted pine nuts, flax seed and so on. Strangely, no matter what the ingredients, or what I did, my bread ALWAYS came out the same. Tasted pretty bloody marvellous with lashings of salty butter, but otherwise quite unremarkable. Since I've now been schooled in the art of bread making, strangely I've lost all interest in it. I've not baked bread (at home) in...well, a long time.

2. I am allergic to alcohol. It won't kill me, but it does make me go all red, feel quite fevery, and itch like the dickens. When I met DH, one of his hobbies was wine collecting. Ummm, yeah - enter the wife who drinks no wine, exit the wine collecting hobby (much to his dismay). DH also had a bit of a thing for boutique beers - wheat beers, European beers, fruit beers and so on. Since I couldn't help much on that front either, the beer thing also went by the wayside. Given DH's cultured palate of taste buds, you might find it interesting that he is totally addicted to Pepsi Max. Literally an addiction. When we met he would easily motor his way through 6 litres. A DAY. Nowadays he is a lot more restrained, but suffice it to say even if we have not a crumb in the cupboard, we'll have a bottle of Pepsi Max lurking. Our friends know this about us, and often comment that our house is the only house where you might get offered a glass of red, but you're much more likely to get offered a glass of...brown. Friends who might otherwise show up glass bottle in hand turn up plastic bottle in hand, knowing we'll probably appreciate it more! What can I say, we're cheap dates.

Remember those two factoids, and now keep reading.

Recently I've been reading some blog posts about making challah dough in under five minutes. Now given that I am inherently lazy, five minutes to make anything sounds like a good deal. So I started that process, only to learn that the dough needs to sit in the fridge. FOR FOUR DAYS. Having already gotten my hands a-floured, there was nothing for it. I HAD TO have some fresh bread to eat. NOW. Or as soon to now as I could get it.

I should also point out that originally I was going to post this recipe as a special present for The Baker's Wife, seeing as she is trying to save money and this bread is dirt cheap. In the photos you can even see that I used Home Brand flour. Then I realised...wait a sec...she's called The BAKER'S wife for a reason. Imagine the hell and fury in their household if TBW starting making cheap, 5 minute bread. OMG! She's be on a one way ticket to hell (where, trust me, there are no crusty artisan baguettes.) So, secretly this one is especially for you, babe. Just please don't tell The Baker about it, because then he might not be able to look me in the eye ever again.

Now, do you remember the factoids about me from above? Good. Here's where they are important. Last night, while mixing my five minute challah dough, and desperately yearning for fresh-baked bread, I remembered my Beer Bread recipe. I first tried this recipe several months ago, when I found an out of date bottle of Victoria Bitter, in a plastic trash can, sitting on the floor of my laundry room. This bottle of beer had been sitting there for some months, in the heat, the cold, the dust. What better use for beer than bread? The first attempt was a good one...it took something like 30.6 seconds for the loaf to disappear into our collective gobs. Since the recipe takes less than an hour from mixing to eating, it seemed like a good bet for my late night fresh bread yearnings.

.....except that we had no beer in the house, which is kinda essential for something called Beer Bread, don't you think?

Then I noticed that in the margins of the recipe I'd written "beer (any kind) - or any fizzy drink."

Did your lightbulb just turn on? Because mine did.

So DH and I found ourselves making Beer Pepsi Max Bread. On a Sunday night at 10pm. Really, we're that dorky.

Verdict: This loaf is freakin' fantastic. The original was a bit better, but only because it had that lovely hops/yeasty taste from the ancient beer. Since Pepsi Max is very caramel-y to begin with, that flavour came through in the bread. The texture was closer to banana bread than, say, sandwich loaf, but it was absolutely delicious spread with yet more butter (or in my case, Philly.) Dirt cheap to make, only 4 ingredients, quicker than quick and bloody lovely to eat, this one is a keeper. Baker's Wife: Maybe try it one day when he's not home...?

Beer or Pepsi Max Bread
3 cups self-raising flour
1 can beer (any kind) - or any fizzy drink (375ml)
1/2 cup sugar
Approx 1/4 cup butter

Preheat oven to 350/180. Butter a fairly large loaf tin. Dump the flour and sugar in a bowl and mix. Pour in the can of soda and mix with a fork until combined. Scrape into the loaf pan and bake for 40-45 minutes or until toasty brown and pulling away from the sides. Remove from the oven, brush liberally with more butter and return to the oven for 5 minutes. Remove from oven, flip out of the loaf. If you can resist it, cool for 5 minutes and then slice and eat. Topping is not really necessary, but then whose life isn't improved with a bit o' butter?