Saturday, 17 October 2009

O Packing Day, O Packing Day

This morning I woke up and decided that packing for Thailand immediately would probably be a better idea than leaving it until, oh, I don't know, say, Monday night? This puppy

was lookin' a bit lonesome and unloved, anyhow, so it was high time to fill it with things. As it turns out, though, my suitcase has a twin. Yes, Kirsti and I went shopping for our holiday, independantly of one another, this time in different states, and yet again came back with exactly the same thing. Spooky. Last time it was this t-shirt

which also had a bleach stain in the exact same spot. I intended to post photos of us both wearing that t-shirt in South America, but the only one of me wearing it is on the Inca Trail and it's sooooooo unflattering so I'll give it a miss. Just imagine it. I mean, imagine it, only flattering. So once more we will be showing up for a joint holiday looking like the freakin' Bobbsy Twins . At least the logic behind it all was sound, though, because the suitcase it red, and it's awesome. Most red things are.

Interestingly, I just Wikied the Bobbsy Twins and they didn't actually dress anything like each other. How's THAT for trivia!

So, obviously the first step of packing is having clean clothes. I thought I'd wash the pants I bought for the plane (my others are gravitationally challenged) last weekend at Harbour Town, amongst other things

which were scattered across my room with other bits and pieces

(obviously it's still cold at night cos the sleeping bag's still on my bed. Please pretend the bed is made. Again.) just to make 'em all soft and comfy instead of crispy and scratchy and smelling like dye. Crispy and scratchy has its place, but it sure as heck ain't on an international flight!

All my clothes were piled up, ready to rock 'n' roll, when I realised that my slothful rising this morning had allowed Bron to bogart the washing machine. Raspberries. Not just the machine, though - the entire laundry.

(Or at least it felt like the entire laundry at the time. Looking back on the photo now, though... meh *shrugs*) I think the washing may have to wait a couple of hours... in the meantime, I'm going to get on the elliptical trainer in a vain attempt to work off the delicious organic pizza, glass of Rockford Alicante Bouchet and glass of Bailey's from last night. Yep, my Weekly Culinary Misdemeanour is well and truly under my belt. No pun intended.

And here it all is on the line. Much better *sighs with relief*

Packing: Take Two.

I have this incredible fantasy about... now, now, settle down!... arriving home from a holiday to a perfectly spotless house. To date, I have not achieved it. I suspect it's part laziness, part last-minute packing and a whoooooole lot of sharing a space with other people. I came close to realising my fantasy last Christmas (giggle) when I went back to Melbourne and left my room in Adelaide in pretty good nick, but it's as close as I've gotten. Huh, having said that, I just realised how long it's been since I dusted my TV/DVD player/TV cabinet... oops... um, anyway, hopefully my room will look more like this than this when I get back!

What to bring, what to bring... okay, in order of importance (obviously, cos that's the order they've come to mind in):

1. Bathers. Two pairs. I like to mix things up a bit. Aren't they pretty??

2. Boardies and rashie. I hear the Thais are a bit thingy about flashing your rack about the place, plus I don't want to get sunburnt.
3. Sunscreen. Three tubes - one for face, two for body. Do you have any idea how hard it is to find sunscreen for sensitive skin in tubes less than 100mL?? I need enough for the whole trip as I heard that Thai sunscreen often contains the things that I'm allergic to. Daniel from work came home from Thailand last year covered head to toe (at least, I assume it was head to toe... actually I assume it wasn't, because that would mean that he.... okay, never mind!!!) in a mystery rash, which I was well aware was from sunscreen having suffered the same rash myself, but which earnt him the name "rash rooter" from his colleagues. I feel that it's prudent to NOT show up at work with rash in two weeks' time, after having paid Dan out about it so badly...
4. Undies and socks. Slightly concerned they're this far down my list of priorities... also, am planning to bring one pair of undies that I really, really hate, but they've been to Europe and to South America (I hate them so much I haven't worn them much since I bought them in late 2005, so they're still alive and well) and I felt it only fair to include them on a trip to Asia, too.
5. Gym clothes. Yes, really. If the beer is safer than the water I'll be needing these!
6. Shirts that cover my shoulders. Dual purpose - sunburn prevention, and cultural sensitivity.
7. Skirts and shorts. Cooler than pants.
8. PJ's. It may be hot in Phuket, but I'm sharing a room. 'Nuff said.
9. Singlets. They're handy to have.
10. Pants and cardi for the plane. Suspect will wear 'em there and back, and nowhere else. This, by the way, is one of the best-travelled cardies EVER!

There it is on the Eiffel Tower, seeing the sights. It's been to England, Scotland, Ireland (Nth and Sth), France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, the Czech Republic, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, Spain, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil and Peru. I'm not sure whether it made it to Monaco or Liechtenstein. I suspect it did make it to Liechtenstein cos we went skiing and my outer jumper was a thin fleece, so I certainly HOPE I was wearing it underneath! Monaco, maybe not. No, definately not. I wore my pink turtleneck jumper under a denim jacket that day. Ahh, clothing memory - something that boys neither possess nor understand!
11. Camera, chargers and adaptors, plus an international iPod charger that I'm bringing for Kirsti but which I won't personally use because SOME BASTARD STOLE MY iPOD!!! *mutters and cusses under breath*
12. Toiletries, including a mini version of my moisturiser that I ordered from Strawberry Net so I can a) bring it carry-on, and b) not have to lug the larger bottle about. Can't believe I put that much effort into moisturiser. Repeat after me, Vanessa: they have shops in Thailand. They have shops in Thailand... did it work? Nope.
13. Footwear - sensible closed toe (my HiTecs - on their way out, but comfy and still intact, but won't be the end of the world if an elephant swallows them), my purple Havs (don't want to bring my Brazilian ones in case I lose them) and flat black sandals that are nice enough to wear out but comfy enough to traipse about the place in.
14. Reading material. Critical for poolside lounging.
15. Dress. You never know when you'll need one.

Look at all that space left for shopping. Makes a gal's heart warm to see it!

Look out PHUKET!!! I'm on my way!!! (in a couple of days)

PS - Cammo won't be there. I checked. Nice guy but kinda glad I don't have to share my holiday with him...

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Hooray! I'm not homeless!

It's been a tense month or two. Despite all of us having remembered both reading and hearing from the real estate agent that we were applying for a one year lease, with an option to extend for another six months or year, it would appear that it was not actually written into the lease (mind you, this is the very same real estate agent who couldn't bring herself to arrive on time for inspections, even though her office was three minutes up the road. This is also the same agent who somehow managed to not only get the sole key to the house jammed in an internal lock a couple of days before we were due to move in, and therefore had to lock the house without a copy of the key being in her posession, but also took something in the order of a week and a half to find a locksmith who could solve the problem for us). This is why it came as a surprise to hear that our landlord expected us out at the end of the one year lease, with no negotiation about a second year or even six months.

I had been looking at houses in the area (c'mon, you've seen the view out my front window - it's hard to give up! Also, I knew we wouldn't find another place big enough for all of us, so I'd be out on my Paddy Malone, so it might as well be in a nice area!) and was all but ready to start inspecting them, when we got the BRILLIANT news that we will not be evicted until around April next year *sighs with relief* That means I don't have to think about finding another place in Adelaide to live right now, or possibly ever (they may ship me out before that). WHOOOHOOOOOOOO!!! (Also, I kind of don't want to leave my adopted family. I hope they don't mind having me here...)
So, I thought that to celebrate, I would take you on a guided tour of our house by the sea. Note that there are no pictures of the publically-visible exterior, nor have I mentioned the suburb in which I live. I have no-hooooo intention of attracting stalkers!

This is what you see when you come in the front door:

My room is to the right...

...which then backs on to the garage.

This is the inside of the garage, and that back door goes out to the courtyard with the clothes line in it. That's a motorbike under the sheet, not a ghost. No need to be frightened.

This is the wall that Kev, uhm, kind of nudged a wee hole into with the Prado. I was in the car at the time, and I was thinking "hmm, that wall's getting close... well I won't say anything. Men HATE it when you comment on their driving... umm, is he going to brake??... oh, he's not braking..." ...crunch.

I brought it up last night. He didn't appreciate it. I think he's still a bit sensitive about it :) (although, I do know somebody who once ran over his parents' BBQ, and he's still a bit sensitive about that several years after the event. Like how I didn't name names?)

Like me, Kev had obviously thought that it was made of concrete, like the rest of the garage. Apparently this was not the case.

Because this is what plaster looks like...

And this is what concrete looks like.

Did you spot the difference? It's MASSIVE! Okay, so you can see the difference when I take a macro shot from 50mm away, but from a couple of metres the distinction isn't so clear.

I'll tell you what though, it's the weirdest-shaped garage in the history of mankind, kind of like the rest of the house is, actually. Check out how many corners it has on the wall that runs behind my room. Go on, count 'em...

That's right, there's THREE corners where there ought to be one (and while you were counting, did you happen to notice that you can't tell the difference between the plaster bit and the concrete bit from a distance?). I can explain one of those corners away - that cut-off corner is the back of my shower. Yes, I have a triangular shower (more on that later). But it doesn't explain the corner half way along the wall. NOTHING EXPLAINS THE CORNERS IN THIS HOUSE!!! The garage alone has six corners plus a curved wall. The architect was clearly an effin' weirdo who was on some serious hallucinogens. This will become increasingly apparent to you as I guide you through this house, apparently designed on feng-shui principles. Nothing would surprise me. Although feng-shui could possibly explain the lack of regular corners in this house (so perhaps I was hasty in stating that nothing could explain the corners).

Except for my room.

I was blessed with the only square room in the ENTIRE HOUSE. The only other thing that is square is the front end of Kev and Bron's room, and that's only because it used to be a balcony.

*looks at photo* Damnit, I should have made my bed. That looks terrible! Okay, pretend that the yellow sleeping bag (it's been cold at night - I needed an extra layer on the bed) isn't there, and that the doona cover - white with a latte coloured embroidered stripe - is spread out neatly. Ahh, much better.

Anyway, that's my bachelorette pad. Between the white linen, the vase (bought specifically with holding lillies in mind - preferably white or pink, but I like the other colours too), and the fact that I have a fit-ball instead of a couch, it suits this bachelorette to a tee.

And this

is this bachelorette's triangular shower (the highly reflective white thing is the bath mat).

You didn't believe me before, did you.

About the triangular shower, I mean.

It has a super-crappy shower head/unit/whatever you want to call it - it's one of those electric instant hot water thingies. The pressure is appalling, it's far too low for me (washing my hair means leaning over backwards like I'm doing the limbo), and it's taken me nearly a year to master adjusting the temperature. It was broken when we moved in, so I had to have either scalding hot or freezing cold showers. This generally meant angling the head away from me and splashing about in hot water (not at all satisfying, and probably not very safe either - kind of like the showers in Verona, Nessa? Although, at least there's only one person in this one...), and when I wanted to wash my hair (which luckily for me is only a couple of times a week), I had to use cold water. There was noooooo WAY I was going to stand under cold water, except on the very warmest of evenings, so I'd stand outside of the shower and tip my head upside down. Not a very satisfying hair-washing or showering experience in general. Ever so glad it's fixed now!

(Please forgive me if that gave you any disturbing visuals. It was not my intention.)
Oh, and to the final important feature of my room...

... the next-door neighbour's sensor light.

(I hope you like the photo - I risked life and limb climbing up on my beadhead to take it.)

As you may have noted in the photo of my room, the triangular (huh, more triangles) bank of windows above my bed lacks curtains. And the neighbours lack the nouse to trim back whatever the hell shrub it is that blows about in the breeze, activates the sensor light and makes it very, very difficult for me to sleep!!! Of course, I haven't actually asked them to trim their shrub (heh, sounds like a euphamism to me... was I the only one??), and I'm sure they would if I asked, but it seems a bit weird knocking on the door of somebody I don't know and asking them to be more dilligent gardeners.

This is the lawn my room looks out onto.

I use the term loosely. I feel our lawn is more of an ant-infested sandpit, sparsely vegetated by weeds, than an actual lawn. Bindis are the prominent vegetative feature. Stupid spiky little bastards. Between them and the ants, it makes it impossible to actually use the lawn for such relaxing pursuits as pleasant evenings spent eating dinner outside, or lazing away your Sundays reading in the back yard, away from the wind and passers-by on the beach. Although sometimes the passers-by are a bit of alright. Like the surf lifesavers (6-pack is an understatement). Or the footy players. Sigh.
The ants haven't really started invading for the summer yet. I really hope they don't this year, but I won't pin my hopes on it. We do, after all, live on a sand dune. Literally. In an odd-shaped house on a dune. The best description you can give it is "hexagon set into an oblong" but even that doesn't come close. I suppose, though that for such an effin' weird house, it is quite pleasing to the eye.
This is the water feature in our little... I suppose you could call it a foyer?

I had to get down on the floor to take that photo. Tania (daugher of the family, and my ever-willing and enthusiastic Shopping (and other miscellaneous activity) Partner in Crime), wanted to take a photo of me lying on my back, camera in hand, looking like a total minda (pronounced Min-da. It's a delightfully politically incorrect Adelaide-ism). Luckily there was no camera within reach. Mischeivous little wench for considering it *shakes fist*

I am making the assumption that the same effing weirdo that designed our house also threw in that water feature for fun, possibly to enhance the energy flow of the house, or some other such feng-shui principle. As you can tell by the shoes around the base, we don't actually use it as a water feature. It just sort of sits there and looks... well pretty probably isn't an appropriate description! So, it just sort of sits there. And that is all.

The decking in that first photo brings you into the landing between the top and the bottom storeys. I won't take you downstairs, but as you can see there's a TV down there. Basically, the idea is that the "kids" (and again, I use the term loosely, given that one is 17 and the other is 19) can stay down there in their own little world with a fridge and some food, the TV and computer, their rooms and the bathroom. The spare room is down there, too. It's a funny shape just like the other rooms down there, with pokey little windows. Just ask Em - she's stayed in there. All the rooms down there are the sort of shape where there's no clear-cut way that your furniture **should** be arranged. So you put it where it fits, and that don't look right, so you move it, and it still doesn't look right. So you give up.

So here's the kitchen (see Labour Day post for more photos)...

.... and here's the sitting bit.

The master bedroom is to the right. I thought taking pics of that would be a bit weird and invasive, even though the ensuite is SPECTACULAR - super-bright, tiny little aqua tiles from floor to ceiling, including in the shower. Their shower puts my li'l triangular shower to shame. And there's no curtain on it, only a kind of wall setup that reminds me a little of a caravan park, but it's thick and it's tiled with the tiny, bright aqua tiles *shakes head* I wonder if the same effin' weirdo that designed the house also did the interior decorating...

And this is the Mystery Room.

We choose to use it as the fridge/gym room, because the space allocated for a fridge in the kitchen was far too pokey for a fridge big enough for five people. We had a cupboard made up to fit in the gap instead, which works nicely. It's especially good as the kitchen is hard enough to move around in, without a teenager standing with the fridge door open, staring into its depths, hoping something tasty will materialise. This way, if the bar fridge downstairs doesn't deliver the goods, here's a whollllllle other room for Matty to do that in!

We seriously have no idea what this room was built for, though. The best we can come up with is a study, but there's no phone jack in there (unlike my room, which has two phone jacks, six sets of powerpoints AND NO FRICKIN' TV AERIAL!!! I've had to buy one of those crappy digital receivers from Dick Smith, and what channels you can pick up depends on the weather. We are, after all, on the lee side of a sand dune; TV (and sometimes phone) reception can be a little dodgy at times. But, get this - I got sick of standing with the receiver in my hand, stretched out to the left, on a 45 degree angle from the TV, in order to get channel 7 to be anything less than blocky (ABC, nine and ten were all pretty good), so I cracked it and decided that re-tuning was probably a good idea... WRONG! I now only pick up SBS. But I pick it up with perfect clarity. WHAT THE HELL KIND OF ALTERNATE UNIVERSE DO I LIVE IN HERE??!). I think the Mystery Room will remain a mystery, along with why they thought it was a good idea to build a house in such a manner that allows it to leak when it rains for more than forty minutes. But not every time. And not always in the same place. Nope, our house definately likes to keep you guessing!

And this is one of the reasons I stay in Adelaide (besides my workmates, who are like family). It's pretty, even in less than perfect weather.

I hope you understand.

Buttery Orange Cake

Cake batter
250g butter
2tbsp finely grated orange rind
1 1/2c (330g) castor sugar
4 eggs
1 1/2c (225g) self-raising flour
1/2c (75g) plain flour
3/4c (180mL) orange juice

Glace icing
1 1/2c (240g) icing sugar
1tsp butter
2tbsp orange juice

1. Preheat oven to moderately slow (170oC/150oC fan-forced). Grease deep 22cm-round cake pan; line base and side with baking paper, extending paper 5cm above edge of pan.
2. Beat butter, rind and sugar in medium bowl with electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until just combined between additions. Fold in sifted flours and juice, in two batches.
3. Pour mixture into pan; bake, uncoverd, 1hr 10mins. Stand in pan 10mins then turn onto wire rack; turn top-side up to cool.
4. Make glace icing.
5. Place cake, top-side up, on serving plate. Spread cold cake with glace icing.

Place icing sugar in small heatproff bowl; stir in butter and juice. Place bowl over small saucepan of simmering water; stir until icing is of spreadable consistency. Use immediately.

Monday, 5 October 2009

Labour Day 2009 (South Australia)

Today is a public holiday, which is why I have the time to have a crack at this blogging caper. I should probably be outside on the beach on a beautiful day like today...
...but instead, I have opted to stay in and bake. And blog. (Note: I did go outside in the end, while the cake was cooling. I did 6,357 steps along the beach and back. Go me!).

On the menu today is Buttery Orange Cake from the Australian Womens Weekly "Cook". This is the book (the tagline is questionable - if you want to know how to cook absolutely everything, by which I mean the basics like roasts and pikelets and puddings and plain cakes, then The Commonsense Cookery Book is what you're after. It's the shizzle. We've got a well-loved paperback version at home):

And "buttery" is certainly no overstatement - the recipe has 250g of butter in it. Mmm, buttery goodness! Two things: 1) The Australian Womens Weekly will hereafter in my blog be referred to as the AWW 2) I got it from my dad for Christmas a few years ago. Here's what he wrote inside the cover:

I haven't actually invited him over for tea yet. Oops.

We have a fan-forced electric oven here in my house by the beach (which we may or may not be getting evicted from in the next three weeks. Not cool). I hate it. I hate it for two reasons: 1) It's electric. 2) It's fan-forced. I grew up with a gas oven, no fan, that's about twice the size of this one. I LOVE it and I MISS it. I like that when you're cooking with it, the temperature specified in the recipe is... wait for it... the temperature you set the oven to!!! None of this "reduce the heat by 20oC" caper!!!
See? The recipe says 170oC but it's on 150oC. And I bet it doesn't cook right, because it never does. Stupid oven (Note: having taken the cake out of the oven a good 15 minutes after the cooking time should have been up, which happened the last three times I baked a cake, I am beginning to question this "reduce the heat by 20oC" malarkey). Grr. I also don't know whether it's my imagination, but gas-cooked things seem to taste better - like they're crispier on the outside, and with a fuller flavour. I reckon electric ovens give a cake flavour that's half-way to a microwave cake. Ugh. Sure, you have to rotate things in the gas oven otherwise you may get a darker (read: burnt) side, but that's all part of the grand adventure that is cooking!
Haha, check out this guy. He was running backwards before, which was quite funny. He's not now, but... oh, never mind. I found it amusing!

Today, I am using a fresh orange for its zest as well as some juice.

It's an AUSTRALIAN orange.

I'm a bit picky about this - I'm against buying non-local produce (unless I really, REALLY want it, in which case it's okay). The lady at the supermarket, for example, was trying to flog grapes the other week by handing out samples. She then told me that they were American grapes (in a very un-enthused voice, mind you). UN-sold! Not that there's anything wrong with American produce, I just won't personally be buying grapes until the Aussie ones hit the shelves in late January. Unless I really, REALLY want them, in which case it's okay.

Mmm, butter/sugar/orange zest *drools*

I'll be using one of those stupid hand-held twin beater-style mixers, which I also HATE. But beggers can't be choosers, and I should be grateful that the Keays family has a) invited me into their home, and b) allowed me to use their STUPID, USELESS PIECE OF CRAP mixer.


Again, I'm probably prejudiced against this equipment because I grew up in a household that had a Kenwood Chef. Best mixer EVER. Although, I hear the Kitchen Aid ones are the Bees Knees too. I'm torn between wanting this beautiful stainless steel Kenwood, and this funky red Kitchen Aid. Sigh. I think I'm in love. Don't be surprised if I end up with both (I'd actually be perfectly happy if I got Nanna's, which Uncle Andrew has, and which I bet he never, ever uses).

So here I am giving it a bit of a leg-up.

I totally shouldn't have to. In order to get to this point, the STUPID, USELESS PIECE OF CRAP mixer made some terrifying groaning noises. Boy, was it struggling, even though I microwaved the butter to soften it before I asked the mixer nicely to please do its very best to cream the butter and sugar for me.
So here it is, being all yummy - butter and sugar, the perfect union, actually improved on by the addition of orange zest (because it makes it less sugary and helps you believe it's good for you - cos there's fruit in it, obviously!) and my favourite step in baking (besides eating the final product, that is).

But guess what.

I didn't eat any of it! And I didn't even lick the bowl! I kind of decided that after yesterday's little dietary glitch at the Croatian Club with Lj and her sisters Anna and Maria (and I probably spelled their names wrong, cos Anna is with a short a, so it's probably Ana, and Maria has a soft, rolly r, so it may be Marija. Then again, I could be talking rubbish. Note to self: check with Lj), that I should go a bit easy on the baked goods today, and save allllll my calories for the finished product.
...Oh, except that I had to taste-test the ganache (both of them), just to make sure there was nothing wrong with the flavour of chocolate mixed with butter, cream and sugar. And nothing wrong with the flavour combination of the two. Cos there are SO many ways THAT could have turned out badly ;)
...Oh, and FYI, I don't "do" Self-Raising flour. No, I do plain flour and baking powder.

2 tsp of baking powder (POWDER, not SODA) to the cup (of plain flour) turns it into SR flour. My mum taught me that. It means you only need to keep one kind of flour in your cupboard, which can serve both purposes. Ain't she a smart cookie? :) Also, see that seive? I bought it yesterday cos this one

was driving me MENTAL!!! See that li'l hexagon thingie?

There's three layers like that, and half your flour/sugar/whatever gets stuck in it, which kinda isn't an option in a household with someone who can't eat gluten.

Adding the OJ to the mix...

Looks a bit vomity, doesn't it.

Much better.

Better still.

The Trail of Destruction...

...from TWO angles!

Uh-oh, I may have over-cooked it.

Stupid oven.

No matter - my aim today is to play with decorating techniques. Instead of the orange glaze that the recipe specifies, I'm covering it with dark chocolate ganache and piping detail in white chocolate ganache. Any potential dryness in the cake should be balanced by the chocolately goodness.

And here it is, all finished.

(my handwriting needs work - I have new-found empathy for the Wreckerators of the world)

And cut.

Nomnomnom. Not dry at all, and the balance between sweet and bitter, each of which are present in both the dark chocolate ganache and the orange cake, is perfect.

I love public holidays!

(and cake)