Friday, 10 December 2010

More bugs!

This morning when I got into the shower, I saw these bugs on the ceiling.
I thought that they were those little tiny flying bugs that get into everything. If you've spent any amount of time in the country, you'll know which ones I'm talking about. The ones that come in at night and annoy you. The ones that are attracted to white surfaces. The ones that die in inconvenient and unsightly numbers for no discernable reason, collecting along your skirting boards and window sills:
But then I realised that if they WERE those particular bugs, that a) it was unusual that they were alive at this time of day, and b) that they had all chosen to hang out on the ceiling.

So then I looked closer.

Nope, not those little flying bugs at all. Little tiny spiders. EVERYWHERE.

So I've gone and done a public service* for whomever stays in this cabin next and squashed most of them. I left a few for a daddy long legs to eat - he'd already tucked into one - and smooshed the rest with a towel. When they realised what was going on they started to abseil off the ceiling but I was too quick for 'em!

*Public service (n): an act primarily directly benefiting myself (because I know it to be likely that I will be the next person to stay in this cabin), with the secondary effect of benefiting anybody else who happens along. Dictionary of the Ness, December 2010. Note that definition may alter from time to time as suits.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Popcorn! (WARNING: This is NOT about food)

Anyone living in South Eastern Australia has probably heard a great deal about the massive locust plague that's supposed to eat all our crops and wreak havoc.

Well, I'm pretty sure that the heavy rain we've been getting has done more damage to the crops than the locusts have (so far - they're predicting 2 or 3 generations to breed this summer), but they are everywhere.

This is one of the little buggers I have waiting for me when I get home to the caravan park in Barham (yes, Nessie is technically trailer trash at the moment. Well, cabin trash, anyhow!). Yesterday when I checked in to my usual cabin, I had to remove about fifteen of them before I was satisfied that none would flit about and freak me out in my sleep. Luckily they're fairly sluggish and you can catch them with one hand while you're chatting on the phone, but every so often you get one that demands your full attention, otherwise you'd be chasing it around in circles all day.

Anyway, I decided to write about them because today as I walked across the grass on my way to get lunch, clouds and clouds of them rose up around me. I was exceptionally glad that I had chosen to wear my sunglasses down the street, because otherwise one of them would have flown directly into my eye. And the first person I thought of was my friend Kirsti, because I wondered whether her dislike for butterflies (quite a common dislike, as it turns out) translated into a more generalised fear of flying bugs, or if it was just butterflies that gave her the heebie jeebies.

So I'm not sure whether this meandering entry will give bug-hatin' people the heebie jeebies or whether they would make them jump up out of their chair and dance a bloodthirsty little "HAH! They got what was coming to them!" kind of dance. Who knows?! Who cares?!

The other day when I started my drive home to Melbourne, I had the window down a smidge to let some cool air in before I turned the air con on, and one flew straight into my face. I brushed it off, and it ran down the back of my neck. I pulled it out of my shirt and tried to throw it out the window, but it had other ideas. So I had company most of the way back to Melbourne. I finally got him (her? How does one tell?) out via a tricky maneuovre involving having cruise control on, opening the window, very slowly raising my right knee to the level of the window and brushing it out.

Safety first!

(Best I don't tell you about the time I did a full change of clothing with the cruise control on, then...)

(Actually, I could argue that my locust removal technique was the safer option, because he (she?) was really distracting me!)

(Anyway.)

I haven't seen the massive swarms that were heard about on the news, and I'm ever so slightly disappointed by that. Anyone who knows me knows that I like freaky nature stuff! For whatever reason, I've missed them. I must have been in the wrong place at the wrong time. I've seen them in huge numbers on the ground, before they're mature enough to fly, and the more mature ones just veging out on concrete, grass, wherever. It crosses my mind that they're old and dying, because they're not particularly active.

And I've seen them sitting there on the road or on the forest tracks, being run over. I think they like the heat of the exposed surfaces or something, because apparently the swarms follow roads. Running over them was when I discovered that they sound like popcorn, and you know what? It's not just when you run over them. It's also when you run into them, or, when they run into you. As I sit here, I hear the occasional pinging - much like the sound of a kernel of popcorn exploding in a saucepan - of a locust flying into the side of the cabin. Sometimes they sit on the concrete outside, waiting, and sometimes they sit on your windows. If you were the sort of person who got the heebie jeebies from bugs, this picture might freak you out. It's like it's casing the joint, looking for a way in. It's only a matter of time before it evolves opposable thumbs and realises that it can come in via the door while you are sleeping... MWOARHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH!!!

Ahem.

So, I return to the popcorn.

The other Friday as I drove back to Melbourne, I drove through several biggish swarms of them (although I assume they weren't as bad as the clouds that are supposed to impede your vision and make you pull over. These only partly obstructed my vision, so I kept on truckin'). At first I counted how many I had hit, but by the time I got to a couple of hundred popcorn pops I realised that I really was doing my bit for agriculture and possibly also for environmental conservation.

They coated my headlights.

They smeared my windows. This particular streak is from just one solitary locust that exploded down the side of my car just after I left Cohuna. I remember it well because I saw it happen and was amazed that so much goop came out of one bug.

(I assume that, like cockroaches, locusts are mainly fat on the inside, which is why it's so hard to get your windscreen clean with just water and wiper blades)

They also get into your engine bay, and if you're not careful, I'm fairly certain they could clog up your intercooler. That's why you see a lot of people driving around with shadecloth on the fronts of their cars.

But they don't just get into your engine bay - they REALLY get into your engine bay. They get jammed in all sorts of corners. Like this one. This fella looks a little bit like he climbed in here on purpose and is just chilling out, don'tcha think?


Anyway, just thought I'd share. I like bugs! Even dead ones!

Meanwhile, the River Murray continues to rise. Apparently there's a fair to better than average chance that we'll have a 1-in-100-year flood (you know, the maximum flood event that modern infrastructure is generally built to take on) within the next week. Our office Christmas party - which was supposed to be on a paddlesteamer on the Murray - has been moved to dry land, because it didn't seem all that smart to have most of the state's senior management on the same boat in the middle of a river in flood!

But I find it amusing that on the day that the chairman of the Murray Darling Basin Authority tendered his resignation, allegedly over tensions associated with water allocations, the river is little more than half a metre from topping over into the caravan park where I am staying.

I know that was a rambling and pointless and somewhat less than entertaining post, but I felt like writing tonight, and wanted to get back into practice. So sue me!

(Please don't sue me. It's Christmas!)

Monday, 8 November 2010

A Birthday Bulldog

My man Grant loves dogs. He is particularly obsessed with fat and/or ugly ones (an obsession I suspect has its nexus in his parents breeding Shar Peis... and before anyone thinks the Sheean clan may be at all offended by my referring to the breed as either fat or ugly, "fat" and "ugly" are good things in Grant's book, at least when it comes to dogs!), and his very favourite fat and ugly dog is the bulldog.

Quite a while ago, Grant announced that he would like a cake shaped like a bulldog for his birthday, and me, being a bit of a baker, rose to the challenge.

As it turns out, though, I'm not much of a sculptor. I suppose anyone who ever sat through an art or pottery class with me would know exactly how indirect a relationship there is between what I see in my head and what actuates from my two hands in front of me, so I shouldn't really expect this to improve without a substantial amount of practice. I always stood by the fact that I can make things taste fantasic but damned if I can make them look presentable, which I was hoping to change by attending a cake decorating course, only, because I'm up at Koondrook for work, I can't go to the course. Boo.

So all there was for me to do with my exceptionally limited pool of talent was do as much research as possible, and then practice. The former wasn't at all easy. I had hoped that, somewhere in this wild and whacky web (that's what www stands for, isnt it?) of ours, that some other freakazoid would have attempted to create a three-dimensional bulldog cake.

After some light pseudo-stalking of people who had posted the same question on various baking message boards (by which I mean, I emailed them asking if they'd found any success) and finding zero success, I happened across a link from Cakewrecks.com's Sunday Sweets (this part of the site features really, really awesome cakes, unlike the Wrecktacular ones featured from Monday through Saturday). Purely by chance, I scrolled through the gallery of a particular bakery whose cakes I really liked - Cakes To Remember, in Massechusetts - and found A BULLDOG CAKE!!!

My next step was to email the baker, Ellen Bartlett, and beg her for help. Ellen had the wonderful good grace and generosity to email me back almost immediately and give me basic instructions, which helped a great deal with the process, but which, at the end of the day, were never going to make me a better sculptor. But without her, any form of canine-like cake would never have happened.

This is what the cake was supposed to look like...

view cakes
(hello, puppy! So lifelike! So much expression in those buttercream jowels and brow! What a talented lady)

And this is what my practice attempt looked like...
(...um.... oh, my... what a nice, pixellated, car crash victim kind of doggie! (note to self - using buttercream coloured with cocoa isn't as easy as Ellen made it look)) 

And this is what the final product looked like...
 (Puppy has an oddly crazed look about him, but at least he looks like a dog now! Sort of...)

I can see it now - tears of laughter are streaming down your faces. But if that's what it takes for the next freakazoid whose boyfriend wants a bulldog cake for his birthday to find a little guidance, then so be it! I also happen to think it looks like another breed of dog - the name escapes me, but one of those smallish dogs - so at least it resembles a dog, if not the dog I wanted it to.

Thanks to Ellen's instructions, without which I would have been quite lost, this is how I arrived at a dog-shaped final product - two oblong tins, one round, and baked two cakes in each (I think she had more layers in her instructions and suspect this involved splitting the cakes and glueing them with MORE delicious buttercream, but I'm lazy). For each set of three differently-sized cakes, I used two cake mixes (industrial, mind you, not supermarket!), which means that there were four cake mixes used in total for this cake. I then glued them together with buttercream, including dowels and cardboard to support every second layer.
 (If I've learned one thing out of this, it's that I'd probably make a decent bricklayer - my grouting work was quite good!)

Froze it to make it easier to carve.
(make sure you've got room in your freezer before you even think about this step!)

Carved it.
 (This step results in much delicousness, and also made me realise that I should have made the cardboard supports much smaller than the actual layer to allow for sculpting. I had to do this retrospectively - once the cake was actually glued together - with a Stanley knife, and it almost ended badly!)

Put a crumb coat of buttercream on it, added two more layers of buttercream and decorated it.
(I'm not sure if he's laughing or wants to take a piece out of me... eeeeeeeeasy, boy...)

Oh and the ears are made of sugarpaste, which I shaped and then dried over a little rolled piece of paper towel covered in baking paper, then, once dried, smeared with buttercream.

Have I mentioned how much I love buttercream??

So there you have it. It's not really a bulldog, but Grant loved it, and I personally think I get bonus points for effort!

Is Nessie ever going to be a professional baker? Probably not. But I think I might give some of those kids' birthday cakes from the AWW birthday cake book that EVERYONE's mum has a whirl. They're a heck of a lot simpler, and come with patterns. How unlike me to want to run before I can walk.

But just think - if one practice attempt brought me from this level...
(*shudders*)
to this standard...

(*shudders slightly less violently*)

...then imagine what further practice could do!

PS - even though I loved playing, I quite the piano because I didn't like to practice... this doesn't bode well for my bulldog cakes, does it...

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Food for Thought - Mosquitoes 101

I've been on the go a bit over the last few months since my last project finished up in Adelaide, and it's all been work-related.

First, I headed up north to the Territory, where I visited sites my company has acquired in Alice Springs, Katherine and Darwin. It was quite novel travelling for work, and a bit of a head trip that they would fly me about (yay! Frequent Flyer points!), put me up in a relatively nice hotel worth in excess of $200 per night, and chuck me the keys to a hire car with reckless abandon.

Besides being tired of running all over the place, it was great seeing Grant in Alice Springs and my cousin Darren as well as Grant's parents in Darwin, and also catching up with an old work mate in Katherine.

That was part of a month I spent in our South Australian head office, and during that time I was pulled here and there and given extra work to do that wasn't relevant to the reason I was sitting in the office (which is why, when I'm done blogging, I will be doing some of the work I didn't quite finish at the time. It's very close to finished, mind you, but it's kind of grating on my nerves!).

And then last week, my company very generously flew my Good Friend and Ever Willing Partner In Crime, Alice, over to Adelaide so that she could drive back with me to Melbourne, where I spent a week in our office in Richmond, familiarising myself with the new project. As if being Corporate Nessie in Adelaide hadn't worn me down for four weeks, I had had enough of it all AGAIN on my very first day in Melbourne, when it took me nearly two hours to get to work. Sure, half an hour of that was because I overshot my turnoff due to roadworks confusing me, but most of it was the traffic. It was just awful. So the rest of the week saw me rising before six to be at work at 7, so that I could leave before 4. Ugh.

And now, I'm in Barham, NSW. It's a tiny little town on the Murray, about half way between Swan Hill and Echuca. It's a little over 300km from Melbourne and is on the opposite side of the Murray to Koondrook, its Victorian counterpart. The two towns are separated by a single lane bridge that's more than a hundred years old and has a Give Way sign on one side, and a section in the middle that lifts(ed?) up to admit the paddle steamers of old. It's such a small town that the bloke who delivered flowers to me yesterday said hello in the street this morning!

To the mosquitos.

Recently, there have been significant flows in the Murray River due to flooding that began in North-Eastern Victoria. This interactive map shows you how full the reservoirs are. During this flooding, the forest we are supposed to be working in was flooded, as were many surrounding areas, and now there are pools of stagnant water all over the place. (This flooding also caused a black water event, which also means that in some backwaters there are piles of rotting fish all over the place, too.)

And so now there are mosquitoes.

I belive that there always ARE mosquitoes here at this time of year, but on my evening stroll today I was blown away by the number of them and the noise. As I walked along the river bank - probably not the smartest thing I could have done at twilight, truth be told - there were clouds and clouds of them. And you know that zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzztzzzzzzzzzztzzzztzzzzzzzzzztzzzzzzzz sound they make? Well muliply that by about twelve million. And I'm not exaggerating. As I walked with the river to my left, there was a very distinct and high-pitched whining coming from the direction of the river. Where the path wound towards the river and (introduced) trees stood out, the clouds of mosquitoes came a little bit further inland.

Seeing all these clouds of mosquitoes, in fact, walking THROUGH these clouds of mosquitos with ne'er a nibble, seemed nothing short of a miracle. I assumed that it was because I hadn't stopped still, and perhaps there was some merit in that. But it did get me wondering about the Secret Life of Mosquitoes.

So here's five fun facts about mosquitoes!

1. The gents keep their probocuses to themselves - it is the ladies that bite, and even then, not all species will bite

2. Both males and females generally feed on plant sap and nectar (which would explain why they were hovering about the trees), but the females will seek out blood for its protein and iron before breeding

3. Mosquitoes lay eggs in water, which then develop into pupae and then larvae. This part of the life cycle lasts 10-14 days, and the adult stage lasts 1-2 weeks (although they can survive up to a month in captivity <-- I must say the concept of a mosquito in captivity utterly captivates me. No pun intended, by the way!)

4. Most mosquito species are crepuscular. Great word, huh?! It means dusk or dawn feeder, which explains why you generally only get bitten in the evening - because you're still snug as a bug at dawn (and they're probably a bit sluggish from the overnight cold), and most are having a siesta in the middle of the day. Except the Asian Tiger Mosquito. He sounds a bit scary...

5. Mosquitos find their host by detecting carbon dioxide, which all mammals exhale. They will exhibit more generalised feeding behaviour - casually zipping about the place - until they detect CO2, and then they go in for the kill. Or drink, as the case may be.

Now, for good measure, I looked up this Asian Tiger Mosquito, and as it turns out, THIS is the little bastard that is ALWAYS attacking me!!! Not the nice, sleepy brown ones, but the evil, zippy, stripey ones! Get him! GET HIM! *slap* *slap* *slap*

It makes you a bit itchy just looking at him, doesn't it...

Saturday, 2 October 2010

On Travelling for Work

I am home this evening after four nights away for work. I travelled this week to Alice Springs, Katherine and Darwin. For anyone who's not from around here, it's about 1500km to Alice, another 1500km to Darwin, and about a 650km round trip drive to Katherine from Darwin, which I did in a day as well as doing my work.

I haven't been truly homesick in more than two years living interstate, but this trip wore me down and I don't know why. I got to see Grant, which was fabulous. And I got to see my cousin Darren, who I haven't seen in ages, and also Grant's parents. But the monotony of fly-work-eat-work-hotel-sleep-eat-fly-work-eat (you get the picture) really started to get me down. I have no idea how people do this ALL THE TIME but there are people out there who do. People with families. I had only an empty house and a buttload of ironing to come home to, but I'd still prefer that to travelling for work.

Is it the lack of routine and stability? Is it the mould in the showers of hotels that cost $220 per night and really shouldn't have any mould in sight? Is it the continual eating out for dinner, buffet breakfast and whatever you are lucky enough to get hold of for lunch? Is it all the sitting around in airports, and having to make sure you've got everything you need? I never thought I was a creature of habit, but maybe I am after all. I enjoy sitting in our quiet little house in a quiet little street in quiet little Adelaide, doing little else with my weekends besides potter about the garden, doing the shopping, really being able to genuinely control what you eat, going for a walk and watching a movie or two. I'd enjoy that little routine in whatever city it happened to be in, as long as it was home.

Maybe it's because you're on a schedule when you travel for work, and you're a slave to it. Travel for holidays is one thing. I can - and have - packed up and moved every single day for a few months running, and whilst it is exhausting, it's all part of an adventure. You get to see the world, and the more you move on the more you see (although the opposite could be argued). But doing the same to earn a coin is just awful. Kudos to those who can hack it, but, unless I'm actually making a genuine positive contribution to something or someone by doing it, I just can't stomach it.

What do you guys think about travelling for work? What's your favourite bit? Your least favourite bit? Whilst it's kind of fun to have flights and car hire paid for, and have the lady at the hotel desk tell you the company is picking up your room service tab, and to arrive in your room of an evening to find that some kind soul has turned your bed down and placed a mint on your pillow, the novelty wears off rapidly. Or is that just li'l ol' homebody me?

Sunday, 26 September 2010

A Royal Stuff-Up. Literally.

No, this is not a post about me meeting a member of the royal family and saying something dumb. Interesting I should say that, actually, because I did have a dream the other night that Prince William called me up and asked me out. I don't know how I knew it was him, but I just did, because somehow I could also "see" him on the other end of the phone, and he looked a lot more like his hotter, 16-year-old self (that is to say, he had hair) than his less attractive 28-ish year old self. I was not, however, delusional enough to believe it could really be true, because after we'd chatted and flirted and agreed to go out with him, I kept saying "Is this really Prince William? Really? Is this really Prince William?" Ahh, good to know that even in my sleep I'm a babbling, incoherent mess around men!

So, now for the REAL story.

Today I finally decided to have a crack at royal icing. I'm talking the fancy-schmantzy, beautiful piped stuff you often see on old-fashioned wedding cakes. I happen to think that style is absolutely gorgeous, but the masses appear to be addicted to rolled sugarpaste icing for some reason that I can't quite explain.

I know it was dumb of me to think that this was the sort of thing that anyone could possibly be naturally talented at, but in my heart of hearts I hoped that I was the Da Vinci of royal icing. How wrong I was. No, as it turns out, I am more like the Picasso of royal icing, or perhaps even the Dali. Sigh.

I can't say that I'm actually surprised that it all went horribly, horribly wrong, because I have never had a lesson in royal icing, and no amount of reading will prepare you for the shock. I also don't think it helped that I found four or five different variations on the recipe, and I suspect that I ended up using the kind most commonly found in floodwork on gingerbread men or for gluing gingerbread houses together. Next time I intend to make a cake out of a cake decorating book and follow the instructions letter for letter, word by word.

Having provided a very suitable excuse for the crappiness of my icing (besides the fact I'm just not used to holding a piping bag), I am now less reticent to share the embarrassment that is the cakes I decorated (I baked two miniature ones to practice on, and two cupcakes). Remember that the icing is far too runny to hold its form, and with that in mind, I kind of did okay. I was seriously wondering whether I'd delusionally thought I could do certain techniques with royal icing that can normally only be done with buttercream, but the Wilton section on royal icing put my mind at ease. It also showed me that I whipped it for about five to seven minutes shy of what I should have. Oh well, live and learn.

First up, I attempted to cover the cakes smoothly in plain white icing. FAIL. Then I had a crack at a rigid scalloped border. Suffice it to say, runny icing was never going to do the trick, therefore FAIL.

Also, I managed to get the Wilton gel food dye on my hands because, even though I bought vinyl gloves for the purpose, I totally forgot to put them on. FAIL.

Then I tried a technique known as cornelli lace. This actually isn't so far from what it's supposed to look like, so it's kind of an UN-FAIL! :) Except that because my smallest tip is a #2, it's a lot fatter than it should have been. Also, again, I suspect this technique would have worked better with a whipped icing like buttercream (at this point I begin to wonder whether you can whip royal icing into a fluffy frenzy. It makes sense that you could, because it is effectively a somewhat unbalanced meringue - and more on that later. Never having whipped royal icing for as long as you're supposed to, I have no idea whether, when you do that, it whips into a gorgeous, fluffy frenzy. I do intend to find out, but for now there is royal icing from here to kingdom come (by which I mean all the way across my kitchen), so I think I'll wait a while to find out).

And then I attempted to... ooh there's a name for this and I think it's lacework but I'm not certain. Basically it involves piping the icing onto baking paper laid over a template, letting it dry, and then gluing it to the cake with more icing. Being slack, I decided to freestyle it, which ended with the design being a bit sloppy and also a little phallic. FAIL. (Secondary fail due to inappropriately sized icing tip.) And then I got impatient and put it in the oven (which was off, but which had recently been on) to dry, and that's where my thought that royal icing is actually like meringue came into play, because instead of just drying, it darkened and rose, much like meringue. FAIL.


So this is what they looked like. I'm a little bit embarrassed by them but I'm posting them as a reminder to myself to be more patient.


Try not to laugh too hard.

Sunday, 19 September 2010

City to Bay Fail

This morning, I sprang out of bed at 6:15am, keen as a bean to participate in the City to Bay fun run (or, in my case, fun walk - 3km will do me, cos the 12km would have done me in!). I was at the station by 7, ready to catch the 07:10 train into town, and then the tram down to the Morphettville Junction Centre, where the 3km leg started. I was questioning my sanity a little, because nobody else seemed to be up at this hour.

At 07:15 the train had not arrived, so I re-checked the timetable, and as it turns out I had been reading the Saturday timetable (working all day Saturday seriously screws with your head). No wonder nobody was at the station! So I came back home, did the dishes and went out again. The second time around, the train platform looked eerily similar...

... but this time the train showed up. Following some ticketing validation issues, once in the city, I got on a tram - like all the City to Bay information said I should (it spoke of a ten minute disruption of services while the 12km leg kicked off) - and the driver promptly told me that it wasn't running to Glenelg like normal, and that I needed to catch a bus from in front of the casino. So I moseyed down there, and, with a bunch of people also waiting for a bus, also discovered (from a volunteer who seemed to know as little as we did) that buses weren't actually running from there today because of the event.

Myself and two others who were trying to get to the same place then headed the four or so blocks to Grote St to catch a bus from there, as directed. When we got there a sign told us to head to Pultney St, which is on the other side of town. At this point we decided that if we couldn't get a tram from Victoria Square as we crossed it, that we would throw in the towel, because by now it was ten past nine and we had to be down there in time for a 09:45 start (and they recommend being there half an hour early).

So me, Lorraine (an Irish lass) and Harry (her husband) headed off for Hindley St (the only place in town likely to be open for drinking) for a pint of beer. Unsurprisingly it was the Irish lass' suggestion. At 09:28 we were sipping a nice cold pint of Draught at the Princes Berkely Hotel, surrounded by people still drinking from the night before, and served by a bartender who appeared to be either exhausted, or on drugs. Suffice it to say we got a few comments and whistles showing up in gym gear with our race numbers attached, but we managed to discourage the drunkards and found a quiet seat up the back (unfortunately close to where two dishevelled punters were making out by a pool table). I suppose it wasn't a dead loss because we must have walked close to 3km attempting to find public transport!

So this is what the City to Bay looked like for me this year:

Note that the glass is plastic.

Morals of the story:
1. Don't rely on weekend public transport in Adelaide to function sufficiently get you where you want to go (the fact that my train ran an hour later than I thought probably made it close to impossible to get into town and down to the race start on time, and that's WITHOUT the tram issues). You'd think they'd coordinate PT a bit better when there's a major public event involved, but no. I have used better public transport in developing countries.
2. Make friends with strangers - it makes what would have otherwise been a total write-off of a morning far more interesting.
3. Don't drink at the Princes Berkeley. The floors a sticky, the glasses are plastic and the patrons are seedy (no surprises there, though, because it was one of the only pubs open on a Sunday morning). Again, I've been to cleaner pubs in developing nations.

The End.

Friday, 3 September 2010

Story Time - Making Out Like Bandits

In a recent post, I promised to tell you a story about “making out like a pair of bandits.”

Actually, it’s less of a story and more of another example of how bent my mind is. 
When I think about the phrase "making out like bandits", I think of this:

And then I think of pash rash, because bandits always have an abundance of dark, scratchy stubble, right?? (and, according to the above impression, poor taste in clothing and headwear)

Just thought I'd share. That is all!

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Tips for Tall Girls... FAIL!

I came across this article http://www.theage.com.au/lifestyle/lifematters/survival-tips-for-very-tall-teenage-girls-20100902-14o35.html?autostart=1 in my lunch break today, and it is the biggest load of bollocks I have ever come across. I don’t quite know what I expected, but it wasn’t that. No advice was offered (except that you can snog older guys if you're a tall girl because you seem older – WTF???) and nothing was cleared up at all. I feel very sorry for any insecure tall teenage girls who read it, hoping for an answer.



What disappointed me even further were the comments at the bottom from tall girls who are clearly not happy with their height and did nothing but whinge about finding clothes to fit. This baffles me. I LOVE being tall, and there is SO much more to it than having trouble finding clothes to fit. I even loved being tall during my awkward teen years (it was the being overweight part that made me unhappy, but because I was tall too, in my head I was somehow able to label myself as “big” not as “fat”), as a kid, and even now I love it, even when the jerk in front of me on a flight to London decides to have their seat reclined the entiiiiiiiire way (note that, in BA Cattle Class, the pitch of the seat (i.e. the distance from the part your back sits against to the pointy piece of metal on the back of the seat in front of you) is exactly one millimetre shorter than from my bottom to the front of my kneecap. Fabulous). 


Mum recently told me that when I was in kinder, a well-meaning mother of a friend suggested that they put me on growth inhibitors so that I didn’t end up too tall. I will be forever grateful that this did nothing but anger my mother (she still won’t tell me who it was, which makes me think it was someone closer, which is sad), and maybe even prompt her to hammer home that being tall was a great thing, and that I was beautiful the way I was (the former stuck; the latter took far longer to sink in). Maybe it’s got something to do with one’s upbringing, but my height has always been a mark of pride for me. I could always reach the biscuit tin (hmm… maybe there’s a correlation with the weight thing there…). I could be better than everyone else, particularly the boys, at something – being tall! And it’s a great conversation starter - I have never minded people saying “gosh, you’re tall!” (or equivalent - sometimes small South Americans will laugh in disbelief; try, in a combination of Spanish and halting English, to express how amazing they think your height is; or tilt their head up as they look at you and say “whoahhhhhh…”). It’s not an insult, it’s an observation, and eight out of ten times it's delivered as a compliment, too. It doesn’t really get boring, either, because you can mix it up a bit and say smugly “yeah, and you’re not” and then wait for a reaction. It’s great fun! I don’t even mind if strangers ask me if I play basketball, because it gives me an opportunity to bond with them – there’s nothing like a mildly self-deprecating joke (e.g. “Nope, I’m too unco”) to break the ice. Incidentally, that’s pretty much how my first conversation with Grant went!


Being tall is fabulous, and at 186cm (6’1.75”) I’m hardly a circus freak. Yes, I draw attention wherever I go, and yes, that takes a bit of getting used to, but I’ve had 28 years to do that (and one could argue that, because I hit six foot at the tender age of fourteen, I’ve been used to it for half a lifetime). I remember walking through Adelaide Central Markets with Grant in the early days of our relationship, Grant in a hi-vis shirt and workboots, and me in something a bit nicer, holding hands. This bloke stared at us, and Grant got a little bit defensive about it, perhaps as he assumed that the guy was somehow judging us, until I pointed out that most likely the guy was staring at me, not at us. It happens to me constantly. Every time I go shopping, at least three people will stare. The good thing about this is it prompts me to make a bit more effort and not go shopping in tracksuit pants, because yes, as the article says, you do become more visible. And you know what? Two out of the three will smile when I catch them staring. It’s nice and it makes me feel good.


Bizarrely, though, other tall women freak me out. I see them, and think “get out of my air space!!! This is MY zone!!!” I guess that’s testimony to how much I love being fairly unique. Being tall is awesome.


So here’s MY survival tips for tall teenage girls:


Look after your body – exercise and eat right, and don’t smoke, or drink too much. No amount of strangers stopping me at the shops to tell me I ought to be a model will help me to shift that last five kilos and tone my thighs and stomach – that’s up to me. The healthier you are, the better you feel about yourself and the more you enjoy life. Healthy doesn’t mean thin, it means feeling good, and I have personally found that the better I eat and the more I exercise, the more energetic I feel. Yes, it often coincides with weight loss, but the good feelings are because you feel more alive, stronger, fitter, and confident because you’ve achieved something for your own wellbeing.

Take heart - the boys will catch up one day, and when they do, the taller ones will make a beeline for you. But don’t discount men who are shorter than you, because you’re unnecessarily cutting out a large number of wonderful, lovely guys, like my man, who is a couple of inches shorter than me. It turns out that it’s not relative height of your partner that makes you feel comfortable with yourself as a woman – feminine, if you will - but, rather, how masculine he is. And in the long run, you will have a distinct advantage over the other girls, because in the first place you WILL be noticed, and in the second place, you are more likely to attract more confident men. Be patient and don't settle for second best.


Finding clothes to fit is more difficult for tall women than for some other (but not all) women, but it’s not the end of the world, and I haven’t spent a single day (involuntarily) n@ked as a result of it. Clothes come in standard sizes and fit very few people perfectly. Tall girls struggle, but so do larger girls, short girls, athletic girls, girls with generous mammary Gifts from God, fat ankles, no ankles, no necks, skinny legs, no b00bs. Suck it up. It’s your body. It’s part of you, like it or not, and you’re not the only one who struggles with it. So don’t struggle against it – make it work for you.


You just have to learn which brands and styles work for you, and in some cases, alterations that work for you. Always, always dress to your shape, not to the fashion of the day, even if it means shopping at stores targeted at older women. I, for one, discovered that JAG Jeans almost always stock a style with a large hem on it which can be taken down and give you an extra 2-3 inches. If you find a pair you love, go back and buy a couple more pairs because it’ll save the trauma of hunting for new jeans for another year or two. If you’re a bit shorter on money, Jeans West makes extra-long jeans, and Target makes their pants in three lengths, and the long ones are more than long enough.


I have the most trouble with tops, and, traumatically, spent my overweight teens years in the late nineties when T-shirts that exposed the belly were the clothing du jour. But eventually I realised that you can buy a long singlet from Cotton On for $5 and put it under shorter shirts in the name of abdominal modesty and self-preservation. Done. You may also have trouble finding dresses with waists to fit, but the secret there is either to wear a separate skirt and top, or to buy slightly looser dresses with a sash around the waist which you can tie at whatever height you want. As far as skirts go, aim for knee-length ones. If you go for long ones they will invariably sit mid-calf and make your legs look fat, and, unless you have deliciously toned pins, ¾ pants will do the same thing for you (as a side-note, I have a deep-rooted dislike for ¾ pants, possibly founded on a childhood spent in trousers that were too short).


I offer no consolation for tall girls who also have large feet – I’m an 8 ½ - 9, which is quite small for my height – but don’t be afraid to wear high heels. Just make sure you wear ones that are comfortable, because with extra height comes extra weight on the ball of your foot. Novo shoes makes pretty strappy sandals with low, wide heels that are relatively cheap. There are plenty of flat boots out there. Even “old lady” brands like Easy Steps and Hush Puppies make surprisingly fashionable footwear these days, and who the hell cares if your friends think it’s funny – you’ll be walking easy at the end of the day, and they’ll be soaking their feet and buffing their corns, and at the end of your working life, you’ll still be able to get about easily while their deformed feet will more or less have crippled them. And ballet flats have come back in during the last five years, and can be very, very pretty, classy, cheap and comfortable. (They can also be the reverse if you buy a pair that require breaking in (like my awesome purple patent leather Steve Madden ones, with leopard print lining), but once they’re broken in they are soooo comfortable.
  
Look after your mind. It's probably more important than looking after your body, because it gives you the strength to do what you want with your body. Your best friend is yourself, and having a happy and healthy relationship with yourself will make you feel less awkward about being tall when people stare. Don't berate yourself for being different; embrace the difference that makes you special. Read heaps - it's fun, it's cheap, it's educational and it lets your imagination take over. Don't let anyone tell you that it's nerdy or uncool, either. One of the coolest people I know has a lot of dorky hobbies - he's a whiz with computers, he plays with model trains, and he grows old-fashioned facial hair and styles it using moustache wax - but because he doesn't care what other people think of his hobbies, it makes it cool and gives him a sort of charisma.


My advice is simple, and applies to not just tall girls – your confidence comes from who you are, not what you look like. Step one is to believe in yourself. Yes, the clothes you wear can influence how you feel about yourself, so wear clothes that suit you, not what suits your friends. Develop your own sense of style. Dress to your shape, whatever it is. Look after your body – you only get one - as well as your mind. And be prepared to spend $120 on a pair of black pants that fit you really well and are long enough, instead of $200 on four pairs of black pants that don’t quite fit properly. Levi’s are onto it http://www.theage.com.au/lifestyle/fashion/jeans-to-suit-your-genes-20100902-14o8w.html

Sunday, 29 August 2010

Winter Greens and Pancetta Fettuccine

Last night I had a friend over for dinner. I debated long and hard over what to cook, and, having decided on Donna Hay's Molten Chocolate Puddings for dessert (I love chocolate, I love pudding, and I need to make pudding while the thermometer's low!), finally arrived at the decision to make Winter Greens and Pancetta Fettuccine.

For some reason, I often pass over my extensive Donna Hay collection of cookbooks (below, left hand side) in favour for my Australian Women's Weekly ones (below, right). I own Instant Entertaining, No Time to Cook, and the entire Simple Essentials range - Chocolate; Salads + Vegetables; Pasta, Rice + Noodles; Chicken; Fruit; Beef, Lamb + Pork; as well as Christmas, which is not strictly in the same range of cookbooks, but is in the same format and with the same cute presentation. Of the AWW ones, I own Cook; Bake; Kitchen; and The Complete Cook.

All I can think of is that the presentation shown in the Donna Hay ones intimidates me, and makes me assume that the recipe is going to be complicated and take a lot of time.

How wrong I am. And I should know that. I have cooked no fewer than three menus from Instant Entertaining, and none of it was difficult, and most of it was quick. But my brain won't listen!

Last night, I delved into Winter Greens and Pancetta Fettuccine. I did make two small and probably fairly irrelevant alterations to it though - firstly, I made it with spaghetti (because I was originally going to make a different recipe which called for spaghetti, and obviously the need for spaghetti, not fettuccine, lodged itself in my brain when I went to the supermarket); and secondly, I used baby spinach instead of silverbeet/Swiss chard (because I was fed far too much silverbeet as a kid. It ran rampant in our backyard and we ate it nearly every single damned night in winter. Adults may like it okay, but kids don't, especially not when you get it every night, and I'm scarred enough to have not ventured into silverbeet territory since).

INGREDIENTS:
400g fettuccine pasta
30g butter
1tsp olive oil
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 brown onion, chopped
1tbsp thyme leaves
1 bunch silverbeet (Swiss chard), trimmed and chopped
1/2c chicken stock
2tbsp finely grated lemon rind
sea salt and bracked black pepper
12 slices pancetta, grilled
finely grated parmesan cheese, to serve

METHOD:
1. Cook pasta in salted water until al dente. Drain and keep warm.
2. Heat a large non-stick frypan over high heat. Add butter, oil, garlic, onion and thyme and cook for 2 mins
3. Add silverbeet and toss for 1 min or until just starting to wilt
4. Pour in stock, cover and cook 4-5 mins or until silverbeet is wilted and cooked through*
5. Stir in the lemon rind, salt and pepper. Add the silverbeet mixture to the pasta and toss to combine
6. Serve topped with pancetta and parmesan

If you're really coordinated you'll be able to cook the onion, spinach etc. while the pasta is cooking. I cooked the pancetta before everything else, which put a bit of that flavour through the rest of it, and then, after tipping the mixture into the pasta, quickly re-heated the pancetta in the frypan.

Quick, simple and delicious! (And you could maybe substitute the butter for more oil for a lighter finish)

*note that when using baby spinach, the cooking process is much shorter

Things That Excite Me

PROLOGUE: I'm really, really annoyed right now. Apparently holding down shift and scrolling up to the top of the page deletes every single last word you've written. I'd just finished a post, and was making all the text the same colour, and now I have to start from scratch. Fan-flippin'-tastic.

Anyway.

There are lots of Things That Excite Me, mostly trivial, and lots of them, as you may already have gathered, are kitchen utensils. I have already introduced you to my loaf pan and my Piranha peeler, and I now wish to introduce to the following:

1) My teensy, tiny Pyrex dishes.

The ones holding thyme and garlic hold about a tablespoon comfortably (maybe two if densely packed), the one holding lemon zest holds about two tablespoons comfortably, and the larger one holds one finely chopped smallish brown onion at a bit of a squeeze (don't ask me how many tablespoons that is!). I would imagine you could get a larger onion in there but it would be piled up quite high.

2) My offset spatula.

Granted, I have not yet had the opportunity to use it, but I'm looking forward to spreading icing and tart or cheesecake filling perfectly flat and smooth without getting it on my knuckles. I'm thinking I shall christen it on cheesecake, partly because I like cheesecake, and partly because Grant likes cheesecake more than I do, which means that because the calories can be blamed on him, that they will go to his hips and not mine. I'm not entirely sure how that works just yet, but I'll figure out the details later. I'm sure that's how it works...

A lot of non-kitchen stuff also excites me right now, and most of those things are related to our new house.

1) The venetian blind in the loungeroom, which I picked and Grant installed, excites me because it looks much nicer than before, and lets more light in, making that corner of the room lighter and brighter (you can sort of gain appreciation for that in the following photo - the window is on the right hand side).

This window, which faces the TV, originally had a double layer of crappy brown polar fleece tacked in between the window - which doesn't open - and the flyscreen. This corner was all dark and horrible until I decided to spring for the $36 blind at Spotlight, and don't ask me why the previous owners didn't take the same leap of faith that they did on the $12 Spotlight blind in the bedroom and instead opted for a rag as a curtain! Maybe I'm really excited because I have superior taste in drapery...

2) Our new dining table and kitchen dresser excite me, partly because we have somewhere to eat and enough storage space, and partly because we made out like bandits (remind me to tell you a story about that) on them both - bargain!

We bought both on sale - the table was a floor model and the last one left, so we got it at a discount, and we found the dresser at the Le Cornu Monster Marquee Sale (basically a scratch and dent sale held - as the name indicates - in a sizeable marquee in their carpark). They actually delivered the wrong dresser (same model, different dresser). A better one! It came in two pieces, and the top half was most certainly not the one we bought, which had a big split in the upper left cornice (for want of a better word), whereas the front of this one isn't glued quite as closely to the side as it should be, resulting in a 1.5mm gap down the right hand side, which I reckon I can fix with a texta! The bottom half is also not the one we bought, because I clearly remember it belonging to the other dresser that was on display, which had a top that was far worse damaged. I remember it because it has a small "is that all??" kind of scratch in it, which nearly sucked me in until I noticed how badly screwed the top of it was.

3) My new herb garden excites me, perhaps irrationally so.

The herb garden is comprised of two large (large enough for me to require man-help to lift) oblong terra cotta pots flanking our back steps. I have planted two types of parsley, dill, corriander, oregano, thyme and mint in it. I also planted rosemary in the back corner of the yard in the knowledge that it would probably grow prolifically and take over the pot (which the mint may also do - the mint is the one at the front right of the pot, and it is already three times larger than when I planted it a week ago. Best I keep an eye on that...). I also want basil and maybe sage but will be content with just the basil.

I am so excited to have herbs growing at my back doorstep, but am even more excited at the prospect of planting a vegie garden. On the list of improvements for the house (along with installing a bathtub - un-necessary, but would be nice - and a gas cooktop - not only do I abhor cooking on electric (it's so unresponsive), but my electric one is also a little quirky (by which I mean kind of unsafe, evidenced by the fact that to use it you must flip the retro-fitted override switch - I will tell you about in another post - so at least for that "want" I can cite safety as a reason!)) is one of those corrugated iron raised garden beds. I love gardening and have really missed it the last two years, and once I've got that garden bed I'll be as happy as the proverbial pig. My love for gardening doesn't always extend to mowing the lawn, mind you... *reaches for the yellow pages*

But I think the thing that excites me most about our house is the fact that it is ours.

EPILOGUE: I'm quite pleased with how this re-hashed version turned out - it's quite a lot more succinct. Pity I just missed out on an hour of sleep, though...

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Things that probably shouldn't exist - Hot Chocolate... IN A CAN!!!

The other night I was at the supermarket picking up a few odds and ends to tide me over for the week, and I came across this.

Now, before you start to think that I have taken leave of my senses, I only bought it because it was on sale. I'm not sure whether it was on sale because it's a new product, or because they're trying to get rid of them. At this point, either option is a possibility!

The instructions seemed fairly straightforward, but for some reason I was a bit nervous about setting the wheels in motion. Step one was to remove the anti-tamper seal. Don't ask me who in their right mind would bother tampering with a can of hot chocolate, but anyhow...

Peeling back the seal revealed more - very specific - instructions.
I was half tempted to whip out a ruler to ensure I was pushing the button in precisely 1.5cm, but in the end I restrained myself because I figured I wasn't strong enough to push it in too far and bollocks it up completely. As I pushed it down, it felt kind of crunchy, like when you bend a cyalume stick to make it glow. My best guess is that when you push the button down, you're releasing something that mixes with another chemical that's in there and causes an exothermic reaction. Kind of like those hand warmer things you can buy from hiking shops.

Next, I was required to shake the can gently for about 20 seconds. That has to be one of the most daft instructions I have ever read, because "gently" is a very subjective thing. "Gently" to a two-year-old or to a frail old woman may not be the same as "gently" to, say, Arnold Schwartzenegger in his heyday. I started out flailing it about in a kind of pathetic, weak, manner, but decided that it wasn't hard enough so I shook it a little harder. And don't ask me how long I did it for, either. We've already established that precise measurements are not my forte, so why should timekeeping be??!

After I placed it down on the table nothing happened for a bit. Then, suddenly, the can started to vibrate and steam started to pour out of it and it made a high-pitched squealing noise. I began to worry that it would scald the top of our new dining table, so I picked it up with a potholder and put it on the bench. As a side-note, the jiggling motion and the high pitched squeaking noise that came out of it reminded me of a Paul Jennings story about these magical mushroom thingies that imitate objects that they are put next to, and then eventually jiggle and giggle and explode into a puddle of pungent goop.
I sure hope someone else remembers that story otherwise I'm going to sound like a total nutcase... YES! I Googled it! The story is called Yuggles, and basically, whenever someone nasty is around one of these toadstools, they turn into a brown, motionless replica of something nearby. But they're not very stable and eventually explode, just like I said.
Anyway.
Now, theoretically the temperature indicator was supposed to tell me when I should be drinking it, but it didn't. And patience isn't my forte, either (that's not true, I'm a very patient person... but rarely when it comes to food!), so I decided to judge it on how warm the can was to the touch.

For the purpose of this blog, and also because it felt weird drinking something hot out of a can, I poured the warm hot chocolate.

Hmm... it's a brown puddle... wonder if it's a Yuggle... kidding. I know that Yuggles don't really exist (or do they?), but this might as well have been one. I wouldn't bother with this product. I really, really wouldn't. But it doesn't resemble the frothy-topped hot choc on the label, at all (thankyou, Captain Obvious!), and it doesn't taste much like one of those frothy-topped speciems would. The hot chocolate was thick and syrupy but tasted plasticy, too. The texture reminded me somewhat of one of those Supa-Shakes you can get at the supermarket, where you shake them up and they turn into a thickshake. But hot. And plasticy. Eugh. I only made it half way through the mug (which was only about half full to start with) before I threw in the towel and tipped it out, which, if you know me and how I feel about food, chocolate especially, is really saying something!
So, although, in its defence, it was perfect drinking temperature, hot chocolate in a can shouldn't exist. DON'T DO IT, PEOPLE!!!
PS - they also make cafe latte in a can...

Sunday, 1 August 2010

NOT a Practice Cake, or, I Really Am That Good

As you may recall, I made a couple of practice cakes in preparation for making a cake for my friend Jody's 30th birthday. I was pretty smug about how well they turned out.

And my smugness was apparently well-placed, because this is how the actual cake turned out...

Today, though, my smugness was turned down a notch. I attempted to make Neenish Tarts, and they turned out NOTHING like I remember them, and they looked a little scrappy, too. Perhaps it's because I used a very home-made recipe (from a cookbook I got for my birthday from Alice - thanks A!) which, except for the fact that they're two-tone, holds little to no resemblance to the ones you get at bakeries. Also, the pastry was a little over-brown because I over-greased the tins, and also because it would seem that, for once, the fact that the fan-forced oven in my new place is the third and only oven in a row that actually requires you to drop the temperature by twenty degrees! Just when I was beginning to doubt that you needed to it, too. And, lastly, I've always been a bit unco with decorating. Hopefully practice will make perfect.
So here they are.


Soooo, let's focus back on that cake, shall we?! Nice and close!

Catchup from the old Esplanade place #1

As you may or may not recall, some time ago I began emptying the pantry. Check out the link for the "before" shot, and here is the after shot. It's not as empty as I had hoped, but believe me when I say I used a LOT of stuff from it! There were these super-cute mini mud muffins...
...which contained terrifying quantities of oil!
Oh, and here's a gem I found in the very back of the fridge, behind the jars of garlic and jam and chutney - half a can of passionfruit pulp from some passionfruit yo-yo biscuits (or, Melting Moments for you South Aussies) that I made at Christmas last year.

And here's the scary part - what it looked like. Specifically, the fact that it had no mould on it at all. The dehydration was to be expected, but the fact that it was basically passionfruit concentrate was not. Seven months in the fridge, and not a mould to be seen. Freaky. I checked out the ingredients, and no preservatives! Just passionfruit and sugar. Maybe they should try marketing passionfruit pulp as an antiseptic. Oh, and don't be judging me about the fact it was still in there!!!Also scary was - is - the packet of grated mozzarella that I haven't touched in probably 3 months, and which is still fine. I haven't investigated the preservative content of it, but I'm not sure I want to!
Here's another yummy creation from cupboard - chocolate lace crisps (they didn't ask long).

Other creations included beef and barley soup, polenta with currants (sweet, made with milk, for breakfast), pastiso, berry cobbler, plum cobbler aaaaaand some more Whatever Biscuits.
Stay tuned for a walk-through of the old house by the sea, to be followed by a walk-through of the new house (eventually. I need to make sure everything's put away before I start waving a camera about the place!). And whatever else takes my fancy in the meantime (which will probably include some baked goods).
Hope you all had a good weekend!