And Finally This

I’m thinking that I might just delay New Years. Just for a couple days, until I can have a night off. So then I could have a drink or two without immediately falling asleep.

It’s been a weird year altogether. Everyone seems to be stuck in this idea that it was overwhelmingly awful and they won’t miss 2016 at all, but it’s hard to pin down exactly why.

Continue reading And Finally This

The Project Debrief – Attack of the Killer Couch

Maybe it’s not symbolic of the whole year in general, but it sure is special when Eva decides to crawl under the fold-out couch and then climb up inside the mechanism and shoot her paw out between the couch cushions to slash at your feet and wake you up just 4 hours into your recovery from a 14-hour shift. All your brain can think is “Why is the couch trying to kill me?!?!” screamed at full mental volume. And then you see the little white-tipped paw retreat back beneath the cushions and realize that it’s just someone cute being a dick to you because they find it amusing.

It’s probably because I took her frog off her. It was a real frog, hiding among my potted plants, and it was squealing with that horrid noise that distressed frogs use. It appeared unharmed, if only because she was so put off by the sound that she was just standing back, sniffing and occasionally tentatively batting at it. So I put a pot over it, and distracted all of the cats with treats while I let the frog get away. This apparently meant that Eva was going to spend the next few hours primed with the caffeine high of hunting energy… and that she was going to get more creative with her stalking technique.

Or perhaps this is symbolic of the year in general. We started the year fairly settled and looking for a pretty section to buy. We’d put in a lot of work trying to find a place over the previous year, and we juggled a few squirming cats and distressed frogs, but we were generally optimistic about our future here. And then we found a place and (despite some issues trying to sort out the finances) we bought it. Sorted.

But perhaps the financial issues at the start were just a sign of things to come. Everything seemed fairly settled and the tasks were moving ahead well when the proverbial couch decided to try and kill us. Surprise! You don’t have a mortgage anymore!… Surprise! It turns out that you never did!

That was tough. And the fact that this sweeping change piled on top of the recent revelation that my job no longer had the potential for future growth… well it was like falling down a deep well. Trapped. No way out. Wondering how the heck you ended up here.

And I have ended the year still trying to climb out of that well. Less optimistic than when we started, but persisting forward because there are no other options. There are still a lot of things that need to be sorted out for the house. I’ve had a couple of encouraging sniffs at new jobs, but no concrete offers at this stage. Still, we are trying to climb.

In between those 14-hour shifts…

 

The Project Debrief -an introduction

It’s inevitable as you reach the end of another year that you start to look back and reflect. Where did you start this year? Where are you ending it? What has worked? What hasn’t? I guess it’s the Project Debrief Meeting of 2016.

When events have been anything other than smooth and predictable, I tend to spend my last 30 minutes at work (late at night, while the dance music rages or while some poor 16-year-old mops the floor badly) in my office with a hot drink, writing an email. In the email, I will catalog how things have progressed: why decisions got made, what has changed from the original plan, and what was missing from the original plan. Sometimes I just send that email to myself. It’s not meant as a moan session about how other people haven’t done their job – it’s just a record of that particular event while it’s fresh in my mind. It’s a learning tool. And I have to do it on the day, because by the next morning I will walk into another event having forgotten 90% of what went on at the last one. After years of doing events, my brain automatically switches to the next priority task rather than dwelling on the past.

It’s a huge problem when someone calls up three weeks later looking for lost property. “The wedding of Frances and Frank?… Um, sure, let me look…” Rummages through her memory. Which wedding was that again? The pink one? The blue one? The lilac one?… Oh, the one where they made the florist cry! The one where they kicked a hole in the wall… Oh fuck those people. “No, sorry honey, I saw your 2-year-old tearing up your $2 paper pompoms.”…

So this is what I’m doing now: writing my notes in the closing hours while the event is still in swing. Listening to the 16-year-old mop the floor while I drink coffee and try to put my addled thoughts in order.

I will keep you posted.

Really?… Really?

Well great.

Perhaps my recent lack of motivation for writing also has something to do with the growing body-count of 2016 and my inability to deal with it. I was never a huge fan of George Michael, and I won’t pretend to be now, but I respected him and empathised with his personal struggles. Like many nerdy geeks, I was a fan of Princess Leia but I’m not fool enough to confuse my love of the character with an undying love of the actress. Again, I respected her work and the way she opened up about her problems with celebrity – she could be dryly funny – but I just didn’t know enough about Carrie Fisher the Human Being to count myself as a fan.

Still. These aren’t people who I was expecting to scratch out of the living world so soon. I feel for their families and friends. It does seem like the good (and subversive) parts of the 1980s are falling away, and pretty soon all we are going to be left with is blind Reagan-worship. Someone please take care of Bruce Springsteen. He’s been looking very thin lately.

 

Summer Idyll

I have been extremely lackadaisical about writing my blog over the Christmas period. Perhaps it was all the cooking and general busyness. Perhaps it was the aftermath of eating and napping. I have become like one of the cats: sunning my belly on the deck and snoozing away the afternoon.

Even though there were only four of us, Christmas lunch with my parents was still pretty complex. Homemade pies with beef cheek slow-cooked in red wine. Ham triple-glazed in cranberry sauce and manuka honey. Corn on the cob. Potato & egg salad. Coleslaw of red cabbage, kale, carrot, celery, and sunflower seeds. Another salad of rocket, parmesan & pear, tossed in garlic salt & balsamic vinaigrette. And then we followed that with fruit salad, ice cream, and pavlova with cream and strawberries. A good (if elaborate) summer lunch. And then cheese and crackers, which became my dinner as well.

I deliberately bought the smallest ham I could find (and free-range, of course). It was 1.6kg (about 4lbs), so we’re still left with quite a bit of ham in the fridge. My husband will no doubt do what he can to make it into sandwiches, and perhaps it will find its want into an omelette or soup, but at least it’s a much more manageable size than the ham we gave away. The leftover salad was taken care of within 24 hours, and there was no leftover dessert. There’s still a lot of cheese, and booze, and chocolate, but everything will dwindle with time. The napping may also have been an side-effect of the ongoing snacking.

After lunch, for some reason my family felt motivated enough to drive out to the lighthouse on the Manukau Heads. None of us had ever been there. Only thing is, it’s a long, narrow and windy road, and it turns out that the gate to the lighthouse reserve closes at 5pm – at least that’s what the sign said. So by the time we’d picked our way up the peninsula we never did get to see the lighthouse, but I look pictures of the landscape just to entertain myself. The feathery grass, the pitted sand bank, the rough moss and bracken. It was quite beautiful in its own way. Rugged and windswept – part of an older world.

It is frankly a miracle to be able to spend both Christmas and Boxing Day with my husband, and neither of us have to work. We went down to the beach on Boxing Day (where I slipped over on a rock pool and sliced my hand open on the barnacles). The beach was virtually empty, which I guess meant that everyone else was out shopping. We wandered around the point at low tide and found a freshwater spring and a small cave. My husband made jokes about hunting for signs of “sea-squatch”. We found oysters and tiny crayfish, but left them alone. It was an idyllic way to spend a quiet, lazy day.

Now… back to that ham.

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Solstice

I know this post is very late. I started a post and then scrapped it. Then I got distracted by a job interview by phone (which went well, so here’s hoping). Then I had my list of stuff still to do for Christmas. Time just got away on me…

I’m beginning to suspect that when you’re working right up to the last minute before Christmas, you lose all enthusiasm for it. Having a big luncheon party seems like a hassle right now. And then there’s gifts, and decorations, and tidying up the house. If we were celebrating some decent holiday time then it makes sense to make home feel nice, but really we’re just adding a bunch of extra work to an already full week. It makes me wonder why we bother.

On the plus side, I started harvesting my garlic on the summer solstice this week. And look what garlic it is!


I put the trowel  (with the inch/cm markings) next to it, so you can see how monstrous this bulb really is. It’s as big as my fist! There will be much garlic bread to come…

Just in time for Christmas lunch.

Florentines

One of the things I have to write today is a recipe. It’s a recipe that I kind of made up, so it I don’t write it down I’ll forget the whole thing.

Here’s the deal: we’re doing Secret Santa at my workplace this year. The girl I drew out is one of our part-timers – very nice, bright, young, and into her horses. She’s also moving out of home to go to university, and was diagnosed as coeliac this year, which has made her life a bit more complicated. I don’t know enough about horses to be able to buy a horse-owner something useful on a $10 limit, so I figured I’d give her some gluten-free treats along with a recipe so that she can make them herself. Because gluten-free food is expensive, and young people moving out on their own into the world need to know how to feed themselves.

Sounds straightforward, right? Well, I wanted the baking to be fresh (hint: I’m actually very unprepared for Christmas) so I decided to make it the day before I needed it. I had settled on making Florentines, because the flavors of chocolate and fruit are very Christmassy, and because I thought these lacy Italian confections would be easy to make… Turns out that they’re not. Not at all.

I got up very early so that I could get them done before work. I found a recipe on the internet, but my first batch turned out as huge, chewy puddles. I thought I might be able to save them by putting them back in the oven for a couple minutes to crisp up some more. And then it turns out that the line between chewy and burnt is very fine. I did another batch, now starting to run late for work, and slammed them in the oven. Then I put my work clothes in the dryer, sorted out my lunch, and climbed in the shower with lightning speed. Luckily my husband got up and wandered blearily into the bathroom.

“Baking smells good,” he yawned.

… “Oh crap!” I yelled from the shower. “They’re still in the oven!”

So that was another batch of bitter, blackened sugar that landed in the bin, and by now I was all out of almonds. My husband chuckled that this was so like me – getting up specially early to do some crazy scheme and then forgetting it halfway through and letting it burn. I pretended to be offended, but he’s quite right. The Secret Santa gifts were supposed to be in today, but they’re not being handed out until Thursday so there was no getting around it. I’d have to stop by the supermarket after work and get some more ingredients in order to give it another go.

Sitting in the car at the supermarket after work, I decided to research a few more recipes to see if I could figure out how to make the Florentines a bit crunchier and less puddley. I bought some different ingredients. What the heck – I was swiftly running out of time to get this right! It called for some experimentation now.

Thankfully, what I ended up with actually worked!… Eventually… At midnight… Well, it wouldn’t be Christmas if I wasn’t sweating through some mad, tangled cookery in the wee hours of the morning. This is my Christmas every year. And unfortunately (considering Christmas seems to entail weeks upon weeks of eating garbage) sweets are totally my turf. It’s not the holidays until I’ve sweated out a bucket of handmade tiramisu, a sack of nougat, various filled chocolates, and 5 tons of amazing fudge. And all of this occurs at midnight, after work. Hell, you try getting chocolate to set when the house is 30 degrees celsius and we have 95% humidity!

Anyway, here’s the recipe I ended up with:

GLUTEN-FREE FLORENTINES

  • 4 Tbls Butter
  • 3 heaped Tbl Brown Sugar
  • 4 Tbls Cornflour
  • 4 Tbsl Slivered Almonds
  • 4 Tbls Sliced Almonds
  • 3 Tbls Dried Cranberries (roughly chopped)
  • 2 Tbls Mixed Peel
  • 4 Tbls Gluten-Free Cornflakes
  • 1/2 cup Dark Cooking Chocolate

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F. Cover a wide baking sheet with baking paper and set aside.

Gently melt the butter in a saucepan over a low heat. Add the brown sugar and stir over the heat until well blended. When the mixture begins to simmer, remove it from the heat and sift in the cornflour. Beat well until no lumps are visible.

Add the nuts, fruit and cornflakes to the sugar mixture. Mix well to blend.

Using a teaspoon, spoon small amounts of the mixture on the baking sheet. Leave lots of room between them, as the cookies with spread a lot. Flatten out each ball of mixture with the back of the spoon until they are as thin as possible.

Bake in the preheated oven for around 8 minutes. Remove from the oven when they are golden brown. Keep close watch, as they can burn very quickly.

While the cookies are still soft and buttery, use a knife to separate them on the baking sheet and shape them how you want. Remember that they will harden to crispy, so work quickly. Allow the cookies to cool and harden on the baking sheet.

Melt the chocolate according to the pack’s instructions, remembering to keep it away from water or steam. Use a spoon to drizzle the melted chocolate over the Florentines, and leave somewhere cool to set.

 

 

 

 

 

Catching a Break

Well, I promised myself that I’d get pictures of the pohutukawa starting to bloom, and all signs are that they will not disappoint us this Christmas. Here’s that early flush of red that I was writing about last week.

Naturally, my single day off (before the brief Christmas break) was spent in the garden. There were vegetable seedlings that were well overdue for transplanting, and yet more weeding to do. Moving the plants now will mean that we should have some decent rocket, lettuce and kale for salads later this week. Husband and I even got some time to sit on the deck with a drink and enjoy the sunshine.

A quick check on the new section proved that it’s ticking along happily now that we’ve had a bit of rain, and it even offered up a few strawberries and boysenberries. Something (possibly a rabbit?) has dug up and tried eating my tulip bulbs, but they obviously didn’t prove too palatable and I got all but one of them replanted again.

And lastly, I have another job interview on Friday… So not a bad day overall…

 

Mickey Ruins the Real World Again

The unusual occurrence of a night off meant one thing: burgers and a movie. Date night.

And now, after two hours of Star Wars, both my husband and I are wondering when we got so old and when they started making cinema seats so uncomfortable. Ow, my aching back. Ow, my legs have gone to sleep. Ow, did I just lose a kneecap? Ow, that cartoon version of Tarkin was soooo unnecessary.

I won’t go into any more spoilers for those who haven’t seen the movie yet, but it was good. Nice story arc. Some complexity of motives. Not a groundbreaking masterpiece, but better than any part of 1-3. Except for the CGI Tarkin, who was so distractingly rubbery that it pissed me off… Almost as much as Old Leia’s new tendency to talk through a clenched jaw. Seriously, just open your mouth more. I think the botox has taken away your ability to enunciate, deary.

You really do have to wonder why they thought resurrecting Peter Cushing was required. 95% of Star Wars fans already knew he was dead. If you think that those lines absolutely have to be delivered by Tarkin, then just put another actor in that role. It’s not unforgivable and nowhere near as cringe-inducing as painting Hayden Christensen into Return of the Jedi. Either that, or make those lines belong to some hitherto unknown Empire official who just happens to die near the end. Yes, the story would still work even though Tarkin pops up as a semi-important figure in Episode 4. There are ways to navigate around these things that don’t involve putting a cartoon of a dead actor in your movie.

I really think that filmmakers with big budgets often get carried away with the “because we can” element. Why have a CGI Tarkin? Because we can. Because we think that the graphics are good enough that most people won’t notice that it’s fake – and it’s pretty cool that we get to show off our abilities and our expensive animation… Except that it still does look really fake, and there’s actually no logical reason for it other than inflating the ego of the animators. They may as well just paint in the character as Goofy and be done with it. I really hope that Peter Cushing’s family got a big, fat check and then wiped their asses with it.

Why? Because, in what I assume is the majority opinion, I am not in favor of reanimating the dead. And while Tarkin is a character that continues to exist in an artistic medium, Peter Cushing was an actual human being who made a living from his ability to say words and create facial expressions in front of other human beings. Using his face to create expressions and deliver words long after his death is really just replacing his labor with a computer. This has already happened to lots of people’s jobs – and will continue to happen to lots of people’s jobs – but I still prefer my art to come from a person and not a machine, and there are plenty of real living humans who are still around and who would be more than capable of giving that character pathos. While I’ve definitely had emotional reactions to cartoons in the past, in this case I’m expecting to see a person and not Baloo the Bear.

And that’s the end of my rant. Sorry. My back is just sore.