Thursday, December 30, 2010

And so it is...

The end of another year, eh? Nothing quite like it to make you feel a little melancholy/sentimental/panicked at the unstoppable passage of time all at once.

2010 - if it had a slogan, it would surely be The Future is Now! Unfortunately, hover boards and inter-galactic travel are still some way off (despite Richard Branson's best efforts).

For me, 2010 was a year packing some pretty hefty ch-ch-changes.

I got back together with a boy and in April we moved in together - in South London (let's not revisit the controversy). My lovely friend Gem and I were foiled in our churro quest in Barcelona, but I did discover a pharmacy that dispenses lollies as medicine. I watched a 20-20 match in St. Lucia and got mugged in Soufrière. I quit my stifling corporate job and bought a ticket back home to Australia, minus the boy. I shipped my Pashley (and other less important items) halfway around the world. I spent 3 happy months travelling around country Victoria, working on farms and enjoying the combination of dirty hands and complete lack of responsibility. I wrote my first short story. I caught up with old school friends and realised how things change, and don't change. I signed on for the dole, heavy with Working Class Guilt (not quite enough guilt for me to turn down the offer of money for nuttin', however).

And most happily, I witnessed my little bro - one of these days I'm going to have to get used to the idea that my "little bro" is a man, but that day has not yet come - get married. I got myself a sister! Two of them, in fact. We've already been shopping together and collaboratively given my mum a makeover, so as soon as we have our first bitch-fight over a "borrowed" dress I'm pretty sure it's official.

Just kidding, Stace n' Anny!

Ephemeral stuff I enjoyed this year:

Contra by Vampire Weekend. Boy, those fresh-faced preppy boys know their way around a crazy happy toon. Especially the joyful goose chase of Cousins.

Mad Men (series 1-3). TV was where it's at in 2010, man. Mad Men drew me and a bunch of other people in with its combination of understated acting, finely tuned writing and highly polished visual style. Refreshing and slightly bitter, like a good G&T.

30 Rock just keeps getting better and better, which is a relief - so many comedy series seem to cram an entire back catalogue of jokes into the first series and tail off noticably after that. Tina Fey, I salute you and your deceptively cute, quick-fire quirkiness.

The comedy of Eric Laempart. What a weird-lookin' spidery-horse man he is.

Latitude festival, a very chilled out festival in Suffolk, on which the sun uncharacteristically shone and shone. The could-have-been-tailor-made-for-me 2010 line-up was as good as it's ever gonna get, as far as I'm concerned.

High Violet, by The National. Really, anything he does with that deep sad voice is fine by me.

Moon. Yup, it was released in 2009, but I didn't get to see it until this year and it was awesome - a properly scary, claustrophobic, plot-driven film with great characters and a big idea behind it - just as great sci-fi should be (see Alien, Bladerunner, 2001, Silent Running, Gattaca).

I Speak Because I Can, by Laura Marling. This girl has a seriously gorgeous voice that belies her age (she was born in 1990, which is surely impossible or maybe illegal?). Check Devil's Spoke and Goodbye England - my very own 2010 anthem.

See you next year, Dreamers! I for one have my fingers crossed that 2011 is a deal-maker year.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Lovely lemon butter

I love making Christmas presents. I like going against the consumer-zombie approach and making simple little gifts for people to enjoy. This lemon butter is perfect: simple to make, pretty to look at and bloody delicious smeared on toast (or straight out of the jar)...

125ml lemon juice
4 eggs (free range, please!)
125gm butter
220gm sugar (I used raw sugar, but caster would give a brighter yellow)
2 sterilised jam jars

Whisk the eggs and sugar together over a gentle heat until the sugar dissolves. Add the lemon juice and butter, and whisk constantly until the mixture thickens (about 15 mins). Do not allow to boil.

Pour into sterilised jars and label/decorate as you please! Keeps for 1-2 weeks in the fridge.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Pickled onions for Pops

Whenever we went to the fish n' chip shop as kids, my Dad would invariably get a pickled onion in a brown paper bag to eat while we waited for our meal to be prepared. He would offer us a bite, and I would usually take a tentative nibble - it was so sour and so strong, I couldn't understand why he loved them so much, but I didn't want him to stop offering them to me.

Anyway, this Christmas I thought I'd make a jar of pickled onions for my Dad, so he has a ready store on hand. It's really ridiculously easy - although I haven't taste tested them yet, so here's hoping they're good!

1kg small pickling onions (I used normal brown onions as I couldn't find pickling ones)
white vinegar
spices (I used a small handful of bay leaves and peppercorns)
preserving jar

Peel and trim the onions, being careful not to remove the whole root as this will keep the onion together. To make the brine, dissolve 100gm salt for every litre of water (you will need enough water to cover the onions in a bowl). Leave to soak overnight.

Drain and rinse the onions, pat dry with a cloth. Dissolve about 4tbs sugar in the vinegar by warming gently over the stove. Add the spices to your own taste and strength, then leave to cool completely. Sterilise the jar by washing it thoroughly in warm, soapy water then placing it into a slow oven for 15 minutes or so. Remove the jar and let it cool down enough that you can touch it, then place your onions in, pouring the vinegar over the top so that all the onions are covered.

Seal and store for up to 3 months (apparently, the longer you leave them, the better they are - ie. the more face-pulling will happen when your dad eats one).

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Hot List - All Australian Edition

Mr. Sean Micallef. Silver. Foxy. Funny surreal, as opposed to funny weird. Currently pantomiming as a game-show host on My Gen, but I'm swooning over old episodes of the Micallef P(r)ogram(me).

Mr. Angus Sampson. Husky-voiced and hairy-faced, with an extremely dry sense of humour. How could I not love him?

Loving Mr. Charlie Pickering's slicked-back hipster look on the 7pm project. And he rides, man (or at least, is prepared to pose with a bike).

Mr. Paul Dempsey, lead singer of Something For Kate. I first fell in love with his haunting, melancholy voice after seeing him play barefoot at the Corner a long time ago. Doesn't smile often, but when he does...

Oh, Hamish. Oh, Andy. Oh, Hamish n' Andy. How could I ever choose between you? The correct answer is, you can both be my boyfriend (see Clement, Jemaine and McKenzie, Bret).

Friday, December 03, 2010

Tales of Country Vic, Part 4: The Full On Hippy Experience

Whoa. Whoa. I just need a few minutes/days/weeks to process my last WWOOF experience.

I spent the last week or so with a bloke called Hamish who lives in Fryers Forest, Fryerstown (15 minutes from the thriving alternative township of Castlemaine), where he manages the forest and teaches Permaculture. He laughed off the suggestion that it was a "hippy commune" - but if that's not a hippy commune mate, I don't know what is. I guess the fact that most of the residents have jobs and cars makes them somewhat different from a 70's-style "drop out, tune in, turn on" hippy - but for a suburban gal like me it was still something of a mind-f*ck to live in a community that has been carefully designed and built by its residents in preparation for future environmental collapse; where all the houses are connected either physically (with windows and doors between individual homes) or by a radio intercom system; where 95% of food is grown, foraged or hunted; where nothing new is purchased if at all possible; where cupboards are scarily bare except for a few recycled jars of organic, locally sourced spices.

Pathetically, I think the empty pantry was the most unsettling part for my food-obsessed self. I can deal with composting toilets, piss-weak solar-powered-showers, and sleeping open to the elements, but an empty pantry?! Panic stations!

One of the most confronting moments for me was when I was on my own in the house one evening, and realised I would have to prepare my own dinner from what was available in the garden and the very sparse cupboard. After the initial hyperventilating fit, I built up the fire, par-boiled some diced potatoes and fried them up with some Cavolo Nero and silverbeet leaves, and sprinkled over some grated cheese and an array of fresh herbs. And you know what? It was fine. In fact, it was better than fine, it was good.

A little lesson for me there in "what you think you need vs. what you actually need".

It was interesting to monitor my emotional response over the course of my week "outside the system"; from initially a little shell-shocked, to intrigued and wanting to absorb as much information as possible, to feeling hopeful for a greener, powered-down, local-community-based future, to eventually feeling a bit overwhelmed and tired of feeling bad about my current lifestyle and life choices. I guess it takes a particular strength of character to reject the casually abundant (and ridiculously wasteful) lifestyle on offer to the average affluent-Western-middle-class-white-dude.

It was eye-opening to say the least, and I have a huge amount of respect for people like Hamish who have the self-discipline and vision to live like that. Then again, it's a pretty exclusive movement whose more hardcore members have a certain piousness that's a little hard to stomach. I came away thinking I want to make positive changes in my life in order to live in a more sustainable way, but removing myself from the system altogether? Not for me, not right now.

So what changes can I realistically make? Well, I can read up on possible future scenarios. I can buy less and make sure what I do buy is made to last. I can check where my food comes from and source local produce. I can be active in my local community. I can grow stuff (I can grow stuff!). Gardening is magic, I am fast learning.

But first, I need a garden. My banana passionfruit seedlings need to have somewhere to grow and spread and bear fruit. Project next: home (of some description), with some land (of some description), with a local community (of some description).

Oh, and paid work (of some description).

Monday, November 22, 2010

Apple Clafoutis (that's right, I said Clafoutis)

Kind of like bread and butter pudding, but without the bread. And with apple. And way yummier.

6 medium apples (900g), peeled, cored and chopped into chunks
(doesn't matter what type or if they're a bit old and soft)
50gm butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup caster sugar (I used raw)
1/3 cup plain flour
1/3 cup self raising flour
4 eggs, beaten
2/3 cup milk
2/3 cup cream
80gm butter, melted
1 tsp vanilla

Heat oven to 200°. Melt the butter in a saucepan over a low heat, then add the apples and cook until well softened (cooking time will depend on the type of apples used). Add brown sugar, cook 5 minutes until caramelised. Place in a greased dish to cool.

Meanwhile, combine caster sugar and flour. Gradually whisk in remaining ingredients until smooth, then pour over the apples and bake for forty minutes, until golden and risen.

Amazingly delicious; I had requests for seconds approximately 15 minutes after it left the oven.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Tales of Country Vic, Part 3: That's more like it!

After the back breaking job of digging up a septic tank with my third hosts (after which the wife took pity on me and gave me some very easy watering and seed planting to do), I was fortunate enough to have two fantastic experiences with my next couple of stays.

First up was Rain, Hayne and Shine in Bittern, just a few stops out from the end of the Frankston line (on the diesel train). Sue, Ian and their staff look after all sorts of donated and reared animals and do "mobile farm" visits, as well as the farm itself being open to visitors 364 days of the year. Their home was a warm and happy place where the WWOOFers are treated as an extended, international family - which included two Swedish sisters and two Korean boys practising their English while I was there.

And the animals... oh, the animals! Travelling as I am at the tail-end of an incredibly bountiful and wet Spring, the country is bursting with life and growth, and the farm was no exception. It was brimming with gorgeous creatures who were used to being handled by lots of grubby little hands, so it was absolute heaven for me - bottle feeding calves and lambs, playing with the hilarious and nibbly kids (the cheekiest of whom I seriously thought about sneaking home in my Samsonite), catching silky chooks, holding tiny fluffy bunnies, feeding a baby magpie whose mother had abandoned it (probably because she couldn't take any more of it's unceasing demands for a constant supply of worms and crushed snails), and walking the dingoes. Yes, dingoes. As in, the ones that ate Meryl Streep's bay-bey.

After a quick break back at home, I was off again - this time to French Island, a short ferry ride from Stony Point (or Cowes on Philip Island). After a little hiccup with the ferry - Melbourne transport have helpfully arranged to have the ferry leave just a few minutes prior to the train arriving, so that you can watch it sail away from the comfort of the jetty - I arrived and was welcomed by my hosts, two amazing, pioneering and inspirational women in their late fifties who run a farm where they keep llamas and alpacas and grow olives.

French Island is such an interesting place. First of all, the population is around 90 (90!!), with 70% of the island being National Parkland. Secondly, even though it is a couple of hours from Melbourne city, it feels like a very remote outpost - there is no power and no water; in fact no council and no police. I guess that might make some people nervous, but I enjoyed the slightly lawless feel of the place and the self-sufficient, adventurous and community-minded spirit of the people who live there.

The farmhouse I stayed at runs on solar and wind power, with diesel generators for back-up in Autumn, and they have a composting toilet which, for the record, was cleaner and less smelly than a conventional flush toilet. Every day there are fresh eggs from the hens, fresh unpasturised milk from the jersey cow down the road, and fresh food direct from the garden. They wake early, work hard but at a managable pace, eat well, care for their animals beautifully, are active in their community, and live their lives mindfully.

Jane and Alison showed me that a "life well lived" can be crafted and nurtured and made, with nothing more than good intentions, careful thought and a bit of work.

Definitely worth putting up with the mosquitoes/charging bulls for.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Tales of Country Vic, Part 2: The Dark Side

So, as described below, my first two WWOOFing adventures went like a dream; lovely people who welcomed me into their homes, gave me some nice-to-pleasantly-grubby jobs, with lots of time off.

My third WWOOF experience was with a Swiss/Australian family with four kids under 8. All adorable as heck, from affectionate, smiley baby Tya all the way up to the pretty, imperious Yaysia. They lived on a big, sloping property in a magical, leafy, mountainy, rivery spot, with no TV and a hand-made pizza oven. It was a deliberately child-centric household - and as a direct result (I believe) of being listened to and considered equally important as their parents, the children were well-behaved, clever, and utterly secure in themselves. It was idyllic.

My first day, and the father of this little Swiss-Oz clan gives me my first project: find the septic tank. OK, I say, I like digging. It's in this vicinity, he says, pointing to where the plumber has spray-painted a patch of violets bright pink. Alright, I say, undaunted. About half a metre down. No problem.

First, I relocate the violets. Easy-peasy. Dig them up in neat square patches, gentle with the roots, carry them down to a new designated spot halfway down the slope. Under the soft soil of the violet patch, I hit clay. Hard-packed, typical Victorian-style clay, the kind I used to eat as a baby while my parents sweated over their own back garden. No worries, I think, and put my back into it. Then I hit the rocks.

Lord, the rocks. Have you ever tried digging up a patch of clay that is filled with rocks? With a shovel? It's virtually impossible. I struggle on fruitlessly for several hours.

I need a pick, I tell the owner, when he returns briefly from his job of pruning branches that are overhanging the spa. Nup, he replies. I can't have you going through the tank. You'll just have to find the edges of the rocks and dig them out. OK. I'm not defeated yet, I am working up a good sweat but I still have some energy. So I try to find the edges of the rocks that I keep hitting every time I try to jam the shovel into the ground, but it's pretty hard because this ground is basically 80% rock; if there are edges down there, they are obscured by more rocks.

So I keep relocating more violets, making the hole wider and wider, and slowly, incredibly slowly, I manage to dig out some rocks, smaller fist-sized ones at first, then I keep widening the hole until I find the edges of some of the bigger rocks. By this time I am trembling from the constant jarring of the spade handle that vibrates up my shoulder, and I have to stop regularly to catch my breath. Sweat is pouring off me. Determined (pig-headededly so), I keep going, angry with the rocks now as I am with the owner for palming off this sh*t job. There is a lot of internal swearing as Fyn has decided he is king of the growing mound of dirt and rocks piled next to me, and babbles away happily unaware of my struggles.

I manage to unearth half of one rock that is the size of a basketball - and the rest of it is still lodged in the clay. I slam the shovel into the clay around it again and again, trying to find a bit that gives. There is none. I go wider. The rock reveals itself to be the size of two basketballs. I collapse on the swing set, heart pounding, face red. The owner comes up and asks me if I could use a break. I look at him, unable to speak, and nod.

"Why don't you and Sofia (the Finnish au pair who is also staying with them) go and collect the logs I cut last weekend down the back of the property, and bring them up to the wood shed."

Sofia and I spend the rest of the afternoon lugging barrowfuls of logs uphill. We take it in turns to heave the barrow, but the other person still needs to pull it from the front as it is so heavy it is splitting under the weight.

I know how it feels.

* * * * *

There is one saving grace at the end of this sorry tale: this man; this man whose vague, hippy, work-shy ways are seriously starting to grate on me, this man who nearly breaks my back by working me so hard on my first day, spends his weekdays working at the Cadbury factory.

After carting twelve loads of wood, I stagger into the lounge room, where his wife looks a little stunned at my appearance and tells me I look shattered. I am too tired to reply, so I just smile weakly and collapse into the nearest chair with a groan, legs trembling and back aching.

Without a word, she hurries into the kitchen to collect the box of chocolate that they keep for WWOOFers, brimming with Time Outs and Crunchies, and places it next to my chair.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Jamie's sexy Swedish buns (for Anny)

Massive, messy, delicious blueberry buns for those who don't mind getting their hands stuck into some claggy dough. Courtesy of Mr. Jamie Oliver.

For the dough:
1 x 7gm packet yeast
375ml warm milk
1 tsp ground cardamon (I replaced with ginger)
2 large eggs (I used eggs from the farm I stayed at in Kyabram)
pinch salt
200gm caster sugar (I used soft brown)
50gm melted butter
800gm plain flour, plus extra
15gm unsalted butter
75gm demerara sugar

For the filling
400gm blueberries (I used frozen)
75gm caster sugar
1 orange (from my the tree in my parents backyard)

Stir the yeast into the warm milk, and set aside. Beat the eggs and salt in a large bowl, then add the spice, sugar, melted butter, 500gm of the flour, and the milk and yeast mixture. Stir constantly as you add everything in until you have a thick, gluey consistency. Mix in the remaining flour until you have a dough. Use clean, floured hands to bring the dough together, then dust the top with flour. Cover the bowl with Glad Wrap and leave in a warm place (like Melbourne) to prove for an hour or so, until doubled in size and full of air pockets.

Meanwhile, put the blueberries and sugar into a bowl. Add finely grated oranze zest and a squeeze of the juice, then mash together with a potato masher. I had to put mine in the microwave so it got pretty wet, but it's better if you keep it chunky rather than juicy. Line a large baking tray (or 2 small ones) with greased baking paper.

Dust a clean surface and your hands with flour and gently stretch and pull the risen dough out until it's a bit bigger than A4. The next bit is very messy, be warned! Don't be worried if it seems quite wet. Using a slotted spoon, spread half of the blueberry mixture on to the dough, without using too much juice. Pull the sides of the dough up and into the middle like an envelope, and keep turning and pushing the dough together. Mine was getting very messy at this stage, so I didn't play with it too much.

Cut the dough into 8 portions, then attempt to shape them into rolls by whatever method you prefer - I didn't even attempt Jamie's instructions to stretch them into a sausage shape and then knot it, I just curled them around into a vague roll shape as best I could. Arrange them on the tray/s, leaving plenty of room for them to spread. Push your fingers into the top of each one to make a well, and spoon in a few of the remaining berries. Spoon over a little of the blueberry juice, then sprinkle with the demerara sugar. Cover with a damp towel and leave to prove for about 20 minutes in a warm place.

Preheat your oven to 180°C. Once the buns have risen, cook them for about 25 minutes, until golden and crispy. Serve them hot and delicious, or with a little butter, to your loved ones.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Tales of country Vic

Well. What an amazing few weeks it's been so far. I've only been on two WWOOF assignments, but I am absolutely loving everything about it - the change of pace, the change of scenery, the new experiences and people, the scratches on my arms and the dirt under my fingernails.

I've planted Bok Choy seedlings, heaved a barrow, laid down a big area of wet newspapers and mulch ready for planting, washed dogs, baked bread and cleared weeds up to my waist. I've taken a V-Line train. I've squashed wolf spiders and eyeballed a croc (leering from behind a thick pane of glass, mind you).

I've met some great characters - young Sam, the inspiration for my first written piece for the creative writing class I'm doing. Elvis the growling rooster. Nettie, the woman with a thousand lives and a heart of gold; and her two grown boys who brought me flowers from the roadside (sweethearts, both of them). Marshmallow the newborn calf with the cutest pink nose you've ever seen. Brucey the overenthusiastic border collie. And Screech the cockatoo who thought he was a cat, sidling up to you and resting his head on your leg until you stroked the downy feathers under his crest.

The warmth and generosity of the people I've stayed with has been a pleasant surprise, but the beauty of the Victorian countryside has left me open-mouthed. Where have I been all these years? After heavy rainfalls all over the state last night, on the train journey home I looked out of the window and actually caught my breath at the sight of the trees rising out of the vast pools of still, muddy water.

I have seen some beautiful sights on my travels, but this was something else entirely, something that pulled at my heart and said you belong here. It only took 7.5 years away for me to realise it.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Hipster begone

Are we witnessing the dying days of the hipster? It seems that the back has well and truly lashed on those particular dudes. Much as I love perusing Unhappy Hipsters however, I would be very sad to see this particular strain of trendies go the way of the Plesiosaur.

(I'm with Dinosaur Boy - when are they going to bring a 'saur back? Jurassic Park was released in 1993 for gods sake. That's 17 years you've had, scientists.)


Why would I miss this bunch of vacuous, image-obsessed, cooler-than-thou twats, you ask? Well, for a start, without hipsters life would be a lot more beige. Who but a hipster would catch my eye by striding past wearing lace leggings with leather shorts and yellow suspenders? Who else would have the chutzpah to wear glassless national health specs, with a tipped back trilby and a deadly serious bitchface? What brightens up an inner city footpath more than a brace of beautiful, sleek, and completely impractical fixie bikes?

Without hipsters, how would we know what the latest trends are, if only so that we have occassion to reaffirm our own inherent uncoolness?

I think it's dangerous to stray into the territory of naming that which is cool - as soon as you (meaning I) mention it, you can guarantee it's officially over and the hip kids will sneer in your general direction for your sad inability to keep up. I'm reminded of a scene in the Mighty Boosh (movie, please!) where the bible of cool - Cheekbone magazine - is so current that it's delivered by ninjas every three hours.

Far easier to name that which is not cool*:

Being jolly. Being simple (emotionally, not intellectually). Being a dag. Laughing (unironically). Laughing so much you cry. Laughing so much you snort. Watching action/rom-com blockbusters. Being alone. Not caring about fashion. Buying clothes because they are cheap. LOLcats. Being enthusiastic. Excercise. Scoffing food. Ordering lemonade at a bar. Not drinking. Ordering tap water at a restaurant. Smiling at strangers. Talking to older people. Older people in general (by which I mean over 25's). Not owning a mobile phone. Not owning a laptop. Trash mags. The X-Factor. Modern day children's television shows. Reading Stephen King. Reading John Grisham. $2 shops. Cheerful decor. MP3 players that are not ipods. Ringtones. Living in the suburbs. Shopping malls. Being awake before 10am (unless you're still going from the night before). Decaffeinated coffee. Tea with milk and sugar. Being in the normal weight range. Calling drugs by their actual names.

I could go on - this is familiar territory for me - but I think I'd better leave it there for now.

I'll leave you with this ode to regionally specific hipsterdom by a new Melbourne-based discovery of mine:

*Some, but not all, of these may or may not apply to me. I'm not here to judge, just to opinionate. The last sentence may or may not be true, subject to objectivity.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Melbourne Living

Hello from rainy Melbourne! Man, it's good to be back. Apart from a little wobble on the plane, when I had to lock myself in the loos and have a little cry, I have been loving every minute of being back in the homelands. In fact, I find myself wondering why I didn't come back sooner - bugger the passport, I was so ready to come home two years ago, when the exchange rate meant I would be 100% better off than I am now. Never mind. I'm here now, and I am thrilled to be ensconced in my family once more, and free to think about what to do next.

Free! What a wonderful and scary thing to be so unencumbered. I am consciously not looking for full time work, as I want to try some different things rather than getting stuck straight into the work/rent/gym/sleep treadmill. WWOOFing is one thing I'm taking steps towards trying for a bit. I love the idea of getting properly dirty on a daily basis, switching my overactive brain off and doing a physical job for a while. Writing, obviously... but possibly in some sort of semi-professional capacity. Study? Maybe. Teaching? Maybe.

But in the meantime, for the next 3 weeks or so, I'm lucky enough to be house sitting for friends of mine who live in a lovely property at the foot of the Dandenong Ranges, overlooking miles of hills and gumtrees, with kookaburras, rosellas and cockatoos making daily visits. I'll have nothing to do but take care of their two small mutts, sip mugs of hot tea and receive various visitors who want to escape the city for a day or two.

I can't wait.

* * * * *

nb. this post was prompted by a friend of our family, who admonished me for not updating my blog for a while! Apologies auntie Chek, hope you guys are all coping with the deluge.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

My hips don't lie (but I wish they would)

Is it time for a nineties revival already? What is the deal with fashion reviving an era that only ended TEN YEARS AGO? At this rate, we'll have to start wearing fashion from last week with a side order of irony in order to be current.

I couldn't quite get on board with the eighties retro look - I lived it the first time around, kids, and despite what you may have been led to believe, it was not remotely pretty, at least not in my outer-suburban town. It was less off the shoulder sweat tops with leggings in muted greys, and more high-waisted turquoise tracksuit with lace stripes that your mum sewed on.

Nineties flashbacks though, those I can appreciate. Ahh, the nineties - grunge was god, girls could embrace their tomboyishness, everyone recycled (fashion and rubbish), shoes were stompy rather than... stripper-ish. Customising was big. It was actually uncool to wear designer labels, and if your wardrobe was mostly gleaned from op shops then you were far cooler than the preppy kids with money.

Oh how times change.

Ever since I started noticing the nineties stuff in the shops, I have been feverishly obsessed with tracking down the perfect pair of ankle boots before I leave London. An update of the black elastic-sided combat boots I wore in the nineties, generally with a long skirt (these were unsexy post-AIDS times, remember). I have a very clear picture in my head of what my new boots should look like: tan leather of good quality, lace-up with hooks at the top, possibly but not necessarily brogue style, round or almond toed with a flat or low heel. In a size 9. Yup, that's one bigger than they make them for women (generally). GREAT. Wish me luck, y'all.

As well as the last minute perfect-shoe-finding panic, I'm having to contend with a little wardrobe dilemma in the shape of a smidge of extra weight. Alright, more like a dollop. Make that a sack. I have been taking medication which, while it is a godsend for helping me cope with my anxiety and sleeplessness, is notorious for making you stack on the pounds. I have put on somewhere between 10-12 kilos since I started taking it, and although I'm still in the healthy weight range for my height, I have put on enough padding around my middle that I don't fit into most of my pants anymore and the sight of my new profile in the mirror makes me... well, kind of anxious.

Full disclosure: I am well aware of the body issues that most girls suffer from a young age, and I feel very lucky to have never had to worry about my size or weight up to this point. Don't think I got off lightly - I just skipped straight to obsessing instead about my terrible teeth, huge chin and complete lack of cleavage.

This new figure has, however, given me a new insight into the life of the vast majority of privileged western women in that I find myself:

1. Dressing strategically rather than haphazardly
2. Painfully aware of how many calories are in that cupcake with frosting staring at me from the bakery counter
3. Obsessing about my size and weighing myself daily (I can't believe I am displaying this classic neurotic woman behaviour, and yet I am unable to stop).

I'm reluctantly coming to terms with my new fuller shape, even though I'm a little nervous that I'll never lose it now that it's there. But I'm learning to live with it. Thank god for loose dresses and leggings. Hopefully by next Winter - a good year away as I'm skipping a season by moving back to Oz in Spring - things will be back to normal, in every respect.

With any luck I'll be wearing those tan ankle boots while riding my pashley around Melbourne, looking like a right nineties-loving librarian.

Friday, August 06, 2010

I'm cheating on MelbourneDreaming...

...with One Happy Moment Every Day, my new(ish) blog chronicling the little crumbs of raspberry flavoured joy in the economy-sized bran of everyday life.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Bikes, bikes, everywhere!

London has been taken over by hire-bikes! I first spotted a bank of shiny new bikes sitting along Southwark Street behind the Tate a few weeks ago, and was so entranced by the spectacle that I stopped to take a closer look.

It turns out that this is another of Boris' initiatives to get Londoners on their bikes: 6,000 brand new hire-bikes located at 400 stations throughout the capital. You sign up to the scheme online, pay an access fee (which starts at £1 for 24 hours) plus a usage charge - which is nada for the first half hour and pretty reasonable thereafter - and off you go! You can return the bike to any docking station, and if the one nearest to you happens to be full, you can request an extra 15 minutes to find another one close by. They are dotted all over London - I have noticed at least 5 on my way to work - so it shouldn't be too arduous to pick up or return a bike no matter where you are.

The bikes themselves look to be built for comfort and practicality rather than speed. The low bar, enclosed chain, fat tires, wide seat and wire basket on the front make them quite girl-friendly, but their no-nonsense sturdiness and dark blue colour makes them look more like a unisex work bike.

To some this scheme may seem wildly optimistic - I was a little wary myself, thinking that most of the people who want to cycle in London probably already do so; knowing that a similar scheme in Paris has been marred by thefts and vandalism; not to mention how the bikes will cope with being left outdoors through the London Winter - but in fact, I've seen lots of people using them out and about (a mix of men and women, usually in business attire) and it is very cheering to see these smart new bikes being used as they were intended. I haven't seen any cases of vandalism yet (apart from - shock horror! - a box of fried chicken left in the basket of a parked bike), but it's inevitable that some will fall victim to the rougher elements of London. I sincerely hope those tyres are slash-proof, especially the ones stationed just off the Elephant & Castle roundabout.

Despite my concern for the innocence of these lovely and thus-far pristine bikes, I truly hope that they become an iconic symbol of London, similar to the red buses or black cabs. There is something very British about cycling; it implies a free spirit and somewhat eccentric outlook to sail along on a contraption that has changed very little since it's invention in the 19th Century amidst the roar of trucks, cars, cabs and buses. And anything that introduces more people to the many pleasures of getting in the saddle is a very fine thing indeed.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

The power of one

Sure, it's lonely sometimes; especially when you are single in a world that seems to be cluttered with couples and families. But being alone can also be great: calming, productive, peaceful, happy. This lovely little video reminds me of all the great things about spending time in my own company (something I've been doing a lot of lately).

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Homecoming outpourings

I've recently made the momentous decision to return home to Melbourne. After 7.5 years in London-town, the last few years of which have been an almost vertical uphill struggle, it's well and truly time. A lot of people said "you'll just know when you're ready to go home", and that has turned out to be true. In fact, I've known it for quite some time. However, I gritted my teeth and focused on acquiring my UK passport - my own personal Holy Grail - with all of the hoops and hurdles and waiting and hoping that that entailed. When I finally got my hands on that little red book, it was an incredible relief. I don't feel English. I never will be English. I will always be Australian. But to have that option of returning to Europe should I choose to, to live and work without threat of a goverment enforced end-date, is a wonderous thing.

So now, to the business of packing up my life here, closing accounts, shipping the 7.5 years worth of crap that I've managed to accumulate - and saying goodbye.

Goodbye London.

I don't know how I'm going to live without you. Oh boy, you've gotten under my skin in the time I've been here. You've gotten so far under my skin, you're in my blood. You're part of me now, like my organs are part of me. How will I function if I physically remove myself from you? How long does it take to recover from a Londonectomy? Or maybe it's a Londonotomy: how will my mind work without the endless wonders of this city to stimulate it?

Goodbye London.

I love so much about you - the mass of diversity and the endless cultural clashes and mish-mashes that make you so colourful and so wonderful. I will miss your distinctive, erring on eccentric style. I will miss the dreamily beautiful Hampstead Heath, especially the old-fashioned tranquility of the Ladies Bathing Pond. I will miss the music, all that incredible music being made in bedrooms and basement bars and old concert halls and under railway arches all over this capital. I will miss your faded glamour, the cheekiness and good spirits that fly in the face of all the odds. I will miss the travel.

Goodbye London.

I won't miss the Winter. God, no. But I'll miss the glory of the Summer, the palpable sense of excitement that comes with the weather finally turning after another bitch-cold Winter. It was so great of you to put on this spectacular Summer, London - the best since I arrived here all those years ago - to see me out.

I won't miss Ryanair. I won't miss the horror of peak hour tube journeys. I won't miss the litter and filth and grey, the abiding grey that characterises this city. I won't miss the noisy, steaming, heaving pubs. Above all, I won't miss having to fly halfway around the world to see my family for a few short weeks every year. And to be honest, that is my number one reason for returning home after all this time - to be closer to my family, whom it has pained me to be away from (and whose pain my being away has no doubt caused). I can't imagine how lovely it will be to be once again enmeshed in my family's ever-expanding life. A wedding in October; my little brother marrying his long-term girlfriend. I can't wait.

Goodbye London.

But man, it's going to be hard to leave this town. It's going to be hard starting over, but actually leaving is the first and most wrenching step.

Goodbye London.

I will always carry the scar from where I removed you, to remind me of these years.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Week 13: Low-fat summer berry polenta cake

Possibly the last of the Cake Zone Cakes ever owing to termination of said agreement. Sadness.

As a gesture of goodwill, the lovely Dave made me one last cake to remind me what I'm going to be missing in my fuzzy, solo, Australia-bound future.

175gm margarine or low-fat spread
225gm golden caster sugar
3 eggs, beaten
150gm polenta valsugana (instant polenta from what I can tell)
100gm ground almonds
1tsp vanilla extract
2tsp baking powder
400gm raspberries
300g blueberries
zest and juice of one lemon

Cream the margarine and 175gm of the sugar together. Add the beaten eggs and polenta and beat until well combined. Stir in ground almonds, vanilla and baking powder. Gently fold in half of the raspberries and blueberries with the lemon zest.

Pour into a lined cake tin and cook at 180 degrees for 35-40 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean.

Meanwhile, prepare the syrup by heating the juice of the lemon with the remaining 50gm sugar by boiling in a saucepan for 1-2 minutes. Make small holes all over the surface of the cake with a skewer and pour the warm syrup evenly over the top.

If serving as dessert, invert the slices so that the fruit is at the top and decorate with the leftover berries and some marscapone.

Look: *** Lovely yellow, sticky looking cake.
Taste: **** Very lemony, which is always a good thing in my book. Nice and light tasting, perfect for Summer.
Texture: **** Syrupy and soft, with lots of interesting stuff going on - soft berries, crumbly polenta and the lovely sticky lemon syrup.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

OK this is just getting ridiculous

Even the New Yorker is in on the geek lovin'!!

NY geeks

Ah, graphs and geeks. Just like peanut butter and jam. Or vegemite and cheese, if you're a savoury person.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Things I've learned while cycling

1. Babies/toddlers can't get enough of you. If your kid doesn't look up and smile ecstatically at each bike that goes past, pointing their chubby fingers and saying "buh! buh!", then I'm sorry but there's something wrong with them and you really should check in with your paediatrician.

2. Cowl neck tops and cycling do not mix, especially when pedalling into a strong headwind.

3. Likewise wrap dresses.

4. In order of danger: trucks, buses, white van men, pedestrians, 4WDs, young men whose cars reek of marijuana, sedans, hatchbacks, Smart cars.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Red lights make me see red

Let's be clear about this: today, as I do every single working day when it's not raining, I broke the law. I, Kelly Sarah Reynolds, run red lights. Not just occasionally, but every single day that I ride my bike. Normally, I don't think twice about this, for several reasons:

1. It's far safer for cyclists to cross with pedestrians rather than battling the traffic as it takes off, especially if you need to turn right;

2. it means you don't lose momentum, and if you are cycling over 11 miles everyday, that lost momentum at every intersection adds up to one big pain in the ass; and

3. I don't like rules. They make me feel hemmed in, and my natural response is to bust out. Rules are for game shows and beauty pageants.

Today, however, as I rounded one particular corner, I came across a police car sitting in the line of traffic going in the opposite direction. AWKWARD. There seemed no point stopping and backing up, so I just pedalled gingerly on, holding my breath and waiting for the sound of sirens to puncture the early morning air.

And then... nothing. The sweet, sweet sound of silence.

Obviously they were on their way to something more important than busting a lone cyclist committing a victim-less crime - like a stapler theft at a nearby office? Or some blatant littering involving a piece of gum rolled up in some paper? Or an illegal release of a helium balloon that hadn't been approved by the local council?

I couldn't help but wonder - I have been watching a lot of SaTC lately - how great was that show? - the movies really don't do it justice - whether there wasn't a better way to organise the road so that cyclists could legally cross at the lights, separately from cars and without endangering pedestrians.

So here's my idea: continue the cycle lanes (which are already demarcated on the left hand side of most roads) through intersections, and add a green "cycle crossing" light next to the green walking man. This already exists in some random places, but there aren't defined places for cyclists and pedestrians, and it's not really clear whether it's legal for cyclists to ride through these lights or whether we're supposed to get off and walk. The pedestrian crossing lane would take prominence over the cycling lane, so that cyclists would have to slow down and give way to pedestrians, but if it was clear, they could just pedal straight through. I think this would go some way towards making the road safer for cyclists and pedestrians, and encourage more cyclists onto the road (which is what every city should be aiming for).

You're welcome, London.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Tightrope and shoes

How cute is she?? And those shoes, man. Love.

Friday, July 02, 2010

Epic insult compilation

*strong language warning!*

My personal favourite: "people that talk in metaphors aughta shampoo my crotch" (Jack Nicholson in some film where he still had hair and no gut)

Friday, June 25, 2010

Not too shabby skinny chocka-mocha cake

This cake is properly low-fat (unlike this pretender). Amazingly, there is no fat in the cake itself apart from the eggs, and not much at all in the icing. In fact, I was so worried about the cake being too dry that I added the crème fraiche and raspberries at the last minute, which I figured would make it more palatable as well as looking prettier. Actually it turned out quite nice and soft (if slightly chewy), and very light, despite collapsing in the middle a bit! Nothing a dollop of crème fraiche couldn't disguise...

3 large eggs
85g golden caster sugar
70g plain flour
1 tbsp cornflour
2 tbsp cocoa
½ tsp baking powder

For the icing:
40g dark chocolate
1 tbsp strong black coffee
100g low-fat yogurt
2 tbsp icing sugar

To finish:
Low fat crème fraiche
raspberries (or any other berries/fruit pieces)

Heat oven to 180c. Lightly grease and line the base of circular cake tin. Whisk the eggs and sugar until light and fluffy (takes about 10 mins using an electric hand whisk). Mine never quite got beyond the frothy stage, so I would recommend whizzing the eggs before adding the sugar.

Sift the flour, cornflour, cocoa and baking powder and fold in gently. Pour mixture into the tin and bake about 25-30 mins, or until it is well risen and has begun to shrink away from the sides of the tin.

Microwave the chocolate and coffee together for 20-30 seconds until the chocolate has melted. Gently stir until smooth, then cool slightly. Beat the yogurt and icing sugar until smooth, then mix in the chocolate and spread over the top, letting it run down the sides.

I let the icing set in the fridge overnight, then added the crème fraiche and raspberries before serving.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Just another day in the big, bad city

Pedalling to work this morning in the peak hour rush, I see a couple of stretch limo's ahead trying to pull out into the traffic. The first one gets though, but the second nearly runs into the cyclist in front of me and honks his horn - even though he's supposed to give way. Dickhead. I keep pedalling, following the first cyclist and giving the limo a wide berth, but unbelievably he is still pulling out and nearly knocks me down 'cos he's too busy staring after the first cyclist. I veer sharply to the right to avoid being crushed by his huge fender, and yell "HEY, WATCHIT!! DICKHEAD!" and pedal past him, shooting him a furious glare all the while.

I pedal on, shaky but righteous. I miss the turn-off in my rattled state and adjust the map in my head to compensate.

Hmm, those people in the back of the limo didn't look very happy. Aren't you supposed to be having fun in a limo? Isn't that the whole point of a limousine, getting tipsy in the back of a big car on your way to a party?

It's pretty early to be going to a party.

Oh my god, I think I just swore at some people in a hearse.

I am definitely going to hell.

Friday, June 18, 2010

6 ultra-basic beauty products (for lazy ex-tomboys who don't like spending money on beauty products)

Beauty products

If I had one bugbear about the practicalities of modern life (ooo, the list of things I could rant about!), it would be the utter bullsh*t that surrounds 99.99% of beauty industry marketing, most of which has been designed purely to make women feel unnattractive and inferior in order to con them into buying all manner of chemical gunks.

Because we're worth it! Right? Well, I don't buy it, and neither should any thinking woman. Here are some simple, low-hype products that actually do what they're supposed to. None of them will make you look 10 years younger, but Newsflash! Neither will that miracle cream you just spent your bonus on.

1. Blistex lip balm
Without it I wouldn't be able to smile all Winter, ie. 6 months of the year in the UK - which I think you will agree is a long time to look grumpy. All the other main brands of lip balm leave a greasy layer that comes staight off, without moisturising properly. Blixtex is King. About £2.

2. Vaseline hand & nail cream
When my nails started splitting and peeling a few months ago, I couldn't work out why they had suddenly turned so ratty.Then I remembered that I have been a little obsessed with nail polish since NY and cheap manicures came into my life. So I've ditched the polish (for now) and started using this, and they have improved 100%. Nice to see a product that actually does what it claims to. About £3.

3. Exfoliating gloves
My brother's girlfriend always has incredibly soft skin, and I noticed when I stayed at their flat in Gothemburg (STALKER ALERT, sorry Anny) that she uses exfoliating gloves with a moisturising body wash. I have never been a fan of "body wash", preferring good old fashioned austerity-style SOAP which does a perfectly good job thank you very much, none of your fancy pants, overly packaged modern rubbish here if you don't mind. I am prepared to admit here in the public blogosphere that I WAS WRONG. About £2.

4. Johnson's holiday skin
Gently tans pasty skin to a light glow, without being too streaky. Haven't needed it this Summer however due to the Barbados sunburn incident, which has since faded to a 'healthy' tan. About £5.

5. Neutrogena beauty bar
I have used loads of different facial cleansers in my time and recently rediscovered the simplicity of a block of transparent soap, at about 1/100th of the price of most fancy-pants cleansers. You're right Mr Kellogs, the simple things in life are often the best. About £2.

6. Facial oil
I use Neal's Yard orange blossom facial oil. At £20 a pop, it isn't cheap - but considering you only use 2 drops, literally, on your whole face, it is well worth it. A little vial lasts for ages, and it's almost 100% organic. And it smells wonderful.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Hot List - appended

Chris Rock
Lovely Chris
"I prefer dark topics when I'm doing comedy. I like to kind of dig myself out of a hole. And I don't take it for granted that people are going to laugh … so if you're up there and no one's laughing, wouldn't it be great to be talking about something interesting?"

Guillaume Nery

Jason Segel
Devouring Freaks and Geeks right now, which I adore. Adore! Look at me with the enthusiasm.

David Eagleman
dave eagleman
I love him for his MIND. His amazing, creative, playful mind.

Jack Donaghy
He makes me laugh - and if a man can do that, he's golden. Although, Tina's the writing genius behind 30 Rock, Alex just brings the silver fox to the mix - so I guess I should transfer at least 50% of my crush to her.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

The Joy of Wordle

Melbourne dreaming 2010's top words

My most used words in 2010, presented for your visual pleasure by the rather fun Wordle.

I was having a conversation with some primary school teachers last weekend and I suggested that there are three streams that most people fit into from a young age: pictures, numbers and words (or, to really force those little tackers ever tighter into their respective pigeon-holes: graphic designers, accountants and journalists). I guess I am part word, part picture - which goes some way to explaining why I love these word cloud diagrams so much. That, and it really rams home the fact that "sugar" is my most frequently used word, followed closely by "cake". Hmm.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Week 5: Low fat (?) choconnaise cake

Another triumph from the house of Dave!

225g self-raising flour
75g cocoa powder
1/2 tsp baking powder
150g golden caster sugar
2tsp vanilla extract
200g low fat mayonnaise
1 large free-range egg

Optional: 100g dark chocolate cut into small chunks

300g low fat cream cheese
200gm icing sugar
100gm dark chocolate, melted

Sift the flour, cocoa and baking powder into a large bowl then stir in the sugar and make a well in the centre. Add the vanilla, 150ml cold water, mayonnaise and the egg. Beat with an electric mixer until it is smooth, then mix in chocolate chunks. Spoon into a cake tin and bake at 180C for 45 minutes or until firm to the touch.

Look: *** A big old chocolatey mess! In a good way.
Taste: **1/2 Rich and sweet. Not convinced that it is truly low fat though - I would cut the cream cheese, and just use cocoa rather than 2 (!) 100gm blocks of chocolate to make it slightly less indulgent.
Texture: ***1/2 Fudgey and dense with chocolate bits. Lovely creamy icing.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

The thick blue line

I was quite excited when I started noticing some buzz about Boris' fabled Cycle Superhighways in London. I have been doing a lot more cycling on main roads since the move South, and I am aware that my risk of accident and/or injury is higher than it was previously. Unfortunately, there just isn't a nice, quiet, straight road that goes directly to my work like there was when I lived oop Norf.

[think of the cake Kelly, think of the cake!]

Cycle superhighways! Don't they sound super-whizzy and safe? Doesn't it conjure images of some sort of futuristic elevated monorail type thing far above the traffic and particles and stop lights and clueless f*ckers pedestrians? It does for me. I could picture myself sailing along the Cycle Superhighway to work, a gentle downward slope obviating the need for pedalling as I high-five other like-minded cyclists all the way. Rainbows would shimmer on the horizon as the sunlight winked off lovingly buffed spokes and handlebars.

The reality is turning out to be somewhat different to my shiny happy daydreams. Somehow this initiative - which, bear in mind, may cost as much as £150m - amounts to painting the side of some roads blue. Not even clear roads at that; roads which have parking bays along them for Chrissake, which renders the whole exercise depressingly futile. Not to mention, it's a blue freakin' stripe. This isn't a toothpaste commercial, Boris. How is a blue stripe going to protect me from homicidal bendy bus drivers? How is a blue stripe going to make my journey any faster, especially when I am still weaving around traffic and parked cars like a third class citizen of the road-nation? How, in fact, is this any different from my commute right now, except that I will have a different colour to gaze at while I lay on the ground waiting for the ambulance? "Oh look, a bit of blue to comfort me before I die of being run over by a bus. How nice and calming. Reminds me of..." [fade to black]

If you want to discuss a more sensible mono-rail cycling system, Boris, you know where to find me. I am prepared to be flexible on the rainbows.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Friday Hall of Immense Anonymous Eyebrows

Click on the image to find out who these beautiful eyebrows belong to. I can pick these babies a mile off, but I realise not everyone shares my facially hirsute fetish.


Thursday, May 27, 2010

Week 3: Change it up

Much as I'm loving the caval-cake, I miss baking! Last night I put some seriously over-ripe bananas to good use in this Banana Bread recipe. I tried banana bread for the first time in Sydney a few years ago, and I have been hooked ever since. It is so good lightly toasted with a little butter/marge - wholesome and filling and perfect on a typically Melbourne day (bright but chilly) before going for a surf or an epic shopping trek.

150g golden (unrefined) caster sugar
60g margarine
2 eggs
3 tablespoons water
3 over ripe bananas, mashed
220g wholemeal plain flour
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder

Preheat oven to 180c. Line a loaf pan with baking paper.
Beat sugar and margarine until smooth and creamy. Beat in the eggs, water and bananas until well blended. Mix in the flour, bicarb soda, salt and baking powder until the mixture is just moistened. Be sure to scrape the sides of the bowl to blend all ingredients. Pour into prepared pan. Bake in preheated oven for about 50 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Week 3: Union Jack surprise cake + bonus aussie flag pav!

It's been a bumper week in the cake zone, in honor of two very special events - first up, I got my UK citizenship on Friday!! Wow, that's been a long time in the making. I'll drink to that:

Savouring the bitter taste of UK citizenship

Secondly, we had a house-warming BBQ on the weekend, for which London put on the most spectacularly beautiful weekend of the year (possibly of the last 7 years). Our guests and I were the awe-struck recipients of not one, but TWO beautifully decorated dessert stuffs.

Aussie Flag Pav

*Note: my boyfriend wasn't happy with this recipe and took a couple of attempts, and he never managed to get the egg whites to the "stiff peaks" stage - he literally had to pour the mixture onto a baking tray. However, it tasted absolutely amazing and had a lovely marshmallowy centre, so it was a success in my book. I've tweaked the recipe so that you whisk the egg whites before adding the sugar, and replaced the cornflour with custard powder. If anyone tries it, let me know how it goes!

8 large egg whites (at room temperature)
pinch salt
350g caster sugar
2 tsps custard powder
pinch of cream of tartar
1 tsp white wine vinegar
4 drops vanilla essence
300ml double cream, firmly whipped
Strawberries and blueberries

Preheat the oven to 180c. Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper. Whisk the egg whites in a clean bowl until soft peaks form (much easier with an electric whisk). Continue beating while adding the sugar and pinch of salt until stiff and shiny. Sprinkle over the custard powder, cream of tartar, vinegar and vanilla essence and fold in gently with a metal spoon.

Place the egg white mix onto the paper in whatever shape you desire, smoothing the edges. Place in the oven and immediately reduce the heat to 150C/300F/Gas 2 and cook for 1¼ hours. Turn off the oven, leave the door slightly ajar and allow to cool completely. Transfer your pav onto a plate, then pile on the cream and dress with the fruit.

Look: ***** A-mazing. Pavlova always looks impressive, but the Australia flag made out of blueberries and strawberries made it extra special.
Taste: ***** Gorgeous. Light, crunchy outer with soft marshmallow in the middle. And you can't go far wrong with whipped cream and berries.
Texture: **** Perfect, as far as I'm concerned - but I'm not giving it 5 stars because the chef wasn't 100% happy with it.

Union Jack surprise cake (can you guess what the secret ingredient is yet?!)

175g sugar
175g butter
3 eggs
200g flour
a tin of tomato soup
spice/cinnamon to taste
some blueberries

For the topping:
Crème fraiche with some sugar mixed in
Strawberries and blueberries

Cream butter and sugar together. Add the eggs, beating in one at a time. Fold in the remaining ingredients until mixed well and pour into a cake tin. Bake at 180c for about 40 mins, or until the top springs back when pressed. This is quite a dense cake, so the skewer test doesn't work so well!

Decorate with the crème fraiche and berries. Union Jack optional.

Look: ***** Very pretty round cake with crème fraiche all over and union jack decoration on top.
Taste: *** Pretty different. None of us guessed tomato, but as soon as it was revealed, you could recognise the unusual flavour! I wasn't 100% convinced, but points for adventurousness.
Texture: *** Dense and fudgey in the middle.

Bonus points: 3: for making both cakes on theme; taking extra time to decorate them beautifully; and using an unexpected ingredient that Herr Heston Himself would approve of.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Week 2: Low-fat moist carrot cake

Low fat at my own request, just so there's no controversy...adapted from a Delia recipe.

175 g dark brown soft sugar
3 medium eggs
120 ml sunflower oil
200g self-raising flour (you could use wholemeal, we didn't have any)
1½ tsp bicarb soda
3 tsp mixed spice
grated zest 1 orange
200g carrots, peeled and grated
175g sultanas

For the topping:
250gm low fat cream cheese
20g caster sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp ground cinnamon

Whisk sugar, eggs and oil together in a bowl using an electric hand whisk for 2-3 minutes. Sift in flour, bicarb soda and mixed spice and stir in.

Add the orange zest, carrots and sultanas. Pour the mixture into a lined slice tin and bake 40-45 minutes, until it feels firm and springy to the touch.

Make the topping by mixing all the ingredients in a bowl until light and fluffy, then cover and chill for 1-2 hours or until needed.

Look: ***1/2 Pretty impressive, rich looking cake. The spice in the cream cheese is a nice touch.
Taste: *** Rich and sweet. A little overpowering, would work better as a slice rather than a tall cake.
Texture: *** Super moist! She's not joking, that Delia.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Mugged (not smug)

I just got back from a whirlwind trip to the Windies (which, incidentally, were not actually that windy at all - why not the Sunnies?). Anyway, I spent 3 nights in Barbados and 2 nights in St. Lucia.

Smug? Well, I might ordinarily have been, a little... except that this holiday was not quite as I expected. The beaches were stunning, the weather was gorgeous, the hotels were lovely - but as for my time there? Well, let's just say it was...eventful.

First of all, I foolishly got very badly sunburnt on my first day, which was followed by an excrutiating night during which my aloe vera-ed legs stuck to the sheets and needed to be torn off inch by inch, resulting in a pain so extreme it made me look back on my last bikini wax with a fondness I usually reserve for cute boys with cupcakes.

Second of all, there was the vomiting. All the vomiting. I was sick in the air, I was sick in the sea, and I was sick in the bus depot at Bridgetown (do NOT recommend).

Not quite the glamorous, sun-kissed look I was going for - more lobster pink body topped with pasty, sweating face grimacing between heaves. Sexy times!

And thirdly, the cherry in my Banana Daiquiri: I think I got mugged in Soufrière. I say "think" because I'm still not entirely sure what happened; all I know is that I ended up handing over 60 Eastern Carribbean Dollars to a local who told me his name was 'Isaac'. I prefer 'Dodgy F*cker' thanks, or DoFo for short.

He was already hustling us through the window of our mini-van as we pulled up to the ramshackle town, saying he would take me on a tour and telling my boyfriend don't worry, don't worry, he would look after me, and to make sure I had enough money for the day. Alarm bells should have been ringing at that point, but I am so ridiculously naive that I always expect people to be well-intentioned and am unfailingly disappointed on the odd occassion they turn out not to be. As my boyfriend and driver took off so he could hike the Gros Piton (not that I'm blaming him or anything), I was abandoned left behind willingly in a very shabby run-down town, alone with a skinny and poorly dressed man in his late thirties - just us and a couple of chickens scratching around a neighbourhood back street that had a sorry air of neglect to it.

It scares me a lot more now that I reflect on it. At the time, I was feeling a little vulnerable to be left on my own in a strange and not particularly nice place, so I was happy to be in the hands of a local who was promising to show me around (I believe that people are mostly good, remember). As he led me away from the main streets - I didn't realise this until later, for the moment I had no points of reference to tell me otherwise - he pointed out 'sights' that included such highlights as: a woman selling coconut cookies by the side of the road, an abandoned estate, a hummingbird. As we made our way further away from the centre of town, he was reduced to pointing out trees and shacks, all while keeping up a stream of heavily accented babble which I had to concentrate to understand. I made positive but non-committal noises, wondering how long I would have to walk around with him before I could politely take my leave and figure out where the hell I was.

Damn my stupid, obliging, subservient politeness. It really doesn't serve me well in situations like this.

Eventually, after about twenty awkward minutes, the 'tour' ground to a halt and DoFo demanded 100 ECD - all the money I had in my wallet. My jaw dropped. At this point, I still didn't realise I was being mugged, if you can believe that. I thought he literally expected me to pay him 100 ECD for his crappy tour. I said something like "100 EC? But it cost us 80 to get all the way here from Castries!", about a 1.5 hour journey. He insisted, his tone darkening. I quickly re-counted the bills in my wallet, buying time while I decided what to do. Despite my ludicrous naivety, I realised what a nightmarish proposition it was to be left alone in this dreadful and possibly unsafe place with no money. I needed water, and food, and possibly an escape route. So I stood my ground, and decided that I could reasonably give him 60 and be OK with only 40 left in my wallet for the day. I said shakily, "I'll give you 60". He was getting jumpy by this stage, not looking me in the eye and hassling me in a low voice, asking hadn't I enjoyed the tour? And he must have 100, it was worth 100, give me a hundred. I gave him 60 and started walking away, in the direction of where the mini-bus dropped me off. He came after me and insisted that 70 was the only reasonable amount, he would take 70, 70 was a good price, but 60, no. I just kept saying 'sorry, no' as he trailed me, and eventually he gave up and took off, muttering darkly to himself.

Relaying this story to a St. Lucia travel agent who approached us with a questionaire in the airport, she said, eyes wide, "You were robbed!" and I realised that yes, actually, I was. I didn't realise it at the time - I even joked about having 'survived' Soufrière when my boyfriend (finally) arrived to pick me up - but I was well and truly mugged, for the first time in my life. And I'm so daft I didn't even realise it until after it happened.

Makes for an interesting cautionary tale, no?

Friday, May 14, 2010

You know you're in your thirties when...

...the hotel staff wish you a Happy Mother's Day.

I mean, lady, I am well aware I've been steadily putting on weight for a while now (my mellow-making drugs and too damn many delicious cakes are the main culprits) - and yes, I am aware that a childless woman in her thirties is something of a bizarre curio in your family-centric culture - but really. For a minute there I was enjoying the novel sensation of actually filling out my unpadded bikini top, enough so that I could ignore the plumper new bits further south.

Isn't life just one big series of trade-offs for women? Skinny no-boobs or chubby McBooberson. Boring safe guy or dashing cad. Chocolate honey-comb or pink grapefruit (can't do both together! Or CAN you...). Faithful werewolf or moody vampire.


Thursday, May 06, 2010

Week 1 in the cake zone: Apple cake

This went down a treat, especially with one Missy Slam Dunks.

200g butter
200g golden caster sugar
3 eggs
200g self-raising flour plus a little baking powder, sifted
3 tsps cinnamon
two bramley apples, peeled and cut into small chunks/grated, squeezed to remove excess juice
handful sultanas
lemon juice to taste
demerara sugar to sprinkle on top

Cream the butter and sugar, add eggs one at a time. Mix in the flour, followed by the other ingredients. Pour into cake tin and sprinkle with demerara sugar, bake at 180 celcius for about 40 mins (he's a bit hazy on the details).

Look: **1/2 Looked like an ordinary cake.
Taste: **** Excellent, lovely apple flavour with subtle spicing, not too sweet or overpowering.
Texture: ***** Sumblime. Soft and not too moist, contrasting with a delicious sugar crust on top.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

How to negotiate with a sweet tooth

I'm moving home this weekend. For the third time in a year. It's been a transient and somewhat unsettled 12 months, in more than the physical sense.

However, this time it's somewhat different - I'm moving in with my boyfriend, and I'm moving south of the river. South! (breathe, Kelly). We had long and fraught conversations about where to live, my North vs. his South, which degenerated into my Anywhere but Balham To Prove Your Unswerving Devotion to Me and his I Love You But I Love Balham More.

We reached an impasse.

Eventually, he offered to bake me a different cake every week that I lived down south with him. I thought about it for all of two seconds and accepted.

As he's going to be away for nearly 5 weeks for the world cup, the procession of cakes has started in advance of our moving in together. So far, I and my workmates have been the lucky, lucky recipients of some rather amazing concoctions, as follows:

- Dark chocolate and ginger fridge slice (part of the reconciliation push)
- Chocolate cupcakes (for V day, again not strictly part of the Cake Zone agreement)
- Lemon Drizzle cake (currently holding number 2 place)
- Banana Chocolate cake
- Courgette cake
- Chocolate cornflake cups
- Coffee and Walnut cake (comfortably holding the number 1 place; not remotely compromised by being dropped on the concrete outside my flat)

I think in order to give this truly astounding effort the recognition it deserves, I am going to start documenting the cakes on this site, with ratings based on look, taste and texture, with extra points being awarded for embellishments (decorations, additions, off-piste flourishes).

Let the caval-cake commence!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Panic at the zebra crossing

I am making my way home, cycling along in a little bubble of a daydream and feeling a little shaky because I have forgotten to throw back a late afternoon snack to keep me going. I try to change lanes in the peak hour traffic at a particularly tricksome roundabout when the car in front of me brakes suddenly and I skid to a halt just behind it, my tyre bumping their back bumper.

I can see the businessman in the front seat put on his handbrake as he hauls his massive bulk out of the drivers seat and waddles around to the back of the car, sun glinting off his bling-tastic cuff links. "Sorry!" I smile apologetically, a little surprised that he feels the need to come and inspect the back of his vehicle. There is a tiny scuff mark where my tyre touched his bumper, which he points to with a chubby finger, bellowing "What do you think you're doing?". He reaches down and wipes the smidge of dust off his bumper. There is now no trace of any contact on the bumper. "I could SUE you for this you know!" he spits in my face, turning purple in his rage. "Really?" is all I can think to respond. I look down at the invisible mark on his bumper. I stare at him. He stares back. "You cyclists think you OWN the road!!" We stare at each other some more. I say "sorry" again, because I really don't know where this is going and I am tired and need some food. The collars of his expensive looking purple shirt quiver.

He stares at me some more. I sit back on my bike seat. He finally decides to leave it, and walks back around to the drivers seat, stopping to give me one final hard stare (just in case I didn't get it with ALL THE STARING). He takes off in a fug of petulance and I cycle on home.

I've been seething quietly ever since.

You want to know who acts like they own the road, Mr. 40-carat cufflinks? DRIVERS, THAT'S WHO. Drivers who turn left in front of me. Drivers who get impatient if I delay their journey by all of two seconds who then scream past me with a whisker to spare. Drivers who nearly run me off the road twelve times a day. Drivers who pull out without checking for cyclists (the cause of all the accidents I and other friends have ever been involved in). Drivers who refuse to give way to me at roundabouts. Drivers whose short-sightedness and lack of care and general recklessness I am CONSTANTLY compensating for. And don't even get me started on white van men!

And yes, I reserve the right to feel slightly superior to fat car-driving types like yourself.

Friday, April 16, 2010

North London // South London

Boogaloo // Bugaboo
skinny jeans // rugby thighs
hi-top trainers // personal trainers
muggers // chuggers
hipsters // nippers
Tracey Emin quilts // Cath Kidston quilts
vintage // antiques
Pearly kings and queens // pearls and twinset
Cockney geezers // Wide boys
Camden goths // Croydon yobs

* * * * *
Any contributions?

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Hit grrls and beautiful geeks

You know those super-cool, highly stylised movies that completely glorify violence, that you come out of thinking "yeah, I could totally be an assassin!" and you're picturing yourself skulking around the city after dark, kicking in doors and giving bad guys the death stare before cooly dispatching their asses one by one?

No? Just me then.

Movies that fall into the category of making-you-want-to-be-an-assassin: Kill Bill, Charlie's Angels, Nikita, Pulp Fiction, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Zatôichi, the Bourne series.

But before I saw any of these there was Leon (or The Professional, as it was known in Australia), starring babe-in-the-making Natalie Portman as an orphan child who takes up with her loner neighbour after her family are slaughtered by a maniacal drug lord. Leon is possibly my most favourite film ever; and not just because I was a little in love with Jean Reno and the soundtrack featured Björk. I remember stumbling out of the arthouse cinema at the top end of Bourke street, blinking in the still-bright daylight, feeling different somehow. Indestructable. Cool. A little bit...goth.

And now there is Kick-Ass, the story of a high school geek who decides to become a self-made superhero, kitted out in a green wetsuit, Timberland boots and home-made ninja sticks.

The movie has blown away a whole load of comic book conventions, not least by introducing a 12 year old hit girl called, you guessed it, Hit-Girl. She reminded me a lot of Mathilda in Leon:


There's been a lot of hoo-ha about her use of the c-word in this film. I am not sure if it is my almost complete desensitisation to such language or testimony to Chloe Moretz's pitch perfect performance that it barely registered on my shock-scale.

Pre-teen killing machine uses a few bad words? Whatevs.

Controversy aside, Kick-Ass is great big colourful fun with a dark streak, and treads a fine line between highly stylised action flick and low-fi geekdom. Oh, and he helped:

beautiful geek

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

D:Reamy Prof Cox the Fox rox my world*

Has anyone managed to catch Wonders of the Solar System on BBC2? I can highly recommend it to anyone with a passing interest in astronomy; or those among us who are simply interested in staring at sweet boy-faced men eulogising about something (anything) that they are so excited about that their eyes get all shiny and a sort of glow comes off them.

I mean, I find contemplation of our amazingly complex little solar system and the universe beyond absolutely mind-bottling, but honestly - astronomy's association with ancient, incoherent men who can calculate the elliptical rotation patterns of distant moons but are unable to buy a pair of fitting trousers, heat up a tin of baked beans or replace a pair of spectacles that are clearly beyond repair has made it a no-go zone for many women. Science on that sort of mathematical/astro-physical level just isn't sexy.

Well, get ready to have your preconceptions slapped around the face and covered in glitter:

Prof Cox

How d'ya like them space particles?!

Introducing Mr. Brian Cox, formerly of D:Ream (thiiings... can only get better) and latterly passionate crusader for science funding and visitor of schools (sigh!) to raise the profile of the least-cool subject on the curriculum.

Coming from this man, space is cool - literally and pop-culturally. He sprinkled his magic space dust on me and suddenly I am the proud possessor of information about the names of the moons of Jupiter (Io, Ganymede, Callisto and Europa, named for the lovers of the Greek god Zeus). The earth would fit inside Jupiter more than a thousand times. Something about volcanos. Shiny, shiny eyes.

*apologies for the tortured wordplay - I just couldn't resist.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

And So It Begins

I have been doing a lot more cycling down south of the river of late, largely because a certain stubbon mister lives down there and he starts getting twitchy if he leaves the SW postcode, poor rabbit.

There is a noticeable culture difference between the cyclists up norf compared to those down sarf. In my [slightly jaded and bedgruding] experience, cyclists in the Southerly parts of London are:

-faster, no question.

-more likely to be of a manly persuasion; yet

-less likely to sport a moustache.

-if of a feminine persuasion; less likely to be wearing heels and skirts.

-more likely to cycle in packs, like hyenas. Or is it a cackle of hyenas? Either way, like hyenas.

-more likely to wear hi-vis and helmets. Well, duh! South London roads are much meaner than the quiet back streets of Hackney that constitute my current commute.

-less likely to have a child seat on the back (see above).

- more aggressive. I copped an earful of bile this morning from a bunch of bad-tempered wheelers when I failed to take off the instant the light turned green (I was still folding my map back into my pocket). In North London, they would have waited patiently or maybe ding-a-linged their bell.

-more likely to wear full-body lycra and those hideous yellow sunglasses that don't look much like this:


-less likely to have a pair of bike polo sticks (bats? racquets? mallets?) attached to the back. Actually that is pretty specific to Shoreditch.

Melbourne Dreaming turns 4!

Melbourne dreaming turns 4!

Four big years, people! I'm finally feeling the thaw after a Winter that well and truly beat my ass down, down, down.

Spring is finally here. Happy days.
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