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).
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