Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Ossie, Ossie, Ossie...

or as I prefer to refer to him, the ex from hell.

Hello from Paradise.  Today is beautiful right here - sunshine, hot enough to steam you from both sides as we have had some rain of late.  Plenty, in fact.

Just inland of us, there are 2,000 families who are without their homes tonight.  A little further inland are whole towns completely isolated, without power, communication or even potable water.

It puts things into perspective.

It puts our last few days into perspective.

So, how was your Australia Day celebrations?

Usual longer version ramble following, but right now I say:
  • I am grateful for the roof above my head and the safety that it offers me, as there are many (friends of mine included) who don't have that luxury thanks to a tornado that went by (2 blocks from here) when we were battened down with ex-tropical cyclone Oswald being a bit of a bastard in the region.
  • I love electricity.  After 51 hours without it, I love the fact that it offers hot water, fans, the kettle, stove/oven/microwave options, refrigeration, lighting, telephone connection, mobile recharging and entertainment options.
  • We now have an emergency kit list - and not a "one day we should" attitude.  Once shops are restocked, we will even purchase all those little things on it.
I hope you all fared well, and haven't been to Ossified.  If you have, feel free to share your stories - and if you want me to share them, I will on your behalf.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

P-p-p-pepper Steak

As a child I loved books of all varieties, really, and worked my way through the two-teacher school library by Year Five.

My "most-often borrowed" books were from the second shelf down, 3 bookshelves to the left of the corner - recipe books.  It had everything - history, culture and food.

I had tasted in my mind many dishes that I had no chance of ever getting the ingredients for.   Granite Glen - and the little town servicing it - in the 1980s had little in the shops that held anything more exotic than dried herbs and basic vegetables.  According to Mum, this was hugely superior to Granite Glen - and the little town servicing it - in the 1960s.

This spread to my investigation of Mum's collection of magazines and books on the "recipe shelf" in her cupboard.  Mum's mother used to shoo her children out of the kitchen as "there would be plenty of time for that when you have your own house to look after" - consequently, Mum was taught to cook (on a wood combustion stove) by Margaret Fulton and the rest of the ladies at the Women's Weekly test kitchen.   She kept every magazine and clipping that every gave her that culinary edge - and it was at my disposal because she wasn't going to do what her mother did.

I also discovered offers on the back of packages for "Free Recipe Books" - and I took full advantage of such offers and sent off stamped self-addressed envelopes EVERYWHERE.

When I was 11, mum was hit hard by Ross River Fever (or virus). Dad used to joke about Mum's boyfriend ("she's in bed with Ross") but the aches and pain she obviously had you wouldn't wish on your worst enemy.  It wasn't every day, but most days you could tell she was trying hard just to get through.

There was an upside, though - Mum had to hand over cooking to me.  Muahahahaha.

I was her number one pest in the kitchen (trying to get permission to test the above recipes on my family) and my sister was at boarding school.  I broke her in gently, at first - consulted meal choices, best methods of preparation and, invariably, food substitutions (see abovementioned ingredients issue) - but I must admit that I might have taken advantage of the situation by working just a few of the ideas that had been planted into my head by the recipe collections I had trawled and amassed.

Looking back on it, it was truly a horrible year for Mum.  It seemed that when Mum wasn't laid flat out recuperating from another beating by Ross, she was travelling around Queensland ensuring that extended and close family were able to see specialists - the joy of being the family pharmacist therefore keeper of all information and advocacy medical - and putting relatives in/taking relatives out of various hospitals.

Add to that (and pertinent to this story), her firstborn not only went off to boarding school that year, but also seriously broke her arm, was misdiagnosed with appendicitis (and subsequent issues regarding the bits of the body that should have been diagnosed), got forklifted onto a plane (I will leave that there - someone else can tell that story) and had an infection develop in the badly set broken arm.

As a result, Mum and Dad decided to take her to see our personal Orthapedic specialist (Dad is the sort of guy who isn't accident prone, but when faced with an accident does it exceptionally well).

This meant that I was at home alone with my baby brother GB, then aged 7 1/2.  In those days, this was perfectly fine because we had a lot of chores to do when we got home from school, I could organise and cook a meal and Dad was expected home about when we were due to go to bed.

This ALSO meant that I got to look out a recipe that I had never before tried (and Mum was in no position to veto) - I chose Pepper Steak.

The recipe called for several tablespoons of cracked peppercorns - and yay, Mum did have peppercorns in her pantry and I knew how to use the mortar and pestle.

Given his age and lack of Pepper Steak experience, I decided to take it easy on my test subject and used only a quarter of the recommended corns.

I was so proud of my finished meal - there was a fancy potato bake, something green (I may have tizzied up reconstituted or frozen peas - fresh green things weren't plentiful in the day) and probably something orange (Dad always threw a few pumpkin seeds into the ashes of any fire burned up the paddock, and we weren't afraid of sweet potatoes) - supporting the main player, my Pepper Steak.

It was MAGNIFICENT with its crust of cracked peppercorns and a creamy sauce (with a bit more peppercorn activity) artfully poured with a decorative flourish.

GB wanted to try some straight away, but I was a good bossy big sister, and I insisted that we say Grace before eating just as we would have had Mum or Dad been home.

The allure, however, was just too wonderful for my dear little brother.  As I had banned him from trying a mouthful, he just leaned over and licked his steak...

Can you imagine the air of superiority I had when I mentioned that perhaps God didn't like him testing before eating either, and that burning sensation that he had was what smite was about?

GB was truly unimpressed with my attitude and the food on offer, and so we then held a battle that will remain unchronicled - let us just say that by the time Dad got home, his son had been a mute vegetarian for about 2 hours.

When Dad walked in, GB broke his silence with accusations that I had tried to kill him, while it was all I could do to rebut furiously and denigrate his tastebuds and lack of piety.

I remember quite clearly Dad shutting us up with a "Your Sister Could Lose Her Arm" - he was good at that, the capitalised sentence that quieted his offspring.

The funny thing is, Pepper Steak never did get another run under my watch out there.   And my sister didn't lose her arm.

What is your most vivid meal memory?

Saturday, January 12, 2013

High Tide

It was a king tide this morning, and we made sure we were ready to walk over there and take full advantage.

It was altogether a much better day today, possibly because less plans were made to be trashed - but also because jobs that had to be done were - and re-enactments that were required worked...

to a degree.

Friday, January 11, 2013

V Day Celebrations

Poor old V.

Paris woke him at 5.30 (not because it is his birthday but because she sneaks into our bed between 3 and 4 and then commences wriggling until one of us arises, at which point she smiles and advises that she is awake too).

It is a stinking hot day here today - relatively, of course.  The maximum is 33, which is about exactly what the temperature has probably been for the last week and will be for the next, but it is as humid as a sauna and has been since - well, since 6.30, which is when I slept in until (and tagged him on the whole "entertain Paris" role that is our main task at hand these days).

He got phone calls, but missed the one from 'Salina (got a message on MessageBank, but she didn't sing Happy Birthday, which is mandatory, so we will be following that up later).

We went to the beach - that in itself wasn't onerous at all - but while discussing our strategy (involving who was on "entertain Paris" duty, which is more about wrangling between the flags than actually dealing with whine while on the beach - a pleasant change) a wave caught him unawares just at the bit that causes the bottom bit of knee to wobble around against the top bit of knee, and when there is nothing in between those bits of knees this can cause something close to excrutiation!

Due to a upcoming opportunity, I have need to visit a particular cafe and so I proposed that for lunch, (rather than having the "toasted leftover wraps" that I do so well).

We all dressed up - well, Paris dressed up (in tutu and sparkly shirt) and I matched her (although my tutu was more of a maxi-skirt, but we were both, coincidentally, in pink and white - although as Paris did point out, I didn't have any silver stars), and V - well, he wore a shirt and boardies (which is his daily uniform) - and worked on a plan.

We first visited the library, and despite me having the forethought to reserve rather than contemplate the sifting through the DVDs to find the last series of Hamish Macbeth for our viewing pleasure, it hadn't yet been acted on so we still had to do the sift - more sand in the shoe than total devastation.

Then we hit the main drag to find the cafe - after one circuit to locate the cafe without luck in either parking or location (side note - why don't businesses put the street numbers on display?), we brought in technology to try and find it for us - and I am blaming shortcomings in the technology for the first block's walk with a three year old and a V with a gammy  knee on it fooling me (and definitely not on the whole "the map was upside down" suggestion that V may have made).  After asking the local constabulary (much more reliable than technology) we walked back to find that the cafe was tiny and choc a block with patrons.

We thought we might overcome that by getting a counter-ie at the revamped pub on the corner - to discover that they too were well patronised and nary a table to be had.  The fact that a large tableful of people from the establishment that deviated from employing me fairly recently sealed the fact that we weren't going to wait around for an opening.

By then, the attitude of a V in pain and an over-excited and hungry Paris led to the decision that a certain Scottish establishment would cater her meal, and those "toasted leftover wraps" were back on our menu!

A very important birthday phone call was interrupted by technology again this afternoon, with our hands-free phone also displaying signal-free interludes during conversation.  Another thing added to the "things we need to replace" list.

V went to go to the shops for some dinner items, and car battery charger got added to the "things we need to replace" list.

Luckily, the complete lack of battery made itself known in our driveway, so V still got to the shops for dinner items AND got to have the RACQ come visit us and recommend the abovementioned car battery charger...

Paris and I set about making his birthday cake - the old favourite, Moist Chocolate Cake by Stay at Home Mum.  Do you know what a difference it makes if you read 1 1/4 as 1 3/4 when you are looking at the sugar?

Yeah - not recommended.

 On the whole, though, he did say that he enjoyed the day.  Isn't he sweet?  Happy birthday darling - and next year its going to be different.  Isn't it?

Thursday, January 10, 2013


We went the markets on Sunday, and spent wisely, returning with vegetables, a jar of relish and many, many promises for the future (in the form of seedlings).

On the way home, I forgot to grab one of the $2 bags of sweet potatoes from the stall by the side of the road.

But that was okay, because I had been meaning for months to see whether there were any sweet spuds (which apparently are not yams - although there is room for arguments about historical linguistics) beneath the proliferation of vine leaves that had come up without design last year.

During the wondering period, we had already done a harvest of the vine and had some with onion, tomato and chilli, the way that I think friends of mine (ours if you are an old friend from Sydney reading this) used to prepare it for us - a most lush and wonderful foliage to eat.

So on Sunday afternoon, before doing more important things such as preparing the beds for all of the seedlings that we bought, I "investigated"...

Just a few, then. They just kept on coming, folks - THIS is the vegetable to end world hunger!! I left left the scarred and small ones to dry downstairs to try and deliberately plant next season (although now I have done some investigation, I should have taken cuttings from the vine as it is meant to be easier propogation and less likely to develop weevils).
However, I still have EIGHT kilograms (over 17.5 lbs) of sweet potato to cook with!
I took the largest one (over 1 kilogram in that one alone) and put it through the food processor to process my sister's favourite method for the sweet potato. 

 There is no "after" photo, as it took over 4 hours to slow roast the beggars, and I am working my way through the 3 containers full. Please note - they don't stay crisp, but are still quite yummy chewy (and without the garlic aioli)!!! 

My favourite method with sweet potatoes is just roast - and roast well. Leenie, over at Side Trips advised me that she had only ever had them candied with marshmallows, and didn't appear to be a fan of that method - I can only imagine!!

So - what is your favourite?

Sunday, January 06, 2013

Grandma Jean and genetic traits

I was over at Facebook recently, and my cousin had put up a photo of her daughter and granddaughter.

I commented on her photo, saying "Oh my, your mum is never far away there" and then I cringed.

You see, her mum is my aunt - my dad's sister.  One thing that is for sure and certain on that side of the family tree is that a fair percentage of the fruit have fairly strong characteristics.

Brown eyes.  Cow eyelashes.  Well defined chin point.  Stubborn jaw.

'Salina looks exactly like a cross between my sister and my sister outlaw - honestly, either of them could go off with her and never get questioned on connections.  

Paris looks very much like her dad - a much smaller, younger female version of him, to be fair, but I didn't get a great deal of look in there.  Not that I am in any way complaining.

While I don't look exactly like my cousin or my cousin's daughter or my cousin's granddaughter or my aunt - or indeed another of my cousins and several of the next generation - it wouldn't take a laboratory to ascertain that we are all related.

Brown eyes.  Cow eyelashes.  Well defined chin point.  Stubborn jaw.

When I was a child, people would always comment on "how much she looks like Jean".  

Whenever we went down to visit her, her friends would say hello in the street and comment on her carbon copy.

I even visited an old people's home (through school) when I was 14 and a complete stranger said "do you know Jean (her maiden name)?" - he hadn't seen her for 60 years at that point.

So while my body has suffered from diets and depressions and pregnancies and good living; while my hair has been long, short, shorn, black, purple, red, brindle and grey (until I colour it again); and although I have had jaw surgery for dental work when I was much younger - it has not changed and will never change one big thing.

I still look like my grandmother - perhaps a fatter, longer-haired, pointier-nosed version for the 21st century, but just like her - just like my aunt, my cousin, her daughter and her granddaughter.

And the scariest thing is I have a fairly good idea of what I will look like when I am old.

So - does your family harbour its own doppelgangers, or do the genes allow the blend to smoosh more easily?

Friday, January 04, 2013

There is no HOT like the hot of a 1970s school day

NO heatwave is ever quite like the hot that was experienced when we were kids.

There are heatwaves going on all around Australia at the moment.  Bush Babe of Oz* has actually just blogged some Heatwave Fire Tips and has an awesome giveaway over at her blog today.

I won't kybosh your chances (although I will comment with a disclaimer), as I have already won - I was inspired to share with you a typical school day.

It matters not which year it was.  Somewhere between 1975 (because that is when I started primary school) and 1981 (because that is when I finished primary school), I would say.

It was definitely October, November, February or March - September is always a bit of a "oh, I will think about getting hot" month, but never sustains.  April can surprise, but prefers to shock with previews of Winter.

While it MAY have been December or January, back in the day when I was a girl, we had 3 term school years and decent Christmas holidays, which meant that these months were reserved for mustering.

School days, when I was a girl, consisted of getting persuaded to rise at a "reasonable hour" - in my childhood home, a reasonable hour was prior to 7am (otherwise, apparently, you missed the best part of the day).

If the HARRUMPH of Dad's cough as he went past on his way to the pool at 5am didn't wake you; if the SPLASH of Dad diving in to the pool didn't wake you; or the HARRUMPH of Dad coming back didn't wake you - then I can assure you, the wet washer applied to your face by said Dad at whatever o'clock he though was reasonable definitely did the trick.

We had to be ready and out the door by 1/4 to 8 anyway, as we had a 1km cycle to get to "The Bike Box".  That was a doddle for my older sister and my younger brother.  Me - well, my - ahem - creative thought patterns - meant that the dawdle could drag me away from my main goal, and the fact that I was the world's most distracted (and possibly slow) cyclist meant that I never did learn how to k-r-r-r-t-h-p over the halfway mark grid while still astride - and so encouragement (my ears tended to get distracted at times - I will call it encouragement) was required by my siblings for me to reach the bike box and stow the bike before the school bus came past.  There was more than one occasion where, indeed, we did miss the school bus - the good news was, it doubled back 5 minutes later and we could catch it from the OTHER side of the road, but the OTHER side of the road didn't have seating arrangements (i.e. stumps).

For the next hour, the bus would meander around various corrugated-gravel, bulldust and pitted bitumen roads, collecting our classmates and accounts of what was on tele last night.  There were occasional interruptions of the bus driver enquiring if we could possibly keep it down back there (and threats of teaching us what a horsebite was if we didn't).

Our school was a two-teacher school - high set, weatherboard, painted Dick and Dora on the little room's windows, rainwater tanks, Arbour day tree planting strategies, the most awesome playground that evolved from a P&C working bee one year, thunderboxes, ants nests, tennis courts and a parade ground.  Atmospheric control was through windows and ceiling fans.

Generally, we had a half hour before the bell rang where we put our bags on the racks and ran around playing.

One year, the hill on the other side of the town where the school was situation had a bushfire.  We were never in any danger, but we could see where the flames were, where they had been - the smoke was constant - not thick, just present - and the breeze was either non-existant or flame-heated and spiralling around you.

Then there was parade - all standing tall and proud, the older girls whistling the national anthem on the recorders as the boys took turns raising the flag.

When Mr McC - the best teacher ever - was in charge, we then would do a lap or two of the school grounds at whatever pace we could muster.  It was measured at 1.9km - I rarely did more than the mandatory one.  In answer to a gauntlet being put down one day, Mr McC and another student did 8 laps - and several of them were almost sprinted.

However, school days must go on - two hours of attention and learning, before a short break, another two hours of attention and learning and then a longer break (and softball training), and then the interminable hour and a half of a-t-t-e-n-z-z-z-z-zzzzzzz - huh?

Yeah, that last bit of the day really was wasted.  It was always about ten degrees hotter.  The sun shone across the wide veranda into the classroom door directly into every child's eyes.  The flies were more pestilent.  The fans were louder.  The heat shimmered across the playground and the second hand on the clock seemed to take a leaf and go slower and slower and s-l-o-w-e-r...

Finally 3.30 would come and we would all scream out of the classrooms (well, actually, we didn't scream - 2 teacher school, only 20 odd kids so those 2 teachers would know exactly who was screaming - and they KNEW our parents, and our parents would respond if reports of screaming were made) to line up for the bus.  So that it wasn't the same kids picking the best seats every day, the teachers would get us to line up in a different way every day.  Alphabetical - by first name, by last name, by middle name, by property name, age, birthdate, height, hair colour - they did it all - and we marched IN ORDER across to the bus.

The hour ride home was the reverse of the one in - and so as school mates hopped off, we took advantage of more seat space and window openings.

In those days, everyone wore shorts to school.  In those days, shorts were short.  In those days, seatbelts weren't fitted or compulsory, so you could slide along the seats.  In those days, seats were vinyl.  So if the bus, say, had been parked in a hot place, say, and you put your butt straight down onto the vinyl without the bracing of face muscles first (I don't know why it worked, but it did), you often took two or three good goes to descend.  Hot, hot, hot, sweaty vinyl.

We were lucky.  We could dream of the pool at home and how good it would feel when we got there. In those days, Mum hadn't yet started the battle of chlorination and filtering that would make the pool what it is these days - in those days, you skimmed the weed from the top, hope the toad numbers were low and try not to touch the bottom slime - but it was far cooler than the bus!

However - an hour.  Pitted bitumen roads.  Bye interesting television recalls.  Bulldust.  Bye fresh air through windows.  Corrugated gravel roads.  G-g-g-o-o-d-b-b-y-e classmates.

And then the cycle home.  I was the bane of my siblings existence.  "Hurry" they would barrack.  On I would shakily clamber.  Off they would go.

They would speed down to the grid - thk-thk-thk-thk they would zoom across the corrugations.  Not me.  Ka-thunk ka-thunk ka-thunk is what each bump is like at my speed - I had tested their theories of going faster out, and had ended up in a crumpled mess and so was sticking to what I knew best.

"Come on" they would entice from the halfway grid.  K-r-r-r-t-h-p and away they would go again.  Ka-thunk ka-thunk ka-thunk - dismount, hold bike by side and step-by-step I would start to walk it over the grid.

For those of you who are not quite sure of what a grid is (or think you know but want clarification) it is a dozen or so lengths of railway line welded in parallel and placed on the road (across a ditch) at a fenceline - designed to dissuade animals from thinking that the road leading out of the paddock is a thoroughfare for them AND allow mechanised vehicles easy access without the need to get out, open a gate, get in, drive through, get out, shut the gate, get in and drive on (or alternately take a child with you everywhere to save you several steps).

Please note 2 parts of that description.  "lengths of railway line" - which means metal - baked in the sun for upwards of 10 hours by this point in time.  "across a ditch" - which means unmowed long grass, ideal for all sort of critters to rustle in.

Now, I am not saying I am a wuss, but my - ahem - creative thought patterns would breathe life into many a monster in that long grass, and no matter how brave I talked myself up to be, that first step often would seem to inspire a hiss from unseen places.

"Come on" they would yell at me from the top of the hill, knowing that if they got home and left me there, odds are they would be sent back to see "what was keeping Jeanie so long" before they would be allowed to enter the pool, so they conserved energy and encouraged me loudly.

Their words of support did often spur me on, but added to the fear of the dangers beneath the grid, there was also the dangers of the grid itself - especially to an unshod child.  (Yes, I know mum did ensure we had shoes when we LEFT home, but no-one wore shoes at our school.)

Eventually (no doubt after a fierce rock-paper-scissors competition) one or both of my siblings would come back to the halfway grid and ensure that I survived relatively unscathed before I got a "come on" (in a possibly less upbeat tone) - k-r-r-r-t-h-p and away they would go again.

* Just one disclaimer - Bush Babe of Oz was one of those siblings.  She was the nice one.

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Wordless Wednesday - Three Years is a lot of territory

A lot happens in 3 years.

You can move from girlhood to adolescense - or from infant to girl.

Your body can go from helpless to self-propulsion.

Your mind can go from inquisitive to One Direction.

Your life can be thrown up in the air and land askance.

You can find focus and direction.

You can fail to discern when things need to change until it is forced.

But mostly, you can learn to love over and over and over again.

(This is part of Wordless Wednesday, hosted over at My Little Drummer Boys)

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

2013 - I've been waiting for a year like you

to come into my life.

In fact, much like the proverbial gin joint, any year would have done to get me out of the one that shall be henceforth never be referred to again without a spit to the floor or an avert sign flicked off the wrist.

It wasn't all bad, as far as years go - but it held a couple of curveballs that would have been a joy to watch, had it not been me at the plate and needing the hit.  It wasn't much past the half-way mark when I started to keep my head as low as possible and my strikezone shrank, but still some got through and so I weaved dreams I did not allow myself to contemplate life's breath to until we were past the danger zone that 2012 represented.

So 2013 - I have plans.  Wanna have some fun?