Monday, 8 June 2015
1. TV COOKING SHOWS
If nothing else, Master Chef and My Kitchen Rules have equipped my children with the vocab to politely not finish the meals I cook. They might mention that I have ‘over-caramelised the protein’ as they tip the burnt remains of their sausage in the bin. What they really mean is “Better luck next time, champ. What’s for dessert?”
Back in the 70s, we thought things were getting fancy when mum used an ice cream scoop to serve the mashed potato in perfect domes on our ‘meat and three veg’ dinner. Little did we know that one day people would serve meals stacked in small towers or de-constructed, with artistic swooshes, smears, dots and crumbs all over the plate.
Well, when I say ‘plate’ I might be talking about a wooden board or a tile, or a jar, really, because my favourite celebrity chefs have almost rendered our traditional household crockery inventory obsolete.
But I do love my cooking shows, and I try to embrace the wonderful advice on offer. This is how we serve breakfast in our house:
Don’t try this at home – pouring the milk over the Weet Bix can be problematic.
2. TOO MUCH UNFILTERED FOOD STUFF ON THE INTERNET
When I was a girl, recipes came from a limited group of trusted sources like Margaret Fulton, the Commonsense Cookery Book, and a small but blossoming range of Australian Womens Weekly Cookbooks. And don’t forget the recipes passed on by family or friends.
These days we can find amazing Youtube tutorials to make anything our greedy hearts desire, and an avalanche of spectacular recipes. This is a bit of a double-edged sword though.
I frequently use the internet to find new recipes. But I really wish there was some kind of quality control filter out there. When I search for, let’s say, a sponge cake recipe, I want to find the best sponge cake recipe in the world. And some stupid optimistic part of me ALWAYS thinks that if I type in BEST SPONGE CAKE RECIPE I will actually find the best one - the one that a cyber panel of at least 100 people has trialled and tested and voted the best in the whole world. But instead I get a whole heap of recipes from every Tom, Dick and Harry who have titled their recipe Best Sponge Cake recipe, or some totally crap sponge cake baker who happens to be a SEO genius.
And there is also another level to this. Let’s say I post on facebook asking my friends if they have a tried and true sponge cake recipe, what do I get? Certainly not great-grandma’s 100 year old CWA award winning sponge cake. No - I get links to the same crap I googled myself!
See, that’s the problem. We have so many resources available to us, but because most of us are just walking around like numpties, bumping into everything, we’re only just scratching the surface.
So here’s what happens in the end … I add the name of some smartarse celebrity chef to my google search, someone who should know what they’re doing but will add about 20 different pinches and quarter teaspoons of completely unnecessary ingredients to the recipe so we think they are a complete genius.
Then I’ll add two hours to their suggested prep time and off I go! Not the best sponge cake ever, but at least I know it won’t be the worst.
3. WORRYING ABOUT LEFTOVER EASTER EGGS
When I was a girl, shops weren’t bursting at the seams on Boxing Day with Easter Eggs and Hot Cross Buns. In fact, even closer to Easter, they weren’t exactly filled to the brim with Easter goodies.
I remember one year my dad bought our Easter Eggs when he was away at a conference, because he had some free time and saw something a bit ‘different’ – the Humpty Dumpty Easter Egg, with Smarties inside.
Nowadays, of course, we are spoiled for choice, and inundated with volume. So spoiled and inundated, in fact, that the food media finds it necessary to counsel us on what to do with our leftover Easter eggs. That’s right, we need recipes for using excess Easter eggs.
First of all, do I really need to say it? Leftover Easter eggs are really just Easter eggs I haven’t eaten yet. I don’t need professional instructions on what to do with them. When the time is right I will eat them, probably sooner rather than later too, if you really need to know.
Secondly, if people have too many Easter eggs in their house to consume in the traditional manner, adding more fat and sugar to convert them into a different chocolate food with a much shorter use-by date and way more calories isn’t really solving a problem as far as I can see.
And thirdly, that’s some pretty bloody expensive cooking chocolate you’re using there, isn’t it?
I know I’m a cynical old cow but the proliferation of this kind if re-hashed stuff in the media ranks in the same league as Kardashian headlines for me.
Or maybe I’m just jealous because other people have leftover Easter eggs.
Photo Credit: My own photo.
Friday, 29 May 2015
My kids both went on a school excursion today. On the way to school I was thinking about one particular excursion from my own school days, but I kept it to myself.
When I was in Grade 5 we loaded up a bus with a few classes from my school to visit a beach about an hour away.
Along the way we mysteriously detoured to a house belonging to a teacher from another class. As he ducked inside the house I assumed he must have forgotten his lunch or something, but instead he returned to the bus with a box full of tiny grey kittens.
Long story short I was one of several children who raised their hands to say I would love to have one of the kittens. Of course, the devil is always in the detail with this kind of thing. I could have sworn he said something like “Blah blah blah let me know tomorrow”. It turns out he actually said “Check with your parents and let me know tomorrow”. Just semantics really. Anyway, I gave him the nod the next day and ‘project kitten’ was good to go.
A couple of days later my kitten was delivered to school. Before school that day I had fashioned a multi-purpose kitty-carrier to house the kitten at school and carry him home on my bike at the end of the day. It was a small open cardboard crate, with newspaper over the top. Solid as a rock.
Parental status – still very much in the dark unfortunately.
Then a few problems arose during the kitten transfer at school.
Firstly, it’s fairly safe to say that my classroom teacher, Mr M, was not on board with ‘project kitten’. He didn’t like the fact that one of his esteemed colleagues saw fit to bring kittens to school and distribute them to students, and he definitely didn’t like the fact that I planned on keeping my kitten in a home-styled kitty-carrier in the corner of the classroom for the rest of the day.
Secondly - and this proved to be the deal breaker - my new kitten was not completely satisfied with his temporary lodgings. He howled the biggest howls he could manage with his tiny kitten-voice. With every howl Mr M would flinch, and glare towards the box. It seemed to go on for hours but really it was only a few short minutes before the kitten liberated himself. There was only one way this could go.
Nope, there was no phone call to my parents to collect their oldest child (and new kitten), no paperwork documenting my departure from school. There was just a middle aged man with a red face and steam coming out of his ears screaming “GET OUT! AND TAKE THAT BLASTED CAT WITH YOU!”
Obviously Mr M was not a cat person.
I assumed he wasn’t in the mood to provide any craft supplies to repair my kitty-carrier, so I quickly jettisoned that and marched myself over to the bike racks. Somehow I managed to ride all the way home clutching a screeching, scratching kitten to my upper torso, steering my bike with the other hand.
The relief at the end of the journey lasted only briefly, as I entered another level of hell - explaining the whole thing to my mother, who was in bed recuperating after an appendectomy.
This was certainly turning into a fine old mess.
Mum assured me that she would be ‘speaking to somebody’ about this, to arrange the return of our little ball of fluff as soon as possible. And with that hanging over me I hopped on my bike and returned from the fire back to the frying pan at school.
As I shuffled back into class, nursing my finely lacerated arms, Mr M barely acknowledged my return, nor did he enquire about the welfare of my furry friend. As long as I was sans kitten, that’s all that mattered.
I spent a very long afternoon wondering why my air-tight plan hadn’t gone as smoothly as I’d hoped. Things had certainly unravelled rather quickly, that’s for sure.
When I got home after school, bracing myself for trouble, I found the little grey kitten curled tightly in a ball beside mum on the bed.
He had been unofficially given the green light to join our family. And it looked like we had been given the green light too.
For the longest time he didn’t have a name, and I’m not sure if that made him nervous. Eventually he became known as Grey Man. He lived to a ripe old age too, despite possibly using up several of his nine lives on that initial bike ride home.
I didn’t share that story with my kids as they set off for their excursion today.
Just in case…
Friday, 22 May 2015
Our neighbours moved out a few weeks ago. We had one of those peaceful ‘ships-in-the-night’ relationships with them where we just waved and said hello, but didn’t know each other’s names or borrow cups of sugar from each other.
Apparently though, we also had the kind of relationship where they could shove their last awkwardly-sized pieces of rubbish in OUR wheelie bin just minutes before they pissed off to their new house.
This wasn’t the first time they encroached on our bin space. I overlooked the other occasion because it was after a party, and some of their visitors, with skins full of alcohol, shoved about 25 pizza boxes in our recycling bin. I’m not the most confrontational person, so I elected not to point out that their pizza boxes might have squeezed into their own recycling bin if they hadn’t shoved a broken lawn chair in there already! See, I’m nice like that.
When I was a girl we had a metal Oscar-sized rubbish bin at home. Everything that wasn’t composted or re-used went into that garbage bin.
Incinerators were all the rage too, mainly at institutions with lots of paper. At school, our janitor seemed to spend quite a bit of time tending to the incinerator. I imagine all that metho on the stencils would have helped keep things ablaze.
Like I said, we didn’t throw much out when I was a girl. My Nanna even used to wash the few plastic bags she owned and hang them on the line. Re-using things was ingrained in people, after generations of essential thrift.
Our food wasn’t often packaged, but when it was, like when we bought a Streets Heart ice cream on a car trip, well we didn’t have a problem with throwing that useless sticky wrapper right out the car window … until the whole nation was told to ‘Do the Right Thing’ in the early 80s. Or else!
My intention with this post was really to just tell a few stories comparing the past and the present, like I often do. But I’m finding it hard to wrap things up without appearing to sermonise the issue.
Anyway, I’ll just leave you with another story.
During the most recent school holidays we visited a big new park in our area. We went on five different days around the same time – arriving at lunch time and leaving around 4 or 5. On each of those days there were really, really large extended family groups picnicking and barbecuing, but they were different groups each day.
I wasn’t exactly policing their activities, but I couldn’t help notice the varying attitudes they had to the rubbish they produced and how they disposed of it. One of the groups had an elaborate supply of re-usable picnicware which they took home with them when they left. A couple of groups had disposable picnicware which they bagged up and put in the bin.
And one group had disposable EVERYTHING, which they just threw all over the park. Everywhere. I’m not kidding. The park looked like a rubbish dump after they left. It was so bad that I felt like a guilty bystander, just letting it happen. The only things I did to defend against their filthy crusade were 1) a lengthy scowling side-eye at a woman who spat her chewing gum straight out on to the ground, and 2) I gathered up a few of their Styrofoam cups from the ground and handed them over saying something flimsy like “Oh, look, your rubbish is blowing away, here you go”, hoping they would take the hint and pick up the rest of their crap.
I think that might just be the tip of the iceberg, don’t you?
Picture source: Pixabay. No attribution required.
Thursday, 7 May 2015
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photo credit: Garden Hose via photopin (license)
A popular meme circulates on social media every so often, listing all of the things we ‘survived’ doing as kids in the olden days, because we were allegedly strong and resilient and the world was less litigious. There are different versions around, and sometimes different decades mentioned, depending where it is posted.
Generally, the meme goes along these lines … we rode bikes without helmets, stayed out until the street lights came on, our mothers consumed all of the things that are now frowned upon during pregnancy, we rode in cars without seat belts, etc. The list is way too long to quote here. The implication is that modern day kids (the alleged bubble-wrapped Generation Z) are too soft to do these kinds of things.
One of the items on this list of things we did in the good ole days is ‘we drank water from the garden hose’. Well, yes we did, but it’s not really something to hang your hat on, is it?
I’ll tell you something, unknown writer of that meme (since it’s such a big deal to you) my children have been known to drink out of the garden hose. Only the back yard though. See, the front yard tap fitting is in our kitchen drawer.
What? Well, just before we moved in here a few years ago there was a strange spate of tap-fitting burglaries in the area. They must be made from some kind of metal that can be sold on the black market or something. Everyone’s taps were stolen, and when they replaced them they were stolen again. I heard the total number of taps stolen was around 20,000. I’m not kidding. So our front yard tap fitting was in the kitchen drawer when we moved in. And it still is.
Anyway, I thought I’d just point that out, because the poor old ‘bubble-wrapped’ Gen Z gets a bit of a shellacking in the media for not climbing trees, skinning knees, or drinking out of garden hoses, when there’s a actually a big thieving bunch of Gen Y and Gen Xers stealing their bloody tap fittings!
And while we are on the subject of drinking out of garden hoses, I need to tell you something else. It is, in fact, fraught with peril.
I was once a garden hose drinker, but my hose-drinking journey was cut short as a child.
One thirsty summer day I turned on the hose and a stupid brown toad came gushing out! Luckily I hadn’t put the hose to my mouth yet, but yeah … making the trip inside the house to the kitchen didn’t seem like such a bad idea at all after that.
photo credit: Garden Hose via photopin (license)
Saturday, 2 May 2015
The Pluto Pup. Depending where you grew up, you might call this a Dagwood Dog or a Corn Dog.
Usually found at carnivals, fairs, fetes, it is a generously battered hot dog/frankfurt/sav on a stick.
It is also the kind of food that was way more delicious in the olden days.
I loved them then. And I hate them now. The Pluto Pup from days gone by is a different beast to what is sold now.
My encounters with the Pluto Pup were limited to ‘carnival’ type events – the school fete, the show, perhaps a rodeo or two.
Our primary school fete.
When I first started thinking about this, a funny picture popped up in my mind’s eye - a lone Pluto Pup van parked in the playground of my old primary school.
A few seconds later, a hayride steams past, and proceeds to go up and down, up and down.
A few seconds later, a hayride steams past, and proceeds to go up and down, up and down.
There must have been more than that.
Ah, yes, there were snow cones. Rich cordial poured on to shaved ice. A must for this little fete-goer.
One year there was a flower arrangement competition. I do believe I won a green glass vase for first prize – probably more to do with the calibre of the flowers from our garden than my 10 year old floristry skills.
A Cake stall - laden with about 500 toffees sprinkled with hundreds and thousands.
A White Elephant stall. Not the most exciting stall in those days. People didn’t have that much excess to cull.
Fairy floss. Of course.
The Lucky dip. Much better value in those days, and more special, because people’s houses weren’t already groaning with piles of plastic toys and assorted crap.
The Craft stall. Lots of knitted bits and pieces, crocheted toilet roll covers with dolls on top, tea cosies and the like. I remember one year my mum made a fish from a cake of soap, covered in Tulle netting tied at the back so it fanned out into a tail, and there were pearl-topped pins stuck in the soap to represent scales. I watched the craft stall like a hawk to see which customer was lucky enough to get their hands on that piece of crafty genius.
There was no jumping castle. No face painting (and no mile-long queue for face-painting). No $30 pre-purchased wrist bands for ride entry.
And no over-priced dodgy bulk-manufactured frozen crap masquerading as Pluto Pups!
With apologies to any modern-day Pluto Pup vendors who may be reading here, why do you need to use frozen, pre-prepared goods? If you are charging $5 each, would it kill you to buy some (unfrozen) frankfurts, poke a stick in them, make up some batter and fry them in oil that is less than three weeks old?
And if you have only one type of item on sale (and I’m just making an assumption here, based on the signage on the outside of your van) you could probably cook them a little closer to the time of purchase instead of leaving them to fester in a heating tray. It’s not like you have a 5-course banquet to prepare.
Just my 10 cents (or $5) worth …
Wednesday, 29 April 2015
As long as I can remember, my Nanna had an orange at breakfast.
I still cut my oranges the way Nanna did: she would cut both ends off with a serrated knife, then cut the orange into 8 crescents, and the crescents didn’t have annoying pointy ends.
Obviously Nanna left a far greater legacy than her orange cutting technique.
It’s not really about the orange.
I remember sitting in Nanna’s kitchen after staying the night at her house, any number of times.
I can see her sitting opposite me in that kitchen, daintily eating her breakfast. An orange, a slice of toast with Anchovette paste, and a little pot of tea.
And I remember her voice. It’s been 25 years since I saw her, but I can still hear her voice.
After breakfast she would probably say “Ah, that was just nice”, or she would say “That’ll keep the wolves away”.
There are lots more snippets from that house that I can see and hear in my mind. It doesn’t sound significant, I know, but I’m so glad I still have that.
photo credit: orange pyramid via photopin (license)
When the fun and games were over, there was still something to look forward to after a birthday party – the ceremonial departure with a piece of birthday cake wrapped in a paper napkin. And lollies too … mercilessly exposed to the elements in a little cardboard basket.
Some things change, but some things stay the same.
As the mother of primary school children I can guarantee that children’s birthday parties still have the same appeal as they did when I was in primary school in the 70s. For the birthday girl or boy, and for the guests, a birthday party is still just as exciting as it ever was.
When I was a girl, most birthday parties were after school. I would race home, put on my ‘going out’ clothes, and walk or ride my bike to the party.
We ate fairy bread, butterfly cakes, cocktail frankfurts, party pies and sausage rolls, washed down with cordial. Not much of that has changed.
Presents were often duplicated – some common gifts were Avon bubble bath or talc, a block of Cadbury chocolate, or a $2 note. And here’s something that kind of annoys me these days: a lot of parties are at venues, and the presents are taken home unopened like a great pile of mystery loot. I guess it annoys me because my kids get so excited about wrapping the present, making a card and proudly handing it over, and then it just gets added to the stash.
But the stand-out difference between the parties I went to as a child and the parties I take my children to?
There must be somebody, one person, somewhere in the world who at some point started the whole thing about every child winning a prize! When I find that person, I will wrap them in 23 layers paper, and after each layer I will deliver a sharp painful blow to a different part of their body.
The whole ‘every child wins a prize’ thing is a logistical nightmare. Once upon a time the host could just turn their back when a parcel was being passed around and stop the music when they felt like it. Now, you have to sneakily make sure the music stops at just the right time, every time, while pretending not to look, AND remember who hasn’t unwrapped a prize layer yet.
At my daughter’s 6th birthday party I actually had a child approach me to complain about their prize. For real. My eyes rolled a full 360 degrees and then practically fell out of their sockets.
I don’t need to tell you that back in the day, there was one winner per game. And you took your prize – it might be a mintie, or if you were lucky it might be one of those little tin party clicker things – and you were happy with your prize. You didn’t try to negotiate a different prize. And if you didn’t win a prize, tough luck.
And then you said “Thanks for having me Mrs So-and-so”, you took your little basket of lollies, and your piece of birthday cake wrapped in a napkin, and you went home.
That wasn’t supposed to turn into a rant. Glad I got it off my chest though.