Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Sparkle Costs More (but I like it)

Mom, Dad, Jody and I were walking through our suburb this afternoon (scant hours before their flight home!) when my dad noticed our footwear. Mom had borrowed a pair of thongs I got for $5 with a $30 purchase at Rubi Shoes, while I was in my slim strap Havaianas with the Swarovski crystal.

"Julia," Dad ventured, "Why doesn't your Mom have a sparkle on her flip flops?"

"Because I paid too much for mine."

Jody thought this was a very Dad-safe answer.

We then proceeded to enlighten my dad of Aussie thong-wearing habits, such as:

With a suit, boys and girls, on the way to the office
On the way to a party, heels in hand

The suit phenomenon is quite something to behold. Well-coiffed men and women downtown or walking across the bridge, dressed and pressed and accessorised... wearing flip flops.

* not my photo. see link.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009


My vacation is approaching... only five hours to go!

Hopefully this blog will have more entertaining entries over the next three weeks. It's been all I can do to get through my week and try to relax on the weekends, so I haven't been very interesting lately.

I hope to read lots of books, play in the sand, eat tasty food, explore a bit of NSW, and enjoy spending time with Jody, and my parents (who are visiting!) over Christmas.

Happy Holidays, everyone!

Christmas in a seed pod! Jody brought me this from Brazil. It is tiny and I love it.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Salmon Spread

A few weeks ago I saw a chef on TV who pulled together this appetizer, and it looked so easy I didn't even write down the ingredients at the time, but I did pay attention. He made it with barbecued trout, but as I bought two huge slabs of salmon the other night for dinner and we didn't eat it all, I thought it was the perfect time to give this recipe a go. I think salmon or trout would work best here, and pan-fried or BBQ'd to get that nice smoky taste.


3/4 to 1 C fish, cooked and cooled
1 1/2 C creme fraiche or greek yogurt
1 C sour cream
1 to 2 tablespoons baby capers
1 tablespoon chopped dill
Salt & pepper to taste
1/4 lemon


1. Flake the cooled fish, taking care to remove any bones. Set aside.
2. Mix together creme fraiche and sour cream until it is smooth and thick.
3. Chop dill (or use 2 tsp squeezable dill) and add to cream mixture.
4. Stir fish evenly into the mixture.
5. Drain capers and add to the spread.
5. Add freshly cracked pepper and salt, and finish with a squeeze of lemon.
6. Serve on lightly toasted bread, such as sourdough or Tuscan.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Happy Birthday to Me!

Birthday cake is overrated. Tonight Jody served up pavlova with fruit, complete with two kiwi's peeled and carved into a "28" - because we had no candles. It was stupendous.

Wednesday at work, there was a treat for the office from our preferred bakery, and instead of choosing something chocolate, I opted for bannoffee pie. Oh, the tastiness. Whipped cream covered thick caramel and fresh banana, resting on a cookie base.

Noga deserves any accolades she gets, including this review.

Two years ago I was in such a different place... still in school, married only 6 months, living on Vancouver Island. As my birthday fell on the school reading break, I'd taken a friend up on an offer to go on a group cabin adventure on Pender Island. While we were there we had birthday pie! It was homemade locally, nothing at all like a grocery store pie - full of berries and just the right amount of sweetness. Yes, I think there is something to this idea of birthday pie.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Hokkein with Beef & Broccoli

Quick & easy dinner!

Beef strips or sliced chicken
Broccoli and mushrooms, or whatever veggies you have on hand
Hokkein noodles
Oyster sauce, teriyaki and soy sauce

1. Set water to boil in a kettle, and prepare a heatproof dish with a lid (or just use a heatproof bowl and a plate large enough to cover it) on the counter. Place fresh hokkein noodles in the dish.

2. Set a wok or large frying pan on the stove and preheat. Add about two tablespoons each of teriyaki and oyster sauce, quickly followed by sliced beef or chicken. Seal the meat, then add mushrooms. The noodles should soak up any remaining moisture, so don't worry about draining the wok after the meat has browned. Saute meat (and mushroom slices, if using) for approximately five minutes.

3. Once the kettle has boiled, pour water over hokkein noodles until they are covered. Add lid and cook for three minutes.

4. Add broccoli and/or bell peppers to wok, adding more teriyaki and/or soy sauce as needed to maintain moisture in the pan.

5. Once the hokkein noodles have finished cooking, drain them, then add to the wok and stir through.

This is a very loose recipe - I just start with a combination of sauces, add meat & veggies, and finish with hokkein. I like the thick noodles. They take on the flavour of the sauces and are so quick to cook - plus, they don't stick together like glass noodles. I use "Fantastic" fresh noodles. This dish also makes great leftovers - but be careful not to overcook the broccoli the first time around. I recommend a quick pan fry rather than microwaving, if you can, to reheat. Yummy!

Winding Down

Oh, I am so happy the big conference week is over.

Yesterday I had most of the day to myself - first thing in the morning, Jody made blueberry pancakes & bacon at home, and I cleaned up after he and our three guests had left for a "code sprint." As far as I can tell, a bunch of coders and users get together and try to solve a problem using only the power of many laptops & some serious wi-fi.

I put on sunscreen and a hat, downed a glass of water, and walked to the next suburb to find the library. It was a nice walk, just under half an hour, and I walked slowly because it was noon and getting quite warm. I had my iPod (2nd gen turquoise 4G - still good!) so it was quite an enjoyable trip.

The library did indeed have the aforementioned book on the hold shelf for me, with the "J" in my name written backwards ( I guess her hearing isn't the only difficulty the staff member I spoke to has). They also had the fourth book, and I already had #3 from my last library run - so now I have books two to four of The House of Night to churn through. Yay for light reading! I wouldn't say they're phenomenal, but 1) the pace makes them hard to put down, and 2) I am trying to write a story with some similarities, and am hoping that mine isn't so parallel it will look like a House of Night rip-off. So far so good.

To those of you wondering, I'm halfway through book 2 now (Betrayed) and, while it's a fun series, I wouldn't likely read it more than once - and despite Visual Bookshelf app's combined reviews stating it's "Not to be Missed," you could miss it. But if they're at your library, you may want to pick them up for something fun - just don't expect the teenagers to actually sound like teenagers. The language is a little too clean and there are too many full sentences, compounded with the irregularities of words and phrases that are supposedly slang. Unfortunately for the Cast writing duo, teen speech is hard to master on the page. (I hope I can do a good job with my own writing - but I am definitely concerned about that.)

I meandered through Vinnies (Australia's short form of St Vincent de Paul thrift shops, aka "Op shops," yet another short form - "opportunity shops") and found a cheap towel to aid in hair-colouring, a pair of brown sandals, a short sleeved white blouse, a cute casual skirt, and FINALLY a collection of charms I can use to make a necklace I've had in my head for months. I also picked up a lovely Portmans blouse that is minus its belt, which I will be mailing to someone in Canada in the hopes it will fit.

Hungry, I chose a friendly-looking cafe and ordered a beef burgundy pie & side salad and a Sprite. It was a little while in coming to my table, but I realised that I had nowhere to be, and could simply sit at the table with my book and watch the world go by. Such a nice change from all the madness of these past several weeks. I had a serving of house-made Strachiatella ice cream to top it off, then took a walk down the main road.

The nail salon I'd already passed a few times was still busy, and I thought that must be a good sign. They had time for me, so I booked a mani-pedi and spent some time being pampered. My nails are now a lovely shiny cranberry. Usually I do my own nails (unlike most Sydneysiders) but it was such a treat to have someone else tend to them. I had just finished up when Jody called to say the code sprint was over and people were heading out for burgers, so I hopped on the tram to save time walking and met up with the nine of them for dinner.

Dinner turned naturally to drinks at our place, and later in the evening I improvised a mango and puff pastry dessert, so it was quite a nice evening, if impromptu. And plans were made for breakfast (at a cafe this time) before Code Sprint Day Two.

Corn hotcakes with poached eggs, bacon, and tomato ragout with a side of potatoes. Delicious!

It's noon now and it's been raining, so I am going to take it easy - do a load or two of laundry, make some tea, read my book. Other than taxes (due Oct 30th) I am actually winding down now. It is such a nice feeling to have my spouse paperwork done - and now the wait begins.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Charlie's Angels

I just called the library to make sure they actually had a book on the shelf - the web catalogue says yes, but you never know. I wanted to save myself a walk in case it wasn't there, especially since it's book two of a series and that will drive me crazy.

The elderly-sounding woman who answered the phone said she couldn't hear me very well, so she asked me to spell the last name of the author. No problem, it's only four letters.
"Cast," I said. "C - A - S - T."

"No. C for Charlie, A for....... Apple, S for Sam, T for Tango."

A is Alpha but I forgot, and it was so natural to say Angel after Charlie... but I resisted.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

It's Starting...

The Geek Takeover.


I've been very very busy with work because the FOSS4G conference begins this Tuesday. International visitors have already begun to arrive, and Jody is delighted to see people who usually only speak to him online at weird hours of the night. Here's a snapshot of the gathering of geeks at our flat, 4pm Saturday. Jody and Justin (Canadian) and Andrea and Andreas (Italian) are up and running with their machines, chatting in languages I don't understand and using more acronyms than words found in a dictionary.

Help me.

*No developers were harmed in the taking of this photo.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Soft Cocoa Cookies with White Chocolate

1/2 cup butter
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 egg
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/3 cups flour
1/2 cup cocoa
1 Tbsp baking powder
2/3 cup milk
2/3 cup white chocolate

1. Preheat oven to 375
2. Cream butter and sugar. beat in egg, salt and vanilla
3. Combine flour, cocoa and b powder in a separate bowl
4. Add dry ingredients alternately with milk to the creamed mixture
5. When smooth stir in white chocolate chunks
6. Drop spoonfuls of batter onto baking sheet and bake approx 10 min

Makes about 30 cookies. Enjoy!

This recipe courtesy of my aunt.

Monday, October 05, 2009

The Short of the Long Weekend

I need bigger muscles, or a stricter grocery-buying impulse.

I could barely carry my three cloth bags for the ten minutes it took to get home. 2 litres of juice, 2 litres of milk, sweet potatoes & beets, broccoli & bell peppers aka capsicum, flour & sugar, cheese, crackers & chips. Lemons & an avocado, shrimp, bread, salad, pasta, tea, and chocolate - both the baking kind and the snacking kind. And a new cookie pan, and a small stainless bowl.

I have plans, you see. Cookie plans, and dinner plans -
a) my aunt's cocoa and white chocolate drops
b) Melissa Clarke's roasted broccoli & shrimp

It is just about half past six, and I feel ahead of myself because I'm usually just leaving for the grocery store on a weeknight at this time. But it's a long weekend, and thank goodness one of the grocers near us was open, because we needed food. So I am going to spend some quality time in the kitchen, and while the broccoli toasts and softens itself and the shrimp gets all plump and flavourful, I am going to read some more Austen.

I read a bit of Northanger Abbey this morning, and was beyond happy to talk to my grandmother and my best friend on the phone. Last night I Skyped with my parents, and early this afternoon, chatted with my sis. It's been a really lovely day, despite the rain.
More later...

Dinner with cous cous!

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Ultimate 5: Songs and Memories

With iTunes on random, these songs came up and reminded me of people I haven't seen in awhile. So here's a few shout-outs.

1. Marry Me - Amanda Marshall

You sneaky-sneak, you changed the words to suit you and Mr. Mitch, and sang it at your rehearsal dinner. Awwww. I can never hear this song now without thinking of you.

2. Knock 'em Out - Lily Allen

When this song came out, you were all over it. "And no, you can't have my number... 'cause I lost my phone!"
The radio didn't need to be on; you could just break out into the chorus, or make up funnier, crazier reasons to end the song with. Often this was a duet with Pam.

3. Ballroom Blitz - The Sweet

Girl, you rocked this at our last karaoke night out. I don't know if I can dance this fast anymore, but you sure can belt it out - and lyrics? Who needs 'em? You know it all by heart, and you had the whole bar on their feet by the end.

4. It's My Life - Jon Bon Jovi

Driving down Cedar Hill one night to drop me at home, we had the stereo blaring out Bon Jovi at about midnight. You rolled the window down and sang the chorus at the top of your lungs. Ever since, this song makes me think of you. Thanks for the ride, eh?

5. Semi-Charmed Life - Third Eye Blind


1998. Third Eye Blind was cool, but the kind of cool we couldn't sing in church... so you stole the "doot doot doot's" from the start of 'Semi-Charmed Life' and tacked them onto the intro of a worship song. Legendary, Pernell. Way to be the coolest youth leader of all time.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

West Side Story Down Under

In celebration of spring, the Sydney Opera House has put on a Spring Dance series with free movies showing on a huge Sony screen, outside on the forecourt. I didn't make it on Friday for Fred & Ginger's Swing Time, but last night I "frocked up" (Sydneyspeak for dressing for the occasion) and took Jody out on the town.

We arrived at the Opera House in time for a dance with the live band hired for the occasion, and managed a clumsy cha-cha with our bags still on our shoulders. Next, there was a performance to "Sway" by three couples from Broadway Ballroom, but to be honest I wasn't overly impressed - not that I can do better; it's just that it's nothing when you've seen world-class couples doing showdances at ballroom competitions. (We are, however, currently looking for a ballroom class to join.)

While "Sway" shimmered through the warm night air, we found a small area to seat ourselves on the steps. I can't tell you how glad I am that we brought a small pillow and the foamy from my Penguin Parade adventure to sit on. My pashmina shawl and Jody's cotton sweater proved to be enough warmth for the duration of the film, but our legs were quite cramped after two and a half hours in our chosen spot. Enough griping - on with the show.

I watch West Side Story every couple of years, and the song "Maria" always gets stuck in my head. Somehow the show seemed cheesier than usual at this viewing, but on the other end of the spectrum, a group of teens laughed at an unintentional double entendre I've never noticed. I won't share it here, because now I fear it has ruined the scene for me, and I wouldn't do that to you.

Jody has never seen the movie before, but he was surprised to recognise some of the music. It surprised me too! Apparently the band Yes, a contemporary of Pink Floyd, did a B-side cover of "Something's Coming" - Tony's revelation that change was just around the corner. I have to say that "Tonight" is still my favourite WSS song, though, and it brings back memories of singing the alto part in my high school choir. On that note, how is it possible I've been out of high school for nearly ten years?

I can't imagine the school budgets for art, drama and music being cut any more than they already were a decade ago. My two high schools had a decent budget, I suppose, but I remember us having to be resourceful in set and costume design, and I'm positive many of my teachers gave their own time to make shows happen. I hope this isn't the end of support for the arts. Without it, I can't see how the world will gain its next Stephen Sondheim or Leonard Bernstein.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

The Making of Glass Noodles with Crab

Spurred on yet again by the fabulous Luisa of Wednesday Chef, I made a special trip to the grocery store to collect ingredients for Charles Phan's Glass Noodles with Crab. I needed something different. Something easy. Something good. This hit all three points, and it was quick to boot. In thirty minutes, including a little kitchen cleanup, I had dinner on the table.

Glass Noodles with Crab
Serves 2 very hungry people or 3 to 4 regular eaters

2 packages (100 grams each) thin glass (mung bean thread) noodles
2 tablespoons neutral oil, like corn or canola
1 tablespoon minced garlic (I used paste!)
1/4 cup trimmed and minced scallions
1 cup crab meat, free of shell (or 2 tins)
1 1/2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 tablespoons oyster sauce
1 tablespoon sesame oil
Fresh cilantro for garnish

1. Cover noodles in room temperature water for about 15 minutes. Drain.

2. Put oil in a wok or large skillet, and turn heat to high. A minute later, add garlic and half the scallions and, almost immediately, the noodles and crab. Toss, and stir to mix the ingredients.

3. Add the sauces, taste, and adjust seasoning as necessary. Toss with sesame oil and remaining scallions. Garnish, and serve.

Here's how it went:
Once my ingredients were assembled, I unwrapped and de-stringed the glass noodles. The two bundles fit in my square Pyrex, so I covered them with room temperature water and let them sit for 15 minutes. There has been some discussion of how to soak the glass noodles (otherwise known as Vermicelli rice noodles or mung bean thread noodles). Cold water has been suggested for up to one hour, and warm water has been nixed as it makes the noodles too mushy. Fifteen minutes at room temp worked for me - the noodles became transparent and chewy when I tried one. My package also suggested I tear the noodles into a more convenient length, which I could do easily with my hands by this point.

While the noodles were soaking I chopped up the scallions (you can see them perched on the tinned crab in the photo). It only took two medium-sized ones to make up a quarter cup. I drained the crab meat and was surprised to find it was shredded, rather than in chunks. At $4 per tin, though, it was the priciest part of my meal - and overall it was still very inexpensive. (Two packets of noodles at 67 cents each and less than a dollar's worth of scallions. The sesame oil, fish sauce and oyster sauce were each just under $3. I had dark soy sauce already, which is partly why my finished dish looks different from Luisa's.)

With vegetable oil heated, I dumped in the drained noodles. Don't do it in a big clump like I did - you'll end up with a web of noodles all stuck together at the bottom of the pan. Trying to compensate, I tossed the noodles, garlic and scallions quickly to try and coat everything with oil. The crab was next, followed by the sauces. I admit I didn't measure per se, but this dish is quite forgiving. I eyeballed as I poured and stuck as close to a tablespoon of each as I could while trying not to let it overcook. Needless to say I made quite a mess.

Rather than top with cilantro, I simply split the noodles into two bowls and added pretty chopsticks. Jody and I dug in. I don't know how this would serve more than two adults unless it was as a side dish. It was so tasty, and not too fishy - I have never bought fish or oyster sauce before, but the ratio here was a good one, despite my haphazard splashes into the pan. I think next time I might add some capsicum/bell peppers, but this was so simple and good - and I will definitely make it again.

I took more photos, but these are it for now. Turns out my iPhoto has somehow been corrupted; it isn't due to the Snow Leopard upgrade.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Tea & Books, aka Happiness

Today we hit T2 and brought home some looseleaf tea - it was so hard to choose! There were at least as many varieties as Silk Road, and we were offered a sweetened mint brew when we walked in. I was drawn to the caffeine free varieties, since we already have some black teas at home.

I chose a Chamomile-Lavender blend, and a Rooibos with mint and chocolate. I am drinking the Rooibos now, and the red bush and chocolate flavours are a surprising but pleasant blend, with the mint lingering behind. It will be a nice tea for relaxing with before bed.

The teashop is next to a cupcakery, but we hadn't eaten lunch yet, so we popped into Pie Face for meat pie with peas, mash and gravy. We never did get back for cupcakes - maybe next weekend.

Jody's Akubra hat from his last trip to Oz is in sad sad shape. He's been looking at hats for months, and when we found ourselves near the hatshop once again, he tried on the same few that catch his eye every time. His previous black Akubra was a Stockman, which apparently is not as popular a style as the Snowy River. The brim on the Snowy is quite wide, which is good because part of the reason Jody needs a hat is to protect his head and neck from the sun. Another couple in the store picked out one of those fashionable straw hats with narrow brims for the guy, and it looked awesome on him. Smaller brimmed hats don't suit Jody as well. The girl in the couple looked at him and agreed, "He's a big hat kind of man."

Jody was drawn to a black hat at first, but it had a very high crown. Next was a dusty blue Snowy River, which looked sharp enough for him to wear with a dress shirt, but not as formal as a fedora. It looks great with his blue eyes. He mulled over sizes, though, so we wandered off and came back later. We got back to the shop just as it was closing and picked up the blue Snowy and a straw Akubra for me, the first straw hat I've found that was a good fit. I hope to be able to add other ribbons or scarves overtop of the striped ribbon, and get a lot of use out of it this spring and summer.

Jody has been working very hard lately, and it was nice to spoil him a little. Ergo Proxy, an anime DVD series recommended to him, had arrived at the bookshop. I've given up on finding a used copy of Gregory Maguire's Wicked, so I added that to the DVDs and on we went. Today involved a secret shopping expedition which cannot be disclosed here - but it was a success.

It's taken me so long to read Thackeray's Vanity Fair (I just finished it last night) that I have actually started a "to be read" pile again. Along with Wicked, I have The Secret History by Donna Tartt, The Splendor of Silence by Indu Sundaresan,and Maria V. Snyder's first book in the Study series, Poison Study. If Sundaresan's book is half as good as Camilla Gibb's gorgeous Sweetness in the Belly I will be very happy. The Secret History has been released as a Penguin classic at only 9.95, and I read a review - well, more of a teaser - that prompted me to buy it. When I brought it to the counter the girl told me she loved it. That same week I read a positive review on a blog, too, so I have high hopes.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

My Saturday of Loveliness

Ah, bliss. I got to sleep in. There were snuggles. I fell back to sleep to the sound of funny Australian birds. When I woke up the second time at close to noon, there was cereal and Earl Grey tea waiting. I read some Psalms over 'breakfast.' One that M suggested sparked a few ideas for a song, so I will have to come back to that another time.

It was a beautiful day, so I showered and put on my new Esprit dress, which is both comfortable and adorable - it's sort of boho; three different-patterned swatches stitched together and twist-dried so it's crinkly, with a square neckline and puffy elbow-length sleeves. It has a drawstring empire waist with copper beads and butterfly charms on the end of the string. I tried to find a photo of it but no luck, and our camera is missing its battery charger.

There was a message from my best friend that she'd received my package, and on a day when she really needed a pick-me-up, too. I read a couple chapters of Red String, and stumbled on a hilarious creation known as Cubeecraft - free printouts of cube-cutified* characters such as Alice in Wonderland, Princess Bride, and Sister Claire. Just print them in colour on cardstock, cut and fold, and you've got yourself cubee (kyoo-bee) playthings, or decorations for your desk or windowsill. The internet is awash with strange cuteness.

After a load of laundry and a grilled cheese sandwich, I convinced Jody we should venture outside with our books. There's a recently developed green space near us that overlooks the water, so we put on light jackets and shoes and headed out. We settled on one of the stone benches for awhile, winter sunlight on our faces and wind licking at the pages of our books.

I am still working my way through W.M. Thackeray's Vanity Fair, but I've got less than 200 pages to go now. I am enjoying it, and there is so much more to it than the Reese Witherspoon film, but I find it takes me awhile to get into it - so if I'm sleepy or have less than a half-hour to read, I pick up something less dense. (This past week or so I've read Mary Balogh's Slightly Scandalous and Tongue in Chic by Christina Dodd. They are far from dense but very entertaining!)

After our lazy, cuddly outdoor reading session we remembered we were in need of groceries. Lots of groceries. I won't bore you with a list, but we did get a roast chicken, pesto and a pizza base, which went together beautifully with some fresh pineapple, red pepper and cheese for our dinner. We had some white wine and watched a little TV. I've been fairly balanced food-wise this week, but not today! In the mood to be completely indulgent, I frosted and sprinkled two chocolate cupcakes I'd had in the freezer, for dessert. I read a bit more of my book and we contemplated watching the Serenity movie on TV, but that would just lead to us wishing we'd brought the Firefly series with us from Canada to watch first.

Jody is now playing a game on his iPhone as I type and we listen to some Ella Fitzgerald. I originally brought out my Mac to mess around with Scrivener and perhaps write a little, but I haven't posted anything here in a week, so instead I wrote this and added links to webcomics I've been following. Now I will go have a look and see if I can add anything to my poor neglected story.

It's been such a lovely Saturday.

* I made it up. I've got an English B.A. - I figure I am entitled to a few made-up words.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Banana Bread with Stuff!

2 C flour
1 C sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
2 eggs
1 C mashed ripe bananas (about 3 medium)
1/3 C vegetable oil
1/4 C milk
1/4 - 1/3 C walnuts or Craisins
1/4 - 1/3 C chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees fahrenheit.
In one bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder and salt.
In a second bowl, mash bananas and add the eggs, oil and milk. You can add a little vanilla if you like but it's not needed.

Once each bowl of ingredients has been blended, add small amounts of the dry mixture to the wet, stirring as you go. A mixer will be overkill here - you want things moist, with the flour just blended in. Add 'stuff' and stir gently. Pour into greased 9x5 loaf pan. Place on lower rack of oven (top will rise and crack - mine gets quite brown). Bake 55 mins or until toothpick comes out clean (or covered in melty chocolate!) Cool for a few minutes in the pan before removing loaf to wire rack.

Kraft calls this Chocolate Chunk Banana Bread. I usually throw brown bananas in my freezer, and thaw before use. Ideally, use a mixture of fresh and thawed bananas. If you use much more than 1 cup, the texture isn't as nice.

It is important to mix the wet and dry separately, and then mix them together - but not too much, before you add the 'stuff.' Too gloopy and it is overmixed. This really does take 50-55 mins to bake, but I have successfully made this recipe into muffins if you need it to go faster.

I like to do toasted walnuts and dark chocolate - crumbed walnuts don't work as well as chopped. My other usual is White chocolate or dark chocolate with Craisins. I've been thinking of trying crystallized ginger and dark chocolate. What can you come up with?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Metaphor Soup

Comic by Ryan North of Dinosaur Comics.

Every year, English teachers from across the country can submit their collections of actual analogies and metaphors found in high school essays. These excerpts are published each year to the amusement of teachers across the country. Here are some previous 'winners'.

1. Her face was a perfect oval, like a circle that had its two sides gently compressed by a Thigh Master.

2. His thoughts tumbled in his head, making and breaking alliances like underpants in a dryer without Cling Free.

3. He spoke with the wisdom that can only come from experience, like a guy who went blind because he looked at a solar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it and now goes around the country speaking at high schools about the dangers of looking at a solar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it.

4. She grew on him like she was a colony of E. Coli, and he was room-temperature Canadian beef.

5. She had a deep, throaty, genuine laugh, like that sound a dog makes just before it throws up.

6. Her vocabulary was as bad as, like, whatever.

7. He was as tall as a six-foot, three-inch tree.

8. The revelation that his marriage of 30 years had disintegrated because of his wife's infidelity came as a rude shock, like a surcharge at a formerly surcharge-free ATM machine.

9. The little boat gently drifted across the pond exactly the way a bowling ball wouldn't.

10. McBride fell 12 stories, hitting the pavement like a Hefty bag filled with vegetable soup.

11. From the attic came an unearthly howl. The whole scene had an eerie, surreal quality, like when you're on vacation in another city and Jeopardy comes on at 7:00 p.m. instead of 7:30.

12. Her hair glistened in the rain like a nose hair after a sneeze.

13. The hailstones leaped from the pavement, just like maggots when you fry them in hot grease.

14. Long separated by cruel fate, the star-crossed lovers raced across the grassy field toward each other like two freight trains, one having left Cleveland at 6:36 p.m. traveling at 55 mph, the other from Topeka at 4:19 p.m. at a speed of 35 mph.

15. They lived in a typical suburban neighborhood with picket fences that resembled Nancy Kerrigan's teeth.

16. John and Mary had never met. They were like two hummingbirds who had also never met.

17. He fell for her like his heart was a mob informant, and she was the East River.

18. Even in his last years, Granddad had a mind like a steel trap, only one that had been left out so long, it had rusted shut.

19. Shots rang out, as shots are wont to do.

20. The plan was simple, like my brother-in-law Phil. But unlike Phil, this plan just might work.

21. The young fighter had a hungry look, the kind you get from not eating for a while .

22. He was as lame as a duck. Not the metaphorical lame duck, either, but a real duck that was actually lame, maybe from stepping on a land mine or something.

23. The ballerina rose gracefully en Pointe and extended one slender leg behind her, like a dog at a fire hydrant.

24. It was an American tradition, like fathers chasing kids around with power tools.

25. He was deeply in love. When she spoke, he thought he heard bells, as if she were a garbage truck backing up.

I think number 17 is my favourite, with number 8 a close second. What's yours?

Monday, August 10, 2009

Better for the Sweater

My sis sent me a package in the mail last week, complete with two Blu-Rays (Quantum of Solace and Yes Man), a colourful fringed cotton scarf, and this fabulous sweater in my favourite colour. It's like a sexy secretary sweater...

or maybe like a sweater-mullet? You know, business in the in the back! Thanks for the lacy sweater goodness Pam!

Scrivener Trial

I downloaded a copy of Scrivener from Literature & Latte and will be giving it a trial run on my aluminum 13" MacBook this month.

If I'm lucky, it will make it easier to make some headway on my single-chapter-long novel "Turned." Last night, I transferred the text from my Open Office file into Scrivener, which allows you to separate text into chapters and scenes. The look and feel is not too far away from iTunes, with a left-hand gutter called the 'binder' that can be turned on or off - this is where you can see the structure of your document. There's also a nifty 'corkboard' view which allows you to pin up virtual index cards with brief synopses of each chapter/scene, and makes it simple to view pieces of your work. Rearranging the pieces is easy with the Outline tool, which shows the synopsis and draft number along with the title of each section. When you're ready to see how the pieces fit together, you can either Export to a document or PDF format, or view a selection of your scenes as a continuous file within Scrivener.

There can be as few or as many chapters and scenes as you like, and each can be 'tagged' so you can keep track of which draft you're on, whether it's a scene or a concept, et cetera. In addition to text, Scrivener can be used to store all those bits of research any writer needs - photos, maps and other images, and other media such as music or video. So there's no need to have more than one program open, and everything flows together! I popped a photo into the Research 'binder' by drag-and-dropping it straight from iPhoto, and it let me resize the picture right there. Easy. And for less distraction, an annoyance second only to writers' block, there's a Full Screen Edit view that hides everything from your e-mail to the dashboard.

When I'm more familiar with Scrivener's capabilities, I'll give a more thorough review. For now, keep watching this space!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Babies: Back to Basics or Buying the Best?

Ten tiny fingers, ten tiny toes... perfection. Now all that's needed is a receiving blanket. And an outfit or three. And designer booties – those handknitted ones are made of itchy wool. Don't forget the diaper bag with wipes and nappies and cream and a bottle and a cap and mittens and another receiving blanket.

Babies seem to need so much – but where is the line between need and luxury? The consumerism surrounding babies is unbelievable. I don't know whether it's fuelled by parents who equate spending money with spending time, or by those who are afraid to seem cheap when it comes to caring for their offspring, or those who just get caught up in the excitement that is BABY. There is so much out there!

Why is the market for baby gear so astoundingly lucrative? Is it because this generation has lost the skills needed to knit and sew? Because new is considered better and more hygienic? Because health codes are more restrictive? We can each decide what is a necessity and what is a comfort for ourselves, but when it comes to our children, it seems that we are judged more harshly by others for the choices we make. If you don't have the latest stroller, or a $600 diaper bag (yes, they exist), or a personalised hypoallergenic blanket, does that make you a bad parent? Of course not – but loving gestures like handmade onesies and hand-me-down cribs seem out of place in today's consumer-driven world.

Those of you who know me will be aware that I married two years ago, and so far it's just the two of us. I can't speak from experience here, so my opinion may not sit well with everyone – but that's okay. Several of my classmates and friends are already parents, and I would never tell them what I feel is right for them – because, especially when it comes to raising a family, there isn't one way that works for everyone. Some of them are going back to basics, and others are providing what they believe is the best for their babies. I don't know what kind of mother I'll be someday, but I hope I'll be the kind that puts time ahead of money, and comfort ahead of couture.

Most of all, I hope that I will be able to focus on the tiny bundle of wonderment God may choose to bless us with one day. I'd like to provide the best that I can, but for me, that starts with a loving home, blankets and clothes that are soft and warm, good nutrition, and lullabies that my mother sang to me. Anything above that would be an embarrassment of riches...but I might be so content I wouldn't notice.

This week's topic is 'babies,' which is only fitting considering our chosen charity. That's it for this edition of the Blog-Off! Thanks everyone for your comments and contributions.

Mom, sis, cousins - don't freak out, ok? There is nothing I need to tell you. And Mom - thanks for all the lullabies.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Wannabe Tourist

Oh the things I would do if I worked less and had kids I could borrow for a day. Last week (aka, before I caught a nasty cold) I was wandering around the harbour and saw a magnificent pirate-y ship, and a rather imposing naval vessel.

This is a replica of the HMB Endeavour.

It made me wish I could bring my friend's kids along as an excuse to climb all over the ship, look through portholes, and generally enjoy a piece of history without the awkwardness of being a lone adult on a ship's tour.
It was such a great day for it, too - look at those clouds.
So Christie... how 'bout it? Want to hop on a plane with your kids for a couple days in Oz?

Flanking the Endeavour was the HMAS Vampire, Australian flag flying high. No replica here. The museum website says it's classed as a destroyer.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Lessons from the Cutlery Drawer

It's nearly time for bed, and as I put the kettle on I realised I was a bit peckish. In the tea cupboard I spotted the peanut butter jar and decided a slice of toast and PB would be perfect.

The dishwasher's on, and it runs like an orchestra of crickets. In the cutlery drawer there are no knives, but I don't dare open the churning dishwasher. I snag a tablespoon from the drawer instead. As it turns out, the back of the spoon does a fine job of spreading the smooth peanut butter onto my soy-linseed toast.

No, the peanut butter doesn't look like the Virgin Mary's profile. But it occurs to me that a task usually requires a set tool, skill, or knowledge. You might think that someone without these perks might be at a disadvantage, but with a little creativity, the job can still get done.

It got me thinking: Why do we give up so easily? Why are we so frustrated, so unmovable, so quick to blame failure on our lack of...something? How much have we gained by doing things by trial and error? How much might we as a culture have lost if there was only one solution for every problem?

It isn't about what we have - it's what we do with it that counts.

Blog-off topic of the week: The most important lesson.

Random fact: another name for the runcible spoon, as in the Owl and the Pussycat's "which they ate with a runcible spoon," is a spork! Runcible spoons have three tines and were originally intended to serve chutneys and pickles. Source: Antique Silver Spoons. I always thought that was a made-up word. Hey, I warned you this blog was random!

Saturday, July 18, 2009


If I seem a bit food-centric lately, I apologize. It's winter over here, and I've been staying in and making lots of soups and warm things. But I've been craving the mini-burgers sold at our nearby gourmet burger joint, Bite Me! and this post has some tasty photos to dress it up.

Last night Jody & I dropped off his laptop at our place and headed directly for burgers. The last time I wanted to go, you see, it was only 8pm and they were already closed... so I was a sad panda.

Rather than make difficult choices, we opted to split the platter of six mini-burgers, and also a big basket of onion rings. We got two of the "Lambtastic," a "Bloody Mary" which had a spicy sauce, two "Jack Daniels" with JD BBQ sauce & bacon, and my favourite - "Pluck Me," a chicken burger with seeded honey mustard & brie.

These photos are from our last outing - complete with the tomato-shaped ketchup bottle, and Jody's regular-sized burger. Yum! As a bonus... you can draw on the placemats with crayons.


I was on my own for dinner last week, as Jody had embarked on a "code sprint" with a worldwide network of volunteer techies. As I meandered through my cupboards, with no idea of what to make, MasterChef was on... I must admit that I've been following it. Not every single episode, but enough that I was very interested to know who'd make it through.

This particular episode featured a two-hour challenge in which the amateur chefs had to create a savoury and a sweet pie. I had high hopes for Julie Goodwin, the home cook, and unfortunately her nerves got the better of her and one of her pies was instead a puddle of ingredients on a plate. Poh Ling Yeow, on the other hand, came out of the gate with an original dessert (rhubarb with hazelnut-chocolate crust) that didn't even look like a pie, and a tiny blue-cheese-and-veg pie -- and she won! Chris made a fish pie that sounded tasty, and Tahitian lime pie with meringue. Mmmmm.....

All these pies reminded me that I had two new medium-sized Corningwares in the cupboard, and puff pastry sheets in the freezer. So I whipped up my oft-used curry paste & coconut milk in a saucepan, added some steamed asparagus and a spring onion, and browned some chicken. I put the lot into the pastry-filled Corningware and folded the pastry edges in. To add a little gloss, I brushed a beaten egg over the pastry.

While this was cooking I chopped two apples and finished off a bag of frozen mixed berries. I sauteed the fruit in butter, brown sugar & cinnamon, and poured it into the second dish. Again I folded the pastry around the filling, and brushed it with egg before popping it in the oven.
It might not have been MasterChef worthy, but it was very tasty!

Speaking of great chefs, I can't wait for this film with Amy Adams and Meryl Streep!

I apologize if the photos aren't great - I used the camera on my phone.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Fond of Dancing

This week's blog-off topic:

You are allowed, through the miracles of science, to travel into the past for a span of no more than 24 hours. You are allowed to take with you ONE piece of current modern technology with which you may change the lives of ONE family that you can visit during your stay. Assuming that there are no long-term, widespread disastrous outcomes from this altering of the timeline, when and where would you go, what piece of technology would you take with you to leave with them and why, and what do you think the experience would be like?

I am a little breathless from my journey, and giddy at what I might accomplish. Toying with England's history? Yes. Do I believe it is for the greater good? Undoubtedly. I only hope I am right.

I brush at the folds of my pale yellow day dress, thankful for the fancy dress parties that keep costume hire shops in business. A soft green pelisse is draped over my left arm, and in my right hand I clutch a patterned travelling case. Its contents are not much to look on, but in 1816 they will bring about a miracle.

I knock at the door of a house in Winchester. “I'm here to see Mr. Lyford, if you please. I've come a long way to give something to him.”

The butler is sceptical, but I hand him a card I've had specially designed for this trip, and it seems to place me in higher estimation. I wait in the entry for several moments until he returns.

“If Miss could follow me to the East parlour, please.”

After an interminable ten minutes, the butler's tones announce his master's arrival. I stand to greet Mr. Lyford, and he takes my hand. The butler remains at the edge of the room, for propriety's sake.

“Dear sir,” I begin, “though I am a stranger to you, we have a common...friend. The lady in question is in poor health, and if you will accept a gift from me, you can make her well again.”

We talk for a quarter of an hour, but I know I cannot waste this man's time. I explain as simply as I can, and Mr. Lyford nods, his only sign of bewilderment the widening of his eyes. “Well,” he says gruffly, “I daresay it can't do any harm. Hydrocortisone tablets, you say?”

I can see his interest is sparked. “From what I have heard of her condition, these tablets will help her regain her strength and relieve her pain. I know she is fond of dancing. Can you begin her treatment immediately?”

Mr. Lyford smiles. “I am to take the coach to Chawton tomorrow. Leave the tablets with me, my dear. I shall see to it that she takes them properly.”

“Thank you. You do me a great service.” Barely able to contain my elation, I take my leave.

My first stop in modern-day Australia is the bookshop. Amongst the familiar classics rests a seemingly innocuous title: Sanditon. Beside it are three other titles that were not previously part of the English literary canon – and they are by Jane Austen.

NB: Shameless promotion of my favourite P&P quote: "To be fond of dancing was a certain step towards falling in love." And who knows? Maybe, since she now lives past 41, she will dance and fall in love again.

For more information about Jane Austen or Addison's Disease, please visit the following links.

Monday, July 06, 2009

The Best Risk

It would be so much simpler to describe the ideal life, or the easy life, or even the hard life. Maybe I'm trying too hard to focus this entry. I think my view of my Best Life changes daily. If it's a Monday and I have a job to go to, even if I have "a case of the Mondays" I know I'm better off than many people. If it's a Friday and I have something fun to go to, I have a sense of anticipation and an excuse to get dressed up. I live for the weekends, when I can read at leisure, take a dance class, Skype my best friend.

For the most part, though, my best life is a work in progress. It's something that's happening now, not in some distant future. I couldn't wish for a better partner than Jody to share the craziness that is our early married life in Australia. I have an education, a loving family, healthy and fun ways to fill my spare time, belongings and indulgences, accomplishments I'm proud of and goals to work toward.

What's best is not always the easiest. So I'm trying to enjoy the life I have, building on it to create something more - something that will give me satisfaction but leave lots of room for improvement. I wouldn't say I'm 100% content right now, but if I were, where would I go from here?

As Jody and I were in the early planning stages of our international move, about this time last year, I was asking anyone and everyone what they thought. It was my uncle who said to me, "The people I know who have taken risks are those who ultimately succeed."

It would have be easier, more ideal, to remain in a town where I know the people, the neighbourhoods, the flow. It was hard to leave. It was impossible to stay.

My best life, then, involves taking some calculated risks. Last year's was a big one, but we haven't regretted our decision to move in favour of dual job opportunities. Already, it has increased our chances of success in the future. Sometimes, my approximation of my best life revolves around much smaller risks. Last week I went to a dance class, and tonight I went back. That I went to a dance class is hardly unusual. It was a risk because I do not consider myself cool enough to hip-hop. (I am so uncool I wonder if there is a hyphen between hip and hop.)

So get out there - pop and lock, talk to that hot classmate, pack your bag. Risk a little, and live.

Blog-Off Images

Grab 'em to let your readers know which post is a blog-off entry!

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Incoming: Blog-Off for Babies!

One topic, one week, several blogs... multiple possibilities. Rinse and repeat each week in July.

It's a blog-off! Organised by Nathan of PhilosYphia, the event is threefold:

1) It raises awareness and money for a charity - in this case, the March of Dimes.
2) It encourages expression and a sense of community in the blogosphere.
3) It's fun - and if you participate, you'll 'meet' new people, and you might win some cash!

That's right - we split the entry fees, with 50% raised going directly to the March of Dimes. 50% of the pot, equal to $10 USD x the number of participating bloggers, is prize money - 10% to the runner-up and 40% to the person with the highest total of votes, as determined by the participants.

How does blogging raise awareness, do you ask? It's simple! The more participants, the more readers - and with links between all the blogs, someone who normally reads just your blog might hop on to someone else's. The important thing is, each participating blogger links their weekly post back to the March of Dimes info on Nathan's blog, highlighting the reason for all this writing and voting madness.

Check it out - it's a great opportunity to share your thoughts, get into (or back into) blogging, and encourage someone. The March of Dimes is a U.S. organisation that supports moms and babies, whether they're born healthy or needing special care.

Join us in the Blog-Off for Babies!
Visit Nathan's page for the PayPal link and instructions, and get ready for the first topic to land in your Inbox the first week of July.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Who Says You Can't Have Fun On Your Own?

I've been solo all week, and admittedly it's not my favourite - especially when I didn't feel well Tuesday and Wednesday. Tonight, however, I decided to stroll down to the harbour for an hour with my fledgling novel and a chai, but found considerably more than that. Apparently it's Australia Post's 200th birthday, and it called for a free concert in the Aquashell (seriously, that's what they call the floating stage) with fireworks!

On the bill tonight was Jessica Mauboy, whom I accidentally listen to when my coworker's radio is on. But honestly? She wasn't bad. A little nervous I think, or maybe she just needs time to get the audience chit-chat right - but the singing was pretty good, despite how my video sounds. If I'd known about the concert I might have brought a proper camera, but as it was I was already lugging a paperback and my EeePC in my purse. Unfortunately for Jessica, the sound didn't come out so well - either it was the fangirls making noise in front of me, or my finger might have been muffling the microphone. Oops.

Jessica looked really cute - yellow dress with a tiered skirt, black leather jacket and boots. She was really excited to announce that she'll be joining Beyonce on her Australian tour. I guess she's moving up in the music world! She was runner-up in 2006's Australian Idol.

Here's a clip of Running Back.

Anyway - after Jessica's 4 songs (Burn; Because; Been Waiting; Running Back) there was a break, so I nipped into Starbucks and warmed up with a chai. I'd heard the name of the next act, but had no clue what he would sing until I heard Jump, Jive 'n' Wail. I promise this next clip is better audio quality, but I can't do anything about the picture - too many lights, rippling water for lights to bounce off of, and no zoom.

David Campbell did 8 or 9 songs - Jump, Jive 'n' Wail; Mack the Knife; Just a Gigolo; 1-2-3; Smoke Gets in Your Eyes; You're Nobody Till Somebody Loves You; Good Lovin'; one called Yeh-Yeh, and Can't Take My Eyes off of You. His band was awesome - the sax player had a couple great solos, and one song was just David and his pianist. I liked his act so much I might buy an album. He's not quite as schmoozy as, say, Matt Dusk - despite his obvious talent, he just seems like a guy who likes to be himself and put on a great show,. I guess it helps that he's the son of Jimmy Barnes?

The evening culminated in a fireworks display - I snapped a couple photos. For an impromptu night out, tonight was a pretty good one! Who says you can't have fun on your own?

Friday, June 19, 2009

Chocolate Pit Stop

Last Saturday found Jody & I wandering downtown to do errands. Between dropping off kitchen knives for sharpening and my Mac for servicing (loose mic connection), we found a little place that is a chocoholic's haven: Max Brenner's, Chocolate by the Bald Man. I kid you not. There is a real Max Brenner, and in fact he was interviewed in a food mag I picked up at the grocery store this week. He really is bald, and the magazine hailed him as a modern day Willy Wonka.

Mmmmmmmm, the smell of chocolate. Two enormous steel vats greet you in the entry: one white, one dark. You can see the chocolate being stirred through the clear lid. There was also melted milk chocolate in a smaller vat on the counter, which was being constantly streamed onto plates of treats as we stood in line. I lost count of the number of Belgian waffles drizzled in gooey sweetness, artfully arranged on pure white plates. When our turn came, we decided to split a hot chocolate (milk; I think next time I'll go for dark with orange) but splurge on two treats: a brownie and a cupcake.

The shop is decorated in mochas and hazelnuts, with pop art on the walls and little wooden letters that spell out CHOCOLATE IS GOOD FOR YOU. The square wooden stools are worn from happy consumers, the little tables a good size for two treats and drinks.

I had seen the descriptor, "Hug Mug" in connection with our hot chocolate, on the menu board. It appears that a Hug Mug is almost teardrop-shaped, with no handle. This way you can cup it in your hands and tip the warm, made-from-melted-chocolate beverage into your mouth. It cools fast, but really - how long do you expect it to last?

I wouldn't say the brownie was the best I'd ever had, though it was certainly among the richest - and it being warmed and doused with a trail of chocolate didn't hurt. Jody's cupcake was tasty enough, though not as fluffy as homemade. Still, as a decadent afternoon pit stop, it was appreciated far more than a coffee shop with mass-produced muffins, which tend to plague Sydney. You can get decent (or at least halfway decent) coffee pretty much anywhere, but pastries are another matter.
I think the next time I have a chocolate craving, I will opt for something more tantalising than milk ho-cho... and next time, I'm not sharing.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

So You Think You Can Dance - Highlights

Reality TV shows are in no danger of disappearing, and Australia has no shortage of them. Thankfully they aren't all as cringe-inducing as Hell's Kitchen or as insipid as The Hills - reality? fiction? who cares?

Dance. Scores of Australians thought they could, and battled it out in couples, singles, groups and constantly changing pairs every week - sometimes with more than one routine to show off per episode. If a dancer found themselves at the bottom of the list, they had to perform what the judges called "Dance for your Life," which was always nerve-racking and sometimes surprising. Without a "Simon" type judge I liked this show a lot more than American Idol. The blonde host is singer Natalie Bassingthwaighte (Alive; Someday Soon). I'm a little behind in posting this, but I wanted to highlight a few of the best routines of the two-hour finale. The Final Fours' performances are embedded from YouTube, with the judges' thoughts and favourite clips of each dancer's progression throughout the show.

All I can say is, Go Talia! The 18 year old ballerina shone every week, proving she could do much more than pliƩ when she put her mind to it. That girl worked it, and she came out the winner.

Her duet with Loredo, to Taylor Swift's "Love Story," had viewers clamouring for more - it was voted "favourite moment." Here she is with her final performance.

Another standout was the "suitcase routine" done by Top 3 contender Amy and her partner Damien. And I must mention how much I want her outfit...

The group routine inspired by the movie Kill Bill was awesome. So much is going on, but every dancer breathes purpose into their role, without taking away from the ensemble piece.

In the end, the Final 4 became the Final Two, and just behind Talia was Charlie. Charlie was always a character, and you could tell how much he loved dancing and entertaining the crowd. In this number, Single Ladies, he teams up with Penny from the Top 20 - and you can see how she's a frame for his incredibly charismatic performance.

And finally, Ben - who now thinks he'll go on to be a choreographer. Ben nearly sold himself short in the auditions, but fortunately the judges sensed there were things he could do that he hadn't shown them in his audition piece - and, just like that, he got a ticket to Top 100 week. I didn't really like his final performance, so here's his duet to Beyonce's "Diva" with Talia instead.

There was also a guest spot that left me breathless: New York dance company Pilobolus' (shortened) duo routine known as "Symbiosis." It showcases strength, grace, and awe-inspiring trust. Disclaimer: Pilobolus often performs in little or no clothing, so any content on their website - or YouTube for that matter - may be unsafe for work or a home office with curious small people nearby. This clip is work-safe.

Wow. That was a lot of good dancing. Hope you enjoyed it!

Friday, May 08, 2009

Fashion Essentials for Sydney in the Fall

It's fall here in Sydney. People have been asking about the weather and how I'm acclimatising, so I thought I'd break it down for you.

Fashion Essentials for Sydney in the Fall

Add tights or leggings to your skirts and dresses. Super-shiny "liquid" leggings are very popular.

Wear boots or ballet flats instead of thongs. But if it's not raining, go ahead and wear your thongs.

Carry a pashmina if you go someplace nice in the evening.

I imagine it will soon be cold enough in the evening for an actual jacket - right now I'm getting away with blazers most of the time. Some ladies are wearing short leather jackets and light trenchcoats.

For daytime casual chic, all you need are jeans, shoe-boots, a long-sleeved shirt, a light jumper (sweater) and a cute scarf. These items are perfect for days when it's really chilly, like 15 or 16 degrees C.

Pictured: a pashmina shawl, and a shoe-boot, or "shoot."

Saturday, April 11, 2009

The Wednesday Chef - Ginger Mo' Cake

Mmmmm. I'm pretty sure the mo' is for more, not molasses.
Luisa, aka Wednesday Chef, plucks recipes from the depths of a cookbook or the back page of a newspaper and brings them to life with photos, prose, and the voice of good taste.

If you like to be in the kitchen, and you haven't checked out Luisa's blog, get on over there. Not only must she be a phenomenal baker and cook, she is a gifted blogger, one who celebrates the quiet joys of the kitchen with her words and pictures. This lady can make you crave things... beautiful, bountiful cakes, spicy winter soups, simply made dinners with sumptuous ingredients.

The Dark Molasses Ginger Cake is my third Wednesday Chef-chosen recipe. Previously, I've tried Melissa Clark's Roasted Broccoli & Shrimp and - twice - the rich, homestyle Yogurt-Rubbed Chicken with Roasted Red Peppers, courtesy Liz Pearson.

Luisa always notes where the recipes come from, and often includes some family or friend anecdote. In the case of today's gingerbread cake, it's a recipe from Edna Lewis, renowned for keeping old-fashioned Southern cooking alive.

Now, I didn't have a cake pan (still getting set up!) so I used an 8X8 glass Pyrex - and I'm about to test the results. Here's a photo :

I've made a pot of tea and squirted out some whip-in-a-can (since we don't have an electric mixer yet, no chance of freshly whipped cream). I'll ask Jody for the verdict: "Yummy!"

Friday, April 10, 2009

Habitual Page-Turner

I have this habit. It's called reading.

My habit has suffered lately, due to:

-Not being a student
-Not taking public transit every day
-Not working at a secondhand bookstore any more
-Moving halfway around the world

That last one may surprise you. Jody likes to read too, and understands how much a good book and a cup of tea can do to lift my spirits. But when I was single, I used to read before bed nearly every night. Now there's someone to talk to, someone who wonders why it takes me so long to get sleepy.
Often I would fall asleep reading - just ask my dad, my sister, or Michelle (who at one time was my roommate). The light would be on, the book open, my glasses perched on my face - but I would be fast asleep.

I rarely read more than one book at a time, unless the others are for class. Sometimes, if I'm working my way through a particularly long or serious novel, I will pick up a romance or something for when I can't concentrate but need to escape. But I'm not a multi-book reader - two at most. Perhaps because I read so fast? I don't really have time to get bored with a story before I finish it.

If my purse is big enough, you can bet there's a book inside.
I have lots of bookmarks, many of which I've kept for years.
I never dog-ear pages, and I try not to crack the spine. If the book I've just read was new-to-me, you can barely tell it's been read. I have to admit, I am cautious about lending books to people I know will "mistreat" it, unless I don't mind if I get it back at all. Why?

It makes me cringe when I see someone *bend* the spine of a new book.
It's even worse if they've curved the paperback so they can hold it in one hand.
There is, in my mind, no reason to fold pages down. That's why they invented bookmarks. Bookmarks always fall out, you say? That's why there are magnetic bookmarks! I have two.

I don't like writing in books. I had to get over that in university, because it would have meant failing poetry classes - but I used pencil, and made all kinds of funny marks that corresponded to, "theme," "internal rhyme," "simile," "repetition," et cetera. I bought used copies of textbooks when possible, because not only were they cheaper, they'd already been written in and I didn't mind adding my own notes as much.

I rarely see the movie before reading the book. If I do, I often read the book soon afterwards, to get a different picture in my head. Forrest Gump is an exception. Some classics, too, and plays are often easier to understand if you know the story already. I don't mind knowing the ending to a movie, but I hate if someone gives away the ending of a book.

I like to read a series in order, and if it's been awhile since I read the earlier ones, I might reread them before diving into the latest. Unlike Courtney, I don't always have to read an author's oeuvre in order of publication, but it is preferable.
When I had a bathtub, I would often spend an hour having a soak and a read. Note: this would always be with a cheap book that I wouldn't mind steaming.
If I go to the beach, I bring a book.
If I'm traveling somewhere or going to an appointment where there's a waiting room, I'll bring a book.
I've been known to miss a stop when I read on the bus.
My dad used to admonish me for reading at the breakfast table, so he'd take my book away and I'd read the cereal boxes.
I nearly walked into a post once because I was reading something in a shop window.

I try to curb my habit of finishing a book before bed by reading a magazine instead, but this usually fails. Even if I purposely start 3/4 the way through the mag, I'll just start at the beginning again and read it like a book.
One year, I bought Cosmo every single month - then realized I'd spent over $60 on magazines, when I could have bought six nice books instead.

One of my university friends was just as much of a reader as I am, and her brother once commented that, even though she spent a fair bit on books, it was cheaper than going out - because she'd read them more than once.

I often reread books, even romance books if they're by a favoured author. And I love children's classics, like Little Women and Anne of Green Gables.

I'm not too fussed about whether the book is Canadian, American, British, whatever. But I've read my fair share of those, thanks to my university classes. And I'm thankful for that, because I discovered several books I never would have picked up of my own choosing - and now I love them.

Before I moved to Australia, my shelves were stuffed. full. to. overflowing. But I organized them, often by genre and size; rarely alphabetically. I could always put my finger on the book I wanted. Terry Brooks and Terry Goodkind were always together, as were Amanda Quick and Nora Roberts. Rearranging bookshelves was one of my favourite ways to procrastinate.

Then it happened. I was moving. And not just across town, which had already prompted The Great Book Purge of 2007, and its one-bedroom cousin, The Purge of 2008. This was the real deal. Even though I have very generous family members willing to store some of my collection, the loss of just (just!) 250 was not enough.
If I had emotional attachment to a book, I kept it. Childhood books I kept for long-term storage. Terry Brooks and Terry Goodkind are gone, as are all but my favourite romances and mysteries. Twilight and Philippa Gregory found good homes. Literature was tough; some were really nice editions from school and I kept those - but if it was a Penguin or a secondhand copy, to the bookstore it went. I think I cut my already-pared collection in half again.

I brought seven books with me to Oz. Including my Bible and devotional. Two school books made the cut - Ami McKay's The Birth House, and The Canadian Press Style Guide. Then, Peter Behrens' The Law of Dreams (grad gift from my sister) and my absolute fave, Catherine Marshall's Julie. I brought Veil of Roses by Laura Fitzgerald for the plane trip, and left it with one of the airline crew.

The little built-in shelf in our apartment is getting very might be time to visit the lending library to drop off the 5 books I bought for $25, or perhaps it's time for a trip to IKEA.

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