…And through it…

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Isn’t it amazing how life mirrors life? Or sickness?

I couldn’t agree more with your last post–just getting through a bug, especially as a family, sucks. It takes the fun, the energy, the smiles, the desire to eat right out of you. But not, I’ve found, the desire to taste.

You see, we three have had terrible colds. Thank you, Daycare, for making sure our house is infected with a constant supply of germs. I’m battling the last of the worst, so thank god DH and Little e are not feeling as bad as I am. Because I feel like ass. But enough moping.

It was so interesting to read your thoughts on enjoying (or not enjoying) food when you’re sick. I’ve been lamenting this exact thing as I wander around the kitchen, seeing things that taste good, but with no interest in eating them. Or if I do have the interest, motivation kills it–why eat that cupcake, those empty calories, when it will taste as bland as everything else I ate today? It made me realise that while we may say cake, candy and other guilty pleasures are empty calories, if you truly appreciate them for their flavour (assuming there is some, other than “teeth-achingly sweet”) it’s not an empty experience. Therefore, I don’t count the calories as empty, even if nutritionally they might be. I don’t know about you, but I don’t–can’t–eat for health alone. I eat for experience and pleasure. And having a cold destroys both of those. Particularly when you risk inhaling crumbs of something because you’re forced to breathe through your mouth. Ugh.

So the other day, when I had a spare few minutes and Little e was napping on my back, I whipped up these bran muffins. They’re from this book, which I’ve raved about before. They are delicious…I’m told. Note to self: don’t bake when you have a cold. It’s too torturous.

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How colourless our world becomes when we can’t smell or taste! I find myself thinking we should treat ourselves to a comforting dinner to cheer us out of sickness-induced depression, but then realise it’s not worth the money. Toast and boxed soup it is.

Considering that they’re two of the most ancient senses, we kind of take them for granted, don’t we?

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Think a hint of cinnamon and orange zest in the muffin and a rich, sweet prune preserve on top. Apparently.

XO

Ria

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Going through it

Michael’s Rosen’s “We’re going on a Bear Hunt” is one of the favourite books in our house. I love the illustrations and the rhythm. But most of all I love the sentiment – “We can’t go over it, we can’t go under it….oh no, we’ve got to go through it!” And boy have we been going through it this weekend.

We’ve been sick. The whole lot of us. It’s inspiring me to get a t-shirt printed:  “Gastro: It’s a whole lot more awesome when the entire family gets it. At the same time.” Do you think it will be a best seller?? Hmmm, I guess people don’t want to broadcast they have gastro. Or leave the house. We left the house for exactly five minutes today…woohoo!

I hate gastro. I got a terrible case of it when I was travelling around Europe with my friend in a campervan. It lasted for three weeks and I was really miserable. And skinny! And tired. I got pretty snazzy at asking to use a bathroom in the oddest of places though.

The worst part about this bout of gastro actually has nothing to do with my aches and pains. It’s seeing B2 sick. Oh, I hate it!! She’s so upset and not sleeping and her sad face breaks my heart. On top of that she is teething, just an extra little bonus for the poor mite. It’s just not fair. Kids shouldn’t have to be sick. There should be some kind of leave pass, don’t you think?

A close runner up to the-worst-part-about-this-gastro is not being able to enjoy food. I’ve put myself on the old BRAT diet, as white rice for five days straight seemed to be the only cure to my last terrible gastro. So that means nothing but bananas, rice, applesauce or toast for me. Uggghhhh. I feel so resentful. It really makes you appreciate food in a whole new way when you can’t have it, doesn’t it? I’m day-dreaming about food like it is a lover. And I distinctly remember the first food I enjoyed after I’d recovered in Europe. Chocolate Salami.

(photo credit: http://www.tasteinspired.wordpress.com)

I know, I know, it sounds dreadful doesn’t it? Perhaps the Portugese explanation – Chocolate Chorizo – is a little more elegant? At any rate, it is delicious. As rotten as I feel right now, just writing about it is making my mouth water. There are few meals I remember with such poignancy and they all involve a serious level of hunger preceding it. Chocolate chorizo is no exception. When I ate it I was so ready for something tastier than white rice and as soon as I spied it in a tiny, local supermarket in a town on the coast that was famous for lace (name escapes me, memory of chocolate chorizo does not) I knew it was mine to be had. It is completely meat-free, of course, it just looks like salami (cheeky!). It has a lovely brownie texture, perhaps a little firmer after being in the fridge, and stodgier, uncooked. Like a rum ball? As you slice through sweet tea biscuits show themselves in pale studs and sometimes other fruit and nuts too. It’s simple and not too sweet, surely the mark of a perfect dessert. You cut it into thick slices and then share. Or not.

After my dinner of white rice (with salt, oooh la la) I’m almost ready to head to bed. I am writing this at 8pm. On a Saturday night. Did I mention I feel resentful?! I just have to keep reminding myself of Rosen’s wisdom – sometimes there’s nothing for it but going through it. Nothing to make it better or easier, no getting over or under it, just bearing it. I’m not good at doing nothing to solve a problem, perhaps that’s what I need to learn. There is one tiny comfort though. Dreams of chocolate chorizo and memories of travels through Portugal. And resolving to try this recipe once we’re all well.

Fake It ’til You Make It

Emergency: need cheesecake now.

Have you had this one? Here’s what you do.

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Take a digestive cookie (graham cracker if that’s what you prefer),

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spread with a thick layer of cream cheese (thick enough to leave decent teeth-marks),

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cover that with a jewelled layer of jam (your choice–I used raspberry rhubarb),

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and this is as close to cheesecake as you can get without the dirty dishes, hour in the oven and two slices too many.

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It’s poetry, people.

‘Nough said.

XO

Ria

Wherein There is Culture

So, I love this word, culture, for several reasons. I have a degree in anthropology–reason number one. But I also love culture because it means stories. You can’t talk about a person’s or a country’s culture without getting into a nice mess of history, anecdotes and social do’s and don’ts. I love that. That’s why we were drawn to writing, right?

So I was pondering a microcosm of this the other day: What is my writing culture? What traditions, superstitions, habits and rituals would I explain when describing the culture I’ve created around my work? Well, some of these we’ve mentioned (read: bemoaned) here before. But I’d like to give you a short list–and I’d love to hear about yours.

-Tea and a baked good beside computer.

-Always write on a computer, unless a flash of genius comes while at a restaurant or on the ferry, in which case, use a napkin/receipt. (Yes, I know–just use my phone, right? But typing on that little keypad is just so…unromantic.)

-Expect a “break” 45 minutes in to phone someone/check email/boil more water for tea.

-Expect that the ambitious 4 hour writing time goal for the day will shrink to 2.5, maybe 3, quite magically.

-Don’t talk to anyone about details of a WIP. Except maybe DH.

-Feel more inspired after: a run, a good film, a good book, a trip to the library/bookstore, a good night’s sleep.

-Email writer friends to ask them if they felt this crappy at this point in their manuscript. Resolve not to send out any more whiny emails.

-Always edit on the hard copy.

-If the original title is just a placeholder, the final title will be really hard to come up with; if the original title is arrived upon before the book is written, the title invariably stays.

-Give boring and self-deprecating elevator pitches when people ask what the book’s about and feel bad about it afterwards.

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Now, I’m not going to show you the above photo without going into the second reason for this post on culture: yogurt. Clever, I know. I’ve just started making my own again after many years buying semi-locally produced organic stuff. It’s not a quick process and it contributes more pots for washing up, but it’s magic. Take some milk, heat it, add some innocuous-looking powdered started cultures, pop the milk in an incubator and start the clock. Come back however many hours later, and you have creamy, tangy, smooth yogurt. I make mine in mason jars, which, I have to admit, adds to the old-fashioned charm of the whole endeavour. I highly recommend it, especially with little ones old enough to appreciate your obvious magicianery.

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The Kitchn has a great, easy how-to for making yogurt overnight in a Dutch oven in your, er, oven, and it’s not going to increase your power bill because you heat the oven, wrap your container and turn the oven off. I bought a yogurt maker that has a tall cover so I can use my litre mason jars and extend the incubating time to get a thicker yogurt. My one disappointment in the past was too-thin yogurt. Don’t you hate that? So I took the advice of a friend in Powell River and let the yogurt cultures grow for 16 to 20 hours. Yes, it makes a more tart and tangy yogurt, but we like that. And if it’s for mixing with jam/preserves/syrup as we tend to do around here for a sweet treat (at least when I’m feeling healthily virtuous), you don’t notice the extra tang. It’s worth it for that voluptuous body. The other tip I’ve picked up for getting thick yogurt is to boil the milk for a long time. Like, 20 minutes or more. It sounds weird and maybe dangerous (you do have to make sure the bottom doesn’t catch and burn), but it does make a difference. Basically, you’re evaporating some of the water and concentrating the other stuff.

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So we’ll see how adding this weekly chore to the list will go long term. DH is skeptical. I admit, it is way easier to pick up a tub of yogurt at the store. Do I really want to be watching a pot of boiling milk at 9 pm on a Sunday night? But I urge you to try it at least once. It’s just one of the secrets of our food that we aren’t privy to anymore, thanks to industrialization and being passive participants in the food production chain. Getting in touch with this ancient form of preserved milk is fascinating. It’s part of our common culture. Oh–did we just come full circle?

How about that.

XO

Ria

Solitude

Or should that be Sydney-tude. Because, frankly, I’m not exactly alone.

Well, inspired by your post from last week about Solitude and getting away from home and supported by a generous husband, who threw all his Hilton hotel points my way, I am writing to you from the 24th floor of Hilton Sydney, overlooking a pretty raucous Chinese New Year street festival. Yee-ha! Matt called it a Valentine’s present, so that I would use it and not feel guilty (he knows me too well) and I have to say – I am loving it. In fact, I am buzzing! I feel so caught up in the excitement of it all I think I, like you the other week, will not sleep tonight. Even though that is kind of the point – to give me an opportunity to be babes-free and enjoy some slumber. Still, I look pretty happy, hey?

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I’ve had the best day. I am trying to find a way to tie it into writing but I’m struggling to avoid shameless gushing. Do you mind if I get self-indulgent on this one? There will be food! I promise you that! Like, my lunch: Wagamama’s crispy pork salad. Get outta town! Or, as I have done, get into town. This was yummy and I didn’t mind sitting alone one bit (No-one tugged at my top or pressed mashed banana into my clothes. Sigh, bliss). I counted two other women sitting alone, so I was in good company, ex. Matt and I went to Wagamama’s on one of our first dates. We held hands under the table.

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I dawdled over to The Strand Arcade and peered down at everyone sipping their lattes. I imagined the conversations and gossip and arguments. I watched a toddler throw her bottle out of the stroller on purpose, just like B2 does, and laughed.

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I bought chocolate from Haigh’s for Matt and babes. Have you heard of “freckles”? Milk chocolate buttons covered in sprinkles. They’re a family favourite of ours. Then I lost the chocolate in a shop somewhere. Dang it. I wonder what time they open tomorrow…

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I wandered down to Darling Harbour for dinner. Darling Harbour is a little touristy but the weather was darling. Pure, white, late afternoon light. Lovely. Made me want to own a yacht. Scratch that. Made me want to know someone who owns a yacht and hosts parties on it regularly that I’m invited to. Started imagining myself in a maxi-dress and pretty sandals (Ralph Lauren commercial styles).

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Had Moreton Bay Bugs for dinner. I haven’t included a photo because it was just…well….ridiculously flamboyant of me. Clearly I was letting the “free” room get the better of me. I was also nostalgic – Matt and I shared Moreton Bay bugs from the Sydney Fish markets when we were younger and considerably more fancy-free. We ate them cold with seafood sauce as a picnic in a park near his house. Instead I photographed the panna cotta I had for dessert. I love panna cotta. I must try and make it one day. But till then…

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I came “home” to these white sheets. What is it about hotel sheets? Don’t you think they are divine? I have white sheets at home and they don’t look like this. I’ve been sleeping on a foam mattress in B1’s room for the last few months. Do you think my body will cope with the sheer and utter bliss??

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The moon rose over the Queen Victoria Building and Chinese New Year parade commenced. It’s such a spectacular event, you have to give it to Sydney for throwing one damn fine party. It’s transporting me right back to our days in Macau; there’s been fireworks and projections and marching bands and fire cannons! I thought about getting amongst it but when I went down to check it out, before the parade had even began, the crowd was about ten people deep and I couldn’t see a thing. I figured it was better to enjoy this view.

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But soon enough it will be over and then in the morning I am going back to my real life. It’s been a wonderful fantasy, even if just for one night. Fast-paced and fabulous. I’ve seen so many people that would make wonderful characters, I’ve watched them walk and eat, listened in to their conversations, imagined their stories. What great writing fuel! I know I wasn’t alone or amongst nature, but I do feel refreshed. I love the energy of a big city and Sydney sure is that. It has reminded me of all the things I love about cities and reminded me of times I hadn’t thought about for a while. Picnics, watching fireworks from our apartment window, holding hands under the table. Perhaps it might not seem romantic because Matt’s not with me to share it. But somehow I think it is very  romantic. I think it might be the best Valentine’s Day present ever.

Thank you Matt, and the city, for my Sydney-tude. And you, my friend, for the inspiration.

HUGS, Hannah x

Stillness

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It’s been a while since I got out of town. We, because I don’t travel alone anymore. And I don’t mean to another town or the big city, because we’ve done that plenty in recent months. I mean out of town.

This past weekend was the first long weekend in February for us around these parts–Family Day–definitely reason enough to celebrate. Except we weren’t together. DH took the opportunity to go back-country skiing with some other dads (their chances are few; we mums totally get it) and Little e and I were invited to Powell River to visit a friend’s relatives. I’d never been, but I did know it’s a smaller place than our town and has rain forest magic galore. It didn’t disappoint.

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But the thing that struck me about slowing down and being somewhere small, somewhere quiet, was the stillness. Not just around me (and there were several whirl-winds-come-toddlers keeping things energetic) but inside me. I found myself awake at night in the cabin, the fire almost down to embers, the blackness total, a half-dreaming, mumbling little girl pushing her face into my neck, and my thoughts went in all directions. Which, I know, is the opposite of stillness, but it felt like the stillness of everything else was making me restless. Like my mind was in withdrawal from the usual loud, distracting hum of life and didn’t know what to do.

The next morning, thinking back to the travels my mind made in the night, it seemed almost farcical. I hope I’m not the only one whose mind goes to near-schizophrenic places in the wee hours. But I was still unsettled. Still, and unsettled. What was I doing with my writing life? Was it enough? Where did we really, really want to live? And how? Was it feasible to wear ripped jeans to work if the rip was somewhere…personal?

As surreal and uncomfortable as that experience was, it has been incredibly useful. Thank Powell River. It will be meat (tofu?) to chew on for the next weeks and months as DH and I discuss (some of) these important problems. Isn’t it always a balance that’s not quite right? I don’t know anyone who has it all perfectly balanced.

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In any case, the winter beauty of the Sunshine Coast (ironic, yes: no sun all weekend) helped to bring some poetry to the visit, and I found myself inspired despite all the mental turmoil. I’m being challenged by my current WIP, my confidence is sagging, my identity as a writer is a big question in my mind. But it’s all okay. By necessity, it has to be.

(Especially because before we left for home, I found a bakery that makes the most amazing butter tarts. Chocolate ones, nutty ones, plain old buttery, caramelly perfect ones. Sorry there’s no photo, but rest assured, I will be pilgrimaging there again.)

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So I guess what I mean to say is that while it’s been a while since I got out of town, it’s been even longer since I got out of mind. And clearly, doing that is a healthy, if disconcerting, habit.

XO

Ria

Love It

So, this is about the time of year when things get…sloggish. You know–the holidays are in the distant past, spring is never, ever going to happen, the world is grey and very often sodden and no matter how hard you try to keep it clean, the floor is just always dirty. And I hate a dirty floor.

You know who loves a dirty floor?

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So, needless to say, I feel your recent frustration about getting things to happen your way. It’s just not a reality we live with right now, is it? But I don’t want to wallow or have, as you say, a pity party (though I am prone to those, oh yes). So I thought I’d make a Love-It list, because it’s been a while since I did and they always give me a dose of reality–the oh-yeah-I-do-live-a-charmed-life kind.

1. The mirrors our kids are. Right now Little e likes to drop things on the floor (see above) and say “uh-oh”. Guess where she got that from? DH reminded me the other day how annoyed he gets when he hears me say “uh-oh” in the next room and then no explanation for it. It drives him nuts not to know the small calamity that’s befallen me. Well, now I get to hear it twenty times a day, from all over the house, and I know exactly what’s happened. Egg + floor = Uh-oh.

2. Snowdrops.

3. Milk chocolate. I was such a good girl for almost all of January and did NOT touch the huge bar of Lindt chocolate in the cupboard, even though I thought of it every day. But now it’s February and the bar is half-gone. Oh god, and we’re not even a week in. So: love the chocolate, loathe my lack of self-control.

4. These amazing covers of Dr. Seuss Books.

5. Looking in the freezer for some dinner ideas and instead finding a tub of last year’s garden raspberries and a huge forgotten slice of homemade ice cream cake.

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Which isn’t to say that the cake became dinner–DH wouldn’t let me–though it disappeared very quickly at its appointed time. Now, what to do with the raspberries? Any ideas, since you’re in summer mode?

XO

Ria