Monday, August 31, 2009

pre-portioned birthday cake

Birthday parties for small children call upon a rare blend of courage, organisatonal talent, tolerance, and willingness to get in there and join the revelry! They can often leave the adults stunned by the volume level, and mess, and generally gob-smacked by the sheer exuberance of small children rampaging in sugar-crazed delight. I cope by preparing well, making sure I have everything organised....Hmmm control-freakery coming to the fore. Sigh... But there is a moment of these chaotic events that i simply loathe--the cutting of the cake.  its the expectation surrounding the production of the Piste de Resistance that gets me cranky. That its mummy's job to produce an amazing cake that is the favourite TV character, animal or mystical creature produced in a ton of coloured icing sugar. I like baking, dont get me wrong, its not really the cooking and cake decorating that worries me, its the expectations surrounding the cake as a performance measure of motherhood.

And so this year I tried something different: the cup-cake-pre-portioned birthday cake: and it worked a treat! Just imagine, no knives invovled, the child can take control and hand out the individual cakes, and no trains/fairies/cinderelllas in sight! I could sit back and take the photos and enjoy watching everyone eat their cake. And we even managed to not use plates.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Life and death

Death and life: few topics fail to command attention like these two do, and I feel like I have had every gram of compassion, pathos and empathy weighed against the words of this amazing biography. I finished this book this morning, tears leaking from my eyes and a gut-full of emotion, carried into the worlds of two extraordinary individuals by journalist/author, Susan Wyndam. Charlie Teo is a controversial neorosurgeon, caring for his talented patient ,concert pianist Aaron McMillan who is diagnosed with a brain tumor the size of a cricket ball while in his early 20's. The biography traces MsMillan's career (as well as his surgeries, relapses and recoveries) in parallel with Teo's.  I could write a  book review, and found myself just starting to do so (I guess its a style of writing Im familar with) but I think Ill leave that to others who have read the book before me.
What moved me is the dilemma this book leaves you with. If you knew you had a malignant tumour, and that a radical operation could possibly take it out, and prolong your life for a few years-maybe-would you do it? Would knowing that the operation might kill you, or disable you change your mind? How about knowing that there is pretty much nothing you can do about the secondary cancers that would be in your blood stream at the time of operating might lie dormant for a few weeks/months/years just waiting to lodge somewhere and have another go at killing you?

And I realised my tears were for G.  My cousin G (far right) was diagnosed with a brain tumor abour 3 years ago now, and he battled it with a combination of surgery and chemo for about 2 years, with times of remission and hope, and relapses and further hope for recovery once more. How he managed to wake up every morning and continue fighting the cancer in hs system amazes me. I visited him in hospital a week before he died, and held his hand, and we talked about being children together: of playing at the beach, games that never ended, conversations that kept us awake through the night about who we might be when we group up. Bitter thoughts of the deep unfairness of the disease plagued me. Why him?
While the book tends to make heroes out of its central players, there are so many ordinary folk, facing this extraordinary ordeal and the tough decisions fighting cancer brings.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Morning chaos

The preparations have been weeks in the making. Pinyata paper mache: done and decorated. Pass the parcel, organised. Lollies (yes, low sugar and no colourings)  selected and stuffed into party bags. Cakes baked, yes. Icing ready, no problems. Party pies and sushi, ready to go. House is clean(ish) and all awake and fed. The birthday girl bounded into our bed this morning full of giggles and excitemtn at 6am (oh, christ...its been a while since I was up that early) and the house is full of expectant enthusiasm, well lets be honest, frenzied chaos!!!!

With a last minute dash into town still to do, its nice just to sit for a moment, blog a bit, and collect my thoughts with a cup of hot tea. This is Miss S's first big party, and its gonna be a wash-out. Its rained all night, with a constancy Ive not known (Adelaide so rarely brings on the rain this way) since living in semi-tropical Sydney. The lawns outside are super-saturated to the point that the water just cant soak in anymore, and it resembles a 2 inch green-bottomed swimming pool. So it will have to be an inside party. It will be intense, but lovely, as there are parents-a-plenty, and lots of smaller siblings coming. A house-full! I think the lollies will stay in the packets until about 10 minutes before the paty finishes!

Friday, August 28, 2009

Five alive: friday haiku

five years today and here
she knows, 'im big now mummy'
I will love her fiercely

Thursday, August 27, 2009


There is something beautiful about the smooth body of water that defines Hobart's cove. One can understand why this site was chosen for settlement. Its one of the deepest harbours in the world, and so aesthetically resplendent.
Our wee family zoomed down the highway from Launceston last weekend to stay with a fascinating woman, with a mouthful of exotica as a name: Undine Francesa Sellbach. She is part philosopher, part cabaret singer, performance artist and teacher. Her house on Hobart's waterfront is a lovely tumble-down-house, filled with art, objects that have been collected across the generations-thoughtfully gathered and loved objects.
It was a pleasure to stay with her and enjoy the view of the harbour, and the fabulously mad array of THINGS that competed for attention in her home.

the beach wasnt bad either!

Monday, August 24, 2009

what to do with all the plastic bags?

One of the biggest surprises for me in my move to Tasmania from Adelaide, is the apparent apathy many Tasmanians seem to show for their natural environment. It seems to me that far too many just take it for granted. Perhaps as it is so abundant and expansive, it is assumed that it is somehow wonderfully resilient to abuse? Maybe the environment is seen as a resource, rather than as having value in its own right? Maybe our capitalist need to profit from the land shifts the way we think about our environment in a fundamental way? Now before I have 100 negative comments on the subject of this blog, suggesting that I have misrepresented the masses, I suppose I should clarify that I am not talking about the many, many wonderful active members of the Greens and environmental lobby groups. They are here and they are certainly doing their bit. Im talking about the vast majority the mums and dads at the local school. The kind of people you meet at Coles on a Thursday night doing the weekly shop.

Unlike Adelaide, where there is a ban on the use of plastic bags in supermarkets, the plastic bag in Launceston shops is still in plentiful supply and I am often a little astounded at the percentage of shoppers that don't bother to bring their own bags when shopping. Id say that only about half of shoppers I see have their own bags with them in the check out queue.

Recently, the Tasmanian Department of Environment was subsumed under the Department of Resources. This act was described by the Premier as a cost saving measure, but seems to betray a modus operandi that is quite chilling. State legislation to remove the plastic bag from our supermarkets is still a while off, and with rather mediocre advice available on how to reduce your carbon footprint, like this, I think we could be waiting a while.

So what do you do in the face of apathy? How do you jolt people out of their familiar and comfortable patterns of living? One can protest, one can lobby, one can lead by example. But there is another tactic which I am seeing as quite non-confrontational, and really quite potent. Art can be used to underline a cause, and can foreground an issue. Theres a Hobart artist, Nicole Johnson, who makes rather lovely vessels and sculptures from plastic bags. Just one of these woven receptacle uses about 22 plastic shopping bags. How cool is that? A self proclaimed environemntal artist, I like the way Nicole is making her point in a subtle way: that something needs to be done with all the these bloody bags that end up as landfill. That we might be able to turn an object of ugliness into an object of beauty. Better still, the vessels are unbreakable, pliable and rather lovely to hold. Ive always hated the non-descript colours of the placcy bag, but in this weaving of the plastic the colour is denser somehow, and a whole lot less insipid.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

OMG Decision Maker

Wouldnt it be nice of you had a spreadsheet for major life choices? You know, those impossible junctures in life where you have a few options and dont know which is the best way to head? If you could just pin down the variables, weight them in terms of importance to you, and then just crunch the numbers and TA-DAH!.... you know exactly which way you should proceed in life based on a highest score scenario.

Well, a friend of mine has a friend who is a mastermind in the public service, and she developed this tool to help her make decisions that are complex, with multiple risk factors and fine distinctions between choices that need to be measured. The OMG Decision Maker was born! It's great for those moments when you cant see the forest for the trees and cant hear anything from your gut except the after-affects of last night's curry.

Let me know if you would like a copy!
Ive tried a zillion times to save an image of the excel spreadsheet, but failed dismally. And blogger doesnt seem to like pdf's.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Art on the back of a donkey?

Another artist friend of ours produces work that doesn't have the normal mode of output. There are no paintings, rarely any drawings, and often the art only lasts for a moment. Light and sound, and public space are his materials, and he orchestrates the most alchemically wondrous moments, fragments, and sometimes journeys with his 'pieces'. This is contemporary art, just outside the confines of the "Gallery". Michael's work is always an EVENT: fun to attend and provocative, always poking thorns in the sides of the art intelligentsia. His work always seems to question the very nature of art itself.

And I smiled as I read his email to me today, and am sort of surprised, but sort of not surprised, to hear that his latest installation is a witty and naughty thought. He has made himself a mobile gallery, an equine Institute no less, and is taking his art to the people, on the back of a donkey! Check out their manifesto.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

What really happpened during afternoon naptime...

My 4 year old daughter was "sleeping" yesterday afternoon, but really she had high jacked my camera and was snapping a few special moments between Barbie and Ken. Maybe she doesn't need an afternoon sleep anymore. Bummer.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009


Continuing on from an earlier post, about my birthday walking activities, I just wanted to write about a significant moment of the big celebrations - something thats been playing on my mind. On the actual morning of my 40th birthday I woke up feeling kinda excited, and a bit like a kid with all that silly and happy enthusiasm for the day! The holiday house we were staying in was full of family and friends, we had a walk in the snow planned for the morning, as well as a swanky session at the spa, followed by an evening with more friends coming up from Launceston to join us for dinner. Nice. And it was OK that my mum and sisters had given me my present before the big day, as I'd still recieve a few presents and cards; from the kids, and my significant other. So, I was sitting in bed, with expectations of the family ritual... cuppa tea and cards and a few pressies. Right? Isnt that what should happen on your birthday? Prepared to forgo the tea in bed scenario, as S was still asleep and looking in need of some rest, I went down to the kitchen. My mum made me a cuppa, and some lovely birthday hugs and kisses were shared. So far so good. The kids were upstairs playing, so I snuck back to bed. S was up, and explained that the present was back at home as it was too difficult to bring it on holiday with us. OK. No card, no pressie from my fella on my birthday. Hmmmmm..... And then he tells me that there was a bit of a problem organising something from the kids. They had each been given a little money and a little time with Dad, to find something for me. Daughter number 1 had been unable to find a suitable present, had a bit of a hissy-fit over this, then mucked up the card she had made for me, so I wasnt getting anything from her. That news wasnt so good. Then it transpired Daughter 2 had lost her present, but was working on a card. OK. I took a deep breath.

I went off the the shower and had a bit of a cry. How juvenile is that! There were to be no presents and maybe a card, it appeared at this stage. And yet I had my family here, and some good friends had come from afar to be with me, and there were certainly lovely presents both before and after the actual day, so what was my problem? I couldnt believe that the lack of material presents, right when I expected 'em would upset me. Surely Im not that small minded. My reaction was so much like a spoilt child, and I was more than a little ashamed. I quickly snapped out of it, had some lovely cuddles with my kids (and a beautiful present from my daughter number 2, which was found) and a wee card she had coloured. Magic. All OK.

So imagine how I felt when we arrived back home, and S showed me the present he had for me? I felt very small indeed. Under a huge sheet was a magnificent artwork by a very good friend of ours, and my walking buddy M. I was gobsmacked! Partly as the painting is so huge, but also as they had managed to organise all this without me knowing, and get it into the house, and into position with me completely unaware. Even more beautiful were the ideas that inspired the work. M had folded the canvas in her backpack and taken it up several mountains in Tassie. This preparation of the canvas had taken a few years (and was done before we met her and we walked together). Im not sure when she completed the work, but it was before I knew her, and there is a companion piece hanging in the Hobart gallery. The image, well, I'll leave you to guess its inspiration. And its meanings may well be many and richly interpreted. Its certainly a painting with a story to tell!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Sky Claw

I submited this image to the ABC weather department as they encourage budding photographers to supply backgrounds for the weather map on the nightly news. Apparently they make a wee exhibition of the "winning" entries at the end of 2009. Not sure if they do the same on the mainland, but this budding photographer *cough* will be on ABC tonight (well, the local Tassie edition!).

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Friday Haiku : moon at dawn

morning moon sinking
soon beneath the tide line
pale face rises elsewhere

Friday, August 7, 2009


You get the feeling on reading this novel that Charlotte Roche is out to shock. Shock and perhaps disgust you too. Its rather gross account of a young woman's relentless exploration of her own body, its orifices and the abject matter that exudes from them and it is rather dreadful, really. Roche tells us how she likes to wipe her genitals on the seats of public lavatories, to eat the pus she has squeezed from her zits and to, well, all manner of pretty foul stuff that I'll spare you the gory details of. Needless to say, it generated a pretty strong visceral reaction from me. YUCK!

Whats surprising about the reviews of this novel, and I have just browsed a few, is that its actually touted as a feminist project, and maybe even emblematic of gen Y's view of the body female. Once you get past the initial disgust, then yes, I can get that this kind of novel perhaps explores the dogma surrounding hygiene, and in particular the way that hygiene Nazis (the patriarchy) might cast the female anatomy/vagina as a dirty bacteria ridden landscape. So, yes, the book challenges this idea. But really, does it have to leave us with the images of some angst-ridden chick wiping her vitals on a public toilet seat? Im sorry, but I reckon there are better ways of getting the message across...

pork saussies

Ive posted quite a few recipes lately, which is a bit unusual for me as I dont really want this to be a food blog. I think of this more as featuring snippets of my life, rather than being about any one subject in particular, and frankly flitting about between subjects suits my mercurial nature. So apologies to those of you who think this might be a food blog; its not! But as food is a significant part of my life, food is featured. My favourite foods. And I do love this dish.

Its simple, and damn effective. And I have my would be brother-in-law to thank for introducing me to the recipe, which is a Jamie Oliver recipe, and accessible free from his website. I think this is a nice piece of clever marketing on his part, to provide so many of his recipes through the Internet. Generous, yes, but also clever as he gets you involved with his oeuvre. Actually Im not too sure I would like to get too close to Jamie's oeuvre...
this dish is great in summer when you have too many cherry tomatoes on the vines, and dont know quite what to do with them. Also great when you have a good butcher. Our butcher makes the leanest and most flavourful pork sausages, that are sourced from happy organically farmed piggeries, so no guilt attached.

'Preheat the oven to 190°C.. Get yourself an appropriately sized roasting tray, large enough to take the tomatoes in one snug-fitting layer. Put in all your tomatoes, the herb sprigs, oregano, garlic and sausages. Drizzle well with extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar and season with salt and pepper. Toss together, then make sure the sausages are on top and pop the tray into the oven for half an hour. After this time, give it a shake and turn the sausages over. Put back into the oven for 15 to 30 minutes, depending on how golden and sticky you like your sausages.'
Oh, and there's a website I just read about in The Australian today where you can find suggested recipes for ingredients that you might have in surplus, or lingering in your fridge. Its worth a look and perhaps a bookmark.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

In case of emergency only

A good friend of mine who happens to be a wonderful cook sent me this recipe as a group email. It sounds awful, but I might just get desperate enough to try it one day...

4 tablespoons flour
4 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons cocoa
1 egg
3 tablespoons milk
3 tablespoons oil
3 tablespoons chocolate chips (optional)
A small splash of vanilla extract
1 large coffee mug (MicroSafe)

Add dry ingredients to mug, and mix well. Add the egg and mix thoroughly.
Pour in the milk and oil and mix well..
Add the chocolate chips (if using) and vanilla extract, and mix again.
Put your mug in the microwave and cook for 3 minutes at 1000 watts.
The cake will rise over the top of the mug, but don't be alarmed!
Allow to cool a little, and tip out onto a plate if desired.
EAT ! (this can serve 2 if you want to feel slightly more virtuous).

Could be OK... maybe I will try it afterall...

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Ancient Roman Custard

Incredibly this recipe is over 2000 years old, but really is a just a standard custard. Its ancient name is tyropatinum, which apparently translates as 'a kind of souflee' but i dont find this dish at all like a souflee. I made this last night after dinner...its great winter fare. I cook this when I have extra milk left in the fridge nudging the expiry date. This is another fabulous recipe from my favourite cookbook by Jill Dupleix "Old Food".

500ml milk, warmed in a saucepan with 100gms of wild honey.
Allow to cool for 10 mins.

Whisk 5 whole eggs is a metal bowl.
Strain cooled honey and milk mixture into eggs, whisking further.
Pour combined mixture into an earthenware dish.
Bake of 30-40 minutes in a 160 degree oven.
Use a bain marie for extra specialness. It IS worth it!

Oh, and add ground black pepper on top. It sounds bizarre but balances the sweetness of the honey.

I use Tasmanian leatherwood honey which has a strong, dark and intense flavour that infuses nicely through the custard.My youngest daughter likes it cold for breakfast!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

What happened to June?

I had a bit of a break from blogging during May and June.
It was a time of lots of walking for me: physical preparation for a big winter walk timed to coincide with my 40th birthday. A few equally insane friends and family joined me for a short trek through some incredibly cold parts of Tassie, followed by some winter feasting, and some seriously lovely R&R. Heres a few photos from this time:

On the trail, the first day was so much 'up'...

the walkers...and what a motley crew we were too!

some extremely cold moments on the trail at cradle mountain

and the most rewarding sky

and a luxurious place to relax at the end of the walk

followed by the ultimate in decadence: an afternoon at the spa...mmmm

Monday, August 3, 2009

human being or human doing?

I feel closest to just 'being' out on the trail, walking amongst the Tasmanian wilderness. i have few thoughts beyond the physical recognition of how cold or warm I am, the shape that the steam from my nostrils makes as it whooshes out, the sound of the button grass compressing softly beneath my boots. My body is warm with exertion, and my breath comes evenly as I move up a mountain. The weight of all the things I need to live well are on my back. I am. I simply am.

And this is perfection for me.

At home now with a strained/bulging disc in my lower lumbar I have none of this freedom of body or stillness of mind. I am bed-bound for most of the time with short forays out for working and collecting kids from school. Sitting is the worst, as the pain is most intense in this position. There is no lesson for me in this pain, only a reminder to rest and heal. So whats the problem? I'm just not content doing not much at all.
How do I find this peacefullness in myself when I cant get out on the mountain, when I cant MOVE? How can I simply just be still, and be?

A new friend of mine here in Tassie introduced me to the idea that we are human beings, not human doings, and while it sounds simplistic as a distinction, the more I think about it, the more I realise how much of our lives and sense of self worth is constructed around the idea of achivements,both small and large. Just going shopping, writing a blog, hanging out the washing makes us feel good. As does, completing a day of work at the office, delivering a lecture, writing a thesis. With these tasks, our presence is felt in the world. And when you stop (either by necessity or choice) and achieve little, it is the hardest thing to remain, well, bouyant. So I have a greater understanding of how hard it must be for my sister, who has been ill now for over 12 years with CFS to keep her head above water. This post is for you, Cat.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Making up with make-up

I have a strange relationship with make-up. Its a relationship of great distrust and I have spent my adult years avoiding using it. In my early 20's, like a good feminista, I imagined that the make-up industry was a collusion. All of a bit of an plot designed to keep women poor (make up costs a lot), too busy to do something useful with their lives ( sourcing it, putting it on, touching it up, taking it off can take up a lot of the day), paranoid ('Im ugly if I dont wear it') and well, generally at the mercy of trends cooked up by the people that peddle women's magazines. And i still believe this is the case, but perhaps I wouldnt suggest that its a plot or a collusion anymore.

So whats changed? In the latest move to Tassie I left behind my (embarrassingly massive) feminist theory book collection. The heroines of my 20's (Susan Faludi, Naomi Wolf, Germaine Greer) are having a well-earned rest at our beach house on the South Australian coastline. They have served their purpose in helping me shape my views, but now do not dominate them in the way they once did.

I am older now. And Im OK with that. I look in the mirror and I see all the 'defects' that I am meant to conceal and the lines that could do with some 'smoothing'. I like these marks of age, they define me, they are me. BUT: i found myself at a make-up counter, a posh one, yesterday trying on an expensive foundation and was really surprised how lovely it looked. How lovely I looked with a layer of the perfumey and well, expensive, stuff over my skin. It was fun to try out another version of myself. A 'made-up' version. A conversion? Weird. Im still processing this idea. The sales women took pity on me I think (perhaps she couldnt believe a women in her 40's was so naive about her products) and she gave me loads of samples to try out. I had no idea there were primers, foundations, brighteners, concealers and powders that all do basically the same thing: cover up unevenness in the surface of the skin. Bizarre!

So I will 'play' with this make-up she has donated to the cause of this woman trying to make up with make-up. I'm not promising I will buy any of it though!