Saturday, December 24, 2005

I'm dreaming of a ... well, you know.

Having become almost obsessed with the lack of cold, white flakey stuff (no, not chilled dandruff) I've decided not to dedicate another post to the topic, despite it being seasonally appropriate.
For my views on the four letter 's' word, see my previous post.

It occurred to me recently that being in the kitchen tends to remind me of people. "Huh?" I telepathically and through the magic of electronic technology hear you say. Well, at the time I was making Christmas pudding. The traditional Christmas pudding made months ahead of time and left to improve in flavour through careful storage. Well, that was my mum's tradition. Being a generation Xer (or whatever letter we're up to now) I have put my own spin on it. I just think about making the pudding months ahead of time. I plan for it. In September I even buy the fruit. Then I think some more until... well, I'll be blowed it's the week before Christmas! One year I even made the pudding on Christmas Eve, while wrapping the presents. I refuse to feel guilt about wrapping presents the night before Christmas - everyone does that (except for you, dad).

So anyway, I was making the pudding and thinking about my mum, like I do every time I make the pudding. Now that I stop to think about it, that may why I put it off so long. In particular I think about Mum's last Christmas with us, the first Christmas I made the pudding - because Mum was too weak to stir the mix. Well, mixing fruit and rubbing flour into the pudding cloth got me to thinking about other people who have also given me valuable kitchen lessons.
For example, every time I cook rice I now think about Rachel, who taught me how to cook it in the microwave (a service to saucepans worldwide). Rachel, by the way, makes a supurb Chicken Parmigiana... ask her sometime for the recipe.

I suppose we like to think that cooking is just a process, with a beginning a middle and an end. But I never really reach the end of a recipe, everytime I make something it is altered in some way... somewhat like my memories really.

Well, for those of you in the Northern Hemisphere it is still Christmas Eve so you're not too late to join in on my family tradition. You Aussies will just have to wait until next year (or really push the boundaries and make pudding Christmas day). You can find the recipe below. Feel free to substitue your own memories.

Jiffy Plum Pudding

You will need.
3 eggs.
1 cup of brown sugar.
7 cups any mixed fruit (chop large ones).
300mls cream.
2 and 1/4 cups of plain flour.
2 tsp mixed spice (I couldn't find this in the USA and used extra cinnamon and nutmeg instead).
1/2 tsp cinnamon.
1/2 tsp nutmeg.
1 tsp bi-carb (baking soda).


A pudding cloth. A big pot.

Beat eggs and sugar together until light.
Add fruit and cream and mix well.
Add remaining ingredients and mix well.
Wet pudding cloth and rub flour into a big circle. Plop mixture onto the cloth and gather the edges together, tying at the top.
Boil in a great big pot for three hours.
Hang in a cool dry place and pour brandy over. One or two cups should be enough. Cheap brandy is fine. Don't worry if you don't like brandy, it all washes off when you cook it again on Christmas day - it's really only used as a preservative.
Boil for one hour on day of serving. Remove from cloth and serve, preferably with hot custard.

-should be made by beginning of October (ha!)
-do not allow to boil dry while cooking. Top up with boiling water from kettle.
-while hanging, don't let children or spouse use as a punching bag.

Oh, and happy Christmas.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Ice, Ice baby.

Those of you who know me well have probably heard my theory about Perth. Perth as in the capital city of the state of Western Australia - not the Perth that is in Scotland. My theory, for those of you who haven't heard, is that it doesn't exist. Perth, that is. Well, I've never seen it. Well, that is, I had never seen it until fairly recently.

Imagine my embarrasment when I discovered it was real, all along. I would have felt my embarrassment more strongly, but it was having difficulty making itself heard over my exhaustion at the time. It turns out Perth is a long, long, long way from anywhere else. If any of you are tempted to drive to Perth and would like to know what it would be like, I recommend shutting your family in your car for four days and throwing money out the windows. Or six days, if you're travelling from Sydney.

You can understand why I doubted in the first place though. I mean, I had heard people talking about Perth. I had seen it written on the map. I learned about it in school. But I hadn't seen it. I had spoken to people who claimed to have been there - but they could have been lying, or making it up, or criminally insane. Right?
Well, seeing Perth with my own eyes certainly shook my theory somewhat. So, I now believe in Perth. And more power to those of you who are able to believe in Perth without seeing. I'm still not so sure about Darwin though. No, not the father of the theory of evolution, the capital of Australia's Northern Territory. Well, I've never seen it...

On, a related topic, I have recently come to an important conclusion about snow. I've decided it is an elaborate hoax played upon foreigners by the locals here. They talk about it as if it is real. The weather service keeps promising it. I have even seen pictures of it. Is it really only a coincidence that it always falls in surrounding areas, but never in ours? I think not. No, I'm fairly certain that it is like the 'drop-bear' stories that we Aussies use to frighten tourists. You know, 'When you're out in the bush watch out for the drop-bears, they hide in the trees and drop down and attack you'. Endlessly entertaining for the locals to watch tourists walking around nervously eyeing the treetops. Not to mention the fun of selling them a whole range of 'drop-bear' repelling products.

But I am no fool. I know exactly what all those snow shovels in Walmart are there for. They are for tourists who've bought into the 'snow' myth.
I will believe in snow when I see it. In the meantime, all we are getting is rain. Rain is boring. I have seen rain before. Don't get me wrong, I fully appreciate the benefit of a good rainfall. I do, after all, come from the driest state (South Australia) on the driest continent in the world.

(If you don't count Antarctica. Which I don't. Antarctica's claim is that it is the driest because all its moisture falls as snow, and not water. I don't believe in snow, ergo I don't believe Antarctica is the driest continent.)

It's just that the rain here isn't actually achieving anything. Except to make puddles. Which then freeze. Into ice. Aha. You were wondering when the ice was going to come into it, weren't you? Well, I may not believe in snow, but I certainly do believe in ice. I would have no choice but to believe really, considering the spectacular fall I performed recently by slipping on ice. The judges awarded me a 9.9. No injuries apart from to my dignity. So I will, in future be showing a great deal more respect for ice and all things icy.

Meanwhile I will continue to wait for things unseen. Aliens. The Loch Ness Monster. And snow. Who knows, I may even plan a trip to Darwin sometime - the next time I am back in Australia perhaps. If you'll excuse me, I need to go sit in the car for four days and throw money out the windows in preparation.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

On U.S. Roads...

In retrospect it may have been a tad foolish of me to blithely turn down our Pastor's invitation to collect Mike from the airport for me.

Let me begin by saying that the kids and I have been doing the 'airport run' for the last two or more years so successfully that I considered buying a cap and a sign. True, most executives requiring transportation from the airport would be a little fazed by the presence of three small children - one of whom is guaranteed to get car sick, and all of them likely to bicker. Then again, my rates are low.

That aside, for some time now we have braved the Sydney traffic twice a week in order to drop off or collect Mike. Now the Sydney run could go from forty minutes up to three and a half hours, depending on traffic. It could mean setting off at four am. or getting home after dark, depending on flight times. It could mean a simple trip there and back or it could mean getting halfway there and then dashing home again in a desperate sweaty hurry, depending on Mike's ability to forget stuff. But I had it down. I could do that trip in reverse, blindfolded while working out quadratic equations and knitting a scarf - which, in Sydney, is not such an unorthodox way to travel. Although, I may be giving the wrong impression by claiming an ability to conquer quadratic equations. In reality, just trying to count out $2.20 for the toll is taxing enough for me.

I fill you in on this history so that the following story doesn't cause you to think me completely incapable. So, back to the present. There were a few other considerations to bear in mind when doing the airport run here in the U.S.A. Let us not forget the minor issue of driving on the 'wrong' side of the road from the 'wrong' side of the car. But more on this later. Then there was the fact that I have only driven in Nashville twice, and both of those times have been the white-knuckled roller-coaster ride of fear that I like to refer to as 'following Mike'. So, needless to say, taking in the scenery was not really an option. Let us just say that he drives faster than I like to, and he doesn't give enough notice when he signals... and then let us never speak of this again. To sum up, my main concerns were,
1. That we would get lost.
2. That we would all die in an horrific flaming wreck.
3. That we would get lost.

Still, I had my pride to consider. My reputation as the 'go to girl' for airport rides. If I gave in on this I may as well have handed in my cap and sign. Seriously, what could really go wrong? I armed myself with directions from Mapquest, we fueled up 'Oprah' (our '92 Chevy Suburban) and we set off on our merry way, allowing an hour and a half for a forty minute trip.

One thing became obvious right away. At nine oclock at night on the Interstate there is no way to read directions without turning on the interior light - making it very obvious to any passing law-inforcement officers that my whole mind is not exactly on the job at hand (plus putting us at risk of option two, above). Hmm... perhaps it would have been wise to have given the directions more than a passing glance. Never mind, conveniently I happened to have brought the children - several of whom can read. So, throwing the driving directions in Sam's vicinity and switching on his little reading light I put my trust in the navigational abilities of a nine year old child.

The rest of the story gets a little hectic. Rather than give a blow by blow description, I will instead insert the following montage of images...

Sam giving directions. A road sign, claiming to lead to the airport, giving conlicting directions. Myself believing the road sign. A U-turn. Another U-turn. A further U-turn. Laura crying. Sam indignant because I didn't listen to him. Oli desperate for the bathroom. Laura crying. Still another U-turn. Sam needing the bathroom. Laura crying.

When they make 'Amy - the musical' this is the scene which will be set to Hillbilly music. And I have to say the task was not made any easier by the inconsiderate way the traffic was all travelling in the right-hand lanes. This may not sound like such a big deal - and it isn't - until you're trying to figure out which exit you want to take to go East... no , no , NO! EAST! NOT WEST! HANG ON KIDS, WE GOTTA TURN AROUND AGAIN!!!!!! Eventually I just caved in and rang Sue (my hero) who somehow knew exactly where we were, and also (and here's the important bit) how to get us to where we needed to go. Why is there no Nobel prize for navigation?

All of this drama, of course, made us ten minutes late getting to the airport. A fact I was more than mildly concerned about until discovering that the flight had been delayed an hour and a half.

Still, at least we managed to avoid that whole 'flaming wreck' scenario.