It's a Resolution, Baby!

52 Weeks. 52 New Year's Resolutions.

Week 25. Resolution 25. Make preserves. June 29, 2010

Another cooking resolution I hear you say?

Yes.  Ludicrous isn’t it?  But the Gods of Self Improvement have not been kind to me lately and I’m beginning to wonder exactly why Tony Robbins and Dr. Phil have it in for me.

While I’m certain I’ve convinced you of how effortless it is to complete one resolution a week, so much so that you’ve all begun work on your own list for next year,  the truth is this resolution business is not easy, you know?

First of all there’s the scheduling.  Trying to slot the resolutions cosily into the 52 weeks is a logistical nightmare—some are dependent on weather, some are booked out too far in advance, some only fall on days that I work—and lately it feels like I’m being thwarted at every turn.

And time consuming.  Golly gee is it time consuming.  With the researching, the shopping for items, performing the resolutions themselves and making them sound far more interesting than they actually were leaves little room for study or exercise, let alone watching TV and playing Playstation or Wii; unless I can find some way to design a sim to do my resolutions for me.  These days I use http://teuxdeux.com to schedule my days to within a minute of their far-too-short life.  I’ve begun declining social invitations in favour of completing resolutions which I think is called ‘missing the point’.  Then there’re the resolutions you don’t even hear about—the ones with outcomes so disappointing I couldn’t include them because, in some cases, to do so would’ve involved attacking someone’s livelihood—meaning there’s times I’ve had to do two in one week.  So yes, it’s pretty tough going.

It’s also expensive and when I first launched my boat out into the resolution waters I did not expect to be so financially challenged, nor to be using such terrible metaphors.  Consequently, this week, I needed a bit of a break which is why making preserves was my life preserver.  (Oh god, who writes this rubbish?)

Everyone loves a preserve, right?  Jams, chutneys, marmalades, butters, curds, ketchups, sauces, salsas and spreads.   Me?  I relish a relish.  I’m jubilant for jam.  Crazy for curd.

As there are only so many empty glass bottles in the world I was limited by what I could make.  Sparing you the boring, lengthy decision making process I decided to make a) Corn Relish and b) Strawberry Jam Essence De Provence which roughly translates as “with vanilla and lavender.”  Set your mouths to water my friends.

Corn relish is so versatile.  I love it on toast with cheese or corned beef.  I always use a whole jar of it in one of my favourite recipes for Peter Russell Clarke’s vegetable parcels (the recipe calls for a tablespoon).  Plus it’s great in muffins.  And if you haven’t tried corn relish dip you haven’t lived heartily.

All corn relish recipes are fairly similar but this is the one I worked from:  http://www.abc.net.au/tasmania/stories/s1608357.htm

First I mixed together the corn, capsicum and onion with sea salt and let it stand for two hours before draining.  Then I chucked the sugar, vinegar, mustard, turmeric and vegies in a saucepan and boiled for 30 mins before thickening with cornflour and bottling.

It turned out okay, although a bit corny for my liking and difficult to slather but I could find nothing on the Internet about how to fix / avoid this.  Still, a pantry full of corn relish makes me one happy lady.

While the corn relish ingredients were standing I started on the jam using this recipe:  http://www.recipezaar.com/recipe/strawberry-jam-essence-de-provence-425569?scaleto=6&sys=m

After blending the sugar with a chopped vanilla pod and a handful of dried lavender I mixed it with three punnets of washed and quartered strawberries.  These I let sit for four hours while the sugar dissolved.  Next I added the lemon juice and some butter (I’m not sure why this was necessary) and set the lot to boil.  The smell was incredible and I highly suggest everyone make some for the intoxicating scent alone.  When the strawberries were stewed I added some powdered pectin and immediately ladled the mixture into the sterilised bottles.  It was around this point I began to fret because the jam was not setting.  However by the next morning it had become firm.  While disgustingly sweet it is delicious and addictive.

A note on sterilising bottles – first I thoroughly washed the bottles and lids in hot soapy water.  After rinsing I put the bottles in the oven for 20 mins at 120 deg cel, adding the mixtures while they were still warm.  The point of this is to stop mould and bacteria growing to give your condiments a longer shelf life.

That evening there were some harsh words uttered from my parents (not for the first time) about how annoying all this resolution business had become.  I swear I was going to wash up but I was just so tired.  Clearly I’m not the only one feeling the strain.

Regardless, homemade preserves are fun to prepare and make a great gift.  I gave a bottle of jam to some friends and received some mango chutney in return – win!  Now looking for some lemon or passionfruit curd if anyone wants to trade.

For the record, I didn’t get the break I needed, instead I spent the week writing 12 page job applications for positions I’m unlikely to get (but am totally, utterly qualified for if you are reading this prospective employer!  Plus I come with jam and relish!)

 

Week 24. Resolution 24. Attend Lifeline Bookfest. June 22, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — H-Ro @ 10:45 AM
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It was a dark and stormy night under the guise of a bright and breezy day when the bi-annual bookfest threw open its doors.  Here was a stadium-sized hall which had seen performers, sportspeople, artists, retailers and charlatans peddling their wares, but today it was filled with books; books that could tell a story in more ways than one.  While all books have journeyed from the fertile mind of an author, passing through the printing press, to arrive with the bookseller, these had travelled farther, having been chosen from the racks of many, exchanged for money, thumbed lovingly while filling the mind of the reader with fanciful ideas, before being donated or discarded in the collection bins of charity shops in the hope of finding their way into the mind of another.  Oh what tales these tales could tell!

After working for months in a bookshop her passion for these collections of story-filled paper had worked itself into an irrational frenzy.  To be able to look at the books, touch them and sell them onto others without being able to devour them herself on the spot was unbearable and so she began to buy as many as she could afford, and more than she could ever possibly read, until the books had assembled themselves into a shrine within her room that threatened to topple over her and absorb her into their pages.  And she could think of nothing better.

The idea of being surrounded by two million books filled every cell of her body with delight.    Having been heralded as the biggest second-hand book sale in the world the bookfest served as a means to raise money for ‘Lifeline Brisbane’ – a free counselling service for those in need.  Perhaps they could help her find a cure for this escapist addiction?  If not she could build a fort made of books to hide away in and read forever, tearing down the walls one book at a time.

On arrival she had a fleeting recollection of having attended a bookfest before, but it must have been so long ago that all the stories she’d read since had crowded the memory out.  This new memory would be framed with the feeling of having died and gone to heaven.

As part of her job it was her duty to know which books were good and which weren’t and so she had diligently prepared a list of the gems she sought in the hope they’d pull her towards them like ships to sirens.

She began her search in the ‘High-Quality’ section where the newer books had prices that ranged around $6 pencilled within their covers.  By the end of the first table her arms were loaded down with novels and she envied the people with trolleys and bags on wheels.  A cleaning lady noticed her plight and kindly offered her a box to store her treasures in for which she was most grateful.

Feeling time-poor she perused only the sections she liked the most—paperback and hardback fiction, childrens, biography, literature & classics, cooking and sci-fi—although it pained her very much to pass by the many other tables without allowing herself so much as a cursory glance.  Hours fell from the clock and when the time came to trawl the next section she realised she had more books than her scant-filled bank account could afford and with some sadness she tucked her least favourites back into position for another to snatch up.

Next she passed through to the ‘Priced’ section where the spines of the books were lined with creases, like wrinkles, showing that they have lived well.  She was amused to think that if they could talk they would surely be more valuable, but their $3 prices were a reflection of the throwaway society in which we live.  Happily she found a number of the books she was compelled to put back in the previous section for half the price.  By now the room swelled with people who began to play a silent game of dodgems to see who could stay at the table longest and who would yield first and have to go around the other.  This oddly quiet soundtrack was disrupted now and then by the amusing anecdotes of the announcer on his PA remarking on particular specials to be found or attempting to reunite loved ones with those lost in the sea of books.

Her eyes began to sting from having adjusted to a short-sighted search range and her arms ached with the weight of her finds and so she entered the final ‘Unpriced’ section where the books were all under $2.  Her search here was short—there seemed to be little to find—before she begrudgingly called it a day, having plundered as much as her body could stand.

But her mind was ready for the countless adventures that awaited.

Bookfest photos courtesy of Michelle Smith – http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/photogallery/lifestyle/lifeline-bookfest-2010/20100117-mdsh.html

 

Week 23. Resolution 23. Prepare a Four-Course Meal. June 16, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — H-Ro @ 5:48 PM
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It’s not every week your parents celebrate BOTH their birthdays AND their anniversary and THANK GOD FOR THAT.  Like Christmas, mid-June is a painfully expensive time of year, particularly when two measly retail shifts a week supply my entire income.  Thankfully, when it comes to family, where money fails, creativity reigns and loved ones tend (or pretend) to be more impressed by a home-made card than the sentimental fakery of the $6 shop-bought kind.

What better occasion then to tick off the ‘make a four-course meal’ resolution?

I’ve never been much of a caterer beyond the odd fondue or wine and cheese nights as I prefer to dine out with friends rather than subject them to the boredom of my own abode.  And although I enjoy cooking I get too easily stressed to tackle more than one course at a time, particularly in company, as I’d likely also be stressing about whether everyone is having the best possible time EVER.  But of a Sunday evening as a youngster my parents would serve up a roast meal with a glass of sparkling (non-alcoholic) wine and so the excitement of dinner parties and fine dining is somewhat ingrained in me.  Especially the kind where people wear monocles and smoke cigars and look down their noses and say things like “Oh my, this soup is simply fabulous” and maybe solve a murder.

There is one thing we are not in short supply of in this house and that is recipe books and so I spent the earlier part of the week surrounded by them while trying to compile the perfect menu.  Anyone who’s ever lived with me knows that my items have a tendency to creep out of my room and gravitate to the same areas of the house, assembling themselves in perfectly ordered little piles.  If you touch one of these piles expect a fight.  Currently there are a number of these little piles consisting of recipe books littered all about the house.  But when you are trying to cater for someone who can’t eat onion or garlic and doesn’t like pasta or red meat the search for the perfect four recipes is an arduous one.

With the meals finally sorted and the ingredients bought I set about making a music playlist (ending up with over six hours worth – who knew I had so much parent-appropriate music?) and designing a menu.  Normally I can throw something passable together in Microsoft Word (frustrated designer without the appropriate tools) but was feeling particularly uninspired and eventually ended up with this:  Menu

On the morning of the big day Dad was sadly struck down with some form of stomach bug / food poisoning and was rendered incapable of eating.  Just another in a long list of resolution setbacks I’ve had recently while trying to stick to the schedule.  I refused to take this personally as I’m hopefully not that bad a cook that people have to invent lame excuses to avoid eating my food.

On the morning of the REAL big day I began preparing the ‘Spiced Pumpkin & Apple Soup’ around 11am as it was easily reheatable come chow down time.  Soup is about the easiest thing in the world to make.  Chuck everything in a pot till it’s soft.  Cool.  Blend.  Reheat.  Serve.  Devour.

I didn’t begin preparing the second course, ‘Cheese Soufflé’ until 45 mins before serving which ended up being a touch too late.  They were all lovely and puffed up like mushroom clouds while still in the oven but once the cold air hit them they deflated soufflé-suicide-style.

The main, ‘Baked Lemon Chicken with Ricotta & Spring Vegetable Puree’, was from a recipe I found here:  http://www.taste.com.au/recipes/14281/baked+lemon+chicken+with+ricotta+spring+vegetable+puree

I began marinating the chicken around 2pm and started the vegetables and puree at 4pm knowing I could reheat them later.  I combined this dish with a recipe for mash-filled cabbage rolls and then spent the afternoon eating the delicious left-over mash.  Mmm.

In the times in between I prepared the ‘Raspberry Choc Truffles Cakes’ for dessert—cooking the cakes, cooling, coating with chocolate, cooling, filling with raspberry cream, cooling and making the sauce, then (surprise, surprise) cooling.

Come serving time Mum had kindly set the good table with the good cutlery (as reserved for special occasions) but with Dad still unwell and being an odd night of the week it was all rather informal, so unfortunately my special playlist never got to strut its stuff as there was something good on telly.  I won’t say what it was because it’s embarrassing.

The soup was a success with the soufflés served shortly after.  Mum and I enjoyed them while I think Dad literally had a hard time swallowing them although he did still manage to have a taste of every dish.  What a trooper.

After a half hour hiatus while I cooked the chicken and reheated the veg, main was served, but despite the recipe’s 5-star rating I thought it tasted like toothpaste.  Dessert wasn’t breathtakingly delicious and the chocolate coating was hard to crack but it was certainly edible (and quite good the next day).

Afterwards, my arms aching from stirring, whisking and beating, while the rest of me was just plain exhausted, I collapsed in a heap on the couch and dreamed of food.

Leftovers anyone?

 

Week 22. Resolution 22. Learn to Knit. June 9, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — H-Ro @ 6:17 PM
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You know it’s cold when even inanimate objects rug up in their winter woollens—a phenomenon that occurred in Brisbane this week after a particularly frosty evening.

Photos courtesy of Datosphere Photography – http://www.ourbrisbane.com/suburbs/gallery/i-knit-brisbane

Yes, it’s that time of year again where our treasured summer clothes are relegated to the back of the drawer in favour of their bulkier, harder to wash counterparts.  While not my favourite things I have to agree with Julie Andrews that warm woollen mittens (and scarves and beanies) are the finer things about winter.  Unlike the rest of winter which can go *BEEEEEEP* itself.

This week I decided to force myself to take up knitting in the hope that winter might just be bearable if I could sit in my rocking chair by the fire, drinking hot chocolate and knitting.  It helped to ignore the fact that I don’t own a rocking chair, or a fireplace, and that old lady pastimes will get me nowhere in life.

Naturally I chose to knit a scarf because I’m smart enough to know that had I attempted something trickier it would have ended in woollen disaster, leaving a sheep somewhere shivering in vain.  Having finally found a free pattern for a scarf I liked after searching the Internet for hours, I promptly changed my mind when flicking through the pattern books at Spotlight and decided instead to make a cowl.  To avoid paying $17 for the whole pattern book I stealthily took pictures of the pattern on my phone, using Mum as a shield, before parting with $25 for four (agonisingly chosen) balls of wall.  At this point I was beginning to wonder why anyone bothered to knit when it was clearly cheaper in dollars and time to pay someone else to do it.  But people do it because it’s relaxing, RIGHT?!

When I got home I was genuinely surprised to discover a favourites folder on my laptop containing websites of knitted cowl patterns I had compiled sometime in the past.  I guess I’ve wanted to make a cowl for awhile?  (Just not enough to remember ever wanting to in the first place.)

With ‘Larry’s Learn to Knit Book’ as my aide, it took ten minutes of frustrated reading before I was hassling Mum for lessons, although books don’t get cranky so maybe I should have persisted.  And thus began a week of dropped stitches and raised voices as both wool and tempers unravelled and frayed.  ‘Relaxing’ is certainly not a word I’d use to describe the experience.

The pattern itself was easy enough – knit 60 stitches a row until the work measures 27cm (which I couldn’t help but notice equalled 33 rows), at which point we introduced a pattern that involved wrapping the wool around the needle three times and dropping the extra loops on the next row before continuing on with 33 more rows of garter stitch.  Then it’s just a matter of connecting the two ends together.

Knitting patterns, much like sewing patterns, are written in a whole other language, mainly involving odd abbreviations that are impossible to interpret without an expert guide to teach you what they mean, and more importantly, show you how it’s done.  It’s also invaluable to have someone on hand who can reverse all your mistakes, which is a skill in itself and quite necessary if you are as poorly skilled in crafts as me.  I do learn quickly but in the process of learning I always manage to make every mistake in the book.  Were there actually a book of every mistake it should have been issued with me as a manual.

To jazz up the cowl I spent many more hours searching the interwebz for free knitted flower patterns, finally deciding on a Nicky Epstein pattern from the book ‘Knitted Flowers’. http://blog.craftzine.com/archive/2010/03/craft_pattern_nicky_epsteins_k.html

As the pattern involved more complex knitting techniques it was around this point that the heated mother daughter exchange became a bit too much and I thought it best to extricate myself while Mum kindly contributed her talents to knitting the flowers.

Cowls are great.  You can wear them around your neck, your shoulders, as a hood and even as a top.  They also make a great hair band if you happen to have dreads for hair.  Elephants might like to wear them as leg warmers, while dogs (and possibly giraffes) are partial to neck warmer style.

While you may prefer to pay someone else to do all the work in the end you won’t have a knitted piece that tells a personal story of love and frustration—a dropped stitch that snuck in when the news reporter on the TV informed that a Golden Girl had died, or that 60 stitches ended up being 63 because you couldn’t be bothered walking the 20 metres to your mother to inform her you’ve buggered up AGAIN, or how the Spotlight lady overheard you exclaiming loudly that you would take photos of a pattern to avoid buying it, or how you learned your father could secretly knit.

Just don’t look too closely.

 

Week 21. Resolution 21. Attend Paniyiri Greek Festival. June 2, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — H-Ro @ 7:07 PM
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For some reason I absolutely cannot bring myself to write this week’s resolution.  It may be because I’ve already written an assignment about it which was *particularly* tedious and now gives meaning to the phrase ‘flogging a dead horse’.  Or perhaps it’s because since completing the resolution I’ve spent a few days on the NSW coast attending a wedding, battled with the debilitating effects of the resulting hangover(s) and now find myself deeply ensconced in resolution #22.  I’ve considered copying in a news article written about the event and praying you won’t notice the difference but what kind of person would I be to deprive you of my flair for hilarity and poignancy?

Answer:  A selfish one.  Which is why I’ve decided to write it in point form instead.

  • Every year for the last 34 years Brisbane has hosted the Paniyiri Greek Festival.
  • It is a festival about Greek things.
  • This year it ran for three days and attracted around 75,000 people.
  • Mum and I were two of those people.
  • I have never been before.
  • There was a sideshow alley and lots of rides.
  • Greek people eat nice food and decided to share some with us (for a price).
  • We ate grilled haloumi, chick pea patties and feta and spinach parcels.
  • We watched some people dancing and listened to Effie screeching.
  • Greek people say ‘Opa!’ a lot.
  • We went to a cooking class at the Greek club just as it finished.
  • We sat down. It was nice.
  • We got up. Not so nice.
  • There were LOTS of people.
  • People are stupid, especially en masse.
  • We bought nougat, baklava and shortbread and went home.
  • We waved to the 40,000 people at the gate waiting to get in.
  • Paniyiri is no substitute for the real Greece (unless the real Greece is one big smoky sideshow alley full of people ramming prams into your shins).
  • I probably won’t go back.

Here are some photos.  Can you tell I wasn’t really trying?

If, for some reason this post has left you feeling empty and unfulfilled you may read the full assignment version here: https://resolutionbaby.files.wordpress.com/2010/06/paniyiri-assignment.pdf

 

Update on Resolution #4. Read 3 Books a Month. June 1, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — H-Ro @ 8:17 PM
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Well hello there and welcome to the reading room for the past two months.  I am offering up this post in the hope you won’t notice that the resolution for week 21 is missing.  It’s coming, I promise.  It’s just taking a wee bit longer than usual for reasons that are mostly unacceptable but that’s just the way I roll baby.

Let’s get on with it shall we?

So in April I read the following tomes:

  1. The Art of Racing in the Rain – Garth Stein – As an animal lover I was particularly excited about reading this book written from the perspective of a dog but while it tugs on the heart strings I found the story really h e a v y.  No happy wagging tails after this one.
  2. City of Bones – Cassandra Clare – This is the first book in the Mortal Instruments series and has been touted by many of the book store’s customers who enjoy paranormal fantasy as the best they’ve ever read.  It’s well written and certainly puts ol’ Steph Meyer to shame but I found it difficult to get into and actually felt personally betrayed by the ending.
  3. A Wrinkle in Time – Madeline L’Engle – It’s occurred to me relatively recently that I am obsessed with time travel and have been for years without realising it so when seeking similar books to ‘Before I Fall’ (see entry in April) I was lead to another book, ‘Before You Reach Me’ (which I am currently reading) that in turn was based on this one.  Written in the 60s for children aged around 10-12 it tells the tale of children travelling through time and space to save their father.  A younger me would have loved it.  An older me liked portions of it but wasn’t fussed overall.

On to May…

  1. The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Total Nutrition – Joy Bauer – well we know about his one already.  My best memory of it is still the white chocolate biscuit crumbs scattered through its pages.
  2. City of Ashes – Cassandra Clare
  3. City of Glass – Cassandra Clare – After whinging about the first book in the Mortal Instruments series to my work colleague who manages to sell the entire series to practically everyone who walks in the store she explained that despite my previous betrayal I just had to keep on reading.  I’m glad I did.  Even though I disagree with the premise the series is utterly captivating and I will happily recommend it to the customers my colleague manages to miss.
  4. Storm Front (The Dresden Files) – Jim Butcher – this is my other colleague’s favourite writer and although our tastes greatly differ I was keen to understand the appeal.  Basically this series deals with a warlock who works as a PI, written in the style of detective fiction.  A little darker than I usually like it was an enjoyable enough read which I’d recommend to those who fancy supernatural crime; exactly the type of people who would probably never use the word ‘fancy’.