It's a Resolution, Baby!

52 Weeks. 52 New Year's Resolutions.

Week 37. Resolution 37. Eat my weight in chocolate. September 22, 2010

Chocolate.

Healer of heartache.

Soother of souls.

Warrior of weight gain.

According to the most popular bookmark we sell in our bookstore, ‘chocolate fixes everything’.  This is clearly rubbish and I’ve thought about it long enough to say so with certainty.  But chocolate does appear to contain some magical soma-like property that humans for thousands of years have failed to resist.

When making a list of New Year’s resolutions most people tend to gravitate to those that deprive them of something—quit smoking, drink less, eat healthier, exercise more, save money.  But the truth is if you really wanted to do any of these things you’d be doing them already.  Breaking a habit takes far more dedication and focus than most people are prepared for.  And preparation really is the key.

That’s why I’ve chosen to eat my weight in chocolate as one of my resolutions because it’s better to reward than to punish.  I’m not the kind of person who can eat a block of chocolate, a tub of ice cream, or a pack of biscuits in one sitting as the guilt would compel me to run around the block 50 times in penance.  (Or, more specifically, ONCE because I’m not that fit.)  However if there’s no chocolate in the house at precisely 8pm every night to accompany my evening cup of tea it’s not unusual to find me hiding in the cupboard snorting cocoa, eating spoonfuls of dry milo or swilling chocolate topping.

Having established in my last post how much I like a buffet then clearly a chocolate buffet is the absolute pinnacle of all dining experiences.  Sure, it may not offer as much variety as say, Sizzler (and I’m not just talking about types of bacteria) but it does offer more in the way of SIN.  Because according to the second commandment ‘thou shalt not eat their weight in chocolate’.  Strike me down oh Lord, because in the immortal words of Dawn French when faced with a chocolate fountain, I’m going in!!!

This month Bistro Allure is holding their seventh annual ‘40 days and 40 nights’ chocolate buffet for $25 a person (although if you happen to be looking for a Brisbane chocolate buffet experience outside of September/October then Stamford Plaza host their chocolate high tea every Saturday and Sunday for $42pp).  It took all of a second to convince my chocoholic mother to be my sweet-toothed date.

On arrival we did a whip around to survey the treats that were soon to be in our bellies.  On offer was a fridge ‘choc’ full of tarts and sweets, a chocolate fountain, a freezer of ice cream with a range of different toppings, a counter of cakes, vases full of jaffas and chocolate covered honeycomb as well as chocolate pancakes, croissants and puddings.  Is your mouth watering?  Well it should be.

But what to shove in our faces first?  A profiterole, a strawberry ramanoff and a pot of tea, that’s what.  I don’t really like profiteroles but I regularly forget this because it’s easy to get caught up in their hype.  This one was a little dry but the ramanoff was destined to be a hit as it combined my favourite flavours of berry and chocolate in a strawberry-topped-mousse-like package.

Next we bombarded the chocolate fountain with skewers of strawberries, melon and marshmallows. The chocolate was runny and thick, becoming hard on impact with the fruit but still soft enough to scoop off your plate by the finger load.  I did find an extremely suspicious hair in my chocolate but we shall forget about that in the interests of maintaining your jealousy.

Mum then went on to sample a white chocolate and berry cheesecake while I gutsed myself on ice cream flavours such a cookie dough, coconut, double chocolate and choc-mint.

By this time my sweet tooth was well and truly satiated and I began to crave a savoury.  Unfortunately, unlike the Stamford Plaza chocolate high tea which I’d sampled many eons ago there were no savouries on offer as part of the buffet (nor was there chocolate spaghetti but thou shalt not be picky) and so we decided to purchase a plate of sea salt encrusted chips from the regular lunch menu.  Delish!

Mum eventually had to prise my fingers from the table to get me to leave the land of chocolate, even though I was now so rotund that I had to be rolled out Violet Beauregarde style, but it’s simply not often enough that such a range of treats is there for guiltless scoffing.

So if you’re interested in getting your chocolate on there’s a couple more weeks to take your loved one along to the brunch, lunch or dinner sessions at the Sebel King George Square.  I’ll be the one standing outside with my face pressed against the window drooling.

 

Week 36. Resolution 36. Go to the Powerhouse Farmers Markets. September 17, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — H-Ro @ 8:22 PM
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With plenty on offer in Brisbane this weekend choosing merely one for a resolution had me buckling under the pressure of indecision.  Between Valley Fiesta, the Gangster’s Ball, Brisbane Festival’s night of free opera, (<- Oxford comma) and the BigSound showcase of Australia’s up–n-coming musical acts, the likelihood of  gorging yourself on culture until you exploded Jackson Pollock style was unusually high.

But in an unprecedented first, instead of being rostered to work the Saturday as I’ve been for the last year, I was rostered the Sunday instead, limiting my Saturday evening to two standard drinks and early shut-eye.  Plus with out-of-towner friends popping by for a one night only visit my full capacity culture-meter quickly dropped down into the low zone.

This did however mean that I had one glorious Saturday morning free to fulfil a resolution to visit the Powerhouse markets that has been cluttering up my list.

As a sensory person I delight most in the small things in life – such as the way it feels to run my hand along a fence, or the way the light illuminates an object (just ask any of my friends who were around during my fabric licking phase).  Variety is the key to the heart of a sensory person which is why my favourite style of eating is nose-deep in a buffet and my favourite style of shopping is at a farmer’s market.

From what I can deduce, a farmer’s market is simply a fancy name for a jumble of stalls that sell an array of fresh produce and culinary (or coronary) delights.  Although no one would blame you for thinking it’s where you’d go to try on an akubra, buy hay or pick up the latest country music CD.  Of all the farmer’s markets in Brisbane, the ones sporting the name ‘Jan Powers’ are the knees of the bees.  I’m not sure who Jan Powers is when’s she at home but every Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday you can find a market somewhere in Brisbane being held in her honour.  http://www.janpowersfarmersmarkets.com.au/whenwhere.html

And rumour has it that the markets held at the New Farm Powerhouse every 2nd and 4th Saturday are the market leader of the pack.  (With so many ‘powers’ in the name how could you go wrong?)

The website describes the JPFM as a “feel good grass roots experience with a social and community slant and a lot of fun.”  I have no idea what that sentence means but having stumbled across the splendid Farmers Market in the city earlier this year I had high (apple pie in the sky) hopes.  So much so that I felt no resentment at the hour and a half drive to get there, a good portion of which was spent trying to find a car park.

Tip #1 – Take public transport or arrive early – unless you prefer sleep or like driving

At first I was a surprised by the size, being smaller than I expected and I spent my first lap of the two aisles enjoying the sights and the scents, sampling yoghurt and nougat and pondering where to throw my money.  I must have moseyed along the two aisles four or five times hoping to spot something I’d missed previously before I began making purchases.  But there was certainly plenty of choice for those looking to fill their empty pantries or bare fridges with fresh and organic morsels and in retrospect I wish this resolution had been to create a week’s worth of meals from market food alone.  Yum!  (Although this would have taken more money than I currently have.)

Tip #2 – Come when you’re hungry

Tip # 3 – Have some idea of what you want to buy

Tip #4 – Bring cash! (and a bag to nestle your purchases in)

In the end I settled for some old favourites – dried pineapple (I CANNOT get enough), lemon curd and fresh strawberries (usually I’d buy raspberries but they’d sold out) and some new sweets—a slab of nougat and some home-made slices.

Why don’t produce sellers arrange their goods in the colours of the rainbow?  Cos let’s face it, with three or more stalls in competition, who’re you gonna buy your fruegetables from?  If nothing else, it will attract the leprechauns.

Tip #5 – Urge your local grocer to arrange their produce in a rainbow fashion

All up I spent only 45 minutes there and probably just as many dollars but I can now say with confidence that the JPFM in the city are far superior in terms of size and variety.  But nothing could ruin that exquisite Saturday morning feeling and being out in the world experiencing something new.

Tip #6 – Relish your Saturday mornings!

 

Week 35. Resolution 35. Attend a Writers Festival. September 6, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — H-Ro @ 6:43 PM
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Last year’s Brisbane Writers Festival was announced shortly after I’d decided to pursue a career in all things literary and so it was evident I had to attend because these were now my people, my brethren, my potential employers.  But upon receiving the first tutorial for my ‘Higher Diploma of Professional Writing’ course I realised there was something very wrong with Australia’s publishing industry—namely, the people, my brethren, my potential employers.  Looking from the outside in the industry exudes elitism and the sense that those involved are wiser, richer and far more intelligent than you because they can string sentences together and I suspect the industry suffers for it.  I’m certain this isn’t applicable to many of the individuals who constitute the writing community, but were the industry itself personified it would be one hell of a pompous git.

I voiced my concerns at the time via a tweet which went something along the lines of:  “Do I need to be a wanker to be a good writer?”  To which I unexpectedly received the following reply from successful Australian author and self-proclaimed ‘non-wanker’, John Birmingham:  “No.”

And that was that I suppose.  Either way I still didn’t go to last year’s festival because I had acquired The Fear.

Since the resolution challenge is about confronting such fears I vowed I to attend this year’s Writers Festival despite its every attempt to PISS ME OFF.  It was with giddy excitement that I awaited the announcement of the festival guests.  Melbourne Writer’s festival had already secured such talents and personal favourites as Brett Easton Ellis, Joss Whedon, Neil Gaiman and Shaun Tan and with many famous authors in the country for Aussie Con 4, the world science fiction convention, the line-up was bound to be spectacular.  But somehow not one, NOT ONE, of these fabulous people were included in the Brisbane line-up, yet festival organisers had decided to charge entry fees for more sessions than in the past.  Combined with my frustrations over the choice to host the festival on the Father’s Day weekend, an especially busy time in the book retail industry that meant I was unable to volunteer, I was not feeling the love.

However I eventually got over myself and booked a couple of sessions.

The first, which I attended with my mother, was titled ‘The Neuroplasticity Revolution’ featuring Norman Doidge, psychiatrist and author of ‘The Brain That Changes Itself’.  I was impressed by the festival’s decision to include an empty seat on the stage to represent a writer who had been imprisoned for their work (www.pen.org.au) but disappointed that they did not carry this through to any other sessions I attended.  The seminar itself was an interesting discussion about the advancements in patient treatment being made through neuroplasticity that certainly piqued my interest in the book.  I was quite happy to listen to Mr Doidge speak for the full hour however as this left little time for questions, my mum was disappointed not to hear the audience’s response.

I was further frustrated by the festival organisers to discover they weren’t selling the Kitty Horton designed volunteer T-shirts to the public.  As a big fan of local artist Kitty Horton’s work I would have paid top dollar for a Brisbane Writers Festival tee, and apparently I was not the only one as the festival team received many requests.  For a festival which survives on the work of volunteers, donations, and the sale of raffle tickets to fail to consider selling their designer T-shirts fills me with hulk-like rage.

Come Sunday and I had a full day available so I headed in early to catch a few of the free sessions.  I arrived with ample time to investigate the markets which disappointingly consisted of six or so stalls, mostly closed or unmanned.  The first session on writing memoirs with Larissa Behrendt, Roy McIvor, Kate Howarth and Elizabeth Lancaster involved a description and reading of each of their works followed by a discussion on the craft of memoir writing and audience questions.  Well that was the plan anyway which quite clearly screamed ‘WILL RUN OVERTIME’ so while we got to see the authors pimp their works there was little to be learnt about the craft itself.  Considering how many eccentric older ladies were present in the session you can expect to see a whole genre of eccentric older lady memoirs hitting bookstores soon.  In fact despite the odd smattering of younger attendees I would surmise most of the crowd was over 50 with the younger audience represented in the form of volunteers.

My second (free) session was on ‘Fella lit VS Chick lit’ as presented by Mark Watson, Andrew Humphreys and Tony Wilson (who I wrongly thought would be Tony Martin).  While each of them wondered aloud why they had been chosen to host such a panel since none of them considered their work to be the masculine equivalent of Bridget Jones’s diary, it was quite obvious to me considering the vapid subject matter of their books.  Even though it was an ultimately interesting discussion of the composition of the fiction reading public I found the three panellists embodied pretty much everything I despise about Australian men and while I had at sometime considered reading each of their books when shelving them at work, I will now definitely steer clear of all three.  (Now who sounds like a pompous git?)

Thankfully my faith in literature was restored in the ‘Not So Happy Families’ seminar which I gladly forked over $16 for.  I was first attracted to this session due to panellist Benjamin Law who I follow avidly on Twitter and who I also have real life friends in common with.  He was joined by Jon Bauer (who I like to call ‘future husband’) and Hamish McDonald while the hilarious and wonderful Susan Maushart chaired.  Susan kicked off the session by getting everyone to turn ON their mobile phones, swapping it with their neighbour and calling their own number so everyone’s phone rang at once, as she felt that our phones deserved the opportunity to express themselves before we switched them off.  Each panellist began with an anecdote about their family before discussing various questions put forth by Susan.  As soon as Jon Bauer opened his mouth I was in awe which, along with the praise heaped upon him for his book ‘Rocks in the Belly’ and his different coloured shoelaces, set my heart a-racin’.  I was uncomfortably seated directly in front of the panel which made it hard for me to stare and so I became so hyper self-aware that I had difficulty concentrating.

Unfortunately there was little discussion about whether it is considered acceptable to write about family although Benjamin Law did offer a gem he learnt from David Sedaris which is that the trick to writing about family is to write about those members who don’t read very much.

Afterwards I wandered by the ‘Imperfect Creation—the Gloriously Messy Universe’ panel which I quickly tired of due to pretending I understood a single word they said.  Unfortunately, in the process, I’d missed the seminar where agents were pitching manuscripts to film producers.

At some point I overheard a volunteer comment that it should actually be called the Brisbane Reader’s Festival and I wholeheartedly agree.  Although you can part with upwards of $75 to attend a writing workshop, for the most part the sessions were more of a sales pitch for the authors rather than a discussion of the craft of writing.  I am disappointed by the kind of writing which was represented with a focus on literature, non-fiction and biography and little regard for journalistic writing, young adult fiction, writing for new technologies and even editing.  And it’s unfathomable not to feature a session on the digital future of publishing.

The Brisbane Writers Festival is a pleasant enough way to spend some time and gives you access to authors you might not have otherwise had, but if you’re passionate about the industry and standing on the fringes, desperately wanting to be inside, it may serve to anger you as it did me (unless you find yourself crushing on one of the authors which will quell your frustrations for a time) at what felt like a huge missed opportunity, potentially a symptom of a larger, fractured industry.  And I haven’t even BEGUN to explain where I think the problems lie.  Heaven forbid.

 

Week 34. Resolution 34. Visit a city I’ve never been to: Adelaide. September 3, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — H-Ro @ 5:03 PM
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In comparison to the icons of Sydney and the culture of Melbourne, Adelaide’s reputation as the city of churches and grisly murders makes it the neglected ugly sister when courtiers from far lands come seeking a princess.  Even fellow Australians are unlikely to place Adelaide at the top of their list of must-see holiday destinations, generally only visiting if work demands it or a special occasion requires it.

Which is a shame because it’s lovely.

A bit like this

I’d been lead to believe that the South Australian capital’s lack of appeal was down to its dullness and so in my mind’s eye Adelaide manifested as a picture of a church with an errant tumbleweed rolling by (and a body in a barrel out the back).  But on being invited to a wedding in Adelaide I hoped to populate this scant picture with reality.

My first impression was that I’d stepped out of Australia and into a European township (or, as I decided it most resembled, Glasgow) as the majority of Adelaide is flat, surrounded by hills and valleys, and populated by houses built of stone, brick or concrete topped with shingled rooves and encased by ‘brush’ fences made entirely of twigs (although with fence arson on the rise you can’t be blamed for thinking that the Big Bad Wolf still hasn’t learnt his lesson).  Clearly a strong contender for the Tidy Town award, everything in Adelaide is perfectly presented from front lawns to shop signage, all the better to hide its supposedly violent underbelly.

On face value Adelaide seems much richer for its status as a second-rate tourist city.  While Sydney folk seem rushed and cliquey and Melbourne people pretentious, Adelaidians give off a vibe aptly described by the musician Ben Folds in his song ‘Adelaide’ which accompanies the clip included below …

Learning that there is no hurry
Fuss or worry
Adelaide

Here you know the world could turn
Or crash and burn
And you would never know it
Going where the air is clear
There’s better beer in Adelaide


Which brings me to Adelaide’s most famous export, Coopers beer (or maybe it’s wine, I dunno, I’m just making this stuff up).  My best friend loves nothing more than Coopers beer and so I was delivered to Adelaide under strict instructions to immerse myself in every possible Coopers related activity.  After recovering from my initial dismay at finding the Coopers Brewery tours were booked out a month in advance, my uncle kindly eased my pain by stocking the fridge with every Coopers beer in existence—before my cousin drank them all.

The next day we were whisked into the Walden-esque Adelaide Hills to take up residence in a house beside the wedding venue.  Compared to Australia’s south coast I am convinced that the east coast is totally overrated as evidenced by the drive through the hills that was so disgustingly beautiful I had to close my eyes because the photographer in me was not coping with my inability to capture it all.  I attempted to rectify this by photographing everything in the near vicinity when my little second cousin was sick in his mother’s car and we had to pull over.

I have no words for how breathtakingly magnificent our view for the next few days was but as a picture paints a thousand of them here is a short photographic essay:

On our return to Adelaide, while our fellow family trove visited the pandas at the zoo, my cousin sweetly offered to bundle me onto one of Adelaide’s O-Bahn buses (buses that use rail tracks) to take me on a walking tour of Rundle Mall—with the all-important stop at Haighs Chocolate Shop—ending in a fantastic lunch and a selection of pints at the Coopers Alehouse.  When I knocked over the last eighth of my beer and they gave me another for free, after already forgetting to charge us for our two previous drinks, it became clear that this was the best pub in the world.  And sadly, probably the last I was going to see in awhile since pubs are close to extinction in metropolitan Australia.

While Melbourne pretends to have four seasons in one day, Adelaide actually does which ensured our brief driving tour the next day was confined to the car.  We started in Glenelg, Adelaide’s beachfront, purported to be beautiful in summer but was far too windswept and freezing for us to fully appreciate, before taking in AAMI Stadium, the grammatical sounding Semaphore Park, and the old-timey Port Adelaide, where I hope to spend more time in the future when the sky isn’t falling.

As I wanted to spice up our little tour I dragged everyone along to the Seahorse Farm for something a bit different.  Everyone loves a seahorse right?  At least I hope so or I likely subjected four of my beloved relatives to the most boring half hour of their life.

Afterwards we rushed to the airport with a quick and costly visit to the Coopers shop before flying up, up and away to our Brisbane home.

Although it was only a short visit I have grown fond of Adelaide and look forward to returning at Christmas because, despite all its negative press, it’s a delightful place with a landscape as multifaceted as its temperamental weather that could easily double as an overseas vacation for those who can’t afford the real price tag.

In the words of Ben Folds:

A voice says
Why Adelaide?
You could live anywhere and I say
Because I want to, because I want to, I really, really want to.