Sunday, 25 September 2011

Never Grow Up, Never Surrender!

I've always been a fan of dress ups.
You wouldn't believe how much of my childhood I spent charging around the place pretending to be Indiana Jones, some kind of deposed empress or a brave but kind of thick adventurer walking through a forest infested with wolves that could eat me at any minute*.

But seeing as Australia doesn't go in for Halloween, my dress up adventures pretty much ended once I entered high school.

It wasn't until University that I discovered the joy of comic books and various glorious associated nerderies and became aware of the phenomenon that is cosplay.

Australia doesn't have the sheer number and variety of comic conventions that America has either so you either have to be willing to wait and track one of them down or trick you friends into holding costume parties all the time**.

There are some characters I'd love to attempt if I ever get the opportunity and motivation levels just right.

For instance, as much as I'd love to pitch my voice as low as it can go and rock a Dr Mrs The Monarch costume, I'd be too worried about popping out all over the place to enjoy myself.
And as I have some of the curves but not enough of the height I think I'd be more likely to try Dr Girlfriend incarnation if I had the dedication to put together a slamming pink dress and pill box hat ensemble.

But until that day, I will just keep admiring the efforts of others, some of which I present here for your viewing pleasure.

*This one used to annoy Mum a bit as it invariably involved me stealing the knife sharpener out of the knife block (because it looked like a sword) and running about with it thrust through a sash which was really one of her scarves.

**And if they aren't willing to go to more effort than 'slutty [random occupation]' then what's the point?

Sunday, 18 September 2011

The Philosopher's Bowl

My parents did a fairly good job on educating me about food.

I knew from an early age that milk came from cows, eggs came from chickens, that delicious meat is actually made out of delicious animals, the names of all the vegetables and all the various things Jamie Oliver seems to be so nervous about kids not knowing these days.

But there was one thing I just did not realise for many, many years.

You can make your own soup!

Intellectually I knew it had to come from somewhere and contained, y'know, ingredients but for far too many years I just associated soup with cans.

I guess I knew you could make soup but I put that in the same category as certain pastries.

Sure, theoretically you could make a croissant but I can just about guarantee that without a few years of training or practice, what you'll get will not look like a real croissant. It'll look like a buttery smear of undercooked flobble.

I thought of soup making as a kind of culinary alchemy, only undertaken by the learned and wise.

However, spurred on by the surprising amount of Hourly Comics that showed people making soup (and declaring how delicious it was and how amazing it is that they could have wasted so much of their lives eating the inferior and more expensive soup from tins), I started experimenting with soup making myself.

Guys, did you know that you can just take vegetables, boil them in water*, blend them up and they turn into delicious soup!

It's amazing!

So far I've made a pumpkin and cinnamon soup, a broccoli puree, a cauliflower and leek soup, a hearty minestrone, and a bean and pearl barley soup**.

They've all been delicious.

Chop things up, simmer them for half and hour and you've got a week's worth of lunches just sitting there being delicious at you.

Tell me that's not magical!

Anyway here's the recipe I used for cauliflower and leek soup which is one of my favourites so far.

1 onion
1 small leek
300 g (11 oz) cauliflower
2 teaspoons of olive oil
500 ml (17 fl oz) milk
250 ml (8 fl oz) water
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

  1. Peel and chop the onion.
  2. Trim the leek, cut into thin slices and rinse well.
  3. Separate the cauliflower into small florets and rinse in a colander.
  4. Heat the oil in a large saucepan and add the onion and leek.
  5. Cover and cook over a low heat for a few minutes to soften.
  6. Add the cauliflower, milk and water, season with salt, cover and bring to the boil.
  7. Lower the heat and simmer gently for 10 to 15 minutes.
  8. Remove from the heat, allow to cool a little, then blend the soup until smooth in a food processor or with a stab blender.
  9. Adjust the seasoning with salt a pepper.
Freaking. Delicious.

*Or a little stock

**I've made this one about 10 times, but I can't make it when my parents are coming around for dinner because English school lunches traumatised my mother so badly that even the sight of pearl barley triggers flashbacks.

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Out Of The Loop

I know some people talk a lot of smack about the internet and social media and how disconnected we're becoming due to overuse of both but in my experience that's bunkum.

I have never felt more connected to the rest of the world, more politically and socially aware and more empathetic than I do now.

I've been lucky in the online friends I've made in the various corners of the internet I've found myself, most of them creative and passionate about a range of things and willing to share that passion without condescending or ranting, all of them interesting, all of them friendly.

I've followed along with various protests, political uprisings, natural disasters, international disasters and historical events and I've felt as if they really have something to do with me.
Not in an egocentric way but in a give-a-damn-about-the-rest-of-the-world-and-the-rest-of-humanity way, either because I know someone personally who is being affected by what is going on or because reading blogs, tweets or retweets written by individuals really pushes home the fact that these things are happening to real people who you'd probably quite like if you ever met them.

This has all been very enlightening and great for my outlook and personal development but it has also highlighted how really horrendously bad my personal grasp of the Australian political system is.

I expect I know more about the American political system (thanks to Fear And Loathing On The Campaign Trail '72) than I can remember about Australian politics from my social science classes in high school.

Let me try to sum up what I can remember for you:
  • We have an upper and a lower house, the senate and the house of representatives, one is red one is green, I cannot remember which is which on the colour or name or upper/lower count.
  • Laws need to pass through both houses in order to be passed.
  • When we vote in Federal elections we vote for the party we want in, rather than the person even though we know which person will get in based on our vote.
  • In Australia people don't campaign for selection and then get endorsed by their party, whoever is leader of the party gets to be the head of government if their party is voted in. It's all decided in-party way before election time is called and isn't swapped before election unless the current leader is bombing out/useless, and is all done based on how good a job the person is doing in politics, how savvy they are and how they're doing with public opinion.
  • I can't remember how state elections and government work in relation to federal elections and government, though I do remember the state voting process is different (a lot fewer boxes to number).
That's about it.

I mean, there are other things I know or am aware of but off the top of my head, that's it.

That isn't great.

When I rock up to vote I usually know enough about the various candidates and parties that I know who supports things I agree with or who is highly objectionable but I'm not the most informed of voters, I don't feel like I'm fully engaged with or aware of what's going on.

If a foreign friend asked me what the Governor-General was for or how governors of the different states and territories were selected, I would only be able to give very general and possibly misleading explanations*.

And because of that I just went to the library and checked out Australian Politics For Dummies.

I'm not beating about the bush, I'm starting from the most basic level I can without finding a book with pictures and anthropomorphised legislative scrolls.

Because at this stage of my life, this level of ignorance is just embarrassing.

*The Governor-General, as the Queen's representative in Australia, gives the official OK to any incoming Prime Ministers and signs legislation into law, I think that's it. Only once has a Governor-General actually bunted a Prime Minister out of power.
As for governors of states and territories... I have no idea.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Father's Day

The older I get, the more evident it becomes that I'm turning into my Father.

At least in some ways.

There's a lot of my Mother in me as well but today is time to talk about Dad.

When my siblings and I were kids and we were on the obligatory summer holiday trip - to the beach or to go camping or to visit relatives who lived enough hours away to make visiting a rare occasion - there were things that Dad did that drove us crazy.

He made terrible puns.
He'd pull over to examine historical markers and sites signposted on the highway when all we wanted to do was get to our destination.
He'd steer with his elbows whilst blowing his nose.
He'd take detours because he thought they looked interesting and we'd never been there before.
He'd tell us 'fascinating facts' and then quiz us about them later.

Drove us absolutely nuts.

But those things that drove us mental, are now the things I love (even if the puns still make me groan) and appreciate. And have started, sadly in some cases, to emulate*.

I never appreciated until quite recently the extent to which my Father, coming from a cultural and familial background that favours and coddles sons**, went out of his way to make sure I always felt capable and worthy and just as good as the boys.
He signed us up for a father-daughter group when I was little which took us on various trips and activities, let us do all sorts of arts and crafts, and where we got to spend time together.
He helped me with my homework but never gave me the answers, insisting that he'd be doing me no favours and telling me that I could do it if I put my mind to it, giving me hints and gently questioning my answers to make me think things out.
He let me take up dozens of different sports and hobbies for as long as they held my interest, and challenged me to be sure I wanted to give them away before I did and that I was doing so for the right reasons***.
He bought me biographies of famous female explorers and athletes and scientists.
He bought me books on many different subjects, novels by many different authors and encouraged me to chase anything I was interested in.
He supported me in my studies and travels.
He still does.
He taught me how to ride a bike, how to fly a kite, how to do all those other kid-friendly things that parents are supposed to teach you but mostly he taught me how to think.

Even all those stupid, maddening things he did on family trips are examples.
He taught me to be interested in the world.
That you should always choose new experiences over repetition****.
That there's never a bad time to learn something new.
That if you're passionate about something you should share it with the people you care about or with anyone willing to listen, and that you should listen to them when they share their passions with you.
He taught me to give a damn.
And I love him for it.

Happy Father's Day, Dad.

*Puns. You must have noticed my tendency dorky alliterative blog post titles by now.

**Italian. Also Irish, do the Irish do that as well? I don't know any stereotypes about Irish mamma's boys.

***E.g. Not because 'It's tooooooooo haaaaaaaaaaaard' or 'I don't want to geeeeet uuuuuuuuuup at 7am' or 'But my friends are doing something else'.

****I don't always follow through on this one (especially when it comes to DVDs) but when I have the opportunity to do something new, I almost always say yes.