Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Oh! Week

If you are a university person, you may well be in the thick of O week, or hovering around the edges of it. (O stands for Orientation and not Orsm! Free Beer!)

I attended six universities and all in all scored: one degree, one husband, one diploma, and a Masters (roughly in that order). I had a dual enrolment at Flinders Uni and Adelaide Uni doing english and classics. I dropped out just before the end of first semester because I had to break up with Adelaide, we were no good for each other. 'It's not me,' I told Adelaide. 'It's you.' But perhaps it was a little bit me. Then I went back to Tassie and did my first year there. During that year I fell in love, had my heart broken and surfed a wave of departure and ended up in Melbourne. Melbourne and I fell in love and stayed in love. I married Melbourne. I finished my BA at Monash, did the Diploma in prof writing and editing at RMIT (okay, technically Tafe not uni, and also where I met my other lifelong partner, Martin) and then, some years and children later, I did a Masters at Melbourne Uni.

In all that time, I don't recall ever "doing" O Week. I do remember walking past stalls as I nutted out paperwork and recognition of prior learning and the like, which generally involves sprinting from one end of the campus and back again while admin stands in the tallest buildings tracking your progress and laughing and rubbing their hands together and occasionally rewarding you with crumbs of cheese or electrocuting you. But no signing up to clubs or drinking out of barrels or other such mysterious O week shenanigans.

However once, at Monash, I did go to a wine and cheese in the archaeology department the week before classes began (so perhaps this counts as mysterious shenanigans). I made myself go because Adelaide and I had so disappointed each other, and I was determined not to rely solely on the 4 friends that I had moved to Melbourne with. I would win friends. I would influence people. I would be stunning social success.

I gave myself a pep talk on the train consisting of something along the lines of: it is your mission and duty to talk to people, no one will be rude, people are never really rude, people are nice, you are nice, you and people could be friends. So at the wine and cheese I took a breath, turned to the girl sitting next to me and she was totally totally rude. Sneer. One word answers. Shrinking away from me. (On reflection, this may have been a cultural misunderstanding. I have observed many female young adults from the eastern suburbs of Melbourne wear a permanent sneer, without actually being sneery).

I cracked up. I actually laughed because she was so rude. There was me, on my own at the wine and cheese. Having travelled to be there on a train and a bus and actually realising how ridiculously far away Monash is from the known universe. Having assured myself that no one could possibly be rude. I didn't just laugh. I got the giggles and had to beat a hasty retreat.

Still in the first week of uni a different girl recognised me on the train (oh look it's the strange laughing creature) and Sam and I were to become friends. Good friends. She slipped away at the end of uni, as happens, sadly. In fact I'm no longer in touch with anyone I went to Monash with. Not because I didn't go to O week, but because things happened that were sadder than Adelaide, and in the aftermath of this, I lost my way to be with these people and we all drifted apart. A post for another day, maybe.

I will tell you something about uni life though, some sage advice if that's you out there in the thick of O week. I have never looked back on my uni years and thought, I wish I'd slept more, or drunk more beer. But I do sometimes think 'I wish I'd gone to more lectures.'

And go on, sign up for something. You know you want to.

Sunday, February 20, 2011


It's been a cleaning and a cup of tea drinking Sunday, a baby kicking on the loungeroom floor Sunday, a kids playing next door Sunday, a mop and milk buying Sunday. It's been a Sunday for grumping, and a Sunday for thinking about ordering bulbs, a Sunday for mooching between putting away laundry and sorting through the dress ups because I have finished my latest audio book and, like a jilted lover, I am not ready to start anything serious.

And so it's been a Sunday for baking.

Boston bun were a regular feature of my childhood weekends. In those olden days, shops closed on Saturdays at midday and weren't open again until Monday morning. The supermarket shop was done on Thursday or Friday nights (I also have resonant memories of late night shopping at Myer or Fitzgeralds or Venture in the city to buy perhaps wool for a jumper Mum was knitting, or a needed item of clothing - new tights, when I was older perhaps a dress for the school social). Saturday mornings were usually for the Hungarian delicatesses where we got cold meat and my sister fed her mania for double-salted liquorice. Perhaps we got bread there too, though my strongest bakery memories was a bakery in Sandy Bay Rd that had a door where you had to press a button to slide it open, very tricky for little fingers. Chances were that, along with crusty white sesame seed salami from the Hungarian deli in Magnet Court and crusty white rolls from the bakery on Sandy Bay Rd, Mum and Dad might pick up a Boston Bun. I remember discovering as a teenager that the key ingredient of a Boston Bun was potato, and I have a feeling this is not the first time I've attempted to make my own, though I can't remember any results of the first time.

We had some potatoes left over from our organic box of fruit and veg that we have delivered every Monday, and I thought this would be a fun way to use them up. I cooked and mashed three medium to large potatoes and that made about 2 cups of mash. This Boston Bun was a little doughier than the ones I occasionally buy these days from a commercial bakery, but much more satisfying. I didn't have allspice and missed it, also I only used big fat raisins, but sultanas would have been nicer, and some lemon zest perhaps. I put hardly any sugar in (a quarter of a cup of low GI raw sugar) because I still have diabetes paranoia, and I thought it was sweet enough, but less cakey. I added coconut to the icing mix in equal measures, rather than sprinkling it on top.

I'll make this again I think, if the girls enjoy it in their lunchboxes. It would be interesting, though not in the least authentic, to try it with sweet potato and I am definitely putting allspice on the shopping list this week.

Sorry the photo is so dark but it's that sort of a Sunday too

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Baked Mince Roll

After my mother's comment on the post about meatballs, I had to google baked mince rolls. Now of course everyone wanted to give me sausage roll recipes. I also found this:

Baked Mince Roll
This is quite a dainty dish which can be made out of the scraps of cold beef, ham or tongue. Pass the meat through a grinding machine, add bread crumbs, season with parsley, pepper and salt and work in a beaten egg. Make a nice short crust, roll it out, place the meat upon it, and fold the pastry over so as to make a neat roll. Bake 1-2 hour and serve with thick brown sauce. Mrs. William Morton.

SO dainty.

And a bread thing by Nigella, in which a sort of foccaccia dough is rolled up with a savoury mince filling. Which looks sort of tasty but if I am going to have some white floury concoction with my savoury mince then my nostalgic childhood longing demands it be Yorkshire pud.

Anyway I rather suspect Mum meant something more along the lines of this, in which mince is bulked up with breadcrumbs and bound with an egg, then rolled up like a swiss roll with a filling (though I can't imagine there would have been any pine nuts or grilled peeled capsicum in a 1950s Tasmanian version. I wonder if Mum remembers the recipe, and if she will include it in the comments?

Monday, February 14, 2011

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Bread and jam and spaghetti and meatballs

We've been reading Bread and Jam for Frances. Frances decides she only like bread and jam and surprisingly her parents comply with her fussiness, providing only bread and jam for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. Pretty soon Frances knows just how a jam jar feels (full of jam) and bursts into tears at the thought of one more meal of bread and jam (What I am/is tired of jam, she sings) and opts instead to eat spaghetti and meatballs.

Both my girls go through fussy phases and Una is in full throes of conservatism about food. The other day they had jam and bread for breakfast AND jam sandwiches for lunch, so after a few jokes about Frances I thought Una might be open to trying spaghetti and meatballs for dinner.

This was not a dish I ever had growing up, or not that I recall. We always had a good old Spag Bog. I believe the only other way we ate pasta was macaroni cheese, or buttered fat noodles alongside a piece of veal, or the old kid's standby, with butter and cheese (actually I probably had that when Mum and Dad cooked pasta to have with a casserole, I was something of a Frances myself).

The meatballs I made were delicious, and I thought I'd jot down the recipe before I forget. There are any number of recipes for meatballs on the internet, but hey. Here's one more.

Three slices of white sourdough bread (it was a commercial one as the girls have decided they only like spongy white bread, so again, very soft and I included some crust. However I would consider replace bread with wheat germ for a coarser meatball)
500g ish of beef mince (I used organic and it was very soft)
2 anchovies
About a Tablespoon of Dijon mustard
An egg
Rosemary and sage
Just after school I made the meatballs. I tore the bread up and sprinkled milk over it. Then using my hands mixed in the mince and egg (nothing like squishing yolk through your fingers). Oregano and pepper went in next, then I picked some rosemary in my garden (finally flourishing after two years of being a twiglet) and sage, diced the herbs with the anchovies and added the dijon and mixed it all in. Rolled up small balls which I baked for about twenty minutes on 180 degrees. I then set them aside. There was a slight taste of anchovy at this stage and I was a little concerned but it wasn't an issue by the time it was done; neither girl noticed it at any rate and I do think the anchovies were the secret ingredient. You could make up to this point and freeze, next time I might make a double batch.

Closer to dinner time, I arranged the meatballs in my Le Creuset (my mum gave me hers years ago and I LOVE it), poured a good quality bottled pasta sauce over the meatballs (yeah yeah, could totally make your own ye who are more holy than me), thinned it with a little water and put it on a low heat on the stovetop, covered, to cook while the water boiled. We had it with a high fibre (low GI) spaghetti and some steamed but still crunchy green beans and carrots and grated parmesan cheese.

We had enough left over meatballs (even after Martin went back for seconds) for Martin, Fred and I to have toasted meatball sandwiches the next day. Una couldn't quite come at that, but she did love them the first time round.

You could totally "hide" more veggies in this if you are That Parent. The girls actually eat heaps of raw veg in their lunchboxes and after school and if nothing else will scoff salad at dinner, so it's never been an issue for us. I am not a fan of concealing veggies because I think then they don't actually learn good habits or get to appreciate the tastes, colours and textures of a wide variety of vegetables. Plus it's not the way I like to eat. Still if you were looking to hide your veg, I suggest beefing up the pasta sauce with some pureed carrot and/or pumpkin, soft grilled peeled capsicum or grated zucchini rather than mucking with the texture of the meatballs.

Thursday, February 10, 2011


This is the year Only Ever Always will FINALLY come out. I looked back through my blog and from what I can work out, I started writing it in September 2007 (I workshopped the first chapter as part of my Masters in early October), and it's publication date is August 2011. That makes four years. It is a book conjured from a constant series of transformation, and is radically changed in terms of theme and story from the first version though the central character remains the same and it has always had the same voice. I am expecting the copyedit in the next week. As the publication date draws closer watch out for some excerpts here on the blog. I don't mind saying that I am really happy with this novel.I have even composed a piece of music for it. The magical object in the book is a music box (actually two: the thing itself and the shadow of the thing). I am not sure what to do with the music however! I suppose a book trailer might be in order.

As for what I'm working on now:

I successfully applied for a Vic Arts grant last year, so for the first half of this year I will be writing short stories, which will hopefully elegantly link up to become a novel as one character - a four year old girl - will have a narrative arc, her character developing through the other characters' eyes. Yeah, well. It all sounds great in the application. I went over my application and thought, 'I would like to read that series of linked short stories slash novel.'

Instead I have to write it. Boo.

Still I am glad to have the space and time to develop a feel for short fiction. I have been reading and listening to short stories (remind me to blog about my Audible account sometime), and it's like a waltz, once you get the rhythm, it's not as hard as you'd think.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Steamed Eggplant Salad

This is my new favourite way to cook an eggplant.

1 large eggplant (or a few of those slender Japanese ones but we don't get them out here)
Sesame oil
Mirrin or a good sweetish vinegar (white or red balsamic, red wine) or lemon juice
Basil, coriander, flat leafed parsley or mint (I've used all of these with success)
Spring onions
A few tablespoons of sesame seeds

Steam the eggplant - cut in slices and put them in a single layer in a steamer for a couple of minutes (we don't own a steamer big enough so I put them in a single layer in my metal colander which I sit in our largest saucepan). I don't bother salting. It will be soft, soggy and a bit fally aparty when done.
Chop the slices into chunks when cool enough to do so.
While still hot, toss eggplant with sesame oil (you don't need heaps), soy sauce and vinegar or lemon juice to taste. Don't overdo the vinegar.
Toast sesame seeds dry in a nonstick frypan.
Scatter seeds, sliced spring onions and herbs and toss through the salad. Serve warm or cold.

Martin and I have this as part of a bento style meal on a night when the girls might eat a snackplate type meal (say: fishfingers, crudites, bread and butter). I might stirfry some bokchoy (which I would also toss with soy and sesame seeds - hey, I loves them). For protein we might have some tempeh cooked in honey and soy, or a boiled egg or even say a single pork schnitzel sliced thinly and divided between the two of us. Something we always have with it are buckwheat noodles in a broth. We use a spiral instant buckwheat ramen packet that comes with a broth mix. It's delicious and makes plenty for two.

Friday, February 04, 2011

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Month of Poetry: The End

In a blog post last July I said I wished I had more time to think in poems.

Well, the month of poetry is over, and I wrote 13 poems, which is 12 more than last year. I had various interruptions, sleeplessness, heat, family outings and a 2 week holiday in the middle (as well as the silencing sadness of the Queensland floods) but I achieved what I wanted from the project which was more blog posts and just "thinking in poems". I have read more poetry, bought more poetry and thought about poetry a lot this last month so all in all I would call it a great success, especially since the poems document a time in my life that is so very fleeting. I am hoping to keep it up this year with the slightly more manageable task of a poem a week.

For the record, this one's my favourite.