Friday, 28 December 2012

Now for the New Year

My two younger children and their offspring departed this morning, and thus I have been washing all the bedding, and finding pieces of jigsaws, a Christmas book left behind, pieces of wrapping papers and all sorts of Christmassy odds and sods.

They all arrived late on Christmas afternoon, so there was no visit by Santa Claus to this abode. I think Dr P must have scared him off - he was a Bah! Humbug sort of person about Christmas. Sad, really. His spirit must be lingering still.

I managed a modest Christmas dinner, a stuffed turkey breast, which was quite delicious. In the olden days, when I was a child, I can't remember anyone ever mentioning turkey. Turkeys were strange, foreign and American. Chicken, or chook, as we called it, was a luxury, something we ate only twice a year, at Christmas and Easter. We had no idea then of how common and ordinary a meal chicken would become.

My maternal grandparents kept chooks, mostly for the hens and the eggs. From time to time new chickens would appear, pretty little balls of yellow fluff, which would soon be replaced by rather unsightly and unflattering white, brown or black feathers. My grandfather, who had migrated from the island of Korcula at the age of 16, firstly went to New Zealand, and some years later arrived in Australia. I don't know much about his early life. We only ever got the barest outline. He was an immensely strong man, and I think he came to Australia as the strong man in a circus. He stayed in Australia, and met and married my grandmother. They were poor. Practically everyone was. My grandmother told us how sometimes she would have to pawn furniture in order to buy food.

Years later, one of my sisters and her husband and I visited the island, and found some cousins. It was a wonderful and moving visit.

In those days most people had fruit and vegetable gardens. Food was very plain. Perhaps I inherited some of those genes, as I have always loved growing plants and foods. Although, my grandfather had the advantage of all that chook manure, and thus his results were much better than mine. Despite having moved to the inner city of Sydney, with a microscopic garden, I have squeezed into my garden space a bay tree, which flourishes the way they are supposed to, a kaffir lime, a lemon verbena, lemon grass, parsley, rosemary, a curry leaf tree, and mint, and am struggling to grow cumquats. It always seems possible, and desirable, to squeeze in one more plant.

I have no idea what the selection criterion was,  but come the appointed time, my grandfather would kill  a chicken, which apparently required a certain amount of stalking of the unfortunate bird. My uncle, generally a rather taciturn man, could on occasion be persuaded to give his impression of his father stalking, catching and slaughtering the unfortunate bird. However my grandfather's hands were too large to fit inside the cavity of the bird, and so my unfortunate grandmother had to clean out the innards. This put her off chicken.

Having roast chicken twice a year was most exciting, We all wanted the leg. My mother used to tell us, somewhat tersely, the a chicken was not a centipede.

Which reminds me of the old joke: what did one male centipede say to the other male centipede as the female centipede walked by?
Nice pair of legs, pair of legs, pair of legs...

My youngest grandchild is a grazer, who helps himself. Food is good if it can be regarded as a snack. If named as a meal,  it becomes a very suspect dish.

You can't be too careful. Especially if chicken is an everyday dish.

Monday, 24 December 2012

Happy Christmas and let blessings abound.

My front porch has now been swathed with tinsel. A gesture. Wrapping tinsel around railings does not come naturally to me, although decorating the interiors, choosing the furniture, the pictures and the ornaments produces a lovely result (or so I believe).

Lots of houses nearby have been decorated  far more beautifully. They look good, and of course contribute to the spirit of Christmas.

At the market on Sunday I found a hand-crocheted tablecloth, in white cotton, in perfect condition. I bought it for a mere $20. It is now on my dining table, awaiting the Christmas festivities. I have a smaller one, which my grandmother made for me, about 50 years ago, and I feel rather guilty, but it does not fit the dining table, which seats eight. Such beautiful, detailed work. All of a sudden, great quantities of crocheted or embroidered linen are to be found at markets. I'd love to know their provenance.

This morning I dashed out to buy more food. My local grocery shop does not stock moderately priced mineral water. So I ventured into the depths of the adjacent suburb. This proved a useless endeavour, as there was nowhere to park. Mineral water is heavy so I did not want to have to lug it too far, but even the areas of too far had no parking spaces.

Therefore I set out for my usual shopping centre. As did everyone else. There were men guiding traffic in and out of the parking lot. Much to my surprise, I found a spot quickly, and ventured into the very crowded supermarket.

Despite the crowds and the queues, everyone was smiling, courteous, friendly and happy. Nobody growled, or looked impatient. It felt so good. I love it that we all share these joyous festivities together.

My provedore had apparently run out of raspberry gelato, making me make do with a tub each of mango and passionfruit, but cream could not be found. Therefore I went to my very local shops, and found a carton of cream. (This is just in case I make a pavlova.) The man next to me at the dairy cabinet was on his mobile to his wife, checking out just what sort of cream she wanted bought.  The top of the dairy cabinet is way above my height, but these days they have placed a stool there for the short and tiny to clamber upon and thereby search for cream, etc. So I offered a carton to the man, who was tickled pink. In other casual conversations, milk varieties were discussed, but no one seems to know what permeate is. I remain puzzled.

As everyone was so good-tempered and friendly, I thought I would pop into places like the bank and the pharmacy, and wish them all a happy Christmas. They liked this.

I discovered from Molly that the cake tin she used was a bundt tin. I had never heard of its name, although I have seen such tins.  I looked them up on the internet and discovered a myriad of such tins, full of swirls and curves and odd angles. Most impressive, they were, but daunting, and it seemed to me that turning out the baked cake from a bundt tin was fraught with dreadful possibilities. Tell me it is not so!

 All the ironing is done. I cooked a lamb curry and will eat some of it tonight. Tonight or tomorrow I must wrap parcels. My son and daughter won't arrive until late afternoon. Apparently my granddaughter feels hard done by because I buy her things instead of giving her gift cards or money. Life can be tough, right? As it happens this year she will have both.

There are lots of interesting books to continue reading. In Melbourne I found one by Munro Price, The Perilous Crown, about the period in French history from the fall of Napoleon to the 1848 revolution. French history is not something I have read much about, and this book is quite riveting. I also found, at the local market, the final volume of the diaries of Victor Klemperer, covering 1945 to 1959. The three volumes of his diaries document his life in Germany from 1933, giving chapter and verse of the appallingly detailed and merciless discrimination, persecution and extermination of  the German Jews, followed by postwar life in the German Democratic Republic. I love secondhand books. They really facilitate excessive buying.

In addition, I have another couple of books on Dorothy L Sayers, a fascinating, and erudite writer, a book on the trials of Margaret Clitherow, martyred in the reign of Elizabeth 1, a collection of essays by Simon Schama, Scribble, Scribble, Scribble, a couple of books by Niall Ferguson, Empire,  and The War of the World,  Margaret Atwood's The Year of the Flood, Simon Garfield's On the Map, David Sacks' The Alphabet, and some other novels and biographies. These should keep me busy. There is plenty to read, and my concentration and attention span have been improving. There is always the atlas to be perused, not to mention the provocations and irritations of the daily newspaper.

And there is the blogging world. Which is such a comfort.

Thank you, all you kind commenters and friends, for your comforting and encouraging words. I still feel gloomy, but realise that all this must be borne, and perhaps one way of coping is to lower my hopes and expectations, and withdraw to some extent. One of my sisters rang this evening. We spoke civilly, but neither of us mentioned 'the war'.

Happy Christmas to all of you out there. I am with you in spirit.

Saturday, 22 December 2012

A moan

Back home after the trip for the family gathering, I am feeling very alone, and not part of anything or anyone's life. Inevitable, after so many years living far away from most of the family. My attempts to say to my sisters that I wished they had visited me, in the almost two years since Dr P's death, (except for the occasion of his funeral), did not meet with any positive responses. They regularly visit our older sister, with dementia, who lives closer to them, and who does have her husband and other family nearby, but it seems that visiting me is too far, too expensive, too inconvenient. and not important. I feel that I have had to put in more effort than they have done. And yes, I am jealous.

I can see all the reasons why this is so, and will remain so, but I like it none the better for all that.There seems nothing I can do to change it, or to communicate better, so I feel like giving up and becoming quite reclusive. I suppose that Christmas makes one feel more alone and vulnerable.  Simply saying that none of them had visited me in these two years did not bring about a sympathetic response. Too far, too busy, could not afford fares, too many other commitments, etcetera.

When people have asked whether I would move away from here, it does seem to me that re-establishing myself elsewhere would be very difficult. Making a new life elsewhere, at this stage of life, seems too difficult.

So I am sunk in sadness and depression. And self-pity. And I know that I just have to make the best of it. As a widow, I realise I am not important to anyone any more. I am, I hope, a realist, but it does not taste any better for all that. Time to toughen up, it seems, and to build a more effective shell. And to get on with my life, and to cut myself off from such negative feelings.

I will try.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

It's snowing down south

And these days it is snowing up North, too. What has the world come to? (I hear you cry!)

In the days of my long distant and incredibly repressed youth, underwear was precisely that. It was not supposed to be seen. It was Under what you wore.

In those days women wore petticoats. Now, it is such a long time since I had such a garment that I do not remember why we wore petticoats. Perhaps it was to prevent any possibility of skirts being sheer enough to permit any sort of glimpse of the female body. A petticoat prevented any such glimpses.

There were two kinds of petticoats: the full slip and the half slip. Half slips were easier, but were totally reliant on elastic in the waists,  and sometimes they took heed of the laws of gravity (that is to say they tended to head for the earth, rather than that they were frivolous in their very nature). When the disgraceful event occurred of a petticoat becoming visible, that is to say, below the hemline of the outer garment, to wit, the skirt, a helpful female would whisper, or mutter, somewhat sotto voce, 'It's snowing down south.' This would produce an embarrassed and surreptitious sort of wriggle, as the guilty female thus addressed would hoist the offending petticoat upwards, in defiance of the laws of gravity, so confidently propounded by Newton, although probably totally in ignorance of the implications for female underwear. Such wriggles were quite common, and I wonder whether the males within cooee were aware of the cause and the nature of such phenomena.

I have no idea whether the petticoat still exists, having long since abandoned them as a necessary or desirable item of female garb. However, old strictures die hard, and there lurks within me an ineradicable conviction that Underwear ought not to be seen, even fleetingly, let alone on  permanent display.

And if your bra was at all visible, this was totally embarrassing and shameful. Straps were to be concealed, and the rest of the infrastructure even more so. Goodness me, you could not even lean forward, in case a glimpse of the contents of the bra became apparent. Your boyfriend would reprimand you and say 'They are mine!' These days the reaction would be, what cheek, but I lived in less liberated times, and it took a while for such thinking to change.

These Days (what a Dated Expression this is!)  the world and the worm have turned, and mores have been totally abandoned and contradicted.

 It seems that underwear must be visible at all times. I suppose it saves a lot of people, both male and female, the trouble of wondering What Lies Beneath. For there it all is, in full display.

Bra straps. Not just the straps but that which they hold up. There is not much place for imagination or guesswork any more. And sometimes panties being evident either above or below the boundaries of the outer garments.

I have to keep slapping myself, metaphorically, to stop myself tapping some young (or not so young) thing on the shoulder and saying, 'Excuse me, dear, but your bra straps are showing'. Still less can I opine that it is 'Not a good look!'

Is it, in fact, these days, a good look? Is it sexy?

Does everything have to hang out?

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

What to do? Bah, Humbug.

Everything is winding down for the year. I am not sure I approve of this, however inevitable it may be, as one's attention must be turned to consideration of celebrating Christmas. I am very out of practice at this, as Dr P did not celebrate it at all, and perhaps in some ways his attitude was contagious.
Never mind. My character must be stiffened, resolutions be made, and preparations made.

I have done the cake baking, not that anyone except myself cares about that. Cake baking in such  celebratory mode is good fun, character and tradition building, part of our glorious heritage,  etcetera. If it is good enough to buy artificial Christmas trees, lots of tinsel, and all manner of Ho Ho Ho things, some of us actually like to think about why we celebrate the birth of Jesus, and to consider our historical heritage and what we (or I) consider to be good, and probably better than various other traditions.

Mind you, when I broach such topics of the religious significance of Christmas, my children say things, like 'Well, you did not bring us up in your religious tradition'. They are right. No, I did not, but it makes me sad to see children regarding Christmas as a massive opportunity to be given heaps of toys. Acquisitiveness starts early these days.

And I absolutely hate the way big business advances each festival relentlessly months before there is any need to. Christmas things appear in early November. The amount of sheer tizz per square metre is incredible. Quantity is everything.

By mid-January there will very likely be hot cross buns in the bakeries. And lots of chocolate Easter eggs.

Perhaps I can try and get the grandchildren to learn some carols. I need some careful thought, and some helpful suggestions.

Perhaps I will buy a small tree, even if it is a European one. I may even decorate with nativity scenes, and candles.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Christmas cake

Today I cooked a Christmas cake. This was a very illogical thing to do, as there is really no one to eat it except myself, and eating one whole very large Christmas cake cannot be regarded as being good for you. My (foolish) children don't like Christmas cake. But I have always liked making Christmas cakes. In the days of yore I used to make three different recipes.

Last year, of course, I did not have an oven that worked, and there was no point in replacing it until it was clear whose oven it was going to be. Once that question was settled, I bought a new oven. It is not perfect and I have not tested it extensively.  Today was quite a test for it, and until the cake is sampled, it will not be clear whether all is well in my kitchen.

This cake requires a lot of work. Firstly, the ingredients have to be bought. These days it is quite difficult to buy fruit cake ingredients. It is said that 'young people' do not like fruit cake. I cannot think why not. The other irritating thing is that supermarkets these days have reduced the quantity in their packages - 200 grams instead of 250, etc. What profiteering bastards they are. You have to buy more or less than you need, hissing and fuming in consequence. I had to check the pantry to see which spices and essences I needed. It was necessary to buy a couple of spices - of course, once I got back home, I found I did indeed have some nutmeg, so now there is a nutmeg glut in my pantry. How much nutmeg does one use in any given year, and how long does it last? I wonder am I the only person who takes forever and an age to find things in the pantry?

Having bought all the ingredients yesterday, I set about preparing the fruit, so as to sprinkle them all with brandy and leave them to absorb it. Then today, once I was home from my class, I prepared the cake.

The recipe uses 12 egg yolks and 6 egg whites. It took quite some time to separate the eggs, and naturally a couple of eggs did not separate.

Sine Dr P died, I have used hardly any eggs, and indeed have had to discard some from time to time. This time I carefully checked to make sure that none of the eggs I used were stale. I now have 6 egg whites to use up, so naturally I have to make a pavlova. I will take it along to the knitting and crochet group morning tea this Friday, suitably decorated. You cannot just waste 6 egg whites.

Then I had to line the cake tin. This took longer than you would think. Three layers each of newspaper, brown paper and baking paper. All neatly cut out, placed in and around the cake tin, and stuck together. Next all the ingredients had to be combined.

This cake is very large. Once the fruit is added, the mixmaster has to be abandoned, and the mixture combined manually. I have a Huon pine spurtle, which is a great kitchen aid. Finally 6 egg whites have to be beaten until stiff, and folded in, and then it all must be placed in the cake tin. It is all elementary, my dear Watson, but it all takes a while.

This cake cooks very slowly - about five hours, and the aroma is quite heavenly.

As I finish for the day, the cake sits cooling on the kitchen bench. I think I will take half the cake to the family gathering in a couple of weeks, and the rest will have to be consumed very gradually. Too much cake is bad for the figure.

Given that for the past two years I have done practically no cookery, it does seem to me that to have embarked on this foolish marathon Christmas cake baking means that some emotional recovery is occurring.

Let it be so.

Sunday, 2 December 2012

The fruits of labour

What a funny old week it has been. It has ranged from an appointment with the skin specialist, who sprayed me with liquid nitrogen in a few places, such as the face and head, thus disfiguring me for the next week. Fortunately nothing serious was found.

Less seriously, there has been a prolonged struggle to fit a new squeegee on to my mop. I have had to retire defeated. Although I set out to buy a new mop, with an easier was of replacing the sponge, it transpired that there was actually no alternative. They are all the same design. This provoked bitter thoughts about how such things are designed, probably by males who never actually mop the floor themselves, or, indeed, have ever had to replace the sponge. My fingers are not nimble enough to put in the little screws, which are too close to the edge. Perhaps a better model may be found if I ever get to the Great Hardware Shop in the Sky. I would not bet on it, though. Not that I ever do bet.

Prodded and inspired by a friend, who is a very competent perfectionist, and who is rich (she has just replaced her perfectly good Mercedes for an even better model), I have been attending to my tiny garden. She said my front verandah looked awful, and I should fix it all up. Hindered only slightly by the need to find new pots which I could actually lift and move about, I have repotted and moved things around the very limited available space, in the front, the back and the atrium space in the middle of the house, now made relatively glorious by the new drain fashioned by Fernando. I bought two fuchsias and a geranium, pruned the sorry looking palms, and now hope for the best, even despite the fact that the weather is going to get very hot. What I would really like is a Wollemi pine. However they are not available anywhere handy to me.

This is such a very urban area, with tiny gardens, that the few nurseries nearby tend to have very little variety. The local markets offer a better selection and I bought a new cumquat. The trees I have been harvesting for the last umpty years have been cut down - more and more apartments will be built on this hitherto derelict site (redeemed only by the cumquat harvest) - a devastating blow to my marmalade making career. So I bought a small tree. Of course I will be dead long before it gets to a size which would give a sufficient yield of fruit, but one must live in hope. The next search is for a pot large enough to accommodate the cumquat.

In between all this excitement, there has been a book fair, to which I have hied several times, making purchases on each visit,  as well as picking up another several at the markets. There is a lot of reading to be done, but now that I am on my own, I do read much more, and with better concentration.

Actually instead of all this book and plant buying, I should turn my attention to the study, selection and purchase of a new vacuum cleaner. It does not sound like nearly as much fun....