Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Getting the gang back together. I just saw this video of the Backstreet Boys performing at San Francisco Pride. This was a genius decision on the part of the organisers, because for me they've always been the queerest of the '90s boy bands. Maybe I'm just juvenile and can't get past the pun on their name. That pun. Also, they're singing 'I Want It That Way'. You know. That way.

But what really struck me about the video was the way that they started doing the dance moves – those incredibly stylised dance moves – but in a casual way.

It totally befits a group of thirtysomething men who, as wholesome, malleable clay in the pop music industry, had to rehearse those moves and execute them perfectly again and again on stages and in videos. It's muscle memory. But they're not wearing their absurd matching outfits now, and the industry has loosed its grip on them. The choreography isn't done with the manic enthusiasm of youth. There's a laid-back ease to it.

These routines are part of their shared history, like stories a group of old mates share and repeat at the pub, or the way a group of former school friends pool their half-forgotten memories of the old school songs, just for the pleasure of experiencing the moment again, together.

It got me thinking about our kinaesthetic shared memories: the movements we know so well and that by repeating, we can use to summon the pleasures of the past without the pain and discipline that went into acquiring that body knowledge.

I keep returning to these ideas. Sometimes I worry that I am too nostalgic. It seems perverse for someone like me, relatively young with little to mourn, to dwell so much on the past. Whereas Tony Judt, whose motor functions are being terminally claimed by ALS, is perfectly entitled to spend 1500 words musing on the foods of his childhood.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Writing Week. I've just spent a very pleasant week in a rented holiday house much nicer than my ordinary house. The occasion was Writing Week. I was so inspired by how productive I was during the one Leanne organised last year that I decided to organise my own.

We were a pretty mixed group, very different to last year's. We worked on academic projects and marking, grant applications, crafting, web articles and reviews. Josh wrote a lovely poem. Cate embroidered gloves. Lucy wrote 7,500 "good words" on her thesis and got all her marking done.

That is what my computer saw from our front verandah. We were on the narrowest part of the Bellarine Peninsula, looking out into an estuary. Early in the mornings the sunlight would shimmer across the water, reflecting the islands and reminding me, pretentiously, of the album artwork from Kate Bush's Aerial.

We all went on healthful walks to the beach and into town. Except Mark, who shamed us by going on healthful jogs. We could cross the road to the beach and see the Mornington Peninsula on the horizon. Behind the beach path were other, more secretive paths wreathed in greenery.

We cooked huge feasts. I ate better than I have in ages. We ate a helluva lot of lentils. There was an enormous TV mounted on the wall, and we watched Midsomer Murders while eating a Devonshire tea. I tried to whip the cream using the Jill Dupleix Method, which I can now tell you is RUBBISH, however we got the job done using Lucy's ingenious Shaky Jar Method. We also watched Short Circuit and MasterChef. Short Circuit is cheesier and more racist that I remember. I enjoyed watching that uptight lady get evicted from MasterChef after cooking a plate of steaming crap.

We went into town. The bakery had good pies, and the éclairs contained real cream. There was a pub we all referred to as Fawlty Towers. Another pub was offering "Faulty Towers The Dining Experience". Queenscliff is also really into nautical-themed stuff.

We visited the op-shops. Ben is holding a bag full of glass kitchen storage jars. Mark has a nasty right-wing book about how liberals have ruined America. Lucy (not pictured) bought several jumpers, a jaunty shirt, and a Margaret Fulton book of cream cake recipes (vive la Shaky Jar!) for 50c!

I bought a small white handbag – the old-fashioned clasp style I like, and large enough to hold a book – a navy scarf with a print of giant gold chains, and a book called Impostors about people who live a lie.

I had allocated myself a tremendous amount of work to get through on Writing Week:

Of this, I finished:

Not bad. I wish I had spent more time on the book proposal and less time on Enthusiast stuff, but I did want to clear the decks of a lot of review material. I was annoyed with how little music reviewing I got done, but I was pretty happy with how much film stuff I got through.

I am already feeling depressed to be back home in my pigsty of a room, at my cluttered desk. It was lovely to see Graham again; I missed him a lot but didn't want to make too big a deal of it for fear of being a crazy cat lady.

Luckily, he swiftly de-sentimentalised our reunion by soiling himself. Have you ever tried to clean shit off a squirming cat using a moist towelette? It is like wiping a baby's arse, if the baby had long fur, and bit and kicked and scratched you viciously the whole time.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Bread and butter pudding. Tonight I didn't have dinner because I ate lunch at 4pm. Instead I decided to go straight to dessert and make bread and butter pudding out of raisin toast crusts. It also used up an apple that was not really nice for eating raw any more.

I used this recipe as a guide, but I have to say it is made of bullshit and I diverged from it in quite a few ways. Of course I am not in the business of being a Food Blogger, but as you know I am a shit cook and so it is a triumph of epic proportions that I diverged from a recipe and the result was good. So I am gifting my triumph to you.

4 raisin toast crusts
4 regular bread crusts
enough butter to butter the crusts
1 apple
mixed dried fruit
2 tablespoons custard powder
1 tablespoon sugar
1 and a bit cups milk
brown sugar

As you can see, this recipe does not call for eggs because I used custard powder to create the custard part of the dish. So I guess it could be made vegan if you substitute Nuttelex for the butter, soy for the milk and whatever whipped nightmare vegans like to eat for the cream.

Put your oven on 180°C. Peel, core and quarter the apple and cut into 1cm slices. Stew these in sweetened water until they look like pie apple. While the apple is cooking, butter your bread crusts and cut each slice into quarters. Don't make the same mistake I did and cut the bread before realising you forgot to butter it, and then laboriously butter each bite-sized piece.

Mix the custard powder and sugar in a measuring jug then add 1 cup milk. Dissolve solids in milk, making sure to get rid of any lumps. Add a slug of cream if you feel like it.

Grease a loaf tin. The original recipe says to line the tin; do not do that unless you'd like to pick bits of soggy paper from your pudding.

Layer crust pieces in the bottom of the tin, alternating between raisin and regular bread. By this stage your apple should be cooked. Spoon half the apple pieces on top of the bread, adding some of the cooking syrup too. Sprinkle cinnamon generously on top; I think I was too sparing.

Sprinkle a generous amount of dried fruit mix on top. I used a mix containing sultanas, raisins, currants and orange and lemon peel, but you could use any dried fruit really – chopped-up dates or apricots might be nice.

Then layer again with more bread, apples, dried fruit and cinnamon, and finish off with a layer of bread. Douse this construction with your custard mix, splash over a little more milk for luck, and sprinkle brown sugar over the surface. You should err on the side of making it more liquidy rather than less as the bread really soaks up the liquid.

Put it in the oven until the top looks kind of brown.

Serve with cream. It doesn't look especially glamorous but really, bread and butter pudding is not meant to look spectacular – as the saying says, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. And it proved to be awesome!

This tin would serve four delicate eaters or three piggies. It's pretty rich, though, and it's just made with milk. D'you know, some of the recipes I looked up called for 300ml thin cream plus 300ml thick cream! Madness.

Also, in the supermarket earlier I overheard some chicky-babe telling her boyfriend that a tablespoon of Nutella is 1000 calories, and that four spoons constitutes an entire day's worth of energy. I used to eat that stuff right out of the jar when I was a teenager.

A peck of pickled peppers. In the summer of 2008-09, we decided to plant a vegie garden and I took it very seriously. We had a bed of tomatoes, a bed of lettuce, rocket, mint and coriander, and what I referred to as "the C-section" – cucumbers against the fence, capsicum in the middle and chilli at the front. Dan also insisted on planting an eggplant in a pot.

I did everything I remembered from successful gardens of the past: I forked blood and bone through the soil and mulched it with pea straw. I did the whole water-saving bizzo: bucket in the shower, decant into the watering can, water the plants. I tended to those plants as if they were my children, tenderly staking and trellising them when they needed it. Despite having paid for half the cost of establishing the garden, Dan was not really interested in maintaining it – not even his eggplant.

Keeping snails away was another of my horticultural vendettas. The coriander succumbed entirely to this and the mint only survived because I transplanted it to a stand-alone pot. The C-section also suffered; half the capsicum and cucumber seedlings were gnawed to death. The remaining plants survived long enough to provide me with some pitiful fruit.

Basically, the garden was hardly the bounteous food bowl I had envisioned and despite the soothing nature of tending to it, when it came time to plant for summer '09-'10, I just couldn't be bothered. I pulled out the pathetic tomatoes, although I did continue to water the C-section and Dan's neglected eggplant.

Once I got Graham in February '09, the watering was a pain in the arse. He's fascinated with running water and would inevitably paw excitedly at the plants while I was trying to water them. He also tore through the garden in his flights of kittenish excitement and uprooted all the remaining capsicums.

The only plants to have survived are two chillis… and Dan's eggplant. And they all bore fruit this year. Yes – even a tiny little eggplant! I chopped it up and had it in a pasta sauce. But the chillis are going from strength to strength. I picked this handful last week.

Obviously they are not yet pickled (I put some, finely chopped, in my homemade tinned spaghetti on Saturday night) and there are not enough to make a peck (someone else has done the hard maths on that), but there are certainly enough to keep a home cook happy.

Please also note my Burglar Bill-esque sleeve… "That's a nice peck of pickled peppers – I'll have that."

Friday, June 11, 2010

The worst poem ever. Just now I was walking down the street, and my goddamned brain came up with the opening lines to what could be, if ever completed, the worst poem ever. Managing to be both epic and banal, it begins with the promise of a bold new era but rapidly degenerates into embarrassing adolescent solipsism.

It's a time for feeling good
It's a time for feeling bad
It's a time for feeling all the feelings
That I've ever had

I can't get this inane rhyme out of my head now. God help me.

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