Friday, December 30, 2011

New Year's Eve And Sambal Ikan Bilis

We're not doing much for New Year's eve. It's been a very busy couple months. We're all overstressed, overtired, and some of us are overcommitted. We're staying in, and watching movies in The Cinezone.

I picked up See No Evil, Hear No Evil  - the classic Wilder/Pryor comedy in which Richard Pryor is blind, Gene Wilder is deaf, and both of them are suspects in a murder case.  Also got Ghost Town, with Ricky Gervais. And Cowboys Versus Aliens, with Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig. That should be enough to keep Natalie happy.

Extending the theme, though. I got Aliens Versus Ninjas for me and the boys, and Repo Men (the Jude Law/Forrest Whittaker version) as well. We are well set up, I think. There's beer, ginger beer, cider, champagne, and tonnes of popcorn. Yay!

Excitingly, when I asked Nat what she'd like for dinner, she plumped for Nasi Lemak. This is an old Malay favourite of mine, usually served at breakfast. The best bit is the dreaded Sambal Ikan Bilis, served in spoon-sized portions along with lashings of coconut rice, peanuts, red onions, boiled eggs, and veggies.

I won't try to describe Sambal Ikan Bilis. Instead, I'll give you the blow-by-blow cooking process.

1: Obtain ingredients - two packets of dried anchovies; one large handful of dried chillies; tablespoon minced garlic, tablespoon minced ginger, three tablespoons tamarind paste, two tablespoons sweet soy sauce, oil for cooking, star anise bud, two medium brown onions, dollop of shrimp paste (belacan).

Consider the flavour mix: salty, pungent dried fish. Spine-tinglingly sour tamarind paste. Caramel-sweet/salty kecap manis (sweet soy.) Ginger, garlic, onion.... and brutally powerful dried chillies.

Drink some beer while considering this.

Put oil in the wok along with ginger, garlic, and star anise. Fry the spices until the smell rises. Now throw in your anchovies, and stir them until they turn light-brown and crispy. Remove, and drain.

Coarsely chop the chillies. Put them in the oil, and fry until the scent rises. Choke. Turn on the range hood. Add the shrimp paste. Gag. Have another beer. Open several windows.

Add the onion, the tamarind paste and the sweet soy. Ask the children to open the doors. Cough. Drink more beer. Stir the spice paste. Weep. Blow nose.

Natalie comes down the stairs, asks what's going on. Gets a deep breath. Bursts into a fit of coughing and weeping, flees outside. Orders children -- all of whom are now coughing, sneezing and gagging  -- outdoors with her.

Stir paste. Drink beer. Weep. Sneeze. Cough. Stir and cook until the spice paste is thick and dark and viscous. Throw the crispy anchovies back into the mixture and stir until they're coated.

Turn off the burner. Grab another beer, run outside and collapse on the deck sucking in lungfuls of clean air. Listen to Natalie complain about being unable to go back inside for several minutes...

... return indoors. Eat a spoonful of wonderful, sour-sweet-salty-SUPERCHILLISPICY crunchy dried fish and onions and spice paste. Grab beer. Drink beer. Eat coconut rice. Weep. Blow nose. Eat more Sambal Ikan Bilis, despite the pain. Howl like a demented hippopotamus.


Happy new year to you all.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Summer Lassitude

Oh, the hot and heady days of summer. 21 degrees today, 22 yesterday... even Natalie cracked this evening, and complained that the day had been 'hot and muggy'. I made her say it again, just so I could laugh at her. She's always complaining about the cold down here, so to hear a whinge about a 'hot' day of 22 degrees is pretty damned funny.

I remember growing up in Cairns, in far North Queensland. There was one radio station that we could pick up: commercial channel 4CA. Frequency 1010... I remember because the awful fucking jingle went "Ten ten four --- see ayyyyy!"  It was a horrible fucking radio station, broadcasting on AM as they all did at the time. Played mostly shit from the sixties while I lived up there in the seventies... that, and top forty crap. Yechh.

One thing I recall very clearly, though: the incessant advertising for the first shopping-mall built in Cairns: Raintrees Shopping Town. The radio announcers always brought it up the same way, reading off some terrible goddam script doubtless nailed to the wall: "...Raintrees Shopping Town, where it's always a cool and comfortable twenty-two degrees..."

Yeah. Aircon - the wonders thereof. That was a big selling point for the place up in Cairns. Funny enough in retrospect. Even funnier now that I live somewhere that the locals start to sweat and move slowly when the temperature gets to twenty-two.

Ahhh, nostalgia. Or the opposite, actually. What's the opposite of nostalgia? What word describes that emotion you feel when you think back to your childhood and shudder, and swear you'll never go back there again? Not so much Cairns, of course. It's not a terrible place. But for some reason, nostalgia gives me the creeps - to the point where my mind actively rebels against trying to go back and relive 'old glories', or whatever the proper term is. Been there, done that: it was fun, but now I'm doing something else.

 What else? Well, what with the cricket on the choob (a good Test, so far. Better if the Aussies had held some of those tricky catches, or if Peter Siddle hadn't overstepped at a vital moment - or if the umpires hadn't screwed the pooch on Mike Hussey's dismissal) and the post-Xmas lassitude, it was a good day for laziness. Therefore, in honour of the good Prof Boylan, I devised a new, summer-time drink.

One of the advantages of being large, hairy, blokey, and well trained is that one can generally drink whatever the fuck one wants without having to worry about being harassed. These days, if I walked into a country pub and demanded a campari and soda with a splash bitters and a little pink paper parasol, please - well, there might be a silence in the place. But I know that silence. And I know how to stare it down, give it a shit-eating grin, and express without words just exactly what will happen to the unnecessarily silent individuals if they so much as look cross-eyed at me. Absolutely no words necessary.

That being the case, I'm quite happy to drink some very girly concoctions from time to time. Generally without the paper parasol, but that's just because I dislike any stupid bits and pieces that get between me and my drink. Like chunks of fruit, for example. Chunks of fruit do not belong in an alcoholic drink.

On the other hand, properly treated, fruit can be a real advantage. Which brings me back to the bit with Prof Boylan, who recently advised me to make raspberry Vodka. (Which I have. Thank you.)

I have also made raspberry sorbet, much to the delight of my wife and kids. A very simple recipe, what with all the raspberries we've got at the moment -- a litre or so of strained raspberry juice and pulp, some sugar, a couple egg-whites, and a half-hour or so in the ice-cream maker. Oooooh, yeah. Good.

Trouble is, sorbet doesn't really store well in the freezer. It loses its nice, smooth-slushy quality, and goes all icy and dry. Not nearly so nice to eat. On the other hand...

Make a gin and tonic. Make it nice and strong. Now, instead of ice, drop in three spoonfuls of raspberry sorbet, made as above. Drink. Listen to the happy song of your tastebuds as the alcohol goes into action. Make another. Drink that too. And then a third, what the hell. Mmmmmmmm. 

And in other news: I do believe the inimitable Mister Jay may be back in the country. At least, judging from the return address on the rather wonderfully horrible "Mandrake the Magician" movie-serial DVD that turned up in my postbox just before Xmas, somebody claiming to be the man himself is launching crap-bombs out of Canberra. Mmmm! Tasty! The boys and I have now watched two episodes. The excitement is... umm... yeah. We're gonna have to give it the Suave Guy treatment, I think.

Not that all of Mister Jay's efforts have been so craptacular. As a matter of fact, the boys and I are thoroughly in his debt. Not only did we get some marvellous postcards from Sweden, but not too long ago, some books turned up in the post:

Very, very cool choices. We're not quite up to this standard yet... but we will be. Yayyy! Welcome back, Mister Jay!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Happy Boxing Day!

Oh, great. Blogger has imposed it's "new look" on me. Now I have to figure out the whole setup again. I love it when these people decide to 'help' me.

Still. I suppose it's a free service. I get to suck it, basically.

Hey. Happy Boxing Day!

What - you didn't know it was Boxing Day? You thought it was Christmas? Ha! Poot to you! It's Boxing Day in the Flinthart household, and that's what counts.

No. This isn't a timezone thing. This is a "Nat's on call today" thing. We figured we could have Xmas yesterday, or tomorrow, to make up for Nat being called out. The Mau-Mau had the deciding vote. At first, she was horrified by the prospect of having Xmas on Genghis' birthday. The idea that he might get more presents than her was so awful that she was practically in tears... but when she was told the alternative was to wait another two days, she cracked almost at once.

It was a pretty good sort of Xmas. Low-key, as desired. Jake got a model rocket kit. Genghis got not one but two beautiful wooden, brass-bound chests, one with an inbuilt lock, one with a padlock. The inbuilt one contained a much-coveted set of polyhedral dice, for gaming. He immediately locked both chests and announced that his sister would never be allowed to look inside. Because that's what it's all about, right?

That's okay. The Mau-mau got a lockable diary, complete with Invisible Ink pen and UV light so she can read her own invisible notes.

We found Natalie a gun/toy into which she can load her iPhone. With the 'Alien Blaster' app downloaded, she can now wander around the place hunting invisible aliens and zapping hell out of them. It's fun to watch.

And me? Um... oh! I got a nifty Girl Genius badge and a Jackie Chan flick courtesy of my sister and her mob, and courtesy of the Mau-Mau I got the most marvellous set of action figures.

Okay. I lied about "marvellous". Here they are...

Natalie laughed like a drain. I did my best to keep a straight face.

Genghis found me a spice caddy. Jake got me a nice, clear pyrex teapot. I'm not sure what was going through the Mau-mau's mind... but she seemed to think the wrestling action figure playset was absolutely the best possible thing for me.

Never mind. I have a plan. It involves stop-motion animation... the Mau-mau will have cause to be proud of her gift.

The good thing about having Xmas on the eve is that the stores are open. I picked up a carton of Boag's St George, which will see me right for a while. Even down here in Tas, it's more or less hot. Yesterday maxed out at a fairly steamy 24C at 1500hrs - pretty much exactly when I was down in the raspberry patch, gathering goodies. Yeah... I know. That's not a patch on the Bad Old Days in Briz, but fuck that shit anyhow. 24C is plenty warm enough to make an icy beer very welcome after an hour or so of intensive berrypicking.

The bad thing about having Xmas on the eve is that the next day isn't Boxing Day. Nat's on call. I've got three restless kids, and another steamy, warm day to fill in without the aid of the Indians and the Australians doing battle at the MCG. Happily, various chunks of Lego sent by relatives (plus other intriguing presents) are still keeping 'em entertained. Long enough for me to type this, in any case.

So - have a good christmas, one and all. I hope it's not too hot for those of you in the south of the world, nor too cold for the north, and I hope that families and friends are around you, so you can end the year with peace and good will.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Oh, Humanity.

Every now and again, amidst all the universal assholery and madness, between the destruction and the despair and the unbelievable, aggressive stupidity, something else happens.

Sometimes it's something special: so meaningless, and yet so beautiful that the meaninglessness of it becomes glorious in its own way.

This is one of those things:

I'd have made a direct link of it... but for some reason, Blogger no longer permits that. I guess they want me to use their "updated Blogger interface".

Oh well. Enjoy the site, people. There's hope for humankind as long as this sort of madness remains. Ah. Here. Direct link.

 I must say: this new interface isn't very attractive.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Early Birthday Present - A Personal Insanity

Today is young Genghis' birthday party. It's about a week early, but what do you do when your kid is born on Xmas eve?

He's getting a really cool party this year. He and nine of his friends (including his brother) are off to the new Laser Tag facility in Launceston, for a few hours of running, screaming, jumping, and laser-zapping. I expect massive carnage. I also expect a bunch of very, very tired boys.

Once we're done, we'll head back here for the triple-layer chocolate cake with peppermint marshmallow, and a bit of a backyard barbecue with the firepit and all. In the meantime - well, Genghis got permission to open one birthday present. You can see it in the pictures above.

Obviously, I've been working at it for a while. To my variously Medieval friends: yeah, I know the links are too large, and it's a bit funky around the shoulders. But you know what? That is one deliriously happy not-quite-nine-year-old boy there. And remember that the armourer who put that particular chain shirt together has no prior experience whatsoever.

Hooray for the Internet, eh? I poked around a bunch of websites, and found out how to make basic chainmail. After that, it was all just cutting and bending.

It's a bit scratchy, but the boy loves it. He hasn't taken it off. (Of course, that's going to be challenging. It's a close fit. He'll have to tip himself up and shimmy out of it. I may even remove another couple of links.)

Happy birthday, kid!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Evils Of Leap Years

The Mau-Mau, like most six-year-old girls, is not hugely endowed with patience. Especially when it comes to things like, oh, Christmas. Or birthdays, for that matter.

The little pile of presents under the tree is tormenting her. It's as though it has its own gravity well, that works purely on the Mau-mau. She can't pass it by without being magically drawn to it, then frozen in the spot, staring longingly at the colourful paper and the enticing shapes.

Of course, the fact that it's Genghis' birthday just before Xmas pisses her off mightily. She and Genghis are frequently mortal enemies, and she strongly resents anything that happens to him or for him which she feels should properly be directed to her. By way of example: as we drove into Launceston today, to do an afternoon of gymnastics classes at the PCYC, a conversation developed vis-a-vis birthday cakes. And since I'm the chief caker-baker in this house, naturally I asked Genghis what kind of cake he might like....

Genghis:"Oh. Well. A multi-layered cake would be nice. With different flavoured icing between the layers."

Me: "Aha. Okay. Well - what kind of cake should it be?"

Mau-mau: "I had a cake with layers on my sixth birthday. It was so nice!"

Me: "Did you? I don't recall."

Genghis: "She did. You made it. It was really awesome. There was a big cake on the bottom, and a little one on that, and a littler one at the top, and it was all covered with white icing and sliced strawberries."

Mau-mau: "Yes! Oooh, I loved that. My sixth birthday was really good."

Me: "Okay. Multi-layer. But... you want chocolate cake?"

Genghis: "That would be good. With chocolate icing outside. Can I have fizzy lemon icing in between?" (This is a reference to a culinary invention of mine: yes, I created fizzy cake frosting.)

Me: "I don't think so. I don't think it would be good with the chocolate."

Genghis: "Oh. What about mint? And raspberries?"

Me (my face is curdling at this point.) "Umm. Look. A few mint leaves with a raspberry dessert is one thing. But peppermint icing and fresh raspberries... I'm not ready to do that."

Genghis: "Oh."

Me: "I tell you what, though. I could do layers of peppermint marshmallow in between the layers of cake, and chocolate icing over the whole cake. How does that sound?"

Genghis: "Peppermint marshmallow? Oooh! That sounds good!"

Mau-mau (infuriated): "Are you trying to make your birthday better than mine?"

I'm not kidding. Those were her exact words. So there was a brief Dad interlude in which I explained quite pointedly that I was going to try just as hard for Genghis as I did for her, and that he deserved the best birthday we could manage... and if she didn't like it, she could spend the day in question in the Time-Out area under the stairs.

She didn't think much of that option.

Anyway. Later in the evening, after dinner, the Xmas tree once more worked its evil magic upon her. She stood and stared, sighing. And finally, she announced that she just couldn't wait for Christmas. And how many days was it now?

Natalie growled, and said we weren't having Xmas on Xmas anyhow, since she's working that day. The Mau-mau was pretty upset by that, especially when she found we couldn't have it the day before because of... wait for it... Genghis' birthday!

Anyway. When the fuss died down from that, she decided she had to know how many days it was until her own birthday. At this point, Natalie rolled her eyes and pointed out that the Mau-mau had first asked that question the very day after her last birthday. So Genghis piped up, and said that obviously, when she first asked, the answer was 365 days.

Unthinkingly, I pointed out that 2012 is a leap year, and therefore the correct answer was 366.

Uh-oh. A truly remarkable frown appeared on the Mau-mau's face. What was this about an extra day? Had someone put another day between her and her birthday?

Natalie tried to dismiss the topic, but the Mau-mau wasn't having any of that. Footstomping ensued. Genghis tried his almost-nine-year-old best to explain leap years, but that was no good either. The Mau-mau shouted at the top of her voice: "I hate Sleep Years!"

The resulting wave of hilarity didn't help the situation. In fact, it cranked her up no end; she was infuriated that we'd caught the mistake, and insisted she'd really said 'leap year' but her mouth was full of pencil, or something. And then she really let loose...

Apparently, Leap Years exist solely as a conspiracy to offend her by keeping her farther away from her birthday. That one extra day in the calendar is a deliberate, calculated attempt to destroy her life and her sanity. That's right, folks: you heard it here first. The sole reason there are Leap Years is so that my daughter has to wait an extra day between birthdays every four years or so...

You can probably guess the amount of sympathy that her outrage generated. The whole episode ended with her stomping off to bed, and having a good old weep into her pillow.

I'll fix it tomorrow. I'll tell her she's slept through the extra day, now, and everything's back on track. I'm sure that will work perfectly., if only I could figure out how to restore my own failing sanity so easily.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

End Of Year School Shenanigans

Yesterday the Mau-Mau had her 'Early Childhood End Of Year Assembly'. There was much dancing at the prep-to-year 2 level. Happily, I managed to avoid that.

There was a price, of course. In order to dodge the Early Childhood school assembly (and please, folks... I've had two kids already go through all that three times each. And this is the Mau-Mau's second such assembly. So I do believe I've earned the right to duck one.) I had to take Genghis into Launceston for his double bass lesson.

Not so bad, right? Oh... but it's Christmas season. So... can you just take this PDF calendar to a printery and get them to run up four or five copies? Oh! And don't forget, we need something for little cousin S. And big cousin Z. Ooh - and here's a prescription that needs to be filled. Oh, wait: we need anti-fungal stuff for the fishtank. Can't get that in Scottsdale, no. And the Mau-Mau still hasn't got the Barbie doll she was promised when she won "Best Decorated Bicycle" in the Scottsdale Xmas parade last week. Can you just swing past K-mart and get the one with rainbow wings? Oh, and we need some gold and silver pens for the kids to make Xmas cards.

Meanwhile... I also got some T-shirts that I'm screen-printing for various folks. And I got Genghis another present. This whole birthday-on-Xmas-eve thing sucks.

I also found a remarkably clever present for Natalie. And one for the Mau-Mau. And one for Jake. We're staying low-key this year, though... have requested various relatives keep it minimal, and we're trying to focus more on family, and doing stuff together, and baking and decorating and stuff. Because, you know: I Have Had Enough Of This Christmas Crap, and so has Natalie.

So, that was most of my day yesterday. Five hours, including driving time of roughly an hour and a half. Mmm. Christmassy. I was so tired by the end of it all that I even skipped the weekly movie session with Bruce and the others... couldn't bear the thought of driving back into Launceston yet again. Besides, I needed the work time. Still do.

Today was Assembly Day for the rest of the school. Jake was set to play a cello piece. He was pretty comfortable with that. But far more nervous-making was the fact that my young flute student the Dill (of the Double-Banger family) was up to perform too. He'd not done that before, and he was pretty keyed up.

It went well, though. Or mostly. I'm afraid I made an ass of myself during the National Anthem. I've never seen the second verse before, you understand. I thought it was part of the Constitution that we only ever sing the first verse, and then we sit down and crack tubes. But no: the school, in a fit of misplaced patriotism, used its mighty digital projector powers to display the second verse on the wall so we could all sing.

Well. Almost all. I don't much like national anthems. But I was trying. And then I got to these lines:

For those who’ve come across the seas
We’ve boundless plains to share;

By now, you know my opinion on our pitiful government (past and present) and the way it treats refugees... most especially, those refugees who dare to arrive by (gasp!) boat. I'm afraid that when I got to those lines, I couldn't actually keep singing. Instead, I burst into laughter, defeated by the lovely irony of it all. Natalie frowned and shushed me... but it was too late. The damage had been done. I think I wanna print those lines on a couple of T-shirts, and send one each to Tony Abbott and Julia Gillard...

Still, what with all the enthusiastic singing going on, only a few people noticed my breach of protocol. And the boys played well. Jake is starting to make the 'cello sound like a real instrument, and The Dill did a very fair rendition of 'The Skye Boat Song', so everything ended neatly.

I ducked out before the awards. Natalie was staying, so I didn't figure I'd miss out. And lo - Jake got another 'academic achievement' award, and Genghis got an 'aim high' award. This latter is interesting: it's offered to the student who gets enthusiastically involved in activity and particularly, in discourse and discussion. Knowing Genghis as I do, I think I can imagine his version of 'enthusiasm', and 'discourse and discussion', and I strongly suspect that in his case, the 'aim high' award was actually a declaration of surrender by his poor, long-suffering teacher. She's done well this year, I must say. I hope she gets an easier lot next year!

We're getting down to the skinny end of things now. Just a few more school days. Genghis is having his birthday party on Saturday... no real choice about that, since we're running out of time. I've found a really brilliant way to handle the party this year, though, so I'm actually looking forward to that one.

Meanwhile, I've been gardening, printing shirts, doing up Xmas cards, wrapping presents, cooking, baking, reading for the MA, writing for the MA, writing on the MS... and even attempting to bring some order to my study.

I think my big project for the summer will be a clean-out and refurbishing of the top shed. I need a place to store the martial arts gear that doesn't involve crowding out my study - but until I manage to put bird-wire all around the eaves of the dojo-shed, anything stored up there is likely to get swallow-shit all over it, which pisses me off immensely. I also need to replace some of the old fibre-glass light panels in the roof with modern "laser-lite" plastic corrugated panels, but that's a bastard of a job: I have to cling onto a steeply pitched corrugated iron roof, over a drop of something like six metres down to a very unforgiving, flat, rocky clay surface. I don't like that at all.

But it's going to have to happen. I can't keep jamming things in this little study. I need more room. If I could shift all the martial gear up there without fear of birdshit, that would be a great start. And I could also move the shirt-printing stuff, and the glass-art stuff. And the sword training stuff too, which would make sense, because it could be with the rest of the martial gear.

That would leave me with only the computer, printer, router, video/camera/recording gear, the reference books, the martial arts library, the shelves of SF and fantasy, the language texts and exercise books, the musical instruments and musical theory/texts, the laminating and binding equipment, the games, the software, plus my personal collection of movies and music, and the sewing machine with all the cloth and the bits and pieces that go with it. Boy! I'd have so much room in my 3m x 4m study that I'd hardly know what to do with myself!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Bolt Writes For Crikey: Wants Marriage Equality

True story!

Okay, sure. It's Andrew Bolt's sister, Stephanie - not the Grand Fuckwit himself. But can you think of a better way to annoy the shit out of him than by recognising, publicising and respecting the excellent and intelligent writing of his married lesbian sister?

I can't. So... what are you waiting for?

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Summer Tastes Like...

Actually, right now summer tastes like raspberries. The work I did a few years back in putting in the canes is literally coming to fruition. I've given up on neat rows and carefully tied canes: there's a tall, spiny, shadowy bramble of raspberry canes, just right for kids to sidle into and get lost, and scratched, and sweaty - and absolutely loaded with beautiful, fresh, ripe, delicious raspberries.

It's not completely uncontrolled. There's a quarry in Launceston that will sell random slabs of flat rock from their operations. You can get a trailerload for about $30. I've taken a bunch of those rocks and just thrown them into the bramble, making winding, narrow pathways amongst the berry canes.

That'll do. We're sitting on fifty acres. Why the hell should I bother trying to constrain my raspberry bushes? I've got a fence around 'em for the wallabies, and a daggy old net that I'm going to have to replace in the next year or so which deters enough of the birds. We're currently getting about a kilo a day from the patch, and probably will do so for the next week or two. Shortly after that, I expect the first blackberries to kick in.

The kids are ecstatic. Natalie's happy. I'm happy. Raspberries are good. The canes keep coming up, expanding into new territory. Eventually, they'll break out of the fence - and I'll let them. If they can fend for themselves amongst the ravening wallabies and rabbits, then why shouldn't they?

In the meantime, I have raspberries. At supermarket prices, I have something like $40 or $50 per day of raspberries, and they're not mouldy, or over-ripe, or squished, or flavourless from cold storage. Faced with such a bounty, I have a Policy.

Naturally, we're eating a lot of simple, plain, ripe raspberries. Of course. But as a cook, since I have access to such a luxurious ingredient, I feel a real obligation to do the job right. So I'm playing around, and everybody's enjoying the outcome.

The photo at the top is my 'Raspberry Sandwich'. It's a very simple single-layer lemon cake baked in a broad, shallow dish. The cake gets cut into neat squares, and 'sandwiched' around whipped cream and oodles of lovely raspberries. The mint leaves on top are purely and simply because I can. I have an enormous mint bush in a half wine-barrel next to the main path to the door, and the green, fragrant leaves look groovy on top of all that luscious cake, cream and fruit.

That was Thursday. Friday I went to the cricket, and got back late. Yesterday I made an elegant, creamy raspberry mousse, which I served by heaping it with fresh raspberries, then drizzling melted dark chocolate over the lot. (And mint leaves. That really is a goddam big mint bush. Must figure out more things I can do with mint.) We had Malay Chicken Rice first - the whole show, with the bowl of soup full of vegetables, then the fragrant twice-cooked chicken served with rice cooked in the chicken stock.

Then we followed it up with the raspberry mousse, and at that point, five children were convinced I am a God... and my wife is convinced I'm an incarnation of Satan, promoting furious gluttony upon hapless middle-aged women.

Anyhow: I'm looking for more interesting raspberry recipes. Anybody got a favourite of their own?

Friday, December 9, 2011

Six Hours Driving, Five And A Half Hours Of Cricket

...and was it worth it? Well - yeah.

We're being pretty low-key about Xmas this year. Frankly, Natalie and I are just tired of it, and the boys are old enough to be taking a more relaxed view of the whole show. The Mau-Mau is still young enough to be excited by the entire prospect, of course... but that kind of excitement can be adequately addressed with decorating Xmas trees and making seasonal treats, and pulling crackers, and so forth.

However, more or less as a result, we're kind of loosening the weave, and incorporating a few treats around Xmas. Not related, but timely, and fun. So when I discovered that the second cricket test between EnnZed and Oz was going to kick off in Hobart today - well, how could I resist? The boys love them some cricket, and I rather like the game too. Especially the test form. And Bellerive Oval is a pretty place that still has a proper Hill for the drunkards and the yobbos to sprawl upon indecorously.

So I dove online, and booked a few tickets. And then one more, because a friend of the boys' at school is also a big cricket fan, and has (like my two) never before been to a live match of any quality.

Hell of a drive, though. We took off at about 0730 this morning, and drove. And drove. And drove. And then we parked the car a few blocks from the Oval, and we walked. And finally, they let us in - although they told us we couldn't take our umbrellas with us. Weapons of terror, apparently. Or something.

Anyway, it was a very good day. The boys were thoroughly delighted. The weather was hot and bright for most of the day, and early in the piece there was a lot of action from the pitch - plenty of bounce and seam, and even a good amount of swing for a couple of the Aussie bowlers. As a result, the Kiwi wickets fell at a gratifyingly steady rate, and the boys got to cheer and jeer, and solicit autographs on the sidelines.

They made noises with freely distributed and sanctioned noisemakers. They gathered horrible little Milo Cricket balloons. They drank Powerade and ate sandwiches and fruit that we'd packed, and listened to the commentary on wee little free ear-radios provided by series sponsors Vodaphone. Whenever they got bored or hot, they'd wander off to another section of the ground, and then wander back when they were ready.

And I enjoyed myself, yes. I do like a bit of cricket, and I got to watch the match, as well as watching three young lads enjoy watching their very first test match, and I felt like a Decent Sort Of Dad, which is always rewarding.

A late rain shower delayed the start of the Australian innings, but they batted just long enough for Warner to hit a decent boundary, for Hughes to lose it to Martin in the slips yet again, and for Usman Khawaja to dodge, duck, weave, and pray his way through to 'not out' by the time the rain set in for real. By that time, we were ready to go anyway, so we packed up, reclaimed our umbrellas from the kindly buffoons in security, and launched ourselves into the traffic.

And may I just say: of all the events I have ever driven away from in cities all over Australia, getting away from Bellerive Oval is by far the most irritating piece of work. Hobart's traffic system was NOT designed for the kind of traffic dump you get at the end of a decent cricket match... and Bellerive is a cramped sort of suburb on a peninsula of sorts. The drive from Bellerive to the edge of the Hobart traffic region took nearly a full hour. I was less than happy.

So, that was the day. Six hours of driving. Lots of music on the radio. A decent day of cricket with a good performance from the Australians, and three very tired, very happy kids.

That's definitely a dose of true Christmas spirit, if you ask me.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

I Did Promise Video

Well, yesterday was The Christmas Parade here in sunny Dorset Parish, and Scottsdale. And of course, that means the yearly ju-jitsu demonstration.

The kids enjoy it. They get to show off in front of a crowd. The parents enjoy it: they get to watch the kids hurling each other about, chasing each other, wrestling, playing martial games, and going through set-piece defenses.

Most of all, the kids love the opportunity to break some pine boards.

Personally, I think board breaking is silly. But having seen how much the kids love it, and having seen how it changes their attitude when they get the chance to do it, I'm for board-breaking as a teaching element.

I don't think it teaches much in the way of technique. You do have to be able to generate a bit of power, sure. And you have to be balanced, and you have to hold your hand (or foot) correctly to prevent being damaged by the blow. But none of it is particularly difficult.

Despite that, it does teach one really important thing. It teaches people -- kids especially, but adults as well -- that they can step past limits that they currently take for granted. Not only that, but it's exciting and rewarding to go past those limits. It helps transform their thinking from 'oh, I don't know if I can do this' into 'ooh! I bet I could do this if I just try hard enough!'

Those of you who've been around this space will be aware that I regard that mental transformation as very possibly the single most important element of martial practice. Not everyone who comes to martial arts wants competition, or fitness, or self-defence. But everyone who learns to shift the mental bars, free themselves from their own doubts, and push their boundaries benefits tremendously. When you stop taking boundaries and limits for granted and start learning to exceed them, you enlarge yourself, you enhance your life, and you greatly improve your opportunities in every area. So: if breaking pine boards helps my young students acquire that mental attitude, then I will buy a whole goddam lumber mill, if the club finances hold.

Happily, we generally only need six or seven metres of good, wide, pine board.

Now. I believe I mentioned that this year I was going to try an interesting trick. I saw some footage of Jackie Chan doing a break, and he did it while holding an egg in his hand. That, I thought, was actually very cool. Breaking stuff is one thing. Breaking things while exerting sufficient control that a raw egg in the breaking-hand remains unharmed shows control, and skill.

I also promised footage. Well -- Natalie used a ratty little camera to shoot the event yesterday. I did, in fact, succeed (and finished up by holding up the egg, then breaking it to show the crowd it wasn't boiled, and swallowing the contents... which freaked them out even more than the actual board-break). So it wasn't very clear on the video.

Therefore, I set up again on the picnic table outside, and got Jake to man a slightly better camera for me. Here's the result.

Can't figure out how to make it show up as an embedded YouTube video. Sorry. If you're curious, you can click the link.