Monday, 25 April 2011

Nice Buns!

My Year of Baking continued today with a rather splendiferous, Easter-themed foray into Hot Cross BunsNow this was a drama in three parts:

Act I:  The Cast (and a little creative workshopping)

Gathering all of the ingredients before me on the kitchen bench, I proceeded to make the dough and you know what that means - yeast!  I have not worked with this little devil since a disappointing bread-making incident in Year 7 Home Economics, way before the world actually had breadmakers called Kenwood, Panasonic and Morphy Richards.  Nor was I about to be put off by some diametrically opposed instructions: the recipe called for the yeast to be mixed with water whilst the completely contradictory and carefree directions on the yeast packet informed me to basically just toss it in with the flour.  Anyway, after getting in amongst it and ending up with mighty sticky/dough-y fingers, my little mound of yeasty goodness went down for an hour's kip in my sunlit front window.  As did I.

Act II  Rehearsals (and a little Diva-ish behaviour)

Roused by the insistent beeping of the 'timer on the stove', it was time for a little more kneading before separating the bigger-mound-of-dough-than-it-was-before into 12 equal (so they say) balls and fitting them nicely on to my greased baking tray.  However the incising of the cross (without which these would merely be 'Buns') was more than these poor darlings could take and they downed tools (or was that me?) and went off for a slightly long-ish 30min, window-warming power nap. 

Part III  Opening Night (for one night only)

The final act was to move these bigger-than-they-were-before mounds into the less temperate environs of the oven.  And just 15mins later they appeared in the wings for their curtain call, ready to be iced and glazed before appearing in front of their adoring public....

...and quite frankly, I couldn't wait to get myself an autograph!

Happy Easter everyone

Sunday, 24 April 2011

The Joy Of Eggs...

Being Easter Sunday, I have been thinking about what sort of Easter post I should write...and bonnets and bunnies were just not inspiring me at all.  But sometimes inspiration comes from the most unlikely places and while I was meandering through my list of favourite blogs, I came across an absolute gem from adbroad (the oldest working writer in advertising or so she says).

Apparently this episode of 'I Love Lucy' got the longest recorded laugh in television history (no canned laughter for these bastions of situation comedy)...

I laughed out loud (the neighbours must be wondering what is going on) and thought it was a perfect way to bring a little joy into a sunshine-y Easter Sunday.

And let's face it, it brings a whole new hilarity to the phrase 'walking on eggshells'.

Enjoy and have a wonderful Easter!

ps...if you liked watching this episode, click here to head on over to adbroad's latest post and watch some more!

Friday, 22 April 2011

Part Of The Plan?

I am reliably informed that today, aside from being Good Friday (and a good Friday it is here in the English sunshine), it is International Mother Earth Day.

Established in 2009 by the General Assembly, its aim is to:

"...promote[s] a view of the Earth as the entity that sustains all living things found in nature. Inclusiveness is at the heart of International Mother Earth Day; fostering shared responsibilities to rebuild our troubled relationship with nature..."  General Assembly President Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann

 ...and it was this 'troubled relationship with nature' that I was thinking about on my commute home last night.

In the first four months of 2011, we have seen nature at her most fearsome - earthquakes, floods, tsunamis, tornados just to name a few - and many reports suggest that these events are random or at least illogical in nature.  We don't expect them and particularly given the catalogue of tragic events during the first part of this year, we can't understand how and why everything is happening 'at once'. 

Is it really our impact on the environment, changing the climate, that unleashes nature's fury?  Is Mother Nature really coming home to roost?

But, I thought, what if we turned this thinking around? What if this is all part of some greater scheme?  That Mother Nature is so much bigger and grander than we can ever contemplate and we, despite all of our blinkered self-absorption, are just tiny pieces of a much, much greater puzzle?

What if it's really just all part of the plan?

Something to think about...

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Ask and Ye Shall Receive...

Today is Tuesday, the day that Dr Alan Zimmerman's Tuesday Tip gets delivered to my Inbox.

And today's tip was all in the asking:

"Asking is the beginning of receiving. Make sure you don't go to the ocean with a teaspoon. At least take a bucket so the kids won't laugh at you."  Jim Rohn

As kids, we always took multiple buckets to build our respective castles in the sand so the teaspoon and bucket analogy really hit home.

So I am unearthing a bucket or two and am off to query the world at large - after all, I could do with a little receiving.

Just ask me!

ps... and since this whole post has been inspired in the spirit of ASKING, if you are enjoying my random musings, why not follow me or better yet, you can subscribe and get a little piece of me delivered right to your Inbox, just like Dr Zimmerman!

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Let Me Eat Cake...

I thought it was about time for me to report on my efforts so far in The Great Bake Off

I have to confess it's not been a frenzy of culinary activity and after an incredibly slow start, there has only been a slight acceleration in pace this year.  But I've managed three successes out of three and have become 'sold' on the whole concept of planning a Sunday afternoon baking 'sesh'.

It started out in October last year with Pineapple and Banana Loaf, followed by my inspired return from Christmas in Australia and the even more inspired Mango Fruit Cake adventure in March.  Today's sunny Sunday success is Apple and Raspberry Squares...

Yes, that is evidence of my choppers tucking in for a little taste...

Whilst not wishing to brag at all (ok, maybe a little bit), I appear to have 'mastered' the whole cake with fruit thing so in the spirit in which My Year of Baking was born (ie. to remove the mystery from baking in all its forms), I promise to move into uncharted territory next time (maybe chocolate, pastry?)...although Easter is next week, and if I manage to find a substitute for mixed peel (I am allergic to oranges - but not lemons, limes, grapefruit - go figure), I might just need to give Hot Cross Buns a whirl...

So does anyone know where I can get candied lemon peel in SW London?  Anyone?  There could be a cuppa and a potentially decent Easter Bun in it for you....

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Who's Gonna Drive You Home?

Last August, I relinquished a part of my life that I was inordinately attached car.  Apart from working in London and using this city's quite amazing PT system every day, financial pressures meant that it was time to let it go.  And so it was with a heavy heart that I handed over the keys and began the daily face-off with my vacant off-street parking space.

It was inconvenient at first but I soon discovered a joy in being able to experience the world rather than it whizz by un-noticed.  For the most part, being out in the weather was invigorating: crunching through the snow, smelling the rain, feeling the sun on my face and breathing in the elements.  After a few months, my knees ached less and my legs took on a much greater supporting role as my body changed shape and my fitness improved - recently I even found myself trotting spiritedly up the steps to the train platform.  And if you read this blog regularly you'll know that commuting allows me to indulge in one of my favourite things to do every day - read.  You can't do that in the car!

But the biggest delight has been keeping quietly to itself and waiting for Spring to arrive and now its here, I find myself inspired by blue skies, green fields and the awakening trees that makes England's prettiest time of year...well, really pretty...

I was walking home from the train station when I was struck by this beauty

And this tree is about to burst into bloom

Then I was walking to Kingston today and noticed this gorgeous wisteria draping itself possessively over a number of houses in the street...

And so, still feeling inspired after a visit to the Oxfam bookshop to top up my commuting bookshelf, a bout of fruit and veg shopping at the Market Square and a leisurely toastie and soya cappuccino at a local cafe, I bought myself a little flowery inspiration...

...say hi to Gerry the Geranium!

Gerry is one of a pair (the other is Gerri with an 'i') and tomorrow we will find the perfect pot (and indeed the perfect spot) for the two of them to bring a little touch of Spring to Chez Hamer.

Friday, 15 April 2011

The Deer Stalker...

I just finished reading a great book about human paranoia, Risk: The Science and Politics of Fear.  Things like this really make me think about what glorious yet strange creatures we human beings are - not in a 'gospel truth' kind of way but more like an Alice in Wonderland perspective on the things that happen every day that go almost unnoticed.

In reading the last chapter on the train today, I was struck by a rather pithy statement, the kind you find on high school exam papers followed by the word Discuss:
We listen to iPods, read the newspaper, watch television, work on computers, and fly around the world using brains beautifully adapted to picking berries and stalking antelope.
It struck me as a great way to sum up life...let me explain:

There are times for gathering berries, lots of berries.  Sometimes it's the same berry.  Other times, lots of different berries are the order of the day, and it's important to skip promiscuously between, around and/or over said berries depending on mood, time of day/ month, sobriety and youthful sense of abandonment (the latter not being restricted to the young alone).

Then there is stalking.  You know, when one's head and heart are filled with dreams of the perfect partner/ house/ children/ job/ car/ holiday/ clothes/ hair/ position in life and this is faithfully pursued with diligence and relentless discipline, silently (or not) and purposefully...

But I have to say that I think there are some wires crossed...I seem to spend my time stalking lots of berries and picking indiscriminately through the antelope!

It explains so much...

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Hot To Trot...Maybe Not

Well, here we are at the 10th of April already, we have just enjoyed two weeks of glorious weather here in Ol' Blighty and there's been a whole lotta blue skies, sunshine, short sleeves and bare legs around. 

Sitting at my front window watching my washing drying happily (bet you didn't know washing could be happy) and listening to the birds singing and the bees bouncing (there is a massive hairy bee trying to get in through my closed window - right next to the open door - he's not the sharpest tool in the shed, this bee), I wondered how my kith and kin were faring on the under other side of the world.  Facebook updates of late have not been full of sunshine to say the least.

Upon investigation (it's Sunday and I am avoiding ironing by finding such things as this to keep me 'busy'), I have discovered that Melbourne (where I hail from) is looking forward to drizzle and a top temperature of is April and my home-town is about halfway through its Autumnal segue into Winter so this is not unexpected. 

But London's temperatures have soared (ok so I use the term a little loosely) into the 20s this week and this unexpected burst of 'hot' weather not only upset my 'what-to-wear-to-work' planning (summer-y items get packed away for the Winter - much like a family of bears - in a suitcase or in the ironing - not the bears you understand, they are probably in a cave somewhere) but also played havoc with yesterday's Grand National field at Aintree

Today we are set to reach 19C (and 21C tomorrow)...

- which is more than Melbourne...and Adelaide...and Canberra! And is alarmingly close to Sydney's 22C...

Truly a moment for we Aussies (from those southern states anyway) to savour...

Until it all comes to a screeching halt on Tuesday with a forecast top of 12C...hmmm perhaps I'll wait a little longer to unpack/iron those summer threads.

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Mothers...People To Make Leaning Unnecessary

Here we are at Mother's Day Number One for 2011 and while for me (and probably lots of other Aussie and Yankee expats) the REAL Mother's Day will be in May, honouring my fabulous Mum twice is certainly no chore!

American writer Dorothy Canfield Fisher wrote:

A mother is not a person to lean on but a person to make leaning unnecessary.

and this sums up my Mum for me.  In fact so much so that now I'm all grown up, I've had to be reminded quite recently that a little leaning on my part is actually quite a restorative thing and good for the soul - by none other than Mum herself (still so wise, right?)

So I wanted to honour this feeling and after some digging around, found this perfect quote (courtesy of a sentimental yet anonymous soul):
When you're a child she walks before you,
To set an example.

When you're a teenager she walks behind you
To be there should you need her.

When you're an adult she walks beside you
So that as two friends you can enjoy life together.

Happy Mother's Day...

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Expat... Born or Bred?

On one of my especially long commutes home this week (3hrs!) I stumbled across a blog, Adventures in Expat Land by 'accompanying wife' Linda from The Netherlands.  As I sat on the top deck of the number 14 bus (having been ejected from King's Cross Station after a 'reported emergency' with the rest of London's peak-hour commuters and then walking 20mins to get on said bus), her post Seven Reasons Not To Become An Expat struck a chord...

It can be fun. And exciting, educational, eye-opening, energizing, amazing.
It can also be uprooting, disruptive, alienating, challenging, lonely and just plain hard work.

It made me ponder my 7+ years here in the UK and the highs and lows of my own expat life: exhilaration laced with fear, hope combined (in a shaken not stirred kind of way) with desperation and contentment hand in hand with loneliness and as I peered down from my perch high above the crowded streets, I wondered to myself 'would I have come at all if I'd listened to the sage advice and read the sensible tips about moving overseas?'

I knew no-one here and had no job (just some leftover redundancy package money) but buoyed by fierce determination and an unrelenting belief that it was where I was meant to be, I packed up my comfortable Melbourne life and started again.  Just like I did many times over as we moved up and down the east coast of Australia and around Melbourne, changing schools, jobs, friends, creating new habits and leaving the comfortable predictability of old ones.

But then so did my sister...who stays happily ensconsed in Australia with not so much as a twinkle of expat life in her eye.

Which then leads me to wonder whether an expat is 'born' a nomad rather than being a product of their upbringing.  You know, nature vs nurture and all that.  Bit like a personality flaw trait. 

So are expats actually born or bred?  And what's the difference between those that up sticks and settle somewhere else vs the constantly relocating expatriate lifer?

Does anyone know?

ps...and if you even have a inkling that you might like to try on 'expat life', you should read Linda's post for yourself by clicking here...or not...