Pronunciations of the edible kind

Many years ago in my youth, I was a management consultant and worked in Italy at a multi-national beverage company for a few months.

I lived half an hour’s walk from the city centre in a serviced apartment with a pizzeria, bakery and gelateria across the road. I wasn’t keen on the rock hard bread they seem to like there, but the pizza and the pasta was amazing – I seriously still drool when I think about those meals. And don’t get me started on the gelateria’s spectacular seasonal gelato flavours or the fact that I shipped back 16 pairs of shoes… that’s a story for another time.

Anyway, after the first week of reveling in their glorious restaurants and gelato, I craved simpler meals back in my apartment. Not accustomed to supermarkets even back at home (I was living at home and my mum did all the cooking and shopping), I found the local Italian supermarket super confusing. So in the second week, my meals alternated between pizza from the pizzeria and canned tuna (because tuna in cans is easily recognizable and the canned tuna aisle was close the supermarket entrance) and pasta.

Another week went by and I craved some steak or chicken. I braved the supermarket again, but couldn’t find the meat section and I was too shy to ask because I couldn’t speak Italian. I’m sure the security cameras would have been following me – that small Asian woman is back again, walking up and down the aisles again, looking up and down and around again and then finally just paying for a tin of tuna. Again.

The local staff at work helped me with my Italian language skills during lunch later that week, emphasizing the importance of pronunciation. I marched into the supermarket that same afternoon and walked boldly up to a staff member at the back of the shop, brimming with my newly acquired confidence in the Italian language. Well, for buying meat anyway.

Scusi, car-ne? I said triumphantly.

He looked at me alarmed. No, no he said nervously.

Um… Car-ne? CAR-NE? (because of course, if you speak louder, they’ll be able to fully understand what you’re trying to say).

No, no! he repeated, shaking his head vigorously and looking somewhat distressed.

Determined, I repeated Car-ne! Car-ne! and gestured a little desperately at the shelves (avoiding the canned tuna aisle) and doing eating movements with my hands.

He seemed to grow a little frantic No, no, no! And then he paused. No bow bow. Another pause. Then he put his hands in front of him and impersonated a dog. No bow bow.

Ohhh… cue the lightbulb please.

Um… moo moo? Baa baa?  Um… oink oink?

Ah! He looked relieved. Card-ne! si! card-ne!

Wasn’t that what I had just said? Sort of?

Looking excited, he took me over to the refrigerated (why didn’t I think of that?) section and happily pointed to the lamb chops and steaks nicely packaged up, with minuscule pictures of the relevant protein on the front.

The next day, the local staff at work pointed out to me the difference in pronunciation between meat and dog. They also found it exceedingly amusing, while my Australian colleagues benefited from my gallant effort. But at least I got to have my steak and eat it.

Camping Glory

I am, at this very moment, basking in the glory of a victory.

Daddyken, for some weird primal reason, bought a tent a few years ago, presumably with the hope that I would eventually want to camp anytime soon. My requirements for a camping trip includes running water – both hot and cold for a shower and an actual flushing toilet – all within the confines of my own tent, decent cooking facilities, comfortable beds and not having to carry my own accommodation with me… requirements which funnily enough weren’t conducive to the type of camping trip he had in mind.

He and the Cherubs happily camped in the backyard for a few summers, while I communicated with them from within the comfortable confines of our house via a walkie-talkie. I thought it a most satisfactory state of affairs until I accidentally organised a day trip to Cockatoo Island in the middle of Sydney Harbour. Unfortunately it had camping facilities which I was impressed with, and then Daddyken played his For my birthday I would like to go camping card.

*#^%*%>!$^.

On Daddyken’s birthday, the day started out lovely – warm and sunny, with blue skies and serene fluffy white clouds above us. We drove 10 minutes to the ferry wharf, lugged our 4 sleeping bags, 1 camp chair, tent, snacks, dinner, 2 air mattresses, 1 mallet, air pump, clothes and other paraphernalia onto the ferry and in 5 minutes we were at Cockatoo Island. I know, I know – it’s not a bona-fide camping trip out in the bush where we’re communing and roughing it with nature – but that pull-along suitcase weighed a tonne ok?

We pitched our tent close to five women who had opted for the glamping option (tent, bed and chairs are already set up for you) and had just started a bottle of wine.

By the time we finished pitching our tent into the hard dry earth in the windy afternoon, the women were onto their second bottle of wine. At least.

The afternoon was idyllic. The Cherubs climbed down the rocks that surrounded the island and played in the water. We explored the island’s buildings which were mostly built by convicts, sandstone tunnels built during WWII, discarded ship yards (ships used to be built here for the war) and made seagulls furious by peering into their nests.

The evening sent the day-trippers home, and in the half-light of dusk, the island transformed into an amazing communal world where there were no fences to keep people from traipsing right across the front, back or side of your tent. Kids played handball and soccer in the open spaces, music wafted in from the wedding across the other side of the water, the women campers were still into the wine (we only ever saw them drinking by their tents, walking to the cafe to buy liquor or walking back from the cafe with liquor), kids scootered around, seagulls squawked, families cooked dinner on the BBQs, we ate our sushi (who wants to fuss with sausages when you can eat sushi purchased earlier that morning?), we admired the tents adorned with Christmas lights, toasted marshmallows in the bonfire and the Cherubs did not once ask to play on our phones.

And then night came.

A camper tripped over one of our pegs and confiscated it. With horrifying images of being executed in the dark of night by vengeful campers, I apologised profusely, retrieved our offending peg and hammered every peg in until they bent.   The change in temperature from day to night caused the Cherubs’ asthma to join the camp-out, so they coughed, wheezed and their noses ran.   For fear of being eaten alive by mozzies (and also execution by revenging campers) I zipped the tent up securely so we could slumber uncomfortably in an extremely small, hot and stuffy space not designed for unseasoned campers.    Memo to Seagulls: There is absolutely no need to SQUAWK all night. I get it that your rookery is close by and you’re trying to protect your chicks and eggs – but ALL night? Really? Don’t you need a rest so you can squawk even louder during the day since you’ve built your nests right next to the walkways of this island where at least a hundred people tramp through every day?    The volume of the dance music from across the water competed with the rhythmic coughs from the Cherubs.     Now I know why those 5 women drank all afternoon.     Did you know that not all campers sleep at a reasonable time and walk around discussing in high volume how the contract hasn’t been signed and so they won’t be able to go in extremely close proximity to the sound absorbing walls of your tent ?         We should have brought pillows because that would have helped Soccer Boy with his blocked nose and he wouldn’t have had a sore neck and woken me up each hour to reacquaint me with his woes.     For your information, Cockatoo Island is very well lit, so when you get up at 1 am to take your Cherubs to the toilet because they can’t sleep because it’s hot and stuffy and loud and they’ve got a runny nose and they’re not comfortable and you were just on that magical cusp of sleep – you won’t stumble around in the dark and trip over a tent peg (which should have been hammered into the ground properly in the first place).    The patter of rain on the roof of one’s own home is comforting, but the patter of rain on the tent roof IS NOT.    Also for your information, the first ferry of the day from Cockatoo Island back to your car which will take you back to your home where it’s quiet, you don’t have to rock on an air mattress with 2 wiggly boney kids, there’s pillows and no seagulls scream at you, DOES NOT start at 4 am. So when your Cherub tells you he wants to go home NOW, you can let him know that you’ve already made it very clear that even though you would also dearly love to get off this wonderful adventure that THEY all so excitedly embarked on – We. Can. Not.

And then morning arrived at 6:30 am courtesy of the violent rock of the air mattress as the Cherubs sat up and chatted like they slept like, well, angels all night.

Daddyken said Let’s never do this again.

I would have video taped that statement, but based on the night we had, I knew I didn’t even need to bat an eyelid. I couldn’t anyway, my eyes were so tired each time I blinked I ended up having a snooze.

We performed our toilette, ate breakfast, packed up and joined the throng of bleary eyed campers at the ferry wharf.

Happy Birthday.

My foodie friend, the freezer.

As much as I would love to make totally amazing, fresh and inspired meals from scratch every night of the week with a wide smile and sparkle in my eye… when I’ve been out all day, just had a hard week, or my day involves the Cherubs trying to maim each other because he/she is staring at me well only because she/he said I was a bum but it’s because he/she said I was a custard… I just prefer to hide in my favourite corner of the family room with my mug of ginger tea, some nuts and the Food Channel.

But when the darlings eventually hunt me down for some sustenance because they couldn’t find custard anywhere, even with half an hour to go until dinner, I still feel the need to feed on something with reasonably complex flavours. And bread with peanut butter doesn’t come anywhere near complex. Ever.

And that’s where my large upright freezer with the 3 drawers and 3 shelves rescues me from my distress.

I freeze raw, marinated and cooked food, so in the afternoon, morning (or the night before if I’m unusually organised) I just take out a protein/pre-cooked meal of choice to defrost and I’m ready to cook or reheat at the end of the day. Perfect for those times when someone gets hurt because he/she said there’s a chicken on my head.

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So here’s a rundown of what’s in my freezer-for-those-rainy-days.

  1. Frozen meat

Portions of meat are handy when I haven’t had the chance or energy to go to the shops. Just defrost, marinate (or not) and cook.

Lamb cutlets or steak are a great standby because they don’t take too long to defrost.

2. Frozen meals

If I’m already crushing the garlic or mincing onions for 4 people, it won’t take that much extra time to crush or mince and cook for more. So when I make teriyaki chicken (a firm favourite with the Cherubs) or pretty much any dish, I cook 2 kgs of it, put the excess into large glass containers, let them cool down and then freeze.

If you’re more organized than I am, label the containers so you know what’s in them. Otherwise, I’ve never had too much trouble identifying what’s in the containers and I’m also pretty flexible. If I’ve taken out spaghetti bolognaise and it turns out to be burrito mince, I just pack the pasta and parmesan away in the fridge for another day, pull out the tortillas and grate some colby cheese. No sweat.

The meals I find perfect for freezing, especially because they taste better the day or week later are: butter chicken, burrito mince, spag bol and soups.

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3. Marinated meat

I get fresh meat, marinate it and pop into the freezer. This is for the meals which once cooked, I don’t think really stands up to freezing and reheating. Or when I’ve got a rare burst of energy, I just get some meat and marinate it. I then just have to cook it when I need it.

The meals I marinate and freeze are: honey soy chicken mid-wings, lemon garlic chicken mid-wings and lemon grass pork or beef.

4. Frozen veges and herbs

I always keep a pack each of frozen peas and corn. They’re yummy, healthy and cook in a flash. Sometimes if I’ve forgotten to cook rice, or we’ve just got enough left over rice for 3 people, Panda will happily have peas and corn as a substitute. Also in there is ginger, galangal and lemongrass, so I have access to them when they’re not in season.

I admit I’ve got a whole freezer to play with, but that’s only been a recent occurrence. Previously I had a normal fridge with a little freezer section. I’ve never played tetris, but Daddyken thinks I’d be amazing at it considering how I was able to pack a few week’s worth of frozen meals into that little freezer. But back then I also just made less ‘extra’ portions for freezing.

So while I’ll never be able to manage a wide smile or sparkle every night of the week, or ever, at least someone’s got a chicken on your head doing a poo, employees at American restaurants are still being caught doing every dodgy thing they’ve ever done exactly on the one night that the surveillance cameras are on, care of Food Network’s Mystery Diners, and I still get to eat food I love.

Message Of A Thousand Thoughts

A friend of mine sent the following message:

“Come over for lunch one day before we move back, the renos are almost finished. We can have a swim and eat at the Country Club so I can get the most value out of this mind-numbingly exorbitant rent I’ve been paying these last few months.

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After you wrangle the kids to finish their breakfast, threaten to cut their screen time if they don’t stop fighting and raise your blood pressure trying to get them to school on time, meet me at my apartment after school drop off. It shouldn’t take you long since you won’t have the kids whining at you or fighting each other because someone took their red Lego piece which they absolutely need right NOW and no other red Lego piece will do, while you pack their drinks, snacks, swimmers and towels. You’ll just have to get your own stuff. You’ll just have one little bag. Remember those days?

But wait! There’s more! We’ll get to swim BY OURSELVES. Remember how that feels? No? I didn’t think so. Let me remind you – you get into your swimmers and then get into the water! Get it? You won’t have to wrestle with the kids while you pull their rashies over their heads as they protest that it’s too tight. You won’t have to bribe them to go to the toilet beforehand and then risk a melt-down as you stretch their goggles onto their heads and readjust for 20 mins until the goggles are just right. You won’t have to think about all that for one day. Imagine that!

It’s lovely to see the kids having fun, but this time you won’t have to stand in the water shivering while the kids jump and splash at you. You won’t have to piggy back them around the pool. You won’t have to have a heart attack if they go under water and not surface after 2 seconds. No readjusting their goggles because it’s too tight or the water’s going into them or it’s gone foggy.

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We can just swim how we want, when we want and for as long as we want. Breaststroke, freestyle or no style, it doesn’t matter. No interruptions! Except of course when we feel hungry. Not when they’re hungry and need a snack and it won’t be the snack you’ve packed and then – well, there won’t be ‘and then’ because that won’t happen on this day. Then let’s have a hot shower. Straight away. No shivering as we rinse the kids. No fights to dry and clothe them. No wet feet, no wet hair to dry. No Mum, why are you taking so long in the shower? I want to go. Hurry up I’m bored.

Oohh, the menu will be fantastic. We can order ANYTHING we want. It can be spicy, it’ll be non-kid friendly, it can be ANYTHING. Duck and fig salad. NZ snapper with mussel cream sauce. Confit duck with creamy potato mash. We won’t have to share. Any of it. What’s more, we can eat when the food’s still hot. No cutting up their food, no picking out green bits and no scraping sauce off. We don’t have to order chips. Unless we want to. And we won’t have to pay crazy money just so the kids can order deep fried chicken nuggets out of a packet straight from the freezer to you for $15.

Ahhh. Can things get any better? How about dessert? Not just vanilla ice cream with chocolate sauce. How about a lemon curd tart? Coconut and passionfruit slice? A macaron? Maybe even a flourless orange cake. With cream. All for ourselves with a quiet cup of tea. No Mum, I’m bored. I want to go home. Can we go home now? We won’t have to leave until we want to. Well, until it’s time for school pick up.”

Ok, the actual message read:

“Come over for lunch one day before we move back – the renos are almost finished.”

But I think the person who said “A picture says a thousand words” was limiting themselves to only one side of life.

Rebuilding My Wall

I find it interesting how things work out, and the things that come back to you through seemingly random events. A few days ago I was preparing to take a picture of my new favourite soup recipe for this blog, when Daddyken (excitedly) suggested that we build a brick wall on the weekend (he’s swapped his corporate job for a gardeners’ one).

I said What a great idea! Let’s do it! – not in a sarcastic tone but an actual excited voice, and even with an actual excited attitude. And that really confused me, because as you may have noticed, there’s nowhere on my blog where I’ve mentioned anything remotely akin to reveling in the delights of building any physical…non-food stuff. So after Daddyken drove off to buy cement – probably so I couldn’t change my mind, I sat down to work through my confusion. And then I remembered that wall.

On Day 1 Daddyken came in from the back yard holding his head, sat down on the lounge and said his head hurt. I told him to have a lie down. I looked up as he stood up and I saw all 182 cm of him fall to the floor. He got up and fell again and got up and then fell again so I rushed to him and pulled him up. Saliva was running down from the left side of his mouth so I gave him a tissue and told him there was saliva down his face. He reached with his right hand to wipe it but he missed the spot and missed again and missed again and then I wiped it for him.

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On Day 14 I walked out of the hospital lift with our baby Panda to the neurological ward. A nurse was standing next to a wheel chair at the entrance to the ward, and in that chair sat a tall shrunken man. His body leant awkwardly to the left and a cushion was wedged between that left side and the arm rest. His white hospital gown hung limply and there was a trickle mark on the gown from where the saliva from the left side of his mouth had dribbled down. He shifted when he saw us and I saw the left arm fall and dangle by the side of the wheel chair. He saw my eyes move with it. His right hand reached over for the left one and pulled the arm with the clenched fingers up where it sat uncomfortably at an unnatural angle on his lap. He looked up as we approached and I looked into his frightened eyes.

Daddyken’s stroke came about because there was a blood clot in his heart. His heart pumped the clot up, pushed and pumped it again and again until it wedged itself within his brain.

Before Day 1, we were the ones who did things, fixed things and got stuff done. We knew what we were doing, where we were going and how we were going to get there. We’d built our wall and we were excited.

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But each pump sent a cannonball careering towards our wall. Each cannonball attacked with intent. Each and every one pounded against it. Relentlessly. And in the silence of a dark summer’s day within the dim cold greyness of the hospital, I stood at the edge of our wall and turned around with our newborn Panda in my arms and saw that last cannonball thunder towards us. Our wall crumbled, it gave way, and collapsed entirely.

I scrambled to rebuild my wall, because with a wall we would be what we were. I cooked faster. I cleaned more. I filled my days with rebuilding. I made sure everything was ready for anything every day. No one, not friends nor family knew how to fix my wall but me. The nappy basket would be refilled as soon as a nappy was used, the rubbish would be out the door before it had time to fill. No heavy brick would be forgotten.

In the days, weeks and months after, my wall didn’t stay up and I was bewildered. I did his buttons and zippers and I chopped up his food. I drove him to his doctor’s appointments with Panda crying in the back. In our darkness we fought. Each and every day I kept on rebuilding.

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Daddyken took a more junior position in his corporate job. He gave up the 6 months he had to go to complete his MBA. Each and every day I woke up I could see the wall made up haphazardly from the night before. It wasn’t fully up, but it vaguely resembled a wall and I would resolve to fix it properly today.

He slept every 2 to 3 hours to satisfy his hungry fatigue. We sold our investment house. His voice slurred when he was tired and sometimes I couldn’t understand what he said. As the minutes and hours of the day crawled on, I wanted to reinforce, but I found I was rebuilding.

The left arm swung like a pendulum as he limped. He couldn’t pick up, clean or care for Panda. The darkness was impassable. I would pick up the left hand and position it next to his right hand in a cradle position and gently place Panda there. I was scared that he would drop her.

As the years wore vaguely on, my need to rebuild lessened. The darkness was no longer at the forefront, but it still trailed me for a long, long time. I don’t remember the last time I went to fix my wall, I don’t know what state it was in when I last saw it and I don’t remember seeing a fully built wall.

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This weekend Panda, Soccer Boy, Daddyken and I built our wall. Afterwards, as I sat close to it playing Transformer battles with Soccer Boy (I was the baddie again), I surprised myself by shedding a few quiet tears. Oh, Mummy’s just yawned Not for me, but for the Sally who lived through the dark time she thought would never end.

The stroke that made me

I hadn’t planned to mention this so early in my blog, but when I started to think about the things I was going to post about, I realized that this event has influenced how I’ve lived my life in the past 10 years so strongly, that I decided to just let you know now.

So here goes.

Ten years ago my husband Daddyken (as the kids sometimes call him) had a stroke, and a week after that I gave birth to our first Cherub, who I’ll refer to by her nickname – Panda. Daddyken was 32 years old, fit, never smoked or took drugs. He was initially diagnosed with just a ‘migraine’ and discharged. We returned to the hospital the next day, and it took them a few days and a barrage of tests to finally confirm he’d had a stroke.

But by the time they realized, the stroke had already run the gamut of Daddyken’s body. He was paralysed on his left side and they said he would never walk again.

Needless to say, it wasn’t the magical ‘first child’ bliss we had hoped and planned for. Luckily for family and friends we were in the same hospital, just different floors. They could visit us all in the one trip!

To put it very, very mildly, the past 10 years hasn’t been an easy one. We grieved, we despaired, we cried. I felt like we crawled and fought through the rough darkness each day, just making it through. And in the morning, realizing that we would have to do battle all over again.

Daddyken is extremely stubborn and slowly learnt to walk and use his left hand again. Cognitively and physically, he still isn’t 100% and won’t ever be.

What, how and when things were done was largely dictated by Daddyken’s condition. It’s only been in the past year that the intensity of my thoughts: If he didn’t have the stroke I’d/we’d be…’ or ‘If the doctors had diagnosed him earlier he’d/we’d be…’ has subsided and no longer torment me so mercilessly as they did in the early years.

But it hasn’t been totally grey clouds and rain either. There’s been sunshine, Panda’s smiles and snuggly cuddles, warm days when the bees buzzed dreamily in our ears and fireworks that lit up even the brightest day – like when Soccer Boy joined our family 5 years later. It took me a long, long time to learn to hang in there, even in the midst of pain, because rainbows will come out when you least expect it.

That’s all I’ll say about that for now. I definitely want to tell you more about how he, I, we and they dealt with it, but it’s a pretty draining topic and a part of me still relives those traumatic years if I dwell on it for too long.

Besides, that sunshine’s been hanging around for a while now and I’d like to bask in it : )