family · health and wellbeing · recipes

Quake

Presently based in Mexico City, my daughter endured the terrifying experience of an earthquake. Standing in a queue on nightclub stairwell (where most twenty-somethings living on the other side of the world from home should be) the quake hit. Fearing its likely collapse, she had the presence of mind to push herself and those ahead of her off the stairs and into the club – where they safely waited it out.

Although she was physically unscathed, the experience has remained within her protective recesses. The nights are very hot in Mexico and for maximum sleeping comfort the minimum in sleeping attire is required. Never sure now when the next tremor may strike, she keeps a pair of pants within arm’s reach next to her bed should she need to evacuate to the street in the wee hours. Affectionately termed her ”earthquake pants” they provide the security she currently needs to sleep well through unsettling circumstances.

And today I thought, we all need earthquake pants, something or someone we know we can reach for when life trembles. I am lucky. I have some very sound quake strides that have supported me, so I urge you to think about what are yours. For many the fabric is woven from religion, a parent, a partner or a social network. Whatever guise your pants may be, cherish them and keep them close.

I hope I am the earthquake pants for my children.

Maybe you also have a pair fashioned from the strongest material available, but have not yet discovered them or have forgotten they are there, folded securely within you. These are the pants that you slide into when the fault lines of life shift and separate beneath you. Their warp and weft threads are tightly bound by the inner strength of your human spirit – and nothing, not even a shift in the physical earth will ever separate them.

If you are experiencing or have endured your own personal instability, this is a lovely piece to help restore calm.

 

And here is the recipe for this brownie, with all of its cracks, splits and crevices.

Cranberry and Mixed Nut Brownie

125g dark chocolate
175g butter
3 eggs
275g caster sugar
75g plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
small handful of dried cranberries
150g mixed unsalted nuts, chopped

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 170 degrees (fan-forced).
  2. Grease and line a slice tin with baking paper overhanging the sides.
  3. Place chocolate and butter in a heat proof bowl and melt over a saucepan of simmering water. Stir constantly and cool for a few minutes once melted.
  4. Beat eggs and sugar.
  5. Blend this mixture with the chocolate mixture and fold through all of the dry ingredients.
  6. Pour into lined tin and bake for around 30 minutes.
  7. Once completely cold, slice into portions, which if you have no will power to withstand, like me, share out or place in the freezer for a rough day.

 

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health and wellbeing

Control


At some point, most of us turn our thoughts to uninhabited islands, more specifically being able to exist on one – alone. The prospect of being in a defined space where all that happens is decided by you, where external forces cannot reach and the time spent there yields incredible personal benefit, is well, the stuff of fantasy. Or not. Not actually. I have access to one and can escape to it at short notice. It unfolds in a trice. It’s my pilates mat. For a relatively small outlay, you can invest in your own island, and for reasons I will explain, I encourage you to do so.

As living creatures, we need to move, most basically because we must find our nutrition, organise our shelter, maintain our hygiene and nurture our young. Fortunately we have been provided with a musculo-skeletal system to enable us to do such things. When this system is compromised, so then is our life. There are a range of options available to care for our movement system and it’s wonderful to see so many people adopting them. Purposeful ramblers, runners, cyclists, swimmers and dancers are a common sight, since the automation of our world has all but made these forms of movement redundant as natural actions within our daily lives.

Of course, with repetitive motion, does at times come injury and the very issue we are aiming to avoid we may have encouraged. As a runner, I have welcomed a few of these issues! So to engage in movement that will nurture your system, safeguard or repair it in times of high intensity activity and require a level of concentration so focused that external thoughts are impossible to entertain, has got to be worth undertaking. And it is. Pilates or Contrology (as Joseph Pilates coined it) can be your way of moving throughout the stages of your life in a strong, flexible and centered manner.

You may have come to the understanding, as I have, that there is very little in life we have, or really need to have, ultimate control over. But to have a sense of mastery of our own movement is ultimately very rewarding – both practically and intrinsically. Whatever point you are at today in terms of age, injury or level of flexibility (or inflexibility) you are ready to begin a Pilates sequence.

Postscript: I shall leave Joseph Pilates to make the final point today.

”A body free from nervous tension and fatigue is the ideal shelter provided by nature for housing a well balanced mind, fully capable of successfully meeting all the complex problems of modern living.’

And with that, I shall sling my island over my shoulder and escape to mastery of the mind and control of the body.

craft · family · health and wellbeing

Comfort

  

And so once again, it is all about to change.

Autumn is packing away its leaves to make way for Winter to unfurl its blanket of chill. It’s now with haste that laundry is whipped in before the early afternoon crispness descends and cats position themselves in ever diminishing wedges of sunlight. It’s not going to be the same as we have become accustomed to over previous months, we must now prepare for difference.

We all vary in our response to change – either shunning and resisting or welcoming and adapting. Either way it does present as a challenge and usually it is underlying fear of the unknown that creates the difficulty. These are the times when as humans we seek out comfort, immersing ourselves in rituals and activities that bring about a feeling of good.

Comfort of course is quite intangible, as the very thing that makes one feel good may not have any appeal to another. You do need to establish what constitutes yours, as it will serve as your armory in times of uncertainty. Defining your sources of comfort is a highly individualised exercise, but the time spent consciously and deliberately identifying these sources is time exceptionally well spent.

I have put this to task recently and have amassed a reassuring stockpile. Taking my cup of tea to sunny garden space (yes I am like my cats) is a wonderful mid-afternoon treat. Retiring to a blanketed sofa on a chilly Sunday night to be immersed in an 18th century Cornish copper mine saga, watching the protagonist Ross Poldark do his best to be noble, is a wonderful place to be. Pulling a baked dozen from the oven or settling the lid on a rumbling stew, provides an inner satisfaction that can not be manufactured.

Building a fabric of inter-looped yarn by rhythmic needle clicks, a pastime that calms the mind and rewards the creator –

 and then pulling such fabric on when the day’s work is over, only amplifies this simple pleasure.

Running alongside a sun-glistened bayside horizon, passing warmly jacketed dogs and masters while inhaling chestfuls of ion-laced breeze – magic.

And drawing the blinds on a task-loaded day to return once again to sun dried sheets and fluffed pillows.

Locate that irresistible journal or notebook that you knew you someday would need and gather your comforts. Pen them for referral, as times of change will always present.

 home bootsPostscript: If you would like to add these hand-knitted home boots to your comfort armory, here is a similar pattern to those I have made (which was purchased from Lincraft so cannot be reproduced here)

family · health and wellbeing

Walking

Bushwalking
Regardless of individual identity there is a singular attribute uniting us – we each tread a path. Of course our trails are as unique as our digital pattern but the questions and disclosures scattered ahead of our steps are essentially ones common to us all. Recently, as boots met earth, cracking summer-splintered twigs cast amongst early autumn leaf litter, a bushwalk revealed to me the intriguing parallels of forest rambles and life passages.

Life, principally the progressive unfolding of a series of challenges to be captured, secured and marked. Exciting stuff indeed. As a challenge presents, the perception is of its uniqueness to us, but in reality it is never a new circumstance as many will have conquered such a quest previously. We are not the first to experience fear, uncertainty and doubt as many have already weathered these emotions travelling this path before us – now they have simply moved off into the distance to negotiate their next rock face. By taking heed of this the psyche steadies, developing a confidence to proceed – we can do this too.

taking a chance

Keep also in mind, that challenges are not by necessity activities that must be achieved in isolation. Those trail blazers have wisdom, so draw upon them. Have them talk you through the steps and sequences they took so you too can coach those who will ultimately follow your path.

creek crossing

Occasionally you will forge ahead on your own.

climbing

The branches and undergrowth will seem unrelenting at times but clutch them securely and propel yourself forward as these impeding bush elements are actually markers of your progress in disguise.

And there will be occasion where the undertaking appears overwhelming. The perceived looming danger outweighing the possibility of newer and fresher tracks. On closer inspection however, this seemingly insurmountable life obstacle is actually the bridge linking two separate banks – banks welcoming you to lives that would be inaccessible otherwise. Traverse this bridge with patience and consideration, the length though vast is inevitably finite.

Tree trunk

In that glorious interval where one challenge closes, the next yet to appear, bask in the peace. Soak up the beauty and the quiet. This is your time to reflect on your achievement and realise your place.

quiet contemplation

As a point of final consideration, achievement, progress and completion are discrete experiences defining beginnings and endings. Beware they should not crowd the senses thus obstructing the delightful simplicity of the walk.

forging ahead
Postscript: And what could be more heartening than being the observer of one making such energetic tracks toward a bright future?

gardening · health and wellbeing

Sowing

Little Red Hen

It’s usually when I’m knee-deep in dirt that my most profound thoughts occur, and to follow suit as I recently pushed the pitch fork into the neglected vegetable patch, this came to me: you reap what you sow. Obviously not an original light bulb, but one that spurred me to dig deeper as weeds resisted and motivation waned. To keep turning that soil and uprooting a winter’s worth of tangled roots, the mental picture of what would be thriving in a few months fuelled the progress.

So as fork struck earth, as it so often does my mind took that thought on quite an expedition, concluding at the realisation that all we reap from life does in fact come from all the effort of our sowing.

This row of infant beans will be fed, watered and watched over. Should environmental factors threaten, they will be protected, mended and secured once more to their trellis. My hopes for these beans are that they grow tall and are healthy, producing a bounty for our table.

Row of new beans

Like these beans we nurture our children, nourishing, shielding and guiding with hopes of healthy, robust individuals emerging. And it is through these sowing and cultivating years that can be so challenging we know to persevere, as the ripening of resilient people is the greatest reward.

And our friends, the cheerful petal-faced people, that brighten our days as their horticultural counterparts do from their vases, flourish with our attention. Considered time and effort is a necessity to keep flowers blooming – and so it is with our companions. Both to be treasured.

flower seeds

All of the delicious meals, fascinating stories and masterful accomplishments in the workplace began with cognitive seeds, given time to develop. Pause and reflect on the satisfying fruits of your recent labour and know that it was your careful sowing that resulted in their fruition.

scarecrow

Postscript: Mind you, there are times when no matter how carefully you sow and how expertly you guard, the crows of life can intervene ….

family · health and wellbeing · homemaking

Bread

Homemade bread

Man does not live by bread alone. Not a truer word was spake. For a simple gastronomic experience it is a must that it be accompanied by jam, cream, butter or any permutation or combination thereof. And once generously layered with these preserves and toppings it guarantees to satisfy growling bellies whom it has lured by its aromatic welcome at the front door.

As food trends have arrived and departed over the decades (and dare I say centuries) bread in its purest form – flour, yeast, salt and liquid – has stood by unwaveringly witnessing these passages. So basically, the loaves we break today, were broken many times over by our ancestors – with equal pleasure.

To be frank, I don’t grind my millet and bake over coals, but instead harness our kitchen horse – the breadmaker. As pleasing and as therapeutic as it is to knead and prove, I am equally energised by the fact that in the four hours the machine is at work, I can have shopped, cooked, stroked a cat and still have a lovely golden loaf to slice for the afternoon onslaught.

We each have our ‘desert island’ appliances, and the bread machine, although bulky, would be one I would have balanced on the luggage. To be able to have home-baked bread, is truly a pleasure. A loaf of olive bread with pasta, a grainy variety for breakfast toast or a fluffy Vienna with jam and cream in the afternoon are all examples of how our breadmaker adds value to the day.

Before you invest, look around you. Are there family or friends with idle machines that you could press into service? (that was how I was lucky enough to receive mine) The classifieds are another source of pre-loved bakers. However you source your breadmaker, regard it not as a new gadget, but rather a modern tool shoring up the links with your bread-breaking forbears.

Homemade bread, jam and cream

Postscript: and with an ever-expanding supply of jams, marmalades and chutneys on our shelves, what better vehicle is a thick slice of warm bread to transport them?

health and wellbeing

Lucky

Lolly, black cat

Fortuna, the Roman goddess of good fortune has made her presence felt here of late. Albeit subtlety, she has none the less left a significant impression in her wake. Evidence of her being has manifested itself in a scattering of pleasantries serving as incidental reminders that life has does have its peaks as well as valleys.

The celestial lady brushed past the garden bed and our Winter morning was greeted by a burst of butter yellow – the daffodils had bloomed. As if by magic, there were twice as many again after a  summer of concealed underground division and multiplication. The kitchen table will be receiving extra jugfuls this season.

On a weekend predicted by weather forecasters to be bitter and wet, Fortuna hovered overhead, and so it was a long trained for and highly anticipated distance run was enjoyed under a sunny, dry sky. She dusted away any trace of overnight cloud cover, so as participant runners, we could witness our city gradually materialise at daybreak as we took our early steps.

In her wisdom, Fortuna knew of the tawny owl rustling amongst our fenceline trees, and also of our delight upon discovering it as it flew from its leafy cover to a telephone pole in full view. I wonder was it her doing that a foreign noise alarmed us enough to venture outside, only to happen on this exquisite bird?

And finally, planets aligned this week affording both parents the opportunity to be present at the youngest child’s school ceremony – absolute kismet when work schedules and school timetables intersect. Thanks Mam.

Horseshoe

Postscript: and then I glanced around at the family, the cosy warm home and the meal we were about to eat and I realised that Fortuna had not just paid us a recent visit, but has been with us always.

Acknowledgement must also be given to Lolly, a friend’s lucky black feline who posed in a suitably mysterious fashion to illustrate this post. How fortunate was that?

health and wellbeing · recipes

Shortcut

Orange cake

‘The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.’ I’m sure we all relate on a weekly, if not daily, basis to this translation of a line from Robert Burns’ immortal work. And so it was here, when the day’s to do list was shredded – not by the gnawing of rodent teeth, but rather a domestic chain of events leaving little time for the planned bake. In a circumstance such as this, with afternoon tea far closer than the horizon, a shortcut is the only option. Today’s shortcut presented as an ‘all-in-and-process’ orange cake.

For some inexplicable reason, if we opt for a shortcut our perception of the outcome is often one of below par. When we follow a quicker alternate route rather than the long and (regularly convoluted) well-trod path through a task, some deeply imbedded inner wiring seems to illuminate the mental ‘inferior’ warning symbol. Put simply, a shortcut often triggers self-reproach.

Whether it be a quick wipe across the bathroom rather than the usual deep clean, vegemite rather than multi-ingredient salad in the school lunch sandwich or a pony-tail rather than the full blow-dry, shortcuts are essential to daily living. While it is very rewarding to see a task through its entirety with the theme song ‘A job worth doing is worth doing well’, playing in the background, it is equally satisfying to address priorities. And sometimes there are more important events in life than clean bathrooms, nutritional sandwiches, hairstyles and labour-intensive cakes.

1 orange (any size)
180g melted butter
1 cup sugar
3 eggs
1 1/2 cups SR Flour
juice from a second orange and icing sugar

  1. Pre-heat oven to 180 degrees celsius and grease a loaf tin.
  2. Place roughly chopped orange in food processor and blend until finely processed.
  3. Add the remaining ingredients and process briefly (approx. 30 seconds until mixture is smooth).
  4. Spoon batter into tin and bake for 40 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.
  5. Make up a generous portion of icing (icing sugar and orange juice) and pour over the cooled cake.

orange cake with orange glace icing

Postscript: and incredibly, this shortcut cake is well above par.