My (un)natural enemy: Old Father Time

Tick tock, tick tock...time is getting away. Photo ©Caron Eastgate Dann

Tick tock, tick tock…time is getting away.
Photo ©Caron Eastgate Dann

“Time has got the better of me”

“Time got away on me”

“Where has the time gone?”

“Look at the time!”

In my bid to live a peaceful life, I am constantly assailed by this most human of ailments: worry about time, both long-term and short-term. There is, it seems, never enough time to do all the things I have to do as well as all the things I want to do.

This column is written in response to this month’s Bloggers for Peace challenge over at Everyday Gurus. Kozo asked participants to confront their greatest enemy. You can read more on that and what others thought here.

The truth is, I think Old Father Time is best not confronted at all: ultimately, we will never beat him. So let’s just ignore him. Some enemies are best unfaced, unacknowledged, uncredited.

I saw a wonderful story on a current affairs show this week. It was about a group of seniors aged 67-97 who do hip hop dancing: yes! The group, Hip Op-eration, have this year competed in the World Hip Hop Dance Championships in Las Vegas. These people are so full of life, it gave me a great boost. If you want to see more about the challenge, click here. One of the responses I particularly liked was this one, from Breathing Space, about the enemy within.

Funnily enough, this week I lost my watch. It’s in the house—somewhere—yet it is nowhere to be found. Is someone trying to tell me something?

Home alone

Do you do things a bit differently when your partner or whoever you share your house with is away?

Home1Come on, admit it. When you’re home alone, you lick your plate clean, leave the bathroom door open, never put the seat down (if you’re a guy), watch dreadful reality shows and eat instant potato with butter and parmesan at midnight.

Only one of those things applies to me. Ok, two of those things apply.

I do live a bit differently when it’s just me. And much as I love my husband’s company, cooking and conversation, sometimes it’s nice to be alone for a few days.

home2Even the cat catches on. Lucy Locket always sleeps on my side of the bed when we’re both home, but when  my husband’s away, she takes over HIS side of the bed. She would never do this when he was home. I’m trying to coax Lucy Locket to sit on his special chair, then I will take a photo and send it to him in a message, just to mess with his mind. Bwahahahahahah!

Alternatively, the special chair makes a handy stand for my handbag while its usual occupant is absent.

So, for the next few days, I will have my paints out all over the dining table, and I won’t bother to put them away, because I won’t be eating at the table. I will eat in front of the TV or in bed or beside my computer: no need to be sociable.home3

There’s one thing most people would do when home alone, though, that I can’t: I would never leave the bathroom door open when taking a shower. I always have to lock it and take a phone in there, just in case. There are two reasons for this strange behaviour: 1) that classic shower scene from the movie Psycho; and 2) My house was burgled once WHILE I WAS IN THE SHOWER,  yes it was, and even though that was nearly 20 years ago, the horrible thought of it has never left me.

A note about security: people reckon cats are pretty useless protectors and, I agree, they would run away to save themselves first before defending their owners, unlike many dogs. However, this means that I know that if Lucy Locket is just sitting round, or curled up happily in her bed, there are definitely no intruders or strangers near our house. So if I hear a funny noise, all I have to do is check the cat to reassure myself that it’s nothing.

Call me a Kiwi—but not a bird or a fruit

Photo © Caron Dann, 2013

Photo © Caron Dann, 2013

When I was five, my family and I left our South Pacific island home of New Zealand and went to live in England. My school, in Heslington, York, had a Christmas school performance and I coveted the role of the angel, because I would get to wear a lovely white satin gown and a tinsel halo. I was very upset not to get that role. Instead, I would be part of the procession, which celebrated all different nationalities of the British Empire. To add insult to injury, they made me parade in dressed as an Australian, complete with a hat with corks on strings (worn in Australia to ward off flies). I hated that: they didn’t understand that Australia and NZ, though collectively known then as “the Antipodes”, were very different countries. I can still remember walking in that procession, to the applause of all the parents seeing their little darlings dressed up so prettily, but feeling so humiliated, I wanted to cry. The teachers felt sorry for me and let me take the angel costume home for the weekend.

Ironically, I have ended up spending much of my life living in Australia, and I love it. Although I was born in NZ, I’ve spent a little less than half my life there. I’ve also lived in the US and Thailand.

But I identify most of all with being a New Zealander—or Kiwi, as we’re colloquially known. I’m at least sixth generation, which for a pākehā (white NZer) is a lot. The name “Kiwi” is, of course, after our unique national bird, the kiwi. Americans in particular might know better the fruit, which they call “kiwi” as well, but we always call “kiwi fruit” now. When I was growing up though, it was known as a “Chinese gooseberry”, because it is native to China, not NZ—the Kiwis just came up with a brilliant marketing idea!

I love being a New Zealander, and even though I haven’t lived in my home country since 1988, I go there every year or two. I always enjoy flying in and seeing that green, green grass of home, to steal a line from a famous song.

Australians and New Zealanders can tell each other apart in a moment by our accents. But much the same as Canadians and Americans, we often get mistaken for the other by outsiders. I knew I must have picked up some Australian vowel sounds a few years ago, when someone in Auckland, NZ, said to me, “Are you Australian?” But most Australians can pick me straight away as a Kiwi.

As well as nuances in our accent, we have lots of different sayings and terms for the same thing, and that’s what I illustrated in the photo on this post. So, “jandals” in NZ are called “thongs” in Australia, and “flip flops” in England. They’re those rubber sandals held on with a thong between the big and second toes.  The term “jandals” is never used in Australia, except by New Zealanders who want to be laughed at, but I’ve gone back to it. The word is perfect for this type of footwear, and was originally a trademark made in the 1950s from a description of the product’s origins, “Japanese sandals”.

We have a few NZ shows on TV in Australia now, and this has put me in touch again with our vernacular. If we like something a lot, we say “Choice!”, but we often pronounce it like “Choooooooooiiiiice!”. (The opposite is “Stink!”). And if we’re cool with arrangements, such as “I’ll pick you up at 7 and we’ll go to the movies”, we say “sweet AS”.

This post was written for Rara’s International Label Day post, in which participants identify themselves with labels, which I reckon is choice! Anyway, if you want to take a look at all the other cute labels in that post, you can access them here, OK? Sweet as!

My Favourite Old Recipe Books

My recipe books take up two shelves of a big bookcase, and I have culled them to just the ones I use or am likely to use.

My recipe books take up two shelves of a big bookcase, and I have culled them to just the ones I use or am likely to use.

Remember the days when if you had a whim to cook something—beef stroganoff, say—you would have to trawl through your cook books, knowing the best recipe was…somewhere?

These days, I can simply google it and come up immediately with the right recipe via the internet. I put my iPad in the cook book stand in the kitchen and away I go.

But you know what? I still love my old recipe books. I still occasionally buy a new one. I have had some of these books since the 1980s when I was first starting out on my own and when I knew little more about food than grilled meat and three boiled veg (orange, green, white).

In the first flat I lived in at 17, my flatmate, Heather—who was nine years older—cooked for us on nights one and two. On the third night, we got home from work (we were both reporters, on rival newspapers) and she said, “Well, I cooked the last two nights, so you can do tonight. I’m going out to mow the lawn. Call me when it’s ready.” And off she went.

I was shocked: I don’t think I’d realised I’d have to cook. I probably hadn’t even thought about it, because Mum and Dad always cooked at home and I was too busy studying.

I can’t recall now what I made in entirety, but I remember calling out the window to Heather, “Umm—how do you cook potatoes?” She put the mower on idle and said, “Peel them, put some water in a pot and boil them till they’re soft,” before roaring away from me with the mower.

Heather didn’t stay long, and I soon had a new flatmate, Jan, who was my age but much more cluey about things domestic. Jan introduced me to the world of recipe books and I was soon serving 1980s wonders such as apricot chicken and potato-topped salmon bake.

These days, there are many fantastic and hilarious websites and blogs devoted to retro recipes: but I prefer my own little corner of history in my bookcase and I often still use my favourite old cook books. Coming up are just some of my favourites. Note that these are not my favourite coffee-table recipe books—this is a whole different category that I should write about some time. These are some of my favourite books that I actually use all the time for everyday meals. They are splashed, stained and creased with the efforts of preparing many meals past.

rec4The New Zealand Radio and Television Cookbook, edited by Alison Holst (1981)

This book was given to me by my godmother when I was 21, and I still use it all the time. It’s great if you want to cook a hearty beef casserole or vegetable soup, and has an “Eastern and Polynesian” chapter which—despite the unsophisticated grouping together of a very wide number of cuisines—is actually pretty useful still. Here we find recipes for sukiyaki, Indonesian barbecued duckling with gado gado salad and rempeh.

Alison Holst is one of my homeland New Zealand’s most famous cooks, and any book she writes or edits is accessible, easy to follow, and fail-safe. For this book, recipes were contributed by “listeners and viewers” throughout NZ.

The preface points to a bygone age when, supposedly, women were the only ones cooking in the domestic sphere (not in my family though—my parents shared the cooking, and my grandad did a fair bit at his place, too). The preface is worth quoting in its entirety, if only for its antiquated sentiments:

“This book contains a wide selection of recipes, favourites sent in by listeners and viewers from one end of New Zealand to the other—farmers’ wives and city women; those who cook for one or two and the mothers of large, hungry families; women who buy just what they fancy and those who watch their food budget carefully; young cooks and women with years of cooking behind them…”

Country Cooking: Regional and traditional recipes from Europe and North America, edited by Heather Maisner (1982)

Almost all my adult life, this book has been my go-to for traditional and authentic menus from Europe and America. It’s an artistically produced book, with historical photos and information about food production. So, if I randomly let this book fall open, I come across the “Spain and Portugal” chapter, from which I would choose vieras guisadas (Galacia) baked scallops, Sopa de almendras (Andalusia) almond soup, and paella Valenciana (Valencia).

rec6A Vegetable Cookbook, by Digby Law (1986)

This is my vegetable bible. I got this book in 1986 when I was literary editor of the Auckland Star and interviewed the author. I still use this book most weeks. It lists vegetables alphabetically, explains how to cook them simply, then for each has 6-10 recipes, which range from the well known, such as ratatouille and moussaka, to the exotic, such as choko relleno, “an unusual dessert from Mexico”. There are no photos, just the odd line drawing of a cabbage or an onion. Law’s Soup Cook Book is also excellent.

rec7South-East Asian Cookery: An Authentic Taste of the Orient, by Sallie Morris (1989)

I bought this unpretentious little paperback in 1991, when I was living in Thailand. Its recipes range from the highly complicated to the divinely simple, such as kha-yan-kyin thee thoke (Burma)—green tomato salad; raam long song (Thailand)—meaning “Rama’s bath”, a beef curry on a platter of green leaves; and goong pahd gratiem (Thailand)—prawns with garlic. There are a few coloured photos, but these are of produce for sale in markets and so on rather than of the recipes themselves.

rec3The Top One Hundred Pasta Sauces, by Diane Seed (1987)

I started to get interested in cooking Italian food when I met my dear Italian friend, Rosa, at my first job in Australia in 1988. We’re still great friends after 25 years! She opened my eyes to a whole new world of cooking—olive oil, pasta, olives, fresh garlic, chilli and more. This was probably the first Italian cook book I bought, way back in 1989, and I still use it today. Some of its standout recipes, which I have probably made 50 to 100 times each, are penne al cavolfiore (penne with cauliflower), spaghetti con zucchini, and the supremely simple tagliatelle con cipolle (tagliatelle with onion sauce).

rec9Thai Cooking, by Kurt Kahrs (1990)

When I was first going to live in Thailand in 1990, I didn’t even know what the food would be like—this was before the craze for Thai food had hit Australia and the time when Japanese food, not Thai, seemed to be the most trendy international cuisine here. Before I left, my mother bought me this book and I’ve used it ever since.

I have lots of Thai cook books, since it is my particular area of interest, including two amazing books by Thomson  (describe and photograph all as a montage). But I keep going back to favourite recipes in Kahrs’s book: the khao op sapparod (pineapple baked rice), the khai phad met ma Muang (chicken fried with cashew nuts), and the lab kai (spiced minced chicken salad) among them. This book has photos for each recipe, too.

Rec2Country Cooking: Regional and traditional recipes from Europe and North America, edited by Heather Maisner (1982)

Almost all my adult life, this book has been my go-to for traditional and authentic menus from Europe and America. It’s an artistically produced book, with historical photos and information about food production. So, if I randomly let this book fall open, I come across the “Spain and Portugal” chapter, from which I would choose vieras guisadas (Galacia) baked scallops, Sopa de almendras (Andalusia) almond soup, and paella Valenciana (Valencia).

rec5The Best Traditional Recipes of Greek cooking, Editions D. Haitalis (1990s)

I bought this little gem in Athens in 1996. It has no date of publication, but the cover states that it is a “new edition”. I love Greek food, and this is the only cook book I need, really. It is full of marvellous authentic recipes of a much wider range that your average Australian Greek restaurant serves. One of my favourites is Spanakóryso, simply “spinach rice”. I make this every Christmas: don’t ask me why only at Christmas, it just seems to fit as a lovely side dish that can be eaten hot or cold. There is an error through this book, in that I think they have confused in translation the words for “teaspoon” or “tablespoon perhaps” and “teacup”: thus, we have recipes calling for “2 teacups of olive oil” in a rice dish. The book includes colour photos of many of the dishes.

rec81,000 Italian Recipes, By Michele Scicolone (2004)

This is a newer acquisition, given to my husband and me for a wedding present in 2006 by our foodie friend Kenny over at Consider the Sauce. If you have only one Italian cook book, make it this one. It is full to the brim of authentic regional recipes, many of them simple and requiring just a few ingredients. There are no pictures, but there are wonderful descriptions of how the recipes came to be.

rec1The dreaded clippings folder

Probably everyone had one of these, full of recipes we’ve clipped from newspapers, magazines and printed out from websites. Believe it or not, I recently cleaned this out, throwing away years-old recipes I’d never made and now had no interest in. But there’s lots of interesting stuff in here—it’s like a lucky dip. It can take some time, though to find a particular recipe. “Now where is it? I know it’s in here somewhere…”

Life in the margins—of books, that is

I still buy print books: these are from my "to read" shelf. But half the books I buy now are for an electronic reader.

I still buy print books: these are from my “to read” shelf. But half the books I buy now are for an electronic reader.

About half the books I read now are just electronic files on a Kindle. No creases on the cover art, no dog-eared pages, no margins to write in. This is one thing ebooks cannot replicate: the stuff that happens to the book during the reading process. Somehow, electronic highlights and comments on an ereader are not quite the same.

Do you fold back your covers? Often I can’t resist, as I start a new book, pressing the cover open: a loved book is a creased book, after all.
And despite all my efforts to stop them, successive cats I have owned have ALL enjoyed chewing the corners of my books, tell-tale fang holes appearing mysteriously after I’ve been out of the room.
When I was growing up, we were taught never to write in the margins of books. So-called “marginalia” was acceptable only in a text book and then only if you owned it and you wrote in pencil. On a novel, though, the most you could do was write your name and maybe the year on the top right of the title page. It goes without saying that writing anything on library books was forbidden.
So, most of my old books are pristine: but now I wish I’d broken the rules and written my thoughts in the margins.
I made an exception when I was studying German language and literature at university. German was hard and I’d go through texts meticulously, translating every word I didn’t know. Recently, I came across one of my books from that time, a Hörspiel—a radio play— Zum Tee Bei Dr. Borsig, by Heinrich Böll. As well as copious and tedious translations in pencil, my 19-year-old self had written in the margin of one page, “Sooo boring”!
Go back further to myself as a child, aged about 13. My family and I had lived in Los Angeles for a few years and I’d acted in some TV shows and films, so I fancied myself as quite the director-producer-performer when we returned to New Zealand. Back home from Hollywood though and it was back to amateur stage shows in and around Auckland, and fierce competition at auditions.
You were always supposed to give back scripts at the end of a production, but somehow,  I  still have a script from a 1970s production of  The Sound of Music, a typewritten, plain brown-covered script stamped throughout with “TGA Choral and Operatic Society Library”. Although the script says it’s published by the Rodgers & Hammerstein Music Library, I somehow doubt that, because on the title page in capital letters, it says it is “THE RODGERS AND HAMMERSTEIN LUBRARY EDITION”. Yes, a typo.
SOM-scriptUntil recently, I had forgotten about this script, but my mother found it stored in a box and gave it to me. In it is a lot of marginalia by various actors who performed in the show over the years—pencilled-in dance steps, rehearsal dates, changes to lines, stage directions and so on.

SOM-script3_0002On p. 3 is the cast list, and you can still make out my additions: I’ve obviously been dreaming (quite ridiculously) about producing The Sound of Music at school, because beside some of the characters on the list, I’ve written the names of various friends I thought might be right for the role. Never mind that we were an all-girl school, and Debbie would be cast as Captain Georg von Trapp, while Lucy would have to make do as Franz the butler, and Andrea would be Friedrich. There is no name beside the lead character of Maria—of course, I would have been secretly casting myself in that role.
SOM-script3_0001As ebooks take over (and don’t get me wrong, I love this format for its portability), and even actors use tablet computers to rehearse their scripts, marginalia like this will no longer be made. How we read our books, how, why and where we marked them: these are fascinating insights into our lives and times.

Sky high

There are some days that just make your heart soar with the possibilities that life has to offer. Today is such a day: the sky where I live in Melbourne, Australia, was so impossibly blue, I just had to take this photo of it.

Sky HighWith a temperature of 25 C (77 F), just a breath of wind, and some puffy clouds on the horizon, it couldn’t be better.

It’s Melbourne Cup day. For readers outside Australia, this is the horse race “that stops a nation”. It’s a public holiday in my state, Victoria, and at 3pm, TVs throughout the country are tuned in to watch the race. It was great to see trainer Gai Waterhouse become the first female trainer of a Cup winner with Fiorente, ridden by the amazing Damien Oliver.

(Actually, I have to say I’m not much of a fan of racing: I have a problem with any sport that exploits animals. But that aside, there is always a special holiday feeling in Melbourne on Cup day, like a carnival).

But back to the blue sky. I know the blue is just a trick of the light, but it certainly does fill me with cheer and hope for the months to come. It’s the time of year that my university teaching is finished, with just a couple more weeks of marking before I’m free.

After a few weeks’ break, I’m going to concentrate on my own writing this summer: getting stuck into my next book is my priority.

The peace to write is one of life’s greatest joys: bring it on!