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Category: Slices of Life

A Valentine's Grinch

I’m not a huge fan of Valentine’s Day; in fact there are times when I veer towards Valentine’s grinch status. When I was growing up it wasn’t a “thing” in Australia. We didn’t make or receive cards, and I was completely unaware of it. (Thank goodness — it seems so competitive, and must be agony for teens.)

These days it’s so commercialized, and often the expectations are huge. Thou must take thy beloved out for a “romantic” (and expensive) dinner, there must be red roses, and chocolate etc. I have no objection to chocolate of course (though it should come at all times of the year) but those red Valentine’s roses are exquisitely formed but scentless, and for me, a scentless rose is a rose without soul. Those roses are, for me, symbolic of what’s wrong with Valentine’s Day — so much of it is for show. I’d much rather a bunch of imperfect roses that smell glorious. Like these.

Now I’m all for celebrating love — love in all its forms, not just romantic love — and I’m not saying all Valentine’s celebrations are for show — some good friends of mine got married on Valentine’s Day and I know others who proposed on Valentine’s Day — it’s just that the commercial aspects seem to dominate, and commercial interests are dictating how love should be celebrated. And it’s both expensive and narrow. 

Declarations of love should not be by the calendar. People have their own personal calendars that they should celebrate their love by — first date, first kiss or first time of making love, even a quarrel and make-up could be celebrated, as well as weddings, birthdays—the list is endless. 

My parents were romantic souls and Mum and Dad demonstrated their love all the time in various ways. I remember some of my teenage friends being embarrassed when they walked into the kitchen and found my parents kissing, or dancing to the radio. They were in their late 50’s so to my friends they were old. But even in their 80’s they still kissed and cuddled and danced together.

We kids all grew up in that environment and those expectations stayed with us. So for me, a perfect scentless red rose in a cellophane tube just doesn’t cut it. As for those marriage proposals made in public before an audience, I hate them. Talk about pressure to say yes! So unfair and not at all romantic, in my view.

But the other thing Valentine’s Day does is to exclude people who are not part of a couple, and what sort of a celebration of love does that?  That’s why I call myself a “Love Actually” kind of writer, because in my books I don’t just write about romantic love between the main couple but also about other kinds of love — a parent’s love of a child or children, the love of family, of siblings, of friends and comrades, love of country, even love of animals. 

So that’s why I’m a Valentine’s grinch. But feel free to convince me otherwise. And if you do celebrate Valentine’s Day, let us know how.

A New Year

And so we come to the end of 2020. What a weird, difficult, endless year it’s been. I hope you and your loved ones have survived it. And so, we’re heading into 2021.

What am I hoping for in 2021?

Well, first and most obviously an end to COVID. I truly believe there is light at the end of the tunnel and there is good reason to feel hopeful about 2021. The human spirit is a wonderful thing, and I am confident that we will beat this disease, and hopefully learn from the lessons it brought us.

But less globally, and more personally, I am hoping to finally, finally get underway with the renovation of my house. It’s been planned for so long, and for various reasons have been put off, but this year, I tell myself, it will commence.

I’m going to have to move out for it, too, so that will be an adventure, finding a new temporary place to live. Where to go? Nearby, so I can pop in to the house and see how the work is going? Or in the country — maybe near the sea for a while? It’s been so long since I’ve lived anywhere else, the various options are exciting. 

The less fun part of the adventure is that I also have to get rid of MOUNDS of Stuff. How on earth did I accumulate so much? But I did, and heaps of it has to go. I’ve had various decluttering attempts over the years, but there is plenty still to go. And I really have to cull my book collection which is huge. That’s going to be painful.

I know I’ll feel much happier and lighter and freer once it’s all gone, but oh, the anticipation (the word is really dread) of beginning. But I’m starting with baby steps — 15 minutes a day — and I have a charity collection booked for the end of January, so fingers crossed for me, please.

In other areas, I have a new book coming out in September and another one due in before that. And my little self-published novella, The Christmas Bride  has done so well, I’m encouraged to try to squeeze in another novella to self publish. We’ll see. 

So I’m wishing you a much better year in 2021, and sending you this photo of a rainbow lorikeet feasting on pink gum blossoms — they’re small, cheeky, wild native parrots, and I love them, not just for their bright colors. They swoop around my garden, chittering and screeching and when they find nectar-laden blossoms or fruit they feast loudly and joyfully in the trees, hanging upside down and ‘talking’ non-stop. The very sound of them makes me smile.

Of if birds aren’t your thing, how about this picture by one of my favorite Australian artists, E. Phillips Fox? He painted many beautiful, enticing pictures of women outdoors, often reading. You might enjoy this 1912 painting — especially if you’re deep in winter — and imagine a better future to come.

Stay safe, stay healthy and enjoy life as much as you can. Thank you for all your support and kindness through this terrible year. All the very best for the future. See you in the new year.

What are you hoping for this year?

Sweet Treats for Christmas

In my last blog I promised you a few Christmas sweet-treat recipes, so here they are. I make these every year to give to people as small gifts. I don’t dare keep them in the house too long or else I’d eat them myself! 

1. Christmas Crack

This recipe was given to me years ago by my friend Violeta, who is a superlative cook, and I make it every year. And if I don’t, I get reminded!! I parcel it up in cellophane bags as a small gift. Warning: it’s called Christmas Crack for a reason — a salty-sweet-crunchy-toffee-chocolatey-nutty delight, it’s deliciously addictive. 

Ingredients
1)  4 ounces salada biscuits (saltine crackers or plain non-sweet salted dry biscuits — enough to line your baking tin (or biscuit sheet or jelly roll pan). Mine is approx 9.5 x 14 inches (24 cm x 35 cm, but the size of the tin doesn’t matter much — as long as you can line it completely with the crackers. Depending on the tin size, the resulting toffee mix will be slightly thicker or thinner.)
2)   250 g butter  (1 cup or 1 stick)
3)   250 g brown sugar (1 cup) (but white sugar is okay or a mix of both)
4)   2 cups chocolate chips or a slab of good cooking chocolate broken up.
5)  3/4 cup chopped nuts — I use lightly toasted flaked (sliced) or slivered almonds, but any nuts will do, or use sprinkles if you’re allergic to nuts.

Directions
1  Preheat oven to 205 degrees Celsius (400 degrees Fahrenheit)
2  Line baking tin with foil, then line it with salada/saltine crackers in single layer.
3  In a saucepan combine the sugar and the butter. Bring to a boil then boil without stirring for 4 minutes. Immediately pour over saltine crackers and spread to cover crackers completely.
4  Bake for about 6 minutes. Remove from oven and sprinkle chocolate chips over the top. Let sit for 5 minutes while the chocolate melts. (see pic)  Spread melted chocolate and top with chopped nuts. Cool completely and break into pieces.

People generally eat it as a sweet treat, but you can also use the crumbs (or crumble it lightly) as sprinkles to top ice-cream. You can google other recipes for this. There are dozens. Here’s one.

Easy “cheats” nougat

No candy thermometer needed for this one, it was passed on by my friend Anne L. and uses marshmallows from the supermarket.

I use a square lamington tin (approx 9inches or 24 cms square) but it’s a very forgiving recipe and a variety of tins can be used. I’ve also tried to make the quantities useful for a range of countries, but they are also slightly flexible, so don’t worry too much about getting them ultra-exact. And once you’ve made one batch, you’ll want to experiment, I’m sure.

Ingredients:
1)  several of sheets of rice paper  (enough to line the tin top and bottom)
2)  80 gms (5.5 tabsp or 1/3 cup) butter
3)  500 gms (approx 1 lb) white marshmallows (from the supermarket)
4)  375 gms (approx 13 ozs or 1.5 cups) white chocolate melts (buttons)
5)  4 cups toasted almonds, (I often add dried cranberries and pistachios for some Christmas color.) 

Directions
1) Line the tray with baking paper then with rice paper.
2) Toast almonds (on foil under griller or in oven) until golden
3) Melt butter gently and add marshmallows. Allow to melt, then add white chocolate melts, stir to combine.
4) Take off heat and add roast nuts and berries. Mix well.
5) Pour mix into lined tray, spread evenly, cover with rice paper and baking paper again and smooth with bread board (to make flat and firm.)
6) Refrigerate for 4 hours.
7) Slice as fancy as you like. They look pretty cut into bars and wrapped in clear cellophane. Or cling-wrap.

They can also be made with dark chocolate (see pic above). One year I couldn’t find packets of white marshmallows anywhere, only white and pink marshmallows packed together. So I bought double quantities and made my usual white nougat. I didn’t want to waste the pink ones but I don’t eat marshmallows, so I decided to try the recipe using milk/dark chocolate. It turned out beautifully and was very yummy.

Mendiants 

I often make mendiants as a gift and present them in a small, pretty box.  They are quick and simple to make, yet yummy, so they also make an excellent make-at-the-last-minute gift. 

On a sheet of foil, I place small blobs of melted chocolate (half a dozen blobs at a time) and working quickly before the chocolate sets, I arrange on each a collection of nuts and dried fruit.

For toppings I use spiced cocoa almonds, macadamia nuts, pistachios, candied ginger and dried figs, and the chocolate I generally use is Lindt dark chocolate. But you can use whatever you like. I usually print off this label to go with them because a traditional French confection with monkish connections sounds so much better than a blob of chocolate with nuts and dried fruit on it, doesn’t it?

Mendiants are traditional French confections composed of  chocolate disks studded with nuts and died fruits. Traditionally, the nuts and dried fruits used refer to the color of monastic robes — raisins for the Dominicans, hazelnut for the Augustins, dried fig for Franciscans and almond for Carmelites. Now a Christmas tradition,  recipes for this confection have embraced other combinations of toppings.

If you try these recipes, let me know how you go. They really are quite yummy and straightforward, and my friends are always very happy to receive them.