Eat More Cake…and Merry Christmas

The Hubby and I had the conversation we had to have a few weeks ago. About cake. Christmas cake to be precise. You see, one of our lovely neighbours comes around every December selling Lions Christmas cakes. Every year we buy one. In the past we have been known to give them away but last year we ate the whole cake before Christmas even arrived. We love Christmas cake.

This year we decided to buy one and divide it into thirds. We’d keep one-third for ourselves and give the other two-thirds away. Never happened. Once again we ate the whole cake in less than a fortnight, way before Christmas day had a chance to dawn. Did I mention we love Christmas cake?

But for myself, it wasn’t always that way.

 My grandmother used to create amazing Christmas cakes. They were works of art. She would bake the cake months in advance and regularly soak it in brandy. Then as the day grew closer she’d cover it in marzipan and then finally a coat of royal icing with all the trimmings. As a child I’d try to grab a piece with the most icing. The cake and the marzipan always remained on my plate, naked and dishevelled. Back then I hated fruitcake but I loved the icing. Kids! My grandmother must have despaired. If only she was still alive, I’d give her Christmas cakes the respect they deserved.

Granny was a great cook but there was one thing I could never fathom. At Christmas she’d serve up jellied peas. Who in their right minds would put peas in jelly? My mum explained that the jelly was aspic, a kind of savoury jelly, but I was not impressed. However, in retrospect, I can see how devilishly clever my grandmother was. She solved the problem of children and peas with a two-pronged attack. Peas in jelly won’t fall off the fork, plus it makes peas so unattractive to children they won’t want to eat them anyway.  There’s no danger of peas getting squashed into the carpet if no one under 14 is eating them.

I hope you have a joyful Christmas and I also hope that, unlike The Hubby and myself, you have some Christmas cake left to eat on the day. And wherever you are and whoever you’re celebrating Christmas with,  may there be no jellied peas on the menu.

Do The Mashed Potato

dee-dee-sharp-mashed-potato-time-columbia-2My friend Fiona was a career woman. Like a lot of my friends at the time she had a great job, plenty of money, all the perks she could possibly demand… and a part-time man.  There was an era of my life when the latest accessory for the woman who had everything was the no-commitment relationship.  Fiona called one such relationship  “Three Days”. Once a month he’d fly up from Sydney and they’d do the long weekend thing, an arrangement she was perfectly content with.  Many of my female friends longed for the perfect relationship – not true love, commitment and roses, but a man who’d leave them alone to get on with their busy lives and only be around when it was convenient.

Fiona asked me around for dinner one night, at that stage she was going out with a sailor, a Rear Admiral no less, whose home port was San Francisco. How marvellous we all thought, she has a boyfriend she only sees every 6 months, very clever.  She asked me what I’d like to eat; Thai, African, perhaps Japanese.  She was a rather put out by my reply. At the time I was working on average 14 hours a day (a relationship with a hermit living in a cave in Estonia would have been too much for me) and I wanted bangers and mash for dinner. I think the trend for good old-fashioned home cooking, like mashed potatoes, was spawned by exhausted careerists who needed to feel looked after, just for a while, before chaining themselves to the corporate juggernaut once more.

Fiona did her best with what should have been a simple task; boil potatoes until they’re falling apart, drain, add milk, lashings of butter, salt to taste, and then go to it with the potato masher. Worked for my mum every time. Unfortunately a glossy coffee table book detailing these instructions hadn’t been released and Fiona was way out of her depth.  What should have been the pinnacle of comfort food arrived on our plates as grey, lumpy soup.

Fast food, disposable music and no-commitment relationships left me feeling empty and homesick. But I didn’t have time to dwell, there was too much work to do. I was dishing out instant gratification on commercial radio, highly researched and tightly formatted for maximum monetary gain. My head was full of call-out figures, familiarity scores and burn factors, that was what music had become to me.  Slow cooked food, slow music that cooks and a slowly cooking relationship were way too inconvenient. But the day after that dinner I found time to buy a potato masher.

These days my life is a lot slower and I love it. Everything has changed. Who would have thought that the career-frazzled woman I used to be would become a happily married writer? Not me. Now I have time to think and cook  and write a book that’s coming along way too slowly. And that’s okay. Other things have changed too. The Hubby and I no longer eat mashed potatoes but have discovered the delights of mashed cauliflower and it’s just as delicious and comforting. Fast food no longer enters the building and I’m feeling well and truly committed after 12 years of marriage. But one thing hasn’t changed. I still have that potato masher.

Before You Start That New Year’s Diet….

cakeThe festive season is a strange conundrum. First we’re encouraged to go to lots of parties, eat too much, drink and generally over indulge. Then suddenly it’s as if someone hits a switch. Magazines and newspaper life style lift-outs start wagging the finger and tell us that the good times are over and we must pay for all the excess. Instead of recipes for the perfect chocolate pavlova, the best Christmas pudding and the most impressive cocktail, we’re instructed in ways  to remove the undesirable poundage that the pavlova, pudding and fluffy drinks have deposited on our thighs, waists and chins. It’s like getting your first credit card statement of the year. New Year’s resolutions become abound as the fun times fly out the window.
I was tempted for a few seconds once by a seductive little New Year detox number that promised to clean out my system, get me in to my old jeans and supply me with the perfect life all within the space of 10 days. However when I read what I was expected to eat, or more importantly not eat, I came to my senses. I realised that 240 hours of sheer misery was too much to endure, even for the promised perfection at the end of the torture.
Let’s face it. Diets aren’t about reaching your healthy goal weight.
Diets are about reaching your goal happiness, your goal size smaller than your best friend, your goal boyfriend, your goal life and best of all –  your goal envious looks from other people. Diets are about being suddenly slim and glamorous, they’re about swanning around in sports cars and being lusted after by movie stars. Wouldn’t we all be deliriously happy, content and rich if only we were just a little bit slimmer?
I’ve waded through the sure-fire kilo-dropper starvation plans and the swathe of Celebrity Diets. There are only two things I’ve read that have made any sense. One was a famous singer saying that the only way to lose weight was to eat less and exercise more. The other was a famous actress telling us not to believe other actresses who say they eat whatever they like and stay stick thin. She said that she, like the rest of them, was hungry all the time.
 So when the over indulgence of the first part of the festive season turns into the cold light of a New Year, I don’t allow myself to be harangued into a life of deprivation. Thanks to a few honest celebrities I now know that people who are slimmer than me aren’t morally superior beings who live incredibly fulfilled and fascinating lives with their perfect partners. They are just people who are a bit hungrier than me.

Sex, Drugs and Meditation – Australian Women’s Weekly Review

Sex, Drugs and Meditation

Friday, April 26, 2013
Sex, Drugs and Meditation by Mary-Lou Stephens, Pan MacMillan Australia, $32.99.Sexdrugsmeditation-20

Anyone who read Eat Pray Love should be forgiven for never wanting to read another self-discovery book, especially not by a woman. That book was nauseating.

Yes, of course, like everyone else, I inhaled it, and even gave copies to friends.

It was so much fun to read, when everyone else was reading it. Only now do I think, hang on, what did that woman (the writer, Elizabeth Gilbert) actually have to complain about?

She starts the book on her knees in the bathroom, desperate not to be married anymore.

Gilbert hadn’t been married all that long. She had no children. There weren’t likely to be any terrible consequences if she just called the whole thing off.

And what happened when she called it quits, anyway? Gilbert immediately landed a lucrative book deal, enabling her to take a year off to travel to Italy (to eat spaghetti and gelato), India (to pray or, to be more accurate, meditate) and finally to Indonesia (the island paradise of Bali, actually, to fall in love with a handsome Brazilian man who is now her husband).

No wonder so many women feel bad about once liking that book (most will now say they always hated parts of it, and the movie with Julia Roberts even more).

All of which brings me to a new book by the ABC host, Mary-Lou Stephens. It’s the perfect antidote to Eat Pray Love, in that it’s written by an earthy, Australian woman with a proper set of problems in her background.

Sex, Drugs and Meditation is Mary-Lou’s quest to revisit, and to understand, her past, so she might stride into a better future.

She’s in her 40s, and although she’s already quit smoking and drinking and drugs, there’s still quite a bit weighing her down, namely guilt, and bad memories.

Mary-Lou grew up in an evangelical home with a mother who raised her hands and jiggled them at the ceiling, while wailing in tongues. She was made to fall on the floor during church rallies while the evil spirits in her were slayed.

Mary-Lou’s response to the strangeness of her childhood won’t surprise anyone: she started stealing money from her father’s coat pockets, and spending it on forbidden chocolate.

She took up binge-eating, secret eating, compulsive eating. Later, she became a shop-lifter, a drug taker, a drinker. She’d betrayed friends by sleeping with their boyfriends (she’d been so drunk she couldn’t even remember doing it). She knew loneliness, neediness, a broken heart, and bad relationships.

Then came bullying at work.

The basis of the book is Mary-Lou’s decision to sign up for 10-day retreat that required total silence … and reflection upon the life we’ve lived. The things we’ve done to others, and those that others have done to us.

The retreat that Mary-Lou chooses is not glamorous. It’s got simple, wooden beds, blankets that aren’t warm enough, and the food is simple, often raw, and served in small quantities.

There are moments when she wants to stop. As she says in the book (and on the back cover): “I could get up and walk out the door right now. No one could stop me. But then nothing would change. And everything has to change.”

It would give away too much to say how it ends. Suffice to say that Mary-Lou discovers, as so many women do, the pointlessness of living an unexamined life.

Her memories, her guilt, were chains hanging over her emotional development. They had physical weight. It’s fascinating to watch her lift them.