the road less travelled

A piece of sage advice from my younger brother:

It is true. Despite the way the world has changed ‘travel’ of this sort is, ironically, still the road less traveled  When you get out here there are heaps of people doing similar things, but not enough that these things are considered normal. Not enough people to have smoothed the way and trampled a nice neat groove of a path. We still need to scramble our way up steep hills and navigate through scary jungles, become completely lost, but never turn around and go back. Instead look for another way out of the labyrinth.

It is clear to me that he has learnt and grown so much more from his experience than he might have had he stayed put. With all of 23 (when he wrote this to me) he already had a wisdom about him which I admire greatly.

My brother and I on the road less traveled.

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Anyone would think we’d never lived without plastic!

Having invited Eva-Melina of inglorious plastics over with another friend for a girls evening of cheese, bread, tea and knitting, I committed in my shopping for our fare to going without plastic. I had it all planned out, my cheese man wraps the cheese in a waxy sort of paper, bread would come in paper, Olive oil in a glass bottle, fruit I would put straight in my calico bag and so on. Excellent in theory. In practice, as I soon realised, nearly impossible. In practice you have to contend with other peoples notions on plastic and their plastic related habits.

I got home early and went straight to the fresh food markets. A Supermarket was never going to work, with everything in it’s individual vacuum sealed cling wrapped glory. All started well, I picked out my cheeses (which I noted were wrapped in cling wrap in the display fridge) and chatted to the cheese man. He discovered I was having people over and said you should try these (indicating some crispy bread chips) they’re great for entertaining etc. etc. So I tried one, knowing full well I didn’t want them but not able to say no. Then I bought some. Again only because I didn’t want to be rude and say no. I did ask if he would please put them into a paper bag for me, which he obligingly did, then proceeded despite my protests to put the paper bag of bread chips into a plastic carry bag. Bother. He insisted it was bad for the cheese because the bread was still warm or something. He’s just such a nice man though that I didn’t stand my ground and took the plastic bag because I didn’t want to be rude.

1 x plastic bag and the bread chips did not get served at the girls night.

Then I managed to pick up figs and grapes with no plastic, although admittedly the grapes had been sitting in a plastic container at the stall. Then to the baker to get bread, no plastic!

For the oil I went to a fancy overpriced spice place in the hope I would find plastic free good organic olive oil, which I did. Well, it was organic and olive oil, I don’t know that it’s that great though. The shop lady asked and I said I wanted a good oil to dip bread into. She then proceeded to ask me what else I was going to have with the oil (really I didn’t think I needed anything else, good oil, good salt and fresh pepper is enough). I told her this and she proceeded to show me this Greek oil dip spice mix. Again I didn’t stand my ground and let her sell me the smallest amount. Admittedly that happened to me the last time I bought something in this shop too. I have to stop going there. The sales people are too pushy (or I could just admit to being a complete push over). I protested against the little plastic bag the girl was about to fill, stealing Eva’s story that I was going without plastic so my protests seemed well founded. The shop assistant thought it was a cool thing to do and found me a little jar. Of course the jar was extra, but not too much. She packaged that up and then went to put it in a plastic bag. Again I protested, she went to protest back that it would be safer or some such thing, then I had to point out, “No it’s more plastic you see”. “Oh!” goes the shop lady, “I see”.

After my lovely guests had left I went back to my ‘cheese paper’ and had a closer look at, finding, to my disappointment, it is  in fact very thin plastic that just looks like paper.

So in the end I came home with two different kinds of plastic and two products which I neither wanted nor needed.

My attempt, for one shopping trip, for one evening, to go without plastic completely failed. When I think about it I was even serving water out of a plastic water filter jug.

Next time I need to be more aware. I also need to stop feeling guilted into buying things I don’t want. It’s really very silly. That person’s business is not going to go under if I don’t buy their bread chips.

For more (successful) plastic free escapades visit inglorious plastics
If you try this yourself write a comment, I’d love to hear about your experience of going without plastic. Hope you can do better than I did!

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Late night chocolate fudge brownie cravings

Last night at 9pm (I know, but it’s late for me) I was overcome with a desire for Ben and Jerry’s chocolate fudge brownie ice cream. Not very logical considering it was 0 degrees out. The craving then moved to Chocolate fudge brownies, and then to warm chocolate fudge brownie sundae. My excitement at the prospect increasing all the while, much to the disbelief of the fellow sitting across the table from me, after all, we had just finished a massive dinner of roasted potatoes, parsnip, carrots, beetroot, zucchini and cauliflower cheese. He concluded (probably rightly so) that this was a side effect of my having been on a detox for the past week eating nothing but fruit and vegetables often in liquid form.

Rather than just letting a good craving pass and getting on with the evening I decided to seize the moment and got googling! I was thrilled to find that all required ingredients were already in said fellows cupboard and got to it!

I used this recipe, found after searching for ‘best chocolate fudge brownies’ – great way to find recipes if you haven’t tried it, why settle for just any recipe when you can have the best ever recipe for something? It’s based on a Nigella recipe and lets face it, if decadence is the aim Nigella’s your girl:

http://www.theextraordinaryartofcake.com/2010/01/best-chocolate-fudge-brownie-recipe.html

(I halved the ingredients and used slivered almonds instead of Walnuts.)

Once he realised I was quite set on baking brownies, said fellow started, of all things, to lament! Quite a hilarious and unexpected outcome.

Apparently, if I made brownies this automatically meant that he was going to have to get up to go to the supermarket (down three flights of stairs and next door) to buy ice cream. The way he saw it, I was going to produce brownies, and then when it came time to eat them, I would say ‘well I baked the brownies, you go get the ice cream’. Ha! Brilliant conclusion! I hadn’t even started baking yet and he got all that way without my having even thought it yet! What more could you want from a man? I laughed peals of chocolate-brownie-craving-crazed-hysterical-girly-dr-evil laughter and got to it!

Ingredients Brownie Slab

Brownies are so easy and quick! I had no idea. Within an hour we had hot brownies with (begrudgingly got) vanilla ice cream.

Mmm Brownies

I would highly recommend giving into a good brownie craving and having a go at them if you haven’t already!

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Back! and baking…

Dear dear friends!

It has been a thoroughly inexcusable amount of time since I last wrote. There are a great many reasons for it, all of which may appear in some other format some other time. I shall save them for my memoirs or some such nonsense!

Long story short I’m back, blogging and I’m happy again. Properly thoroughly deeply happy and enjoying life as one should as much and as often as possible if not always!

THANK YOU!!! Thank you to all of you who contacted me in various formats cajoling and hinting and pushing and shoving me to come back and write. After such an absence any good blog would be dead, thank you for allowing me another chance to save mine.

I thought it appropriate to start again in a similar place to where I started the first time. In Climbing the Croquembouche and Hip Hip Hooray!, inspired by MasterChef Australia (who hasn’t been) I decided to attempt the Croquembouche for my sister’s birthday cake. Recently, said sister, inspired herself by whatever series of MasterChef Australia we are up to now, made Lorraine Pascale’s Mojito Genoese Cake for our cousins birthday. Having decided that hers did not turn out quite as it should have, she promptly assigned the challenge of reproducing the cake to me. A task I put off for some time, not having all necessary equipment for baking in my new kitchen, in my new little apartment – at the start of last year I got a ‘real job’ again and moved properly to Germany. When my second hand ebay beaters arrived in the post I had no more excuses and set to it!

Using the recipe linked to above, I made the cake over two days, all in all I think it took about 6 hours. Surprisingly longer than the Croquembouche! The time though has a lot to do with my botching up the toffee twice. We’ll get to that.

The first difficulty was finding Pecans in Germany. It is really odd which things are normal and which are rare in different countries. Eventually I found some in the Galleria Kaufhof supermarket (similar to Myer) which has a selection of international foods. For the tiny packet it was something like four euro though! Then I proceeded to ruin and waste them – this is linked to the toffee issue. Here’s my experience of the Mojito cake…

Sugar syrup and egg mixture

As you can see I didn’t have a glass bowl to make a nice bainmarie so I improvised!

Lime Zest

I don’t have a zester either, so this was not fun, and I cut myself.

Measuring Ingredients

Don’t have any measuring cups in my new kitchen either so was just winging it really with online conversions from grams to tablespoons and grams to cups and guessing that these mugs are about a cup size.

Beat it

The recipe said ‘whisk’ here, I started whisking, then gave up, then kept whisking thinking I really wanted to follow the recipe, then gave up and continued with the electric beaters. It took a long time! I don’t know who could whisk it.

Ready to pour

Then fold…

Pour into tin

Then pour.. Don’t let the bubbles out!

Looking Good

It’s rising yay!! cake with no rising agent.

Whoops!

About now is when I should have taken it out of the oven.

As you will see by the next photo.

Yeah, whoops.

Shh!! We’ll cover it with icing!

Slice in half

That worked

A little uneven, we’ll cover that with syrup and icing!

Mojito sugar syrup

This mojito syrup is great! I had plenty left over and have since used it with fizzy water to make yummy summery mocktails!

Icing for the middle

Top and bottom

Put it together

In the end I put the burnt bit at the bottom. Hoping no one would notice, you could of course still see it when the cake was cut. Probably best to just not burn the cake in the first place.

Ice it

the cake

Tadahh! Now for the toffee…

So. The toffee. All else had gone reasonably well so far. I mean the cake came out burnt but it was a cake! One with no self raising flour or baking powder or anything and it still was a proper cake! Then the toffee. Here is the first batch:

first toffee

I was using organic raw sugar as I’ve not yet found organic white sugar here. I’d like to blame this on the fact that I burnt it – the sugar was already caramel coloured, I couldn’t tell when it was ready! Not really a good enough excuse though. After an hour I gave up on the first batch and decided to try again.

peacans going to their death

Yes. I know, you can tell, I burnt it again! At this stage though I had 5 or so hours of cake making behind me and just wanted it finished so I strew my pecans on a lightly greased plate (no slice trays either) and convinced myself that the toffee would be fine.

When the toffee was finally set I had two major problems. 1. I couldn’t get it off the plate and 2. It tasted burnt. STILL I convinced myself it would be fine and started beating it to a pulp in a plastic bag with a rolling pin. After a good half hour of scraping and beating and bashing and cries of frustration I finally gave up. All the beating with a rolling pin in the world was not going to fix this toffee. What a terrible waste of Pecans! (I rescued what I could)

still in denial

Finally, I crushed the few pecans I had left over to decorate the top of the cake with and stuck them to the outside of the cake.

So here it is:

Finished!

It looks pretty enough and it tasted wonderful. Still, with burnt toffee (and cake), then no toffee and too few pecans, the recipe beat me this time.

Not sure if I’ll be putting another 6+ hours in for round two any time soon, if I do you’ll be the first to know! Probably I ought first put some time into practicing toffee!

Much love to all,

Amanda Lindsey

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Sunflowers for strangers…

Things are difficult, scary, I’m not happy and I’m going underground for a while. Before I leave though I want to share something with you. A remedy if you will.

I know that eating chocolate, icecream, watching happy movies, buying myself things, and all such other tricks one usually employs to divert a bad mood, will not change my situation. They are temporary distractions at best.

Instead, realising that others around me were also having ‘bad days’ which were not temporary mood bad days but, like mine, part of a string of days, turned into weeks, turned into oblivion.  I decided that perhaps, if I could not help myself, I might be able to make someone else smile. Then maybe that would rub off on me, and maybe while I can’t feel thoroughly happy, maybe I can still feel good about myself and find some relief in that.
So with an hour lunch break ahead of me, another pocket of time where I would be left to my own devices to distract my thoughts. I headed out knowing I wanted to do something nice for someone else, but knowing not what.

When I was at school, boarding school, I would randomly buy flowers for my friends. Not for each one of them. Maybe for three of them here, one of them there. For no reason at all except that I liked the Gerberas and it made me feel nice. I was so happy to have friends, I wanted to make them happy.

This came back to me today and I decided on the same. I went past my favourite fruit and veg stand and got a bunch of sunflowers, which I handed out to my fellow misery guts, and which I hope through their bright yellow sunny-ness distracted their more miserable thoughts for a little while.

With half the bunch left, it occured to me that other people, strangers, people on the platforms, at the bus stops, could be having bad days too. For the last three weeks I’ve been walking around like a Zombie, frowning, slouching and probably to the outside world looking generally unpleasant. Think about that next time you see someone who looks nasty, evil, grumpy. It might not be their fault. You never know what is happening to people.

At the bus stop I gathered up all my nerve, pulled out the sunflowers one by one, and handed them to the random strangers around me. It was so much easier than I had ever thought it would be. Once I’d started it was hard to stop. Everyone reached out and took their sunflower and said thankyou. So simple. So nice. That’s how interactions with people should always be don’t you think.

One woman asked me what I got in return. I didn’t know what to answer her. I said ‘nothing’, then added ‘just hopefully it will make someone smile’. She asked if I was having a bad day. Yes. She then said ‘well, you have made me happy’.
Then her partner, whom I had also given a sunflower to. Said ‘Wait! We have to do an exchange… I have something really cool!’ He pulled out a back scratcher and handed it to me saying ‘it’s a back scratcher’ and his wife added ‘it’s retractable’. I laughed. They made me laugh. I took the back scratcher and said thankyou, wished them a nice evening and went to wait for my bus as far away as possible from the people I’d given sunflowers to. Some of them kept looking at me.

Many of them were on my bus. They carried their sunflowers on, and got off at different stops. But my favourite was a girl who got off one stop before mine. The first girl I had given a sunflower to. She stood there in the bus waiting to get out, then got out and stood at the bus stop. With her headphones in and her big bright sunflower in her hand, staring absently at the moving advertisements. She looked lovely. It made me smile.

I highly recommend giving sunflowers to strangers.

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the good and the bad of bus drivers

I’ve already blogged a bus experience or two before. Today though has to be the best bus experience of all.

Back in Australia I’ve watched, a helpless passenger, as a bus driver stopped his bus in the middle of the road, opened the doors and started swearing his head off at a pedestrian. I’ve known two people to get hit in their cars by careless and speeding buses and I’ve nearly been run off the road myself by a bus.

This evening I met the polar opposite of all of those bus drivers…

After getting up first thing in the morning and working a looooooooooong day, I was starving and keen to get home. Whenever I finish at 9 I have to wait at least half an hour for my next bus home. There are earlier ones but they don’t go all the way which would mean walking 20 minutes home on what was now a not only dark but rainy night.

So I got to the bus stop and sat patiently waiting for my bus. Glancing every now and then at the sign above the bus stop, with it’s little yellow dotted lights spelling out the various buses and their progress towards us. The ever impatient and diverse group of people at the waiting place.

When the sign declared that I had 0 minutes left to wait for my bus I rose from my book and seat, shot a quick glance down the road to be sure that indeed there was a bus coming, and moved up the platform ready to get in near the driver (my preference for safe bus riding at night).

No sooner had I sat down and the bus had moved off than I thought ‘hmm, better just check where the bus is going’ at which point, of course, I realised that I had blindly got onto the wrong bus.

Fail.

I got out again at the next stop only to see the bus I had meant to get on go past the intersection further down the road.

Knowing the Flash would have trouble making it to the stop in time I didn’t bother running, but still ignored the little red men at the cross walk and defiantly (albeit carefully) crossed without their permission. When you’ve missed your bus it almost doesn’t matter how long there is till the next one, you just want to be at that stop and be sure not to miss it too!

Now I had two options, flag down the next available bus, in about 15 minutes, which would take me half way home leaving me to walk in the rain. Or wait where I was another half hour for the bus which would take me all the way.

By this time it was after 10 so I hopped on the next available bus and asked the bus driver if as a special favour he might drop me off just a little bit further down so that I didn’t have to walk all the way. He agreed. Yay!

That, however, is not what makes said bus driver the hero of this story. After letting the other people out of the bus, this wonderful saviour of damsels in distress proceeded to drive me right home!

An unprecedented show of kindness from a bus driver. I would write a letter to the bus company but I’m afraid it would get him in trouble. So here is my little shout out to the wonderful and kind bus driver who got me home safely, earlier and less rained on tonight.

Thank you!

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Be the difference!

How did you change the world today?

Feature photo – grafitti art on the wall of the Historisches Museum Frankfurt which is in the process of being knocked down. Taken on der Nacht der Museen 2011.

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