Archive | November 2012

FRESH HELL AND HOISIN DUCK

Motley crews are, by definition, non-uniform and undisciplined as a group. They are characterised by containing characters of conflicting personality, varying backgrounds, and, usually to the benefit of the group, a wide array of methods for overcoming adversity. Traditionally, a motley crew who in the course of a story comes into conflict with an organised, uniform group of characters will prevail. This is generally achieved through the narrative utilising the various specialties, traits and other personal advantages of each member to counterbalance the (often sole) speciality of a formal group of adversaries. (Source: Wikipedia.)
We’re a motley crew at the moment, us at work. Our toenails are chipped, our legs unshaven and our eyebrows … well they’d give hairy caterpillars a run for their money. With our deadline for submission of our books for selection into the 2013 teaching curriculum, we’ve been pulling long shifts. Most mornings have found me having a good bawl; drying my eyes, getting on with it and collapsing at midday – only to start all over again for the afternoon stint.
(What fresh hell is this???My spellchecker won’t accept ‘bawl’ as a word. It damnwell is too, I’m doing it often enough these days! Hmphfff! :
More Wikipedia trivia:
“If the doorbell rang in her apartment, she would say, ‘What fresh hell can this be?’ — and it wasn’t funny; she meant it.” You might as well live: the life and times of Dorothy Parker, John Keats (Simon Schuster, 1970, p124). Often quoted as “What fresh hell is this?” as in the title of the 1987 biography by Marion Meade, “Dorothy Parker: What Fresh Hell Is This?”)


My desk has been an island of hell, but with the support of my amazing team mates, the impossible has been achieved and all my books are running nicely on track. Small, thoughtful gifts from caring friends form a little shrine to my spiritual sanity throughout this trying time.


I get home too wired to sleep immediately, and have utilized this energy to cook and freeze as many meals as I can and so ensure that I have a hot meal at work every day.


Eating a steaming bowl of Hoisin duck, telephone at my ear, while an irate author bangs on about outstanding artwork … well, it does make things bearable.
And so it goes … as my friend, Charlie, always says. We forge ahead and keep in mind that the end is in sight, and that – with it – comes the promise of the return to serenity. And chocolate always helps …

WEDDING BOUQUETS AND NEGLECTED GRATITUDE

With some of the first edible foliage and blossoming flowers of spring, dandelions have long been symbols of good things. Woven into a wedding bouquet, they are meant to be good luck for a newly married couple. When dandelions appear in dreams, they are thought to represent happy unions. They are also considered to be symbols of hope, summer and childhood. (source: voices.yahoo.com)


I dreamed about them the other night; not dandelions – wedding bouquets. I dreamed I had thousands of sweetpeas scattered around me. I was sitting on the floor and weaving them into wreaths to be hung from the bridesmaids arms. No bride featured in my dreams, but the bevy of bridesmaids were wicked little vixen who kept unraveling my wreaths as I wove them.


Too much cheese before bed, perhaps; but it did put me in mind of weddings for days and I went, on a whim, to the wooden box I started filling when my daughter was born, one which I’ve been filling with special things to give my daughter when she marries one day. The first item I lifted from the box hit me like a blow to the solar plexus; I lifted the fine fabric to my face and caught the smell of the sprigs of rosemary and lavender I’d placed in the box to guard against fishmoths.


A French tablecloth, used only once – and on that one occasion as a shawl. The story of the day it was given to me is a perfect metaphor for how we never know what turns our lives will take.


We’d taken a trip to the small Western Cape town, Franschhoek*, to attend the annual Food & Wine festival; planning a picnic of goods procured from the many stalls available. The day had dawned glorious and full of promise. I dressed myself and my toddler in light summer frocks. We picked up friends along the way and that was when we got the first inkling that things may not turn out sunny through the day, for it was obvious from their stony silence that this couple were in the midst of a quarrel.
Still, we trawled the beautiful historic town and made our purchases of bread, olives, cheese and wine and made our way to a spot of grass under an ancient tree.
And then the weather changed. Clouds loomed and a nasty little wind started blowing. My baby clung to me for warmth, while I tried to bring some cheer to the icy atmosphere between our friends. My husband, seeing that the child and I were both getting very cold, set off from one end of the town to the other in search of a clothing shop where he could buy a sweater or a poncho to keep us warm.
As is wont to happen in small towns, all the shops had closed because of the festival. The poor man walked and walked, until he came upon a stall inside the festival grounds: someone was selling authentic French kitchen bric-a-brac. Displayed amongst this woman’s wares was a tablecloth of the finest French linen; cream with the traditional burgundy embroidered edges. It cost the very earth he said when he returned and draped it around me and my child. I was, and remain, deeply impressed by his concern and generosity.


It’s a hot, hot day here today. I’m sitting looking at the piece of exquisite fabric and, as I listen to the sounds coming from over the wall, where my estranged husband and child are gamboling in the swimming pool, I wonder if one of the many mistakes I have made was to not adequately express my gratitude for that table cloth all that time ago.
*About Franschhoek (source: Wikipedia)
The valley was originally settled in 1688 by 176 French Huguenot refugees, many of whom were given land by the Dutch government in a valley called Olifantshoek (“Elephants’ corner”), so named because of the vast herds of elephants that roamed the area. The name of the area soon changed to le Coin Français (“the French Corner”), and later to Franschhoek (Dutch for “French Corner”), with many of the settlers naming their new farms after the areas in France from which they came.[2] La Motte, La Cotte, Cabrière, Provence, Chamonix, Dieu Donné and La Dauphine were among some of the first established farms — most of which still retain their original farm houses today.

RELISHING PICKLES AND HATING NEW TOILET ROLLS

I recently had occasion to seek out the Afrikaans word for ‘piccalilli’ and was surprised to find how few Afrikaans people knew what it was, even less that there was a word for this fantastic fridge-staple of mine.


The Oxford English Dictionary traces the word to the middle of the 18th century when, in 1758, Hannah Glasse described how “to make Paco-Lilla, or India Pickle” The more familiar form of the word appears a decade later in a book for housekeepers in a section on how “to make Indian pickle, or Piccalillo”. The spelling “piccalilli” can be seen in an advertisement in a 1799 edition of The Times.
British piccalilli contains various vegetables— invariably cauliflower and vegetable marrow —and seasonings of mustard and turmeric. A more finely chopped variety “sandwich piccalilli” is also available from major British supermarkets. It is used as an accompaniment to foods such as sausages, bacon, eggs, toast, cheese, and tomatoes. It is similar to a sweet pickle such as Branston Pickle, except it is tangier and less sweet, coloured bright yellow (using turmeric) rather than brown, the chunks are larger, and it is usually used to accompany a dish on a plate rather than as a bread spread. It is popular as a relish with cold meats such as ham and brawn, and with a ploughman’s lunch. It is produced both commercially and domestically – the latter product being a traditional mainstay of Women’s Institute and farmhouse product stalls. Piccalilli is very popular with many Britons; in fact, Bill Wyman, the bassist for the Rolling Stones, mentions in the DVD ‘Stones in Exile’ that during the band’s relocation to France due to tax troubles in 1971, the thing he missed most was British food, particularly piccalilli. (All information sourced from Wikipedia.)


Someone recently asked on Facebook what items we compulsively stock up on and – aside from obsessively hoarding toilet rolls in case I get snowed in for an extended period of time – I always have countless jars of relishes, not just piccalilli. Since I’ve been living alone, a ham and piccalilli baguette is a quite-sufficient lunch. Or a piece of roast chicken with pickled cabbage and marinated mushrooms, eaten at my desk while I work.


Or – one of my very favourite things to eat while I read the Sunday papers; cold pork sausage and mustard pickles.
Speaking of toilet rolls and pickles, I was speaking to a friend the other day and she was saying that she hates starting a new toilet roll; it’s just a personal niggle she has. I know the feeling, sort of; we have these dispensers at work and – when the old roll is used up it’s no mean feat to get the empty tube out of the contraption. Then you’re confronted with the task of getting the new roll to drop down, only to find that there is no way of getting the thing to budge without digging your nails in and shredding it to bits.


Now, please excuse me, I have to go and explain why I was seen taking my camera into the toilets …