Monday, August 29, 2016

Vale Pater


One of the things that was weighing on me when I last wrote was that my father had been hospitalized in May, and that his condition didn't seem to be improving. I haven't written since because, as it turned out, it wasn't, and he died in late July.

My father was 88. He'd had a long, full life, and had been dealing with a number of medical conditions that had caused his physical health, emotional wellbeing, and quality of life to deteriorate steadily and significantly over the last decade. It turns out none of that prepares you when the time comes to say goodbye.

I went back to Boston to be with my family for the wake and funeral. My sisters and I spent hours composing an 8-page eulogy in which we tried to distill his essence - his kindness, his steadfast reliability, his sense of humor and enjoyment of life, his love of sports and music, his devotion to our mother and all of us. The priest who said his funeral mass - who also married DP and me 20 years ago and has known my family even longer - described him as a man whose "true vocation was fatherhood."

Our Boston community of family, friends, and colleagues turned out in force to commemorate him and condole with us. I've heard so many people say how much it means to have that support when someone you love dies, and now I know how true it is. I will always be grateful for that solace and care.

My father was a romantic but not sentimental, and couldn't abide most of the traditional choices for father-daughter wedding dances. All of us who got married chose instead to dance with him to songs that were his favorites, and that are bound up with our memories of him. This is mine.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Ten things


Multiple aspects of life are not great at the moment – not anything I can discuss here, and not anything earth-shattering. Just things that suck some of the joy out of life. (To say nothing of what's been happening in my home and first adopted countries....) So I’m trying to focus on good things where I can. Here are some recent ones:


1. I got to go to Tokyo on a work trip last month! Just for long enough to whet my appetite for more, and with most of that spent inside a hotel, but I did get in a bit of sightseeing here and there - this is sunset in Shinjuku, which was my home base while I was there.

2. I also found time to track down the one thing that Miss B wanted most from Tokyo - a stuffed Totoro. (For those of you in the know - she already had the small white and blue ones, but has been longing for this one for ages. For those of you not in the know - if you have children or love animated movies, find and watch this film. It is utterly wonderful, and I say that as someone who has seen it dozens of times.)
 

3. Watching autumn turn to winter in Canberra - always beautiful, and familiar and strange at the same time. Red maple leaves are a lifelong sign of autumn, but finding them in the garden in May, amidst eucalyptus and other native Australian flora? Still getting used to that.

4. It only took 10 months, but our guest room is sorted and habitable at last. (Just in time, by the sounds of it, given the sudden uptick in requests following recent events in the US and UK.)


5. Celebrating DP's birthday - a perfect excuse to make a metric ton of buttercream frosting and get crazy with food coloring and piping bags. (You're never too old or too manly for frosting roses.)

6. Dropped by to meet our friends' new baby (and deliver a reheatable meal to his exhausted parents and exuberant big sister - I made this pasta bake, a loaf of bread, and a mini cake made from the birthday leftovers).


7. Went to Melbourne for the weekend to visit friends who have bought a Victorian hill station on a mountainside outside of town, and are in the midst of renovating house and garden. This is a glimpse of Miss B on our tour of the grounds. (Fun fact: did you know that the temperature drops 1C for every 100m you travel above sea level?)

8. Speaking of learning things, our conversations over the course of the visit inspired me to start listening to BBC Radio 4's History of the World in 100 Objects podcast - it's instructive and fascinating, and for those of you based in Canberra, timely, because the exhibition is coming to the National Museum later this year!

9. I also came down with a cold while there, which got a lot worse after I got back and which I'm still recovering from more than 2 weeks later. There's nothing like feeling abjectly awful physically to remind one to be grateful for feeling healthy and energetic most of the time.

10. And finally, a small thing which has improved my working life significantly in the last couple of months, after I gave up and admitted that I couldn't manage to keep track of my work just with digital tools - I admitted I needed a pen-and-paper system and as soon as I did, I came across a glowing recommendation for bullet journaling. If you're a similar devotee of analog tools, I whole-heartedly recommend it. It really has changed the way I work in some simple but effective ways, and I've already converted one skeptical friend, so do check it out if you're looking for a new way to get on top of things. I promise you don't need anything other than a notebook and pen!

Hope all is well where you are, and that you're keeping warm - or cool, as the case may be!

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Crumpet experiments

By special request of Beck, fellow Canberra blogger from In Search of Golden Pudding, today I'm posting the crumpet recipe I've been using for the last couple of years. I only make these a couple of times a year, so even though I'm not entirely overjoyed with this recipe, I've just been tweaking it rather than researching others. The way these come out reminds me more of the American version of English muffins than like my memory of crumpets - not enough air holes, in particular. However, I will come clean here and say that my only experience of crumpets (other than my own) is out of a packet, so my expectations may not be realistic.

This recipe is adapted from Delia's Complete Cookery Course, by UK cooking powerhouse Delia Smith. My main adaptation is drastically cutting the amount of yeast (from 1 Tbsp), because I prefer to let the dough rise overnight rather than the 45 minutes suggested in the original recipe - I think the crumpets taste better, plus I'd rather not have to hang around for 45 minutes before I can even start cooking Sunday breakfast.

1. Heat 275 ml/10 oz milk and 55 ml/2 oz water to 'hand-hot' in a small saucepan (I interpret this to mean I can stick my finger in for about 10 seconds).

2. Pour liquid into a jug, stir in 5 g/1 tsp sugar and 5 g/1 tsp yeast and leave to prove for 10-15 minutes, or until frothy.

3. Sift 225 g/8 oz plain/all-purpose flour and 5 g/1 tsp salt into a medium-sized bowl, then add yeast mixture and mix together thoroughly. (I use my dough whisk.)

4. Cover the bowl and leave batter to rise overnight. (I do this in the fridge.)

5. When ready to cook, grease your frying pan or griddle well, as well as the inside of your crumpet or egg rings. When your cooking surface is hot, spoon 1 Tbsp of batter into each ring, and let cook for 4-5 minutes, looking for the appearance of bubbles and allowing them to burst.* Then remove the ring and flip the crumpet to cook for 1 more minute.

Makes 10-12 crumpets.

* This is the step that hasn't really worked for me - I don't get as many bubbles as I expect, either using the original recipe or the adapted overnight version. They're still yummy, though. Suggestions welcome.
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