Sunday, March 31, 2013

Happy Easter


This year's Easter extravaganza was brunch for 9 instead of 65, but there was still plenty of good food, good company, and good cheer. The sun even made a brief, timely appearance so we could eat outside! Wishing a very Happy Easter to all who celebrate, Chag Sameach to those celebrating Passover, and a peaceful Sunday to everyone else.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Trip lag



Everyone knows about jet lag, and indeed, I’ve spent much of this week up close and personal with it – falling asleep at odd hours, unable to stay awake past 9pm, etc. But it’s the trip lag that hits me the hardest.

Let me explain that.

Meetings in my organization are intense – really intense. I mentioned in my last post how one of my far-flung colleagues described her first meeting as like ‘getting plugged into the Matrix’, which describes it better than I ever could. I have felt this way since my first one back in 1999, a month after I started, and the feeling has only increased as I’ve logged more time in the organization, and as my life around my job has changed – especially becoming a parent and moving away from Oxford, one of the busiest centers of organizational activity. When I lived in Oxford, I was in regular, often daily, face-to-face contact with people that I worked with; now I spend most of my working days in a home office, with most of my colleagues halfway across the world, sound asleep while I’m working and vice versa. I schedule my working hours around school runs, meal prep, and evening conference calls when the Europeans and North Americans are online. Most of the people I encounter in my daily round here require a five-minute explanation of who I work for and what we do, if it even comes up in conversation.

Then, once or twice a year, I head off to a meeting. For a week or more, I’m with my colleagues – many of whom are also friends – day and night. We talk about work stuff – by choice! – most of the time, along with whatever else we feel like catching up on. We resolve nagging problems, brainstorm ideas, share anecdotes and gossip, plan projects. We use acronyms and spout jargon. My biggest concerns are making all my meetings, getting access to the venue wifi, and finding a good place to have dinner.

Then it’s over. Time to unplug, trek home, and slot back into the daily routine of a working parent. Time to pick up on all the things that got pushed on to the back burner during trip prep and now need doing – filing tax returns, decluttering the storage area, catching up with school permissions slips, scheduling dentist appointments. Time to resume all the routine work tasks that need doing, as well as all the fun stuff that you’ve just been discussing. I freely admit these are first-world problems, but it does cause a little bit of a crash, and can lead to loss of oomph in a variety of areas.

That’s trip lag. I haven’t worked out the average recovery period yet – it seems to vary from meeting to meeting. I reckon it took me two weeks or more after Auckland. I’ve been back from Oxford since Sunday, and it’s still going strong. My main coping strategy is to find ways to reward myself for doing things I have no burning desire to do (like clean up my email backlog) with things I do want to do (like cooking projects).

 
Today, having completed a four-day week that nevertheless seemed longer than usual, I celebrated the start of the long Easter weekend by beginning prep for the brunch I’m hosting on Sunday (much smaller than last year’s, I might add!). I spent most of the day making tarrale, and also remembered to hard-boil some eggs for a dyeing session with Miss B.


Maybe things are looking up after all.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

In transit

Good morning from the domestic terminal of Kingsford-Smith Airport in Sydney! I'm on my way home from Oxford to Canberra, and have been traveling for (I think) 28+ hours. I've got one more very short flight to go. I had hoped to have a photo to accompany this post, of the amazing breakfast I just had (sourdough toast topped with goat's cheese, tomato, and avocado), but my camera didn't actually record the one photo I took before digging in. So you'll just have to imagine its looks, as well as its taste.

It will probably be my last restaurant meal for a few days - I'm definitely ready to eat some home-cooked food. Other than one meal that C. and I cooked at our friend J.'s house last Monday night for a group of six, it's been restaurant or conference food all the way. Luckily, being in Oxford meant that I got to revisit several of my favorite restaurants and pubs, as well as discover some new ones.

We didn't just go to Oxford to eat and drink (although we managed to do plenty of both), but to attend work meetings and spend face-to-face time with colleagues we mostly work with via email or teleconference. It was a jam-packed, full-on seven days - one of my colleagues once described our .org's meetings as 'getting plugged into the Matrix.' That encapsulates it perfectly for me, who spends most of my working life alone. Energizing, mind-blowing, all-encompassing....On Friday night, I boarded the plane to Singapore, fell asleep while we were still sitting at the gate, and slept for almost the entire 13-hour flight. That pretty much sums up the effect the week had on me.

And now it's back to the daily round in Canberra. I wonder what DP and Miss B will request for dinner? And what the state of the larder is likely to be?


Saturday, March 16, 2013

Three countries

Good morning from cold and rainy London! I woke up early to Skype with DP and Miss B back in Canberra, and I have some time to kill before our train to Oxford later this morning. So I thought I would use my time profitably by lying in my hotel bed and updating my blog.

Yesterday was a first for me - I ate breakfast in Freiburg, lunch in Paris, and dinner in London. My friend and colleague C. (okay, technically my boss) makes this trip regularly, and prefers to do it by train. I'm always happy to opt for a mode of travel that doesn't involve planes, especially when it incorporates a planned four-hour stop in Paris for lunch. We went to the oldest covered market in Paris (Marche des Enfants Rouges, near the Place de la Republique, thanks to a recommendation in Clotilde Dusoulier's Paris guidebook), and browsed around the stalls before settling on a one-man show offering enormous toasted sandwiches and savory galettes. I always associate the term galette with a rustic-looking pie or tart made with pastry crust on a baking sheet, but this galette was a huge buckwheat crepe, filled with a haddock salad and lots of other goodies. The sandwich, crusty bread drizzled with olive oil and piled with ham, cheese, veggies, and then grilled, was equally fantastic. Then, after loading up on cheese to bring to England and a fortifying glass of vin du table in a sidewalk cafe, it was back on the train - the Eurostar to London this time. Shopping for jeans on Oxford Street, a pub visit (of course), and then we had dinner at my hands-down favorite Mexican restaurant, wahaca. I've been there once before, three years ago, and I've been dreaming about it ever since. No Mexican food I've had in the interim, and certainly not in Canberra, even comes close.  

And now I'm hungry again. Time to go hunt down some breakfast. More from Oxford.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Northern hemisphere

Guten tag from southwestern Germany! Yes, I'm on another glamorous international road trip, to attend my .org's week of staff meetings (like last year in Paris). This year's meetings are in my old stomping ground Oxford, but given the distance I was already coming, I decided to tack on a few extra days at my team's home base in Freiburg (in Australian terms, just down the road from Oxford). I arrived on Tuesday after 3 planes, 1 train, and 33 hours of traveling - and, luckily for me, about 5 hours before Frankfurt airport was closed by a late-winter snowstorm. The jet lag has been manageable, I'm having a great time being in an office for a few days (working by yourself gets really old after a while), and of course there have been plenty of opportunities to sample regional food and wines, from the savory breakfast pastries available in the ground-floor bakery at our office building, to last night's dinner - a DIY toasted cheese extravaganza known as 'raclette' that I thought far superior to its better-known culinary cousin fondue. I've even been enjoying the blast of unseasonably cold and snowy weather; I haven't seen snow for more than a year, and after all this is much more what I'm used to experiencing in March. I've got one more day here, and then head off to Oxford tomorrow by train, with a stopover in Paris for lunch. (I know, tough life, but what can I do? My boss insisted.) More updates to follow as the RL European Tour 2013 continues!

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Early autumn



In the northern hemisphere, the change of seasons is always associated with the celestial event which correlates to its appearance – equinoxes for spring and autumn, solstices for winter and summer, sometime around the 20th of the month, four times a year. In Australia, I’ve noticed, the first day of the month in which the celestial event occurs is generally designated as the official change of seasons. This meant, most recently, that March 1 was the First Day of Autumn.

I had been mentally dismissing this as some weird Australian quirk and figuring nonchalantly that I still had another 3 weeks of summer. Then, over the last week of February, we had more cloud than sun, with plenty of rain mixed in, and the temperature dropped about 10 degrees (or 20, in Fahrenheit). We woke up on Friday morning to cold winds, grey skies, and temperatures in the low teens (50sF).

Okay, I’m convinced – March 1 really is the First Day of Autumn in Canberra. Which means it’s time to break out the slow cooker again.


Braised short ribs
I didn’t use a recipe for this, so I’ll just describe what I did do. Braising stuff in the slow cooker allows for leeway on various things, as you’ll see. I started this at about 10:30 am, in preparation for serving dinner at 6:30ish pm.

  1. Turn on the slow cooker to start heating. (I usually turn mine on high to get going and then turn to low after about 30-45 minutes.) Put a medium-sized cast-iron skillet to heat on the stove over low-medium heat, and add 2 Tbsp olive oil to warm up. Add 1 anchovy to oil.
  2. Chop up 2 pieces of good-quality bacon and add to skillet. Peel, quarter and chop 1 red onion and add to bacon.
  3. Cook mixture in skillet, stirring regularly, for about 5 minutes, until bacon begins to crisp and onion to brown.
  4. Dump contents of skillet in slow cooker. Spread out and lay 5-6 beef short ribs on top.
  5. Put skillet back on burner and fill halfway with about 2 cups red wine. Heat the wine and use it to deglaze the skillet.
  6. Empty the skillet into the slow cooker and check the liquid level. If the short ribs are not at least partially submerged, add some more wine (or stock) until they are. Cover and leave to get cooking.
  7. Decide that this concoction also needs some mushrooms and tomato paste, neither of which you have in stock. Go to the store.
  8. After returning from the store, turn the stove on again and return the skillet to the burner over low-medium heat. While it warms up, clean and quarter about 1 dozen mushrooms. Add to the skillet to cook, along with 1 clove garlic that has been peeled and cracked. Cook mushrooms, stirring regularly, until they have released their liquid and shrunk to about half their original size. Add to the slow cooker.
  9. While you have the slow cooker open, scoop out a ladleful of cooking liquid into a small bowl. Into this stir 2 heaping Tbsp of tomato paste. Add the mixture back into the slow cooker, stirring to disperse through the cooking liquid. Put the cover back on.
  10. Leave alone until about halfway through your estimated cooking time, at which point turn the ribs over. Cover and leave be again.
  11. The longer you leave these, the better they get. I took the lid off for the last hour of cooking time, to allow the cooking liquid to thicken up a little.
  12. I served this with blue cheese polenta and braised kale and carrots. Made enough for 3 adults and 1 child, plus leftovers.
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