baby steps…

One thing at a time… that’s the way to get through everything. You wouldn’t believe how a few small things that you’ve been putting off can get on your mind, and interfere with your thought process. It’s summer, you should be free to do whatever and relax! No, my small list needs to be worked through, and I’m not even going to tell you all that’s on it. But getting some much-needed encouragement from one of my followers (you do read me, you do!) was very helpful, and I finally checked off a small item. Who know that shipping some packages overseas could get on your conscience so badly? But ask one of my Aussie friends how long it took to mail a package, last time. Answer: over a year.

But now, it’s a lovely sunny day, a few of my brother’s friends are coming for dinner and bringing their baby, and people upstairs are making homemade pasta, spaghetti sauce, and Italian bread. What’s not to love about this situation?

Another thing I’m starting to work on is our former “pool room”, which also became my cousin’s bedroom before he left for Ohio, to get his Master’s. Or rather, he’s leaving for OH in the fall, but he’s left our house, which amounts to the same thing. And now, the pool room will become my room. In addition to my bedroom, of course. Some of you have seen pictures of the bookshelves, and then there’s a desk buried under everything. Now, it’s total chaos, because I had to move the desk to a different wall without taking the bed apart… next up, disassembling the bed. Then, there’ll be a gap in the mess to see through, and I have to look into donating things again. But I also put together another desk that has been in a box for forever.

Yes, you read that right, I now have two desks, side by side, and when there’s space to move, I’ll be able to roll my chair back and forth between them. But soon, soon there will be room. One thing at a time, remember? I promised to help with some cleaning projects and things around the house this summer, so some days I work on cleaning windows and vacuuming floors, other days I read (ok, I always read), and on some days, I work on my room in the basement. And those aren’t even on that mental list that I was talking about.

But here I am, making myself write again, because a little weight came off my shoulders when I mailed those packages, and maybe I’ll even get to writing about Seabrook next and posting the pictures. In addition to several posts about books that have been sitting in my draft section for some time.

To all my followers, both recent and past, thank you for reading and following along. Please forgive me for sounding a bit crabby yesterday, and hang in there. Have a great week!

P.S. For any other Aussies that have dropped by, congratulations to the Blues for winning the first Origin round of 2014DSC_0822, but I still say…. Go Maroon! Until June!

trying to do better…

My blog views are “rocketing” today, and I just realized that State of Origin must be happening in dear old Queensland, Australia. I wrote those posts so long ago, but what I had to say about rugby league football and the Queensland Maroons still applies, even if I’ve been away from AUS for more than 2 years now.

Meanwhile, summer is in full swing, and I haven’t felt like writing. Or posting. Despite just having been to Seabrook for my conference. So, I will try and shape up, and get back to posting now and then. If you have a blog, you’ll know that every blogger goes through ups and downs, trying to figure out where they are as a writer, and having days when you’ve got nothing to share. Or don’t know how to share it.

I even know that my stats tell me that I have over 400 followers, but even that can be a little depressing when I can tell that many of them are those “blogs” where they tell you how to get rich and travel the world… is that even fair, that they use you for advertising, when there’s no proof that they ever read your blog? I would like to know that what I write and the photos I take… I want them to be interesting to someone, or even to brighten someone’s day. No one wants their “followers” to be a bunch of fakes.

I don’t mean that to sound that harsh. Many of you have been following me since I was in Australia, and some of you probably do read my posts. I wish I could write something exciting and fun, like I used to, when I was chasing my Aussie kiddos…

If you’re a fellow blogger, and know what it’s like, I hope you’ll have a cheerful word for me. Some of my writing mojo is missing, and I can’t seem to find it again. Hang in there, and I should figure this out again.  : )DSC_0818 DSC_0821

a home for akubras…

At the end of last month, I finally remembered to ask my dad about something. It had been percolating in my brain for some time, so it was high time I asked. DSC_0661

When I brought home two Akubras (and one fedora) from Australia, it hadn’t occurred to me where I would store them. You see, they’re supposed to either be on a hat rack, or sit upside down on a flat surface, so you don’t warp the brim (or something like that). Because both of them have a fair-sized width to them, I didn’t have a good shelf to set them, nor did I really want them collecting spiderwebs and dust. Or, if they did collect those, I still wanted the hats to be somewhere I could see them.DSC_0666But while putting them on the bedposts, when I was sleeping in the bunk bed, worked just fine, things changed when I came downstairs. I wanted my bed posts for the occasional bag, but not for the hats. They could get bumped or messed up, and you couldn’t display them properly. So, in my head, I began to puzzle out what I could do with them.DSC_0673

Ever seen a hat rack in a store, or a hat stand? Ever wonder how the big hats fit on them, because the hooks are often close together? No ready made hat rack seemed like what I needed, and then where would I put it? My new room has mostly cinder block walls, which are awkward to punch holes into, for any reason. So, there’s only one wall with drywall in it, where the closet is. I was debating whether my dad could build me a hat rack that would hang the hats at two different levels, just above my closet doors.DSC_0670

DSC_0667When I finally asked him, we looked at pictures online, and debated exactly what I was looking for. How far apart would the hooks be? How did I want them shaped, to protect the inside of the hat? And where, oh where, would we put it. DSC_0754

I didn’t come up with any of this design. He took what I wanted and ran with it. Of course, he has an Akubra, too, so he could play around with mine, until he’s perfected the design for his.  : )  And he was the one that realized the hat rack could be attached to my bookshelves, and hang out over my dresser. DSC_0752

Before I left for my weekend in Georgia (back around the 4th of July), He had come up with the size of the “base board”, the shape of the wood to go inside the hats, and we experimented with the angle of each one. I wanted the hats to tilt outward, so you could see them, not just look up the underside of them.DSC_0753After I returned from Georgia, he took the time to paint the rack white, and then staple brown felt onto each horseshoe, to protect the inside of the hats. And because my fedora is smaller, it fits easily inside of either Akubra. My brother was unable to figure out what the rack was for, when it was sitting upstairs, waiting to be painted. It’s true that if you didn’t already know its intended purpose, you would never guess.DSC_0758He did a great job, didn’t he? My Aussie friends will all be jealous, I know.  : )  My “The Boss” and “Riverina” hats can now rest comfortably.DSC_0756

a fourth of rain & georgia…

Over ten years ago, a dear friend of mine got married. She was one of my first friends to get married, and of course, I was at the wedding. I think I helped with the punch table, or something of the sort. Unable to access my pictures from that time, I don’t remember a lot, but I do remember what I was wearing. In the intervening ten years, I still have that skirt and I’ve lost the jewelry. It was also right before I chopped off my waist-length hair, if I remember right. I’ve managed that length, twice in my life, and now I’m attempting to reach it again.

According to her kids, now, I not only have the honor of being considered the “Super Nanny from Australia”, but I was present when their parents met. Mind you, I only met him about five minutes before she did! But it doesn’t matter… the girls are enthralled to hear from someone else how I watched the two of them fall for each other, all in one weekend. I watched her having heart palpitations (but no, I couldn’t HEAR your heart beating!), and unable to believe that this was finally happening.DSC_0705

Over the next year or two, I think I visited two or three times. Once or twice before the baby arrived, and once afterwards. Since I always figured it would be “my turn”, sometime soon, then I was interested in learning anything I could about married life and what it’s really like when your first child arrives. She was a darling, that little E, of course. I don’t think I’d ever seen a baby born with a full head of hair, at that point, or one that seemed to be so alert! But maybe that was because I didn’t remember my brothers as babies… who knows?

Then, I moved to Pennsylvania for almost five years, followed by a year in Australia. Whenever I managed to get home for longer than a weekend, I had very little time or interest in straying very far afield. Family time was meant to be soaked up, and driving four hours anywhere (after the 10 hours it took to get home) was not in my game plan.DSC_0674

But though some people like to diss FB, whenever possible, it’s been a wonderful tool for me to keep in touch with my friends, over the years. Even when I couldn’t see a friend in person, I could see pictures of their children, as they arrived and grew up.

The Fourth of July weekend was approaching, when I realized that if I took that Friday off, I could get a long weekend to finally go visit my friend in Georgia. It had been almost 8 years since we’d seen each other, but we still longed to catch up in person. The time and money issue always seemed to get in the way, but finally, I scraped the wherewithal to decide to go, and then actually get there.DSC_0681

As you already know, it rained for most of the trip to Georgia, most of my time there, and most of the trip back. So, I waded through puddles to the house, and was immediately hugged by a 5 year old that I had never met. But they already knew who I was, because they’d read about me on my blog, when I was in Australia. I think reading about real Aussie kids was fascinating for them.

Without going into a huge amount of detail, I will say that my friends and I have both changed, over the years, but that doesn’t pull us apart, it just makes life more interesting when we get together. When I last saw them, they had a newborn daughter, and were facing life as almost-newlyweds and as new parents. I was single then, as I am now, but I still didn’t know what to do with my life. I was probably running my own cleaning business, at the time, and trying to figure out how to make a profit.DSC_0715

Since then, they’ve been married over ten years, have three beautiful children, and their house is a little bigger than last time. The baby E is now the eldest, with a flair for style and matching clothes. She was my mainstay, when I helped make barbecue sauce for a chicken dinner, or put together a pavlova for dessert, because I didn’t know where to find anything, in the kitchen. I’m still single, as I said, but instead of being a nanny, housekeeping manager, or business owner, I’m about to go back to college. What will be in store for me, next time I visit them?DSC_0676

While I’m including some photos from my visit, I should tell you that it took me about 2-3 days for me to even get my camera out. Some of you think that I travel with it attached to my arm, but that really isn’t true. I really have to be “in the mode” to get started, and even with several kids running around, I was just enjoying the ability to relax and not do anything important. I had started a book on the morning of July 4th, got hooked, and HAD to finish it while I was in Georgia, so that’s what I spent my spare time doing.DSC_0688

DSC_0678I found myself talking about Australia more than I have anywhere, since arriving home. They had read my blog, some, but not all of it, and had plenty of questions to ask me. It was very strange, after a year of spending time with people that never asked me about it, aside from “So, how was Australia?”. That general of a question will shut me down, completely. If all you want to hear is “Great!”, then I’ll give you what you want. You have to try harder, if you want to get more out of me.DSC_0692

Of course, the girls had to show off their crafting skills, and before two days were out, I had two door hangers to take home with me. Luckily, my new bedroom has two doors in it, so I can hang one on each side of the room, to enjoy my memories of E and the middle M.DSC_0746

DSC_0747After quite a few discussions about Aussie food and favorite things about Australia (that is a very hard thing to answer, find a favorite thing or experience from there), M decided to make an Aussie-style meal on Saturday. We went to the grocery store, and searched for patty pans to make meat pies, and eventually found them in the freezer section, with the dough already in the pans. For some reason, Publix didn’t have aluminum patty pans to buy, by themselves. M figured she would just make the top crusts, herself.DSC_0748

As we prepared for dinner, E helped me work on dessert. We had to start first, because we needed the pavlova to be out of the oven before the meat pies could go in. It was interesting to work off of the laptop, one page set to MY blog page with my pav recipe, and another page set to a recipe for Aussie meat pies. I now know that I can make them at home, too, so my Aussie friends will have to send me their favorite meat pie recipes.  : )DSC_0694

I still haven’t achieved that crispy outer crust on the pavlova, but the marshmallow-y inside is still perfect. Don’t worry, I’ll get it eventually. After the whipped topping was done, the little A got into the fun, licking the beater. He’s a charmer, that’s for sure. I unashamedly licked the spatula, after scraping the bowl to put some of it in my friend’s coffee. She had a Keurig, so I admit to drinking LOTS of coffee while I was there, experimenting with all the Kahlua, Macadamia Nut, and other delicious flavors.DSC_0696

The meat pies came out, smelling wonderful, and to my surprise, the asparagus was delicious, as well. I’ve always thought it was rather bland. The whole meal tasted amazing, and the dessert was a hit, except for the middle M, because she wasn’t a fan of the texture. There were enough meat pies left over that they could have them for lunch, or even breakfast, if they wanted.DSC_0700

On Sunday morning, I got up and went to church with my friends, and before we went out to lunch, we had a photo shoot in the front yard. The girls really enjoyed making faces for the camera, and then we brought the little guy out to join in. What child doesn’t enjoy making faces, even if they can only stick their tongue out at you? He’d figured out how to do “fishy lips”, so he wasn’t being totally left behind.DSC_0721

We went to a local Mexican place to eat, and I wished a certain cousin of mine could be there to enjoy the queso cheese, as she loves it so much. But meanwhile, it was fun to watch the kids eat it, and get it all over their faces. And we finished out with a dessert that I’ve forgotten the name of, but which is mostly whipped cream. Just think, if you have the right “chips” at home, some whipped cream and sprinkles could turn this into an easy, but fun dessert for the kids! I suppose you could do it with graham crackers, or something of the sort?DSC_0728

I had driven my car to the restaurant, so after hugs all around, I hit the road. It was wonderful to get to know the children, in person, and see how they were like and yet not like their parents. What fun to discover their personalities, and wonder what genes they inherited, and how many generations back?DSC_0732

You’ve already heard about my trip back from Georgia, so I won’t go into it. I can happily say that my car has been completely bug-free for well over a week, and I hope none of you ever experience what I did. But I hope that I will be able to visit my friends more often, now that I’m permanently in the South. Perhaps next summer, as I’ll be very busy during the school year.DSC_0739

I hope you had a wonderful Independence Day weekend, too, wherever you happened to spend it, and whether the sun shone or not!DSC_0742

of publix, soup, & chocolate…

We had a new Publix grocery store open, recently. Everyone in Clemson knew it was coming, of course, because they ripped up and reformed a whole section of land in a hole-in-the-wall section of Tiger Boulevard. Some were aware because of the construction traffic, others because their bank informed them they would be moving to the new plaza. And then, eventually, the ads came in the paper for the Opening Day.

The last time I was at a Grand Opening for a grocery store, I was in Australia, and took my kiddos there twice in one day, and they got balloons and were oh-so-excited about it. I tried to block out this memory enough that it wouldn’t bother me much, when I got to the new Publix. If you break down in tears, in the middle of a store, people will think you’re nuts!DSC_0475

I waited a few days, and then went to see what it looked like. Fortunately, I remembered in time that they were probably still going overboard with their “We’ve Just Opened!” friendliness, so I braced myself. Sure enough, a line of managers were greeting everyone at the door, along with someone dressed up in a dinosaur costume. If I was a little kid, I would’ve been horrified by the costumed greeter, instead of enthralled. As it was, I hurried past the greeting committee, hoping to stay unnoticed while I wandered.

Fat chance. It seemed that in every aisle I went down, someone in a dress shirt and tie would greet me and ask to help me, and I managed to smile and say “no”, when I wanted to tell them to go away. Come on, I just want to wander and think and be left alone! I’ll ask you if I need help! You may think I’m a crank, but seriously, the cheerfulness can be taken too far, and how can you ever see anything if people are constantly stopping you? No, I can’t find anything, because you won’t let me look!DSC_0483

And then, I came to a halt in the International Food section, staring at a small section of shelves, loaded with what was mostly British treats and sweets. But among other things, I found Mars bars and chocolate-covered Turkish Delight. I became excited, and even hoped to find Vegemite, but no, all they had was a small container of Marmite (British version of Vegemite).

I waffled over what to get, after wandering the whole store, and eventually came back for the chocolate candy. That was after I had ascertained that they had every imaginable thing in the frozen food section, like pot pies and pizzas, but not a meat pie to be seen. It was a sad sight. After getting the chocolate, I remembered one other thing that I had run across earlier.

My shopping expeditions do not usually have me looking closely at anything that’s labeled “organic”, but I accidentally came across the organic soups. And after staring for a moment, the butternut squash soup finally caught my attention. Once the wheels began to turn, I realized that this was probably the only “pumpkin” soup that I would ever find in an American grocery store. Because our squash is Aussie pumpkin, and I still haven’t figured out what their green pumpkin is, in the United States. But butternut “pumpkin” soup? I had to take it home and try it, even if it was organic and more expensive than it should be.DSC_0480

Once I got home, I tried out the candy, cutting up the Turkish Delight so that my brother could try it. I saved some pieces for my parents, too. It isn’t that I loved Turkish Delight, whether covered in chocolate or not, but I remembered it especially. When I first found it in Australia, I had always wondered what it was like, after reading about it in the Narnia books (and then seeing it in the movie). My first try of plain Turkish Delight was dreadful (it tasted like floral soap), but for some reason, Aussies really like Turkish Delight in their chocolate. Cadbury puts it in some of their chocolate bars.

Mostly, my family wasn’t a big fan of it, but I hadn’t really expected them to be. I just wanted them to have a chance at trying it. It’s not something I could bring home in my suitcase, because it would have melted. And the texture of “jelly” is different than many of our gummy or jelly candies. It’s a bit thicker than a gum drop but softer than a gummy bear. I wanted them to have one small experience that I had, while I was away.

The Mars bar… I’ve never been sure, but I think it’s somewhere between a 3 Musketeers bar and a Milky Way. No, I didn’t look it up online, so I’m exactly sure of the difference. But it was just something that I had pretty often, when I was overseas. A memory triggered by taste.DSC_0485

The soup was wonderful. It doesn’t really look like much in the pictures, but to someone who got to eat it regularly for an entire year in AUS, this tasted fantastic. When there was a variety of brands to choose from, in Emerald, I eventually figured out which were the best-tasting of the canned ones, though the best type was really homemade. I should probably get a recipe from my Aussie friends and make it myself. Americans don’t know what they’re missing. I think they’re just put off at the idea of eating squash, because it’s a vegetable that not everyone is a fan of.

After escaping any number of Publix employees and managers, I took my few items to the register, and the bagger ( who had to be ten years younger than me) called me “hon”, several times. I’m not a fan of being called pet names, unless you’re close to me, or you’re a waitress in a diner (then, I put up with it). But then he offered to carry my bags out to the car for me, which told me that the managers had INSISTED that they offer this service to everyone. “Don’t take no for an answer!”, is what I can just imagine them saying.DSC_0484

Now, remember, I had two bags that probably weighed less than my Nikon camera. I told him I’d be fine, I could take them out myself. And then he tried again, a little more insistently. I almost got snappish with him (almost), and practically had to snatch my grocery bags from him.

And before anyone decides to be silly and suggest he was being sexist, don’t think it. I’ve met managers like those that were probably drilling the “Don’t take no for an answer!” into their heads. He probably had it written into his contract to do that with everyone. I hope that if ANY person with a huge load of groceries came through, he would offer to help THEM, and not waste his time with my bags. My grocery bags had “heavy” things in them, like tweezers, cards, and soup. It took some muscles, but I managed.  : )

So, there you have it. The new Publix is open, everyone in there is excessively friendly and helpful, and they have some soup that I will have to go back and try again. I’ll avoid the chocolate, after this, because buying them is not good for my waistline or for my wallet.DSC_0487

the sound & taste of australia…

As my YouTube account plays the sounds of the Voice Australia artists, it occurs to me that I didn’t share a recent surprise with you! A week or so ago, my dad suddenly came up and handed me a box, informing me that it was a late birthday present. Since it’s now June, and my birthday was at the beginning of May, I had no idea what could possibly be in it.

Once the box was open, I found myself staring at a jar of Vegemite. Hooray! I had finally run out of the last container, and was considering whether to get some in Greenville, or to order it online. Turns out, my dad had noticed that I had run out, and went ahead and ordered it for me. Talk about being observant! Now, the next item on my to-do list ought to be trying a “vegemecado” sandwich, with Vegemite and avocado. That’s because we seem to have avocados in the house, all the time. But I haven’t tried that concoction yet, even it was advertised on the Vegemite container.DSC_0359

My YouTube playlist is full of Karise Eden (last year’s Voice Australia winner), Kiyomi Vella, Celia Pavey, and all the rest of this year’s artists. If you have some spare time, go search Season 2’s artists, as they’re just fabulous. And no, I don’t watch the American version, as I’m not a big fan of the judges. The judges on the Aussie version are what makes it worthwhile. They’re so likeable, and good at coaching!

I’ll admit it, I really wanted Kiyomi in the final, but Danny Ross’s voice is pretty awesome, as well. From there, my choices for the positions of the top 4 were a bit off. When it came down to Luke Kennedy and Harrison Craig, I thought for sure that Luke would win. But I was wrong, and that 18 year old young man has a long career ahead of him. With his “chocolate/velvet/butter” voice (as my friend describes it), he’ll sell a million records, and being self-deprecating and kind, everyone will continue to love him. There’s an innocence about him that reminds me of Rachael Leahcar from Season 1.

While I’m on the subject of Australia (which all Americans are probably confused over, since I haven’t provided links to the singers), I missed the first State of Origin game. And since I know who won, I haven’t watched it yet. But now that I know where I can watch it online, I’ll be watching next time around. Go Maroon! Yes, I know that New South Wales hasn’t won in forever, but my adopted state of Queensland will always have my heart. Sorry.

My mention of Vegemite reminds me of a promise I made to friends, that I would send them a box of American goodies, after they sent me some Aussie tidbits. I haven’t forgotten! Being busy or paying bills at the wrong time have kept me forgetting. But I promise you, I’ll mail those boxes, eventually! I plan to have s’mores ingredients, so you can know what a real American s’more tastes like. Also, I have America’s favorite Easter candy hidden away in the freezer, which I hope will survive the trip. Sure, they’ll be a bit melted, but if you throw them in the freezer when they arrive, they’ll still be awesome!

And now, I look on FB and realize that some of my Aussie friends have had babies since I left there. One of them was expecting her FIRST child when I arrived in Australia. How about that for time passing? Craziness! The bubs just keep growing, you know!

Anyway, this post is definitely for the Aussies. I love you all, and keep things around that remind me of you. You’ll never be out of my heart.

summer fears & laziness…

I’m not really afraid of the swimming pool, but last summer, I couldn’t talk myself into going there for a swim. All summer long. At the time, I was still six months out from my Christmas-time illness, in Australia. I went swimming in a pool, got an earache, didn’t deal with it fast enough, went to see the doctor, and then took antibiotics. The antibiotics made me so sick that it almost ruined my vacation, and I was starting to think that hospitalization sounded good.

You can see why I was a little wary of going into the water, afterwards. Oh, I did, several times, but only when invited to do so. It was never my idea. I’m pretty sure I went tubing on Lake Maraboon, once, and I was in a pool with all my Aussie kids. But despite the Aussie heat, I didn’t seek out any swimming opportunities. And when I arrived home, summer was on the doorstep, and I couldn’t talk myself into going to the Clemson Pool.

Today, it was in the 90’s, and even being inside, in the air-conditioning wasn’t keeping me from being too warm. Of course, when I’m doing any kind of physical work, I overheat quickly, so by the time I left after cleaning up, I was roasting. And then stepped out into the heat and humidity, still in my work clothes. Ugh.

Once I was home in the air-conditioning, though, laziness set in. It’s no longer fear of the water and what it might do to me, but it’s been so long since I’ve been in it, I needed to vault out of my rut. So, after doing a few necessary things at home, I forced myself to go find my swimsuit and towel, and drive up Old Stone Church Rd.

When I arrived, I was surprised at so many of the changes, until I saw the showers and bathroom looks exactly the same, a bit dilapidated. But in the years since I’ve been in Australia and PA, they’ve redone the pool, the eating area, and even the outside of the buildings. Also, the gate on the fence, that stays closed, and I almost couldn’t figure out how to open it. The edges of the pool now have fancy stonework, and the bottom of the pool no longer has any lanes. But it’s still the rough bottom to the pool, that will eventually wear the skin off your feet, if you spend as many hours in there as the kids always do.

I managed ten minutes in the sun before adult swim, and then got in the water. Immediately, the clouds came out. And after fifteen minutes of adult swim, the sun wasn’t coming back. In fact, the clouds were rolling in. So, I headed home in time to beat the storm, though it had yet to thunder.

It’s a start, though. I no longer fear ear aches, as a result of swimming (besides, we have tons of hydrogen peroxide, if needed). But no reason to keep wearing that rut down. Time to go swimming, while summer is still here!

origin is coming…

State of Origin, that is. I’ve been reliably informed that Queensland is now going for its 8th win! I say reliably, because I don’t trust my reckoning, even if I google it. I lost track of what number they were at, shortly after leaving Australia. I suppose it would help if I just read my own posts about the serious-as-all-get-out rugby competition between Queensland and New South Wales? It’s probably a good idea, but I doubt I will. When I reread what I’ve written a LONG time ago, it messes with what I might write NOW, off the top of my head.

A couple of days ago, a co-worker was bored, so they demanded to know what my favorite basketball team was. Um, I don’t watch basketball, so no favorite. He tried again… football team! Nope, sorry. I don’t watch football, either (gridiron, that is). I would much rather play a sport than watch it. So, at a momentary stand-still, a few minute later, he asked, “Favorite My Little Pony?!”state_of_origin

After a bit, I told him that I watched rugby sometimes, but apparently rugby doesn’t agree with him. I neglected to tell him that I love to watch the haka at the beginning of games with the New Zealand All-Blacks. I don’t know what he would have thought of that.

Since coming back to the U.S., I actually haven’t looked for a rugby team to follow, because cheering on teams has never been my style. If you don’t really watch sports on tv, then you don’t really have a reason to cheer a team on. I’m more likely to root for (Aussies, don’t be snarky, you know what I mean) a local team. I’ll cheer for Clemson, because that’s where I’m from. I’ll hope the Carolina Panthers defeat the New England Patriots, in the Super Bowl… but I’ll still mostly watch the commercials.

And so, I’ll cheer on the Queensland Maroons, if I can just find somewhere to watch them! Of course, I will also cheer for them because they’re just the best team in State of Origin, anyway. But I know some will disagree with me there. I have an American friend who works in Canberra and has lots of friends in NSW, so of course he’s on their side.

I remember my first Origin game. I was sitting on the arm of the couch, trying to figure out what was going. These amazingly strong AND fast guys were running constantly, making me never want to take my eyes off the television. If I did, I might miss something. That’s another reason I like it, the constant movement, the ongoing game, that only stops for a short break in the middle of the game. I hate games that stop and start, allowing your mind to wander to more interesting things.

When I missed the second Origin game of 2011, I made sure I was in a house full of friends for Game 3. It was a riotous group, with mostly Maroon fans, and a few Blues in the room. I’ve never been one for actually clapping, cheering, and shouting during a game, unless I really understand what’s going on. So, I just sat with my eyes glued to the screen, and my eyes were probably as big as dinner plates, trying to take it all in. It was so exciting! The Maroons were so awesome!

As I write, if I have the dates correct, then my Queenslander friends are just a few hours away from cheering on their team. The drinks will be out, the snacks will disappear, and they’ll be shouting their heads off. And even if I can’t watch with them, I’m cheering for the right side, in my head, from South Carolina. Go Maroon!

 

Related posts:

rugby league…

State of Origin ’11, game 3…

go maroon!

come on, make that pav!

The Australian pavlova… the one dessert I never got enough of, while overseas, and never had a lesson in, until the very end of my time there. As a result, when I try to make it here in the U.S., I start consulting multiple recipes and quizzing all my friends for their opinions on how to make it. Remember, Aussies have slightly different ingredients AND measurements than Americans, so nothing I do here will be exactly like we did there.DSC_1005

DSC_0005My impression, after multiple discussions with friends, is that every Aussie has their own perfect way of making one… or they admit defeat, and don’t make it at all. Maybe it always falls flat (though I don’t even know how that works, yet), or maybe they’re half American, so they were raised on a different combination of desserts. But another friend insists that there is no wrong way to make a pav. So, obviously, it takes all types to make a world. Even in Oz.DSC_0009

For my birthday, I decided it was time to make another attempt at pavlova. Not that anything was wrong with the last one, except technically, it wasn’t pavlova. They do say that it has to have cornstarch (cornflour, if you’re an Aussie) in it, to make it a pav. But as I’ve done more reading on the subject of the ins and outs of pavlovas, maybe it really was one, after all. The difference between a meringue and a pavlova is supposed to be that a pav is hard and crunchy on the outside and marshmallow-y soft on the inside, while meringue is hard throughout. So, last time, I thought I did, and then I thought I didn’t… and now I think I did make one, after all.  : )DSC_0013

DSC_0015If you are already looking for the recipe, I haven’t written it yet, so I think I’ll include it at the very end. So, if that’s all you want, scroll straight to the bottom of this page. You see, as I said, I was working from two recipes, tons of online advice, suggestions from my mom, and a little intuition thrown in. In addition, I had to translate the temperatures and measurements, too.DSC_0017

My original recipe, which my friend Imogen sent home with me, was printed off of taste.com.au, and is listed as a “Traditional Pavlova Recipe”. It doesn’t call for cornflour. For my second recipe, she e-mailed me the link to aussie.info.com. I did lots of flipping back and forth from one to the other, trying to decide what to do.DSC_0019

One problem is that Aussies use caster sugar (Americans don’t have this, except perhaps in a specialty store), which seems to be like granulated sugar that’s been blended slightly finer, but not as fine as icing sugar. In the end, we picked up a box of 4x confectioner’s sugar, which is probably too fine, but who cares? It’ll blend nicely into the egg whites, and it’s sugar. Adapt to the ingredients you have, especially if you’re too lazy to blend the sugar in the food processor.DSC_0021

When I began to dig out the ingredients, I practically had to climb into the cupboard, trying to find the cream of tartar, which was hiding in a small container,behind everything else. One recipe calls for it, and the other does not. One recipe explains that cream of tartar helps increase the volume of the egg whites, and gives the pavlova a crunchier crust. So, I thought, it’ll probably help, so I included it.DSC_0022

DSC_0023Remembering that I hadn’t messed it up the first time, so I couldn’t really ruin it this time, unless I did something completely ridiculous, I began my pavlova. I’ve never had any trouble with separating egg whites from egg yolks, so I quickly did that, and threw them in the mixing bowl. By the way, one recipe called for 6 egg whites, the other for 4-6. I think the 4-6 one was tailored more towards 4, so the measurements were a bit different. I went with six, and decided I’d swing with it. One recipe called for a pinch of salt, the other for a pinch of cream of tartar, so I used both.DSC_0025

DSC_0030My first recipe has my friend’s handwritten note that “Typically, in most Aussie pavs, you would use 1/4 cup caster sugar for every egg white – beat until no longer grainy”. So, it’s likely that their caster sugar is grainier than my powdered sugar, and you have to stir longer. And those cups mentioned are in Aussie measures, so I figured my 1 1/2 cups of sugar would work nicely with my 6 eggs. No, wait, one recipe called for 8 ounces of it… so I may have gone with that. Either works. I gradually added the sugar, vanilla, and white vinegar, though I think I saved the vanilla for the very end. It doesn’t really seem like vinegar and vanilla would go together.DSC_0048

DSC_0049Recipe #2 says to lightly fold in the cornstarch. This is where I needed a lesson on folding, from my mom, because I’ve rarely done any recipe that calls for it. The idea of gently stirring, in order to keep it from deflating, strikes me as very odd, but then, I’m using to stirring cookie dough. So, very carefully, I folded in the cornstarch, wondering what would happen if I stirred it too hard. Would it just evaporate before my eyes? That must be what my friend meant about it “falling”.DSC_0055

Also, in Australia, with no everyone having air-conditioning or insulation in their homes, I’m guessing that some of the issues may come with the fluctuation of temperatures inside the house. Even when our AC isn’t running, the house takes a while to change temp, so there isn’t usually any trouble with cooking projects reacting to heat and humidity.DSC_0056

DSC_0059Once the egg whites were ready, I put parchment paper on my cookie sheet, so that I could easily move it to a decorative plate, later. The first time, I didn’t do very well at getting the mixture in a circle, and hollowing it out to make room for the whipped cream. Of course, that time, I overwhipped the cream, so there wasn’t as much of it. But this time, I kept my circle smaller and piled it higher, in order to make a deeper hollow inside. And wished I knew, in detail (with pics), how my friends do it, and what it looks like when they’re making it.  : )  Recipe #1 also calls for making “furrows” up the sides. I’m still working on that part.DSC_0064

After much debate over the oven temperatures and timing, we put it into our convection oven. If you have a gas oven, the recipes call for starting with 400°F, and then dropping it to 250°F after ten minutes, and then baking for an hour. I see now that my first recipe calls for even lower temps. But if you have an electric oven, you start it at 250°F and bake for 1.5 hours. Final notation says that if you have a fan-forced oven (convection), then you “adjust accordingly”. Great, so we make it up as we go along. Eventually, we settled on preheating to 250°F, then dropping it to 235°, and baked it for an hour.DSC_0065

DSC_0066Though it was completely done, the outside of the pavlova wasn’t as crispy as it should’ve been, and the inside a bit soft, so I think I’ll bake it longer, next time. My brother has volunteered to eat any more than I want to make, for practice.  : )DSC_0069

When it’s baked, you turn off the oven, leave the oven partially ajar, and let the pav cool in the oven. I believe this is because if it gets cool TOO suddenly, it will fall. So, another case of possible “falling” that I have yet to experience, so I’m not quite sure what it would look like, if it did.DSC_0076

After the pav was almost cool, I brought it out of the oven to finish cooling, transferred it to a pretty plate, and cut off the excess parchment paper. It moved very easily, with the paper under it. Then, I prepared to make the whipped cream. The recipe calls for 300 mLs of thickened cream, so I used a pint of heavy whipping cream (which is ~470 mLs, I think). This time, I measured it out, but next time, I’ll just use the whole container, because you can’t have too much whipped cream. Also, I need to mix it slightly less, so it will be a little softer.DSC_0080

Recipe #2 doesn’t have any description of how to make the whipped cream, so I ran with what recipe #1 said. I beat the cream, 1 tbsp of confectioner’s sugar, and 1 tsp of vanilla together. Then, I carefully filled my pavlova, spread it evenly, and decorated it with blueberries and strawberries. We forgot to get a kiwi, or we would have added that, too. And I don’t know if you can even get passionfruit, here in the U.S. (it would probably cost a LOT), so that couldn’t be included. But I’ve seen pictures of pavs with pomegranate seeds on top, too. Raspberries would probably be marvelous, as well.DSC_0088

In the end, the pavlova looked beautiful. So, on to the taste test. When I cut the first slice, I found that the outer crust was softer than last time, and gave no resistance to the spatula. It didn’t hold together very well on the plate, either, so I had trouble getting any photos that didn’t look like a pile of white fluff. My family were all surprised at how light it is, like dining on air, and eating more than one piece didn’t feel like overeating. But despite any criticism that I make of it, with the intention of improving the next one, I think it was delicious, too.DSC_0089

I love how the sweetness of the pavlova, which really is almost the consistency of a marshmallow on the inside, contrasts with the whipped cream. You don’t have to put sugar in the whipped cream, but if you do, there’s so very little, that you just taste creamy wonderfulness in it. And the fruit gives it a punch of flavor, unlike the sweetness and cream of the rest. And getting the crunchiness into the outside of the pav is my goal for next time.DSC_0091

But again, six of us polished off the whole thing in a matter of minutes. And as we joked, if you’ve met my brother, he doesn’t eat four slices of any dessert, just to be polite. And though it was suggested that I could make lemon meringue or key lime pie next, I’m afraid I shot down that idea, because I’ve never liked either desserts, particularly. Oh, I try them now and then, but I’m not a big fan of lemon or lime in desserts, I’m not exactly sure why.DSC_0092

So, thanks for staying with me for this whole extended description of my latest baking expedition. This is what my compilation pavlova recipe would end up looking like, though you can feel free to vary it as much as you like. Remember, this is an Aussie traditional dessert, only slightly revamped for Americans.  : )DSC_0093

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Rachel’s Aussie-American Pavlova

6 egg whites

8oz confectioner’s sugar, 4x (or caster sugar)

1 pinch cream of tartar

1 pinch salt

1 tsp vanilla

2 tsp cornstarch

1 tsp white vinegar

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Using an electric mixer, beat egg whites until it forms stiff peaks. Gradually add sugar, beat until sugar is no longer grainy. Add salt, cream of tartar, vinegar, and vanilla, one at a time. Lightly fold in cornstarch.

Pile mixture into a circular shape, on parchment paper, on a cooking sheet. Build up the sides into walls, with a lower, “hollow” center. Make furrows up the sides, if you like. Bake until crunchy on the outside.

Electric oven: Bake at 250°F, for 1.5 hours

Gas oven: Start at 400°F, bake 10 minutes, then lower to 250°, bake for 1 more hour.

Convection: Bake at 235°F for 1 hour, 15 minutes (varies).

Let pavlova cool in the oven, with the door ajar. When cool, fill with whipped cream and decorate with fruit.

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Whipped Cream

1 pint heavy whipping cream

1 tbsp confectioner’s sugar (optional)

1 tsp vanilla

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Beat cream, sugar, & vanilla until soft peaks form.

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I hope you’ve enjoyed going on this pavlova journey with me. My thanks to all the friends that have given me recipes and made suggestions on how to achieve the perfect pavlova. All measurements and temperatures are American, so be careful, if you live anywhere else.  : )  I hope more of my American friends will try out this recipe, and learn to love it as much as I do!DSC_0098

a vegemite kick…

I’ve been eating my Vegemite, a bit at a time… but last week, I dug it out and I’ve been devouring it. Maybe it didn’t help that when I came down with my cold, I wasn’t able to tell myself to eat quite so healthily as I usually do. Breakfast is not usually homemade toast and bagels, I try and cut back on the carbs. But butter and Vegemite have just been calling my name.DSC_0890

And when the new batch of freshly made, still warm, homemade bread appeared on the counter, I knew what I was having for dinner. Occasionally, I put on too much Vegemite, and I get quite a kick to my meal. But the more often I eat it, the stronger I can handle it. And it’s so yummy.. No one else in this house ever had a reason to develop a taste for it, though, so I don’t have to share. Ha HA. You could say my time in Australia was well-spent.DSC_0891

This morning, my brother walked by and saw what I was eating, and asked if it was cinnamon on my bread. I should have made him try it, just to see his reaction to the unexpected. Oh, don’t worry, I have had them try it before, but not recently. But soon, I’ll go back to a bit less bread, and a bit less Vegemite. But Australia, it makes me think of you.

Now, how about some Russian Caravan tea to go with it? So long, I have tea to brew.