Christmas 2008

Christmas is never a big deal in my family. It’s more of a novelty. My parents and my little brother have been overseas for weeks, so the Christmas celebrations this year involved only my two sisters, and my boyfriend and his family. 

On Christmas Eve my sisters and I cooked up a huge feast. I made roast lamb (using Stephanie Alexander’s recipe, which is great), roast veggies, a lemon curd tart and I attempted Meringue Mushrooms but failed dismally. The Mushrooms were for Christmas Lunch the next day with the bf’s family, they were a hit last Christmas. This time I was unfortunately trying to do too many things at once, so I tried to rush the Mushrooms by turning up the oven heat. Regrettably, meringues aren’t something you can play around with without dire consequences and the end result was burnt, brown meringues that were chewy rather than melt-in-your-mouth. A shame because the respect and renown I garnered from making my fabulous Meringue Mushrooms is now tarnished! Bahaha. 

But I digress. My big-little sister made brownies and shortbread and my little-little sister made mushrooms stuffed with ricotta and other goodness, and a cauliflower bake, which we forgot about until we were already full from the rest of the food. There was a lot of food. I guess that goes without saying as it was Christmas Eve dinner after all. 

The next day was Christmas. (Surprise, surprise.) I awoke reluctantly; even the knowledge of presents to be opened was not enough to keep me from a sleep in. I got some goodies this year. (Yay.) I had been planning to stay up all Christmas Eve and open all my pressies at midnight, but everyone discouraged this as bad form and in the end I was so sleepy I decided to crash. Me and my lovely boy drove up to the Barossa Valley for lunch with his family. We got pulled over for an alcohol and drug test. I was excited because I’d never seen a saliva drug test. It was a lot like a pregnancy test, not because urine was involved, but because of the way you read the test with pink stripes. I felt sorry for the policeman because he had to work all of Christmas Day. He said he didn’t mind though. 

The boy’s family live on a farm and we had a delicious lunch in the shade of a vine canopy. The extended family are a lovely bunch. For me though, the main attraction was Archie, the family’s new puppy. SO. CUTE. I ate lots. There was pudding – I just love pudding. Also ice cream pudding, a modern take on a traditional favourite. I even had some wine but stopped when my skin went all splotchy, one of the yucky things that happens when I drink. 

We stayed the night at the farm and drove back the next day, i.e. today. I ate a Splice when I got home. Then I relaxed and did some reading and sprawling and tea-drinking. Now I’m at my parent’s house. This is where I’ll stay from now on. My sisters are holidaying in America as of tomorrow morning, so I’ll effectively be required to house-sit. This is depressing me greatly. I am lonely and missing my lovely boy already. After a year of living with my partner I don’t want to be living in this big house by myself, with no one but my dog for company. And the dog has issues. I love him, but he does. And the house feels so far away from everything. And I accidentally left my  mobile phone behind at my other house.

So yeah. I guess this is a lonesome end to a lovely, social Christmas. 

To end on a positive note, I finally fulfilled my life-long dream of having purple hair. Okay, only near-life-long. Hm, okay, in reality it was more like a since-teenager-hood dream. I love having purple hair. I’ll post properly about it later, but here’s a badly-lit Photobooth photo.

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Things I’ve Learnt About Piano Technique in the Last Six Months

Fingers should not be slaves. There should be a partnership between the brain, the fingers and the ear. So, you use logical thought to figure out how to do something, the best fingering or whatever, then fingers and hands try it. If it feels uncomfortable for the fingers, then it’s time for fingers and brain to negotiate a compromise. Then the ear has to have its say and this is important because the whole act of piano playing is for constant pursuit of the right sound. If it sounds good, do it. If not, brain and fingers must find another way.

“The tip of the fingers must always be alert”. According to the wonderful Mr. Boris Berman; “every instrumentalist or singer strives to achieve clarity of performance, and for each of them one or more parts of the body are responsible for enunciation. For singers as well as woodwind players these are the lips and the tongue; for string players it is the right arm that brings the bow into contact with the strings. For pianists, this function is performed by the fingertips”.

Elbows are reactive, not active. Your fingers go someplace, the elbow reacts. The elbow (and all of the rest of the arm) doesn’t get to lead. 

Rotations and circles are good. All human movement is circular (think about walking, for instance). We rarely move in a series of super-straight lines. Therefore it feels natural to incorporate circular movement in piano-playing. 

Your fingers are all different lengths so you have to compensate for that e.g. with rotation of the wrist. Also, thumbs are amazing.

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So I’m pretty glad I decided to go back to uni to do Honours this year because in a short time, I’ve really learnt a huge amount. Seriously, within my first few lessons I had more new information than I had after three years of doing my degree. What’s best of all is that I feel like I am finally getting to a stage where I can work autonomously, making my own decisions and doing my own problem solving to reach my desired result. And this is only the start! I have so much more to find out about and to learn.

Common Misconceptions

In the past few days I’ve had a browser tab open on this Wiki page about common misconceptions and I have been slowly making my way through while eating my morning cereal. Yes, the morning is the best time of day for absorbing random facts. 

I love that the north magnetic pole is actually a south magnetic pole. And that the poles can wander about. Also, you can’t see the Great Wall of China from the moon. 

Anyway, I love the Wiki.

Fruit Mince Pie Review

Image by northstander 

Image by northstander

 

This Christmas season I decided to sample as many different fruit mince pies from as many different sources as possible, a mission I undertook with relish as I love mince pies. This review is probably a little inaccurate now as I am writing it off the top of my head. I have lost my dearest Small Purple Notebook, in which was contained the List (an inexhaustive inventory of things to do as well as numerous other bits and bobs for treasuring) and would have been used to record my impressions of mince pies from various origins. But anyway, here we go. 

● Mr. Kipling’s — I reckon that out of all the supermarket-stocked brands, Mr. Kipling’s is the best. The packet says that they are “exceedingly good” and I tend to agree. The crust is very buttery and quite crumbly and not too thick or cakey. The filling is rich and has good flavour. They are “deep dish” and so don’t skimp on the filling. In the past few weeks I have kept coming back to Mr. Kipling’s as they are really quality. 

● Balfour’s — A friend warned me off Balfour’s mince pies, saying “you’d think with their expertise in meat pie making they might be able to pull off a half-decent one, but no, the pastry was tough and flavourless, and the mincemeat tasted like chemicals”. With this in mind, I expected the worst. But they actually weren’t half bad. True, the pastry wasn’t exactly flavoursome, but it was inoffensive, and the filling also; certainly not “chemically” in flavour. I think Balfour’s contribution is, however, rather forgettable, and with Mr. Kipling’s mince pies available at a similar price (if not, a little more expensive) it’s worth forgoing the Balfour’s option for something more rewarding. 

● Swiss Glory — Funnily enough, I accidentally typed “Swiss Gory” just now which actually an apt name for the awful mince pies this deluxe chocolate store has to offer. I was going past the Swiss Glory shop on my way to the Central Markets when I was caught by their sign which announced that they made the best fruit mince pies in town. Of course I had to try, but I was sorely disappointed. The filling was bland and had the texture and appearance of cold meat pie (think greyish and congealed). The crust was too thick and bready. I wondered afterwards if a customer had quietly informed them of the complete FAIL of their mince pies because the next time I went past, the sign was gone. 

● Goodwood Bakery — At $2.50 a pop, these mince pies are pricey but delicious. They have a definitely home-baked flavour about them. The filling is yummy albeit a bit scarce and the pastry is great. The top crust has an almost biscuity texture and is quite crunchy, something which I’m not sure would appeal to everybody but it certainly appeals to me. Also, the lady in the bakery gave me a decorative piece of holly, which is a bonus. It’s currently in the fruit bowl, with the garlic. 

● Walker’s — My lovely boy bought a box of these treats for my birthday. I don’t know how much they cost but I believe they are quite expensive. The first one I tried I had it heated up in the oven. Warm, they are rich and almost savoury with a buttery, crumbly pastry crust. When cold, the filling has a distinct bite of citrus flavour which is unique and certainly delicious. Walker’s is the only mince pie I have tried warm, next Christmas season I will try more kinds warm. 

● Baker’s Delight — I am a huge Baker’s Delight fan, even though I secretly feel slightly guilty for supporting a franchise instead of a small independently owned business. They just bake good bread, okay? I used to buy a fruit danish on most days, nowadays I am not nearly as self-indulgent. I have only had one Baker’s Delight mince pie thus far into the season, and I actually can’t really recall the details, except that I enjoyed it. But it’s Baker’s Delight, so it can’t be bad, right?

● The ones from the Foodland/IGA on Goodwood Road — I can’t remember what the brand was, but they were cheap and nasty. Truth be told I wasn’t actually game to try one. When removed from their plastic packaging and then from their foil patty pans, the bottom crust revealed itself to be actually moist and slimy to the touch! Ew! On the night I acquired these little beasts we had a party and I offered them to everyone just to get them off my hands. The next morning, out of the six there was just one left in the fridge and I still didn’t eat it. 

Hopefully this review will be updated as I discover yet more mince pie varieties. I am even toying with the idea of finding a recipe and making some pies from scratch. There is something about Christmas food that really appeals to me. I love the strong flavours of mince pie, pudding and Christmas cake. Sadly, my enthusiasm is not echoed in many others – most of my friends were quick to express their disgust at the idea of a mince pie review! Well, I’m the real winner here.