Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Cheery or not?

Merry Girl: Everyone has Christmas cheer and decorations up except us.
Me: (through clenched teeth) I've got Christmas spirit -- it's just very well hidden.

I am not yet into the guilt-ridden part of the year. It's not quite December so I don't need to feel festive yet. And I have done all of my Christmas shopping which is some kind of record (attributable only to the fact that we're going with a joint present for the entire family) and to the fact that I don't have a wide circle of people whom require gifts (even if some of them might quite like them.) I refuse to feel festive and cheerful until I can't resist any longer. I think the record is the point at which I am actually wrapping presents. I am amazed that some towns have already had their carol nights and that decorations line the streets in Rosewood and Ipswich. I loved it last year when we went away in November and skipped all the stress/end of year related events. But we can't do that every year. And I'm told that running away isn't the solution.

Even though I love warm Christmases and consider them normal -- there is something about the northern Christmases that is just so much more festive. I didn't feel it so much all the years we were in the US but after our sojourn in Europe last year, I finally get the whole cold/snow/northern nostalgia thing. Maybe we should simply jettison Christmas as a celebration in Australia. Some prefer to celebrate in July when it is actually cool. I'm not so keen on the colonial overtones of that.

On the other hand, a hot Christmas illustrates the arbitrary nature of religious festivals and indeed, the whole calendar. Given Australia's long slow drift into agnosticism, maybe we should have a national competition to create an appropriate December festival. Christians can hang onto the religious calendar and everyone else can kick up their heels in a culturally appropriate way.

Some initial ideas:

A week long cricket-themed holiday (the game, not the insect).

A national beach party.

A fortnight off work with pay that doesn't count against leave entitlements.

Appreciate your family day that involves giving of gifts but no decorations.

High Summer Fest

Decorate the Moreton Bay Fig/Jacaranda tree just because...

Other ideas…?

Sunday, 21 November 2010

The small things

Some of you may have seen that the Hope Diamond has been placed in a new setting as part of an exhibit at the Smithsonian Museums in Washington D.C. Even our ABC had a story on the legendary diamond. All the fuss and exotic jewellery aside, what I love is the story of how the Smithsonian received the diamond.

It was mailed to them in a regular mail envelope, albeit an insured one, delivered by the US Postal Service on a routine run from New York City to Washington D.C. The museum has the original wrapper postmarked November 8, 1958 complete with the mail franks and postal comments. The postage was $145.29 ($2.44 postage and the remainder, insurance for $1 million). Can you imagine sending something like this by mail today?

It's really the small things of history that I enjoy the most.

Image courtesy of the Smithsonian Snapshot.

Friday, 12 November 2010

How to cook guinea fowl

I suspect that I am the only person I know who has woken up one November morning, felt the humidity and heat in the air and wondered "How do you cook guinea fowl?"

I didn't wonder this in a oh-life-is-so-interesting-let's-find-out-something-new sort of way or a I-am-a good-cook-let's-tackle-guinea-fowl-and-sock-it-to-Iron-Chef sort of way.

I was tired and I was grumpy. The children have been sick and both consequently and subsequently whingy, getting anything done has been difficult. I got spectacularly lost on Monday on my way to a meeting. I hate getting lost and I hate being late to things and it seemed to summarise my life in a nutshell rather than just reliance on poor maps. I admit to a tear or two trickling down my face as I looked at yet another roundabout in the middle of suburban Springfield that led to no-where and wasn't on Google maps.

Back to guinea fowl -- I woke at some dark hour with the smoke detectors going off. We've installed super detectors at the insistence of building inspectors from council and so far they have proven to be efficient detectors of humidity over 99% or heavy particulate matter in the atmosphere typically at the point of the night when you are deepest in sleep and most likely to have heart failure from synchronised alarm systems going off. They are synchronised because the electricians installed one and the inspectors insisted on another approximately one metre away so they can now tag team each other in the middle of the night.

When the adrenalin had subsided enough for me to sleep again, the guinea fowl started up. Our neighbours have acquired four of these things. The neighbours also believe in free range fowl. I have no problem with free range. In fact, I spend extra money to ensure that my eggs are thus. On a practical level though, I have discovered that free range is shorthand for "I'm not going to bother fencing my poultry in properly." I spend a lot of time chasing other people's free range animals out of my previously tidy, well-mulched and poop free yard.

These animals are noisy and stupid or at least manage to ignore people chasing them and cars attempting to reverse. It's likely that they will end up in my kitchen either accidentally or in a "she snapped one morning" sort of way. So I had better know how to cook them.

So far I have found:

- an upmarket roast guinea fowl recipe for a special occasion.

- a recipe for broiled guinea fowls beginning with "Pluck, singe and draw two or three Guinea fowls, wash them thoroughly, and split down the backs; wipe dry and flatten them slightly."

- Guinea fowl wrapped in pancetta or parma ham (because it is naturally drier than chicken)

- guinea fowl stuffed with sausage meat.

- guinea fowl baked with thirty cloves of garlic

- casserole of guinea fowl legs in red wine sauce

- a warm guinea fowl salad

- guinea fowl with red pepper marmalade sauce

- a duck, chicken and guinea fowl three bird roast

- pot-roasted guinea fowl with chestnut stuffing

- terrine of confited guinea fowl

… now I do have something to think about when I wake up early in the morning. What did people do in the days before the internet when they encountered unfamiliar wildlife that they wished to consume?

Monday, 8 November 2010

Monday morning poetry

Inspired by watching A Poet's Guide to Britain on television last night, all gloomy pebbled beaches and moody surging waves with the white cliffs of Dover thrown in for good measure, a little Matthew Arnold poetry for Monday morning. I particularly like the fact that shortly after writing this, Arnold bit the bullet and became a schools inspector. Pragmatism is a useful quality in real life.


Weary of myself, and sick of asking
What I am, and what I ought to be,
At this vessel's prow I stand, which bears me
Forwards, forwards, o'er the starlit sea.

And a look of passionate desire

O'er the sea and to the stars I send:
"Ye who from my childhood up have calm'd me,
Calm me, ah, compose me to the end!

"Ah, once more," I cried, "ye stars, ye waters,
On my heart your mighty charm renew;
Still, still let me, as I gaze upon you,
Feel my soul becoming vast like you!"

From the intense, clear, star-sown vault of heaven,
Over the lit sea's unquiet way,
In the rustling night-air came the answer:
"Wouldst thou be as these are? Live as they.

"Unaffrighted by the silence round them,
Undistracted by the sights they see,
These demand not that the things without them
Yield them love, amusement, sympathy.

"And with joy the stars perform their shining,
And the sea its long moon-silver'd roll;
For self-poised they live, nor pine with noting
All the fever of some differing soul.

"Bounded by themselves, and unregardful
In what state God's other works may be,
In their own tasks all their powers pouring,
These attain the mighty life you see."

O air-born voice! long since, severely clear,
A cry like thine in mine own heart I hear:
"Resolve to be thyself; and know that he,
Who finds himself, loses his misery!"

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Aitch anxiety

How do you pronounce the letter "h"? Do you say "aytch" or "haytch"? Does one or the other of these pronunciations bother you greatly?

Mr Blithe drew my attention to a fascinating article on the BBC website about changing pronunciations. He asked me to guess which sentence in it made him think of me.

I guessed correctly.

It was the one about the "slightly agonised look in some people's eyes" at the sound of the eighth letter of the alphabet being said as "haytch." I have always been emphatic that the pronunciation is "aitch" even if everyone in Queensland pronounces it the other way. Blithe Girl asked me one day if I minded if she said "haytch" at school and "aytch" at home as she was tired of being different. To my shame, I insisted that she speak "properly." Really I need to get over it.

I attribute this to my family's Irish Protestant background where one knew a person was Roman Catholic by their "haytchs" but apparently it is related to class anxiety as well. Whoda thunk? Well I'm actually not too surprised as it was always made fairly clear to me at my middle class English-style primary school that hayseeds and rednecks spoke one way and educated people spoke another. This is ironic because as a result of my wildly divergent educational experiences I have some pretty weird pronunciations in spite of my culturally pure h's. I sound English but say "dienasty" not "dinasty" and occasionally talk about sidewalks and parking lots.

I was amused by reference in the article to a 1928 BBC guide to pronunciation. Did you know that in 1928 pristine rhymed with wine, combat was cumbat and housewifery, huzzifry (or even that they used that word)? Did you also know that more people under the age of 35 in the UK now make says rhyme with lays and not fez?

The British Library is recording changes in pronunciation by recording people reading the opening passage of a Mr Men book, Mr Tickle. This was chosen because it is well-known and will not inspire people to put on their best "posh" voices. I wonder what would be chosen for reading in an Australian context?