The good, the bad and the brilliant: All Hallows’ Eve edition

A (roughly) weekly maybe monthly round-up of what’s got in my head, up my nose and in my heart.

THE GOOD

I’m not a raving fan of All Hallows’ Eve or Halloween or whatever you call it in your part of the world. I don’t have anything against it … I just never felt the urge to participate or to grow a tradition around it for our family. But this could convert me. Despite a childhood almost devoid of Halloween references, My Girl (let’s say she’s in her late twenties) is today rocking a superb Wednesday Addams vibe for the big day. And it lifts my heart to see her channelling Wednesday’s distinctive view of the world.

wednesday addams, halloween, all hallows' eve, being fifty-something, midlife, boomers

 

THE BAD

Sometimes I think it’s the language around Halloween that puts me off. The marketing messages, the products, the motifs position it at a huge distance from anything Australian, but it’s the language that most raises my heckles. Catherine Deveny has captured that perfectly in this very witty piece  I Hate Halloween that sums up all that’s bad about Halloween. To my readers in the Northern Hemisphere, I apologise. This is unlikely to make much sense to you. For my Aussie cohort, it’s worth a big belly-laugh. It’s about the bad, but I love it.

 

THE BRILLIANT

And, despite all my misgivings about this Hallmark celebration, I find myself drawn to the images of ingenious Halloween dress-ups. It seems no age group (or pet!) is left out. This collection of twins in Halloween attire on http://www.wimp.com is brilliant. I’m a fool for a literary reference so have settled on this one as my personal pick:

 

 

Boo!

About these ads

Squishy, Crunchy Vegie Rice Paper Rolls

I read (recently, somewhere on the Interwebs) about the importance of the “crunch” in our food. Crunchy food not only helps relieve stress by forcing us to give our jawbones a decent workout but, at a certain level of crunch, helps light up the “good mood” part of our brains.

Who would have thought? Apparently, potato chip (the bag of crisps variety, not the fries-with-that? kind) manufacturers put a lot of effort into achieving the optimum crunchiness level to get us munching our way down to the very bottom of the bag. I’d imagined the crinkle cut and “deli cut” styles were all about trapping the flavours on the surface. Seems they are more about creating the perfect crunch in your mouth.

The article (which has disappeared back into the murky vortex of cyberville) continued on with how the the dream pairing of crunchiness with squishiness gets those “good mood” brain parts really partying. Think: soft-centred chocolate where you crunch through the smooth crispness of the outer layer then sink into the cushiony, yielding flavour bomb inside. My brain is making whoopee just thinking about it.

Where am I going with all this? Surprisingly, I’m heading for rice paper rolls and my revelation that what I love about them (apart from the distinctive Asian flavours) is the squishy, crunchy experience. First the dipping sauce hits your tongue, then your teeth slice through the soft rice paper layers, crunch through the raw, crispy vegetables and sink into the soft, tasty noodles. Boom! Party in your mouth and celebration in your brain.

All this revelation inspired me to push my culinary skills into new territory and prepare (it’s not really baking, is it?) rice paper rolls from scratch.

I found this recipe on http://www.taste.com.au and it suited the situation perfectly. My (vegetarian) Girl was to be present at our family gathering and Mr (carnivore) P (who doesn’t like coriander) was not arriving until later. So, tofu, coriander and bottled sweet chilli dipping sauce won the day.

The rice paper wrappers were easier than I expected to work with. I’m just surprised that no one had whispered to me that once you wet them, they take on the consistency of, well … condoms. Not a great image to have in your head when you’re rolling up little parcels of whoopee, but there you go. At least now, I’ve told you.

These went down a treat at our family gathering, so fast that I only managed to capture the last couple on the plate.

vegie rice paper rolls recipe, crunchy food, midlife, boomer, being fifty-something

Lucky last two Vegie Rice Paper Rolls perfectly paired with a Fat Yak Pale Ale.

 

vegie rice paper rolls recipe, crunchy food, midlife, boomer, being fifty-something

vegie rice paper rolls recipe, crunchy food, midlife, boomer, being fifty-something

 

Squishy, Crunchy Vegie Rice Paper Rolls

1 pkt instant noodles

1/4 bunch coriander, leaves picked

50g (1/3 cup) crushed peanuts

1 tablespoon soy sauce

10 rice paper sheets

100g firm tofu, thinly sliced

2 Lebanese cucumbers, washed, cut into 8cm matchsticks

1 carrot, peeled, cut into 8cm matchsticks

sweet chilli sauce, to serve

Boil the noodles as per packet instructions (discarding the veg and flavour sachets). Drain, cool slightly. Combine noodles, coriander, peanuts and soy sauce in a small bowl.

Fill a large, shallow bowl with warm water. Soak one rice paper sheet in the water for 20 seconds or until just soft (condom consistency!). Don’t soak too long or it will tear. Drain on paper towel. Transfer to chopping board. Place some of the noodles mixture in the centre. Top with some of the tofu, cucumber and carrot. Fold in the ends and roll up to enclose.

Repeat to make 10 rolls. Serve with sweet chilli sauce for dipping.

Book Review: Murder in Mississippi by John Safran

Where have you been all my life, true crime genre? Murder in Mississippi is my first foray into the category and I’m smitten.

murder in mississippi review, John Safran, true crime, amreading, midlife, boomer, australian book reviews

I always imagined true crime narratives espoused from the point of view of an expert, serious criminologist schooled in the science and art of detection. Instead, in Murder in Mississippi, John Safran took me on a wild, comedic ramble into America’s deep south, a place populated by white supremacists, corrupt officials, murderers, accomplices, lawyers, mothers, sisters, journalists, girlfriends and an underpinning culture of racism. Operating on instinct, whim and sometimes desperation, Safran seems to surprise even himself how close he gets to the nub of this murder backstory. It’s a story that compels Safran to delve and compels the reader to read on, despite the crazy, almost incredible way it unfolds.

From Book Depository:

“In 2009 John Safran, a controversial Australian journalist, spent an uneasy few days interviewing one of Mississippi’s most notorious white supremacists. A year later, he hears that the man has been murdered by a young black man. But this is far from a straightforward race killing. Safran flies back to Mississippi in a bid to discover what really happened, immersing himself in a world of clashing white separatists, black lawyers, police investigators, oddball neighbours and the killer himself. In the end, he discovers just how profoundly complex the truth about someone’s life – and death – can be. A brilliantly innovative true-crime story. Safran paints an engrossing and revealing portrait of race, money, sex and power in the modern American South.”

Sounds straightforward. It’s not. Murder in Mississippi is as much about John Safran’s journey as it is about the murder. And that’s what makes it such an enthralling read. I felt like I was there, that I was unpacking the lead-up to the murder and snooping around the scene of the crime, looking over Safran’s shoulder. It felt dodgy and threatening but I was weirdly attracted, perhaps by Safran’s humour and his certain feeling that he is meant to be here, carrying out this bizarre mission. Early in the book he talks about being on a piece of elastic, drawn closer to the telling of this story, like a pilgrimage.

Before I have a chance to retreat I’m sucked into a crazy world of the unexpected, riding alongside Safran into terra absurdus where the currency is Walmart Green Dot cards and the dialect includes gems like “murble” and “murblestatic”.

I’m introduced to unlikeable (sometimes evil) characters who I only tolerate by dint of curiosity. Like a car crash from which I can’t avert my eyes.

I’ve since heard someone comment that: “it’s hard to know who is the worst of the worst amongst these characters”. So. True. They’re a gnarly bunch of ne’er-do-wells with only glimpses of anything redeeming. Still, Safran perseveres, bumbling on against the odds to find a story, to find the truth. Increasingly it becomes apparent that the truth is unlikely to be had and that the story is in the seeking not the finding.

The themes bubble over one another: racism, poverty, justice, sexual violence, greed. A touch of empty romance. There are no clear lines and no answers. Just a riveting, rambling story that exposes an unfamiliar, unendearing world. Midst it all, Safran sees a glimmer of hope:

“I’ve been on a piece of elastic my whole life, being drawn closer and closer, to this meeting in this forest today. There is no one in the world – not one of the seven billion – who would appreciate this bizarre scene more than me. The beaming black woman unaware she’s at a white nationalist rally. The white nationalists too Southern and polite to cause a scene and tell Audarshia what’s really going on. Is it too much to see this as a sign of hope?”

Thanks, John Safran for Murder in Mississippi, my compelling and uber-readable introduction to true crime. I love your language and your immediacy, your capacity to put me (with you) in the story. And, on this one read, I think I love your chosen genre. Just to be sure, I’ve centred Helen Garner’s The House of Grief in my crosshairs.

 

 

 

Dem bones, dem bones … SCREAM for Halloween campaign

Being fifty-something, I’m heartened to hear that it’s never too late to think about your bone health and the decisions you can make to help prevent osteoporosis.

And I love this new October SCREAM for Halloween campaign by Healthy Bones Australia / Osteoporosis Australia that challenges us to think about bone health just as our thoughts are turning to skeletons, spookies and pumpkins. Clever.

scream for halloween, healthy bones australia, osteoporosis australia, midlife health, boomers health, being fifty-something

More than 33% of Australians suffer from poor bone health. Osteoporosis is one of our silent killers.

Susie Burrell, esteemed dietician and ambassador for SCREAM for Halloween, shares the low-down on healthy bones for any age.

susie burrell, scream for halloween, osteoporosis australia, healthy bones australia, midlife health, boomers health, fifty-something health

Susie Burrell, dietician and ambassador for SCREAM for Halloween

“According to Osteoporosis Australia, over 1.2 million Australians have osteoporosis, and a further 6.3 million have osteopenia, or low bone density, which increases risk of the disease in the future,” said Susie. “It’s a condition that can affect anyone at any age, but is also highly preventable through a few key healthy lifestyle measures.”

“Whether you’re 5 or 55, making the right choices now will mean your bones will be significantly healthier for years to come. This is why, as a Healthy Bones Ambassador, we are screaming out to all Australians to think about their bone health this October.”

I asked Susie specifically about the impact of osteoporosis on over-50s and what we could do to minimise its effects.

“As you age, you’ll start to encounter a decline in bone mass which can increase the risk of Osteoporosis,” Susie said. “For women, this will generally start to occur around the time of menopause.”

“It is important if you fall into this age group to ensure that you are eating your recommended amount of calcium every day. For women over 50 this is 1,200mg of calcium daily. This equates to about 3-4 serves of calcium rich foods including dark, leafy greens, low-fat cheese, low-fat milk and almonds.”

“You should also incorporate some form of weight-bearing exercise into your routine, such as a brisk daily walk or mix it up with a dancing lesson or weekend hikes. Healthy Bones Australia has a great online calculator that you can use to keep track of this.”

I’m including Susie’s tips for other age groups here, too. You might like to “bone up” on the detail and SCREAM it out to your kids, grandkids, siblings, work colleagues or friends in the lead-up to Halloween. Much more useful than trick or treat. Everyone can benefit. It’s never too early, or too late.

KIDS

Instilling a healthy diet into children’s lives that contains lots of calcium, is key to building and maintaining strong bones from a young age. Incorporating foods such as milk, cheese, yoghurt and broccoli that are high in calcium into meals will get them used to eating these foods and developing good eating habits. Try to get your little ones from in front of the television and outside and being active. Running, jumping and skipping are not only fun but great for strong bones. Getting kids engaged in an outside sport such as soccer or netball is also a great way to promote healthy bones.

TEENS

People who are physically active tend to have a higher bone mineral density, which means healthier bones. Keeping active and incorporating regular exercise routines into your week can reduce the risk of developing osteoporosis, and there’s no better time to do this than when you’re a teenager. High impact, weight bearing exercises are best for bones. So it’s a great time to be playing sports such as soccer, hockey, tennis, netball and football. In young people, these can not only improve mobility, but increase bone density by 2-8% per year. If you play sports outdoors, you’ll get the added bonus of regular, safe, sunshine exposure as well.

TWENTIES

Your twenties may be a time of exploration, but that doesn’t mean you have to throw healthy habits out the window. Limit alcohol consumption to one drink per day (two at the absolute maximum), and if you’re a smoker, consider the lifetime value of your bones as reason to quit now. Your twenties are also the time when most people reach peak bone mass, so maintaining this is crucial, with regular consumption of calcium rich foods, weight bearing exercise and sunshine. Aim to maintain a healthy weight as being underweight increases risk of osteoporosis.

THIRTIES AND UP

Adulthood has well and truly sunk in by this stage, with healthy bones becoming important in leading a fit and active life that’ll take you from your peak working years into retirement. Bones can also slowly start to lose their density in one’s early thirties, so your lifestyle choices carry heavier weight. While work and family commitments make life extremely busy, it’s important to still get outside for at least 5-10 minutes of sunshine a day and to exercise regularly. Pay extra attention to your diet and make a conscious effort to consume foods high in calcium. Calcium supplements can boost intake if this is on the low side.

 

And Susie has a final word for us fifty-somethings:

“With approximately one in two women over 50 set to break a bone due to osteoporosis, the need to fundraise is paramount. This is why I got on board as a SCREAM for Halloween ambassador. To donate or to find out more about hosting a fund-raising Halloween party during October, head to the fundraising page of the campaign website.”

 

[This NOT a sponsored post. Just info that's important enough to share.]

The good, the bad and the brilliant [ 27 September 1014 ]

A (roughly) weekly maybe monthly round-up of what’s got in my head, up my nose and in my heart.

THE GOOD

Please allow me one vainglorious moment to gloat about being placed in the Eat Drink Blog Writing Competition 2014  for Australian food bloggers. Who would have thought?

Eatdrinkblog logo

I share the podium with two super food-savvy bloggers and I suggest you scurry over and read their winning blogposts (at the very least) to see what Aussie bloggers are up to. They are:

Deepa Gopinath  of One Small Pot with her  Quick Mango Pickle (and stunning photography)

and

Nadine Long of The Divine Family Tree with Sharing a Meal

My winning blogpost is over here: There’s Someone Living in my Kitchen

I have some goodies, including a coffee machine and clever kitchen playthings, coming my way. Big, meaningful mwahs and thankyous to Eat Drink Blog, Nescafe Dolce Gusto and Dreamfarm for supporting Australian bloggers.

 

THE BAD

So sad this week that young Numan Haider became the face of terrorism in our community.

I feel for Numan’s mum, for his family and his Muslim community, for his friends.

I feel for the two police officers involved and for their families, for their colleagues.

And I feel for my family and my community.

None of us should live in fear of each other.

 

THE BRILLIANT

Today’s early morning trip to the Newtown Farmers Market was sublime. Just enough sunshine to warm the heart, and a plethora of happy, chatty traders. Always a great vibe at the farmers market.

We indulged in seedlings (grown with love / without chemicals) for our backyard veggie boxes (zucchini, beetroot, kale, parsley, rocket and lettuce), gourmet sausages, heirloom carrots, cauliflower, pumpkin, onions, roma tomatoes, olive bread, banana chips, wasabi peas and more. Brilliant!

newtown farmers market, geelong, fresh, local, midlife, boomers, fifty-something

newtown farmers market, geelong, fresh, local, midlife, boomers, fifty-something

newtown farmers market, geelong, fresh, local, midlife, boomers, fifty-something

DIY Terrarium … the gift that keeps on growing

Being fifty-something, I’m a terrier when it comes to a gift-giving mission. I love to stick to my guns and, in this year of buying nothing new, it’s more critical than ever.

With my great niece Miss E’s fifth birthday looming I was keen to find a suitably “ethical” gift for her. I’d set a high bar at her third birthday with ribbon sticks all round. But a busy week saw the birthday weekend barrelling towards me with very little inspiration happening.

Late on the Friday night I had a light bulb moment and decided a terrarium would be perfect – a little “other” world that Miss E could stare into and imagine. I would have loved a terrarium when I was her age.

I’d seen locally made terrariums at nearby outlets and they fitted the “hand-made” criteria of my year of buying nothing new. On the Saturday, I headed out to track one down in time to take along to the Sunday family birthday gathering. Alas, not one terrarium was to be had in my neck of the woods. I even ventured a little further. Nothing. Well, nothing apart from the one I spied in a florist’s window for $80. Bejeezus! Two hand-craft consignment places told me they’d sold their last one that morning. Another said they hadn’t been able to stock them in months and another was vague. Very vague.

Great idea with (so far) a very poor execution. By Sunday morning, pressure was mounting. Something twigged in the back of my brain and I grabbed my craft ideas swipe file. (Everyone’s got one of those right?) And there it was, as fresh as the day I’d (not so ethically) photocopied it from a library edition of Peppermint magazine … a DIY Terrarium tutorial.

It was a slim chance but I headed to the local Sunday market where the gods of birthday gift-giving shone down on me. I found everything I needed. Every. Thing. Almost.

DIY terrarium, terrarium tutorial, how to, midlife, boomer, fifty-something

Then I just followed the instructions:

1. Fill the bottom of your jar with a layer of small stones or pebbles (I scooped these up in my front garden). Succulents don’t like to get their feet wet, so the pebbles will help with drainage.

2. Spoon in a layer of soil or potting mix. The soil needs to be thick enough to completely cover the roots and support your succulents. (I used the soil that came in the tiny succulent pots I purchased at the market.)

3. Use a spoon to create holes in the soil layer and position each succulent’s roots into a hole, with the tallest plant at the rear.

4. Add any cute little figurines or knick-knacks. (That wasn’t in the tutorial, but I think they’re a must-have for a five-year old. I added a cheerful tortoise and a little green cat. I also glued a vintage scrabble letter E to a bamboo skewer and stuck that right on in.)

DIY terrarium, terrarium tutorial, how to, midlife, boomer, fifty-something

DIY terrarium, terrarium tutorial, how to, midlife, boomer, fifty-something

I think the result is outstanding, (if I do say so myself). Miss E thought so, too.

And all for a tiny, tiny, tiny fraction of the cost of that terrarium I spied in the florist’s window. And I even have some succulents and tiny dinosaur figurines left-over for another project. Win. Win. Win.

Caring for your terrarium: Your terrarium should need very little care as succulents are very hardy plants and well accustomed to arid environments. Succulents also like lots of light but, as it can get very hot and humid inside a terrarium, it is best to position them in indirect sunlight. Avoid rot by not over-watering. Only water when it is completely dry. A good mist with a spray bottle once a week should be plenty.

On funeral slideshows

Being fifty-something, I seem to be attending funerals with unsettling frequency. The generation that went before is moving on, one by one.

So I’m feeling qualified to make this personal observation.

Those slideshows of photographs they show at funerals are growing on me. More and more, I look forward to the moment when everyone in the chapel turns their face towards the big screen and watches the passing parade of images against a soundscape of meaningful, carefully chosen music.

funeral slideshows, funerals, memories, midlife, boomers, fifty-something

I used to think they were naff, these pictorial life stories, when they first started popping up at funeral services a couple of decades ago. I viewed them a bit like the crappy desktop publishing and clipart we were bombarded with in the nineties. Kitsch and bad taste. Just because the technology means you can, that doesn’t mean you should.

But I’ve changed my mind (as I’m doing with unsettling frequency).

A few days ago I attended a funeral service for Ernie, a man related by marriage, someone I’d met when he was fifty-something and since only seen at occasional family gatherings. My whole “knowing” of Ernie was based on the last thirty-odd years of his life, and then, just on a narrow window into it.

Yet, through the magic prism of his funeral slideshow, I saw someone else.

I saw a young boy with mischief on his mind, a teenager with sparkling eyes, a motorbike rider, a car restorer.

I saw young love and a gorgeous wife with a cheeky grin.

I saw Ernie become a proud dad, three times over.

I saw him travelling, carving out a career, working hard to build a good life.

I saw him surrounded by his family as they grew into one another and a whole new generation of grandchildren.

I saw laughter and love and living. I saw all the things I want to celebrate at a funeral.

I felt uplifted and filled with new memories of Ernie to carry with me.

And I felt those around me lift and respond to the Ernie in the photos, to their own memories and connections, to the good living that had been done.

Yes, I’m totally converted. If I must be at a funeral, please let it be one with a soul-stirring slideshow.