Friday, 30 September 2011

French toast

I'm a bit of a fan of french toast. I find it very difficult to resist. Inspired by today's meal, I thought I'd reflect on some of my favourite french toast experiences.

Today I sampled a rather decadent brioche french toast at one of my local haunts, Pound. Brioche as french toast? Mmmm, so naughty, but so yummy. It was served with vanilla infused ricotta and fresh banana. Alas, this was a special and not a regular menu item (possibly a good thing or I might never order anything else).

One of my most memorable french toasts was from years ago, served at a modest shopping centre cafe. A couple of slices of egg-soaked fried toast were accompanied by a generous serve of fresh fruit salad and drizzled in maple syrup. I keep wondering why more cafes don't offer this simple and relatively healthy version. I have been known to order a separate serve of fruit salad with my french toast in an attempt to recreate it...

And then there's the cinnamon toast with grilled peaches offered by Goat House. Alas, they've taken this off the menu, but I managed to order it a few times before this happened. Basically it was cinnamon sugar-coated french toast served with grilled peaches and double cream (except I substituted the cream for natural yoghurt). The first time I had it I declared it my favourite french toast ever.

Although I do prefer fresh fruit to accompany, quite a few places offer french toast with a fruit/berry warm stew/compote. Marmalade in East Brighton does a hugely generous serve with berries, and Saloop in Gardenvale does one with caramelised banana and walnuts. Both are delicious, although I find them a little on the sweet side.

There's obviously a trend here. French toast tends to come most often with fruit of some kind -- and I'm not complaining. But here's a diversion. A couple of months ago I sampled a rather elaborate concoction at Della Nonna QV in the city: french toast with bacon and banana and maple syrup... and fried eggs as well. Totally OTT and bad for you, but delicious.

But finally, one of my favourite french toasts of all time -- which is alas no longer available either -- is the challah french toast that used to be on the menu at Hopscotch in Elsternwick. This was totally savoury and awesome: french toast made from challah bread, served with smoked salmon, grilled/roasted cherry tomatoes and wilted spinach. Absolutely divine.

Friday, 23 September 2011

District 9 - frighteningly familiar

I watched District 9 last night, and OMG does it pack a punch. It's a movie I wanted to see when it was released (2009) but never got around to it, so I recorded it a couple of weeks ago when it was aired on TV.

This South African film is set in Johannesburg 20 years after around a million alien asylum seekers arrived from a distant planet in a broken-down mothership (that has remained suspended gloriously above the city). The authorities decide it's time to forcibly relocate these aliens (derogatorily referred to as 'prawns') from the slum-ghetto known as District 9, which has been their home for the past two decades, to a specially built facility 200km distant.

It's partially presented as a documentary, incorporating comments from 'experts' and live-to-camera addresses from the man assigned to oversee the eviction -- Wikus van de Merwe. This helps establish the scenario and history, but as the film progresses the doco style fades away (more or less) as events play out.

This film explores some serious topics -- racism, treatment of asylum seekers, exploitation of the helpless, greed and capitalism -- and it does it amazingly well. These are issues that we confront every day, and in Australia particularly the subject of asylum seekers is hotly debated. My heart went straight out to these aliens who are treated as less than human, don't seem particularly violent, are clearly from a far more advanced civilisation, and just want to survive -- or in the case of one rescue his people from deplorable living conditions.

I also really appreciated the way my opinion of Wikus swung around. His treatment of and attitude to the 'prawns' at the beginning is despicable, but then he becomes the victim of a government/corporate conspiracy/genetic experiment and I found myself sympathising with him. My sentiments continued to swing back and forth until the very end of the film.

District 9 is really worth watching, but I didn't find it an easy film to experience. It's violent with lots of gunfire and things getting chopped up, plus the terrible way in which humans treat these aliens is quite confronting. Perhaps the doco style made it harder to distance myself from it. It's so well done, with fantastic performances and effects, that it didn't feel like science fiction at all to me -- it felt frighteningly familiar.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

New cafe screens Metropolis

Found a new little cafe on Glenhuntly Rd today. Located along a stretch of road I don't often frequent, it's called Untitled and fronts an art studio (where they run classes) and an art supply store. It's only been open for four weeks.

The cafe itself is simple yet ultra-cool, offering awesome coffee (5 senses) and a silent movie experience -- Metropolis (sans music) was beamed onto one of the smooth white walls. Although the coffee is a little on the pricey side ($4.50 for a large flat white) and they don't have a full kitchen (meaning food is limited to soup, toasted pides and slices etc), I can see myself escaping here with baby computer for a change of writing scene... Not sure if it's open on the weekend though.

Monday, 19 September 2011

Status update - where I'm at

For most of this year I've relished the luxury of not having to work. It has given me time to relax, to write, to see friends, to spend time with family (especially my two young nephews), to exercise (but not, alas, to lose any weight). It's amazing how normal it feels to hang out (mostly) at home every day.

Some mornings (Tues, Thurs, Sat) I'm up early and off to the gym, other days it's considerably later when I drag myself out of bed. And I have other weekly rituals: Tuesday afternoons tend to involve writing in the pub; Wednesday mornings often include meeting my sister, her kids and usually my mum for coffee at Edna's Place; Fridays at 11am it's a walk along the beach with a friend, followed by lunch.

The rest of the time is filled up with other stuff: random lunch dates, shopping trips and outings, writing (and reading) blog posts . . . and, until the last couple of months, working on my latest novel project. (But you can probably see why I haven't got quite as much writing done as I planned - what with all the distractions.)

Unfortunately, my writing productivity has dropped off considerably in the past couple of months. "Protect your writing time," they say, and I thank every spiritual being under the sun for those Tuesday pub sessions, because without them I suspect I would have completely lost the plot (cliche and pun intended!). Tuesday afternoons are sacrosanct, but I am finding it increasingly hard to write outside of this session, no matter how determinedly I plan writing time into each day..

The Awful Task
The reason of course is the Awful Task of seeking gainful employment. I suspect it would not be such an awful task if a) I already had a job and could afford to wait until exactly the right job came up, b) I knew what exactly the right job was, c) it wasn't 10 years since I'd had to look for a job, d) I wasn't trying to transition careers more or less. Since all of these things apply, it's a total nightmare.

It's taken me a good two months to figure out what the hell I'm doing. I started out by consulting with a careers advisor . . . and while it was good to have some "therapy" I'm not sure it really achieved all that much. Then there was compiling the resume, which after 10 years was rather a task -- and remains an ongoing process as recruiters continue to offer suggestions as to how I should expand/improve it.

And then there's the process of convincing someone to employ you. Whether responding to advertised positions, talking directly to recruiters about what I'm interested in, or trying to network myself into a job, it's really hard.

The challenge for me is that my experience to-date is very "vertical" to use HR speak, which means I have a huge amount of experience and expertise in a relatively narrow field. Sure, I have transferable skills. Heaps of them. And I know that any organisation would be lucky to have me on their team.
But . . .


What I don't have is demonstrated experience (and in some cases knowledge) in all key selection criteria for the types of positions I think I'm interested at moving into. Employers are not interested in someone with the ability to learn core skills on the job. They want someone who already knows how to do the core skills. This is particularly the case with contract positions, which I've been investigating as a means of quickly gaining new skills (and some form of income stream). Fair enough, really.

This all leaves me in a not-fun place. Here am I with masses of ability and experience, lots to offer and no-one to appreciate it. I'm either too experienced (and expensive) for the generalist position that will allow me to diversify my skills while kicking butt on the other stuff, or not experienced enough in the areas that matter. I simply don't tick any of the boxes.

Now, I do not doubt that the right job is out there somewhere. But the process of finding it is mind-numbing and not a little soul-destroying -- and meanwhile I am seriously broke. My goal at the moment is to find something for the short term while I continue to look for something more suitable. (But even that is hard.) I am certainly considering a series of short courses to improve my knowledge in certain areas.

I am blogging all this for a few reasons: 

1) My well-meaning friends and family want to know where I'm at. They also want to help, want to give me pep talks. But I do not always want to talk about it. In fact I usually do NOT want to talk about it, because it makes me very grumpy. Nor do I always want to listen to advice, no matter how well-meaning. So please do not pepper me with public comments telling me what I should or should not do. But I thank you all for your continued support.

2) It's cathartic for me to write about it.

3) This blog is a record of my life milestones, and I want to be able to look back on this difficult period and appreciate that I got through it.

Final word
The upshot of all this is that I have little head space for writing my novel at the moment. I've been finding it impossible to focus, and instead have been grabbing hold of any little distraction (such as watching AFL games on TV I have zero interest in). Perhaps after downloading here today I finally have a clear-enough head . . . but then again I really should kick-off the Awful Task for this week.

I miss those weeks/months earlier in the year when I prioritised writing. Now my rhythm is all over the place and my creativity well is sucked dry.

But I have a habit of falling on my feet. This is merely part of my ten-year cycle of self reinvention and redefinition. I'm like a chrysalis, currently in my cocoon. When I emerge I will be transformed.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Invested in sport

Why do we get so invested in sport? When watching it, I mean. Were I blissfully unaware of the Davis Cup World Group play-off currently underway, I would be quite happy to hear the result and not get in too much of a lather about it; but because it's on the TV and I am watching it, it seems terribly important that Lleyton Hewitt wins the 5th and deciding rubber against Switzerland to get Australia back into the World Group (and hence able to play for the actual Davis Cup in 2012).

YESSSSS! (Lleyton breaks back to go two-all in the fourth set...)

My heart-beat is up and I'm holding my breath as Lleyton ("Australia's best Davis Cup player ever," say the commentators) slogs it out against Stanislas Wawrinka. The crowd is right into it. I wince as the ball hits the net cord.

Put any sport in front of me and I can't help picking a side or competitor to go for. But when I like and follow the sport, it's so much more intense. If it's live netball, and Australia or the Vixens are playing, I can't look away. During the recent World Netball Championship final, when Australia beat NZ in double extra time yet again, my entire body was scrunched up on the couch, frozen solid, fingernails in mouth. Winning that match meant everything at the time. Life and death important.

I mean, really. It's a bit ridiculous. I can kind of understand it when it's a case of national pride -- as with Davis Cup Tennis or Ashes Cricket or the World Netball Championships. But why do I go so nutty for the Vixens during the netball season -- and why do Melbournians go absolutely mental for their AFL team (whether or not they are watching it)?

And now Lleyton's match goes into the fifth set. Sigh.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Remembering nine-eleven

Today is all about the 10 year anniversary of the terrible events now broadly referred to as "nine-eleven". This is a date that will always be synonymous with terrorism and violence; the cracking of the world as we knew it.

Like many people, I remember it vividly. It was late evening. I was watching TV in bed (an episode of one of the Star Trek franchise I think) when Sandra Sully came onto the screen with the breaking news that a plane had just crashed into one of the World Trade Centre Buildings in New York. Replays were shown. At that point in time I (probably naively) assumed it was an accident, and I know I had absolutely no idea of the implications.

But the coverage continued and we all know what unfolded.

I recall watching in horror as the first tower collapsed in the background, while the talking head talked on -- a live-to-air disaster that the whole world watched before the reporter on screen was even aware it had happened. Seeing that collapse in real time packed a massive punch.

I remember waiting in dread for the second tower to fall. I remember seeing people jumping out of the windows and falling . . .

My parents were watching elsewhere in the house, and I think at some point I joined them. I must have gone to bed eventually, but it would have been hours later. At the time I didn't realise how much our world was going to change. It didn't occur to me that I was witnessing history. That came later. At the time it was confusion, panic and pandemonium.

I heard on the news last night that one firm lost all 650 of its employees that day -- out of nearly 3000 lives lost in total. And that includes all the fire-fighters and rescue-workers who died as well. The sheer scale of the devastation is still hard to get your head around.

But it's not just the number of deaths, because natural disasters and accidents can be just as devastating -- and have been in recent years. It's the impact the nine-eleven events had on the global psyche. The fear. The paranoia. The violence in retaliation.

On the news tonight they said it had been a "decade of war". That snagged my attention, because it's true. I find that depressing.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Rising Water

Just a very brief post about the MTC production of Tim Winton's play, Rising Water, which I saw a couple of weeks ago. It's set on the decks of three boats moored permanently side-by-side in a marina, where three loners live and hide out from the world -- while interacting abrasively with each other from their individual vessels. When a loudmouthed drunken English backpacker turns up and looks like falling in the water, Baxter's (John Howard) chivalrous spirit kicks in and he takes her onboard his dilapidated craft. She proves to be the catalyst for confrontation and the revelation of a scandal.

This one didn't really work for me. It was a little slow, and although it was easy enough to follow, the main themes never really coalesced into a cohesive whole. I was left bemused and unsure what was the point of it all. In the fortnight since I saw it, most of my other thoughts have dribbled away, leaving a feeling of vague dissatisfaction...

Sunday, 4 September 2011

A walk in the bush with vanilla slice

It is over a year since I completed the Melbourne Oxfam Trailwalker event with an intrepid group of friends, but some of us reunited today for a walk along a short section of the now-infamous 100km trail in the Dandenong Ranges.

We dusted off our trailrunners, loaded up our backpacks, prepared snack bags and hit Grant's Picnic Ground (Kallista) at the civilised time of 9:00am. And it was fabulous to get back out into the bush and relive some of the memories. We spent a great deal of time at Grant's over the months we were training, and became rather fond of their famous vanilla slices. So reliving that particular experience was high on our agenda -- so high in fact that we pre-purchased them for after our walk, just in case they ran out!

After some discussion, we decided not to do a car-shuffle in order to walk a complete stage, and instead walked out of Grant's for the first section of CP3-4 and then retraced our steps via the Sherbrooke Falls. This meant a shorter walk and less bother with logistics -- probably a good thing, since this was the first decent walk some of our group had done in a while. We were also joined by one of our original support crew, and it was lovely to share the trail and experiences with her.

We finished up with lunch in the picnic ground, and then into the tea rooms for a well-earned coffee and vanilla slice.Very yummy.

I was interested to note this week that the trail was changed for this year's event (and presumably future events) and no longer passes through Grant's Picnic Ground. I feel a little sad for all those walkers who are missing out on those vanilla slices during their training sessions!

Friday, 2 September 2011

Sweet bunnies in Watership Down

The recent book of the month for my reading group was Watership Down (published in 1972) by Richard Adams. I only read about 10% of it, so instead watched the 1978 animated film to gain the gist of the story. Turns out I wasn't the only one in the group, so our discussion was as much about the latter as the novel itself.

As far as the book goes, I enjoyed what I read, which covered the exodus of the rabbits from the warren (due to Fiver's prediction of doom) and the early part of their journey. Each short chapter deals with an obstacle or setback in their journey -- such as a river-crossing, or a near escape from a predator. Unusually for me, I rather enjoyed the omniscient viewpoint and dominant voice of the narrator/storyteller.

Watching the DVD was an interesting experience. The last time I watched it I was still in primary school, and the film scared me silly. I have these vivid memories of the vicious general rabbit and his nasty black minions, who chase the good guys through the fields and rip them to shreds when they are caught. My memories of these scenes are so horrific that I felt genuinely reluctant to re-watch the film (and I think it might have led to my not wanting to read the book, as well). Despite knowing logically that my 40-year-old self would not be scared, I was truly apprehensive to relive the experience.

Anyway, I forced myself to watch the movie, and of course it was nowhere near as violent and terrifying as I remembered. But I can definitely see why small children get frightened. The music in particular is very dramatic (in that corny 1970s way).

My adult take on the film is that it's a wee bit dated -- particularly in terms of the animation, which is almost too basic to be believed. And that "Bright Eyes" scene (sung by Art Garfunkle) -- where Fiver goes searching for his brother/leader-rabbit Hazel who's been shot in the leg by a local farmer -- is sooooooo corny.

Anyway, I gather the story of the film is pretty close to that of the book -- certainly the parts I read were. Although after reading the Wikipedia summary of the plot, it seems there are a few minor differences in the second half. This is where, having safely arrived at their new warren on Watership Down, the rabbits realise they have no female rabbits (doh!) and decide to seek some out. It involves initially negotiating (in the book) and then infiltrating a nearby warren (headed up by the evil General Woundwort) to steal away some of their females.

Overall, it's a simple story, so simple that many have gone searching for allegories in order to tease out deeper meaning. Maybe it's a political comment on styles of government -- contrasting the different leadership structure of the four warrens mentioned in the book. Others have identified religious symbolism. But apparently Adams intended none of this, saying it was just a story he made up during long car trips for his daughters.

Thus, at heart, it's a fairly basic and sweet "coming of age" story -- albeit with a fairly comprehensive rabbit mythology (told through folk tales) and vocabulary. My impression is that, despite the evil general and his minions, things happen a little too easily and conveniently for modern sensibilities. The main conflict is big and bold, but it's all too linear and predictable. Sweet bunnies aside, I'm afraid I don't really see what all the fuss is about.