Driving me up the wall

Can I chat about traffic for a moment? I recently moved back down to the south and over the past month and a half I’ve realised just how spoilt I’ve been having access to the MyCiti bus. Yes, yes, I complained bitterly on Twitter about the bus, the drivers and my fellow commuters – but even back then, deep down inside, I did get how fortunate I was to not be sitting in traffic in Paarden Eiland. Yes, even that day when our driver slammed on breaks and everyone fell out of their seats like skittles, or that day our driver decided to try squeeze past another bus and opened his vehicle like a tin can. Come to think of it, that may have been the same day…

But still, hugely fortunate. I got a small taste of it when I had to take my car to town a few days in a row a while back and within minutes I was in the throes of a road rage incident. Wait, let me clarify, there were no cricket bats involved, not even any exiting the vehicle. But that bloody woman in the car ahead of me who couldn’t decide what speed she wanted to go, and that hideous bully in the big silver monstrosity behind me who seemed to think I should remove myself from the road so he could get one whole car closer to town… my blood was boiling. I went back to the bus with a happy sigh and limited my Twitter complaints to two a week for a while.

Why does the universe hate me?

Now that I’m back in the south, though, I don’t have the bus as an option. And oh, how I miss it. I tried the train a few weeks back. What a hideously depressing experience. Seriously. Torn seats, graffitied inside and out, little streams of urine trickling through the carriage and windows so filthy and damaged the only way you can see what station you’ve just arrived at is to either peer through the tiny gap, or risk standing near the door, which is problematic because more people get tossed out of trains sans bags and shoes than you’d like to know.

Let’s ignore the petrol costs of taking my car to town and back five days a week, and the fact that I don’t have a parking bay so every day is an adventure – the traffic is completely unpredictable. Used to be that school holidays meant that the roads would be emptier and you could comfortably leave 28 minutes later than usual. Now? There’s just no telling. Colleagues sat in jams for over three hours the other day and eventually gave up and went home. Why? No bloody clue. Maybe it’s just because people in Cape Town are automatically transformed into idiots the moment their engines spring to life. Note: I didn’t say Capetonians, because, while yes, we are some of the biggest culprits, check out the license plates and you’ll see our roads are equal opportunity idiot-makers.

We’re either speeding or aimlessly drifting across three lanes and back again. Forget racing through lights just as they turn red. We laugh in the face of that kind of opportunism. We cruise through with the four cars behind us when it’s already been red for a good 5 seconds. Oh, and we love, love, love to get ourselves stranded in the middle of intersections when the lights change so we completely bugger things up for the people whose lights have just gone green. That’s one of our favourite things to do.

Accurate.

I’m not even going to address people texting and driving, or playing Candy Crush and driving or whatever the hell it is they’re doing heads bowed and one hand (if we’re lucky) on the wheel. Guys, Oprah told us not to years ago, can we just get our shit together and stop already?

Thing is, traffic sucks. Being late because of avoidable fender benders that happened 45 minutes before you even left the house sucks. But we can do small things to make it easier. Don’t be that jerk who waits till the very last second to cross over a solid white line to get into the lane they need – you’re the reason the traffic in that lane is so backed up in the first place. Put your phone down – one bonus is that you’ll give your freemium game a little extra time to replenish your lives, oh, and you won’t kill people. And if the person in front of you is already going the speed limit (if not a little over) don’t be a tosser and ride right up on their bumper, even though you can clearly see there’s a queue of cars in front of them, and them moving will do pretty much zilch to get you to your meeting any sooner.

We’re all in this together, let’s be a team, let’s make everyone’s journey a little safer and easier – but most importantly can you all please be a little less idiotic so I don’t have to start each day with a tantrum behind the wheel of my slowly-overheating Ford?

Snail dumplings

So, Snickerdoodles are all kinds of fabulous. I managed to narrow down my list of Things I NEED to Bake Immediately, and whipped up a batch of the cinnamonny treats to take with me to my afternoon function yesterday.

They’re super simple to make, and the only ingredient I didn’t already have on hand was the cream of tartar. But that comes in small packets, so no need to stock up on a big bakkie that’s just going to go stale.

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Full disclosure, I really do think the name is kind of stupid though. Every time I say Snickerdoodle, I subconsciously start humming Yankee Doodle Dandy, and picturing Snickers bars doing a weird chocolately can can (which, now that I’ve seen Sausage Party, is all the more disturbing). It’s a bizarre name for a biscuit, right? And I STILL think it should be a pie of some sort. Anyway, I asked the internet why, for the love of all that is leavened and golden brown, they’re called Snickerdoodles, and… it turns out they may have come from Germany originally, where they were probably known as schneckennudeln (crunchy German cookies sprinkled with cinnamon), and well, you know how people are when they can’t (be bothered to try to) pronounce something properly… “Schniker-what? Snickerdoodle? Yeah, let’s just go with that.”

But guys, according to one online explanation – schneckennudeln means SNAIL DUMPLING! And that’s just perfection. So I think, when I make these again, that’s what I’ll tell people they are.

Speaking of people, the guests at the party loved them. They really are delicious. The cinnamon sugar coating on the outside crisps up nicely, while the inside stays soft and doughy and yum. This is one of those recipes where, when the eight minute timer goes off, you want to jump up and whip them out immediately. There’s no “baking by smell” with these. Timing is everything.

I’ll definitely be packaging up a bunch of snail dumplings as gifts this Christmas. So, who’s on my Nice list? Oh, who’m I kidding – even those on the Naughty list deserve some of these.

Parched

We’re in trouble, guys. It seems this water thing is kind of serious. Especially if you consider last year’s water restrictions (which we all [me] complained bitterly about) saw us limited to two garden watering days a week, between specific hours, but this year, we’re not allowed to water AT ALL.

I’m not the world’s biggest gardening enthusiast. Not by a long shot. But I am rather fond of our lawn. And I had a veggie garden that I was proud of. I say HAD because, well, it’s a wasteland at the moment. Apart from one determined onion plant and an out of control rosemary bush, everything has died. It’s really sad, and while all I want to do is nip out to the nursery and buy more seedlings, I know I shouldn’t, because watering them enough to keep them thriving will be a problem.

And our lawn? Well…

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Apart from one desperate covert 10 minutes with the hose late one night, during which I felt like an outright criminal, I’ve stuck to the “no hose” rule. A couple of days ago I tried using a bucket. We don’t have the biggest lawn, but it’s far too large to use a bucket successfully. So day by day, the grass is getting more and more yellow/brown/threadbare.

I’ve read articles about “oh, just pave over it – who needs grass anyway?” Two things: We have a dog and imagine how hideous it’ll be for poor Polony to spend summer out on concrete (never mind the resultant dog poo and wee issues). And secondly, is anyone going to volunteer to pay for said paving for us? Sure, I could just let the garden return to sand, but with the wind that whips through our neighbourhood, that won’t be fun for anyone. (And a third thing for free: The little bit of reading I’ve done so far suggests that grass is great for filtering carbon dioxide and other impurities in the air, producing oxygen and improving ground water quality.)

Upshot is, yeah I have to give up on having a wonderfully healthy lawn, but I also don’t want to lose it completely. I need to find a way to both save water and not live in a dust bowl.

A while back when the City sent everyone letters telling them to reduce consumption, we did. Our water bill has been zero for the past five or six months. But it seems not enough people have done the same, or perhaps just telling people to cut back and relying on them to tattle tale on their neighbours is not a good enough solution.

So what else can I do right now, apart from complain bitterly? Well, just like I recycle even though I know my effort alone won’t save the planet, I AM trying to save water. At the moment, that takes the form of much shorter showers and no baths (sob). But I’m also trying to reduce the amount of water that goes down the drain after just one use. It takes a little dexterity, but I shower with a bucket at my feet now and that water (even though it’s not nearly enough) goes onto the grass. And I’m washing dishes in a bucket and pouring that water out onto the garden as well.

I don’t for one second think I’ll have a lush garden again, but at least it’ll be getting a little water over the next few months. If I can just keep it clinging on till Autumn it should be okay.

The thing is, we all need to start taking the water situation far more seriously than we do. We’ve been without water in our neighbourhood for a few days before, and it was utterly hideous. No showers, no coffee, no washing dishes or clothes, no flushing toilets… guys, it wasn’t pretty. And that was just three days. Imagine it gets to the point where we’re without water for weeks at a time…

 

Hanging up

“You could die at any moment,” the woman on the phone says. “You could be in a car accident, be attacked, or even… murdered.”

It’s a Saturday morning. I have been woken by one of those hideous unsolicited sales calls. One of those “We’re not trying to give you a new policy/credit card/cellphone, but…” calls. And I am livid. It’s not just the fact that they called before 9am on a Saturday, and it’s not even just that they called to tell me cheerfully I was going to die – it’s that THEY KEEP BLOODY CALLING. No matter how many times I ask them not to, plead to be removed from the list, demand to know where they got my details.

That gloomy Saturday morning call was a few years ago, but it’s fresh in my mind, because somehow, a couple of days ago, my information has once again landed up on a few lists. I am getting at least 10 emails a day from financial institutions (in India, many of them), and I’ve already answered two telesales calls today.

I NEVER tick the “please send me more info/ sell my soul to all of your partners” box on forms. NEVER. So why, oh why are these people all of a sudden on my case? And the worst are the ones where they won’t take no for an answer. I have, and this is the shameful part, even resorted to “oh, no, I don’t make those decisions, my husband does”. Worst part? That’s often the ONLY thing that works. How hideous is that? They won’t take me saying no thanks, I’ve already got a credit card/ cellphone/ life cover that I’m happy with. But as soon as I intimate I’m a poor helpless female who has to rely on her husband… well, then it’s all “Okay mam, have a lovely day further.”

Urgh, and the false flattery… This afternoon’s call started along these lines: “Please don’t think this is another one of those sales calls trying to sell you a new cellphone contract or credit card. Those types of calls aren’t appropriate for someone of your financial standing”… yeah.

Remember that little line man, La Linea, who used to laugh so hard, spit would fly out of his mouth? That was me, before I hung up on the woman. I mean honestly.

la-linea

Now, I get that the people in call centres are just trying to make a living, so I try not to be rude. And on occasion I do sit through the schpeel, when it’s obvious the person is new and nervous and hasn’t learnt the script off by heart yet, or become disillusioned with their job. But the people who get angry with me, who get rude and pushy and won’t take no for an answer? Nope. I just hang up. I don’t even try to pretend the line is bad or I can’t hear them.

A while ago, when I was looking for a new job, I had to answer every call that came in from numbers I didn’t know. But not anymore. And I’m getting pretty damn good at setting up filters and blocking emails. Because that UNSUBSCRIBE option never really works, does it?

Also, why would I want a life cover policy that allows me to cash in 60% of it before I die? The whole point of life cover is to benefit the people left behind when I DO die. You may as well just send me a branded piggy bank and be done with it.

Leaving…

About three months ago I began plotting a blog post. It was going to be titled ‘I really suck at leaving’. At the time, I was going through a bit of a crisis. You know, one of those patches where everything is just too much. I felt like I wasn’t keeping my head above water in any aspect of my life. After a particularly bad week, I realised that I needed to make severe changes, and quickly, or find myself plummeting over the edge.

I wanted to quit my sport, I wanted to quit my job and I even wanted to quit Husband Person. It was dire. I was constantly on the verge of tears and I just couldn’t see how I was going to get from one day to the next. I knew that making some basic (but huge) changes would start the ball rolling. So, I decided to start with the ‘easiest’ thing to quit (or at least put on hold). It was difficult, but I decided to take a step back from roller derby. It had started to be more stress than I could happily manage and as dreadful as I felt for ‘letting people down’, the weight that lifted after sending in that sad note to the management team was enough to allow me to take the next few necessary steps towards getting a handle on things again.

Then, with a couple of weeks of leave on the horizon, I set about applying for new jobs. Something different. Until that point I’d been pretty limited in what I was looking for, but I felt I needed to expand my horizons a little. So yes, while all the jobs I applied for were writing-related, they were varied and broad. During my leave, I took myself off to my first two job interviews in eight years and it was remarkably liberating. After being so utterly petrified of leaving and heading into the unknown, I was amazed to see how well I handled it all. Turns out after 11 years as a journalist, interviews are a piece of cake, even from the other side of the notebook.

And then after a little back and forth, I landed one of the jobs, handed in my letter of resignation and worked out my months’ notice. Me, who was so frightened of leaving. I was incredibly proud of myself, and so grateful that things had fallen so neatly into place and just in the nick of time.

I was sad to leave my friends at my old job. But I wasn’t sad to leave the job itself. Those who know me well will know that it had been taking its toll on me. That I was exhausted and just not coping. So, the change was desperately needed. I had stagnated and I’m the kind of person who needs to be learning, and growing. I just wasn’t getting that there anymore.

And here I am, a month into my new job and I can honestly say I feel like a brand new person. I am finding energy to do the things I love again and I am happier. Husband Person (you’ll be pleased to hear I decided not to quit him) is having to weather far less complaining and misery from me, which had also been taking its toll.

So, I’m glad I held off on that post – because, incidentally, I do NOT suck at leaving. I’m actually pretty good at it when I need to be. But apart from being decent at leaving, I think I’m even better at new beginnings. I’ve jumped at this new chapter of my life with all the enthusiasm I could muster. I am trying new things, adventuring and letting myself have fun. And I am worrying less, enjoying the moment. Also, who can possibly be miserable when every Friday at 5pm it’s Wine ‘o Clock in the office?

wine

MiniFig Mania, and a bit of DIY

Growing up there were things I could be certain of. I would fall out of a tree at least once every few months, I would forget an apple in the bottom of my school bag once a year or so, I would eat so many bunny licks my tongue would go red (or green) – and I would get Lego for Christmas. It was a highlight of both my brother and my childhoods. In fact, at 31 he STILL finds Lego in his Christmas stocking each year. Our parents are pretty damn awesome.

My mom made us this fantastic drawstring Lego bag that opens out into a huge circle, and on wintry days we’d spread it out, dismantle our creations from the last build and dream up new and exciting things. I suspect most parents assume, as they hop around cursing after having stood on another stray brick at 2am, that sooner or later their kid will grow out of it. That they’ll start collecting something else, something a little less brutal on their delicate city feet.

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Yeah. Not all of us do. Granted, I don’t leave my Lego lying around on the floor anymore – but I’m still just as fanatical about it as when I was eight. Only now it’s taken a different form. Every few months Lego releases a new series of MiniFigures. Sometimes themed (Simpsons and Disney) and sometimes a mixed bunch of fun characters. Usually I’ll get my first few MiniFigs of a series from a normal toy shop. I’ll stand there for ages squishing the blind bags, trying to work out if that’s a sombrero, or a breastplate tucked away behind the legs. And then I’ll take myself off to a shop that does the squishing for you and labels them. Many collectors order a complete set from the get go – but I still like the excitement of getting one or two at a time (also – sadly, things like food and bus fare must take precedence over Lego). I love each new MiniFig fiercely, and they are my Most Favourite One Ever, until I go and buy another…

When my MiniFig family was still small it fitted perfectly on my printer’s tray. But now, a few years later, it’s started to get out of hand. It became clear that I needed to find a new storage/display system. So, I spent a while browsing other people’s solutions online and started to come up with a plan that would work for me (and my budget). Making a few measurements and whipping up a couple of sketches, I took myself off to Timber City. Best part of that little excursion? Being helped by a sales assistant who was also a woman. There were no condescending smiles, or scoffs at my plans, or knowing grins at co-workers. She got me what I needed and I went on my way. She also gave me some advice on primer – but, pssssht, who needs primer, am I right?

Boot full of thin planks and hardboard cut to size, spray paint, adhesive and screws, I headed home to create my masterpiece. I’d be lying if I said Husband Person wasn’t a touch doubtful. But he sat back and left me to it – saying that we’d build it properly when it fell apart. Even more motivation to ensure it didn’t.

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I glued my shelves to the back board, weighted them down with books and hoped for the best. Next up came the painting – and Valuable Lesson Number One followed closely by Valuable Lesson Number Two. You have never bought “enough” spray paint, always grab an extra two cans. And, more infuriatingly, while the first can of paint you bought from the hardware store sticks perfectly, the second, inferior can from the grocery store, will dry and wipe right off – unless you use primer.

So, two cans of paint wasted, and an accusing black outline on the grass, I whipped out the can of primer we had in the garage already (I KNOW, okay) and proceeded to fumigate myself in my work room. Primer is pretty potent stuff, guys. It took days of quarantine in the garage for my shelves to stop leaving anyone who walked within five metres of them high as a kite.

Primer dried, I dragged it out to the grass again and gave it another couple of coats of spray paint. Which then proceeded to crinkle up where the old leftover paint lurked beneath the primer. I was horrified. But there was no way I was sanding it all down, or worse still, starting from scratch. Once it’d dried, crinkles and all, I grabbed my gold craft paint and a dry brush and gave it a little texture. Problem (kind of) solved.

On to the final step – fix it to the wall. First obstacle… we’d lent our drill to a friend ages ago… and life got in the way of me getting it back for a couple more weeks. When the time finally came for me to get up on a chair with a spirit level, the shelves were well and truly dry and stuck, and I was ready. The first three holes went easily – the fourth (of course it was a top hole) didn’t. I used all the different drill bits I could, but the drill wasn’t budging half as far as it needed to. No problem, I cut the raw plug down to size, used a shorter screw, and hoped for the best.

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Then I arranged all my MiniFigs and spent the better part of the next three hours just sitting on the couch staring at my handiwork with a goofy smile, getting up every now and again to swap some of them around.

There is space for quite a few more, if they all get cosy. And when I finally do run out of space I’ll either make another shelf, or come up with a new plan. But next time I’m definitely using primer the first time around.

PS. It’s been a couple of months now, and it still hasn’t fallen apart – so there!

First (cauli) base

There’s this important thing you’re supposed to do when you make a new dish… read the recipe properly. And I did, the only problem was that I also read six other recipes properly, so when it came to making my pizza sauce this evening I accidentally added heat to a mixture that didn’t need it. Ummm, oops?

But hey, it was a kick-ass sauce regardless, so, ya’know, whatever. When baking I tend to be pretty precise, but when it comes to cooking I have an “understanding” with the recipe. We’re not exclusive.

The whole point was that I was having my first bash at cauliflower pizza bases.

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Husband Person once joked that we should put a camera up in the kitchen and give me my own YouTube channel… to be honest, that would make me seem a whole lot less nuts. Seeing as how I behave like I’m on a tv show EVERY TIME I cook anyway.

The general consensus with cauli bases is that you blitz the cauliflower, steam it, squeeze the bejeezus out of it then add the other ingredients. Blitz, no problem. The next two steps: a little problematic.

In lieu of a steamer I just bunged it in a bakkie with a sploosh of water and gave it about 8 minutes in the microwave. Then for the draining I was feeling all very hipster as I know for a fact I was given a cloth bag for making almond milk at Christmas last year. Yeah, but could I find it? I located the instructions crumpled in the bottom of a box, but no sign of the dratted bag itself.

My imaginary YouTube channel would’ve needed and age restriction as I clattered around the kitchen trying to find a solution. Eventually, I whipped a tea towel out of a drawer and yelled “Aha! Take that cauliflower.” Then I proceeded to burn my hands because I am not at all patient in the kitchen and didn’t give the cauliflower mush enough time to cool (like the recipe very earnestly suggested I should do. And I’m pretty sure it gave me an “I told you so” sneer as I flapped about hissing. Recipes can be jerks).

Having withstood as much pain as I could, and satisfied I’d extricated a suitable amount of liquid I chucked in the rest of the ingredients, mixed it all up and squished it out onto a baking tray.

They’re not skew, they’re rustic. Anyway, I’d like to see YOU fit two perfectly shaped circles on a tray that size. And Ven Diagram pizzas are cheating.

Once the bottoms had started to brown nicely, flipping them over took a large dose of ingenuity. These bases are nowhere near as sturdy as their wheaty counterparts. It took another sheet of baking paper, a tray, and a great deal of psyching myself up for the actual flip. But it ended in another “Aha! Take that cauliflower!” and a victory dance my imaginary subscribers would have paid good imaginary money to see.

I topped them with the kick-ass sauce, chicken, mushroom, green pepper, onion, jalapeno and cheese. And then let them crisp up around the edges in the oven for a while longer.

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All that bravado of managing to flip them not 20 minutes earlier? Completely obliterated when I made a complete dog’s breakfast of shifting the first one to a plate. That little episode raised the age restriction even more, I’m not the least bit ashamed to admit.

But besides all that, I’m satisfied with how they came out. I think next time I may add a tad more parmesan, and maybe some spices to give the bases themselves a bit more of a bite. And possibly make a bunch of tiny ones instead of the big kind that are prone to rearranging themselves into a lowcarb horror show with the smallest miscalculation involving the egg lifter.

Or next time I’m eating it straight off the baking paper. Cos I’m classy like that.

* And no, I haven’t made almond milk yet, and it doesn’t look imminent unless I find the ruddy bag.

 

RECIPE

Half head cauliflower, blitzed
Half cup parmesan (or similar)
1 tsp dried parsley
1 egg
Quarter cup coconut flour
1 tsp chopped garlic
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 230°C. Line a baking tray with baking paper.
Steam the blitzed cauliflower till tender.
Let it cool in the fridge. No, really.
Mix in parmesan, parsley, coconut flour, egg, garlic, salt and pepper.
Scoop out portions and flatten onto baking tray.
Bake till lightly browned. Flip, carefully, add toppings and bake till the cheese is melted and the edges are crisp.