Just add self control

There’s this thing I do whenever I’m trying to gain a little control over my diet. I suddenly start finding new recipes, and then I fixate on said recipes. I daydream about going home and whipping up that decadent tart or tasty biscuit. I’d love to say I hold strong and resist temptation, but often, I don’t. I’ll suddenly catch myself in the kitchen rolling out pastry, creaming butter, sprinkling icing sugar. And doing it all with a smile – because baking makes me happy. It really really does.

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But realising that I’ve undone all my hard work (health-wise) of the past year, does not. This time around, my temptation is a recipe for Snickerdoodles I came across completely by mistake (okay, fine, I went looking for it. But only because I’d always assumed it was some kind of pie. It’s not, it’s basically cinnamon sugar biscuits, and the recipe is so so easy, and I have most of the things I need for them already…. And that, folks, is how it happens. EVERY. TIME.)

I don’t want to give up baking, but I do need to set some ground rules. So, here goes:

  1. No more baking, just because I feel like making something yum. Baking needs to be done for a specific reason. And I’m sad/ I cleaned the kitchen/ I didn’t punch anyone in the face today/ I need to check if the oven still works do not count as valid reasons. Acceptable reasons are: I’m going to a party and need to take snacks/ I’m giving someone an edible gift/ Someone has ordered a cake from me and is paying me.

Actually, I think rule number one will suffice. For now. On the plus side… I have a get together coming up on Sunday, for which I need to make some snacks, so hooray for Snickerdoodles! Although, I’ve also been wanting to make shortbread…. and fudge… oooo, and mince pies…

Help.

PS. If any of you are thinking of throwing a party anytime soon, and you need, you know, like, extra numbers… feel free to send an invite my way. I saw this GREAT recipe for key lime pie the other day…

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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.

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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?

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One, two, wobble, wobble, bounce

Was I ready to join the party? As ready as I was ever going to be. Especially since a few hours before my first class I had surreptitiously Googled “What to expect at your first Zumba class”. The internet told me a few things, most importantly: no one was going to be looking at me, let alone laughing at me. It also told me I would be completely and utterly confused, and that it was all going to be okay. Which was great, because I am generally not a dancer, so the idea of jumping into the world of dance fitness was rather daunting.

Nervousness and embarrassment aside, can I just take a moment to talk about one of the most significant things I have realised, after just two classes (although, to be fair, I kind of knew this was going to be an issue when I packed my bag for week one) – shoes are important. These, ladies and gents, are NOT suitable Zumba shoes.

The shoes of shame.

The shoes of shame.

They were like this before Zumba. I have nothing to say for myself except that I tend to wear things until they break, and then wear them a little more. (This is why, if you’ve ever invited me to a clothes swap, you’ll have noticed I never come. It’s not because I’m snooty, or even because I don’t think anyone else’s loved-before stuff will fit me, it’s because all my clothes are, well, take a look at the above picture again.)

So yes, I need new shoes. I realised this two weeks ago when I tried to jump around doing a clumsy version of a cha cha, soles flapping. Did I go out before the next class and buy new shoes? No, of course not. Instead, I completely forgot, and then literally 5 minutes before I had to head out of the house, rushed around like a mad thing looking for glue. There was none. So I did what anyone else would have done (let me have this, please) and I used double-sided tape. Ingenious, I thought. I cut a bunch of strips and slotted them between the escaping soles and the shoe. No, of course it didn’t work, but it did make a cheerful little tearing noise with every step, which I thought worked quite well with the Zumba music.

Back to that first class… No one laughed at me (everyone was fantastic), and even I didn’t fall about laughing at myself like I expected to. The hour-long class was fun and fast paced and massively confusing in places – especially when it came to the faster routines. And by the time I left I just knew the next day was going to be a bad one when it came to stiff calves. The instructors are really encouraging, and not just because one of them is my neighbour – that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. (Hi Juanita!)

I think I managed most of the foot work passably. But where I did fall apart a bit was with the arms… I’ve never been one for waving my arms about theatrically, never mind seductively. I’m awkward and silly and a little bit robotic (and not in a groovy 80s way either). So, I didn’t really try in week one. I was mostly focusing on keeping up.

By week two I decided I may as well give it a go. And I did. I was still just as awkward and silly and robotic, but at least I didn’t look quite so much like a River Dancer anymore. I was making a little progress, but I discovered something else that is going to be a little bit of a hurdle. For the past, say, 23 years I’ve been doing everything I can to reduce the amount of boob wobble that happens in my day-to-day life. Anyone who is more generously “endowed” in the chest region will know the struggle. Just running for a bus can be a perilous endeavour – even when you’re wearing a sports bra over your normal bra. So, you develop ways to minimise the bounce. Now suddenly I find myself in a class where I’m encouraged to get my jiggle on. I’m talking full on, arms splayed, chest thrust forward and wobbling free for all the world (or at least for anyone unfortunate enough to glance my way). The problem is that I suddenly find myself having to unlearn two and a half decades of boob control – and I’m afraid I don’t know how. What exactly are the mechanics involved in a successful shimmy? I don’t know what’s supposed to move and what’s supposed to stay still, and as a result it’s all a bit of a dog’s breakfast. Let’s not even talk about the excessive hip rolling other routines require…

That’s a challenge for another day. For now I’ll work on swirling my arms above my head and not looking like I’m being attacked by a swarm of bees. Oh, and I’ll go invest in pair of shoes that aren’t doing their utmost to trip me up – for real though, promise.

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!

The (most marvelous) Mess

When you take a bite and before you’ve even had a chance to chew, you’re overwhelmed by the most sublime flavours, leaving you wide-eyed and reaching for more – that’s culinary perfection. Over the years I’ve had many good meals, and numerous great ones – but dinner at The Mess in Napier Street, Green Point, was superb from start to finish.

When Husband Person and I were invited to have a meal there I was thrilled – close to work, gorgeous location, and an online menu that’s beyond tempting – how could we refuse? Early one evening, as Green Point was slowly starting to empty and the clubs in the Village were getting ready for a night of fun, I strolled through the enchanting fairy light-draped courtyard. Pro tip: it’s going to be a marvelous spot for a cold glass of wine this summer.

All images supplied

All images supplied

I was pleased to note the new owners have kept much of the architectural design that the space featured in its previous incarnation – pillars disguised as stylised “trees” and the chic bar.  A few minutes early, I perched on a bar stool and ordered a Morello Cherry G&T. Actually – forget the glass of wine in the courtyard – this cheeky pink drink may just become my new staple. Refreshing and delicious, I sipped on it contentedly as I chatted to owner and restaurateur Carlene de Gouveia.

Her enthusiasm about the restaurant and the menu is contagious. Together with chef Luke Wonnacott of Lukefoodalways consultancy, she’s created an eclectic menu of exciting flavours and interesting ingredients. And this isn’t just a case of plonking things on the menu because they sound good. There’s a lot of tasting and discussion that goes into each dish. The lunchtime press group had polished it all off – but the pan fried gnocchi with asparagus and samphire was apparently unbelievable (I’d spent the afternoon living vicariously through everyone’s tweets and building up a pretty decent appetite). The chef’s team had initially gone the traditional gnocchi route – rich heavy sauce – it was delicious, but a little too much. And when the chef came across some samphire, a plant that grows along the shoreline, he reimagined the dish into something fresh, textured and flavoursome. It’s that kind of ingenuity that is bound to make The Mess a place you can visit often without getting bored.

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Husband Person and I decided to start with confit duck rillette and pickled beetroot served with a warm yoghurt and thyme flatbread. The mezze offering is great for communal nibbling while you decide which of the other dishes you’d like to share. That moment of wide-eyed wonder I mentioned earlier? The pork belly tacos. Bite-sized smoky perfection – BBQ layered pork belly, smoked apple and charred corn slaw. And while we were meant to be sharing the portion, I may have claimed most of them…

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While the main plates are perfect for those not keen on sharing, we ordered the pork belly, pork loin ribs and thick-cut fries with truffle mayo on the understanding that we’d be sharing those too. Because life’s too short for food envy. That said – at The Mess, I don’t think food envy is going to be a common occurrence.

The pork belly was delicious, with just the right fat to meat ratio, and the crackling was perfect (no soggy sadness, or 24 hr dentist visits needed). The succulent meat was beautifully complimented by braised red cabbage, smoked apple, fennel jus and braised baby vegetables. And the pork ribs? Well, I nudged them gently with my knife and they fell apart… heavenly.

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By the time I’d scooped up the last streaks of truffle mayo (one of my weaknesses) with the last lone chunky chip, we were both full and ready to roll home. But… I couldn’t bear to leave without at least “looking” at the dessert menu. Who was I kidding – I’d had my eye on the crème brûlée from the moment I spotted it on Twitter earlier in the day.

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I’ve had many versions of the custardy stuff before – some fantastic and others absolutely appalling (not naming names, but the worst was from a hotel who really should have known better). And I’ve even had a bash at making my own. A crème brûlée made properly is a thing of great beauty, and it starts with the delicate crack of the caramel shell. The first spoonful at The Mess had me falling back in my seat, beaming. It was smooth, light and creamy, and the portion was generous. Too good to share – so I didn’t. (Writing this, I’m seriously considering hanging around the office a little later today, just so I can pop in and treat myself to another helping before heading home… don’t judge me till you’ve tried it.)

The Mess open Monday to Saturday from 6pm, and the kitchen closes at 10pm.

 

Round-up

Our meal was comped, but would have cost R464, excluding drinks

In and out in a lazy two hours

Absolutely delicious dishes, attentive service and a cosy ambiance – perfect for a special night out