On dithering and moving

I learn by going where I have to go.
~ Theodore Roethke

Another hot day in an atypical string of consecutively hot days. Three of us sat like stuffed turkeys in the front of a large van, waiting to get out of the oven. The streets held plenty to look at – Cookie Monsters, aspiring Egyptians and Peacocks, just to name a few! We rumbled on and I waved back at a few tipsy Peacocks and eventually we arrived. We fell out of the oven, sweating disgustingly. My stuff made its way into my new abode on perspiring arms.

I moved flats. And, as I have been so lucky to be able to keep saying – I like my new flatmates, and they seem okay with me! For the first time since who-knows-when, I let myself put a few things on the wall. That felt good.

Something else feels good, too: writing this post right now, even though I kind of don’t want to, because I’m ashamed / afraid / unwilling to tell you this:

That somewhere between melting in the sun, the Cookie Monster sightings and putting things up on the wall, I addressed the Time Machine in my Head. “You’ve got to stop,” I said. You see, the Time Machine in my Head keeps wanting me to live in the past or the future, ALL the time. It wants me to be sensible, or be sad, or worry, or get trapped in indecision, or settle down, or move out, or…… just be a hundred people in a single day.

And so I go east, then west; pack up, then try to stay put; buy a week’s worth of groceries before eating out three days out of five.

And so I murder blogs, then start them up again, then write, then try to quit writing.

And so I love this city, hate this city, and learn that home is lovely and imperfect and ever-changing and smile-inducing and confusing and ultimately a place which forces and welcomes you, always, to be.

And so I’m finishing up on this blog, again. Thank you for reading – for commenting – for journeying with me. Blogging is so much more fun with you!

P.S. Social media tool-wielding friends, please note I have changed my Twitter account name to @mwrites_ and gotten rid of the Facebook page!

Gluten and dairy-free for a week? Will try

Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.
~ Thomas Edison

It’s interesting, what and how you eat, when necessity (e.g. travel, budget, health) dictates that you change something.

Years ago, I had abdominal pain and bloating that left me writhing on the ground or pushing my stomach against a pole in an attempt to soothe the pain. A doctor thought I had IBS, but he wasn’t sure. The episodes ended after high school. So who knows… maybe it was just high school – which can really be quite bad for health in itself ;-)

Then at university, changes in diet, weather, lifestyle, etc saw my weight hit an all-time high: something I disliked mildly but more or less ignored until one day I tried running across the road and experienced a sensation like that of my knees giving way. That was a little unsettling.

Still, diets were not made for people like me – force on me restrictions like that and I’ll do double the damage. After I graduated, 10kg of that excess weight evaporated. Not sure how. Maybe Wellington’s wind blew it away.

Most of the time, with travel, moving country three times and discovering new and exciting foods, health tends to come last when good food is in front of me. Luckily, I don’t tend to like overly oily / processed / creamy things anyway, but I avoid them solely because I don’t like their taste. Anything else, if it’s to my taste, I eat. Even if I feel terrible afterwards. I don’t think I’ve blogged much about this (if ever? Hmm) – it’s always just been so good to concentrate on the joy and beauty of cooking, food and all that. As I am sure you know!

So for a while now, I have been allowing many moments of eating anything I want and bearing any subsequent discomfort like a reluctant soldier. I haven’t experienced abdominal pain as severe since high school, anyway.

But over the last months, I’ve noticed changes yet again in my body. It hasn’t been so well. When I look into the mirror, nothing seems amiss. But I guess I’ve gotten used to just not feeling that great. For much of it I attribute it to other things – you know, change, work, sleep, etc (all of which certainly play a role) but lately I begin to wonder whether changing my diet significantly might make a difference.

Because when I list the symptoms – puffy eyes, bloating, a terrible fatigue that strikes at random, headaches, etc… I think, hmm, that’s not so good. Somehow I manage to carry on working and doing other things, rushing sometimes to make up for lost time spent lying down, but this last Sunday I fell in pain into a steaming bath for over an hour, and thought… I should probably do something now.

One of my dear friends has recently had to make huge changes in her diet due to an autoimmune disease – changes which I know other people have made for their own reasons too. These are changes that I understand… mostly… and imagine must be difficult to implement. In a world of fresh pastries, butter, milk-and-cookies and friends who tend to eat mostly anything, who would choose to be gluten and dairy-free? I have never seriously considered doing this, since I have not been diagnosed with anything that requires it.

Anyway. When I received the news from my friend, I was very sympathetic. It’s a way of eating that is easy to mostly ignore until you are a dinner host with a gluten-free friend to cater for. But what about being unable to take gluten and dairy (or any other things) without being ill? Having to learn a whole new way of relating to food and nourishing oneself? Having to cope with people thinking you are just being difficult or chasing after a health fad? Having to change the way you shop for groceries, spend more than you used to, stop eating at your favourite cafes and walk past bakeries without acting on your resentment?

Frankly, I almost think I’d rather keep on being sick.

But this week, I am going to try to stick to gluten and dairy-free eating in support of my friend, and so we can exchange notes too… so far so good, though the banana and chocolate muffins I made last night are getting increasingly hard to ignore. I’ve eaten, so far, Ceres’s brown rice cakes; gluten-free pasta spirals with zucchini, tomato, paprika, chilli and basil; coffee with almond milk… and, the VERY BEST THING… two fresh figs. Oh my goodness! Figs send me into a state bordering on wild frenzy.

While I don’t know if I want to totally change my diet right now, and actually I am a bit apprehensive if there ever comes a day when I NEED to do it to protect my health, if you don’t try – you don’t know, right?

Any health stories or tips for eating gluten and / or dairy-free? Do share.

Cathy put the kettle on

I like nonsense, it wakes up the brain cells. Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living.
~ Dr Seuss

Inspired by an email from my friend Cathy. The nonsense aspect is entirely mine (she is a sensible lady).

Cathy put the kettle on
She made a pot of tea
Just as she was pouring it out
Her eyes caught sight of a bee

The bee was big and juicy
It seemed to glow and dance
Cathy’s tea fell on her fingers
But she was held in a trance

It took about five seconds
For her finger to go RED!
And then Cathy found her head hurt
She needed to go back to bed

So to the hallway she hobbled
Up the stairs she crawled
Her back soon started twisting
“Ouch! Ouch! Ouch!” she bawled

By now her nose was dripping
The mucus was yellow and green
It made its way to the carpet
Leaving it less than pristine

Cathy got angry with Mr Pain
She pushed him with all her might
At last he rolled down the staircase
That really was a sight

Her belly started laughing
And then so did her feet
She laughed till tears ran down her cheeks
And she had to take a seat

Oh, what a crazy morning!
What a crazy day
Where is Mr Pain now?
No one can really say.

A special evening at Ang Bahay

A wonderful fact to reflect upon, that every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other.
~ Charles Dickens

Sometimes, life throws you a bouquet with flowers you fancy (my ideal one would have tiger lilies, chocolate mint and maybe a leprechaun or two thrown in for good measure). I am talking about days on which life tickles and delights – you know the ones. They don’t need to contain one million dollars or a rugged Prince Charming arriving on a motorbike (though I suppose they would be nice…). They could happen in good company; at the beach; at the duck pond – when the beauty of life rises to meet your face – and you find your heart and feet dancing.

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The last 10 days have contained a few of these moments for me – a crucial ‘aha’ moment in my work; swimming at Eastbourne; watching a ladybug glide slowly by; having my friend Jane visit. So many things. Hellos and goodbyes. New friends. Last but not least, a spectacular surprise – dinner with the gracious Philippine Ambassador to New Zealand, Her Excellency Virginia Benavidez.

Yes!

Through serendipity, friendship, a big dollop of warm Filipino hospitality and more, Her Excellency hosted a dinner in honour of Jane at Ang Bahay, the Ambassador’s residence. And I got to be Jane’s guest.

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Recently, Jane visited the Philippines and was clearly enthralled by the experience – I could feel her passion radiating through the phone as we spoke. It awakened good memories – mainly of a visit to Manila when I was a little girl, where I found myself chin and elbow-deep in mango heaven… and of the Filipino friends and domestic helpers I have met, almost all of whom are always, in my mind, laughing, boisterous, joyous, gentle as they speak with their beautiful Spanish-tinted accents.

Just the other day, I met one of Jane’s friends, a glorious Filipina lady, who had me beaming within seconds of meeting her. I begin to understand Jane’s heart for the Philippines and its people.

So… when the invitation to Ang Bahay arrived in our email inboxes, we were thrilled! Of course!

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Opening your door to someone is something special; sharing stories and food with someone, even more so. Her Excellency did these and more. I thought to myself, here is a lady in a significant position with a sea of facts and faces to remember – and here she is, humble, graceful and approachable. She included all of us in her informal address and in conversation. No one looked ill at ease – we dived into conversation. Never mind that I have little connection to the Philippines or that I only know about five words in Tagalog – we laughed, chatted, joked… and I forgot myself in the course of the evening, mainly in exchanging stories with the people seated at my end of the table. No attention to napkin placement / polite regal laughing needed (though, umm, I tried to behave ;-)).

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I could try to explain what made it all wonderful – getting to dine at the Ambassador’s beautiful residence, the amazing food, the smiling people… but all that doesn’t really say it. Pretty surroundings, novelty and friendliness are great, of course. I noted, with pleasure, the table setting, tall vases, art on the walls, menus printed on handmade paper cards supporting Samaritana, and (real) fruit candle holders! I enjoyed our meal immensely – everything from soup with a perfect puff pastry crown to an impressive ice dome with fresh fruit tucked into it, which kept cool the entire time. I soaked in the whole experience, marvelling at the fact that I was at the Ambassador’s place.

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But all that doesn’t encompass what made it possible to be fully present and at ease in a new and novel situation. Soaking in something that is at once complex and terribly simple: genuine hospitality. Hospitality that is generous, other-focused, radiant and passionate – hospitality from a host that brings out her best for her guests – hospitality that is glorious, yet humble and welcoming, with no airs and pretension. Hospitality that makes me fall in love again with the world, and its diversity, and the beauty of culture and humanity. Hospitality that seems to touch me not as a gesture, but as an embrace.

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It all sounds terribly cheesy, doesn’t it. But, well, that is the way it was. To Her Excellency, Jane and the other guests: thank you.

Masaganang bagong taon sa lahat!

P.S. Just in case you are interested, the menu was as follows (ah, I’m getting hungry all over again, typing this!):

Mushroom soup with puff pastry
Alfa salad with fruit
Strawberry sorbet
Fish and vegetables in teriyaki sauce
Chicken royale
Braised pork hocks
Fresh fruits in dome
Turon with chocolate dip
Wine
Date tea

A biscuit from long ago

Grown up, and that is a terribly hard thing to do. It is much easier to skip it and go from one childhood to another.
~ F. Scott Fitzgerald

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Mom fished these out of the pantry today, much to my amazement. I don’t think I’ve seen or thought about this breed of biscuit in over a decade.

I still don’t know what they are called, and in a sense, it doesn’t matter. I popped one into my mouth.

It made me want to reach out and stroke Time’s cheek.

Caramelised onions, rapid ragù and a diary you should buy

Don’t look at your feet to see if you are doing it right. Just dance.
~ Anne Lamott

Today has been one fantastic day.

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For a while now, I have felt a soul and body sensation somewhat akin to constant choking. There have been many moments where my mind kept saying “dooooon’t wooooorrryyy” or “sloooooow down!” while my body and heart fluttered with anxiety and insomnia.

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I really, really don’t want to see another night-to-day transition happen outside the window while the rest of New Zealand (except fellow insomniacs or night-shift workers) get to play in Dreamland.

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I guess the year’s been a little crazy. It’s been unspeakably wonderful in a thousand different ways, and it’s also driven me completely out of my comfort zone. I’ve been living out of a suitcase for seven months, and I’ve been in 12 cities in three countries this year. That’s not much for people on an OE or for people who love ongoing plan-less spontaneity, but I’m not either of those things.

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Right, first world problems.

Got it.

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They’re still a little tough :-o

(The First World Problem Lady Whines)

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Recently, in the midst of a dark passage of stress and insomnia, I came to a very important realisation. That now is the BEST time to learn contentment, resilience, calm and all those quality things.

Today, I woke up, peered into the mirror and said, “I like your life. I don’t want ANY OTHER.” After I said it, I was surprised to realise that I really meant it. I really wouldn’t want to be anyone else. I’m really happy being me, with my personality, strengths, flaws, relationships, circumstances and all.

And then a few really, really good things happened. I’m still smiling as I type this.

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One of those things is that I *finally* got my hands on a Kiwi Diary! My friend Cathy told me about them a few years ago, and for some reason they stayed elusive… until today! At Commonsense Organics they sat on the counter like they had been waiting for me all along (okay, slight exaggeration, but only a slight one)!

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It’s every bit as beautiful, compact and spacious as I wanted my 2013 diary to be. Don’t you want one too?

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Another good thing that happened today was that I felt in the mood to Cook Properly. Dinner was started and finished in an hour and turned out nicely, and my lovely flatmate Jono helped me to eat it AND booted me out of the kitchen afterwards to tackle the dishes :-)

Here’s the approximate recipe, if you’d like it. As always, I recommend cooking by sight, smell, taste and instinct.

    Pappardelle with rapid ragù and caramelised onions
    Ingredients:
    Caramelised onions:
    Olive oil
    2 onions, peeled and thinly sliced
    pinch of cinnamon
    1 tbsp demerara sugar (or use normal)
    1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
    The rest of the dish:
    225g dried pappardelle (packet said 2 servings)
    1 tbsp butter
    3 cloves garlic
    450g mince
    1 sprig rosemary*
    1 sprig thyme*
    1 carrot, peeled and diced
    1 zucchini, diced
    400g canned diced tomatoes
    3 tbsp tomato paste or passata
    1/2 cup red wine
    Salt
    Black pepper
    3/4 tbsp demerara sugar (or use normal)
    Method:
    Over medium-high heat, glaze the bottom of a skillet with approximately 3 tbsp of olive oil. Once it’s warm, fling open the windows and throw in the onions. Cook for 15-20 minutes, adjusting the heat as required and stirring occasionally to avoid it burning. It should be smelling pretty great and turning slowly golden-brown. Add in a pinch of cinnamon, breathe in deeply. Stir well. After 5 minutes, add in the sugar and balsamic vinegar and cook for a further 5 minutes till it’s all rich, brown and soft. Pour them into a bowl.
    Turn the heat up again. Reusing the skillet, melt the butter, then add in the garlic and mince. Stir well, and add in the herbs. When the mince is partially cooked, add in the carrot and zucchini, and cook till the mince is just cooked. Then pour in the wine, tomatoes and tomato paste, lower the heat and let it all simmer for around 20-30 minutes. More time won’t kill it – just make sure it’s simmering and not splattering. At some point, stir in half of the caramelised onions (refrigerate the rest for another meal!), sugar and salt and pepper to taste.
    10 minutes before the sauce is due to be ready, bring water in a deep saucepan to a rolling boil. Throw in some salt, then add in the pappardelle and cook according to packet instructions or till al dente.
    Dish it up – pappardelle on plate. Ragù on top. Serve immediately.
    Yields 3 servings.

* I just used these because they were leftovers I had in the freezer – feel free to substitute with fresh / dried herbs you have on hand.

Soft-boiled eggs

Maybe the problem with success is that we don’t take enough time to define it for ourselves.
~ Eric Karjaluto, co-founder of smashLAB

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I find this terribly simple and profound: soft-boiled eggs cracked into a bowl, topped with a mini mountain of toast fragments and too much black pepper.

Sometimes I think I could eat this every day.