Friday, May 25, 2012

Going Caveman

The sphygmomanometer inflates, deflates and flashes a number at me that I don’t really like.

It’s back on the program once again.

There is something in my nature that hates doing what I’m told – absolutely hates it. So when the doctor told me a few years ago that I should be on blood pressure medication, it was with a great deal of trepidation that I took the prescription, filled it at my local chemist with a whimsical ""Ευχαριστώ" and started taking the drugs. Two weeks later, I was back at the doctors complaining that the medication made me feel like crap – I was a walking zombie – couldn't function, couldn’t think, lost my libido, wanted to eat and cry all the time – plus I had a hacking cough.

She changed my medication.

Script in hand, back to the chemist with a doleful 'παρακαλὠ'  as I handed over the script and the money, I dutifully took the meds – only this time, after three days, though I was no longer walking around like the living dead, but I’d shoved on a couple of kilograms in weight and it felt like I had cankles – my legs were heavy with fluid, my ankles, the pride and joy of my lumpy body, felt like they belonged to an elephant.

Not impressed, I went back to the doctor, who said my ankles looked normal. When I said that they were normally the most emaciated part of me and that I could feel the skin stretching, she suggested coming off the drugs and try another sort of blood pressure medication. It was at that time told her politely where she could shove her medication and that I was going to find another way of managing my blood pressure issues.

Which has lead me to the four year health and fitness journey I’ve been undertaking. It’s meant shedding weight. It’s meant taking up running. It’s meant that I’m a local at my gym. It means when I feel symptomatic with hypertension (headaches, palpitations, hot flashes and other general malaise) I traipse back to my lovely hippy doctor (naturopath) who gives me some herbs to drink to flatten it out again and I go all hard line with my diet and exercise to reign things back again.

I’ve learned in the last few years that I can only eat cheese in strict moderation – cheesy pizza sends me sleepless with palpitations for a few days. Alcohol can also be taken in moderation - a glass or two a week and I have no ill effects. A bender every so often - but that is it - none of this 14 glasses a week for me. I have to be careful around sugar and processed foods. Chocolate is not my friend. Salt is the enemy as well.

Then again, on the good side, daily exercise helps keeps things in check – which isn’t a problem at all as it works on so many levels – it keeps me from feeling strung out and depressed too.

Which leads me to where I am now. With a blood pressure reading that the doctor would be shouting at me for and the knowledge that I’ve packed on a couple of kilos as a result of negligence and a stressful sedentary job,it’s time to get back on track again. It’s time to get with the program. It’s time to release my inner cave man for a few weeks.

Yeah, just call me Alley Oop or Captain Caveman.

It’s time to detox and go Paleo for a while. Time to embrace my inner cave man.

Thinking about it, I’ve been quite fond of cavemen in the past. I have dim memories of grunts of ,“Woman! Come here, woman! Woman, good! ” as you’re dragged off to some foul smelling pit for fifteen minutes of sloppy kisses and rough cuddles. Okay, cavemen lack a bit of finesse, but you know where you stand…)

Alas, this caveman isn’t a hairy beast who has a need for food and sex. It doesn’t mean I’m going to look like a caveman either, stopping waxing my legs and eyebrows, grunting after my morning coffee and not bathing.

It’s back to the Paleolithic diet. Bye bye dairy and grain, hello protein, vegetables, fruits and nuts.

The concept is fairly simple. Reindert and my naturopath have been suggesting it to me for ages – go back to basics. Lean proteins. Lots of green vegies. Fruits. Nuts. A hunter-gatherer diet. No processing. No salt or sugar. This time, for the first 28 days, no legumes either. Just meat and vegetables and a few nuts - after a four day detox to set everything back to zero again.

In other words - eat like a caveman for a month, after four days of purging the crap out of my body.

What's the bet that my blood pressure is back to my form of normal (130/80) by Wednesday next week.

This is also a good chance to the exercise regime back on track. I've been decidedly slack over the last few weeks - still fit, still strong, but I feel myself slipping.

I've put myself in a race a month for the next few months. The 10 km Run Melbourne, where I would love to run the distance in under an hour. There's the Sydney City to Surf in August, the City to Bay in Adelaide in September and the Melbourne Half Marathon in October. Lots to train for, not just for time, but for my health and happiness. 

So here it is. Back on the plan. Back to being a slave to the weights room and the treadmill and the juicer and the like. 

Broccoli is my friend. Goodbye macarons for a little while.

My one wish is that I could get rid of this bloody ear worm that has been in my head for a few days on knowing that I'm going on the cave man lark. I'm showing my age. I reckon my father used to play this to me as a kid.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Landscapes, Limitations and Lesbians

The drive was long but in no way ardous, a solid 200 kilometres down to Apollo Bay. Leaving Melbourne around 2.30 in the afternoon, the only issue was the normal Richmond football traffic that held up Burnley Street. After that, it was a clear run down the highway to Geelong, then down to Anglesea and the Great Ocean Road. The first and only time I’d been down here was with Glen Waverley a couple of years ago – keen to drive like a lunatic we set off for the Twelve Apostles early one Winter morning. He disgraced himself badly on that trip playing the Bloodhound Gang's Discovery Channel song down Apollo Bay high street, cranked up to eleven with the top down on the MX-5.

I’d been looking forward to this weekend for ages, though I was viewing it with some trepidation. Covering 23 kilometres of the Great Ocean Road wasn’t something I was ready to run. I’m trained up for 14 or 15 kilometres on the flat no worries – 23 kilometres of hills was another matter.

Arriving at Lorne to drive the last 45 kilometres down to Apollo Bay, my folly was soon apparent. Taking Neville, my trusty Mazda 2 around some pretty serious hairpin bends, up hills, over dales, I was feeling some nerves grow in the pit of my stomach. Arriving at Kennet River, I looked at the huge hill in front of me.

Driving on, the voice in my head was yelling at me. The start of this race is 5 kilometres of uphill slog. WAAAHHHHH. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

I pulled up the car at Cape Patton, the highest point I could see and stopped at a lookout. The light was fading. Gloria and Gaynor were expecting me half an hour ago, but I had to get out and have a look. It appeared that the hills were starting to abate. And this is what I saw.

It was then it struck me – I was going to haul my carcass over this road in the morning. How honoured was I? How often do you get to do something like that?

I also knew from that moment that running the distance wasn’t an option. Gaynor and I had discussed it in the week. I know that I’m happy to run a ten to fifteen kilometre race on the flat at a steady pace. Gaynor, fresh back from a holiday in India and in the middle of report writing had done two ten kilometre runs in the last six weeks. Running this road untrained was sheer stupidity. Walk/running the distance was going to be the way to go. Stuff the time – we were here to have fun. And keep safe and uninjured.

Arriving in Apollo Bay twenty minutes later, I landed at the house that Gloria and Gaynor had booked for then night. When I put myself down for the race, I was made aware that they would be sharing with a group of women from the FrontRunners of Melbourne – a running club for Melbourne’s GLBITs (Gays, lesbians, bisexuals, intersexuals and transsexuals - Gloria explained it to me once). I’d asked Gloria if me being there would be an issue – which she said no. They were a friendly mob she’d told me. They take friends of GLBITs in the group too so I'd be made most welcome.

And she was right.

I was greeted by ten of the most fun and interesting women I’ve met in ages. Lovely people, and I was set right at ease. I’m normally not great among people I don’t know – pretty shy in all, but I was made to feel very much at home. They were waiting on two more to arrive before Gloria put on dinner – a large batch of Spaghetti Bolognaise, garlic bread, salad and various nibbles – a feast for twelve that could have fed twenty easily.

It seems there was another fish out of water in the group who arrived about an hour after I got there. Last year, the group were asked if they had room for one more in the house. They were happy to take on Sam on spec – a friend of a friend, another runner doing the half marathon looking for a place to stay. They were a little perplexed when Sam was not a Samantha, but a Samuel, all six foot three rugby scrum-half  physique with the demeanour of a Labrador puppy. Glorious man is Sam.

Talking to Gloria amongst the group the subject of how I came to be in the house came up.
“I go to dreams with Gloria.” I told them. “She's a friend from way back.”
“You’re not a FrontRunner?” somebody asked.
“No, not affiliated, but I’ve run round the Tan and had breakfast with the group on occasion.”
Gloria then piped up, “Yeah, she bats for the other team, too. Firmly on the other side.”

First time I’ve ever been described that way. It made my night.

So Sam and I were the tokens – token gay bloke and token straight girl. The night was set. There was lots of talk of running, of personal bests, of races run, of life in general. Lots of laughing and enough food to make sure we'd all carbed up properly and feed half a small city. Haven't had such a good night in ages.

The five of us setting out for the half and full marathons at six in the morning got had a fairly early night – we had to be up at five to get to the designated starting spots. I was on a trundle bed on the floor, bunking  in with Gloria and Gaynor. Sleep was patchy. Gloria snores. (Then again, I’ve been told so do I)

Waking, dressing and trying to be quiet when you’re preparing for a long run is next to impossible - especially at five in the morning when you're half asleep. Sam and another, Lynn, were doing the full marathon. Gaynor, Jill and myself were doing the half. We tried our best to not wake the house, but failed miserably. Gloria, grouchy and sleep deprived waved us off to the bus at ten to six in the morning.

It was now that the magic happened. From out of the darkness, people came out of the darkness. It was like a scene from Harry Potter, strangely dressed folk appearing from under street lights walking towards a common point - in this case, the service station where we were to board buses to our final destinations. For Sam and Lynn, a bus ride to Lorne. For Gaynor, Jill and myself, a shorter trip to Kennett River, where we were unceremoniously dumped by the roadside in what felt like the middle of nowhere with two thousand others to wait for the start of the run.

After the obligatory toilet stop, we gathered with the throng and waited.

What they don't tell you about runners. They're not the most fashion-conscious bunch. The MAMILs are the worst (Middle-Aged Men in Lycra).

Jill made the comment, "It might be my persuasion, but there is nothing attractive about men in lycra."
"I agree, and I'm on  the other side of the fence. Some things are best left to the imagination. Willies are one of those things. "
Jill looked at me puzzled. "You're not gay?"
Gaynor looked on, laughing, only just managing not to spit take on her gatorade.
"Nope. This weekend I'm an honorary lesbian."
"Oh, I just presumed by the company you kept."
"No, but I'm flattered that you thought that. They're great people we're with."

The comments didn't make the men in lycra tights with no shorts over the top go away. There was also the obligatory man with a microphone making banal comments and somebody found a personal trainer to hoist themselves up on a flatbed of a truck to take the warm-up, a talk by Steve Monaghetti about the joys of running and the even sponsor, the poorly named Trevor Fagg (titter, titter, titter) to wish us well.

At 8 am, we were off.

I have to let you in on something. I hate hills. I really hate hills. I know they're good for me, but I hate them. Gaynor, as untrained as she was, felt similar, so we fell to the back of the pack and developed our strategy. Run the downhills, walk the uphills and scout run the rest.

This is what the gradient looked like:

Turned out to be the best strategy we could have adopted.

I was a brilliant event to take our time and look around. The course is one of the most beautiful marathon courses in the world. There were times when we could have just stopped and looked out to sea. We were excited to see koalas in the wild. We weren't that excited to find a dead one on the side of the road about a kilometre on.

The three hours and 22 minutes it took us to walk/run the course went quickly. There was a five minute, rather terrifying portaloo stop about halfway, about the time the first pesky Kenyan came flying past like the Roadrunner zips past the Wiley Coyote. By the time we were getting close to finish, my right knee was hurting on the bits we ran (which normally came down to one of us saying "run to the next road sign" and the other saying "Yeah, that'll do" when we got there.")

Both Gaynor and I were pretty fresh when we arrived in Apollo Bay, buoyed by the cheering crowds as we ran down the main street to the finish line. Best of all, our house mates were there in a group to see us in. Jill had run a wonderful 2.35 over the hilly course, 45 minutes faster than us - a brilliant effort.

After obtaining a bit of ice from the ambulance people to put on my knee and a good stretch, we waited to see Sam and Lynn in. Lynn arrived around the 4.20 mark looking as if she'd done a walk around the block - not a 45 kilometre run. Sam, was proving a little more elusive.

"Has anybody got Sam's Mum's number - she thinks the lovely lesbians are looking after him?" somebody asked.
"Oh dear, there will be hell to pay. She's really worried."

Thankfully, Sam came in at the 4.30 mark, tired, but thrilled at completing his first marathon. A superb effort.

All of us came back unscathed - thank goodness. Tired, a little worn, but uninjured. A fantastic result.

Leaving Apollo Bay after a quick lunch, packing the car, tidying the house and and saying goodbye to this group of wonderful people, I was thankful that I'd brought my compression tights for the drive back. Stopping for coffee at Anglesea  had a walk around also helped to stop my legs seizing up. An hour later, I was found on Blarney's couch, cat on my lap, cup of tea in hand watching the last of the Crows vs Carlton match, where I saw my beloved team thump the Blues.

In all, a brilliant weekend - and it's given me something to strive for. My next race is the Run Melbourne 10 kilometre race - where I'm still bent on trying to get my time under an hour. There's also the Melbourne Half Marathon to train for as well as the City to Surf in Sydney in August.

And best of all, Gloria said they'd have me back - so I can do the Great Ocean Road Half Marathon again.

It's a race that I will hard pressed to forget.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Don't Call Me Dory and Other Lessons

1Things people have found out about me in the last week.

11) Don't call me Dory

The meeting was into its third hour. A figure slumped at the front table, pen in one hand, head in the other, catatonic. Only her eyes were flitting about the room showed signs of life - the only discernible movement that came from her as the rabble went on about her. She was incapable of speaking, incapable of moving, past contributing, past thought. Exhaustion had enveloped her in the hour before. What was tiring her more was the knowledge that this committee meeting, the one that happened every three months, had to be attended every three months .
“And maybe Dory can look into it.” A member of the committee piped up.
“And what do you say to that, Dory?”

Nobody but my family and a few people who’ve known me for more than thirty-five years call me Dory.

“Who’s Dory?” I asked. It was the first thing I’d said all night, after giving my obligatory report at the start of the meeting.
“You, of course,” retorted the committee member.
“My name is Pandora, thank you. And I’m sorry, I don’t have the time to commit to what you’re asking me to do.”
“But you don’t have a family and you live close by, Dory,” replied the committee member, unaware that her life could end in minutes if she kept up this line.
“I’m sorry , firstly my name is Pandora. I answer to that, or Panda or Pand. I don’t respond to being called Dory unless you are my mother – which you are not.” The voice could have smashed concrete.
“Oh, but you can do this job you don't have commitments.” She piped in brightly.
“No. Just because I am a spinster of this parish, without a fellow or bairns does not make me available to do every shit kicking job about the place, and I find it extremely presumptuous that you expect me to do these jobs.”
“Oh. Then who will get this menial task to do?” she asked.
“Why you – they who smelt it, dealt it.” I piped back. “I’ll just put that I the minutes, shant I.”
Neither of us said anything else for the rest of the meeting.

Moral of the event – never mess with a tired, grumpy Pandora. It's not worth it.

And never call her Dory – ever.

2) Just Because...

I’ve had variations of the same conversation with a number of friends over the last few months. Only the intensity and the depth of the conversation differ. I had it again on the weekend while sitting looking at a view of the Opera House over lunch.

It’s getting a little tiring, though it’s nice that my friends care.
“So, how’s your love life?”
“I don’t know. Men don’t find me attractive? I haven’t met anybody I want to go out with? Nobody decent isn’t around the place? I’m not in a space to connect with a man at the moment. Take your choice. Use all the reasons. I don't have a bloke. Deal with it.”
“But you’re lovely, you should have somebody special in your life.”
“Who says I should? Maow Maow loves me, can’t he do? He loves me so much he kisses my nose at 4 am when he comes to stay – oh, sorry, that’s him wanting breakfast. And he's a cat.  Shouldn’t confuse that with love.”
“But you deserve somebody who makes you feel special in your life.”
“I think you’re confusing happiness with being shacked up. I’m pretty content for the most part. I’ve never had a long term partner – and I’m okay with that. If somebody comes about, then so be it. “
The friend looks confused.
“But you’re lovely, and you deserve to have somebody.”
“Yes, I’m lovely, and deserving, and gorgeous, and funny and lots of good things. Doesn’t automatically mean I need a man in my life. I can kill my own spiders at a push. I have a step-ladder to get things off of high shelves. I can open my own jars. I can drive myself about. What else to you need a man for?"
“You’re being glib.”
“I’m being a realist.”
“Well, why don’t you have a fella?”
“Umm, because there isn’t a shop where I can buy one of the class and calibre I desire. It’s not like paper. If I want quality paper I go down Degraves Street to the Florentine paper shop. If I want a notepad I go to the supermarket. I can’t buy one.”
“You’re being glib again.”
“You mistake glibness with an acceptance of reality. Besides, a good proportion of my mates who have blokes are miserable and want to kill them most of the time. I don't want that."

They left me alone for a few minutes. This conversation always goes like this.

“So what are you doing about getting a fellow?”

Here we go again.

“I’m not doing anything other than being open to offers, not that there are any coming.”
“But why not try the internet.”
“Bad history with internet dating. I tend to meet psychos. Next.”
“Well, where else can you find one?”
“It goes back to my first question. Why do I need one?”
They sit back and consider this.
“Well, what do you do for sex.”
“Nothing. Used to going without. It’s not mandatory to get laid. It’s not like eating and drinking, though the need feels like it sometimes. Celibacy doesn't kill you.”
“Oh. But what about children. You want to have children don’t you.”

Oh dear, here we go. Reproductive ambivalence is a viewpoint as contentious as euthanasia or the death penalty.

“Umm, I don’t think I do. Besides, I’d make a crap mother.”
“No you wouldn’t.”
“Yes I would – but this is moot. No fella, no kids.”
“You could go it alone. Do a turkey baster job.”
“I think I would prefer to have every hair on my head plucked out of my head with a pair of rusty tweezers than have a child on my own.”
“You’re adamant about this one.”
“No shit, Sherlock.”

The moral of the events – you have your life, I have mine. You do what you choose. I choose what I choose. And never the twain shall meet. I respect your choices, please respect mine. Even if my views aren’t the same as those of everybody else.

Other odd events of the week.

My current project manager calls me “Boss”. Isn’t that like an oxymoron or something?

Walking up Queen Street on my way home, a man on a bike shouts out my name and waves at me as I go past. The man on the bike cuts a pretty good figure in lycra. I have no idea who this person is. I ask my facebook friends who this person may be. The random act of friendliness made my day. The fact that a cute, unidentified man shouts my name out made it even better. He texted me this afternoon to ask why I was walking up Queen Street this mystery cute cyclist. Danger Dood from Bastard Bank. Bummer. Married with children – and Danger Dood. Still made my day.

My hotel in Sydney was brilliant. Allowed me to watch televising from the bathtub. Very cool.
Running with a hangover is not particularly fun. Running on a sunny day in Sydney and forgetting to put on sunscreen. Stupid. Feeling you have justification for a couple of McDonald’s hash browns after the run. Misguided – but I still had a good day. 

And the moral of these lessons?

None really. Happiness is where you find it. A smile and a wave, something silly, a McDonalds hash brown with tomato sauce after a run.

It's the little things that make you happy. Concentrate on them and the rest will follow.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Posh Dinner Night Mark 2

I’ve had Edward Lear’s, “The Owl and the Pussycat” going through my head since dinner last night.

A strange choice of poem to be stuck in your head, but strangely relevant after what was one of the more memorable meals of the last six months. Edward Lear’s nonsense poem about a cat and a bird who elope is one of the three poems I can recite by heart. The other two, Eliot’s Prufrock and Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky” (which must be recited wearing a floral bedspread wielding a bread knife as the vorpal sword) just don’t cut it. For the moment, I reckon that this poem sets the tone for last night’s exquisite meal.

See, last night was Posh Dinner night. My friend Millie from Hold the Peas contacted me a few months ago saying that her husband was going away for a few weeks on business and that this was a great chance to catch up and do a degustation dinner. After the success of the last on at Jacques Reymond, I was keen, as was Jonella, who jumped at the chance to have a lovely, refined meal out at a decent restaurant.  A couple of others were invited along but stated funds and work commitments as a reason not to attend. I've been squirreling some funds away over the last month so this was paid for.  

It’s a lovely treat these degustation dinners. You get to taste a lot of different meals and walk away pleasantly full at the end of the night. Some of the things you get to taste are wonderful – others hit and miss – and you always end up with something you would never order.

This time around, we decided on having the degustation fare at Libertine Dining in North Melbourne. It’s a place I’ve heard about and looking at the menu online I was in heaven. Classic French cuisine. NOICE! This is a cuisine that I love, but rarely have, pretty much due to the butter and cream content of a lot of French cooking – or so I perceived.

Being a dreadfully busy week, we were all a little late to the restaurant. Jonella had thankfully picked me up and I called ahead. The maitre’d was pleased we called to let him know we were all a few minutes late – small courtesies which made the night go smoothly – the service at Libertine was faultess regardless of our minor tardiness. Friendly, quiet, exceptionally capable and knowledgeably but discrete enough to never get in the way of your conversation.

Millie was there when we arrived – she beat us in by a few minutes – and the night was off. We ordered a glass of French champagne - Gardet Brut Premier Cru. Millie made the comment that once you have tasted real French champagne, you never go back to the local stuff – and I can see what she means. I was given a bottle of Moet and Chandon which I shared with some friends a few years ago. Unfortunately, at the time, I’d lost my sense of taste – and the Moet tasted like fizzy water with a bit of vinegar for tartness. Then again, curries tasted like cardboard at this time. This champagne was feather light and perfectly balanced. A great start to the evening.

We ordered the degustation menu, as planned, and the maitre’d rubbed his hands with glee – we were in for a treat. He asked about food allergies and Millie told of her seafood intolerance, which he said would not be an issue. And we were off.

The great thing about Jonella and Millie is that they are lovely company. We’re all word nerds, but we are all of similar ages and have similar  interests, so the conversation flowed between the eight courses.

First off the rank, an amuse bouche – or happy mouth maker as I like to call them. From Wikipedia, that suppository of all knowledge is is defined as, “An amuse-bouche  or amuse-gueule is a single, bite-sized hors d’œuvre. Amuse-bouches are different from appetizers in that they are not ordered from a menu by patrons, but, when served, are done so according to the chef's selection alone. These, often accompanied by a complementing wine, are served as a little tingler for the taste buds both to prepare the guest for the meal and to offer a glimpse into the chef's approach to cooking."

The cauliflower and parsnip soup with Roquefort cheese was a perfect start to the night. Served in an espresso cup it was also the perfect portion too as a bowl of this stuff would have sent my blood pressure readings into the near stroke category. Beautifully balanced, the tartness of the parnips was counterbalanced by the cheese. Creamy yet light, sweet yet tart – we knew from the first sip that this was going to be a meal to be remembered. I was in a state of rapture from the first sip. I’m normally not allowed cheese – the one thing that will send my blood pressure skyrocketing. Tonight I made an exception and will clean my system out over the next week.

Second course was up and was voted the star of the night by Jonella. Goat’s cheese with Lebanese eggplant, tomato and cucumber and an olive soil. This one got to me too – more cheese – more creamy, tart, gloriously balanced cheese that I’d happily take a bath in if they’d let me. The roasted eggplant set the cheese off sensationally, and the olive soil set off all three tastes and textures.

The thing I love about degustation menus is that you get a decent taste of things – and these were flavours I wouldn’t quickly forget. This was just pure yum.

Conversation flowed around Millie’s recent trip to Hong Kong – somewhere that has now been put on my list of places to go. It sounds like a foodie’s paradise up there, and Millie and her husband Jai really know how to source out some of the best in the world.

The third round was presented to us – the terrine of the day with brioche and relishes. I immediately thought that my mother would love this. A gorgeous terrine, offset by the sweetness of the lightly toasted brioche which was then complemented by the onion marmalade, mustard and cornichons (read really little gherkins – since when did gherkins get a fancy name…) This was one of my standouts for the night. Again, you think about it – as a kid, tinned ham paste on toast with gherkins were a favourite snack of mine. How far has this stuff come along?

By this time we realised just how lucky we were to have chosen this restaurant. The Libertine degustation was very different to the one we had at Jacques Reymond. I liked the friendly, efficient service and the amazing food at Jacques Reymond, but I loved the simple honesty that was presented on the plate here. Simply delicious, robust flavours – and we all agreed – NO FOAM! Like what was that about?

Next dish out – snails. Yeah, snails. Which were drowned in garlic butter and parsley and served. Brilliant.

I’m a fairly adventurous eater. I was talking to one of the girls at work here and she said that she’s ever eat them. I didn’t flinch. They were lovely. I reckon it’s great to try new things and the French have been eating snails for centuries – how bad could they be? The evening was to have  few more curve balls in the interesting meats department, but we were yet to find them. I really enjoyed the snails. I also enjoyed getting a bread roll and soaking up the garlicky parsley butter and feeling decadent – knowing that it’s back to the diet on Sunday. I was also glad that I sleep alone as I’m sure I stank worse than a chorus girls of Les Miserables after opening night.

The next course, was not so much of a course as a palate cleanser - a morsel to clear the mouth - and clear the mouth it did. The sour cucumber jellies did just that. It was like somebody set off a gentle explosion in my mouth. it was well cool.

The first of the meat courses came. The evening's fare of spiced goat with beetroot and parsnip chips was one of my favourite dishes of the night - the cardamom infused, gamey meat as smooth as ice cream and the parsnip chips divine. I'm a parsnip lover -  a very under rated vegetable if you ask me - just as the zucchini (courgette) wouldn't be missed if it disappeared off the planet.

After a small break, out came the final main of the night (how cool - two little dinners - I love the concept of degustation because of this. A roast wagyu beef with potato dauphnois, sweet breads and vegetables with a peppercorn sauce. The beef was just as I like it - mooing. The sweet breads, which both Millie and Jonella left on their plate, I thought wonderful - until I found out it was the thymus gland of a calf. Veal is something I tend to not order due to ethical reasons - and there was a sliver of guilt running through me as I worked out what I'd eaten.

It's funny, I think of the animals I'll eat without blinking - Skippy, Bambi, Nemo, Thumper (love rabbit - and don't get me on the ethics of rabbits in Australia - they're vermin or food - take your pick) But knowing I've eaten a bit of a calf - not worth dwelling on and it's a lesson in listening to the waiter a bit more carefully next time.

After another break, it was time for dessert. A goat's curd and preserved lemon cheesecake with poached quince. (Apologies for the dodgy photo). I was in heaven. Millie and Jonella weren't so pleased - as there were a couple of chocolate desserts they would have preferred to have on the menu. The brulee crust, the crumble, the perfectly balanced lemon curd and the quince. Oh the quince. For an ugly fruit, heavens, it's wonderful.

Though it does mean that I've had "The Owl and the Pussycat" going through my head since last night and I've been searching for a runcible spoon - also known as a splade. I love quinces. I reckon that if I could come back I'd love to be a mix of Maggie Beer, queen of the quince, and Maggie Smith, queen of the stroppy.

Regardless, dessert left me happy.

The last course, coffee and petit fours. A little chocolate arrangement, a madelaine biscuit and a rhubarb jelly - the perfect finish to an evening of wonderful food.

I was thrilled with the evening. Lovely company, lovely, honest, wonderfully prepared and cooked food that will have me raving for months. My only slight gripe - after a very hard week at work the chairs were very hard by the end of the evening - but that did not detract from what was a superb evening.

Would I go back to Libertine?

Hell, yeah. Well worth the expense for a special night out.

The Owl and the Pussy-cat went to sea
    In a beautiful pea green boat,
They took some honey, and plenty of money,
    Wrapped up in a five pound note.
The Owl looked up to the stars above,
    And sang to a small guitar,
'O lovely Pussy! O Pussy my love,
      What a beautiful Pussy you are,
          You are,
          You are!
What a beautiful Pussy you are!'

Pussy said to the Owl, 'You elegant fowl!
    How charmingly sweet you sing!
O let us be married! too long we have tarried:
    But what shall we do for a ring?'
They sailed away, for a year and a day,
    To the land where the Bong-tree grows
And there in a wood a Piggy-wig stood
    With a ring at the end of his nose,
          His nose,
          His nose,
With a ring at the end of his nose.

'Dear pig, are you willing to sell for one shilling
    Your ring?' Said the Piggy, 'I will.'
So they took it away, and were married next day
    By the Turkey who lives on the hill.
They dined on mince, and slices of quince,
    Which they ate with a runcible spoon;
And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand,
    They danced by the light of the moon,
          The moon,
          The moon,
They danced by the light of the moon.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Upside of Anger

This "Supermoon" phenomenon continues - and I'm blaming it for the bad mood I've been in for the last twenty four hours. I'm also blaming it for the bad mood that everybody else I seem to encounter at the moment.

Stupid thing is, the anger is only masking a whole heap of really good things, which would be missed if it wasn't for the fact that it's the small, nice things that are keeping me sane in his rather nasty hell week.

Hell week? My name for the week where I have something on every night - with no respite. Monday was a Pinochet session (not really out, but it was a commitment), last night book group, tonight dream group, tomorrow night out for a posh dinner with Millie and Jonella, Friday, girlie admin, maybe rub a set of feet and pack and then I hop on a plane to go away for the weekend Saturday morning.

What, going away for the weekend? Yeah. As a reward for myself, I'm celebrating the third anniversary of me running timed races by doing the Mother's Day Classic in Sydney this year. I'm also visiting some friends while I'm up there, making the trip there even more worthy. I was telling Reindert that I couldn't believe how far my running had come in the last three years. It was the 2009 Mother's Day Classic that Em and I ran the 4 km race for the first time. In 2010 I did the 8 km race with Kitt. Last year I amazed myself with in the 8 km race completing the distance in around 50 minutes. I'm not going to run anything amazing this time round - 55 minutes would be grand - I'm doing the distance. Even better, the race starts at 8.10 almost from the door of my hotel. I should be done by 9.30, can grab a coffee on the way back and meet my friend at around 11 before coming back. Works well.

Okay, so I'm busy after work. Work has me with barely time to scratch myself. Back to back meetings most days often in different locations across the city. Great. Which means hell week is even harder.

The anger started to rear it's head last night at book group.

It wasn't the book, which was fantastic (Stephen Kelman's "Pigeon English" - highly recommended - exceptional writing), the discussion was wonderful. For the first time in ages, we had a full contingent, which was also great. It was nice to be at our winter home, a quiet city pub.

The fact that the kitchen made us wait an hour for our meals. GRRRRRRRR.

"Where's my dinner?" I thumped the table gently after 40 minutes wait. The tables around us who had arrived before us had been fed.
"What's up with you?" asked Jonella.
"I didn't get my afternoon snack. They feed you well here, so I didn't have my 3 pm muesli bar."

Another five minutes went by. There were two women sitting at the bar who had walked in ten minutes before received a bowl of chips. This was taking the piss.

"Where's my dinner?" I thumped the table again - a little louder.
"Wassup?" asked Georgie.
"I get grumpy when I don't get fed. It's been 50 minutes. It's getting close to 8 pm. I could eat one of Blarney's units."
"Ah, that happens to Tom," said Georgie, "He get's grumpy when he's hungry. I call it "hangry"."
"Great word for it. Still hasn't brought my dinner out."

After another ten minutes, after trying in vain to flag down the harangued waitress (in their defence, they were understaffed) we were told our meals would be five minutes. No explanation - nothing.

I was very, very hangry by now.

15 minutes later, dinner arrived. One last minor glitch - the tomato sauce I requested didn't turn up. Can't have chips without that. It's unAustralian! Grrrr. Could have thrown something.

The manager came and spoke to the table, apologised, gave the table a bottle of wine - but still, left a bit of a bad taste - thought the meals, when they came, were great - plentiful and robust. Just very late. We will go back to that pub - we've been there before, it's the first time we've had such a problem.

I got home around 9 pm, later than I wanted, Em's cat fed, not too many smelly drunks on the tram. I had to be up early this morning. Due for a run with Desi at 7.30 from the city.

Up, showered, dressed, packed, on the tram at 7 am, happily reading my new book (Jasper Fforde's,"The Eyre Affair" - had me doing spit takes at that early hour)

Arrived at the gym where I store my gear - Desi wasn't going to make it - bus trouble. GRRRRR. The only way I was going to run was with somebody. Too tired to run without somebody to take my mind off the fact I was schlepping around the Yarra at 7.30 in the morning.

Rather than run, I did 45 minutes on the cross trainer - which helped the mood somewhat. It doesn't matter that I wasn't running, I was doing something and breaking a decent sweat.

Work was brutal today - everybody appeared to be in a bad mood. The atmosphere was toxic - thankfully it's not normally like that - just today - it was terrible. I escaped at lunchtime - I've been working through for the last few days, and it felt indulgent - but clearing the mailbox and a macaron or two might help things I thought. It was also a glorious day out in the sunshine. 20 degrees. Light breeze. Bliss to walk in.

Arriving at "La Belle Miette", I staggered in the day. Karen behind the counter greeted me.
"Bad day, love?"
"Yep. The natives are revolting in more ways that one."
"A macaron will make it better."
"Why do you think I'm here?"
"We have some new flavours for you to try. We want your expert opinion."

I ordered a lavender and a jasmine tea macaron - the new ones on the menu. They looked interesting. Karen urged me try tell her what I thought. The lavender one was divine. Light, unusual, perfectly balanced. Then for the Jasmine Tea one. I bit into it.

"Hmm, this tastes like your Champagne and Cassis." I told her.

She had a look. "They look the same, looks like they got mixed up." She indicated to her co-worker to look at the line of macarons - sure enough, there was a mix up. I was passed a real Jasmine Tea one, free of charge, to taste.

It pays to be a regular sometimes.

The third macaron was exquisite. Seriously, if you're down Hardware Lane, pop in. Best macarons in Melbourne.

Returning to the office, the acrimony continued. My saving grace was the dentist appointment at 5.30 pm. I'd have to leave a bit early. Amazing how work can make you look forward to something which you normally dread. A phone call during the afternoon made it better. Could I make it a bit earlier? They'd had a cancellation.


So I got away. I got to walk in the balmy afternoon light. The health fund somehow paid out ten dollars more for my check up and polish than they did last time. I don't need any fillings. Life is good.

It's going to be a bit strange for a few more days I feel. I know Sydney will restore me. Just the chance to get away and read a book in the bath will help a bit.

But I'm also grateful that though I'm a bit grumpy and temporarily angry, I can see all the nice things going on around me. Macarons, sunny days, uncomplicated dentist appointments, good friends, plentiful food - when it arrives, great literature, a varied life.

These are the upsides of anger.

Just don't delay my dinner and don't forget my tomato sauce - then there's hell to pay.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

The Calm Before The Storm

There was a big Scorpio moon lunchtime yesterday and boy am I feeling the pull of the sucker.

Jonathan Cainer writes: "This weekend brings the biggest, brightest Full Moon for 100 years. Try to take a look at it when it is first rising up over the horizon around sunset. It seems almost unfeasibly close.... and that's at least partially because it is closer than usual. The Moon's journey through the sky causes it to perform a little dance with the Earth where it regularly steps nearer, then further back. It's now as near as it ever gets... and because it happens to be full, that makes it as powerful as ever gets. People are calling it a 'Supermoon' - although you may want to find other names to call it as you begin to notice how much emotion and intensity it is stirring up in your life!"

Yep. Sums it up in one.

Other than a horrid, persistent headache for the lasted a day, one that had had me reaching for the ibuprofen and stronger, life is okay. Just busy. And perplexing. And a bit harsh.

Saturday night I was out babysitting Bernie and Gaz's twin six-year-olds, who were a delight, teaching me about Star Wars, reading to me and going to bed, teeth cleaned, pyjama-ed and toileted without a boo. All that was left for me was to snuggle up with their chiahuahua cross on the couch and doze in front of the "The Shawshank Redemption". Bernie and Gaz found me fast asleep at around midnight, snoring in time with the dog. A great Friday night, no dramas, apart from the near migraine headache.

Woke Saturday morning after a great night's sleep (assisted  by some lovely panadeine forte). A long meditation session, a wonderful breakfast with the meditation crew at my favourite Caulfield eatery - where due to being back on the hippy diet, a faboulous bowl of bircher muesli was had. Not the normal Challah French Toast or the smashed avocado and Persian Feta on sourdough with roasted pumpkin seeds... nope, lovely, fresh, light bircher muesli with fresh strawberries and natural yoghurt. The headache started to go. 

This was followed by my three monthly haircut. I've been going to the same hairdresser for over ten years. A friend of a friend, she never buggers up my cut - it lasts for ever and keeps it's shape - having wavy hair, it's good to know there is somebody who knows your hair. I don't mind who colours it so much, but Lee cuts my hair. It's worth the half an hour drive across Melbourne to get it done.

Sitting in the chair, reading my book, waiting for the colour to set, the phone rings. It's Mum. News on my beloved aunt. She's not been well over the last few months and there was some suspicion that something more was happening. After tests last week it appears she has bowel cancer, which has gone through the wall of the bowel and metastasised in the liver. She's having a scan done next week, but things do not look good at all. She's also 84, so really, what ever they do won't be trying to save her life, but make sure that either they slow down the decay or keep her comfortable. 

This news rocked me. Not of the diagnosis - this news had been brewing for a bit, more the finality that somebody I love won't be around for much longer. My aunt is a very, very special person, knowing that her days are numbered isn't good - for her or for anybody. I contacted my favourite cousin - her daughter - the spare room is there if she needs to debrief. She said that it may get some use over the next few months.

So now, a day on, I'm sitting here thinking like this is the calm before the storm.

Reading tarot last night at a hen's party, attended by what appeared to be the noisiest family in Melbourne - a large, loving, strange, energetic gaggle of Portuguese women, I wondered if my family would ever be a cohesive group like this - not that it ever really has been like it, but there were days when we were closer. By the end of the night, 20 readings later, a very bizarre stripper who appeared to flap his bits in front of everybody in the room, I'd worked out who go on with whom, who was ill, who was unhappy, who was disappointed, who was avoiding stuff. 

(Maybe I should arrange a group reading for my family - though that would be a bit pointless as many of them are rabid Christians who think of tarot as the devil's pasteboards.)

The last girl I read for the night was a sweetie. She looked tired. Tired, sensible, quiet and frankly, completely bamboozled by this rambunctious mob.

"Why to I get the feeling you want to run away?" I asked her as I turned over the last card.
"I'm plotting it. Next year. Go interstate for university - get away from all of this. I love them, but I can't be around them too much or I go mad."
"You're the academic of the family? The quiet achiever?"
"Yep. I'm the black sheep." she told me. "I love all these people but I don't know how we're related."

I was looking at my eighteen-year-old self.

The other strange event at this tarot job - I ran into an old work mate there who was attending the party. This has never happened before. I like to keep my tarot work and my day job very separate - people are aware that I read, I just don't want to read for them. She came up, said hello and that was it, thankfully. Being eight months pregnant, I think she went home early.

To top off a hard, surreal day, I dropped in at the service station on Hoddle Street to fill the car - I wasn't tired - it was something to do with all the energy floating around me. As I started to fill the car and ancient Magna pulled up behind me. Out poured three drag queens, each at least six two, dressed to the nines, heels like daggers, though you know that they probably wear steel caps by day, especially going by their gait as they went inside for cigarettes. They were search of some club in Collingwood.

Of all the juxtapositions. It topped the day off beautifully.

So a day on, does it still feel like the calm before the storm. Yes. There are no answers as to what will happen with my aunt, other than she will die at some point sooner rather than later. Things still feel intense. The headache has passed.

One thing that's taken my mind off all the things going on - my great friend Geetangeli and her husband Bill will be in Sydney on the first weekend in June, over from New Zealand for Bill's work. They've asked me up for the weekend, so arrangements have been made - go up for the weekend and go on foodie expeditions around Darling Harbour (though I think I've talked them into taking the ferry out to Manly to experience the creations of Adriano Zumbo, and maybe go try Sydney's Chinatown. Geetangeli and Bill are foodies extraordinaire and are happy to try new things. This I will enjoy immensely. Along with catching up with one of my oldest and dearest friends who I haven't seen in about four years.

But still, I reckon this is the calm before the storm.

I'm wondering what else might happen. For the moment, I think taking to sitting under my snuggie and reading a book - a Pandora form of putting my hands over my ears and singing 'lalalalalalala' is in order.