Monthly Archives: November 2009


The Liberal party theatre has been vastly entertaining to watch, but in the meantime, the end of the year is rushing up, and I have ‘Thank you’ gifts to make. As many other parents do, I like to give small gifts to my children’s teachers to acknowledge the work they have done during the year. But the list is long – three classroom teachers (my twins are in the same classroom, but I think they should each take something for their teacher), drama teacher x 3, music teacher. Then there’s my singing teacher, and my partner’s guitar teacher, and my hairdresser, and the school librarian who has been giving one of my girls some extra help, and the office staff at school…

In recent years, I’ve been giving people homemade sweets, wrapped in beribboned cellophane. I make chocolate fudge and caramel fudge, using recipes that came to me from my mother, and I think she got them from her mother. The measurements are all imperial, which gives you a sense of how old the recipes are.

Chocolate fudge

You need a saucepan with a thick base. I use an heavy old aluminium one. It’s quite heavy, with a thickish base. Going by proprioception, I think the base is over 0.5cm thick. It has a 2 litre, or 4 pint, capacity. If you have to use a thin-based saucepan, you should be okay on a electric element, but if you’re cooking on gas, it would be a good idea to use a simmer-mat to distribute the heat evenly.

Into the saucepan, put 2oz (50gms) butter, 2 cups of white sugar, 2 tablespoons of cocoa, 1 tablespoon of golden syrup, and 1/2 cup milk. (A cup is 250mls, and a tablespoon is 15 mls.)

Put the saucepan on a low heat, and stir gently until the sugar is dissolved. Then gently, gently, bring the mix to a boil. Watch it like kahu (a hawk); sugar mixes can boil over very rapidly, and they are awful to clean up (this is the voice of experience speaking). My mum advised me to keep a large metal spoon nearby; if the mix looks like it’s going to boil over, plunge the spoon into it, to bring it off the boil quickly. You also need to be very careful not to spill any on yourself, because the mix will be exceedingly hot, and sticky. If you have children, I strongly advise banning them from the kitchen while you boil the mix up.

Then you need to boil the mix for a while. It will reduce in volume, and start to look thicker and stickier. While the mix is boiling, get a setting tin ready. I use a small 20cm square cake tin. Grease it well, with butter. You could use baking paper to line it if you like; I never have, but that’s no reason not to.

After about 10 minutes of so, test it to see if it has reached the soft ball stage. Get a small amount of the mix on a teaspoon, and drip drops of it into a cup of cold water. Hopefully, it will form into shapes looking like nothing so much as, ah, tadpoles, with a thick round head and a long tail. Leave the drops for a moment or two (maybe 15 seconds), then carefully press them with your finger. If they feel squidgey and liquidish, the mix is not ready. If they feel hard, then alas, you’ve over cooked it. If they feel a bit soft but also a little resistant to being squashed, then the mix is about right. It’s very hard to describe exactly what they should feel like, and unfortunately, the best way to learn the “right” feel is by practice.

When the mix has reached the soft ball stage, remove it from the element, and add a drop or two of vanilla essence. Then, get a wooden spoon, and start stirring. You need to stir the mix, and then beat it, until it thickens into a solid state. This takes about five minutes, and a strong arm. Enlist your partner or your house mate or your teenage child or whoever to help you with this if necessary.

Once the mix has thickened, tip it into the cake pan, and quickly press it out evenly, using the back of the wooden spoon, or your hand. If you use your hand, be very careful – the mix will still be hot, and if you’re not careful, you can get a nasty burn (voice of experience again). It’s probably a good idea to have your cake pan sitting on a mat of some sort, or you will end up with a heat mark on your kitchen bench.

Cut the mix into squares, and leave it to cool down and set. I usually cut my fudge mixes into 64 squares – 8 by 8. The pieces may look a little small, but they are so rich that smaller really is better.

While the fudge is setting, get a teaspoon, and scrape the remnants out of the saucepan and off the wooden spoon, and eat them. Don’t let your children or partner or housemates see you doing this, or they will clamour for some. When it has set (a couple of hours, or overnight), carefully lever a corner piece out, and eat it, for quality control purposes, of course. Then lever the remaining 63 pieces out, breaking them up as you go, and store them in an airtight container.

Caramel fudge

Caramel fudge uses exactly the same method as chocolate fudge, but the list of ingredients is slightly different. Use 2 cups of white sugar, 1 tablespoon of butter, 1 tablespoon of golden syrup, and a small cup of top milk or cream. I have no idea what a “small” cup is, but I tend to use about 3/4 of a cup. “Top milk” is the milk that used to be at the top of a bottle, before the days of homogenised milk. These days, all the fat is evenly distributed through the milk, so there is no such thing as top milk anymore. I use 1/2 and 1/2 milk and cream, or even better, all cream.

I find that this mix takes longer to get to the soft ball stage, because it has more liquid in it. It makes a slightly smaller quantity than the chocolate fudge recipe, but still enough to go into a 20cm square cake pan.

Once you’ve spent an evening or two making fudge, and consequently are feeling just a little bilious because you may have sampled just a bit too much, make up cellophane bags of fudge, and give them away. Sadly, I have no photos of pretty bags of fudge to show to you… I must have eaten them all.

I love making special celebratory and gift-giving food. I’m not making my grandmother’s Christmas cake this year, because we are going home to New Zealand for Christmas, but Dr Cat has made one. What special food are you planning to make this festive season? For yourself, or to share with others?

Cross posted at Larvatus Prodeo

A day for rainbows

I went along to the Marriage Equality Rally in Adelaide today. It was cold and wet, and still about 200 people turned up to rally outside South Australia’s Parliament House, and urge our parliamentarians to support marriage equality for all Australians. As I’ve written before, I don’t think the state should be involved in marriage at all, but FSM-dammit, if it is going to play the marriage game, then it shouldn’t be making judgements about which Australians are allowed to get married, and which are not.

The rally started with everyone gathered on the steps of Parliament, to get some shelter from the frequent rain squalls.*

Once the speeches started, people moved down to the pavement, ‘though I stayed up on the steps because I had the Strangelings with me,** and I wanted to be sure that I could keep them out of the rain if it started falling again. Which it did, and out popped the rainbow umbrellas.

The speeches were good, delivered by men and women, gay, lesbian and heterosexual. One speaker made the obvious, and excellent point that other countries in the world have marriage equality, and the sky hasn’t yet fallen. New Zealand has ‘civil unions’ – not a full scale ‘marriage’ but not too bad either, and a lot better than nothing. It has been heartwarming to see the number of gay and lesbian couples who have at last been able to stand up, in public, and have the state acknowledge that their relationship is real. And when I was in New Zealand just a few days ago, the sun was still shining, people were happy (or not) as usual, life was just carrying on. Really, what is there to be so scared about?

After the speeches, people headed off towards a pub. I didn’t go along – it’s not my party, and I don’t want to crash it, even though I support the cause. And, I had the children with me. So we went off down town for lunch. There was a huge display in the middle of Rundle Mall, in honour of some pandas. Adelaide seems to be getting itself all excited about some animals arriving at the zoo. The local paper has been carrying lots of photos and stories about it, and there’s a huge banner on the front page of its website about the pandas arriving this morning, complete with shots of the plane carrying them touching down. But not a word about the Marriage Equality Rally. I guess human rights just don’t matter as much.

Along with the panda display in the mall, there was face painting and cardboards masks, and balloons for the kids.

Guess which colour balloons the volunteers handed to the Misses Eight.

* M-H, I’ve chosen this photo because the woman in the centre is knitting.

** I’m not all that keen on taking children along to rallies and protests, especially when I see them holding banners and posters that they can’t possibly understand. But I didn’t have much choice about it; Mr Strange Land is away for a few days, so I could either take them with me, or not go at all. I explained what it was about to the girls, so they knew why I wanted to be there. And there were plenty of other children there too, with their mums and mums, and dads and dads. It seems wrong that the state will recognise the loving relationship between my children’s parents, but not the loving relationship between some other children’s parents.

Friday Feminist – Anne Phillips (2)

The association between politics and friendship, and the way this can increase the excitement and interest in meeting,s was certainly a feature of the women’s liberation movement – though perhaps particularly so for those who had no children, or who had not yet exhausted themselves in years of political life. For many women, the movement became their life, the women’s group their closest friends. In such a context, the extra time it takes to do things collectively rather than on your own is not necessarily seen as a cost, and while it can be unbearable to attend yet another over-long meeting with people you dislike, the experience is very different when the others at the meeting are friends.

It was not long, of course, before people noted the limits of friendship, the two most serious being that it is impossible to include everyone in the circle of your friends, and that it is hard to disagree without more fundamentally falling out. Despite the rapid growth of the women’s movement, with new groups springing up all over the place and ideas spreading fast from one country to another, it was apparent to most of those involved that they were a pretty unrepresentative bunch. Mostly in their twenties or thirties, overwhelmingly white; very often college-educated and holding a degree. There seemed to be a trade-off between the intensity with which those who were involved committed themselves, and the capacity of the movement to extend its appeal. This in turn seemed to be related to precisely those aspects that had brought politics and friendship together. For those already involved, the absence of formal structures, the informality, the shared jokes and references, were a part of what the movement was about. These very same phenomena could seem mysterious and exclusionary to those not yet accepted as friends.

Anne Phillips, Engendering Democracy, 1991

Ceruti dettaglio

A follow-up to my earlier post on a painting by Giacomo Ceruti.

The concentration and seriousness on the little girl’s face is beautiful. It doesn’t make me think of my own little girls so much as Giovanni’s daughter. I also love the adult’s hand cradling and guiding the little girl’s hand. This is a joint process, something mother (or aunty or big sister or friend) and child are doing together.

Many thanks for sending the image to me, Giovanni.

Snippets from home

I went home for the weekend, for a party to celebrate my aunty’s 80th birthday. It was a great party. My cousin estimates that there are about 400 of us who claim descent, or descent by marriage, from our grandparents, and a fair proportion of those were at the party. I saw cousins I hadn’t seen for quarter of a century, first cousins twice removed, all three of my godchildren (Casey, Caitlin and Katherine – I specialise in people who begin with a ‘k’), saw the joy in my aunty’s face as her children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren gathered around her. I was so pleased to be there.


New Zealand is very green.


I met a friend for lunch in a cafe in Wellington. We were very good, and we didn’t start singing until about 15 minutes before she had to go back to work, and we sang very softly, just to compare notes on some songs we have been singing. We were sitting outside, so I think that excuses us.


That ‘h’ seems to be spreading. For people reading this who aren’t from New Zealand, the New Zealand Geographic Board recently decided that a town called “Wanganui” which is in the Whanganui region, and on the banks of the Whanganui river, should be called, “Whanganui.” The h-less spelling seems to have been an error by the missionaries who first started writing Maori language, so it’s more-or-less a correction of a spelling mistake. But the good burghers of Wanganui are incensed – how dare anyone gainsay what them white folks want. In the meantime, the Wanganui Chronicle has decided to fix its masthead problems by becoming the Whanganui Cronicle (the ‘h’ doesn’t do any work in ‘chronicle’ anyway), Mt Cook has become Mt Chook, and Thames (not the English river, but a small town in NZ) is at last being spelled as it is sounded, because Whanganui will be needing all the spare h’s it can get. I think that over time, the recalcitrant people of Wanganui will be brought round by humour.

(For the record, I think it should be Whanganui. My farming cousins would disagree. But then, they think it should still be Egmont.)


I met a friend I had not seen for six years. He is recently home from the UK, taking up a position at Auckland University. We had coffee and cake and gossip in a cafe in Auckland. With a bit of luck, now that he is back on this side of the world, I might see him again soon, instead of in another six years time.


I stayed overnight with another friend. We talked late, over a bottle of wine, and ate cheese and crackers and strawberries, and had another drink. It was so good to spend time with her, to talk knowing that there was no back story that I needed to explain.


I miss home. Still. Perhaps forever.


I came home to find my darlings in fine form. The Misses Eight had put a note and some flowers on my bedside table, welcoming me home and saying they had missed me. Mr Strange Land said they put it there the day after I left. The first morning I was away, they got up and unstacked the dishwasher, had breakfast, got dressed, and made their own school lunches, and their big sister’s as well. This is a wonderful innovation. On Saturday morning, Ms Eleven made breakfast in bed for her dad – warmed croissant, jam, butter, coffee, fruit juice, all nicely presented on a tray.


As for the tawdry sex scandal surrounding the South Australian premier – I’m bored with it already. M-H has said what I would say, were I to get around to saying it.

Just a bit shaken

I had meant to put up a post about my short break in New Zealand, and I might try to, tomorrow maybe, depending, but I’m feeling just a little shaken. I was in an accident today; another driver came through a red light and smashed into my car as I went through on a green light. I don’t seem to be hurt, ‘though I promise to be wary with respect to whiplash injuries, and neither was the other driver. My car however, is not so good. The back left passenger door, and the skirt, and the rear fender and the rear panel, are all dented and broken about, and the left rear wheel is on a bad lean, and the petrol tank looks as though it may need to be replaced.

I do feel sorry for the other driver. He was definitely at fault, and he admitted it. But I think it was one of those moments where you lose concentration briefly, and don’t perceive something, like a red light. He must have spent a great deal of time afterwards thinking, “If only…”

Very fortunately, it was just me in the car. I might not be so forgiving if my daughters or my partner had been there, and had been injured or scared.

Yes, we’re fully covered by insurance, as is the other driver. This is a damned nuisance, but that’s all.

Learning to read

Giovanni directed me to this painting by Giacomo Ceruti.

(image scanned by Giovanni)

He said:

Following the example of Caravaggio and especially Andrea Magnasco, Ceruti painted working class subjects, which was a novelty in those days. I thought you might appreciate the detail of a girl of humble extraction who was being taught to read – again, not a terribly popular pastime in Italy in those days. There is another lovely painting of his with very similar subject, “bobbin lace school”, but this one stood out for me due to that particular detail.