I could be wrong, I could be right

13 09 2012

It’s been a busy time here at Sherdcentral, you guys. I have been duck-like in appearing to spend quite a lot of days watching how the sunlight moves across the verandah and drinking endless cups of tea, but in fact furiously paddling away in my mind working out how the pieces fit together. Which is where the metaphor falls down, so let’s leave it there and move on, shall we?

So, kind of accidentally-on-purpose, I’ve become a freelance consultant type person. In what? Well, pretty much anything, at this stage. I’ll write you some education policy analysis, do some research, edit your 600 page document, teach you to make ricotta and, it turns out, wrangle your authors and audiences around events. Some of this I’ve done for actual money, some for exchange of services, and some just for love.

It’s kind of a jigsaw, and I’m still working it out. To wit, today is my first day ‘off’ for 13 days, which isn’t really off as I spent some time this morning reading and will spend another 4 or so hours doing more this evening, and I had an interview with some people who might want me to do some work (although I think I stuffed it, and I think they’re maybe not people I want to work for). And I’ve said yes to about 6 or 7 days of work per week for the rest of September.

Well, you know, live and learn and all of that. It’s hard to articulate how much I am loving it all. Heh, maybe because right now all I really want is a nap. But it turns out that it suits me to work a lot in a short amount of time and then spend a day watching some trashy Kimutaku J-dorama back to back. It suits me to go to different places and work on different things and have different conversations with different people. And it suits me to have time to do the things that I enjoy, like giving my time for free to be part of something bigger, or learning a new thing, or spending 4 hours stirring curds.

I need to hold on to this feeling, this joy, and drag it back for the days when I panic about there being no next contract, or no steady income, or no idea how to fill out this GST form. And no easy answer for the backyard barbeque question, “And what do you do?”

Now. Would you like to learn how to make mozzarella? Or some analysis of integrated service delivery options? Or perhaps I can organise your pantry for you?

That last one I’ll happily do for free.


101 things: take singing lessons

9 08 2012

And you can't stop me!

image from here

I can’t sing. I can sort of hold a tune, but I’m flat and sharp and pitchy and all over the shop. Which doesn’t stop me, but it does make it a bit shit for other people (sorry).

A secret want of mine for ages to was learn how to smooth out the rough bits and sound better. Well, not so secret, since I stuck it on the 101 things list. But even still, I didn’t know how to move forward on it, because it all seemed very unknown and scary. I think it’s really hard to put yourself up to do something totally new – and it seems to get harder the older I get.

Quick scene change to a dinner party, where there was one of those decks of question cards designed to break the ice. One of the questions was “What’s something you wish you’d learned how to do?”

Turns out that I wasn’t alone in my warbling wish.

So given that doing anything terrifying is much better if there’s someone there to hold your hand (misery loves company?), friend B and I found a teacher, and started lessons.

(After a lot of procrastinating and faffing around.)

And after three terms of lessons, I can say that we’re definitely getting better. It’s hard – because we’re not very good, because we’re not very confident, and because it’s bloody hard doing something that you’re terrible at, week after week. We are well out of our comfort zones.

But it’s getting easier. I’m not about to release an album any time, but I’m enjoying learning a completely new thing, and making progress on it.

So, note to self: it’s okay to be really bad at doing something. The key part is the doing. That’s the only way you’ll get to being any better at it.
(Unless, of course, you’re happy to never, ever do that thing for the rest of your life, therefore never facing your complete crapness at it. This is an option I have been known to choose.)

Queensland is breaking my heart

4 08 2012

Well, not Queensland, as such. The people of Queensland and their most recent voting activities and this new, directionless, flailing, policy vacuum of a government. Having dealt with them in opposition, I remember clutching at straws in the leadup to the landslide election, trying to convince myself that it wouldn’t be so bad because some of their stuff wasn’t too bad. If you kinda squinted and ignored the gaping holes.

I think this post from John Quiggin, juxtaposing $130 million in cuts to a key northside hospital and Medicare Local and a $110 million boost to the racing industry, captures it perfectly.

I just don’t understand what sane Cabinet process arrived at this pair of decisions.

All I can see is how this path will lead to more people in misery in this state.

That’s the part that breaks my heart.

Visit three museums or galleries: Three

2 08 2012

I took a trip to the US of A in September/October 2011. It was magic, for a whole bunch of reasons.

Of course New York was high on the list, and of course high on the New York list was MoMA. Which was as excellent as I’d thought it would be.

I would move to New York and be a member in a heartbeat. And eat bagels. And generally soak it all in.

In fact, I signed up for the MoMA email list just to briefly pretend that might be possible.

(I remain optimistic)

(with very little cause, but then, that’s what optimism is about, right?)

How to make whole milk ricotta

31 07 2012

I’ve spent the morning with MsG making ricotta.

Not that you need a whole morning. A spare 15 minutes will do.

It’s really that easy. More people should know how easy it is. So here’s how to make a basic whole milk ricotta*.

Per litre of milk, you need:

  • up to 50ml of cream (optional)
  • 1/2 tsp of salt
  • 60ml of white vinegar

The yield is around 200-250g per litre of milk. I’ll usually do 2L, partly because that’s the size of the milk bottle, and partly because 500g is the perfect amount for this gorgeous baked ricotta recipe

  1. Set up a budget double boiler – put a smaller pot inside a larger pot which is filled with water, such that the handles of the smaller pot rest on the rim of the larger pot. Your milk goes into the smaller pot. Have the water level in the bigger pot roughly even with the milk level in the smaller pot. Or, if you’re fancy and have a double boiler, use that. You can heat the milk directly on the stove, but I find using a double-boiler means less danger of burning the milk, less need to stir and easier cleanup. Bonus.
  2. Add the cream, if using, and the salt to the milk. Stir gently to mix. You can add up to 1 tsp of salt per litre of milk, depending on the final flavour you’re after (I usually use 1/2 tsp per litre plus a pinch extra for luck).
  3. Pop a thermometer in the milk and heat on high. Occasionally, stir gently. This is the worst part because it feels like it takes forever to get the milk hot. Although it’s probably only 5 minutes or so.
  4. When the milk hits 85°C or thereabouts (anywhere above 75°C will work, but best not to go above 95°C), stir the milk quickly to create a whirlpool. Take out the spoon, and smoothly pour the vinegar across the pot. The movement of the liquid will distribute the vinegar through the milk – there’s no need to keep stirring, and from the moment you put the vinegar in the milk, you enter the OMG BE GENTLE WITH THE CURDS stage of ricotta making. So take the spoon out and don’t put it back in, ok?
  5. You should straight away start to see small curds (solid white chunks) forming. Don’t touch or stir the curds at this point. In fact, go away and do something else for 3 minutes, to give the curds a chance to form and solidify a little. Ricotta curds are very delicate, and stirring them will break them up, leaving you with ricotta slush.
  6. After 2-3 minutes, you’ll see curds floating on the top, with greenish-yellow clear liquid in between (whey). If you want, GENTLY move the curds away from the side of the pot with a spoon. The liquid underneath will probably still be milky rather than clear. This is ok.
  7. Gently scoop the curds out of the pot with a large spoon, and gently place them into a colander  or strainer (I line mine with muslin or a clean dishcloth, but that’s more for peace of mind than any real need), with a bowl underneath to catch the whey. As you take the curds out, any remaining vinegar will react with any remaining milk, and more curds will form in the pot. It’s like magic. Try not to agitate the liquid too much as you spoon out the curds, and try not to let the curds smash into each other as you spoon them in to the colander. Have I gone on about it enough yet?
  8. Be gentle or you’ll ruin the ricotta.
  9. Once you’ve spooned most of the curds out of the pot, you can (gently) pour the remaining curds and whey into the colander, making sure that the curds tumble into the colander gently (rather than falling and smashing into the other curds from a great height).
  10. Let it drain for a few minutes – not too long, or it will get grainy and dry. Then pop into a container and into the fridge, or make that delicious baked ricotta, or smear onto some fresh bread with a drizzle of good olive oil and some cracked pepper and enjoy.


This ricotta should last for a couple of weeks in the fridge, but it’s best on the day it’s made.

You can press it in a mold (ie any container with holes to let the liquid drain out, with a weight on top) to make paneer.

Any type of milk (low fat, normal, high fat, even UHT) will work. Any type of acid, too. White vinegar gives the most consistent results and flavour, but you can also use lemon or lime juice, buttermilk, wild whey – pretty much anything acidic. Just remember that the taste of the ricotta comes from the taste of the milk and the acid. But ask the internet for variations, because there are many out there!

If you don’t have a thermometer, 85°C is the point that milk simmers (not boils!) so you can use that as a guide.

And what to do with the whey? All sorts of things – a refreshing drink, instead of milk in baking (especially bread), lactofermentation, a facewash, feeding it to your dog or houseplants or compost… except that this time I was a slacker who tipped it down the sink.

Oh well. There’s always next time. Because there will be a next time.

* Yes, I know that actual ricotta is made from whey, and this isn’t technically ‘ricotta’. But it tastes as good. And is easier than trying to find a source of fresh whey. So just make it and enjoy it already!

A weekend in the country at the parentals

30 07 2012

This weekend had some good things.

A window. And light where before there was darkness (and cladding and a bit of dust). Note that an actual window was also installed in this gap.

A herb garden. Well-dug soil, mulch and herbs where before there was a pile of super-clayey dirt with lots of roots and rocks in it (note: temporary edging is temporary). Buddha included for perspective and inner peace.

A lovely welcoming mint pot. Four different types of mint (peppermint, basil mint, old fashioned mint and sexy variegated applemint at the front there, preeeettttyy) where before there was a pot, some potting mix, and, um, three smaller pots and a cutting.

Not shown: a massive Sunday sleep-in, whip birds, fog coming off the dam in the early morning, seven bottles of wine (over two nights and between four, though!), fresh fennel tossed through pasta, a narrow Blues win, fruit toast.

What did you get up to?




24 07 2012

Apparently one of the things you do when you have in-laws is have them around for dinner.

Truth be told my relationship with my lovely in-laws hasn’t really changed since they went from the parents-of-my-partner to parents-in-law. Although, in the same way that something subtle has shifted in the landscape between the Architect and I since the rings-swap, there’s been a slight change with the in-laws too.

It’s hard (and probably a bit pointless) to articulate what that is, but here’s a try. Our communities and societies have rituals, big and small, imbued with socially accepted meaning. It’s a cultural shorthand, really. Over many conversations with a clever friend on this topic, we agreed that sanity exists in balancing trying to change the system and trying to live within that system.

So deciding that I wanted to get married was partly deciding that I did want to access the socially accepted meaning and, I suppose, validate it. That last part being the bit I overthought and struggled with. The thing is, because of what they are, those rituals have a huge amount of power. To be married, to say “this is my husband”, puts our relationship in a certain framework that is built on a whole bunch of assumptions and social rules. That I am definitely not outside of or immune to. Nor is my husband, or his family. Or mine, I suppose. So I think it affects us whether or not we want it to or are conscious of it.

Anyway. Enough of that. Point is, that subtle shift is all for the good. It might all be in my head, but it feels somehow more clear and certain now, and I feel like the in-laws feel that too. So yay. It’s good.

Now where were we? Dinner. I have married a Greek-heritage-Australian boy. I have, over the past however many years, feasted on a range of delicious Greek and Australian morsels cooked by his mum (and sister, and aunties, and so on). In fact, I may be eating baklava right this instant. Time to return the favour and teach them to make sushi (without the 15 year apprenticeship).

Enter temakizushi.  What better for a post-wedding-celebration we’re-all-family-now dinner than Japanese homestyle party cooking? A classic summer party dish (so, perfect for the Brisvegas winter), it takes into account food intolerances and dislikes, is super easy to prepare, has maximum visual impact, and provides interactive eating – what’s not to love?

So what is it? A picture would be useful at this point, but unfortunately we ate it all so fast that I didn’t take one. So here’s a dodgy phone pic of a different temakizushi, at my cousin’s house in Osaka:

It’s make your own sushi. A big bowl of sushi rice, a platter or two of different fillings, and a pile of toasted nori (seaweed), and you’re away. Maki at Just Hungry has, as always, the best instructions to make awesome sushi rice (scroll down for the sushi rice). You toast nori by holding it over a heat source (like a gas cooker flame) for a few seconds on each side. And the fillings can be whatever you want.

We had: tuna mayonnaise, rolled egg (tamagoyaki), smoked salmon, cucumber, roasted sweet potato, capsicum, asparagus, green beans, carrot, snow pea sprouts, poached chicken, dill pickles, and fresh tuna and salmon. Yum. You could also have prawns, avocado, celery, roast beef, crab, other types of fish… and so on. All the fillings were sliced long and thin to make it easier to put in the roll. The asparagus, green beans and carrot were lightly steamed and cooled as well.

The method is simple: put a small amount of rice on the rough side of the nori (a small amount is the key – both to being able to roll it and to not filling up on rice!). Add your filling/s of choice, diagonally across the rice. Roll from one corner to make a cone. Dip in soy sauce. Eat. Repeat until bursting.

Note that the cone isn’t essential – you can roll it into a cigar shape, or treat it like a burrito – I just find the cone the easiest shape to eat!

Maki (of course) has more information on temakizushi here.

It was so good (and I overcatered so much) that we had it again the next night, with brother and my other in-law. As the Architect said, two parties from one party meal is a win.