Category — From Hannah

Not Your Regular Gift Guide : A christmas stocking challenge 0

November 30, 2017

It’s the first of December and the Christmas books are wrapped for our annual book advent calendar. There are outdoor lights waiting to be draped over the deck (whose entanglements nearly disentangled our marriage last year) and piles of tinsel that the kids have already started to use as reins – galloping wildly and nearly strangling one another whilst dropping shimmering, shining hairs all over the house. In short – all the old traditions are ready to go. Mess, madness, fun and frenzy! But, is it time for some new traditions?

 

We are really fortunate to be able to have a Christmas that is colourful and plentiful, packed with the kind of crazy we like best. Which mostly means hordes of family feasting for about a fortnight (slide into your stretchy pants, folks!) but also includes being able to afford gifts, including those from Santa, and all the extra expenses this time of year brings. We know it’s not the same for everyone. This year, in addition to the regular traditions we’ve grown fond of, I decided to set myself a new challenge to do something a bit different from the usual frenzy. Namely – to buy all our Santa / stocking gifts from charity shops.

 

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In: Food, From Hannah, Kids and Parenting

Not Sporty. 7

November 8, 2017

This is true: Running makes me feel horribly inconvenienced, pukey and annoyed; I prefer being inside with cake, tea and a book. I don’t want to swim in the ocean and I really don’t want to ski, thanks. Once, when put on a treadmill for one of those gym assessment thingies, I was told outright “You are not a natural runner”. I was the least active person in my family with a running, rugby-playing Dad and a local tennis champ and P.E. teacher Mum. If I was any of the Spice Girls I would not be Sporty.

 

 

And yet… this is also true: I played waterpolo from age 11 – 17 and my high school team won the National championships (several years in a row). When I can be bothered, I am a competent and natural swimmer. When I go out, I love to dance. In the last few years I joined up to Run Auckland and did several 10km races with my sister. Sometimes, when I’m running, I feel free and vibrant and happy. And in two weeks time I am undertaking my first half marathon.

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In: From Hannah, Writing

Secrets In The Garden 10

October 26, 2017

 

Okay folks, I can admit when I need help. And here I am, asking for it.

 

As you know, I am a parent who happens to really, really, really dig kids books. Recently I started reading “The Secret Garden” by Frances Hodgson Burnett to my two eldest (seven & five years old). I loved this book as a child but couldn’t remember too many of the finer details, just that there was a beautiful, hidden garden, a boy that could communicate with animals and a whole lot of mystery and wonder. Okay, I mostly liked the garden. I was excited to find a new version that had been illustrated by Lauren Child because, well, I am besotted with her. The kids immediately loved the protagonist, Mary, and the drama right from the get-go, with Mary’s parents dying of cholera in India. It was all going pretty swimmingly until…. well… it all got – quite quickly – racist. I’m not all that keen on repeating some of the content in the book but it is blatantly, upsettingly, alarmingly racist and I gaped and couldn’t read it out loud. I was puzzled and shocked because I couldn’t recall those parts from when I was a child. The kids were already transfixed by the story and I needed to make a call. I’m a quick reader so I could read ahead and omit any racist terms, remarks and sections altogether; which is what I decided to do. Here’s probably the worst example, to help you understand what I am talking about…

 

[May I reiterate – I DO NOT condone the language or sentiment in this excerpt]

 

“Eh! I can see [India is] different,” [Martha] answered almost sympathetically. “I dare say it’s because there’s such a lot o’ blacks there instead o’ respectable white people. When I heard you was comin’ from India I thought you was a black too.”

Mary sat up in bed furious.

“What!” she said. “What! You thought I was a native. You—you daughter of a pig!”

Martha stared and looked hot.

“Who are you callin’ names?” she said. “You needn’t be so vexed. That’s not th’ way for a young lady to talk. I’ve nothin’ against th’ blacks. When you read about ’em in tracts they’re always very religious. You always read as a black’s a man an’ a brother. I’ve never seen a black an’ I was fair pleased to think I was goin’ to see one close. When I come in to light your fire this mornin’ I crep’ up to your bed an’ pulled th’ cover back careful to look at you. An’ there you was,” disappointedly, “no more black than me—for all you’re so yeller.”

Mary did not even try to control her rage and humiliation. “You thought I was a native! You dared! You don’t know anything about natives! They are not people—they’re servants who must salaam to you. You know nothing about India. You know nothing about anything!”

 

So, in the face of this and other similarly racist references – what should I have done? What would you do? What have you done?

 

This problem is not uncommon with classic literature – it’s old and our attitudes have shifted (hopefully). But, naively, I didn’t suspect one of my nostalgic childhood favourites to be harbouring such stuff. Thankfully, I’m not the only one who has had this alarming experience. Another great article, by writer Leigh Anderson, warns against buying nostalgic books (including The Secret Garden) from your own childhood and exploring new, more diverse children’s books to read with your kids. Where to find those kinds of books? Here’s a good place to start and here’s a good place to go after that.

 

In nutting out this problem I’ve certainly have discovered great resources for selecting better, more diverse and respectful books going forward, but right now I am still stuck in the garden with Mary, Dickon and the robin. What should I do? I’m going to confess – I’d like to keep reading the book because the kids are so interested but I’m just not so sure. Do you have any helpful experiences to share?

 

This parenting business is tricky business isn’t it? Raising a young human to be a good human? I’m going to take some comfort from this quote, taken from the pages of another children’s book:

 

“You must never feel badly about making mistakes … as long as you take the trouble to learn from them. For you often learn more by being wrong for the right reasons than you do by being right for the wrong reasons.”

—The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

 

With gratitude,

Hannah

In: Books & Reading, From Hannah, Kids and Parenting

Dear Inspiration 4

October 10, 2017

Dear Inspiration,

 

I have been waiting. I have been waiting for some time. You will come, I thought…

 

 

Previously, I put down one thing, finished one project and there you were. I thought to myself – “See? This is how it works, this is how it is.” I show up and you show up and we toil. It’s easy! That’s what the books say, that’s what the others say. Do your job. Don’t be lazy. Don’t wait. Show up. Don’t be lazy. It’s so very simple.

I guess our marriage was young then.

 

When I laid down the last project I looked for you to arrive. Waited for your handsome head, around the corner, for you to be waving at me from the other side of the café, wearing your rough clothes, wearing your work overalls, wearing your best grin – “Hello! You’re done with that? Finally. Come on then!” But you weren’t there.

There was no sign of you.

 

I called your place. I looked for you in the usual spots. I made us tea and cake. I ate my cake.

I ate your cake too.

 

And then I thought, I’ll pretend to work. That’ll do it. That’ll teach you. Sitting about, tippy-tapping on my keyboard. Look! I’m working! I’d start out full of optimism, full of bluster, thinking I could simply work without you. It looked good from the outside.

But on the page everything went to gsufiagwuigrblhjbvjsfkbv;j.

 

Let me just confirm, I haven’t just been waiting waiting (or just fake-working)…I keep myself busy. I read books. I read self-help books. I read writing books. I grow poppies in the garden. I tidy my wardrobe. I get **** done! Sometimes I even go to the gym. I’m active. But I hate going to the gym without you, without a writing project running through my head. Everyone at the gym looks like they’ve had their insides squeezed out of them, their souls that is, and the music is bad and it smells of taken-off-shoes and damp crotches. I don’t love working out and I hate being unproductive. I’m so attached now to making, to producing, to being busy and purposeful. Damn it. Damn you.

 

I thought, perhaps, that you might be in disguise. Maybe you had a haircut. Maybe I just didn’t recognize you. With that possibility / hope in mind I have been going to different places, paying close attention and making notes. I’ve become a Private Investigator, looking for you. But study them as I might, you are not in the notes and not in the photographs. I’m starting to wonder if this is a Missing Persons case or a Homicide. Either way, I’m no good at Nordic Noir, so we are both in trouble.

 

I miss you. Like I said, I thought we had a thing. I am ready now you aren’t here and it doesn’t feel great. It feels dark and hollow and a bit scary, if I am being completely honest. I thought I was okay, I thought I was fine, but now I’m wondering who I am without you. Will I be without you forever? What kind of me will I be without you? Will your absence itch and burn and continue to ache like a phantom limb? I’m just not sure I can be without you now I’ve gotten so used to you.

Now that I have grown to love you.

 

What I am saying is – please come back. I’m not stupid, I know something has changed, something has shifted. Our marriage is no longer so young. Any misunderstanding I will fix. I will listen. I can mend my ways. I won’t take you for granted. But I cannot change while you give me the silent treatment, while you play your vanishing act. Please come back. We will talk it through.

 

With love, Hannah

In: From Hannah, Writing

An Abundance of Spearmint 2

September 21, 2017

 

I recently put out a plea on Instagram, asking what I should do with my spearmint. I planted the spearmint a long time ago and suddenly it is everywhere. Reaching, spreading, thriving, abundant. I’m new to gardening and this is how my growing goes. Nothing, nothing, nothing, SO MUCH OF SOMETHING. It’s either drought or overwhelm. It’s as though my garden is channelling my particular brand of enthusiasm: ALL!!!! or nothing.

 

You, good people, gave me some stellar ideas for utilizing my spearmint. Ideas for drinks and sauces and baking, just to name a few. I put several to the test and came up with a winner to gift back to you…

 

 

Abundant Spearmint – The Winner:

 

Chocolate & Spearmint Slice

Adapted from Chelsea Winter’s Peppermint Slice recipe, this slice uses fresh spearmint and is topped with a silky smooth dark chocolate ganache. The use of fresh leaves will make you look a bit fancy, but it’s not a difficult recipe to make, despite the three steps.

 

Ingredients

Base
225g butter, at room temperature, cubed
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup caster sugar
1 large free-range egg
1 cup plain flour
1/3 cup dark cocoa
1⁄2 cup fine desiccated coconut

Fresh spearmint cream filling
3 1⁄2 cups icing sugar
50g butter, at room temperature
1/3 cup cream
1 tsp pure peppermint essence
1 big bunch fresh spearmint leaves, finely chopped

Chocolate ganache topping
150g good-quality dark chocolate (at least 60% cocoa)
2 Tbsp cream

1tsp peppermint essence

 

Method

Preheat the oven to 190°C. Grease a slice tin.

To make the base – cream the butter and sugars together, then beat in the egg until well incorporated. Sift in the flour and cocoa and add the coconut, if using, and mix until combined. The mixture will be sticky so press it into the tin in an even layer with a moistened spatula (or your hands)

Bake in the centre of the oven for 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool in the tin.

To make the spearmint cream – beat the icing sugar with the butter and cream until very pale and fluffy (about 5-8 minutes). Add the peppermint essence and fresh spearmint, and beat to combine. Spread over the cooled base and smooth out with a warm knife.

To make the ganache topping – break up the chocolate and melt in the microwave in short 10 – 20 second bursts, stirring in between bursts. Once just melted, add the cream and stir together until completely combined. Add the peppermint essence last and stir again until all ingredients are combined and silky smooth. Cool slightly, then pour or spread over the peppermint filling.

Cover the dish with cling film and set in the fridge for at least 1 hour. When set, cut into squares with a sharp knife. It’s pretty rich so you’ll want to cut the squares small (approx 1.5 inch x 1.5 inch).

Keeps in an airtight container in the fridge for about a week.

 

 

Abundant Spearmint – The Runner Ups: Spearmint & Rosemary Jelly, Spearmint Tisane, Mojitos and Mint Chutney

 

Aside from the delicious slice I really enjoyed making a spearmint and rosemary jelly, using this recipe. I substituted the mint for spearmint and added about ten big sprigs of rosemary during the final ten minutes of boiling. It is so good with lamb or served with quick-boiled peas – yom. A spearmint tisane shouldn’t be ignored either – simply soak in boiling water, like a tea, and voila. This is such a refreshing drink, my kids love it and the colour is a vibrant lemony-green. As an alternative beverage you could always make mojitos (and invite me over. Or else). Lastly, this recipe for a traditional mint chutney (pudina) was recommended to me, which I haven’t yet had the chance to try but is firmly on my list as the spearmint continues its relentless rampage.

 

All your great ideas for using my spearmint got me thinking about reaching out much more often when something in my garden gets presidential ambitions. I can ask you what to do with it, you can tell me your tips and tricks, then I can cook, mix, test and report back. That way you can check here when it’s your garden’s turn to get abundant and I can check back when spearmint is once again going bananas and I’ve completely forgotten what to do with the pervasive little beauty. Hey, look at that, it’s almost like a club! We both win! Well, apart from the spearmint.

 

Thanks again for all your tips, do keep ’em coming,

With love, in abundance,

Hannah

 

P.S. Thank you to author, John Green, for his book “An Abundance of Katherines” which inspired the title for this post. Mr Green, if you ever need more spearmint in your life please let me know.

In: From Hannah, Includes a recipe!