October 28, 2010

Editorial Domination: Book 2

I am VERY proud to introduce:

(c) HEMA Maps Pty Ltd

This is the first book in Hema's Atlas & Guide series that I saw through from initial draft to finished product. I wrote several sections, including the intro and the back cover blurb, selected and edited all of the photos, and checked the research provided by our lovely head of research (and did a whole lot of my own - who knew how hard it would be to find a good picture of a mountain pygmy possum? Who, by the way, is the only marsupial that hibernates? Ah, sweet useless knowledge). I shaped 4WD track descriptions and checked them against many, many maps. I compiled both the index and the contents page (manually. That's right.) I got to spend long hours reading about bushrangers with wily beards, wildflowers and mountain wines. I lived and breathed this sucker for about three months. It is in many ways my first editorial baby - I love it no matter what others think of it (and pushing it out... well, there were times when it hurt like hell). Here are a few pages for your viewing pleasure:

(c) HEMA Maps Pty Ltd

(c) HEMA Maps Pty Ltd

(c) HEMA Maps Pty Ltd

(c) HEMA Maps Pty Ltd

I'm pretty proud of how it turned out, I have to tell you. This thing is pretty AND useful. And I'm grateful to it, because it taught me an amazing amount about the editorial process. I have the feeling I'll be carrying this around in my purse for the next few weeks and showing it to strangers: "Look! A book! I helped make it!"

October 14, 2010

The Ugly Cry

We had an interesting discussion at my Write Club the other night about books that had made us cry. I'm fascinated by which books seemed universally weep-worthy and which were very specific to one person's tastes and experiences. I'm developing a theory that which books make a person cry says a lot about that person, or that person's state of mind. It's not (that) often that I cry over my reading, and I've had fun looking through my memory for them.

1. The most recent would be Eat Pray Love, a book that took me totally by surprise by how much it affected me. I don't know if it was the honesty in the writing or the fact that I was going through a tough time when I read it, but that book made me all sorts of snotty. The author lays out her flaws and her failures with such heartbreaking detail. Who couldn't help but cry in her moments of sublime transcendence? I also think that a lot of her character traits and emotional longings mirrored my own so distinctly as to be almost eerie. When she sits on a bench in Italy, cracks her book open, and reads "and from my life there sprang a great fountain", I cried with her because I felt, in that moment, as if I was her.

2. Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistlestop Cafe. This book made me howl in the last few pages.

3 Othello. This was the only play of Shakespeare's that brought me to tears, and to this day I'm not sure why.

4. The first book to ever make me cry was Hemingway's For Whom The Bell Tolls. I'm not a Hemingway fan, generally, but I have a deep love for this book. I love that he captures a man's whole life in three days and shows us that when one person dies, it ripples outwards through all of us. Or, more accurately, showed us how it should.

I've just realized that all of these books made me cry for a common reason: they all have to do with tragic separation and bone-crushing loss. I wonder if that's at the root of what makes all of us cry over our books: that most universal fear of losing someone well loved.

Better Late Than Never

So I heard about something pretty funny last night at dinner. I'm not much of a YouTube girl, so I'm always hearing about gems like this way late. But I thought I'd post it anyway in case I'm not really the last person in the world to hear about it. Also: as I watched this ad, all I could think about was the fact that it's like an autobiography of my brother. I'm not sure how I feel about this.

October 10, 2010

Pumpkin Spice Cake

It has been raining non-stop for about a week now. My neighbor's backyard is looking lake like. I can't go for a run without risking eyeball lacerations and wet socks (what's worse than wet socks?). This is sit-inside-and-pout weather; I need get-outside-and-perk-the-hell-up weather, Brisbane! So what do you do when you're sad and the rain in coming down in apocalyptic bucketfuls? I like to bake.

I'm an unabashed emotional baker, which works out well for my coworkers and for my inner peace. I don't know what it is about baking that soothes me: the gratification of making the people around me happy, the process of creation, or maybe all the memories of Mom and I making sugary treats at ungodly hours just because we felt like it.

My desperate love of fall flavours led me to try my hand at a pumpkin spice loaf. I can't get pumpkin puree down here, so I had to improvise. I found an American-esque pumpkin at the farmer's market that I was promised would be sweeter and more delicate than Australian savoury pumpkins. I cooked and boiled half of it up and used that in place of the puree. I'm pretty proud of the fact that I strayed away from the recipe's proportions and still ended up with something edible. Not just edible: delicious. This cake/loaf filled my house with the smells of Fall.

I adapted this recipe from this one I found on Smitten Kitchen, a site which has changed my cooking life forevermore. I didn't have muffin tins or a loaf pan (what is wrong with this picture?), so I increased the amount of flour and baking soda and cooked it for five minutes longer. I am a really big fan of these squares - they get better with each one you have (and since I decided that dinner on the night I made these should be three squares eaten consecutively, I know this for a fact). I'm a big fan of the crunchy sugar topping, which gives it an extra kick of cinnamon that lingers in the back of your throat. Next time, I think I'll throw in more chocolate chips and experiment with some orange zest.

Go. Bake. Be happy.

Pumpkin Spice Cake
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour (wheat would be nice, too)
1 cup mashed fresh pumpkin, strained of excess juice (some would puree this in a blender: I didn't and it worked out fine)
1/3 cup grapeseed (or vegetable) oil
2 large eggs
1 tbsp pumpkin pie spice
1 1/4 cups brown sugar plus 1 tbsp white sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 cup of chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter an 8x8 cake pan (you can use a loaf pan or muffin tins, as well - see original recipe).

Whisk together pumpkin, eggs, oil, pumpkin pie spice, 1 1/4 cups sugar, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl until well mixed. Stir in the flour until just combined. Stir together cinnamon and remaining 1 tbsp sugar in another bowl. Put the batter in your cake tin and sprinkle over with chocolate chips and cinnamon-sugar mixture. Bake until puffed and golden brown and until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean, 30 to 35 minutes. Cool on a rack and cool to warm or room temperature.

October 8, 2010

24 hours in Sydney

Ah, traveling. How I've missed you.

I recently had the opportunity to hop down to Sydney for a day and night. Sydney's pretty close to Brisbane - I think the flight is an hour and a bit - but you can taste the difference in the air. And feel it (I actually got to wear a light jacket! Glorious!).

I've been to Sydney before and have to say that, while I enjoyed it, I found the atmosphere a little... dare I say it... snooty. OK Sydney, we get it - you're fabulous. No need to get all pretentious about it. So it was nice to have another pass at this sunny, beautiful city and come away with a better impression.

I went to a restaurant called Bodega, a tapas bar tucked away from the water. When the cabbie pulled into a dark, pedestrian-looking street I was a little concerned about this restaurant's dodgy-factor, but I needn't have been. The place was high quality without that 'look at me I'm so pretty' vibe I've come to associate with stylish Sydney restaurants. The place was tiny, vibrant, full of colour and laughter. We sat at the bar and had the best Spanish wine I've ever tasted (and that now I can't remember the name of, damn me). We watched the pierced, waxed and tattooed staff do things to fish and chicken I've never seen done before in giant cast iron pans. We ate massive oysters, fancy fish fingers, and succulent spatchcock that fell off the bone. For dessert, we had affogatos. I can't emphasize how in love with this dessert I am. Creamy vanilla ice cream smothered with a shot of espresso and another of port? I'm appalled that I haven't discovered this before.

The next day I wandered the city on foot, visiting all those very Sydney icons and watching people go about their business. I braved the steely skies and took a walk through St James Park, where a man was making massive bubbles big enough to fit a group of schoolchildren in.

I walked through the Botanic Gardens, which are extensive and lovely and filled with funny-looking birds and bats that hang from tree limbs like giant seed pods.

(Batlets!) -->

I laughed when I saw an actual sign that read: 'Don't feed the birds, they bite' as it exactly described my Dad's very first day in Sydney. Yes, Dad. The signs ARE there for a reason.
I walked Sydney Harbour and around the base of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. I took a stroll around The Rocks, a historic town section around the harbour, which had a farmer's market on. I treated myself to a fancy lunch at a wine bar.
I had another affogato and I did not regret it.

(Historic Governor's House)

(Sydney Harbour Bridge from the Opera House)

(SHB from the edge of The Rocks)

(The Opera House)

(Me, happy)

There's nothing like a day away to brighten the spirits and make you feel like you're actually living. Thanks, Sydney - I needed that.

October 2, 2010

A Tribute to Fall

I'm really missing the good old USA, as I do every year around this time.

(Burnside Bridge, Antietam, 2008)

(Antietam Battlefield, 2008)

It's funny how nostalgic we get about our place of origin when we are no longer there to hate on it and tell it it's boring. And oh, how nostalgic I get. About the riot of color as leaves start to die, the pervasive smell of burning wood, new school supplies, pumpkin-flavored things. Leaf crunching opportunities. It's almost too much.

... which is why, when a fantastically glorious friend sends me a VAT of Starbucks pumpkin spice syrup (definitely not meant to be sold as retail, but my little Brown beauty has tricks up her sleeve), I get a little overwhelmed. See?

So here's a little something I wrote after my travels in Europe about leaves and change and... well, coming home. Happy Fall, everybody. I'll be home soon.

A Dying Season

Most of my childhood travel memories are overcast by nausea. It always rose quickly during my family’s drives through the Blue Ridge Mountains. I'd ride the s-bends with my fingers stuck out the window, green face reflected in the bug-smeared glass. But even between bouts of Dramamine-induced coma, I remember the scenery clearly. As we wound through the mountains, past the multi-layered rock shelves speckled with moss, we would all grow quiet, captured by Virginia's autumn foliage. Nature's dying season would sneak up on us when we weren't paying attention - first in yellow hazard yellow bursts between boughs, then a sprinkling of pale pink and ochre. Then Fall would smother us in one fluid motion, trees exploding as if on fire. The leaves shouted through the silence, cut only by Lyle Lovett crooning through our car's speakers.

Being a child of the temperate world, I was used to the wonders of seasonal changes: the smell of snow approaching, the feel of new leaves between fingertips. Even so, every year at my great uncle's farm in the mountains, I would lie beneath the trees staring up in eternal awe at sharp outlines of yellow leaves against blue sky. Fall's colors captured me in a way the other seasons didn't. When I went to college on Virginia's coast, good autumn foliage seemed to get harder to find. The season seemed to have grown inexpressive with the passing of time, which made me sad, because I needed the season. Adult cares were heaping themselves upon me, and change was becoming a frightening thing. I started to wonder if I'd dreamed those brilliant farmhouse days. My Fall exhilaration was fading as the leaves did: quickly and dispassionately along the overpopulated highways.

It was October 2006 when I arrived in Switzerland seeking refuge. It was my first trip to Europe, to which I fled to escape the change that had been ravaging my life. Interlaken may be a small town, but it boasts a long and impressive list of death-defying activities. I was happy to stick to the dangerous realm of Scootering, which was daring enough to satisfy me. But when a good-looking Australian offer to take you paragliding, it's kind of impossible to say no. Compared to canyon jumping, it seemed like a safe bet. Our van ride up the mountain was like one of my family's Blue Ridge trip on amphetamines. As we screeched around our sixth or seventh blind curve somewhere near the speed of sound, I began to wonder what I'd gotten myself into. And if I was destined to puke in the good-looking Australian's lap. Once we'd reached our destination, though, I was ready to soak in the scenery. So when Andy, the overexcited Swede strapped to my back, told me to run down the very steep hill towards the tree line, it seemed like the right thing to do. That was before I felt our collective weight being bounced around as our parachute opened and my legs barely missed the tops of the pine trees. I am no fan of heights, a fact I only remembered once my feet were thirty feet above the ground. The cold air pressed against my fearful heart.

Then, it happened: suddenly I was flying over the foliage of my childhood. Lake Brienz, a cerulean blue diamond glistening before us, was crested by a world set on fire. There were the waves of yellow, spotted and flecked with russet and burnt orange and flushed pink. Each leaf was its own revolution, rioting alongside its compatriots, streaming together while standing alone. Up there, surrounded by the most significant of nature's changes, it hit me: that thing that had always captured me about Fall's changes. Autumn always showed me that life's transitions shouldn't be a source of fear. Times of change hold a beauty all their own, filled with untrodden pathways, chances for us to grow and explore. Change allows us to open our eyes, stop looking ahead or behind, and enjoy the thrill and novelty of simply being alive.

I think the peace I found in those farmhouse days, and that moment in the Swiss Alps, had to do with much more than the beauty of the seasons. Though they were temporary, and always will be, they held a hint of the eternal. They helped to make my childhood feel unhurried. They allow me to return to it still, to rest in the understanding that the process of changing, in nature and in life, is a beautiful thing with the potential to reveal to us the most beautiful parts of ourselves. How strange to stumble back onto that knowledge so far from the mountains of my youth. How lucky.