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Friday, 28 February 2014

Culinary Failures

There are times, when cooking, that I make some truly epic inedible creations. Whenever my confidence in my ability to cook something moderately decent gets too high, along comes a culinary fail to knock me back into the frozen pizza section of the supermarket. 

The Sandwich

My earliest fail was the time, as a kid, that I almost set fire to the house while making a sandwich. Back in those days I was obsessed with melted cheese sandwiches. I'd get home from school, dump my bag on the floor, turn on the after school cartoons then go to the kitchen to quickly make a sandwich in the least amount of time possible.

I would grab a block of cheese, cut a few slices, jam them between two slices of bread (butters minor taste benefit was not worth the extra time) then stick the pretty pathetic looking sandwich in the microwave for sixty seconds. It was enough time to make the cheese melt and fuse with the bread in gooey deliciousness without the whole sandwich drying out or the cheese becoming crispy.


Sixty seconds was enough time to sock slide out of the kitchen and sit down to some quality television.


Then as the microwave beeped I slid back through, collected my food and would be back in front of the television within seconds.

One day during this mindless routine I pressed the zero one too many times, leaving my sandwich to cook for six minutes. The smell of burning tore me from the world of afternoon cartoons as the smoke alarm started its shrill shriek. I skidded on my socks towards the microwave to see a flaming pile of ash rotating sadly in the bowl.



 Needless to say, I was banned from using the microwave when home alone.


The Omelette


I'm also pretty terrible at the whole "let's throw something together" style of cooking. My most memorable failed attempt was an omelette to use up left over vegetables in the fridge. There were plenty to use and after setting up all the ingredients and utensils it became suddenly obvious that I did not have the most vital ingredient.



there were no eggs in the fridge.

Rather than walk down to the shops, which goes against the spirit of using up leftovers (really, I was just being lazy) I jumped on to Google. I found a blog with a vegan omelette recipe, which was perfect as vegan meant I wouldn't need any eggs and read through it twice just to be sure.

The recipe seemed to substitute eggs with cornflour. It would allegedly give the meal a nice consistency and egg like fluffiness. I'm not sure if this was a lie or if the writer had just forgotten what eggs actually taste like.

Upon finding cornflour in the pantry I decided to give the recipe a go. Vegans managed to make delicious things without eggs all the time... how hard could it be. (hint: very hard and vegan cooks have magic powers they aren't telling us about)

I chopped up all the vegetables then placed them in a pan with the corn flour and water, making a strange paste. Then Followed the recipe as closely as possible while substituting some of the vegetables for ones I already had.


It looked ok. The cornflour gave it a yellow omelette like colour, but the texture seemed off. It was pretty much like soggy dough. I left the pan to simmer for the given time, hoping that the moisture would evaporate and give the egg-less omelette it's promised fluffy consistency. After the time was up I flipped the thing onto a plate.  

After leaving it to cool I prodded it with a fork. It tasted like bland stir fried vegetables, but had the chewy consistency of play dough. Nothing like the description in the recipe.

The omelette was turning into a disaster. I knew the taste could be saved, if not at least spiced up considerably, by turning to the one condiment to rule them all.

I shook a decent amount of pepper onto the somewhat cooked blob then desperately placed the failed meal in the oven. It was my hope that the heat would dry out and even crisp the omelette slightly, transforming it into something like a baseless pizza. 



Twenty minutes later I took the blob out of the oven. The outside was certainly crisper and I congratulated myself for turning this mess around. Cutting into the "omelette" for another taste test was a lesson in disappointment.

The edges had crisped but so had the inside. I tried to scoop up a piece on a fork, to taste, and lifted the whole blob off the plate in a solidly fused whole. The omelette was now a solid crunchy disc. I had just ruined delicious left over vegetables in my attempt at vegan cooking.

I could have given the egg-less, cornflour infused, vegetable omelette frisbee to the dog, but was not prepared for the consequences of accidental pet death.

Under the cover of darkness and shame, I disposed of the omelette in the outside bin, where no one would find any evidence of the monumental cooking fail. The Corn flour was relegated to the deepest recess of the pantry.



The Lesson

I have another recent learning experience that involved making chicken burgers with a blender because I don't own a food processor. It worked eventually (after almost burning out the motor) and tasted great. Clean up on the other hand, pulling out stringy bits of chickeny remains that had wrapped themselves around the blender blades, was really disgusting.

Cooking: If you substitute ingredients or utensils, especially when not very experienced, be prepared to fail.


Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Finding the Perfect Mattress

The Predicament


Buying a mattress is like buying a used car. By the time you realise you've bought a total lemon, it's a few months down the track and too late to do anything about it, bar bitch and moan to any friend who'll listen.

After moving into an apartment it became apparent that an airbed just wasn't going to cut it if I wanted to get real sleep. I had spent too many nights waking up at 4am, with a horrible back ache, on an air mattress that had deflated into an uncomfortable lump on the floor.

Air Beds: Comfortable looking bag of air. Deceptively awful. 

I thought about dragging home a pre-used and hopefully non-soiled mattress that I'd seen sitting out on the street. But knew as soon as I had it inside I'd probably discover it to be a home to a whole family very angry Rats.
Used Mattress: A concoction of unidentified body fluids and despair. 

Being a savvy shopper I jumped onto the Internet to research, but there wasnt much usefull information to be found. Reviews were full of conflicting information. Feedback sites seemed to be full of attempted warranty claims and forums were mainly dire warnings of purchases that turned into regret.

After distracting myself with chrome tabs full of information on the wonderful world of dust mites and their seriously creepy life cycle, I was left with the not so thrilling conclusion that I would have to stop procrastinating and actually venture inside mattress shops to see what was on offer.


The Parlour

The store was full of mattresses of varying levels of thickness and perceived squishiness. Some had human names, others lists of weird comfortable words jammed together. They were piled almost to the ceiling and wrapped in thick, slightly opaque plastic, a cocoon that indicated how fresh their pristine surfaces were. Untouched by filthy human skin, layers of crusted on night sweat or the microscopic horrors that are dust mites.


In front of the towers of promised comfort sat one unwrapped specimen of each style, lying in wait for the next shopper to test and agonize over. The un-ending display of demo mattresses taunting with their numbers and less than obvious differences. But which to choose? It was at this point that a strange creature lurked from out of the shadows.


Regardless of the creepy this-guy-talks-to-mattresses vibe, the salesman would aid my quest by pointing out the perfect mattress to suit my short list of needs:
NEEDS:

1. NOT EXPENSIVE

2. COMFORTABLE.
Seriously that's it

Or so I thought. It seemed all Baxter was after was a really good sale. A sale and a commission, that would brighten his day and help satisfy his wallet through maximum profit. Not wanting to spend a fortune, I was not the customer that was going to make Baxters day any brighter.

My eyes settled upon a nice mattress that seemed to suit my needs:


I questioned the logic of selling something that’s uncomfortable, before realising it was obviously the cheap bait to reel customers inside.


Mattresses are sold on the promise that, like in the Sims, you will have a better more restful sleep with the more money you spend. But like a newly created Sim, I had to find a budget option after recently moving into an apartment.

After I explained my wildly low budget, and the fact that maybe in a few years I could afford something so luxurious, Baxter gave me a look as if I had just told a particularly dirty story. In this instant I realized that on this day, my search for a mattress would be unsuccessful. I left the store in a hurry and made sure not to look back.



The Purchase

I decided that maybe I could survive the air mattress a few more nights. A new mattress could wait until I had done even more research. I could figure out which shop was going to scam me the least and then purchase with as little guilt as possible.

After blowing up the air bed to satisfyingly springy, then adding a bit of extra air to counter the ridiculous amount it seemed to be losing every night, I lay in a state of proudly decisive bliss.


I awoke a few hours later to the air bed trying to consume me, after losing a large volume of air. I could feel the ground underneath my back and knew hard decisions were going to have to be made.

With the huge array of choices, wildly varying prices, alleged levels of comfort, Un-reliable reviews and a multitude of customer complaints and warnings on message boards I finally came to a choice.

...I bought a locally made futon instead. Time will tell if this was an awesome alternative, or an awful rash decision made at the mercy of my need to sleep versus my need to know everything about big purchases before committing to them. Time will tell.

Futon: Magical hand made Japanese style mattress full of wool and cotton.


Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Sleepless & Stranded - My First 24 Hours in Japan

Tickets

A few years ago a friend and I travelled together to Japan. He was visiting his wife who was on a University scholarship. I just wanted to see the sights, taste the sushi, experience the culture and buy random crap at every conceivable opportunity.Convenience store food rocks by the way, who'd have thought.


Anyway, we're getting ahead of ourselves.

The adventure began with buying tickets online, while skyping, to make sure that we were booking the same flight, let alone the same seat row. After a coordinated effort of clicking "No" to wondrous up-sells like “Would you like a meal during the flight?” and “Do you need a hotel on arrival?” we finally hit the checkout of our clearly budget airline, then paid a small fortune for return tickets.
Confirmation e-mails arrived that verified our bookings and we vaguely pondered details of the trip, before trailing off into random excited chatter. We were about to sign off, since we literally had months to prepare and it was getting late, when the sudden Ding! of a new email message echoed through the video chat.

While booking the flights we had both been automatically subscribed to the airline mailing list, and on the stroke of midnight, moments from hanging up, we each received an email "special offer".


There was a moment of stunned silence while we stared at our inboxes in disbelief. At such a late hour, it was difficult to quietly express our extreme joy at having spent hundreds extra on tickets moments before the start of a sale.




Travelling

The train to the airport left at 4:30 in the morning. Because waking at such a ridiculous time seemed impossible, it was decided that we didn't really need sleep... We could sleep on the flight to Japan. This was, of course, a stupid, decision. The joys of hindsight.

After arriving at the airport and experiencing the hanging around, queuing, checking and waiting that airports entail, we boarded our flight. Flight time was nine hours, plenty of time to get some ( by this point well needed ) rest.

Sadly, as soon as the plane took off all thoughts of sleep were completely abandoned. I experienced the joy of something far more horrifying than being on a plane full of screaming infants:


At least noisy babies can be partially muffled out with headphones. A Friend scared of flying, well technically falling, and expressing their fear in hyperbolic statements about everyone dying horribly tends to be much more... psychological.

Unnerving talk was quickly subdued by the warm glow of Nintendo DS screens. After many hours of multiplayer Mario Kart (during which I correctly insisted that snaking ruins the fun of the game and feels more like a cheat than a tactic) the batteries started to blink red. This alarmingly meant talk of falling planes would soon be back on the agenda. Thankfully Kin had brought a solution in his carry on:


His pencil case turned out to be a self made battery charging pack. A row of D-cells connected to a DS charger cable. It worked wonders, but I couldn't hide my surprise that something so obnoxious in its suspicious appearance made it through customs without any questions.

After an uneventful landing (I think by this stage Kin had gone into a trance like state of terror) we caught an automated monorail that connected the terminal building to the airport. Japan was already living up to my high expectations of a futuristic wonder land. We then collected our luggage at a distinctly less futuristic luggage carousel and proceeded through customs.

My luggage and I were deemed un-suspicious by a customs officer who looked like a real life version of the ice cream dropping tourist from Lilo and Stitch. Between my bumbling Japanese and his friendly waving gestures, it became clear that I was free to leave customs. I wandered through the massive sliding doors that led to Kansai airport and the rest of Japan.


It was after the doors closed, while grinning manically about the fact that I had arrived in Japan (A goal since doing a project on bullet trains and geisha in year 4) that I became acutely aware that Kin had not walked through customs behind me. In fact, he was now no where to be seen.

I immediately envisioned the highly conspicuous pencil case.

While standing in the airport staring in wonder at the vending machines, the thought that I should probably start to worry eventually crossed my sleep deprived mind. Luckily, before I had time to convert my state of excited adrenaline into panic, Kin appeared through the doors. Customs had been verifying his visa while checking his bags (an amusing story for another time. Oh, nope, they were fine with the pencil case) and we were free to go.

"Don't worry! All the important signs have English translations" - Shallow

We arrived at the train station ticket machines and it became apparent that, unfortunately for me, every single person who had told me of the relative ease of their travels across Japan had either:
a) been part of a cushy tour group
b) lied
c) been only to the centre of Tokyo
d) lied

A quick glimpse of the massive Osaka network map confirmed the naivety of my quote.


I knew it would literally be years before I heard the last of that and feeling a great deal of shame, I quietly bought tickets.


Tired

Dinggg Donggggg! The electronic chime that seemed to go off every few seconds was distressing in its frequency and randomness. We had made it by train from the airport to Shin-Osaka station, but since it was now mid-night we'd missed the last bullet-train to Kin's apartment in Nagoya. After 36 sleepless hours, the general plan was to sit, zombie like, in the station until morning. It would have been a fine place to be stranded, except for the incessant chime. I could tell the noise would be what finally drove me to insanity.


It was nearing 1am and a group of station employees were hovering near us having a hushed debate. Eventually a young man seemed to lose the discussion. He walked up to us nervously, shoulders drooped and a quiver in his voice as he politely asked us in a mix of Japanese and English if we could leave.

We had no idea that the station closed down entirely at night, and embarrassedly apologised. Much bowing and anxious glances were exchanged by us all as Kin and I grabbed our luggage and shuffled towards the exit. At least I would not be driven mad by ding dong chimes on this night.

Since this was before the intoxicating days of mobile Internet and Google maps being at everyone's fingertips, we decided that sitting in the park outside the station was better than trailing our luggage around the streets trying to find somewhere to stay. We were directly opposite a convenience store and near public toilets, so we only had to wait





Toilets

Japanese toilets typically come in two extreme flavours:

The traditional toilet looks like a wall mounted urinal that's been mistakenly installed on the floor. I'm sure at least one drunk tourist has broken their face while trying to use it a such... It's easy to forget which way's up when you're drunk.

I must however, warn anyone who has never used a traditional or squat toilet, that they are gloriously deceptive in their simplicity.There are sorry tales of tourists who have felt a false sense of accomplishment whilst doing the toilet squat, only to find out after the fact, that due to bad positioning, they have soiled their own underwear in a pretty shameful manner. I was fortunate enough to be pre-warned about this all too common occurrence.

Although the western style throne can also be found throughout the country, more often one will come across the other extreme Japanese contribution to waste management, the robot toilet.

Thanks to fierce competition between two companies that bred innovation, new features, new technology and rampant one-upmanship (Think the smartphone or console industries) Japanese toilets are on the verge of becoming sentient porcelain beings. Lids raise as you walk towards them and the seats are warm to the touch. Music or flushing noises often come standard to mask any noise and some high end models even light up the bowl, so no lights need to be flicked on disturbing others in the night.

The first visit to a robot toilet is definitely a memorable experience. To the right of the bowl is a row of buttons that would seem more at home on a washing machine. This is made slightly more terrifying if you do not understand any written Japanese. But still the urge to push buttons, especially ones with amusing little icons, is hard to ignore... if only to abruptly learn what a bidet is.



Some of the newest robot toilets have even started to speak. I can think of nothing more unsettling.

Important note: Don't try pushing all of the buttons, seriously, as tempting a game of roulette that may seem. Some supermarket / hotel / train station toilets have an emergency "Help me! / I've fallen over!" button for the ageing population.I've heard tales of this being unwittingly pressed leading to extremely mortifying and embarrassing situations.

I wish all future robot toilet users luck.


Trippin'

Eventually, deleriously, a bullet train, train then bus later we finally made it to Kins apartment in Nagoya. His wife Gem had thoughtfully borrowed a cot bed from their neighbours for my stay. At least the neighbours had told Gem it was a bed. What it really looked and felt like was an elongated fold up table, hard surface and all.

Gem expressed concern that I may actually be better off sleeping on a bed mat on the floor than on this so called cot-bed. Being tired and delusional I thought I'd at least try it out.

I wisely spent the rest of the visit sleeping on the mat on the floor. It was still far more comfortable than a table pretending to be a bed.

Saturday, 23 March 2013

1 Day - Japan!


Well reality has finally kicked in. The frantic packanicking has commenced and surprisingly is almost complete. Then the waiting game begins. Twiddling of thumbs, charging a multitude of gadgets and deciding if that strange feeling in the pit of my stomach is hunger or fear.

Today we took Kenzie the mini dachshund to her fairy dog parents to be looked after. She knew something was up, but couldn't telepathically let me know that she was not ok with this mysterious car ride. Our friends live on a property, so with so many smells to smell and so many cow pats to attempt eating, I'm certain it will be a grand doggie adventure.

I always have grand plans for drawing when travelling, lugging around heavy sketch books and art supplies, often carrying them in a satchel on me at all times, to then not even make a mark on a single page. Will that happen this time? No. I've learnt... I think.

Friday, 22 March 2013

2 Days - Japan!


Packanicking: a pretty self explanatory situation the average procrastinator will find themselves in before travelling anywhere that involves bringing luggage.

The situation is even worse than it seems, since instead of actually packanicking, I have been drawing an image of packanicking. Yup, that word is totally going to catch on.

Thursday, 21 March 2013

3 Days - Japan!


Today there was a leadership spill in Australia's labour party, turned out to be a load of hot air, but like our Prime Minister I got my game face on and took the day in my stride. For Julia Gillard that was facing down the opposition and re-stating her role as the leader of our country. For me it was going to the shops during the rush that is Thursday's late night shopping, a haircut, then trying to remember last minute items that needed to be purchased before packing.

Google keep was launched today after some heavy leaks and I put it to good use... writing lists. Verdict: It's handy, useful and adds a lot to the whole Google Drive experience. To be honest, I'm a bit biased towards Google since they dominate such a large chunk of my online existence through Gmail, hanging out on Google+, using Chrome on my desktop and Android on my phone. So with a new integrated quick and useful note-taking application, I'm hardly going to be complaining.

Work tomorrow. My last shift before the glorious waves or holiday euphoria hit and I stop caring entirely. I'm guessing the day will be over before I even get to worry about needing a second coffee. 

Not really sure if I'm ahead or behind in the preparations for travelling overseas schedule. Bags don't need to be packed with only three days to go... right?