Thursday, March 25, 2010

Flat Out

I finally have an excuse for not keeping up with my blog: I got a part-time job.


I know what you're thinking. Caitlin is awesome! I bet her job is great! Well, it's certainly better than what a lot of backpackers end up doing. I could be door knocking, trying to sell people cheap electricity. (Heck no.) I could be delivering newspapers. (Heck no.) I could be picking fruit, which sounds great, especially because I love fruit, but when you consider that most jobs involve 8-10 hours of outdoor work per day, in 30 degree heat, it really starts to stink.

So where do I work, I know you're wondering. In a shopping mall.
Caitlin works in an Australian shopping mall? In a bakery? Selling people bread and scones and hot cross buns? Does she have to wear a baseball cap? YES! Does she have to wear 2x too big khaki capris? YES! How about a nice polo shirt? OF COURSE!

In short, my vanity is getting a nice vacation and my bank account is getting a lot of stimulus. And of course, malls are excellent places to people-watch. On Monday, I saw a little boy pull his pants down and run around for at least three minutes before his mom noticed. I love watching the tweens come in after school and practice social hierarchies.

I serve bread, I get paid. And this is why my blog is neglected.

There is a short sad story I would like to tell about a situation involving potato chips and native Australians, otherwise known as Aboriginals. Australian Aboriginals are certainly some of the most marginalized and neglected peoples on the entire planet. The situation makes all of the sympathy you have for Precious and her cranky mother completely silly, and definitely reminds me of the United States' own forgotten natives, shoved away to remain social welfare cases because our government simply does not now how to reconcile centuries of wrongdoing.

What is different (as far as I can see) about Australia is that many Aboriginals live in urban/suburban areas, and while there is obviously native land - Arnhem land in the Northern Territory - I feel like I've seen more native Australians in four months than I've seen native Americans. And white Australians are damn racist about it. I'm not going to name names or specifics, but it's simply not pretty.

So the potato chips. I was waiting for the bus when I spotted a little native Australian boy, no older than three and wearing only some tiny thugish denim shorts with a diaper hanging out and some tiny sneakers, holding a bag of potato chips. He smacked the bag repeatedly until it burst open, all over the dirty sidewalk. He was very pleased. He was so pleased, he decided to stomp all over the potato chips as if they were a big sheet of bubble wrap. He then proceeded to eat them. At this point, I became excessively disgusted. I look around for mom. Mom? She was either the woman staring vacantly at the street or the one staring vacantly at her shopping cart. Eventually, mom or mom's accomplice with the cart sees the little boy eating sidewalk chips, and joins him in stomping them into chip dust. Stomping and eating the bus stop sidewalk chips.

I couldn't help thinking, God, these people need HELP. Sure dirt doesn't hurt too much, but this is a dirty city. This kid has no shirt. This woman is pushing an empty cart.

What do I do?

Not a clue, but it sure makes me think just a bit more about urban poverty, and how no one can escape it.

PS. Went to pig races. Did some wine tasting at pig races and was very happy. Pigs were very cute and wore sparkling vests. Coo-ee!

PPS. "Flat out" is an Aussie expression meaning "Very busy".

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Lost In Metric Translation

Well hello again! I suppose we haven't connected in a while because I've been too busy with my grubby mitts busy in the kitchen. That's right, Caitlin is pursuing self-guided culinary excellence Down Under. And sometimes, like today, I fail miserably.

I like to blame the metric system for my issues in the kitchen. But this is not particularly usual. To date, I have managed to satisfyingly create my own pesto, ratatouille, curry with self-soaked garbanzo beans, minestrone soup, a yellow cake with chocolate frosting, profiteroles, sticky date pudding, and about half a dozen banana/carrot/zucchini inspired bread/cake/muffins. (This list does not include my failures, including berry muffins that tasted oddly of vinegar, vegan rice krispie treats and a botched batch of royal icing). Today's adventure? BREAD MAKING!

I was given some wonderful baking books to borrow from Michelle, my "boss" at my Hospice volunteering gig. Yes, I've decided to not get paid to hang out in a dying home. This is actually much more uplifting than you think, and as I told my mom this morning, it's somehow spiritually satisfying. Where do I happen to work? The hospice kitchen, of course! And boy, you should see how pureed convalescent lamb looks.

Moving on, Michelle has taken to me (who wouldn't!) and we chat each other's ears off about baking and cooking all day long. She has so far inspired me to try this very strange dessert thing called Sugo and to try making my own ricotta cheese - stay tuned for that disaster. But today was all about bread.

Let me say that so far, I have adapted quite well to some parts of the metric system. A pleasant afternoon is about 23 degrees C, sunny. An oven for baking muffins is about 180 degrees C. An acceptable speed for a car, on the wrong side of the road, on the highway is about 100-110 km. I walk about 1.5km to the train station. A bottle of wine is 750ml, and everyone should drink 2L of water per day. Impressed yet? I'm haven't even begun to learn. What the heck is a gram? Who cares about a centiliter? And this is where the bread making comes in.

I read the intro about making a simple white bread recipe. I don't have a bread cutter, I don't have a stone tablet, and I don't have a scale, but I figured, people have been making bread for centuries without this stuff - of course I can do it!

It wasn't long before I snagged: I had a sachet of yeast with a quantity of "7g", but the recipe called for 10g. Furthermore, I had dried yeast, while it was talking about wet yeast. It called for 500g of flour. This is where my reading skills failed me. I interpreted 500g as "500ml". Are you still with me? If you know anything about metrics, of which I know very little, you might remember, as I did not,, that Liters are for liquid (CRAP). I should have used about half of my bag of flour and ended up using only about 2 cups. No wonder i was mixing and mixing..and mixing...a ball of goop for about 10 minutes, as it did not change at all. Ii realized my mistake too late. I added some more flour (no idea how much), but somehow it ended up simply making one of the strongest glues I have ever encountered. So I threw up my glued hands, put a tea towel over my bowl, and resigned myself to a ball of adhesive, which is still stuck to my arm hairs. We'll see how it goes in an hour, but I don't have high hopes for anything rising.

I actually think I owe the success of my first bread ball to the United States education system. Get with the program, people! No wonder we're neurotic and annoying travelers - we can't understand anything, from the temperature, to the time (21:45, oh come on), to the quantity of a stick of butter or a Coca-Cola.

Off to try my hand at lasagna. At least this doesn't require any measuring.