Writing: In the Detail

This writing short is of an encounter with a charity representative on the Friday after work. It got me thinking and it got me Googling. It was an unusual, if not strange, encounter so I thought I’d write something. I hope the guy I spoke to was genuine. I do believe he was.

On the back of a late night Jarrah Hot Choc ☕ is this story. #suddenlyinspired

**

In the Detail

I have never understood how you’re supposed to sign away your details on spending five minutes with a charity sales representative.

This Friday afternoon walking in the opposite direction of a hospital, after staring at spreadsheets all day, I was stopped by a guy dressed in a white lab coat. He waved me down. I thought he needed help. Turned out he wanted to show me a packet of something.

‘Take a look at this,’ he said. He had light brown hair, pale skin, and rosy cheeks. He was pretty enough to be a member of a boy band.

He handed me a packet of powder. I’m not sure how he did. The exchange was seamless. 

I suppose I was distracted, trying to figure out which boy band he could be a pseudo member of. He had a bit of Alex Band from The Calling going for him. Maybe a touch of Kian Egan from Westlife? Mixed with Take That’s Gary Barlow, a younger version perhaps? I’ve put too much thought into this.

My naïve brain jumped at the thought: ‘He’s handed me something nefarious! Something illegal! He’s a dealer? I was expecting something a little more subtle? It’s no wonder school kids get caught up in this.’

I looked at the packet.

It said ‘Plumpy Nuts’. 

Not what I had been thinking. The incredulity of seconds ago vanished. In its place was a shred of intrigue. 

I decided against walking off. He had managed to get my attention. I’d spare a minute to hear him out.

‘What’s the number one killer of children?’ he asked.

‘Uh. Famine?’ 

‘Close. Diarrhoea,’ he advised before launching in to facts about the product in front of me. Nutritional information the live version was far more entertaining than reading off a cereal box.

He continued, ‘How much do you think one pack costs?’ 

It was like a ‘Who wants to be a Millionaire’ question, minus the million at stake, the multi-choice options, Eddie McGuire, Eddie McGuire asking what I do for a living, Eddie McGuire wanting to know my hobbies, my edge-of-your-seat lifelines.

I decided to reason out loud any way.

‘Well, they’re probably mass produced. You’re asking me, so it must be something ridiculous. Can’t be expensive. Probably really cheap.’ I paused, the silence an amplifying, dramatic effect, bugger I needed an adbreak, ‘Fifty-cents?’

‘Almost, you’re ten-cents off. They’re forty-cents. Imagine how many children could be fed with a monthly donation.’ 

Before I could let my imagination run wild, he reached for his iPad. It was here that the charity he represented was revealed. On the corner of the iPad screen was the logo: Médecins Sans Frontièrs. It was strange, he hadn’t mentioned it, nor was he wearing anything to identify himself as a representative of the charity, nor was his setup any kind of charity stall. Donations must have been down. There was just his backpack on the ground and a couple of boxes. There were no flyers or anything to remotely indicate he was a bona fide rep. There was nothing to suggest this wasn’t a scam. There were two of them. His colleague had the attention of another passerby. His colleague had grey hair. He could have been the boy band’s manager. The iPad screen was open to a sign up page. I noted at a glance it required the donor’s name, date of birth, and address. Why did they need a bunch of details straight up? It was a donation after all. Why did they require a date of birth?

He told me I could sign up today. I’d receive a free welcome pack to show my commitment to this program. That was supposed to convince me. 

I nodded slowly. Nodding would convey my acknowledgement, and combined with the relative pace of nodding, my reservation. I thought I was being subtle. 

The next two minutes did not go as he had planned. You see, he had lost me with the sign up page asking for too much too soon. It was time for me to get back on track. Quite literally: I had a train to catch.

‘Thanks for the information. That’s very interesting and I’ll certainly be Googling ‘Plumpy Nuts’, was it? That’s good work.’ I honestly wanted to Google it.

He closed the distance between us, encroaching but marginally missing the boundaries of personal space. ‘What’s stopping you from signing up today?’ 

‘Look, I’ll go on the website. I like doing my research,’ I replied.

‘Or you could just sign up today?’ he repeated inching the iPad closer. It looked like a real MSF page. That said nothing of the veracity of the page or the security of information entered.

‘I could, but I can always sign up on the website. Like I said, I’ll be Googling Plumpy Nuts,’ I said trying to best convey enthusiasm about the cause and uninterest in his.

‘You could sign up right now?’ he prompted again. There was a demand there. He’d made the question into a statement. 

‘I’ll go on the website,’ I said again. Unable to stop myself I added: ‘Also, I’m not exactly comfortable entering all my details right now into what really is a random iPad’. In hindsight, I should have just been honest and mentioned that dentist appointment I had been putting off, got around to booking, and was ‘Oh, would you look at the time?’ running late for. That, or the infinitely better options hindsight has divulged.

He took that as cue to state that it was in their terms and conditions to take privacy seriously. I’m not sure if it occurred that at this point my doubts were about him and his operation

Despite which, I did think he was being genuine. 

Even if he had appeared as legitimate as you could represent with these things, I’d still have gone with a click to the website. Research is fun, unlike wet socks. Or for that matter, getting scammed.

I made one more mention of the website to which he looked at me as if I was a freak. His face was screaming all things paranoid and tin-foil hat. He was taking this personally. What was my problem? 

The air was thick with non-verbal cussing. 

I’d implied there were issues with the legitimacy of his whole setup. I’d implied he might be a fraud. 

No boy band member likes to hear the truth. They were concerns nonetheless.

I’d tried subtlety. It hadn’t worked. 

‘Look mate, I’m going to be wasting your time. Nothing you say is going to make me sign up. Like I said, I like doing my research and the website will be there when I get on to Googling Plumpy Nuts. I appreciate the info. Cheerio.’ Blimey, I’d carried on with more indignance than intended. 

‘Okay,’ he said backing off. 

He returned to more non-verbalised cussing. 

He had gone from passionate to pushy to peeved in the space of five minutes. I’d repeated myself like a broken record.

The earbuds were back in as I walked to the station. 

I bookmarked the Wikipedia page to ‘Plumpy Nuts’ so I wouldn’t forget the name.

I changed my mind about him. He couldn’t be a pseudo member of any good boy band. He might’ve had the looks but, like everything, it was in the detail—and I hadn’t had to look far. He didn’t have the voice for it.

I hit shuffle. 

‘No Matter What’ came on for my listening pleasure. 

Dulcet tones told me: ‘No matter what they tell us. No matter what they do …. What we believe is true.’ 

Thanks Boyzone.

There’s a real message in that.

**

enchirist 2018

Beef Appreciation & Beef Pies: Marty’s Gourmet, Willetton and Jean Pierre Sancho, St Georges Terrace

The beef pie I had from Marty’s Gourmet was one of the best pies I’ve had this year. On second thoughts given most pies I’ve had have been the reheated frozen kind, a voice, of my subconscious in some American accent I’ve dreamt up, yells out: ‘that’s no yardstick!’

This pie was certainly better than a Four ’n’ Twenty.

It was a pie that could’ve worn proudly a badge reading​ ‘Grandma’s recipe’ or ‘like Grandma used to make’. For any aliens reading this, firstly I’m honoured you’ve stopped by my blog—I’m totally pro-extraterrestrial, in case you were wondering. Secondly, it’s kind of universally understood on our planet that Grandma’s or grandma-level something means amazingly-good. I feel compelled to add to that previous sentence: where baking’s concerned. Not if you’re talking computers. 

Grandmas are good at pie-making. That’s what the stereotypes tell me. Grannies have carved out a reputation for beautiful baking, and isn’t it just the most comforting imagery that comes to mind at the thought? I think hot goods seconds out of the oven and wondrous aromas wafting through the house. I think apple pies, luscious savouries, bellies finding themselves back in the kitchen right after a main meal. I think hot Milos with marshmallows on top. I think contented chatter amidst a backing of the songs playing on Curtin FM 100.1. I think cake crumbs, the only trace left of dessert.

I think it’s a great stereotype. I love the idea. 

I had ended up at Marty’s as I’d been feeling very under the weather. I had made a visit to the doctor’s, right across from the café. Rest and recuperation had unsurprisingly been in the dicta of the doctor’s orders and I’d decided that a pie for lunch might be a great start to meeting that second ‘r’. Wait what am I saying? The pie just looked so very tempting I was like a bee to honey.

The pie arrived. I sat there appreciating the creation in front of me. The elements of a pie and sauce were simple and inviting. 

With the hesitation of a kid at the cinema deciding between a popcorn upsize and an extra large frozen Coke, and eventually going for a pack of Smarties, I cut open the top.

Hidden under that golden pastry was a steaming filling with actual chunks of beef. Manageable, large, hack-sawed pieces of beef. Like pieces originally part of a giant slab of economy beef you’d buy at a place like Spudshed, glowing with unabashed pride at the bargain scored, only to spend a good hour at home, armed with a cleaver, splashing yourself with beef blood, in a mangled attempt to get even, mandibular-ly-agreeable portions, all the while keeping admirable goals of awesome chunky beef dishes in mind. 

A lot to swallow? I’d agree.

The beef sat in a highly viscous sauce, a rich peppery concoction smacking of garlic, onion, a generous splashing of the Worcestershire, gravy cubes—best guess, there was salt from something, and a fair shake of the tomato sauce bottle (a phrase that reminds me of the former Prime Minister responsible for bamboozling us with that beauty: ‘detailed programmatic specificity’). 

The sauce was thick, and held together without soaking through the pastry bottom. 

The crust was a good puff pastry, cooked ’til golden, flakey, and soft. With the chunky beef,  sauce and puffy pastry, let me say this was amazing.

And here she is:

I also went with a mocha; it was so-so. The pie and mocha came to $10.30. 

My journey into pies continued two mornings later. I was running late on my clock—early in another universe, of course—and I was running on empty. I needed a coffee. Spying a coffee and pie deal for $9.95, I stopped and convinced myself I could do with an expensive coffee $9.95, and a bonus pie. 

The pie had employed unscrupulous tactics to make its way into my life. It had coupled itself with coffee. It knew that, like pastry, resistance​ would crumble. 

It was a pie loaded with a free serve of denial and I had lost the fight.

I sculled the coffee; JP’s do a great one. Pie in hand, I finally arrived at my desk. I went to zap my now not-extra-hot-but-still-hot pie.

‘Morning!’ came the unfamiliar voice of a man in a crisp blue uniform. He was from the other Division. The communal kitchen had a not-so-uncanny way of bringing people together and forcing conversation. 

‘Hey there, morning,’ I said doing an awkward shuffle past him, hoping I wouldn’t stack myself and send the pie flying. I seem to have greater than average odds when it comes to dropping things, which in my plentiful experience generally makes awkward​ situations worse. Stepping into the small kitchen had increased​ my odds.

‘What’s that? Early lunch?’ he said reaching for the milk. I noticed the tomato sauce in the fridge behind him. It might as well have been unobtainium.

‘Nah, just a snack,’ I said with a twinge of immediate regret. He was having a cuppa and a muesli bar like a normal person. I’d already finished a coffee and I was preparing to stuff my face with pie.

‘You can’t have snacks without bringing us all some!’ he exclaimed with a hearty smile.  

The beeping of the microwave, the half-awkward laughter where I managed to squeeze in a ‘yeah’, ‘sure’, ‘cool’ and multiple other filler words was the rest of our conversation. By the powers of the small kitchen, there will hopefully be future opportunities to undo this trainwreck of a ‘hello’.

For now, it was time to test out this pie.

They had included the complimentary, non-obligatory salad element. Mesclun, straight out of the Woolies pre-packs. It was a nice touch.

Inside the pie was a saucy mince meat that had a more commercial gravy taste to it. I would be mincing my words if I said this wasn’t good and I didn’t enjoy it as much as I did. The pie was very juicy. It made for a very moist experience, and I was sure it wasn’t the microwaving that had done it. I’d picked it up prior and still it had felt like a frail beast. The pastry​ was more a shortcrust than a puff. It was awfully soft. It was also very yellow.

Who reigns supreme? Both were tasty pies. One was just beautiful and chunky and delicious. The Marty’s Pie takes this round.

Taste verdict Pleasing pies aplenty.
1: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
2: ⭐⭐⭐

**

In the midst of composing the above, in the wee hours of the morning, I had this paragraph on beef chunks. I was thinking about the chunky beef in the Marty’s pie and my thoughts meandered, in and out, and over and over, on the whys of beef as a product of deliciousness. (And no, while it would have been a nice excuse for staying up to write prose about beef, I hadn’t been drinking).

Beef, of all types, is wonderful. 

Tearing through it is animalistic and raw. 

Cathartic on a primal level.

Ravenous and impatient are those awaiting steak on the barbie.

Understandably awake and discontent is the bloke who had only salad for dinner.

Voracious are the appetites red meat inspires. 

Flesh makes lions of us all, bringing out pure instinct at the sight. 

It’s evidence​ that maybe we’re all just animals. Well, animals in clothes.

Beef isn’t elitist.

Wagyu, marbled, aged, Porterhouse are desirable attributes​. But in the realm of pies, stews, and everything saucy, it’s chunky beef all the way.

Chunky beef reminds you that you’re not eating beef that’s been stitched together. Or minced to the point of no return. Or that bears a label with its percentage of beef content, because clearly that was considered necessary.

Forgive the beef spiel.

I’m an omnivore with hardcore carnivorous tendencies. 

I’m chewing on starting my own Beef Appreciation Society.

**

enchirist 2018

Review: Aladdin the Musical at Crown Theatre

Over a month ago in late June, I was browsing Ticketmaster and saw the Aladdin stage production upcoming. Tickets, I had to get. 

It had been a long time since I had attended a musical. The last had been Fiddler on the Roof, featuring original cast member Topol playing the lead, Tevye. That would have been going back a number of years—actually, I’ve Googled it: 2007 the show was in town. Has time flown or has time flown.

This quote by CS Lewis comes to mind:

Isn’t it funny how day by day nothing changes, but when you look back everything is different.

Clive had that right. Everything is different. 

But I digress.

We saw Aladdin on the Saturday in the week just past. The posters all over the place at the moment give nothing away. The set, the cast, the costumes, the performance are far more fantastical and fabulous than you’d imagine! 

I’d booked us almost-centre seats in row D. They were right up near the stage, and we had a great view. This was the first time I’d been close enough to the stage to see—and therein fully appreciate (read: sit there bedazzled by all that glitter and all those Swarovski crystals)—the expressions of the performers and intricacies of the set. The proximity from the stage made a massive difference. 

I had to applaud the incredible effort to bring Aladdin to the stage. From the musicality, the performances, the energy of the performers, the polished transitions between acts, costumes, and sets, and the spectacular outfits, the entire two hours delivered a full-throttle stageshow as colourful and as busy as the streets of Agrabah. 

The Australian cast were excellent. Gareth Jacobs nailed his role as the Genie. He brought the Genie to life with sass and high intensity performances. Jacobs had the X Factor. He was a natural at working in his own stamp on the role, while at all times remaining true to the iconic character, made famous by Robin Williams. 

I loved the Broadway-born production’s localisation of Aladdin for the Aussie crowd. This was mainly through humourous quips from Jacobs, who succeeded at seemlessly incorporating Tim-Tams, Vegemite, and at one point Kwinana, into the Genie’s dialogue.

Ainsley Melham showed his versatility and prowess as a performer playing the role of Aladdin. He brought to the role a sense of believability and realness. Melham drew us in from the outset, leading us to suspend reality and immerse ourselves into the world of Aladdin.

In many of his performances, seasoned ex-Hi 5 professional Melham seemed to take the back seat to the roles of his co-stars, though not for want of enthusiasm or energy. Rather, it seemed to be a creative direction to give the other performers time in the spotlight. I initially questioned whether Melham was completely encompassing his leading man role—was he being overshadowed? I then realised that this was great positioning of the audience. It worked brilliantly.

As a viewer, it assisted with the characterisation of Aladdin as a pretty average guy. Aladdin was content being out of the spotlight. With his reputation as a street rat, perhaps he was even trying to avoid it. He wasn’t out for the gold or glitter. He hadn’t been born with a silver spoon in his mouth. His crime was falling for a princess. 

While there were plenty of elaborate scenes and visually stunning sets, there were also reeled back moments. With the bells and whistles dropped and the extravagance toned down, it was the magic of the timeless tale that captured our attention. This played on the very human desires for freedom, acceptance, and love. Desires we can all identify with.

Clever framing of the performances, showed us that Melham’s Aladdin wasn’t royalty in every scene he was in; he was simply another cast member. We saw that Aladdin wasn’t after fame or fortune. He was humble. His motivations were pure. He wanted to make his late mother proud. It wasn’t Princess Jasmine he’d fallen for, but Jasmine. Echoing the words of Jafar and Iago, the naivety and rawness Melham depicted confirmed to us that Aladdin was indeed a ‘diamond in the rough’. Humility and truth, and love conquering all, flowed through Melham’s performances.

Shrubshri Kandiah impressed with her portrayal of Jasmine. From Kandiah, we saw that having riches doesn’t equate to a life of freedom and happiness. Kandiah’s Jasmine was fiesty, confident and frustrated with her lack of agency in a clearly patriarchal society. Kandiah’s performance gave us a strong sense of Jasmine as an empowered, modern woman, unafraid to stand for her beliefs, and willing to break tradition. Outspoken and opinionated, she rejected the princess stereotype. Her appearances instead wove in themes of equity and change. She asked us to question cultural norms, the validity of law, and to have courage not to accept the status-quo. The laws of the land being changed, decried as outdated as a result of Jasmine’s refusal to bend to tradition, was vindication that change was possible. 

The weakest moment was unfortunately the song that should have been the apogee of the show: Aladdin and Jasmine’s duet ‘A Whole New World’. The singing sounded a little off key, the ‘magic carpet’ paled in comparison to what we’d already seen, and the build up to the moment fell short. The song lacked the richness in voice, feeling and chemistry of the original. While they had rubbed us the wrong way with this one, they hadn’t ruined the emphatic Aladdin classic.

Overall, it was a fantastic show and a very enjoyable night. I would highly​ recommend it just for the experience. It was totally worth the dollarydoos. 

My biggest take-away was the joy the cast displayed throughout the show. These talented ladies and gents seemed so genuinely happy it was infectious! To be able to entertain, to make people happy, to do that for a living, I don’t think many things would compare.

Now I just need to find that magic lamp.

Baking: Choc-Mint Slice

I have a confession​ to make: I messed up. I got my dates all mixed up. I’ve gone and done something that’s almost criminal. 

I let July 21 pass without the moment of reverence it deserved.

I missed National Lamington Day. I know. It is with an unopened pack of dessicated coconut against my heart that I say ‘Lamington proponents of the day, I acknowledge your right to get the pitchforks out’.

Early last week (I lie: coming on two now) I was up late researching Lamington recipes of all types—traditional, filled, flavoured, banana bread Lamingtons even. I feel like that last one might fail the bona fide Lamington test if there were such a thing. An unAustralian Lamington or a very Australian Lamington? I wonder what Captain Cook would have thought. Would he have shipped the banana bread Lamington pairing? I have a feeling he might just have flagged both as delicious.

Lamingtons had, by all accounts, been in mind. I had sorted through all the must-know tips for sorting National​ Lamington Day (I was amazed: there are articles on this). I had the date set in my mind. During the week, I had done a Woolies shop for Lamington supplies, and had even remembered to bring my reusable Woolworths Macro Jute bag like a good little Woolies customer. I had bought my two types of coconut for the pantry: shredded and dessicated. Yes, they are different, and no, that wasn’t impressed upon my mind until said research into Lamingtons. I had got a new half-kilo butter block for the fridge. I had stocktaked my chocolate stash to ensure the adequacy of supplies: two full tins of dutch cocoa powder, one of Nestlé’s cooking cocoa, and three blocks of chocolate. Ostensibly satisfactory to most minds, but I always get a niggling feeling that more I could do with.

Then things got in the way. Enthusiasm waned. Lost in a sea of distractions, the arbitrary passing of time, somewhere between four sunrises and sunsets, Lamington Day dropped off my radar. 

Four days later I instead did up a choc-mint slice.

Because I felt like mint. 

I’ve resolved to postpone Lamingtons until such time that I can do them justice. Lamington Day Atonement Day is in the pipeline. Lamingtons on hold…

Here’s the recipe for the choc-mint slice

Ingredients:
150g butter
1 egg
1/2 cup caster sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp peppermint extract
1/2 cup plain flour
1/3 cup SR flour
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/2 cup desiccated coconut, plus extra

Mix butter and sugar. Mix through egg. Add extracts, cocoa powder and stir through flours. Bake in a lined slice tin at 150°C for 20-30min until a skewer comes out clean. Leave to cool while preparing icing.

Icing:
2 cups icing sugar 
50 g butter
2 tbps water
1-2 tsp peppermint extract
1 drop green food colouring

Cream butter and sugar. Add water and extract. Add colour. Mix well.

Spread on top of cooled slice. I didn’t let mine cool, they were just out of the oven and onto the board—definitely made it fiddly to ice and cut. 

Ever since discovering Nestlé’s Peppermint Crisps this year, I’ve been digging minty flavours. It’s like it flicked on a switch allowing me to appreciate mint-flavoured things rather than have them remind me of toothpaste. 

These mint slices are light as, and very easy to eat your way through. They won’t do your wallet in. 

For an absolutely mint version of these, I’d add:
• to the topping, a sprinkling of crushed Nestlé Peppermint Crisps and chopped up Nestlé Mint Patties. Replace the icing with melted dark chocolate. Add a tablespoon or two of peppermint schnapps to keep things cool as a cucumber.
• to the base, a good chunk of a block of melted Lindt Dark Intense Mint from their Excellence range. This stuff is velvety and simply mint.

I am going to have to do the decadent version of these. I’ll add it to the list of things I’ve mint to do but haven’t.

Sicilian Toastie and Margherita Pizza, The Italian Corner, William Street

I spend way too much on lunch.

Every day I consider going on a diet of Vegemite sangers and Robert Timm’s instant coffee. I also promptly tergiversate on the idea when faced with lunch break and ever-present possibility of happiness being just around the corner.

I also spend way too much on coffees.

I once had a particularly bad streak of buying coffee each morning. I then decided, pledging to make better decisions, that I should probably put a stop to the daylight robberies. 

The first day without my morning coffee, I gained a full appreciation of this quote, commonly but mistakenly attributed to Michael​ Jordan: ‘You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.’ It was 100% a difficult morning. Sans magical concoction, the withdrawal symptoms began. Said symptoms were notoriously mild, in the scheme of things and given the substance in question: I ate a Cherry Ripe—an unwise choice of appetite suppressant that at best satisfied the wrong craving—following which, I made up a sachet of Moccona’s Peppermint Choc Bliss—which, admittedly, proved to be a substitute relative in deliciousness and enjoyment.

Taking things out of context, the sporting origin of this quote has me wondering about the existence of possible deeper meanings behind it. Dope, just unintended double-entendre. 

Here’s what I had for lunch on Thursday and Friday this week. I decided I’d frequent the new, well fairly new, place The Italian Corner.

I went for the Sicilian Toastie, ‘prosciutto, fresh tomato, bocconcini’, $7.50 and the Margherita Pizza ‘mozarella, semi-mature cheese, fresh basil’, also $7.50. How good do they look?

The toastie had a lot going for it. 

It had melty, stringy cheesiness, which I ate all the while mindful of the ease with which I might grow a cheese beard. It had saltiness from the prosciutto and freshness from the self-described ‘fresh’ tomato. It had sufficient crustiness and grillege, an imaginary word which here seems proper and conducive to communicating the requisite grilledness this toasty exhibited. As my one-thirty pm late lunch, it was a well-primed and served lunchbox of happiness.

The pizza, too, was a satisfactory option. The pizza featured a non-floury base of mid-range thickness, with a profusely gooey cheese sitting amidst a moderate backing of tomato sauce that had the slightest detection of onion. It was a stroll through the park on a day with the sun shining and the smell of spring in the air. The limited topping of spinach acted as a garnish on the already-satisactory pizza. I enjoyed it.

Which reigns supreme: the toastie or the pizza? I conclude the result of this cheesy conundrum a confused ‘currently inconclusive’. A determination will demand further visitations.

As an observation, pizzas, coffees and ice-cream earn you a punch on the loyalty card. No love for the toastie.

Taste verdict Classic lunchtime fare. I’m a great fan of cheesy things.

⭐⭐⭐