Sunday 30 December 2012

Christmas at Our Place

An early days Christmas at my dad's
 One of the things I love about Christmas is all the different ways people around the world celebrate it. In our family our main celebration is on Christmas Eve. We have a celebration steeped in Danish tradition with some German overlay. 
My mother Lise with Young son Torsten looking pleased about not cooking - note its a family tradition to wear red on Christmas Eve
 My mother being Danish and my father German we always celebrated Christmas Eve with my mother cooking traditional Danish fare. Once they separated my mother declared that she had spent the last 27 years cooking and she wasn’t going to waste any more time cooking! My father promptly took over the cooking when he remarried including cooking the Danish Christmas dinner.
R being the Master Chef
  When I married R always cooks the Danish Christmas Eve dinner when we are not with family.  I’m not sure exactly why the Danish tradition seems to be the pervasive one but my theory is that it’s because it’s what the Danes call ‘hyggelig’ – it has a cosy ambience and as you know ambience is everything.
Hyggelig atmosphere in the evening - homemade stocking hanging redy for the next morning - note the good Queensland Cassowary painting and we normally add a pineapple to the table for a bit of Queensland decoration at Christmas
  There is also a fun game of find the almond in the rice pudding and win a marzipan prize that brings out everyone’s inner competitiveness and of course the simple fact that you don’t have to wait all the way til the next morning for your main presents like those long suffering English which also means you don’t get pestered by rampaging children at some ungodly hour of the morning. You can all have a nice sleep-in after all the excesses of the previous night, arise at a civilised hour (after 9am) with the kids sitting on the end of your bed and opening their ‘little presents’ in their stockings and then partake of a relaxed breakfast of croissants, coffee, berries,  bacon & eggs. 
Christmas Day breakfast - we missed second daughter this year as she was in London
 Anyways, for us Christmas begins 4 Sundays before Christmas Eve when the first of the 4 Advent candles is lit on the Sunday evening after dinner and accompanied by coffee, cognac, marzipan & German gingerbread cookies. The following Sunday 2 candles will be lit and so on. On the night of the 5th of December everyone sets to polishing their boots so a boot each can be placed outside the door for Saint Nikolaus to fill. In the morning it’s St Nikolaus Day the 6th December and everyone races out to collect their boots and see what the boot has been filled with. For good kids there is marzipan and German cookies, or naughty kids there is sticks and often there is a combination! When the children were quite small first daughter Venus snuck out and switched the bag of goodies for sticks in second daughters boot and when India discovered this in the morning there was such a caterwauling.  Curiously I was deprived of this German tradition growing up. It wasn’t til my parents separated that my dad decided to introduce it.

Boots out for St Nik
  In Europe most people do not work on Christmas Eve or at least not after midday when all the shops shut so people can get home and prepare their Christmas Eve dinners. Here in Australia we always remind the children to make sure they tell their employers in advance that we celebrate Christmas on Christmas Eve and so they can’t work after midday on the 24th. Christmas Eve starts around 18:00 with a glass of champagne at the family gathering. Dinner consists of roast pork with crackling (there’s NEVER enough) red cabbage and fluffy boiled potatoes tossed in butter and brown wine sauce. This is accompanied by beer or wine and a shot of that infamous Danish alcohol Akvavit, preferably the original red Aalborg Akvavit which is caraway flavoured. This is served in tiny Akvavit glasses. Everyone holds up their glass, the head of the table proposes the toast (the first toast is ALWAYS to the Queen of Denmark) and everyone says ‘To the Queen of Denmark, skål!’ and proceeds to throw back the shot in one go. At 60% alcohol content everyone’s crissed as a picket by the third round! 
Christmas Dinner at my dad's in Popanyinning with akvavit

Next we move on to the fun part with the serving of dessert. This is Ris à l'amande (Rice with Almonds)
(also spelled as Risalamande) from the French riz à l'amande meaning "rice with almonds"; Danish: ris med mandel). Risalamande was created in the last part of the 19th century. It is made out of rice pudding mixed with whipped cream, vanilla, and chopped almonds; and is usually served cold with a cherry sauce (kirsebærsauce).
Risalamande with cherry sauce
A similar traditional Danish Christmas dish, risengrød, (known to the English as rice pudding) is essentially risalamande before the whipped cream, vanilla, and almonds have been added, and is typically served hot, topped with cinnamon and butter. Nowadays, it is very common to make a large batch of rice pudding for dinner on lillejuleaften ("Little Christmas Eve", i.e. December 23), a part of which is kept until Christmas Eve and used to make the risalamande. Normally, a whole almond is added to the dessert, and the person who finds it wins a small prize — such as a chocolate heart, a marzipan pig, or a toblerone bar. Part of the game involves the finder concealing his discovery as long as possible, so that the rest of the company is forced to eat the entire dish of risalamande, even after they have already devoured a large Christmas dinner. I think I already told you the story of R’s first Christmas with us and the first year my dad cooked the risalamande when it turned out like cement but R valiantly soldiered through an entire bowl of the stuff that even Ben our St Bernard wouldn’t touch! This story is recounted every year at Christmas with much hilarity and is referred to as the ‘Litmus test for potential partners’.  Somehow certain members of the family have managed to sneak past our other litmus test, the ‘do you like marzipan?’ one. Both my step-brother Kevin and my brother-in-law Chris ‘can’t stand the stuff’ – we all look at them with pitying glances as if they’re suffering from some unfortunate disease. 
My dads family - the marzipan hating mutants are in the lighter check shirts -hmm maybe there's something in that
 After dinner we adjourn to the lounge room where the Christmas tree is lit up beautifully. One is supposed to sing Christmas carols and dance around the tree holding hands but we usually forego this step because the little kids are dying to open their presents by this stage. It is the job of the youngest to hand out the presents and after coffee, cognac, marzipan and German cookies are served (of course in Denmark Danish butter cookies ‘småkage’ marzipan mini cakes ‘kransekage’ or my favourite cardamom flavoured twisted biscuits ‘klejner’ would be served 
Freshly baked klejner
Traditional Danish paper heart woven from red and white paper

Kransekage traditionally also served on New Yers eve
(note these are quite difficult to make and the last time I had them was in 1992 in Copenhagen when we happened to be there just before Christmas; the time before that was in 1988 before my parents separated when they arrived at my house in Margaret River, my mother bearing a plate laden with freshly cooked klejner – hmmm, heaven on a plate!)
On Christmas day R will normally cook a traditional English Christmas dinner of roast turkey, potatoes and five different vegetables such as pumpkin, broccoli, peas, squash  and carrots served with gravy.  If we are visiting the family in Western Australia, then R’s mum and dad will usually cook the Christmas day lunch. 
Christmas day at R' parents
This is followed by R’s mum’s wonderful trifle, steamed Christmas fruit pudding that is smothered in brandy and set alight to be served sprinkled with caster sugar, pouring cream and custard and her homemade fruit mince pies.
R's mums Christmas pudding alight with flaming brandy

 In the evening friends come around to sit on the balcony, drink vats of wine and nibble on cheese platters.
On the balcony at R's parents house on Christmas day evening
 Living in Australia it’s often hot at Christmas time and it is quite traditional here to have a seafood barbeque for the Christmas day lunch and then to head on down for a Boxing day (26th) morning swim and ‘sink a few tinnies at the beach’ (indulge in a few cans of beer from the esky). By the time it gets to New Year’s Eve we are ready for that other great European tradition of watching the hilarious skit ‘Dinner for One’ and seeing the New Year in with champagne, silly hats and whistles. Because it’s the hot dry season fireworks have long been banned here much to the annoyance of R who can be a bit of a pyrotechnic freak when it comes to fireworks. At the end of 2013 I am turning 50 and we are hoping to  celebrate my birthday in Copenhagen (where pre-Christmas klejner and real Danish pastries for breakfast bought fresh from the baker found on every street corner will be available and the streets will be decorated in those quintessentially Danish red and white love hearts and little Danish flags) before moving on to horse-drawn sleigh rides thru the snow for Christmas in Salzburg where a little birdy tells me the famous Hotel Sacher (of Sacher Torte fame) puts on a ‘Dinner or One’ play with dinner.
Well this is the last post for 2012 and for my first post of 2013 I will be announcing a name change that will seem somewhat more complicated and yet strangely will not be – all will be revealed next week my little cherubs! In the meantime I hope you all had a lovely Christmas time even if you don’t celebrate Christmas and that you have a very happy New Years. May 2013 be strangely bizarre and as first daughter advocates from Alice in Wonderland - do try to think of at least six impossible things before breakfast every morning.

Lots of love Princess Snapperhead xxx

Thursday 20 December 2012

A Christmas Tale – How to Lead a Secret Life in Ten Easy Steps

1.       As a neo-adult establish a party-loving ‘it’s all about me’ ethos. Scrape thru Uni because your social life is more important.
2.       Fall in love with your soulmate – at least until your REAL soulmate turns up.
3.       Get a serious job and look responsible but continue to act otherwise.
4.       Begin to craft an eccentric persona – this helps to sort out the ‘wheat from the chaff’ – conservatives will dislike you which is essentially good because they’re too boring anyway.
5.       This essentially leaves you surrounded by friends with a Nicholas Cage complex – ‘This here snakeskin jacket represents a symbol of my individuality, and my belief in personal freedom’ – the party can begin to look like a snake pit with all those snakeskin jackets around!
6.       Have a pre-sub-midlife crisis and do the Landmark Forum program and sort your head space out – only clean brains here!
7.       Go do the India thing and work with Mother Teresa.
8.       Return home, do the specialised Forum workshops, get a ‘Handler’ to keep you accountable, establish a secret mission and go covert – tell no one of your arrangement. Your agreed mission is contracted for 20 years.
9.       Fall in love, get married, have four children, finish a second Uni degree - all unexpectedly.
10.   Remember – tell no one.  Maintain eccentric, laissez faire attitude to avoid suspicion. Secret life intacta.
Have you ever heard of ‘The Hunger Project’? This was a direct result of participants in the ‘Forum’ (a self-awareness action program – they loath and detest the term ‘self-improvement’)  going out and deciding to do something positive in the world. When I went thru the ‘Forum’ workshops we were encouraged to decide on a change we would like to help facilitate (not necessarily the Hunger Project), make a contract with ourselves to fulfil this goal, and establish contact with someone who would keep us accountable for our actions. It was suggested that the power of the change would be more effective if it was done covertly. Why is this? Well think about it –you get all these people running around out there holding ‘gala charity events’ and what happens? Most of the money is spent in holding the event and paying administrators; most of the PR is focused on the people ‘giving’ the charity rather than on what the charity is for and they all go home and give themselves a nice pat on the back because they’ve made themselves look better in the eyes of the world. What if there was actually an army of people out there who contracted between themselves and their ‘Handlers’ to effect a change that no one but the recipients knew about? Now wouldn’t that be powerful rather than self-congratulatory!
My friend Lane Boland playing Daniel Craig playing James Bond - I'm sure he's on a secret mission!
 At about the point where I was 5 years into my ‘Secret Mission’ –remember, tell no one – I was starting to think I had great potential as a spy. I would report to ‘Control’ and throw away lines like ‘follow that car’ with great skill.  I could be that eccentric blonde, or brunette or red-head (it’s important to be able to melt into a crowd and you may need to change your appearance rapidly, but you can't be too obvious — trench coats and plastic mustaches should  be avoided).  With four young kids for cover, by night I could be Snapperhead, Princess Snapperhead, and I’ll have my martini shaken not stirred. 
Spycam captures a rare shot of my friend Samantha Fifield & I sipping martinis Bond style at our undercover hangout - the movie theatre - Sam being untrained is unaware she is being photographed and hence has not had time to disguise her true Hobbitsey self
 Now I have to tell you that one thing you can’t do is keep secrets in a marriage. We’ve tried it, it’s destructive, it just doesn’t work. Goodbye spy aspirations and a life of fast cars and casinos! So at some point I just had to blow my cover and reveal all to R.
What my kitchen could potentially look like - not too sure about the pink pj's though
 It was not quite like Brad & Angelina in Mr & Mrs Smith where I whipped my stash of knives and guns from my secret kitchen drawer but remember the bit at the end when they’re at the therapists and he holds up both hands? ;-)
Ask me the sex question again
 The point was they worked much better together. Hold up 1 finger, and that is the power of one person. Now hold up another 1 finger (representing another person) next to that first finger and that is the power of two people working together – it’s not 2 it’s 11.
R & I on a joint mission just before we hit the eject button
So what was my secret mission? Well I could tell you but then I’d have to kill you – however it may or may not involve things like the four recent clean water wells built in Sudan. 
 I can tell you it involved a considerable amount of money each week and is why we don’t have at least two properties by now, in fact we don’t even have 1!  But this is all Top Secret and For Your Eyes Only so sssh!  So why am I telling you this Christmas Tale? Partly because I’ve been completely disgusted lately with people who are more concerned about keeping their lawns perfectly manicured than giving someone a place on that lawn to sit in the shade. And of course for my hot tips on how to lead a secret life in ten easy steps should you wish to try it for yourself ;-)
Bats are my favourite animal and us mere mortals could learn a thing or two from them.Merry Christmas!

Friday 14 December 2012

The person who has most influenced me this past year:

As the year draws to a close I was reflecting on the person who has had the most positive influence over me in the past year. One person stood out quite clearly and it wasn’t through any knowingly focused act of will on their part, but rather through a number of serendipitous events that they orchestrated.
The first was getting me back ‘out’ into the work force rather than working solely from home.  There I was sitting quietly in my Chiropractors waiting room, minding my own business, when her assistant announced that she would be leaving for a new job in marketing.  Said Chiropractor turned to me and said:
‘Oh Dorit, you could come and help me couldn’t you?’
Wait, what?!
‘Oh, sure!’  I said ‘I’ll help you out’ not wanting to leave anyone in the lurch.
(You’ve worked out by now for those who know her that I’m talking about Debra Lawson - that petite little firecracker of enthusiasm) 
Debra with the original 'Love Boat' captain Terry Russell at one of our social outings to the Cairns Food & Wine Society
 The first day I drove “to work” – all of two minutes down the road – I remember feeling quite panic struck. What if I couldn’t remember what to do? What if I stuffed up the appointments? What if I couldn’t work the eftpos machine? And worst of all, what if I couldn’t remember how to operate and clean the poo machine? (My Chiropractor offers colonic therapy with a very hygienic and safe modern system for people who are full of shit ;-)
As the level of anxiety increased I did a quick reality check: ‘Get a grip of yourself!’ I told my inner self, ‘You’ve got two bloody degrees for god’s sake! How hard can it be? Honestly, it’s not rocket science!’
First day back in the 'work force'
 I eventually got the hang of it in my ‘Dorit’ fashion and because I was working there it wasn’t too long before we convinced R to move his rooms there so I could assist him. This is called truly cementing your relationship in a river of love by spending every spare moment together except that sometimes I forget that cementing is a verb and make it into a noun, put R in it and toss him in that river!
The second major influence Deb had occurred about two months ago when she asked:
‘Hey Dorit, why don’t ya come keep me company at this Facebook Bootcamp?’  (Yes she’s a Yank so she speaks funny)
Facebook has a Bootcamp? I didn’t realise social networking was so hard-core – well that escalated quickly!
‘Sure, why not?’ I replied whilst trying to visualise what a Facebook Bootcamp could possibly be – Die-hard Facebook Nazis doing push-ups whilst singing in army marching cadence:

‘Facebook, Facebook, millions strong’  
‘They just can’t all be wrong’   
‘Post all day and night time too’  
 ‘Status update in the loo.’ ???

As it turned out it was the world’s FIRST Facebook Bootcamp for small business and oddly enough they’d picked the remote tropical town of Cairns to run it in, presumably to see how it went and iron out any awkward moments. You know these Yanks; they like to test things in remote tropical places first so we were kind of like Facebook’s Bikini Island.
At the Facebook Bootcamp with Nick Bowditch
 Well, once the nuclear explosion – the human dynamo convening the Bootcamp Nick Bowditch – had settled we came out of there with renovated Facebook pages and a good thing too because the Antiageingdoctor page had been sitting dormant for three years! I’m pleased to report it’s now alive and well delivering sometimes controversial health tips, recipes and observations on a regular basis.
As a result of being all fired up and getting the Facebook page going I thought I’d better tackle that other monster – namely our website – which was in an even worse stage of latent  dormancy. Said website had been languishing on the backburner with all the most basic work done in terms of design and layout but no content for the past FIVE years! Within a week I had the pages ready for editing by R and initiated a blog as the landing page that would tick over to something new every week or two so repeat visitors wouldn’t get bored with a static ‘brochure’ of a website. I emailed our web master that hadn’t heard from us in centuries and told her I thought I had all the content together and emailed it through.  A few hours later she flicked me an email which read ‘I’d given up on you guys so when I heard from you I thought I’d better drop every other job I’m working on and do it straight away in case you disappeared again -It’s live!’    Holy crap that was rather sudden then! I went online and sure enough we were live but I was in Cairns and R was on the other side of the country. I sent him a text:
 Me: ‘Website is live.’   
R: ‘What website?’ 
Me: ‘’
R: ‘Well that escalated quickly!’
Me: ‘After 5 years, yeah! Congratulations now I ‘m forced to drink champagne by myself to celebrate because you’re not here’
Luckily my trusty inspiration rang and invited me out to a friend’s dinner party and supplied vast quantities of Moёt. 
The Moet night with our crazy friend John Hawash (arm around me) and me towering over tiny Deb like some Amazon woman
 The fourth positive and serendipitous influence Ms Positive Inspiration had this year happened like this:-
R rings: ‘What did you do today?’
Me: ‘Slaved over my red hot laptop all day’
R: ‘What, no movies with Sam or coffee with Pam?’ (BTW I know it sounds like it but my friends don’t all come from a Dr Seuss book ;-p)
Me: ‘They were busy’ (So now note the typical male logic)
R: ‘Well you need to get some more friends!’
As you can see I'm slaving over my red (literally!) hot laptop
 The very next day Ms Positive Inspiration says come over for a girls lunch there’s some people you’d like to meet. Next time R flys back to Cairns he wonders why I’m not there for him 24/7 –
R: ‘Well now where are you going?’
Me: ‘Oh I’m off to a girl’s lunch at Helens’
Next Day R: ‘Shall we go –‘
Me: ‘Sorry I’ve got an event to go to but I can fit you in between 5-7pm then I’ve got a teleconference’
He’s standing there with a bewildered little boy lost look on his face and says:
‘I think you’ve got too many friends.’ Hmmm.
Lunch with the girls
 As a result of meeting Deb’s friends I found myself suddenly convened into the E-Publishing Club that Helen Bairstow, author and publisher, has just launched where 5 of us are supporting each other in working toward getting our first non-fiction books written. Mine is called ‘Office Zombies:  Is Your Work Environment Killing You and Your Future?’Or it may have a completely different title  - I just can't decide!  It analyses every aspect of the office environment and how it affects our health, work performance and business but in a fun and easy to understand way with checklists and action plans to health and business success. I'm fortunate to have some top experts from around the world  contributing to various chapters.
So to my whacky little American friend Deb thanks for being such an inspiration in 2012 – I’m sorry that when the World Ends  I’ll be on the other side of the country at the Manjimup Hospital End Of The World morning tea party on 21/12/21, but I’ll be sipping green tea and thinking of you! Here's to a great and awesome 2013!