Friday, March 6, 2009

Unwinnable Interaction

Until quite recently, I was in the Student Marketing Business. The duties included giving out chocolates, plastering walls with posters and bugging people to fill in Pointless Unwinnable competition flyers. 

Needless to say, it was depressing. The sheer amount of rejection one has to face every minute of of those poorly-paid hours can be overwhelming, especially when it’s from your peers. And as much as I bless my lucky stars that I got out of that thankless job, there were a few valuable things I took from my time as a Brand Ambassador:

  1. I learned how to be fake cheerful for eight-hours straight, a surprisingly useful skill, perfect for job interviews, boring parties and when you Just Feel Down. After your smile has seemingly frozen in place, you discover that you’re actually feeling pretty good after all and that there is no need to pretend.
  2. I lost any sense of shyness when approaching strangers. When my very first “Hey, how is it going?” to a complete stranger was ignored, I waited for the ground to swallow me up and spit me out at some special circle of hell reserved for Unsolicited Stranger Greeters. But nothing happened. Life went on, and another random person was approached. You quickly learn that it’s really not that painful to be rejected by someone you don’t know for a cause that you don’t give a rat’s ass for. 
  3. I realized how closed off/oddly polite we all are. When I was giving away chocolates FOR FREE, no strings attached, people were still reluctant to make eye contact or even acknowledge that I was there. Even with a tray of chocolates and a sign saying “free samples,” I was largely ignored until I singled people out with a smile and a “Would you like some chocolate sir/madam?”, at which point they would adopt a rather silly ‘Who, me?’ expression and timidly come forward, probably waiting for me to throw the tray down, scream “SUCKER!” and run off, laughing maniacally as I go.
  4. I learned how to protect myself from Unsolicited Stranger Greeters like me. My chosen suit of armour includes massive sunglasses, iPhone headphones and a steady gaze into the middle distance. When someone approaches you, you don’t engage at all, just keep moving and don’t worry about breaking their heart. They really don’t care.

All of this was serving me quite well - I managed to get a better job because I smiled all the time, and I can joke with the people around me in the queue at Woolies without any fear of rejection. However, I broke my own rules the other day when I was approached by a coloured t-shirt wearing hawker for Oxfam. When he smiled at me, I smiled back.

I couldn’t help it. It was an instinctual reaction, like saying ‘fine’ when someone asks how you are, or closing your eyes while sneezing. I immediately regretted it, but by then it was too late. He signalled to take my headphones out and remove my glasses. Obediently, I Engaged.

Dangling one of those non-biodegradable annoying armbands in front of me like a set of keys for a toddler, he asked, “Would you like to make poverty history?” Involuntarily, I pondered it for a second. It’s a serious question. “Yes,” I replied, “I suppose I would like to, eventually.” With a broad smile in place, and clipboard reading to snatch my bank account details, he then asked if I was over 21. I’m not (until monday), and I told him so. What he said after that was one of the most unintentionally hilarious things I’d heard all week -

“Ok then, I’m sorry, you can’t. Have a nice day.”

I wonder if crushing the philanthropic dreams of under-21s was part of his training...

And the photo, of course is a candid shot of me Interacting With My Peers as a student marketer.  

P.S. I don't mean to suggest that Oxfam isn't a remarkable charity or that charity itself isn't up my alley. It is, but I (like a lot of people) really do prefer to take the time to research where the money is going before I commit to anything..

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

My Uniform

It's kind of scary just how many clothes I now own from work. 

My well-worn excuse is that since I have to wear their stuff, I may as well have a tolerable collection. Plus we get a discount, and I get gift vouchers when I make a big sale. Thats my rationale, and I'm sticking to it. Above is most of what I've acquired since December - not including shoes. Is this bad?

Fail-Free Quiche

My mother's legendary Quiche of the Titans featured in my last post and due to popular demand, I'd now like to share the recipe with the world. For years and years, I hated quiche. I despised the rubberiness, the overwhelming egginess and above all those uncooked chunks of onion that people invariably feel is necessary. I loathed the fact that the only two flavours that seemed to exist were Lorraine and spinach. I even hated the quiche they served me when I holidayed in France, mainly because French people don't believe in vegetarianism and Bad Food in France is still Bad Food in Real Life. So extreme was my distaste that the only way my mother could get me to try hers was to call it a 'tart'. She kept up the charade for about a year, serving her 'tart' on a regular basis until I grew up a bit and realized that not all quiche is as inedible as Toe Jam.

Mum used to make this quiche and sell it to her university cafe for a bit of cash while she was defrauding centrelink (the welfare office) as a student. She never figured out if she was making any money out of it, but every Saturday she would diligently bake up a dozen or so of these babies, often skimping on vital but expensive ingredients like butter and salt. The recipe is extremely flexible and you can add whatever fillings take your fancy. My 'traditional' one has broccoli and long beans in it, but recently I've been making a Roast Sweet Potato and Caramelized Onion one that is just devilishly good. You can even use a muffin tray and make mini ones, which is perfect for entertaining or just a light snack. 

So, first you need some pastry. Buy some frozen stuff from the store, or make your own (its dead easy)

For the shortcrust pastry:
125g cold butter, cubed
1 1/2 cups of flour
1 egg, whisked
2 tablespoons chilled water

- In a food processor, blend the butter and flour until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
- Add the egg and the water and blend until the mixture forms a ball.
- If it's too dry or too wet, add some more water or flour.
- On a floured surface, roll out the pastry into a disc, wrap it in greaseproof paper and refrigerate for 15 minutes
- You're now ready to roll it out and line the tin!

For the Quiche:

The basics pretty much consist of:
Some shortcrust pastry
3 Eggs
300mls of cream (use low fat or some milk if you're worried about the fat)
Pinch nutmeg
1 Ripe tomato, sliced
1 Garlic clove, sliced
Shredded cheese
Dried oregano or basil

Potential fillings:
- Roast sweet potato and caramelized onion
Roast the potato in a hot oven for 30mins (or just boil it) , caramelize the onions over a low heat on the stove for the same amount of time, adding some sugar and water and letting it go a beautiful brown (or buy some in a jar)
- Broccoli and long bean
Sauté the broccoli and beans with some chopped onions for 15 minutes. This really brings out the flavour!
- Broccoli and capsicum (red bell pepper)
Sauté the broccoli and capsicum with some chopped onions for 15 minutes. 
- Long bean and almond
Sauté the beans and some chopped onions for 15 minutes. Add the almonds in the last 5 minutes to toast.
- Salmon and camembert (Mum's favorite)
Chop up some salmon and some camembert, and add it to the tin. Too easy!
- Bacon, potato and onion
Par-boil or microwave the potatoes in an inch of water for 5 minutes and slice. Sauté the onion until soft and add the bacon to crisp slightly.
- Anything you like!
  1. Pre-heat the oven to 180˚C (355˚F).
  2. Grease a 20cm round tin (or anything you have- it really doesn't matter although if its quite deep it may take longer) and line with pastry. Be generous with it as it does shrink a bit while baking. If you like, blind bake to prevent a soggy bottom. This basically involves pricking it with a fork, half-filling it with dried pasta or beans and baking for 10-15 minutes in a hot oven.
  3. Prepare the filling (see above), and line the tin with it.
  4. Mix the eggs, cream and nutmeg together and pour over. Season with salt and pepper.
  5. Dot the top with tomato slices and garlic (the garlic roasts slightly and goes beautifully sweet and flavourful)
  6. Cover with the cheese and dried herbs and pop it in the oven.
  7. It'll be ready in 20-40 minutes- it should have risen slightly and be golden on top. I'm sorry this is so vague, but it really does depend on your individual oven and the size and shape of the pan (it usually takes half an hour for a conventional quiche tin, which is quite shallow and round). The secret to this dish is not to overcook it- when quiche is cooked for two long, it becomes spongy and fills with air bubbles. You want the consistency to be more like set scrambled eggs. This really allows the filling to shine.
Enjoy :)

edit: Below is a pic of the 'filling' i used last night (minus the caramelized onions - they were bubbling away)

Monday, February 16, 2009


You may have noticed (all three of you) that Unreal City has suffered a rather distinct hiatus. I won't make excuses, but I will say that a hectic combination of working all day, reorganizing the house and going to a couple of parties doesn't do much for my particular creative juices. I know, activity is just wasted on me. All those stimulating hours spent folding jeans, serving customers, moving furniture and participating in engaging socio-politic-philo-sophomoric discussions simply left me wondering when I was next going to enjoy lazing on my battered vinyl couch. 

So I approached this Inevitable Late Blog Post with a great deal of nervousness - what on earth was I going to talk about? The girl who screamed that I was violating the Trade Practices Act at work today? That 'original' poem gifted by a hobo at the bus stop (only to discover it was a Whitman)? That book I just finished? Lightening never struck until I'd finally given up and decided to write about dinner.

It was a quiche, by the way, an adaptation of my mum's Never-Fail recipe (seriously - it never fails) -  tonight's filling was roast sweet potatoes and caramelized onions. Quiche is my ultimate comfort food, and passes the Maisy Seal of Approval, which basically demands that you can use whatever ingredients on hand and that it always makes delicious and plentiful leftovers. 

I was in the middle of a rather ingenuously staged a photo op of The Quiche & I, with a knife poised to cut the first steaming slice out, when my lovely assistant managed to make me laugh. The resulting pictures - one with a posed smile, the other genuine - were so distinct that it was though they were two different people.

It seems strange to me that I'd never seen my own candid smile before, and that the person who is more familiar to me is the one gritting her teeth. And while the thought does seem rather sad, it is quite nice to think that my real appearance is entrusted with the people I love, and not with my devilishly critical self-conscious mind. 

Oh, and yes - for my mother's benefit - I am wearing some items and are thereby obligated to describe them: a really comfy oversized wrangler cashmere jumper atop a pair of G-Star 96's. Somewhat safe, but nothing is Safer or indeed Folksier (Oh No!) than baking and then musing about the nature of smiles. 

Thursday, February 12, 2009


"Does Nadya Suleman think she's Angelina Jolie?"

LOL - but sad, really.

Volcanic Cookery

I was never much of a domestic child. The laundry was a mysterious alchemist's laboratory, vacuuming was somehing that happened to other people, and, sadly, I didn't take much joy in food. Like a lot of kids, I would've been happy just subsisting on cucumbers, plain pasta and tim tams indefinitely. My Bewildered parents were subjected to the White diet (pasta, potatoes, plain pizza), unexplained but stubborn vegetarianism and an appetite that was irritatingly satisfied by the measly stale bread roll that restaurants put out before the Real Meal. And when the Real Meal did arrive, it was inevitably sullied by gravy or raw tomato or any number of items on the Blacklist and was therefore inedible. Memo: I must remember to call and thank them.

Although most of the insanity faded in adolescence, I still remained staunchly vegetarian and equally Unimpressed with food. By the time I left home, I was still living on an unofficial diet of coffee, croissants and cous cous. So it seems oddly fitting that the inaugural 'foodie' post should feature my current favorite: Summer Cous Cous salad, a delicious and filling meal for when it's 40˚C outside and the country is on fire.

So after I left The Nest for university, I opted for a catered college, three meals a day in a gigantic dining hall filled with oversized Leonard French paintings and stained glass. Despite the airy surrounds, the food was beyond pedestrian. After I had experienced the horror that was Bruce Hall Gumbo and Sunday Night Surprise, a passionate and urgent need awoke within me: I need to learn how to learn how to cook, and fast. Suddenly I realized what a brilliant chefq my mother was, and how much I'd learnt from her in the kitchen while I was flicking through magazines. So I put my researching skills to good use, and, with a lot of frantic calls to mum (Lots of "How do you do that thing with the vegetables," and "What am I doing wrong?") I've tried to make a cook out of an Unbeliever.  

Funnily enough, I now write restaurant reviews with my boyfriend every week, which is a lot less fun than it sounds - mostly because we've run out of the good ones and are now into Thai Takeaway territory. I swear if I have write another comment on the blandness of the Laksa or the stickiness of the rice one more time, I'm going to explode. 

I probably should get to the food now... What I love about this salad is that it's laughably easy to prepare and you can add anything you fancy. All you do is prepare the Cous Cous in like two seconds, take a big spoonful or so of salsa (the kind you have with corn chips), and maybe some paprika or garlic oil - then add some filler. Today I've included wonderfully colourful carrots, a large cucumber, cherry tomatoes from the garden, greek feta and sunflower seeds (you could also rock it with olives, basil leaves, pine nuts, whatever). 

Of course, it's probably more appropriate as a side salad with a barbeque - but who wants to slave over a stove when there's summer to enjoy? I could live on this stuff for days, and it is just so vibrant! Like Clotilde of Chocolate and Zucchini, I feel that a joyful presentation can greatly increase your enjoyment and even change your experience - who would want to eat some low-grade chocolate at Easter unless it was in the shape of and egg? 

Speaking of which, I went to a department store a couple of weeks ago and they were selling bunnies and eggs. Is it appropriate to be appalled?

P.S. I named this 'Volcanic Cookery' because the salad is a tasty mountain filled with explosively delicious fresh ingredients. And better yet, it won't spew ash, darken the sky and destroy the village. 

Edit: This post was largely written on that awful weekend when that heatwave reached its sick climax. Now its 21˚C, raining, and I'm wearing a woolen jumper. It boggles the mind. My next food installment in the next couple of days will be the winter-licious Poor Soup with Love-Heart Pasta. 

Tuesday, February 10, 2009