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How do you make toffee apples?

31 Mar

Tonight I have the good fortune to be staying in Adelaide, a place I once used to live, work and dream of getting out of.

Now, I’m being a little bit harsh with that last comment, especially as I made some great friends while working there for three years. And it was one of them who reminded me of my almost literal fall from grace when I sprained my ankle perving on boys (at least that’s how she puts in). Clearly I should explain.

At the time, I was working as Features Editor for the Sunday Mail, where my rounds included entertainment. So every year when the Adelaide Fringe Festival rolled into town, I was snowed under with more stories, reviews and tickets than I could shake a leg at.

One year, as part of the gig, I headed down to the city’s parklands to interview two guys who were members of a famous strongman show that involved lifting each other in all sorts of weird and wonderful ways to the huge delight of the audience. And it’s here things went pear-shaped.

My friends will tell you I’ve always been partial to a bit of hot shoulder action, so when these two HUGELY muscled gents appeared wearing only singlet tops, I stopped looking at the ground and consequently tread in a hole, spraining my ankle badly. I needed physiotherapy, which sucked, but in the tradition of silver linings everywhere, the gents in question did carry me back to my car.

Anyway, all the pain made me doubly determined to see their show. And it was as good as the hype suggested. But the memory that really stands out is the toffee apple I had at intermission.

It had been years, nay decades, since I’d last indulged. And my memory had not let me down on how delicious they were. So tonight, after relaying my sad tale of woe, I decided it was time to revisit the past and find out how to make them. Reader moriais on taste kitchen came to the rescue. So here goes…

TOFFEE APPLES

Ingredients
15 small apples, red or green
4 cups white sugar
1 tsp white vinegar
1 cup water
1 tsp red food colouring

Method
Lightly grease a baking tray. Wash and dry the apples and insert chop sticks, thick wooden skewers or paddle pop sticks into each apple. Combine sugar, vinegar and water in a small heavy based pot. Bring to the boil and stir in the food colouring. Heat to 150C or simmer for about 20 minutes or until a small amount of syrup dropped into cold water reaches crack stage – it should set hard and be hard to crack with your fingers. 
Remove pot from the heat and stand in a baking dish of water until the mixture stops bubbling. When the mixture has stopped boiling, hold an apple by its stick, dip into the syrup, tilt the pan (and the apple) until the whole apple is covered. Rotate the apple and let it drain a little then place on a baking tray to harden.Repeat with the remaining apples.

Oh. My. God. How delicious does this sound? Soooo worth the effort. Now if anyone needs me, I will be in the bathroom trying to unglue my jaw!

 

 

How did The Rock get his nickname?

30 Mar

As I have already complained written about several times this week, I embarked on a massive spring cleaning project at the start of my current holidays.

Part of this involved loading all my CDs on to iTunes. And while I talked the other day about finding enough Kylie Minogue to make me happy, there was one other disc that really caught my eye – and not in a good way. It was called You Can’t See Me and was released by John Cena, a name that will be instantly familiar to rednecks and young boys as he’s a superstar of the wrestling word.

Anyway, while he seems to have a decent voice I can’t say I found much inspiration in tracks such as Don’t F*** With Us, which I imagine is a sensitive exploration of the human psyche. But it did remind me I’d been seeing adverts for a WWE match-up between Cena and The Rock. And naturally, I then wanted to know how The Rock got his nickname.

Truth be told if my real name was Dwayne Johnson and I wanted to build my action man persona, I would probably change it too. But it seems the reason is actually personal. When he first began pro wrestling, the athlete used the name Rocky Maivia to honour his father, Rocky Johnson, and grandfather, Peter Maivia. This was later shortened to The Rock as befits his charisma and ringside popularity, although he now prefers to go by his real name, especially given how hot he is in Hollywood.

And you know what? That’s more than fine by me. I mean would you want to argue with him?

Did Kylie Minogue’s famous gold hot pants really cost 50 pence?

27 Mar

You know you’re in trouble when you have to hire a mini skip to do a spring clean. And sadly that’s the situation I found myself in today.

Now, in case you think I’m a crazy woman hoarding cats, used tissues and/or tins of Spam, I should point out my trash was 90 per cent magazines as I am obsessed with them and love to read and re-read them.

But every so often I have a brain snap and decide to de-clutter. So out go tabloid tales of Princess Kate, the Kardashians and Ryan Reynolds and in comes a feeling of smug domestic goddess satisfaction.

Anyway, I don’t know if it was something in the water, but while cleaning up I decided to attack my collection of CDs as well. I mean they take up a LOT of space and since I have a neighbour I know would adore them, I decided to upload the tracks to iTunes and bid them farewell.

And it’s here the night turned judgemental.

You see, I am exceedingly well-known across several states (and even continents) for allegedly having uncool music taste. As if it’s somehow shameful to still know the words to Gotta Pull Myself Together by The Nolans.

But as I uploaded and burned, even I had to confess that the lyrics “boom, boom, boom, let’s go back to my room” are unlikely to be uttered in a Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech any time soon.

Then I hit on gold – a stack of Kylie Minogue discs dating back to the early days of her career. When the power ballad Especially For You was just about the most romantic thing this teenage duck had ever heard.

 

Since those early days I’ve loved everything from Shocked (remember the scandal around whether she’d replaced the title word with another starting with f?) and What Do I Have To Do? to Love At First Sight, although I was apparently the only person in the world not to like Can’t Get You Out Of My Head.

Then there’s Spinning Around, which apparently rebooted her career in 2000, although some of us had stayed loyal. But of course for most people the music isn’t the most memorable part of that song – it’s those hot pants.

I wanted to know if it’s true they really only cost 50 pence. And the short answer is, yes. But they weren’t even intended for a film clip. As the star herself told Who: “I wore them for a ‘Nerds, Tarts and Tourists’ fancy dress party – I’ll leave it to you to imagine which one I went as!”

Kylie also revealed she wasn’t necessarily as carefree in them as she appeared.

“I actually wasn’t confident (in them), that’s the crazy thing. I remember feeling quite self-conscious and kept wrapping a robe around me on set and would discard (it) right before the take.”

If only she had known what a phenomenon they would become.

Now watch the film clip.

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Who is responsible for flanno shirts?

26 Mar

I am a pretty keen student of the different empirical divides that make up our social hierarchy.

Now, in theory, this makes me sound like the Sir David Attenborough of the human world. But in reality it simply means I enjoy making fun of bogans.

Let me say upfront I know I am about to be an outright snob. But there’s just something very wrong about a group whose commitment to sophistication centres on wearing their good double plugger thongs to a formal occasion.

And don’t even get me started on the cringeworthiness that is rats tails, tramp stamps, stonewash jeans and Fruity Lexia drunk straight from the cask.

Then there are flannelette shirts.

If Winnie Blues are the bogan’s favourite accessory, the mighty flannelette shirt is their uniform of choice. Not because they’re paying tribute to the revolution that was grunge music or because it’s practical for work, but simply because they like them. Especially teamed with black jeans and a hotted up Commodore.

So who is responsible for popularising this fashion atrocity? I had to know. And would it surprise you to learn he was American?

His name was Hamilton Carhartt, which probably makes him sound like the Ed Hardy of his time. But that’s an unfair call to make since Hamilton did not own a bedazzler, did not seek to clothe the torso and buttocks of every B grade star who called the Jersey Shore home and actually designed them for practical purposes.

In fact his inspiration was about as unglamorous as you can get – creating clothes to meet the needs of the 1800s working class, such as those employed on the railway. If only it had *sigh* stayed that way.

You can read more about Hamilton here.

But in the meantime, courtesy of a fabulous book /website called Things Bogan Like, I present a list of other things bogans like…

* Perspective-based photos at famous landmarks
* Spurious allergies
* Slater & Gordon
* Misspelling their kids’ names
* Prefacing racist statements with ‘I’m not racist but…’
* Tribal tattoos
* Buddhist iconography as home furnishings
* Ill-informed analysis of the Qur’an
* Petrol consumption as recreation
* Political correctness gone mad

 

 

Is yawning really contagious?

25 Mar

Yesterday was election day in Queensland. And as I predicted, the ruling Labour Party was shellacked to the point where it may no longer even qualify as a party.

The avalanche of seats falling to the Liberal party was so all-encompassing it soon became boring. So the guests at a friend’s election party took to trying to get Channel 9 to show off their tweets.

Most of us failed but one friend, Rob, made the cut with this gem: “Please tweet this so Lisa has to pay me $5”. Which I did.  Although it made things a bit expensive when they persisted in showing it time after time after time.

Anyway, I ended up bailing early because I was so exhausted I couldn’t stop yawning and didn’t want  it to spread to everyone else. But as I shared my admittedly weak explanation, I suddenly wondered if this urban myth was actually true. There was only team I trusted to tell me the answer. The MythBusters of course.

And here’s the experiment they conducted on the topic.

MYTH: IS YAWNING CONTAGIOUS?

Explanation: A 2006 study found monkeys yawn in response to seeing other monkeys yawn. Could it be then that yawning is similarly contagious in humans, monkeys’ fellow primates?

MythBusters Kari Byron, Tory Belleci and Scottie Chapman corralled unwitting volunteers to find out whether people unconsciously pick up this jaw-dropping behavior from each other. To that end, the MythBuster team converted a large van into a psychological chamber designed to relax participants and prompt them to unknowingly catch a yawn from Kari.

Many hours and many participants later, the MythBusters’ data showed that when people inside the van weren’t exposed to Kari’s yawning, they still yawned 25 percent of the time. But when Kari caught flies in front of them, they yawned 4 percent more often. Though that’s not an enormous increase, since they tested 50 people in the field, the gap was still wide enough for the MythBusters to confirm that yawning is indeed contagious.

STATUS: CONFIRMED

Yet that wasn’t the end of my discoveries for the day. On a whim I jumped into Adam’s biography only to discover he has quite the Hollywood background beyond the show. Which isn’t surprising when you discover his father was a puppeteer on The Muppets.

Here’s some interesting things he’s done  …

* Appeared in the video for Billy Joel’s Only Human (Second Wind).

* Worked as a model maker on everything from the Matrix trilogy and Galaxy Quest to Attack of the Clones and Home Alone 3.

* Played himself on The Simpsons.

* Worked on commercials for everyone from Burger King to Coca-Cola.

Pretty cool stuff, hey? And Jamie’s background is just as varied and interesting. But let’s save him for another time…

Who created Adrian Mole?

24 Mar

Anyone under the age of about 30 should consider tuning out of this blog post right now, because I’m going to discuss someone you’ve probably never heard of.

His name is Adrian Mole, he is the very definition of a whingeing Pom and his diaries kept me entertained right throughout my school years and beyond.

Created by Sue Townsend, the character first appeared in The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole age 13 ¾ back in 1982. And since’s it been reprinted in 30th anniversary form, I thought it timely to check back in.

The basic synopsis of the plot, as recounted at Townsend’s official website, paints Mole as a “hapless teenager providing an unabashed, pimples-and-all-glimpse into adolescent life”. In his case this includes parental marriage woes, the endless zits that plague his face, his fear of school bully Barry Kent, his love for Pandora and his status as a ‘misunderstood intellectual’.

Nor are they just teenage afflictions as he grows up to enjoy a very unimpressive love life and career centred on the world of newts. But what do you expect from such an inauspicious childhood? Here’s an extract from that first teenage diary …

Thursday, January 1
BANK HOLIDAY IN ENGLAND, IRELAND, SCOTLAND AND WALES
These are my New Year’s resolutions:
I will help the blind across the road.
I will hang my trousers up.
I will put the sleeves back on my records.
I will not start smoking.
I will stop squeezing my spots.
I will be kind to the dog.
I will help the poor and ignorant.
After hearing the disgusting noises from downstairs last  night, I have also vowed never to drink alcohol.
My father got the dog drunk on cherry brandy at the party last night. If the RSPCA hear about it he could get done. Eight days have gone by since Christmas Day but my mother still hasn’t worn the green lurex apron I bought her for Christmas! She will get bathcubes next year.
Just my luck, I’ve got a spot on my chin for the first day of the New Year!

Friday, January 2nd
BANK HOLIDAY IN SCOTLAND. FULL MOON
I felt rotten today. It’s my mother’s fault for singing My Way at two o’clock in the morning at the top of the stairs. Just my luck to have a mother like her. There is a chance my parents could be alcoholics. Next year I could be in a children’s home. The dog got its own back on my father. It jumped up and knocked down his model ship, then ran into the garden with the rigging tangled in its feet. My father kept saying, ‘Three months’ work down the drain’, over and over again. The spot on my chin is getting bigger. It’s my mother’s fault for not knowing about vitamins.

Saturday, January 3rd
I shall go mad through lack of sleep! My father has banned the dog from the house so it barked outside my window all night. Just my luck! My father shouted a swear-word at it. If he’s not careful he will get done by the police for obscene language. I think the spot is a boil. Just my luck to have it where everybody can see it. I pointed out to my mother I hadn’t had any vitamin C today. She said, ‘Go and buy an orange, then’. This is typical. She still hasn’t worn the lurex apron. I will be glad to get back to school.

Sunday, January 4th
SECOND AFTER CHRISTMAS
My father has got the flu. I’m not surprised with the diet we get. My mother went out in the rain to get him a vitamin C drink, but as I told her, ‘It’s too late now’. It’s a miracle we don’t get scurvy. My mother says she can’t see anything on my chin, but this is guilt because of the diet. The dog has run off because my mother didn’t close the gate. I have broken the arm on the stereo. Nobody knows yet, and with a bit of luck my father will be ill for a long time. He is the only one who uses it apart from me. No sign of the apron.

Monday, January 5th
The dog hasn’t come back yet. It is peaceful without it. My mother rang the police and gave a description of the dog. She made it sound worse than it actually is: straggly hair over its eyes and all that. I really think the police have got better things to do than look for dogs, such as catching murderers. I told my mother this but she still rang them. Serve her right if she was murdered because of the dog. My father is still lazing about in bed. He is supposed to be ill, but I noticed he is still smoking! Nigel came round today. He has got a tan from his Christmas holiday. I think Nigel will be ill soon from the shock of the cold in England. I think Nigel’s parents were wrong to take him abroad. He hasn’t got a single spot yet.

Tuesday, January 6th
EPIPHANY. NEW MOON
The dog is in trouble!
It knocked a meter-reader off his bike and messed all the cards up. So now we will all end up in court I expect. A policeman said we must keep the dog under control and asked how long it had been lame. My mother said it wasn’t lame, and examined it. There was a tiny model pirate trapped in its left front paw.
The dog was pleased when my mother took the pirate out and it jumped up the policeman’s tunic with its muddy paws. My mother fetched a cloth from the kitchen but it had strawberry jam on it where I had wiped the knife, so the tunic was worse than ever. The policeman went then. I’m sure he swore. I could report him for that.
I will look up ‘Epiphany’ in my new dictionary.

Anyway, I’m sure you get the point. And on it goes. You can read more here – as well as extracts from the other Adrian Mole books and collections of his poetry, essays and more – but in the meantime I also enjoyed an interview with the author. You can read the full Q&A here but the below is a great taste…

Do you have a favourite diary entry from the last 30 years?
Saturday April 3 1982 – The last line in the last entry of The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, aged 13 3/4. Written after he had tried glue sniffing and accidentally stuck a model aeroplane to his nose: ‘I rang Pandora, she is coming round after her viola lesson. Love is the only thing that keeps me sane…’
I also like the sequence of entries in the same book made when Mole was trying to paint his bedroom black to cover the Noddy wallpaper; only to be repeatedly thwarted by the bell on Noddy’s hat.

What has been Adrian’s biggest mistake?
To ignore the many persons who have told him his serial killer comedy, The White Van, and his memoir Lo, the Flat Hills of my Homeland, are unpublishable. Mole does not suffer from a lack of self-belief in this regard.
At the Dept of the Environment when he misplaced a decimal point, and erroneously stated that the projection of live newt births for Newport Pagnall was 120,000.

And his greatest triumph?
He still believes his awful novels will be published one day.
That he is still a decent, kind person.

If Adrian Mole was a teenager today, what would he be doing and writing about?
He would be exactly the same, but he wouldn’t be using Twitter to memorialise his life. He would keep a secret diary. Mole’s privacy is still intact. He would not use social networking.
There are still Mole types everywhere, watching the absurdities of the world from the sidelines.

Now watch a clip from the TV show…

Why are there ravens at the Tower of London?

22 Mar

Today’s knowledge quest started off with a focus on Blackadder. Specifically I had it in my mind to find out who wrote Baldrick’s infamous line “I have a cunning plan My Lord”, which so often preceded disaster by mere seconds.

Yet in a strange twist of fate, I ended up veering well and truly off course. And it’s all Wikipedia’s fault.

You see I was reading up on Baldrick when I came upon a suggestion one of the Tower of London ravens was named for the character. And while the inspiration doesn’t seem to have ever been formally acknowledged, it’s held to be true.

So clearly, ravens are a serious business at this most English of historical/tourist attractions. And I wanted to know why.

The answer lies back in the hands of time, with a legend that says the kingdom will fall if the birds ever leave. So Charles II, who ruled in the 1600s, decreed there must always be at least six in residence.

Responsibility for maintaining the status quo falls to someone called the Raven Master, whose responsibilities range from trimming their feathers to feeding them 6oz of raw meat and blood soaked bird formula biscuits every day.plus an egg once a week and an occasional rabbit (apparently the fur is good for them).

You can read more about them here, but the current seven inhabitants – six and a spare – are as follows…

* Porsha (female)
* Hugine (female)
* Pearl (female)
* Erin (female)
* Merlin (female)
* Rocky (male)
* Munin (female)

 Here’s a few other raven facts..

  • The tower’s oldest ever raven resident was Jim Crow, who died at 44.
  • Escapes are rare but do happen. One bird, appropriately called Grog, was last seen outside a pub in 1981.
  • There are also occasional sackings such as George, who was let go in 1986 because he kept chewing on TV antennas. As you do.

And now for a moment of Baldrick.

“I’ve got a plan so cunning you could put a tail on it and call it a weasel.”

How do you make an apple tart?

20 Mar

I have a friend whose sole ambition in life is to be Martha Stewart.

Goodness knows why, as she would look terrible in prison garb (and seems to have conveniently glossed over the whole insider training thing), but the idea of a world that’s beautiful from the moment you wake until the moment you go to bed has her enthralled.

Now, that sounds kind of Stepfordy to me – I love clutter and lots of it. But I can appreciate the desire for an elegant life. However if we’re going to do things stylishly, I’m more about Donna Hay, especially since she’s Australian.

As I’ve noted before, I buy a lot of magazines, and Donna is often among them, not so much because I want her recipes (although they are delicious) but more because I adore her colour palette and gorgeous food styling. So naturally, when I was trying to find something to take to a Queensland election party on Saturday night (I tip an absolute shellacking for Anna Bligh and Labour) there was nowhere else to turn but her website.

And she came to the party, with the below recipe – from her entertaining section – proving just the trick. It’s so easy and looks so professional I already know I will have to spend half the night trying to convince people I actually made it myself. Oh well, so worth it. Here goes…

DONNA HAY’S EASY APPLE TART

Ingredients
2 red apples, thinly sliced
2 tsp brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
80g butter, melted
1 sheet ready-prepared puff pastry
1 egg, lightly beaten
Double (thick) cream to serve

Method
Preheat oven to 200C. Place the apple, sugar, cinnamon and butter in a small bowl and mix to combine. Cut the pastry into four equal squares and score the edges to create a 1cm border. Layer with the apple mixture and brush with the egg. Place on a baking tray lined with non-stick baking paper and cook for 10–15 minutes or until golden and puffed. Serve with double cream or ice-cream.

Apparently, the recipe is supposed to serve four people but clearly, Donna has never met my family!

Bon appetit!

Did St Patrick really banish snakes from Ireland?

17 Mar

You know it’s St Patrick’s Day when you turn on the TV just in time to hear some dim-witted host utter the immortal line “to be sure, to be sure”.

I mean honestly, I’ve never met an Irish person who actually says that. Nor have I met any who subsist on just potatoes and leprechaun gold.

But year after year the same stereotypes get trotted out. Much in the same way, I guess, as a Canadian airport worker once yelled “Crikey” at me after discovering I hailed from the land of Steve Irwin.

Anyway, knowing how much fantasy surrounds the annual festival on March 17, I came to wonder if many of the stories about St Patrick – Ireland’s patron saint – might also be a little (or entirely) embellished. And turns out they are. The History Channel offered more information.

For starters, St Pat wasn’t even from Ireland; he was born in Britain but kidnapped by Irish raiders as a teenager and taken to the Emerald Isle. After gaining his freedom he returned to England for religious instruction before returning to Ireland as a missionary. Here’s two more myths they bust…

St Patrick banished snakes from the Emerald Isle
Legend has it Patrick stood on an Irish hillside and delivered a sermon that drove the island’s serpents into the sea. While it’s true the Emerald Isle is mercifully snake-free, chances are that’s been the case throughout human history. Water has surrounded Ireland since the end of the last glacial period, preventing snakes from slithering over; before that, it was blanketed in ice and too chilly for the cold-blooded creatures. Scholars believe the snake story is an allegory for St. Patrick’s eradication of pagan ideology.

Green has historically been associated with St Patrick’s Day
The Irish countryside may be many shades of green, but knights in the Order of St Patrick wore a colour known as St Patrick’s blue. Why did green become so emblematic of St Patrick that people began drinking green beer, wearing green and, of course, dyeing the Chicago River green to mark the holiday he inspired? The association probably dates back to the 18th century, when supporters of Irish independence used the color to represent their cause.

Of course even with this knowledge that most of the mythology around St Patrick is just that, it’s not going to stop me going in search of a four-leaf clover to bring me good luck in the Lotto. Just think of all the potatoes I could buy with my winnings. To be sure, to be sure…

What is the most valuable suit in 500?

16 Mar

Apart from computer problems here’s what I learnt today – in a game of 500 the order of suits lowest to highest is spades, clubs, diamonds and then hearts.