Monday, January 31, 2011


I've been mulling over the notion of roadblocks.

There are several metaphors - cliches all - for unnecessary complications in business and life. Road blocks. Spanners in the works. Red tape. Sacred cows (which apparently make the best burgers).

They all leave me with a faint sense that the person using the cliche is a bit of a cowboy (to use another cliched metaphor).

In our hectic current world, we don't lime to wait. We're busy, we're used to instant gratification, and we don't like being questioned. What do you mean why am I parking in the disabled space? I'm in a hurry! Don't be such a goody two shoes! No-one was using it and there are two others... See? Cowboys.

So I think a bit of speed limiting on the highway of life might be fine. Too often in business I see speed trumps outcome: forget the quality, look at those turnaround times! We don't want to just start with the end in mind, we want to keep it continually in mind if we want to arrive at our desired outcome.

Good communication is needed to explain the necessary roadblocks so people respect and comply with them. A less understood part of good communications is removing - or at least pointing out - the UNneccesary roadblocks. So don't just offer a good deal, make sure your sales staff enthusiastically support, even offer the deal. A customer shouldn't walk into your store and have to explain the nature of the offer to your staff. Or worse, require the intervention of the manager to obtain it. (Don't laugh, this is a common problem .)

As the old saying goes, a gentleman never unintentionally offers an insult. We all, whatever our gender, should try to be gentlemen.

This is post 19 (20?) of 43 posts.
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Sunday, January 30, 2011

Measurement, jigsaws, change & people

Change is driven by measurement: measure the current situation , decide how you want that measure to change, make the change then measure progress toward a goal point.

Today on the Mac App Store I found dozens of apps to map, measure and record any and every element of my bodily functions, time, expenses, food intake, exercise regime, and more.

Historically it was quite difficult, and laborious (expensive in both labour and materials) to measure in this way. It's possible today to measure almost anything, and more to measure almost everything.

The hard part is knowing what to measure. When we can measure everything, it's possible to defer action for longer. Paralysis by measurement. The easier it is for our computers to track data for us, it seems the less attention we may pay to that data. Or perhaps the harder it is for us to make sense of that data.

As both a business manager and as a communications consultant, a lot of my work involves finding the piece of the jigsaw that makes sense of all the other pieces. Where do we insert our attention, our measurement and our actions to make the necessary or desirable change?

My experience is that it's not usually where you expect.

Change is usually small in terms of action but profound in terms of outcome. In business, 'convert' even 1% more sales leads and you'll add a much higher percentage to your bottom line.

Reduce one unnecessary or unwieldy step in the process and you'll have a cheaper and more efficient process. Each of these small changes then can have a huge impact on how customers see your business, and how your business sees itself.

This can be useful in our personal lives and in our relationships too. We want a particular outcome. We usually assume 'someone' is doing (or not doing) something. We don't remember to look at ourselves and our behavior. We don't look at the situation and how it may be affecting both of us.

When we get even a small change 'right', we increase our power to make more change. If we choose to.

This is post 19 of 43 posts.
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Saturday, January 29, 2011

In praise of scones

Ah yes, another food-related post. Note to self: stop writing these when you're hungry!

Yesterday I made some scones. [Somewhere between biscuits and individual shortcakes for my North American readers.] The scone is one of those humble foodstuffs that can be underrated. The availability of mass-produced, over-sweet, inferior scones is threatening the Real Thing, which is now an endangered species. Which is a pity.

Scones are the perfect life-support system for good jam and cream. Or good cheese (especially if you're short of good bread). I like mine with 'just butter' too. Cheese and herb scones are good for those who don't have a sweet tooth, or for dunking in soups and stews. I have a soft spot for scones with dried fruit as my Aunties made them when I was a child, I just never seem to make them for myself. Probably because I can't do it as well.

A guest always feels welcomed - even fussed over - if you make scones, yet with the foolproof technique it takes less than 10 minutes to make up a batch (this includes finding the kitchen notebook which lists the quantities you can never remember, and changing your mind about which size oven tray to use), and 10-15 minutes to cook, even in my unreliable oven.  That's just time to dig out your favourite jams, and put the kettle on. Its quicker than going to the shops for a pack of biscuits, cheaper and nicer too.

2 cups of self-raising flour
50 gms butter
150 mls milk
extra milk to glaze   [Some people prefer egg or egg and milk. It takes all sorts, I suppose.]

To serve: good jam, cream (runny or whipped as you prefer, clotted if you're feeling indulgent), also great with lemon curd, another old fashioned delicacy.

Foolproof scone technique:

Preheat your oven to 200'C. Yes, you really have to for scones.

Scone dough wants as little handling as possible. I used to cut the butter in using a food-processor, then add the milk and quickly combine with my (scrupulously clean) hands. That works fairly well but you have to clean the food-processor afterward, which is a bore and a deterrent.

A friend, who makes great scones, uses melted butter, because that's-the-way-Mum-always-did-it. So throw the melted butter in, mix it into the flour until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs (or you can't be bothered messing anymore) and then add the milk.

The dough should be, if anything, damp rather than dry. Throw it onto a floured surface and pat it into a squarish round about 1.5cms thick. Or 2cms if you prefer really high scones.

Cut the scones clean through without dragging the knife back-and-forth. If you use a glass or a cookie cutter, press down and pull straight up, never twist as the dough will be caught  and your scones won't rise. Glaze the top with a bit of milk.

Stick them on a baking tray. I use either a baking sheet or baking parchment so I don't have to grease.  Spread them a little apart or they'll join up in the cooking.

Bake at 200'C for 12-15 minutes. In a good fan-forced oven, I'd check after 10 minutes. It can take as long as 20 minutes if your oven is very geriatric.

What NOT to do with a scone:

  1. Microwave it. Just. Don't. It will be soggy and rubbery with an ice cold bit in the middle and the edges so hot your whipped cream melts and goes oily.
  2. Refrigerate it. Scones are quick breads, so you eat the them same day and that's all there is to it. In my house there are seldom any leftovers, and so no moral dilemma of 'to fridge or not to fridge'. But if there were, I wouldn't.  In desperate cases I have found a couple of rock-hard, day-old scones are excellent for sopping up casserole or stew gravy.

This is post 18 of 43 posts.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Future proof?

I've heard the term 'future proof' once too often. It's a bit like foolproof: it's almost impossible because they are always building better fools. And different futures.

It's hubris on a huge scale, this claiming to utterly predict the future. Even the best Futurists only get bits of it right. And usually not in the way they expected.

The best way to 'future proof' yourself is to be ready to be surprised. By all means track trends and back your hunches, I'm not saying don't get insurance or don't plan for the future, just don't commit your entire soul, your whole future happiness to one particular future. Stay awake, and always maintain a possible doubt.

Here in Australia we were hearing a lot about drought and climate change until the recent floods. Now I read in the paper it's El Nina(?) and it's going to be wet for up to twenty years. Although only 43, I've already lived long enough to recall the utter conviction of many experts and lay people alike that we were entering a new ice age. So I'm a bit skeptical in general, rather than in a specific climate direction

The only thing less useful than pompous self-righteous conviction in a possibly inaccurate future is the pompous self-righteous gloating of people with an alternate possibly inaccurate future when the facts temporarily run toasted their goal posts.

I know that many astrologers are supposed to make their predictions up, but at least they're usually entertaining about it. And succinct, if vague, because of strict allocation of column inches.

I don't know what the future holds. I didn't ever imagine I would have a device like an iPhone (or that I would love it so much). I didn't envisage my career path unfolding as it has. I didn't imagine getting married, let alone staying that way through twenty years. And I'm glad I didn't know about the bad stuff, about which there's little or nothing I could have done.

Good luck with your future, whatever it turns out to be.

This is post 17 of 43 posts.
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Thursday, January 27, 2011

The fascination of difference

People's behavior fascinates me. It also, occasionally, mystifies me. One of the pleasures of life experience is how it enhances empathy: I've lived through enough to have an inkling about many - even most - situations I come across.

There are circumstances which leave me scratching my head. Not in condemnation; I find you have to understand, or (mistakenly) think you do to get up the necessary righteousness to condemn. Where you truly don't understand where the other person is coming from, it's almost like an itch you can't scratch. It's compulsive. Enquiring minds want to know. It's not idle curiosity either. It's the need to add to my inner map of the world, maybe.

Since I have just enough manners to restrain myself from inappropriate enquiries (usually), it's an itch I can't often scratch. Perhaps that's why I'm drawn to fiction, both reading and writing it, to understand viewpoints that are so very different from my own.

This is post 16 of 43 posts.
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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

What are you most committed to?

What are you most committed to?

World peace? The end of poverty?
The great Australian novel lurking inside you? Losing 10 kilos? Being a good parent? Being a good husband, wife, or significant other? Your blog?

Commitment requires action, and action implies time spent acting. If you consult your hypothetical diary, recorded your day in 6 minute increments - as lawyers do - what would your diary say you're committed to? What's do you commit the biggest slice of your time to?

Work? School? By all means exclude work or school if your 'real' life happens elsewhere. You must include any work hours in excess of 50 per week: the Protestant work ethic is only answerable for so much.

Web surfing? Housework? Chatting on the phone? Phaffing? Going to the gym? Hanging with your mates? Your daily commute? Checking your email? Yelling at your kids? Networking? Study? DVDs or TV? Daydreaming?

We judge ourselves based on our intention, not our actions. Our hypothetical diary might be one way to see ourselves as others see us.

This is post 15 of 43 posts.
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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Gentle Art of Constructive criticism

Now that we've defined how criticism differs from complaint, how do we give feedback so we minimise fallout and maximise results? I call it the Gentle Art of Constructive Criticism...

  1. Make sure your proposed criticism is constructive: "you'll never make it as a writer, so stop wasting your time" is judgement, not constructive criticism. Be kind - sometimes that will mean keep your mouth shut, and sometimes that will mean telling the truth even though you'll suffer for it.
  2. Ask if the person would like your feedback. Unless it's part of your job to critique other people's performance. If so, don't be coy but do give the recipient a choice about when the criticism will happen. (If someone is coming down with the flu, has been chewed out by Joe Public, or has suffered a bereavement now may not be the best time.)
  3. In private. Nobody likes to be criticised in public.
  4. Offer both praise and blame. Surely this person is doing something right?! Scrupulous fairness usually makes criticism harder to dismiss and easier to accept. As a minimum it makes the giver of unpalatable feedback feel better about the task.
  5. Be specific and direct. Don't hint: "there are things you could be doing better... now I'll just leave you to think about that, eh?"
  6. Try to offer a solution, not just a problem. "You suck," doesn't give people much room to improve.
  7. If you're not offering 'drive-by criticism' (and why would you?), be alert to and encouraging of improvement. Or even steps toward progress. Again, keep it private between you and the person you criticised. 

This is post 14 of 43 posts.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Complaint or Criticism?

I will be writing about the gentle art of offering feedback or constructive criticism. But first some clarification of the difference between a (constructive) criticism and a complaint. They are different, and offering them for the right reasons and in the right way involves different techniques.

Stephanie Dowrick suggests we always question our motives before offering criticism, asking, "Is this helpful? To whom?" A lawyer or a mystery writer might ask cui bono? (who benefits?) who benefits is the quickest way to determine a complaint from a criticism.

A complaint is something to be resolved. It invites redress: you complain that your soup is cold because you want the waiter to replace it with hot soup. So a complaint is primarily about you and your satisfaction. You feel you have a grievance. You are probably emotionally involved. You want to benefit from making the complaint.

Constructive criticism or 'feedback' is about the person about whom (and to whom) it is made. The best constructive criticism is disinterested. It doesn't serve our ends, it's just about helping the other person achieve a known or likely goal or objective.

Be wary of any 'feedback' that doesn't align with what you know of the person's intentions or goals. Telling a colleague their desk is really messy is unlikely to have a positive effect on either the desk or your relationship if your colleague couldn't care less that her desk is messy, and indeed has a history of producing her best work from a very 'messy' (ie. active) desk. Some criticism, however benignly meant, is still about us and our needs or wants. in this example, our need for our colleague's desk to be tidy!

If your colleague is having trouble finding important pieces of paper, and bemoans her inability to complete tasks in a timely fashion, she may welcome your tactful suggestions about keeping an orderly desk. Your constructive criticism is aligned with her goals.

Any time we want to criticize someone 'for their own good' we need to stop and count to eleventy-hundred. Chances are we just want to complain about them. Our complaint may even be justified, but it's not constructive criticism.

It's a general belief that most people 'can't take criticism'. I suspect that most people don't like being complained at and about. Sensing the emotional subtext, they suspect our motives, doubt our goodwill, and ignore the useful nugget buried in the spoil.

This is post 13 of 43 posts.
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Sunday, January 23, 2011

Bunnings is evil and must be stopped

Bunnings Warehouse is a very large, supposedly low-cost, hardware store in Australia. DIY Mecca in other words. You know you're middle aged when your idea of a pleasant Sunday morning outing is to go down to Bunnings, ostensibly to purchase some minor-but-essential item, but really to dream about all the things you'll do to your house while you eat a sausage in a bun*.

As everyone in Melbourne who is A) middle-aged and B) middle-class (in the Aussie sense... think desk-bound working class) and C) a home owner knows, it doesn't count as materialist ostentation if it adds value to your house. In that case it's an investment, even if it will be worn out by the time you need to sell in order to fund a retirement villa. It also doesn't count if it's a $6,000 BBQ, for some reason I don't quite fathom, but that's a subject for another post.

Ah, retail therapy! Today I - mentally - spent around $1500 on patio furniture, terracotta pots, a raised vegetable plot and more plants than will fit in my garden. We went in looking for grout to re-grout the shower recess. Funnily enough, we forgot to look at anything as mundane as grout after we visited the Storage, Gardening, Outdoor Living and Power Tools sections. I may have mentally spent it, but I have a feeling that the things I saw will eventually make it onto my actual shopping list. (Only 336 days until Christmas!)

But today was a win, as Mr O and I departed empty-handed - though not empty-stomached, but that doesn't count as purchse, I mean it's for charity, right?!

*In a master stroke of marketing, Bunnings have an outdoor kitchen which they loan out to various charity groups who purvey BBQ sausage in a piece of bread (with or without onion) for around $2.50. I gather its a very successful fundraiser, even better than selling chocolate and only one day's work a time.

This is post 12 of 43 posts.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Lessons from my garden

I'm a novice gardener, having only had a garden for about a year (prior to that I had a porch, so I am more experienced at porching). Today as I was weeding and spreading gravel, I was musing on the lessons I've learned from my garden.

1. You always have to 'suck it and see'. Research and planning increase your chances of success but you won't know if idea is a good one until you act: plant the seed, prune the branch, raise the bed, or lay the gravel. Then, you know.

2. Failure really is an opportunity. I prefer not to kill my plants, as I've usually lavished a certain amount of thought, money and care on them. Once the grief or regret passes, there is a gap in your garden, which means you have to go and buy another plant. Which is seldom a hardship.

3. When you weed does matter. It's never a bad time to weed - any garden always has plenty of weeds. But there are good times to weed: after rain, and before the weed gets too established (or worse, seeds). It's better (easier) to pull some weeds when they're big enough you can rip them out root and all. With other weeds it might be easier, in the long run, to get out there with tweezers. I think a lot of life's little challenges follow broadly similar rules.

4. There are always going to be weeds. If you can't take the weeds, get out of the garden. There's no point getting upset or feeling persecuted. The weeds are not out to get you, they're just living their life with no idea they're in your way. Equally, don't get too sentimental on the 'live and let live' front or weeds are ALL you will have in your garden.

5. How you deal with weeds matters, or at least leads to different outcomes. Some people only pull visible weeds, and leave the roots in place. It's quick and the results look good in the short term. Some people pull out the root and all but are so gimmicky that they only manage a small piece of garden bed and the rest of their garden is a wilderness. Some people weed A little every day, while others prefer to do a huge weeding frenzy every so often. The latter people say to themselves, "I don't have TIME to weed more often, it takes such a long time".

6. Serious gardeners probably don't need gym memeberships. By the time you' e done a couple of hours' weeding, pruning and gravel spreading, your muscles are too tired to go to the gym.

7. Sweating is good for your skin. Who needs a facial? After a hot morning's gardening, my pores are wide open. My skin is never nicer, after a good scrub (to remove salt and dirt) and a moisturizer. I guess that it's a diy mud wrap and salt scrub.

Life is a great teacher if we pay attention. It's like the Buddhist saying: when the student is ready, the teacher will come.

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Friday, January 21, 2011

Our need to make our environment

It is a human characteristic to affect and influence our environment. To NEED to affect and influence our environment. Even that affect seeks to preserve all or part of that environment.

We need to make our environment: microcosm or macrocosm. Small children make cubbies and make believe imaginary worlds. Teenagers make their rooms over. As adults we decorate, renovate and garden. We buy or make custom cars, boats and RVs. Some of us create virtual environments online.

We may want to clean up, we may want to leave things messy. We may want to build new buildings or engineering wonders, and we may want to prevent them being built. Or we may want to put a photo on our wall, or paint it a colour we like.

This can be seen as ego, the need to show that 'we woz 'ere'. It exists as a need beyond ego. It is simply part of what makes us human.

This is post 10 of 43 posts
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Thursday, January 20, 2011

The mojo of the sandwich - part 2

So many sandwiches, so little time... further random musings on what makes a great sandwich.

Part of proportion is getting the layering right. The order of the ingredients matters. So does the format of the ingredients: is the ham shredded or in slices - and are they thick slices or thin? Is the avocado sliced or puréed? Sliced avocado will need an extra 'glue' ingredient to hold it in the sandwich, whereas avocado mash will act as a glue (the Goldilocks principle applies here - neither too much and too little will work). I encourage you to experiment in the privacy of your home: tomato and avocado and spinach is a delicious sandwich, but a very different beast made in different layers. For example if the tomato goes straight on the bread, even buffered by butter, it makes the bread wet and sloppy.

Did you realise that a great sandwich, more than just cuisine, is a significant feat of engineering?

A salad sandwich may just be the great test of the sandwichier's art - getting a salad bowl to stay between two slices of bread (or slabs of ciabatta, as the case may be) is not for the faint-hearted. For this reason, I'm inclined to call the genuine salad sandwich more of a private than a public sandwich. By the time you have tomato, greens (iceberg, mignonette, cos or radichio lettuce, rocket [aka arugula] or spinach leaves, bean sprouts or watercress to name but a few), cucumber (or celery, or zuchini, or radish - they occupy roughly the same niche), avocado, spanish onion [or its more pungent brethren] and grated carrot, you have a lot going on, and all of it slippery, even if you're obsessive-compulsive enough to actually dry the greens after washing them.

A word about mayonnaise: basic 'salad cream' is a mostly regrettable necessity, which seldom adds to the flavour. A good 'real' mayonnaise (hint: it contains actual egg product) is far superior. Taste your mayonnaise or 'salad cream' and if you don't like the taste straight, don't add it to your sandwich. Similar rules apply to mustard and other condiments. Just because a chutney is 'home made' doesn't mean it is nice.

Butter or margarine? Please, always offer both.  Spreadable butter by all means - I don't like my sandwich with holes ripped it in from ice-cold, rock-hard butter either, but given no choice but margarine I'll usually choose bare bread. I'd rather have the delicious cholesterol* than the chemicals, any day. If you include cheese and/or avocado, you may not need spread at all. It is possible to have too much of a good thing.

Toasted or fresh? Here in Australia, I feel we need to Stop the Toasting Madness.  Once, toasted was an extra to be requested. Now I have to remember to beg the sandwichier not to toast. Call me opinionated, but salad - featuring iceberg lettuce! - in a flatbread wrap was never meant to be toasted. (Or not unless you're prepared to disassemble the wrap, remove the greens, lightly toast the open flatbread under a grill, then put the fresh greens back and re-wrap it. No, I didn't think so.) Some cafes even force toasting on me by chilling the pre-made sandwiches so they're nasty eaten 'fresh'.

A focaccia too far? I love bread in most of its manifestations, but novelty in breads leads to regrettable results.  As with mayonnaise, the bread needs to be good to eat. I've attempted to eat many so-called focaccias, ciabattas and turkish breads that in texture and taste could be the bastard offspring of concrete and cardboard. They looked wonderful, lying there all golden and seductive... to tempt you from the path of sandwich righteousness. Always try a new form of bread 'solo' before you commit to a sandwich together.

A sandwich should satisfy various senses: taste is about smell and 'mouth feel' (aka texture), and a public sandwich should look good and (when it gets close enough) smell good too. So there is it is: even the humble sandwich can be elevated by the care, attention and sheer relentless search for perfection we apply to it.

* In the public sandwich, one should always have bread with butter: butter with a side of bread is for private sandwiches, where it goes very well with a glass of good champagne (or is that just me?)

This is post 9 of 43 posts.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The mojo of the sandwich - part 1

Keeping with my food theme, and referring back to the strength of maximizing, today I will share the mojo of the sandwich.

Sandwiches are either private or public. Private sandwiches can be anything the creator/eater prefers. Public sandwiches, including everything from finger sandwiches at cocktail parties to open sandwiches at restaurants with tablecloths, must always conform to their public nature and not expose their eater to embarrassment or ridicule.

There essence of any sandwich is proportion. While it is hard to totally cock up a sandwich, it's also harder than most people realize to make a great sandwich. Too wet, too dry, too many flavours, too plain, to skimpy or too big to get your mouth around: a sandwich can be unsatisfactory in many different ways.

Consider the occasion: finger food sandwiches need to be dainty enough to stay together when raised to the mouth, which means some kind of edible glue: butter, mayo, avocado, cream cheese etc. A finger sandwich also needs to be dry/firm enough not to leak all over the expensive clothes of the eater. For this reason I contend that beetroot, delicious though it is, has no place in the public sandwich.

The ingredients should cover the surface of the bread without heaping in the middle. A centre heap is likely to end in tears, or at least in the eater's lap. The ingredients should be lavish enough to be visible to the named eye. The only possible exception is the Vegemite sandwich - that should NOT be thick enough to see (it is not really a public sandwich).

My experiences in the catering world - both as a discerning consumer and as a provider - suggest that most people prefer simple sandwiches. Two or three generous, quality ingredients are preferred over more complex filling. Classic combinations such as ham and avocado, egg and lettuce, chicken salad and rocket, smoked salmon and cream cheese etc always go early.

Experiment with subtle variations in flavour or texture. I like crispy bacon and avocado - even better with some fresh spinach leaves. I also love cold roast beef, mushroom, tasty cheese and a really good chutney. That is four ingredients, but there is some leeway with condiments. Most people view ham and mustard as 'ham' for example.

Vegetarians often prefer a few high quality ingredients to wild experimentation. I recall a colleague's disgust at shredded carrot and sultana sandwiches, for example. In the roast beef sandwiches mentioned above, I found vegetarians like the same combination without the beef: tasty cheese, mushroom and good relish is great on it's own or with rocket (aragula) or spinach.

The bread should be good quality, obviously. Finger food sandwiches work better with a high end mainstream bread (say, Helga's) rather than true artisan bread which can be a bit crusty to handle well. Different fillings work better with different types of bread: white, brown, wholemeal, light rye or dark rye.

Bon apetit!

This is post 7 of 43 posts
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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Recipe: Savoury Summer Chicken Balls

These moreish morsels are my own invention. Flavoured with tarragon, lemon and grainy mustard, they are good for cocktail parties, or can be tossed onto a salad, or into pasta with Napoli sauce. They also make a great meatball sandwich!

500gms chicken mince
1 egg, beaten
2 tblsp finely chopped Tarragon
4-6 finely chopped spring onions
2 teaspoons of grainy mustard
A dash of Worcestershire sauce
Grated rind & juice of a small lemon or lime
1/2 cup of fresh breadcrumbs and/or ground nuts (walnuts are particularly good in this mixture
1-2 tablespoons mayonnaise
Freshly ground pepper

Combine ingredients and roll teaspoon size portions into balls. You want mixture moist but not so sloppy it makes a huge mess when you roll the balls in flour to prevent sticking.

Either fry in hot oil for 2-3 mins or until brown or bake in the oven at 180'c-200'c for about 20 mins.

Makes 4 dozen small balls. Enjoy!

This is post 6 of 43.
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Monday, January 17, 2011


How often do you indulge yourself with consolations, rather than actually be/do/have what you really want?

Consolations come in many different forms. Perhaps the successes of our children console us for our own unrealised ambitions? Perhaps that bottle of red, and the pay packet that supports it, consoles us for the lack of meaning in our work? Perhaps our nice house consoles us for the husband or wife who comes with (provides) it?

Many consolations are benign. An exotic holiday or a thrilling movie gives us a touch of excitement that our secure life may lack. Others perpetuate the circumstances for which they offer illusory comfort: chocolate, for example, or adultery.

The pursuit of consolation distracts us from pursuit of our genuine desires. Consolations even distract us from working out just what it is we really desire. We allow our desires to be dictated by the many voices of materialism which whisper, "Go on: don't you deserve a nice dinner/car/house/holiday/outfit?" Wanting what is presented so desirably, which others find desirable too, is simpler and less confronting than working out what exactly has caused that sudden soul-itch. Even - especially - if our inner voice suggests that our true desires exist off the map we are navigating our life by.

The things we truly need may not be easy to 'get', but they may not be impossible either. We owe it to ourselves to look, to consider, to act in our own interests, to seek that we may find. Along the way there is room for a little consolation, but not if it costs us the prize.

This is post 5 of 43 posts.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Good bread

Is there anything in the world nicer to eat than good bread? I'm a bit of a chocaholic, yet given a choice between never eating bread again and never eating chocolate again, the bread would win. No contest.

(The bread I'm currently enjoying is Phillipa's bread, if you're a Melbourne local and can get it.)

Do we overvalue chocolate because it is a luxury? Because it has the glamour of forbidden fruit? Yet in the 21st century it can be harder to find a reliable source of good bread than a reliable source good of chocolate.

That's probably a good metaphor for other aspects of our consumer culture, don't you think?

This is post 4 of 34 posts.
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Saturday, January 15, 2011

The public interest

Sometimes I wonder, really I do. In my cranky old trout-dom I question (some of) the freedoms of the press. I even find myself thinking that there are some things that need not be put in the paper or any other news medium.
There's stuff we'd rather not know but we need to know: corruption and other semi-private misdemeanors when they impinge on public performance. I have little interest in any politician's sex life, but I do see that a criminal sex life is relevant, for example.
There's heart warming human interest too. By all means share with me the miraculous rescue of any person and most animals. It helps to break up the advertisements at least.
When it comes to crime and disaster coverage, I'm mystified. Yes, I do need to know if crime rises or new types of crime begin to occur. I probably don't need to read glamourisation of criminals or the glorification via condemnation of their acts.
Also, seeing I've mounted a hobby horse here, how is this stuff in the public interest? The crime rate is generally holding steady - there aren't actually more bashings of frail pensioners, just more column inches devoted to them. Yet many older people are terrified and terrorized by such reportage.
Is my interest served by reading about people who have murdered their children? Yes, people do such things and most of us find it hard to understand. All I get from reading about these crimes - which I actively try to avoid doing - is a harrowing of my soul and an exaggerated sense of hopeless about the future of humanity.
The same goes for reading about failed rescues in the recent Queensland floods. I understand that it's not in the public interest to sanitize the facts, people lost their lives and that was utterly terrible. I just wonder whose good is served by a dwelling on the pitiful and pitiable circumstances surrounding those deaths,,,? Apart from the news producers', naturally. They've convinced us that its our duty to look, but I'm not sure I buy that.
My good is not served, nor is the good of the bereaved family and loved ones. Unless the death has a training purpose, then the less said the better. In extraordinary circumstances like the floods or Victoria's bushfires two summers past, or a building which terrorists have just blown up, there isn't much of a 'takeaway' beyond hoping you're never in that circumstance, and if you ever ARE, doubtless you'll do your best under those circumstances.
The real news produces more than enough anxiety and depression without the ghoulish relishing of (others') misfortune. So if war breaks out or interest rates rise again, somebody poke me. I won't be consuming any news sections for the time being.
This is post 3 of 43 posts.
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Friday, January 14, 2011

Maximise, she says

During a discussion of what makes a good job, a wise woman told me to check out the Gallup Strengthsfinder 2.0 as one strength, Maximiser, sounded like me:

Excellence, not average, is your measure. Taking something from below average to slightly above average takes a great deal of effort and in your opinion is not very rewarding. Transforming something strong into something superb takes just as much effort but is much more thrilling.
Seek roles in which you are helping other people succeed. In coaching, managing, mentoring, or teaching roles, your focus on strengths will prove particularly beneficial to others. For example, because most people find it difficult to describe what they do best, start by arming them with vivid descriptions.

We each have 5 dominant strengths, and this is just one. It's one I didn't have a name for before. Knowledge is power. This is a hard concept to explain in a resumé: I have been threatening for a while now to have business cards printed with 'agent provocateur' as the job description.

Want to know about your own strengths? Buy one of the strengthsfinder books (from bookdepositry) and you get a key that allows you to take your own strengths questionnaire.

This is post 2 of 43 posts.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

A job well done

Life and work are more enjoyable when we can take satisfaction from the job itself. Doing what needs to be done, to an acceptable standard (or better) can be a significant reward if we value the task at hand. Even if no-one else rewards us.

Sometimes the task is undervalued by our peers and/or those whom we serve (bosses, clients, children, etc.). Stay-at-home parents are familiar with their work being invisible until it isn't done.

Sometimes the task is undervalued by us: most of us have, at some point in our life, thought, "Why do I have to do this boring/tiring/dirty/menial/basic/repetitive task?" Jim's Mowing keeps a lot of people in business by recognizing this. The outcome is valued, but the task itself is not. This is a pity.

Occasionally (or more often in a large bureaucracy), we do a task that is pointless or counterproductive. There is very little job satisfaction to be had in, for example, filing reports no-one cares about or will ever read. More often, we don't have our head on right. We're living in the future and not honoring what we're doing right now.

Today I have been scrubbing mould. Yes, it has been wet and warm for more than a week now and the 'comfort facilities' at my music school are in the basement. The mould has been enjoying our absence during the Christmas/New year break.

Scrubbing mould is not a dainty task, but I found it enormously satisfying because I know why it needs doing, I was the only person available so I didn't have the option to delegate it to someone else, and because cream paintwork looks better cream. (The - only - nice thing about really bad mould is that you can really see the results of your labours when you scrub it off.) Funnily enough the many people who would like to own their own business seldom realize how much emergency cleaning is likely to be involved.

Oh yes, and hard physical work puts paid to insomnia. So I'm off to bed.

This is post 1 of 43 posts.
Sent from my iPhone

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Instances of the number 43

Recently I turned 43, and it's been 43 days since my last post. I only noticed after thinking, 'it can't be that long since I last posted...' but it has. So why did I decide to post today, rather than on New Year's Day or my birthday? There ought to be some meaning or significance in that. I wish I knew what it was.

I find the number 43 odd. The same way some words look odd when you write them down and then think, 'that can't be right...' A good friend tells me it may be because it's a prime number and therefore only divisible by itself and 1. So 43 is a number that doesn't play nice with others. Both 42 and 44 are somehow more approachable.  There ought to be some meaning or significance in that. I wish I knew what it was.

In advertisements when I was a child, Nescafe told us there were 43 beans in every cup. Twenty years later, when first introduced to chocolate coated coffee beans, an acquaintance ate them by the handful on the basis of that advertising campaign. He regretted it later when he didn't sleep that night. The only meaning and significance I can find in that is caveat emptor or perhaps all marketers are liars.

Anyway, I've decided to commit to posting for the next 43 days (starting tomorrow). Basically, it's harnessing serendipity to create an arbitrary and convenient goal post to aim toward in this post-Christmas summer slacking season. There ought to be some meaning or significance in that. If you find some, do let me know what it is.