Archive | February, 2011

Putting an end to pram rage

24 Feb

Today I did something I’ve never done before. I rang talkback radio to add my voice to the debate. What compelled me to pick up the phone? Well apparently an epidemic of rudeness and arrogance has broken out among young mothers – specifically relating to their ‘pram etiquette’ – or lack thereof. The radio discussion was sparked by an opinion piece in the Sydney Morning Herald, titled ‘Hey Mum, push that pram, not your luck’. It read ‘Whether it is walking along a path, meandering around shopping centres or strolling in parks, mothers with prams have the general attitude of ”you’re in my way and if you don’t move I will run you over with my three-wheeled chariot of newborn fire, then I’ll give you a dirty look after I’ve sufficiently rendered your toes lifeless”. Wow. That’s harsh.
 But apparently the general population can relate. When ABC radio’s James Valentine took up the topic on his lunchtime show, he was inundated by indignant calls with many tales of mums running rough-shod over them. It seems people feel about mums-with-prams the way motorists feel about cyclists. We’re less than popular. I felt obliged to launch a spirited defence of pram-drivers everywhere. Yes, it’s true. Most prams are far too big and seem to have a mind of their own. But is that the mum’s fault? I blame the pram makers who seem to work on the premise ‘bigger is better’. Manoervring these prams can be like trying to steer an unco-operative supermarket trolley. They are less controllable than a 2 year old child. Accidents are (inadvertently) bound to happen. And, if we don’t display sufficient contrition, maybe it’s because we’ve had two hours sleep, or our toddler’s just had a tantrum over not getting their tiny teddies. I know there’s no excuse for rudeness – but a little understanding would be appreciated. I’m actually considering putting ‘L’ plates on my pram. Not that I am a learner driver. But I want to tell the world – ‘Yes I’m driving this thing – but I’m not 100% in control so please – be a little forgiving’. If I take the pram to the supermarket, I reckon I say ‘sorry’ about 50 times as I gently try to navigate past other customers. It’s gotten to the point where my toddler automatically says ‘sorry’ whenever we pass anyone. And she’s not even in the pram anymore. It’s just habit. I always give a polite thank you wave if a driver stops to let me pass the road. And, my goodness, if someone actually helps me up stairs with a pram, I nearly kiss them. Now, I don’t want to start a war here. I find most people are very kind and accomodating to young mums – and in return – most mums are very appreciative. However, there are always exceptions to the rule and I have certainly been on the receiving end of some rude and downright dangerous behaviour from other pedestrians and motorists. It’s certainly not unusual for me to drop my pram wheels into the dirt and go off-road from the footpath to accommodate pedestrians. Do I get a thank you? No. In fact, I would say that again, I’m the one saying ‘sorry’ even though I’m giving way! The number of times I’ve nearly been mown down at pedestrian crossings is truly frightening. I can understand a driver maybe not seeing a pedestrian – but failing to spot a pedestrian attached to a very bulky pram is something I don’t get.

However, I do have a theory about how we can all get along a little better. And it comes down to pram-makers producing a better product. If they were a little smaller and more controllable, I think we could reduce anti-pram sentiment from one of ‘rage’ to perhaps ‘mild annoyance’. I used to scoff at families who had multiple prams/strollers. I thought it was total overkill – just another example of parents indulging in material excess. But – I’ve joined the party. I’ve recently purchased a third pram. And I only have two children. And not one of the prams can adequately carry the two children at once. I’m come to realise that prams are like shoes. You need a different one depending on the occasion. My big three-wheeler is for exercising and expeditions where the car is not required – like a quick walk to the shops. My smaller umbrella stroller is for the car. You can’t really use it on terrain any rougher than a footpath, or the poor child will get whiplash due to the lack of suspension. I recently purchased another umbrella stroller for our newborn because our other umbrella stroller doesn’t fully recline. The first pram I purchased had such a complicated clasp that on my first outing to mother’s group, I couldn’t get it undone. My poor baby had to perform an act of contortion as I wrestled her out of her prison, with the clasp still done up. When it came time to go home I was too embarassed to ask my fellow mums for help, so I simply popped my baby on top of the harness and endured a rather frightening journey home down  a steep hill, constantly watching my little girl to make sure she didn’t slip out the front.

Why can’t pram makers come up with a design that ticks all boxes? Surely it’s not asking too much. I simply want a pram that
– fully reclines
– takes two children
– is reversible so you can goo and gaa over your newborn
– has a bassinet that transfers straight into your car
– can be used on rough/smooth terrain
– has a coffee/bottle holder
– comes with rain/sun protectors
– you can steer with one hand
– has easy brakes
– folds in one click of a button
– comes lined with a sheepskin
– has a big enough basket to carry milk and bread and other essentials
– never needs the tyres pumped up
– survives at least 5 years without breaking down
– is no wider that 50cm (about a foot and a half)
– weighs no more than 6kgs
– toilet trains your child

OK. That last point was a joke. But the rest? I’m deadly serious. Once pram makers come up with a better product, I guarantee you the ‘pram rage’ will subside. But let’s be honest – that’s never gonna happen. If there was one perfect pram, there’d be no need to purchase three imperfect ones. And there goes the pram makers profits. So – if you want to be angry, get angry at the pram makers. They’re the ones turning mums everywhere into incompetent drivers. Fix the prams, and toes and tempers everywhere will be the better for it.

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Introducing the rock star of the pastry world – Adriano Zumbo

21 Feb

It used to be that Australian audiences went crazy for real rock stars – men who could shred a guitar, or pulverize a drum kit. These days, we’re all going crazy over men who can rattle their pans in the kitchen. We are obsessed with our chefs. They are the new rock stars of the celebrity world. And the most rocking rock star of them all is Adriano Zumbo. To date, the celebrity chefs (Neil Perry, Matt Moran, George Colombaris etc) have all come from a fine dining restaurant background. But Zumbo is breaking through the toffee ceiling. Think that a patisserie is just the home of the custard tart and lamington. Well, think again. He doesn’t call his kitchen ‘the lab’ for nothing.  It’s a place of experimentation with flavours and textures, where people queue out the door and around the block to buy a slice of culinary wizardry.

Australian audiences first met Zumbo through Masterchef where he reduced contestants to quivering wrecks with his insurmountable pastry challenges such as the eight-layer vanilla cake, the croquembouche, and the macaron tower. It’s the macaron that’s made him a star. He’s risen to fame on the back of this humble concoction of two meringue discs, sandwiched together with a luscious gooey filling. Now, he’s got his own TV show (‘Zumbo’ –  Thursdays, 7:30pm on SBS) furthering shooting his rock stardom further into a stratosphere.

Think ‘master patissier’ and you might conjure up an image of a podgy, ageing French man. This is the very antithesis of who Adrian Zumbo is. For a start, he’s young – just 29 years old. He’s got tattoos and the physique of a man who spends more time in the gym than he does eating his own wares. He was born and raised in country NSW – the son of Italian migrants who operated supermarkets in Coonamble. These days, Zumbo is assembling an empire – built on eggs, butter, flour and cream – with two patisseries and a cafe in Sydney. There’s no doubt he sees himself as a modern day Willy Wonka; the Wonka tattoo on his arm is evidence enough. But you can also see it in his creations.One of Zumbo’s recent gimics was to produce five golden macarons (how you get a biscuit to glisten like a gold coin like he did, I do not know) sold randomly to customers, with the prize being a day in the Zumbo kitchen. The cameras were there to capture the excited reactions of the winning customers – and you would think they had won lotto.

What the TV series is revealing is that there are a couple of themes that drive Zumbo’s work – one of them is childhood nostalgia. He loves making cakes based on flavours we all loved as kids. A recent episode of ‘Zumbo’ showed him creating a multi-layered milo cake that you drink with a straw and ends with a yummy base of crunchy milo – the bit we all liked to eat with a spoon at the end of a milky drink of milo. The other thing he loves to do is mess with your head by making traditionally savoury flavours into sweet treats (pigs-blood macaron anyone? Or maybe you’d prefer the wasabi-pea flavoured eclair). The sight of chopped-up hamburgers swathed in cream to infuse the burger flavour is something that will stay with me for a long time – both for its slight repulsiveness – and the constant refrain in my head – ‘gee, I bet that tastes good’.

The birthplace of the macaron is France, where pastry making is steeped in history and tradition. While Zumbo honours that tradition with his technically-demanding creations, he’s also making pastry into a very modern business and capitalising on his chef-as-celebrity status. He recently launched his summer ‘collection’ of cakes with a catwalk show, where the new creations were paraded by models in clothing that kind of matched the colours of the desserts. And, at the end, Zumbo himself took a stroll down the catwalk to the rapturous applause of his many fans, who had queued down the street to take their place at the summer launch. Afterwards, Zumbo posed for photos with his fans (he’s big on facebook) and even signed autographs. But it’s not just for show. You get the sense through the TV show, that this is who Zumbo truly is. He’s the guy who plugs into his i-pod at work and cooks like a demon, interspersing his whipping, beating and folding to throw a few nightclub-worthy dance moves. He seems to employ upwards of 40 or so people – none of them look over the age of 30. It all seems like a lot for a 29 year old. But he’s a cool customer. A box of cakes gets trashed one hour before a major function and it’s clear Zumbo’s not happy – but he doesn’t rant, rave and shout about it. He gets cooking. He’s a cool dude. He’s the modern day rock star.

How do I tell a bikie gang to shut up?

19 Feb
I love my early morning walks in Centennial Park.  At 6:30am, first light is breaking, the black swans are eating breakfast and the only sound is the hum of the city waking from slumber.  But a couple of times a week, this picture of serenity is punctured by hordes of cyclists.  These lycra-clad devotees of two wheels descend on the Park in packs of 30 – 40.  These bikie gangs tear around the Park as if they’re on the Tour De France. And they yell at each other. Really, really loudly. Like ear splittingly loud.  My walk is my time to think – kind of like meditating. I lose myself in my thoughts. So when someone – out of the blue – yells very loudly at close proximity, I jump right out of skin.

It scares the hell out of me. To be frank, they’re riding so quick (ignoring the 30km/hr speed limit I might add) I’m not sure what they’re yelling. But usually it’s during an overtaking manoeuvre so I guess it’s something like ‘Coming up on the right’ or ‘Faster, faster’. Or maybe it’s more friendly – like ‘Nice bum Johnny. Love the new bike shorts’. The park is right on Oxford Street after all. Who knows? But I’ve got a news flash for them. We’re not in the French Alps. We’re in the eastern suburbs. On completely flat ground. There’s even a designated bike path. Chill out fellas. But the interruptions don’t stop there. After terrorising the ducks, cockatoos and walkers, the cyclists descend on the park café. It’s a sight for sore eyes. Still wearing their bike ‘spikes’ on their feet, they kind of waddle in – bum out, neck forward – and order up big time on the lattes. They’re kind of sweaty and covered in neck to knee lycra which is emblazoned with sponsor logos – it’s all very faux-pro (professional, that is). It’s the lycra that really gets me. So tight it shows every lump, bump and crevice. It’s hard to know where to look. But I have to say it’s not the most revealing outfit I’ve seen a man wearing in the Park. There’s another fella who wears just speedos, joggers and an outrageously dark tan. But he’s got the body to pull it off. Some of these cyclists are – how do I put it politely? Let’s just say, lycra is not their friend. But do they care? Not a bit. Funnily enough, there are very few women in these bikie gangs. Must be something to do with the lycra and the angry shouting that goes on. I have to end this by saying that I don’t hate cyclists. In our car-saturated-city, it’s a necessary transport option. But – I just want to say one thing to them. Shhhhhhh!

Breastfeeding – the good, the bad and the ugly

15 Feb

There’s a lot of pressure on women these days to breastfeed. A lot of it comes from the medical community, who seem to come up with research on a weekly basis about the health benefits of breastfeeding. And, more recently it seems the world’s supermodels have taken it upon themselves to add to that pressure. Miranda Kerr and Gisele Bundchen take a bow. It’s bad enough you’ve made women feel insecure about our less-than-supermodel-perfect bodies, now you’re making mums feel bad if they can’t breastfeed (note the word ‘can’t’ as opposed to ‘don’t’ – there’s a big difference). The photo of Miranda breastfeeding her baby is gorgeous. But haven’t we all seen enough of Miranda’s face and boobs? Quite frankly, I wanted to see the baby’s face. And did she ever stop to think about what that photo says to women who can’t breastfeed? Talk about rubbing their noses in it. Then there’s Gisele, who called for breastfeeding to be made compulsory in America, saying “Some people here [in the US] think they don’t have to breastfeed, and I think, ‘Are you going to give chemical food to your child when they are so little?'” Gee, what a moron.
Doesn’t she realise that pretty much all women want to breastfeed – but physically – it just doesn’t always work? Or they have to go back to their jobs. I guess that, having her supermodel millions, Gisele doesn’t have to worry about not working and she can afford a lactation consultant when breastfeeding doesn’t work as it should. What I would love to see in the media is an honest portrayal of what breastfeeding is really like – the reality. So, I’ve composed my list of the good, the bad and the ugly of breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding – the good points

  • It’s free
  • It’s convenient – I can do it anywhere, anytime with no special equipment required
  • Apparently, there are health benefits (that said, I know heaps of bottlefed babies who are just as healthy, happy and clever as their breastfed buddies)
  • There is some satisfaction in looking at my bubba and knowing that every gram of her has come from me
  • It’s what boobs are meant for – although some men might disagree
  • It’s fun to have bigger breasts. Well it is for me – probably not for the already larger breasted. Also – it’s only temporary. The boobs end up worse for wear in the long run
  • I don’t have to sterilise anything
  • It’s helped me loose pregnancy weight – and means I can eat quite a lot without gaining weight
  • I love the look on my baby’s face as she feeds – a mixture of wonder, contentment, and pure love. Although, I’d probably get that same look if she were bottlefeeding.
  • it forces me to sit down for 10 – 20 minutes – and either watch TV – or look at my baby

Breastfeeding – the bad and the ugly

  • Flashing your boobs in public (I was more concerned about this with baby number 1 – this time round, I don’t really care)
  • Leaking milk everywhere. I have leaked milk on all my clothes, on my baby’s clothes, and on our furniture. Now, I’m just so used to smelling like stale milk, that I don’t even notice it. The other nasty bit is that if I’m not wearing breast pads, the leaks look like two really nasty sweat patches.
  • The sound of my baby drowning in milk because it comes out too quick
  • Being the only person who feed her means I’m also the one who has to do all the middle of the night feeds – and I can’t leave my baby for more than 3 hours at a time
  • At the start, when the milk came in, my boobs felt like two rocks sitting on my chest – very uncomfortable
  • The feeling of a let down for me is like a person giving me a nipple cripple to both breasts, simultaneously
  • Having a baby bite down on your nipple is no fun
  • Sometimes breastfeeding can feel like a bit of a battle. If my baby is uncomfortable and a bit windy, she’ll have a few sucks, then wrench off the nipple, then I re-attach her, and she wrenches off – and on it goes
  • Any alcohol I drink has to be timed to avoid feeds – and I hate not being able to take cold and flu tablets when I’m sick
  • Breastfeeding makes me thirsty – and hungry!

Valentines Day Viewing

14 Feb

For once, I actually did something ‘valentiny’ for Valentine’s Day. I went to the movies to see a romantic comedy. Unfortunately, I didn’t go with my ‘love’. Instead, I went with my six week old baby to a ‘mums and bubs’ session, while my dear husband took our toddler to a park. This is what acts of true love are like when you’re married with kids. It’s not about candlelit dinners and choccies. It’s about giving your partner some toddler-free time. That’s true love. The movie in question was ‘No Strings Attached’ starring Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher, a ridiculously good-looking couple who enter into a relationship as ‘sex friends’ and end up in love. Sorry, too late for the spoiler alert. Maybe I should have warned that this post will divulge the movie’s ending. But really, in the first two seconds of the film you already know it’s going to end up happily ever after with the main protagonists walking off hand in hand into the sunset.
One of the most important scenes takes place on Valentine’s day, where ‘Adam’ (Ashton Kutcher) has organised a supremely romantic date with his sex friend ‘Emma’ (Natalie Portman). It made me think back to my own experiences of Valentines Day and how, as a teenager, I would tentatively open the letter box and peer in, hoping with all my heart for a card from my blonde-haired crush on the school bus declaring his undying love for me. It never happened. I never got a cracker. Nada. Zip. Nothing. Meanwhile, girls in the ‘cool’ group at school would receive massive bunch of flowers from mysterious paramaours they’d met on the daily train to school. The train seemed a much more successful boyfriend-finding service than the bus. Valentines Day remained a profoundly disappointing experience right through my twenties. I always managed to be boyfriend-less on Feb 14. It wasn’t until I met my husband that Valentines Day became vaguely enjoyable. He’s the only Valentine I have ever had, and will ever have. Today, as I watched the on-screen couple suffer through the angst of actually figuring out their relationship, I looked down at my peaceful, sleeping bundle and thought – thank god I’m not back there. I don’t mean to sound smug and I don’t mean that you can’t be happy if you’re single. Of course you can. But in my single twenties, I certainly wondered who I would grow old with. And now I have my answer. On Feb 14, I don’t bother checking the letterbox any more. And Valentines Day is the happier for it.

Fashion’s animal instincts

11 Feb

You’ve gotta feel a little bit sorry for the big department stores (ok – if you overlook their billion dollar-plus profits). A couple of weeks ago they launched their advertising campaigns for their autumn/winter fashion collections. People went flocking to the shops. But not in search of a new winter over-coat. They went in desperate search of air-conditioning. It was Sydney’s hottest week on record. And David Jones was advertising leather jackets, scarves – and lots of animal print. Bad, bad timing. But it’s the same every year isn’t it? Just as I’m thinking I need a new swimming costume, the shops become awash with wool, cashmere, leather – and apparently this season – lots of animal print.
And this is the point of my post. You’ve probably seen the latest DJs ad, where a rather powerful and deep voiced woman says ‘This winter, the trend is….. (big pause for dramatic effect)… animal print’. Hmmmm. I’ve never been convinced that animal print is such a fantastic thing to wear. Leopard print is fabulous…. for a leopard. Same with zebra print etc. But on a woman? Or – god forbid – a man? You could spend $3000 on a designer label animal print dress – but to me – it will look like it’s come from a supre clearance outlet on the Gold Coast ie tacky and cheap. I don’t think animal print ever looks expensive. It also says a certain something about a woman. It’s sort of like saying to world – ‘I am woman. Here me roar’ – which is fine if that’s the statement you want to make. I once lived in an apartment block in Sydney’s north and was invited in for a drink one evening by a neighbour. Entering her flat was like entering into a Zulu warrior’s hut. It was wall to wall animal print. Zebra rugs, leopard wall hangings – and various African ‘accoutrements’. It just didn’t feel quite right in the midst of the leafy and suburban north shore. Now, all of that said, I have recently dipped my toe into the sea of animal print. I lashed out and bought a leopard print head scarf. I haven’t worn it yet. I’m not sure what outfit to wear it with. Probably a white t-shirt and jeans – something that needs a little ‘grrr’. I’m also thinking of purchasing some leopard print ballet flats. These are just my little nods to THE trend for winter. At heart, I know I’m a fashion victim. But my rationale is – animal print is OK in small doses. That means accessories. It also means that come next winter, when animal print is totally out of fashion, I won’t feel like a goose for having forked out hundreds of dollars on a one season wonder.

My addiction

10 Feb

My name is Cassie. And I’m an addict. I’m addicted to child birth. My second baby turns 6 weeks old  tomorrow – and already, I’m thinking about giving birth to a third child. It came to me today – when I visited my obstetrician for my post-birth check. Walking to his rooms in the hospital, memories came flooding back. Most people hate hospitals. But this is the hospital where I have experienced the two best days of my life. The birth of my first child. And the birth of my second.
The thought of never seeing my obstetrician again just seems unimaginable to me. Not because I have some strange attachment to him (though he is a very nice man). It’s just that not seeing him ever again means I would never be having another baby. It’s impossible to describe the overwhelming emotions of giving birth. As that slimy, blood-spattered, pink little being is thrust into your arms, nine months of anxiety, anticipation and excitement is released in a gigantic wave. It’s exhilerating. Probably the biggest drug-free (discounting the epidural) high that you can experience. The next few days are gorgeous too. Being in hospital is like being in a cocoon. I literally did not leave my room with my first born. There are midwives on call to bring pain killers. All meals are brought to your room. Visitors come to gush over your precious new bundle. There’s no cleaning or cooking. And – to make it perfect – there’s a night nursery, providing a few precious baby-free hours to catch up on sleep. But largely – it’s just you and your baby. Bliss. But then there’s the homecoming. Talk about reality bites. The first couple of months of a baby’s life are gruelling. There’s no other word for it. It’s an endless round of feeds, nappies, burps and vomits. The relationship is so lopsided. Mum does all the giving. Baby does all the taking. There’s the shock of sleep deprivation. And the normal household chores to attend to. Add a toddler into the mix – and the whole shebang is overwhelming – and not in a good way. Fortunately, I think child birth releases a big wave of happy hormones, which seem to last a couple of months and make the whole ordeal survivable. And – having had one child, I know that it only gets better as that little defenceless being turns into a funny and character-filled person who fills your day with funny moments. But to say that I’m addicted to child birth presents a big problem. It’s like saying you want to get married because you really enjoy wedding days. It’s a bit short sighted – and will probably end in tears. Marriage is about the days and years you will spend ahead with your husband. The wedding day is but a blip. Same with child birth. Lots of births means lots of babies, who turn into toddlers, children and teenagers. It’s the ultimate life-time commitment. Until there are more than 24 hours in a day, I know it’s just not viable for us to have masses of children. So – at best I know I may only experience child birth once, and at a big stretch, maybe twice again in my lifetime. It makes me feel quite sad. I guess biology will eventually step in – and it just won’t be possible for me to have another baby. But – until then – it seems that ‘cluckiness’ will be my constant companion.