Archive by Author

Custard – by Tabitha

14 Sep

In response to Beth’s post, I would like to stand up for custard.  I agree that the so-called custard filling in products like vanilla slice or profiteroles besmirches the good name of custard, as does the store-bought variety. The real deal is the homemade stuff, and it is ridiculously easy to make. Warmed custard with sliced banana was a Carvan family dessert staple when I was growing up, and taught me that custard doesn’t have to play second fiddle as some kind of dessert accompaniment. It’s the main game, people, and a ripper of a dessert because you usually have the ingredients at hand, and it creates minimal washing up. Plus, I would say it’s not that bad for you, as far as desserts go. I think Karen would approve of it, for example.

I have already made custard since getting back to Australia, even. It’s one of Nathan’s favourite things, and on this recent occasion he ate most of it straight out of the saucepan in one sitting. Make your husbands and children happy, and go make custard right now.

  • 2 cups milk, or 1 cup milk and 1 cup cream (with cream it thickens more quickly it seems)
  • 1 vanilla bean or 1 tsp vanilla essence or extract
  • 4 egg yolks – whack the whites in the freezer to make meringue some time
  • 1 tablespoon cornflour
  • 1/4 cup caster sugar, or even less
  1. Combine milk, and cream if using, in a small saucepan. Add vanilla seeds or flavouring. Place over medium heat. Cook, stirring constantly, for 5 minutes or until hot (do not allow to boil). Remove saucepan from heat.
  2. Whisk egg yolks, cornflour and sugar in a heatproof bowl until well combined. Pour hot milk mixture over egg yolk mixture, whisking constantly.
  3. Wash and dry the saucepan thoroughly, or get a new one, then put the custard mixture back in and on low heat. Cook, stirring constantly, for about 10 minutes or until custard thickens and forms a coating on the back of a spoon which you can draw a line through with your finger. Don’t let it get close to boiling or it will curdle. This is the bit which people are afraid of, but it’s really pretty foolproof if you’re watchful. I usually find mine thickens within 5 minutes because I put the heat on medium and stir rapidly, because I don’t have the patience for cooking anything on low heat.  Then you pour it back into the bowl you used for whisking and serve after about five minutes or when it’s cooled. You can basically make it as far in advance as suits you. You can put Glad wrap on it to stop a skin forming, but the skin of custard is delicious, and always highly sought-after in my family.

Discretion – by Tabitha

1 Sep

I had an antenatal check-up at a fancy international hospital in Bangkok while we were there. I was super-excited about going, because the hospital is the kind of place worshipped by medical tourists from all around the world for its service and facilities. I had heard rumours that its delivery suites were like five-star hotel rooms, and the ultrasounds were conducted in 4D, one more dimension than anyone could possible ever need.

Indeed it was pretty flash, and did have a hotel-like vibe about it, apart from all the nurses in crisp white hats milling around. It certainly didn’t feel like your typical, sterile hospital. For example, when you walked in, the first thing you saw was not triage nurses but a whole row of receptionists devoted to handling your bill and your insurance forms.

Also, upon arrival you are issued with with a photo ID, complete with barcode. I thought I wouldn’t need this barcode since I was only planning on visiting the hospital once, but no, it was scanned at least five times during our one visit. Turns out it was less like a five-star hotel and more like a factory.

I was hugely disappointed with the incompetent doctor that we saw, but when I was ushered into a special, separate consultation room for a gynaecological examination, my disappointment turned to fury. The nurse in this room asked me to take off my underpants, which I did, with one deft flick of the wrist, as I was wearing a skirt. Then she looked aghast and said “No, toilet!” and pointed to the toilet. I asked if I was supposed to give a urine sample, but again she just pointed and said “Toilet!” So I went in, and laid out before me, as in some day spa, were special “modesty wraps” which you were apparently supposed to wear. While you were lying on your back, knees wide and legs in stirrups for an internal medical examination.

Now, I don’t like flashing my gash to anyone, but the idea that a gynaecological examination should be done “discreetly” is just insulting, especially when it seems the whole “modesty wrap” business wasn’t for the customer’s – sorry, patient’s – benefit but for the nurse and the doctor’s.

I was thinking about this experience recently because I had my first visit to the Canberra Hospital this week. It’s a big, sterile hospital but I felt completely comfortable there. I talked to the midwives about some of the things I had heard about hospital birth experiences, and they answered everything by saying, “You can do whatever you want, however you want”. They said you can give birth in whatever position feels best, on the bed, on the floor, in the shower, using a birth ball (I don’t know what this is), and presumably, in the nuddy, without a modesty wrap in sight. I was so pleased to be back in Australia. Then, and at so many other times since being back, I have soaked up the sensation of “being on the same page” with people around me. Plus, the visit was entirely free.

Hair – by Tabitha

24 Aug

There have been a few Wikipedia entries that have really stuck in my mind. There was the one about Henrik, the Prince Consort (aka husband of the Queen) of Denmark, which mentions the scandal that erupted when it was revealed that Henrik, who is President of the Danish Dachshund Club as well as Prince Consort, ate dog when living in Vietnam as a youth. So many potential sausage dog jokes to be made!

And the one about biodynamics which revealed to me that this practice is actually a series of crackpot farming rituals invented by Rudolf Steiner, that involve burying cow horns in paddocks on full moons and stuffing deer bladders with blossoms and leaving them in the summer sun. I’ve never quite looked at my biodynamic yoghurt the same way again.

Or the one about the Port Arthur Massacre, which is both extremely long and extremely upsetting, and left me with a completely different perspective on the events of that awful day. The unadorned Wikipedia facts are in a way much more affecting than any editorial opinion or commentary you could read.

And then there is the one about trichophagia, a disorder where the sufferer compulsively eats hair (their own, or sometimes of others), creating an enormous hairball (trichobezoar) in their intestine. As Wikipedia says:

Rapunzel syndrome, an extreme form of trichobezoar in which the “tail” of the hair ball extends into the intestines, can be fatal if misdiagnosed. In some cases, surgery may be required to remove the mass; a trichobezoar weighing 4.5 kilograms (9.9 lb) was removed from the stomach of an 18-year-old woman with trichophagia.

I will let you decide whether or not you want to see what one of these trichobezoars looks like. If you do, click here. It’s pretty damn gross, but it’s also utterly amazing. You may never again be able to clean the hair out of your shower drain without thinking of that hairball lining a stomach. Bluurrrgh.

Rarity – by Tabitha

19 Aug

I have spent the last couple of months in Thailand relishing the rarity of so much time and mental space, conscientiously and assiduously enjoying it while it lasted, like everyone kept saying I should. That is something that a pregnant person seems to hear a lot: “Sleep? Enjoy that while it lasts!” “Dinner with your husband? Enjoy that while it lasts!” “An intact perineum? Enjoy that while it lasts!” Etcetera.

Then we came home, and our plane into Sydney tooled around the cliffs of the Royal National Park before landing, just to make sure we all saw exactly how much the sea glistens here, and exactly how blue the crisp winter dawn is, and exactly how startling the smogless resolution of the horizon is. I felt my eyes manually adjust, like a camera focusing, on the distance and the clarity before them. The ever-present haze of the past three years had been rubbed off the lens.

And I realised, no, this is the real rarity, getting to come home to this. Anyone can take a nice, relaxing holiday, but not everyone gets such a homecoming at the end of it.

Living in Hanoi, we met a lot of foreigners who were there kind of because they had nowhere better to be, or just couldn’t face going back home. Their homes were grey and cold, jobless, difficult. An English friend, bemoaning the weather and the monotony of England, mentioned to me that Australians didn’t know how lucky they had it, and I replied immediately that we did, or at least I did.

I’m sure there are many similarly beautiful and liveable cities in the world, and I would never even attempt to argue that Sydney is a better city than Copenhagen or Paris or Portland or wherever. But to have – to own, to possess, to be thoroughly entitled to – such a place as your home is a rare and lucky thing. No matter where I go, this (this!) is where I’ll always be coming back to. Score.

I’m currently on a rail bus between to Moss Vale, hardly the most likely place to be overcome with the kind of misty-eyed patriotism which I appear to be suffering from, but the freeway is lined with wattle trees, some sulphur-crested cockatoos just flew right past our window, and the bus driver kindly offered to hold the bus while I used the toilet at Liverpool Station. It’s a pretty great place. Australia, that is – not the toilet at Liverpool Station. Although the latter is not too bad at all, either.

Saliva – by Tabitha

7 Aug

According to my pregnancy guidebook, excessive salivation is one of the side-effects of being with child. Others include:

  • Haemorrhoids
  • Vaginal discharge
  • Bleeding gums
  • Swollen extremities and joints
  • Varicose veins
  • Thrush
  • Constipation
  • Gas and bloating
  • Indigestion
  • Backache
  • Acne and skin discolouration
  • Nasal congestion and nosebleeds
  • Sleeping difficulties
  • Having a human being inside of you

Doesn’t that sound like a barrel of laughs? Well, apparently it is.

On announcing my pregnancy, I was prepared for the onslaught of unsolicited advice on the subject. Yes, I was still a little shocked at the volume of it when it came, but I was prepared. I was not prepared, however, for the number of women who wanted to repeatedly tell me – again, unasked – how much they “loved being pregnant” and how great it made them feel in both body and mind. Some of these women have not been pregnant for at least thirty years, so it must have made quite an impression for them to remember it so fondly.

You know, I am really, genuinely very happy for these women. Good on them. But I actually think for many of them, there might be a little bit of convenient memory loss about their experiences. That, or giving birth and raising children was so awful that pregnancy is the last moment of happiness and physical wellbeing they can remember. I think it’s a similar phenomenon to parents telling their children that school was the “happiest days of their lives”. Who needs to hear that, even if it’s true?

I feel like I can speak to this issue because I am almost two-thirds into a dream pregnancy. I have been on holiday for two months (!), and before that I got to work part-time, and from home. I have had no significant medical problems at all, the baby seems healthy, and I have a husband who is treating me like a goddamn princess. I am extremely lucky, and grateful.

Would I say I’m “loving” being pregnant? Hell, no! I don’t mean any disrespect to the human being who is jabbing and wriggling away inside of me but I hardly feel like myself at all, let alone myself at my best. I’m loving the anticipation of our new life and family, and I’m loving getting to know my little internal friend. I’m loving that my body is doing all the things it’s supposed to, including making little fingernails. Even the downsides, I wouldn’t change them, because they’re all happening for a reason. But I’ll be happy when it’s over. When, despite the many further hardships of parenting, I’ll get to enjoy my child’s company in the exterior world. And also have a glass of wine. And not have chest pimples. Even then, when I’m spouting off about how I can’t imagine life without my darling child, I hope I’ll be able to recall that not being pregnant, and not having children, is also pretty great.

The other day we went to the hospital to get an ultrasound and a check-up. The doctor stuck her gynaecological duck up my cloaca and then held it aloft proudly displaying to me an enormous, revolting schmear of discharge, leaving me recoiling in horror at what possible font of disgustingness was located within my depths. “Normal for pregnancy”, she declared, as she whipped off her latex gloves. I’m glad that’s normal, and really, I’m not complaining, but I won’t be filing this one away for future rose-coloured trips down memory lane.

Secret – by Tabitha

3 Aug

I was talking to Beth a little while back about how we both misguidedly think of this blog as “secret”. Neither of us has actively promoted it to our Facebook friends, or indeed taken any steps to extend its readership beyond the circle of its authorship. It’s not that I don’t want other people to read it – on the contrary, I absolutely love getting comments from readers who aren’t the Flingers themselves – but more that I need to believe other people don’t read it, in order to write the personal subject matter. The secretiveness isn’t about the reading, it’s about the writing.

For my very un-secret blog in Hanoi, I was always painfully conscious of the audience. It was read by my friends, but also a load of people I didn’t know: Vietnamese people, other expats in Vietnam, people who’d never been to Vietnam, the Vietnamese government, people whose reactions you just can’t gauge at all. People who know me in the real world would often comment that they found the blog “restrained”, and it absolutely was. I was writing with the perspectives of so many different readers in mind, and trying so hard not to say anything beyond my remit of know-nothing-foreigner, that it was often a torturous physical effort to try to mould my thoughts into acceptable shapes. Sometimes the thoughts passed through so many self-censors I couldn’t even recognise what ended up on the screen. Sometimes my thoughts actually changed as a result of what I wrote, making me more positive and open-minded on the inside, as well as on the internet.

At least ninety-nine percent of feedback about the blog was positive, which was really pleasing, and made me feel all the effort paid off. The very few negative comments I did get were about the content of what I wrote – which is fair enough – rather than about me as a person, probably for the very reason that my person was so well-hidden, despite the blog being plastered with my photo. When they did take a stab at me – and I can only think of two times this ever happened – I was able to laugh it off, and think “Buddy, you don’t know me at all”.

Writing this blog is so much easier, but it leaves me feeling so much more vulnerable. I don’t think I’m even particularly revealing in my posts on here, I think I’m just particularly paranoid about the internet.

When I was in Hanoi, a very instructive thing happened on the internet. Some pathetic guy set up this blog whose sole purpose was to vilify and harass a few people in the Hanoi expat community who were well-known for starting a very successful local listings site. The blogger stuck up posters around town directing people to his pointless, personal grudge of a blog, which consisted of the completely predictable homophobic, sexist, violent, racist, pornographic slurs that this kind of guy on the internet favours.

He posted the family photos of his targets, and then made comments intimating child sexual abuse, and worse. He even forged a police record to accuse one of them of domestic violence. Having run out of vile things to say about his victims, he then expanded his net to include other seemingly randomly-chosen members of the community. He wrote pornographic rape fantasies about women I knew, and posted photos of the cast of the local theatre group and made sexually violent comments about them, including a whole bit about the genitals of one amateur actor – a high school girl. So I hear, anyway. I stopped being tempted to look at it many, many moons ago, and wondered why anyone else would. The can’t-look-away effect, I guess.

After an initial flurry of outrage, I realised that shit like this must be all over the internet. It’s not outrageous, because sadly it’s not even noteworthy.  The internet is filled with guys like this, the ones Stephen Fry calls “all the stinking, sliding, scuttling, weird, entomological creatures that inhabit the floor of the internet”. This article about the kind of emails that female columnists receive is particularly illuminating, and revealed to me that even the language these guys use is all the same, a kind of stock-in-trade “shocking”. One columnist says she gets five sexually threatening messages a day. It doesn’t matter what you’re writing about, or how vulnerable you’re leaving yourself, or if you’re starring in your local amateur theatre production, if you’re on the internet, you’re apparently potential fodder.

And it’s for this reason that any vulnerability I feel about this “secret” blog is completely misguided. While I don’t think it’s wise to reveal too much of yourself in any public forum, there’s no point trying to hide yourself away or cover up your flaws or weaknesses on the internet, because there’s probably someone out there readying themselves to insult you or be offended by you just as soon as they find you, no matter what. Just the other day I noted that the author of one of my favourite sites, Parenting in Crappy Pictures, had had to defend her crappy picture of her child in a front-facing car-seat. Seriously, people?

This is one person, however, I never want to find this blog, and that is my mother. Bullies, trolls, misogynists, self-righteous do-gooders, whatever, bring ’em on. Mothers, however… that’s another story.

Faux. It’s French for False – by Tabitha

24 Jul

This is my new faux fox fur, bought from the Bo Phut night market last week:

His little mouth opens and closes!

Moments before buying him, I was explaining to Nathan that now I’m pregnant and soon to be a mother, I should really try to reduce my cutesy-poo wardrobe stylings. This was prompted by seeing a headband with a faux chocolate eclair stuck on it, which I quite fancied, but talked myself down from. In Vietnam, the maternity fashion is for these awful, tent-sized, short-sleeved dresses tied loosely at the back, and covered in pastel-coloured images of puppy dogs kissing kittens. They look like an oversized version of a toddler’s dress, and that’s exactly how they make the wearer look: like a waddling, oversized child. I’m pretty sure that wearing a chocolate eclair on your head would have the same effect. Actually, no, I’m totally sure.

And then I saw the fox, and knew he had to be mine.

This sums up the internal, fruitless, struggle I have over practically all my wardrobe purchases. I am always drawn to the fabrics with animal patterns, or the hats that have ears, or the scarves with faces, and yet I know these do not a stylish woman make. As I get older, I worry that in fact I look more and more like Kathy Geiss, surrounded by her collection of unicorns and rainbows. And yet I can’t resist a faux fox.

Nathan was horrified by the idea that I was suppressing my innate urge to wear a chocolate eclair on my head because of impending motherhood, and tried to insist that I buy it, which is one of the many reasons he is the best husband ever. I agree there’s something really, really wrong with the idea of “age-appropriate” clothing, one that dictates all mothers should wear natural fibres in neutral tones from Country Road, but it usually goes hand-in-hand with what actually looks good on a person. I am not so blinded by my love of A-line skirts covered in dachshunds that I don’t know I look, well, better, in fitted dresses that show off my womanly features. The dachshunds, against my better judgement, are just more me.

At various times in my life, I have made brief bids to look a little better by looking a little less me. Based on the increase in compliments, I suppose it’s worked, but I have no staying power. I have heard the sentence “Wow, you should wear make-up every day!” many times. I have learnt that at new workplaces, you should never set the bar too high by letting them see you in lipstick. The same rule can be applied in the bedroom with sexy underwear, which is why Nathan’s never seen me in anything other than black Bonds hipsters. One day he discovered my collection of frilly knickers – purchased over the years in extremely fleeting attempts to be sexier – buried in the deepest, darkest sedimentary layer of my underwear drawer. “What are these?”, he said, like a geologist discovering a very lacy fossil from an unknown time. “Haha”, I said. “You can forget about it”.

So, what does this mean for the future? Will our child be asking me not to wear my faux fox when I pick them up at the school gate? Yes, yes they will. And then this will temporarily remind me to dress better, and maybe I’ll even wear lipstick for a week or so. But then the fox will call me back, and how can you ignore a face like that?