Leafing Through the Pages of Time

My love of magazines began in childhood. My mother bought stacks of them every month and passed them on to me after she had read them cover to cover. Titles like Woman, Woman’s Own, Woman and Home were the ones I saw most, with an occassional Photoplay thrown in, but I was also quite happy to get my father’s Mechanics Illustrated when he had done with it and filed his favourite projects. No one remarked on the clear definition of interests – things were very traditional then. At street markets we bought American magazines like Life and Seventeen (my personal favourite – how I longed for a pair of saddle shoes!) My mother loved Life magazine – a confirmed royalist, she cherished her copy with this portrait of the then Princess Elizabeth on the cover.

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So my main interest in vintage mgazines is mainly womens’ magazines from the 1940-60s. The physical changes are immediately apparent when you look at the covers – older magazines are thinner, smaller but more densely packed with text.
As you come up through the decades, the paper becomes smoother and glossier, the pictures get larger, color is introduced and, of course, the advertising becomes more lavish. So if you remove the larger illustrations and the pages of advertising, womens’ magazine have actually not increased much in text content.
But how that content has changed! Our mothers and grandmothers really enjoyed their magazines, and looked forward to every issue. Just skimming through a magazine of the 50s shows plenty of varied reading matter, from short stories and serials to feature articles.
The idea that women’s magazines once only contained recipes and knitting patterns is quite wrong. The target reader for these publications come across as outgoing, curious and eager to learn about the world she lived in.
In contrast to the self-absorbed reader of today, there is a noticeable lack of self improvement and self analysis. Problem solving was strictly practical – the advice columnists were no nonsense types who upheld strong social values and had little time for women who could not control erring husbands and wayward emotions.
There were the pages of recipes, but in the older magazines, these didn’t have today’s mouthwatering illustrations. The favored cooking style was cheap and plain. Foreign food was largely unheard of, and even Chinese cooking got little attention. The curry was a popular dish because it could be left stewing all day while housewives got on with the business of housekeeping without modern aids.
Crafts were simple, mostly confined to knitting patterns, crochet and embroidery – some of these are so pretty, I am tempted to learn to knit!
Toward the end of the fifties, the magazines started to include movie news and reviews and star stories, but nowhere near the salacious content we see today. The stars are never seen at less than their best and little reference is made to their private lives. In fact, one article strongly defended Hollywood marriages, saying the divorce rate in the star community was smaller than the populace at large!
Some obsessions seem to be perennial. There are long articles discussing the latest trends in child rearing, and the problems associated with motherhood. Did you think that diets were the prerogative of our generation? Wrong, women of the early 20th century were just as concerned with the state of their figures. But the ideal wasn’t a six pack set of abs, it was a tiny waistline. There are lots of ads for miracle slimming pills and other products that “magically melt away that ugly fat.”
No political correctness or consumer protection guarded gullible readers against these ads, but they were no sillier than the claims for miracle herbal “fat blasters” today.
The aim of slimming was just the same – to look as good as the willowy models in the fashion pages. But the bodies were very different – full hips, nipped in waists, and womanly bosoms – the ideal was the `hourglass figure’.
No wonder women of the sixties fell on the `sack’, a shapeless, waistless, baggy number that skimmed all manner of figure faults. But even then, one catty fashion editor remarked that it looked much better with a belt.
The magazines of the 40s, 50s and 60s were aimed at the homebody, to be enjoyed with a cuppa and your feet up after a hard day’s housework. If you want that kind of cosy reading today, you have to go to the `lifestyle’ magazines.
Today’s women’s magazines, with their lip licking celebrity gossip and pages of advertising, are clearly designed for the woman with nothing better to do than read them.

The Reality of TV These Days

On the one hand, I can’t believe this is TV season Prime Time in Australia – on the other hand, it’s all too stultifyingly obvious. Reality shows, stretching as far as the schedule can go – weight losers, cooking losers, building losers in hard hats and neon vests – all bursting into tears and having tantrums at the least excuse.

One look at The Biggest Loser (what a perfect name for this show) told it all. The hulking trio of Rambo, Xena and the other guy strode into the fattest town in Australia assuring us that they were going to make it shape up. I thought they were going to do a Jamie – open a gym, drag the population down to the park for push ups and improve eating habits by teaching the denizens how to cook. But no, only the chosen ones would get the opportunity to be snarled at by Rambo, yelled at by Xena, and handed tissues by the other guy.

The usual bunch of self loathing fat people sobbed and self immolated their way through the auditions, while Rambo et al deliberated which ones needed to lose weight most. How’s this for a radical idea? All of them! Get them all out there running in circles in the park!

A first glance at My Kitchen Rules (which I have to admit I have watched before – I did love those two bitchy gays in Season 3) but I’m over lame-assed dishes, sob stories, ‘my dream’ and sniping Disney villains now. Watching someone try to slow boil duck in a baking dish full of oil (I think its called a confit) was utterly disgusting. I think it’s safe to say I have moved on.

But I don’t mind if other viewers love these shows and want to see them return. Fine. I’ll watch something else. Except that there is nothing else. What’s this deal with putting them on every night? What’s wrong with once a week? Maybe twice for recaps? But EVERY night?

Last year I would have chuckled and said ‘SBS to the rescue.’ Not only better cooking shows, but better TV all round. Until I moved into an area that doesn’t get the SBS signal. At. All. Luckily, I have also recently upgraded to a new laptop – one that streams SBS on Demand like a boss, not like my old laptop, which didn’t. So instead of people dropping their ingredients on the floor and sobbing in Manu’s arms (is there nothing these women won’t do to inhale his Frenchness?), I have been watching a couple of shows that have restored my faith in the better nature of TV programers.

In Archeology: A Secret History, Dr Richard Miles traces back to the first archeological explorations – and surprisingly, that’s not that far back. Ancients, after all, made the stuff we dig for and like today, didn’t think it was ever going to be worth that much (Barbie collectables, anyone?) and later societies just saw it there every day and didn’t think about it much. I was tickled to learn that the first true archeologist was the Emperor Constantine’s old mum, Queen Helena, whom he sent off to the Holy Land in search of relics that proved the existence of Christ after he shook the scattered pieces of the new religion into order. Nothing like slamming the stable door shut after you’ve let the horse loose on the populace.

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Dr Richard Miles – I love the way he loves archeology

In her 80s, Helena was a game old girl, toppling a temple in her quest, and bringing back a nail from the cross, a robe (not the Turin Shroud) and bits of wooden crosses. Irrefutable proof, now on display at the Cathedral of Trier, in Germany. They even made a solid gold container encrusted with jewels to  house the nail- imagine that, a rusty nail as long as a man’s hand given a solid gold container.

None of it proves that it had anything to do with Christ (unless there is a good sample of his DNA still to be found) but it is still astonishing to see an actual nail – the sheer heft and size of it – and imagining it being hammered through a man’s hands or feet. Dr Miles was pretty exited to be holding it, and well he might – real relic or not, it is an amazing link with the past. Good on ya, Helena.

HISTORY OF ANCIENT BRITAIN

Neil Oliver, part rock star, part archeologist

In A History of Ancient Britain, another windswept and interesting archeologist takes the viewer back to the dawn of humanity and a Britain that was still part of the frozen tundra of the ice age. Neil Oliver has the rugged persona of a true Celt and looks a bit like Gabriel Byrne. The camera loves him a bit too much, but in between rugged close ups, there is a lot of fascinating information – such as the ancient Paleolithic tribe that made Nutella (by grinding hazelnuts to a paste to take on long journeys) and a huge tsunami that finally freed Britain from the mainland. Riveting stuff, can’t wait to see the rest. Both shows are also availble on BBC4 as well.

This is probably how I will be watching TV until the reality shows end. SBS On Demand has Iron Chef, as well. Bargain!

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I love this man!

Comfort Food cookbook review

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I like this cookbook, from the ‘fine cooking’ series by Taunton Press, even if it does look quite basic at first glance. The recipes are well laid out and easy to follow, and while they are ‘comfort food’, the dishes are varied and created with healthy ingredients. No short cut or processed ingredients are used. The only hitch for me, in a metric country, is that the measurements are in lbs and ounces and need to be converted.

The dishes covered are soups, chilis, stews, gumbo, ragout, pasta, one pot dishes, casseroles, fried chicken, curries, and familiar classics like chicken cacciatore, meatloaf, osso bucco and pot roast.  If you are a seasoned cook with a large repertoire (and a bookshelf groaning with cookbooks already) you probably know most of them but for a new, aspiring cook this is a good basic collection of recipes. It is always good to have reliable recipes for hearty international favourites like steak and Guinness pie, beef stew with red wine, braised lamb shanks, and of course, paella.

 It is a good all round reference recipe book for all sorts of occasions and meals. There are breakfast and lunch dishes with step by step photo guides. Every cook needs to know how to make a perfect omelet, blueberry muffins, buttermilk pancakes, waffles and eggs Benedict, to serve up a scrumptious breakfast, and homemakers, whether sharing or single, can benefit from tips like a buyer’s guide to bananas and how to fix a broken hollandaise. In fact, as a first cookbook, this would be an invaluable gift for a new homemaker. It even covers sandwiches, from classic grilled cheese to croque Madame.

Other sections of the book covers side dishes, like scalloped potatoes, shrimp fried rice and mashed potatoes. There there are the desserts, all classic comfort foods like eich, dark, sinful Southern Devil’s Food Cake to pure hearted, country style carrot cake (although it looks more on the indulgent than healthy side with a whipped cream cheese and vanilla frost). There are also instructions on how to ice a cake, how to make perfect pie crust, flaky pie crust and a classic rice pudding. In fact it covers almost every aspect of comfort food cooking in one book. I think it’s good value, available from both Amazon and Book Depository.

My thanks to NetGalley for the opportunity to review this book.

Cookbook review: Bake it like you mean it

5191gotOPgL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_I’m a sucker for a beautiful cookbook. Ravish my eyes with delectable photographs of glorious culinary creations, toss in the recipes so I can try to recreate them, and I am your friend for life. The author of this book says her philosophy is “bake it like you mean it:” – create desserts that are delicious and beautiful from the inside out. I can live with that.

The recipes start with meringues, a section called My Big Fat Creamsicle Meringue Moment. I adore meringue, usually floating on top of a lemon pie, but I also love her basic meringue recipe, and what she does with it. Far superior to macarons, in my estimation, are two fat fluffy meringues sandwiched around a luscious filling. You can even colour them. They look so utterly delicious I have to try it. Then there is Nut Kiss Cake, which looks like a chocolate dream, and Grand Marnier Souffle with chocolatey creme Anglaise. But let’s not get hung up on the meringues or we’ll be drooling here all day. But I can’t leave this section without admiring the sass of whoopie meringue pies filled with raspberries. I shall return.

 The next section is sponge cakes, starting with an airy Citrusy Angel Food cake, a recipe possibly stolen from the gods. It is served with a dollop of marmalade on top, probably to stop it floating off the plate.The Madame Butterfly is an opera cake, a sponge flavoured with green tea and joined in layers of seductiveness – mango buttercream, white chocolate ganache and almond paste. It looks like the most beautiful thing I have ever seen.  But then I am arrested b y the gorgeous dark enchantment of Rigo Jancsi Slices, named after a Gypsy violinist who persuaded a beautiful, wealthy and very married American woman to run off with him. A creation fit for a romantic legend with its heroic layers of chocolate sponge, apricot preserves and chocolate filling, topped with a crown of white buttercream. Even Nutella gets the OMG! treatment.

In the rich and decadent butter and pound cakes section, some adorable little Bundt cakes, flavoured with wine simmered pears and glazed with thin white icing, catch my eye, and pumpkin pie can’t hold a Halloween candle to a glorious Pumpkin Toffee Coffee Cake. I like the idea of making a drunk Figgy Pudding with Captain Morgan’s Spiced Rum, and sticking a pastry axe in the top. Halloween is going to be spectacular this year.

In the Cheesecakes section, the Sunshine Creamsicle Cheesecake looks divine, the mocha ricotta tower looks almost impossible to make (but if I see one in a cake shop, I’m having it), but the caramel macadamia carousel almost looks achievable. Oh, and decades after reading ‘What Katy Did at School’ and wondering what ‘crullers’ are I finally know how to make them. Easy peasy.

 In the yeast section, there are recipes for brioche, pain perdu, little German doughnuts called krapfen and croissants,, as well as lots of other delights. have i tickled your taste buds yet? What I am saying is that this book is crammed with the most sumptuous dessert recipes I have ever seen, and some of them have wonderful stories as well, like the Rigo Jancsi slice. I just love it. This is my kind of cookbook.

This dreamy cookbook is available from the Book Depository.

Thanks to NetGalley for the opportunity to review this book.

Finding the Healthier You

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The Colosseum (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Surfing the TV channels the other night, I happened upon the The Biggest Loser (Australia) and decided to give it a whirl. By the first ad break I was slumped in my chair, deflated and demoralised and hating myself. Not because I identified with anyone on the show, but because I realised I may as well be sitting in the crowd at the Colosseum in Ancient Rome, yelling at the Emperor to give these losers the thumbs down and throw them to the lions.

I felt dirty. I was watching people getting red faced and exhausted, falling over and clutching their chests, while impossibly toned and fit young gladiators bullied and harried them into pushing themselves beyond their limits. “Believe in yourself!” Michelle Bridges roared in the ear of a young girl who would make four of her, huffing and puffing on a running machine. Good grief. The girl fell off, gasping for breath and I finally went in search of another show.Something entertaining. Something uplifting. Something that did not involve a group of fat people facing each other off with a handweight and dreaming of being the one to stay standing, red faced and saggy kneed, longer. Just believe in yourself, folks.

How is this helping anyone? How is pushing people to the point of collapse for our “entertainment’ doing anyone but the studio execs and those overpaid trainers any good? When they are not threshing about gasping for air, the contestants are sobbing all over the place, releasing their ‘demons’ and berating themselves for being fat and unhealthy. How is tempting them with fattening food helping them, kind of like waving a packet of smokes under a quitter’s nose? Lit smokes at that.

And how is it helping us, in our quest to keep various weight related diseases at bay? Are we supposed to identify with these demoralised, sobbing, bullied, pitiable people? Are we supposed to think “there but for the grace of God and Michelle Bridges and the one called Shannon and the one who looks like he wishes he was actually in the SAS, go I?” Or are we supposed to feel the fear of God and Michelle Bridges et al, and quake in our slippers in case they come for us next? Put down that biscuit or else the cat gets it!!

Going on the usual Google hunt after being horrified (enlightened, inspired, excited – not) I found I was not alone in my concerns. There is a petition to stop the show promoting bad health and diet behaviours, and even sporting celebrities have come out again it. Good to know this is not considered the normal way to treat people who are obese and teetering on the edge of heart attacks.

Strangely enough, while hastily changing channels, I was again reminded that the only approach to health I have seen on TV that I admired recently is a flippin’ health fund ad. It’s for BUPA and you can see it here. I dare you not to get a teeny bit teary. Now, like most people, I can’t even afford to join a health fund and yet here I am, being incredibly moved and inspired by a  TV ad. Not a show which is designed to tug at my emotions and just leaves me feeling disgusted, but a TV ad that goes straight to the heart of the matter. That’s what I want. That healthier me, that person I haven’t seen for too many years, before the cares and pressures of life took away her love of life and most costly of all, her love of herself.

But fortunately, what the ad doesn’t tell you is that you don’t have to belong to a health fund to get those benefits. You can Google “healthier you’ and find, not just the BUPA ad, but a whole websworth of places you can learn to find your healthier self again. Try these:

Your local government or Federal health body – I live in Queensland.

Health fund websites are actually a good source of advice. Try AHM.

Reduce your risk of stroke and heart attack.

Find a good health magazine.

Learn about the best exercise, take up yoga, or tai chi.

Discover that finding a healthier you can be fun! Champagne and caviar? Yeah, baby!

Or you can download my free ebook, and follow the guidelines to a detox weekend to get you started.

The point is, finding that healthier you does not have to be a punishing process, letting fit bullies throw you to the lions and the derision of the crowd. You can take the gentle approach, loving yourself enough to want the best for you, enjoying food and life to the point where exercise and a good healthy diet become natural and life enhancing. Yeah, it’s about feeling good about yourself, not sobbing and blubbing in front of the cameras about how much you hate yourself and your horrible life and how grateful you are to that woman with the snarling face pushed into yours.

BUPA got it right, even if I still can’t afford to have health insurance. I can still afford to find a healthier me. And this didn’t turn out to be a rant against TV after all. It just depends what you watch. A lousy show, or a good ad?

Across the Water

This a story for the latest Friday Fictioneers prompt. If you are born in Ireland, or spend any time there, you will hear tragic stories of the Potato Famine, and the many thousands of Irish who sailed ‘across the water’ to escape.

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She walked down to the shore for one last time. The clouds were rolling from the Irish sea, the waves were sharp as cut glass as they broke on the rocks, yet she didn’t see it. She saw instead a path reaching down to the shore, lazy palm trees waving overhead, and the sun rising over the Southern ocean.

Was it really like that? Liam said it was in his letters. Half a world away he was waiting for her.

“There’s plenty of food here,” he wrote. “You don’t need no damn potatoes.”

She sighed and turned away from her visions. She looked up into the face of the priest as he sent her to God and gently closed her eyes. Another victim of the potato famine was gone from the cares of this world forever.

The only sound was her father’s sobs and the scratching of his pen as he wrote to Liam.