Ovarian cancer, the silent killer

I was not quite twelve when my aunt died. Ever watchful of her figure, a fastidious housekeeper and the perfect hostess in that 1950s full-skirted style, she accepted the changes in her body with a grace I have rarely seen in another. But grace only goes so far and once cancer hits a certain point there’s no denying that you are very, very ill.

Minnie was diagnosed with ovarian cancer at the start of the 80s. For sometime she’d noticed changes in bowel habit and lower abdominal bloating, but had been reassured by her doctor after various tests that there was nothing to worry about. It was not his fault; in that day it was so difficult to diagnose and the sensitivity of many tests was so much less than today.

By the time the cancer was diagnosed, Minnie’s disease was at a late stage. She persisted with the housework and cooking, keeping the most pristine living environment in spite of her treatments – and I do mean in spite, not despite. She did not believe she would die until the very end.

My mother was a nurse, molded in a cast of the classical Florence Nightingale figure. Having married Minnie’s brother our two families grew up spending a great deal of time together. Minnie held my parents first grandchild, but never saw her own granddaughter. The photograph shows a terribly cachexic woman with the most beautiful coifed hair beaming at the camera holding her grand niece in the flowing lace christening gown. She was so pleased to hold that child.

In 1982, Minnie’s health deteriorated dramatically. She did not wish to die in hospital, so Mum coordinated her home care, teaching Minnie’s family how to care for her. The doctor visited her at home when she became too ill to attend his surgery. Mum managed the drugs, especially the pain killers that became rapidly more necessary in her final days. In the wee hours of the morning the phone would ring. My mother would answer and whilst I was in my own bed supposedly asleep, I could hear Minnie’s scream emanate through the earpiece. Not a word would be said to the caller as Mum simply hung up the phone and left the house. She would generally make it back in time to get me ready for school despite having driven halfway across Melbourne and was almost always home when I got back at the end of the school day. During school hours, Mum was caring for Minnie as well.

In her final days, Minnie would sit in the sunroom at the rear of the house with her beautiful enormous German shepherd; it was the only room her adored hound was allowed into, a concession she made when she could no longer get down the steep steps to the yard. On Easter Monday of 1982, Minnie passed away. It left a hole in my father’s heart and a bond between him and his nieces that cannot be described. Minnie did not see her 54th birthday.

The reason I’m telling you all this is because now, thirty years later, the diagnosis of ovarian cancer remains as elusive as it did when Minnie was diagnosed. There is no definitive test. The disease occurs in 1 in every 77 women; for 75% of those women it will be diagnosed at a late stage, when the cancer has already spread to other organs. Radical surgeries that remove organs such as the uterus, bowel, bladder may be necessary, leaving the patient with a colostomy or urinary bag for the remainder of their life. Radiotherapy and chemotherapy are other treatment possibilities. And the saddest thing about this is that the disease, when caught early, can be curved in 80% of women.

Breast cancer has received enormous funding from so many sources and awareness has improved since the 1990s, making services and survival rates increase dramatically; but ovarian cancer, which shares some of the genetic risks factors with breast cancer, has gone mostly unnoticed. Women with the high risk BRCA1 and BRCA2 genetic mutations sometimes elect to have both their breasts and ovaries removed long before cancer appears. Research into these two gene groups provides data for both breast and ovarian cancer, but the publicity of ovarian cancer remains poor and the lack of a highly diagnostic, specific test remains the single greatest concern.

Ovarian cancer symptoms are subtle: changes in bowel habit, weight loss or gain, bloating, vaginal bleeding, back pain, nausea, indigestion, fatigue, urinary frequency, reduction in or loss of appetite. It cannot be diagnosed by a pap smear. Symptoms such as those described can fit a range of problems, from bowel cancer to irritable bowel, Crohn’s disease and just the vagaries of the menstrual cycle. But if your bodily habits change with no recognizable cause, you should be seeking advice from your doctor.

There are other factors that have been suggested in the development of the disease, that are still under investigation. Talcum powder used in the genital region is one of them. Rather than take the risk when having your bikini wax done, why not request that the beautician not use the talc? Other risk factors include the long term use of oestrogen only hormone replacement or multiple exposures to fertility drugs, obesity, a high fat diet and smoking. These are all things within our control. There are others that are not so much, such as a small number of or no pregnancies and Ashkenazi Jewish heritage.

What I want you all to take from this story is two things. Go to your doctor and push for answers if your bodily habits change and be sure an explanation is found that fits with your symptoms. Treatment should ameliorate the discomforts and be proof that you’ve found the cause. If not, ask the doctor to do further investigation. Secondly, get behind ovarian cancer research and fundraising. Until there is a definitive test women will continue to be diagnosed at a late stage and far too many women will die before they have the chance to hold their grandchildren. After thirty years, the fact this disease remains so poorly understood and vastly devastating is simply unacceptable. I’d like to see a definitive test before another thirty have passed.

You can find further information at Ovarian Cancer Australia.

This is not a sponsored post. It is, quite simply, a cause close to heart. Minnie suffered as no-one should suffer.

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A tale from the base of Olympus – Part Four

This is the third chaplet in a series, a reflection and meditation on recent events.

The sun, blazing in a deep blue sky unmarred by wisp of cotton-cloud is searing everything its rays touch in Away & Beyond. Day after day I seek shelter from the scorching heat, behind walls, under trees. I can only work for short periods in the clay based soil before I must retreat to the shade again. I am not accustomed to this type of heat, this dry, unforgiving heat. The people here complain of humidity; they know not what humid is.

Others have siphoned off water from a small river winding its way across the plain. This is a good year they tell me, there’s been plenty of rain. And yet, the ground remains like concrete to my spade as I work to dig a hole deep enough to bury the roots of the trees that will provide my sustenance in the coming spring. It’s the wrong time of year to plant, I know, but with all I’ve left behind I am left with no choice. In the end, I decide that it would be better to grow the plants in pots for while. I hope someone is nurturing my orchard back in Alexandria. In reality, the fruit has probably been stolen from the trees or left to rot on the ground. I guess it doesn’t matter if I’m not there to enjoy the juice of the peaches I tended so carefully.

I’ve constructed a lean-to, fashioned from pieces that have drifted by. A piece of wood here, a length of canvas there. One or two things have been provided to me and I am grateful; I expect no-one to offer me anything other than what I earn through my labours. So many others have been forced to leave their homes with so much less than I; they have nothing salvaged. I at least have my loaded wagon. I wonder how the others here with so little will survive the winter’s ice in just a few months time. I see what they endure now and realize just how close I have come to sharing their fates. I will not allow that to happen. Industry has become my ethos so that I can rebuild my Alexandria and return to my beloved Great Library. I am told that the scrolled parchments and shelves of learning stand safe for now; my efforts put in place before departing have apparently prevented the cherished learnings from being damaged by the tsunami’s salty seas. I am relieved. And grateful. I only railed against the gods in my despair; I am fortunate I was not smite for my insolence.

One month gone and I survive. The next awaits, but a day away. And at its end is the promise of return, brief as it will be, to my Alexandria. How much of what I left behind will remain? Will the daphne flower in the shifted soils, will the wildlife have returned? I’m considering planting some bulbs in autumn’s cooler days so there will be some colour and life in the spring when I again return. With so many of the larger trees ripped asunder by Atlas’ spasm it’s only the smaller plants that will decorate the broken city I still call home come September. Perhaps others will return to visit too and see the colour and we can share a feast beneath Apollo’s mighty orb until his quadriga draws it westward and cedes to Hesperus.

I suppose I am not so dead inside, for I still dream the possibilities …

This tale is still evolving even as the words are committed to paper. Hence, this is the third post of a series of unknown total and frequency. Each post is likely to be a chaplet (a dedication or prayer) in itself. You are free to share this journey with me, even as I know not where it will end.
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A tale from the base of Olympus-Part Three

This is a continuation of an earlier post. For context, read Parts One and Two first.

Part Three

So you’ve come for me, Kairos; there is no avoiding you anymore. Your wings beat slower than I expected … a modicum of compassion on your part perhaps … and yet still, you’ve come too fast. I should be grateful, am grateful and yet the hour of parting is no less painful for the delay.

The ruins of my Alexandria have found a semblance of order, stone grouped in piles, the remaining columns reinforced to stabilize their once robust stature. Curtains and bedding not damaged when the great Titan shifted his stance have been packed or given to others. Goodbyes exchanged, I must now walk into my desert of denial and remake my life with the acceptance you have forced upon me.

The ocean’s tide is rising, rushing for the sand. I knew it would come. And yet, I know also that even without trying, I will evade the crushing blows that I had expected, had hoped would take the remnants of my soul so that I would not have to begin again alone. The tsunami of grief I so wished to welcome will batter and swirl at my knees as I wade slowly forwards to the dry plains of Away & Beyond.

My salvage is buried. I took the pieces a week ago and placed them in their jeweled box, the hopes left in the depths of my pretty box, now the source of such sorrows. I may have played with fire, but it was not I who opened the box and let the joys escape. And much as Zeus felt anger for the theft of his power, so I feel for he who betrayed my trust, tricking Atlas into shifting his stance.

My wagon, battered and worn by your brother Chronos is loaded only with the essentials. With no roof to my head I see little point in moving all I’ve salvaged to Away & Beyond. I’ll return when I have secured the few necessities I carry inland in some sterile structure that will become my new abode, devoid of the memories, love, peace that a home must absorb. Any ghosts at the windows or rattles at the doors will be nothing other than memories of another’s past; the house will have to absorb my life before it can ever be my home.

Yes, I know I must go Kairos. Patient have you been, graceful even as I’ve refused to acknowledge your approach. You cannot blame me for digging my heels in, you know. But you are only the bearer of the moments, not the hand that fashions my destiny. The Moirai may have spun and measured out the thread of my life, but even they must cede to my choices; even Zeus cannot interfere with man’s will. And so, I choose to meet you face to face, Kairos, an ally not a thief, even if I am reticent to go with you.

Give me my lantern, hand me my staff. It is time to leave my broken Alexandria. Take me before I lose this reluctant conviction, Kairos.

This tale is still evolving even as the words are committed to paper. Hence, this is the second post (third chaplet) of a series of unknown total and frequency. Each post is likely to be a chaplet (a dedication or prayer) in itself. You are free to share this journey with me, even as I know not where it will end.
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A tale from the base of Olympus-Parts One & Two

Part One

Atlas shrugged. Perhaps you felt it. Your world gave a shudder, like a cold chill up your spine. And as quickly as the feeling came, it went, leaving nary a trace. You got up from bed the next day and all was in its usual place. You are lucky.

In my world the ground shifted so greatly that there is no level surface upon which to rebuild. The ocean at my door recedes and I know that I must run, run to higher ground away from the inevitable tsunami of grief. Can I run fast enough? More importantly, in my broken Alexandria, do I want to run? It would be so much easier to just be overwhelmed.

I was paralyzed for a time after the earth quaked. I stood frozen in place and cried with fear at the devastation, mired at my epicentre. I knew what had to be done, I knew that I had to prioritize, but I was so stunned by the sudden impact and resulting panic that I simply could not move. My brain was simply unable to process anything other than what it saw, to pick over the wreckage looking for anything, any means of salvage.

I’m picking up pieces now, but I know I can’t stay. This Alexandria is now my Christchurch and I know I cannot rebuild on the same ground. Much of what is here will have to be left behind. So strange. I’d never wanted to live here. It was always someone else’s Utopia, but it became without me even realizing it, the crucible of my Dreams. And whilst I never expected to stay here forever, I did not foresee the dislocation that would tear me from so much of what I cherished.

Away & Beyond lies the unbroken ground, flat and broad. I must go there and rebuild, taking my undamaged salvage … taking even a few fractured remnants, because I cannot bear to let them go. I know these pieces will crowd me in their uselessness, but I cannot let them go, not yet.

Away & Beyond doesn’t look inviting to me. It’s just somewhere to rebuild, a place to re-establish my reserves and hopefully find my future again. There is no joy in the move for I know what I leave behind and I see the hard, drought ravaged land that I must break in order to build my new city. Temporary shelter will have to suffice initially until I can find some source of irrigation to soften the soil and feed the soul.

I’ll go. But I’m not running. I’m leaving markers to find my way back, to maintain claim to my broken ground, even if I do know it’s no longer stable. Hmph. Sorrow is like that. You get so wrapped up in the overwhelming loss that even with the salvaged remains you cling to a past that can never be again. I know that’s what I’m doing. And I know that even as I slowly turn to walk away if the tsunami should overtake me I would not fight it, for it would take with it the broken remnants I cherish. It would be easier than rebuilding with the fragments of Alexandria anyway.

Part Two

The after-tremors have ceased. The spasm that took hold of Atlas’ shoulder has been relieved by someone else taking his burden for a time, allowing him to stretch before resuming his genuflection to the Olympians. With the ground now settled I’ve considered staying in my shattered Alexandria, but without what Away & Beyond offers, rebuilding will take longer, possibly too long; without Away & Beyond, there may never be a new place for my Great Library.

I’ve laid claim to my salvage and secured the walls as best I can. The gates are back in place, although they need work if they are to last more than a few weeks or months. It’s work that will take a year, possibly more; hard back-breaking work. I know I have the ability to do this, but like some survivor of an unforeseen conflict, one that I failed to predict, I worry that it will happen again. I fear the disaster that will take the shards of my Dreams from me and leave but the scars. I’m so scared of a horizon I cannot see that I don’t want to move. Is this what they call post traumatic stress? I don’t know. I just know that even in my leaving Alexandria for the flat, broad grounds of the open plain, I fear the floods and drought that are the unpredictable threats capable of stripping what little I have left.

I keep thinking of the day Atlas shrugged, how perfect it was in Summer’s brilliant heat. It shouldn’t have been such a stunning day, the day my Alexandria was broken. “… and I thought that it would rain, on a day like today …” It is me who is on the buses and trains, put there out of necessity, leaving my Alexandria, the city I never thought I could love.

I haven’t packed. I will cram my few possessions into a couple of bags at the last possible moment. I want to sit in my Alexandria for as long as I possibly can, until leaving is the now that must be, rather than the future I would rather ignore. I am resisting the inevitable, the ostrich in this newly desolate landscape.

“What do we leave …
Nothing much,
Only Anatevka …
… where else could summer feel so sweet?”

I DO NOT WANT TO LEAVE! I BELONG IN MY ALEXANDRIA!

… but I will pick up the pieces of my Dreams, those sacred parts of my being and carry them someplace safe and bury them, deep in the ground away from Alexandria. I will consign them to the protection of the very element that Atlas disrupted, far from the broken Alexandria, far from Away & Beyond. I do not know if I will ever be able to return to collect them, but the place of their internment, the contents of the crypt will never be lost to me. Perhaps they will become relics, discovered by archeologists, a time capsule of a day long gone to intrigue future generations. I hope not. I only wish that I could see again, beyond the wide barren plains of Away & Beyond, where I may very well walk forever and never cross another oasis of philosophy and thought.

Ah Alexandria, will I again gaze upon your Lighthouse, or will you be forever lost to me by the vagaries of a single Titan’s weary body?

This tale is still evolving even as the words are committed to paper. Hence, this post forms the first and second instalment of a series of unknown total and frequency. Each post is likely to be a chaplet (a dedication or prayer) in itself. You are free to share this journey with me, even as I know not where it will end.
Read Part Three.
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Io Saturnalia!

A large bowl of dried, semi-dried and not-so dried fruit sits soaking on my kitchen table, absorbing the plonk and orange juice I liberally dispensed a couple of nights ago. You know I love to bake, especially fruit cakes, but my Christmas fruit cake is so late that it’s seriously at risk of missing the big day, but with a week to go I’ll get it in the oven and iced by next weekend. As it has done for the past seven years, the recipe has had to evolve yet again. No pineapple to be found in anything other than cans. No glace, no dried. Necessity being the mother cooking, I took what was available and am experimenting with canned chopped pineapple (minus the juice). This cake is now so far from the original recipe – no chocolate, no palm sugar, a vastly different array of fruits and plonk – that it really no longer resembles its ancient forebear, an apt metaphor for the Yuletide itself.

I was raised in a Roman Catholic home, the youngest child in a large family. Sunday church was expected; the only leeway permitted was through illness, working the whole weekend or where it was geographically impossible to attend a service. Practice in my faith found me involved with youth groups and music ministries and consumed by what a friend I met many years later called ‘catholic guilt’ for all my many failings. If there’s one thing that I found in my practice of religion beyond how loving God is supposed to be, it’s that I could never be good enough, because I was born and would always be, a sinner. Talk about damning a child from birth. It’s a stark contrast to the concept of enlightenment that underpins the belief that we all have Buddha nature.

I’ve always had a tendency to befriend others with less than me. Like the smelly boy that everyone, even the teachers, ridiculed. His mother simply didn’t cope and his father was long gone. To this day, one enduring memory I have of my primary school days is of that smelly boy being forcibly carried out of the classroom by four teachers, a limb apiece. This in a catholic primary school that otherwise, imparted the most exceptional sense of equality among its multi-cultural students. In Australia, a country that prides itself on the ‘melting-pot’ of many cultures, it was the Australian child dragged from the classroom. To this ten year old girl, the scene was immensely distressing; I called this boy my friend, even if he did punch me when I was eight.

By the time I traveled overseas in my early twenties I was questioning religion. Living and working in Northern Ireland where Christian fought against Christian, I experienced first hand the constant overarching authority of the British Army and RUC (Royal Ulster Constabulary). Now, let me be up front and say that I never encountered any problems with the RUC; they were professional and courteous whenever I crossed their path. Largely the army were too, but it was them that crouched hiding behind fences with their semi-automatic weapons, so that when I walked past I would find one trained upon me; it was the soldiers who, in the armoured four wheel drives, viewed me through their sights; one even said ‘bang’ just audibly enough for me to hear as the vehicle passed. This was Belfast in the early 1990s, toward the end of ‘The Troubles’. This is what those of my generation in Northern Ireland considered normal. They had never known any different.

I spent the first two weeks in Belfast terrified, until I decided that if I was to enjoy this jaunt I would simply have to get over my fear and live as if the army was not there. So I wore my loudest, psychedelic tights among the locals in their greys and blacks, I told the soldiers they weren’t doing much to make tourists feel welcome when I found they’d trained their guns on me and I found my Irish boyfriend keeping about ten feet away from me whenever I was in such a mood! My Aussie accent obviously startled the soldiers a few times; it’s somewhat satisfying to break the composure of one so highly trained with just a phrase! All the while, living in Northern Ireland, I was aware of where my place was, as a Catholic, even if I was Australian. I never wore my cross or claddagh in protestant areas, I made sure people heard my accent, I discussed the issues of life in the province only with people with whom I felt comfortable. I began as a spectator. I morphed into a local with my own opinions, gained from the very personal understanding about indoctrination, acceptance, bigotry, suppression, fear, self-preservation and protection, the sort of lessons that can only be gained through living in an a place where governance is so very in your face.

Northern Ireland was very much home for a time. I loved being there, but the rot had set in to my acceptance of religion. A few years later I learned a bit more about church ‘legalities’ and politics, leaving me teetering on the edge with my faith. The final nail in the coffin came when I noted the lack of concern from the community my parents had attended and worked within for over 45 years when both fell ill for a few months. Not even the priest visited them at home. That was the final straw for my own Catholic faith. I cannot abide Sunday Catholics.

In the years since, I have had fruitful discussions with Muslims whom I would call friends and attended Buddhist meditation sessions. I’ve worked with Hindus and Jews and now share my life with an Indigenous Australian man who calls both Muslims and Jews friends, has a penchant for philosophy, spiritualism and Greek mythology and still has his Dreams and honours those of his ancestors. I’ve learned of the origins of Channukah, a celebration commemorating the oil that lasted eight days after the Temple had been reclaimed from Antiochus IV, when it should not have stretched beyond one and tales of both Adam and the Hasmoneans that provide the foundations the Jewish observance of the feast that last year, coincided with Christmas. I’ve even learned a bit about Saturn and Mithra and the pagan feasts that preceded the Christmas and Channukah traditions. There’s much more to read there.

For me, Christmas is a celebration of family, friends and the shared humanity of all people. We can all take a day to forget the cares of the world, to be grateful for the people in our lives who bring meaning to our days, and to share a little with those who may not have the benefit of family. That does not require a belief in any religion, only a simple sense of gratitude and compassion. It’s good for the soul, something that whilst I follow no religious dogma, I still very much believe in. Christmas, Channukah or Saturnalia has always been a time of thankfulness for abundance, be it of family, oil or food, honouring whichever deity has dominated in the period. A Christian friend once commented to me that we are all traveling to the same place, aiming for the pinnacle of the same mountain, but we each take our own path. If our paths cross, I hope you’ll do me the courtesy of respecting my choice of direction, just as I will yours.

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Sunday Selections: Because I love to bake!

Fruit cakes are an oft baked item in my home as the GOFA is quite partial to them, as are others around him. They get sent on to others, shared by many. My standard boiled fruit cake is easy to make and I have the starts of one sitting on the stove now for my beloved’s birthday. The fruit cake steep a while longer yet.

I’ve been absent for way too long from Kim’s Sunday Selections and I may not get another post up anytime soon, but this one needs to be written, complete with pictures, because this selection of photographs documents the creation of Kim’s daughter’s wedding cake. Now, I know Veronica has more than one type of cake in the planning, but she was keen, when asked, to have a traditional fruit cake. So, I’ve pulled out my ever evolving Christmas cake recipe, put it through another generation of evolution and created what I suspect is going to be a rip-snorter of a deep, rich, slab of fruit cake-lovers’ delight!

Sounds a bit early to be making the cake, I hear you say? Well, the Christmas cake was always made at least 3 months ahead in my childhood home and the puddings in mid year, hung in calico in the garage. The flavours mature and I can tell you that a pudding will keep easily for two years if you prepare the calico properly. I know, I’ve kept one that Mum made and then eaten it two years on. But puddings are a different post. This is about a wedding cake.

First thing, is to steep the fruit in a generous amount of alcohol. My plonk of choice, after some experimentation is either Lochan Ora or Glayva. Both are scotch liqueurs with a strong citrus flavour that I really like infused through the fruit.

Lochan Ora. Note that the bottle is half empty – all over the fruit!

I’ve also used white port, tawny port, scotch and brandy. I my opinion, the liqueurs result in the best flavour, but if citrus is not your thing, just pick another one. Regardless of the plonk you choose, if you are making a cake for a special occasion don’t skimp on the quality of the alcohol. It really does make a difference to the final product.

As I said, this cake had to go through another evolution as I’m finding it harder each year to find the glace fruits I usually use for my special cakes. They used to be available in mid year but now they only seem to be readily found in November. After discussion with Mum, I took the plunge and bought dried fruits. Pears, apples, pineapple, peel as well as semi-dried apricots. I threw in more glace cherries and altered the balance of the sultanas and currants.

Dried pineapple, beside a piece that’s soaked for two weeks. Yum!

I chose to use more prunes in place of dates for the extra moisture they offered. I threw in the rind of a freshly grated orange, more orange juice than usual and half the bottle of Loch Ora. *Hic* The whole lot sat in a bowl for two weeks, in the corner of my kitchen gradually soaking in the alcohol, the dried fruit reconstituting and suffusing my home with an aroma a distillery would have been proud of.

The fruit, having steeped for two weeks.

I’ve left fruit to soak for up to a month before using it. I’ve even added more alcohol as I’ve given it the occasional stir and thought it all seemed a bit dry. In this case, Veronica’s cake got no more alcohol; it didn’t seem to need it. On baking day, I add chopped pecans. I’m not terribly fond of the bitterness of walnuts.

Come baking day I prepared my cake tin, lined on base and sides with Glad Bake, the only product I will use for my cakes. I’ve had disasters with cheaper options and no longer bother with alternatives. Although the paper is greased on both sides I still grease the pan as well and then carefully grease the paper itself once I’ve lined the pan. My paper always slips off without problem after the cake has cooked. In fact one of the signs the cake is cooked, is if you tug at it and it easily slips between the cake and the tin. But I’m getting ahead of myself …

This is a BIG cake. I have no bowl large enough to mix this cake in, so out comes my enormous stockpot. Eggs are added one or two at a time to ensure that they mix in well.

The flour is sifted once only. This is not a light, fluffy sponge; it is a solid, weighty, traditional rich fruit cake. There is, in my opinion, no point in sifting the flour three times. What’s more, I sift the dry ingredients directly into the butter mixture. I like dark brown sugar for it’s extra depth of flavour, that little bit of molasses, but it can turn your cake very dark and not everyone likes that. I tend to use about 1/5th caster sugar as well. The other things that make your cake dark are the choice of fruit (try to use more with a pale flesh) and bicarbonate of soda.

The flour, all spice, nutmeg, cinnamon, and other dry ingredients are sifted in with the butter mixture in portions, along with the steeped fruit. I sourced fresh cinnamon and nutmeg for this cake; I don’t usually, but thought it would help with the flavour and I was rewarded with the lovely aroma of the spices as they were grated.

Cinnamon
Nutmeg

Once all ingredients were combined, the mixture was poured into the prepared tin. You’ll see I globbed a bit on the edge up high. No need to fuss, I was just a bit untidy! The mixture was spread evenly in the pan and then a slight indentation created in the middle to allow for the cake rising while baking. As you can see, the mixture is not terribly dark and the final result should be a deep golden cake when it’s cut.

About halfway through the process of mixing the cake I set my convection oven to preheat at 130oC. It only takes about 5 minutes to heat and the oven will turn itself off if I don’t start using it within about ten minutes once it has reached temperature. If I was to bake it in a conventional oven without a fan, I’d probably aim for about 145oC. The biggest challenge is not baking this cake too fast. As I said, it is BIG! If you get the temperature right, it should rise modestly, but remain fairly flat on top without cracking. Cook too fast and the centre will be under cooked, the cake may dome, probably burn on the tops and sides and it will crack. Cook it too slow and it may stay flat but fail to rise much and the sugars will caramelize and you’re likely to burn the top (but not the sides).

I baked the cake for about 5 hours. After about 3 hours I decided to take the temperature up to 140oC, as it  hadn’t quite leveled in the middle where I made the mix a little more shallow to accommodate the rise. I cannot increase the temp on my convection oven in 5oC lots … I would have if I could. I also put a layer of Glad Bake over the top to prevent the top from browning any further. This is always the case when baking this cake, and I always keep a piece ready to add once the top is dark enough.

When you can smell the cake throughout the house, it’s time for the paper tug-test. It’s only a gentle tug, but if the edges are cooked, the paper should slide easily. The other test is the skewer in the middle. Now, you expect to pick up a wee bit of fruit, but if there’s heaps of fruit and/or uncooked cake mix, it’s underdone and you need to raise the temperature a tad or you’ll be going to bed when the birds start their morning song!

The final step in creating Veronica’s cake was to glaze it whilst still hot with another 50-100 ml of Lochan Ora.

Glazing the hot cake, just out of the oven. It smells divine!

Wrap the whole thing in aluminium foil and leave the cake to cool completely in the tin. There was still some warmth in the tin when I got up for work the next morning, some 12 hours later, so I left it there to deal with when I got home that night.

Cooling.

Once completely cooled turn the cake out – keeping the paper in tact as much as possible – and take a look at the underside. You only need to peel the paper a tad. If it’s all looking good, then keep the paper on that you cooked in, and use another layer to keep the moisture in. I then wrap the whole thing in aluminium foil, before wrapping again, as tightly as possible in cling wrap. Try to get as much air out as possible. I even use tape to ensure the cling wrap does not peel open. Put the cake away and leave to mature over the coming weeks or months. A cake like this will easily keep for 3months, if you wrap it carefully.

When it’s time to serve the cake, you can decorate with almond icing (the GOFA’s favourite icing, sweet tooth that he is!) or serve au naturel. If you know that it will not be iced you can decorate the top with cherries and pecans before baking. Keep in a tin or cake container that has a good seal and the cake should last without problem for up to 3 weeks. Remember, it’s been pickled within an inch of it’s life! All the alcohol has evaporated in the baking process, except for that which was used to glaze. Do be careful if you have P or L plate drivers eating a slice of cake made in this manner though, as they may register a reading on the breathalyzer due to the glaze (but not on the blood test)!

So there you have it, one wedding cake made with lots of love for my Bloggy Big Sister! It’s sitting, wrapped in my kitchen until I can get it down to Tassie’s shores in time for Veronica to arrange whatever decorations she chooses. Now, if anyone is heading that way from Sydney in the coming weeks, let me know. I’ve got a package that needs delivering!

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Vienna vs Egypt and ethical advertising

Last weekend the GOFA and I took a rare break visiting family and enjoying Melbourne’s delights. It was a chance to take a copy of my book, finally published, down to my parents and spend a little time reacquainting ourselves.

Melbourne gave us a taste of winter’s tail, with overcast skies, a little drizzle and a brisk breeze, but nothing like it can be. Two exhibitions were on our mind and we debated about whether we had time to see both. Thinking we may not and knowing that we had other expenses that weekend to absorb, we opted for the exhibition at the Melbourne Museum, Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs. Tickets were far from cheap at $35 and we considered whether to skip it once we realised the cost. The museum and National Gallery of Victoria are not terribly close together and we had limited time before we were to go out that evening, so Tut it was.

The exhibition consists of 10 small galleries, the first five devoted to Tut’s ancestors and the period of the pharaohs. The remaining five small galleries are devoted to Tut himself. There are some lovely artefacts and it is a highly polished display, including a sarcophagus of one of his non-royal but patently well favoured ancestors, given the extravagance of the burial. We wandered through the displays for about 1 ½ hours until we reached the final gallery, which, quite frankly, I found an immense let down. There was an excellent video display of Tut’s burial showing how each casket fit within the next. There were small items found within Tut’s bindings and on his body, such as head dress and a necklace, but there was little else in this room to make me go “Wow!”

So what was the let down? The death mask. It simply was not there, not even a good copy or image of the mask was shown. There was no sarcophagus. There was a platform onto which was displayed still images of Tut’s opened sarcophagus, viewed from above. The images were a succession of shots showing where certain items were found, such as the necklace.

I was very disappointed at the anit-climax. The advertising billed it as about Tutankhamun and the pharaohs, so I expected a mixture, but as the main draw card they played upon in the adverts (first name, separate line, much larger font size, different font colour) and they had used an image of a “golden coffinette” that looked deceptively like the funerary mask, that is what I expected to see.

Had I known that Tut’s death mask was not included in the exhibition, would I have gone? Quite simply, with only two days in town and limited spending money, the answer is no. When others asked about the exhibition and I told them that the mask was absent, they agreed that they would not pay so much to gain entry and be corralled like sheep (that’s what it felt like to both of us) to enter in the first place unless the mask was there. I do, quite frankly, feel misled by the curators on this exhibition, based upon the advertising. Admittedly, nowhere in the website does it say that Tut’s mask would be part of the exhibition. If you read the feedback it is explicitly mentioned, but only when others have drawn attention to the fact. Equally, the advertising does not mention the absence of the mask and the use of the image of the coffinette (which is beautiful, but not terribly large and certainly not the mask) as the main drawcard in the advertising I consider to be very misleading.

With our activities after Tut being less costly than expected, the GOFA and I decided that we would go see the Vienna exhibition at the NGV after all the next day before we flew home, in hopes that it would satisfy our more artistic desires. There, we saw original works by Gustav Klimt, whom I have very much decided is one of my favourite artists, as well as a painting by Moll that spurred the GOFA onto his own artistic pursuits as a younger man. We were not corralled into a small space to enter the exhibition and we wandered back and forth between the artworks that absorbed us totally. The GOFA was able to reminisce about his own artistic days and I was able to learn a bit more about what I like in art and why. At $24, we did not feel cheated. The advertising shown used a Klimt painting that did not mislead the patron about what they would see in the exhibition. We also came away with more from the gift shop, including the program as a keepsake.

So, value for money, Tut v Vienna, there’s my $59 dollars worth. I will be taking a closer look at what the Melbourne Museum advertise in future. Scratch that; I’ll be taking a closer look at what ANY exhibition suggests in advertising in future. Picasso is coming and there’s to be a Renaissance exhibition soon too, but I’ll be looking for the value in my buck’s worth. We had a lovely weekend, with family and in our time alone, but next time the museum will not be my first port of call when I seek artistic pleasures in Melbourne.

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For my GOFA

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Sunday Selections: Framed

Sunday Selections is the brainchild of Kim at Frog Ponds Rock. Please visit her site and see what she and others are sharing this week.

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Sexism in the age of Photoshop

Der Zeitung image

Until a few days ago I had not heard of Hasidim. Today, that religious sect has only reinforced my belief that religion is divisive, that the dogma of structured belief is oppressive and that words, without being backed by transparent actions, are little more than potentialities lost on the winds of possibility, never realising kinesis and fruition.

There are many obstacles in creating a truly equal society; issues of race, colour and creed are by far the most commonly argued in the contemporary Western world, with issues related to gender considered by some to have been largely overcome. To a large degree I accept that much of the struggle of our suffragette forbears has seen benefits for the current generations. Yet, when religion continues to marginalise and treat/view women as sexually charged individuals who can “lead a man astray” whilst fully and demurely attired, I can only see an ongoing source of division.

White House image

In editing US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and Director for Counter Terrorism Andrea Tomason out of the photograph taken in the White House’s Situation Room during the killing of Osama bin Laden, not only did the Brooklyn based Hasidic newspaper Der Zeitung demonstrate a complete lack of diplomacy and sexual equality, it left open the possibility of absolving two of the central characters in the killing of Osama bin Laden from taking responsibility for their part in the USA led so called “War on Terror”. We each have our own opinion on the death of bin Laden and if you watched the horrors of people jumping from the Twin Towers to escape the hell that had engulfed them on your television in 2001, it’s hard not to allow those opinions to be tainted by emotion. Nevertheless, if the calls by various international bodies for review of the processes and decision makers in the attack in Abbotabad are to find their way into a United Nations Criminal Court, why should either woman be any less accountable than any of the men in that very same situation room? Even if those calls go unheeded – and they almost certainly will – why should Clinton and Tomason be scratched from the history pages? Be the attack and outcome good or bad in the annals of history, the women at the heart of this event should be acknowledged.

I am fortunate to have been raised by parents who taught me that I was intellectually capable of no less than my brothers, whilst being given every opportunity to pitch my body to the same ends if I so wished, realising that that the brawn of gender does not equate to the agility and persistence of a mind. I am forever grateful, even if my Roman Catholic upbringing is a coat I have chosen to shrug off. The complete inability of The Church to accept the ordination of women, to prevent the use of oral contraception, frown upon barrier contraception and to treat a child born out of Church-acknowledged wedlock as a bastard are things I refuse to accept. Life may begin at conception, but preventing conception should not be a Church crime!

I have before mentioned my interest in Buddhism, but even there I find inconsistencies. The treatment of Buddhist nuns apparently varies between specific sects, but most are expected to show deference to monks, being subject to a greater number of vows than their male counterparts. In addition, if nuns and monks are equal, it should be possible for a female to attain the highest earth-bound rank in any of the Buddhist religious traditions, without having to answer to a monk. This has, so far, been unattainable.

History is marked by the leadership of many great women, of varied cultural and racial background: Elizabeth I, Catherine the Great, Amina of Zazzua, Boadicea, Joan of Arc, Hiawatha and St. Mary of the Cross are but a few. Each proved herself a leader, some in battle, others via diplomacy. Regardless of how they were viewed in their own times, they have deserved their place in history, be it for good or bad. Failure to acknowledge the significant women who have shaped our history is one of the limits in the accuracy of history and the single most limiting factor in advancing the cause of gender equality. For good or for bad, women must be acknowledged for their role in the treatment of others. We have fought so long for that right and with it must come the same rights and responsibilities and with responsibility comes transparency and accountability. It’s all or nothing.

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