Diversity in Music

My children’s school held a showcase concert last night featuring the best of the music department.

The performances ranged from classical to jazz to swing to folk music to rock to heavy metal. Some pieces were by famous composers, others were written by the students themselves. Students dressed for their performances in clothes ranging from torn jeans and t-shirts to suits and ties and floor-length gowns.

The mood was supportive and celebratory. It recognised that the musical achievement of a student interested in heavy metal is no less than that of a student interested in classical piano. It celebrated the diversity of student achievement as well as the achievements themselves.

How different from my own high school’s showcase concerts, filled with little beyond classical and religious music, with the odd show-tune thrown in. I distinctly remember the shock in the auditorium once when a group of students not sanctioned by the school showed up and played rock-n-roll.

If you didn’t sing in choir, you didn’t sing. If you didn’t play in the marching band or the orchestra, you didn’t play. I wonder how many students decided they didn’t like music because the only music they were allowed to make was the sort they didn’t identify with. I wonder how many good musicians let their own music die because it wasn’t valued by the school and the adults around them.

My kids enjoy diverse music. Though they both play instruments, neither of them is likely to go on to become a professional musician. Still, I’m thrilled their school encourages students to explore their own music, and recognises that musical skill can be demonstrated in an ear-splitting heavy metal guitar riff just as effectively as in an operetta.

Hoar Frost

My daughter needed to visit a few native forests today to work on a science project for school. Darn. I hate it when we’re forced to do that. 😉 One of the places we went to was Woolshed Creek. Though it was a sunny day, places in the shade were quite frozen. In some of those places, the frost was spectacular.

We ran across a patch of ferns with 5 mm ice crystals sprouting off the fronds in such profusion that they looked like they’d been snowed on. A truly spectacular display.

The show only lasted as long as the shade did. As soon as the sun hit, the ice melted. The plants returned to their normal, unadorned state, and the tracks turned to mud. More pleasant, perhaps for us, but not nearly so beautiful. As usual, you’ve got to put up with some hardship to experience the best life has to offer.

Nostalgic Baking

I made Irish soda bread to go with dinner today. As I mixed up the dough, I remembered making soda bread back when the kids were preschoolers. The recipe I have is easily quartered, so I would make a full batch, and each of the kids would make their own quarter-sized loaf. It didn’t even require any calculations—I simply gave them a smaller measuring cup (1/4-cup and 1/4 tsp to my one-cup and 1 tsp measures) and they could follow the recipe just like I did.

They loved baking their very own loaf, and then seeing it next to their plate at the dinner table.

Of course, these days, the teenagers are less keen on baking the bread and more keen on eating it, but I reckon one day they might make their own Irish soda bread again and remember making mini-loaves with Mum.

The recipe I use comes from Beard on Bread, by James Beard. I don’t know if this wonderful little cookbook is still in print, but I encourage you to find a copy—if you’ve never made bread before, Beard will walk you through it. If you’re a seasoned baker, Beard’s comprehensive selection of recipes will give you plenty to riff off as you experiment.

3 cup wholemeal flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp baking powder
2 cups buttermilk

Combine dry ingredients. Mix in enough buttermilk to make a soft dough. Knead on a lightly floured board for 2-3 minutes. Form a round loaf and place on a buttered baking sheet. Cut a cross in the top with a sharp knife. Bake at 190ºC (375ºF) for 40-45 minutes.

Old-fashioned Fever Remedy

So, with the family head cold this week, my daughter got a fever. She’s terrible at being sick. She can’t stand not being constantly in motion, but the fever dragged her down so much she couldn’t do anything. It was bad enough feeling icky, but to not be able to go outside and ride her unicycle, or do some climbing, or build something was a fate worse than death.

I suggested some paracetamol to bring the fever down, but she refused (she hates taking medicine). I was a bit frustrated—the brunt of her bad mood landed on me (because I was sick, too, and we were both confined indoors).

Then I remembered that my mother used to give me crushed ice to eat when I was sick. I reckoned it might just do the trick.

She briefly refused the ice, but I think the novelty of a glass full of crushed ice and a long-handled spoon to eat it with won her over.

The results were brilliant—a glass of ice, and she was out the door and on the climbing wall. The fever came back in an hour or so, but the window of exercise did the trick for her mental health. When the fever spiked again, she happily retreated to the fireside to read a book. When she got antsy to get out once more, I made her another glass of ice.

Proof once more that Mother knows best. Thanks, Mom!

Throwback Thursday: My Love Affair with Baking

Anyone who reads this blog, or knows me even a little, knows I love to bake. I love to eat baked goods, too, but I appreciate the fact I have two teenagers and don’t have to eat everything I bake by myself.

This love of baking isn’t new. Forty-five years ago, at the tender age of two, I was already supervising my mother’s baking, as evidenced by this photograph, in which I’m obviously making sure the cupcakes aren’t snitched by my brother before they’re properly cool.

My love of baked goods and baking led me, as an adult, to decide never to buy baked goods, but to bake if I wanted cookies or cake in the house. It has served well to keep my consumption down and my production up.

Pregnancy, and the attendant guilt trip laid on pregnant woman to eat healthily, prompted me to look for less sugary, less buttery options in my baked goods. I shifted to sweetening with fruit juices, and cutting way back on the fat in recipes. What I made during my pregnancies wasn’t bad, but I had enough nausea at the time that I can no longer even think about some of those ‘healthy’ baked goods without feeling ill.

Freed from pregnancy, my baking swung back toward the unhealthy side, but I’d learned some things from all that healthy baking. I used less sugar, and found that other flavours were enhanced by it. I used more whole grains–not because they were better for me, but because I had discovered they tasted better than white flour. I used more nuts, seeds and fruits, because they added variety, flavour, and texture. These days, I rarely make any of the recipes I made before pregnancy; I look at them and cringe at the ingredient lists.

So my baking has evolved. As I’m sure it will continue to evolve, under the changing needs and pressures of the family, for many years to come.

Happy Mother’s Day

Trig M, where every table has a panoramic view.

Advertising media has been exhorting us to do all sorts of things for our mothers today—buy her flowers, make her breakfast, take her out to a fancy restaurant, buy her diamonds…

We have a rather different take on Mother’s Day at our house.

After the usual Sunday morning routine where I get up before everyone else, light the fire, feed the animals, and bake something lovely for breakfast, we headed to the hills.

It was two hours of uphill slogging to our lunch spot. One of the best restaurants around, Trig M has spectacular views. No need for a reservation, even on Mother’s Day (we were the only ones there). The ambiance was great, if a little chilly today. The thirteen year-old chef made us an excellent lunch of cheese sandwiches and apples, with chocolate bars for dessert.

A lovely Mother’s Day. I hope yours was / is as nice as mine.

Going Overboard

I know people for whom to spend half an hour preparing dinner is an unthinkable chore.

I don’t understand those people.

Don’t get me wrong, I totally understand the got-home-late-from-some-after-school-activity sort of feeling. The days when we know we’ll be coming in late and hungry, I pull something out of the freezer that needs only a few minutes in the microwave.

But on ‘normal’ days, making dinner is a way to make every day special. If it takes an hour to do that, who cares? An hour spent nurturing my family is an hour well-spent, in my mind. And if, some days, that hour expands to two or three…well, I at least make sure on those days I’m making enough to put a meal or two in the freezer for when I need an instant meal.

I also don’t mind going overboard now and again on dinner, because our family has a culture of food appreciation. From an early age, the kids learned to appreciate new flavours, interesting textures, and the culinary effort it takes to create a meal. If I spend two hours making dinner, I know the people who eat it will appreciate the extra effort. I know they will recognise it as one of the ways I show my love for them–a culinary hug. As teenagers, they resist real hugs, but they love a good culinary hug. It’s not just conditioning that they thank the cook at each meal–they actually mean it.

So if I go a bit overboard sometimes…well, you can never have too many culinary hugs.