After a frantic beginning to 2016 (bringing much joy and happiness, as well as a few metaphorical grey hairs), I am desperately clawing back time to cook and blog and all the things that fall out of the bucket when you’re racing through. Finishing my final masters assignment of the semester bought to a close a six month period that included: the joy of being a part of two of my favourite people’s wedding, a fundraiser for dancing goddesses, trips to Melbourne, to Sydney and to Africa, visitors, my 30th birthday, learning a new job, dancing, two courses running concurrently, some setbacks and some great laughs. In the interests of bringing more home-time and down-time, some cooking was achieved this weekend. Its like the last six months, some sweet experiences and others that zing on the lips with salty flavour that you’re not quite sure you like.
Salted Caramel Peanut Butter Slice
FOR THE BASE 225g butter chopped into cubes, plus a little for greasing (the tin not your face) 140g unsalted peanut, toasted and cooled 225g plain flour 50g cornflour 2 tbs golden syrup
CARAMEL 1 tin condensed milk ½ cup (120 grams) smooth peanut butter * salted * 1 tablespoon brown sugar 45 grams butter Good couple of pinches of salt
CHOCOLATE 300 gram chocolate buttons
1. Use food processor to process the base ingredients all together – it will go like breadcrumbs then a big lump.
2. Turn out the lump into a greased lamington tin. Cook for 18-20 minutes at 160 Fan forced. Cool it down in the fridge or if you’re being leisurely just out on the bench*
3. Once its cooled prepare the caramel sauce. Melt all of ingredients in the pan on low heat. After melting cook through for 5 minutes. Spread over the base and cool in the fridge
4. Once its cool, melt the chocolate and spread over the caramel and cool in the fridge.
*I wanted to hand this over pretty quickly, so I made the process quicker by freezing each layer in the freezer. I did this with a few tea towels protecting the glass freezer shelves, with about 30 minutes for the first two layers and about 15 for the third.
The chocolate layer is much crackier and thinner than others I’ve had – I don’t like the sickly sweetness of too much chocolate.
Imagine this. You are young, pregnant and scared. You are hungry, because the yields in the village this year were poor. You are tired and in labour with your first child. You felt like you were too young to marry but it was the way it was done. You married shortly after your first period at age 13, but you did not yet look like a woman. The women surrounding you now, are afraid, the child isn’t moving. There are no doctors, or nurses, in your village or the next. There is no help. Two sunsets have fallen.
Eventually your body ejects the baby, though it is dead. You are in pain, your insides are on fire. A hole has been torn between your bladder and vagina and another between your vagina and rectum. The damage left your body unable to control its normal excretory functions, and urine and faeces were constantly dripping down your legs. Your husband quickly rejects you as do the village people. You live on the outskirts of town, alone, poor and ill.
Childbirth, especially in the developing world, is a dangerous business. It is often compounded by poverty, poor health, lack of choice and education, and structures that do not respect each woman and her rights. According to the World Health Organisation:
Every day, approximately 800 women die from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth.
99% of all maternal deaths occur in developing countries.
Maternal mortality is higher in women living in rural areas and among poorer communities.
Young adolescents face a higher risk of complications and death as a result of pregnancy than older women.
Skilled care before, during and after childbirth can save the lives of women and newborn babies.
Between 1990 and 2013, maternal mortality worldwide dropped by almost 50%.
Last year, I read a book about an Australian doctor, Dr Catherine Hamlin, and her husband, Dr Reg Hamlin, and their story of moving to Ethiopia and setting up a treatment clinic for fistula. To give you context, for a population of almost 100 million, Ethiopia has less than 200 obstetricians or gynecologists and less than 5,000 trained midwives. Poverty is rife and access to healthcare is difficult. Their organisation, not only treats these injuries but also has changed lives by setting up a group home for those with nowhere to go to and trained midwives.
Following that lasting impression, and hearing the stories of women not only in Ethiopia, but in other parts of the developing world, motivates me to regularly support this charity’s work. This year, like last year that means selling (or asking people to sell) fundraiser goodies, and hosting a high tea, though this years will be a smaller affair than last. The organisation also sets you up with a fundraising page which is linked below. I am hoping to raise $1000 this year. Last year we raised almost $2000, which exceeded all my expectations. So I am encouraging you to help me reach my target by heading to my fundraising page.
One of the biggest challenges women face today is the question of being “enough”. Not only at that personal fear in the middle of the night level, where you contemplate whether you are doing enough for your loved ones, your career, your community and your career, but also the this feeling of being feminist enough.
Identifying as a feminist can be simple or hard, and come at a variety of times in a persons life and have a different application for each feminist. Much is made of celebrities having a “feminist awakening”. For me, it was at a young age, where I recognised myself in Louisa May Alcott’s Jo March, who was fierce, fiery, clever and not afraid of hard choices in a world so foreign from my own –civil war, pre-suffrage, pre-abolition of slavery. I wish I was a teenager now, where there is so much exciting debate and material on the internet about versions of feminism. Trolling through the seminal feminist books at the library was not nearly as vibrant, discursive or accessible. Neither was participating in the debate easy. My girlfriends, from school, who remain such a strong force in my world, looked at me like I might be a little crazy for my vehement opposition to their débutante balls.
That moment, where your views are met with indifference, confusion or even anger, is a challenge for an emerging feminist. You are like a mole, popping your head into the bright new world, which blinds you with all the injustices and inequities, but that temporary blindness makes you blind to the range of views and diversity within your new world.
Though the meaning is perfectly clear, my favourite version is that of Nigerian author and thinker, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichi, the application and approaches are as diverse as the men and women who identify with the term. There is a constant debate about the choices feminists are making, whether they work, whether they breed, what they wear, who they date, whether they marry, what work they pursue, how aware of their privilege they are and a countless number of other choices. This debate seeks to make out that feminism is some kind of rule book rather than a discussion, a conversation and a process. Making feminists question whether they are enough, makes it nigh impossible to make the progress made to end the unequal outcomes, the experience of violence and discrimination that defines the challenges facing women. The last thing women need is further regulation and rules over their behaviour and choices. So I’ll be declaring myself, feminist enough.
Dove, has recently released an advertising campaign, encouraging women to #choosebeautiful (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7DdM-4siaQw). At first glance it seems innocent enough, encouraging women to see their positives, see their beauty. The company suggests of women polled, 96% of women will not use the word “beautiful” to describe themselves, and shows in its short film, women from five cities as diverse as Sao Paolo to London, choosing whether they are beautiful or average, by walking through labelled doors. Dove’s website suggests:
“Dove believes feeling beautiful is a personal choice that women should feel empowered to make for themselves. “Although the majority of women don’t describe themselves as beautiful, 80% agree that every woman has something about her that is beautiful. It’s time women think differently about this choice,” says Steve Miles, Senior Vice President, Dove”
At the first blush, I don’t disagree that these results are skewed, that this says a lot about how women are influenced by society about their perceptions of their appearance. But beyond that first blush, I am deeply sceptical of the commoditisation of the body positive movement which seeks to combat the damaging impacts of images which market a particular kind of loveliness – typically feminine, able bodied, white, clear skinned, able bodied, thin but just voluptuous enough to be “sexy” – that isolates many from society’s view of beauty and desirability. Furthermore, it seems internally inconsistent from a company that makes profits from the beauty industry.
Furthermore, I would hope that I have more choice than choosing just beautiful. I have, like many of us both strengths and weaknesses which offers my husband, friends, family, colleagues and society unique contributions beyond whether I am having a good hair day (yep, that’s a while off while I grow out this pixie).
The final reason it does not pass my first blush, is that it is masquerading as a positive message, but remains focused upon the external desirability of women, rather than the inherent qualities that they possess. It suggests that we should reorient how we talk about our beauty, rather than suggesting that we could refocus our energies in something deeper, more complex than just our external appearance and how we choose to describe it. Whilst commercial enterprise suggests women should be focusing their attentions on their beauty – whether it be defined by ourselves, or by society- our efforts are being dissuaded from achieving our full potential. The greatest value should be more variable, and should be not just skin deep. The beauty industry is extremely profitable, around $55 billion annually in 2014, in the USA alone. The business of making yourself beautiful is said to waste about 55 minutes a day, or 2 weeks a year. Imagine the potential benefits of refocusing that attention and money elsewhere if we could refocus our value elsewhere. Considering the comparative time, energy and importance appearance is placed on men’s appearance, I thought that Caitlin Moran has summed it up best more generally:
“You can tell whether some misogynistic societal pressure is being exerted on women by calmly enquiring, ‘And are the men doing this, as well?’ If they aren’t, chances are you’re dealing with what we strident feminists refer to as ‘some total fucking bullshit’.”
So yeah, I’m not choosing beautiful today. I’m choosing to be the intelligent, passionate, hilarious and caring person I know myself to be. I love clothes, and think that makeup can be tops, but I love me for so much more than any external reference that you could pick.
Today’s outfit post, has been delayed by a week, I have had the great joy of hosting friends from abroad, university and maid of honour duties in Melbourne. You might have noticed my use of the word blush. Today’s outfit is focused around my favourite purchase from my recent round the world trip, from H & M in Sweden (the mothership), a beautiful blush tulle skirt. It can be a challenge to put this together, it is foofy and needs a lot of calming down with darker colours. I’m working on a decent spot in our apartment for photo taking, you are going to have to imagine what my plain black boatneck looks like tucked into my shirt, because that photo is le rubbish.
I picked this outfit for my first post because it’s one of my favourites at the moment. Approaching my first post is hard, trying to work out what it is that I want to say. Now those of you who know me in person, I’m not often lost for words. In fact I love talking.
The A-line skirt with pleats is a perfect shape for work (I’ve collected three so far!). The white shirt, without buttons is smart, providing the look of a traditional shirt without the irritation of a button-down style which gapes in a thoroughly ungainly fashion (can I get a hell yeah from my big busted friends?!). I love the sheer shoulder detail, which takes a simple t-shirt style to the next level. I normally add a black blazer to the ensemble particularly as Canberra transitions from autumn into winter.
My favourite part though, is the vivid orange of the skirt which breaks the monotony of drab office furniture, grey suits and computer screen tans. I feel like the skirt in a lot of ways speaks for me. It is vivid and perhaps a little too loud and frivolous for my office. Writing this first post, I was trying to select something that at least presents an honest version of what I’m about, which I think this outfit does to some extent, its colour composition is bright and colourful, vivid and maybe a bit frivolous; but its shape and look is professional and serious.
I read this week, an article about a woman who chooses to wear essentially the same outfit every day (http://www.businessinsider.com.au/woman-wears-same-work-outfit-matilda-kahl-2015-4) to work. All the power to her, and indeed men have been doing this for years – heard of a suit anyone? But I have to admit, I do enjoy the joy of picking an outfit every day, it is a way to decide what version of myself I want to be that day. It can be an expression of my personality in a hectic business day.