Knows how to do things

Ladybird cross-stitch
Ladybird cross-stitch project

I think this would be the modern-day description of ‘accomplished’.

If we fast forward Jane Austen to the twenty-first century, her characters wouldn’t be praised for their accomplishments but for knowing how do to things.

Last week we had three visits from mi novio‘s younger sister (my cuñada), her older husband and nine-month old baby – all visits by virtue of the La Suegra staying with us – and on all occasions she said “Camille sabe hacer cosas.” (Camille knows how to do things). It only struck me the third time in a short period of time that she is in awe of what I do and I realised that almost every time she visits she says the same thing.

She comments on little things that to me are the product of a little bit of curiosity or interest in something. On the third visit I was decorating La Suegra‘s birthday cake and accompanying cupcakes when they arrived, yet later when I opened the fridge to take out the giant cupcake and the other normal cupcakes, she asked in the most surprised voice if I’d made them myself and was I sure I hadn’t bought them. She then went on to say I should open a cake shop, a comment which her husband seconded heartily.

I should note that I used a packet cake mix and the decorations were not as I had hoped because I messed up the ratio of cream to white chocolate so the ganache was runny and hardly stayed on the cake as I’d envisioned. I guess by Colombian standards, my cakes were pretty special because I made them myself. I don’t know any Colombian who bakes a birthday cake. Birthdays always mean a trip to the cake shop to buy an overly creamed cake.

My other accomplishment, in the eyes of my cuñada, is the cross-stitch I am working on. While sitting around on the couch during these visits, in order to be at least partially social and keep my interest piqued in something, I have taken to working on my cross-stitch. I hadn’t done any cross-stitch since high school, but recently the desire came over me, so I bought a little colour-coded kit of a ladybird to work on. Apparently knowing how to do cross-stitch is also something amazing, even though I’m just following the instructions and have ignored the suggested stitches for large areas because they look too complicated.

What would also be amazing is if I knew how to knit, crochet and embroider, but alas, this fair maid knoweth not these feminine arts.

I have always wanted to lead an interesting life, and I think that for my cuñada, my life has been like a fantastical latino soap opera that flirts with the borders of the possible. In contrast to her, I’m not content to sit and do nothing except watch soaps on TV. I like to explore, travel, learn new things, experiment, be creative, read, write, get crafty, visit museums and I like to work.

To her, my inspired, but lacking in finesse, activities and crafts are the most amazing things. However, it’s all about exposure and experiences, and based on my experiences I admire and am awed by my friends who post elaborate and perfectly decorated cakes on Facebook, who produce the most darling little crochet and knitted pieces, who can sing or play a musical instrument, who can design and make their own clothes, who can take and edit incredible photographs, who envision and create films, who are disciplined and prolific writers, who renovate and decorate their homes, who are talented sportspeople, who have beautiful and paradisiacal gardens, who can paint or draw, who can fix machinery or make anything they can imagine, who plan and prepare extensive dinner parties, who can prepare a perfect latte, who can make a divine floral arrangement, who can speak other languages fluently, who commit to further study, who can design memorable posters and documents, who can build their own furniture and who live their passions.

I’m most interested in giving things a go, it’s not so much about the quality of what you are doing, but rather that you are actually doing something. Particularly if it is a creative pursuit, there are many benefits to be gained by exercising that part of your brain and it makes life enjoyable. I mean, I like watching television, but I don’t gain any enjoyment out of it. I get enjoyment and satisfaction out of baking, making some little craft, reading, wrapping presents and the like.

My dad always says that a man’s got to have a project. This is coming from a man who has many, many projects (both completed, uncompleted and pure ideas) and this from a man who knows how to do lots of things. I agree with him. Having personal projects is productive and enjoyable, it is interesting and most of all, it is a great way to continue learning and growing.

So whilst the nineteenth century term of accomplishment has gone out of fashion, it is still very much alive. So don’t be shy, don’t say you don’t have time to follow your creative pursuits. Make the time, try your best and keep learning new techniques and ideas. You never know who out there will admire your efforts.

For a little bit of fun, here’s a quiz to find out which Jane Austen heroine you are….

What are your accomplishments (or what you know how to do)? What accomplishments do you wish you had?


Call the fire brigade

I thought I was about to burn the house down last night in a baking incident gone wrong.

Of recent times, more often than not, I can be found wearing an apron by the oven. I’ve discovered the joys of baking. These joys include producing a successful baked product, the de-stressing that comes from constructing something with love and painstaking care and the accolades from those who are on the baked treat share list. My obsession with baking came to the point where a friend told me to back away from the oven and stop stalking it.

In a way that other girls are getting their vintage on pursuing grandmotherly crafts with considerable talent and success I’m getting my baker on. I’m trying new things that I’ve never made before, or things that I’ve been scared of attempting for fear of failure, and the results lie more on the success end of the measuring spoon.

Last night I faced up to the biggest possible failure when the element in my electric oven caught fire after the springform tin holding my cheesecake started oozing a buttery fat. I hadn’t noticed the smoky kitchen as I was in my room Facebooking or tweeting, or doing something similarly unimportant. It wasn’t until checking on it about 25 minutes into cook time that I discovered this and put a baking tray underneath the tin to catch the drips.

Two minutes later my eyes bulged with disbelief as the coil caught on fire. I watched it burn, as we all do around a campfire, entranced by the flames until I realised I needed to do something. I turned the oven off, but this didn’t abate the flames. I opened the oven door only to realise a moment later that the oxygen from outside the oven was fueling the flames.  I yelled in a panicked voice to my housemate to come quick “The oven is on fire! I don’t know what to do!”

The flames started burning with bright blue bases and didn’t seem to be going out. I started thinking about calling the fire brigade, but was so panicked I couldn’t remember where my phone was and I didn’t want to leave the kitchen to set fire while I wasn’t watching.

After a second panicked call to my housemate because I hadn’t heard her answer, she appeared dripping and in a towel as she’d been in the bath. She didn’t know what to do either but suggested we wait. I wasn’t game to open the oven door again and played a waiting game in front of the oven, every fibre of my being tingling with adrenaline and wishing I had a fire blanket handy.

After what seemed like far too long, the fire eventually burned out and I left the door closed to make sure it didn’t re-ignite.

Eventually I opened the oven door with caution and was greeted by a cloud of smoke. I opened the front and back doors and made sure the ceiling exhaust was on high to clear the smoke. I took out the half-baked cheesecake and did what I always do, I phoned home for advice. It turns out Mum has never set fire to her oven before, so there was no comfort there, but she told me to give it a clean out where all the butter had pooled on the floor of the oven and see if it still worked.

Once the oven had cooled down, I wiped it out with paper towel, amazed at how much liquid butter was in there, and then with a damp soapy sponge. Leaving the oven door open to keep a close eye on things, I turned the thermostat on to a low setting and watched the coil heat up and glow red. Wisps of smoke rose and when I heard some crackling, I quickly turned it off again. After a pause, I tried it again and this time there was no crackling, just smoking from the cleaning and remainder of the fat. I hadn’t broken the oven after all!

Eventually, it was all good to put the cheesecake back in there to cook. I was worried that it would be smoky or burnt or just inedible, but I was pleased to find that despite some small burnt crumbs, it was a perfectly delicious creation and that my friends loved it.

Like a brilliant phoenix rising from the flames, so did my chocolate cheesecake.

Chocolate cheesecake
The cheesecake survived!
Half-eaten cheesecake
... only to be devoured.

This hostel feels like home

I’m staying at the most beautiful hostel in Durango, Colorado. It is so chilled and homely that I don’t want to leave it to see anything.

It is more like a b & b that’s how nice it is. Super clean, quality utensils in the kitchen, a cosy lounge, a deck looking out onto the bush, shelves for those sleeping on the top bunk, fluffy towels, soft sheets and an even softer blanket. A five out of five on my TripAdvisor review.

The kitchen inspired me to bake brownies, from a packet, but still my first bit of baking since I left LA. But I don’t want to think about baking for too long though as I miss my KitchenAid beaters and my pav plate from Goodwill. I’d love to just whip up a pavlova for the hell of it, but it is a finicky business that requires all the right equipment, and most hostels don’t have it. Needless to say when I’m camping there definitely aren’t the facilities for pav making.