Last week I went to the Governor-General’s house for drinks. This is not a normal occurrence. I expected it to be a stuffy occasion but it was surprisingly fun. Mrs G-G made us sing the chorus to You are my sunshine three times, including to each other, which was quite the ice-breaker. Everybody sang, although the esteemed person standing next to me grumbled that it was an American song and said, “If you look at the rest of the lyrics they’re actually quite sad.”
The G-G told us we could wander around, so we did. The decor in Government House is understated and calm: cream and bluey-green. There were couches everywhere. “Do people come here and sit down?” I asked. (We didn’t.) A staff member pointed out the cosy spot where Mrs G-G likes to have tea with the partners of official visitors. I’d be happy to be invited over for scones and a chat any time.
The G-G and Mrs G-G get to choose artworks from the National Gallery. I’m sure they have a curator to help them, but I think they’ve chosen well. I’d have a George Lambert on my lounge room wall too, if I could. Just inside the front door is the newest piece of art. It’s a large painting of an Illawarra flame tree, I forget who by, but I’m pretty sure it was the G-G’s personal choice. Whatever your opinion of the office of governor-general, this is a country where the son of a Wollongong steelworker can rise to that position. That’s worth singing about.
I was feeling rather hermit-like last week and had to push myself to go to a conference. I didn’t think I’d know anyone, so it was a lovely surprise when a friend from Sydney walked in. At the end of the day, before the formal dinner, I went with my friend to check out his hotel, the Little National. “It’s a car park!” said a woman from Queensland who was also staying there. The hotel’s perched like a glass box on top of multistorey parking, but it’s stylish and very welcoming. I wouldn’t mind checking in there for a staycation one rainy weekend. While my friend went to get changed, I took my shoes off and had a cuppa and a kip in the lounge and no-one minded.
On the last day of the conference, when I was feeling a bit schmoozed out and was quietly chomping on a sandwich, a man came up and introduced himself. What followed was an unexpectedly frank conversation. In my experience it’s rare for senior managers, especially men, to talk openly about gaps in their knowledge or the challenges they’re facing. It was so refreshing to be able to ask this very experienced person all sorts of questions and to get honest answers. He even helped me out with some career conundrums I’ve been grappling with. At work I tend to fly under the radar and at home I write about the small things in life, but I came away from that conversation with one thought in my head: BE BIGGER.
This week has been a bit hilly. Some goalposts were about to be moved, which would have meant big changes in my life. I don’t mind change but I do mind injustice, so there have been several nights when I’ve stayed awake feeling enraged about the situation. It now looks as though common sense has won, but the whole thing has been very tiring. I woke up this morning thinking, “When are the cavalry coming?”
They’re not, of course. You have to be your own cavalry, so I went out to post a present to a friend and buy myself some flowers. Outside the shops I noticed that the gum trees were flowering a deep pink. There was a sign on the supermarket window telling customers that there’s now a designated quiet hour for shopping. I like that idea. On the way home I saw four magpies on one side of the street having a bit of a chat with two on the other. All of these small things made the morning sunnier and I remembered the wise words of that famous philosopher Doris Day: que será será.
There was a point this week when I was in danger of becoming bitter and twisted but chose not to be. Bitter and twisted is a great combination in a cake, though, so I’ll sign off here with a recipe for a very lemony lemon cake…with a twist. When people bite into this cake and their eyes roll back in their head because it’s so delicious, ask them to guess what the secret ingredient is. They probably won’t be able to. It’s the humble spud! Lemons, almond meal, eggs, butter, potatoes: this cake covers ALL the food groups. Bon appétit!
150g butter, softened
200g caster sugar
225g ground almonds
2 teaspoons baking powder
250g cold mashed potato
1 lemon+one of the leftover lemons from above
5 tablespoons caster sugar
Heat the oven to 180°C (or a bit lower if it’s fan-forced). Grease a 23-cm springform tin and line the bottom with baking paper.
Beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add one egg at a time, beating in well, and add a spoonful of almond meal after each egg. Then add the rest of the almond meal, the baking powder, the mash, the zest of two lemons and the juice of one. Mix lightly so that everything is well blended but the mixture keeps its airiness. Tip the mixture into the prepared tin and level the top. Bake for 35-45 minutes, until a cake skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean. Cover the tin with foil or baking paper if the top is browning too quickly.
For the syrup, put the sugar in a small saucepan with the juice of two lemons and the zest of one. Bring it to a simmer then stir it and remove it from the heat. When the cake comes out of the oven, leave it in the tin and prick the top with a fork. Drizzle the syrup all over the top of the cake and leave it in the tin to cool.
Serve the cake with whatever accompaniment you like, or just eat it as is and feel your taste buds dance.