Friday, November 29, 2013

Is Goal Setting An Art? Part 1 - Growing From a 'To Do' List-er to a Goal Setter

It is that time of year when many of us move into reflection mode on the year that was and ponder our thoughts for the upcoming year.  Granted, it is a skill to run this reflection alongside the buzz and chaos of the festive season, but as natural multi-taskers I have faith in us all!

So in my not-necessarily-quiet reflection, I have chosen my goal for 2014: goal setting!

Let me explain myself...goal setting does not come naturally to me.  'To do' lists do.  I seem to have one growing 'to do' list and I want to learn how to actually get those items marked off.

I am rather short-sighted when it comes to planning and long-term goals because my long term is 3 months.  Life to me is much more fun when lived on impulse.  I do however love to be organised yet become uncomfortable very quickly with structure because it often involves repetition.  I have children though so understand that structure (I like to call it 'pattern') is important for them so we have it.    

In my reflective state this is what I have observed and learned about myself: 

  • because I am a 'to do' list-er, I will give myself a daily 'to do' list.  The time to complete each item may vary from 5 minutes to 20 minutes but if there are about 5 items on the list, I can guarantee that list will be incomplete at the end of the day. Why?  Call me crazy but the list becomes overwhelming.  Let me point out that these are items in addition to my usual day to day activities so it is finding that extra time or more aptly, thinking I will have the extra time in the first place, that is actually the overwhelming element.  Did I mention I am an idealist so tend to think anything is possible?  Then the day happens!
  • I have learned that I am better at having one item on my list for the day (even if it is a 5 minute one) because I am more than half a chance of actually completing it and marking that item off the list once and for all.
  • have you ever heard the saying "You can only eat an elephant one bite at a time"?  I have come to realise that I am also better at looking at the end picture, or goal in this instance, and breaking it down into smaller, more achievable bite size pieces (even chunks are too big for me!).  
  • I work best to deadlines.  Guaranteed, if I have a calendar year to complete a project, I will not look at it until October.  Again call me crazy, but my best work is done under the thrill/threat (your choice) of a deadline.  Giving myself a deadline that I know can be shifted does not work.  I will shift it.  The deadline must be absolute.  

I truly admire those folk who set goals, plan, focus, go forth and achieve.  I would like to have a crack at being one of those people in 2014.  My idealistic self believes it to be possible!  This is why I believe goal setting is an art - because not everyone is good at it. Mine is a little abstract at present.  Give me time.  I will present a masterpiece!

Stay tuned for next week's installment - Is Goal Setting An Art?  Part 2 - What My 25 Year Old Self Saw For My Life at 40+.

Friday, November 15, 2013

The Secret To The Best Christmas Cake Is In The Chocolate...Yes, The Chocolate!

Here we are, 6 weeks out from Christmas.  

Some super organised people have already begun their Christmas Day preparations, like my best friend who sent me a text on Monday to say she had completed all of her present was the 11th November!!  I wish I could be like this and resolve with myself each year that next year I will be more organised, but the truth is, I run well to deadlines!  In some macabre way, my body seems to thrive on the whole 'last minute' vibe.  Just once though, I would love to try an organised Christmas to see how it feels.

One thing however that I am always organised with is cooking our family Christmas Cake six weeks out from Christmas.   This is a recipe I found in a magazine many years ago (yep, I can't even take credit for it!) and have been making it each year since we married.  This Christmas fruit cake has a twist on the traditional....chocolate is one of the main ingredients!  Now that is what I call a Christmas cake.  This cake smells divine when cooking and tastes delicious.  So there was no way this year I was going to keep this little beauty to myself.  As I say, some secrets are best when shared!  

I read somewhere once that when cooking your Christmas cake, it is tradition to get each family member to stir the mixture once, making a wish for the following year as they do so.  Maybe it is an old wives tale.  Either way, it is a bit of fun and can't hurt, so we do it!

Without any further ado, here it is:


Serves: 16 - 20  Prep: 15 mins (+ 2 hours cooling time)  Cooking: 2.5 hours

Fruit cake is best stored in an airtight container in a cool cupboard or in the fridge in warmer weather, for up to 2 months.

850g    (5 1/4 cups) mixed dried fruit
150g    dark chocolate, chopped
250g    butter, chopped
200g    (1 cup, firmly packed) dark brown sugar
250mls (1 cup) whisky (feel free to vary this...I use whatever I have: port, sherry etc)
4          eggs, lightly beaten
225g    (1 1/2 cups) plain flour
50g      (1/3 cup) self-raising flour
30g      (1/4 cup) cocoa powder
1/2 tsp  bicarbonate of soda
145g    (3/4 cup) dark choc bits (I use the whole 250g's chocolate!!!)
60g      blanched almonds (due to nut allergies in our family I use Icing Sugar dusted over)

1.  Line the base and sides of a deep round 22cm cake pan with 3 thicknesses of non-stick baking paper bringing the paper 5cm above the side of the pan.

2.  Combine dried fruit, chocolate, butter, sugar and whisky in a large saucepan and stir constantly over medium heat for 5 minutes or until the butter and chocolate have melted.

3.  Increase heat to high and bring to the boil.  Reduce the heat to very low, cover and cook for 10 minutes.  Remove from the heat and cool for 5 minutes before transferring to a large heat resistance bowl.  Set aside for 2 hours to cool.  (I just leave it in the saucepan to cool).

4.  Add the eggs to the fruit mixture and use a wooden spoon to mix until well combined.  Sift together the flours, cocoa powder and bicarbonate of soda.  Add the dry ingredients and choc bits to the fruit mixture and mix well (making your wish!)

5.  Turn your oven on to 150 deg C.  Pour the mixture into the lined pan and smooth the top with the back of a spoon.  Decorate with the almonds (if using).  Bake in the oven for 2 hours and 25 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.  Cover the cake loosely with the foil after 1 3/4 hours.  Remove from the oven and cover the cake in the pan tightly with foil.  Wrap in a tea towel and allow to cool completely overnight.

The following day, I then wrap an additional 2 - 3 tea towels around the cake and put it aside until it is required on Christmas Day.  I then remove the cake and dust it lightly with icing sugar.  I will even use some stencils shaped like holly to give it a Christmas-ey appearance.  

Enjoy this delicious cake.  You won't be disappointed.  Happy Baking!

Friday, November 8, 2013

Riding A White Kangaroo

I have just enjoyed an exciting and all consuming week in New York.  Wow!  What an amazing and vibrant city?  It has so much to offer, to see, to eat, to shop.  It has been a place to visit on my bucket list since being an addict of the celebrated TV show that the city played the leading role in....of course I am talking about Sex And The City.  New York remains on my bucket list as I would love to return, several times!  

On this occasion, I visited my beautiful girlfriend Brooke - a fellow Australian who has taken up residence in New York - and is the perfect host and travel guide for me who has no sense of direction even in a city like New York that is so deliberately mapped out.  I know, it astounds me too!

After my compelling week, it was time to say 'see you later' to both New York and Brooke and embark on the lengthy, but worthwhile, journey home: New York to Dallas, Dallas to Brisbane, Brisbane to Sydney.  

A quick review on the morning of departure of the intended weather for Dallas revealed a warning for severe storms and tornadoes!  I was not without hesitation in boarding the flight to Dallas and was filled with sheer delight and relief when those wheels touched the tarmac, all of us in one piece.  

I must admit though, those feelings are nothing compared with what runs through you as an Australian when you set eyes upon the big white Kangaroo on the red tail of the Qantas aircraft and you know that is your safe ride home.  I don't know why, but so many travelling Australians will say the same thing. Being overseas and seeing that tail will bring tears to your eyes.  Regardless of how long you have been away from home, seeing that familiar icon, the most recognisable piece of Australia anywhere in the world, brings the same level of comfort as a loved one holding your hand.  

To the entire Qantas crew on my flight, thank you.  Thank you firstly for bringing me home safely to my family.  Secondly, thank you for making that long journey enjoyable.  You are friendly, professional and accommodating and your efforts do not go unnoticed.  You are second to none.

To New York, I loved you and look forward to meeting up again one day.  But Dorothy said it best when she clicked those red sparkly heels of hers and announced "there's no place like home".