Monday, May 30, 2016

Week 21: Cheers! | Close Shave

I have an embarrassing confession to make. The last time I was able to name all ministers of the Austrian Parliament was at the age of 17 when our History teacher made us watch "Wochenschau", a weekly review of international news and write a summary. I have never been so up-to-date with political events as I was in my late teens. I am simply not particularly interested and "into" national politics. Mind you, I never skip an election as in my opinion it would be a slap in the face of those who fought for people (and women in particular) to be able to to that and also you do not have the right to complain about the outcome if you didn't even bother. 
Even so, I don't tend to get passionate about electoral campaigns and usually just acknowledge the outcome of presidential elections with an "ok, so it's this person then" attitude. This time, however, it was different. When the final round last Sunday did not come up with conclusive results and the right-wing candidate (whom I did not want to win) was slightly ahead, but experts assumed that postal voters would turn the balance, I was crossing my fingers these predictions were they were. On Sunday afternoon, I almost emptied my phone battery by constantly refreshing to see who won. It felt like a thriller that both candidates were so close and everyone seemed to be talking about it, making predictions who would win. On Monday afternoon, for when final results were promised, my colleagues and I were refreshing news portals and eventually switched on the TV in our office kitchen for the first time ever to hear the announcement that the left-wing candidate had won and toasted with champagne. We all shared the same relief and sentiment: "Can you IMAGINE that your country had been represented by that right wing guy?" It's not all good yet as elections for the National Assembly are coming up and we fear the worst, but until then: phew!

Monday, May 23, 2016

Week 20: Expectations | Bright Views, Dark Thoughts

Last week I was in Dubrovnik. I had wanted to go there for a long time, having heard great things about this town, and as luck had it, I ended up visiting for a conference to which I could add on some sightseeing time. Win win! It was every bit as breathtakingly beautiful and impressive as I had thought it would be. The conference itself was also pretty cool and I ended up meeting lots of lovely new people.
Nevertheless, it wasn't all rainbows and unicorns. Is it ever? Apart from the fact that I unfortunately lost my beloved Tiffany's bracelet (it has either slipped off without me realising or housekeeping liked it, I cannot remember 100% if I had it on me and took it off when returning from dinner late on Tuesday night - I bought it in January and there has been a price increase since then...not sure if I will wait until I get to visit the US or find Tiffany's at duty free somewhere) I was once more the victim of my wishful thinking/expecting other people to tick like me. Disappointment number one was the fact that I met my former team and fully expected to get a farewell gift. I had organised one for the colleague that left before me and she had been in the team for less time than me so while I was touched by the virtual "card" (a presentation with one slide for each team mate) that the colleague had also got, I interpreted my ex-manager's words "we'll properly say goodbye and celebrate when we get together in Dubrovnik". It's not about receiving something valuable (ok,  I admit that I would have gladly taken the 200 EUR Netaporter voucher I organised for my ex-colleague), but I really was disappointed that nobody bothered to come up with something, which clearly they would have if I had still been with the team and suggested we pitch in and get a nice surprise for somebody else. 
The other, much bigger, disappointment was that I sent the person who I broke off contact with about a month ago (and yes, it is bugging me more than you could possibly imagine that I have not heard a peep from them even though I said I didn't require a reply) a birthday gift. I bought it in February and it is personalised so I couldn't really give it to somebody else. It wasn't expensive, but too expensive to throw in the bin. I didn't want to have it sitting at home and be reminded of him whenever I see it, so I put it in a padded envelope together with a "neutral" birthday card and sent it with registered mail last Saturday. It should arrived, unless it is waiting at the post to be collected. In any case, I fully expected some kind of reaction, aka brief "Thank You" in some shape or form and was very hurt that none has come. His birthday was on Saturday and being me, I couldn't let it be, but had to also send a text wishing him happy birthday and "hoping the card and gifts have arrived". No reply until Sunday evening. A nice and "appropriate" reply, but too little, too late. I know, I know. I had asked for it.
Arguably, there are good excuses for the other parties in both cases and I should have long learnt not to assume that everybody is on my wavelength and shares my standards of etiquette and reciprocity, but it once again ended up occupying my thoughts way more that I like to admit. Bring on the new week which includes a short trip to Barcelona!

Monday, May 16, 2016

Week 19: Impatience | There's always a Workaround

If you ask me what I consider my biggest character flaw, it is impatience. It makes me physically uncomfortable if I listen to people telling stories in a long-winded way (which I am guilty of myself, occasionally), take 20 minutes to say goodbye either in person or on the phone, if someone walks too slowly or lingers in shops or exhibitions forever. I just want to run and escape. Likewise, I really hate waiting for things to happen, for people to show up, etc. When I finally could pick up the new - smaller- desk I had ordered for my study/guest bedroom, I couldn't wait to tear up the flatpack and start assembling it. The instruction manual showed a pictogram of two (!) people, which I chose to ignore. Yes, I was expecting my cousin to visit that evening, but a) I wasn't planning to assemble furniture with my guest and b) I am IMPATIENT and wanted to do it right away. I quickly realised why 2 people were recommended - in order to fit the 4 parts together, you needed to make sure screws and rawlplugs fit into their respective holds, which required one person to hold/lift and one to guide them. Since the parts were not particularly heavy I eventually managed on my own, realising that the finished desk was a bit shaky and a few drops of wood glue (none included and the one I had at home had dried up) wouldn't have been a bad idea. I decided to shove the desk to its intended corner, when I realised I would have to give it a 360° turn. In order to achieve that I lifted it onto my rug and slowly started dragging the rug, when the bloody thing started falling apart or rather one of the side parts tilted to the side and then came off with a cracking noise. A few swear words might have been uttered as I observed the mess. Splinters of MDF everywhere, 2 gaping holes on the side where rawlplugs and screws(now bent) were and 4 separate parts again. Yay. Not. I managed to reassemble the desk right in the corner, realising that the two craters in the MDF were of course on the visible side. Where else. As much as I am impatient, I am not someone who likes to look at eyesores. Instead, I had the brainwave to cut the styrofoam that had protected the desk parts in its box to cover the mess, covered it with a nice Japanese fabric and stuck it onto the side as a little pinboard. It looks almost intentional, don't you think? :-p Since this desk was very cheap (which explains the quality, or lack thereof) I don't mind treating it as placeholder of sorts while I go on the hunt for a more solid specimen. 

Friday, May 13, 2016

Matcha Marble Cake

I haven't posted a recipe here in a long time, so here goes. As you (might) now, I frequently bake on Sundays and take the outcome of my culinary endeavours into work on Mondays. The last things I baked for the office was this take on a traditional marble cake, with matcha instead of the cocoa powder. The recipe I used as a base had very little sugar and even though I am the type of person who tends to leave out at least one third of the sugar in most recipes and is all for less sweet things, I found it could do with a bit more and I thus upped the quantity for my second attempt. It is easy (30 mins max of prep time) and pretty foolproof and the matcha flavour is pronounced, but less strong than in other recipes, so also suitable for matcha beginners, so to speak. Let me know if you try this yourself and how you liked it.


4 eggs
400 g flour

pinch of salt
120g icing/powder (!)  sugar
150 g butter (soft, at room temperature)
1/2 sachet (or 1 heaped tablespoon) of baking powder
vanilla sugar (1 sachet) or 1 teaspoon of vanilla essence
matcha powder (at least 1 heaped tablespoon)

1-2 additional tablespoons of icing or caster sugar
butter and flour to line the mould


Preheat your oven to 170° (fan setting). Grease and flour your baking muld (a "Guglhupf" type mould is recommended) Separate the eggs, beating the egg whites to a stiff consistency. In a separate bowl mix the soft butter and sugar(s) to a foamy consistency. Then add flour (with your pinch of salt and baking powder) and egg whites alternatingly. Add a few splashes of milk if the dough gets too firm. 

Put half of the dough back into the bowl where you mixed the egg whites and add your matcha powder. It should be enough to look the colour of pistachio ice-cream. Add an extra tablespoon of sugar to balance out the bitterness and more milk if needed.

Alternate the white and green dough when filling it into your prepared mould and finish by running a fork or skewer through it to create the marble effect.

Bake for 40-50 minutes (check with a toothpick or wooden skewer after about 35 - 40 mins) Let cool, take out of the mould and serve with icing sugar on top.

Monday, May 09, 2016

Week 18: Goldfish | Always Distracted

If the "symptoms" I am about to describe don't sound at least faintly familiar to you, you are a) a member of a cult whose guru strictly forbids the use of digital devices and social media, b) the proud user of a first generation Nokia dumb phone and Dell computer that runs on Windows 95 or c) likely a very smart person who knows how to focus on tasks really well and should write a self-help book on this talent that would become an international bestseller. 
Myself, I fall in neither of the above categories and thus am one of those sad creatures who reach for their phone a gazillion times a day and regardless of the fact whether they are sitting in front of their laptop at home or at the office are distracted every 5 minutes or so by newsletters, chat windows, incoming e-mail, the ever-present allure of online sales, etc. I have long ago tried to mitigate the damage on my goldfish brain by filtering e-mails, deactivating pop-up notifications both on my Macbook and smartphone, but it only helps to a certain point. It's not so much FOMO or stress, but a deep-rooted habit and endless circle of "checkemailcheckinstagramcheckbloglovincheckcalendar" that makes it difficult to focus on one single task. I notice it at trainings I give, too. Regardless of the subject matter (and I also pride myself of not being a boring presenter most of the time) 15 minutes max seems to be the longest time-span before people start reaching for their phones furtively or you can tell that they are reading through their Facebook feed on their laptops.
Why the long preamble? Well, I managed two things last week that a few years ago I would not have regarded worth mentioning, but which really reminded me how my work style and consumption of reading matter have changed in the last decade. For once, I got a feeling of slight panic when my new boss sent me a friendly e-mail on Wednesday afternoon saying she would like me to help her put together a presentation for a call on Monday. Thursday was a holiday and I did not do any work that day and I had planned to spend a chilled day working (no, make that "working" from my parents) on Friday. I knew that I would need to do research on the subject matter as I was new to it and reports (I hate spreadsheets, full stop) were involved, too. Eventually, I did all of it on Friday and it was a walk in the park. I sent her the final draft at 3 p.m. on Friday and she was thrilled and praised me. Just the fact of having a short deadline and knowing I would need to focus on a single task immediately made me uncomfortable and this really made me realise what a digital degenerate I have become. It is ridiculous really as if there is one thing I have consistently been praised for by managers and colleagues alike it is my good time-management skills and being able to deliver in the face of short deadlines. 
The other mundane task that felt like a major achievement was finally finishing a book (as in actual offline paperback) I had borrowed from my parents and had begun reading when I was home for Christmas. I found it hard to get into it at the beginning and a bit pretentious, but then ended up really liking it. In any case, what took me so long despite the fact that I am a very fast reader is that I don't really carry books around me any more. They don't really seem to fit in with my lifestyle, crazy as this sounds. I basically only read them at home and in fact made most progress with this book during several bathtub soaking sessions. However, even at home, I am in the habit of watching YouTube videos and reading magazines more than reading books. I constantly feel I need to fight with magazine backlog and to decrease the pile in my living room. That not buying any (and I have in fact gotten much better at buying less) is the simple answer to that problem is obvious and I am of course aware of it. I don't even carry my (first generation) Kindle with me any more, but have been reading books on the Kindle phone app when on public transport. Since the beginning of this year, I have read 3 books this way and I really don't mind the small screen at all. So it's not that I don't read and reading actual paper books are still my favourite and so superior to their digital equivalent. I definitely want to change the way I consume books and try to read old school books for longer periods of time. Summer holiday goals, I guess.

Wednesday, May 04, 2016

And then I bought a Chanel Bag

If you have been following me for a while or even know me IRL, as they say, it won't have escaped your attention that I have a handbag...problem. Actually, the title of this very blog might be a little pointer. Just saying.
In any case, over the years, I have accumulated literally dozens of handbags ranging in price from a cheap lunch to a return flight ticket VIE-SYD. There are some brands I have grown out of or tired with, others that I might never fancy regardless or their prestige and value (I don't see myself wearing an Hermès bag, really) and others I kind of had bookmarked for "later". Well, actually only one of them, Chanel. It was the "grown-up" bag I thought I would buy some day. And then the Empress got a brand new one from her very generous hubby for her birthday last summer, making her the first friend I knew who owned one.  I admired and stroked hers (beige, in caviar leather) and thought I might start looking into it before my 45th (OMG, how ancient does this number sound?!) birthday. Then a blogpost linking to various YouTube videos on the subject seriously sucked me in and I realised one thing: regardless of the fact that I can afford a new bag, I am not willing to purchase a bag at the store what with Chanel's biannual (!) price increases of several hundreds (!!) of € each time. Apparently, quality has declined in recent years, rather than the reverse and I am not willing to support this. I'd rather donate the price difference to a charity before playing this game. Thus I began checking out the usual suspect of trusted vintage sites. "Just looking", you know. Well. That just looking phase lasted less than two weeks until I fell for this beauty:
I made a price offer that got accepted, briefly deliberated since the chain is too short for cross-body wear, and then pounced. Thus I came to own a Chanel bag much sooner than I had planned. I simply love the colour combination and the out-of-this-world softness of the lambskin leather. It's as if silk and butter had produced a lovechild. I also adore the silver hardware which makes it much more contemporary and edgy in my opinion. It took me a while to find out the year this bag was released (Cruise Collection 07/08) and it is not officially a "vintage" bag. I got it for a very decent price and it is in very good condition, with some minor wear and tear signs at the back, which I don't mind at all.
Needless to say, I had to wear it already the day after it arrived, making sure my fingernails were painted the exact same red. My friends were eager to see and stroke it. They agreed it was #baggasm material and I was impressed that all my necessities fit into it. Admittedly, you should be able to expect some level of quality at that price, but it really sit exceptionally well on the shoulder and did not slide off once. 
Even though I can now strike off "buy Chanel bag" from my imaginary handbag-hoarder to-do list, I still would like to own a (preferably navy) jumbo version of this bag in caviar leather. For now, I am not even looking and giving my bank account a little break...

Monday, May 02, 2016

Week 17: Spring Cleaning | Out with the Old

Last week I was very productive, both literally and figuratively speaking. I had my 9th anniversary at the Firm and my second-minus-a-month anniversary of being miserable about the hot/cold (recently decidedly frosty) treatment by a certain somebody, so I finally took a deep breath and cut all ties. I'd have to lie if I wasn't hoping for some kind of reaction even though I explicitly wrote I didn't want any. Slamming doors is only half the "fun" if the only echo is in your mind, but whatever... I distracted myself by filling my calendar with lots of meetings and also some long overdue spring-cleaning and minor redecorating in my flat. Oh, and also by making the mother of all handbag purchases...more about that soon.
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