Freelancing: Never Off the Clock + ANZAC Day


Work without Hope draws nectar in a sieve,
And Hope without an object cannot live.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge

I have written about ANZAC Day and ANZAC biscuits before. And more than that, I have baked ANZAC biscuits almost more than I have baked any other kind of cookie. You can find my recipe in the link above and make some for yourself. They are easy, probably healthier than a lot of other kinds of cookies (full of yummy oats!), quite flavorful and they keep well for longer periods of time than most other cookies. Make some now – you won’t regret it! And I won’t be bringing you any ANZACs since baking just has not happened for me much this year. So instead I can just acknowledge that it’s ANZAC Day and post a picture.

ANZAC biscuits

ANZAC biscuits

We’ll Meet Again” – Vera Lynn (who will apparently release a new album at the age of 97).

Part of this is just a lack of motivation for it. Part of it is also the occasional freelance project that pops up now and again. I have a normal full-time job that is relatively stimulating and busy – and I learn a lot. But having owned a small business for a very long time and having lived solely on freelance work alone, I find it is impossible to say no to freelance work. Not just because I always feel that old pull of “feast or famine”/you never know when your next job will come but also because it’s a challenge – it keeps the brain agile, putting together new things, learning new industries and jargon (never quite becoming a specialist). And the bottom line – I am never saying yes to things I don’t ultimately really enjoy. That often means working through weekends and nights – stuff that “normal” people are not that keen to do. The Salon article cited above captured all the feelings and experiences of being a freelancer – and never off the clock, and how that is both a blessing and a curse.

“If I love doing something, spending more time on it isn’t a chore. I’m not oppressed because I work all the time. I’m fortunate. What more could I wish for? I get paid to do everything I do. My actualization is monetized. I’ve won capitalism.

Nice as winning capitalism is, though, it’s also somewhat unsettling. In an economy more and more focused on cultural production, the line between producer and consumer and marketer just about disappears. Writers throughout history have often simultaneously exulted and despaired at the way that their lives turn into their art, but having your life turn into a content mill seems like a new, unpleasantly banal twist.  Even happy cogs are still cogs — working all the better because they’re happy, and willing to turn all the time.”

Cookies someday soon… Happy Anzac-less Australia Day


Since taking on several new activities and (for the moment) spending a bit more time in the office, I have not been at home with my dear oven and beloved KitchenAid mixer in order to get some serious baking underway. As a result, Australians throughout the office will be devastated to learn that I have not been able to supply much-loved Anzac biscuits for today’s Australia Day event. (But follow the link! You still have time to make them for yourself!) Likewise, my intention to bake caramel cream cookies remains just that, an intention.

Rest assured, I have an overwhelming amount of serious writing to do for work, which means I will spend a week or so holed up in my house behind the keyboard. This always means that the oven will be going at full throttle as well.

Cookies, dear addicts, will return soon. I would like to say “…return to an office near you…” but recognize that this is misleading. Chances are, they will only turn up at the Opera HQ in Oslo. 🙂

This year, in a reversal of fortune, I am so happy not to be in Iceland for the winter! The main road between Reykjavik and Keflavik, which is NEVER closed, was closed due to snow. This means the weather has reached an insane level of inhospitability. Icelanders are hardy, tough folks for whom a normal blizzard is just “a few flakes of snow”… so I cannot even imagine what is going on over there right now.

Last night, in mildly snowy Oslo, I went to see Reggie Watts‘s live musicomedy act at Parkteatret. Hilarious in that uniquely Reggie way. A long time ago, when I lived in Iceland, I used to know Reggie (briefly). This was before his comedy had taken off, and he was mostly known for fronting the band Maktub. We both had Seattle connections and had a lot of phone conversations. I eventually messed the friendship up by being more than a bit flaky (those were difficult times).

Last night when I saw the show, it suddenly dawned on me how much time had passed since then. In many ways it felt like yesterday, but when I really reflected, I realized how much has happened in my life since we were acquainted — so I can only imagine how much had happened and changed for him. (No wonder he seemed to have very little recollection of me. Not that I am particularly memorable.) The temptation to run to Stockholm to see Reggie’s show tonight is palpable. I will be wise, though, and stick with my working and baking plans (it’s the responsible, and incidentally, selfless, plan).

Happy Australia Day, my Aussie friends!

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Anzac biscuits: Messing with what’s not broken


Having let myself run low on brown sugar, I decided to save the brown sugar for something else and try out white sugar in the ever-popular Anzac biscuit recipe. I cannot say with authority how this turned out because I do not eat the vast majority of the cookies I make. They look and smell normal (although not as dark in hue due to the absence of brown sugar). I will rely on the experimental lab-rat-style eaters in my office for a final verdict.

The thing about baking, as I have written before, is that it is not really a discipline in which you can throw whatever you want to into a bowl and bake it. Precision is important; experimenting with different kinds of sugar, for example, could yield very different results. I have enough experience to know that white sugar in this case is not going to destroy the recipe, even if the flavor is slightly altered. All the time people ask me questions, though, about baking-related matters. They seem to be under the impression that baking is a laissez-faire enterprise, like a casual stir fry. HA. It is not. It is more like a chemistry project (only a lot more fun, likely less dangerous and with a whole lot tastier result). Seriously, I get asked whether baking soda and baking powder are the same thing and can be used interchangeably (the answer is no; each does different things). Some people think milk, sweetened condensed milk and evaporated milk are the same. No, in fact they are not.

My knowledge comes from experience (and being a stickler for rules, I am pretty glued to following recipes). But I am not a scientist with all the explanations tucked away as to why certain reactions between ingredients work the way they do. (TV/celeb chef guy Alton Brown actually gives a lot of the technical explanations in his books and shows. I recommend turning to him if you need to know the how and why behind baking.)

And the Anzac recipe again in case you’re too lazy to click the link (yeah, sounds stupid, but I can’t count the times someone has asked me to post a recipe again when I have clearly provided a link back to the original).

ANZAC biscuits
1 cup plain flour
1 cup rolled oats (oatmeal), uncooked
1 cup coconut
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup butter
1 Tablespoons golden syrup (or honey)
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda/baking soda
2 Tablespoons boiling water

Preheat oven to 350F/180C
Combine flour, oats, coconut and sugar in a bowl.
Melt the butter and golden syrup or honey in a saucepan over low heat.
Mix the bicarb of soda with the boiling water and add to the butter and golden syrup mixture.
Pour the liquids into the dry ingredients and mix well.
Spoon tablespoons of dough onto a parchment-lined baking sheet, leaving space between to allow for spreading.
Bake for 15-20 minutes. (Mine usually take less than this, so keep an eye on them.)
Cool on a wire rack and seal in airtight containers.)

Anzac biscuits, the second act


Going back to a previous baking of Anzac biscuits, I am prompted to write a bit about the subjective nature of “easiness”. For me, most baking is straightforward and easy. I have been doing it all my life, so I know what to expect, I know what I can and cannot do or change in a recipe, I know what texture and consistency is supposed to be like, so I easily make many different items and do so without too many failures (although previous failed attempts at making the Milky Way/Mars cake have failed more than once!). Thus it can be hard for me to understand what is difficult for new bakers, as they attempt and fail to make things that seem basic for me.

On the surface, baking seems much easier than cooking. You simply follow a recipe exactly as written… et voilà. But that is rarely how it goes. You can follow a recipe and just not have it turn out properly and need to add a bit more flour or adjust something small. As an inexperienced baker, you would not know what to add necessarily. Cooking can be the same, of course, but there is a lot of room for creativity and experimentation with cooking. Baking is more like chemistry, with reactions between ingredients causing different results (i.e. different additions make a cookie crisp versus soft, crunchy versus chewy, etc.). But on some level, you are still relying on the experience and intuition you gain as you bake over time.

Then again, you can be experienced and still end up with a slightly different product each time you bake. Even with the simplest recipe. The humble but delicious Anzac biscuit is a case in point. The ingredients are very basic, the measurements could not be more straightforward, and the method would seem foolproof. However, if you add just a bit too much butter, you end up with cookies that spread across the pan a bit too much and are a bit difficult to handle. If you put too little butter, you end up with crumbly cookies that are difficult to make stick together when forming dough balls. There is a delicate balance in between. No matter what happens to the form, the flavor is still lovely. It’s just the end product and what it looks like (and how well it holds up over the course of a few days or through the post) that differs.

These biscuits turned out very well, but I erred on the side of slightly less butter than should have been used.

In this picture, the cookies in the very back next to the framed photo is a picture of what I consider to be the more ideal Anzac-biscuit outcome.