Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Christmas Merry-go-round

(French wreath on our front door)

(Danish reindeer tree decoration from the Christmas tree)

(felt snowman from Kyrgyzstan)

(gingery - clovey Christmas candle from the UK)

It would not be Christmas in Australia be without some multicultural festive items thrown in.

I don't go down the lobster, oyster and prawn path which many Australians follow at Christmas time.

Partly because Christmas Day in Melbourne has been known to be wintery, and partly because the queues at the fish market on 24 December are horrendous. I have better things to do than queue for Mysteriously More Expensive Than The Week Before seafood on Christmas Eve. Like glaze my ham, make trifle, set the table, set the children's table, polish the silver, bleach the napkins, buy pots for the gardenias, write out a military precision timetable for Christmas morning turkey cooking, and all of those types of things.

To all readers, speedy flash visitors accidental or on purpose, followers, commentators and thinkers I wish you all a Merry Christmas.

Thank you for all your thoughts and lovely lovely wishes.

Back in January after a little holiday.


Monday, December 21, 2009

My favourite things of the Year Part 2 - Food

Favourite restaurant - Mo Vida, the quintessential Melbourne restaurant and bar, in all its incarnations, including the one (Aqui and Terrazza) which opened opposite work in early November. To understand the significance of this, bear this in mind: when we moved offices 5 years ago, we moved from what is called the Paris End of Collins Street to what is known as the Beirut End of Bourke Street (apologies to all Lebanese people). An area largely bereft of good coffee and anywhere much to eat lunch with a few notable exceptions.

So, to now have Mo Vida so close is excitement itself.

I wrote here about a dinner I had with Mo Vida food and Spanish wine. The new Mo Vida Aqui, an industrial space behind a bank, with views to the Supreme Court, is up to Mo Vida standards.

Having had a many coursed meal there last week, it satisfied all my requirements, including one I barely knew I had, namely for an octopus terrine with smoked paprika and potato salad. Here it is:

MoVida Aqui and Terraza on Urbanspoon

Favourite wine - is wine a food? Yeah, sure. The heatwaves last February which led to devastating bushfires in South East Australia had one good outcome - in combination with heavy rain in mid December 2008, an outstanding 2009 riesling vintage.

This is really mostly what I have drunk this year.

Favourite packaged food: Pineapple and vanilla bean jam.

Generally speaking I do not like pineapple. To paraphrase Dr Seuss:

I do not like it in a tin
I do not like it on a pizza
I do not like it in a burger
I do not like it with ham

Not in fruit salad
Not in a muffin
Not on pavlova
Not under upside down cake

Not in a salsa
Not in a pie

I do not like it
One little bit

But this jam, which manages to smooth the sharp spikiness of pineapple with pungent vanilla-eyness, is quite something else. Perfect on toast.

This jam comes from Phllippa's Bakery, a place of such temptations we were compelled this year to buy a coffee machine to avoid our weekend trips there for takeaway coffee, as these visits always involved us also returning home laden with unnecessities like French butter, gingerbread stars, peanut butter biscuits, tomato kasoundi, creme fraiche, costly spiced nuts, raspberry cupcakes, little hand shaped dinner rolls and so on.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Bona Vista - Melbourne life in 1885

This is Bona Vista, built in 1885 and located in South Yarra.

It is now for sale. It is very unusual for a property in inner Melbourne to have this much land, let alone a lavender field:

and a lake:

and a turret and a ballroom (used by the owners as a kind of panelled games and trophy room, which made me feel a bit despondent).

So, I realise I can't afford this house (and trust me, it requires Quite a Lot of Redecoration Inside) but it did make me wonder what was happening in 1885 in Melbourne.

Elsewhere of course it was a stellar year for war torn boys own literature. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, Germinal by Emile Zola, Arabian Nights by Sir Richard Burton, A Tangled Tale by Lewis Carroll and H Rider Haggard's King Solomon's Mines were all published.

And in Melbourne, were you to be invited to a wedding in West Melbourne you might just receive this invitation for dancing at 8 o'clock:

And the divinely seraphic Ruby Lindsay was born, sister to, and overshadowed greatly by her brothers Norman (who wrote The Magic Pudding), Sir Daryl (married to Joan Lindsay, see my post on these two here), Sir Lionel (influential art critic, illustrator, etchings artists) and Percy, all literary and artistic lions of the age.

I must say Percy, whom I had not previously heard of, sounds like the pick of the bunch. He is described in the Australian Dictionary of Biography thus:

"A charming Bohemian who enjoyed the company of convivial friends, Percy was the least ambitious of the Lindsays and the most competent painter in the family."

Ruby had some artistic talent too, and illustrated a number of books and theatre notices (like the one below) and also produced charcoal drawings.

(very rare and for sale for $6,500)

Tragically she did not live to receive either the acclaim or the equivalent to the nubile ladies and knighthoods which rained down on her brothers. She died in Ireland in 1919, one of the many victims of the Spanish influenza epidemic.

On a brighter note, 1885 saw the birth in Sydney of Frank Hurley, intrepid explorer and photographer with a clean modern eye:

and Dorothea MacKellar, author of the poem 'I love a sunburnt country', which is, I think Australia's national poem and makes me feel like crying when I hear it. You can read it here.

(Images etc (1)-(3) Bona Vista (4) National Library of Victoria (5) catalogue.nla.gov.au (6) Picture Victoria (7) bsbgallery.com (for sale) (8) Shackleton-Endurance.com (9) Artnet.com (10) DorotheaMackellar.com)

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Giveaway Winner is...........

(Elizabeth David in her kitchen)

The lucky winner of the giveaway is.....

First I need to clarify that I did not use random.org to select the winner because I got some comments by email and I needed to include them in the draw.

I therefore got my daughter, who has no interest whatsoever in the process, to draw a name from a large bowl.

So, the good news for Mise from Pretty Far West, is that you are the winner of the Elizabeth David book on Italian Food.

I think it is obvious this draw was not rigged, given I now have to post something to the far far west of Ireland. I am sure you are all interested in how much that will cost. I will tell you once My Assistant has calculated it. Mise please email me your address so I can begin this exercise!

The bad news is that Australia Post has this week called a snap Christmas strike, so delivery of the book May Be Some Time.

The winner of the most persuasive comment is James. I can assure you if I ever make it to the very deep South, which I will one day, I would love some pasta, Elizabeth David inspired or not, around that big wooden table.

(Image: www.wychwoodbooks.com)

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Best Melbourne Things of the Year - Part 1 - The House

Don't forget my giveaway - ends today 16 December 2009

I thought I might do a post on my favourite Melbourne things of the year. Purely subjective and opinionated of course. But I have found so many things that I will have to do it in a few parts. I hope you will bear with me.

Part 1 is my favourite house. Now you may know that Australian residential architecture is having a lovely spot in the sun. Instead of architects dying to get out of residential and design The Iconic Cultural Global Significant Structure, it seems to me that many are finding their clever and innovative niche in residential architecture.

There is still a long way to go. To quote Christopher Moore from Houses magazine:

It has been estimated that approximately 3% of new homes built in Australia each year are designed by an architect. Imagine if the automotive industry sufferred such low rates of designer input into the finished product: the roads would be awarsh with poorly designed, ugly and inefficient cars that would be difficult to operate and unpleasant to look at - not to mention frightfully expensive. The parallel with residential construction in this country is obvious.

Of course architecture adds a cost to a project. And nothing against draftspeople but I do wonder sometimes if people actually value what the architect does. Based on years of working with and acting for architects, I believe that in Australia, architects have a serious image problem. Because they do not sell themselves properly, they don't explain how they can add value and in particular how something which looks beautiful can also help the environment, reduce running costs and add to one's enjoyment of life.

And while we are on statistics, apparently 50% of Australia's houses are located within 8 miles of a beach. Not sure I believe that one.

If I could make a criticism of modern Australian architecture it is that it can tend to a bland same-i-ness. Lots of glass, hard edges, angles and in Queensland in particular, wooden slats everywhere.

What this house has, in spades, is texture and warmth. And I am not the only one who loves it. This house, designed by Leeton Pointon Architects with Suzi Leeton Architects, won an award for Interior Architecture in the Victorian Chapter of the RAIA Awards in 2009.

So, from a fortress like exterior on a steep block:

You walk into a double height entrance with lots of wood:

Wonderful sculptural staircase:

Kitchen and living area (that rug is a Kilim patchwork from Loom in Prahran I suspect. Truly a rug after my own heart)

Look at that disguised aircon near the ceiling, theatrical curtains and suspended wooden ceiling.

A black wine cellar with just one chair for contemplation:

And an outdoor setting which looks neither cheap and Balinese nor French and wrought iron. And, one of my other little obsessions, and outdoor fire pit thing.

What do you think? Do architects help or hinder? Should we be more passionate about what they do?

Monday, December 14, 2009

Cork Fork and Ladle - a 1970s dining room from my childhood

Continuing on the dining room theme from Friday, I have been thinking about why I have a little thing for dining rooms. I think it is connected with my childhood (isn't that the way with most things?).

In the 1970s (1975 to be exact) my mother and a friend, a very talented cook, published a cookbook for the National Trust. It was called Cork Fork and Ladle.

This cookbook was unusual for its time because it included recipes from many different people ranging from accomplished home cooks to restauranteurs. Some categories are hilarious - for example Bachelor Fare which include recipes from the famous Melbourne florist Kevin O'Neill. There are also categories for country wives, 'people from Sydney', creative people and so on.

It also had photos of some lovely objects which contributors collected (porcelain, glass bottles and so on) and most interestingly, their dining rooms.

It is a very special book to me because it includes a photo of the dining room from my now demolished childhood home. You can see this dining room includes a number of classic 1970s design features - slate floor tiles, indoor plants, clashing dinnerware. Apologies for the woeful scanned picture. The wall paper is in fact orange Thai silk.

My mother still has that oak table and the chairs and the dresser in the background (spoils of divorce). We have had many happy meals around it and it has that patina which only 300 year old wood has.

I have looked for this book on and off over the years, in antiquarian bookshops and on E-bay to no avail, Recently however I was killing time in Gertrude Street Fitzroy and visited the fabulous store Books for Cooks and naturally, there it was, in hard and softback versions.

The recipes range from hilarious to inspiring. It is a real window into the past. Some are a bit dated, but others are classic and can still be made with pride such as the foolproof recipe for zucchini fritters.

The one I always laugh at (but not in front of my mother as she takes offence) is the recipe for a Race Week lobster dish. Ingredients: lobster chunks, tin of pineapple, jar of mayonnaise. Method: mix together and serve.

I have often thought how successful a successor to this book would be - a naughties version where chefs, local cooks and caterers, celebrities, creatives and other interesting people could share their recipes and more interestingly perhaps, photos of their kitchens and dining areas.

How could that not be a cracking success what with the current interest (obsession) in how people live and what their home spaces look like? You read it here first.

Friday, December 11, 2009

If it's Christmas it must be time to wheel out the red dining room

** Don't forget my giveaway** closes 16 December 2009

We have an Edwardian house, and in the manner of such houses we have some things and rooms which Edwardians used a lot, and we have not much use for. Namely, an old lady ghost, a sitting room with a piano alcove and a separate dining room. We are also not much into food set in aspic, gaiters, sideburns, pointless colonial incursions, whooping cough and tesselated tiles, so the points of difference continue.

However, the house came with the dining room, so we obediently adapted it for that very use (we refused the vendor's kind offer of their billiard table which converted to a not very nice table, and bought a Georgian table which seats 8).

We do not use our dining room very often. And when I say not very often I really mean it. In fact we haven't used it since..... oh, fancy that....... Christmas 2008.

In the intervening 12 months it has been used as bicycle storage, portacot storage, old clothes going to the Salvation Army storage, creepy painting with the eyes that move storage, old jumpers waiting to be converted into charming patchwork blankets storage and Charlie and Lola style tinfoil covered non aerodynamic rocket ship storage.

I occasionally go in there and admire our Venetian etching things, and fondly stroke the curtains. And then I leave again.

(as you can see I haven't even bothered to smoosh the curtains for this photo. One of the items framed in this shot is actually a BILL from a restaurant we ate in once in Paris (Le Grand Vefour). Suffice it to say it just had to be framed, but I might leave that to a later post)

The thing is, of course, that we have a perfectly fine dining area with a table which seats six at the back of the house, and this is where we eat our meals and have dinner parties.

Initially we didn't use the room because we didn't like the light fitting. It took us 7 years to replace it and when we did we did so in foolish over the top way with a red Murano glass chandelier. And for those who read From the Right Bank, you will understand why ever since Alek's dropped out of the ceiling and smashed to smithereens for no discernible reason, I have been a bit concerned about mine.

And now, we don't use the room because it is close to the children's bedrooms and we don't want to wake them.

And further to the last now, now my husband has started casting aspersions upon the colour, a deep brick red. The colour he insisted on, and which makes me feel all conversationally stimulated just looking at it. He also now says he doesn't like the curtains.

We were originally inspired by this kind of room:

and this:

(Ben Kingsley's dining room - not bad at all)

And this:

But now along with a hankering for snow, I think I wouldn't mind something Scandinavian..... white......... mixed up .... with all Completely Different Chairs......like this:

Or this:

Or this:

Or this:

Maybe I could set up a little business in the dining room for the 364 days of the year it is unused. Or turn it into a dormitory for the children. It just seems such a waste.

I have also been very taken by the dining library pictures one sees around (see Habitually Chic here). What a brilliant use of a lot of wallspace.

What do you think? Should the separate Dining Room go the way of the dinosaurs? Do you have a coloured one? What oh what can I do with mine?

(Images: (1) House to Home (4) Scott Sanders (5) Momoy.com (6) Point Click Home (7) via Hausmaus originally Elle Interior (8) Marie Claire Maison (9) via Design Shimmer (10) Homedesigning.com)

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

100th post plus a Free Thing (your choice)

I only noticed the other day that I was alarmingly close to 100 posts.

Time has flown since I started this blog. Now is not the place or time to bang on about why what how. But as I Could Do Better in the thank you department, here is a big hug to anyone who reads, comments or visits. Thank you all.

I would especially like to thank my first three followers (Carmie, Soccer Guy and Alek). Lord knows how they found me. And also all of those prolific commenters - you know who you are. I love comments and I read them all, even if I am sometimes a bit silent in response. You all remind me of what is good in the world. And I really mean that.

So, to the Free Thing. There are two choices. These are two beautiful spare books I have lying around and for various reasons have never opened or read. The winner can choose which one he or she wants. One is a design autobiography and the other is a classic cookbook.

The first is Florence Broadhurst by Helen O'Neill. This is the biography of the before her time Sydney artist and graphic designer Florence Broadhurst who lived in the middle of last century. It is a lovely book with lots of colour plates of her designs.

Second option is Italian Food by Elizabeth David. This is a Folio Society gem (see my last post). Incredible little painted illustrations, simple slightly Anglicized Italian recipes and her witty evocative writing. What more could you ask for? Oh, it comes in an artichoke green fabric covered box.

In case you are wondering there will only be one winner. I may save the other for a Christmas giveaway.

To be eligible for one of these books the following non negotiable rules apply:

1. You must live on planet Earth. That's right, none of this 'you must live in my country'. It is a promise I may live to regret, but I will post the book to the winner no matter where you live, from Sudan to Norway, no problems at all.

2. You must be a follower. It's only fair. And it certainly Narrows the Field!

3. You must leave a comment telling me which book you would like between today and 16 December 2009 at which point I will draw a winner.

Back soon with a (finally) non book related post. xoxo

Monday, December 7, 2009

99th Post - Folio Society Treasures

As a precurser to my 100th post giveaway, I would like to obsess for just a minute about the books published by the Folio Society.

To me, an indicator of true luxury is a hardback book. Not only do they look better in shelves, but they have more heft to read, and they age better (no split spines).

The Folio Society takes old (and some more recent) classic works of fiction, fact, poetry, history and art, typesets them, designs a wonderful new cover, and then republishes them.

The Folio Society was conceived by Charles Ed (1921-2002) in 1947, who was inspired by private press publishers in the UK. The Society was not intended to compete with those publishers, rather Ede aimed to produce a 'poor man's fine edition' - a well designed, printed and bound book to which the 'common man' could aspire. In October 1947 Tolstoy's Tales went on sale for sixteen shillings.

To obtain the benefit, you must become a member by paying an annual fee. You then must buy a minimum of 4 books a year. Nothing really. We have bought dozens of their books over the years.
Here are some examples of their amazing range:

Justine by Laurence Durrell (part of the Alexandria Quartet and on my summer reading list (it's pretty heavy going)

Meditations by Marcus Aurelius (my favourite Roman emperor)

On the Road by Jack Kerouac (perfect for that 20 year old cousin who needs something to rebel against)

The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

Walden by Henry David Thoreau

Food In History by Tannahill

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

In Your Garden by Vita Sackville West

Venice by Jan Morris (must read for any trip to Venice)

Trouble is my Business by Raymond Chandler

Songlines by Bruce Chatwin (easily one of the best books about Australian indigenous people ever written)

The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford

Oscar and Lucinda by Peter Carey (sadly this is I think the only Australian book I have seen them publish)

Jane Austen's letters (Note - the cover is embroidered silk)

Inventions of the Middle Ages

100 Years of Solitude by the grandfather of Magical Realism Gabriel Garcia Marquez

In Flanders' Fields by Leon Wolff

The Elizabethan Underworld (can you imagine? The Melbourne underworld would have nothing on this.)

A book of Mediterranean Food by Elizabeth David

Charlotte's Web by EB White

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown

Grimm's Fairy Tales with illustrations by the wonderful Arthur Rackham

Lewis Carroll's Alice. I have these for my daughter and they came in a lovely red fabric box.

I could go on.
In Australia the Folio Society advertises in the cheap ads in the newspaper magazines. You would be forgiven for putting it in the same category as a dietary drink or exercise machine but they are so wonderful for any lover of books. And because they reprint old books, you can take a (paperback) you may have read many times and replace with a hardback from Folio which will last forever. In the above, very arbitrary list, I am very tempted by To Kill a Mockingbird, my current copy is at least 20 years old and falling apart.
In this post was a hint to a giveaway, which is book related, which I am running next post.

Have a happy day.

(sources: Wikipeida, Foliosociety.com)
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