Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Snail coming down

Snail coming Down 2008

Do you ever feel like this? I do. Although naturally I don't leave a silver trail behind me. And I don't have to feel where I am going with my antennae.

Big Bull Wauchope 2009

One of my favourite Australian artists, Noel McKenna, is having an exhibition at Niagara Galleries in Richmond called News of the Summer Reaches Shore, which is apt for September in Melbourne.

Here are two of the paintings from the exhibition:

House Southland 2009

Religious Landscape 2009

He often paints houses sitting by themselves in a sparse landscape, standing proud against the environment but still somehow dwarfed by it.

The last one reminds me of a Minnesotan landscape from a Garrison Keilor book. Bleak but homely. In 1989 I went through a pretty major Garrison Keilor stage. I read all of his books, in some cases more than once. Isn't it funny how you can have those little book obsessions and then just walk away from them?

(Images: Niagara Gallery)

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Delicate Chinese Dumplings

Last week as I was still on holidays I had a girly day with my daughter. We went to see Up, the new Pixar film (and for those of you who have seen I wonder if your reaction to the first 10 minutes was the same as mine? (it made me cry)). We then went to have a manicure (my daughter wanted blue nails - we compromised with deep purple) and then we went to Ay Oriental Tea House in Prahran for a dumpling lunch.

I don't know what it is about Chinese food but I feel so pure and healthy when I eat it. Of course this is one of those generalisations, as I am sure there are many (maybe millions) of unhealthy Chinese people, but Chinese food seems very 'health giving' to me. And in terms of complex cuisine and technique I think they rank up there with the French.

I had prawn and baby pea leaf dumplings. Look at their quivering pearlescent beauty.

My daughter had 1.5 BBQ pork buns.

Eating my little dumplings I vowed to go on a bit of a health kick, as one does. To start I thought I would need some help detoxing. So on departure I bought some of their beautiful tea, including one which is basically dried up little rose buds, like the image below on the left:

I also bought a clear glass tea pot and little cup which is a double layer so you can hold it without your fingers burning.

Being quite into cooking, one of the things I look for in a restaurant is food I can't cook better at home. And quite a lot of Chinese dishes fall into that category. Like terrine, filo pastry, Chinese roast duck, bouillabaisse, prawn crackers, croquembouche and fruitcake I know that I am never going to even attempt most kinds of Chinese dumplings. But I am a bit partial to a very simple pork won ton. This is based on a Neil Perry recipe.


100g minced belly pork (note if you mince this yourself make sure your processor is strong. You could also probably use pork fillet).

1 finely chopped garlic clove

3/4 teaspoon of salt

freshly ground pepper

10 wonton wrappers. I use these:


Mix the pork, garlic, salt and pepper in a bowl using a circular motion with your hand (this is to preserve the texture and not beat up the meat too much). Separate out wrappers. Put one teaspoon in the centre of a wrapper. Brush water around each edge. Fold the wrapper over into a triangle (which will have round edges if you are using round wrappers) and then fold the right side over to the left and gently pinch together. Continue until all are done. Drop into a pot of boiling water and simmer for two minutes.

Great with pre dinner drinks and you can also make a dipping sauce, simple soy will do or you can mix chilli oil (1 tbsp), minced garlic and shallot, Chinese red vinegar (1 tsp) and 2 tsp of kecap manis or normal soy.

Images: (1) Demand Studios (3)-(5) AY Oriental Tea House

Monday, September 28, 2009

A herb garden-to-be

If there is one thing I resent it is paying $2.95 for those little bunches of herbs at the market or $3.50 for the plastic bag herbs at the supermarket. There must be a lot of profit in that. As we all know, nothing is better than your own home grown produce. And home grown herbs don't have that stiff cardboardy feel that the leaves of shop bought parsley have. Lord knows what is on it.

I have in the past had a little section of the garden devoted to a half hearted sprinkling of herbs mainly sage, parsley and rosemary. I also plant basil each year (which you must do before the Melbourne Cup is run, my mother always told me).

I decided I needed to commit to a real herb garden. Like a marriage, it will require time and devotion, and doing minor annoying things (which are also slightly therapeutic) like watering and digging and cutting back. For horticultural reasons I needed to create a raised bed, which I have based on this example.

This is what my bed looked like pre herbs. This is about 1.5 metres squared, which is a suprisingly spacious area.

And this is what I would like it to look like, although not necessarily with a castle in the background. What I want is a lush sprawl of herby goodness where you don't need to feel bad about picking anything because there is such a lustrous profusion of every kind of herb. A garden bed which sings to you as you saunter by, full of lemony, sweet, astringent scents.

I have a little game I play with myself. I call it MSG. No it's not some strange Chinese food additive game, this stands for the Martha Stewart Game.

If I have a home project, I look to see how Martha does it. Because you can be certain that there is no project she hasn't turned her hand to. And you know what, she generally does it better than most anyone else On The Planet. But this doesn't make me feel bad or useless or inadequate. No, not at all. Because I do not have all her helpers. It just makes me feel determined. Here is a Martha vegetable 'patch' and some Martha herbery:

And if Prince Charles can have a thyme walk at Highgrove (which he does, see below, with yew trees lining the paving stones) then I will pull out all stops to make sure my thyme grows and thrives.

So last weekend, I began my planting. This is what it looks like half completed. I still need to plant fennel, sorrel, chervil, basil and coriander and I also need to find something called Corsican mint to edge the area.

And here is my thyme area.

And soon enough, I will have some of this:

(Images: (1) (4) Cookie (5) (6) (7) (8) Martha (9) (12) unknown

Friday, September 25, 2009

Sunrise House

My recent nostalgia for the black kitchen of my childhood has made me more alert to black kitchens. And then they seem to be everywhere. And so my moaning about the bland whiteness of many kitchens failed to take account of a wonderful factory (lolly in fact) conversion here in Melbourne virtually on my back door step in Prahran.

This is the home architect Stephen Jolson has created for himself and his family. The work architects do for themselves is always so interesting, a true reflection of their soul and innermost thoughts, rather than some (potentially tasteless) client's dreams or desires.

This conversion includes a grassy lawn on the first level, fingerprint recognition entry (is that for real? If so I want it for my house), a television which emerges from the ceiling to hang next to the fireplace, separate playroom and an outside steel bonfire which is lit by remote control.

And isn't this black kitchen something else? The image to the left is a blown up photograph of vats from the confectionary factory - behind it is storage and other kitchen collateral.

He has really nailed this area, I think, by incorporating the old rustic dining table into the space.

I do wonder however if the black would smudge. We have black cabinetry and it does tend to show fingermarks a bit.

He is a bit partial to all white as well as all black. Although as he says, it is a warm white, not cool.

And here is some work he did on an apartment in East Melbourne (Claudio Silvestrin in collaboration with Carr Design Group and Stephen Jolson).

Isn't it funny, both kitchens have the same black bowl on the bench! Maybe it's a good luck charm.

And of interest to me given my current project to fix my son's room, is the bedroom he has created for his 4 year old son.

Check out more of his projects here.

He has a design philosophy which I fully endorse. As he said in an interview:

'I don't want to have to look at a huge plasma television. I'd rather look at the texture of the timber or the fabric and rugs. Similarly, with the kitchen, it's a piece of joinery, not a kitchen. It has all the practical functionality of a kitchen and heaps of storage but not one appliance is a feature.'

(except that bowl, I should add).

(Images: (1)-(3) (5) The Australian (4) Interior Design Awards )

Thursday, September 24, 2009

There's bad news... and good news

The thing I love about travel (aside from the obvious - new experiences, immersion in foreign culture, food, language, society, visual stimulation etc) is the unpredictability of it all. Travel truly shows us how little control we have over greater events. Even the most carefully laid plans can be thrown into chaos, and it is that which often brings the most to one's travel experience.

Yes, even in straightforward, simple, first world Australia, a holiday can go a bit haywire. But with the bad always comes the good.

So, we arrived at the Royal Mail Hotel, royally looking forward to our 10 course degustation at the best country restaurant in Victoria, only to find that I had booked for the wrong weekend.

If there is anything worse than being told there is no Room at the Inn, it is being given that message with carsick, tired, hot and dirty children in tow.

But, the hotel took pity on me and my incompetence and let us stay the night in Mt Sturgeon Homestead, an amazing 8 bedroom homestead complete with grand piano and drawing room, built in the 1870s , nestled in the shadow of the Grampians mountains. A really evocative, Picnic at Hanging Rock style environment which we would never had the opportunity to experience.

Once ensconced in our holiday house, I came down with a bad cold, throat infection and sinusitis.

But if I hadn't been a bit sick, I would have been rushing all over the place and may not have had the inclination to sit staring mindlessly at this view for eight days.

Or to read 7 books.

Or to pick yellow and purple daisies with my daughter from the garden.

Or to spend hours looking for albino snails on those same daisies and transplanting them to their new, not as nice home (a white saucer).

Or to gaze at this lovely dune garden and fantasize about how I would decorate my holiday house.

And if I hadn't been a bit out of it, I wouldn't have put a hot pot down on the beautiful wooden kitchen bench top and made an awful white scorch mark. And if I hadn't done that, I wouldn't have found a website called Tipnut, which told me that these can be removed by applying an iron on steam setting over a tea towel. Isn't that incredible - heat to remove a burn!

It is always nice to be home though...

Friday, September 11, 2009

My holiday recipe


1. House with the salty scent of the sea wafting through the grasses:

2. A view of pale blue and then a darker strip with white foamy edges. The sound of crashing waves and nothing else but perhaps the warning horn of the lighthouse:

3. Another view, this time of sand dunes:

4. Pitstop on journey there at 3 hatted country restaurant. Children tucked up in bed with local girl babysitter. Glass of champagne in front of the fire. Long lingering peruse of the wine list. Ingredients scavenged from kitchen's vegetable garden, locally sourced beef and chicken, wild greens picked just an hour ago, smears of this, splodges of that, all divine.

5. Coffee pot. We have three of these at home now because we keep forgetting to bring them and have to urgently buy another in our holiday location when we arrive.

6. One good knife and a black iron saucepan.

7. Required reading - stocked up at the bookshop and ready to go. (This is only about half of what I would usually take. Maybe it's too much but I actually have a congenital fear of being stranded with Not Enough To Read. I take enough reading material for a week on a one day work trip to Sydney). The Caesar book is a handball from my husband who has just finished it.

8. Lobster from the local fisherman co-op. Boiled, split then grilled with butter and served with lemony mayonnaise.

9. Day trip if we can be bothered to local vineyards:

9. Family (of course)

10. Sticker Dolly Book for my daughter. No, not any old sticker book. It must be a Sticker Dolly book. We have already been through Sticker Dolly Fairies, Princesses, Pop Stars and Ballerinas. Imagine my apoplectic excitement to discover that a new one - Sticker Dolly Bridesmaids - had just been released.

11. Miscellaneous bag of toys, books and bits and pieces for my son including compulsory dinosaur for growling and creating havoc from the back seat of the car:


1. Put ingredients together, stir very gently with a wooden spoon, sit back and enjoy.

See you very soon......

Images (1)(2) Prue Murdoch's Island Beach House, courtesy RAIA (3)(4) Robe Lifestyle (5) (6) Royal Mail (9) Wesleying (10) Wynns (12)

Thursday, September 10, 2009

An Origami Life

I have a good friend who lives in Sydney. We have been friends since we were 3. She gave me my first cat (Snuggles). She has great taste and is a very talented interior decorator.

When she saw this blog she said (relevantly) 'Where's the origami'?

That might seem a strange question, but I have been an origamist since I was about 7. This happened thanks to my little brother's school, which taught them origami and sent them to Japan and showed how to make sushi. For 1977, that was pretty far sighted.

So my brother and I made 1000 cranes. The legend is that if you make 1000 your very wish will be granted. I think the truth is that by the time you have made 1000 cranes you will either have RSI or be so calm from the repetitive action that you do not need a wish.

Here are a smattering of my 1000. (Probably a bit less now given I made them so many years ago). They usually live in a glass vase in my daughter's room.

Here is another picture.

I think you get the idea.

It is pretty simple to make a crane. Origami is good for fine motor skills and gives one a real sense of achievement. The best on line instructions I have seen are here. Go on, give it a try. Once you master the crane, you can eventually move on to wonderful creatures like this:

And to demonstrate the ageless nature of origami, here is a lovely Japanese paper style bedroom, which I wouldn't mind having at home, although it doesn't look like it would be very dark at night (a big problem with loft living generally).

Finally, this was my daughter's arrangement (and her own photo).

(Image (5) Marie Claire Maison)
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