the moment

My first photography lesson was also my first date with the man I married. Then later divorced. I learned a lot from Damian. Perspective. Composition. Observing. Waiting. Re-focusing. Capturing the moment. Moving on.
I am not a photographer. And that is what I told The Northsider when offering my services as a volunteer to take a few photos for their stories. But they used my photos regardless. And one even made it to the front cover, albeit with my name spelled wrong. A few made it to the inside as well; an empty section, and a homage to Movember.
I like taking photos. I like noticing and seeing and grabbing that moment in time. I like contrasts in colour and texture. I like the story behind the image. Whether I have made it up or not.
And I love that Melbourne, once again, has allowed me to embrace and investigate and contribute and belong.

A great photograph is one that fully expresses what one feels, in the deepest sense, about what is being photographed.

Ansel Adams

An interview with Christchurch photographer, Kirk Hargreaves, from my radio days…Actually, my very first interview…

The Phoenix Foundation, Sally


at our noblest we announce to the darkness that we will not be diminished by the brevity of our lives

Last night I went to The Counselor, the latest Ridley Scott offering with a BIG cast. The Counselor is not a film for the faint-hearted. I don’t know whether you have seen other Cormac McCarthy penned films, up until now they have been based on his novels. No Country for Old Men, The Road…These are bleak portrayals of human existence.  
The Counselor is confronting and depressing. But also beautiful. It is hard to follow because there is no concession to back story or explanation. As the viewer we feel as though we have entered the party half way through and we’re missing something. This is intentional. It is very violent. There is a lot of sexual depravity discussed, if not demonstrated. And the dialogue is slick and clever and completely inauthentic. Nobody talks the way these characters do, quoting Keats and Marlowe and coming out with particularly laconic and memorable utterances. But I kind of wish I did talk like that.
The director and writer present a hyper-fictional world. But this is also intentional. I think the film is about crossing the line. Going over to the dark side and then no longer having any choices. As the diamond merchant tells the Counselor, ‘once the first cut is made, there is no going back. […] We see a troubling truth in that the forms of our undertakings are complete at their beginnings’. In a sort of fraught philosophical analogy, determinism and human agency are illustrated in a heightened context. When we get to a certain point, there is no longer choice, there is only acceptance.
I don’t know that I would recommend this film to everyone. But for all that, it is clever and I appreciated the fact that it made me think and wonder and try and piece things together. But it is very dark. And disturbing. 
As is the underbelly of our sanitized lives.

double lives

They say we all have a doppelganger, an identical copy of ourselves, somewhere in the world.
Since moving to Melbourne a couple of years ago, I have often been told how much like Princess Mary I look…the Tasmanian ‘commoner’ who met the Prince of Denmark in a bar in Sydney in 2000 and in truly Cinderella fashion, stole his heart. To resemble Princess Mary is very flattering. She is beautiful. I am not really sure of the accuracy of the comparison, maybe it’s something to do with the hair or the eyes or a similarity in the way we carry ourselves.
It’s pretty good to have a celebrity doppelganger. I was at a wedding last week and met a couple who both have celebrity doppelgangers.  I saw the woman first and was struck by how much she looked like Thandie Newton. She said that she gets that all the time, but wait until I met her boyfriend who looks just like a grown-up Billy Elliott, or at least, the actor who plays the part of the boy from the north-east of England who falls in love with dancing. Spitting image.

What do we do with the knowledge that we have a twin? Fiction and folklore have long suggested that running into your double was an omen of bad fortune. In German, doppelganger literally means double walker. The idea was that you had a ghostly other who would confront his or her fleshy counterpart at a time when something bad was about to happen. I’m not so sure about that.
I am sure that we could work with our twins for good and not evil. We could be stunt doubles in each others’ lives, taking turns to step in when required. I’m sure Mary sometimes wants a break from all the functions. I’d be happy to get dressed up in the fancy clothes now and then…although perhaps not the white trouser suit. I really don’t think I could pull that one off.
And it’s interesting. If I had been in that bar in Sydney and met Prince Frederik, would I now be buttering my toast with unsalted Danish butter and wearing white trouser suits?
And would Thandie Newton and Jamie Bell ever get together?
Maybe they did. They starred in a film together in 2011, Retreat. Life imitating art, or…
Regardless, I had a great remedial massage from Billy Elliott and might be teaching French to  Thandie Newton’s sister.
I don’t think doppelgangers are bad omens. I think they allow possibility.

une soiree francaise dans le quartier

Abbotsford is French for awesome. Did you not know that? Well, you learn something every day.

I stop in at Three Bags Full pretty much every morning on my way to work. The coffee is good, the staff are friendly and now, in my new fancy abode, it’s one street over from where I live.

So imagine my desperado-wannabe-French delight when I found out that Three Bags were doing a French inspired dinner. Excited does not even begin to describe it.

It was the French chefs, Fabien and Nico, who came up with the idea, aching as they were to flex their French cuisine muscles. Not strictly French, the menu reflected a desire to reference their home country while at the same time play with flavour and texture and more exotic … I’ll go so far as saying … obscure ingredients.

Greeted with French music and a twist on the kir royale, things were looking good. A decadent combination of a berry liqueur sent over from France from one of the chef’s mothers and an Australian sparkling Shiraz produced a rich and fruity opening to the evening. I’m going to say regal even.

Amuse-bouches served on rocks, cricket bats and parfait spoons balanced on printing blocks, the attention to detail must be applauded. I would have been happy with the flavours alone, but the thoughtfulness behind the presentation made me nod my head in pleasure. These people know what they are doing.

Smoked salmon and roasted potato pick was the perfect combination of cold and warm, smoky and creamy, slightly flash and good old classic.

Then prosciutto kougloff. A brioche savouried up with prosciutto. Light and flavoursome.

The tiny morsels of sichuan pepper honeydew were flavour and texture and happiness all rolled into one.

Pumpkin, cassia and sorrel soup. Velvet goodness. Topped with ‘a surprise’. You need to think popping candy. But savoury. And green. The word unctuous springs to mind and thats what I’m gong to say…unctuous. But with a crackle.

Next were the fresh flavours of carpaccio of kingfish with kaffir lime coconut blanc-manger and seaweed waffle. With four different types of seaweed, no less. Light, fresh and lots of flavour.

The main dish, or plat principal for the aspiring French students amongst us, was free range roasted chicken with spring vegetables and jus. I think the title of this dish sells itself short. There was a lot going on. The chicken was air-dried for 24 hours so that its skin was just the right amount of crisp. Jauntily placed on parsnip puree, the chicken as perfectly cooked and the taster of artichoke, asparagus and yellow carrot were a lovely accompaniment.

I wasn’t a huge fan of the dessert. Beautifully presented. And I have to say the French newspaper cutting went a long way towards warming the cockles of my desperado French-speaking heart. And the fact that the chef came out to pour a warm sauce through the chocolate disc onto the peach and salted caramel ice cream combo was an interactive and impressive touch. But, beautiful dessert, you had all the elements of loveliness and it’s proabably not you, but me. A little too sweet.

The final flourish was financiers served with a snap infusion of lemon verbena, licorice and ginger. Beautiful. The digestive qualities of the cordial, served in fairly medicinal type bottles, was very welcome. And the financiers with their mini-me-friand-but-smaller persona were perfectly cooked. Light spongy with raspberry goodness and a slightly chewy crust. Perfection. 

The fact that their take home bag of madeleines had the recipe on one side and a quote from Proust on the other made the chefs my ultimate heroes.

This was a carefully thought out and a beautifully executed menu. I loved every minute of my evening and I can’t wait for the next occasion.

little things

Flour, water, yeast and some weeds. Easy.

There is something infinitely satisfying about baking my own bread. It is even more satisfying when I can top it with stinging nettle pesto. The elusive stinging nettle. Found it at the market, became overly excited, blanched it, mixed it with some garlic, nuts, oil and parmesan.

And then there it was. In all its gleaming, superfood goodness.


mixing it up

So now that I have moved to a little cottage with a back yard, I’m allowed a pet. I want a dog. I want a dog with an ardour far exceeding moderation. That’s my ardour. Not a dog with a big ardour. I’m not sure what that looks like really. My mother wonders why I don’t just grow vegetables instead. I can see where she’s going with that. Growing vegetables might be just about as much responsibility as I can cope with. But strawberries won’t be pleased to see me when I get home. And walking the lettuce doesn’t have quite the same charm.
I am still flirting with the idea. I have always preferred bigger dogs. We grew up with Labradors. Labradors with the particularly doggy names of Sheila and Holly. (We were even better with naming kittens, I can tell you. Sandra and Steven. Offspring of Bootsie. Oh yeah. Talented pet namers in our family).
I have a small back yard. I can’t have a big dog. So I would need to have a medium-sized dog with personality. When I was in Vietnam, I saw lots of great medium-sized dogs with attitude. In Sapa, I asked our guide, what breed of dog a particularly cute one was.  She replied, very seriously, “Eating”. Right. Um. Ok.
I have never been one for designer anything, but a lot of pure-bred cross ‘designer’ dogs are the right size. And there was a moment where I was pretty taken by the idea of a puggle. Come on now…pug and beagle…little scrunched up forehead. Who wouldn’t love that? But how could I ever tell people that’s the breed of dog I have. Puggle. Ugh. It sounds like something out of Harry Potter. Then there’s Labradoodles. They have been around for a while and I have always shaken my head at that name. I’m sure the original idea behind the mixing or designing of breeds was well-intentioned. Getting the best out of each breed, avoiding the weaknesses. But I think now it’s just about the crazy names.
A Buggs. Now that’s marginally ok…a Boston Terrier/Pug mix. But Pomapoo or Yorkipoo…well, let’s face it, anything with poo in it is not going to be a breed I am willing to boast I own. And Bolonoodle?? That sounds like an ‘eating’ dog if ever there was one. Or a Dorkie. Really? The dog looks pretty much like its name…Dachsund/Yorkie cross. Sigh. And a Hug? Siberian Husky/Pug. Really?
Sadly, our obsession for mixing things up and creating something new is not confined to dog breeds. I have recently been alerted to the existence and indeed great popularity of the Cronut. A flash-in-the-pan trendy food which originated in New York and which has now been trademarked because everyone was getting on the Cronut bandwagon and the chef, Dominique Ansel, who came up with this incredible pastry was getting all miffed and had hurt feelings and so on.
A Cronut is a cross between a croissant and a doughnut. I had to blink a few times while I thought about that. And an inevitable why? springs to mind.
This is what Dominique himself says of his creation:
The Makings of the Cronut™…
Taking 2 months and more than 10 recipes, Chef Dominique Ansel’s creation is not to be mistaken as simply croissant dough that has been fried. Made with a laminated dough which has been likened to a croissant (but uses a proprietary recipe), the Cronut is first proofed and then fried in grapeseed oil at a specific temperature. Once cooked, each Cronutis flavored in three ways: 1. rolled in sugar; 2. filled with cream; and 3. topped with glaze. Cronuts are made fresh daily, and completely done in house. The entire process takes up to 3 days.
But a flaky, buttery croissant is delicious. And a doughnut…well, I’m not a fan, but they are classic stodge. Why put them together?
Because we can.
Clearly my imagination is inhibited. I would never in my wildest dreams have imagined a muffin crossed with a doughnut. And, as for what one might name such a delicacy, well…I can tell you there was more than a bit of eye-blinking going on there. Wisely, Bea Vo, the American baker who christened what was already a Nigella Lawson recipe, named it Duffin. Not Muffnut. For obvious reasons, I guess.
And there are Townies – tartlet brownies, Muggels – muffin bagels, Muffles – muffin waffles; Crookies – some kind of crazy croissant-oreo cookie hybrid and Macanuts – where macaroon marries doughnut and lives happily ever after.
I am shaking my head. I am all for experimentation and innovation and not resting on our laurels. But sometimes the desire to create is somewhat misguided. We could well heed Mary Shelley’s 1818 warning against the over-reaching of modern man. It was Victor Frankenstein, the epitome of a creative over-reacher, who said:
The different accidents of life are not so changeable as the feelings of human nature. I had worked hard for nearly two years, for the sole purpose of infusing life into an inanimate body. For this I had deprived myself of rest and health. I had desired it with an ardour that far exceeded moderation; but now that I had finished, the beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart.
Chapter 5, Frankenstein.
I’m no closer to finding the right dog.