Becoming Marguerite

I have done it again; bitten into more of life’s big crème brûlée than I can reasonably handle and am now valiantly swimming upstream like a desperado golden Labrador, stick in mouth, having a great time but with back-of-the-mind terror at the thought of being swept away. And yes, two completely unrelated similes in one sentence. Maybe now you have more of an idea of my state of mind.
Because life as Jo Rittey was already doing a fairly good impersonation of chaos. Now I have thrown teaching my neighbours French once a week and acting in a French play into the mix. The teaching part is fine. The acting…weeeeeelllll, that remains to be seen.
Acting is an art. People devote their lives to it. I, on the other hand, just turn up and hope for the best. And I’m not sure that’s going to cut it.
Exit the King is an absurdist drama written in 1962 in 15 days by Eugène Ionesco who, recovering from a serious illness at the time, felt as though he had perhaps flirted with death and felt compelled to convey those emotions. Exit the King is all about death. A fairly long one act death-knell, in fact, although the Melbourne French Theatre version is considerably shorter than its original incarnation. The King, understandably, does not want to die, despite his first wife Queen Marguerite announcing that he will die in an hour, he will die at the end of the play. Because this is meta-theatre in all its glory. The audience is not for one minute fooled into thinking this is realistic. It’s theatre about theatre, undeniably a work of drama and should be enjoyed as such.
So. How to approach the role of Marguerite.
She is portrayed as the voice of reason, a pragmatist whose duty it is to ensure the King understands that he is dying and to prepare him for his death. In comparison to Marie, the King’s second wife, who is light and bright, pretty and optimistic, Marguerite is often seen as severe and unfeeling. Ageless and somewhat hard, she embodies the truth. Hers is a difficult and thankless task, but one which must be done. In some respects her role is that of psychopomp, or spiritual guide, nurturing the king’s soul as he approaches death.
I asked the drama teachers at school for some ideas on how to portray this complex character and how to manage her/my interactions with the other characters. They talked about the importance of knowing what it is I want to have happen from the words that I’m saying and so allowing that intention to guide the delivery.

I needed more.
Dee Cannon from London’s RADA, has 10 questions she believes are crucial to discovering your character and which will inform the way you bring the dialogue to life.
1. Who am I?
2. Where am I?
3. When is it?
4. Where have I just come from?
5. What do I want?
6. Why do I want it?
7. Why do I want it now?
8. What will happen if I don’t get it now?
9. How will I get what I want by doing what?
10. What must I overcome?
The key question is really what do I want? What is my intention, my motivation. Want also means, what do I need. Dee says you should never walk on stage just to play a scene. You should always have an objective and then know what it is you need to do to get what you want or need.
It’s like life really. What do I want from the relationships I have with other people? What do I need? What do I need to do to get these desires and needs met? And I don’t mean that it’s all about me and how I can manipulate others to my own ends. Not at all. It’s just not  about operating in the space, saying my piece into a void. It’s about making myself heard, but also listening and responding to what others are saying to me. And most importantly, it’s about timing. There is no point rushing headlong into a monologue or a plaintive appeal if the person I am saying it to is not ready to receive it or is looking in the other direction or hasn’t even come onto the stage yet.
One of the other vital questions is what must I overcome in order to make things happen the way I want; the inner and outer obstacles that are imposed or that we impose on ourselves. We do need to be clear about what the obstacles are in order to convincingly overcome them. And in fact, we do need the obstacles, as annoying as they may be, because they galvanise our resolve and our desire.
As with acting, so it is with life. To paraphrase Lyn Gardner, a Guardian Theatre Critic, you can teach people timing, you can teach them how to stand; you can provide them with a setting that will allow them to take risks, but you can’t teach them to be in touch with their own spirit.

Much to learn, I still have.
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the truffle

Single ingredient festivals. Why not? It’s all about celebrating the season, the products that are available and those that cultivate and harvest them.
There have been coffee, chocolate and mussel festivals. So why not truffles? Now in its second year, the Truffle Festival at Prahran market this weekend is all about making accessible these little black shrivelled up nuggets of gold.
Truffles. Mysterious, highly flavoursome, highly expensive and difficult to use. That’s the perception, but as Chef Guy Grossi points out, they don’t have to be. You only need a shaving of a truffle to add volumes of flavour to a dish. Festival Director, Nigel Wood, explains, the price tag for 50 grams of black truffles may well be $135, but that would lift the profile of a whole lot of dishes, and you wouldn’t need as much as that to add that certain je ne sais quoi to your next dinner party.
What ARE truffles and why the hype? Truffles, like mushrooms, are the fruit of a fungus. They are pretty high maintenance little things as they grow underground and need trees to host them and animals to eat them and distribute their spores. They are also pretty needy because they can’t make their own food, so they form symbiotic relationships with deciduous trees. They do give a little back  to the relationship as they coat the roots of the tree and help it absorb minerals and as a kickback, they get their nutrients from the tree.
Truffles are at their best and most prolific in the winter months and like any high maintenance entity, they don’t just sit around waiting to be found. They nestle in between fallen leaves and bits of branch and mineral-rich soil. Hence the need for specially trained dogs or pigs to locate them.
There is plenty of opportunity to try these little black diamonds in all their glory at the Prahran Market this weekend (20 and 21stJune). Dispel all the myths, by watching cooking demonstrations, sampling truffle enhanced culinary delights and watching truffle dogs in action.
If, as French writer Alexandre Dumas claimed, “they can, on certain occasions, make women more tender and men more lovable,” Prahran Market will be a wonderful place to be this weekend. 

we came into this world with sealed orders


On Saturday I auditioned for a role in a French play.
The director told me to think about delivering the lines in a Liv Ullman style. To be honest, that’s not what I heard initially. In a Chilean versus New Zealand accent incident, I heard “Ingrid Bergman style”, and started getting all Casablanca on it. But what he meant was I should say the lines in a “Liv Ullman as she is in Ingmar Bergman films” style.
Hmmmm. Ok.
I can’t say that I am at all a connoisseur of Ingmar Bergman’s films or Liv Ullman and her acting style. So I looked her up. Of course.
And what I found made me think. A lot.
Liv Ullman is a Norwegian actress and film director. In her own right. I say that because she is often described in her role as one of Ingmar Bergman’s muses and lovers, and appeared in 12 of his films. And, while there’s a part of me that feels annoyed at the constant view of Ullman as some kind of extension of Bergman, she, herself, constantly refers to him in interviews and articles. Their actual liaison only lasted five years, but the impact they had on one another seemingly had long-reaching effect.
In terms of acting style, Ullmann virtually defined a nakedly emotional, natural style of acting that few since have come close to approaching in terms of the level of quality and honesty. I’m not really sure I can even begin to attempt that, but it always pays to have high standards to strive for.
Acting style aside, what interested me most about Liv Ullman is her take on life.
Men and women and love and hate are the themes of most of the projects that have dominated her life.
“What else is there?” she says. “I think the most important theme is that we don’t connect. We want it so much, but much of it has to do with missing the important moments, or watching them slip by.”
“It is so difficult for people to really open up to each other, so they choose instead to settle for lives of emptiness. Young people today don’t even have to do it with each other. They can do it with their phones.”

Liv Ullman is 75 years old. She has had, in her own words, “a wonderful marriage for 30 years” but she says that, “she still has this thing about men”. She is always looking for love and wondering what a man is, because the first man in her life left her so soon. When she was six years old, her father walked into the propeller of a plane.

While Ullman is still enthusiastically creating and contributing and loving and learning, she is also philosophically calm about her life and all the people, tragedies, elations and success she has encountered.
In many of her interviews she refers to Søren Kierkegaard’s philosophy that we came into this world with sealed orders. For Ullman, this doesn’t mean we have no choice; it means that maybe right now we are doing just what we were supposed to be doing.
I love Liv Ullman.

Two Fold

I think one of the best things about being a food writer is meeting people who are really passionate about food; those who love cooking and sharing flavours and experiences with others.
Food shouldn’t be about trends, although it invariably is, it shouldn’t be about exclusion, those in the know and those who aren’t and those who were ‘there’ and captured it on Instagram versus those who weren’t.
Food should be about creating something good, bringing people together over the goodness and just kicking back and enjoying the whole experience. And that’s exactly the feeling I got at Two Fold, the first solo venture by 2014 My Kitchen Rules’ contestants, Helena and Vikki Moursellas.
Recently I was asked to chat to the bubbly Greek twins for The Northsider and, I’m sorry to admit, I actually had no idea who they were. But a quick search on Google revealed two gorgeous young women, always smiling, exuding energy, passion and a great deal of belief in the path they have decided to carve out.  And this path has the potential to be a tricky one.
As Vikki says, “a lot of people go on these reality tv shows just to be on tv and not because they love cooking. We went on MKR because we are really really passionate about cooking. We didn’t let it get to us; we just remained ourselves. We literally went on and we were just Helena and Vikki. We wouldn’t have got this far if we weren’t ourselves.” This was obvious when I met them and had a chat with them.
Growing up in a Greek family where food was everything, the twins cooked with their grandmother and mum. Regular visits to Greece to visit family became part of their food journey and sealed the deal and tightened their vision for a future in hospitality.
Once the MKR season ended, the girls did not let the momentum go. “We’ve been self-employed now for almost two years.” said Vikki,  “It was really hard at the start but we pushed and pushed and thought, we’re not going to give up; we’ll make our own career out of this. I think the thing with these shows is that everyone thinks you’re going to get stuff handed to you afterwards and you’ll live this really cool life, but we just had to work hard and put ourselves out there. We’ve met some cool people here in Melbourne. That’s the advice we give this season’s contestants, nothing is going to come to you for free. You have to go out there and chase it.”
Having worked in restaurants, bars and nightclubs for seven years, the girls are no strangers to hospitality. Helena did the hard yards for six months in a Greek restaurant on Swan Street, Melbourne. “It’s not a glamorous job,” she says. “I’ve learnt a lot. They’ve been really good to me, but they laugh at me and say, ‘just because you’ve been on television, Helena, doesn’t mean you can’t clean the deep fryer.’ So I’ve had nights when I’ve been on my knees cleaning the deep fryer. I like doing all those crappy jobs because that’s where we all start, at the bottom.”
Two Fold has been open just over a month and is already achieving what the girls set out to do; creating a warm and welcoming atmosphere where they get to share some of their favourite meals with diners, giving them a glimpse into what its like to eat at the family table, with all its Greek goodness.
The menu is well balanced with a variety of Shared Snacks, Main Plates, smoky Greek treats from the Grill, some lighter sandwisch/toast options, salads and sides.
Cured Fish Cones were the perfect start. Crispy little wonton wrappers forming cones packed with a fresh tasting mix of salmon, pomegranate, finger lime and coriander. 


Next was the blue swimmer crab and avocado on Grumpy Baker sourdough. The light delicate crab flavour worked well with avocado and I enjoyed every mouthful.

The standout for me, though, was the taste of the marinated giant Clarence River octopus. The flesh was smoky, slightly spicy and so tender. From the first mouthful, as clichéd as it sounds, I was transported to the shores of the Mediterranean. Beautiful.

Living life like it’s golden?

Absolutely.

restarting

The other day I was having problems with my laptop. Foolishly, I did not follow the golden computer problem rule. No, I just rolled my eyes at how annoying technology is and stormed upstairs to see the technicians.

In a very calm voice, Derek asked me whether I had restarted the computer. Um. No. Of course not. That’s way too obvious and I’m sure it’s not that. Said the one who knows a whole lot of things about French to the one who knows a whole lot of things about computers.

I restarted the computer. The problem was no longer there.

“80% of all problems can be resolved by restarting.”

And let me add, Derek said this in a very deadpan non-judgemental voice. For which I was grateful. Because really. I deserved a more condescending tone.

He’s right though. It’s easy to get caught up in problems, become frustrated and annoyed or avoid that particular aspect (…for me, I thought, it’s ok, I just won’t print anything. Ever. That’s totally practical. Printing is bad for the environment anyway…) of whatever situation we’re in. And we complain. It’s the dog sitting on the rusty nail scenario. (And for the animal lovers amongst you, no animal was harmed in the writing of this post and I did not make that saying up. I have, however had someone use that phrase against me in pretty much the condescending tone Derek should have adopted.) If it’s really that bad, we do something about it. We move off the rusty nail.

I have people I know and love who have restarted. They have said No to the situation they were in and stopped, got off and walked away to recalibrate and I respect them for that. One of these restarts shook things up for a few people, but on the other side, the people that mattered were still there. And things fell into place they way they were always supposed to.

You see people often don’t want to be part of the process, but they do want to be part of the outcome. The process is where you figure out who’s worth being part of the outcome.

On a very small and quite different scale, I am doing a bit of a restart. Being a food writer, it can sometimes feel as though I am eating and drinking some pretty flash and fancy food a lot of the time. I’m not complaining. I’m very lucky and I love it. But when I saw an Instagram of Karmic Cold Pressed Juice and read about their 2 day cleanse programme, it was as though my body leapt in the air and cried out for it. Far be it from me to shut down what my body needs.

The lovely people at Karmic Juice suggest that I will notice a difference in my skin, my feeling of wellbeing, and my energy levels. I’m hoping for a feeling of goodness at a DNA level. It’s a 2 day cleanse. I know. I’m very optimistic. Still. Two days without coffee, fancy food, wine. Two days of antioxidants, raw multi-vitamins and bliss nutrients. It’s a pretty good pause, if not really a restart.

So these things I’ve talked about there are all juxtaposed and not really related. But you know, sometimes when you look in a certain direction and start thinking about a particular idea, everything feels as though to is related and affirms the original idea.

80% of all problems can be resolved by restarting.

Thanks, Derek.

be the walker, not the dog

Asi son las cosa, muchacho. This is how it is, boy. Pablo Neruda.

Sometimes I am a slow learner. Sometimes the universe has to shout quite loudly and relay to me the message in various forms before I get it. And then suddenly in a quite cataclysmic way, it all comes together in a blissful moment of realisation. As has happened now, sitting here on my red couch, having watched a film, listened to the song playing over the closing credits and then watched the final episode of Girls and thought, ohhhhh…yeah…ok….right.

And no, I don’t get all my epiphanies from the screen or from emo lyrics. That was just the teetering pinnacle. (Not sure that’s a valid image, but I’m sticking with it). I’ve had all kinds of conversations about this thing in the last couple of weeks. It’s there, this thing, and I finally digested it.

And what is this thing, you may ask. Or perhaps you’re not asking that at all, but hoping to dear god that this isn’t yet another one of my existential wonderings where I hang all my thoughts on the line, look at them from all sorts of angles and then finish with some trite line about not really knowing the answer, but feeling happier for having explored it, while you, the reader, is left groaning in exasperation and wishing I’d decided to write a review of the new toast cafe, and not do all this jumping through soul searching hoops in such a verbose way.

The Thing has to do with relationships. And fear.

Again?

Yup.

Someone pulled the “Do you know what fear stands for? … False Evidence Appearing Real,” quote on me recently. I had just heard the exact same words from the mouth of Jake Gyllenhaal’s character in the film, Nightcrawler, and consequently rolled my eyes at the melodrama of its use in that particular context.

And also I’m not really sure that quote is true as a concept. Fear isn’t so much about false evidence. However, it is an emotion that can distort the way we see things sometimes.

All fear is based on the idea that we need something. And fear comes from the thought that we’re not going to get the thing we think we need. So then fear is need announced. The person who doesn’t need anything has no fear. So when we are in a place of fear, we need to ask, what is it that I need?

Fear manifests in two ways. Either I’m not going to get the thing that I need or I’m going to lose the thing I have acquired and that I feel I need. This most often presents itself in relationships. First I’m afraid that no one is going to love me and then I’m afraid that if they do, I’ll lose that. It’s not rocket science, is it? People have been banging on about that old chestnut for a very long time.

The only way to solve the fear issue is to understand who I truly am and understand that I don’t need to be affirmed by others to experience serenity and joy. Often when I feel as though my joy comes from somewhere outside myself, I get into fear. Because if the thing that is making me feel joyous is removed, then I’ll be left with that blackhole feeling of emptiness. But if I can understand that the source of my joy comes from within myself, that it was given to me, from me, perhaps then my fear will disappear.*

Again, I know none of this is new. It’s the stuff the new age philosophy empire is built on. There are plenty of posters with rainbows on them proclaiming this message of self-empowerment. As I said. Slow learner.

Give time to time. Allow. Be. Do. Take hold. Lean in. Be the walker, not the dog.

https://www.youtube.com/embed/FcdOLKx2XG8?feature=player_embedded

* Wording inspired by Neale Donald Walsch’s ideas

living in quadrant two

Everything we do in life can be categorised as being urgent, not urgent, important and not important and it is the combination of these states of being which will decide whether our life is calmly productive, slightly frenetic, in a constant state of heightened reaction, or so laid back we are almost horizontal and getting things done is a vague concept we heard about once in passing. 
Calmly productive is the ideal, by the way. Despite the melodrama that comes with putting out fires and living off adrenalin, it’s really not that zen.
So. These are the combos presented in a nicely designed matrix by Stephen Covey; American educator, businessman and author of the popular book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Why even try and come up with my own version of this when it has already been done so well? 
URGENT
NOT URGENT
IMPORTANT
Quadrant I:
Urgent & Important
Quadrant II:
Not Urgent & Important
NOT IMPORTANT
Quadrant III:
Urgent & Not Important
Quadrant IV:
Not Urgent & Not Important
Quadrant One is for crises and emergencies. They are at the top of the to-do list and have to be done today. There’s a certain amount of zing involved in these tasks. There’s a bit of heart-racing, panting, frowning and maybe even a light sweat with this one. If only figuratively. “Will I make it in time? Will I get it done?” is the background chant to this quadrant.
Quadrant Two is all about prevention, planning and improvement. These are the tasks that aren’t due until tomorrow, but if we don’t do them, then in the future they will enter quadrant one and become more urgent. They are a priority, but not a top notch one. The reason why this is a good quadrant to sit in is because it allows for more forward planning and creative thinking. When we are calm and productive, we also have time and energy and a certain sense of self-satisfaction that allow for this. 
Quadrant Three is the zone of interruption. Emails, telephone calls, some meetings. They’re not necessarily important but they are things we may have to deal with in the moment. Simply because they are happening now. But these things are in the third quadrant which does mean that they are third on the list of priorities and should be treated as such.
Quadrant Four can be seen in both negative and a positive light. In terms of getting things done, quadrant four is about distraction. Sometimes seen as time wasters, the kind of activities that go on in this zone are checking Facebook, watching television as an alternative to getting on with other tasks, and busy, yet meaningless work. But quadrant four can also be quite nice. No sense of urgency or importance is quite relaxing. It’s just not that productive long term.
We do tend to have personalities that veer quite sharply towards a particular approach and they probably feel quite happy functioning within the parameters of that quadrant. For example, Quadrant One thinkers focus on deadline driven projects and activities where they get to use the high pressure hose on sudden blazes. On the other hand, Quadrant Two personalities think beyond the present and aim to build long term capabilities.
Which is why living in quadrant two is the way to go. Getting things done, feeling successful, keeping calm and carrying on.
Another way of labelling the quadrants might be hell, happy place, stop annoying me and silly. 
Go to your happy place. Now. 

    C1

    C1 Espresso, Christchurch, New Zealand
    There’s a lot going on at C1 Espresso in Christchurch. And all of it’s good.
    Closed for almost two years after the Christchurch earthquake in February 2011, C1 reopened in a whole lot of glory in late 2012 across the road from its original site in the old post office building dating back to the 1930s.
    I was in C1 the morning of the earthquake. After my daily swim in Centennial Pool, coffee at C1 on the way to school was part of my life. And I do remember that morning quite vividly. Would I have remembered it as well if there hadn’t been an earthquake, if everything hadn’t changed?
    The new C1 has less of the grunge. The old C1 was eclectic. It started off small, pretty much standing room only, with maybe some seats on the pavement. Good coffee and great raspberry and chocolate muffins. It grew because it was good. And it grew back because it was very good.
    High ceilinged, light, airy and with a myriad of quirkiness, the new C1 offers the same great coffee made with milk, produced especially for them from a herd of nomadic cows, no less and delivered daily in glass, excellent food, pneumatic sliders, Star Wars figures on the toilet door, a sliding bookshelf door to the toilets and beehives and a very small vineyard on the roof. Sound exhausting? It’s fantastic!
    The latest incredibleness comes as a result of owner Sam Crofsky’s chats with the organic farmers he sources his coffee beans from. Golden Panther Tea Company was launched during the 2014 United Nation’s Third International Conference on Small Island Developing States in Apia, Samoa. After hearing farmers talk about their cocoa, chilli and lemongrass, C1 came up with a tea company that would celebrate these products and empower small family farms to realize their entrepreneurial potential.
    The tea ingredients from Samoa include dried hibiscus flowers, lemongrass, chilli, mango, ginger, coffee cherry, coconut and pineapple. It will be sold in collectible matchboxes that offer two servings – one for drinking in the café and one for later.
    Christchurch has a lot going for it right now. C1 is part of it.

    catching the egg

    Shin’s Teppanyaki may well have been the world’s fist mobile Teppanyaki restaurant. I’m going to say it was, because I like that idea. And if we go with the line of thought that it’s not how it actually happened, but how I remember it, then, sure it was.

    Shin started his mobile business when the restaurant he worked in closed after the September 2010 earthquake in Christchurch. Ingenuity and entrepreneurial prowess. He is now running another mobile teppanyaki unit in Auckland. 

    It’s an impressive way to dine in the comfort of your own home. The huge hotplate is there, the bench, seats, crockery and cutlery are also provided and, in the case of today’s lunch, a smiling and very happy chef, Toshi, to provide entertainment and a deftly prepared several course meal. Salad, salmon, vegetables, lamb cutlets, chicken, beef, fried rice and the egg throwing course…and no, I did not manage to catch the piece of egg in my mouth and I certainly did not look in the least bit graceful as I tried. Others at the lunch did, amongst them the lovely bride-to-be, and that’s a great skill to bring into a marriage.

    Aren’t people clever for coming up with these things? 

    calling your bluff

    Bluff Oysters. Some say they are the tastiest in the world. Plump, juicy, buttery, even sweet tasting, they are the least snot-like of their genre around. I’m not sure that’s really the best description but I know you know what I mean. Bluff Oysters have texture and are a mouthful of loveliness that you savour rather than just allow to slip down your throat. Although clearly with my exceptional choice of words here, no one is going to pick me for the Bluff Oyster ad campaign…

    Bluff Oyster season, and here I was really going to abbreviate it to BO season, but thought better of it…whew, lucky save, Jo Jo…has just begun in New Zealand. Restaurants, bars, fishmongers and supermarkets are blackboarding it up and making sure that everyone knows that it’s time.

    The official harvesting season is from March until June or July, depending on when the quota is reached. May is the ultimate month for the oysters and that’s when Bluff itself (oh yes, international readers, there really IS a Bluff, waaaaay down south at the bottom of the South Island) gets its party clothes on, and on May 23, these little treats from the sea are the absolute stars.

    The reason Bluff Oysters taste so great is because they are slowly grown in the cold, turbulent and therefore clean waters of Foveaux Strait.

    Bluff Oysters are native only to New Zealand and Chile and they are tricky to export, so, if you can, get to New Zealand in the next few months and experience the goodness for yourselves.