Wednesday, 25 December 2013

living up to my name

It is disconcerting to discover you are named after a plate.

My mother will be reading this and rolling her eyes. She maintains that, despite the fact the wedding gift Noritake dinnerware bears the pattern name of Joanne, I was named after the actress Joanne Woodward.

My supposed namesake was an American actress, active in the film industry from 1955 until the present and married to Paul Newman. Apparently Joanne Woodward's cinema-loving mother named her after Joan Crawford, an actress around in the twenties and thirties. I am beginning to see a hall of mirrors in this naming process: and Joanne was named after Joanne, who was named after Joan....(although Joan made up her name because she was born Lucille...I know, I know, the plot thickens).

Now at this point in the psychoanalysis of the naming progress, I do need to point out that Joanne is actually my middle name. And no, in case you are asking, like David Manual in Form 1 at Shirley Intermediate School, is your name Joanne Joanne?...the answer is no. It is not Joanne Joanne. That is just stupid. My name is Margaret Joanne.

In one of those fits of following crazy family tradition which mum later regretted, suggesting a change by deed poll, Mum, like the first-born women before her, named me Margaret first but called me by my second name.

What's the big deal, you may ask? Well none really.

Except that we tend to identify with the one name we are called.

So, I feel like a Joanne, or a Jo, whatever that might feel like. Although, if one is a plate called Joanne, one feels pretty smooth and polished with a nice floral motif and gold leaf high maintenance which demands handwashing and no microwave use....and is also a little miffed to have been relegated to the too-good-for-common-use-top-shelf until after the earthquakes and a coming out to 'everyday' status.

But I digress. Or run away with myself. Or something.

My passport name is Margaret. It's the name doctors and dentists and translation examiners and airport announcements about missing the plane unless you board now use. And it's a name that I just do not listen out for.

If my two names were to fight it out for supremacy, which one would win? Obviously I did some research on this and turned to the internet.

I looked up some excellent sites which, despite not having a handle on the English language, seem to be extremely trustworthy. Here are my favourite numerology explanations of my names. I invite you to read them and perhaps those of you who know me could give me some feedback. I have my own reaction below.

What does Margaret mean?
You have psychic power. You can carry on for others with joy. You have a receptive nature and may bear burdens for others. You are pragmatic, thorough, strong-willed, practical and stubborn at times. You are hard working, often martyr to duty. You like home and security above all. You are bold, independent, inquisitive and interested in research. You know what you want and why you want it.

You are always looking for an opportunity to achieve financial and emotional security. You are basically peacemaker. You understand the law of harmony and desire to balance your life with those around you. You may feel incomplete without someone to share your love, ideals, wealth or work. You can be very sensitive and could appear a bit shy and perceptive. You have developed intuition, patience and the ability to nurture others. You can achieve the state of happiness if you is willing to accept your needs in a complimentary relationship and go to create them.

 What does Joanne mean?
You are honest, benevolent, brilliant and often inventive, full of high inspirations. You are courageous, honest, determined, original and creative. You are a leader, especially for a cause. Sometimes you do not care to finish what you start, and may leave details to others. You can do well in position of authority, and prospers in intellectual and professional fields. You are frank, methodical and believe in law, system and order.

You are seeking freedom, opportunities to enjoy life: to make love, to go places and to do things. You are very adventurous and willing to take risk to achieve your objectives. New ways and new experiences can't satisfy your restless nature. One adventure leads you to another. You are honest and fair, because you know that this is the only way to receive justice and honesty from other people. But your personal growth is vital for your, and it is difficult to be tied down by rules and obligations. Your restless spirit might best controlled by choosing the field of work that meet your demand for action and adventure.

Right. So there are bits in both of these that I LOVE. And clearly bits I'm not sure I want to acknowledge even though they might possibly be a bit close to the bone.

But maybe this would be the case if my name was Lucille. Or Tom. Or Foxtail, if one's parents happened to be gifted plates with that pattern name.

Do our names shape us? Do we grow into our names, making them our own and filling out each part of them as we move through life? Or are our names merely labels and superfluous to our journey.

Would my life have been different as an everyday Margaret? What about as a Maggie Jo (said in a slow southern drawl)? Actually I am fairly certain that my life would have been markedly different as a Maggie Jo.

Y'all come back now ya hear...


Thursday, 19 December 2013


Something happens to me when I get out of the city and into what I believe is the REAL-ness of a country. I get a shiver up my spine and have that feeling which, if put into words might be something like, 'ah yes, here I am…this is it'. There is a right feeling about the setting.

I had this feeling on Waiheke, as I wandered around seeing fern fronds and flax and pohutukawa and little boats bobbing in jade-coloured bays and a bowling club circa. 1960. I felt as though I was really IN New Zealand. But what's that about?

The word that comes to mind is authentic. The idea that you're getting back to basics, back to the nitty gritty unspoilt realness of a place.

In some respects I don't like the word authentic as it has lost a lot of its authenticity through overuse. Everyone and his dog these days is bandying around the need for an authentic life, being true to ourselves and our beliefs and so on and so forth. It gets a bit much. We're so busy striving for the idea of authenticity that we forget what the authenticity we are aiming for actually is.

Is this idea (which I am failing to encapsulate in a word) the idea, or feeling that occurs when we get out of the city and away from the busy, stressful, over-achieving, over-consuming environment and just have time to settle into ourselves and breathe the fresh and, if you're lucky, honey-scented air and just be?

Because, without wanting to be all jet-set and fancy pants, I have this same feeling when I am in certain villages in France. People walk down the road with baguettes under their arms, you can smell roast lamb and rosemary wafting out of someone's blue-shuttered windows, men wearing berets and holding a glass of pastis play petanque on a dusty terrain. It feels real. Or like some kind of Truman Show set-up.

The fact that in smaller towns or villages, particularly in New Zealand, there is more evidence of the past, that is, the sixties and seventies, seems to also evoke this feeling of authenticity. Or is it nostalgia? Or just a hipster penchant for retro styles?

I am asking a lot of questions. And I really have no answers. I just know that I like the feeling as everything seems to slide into place, if only for a moment, and I think, yes, this is it. This feels good. And I smile.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

i like the cut of your jib

 My nephew wrote a recipe a few months ago. He had the idea, drew the picture and then dictated the ingredients to his mother. When I went over to visit, he asked me to read out the ingredients he had thought of to see whether it all sounded good as a cake. I thought it sounded great as a cake. But when I had finished the list, Raffi stared off into middle distance, with a sort of distracted-Rittey-male thinking kind of look, turned to me and said, 'Jo Jo, it needs blackberries. Could you add that please.' And I did and, I have to say, having now baked the Pirate Cake, with three layers and not eight, architecture not being my forte and finding myself strangely bereft of the requisite 8 different sized cake tins (call myself a cook...?!)...blackberries were an excellent and, even vital, addition.

It's risky trying to bring an idea to life. Especially an idea imbued with such hearty connotations. A Pirate Cake...well that's up there with Magic Faraway pop biscuits and moon cakes and suchlike. I spent many an afternoon up the pear tree in the back garden in quasi-disbelief that I couldn't reach the lands that swung around at the top of the tree under Enid Blyton's pen, providing escapism and adventure.

A child's imagination, which often has no borders to a child's reality is a precious thing and it was a mission fraught with peril that I embarked upon last weekend.

I think there was a bit of humouring Auntie on the part of the five year old, whose eyes grew wide when he saw it, and who spent quite some time figuring out the best way to cut the cake. But I like to think that there was also a lot of joy that he and I had worked together to produce this fantastical cake. He had the idea and I made it happen.

All in all, we achieved a fairly yo ho ho feat.

Aargh. And all that.

Sunday, 1 December 2013

The Last Slice

Why are we so bothered by the last slice? 

We meet together over food. We are happy to help ourselves to the offerings on a full plate or platter. We are talking and drinking and eating and laughing. Ha ha. He he. Life is a long golden summer and we are living the dream.

Then all of a sudden. The last slice looms. Clouds gather, there’s a chill in the air and we look to middle field, pensive, anxious.

According to Yvette, this change in season at the advent of The Last Slice doesn’t happen in Germany. Someone cheerfully takes it. There are no reproaches, no judgements and no remorse. No one is flicking through the mental notes of etiquette and good upbringing, seeking the Right Thing to Do in This Situation. The person wants to eat the last slice. And they do.

I remember when I was little, there was a rule. It seemed to come about when we were invited to other children’s birthday parties.

The Last Slice Rule. If there is one lonely piece of deliciousness left on a plate and even if you really really want it and your life will not be complete without it and you might starve even and it is your absolute favourite chocolate caramel slice, you must ask everyone whether they would like it. If everyone else refuses, then you may take it. Surely everyone understood the unspoken desire that if you were offering The Last Slice, then you actually wanted it yourself. So surely if someone else took The Last Slice that just wasn’t cricket. But sometimes people didn’t know about the unspoken desire or cricket. Or perhaps they were German.

According to a study, and here, I confess, I don’t know which study, who carried it out, when, and why they are American, but I’m including it anyway because the internet said it and therefore…gospel…truth…base my life upon it…” 6 MILLION AMERICAN MEN aged 35-54 have eaten the last slice of pie and denied it”. The upper case emphasis is the internet’s.

Clearly the whole Last Slice dilemma is a thing. Pizza Hut have addressed it. And it’s on the internet. Ergo….

Which reminds me of the time I was doing my PhD in Medieval French Literature and saw a flowchart based on the Medieval authorities’ legal proscriptions about sex to help the pious man figure out when it was acceptable to have legal intercourse. Crowbar?

I’m not sure it’s the same thing at all.

Or is it?

Is our Anglo-Saxon concern with taking the last slice and therefore, being gluttonous, in the same category as our prudish treatment of sex, desire, lust?

Does the taking of The Last Slice represent our fear of embracing life, saying what we want, taking it and enjoying it immensely without fear of what other people think?

Thursday, 28 November 2013

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.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

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.

Friday, 8 November 2013

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.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

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.

Friday, 25 October 2013

just draw

When I drew as a child it was just to illustrate my writing. I wrote books when I was little. With cardboard covers. The writing was what mattered. I didn’t think I could draw but I thought the pages needed some colour.

Some children draw prolifically. They fill scribble pads and cover walls and verandahs and use chalk in the driveway. I didn’t think I could draw. So I didn’t.

And Drawing can be one of those things we grow out of. As soon as we become self-conscious and decide our drawing is not as good as other people’s drawing. Or our drawing doesn’t look like the thing it was supposed to look like.

We all learn handwriting in the same way. We have lines in our books and we copy and learn about shapes and directions of lines. But our handwriting all turns out differently. We learn the rules then we make it our own.

Why can’t we see drawing the same way?

Amandine Thomas is an illustrator. She is also passionate about getting grown ups to rediscover the joy and freedom of expression of art.

In a one-off workshop, she led us through a series of exercises that allowed us to unlock the flow and just draw.

About thirty people sat around the huge trestle table with silver birch legs and covered with rolls of blank paper in the White House in St Kilda. We drew portraits of the people around us.  Firstly with our left hands, then without looking at the paper, but just looking at our subject. Next we used a single line and without lifting the pen from the paper, we transposed what we saw onto the paper in front of us. Then we closed our eyes and drew from memory, trying to be aware of the pen and the space on the paper without looking. Finally we used someone else’s hand and guided the pen over the paper, combining trust and mechanics to create an intimate expression and experience.

After each exercise, we were asked to reflect on what we liked about our drawing and write that next to it. We did a round of the table to see what other people had done. And, like the handwriting, everyone had a different approach and result.

The drawings were quick and intuitive. We were present in the moment. Observing and appreciating without over-thinking.

I thought I couldn’t draw. And I love what I produced.