Friday, February 26, 2010

A Southern Gothic on the Porch

In an attempt to spruce up my austere veranda I have been hunting around for some inspiration.

When I was very pregnant with my first child I spent most of the daylight hours over about 3 days sitting on our front verandah in the sunshine reading this book:

This is a mystery wrapped in a childhood memoir and has been criticised for its uncertain ending.  I love Ms Tartt with a passion. I love the fact she takes 8 years or more to write books, her chain smoking, her clipped enigmatic interviews, her hermitlike characteristics.  Please write another book Donna. 

Of course porches are a great place to sit and read Southern Gothic books.  Some books are meant to be read outside.    Especially dark and twisted stories.   To me, an Edgar Allan Poe book is not for curling up with in a darkened bedroom.  

Tennessee Williams described Southern Gothic as 'an intuition, of an underlying dreadfulness in modern experience'.    

So how about this shingled porch:

for a bit of Tennessee Williams preferably The Glass Menagerie, featuring the slightly annoying  and out of touch with reality Amanda:

And this verandah suggests mint juleps, lush gardens and a bit of heartbreak, so I would recommend:

Gone with the Wind, not Gothic at all, but Southern and hot and feisty and a really great read no matter how unfashionable Margaret Mitchell may be:

Back to porches and verandahs.  I need seating, cushions, a mirror to reflect the garden back, a little side table or two.  Very simple.  Like this:

Or this, but with no cane furniture.  Even though I love cane, someone else here does not. 

Maybe a painted bench: 

Or this, what a clean and crisp, wonderful spot: 

Late last year I read what is possibly the scariest book ever.    I read it in about 6 hours, and kept thinking and thinking about it.   Of course now it has been made into a film so it is widely known.   

This is not a book to read late into the night.   It is a book to read with the sun shining down on you, perhaps a little breeze through the bougainvillea, to remind you that the world is not as horrifying as Cormac McCarthy makes it seem.

So for The Road, I would suggest:

This lovely trellissed porch:

Or something with a stiff drink on hand:

And to finish, something slightly run down and peeling, for another frightening book (so much so I couldn't finish it), written I am sorry to say by a man I would not like to have dinner with:

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote.

(Images: (2) Apartment Therapy (4) Country Living (6) Skona Hem (7) Coastal Living (8) Ideal Home (9) My Sweet Savannah (11) not sure sorry! (12) Country Living (13) Traditional Home)

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Thai Street Food at home

Who said Asian food was easy?  In my view it is not.  It involves pastes, crushing, mashing, mincing,  cutting, chopping, measuring, layers, steps, braising, carefully testing,  going away for a while, coming back, testing again, making sure the separate flavours sing together, and then eating.

Nothing easy about that.  Maggi Noodles it ain't.

I wrote here about David Thompson, the technically perfect chef and protector of Thai food recipes and history in the English language.

I was given Thai Street Food for Christmas which is his second cookbook. My main complaint is that it is very large and thus falls perilously close to being a Coffee Table Cookbook, which I have A Thing about.    It barely fits in my recipe book holder which makes me wonder whether he really expected people to cook from it.  

Nevertheless, it has some wonderful images, which make me want, so desperately, to return to Thailand. 

This image, to me, is what Thailand is all about:  Saffron robed monks gathering at a laminex chair and table street cafe for the all important midday meal:

Anyway I had some time yesterday, so to save time I made dinner in the afternoon.   Yes, I am MADE of time.  And besides what is better than the smell of roasting spices like cloves and cardamom in the afternoon. 

I cooked this dish from the book:  Chicken with banana chillies and assam.  Assam is dried Asian woodruff.  You can substitute tamarind paste, which is just as well because my pantry was bereft of woodruff.

The reason I picked this dish is that I bought these wonderful lime green banana chillies yesterday morning.  They must be in season.

Firstly, assemble spices in little piles:

Then roast them (separately says David Thompson, all together says I)

Then chargrill the aromatics (chilli, garlic, turmeric, ginger):

Then bash and smash.
Then fry the paste in coconut milk and cream, add the chicken and some seasoning and roasted other bits like cassia bark.

Then eat, greedily.

There is something very therapeutic about the slow banging of a mortar and pestle, and the adding of a little bit of fish sauce here, and sprinkling of palm sugar there.   And that is why I love cooking so much. 

If you are feeling strong, and have the space, buy this book:

Monday, February 22, 2010

Begone Lilac Walls

I wrote here about the lilac walled room my 2.5 year old son was inflicted with. 

Time has moved on, he is a bit older now (2.11) and what have I managed to achieve?  Well, we have finally painted the room, and here it is in all its Dulux Antique White USA-ness.  

It took three coats to get rid of the purple walls.   The painters were very proud of their work. 

They used oil, and stripped back years of not so good paintwork to make the architraves  and window frames sing. 

I read a column in the Christmas Spectator by Toby Young which touched a chord with me. 

His son was asked by his teacher to write down his Christmas wishes.  The sole item on his wish list was 'Lite bulb'. When asked why, he told his teacher that the light globe in his bedroom blew several months ago and as he was still waiting for his father to replace it he thought maybe Santa could do the job instead.

Of course I wouldn't want you to think that I leave my children light-bulb-less in darkened rooms but there are all those little things we mean to get around to - pumping up the bicycle tyres, fixing the loose hem on the school dress, buying a lunchbox that doesn't have cracks in it, setting up the Lego properly, finding the time to sit down and do the paper doll book properly.  And so on.  

 Am I the only one?   Oh the guilt.    It never ends does it? 

Friday, February 19, 2010

A Rothko Room

I wrote here about rooms which evoke paintings.  There is a whole separate galaxy of rooms which evoke the primary blocks of colour Mark Rothko used in his work.   And the combination of colours he used was then really unusual.  Here is a great example.

(via Plush Palate)

White Center (1950)

I really love pink and orange together.  There is something tropical and devil may care about this combination.   It clashes but who cares? 

Incidentally, the above painting sold at auction in May 2007 for $72.87 million. This was more than triple the previous highest price paid for a Rothko.  It was speculated that the high price may have in part been driven by the paintings provenance, as it came from the collection of David and Peggy Rockefeller.

Mark Rothko was born in Russia in 1903. He studied at Yale and the New York School of Design.  He committed suicide in 1970. 

To me his paintings appear to be the product of someone with a sunny outlook on life.  Obviously that was not necessarily so.  

However, he was prolific and many of his works are in public, not super yacht owning billionaire's, hands, so we can all enjoy them for 100s of years to come. 

Design Sponge has paid a visit...

The oh so lovely Design Sponge has done a little story on my speaker 'repurposing' today.

Thanks so much Grace and DS!  You can see their feature here.  

There is also a lovely guest bedroom before and after on this page, with a completely divine quilt (in fact the before is really rather nice on its own).

Have a happy day!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Enormous useless speakers made useful and pretty

Allow me to introduce you to a pair of speakers.

Aren't they lovely?  Of course anyone who is under 30 probably won't know this, but this is the way we used to listen to music.  I believe they date from that decade when we wore scrunchies, baggy jeans and ruffled white shirts. 

These speakers have sat quietly in our front sitting room, weighing about 50 kg each and taking up rather a lot of space but otherwise minding their own business for about 9 years now.  Because of course, we have other, much, much, much smaller speakers.  In fact I am not even sure where the connecting leads for these speakers are.  

But do you think I can send them off to speaker heaven? No, I can't.   The following comments have been made about these speakers by a certain person (the owner):

  • you would never be able to buy speakers of this quality today.
  • there is no way we are getting rid of these.
  • you never know -  we might use them at some point.
  • they are hardly taking up any space - you can't even notice them.
  • maybe the children can have them when they are a bit older.
  • maybe one of the neighbour's kids might want them.
You may gather from the above that if I put these speakers out for the hard rubbish collection, it may just break his heart.  But still.  He said he wouldn't mind if I tricked them up a bit. 

So, after thinking a bit, I found a way to hide them and use them.

I have now turned his speakers into two plinth side tables.

First I bought some plywood.  Oh, and a saw, because we don't have one. 

Then I made a cage frame template thing to sit over the speakers.  I got the pieces sawn into the correct shape and stuck it together using ducting tape to make sure they all fitted. 

Then after some lengthy wallpaper sample experimentation, discussed here, I chose a colour, a goldeny Chinese print from GP&J Baker.  And then I waited, and waited, and waited, for it to arrive from the UK (by barge presumably). 

Once it arrived, I wallpapered the wood. 

I then stuck them together with more ducting tape.   This was the hardest bit, as I had to kind of squirm inside the cage to make the bits stick together.  

And then I put the frame over the speaker and slid it into place.  I think you can see from the photos that some of the edges may need a bit more work to make them completely square and neat.    Especially that pesky one on the left.   

And here they are: useless speakers made useful.

My new tables have a number of benefits.  First they are high enough to reach as most side tables are two low for the couches in this room.   Second they take the place of a coffee table, which I am not allowed to have in this or any room.   Third, they just look pretty.   And finally, my husband gets to keep his speakers.   In a sense.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Rock cakes and smuggler's coves

We all know that if there is one thing you should not do to your children it is to impose your embarassing ambitions, tastes and foibles upon them.

If you want them to become a neurosurgeon, don't force it.  If you love sailor suits and think they look charming, don't make your child wear them.   And if you want them to have the same obssessive childhood hobbies, be a subtle directionist, and do not push it on to them.

This has been hard for me.   What I want my children to be is bookoholics.   To me, there is nothing more important than a love of books. Books are my stalwart companions, and I learned that early on, as a child, when my happiest times were lying in the sunshine in my bedroom reading an Enid Blyton book.

(this is what my shelves looked like, photo from here)

So for my daughter, I have started a little collection of all the books I read over and over when I was young.   Predictably, and perversely, as yet she shows no interest at all in them.

Here is my list.  I haven't collected them all yet, but I figure I still have a bit of time.
And in case you are wondering, they are all quite readable by adults too.  

1. Joan Aiken 'The Wolves of Willoughby Chase' (1963). 

(image by Superflygirl on Flickr)

These books are set in early 1800s during the reign of James III, positing an alternate history of England in which James II has not been deposed, but instead Hanoverian insurgents agitate against the monarchy.  To add to the excitement, wolves have invaded England from Russia via the channel tunnel.

This books tells the story of cousins Bonnie and Sylvia who are left by Bonnie's parents in their house Willoughby Chase under the care of the sinister and villainous Mrs Slighcarp.  

This book is part of a series which included Nightbirds on Nantucket and Black Hearts in Battersea, which also feature Simon and a new character, the wonderful and feisty Dido Twite. 

These books are so imaginative, and scary, they thrilled me to bits when I was a little girl. 

2. The 'R' Mysteries and the Adventure Series by Enid Blyton

A little confession - I recently looked at the Enid Blyton Society website and I couldn't find a single Enid Blyton book I hadn't read. 

Now, we all know about Mallory Towers, St Clares, the Faraway Tree, Noddy, the so called racism, the so called sexism, the library ban and other things. But, in spite of all that, what Enid Blyton does so well (the same point has been made about JK Rowling) is engender a love of reading whcih endures for a lifetime.

I loved all the school stories of course and desparately wanted to go to a boarding school in Cornwall and be naughty in a prim way, but I most of all loved the adventure stories.  The above is the Barney series, and below, one of the Adventure series.

Both series consisted of groups of siblings and friends (there is always one outcast eccentric friend who is especially clever at getting out of sticky situations) who have wonderful adventures in sinister castles, villages, islands, etc. 

(all Enid covers from the Enid Blyton Society)

3. Lucy M Boston's Green Knowe Stories, starting with the Children of Green Knowe

This is a ghostly story set in an evocative house.   Part of a series of 5 books (I think).

4. Miss Happiness and Miss Flower by Rumer Godden

Rumer Godden has written some fabulous books including The River.  Having spent much of her childhood in India, she often explores themes of belonging and homesickness.

In this book Nona is sent from steamy India to live with cousins in cold rainy England.  Life is utterly miserable until she is given two Japanese dolls, and instructions to build them an authentic Japanese home, which she proceeds to do.  This was my first introduction to tatami mats, rice paper walls and kimonos.   The book also comes with instructions for the house. 

5.  Mandy by Julie Andrews Edwards

Yes, this is the Julie Andrews of Mary Poppins and Sound of Music fame.  She is a rather good writer.  This book tells the story of Mandy, a girl in an orphanage who discovers an abandoned cottage in the forest behind the orphanage.  She cleans it out, 'does it up' and all ends happily when the man who owns it ends up adopting her.

A magical story for girls who want to live in their own home separate from their family (as I did.  Nothing personal, it was just what I wanted). 

6. The Chalet School Books by Elinor M Brent Dyer

As a little girl my Chalet School addiction knew no bounds.   Elinor M Brent Dyer wrote 59 of these books, over 45 years (between 1925 and 1970), so it was pretty much impossible to collect them all.   But wonderful to obsess over. 

The Chalet School was set up by an English women, Madge Bettany, in the Austrian Tyrol in the 1930s.  The stories cover the many and varied adventures of the girls and their teachers over decades.   

They had more substance and drama than the Enid Blyton boarding school books, and were truly exotic, being set in Austria.    Following the rise of the Nazis in Germany the school moved to Guernsey, then to England, and island off Wales and finally to peaceful Switzerland. 

Yes these books feature feisty heroines too, and some wonderful character names - Mary Lou Trelawney, Daisy Venables, Prunella Davies, Eustacia (can't remember surname) and Verity-Ann Carey. 

7. A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett

We all know about the Secret Garden.  This is about a little girl, Sara Crewe, who is sent to Miss Minchin's boarding school in London.  Instead of being treated kindly, a per her father's instructions, she is treated with cruelty and once her father dies, matters deteriorate.   

This story does have a happy ending, and Burnett's story of a clever, imaginative little girl who manages to make the best of an appalling situation, is quite enthralling. 

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

A nautical Sunday

On Sunday I made a little cushion cover for my son.

I hear you saying, enough already with the cushion covers. The truth is I can't control it.  I haven't actually bought a cushion for about 10 years because (a) I rarely like the ones I see in shops and (b) the ones I did like were $150 plus. 

But now, I control the fabric, the cost, the timing and the cushion cover itself.  And so all that pent up cushion buying is exploding out of me in no uncertain terms.

Zips now hold no fear for me.  The zipper footer has been conquered. I can do zips on the edge and zips under a flap. I can do long zips and short zips. Ugly zips and pretty zips.  

I can do plain cushions and flowery cushions. 

And home made cushions are such great value.  Although it has been pointed out to me that if I costed my cushion making activities by reference to my hourly charge out rate as a lawyer, then my cushions would be far from good value.   They might in fact actually cost upwards of $600 per cushion including materials and labour.   Like me, you should choose to ignore that uncomfortable fact as it takes a little bit of the fun out of the exercise. 

On Sunday I thought - what about a collage cushion?  This would enable me to use up all those old jeans and overalls and tops which little P keeps growing out of rather than giving them all to the Salvos. 

So here is a boat cushion.

The base cover is navy cotton, the boat hull is from a pair of Gant jeans, the left side sail is from a pair of Boden overalls, the mast is some brown linen I found, the flag is a Gap T Shirt and the right hand side (or should that be aft?) is from a linen bag I had lying around.

I cut out a paper template first, and then used that as a base for the pieces.  I found it helped immeasurably to iron the pieces with the hem folded in first  so that the edges would not play up during sewing.  

And then, feeling a metaphorical salty breeze in my hair, I had a lovely lunch for a friend's birthday here:

This is the kiosk at the end of St Kilda Pier, which was originally built between 1900 and 1914 and then completely destroyed by an arsonist in 2004.  It was then rebuilt to the original 1904 plans.    I don't usually like new things built to look old but this resurrection is respectful and appropriate and I can't think of anything better to go here. 

The kiosk was run by a series of long term tenants, including a Mr Francis Parer, who lived in the kiosk for 30 years until 1930 and served 'fish and fruit luncheons without any intoxicating liquors of any sort'  and the Kerbys (Colin Kerby retired in 1987 having worked in the kiosk since 1934 from a young age). 

It was one of those perfect, windless 25 degree days in Melbourne.  Little cotton clouds appeared then moved on south.   The beach was crowded but not overly so.  Rollerbladers, grungy locals, plump tourists and fishermen mingled on the pier.    Little children splashed in the shallows and sunbakers (yes they still exist) slathered on sunscreen and settled down for an afternoon's tanning.   

This is the view facing south-east from the pier on Sunday.   

(Image of Kiosk and history from
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