Monday, May 16, 2011

Good Things Autumn 2011: Burmese Statues and Gwyneth Paltrow

The little things are infinitely the most important (Arthur Conan Doyle). 

In the face of bone aching fatigue last week, I have found lots of pleasure in tiny achievements.

Like this embroidered cushion I found at Safari.  In the background is my fiddle leaf fig tree, which almost died when I was in hospital in January because no one thought to give it the thimble full of water it needs to survive each week. I am slowly nursing it back to health but it is still too straggly.  Such a shame because it had a beautiful full shape when I first bought it.  

Pepper the Burmese cat managed to knock over this (Burmese!) statue we have in the front hall.  Of course the Burmese army had already taken care of her head, feet and arms (the statue I mean not the cat).   But her leg broke in two. I fixed it with Kwik Grip or something equally unmentionable.  I know that is not the correct way to mend supposedly ancient Asian artefacts but there you have it.  You can barely see the mend line. 

I don't mind being called Princess Jane by my daughter.  Note the little copyright symbol. It is not easy to explain the concept of copyright to an 8 year old but I think we got there.   And now her intellectual property is protected!

Oh Scanlan & Theodore how I love thee.  And your grey cardigans.  No I don't need another to add to the collection.  But it called my name and its siren song was answered.

Australian candle with Liberty-esque wrapping.   It's true I bought it mostly for the presentation.  Very superficial I know.  It smells nice but I still think Americans (think Tocca, Voluspa) make the best candles. 

Can we talk about Gwyneth?  I almost felt a bit ashamed buying this book and my husband teased me for a good five minutes.   I am completely absolutely anti celebrity chefs. I don't even watch Master Chef which is practically a crime in Australia.  I have no celebrity chef books. I loathe Gordon Ramsay.  I liked Nigella when she was thin and wrote for UK Vogue in the early 1990s.   I still love her books but only because I was an early adopter and she writes so well.

And Gwyneth herself is so multi talented, with her unusually named children, not very good interior design taste (at least that is what I think - check out these pics of her NY apartment), very nice Hampton's kitchen, okay singing voice, macrobiotic passions, kind of saccharine website and wardrobe to die for.  She's so earnest.   And that can be annoying.

But this book really resonated with me.    There are a few reasons for this. 

First, she speaks authentically of her love for her father (who died several years ago from complications of throat cancer) and her naive belief that he could be cured if he changed his diet.  (As an aside I have thought many times since my diagnosis whether my diet could be a cause. I think I eat pretty really well but according to the evil Internet breast cancer can be caused by all kinds of things ranging from milk to coffee.  It is of course so natural to blame yourself for these things (was it stress? was it the pollution from the street? what about deodorant? Could that be the cause?) and diet is always high up the list.)  Her father taught her to love to cook and eat.  He loved American foods: burgers, pancakes, hotdogs et al, and some of his recipes find their way into the book.  

Second, she really wants her children to eat well, cook with her, and to share magical times around the table.  This too is what I want for my children.  And I am at the stage where my son won't eat green or slightly green tinged things and my daughter won't eat most butter or dairy products.  So I am desperate to cook them things they will eat with enthusiasm.  And this notion of hiding the good items in what you cook for children is weird.   I want them to know what they are eating and come to love it naturally. 

Third, this book made me want to cook and eat.   Surely there can be no higher recommendation? These days of course we can get any recipe we want for free.  So why buy a cookbook?  I look for a way of viewing cooking which I can relate to.  Presumably if you enjoy cooking one or two of a favourite cookbook writer's recipes, you will enjoy cooking more.  That is why our Marcella Hazan cookbooks are falling apart through overuse.

Over the weekend I cooked the following from this book: kale crisps, cheesy stuffed burgers, duck burgers, macaroni cheese (which she makes with mascarpone and Parmesan), oatmeal and raisin cookies (no butter and no eggs), white bean soup with cheesey croutons, zucchini with pasta and berries with caramelised cream.   All the recipes worked well, and the children loved them all.

This is not a macrobiotic book by any means. There is a lot of cheese and dairy and eggs and pancakes.  There are also some nice zen meals like soba noodles and savoury rice bowl. 

Finally, I have ticked a few book purchases off the to-do list.

Two books for my husband's birthday which always must be history although unfortunately Mr Fitzsimons is a journalist which may make the history a bit 'chatty and accessible' which my husband does not like at all.   Oh well.

And the new Geraldine Brooks book set in Martha's Vineyard in the 1660s.  If you have not already, please read her earlier books - Year of Wonders (set in plague torn England) and March (Dr March from Little Women's experiences in the Civil War) are both completely brilliant. 

And truly finally, some toast with avocado, fetta, mint and olive oil has been giving me much comfort lately.

I am so boring that I realise as typing this that I have already done an avocado on toast post.  But I love it so much. 

In fact I think I could easily find enough posts to run a 'Things on Toast' blog for a good couple of years (other ideas for alternative blogs - Dollshouses (but that might attract some weirdos) or Celebrities with No Interior Design Taste).

Weird Chemo Side Effect No 4: my eyebrows are definitely thinning out. I hope to hold on to them for the next 6 weeks.  I have probably in the past said something stupid like I will stay in my bedroom for the duration if I lose my eyebrows.  However, now it is potentially happening, I just don't care.  On the bright side, it makes me look just that little bit more like Gwyneth. 


Southhamsdarling said...

Jane - you are an inspiration to us all! That was a wonderful, positive post today, and I loved all the photos that you have put up for us to see, especially the little drawing by your daughter - magical! I agree with you about Gwynneth's cookbook. It was serialized in a Sunday magazine here, and it looks wonderful. I am going to buy it as part of my daughter's 40th birthday pressie! You should be proud of all your achievements there, as I am proud for you! Take care.

Heidi said...

I am quite tempted to purchase that Gwyneth book. I actually enjoy her slightly odd blog, and her book has received pretty good reviews. I don't mind Nigella, but I find I cook a lot from Jamie Oliver's cookbooks. I know he's a bit naff, but his recipes are great for family cooking, and always work.

I've bought Caleb's crossing (waiting for it to arrive from bookdepository), and loved her other two books. We stayed in the plague village 13 years ago, so I found the book particularly interesting.

I hope you can hold onto your eyebrows.

Kerry said...

I find myself agreeing with everything you say...except I do have my share of Jamie Oliver cookbooks! Gordon's face though will never cross my doorstep in print or any other form. I've just finished Caleb's Crossing. Geraldine Brooks is my favourite author. Have you read People of the Book too, as well as her brilliant non-fiction Nine Parts of Desire? And is it even possible to have too much avocado on toast? I think not. Sorry you've been feeling a bit rough. I do hope you, the Burmese statue and the fig tree all fare a little better next week :)

Julie@beingRUBY said...

Dear Princess Jane
Glad to hear you are finding joy in the little things.. especially your daughters painting.. so sweet!!! and love those Theodore and Scanlon cardigans..who doesn't love a good grey cardi!!

But.. I have to admit I don't watch Masterchef either nor any of the trillions of cooking shows we are now swamped with.. part of it has to do with all my food restrictions... makes me nuts to see the yummies on the tv and partly as.. how many cooking shows can we watch?

You gave me a laugh with the eyebrow comment.. hope you get to hang on to yours... Take care and good luck with the fig tree... ciao xxx Julie

Jacqueline @ HOME said...

Dear Jane,
Gwyneth has been on a couple of cookery programmes over here in the past week, promoting her cookery book. On one, she made crab cakes which looked delicious and, because of that, I will probably buy her cookery book. I also like Jamie Oliver's cookbooks and have most of his, as his recipes are quick and often , all in one pan and always turn out well. He is so over- exposed now though and I don't watch his TV programmes anymore. I have to confess that I have been to one of Gordon Ramsay's restaurants and I don't have one bad word to say about it but, I can't stand the way he comes across.
Sorry to hear about your eyebrow's but, if it's any consolation, when you get to my age they become so much sparser than thy were. I'm sure that your's will grow back later.
I have to say that you are such an inspiration Jane. You have such a wonderful attitude and it's so lovely to read your posts and how much you seem to get done in a day.You have so much that interests you which, I think, is very healing.
Love your daughter's picture...... I think that Karen in Outnumbered would be proud !!!
Much love Jane. XXXX

Sarah B said...

What a beautiful drawing by your daughter - so precious!
I am not a fan of Gordon or Jamie for that matter. I dong mind Nigella except for all that finger sucking and boosomy-ness!
I've never tried avocado on toast but it sounds good, especially on a sour dough. Mmmm.
You look after yourself :)

A Farmer's Wife said...

Mmm - am excited now that Geraldine Brooks has another book out as I loved "March" and particularly loved "Year Of Wonders".

The cookbook actually sounds really fantastic. And I am not a huge Gwyneth fan (and I never knew there was such a thing as too much white in a home until I saw the pics you had linked!). Poor woman is probably really lovely.

Take care.

Emma said...

I am embarrassed to admit that I adore Gwyneth and am going to order myself a copy her cookbook pronto! Have you ever considered a cookbook Jane? Your descriptions of your comfort food favourites are always inspiring and look mouth wateringly delicious! x

Jane said...

Ah, it's so good to hear from you again, Jane. I have missed your wry humour. Ooh, the lawyer in me is giggling at the copyright marking! I want to read Geraldine Brooks' 'The People of the Book and 'March'. When I find that ever elusive *moment*, that is. J x

Mise said...

Ah, your husband wouldn't like Blogtopia at all. It's true about the small things: they build up to a big and worthwhile whole, all the more intricate for its sum of small parts. And I will be among the first followers of your Things on Toast blog if ever you get it running, having being delighted with your tomato & avocado inspirations.

Tammy said...

I have heard a few people say very good things about the Gwyneth book lately, I may have to have a look. My current fave is the Thrifty Kitchen. :)

Ann said...

Ah lots of lovely little things. I do miss your posts.

Mmm, I'd follow Dollshouses but I am a little bit of a weirdo (or just need a daughter who'd like one and let me play with it).

Gwyneth confuses me too. I like her (and that hair) and yet I find her a little too much sometimes... I will go and flick through the book.

I have come much too late to the Geraldine Brooks' party but love her writing. Off to order Caleb's Crossing, thanks for the reminder and best of luck with the brows.... x

Natasha in Oz said...

Hello dear Jane! Great to see this newsy and informative post. I must say I am so glad to hear that I am not the only one who doesn't watch Masterchef but I also have to confess that I do have a few of Jamie's and Nigella's cook books and watch them whenever I can. I also subscribe to GOOP and love the recipes that Gwyneth shares. I think after reading your review I will definitely find that book as it sounds wonderful!

Right, I'd better go and finish making dinner before the family complains. Take care and keep enjoying that yummy avocado toast.

Best wishes always,

Maxabella said...

Great post, Jane. So much good stuff!

I can't agree with the Gwynnie Paltry love, though. I just can't do her. She's... insipid. I agree the book is probably great, but I just don't want to encourage her any more than we already have. x

The House That A-M Built said...

The little things in life are EVERYTHING! ... I revel in the little things too... and every little moment. Moment by moment is a good way to live. .... and I adore Gwynnie. You are not alone. A-M xx

Samantha said...

The copyright made me laugh out loud.

Ann said...

Thank you for your good wishes! A coffee it is... in a few months - I have a few hurdles to jump first. Like where to live in Melbourne - it's almost harder to move back to a city you know... A x

nevin said...

Such a lovely post!! I love that beautiful drawing by your daughter and yummy avocado toast, by the way who doesn't love Scanlan & Theodore :))Best wishes and love xxx

P.Gaye Tapp at Little Augury said...

Jane, where would we be without the cat! always good for rubbing something over onto the floor. I am most impressed with that copyright, a little less so with the ever and over exposed GP. But will say-she is always in great demand and seems to have countless things to share. I note her image on the latest Bon Appetit excerpts from the book inside and the article looks pretty entertaining. pgt

Vicki said...

How refreshing to read a blog that is so funny and honest!
I am a Gwyneth fan for the simple reason that she is happy, smiles a lot, doesn't carry on about how precious she is and adores her children.Love Nigella's stylish use of english but she is a bit of a cup cake. I'm always amazed at how the Masterchef contestants can make the Haute Cuisine but don't know the simple things, ie egg whites won't whip if the utensils aren't spotless and you need to mix arrowroot before adding it.
Love the copyright!

Slim Paley said...

What a lovely post.
I am not familiar with Geraldine Brooks...perhaps she is an Australian author? I will check her out- I love "Plague Books"!
Also, the avocado on toast with feta, mint & olive oil- will most DEFINITELY be checking that out!

Have a wonderful weekend!

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