"an elegant tapestry of quotations, musings, aphorisms, and autobiographical reflections" (James Atlas)

Saturday, May 15, 2010


DH and I grew up in very different places. I was pretty much a city kid growing up in the US and Germany, taking toys and TV for granted, while Wayne was a country kid in Australia, without TV for much of his childhood and toys a rarity. "What did you do when you wanted to play?" I asked him, and he fondly recalled his cowboys and indians battles with his 3 brothers, pouring kerosene into puddles and lighting them (!), and playing with marbles. We did have marbles in common!
The first toy I remember having is this gorgeous Steiff teddy, which is still one of my treasures. I was about three years old that Christmas, and the box under the Xmas tree was nearly as tall as I was. My parents said I should open the box, and when I did, it tipped over and unleashed an almighty GRRROOOWWWL! Terrified, I ran into the bedroom and hid behind the bed! It took a lot of cajoling to get me back into the lounge room with that fearsome box! Once Mum & Dad opened it, the most adorable teddy appeared, and after Dad tipped him over a few times to show that the growl was harmless, we became fast friends. Most of my toys were of the animal variety. The Steiff company was very well represented, and I had an amazing wooden circus wagon on wheels, a great prop for playing circus with all my animals. One of my favourites was a little puppy dog, which accompanied me everywhere. After losing him on a flight between the US and Germany, I was inconsolable, and the first thing Mum had to do after landing was find exactly the same one - which she did! My godson inherited the puppy, and now his little girl plays with it. I was never that fond of dolls, except for one I remember for her long hair, which I turned into elaborate hairdos using Mum's rollers and bobby pins. When my sister came along, we played with Lego a lot. We also had a supermarket and a dolls house, but they only came out on Christmas. We spent hours 'shopping' for miniature groceries with chocolate coins, and stacking shelves, and eating the produce.... Later toys were novelties, such as green 'slime' - icky! Or those troll dolls with nothing but hair and a squashed nose - remember those? And Smurfs! I think we had every Smurf under the sun! What were your favourite toys?

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Lunch & name dropping

Ok, so I have a thing about food, cooking, cookbooks, chefs..... Somehow, everything always comes back to food! So I was very pleased when DH booked us into a lunch with Signor Antonio Carluccio, courtesy of The Age & Dymocks. We'd been to a few of these 'authors' lunches' before (Jeffrey Archer - before he went to jail, and Chris Patton, the erstwhile Governor of Hong Kong), but this was the first one with a celebrity chef! Antonio is quite well known and loved here in Australia, bringing his passion for food and love of Italian regional dishes to our TV screens back in the 90's. I watched his cooking shows regularly, he was a great ambassador for Italy, and had a very down-to-earth demeanor and straightforward way of presenting his recipes. He just let the food, colours, textures, and landscape speak for themselves, without frippery or fancy ingredients. My kinda chef! So I was very much looking forward to spending some time with Signor Carluccio today.
The lunch was at our Art Centre in Melbourne, very apt, I thought, since food and art surely compliment each other. His books were on sale, and of course I needed one more cookbook for my collection! And a DVD for good measure!
Thus armed, and fortified with a glass of bubbly, we took our seats in the Arts Pavillion, a large airy room comfortably seating around 120 guests. The lunch, a two-course meal, was inspired by Mr. Carluccio, and consisted of slow-cooked lamb shoulder in its own juice, creamy polenta, and fragrant wild mushrooms. It certainly did the master credit! The meat was impeccably cooked, moist and nearly but not quite falling apart. The polenta supported the strong flavours beautifully, and the mushrooms were heavenly! We don't get a large variety of mushrooms here in Australia, so I'm always impressed if someone cooks them well. But wait, there's more! In keeping with the Italian theme, we had a trio of desserts, a small serve of tiramisu, a tiny pear poached in red wine, and an orange and lemon ricotta tart, followed by really good coffee. Life couldn't get much better than this!We chatted with the other guests on our table; they were foodies like us and we had lots to talk about! Antonio made the rounds and very graciously posed for photos with many of us. A notebook was sent around, for people to write a message to Antonio, which I thought was a nice idea. He spoke for a while about his life in London, his restaurant, his love for food (and the ladies!), and told some jokes ("How does a NZ sheep farmer find his sheep in the high grass? - Delightful!"). At 73, he's bursting with vitality and is currently writing his biography and producing another TV series, which I'm looking forward to seeing.
Finally, Antonio signed his cookbook for me, and I hope he'll come back to Oz one day soon! Problem is, now DH wants me to cook all his recipes....

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Old things

My grandmother used to have an old settee, covered in sturdy oxblood-red material, as they were when she was young. It was a beautiful piece of furniture, heavy, well crafted, and perfect for sitting and reading away an afternoon! When she went into a nursing home, I had hoped to rescue the settee, but alas! it went, along with everything else, to an unknown buyer! Ever since, I have loved old things. The only mementos I have from my grandmother are a pair of silver serving spoons, which I polish sometimes, and I think of her. Back in the early 80s, after I came to Australia, we didn't have much furniture, so second-hand shops were a popular destination for some years, before trash 'n treasure turned into 'antiques'! We had less money in those days, but somehow managed to collect a few pieces. An old pine dresser, a mahogany chest of drawers, and Wayne had his grandfather's chair and cedar table, and his mum's piano. The only new furniture we ever bought was a lounge suite, and the cats soon made sure it had a fashionably 'distressed' look!
Antiques and collectables shops are still favourite haunts, and I find the old things so much more interesting than new ones. An old teddy with torn ears and matted fur tells me about a child's love for it's toy, and a polished gramophone conjures images of 1920's flappers dancing to old music hall tunes. And who wouldn't like an old, well-loved and cared-for quilt for their bed?! The stories behind old things can be fascinating. One example is a necklace my mother had, a lovely red gold one with drops of blood red garnets. While she was working in Germany as a translator for the Americans after WW2, an older man came in for interviewing. He carried a small suitcase and asked my mother if she would look after it while he was being interviewed. She agreed, and when he left, he opened the suitcase. It was stuffed full of jewellery, and he pulled out the necklace and gave it to Mum, thanked her politely and disappeared. Who knows where all that came from?
Who can resist the soft glow of old, polished timber, the familiar creak of an old chair, or the rustle of antique lace? Old things engage our senses and stimulate the imagination. They may be rickety, old, maybe even faulty, but I fancy the previous owners might be pleased their old treasures are still appreciated. Speaking of old things, must go say hi to DH....