This week I have been

Reading

The 2011 Tour de France race guide.

Watching

An Idiot Abroad

Listening to

The xx

Discovering

(Or rediscovering) Hamlet - Nicki Greenberg's beautiful new version, thanks to the fabulous Snarkattack, who invited me along to see Nicki talk about the creative process behind the book.

Eating

  • An enormous serve of bangers'n'mash and a nourishing pint of Kilkenny at the Town Hall one dismal Tuesday evening.
  • A "Chachi" - chianina meatball sandwich - another brioche donut and some amazing chocolate tart at Beatrix, which Essjay has reviewed.
  • A lazy Sunday lunch at The Crimean. The Polish hunter's stew (bigos) was just the thing to revive me after a chilly bike ride.
  • Generous piles of fried food with oodles of chillies and sichuan peppercorns at Sichuan House
  • Succulent suckling pig at Liberteene.
  • An array of bright, zesty flavours at Chin Chin, where the only problem was having to choose only some of the items from what looks to be a menu that is all hits, no filler.

Links

Retail therapy – so much more expensive than the other kind

…but so rewarding!

I was feeling a little otherwise, which is probably how I came to completely mistime my walk into the city for a lazy lunch. How to fill a 45 minute gap?

1. Mecca Cosmetica, Little Collins St

Amazing staff, always very helpful and friendly and totally non-judgmental when an unmade-up person with scarily unkempt brows walks in and starts poking around.  As soon as I’d said “lipstick” the assistant was rummaging around painting colours she thought would both appeal and suit on the back of her hand.  We narrowed it down to two, and I walked out with an Ellis Faas lipstick and a booking for the Nars event. Huh?

I was tempted to buy the Nars "Damned", just because of the name...

2. Myer – 35% off cookbooks

No, I don’t need any more cookbooks.  Let’s face it, I don’t need any material possessions beyond basic clothing, right?  The frivolity of cosmetics purchases needed to be balanced by something more practical.  Something more useful.  Something I could almost justify as being a money-saver in the long run.  So now I am the proud owner of bourke street bakery – the ultimate baking companion.  Of course, now I think I’m going to need a proper electric mixer… Recommendations welcome!

About to hit the kitchen to try the olive oil loaf

3. Sole Devotion, Degraves St

Last year I bought some shoes online from John Fluevog Shoes, which means that they now send me regular emails to tempt me into further purchases.  As far as I’m concerned, the existence of these shoes makes up for Michael Buble and Celine Dion.  Anyway, SD in the city also stocks the shoes and I was in the area… sort of… and couldn’t resist dropping in.  Once you’re in there, it’s impossible not to try on shoes and once you’ve tried them on, it’s unlikely you’re going to be able to walk away without them.  My new black Viardots are similar enough to the Malibrans to sneak under the shoe-monitor’s radar for a while, I suspect.

2010/2009: Looking forward/looking back

At my advanced age – seriously, a younger colleague recently recounted being told that she was middle aged – the years bring less that is novel.  Still, 2009 brought some new experiences, as well as some developments that will hopefully fade into obscurity.

Government

2009 proved that I still have some remnants of idealism that haven’t been lost in middle-aged cynicism, in that I was surprised to find myself disappointed by governments and their poll-driven pandering. Governments increasingly do what people want, rather than what’s necessary; follow rather than lead. Unfortunately what they are following is usually sentiment that’s been drummed up by PR manipulated mainstream media. 2010 promises more of the same. The first news story I read this year revealed the massive US aid package to Israel (with a substantial percentage earmarked for Israel to spend on US made military hardware) with additional funding to the Palestinian Authority to train security forces. Sounded a lot like profiting from continued instabiity to me.

Social Media

2009 was the end of Facebook for me. I quit it early in the year and found that my life was none the poorer for missing out on endless status updates of people I’d added only because it seemed churlish to keep them out. I managed to get through my year, despite not knowing which Brady Bunch character I was, which Thomas Pynchon novel I was, which Kanye remix I was, which Michael Bay special effect I was. If I’d ever had any regrets about not having a Facebook account, they disappeared over Christmas lunch, when my cousin’s teenage boy expressed shock that I wasn’t “on” Facebook: “Even Grandpa’s on it!”. Exactly.

On the other hand, Twitter came into its own. I’d joined up – in my real name – in 2008 but hadn’t really used it. In 2009 I set up my current Twitter account and started adding some of the “big names” (few of whom have survived into my 2010 list) and a couple of people whose blogs I’d been following. Where my Facebook circle was limited to people I knew, my Twitter circle had (until recently) no people I’d actually met. Our common interests (largely food, film and TV) kept the conversation going and, mostly, interesting.

Travel

We started the year off revisiting old haunts in Malaysia and tried something new in September with our first trip to China. I rely on having a trip to look forward to, but have realised that this approach is seriously flawed. Having already booked flights for our 2010/2011 holiday (South Africa via Hong Kong), I am now wishing away a year that has barely started.

Food

Both overseas trips were dominated by food.  That was a motivating factor for going back to Malaysia, however the variety and quality of the food in China was a revelation.  Locally, Cutler and Co made a big splash when it opened and I’m glad that 2010 is starting with another visit.  Libertine continued to be the best local restaurant a person could possibly want, Hutong’s XLB are getting better the more distant the memory of Shanghai’s dumplings get, and my obsession with Gingerboy’s son-in-law eggs is nearly out of control.

On the home front, Fuschia Dunlop’s books dominated domestic output in 2009 and I don’t really see that changing in 2010.  The most frequently cooked recipe, though, goes to Frank Camorra’s simple but delicious Wet Rice with Chicken from the Mo Vida cookbook.

As for reading about food, newspapers have given way to blogs.  Blogs helped us plot our way around KL and Penang, gave us tips for China and keep us inspired to try new things at home.  On the other hand, The Age’s once dispensible Epicure section became even more pointless with the recent departure of Matt Preston.  His column kept me reading this year despite the weekly torture of Larissa Dubecki’s reviews, although she provided me with a fair bit of ranting material for this blog, so perhaps I should be grateful.

Work

For the past three of four years, I’ve felt as though I was starting anew with each new year. That gets tiring. 2009 was the first year that I didn’t have to build from scratch, which was not only refreshing but allowed me to explore some more interesting new approaches. 2010 should – hopefully – be more of the same, which is to say same, same, but different.

Television

2009 was the year of Foxtel. While we were in Malaysia, we had access to cable television and this made us feel as though our lives would be incomplete were we to miss the finale of the Iditarod: Toughest Race on Earth or the episode of Time Warp where a bullet was shot into a banana. As it happened, we didn’t watch any more of the sled dog race when we got home and the novelty of things in super slow motion wore off quickly – there’s no cutting to the chase when slowing things down is the raison d’être of the show. We did, however, become seduced by Andrew Zimmern as he travelled around the world eating Bizarre Foods and developed something of a dependency on a weekly dose of Anthony Bourdain. Plus there was the real Masterchef in various iterations (an amazing Professional version, and a Celeb version that left the Australian one in the shade), Top Models from a number of countries and wannabe designers of clothes and interiors. On slow days, Yes Minister and even The Goodies kept the tele on.

The really big events of the year, though, were the finale of Battlestar Galactica, the penultimate season of Lost and the debut of Masterchef Australia. With BSG over, 2010 sees the debut of the related series Caprica, which could either be a triumph or a let-down. Lost starts in late January in the States and Channel Seven is advertising it already, although the ads give no hint as to whether it will be “fast tracked”. The second season of MCA is being filmed now – will it be as successful as the first?

Reading

I started the year really well, reading a number of books in a relatively short time during our Malaysia holiday.  This just proved that the adage “start as you intend to continue” doesn’t mean that momentum will carry you through, as my reading fell off sharply once holidays were over (quite possibly because of the above).  As the backlog of unopened New Yorkers piled up, I considered cancelling my subscription and admitting that I was no longer a reader.  The Infinite Summer reading challenge got me back to print, and then the 100 must reads inspired me to “read a list”.  That is, until I got halfway through Lord of the Flies and stopped.  This year I intend to read more.  At least one book a month.  That should be achievable, unless I decide to pick up Gravity’s Rainbow again.

Movies

For the second year in a row we missed the Melbourne International Film Festival and we didn’t find much that gave us the energy to get to the cinema during the year. In addition, our last easy-walking-distance local video shop closed, so if we missed something at the cinema, it was gone (unless we could think of another way of seeing it… hmmm). Amongst the enjoyable were District 9, Inglorious Basterds (50% really good, 50% mediocre), Star Trek, Avatar, Coraline, Julie and Julia (possibly only because Meryl Streep was so amazing), In the Loop and Up. We have just signed up at the nearest video rental place, so will hopefully catch up on some of what we’ve missed.

Music

First, the good stuff from 2009. Neko Case’s Middle Cyclone is lovely and my first gig for 2010 will be seeing her at the Hifi. Animal Collective’s Merriweather Post Pavillion gets a lot of iPod time, as does Grizzly Bear’s Veckatimest. Thanks to iTunes making it easy to download songs, I have spruced up my workout playlist a bit (Daft Punk has exactly the right BPM for cardio, but gets a bit tired after years of repetition), but they are songs I dread coming up when the iPod is shuffling away on the dock during a dinner party.

The bad stuff is largely a result of having Foxtel. It’s easy to put the TV onto Max, V, Vh1 or V Hits and that often forms the soundtrack for the weekend (during the week, the Food channel tends to be the background noise). This means that I hear more “new” music than I am used to being exposed to, but it also means that I suffer through a lot of crap. Approximately 90% of the music videos also bring me pain, for a couple of reasons.

  • Pants or, more precisely, a lack thereof.  Beyonce, Rihanna and Lady Gaga, I’m looking at you.  Actually, I’m looking at more of you than I particularly care to, video after video.  Put on some pants, or look into frocks.  Thanks.
  • I’d also like to see the death of relentlessly porny clips.  I’m well aware of the fact that I can – and do – turn off the TV, but that’s beside the point.  As is Shakira in a flesh coloured body suit performing stripper moves in a cage.  Or Britney hanging off a bar in a skimpy white leotard humping a crew of dancers.  Just stop.
  • David Guetta. He crops up in collaboration with a number of singers and he could well be responsible for writing the songs, producing them, orchestrating them… whatever. I don’t care enough even to google him. The reasons I wish he’d disappear is because the music is boring and his contribution to the videos is to stand in the background looking like a Scandinavian serial killer. Creepy.

Oh, thought I’d finished ranting about music related things, but… auto-tune.  I hate it.  If a singer needs a producer to get them on key, they’re not a singer.  If it were a case of nudging the occasional bum note, or if it were being used as a deliberate effect, I might feel differently.  As it is, it’s being deployed so aggressively that a lot of new music sounds soul-less and robotic.

= = = = = = =

Have I made any resolutions?  No, that would be setting myself up for failure!  Along with reading more frequently, I plan to

  • get back on the bike in an attempt to regain some semblance of fitness
  • establish a more interesting week-day cooking repertoire
  • attend at least ten MIFF sessions
  • open the New Yorker as soon as it arrives, and abandon the idea that I have to read every article before moving onto the next issue

And, inspired by Daniel, I’m instituting mono-tasking January.  One thing at a time!

Recaps and reading

The second-last episode of Hell’s Kitchen (UK) aired here on Monday.  I’m not sure what I’ll do without my weekly dose of Marco once it’s over.  Great British Menu will be winding up at around the same time, I think, but there are three Anthony Bourdain series that arrived in the most recent Amazon shipment to get into, so I’ll cope.  Anyway, I’ve recapped HK(UK) over at Reality Ravings.

I’m still watching The Rachel Zoe Project and doing blitz recaps of that, as well.  It’s such a fun show to watch, but I hope there will be some personnel changes soon.  Taylor’s constant moaning is starting to get me down.  When it was directed at a floundering Brad last season, it was novel, but he’s found his feet and is one of the programme’s highlights so the carping is now just sad.

Reality Raver was talking up Tabatha’s Salon Takeover and I caught it for the first time today.  I’m not sure how I’ll fit it into the weekly schedule, but it’s definitely worth a look.  It’s Kitchen Nightmares for hairdressers, and loads of fun.  Jeff Lewis is back with Flipping Out, but his meltdowns seem to have been curtailed a bit by the Global Financial CrisisTM – it appears he can control his personality when he needs to.  Pity.

It’s not all television, though.  After my reading list post, where I realised that 12 months of reading hadn’t reduced either of the 75 lists, I decided I had to make an effort to fit more real reading into my life.  Since posting the Guardian list, I’ve read two books (ok, so they were very short books) and I’m starting to catch up on my backlog of New Yorkers.  My copy of Middlemarch has been found and I think that’s the next project.

Another reading list

I’m not making much progress against either the Esquire 75 or Jezebel’s alternative 75 “must reads”1. That’s not to say that I haven’t been reading, or that I haven’t been enjoying what I’ve read, but my belief that I am a reasonably “well-read” person has taken a bit of a hit from these lists. That’s why I was pleased to see the Guardian’s Books you can’t live without: the top 100. It’s even got The Magic Faraway Tree on it!

This, therefore, is the list I’m going to try to crack (although… The Bible? Really? I’m going to make an exception for that. Oh, and The Complete Works of William Shakespeare. I mean, honestly.)

Anyway, the full list – with strikethroughs – after the jump.

Continue reading Another reading list

Holiday Reading

The recent trip to Malaysia met all my criteria for a “good holiday”. The food was amazing, the hotels were comfortable and well located, getting around was easy, we had a good split between city time and beach time, and I had time and space to get quite a bit of reading done. More, in fact, than anticipated, which meant that I ran out of books and had to rely on H.S. Sam’s second hand bookstore in Georgetown.

So, all in all, I read seven books and crossed none off my “to read” list!

Continue reading Holiday Reading

75 Books – the Esquire list

Following on from the Jezebel list, here is the list from Esquire that prompted its compilation. Again, there are books I’ve read, authors whose other books I’ve read, and books I didn’t realise were books (Deliverance? Legends of the Fall?). Although I’ve read more from this list than from the Jezebel list, there are probably more books on this list that I wouldn’t read (mostly the books I thought were only movies and Blood Meridian, which I’ve tried to read but just… can’t).

The Esquire list also comes with a sentence or two for each book and some of those are just off-putting. Yes, I get that it’s a men’s mag but some of the comments are so … I don’t even know how to express it. “Glib” and “smug” don’t quite capture the squeamishness some of them sparked. Anyway, I managed to overlook most of the comments and just listed the books, but some of them I couldn’t let pass.

Continue reading 75 Books – the Esquire list

75 Books

Jessica at Jezebel recently linked to an Esquire article, “75 Books Every Man Should Read“, and proposed creating an equivalent list for women. Twenty books were offered as a starting point for the list, and readers contributed suggestions, resulting in “75 Books Every Woman Should Read“.

As I read through the list, I was amazed by the number of books I haven’t read. Amongst the “haven’t read” books are a couple that are on my bookshelf, with a when-I-get-around-to-it read date (e.g. Middlemarch, To The Lighthouse), as well as some that have been on my mental bookshelf for some time (The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, The God of Small Things, White Teeth, Love in a Cold Climate). There are also a surprising number that I haven’t ever considered (Cold Comfort Farm and I Capture The Castle – does seeing them as films count?), as well as some I haven’t heard of. There are, too, some I have no desire to read; Valley of the Dolls and The Golden Notebook do not appeal to me, for different reasons. I’m posting this here to see whether I am able to make some progress against this list (so will check back every now and again to update my strikethroughs) and then I will feel qualified to evaluate it as a representation of books women “should” read…

Continue reading 75 Books