Monday, October 15, 2012


'Mabuhay', the purser said as the plane prepared to land. 'Welcome to the Philippines'. It was 5.30am and the temperature outside already was 27 degrees centigrade. I've had an overnight flight from Sydney to Manila via Melbourne and I'm sleep deprived and twitchy and my eyes feel full of sand. But I do feel welcome.

There are brilliant bunches of spiky yellow and red tropical flowers gathered in the forest gardens in the country-side and brought to the city house:

Yellow flowers 1
red flowers

There are heaps of rambutans and bunches of tiny sweet lady finger bananas also gathered in the country-side, and buttery-textured Philippine mangoes and papaya from the market:

Bananas and papaya

For lunch we ate tuna in soy sauce and a vegetable stew of pumpkin, beans and tiny eggplant in coconut milk, followed by neon-green bibingka (sticky rice and coconut milk cake topped with brown sugar and wrapped in banana leaf).


I'm in the Philippines for a week before a three-week trip to China.


Tuesday, October 9, 2012

12 in 12: Books - September 2012

I think this will be my last post on my attempt to limit my book-buying. In September I just abandoned all hope that limiting my book-buying to 12 books for the year was a manageable project. I long ago passed this target. I've had even more time to read since I left paid employment and this, together with the temptations of my kindle, has meant I've been chain-reading. Chain-reading is what reading addicts do. You finish one book and immediately, without time for reflection, begin another one. Most of what I've been reading isn't even worth reporting, except to note I've been binging on Swedish novelist Liza Marklund's thriller series featuring edgy investigative journalist Annika Bengtzon. The binge began because I went to see the movie 'Last Will' which was based on the most recent novel of the series, and then one book led to another...and another...and yet more.

But perhaps I should mention a couple of 'picture books' I've purchased.

September books

The first is the vibrant Pop Knitting by Britt-Marie Christoffersson, who has been an innovative knitwear and textile designer in Sweden for almost fifty years. She is clearly yet another well-known knitting guru who, probably because of the vagaries of book translation, publication and distribution, is less well-known in the English-speaking world than she deserves to be. A friend had already purchased this book but when I saw it I knew I wanted a copy of my own. Christoffersson experiments with texture, construction and colour combinations - all of which are made even more exciting by the vibrant and unexpected colours she uses.

pop knitting 1pop knitting 2

The second 'picture book' I purchased is Jane Brocket's Vintage Cakes - subtitled 'more than 90 heirloom recipes for tremendously good cakes'. I'm a long-term reader of Jane Brocket's very English blog and several years ago reflected on some of my reactions to her first book, 'The Gentle Art of Domesticity' . Since that first publication, Brocket has published a number of other books, including beautifully photographed and styled books on knitting and quilting. Both her blog and the books she produces reflect a modern attraction to what I think of as 'optional domesticity' - the kind of pleasure that can be derived from traditional domestic tasks when it is no longer necessary for women to perform them. The crafts and pastimes of Brocket's blog and books are comfortable, decorative, require care and thought but only amateur levels of expertise, and can be done as time and whim determine. Optional domesticity.

Her latest book, Vintage Cakes, fits this pattern. All the recipes are within reach of the competent home cook. They're similar to the recipes I've inherited from my mother and grand-mother. Lots of butter, sugar and eggs, and sufficient variation to provide interest and change for the cook and consumer. Brocket has a keen eye for the topical and this book is perfectly timed for what I've observed is a current fad for baking (not cooking more generally, but baking more specifically). So far I've tried only one of the recipes - the lemon drizzle cake - which was a delicious mix of sharp lemon, sweet syrup and buttery cake. A great hit with my visiting family members (and me!)

lemon drizzle cake

So, I'm hanging my head in shame with my failure to limit my book-buying. It's clear that my delight in buying clothing is less of an addiction than my book-buying and consequently limiting clothes-buying is easier to achieve. From now on there will be no more shameful posts about my consumerist book-buying habits. I'll just buy books and not count them.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Familiar stuff

I've written before about what I call comfort reading - the books I return to and reread because they offer a predictable reading experience. You enjoy the process of your engagement with the complications of the characters' lives. The ending is predictable, known, and all the ends are tied up neatly. Comfort reading for me is nineteenth century novels; Jane Austen, Elizabeth Gaskell, Margaret Oliphant, and the master of comfort reading, Anthony Trollope.

As with reading, so with knitting. I've returned to some old favourites. Familiar stuff. Patterns I've knitted before; yarn I know and love; outcomes I can predict.

2 hats

I'm off on a trip to China in a few weeks time. It will be late Autumn and I'm anticipating some cold days. So, of course I'll need a couple of warm hats. I'd given away the wonderfully architectural Zumthor hat I knitted last year and so I've re-knitted the pattern in Noro Silk Garden yarn in a combination of bronze, grey and fawn tones. I know from past experience that this Assemblage pattern is a delight to knit, and it was interesting to observe how the Silk Garden created a drapier, softer version of this reversible hat compared with the stiffer, structural outcome from my earlier version with Shelter yarn.

Noro zumthor

I'm travelling to China with an old friend who recently told me she had lost a hat I knitted for her ages ago - she said it had been a favourite as it fitted so well. So, I've tried to reproduce it using the same Noro yarn I've used for my Zumthor. The designer Amy King has called the pattern 'Fake Isle' as it uses the colour changes in the Noro yarn to resemble the subtle colour mixes of 'real' fair isle knitting. The thick yarn tends to emphasise the unevenness of my colour work technique but, nevertheless, I'm quite pleased by the outcome. I hope it fits my friend as well as the original did.

Fair Isle hat

There's been knitting comfort in returning to this familiar stuff, though with re-knitting the ending is never quite as predictable as it is with re-reading. A change in the yarn used can subtly change the outcome - but fortunately in this case I'm happy with the combination of the familiar and slightly unexpected.