Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Pasta with Pumpkin, Caramelised Spanish Onion and Ricotta/Fetta

Oh dear. Lately, I’ve been buying all my lunches. And my dinners. And sometimes, my breakfasts too. Whatever way you look at this, it is neither economically responsible, nor particularly healthy. This I attribute to working at a rock climbing gym, where I spend my day running across the gym floor to prevent people from deliberately letting their friends free-fall to the ground. After several hours of averting manslaughter and negligence litigation cases, I’m pretty reluctant to cook – meaning it’s either “Hello tuna sandwich and spoonfuls-of-peanut-butter dinner” or (as things have been lately in Blissful Financial Ignorance World) a trip to Burger Wisconsin for their “CCC” Burger (Chicken, Camembert, and Cranberry Sauce). (Incidentally, I consider this combination to be an exemplary example of New Zealand Cuisine – nowhere else in the world loves the CCC as much or rolls it out as often as the Kiwis.)

So. Things had to change. Today I made a version of one of my favourite pasta dishes SO I COULD TAKE IT TO WORK FOR MY DINNER TONIGHT. I even made enough so there would be leftovers for at least tomorrow’s lunch and dinner. Ohh yeah.

I usually make this pasta with ricotta (the greatest soft cheese in the world) but given that I couldn’t get across town last night to the only deli that sells fresh ricotta, (having decided that tubbed ricotta is pretty much pulped cotton balls and paper, packaged in Italian-flag themed tubs), I choose to use fetta instead, a substitution that works similarly well.

Ingredients (serves 4)

1kg of unpeeled, seeded pumpkin

One monster Spanish onion, or two mid-sized ones, chopped into strips

A pkt of pasta (I use spirals)

Two to three garlic cloves, sliced

Half a bunch of rosemary

300g of FRESH ricotta OR

200g creamy fetta, one egg, 1/3 cup milk

LOTS of salt

LOTS of pepper

Olive oil for cooking

Turn on the oven to 200˚c. Peel, deseed and chop your pumpkin into mid-sized cubes. I always feel bad for peeling the pumpkin (I know the nutrients are in the skin!) but unless you can be bothered scraping the pumpkin flesh off the skin after roasting, peel the damn thing. Put some olive oil on a baking tray, roll the pumpkin around in it. Then season liberally with salt and pepper and strip your rosemary and scatter the leaves over. Put this fabulously scented tray in the oven.

Put a couple of decent sized splashes of olive oil in a fry pan. Before it is too hot, add the onion, keeping the heat low. I’m never patient enough to properly caramelise onion with balsamic vinegar, but the idea is to cook it for a long time over a slow heat, so the onion really breaks down and becomes sweet. But as long as you get it is translucent and soft, it will be ok. So, cook your onion slowly, and a couple of minutes before it’s done, add the garlic and gently fry it too. Remove from heat.

Check your pumpkin, turning the cubes over. Put on water to boil for the pasta, adding pasta when it’s boiling (der).

When the pumpkin is very soft and can be easily pierced with a knife, it’s done. Put it into a large bowl and mash roughly. Add the onion.

If you’re using ricotta, add the ricotta to the onion/pumpkin bowl. If you’re using fetta, crumble two-thirds of the fetta into a small bowl, then add the milk and egg. Combine roughly with a fork, then add to larger bowl. Crumble in remaining fetta (or cut it into cubes, whatever you prefer). The pumpkin mix will be quite thick – this is a good thing. Taste it for salt and pepper – it is likely to need both.

Drain pasta. Put pasta back into saucepan and stir through pumpkin mix. Serve. In this case for me, “serve” means “shove into plastic containers”. Classy presentation, hey?

Esther xx

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Kenzo Crush

I often have fashion crushes. If I see a stylishly dressed woman with a quirky flair walk by I can't help but look at her with admiration, and jealousy. My favorite couture label is without question Kenzo. The Parisian company is all about arty, eclectic and gorgeous fashion, which are all the things I love. Amidst study procrastination, I checked out their Autumn-Winter 2009/2010 collection (online of course, you can't get much more than Kenzo fragrances in Canberra, sigh) and fell in love with the label all over again.

The collection is filled with detailed trench coats, leather gloves, fur,boots and pretty floral dresses. The clothes have a distinctly Russian feel, with the calf-length dresses teamed with fur-trimmed boots. The patterns remind me of something you would see in a Nathalia Goncharova painting or costume design, with their folkish, vibrant feel. Goncharova was a member of the Russian Avant Garde, with her cubist, colour-rich style reflected in the contrating fabrics and cuts of the latest Kenzo line.

Nathalia Goncharova, Original Ballet Russe Season Program 1940-41,
Illustrated cover, Private Collection.

Nathalia Goncharova, Costume for a Peasant Girl in the Ballet
'Foire de Sorotchinsk',1940, graphite, transparent and
opaque watercolour,
Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco.
I love the colours that dominant the collection; clear blues, metallics, purples, reds showing that winter doesn't have to be boring. It is a chance to accessorise with cute gloves (I would kill for the blue Kenzo ones), jackets and scarves. The Kenzo designers clearly shame my excitement, the over sized cuts of thick material and chunky jewellery indicate that these pieces are designer to keep you nice and warm on those cold winter days.
Kenzo is known for its eclectic, folkish style, something that once again stands out in this collection. The designers have incorporated elements of knitting, quilting and embroidery, giving the jackets a distinctly rustic and unique feel. They are nothing like the slick, streamlined trenches that normally populate the Paris catwalk. This floral piece is my favourite, with its shapeless cut reminding me of my own collection of (much less stylish) handmade, woolen jumpers that are all about keeping you warm, and looking chic in classic florals at the same time.
It is probably a good thing that I'm not anywhere near Kenzo fashions at the moment, my Parisian Aunt had to drag me out of the Paris boutique as I became incredibly overexcited by all the colours, patterns and gorgeous fabrics. I mean really, is $8,000 too much to pay for a Kenzo jacket? Perhaps I should wait until I have a real job. For now, I will have to settle with my tiny bottle of Flower perfume.

For a Kenzo fix you can check out the collection on the Vogue Australia website, where I got these photos by Marcio Maderia:

The Kenzo website also has footage of the runway show, complete with a Babushka doll, blue lights and Russian music. What more could you possibly want in a fashion show? http://www.kenzo.com/index_mode.php?langue=en

There is a Kenzo boutique in Melbourne for you lucky things down there,


Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Avatar (Or James Cameron's Big Win)

I saw "Avatar" on the weekend. (Yes, I am that disorganised that it has taken me two months longer than everyone else to get to see it. Oddly enough, this exact same situation occurred when "Titanic" was released too.)

Anyway, after watching "Avatar", my Spy-friend and I (oh yes, New Zealand has spies) decided that the entire film was probably the result of a bet, probably between James Cameron and Steven Spielberg. We think it probably went down something like this:

A bar, Hollywood, CA, 1998
JAMES CAMERON and STEVEN SPIELBERG are having a beer. There are many empty glasses around them. Also, conversation is beginning to get a little on the braggart side.

So, I'm pretty much the greatest director ever.

SPIELBERG ejects a lot of his beer, spluttering into his glass.

Bullshit you are. Remember "Schindler's List"? Academy Awards?

CAMERON is not having any of this.

Please, Stevey-Boy - "Titanic"? Highest grossing film EV-VAH, biatch.
Plus, I've got those gold statues too.

Yeah, but you're a commercial sell-out.

But CAMERON hasn't heard him and just rolls on.

That's right. You got nothing.

SPIELBERG just stares at him, steely.

Ok then, jackass. If you're that good, top "Titanic".

Easy. No worries.

But SPIELBERG continues.

But you have to put something really messed up in it.
Like something that NO ONE in Hollywood wants to see.

CAMERON is wary.

Ok, like what?

SPIELBERG leans back, considering.

Like blue aliens. Really big aliens. With tails. Having sex.

CAMERON is nervous but he tries to hide it and sits up straight. He's ready.

You know what? I'm the greatest director ever.
I made the best film ever. But now I will top it.
And the film will have blue alien sex.
I can do it.


And so BAM. That's the story behind "Avatar".

Look, I'm sure most people have seen "Avatar" by now and have made up their own minds about it, so I will try to keep this review short.

I think it's very "Blockbuster" - very epic. I found it entertaining but that the story line was quite conventional and really, it felt like a bit of a first draft (sorry JC, know you worked on it for like 10 years...). All the key elements of an interesting story were there, but they needed to be refined and shaped in order to be more thought-provoking and truly fresh.

Also, I thought it didn't have anywhere near the same amount of emotional depth, nor the nuanced examination of the human condition that Cameron's (best) film "Terminator 2" does. Furthermore, all of the major characters felt anywhere from underdeveloped or just downright cliched and lacking in genuine motivation.

Of course, the whole film looks fantastic. This can't be stressed enough. You're never aware that what you're watching is probably 90% not real - it looks REAL, and REALLY COOL at that. You don't sit there going "that's fake, that's all computer generated..." - I find this is the case with most other action blockbusters...

Also, I should add that I think it's great that millions of people are seeing a film that stresses environmentalism and a gentle approach to looking after the planet, rather than say, a film like "Independence Day" where it's all about being defensive and the killing of aliens is the primary goal.

So that's my little "Avatar" review.

Esther xx

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Rainy Day Breakfast

For the past week Canberra has forgotten that it is still Summer, and has been blessed with Autumnal weather. This morning I woke to puring rain and a misty sky. As someone who loves rain and cloudy days (surely they provide creative inspiration), I have been very happy with the tea-drinking, tight-wearing weather. The best part is that I can now indulge in my favorite cold weather breakfast - porridge.
I never skip breakfast, and always try to make it as exciting as possible (no burnt toast and tasteless cereal for me)! I mus admit though, laziness does make me an instant oats girl. I know that oats cooked on the stove are much tastier, but I never have the time!
For my delicious porridge you need:
1/2 cup of instant oats
2/3 cup of milk
1 banana (or any fresh or dried fruit you like, grated pear or apple is delicious)
A handful, sliced of blueberries
1 tablespoon of honey
1 tablespoon of slivered almonds (or chopped walnuts)
1/4 teaspoon of ground cinnamon

Add the milk and oats into a medium-sized bowl and microwave for two minutes. Then add a sliced banana, or other fruit and microwave for another minute. Remove from microwave and add honey, nuts and blueberries. Top with a sprinkle of cinnamon and enjoy with a nice cup of coffee. This will set you up for all those wintry days to come.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Cubans and Coffee

As mentioned in my post earlier this week (a not so subtle way to say: "look! I'm posting twice in a week!"), one of the things I was looking forward to in Wellington was the cafes. I'm not sure what it is, but Wellington has a ridiculous number of quirky, interesting cafes that produce fantastic coffee.

Because I haven't been here long enough to visit all the centrally located cafes, I'm not yet up to anointing any particular one with a "Best Coffee" award (give me another week though...). However, what I can say at this stage is that Fidel's cafe on Cuba Street is all kinds of awesome.

A nice start to a morning? A long black, date scone and The Dominion Post.
I'd say that was pretty damn nice.

So, why is Fidel's awsome?

Their long blacks. They're strong, not too long, the beans are never burnt, and the they're served hot enough to boil the inside of your mouth. So, they're pretty much perfect.

They produce excellent date scones. Oh yes they do. They're so damn good that I bother getting up early so I can ensure I get one (and, if it weren't for the similarly tasty (but very different) scones at Finc, I'd be prepared to declare them the best in Wellington).

There's a variety of inside/outside seating options - they have two (two!) different groovy courtyards!

And the staff are friendly. Always.

Mad props go to Fidel's.

Thursday, February 11, 2010


Wellington Harbour

So a little while ago I decided I'd organise an exchange through my university and study in Wellington, New Zealand for a year. This seemed like a nice idea and for a long time, everything was all fine and dandy. Throughout the second half of 2009, when I saw people I hadn't seen for a long time, and they asked me what my news was, I could tell them in a very blase manner "oh, I'm living in Wellington next year". I could dream of being (kind of like) Katherine Mansfield (no dying at 33, thanks) and imagine a year spent writing in Wellington's groovy cafes, a long black on the table in front of me.

Looking down to the city from Mt Victoria

Then, suddenly, 2010 came around and I actually had to move. For me, this involved a fair it of stress and attempting to fit as much sporting equipment as possible into an over-sized ski bag.

Down by the harbour

Anyway, I've been in Wellington now for nearly two weeks and it's been lovely. This notoriously stormy city, it seems, tends to make the most out of its summer by throwing a large number of festivals. There's the New Zealand International Arts Festival, Wellington Writer's Week, a French Film festival, the Sevens International Rugby Tournament (which was basically just a city-wide dress-up party), a Fringe Festival, summer evening free film screenings and night markets happening nearly every day of the week.

From Mt Victoria, looking to Hataitai and Miramar

So Wellington is pretty swell. As part of my introduction to Wellington, here is Angus and Julia Stone's song, "Private Lawns". It talks about a "windy city". I'm not sure if they mean Wellington, but it is windy here, and there are lots of lovely (green!) gardens and lawns all over the place too. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=63TyKWQLm_8

xx Esther

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Drawing of Life

A few weeks ago did an intensive week-long life drawing course. The concept of 'life drawing' produces mixed responses. Arty types think it is wonderful, while the more conservative members of society feel a little uncomfortable about the subject (and I did get a few raised eyebrows when I mentioned the idea). I like the think of myself as part of the former category, which is why I enrolled in the course.

Okay, to be honest I may have blushed a little when the first model (a twenty-something girl with a Classical figure) de-robed, but that didn't last long; I had charcoal to play with! The course was five full days, with studies of both male and female nudes, and portraiture. There was about a dozen of us in the group, and I was the youngest by about twenty years! Not that it mattered, everyone had such different styles and experience so it was great to be a part of it.

Our teacher, Melbourne artist Linda Robertson, focused on the shapes of the body. Linda was such a lovely, knowledgeable teacher, and an amazing artist. She really made each student feel comfortable, and didn't smother with advice. This was great for me, as I haven't done a drawing class in a while, and was quite nervous at the prospect.

After a few minutes of looking at the nude model and imagining the array of cylinders, triangles and oval that formed her arms, torso and face, the hesitation amongst the group disappeared. Another focus was on the light and shadows on the figure, and the shapes they made. I found myself staring right at every part of the models, but suddenly they didn't even seem like people; they were just a series of light-reflecting forms. This may seem like a lot of nonsense, but the atmosphere of the class really emphasized this approach to drawing.

I loved doing portraits, and produced my best work during these sessions. Interestingly, it was harder to draw people with their clothes on, after having focused the day before on the nudes. All the folds in the fabric where very hard to draw! The clothing also made the subject a real person again, intruding on my Romantic aesthetic sensibilities. Nonetheless, I persevered, and loved capturing (or atleast trying to) the expression of the subject.

The same thing happened during the nude sessions. Each time we paused for lunch and the model put their clothes back on. They seemed so out of place all of a sudden, and I found it very embarrassing when they came to look at my drawings of them. Let's hope I didn't exaggerate any of their insecurities! One of the best things I took from this course was not improved drawing skills (which I noticed when looking back from my work at the beginning of the week), but an altered view of body image.

There is so much focus on the nonexistent 'ideal' body, that it is easy to forget what an actual naked person looks like. A real person, who isn't super thin or athletically toned; just a normal body. The models we had were like this, and made me more aware of how unnatural the body images that society presents. I would recommend life drawing to anyone, and before you gripe about being unable to draw (which is something I struggle with too), give it a try. There is more to get from it than artistic skills.

The course was part of the Artists Society of Canberra's 'Summer Art Experience.' The society does regular life drawing class. CIT Solutions and the ANU Visual Art Access also run similar classes.

You can see some of Linda's work on the Metropolis Gallery website;



Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Laneway Festival (NB: Not actually in a lane.)

Clock-tower, stage adjacent

Ah Laneway festival. Such wonderful wonders, even despite your mis-leading title - this year, Laneway moved out of the original Melbourne and Sydney “lanes” after the crowd sizes increased, and people started complaining that they couldn’t a) see the bands in the lanes and b) were getting crushed against the walls of said lanes, lanes probably used for dirty late night sex. Despite my (non dirty late night sex) penchant for the funky lanes of Melbourne and Sydney, I’m forced to admit that Sydney Laneway’s new home amongst the old sandstone buildings of the Sydney College of the Arts is pretty damn fine. I mean, who doesn’t like their stages wedged between grand Victorian buildings that once were part of a psychiatric hospital?

The grounds

Compared with Big Day Out a week or so earlier, the atmosphere at Laneway was groovy and vintage. No shirtlessness anywhere. Lots more 80s sundresses. Stacks more Doc Martin boots. And, a whole tonne of chilled out indie popster punters. And then there was the line up: The Middle East! The XX!! (Though unfortunately they were on at the same time as…) Mumford and Sons!!! And finally, the ludicrous number of exclamation mark warranting Florence and the Machine!!!!!

Even if the promoters had promised to throw puppies and chocolate mint biscuits (or at least puppie-shaped biscuits) I couldn’t have been anymore excited for Laneway...

So how did it all turn out?

The morning began with Hockey, a band out of Portland, Oregon, who, like so many before them, have proved that good music comes out of places where it rains a lot. Their set was enthusiastic and energetic, and I especially liked their lead singer’s habit of busting out epic drum solos mid-song. I really think Triple J need to play more than just one single of Hockey’s – the catchy, intelligent "Too Fake". Also, Hockey are tops for having three band members who all look like they come from distinct musical genres: lead guitar from Australian 80s pub rock, lead singer a 70s punk rocker and a beard sporting bassist who looked like “Alan” from The Hangover (ok, so that’s not a musical genre, but that film is so awesome it can be whatever it wants).


After paying a brief and intense visit to the acid-hungover Whitely (who first ragged on Lisa Mitchell – hilarious – and then freely admitted his acid use before yelling “Sniffer dogs!” and diving off side-of stage), we moseyed on over to the Car Park Stage for The Middle East. The Middle East, while musically very talented, played a couple of long, spoken-narrative songs, which kind of broke the crowds’ enthusiasm a little. But other than that, they, and all their instrument swapping, were lovely.

Bridezilla, and we made a push to the front of the stage in order to secure a prime position for Mumford and Sons. A pretty good position we scored, and, in order to hold it and indeed improve upon it for Florence and the Machine, for the next 6 hours, we stood our sweaty, well-packed ground. (Eventually, we got right up against the barricades!)


Mumford and Sons. Were awesome. They harmonised, they wielded a multitude of cool instruments (including their iconic banjo) and played all their well-loved songs, full of folky goodness. And every folky song of theirs was sung with the gracious amazement that this crowd, thousands of kilometres from their hometown, knew every single word. Then the band announced to the crowd that it was lead singer, Marcus Mumford’s birthday. So then we got right into the celebratory spirit and sang him happy birthday. I think he was a little embarrassed.

Mumford and Sons

Several hours and Sarah Blasko and Echo and the Bunnymen later, Florence and the Machine were on. Well, actually, Florence took her time, so the impatient crowd had to start chanting “Flor-ence, Flor-ence” (don’t think this ever helps, personally). Anyway. Florence and the Machine… Were. So. Completely. Amazing.


I do love every note of “Lungs”, and so was perhaps slightly primed to be biased towards this set, but, honestly, this was the best gig I have ever seen. Ever. Really. (And I promise, I generally try to avoid hyperbole [believing it to be the domain of hack car-salesmen and squealing 16-year-old-girls]) BUT, Florence’s incredible lung capacity – amazing. Her vocal range – amazing. The fact that she performed in an electric-blue (best colour ever), bat-wing body suit – amazing. Her stage-wide dancing, aerobics and speaker climbing and jumping in giant gold high-heels – amazing. The Machines’ continual friendly, smiley natures – amazing. Florence encouraging the entire crowd to sing and dance and clap and jump in time together – amazing. As my friend said to me after the set finished: “When I grow up, I want to be Florence.” So do I (and not just so I had have her amazing super-model legs) (though they would be a bonus).

I should probably stop now. I think I’m a little over excited.

xx Esther

Friday, February 5, 2010

Summer Lit Bits

I love reading in summer. Sitting on the beach, or in a park with a good book is my idea of bliss. This summer I have conquered some classics that have been on my 'to read' list for some time. Happily, I managed to cross a few titles of my lengthy list.

'Howards End' 1910 - E. M. Forster

So many of my literary friends rave about E. M. Forster. I have to confess that before this summer the film version of 'A Passage to India' (which is fantastic.) To rectify this I picked up my housemates copy of 'Howards End.' This is one of the best books I have read in a long time. I literally could not put it down. Forster's style is so 'real', his characters do not seem artificial at all and he captures the complexity of human thought, relationships and behaviours better than most authors. He is not afraid to write the hard truths of life and relationships, something that so many writers avoid in lieu of creating an idealised bond between characters or a predictable ending.

Written in Edwardian England, 'Howards End' is the story of two unmarried and sisters, Margaret and Helen Schlegel in their early twenties. The novel explores their changing relationship, along with the aspirational middle-class society they belong to. The sisters are described as 'literary' individuals, with Forster exploring the notions of culture, creativity and art throughout the novel. Helen represents the epitome of living a art-driven, free spirited lifestyle, while Margaret's blend of practicality and literary interests reflect the shifting social concerns of the early 20th century. Forster manages to give depth and authenticity to their relationship, with their struggles of growing up and choosing their separate life paths telling of that faced by many siblings. This is a book for those who like to read about the complexities of relationships. Something we all know a lot about.

Also, arty types will love the references to theroies of art and Betthoven's tranquil 5th symphony (this was used in the film adaptation, check it out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m9Ey7MjUshg).

'Travels With My Aunt' 1969 - Graham Greene

This book is simply hilarious! 'Travels With My Aunt' is the story of a retired, fifty-something bachelor whose dull lifestyle is interrupted by his worldly Aunt. Henry Pulling meets his Aunt Augusta for the first time at his mother's funeral, only to find the elderly Lady has more enthusiasm and unorthodox ideas than himself. After a series of humerus encounters involving cannabis making its way into his mother's urn and subsequent police interrogation, Henry finds himself travelling to Istanbul on the Orient Express. He travels along this famous railway with his Aunt and her much younger African servant-come-lover, the devoted Wordsworth. Suddenly Henry's life is far removed from tending to his dahlias as he hears of his Aunts numerous lovers, adventures and travels.

Greene's fast-paced, layered style makes 'Travels With My Aunt' a real page turner. The plot seems far fetched from the outset, but Greene makes it work by giving a believable voice to his characters. Ultimately, the novel demonstrates the complexity of human beings, with both Henry and his Aunt revealing many layers throughout the text. It isn't until Henry is removed from his uninspiring, solitary milieu that his true colours reveal themselves. Suddenly he and his aunt don't seem quite as different. For Greene, nothing is ever as simple as it seems. Definitely a book for a lazy afternoon when you want a good laugh.

'Vanity Fair' 1847 - William Makepeace Thackeray

I picked this classic novel up a few years ago, but soon put it down! The dense 19th century language and complex plot was a bit too much for me. This summer I read the whole thing, and loved it! Thackeray's style reminds me a bit of Jane Austen's: witty, satirical and dense with social commentary. If you like reading Victorian novels, and the snapshots of a seemingly more glamorous society, then this is the book for you.

'Vanity Fair' is the story of the cunning Becky Sharp and her friend Amelia Sedley. The lengthy novel spans from the girls youth to middle age, seeing them endure the demanding social expectations and etiquette of the Victorian Age. Becky exemplifies the position of the orphaned Victorian woman, forced to take her future in her own hands without parents to do the all important marital bidding for her. The scheming Becky is portrayed as selfish and greedy, in contrast with the virtuous Amelia. The former presents a veneer of respectability, whilst disregarding social expectations at every possible moment, while the latter spends her life living according to what was expected of a good Christian Victorian woman. Pointedly, both women fail to achieve lasting personal happiness in the novel, providing an interesting snapshot of the lives of women during the 19th century.

The novel shows how difficult it was during this time to achieve happiness, social standing and security within the rigid social constraints. Thackeray's humour makes the novel an enjoyable, yet dense novel. I recommend this one for a lengthy plane or car trip as its size and 19th century language make for a slow, but worthwhile read.

Now to the rest of the books on my ever-growing to read list.

Happy reading,