The Honourable Woman

Maggie Gyllenhaal with Oliver Bodur in The Honourable Woman

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Stop a minute. Why is the Internet not exploding with people talking about The Honourable Woman? Why did I only discover this mini-series in a roundabout, accidental way on iTunes because I happen to like Maggie Gyllenhaal as an actress and happened to notice her face in the promo picture?

Holy everything! I can’t believe bloggers all over the world aren’t talking our ears off about this show! So I guess I’ll have to do it.

The Honourable Woman is an eight-part spy thriller. It starts off compelling but slow, and winds up completely, totally, under your skin. Gyllenhaal’s character is Nessa Stein, a British-Israeli woman at the head of her family’s company. The company formerly dealt in arms but now, under Nessa’s leadership, builds communications networks. Her goal, pursued at great personal cost, is to create equality in communications access and opportunity for both Israelis and Palestinians.

The Honourable Woman is taut, considered, complex, clever, vulnerable and of course entertaining. And it is driven, sometimes relentlessly, by a phalanx of powerful, intelligent, broken, fully-drawn female characters.

Had enough of all the adjectives?

Maggie Gyllenhaal in this is exquisite. I couldn’t look away. And have you heard of the stunning actress Lubna Azabal? The two of them together made for some of the most intelligent, brave and beautiful television I have watched in a long, long time.

The final episode (the hands, the hands, look for the hands; also, black on white and white on black, oh the symbolism) has destroyed me. I am undone.

The 10 best herbs to start growing today

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Once upon a time, on my parents’ property, I had a herb garden.

A really big, old-fashioned, formally laid-out herb garden. I grew herbs for cooking, and also for medicine. My poor family: they were my guinea pigs. I used to grind up herbs and squeeze them into glycerine tablet casings to make them easier to ingest. I made verbena-infused lemon butter and pineapple sage jelly and herb crusted pies.

At some point during the 90s, I wrote this:

“…My garden becomes a place of comfort: hard work, gentle rest, no need to swallow these herbal remedies for the healing to begin.

“Grape vines curl and twine up the walls and espaliered wire that anticipates their embrace. Old briar roses climb over one arch, filled with used and abandoned finch nests, and at the other end, jasmine pulls apart a flimsy metal gate. Different tastes and colours of thyme, marjoram, oregano and sage blend with camomile, tarragon, two types of parsley and lemon grass.

“In this garden comfrey grows in abundance – kept green even in the harsh summer by its deep tap root – tansy, horseradish and borage; onion chives, garlic, santolina and marigolds.

“Chinese allspice flourishes here with the rose-scented geranium, lemon balm smells so good I can almost taste it, mint, spearmint, cold and dark, French lavender fills a middle diamond, while coriander and tarragon spice the furthest end. Strawberries line the path, though few survive the birds’ early morning breakfast – and a lemon verbena tree is a suitable diving board for the bellbirds to splash in and out of the birdbath.

“In summer, the basil takes hold, calendula marigolds go wild, and in some years, sunflowers are encouraged to wave their golden heads over the front fence.”

It sounds like a rather heavenly place, doesn’t it. It was.

Now, I have a tiny, one-metre square box in which I grow herbs and vegetables (although I’m working some extra hours and saving as hard as I can to have our tiny courtyard converted into a tiny garden to grow herbs and flowers and where the children can play. One day…).

But the good thing about herbs is that they grow just about anywhere and for just about anyone. And herbs are incredibly versatile, wonderful plants to have around: they smell good, they taste good, they look good, and many of them come packaged up with a generous dose of colourful history and folklore.

If you’d like to start a herb garden, these are my 10 favourite herbs to grow:

Basil
Why? Yum! And also, oooh that smell.
Cool folklore quirk: in medieval times, some ‘experts’ believed that if you laid basil to rot in horse dung, it would breed venomous beasts. I have not personally tried this.

Lavender
Why? Purple flowers almost all year ’round. Crystalise the tiny petals and use them to decorate cakes; dry the flower heads and use them to give a relaxing and cleansing scent. Mildly antiseptic.
Cool folklore quirk: “Lavender is of special good use for all the griefs and pains of the head and brain that proceed of a cold cause, as apoplexy, falling sickness, the dropsy, or sluggish malady, cramps, convulsions, palsies and often faintings.” Culpeper, 1653

Lemon balm
Why? You will never smell anything better. Beautiful to flavour summer drinks, jellies and jams.
Cool folklore quirk: apparently taking lemon balm makes you live a long time. For example in the 13th century, Llewelyn Prince of Glamorgan regularly took lemon balm tea and lived to be 108.

Nasturtium
Why? Grows rampantly and covers a big area with beautiful, sprawling, orange and yellow flowers. The flowers taste like pepper in a salad.
Cool folklore quirk: native to Peru, nasturtium was first brought to Europe in the 15th Century by the conquistadors.

Mint
Why? Takes your Asian salads to a new level. Not to mention your cocktails, your smoothies, your desserts…
Cool folklore quirk: in Greek mythology, Minthe was a nymph who caught the eye of Pluto, the god of the underworld. When Pluto’s wife found out about their affair, she turned Minthe into a plant. Pluto couldn’t save her, but he gave her a wonderful smell that would get even better when someone stepped on her (!)

Lemon verbena
Why? A beautiful little tree with rough, lemon-scented leaves that you can use in cooking or tea. Gives the garden soft shade in summer and lets the sunshine through in winter.
Cool folklore quirk: I couldn’t find one! Came to Europe from South America in the 17th Century (via the Spanish).

Calendula marigold
Why? Happy, sunny, yellow and orange flowers. The petals are a nice addition to salads, and can also be used to treat pimples (true!).
Cool folklore quirk: the name comes from the fact that it seems to flower just about all year ’round.

Parsley
Why? To eat! In anything (savoury)!
Cool folklore quirk: was used by the ancient Greeks to crown victors at the Isthmian Games. Can you imagine sticking parsley on the heads of our athletes today? Let’s bring this tradition back!

Comfrey
Why? Apparently full of vitamins, and has more protein in its leaves than any other veggie. Also does amazing things for compost.
Cool folklore quirk: historically comfrey was considered a “miracle herb” that could fix all kinds of ailments and even mend broken bones.

Rosemary
Why? Tastes great with meats and roast vegetables, grows into a beautiful hedge, smells amazing.
Cool historic quirk: was believed to strengthen the memory and therefore became an emblem of fidelity.

Photos are of Scout planting and watering basil in our little garden box on the weekend

Incoming mail

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I have been remiss in sharing my incoming mail of late, so I’ve gathered a some bits and pieces together to show you this SERIOUSLY amazing collection of drawings, craft, collage, hand-sewn gifts and beautiful stationery, sent from all over the world.

I can’t tell you how blessed I feel every time I receive something in the mail, and you guys are SO thoughtful and SO generous and put so much time into writing to me. I am blown away. And humbled. That sounds insincere but I want you to know it is TRULY, SINCERELY how I feel.

Thank you. THANK YOU!

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ps. If you like the look of that gorgeous, hand-made apron, you can find more like it at Libby’s Lifestyle on Etsy

Life at mine

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Lonely gold shoe // Christmas already? // A tale of two cities: New York and Melbourne // First face paint // Mummy Pig // Celebration in stock // Typewriters in the city // Ralph is crawling now. Can you tell? // Boys’ night // “Hey Mummy I writing your name” // Afternoon light

I’m taking inspiration from The Veggie Mama for this post. What’s been happening at your place?

11 cheer-up links

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The night had started out so well.

I went to a meet-up of Melbourne bloggers that just so happened to be held two blocks away from my house, which meant not only could I walk there with no “I’m late and the traffic is hell” stress whatsoever, I could also indulge in a glass of bubbles or two. It was so lovely to meet in person some of bloggers I’d admired from a distance for a long time; and to discover new bloggers (and blogs) to admire; and to reconnect with some wonderful writers and women, especially those I know through the Blog with Pip course.

I wandered home all happy and tired, then curled my feet under me on the couch to join in a chat with Mr B and his cousin, comfortable in the knowledge that my children were sleeping peacefully and hadn’t made a peep since Mr B put them to bed not long after I’d gone out. It all felt very luxurious.

And then.

About 15 minutes after we’d gone to bed and just as I was entering that delicious almost-asleep-but-not-quite sinking state, Scout started crying. And screaming. And then Ralph joined in. We ran to their room, to find Scout had been sick everywhere. EVERYWHERE. The smell in their room hit you like a wall. The poor little darling was shaking and crying and Ralph was terrified. We bundled them up and got Scout cleaned up and comforted Ralph and then I stripped the bed (it had gone through the blankets, sheets, pillows, through the mattress protector and into the actual mattress) and aired the room.

Eventually I settled Ralph back in his bed, and Scout came to sleep with us, now chatting happily for all the world as if it was 10 o’clock in the morning and we were all out for a tea party. Until she was sick again, all over the towel I’d (thankfully) put under her. So we got her up and cleaned her up again and replaced the towel and…

Suffice to say that by morning, two sets of sheets and six towels later and having had approximately six minutes of sleep, the day was not shaping up to be an energetic one.

We stumbled downstairs at first light to discover the cat had left a poo in the playroom.

At 7.30am, my watch stopped, and I don’t blame it.

We all need a bit of cheering up around here. Do you? I hope your night wasn’t like mine! Here are 11 links and ideas that might help to make us all smile.

This poem made me cry with happiness. Actual sobs. For my money, nothing else has ever come so close to describing the powerful emotions of being a mother

Illustrated pet peeves

It’s almost eggnog season!

A DIY to try – gold leaf planters

Funny! 80s awareness for millennials (by Kevin Bacon)

The art of drawing on the memory of lighter times to weather heavier times

Chocolate lego!

A fun activity for kids: bubble-wrap prints

Bonfire night. I just loved this story

Beautiful diamond planters

Adorable homemade marshmallow clouds

 

To market, to market

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Do you have a local market? A growers’ market has just started up around the corner from us, though I haven’t had a chance to visit it yet. We love markets large and small at our place: the hustle and bustle – and fresh produce – of the Victoria Markets; the amazing ring of food trucks at the new Batman Market; the sheer colour of the Rose Street Artists’ Market; and the handmade goodness at Northern Regards… just for a start.

Markets can inspire fierce loyalty, and I think that’s kind of lovely, don’t you? My friend Arrayah Loynd, an award-winning photographer, and her friend Jo Skuse, an anthropology student, are so passionate about their local St Andrews Community market that they have produced a stunning book celebrating the market and the people who bring it to life.

Called “Meet Me at Market,” the book is richly populated with gorgeous photography and wonderful stories. The friends have a Pozible campaign running at the moment to raise enough funds to produce, print and distribute the book. If you’d like a copy, you can pre-order one in time for Christmas, here (there’s one week left to the campaign so you’ll have to be quick).

So tell me: what are your favourite markets?

All images are from the Meet Me at Market Facebook page, used with permission

Home is wherever… (ode to New York)

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This is a post about New York but, nowadays, you could apply a lot of the sentiments I’ve expressed to my life in Melbourne as well. Except my house now is a lot bigger and significantly less… infested… than my old apartment. With not as many steps. Be that as it may. This is also a post about space and city living and interiors and exteriors and worthwhile sacrifices and satisfactory compromises and, most of all, it is a post about home.

68 Thompson Street #36
New York NY 20016

When I lived in New York it was in a classic, shoe-box sized pre-war walk-up apartment. I lived on the fifth floor, which was as high as you were allowed to go without an elevator. There were 84 stairs between the pavement and my apartment, every one of them green and dingy and dirty, and I climbed them several times a day.

Inside my apartment was one big room with a tiny sink, a bar-fridge and a decrepit electric oven near the door; and, at the far end, two tall windows with bars protecting them, and a paint-encrusted radiator that hissed and banged and leaked water over the parquetry floor. A rusty fire escape outside one of the windows would offer escape to only the most desperate among us. There was also a bathroom complete with a full length bath – immeasurable luxury for New York – and a bedroom that, once populated with a double bed, was utterly without floor space.

There were also mice in my living room. And rats in the garbage-filled courtyard downstairs. And the echo of sirens and horns and engines, day and night, from the entrance to the Holland Tunnel only a couple of blocks away.

In keeping with my meagre budget, I decorated my apartment with a dubiously-hygienic bed and couch left behind by the previous tenant, a metal shelving unit found in the hallway, a vintage oak dressing table purchased from the side of the road near Bowery, and some cheap cushions, throws and bedding from a rather traumatic trip to IKEA. It’s a miracle I wasn’t covered in bed-bug bites.

I absolutely loved that apartment. It was home, my very own home in the heart of New York City. It was the hub of the life I lived in the city, a life that was all about art, adventure, and community. Yet I was barely inside the apartment.

Every day, I would tuck my computer under my arm and head out to one of a countless number of cafes and restaurants and parks to take advantage of the weather, the sometimes-good coffee, the free wifi; and to earn my living. At some of my favourite places, the wait-staff became friends. During my breaks, I’d wander the streets of lower Manhattan, exploring shopping precincts and alleyways draped in street art, peering in at secret gardens behind walls.

At night, I would visit one or more of my friends, most of them in equally-dingy and tiny apartments. We would cook together, and laugh, perch on the edge of couches with our plates on our laps, precariously resting wine glasses on window frames. Or we would head out to hear a band. One of my friends would be singing on Bleeker, or over in the East Village. Someone else would be hosting a party on a rooftop. A new show or restaurant or movie would be opening and one of my friends would have invitations.

On weekends, my friend Mish and I would put on our walking shoes, clip the lead onto my dog Oliver, and walk more than 100 blocks along the Hudson River, starting around Canal Street and ending up in the 90s, before turning around and walking all the way home. We’d walk through floral, landscaped gardens, past people sun baking on pocket-handkerchief sized grass lawns, tennis courts and water playgrounds. Past kayaks for hire and trapeze lessons and territorial geese that terrified Oliver as they waddled up and down the wooden boardwalks. After the High Line opened, we’d look up at all the tourists exploring the tall tracks. Or we’d leave our riverside path and join them, taking in an entirely different perspective.

At home at the end of this marathon walk, we’d hobble around, feet aching, ravenously hungry. We’d call our friends and meet them at Lucky Strike, where I’d order the steak frites and a glass of prosecco in a tumbler, and not feel guilty.

All of this is to say that a tiny, dirty, somewhat-infested apartment at the epicentre of one of the biggest and busiest cities in the world can feel like home. And more, a happy home. And more than that, a home in which you are never trapped, never over-crowded, never fenced in.

Because in New York, the entire city is your back yard. You have 18 miles of back yard in which to explore, play… hey, you can even eat, pray and love, if that’s your thing. And nobody questions it. Nobody who understands New York ever asks if you wish you had a bigger apartment, or a place to grow your own vegetables: there are community gardens for that, and window sills. Instead, they understand that the compromise is to sacrifice the space inside your home, for all that space and diversion and beauty and creativity outside your front door.

And then I moved to Melbourne.

(to be continued…)

Beautiful art – A Hot Summer

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I thought Melbourne’s rising mercury today would form an appropriate backdrop to showcase these seriously gorgeous works from Brooklyn (NY)-based illustrator Monica Ramos. They’re part of a series that she calls “A Hot Summer,” based on summer in the Philippines.

I’ve been wanting to show you Monica’s work for ages. Take a look through her portfolio, it’s fantastic! I’m especially in love with the “Comfort Foods” series. Cute, huh? And if you dream of making a living from your creative work, Monica will share some friendly advice, too.

 

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All images are from Monica’s website, and used with her kind permission.

Meet Scout & Ralph

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Meet my children. They’re pretty great. Their names are Scout and Ralph.

Those are not their real names, of course. Their real names are no big secret and if it’s eating you up inside and you just have to know, simply scroll back through some of my older posts and you’ll find them. I haven’t exactly been backwards when it comes to talking about my children.

But from now on, I will refer to my daughter as Scout and my son as Ralph on this blog, because I want to lessen the digital footprint I am leaving for them.

I’m not overly concerned, really. There’s nothing on this blog that is likely to embarrass them when they are older. No bare-bottom photos; no potty-training stories; no revelations about emotional, mental or behavioural challenges; no recounts of arguments with their father; no heartbreaking confessions from me… just a celebration of how much I love them.

And that has been deliberate, all along. This blog is my happy place, so I write mainly about the GOOD things in life that make me happy. Also, I want to respect my family’s right to privacy so I don’t write things about them or myself that should really stay with us.

However, I have in the past used their real names. So if you were to type those names into a search engine, you’d find the old posts I’ve written about them.

That’s ok, but from now on, there won’t be any more. I mean of course if you were to type in their real names, my blog is likely to come up anyway because we share a surname, but nothing specific.

(As an aside, that’s why I always call Mr B “Mr B” on here. A lot of you know his name and again it’s no big secret, but this way his digital footprint is his own, not something of my making).

You may or may not know or have noticed it in the past, but both of my children bear the names of storybook heroes. They weren’t named for those heroes, per se, but we were certainly aware of the characters and fans of the books and looked forward to reading the children the stories of their namesakes when they were old enough to enjoy them.

So when I came to select pseudonyms to use on this blog, I gave them the names of some of my other favourite fictional children. Scout (from To Kill a Mockingbird) is brave and inquisitive and intelligent and thoughtful and kind and fun. Ralph (from The Lord of the Flies) is charismatic and clever and compassionate and reflective and kind.

All attributes I like to think I see in both of my babies, and all attributes that I would hope to nurture and celebrate in them.

Now please excuse me while I go and hug my children.

Roast beetroot, pumpkin & goat’s cheese salad

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On the weekend I was SO EXCITED to finally harvest the rainbow baby beets I’d been nurturing in my little vegetable box, and to turn them into a roast vegetable salad. I made a bit of a big deal about it, taking Little Miss out with me to talk about plants and food. We both put on our hats and gardening gloves, and her Daddy took a photo…

After all that, my big harvest yielded two baby beets. Two. And they were lovely, perfect little beets, but two baby beets does not a salad make.

So off to Paddy the greengrocer we went, and the lesson on “paddock to plate” was not quite as powerful as I had hoped.

This minor horticultural setback aside, I still think my salad was delicious. The sweetness of the roast vegetables with the creaminess of the cheese was divine. It was also easy to make, and would be simple to adapt with slightly different ingredients. I added chicken to the salad this time because we were quite hungry, but I think it would be just as tasty (probably better) without meat.

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Here’s how to make this salad for two people.

INGREDIENTS (SALAD)

* Beetroot (a medium-sized beetroot or a handful of baby beets)
* Pumpkin (a smallish wedge, I used about two thirds of what you see in the photo)
* Baby spinach leaves, as many as you like
* Chèvre goat’s cheese
* Pepitas (sunflower seeds would also be great)
* Balsamic vinegar
* Olive oil
* Salt and pepper

INGREDIENTS (CHICKEN)

* Half a chicken breast
* Plain flour
* Chinese five-spice
* Ground black pepper
* Ground sea salt

DRESSING

(OK confession: I used a honey and Dijon mustard dressing that was already made by the good people at Praise. It was delicious, and paired perfectly with the flavours in this salad. If you wanted to make your own, I’d do something similar, because the sweetness of the honey and the sharp taste of the mustard were perfect with the roast veges).

METHOD

1. Preheat the oven to 180 Celcius

2. Peel the beetroots, then chop them into small squares or wedges. In the case of baby beets, peel and halve them.

3. Chop the pumpkin into similar sized pieces, trimming way the skin.

4. Put the beetroot into a baking dish. Splash with olive oil and one or two tablespoons of balsamic vinegar. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt and a few grinds of black pepper*, then toss until all the beetroot is coated.

5. In a separate baking dish, toss the pumpkin in olive oil, salt and pepper*, just enough to coat it.

6. Put both dishes into the oven and bake until cooked through and the pumpkin is just starting to brown, anywhere from half an hour to an hour (best you just keep checking). I took the pumpkin out and let the beets cook for a bit longer, which would have been fine except then one of the children needed me and the beetroot ended up being in there for just a touch too long, and was a bit overcooked. Ces’t la vie. Or more appropriately, ces’t la parenthood!

(IF YOU’RE ADDING CHICKEN…)

a) Cut the chicken breast into nugget-sized chunks

b) To about 1/4 cup flour, add a good sprinkling of Chinese five-spice (about one and a half teaspoons but don’t worry too much), and several generous grinds of black pepper and sea salt. Mix it all in.

c) Toss the chicken chunks into the flour-and-spice mix and make sure they are well coated.

d) Pan fry in a splash of olive oil until the chicken is cooked through, and golden and slightly crispy on the outside.

7. Put your salad together! Into a salad bowl drop your beetroot, pumpkin and spinach leaves, then pour over the dressing. Not too much, you only want to lightly coat it. Toss the dressing through. If you’re serving the salad in individual bowls, now’s the time to transfer them. Break apart the chèvre and place it around the salad, then sprinkle the whole thing with pepitas. If you’re using chicken, place it on top (but don’t toss through), before the pepitas.

Voila!

* Don’t use too much pepper or it will overpower the flavour of the roast vegetables.

Meals on Wheels – Treat Yo Self

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A couple of weeks ago we headed over to the new Batman Market at Coburg and let me tell you one thing for free: it was street food heaven.

We were there quite early, at about 9.30am, but already a string of food trucks had formed a wonky kind of circle at one end of the market, and the air was filled with wood smoke and coal smoke and the scent of things cooking. Delicious things. Mr B inhaled as though he was just coming up from a long dive and said, “It smells like South America here.” Which is one of his highest compliments.

We spent a bit of time exploring to try and build up an appetite, then gave it up for a lost cause and stopped for a ridiculously early lunch. I’m talking 11am or something. Maybe even earlier. But we have babies who need naps and I wasn’t going to miss out on tasting at least one of those truck menus before we had to head for home.

So we chose the Treat Yo Self Quesadilla Cart, run by two super-friendly ladies who served their quesadillas in toasted tortillas from an adorable, tiny, old-school caravan with (joy of opera-singing choirs) a coffee machine.

I ordered a blueberry and custard dessert quesadilla for a certain hungry two-year-old, and a latte for me. She all but inhaled that quesadilla, so I went back to buy another filled with nutella and banana, at which point Mr B and I were all “what the hey, let’s do this,” so we bit the bullet and called it lunch.

My quesadilla was made with black beans, tomato, onion, cheese and green salsa and yes, it was every bit as good as it sounds.

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ps. More food trucks of Melbourne