Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Me and my sun oven

The worst thing about working in the cafe kitchen is the heat. With one oven on all day and sometimes two or three stove top elements and a couple of toasters as well, the place heats up fast. In the heat of the summer the kitchen becomes very uncomfortable to work in.

At home I have a way to harness the heat of the sun for cooking without heating up our kitchen. Here I am gettting ready to serve up a yummy homegrown vege meal cooked entirely by passive solar power.

My sun oven was manufactured in South Africa but they are (apparently) pretty easy to make from a cardboard box, some aluminium foil, glass or perspex and black paint. The sun's rays are concentrated by a cunning combination of angles, reflection and absorbtion to enable most kinds of food to be coooked. It is a relatively slow, moist heat and according to the instructions it is impossible to burn food in a sun oven. In my experience, however, it is possible to overcook it to a colourless, tasteless mush! I have read about people baking bread in them but they tend to be writing from Africa or Arizona or other places where the sun's rays blast hard almost all the time. Even with the hole in the ozone, and global warming, so far my NZ environments have proved too cloudy too often to rely on a baking heat hot heat .

That could change, however. Yesterday, before I left for work, I positioned the sun oven for maximum rays and left a feijoa crumble in it. By the time I got home (after a swim in the sea to cool off after a day in the cafe kitchen) the feijoa had boiled over and made a sticky mess on the floor of the sun oven. (Worst of all, removing the sticky mess took up quite a bit of the black paint which is essential for holding heat, but I can easily repaint it.) Fortunately the crumble itself was deliciously caramelised. Anyway, it seems possible that Te Horo's dry hot summer may enable me to expand my sun oven repetoire...

Monday, January 30, 2006

Hand Me Down Heaven

Eleanor's photographer friend moved back to the USA and gave her a big pile of mat board and paper. Eleanor didn't want it for herself so offered it to me. I brought it home and sorted through, with oohs of delight alternating with snorts of despair. Overall I estimate the package breaks down as:
20% exquisite and wonderful (full sheets of undamaged mat board and paper that I would buy for myself)
20% pretty good (useful items of unexceptional quality)
50% salvagable (a bit of trimming will yield ok-to-very-good stuff)
10% rubbish (best used for compost!).

All together it's wonderful haul, a great score, a generous gift... thank you Eleanor! (PS Check out Eleanor's blog).

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Mazel Tov Betty

My friend Betty had her Bat Mitzvah yesterday. Usually this takes place around one's 13th birthday, but like me, Betty didn't get to have a Bat Mitzvah when she was young. So Betty timed her Bat Mitzvah with her 50th birthday. It seems like such a good idea that I'm probably going to wait another decade before I do mine.

Betty's Bat Mitzvah was especially moving for a couple of reasons. Firstly, Betty herself is not a person who has been comfortable taking centre stage. Yesterday she was described as the archetypal unsung hero of our congregation. For all the years I've been attending shul Betty has been the chief shamash, making sure that the chairs are arranged right, the siddur or prayer books are out, the wine is poured and the challah is warm. But beyond the housekeeping, Betty has also been a assiduous student of Talmud and Torah. We started learning Hebrew at about the same time but while I dropped out within a year (such a short attention span!) Betty kept plugging away. I witnessed the outcome of all her study yesterday as she helped to lead the service, read from the Torah scroll in excellent Hebrew and gave a thoughtful drash.

Another reason why I found her Bat Mitzvah particularly moving was because of the many friends and family to came along to suppport her. Many people came from 'Webb Street' (the Orthodox synagogue) to honour Betty with their first visit to us as 'Ghuznee Street' (the Progressive synagogue). This scale of interdenominational visiting is very rare, and very special. Betty's warm hearted nature, committed study, courage take her life in new directions and wonderful sense of humour brings people together. Betty, you are a true mensch!

Thursday, January 26, 2006

The Yoga Report

My search for the right yoga teacher is sure leading me into some interesting environments. For those who haven't been following the yoga thread that is a minor part of this blog, here's the back story. When I lived in Northland I discovered a wonderful yoga teacher at the Yoga Space in Whangarei. I organised my weekly trips to town around her classes and worked steadily at improving my yoga under her tutelage. One of the hardest things about moving south was leaving that behind, and I have been searching for an adequate substitute ever since.

My first foray into the local yoga scene was Yoga for Life, a heavily advertised franchise offered at Raumati Primary School, not too far from where I had a studio in Paekakariki for a while. Everything about that class bothered me (the music, the incense, the teacher's lack of attention to students, the cold smelly hall...) and there was little that I recognised as the robust Iyengar yoga I had developed a passion for. Fortunately, that very evening Ngaere gave me a pretty good yoga CD I could follow at home, and so I've been practicing regularly while I continued my search for a teacher.

Some time later I tried another Raumati yoga class, this time in the basement of someone's seaside home. The atmosphere was nicer (sea views), but once again the class was tainted with new age muzak, the content was yoga-lite and the teacher and I just didn't hit it off. After that I stalled for a while, unable to find any other yoga happening on the Kapiti Coast. So off I went into the big city to check out one of the many yoga offerings a urban population can support.

A trip to Wellington involves driving for an hour each way, about $25 worth of petrol, and often a hefty sum for parking, so I didn't want to risk another yoga-lite debacle. I did some research and tracked down a real Iyengar school. Upstairs on Cuba Street, the 5.15pm class was huge, with two young, muscley, male teachers and the only background music wafted up from the buskers on the street below. It seemed promising, but the other first-timer walked out in the first 15 minutes due to the fascist teaching style which demanded all participants perform the full poses perfectly, without props and at length, drawing attention to any failure to conform. I began to wonder if I had wrongly read the timetable and found myself in an advanced rather than beginner's class. I didn't let the teachers bully me too much and hung in 'til the end of the class, trying to keep up without injuring myself. Afterwards, as I paid an exhorbitant class fee, the teacher confirmed that it has been a beginner's class, and sneered at my gentle comparison of it to the robust yet compassionate teaching I had found in Whangarei.

It took quite a while to recover from the aches and pains of hard-core yoga and I began to understand the appeal of yoga-lite if that was going to be the best local alternative. However, my search had to continue to find a teacher I at least liked! I returned from the South Island with two local yoga leads to follow, and tried the first of those today.

Does anyone else remember the Amirita Cook Book (hand drawn, vegetarian, the NZ answer to Moosewood?) that was in every flat kitchen in the 1980s? Well I have returned to the source and talk about brown rice and tofu! The Lotus Centre is where the Amirita Cook Book sprang from and it probably hasn't changed much in the 20 years since. It's in a big sprawling villa painted purple and yellow, hidden behind masses of trees in a Paraparaumu suburb. The teacher is one of those limber, glowing 70 year olds who makes you believe in the power of healthy living. I was a little distracted by the cream and purple velour warm up suit he was wearing, and the paint-by-numbers art on the wall, but he was knowledgable and sincere and funny and the class is CHEAP! Unfortunately it's not Iyengar yoga, and it was pretty much on the lite end of the spectrum even though it wasn't for beginners. It was a comfortable environment and wouldn't be a total waste of money, but I do have one more lead to follow. Stay tuned for the saga of Saarsha House and kundalini yoga coming your way soon, I hope.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Fun with books

I'm having a lot of fun at the moment, starting a number of new book projects. It is a delightful stage to be at because everything is wide open as I research develop and experiment with content, techniques and materials.

I'm reading a lot about meditation, mysticism and spirituality as I develop themes and write the poems for the new series I am starting on. I spend hours leafing through books about making books to get ideas for structure and experimenting with new techniques as my plans push me beyond my techincal comfort zone. I'm making images with camera and photoshop and sketch book and pens and then exploring ways of incorporating images into the books.

I get to go through all my various piles of paper (under the bed, on shelves, in boxes and drawers...) and then when I'm sure I don't have what I think I want I get to go shopping! Yesterday I went into Wellington and had a delightful time taking advantage of the Warehouse Stationary's back to school sales to stock up on pencils and big pads of cartridge paper and spending 25 minutes at Gordon Harris choosing two different sheets of green paper (same shade, different weights). It wasn't so delightful at Spotlight where I located the clear vinyl I use for the Treasure Hunt books (lots of South Island treasures waiting to be incorporated) in a matter of seconds but then had to queue for at least 30 minutes while the women in front of me a) had short lenghts cut of 8 kinds of quilting fabric in shades of yellow and gold; b) bought lengths of fake fur which takes forever to cut properly c) purchased several metres of blue tulle and 70! metres of blue ribbon and 30 metres of silver cord and insisted on challenging the measurements with the frazzled sales clerk so she had to start counting again. By the time it was my turn a massive queue had built up behind me of sighing, jostling ladies. Luckily the slowest thing about my 1 metre purchase was unrolling the vinyl which gets a bit sticky in the heat. My trip to town also involved leisurely browsing in two libraries resulting in a gorgeous teetering stack of books. Oh happy days.

Sadly I must go back to work today so it will be the middle of the week before I can pick up again on my creative endeavors.

Friday, January 20, 2006

A week of cherries

Cherries have long been my favourite fruit, possibly my favourite food and maybe even my favourite flavour (but don't tell chocolate!). So one of my first thoughts on planning a summer road trip to the South Island was Box of Cherries.

Unfortunately it wasn't that easy to track down a box of cherries, although we enjoyed a couple of small bags from Dunedin and Oamaru. But when we boarded the ferry to sail home without a box of cherries I was pretty disappointed. I even caught myself pouting and I almost cried before I decided that cherries weren't important enough to let their lack spoil our last day of a wonderful holiday. I let my cherry attachment go.

The next day when I got home from work, my sweetheart Al, had bought a box of cherries from a local roadstand. I was thrilled and grateful and set about eating as many as I could thinking 'he really loves me to seek out my heart's desire like this'.

The day after, when I got home from work Al had bought three more boxes of cherries, rescuing them super cheap from immanent dumping by the supermarket. 15 kilograms of cherries. That's a lot. Most of the next two days were spent processing cherries: sorting out the really good ones for eating and preserving in strawberry brandy (5 big containers), cutting off the rotten bits of all the rest and taking their stones out and cooking them up into... 10 jars of jam, 5 jars of conserve, a pot of cherry soup, two freezer bags of cherry pie filling and a tub of cherry ripple ice cream.

I got very tired, very sticky, quite grumpy (thinking 'why has Al overwhelmed me with all these cherries?') and my hands are still stained purple from the juice but oh, it will be worth it to eat cherries all winter. And Al promises me that the half dozen cherry trees at Te Horo will start fruiting next year and we will have our own cherries. I'll know exactly what to do with them too!

Black Cherry Conserve
(I made this up as a final, exhausted riff on a Joy of Cooking recipe- it's sort of a cherry marmalade- sweet and tart and tasty)
1 litre of black cherries
2 tangelos, whole
2 lemons, juiced
2 1/2 cups sugar
1 cinnamon stick
1 pkt pectin
Cut the tangelos thinly and just cover with water and simmer until very soft. Add all other ingredients and stir while it comes to a boil. Stir often at a rolling boil until set (a dollop on a cold plate doesn't drip). Remove the cinnamon stick then pack into hot clean jars.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006


This is not a common sight: in fact I don't think I've ever seen stooks in real life before. But apparently historically authentic approaches to all kinds of business are popular in the South Island. We saw stooks in at least two different and widely dispersed parts of the Island.

OK, that is the last holiday snap. I'm home now, and will have to create interesting posts from my immediate surroundings. This will include some exciting new books that I can't wait to get stuck into... reflections on my new career as a cafe cook... lots of gardening and harvesting and preserving... photos and anectodes about the smelly dogs and silly chooks, stray cats and bad rabbits who share the garden... and lots more. Perhaps even a look back at the highlights of my first year as a blogger (the first posts went live on 12 January 2005). Keep reading, dear readers, and an especially big hello to all the new friends I met on my holiday who eagerly opened their computers during dinner parties to bookmark this blog!

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Chook Chook

A giant chicken perched
beside the highway:
we scream with laughter
screech to a halt, U-turn
and take pictures to show
our chickens back home.

They cluck with concern
for the poor mainlander fowl
letting herself go like that:
but I think they secretly wish
they could lay such a Big Egg
that no one can take it away.

Slightly Foxed

I had hoped to visit Michael O'Brian's book bindery in historic Oamaru while travelling in the South Island. Unfortunately Michael was away tramping Stewart Island in a kilt. Fortunately his brother-in-law runs the second hand bookshop next door (Slightly Foxed) and let me look around the bindery on my own for a while. I saw much lovely antique equipment including numerous wooden presses. Michael's blank books were on display with a number of old style bindings including leather and many of the book blocks of recycled paper. Quite lovely.

Back at Slightly Foxed, Al bought a book and we enjoyed watching the sale being recorded in fountain pen in a huge marbled ledger, and the purchase was expertly wrapped in brown paper tied with string. The artisans and retailers of Oamaru's historic district take their anachronisms very seriously- including dressing in a variety of early 20th century and late 19th century clothes (spot the fob looped across the tweed suit in the photo above).

Monday, January 16, 2006

Book Alter

A friend sent this photo of how he has created a kind of alter with a copy of my book, Bittul Hayesh: Meditation on Nothingness.  He says it is "the perfect sacred object for the urban nomad".  Thanks Conrad!

Friday, January 13, 2006


Staying at this cute cottage in Goodwood, near Palmerston which is up the coast from Dunedin was an adventure. Handbuilt, solar powered, tiny and perfectly formed it comes very close to my idea of the perfect home. The only imperfection I could perceive was that the local farmer likes to run his sheep up and down the road every day: a noisy smelly business which keeps them fit and frisky.

Going for a walk 'around the block' (about an hour for a person, probably less for a galloping hogget) takes you past four entrances to two different reserves. The Goodwood Reserve is native forest which would have been irresistable if I'd had more time. The temptation I succumbed to, despite the approaching stormy night, was the second gate to Tavora's Yellow-eyed Penguin Sanctuary. I don't know much about penguins but I do know that dusk is the best time to see them and I figured this was too good an opportunity to miss. I climbed three sties and bounded (or is that scuttled) through a number of paddocks dotted with cow pats (but no cows) and giant mushrooms until I came to the edge of a cliff.

Looking down onto a tiny rocky beachlet carved out of the steep cliff face I couldn't see any penguins at first. I could hear an eery high song which didn't appear to be related to the lines of birds nesting on ledges high on the opposite cliff face (too high for a penguin to climb). Cursing for a lack of binoculars or camera I waited for my eyes to soften and make sense of the grey on grey shapes far below. Then I saw movement: a small black and white figure rotated slowly on a tall rock... the source of the song which went on and on in a surprising variety of melody. Similar sized black figures appeared to be sprawled on nearby rocks, listening to the performance of the penguin soloist.

I stood and listened with them until it was too dark to see anything on the rocks anymore and the wind was blowing rain into my earhole. Then I ran back across the paddocks and up and down the road home, through the darkening rain and wind, laughing and skipping with excitement at my good fortune to attend a penguin concert.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Outre Dunedin

Finally the heady social whirl of Dunedin calms enough to give me time to crack open the laptop and delete a slew of spam and remember my blogging duties. It's been back to back wine'n'dine reunions punctuated with a wedding, art gallery crawls, beach walks and occasionally collapsing in a deck chair to absorb some rare sunshine.

But not quite all fun and games: I've also been flashing samples of my work around town to satisfactory effect. A wonderful gallery called Outre on Great King Street (right beside the University Book Shop) is now stocking a very wide selection of book objects from my ouvre. As well as perennial favourites like Karori Sanctuary: Interleaving and The Optimistic Heart there are one-off's such as Taranaki-in-a-Box and the Disengagement Ring. I'm very pleased to have my books at Outre because I love the shop which stocks 100% New Zealand originals including clothing, jewellery, ceramics, wall art and dolls.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Boring holiday blog

Being on holiday means wandering aimlessly around small towns one would never otherwise stop in. In Port Chalmers this mostly means window shopping as most of the shops are closed because its the holidays and apparently there is no one worth opening up for left in the South Island. We went to Port Chalmers because it is between Roseneath where Philippa was going to a ginger beer making workshop and Carey's Bay, where rumour had it cheese rolls were available in the Carey's Bay Historic Hotel. The pub is actually most famous for its many Ralph Hotere's on the walls as the artist (a Port Chalmer's local) apparently pays for his drinks with valuable originals. I'm not a Hotere fan and the hotel art failed to make me one but the cheese rolls were just fine.

Friday, January 06, 2006

I was Dunedin

Dunedin was my home from the mid 1980s to the early 1990s, from my mid-teens to my early twenties. In no particular order: my daughter was born here, I once was a house owner here but mostly I lived in student dives, I dabbled at university papers but devoted myself to some serious study of mood altering substances, I performed my poetry frequently, wrote a book, learned to drive. In short, some substantial and significant elements of my life journey occurred in this town.

Visiting Dunedin is a chance to catch up with old friends who remember me during the years when I wore nothing but pink, including my hair colour or nothing but neon paisley, including my shoes. It's an opportunity to reactivate my University Book Shop account and go crazy at the perpetual book sale upstairs.

Walking the length of downtown, from Union Street to the Oval, I looked in vain for a cheese roll: no more Governor's or Cowell's Coffee Lounge and even the Little Hutt seemed to have disappeared. And not a fish and chip shop to be seen. North of the Octogon is still bustling with retail, although there were more head shops (3) than I ever imagined possible back in the day, more Japanese eateries and an inexplicable number of places selling dolls. Just as I remembered, many places had handwritten signs explaining they're closed for the "summer"- this is a student town through and through. This is increasingly apparent as one walks south, away from the campus and Princes Street gapes with empty shop fronts. It was never a very happening part of town during my tenure but all the shabby second hand shops have been inexplicably replaced with expensive, upmarket antique dealers whose windows gleam with polished mahogany and cut crystal and no promise of fossicking through dusty cardboard boxes of broken kitchen appliances.

There's enough that's familiar to make me nostalgic, but so much has changed- and not really in a good way- that there's no longing to return "home". The city markets itself to potential residents with the obscure slogan: "I am Dunedin" and profiles of happy white people superimposed on a blue sky background. In some crucial ways I am Dunedin, in that my Dunedin life is what made me an adult. But my Dunedin was grey skies and bar heaters and Flying Nun bands and greasy food and performance art and toddlers swathed in seven layers of wool to go play on the beach.

But that was then, and even though I wasn't a scarfie, I passed through like a scarfie and Dunedin has carried on without me, just as I have carried on without it. As I write this in a cold Opoho house I'm looking across the valley to green hills and a blustery (8 degrees) wind shakes the trees but the white clouds are scudding across a blue sky letting the sun come and go. It's time to put on my warmest jacket and venture out for lunch with Jane who remembers me from before Dunedin: as little girls playing dolls in Hamilton. I am Hamilton too, and that's a whole 'nother story...

Thursday, January 05, 2006


The sun creaks up the hallway
like a polite,
early-rising, house guest.

I wrote this haiku before we set off on our journey... in anticipation of friend's generous hospitality.

Summer warmth

After a lovely visit with friends Sharkey and Sean in Kaiapoi near Christchurch we tootled South through alternating sunshine and heavy rain. I saw first hand how unsustainable farming is in Cantebury with giant irrigation machines, like aliens spraying water onto paddocks of grass in the middle of a windy day. We could practically see the precious water evaporate before our eyes. The bridges took us across almost dry river beds.

Ah, Dunedin summers, I remember them- a lot like a Northland winter: cool and rainy. Philippa lit a fire for us when we arrived in a squall. Persia and Gobi were most appreciative. Date stamp this photo 4 January 2006, the summer that wasn't much!

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Seal Colony

I'm on holiday in the South Island for the next week or so, so it's all holiday snaps for the moment... After a surprisingly calm ferry crossing from North to South Islands we drove down to Christchurch. Stopping on the way to check out the Ohau Point seal colony north of Kaikoura, which is booming. I've never seen so many seals before including lots of babies. We stood for ages watching adults sunbathe like big furry slugs while the little ones cavorted and frolicked on the rocks and in the waves. A mother and babe played a long game of chase before the mum flopped down in exhaustion and the youngster went off to play with the other kids. Familiar family dynamics!

Monday, January 02, 2006

A new page

A few months ago I made a Dream Journal for an exhibition at Auckland City Libraries. I made the pages as mobius strips with dreams written on them. I liked the concept but was disappointed with the execution: mobius strips are difficult to bind because they are one sided and book making usually involves pages with two or more sides. A book of one sided pages is an Escher fantasy.

Despite, or because of, this less than satisfactory first attemp I have continued to think about mobius strip books. The other day I experimented with mobius strips using a variety of materials and proportions. The photos above are my favourite: a big wide strip of heavy creamy printing paper making a curvaceous page of 40 x 35 x 25 cm.

I'm working on the binding options for this wonderful creation. I also made a smaller set of mobius strips out of tracing paper and bound them to a ribbon which, hanging on the wall, looks very much like a spine- imagine a row of big vertebrae strung like a dinasaur's back bone. I think a double binding might also work well. The trick with mobius strips seems to be making sure they are lined up as though they could nest together, but of course they can't actually nest because that would require them to have an inside and an outside and they only have one side.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Dancing with Garlic

This is our garlic harvest, which I dug up on the second to last day of 2005, filling a wheelbarrow with fat juicy bulbs of pungent goodness.

The photo I posted last week was garlic as I suspected, elephant garlic, supposedly much larger than ordinary garlic. Certainly the plants are twice or thrice as tall and the individual cloves are much bigger. But, strangely, the bulbs of the elephant garlic are not much larger than the biggest bulbs of our ordinary garlic, which is, imho, champion sized. I cannot take full credit for the beauty of this garlic crop which was planted before I arrived, but I have hand weeded it three times, and made sure it was watered liberally and mulched, so I can still kvell*).

Harvesting the garlic made me nostalgic about living at Dancing Vege Farm in Upstate New York, where the garlic harvest was stacked higher than a child at the end of each row. We filled the ceiling of the barn with it as it cured. That was the first place I tasted roasted garlic, where in its abundance we would have a bulb or two each to spread on toast every night. It was also a place of abundant home grown maple syrup, which I remember with even more fondness, being an incorrigible sweet tooth.

* Yiddish: to glow with pride