Friday, March 31, 2006

Edible Book Practice

Here's the first draft of my edible book for April's International Edible Book Festival. It's (supposed to be) an open book of Mexican art, and the double spread on top is a desert landscape. On the edges of the other pages you glimpse hints of adobe, Aztec and Frida Kahlo art. Or so I like to think.

It's made out of wheat tortillas, decorated with refried beans, hummus, cheese and assorted veges. After I took the photo I put in the oven, and it didn't even look to bad once the cheesy sky had melted onto the tray. And it was yummy! Which is lucky because it was dinner that night.

I'm planning some alterations for the final edition to be presented at the Kapiti Book Arts group Edible Book tea party next week, so it will look and taste a bit different then.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Chicken Spa

Moulting chickens taking a dust bath. Camera shy Barnevelda absent again. They have a good life, these chickens.

Thursday, March 23, 2006


The house is full of the smell of quinces. I spent all morning making a big batch of Bimbriyo, or Membrillo, or quince paste. Until very recently my only contact with quinces had been quince paste on the cheese boards when I worked at Wellington City Council with Nic Hill who was, and presumably still is, a quince paste fanatic. I enjoyed it a lot at the time, it's so expensive that I never had it again. However, this week an abundant crop of quinces here has cried out to be pasted.

Leafing through my favourite Book of Jewish Food (Claudia Roden) I discovered that quince has a special place in Judeo-Spanish cuisine, inherited from the Arabs in Andalusia. Quinces cannot be eaten raw when they are chartreuse yellow, but when cooked "the seeds and skin produce a rich and scented pink jelly". When cooked for a really really long time (I'm sure that's why it's so expensive), the pulp and juice become a garnet coloured paste which is tangy and sweet and aromatic. And is a dream with cheese.

Speaking of cheese, I made a salad with our own walnuts and pears and a creamy blue cheese last night. Mmmmm...

Bad birdwatcher

Inspired by my bedtime reading of How to be a bad birdwatcher by Simon Barnes, I borrowed a pair of binoculars to take on my walk to the estruary yesterday. I also took my little field guides to help me know what I was seeing. I took a sandwich too, but unfortunately I forgot to take a camera so no pictures for you today (unless you follow the links).

I was pleasurably absorbed by the abundant birdlife for at least an hour, much longer than I expected it to hold my attention. As Simon Barnes says, the thing about using binoculars is that, seen close up, birds are much, much more interesting than when they appear as distant blurs.

Mainly I watched a flock of about 24 royal spoonbills hanging out on the shore, one long black leg tucked up into their white feathery bellies, and their spoon shaped beaks twisted back under a wing. Every now and then one would stretch a stalk like leg behind and sinuous neck in front before reassuming its resting pose. And a couple of them did really exciting things like paddle about in the water, or poke in amongst some grass for food. Okay, so you had to be there, but really, it was lovely to watch.

I think I saw a reef heron fly past, but I definitely spent a long time spying on a white faced heron. Only a couple of metres away from me, it slowly and gracefully waded along the reedy bank catching little fish. I could see the bulge in its long throat as it swallowed them.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Cake Secret

My grandma Ada Ruth handed down a Devil's Food Cake recipe which is one of my most valued family heirlooms. This cake is virtually fool proof, responds well to an apparent infinite number of variations, stays moist for over a week if not entirely consumed sooner and is super easy to make. The secret is the sour milk (1 tbsp of vinegar in a cup then fill it up with milk and leave in a warm place til it starts looking like runny yoghurt) and I suspect this is responsible for the slightly reddish tone of the dark chocolate and the amazing, unique smell when you stir in a cup of hot water right at the end.

Lately I've been making 2-4 batches of this a week to great acclaim. I can't tell you why. But here's the recipe if you want to make it yourself.

Grandma Ada Ruth's Devil's Food Cake
3 cups plain flour
2 cups white sugar
6 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup cocoa
2 eggs (beaten)
1 cup sour milk
1 cup cooking oil
1 tsp vanilla

Sift the dry ingredients into a big bowl.
Mix the wet ingredients together.
Stir wet into dry until completely combined.
Stir in 1 cup of hot water.
Bake at 190/375 degrees until the top springs back (about one hour).

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Dreamt Vessels

My soul's journey has dragged me through a sticky black swamp this week. Among the many wonderful ways that I have been embraced back onto a path of hope and happiness was beginning to reread Thomas Moore's Care of the Soul. The last two nights I have read a few pages before sleep, and decided/asked to dream about specific aspects of my life that I have always struggled with.

The first night I dreamt almost all night long about papier mache vessels, sort of like old fashioned tea cups but without the handles, lots of them in a sense of almost industrial mass production. And just before morning I dreamed about harvesting herbs to take on a journey, escaping a nuclear war.

The second night I dreamt almost all night long about papier mache vessels, slender, delicate and oddly shaped, with flowers and grass in them or on them. And just before morning I dreamt I was cleaning up a big warehouse which was filled with my trash.

So today I made a mould to cast delicate slender vessels onto. It's not one of the kinds of shapes that has been covered in my 3D art class so I just made up the technique by filling a tin can with clay and carving out a hollow and filling it with plaster. When I took the plaster out it looked rather like a short fat dildo which amused me greatly, but I soon carved it into the much more feminine shape of my dreams.

I also went to the local Sunday flea market to look for a suitable tea cup. The first thing I saw when I walked in was a sugar bowl almost the right shape but the woman selling it was so viciously abusing her neighbouring stallholder that I walked away to check out the rest of the market. No one else had anything remotely appropriate but when I came back to the first table, the nasty woman wanted too much money for something that was only 'almost' the right shape. So the search will continue. (This is a typical example of me attempting to shop. I'm useless at buying things other than food, which I am far too good at).

Wednesday, March 15, 2006


Standing still in the shadows just inside the back door, I watch a fantail swoop back and forth across the rectangle of light which is flickering with tiny flying insects. Now and then she hovers right in front of me, fearless or perhaps just unaware of my presence. I am so quiet that I can hear the tap of her beak as she snaps snacks on the wing.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Gathering nuts in March

This weekend saw a big harvest of walnuts, a small harvest of almonds and some early quinces. I can hardly wait for the macadamias and chestnuts.

Saturday was a perfect autumn day of crisp morning melting into hot afternoon. I crawled around in the long grass finding nuts by feel in a sharply contrasted dapple light. Outside the shade of the trees was a molten golden sun illuminating the bees swirling around their nearby hives. On the other side of the orchard a wedding was taking place with lots of laughter and applause.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Art in Wellington

I schlepped around 11 exhibitions yesterday, the kind of marathon I have only tried in foreign cities before . Highlights from visual arts on show in the Wellington region right now include...
  • Rosemary McLeod's dolls at Bowen Gallery. Twenty or so rag dolls all called Eleanor Page and far more glamourous than most rag dolls and far more interesting than most contemporary dolls I've seen. It is a nice development from Ms McLeod's work collecting, curating and writing about women's fabric crafts in early 20th century New Zealand. Each doll is exquisitely detailed with shoes, bags, dresses, coats, hats, jewellery, faces and flowing hair mostly using vintage materials. They cost $1600 dollars each and about half a dozen had red stickers by them.
  • The World From Above photos by Yann Artus-Bertrand at Waitangi Park. I've seen some of these photos before and loved them, especially the bales of cotton that look like hydrangas until you see the man sprawled on one of them and suddenly your sense of scale shifts. It seemed like hundreds of ariel photos were on display in the park, set up ingeniously to survive as a 24 hours/all weather exhibition. It was an overwhelming amount to look at and even though I whizzed round every image, I hope to get back there before it leaves to give the second half the attention it deserves.
  • Len Lye's latest posthumous work, the Water Whirler. I was lucky to happen by in time for one of the hourly performances because when it's not going you wouldn't know it's there. On the hour though, the pole on a platform in the harbour starts to gyrate and spray water in wonderful patterns. It was gorgeous in the sunlight, and I expect would be even better by night.
  • New Light Through Old Windows, ceramics by Lucy Green at Roar! Gallery. Roar! is a showcase for outsider art which can all too often (in my experience) mean not-very-well-realised/conceptualised art. But this little show was charming, clever and satisfying. Plinth-top villages of little ceramic buildings glow invitingly through tiny windows, evocative of lamps at the end of a journey through snow or desert. Since I am trying to figure out internal lighting for books-in-the-making I was interested to see how Ms Green lit her works. From what I could tell, she is sticking christmas lights through holes in the plinths. Not going to work for me, but it certainly works for these pieces.
  • I also saw a selection of photographs by contemporary New Zealand photographers at Pataka, which included one of my favourite photographs ever. Wilhelmina Bay, Antartica by Anne Noble is divided in half horizontally. Above is the shining, awesome, barren splendour of Antartic coast and silver sea, juxtaposed below is the dark, wet deck of a cruise ship with mundane white plastic chairs arranged around tables spread with linen and jugs of water. An image as mind blowing (to me) as the best of Yann Artus-Bertrand. (For a selection of other Anne Noble photos of Antartica, look here).
  • I admit, I have a thing for Antartica so seeing the little ceramics show at the Hirschfield Gallery by Raewyn Atkinson was also very pleasing. Delicate white casts of tin cans and other objects evoke the early Antartic expeditions with rust coloured text and images transferred onto the ceramic surfaces. To enter the gallery you had to crunch across a band of broken china, like icy snow, entering an alien environment.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Lovely bones

I am enrolled in a 3-D art class which I am enjoying hugely, casting 3-D tissue papier mache into plaster moulds. I had been thinking about casting handmade paper to make some planned works but as soon as I got to the class and saw the tissue papier mache I knew what I really wanted! It has this wonderful bone-like appearance: creamy and slightly translucent, light and strong. I guess it also looks like shell or parchment or other light creamy translucent substances, but it is as bone that it resonates for me.

My facination with bones has its origins in my long slow healing from RSI/OOS, years in which the most effective relief seemed to come from oestopathy. During that time I learned a lot about my spine, and my pelvis and hips, particularly the vertebrae where my troubles radiated out from. I didn't stop suffering relapses however, until I sought treatment and learning from healers who could work with and articulate the links between the physical, spiritual, emotional and mental bodies as well. And then I had to be willing to transform my life completely in response to what I learned before I could consider myself healed.

Transformed into a book artist, I found myself collecting small bones when ever I found them: birds, possums, fish. I wanted to incorporate bones into my work, but have been frustrated by the limitations of working with real bones (too small, to delicate, too few, not human-ish enough to express my relationship with my own skeleton). In tissue papier mache I think I have finally found a material which will enable me to make books about my bones and their teachings.

Google Mirror

I was looking for information about Heidi Kyle's Mongolian book structure, mentioned recently on the Book Arts List Serve . I Googled "Heidi Kyle" and in the first ten links found (oh joy of joys) a link to this post here on Bibliophilia from last year! Since Heidi Kyle doesn't seem to have her own webpage, and only one other of the top ten links had any substantial link to her I'm quite excited that searchers for Heidi (a well known and highly respected book artist) might stumble onto my blog.

This inspired me to check what's happening when you Google "Meliors Simms" these days. Last time I looked it was still a depressing two or three pages of links to past lives (bureaucracy and activism) before a committed searcher might come across my website and blog. But sometime in the past few months my book arts activities have moved up the search engine. Now though, my sadly neglected proper website pops up at the top of the google page, and then a link to Bibliophilia is second down. It's a small thrill, but a thrill nonetheless.

Later... an anonymous commenter reminds me that googling one's own name is called 'ego surfing'. I used to think it was a shameful pastime, but after arriving in a new work place where everyone in the office had checked out me out on the internet before I got there, I decided I really needed to know what other people could find out about me, to be at less of a disadvantage.

Because I have a unique first name and because I have been relatively active over many years in ways that have left countless links that I think I am a little easier to track down than Mary Smith. There are no false leads if you google my full name, it's all me. Fortunately, I'm pretty sure there is nothing too shameful to be found, just the archeological remains of politics, philosophies, careers and activites that I am no longer so committed to as I once was. And, at the risk of sounding even more defensive than I feel, I consider ego surfing part of my market research, since my internet profile is currently my most significant marketing tool (underutilised as it is). It's a relief to know that finally google has got up to date with my book arts business.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Census Night

Tonight is Census Night in New Zealand. Here are some excerpts and explanations from my completed form.

Ethnicity: Other: Pakeha.
I am proud to identify my ethnicity as Pakeha. Like Maori, it is an ethnic identity unique to New Zealand (ie non-Maori New Zealander). Being Pakeha claims this country as my home, and this evolving, challenging, interesting culture we share and negotiate into existance as my own. (NB contrary to some spam I received this week, 'New Zealander' is not an ethnicity, it is a nationality- an equally artificial construct as ethnicity is, but with a different meaning).

Religion: Jewish
Last census there were (I think) about 8,000 Jews in New Zealand. In the past I've hesitated before finally checking this box, as I felt my Jewish identity was cultural, political or ethnic rather than religious. And my spirituality was a masala of too many elements to really fit into the Jewish religion box. But in the past five years I've joined a synagogue and thus become part of a Jewish religious community. And in the process, my spirituality has continued to evolve into and through Jewish practice. I still have strong JuBu (Jewish-Buddist) tendencies, but now I have not a jot of hesitation of ticking the Jewish religion box.

Income in the past 12 months: $5,000-$10,000
And I suspect I am erring on the generous side of my estimate. The upside of so little income is (I hope) very little tax! A very small proportion of my income has come from artist's books, even though that is what I mostly work at. The previous year's income was at least 5 times greater, and I saved half of it- so that's mostly what I have lived on for the last year.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Plan drawers

I'm sorry to have been neglecting my blogging duties but the imperatives of harvest have been absorbing a lot of time since my homecoming. This weekend I have harvested and/or preserved a large crate of basil (into pesto), a small crate of blackboy peaches, a bucket of capsicums and a litre or two of tomato sauce.

And in between that we've been moving furniture around to make room for the plan drawers I bought over a month ago from a guy who is shifting to South Africa. The drawers have been making very slow and laborious progress from the trailer to the back porch to the hallway and finally today into my studio, displacing the big wooden wardrobe which in turn displaced the big wooden chest of drawers in the bedroom.

I had some fantasy of painting the drawers before installing them but that just hasn't been practical. It might yet happen but in the meantime they are pig ugly: institutional grey enamel which has been variously attacked with strips of cellotape, rust, and since coming into my possession a sander and rust treatment stuff (that was when I still harboured illusions that painting them was going to happen soon).

But I didn't buy the drawers to be beautiful (if I wanted beautiful I would have held out for wooden drawers). I bought them to keep my paper flat and safe and tidy. Since the wonderful gift of lots of paper and card from Eleanor my precarious approach to paper storage under the bed- always somewhat dodgey- has become untenable. The stack now reaches to the bed base and pulling the pile out and sorting through to find what I want has moved from high risk to inevitable damage. The ugly drawers will do the necessary job of keeping them safe and tidy and sorted. And right now that's all that really matters.

Thursday, March 02, 2006


Aaahhhh, what a relief to be spending my first day at home in ten. Too much time away from where ever I call 'my place' and I start to lose track of myself, my soul, my being, my happy, my place on the planet, my goodness, my hope and no amount of fun, meditation, exercise, focus, food, or friendship is enough to compensate. Coming home, staying home, being here at last, enables my soul and my body realign in a long sigh of relief.

My usual toxic response to not being home for any length of time is exacerbated by crossing time zones. Fortunately I haven't been that far in the last 10 days (just Tauranga, Hamilton, Pekapeka and Paraparaumu). But I wrote about jetlag in one of my earliest artist's books, Dislocation. Here's an excerpt if you haven't got your own copy yet (I've still got eight left of an edition of 30, at only $100 for blog readers who email me before the end of March).

"...Oh we are torn from ourselves
by jet planes
crossing the date line.
I have left a little ghost in each time zone,
How to ingather my scattered selves from seven airports?
I call myself home
to turangawaewae.

Each breath of this air
stitches my selves back together
pulling them in like
beads on a string
until we are all lined up
and can be fixed here and now..."

(Turangawaewae is a Maori word which in this context means home-place.)