Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Good Earth and the need to get past talking about food

So I've now read The Good Earth by Pearl S Buck.  I don't know what the 'S' stood or stands for, but obviously Mrs Buck thought it was important.  I can't call her "Pearl" because really she is an author of stature and old and dead to boot, and I keep thinking of the song "Pearl's a Singer" which isn't quite seemly.

I liked the cadences of the prose.  Really, I did have such a pretentious thought.  I like how it has a fable-like quality which I have decided is because of all the Bible saturation which Pearl S Buck, daughter of a missionary, experienced.  I quote:
"Men labored all day at the baking of breads and cakes for feasts for the rich and children labored from dawn to midnight and slept all greasy and grimed as they were on rough pallets on the floor and staggered to the ovens the next day, and there was not money enough given them to buy a piece of the rich breads they made for others." (p.113)
It reads like the Bible to me.  And funnily enough it is about food. 

Food and inequality.

Shall we talk some more about food?  It's only the most popular topic of conversation since the Beatles, and in case you were making assumptions about me being of advanced age on the basis of me ranting a lot, I would point out that I wasn't even conceived when the Beatles were hot.

In the Sunday Star Times last weekend there was an article on how food has taken over from music as a marker of identity.  From the Rolling Stones to backyard pizza ovens - haven't we got raunchy?  Possibly, those boomers knew (know?) how to party better than we do.  Somewhere else this week I learnt (I was in the kitchen, so I suppose it was someone on National Radio) that cookbooks are the best selling type of book in New Zealand.

So, earlier in the week, I was up to the part in The Good Earth where Wang Lung and his wife and children are living on the edges of the city working every hour of day and night to try and get money to merely not die, and their great sustenance is that they are served rice in a queue every day by some benevolent rich person who is not so much benevolent as wanting to do 'good' deeds to buy a place in heaven in the next life.  Only at the breakfast table, I'm not reading The Good Earth because it doesn't work so well with constant interruptions about school uniforms and teeth brushing and unfed chooks and lunchbox demands and all that s-t-u-f-f.  I'm reading a book called 500 Paleo Recipes and the bit at the front where she discusses all the things wrong with most foods I ever ate as a child or as a student and to a large extent now, and what super expensive substitutes should be used instead just strikes me as the sign of  (cue another pretentious statement - that's two tonight already) the decline of civlisation. 

We have a world in which most people cannot manage to feed themselves and their families adequately on any kind of food, a world where even in New Zealand a huge number of households lack the means and confidence that they can provide nutritious and filling food for their families every day.  Yet every newspaper, every magazine stall, every library display, every non-fiction book shop shelf, is CHOCK full of recipes and food fads and instructions on what is good food and bad food and really bad food and it turns out that mostly everything I ever liked is B-A-D.

Then I'm watching the film The Hunger Games and I discover that it's really good, not just the teen sensation I had assumed, and it reminds me exactly of the Roman gladiators and the links to our modern reality television are chillingly accurate.

And that's how I decide that the rich with their paleo diets (or insert whichever food craze you're into or noticing right now) are hideous manifestations of post-industrial, globalised inequality.  Meanwhile John Key is patting himself on the back because he's done a deal with Fonterra and Sanitarium to guarantee to grow their markets with no competition by funding their food in schools programmes (God forbid that any school be able to make its own choices about how it spends the food money).  I bore my own privileged daughter to deafness by telling her that there are children in our town, in our country, who are going hungry right now.

But it turns out that there are more important things in my privileged, food-rich life than paleo or low carb fads (please let's not mention the word 'gluten', ever), so one of my non-paid jobs this week is to write a letter to our local council to get a rule change so that no one can wander around our swimming pool topless with a large swastika (visible from the other side of the pool complex) tattooed on his chest.  So easy to think it couldn't happen here, but I figure that is how things took hold in Germany at the beginning of Hitler's campaign. 

Monday, May 20, 2013

perfect weekend

This is what the trees look like in paradise.  First I spent the day reading and finishing Claire Tomalin's Mrs Jordan's Profession.  I loved it.  I found myself thinking about the biographer easily as much as Mrs Jordan.  Mrs Jordan was the mistress of William IV, and bore him ten children, living as his de facto partner for many years before he rudely got rid of her in response to the advice of his royal advisors.  She was also a superb and very famous actress, both before, during and after her relationship with William (the Duke of Clarence while they were living together).  She was born in 1761 and was on the stage from the age of 14.    She worked through all of her pregnancies (13 live children and still more miscarriages) and was back on the stage within a month of giving birth.  Tomalin, herself a very interesting woman, often draws explicit links between modern day parenting and Jordan's effective parenting and caring skills.  I'm keen to read more of Tomalin's work.

Then on Saturday night I went to Barrytown with a friend to see Rachel Dawick and Jon Saunders in their concert 'Boundary Riders'.  Great music and great stories and great company.

Come Sunday, I was ready for more wonderfulness and so Brighid and I took Mary K (86) to the Sunday Market.  Persons in fashionable parts of the country might be forgiven for not understanding what a significant achievement it is that we finally have a flourishing weekend market.

Then in the afternoon my lovely family and I went for a walk on the latest part of the cycleway.  Where I took the photo of the cabbage trees as pictured above.  It was all so good that I even came home and made hummous and chocolate cake for school lunches.  Budget fortnight requires planning for home made lunches every day.  Swimming lessons, dancing lessons, kung fu classes, cubs and hockey fees and subs have arrived at once.

Now I am off to read The Good Earth by Pearl S Buck.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

fripperous news. not in pink.

So I went to the hairdresser's yesterday, where they had NZ House and Garden.  My novel stayed in my bag while I flicked through the magazine instead, and fell for the red lino in the photo above.  One day, I'm having red lino in the kitchen.  A few years ago, also at the hairdresser's, I found the perfect nautical blue colour for painting the kitchen walls.  Both together might not quite work, but budgetwise I'm pretty safe from a making a hasty and regrettable decision any time soon.

In other fripperous news (fripperous may not officially be a word, but it should be), I bought two ready made items of clothing last week.  I'm wearing the emerald green hoodie top and it's comfy and I've been wanting something emerald green for a zillion days and now I have one.  I've just been altering the skirt as acording to the pattern drafting of the skirt, I have a ridiculously sway back.  Doing the alteration was faster than sewing a skirt, though buying the skirt on 30% discount was more expensive than buying fabric and sewing it, though maybe not because I've never seen the stretchy denim-look fabric for sale before...

Tomorrow is pink shirt day according to a notice at work and I'm forced to admit that I have no idea where my pink cardy is.  I expostulate on irresponsibility and fecklessness for ages if my children lose clothing, which is why I haven't told anyone them, or their father, that I may have lost the brightest and least lose-able piece of clothing I own.  Apparently if we wear pink shirts, bullying will decrease.  Unable to perform such a clearly powerful act, I will have to find some other way of upping the love and downing the hate in my neck of the rainforest.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

hockey dinner

8.25am Climb in car in dressing gown.  Deliver husband and children to work and school.
8.40  Get dressed.  Hang out washing.
9.00  Turn slow cooker on high. Slice two onions, and three carrots and put in slow cooker.  Roughly chop one black pudding, one white pudding and three chorizo and put in slow cooker.  Pick four bay leaves from tree outside and add to slow cooker, along with some red lentils, a tin of tomatoes and some water.  Stir it up and put the lid on.
9.15  Eat leftovers from last night's dinner for breakfast (noodles and stir fry).  Put a pear and a banana in a bag to take to work for the rest of breakfast.  Clear table of breakfast things, and remove the laundry the laundry monsters scatter through the house.
9.40  Drive to work.  Do busy work things at work.
2.00pm  Drive home.  Drive back to childminders to drop off hockey gear.  Drive back home.  Bring washing in.  Pick kale from garden.  Washed and chop the kale and add it to the slow cooker.  Stir.  Turn slow cooker down to low.  Make sandwich for lunch and eat it.
2.40  Go back to work.  Prepare for meeting.  Have meeting.
4.55  Try and remember where the car is.  Drive round to hockey.  Talk to fellow parent about the sins and iniquities of homework.  Collect husband and son and take them home.
5.15  Collect daughter from childminder.  Admire her artwork.  Unload car of bags and sticks and artwork.
5.30  Dish up dinner. It tastes great.  3/4 of us like it, and even the fourth person deigns to eat some of it.  Even after seconds, there is enough for another meal.
6.15  Husband and son and daughter go to kung fu.  Put more washing on.  Iron some shirts.  Knit.  Enjoy the peace.

This morning I was reading a conversation about writing.  One person observed that you only write when you have something to say.  A fortnight ago a friend observed to me how very bourgeois blogging is, and akin to 18th century foppishness.  I'm not so keen on either interpretation.  If I wait until I have something important to say, I might wait forever.  I'm also unconvinced how useful it is to decry blogging as bourgeois.  Speaking, thinking and writing are crucial features of a democracy, and blogging provides a platform where anyone who has access to the internet can speak, think, write.  The big gun journalists know they have a place in our text world.  All I am doing today is charting my day through my project to make sure we eat well, and as close to 5pm as possible (full tummies and kung fu aren't the perfect mix).  Another person charts their political awareness, someone else charts their baby's first steps, or the new dress they made, or the band they went to see last night, or the artwork they made, or the rally for gay rights they attended, or the injustice they see.  Of course they might be bourgeois pursuits, some more than others.  But they are people naming their reality in written words, and that, from a cultural and democratic viewpoint, is valid.  We can weed out what we personally want to read, but not discourage anyone from the act of writing and sharing.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Food matters, most importantly if you don't have enough

This morning was lovely.  For starters, I slept in.  Next, my husband and lovely children all hugged me and wished me happy mothers day.  This is especially touching considering they did it all two weeks ago.  There's no Mother's Day advertising on National Radio and we don't have a telly, so somehow I got my dates wrong.

At some point in my deliciously lazy Sunday morning, I checked my email and facebook, and a friend had sent me a link to a Salon article on the politics of food and gender.  It's a very interesting article, but don't be fooled by the title:
"Is Michael Pollan a sexist pig?"  
I'd wager that Emily Matchar didn't choose any such title, or indeed the subtitle:
"Femivores" have made DIY domesticity cool. But critics who blame feminism for obesity and fast food have it wrong."
Matchar's analysis has, I suspect, been plundered for impact and sensationalism by the Salon editors, something which this rebuttal identifies.  Matchar quotes a number of people blaming feminism for the death of home cooking, even as she acknowledges that industrialised food precedes feminism.  It's baiting country, and she has to take the rap for some of it, not just the Salon editors.  I suspect there is an argument to be made that industrialised food made second wave feminism possible - first wave feminism was largely confined to women who could afford to pay someone else to do some of the domestic graft.

There are some fabulous parts to the original article by Emily Matchar.  I warmed to Peg Bracken, whom I'd never heard of before, immediately.  Apparently she published a book in 1960 called The I hate to cook book.  It included Skid Road Stroganoff, with instructions thus: “Add the flour, salt, paprika, and mushrooms, stir, and let it cook five minutes while you light a cigarette and stare sullenly at the sink”.  I don't smoke, and I mostly like cooking, but there is a kind of different lust for life in her revelling in disdain for cooking which I like.

When I say I mostly like cooking, I speak as someone who owns a dishwasher, has a partner who cooks at least once a week and does almost all the dishes, and can afford takeaways once a week.  It's a reasonable setup in my view (I do all the laundry, the school lunches and the food shopping and I'm at paid work 25-30 hours per week), but it's privileged compared to solo parents and many two parent households.  You don't have kids?  I have no sympathy.  Mostly, we're on the same playing field, but not on this one.  When you cook, no matter how much effort you have put into it, no one looks at it and all but spits on it, declaring it 'yuck' and vowing never to eat it.

Anyway, back to Matchar, slow food movements, organic free and happy pigs, and women finding that food matters and that it's worth lots of time and effort.  Matchar's article is an extract from her upcoming book Homeward Bound: Why Women are Embracing the New Domesticity, and she has interviewed lots of hip young women who like to make their own everything from scratch.  Good on her.  I love that women who have chosen to be at home with their children get a voice.  It started with the blogosphere, and when it's hitting the bookshelves in printed books by respected publishers (Simon & Shuster in Matchar's case), it's definitely a good thing.

But something which I don't see discussed anywhere, is what happens when the kids get bigger and the parents (we're talking about mothers here, really) go back to work?  I do understand that some people have large families and stay home for a long time.  I understand that for some people, made from scratch extends to home educating and that lasts for a long time.  I recognise that some women find what they really want to do during the small children era of their lives, and set up in business from home, writing craft books (see Tiny Happy) or teaching people to make everything from scratch (see Nourished Kitchen).

It's not hard to find articles about planning for having a first baby and how to be financially prepared.  Nothing much prepares you for all the other aspects, but plenty of authors make money from pretending.  Frankly, I'm a survivor.  I went years with bugger all sleep and balancing deep love for my kids with frustration that I could never go to the toilet on my own, and I'm here to tell the tale. I bought plenty of books, mostly in vain, in preparation for the first baby, and then a book about the second baby for the first baby.  If I'd had more, they would have just gotten lollies, I suspect.

But no one ever talks about what they learnt from being at home, which they take into the next phase of their life.  Let's put the kid things aside, though it's true that I learnt more about the pain of standing on lego than any medical textbook would bother to record.  I did learn how to make bread from scratch, even making my own sourdough starter.  I improved my gardening skills no end, particularly in regard to making good compost.  I learnt how to make laundry powder and laundry liquid.  I learnt to make meals without gluten.  I learnt how to maximise use of the slow cooker.  A bit later on, I learnt how to sew.  Sewing and the investigative toddler was mostly beyond me.  I learnt to budget and make money stretch for a range of different needs.  All this and more ... I realise it could all sound a bit twee. 

My current food learning curve is how to make the same ingredients work for a range of situations.  I'd love it if someone published a cookbook for me instead of me working it all out.  The recipe for having five minutes at 8am.  The one for twenty minutes at 2.30pm.  The one for an hour at 4.30pm.  The one for kids already starving and just in from sports practice at 5.15pm.  All from the same reasonably affordable ingredients and without much in the way of preservatives and transfats thanks.  I still have greens in the garden for putting in these meals, gardens which I dug from scratch and fertilised organically and learnt to make best use of when I was at home with my young children.  The laundry, in nice fluffy piles in the corner of the lounge while I type this instead of folding it, is washed in home made liquid which doesn't exacerbate Fionn's eczema, costs hardly anything, and which I learnt about whilst based at home.  Maybe there isn't a lot to say on this topic, and maybe there is.  I'd like to read how other hippy enthusiasts women have negotiated and reflected on the changes as their children grow and they rejoin the paid workforce either at all or with greater time commitment.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Me made reflections

There is no logo down the side of my blog for me-made-May this year.  Last year I put one up and then realised, rather pitifully, that I hadn't nearly enough home sewn or knitted clothes for a month's worth of wearing.

Nevertheless, I have entertained ideas of doing it anyway.  I've extended my home sewn wardrobe quite a bit in the last 12 months.  On the first day of May, I had my very favourite and certainly me-made polka dot skirt on by accident.  On the second day, which I think was when I realised that MMM had started, I was poorly and fragile and spent the entire time in my shop-bought jammies.  We are up to ten days of May, and I've jumbled through without much MMM design.  When I get ready dressed of a weekday morning, I'm thinking about the kids' lunches and what is coming up at work, not the provenance of my clothing.  I aim for clean, and anything else is a bonus.

Today, after kitting Brighid out in hockey gear (something called funsticks starts tomorrow morning), I stopped to do a home sewing errand - to buy more extra wide elastic to repair a favourite skirt.  MMM virtue went out the window not long afterwards.  Not content with propping up the local library by paying fines once more, I decided to prop up a local posh-ish clothes shop by trying half of their sale gear on while the kids checked out their toy box.  It's a good place, Wetville, toy boxes everywhere.  I bought an emerald merino hoodie.  Half price.  And a hoodie - running with the young crew this week.  I also bought a super stretchy denim look skirt which had 30% off - the kind with layers of sewing running round it so it looks like it's pieced together from strips of leftover fabric by people who can do this without ripples in the wrong places.  It's not as exciting as making my own things in terms of distinctive clothing, but it's a lot more conducive to having things to wear than waiting until I get more sewn at night. 

I'm stalled on the Pavlova wrap top.  I carefully used tailors tacks to transfer the pattern markings and then the first time I got it out to start actual sewing, I brushed away one lot of tacks thinking it was fluff on the fabric.  duh.  I don't suspect it of being a hard top to make, but it is conceptually quite different to anything I've made before, so my brain is shouting "hard!" whenever I think about sewing it.  But I'm not allowing myself to make the red and black checked circle skirt until the wrap top is complete (don't you people all have rules with yourself?), hence a break in all things sewing to knit.

I'm knitting Lala's Simple Shawl (look at this beautiful example on ravelry) in a variegated blue which I've been waiting to use for aaaages.  It was once a home spun and handknitted white jersey which was passed on to me.  White and my spillage of food not being ideal partners, I swapped my friend Megan for a grobag for her baby (who is now at school to give you some context) in return for her dyeing it blue.  I've had a few experiments with patterns and styles and none have worked.  La La is looking good though.  Photograph coming when the technology gods rise from their slumber, which is definitely not tonight.

Off to bed to read Mrs Jordan's Profession by Claire Tomalin.  It's most enjoyable so far.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Waihi Oratorio


I was all set to buy a bag off Felt.co.nz until I remembered about the mechanic's bill. So I found the inspiration and time to make a bag I've been contemplating for a long time.  The outer is red wool tweed which my sister gave to me after a trip to Wales. I boil-washed and dried it to get the strength I wanted. The inner fabric and the lace are from the wonderful collection my father in law gave me after my mother in law died. The inner fabric, red and blue hats on calico, was probably meant for dresses for my twin sisters in law more than four decades ago (I have the same version with green and blue hats as well). The beautiful lace is from my parents in law's travelling shopping trip through the traditional lacemaking towns of England. Even the toggle and the thread are from either my mother in law or grandmother in law's collection.  The pattern is from Tiny Happy.  Thanks Melissa for making this available online for us all to use - I've made this four times now.

The top picture is a better indication of the colour of the bag.  I'm really pleased with it.

Tomorrow the school holidays finish.  We've all had a wonderful time.  Last night we went to Blackball to watch the Waihi Oratorio, written by Paul Maunder with songs by Heather Fletcher.  It tells the story of the Waihi strike of 1912 and how it was brutally supressed and the strikers run out of town after one was killed.  It was an excellent performance, and good to attend something for May Day after a couple of years missing activities for health and family reasons.  We took the children and although they couldn't understand everything, they understood some things.  We'll be taking them again next time.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

polka dot pav





The polka dot circle skirt reveal.  These photos are taken at the end of a long day, full of fun, playing, cooking, socialising, and doing copious amounts of laundry.  It is made of cotton with a little stretch in it (not much, and not needed for this pattern).  I can see (we have no full length mirror at home, but the camera can do full length) that the polka dot socks are a little overkill with the skirt, but mostly I wear it with plain black long socks.

The pattern is Pavlova by Cake Patterns and I love it.  I have cut the top out in black merino.  Last week I bought some red and black checked fabric for another skirt, but I'm making myself do the top first.  I really like the top, I'm just in need of careful concentration for the sewing of a new style of top.

I love school holidays.  Love love them.  Especially days like today when the sun shines and the kids play with their friends and I get to make cake and have lunch with my friends at the same time.  Annabelle White's lemon sour cream cake rocks.

I've not seen much in the way of comment on pubs from green-local-ethical activists books and blogs.  But local ownership of pubs is much better for community finances and for the sense of community.  So I've been rather sad every time I drive past our local, recently closed due to the parent company being placed in liquidation.  Yesterday we received good news: a local couple, one of them Fionn's former league coach, have bought the pub and are going to start it up again in a couple of weeks.  I might still not be drinking myself, but there will be volunteers for buying local beer wares in our house (and fizzy and juice).  I'm hoping they run a chippie out of their kitchen on Friday and Saturday nights.  Walking to the fish and chip shop would be great.