Office Tetris – The Iso-Posts #5

The simplest of dinners – sourdough rye, home grown salad and fresh home made sausages

As promised in yesterday’s post, here’s a pic of the finished meal and it was delicious. I was really pleased with the sausages – flavour and texture were perfect!

Today has been a day of choices, discoveries and some sadness.

I’d only realised last week I was out of seed of my favourite endive “Bionda a curore pieno” and ordered a packet online from The Italian Gardener along with Lettuce Leaf Basil for next spring/summer. That prompted me to check stocks of other seed and do a top up with my local suppliers, Seed Freaks. They specialise in open-pollinated and heirloom varieties and I’ve had tremendous success with their seeds.

Anyway, after my morning feeding of the beasts and chili/basil check, I was picking veggies for tonight’s dinner and weeding the silverbeet. There I discovered a clump of self seeded endives pushing up through the straw and I imagine there’s a few Bionda in there. This is one of my favourites – it’s tangy flavour and great texture add so much depth to winter salads. The extra seeds coming in the post won’t go astray, I’ll just plant a few more ūüôā

Later in the morning, I decided to tackle the shoe-box that is my office. It’s served as my music rehearsal space and teaching area, sewing room, writing den and main library for over a decade – effectively three rooms crammed into a tiny space barely big enough to swing a cat! It was high time to rearrange things so I can add more bookcases and start making some hard choices about how to both make the best use of the space and discard bits and pieces I’ve had boxed up in there for what seems like forever.

I found photographs of friends, some of whom are no longer alive, cables (so many cables!), old guitar strings, jars of beads that I meant to restring, demo recordings, little cards from my son when he was small and festival programs going back years. I started to feel a sadness that life is never really going to be the same again, and uncertain about what the future might hold for people like me in the creative industries.

It was more that a little overwhelming. But I also acknowledge there’s nothing at all I can do about it but reorganise my space – internally and externally – keep going and make the best of what I have and what I’m capable of doing. It was wonderful to fit in the new/old bookcase, and realising I could fit a box of my fabric stash on top was a bonus. Certainly like playing Tetris, moving things from one room to another, but incredibly satisfying that it fitted (just!) and made me feel like I’d achieved something important by getting it all to work.

From the crammed shelves of my main film library to the wide open spaces of that empty bookshelf – with a box of fabric for good measure!

Despite my generally upbeat nature, I think it’s important and healthy to acknowledge when I feel down or sad. Sometimes in the past I’ve repressed those feelings with spectacularly awful results – I think it’s like that for most of us. So please don’t be afraid to talk about your fears or sadness with people who matter – and I believe we all matter!

It’s definitely colder today but I’ll leave you with this little image, one I see every morning – the silhouette of a small, grey cat who likes to sun himself on our east-facing doorstep while I’m getting ready to feed him breakfast ‚̧

 

Sausages! – The Iso-Posts #4

Despite everything that’s going on right now, I personally feel I have a lot to be grateful for. I have a secure roof over my head, plenty of food, the most practical person on the planet to be in isolation with (aka He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Listened-To), a rich life of the mind, animals and gardening to keep me active, comparatively good health and a swag of friends and family around the world who like to check in with me via social media. In many ways I feel I’m doing this pretty easy.

Here in Hobart, the days are getting shorter and Daylight Saving finished today. This is traditionally the end of summer and the start of autumn proper – and today didn’t disappoint! It was much colder, and this morning there was even a dusting of snow on kunanyi/Mt Wellington but it was good to run around outside and feel the crisp air of proper autumn again. But with the onset of cooler weather comes less light and I for one, struggle with shorter days. We can all get through this, but only if we do it together. If you’re struggling, please say so. Reach out to family, friends and let them know you need to talk!

A few days ago a farming friend put out the call that he had fresh organic beef for sale and was prepared to make a delivery run to those of us in the greater Hobart area. We very gratefully said yes, it’s topped up the freezers and meant I don’t have to worry about shopping again for a while. So with a load of meat in the fridge, today we got creative and made sausages!

There was some venison I’d put aside for this plus a bag of pork back fat and a pouch of salted sausage casings that I bought some time ago for just such an occasion. (They will keep for up to two years in the refrigerator). After taking a guesstimate of how much of the casings we’d need, I cut a length off, soaked them in warm water for a couple of hours and trekked off into the garden to gather some fresh herbs. Returning with this lovely bouquet, I peeled some fresh Tasmanian Purple garlic, thoroughly rinsed the skins and set up the mincer that attaches to the front of my stand mixer.

When I used to make sausages years ago, I did the whole thing with a hand mincer and stuffed skins with an old caulking gun frame I’d rigged with a special food grade plastic tube. Living in the bush was peaceful but hard work – things like this used to take me the best part of a day. Today’s effort was relatively small (only a couple of kilos of meat in total) but took only about an hour to mince and stuff the casings. We opted for a fairly simple sage & garlic mix with the venison but went a little bit further with the beef, with lots of oregano, chili, garlic and smoked paprika for a more chorizo-style but without the traditional fermenting and curing.

The end product looks and smells great and I discovered that I haven’t forgotten how to do links! The test will be how they taste tonight with some home grown salad and a slice of rye sourdough.

And on cleaning out the mincer attachment, it looks like there’s enough for me to make a large sausage roll that’ll make a very nice lunch ūüôā

Meanwhile, there was a very disgruntled grey cat, who was quite upset he wasn’t invited in to taste test the sausage meat. Eventually though, all was forgiven and Neko curled up on a favourite chair with me to catch some afternoon sun.

Stay well everyone, and keep talking to each other over social media, text and phone calls – we can do this ‚̧

PS: Dinner was fabulous, the beef chorizo-style was suitably spicy and the venison sausages had all the warmth and depth without tasting gamey – I’ll put up a photo tomorrow ūüôā

Lazy Saturday – The Iso-Posts #3

I love Saturdays.

It doesn’t matter if they’re sunny and I’m in the garden or wet and miserable and I’m curled up on the couch, I just love Saturday at home.

Given our current circumstances, there’s no other place to be – and today’s been what my late father would’ve called a “pearler”. That is, a beautiful example of what a Saturday should be.

It’s been very grey and wet most of today, so this morning’s feeding of the animals was fairly rapid and required a heavy duty raincoat and my trusty steel capped gumboots. No planting for me today and I didn’t see my new friend over the back fence, but I did stop off in the greenhouse to do my daily basil and chili inspection. Pictured below is a most unusual fruit on a chili plant I grew from seed. Looking back through my notes, it’s named as a multicoloured Bishop’s Crown (Capsicum baccatum). It’s supposed to have a more blocky base and finish up a fresh orange red, but I’m not sure if it’s been mixed with something else.

Chilies are notorious for cross pollinating and serious seed collection means hand pollinating with a brush and enclosing flowers in mesh to avoid contamination. I’m never usually that fussy as I don’t sell plants or seed anymore but I’m very curious to see what this becomes as it ripens and (most importantly) what it tastes like!

Speaking of taste, we decided to do a full Super Saturday roast, and as I type, the rich, delicious aroma of roasting venison is wafting through the house. It’s been in the slow cooker since this morning with half a bottle of shiraz, a head of garlic, some dried chili from last year, a handful of button mushrooms and a bouquet of fresh thyme, sage and oregano. The joint is sitting above the rich liquid on a trivet of halved onion and carrot and it’s almost time to go and prepare some potatoes and carrots for roasting and finishing the meat off in the oven, while I make a sauce from the slow cooker. The smell is intoxicating!

This afternoon I indulged myself in some of my favourite Saturday things. I bought some books (online of course) from my local independent bookstore, Cracked & Spineless. I love this place so much and besides going to the cinema, I miss visiting Richard and the overflowing shelves and stacks, but he’s going to do a delivery for me sometime soon. Definitely an essential service in these strange days!

I depleted the bank account further when I discovered a heavy duty KitchenAid stick blender on special. It’ll be perfect for winter soups, making single smoothies, small batches of salsa, wet spice mixes and sauces – and far easier to clean up than my big food processor.

Finally, I started reading the new biography of New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and it’s pretty good so far. Ardern has certainly shown herself to be a compassionate and caring leader since she came to office! I’ll be reviewing it shortly for The Tasmanian Times and will put a link here when it’s published.

So, a lazy day of unusual plants, buying books and things for the kitchen, happily indoors out of the rain, reading a new book while anticipating a spectacular dinner. A pearler of a Saturday! The only thing that could’ve made today better is if there was proper Australian rules football on the radio or television. I miss my footy too.

What are you missing most? And what’s the first thing you’re going to do when things get back to normal?

Late afternoon and clearing skies

Making Friends Over the Back Fence – The Iso-Posts #2

Firstly, thanks for the public and private messages of support – it’s nice to be back writing again and rewarding to know that I’m not publishing into a vacuum! Secondly, I think I’m going to try and make this a daily writing practice for the next wee while to keep my skills up and to share bits and pieces such as movie reviews, gardening bits and pieces and any sage feline advice Neko might purr in my ear.

As I said yesterday, the weather here’s been really very mild for autumn and we had quite a lovely rain to top up water tanks and deep water gardens. I had to save some of the baby peas from drowning yesterday evening but still, the rain was welcome. The photo below is from my balcony, where I’ve had Egyptian Walking Onions and various salad greens over summer. Now I’m starting to strip the boxes for quick brassica crops plus spinach and corn salad for winter eating. The seed cubes are powering thankfully, full of endives, spinach, beets, red orach and more silverbeet. These will be the last greens I’ll raise outside until late winter/early spring.

In the greenhouse (apart from talking nicely to the still unripe chilies) I’ve been forcing on brassica seedlings that I hope to plant out in the next few days. The photo below shows the last dozen cabbages, a late season English Savoy. It’s a little late to be planting these but I’ve been waiting for them to show roots at the bottom of the tubes before putting them out. I plan to cover them with soda bottles (cut in half and with air vents) to make a mini greenhouse and force some more growth for at least a couple of weeks.

vegetable seed raising

English Savoy cabbage seedlings (note the basil still powering on!)

This morning, while I was inspecting the bed I want to plant these cabbages in, I heard a window open across the back fence. Despite having such a big and diverse urban farm (it’s about the size of a standard house block), I live surrounded by units, mostly occupied by students from the University of Tasmania, which is five minutes walk from my front door. I waved and shouted hello to one of the ground floor tenants, a fellow I’d seen a couple of times before. We chatted about the pandemic and how it was (and wasn’t) affecting us and we realised we were both on daily medication and had good supplies of our prescription meds. Immediately, we each offered to help one another out if necessary. I didn’t even think to ask his name but he knows I come down to feed our animals twice a day rain, hail or shine and he promised to ask if he needed anything and offered the same to my household. He told me he’s got the internet and his study but he has no view except across our yard and he enjoys hearing the chickens (who are being very lazy and not laying much at the moment). I’ll be picking extra fresh salad tomorrow and putting it over the fence for him ūüôā

Stay safe, stay home and be kind everyone – we’re all in this together. I’ll see you tomorrow ‚̧

Self Isolationist Life – Notes From the Back Rows – The Iso-Posts #1

Reflection of sunrise from my backdoor

I’ve been in self isolation for over two weeks because of the COVID-19 pandemic (I have multiple risk factors) but that doesn’t mean I’ve been sitting here twiddling my thumbs! Sadly, I haven’t written anything for weeks, so forgive me regular readers! I’ve been a little preoccupied what with one thing and another. Despite being at home, I’ve found myself incredibly busy, and by the end of the day I’ve been too tired to do much of anything.

It’s autumn here in southern Australia, though the weather has mostly been balmy these past weeks. In fact, it’s been so warm, basil plants are still putting on new growth in the greenhouse and I’ve taken to knocking off any new flowers on the chilies while waiting (impatiently, I admit) for the Habaneros to ripen.

I made a batch of fermented hot sauce last month and I’ve got another jar underway at the moment. This ridiculously simple recipe has become something of a staple here over the last couple of years and it’s perfect anywhere you’d normally use tomato sauce. If you’re interested in the recipe, it’s here in a blog post from a couple of years ago.

Meanwhile, I’ve been going gang-busters in the kitchen making stock for the freezer, something I like to do every autumn in preparation for the colder months. But family members went hunting just before I locked down so I had to find room for venison roasts and even more stock – it was like playing Tetris with the freezer! I resorted to reducing some of it down so I could fill ice cube trays with incredibly rich, condensed stock. I anticipate one cube will be enough to feed four!

It’s been equally busy in the garden, planting out a bed of garlic, loads of seeds for winter salad (spinach, brassicas, mache/corn salad, endives etc) and trays of peas and broad beans for late winter/early spring cropping. Yesterday I was trying to liberate the cabbages, beetroot and caulifowers from their layer of living mulch (aka weeds) when I pushed a little too hard and I’ve found myself today with very sore hands, a mark of the arthritis that always comes with the end of summer. Thankfully, it’s been raining today so I couldn’t have done anymore even if I’d wanted too!

Instead, I’ve rested up, done lots of stretching exercises, dipped a little into social media, watched some YouTube videos, played with the cat (who also thought it too wet to be in the yard) and called a former fellow student who’s up in NSW. We’ve never met in person (yet!) but it was lovely to chat about families, writing, gardening, putting food by and the joys of modern technology in these days of lockdown.

I DO miss going to the cinema and will be at The State as soon as they reopen but in the meantime, I’m enjoying watching movies online, catching up on reading and getting the garden ready for winter. It’s my hope that we’ll come out the other side of this difficult time with a greater appreciation for the things that matter and a willingness to tackle other important issues as a community.

In truth, I’ve really begun to think of my life and natural introversion as my greatest superpower (talking underwater is the other one, thanks for asking!) After six years of online study, an urban farm to deal with and a predilection for home grown/cooked/made cuisine, I don’t feel put out by being at home. Rather than “shut in”, I feel “safe” here at home.

Talk with you all soon. Meanwhile, stay safe friends and be like Neko (aka Lord & Master, aka The Cat Who Came to Stay) – stay home ‚̧

Lord and Master, Neko in his cat igloo

The Balloon

The Balloon (1956)

Directed by Yuzo Kawashima. Screenplay by Shohei Imamura and Yuzo Kawashima.

My favourite streaming service, MUBI have been doing a retrospective of Kawashima films the last few weeks and I hadn’t seen this one before.

Like much of Kawashima’s work, this black and white feature is a classic melodrama in the style of Powell and Pressburger or Douglas Sirk – that is, nuanced, complex, tragic but ultimately, uplifting. It concerns a successful camera manufacturer in post-war Tokyo and his family – adult rakish son, disabled but lovely daughter and his dutiful wife form his household. This is juxtaposed by the son’s mistress (who befriends the disabled sister), a shady nightclub owner (who knows the parents) and the femme fatale, who sings in the nightclub and becomes the son’s new lover. Complex, right? It gets better. The father once lived in Kyoto and returns there on a business trip, meeting the daughter of the family who helped him in a time of great need, immediately after the war, and he starts to dream of better days and a better future.

It doesn’t look much on paper, but Kawashima manages to pull all the threads of this most complicated narrative together in a way that is simply beautiful. Straddling the old and new ways of life, this is a film that looks back with regret but looks forward with hope. The framing and photography are lovely, much improved from his previous film Till We Meet Again¬†(1955) and the script is surprisingly lean, yet gives opportunities for each of the characters to shine.

The delicate balance of gender and generational difference (a feature of Kawashima’s oeuvre of this period) is on full display here, and the ending is just gorgeous. I can’t believe I hadn’t seen this film before!

Recommended for anyone who has an interest in Japanese cinema, film history or just enjoys a complex, well-told story.

Parasite

Kang-ho Song, Ik-han Jung, Hyun-jun Jung, Joo-hyung Lee, Ji-hye Lee, Sun-kyun Lee, Yeo-jeong Jo, Myeong-hoon Park, Keun-rok Park, Hye-jin Jang, Woo-sik Choi, Seo-joon Park, So-dam Park, Jeong-eun Lee, and Ji-so Jung in Gisaengchung (2019)

Parasite (2019)

Directed by Bong Joon Ho. Written by Bong Joon Ho and Jin Won Han from a story by Bong Joon Ho.

I finally got to see this in a local cinema recently and from all the chatter surrounding this since it debuted at Cannes in May 2019 I knew I was in for a treat.

In hindsight, I don’t think I was quite prepared for what a sheer delight this movie is.

I’d seen two of Bong Joon Ho’s previous works, the brilliant and thought provoking monster movie The Host¬†(2006) and¬†Snowpiercer¬†(2013), which didn’t really resonate with me. So I came to Parasite¬†with more than a little reticence. It’s occurred to me since that a) maybe I prefer his Korean language films and b) I need to watch more of Bong’s films!

From the opening title sequence, it is very clear this is a superbly designed, framed, filmed and edited work. All kudos to Production Designer Ha-jun Lee, DoP Kyung-pyo Hong and film editor Jinmo Yang for their stellar work. The original music by Jaeil Jung is minimal, unobtrusive and unlike so many films, never dictates audience reaction but only ever compliments the action on screen.

Essentially, this is the story of two families, one living in squalor and poverty due to some catastrophic business decisions by the head of the household and the other in a designer built house that becomes (through some elegant and precise framing techniques) another character in the movie. Core themes of class and the disparity between wealthy and poor are never far from view. The cast, led by the always excellent Song Kang Ho are exceptional and realistic, taking the story from laugh out loud hilarity to tense drama in literally the blink of an eye.

I’ve been lucky enough to see some great films this year,¬†Jojo Rabbit, 1917, Knives Out, Portrait of a Lady on Fire, The Lighthouse but¬†Parasite is going to be hard to better.¬†I unreservedly loved this movie – perhaps all the more because it’s in the original Korean. Although I watch a lot of films with subtitles, Parasite¬†isn’t as heavy on dialogue as many and would be a relatively easy watch for those unfamiliar with subs.

I would encourage every adult to go and see it in the cinema – don’t let the one inch barrier hold you back from a whole world of great cinema!

The Beast in the Jungle

 

The Beast in the Jungle (2019)

The Beast in the Jungle (2019)

Directed by Clara Van Gool. Written by Glyn Maxwell and Clara Van Gool

This debuted at the Rotterdam International Film Festival in 2019 and is an imperfect yet quite daring take on the Henry James short novel of the same name. Van Gool is a well-known Dutch director of television and short films and has a penchant for dance in her work. Here she uses professional dancers Sarah Reynolds and Dane Jeremy Hurst to play the leads. The story concerns May Bartram and John Marcher and John’s obsession with the notion he is destined for something that is going to pounce upon him at any moment – like the titular beast in the jungle.

The film is beautifully framed and shot in muted tones by DoP, Richard Van Oosterhout and the opening act in particular reminded me of Merchant Ivory films, such as Maurice (1987) and A Room With a View (1985). The production design by Rosie Stapel and Diana van de Vossenberg works brilliantly here too. These scenes gave me a distinct feeling of melancholy, very similar to the novella, which I found a positive sign.

But Van Gool and Maxwell’s script brings the protagonists into the 20th century while maintaining the same muted colouring, which gave these scenes a very drab feel. I can see how this would fit with the source text, the unrequited love and overarching sadness but the bouncing back and forth is confusing for the audience and does little to propel the story. A far better recent example of this technique would be Greta Gerwig’s wonderful¬†Little Women¬†(2019)

The dance elements of the film are probably its best feature. Reynolds and Hurst might not be the greatest actors delivering lines, but through their bodies provide all the longing, uncertainty and pure physical attraction of this most chaste of love stories. At 87 minutes, it isn’t an overly long film but I felt the story wasn’t strong enough to carry a feature length work.

Van Gool’s experiments with temporal shifts often don’t play out well but I can understand why she tried this. It’s another example of risk-taking in film to try and find a new way to visually tell a story – and for that I applaud her!

Ether

Eter (2018)

Ether (2018)

Written and directed by Krzysztof Zanussi.

This is the latest release from Polish auteur, Krzysztof Zanussi and is an interesting, and at times, quite disturbing watch.

Without spoiling the movie – all this happens in the first 10 minutes – this is a retelling of the Faust story, starring Jacek Ponidzialek as a doctor totally committed to science, who is experimenting with ether in early 20th century Russia. When one of his experiments (and attempted rape) goes wrong and the subject dies, he is sentenced to hang. This is commuted at the last moment to exile and he ends up as doctor to a garrison in the remote edges of the Austro-Hungarian empire. Here the doctor continues to experiment and be fascinated by ether and its effect on his subjects.

The big takeaway for me was how beautiful this movie is and how that is juxtaposed by the doctor’s increasing fascination with control and his spiral into madness. DoP Piotr Niemyjski has done stunning work here, as have Production Designer Joanna Macha and Costume Designer Katarzyna Lewinska. The visuals are simply sumptuous and framed in many instances like a painting. This also offsets some of the more grisly aspects of the film and the increasing tension as Europe heads towards WW1.

However, this takes risks with the narrative that I’m not sure a lot of 21st century audiences will get. For me, the doctor becomes too much a mad scientist and a thoroughly unappealing lead I felt no sympathy for. While this is no fault of Ponidzialek who does well with what he’s given and brings moments of complexity, my lack of sympathy made me feel increasingly distanced from the film – I was never truly immersed in it as I have been with some of Zannusi’s earlier works (in particular the 2000 release Life as a Fatal Sexually Transmitted Disease). And I found the ending a little over-blown and unnecessary – I’d already worked out who was pulling the strings – but maybe that goes over the heads of people not familiar with Goethe.

It’s flawed and some of the risks don’t pay off but I’d always rather watch something that dares to take a chance. For the cinematography alone, this is certainly worth watching.

The Lighthouse

Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson in The Lighthouse (2019)

The Lighthouse (2019)

Written by Robert & Max Eggars. Directed by Robert Eggars.

As anyone who comes here regularly would know, I watch a lot of movies. Sometimes they are perfectly fine while up on the screen but don’t stay with me, and within hours I need to refer to notes made in the cinema to jog my memory into writing a review. Not so with Robert Eggars’ latest film – I found it truly memorable and cannot stop thinking about it!

The Lighthouse is many things, which makes it difficult to adequately describe without giving away massive plot spoilers – which I have no intention of doing. Suffice it to say, I found this seemingly simple story of two men alone in a lighthouse a riveting cinematic experience that becomes increasingly complex and deep. From the opening scene, this is a film that demands your full attention and becomes (at times) uncomfortably intense.

Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson star in this two-hander and both are excellent. I’ve come to expect this of Dafoe, who never disappoints, but Pattinson is extraordinary here and has become an actor of depth and serious value. There is surprisingly little dialogue between them but that is delivered with intent and tension. For a relatively quiet film, it’s very loud, with superb diagetic sound and a score that weaves through this isolated and desolate world.

For film nerds (like me), the movie was shot on 35 mm black and white film stock, using vintage Baltar lenses, which required much stronger lighting for the interior scenes, creating deeper contrasts and also forcing the almost square 1.19:1 (or Movietone) aspect ratio. This makes so much of the film ultra close up and at times, downright claustrophobic despite being so isolated. There are many seemingly small things like this that combine together to make this film a cinephile’s delight – the haunting sound design, the very specific dialects used by the actors, the atmospheric score by Mark Korven, the brilliant cinematography by Jarin Blaschke, and the superb editing by Louise Ford. All combine together to make a truly memorable cinematic experience.

Narratively, the story was drawn initially from an unfinished work by Edgar Allen Poe and a real-life incident from an early 19th century Welsh lighthouse. But at its heart, I think this has more in common with Greek tragedy – particularly Proteus, the prophetic sea god and Prometheus, the trickster who stole fire from the gods and was punished so horribly. Set in the late 19th century, this is a period piece that doesn’t exclude modern viewers. There are strong themes of the performative nature of work and masculinity, which are relatable audience entry points and become so very obvious as the layers of social norms are stripped away from the characters and their true natures revealed. And above all, the lighthouse – which almost becomes a character itself, in all its intense and claustrophobic isolation.

At times,¬†The Lighthouse¬†is a hard watch and if you’re not a fan of being challenged by a piece of cinema, I cannot recommend it to you. However, if you like horror that is cerebral as well as visceral, you’ve come to the right place. If there is a fault, it is a little over-long with a running time of 109 minutes, but I wonder now if that was intentional. Like Eggars’ previous feature, The Witch (2015) there are questions posed that are never answered. The existential horror at the core of this drama is arguably something that exists in all of us and here, Robert Eggars in concert with his excellent cast and crew, gradually peel away the artifice of societal expectations to reveal that dark heart.

The Lighthouse¬†is currently in (relatively) wide release across Australia and I’d like to thank Monster Fest for the opportunity to see and review it.

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