The musings of a city chick hatching a plan for a move to a more spacious and rewarding life.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Marrakech and the colour pink

Recently the father of one of Elodie's friends said he thought Marrakech was like the poor man's version of India. Even though there is no where near the poverty in Marrakech that there is in India and it is quite obviously a place of very wealthy people, both foreign and local, I know what he means. It's something to do with the depth of culture as perceived by the visitor. I know that 5 days in a city hardly yields great insights or contacts into the deeper aspects of any place, but at a glance it seems to be a much simpler place. There aren't the contradictions, the variations and I guess the everywhere-ness of the people, all doing different things. Or maybe it's because half the population is, to a large extent, absent from all the interactions you have as a visitor.

Or maybe that's just because it's quite touristique. India is the whole country and Marrakech is just one city, but even so I can't think of an equivalent city in India that I visited that was as touristique. It's a bit like Venice, almost a theme park version of itself. Maybe if we had been in Fez we may have seen a more real Morocco.....

Anyway, it was still interesting. I would have found it more so if browsing the stalls in the souk wasn't such an effort. I can understand why they feel the need to pounce as the same products can be bought next door and next door to that and so on. If they let the shopper go, there's a high chance they'll lose them. I think a lot of people do go there to shop, it seemed like the main activity. That and drinking gallons of water, lounging in chic cafes where cold mist is sprayed over everyone at regular intervals.

I did quite get into bargaining after awhile. I'm sure we paid too much for some things and not enough for others. One man called us Jews under his breath and another called me a Berber. Which I think is some desert person lacking class and social grace or something like that! I think we were cursed as well by a man we bought tiles off. The prices for things ranged ridiculously for the same things, depending on where you were.

Maybe if I wasn't pregnant I would have been more adventurous and dug deeper. Now that I'm home I wish we'd bought a rug, but at the time the thought of being held hostage in one of those cavernous rooms enduring the endless parade of rugs was too much. Instead we just pottered around and bought silly things, most of which I could take or leave! I did buy some old keys to add to my collection of old keys which I quite like. And the tiles look like someone from a sheltered workshop made them, which is what we like about them.

Anyway, the food was good but not as good as I was expecting. We didn't go to fancy restaurants though so maybe that's where the creativity is. We ate at the markets a couple of times, avoiding the other tourists at the stalls with beautiful displays, opting instead to sit with the locals and eat unrecognisable things with our fingers. Simple food, quite delicious. We had goat's head one night, which I don't need to ever eat again I might add. It was tasty enough but the textures and the general look of the thing was a little unnerving. Couple that with the fact that the guy using his hands to cut up and pull apart the meat is also the same guy who handles the money and the meat being ladled out of the tangia looked far more appertizing. The locals at the food markets ate far smaller portions than the tourists I noticed. We often had seconds. Maybe we could afford to. I guess they eat bread with everything and that fills them up. And they eat eggs, there were plenty of egg stalls with people at them having a round bread with the middle gauged out and egg stuffed in.

We had a delicious soup for 3 dirhams, which is like 4 bucks. There were whole families eating that, which could hardly fill them up but.......I don't know, perhaps they have a big lunch. But more likely that's all they can afford. On the last night we had dinner at our riad which was cooked by the cleaner, Zora. She made a Moroccan salad which was delicious and something I shall definitely have to recreate. The main was the most enormous bowl of cous cous I have ever seen. It was topped with vegetables and a chicken poached in cabbage leaves. Enough to feed 4 people and we had one each. I have never felt so wasteful in my life as I ate more than was comfortable but barely scraped the surface.

Apparently whatever doesn't get eaten by us, the guest, is then eaten by the staff or someone else so it doesn't go to waste, but why does so much get made in the first place? That's why we didn't go to the fancy restaurants, as we read that the amount of food served was impossible to eat and I hate being in a country where I behave like a gluttonous tourist simply because it's been arranged that way.

Anyway, I've realised that even though I love Moroccan food, what I really love is food that has been inspired by Morocco. The people eat pretty simply for the most part. I'm sure when the festivities break out they must go nuts in the kitchen, but from what we could see at the markets the locals ate one thing at an everyday meal. Meat or vegetables or eggs. Not all of it together. And the reason I'm sure for the slow cooking tagines and tangias is the fact that at most butchers the meat is hanging unrefridgerated in the open air for the whole day. If I was a local woman I'd be going to the butcher first thing in the morning.

Enough of all that. Some photos:

There are versions of pink all over marrakech, which I think I noticed at the time. I must have as now practically every photo has pink in it. It's ironic that such a feminine colour should be so ubiquitous in such a masculine place.

Recycled banners used as shade

Great colours

It always pays to look up

There's always a lot of sitting around

Tim's eye for signage

The writing is beautiful



A typical street

Another one that is a little more refined

Sunday, August 8, 2010

I ate too much

This weekend has been very relaxing with a bit of funny thrown in. On Friday my friend Tamsin came up from Gippsland with a freshly knocked off rooster (and a half) that she had just done in herself and plucked. Stashed in her luggage with lemons and garlic and waved happily through the gatekeepers. It was for a birthday dinner for me seeing as I will be away overseas when I'm forced to declare myself no longer a 30 something. (What have been my achievements??! Are they significant enough?)

We (well mainly she) cooked a coq a vin type dish of Rooster in Red Wine from my Ripailles cookbook by Stephane Reynaud. A slightly daunting - but rewarding for those who are game - tome of traditional frenchy recipes from all over. Hearty stuff, nose to tail food, lots of cream and butter and all that. Anyway, we had to flambe the rooster with cognac whilst trying not to say 'sh*t, f*ck, sh*t' too loudly in front of Elodie, and which I definitely want to do again - the flambeing not the swearing! I thought I was generous with the herbs, but Tamsin makes the most bounteous bouquet garni I've ever witnessed in a pot! It is rather strange though, watching someone else cook in your kitchen. I thought my kitchen was rather well stocked with equipment and ingredients but after watching Tambo fussing around, I've realised that I need a bigger casserole pot, more saucepans generally, all my utensils are in the wrong spot and that I should definitely hide the Saxa salt when other people come over!

I imagined people who live on farms and collect eggs and hussle cows would have fond feelings for Saxa salt but it took her all of 30 seconds to ask casually, whilst staring away from the offending product, if by any chance I had any french salt. Yes, of course I do...... but what about the iodine? The madness? How will we stave it off if we use French salt all the time? Oh and the goiters, she said. Goiters? I didn't know that lack of iodine could bring on the goiters. I'm a Virgo, I get things by just thinking about them, I can't be thinking about Goiters! People can think what they like, I am not hiding that Saxa salt. But I think I will buy a pretty vessel for it to be disguised in so as not give off the impression that I have no culinary idea.

Anyway a bloke came over for dinner that we knew through friends but didn't really know. I was nervous beforehand and begging our mutual friend to come too, but they're busy about to have a baby any second so it was just the four of us. But we had a great night, the rooster was delicious and we had Tamsin's macerated prunes in brandy for dessert, made from her own french plums or something. I can be a social cripple and coward sometimes but there's something to be said for getting to know people in your own home. It's convenient and you have the added advantage of having all your treasures around to divert attention from or add further embellishment to who you might be. I definitely recommend it.

The Winery in Surry Hills

I've discovered that Elodie is a girl about town. I want her to have a life outside the city, but I think she may be a true city dweller. She knows most of the local cafe and shop people. She knows which butchers have red frogs stashed under the counters and how to wrangle a free chocolate from the guy at the checkout of the deli. "Does chocolate taste nice?" she asks innocently as if it's a rumour she's yet to confirm. Most of them fall for it and hand a small one over, all the while probably thinking what a stingy mother I must be.

On Saturday we had breakfast basked in glorious sun at Pieno which is next to The Winery on Crown St, Surry Hills. I had decided previously not to eat there as once I saw the coffee guy take out rubbish to the garbo bins outside and then head straight back in to make the coffees without washing his hands. But I've given in and decided to pretend that I didn't see that because if I really thought about it, I'd never eat anywhere.

Anyway, Elodie met a friend from preschool and they did the usual things, running around like maniacs leaving us in peace. It's always a joy to discover a friend for your kid when you are out. I'm more than happy to turn a blind eye and pretend I don't know her when she has a friend and she's bothering someone else! It was when I looked over at Lodie and her friend huddling together comparing games on their parents iPhones while the little brother in a high chair was yelling out " I want my coffee! " that I thought that Lodie might actually be a city kid. And then I knew it to be so when she went missing for awhile and Tim found both her and her friend sitting at a table in The Winery, each with a glass of milk! I haven't even been there for a drink but my four year old has! And on the house! The place is always packed with everyone having a swish time and then there's Elodie who saunters in when the place is closed and orders her and a mate a glass of milk! God knows where she gets the nerve.....


Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Is this where I should live?

Why is timing sometimes so hard to get right?

Here I am committed to the idea of moving, in..... say a year to 18 months time. The Blue Mountains currently on top of the list. Tim is keen. We've been talking about the how's and why's and so on, slightly more earnestly than we have in the past. We're going to Europe in September and having a baby in December plus planning a renovation on the back of our terrace which we're really excited about. And what should happen?

The perfect (on the surface) property has come to my attention! In Medlow Bath. An old orchard sitting right next to the escarpment that is reminiscent of Provence or the Cevennes region in France. It appears to be everything I've been looking for. The only problem is I found it last Sunday and it's up for auction this coming Sunday. I have done a bit of research and it probably is just what we want, but I think it's too soon. And what's annoying about that is this is the first time it's been offered for sale in 45 years. Why now??? Why couldn't they wait till next year? I mean they don't need the money surely. It was long ago paid for....

It's a funny block of land as it's actually 2 titles. One with a house on the edge of the escarpment and also 31 acres of escarpment (who would need to own the bushland when you can just look at it anyway?) and one with the orchard only, no house. That's the one I want.

You can see the Megalong Valley through the trees. So a little drama in the landscape, that is a bonus...

Actually when I was 18, I worked in this orchard for half a day. The man who owned it (in his late 60's or early 70's at the time) opened the door to me and my father in his underwear! Now if I were my dad and I delivered my 18 year old daughter to this man (at the appointed time) and was presented with that, no way would I leave her. But apparently my dad was ok with this as happily drove off!

Before I even got out to white wash his trees, I had to listen to him tell me that his wife no longer loved him and that he was unhappy, blah blah before being made to clean the bathroom while he stood at the door and watched! I remember him saying that I would clean the bedroom the following day.

Finally after all this we went out to the orchard to white wash. Anyway, after a while my hands were covered in the stuff so the creep took it upon himself to come and pop plums etc into my mouth. He must have felt very smooth. I was hating every minute of it and was wishing someone would come back to get me. But really, I must have been pretty naive or simple minded at the time to not punch his lights out, but I think I was just so astonished by him that I didn't know what to do. It was the time before mobile phones too so all I could do was wait till the time was up to call my dad.

Anyway, he wouldn't let me do that until he'd make me lunch (hot chips - so bachelor!) And while I was eating them my dad just turned up. He said he'd been worried all day that the guy had buried me under an apple tree. Why he let him potentially have a few hours head start is beyond me even to this day!

Obviously, no one has been white washing these tress for quite some time

A lovely stone wall at the end of the orchard with the valley again in the distance

Looking from west to east almost down the whole length. The land size is just over 1/2 an acre - perfect!

The chook shed. Or maybe our weekender with a lick of paint!

A view of the neighbour's house to the north. That's nice and discreet I think

Looking east to west. Cute non? Even on a cloudy day

Really I think it might be the one that got away. We might go the auction just to see. I worry that when the timing is right for us and we are ready, we won't be able to find the perfect place. I don't think there are many places like this around. Not that we could afford anyway. Medlow Bath is a funny little non-town but it's kind of nice. I don't want to live in mountains suburbia, butted up to some red brick pile with a colourbond fence! I want somewhere a little dramatic, somewhere that's in the sun so I can have chookies and a vege patch and let my kids run around where I can see them. Oh... plus blossoms, don't forget blossoms, they have been high on my list of priorities for years! Here I could bask in the glory of so many of them.

Please God, Allah and Buddha, let it be that no one else wants it and it gets passed in this weekend. And I promise to swear less and be more patient with everyone!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Looking for Home

I have recently discovered that my spiritual home is not to be found in either Dungog, Morpeth nor Newcastle. We all went for a drive up that way on the long weekend. Tim's parents being willing participants in searching for places to live. I know one can't expect to drive down the main drag of any town and uncover the hidden charms and secrets of a place, but I think there does need to be something in the air that would compel one to seek further.

I'm not sure what is in the air in Dungog, except a bit of stray pesticide from the neighouring farms (ditto for Morpeth) and whatever nastiness leaks out from those suspicious looking sheds that hide broiler farms or pigs or other animals that never see the light of day. I'm only speculating about that, I know there are some organic farms up there etc. But those big long flat barns do look ominous. The landscape is sort of nice, a little flat maybe but I do like a pastoral vista. And there are not really that many of them around Sydney. So it's really slim pickings.

As far as who's living there goes, (according to the 2006 census) about 30% of the population have moved there in the last 5 years. Our age group and below has fallen in percentage of the overall, whilst people over 45 has increased. Most of the population is white from anglo backgrounds. But then that's true of anywhere outside the cities. So maybe we are a little too young to be moving there. But it's possible we might have that feeling about everywhere.....

Anyway, the best thing about Dungog that I could glean from my short and entirely superficial visit, was a good antique store called Dungog Antiques which had a great Deco split cane table and chair set. In the plantation style which I would have loved to squeeze in the car somehow, but couldn't. So for that reason and in the interests of living frugally I passed it by. I'm still sad about it. I did buy a picture of a medieval woman in profile in a lovely old wooden frame, to go in my kitchen though. Oh, Dungog also has a film festival which is what inspired us to look there in the first place.

Paterson, however down the road looked lovely. More verdant and the landscape undulated a little more. I don't think there is anything much to Paterson but it looks more like somewhere I could live.

Morpeth was a nice town but touristique. There I bought two plates with teal floral motifs on them to add to my haphazard dinner set that I building on. There is a particular type that I like. They have a great bakery called Morpeth Sourdough where according to Tim's mum, the owner/baker lost his hand somehow whilst in the pursuit of sourdough excellence. And he's still there. Committed. I cut off the top of one of my fingers once when I was cutting out shirts with a circular blade saw, but that's another story. Mine was reattached though whereas I think the baker is now a lefty...... or a righty, whichever the case may be.

Anyway, it was a cute town, it's pretty and they sell great ginger beer cordial but I don't think we want to live there. Although it may require more thought and further research. Same for Newcastle which looks like a very interesting place and definitely warrants more of an investigation, even if just for the purpose of a visit. But really, none of them felt right. The whole area is too far away from everyone. I think we'd get lonely. Maybe it's a good thing to at least know someone, or of someone, who could be a friend. Often people don't warm to me straight away, so it could be encouraging to have at least one person who has thawed as a starting point, then they can give any others the heads up that I'm really okay!

Photo: Paul Foley/Lightmoods

Sunday, June 13, 2010

My Weekend's Achievement

We've been up at Tim's parents (on the Central Coast) for the long weekend. Not that I want to live on the Central Coast, I don't, but I think you can tell that you live in the wrong place when you don't want to go home. However, since for the time being there's nothing I can change about my home, I shan't give in to feelings of melancholy. I have to come up with a plan to knock myself out of this feeling as it's wasteful. I like my house, I just wish it was my city house and not my actual home. I am a homebody, so it's a big problem really, that I don't want to be home.......

So what have I done this weekend that has been a step in the right direction or at least something that I imagine I would do in my real life?

Firstly, I experimented with making my own moisturiser. My mother had a recipe that she has made before which came from Jackie French many years ago, but it used Sorbolene cream which I think is disgusting. So I went to Sydney Essential Oil Company and had a look at their base creams. They only wholesale so I had to buy a lot of the stuff, but I figured that I use quite a bit of cream and I can split some with my mum so all in all I think it's cheaper in the long run. It worked out to be around $5 for 100mls, that's without any extra oils etc but still cheap. I didn't follow her recipe exactly and I then made another with a variation. The first recipe is below:

You need:
250gms of base cream. I weighed this out, it basically is a short fat jam jar.
3 x 500 IU Vitamin E capsules
1/2 tsp of Lavender essential oil ( I used organic French Lavender from SEOC)
20 drops of Chamomile essential oil ( I used Roman organic)
1/2 tsp of Apricot oil (again organic)

Sterilise the jar and anything else you are gong to use.
Pour the cream in the jar.
Pierce the capsules and tip them in the cream.
Then pour and drop the other oils in and stir them around until it's all blended in.
That's it. The thickness of the cream would be dependant on the type of cream. The Hydrating base cream from SEOC is thin and light, so it was perfect for me. Sorbolene almost makes a paste. Yuck! But I'm sure there are other creams you can use for base creams.

The second recipe I did was my own, plucking out other ingredients I have seen in books:

Same amount of cream as above
3 x 500 IU Vitamin E capsules
1/4 tsp of Lavender essential oil
5 drops of Chamomile essential oil
1/4 tsp of organic Jojoba oil
1/4 tsp of organic Almond oil

Mix all the oils into the cream and stir.

Both are good. I think I prefer the second one as the smell of Chamomile is not as strong and I don't think I'm fan of it. I gave the first one to Tim's mum. Next, I will move onto body cream. I think everyone might get a cream for Christmas. Anyway it was easy and all organic so hopefully I should start to look luminous and youthful in a day or so!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The Beginning

So, where to start? I guess with the inspiration, which was listening to Rhonda Hetzel on Radio National the other day talking about the changes she made in her life a while ago. Realising she was unhappy, she decided to close her business and learn to rely on her own ability to sustain her and her husband's lives. By living off their garden, making instead of buying all the things we spend our money on and seeing where all that took her. Now she has a successful blog, a very happy life, more connection with people and a publishing deal with an agent in New York. Not bad.

The thing with her though, was that she was 60 something, her children had all grown up and they were debt free. They owned their own home in the hinterland of the Sunshine Coast I think. So even though it took courage and determination etc, the leap wasn't fraught with too much risk.

So how does that relate to me? I'm almost 40. I live in the city, I have a 4 year old and another on the way. I have a business in a studio 3 minutes walk from my home that I share with Tim and his business partner. So both of us have businesses. Our clients are all in the city. We have a huge mortgage and can't even envisage at any time how we would own this home. We have a cleaner and pay for childcare etc. We shop constantly, not weekly, for food and things as we have a myriad of places to choose from all 5 minutes from our door.

It relates because I want to move out of town. I do like my house, but it is tiny. Living in a terrace is like living in a corridor, there's hardly any natural light. I can hear my neighbours, I can even see into one neighbours house and since they've recently changed their windows, they now have a view straight into my bedroom! We have no real outdoor living space. I want a vista. I want light in the morning. A kitchen should be sunny, it should say 'good morning' and be warm. Mine never will be.

The flip side to this though, is that the city can be great and it frequently is. We go to classical concerts a lot, the theatre, we eat out whenever we like and can choose from any type of food. Our 'hood' Surry Hills has become better and better over the years. It use to be considered a slum, but now it is overflowing with swish bars, fancy butchers, cheese shops, restaurants and the like. Which would be fantastic if we were childless and cashed up. We're not poor by any stretch, but somehow kids seem to sap the money. And now that there's another coming, we'll be in lock down for a while (please God don't let our home turn into the crack house that it was the last time!) Anyway, we will not be partaking in what the city has to offer for a while and then perhaps even more rarely than now after that. Big whoop!

I'm bored of it all anyway. I mean, not really but I've done all that. Surely I can live out of town and if the need for the ACO playing some Arvo Part overwhelms me I can come down and visit. Then I can squeeze in some Japanese and a coffee wherever and be happy with that. Visit a good bookshop. All that stuff won't go anywhere.

So, the question is...... how? How do we move out of town? What do I do with my Bridal business? How does Tim work with his clients? How would we earn a living? Would we still have to have a close connection to the city? How do you make that leap from being mortgaged and reliant on the city for your living to leaving and everything working out well? What if we hate it? What if I'm not Mother Earth after all? If we sold our house and then realised we were city people and it was all a big mistake, could we ever afford to buy back into the market? What if we get lonely and none of our friends ever come to visit? What if I become so attached to my track suit pants that I never wear anything else? What if get fat and have a permanent bird's nest in my hair? Will everyone think I've given up? Can one even be glamourous in the country or wherever? Would one care about that? See, so much to consider.....

Not to mention the WHERE of all this. We have looked around Sydney in all directions and are still unconvinced that any one place is 'the one'. But maybe this aspect of my problem can be discussed at length another time.

So to finish, I'm thinking that while I figure all this out, I should follow Rhonda's example and try to spend less and find other ways to have things. Get back to basics, be less of a consumer and see what I can make. I don't want to imagine that once I'm out of the city living in a verdant wonderland that I will suddenly start baking bread, growing flowers and love housework. I'll start on those things now. Test my commitment. Prove to myself (and Tim) that there may be another way to live. I'll keep my cleaner though, I will never love housework, I have to be honest about that.