Saturday, January 24, 2015


I often wonder about the need so many of us have to document our lives in some way. On the top shelf of a cupboard I have a box of unsorted photos that I kept when my mother's house was packed away after her death. Many of the people in the photos are no longer identifiable, but I am reluctant to throw them away. Next to the photos is a smaller box of diaries that were kept (in a most minimal way) by my grandfather between the nineteen thirties and fifties. Then there are fragments of family history compiled by cousins and more distant relatives over many years. I think my own persistence in blogging, in the face of waning enthusiasm for blogging as a medium of social communication, is just another variation on this need to record; to document.

Sometime last year I began using instagram. I'm not really an early adopter of new forms of social media. I usually join in rather reluctantly because increasingly they are the best way of keeping up with friends and family. But I've taken to instagram with some pleasure. I like taking photographs, though I hate lugging around a heavy and conspicuous camera. As instagram relies on smart phone photos I can be forgiven the not-so-great quality of my images. At the beginning of the year I had the idea of posting an instagram image each day across the year. I think I had an idea that this might capture the nature of my daily life; that over the year it would become an aide memoire to reflecting on my experiences and concerns.

By January 23 and I'd posted 22 images. Early in the month, before I'd really established the picture-taking habit, I seem to have missed a day. Never mind. Already, I can't help classifying the posts to see what they say about my life. There are posts about Sydney (top left is the Queen Victoria Building). I first came to Sydney in the early 1960s, before the advent of shopping malls in the suburbs. The city centre was where I shopped for everything except food, and this is a habit I've never broken. I shop in the city for clothes, for books, for gifts. I often go to the movies and concerts in the city and I meet people there to catch up. Of course, all this is possible because I'm only a 5 minute train ride from the city centre. I love Sydney and I love keeping a photographic record of the bits of it that I frequent.

Sydney QVBEveleigh windowWatertower gardenKnitting - grey jumper

Then there are images of my neighbourhood - of Redfern, and other surrounding areas (top right is a window in the old locomotive workshop at Eveleigh that's next door to where I live). Redfern's an old suburb and is now a mixture of old industrial sites that have been 'repurposed', public housing, new apartment buildings and old terrace houses. There's lots of visual interest. This is where I live my daily life, buying milk and bread, going to the doctor, having cups of coffee, taking daily walks and visiting some of the lovely old parks in the area.

Some days I spend at home. I enjoy my small apartment and the furniture and objects that I've accumulated over time. I've now lived in the same apartment block for nearly thirty years and am part of the small community of my neighbours with our shared concerns. (The flowers bottom left are from our communal garden which kind neighbours tend).

And, of course, there's my knitting.

I imagine that my city, my neighbourhood, my home and my knitting will be the subjects of my instagram record of the year. So far I'm enjoying the small project of visually documenting my days...and I think I'll enjoy looking back on a year of images when the year ends.

If you wish, you can follow me on instagram where I'm smark31.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Knitting 2014

I'm running rather late with my knitting round-up for 2015. I finished fourteen projects in 2015 - perhaps fifteen if you count the Honey Cowl that I've not yet figured out how to block. This is an increase over 2013 when I only managed to complete eleven projects, though I think there were more large pieces of knitting in 2013 than in 2014. I've decided to continue my tradition of awarding my projects prizes in various categories as it's a fun way of reviewing just what I've achieved.

First, the prize for the project of which I'm most proud. Hmmm. This one's difficult, so I've decided to award it jointly to the four hats I knitted to experiment with fair isle colour and motif combinations.

I've really enjoyed playing around with fair isle knitting. Thank you Mary Jane Mucklestone for both your personal inspiration and the book '200 Fair Isle Motifs'. I'm now a bit loaded down with hats and I'm wondering what other garments or objects I can use for playing around with fair isle - maybe wrist or arm coverings? Maybe cushion covers?

Then there's the prize for the project most favourited on Ravelry. There was a clear winner in this category - my Copenhagen shawl:

The shawl was knitted to Melanie Berg's Ashburn pattern using Geilsk Tynd Uld (thin wool) in toning grey and pink colours. Two skeins of the yarn were a generous gift from Bente Geil, the designer of the Geilsk yarn during my visit to Copenhagen in August last year. I think the drape and texture of this shawl shows just how suitable the 'sticky' Scandinavian yarns are for shawl knitting.

The prize for the most frequently worn project is also easily awarded. It goes to my Saffron Hap:

This is Kate Davies' pattern, A Hap for Harriet. I love everything about this shawl that's really a wonderfully drapey scarf. I knitted it from Cascade laceweight Forest Hills yarn that's a mixture of merino wool and silk. It weighs almost nothing but is warm when needed. I particularly like the colour and frequently declared when wearing it that yellow is the new neutral as it seems to go with everything (well, it looks great with grey and black which is mostly what I wear in winter).

And finally there's the prize for the project that was the most fun to knit. This is more difficult, as I think my fair isle hats are also a contender for this category. But in the interests of being generous to my knitting I'll award it to the Unmatched Mitts:

These were fun because they were quick and unproblematic and because knitting with Noro yarn is always fun. I have a self-imposed Noro rule which is to knit with it however the colours fall, even if I've been unlucky enough to have bought one of those problematic balls of yarn that reverse the colour sequence as you're knitting. In this case, sticking with the colour sequence resulted in a completely unmatched pair of mitts. Fun! I didn't really need a pattern for this knit but I used Best Friends Mitts by Sandra Ruppert as a guide.

If I were feeling optimistic I could judge it a relatively successful year of knitting. But if I look back exactly one year to a similar blog post from January 2014 I have to admit that I've not been very diligent about achieving the goals I set then. I wrote:

Of course I want to be more productive - what knitter doesn't? I think the best way of achieving this is to finish some of the part-completed relatively major projects, so that's my first goal. Then, a practical goal. I want to knit another go-to cardigan for my grand-daughter. And finally, I want to face up to the unadventurousness of my knitting and learn some new techniques and challenge myself.

Completing some part-completed major projects? Fail
Knitting a cardigan for my grand-daughter? Fail
Learning new techniques? Probably, given my experimentation with colour-work.

Maximum achievement, one out of three. This year I'm not going to declare any goals...though my grand-daughter still needs another cardigan.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Reading cooking

I read a lot. There's no particular virtue in this. I grew up in a small Australian country town before television arrived and listening to the radio and reading were my entertainment and my escape from the everyday. I read through the children's section of the local library and at around 12 was allowed to borrow from the adult library, under the censoring eye of Mrs Cooke, the librarian. Even so, my tastes were distinctly lowbrow. I'm not at all sure that the library held the great classics of literature; if it did, I never discovered them. I remember reading Frances Parkinson Keyes, Elizabeth Gouge, Georgette Heyer; writers whose books I've not seen for years. It was only in my last year of high school that an enlightened teacher introduced me to Jane Austen, Dickens and EM Forster, and then university study had me devouring the great nineteenth century novels. Even so, my main purpose in reading was enjoyment and, mostly, escape. I can remember a very distinguished professor of literature once telling me that I had excellent taste in second rate novels. Even today you can tell that I'm stressed or in need of solace when I'm rereading Anthony Trollope or Margaret Oliphant.

I still read for pleasure and escape. For some reason I've recently been rereading quite a bit. Partly this is because of a slight guilt I feel at spending so much on books (even frequently purchased Kindle books mount up over time) and partly it's because I read so much and with such distracted attention that I often forget the detail - or even the overall narrative - of what I read. When I was helping to pack my daughter's books for her house moving I came across an old copy (originally mine!) of Nora Ephron's 'Heartburn' and galloped through it. Read this book if you haven't already done so. It's a fictionalised account of Ephron's bitter marriage break up with Carl Bernstein of Bernstein and Woodward Watergate fame, and it's larded with comfort food recipes that have butter as a significant ingredient. (Ephron once said in an interview 'You can never have too much butter – that is my belief. If I have a religion, that's it') While there's some bitterness, it's laugh-out-loud funny and ultimately life-affirming (as we used to say in english literature tutorials in the 1960s).

For no particular reason I then reread Lisa Chaney's biography, 'Elizabeth David'. I suspect every Australian woman who moved out of home and began cooking in the 1950s or 60s has a Penguin edition of at least one of Elizabeth David's cookbooks stashed somewhere. I grew up with the then-accepted Australian diet of plainly cooked meat and veg, and a vast array of cakes, biscuits, slices, and everyday desserts. Elizabeth David's books came at just the right time for me, when hitherto unknown vegetables such as zucchini and eggplant were available in greengrocers' shops, and modest Italian restaurants were almost within reach of a student's budget. Elizabeth David was a pernickety perfectionist who became even more difficult as she aged, but her recipes, her evocative writing style, and more importantly, her insistence that good, local, fresh food was within any cook's reach, revolutionised many people's approach to food.

Cooking books

More than a decade after Elizabeth David's first books, Julia Child published her voluminous 'Mastering the Art of French Cooking'. Julia Child has recently had a resurgence of recognition through Julie Powell's 'Julie and Julia' and the same-named film starring the wonderful Meryl Streep. I raced through my rereading of 'Julie and Julia'. Fun, fun, fun. Julia Child, by the way, shares Nora Ephron's love affair with butter - such a guilty pleasure nowadays. It's interesting to compare Elizabeth David and Julia Child. The similarities are obvious in that they shared the desire to place fine food and good cooking within the reach of the everyday cook. But they do this in very different ways. Julia Child's recipes are painstaking - every step is outlined and every difficulty anticipated. Elizabeth David, on the other hand, is more interested in inspiring her readers by evoking the traditions and spirit of the recipe. She encourages you to improvise and above all, to sacrifice all to freshness and seasonality.

I feel much more at home with Elizabeth David than Julia Child, though there are recipes from both that are still very much part of my go-to cooking repertoire.

After all this cooking reading I was inspired to bake. This happens infrequently nowadays. I had some peaches that were nearing the end of their usefulness and I remembered a recipe for peach pie in 'Heartburn'. But my copy of 'Heartburn' has disappeared again - I expect recaptured by my daughter. I retreated to one of those recipes I've made so many times that it is foolproof. It came to me from my old friend Erika as an apple cake recipe, though I never knew her to make it with apples; I've eaten her cake with apricots, berries, plums (yum), but not apples. I've made it with apples many times and it's great, but I thought it would also be good with peaches. It was. So, in the spirit of Nora Ephron's recipe-laced prose I offer you...

Erika's Apple (or Peach) Cake.

120g butter
100g sugar (white or natural - whichever you prefer)
3 eggs
1 teasp vanilla
200g self-raising flour (I've used white flour, but 50/50 wholemeal and white is also good)
2 apples, quartered (or 2-3 peaches or plums, or whatever)
3 tabs milk
1 tablespoon extra sugar

Beat sugar and butter till well-incorporated. Add eggs one at a time, while beating. Add vanilla. Fold in sifted flour, roughly a third at a time, alternating with milk. Place mixture in greased cake tin and press in quartered or chunkily cut fruit. Sprinkle with extra sugar (and cinnamon if using apples). Bake in preheated 175 celsius oven for around 35 minutes. The cake is fine by itself, or good served with cream or sour cream.

If you are feeling energetic, you can make a crumble of roughly mixed butter, flour and brown sugar to sprinkle on top of the cake before baking.

Peach cake

This is what my mother would have called a 'plain cake' - one to be served everyday to family or farm-workers, but not the kind of cake you make if you wish to impress someone with your baking!