March 17th, 2017

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March 17th, 2017

This week I spent a little time sitting at the end of a friend’s bed. She’d had an emergency appendectomy and was recovering with grapes and good books while two cats lounged beside her and her little love-bird perched on her shoulder.  While we sat there, the cats, with all their fur fluffing and dander puffing, immediately got up from their comfortable positions and tried to cuddle up to me and lie across my lap. They persisted despite my pleas and curses. I said all the right cat-positive things for fear of seeming heinous, things like, “You are very beautiful, but I just can’t cuddle you. It’s not you, it’s me. I have allergies!”

This is not an unusual scenario, as any cat-despiser or cat-allergic person will know. I seem to be the person in the room that a cat always seeks out. They choose me over all the other warm laps and friendly smiles. No matter how much I initially ignore them, then persist with gently removing them and placing them on the floor with an encouraging push away from me, they return time and again.

So I remember what I have learnt from this Slate article, which originated from the question, “How should a stranger behave to a cat to become his friend?” and I do the exact opposite. I now gaze lovingly at these strange, aloof creatures and ask them how they are, and tell them how beautiful their fur is, and even reach out a hand to pretend to almost pat them. I sigh and woo. I tell them that I really need them to sit on my lap. And sure enough, they look bewildered and then look off into the distance just beyond my shoulder, and shift awkwardly from paw to paw. There’s nothing a cat dislikes more than a needy, clingy human. I know I am totally anthromorphising here, but it’s hard not to do.

Perhaps I could zoomorphise a little too. I wonder at the idea of taking a little bit of cat-strategy into my own life. It might help! Perhaps next time I see someone who clearly doesn’t like me, who is doing their best to stare out the window and avoid eye contact, I could bring out my inner-cat. I could push past all my friends, ignoring friendly hellos, and head over to the unfriendly non-friend. I would then proceed to knead them a little, turn around in circles a couple of times and then lie across them. Slightly awkward in a coffee shop, I suspect, but that wouldn’t stop a cat.

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Watching:
Speaking of cool cats, I was scrolling back through my blog looking for an old illustration today, and found this video of Audrey Hepburn in the 1957 musical Funny FaceA bookish, shy girl goes to Paris, and expresses herself through interpretative dance. I watched it again and thought it was worth posting here, even just for the first few minutes where she proclaims to Fred Astaire, “I feel like expressing myself now, and I could certainly use a release!” While Fred Astaire face-palms in horror, our beatnik heroine finds a couple of other hunky beatnik lads in striped t-shirts to accompany her in her wild, acrobatic twirling through a smoky 1950s bar. Love it.

Listening: 
Chris Bathgate’s new single Northern Country Trail.  I have been a huge fan of Chris Bathgate for a long time. His albums Salt Year (try Poor Eliza) and A Cork Tale Wake  (try Serpentine) have seen me through times both dark and light. I am really looking forward to his new record, Dizzy Seas, the first full length album since 2011. Out on May 19th.

25 Songs That Tell Us Where Music is Going in The New York Times Magazine.
“In 2017, identity is the topic at the absolute centre of our conversations about music….This is what we talk about now, the music-makers and the music-listeners both. Not the fine details of genre and style — everyone, allegedly, listens to everything now — but the networks of identity that float within them. Maybe decades ago you could aim your songs at a mass market, but music does not really have one of those any more. Artists have to figure out whom they’re speaking to and where they’re speaking from.” I dunno, really. I would say “sales and advertising”… call me cynical. But regardless there’s a lot to listen to and read in this list.

Reading:
Like me, my grandfather loved music. Looooved it. He had a big 1970s fancy stereo system with a couple of massive speakers and a huge vinyl collection, with everything from the classics of the Baroque all stars through to Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. My Grandmother, on the other hand, despite being a complex and cultured woman, was completely indifferent to music. She once told me, “I don’t see the point of it.” We’d play her music we loved and she would look at us with a glower that said “really, no, stop trying to move me with this crap.”

“Inside the Heads of People Who Don’t Like Music” in The Atlantic explores the science behind music anhedonics of which my Grandmother may have been one, and hyper-hedonics (those who feel deep feelings and chills when listening to music) of which my Grandfather may have been one. Which are you?

A little extra:
Remember this!? Beastie Boys Fight for Your Right – Revisited.

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Friday Five Favourites – guest-starring Beci Orpin

Amazing designer, author, illustrator, art director, maker and mama.

Beci can be found on instagram, in her amazing house (I have so much admiration for this space!), and teaching a workshop early next month. Her book, Sunshine Spaces is out in Australia on the 1st of April through Hardie Grant, and in the US 11th April through Chronicle.

 

1. This sweater from Aries Arise.
My fashion obsession has had its flame re-ignited in the past few years. Aries is one of my favourite labels. It’s expensive but their quality is amazing and I’m all about saving for the right purchases, and this sweater is that. It has just the right amount of practicality and ridiculous graphic excellence.

2. Dick Bruna 
Yes because he recently passed, but he was always my numero uno since day dot, and would have made it in my top 5 regardless. I was brought up with lots of great books – the Dick Bruna ones were always my favourite. When I was 5, I wanted to change my name to Miffy, and my obsession hasn’t let up since then.

3. Morning ritual
I didn’t think I had one but on further pondering I do. It involves: a very strong good quality english breakfast tea with just the right amount of milk and sugar (not too much of either); making my bed – something I actually enjoy and have time to do now my kids are somewhat self-sufficient teen/primary school kid; walking my youngest Ari to school (catching pokemon on the way); and finally riding my bike to my studio – it’s not particularly picturesque but we have lived where we do for almost 10 years now and I undoubtedly run into someone along the way and that’s a nice feeling.

4. Lunch Lady Magazine
In a time when I am buying less and less mags, Lunch Lady shone through. Excellent articles and down-to-earth advice on kids and parenting, delicious easy (secretly healthy) recipes, beautiful design and some great contributing artists (like me! ). It’s actually more like a cool book than a mag. Whatever you think it is, it’s great.

5. Jalepeno Margaritas
We started serving these in our restaurant Juanita Peaches and it’s become my preferred Friday knockoff, and often Tuesday knockoff. Sometimes Thursday too.

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I’m off on vacation for a couple of weeks. See you in April!

Claire Robertson,
The Small Batch List
Person with a keyboard
xo

p.s. 100 points for guessing the quote in the subject line! The last time it was “Love doesn’t just sit there, like a stone, it has to be made, like bread; remade all the time, made new.” ― Ursula K. Le Guin, The Lathe of Heaven.

 

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March 10th, 2017

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March 10th, 2017

Many moons ago (so the story goes), when my mother was pregnant with me, a cranky old obstetrician instructed her that the only weight she should put on during the pregnancy was the weight of the baby. I imagine him peering down a long nose through a pair of pince-nez, glowering at her and saying “A total of 8 pounds is all that I will allow”. The horror! I can feel a collective gasp from you readers as, yes, this was some crazy-ass, 1970s advice. Okay, okay. I am sure to be exaggerating, as Mum can’t remember the instruction exactly, but for the sake of this story it was 8 pounds. So, my mother starved herself. According to legend, she was all ribs and bones, and a baby bump. Meanwhile, as she did what she thought was healthy, she craved bread (of course she did, she would have been craving anything). She craved it so badly that she stock-piled loaves of it in the guest room of their little Sydney flat. I imagine a guest bed, with one of her loud 1970s quilts, piled high with delicious, crusty white bread. Bags and bags of it. I’m not sure if that’s how it really was, maybe it was just a couple of loaves, but in my mind her story has always been of a teetering, tottering, tower of bread that she nurtured and sang to, stroked and pined for. My poor mama. And so – as my own story goes – I was a small embryo deprived of bread, and as a result bread is that craving I will always have. My forever lost-to-me soul mate. My ultimate in comfort. I will endlessly walk the globe, searching for that elusive loaf.

In my search I have often taken to baking bread myself. It seems to be something I tend to do in times of chaos. When Lily was a newborn I staggered around and cried a lot, but I also managed to make a loaf of bread every day. I clung on to it in amongst the mess of diapers and feeding, lack of sleep and physical exhaustion. Cooking with yeast is a cakewalk compared to looking after babies. Making bread feels creative, it feels nurturing, and maybe it’s even a little physically therapeutic. The repetitive rhythm of hand-kneading a loaf for “at least ten minutes” (according to all recipes) must have been soothing. One night, in an exhausted state, instead of patting Lily gently to sleep in her crib, I realised I was actually kneading her like a loaf of bread. I stopped but, trust me, you parents of babies, it seemed to do the trick.

This week I started baking bread again – life feels chaotic. I throw the dough around, kneading, wooing, pounding and singing to it as it rises (okay, maybe not quite, but you get the picture). In all this I have discovered that the perfect antidote for what ails me is River Cottage’s basic bread recipe with a handful of grated cheese and a chopped, gently fried onion stirred through before kneading. Highly recommended and really not that hard.

Go forth and find your elusive loaf!

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Watching:
Finding Vivian Maier – I remember hearing about this when it first came out but now it is on Netflix. It’s so good, and slightly unsettling. For forty years, Maier worked as a nanny, but spent much of her time roaming the streets taking photographs of strangers and passers-by, more than 150,000 in total. She never published any of her work and many of the negatives were never printed. Most interestingly, she didn’t tell a soul about her passion. It’s always intriguing to hear about an artist who has absolutely no interest in sharing their work, not even with those closest to them. These days, in a world full of Instagram likes, self-promotion and external-validation, it’s a rare and exotic bird who works purely from a creative urge and then hides it away for no one to see.

On this note, my dad wrote (after proofreading this):

“By chance I was listening to ABC FM in the car driving to Canberra today (Mum was asleep) and the announcer started talking about Bizet’s First Symphony. He wrote this in 1855 at the age of 17 while he was studying music in Paris. However, his teacher didn’t think he was any good, so he didn’t show it to him. In fact, he didn’t show it to anyone or tell anyone about it, and it got lost. It was rediscovered and first performed in 1933. Now it is one of his most well-known works and is often performed. ”

Reading:
When Your Greatest Romance Is a Friendship – is an article in the New York Times I found to be extremely moving.  “Some of the greatest romances of my life have been friendships. And these friendships have been, in many ways, more mysterious than erotic love: more subtle, less selfish, more attuned to kindness.”
And also from the New York Times Modern Love series – a love story about a baker, and bread.

Admiring:
The seven Wise Women on the Design Files this week, who are featured in celebration of International Women’s Day. At the time of writing this, fashion designer Lisa Gorman, artist Stanislava Pinchuk (aka MISO) and entrepreneur Zoë Foster Blake have been profiled. I look forward to the next four.

Sleeping:
No, I’m not. Not really. So I really appreciate that the Paris Review is publishing some of “the dullest, most soporific texts available in the public domain” – in their series called Sleep Aid. In keeping with my opening post this week, check out The Art of Breadmaking, from The Bread and Biscuit Baker’s and Sugar-Boiler’s Assistant, an 1890 book by Robert Wells. But only if you aren’t sleeping.

Distracting:
For reasons that continue to baffle me, there is a need in our household to be always creating backing tracks for rap songs. Mostly these raps are a little like Flight of the Conchords songs, and lot less like [here I would put the name of very up-to-the-minute rapper, if I knew one].  Regardless, the “rhymes keep dropping”, and apparently they are “lit”. I was just getting used to saying that my eyebrows are “on flick”. I can’t keep up. For these tracks Garageband usually does the trick, but last week we discovered Sampulator, which is an simple online (and super fun) sample board that you can use with your computer keyboard. You can save and share the tracks if you have a twitter account. I managed to while away an hour before getting tired of it. (thanks Suzanne)

Smelling:
Marseille’s Remedy Traditional Thieves’ Oil from Salt Spring Naturals. In case of bubonic plague, or if you just want your hair to smell nice, I can’t recommend this oil enough.

It seems to be a mixture of something like cloves, cinnamon, eucalyptus and rosemary. While it’s pretty potent and might frighten away small domestic animals, it feels like a very healthy and delicious mixture to be wafting around.

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Friday Five Favourites – guest-starring Jan Robertson

My Mum! Bread is not on her list these days… but check out the sauce recipe. It’s a doozy.


1) On Sydney Harbour 
One hot evening after a 38 degree day we walked down the steps past Wendy Whiteley’s house and her secret garden to a little jetty on the edge of Lavender Bay. Across the harbour a fog was rolling in from the sea engulfing the city buildings…next to us a group of people were practising their tightrope walking on red straps they had tied over the water around an old wharf structure. That was a perfect evening.

2) Tomato sauce 
In country New South Wales, in Binalong, an hour north of Canberra, Donna gave me her surplus tomatoes from this year’s crop…so I have been in full laboratory mode boiling them up to make sauce/ketchup using my friend Ina’s not-so-secret-anymore recipe. Apparently I have modified her recipe so much that I am not breaching copyright laws by linking to it. Since I use empty whisky bottles [with dregs] to store it, it is very double whammy. Zoe up the hill calls it liquid gold.

3) Mick’s Binalong sausages
The tomato sauce goes extremely well with Mick the Butcher’s famous Binalong sausages. He serves his meat from behind a flywire cage…to keep the blowflies out of his shop…lamb chops are sawn from a lamb carcass from his coldroom…he still has all of his fingers…a very dexterous chap…mince for Bolognese is made from beef scraps on the spot. But it is his fragrantly delicious beef sausages (another secret recipe) that compel people to make the 30km detour off the Hume Highway to seek them out.

4) Socks
The colour in my life is the stash of sock yarns in a box in the sleep-out. A friend gave me the original sock pattern book 45 years ago…I have transposed the pattern onto cards…the original is almost illegible now. The most beautiful multicoloured hand-dyed yarn I have is from Alberta and Nova Scotia…this comes in twisted hanks and if I get impatient winding it into a ball I end up with a fearful mess of wool that looks like roadkill. Sorting out the tangle takes almost as much time as knitting the socks.

5) The Shepherd’s Life
While I knit socks I clamp on headphones and listen to talking books courtesy of the library. One of the best I have heard is The Shepherd’s Life by James Rebanks. His family have had the same sheep farm in the dales of the Lake District in England for 600 years. They raise Herdwick sheep…a tough breed that climb up into the mountains to eat the hardy vegetation on the heights and are brought down by trained sheepdogs to be shorn. The farmers of the dales are fiercely proud of their sheep…giving them facial grooming for the local sheep shows. This is a totally engrossing and charming book…there is a podcast of Richard Fidler interviewing James at last year’s Sydney Writers’ Festival.

– – – Previous Friday Five Archives – – –

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See you next week!

Claire Robertson,
The Small Batch List
Person with a keyboard
xo

p.s. The quote in the subject line is pretty obscure this week, but I liked it and it’s bread related, so I stuck it in anyway. 500 points if you get this one!
Last week was “A five ounce bird could not carry a one pound coconut”, which is of course from Monty Python and The Holy Grail.

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March 3rd, 2017

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March 3rd, 2017

That’s my topic this week. Firey, driven, inspired, passionate people. Without further ado, let’s get into it:

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Watching:
Abstract is a new documentary series about design on Netflix. Interiors, stages, footwear, automobiles and graphic design are all covered, as well as photography, architecture and illustration. Over eight 45-minute episodes, we are given an inside peek at what makes eight exceptional designers tick. All are outstanding in their fields and all hold a kind of rock-star status, as well as leading extraordinarily driven and focused lives. It’s an inspiring series and I will recommend the episodes with Es Devlin (Stage designer), Tinker Hatfield (designer with Nike), Paula Scher (graphic designer) and Platon (photographer). I also enjoyed the episode featuring illustrator Christopher Neiman, as the stuff the producers do with his work and the editing makes for entertaining viewing. I will admit to some serious napping during some episodes, but mostly I give it a big thumbs up if you are interested at all in design.
There’s a great in-depth and thoughtful review of the series on Curbed and in The New Yorker.

Reading: 
Three Iconic Musicians on Artistic Creation — and Its Importance Now. Some very earnest words in the New York Times Style Magazine about music, inspiration and artistic creation. Apart from that, Beck, Kendrick Lamar and Tom Waits are interviewed and the reason I am linking to this is mostly because of what Tom Waits has to say. He can make the ordinary sound extraordinary, until you feel little tears spring into your eyes.

Musing:
French artist Abraham Poincheval is attempting to survive inside a 12-tonne boulder inside a Paris art museum for a week, in an act of inner exploration, of “modifying the self and of living in other realms beyond our own.”

“He once spent a fortnight inside a stuffed bear, was buried under a rock for eight days and navigated France’s Rhone river inside a giant corked bottle… He has also crossed the Alps in a barrel and last year spent a week on top of a 20-metre (65-foot) pole outside a Paris train station” – The Guardian.

Following this he will emerge to sit on, and hopefully hatch, some eggs after three to four weeks. I can’t help but have nothing but wonderment and admiration for someone so dedicated to his art.  (via Pip)

Reading about his work reminds me of the book The Family Fang, by Kevin Wilson, which I read some years ago, about a family of performance artists always taking on some bizarre act in the name of art. I see that it was released as a film starring Jason Bateman, Nicole Kidman, Christopher Walken and Maryann Plunkett. It looks worth checking out.

Around the same time, I read a book about a similarly dysfunctional family full of extraordinary people – Where’d You Go Bernadette? by Maria Semple. The two stories will forever be linked in my mind and will appeal to those who liked The Royal Tenenbaums, My Family and Other Animals (Gerald Durrell) or Brother of the More Famous Jack (Barbara Trapido). Which is probably you.

Listening:
Sylvan Esso – has a new single out, Die Young, which I love. I also love the news that their new album, What Now, will be out in April.
NPR Music has been running a Tiny Desk competition – receiving over 6000 entries this year. This week they announced the winners – Tank and the Bangas. They’re pretty fun! “New Orleans’ Tank and the Bangas conveys its freewheeling spirit through a sound that combines pop, hip-hop, funk, spoken word and musical theatre.”

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Friday Five Favourites – guest-starring Jason Donaldson

High school drama teacher, musician, improv coach and mentor.

Most often found at GISPA and Instagram.

Speaking of people who are passionate about their work, I couldn’t have found a better special guest for this week. Jason is my eldest daughter’s drama teacher and improv coach at our high school here. He works with enormous enthusiasm and dedication. We feel very lucky to have him in our kid’s life! Thank you Jason for taking time to tell us your five favourite things.

1) Cornel West
My interests in philosophy and civil rights are ignited in the Black Baptist cadence, rhythm, vocabulary and intellect of Dr. Cornel West. He makes me listen carefully and think critically and then stop and rewind or reread to double check what I just took in. His scenes in the documentary Examined Life continue to be a source of inspiration for me. I may have never called into question my ‘tacit assumptions and unarticulated presuppositions’ without his influence.

2) Kronbauer Guitars
Trevor Kronbauer makes fine, handmade acoustic guitars. Once upon a time, we walked through awkward high school hallways together and then later along the TransCanada highway, stopping for a while under the goose in Wawa. We hitchhiked deep into Mississippi, Kentucky and Tennessee and made our way across western Europe together. He is a great friend. He makes guitars with love, fine woods and his bare hands in Armstrong, BC. He is currently in Phoenix mode, rebuilding admirably, after a fire tore through his shop. I have two of his instruments: a beautiful parlor guitar, 12 frets to the body with a silver dollar from my birth year inlayed in the headstock and a magnificent, carved top mandolin.

3) Vancouver Asahi / Ebbets Field Flannels
I am cheating here, two in one, bridging my interests in regional history, baseball lore and aesthetically arresting consumerism. EFF makes throwback replica baseball jerseys focussing on negro league, minor league, international and historic jerseys, hats and jackets. If you don’t know the story of the Vancouver Asahi please check out this NFB documentary. They were the best of the best on the Pacific coast, banned from competing due to racism. When Japanese internment saw many of the players and their families imprisoned in the interior, they continued to play ball. Last year I took my sons on a little historic tour, on an evening when their last surviving member was throwing in a first pitch at a Vancouver Canadians game. We stopped at the old Powell Street grounds to see where they used to play. It was a tent city on that day.

4) Philippe Gaulier (master clown, pedagogue, and professor of theatre)
The story of the Bouffon as told to me: The beautiful people lived in France, they were made in God’s image – obviously. The others, the deformed, malnourished and gimpy, were clearly not made in God’s image. They were ostracised (made to live in the swamps). The Bouffon were happy there, singing and playing music and having babies. One night they wondered what the beautiful people were up to and why they never came to visit. So, they clumpled into a lump and writhed their way into town. Nobody was home. All of the beautiful people had gone out to the theatre. The Bouffon snuck in the back and locked all of the entertainers in the change room. As the curtain opened and the beautiful people fanned themselves they were surprised to see the Bouffon, gimbled in a mass, centre stage. The beautiful people pulled their decorative little pistols out of their hand bags and pointed them warily at the clump. The Bouffon, who loved to have fun, encouraged one another to move forward and proceed with the entertaining imitations and songs they had created. Their wounds were on full display and helped the beautiful people to, um, see their own more clearly.

5) Vancouver Island MusicFest
It clearly marks the start of summer. There are few things I like more in the world then assembling with family and friends at MusicFest. There are people that I only get to see this one weekend a year, but we pick up as though no time has passed. My kids have been raised, coming up underfoot onto all of the awesome that is this MusicFest. We play music. We feast. We listen to amazing music from diverse genres and styles. We swim in the river. We laugh and we carve out this annual family tradition of a very special musical community.

– – – Previous Friday Five Archives – – –

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This last week the Small Batch List hit 1000 subscribers! Happy news. I am loving putting this thing together. If you know of someone who might enjoy it, please recommend it to them. And if you aren’t already subscribed and would like to receive the email version please sign up below.

Thank you, and see you next week.

Claire Robertson,
The Small Batch List
Person with a keyboard
xo

p.s. 100 points for guessing the quote in the subject line! The last time it was Groucho Marx, of course!

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