22 June 2010

there's a hole in my heart that goes all the way to china...

well, not to China actually but Viet Nam. And though you can't see the bottom, believe me it's a long way down.
As I have sat darning darling little hearts onto vintage denim overalls Cyndi's lyrics and Ông's accusatory words have been washing over me. Ông is Noah's Vietnamese grandfather.
I left Viet Nam with my little boy nearly 3 years ago now. It was amidst darkness, and sadness, and fear. I was leaving Noah's father after weathering years of abuse. It was mostly drunken abuse and mostly verbal. His words will never leave me. They left bruises which shall never fade.
At this time I felt unbelievably isolated and alone. I felt stranded in an emotional hurricane. I was also stranded in a foreign land. Immobilised by sadness, by language constraints, and the vast cultural divide.
Ever since leaving Viet Nam- a country, a people and a culture which I love and adore- I have dreamt of our return. How many times have I looked at airfares and agonised over logistics? How many times have I cried for my son separated from his family and his culture? How many times have I cried that his first fragile years were so tumultuous?
Ông sent an email today which has hurt me deeply. Amongst other things, he scolded me because Noah cannot speak Vietnamese. He criticised me for not returning to Viet Nam sooner (we will go back in November for 2 weeks) and he spoke of the family's sadness for not being able to hold and nurture a grandson. I sympathise deeply with their loss. I understand the pain they must feel in his absense. But... I also felt the anger and accusations were misplaced. And herein lies the heart of the cultural divide. 
Traditionally, women in Vietnam (historically, all women) are expected to endure all sorts of hardships- from the more benign domestic inequalities to drunken, abusive marriages and infidelity. Women are without a doubt the pillars of family life. But does this mean they must act as support beams and scaffolding for a rotten and crumbling relationship? Are men absolved of all responsibility?
His anger mobilised my anger, but instead of acting, I resumed sewing and as I sewed the lyrics and the email ebbed through my mind. Now here I am writing, and in writing I have found calm. Instead of firing off a counter email redirecting the blame it seems what is really needed is a whole lot of love to fill up that cavernous hole. Noah needs a solid base of love from which to grow, somewhere he can put down roots. A nourishing well of emotional earth, not a vast gaping hole of anger, resentment and misunderstanding in which to fall.
I love you dearly my beautiful boy Noah Manning Davies Phuong xxxx

happiness is... a big pile of vintage fabrics

Pussy cat, pussy cat where have you been? where indeed?

Well the bacala sits untouched in my fridge ("it keepa for twelva months or more" said the Italian grocer, so I am not concerned) Unlike the quince it has little to heckle about- its hardly got the sensuous good looks ;-) The quince paste, by the way, is SUPERB- as I laboured with love over the sticky sweet mixture it turned a gorgeous rosy hue. It set beautifully & I am happy to report that it tastes divine- particularly when rubbing shoulders with an aged pecorino or a creamy blue!

So...what then have I been up to?! well in a word- SEWING! the dear little singer does not know itself. Stored in solitary confinement for so long, it now takes centre stage on our dining table and has been sewing up a storm. The vintage fabrics which I have kept, fondled, refolded and stored once more are having new life breathed into them. I have also had the joy of hitting op shops, a craft fair & ebay once more to make new aqcuisitions. And oh- the material confection of fabrics! This is my true indulgence- the reams of ribbon, the exquisitely folded fat quarters, the delicate laces, the candy-hued buttons... BLISS xxx

4 June 2010

the quince *demystifed*

i am a fairly accomplished cook. by that i mean i haven't won any awards, but y'know i have conquered David Thompson's astoundingly complex curries; i have sourced & prepared the gazillion ingredients for Kylie Kwong's lamb shank tagine. i have mastered banana flower and preserved lemons. i have completed cheese courses; baked scones; roasted duck; hung puddings... the list goes on.
so what is it then that has struck fear in my heart when faced with those gentle yellow giants- QUINCES??? i have admired them from afar these many years- picking them up, turning them in my hands, placing them in my basket, only to then remove them- countless times!! i know their joy having savoured homemade quince paste & divine burgundy desserts! so what was it then? was it Frank Camorra's mention of a food mill? or Claudia Roden's cautionary pep talk regarding a strong knife and brute strength? Tessa Kiros spoke with a poetic reverence which only made them seem too precious with their readily discolouring flesh and their needy, extensive cooking time.
with this history of baggage in mind, i last week made it through the check-out with quinces intact. since this time they had been sitting around showing off in my fruit bowl! they had, in fact, been heckling me: 'oooh look at me, i'm so autumnal & good looking and you're too scared!' well today this all came to an abrupt end when i seized the moment (and a good knife) & mustered all my strength...only to find they're little more than a big pear- no not as soft, but not the hulk of leaden rock i had imagined either. they are now poaching lazily in an acidulated broth before succumbing to the food processor- who needs to burden oneself with a food mill? it all sounds far too medieval.
yes i have the huge marathon of cooking time ahead of me, but with rain continuing to bucket down it all seems quite leisurely- a little stirring, a few espressos, a good book & some craft projects in between. QUINCE...your time is up! i am afraid no more & am eagerly awaiting your golden loveliness;-)
next stop- bacalao- or salt cod, which has also long been on the culinary to do list. i will explain it's equally complex history in my next post;-)

3 June 2010

is it perfectly improper?

we have been harvesting fairy grass today! it has been excellent weather for it, though we were very chuffed indeed that we made it in our front door right before the heavens really opened! is it perfectly improper to harvest fairy grass (commoners call it moss) with the intent of making a fairy grass hill for the fairy emperor! the passer-by said so: 'that's a noxious weed you know'!!
is it perfectly improper to eat gremolata sandwiches? to suck the passionfruit seeds from their skins? or fall asleep with a half mushed banana in your little hands;-) if it is. then we are happily. unashamedly. perfectly. improper!!