Monday, August 30, 2010

Planes, trains and automobiles...

Planes and trains are not my usual thing but when you have two boys sometimes you just give in to the inevitable. I may have made the usual rash statements when pregnant about buying my boy a doll (rather like not dressing your little girl in pink) but forget it. It's hardwired. Or it is with mine.
So to indulge our boys, Auckland's  Museum of Transport and Technology (MOTAT as it's known) was our destination yesterday and there are boy things in abundance and plenty of girls enjoying them too of course.... even me.
Why is it that the trams that seem so mundane in Melbourne are so much fun on a Kiwi Sunday afternoon?
MOTAT is a train and plane spotters dream and my Dad will LOVE it. They have a fabulous collection of bits and pieces from New Zealand and plenty from other parts of the world too. Fire engines, steam rollers, buses, trams, carriages, cars, trucks and planes.
Oddly enough, I was really taken with the massive Lancaster bomber. My dad is a Word War Two buff and I grew up in a house littered with books on the subject. The Dam Busters story has always fascinated me and it was Lancaster bombers that carried the specially designed bouncing bombs to breach two dams and flood the Ruhr valley. Apparently Peter Jackson is remaking the film and there are ten life size lancaster replicas in a warehouse in Wellington.

Lancasters flew more than 150,000 sorties across the Channel during the war.  It's a lumbering looking machine, and just imagining the gunners perched like sitting like ducks in the gun turrets gives you shivers. Not to mention the Germans at the receiving end of 600,000 tons of bombs.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Book love...

My husband and I (why does that phrase always make me think of the Queen's speech on Christmas Day?)

Anyway, my husband and I took some time out over the weekend for a nice lunch and a stroll in a couple of local book shops. Heaven. So much nicer to book a babysitter during the day... by nine thirty at night my sparkling wit has put itself to bed.

As part of the whole 2010 Read Better Project I have started exploring our local second hand bookshops and look what I found...
A bunch of old penguin paperbacks published between 1948 and 1950. 
Now for some reason the titles on the spine are upside-down even though the books are the right way up. Here this might help....
Mr Fortune's Maggot might have caught your eye. A maggot by the way is a 'perverse or whimsical fancy" so this is not a book about rotting meat.

Our house is littered with the new penguin classics and I really love the concept and the new titles they're releasing but I was so drawn to these.  Don't judge a book by its cover, they say. Well I did, sorry.

My aversion to iPhones is softening but I can safely rule out the Kindle. Call me old-fashioned or a plain old luddite but I like the feel of paper and I also like the irrational part of me that bought these because they look so, um, bookish...?

Look out for them in my reading update in the right hand column if they make it there... my other half reckons they'll fall apart before I get to the final page. I'm a bit worried about my dust allergy... I sneezed when I opened the first one!


By the way, a thank you to those who have given me encouragement to persevere with the slow cooker... I am off to the butcher to buy some beef to get back on the bike. I will try all your recipes and let you know how I go... and I am trying to ignore the uncomfortable truth that I may have just bought an appliance that does exactly what my rather expensive Le Creuset pot does anyway.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


I am a bit slower than your average Ms Joe on catching the latest trend.... if I buy something cool it was generally 'cool' the season before last.

I have just bought myself THE kitchen accessory of winter 2008, the slow cooker. Better late than never, or better slow than ... dead - is that the cliche I am looking for?

Yesterday I got it out of the box and fired it up. I cooked a beef curry and for the first time in a long, long time I shopped for the recipe and followed the steps I was supposed to.  While browning the meat I set off the smoke detectors and they in turn set off the two year old. When things calmed down and all was in the pot I watched with satisfaction as it bubbled away quietly all day.

Here it is under one of our favourite wedding presents, a rather quirky print by Tasmanian artist Tom Samek.
Tom Samek was born in Prague but has lived in Tasmania for rather a long time. Chances are if you are Tasmanian or know a Tasmanian you have seen one of his works on a wall. We have five and have vowed not to get any more. I love his offbeat humour and what he has to say about the sometimes ropey politics of a small place. Don't get me started on Australian politics this week... I'd never stop.

I digress. Back to the slow cooked curry.

Delicious? No. Absolutely bloody awful. So bloody awful that my other half admitted (after kindly eating it for dinner) that we should toss and not freeze the leftovers as had been my cunning plan.

Disappointed? YES. YES. YEEEESSSS.

I am not giving up - 2010 is not the year of giving up - but I may need your help.
This is my favourite, simple, slow cooked casserole dish and if you have time I'd love to hear yours.
Ann's slow, simple Osso Bucco (Hey if you can't name a dish after yourself on your own blog when can you? And yes Osso Bucco Proper uses white wine and a load of other things - this one came from a magazine clipping and lord knows where from - sorry!)

2 slices of osso bucco (sliced veal shank really)
2 x 400g tins of crushed tomatoes
1 cup of good-ish red wine
4 cups of hot veg stock (or beef if you like)
2 sliced cloves of garlic
salt, pepper and thyme and then lots of time....

You don't need to brown the meat. Just chuck it all in the pot. Slow cook for a couple of hours until the meat is falling apart. Then tip the sauce (minus the meat) in a pan and boil it off on the stove top until the sauce thickens. Shred the meat into the thick sauce and serve with pasta and parmesan.

It will work perfectly in my slow cooker. If not it has always worked bloody well in this....
And I am very sorry for all the 'bloody' swearing in this. I am cross. I hate it when my food is not even worth freezing.

Monday, August 23, 2010

To market, to market...

I have taken you to markets once or twice before.  Matakana is a small place, about an hour's drive north of Auckland and it has a fabulous Farmer's Market and is close to some beautiful white beaches. It ticks all the boxes for a day trip. We've been before but without a camera. This time I was armed...
We started with a Kiwi favourite, the whitebait fritter and it is gooood. On a cold crisp winter morning they make the perfect breakfast.
My five year old is fearless about seafood and knocks back oysters without flinching so he wasn't put off by the little whole fish lurking in the omelette, he was delighted!
Whitebait are slimy little critters but delicious when fried. They are the babies of a couple of fish species that live in rivers. The tiny fish hatch in late autumn and are carried along and out to sea where they grow - then in late autumn and spring they migrate back up the rivers to settle and breed.  Whitebaiters use nets to catch them at the river mouth on their way through - and whitebaiting is quite the Kiwi art.

Back to the food... both boys devoured one of these healthy treats - the colours were really that intense... 
Raspberries, strawberries, spinach. Forget those awful e-number enhanced fruit drinks, there is nothing like nature to colour your food.

We also sampled some feijoa wine...
Feijoas are a Kiwi thing too - a small green fruit, they drop off the trees in great abundance in autumn. I think they're rather an acquired taste, best made into chutney. Call me dull but I think I like my wine made from grapes.
We took home a couple of these avocados... who could resist?
After we left them to ripen slowly over a couple of weeks  they were creamy but firm and so very much better than the gas ripened ones in the supermarket.

So very good on toast with a little Maldon sea salt and a squeeze of lemon. 

Quite worth another trip north I think.

Friday, August 20, 2010

More for the wall...

I do love a map... and I love words too so this is perfect.
A fabulous type map of New Zealand drawn in place names from the UK company Bold & Noble.

You need a closer look...  see, how cool is that?
See what I mean too about unpronounceable Kiwi place names? I'm okay with Hamilton but Ohakune and Pahiatua are taking more time to remember.

America and Australia are available too and kindly they haven't left Tasmania off the Australian mainland... as a Tasmanian it's the first thing you look for! 
 Of course this is what they started with... good old blighty....
There's a new London version too and there are more rather lovely, covetable items.  I have seen this on a few walls lately in the piles of magazines I'm sifting through before I bin them. I love it. 
I found the prints on one of my favourite UK shopping blogs - Home Shopping Spy and the talented folk at Bold and Noble have a blog too.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Toddler taming...

My two year old looks like butter wouldn't melt in his mouth. You know the type - hair so blonde it sometimes looks almost translucent, clear blue eyes and sweet squeezable cheeks. People quite often offer to take him home. 'Go right ahead,' I say. 

He may look sweet but he has an iron will and takes an irrational pleasure in exercising it all over me. 

Take baking. I like it and if I'm honest I like that slightly smug feeling of assembling lunch boxes with healthy home made things and airily producing freshly baked biscuits as friends walk in the door. 

My five year old wolfs down anything I make. The two year old does not. Won't touch it and even has a new word for it,  'eeergh.'

Last week I saw him eyeing off another kid's home baked biscuit at the school gate. Traitorous little... 

Hang on, that mother has put sprinkles on top. When we got home I baked and sprinkled hoping I might win one round.
He took the biscuit. I smelled victory.

Then he ate the sprinkles off the top and threw the biscuit on the ground.

Round 4,321 to him.

(At this point do I have to point out that of course I love him and am honestly not giving him away? At least not yet.)

Monday, August 16, 2010


I am rather liking this...
From West Elm via Lonny magazine. And I am also rather liking these on my wall.
Yes the pictures I showed you last week are done and not only in frames but on the wall. But wait, like a bad commercial, there's more. I started with this.... 
It doesn't look too bad outside on a lovely sunny day but it was really not that nice. I liked the shape and size and height and price, I just didn't like the whole el cheapo honey-pine thing. And it came from a shop stacked with so much el cheapo honey-pine furniture that you would sear your eyeballs if you stayed too long. So sandpaper, a paint brush, primer, paint and Me and you get this...
Yesterday to reward myself, instead of the black vases which wouldn't last a week on that table,  I brought home a bit of winter greenery.   
Hydrangeas are my favourite flower and seem to do pretty well inside. Our villa is heated to a nice average temperature of 21 degrees. I like it like that and so does the hydrangea. The last one stayed for six months and the blooms slowly turned from white to a lovely pale shade of green.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Bikes and wandering minds...

I have a degree in procrastination. Actually a double degree and I graduated with honours. It took five years at university and a small fortune in fees and cheap wine.

Every now and then I hear a term like 'unconscionability' or mention of Lord Denning and some of my legal knowledge floats back... but what I have never forgotten is how to put off work until the last possible moment. 15 years ago it was essays on international law and exams on the rules of evidence, now it's freelance writing and radio work.

I am procrastinating right now and I have been doing it all week. I mean honestly, yesterday I randomly posted about Wendy houses. Wendy houses????

Kids help too... I spent a good hour searching for my two year old's shoe this week and when I'd stopped looking I found it  - stashed in the seat compartment of his ride-on Thomas train.

The upside of procrastination is that I clean things so this week I have sparkling (ish) floors and a much nicer smelling rubbish bin.

I also tackle little jobs that can clearly wait - you know the pics that have waited years for new frames. Which is why there is a rather large picture of a bike in black and white at the top of this page...scroll up and have another look. It's finally going back on our wall - a memory of great weekends away in Amsterdam with friends.

This will go next to it. My other half went down on bended knee in a snow covered Venice.
And of course there's London, not an iconic London shot but Richmond Bridge a stone's throw from our old house and a lovely place to stroll in the sunshine.
They're going in frames today, the Ikea frames I have stacked under our spare bed that are almost as well travelled as my procrastinating mind.

I may need to take a week off from My Villa Life and do some work. On the other hand I might be back on Monday. Hell, it's not due tomorrow...

Thursday, August 12, 2010

A house for Wendy

It was always called a wendy house when I was a child. That sweet child sized cottage I so wanted. I never really knew why but of course it is Peter Pan's Wendy.

You may remember, shortly after she arrives in Neverland Wendy is injured and Peter and the Lost Boys build a house around her as she sleeps.

Build a house?" exclaimed John.
"For the wendy," said Curly.
For Wendy?" John said, aghast. "Why, she is only a girl!"
"That," explained Curly, "is why we are her servants."

This is THE perfect Wendy House.... nestled in among the trees and with its own pint sized cottage garden.
But heavens why stop there? Wouldn't you just call in the architects to knock a litttle something up on the lawn for your princess?
Or pop online and order this sweet little number from Hamleys. Only 25,000 quid. And now that the British pound has the buying power of a peso it's so much more affordable.  Perfect for the kitchen garden at the country pile.
Or how about making use of the woods that back onto your country retreat? Dreamy. Perfect for those games of Robin Hood and his Merry Men...
Sorry I drifted off.  Let's step back into the harsh light of reality. My kids don't play Robin Hood... I don't think they know who he is. They play Star Wars. There is no country estate... we live in a weatherboard villa on a smaller than average section so this really is more like it.

Phoyo (Play House Of Your Own) is a New Zealand made playhouse.  Designed by an architect for her kids in the seventies she's now making them for her grandchildren and anyone else who'll pay for one. It fits together in sixty seconds (I imagine by not reading the instructions we could take an hour or so) and you can paint it to suit yourself. Rainbows, spaceships, cool grey and white to match the house?

It's just that I can't really imagine Wendy in it....

(Wendy house pics from Tomatoes from Canada, William Burgin, Hamleys, Judith Needham and Phoyo)

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Dressed to impress...

I am not really a fashionista. Actually anyone who knows me in my real villa life will be snorting as they read this... I mean I am REALLY not a fashionista.

I'm not even much of a shopper.  I'd like to be better and I gave it a really good crack as a single girl about town in London. My materialistic phase as it's known...

I have a secret fashion interest. I love the Sartorialist. I like the Awards season for the frocks not the flicks. I like those pages in the trashy mags where they compare celebs in the same dress. I like Sex in the City for the clothes. So yes, I am just like you.

I'd love to be assaulted by Trinny and Susannah in some godawful British high street, shoved into a mirrored cubicle and poked and prodded into a totally new and dazzling ME.

Now there are lots of fashion icons and blogs and blogs paying homage to them but today I have chosen Samantha Cameron... odd you might say but she wears clothes well and that is all that I want. Did you ever see this dress?
I know the real fashionistas are questioning her inclusion on this year's Vanity Fair Best Dressed list because she is really not terribly fashion forward and is posh and skinny so should look good. But she's the first pregnant woman to be included and she rarely puts a foot wrong, even pregnant. And she looks good dressed down too and let's face it, that's my life.
Poor Sarah Brown having to front up every day during the election to be pulled apart and compared by the subtly sneering Daily Mail.... ouch.
Rather like doing the school run with Elle McPherson.
If I ever go back to a real job I would like Tim Gunn of Project Runway fame to do me over in that very New York way he has on his makeover show. He has an essentials list for your new wardrobe.

1. Black Dress
2. Trench Coat (surely the classic Burberry?)
3. Dress Pants (think black)
4. Classic Shirt (white I imagine)
5. Jeans (ones that fit and cost more than 80 bucks)
6. Any occasion top (that will go from day to night)
7. Skirt - flirty or business
8. Day dress (I love this under used term)
9. Jacket
10. Sweatsuit alternative or as we would say at this end of the world, something comfortable that is not a trackie and uggs...

As a bonus one is allowed one trendy item. One?

If I win the lotto (if, if, if) I would start again with this list and burn all my black country road cardigans.  Then I could sashay along on the walking school bus with a bunch of five year olds in my sweatsuit alternative.

Hell, I've won the lotto. I'll move to New York and get a nanny.

For now it's jeans, one of those aforementioned cardigans and converse in a very un-Elle McPherson sort of way. And looking down, my taupe and white converse are now all one shade of Auckland grey. Shopping anyone?

(All images from the Daily Mail. A middle class rag but great for celebrity gossip. My sincere apologies too for the inclusion (twice) of David Cameron. This blog (and blogger) has no affiliation with Conservative politics or those other Labour jokers either.)

Sunday, August 8, 2010

A little something on the wall...

Our walls are nearly full in this house - prints and paintings strategically placed to avoid contact with my couch acrobats or  a rogue football. Both my boys have a very strong straight kick and absolutely no short term memory. They tend to forget that seconds before I had shouted 'NO BALLS IN THE HOUSE!'

I still love looking for bits and pieces to hang on my walls... or stack against them for a few more years waiting for more space.
I was about to email this to my brother who is a graphic designer and very much into typography but hey what's a blog for but to share?

I spotted it on a wall here, yep Design Files again, and thought how much it scratches that itch for letters and places that everyone seems so obsessed by. But ah the colours and the corrugated iron. So Ostraliaan, so textural (in my best arty voice) Yes, I'm clueless but I know what I like...

New Zealand born but lives in Australia so we'll claim him, Ross Tamlin exhibits  here and here.  Read little more about what makes him tick here.

Hang on I hear something... a ball? In my house... again?  'BOOOOOYS!!!!!'

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Sharing the love...

Do you read The Design Files? If you don't you really should.

Every day there is something fabulous to covet, read or just admire. Great interviews and gorgeous pictures - a fabulous window into Melbourne's groovy side with occasional trips to Sydney and elsewhere.

I was swooning over this Melbourne house tour yesterday. I went back three times for a look... then one of my oldest friends emailed out of the blue to tell how much she wanted it. Well, snap!
It's the home of Paul Bonnici and you can see the full house tour and read his interview here. Sounds like a nice man with a more than nice house. The patchwork rug from Loom has to be mine one day. I'd like a Paul Bromley piece too. Just a little one. Yes, Ann get a job.
What I can do - or aim to do - is the pared back look. White walls, bare wood, simply framed pictures, simple linen and quirky bits.
Or I could just sit here and stare a little more. Join me?


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