Friday, 21 March 2014


It was delicious, easy and just as good as left overs for lunch today. This will definitely be getting onto the regular rotation list, despite not being kid friendly. There's no way to adapt this to reduce the heat - it is afterall essentially meat and beans fried in chilli paste.
The heat was softened a little by making the som tum (green papaya salad) with no chilli at all and serving it with gai yang (grilled chicken), also a dish with no chilli, and sticky rice, but it is an assault on the palate in the best possible way. Rich and zingy with lime leaves, my mouth is still watering at the thought.
I'm looking forward to trying it with prawn or chicken in place of pork, though I'm finding it hard to believe it could be better than this. I've also seen versions with a little coconut cream or maybe even coconut meat, grated in, that give the dish a different texture so I might try some of those variations too.

Pad prik khing moo (stir fried pork in chilli paste)

3 tbs peanut oil

Prik khing curry paste - I used the small 125gm tin pictured above, though this dish is so good I think I'll try making my own next time.

1 pork fillet - mine was about 430gm - thin sliced against the grain

1 bunch of snake beans cut in 3-4cm length - I am sure green beans would be good too. I've seen this dish with varying proportions of meat to beans so you know, whatever you like goes.

1tbs palm sugar

3 tbs fish sauce

2 tbs chopped roasted peanuts

8 kaffir lime leaves very finely sliced

Heat the oil in a wok or heavy pan on medium heat. Add paste and fry, turning often, for up to 5 minutes. It should smell really pungent and mouth watering. It it gets to sticking on the bottom of the pan you can add a little water, but keep this as minimal as possible.

Add the meat and turn through the paste, stirring well. Cook for up to 5 minutes, or until meat is almost done.

Add beans, stirring, and cook for a few minutes until beans start to soften a little. Add a little water if needed.

Add leaves, half the sugar and half the fish sauce, stir well and taste. Continue adding the sugar and sauce a little at a time until the flavour is dominantly salty but not bitter. Sprinkle through nuts and serve with rice and a cooling salad.

Thursday, 20 March 2014


Tonight I'm cooking something I've never made before. I was thinking I would write a blog post about it when it was done but then I thought in lots of ways right now is the most exciting bit, the most thought filled bit. The planning and imagining bit.

Last weekend we visited the annual Thai food and culture festival in federation square. Of course I failed to capture much in photos because I was really enjoying just looking at everything and hearing all that Thai talk around me. My mind wandered often to the nostalgic place, the we used to do this everyday place.

At the festival I had pad prik khing moo, green beans fried with pork, chilli paste and kaffir lime leaves, and it was delicious. So delicious I wondered why I'd never made it. While I've come to cook Thai food quite often at home, I realised I no longer branch out much to grow my repertoire.The food stalls were awash with familiar yet often unseen dishes. The stall holders were delighted when I asked for things with their Thai names, there were big smiles and squeals and more than a few 'I give you big one!' and little unpaid for extras slipped into bags. While there's a good chance this 'special' treatment is liberally applied, the joy that comes from feeling so embraced and charmed is everything I love about the Thai experience.


A short stroll through Google told me what I needed, which isn't much actually - some beans, pork, prik khing curry paste, fish sauce, garlic, palm sugar and lime leaves. It looks like a pretty easy dish to make and the chilli paste was right on the shelf at the local Asian grocer.

So I'm giving it a whirl tonight alongside gai yang (grilled chicken), som tum (green papaya salad), porpia (spring rolls) and sticky rice.

Thursday, 13 February 2014


I asked him to smile, and I was rewarded with that awful wooden sneer kids think is what a smile looks like.

But I had to try for more, because this kid smiles and laughs more than his fair share.

I told him to imagine his teacher coming to school in his undies.

Happy lad, happy day, thankful for all seven of the years you've been around.


Tuesday, 14 January 2014


I'm in those funny places that are away from home and somewhere new.

I'm looking at new things, seeing new things, doing old things in new settings. I'm doing a lot of thinking too. There's a lot of long car trips and quite a bit of aimless days. It's a Petrie dish for thinks.

My head has opened up to new thoughts, old thoughts in new ways, old problems that refuse to become new and solveable.

I've spent a week surrounded by the most stunning kind of natural beauty there is, my tiny life squashed down into a tiny corner of the frame.

And then I've come to a city ruined by earthquake, still in tansition. 185 people died here and an unimaginable amount of destruction is still so pervasive. There is so much evidence of the way the city is trying to repair itself - there's art like this installation above that commemorates but loss but also creates a new public life blood.

There are breathtaking monuments like the cardboard cathedral - so hard to capture in photographs! A temporary cathedral to replace the fallen historical landmark and while a more permanent replacement is in the planning. Such a strong statement of the desire to create a space for communion, and such an inventive and creative response to the pressures of the situation.

And while it is in the name of the god of consumption, the shipping container mall is a really impressive space, jumping with life in the very heart of the ruins. We spent a lot of time watching buskers in the sunshine, and it was good.

There's even been some knitting going on. I expected to be filled with yarn lust while here, but to be honest, it's the manufactured knitwear and clothing that's exciting. I'm not a fashion shopper, but there are fantastic quality clothing outlets everywhere here - lots of them seemingly small scale operations. There are really creative designers behind the knitwear and sewn garments. I was also amazed to find a little label tucked behind the Ashford head office in the small town of Ashburton where garments were made in the store in a very domestic yet quality style. Warmed the cockles of my heart.

There's more ahead - more kilometers, more sights, more thinking time. Hopefully more of the gorgeous roadside wildflowers.

Wednesday, 1 January 2014


I didn't write a new year post last year - though I seem to recall I was hoping for a better year than 2012 had been. Clearly I filed my request in the wrong box because 2013 taught me that 2012 was just a warm up to main event in my own corner of life on rocky ground. I am sure there are worse experiences than the death of someone you love fiercely but it is a pinnacle I hope never to surpass. 2013 will remain a watershed of sadness I don't think I will ever really recover from. Part of me was worn away this year and it won't grow back.

But it wasn't all grim and I do not recall ever feeling the joy of joyful times so intensely and deeply. Life, especially with children, carries it's own momentum and meaning. While my family of origin lost its centre, my own little family has been every kind of solace I could have hoped for. Major upheaval and stress can pull people apart or cement them together and D in particular has been at the top of his game in terms of being the most excellent best guy in town, sticking to me like glue even when I have had nothing to give back. He's the man alright.

It's also been a year in which my friends have really shown their true colours. I'm pretty sure I now know who I'd ask to help me bury a body should it come to that and I feel lucky and humble to have those guys on my side. From the mate who sent me a regular weekly email just to check in, the ones who came to just hang out with me and kept me from getting lost in my grief, who listened to me while I rattled on and nodded as though I made sense and was interesting, the friends and neighbours who took my kids, the craft campers who let me take time out of my horrific present for a holiday of mind as well as body, the employer who never batted an eyelid when I proved entirely unreliable - and sent flowers to boot.

There were so many acts of kindness and compassion - gifts and home cooking and kind words and a general tolerance of me not being able to be the person I wanted to be. Every time you looked the other way when I was less than reasonable and didn't let me know it was a gift. To all those who made the effort I feel enormous gratitude, not just for the things they did but also because they kept alive something that death and grief works hard to destroy, the value of that human connection, however fragile it is. Thank you friends for my sanity.

It was also a year in which my regular making was somewhat disrupted, but on reflection that shake up wasn't a bad thing. Perhaps most significantly the completion of the long suffering hexie blanket - a project I suspect would have lingered for years to come had I not had so much time and so little inspiration for new projects. I entered the Royal Melbourne Show for the first time, as did Amy. I tackled something I hadn't done before - a conscious effort to focus on something complex and outside myself just to prove yet again that making is the balm for life's hardships.

The tail end of the year - the last month and a bit - has been a positive powerhouse of making. I've perfected shirt patterns for both the kids and D - the last being a major achievement after many years. It's never been easy to find ways to make and give to the anti-stuff guy so a practical crafted everyday item he's happy to wear and I am happy to make is a joy. I've also been just loving linen - and like last years Lily dress, this year's Jac shirt and Eva dress have seen repeat garments in my 'Tessuti range'. Great designs these guys make! And a few pattern mash ups combining great pattern moments with some free-wheel styling has restored my confidence in playing with what I'm doing.

So 2014? I'm hoping for a year without major trauma, some opportunities to give back to those who have kept me afloat, some creative solutions to a couple of festering big picture difficulties I can't seem to manage on my own resources. Some joy would be good, some fun times for my family, some new adventures and as much good health as we can have. And of course - OF COURSE! - lots and lots of making.

Saturday, 21 December 2013


Last week I read this post and this post. They were a great run up to teaching last weekend and I spent a lot of time thinking about being a beginner, on making things perfectly, on dealing with mistakes and mishaps and on process/product focus. The challenge of teaching is taking all the stuff you've learned and making it meaningful to people who haven't learned it yet. Thinking about how to do this and reflecting on the experience afterwards is what keeps me coming back to teaching again and again.

And last night, when I realised I'd sewn the collar on my latest shirt underside up I thought even more about this issue of making mistakes and the learning curve. In the last month I've sewn no less than five shirts and I was feeling pretty good about the heights I'd reached on that learning curve. Nothing like a bit of intense repetition to hone your skills, especially on something as fiddly and precise as a shirt. And yet here I am doing something as flat out stupid as sewing something on round the wrong way.

On the left a lovely turned collar, points down, no visible seams on the collar edge. On the right points up and seams on display.

It's tempting to say it's because I got cocky and careless, but that's only part of the truth, and it makes it sound like more experienced sewers only stuff up when there's a reason. While Felicia's posts make some salient points about why dealing with problems in projects is much harder for beginners (primarily the simple truth that beginners just don't have as much data in the database for diagnosing and treating problems) I also want to say that experience is not protection from problems.

While I was helping students deal with tricky bits and minor fudges in class last weekend, I heard that phrase I get at least once in every single class in response to facing up to a stuff up and working out how to deal with it - it's easy for you to say, I bet you would never make a mistake like this. My standard response to this is to paraphrase a wise woman I know that the difference between a beginner and an experienced sewer is the quality of the unpicker they buy. My other response is see above - yes, I make every kind of mistake still!

In my mind, and I think in the minds of many students there's this idea that being an effective learner, being smart and getting good at something all equate to the ability to bypass mistakes. The better you get, the fewer mistakes you make. You can hear what the teacher tells you and execute the move in their image. You can read the pattern carefully, apply your skills and knowledge and end up with a perfect product. As a student, a learner or a novice this idea is powerful and persistent - often in the face of evidence to the contrary.

But the more I make, the more I accept that mistakes and fudges are an unavoidable part of making.More importantly, I think they are actually the bit that keeps me coming back to sewing. I go on making dumb mistakes because I get distracted or cocky or can't remember all the details at one, I make mistakes because some things are just plain hard and you can't expect to get it right every time, and I make mistakes because I am always experiencing new sewing challenges. Frustration not withstanding (swearing ahoy!), a period of entirely problem free sewing makes me restless and generally sees me looking to ratchet the challenge up with more complex projects. I am prepared to invest in the best unpicker (that would be the one made by Clover) because I absolutely expect that I will have to use it, and while I no longer see its use as a sign of personal failure, neither do I wish to make the undo bit any harder or more drawn out than it needs to be.

I am going to unpick the top stitching on that collar, then I am going to unpick the attaching seam too. I am going to do it slowly and with care because if I am rough and get frustrated I am going to stretch and fray the neck edge of the shirt and then the collar will never go on well no matter what I do. I am going to accept before I start that it will take some time, and some of the back stitches at the start and end will be tough to cut cleanly, but I won't be tempted to use brute force. I'm thinking this through because there is still a perfectly good shirt in the offing here, even if it is going to take a while longer to make than I had anticipated. I am also reminding myself that snatching this project from the jaws of defeat is going to make it special and treasured because of that extra time, because of the extra smarts it is going to take,

So what's my point here? Like Felicia says, if you are a beginner have faith that in time your mistakes will be easier to deal with, but also know that this will only be because of the mistakes you make now, and the ones you go on making. Every lesson you learn is money in the bank for future problem solving and sewing well into the future will be a more satisfying and productive experience because of it. You will make fewer and less catastrophic mistakes as you get more experienced and they will shit you less but you will make mistakes.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

in mind

80 today. Tonight we will toast you and wish you were here to share our meal. You didn't quite make your goal and I know that was one of the few things to make you sad towards the end so I will try extra hard to be happy tonight. To try and magic you up to see out your eightieth year in style, in our warm embrace.

I spent today doing a jam making meditation, making apricot jam with the fruit from our tree and your recipe. I thought about so many things - the way you gardened and cooked, the wholesome domestic life you provided for us. The way you taught me to cook, the long days I spent perched beside the stove while you worked. I thought about summers and fruit picking and jam making and watering the garden in the dusk and harvesting vegetables for dinner. I thought about the beauty of your work and the rhythm of our days. I felt you right there in the shape of my mind while I worked.

Not a day goes by that you aren't in my mind mum, and every day it's a surprise to find I can't call you on the phone, or drop by and see you. You are so present and so absent all at once - you haven't dimmed at all, but somehow everything else seems a little less bright. The jewel tone of the jam on my bench comes close to being as bright as I remember yours being, close but its very taste is missing you.