Pots for Frank

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Shiny bendy buildings

Lovely

Curved alchemy.

Titanium wraiths of technology

and delight!

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Bilbao Disney Dusseldorf

Vuitton and Vegas.

Paris and Panama

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gehryuts

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My earth made pots?

“Inspired by” 

but small and squat.

Adjust a smidge.

and turn

and yearn

for Gehry spectacle!

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the Northern Rivers

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We moved around a lot when I was a kid.

Every couple of years it was a new school, new landscapes and new friends.

There was a constant however…. returning each summer holiday to the green and lush northern rivers, home to my mum’s extended family and the place where my dad met my mum.

Otherworldly and slow paced, it’s big rivers, sugarcane farms, little old towns full of verandahed wooden cottages seemed magical to us.

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Flowers and vines grew in profusion, colorful rosellas swooped above our heads, frog and cicada choirs accompanied our dinner and everything was different. Houses had sleep outs, screened and covered porches, where we slept on the hot humid nights, wriggling, tossing and turning on squeaky old iron beds.

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Even the furniture was different. Small cane chairs and tables, ornate wooden dressing tables, picture frames with sea shells and crocheted doilies on every surface, and especially over the milk jug to keep pesky flies and bugs out.

Electric storms would rattle the house.We’d watch lightning strikes and count for the thunderclap, measuring the miles between us and it. Tropical rain would pound the tin roof for hours and we would squeal in fear and excitement.

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The main highway was still 2 lanes, and instead of bridges there were punts, big river ferries that carried cars and trucks across. The punt operators would signal cars on, and then switch on to pull us across the river on submerged iron ropes. At the same time another punt would leave from the other river bank and pass by on its parallel run.It was a 24/7 operation but at Christmas the cars would line up for miles, and us kids would run to count how many were waiting and to tell those at the end of the line just how many were ahead of them! 115 cars one time.

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Now big bridges cross the rivers and there is only one little punt left, on the back road to Grafton, moving traffic from one river island to another. I take my Californian family that way whenever I can, so they can experience the slow down, wait your turn silent crossing ( chanting a soft prayer “please don’t build a bridge, please don’t build a bridge”.)

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The Clarence is the biggest river on the East Coast, and it’s islands are big enough for hamlets and farms. Fishermen plie the entrance for the famous Yamba prawns, everyone tries for flat head and mullet from their tinnys and some pubs have docks. Sunset over the big expanse of river is glorious. north17

Further north is Byron Bay, hipper and quicker and home to new age celebrities and movie stars. A whole industry devoted to beauty and awareness and creativity, and real estate prices to match.Hatted restaurants and music festivals and flights to Sydney and Melbourne several times a day.

Our stretch of coastline is about 100 miles of empty, golden beaches, punctuated by bushy headlands and rivers. The towns at the rivers mouth grow slowly, settled mostly by retirees, always a bowling club and a lot of unattractive brick veneer homes w a boat or caravan and man shed in the back. National parks rule so development is limited.Investors from the city want views, preferably from modern multi story complexes so even cool architecture is in short supply!

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Our town, Iluka is completely surrounded by National Park and a listed rainforest, so the beaches are snug against forest and sometimes we see kangaroos on the beach, once an emu!

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Within the 100 mile swath of Northern Rivers area are big rivers which meander across rich farmland, sugarcane farms near the coast, cattle farms inland and timber getting up in the mountains. Everything grows like crazy, and there is a whole category of country bush foods that everyone grows, cooks and eats: macadamia nuts, finger limes, grammas and chokos, pumpkins and potkins,passion fruits,pawpaws and mangos, lilly pillies and rosellas. Oysters,oysters,oysters .

Retro,hip and artisan all at once!

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Tourists drive through en route to the cities, lots of surfers and backpackers seek out the empty beaches and the little towns swell at weekends with Queenslanders, escaping high rise, overdeveloped coastline and looking to recreate their childhood seaside holidays….walking miles on the beach, bodysurfing and swimming, fishing from an old aluminum tinny in the river and eating fish and chips from the fisherman’s co-op.

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I’m so happy that the northern rivers are once again a constant in my life.

 

Sanam Lamborn’s Persian Kitchen

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What a treat to reconnect with Sanam Lamborn, and especially over traditional persian tea and a coffee table full of sweet nibbley things: small  homemade pastries, fresh berries, tiny perfumed cookies, persian baklava and dates.

Sanam is the woman behind My Persian Kitchen, a blog devoted to exploring, enjoying and cooking Persian foods. She is followed by thousands of readers around the globe, a number which is increasing, especially as interest in Iranian food grows.

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Born in Iran, she moved to Rome with her mother where she lived for 10 years before settling in LA in 1990. And yes, English is her 4th language after Farsi, Italian, and French!

After graduate school, and in the midst of unanticipated unemployment, she started writing a blog (in fact, Nosh Cafe made a little appearance). Her stories about food generated the most comments, questions and interest, so My Persian Kitchen was created to concentrate on the recipes of her heritage.

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Sanam regards Persian cuisine as one of the major “mother” cuisines of the world along side Chinese and French, and with its brilliant history, depth of ingredients, and techniques it’s hard not to be dazzled.

Think the center of the Silk Road, the location and geography of Iran which allows for 4 growing seasons, and a bounty of beautiful core ingredients such as fresh green herbs (cilantro, mint, parsley, dill, tarragon), a myriad of fruits such as plums, pomegranates, quince, prunes, apricots, dates and raisins, and then spices and flavorings like saffron, dried limes, cinnamon, rose petals, cardamon to name a few. Pistachios, walnuts, almonds, and saffron are native to Iran, along with oranges and grapes.

Add caviar, lamb, fish, fresh vegetables, noodles, flatbreads and basmati rice and there’s a lot to work with!

Once the center of a huge Empire, Iran neighbors the former Soviet Union countries and Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Arab states and Turkey. Conquered by Alexander the Great in the 4th century, it was also invaded by Arabs, Turks, Mongols and Uzbeks.

Sanam’s stories and recipes help build an awareness and knowledge of persian cuisine, which until recently tended to be overlooked in the food press and confused with other middle eastern cuisines.

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Along with detailed step by step recipes, one of the things I love about My Persian Kitchen is her “persianizing”. A good cook and an adventurous eater loves nothing better than understanding what makes a cuisine sing, getting comfortable and familiar with the elements and flavors. The next step is applying them to their own local ingredients…persianizing.

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Speaking for myself, I’m a little intimidated by the famous persian rice, so I love that Sanam shares her own steep learning curve with that iconic staple!

Beautifully tender, but separate fluffy basmati rice, sometimes plain but often studded with treats, it’s the dish that all cooks are judged on and everyone wants to master. So delicious that its crusty bottom is served separately as a dish in its own right.

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In the 6 years since My Persian Kitchen started, Sanam has been invited to write for several magazines, including Saveur and Los Angeles magazine and she is in the process of producing a series of e-books. There’s also cooking classes, demonstrations and tastings and small special catering events.

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Time spent with Sanam also reinforces the essential graciousness and hospitality of Persian culture and her recipes reflect this integral component.

I suggest checking in to My Persian Kitchen and exploring with Sanam!

http://www.mypersiankitchen.com

Gateway Arch….really big public art.

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As soon as I knew I was going to a conference in Milwaukee, I pulled out the road maps and started dreaming.

Too many things on my “to do list of life” list located in the Mid West, so it was hard to decide what I could fit in and where I could go.

Images of the Arch, and the Mississippi,  and an old Nelly interview floated thru my mind…

I decided to fly in to Chicago, get a rental car and do a driving pilgrimage to St Louis .

 

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I didn’t know what I would find and as I drove down the interstate towards St Louis, in grey skies and drizzly rain I wondered, would I see it as I drove in?

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Yes!

There it was.Gleaming and soaring above a subdued downtown, emerging from a parkland forest of trees and on the west bank of the Mississippi River, the site of the founding of St Louis.

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A sculpture and symbol of all that I love about America. The dynamism and optimism that propelled settlers across the continent. 630′ of soaring, stainless steel symbolizing Westward expansion.

Remarkable in so many ways, not the least the fantastic decision to create a huge, dramatic piece of public art.

Where else? Mt Rushmore?

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Designed by Eero Sarrinen, Finnish-American architect and industrial designer, and Hannskarl Bandarl, a German-American engineer.

Saarinen, now famous for his futuristic structural curves and precise simplicity in buildings,  monuments and furniture, won the design prize after competing with his father.His first win!

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Work commenced in 1963 and it opened to the public in 1967. It cost $13 million dollars ….around $175 million today, 50 years later.

More than 4 million people a year visit the site , many taking the claustrophobic tram inside to the top.Not me …just a visit to the museum and a lazy hour wandering the parkland and gazing up.

No surprise that St Louis is home to other smaller sculpture and public art spaces ( the Serra Scupture park and Citygarden).

The timeless innovative design and simple beauty of Gateway Arch , “reflective in sunshine,soft and pewterish in mist,crisp as a line drawing one minute, chimerical the next” exceeded any and all my expectations and creates marvel and awe in everyone who visits.

 

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Xian Wei

Xian Wei, brainchild of Chef Luther Bob Chen and General Manager Kenny Lui is nothing short of breathtakingly ambitious. When 20 year old Luther says he’s “always had a 12 year plan” you can be assured that the future, when realized, will be big!

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Now a unique pop-up supper club, soon to be artisan street food truck and then a “couple” of fine dining restaurants, Xian Wei explores the complexity, history, and flavors of Chinese cuisine. The supper club, based around seasonal menus, operates from a private home in San Pedro. Limited to 8 guests, the 9 courses are an elegant homage to Chef Luther’s background and passion.

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Diminutive, deconstructed, and visually stunning, they travel the gamut of texture, taste and region and with a couple of amuse bouche provide well over 4 hours of delicious dining and conversation.

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Strangers become friends and fans with Luther joining the table to talk, answer questions, and share stories. Both Luther and Kenny grew up in the San Gabriel Valley area of Los Angeles with a lifetime of “xian wei”, meaning fresh flavor or what the Japanese call umami under their belts. After school “cheffing” and the decision to attend CIA in New York placed Luther on his trajectory early, followed by a solo expedition to China and Taiwan, visiting relatives and soaking up food and cultural treasures. Xian Wei the business was born.

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Kenny Lui, who describes himself as a serial entrepreneur, is responsible for developing the vision and direction of the next phase: the Shao Kao BBQ food truck and leading the team in execution and business operations.

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This menu is based on skewers and categorized into REDS (meats such as lamb, hangar steak, poussin wing), BLUES (seafood options like whole squid, oysters, pike, prawns, and fish balls) and GREENS (eggplant, mushrooms, young bamboo, sweet potato) Permitting for the truck build has just been ticked off the list and the team hope to be serving food first quarter in 2015.

http://www.xianwei.com

http://www.shaokaobbq.com

Georgia territory

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Abiquiu in Northern New Mexico is the place where Georgia O’Keeffe lived and painted.

“When I got to New Mexico, that was mine.As soon as I saw it , that was my country”

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The stunning, stark beauty of the high desert landscape had been her inspiration since her first visit in 1929.For 20 years she travelled from New York to Abiquiu each summer, often staying for six months in solitude, to paint the skies and desert, colored rock formations, distant mountains and Chama  river valley.

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Smaller found objects like bleached bones and rocks, exotic cactus flowers and the wood and adobe structures also found their way onto her canvases. Three years after her husband’s death she moved permanently to New Mexico and eventually owned two homes .

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The first in Ghost Ranch, was high and secluded. Nestled beneath 700-foot cliffs it looked over to the flat-topped Pedernal. “Pedernal is my private mountain” she said frequently.”God told me if I painted it enough I could have it.”

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The second, initially used as her winter residence, was in the small town of Abiquiu at an elevation  of 6400′ and overlooked the Chama River with its  green trees and fields.

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Both locations surrounded her with a wealth of imagery for her paintings.

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Visiting Abiquiu over Christmas I was struck at each turn of the road  how recognizable the landscape is because of our familiarity with O’Keeffe’s work.

Driving north towards Ghost Ranch we knew we were getting close when Chimney Rocks came into sight.

Photographs taken quickly (with the phone!) out the window of the car amazed us with their color and clarity. Georgia O’Keeffe was quoted as saying that most of her art was done in New Mexico before she put her brushes to the canvas.

There is almost no tourist infrastructure in Abiquiu. An Inn with a small but good restaurant. A road house /gas station famous for breakfast burritos. Georgia’s home in town is only open for tours in the warmer months and her home at Ghost Ranch can only be toured via enquiries at the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe. Ghost Ranch, now owned by the Presbyterian Church is a retreat, conference center,geology museum and place of learning.Each year there are hundreds of classes to take, many residential.

What is there and intensely accessible, are breathtaking vistas that shock. Skies that amaze with crystalline blue beauty, the whitest clouds and nearly every night billions of sparkly stars.Every road takes you somewhere you want to explore:cliff dwellings, pueblos, monasteries and churches, rocks and petroglyphs and tiny adobe hamlets.

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We rented a little stone house and pinched ourselves every morning when we looked out the windows, across Georgia’s valley.

State of Enchantment , as marked on the car number plates…not really a cliche!

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http://www.okeeffemuseum.org

http://www.GhostRanch.org

http://www.abiquiuinn.com

Flat whites

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So I live in town where it’s well nigh impossible to get a good coffee.
As a mostly tea drinker, it’s mostly ok, but for meeting a friend I want a coffee.
And when I want to sit and read, or write, or watch and ponder, I need a good flat white in front of me.
( and an atmosphere and ambience that vibes to all of the above)

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Moving to the US was a shock having grown up in the antipodean coffee culture….real espresso served sit down style in a one off, owner operated coffee shop.

“But where do I go to have a coffee?” asks the immigrant bride!

All I could see were brewers and glass pots perched in a diner or breakfast place, and the coffee places in the mall reeked of sweet artificial flavorings and there was no where to sit.

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In Australia,  commercial espresso machines proliferated after WWII and the ensuing influx of European immigrants and most every  cafe had one.Even in small country towns, fabulous n fancy machines dominated the counters at main street “milk bars” and if the actual coffee wasn’t so great, we grew up drinking cappuccinos with our friends and seeing espresso as the basis of any coffee drink.

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Unlike the USA where electric brew pots reigned supreme, most Aussies had percolators, a French press or drip paper system at home. Maybe a stove top espresso, and instant for emergencies! Quality coffee was becoming more and more prevalent and roasters pushed the industry forward with branded sponsored umbrellas, cups and paraphernalia for the coffee bars and cafes.

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In the late 70’s and early 80’s the flat white/short black phenomena exploded, and the terminology continues today.

It was only the arrival of Starbucks that brought paper takeaway cups and “Big Gulp” sizes to Sydney and Melbourne. No surprise to anyone ( except the coffee execs perhaps?) when 2/3rds of the stores closed within a year of opening. Why would anyone reared on great coffee want the McCoffee style experience?

Different here where it’s the benchmark. But beyond a wrenchingly early morning at the airport , or in a drive thru on road trip why?

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Over the past year I have found my way back to my favorite coffee…..the flat white.

It’s 2 shots of espresso and a smaller amount of velvetty, foamy stretched milk.Served in a real cup, 6 to 8oz with a gorgeous merged crema and foam.

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Originating in Australia and New Zealand it’s de rigeur in London, most parts of Asia, Berlin and now available here: notably at my favorite coffee place in LA, Deus ex Machina in Venice.coffee3

Not to be confused with a latte which is bigger and whiter or a cappuccino which floats dryer foam on top of the espresso and milk, the secret of the flat white is the milk/coffee ratio and the micro foamed milk.

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So big coffee news this week.
Starbucks will begin selling the flat white in the USA this Tuesday.

Drippingly ironic as just last year the company officially exited Australia after apparently losing millions of dollars.Completely unsuccessful in the face of an obsessive coffee culture which prizes quality,flavor and technique over ubiquity and mass production.

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So maybe give one a try but I’m not confident that the push button machine, harsh roasts and paper cups will do justice to my favorite .
Better still, seek out a real coffee house where baristas work their magic on a glorious La Marzocco or Nuova Simonelli and sit and savor the best coffee of the day!

glossary

flat white:2 shots of espresso and about 6 ounces of foamy milk.

short black: one or two shots of espresso.

long black: espresso with hot water, an americano.

cappuccino; espresso w an equal amount of steamed milk , topped with a thick layer of foam.