Monday, December 29, 2008

Calendars, crossings & kofta

Suspension bridges are a feature of West Coast walks: what wonderful, precarious, free-spirited things they are, too - the structures and the metaphors. Even the name suspension bridge is taut with stories.  

We're a day or two away from another big crossing - by the time I post this, 2008 will be about to become 2009. One of my adult offspring commented that it's quite something to realize that we're already almost a decade past the Millennium. It is. We are. Doesn't it strike you, though, that calendars tick over from one day to the next, regardless of whether or not we take any notice? Unless there's something distinctive or significant that sets one apart, days and dates come and go, requiring neither our approval nor our acknowledgement nor even (on some level) our active participation. And yet, who of us doesn't carry a dairy (even on holiday), wear a watch (I don't) or have a calendar-come-year-planner pinned up on the fridge/kitchen cupboard/office or studio wall?

A friend suggested to me a while back that the word time is right up there as one of the most frequently-used words in the English dictionary. This doesn't surprise me. Clocks are important, of course,  but I confess I'm suspicious of them, would even go so far as to say I consider our propensity for clock-watching (with it's multiple associations) to be a large contributer to our world's stress levels these days. Just about everything we do is defined/demarcated/recorded/underpinned/determined or measured in some way or other according to the clock or calendar. It occurs to me that I/we/our global society would benefit greatly from listening more to the pulls of Kairos time. It's certainly a challenge to try and find ways to live responsively in the present whilst at the same time being mindful of - and responsible about - planning and the future. 

Time does weird things when you're away from home - not that it can't behave strangely when you're in amongst your usual routines, too! If you haven't already read Alan Lightman's book, Einstein's Dreams, I recommend it: the writer engages Marco Polo, Albert Einstein and the reader in a series of satisfying dialogues about time: its distortions, its trickery, its governance, flexibility, ruthlessness and style... In one chapter, time is a sense; in another, a religion; in another, a commodity members of the community must bargain over and for. In one conversation, time moves backwards: '... Imagine time is a circle, bending back on itself...' This is another of those books that I find myself picking up to read again every so often (not quite as often as Michel Tournier's The Four Wise Men, but close.)  

Of course, Antarctic time is another notion/abstraction altogether.

Here, in this friendly lap-of-a-bach, a stone's throw away from a splendidly boisterous sea, I've been blissfully unaware of clocks, days of the week and dates, more in tune with rhythms and cycles and the body's simplest wants and needs: eat, sleep, walk, drink, skim a stone, speak, don't... The whole family's slowed right down. And it's been good - very good.

This time tomorrow, my dear daughter and I will be walking the track to Franz Josef Glacier: this will be our first encounter with this almost-on-our-doorstep giant. Fellow artist Peter Charuk refers to glaciers as archives - a striking image - and he's right. I will take my field recorder along and hope to capture glacial sounds I might not have heard in Antarctica. I'm looking forward +++ to being in the company of ice again, know I will want to lean both ear and cheek up against it, exchange a story or two about the Herbertson, Ferrar and Wilson Piedmont Glaciers (not that far) South from here.

Chicken Koftas
(These kebabs are great on a barbeque)

8 thick green asparagus spears
8 wooden kebab skewers (soak these in water for an hour or so beforehand)

I kg chicken mince (or lamb or beef)
2 cloves crushed garlic
1/2 coup pitted black olives, finely chopped
2 tspns finely grated lemon rind
plenty of fresh chopped coriander
1/3 cup freshly grated parmesan
1/4 cup breadcrumbs
Salt & black pepper
1 egg, lightly beaten

Pop asparagus into a pot of boiling water for 2 mins. Drain and rinse under cold water.
Thread lengthways onto skewers.

To make the koftas, combine all ingredients and mix together well. Divide into 8 portions then mould each portion around an asparagus spear, leaving the tips exposed. Refrigerate for 1/2 hour before cooking. (Best on a barbeque, but you can also grill them in an oven or cook them on the stove top in a cast-iron skillet.)


I use this same mixture - minus the asparagus - to make bite-sized chicken balls when there's a call for finger food (stay-at-home movie nights, potluck suppers, book launches, openings... they're really good hot or cold with a yoghurt, lemon and mint dip). Or, make a batch then toss them into a big leafy salad with lots of organic spinach, rocket, avocado... This is especially yummy (besides being visually pretty!) with crusty bread and orange-roasted baby carrots and beetroot - all the healthy flavours and intense colours our stomachs are happiest with.

I hadn't anticipated putting recipes onto this blog, but... well, yes, I do really enjoy food and cooking: gathering around a table with family and friends is undoubtedly one of life's richest pleasures. 

Wishing you a year that's fresh, focused and full of flavour.


PS. It might just be me, but would you agree there's a curious - if obscure - connection between the bowl of chicken kofta and this foram, Astrammina rara? 

Watercolour painting by Sam Bowser 

And even more so, when we add these miniature ingredients to the mix... Watch this space!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Christmas wishes

Hi. I thought I'd be able to write up my recipe for Chicken kofta (Christmassy kebabs, with fresh green asparagus) before 25th, but sometimes life delivers up curve balls and I've not been able to get onto my computer to pick up where I left off a couple of days ago.  I'm heading up the West Coast for the coming ten days or so, looking forward +++ to being in the easy company of loved ones, and to the simple rhythms of walking, sleeping, stone gazing (Granity apparently has the most amazing stone beaches) and enjoying the pile of books I listed a post or two back. Before going, a short message to wish you and yours a safe, festive and gentle Christmas. I'll be back in early Jan. 

Blessings - Claire

Friday, December 19, 2008

Seeing red

I've been having a festive time playing with food: painting shapes with startlingly bright-yellow egg yolks, grating orange rind, drizzling olive oil and sprinkling paprika, and making Christmassy pictures using ingredients like finely chopped pepperdews, sweet chilli, black olives, fresh strawberries and blackberry jam. I'll post a couple of recipes today - one for yummy Chicken Kofta and the other for Chewy Date & Pecan Pavlova. Here are a few images I made during my first foodie day in ages - starting with my colour palette -

Chewy Date & Pecan Pavlova 

2 egg whites
1/4 lb castor sugar
1 teaspoon white vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
1 teaspoon cornflour
2/3 cup chopped dates
2/3 cup chopped pecans (or walnuts - any nut that takes your fancy)

This pavlova is skinnier than the traditional NZ one: it's crisp 'n crunchy on the outside, soft and chewy in the middle. I usually double this recipe so that I can make one big round dessert, and still have enough mixture left over to fill a cake tin with little meringues that can be pulled out at a later stage. 

* Beat the egg whites till stiff. 
* Add half the castor sugar and beat till shiny.
* Add remaining castor sugar, vinegar, vanilla and cornflour and keep beating till - well, you'll know when it's enough.
* Fold in the dates and nuts then spoon the mixture onto a greased & floured baking tray, allowing room for growth!
* Bake at 150 degrees C for about an hour. 

Top with lashings of whipped cream and sliced strawberries, etc... Allow to sit for an hour or two before serving. 

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Seven of anything

I could write screeds about the number 7, but won't get carried away with that tonight. Suffice to say it's a magnetic number for me - as it no doubt is for many - and features large in my life. I tend to draw or paint in series of seven, for instance; will almost always light seven (as opposed to four, six or eight) candles; prefer to plant tussocks, cabbage trees, lobelia and silver birches in groups of seven... No surprise then that the pile of holiday books I'll be stuffing into my West Coast suitcase currently numbers seven, too - you may have noticed I have a bit of a thing for primes. 

Anyway, here's my reading list -

(1) Maverick - Extraordinary Women from South Africa's Past by Lauren Beukes

'This is a book about raconteurs and renegades, writers, poets, provocateurs and pop stars, artist and activists and a cross-dressing doctor. From Africa's first black movie star and Drum covergirl, Dolly Rathebe to Glenda Kemp, the snake-dancing stripper who shook up the verkrampte social mores of the 70s, these are the riveting tales of women who broke with convention and damn the consequences...' 

(2) White Heat - The Friendship of Emily Dickinson and Thomas Wentworth Higginson by Brenda Wineapple. (Tasty name, Wine Apple.) 

(3) Fear of Fifty by Erica Jong. Dangerous, compulsive, saucy reading for any woman on the edge of rebellion? Not that I am or anything... besides, I still have a year or two to go before I reach the big Five-Oh! 'Saucy' is a word my grandmother used to use for subjects or behavior she considered risque: there's nothing vaguely quiescent or apologetic about Erica J - to the contrary! I suspect my forward-thinking grandmother would have found her feisty frankness as entertaining and irresistible as I do. 

(4) The Brain That Changes Itself by Norman Doidge. Oliver Sacks commented '... a remarkable and hopeful portrait of the endless adaptability of the human brain...' This book seems to be taking the reading world by storm: friends here, in the States, UK and South Africa say it's an inspiration.  

(5) A Year To Know A Woman by Dunedin author Paddy Richardson. I started reading Paddy's novel in a tent in the Bay of Sails, Antarctica - could not have conjured a more stunning place to start a new book! A busy season's work meant I had to set it down and bring it home: am impatient to get back to it. 

(6) The Old Man and the Sea by Earnest Hemingway. I've lost count how many times I've read this one: it's likely to be passed around the family,


(7) The Four Wise Men by Michel Tournier. This all time favourite book was given to me years ago by a dear art school friend, Heather. At the time (mid-198os London) it powerfully impacted my way of thinking, tipping my old, inherited paradigms on their heads. Rich in symbolism, it reinterprets the old Biblical story of the epiphany, adding a fourth - apocryphal - boy king with a penchant for confectionary (turkish delight, in particular). Tournier takes the reader on a devastating, ultimately transformative, journey. I can't remember a Christmas holiday when I haven't re-read - and relished - it.       

Ice lines

Time for a change of format. These new-style pages are hungry for colour, but I'll set that straight in the next day or two. 

Meantime, I'm in reflective mode - a little homesick for ice, perhaps. Funny how that happens. 

In between baking scrummy Christmas fare and restoring order to my runaway garden, I've been sorting through images from this past season: here's a sequence of favourite ice drawings - 

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Aurora Calling - ABC podcast

Hi. I've been a bit discombobulated the last few days - lots on - and it's that time of year, I guess. 

A reminder that Catherine Ryan's emotionally & atmospherically charged radio play Aurora Calling: the results of a Joint Observation is now available online as a podcast. You can tune in to it here on ABC's website. Pour yourselves a dram, a glass of wine or cup of tea and prepare to disappear into this intensely absorbing drama. I first mentioned it on Ice Lines about two weeks ago, listened to it for the first time last night and didn't leave my seat (other than to top up my glass!) for the hour and a bit it was playing. 

It's as much a sensory experience as a satisfying, edgy drama. Enjoy!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Cloud chaperones

Something that's both welcome and a little disorienting when returning home from the ice, is the arrival of dusk; for seven weeks, we lived in the constant presence of sunshine. There was no such thing as noticeable sunrise or sunset, no darkness and therefore no obvious onset of night. More often than not, the sky was occupied simultaneously by the moon and the sun -masculine and feminine energies poised for a time in open conversation.  

Complex cloudscapes accompanied our C17 en-route home from Antarctica to Christchurch;the flight itself was a helpful transition space. I was certainly grateful for the time it took us to cover the distance between one continent and the other; awkwardly cocooned in our side-on seats, we were strangely 'in stasis' even whilst traveling at noisy high speed. 

As the frozen landscape receded, ice seemed to vaporize into colour and cloud - water and white in dynamic new form. 

The following pics show views from one of two small windows I was able to press my nose - and my camera - up against on the journey home. We left Antarctica in a snow storm and landed in Christchurch five and a half hours later, in the pitch dark. Stepping off the plane and onto tarmac, the air felt tangibly thick and warm; it smelled deliciously of grass, moisture, humans, animals, soil and green.  

The end, we like to say, is also the beginning - 

It was no surprise to find we'd returned on a new moon.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Late wind

During the last days of this season in Explorers Cove, I found myself hankering for two things - falling snow to soothe the parched and wretched-looking Dry Valleys' terrain, and a wind storm; the first for the soft edges it would bring to both landscape and psyche, the second to imprint on us one more time, the raw textures, timbres and sheer power of this place.      

Snow came as bidden and fell, in giant, quiet flakes. It seemed to me it arrived when and as it did to unite our community of eight before our departure and, too, to restore something essential to each of us.

Twenty four hours later, the wind reacted to the silence and came stampeding down the valley to let its indignation be known. There was something rakish and adolescent about its approach; it came more in the mood for play and tantrums than outspoken brute force, bringing with it the customary kit-bag of noise, protest and dramatic display; the fresh snow was like chalk in its hands. Within a short space of time, this irascible wind had smudged, rumpled and erased all evidence of neat-and-tidy white, completely re-drawing the landscape around camp. 

Two weeks ago, Sam and I received an email from an editor in the UK with an invitation to participate in a rather special literary project. London-based magazine, Another had a wonderful idea - to create what they termed a Global snapshot in words. They invited one person on every continent to down their usual tools and link up with other writers around the world at the same time on the same day. We were asked to describe (in 300-500 words) the view in front of us at that particular moment. The designated hour was noon GMT on Thursday 27 November which,  in Antarctica, meant 1.00AM on Friday 28th. As it happened, this fell on the fulcrum between fresh snow and wind storm -  the universe conspires in mysterious ways! 

Sam was content for me to be the scribe that night, so I sat out on the sea ice an hour post-midnight and wrote. The GPS coordinates of that private-yet-communal spot became the title of the piece. (I'm not yet sure when the final collection is due to appear, but will post something on this site just as soon as it's out.)

The collaborative, community-oriented nature of this project is what really touched me - our world is so in need of links and link-makers, for people and groups who seek to find the things that connect rather than divide us. I celebrate the ethos underpinning this composite creation and thank Another magazine for the opportunity to be a part of it. 

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Movement to Light

Two dear friends Katherine Glenday and Sarah Boustred are currently in New York for the opening (tonight) of Katherine's exhibition Movement to Light. This is another of those times when I get to practice 'presence in absence.' I would dearly love to be able to bridge the physical divide in order to link arms with them in Soho at 6.30PM this evening; this is when the doors to Amaridian Gallery will open and those lucky enough to be there will encounter Katherine's inspired new ceramic installation for the first time. 

Katherine, Sarah and I flatted together in the early 1980's during Pietermaritzburg student days; the three of us traipsed around in leather sandals and hand-embroidered kaftans and lived on a diet of fresh air, granny-smith apples, dessicated coconut, baked potatoes and the occasional cheese fondu. Katherine & I were studying Fine Arts & Sarah, midwifery. That was then, this is now... Distance (Cape Town, Colorado, Dunedin are the current coordinates of our friendship) means we don't often have the luxury of time a trois these days, but where two are gathered, the third is there also - a comforting thought when distance pangs. 

Katherine's new ceramic installation is guaranteed to be a stunner; her work is profound on many levels, celebrating as it does fragility and strength, ebb and flow, the complex dance of humanity with all its rawness and splendour. She's drawn to liminality and the 'edge.' In her bid to communicate the interconnectedness between all things, she uses translucent porcelain to express the creative tension between dark and light, masculine and feminine energies, decay and transformation, constancy and flux. Her work is process laid bare, unashamed in its honesty and scrupulous in its integrity. 

During the time we've been down here, Sam and I - together with divers/cameramen Henry Kaiser and Shawn Harper - have collaborated closely with Katherine, and with Christina Bryer.

Three months ago, eleven of Katherine's ceramic vessels and seven of Christina's porcelain forms (3, 7, 11 = prime numbers, all) embarked on a journey that took them from Cape Town to my Dunedin studio, and from there to Explorers Cove. They've accompanied us on many an unlikely adventure down here, riding with us in boxes, backpacks and helicopters, on skidoos, a banana sled, a six-wheeler. They've crossed stony desert landscape, pristine snow and jagged sea ice. They've seen the inside of tide cracks, been placed in the mouth of a glacier and on the ocean floor, 85 feet below the sea ice. They've spent time in the company of divers, science equipment, sunshine, snow, katabatic winds, silence, pycnogonids (sea spiders), ophiuroids (brittle sea stars), nemerteans (ribbon worms) and adamussium colbecki (scallops), hydroids, pterapods (sea butterflies) and inquisitive little rock cod, Trematomus bernacchii.  It would be interesting to hear the porcelain's tales...

 Underwater photography: Shawn Harper 

Here is a link to Amaridian's website where you will find Katherine's Movement to Light exhibition, together with images of work by fellow collaborating artists, Christina Bryer, Chris Bladen, Stephen Inggs, Andile Dyalcane & Nick Bladen.   

Aurora Calling: The Results of a Joint Observation

This coming Sunday, Episode One of an exciting new radio play will take to the air on Australia's ABC network.  Aurora Calling: The Results of a Joint Observation is an adventurous, multi-dimensional composition by playwright Catherine Ryan.  

It was a treat to meet Catherine in September when we both participated in the humanities-based Imagining Antarctica conference in Christchurch. Together with Australian philosopher and shakuhachi musician, Rupert Summerson and visual artists, Lisa Roberts and Peter Charuk, Catherine and I presented papers back-to-back during the conference's Friday morning session. The synergistic overlaps in our (pl) work and intentions were striking, inspiring and heart-warming. It seems there are growing numbers of people who believe in the potency and reach of working collaboratively and collectively as well as across continents, cultures, disciplines and media. 

During her presentation, Catherine introduced us to the various layers of her (at the time, work-in-progress) play. An actress as well as a writer, she brought her two female characters dramatically to life in the auditorium that day, and spoke generously of her writing process and the motivations behind telling this story. 
Aurora Calling will be broadcast in two episodes - Sunday 7 & 14 December @ 3pm, Australian time. For those of us living in other parts of the world, it will be available as a podcast on the ABC website, post-initial broadcast. You can listen in to the full production any time after 14 December on

Here's a brief outline of the play as described by the ABC crew - 

'Based on the real-life experience of two Australian women, Aurora Calling: The Results of a Joint Observation is a fascinating exploration of both the world of science and the realm of human experience and emotion. Trisha and Jackie became friends when they were studying at the Mawson Institute for Antarctic Research. Both women are upper atmospheric physicists investigating auroras. To further their research, they travel to the polar regions where this amazing phenomenon occurs - Trisha to Alaska, and Jackie to Antarctica. Poles apart, the two must rely on email to keep in touch and support each other as they try to juggle both professional and personal life. Living so far away from home in these extreme, but beautiful landscapes, their daily lives hold together the vastness of the upper atmosphere, the minutiae of scientific observations, the domestically everyday and the intensity of small isolated community. Like the unpredictable, breathtaking aurora, the year of this story throws up unexpected challenges for Trisha and Jackie. Their friendship over such difficult distance proves crucial, as they navigate themselves through their worlds of ice, darkness, work, frustration, light, love and loneliness.' 

(Writer Catherine Ryan, Producer Justine Sloane-Lees, sound engineer Garry Havrillay, actors Glenda Linscott & Daniela Farinacci.)