Wednesday, June 6, 2012

What kind of rabbit are you?

There are times when I feel like this fluffy guy from Alice in Wonderland, always running late. At least I manage to wear pants (most days) but I think the White Rabbit and I fret just as much.

So I wanted to remind myself of the best ways to take control of time, rather than running around chasing your own tail (no matter how cute or fluffy it may be): 

The Pomodoro Technique

Introduced to me by a dear writing friend, it’s actually got a cult following around the world. The idea is that you identify what you want to do, then break it down into 25 minute sections. Then you set the timer to 25 minutes and start, not working on anything else at all until the timer goes off. Then you take a break, walk around for a bit (maybe 15 mins) then settle back in and do another ‘pomodoro’. If something crosses your mind while working on the project, you put a mark on your notepad, like a notch. In practice I have found that when I start off doing one pomodoro session, I end up doing another because I really start getting into a project that I had previously been thinking a lot about but not actually doing. It’s important to take breaks, which can be hard if you’re finally slaying that demon of a task. But the first cut is the deepest and that demon will still be there when you get back, just a little weakened after you had your first go at it. It’s called the Pomodoro technique because the original timer used was in the shape of a tomato. The technique has a global following (and range of merchandise).

Eat that Frog

This means ‘choose the biggest, ugliest task you need to tackle and do it before you do any other task’. This is a concept from Brian Tracy who is a best selling author of anti-procrastination books. He says “If the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning is eat a live frog, then nothing worse can happen for the rest of the day!" Truly this, for me, should be exercising as it’s the easiest thing that gets shunted along by just about anything else, but it also delivers the most benefit. As the ugliest frogs do . . .

‘You don’t have to go to every fight you’re invited to'

I saw this on Pinterest (do you think I can find the pin??) and it’s something I think about when I’m working to a deadline and someone tries to involve me in something that I really don’t need to be involved in – whether it’s a fight, or even something really nice that I would love to do, but that I would actually prefer to do, other than eating that frog. We all get annoyed by things sometimes, but it can be a real time-saver (and energy-saver) to tell myself that I’m not going to buy into it and to ask whether it really matters in the bigger picture. Doesn’t always work but when it does, it feels really good. 

Remain single-minded

Why is it, when I’m short on time and there is one thing that I really need to do, a little voice inside says ‘Ooh, I wonder what’s happening on Twitter/Facebook/email/Pinterest’ and before you know it I’ve lost an hour, made 3 new pinboards, laughed at people’s posts, retweeted a bunch of stuff and then end up like the white rabbit fretting over the nasty frog dragging on my heels. But when I do stay single-minded, when I shut down the apps, ignore emails, tell people when I’ll get back to them and do not move until I have finished the task (or at least a couple of pomodoros) I feel so much better – like I’ve prized the clammy fingers of the frog and left him back in the middle of the path in a pile of frog slime. Also – the only thing worse than eating a whole frog is eating half a frog. Twice.

Turn back time

Cher wished for it, but one way to actually do it is to set your watch back by 15 mins. I’m working on this one, but I started today and I spent the morning enjoying getting ready for work, having breakfast and walking to the bus stop instead of running around and racing to the bus stop.

I’m no expert – there’s an entire industry of people who present and write techniques for getting better control of time.

But it’s helpful to remind myself of these from time to time, so I’m a little less Wonderland Rabbit, a little more Rabbit in a Hat.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Wherever I lay my hat

Here are my top 5 favourite unusual places that I have stayed the night (pics are not my own):

1) A 100 year old cottage on an island, Finland

It was Juhannus, the longest night of the year, in the land of the midnight sun. I was in the lakes district of Finland, staying in a little complex of cottages owned by some family friends. Dogs and kids ran around, we ate salmon that had been caught and smoked that day. We gathered wildflowers for midsummer rituals and drank beer and ate pancakes until the sun dipped toward, but not beneath, the horizon. I went to sleep while it was still a dusky twilight outside at 4am.

2) On the sand in the Great Thar Desert, India

Travelling with friends in India, we went on an overnight camel trek into the desert. This sounds like we would have travelled for miles, peering into the distance like Lawrence of Arabia, squinting against the heat shimmers and hallucinating oasis, traversing great shifting dunes, before setting up camp in a bedouin style tent temple. The reality was quite different. A two hour drive from Jaiselmer, a three hour bumpy camel ride through a scrubby landscape. Not a dune to be seen for hours, until we finally ascended a sandy summit and looked out across the scrub-dotted landscape. There was enough sand for convincing photographs of camels silouhetted against the sun, but not much more. A small fire was lit and we ate a hastily prepared dhal and drank soft drinks bought from the 10 year old boy who had followed us on foot out into the desert. With not much to entertain us, we retired early amongst a nest of blankets that had been our saddles on the camel's backs. The desert was quiet, save for the quiet chatting of our tour guides on the other side of the 'dune' and the occasional jangle of a bell around the neck of a camel stirring. Huge black beetles circled us, occasionally I pulled one from the blankets and had covered my head with a sarong so I wouldn't wake with one in my hair. At around 3am I woke and lay staring at a massive moon, larger than I had ever seen, and I lay awake for a while, listening to the quiet wind gently shifting the tiny sand dune we were on.   

3) Middle-class carriage, overnight Indian train

I'm not going to say that I have slept overnight on a train full of chickens and goats, because I haven't. But I did catch a few overnight trains in India and I guess I just fall under the spell of travelling on a train overnight and waking up in a new place. I've always loved the romance of the experience. Even when it's hot and sweaty and there are middle-aged salesmen travelling on business trips who are leering and laying in the cot across from you. You just build a tent around you with the sheet supplied by the train service and fall asleep to the rocking motion of being swept along the tracks. It's just so 'other' that it's impossible to feel anything but lucky to have such experiences. I'm sure if I had to do it more often, the novelty would wear off, but I caught overnight trains from Varanasi to Jaipur, then Jodphur, then Jaiselmer, then Udaipur and I didn't grow tired of them.

4) Botanic Gardens, Pamplona, Spain

I arrived in Pamplona for 3 days of San Fermines fiesta (the running of the bulls), without having done any preparation, or having any supplies. We drank and danced through the night on the first night, resting only when the octagenarians out-danced us or we stopped for paella. The second night was not such a hedonistic story - I was tired, friends had bought a tent during the day and after they had run with the bulls, and we drank sangria in the streets, joined the locals for a siesta on the sun-warmed pavers in one of the town squares, visited the fun fair and got free rides in exchange for some of our sangria, watched a bullfight and ate yet more paella, it was time to find a place to sleep. So we set up our tent in what looked like a comfortable clearing amongst some trees in a park, and went to sleep. We were woken in the morning by the police shaking our tent, laughing as they pulled down the guy ropes so the tent collapsed around us. We rolled out of the tent to beat a hasty retreat to the bus station to travel back to San Sebastian. 

5) Swag in the outback, Red Centre, Australia

The stars in the desert night sky have to be seen to be believed. The night is so clear and just when you think you can turn away from how beautiful the sky is, you capture the glimpse of another constellation. A swag is like a cocoon made of drizabone type material. The one I stayed in had a mattress at the bottom, a little pillow and I had both a blanket and a sleeping bag to keep me warm. Once you're in, you're in. It's not easy to get out and undoing the zips in the stillness of the night as welcome to the people around you as a jackhammer at dawn. Turning is also not easy - you end up sleeping for hours in the same position. But it is all worth it for those stars.  

What were the favourite places you have stayed a night?

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Jiro Dreams of Sushi - Film Review

I don't see many films these days. When I was at uni, studying film, I could watch up to 10 films in a week. Now I'd be lucky to see 10 films in a year. But Jiro Dreams of Sushi would have to be one of my favourites so far this year. 

This feature film debut for David Gelb tells the story of Jiro Ono, an 85 year old sushi chef who owns and works at Sukiyabashi Jiro - a sushi-only restaurant in a Tokyo subway station. Bookings are taken months in advance, the average meal will cost $300 and will be over in less than 30 minutes, during which time guests will have consumed approximately 20 pieces of sushi. 

The story is artfully told, accentuated by a classical music soundtrack and a flowing narrative that takes us through the restaurant's history, processes, kitchen hierarchy and vendors. As a documentary it works, because I left without having any more questions - all the stones had been turned. 

There were a few things that I really liked: 

1) Tsujiki Market scenes - the film explained the selection and selling process which I did not understand when I visited a few years ago. As a tourist it's a cold, noisy, busy, confusing and not entirely comfortable experience to stand in the auction room in the pre-dawn chill of a Tokyo morning. But through the documentary I got an insight into the way it worked and saw the auction as a sort of performance, the auctioneer's skills and those of the vendors, as an art. I was glad for the new perspective. 

2) Of course I liked seeing Tokyo again too. And as sushi is truly one of my favourite foods, it left me hungry for more. I even walked past my local sushi restaurant hoping to stop by to satiate my craving, but will need to wait for lunchtime today. 

3)  Most impressive was Jiro's single-minded commitment to being a better sushi chef. And his love for his work - there has not been a single day that he has not wanted to work. That, in itself, is enviable and inspiring. 

See the film if you like sushi, food, Japan or documentaries focusing on one person's real-life story. 

Saturday, June 2, 2012

A little Gatsby magic

The release of the trailer for Baz Lurhmann's film 'The Great Gatsby' marks the start of what I hope will be an influx of art deco and Roaring Twenties style accessories and design for the next few months until the film's release in December.

Here are 5 elements of Great Gatsby style - whether you're dressing for a theme party or just to give your average day a little Gatsby magic:

1) Red Lips - In Gatsby's era, women chose to wear dark red lipstick as a symbol of their new-found independance. While lipstick dates back thousands of years it was in the 1920's that make up was available in portable containers and it became acceptable to apply lipstick in public. Up until then, lipstick was sold in pots and it was taboo to apply it anywhere except in the privacy of home. The lipstick swivel tube was invented in the 1920's and make up brands like Elizabeth Arden and Estee Lauder started to stock the new format. Usually worn with dark kohl eyeliner (a look sometimes created by using burnt matches).

2) Bobbed hair - Boyish cuts and bobbed hair were another symbol of women kicking back at pre-war expectations. Tired of styling long tresses and encouraged by the likes of Clara Bow, a popular actress, it became fashionable to wear short hair, often adorned with art deco style headbands, or hidden under cloche hats. 

3) Knee-length, box-shaped dresses - The 1920's also represented liberation from previously constraining fashion. Hemlines rose, waistlines fell and shapely curves all but disappeared. 

4) Language - Every era has its slang and the 1920's was no exception. Bring back a little old-school style by saying something is 'the cat's meow' or 'the cat's pajamas' if you like it. 

5) Attitude - The 1920's were characterised by the cultural shift after WW1 towards a break from tradition. Modern inventions like the automobile, moving pictures and radio entered the mainstream consciousness, acting like a pressure-valve on long-standing traditions. People felt a greater sense of freedom than before the war and it turned up everywhere, from fashion to a spirited enjoyment of jazz and dancing. 

Friday, June 1, 2012

Rolling with the hunches

The food truck movement has struck Sydney and, until Tuesday night, I didn't quite 'get it'.

Sure - there was a new version of meals on wheels. But Harry had been doing this for years with his Cafe de Wheels. And there were chefs from big name restaurants involved. But experience and talent is no guarantee of success, as was seen over the last two weeks with the closure of both Montpellier House and Manly Pavilion.

I had a hunch that it was good, but I didn't really get to the soul of the idea. Until Tuesday, when I ate at Eat Art Truck. 

The pulled pork roll ($12) alone is enough to have me lining up for 45 mins or more. The beautifully seasoned meat, mustard cabbage and sweet brioche-style rolls are worth a $10 cab ride, or 15 minute detour, from wherever I am in the city. Because the late night offerings for food in the city range from thawed pies heated in microwaves, to meat chiselled off days-old bricks of meat rotating on skewers. And just because you want late night food, does not mean your choices should be limited.

But I hadn't seen it from the chef's perspective until I saw Stuart McGill address the assembled crowd (it was a media launch). McGill, who left his post as sous chef at Tetsuya's to work on the project, clearly articulated the team's vision. Eat Art Truck want to deliver restaurant quality food, at reasonable prices in a way that is accessible. The style of food is Japanese BBQ with a Korean twist. The menu includes Kinpira salad $8 (gobo root, carrot & edamame) and Annindofu $6 (almond milk jelly with seasonal fruits) which would normally only be accessible in the restaurants or maybe at food festivals like Taste of Sydney. They are also incorporating the 'Art' part of the moniker by having a range of artists showcase their work on the side of the truck for up to one month at a time - kicking off with Phib's street art.

The idea is simple and bold, as with most successful stories. But in reality it's a little more complicated. It's almost like inventing the wheel . . . or 4 wheels as the case may be. Despite the support of City of Sydney, cutting through red tape, legals and liabilities has hardly been like a hot knife through butter. But doing anything for the first time is literally like breaking through a metres thick ice flow.

And there is still fine tuning to be done. These chefs are accustomed to working with military precision, within a certain space, however small. And while the Electrolux ovens they have installed in each van are great - its not like having an industrial sized oven. And at this stage they haven't quite hit the sweet spot they're hoping for of being able to serve food within five minutes of ordering.

But they have a vision, and they're pursuing it. No matter what hurdles fate puts in their way, they're rolling with it. And this, I get.