Book Review: Joan London’s The Golden Age

The Golden AgeThe Golden Age by Joan London
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I did find the setting and time intriguing, and the idea of a care home for kids with polio and a European immigrant couple adjusting to the New World in Perth in the 50s was engaging enough. As a poet and writer, I should have been engaged with the protagonist’s discovery of writing and the power of words, which leads him to his eventual career. But for some reason this part wasn’t convincing to me.

I found the prose often beautiful, and yet my interest kept failing me. I didn’t find enough dramatic tension or depth in the characters. In another book, the dramatic pivot late in the book would be… much more dramatic. The book would have lead to this point, and the repercussions afterwards much more strongly felt.

But it was so quiet this book, the characters generally all stoic and brave, strong, not particularly talkative, and accepting of their lot. I don’t need the book to be what it’s not: loud and action-filled, but I would have liked the volume turned up, say from a 3 to a 6 on a dial of 10.

Considering how roundly lauded this book is by professional critics and goodreads readers alike, I wonder if there is a lack of a cultural fit for this particular Canadian reader and this particular Australian writer.

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Home Cooking: Cantonese Wonton

IMG_3669So, I am on the cusp of posting up the recipe I’m using but am going to wait first to make the second batch of them (the filling and skins are both in the freezer, one recipe is good for two packs)…

Some observations though:

  1. I like using the egg wrappers (coloured yellow instead of white)
  2. I like using the square wrappers
  3. Learning to fold them is not so difficult, though not done quickly. It’s a bit like a wonton meditation. My preferred form is to fold them in half into a rectangle, and then bring the corners together. Beautiful!
  4. Make a dozen or so at a time, freeze batches spaced out on a plate and then you can just put them in a freezer bag without them sticking together.
  5. I like the combo of pork and shrimp, and the shrimp should be cut into big enough pieces that you can taste the texture. I made the mistake the first time of whizzing it with my stick blender/food processor into a shrimp paste, and it wasn’t as good.
  6. These really are fantastic to make up and keep in the freezer. I think a little serving of 5, maybe 6, is a beautiful appetizer, served with a spicy sauce (for which I’ll also post the recipe soon).

For some reason, it makes me feel very proud to have figured out how to make wonton at home. Some sort of nod to my Chinese heritage, and dumplings are my favourite food group.


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Book Review: Michael Cunningham’s The Snow Queen

The Snow QueenThe Snow Queen by Michael Cunningham
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Michael Cunningham has always been one of my favourite authors and his latest book, The Snow Queen, reminded me why: I think it will be one of my favourites of his, once it settles in some more.

How I loved my courses in literature in university. I was as interested in politics as I was in literature, and thought it would be a smarter career path. So, I didn’t major in English, but I did manage to sneak in a number of literature courses into my degree. What a privilege it was to spend time, after reading a wonderful book, to just think about it, to choose some random theme to focus on, but in a way that allowed you to really delve in, interrogate and live with the author’s words.

Reading The Snow Queen, I had a longing for that lost phase of mine. And since I’m certainly not going to write an English essay for fun, this book review will have to do.

I first discovered The Hours on recommendation of a flatmate, who had such good taste in literature, I thought we would make good flatmates. We did not. Though I was grateful for the recommendation of Cunningham’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel: short, compact and divided into three sections reflecting three different characters and time periods, with thematic links between them that almost made the book seem like a beautiful, long poem. I found it a masterpiece, and deeply moving.

I read his previous two books soon after: A Home at the End of the World, which I didn’t like as much, and Flesh and Blood, a sprawling family saga which I adored, and was certainly Cunningham’s lengthiest book. Specimen Days, which followed The Hours, used the same trick of a three-part story with three different characters. By Nightfall returned to the New York arts scene (an art dealer, whereas Clarissa in The Hours was a book editor). In the two books that followed The Hours, I remember recognising beautiful writing and movements of wonder, but that as a whole, they didn’t resonate with me as much.

That’s the thing with books, hey? We have our subjective opinions of them; these will change depending on what we’re going through. The theme of cancer – and illness and recovery and the details of how we care for those who are sick – is one I know from the last year; another theme, a little harder to summarise, but about how to be in the world, how to enjoy its magic while grappling with expectations of ourself and others – well, let’s just say, I had that weird (but I don’t think uncommon) feeling where you like a book so much you think it’s been written for you.

A few of the technical gifts that I love about Cunningham: his long winding sentences which seem like they may be stream-of-consciousness but in fact manage to both put us in the mental state of mind of his characters and feel their internal worlds, but also impart character studies and observations in a compact way. Describing the brilliant but aimless Barrett, his brother Tyler recounts his post-Yale wanderings, none of them ‘which seems to have led him anywhere in particular’ yet included working as a fry cook, starting a PhD, an internet venture, a café and being threatened with a knife by an ex-boyfriend.

In fact, at times, I found the condensation of experience a little too intense, and found the chapters better absorbed if I took breaks while I was reading. His characters feel intensely, sometimes in particularly dramatic ways (the biggest example being Barrett’s vision in the sky in Central Park, upon which the book is based); but I like that, the bigness of it all. You’d probably barely notice his character Beth walking in the snow, while she’s feeling ‘remarkable, being alive’, wanting the ‘un-company of passing strangers’, having somewhat of an epiphany on wishing Happy New Year to a young couple. It’s a really fascinating dance of words, between her close physical observations of what is around her, and the internal churning of her thoughts about life and survival and even including an analogy with Greek gods, and ending up neither external or internal, but simply in a present state, ‘thinking of nothing in particular’.

It’s interesting how much Cunningham returns to similar themes. I feel like I’ve read all of these before in different combinations: a close loving relationship between siblings, an unexpected love affair between friends, a gay character who has sex with women, or in the past did. There are always engaging and amusing observations of gay life, the arts or literary scene, and it a pleasant place to imagine: not-too-rich, not-too-poor bohemian and stylish New Yorkers, who attend parties, drink, take drugs, flirt and fight with each other. One of his strongest themes is about trying to create something that is perfect, and what that means. In two previous novels (two…), it’s a cake that doesn’t turn out right; in this book, it’s a song that wants to encapsulate everything: love, artistic genius, a perfect transmission of intent and caring.

I hope Cunningham doesn’t fret too much over whether his creations are perfect. The way the theme comes up, I’m unsure if the issue is resolved for him. Can creation be perfect? Isn’t it enough for your work to be incredibly beautiful and accomplished, and have something very powerful and interesting to say about how we live our lives in this world – though perhaps I’m projecting. I personally loved this book so much, I hope that it has the power to touch others in the same way.

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Food Diary: Pei Modern, Sydney


Even though we’ve been to Pei Modern in Melbourne, I kept forgetting its provenance: the famed chef Mark Best of Marque opening a more casual eatery in Melbourne and now a branch has opened in Sydney at the Four Seasons.

It has an interesting feel to it, being in a hotel lobby. Grand and spacious, quite stylish, and for this pre-theatre meal, a really eclectic mix of diners, including many who look like they just walked down from their hotel rooms, one table in gym clothes, others in sturdy tourist-wear. Each of the first four staff had charming European accents (mostly French I think) before a rather enthusiastic young Aussie took over.


I really think that the style of food is distinct. There is a focus on a few ingredients, no foamy sauces or tricks, no smears on the plate or artful scattering. The burrata (top) with roasted romanesco brocolli, a generous portion of dill, I think mustard seeds (in honey?) and tiny circles of green apple was fantastic. Oh, and a hibiscus flower.

The sashimi below was beautiful, and interesting, and we thought that we would have liked a little more of the rhubarb (tiny pieces on top) and less of the ginger.

For the mains, I had ricotta dumplings with zucchini flowers, grilled perfectly: delicious. The pine nuts were ground so coarsely that we both thought it was a grain that we hadn’t tried before, but the waiter let us in on the secret. IMG_3656

This steak, with grilled king oyster mushrooms and a dollop of thick red sauce (uh, was it peri peri, or no, I think it was middle eastern influenced) was so freaking god. My god. We had no room for dessert (nor would we have, even if it wasn’t a pre-theatre meal).

Although I was really very impressed with the meal, the strange thing is that I found it so rich that I wouldn’t have been able to finish the whole plate of dumplings, nor the entire steak. Lucky for us that we switched plates half way through which provided us with that variation, a break from the intensity.


Pei Modern Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Review: François Chaignaud’s Dumy Moyi

Image from

Image from

Lucky to catch this deliciously crazy performance at Carriageworks by François Chaignaud. Not knowing quite what to expect was excellent. A small group of people lead into an intimate space to sit on clear blow up cushions or cubes. The dancer appears in a crazy headdress with not only feathers as I’d heard described but birds! He shuffles around the small performance space with tribal beats playing and voices in the background and then: oh, it’s him. He’s singing.

The two costumes were so extravagant and the music so unfamiliar and strange (drawing  from Sephardic, Spanish, Umbrian, Filipino and Ukranian songs), it felt a little like being on a holiday (perhaps a cruise ship one hundred years ago), stopping at an exotic port, and entering into a small circus tent for a cultural show.

And really, from the start, I didn’t really care how successful it was; I was already applauding the artistic spirit, creativity and weirdness of it all. But I loved it, and so did the rest of the audience. Bravo, Monsieur Chaignaud for your fearless artistry. There was a silly and spiteful review in the Sydney Morning Herald, that mostly seemed about Jill Sykes, the reviewer, being unhappy not to be able to drink more at the bar. Chaignaud, people like this are nothing. Rien de rien!

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Lists 2015 (Concerts, Shows, Exhibitions, Books)

Concerts & Shows

  • West Side Story, live symphony playing to the movie, at the Grand Rex, Paris. Pretty fun.
  • Blood Brothers, Hayes Theatre, Sydney: A great cast, acting and singing for their lives, but gosh, I didn’t love this show, as a show. It seems very old-fashioned in its structure and music, and formulaic. Perhaps it was original when it came out in the early 80s.
  • Marlon Williams, Newtown Social Club. An interesting young Kiwi who may just be famous some day.
  • Sufjan Stevens, Sydney Opera House, Carrie and Lowell tour. See the review up on this site. 
  • Dogfight, Hayes Theatre. As usual, a strong cast, and I thought that the music was interesting. But what a dog of a story. 
  • Brian Kennedy, Vanguard. Playing songs from his ‘Love Letter to Joni’ (Mitchell) album, Kennedy’s voice is as sweet and incredible as when I first saw him in 1990 when he opened for Suzanne Vega in Vancouver. 
  • Phil Scott’s Reviewing the Situation (the Lionel Bart story). Good one, Phil!
  • B-Girl (IOTA). I think Iota is amazingly talented so was confused about this show. A woman in an abusive relationship has a glam-rock god in her head who tells her story, or ultimately inspires her to leave. I think. But the songs felt trite and repetitive. Rocky Horror meets glam David Bowie, and a poor imitation of IOTA’s bravado performance in Hedwig and the Angry Itch.
  • Mitchell Butel’s Killing Time, Hayes Theatre. Part of the Cabaret Festival. I think I saw Mitchell sing a song or two at the Speigeltent one year, and happened to by this same CD. Great to see him perform the whole show live. I think he originated the show five years ago or so. It had a number of moments of what I think of as cabaret magic: an unknown song, or an interesting interpretation of a song, that pulls me to full attention, immediate admiration and a great pleasure of discovery matched with feeling happy to witness such talent: I’d say that came in his performance of ‘Leaving Again/In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning’ by Kurt Elling though I also loved his ‘The Way You Look Tonight’ and some very funny comedy numbers.
  • Bobby Fox & Michael Falzon’s Painted from Memory: Singing the full album of the Elvis Costello and Burt Bacharach collaboration: wonderful musicians, great singing and amazing (though sad) songs. A fun night and show.
  • Queenie Van Zandt and Friends, Hayes Theatre, Cabaret Season.
  • Avenue Q, Enmore Theatre: How I love this show.
  • Smash, Vanguard: A bunch of musical theatre kids singing songs from the TV show. Lots of talent and a fun night.
  • Love and Information, Sydney Theatre Company: Caryl Churchill, I was so looking forward to this. But I didn’t find the dozens of snippets engaging, intriguing or poignant enough. Good moments but not to make up a whole show (that had rave reviews elsewhere, and in Sydney)
  • Heathers, Hayes Theatre: Amazing performances, great music. This was rather a lot of fun, and I felt Trevor Ashley really had done an amazing job of direction: it felt like all of the performers were really given a chance to shine and encouraged to give their all. High energy, dark, and funny.
  • Master Class, Hayes Theatre: I was always interesting in seeing this play by Terence McNally about Maria Callas. Callas is so frightening a personality I shuddered to imagine the Broadway performances by Patty Lupone, or in the first Australian production, by Robin Nevin. Maria Mercedes in this role was amazing and also sufficiently scary and the three younger cast members and the pianist were all very impressive too.
  • Ceasefire on Drugs, Johann Hari (introduced by Naomi Klein), Festival of Dangerous Ideas, Sydney Opera House: Hari was such an amazing speaker, so lucid and engaging, I thought I’d include this talk in this list. I’m putting both Hari and Klein’s books on my reading list now.
  • The Present, Sydney Theatre Company: Andrew Upton’s adaptation of Chekhov with Cate Blanchett and Richard Roxburgh. Amazing acting but I couldn’t find much to grab onto in terms of the play itself (or the way it was adapted). Also, saw it on a Wednesday matinee with the blue-rinse set who don’t know how to turn off their mobile phones. Sigh. 
  • Anything Goes, Sydney Opera, Opera House: So, it’s clear that Caroline O’Connor has star power. She carries the show, and is a fun and charismatic performer. And I knew that the show would be old-fashioned. But god, what a dog of a story (no offense, dogs). I know they did a Broadway revival of this a few years ago: how did they make it work? Silly childish jokes, two opium-smoking Chinamen running around shrieking, and cliché on top of cliché. Yipes.
  • High Society, Hayes Theatre, Sydney: Another Cole Porter musical. But this one had a cohesive book. It was a little old-fashioned and by god, those seats are uncomfortable (particularly in the front row, at the sides, we’ve had them before) but the actors were uniformly wonderful, the band great. A good, fun show.
  • Of Thee I Sing, Sydney. A concert version of an ancient Gershwin musical, accompanied by a full choir and orchestra, and organised by 7 performers from Squabalogic, this was an odd beast. I liked some of it, but following two other old-fashioned musicals, I’m in the mood for something more modern now…
  • François Chaignaud’s Dumy Moyi, Carriageworks, Sydney. Review here.


  • Brancusi Workshop at the Pompidou Centre
  • James Turrell at the National Art Gallery
  • Project 30 – Marina Abramovic, Sydney
  • Sydney Contemporary – the best in contemporary art from galleries from all over Australia, the region and the world. Why haven’t I been to this before? It was amazing (also saw the satellite Artist’s show at Sydney Central Park, and the rather chic satellite at the Establishment Hotel)


  • The Selected Short Fiction of Lisa Moore
  • Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
  • Be Near Me by Andrew O’Hagan
  • Not My Father’s Son by Alan Cumming
  • Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart (unfinished)
  • The Fictional Woman by Tara Moss
  • Notes from an Exhibition by Patrick Gale
  • The Twyborn Affair by Patrick White
  • Fun Home by Alison Bechdel (reread, since I was curious about the musical adaptation)
  • Something Fierce by Carmen Aguirre
  • Snow Queen by Michael Cunningham

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Food Diary: John Montagu, Woolloomooloo

IMG_3662Tucked away in a cute corner of Woolloomooloo is this bustling cafe. Very cute feel to it. Evidence: People hanging around outside with their dogs.

IMG_3659For breakfast: an egg and bacon roll, but anywhere that serves 62 degree soft-boiled truffled eggs (for $3) is a winner to me. Coffee was good too. IMG_3660

John Montagu Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Food Diary: the Apollo, Sydney


Apollo serves inventive, modern Greek food, and is excellent. I had a fantastic meal here last night, a pre-theatre meal in March and before that with my friend Dan ages ago. The last time when I returned, I wondered ‘Is it as good as I remember?’ The answer, whole-heartedly, was yes.

IMG_3012Last time, we went for the ‘Whole Greek’ menu that includes homemade taramasalata which is to die for, and a honey-lemon saganaki, which my better half wondered why he’d been missing this all his life. Then there was roast lamb, perfect potatoes – super crispy and bite-sized, and an interesting dessert. And olives. And two little glasses of Ouzo. $70 each. And six months later, I see the bill and think: oh, they undercharged us somehow.

The decor is Sydney cool. In March, we sat at a table by the window next to some tourists from Quebec who were putting the charming waiter through hell: ‘How much garlic is there? IMG_3013Can we put that on the side? How is this dish done? No, we won’t keep our cutlery. Give us clean ones.’

From us: no complaints. The food was so good, I forgot to take photos, and the truth is that as a pre-theatre meal, we didn’t allow enough time and it was too much food. Much better if stretched over a longer period of time.

Last night, we opted to choose different plates and share, rather than go the Whole Greek, and I think it was actually better to do that. We got more variety, and I think a little less food, because perhaps the Whole Greek is too much. The grilled octopus was divine, sardines scrumptious. The pea dip with capers was very nice and of course we had the saganaki. Potatoes amazing. I want to figure out how to make them like that. The only miss was the grilled cabbage with watercress and anchovies. The dish just didn’t sing like the others.

And the desserts. Oh my god. That lemon meringue dessert was beautiful, and I loved the coffee cream, walnut and filo as well. Very generous servings. And in fact, with all that food, and two bottles of wine between three of us (a rather delicious Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico Villa Bianchi 2013), the prices here really are very reasonable (came to $70 each with wine).


The Apollo

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Food Diary: Danjee, Sydney CBD

IMG_3648What a great surprise. Danjee served up some amazing vegetarian food, for my vego pal and I, with unusual flavours, good prices and a lot of tastiness.

I usually go to restaurants based on recommendations or good ratings on Zomato, but this was just chance, since the highly rated Bistro Hulu couldn’t be found (it seems to have moved to Crow’s Nest). This is a great place to go before or after seeing a movie at the George Street Cinemas.

The salad above, which looks not that appetizing and a little mysterious, was, in fact, sensational: puffed rice, lettuce, tomatoes, pumpkin and a tasty salad dressing. Loved the IMG_3649vegetarian jap chae (potato starch noodles). Crispy tofu was nicely done too. Ah, and a perfectly done vegetarian tempura. Hard to go wrong with that.

The service was charmingly confused. Our white wine was not properly chilled, my only complaint. Otherwise, very pleased with this find.


Danjee Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Food Diary: Kin Senn, Haymarket, Sydney

IMG_3652It’s amazing how many Thai restaurants can fit into a small area of Sydney. And to my not particularly skilled taste buds, they mostly seem really good to me.

IMG_3650Boon Cafe looked way too busy for lunch on Tuesday (and I remember the slow service from last time). We were tempted by Ho’s Dim Sum but I wanted to try something new, and spotted Kin Senn, with a subtitle about Street Food.

Well, why not? The interiors remind me of the sunny, slightly cute interiors of restaurants in Bangkok shopping malls, and that was the vibe I got: modern, well-lit but with some style.

I ended up ordering (as above) what I always do in food courts in Bangkok, stewed pork leg with rice. Lots of five spice seasoning, it was melt in your mouth and delicious. A bit heavy to eat all that rice and meat for lunch but oh well. My better half had IMG_3651a mixed pork dish, that included BBQ pork and pork belly.

I couldn’t resist trying just one more dish: quail egg wontons. They quail eggs are surprisingly without flavour. Really needed to dip the wonton in the sauce to give it some sort of zing. Needed salt, I think. They’re a pretty cute idea though, one egg in one fried wonton.

We washed it all down with a Thai iced coffee (for me) and a Thai iced tea (for S.). A solidly good spot, and seemed to have a nice buzz about it too, neither empty nor too crowded.  IMG_3653

Kin Senn Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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