Monthly Archives: February 2019

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Off the grid

Hard to resist … Edna Staebler’s butter-fried chicken in milk gravy. Photo: David ReistIn that moment when you pull the plant from the rich earth, the edible root attached, you get the heady realisation. Yeah, I can do this! I can live off the land and off the grid.

It’s the dream of every gardener, as well as people with a penchant for conspiracy theories and alien-invasion novels. I am both.

If the world descended into turmoil and everyone had to fight for survival, could we do it? Could we rise like a Jack Reacher hero? A proper Jack Reacher, someone over five foot five who can protect our borders from the hordes of city dwellers who lack the survival set to live off the land.

I know these are heady thoughts to be having standing sockless in Blunnies and a dressing gown on a frosty morning with a dirt-clad horseradish bulb at my side as I look to the east for signs of thermonuclear activity, or for my neighbour, who went out large on alpacas and is probably ruing that day.

If I do a stocktake of what I could live on, say this happened today (you never know, New Zealand has been awfully quiet and I’ve noticed more and more Kiwis in my workplace – just saying), we have: one 200-kilogram pig, which would get a lot of attention as she is a known resident and full of acorns, top of the new, post-apocalyptic food pyramid (let’s see how quickly the vegan turn paleo now that only the strong shall survive); six chickens for eggs and to eat when they get older (mental note: get a rooster); three geese – would need to set a trap as they are ever suspicious, but they would be pretty special for dinner, plus warm bedding; 20 young Texas longhorns, not mine but possession is way past nine-tenths of the law now, a whole lot of goodness there; one deer, and I would eventually get over the idea of sanctuary and see her for what she is, pure flavour.

All this protein would last at least a year, and on top of that I’d have wine from the 2.5 hectares of grapes, so I get to be merry 24/7, and with the alcohol have a source of biofuel, plus heaps of acorns – the pig would no longer need them – so I’d work out how to make flour and more biofuel from them.

I would have to extend the vegie garden and orchard and work out systematically what food could be foraged from the 16 hectares. And, of course, we’d have treats such as truffles, only we’ve eaten the pig, bugger, and the dog is too stupid to find them. No matter, I’d have all the time in the world to sniff them out myself.

At work recently, we’ve been talking around the coffee machine about Mennonites, Huguenots and Anabaptists. Just quietly, I thought we were discussing aliens from the latest Star Trek movie, Into Darkness, which is totally awesome, but no, my confused look led my colleague and part-time food stylist, David Reist, to clarify that these were dispossessed protestants from around Switzerland who fled their homelands in the 16th century due to being persecuted for their religious beliefs. Something to do with pacifism, adult baptism and just not toeing the party line. Interestingly, the Catholics weren’t the culprits here, they were up to their necks in other business; it was all about the Protestant Reformation. Or something like that. The main point is this band of Anabaptists hit the road and is now spread over the world.

We all know the Amish – the wooden barns, horses and braces – well, the Mennonites are sort of the same, a bit more liberal, but they live in large communities and they look after the land where they live. Phew, I finally got there.

Reist is from this heritage and has fond memories of fantastic food markets where all the produce is traded, so he brought in a book for me, Edna Staebler’s Food That Really Schmecks (1968). At which point I ask him again: ”Are you sure you’re not an alien species here to probe us?”

I’m pretty sure you won’t find this book locally, but it’s an instructive almanac on how you’d go about living off the land. The recipes are all pretty unadorned with exotics, as you’d expect. They use a lot of protein (yay), as well as other food from the farm – milk, cream, butter, lard (yep, they love lard), and loads of vegetables.

There is also lots of preserving, and little wastage. I love the bit where they discuss their favourite chicken offal: ”My little sister loves the heart.” So this is like gold for me in my mood of self-sufficiency.

The humble chicken (note to self again, buy a rooster!) gets a lot of attention. One of Staebler’s favourite dishes is butter-fried chicken in milk gravy, and it’s a dish I can’t resist, being from Huguenot roots, if tenuously – nine generations back. The only thing better, she says, is the same dish with dumplings. So that’s what I’m cooking.

Staebler recounts her mother cutting up ”a nice little yellow hen” into drumsticks, thighs, wings, back, breast, neck and giblets, then covering them with boiling salted water and cooking them slowly until tender. Then her mother ”lifted out the pieces, drained them, and dropped them into melted butter in her big iron fry pan, turning them carefully until all the skin is crisply, delicately browned”.

Sounds perfect, but I would suggest giving the whole chicken a three or four-hour brining in a 10 per cent salt solution before you cook it, and skip the salt in the water.

From here, make the milk gravy. To summarise, add a few aromatics such as onion, leek, celery and carrot, herbs and pepper to the stock you’re left with from cooking the chicken, then reduce it to two or three cups full. If you find yellow fat on the surface (not likely these days), Staebler advises skimming it off and setting it aside to make cookies.

Add a cup of milk to the reduced stock with four or more tablespoons of what we’d call a roux (cook four tablespoons of flour in four tablespoons of butter until mealy looking). Cook the stock until it thickens. (Alternatively, make the roux, and add as much stock and milk as you think right.) Add a couple of handfuls of parsley, finely chopped, and pour over the chicken pieces and some boiled potatoes.

Edna Staebler suggests adding dumplings to the dish, made like this:

2 cups flour

1 tsp salt

4 tsp baking powder

½ tsp pepper

3 tbsp melted butter

1 egg, well beaten


Sift the dry ingredients. Work in the melted butter, egg and enough milk to form a moist, stiff batter. While you are frying the chicken and before you add the thickeners, drop spoonfuls of the dumpling mix into the boiling broth. When they are cooked (they will probably float), scoop them out.

Add the dumplings to the gravy, and ”purr as they and the fried chicken disappear into your happy family”.

What a lovely, simple recipe. Serve with maple-glazed carrots and welshkahn oyster puffa (corn fritters) and you have a pretty good attempt at a Mennonite meal.

Bryan Martin is winemaker at Ravensworth and Clonakilla, bryanmartin苏州美甲学校.au

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They’re a choux in

Secret’s in the choux pastry.Eclairs have outlasted many boutique food trends, but have never quite made it to first place, playing second fiddle to macarons, friands or tartelettes. That is, until now. With eclairs sporting their luminous fondant coats and bold-flavoured fillings, they are enjoying the front row window of many boutique patisseries in Paris.

Fauchon, the Parisian specialty food store at Place de la Madeleine, uses eclairs as a whimsical background for its creativity. Don’t be surprised to see the doleful eyes of Mona Lisa following you from her sweet pastry canvas.

Other notable Paris patisseries, such as L’Eclair de Genie and L’Atelier de l’Eclair have savoury eclairs in their repertoire.

But the traditional eclair, and incidentally my favourite from my 1960s school tuckshop, is a simple affair. The case is made with choux pastry dough, piped from a pastry bag in a log shape, and baked until it is crisp and hollow inside.

You fill it by piping the filling in or splitting the eclair lengthwise. The classic filling is a vanilla pastry cream.

If you want to be adventurous, I have included some creative fillings – cumquat, lime, strawberry and chocolate. If you’re using a fruit paste, prepare it and the chocolate ganache first, then the pastry cream, then the choux pastry, and finally the coloured fondant icing.

For the best flavour, chill the finished eclairs for an hour or so before serving. Use a large pastry bag with a size 13 or a 1.5-centimetre piping nozzle to pipe the pastry.

Debbie Skelton is a Canberra food writer, debsravingrecipes.blogspot苏州美甲学校Chocolate ganache

125g dark chocolate, broken into pieces

25g butter

125g pure cream

Place the chocolate and butter into a medium-sized heatproof bowl. Heat the cream in a small saucepan and bring to a rolling boil. Pour the scalded cream over the chocolate, stirring until the chocolate is melted and the cream is incorporated. Cool in the fridge.Silky fruit pastes

You can use whatever fruit you like. I used six cumquats, halved; three limes, two of them juiced and one chopped up; and a punnet of strawberries, sliced.

For each fruit paste, place the fruit and four tablespoons of sugar in a saucepan. Add at least three tablespoons of water for the kumquats and lime pastes. The strawberries need less water.

Bring to a boil, with the lid on, then reduce the heat. Stir occasionally to ensure it doesn’t burn and add the water as needed to loosen the mixture. Cook the fruit down until you have a jammy sauce. This will only take three to five minutes.

Push each paste through a fine sieve to extract a silky fruit gel. Cool in the fridge.

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Serena survives scare to reach semi-finals

World number one Serena Williams survived a huge scare on Tuesday to reach her first French Open semi-final since 2003, defeating unseeded Russian Svetlana Kuznetsova, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3.

Williams, bidding to win just her second title in Paris, 11 years after her first, looked down and almost out at one stage against the 2009 champion.

Despite coasting through the first set, she then dropped serve for the first time in the tournament, being broken thrice in the second set, trailed 0-2 in the third and fought off two break points that would have seen her slip to 0-3.

But she battled back, winning six of the next seven games to secure victory in a shade under two hours.

Victory extended Williams’ winning streak to 29 matches as she moved into a semi-final clash against Italian fifth seed Sara Errani, the runner-up to Maria Sharapova last year.

“It was very difficult and I am very tired,” said Williams.

“Svetlana played very well. She has won this tournament before so I am happy to get through such a tough match.

“Against Sara, it will be another tough match, she’s a great fighter.”

Williams, who had dropped just 10 games in reaching the last eight, eased through the first set with breaks in the second and sixth games, sealing the opener with an ace despite the challenges posed by a tricky, swirling wind inside Court Suzanne Lenglen.

The 27-year-old Kuznetsova took a medical timeout off the court and the treatment worked wonders as she broke for a 2-0 lead in the second set.

The wily Kuznetsova, who had defeated the American at the same stage in 2009 on her way to the title, fended off two break points to go to 3-0 and broke again for 4-0 before Williams clawed one back for 1-4.

But the American then dropped serve for a third time to slip 5-1 down as the Russian forced the errors with a clever mix of power, angles and drop shots.

It was a realisation that, unlike too many others on the tour, she was not going to out-bludgeon the world number one and that the key was to keep her moving.

Williams, however, dug deep, got back to 3-5, and had break points in the 10th game but a scrambling, netted backhand gave Kuznetsova the set to level the tie.

It was the first set the top seed has dropped in the tournament.

Kuznetsova kept the 31-year-old American on the back foot and was 2-0 up in the decider and had two points for a 3-0 lead.

The Dubai-based Russian couldn’t make that last push and was made to pay as Williams broke back for 2-2.

The world number one was quickly 5-2 ahead and she claimed the tie with a rasping cross-court forehand.

Errani reached the semi-finals with a 6-4, 7-6 (8/6) win over Polish fourth seed Agnieszka Radwanska.

It will be the third semi-final appearance at a Grand Slam for the slender Italian, who stands at just 1.64 metres, after she also went to the last four at the 2012 US Open.

Radwanska, the 2012 Wimbledon runner-up, had won the pair’s last three tour-level meetings.

But she was playing in her first Roland Garros quarter-final, a match which featured 11 breaks of serve.

“There was a lot of pressure because I have a lot of points to defend. That’s a new experience for me,” said Errani, who came into the French Open with a 0-28 record against top-five players.

The remaining quarter-finals take place on Wednesday when Sharapova tackles Serbia’s Jelena Jankovic and Victoria Azarenka, the Australian Open champion, faces Maria Kirilenko.


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27 ways to make winter bearable

Unfortunately, humans haven’t evolved with the ability to hibernate so we need to deal with winter. Luckily, Good Food has patented a 27-step process to make winter so cosy, delicious and rewarding that you may end up cursing the sweet, green shoots of spring.

1 Acquaint yourself with hot, healthy breakfasts

A hot breakfast makes you feel toasty and ready to charge out the door. Also, I’m pretty sure that if breakfast is healthy you can eat cake for the rest of the day. Porridge with poached fruit and yoghurt is my go-to winter breakfast and it’s easy to vary to keep yourself interested (see recipe). Black sticky rice pudding made with coconut milk is brilliant too, and don’t forget simple pleasures such as a soft-boiled egg with buttery toast soldiers.

Porridge for one

½ cup quick oats

1 tbsp flaked or desiccated coconut

1 tbsp chia seeds

½ tsp cinnamon

1 Jazz apple, grated

1 mandarin

¾ cup boiling water

Brown sugar, to serve

3 tbsp Greek yoghurt

Mix oats, coconut, cinnamon and apple in a cereal bowl. Grate the mandarin zest into the bowl. Cut the mandarin in half and squeeze its juice into the bowl, too. Add the boiling water and stir. Stand for a few minutes while you make your coffee/tea/the school lunches. Sprinkle with brown sugar and top with yoghurt.

2 Start a tasty tradition

Invite a few friends for Scrabble, and cheese on toast. Do Christmas in July. Have a Friday night football and pizza roster among a few households.

3 Winter gardening

At this time of year the garden’s sleepy and slow, and plants don’t die under a baking sun just because you forgot about them for a week.

It’s a good time to … plant onions, garlic, lettuce, spinach, rocket, Asian greens, fennel and strawberries and herbs such as tarragon, thyme and mint. And if you’re convinced it’s too cold out there, buy a box of mushroom compost and put it in a cupboard.

4 Join a cooking class

Cooking classes are entertainment as well as education – you don’t need to promise to cook what you’ve seen. Just go, eat, flirt with the chef and, who knows, you might be inspired to put some of the kitchen tips into practice. See what’s cooking at Trupp Cooking School (truppcookingschool苏州美甲学校).

5 Have a basic one-pot oven dish at your fingertips

The oven can be an unblinking enemy in summer, pouring heat into an already hot kitchen. But in winter, I get Aga envy, say ”hearth” with a longing sigh, and love recipes that include the words ”preheat oven”. Try Karen Martini’s amazing braised lamb stew with barley and vegetables (our cover photo), find the recipe at goodfood苏州美甲学校.au.

My other 10 minutes-then-kick-back winner is adapted from a Brigitte Hafner recipe.

Chicken and chorizo hotpot

1 large chicken, cut into eight pieces (or use drumsticks or marylands)

1 fresh chorizo or other spicy sausage, thickly sliced

2 garlic cloves, crushed

1 onion, sliced

2 red capsicums, thickly sliced

2 carrots, sliced

1 tin crushed tomatoes

¼ cup white wine

Flaked salt and pepper, to taste

3 bay leaves

Handful black olives,

A few big glugs of extra virgin olive oil

Preheat oven to 190 degrees. Toss all ingredients, except olive oil, in a baking dish, making sure the chicken ends skin-side up. Drizzle over olive oil. Cover with foil and cook for 90 minutes or so, removing foil after 45 minutes. Serve with crusty bread or polenta. (You can also chop up potatoes and add them to the dish and then you don’t need bread or polenta.)

Serve 4-6

6 Become a super souper

If you’re sick or sad, home-made soup is both medicine and hug. Make a big batch of soup then freeze half of it. Make cup-of-soup mixes by dehydrating finely chopped ingredients such as onion, silverbeet, parsley and bacon – use a slow oven or a dehydrator. Freeze. Rehydrate a tablespoon of the mixture in a mug of boiling water with rice vermicelli and a dash of soy sauce or a spoonful of miso.

7 Tidy and organise

The kitchen version of the odd sock is the container without a lid. I have no idea how this happens but happen it does and it’s infuriating (please say it’s not just me). Your mission: unite all containers and lids then recycle or chuck anything that doesn’t have a partner. Do it. Let go. The missing bits are gone. They are not coming back.

After that, you may feel the urge to tackle other projects such as putting your herbs in alphabetical order and getting to the back of the fridge and pantry to see what’s lurking.

8 Drop dinner off to someone

When you hear about a friend stuck indoors with the flu, make a pot of soup or casserole and drop it on their doorstep. You might even have a couple of care packages in the freezer for this purpose. The gesture is as healing as the meal.

9 Make hot drinks

A cup of tea in front of the TV is OK, a glass of wine is nice, but mulled wine and an episode or three of your favourite show is winter bliss. It’s quick and easy and that nice Jamie Oliver has put a recipe on the internet for us all to try – you’ll find it.

”Hot toddy” is fun to say, as well as drink. Pour whisky, a squeeze of lemon juice and a dollop of honey in a mug. Add recently boiled water, a clove and a slice of apple (that’s your snack for afters).

10 Get cheesy

Baked camembert is unspeakably daggy but there are never leftovers so it must be good. Turn the oven to 180 degrees, unwrap camembert and put it in a ramekin or snug ovenproof bowl (or, if it’s in wood, leave it there). Pierce the top with a knife and stuff in a peeled garlic clove and a sprig of rosemary or thyme. Bake for 15 looooong minutes. Thinly slice a baguette (rub slices with olive oil and throw them in the oven too, if you can be bothered) then dip it into the melty cheese. And no matter what they tell you, it’s not compulsory to wear a cable-knit jumper.

If you liked that, you’re ready for fondue. Fondue sets are fun but you’ll be amazed to learn you can also melt cheese in a saucepan – just return it to the heat for more stirring as often as you can stand. Use the traditional mix of gruyere, emmental and raclette, plus a little corn flour and kirsch or just use comte, my all-time favourite cheese, with white wine and garlic.

11 Invest in a great pot

Don’t you hate it when people speak of spending as investing? But anyway, cast-iron pots such as Le Creuset or the cheaper Le Chasseur are all you need to turn lamb shanks and oxtail into sustaining, please-let-me-come-over dinners. Then there’s copper. I didn’t get the whole copper cult until my last, lucky birthday. Oh my goodness. My copper roasting tin is fierce and gentle at the same time and everything I put into it tastes amazing.

12 Be a better baker

People who make their own puff pastry – even only once in their lives – have more friends and better sex. Or they should. Give it a go. All that rolling and folding is therapeutic and, even better, you can eat the scraps. Try Karen Martini’s rough puff pastry on goodfood苏州美甲学校.au … it’s perfect for making in winter since a cold kitchen actually aids the process.

13 Cure, smoke, transform

Curing and smoking sound totally professional but they’re really just old-timer techniques to sustain the masses through winter. As Heston Blumenthal says, curing is a great way to transform the texture and flavour of food – start with salt, sugar, dill (or other herbs and spices such as cumin) and salmon fillet and give it a go. The longer you cure it (just pack the ingredients around the fish, cover with cling wrap and whack it in the fridge for a day or so), the more flavour is created. Turn to Adrian Richardson’s great book, Meat, (Hardie Grant, $39.95) for more ideas and information.

14 Be naughty

You’re not getting into bathers any time soon so do something you shouldn’t. Devour a whole bar of chocolate. Eat the fat. Finish the tub of ice-cream. For this moment, consider winter a free pass to indulge.

15 Do something scary

We’ve all got stumbling blocks. Pick one to conquer. Open oysters (carefully), cook mussels, rabbit or duck. Bake bread like no one’s watching. Be brave!

16 Have people over for brunch

Brunch is an easy alternative to the dinner party. Buy bagels, smoked salmon, nice jam, lovely fruit, squeeze some oranges, and get the coffee sorted. Spruce it up by making croissants or crumpets or pancakes if you like but it’s really not necessary.

17 Go to a (different) farmers’ market

Farmers’ markets are the best places to see what’s really local and seasonal and to get horse’s-mouth advice about what to do with it. See for some of the best. If you’re already a regular at one market why not see what’s cooking at another?

18 Cook something overnight

Beef cheeks, ribs, shin and even cubed beef in a bourguignon-style stew can be cooked overnight at about 120 degrees. This can work especially well if you’re doing Sunday lunch. Place baking paper over the meat to make sure it stays moist.


Warm up from the inside Spice up your winter with a new condiment, such as Korean chilli paste (gochujang), aleppo pepper or native pepperberries or myrtus berries (native to Chile but now grown in Tasmania).


Make edible presents Feeding other people is the biggest pleasure of cooking so bake shortbread, make piccalilli or package up spice mixes or flavoured salts. Give them away now or store for all those moments you wish you had a little something to bestow. Make a green-tomato chutney or use some new-season apples to make apple, golden syrup and pecan chutney (recipes goodfood苏州美甲学校.au).

21 Cook something complicated

Clear a weekend and make something silly or ridiculous or just plain complicated, something you’ll put on Facebook, something you may never make again. A croquembouche, that infernal V8 cake or pate en croute spring to mind.

22 Dress up your table

Make an occasion of it, even if you’re not having anyone over. Throw a cloth over the table (creases are chic), light a couple of candles, buy a cheerful bunch of flowers, put out some napkins. It’s amazing how little it takes for a meal to feel special.

23 Marshmallows

Open fireplaces are really for marshmallow toasting. That whole ”keeping the house warm” thing is a decoy. It’s also possible to toast marshmallows over a candle. Slow, but possible. S’mores are the evil American upsize on the concept: place a toasted marshmallow and a square of chocolate on a graham cracker (use digestive biscuits) and top with another biscuit. Marshmallows can also be placed on a biscuit and grilled in the oven, then topped with the chocolate and second biscuit.

24 Have a winter picnic

Rug up, brace yourself, get out there and wait for the words ”I’ve never felt so alive!” to issue forth unbidden. If you have an outdoor area, consider buying a brazier (try bunnings苏州美甲学校.au) or chiminea to make the concept more appealing (and to enable the marshmallow activities of No.23).

25 Buy a new book

Of course you don’t need it but isn’t it beautiful? I’m excited about Kathy Tsaples’ just-published Sweet Greek and Anissa Helou’s upcoming Levant: Recipes and Stories from the Middle East. The antidote to buying more cookbooks may just be Julian Barnes’ griping The Pedant in the Kitchen. Jay Rayner’s A Greedy Man in a Hungry World will offer enough foodie myth-busting fuel to last you well into your anecdotage.

26 Cross town to visit a great food store

In Melbourne, this might be Oasis Bakery in Murrumbeena, Mediterranean Wholesalers in Brunswick, USA Foods in Moorabbin, Aztec Mexican in Tullamarine or Rob’s British Butchers in Dandenong.

In Sydney, this might be Fiji Market in Newtown, Pontip Exotic Fruit and Vegetables in Haymarket, the Sydney Fish Market (tourists flock there but lots of locals have never been), Lucky Mart Japanese market in Artarmon and Salt Meats Cheese in Alexandria.

27 Commit to one new recipe a fortnight

It’s a rare cook who doesn’t get stuck in a rut every now and then. Break out by committing to one new recipe every two weeks. You know all those cookbooks you’ve got? Open them. And if you’re overwhelmed, check out Eat Your Books online. It’s unlocked thousands of recipes I never knew I had.

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Faithful to a fault, but Baz’s Gatsby misses the point

Whatever sins he has committed with The Great Gatsby, Baz Luhrmann is innocent of one charge at least: he has not betrayed the book. He has, rather, been faithful to a fault.

Much of the criticism of the film has been about Baz’s alleged failure to honour F. Scott Fitzgerald’s text, one of the most revered books in modern American literature and one so popular it reportedly still sells half a million copies per year. But in terms of the characters, essential dialogue, and key moments (and even many incidental ones), Baz is scrupulously faithful to the source. The problem isn’t one of fidelity so much as finesse.

I came out of the film slightly dazed, impressed by its vaulting ambition but feeling like I’d been assaulted by a pumped-up raver decked out in dayglo and glitter. It was bold, brash and utterly lacking in subtlety – in so many ways the opposite of Fitzgerald’s slender and perfectly wrought story.

Talking to friends afterwards, I railed at the excesses of some of the key scenes – and none more so than the moment when we meet Daisy Buchanan (Carey Mulligan) for the first time. (They thought the scene a highlight, so what do I know?)

Entering the drawing room of the Buchanan mansion, Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) is engulfed by floor-to-ceiling diaphanous white drapes as they billow from one side of the room to the other in an unseen, unfelt (yes, there are limits even to 3D), and yet somehow the opposite-of-understated breeze. It was grotesque, over-the-top and, I was sure, an utter travesty of the scene as rendered by Fitzgerald.

So I went home and re-read the book, trying to salvage the memory of its slim economy from all that grandiose excess. And guess what? The scene that had so offended mine eyes that I very nearly plucked them out (well, very nearly ripped the 3D glasses off from my 2D glasses so that I might cover mine eyes in despair) was not so very different to Fitzgerald’s vision after all.

”The windows were ajar and gleaming white against the fresh grass outside that seemed to grow a little way into the house. A breeze blew through the room, blew curtains in at one end and out the other like pale flags, twisting them up towards the frosted wedding cake of the ceiling, and then rippled over the wine-coloured rug, making a shadow on it as wind does on the sea.”

In retrospect, I suppose it was a blessing that Baz didn’t throw in some vivid green astroturf, a plastic bride and groom hanging upside down from the ceiling, and a small boat darting across the Axminster in his quest to out-Fitzgerald Fitzgerald. All in glorious 3D, of course.

The made-for-poster image of Leonardo DiCaprio’s Jay Gatsby standing at the end of the dock, holding his hand out across the water as if to stroke Daisy from afar, felt similarly overstated. And yet, there it was in the book: ”He stretched out his arms towards the dark water in a curious way, and, as far as I was from him, I could have sworn he was trembling.”

The debauchery of Myrtle’s Manhattan apartment – the scenes there have a kind of chemically-induced delirium-cum-tedium about them – is foreshadowed in Fitzgerald, too. ”I have been drunk just twice in my life, and the second time was that afternoon; so everything that happened has a dim, hazy cast over it.” 

Baz does ramp it up a notch, though, and in light of the general tone of an Oxford Street urinal that hovers over proceedings in the flat, it’s strange that he makes nothing of one of the book’s most intriguing non-sequiturs.

Leaving the apartment with the ersatz art photographer McKee, Nick is invited to lunch.  

”All right,” I agreed, “I’ll be glad to.”

Next thing you know, and with nothing more than an ellipsis from Fitzgerald to help us join the dots, Nick tells us:  

“I was standing beside his bed and he was sitting up between the sheets, clad in his underwear, with a great portfolio in his hands.”

(It’s not a euphemism, is it, that ”great portfolio”? Dear God, imagine what THAT would have looked like in 3D!)

The two parties at the Gatsby mansion are practically storyboarded by Fitzgerald, albeit in a skeletal, rather impressionistic style that becomes ever-more fleshy in Baz’s hands. Even the terrible car accident that seals the collapse of Gatsby’s fantasy of repeating the past (another exchange lifted almost word for word from Fitzgerald) is rooted in the book.

Well, some of it anyway. The graphic wounds are there – ”when they had torn open her shirtwaist, still damp with perspiration, they saw that her left breast was swinging loose like a flap” – but the tumbling of the flame-haired woman through the air like some fleshy Catherine wheel is purely Baz’s creation. Is it mere coincidence this has been one of the most vilified moments in the film?

Clearly, then, the issue is not that Baz has been unfaithful to the book. It is that he has been inflateful to it, pumping up every slim moment to the point where it practically explodes off the screen.

Such a slim tome seems hardly capable of bearing the weight of Baz’s ambitions.

The book is 145 pages long. The movie runs 142 minutes. It cost (so it is rumoured) between $130 million and $150 million to make. That’s roughly a million dollars per page per minute. No wonder it buckles a little.

But really the biggest problem with Gatsby lies not in scenes or dialogue or even character, most of which Luhrmann gets more or less right. The great failing is one of tone.

Fitzgerald’s book is deeply melancholic from beginning to end, a parable about old money versus new money, and how cruelly the odds are stacked in the former’s favour. It is the most class-conscious of American stories.

In the end, all Tom Buchanan has to do to see off the threat that is Gatsby is to expose him to Daisy as being Not Like Us.

In the crucial scene where Tom reveals what he knows of Gatsby’s sudden wealth, Daisy finally collapses back on the old certainties, however repellent she might so recently have found them.

“Please, Tom! I can’t stand this any more.”

 Her frightened eyes told that whatever intentions, whatever courage she had had, were definitely gone.

This is a crucial scene in both book and film, in which the struggle is not just between two men for a woman’s affections, but between two ways of being in the world. Baz gets it right, as perhaps he should. There is, after all, something of the arriviste about his films, which have never hesitated to shimmer and sparkle even when they were made on a diamante budget rather than diamond (his first feature, 1992’s Strictly Ballroom, cost just $3 million). And there has always been something of the Tom Buchanan about the attitude of the film-making and reviewing establishment towards him and his work.

Where the film comes horribly unstuck is in its point of view on all this spectacle. If The Great Gatsby is a parable, Nick Carraway is the lens through which we see it unfold – but in book and film he is cut of very different glass. He is old money in Fitzgerald’s hands, but of the somewhat faded variety, slightly distrustful of a world in which he is both insider (he was at college with Tom) and outsider (he lives in an $80-a-month shack set between Long Island mansions). He recognises, with a deep ambivalence, the venality and shallowness that lie just beneath the surface of all that breeding.

He sees, too, the effort involved in Gatsby’s fantastic act of self-creation – ”The truth was that Jay Gatsby of West Egg, Long Island, sprang from his Platonic conception of himself” – and while he doesn’t entirely approve of it or trust it, he can’t help admire the thrusting spirit that makes it possible. America was built on just such acts of reinvention.

”They’re a rotten crowd,” Nick tells Gatsby when everything has fallen apart. ”You’re worth the whole damn bunch put together.”

“I’ve always been glad I said that. It was the only compliment I ever gave him, because I disapproved of him from beginning to end.”

In the film, Tobey Maguire’s Nick pays Gatsby the same compliment. But nowhere in the scene is there a hint of the caveat that follows. This Nick has never disapproved of Gatsby. From beginning to end, he has gawped in wide-eyed, besotted wonder.

Had he – and, more to the point, had Baz – been able to pull his gaze away for just a moment, to be just a little less dazzled by all that razzle – to be a little less at “the service of a vast, vulgar, and meretricious beauty” – things might have been different.

Then, perhaps, all that faithfulness to the book might have produced something more than an empty echo.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on 苏州美甲学校.