Saturday 28 April 2012

Another Perfect Afternoon to Forage

Last year I was thrilled to attend the first ever Forage event. This year I was even more thrilled to go to the second Forage as part of FOOD Week. It was another picture perfect afternoon. The format was the same. Six stations over the same 3.5 km path from Borenore to Nashdale. Over 600 people joined the festivities this year! It was fabulous.

It was a beautiful autumnal afternoon amongst the vines.

First stop. Galantine of Chicken with Prune and Pork Stuffing. Michael Manners.

Plenty of wine ready for the hordes

A first view of Mt Canobolas

Then a short stroll to Station Two

Sadly brown soup in a cup isn't that easy to photograph, but it was tasty.

People greatly enjoyed the opportunity to stroll amongst the vines

 Many of the grapes had been harvested, but there were still some to sample

Station Three. Mushroom Pie from Tonic.

Exceptionally tasty. 
 A lovely dam to sit by, enjoy the lunch stop, and soak up the music.

Station Four. Seared Venison with Beetroot Risotto. Edwena Mitchell

The life of a domestique can be tough
Station Five. Apple, Lime and Mint Sorbet. Gina Allen

Station Six. Fig leaf Bavarois with Poached Quince and Quince Jelly. Lolli Redini. 

A Fabulous Finish!

Saturday Snapshot, is a wonderful weekly meme from at home with books

This post is linked to Weekend Cooking, a fabulous weekly meme at Beth Fish Reads.

Thursday 26 April 2012


I was intrigued by this book from the first time I heard about it. The rather fascinating premise about the central character being a boy with a severe facial deformity. The many glowing blog reviews that I've read. The vaguely Clockwork Orange cover (not that I've read that either). I bought it the first time I saw it in the shops.

It is a fascinating premise. August Pullman is an ordinary boy. He likes icecream, to play on his Xbox, and he is moderately obsessed with Star Wars. He feels ordinary inside. And yet he's extraordinary too. August has a rare genetic condition that has given him an unusual appearance. He is 10 when we meet him. He has had 27 operations. He had a tracheostomy. Auggie has been home schooled by his mother because of all his surgeries and medical treatments. Now he is 10 and about to start school for the first time. Yet, despite all his surgeries people still stare and shy away. When he was younger he spent nearly two years wearing an astronaut helmet near continually. Halloween is his favourite night of the year- because everyone wears a mask that night, and noone stares at him.

I think the only person in the world who realizes how ordinary I am is me. 

Brilliantly told through multiple narrators (I do love the multi-POV, I really do). In 8 sections we hear from Auggie first, then his sister Via, some kids from school Summer, and Jack, Justin (Via's boyfriend) , and Miranda (Via's friend). Each narrator moves the story of Auggie's first year at school along. It's a great technique, and works well here. August has an engaging first person voice. I liked him from the first page.

We are left to imagine Auggie's face for quite some time. It is only through his sister Via that we finally see him as he appears to others. She takes over a page to describe his face. And it's over 100 pages in before we are given a name for his condition, although we're given a rather long, medical descriptive name. Debut author RJ Palacio says on her website in a great page of annotations that if she had to give a name to it, she would say that Auggie has Treacher Collins Syndrome, complicated by another syndrome that "made war on his face".

Wonder is a moving account of Auggie's first year at school. It is quite the page turner. I read it in just a few days. While it is a great read, ultimately, Wonder is a plea for us to be kinder to each other. There is a marvelous quote in the final pages of the book from J.M Barrie's The Little White Bird:

Shall we make a new rule of life...... always to try to be a little kinder than is necessary?

Wednesday 25 April 2012

Wondrous Words Wednesday 25/4/12

Wondrous Words Wednesday is a fabulous weekly meme hosted by Bermuda Onion, where we share new (to us) words that we’ve encountered in our weekly reading.  

This week is yet another post showing that new words can come from anywhere.

My son is playing Bloons Tower Defense 4, a game I know nothing about. But he asked me what the word Glaive was (a Glaive Thrower is a tool in the game). Of course I didn't know. I thought it might have  been made up, but it wasn't!

1. Glaive (Noun)

A European polearm weapon, consisting of a single-edged blade on the end of a pole. Wiki

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Reading a column in the Weekend Australian. 

2. Lisle (Noun)

Their legs were now swollen and hidden inside lisle stockings. 

i) A fine, smooth, tightly twisted thread spun from long-stapled cotton.
ii) Fabric knitted of this thread, used especially for hosiery and underwear. Free Dictionary. 

Interestingly this is named after Lisle (now Lille) the town in France where this type of thread was originally manufactured. 

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I'm pretty sure that those of us of a certain age remember our grandmothers wearing these and other older ladies from our childhoods- I get rather strong images of my second class teacher. 

Tuesday 24 April 2012


Australia is famously a land of droughts and flooding rains. There have certainly been plenty of both recently, and Queensland has borne the brunt of much of it. Jackie French wrote Flood in response to the floods that devastated huge areas of Queensland in 2011. At least 35 people died. The whole country was affected. 

Jackie French grew up in Queensland. Her family still live there. So naturally she had a strong emotional reaction to the floods. It was a personal, family emergency as well as a national one. This beautiful and moving book is Jackie's response to this disaster.

Flood starts with the end of drought.

But then the rain kept coming and coming. Too much rain. And the river went from being a friend to being an enemy. 

Jackie French doesn't mention the deaths. Instead she focuses on the response to the floods. The human response. 

The kindness of strangers bloomed like flowers after rain. 

Quite a few pages feature the huge boardwalk that tore away and the tug that steered it safely through the maze of bridges, without causing more damage.

Bruce Whatley did an amazing job with the illustrations. He painted vertically on an easel to get the paint dripping, which adds so much to the flood soaked atmosphere of the book. A lot of his illustrations are from the dog's eye point of view. People are shown in some dangerous situations, but they are shown being rescued.

He writes a very interesting paragraph at the end describing his illustrative technique.

Humour is easy but producing illustrations that show serious emotion is a very different thing. Recently I discovered I have more success producing images that have elements of self-expression and 'art' with my left hand.

Bruce illustrated Flood with his non-dominant hand! I find that incredible- to be so talented to be able to use your non-dominant hand to get more emotion in your work. 

Flood was one of my top reads of 2011. It was printed in Queensland. A copy was donated to every primary school in Australia, and my son has read it at his school. I think that's a fantastic idea. Profits from the sales of the book were donated to the Queensland Premier's Disaster Relief Appeal. 

An Illustrated Year is hosted by An Abundance of Books.

Friday 20 April 2012

The French Cat

Mr Strong Belief and I have a nice tradition of buying spur of the moment presents for each other. Not for any special day. And certainly not every week. But sometimes you see something that we know will make a great present. This was my Happy Thursday present last week. A perfect gift for the Francophile cat lover. 

I didn't think that I'd heard of Rachael McKenna before, but it turns out I had. She's had rather extraordinary success photographing cats and dogs. The author bio in the back of this book says that she has sold 2.8 million books! I'd even bought her most recent book for my son, Why Dogs are Better than Cats. Turns out Rachael McKenna is a New Zealand born photographer who has  moved to the south of France, and is now working with le Chat Francais. 

There are some lovely images in the book. It was however a bit disappointing that she used feathers on a stick to help bond with her feline subjects. Although I suppose the book is the better for it. And she puts in a few too many gratuitous shots of her baby. Her baby is cute, don't get me wrong, but the book is meant to be about French cats, not the photographers baby, no matter how photogenic it is. 

There are some lovely quotes by French personages of note about cats.

God made the cat in order that humankind might have the pleasure of caressing the tiger. Joseph Mery. 1797-1866. French author, poet and playwright. 

We actually have two dogs, but I still think of myself as much more of a cat person, and until I work out how to clone my last cat, I will have to settle for dog company. Turns out cats are wondrously the same the world over, 

it's just that French cats have nicer historical chateaux to lounge about in,

 and can survey the bounty of France from their vantage points. 

And in a week of perfect synchronicity I also came across this most perfect French cat video. J'aime beaucoup Henri. 

Thursday 19 April 2012

Monarch and Milkweed

I somehow stumbled across this book in my library catalogue- it offers book suggestions the way that Amazon does. I judged the book by the lovely cover and reserved a copy. And I'm very glad that I did.

The astonishing story of Monarch butterflies and their plant host, Milkweed. I find the notion of migrating butterflies to be just extraordinary. It's amazing enough that 20gm swallows can migrate thousands of kilometres. And now here is the notion of a mere puff of colour migrating thousands of kilometres to find a specific stand of Oyanel fir trees in Mexico! How is that even possible? And in a rather fascinating twist explained in the note at the end of the book, one butterfly makes the entire southward migration, and yet it takes two to four generations of Monarch butterflies to make the return journey.

This is a beautifully illustrated book.

The palette and style of the illustrations are just gorgeous. Although my photos don't do justice to the full saturation of the colours in the book.

We learn about the lifecycle of the Monarch butterfly. While Milkweed is their host plant for laying the eggs, the adults feed off many different flowers. 

I was hoping that the illustrator would get to have a paragraph at the back as they sometimes do now to explain their technique, but sadly Leonid Gore didn't have that chance.

An Illustrated Year is hosted by An Abundance of Books.

Wednesday 18 April 2012

Wondrous Words Wednesday 18/4/12

Wondrous Words Wednesday is a fabulous weekly meme hosted by Bermuda Onion, where we share new (to us) words that we’ve encountered in our weekly reading.  

A record breaking fourth post of Wondrous Words from The Wind in the Willows! The first is here. Then the second. And the third.

1. Caique (Noun)

And the talk, the wonderful talk flowed on- or was it speech entirely, or did it pass at times into song- chanty of the sailors weighting the dripping anchor, sonorous hum of the shrouds in a tearing North-Easter, ballad of the fisherman hauling his nets at sundown against an apricot sky, chords of guitar and mandoline from gondola or caique?

A traditional fishing boat usually found among the waters of the Ionian or Aegean Seas, and also a light skiff used on the Bosporus. It is traditionally a wooden trading vessel, brightly painted and rigged for sail. Wiki.

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2. Sea-mews (Noun)

All these sounds the spellbound listener seemed to hear, and with them the hungry complaint of the gulls and the sea-mews, the soft thunder of the breaking wave, the cry of the protesting shingle. 

Common Gull.

3. Bowsprit (Noun)

I shall take my time, I shall tarry and bide, till at last the right one lies waiting for me, warped out into midstream, loaded low, her bowsprit pointing down harbour. 

A pole (or spar) extending forward from the vessel's prow. Wiki

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4. Ricks (Noun)

Casually, then, and with seeming indifference, the Mole turned his talk to the harvest that was being gathered in, the towering wagons and their straining teams, the growing ricks, and the large moon rising over bare acres dotted with sheaves. 

A large stack of hay, corn, peas etc, built in the open in a regular shaped pile, esp one with a thatched top. The Free Dictionary.

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5. Humbugged (Verb)

Humbugged everybody- made 'em all do exactly what I wanted!

To deceive or trick. The Free Dictionary.

6. Unction

He sang this very loud, with great unction and expression; and when he had done, he sang it all over again.

i) The act of anointing with oil in sacramental ceremonies, in the conferring of holy orders
ii) Excessive suavity or affected charm
iii) An ointment or unguent. 
iv) Anything soothing or comforting. The Free Dictionary

Saturday 14 April 2012

Royal Easter Show

The Sydney Royal Easter Show is an institution. Last year I made my first (and thus far only) visit. It was a fun day. I ate Deep Fried Cheesecake- amongst other delights! 

Although I don't eat this stuff

There are all sorts of rides.

My young nephew being terrified out of his mind. 

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Unusual insights.

 And then all the fun of the fair.

Saturday Snapshot, is a wonderful weekly meme from at home with books

Fancypants Magic Slice, Although Not Quite so Fancy as Some

I was greatly taken with the notion of this slice on my friend Hannah's fabulous blog. Only she could take a  boring old Nestle recipe and turn it into Fancypants Magic Bars. Whilst my bars were magic, they weren't quite Fancypants. It takes a certain size of city to have access to such Fancypants things as tart dried cherries. But they still were magic even with small town not-so-Fancypants ingredients. And it's dead easy.

Still Somewhat Fancy, Fancypants Magic Slice

1 1/2 cups crushed plain sweet biscuits
75 gm butter, melted
1 cup dark chocolate chips
1 cup chopped prunes
1 cup desiccated coconut
1 cup pepitas
395 gm tin sweetened condensed milk

1. Preheat oven to 160C (350F), then grease and line a 20 x 20 cm cake tin with baking paper.

2. Combine crushed biscuits and butter, then press this mixture into the base of the prepared tin.

3. Sprinkle the dark chocolate chips, then cherries, then coconut and pepitas onto the biscuit base. Pour the condensed milk evenly over the top.

4. Bake for 30-35 minutes. Check at 25 minutes- cover with foil if it is browning too much.

5. Cool in pan, cut into modest squares, or quite large greedy pieces.

I made mine Accidentally Gluten Free as I was using up the rice biscuits loitering at the back of the cupboard.

As ridiculous as it may seem when you're about to pour a whole tin of condensed milk onto something, I picked prunes because they're low GI! (29)

I'm planning on making it again and trying cranberries.

A visible layer of pepitas appears to deter male members of the household from eating this slice. They viewed it with great suspicion. All the better! It's delicious.

This post is linked to Weekend Cooking, a fabulous weekly meme at Beth Fish Reads.

Wednesday 11 April 2012

Wondrous Words Wednesday 11/4/12

Wondrous Words Wednesday is a fabulous weekly meme hosted by Bermuda Onion, where we share new (to us) words that we’ve encountered in our weekly reading.  

My words this week are from My Side of the Mountain

1. Junco (Noun)

2. Nuthatch (Noun)

The juncos and chickadees and nuthatches were gone. 

Clearly, both were birds, but I'd never heard of either of them. 

Junco is a small North American finch, usually having a pink bill, ashy gray head and back, and conspicuous white lateral tail feathers. 

Such an attractive little bird

Nuthatches are a small songbird with a long strong bill, a stiffened square-cut tail, and the habit of climbing down tree trunks head first. 

An even more attractive bird

3. Riffles (Noun)

The heads of riffles, small rapids, the tail of a pool, eddies below rocks or logs, deep undercut banks, in the shade of overhanging bushes- all are very likely places to fish. 

i) A rocky shoal or sandbar lying just below the surface of a waterway
ii) A stretch of choppy water caused by such a shoal or a sandbar; a rapid.

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It has another use in mining, but an even better usage as the act of shuffling cards.

4. Ox bow (Noun)

We didn't get back until dusk because I discovered some wild rice in an ox bow of the stream. 

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5. Puffballs (Noun)

I soaked some dried puffballs in water, and when they were big and moist, I fried them with wild onions and skimpy old wild carrots and stuffed myself until I felt kindly toward all men. 

i) Any of various fungi of the genus Lycoperdon and related genera, having a ball-shaped fruiting body that when pressed or struck releases the enclosed spores in puffs of dust.
ii) Informal. The rounded head of a dandelion that has gone to seed. 

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