Saturday 30 March 2013

My Meat Free Week

Last week I participated in Meat Free Week, an Australia wide initiative to get people thinking about where their meat comes from. I mainly did it as a show of support for my 12 year old son who became an ethical vegetarian last year. But also as a bit of a culinary adventure.

I'd first seen it promoted in a weekend newspaper back in February. I will admit to some Sunday night nerves the day before it started. What would I cook? Would I last the distance? I'd been eating quite a bit of fish this year, and loving it. I would have been more nervous if I had known that Mr Wicker would join us on our week long adventure...

Breakfast didn't need to change of course!
Plain yoghurt, fruit and 25 gm of muesli

I'd cooked with this once before
it's ok, but I don't really like that it's imported from the UK

Vegetarian spag bol
not as filling as a meat one

Felafel salad for a lunch at home
We took the opportunity to introduce Master Wicker to the local buddhist vegetarian Tawainese place. He was overwhelmed that he could order anything from the menu- although of course 12 year olds, even 12 year old vegetarians rarely like mushrooms. 

Soy skin drumsticks!

Dumplings are always good and popular with kids

Pumpkin and pesto quiche
Lunch with a friend at Cafe Espresso

Vegetarian pizza was simple enough for our weekly family pizza and movie night
Felafel platter at the UB 
Zucchini and corn fritters for the Sunday night finale
We all lasted the distance and it was pretty easy as it turned out. The vegetarian restaurant was probably the highlight of Master Wickers week, he's keen to go back. I enjoyed it all well enough, and will keep trying new veggie dishes. This week Master Wicker tried the Quorn Southern Style Burgers (ie fake chicken burgers) they were pretty good actually, and better than the mince I think.

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

Thursday 28 March 2013

The Coral Island

I didn't know all that much about The Coral Island before I read it recently. It certainly isn't a book I would have come to without my 1001 quest. The Coral Island was published in 1857 and has not been out of print since. A rather important book it influenced later books such as Treasure Island and Lord of the Flies.

The Coral Island tells the tale of three young men. Fifteen year old Ralph Rover, who is our first person narrator, 13 year old Peterkin Gay and Jack Martin, 18, who becomes the leader of the group after they are shipwrecked together on a remote coral island in the South Pacific within the first two chapters of the book.

Shipwrecks have become a common storyline, so much so that they are their own genre- Robinsonade- derived from Robinson Crusoe of course- sadly I can't link to my review, as I stalled half way through my reading a year ago, The Black StallionKensuke's KingdomThe Cay. A robinsonade is generally not my favourite storyline I think, although I did enjoy those three newer shipwreck survival tales.

I found the first half of The Coral Island to be pretty slow going actually- the story of the initial shipwreck happens quite early, but then the rather gentle pace of the boys establishing their home base on the island, learning where to find the rather plentiful food available to them- they dive for oysters, octopus and fish in their Water Garden, hunt pigs and ducks, and make use of the myriad edible plants- coconuts, taro, yams, breadfruit, plantains, plums and apples. The trees also provide materials for their boat-building exploits and they make use of candlenuts as candles, all described in far too much detail IMHO.

But the action really picks up about half way through- tsunamis, a dreadful storm, run ins with cannibals and pirates. Indeed the second half of the book is often a rather gruesome, bloodthirsty affair. The gore is counterbalanced with a clear Christian message. From early on we realise that Ralph was sent to sea with his Bible as company.

My mother gave me her blessing and small Bible; and her last request was, that I would never forget to read a chapter every day, and say my prayers, which I promised, with tears in my eyes, that I would certainly do. 

In the early weeks after their shipwreck the boys count the days so that they know which day is Sunday, in the same way as Robinson Crusoe actually. The spread of the civilizing force of Christianity through missionaries is a powerful message in the second half of the book.

R.M Ballantyne was a rather prolific author, writing over 100 books for children. His works were generally books of high adventure written for boys, based on his own adventures and experiences. Ballantyne lived and worked in Canada as a young man and used this experience of the world when he started to create exciting adventure stories for boys. It is said that because of an inaccuracy about the opening of coconuts in The Coral Island that Ballantyne then travelled extensively to ensure the accuracy of his later books. I should have thought a massive island filled with many species of penguins in a tropical clime was a bigger error than a slight misunderstanding of the intricacies of opening a coconut! Otherwise I quite marveled at this 19th century Scot creating a plausible South Sea paradise. 

In 1967 Ballantyne biographer Eric Quayle was able to write

"It is seldom that one meets a man who has not, in his youth, read at least one of Ballantyne's adventure tales. To most of the Fathers and Grandfathers of today, there must still cling around the name of this nineteenth-century author the golden fragrance of the coral islands of their youth..."

Sadly, I don't think that this is the case any longer. My area library system doesn't even have any Ballantyne books in their catalogue. However many of his books still live on electronically and are available as free etexts. Although it seems he still garners young male fans- two American teenagers set up a fan site Ballantynethebrave to promote his work to modern boys. 


Wednesday 27 March 2013

Wondrous Words Wednesday 27/3/13

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.  

Today's words come from my recent reading of Howards End is on the Landing. A fabulous book, with a wonderful rich vocabulary- some of which I already knew- gloaming, liturgy and peripatetic, but many more that were new to me. So much so that they fill two Wondrous Words posts.

1. Trenchant (Adjective)

2. Mordant (Adjective)

What makes it of greater importance is her trenchant eye, her detached and sometimes mordant vision of these well-meaning, fumbling people at odds with so much of life. 

1. Trenchant

i) Forceful, effective and vigorous
ii) Caustic; cutting
iii) Distinct; clear-cut

2. Mordant

i) Biting sarcastic
ii) Incisive and trenchant
iii) Bitingly painful
iv) Serving to fix colors in dyeing. 

3. Dingle (Noun)

The sun went down in glory behind the dingle but still the work of love went on through the twilight and into the dusk until the moon rose full and splendid. 

A small wooded valley; a dell. 

A New Zealand dingle from our recent trip
Pupu Springs

4. Tyro (Noun)

I have no idea in whose house the smart drinks party was held or out of whose kindness I was invited as a tyro novelist cum undergraduate. 

A novice or beginner. 

To prove my lack of learning, I included this word in a WWW post less than two years ago. Perhaps I'll remember it now?

5. Ratiocinative (Adjective)

The very male, ratiocinative, intellectual atmosphere of Bloomsbury, and especially of the Apostles, is not attractive. 

Of, relating to, marked by, or skilled in methodical and logical reasoning. 

6. Bagatelle (Noun)

Yesterday I went to a drawer I open only a couple of times a year because it contains nothing but a pile of hooks for suspending Christmas tree baubles, the spare bagatelle balls, and a box of matches, which was what I came in search of.

i) An unimportant or insignificant thing; a trifle. 
ii) A short, light piece of verse or music.
iii) A game played on an oblong table with a cue and balls. 

Picture source
All definitions today from

Tuesday 26 March 2013

Howards End is on the Landing

I wasn't expecting to love this book so much! I picked it up from my TBR shelf where it had been languishing quite some years as a diversion from the slower, leisurely pace of reading The Coral Island, expecting to read a chapter at a time, as a reward for banging on with the other. But very quickly the wonderful Susan Hill took over, and pacific island adventures were temporarily laid aside.

I hadn't heard of Susan Hill before I bought this book a few years ago- I have no recollection of buying it, there's no bookshop sticker on the back to help my clearly failing memory, but I've always remembered that it was there, waiting patiently on the shelf. I'm so glad that I got to it. Susan Hill as it turns out is an author of 37 books, publishing her first book at 18, she has also worked at the BBC and on quite a number of prize panels judging literary awards. She is married to a Shakespearean Professor, Stanley Wells. All of which makes her frightfully well read, and frightfully well connected in the literary and art worlds. Until I realised all that I was a bit annoyed by her rather frequent namedropping- bumping into E.M Foster in the library stacks, parties with Ian Fleming and lunches with Benjamin Britten and Irish Murdoch.

It all began simply enough, as most things do.

It began like this. I went to the shelves on the landing to look for a book I knew was there. It was not. But plenty of others were and among them I noticed at least a dozen I realised I had never read.
I pursued the elusive book through several rooms and did not find it in any of them, but each time I did find at least a dozen, perhaps two dozen, perhaps two hundred, that I had never read.
And then I picked out a book I had read but had forgotten I owned. And another and another. After that came the books I had read, knew I owned and realised that I wanted to read again.
I found the book I was looking for in the end, but by then it had become far more than a book. It marked the start of a journey through my own library. 

And haven't we all done that? I certainly have. Well apart from the journey through my own library part. She does have a seemingly vast personal library- a house stuffed with books including 4 complete sets of Dickens and 113 books by or about Virginia Woolf (and still I liked Susan and this book!). She reads widely in many forms- diaries, poems, short stories as well as the more obvious fiction and nonfiction. Susan has an ongoing fascination with pop-up books and still adds to her collection, and keeps her childrens favourite picture books in the house, and indeed has a lovely chapter on the joys of reading aloud to children.

Susan Hill is marvellously opinionated, and makes some rather outrageous comments from time to time.

Not Orwell. Me. It is always us, never the book, or almost never. (With Barbara Cartland, it is the book.)
I am bored by Jane Austen.
I have a problem with Canadian as I do with Australian writers. 
Pym's world of stuttering curates, wistful spinsters and awkward bachelors, of North Oxford and small country parishes, is superficially bland and narrow.  

She is so marvelously well read that it was somewhat of a relief to discover that she too has a rather extensive TBR. Although she rightly notes that "A book which is left on a shelf is a dead thing but it is also a chrysalis, an inanimate object packed with the potential to burst into new life."

A special relationship is formed with books that have been on our shelves for years without being read. They become known in a strange way, perhaps because we have read a lot about them, or they are books that are part of our overall heritage..... Some books I have not read are here temporarily- paperbacks bought on a whim, novels someone has persuaded me I will love but I know, by one glance at the cover and blurb, that I will not. They will not stick around. They are waiting for the next consignment to the charity bookshop.

On the other hand, some not-read books are just waiting for their time to come. It will, it will, perhaps when I am very old, or have an illness that requires me to stay in bed for days but that does not make me feel too rotten to read. Perhaps I will take one on a train..... There are books I have not read which I know I will love; and I'll be amazed and distressed when I do get round to them that I did not allow them to enrich my life years ago.

At times though it seems she has read nearly everything. Although even Susan Hill has limits, she too has Proust and James Joyce on the Impossible shelf. I don't fully understand how she reads so quickly- she rereads all of Anita Brookner in a mere 3 weeks, and yet she advocates slow reading- so much so that she has a chapter entitled Slow, Slow, Slow-Slow, Slow. She bemoans that reading has turned into a form of speed dating by bloggers boasting of reading 20+ books per week.

The best books deserve better. Everything I am reading during this year has so much to yield but only if I give it my full attention and respect by reading it slowly. Fast reading of a great novel will get us the plot. It will get us names, a shadowy idea of characters, a sketch of settings. It will not get us subtleties, small differentions, depth of emotion and observation, multilaytered human experience, the appreciation of simile and metaphor, any sense of context, any comparison with other novels, other writers. Fast reading will not get us cadence and complexities of style and language. It will not get us anything that enters not just the conscious mind but the unconscious. It will not allow the book to burrow down into our memory and become part of ourselves, the accumulation of knowledge and wisdom and vicarious experience which helps to form us as complete human beings. It will not develop our awareness or add to the sum of our knowledge and intelligence. 

Susan instead describes reading two to three chapters of books (she gives examples here such as To the Lighthouse, Little Dorrit, The Age of Innocence or Midnight's Children), and then stops, and goes back.

...look at how the sentences and paragraphs are put together, how the narrative works, how a character is brought to life. But I want to think about what I have read before I move on for only in this way will I appreciate the whole as being both the sum of, and more than the sum of, its parts. 

Which is odd in a way. It's kind of what I get out of blogging a book. I do think about it more after I've finished reading. It consolidates my thoughts and I remember more of it later too. I'm much too ponderous a reader and would get nothing read if I went back over things again after 2 or 3 chapters.

One thing that's really stuck with me is that when Susan was telling a friend about her desire to start a publishing company, he tells her 'Do it. We should all embark on something completely new every ten years.' Ten years. I've done new things in the past ten years, but don't know that I've embarked on something completely new. It's an enticing thought. Nearly impossible, but enticing.

In the latter stages of the book for some reason Susan appears consumed with the task of creating the 40  books that would sustain her for the rest of her life. Which seems a bit of a pointless exercise for someone who has 23 books on Marilyn Monroe sitting on her shelves. It's not the 40 books I'd chose by any stretch, but perhaps that is the point.

The laughable thing is that I read this book as to rid the TBR shelves of one title. Perhaps after I'd finished I'd donate it to the library, or a charity book sale? Ha. Not only has my TBR grown immeasurably, but I'll be keeping this one on the shelf too. At least it's read now. And you never know I may reread it sometime.

Monday 25 March 2013

The yoghurts of Paris

There are many, many delicious delights that await the visitor to Paris. Most are well documented. Pastries. Macarons. Chocolates. Icecreams. They're always great of course, and I will sample all of these again- and more. But when I'm in Paris I look to the more ordinary daily pleasure like yoghurt too.

The flavours may be novel.




More chestnut...

The ingredients may be novel.

Raspberry goat yoghurt

The texture is different to what we have in Australia.

I now realise that this is Fontainebleau, a light as air cheese,
and not a yoghurt as such

You can buy yoghurt in lots of places. The more expected places.

like the supermarket
or the local street market
But also when you're out and about too.

Lunching at Parc de la Villette (vanilla)

or when grabbing a quick lunch from a cafe (lemon)

Some of the containers are plastic, but many are of reusable materials- glass, ceramic- especially when you're out and about. I'm always a bit conflicted then. What should I do with the container? Carry it around in my bag? Leave it at the cafe and hope that they recycle it? Those little glass jars are so cute. But it's not really feasible to bring them home to Australia. Our apartment didn't have an obvious recycling bin, and it took me a while to identify the public recycling facilities provided by the city. But they do exist if you look- large green bins often on street corners from memory.

Dreaming of France, a great Monday meme from Paulita at An Accidental Blog

Saturday 23 March 2013


One of the highlights of my visit to Hobart last year was an evening at MONA, the rather extraordinary Museum of Old and New Art established a short drive outside of Hobart. MONA opened in 2011 and is a privately funded art gallery, the $175 million vision of David Walsh.

MONA is an amazing place to visit. They make it as easy as possible for visitors to get there, even though the gallery is out of town. There is an office down on the waterfront, where you can hop on a boat, or a bike.

It's a fancy ferry too

Once you're there you get an amazing device called the O to explain the artworks you see (they don't like explanatory stuff on the walls), and also record your tour (you can enter you email address, and MONA emails you a copy of the works that you see- how cool is that?)

It creates a map of where you went!

You can review works you saw, and those you missed

We got to attend a special evening there as part of the conference I attended- it was a fully catered (and how) extravaganza. 

Too much alcohol that night to photograph
and literal mountains of cheese

We then got to tour the galleries, after having a not inconsequential number of drinks. I can only recommend that this is how all art galleries should be viewed. It increases your interest, and your appreciation of the art on view.

This was especially transfixing
A waterfall in words!
Words change daily depending on the news
Bit.Fall 2006-7 Julius Popp

The largest art work is possibly one of the largest works I've ever seen. Sidney Nolan's Snake.

It's very cool

It changes as you move closer

to see the 1620 individual paintings!

And now it's being taken down! MONA is always changing it seems. 

My bad photo doesn't convey how disturbing I found this
The Mice and Me 2008 Meghan Boody

P XIII 2008 Berlinde de Bruyckere

Skull 2001 Jan Fabre

My favourite- a video installation
30 Italians singing Madonna's Immaculate Collection
It's hysterical
Housed in a special room, complete with bean bags
Look for the nondescript white door
Queen (A Portrait of Madonna) 2005 Candice Breitz

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

Friday 22 March 2013

The Discovery

I found this series of book on display in my local KMart this week, I hadn't heard anything of them before that, but I picked up the first one and brought it home that day. Initially I thought that Robert Irwin (yes, Steve Irwin's son, already 9 years old) had written them, but Robert is a character rather than author- although he has done one of the illustrations for the book- a drawing of a dinosaur in the field guide at the back. Jack Wells is credited as the author on the title page.

The Discovery is the first of a series of chapter books aimed at primary school aged children about Robert's real life passion for dinosaurs. The first four titles are in bookshops now, with another four titles to be released later in the year. 


It's a simple enough story. Robert goes on a fossil hunting trip for his 9th birthday with his family and best friend Riley to the Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum at Winton, Queensland . Of course it wouldn't be exciting if he didn't find any fossils, and he wasn't transported back in time. Dinosaur stories can't leave that alone can they? There are some typical boyhood humour subjects- bad breath, burping and gentle teasing mixed in amongst the dinosaur facts. 

I'm not sure why I bought this book, I've never bought a Bindi Irwin book, although there are seemingly vast numbers of them. Perhaps I'll have to read a Bindi book at some stage? Master Wicker is a bit old for this style of book now, but he would have loved it I'm sure back when his own dinosaur fascination was at its peak. I will enjoy donating it to his old primary school library, I'm sure the boys there will make good use of it.

Thursday 21 March 2013

London Not for Parents!

It's quite hard for me to put aside my Paris obsession and concentrate on other cities for my upcoming Grand Tour. But sometimes it must be done. Hardship as it is. This year I'm planning to make my first ever visit to London. I'm very excited about it, and have begun a bit of pre-reading. London Not for Parents was an obvious place to start.  I read the companion Paris volume in 2011 and loved it. They're from a great series of books from the folks at Lonely Planet.

There's so much in London that I want to do, I know that we won't have time to do it all.

At least now when I ride the London Eye, I'll know that I'll be as tall as 26 giraffes (135m).

I want to see some of Banksy's art. But will I recognise it? Apparently his work is simply made with cardboard stencils and spray cans, and he often features a rat.

When I visit St Paul's I'll know that it is the 5th incarnation on the site. The previous four cathedrals all being timber burned down over the ages, the last one in The Great Fire in 1666- started by a baker cooking two big bits of bacon in his oven in Pudding Lane.

The Great Fire burned for six days

There is a Christopher Wren designed monument to the Great Fire near Pudding Lane where the fire started. You can climb it! I think I will.

3,000 people are buried in and around Westminster Abbey.

More than 100 people have been hanged, beheaded, or shot at the Tower of London over the centuries. The Tower was the prison, while the executions were mostly carried out on Tower Hill. If you were an important person like a baron, earl or the wife of a king you were beheaded in private, usually on Tower Green in the Tower of London.

Charles II kept exotic birds in a cage (including a crane with a wooden leg on Birdcage Walk.

Too good not to repost

By law sturgeons, whales, dolphins or porpoises caught in British waters belong to the current monarch. The wild swans that live on the River Thames are part-owned by the kings and queens of England. Every year the swans are counted and given a royal health check. The tradition, which started 800 years ago, is called swan "upping".

Wednesday 20 March 2013

Wondrous Words Wednesday 20/3/13

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.  

Reading the weekend supplements is often a great source of new words for me too. Today's word comes from a feature about the bicentenary of Pride and Prejudice

Chapbook (Noun)

I'm tempted, for instance, to make a chapbook out of the appearances of Mr Collins, the young man who is to inherit the Bennet estate after the death of Elizabeth's father.

A small book or pamphlet containing poems, ballads, stories, or religious tracts. (So called because it was originally sold by chapmen- peddlers). The Free Dictionary.

Picture source

Tuesday 19 March 2013

Have you seen Ally Queen?

I was excited to have the chance to read this book recently. I had won Have You Seen Ally Queen about a year ago, as a subscriber prize from Good Reading and Fremantle Press. It used to tempt me from the book case. The lovely diffuse blues and greens of the cover often caught my eye as I walked past.

We meet Ally Queen as she has just started at a new high school. Ally and her family have moved from Perth to a small West Australian coastal town, Melros. Ally didn't want to move of course, and leave all her friends behind in Perth. We quickly realise that her mother is having a health crisis as well, and this was part of the reason for the family moving.

I have survived. Today was my first day at this new school. I feel like I've run a cross-country of something; I'm exhausted. I drop my bag outside our house and head down to the beach. I don't feel like answering Mum's questions about how it went- I just want a bit of space.

Have You Seen Ally Queen? is written in an engaging first person voice. Ally is quite funny, and rather obsessed with killer pythons (the lolly ones, not a WA monster snake), which makes me like her even more of course, but sadly the local shop only has stale pythons on sale.

It's a landscape that is familiar to any reader of Tim Winton of course. The beach and the ocean figure strongly here too. But does Tim Winton own every story of the WA Coast? This is my first reading of Deb Fitzpatrick, I look forward to more of her writing. I am rather intrigued by her first book, 90 Packets of Instant Noodles. If only for the title alone.