Monday 30 September 2013

Haute Couture

I had a Sensational trip to Paris in June and July of this year. We did so many amazing things. All sorts of different things, sightseeing, eating, concerts- as there is just so much to do in Paris on any given day. One of the great things we did was take in the free fashion retrospective, Paris Haute Couture at the Paris Town Hall (Mairie de Paris). It was great. 

And it was free!

Any excuse to visit the Town Hall is worth it 
It's an amazing building,
we'd walked past many times but this was our first venture inside
there are usually several exhibitions on there at any time
Sadly photos were interdit
so most of my photos are terrible
but the frocks were sensational
Fashion isn't really my thing, but the exhibition often paired a vintage piece with a newer frock, to show design elements over time. It was a celebration of design and craftmanship. And cleverly done. 

The ladies were well fascinated
and thoroughly enjoyed it
The boys amused themselves with a new game
Dr Who or Eurovision
(deciding if each piece would be better suited to be worn for Dr Who or Eurovision)

Dreaming of France is a wonderful Monday meme
from Paulita at An Accidental Blog

Sunday 29 September 2013

Dutch Breakfast

I've been taking quite an interest in the sugar debate this year. I read Sweet Poison, and I Quit Sugar, still I was more than astonished to learn last week that Holland may be the first country to criminalise sugar.

I thought back to our lovely, but too brief visit to Holland in June. We stayed with friends and got to participate in the ritual of a Dutch family breakfast. These people love their sugar! I do wonder if it's just one man's plan? I'm not sure that I can see it catching on.

Master Wicker learning about the joys of travel broadening tastebuds,
 and the magic of vlokken
They have a literal wall of vlokken
at the supermarket

The Dutch make an astonishing sugar bread (Suykerbrood). Basically like a brioche with lumps of sugar.

So delicious!
Great sliced with butter
But even better toasted!
It was funny to go to Holland and learn that toasting
 is a rather Australian preoccupation
This post is linked to Weekend Cooking
a fabulous weekly meme at Beth Fish Reads

Saturday 28 September 2013

Kuirau Park

This week I spent a few days in Rotorua, New Zealand. I was at a conference and my sightseeing time was limited, but was able to walk around town one afternoon. Kuirau Park is on the edge of town and offers a fascinating glimpse of the areas geothermal activity, especially if you're not able to get to one of the major tourist areas out of town. It's a council park, so it's free.

My first glimpse was of gorgeous NZ green.

A green you don't often see in Australia
Soon you realise that there's lots of fenced off areas.

 The larger ones have gates and you can walk around inside

Often the view is a bizarre contrast between sulphurous primeval ooze
 and traditional English garden
The pukekos didn't seem to mind the smell too much
Some of the smaller areas you just peer over the fence. Each one was slightly different. It makes you look at the world differently. We tend to look out at our landscape and see stability, rocks, a view that doesn't really change from one day to the next, from one decade to the next. But Rotorua gives you a glimpse of the instability that lies just below the surface. I saw a sign that said Rotorua has an earthquake a day (but Richter 2 and so not felt by us). My taxi driver snorted at that, and said they had more like 30 a day. He was happy about that as the pressure is being released.

This pool was amazing the water was very clear like in a limestone cave
It photographed like a mirror though

Bubbling mud
All over town steam or bubbling water would come up between rocks

More bubbling mud

There's a large lake in the middle of the park. That bridge was minutes away from all the wisteria opening when I saw it. A few of the flowers were out on the other side. The tulips were out all around the lake and very pretty, but there was a busload of Chinese tourists in front of, or in, every stand of tulips.

There are a couple of warm foot baths in the park too, so you can soak your feet for a while in the warm waters.

 The largest geothermal area is up near the corner of Lake Road and Ranolf Street. It's extraordinary.

Cement horse troughs from the early twentieth century
In use til the 1940s
dogs drank from the lower section

It was very eerie walking through this one
the wind constantly shifting the view

The steam was actually quite warm, and fogged up my glasses a few times

I saw a lot of this orange ?lichen near sulphurous areas
Rotorua was an amazing place to visit. There are heaps of activities I would have liked to have tried. I'll have to put it on the list to go back sometime.

Saturday Snapshot is a wonderful weekly meme now hosted by WestMetroMommy

Friday 27 September 2013

I Quit Sugar

Earlier this year I read David Gillespie's Sweet Poison. It was a fascinating read and helped reinforce the healthy eating that I've been doing all year anyway- initially it was in preparation for my planned extravagances in Paris, and now post Paris it is to repair those indulgences, and push the boundaries a little bit more.

Sugar certainly has become a hot topic this year. It's not just David Gillespie advising us to give it up. Everyone it seems is giving up sugar. I read about it every day on Facebook, it's filling the newspapers, and more and more bloggers extolling the virtues of giving up sugar. There was a great Catalyst program a few weeks ago about the dangers of sugar. It's said to be toxic, make us fat and stupid, give us cancer, and now make us look old (although that article if you actually read it says that diabetics look older), so it's certainly worth considering the sugar in our diets.

Sarah Wilson's book is a large part of this trend, so I was very interested to read it. I don't watch all that much tv so didn't know of Sarah Wilson before this book. I Quit Sugar started as many things do as a personal journey. Sarah had two thyroid disorders- Graves disease and Hashimotos thyroiditis, and had put on 12 kilograms that she couldn't shift. She tried cutting out fructose by way of added sugars and loved it, she lost the weight and felt much better. The book (initially an ebook), the website and now the online 8 week program grew out of her obvious enthusiasm for a sugar free life.

Sarah tells us that we were designed to eat 5-9 teaspoons of sugar a day. Five for women, nine for men. Yet our modern, western low-fat diet is giving us much more sugar than that. We are eating a kilo of sugar a week, when 150 years ago we ate basically no sugar. Sarah is actually urging us to cook at home, with a variety of nutritious whole foods- she advises loading up on vegetables, nuts, seeds, pulses, and healthy grains.

Plus there's a whole lot of coconut here- coconut is the new black it seems. I'm keen to find out more about this too. We've been told to avoid coconut for a long time too, it seems almost naughty to think about using it more.

I bought the book because I like cookbooks, I have an interest in learning about all this sugar stuff, and it's a pretty book too look at, and is loaded with lots of delicious looking recipes that I'd like to cook anyway. Summery quinoa tabboleh, coco-nutty granola, almond butter bark, a terrific range of pestos- coriander, kale, broccoli, basil. There are tips for basics such as poaching eggs, cooking quinoa, sprouting legumes and making your own nut butters. The IQS website has a great range of recipes too, some of which are in the book, some not.

But it all gets very confusing for me when looking at the dessert recipes and the whole sweetener debate. Table sugar of whatever variety is half glucose and half fructose, and it is this frucotse that the sugar quitting people are trying to avoid. The arguments linking sugar consumption and obesity certainly seems to make sense.

The quit sugar people I've come across so far aren't trying to banish all gustatory pleasures and don't appear to wish to subsist entirely on lentils and cabbage. So they use all manner of sugar replacements to make sweet treats. These sugar replacements are often quite high GI. A low GI diet makes logical sense to me, smoothing out blood sugar peaks, or at least it has in the past, and I'm not sure what to believe about all this anymore. The low GI people and the quitting sugar people are often at loggerheads about these issues. Quite openly and it can get a bit nasty at times. I know that both camps mean well, and are trying to get all of us to eat better, lose weight and be healthier, and I know that public debate about food and health is a good thing, but some consensus would be nice (it can get even more confusing) for the non-biochemists amongst us. It's a fascinating debate, and it will be interesting to see where it will go in the next few years.

I don't like that the quitting sugar philosophy can make some people anxious about eating fruit, but I think they're getting the wrong end of the stick. Sarah Wilson does suggest (temporarily) giving up fruit for the first six weeks of her program to help modify eating habits and lose the cravings most of us have for sweetness. She specifically warns against demonising fruit or any legitimately nutritious foods. She then reintroduces low-fructose fruits in week 6- kiwifruit, grapefruit, honeydew melon, blueberries and raspberries. She does advise avoiding high-fructose fruits such as grapes, apples, mangoes and bananas. However, the IQS program does quite rightly consign fruit juice to the same category as soft drinks.

I'm not sure that I'm ready to quit sugar all together, or that I will ever want to, but I Quit Sugar has made me more mindful of sugar in general and fructose in particular, and given me lots of interesting recipes to try.

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

Wednesday 25 September 2013

Wondrous Words Wednesday 25/9/13

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.

Todays words are the second selection to come from my recent reading of the Australian classic Picnic at Hanging Rock. The first post is here.

1. Sedulously (Adjective)

In actual fact, the very sight of the dazzling creature whose star-black eyes his own had sedulously avoided, had almost deprived him of the power of speech.

Persevering and constant in effort or application; assiduous.

2. Solar topee (Noun)

The bell brought a parlourmaid from a dark tiled passage where a sorrowful moose's head presided above a miscellany of hats, caps, coats, tennis racquets, umbrellas, fly veils, solar topees and walking sticks.

A lightweight hat worn in tropical countries for protection from the sun. Pith helmet.

Picture source

3. Scapegrace (Noun)

'We won't wait for that scapegrace of the fish will be ruined.'

Scoundrel. Rascal. An idle mischievous person.

4. Leghorn hat (Noun)

A few drops of rain plopped on the Leghorn hat.

i) The dried and bleached straw of an Italian variety of wheat.
ii) A plaited fabric made from this straw.
iii) A hat made from this fabric.

A stiff hat made of straw with a flat crown.

Picture source

5. Hogged (Verb)

Thus Albert, who always knew to the day precisely when Toby's mane was last hogged and when the mare was shod in Woodend, carefully placing the Leopold cheque in a jam tin under his bed, had no further need to refer to the letter, and after burning it over a stump of candle sat down to think things over.

i) Informal. To take more than one's share of.
ii) To cause (the back) to arch like that of a hog.
iii) To cut (a horse's mane) short and bristly.
iv) To shred (waste wood, for example) by machine.
v) Nautical. To arch upward in the middle. Used of a ship's keel.

Picture source

Monday 23 September 2013


Tanglewood is the most recent book from the rather extraordinary Margaret Wild. I've featured her previously with her last book, The Dream of the Thylacine. I wasn't as familiar with Vivienne Goodman at first glance, but I see now that she illustrated Mem Fox's Guess What?

Tanglewood is a tree, living a rather lonely life "on a tiny island, in the middle of nowhere". Tanglewood is looking for company, and tries to entice seals, dolphins and birds to visit the island. 

But nobody ever came. 

Until a seagull is blown off course in a storm and lands on the island with Tanglewood, and Tanglewood learns about friendship, family and hope. 

Vivienne Goodman has done a beautiful job illustrating Tanglewood's loneliness. 

Tanglewood is doing quite well this year. It was shortlisted for the Picture Book of the Year 2013 by the Children's Book Council of Australia, along with Sophie Scott Goes SouthA Day to Remember and The Coat (which took out the award). Tanglewood won the Environment Award for Children's Literature 2013.

Saturday 21 September 2013

Le Jules Verne - le deuxième fois

Back in 2010 I had a magnificent family holiday in Europe. It was amazing. We spent a week in Dublin, then two weeks in an apartment in Paris. Happily, while in Paris I had my birthday celebration at Le Jules Verne, the iconic restaurant on the second level of the Eiffel Tower. But I've shown you that before.

It was such a wonderful meal in a wonderful setting that I planned to return this year to celebrate my Big Deal Birthday in the same way. So I did. This time though there were a few more hangers on. Ten intrepid Australians made the journey to Paris and came together for an amazing lunchtime celebration.

And it was wonderful all over again. The Eiffel Tower was unexpectedly closed this day, for a strike.

Tourists were disappointed of course, and being turned away. Happily the private entrance to Le Jules Verne was open.

And soon we were being whisked up to the second level of the Tour Eiffel in their private lift.

Very soon after we were seated, nibbling away excitedly.

And having a drink. The bubbles flowed of course.

 The butter was sublime.

Still styled to look like the second stage of the Eiffel Tower,
with the restaurant logo

As were the breads.

Our amuse bouche. Cucumber jelly.

And then the courses started flowing too. The vegetarian entree. Bouillon glade de petits lois, oeuf de ferme et champignons des bois. Chilled garden pea soup, farm egg and wild mushroom.

So good that the carnivores were almost jealous. 

The non-vego entree was similarly fabulous. Saumon marine citron/caviar/vodka, garniture mimosa. Lemon/caviar/vodka marinated salmon, mimosa garnish. 

The fish course. Filet de Saint-Pierre cuisine en cocotte, legumes et condiment printanier. Fillet of John Dory cooked in a cocotte, spring vegetables and condiment.

The pork course. A last minute substitution for the planned rabbit course, so I don't have a full descriptor.

Paris mash! Wow. So much butter. So good.

The vegetarian had a cheese course while we were eating pork. 

 Dessert. Palet chocolat/framboise. Chocolate/raspberry palet.

Served with an astonishing raspberry granita. Someone at our table may have nearly taken the waiters arm off when he attempted to remove the not quite finished serving. So he brought another one.  No it wasn't me!

Petit fours. Because we may not have had enough desserts by now...

Astonishing marshmallows. I don't like marshmallows here in Australia. Those terrible styrofoam-like substances sold in supermarkets don't do much for me. I can say no. Easily. Good French marshmallows (guimauves) are like flavoured pillows of air. Extraordinary. I can't say no. And why would I?

And chocolate truffles. So fabulous.

Normally after lunch you can use a private set of stairs to go down to the second level of the tower, but that was ferme because of the strike. The restaurant has magnificent views though of course, and by the time we'd finished our luncheon it had all but emptied out, so we weren't hard done by. 

The views were still amazing
We still got to see the newly installed Aboriginal painting
atop the Musee du Quai Branly
which I still haven't visited
And the fountains at the Trocadero
(haven't been there either, still more to do on the next visit....)
Paris, je t'aime

We had the 140 euro 4 course lunch menu. 

Saturday Snapshot is a wonderful weekly meme now hosted by WestMetroMommy

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