Saturday 30 November 2013

The Corner Shop

We hired a great apartment for our Parisian holiday in June. It was on rue de Sevres in the 6th, and very handy to so many wonderful places. The rather magnificent food hall, La Grande Epicerie was our local corner shop! While any trip to a Parisian supermarche is wonderful, La Grande Epicerie is like a supermarche on steroids.

And we took full advantage of it. We sampled many delights. They were in the midst of a major renovation in June/July and so the shop would often look quite different every time we went. Whole departments would move on the weekend. So it was the thrill of the new every Monday.

But there were always walls of chocolate
sadly we were generally too busy eating pastries to eat chocolate

Gorgeous produce, much of it reasonably priced
But beware the exotic.
Pay attention when the lady weighs the dragon fruit that Master Wicker must have.
Otherwise you get it home and realise it was over 8 euros.
Then you nearly die of shock. 
Best. Tomatoes. Ever.
Eaten on a picnic by the Seine, in the gorgeous summer Paris evening light.

Tim Tams!
But no we didn't buy any.
No time for Tim Tams in Paris. 

We did buy many baguettes de tradition though.

We didn't have time to try their macarons

They  do have an amazing patisserie section
We had a celebration tart one night, it was most delicious. 

We often stocked up for dinner

Our foraged dinners often came out of here

There were three foie gras fridges! Three.

A whole walk in room of dairy

We never did get to trying the horse milk

But we certainly did try the butter. It was glorious. 

Walls of delicious French yoghurt. 
There is a fabulous wine store downstairs. Quite reasonably priced. Actually great value. 

So many bubbles!

So much deliciousness.

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

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

Thursday 28 November 2013

The Crowstarver

I've read the occasional Dick King-Smith title in the past, but had never heard of this one before it came up on my 1001 reading schedule. Dick King-Smith despite not successfully publishing a book until he was in his 50s, managed to publish over 100 books after that. He is most famous of course for his story of a pig who thinks it's really a dog, best known as Babe- from the movie title, although the book has the somewhat more clunky name of The Sheep-Pig. I find a lot of his book titles a bit clunky actually, The Crowstarver among them I guess. Perhaps it's because you think it should be scarecrow, but it isn't.

The Crowstarver is a sweet, endearing book as it turns out, despite the title. A rather odd story really. A newborn baby is left as a foundling on a remote Wiltshire farm in 1926. The baby boy is taken in by the amiable, poor shepherd and his wife, Tom and Kathie Sparrow, who are sadly childless. They soon realise that their new son has delayed milestones. He is slow to talk, and slow to walk. Indeed he adopts his own style of locomotion so peculiar that he known as Spider Sparrow from then on. (The book is published in America as Spider Sparrow).

Spider has his own skills though. He can mimic animal noises perfectly, and has a great rapport with both farm and wild animals. Spider grows up in a loving home, but it is a quiet existence. His parents try to enrol him at school when he's old enough, but in what was probably quite typical for the time, he was refused school enrolment as the headmaster didn't know how to deal with his particular circumstances.

The first half of the book is really quite slow, not unpleasant at all, but it's hard to say that anything much actually happens. Soon enough though World War II makes it's presence felt even in rural Wiltshire- the young men go off to war, and Spider is given work to do on the farm. This is when he becomes a crowstarver.

Crowstarving's about all he'll be fit for by the look of him, walking up and down banging a sheet of tin with a stick to keep the birds off new-sown corn.

The action picks up after the war starts, and there are some rather moving events, with the cycle of life and death on the farm, and the war. After a German plane is shot down on the farm, several of the farm men race to the scene of the crash, out for revenge and blood.

Percy Pound stared into those blue eyes, and all of a sudden as he did so, he experienced a dramatic change of mood. He found himself forgetting his anger and his hatred for any member of the race that had killed his son, and instead he felt a stab of pity and an enormous sorrow for the madness of mankind.
He lowered the pitchfork.
Oh dear God, he thought, he looks so much like our Henry. 

I have a few more King-Smiths to read before I'm grown up, and many more that I could read of course, I'll be looking forward to them.


Wednesday 27 November 2013

Australian Children's Laureate 2014-2015 Jackie French

I'm so excited. One of my very favourite authors, Jackie French has been named the Australian Children's Laureate for 2014-2015! That is such fantastic news. Jackie French is a deadset legend. She has written everything- nonfiction, fiction, books for toddlers,young kids, teenagers and adults.

Jackie with her Magpie award
Picture source
Jackie will take over from the inaugural laureates Boori Monty Pryor and Alison Lester in January 2014. The theme for Jackie's Laureateship will be Share a Story. You can listen to an interview with Jackie here

"I'd like every child in Australia to have a book to go to bed with, and a bed to read that book in."

"I would like every child in Australia to learn to read."

"Every child can learn to read."

"They are more important than submarines, winning medals at the Olympics, expensive ice-cream. If we have got money for that, we have money for every child in Australia to read."

Jackie also wants children to have access to teacher librarians and children's librarians to guide them to the books they need.

"Reading is more important than almost anything else in our society."

"When you read a story you can taste the ice-cream, when you watch a DVD you can only see the ice-cream."

"Never ever ever underestimate the power of a story."

She's so passionate, so well suited to take up this position.

It's an honour that's so well deserved.

I saw Jackie speak at the Melbourne Writers Festival last year. She was fantastic.

I've read a few of her books, you can see reviews of two of my favourites- Nanberry, and Flood.

Last year when I saw Jackie in Melbourne she was the author of 130+ books, this year they are saying 140+ books. I feel more than justified in my musings that she may well write faster than I can read. I shall have to read more and more of her books over the next two years. I can't wait to see what she achieves with this position.

Monday 25 November 2013

The Little Paris Kitchen

Picture source

Australia has been a bit slow to jump on the Rachel Khoo bandwagon. Rachel is English of Malaysian/Austrian background, she moved to Paris a few years ago, and has turned a three month patisserie course at Le Cordon Blue into a media food career. Initially Rachel ran a two seat restaurant in her tiny Belleville flat, with two gas burners and a minuscule oven. She published two books in French, and then hit the big time with a BBC series, The Little Paris Kitchen, and a book to accompany the series.

The TV series ran here in June and July this year, so I was able to watch a few episodes before heading to Paris myself. Recently I watched the rest of the series. It's readily consumable fare for a Paris tragic like me. Lots of gratuitous shots of Paris in all her beauty to make you swoon.

We do learn lots of valuable things too. Paris has 1100 patisseries. No wonder I feel that I will never get through them all! Population density in Paris is four times that of London- so no wonder it can feel crowded at times.

Rachel has a buxom 50s housewife vibe, often wearing knotted cardigans and big full skirts. I do love the way she wears red lipstick, and am totally envious of one so young having such skills. I must learn to wear red lipstick. Like many chefs and cooks before her Rachel aims to take the fear out of French cooking, showing us her take on French classics.

Rachel of course celebrates the delicious, amazing ingredients and produce available in Paris. She always uses the full fat versions. During her eggs en cocotte Rachel advises us that we could do a low fat version, but she then looks disdainfully at us, and reminds us that this would be on our own conscience. None of it is rarefied French cooking though. Rachel has a passion for French food, cooked simply, like Parisians do at home. I love the occasional slip of camera angle that lets us see she is cooking in her socks, that she uses frozen peas like all home cooks, and has Heinz ketchup in her fridge!

A number of the recipes looked really good, and easy enough for those of us who tragically don't live in Paris to make. Her Ile flotant looks particularly amazing. I've longed for ile flotant for a long time. I had it once in Paris, but at a cheapish restaurant and it wasn't all that great. It wasn't terrible mind you, but not the transcendent experience that I'd hoped for. I'd love to give Rachel's recipe a go one day.

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

Saturday 23 November 2013

Anne Frank Huis

It's hard to call a visit to Anne Frank Huis a highlight, but it certainly was one of the very memorable stops on our trip to Amsterdam in June this year.

There's always a long line. It's a bit slow moving.
But it's totally worth it.
You can buy tickets on line but we weren't sure that we would be able to squeeze  in a visit,
also it's really hard to access  a printer while you're travelling,
although you can also use a smartphone or tablet.
It's  astonishing to walk through the secret door that kept Anne hidden for all that time during the war. To climb the same narrow stairs that she did, and stand in the small rooms that held her life, where she did her lessons, read her books, listened to the radio, ate her meals, and where she wrote her diary (see my thoughts about her diary). If you can't make it to Amsterdam sometime soon you can take a pretty cool online tour

There is a moving exhibit at the end of the rooms. Sadly no photos were allowed inside. 

Anne Frank Huis has kept up with the times,
with an iPhone app.

 I haven't and don't really know what to do with these things,
or how they could add to my experience.
I must learn. 

Perhaps the 50th anniversary of Dr Who is weighing heavily on my mind (it's this weekend and the Wicker boys are Very Excited about it), but doesn't the little logo in the corner look ever so slightly like a tardis? If only The Doctor had been able to visit Anne. 

A statue of Anne nearby. 
Saturday Snapshot is a wonderful weekly meme now hosted by WestMetroMommy

Friday 22 November 2013

The Diary of a Young Girl

I'd been meaning to read Anne Frank's diary for many years. It was clearly a rather large omission to have not read it before this. But there was nothing like an upcoming trip to Amsterdam for the first time to get me there finally.

I started off reading this book out loud to Master Wicker as our night time reading. He didn't enjoy it from the outset (not nearly enough dystopian fantasy world for him, and no aliens, all major drawbacks), and it was hard going as a read aloud book. Which in turn made the reading drag. I did enjoy it much more after I gave up on the read aloud aspect (we switched to The Hunger Games which had a much more favourable reception) and just read it for myself.

Anne Frank and her diary are justifiably very famous. Anne and her family spent two years in hiding, living in cramped, crowded conditions in a factory annexe in Amsterdam during World War II. Of course Anne famously didn't survive the war, so the end is no mystery, but it's such an important story to tell.

I feel dreadful that I didn't love this rather beloved book. Even more because I didn't really like Anne's voice. I didn't like Anne all that much actually, which makes it difficult to read her first person narrative. I was interested in her plight of course, in everything she had to say, her descriptions of her experience of the war, and her living conditions and her moods. I feel my lack of enjoyment was more a failing on my part than hers.

It was shocking to read the limitations of freedom begin.

After May 1940 the good times were few and far between: first there was the war, then the capitulation and then the arrival of the Germans, which is when the troubled started for the Jews. Our freedom was severely restricted by a series of anti-Jewish decrees: Jews were required to wear a yellow star; Jews were required to turn in their bicycles; Jews were forbidden to sue trams; Jews were forbidden to ride in cars, even their own: Jews were required to do their shopping between 3.00 and 5.00 pm; Jews were required to frequent only Jewish-owned barbershops and beauty salons; Jews were forbidden to be out on the streets between 8.00pm and 6.00am; Jews were forbidden to go to theatres, cinemas or any other forms of entertainment; Jews were forbidden to use swimming pools, tennis courts, hockey fields or any other athletic fields; Jews were forbidden to go rowing; Jews were forbidden to take part in any athletic activity in public; Jews were forbidden to sit in their gardens or those of their friends after 8.00pm; Jews were forbidden to visit Christians in their homes; Jews were required to attend Jewish schools, etc. You couldn't do this and you couldn't do that, but life went on. 

I was really surprised to read Anne writing quite knowledgeably about what would later be called the Holocaust in August 1942.

If it's that bad in Holland, what must it be like in those faraway and uncivilised places where the Germans are sending them? We assume that most of them are being murdered. The English radio says they're being gassed. Perhaps that's the quickest way to die. 

I hadn't known that these things were actually known during the war. I'd thought that it was only after the war that people found out what had been happening. It was terrible reading Anne's descriptions of the privations of the family's time in hiding. The radio was constantly on as the families listen desperately for news and updates. The boredom, the fears of disease, of discovery, of destruction from falling bombs, and the terrible, rotting food.

It was heartbreaking to see Anne's moods over time, as she was robbed of her liberty, and her youth, and eventually of course her life.

I wander from room to room, climb up and down the stairs and feel like a songbird whose wings have been ripped off and who keeps hurling herself against the bars of its dark cage. 

And yet somehow Anne remains optimistic til the end.

It's utterly impossible for me to build my life on a foundation of chaos, suffering and death. I see the world being slowly transformed into a wilderness, I hear the approaching thunder that, one day, will destroy us too, I feel the suffering of millions. And yet, when I look up at the sky, I somehow feel that everything will change for the better, that this cruelty too will end, that peace and tranquility will return once more.

Anne wanted to be a writer and journalist and she's done that.

I don't want to have lived in vain like most people. I want to be useful or bring enjoyment to all people, even those I've never met. I want to go on living even after my death!

Anne is still living after her death. Her thoughts and words are still alive in the 21st century. And still worth reading.

See some photos from my visit to Anne Frank Huis.

Thursday 21 November 2013

50 Best Books for Kids

A few weeks ago everyone on Facebook was doing these listchallenges. There are list challenges for books, movies, travel and lots of other specialty interest lists- how many  of the 100 Halloween candies I've eaten remains unknown. However many of them make a lovely diversion for an idle few minutes. Of course I love a book list and wanted to keep a more permanent record of them.

This 50 Best Books for Kids is a rather fascinating list. The first 20 or so books are internationally renown, indisputable children's classics. Then come some books and authors that aren't all that well known, and indeed many are completely unknown to me. An intriguing mix. Nice to see some nonfiction too.

As usual, the books I've read are in red.

1. Where the Wild Things Are - Maurice Sendak

2. Charlotte's Web - E.B White

3. Goodnight Moon - Margaret Wise Brown

4. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone - J.K Rowling

5. The Very Hungry Caterpillar - Eric Carle

6. The Cat in the Hat -  Dr Seuss

7. A Wrinkle in Time - Madeleine L'Engle (see my review)

8. The Snowy Day - Ezra Jack Keats

9. The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe- C.S Lewis

10. Knuffle Bunny - Mo Willems

11. The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett (see my review)

12. Harriet the Spy - Louise Fitzhugh (see my review)

13. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl

14. Madeline - Ludwig Bemelmans

15. The Hobbit - J.R.R. Tolkein (see my review)

16. The Phantom Tollbooth - Norton Juster, Jules Feiffer (ill)

17. The Complete Adventures of Curious George - Margaret and H.A. Rey

18. Holes - Louis Sachar (see my review)

19. Ramona the Pest - Beverly Cleary

20. Chicka Chicka BOOM BOOM - Bill Martin Jr and John Archambault, Lois Ehlert (ill)

21. The Arrival - Shaun Tan (see my review)

22. Matilda - Roald Dahl

23. The Tale of Peter Rabbit - Beatrix Potter

24. Bark, George - Jules Feiffer

25. The Invention of Hugo Cabret - Brian Selznick (see my review)

26. Anna Hibiscus - Atinuke, Lauren Tobia (ill)

27. Lily's Purple Plastic Purse - Kevin Henkes

28. A Light in the Attic - Shel Silverstein

29. Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing - Judy Blume

30. George and Martha - James Marshall

31. The Watsons Go to Birmingham- 1963 - Christopher Paul Curtis

32. Caps for Sale - Esphyr Slobodkina

33. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler - E.L. Konigsburg (see my review)

34. The Paper Bag Princess - Robert Munsch

35. Number the Stars - Lois Lowry

36. Olivia - Ian Falconer

37. Coraline - Neil Gaiman 

38. Moonshot: the Flight of Apollo 11 - Brian Floca

39. Mufaro's Beautiful Daughters - John Steptol

40. Are You My Mother? - P.D. Eastman

41. The Bone Series - Jeff Smith

42. Little Bear - Else Holmelund Minarik

43. Mirror Mirror: A Book of Reversible Verse - Marilyn Singer, Josee Masse (ill)

44. The Golden Compass - Philip Pullman

45. Doctor de Soto - William Steig

46. Esperanza Rising - Pam Munoz Ryan

47. Go Away, Big Green Monster! - Ed Emberley

48. Dave the Potter: Artist, Poet, Slave - Laban Carrick Hill

49. My Father's Dragon - Ruth Stiles Gannett

50. Amelia Lost - Candace Fleming


A big start for me, having already read the top 11. Some of the rest are very close to the top of my TBR. Harriet the Spy and Holes appear to be rather large omissions in my reading to date, both are always near the top of these lists.

Sept 2014 I've inched my way up to 29/40

March 2016 30/40

Wednesday 20 November 2013

The Snow Spider

The Snow Spider is a book that I didn't really know anything about before it came up on my 1001 schedule, and somehow the vaguely creepy 80s cover put me off. I'd borrowed it from my library once, but never got to starting to read it. What a pleasant surprise it was to start reading! I was entranced from the very first page.

A beguiling story set in a remote Welsh farmhouse. At the very start of the story Gwyn's rather eccentric grandmother gives him five unusual gifts for his ninth birthday.

They were very unusual gifts and if Gwyn had not been the sort of boy he was, he might have been disappointed.
'Happy Birthday!' said his grandmother, turning her basket upside down.
Gwyn stared at the objects on the kitchen floor, none of them wrapped in bright birthday paper: a piece of seaweed, a yellow scarf, a tin whistle, a twisted metal brooch, and a small, broken horse.

Rather odd presents indeed. But Gwyn's house is not a happy one, and his birthday isn't really celebrated. His sister Bethan disappeared in mysterious circumstances on his birthday four years earlier. So Gwyn's birthday is not so much a day of celebration, but one of mourning and remembrance, as each day seems to be. Particularly for Gwyn's father who blames him for his sister's disappearance.

Jenny Nimmo is English, but has lived for many years in Wales and she incorporates ancient tales of Welsh mythology into a modern story of friendship, family and loss. There was a very strong vibe of A Wrinkle in Time in some parts of the book for me, and even though I didn't particularly like A Wrinkle in Time the first time I read it (shocking I know!, but it does seem to be growing on me), I did really enjoy The Snow Spider, so much so that I've ordered the other two books in the series, Emlyn's Moon and The Chestnut Soldier.


Monday 18 November 2013

My Paris, My Sweet Challenge

Preparing for my Paris trip this year I read Amy Thomas's memoir Paris, My Sweet. Perfect fare for me of course. Although quite a bit of it is about New York too. But I'm not obsessed with New York, so I tended to glide over those bits a bit more.

At the back of the book Amy gives up a top 10 of Paris sweets (with a New York top 10 too). I soon realised that here was a Paris challenge that I could fully embrace. So in June, July 2013 I gave it a crack.

Amy's comments are before the pictures. Mine are after the pictures.

1. A good, ol' oozing Nutella street crepe.

I can't believe that it's taken me three trips to France to get to eating one of these. It was good. I'll definitely go there again.

2. La Folie at La Patisserie des Reves: the heft and texture of this squat pastry are pure magic. The doughy, whipped brioche is piped full of vanilla pastry cream that has a hint of rum raisin. Topped with praline crumble and a touch of confectioner's sugar, it's unbelievably yummy.

This was good, but there is so much astonishment in Patisserie des Reves, I would probably go for their patisseries rather than their bread products. I need to do a whole post about my passionate love for Patisserie des Reves some day- they made what was one of my very favourite delights in Paris this year- the magnificent Lemonta Granita. 

3. The insanely addictive praline from Pralus Chocolatier in the Marais. This buttery, chewy, crunchy, caramelised sweet brioche, chock-full of almonds from Valencia and crushed hazelnuts from Piedmont, is meant for at least four people. But I would eat an entire one myself.

I had high, high hopes for this one, having seen it on blogs and heard about it before for quite some time. But you know, it was ok, but really didn't do it for me. I would try it again, but wouldn't run back to Pralus as my first thing in Paris.

4. The sweet little strawberry Couer from Coquelicot in Montmartre. Relatively modest in size- just four or five bites- but this petite cake has a pitch-perfect texture that's both spongy and moist.

Sadly, this little couer didn't set my heart on fire. It was springy and moist, but just not my sort of thing.

5. A chocolate eclair from Stohrer. The crisp pastry shell envelopes an uber generous chocolatey custard filling and is slathered with a sweet chocolate glacage. It's a serious sugar rush.

Both Mr Wicker and I got a very strong coffee vibe from this one, and as neither of us like coffee it wasn't a good thing. The look was pretty, thinner than many Paris eclairs, and the pastry firm and lovely. Next time I'd try their equally famous Puits d'Amour.

6. Angelina's stick-to-your-teeth chocolate chaud. It's like sipping melted truffles. In a tea room that Coco Chanel used to frequent.

OMG, this is so, so good. Totally worth the trip to Angelinas (there are quite a few Angelinas now, but my favourite is still the original salon at 226 Rue de Rivoli, pretty much every visit to Paris will have you nearby at some time). I've had this on every trip to France. Wait for a cool day, and go. Run, do not walk to Angelinas and have a chocolate chaud L'Africain. And a pastry to go with of course- the eclairs and Mont Blanc are sensational.

7. Speaking of truffles, Jean-Paul Hevin's truffles are le mieux. And his mendiants. And his cakes. Hevin= heaven in my book.

Master Wicker pondering the delights at JPH Rue Vavin

And mine too. We love JPH here in the Wicker house. We've had his chocolates, macarons, mendicants and cakes on every trip to France too. Mr Wicker has even splurged on occasion and paid to have them shipped to Australia for mon anniversaire!

8. The rice pudding at Chez l'Ami Jean. I never would have thought I'd care a lick about rice pudding. But a dinner at Cafe Constant made me reconsider, and a later dinner at Chez l'Ami Jean changed everything. Served in a massive bowl with sides of candied granola and salted caramel cream, this is an unforgettable dessert.

9. The Plenitude Individuel from Pierre Herme. While his macaroons are, oui, divine, this little cake is transporting. Fluffy chocolate mousse under a dark chocolate shell. Kissed by salted caramel. Adorned with tiles of more chocolate. It's gorgeous, exquisite, and delicious.

Everything Pierre Herme does looks magnificent, he is certainly one of the big names of Paris patisserie, and I sampled his work quite a few times on the most recent trip. I actually found this one a bit overwhelming, so chocolatey. Too chocolatey? Mr Wicker found it a bit one dimensional. I was glad to just eat a third- it was so rich! Do check out his website- it's ever changing and always glorious to look at, totally droolworthy.

10. An almond croissant from Boulangerie Julien. When my friend Ben and I split one of these we were giggling like school kids in the middle of rue Saint-Honore. Fresh and flaky, slightly chewy and caramelised at the edges, heavy with almond paste and lightly dusted with powdered sugar and slivered almond. I mean, how can something be allowed to taste so good?

I had to go to Julien at least three times to get one of these so they must be popular, as they were always sold out. I didn't find it all that amazing actually. It was good mind you, but your palate becomes very picky very quickly in Paris. I had other almond croissants that I preferred this trip.

So overall I got to experience 90% of Amy's Top 10! I was pretty happy about that, but it's pretty clear we have different tastes. I prefer more fruity or lemony delights. Amy picks quite different things to what I would usually select in a patisserie. That's fine of course, it was still it was fun to try all these, a few times going off my beaten track and exploring new neighbourhoods. And I'd still love to get to Chez l'Ami Jean one day for the rice pudding. I do love a rice pudding ….

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

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