Friday, August 1, 2014

friday book: The silkworm ( and baking, and tins)

I finished The silkworm by Galbraith/Rowling.

I really enjoyed it: if you like well written detective novels you will, too.  It is almost a modern "cosy" crime novel, despite the particularly  gruesome murder which is the heart of the story.

 Ex-soldier detective Cormoran and his secretary assistant-in-training Robin are great characters and I'm looking forward to reading more about them - will Robin marry her annoying fiance, Matthew? Will Cormoran's nutty ex-girlfriend re-appear to wreak havoc? Will the next book in the series be set in the pop music world with Cormoran's rock star father somehow involved?
Rowling is so good at writing real people: the creepy publisher Rupert Chard, the vain author Fancourt, the needy would-be girlfriend Nina, the victim's long-suffering wife and his disabled daughter and their kindly neighbour Edna: all these and many other believable characters appear in the book.

Over on Goodreads a few of the reviewers have a tendency to look for Harry Potter type characters in these books, and because of the way Cormoran and Robin are described physically they make the Hagrid/Hermione comparisons which I think is a bit silly and un-necessary. I can understand why Rowling wrote the first Strike novel under the Galbraith pseudonym, to avoid these sort of comments.

I think it's a great series. Looking forward to reading the next one.

My next book is one about the Abbotsford Convent! I've only read a few pages and am already finding it harrowing. It's in the Young Adult genre, which I love, so I'll report back next week.


Today has been bitterly cold. I left the house only once, to go and buy fish for dinner.

It smells pretty good  here today: I've made soup, and a quick and dirty chocolate slice and some caramel biscuits to fill up the tins for the weekend. J has been at a school ski camp at Mount Buller all week and gets home later tonight, I thought he may need to fill up after camp food all week.

I've written before about the family cake tins: I am a bit of a tin collector, but I've actually thinned my collection down over the last six months, and have only kept a dozen or so ( I'm not counting). I have quite a few on the kitchen windowsill at the moment because I like looking at them. There are only a few which are purely decorative, the others are all being used for something: pens, tea, biscuits, bulldog clips, whatever.
That tin above with the fruit on it is the one which sits most often on top the fridge with cake or a slice or something in it. I actually don't like it much: someone gave it to us filled with shop biscuits more than 20 years ago and it's just sort of hung around. S loves it and wants to take it when she leaves home ( not on the cards at the moment) so she'll take it with my blessing and I'm pleased the sooky tradition of tins/family baking/ memories is being passed on.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

why I love The Tour

image via Getty Images

This morning at work, we were talking about television and different people spoke up about their favourites: The Block, Masterchef, Offspring and so on, and I confessed my obsession with the Tour de France over the last 3 weeks, and how sad I am that we won't see it again for another 49 weeks. One workmate said she could not think of anything more boring than watching men wearing lycra on bicycles, for 21 days, so then I had to explain my love for it, so enthusiastically that she said next year she'd give it a go. I'm going to explain myself here too, because I know most people don't understand how a non-sporty, non-cycling person like me can love this event so much.

I started watching the Tour the year following our trip to Paris. I knew the last leg was the ride into Paris and then various laps of the Champs Elysees and I watched  to see the Parisian landmarks. Husband had been watching on and off over the years and I started watching with him. I didn't understand much at first but you have to realise the blokes on the bikes are only a small part of why it all fascinates me.

In no particular order, here are reasons I watch:

  •  the cyclists and the different personalities. Marcel Kittel, the rockstar German cyclist ( young, handsome, great hair, huge shoulders); Tommy Voeckler, the actor and Miley Cyrus of the peloton, sticking out his tongue and hogging the camera; the quiet and hard working Australians ( Richie Porte and Michael Rodgers); humming the theme from 24 whenever the New Zealand cyclist Jack Bauer got a mention. The winner Nibali, "the shark of Messina" who ate up all the competion; my favourite, Jens Voigt, who retired this year after 17 tours. What a hero! Around 180 riders start the race, they don't all finish. I don't know all their names but I love all the nationalities that race, not for a particular country but sometimes all mixed up in teams.  A very multicultural event where you can be barracking for a Polish rider to win one day, and a Spaniard the next. Not like the Olympic Games with its emphasis on nations and countries against each other.
  •  the drama: grown men sobbing when trying their hardest doesn't mean that they will win something. The crashes, the arguments and elbows jabbing in the peloton when someone rides in the wrong line or causes a pile-up. The death-defying descents and speed coming down mountains and around corners. The rain and the cobbled roads. Cyclists riding injured, being treated, bandaged and patched up while still cycling, by the doctor who is standing up in a moving car alongside them. The fact that this goes on for 21 days and is a race of 3500 kilometres. It's not over quickly, not a sprint or a football match or a swimming race. There's nowhere to hide in the Tour de France.
  • the sight and sounds on the side of the road: the sunflowers; the displays of tour sculpture and art; children dancing in formation and multiple tractors driving in circles in the shape of bike wheels; people riding horses alongside the peloton. The cows and sheep ( sheep dyed yellow) This year there was also a light plane and someone brought an elephant to look over a fence. In the Alps, the excited fans dress up in all manner of fancy dress, costumes, team colours.
  • the commentators. I didn't hear Phil Liggett say "well done, that man" this year or hear him say the riders needed to dig into a "suitcase of courage", but he DID talk a couple of times about He Who Must Not Be Named (Lance Armstrong). Very brave, I thought.
  • Gabriel Gate's cooking segment: then I go and visit the SBS website and makes some of the recipes: this year - a tart, financiers and lava cakes.
  •  the beauty shots: the helicopter leaving the peloton and swooping in over churches, castles, grand houses, vineyards, rivers and mountains. 
  • understanding more of the tour language every year: the peloton, the echelon, the flamme rouge, the maillot jaune, the feeding stations, the nature breaks, the broom wagon, losing contact, the breakaway, the domestiques. And so on.
 Last and probably most importantly, it's something husband and I both love, and it is lovely to be sitting up together on icy Melbourne winter nights, chatting and watching this fabulous European summer race. It makes the longest, coldest, darkest month simply fly past. Next year, give it a whirl and tell me if you become a tour tragic.

    Friday, July 25, 2014

    friday book - half way with Cormoran Strike

    Not really much to say yet about Cormoran 2, by "Robert Galbraith".

    I am LOVING it, but still have lots to go. Watching Le Tour every night means I don't read Les Livres before going to bed, or if I do it's only a page or so because I'm mindful of having to get up next morning.

    I love the relationship between the detective and his secretary, their easy domesticity in the office and that she's dying to be an investigator, too. I'm wondering how this is all going to pan out in the future: her fiancee is a completely unlikeable character and the reader can only wonder why otherwise sensible Robin puts up with him. All the lesser characters are well written - the agent, the sister, the widow of the dead man and his disabled daughter among many: you want to know everyone's back story and more about them. A ripping detective yarn.


    We had lunch in the Yarra Valley today: here are a couple of photos of the wintery vineyard through the window. The sun poured in and I ate so much I thought I'd burst. 3 courses!
    Delicious food - jerusalem artichoke soup, parsley linguine with smoked trout and carrot cake with a rhubarb coulis and peanut brittle. Also the biggest wine glass I've ever seen, fortunately only a third filled.

    Then we went for a little drive to Healesville and walked off a bit of lunch and I bought 3 books at the Lion's op-shop. One of them is Sister Kate by Jean Bedford., a novel about Ned Kelly's sister. I loved her book about the Shelleys  - If with a beating heart - it was fabulous, if you like historical fiction based on true events.

    The other two books are by Mardi McConnochie and Andrea Newman. Just interesting looking "women's fiction" of a couple of hundred pages for some lightish reading. Truthfully I am a bit sick of  600 pages doorstop books - they require total commitment for weeks on end and unless it's something like Hilary Mantel and simply brilliant I can't be bothered at this point in the year. My sister, God love her, is nearly at the end of all the Game of Thrones books, so wins my absolute respect. I've never watched the show (son does) because he told me it's too violent for me: cannot endure watching anything violent so have to pass on that one.

    Now I am going on with Cormoran before tonight's Tour starts. I'm going to go into a decline when it's all over (Sunday night).

    Tuesday, July 22, 2014

    some things I bought at THE sale

    This post is 100% boastful, showing some lovely things I bought at the Cottage Industry "rumbleinthejumble" studio sale. As I noted on Instagram, I did lose my mind and spend all my money, and was left scrabbling for 50 cent pieces in order to pay for everything!

    Here's the thing: I actually don't buy anything much except food right now so I let myself go crazy. I'm totally bored by shopping and can't do it much - even op-shops are done in small doses - so this was a novelty.  I can't show all the stuff I bought as some of it was bought with future gift-giving in mind.


    Exhibit A above is detail from a new skirt: the print is Pyrex bowls and casseroles and what looks like Kathie Winkle cups. Daughter actually nabbed this for me: at the time I was totally distracted scrabbling in two big boxes of doilies. I bought a handful and now will finish my tablecloth off with them.

    S did very well too, as well as a t-shirt, a skirt and a dress she fell in love with the colour of these Afghans:


    We also collected a few bundles of fabric: I went for the greens, and there is enough to make summer skirts from two of the remnants; S went for the kitchen print and the purpley/green one. These photos were taken in the fog this morning so may be a bit dark.

    just a little piece of that circle pattern but I loved it. My op-shop tablecloth in background, not a sale purchase
    I haven't photographed everything. There are doilies, and Christmas stockings with doilies decorating them, and a bag of very cute owl and squirrel decorations.

    After the sale we went to a birthday party. I thought you might like to see the birthday cheesecake decorated with fruit, in N's inimitable artistic style:

    Kitty Tintookie not eating a cherry that fell off


    I am taking a few days off work. It is really nice to be doing things like making ANZAC biscuits at 11 in the morning and reading in the afternoon.  S went back to University today after deferring for a semester. After being so sick in December there were "complications"  and the doctor deemed it unwise to go back in March. J is off to school ski camp next week and B is changing jobs! This is going to be a long and drawn out process and won't happen til next year but it will certainly be a change of pace for him after 30 years in a very tough industry that takes no prisoners. Beginning are good times, as Dodie Smith once wrote.

    Friday, July 18, 2014

    friday books: old Dodie and new Cormoran Strike

    I finally finished reading The new moon with the old, a Dodie Smith novel first published in 1963.

    To be perfectly honest, I liked it LESS the more of it I read. It started off well, but by the time I got to the section about the third ( of four) main characters, I'd lost interest and was wanting to wind it up.

    The premise is that a wealthy businessman employs a secretary/housekeeper to work for him and his adult children at their large country house. On the day she (Jane) starts work, Rupert - the father - does a runner from his business: he's gambled funds and is in trouble with the law. So Jane and the four children are left with a draughty house, two servants and no income to live on. The story tells of each of the four children going out in the world to seek their fortune. As none of them actually have any skills to speak of, what they end up doing is pretty preposterous and a bit too convoluted to go into too much here.  An example: one of the girls gets a job reading to an old man who is revealed to be a deposed king from an ex-principality and she has an affair with his grandson (!) and becomes his "kept woman".

    It's an odd book in that there is this total "rags to riches" fairytale Cinderella element, but it's also a bit sexy - young people have  inappropriate relationships all over the place, and one young man hopes not be be mistaken as "willowy", which believe it or not is a euphemism for being gay. It's got a real 1930s "Blithe spirit" / drawing room comedy sort of feel, but was written thirty years later which is distinctly odd.

    If you're determined to read every book Dodie Smith every wrote, give it a try, otherwise, don't bother.


    I'm a hundred pages into  Robert Galbraith/ J K Rowling's second detective novel, The silkworm.
    This continues the adventures of  Rowling's new creation, private detective, Cormoran Strike.

    She write so engagingly, it's a pleasure to get involved in the plot and the character's lives. They're all pretty black and white: so we almost hiss the villains when they come onto the page and applaud the hero (Cormoran and his faithful secretary Robin) when they triumph. What I love is the London setting, it - like in the novels of Ben Aaronovitch - is a character in itself. The places are so familiar.

    I loved Cormoran meeting a contact in Ye Old Cheshire Cheese pub, where they knew they wouldn't be seen because everyone avoids because they thinks it's full of tourists. I went there on my first trip to the UK nearly 30 years ago when it was full of tourists like me. Gave me a lovely little recollection of a lunch from so long ago.  Early days but I am enjoying this book very much. If you haven't read the first Strike book, The cuckoo's calling, you would still enjoy this as a stand-alone detective novel.


    Busy weekend ahead: working all day tomorrow, and there is Miss Pen Pen's sale and a 30th birthday party on Sunday. The young lady in the kitty dress ( photo from 1986) is my cousin and S and I are going to a little soiree for her.

     I have next week off work! Pretty happy about it.

    Tuesday, July 15, 2014

    Greetings from the house of coughing

    Trying to be disciplined and write here on Tuesdays and Fridays, am struggling today as B coughed and moaned all night ( not his fault that he's sick and I have insomnia) and I hardly slept. I dragged into work for my desk shift and am going back to bed as soon as I've written this post. The slight lurgy that has been dogging me for a week or more is still hanging around making me feel sub-par.

    The cold winter continues and I continue to be a hermit: all weekend we sit in front of the fire and I also cook up a storm! Last weekend I made a prune and pear flan which leaked custard all over the oven and was one of those recipe fails in terms of timing, amount and method. Grrr. Ended up with 2 baked custards as well as the leaky flan. Tasted great but not worth the annoyance factor. As B said, that would put you into a pressure test - that was a Masterchef joke. I also made jam donut muffins and some fabulous Rachel Khoo Alsatian meatballs in a rich sauce. No not made from dogs, but from the Alsace region in France. In my head of course I am in France because of the constant tour watching and Tour Talk.

    The moon must be in Mercury or something because there are lots of niggling unresolved things that need attention. B's car died and can't be saved without spending  multiple thousands of dollars so we are down a vehicle. J is sick also, but valiantly back at school. S goes back to uni next week after a semester off and I am having next week off work. 

    Here's a photo of the Alsatian meatballs, now I really need to fade off into my bed.

    Friday, July 11, 2014

    a slow read week

    Still reading Dodie Smith: it's taking forever because of late night tv watching of the Tour de France instead of reading for half an hour or more before I go to sleep. I'm pretty close to finishing, only about 40 pages to go. It's a strange sort of book: nowhere near as enjoyable as I capture the castle: very light, but with some odd sexy undertones that leave this reader a bit non-plussed. More on this next week when I will definitely be done with it.


    The Tour! Just enjoying it so much, there is something very mesmerising about this race and the whole endurance aspect. Cycling 190 kilometres in a day and then getting up the next day and doing it again, and this goes on for 3 weeks. Every year I get a little crazy and start cooking French food while the Tour is on. Last week it was the chocolate lava cakes; tonight I'm making a pear and prune flan from Gabriel Gate's Tour cookbook.


    S has been away this week, and as J has the most active social life of any of us, he has been constantly out (school holidays) and on  a few nights it has been just dinner for two. After being parents for over 20 years this is pretty strange and quite a novelty. When kids are small the family life thing is so all-consuming it's hard to remember a time when it was just two people in the house ( and it was just two of us for eight years BK, before kids) then in what seems a blink of of an eye we are back to where we began. It's an interesting time, seeing this change in our family. Quite a few of our friends are at the same stage. Some long term relationships around us have ended during the last year, which has changed the dynamics of some friendships. This middle-aged thing can be as difficult to manage as being a teenager.


    Melbourne has been so cold. Today I got out into the garden to weed and finish pruning the roses. The sun was out and it was pretty invigorating! All the trees are bare except the willow; there are more bulbs pushing through.  It looks very stripped back and austere. I love looking at the sleeping garden.


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