Month: August 2010

The sweetness at the bottom of the pie by Alan Bradley

Oh Gosh!  What a charming read!  Set in a crumbling manor house called Buckshaw, with an 11 year old chemistry wizz heroine who solves crimes, escapes from certain death and is bold and brave beyond measure this is a lovely book.  When a body is found in the cucumber patch Flavia decides to investigate.  England in 1950, was gripped in the post war poverty for the previously monied classes and maintaining one’s large family home was somewhat of a challenge, there is no money for entertainment so the sisters Ophelia, Daphne and Flavia are left to their own devices and this only enhances their quirky personalities.  Flavia is busy, she is trying to torture her sisters (poison in the lipstick!) in response to their torture of her, and trying to solve the mystery of her deceased Mother, the facts about Dogger, the man of all trades about the house, and their mysterious, vague and isolated Father.

The book is written by an American which is interesting, his tone is that of a bygone age (nearly all the time) and the long last art of philately gets a good outing in this book.

I didn’t love this book until the action really hotted up and then I found myself speeding madly towards the end.  It is flawed, but perfect.  Will be reading the next one which is fabulously called The weed that strings the hangman’s bag.

Geek The Library |

Geek The Library |


Via the Christchurch City Libraries Bibliofile this is some very good marketing of public libraries in the United States.  “Whatever you geek the Public Library supports it all”.  Interesting famous folk, great photography and lots of things to download and share.  Get yourself some geek wallpaper for your ‘puter and contribute to the site.

If I could only get the web banner to import here and work I would be most happy, but go to the site and check it out.  This is the uber cool stuff, or should that be zcool!  Here is the school library section.

Here is one of the 26 videos from the site.

Richard Dawkins speaks in Christchurch

Whatever you think of his politics and his outspokenness on his topic, he is an interesting man to listen to.  This is a sound recording of him speaking in the Christchurch Town Hall earlier this year.  I could listen to him for hours.  Great voice.  There is something about knowledgeable men speaking about learned subjects that is downright cool.  There are 6 of these videos/sound recordings.  Go to YouTube and click on the 8 videos tab at the top to listen in order.

Fusion: The Synergy of Images and Words (via Steve McCurry’s Blog)

This came through my Twitter feed today. I love these pictures. The international appeal of reading and text, everyone everywhere needs to be able to read so that they are able to work, to play, to help find a community and to enable a connection with other people, to figure out how to do things, and to just get on in society.

Today I worked with a class of Year 10 students helping them with a research assignment, the problem for many of them was that their spelling was so bad, they could not find the information they were searching for, and when they found it, there was so much text on a page that their major urge was to simply copy and paste the whole webpage into a word document and call it quits. It was only with me reading out what was on the pages that they realised that not everything worked to answer the questions they had to answer. They just trusted that if there was a webpage that came up in a Google search (or a Bing search – man I hate Bing) that it would be exactly what they needed. The worst one was when there was a photo-shopped picture of a tsunami and the student was so blown away by the image that even though he realised it was fake, it was so much more impressive than the real thing that he decided to use it instead of the less impressive real photos.

What is my point (let’s leave the copyright and the plagiarism issues alone for now). My point is that these boys were so disadvantaged compared to their peers, the mere fact that they couldn’t check facts, or analyse data meant that they blindly trusted that the text in front of them was right. How will they cope in later life, will they go through their lives blindly trusting that what is written is truth. These guys need help, they need to be able to read, they need to be able to look at information and think critically about it, and they badly need to be able to find strategies to help with spelling. I’m hoping to get them back for a session where we look at a few things, how to search so that you can find better information, information that really works to answer the questions you have to answer, and how to make better decisions on what you put in your assignment. Might also show them how the spelling and definition features work in google.

But lets please get them reading the information in front of them rather than blindly accepting that it is all correct. Reading skills are for life, for a better life.

Fusion:  The Synergy of Images and Words Ever since Gutenberg invented the printing press which enabled everyone to read books, artists have tried to portray the relationship of a reader and his/her book.        Garrett Stewart’s book, The Look of Reading:  Book, Painting, Text, explores the relationship of reading and art.       We are familiar with words describing images, but not so familiar with images describing words and the impact reading has on our lives.           Artists fro … Read More

via Steve McCurry’s Blog

Chocolate Coffee Cake (Mrs Harbrow)

We have a bookclub at school called the BookGang.  Part of the deal is that the boys take turns to bring the cake, oh the crumbly mess we make!  Chris bought cake that he and his Mum made and it was downright delicious.  I put the recipe on the school blog a while ago but thought I’d re-post it here for the family folk.  It is all my favorite things, rich, dense and delicious and very easy to make.

Mrs Harbrow’s Large Chocolate Coffee Cake
1 3/4 cup sugar, 2 cups flour, 1 tsp baking powder (or 2 cups of self-raising flour), 3/4 cup cocoa (depending on how rich you want it, sometimes 1/2 a cup is enough), 2 tsp baking soda, 1 tsp salt, 2 eggs, 2 tsp vanilla extract, 1 cup strong coffee (aprox 3 tsp instant coffee in 1 cup water), 1 cup milk, 1/2 cup oil.

Mix everything together in a bowl and blend on medium/high speed for 3 minutes.  Bake in oven at 180 degrees for approximately 1 hour to 1 1/2 hours.  (Best to check after 1 hour and make a judgement call on how much longer)  Ice with chocolate or coffee or chocolate and coffee icing!

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

Nobody Owens, called Bod for short, was rescued from an evil man called Jack who had slaughtered all the other members of his family when he was just a baby.  He is bought up by the occupants of the graveyard and learns the vital skills of fading and other handy tricks to prevent mortal people from discovering them.  As Bod grows towards boyhood he explores more and more of his world within the boundaries of the graveyard, including beneath the gravestones and into the depths of the world of the gouls, very scary!  Bod is a character I became quickly very fond of, his adopted guardians and family of graveyard inhabitants, who all look out for him are beautifully written.  There is lots of fun and wit for a grown-up as well as for kids.

This book has been reviewed all over the place by people far more skilled than I, and there is quite a lot of debate about it’s suitability for young readers.  I think I would have read it aloud to my kids when they were little as a scary bedtime story and they would have loved it.  It is gripping right from the first sentence and I just adored reading it, I tried to eek it out so that it lasted longer.  I can’t wait to get my boys at school reading this book, there are some that I know will just adore it.  There is a video you can watch with Neil Gaiman reading from the book and lots of places you can check out the art by Dave McKeen – who works with Gaiman regularly – which is throughout the book.

It is a book to treasure and would make a lovely gift for a young person who loves to read.   Although the very beginning is totally terrifying it quickly moves on to more gentle territory of life in the graveyard.  I heartily recommend it to everyone!

Simon’s cat saves the day

It has been a bit of a week!

Partner in hospital (undergoing surgery as I type, leaving soon to collect the patient again),  a lovely elderly lady I know also in hospital and needing visits daily, boychild freshly out of neck brace being told he is fine to play rugby this weekend and to top it off this morning a less than satisfactory encounter with an automaton who works at the Inland Revenue Department  leaves me in need of a pick me up.  The conversation with the automaton started with me asking  a question which could have simply been answered with a yes or no answer, instead opened a can of 5 year old worms, which had I not phoned would have blissfully gone on being an unopened wormy can for the rest of my life.  It does however solve the mystery of why they keep sending me forms to fill in and file.  Sigh.

Simon’s Cat to the rescue.  While I ponder what to do about the automaton problem I will watch Simon’s Cat.  There are lots of these now and you will see the rest of them pop up on the bottom of the screen at the end of the video.  Watch them all.  All cat owners will relate to them.  The wonderful website is here.  And he has a book now too!  You can see him talk about the cat (called Hugh) and see him talking about the process of making the videos here.

More beautiful music and video

I really have no idea about this other than I was cruising the blogs and found it on a site called N.Design Studio.  They make lovely CSS templates and other techy stuff and it is all rather beautiful.

Check out the Abstract Peacock it is gorgeous and comes as a free wallpaper if you want that kind of thing.

Below Official music video for ‘Ljósið’ taken from Ólafur Arnalds – ‘Found Songs’ (2009)

Creamy Chicken Curry Pasta

Sounds terrible I know, and the curry and pasta thing is a bit of a culture clash, but this is rapidly becoming a favourite of mine.  It is so easy to make and uses up that little bit of leftover cream in the fridge you’ve been wondering what to do with.  You can adjust to suit yourself.  The original recipe is from Lesley and she found it on the back of a pasta packet.

Cook 500g pasta according to the instructions, (they suggest trivelle but anything twisty or shells that will hold the sauce will do)  and drain.  Heat 2 tblsp olive oil in a pan, fry 2 cloves of garlic which has been crushed and 2 finely diced onions until soft.  Add 4 cubed chicken breasts,  and cook through for about 15 – 20 min.  Mix in 300 ml of cream, 2 tsp curry powder, 3 tblsp of mango chutney and season with salt and pepper.  Add the creamy chicken abd 1 tblsp of chopped parsley to the pasta and serve with freshly ground black pepper.  Serves 4.

And the adjustments:  Less chicken, thighs are cheaper and therefore perfectly acceptable in my book.  Baby spinach is a good addition, and that is what you see in the photo.  I quite like peas added to it, and spring onion is good on the top.  You can substitute sour cream for the regular cream, it will change the consistency and will be slightly more mediocre but still workable.  More parsley is better.


If you are a fan of the action movie, one which toys with your mind, one which keeps you guessing until the final moment as the credits start to roll, get thee to see this movie.  It is a high tension, sit on the edge of your seat and ‘did I really see that’ kind of movie.  On the way into the theatre the ticket seller told us she had seen it 5 times and was still seeing new things, we thought that a very good sign.

It is made by Christopher Nolan who made the last Batman movie which I also really enjoyed a couple of years ago,  I had dragged the boychild out for the evening and Batman was his movie choice,  I wasn’t expecting to like it myself at all.  So Inception has that same dark sinister feel, and cross that with James Bond and you are getting near how this movie feels.  Interestingly the characters are less important than the story and you could argue that they don’t acquire your sympathy very much at times, but I don’t think that is really a flaw in the movie, it feels like you have a kind of business like relationship with these guys.  My fave was Joseph Gordon-Levit I thought he was just so snarky cool, and beautifully dressed to boot. Loved the banter with him and the other guys.

Lots of folk have said that you need to concentrate and that it is difficult to follow but I didn’t find that.  I was completely tensed up and anxiety ridden and still haven’t figured out where we were at the end, but that is exactly what they wanted.  I was probably the target audience.  Excellent movie and I am going to see it again.

Monsters of men by Patrick Ness

Monsters of men is the final volume in the Chaos Walking Trilogy.  I am usually terrible at following through and reading an entire series, but this one (and the Hunger Games too) is just too good to stop halfway.

“And if war makes monsters of men, what terrible choices await?”

At the beginning of this one I was really shocked by the violence, if you are reading the series you will know that bad bad things are about to happen at the beginning of this final book, and rest assured they do, and indeed there is ongoing violence all the way through.  There is war, there is peace, stalemate and there is an emotional rollercoaster.  Mayor Prentiss is up to all manner of evil and Mistress Coyle is determined not to be left out and plays the power games as well as the Mayor.  Todd and Viola the main characters in the story are joined by the voice of the Spackle man that Todd allowed to live at the end of the second book.  This series explores such dark areas as genocide, terrorism, power and political machinations but also love, friendship, humanity, loyalty and family.

What did I think?  I loved it, I became totally engrossed and read the second half this morning.  I think it is the equivalent of the first book in the series, The knife of never letting go and better than the second book.  I know there are others who think it is weaker, but for me the resolutions and the relationships explored in this book are really special.  I cried and cried in the sad bits, and even caught myself weeping unexpectedly in parts that weren’t particularly sad.  The book is beautifully written, I love the way Patrick Ness writes the relationship between Viola and Todd, it is full of love and kindness and feels wonderfully real.  I’ve loved this series, and I look forward to seeing what Patrick Ness will do next.

Roasted Vegetable Soup

I made this a couple of weeks ago and loved it.  My Mum has just given me a stick blender, I’ve never owned one before and really needed to test it out, she couldn’t believe I’d never used one!  Turns out it is blimin wonderful and now soupmaking has turned from a chore into an opportunity to use my new stick blender toy.  The weather here is so manky at the moment I think this is the perfect time for this recipe.

Now I am not usually a fan of recipes where you have to make something (the roast veges) to turn into something else (soup)  seems a bit pointless to me when roast veges are perfectly formed by themselves.  I have changed my mind after making this.  There is no real recipe just a method and you can use whatever veg you like, I’m just going to tell you what I used.

Peel and cut up pumpkin, carrots, leeks, garlic, red onion and anything else you might want to put in.

Throw them on an oiled roasting dish in an oven preheated to about 180 and walk away.  Come back when your house is all roasted vegetable smelling and turn them over (if you want, it can be dangerous as I always tend to leave half the veg stuck to the dish, but never mind)  when they are cooked take them out of the oven and allow them to cool a little.  If any are getting close to burning (I’m thinking the garlic here) take out and store till the rest are done.

When they are cool put them in a pot and take your new stick blender and wizz them (or put them into the food processor and press go).  When they are all mushed up, add stock of whatever flavour you have to hand, for me that is usually vegetable but anything goes, you could use water, and thin to the consistency you like.  Heat it up gently, you must do it gently or you will have Rotorua style mud poolish spitting going on – mess.  Serve with toast, English muffins, cheese rolls or bread rolls.  You are allowed to put a big dollop of natural yoghurt on the top, but I drizzled some olive oil on.  It was fabulous.

I’ve been blogged and I like it!

Wow, fame at last.  Well famous on Adrienne’s blog.  I am very pleased to call the lovely Adrienne Buckingham my friend and she has done me the honour of mentioning me on her fantastic blog Dunedin Is For Lovers.  It is a great blog, cleverly profiling lots of things inherently Dunedin in an attempt to lure her family and friends from the cold of Canada to Dunedin in summer to attend her nuptials to the equally lovely Stewart.  You can read her entry about me here!

The thing is, if you have even the remotest interest in Dunedin you should check it out, she finds fabulous things to write about and it is just great to drop in there from time to time and find new exotic things to do, and in your own back yard at that!

Thanks for your kind words Adrienne, you are my fave!

The Blasphemer by Nigel Farndale

Let’s be honest, I bought it for the cover.  Well look at it, it is gorgeous.  I had been given the poster and just had to check out the book,  I took it home and the lovely cover lured me in when I should have been reading worthy bookclub books – oh sometimes I do struggle with these, check the books page later, I’m about to dump another one.

This is one of those books which tells two parallel stories.  The first is about Daniel Kennedy, Zoology professor.  He and his beloved Nancy, the woman he loves but who will not marry him, are in a plane crash and as Daniel – who is quite the man – swims to save the survivors he has a vision, an angel type figure appears and he eventually reaches safety.  I loved this part of the book, I thought it beautifully written and very exciting during the plane crash part, you know it is coming but it is very punchy when it does.  Alongside this story is the story of Andrew Kennedy, Daniel’s Great Grandfather, Nancy has been asked by Daniel’s father to translate some letters of his which date from the First World War at Passchendaele. This is a great storyline, kept me guessing until the ‘big reveal’.

The story swaps between these two stories Andrew and his life on the front during the war, and Daniel and his life.  This book is very complex, it keeps wandering around the characters.  There are big philosophical questions, what is an angel, the quest of Daniel’s supposed friend for a lost symphony, and Daniel’s other friend’s search for love.   Overall there is the guilt of having survived when others have died, the fight for life above all else, and the overwhelming love for family regardless of fault.  It is a great book, such a lot going on, a couple of things a little unresolved, but certainly I enjoyed every bit of it.

The Girl Who Played with Fire – the movie

It is a terrifying thing to go to the movie of a book you absolutely loved.  This book kept me up very late at night, I was totally engrossed in this book and the characters were so cool check the posting on it.  So, going to the movie was a bit scary, would it live up to my expectations?  Would they ruin it with cinematic tinkering?  No they didn’t.  I really enjoyed it.  I don’t know how you would cope if you hadn’t read the book, there is a lot of stuff happening in this and they certainly left out quite a lot of the detail, but man there is such a lot of detail in those books and I guess they had to.

Look it isn’t as good as the first movie, but it is a close second and I really liked it once I got back into the groove, and the fabulous woman who plays the main character is just perfect, when I grow up I’m going to be like her, great love scene too actually.