Month: September 2010

A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews

This is the story of Nomi Nickle, 16, who is growing up in a Mennonite community in Canada in the 1980s.  Half of Nomi’s family, “the better-looking half” as she says, is missing, leaving Nomi and her dad to eek out a life together having been abandoned by her mum and sister.    Her town is defined by the religion, tourists come to see how they live their lives in the ‘fake’ village which is totally different to how they actually live.  Nomi’s uncle Hans, a.k.a. The Mouth of Darkness is in charge and his word is law in the town, his visits to Nomi and her father can only mean misery and sadness to them.  This is a town where you can be shunned by your family and have to live in a shed at the back of your house and where nobody is allowed to talk to you.   What Nomi really wants is out of there, she wants to leave the life she has and head to New York and live in the East Village where she is convinced she will hang out with rock stars and have a life full of excitement, anything would be better though than carrying on living in East Village where she is now trapped, with the only prospect ahead of her of working at the Happy Chicken farm along with the rest of the town.  Nomi takes refuge in her slightly distant boyfriend Travis, chain smoking, drugs and dreaming.  She is funny, clever and thinks very deeply.  As life quietly slips out of control, her dad selling off the furniture and steadily cleaning up the local dump, Nomi comes to realise what has actually happened to her life and what she must do to take control of her life.

There are hundreds of quotable lines in the book and the characters of Nomi and her dad are so vivid and beautifully written that I was totally engrossed in the book from beginning to end.  The longing of Nomi for her beloved mum and sister, and her father shambling along keeping with the church, unable to stop doing what he knows but desperate to help Nomi is just gut wrenching.  It is indeed a complicated kindness that he expresses.  A wonderful book.  Thanks to Adrienne and Stewart for recommending it and telling me the story of them crying over it in Rome airport.  The book is so funny, so sad, so wonderfully real, it is a book to own.

ACID (via Very Demotivational – The Demotivational Posters Blog)

This is from Very Demotivational, it is fast becoming one of my faves. Not all are appropriate or even funny but the ones that are are hysterically amusing. I particularly like this one, to the point where I was roaring with laughter when I first saw it. Check out the website for more gems.

ACID rub until left hand disappears

Submitted by: gameking-4 … Read More via Very Demotivational – The Demotivational Posters Blog

Herb and Cheese Mini Muffins

Tiny tasty morsels

This recipe started with one of Alison Holst Marvelous Muffins recipes, but I found them to be a bit dry, so I added some more liquid in the form of yogurt.  I’ve made hundreds of these in lots of variations over the years but I particularly like them with mountains of parsley and celery tops and chives.  Don’t make the mixture too wet or you will end up with a soggy mess, but too dry is equally bad. Add more, or different types of cheese if you want.  Putting a grate of cheese on top is an excellent choice too.

I always double this recipe and freeze those that I don’t need.  They are great with cream cheese style dips or little pieces of brie cheese stuck in the top, but actually hot out of the oven is pretty jolly fine too.

1 cup flour, 2tsp baking powder, 1 cup of a mix of grated tasty cheese and Parmesan, 1/2 cup of parsley chopped, 1 tblsp fresh chopped herbs, 1 spring onion chopped, 1/2 tsp salt, 1 tsp sugar, pinch of smoked paprika or chilli flakes.

1 egg, 1/2 cup plus 2tblsp milk, 2 tblsp plain yoghurt (you can leave it out but it is better in)

Put the first 9 ingredients into a bowl.  Toss well to mix.  In another bowl beat the egg and the milk and yoghurt together with a fork.

Tip the egg mixture into the dry ingredients and fold together.  Do not mix any more than is necessary, less is more.  Spoon the mixture into greased/sprayed mini muffin tins and bake at 200 degrees C until they are golden brown on top.

White Cat by Holly Black

This is an interesting book, the first in a series of three called The Curse Workers but the only published yet.  Magic has been outlawed since 1929 and the people who are able to perform it are divided into various kinds, along with this there is a sort of mafia with five important families all wanting to be on top of the heap.  There are several different kinds of Curse Workers who have powers such as the power to induce or remove memories, to manipulate emotions, to transform things into animate and inanimate objects.  Everyone has to wear gloves because the slightest touch can kill you if you touch the wrong curse worker.  It is all very complex.

Cassel is the main character, the only member of his family with no special skills, he is at boarding school, running a very successful betting scam amongst the well to do teenagers.  We meet him in the middle of the night when he wakes up on the roof of his dorm having had a dream about a white cat, he finds not only the cat looking at him but also all the other residents of his school.  He gets excluded by the Principal and so begins a huge adventure involving lots of violence, underhanded dealing, a little bit of romance and a great big mystery.

Cassel has to deal with his dastardly brothers who he figures out are up to large amounts of no good, and who are getting him involved in a major way and he needs to sort out the mystery of the girl he killed, and cope with his Mother being sent to jail, his Grandfather being sacked by the mafia and his brothers wife behaving in a most odd manner, oh and there is more.  Confused?  I was a bit.  There is a lot going on, and yes I know you are being set up for a trilogy but I occasionally got a bit lost.

It is really good, but with the complex story line you kind of have to put your brain on hold and just keep reading to deal with all the information,  you will get there in the end and I was pretty caught up in the story by the time the book was nearly done.  I really engaged with the characters in the end and I look forward to the next one.  I think it is going to be a ‘hot right now’ book.  Holly Black is the author of the Spiderwick Chronicles which I really liked a few years ago and she is a pretty good author, teenagers will love this book.  Book Trailer here

Here Ok Go Again!

Oh yes, so witty so clever.  Those who follow the band Ok Go will know that their big hit was Here it goes again.  You know the video with the guys on the treadmills. Loved it.  Here is their latest effort.  Really it wouldn’t matter what the music was like their videos are so good that it is more visual than music for me.  Here is the link to the previous Ok Go effort This too shall pass which came out earlier this year.  These guys are so cool!

“Directed by Trish Sie and OK Go – Produced by Shirley Moyers
Special thanks to: Lauren Henry and Roland Sonnenburg and their team of trainers from Talented Animals, the town of Corvallis OR for being so welcoming to us.
Official music video for OK Go’s ‘White Knuckles’. Deluxe album and merch packages available now at http://www.okgo.net/store

Beetroot and Carrot Salad

In the winter I sometimes crave salad, and in the winter that can be a little bit of a problem.  Luckily I have discovered the joy of beetroot and carrot salad.  I recently served it to one of my lovely sisters and she said she hadn’t realised that it was possible to eat beetroot raw.  Well it is!  It is earthy and delicious and a little bit sweet, combined with the carrot it looks lovely and the crunch of the sunflower seeds makes it altogether delicious.

There isn’t a recipe only a suggested method, which you can adjust to fit whatever works for you.  Add a bit of this, a bit of that, mix it up, change it around, you get to decide with this one.

Peel and grate beetroot.  They go a long way, one medium one is probably enough, grate it and put half of the gratings into the bowl.  Peel a couple of carrots and grate.  Put half of this into the bowl.   Add the other half of the beetroot on the top and then the rest of the carrots.  Layering them if you will.  Get two forks and toss them all together.  You now want the juice of two lemons (or one lemon if you want)  or a big slosh of orange juice or some combination of juices, and pour over the top as a dressing.  Sprinkle a great big handful of sunflower seeds over the top and voila you have a great and prettily coloured salad.

In the photo you can see the brown coloured drizzle.  It is a balsamic dressing that I really like and I’ve added a little bit over the top.  I’ve also sometimes added some lemon oil I have which is delicious.  Play it by ear it tastes good whatever you do.  Walnuts are also good.

Case histories by Kate Atkinson

I admire Kate Atkinson.  I admire her ability to draw you into her world, I admire the fact that she has created the lovely Jackson Brodie who is a flawed but loveable hero.  I just really admire Kate Atkinson.  I read the other two books in this series ages ago on Kim Hill’s recommendation, but hadn’t read the first one.  Is this a series?  It doesn’t feel like a series it feels like a saga. 

So the book is about three separate cases that Jackson Brodie becomes involved in.  He is working as a private investigator having given up the Police force.  His marriage is over, he struggles with custody issues and he gets far too involved with his clients, not by choice but because he is just that kind of guy.  I was totally drawn into Jackson’s world and the world of the people in his cases, particularly the sisters whose baby sister had gone missing so many years ago.  I loved their eccentricities and weird bizarre behavior.

I knew that the cases were going to be connected but I didn’t figure out what it was until the end, that means it’s a great book for me.   If you’ve never tried Kate Atkinson then you are missing out.  Her writing is just the best.

Spring has sprung

Little tiny daffodils

I get a terrible hard time about the leaves on my garden which are actually mulch.  They were gathered in autumn and are spread all over the beds and the place where the soil was really ruined from being under a load of plastic and pebbles all along the side of the path.  Eventually, when all the mulch has rotted down – and it is happening fast now that the weather is warming up – there will be lovely rich soil there.  I have added lots of horse poo an potting mix and compost so I’m hoping that it will all turn out fabulously, and I will end up with deep rich soil and healthy plants.  In the meantime the nasty boychild and his friends don’t ‘get’ my leaves.

In other areas of the garden there are major signs of spring.  The tiny daffodils I always forget I have are giving a great show and matchheads are up, even the tiny little light blue I am so proud of.  Below is a photo of the only camellia which has decided to flower, it has had a finger wagged at it and been told to perform better next year or be removed.  The other ones have lots of lovely growth on them but not a single flower.  Again, warnings have been issued, in writing.  Lets hope next year is the year of the camellias.  Watch this space for more pics of the treasures as they emerge from winter.

One of my very few camelia blooms

The Walker Library of Human Imagination – Wow!

I have never seen this before tonight, and I am about to watch it over again for the 3rd time.  What a marvelous place this is.  You can visit the main site for the Walker Library here.  It is privately owned and “set on three maze like levels.”  Make sure you watch this video (below) with full screen because it deserves it.  The amazing treasures in here – just imagine being able to lose yourself in this space every day.

The video below was originally made to be the introduction to the TED talk by Jay Walker, which you can watch here.  It is 8 minutes long, but worth every minute.

“Jay Walker, curator of the Library of Human Imagination, conducts a surprising show-and-tell session highlighting a few of the intriguing artifacts that backdropped the 2008 TED stage.”

It’s a book by Lane Smith and Mirror by Jeannie Baker

I read this gorgeous book yesterday while whiling away half an hour in the University Bookshop,  (they won the retailer of the year award here in Dunedin this year, and for me, heaven is just like the UBS but with coffee, oh and wine, and high count cotton sheets – I could go on!) anyway I was  looking for a present for the lovely Gemma Cupcake Tagg who was born on Wednesday.  Gemma belongs to Stewart and Adrienne (Dunedin is for Lovers) and is totally spectacular as babies go!

This is one of those ‘for all ages’ books.  I absolutely intend to buy it for school next year when I have budget again, it would be a great read aloud and is cute and funny.  The lovely ironic look at technology versus traditional reading is cool.  Watch the video and you’ll smile.

I also found the amazing Mirror by Jeannie Baker.  What a beautiful book it is.  Clever and interesting and collage – my favourite medium.  I have all the Jeannie Baker books so will buy this as a treat for myself, the sheer amount of work that she must put into the art in the books is staggering. The format is really interesting, two books side by side, you turn over the pages of the book on both sides and the story of the two separate characters, one of an Australian boy and on the opposite side a boy from Morocco, it is hard to describe and you should check out the video below for a look at it rather than have me inadequately describe how it works.

In the forest of hands and teeth by Carrie Ryan

This is a great story.  What a cool idea, a group of people escaping down a pathway with fences in either side and zombies trying to get at them as they travel on the pathway which leads them to a mysterious destination.  Grand idea.  There is a rash of zombies around at the moment and this one is the cream of the crop that I’ve read.

Mary lives in a village where the Unconsecrated are desperate to get to at the villagers, and the villagers are desperate – because the Unconsecrated are their loved ones who have become infected.  Mary is torn, between wanting the guy she loves and the fact that he is attached to another, her conflicted feelings for her family and her desperate need to get out of the village and to find the ocean her mother had told her of so often.  This is a love story, a zombie action thriller, a huge adventure and a jolly good read.  I’ll be needing the next one now.  The book is just begging to be made into a movie.  The images of the lives being led up on platforms is just fantastic.

The Hugo Awards Ceremony Opening Ceremony Film

I found this via The Alien Onion blog, it is funny, features cake and is the in house blog of Allen and Unwin publishers in Australia.  I enjoy it a lot.   Anyhoo the name Garth Nix leapt out at me and as a fan I decided to follow along to this website right here which is marvellously interesting and is the source of a whole heap of Science Fiction/Fantasy new reading for me.  The video on here features the crem de la creme of science fiction and fantasy artists, writers, cartoonists etc etc for the year and from this video alone I added a mountain of titles to my wishlist of reading.

If you want to read the transcript of the Garth Nix talk from the awards it is here.

As the Hugo Award site says of the video:

“As shown at the beginning of the 2010 Hugo Awards ceremony, hosted as part of Aussiecon 4 in Melbourne, Australia. All the individuals and works nominated for awards are represented, as well as other notable contributions, news stories and landmark scientific events from 2009 – the year covered by the 2010 awards.”

Turn up the sound and set the video rolling.

Christchurch – we are thinking of you

This is just a message to anybody from Christchurch.  I hope life returns to normal very quickly after your devastating earthquake on Friday night.  It felt horrible here when Dunedin was rocking in sympathy with you, I can’t even imagine what it felt like to be in Christchurch.  I am thinking of you, particularly my friends who live there.  I’ve heard from most of you, only one I haven’t heard from.  Best wishes and warm thoughts.

Christchurch

Chicken with balsamic

This recipe is one of the ones written in my old bible of recipes that has been carted around the world, and sat on the recipe book shelf of every home I’ve had.  The recipe is all stained and manky in the book and the writing is a bit hard to read from stains.  Sounds attractive doesn’t it – in my opinion all the best recipes in my books are all the stained and manky ones, they are the ones that work the best.

So why this recipe at this time.  Simply because I seem to be making it such a lot, three times in the last couple of months.  It is one of those ones you can prepare hours in advance, or throw together quickly and whatever the time frame you will have a great dish.  It goes with salad, beans, rice, pasta, you name it it will work.

The recipe: 1/4 cup olive oil, 4 large garlic cloves (or use the stuff in the jar), 1 onion sliced, 6 sundried tomatoes, small bunch parsley chopped, some thyme, small slosh of pepper sauce, big handful of rosemary leaves, chicken meat (on or of the bone, thighs/breast/drumsticks, your decision), 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar, 1/2 cup wine (red or white), 1/2 cup water, salt.

Heat oil in pan, add garlic, add onions, tomatoes, parsley, rosemary, thyme, hot pepper sauce.  Saute gently for 10 min until really aromatic.  Add chicken and brown in the mixture.  Add vinegar, wine, water and salt.  Stir well.  Cover and simmer 45 min turning every 10 min.  Watch that it doesn’t burn.  Adjust flavoring to suit yourself.  I like more rosemary, and lots more sundried tomatoes.  Add more parsley just before serving.

Ben Folds, Nick Hornby and Pomplamoose

I am a bit in love with the work (and possibly the personalities) of both Nick Hornby and Ben Folds.  Witty and clever both of them.  So they got together, had a chat and have produced an album together, Nick doing the lyrics and Ben singing the songs.  Nice!  Read about how it all works here in this article from Paste magazine.  Link to the song below on iTunes.  This is a cool video of one of the songs with Ben, Nick and Pomplamoose.  Album out September 28th.  Might have to get one of those!