Month: September 2011

Mel Parsons

So yesterday I’m listening to National Radio pottering around pretending to do jobs around the house but not really making a firm commitment to anything.  I was feeling far too smug about having planted hedging all around the new vegetable patch and the clothesline paving.  I heard Mel Parsons being played, I hopped in my car went to what seems to be the only place in Dunedin where you can buy a cd that isn’t completely mainstream and I bought this.  It is great, boppy, countryish, she has a great voice and every song is a winner.  I feel like a winner for finding her.  Thanks RNZ

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The hare with amber eyes by Edmund de Waal

I chose this book because of it’s fabulous cover, interesting title and because I was hearing things about it, kind of unspecified things, but good things.  So I grabbed it and started it immediately.  Not really realising it I had grabbed a book about something I was really interested in.  This is the story of a family via a set of Japanese netsuke which are small carved objects made of ivory, wood or stone.  They are intricate and clever, made to fit into your hand and as collectables.  I have one of these, a swan, which I bought in Hong Kong years ago, it is a little treasure.  So, this book is the story of a collection of netsuke, 264 of them, they have been passed down through a family and when Edmund inherits them from his fabulous uncle (the character in the book whom I loved the most) he begins to investigate the history of these particular treasures and in doing so the history of his family.

The wealth of these people whom Edmund is decended from was totally staggering.  They built up an empire in grain, trade, banking, and other business ventures which meant they were so incredibly wealthy as to be able to commission famous artists such as Renoir to paint for them, they had music composed for them, they hung out with writers of renown, they bought whole streets in the centre of Vienna, homes all over the world including Japan.  Gaspingly rich they were!  Gobsmackingly rich!  And then a fortune was lost, and then war put paid to the rest of it.  The family are Jewish and lose everything including many of themselves in the war.  Nothing left except an elderly lady who served as a servant to the family and stuck with them through thick and thin.

This is a big story, the loves and the losses are enough to make your head spin, but what Edmund de Waal does is to draw you carefully into the worlds of his ancestors.  I learnt a lot about society, about the mores and accesses of the people of his past and also a different insight into a family who were so damaged by war and tragedy.  It is a beautiful book, a careful and thoughtful read, not at all what I thought I was getting into when I started but a book which has stayed with me since I finished it.  It is lovely.

The Help by Katherine Stockett

I put off writing a book report on this book because so many people I know have read it, and those that haven’t are waiting in line to get hold of it.  I bought the book as a present for the beloved L when I was in Auckland at conference, which made her very happy, and low and behold when I got home from conference the bookclub book of the month was none other than The Help, so I had to beg the beloved L to loan – a little awkward!  Anyway she kindly allowed me to borrow her unread present within a couple of days of receiving it and I embarked into a journey into Southern Mississippi the year of my birth 1961 (so old!).

The help is set in a time not so very long ago when ordinary white American families employed a maid to do all the unpleasant jobs around the house, particularly the raising of their children, in order to free them up for the important business of shopping, playing cards with their friends and impressing the neighbours.  It is set in Jackson,  Mississippi and is told in the words of two of these maids mainly, but they speak for so many of these black women who cleaned, cared and catered.  It is a moving story, I became totally engrossed in the stories the maids told, collected by the unlucky in love and beginning journalist Skeeter Phelan, Skeeter who doesn’t fit into the social set she is born to, who is unreasonably tall and unfashionably willful and plain, but whose heartstrings are pulled by the stories of the maids.  She desperately wants to find out what happened to the maid who she loved, Constantine, who looked after her during her childhood and who has disappeared and about whom nobody will speak other than the sketchiest of details.  This quest sets her off on a journey to find out the truth, and in doing so she begins to collect the stories of the everyday lives of the maids who work for her friends.  In doing this we are all drawn into the stories of the lovely Abileen, and the feisty Minnie and the horrific stories they and other maids have to share.  The maids stories make it very difficult for her to be friends with her regular girlfriends who employ the maids and treat them so badly and her boyfriend, or even anybody from her regular social set.

There is much much more to the story but I would love you to head out and beg borrow or even steal a copy of the book and get reading it.  I’m off to see the movie on Tuesday night which is a little scary because perhaps it won’t live up to the book, but I am keen to get to it and soak up a little more of the Jackson, Mississippi atmosphere and to think about how far we have come since I was born.

Oaty Chocolate Chip biscuits

I make these a lot, I play with the recipe and add such morsels as dried apricots, raisins, dried apple, I sometimes put only white chocolate chips, sometimes a mix of white and dark chocolate chips.  These are old fashioned measurements you can probably figure out the metric measurements or just basically make them up as you go along.

I often make these to take somewhere as a plate and always double the recipe if I’m doing that.

1/2 a cup of butter, 1/2 a cup of castor sugar (ordinary is also fine), 1/2 a cup brown sugar, 1 egg, 1/2 tsp vanilla (I always use more), 1 cup plain flour, 1 cup rolled oats (be generous), 1/4 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp baking powder, 1/2 tsp baking soda, 1 cup chocolate chips.  Optional is 1/2 to 1 cup rice bubbles – I like the crunch and the extra texture and nuts are good too.

In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar, add egg and vanilla and beat well.  In a separate bowl mix together the flour, rolled oats, salt, baking powder, soda and chocolate chips.  Add these to the butter mixture.  Place in balls (wetish hands are best for rolling them cos they are mightily sticky) on a baking tray leaving plenty of room for spreading.  Bake at 180 degrees C for about 8 minutes or until golden and let them cool a little on the tray so that they aren’t so bendy.  Cool completely on a wire rack.

Eat rather a lot of them with a great coffee or a cup of gumboot tea.