Stuff and that.

Stuff. And yeah. That

Month: October, 2013

All Hallows Eve…

Tonight, I succumbed to a bit of pressure from the resident small fry and took them and a couple of their mates trick or treating for the first time. I don’t cave easily. I’ve been resisting this pressure for at least three or four years. Some people I know rain down hellfire and brimstone on the whole “Ew. Hallowe’en. It’s an American thing. Why would you want to do an American thing?” And there’s the whole trick business of allegedly throwing eggs at houses that don’t want to play along.

For starters, though – we live in a country that has had a very long history of embracing aspects of other cultures – particularly the ones to do with food. And Hallowe’en is NOT actually an American custom. It’s Celtic, and Australia is still a predominately Anglo-Celtic country. Why out Celtic ancestors decided against importing the only festival to do with zombies and lollies I really do not understand!

Today’s Halloween customs are thought to have been influenced by folk customs and beliefs from the Celtic-speaking countries, some of which have pagan roots, and others which may be rooted in Celtic Christianity.Indeed, Jack Santino, an academic folklorist, writes that “the sacred and the religious are a fundamental context for understanding Halloween in Northern Ireland, but there as throughout Ireland an uneasy truce exists between customs and beliefs associated with Christianity and those associated with religions that were Irish before Christianity arrived”. Historian Nicholas Rogers, exploring the origins of Halloween, notes that while “some folklorists have detected its origins in the Roman feast of Pomona, the goddess of fruits and seeds, or in the festival of the dead called Parentalia, it is more typically linked to the Celtic festival of Samhain”, which comes from the OldIrish for “summer’s end.

Now that’s been lifted straight from Wikipedia (so you know it must be true), nothing about it being all about those pesky Americans and their pesky taking over the world – thinking (more than) some Australians have a hangover from WWII when the GIs that were stationed in Queensland were “oversexed, overpaid and over here”! Plus it seems to me that it is totally cool to be totally negative and mean spirited about everything.

For me though, particularly being a bit of a heathen type, I have no issue with any of the bits and bobs related to Hallowe’en. Ghosties and ghoulies and spooky things abound (probably caused by eating too much sugar before bedtime, I suspect) and the oral traditions of telling stories around the fire – particularly in winter when there’s weather to make things sound creepier than they actually are. One lady we called upon took great delight in telling the boys the true history of Hallowe’en and asked them for a song or a dance for a treat! (Yes, she was Scottish.) There were not tricks to be had from the lads I was supervising, and next year, they will have at least one song!

Valentines Day, Mothers day and even Father’s Day are ‘holidays’ more worthy of scorn and derision. In fact calling any of them (Hallowe’en included) a holiday is delusional! You will hear me moaning loudly about Christmas decorations in September and Hot Cross Buns and Easter eggs in January – that’s not being cross about the festivities themselves, it’s about the whole commercial trend to squeeze as many dollars out of the unwitting consumer as humanly possible. For me though, it means Christmas disappears into the blur of everything else and it’s all a panic when I suddenly realise Christmas is less than three weeks away and not a present has been acquired; and Easter and Easter treats stop being special when they’re available for months in anticipation. Hence my ire.

Hallowe’en however – few lollies, pumpkins and bats lurking about from the middle of October, and POOF. All gone by the beginning of November. And by giving in to the wishes of my kids, they’ve had an awesome time with their mates and their mother. It was an hour of my time, and The Hound got a walk out of it. Another thing it does is foster a slight sense of community – we don’t know our neighbours. We have no idea who lives in the house up the street – by knocking on a few doors, being polite, saying please and thank you and that’s ok when the householder wasn’t prepared for the Groovy Ghoulies that came knocking; they’re getting to know their neighbourhood.

So yeah, I don’t mind it. I don’t mind taking the kids for a walk on a balmy spring evening, and I certainly don’t mind knowing I’ve racked up about a squintillion mum points for my efforts!

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Dem bones, dem bones…

I’ve had a particularly busy time of late, so I’m having a quiet night in with my Imaginary Husband* and a bit of shooty fisticuffs and unnecessary violence (lost track of the body count – umpty several, I think). I’m sharing the film with my Actual Husband as well. I’m not a total weirdo.

After I finally finished reading A Dance With Dragons,  have been refreshing my reading palate with a dalliance with some serial killers and general rotten cads. I must admit I am partial to a good serial killer, especially coupled with a cracking good tale. So, it was with some anticipation that I dipped into Kathy Reichs’ latest – Bones of the Lost. I have to say that the anticipation was mixed with a touch of trepidation, as the last couple I’ve read have been a bit light on. In fact, if I was more of the purchaser of books and less of the acquirer, I think I would be annoyed. This one was about 290 pages, so a nice quick read – especially after the 1,000+ of ADWD.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I certainly enjoyed this – but I am finding Ms Reichs books to be more of a vehicle for her (admittedly very worthy) hobby horses. I can’t really go into this particular one as it would give away 85% of the plot. But when the story and the suspense is playing second fiddle, and there are more than a couple of plot lines that don’t really make sense. I suppose when one only has around 250 pages of story (excluding the epilogue which explains all the things), there’s not a lot of room for explaining and the loose ends all ended up being nicely tidied up in a bow at the end.

But I was left feeling like “that was it?  Seriously?”

However, while I’d only give this a three out of five because of the length and the unresolved stuff, it was certainly a wee cracker and amused me sufficiently over a wet weekend. And yes, I’ll be getting ahold of #17 when it’s released.

*Imaginary Husband is a certain Daniel Craig. We just watched Casino Royale.

By George RR Martin, I think I’ve done it…

YES!

I have finally finished A Dance With Dragons. All 1,097 pages of it. And I have to admit this one was a bit of a slog. It took me about six weeks to read. Admittedly, I read a couple of books in the middle, but one was a kids book and doesn’t really count. I often read kids books in between things – it’s one of the perils of having kids. You want to know what they’re reading and the amount of kissing bits, yada yada. But it didn’t take me six weeks to get through Book 3 and 4. And more stuff seemed to happen in book 3 and book 4. There was a lot of – well, walking around.

And sailing. And random people popping up that didn’t really seem to have much to do with moving the story along. I’m sure there haven’t been as many individual characters before (just checked Mr Google and the verdict is no, there were the most EVAH in this one). Read a couple of reviews, and yeah. Apparently, Mr Martin has had an Issue or two with the Fact Checkers – that peculiar breed of person who reads every single word, cross references comments made in past books and writes nasty emails to correct the author – hello, a horse is a horse is a horse. Just because its gender changed from one book to the other, maybe the owner liked the name and transferred it to another horse. BIG Deal.

Which explains a lot about this book, really. Everything was described in the most minute detail. It was like someone else had cross referenced every mention of every other character that was in the previous book and made sure their cloaks were green and blue and not blue and green. The events in Mereen – dull as dishwater. Everything took soooooooo looooooooooong to happen. Dany pining for her lover, wearing ridiculous clothes, pining more, rooting a good bit, people dying of the flux, people trying to get to Dany… and hey, I’ve just summed up about 400 pages in 25 words or less. 

The first bit was good, the last bit – well, that was a cracker. The middle bit. Not so much. Don’t get me wrong, some really cool stuff happened which I won’t go into, only one really major character died (probably. There’s the whole POV thing – he allegedly died in his chapter, which may actually mean he’s not as dead as you’d be thinking. Or not. He might be. Stranger things have indeed happened.)

I suppose while I am in fact looking forward to Book 6, I feel vaguely disappointed with this book. It didn’t GET anywhere. Every time it went back to Westeros, stuff seemed to be moving along without us coming along for the ride. And there were two bits at the end – one was all OOer and crikey, and t’other (mentioned above) was a bit WTF. So, yes, I’ll persevere with the series, but there’s going to be a hell of a lot of reading of other books with a fully functioning plot while I wait. I think this book would have been vastly better had 2-300 pages been culled at some point.

And wasn’t it Book 5 of Harry Potter that would have benefited from some judicious editorial work?

 

 

 

Saving dinner

We had a bit of a situation involving a slight case of miscommunication and a protracted phone call which lead to nearly a kilo of cooked potatoes. Option one was to chuck them out (which seemed a bit wasteful), option two involved feeding them to The Hound. But she’s not *that* keen on boiled potato. So, that lead me to option three… what on earth could I cook with nearly a kilo of slightly more boiled than par-boiled but not completely cooked potatoes? It also had to constitute dinner and be reasonably nutritious.

So, scruffled around amongst my many cookbooks and thought “O. I should look in my new Jamie.” And whadderyou know… There was a recipe for Sag Aloo which needed a tiny bit more than a kilo of uncooked potatoes, but as it involved a chunk of simmering, I figured I could shorten that bit and it would probably work. The main beefs I have with Mr Oliver’s recipes are the number of pots that are required, the need for one or two weird ingredients (well, they’re not normally weird – I just have to translate them into Strayan) and the level of mess that I create.

This one needed two pots – a big one to cook the sag aloo in, and a little one to cook the chilli and cumin seeds – while this is low on the “normal people don’t have dish-pigs*” scale of dish use, it still required use of the food processor for like twelve seconds. I have a honkin’ big one – I love it with many hearts, I use it fairly regularly and it makes big grating and chopping jobs an absolute breeze. And it *is* easier to clean than my old cheap and nasty one. But for the effort involved in getting it out, the time of use and the effort involved to clean it compared to doing it by hand?

Weird/odd/untranslatable ingredients? Actually none. Mr Oliver is a fan of Mr Patak. So am I! I have a couple of jars of Mr Patak’s finest in my cupboard. Tomatoes, onion, garlic, aforementioned potatoes. Some spinach, chilli and cumin seeds and some natural yoghurt. Aside from cumin seeds (I normally have cumin, not necessarily seeds though), I had everything at hand. (Oh, it’s supposed to have coriander in it as well, but ah doan like it! And it asked for ground nut oil. I just used olive oil)

And it was good.

Really good, actually. The depth of flavour probably would have been better had the spuds boiled in the sauce and there’s no doubt in my mind that I could reduce the dishes – cook off the chilli and cumin in the big pan before I do the rest of the cooking; and I’m down to one pan. And the question of whether I could actually have chopped onions and tomato and mixed the rogan josh paste together in less time using a v-slicer and a bowl and spoon?  I think so.

That would definitely reduce the dishes and make it more likely that I would cook it again.

My next cooking challenge is to make something from the Great Australian Bake Off cookbook.

*”dish-pig” is the official title of every dishwasher in every restaurant I have ever worked in. Which is a few over time.

Missing breakfast, a spot of Holiday Reading (it also appears to be Book Season)

Almost as soon as I finished The Ocean at the End of the Lane, I picked up the other Neil Gaiman book that I ostensibly bought for my resident seven year old, and gave it a read. Of course, I was only doing this to ensure that it was of a suitable nature for seven year olds and not because of any desire to read it myself.

“Fortunately, the milk…” (complete with ellipses, super shiny cover and illustrated by Chris Riddell) is a cracking good yarn. It’s a total Dad Joke – the kind of tale I remember my dad spinning when I was a wee lass. Although, there weren’t as many dinosaurs in dad’s stories. The Resident Seven Year Old looked at it sideways, picked it up, put it down, said it wasn’t his cup of tea, then wandered off to bed with it several hours later, never to be seen again. Page was carefully marked before he went to sleep, so I take it he approves. He is only nice to books he likes.

I’m on a break from work – apparently, it’s my turn to look after the children while they’re on school holidays. So needs must and I’ve got a week off. A ‘tradition’ of sorts for the holidays is that I buy the children a book each for their holiday reading.  Coincidentally, they often lose ‘electronics’ for several days during the holidays – especially during the second week when they’re just enough over each other that a punch on seems like an awesome idea. Books are a viable and suitably quiet alternative. So far though, they’ve resisted the urge to either punch on or be vile enough to require confiscation of electrics. Possibly because they have books.

So, the next thing on my reading agenda is getting back into A Dance With Dragons. I’m just over half way through, but while I’m waiting for Book Six, I think I have a few books to be getting along with. While looking for suitable books for the children (smallest boy got the 39 Story Tree House, the larger one got an Eric Vale book); of course I wandered through the grown ups section and could not believe my eyes.

It’s BOOK SEASON.

(Telly season)

BOOK SEASON…

(Telly season)

Ok, there’s a couple of good shows on the telly as well, but Lordy, it totally is Book Season. So far, I have collected:

  1. Murder and Mendelssohn – Kerry Greenwood (the 20th Phryne Fisher book.) As a not entirely unrelated aside, Essie Davis is spot on as Miss Fisher.
  2. Never Go Back – Lee Child
  3. Bones of the Lost – Kathy Reichs
  4. Save with Jamie – Jamie Oliver
  5. The Great Australian Bake Off Cookbook.

Plus, I have a list with another six or so books on it (on my phone, natch, which is on charge and I can’t be bothered getting up and getting it.) But there’s a true crime written by John Safran about the murder of a white supremacist he met in Mississippi; Val McDermid has a new Tony Hill mystery out, there’s a new Stephen King that’s a sort of sequel to The Shining. Not 100% certain about the wisdom of that one… but still.

The cook books were always going to happen. Think I mentioned earlier that I might have a problem with cook books, and I’ve been eyeing off the GABO Cookbook since before the series even started. It seems to be a decent cook book in that it has proper instructions for some of the technical bake items (things every good baker should be able to bake) complete with illustrations. The Jamie one – well, glutton for punishment I think. I’m hoping that it’s not as insane as the 15 and 30 minute cook books, and that at least some of the recipes don’t use every dish in the house!

I’ve semi-planned to cook one thing from each of them before the end of my week off BUT it’s going along quite quickly, and I may run out of time. I’ve had a flick through Jamie, and it seems reasonable, and I am loving the baking one, but I need to be in the Mood to cook fancy cakes, and some of those cakes are fancy. Dinner tomorrow night is a fat, juicy lamb roast followed by chocolate puddin’ (from Cookery the Australian Way) and lemon delicious from Merle’s Kitchen. So, even if I don’t make anything from my two new cookbooks, I will have made about five things from proper recipes by the end of the week (I’ve already made bread, hummus – although I made that one up a bit as I was missing stuff, and sausage rolls Maudy Style) .

The rest of my holidays involve finishing A Dance With Dragons and getting stuck well into the new books on my reading list.

 

 

Swimming…

There’s something about Neil Gaiman. His writing style is – well – peculiar. Everything that happens in his books could well be happening in the next street of you know where to look. But at the same time, it’s so fantastical that it couldn’t possibly be real, except, you know that chap down the end of the street? Doesn’t he look, you know, just a little… Different? Not quite human? Not quite there? And his books elicit emotions that you don’t expect. (Before I read Coraline, I would have sworn on a stack of dictionaries that I had absolutely no abandonment issues. None what so ever. Afterwards, I wasn’t really sure. And the book had to leave my house. Quickly. I sent it to a friend, cannot ever countenance it returning to my house, or even seeing the film)

Actually, abandonment seems to be an undercurrent through a lot of Mr Gaiman’s books, and The Ocean at the End of the Lane is no exception. Except that the abandonment isn’t as out there as in Coraline, and instead of feeling disturbed at the end of the book, I finished it with a smile and a sigh. It was absolutely lovely. The protagonist is a seven year old boy, and while I’ve read reviews that the main character is a bit of a wuss, HE’S A SEVEN YEAR OLD BOY. And from my experience with seven year old boys… it’s a very accurate depiction. Half mummy’s boy, half rebel, half schemer with mischief on his mind. Their ears are mostly painted on,  and they’re emotional. Oh, the emotions of a seven year old. Everything is deeper and more epic than the most epic thing of all epicness. So when his mum goes back to work after taking in lodgers doesn’t work out as well as it could… It’s also about remembering things and how memories change, depending which side you’re looking from.

In summary. It’s lovely. Read it. And remember…