Archive for July, 2008

Giveaways: a winter “quilting” parcel, a bag and “The Shack”

July 29, 2008

Giveaways abound. I seem to be entering at least one a day. 3 today – one for a copy of “The Shack” (I SO nearly bought that on the Koorong sale) at Trey Morgan’s blog  and another for a parcel of winter surprises at Lindi’s blog. But I am hoping that I will be lucky and win this gorgeous bag.

Giveaways. Is this how one increases your blogging stats? (As well as top ten lists – I know they work for Trey!) I will have to ponder just what I can give away… (apart from Dolce, the cat – any offers?)

Meanwhile I offer you a song:

This is Our God from the latest Hillsong album, destined, I think, to be a classic like Shout to the Lord and Saviour King.

The New Classics: Books

July 26, 2008

Entertainment Weekly lists the 100 best reads in the last 25 years.

From their list I have copied the ones I have read, or ones that I own and are waiting to be read (marked TBR on my list) or the one’s MissN has read and we own (which means I might read them some day…)
(Thanks to rooruu – I copied your post!  Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and all that…)

The New Classics: Books

The 100 Best Reads from 1983-2008

1. The Road , Cormac McCarthy (2006) (C and I both loved it – it was a bookclub choice)
2. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, J.K. Rowling (2000) (MissN has read – she has all the HP’s)
6. Mystic River, Dennis Lehane (2001) (TBR – started it.  I have the movie too)
9. Cold Mountain, Charles Frazier (1997) (TBR)
16. The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood (1986)
17. Love in the Time of Cholera, Gabriel García Márquez (1988 )  (TBR)
20. Bridget Jones’s Diary, Helen Fielding (1998 ) (we have both books and the movies)
27. Possession, A.S. Byatt (1990)
36. Angela’s Ashes, Frank McCourt (1996)
40. His Dark Materials, Philip Pullman (1995-2000) (TBR) (I loved “The Golden Compass” movie)
48. The Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kingsolver (1998 )
50. The Corrections, Jonathan Franzen (2001) (TBR)
56. The Night Manager, John le Carré (1993) (TBR)
57. The Bonfire of the Vanities, Tom Wolfe (1987) (TBR)
67. The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini (2003) (TBR) (I gave this to C last Christmas, knowing that if he didn’t enjoy it, I would!)
72. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Mark Haddon (2003) (MIssN has read)
77. The Remains of the Day, Kazuo Ishiguro (1989) (Loved the movie too)
82. Atonement, Ian McEwan (2002)
83. The Stone Diaries, Carol Shields (1994) (Can I boast and say I have a signed copy?)
84. Holes, Louis Sachar (1998 ) (MissN has read)
88. High Fidelity, Nick Hornby (1995)
92. Presumed Innocent, Scott Turow (1987) (TBR)
93. A Thousand Acres, Jane Smiley (1991) (TBR)
96. The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown (2003)

My favourites were

The Road , Cormac McCarthy (2006)

Possession, A.S. Byatt (1990)

The Stone Diaries, Carol Shields (1994)

I guess what all the TBR’s tell me is I don’t need to buy ANY books for a VERY LONG time!

The list also gives me some ideas for bookclub – it’s my choice next month.

At the moment, I am reading an old classic- The Warden by Anthony Trollope (1855).  I loved Barchester Towers, and enjoyed the BBC series Barchester Chronicles (with a young Alan Rickman!) which was an adaptation of both books, so now I am enjoying The Warden.

What are you reading?

What do you plan reading next?

Tour de France and reliving the Pyrenees

July 24, 2008

Almost 2 years ago (the first week in September 2006) we were in the Pyrenees. C has always had a “thing” about the Pyrenees and so when we were choosing where to go in France (as part of our bigger-than-Ben-Hur Europe trip) we chose the Pyrenees for him, Provence for me and Paris for all of us. A week in each. Years before an online friend had told me that Biarritz was her favourite place in France, and as there is an airport there, it seemed logical to base ourselves close to Biarritz (we flew in from the UK, and picked up a hire car). It gave us options of mountains, beach and Spain, as well as enjoying the Pays Basque. So we chose Les Tilleuls and loved it! (The photo which is behind my blog heading was taken at the Wednesday market in Peyrehorade, a lovely town 20 minutes away.)

Peyrehorade market

Peyrehorade market

We had a memorable day trip to the Cirque de Gavarnie. We should have left earlier in the morning, but C was battling a chest infection. (Breakfasts were “pah ah chocolah” – chocolate croissants – from the bakery in Bardos). We had lunch (the ubiquitous goat’s cheese salad)

Nicola and her goat's cheese salad

MissN and her goat's cheese salad

at a village south of Lourdes (maybe Argeles-Gazost?), and arrived at Gavarnie about 2.30. The sky looked threatening, but we managed a short walk towards the Cirque.

We left shortly before 4 as the clouds darkened and the first drops of rain fell. We decided to take a “back road” instead of going back through Lourdes as there is only one main road through Lourdes and the traffic was horrendous on the way in. So we headed off west up into the hills… we LOVE going off the beaten track.

We were on the summit of the Col d’Aubisque when the storm became frightening. (It was only when we were back in Australia that I googled the pass and discovered it was one of the classic climbs of the Tour de France and one Cadel Evans – Australia’s hope in this year’s Tour after second last year – had summited first in 2005!)  We didn’t see much scenery – it was too scary to take our eyes off the road and the heavy rain and cloud meant we couldn’t see anything anyway.  It was quite one of the scariest hours of our lives. We spent most of it stopped and on a few occasions were worried the sheet-like torrents of water would wash the car off the road and down the mountain. And there weren’t good places to stop, and other cars were creeping along the pass too, trying to get off the mountain before dark, and the road was narrow and barrier-less in many places, and there was the danger a parked car might not be seen.  A lone cyclist found refuge in the cab of a truck driver in one of the tunnels on the corniche.  We sheltered alongside them for a while.  So we crept along when we could. (Remember that we were driving on the “wrong” side of the road, and it was a manual car – but C is convinced that the manual gears saved us as it gave him more control). C later admitted after that he was petrified that we were not going to make it. My prayers were urgent and desperate. But after a while, the rain eased, and we could marvel at our escape and how the mountaintop had been transformed by the hundreds of rivulets that had appeared everywhere. And wish we could have enjoyed the view before the storm. We were too shaken to take a photograph! We just wanted to be off the mountain before dark and before it rained again.

We finally got back to Bardos at about 8.30 and had a simple but wonderful meal at Chez Odile. I had a salad and soup, MissN a mushroom omelette and C a steak.

Here is a recipe for Garbure, the vegetable soup of the Pays Basque.

I don’t know if we will ever get back to France. I do hope we do. But meanwhile each year I can relive part of our trip with the cyclists of the Tour de France and ascend the highest and and most arduous roads from the comfort of my lounge. ( I WOULD like Cadel Evans to win this year!)

Quilting Giveaway and eye surgery

July 22, 2008

I’m an almost-quilter.  I have begun a number of quilts (almost finished a couple) and I need nagging encouraging to finish some.  Meanwhile I drool at the wonderful quilting and fabric arts blogs in cyberworld (food from afar indeed), and accumulate more fabric!

I am sharing this giveaway (thanks to Jane for this!)  And having “outed” myself as a quilter, I am hoping I will be urged into finishing some of my UFOs (which might need explaning to non-crafting people – UnFinished Objects) and posting evidence that I sew, as well as cook.  (Those who knew me as a teenage academic nerd and young “career” woman might be amazed by my middle-aged “domesticity”!)

C  had surgery on Saturday for a detached retina, a complication following cataract surgery which he had in June.  He is at home, and has to keep his face down (either by lying face down or sitting hunched with his face parallel to the floor) till next Monday – 10 days in total.  So far, so good.   He is coping – and healing and has sight in his eye! Praying the retina stays attached!   He has been blessed by his iPod (bought when he heard he had surgery the next day) and as he has been connected to earphones, I have been using MY mp3 player more.  This is a song that blessed me today (Fernando Ortega is one of my favourites) and is aptly titled.  Hope it blesses you too!

Love Wendy

Far for lunch (well – just 91kms!)

July 8, 2008

St Albans is not THAT far from where we live, but from suburban Sydney it seems another world away.  Google maps tells me its 91.2 km away and the time estimated to get there is 1 hour 44 minutes.  It took us just on 2 hours on Sunday (it was quicker getting home) because I didn’t consult Google maps before we left (having been there maybe 5 0r 6 times before) and we have some new freeways that don’t appear in my street directory (ie we took a few wrong turns getting out of Sydney) and it’s some years since we were last at the Settlers Arms for lunch.  I should have just let C decide the route – he knows the way to Riverside Oaks well!  He enjoyed his first long drive since his recent eye surgery.  Four weeks without driving got to him!

The Settlers Arms is one of my favourite places.  It is a atmospheric convict built sandstone inn, dating back to 1836, it’s in a remote and unspoiled valley reached by crossing the Hawkesbury River by vehicular ferry,

it’s almost a given to spot at least one kangaroo in the MacDonald valley (I saw several), the birdlife is amazing – and the garden setting is quite lovely.  I took my mom there when she visited us – it’s a lovely place to take overseas visitors.

MissN still has an injured hand (torn ligaments which she hurt while playing goalkeeper) so no soccer yet.  Thus we were “free” from soccer commitments and could take a long drive for lunch.  The food is good quality pub food – not very innovative but fresh, tasty and so much nicer for being eaten in the sun.  I had a beer too – something I seldom drink.  Cascade Light, if you are interested…

Working clockwise, C had a chicken pie, I had a smoked salmon and potato salad and MissN had a spicy sweet potato soup.  It was a bit TOO spicy for her, and she is used to spicy food.  (I won’t share that both C and MissN had dessert!) So I thought I would share MY sweet potato soup recipe, photo below taken when I made it a week or two ago.

Roast Sweet Potato and Red Capsicum Soup with Rocket Pesto

Peel and dice 2 sweet potatoes,  deseed and dice 2 red capsicum (sweet/bell/red peppers), peel and quarter 2 red/Spanish onions and peel a few cloves of garlic (choose large cloves).  Toss all the vegetables in olive oil and place in a roasting dish.  Roast for about 20 minutes.

Tip all the vegies into a pot.  Pour some boiling water into the roasting dish to deglaze it, and add it to the vegies.  Cover the vegies with water and add some stock concentrate if you like (I use PlantaforceVecon is also good) and bring the soup to a boil.  Simmer for about 15 minutes.  Blend the soup.

Serve with a dollop of pesto.  I made rocket and walnut pesto, as rocket is a cheaper option in winter, and walnuts were on special too (I stocked up for my brownie cake!)

Pesto (from The Harvest Pantry by Barbara Beckett – a great recipe book I use for a lot of my basics)

2 cups basil (or rocket) leaves

half cup extra virgin olive oil

2 garlic cloves, crushed

2 tablespoons pine nuts (or walnuts)

1 teaspoon salt, optional

6 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese

2 tablespoons freshly grated Pecorino cheese (I omit this if I don’t have any)

about 2 tablespoons hot water

Put all the ingredients except for the cheese into a food processor (I use my hand-held Bamix) and blend.  Add the cheeses gradually.  Gradually add some water until is is a smooth thick paste.  Serves 6.

This will keep well in the fridge for some weeks or longer.  Make sure it is covered with a layer of oil.  Pesto originates in the Ligurian area of Italy where it was a way of preserving basil in the winter and adding some “fresh” greenery in winter when other greens are scarce. We had a magical 4 days in Liguria on our first trip to Italy in 1993 (C had been before but it was my first trip) when we stayed in Tellaro, visited Portofino, the Cinque Terra and ate at the wonderful Locanda Miranda.  Memories…

Our day on Sunday was special.  We laughed and talked, enjoyed great music in the car (a lot of Talking Heads), were refreshed, renewed and restored and nourished by food that was more than just physical.


Life wasn’t meant to be easy

July 5, 2008

It’s tough.  Health issues.  Relationship issues.  Emotional issues.  Financial stress.  Mortgage stress.  Fuel prices.  Rising prices.  Prices.  World food shortage.  Global warming.  The future.  Our kids. Their problems. Their future?

We were never promised an easy ride.    But I guess without trials and testing we don’t develop character, are never stretched to grow and learn and become more compassionate, more resilient, more loving human beings.  But that’s little comfort in the midst of hard times.

What can we do to get through the arduous times?  Live each day as a gift.  Each day IS a gift.   Talk, laugh, sing, dance, pray, enjoy the sunshine and the rain.   Nurture and value each other and ourselves.  Give thanks for our many blessings. Remember the hope we have.   Celebrate with each meal.

That sounds trite but the little pleasures do add up.  Real food.  Cooked with love.  Real coffee.  Music which lifts the spirits.  A fat sun-warmed purring cat. (Or dog or or child grandchild – but of course, children and dogs don’t purr!)  A hug and an encouraging word.  A meal eaten enjoyed outside in the sun, or the cool (whatever you need!)

I recently bought a 2kg bag of sweet potatoes and we have enjoyed a number of great dishes.  Some new, some family favourites.  I don’t recall where I got this recipe.  It’s a satisfying, healthy, honest, simple-to-make but complex-in-taste, delicious salad.  It’s a meal in itself but those of you who are meat-addicted could add some crumbled crisp bacon or a grilled minute steak or even some lamb kofte.

Sweet potato and chickpea (garbanzo) salad

Peel and cube a couple of sweet potatoes, toss with oil and put in a baking dish.

Drizzle with sweet chili sauce, then roast.

Toss (when cooled a bit) with a tin of drained chickpeas, some onion (either finely sliced red or spring onions or shallots) and baby spinach leaves or other dark leaves (rocket is good too).

Add the dressing of your choice. I use extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar with some chopped garlic.  The original recipe suggested a yoghurt dressing, but that would negate the taste of the caramelised sweet chili sauce, I thought!

Toasted pine nuts are a nice addition too!

More sweet potato recipes to come!

A song which has lifted my spirits this week is Love Came Down by Ben Cantelon.