Reading in 2011

As the year draws to a close, and inspired by John Wiswell’s blog, it’s time to reflect on the best of the year’s reading.

A Land of Ash (ed David Dalgish) was the first thing I read on my new kindle.  A collection of short stories, set in an apocolyptic future involving Yellowstone “blowing” and the US being progressively covered in ash, and the world being plunged into a long term winter.  Most of the stories were compelling reading.  Gave me the idea of writing a themed collection of short stories.

Five Quarters of the Orange. (Joanne Harris)  Read this in hardcopy, and thoroughly enjoyed this quirky family saga, with its roots set in war time France.  From the author of Chocolat.

Without Warning (John Birmingham)  Part one in a trilogy, this is an epic saga based on an apocoplyptic premise.  Complex, well thought out and disturbingly believeable, I’m not reading the second book until I’ve recovered.  Recommended.

The Fifth Witness (Michael Connolly) Old fashioned thriller.  Fast paced, and skating the edge of believablility the way these things do. Lincoln Lawyer by the same author is probably better.  Lincoln Lawyer movie was pretty good.

Lethal People (John Locke) I had to find out what all the fuss is about.  I can see why people like these, but not my cup of tea.

The Dirty Parts of the Bible (Sam Torode) A Mark Twain-ish coming of age story set in the middle of last century. A good read.

A Scattered Life (Karen McQuestion) A well-crafted family drama following the lives of three women over a period of about a year.  Not really chic-lit, but won’t grab most blokes’ attention.

Hot Silver (Steven Lewis) Laugh out loud travel story of traversing Australia by train.

Cracks in the Ceiling (Yours Truly) A bit self-indulgent to include my own book in this list, but I read it so many times during the writing and editing process, it has to rate a mention on my 2011 list.

All the best for a literary 2012!

Christmas Cooking #5

The House

Last in the Christmas Cooking posts is the gingerbread house.  The baking of the sides of the house was trouble free, but the construction phase as not so smooth.  When it collapsed half way through, and one end wall hit the floor breaking into three pieces, I thought it was all over.

It managed to hang together in the end, but the decoration phase was a little rushed and so lacks the finesse of previous efforts.

The gingerbread itself, however, is delicious.

Christmas Cooking #4

Cool things

While we did enjoy a traditional Christmas Pudding, for something different to go with it, I made an icecream terrine.  One layer is store-bought chocolate icecream, although in this case there was milk and dark chocolate in the tub, so it was easy to get a great marbled effect.

The second layer was some vanilla icecream, with four mince pies chopped through it.  I took the tops off the pies to get the right amount of pastry in the mix, and it ends up with a lovely “cookies and cream” feel.  The two layers worked well together, with the taste of the mince pies blending well with the chocolate.

Christmas Cooking #3

Sweet Things

We had family over for lunch on Christmas Day, and I made this White Chirstmas Tree as a centre-piece for the second half of the meal.  An edible centre-piece, as you can see.

I used a cut down small topiary frame from the garden shop, then wrapped it in foil.  From there, it’s simple to glue mini-meringues (store bought) to the tree with royal icing (made with egg white and icing suger, it sets hard).  I added a few silver cachous for a bit of bling.

And here’s to the new camera, and the first shot with it!

Friday Flash Fiction #4

Vocation

It was clear that the outplacement consultant was losing her patience with Bob.

“I know things are difficult for you after all this time.  But do you think your 25 years as an accountant qualify you to apply for a job as a jet-ski instructor?”

Bob wasn’t sure what he was enjoying more – imagining riding around on a jet-ski all day, or sparring with Susan.  He leant forward earnestly, his soft, lilly-white office worker hands clasped tightly together.

“Look, I’m really looking for something outdoorsy, and we haven’t made much progress in that direction yet.”  Last week’s “surfboard cutter” back through his mind.   She hadn’t liked that idea either.   Time to test Susan’s defences again.

“Susan, I’ve been researching on-line, and wondered if pony wrangler might be
a potential occupation?”

The way Susan looked at Bob confirmed that her last shreds of job satisfaction had been trampled under hoof.

“How about I take you out for lunch?” asked Bob.

Susan finally cracked.  “Why not?”

“Why not indeed!”

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Check out some more of my humourous writing with Nanna’s Travel Tips. Available at amazon (US, UK) now!

 

Christmas Cooking #2

We’ve had our major Christmas Lunch Event already.  Another family member was hosting, but we volunteered to make a contribution to the meal with special focus on the vegetarians.

Delicious Magazone was our inspiration, with Nigella’s Quinoa, Cranberry and Pecan Salad (December 2011) leading the way with simplicity and taste.  I even know what Quinoa is now!

Jamie Oliver’s Pumpkin and Mushroom Wellington (December 2010) was a huge hit as well, althought the number of pans it generated for waching up was a little alarming.

Here’s how they looked at our place, and here’s a step by step run through the Wellington.

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Christmas Cooking Underway

Over 25 years ago, a work colleague brought in some tasty treats for us to enjoy on Christmas Eve, and I’ve been making them every year since.

The recipe for Chocolate Pudding Bites is quite simple.  You’ll need:

  • a Christmas Pudding.  I’ve found a brand of tinned pudding that works for me.  If it’s too “cakey” the balls of pudding will fall apart too easily in the making.
  • Some top quality dark chocolate.  I head over to a local deli and buy a 1 kg block of Belgium dark couvuture chocolate, but 200g will do you for one batch.
  • Some white chocolate melts.
  • Toothpicks, foild covered tray, air tight container.

Now the fun starts!

Having tried all sorts of approaches to get well shaped balls of pudding, including a melon baller, now I just cut up the pudding into cubes, and press it into a ball shape with my fingers.  How big?  The aim is for bite-sized pieces.  I refridgerate the pudding balls to help keep them in one piece through the next phase – freezing them is not advisable.

Carefully melt the chocolate.  I find working with about 200g at a time is manageable.  I always microwave, and this works well if you are patient and don’t over do it.  Expect to put the chocolate in at least 4 times, at moderate power.  Remember – if you over cook the chocolate, there is no turning back.

Insert a toothpick into a ball of pudding, and carefully dip it into the chocolate.  I leave a little uncovered top section around the toothpick.  Let the excess drain back into the chocolate bowl with a little shake.  Place each choc covered ball on a tray covered in aluminium foil.

In 10 or 15 minutes the chocolate will be set enough to remove the toothpicks.  Try to do it without holding the puddings – it’s very easy to put finger prints on them!

Melt a handfull of white chocolate in a ramekin, and then carefully put a dribble of white chocolate over the top of each pudding.  The aim is to make it look like custard dribbling over the pudding.

Let the chocolates set, and then store them in a cool place in an airtight container.  I tend to move them with tongs, to avoid the dreaded finger prints.

A dozen or so of these on a special Christmas plate will be a hit at any party between now and New Year.

Good Luck!

Friday Flash Fiction #3

The Holiday

Having survived DIY check-in, and 15 minutes in the “Quick Bag Drop” queue, things were going badly.

“I’m sorry, sir, it’s airline policy to use plastic pet-carriers”, said Brian from behind the counter.

I told Brian that after 3 phone calls, and 90 minutes of entertaining on-hold music, I’d been assured that the sturdy cardboard pet-carrier Fluffy was cowering in was indeed adequate.

Then he actually said “But he might get squashed!”  It seemed like the whole terminal fell silent at that very moment.

Didn’t look at the kids’ faces.  Didn’t need to. 

I was about to ask if he thought a palette of loose house bricks would be rattling around in the hold, but thought the better of it.

Instead, I quietly shared a few home truths with Brian, and then Fluffy was taken away to her uncertain fate.

The kids’ whimpering stopped soon enough.   After all, things were off to a better start than last holidays, when Tiddles met the wheels of a motorbike before the taxi arrived.

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Check out some more of my humourous travel writing with Nanna’s Travel Tips.  Available at amazon (US, UK) now!

Any why not also get Cracks in the Ceiling – Tales of Turbulent Times.  It’s available for kindle and kindle apps for iPad, iPhone, Android, Blackberry, Mac and PC at amazon and amazon uk for just $2.99.