Tag Archives: Books

Working it!

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Stress

Stress (Photo credit: topgold)

Phew! This week I was NOT sacked.

But if you’d asked my inner pessimist what the outlook was on Friday, she probably would have sighed and reached for the nearest super-sized chocolate bar. Why?

All it took was a single, solitary phone call.

My usual employer had his personal assistant call to arrange a meeting. That’s not too shocking, I hear you say. Except, I rarely have contact with my work via anything but email.

“The boss wants some changes,” said the PA.

“He’s getting a bit bored,” said the PA.

“Tell me more,” I implored.

“Oooooh, he’d just like to see you,” fudged the PA.

Earliest available time? Monday. Two full days and a little bit more of anxiety, second-guessing and self-doubt. Good times!

If the weekend was anything to go by, it seems I was raised to find a hidden meaning in the most innocuous of conversations. I was definitely being fast-tracked to the unemployment lines.

Monday rolled around bright and sunny. My sense of dread only increased.

I walked into the office wearing my most patriotic business colours (bright green) and my power boots (suede, in case you were wondering).

“So,” he said. “I’d like to make some changes. I’m getting a bit bored.”

I’ve heard that before, I thought. Here it comes.

“What can we do to really stand out from the crowd?” he said.

“We?” I asked. “Oh, we!” Reality was dawning.

So, I was not sacked. Two and a bit days of worry had been in vain.

That sunny day turned out to be a good omen. I’ve never been so happy to check my emails and find work waiting.

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Dogs vs cats – it’s simple really

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101 Uses for a Dead Cat

101 Uses for a Dead Cat (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s those quiet moments – when the head-rest doesn’t quite do the job, when the pencils need sharpening or the cleavage needs a boost – that I often lament not owning a cat. A dead one.

One of the greatest books ever published takes pride of place on my bookshelf. Created by Simon Bond, ‘101 Uses for a Dead Cat’ was the starting point for my lifelong aversion to felines.

And if you need convincing, you have only to consult my extensive collection of anti-cat/pro-dog literature to confirm the extent of this loathing.

Cats are evil and I have the research to back me up.

Everyone knows that a cat only loves you when it’s hungry while a dog will give you endless devotion no matter what’s on the menu.

The relationship between a cat and a cat owner is largely one-sided, fuelled mainly by insecurity, loneliness and sheer volume of numbers.

A dog is your equal – it will give you more than you ever give to him or her while a cat is just a sponge – it takes and takes and then it dies.

A cat will slink away (as only a cat can do) when the going gets tough. But a dog? Well, a dog will be your fiercest protector in the face of pure evil (which is often a cat).

The only bad dogs I’ve ever known had bad owners while the only cats I’ve ever known were . . . cats (and you know what I think about them).

And yes, I know there have been instances where cats walked miles to find their owners but the cold reality of this scenario comes back to those fickle feline stomachs. I’m sorry to say, but your cat – it never liked you. He thought the tuna would be pinker on the other side of the settee and only came back because he realised he already had you trained.

Dogs by contrast, are loving, loyal and delightful. They make you a better person and they know that any person who’s a dog person is a person worth knowing.

Join me in a toast to the dog!

Cooking the old-fashioned way

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I have a ‘new’ favourite book. But it’s not new at all. It’s from 1946 and I love everything about it.

Firstly there’s the title – ‘How to Cook Well’. No fast, furious, low-fuss cookery mania here. No boutique, chef hat, posh nosh in sight. No sir-ee. From the out-set, the author, Ann Roe Robbins, is keeping her expectations low, which suits me fine.

As it happens, we actually have a bit in common. In her preface, Ann Roe Robbins admits she never cooked until she was married. Unless you count cakes, I too was in the same boat. In between leaving home and getting married (perhaps a little longer if I’m honest) my diet consisted largely of peanut butter and honey on toast. Things improved somewhat after the nuptials but there was always a jar of peanut butter on standby in the fridge.

Around this time, I was given one good, contemporary cookbook. It covered some of the basics until I eventually inherited Ann Roe Robbins’ answer to all things culinary. It’s just what I needed. It seems she wasn’t interested in simply compiling a book of recipes. She wanted to explain why things were done the way they were done. She believed in instructions over instinct and measuring over guess-work. She wanted to share her money saving techniques and make sure her readers were eating healthy, flavoursome food.

That meant rules – always have a hot dish with every meal even in the summer; include flavour, colour and texture to ensure every meal is appetising; avoid dishes that require last minute attention, and; don’t be scared of a long list of ingredients.

Not every rule rings true today, but her enthusiasm and passion for food shines through. Ann Roe Robbins and her sky blue cookbook with its linen cover, gold embellishments and understated title would give any of today’s chefs a run for their money.

Hooked on books . . .

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So my holiday reading list lasted about three days.

Matthew Reilly was as reliable as ever with Scarecrow and the Army of Thieves. His love of weaponry and all their acronyms proved endearing and the fast-paced action propelled me through until the end. Frankly, Mr Reilly, you had me at Scarecrow.

Miranda Hart’s autobiography Is It Just Me? was a rollicking read. Her chapter on weight loss, though brief, was highly practical – eat less, exercise more. Now you know.

I suspect she began writing the book when composing a letter to your younger self was in vogue. However, by the time it had reached publication, the premise was a bit naff, so no mention of it during the book’s promotion. Never mind. You don’t see many of these offerings where the younger self talks back and expresses her disappointment at how bits of her life have turned out. It was all in good fun.

Last on my list was The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate. This one was the tear-jerker my sister promised it would be. It was simple, heartfelt and beautiful all at once. A quick read, but a lingering memory.

Well, that took three days. What to do next? Hit up the kids’ book shelves, of course!

Andy Griffiths (the author, not the similarly named actor) knows how to turn gross into fabulous with alarming ease. He takes the worst case scenario and tries to figure out how it could possibly be even more unpleasant, life-threatening or stomach churning. There should be more of this in adult fiction! I read my way through Just Tricking and Just Doomed along with The Very Bad Book, The 13 Storey Treehouse and its sequel. Safe to say I will be following them up with some of his other titles.

All in all, the holiday reading proved very therapeutic and a fabulous distraction from warring children.

Now how long til the next holidays?

Books, books, books!

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Scarecrow and the Army of Thieves

Scarecrow and the Army of Thieves (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The mountain of books beside my bed has been growing all year. But I’m ready to clear the decks and make way for my holiday reading selections.

My first choice is the current novel by the fabulous Matthew Reilly. Scarecrow and the Army of Thieves already has me hooked with all that talk of M249s, MREs, AFDVs and, of course, impending doom.

The loveable Captain Shane Schofield is back, along with his indestructible offsider, Mother, for a page turning, heart racing, action packed adventure on ice. But this is no Disney heart-warmer. I’ve heard that there’s a scene involving rat torture that will make my stomach turn.

Can’t wait!

Next on the list is The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate. Now this one might qualify for the Disney treatment. It’s Water for Elephants meets Project X – the story of a captive gorilla who vows to free a young elephant from the life behind glass that he himself has been forced to endure.

This one was recommended by my gorgeous sister who assures me that tears will be shed.

I’m looking forward to it (tissue box in hand).

And last, but by no means least, I’ll be throwing myself into Miranda Hart’s autobiography called Is It Just Me?

I love her sitcom and her stand-up so I’m quietly confident that her book will deliver. I’ve sneakily read a few of her checklists (complete with quirky triangular boxes so you can tick them off yourself) and am somewhat concerned that she may have been stalking me. She knows too much!

Anyway, laughs are guaranteed. It should be fun.

Now, I just need to find a few quiet hours to get stuck in. Happy holiday reading!

A year of passion . . . fruit

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By design or necessity, my Grandma was an excellent cook.

Her kitchen was the place where guests were received, important decisions made and the very best of food was created.

A few years ago, I was lucky enough to inherit a selection of her cookbooks. Amongst the titles was a 1964 edition of The Commonsense Cookery Book, a much-loved and weathered copy of Elizabeth Craig’s Economical Cookery (circa 1948) and a rather pristine copy of Roz Denny’s Family Suet Cooking.

But buried beneath them all, was a cookbook of the home-made variety, labelled ‘Passionfruit 1991’.

It must have been a good year for passionfruit. The book began with a raft of recipes designed to use up all the available fruit. There was one for passionfruit foam (to be served with custard); another for passionfruit lemon butter; vanilla slice with – you guessed it – passionfruit; and, of course, meringue which wouldn’t be complete without . . . passionfruit.

After a dozen or so pages, the inspiration – and perhaps the fruit – ran out. That’s where Grandpa took over ownership of the book. In 1991 he listed every piece of fruit and vegetable harvested from their garden.

At this point, you should know, they didn’t do things by halves. Grandpa logged 172 lbs of tomatoes, 126 capsicums, 31 ¼ lbs of beans, 12 pumpkins and 223 cucumbers.

But passionfruit won the day with 489 pieces of fruit harvested from their vine.

The fruit was delivered into the kitchen where Grandma turned that produce into culinary delights to last the year through.

It’s puts into perspective my own gardening successes – the carrot that’s actually straight, the watermelon that’s actually edible and the eggplant that looks gorgeous even if it will never see the inside of my kitchen.

I take solace in the thought that perhaps 2013 will be my year for passionfruit.

From Grandma’s cookbook . . .

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I love a good book, but there’s one book I love above all others – my Grandma’s cookbook.

It’s a snapshot of her life through food, from the simplest of recipes to the most creative culinary concoctions, spanning 70 years of Grandma’s cooking life.

It’s a window into her world unlike any other.

The black leather cover is stained and smudged with decades of use. The pages are yellowed and worn. The binding is falling apart. And between every page there’s an added extra – a few centimetres snipped from the pages of a newspaper, a recipe scrawled on the back of a Dunlop proxy form and letters from her friends sharing their own cookery hints and kitchen successes.

It seems every member of the family has contributed in some way at some stage. Their names are included along with the date of their own offering. And even the recipes that have no name still bare the unique handwriting of their owner.

There might have been some order to it once, but these recipes have been referenced so often – probably in the thick of baking, bottling or brewing – that reading this book is now more of a journey than a destination.

Every page evokes strong memories of my Grandma’s kitchen from the wood fired stove where she could bake the perfect sponge to the linoleum covered kitchen table where preparation was done and every meal was shared.

As a child, I knew there was always something on the boil in Grandma’s kitchen and a magical, mystery tin on top of the cupboard protecting her latest sweet treat from hungry grandkids.

And while the cake tin is long gone, Grandma’s cookbook continues to serve up the treats.

The only question remaining is – has it made me a better cook? Ask my kids and they will tell you. I prefer to think the jury is out.