Wednesday, April 9, 2014

More Australian books

I've been continuing to make my way through the list of Australian books below, enjoying some more than others but all giving me an insight to either Aussie culture or standards of literature, and some very interesting dialect and vocabulary! First edition here.

10 Aussie Books to Read before you die

Cloudstreet - Tim Winton
The Book Thief - Markus Zusak
A Fortunate Life - A.B. Facey
The Harp in the South - Ruth Park
The Power of One - Bryce Courtenay
Jasper Jones - Craig Silvey
The Magic Pudding - Norman Lindsay
The Slap - Christos Tsiolkas
The Secret River - Kate Grenville
Picnic at Hanging Rock - Joan Lindsay

And now here are my "reviews", a couple sentences to sum up my thoughts. Good thing I'm not really a book reviewer!

Harp in the South: sad Irish immigrants live in poverty, generations continue the cycle. Dialect was interesting and sometimes challenging to comprehend, and mix of Irish and Australian. Overall this was more an Irish immigrant story, and could have been set anywhere, not necessarily inner Sydney. Something interesting to note in the "slums" that these characters live in is a lovely and very expensive area.

The Magic Pudding: Easily my favorite book so far. A children's story book written in 1918, it's from the earlier tradition of children's books that don't pander but respects their audience. Lots of rhyme and songs and very dated (but in a good way) illustrations. I can't wait to read this to my son when he's older.

The Power of One: Another Australian classic that was set elsewhere, in South Africa this time. Small boy overcomes tremendous obstacles and disadvantages to become successful. I don't know much about South Africa, having never visited, but this book was interesting enough to prompt me to look up the history of the Boer War, which is mentioned often. Our hero is too perfect, and somehow manages to defeat the Nazis, conquer racism in the prison system, and survive being crushed in a mining accident...a bit unlikely but it does make for a fun story. Despite his impossible perfection you are always cheering for him to win.

Jasper Jones: Probably the best written book of the list so far. It was exciting, compelling mystery that shows you all the dark secrets of living in a small Australian town... gossip, racism, and family life. Highly recommended.

The Slap: Published the same year as Jasper Jones (2009), this book also tried to tackle the big issues of family life in Australia but lost it's plot along the way. Every character is a token character that tried to fufil or defy their stereotype. The Greek, the Jew, the Indian, the Gay, the Muslim, the Aboriginal, the teen, the elderly, the alcoholic, the nouveau riche, the middle class guilt. They are all here in the story, and it's nothing new. Not horrible, but not really recommended either. I must say the author lacked much insight into his female characters.

Only two more to go! I won't finish them in time for my citizenship ceremony tomorrow, but I'm sure by the end of May at least. Sure beats my original goal of reading just five this year. Amazing what you can accomplish when there is a regular nap routine in the house.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Sydney, again

A couple weekends ago, I spontaneously found myself in Sydney. Tagging along on my husband's business trip, this was quite different from my last two visits. No romantic evenings out (baby's bedtime is sacred) and no trade shows (what a relief!) 

This time around, we got to visit our former neighbours and friends that moved to Sydney last year, and in lieu of traditional tourist sights, I methodically went to all my favourite international chain stores that have not yet opened in Brisbane. Zara, Topshop, the Gap, and yes, LadurĂ©e, I'm talking about you. Testing the limits of my baggage allowance. 

Welcome to Sydney indeed. Is it just the fact that I have a baby, or do these lock-out times seem totally reasonable?

A moody autumn backdrop to the Opera house (much like this first trip!)

I guess a few touristy photos were taken.

An almost-toddler enjoyed pushing his stroller all over the city. 

The gorgeous Chinese Garden of Friendship near Darling Harbour. This was a first visit for me and totally worth the price of admission. 

Only the ibis give away this Chinese Garden is in Sydney!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

baking my way to citizenship: Lammingtons

ahhh...Lamingtons. These sweet treats were never my favorite. Essentially sponge cake coated in chocolate and coconut, they were always a little blah to me. I remember attending an Australia Day party a few years back and someone brought homemade lamingtons. Everyone ooo'd and ahh'd and of course I had to try one. I was horrified that they tasted exactly like the lamingtons I'd tried before from the local supermarket bakery. I thought this would just be something I couldn't get behind, much like Vegemite.

hiking in Lamington National Park in 2009

A gorgeous look-out in Lamington National Park

But, if I am to become an authentic Australian citizen ('s coming up!) then I should be able to make this classic dessert, at least once. Not only is it Australian, but it is Queensland in origin as the namesake Lord Lamington was governor of Queensland in the late 1800's. I love the national park named in his honor, so I should really give his dessert another chance. Luckily, my husband came across a gourmetified version of a lamington recipe a while back and it was much tastier. That's the version I made here: with strawberry puree and marzipan.

The batter itself tasted better than the finished product (my bias towards marzipan)

the chocolate and coconut rolling station

The finished product setting

And lastly, taste testing with a side of thick cream

I actually think the strawberries and marzipan make the cake taste so good the the addition of chocolate and coconut later is a bit of overkill. But then it wouldn't be a lamington.

Another Aussie dessert conquered!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

The March Garden

Paw paw is still thriving...I wonder when we'll get any fruit?

A few limes on the tree but not many. Second harvest this year. 

Brand new banana plant! Our friends were kind enough to give us a few suckers. 

This olive tree dates back to our first home in Paddington. It has quite a strong lean to it now, but I finally got around to tying it up. 

Pineapples going strong...we are getting close to the two year mark for some of them, I think that means a fruit??

This passionfruit has absolutely taken off. This is what it used to look like. 

A volunteer zucchini in the herb garden

Bird of paradise in bloom

A friendly golden orb weaver, keeping the insects in check

Friday, March 7, 2014

baking my way to citizenship: Anzac Biscuits

What could be more Australian than pavlova or sausage rolls? Arguably, the Anzac biscuit. Made from oats, sugar, golden syrup, butter, and coconut (some variation recipe to recipe, of course, but usually no eggs) these cookies were supposedly made to ship to the Anzac troops (Australian and New Zealand Army Corp) fighting in Europe during WWI because they did not spoil easily.

Today, in supermarkets and bakeries throughout Australia, you will find two versions: chewy and crunchy. I must prefer the chewy version myself. It reminds me of a chewy oatmeal cookie, and the coconut adds a nice touch. The best part is how easy they are to make at home. Craving a homemade cookie but ran out of eggs? No problem!

Once you mix up the dough and roll it into balls, you mash it with a fork to flatten it. Peanut butter cookie this is not.

All finished and ready to share