Category — From Hannah

Book Crush: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel 0

January 16, 2018

 

Days after reading Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel and I am still thinking about it. But, I’ll be honest, its fantastical premise initially put me off.

 

“One snowy night a famous Hollywood actor slumps over and dies onstage during a production of King Lear. Hours later, the world as we know it begins to dissolve. Moving back and forth in time—from the actor’s early days as a film star to fifteen years in the future, when a theater troupe known as The Travelling Symphony roams the wasteland of what remains—this suspenseful, elegiac, spellbinding novel charts the strange twists of fate that connect five people: the actor, the man who tried to save him, the actor’s first wife, his oldest friend, and a young actress with the Traveling Symphony, caught in the crosshairs of a dangerous self-proclaimed prophet. Sometimes terrifying, sometimes tender, Station Eleven tells a story about the relationships that sustain us, the ephemeral nature of fame, and the beauty of the world as we know it.”

(from Knopf jacket copy)

 

So in Station Eleven we have: a near-future world in which electricity, oil, cities, law and borders no longer exist due to a pandemic that wiped out most of the world’s population, a travelling troupe comprised of Shakespearean actors and orchestra musicians, a prophet and science fiction comic books, all with multiple threads that lead back to a miserable celebrity / actor who, in the first chapter of the book, dies in the midst of performing King Lear. See what I mean? It’s a huge web of an idea.

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In: Books & Reading, From Hannah, Writing

Baked French Toast with Panettone and Raspberries 0

January 9, 2018

A one-dish wonder for a breakfast gathering. Hot and custardy, made crunchy by the baked sugar on top, this pudding-ish breakfast is punctuated with tiny, jammy, sweet-sour, in-season raspberries. An easy crowd-pleaser which can also be eaten the next day, cold or warmed, with a drizzle of pouring cream.

 

 

I do love a breakfast that looks a bit fancy but requires minimal effort. This might also apply to my taste in fashion (no ironing!) and hair and homeware and just about everything. Lazy-fancy. That’s pretty much my modus operandi. A recipe has to be intriguing and delicious enough to beat simply buying in food, but quick and easy enough that I can be bothered. There’s a fine balance going on and this recipe absolutely fits the bill.

 

Speaking of Bill… this recipe is based on an excellent Bill Granger recipe from Bill’s Basics  (and we all know how I love things to be basic). French toast is a favourite but I’m not too enamoured with standing around frying individual pieces of bread while everyone else is happily chatting. All this dish requires is assembling, sliding into the oven and retrieving once baked – much easier than french toast. Plus, I really love pudding and am keen to find recipes that allow me to get away with serving it for breakfast.

 

I find that it really only takes one interesting ingredient to make a basic recipe seem fancy. In this simple dish the fancy element is panettone. Panettone is a cakey-bread given and served at Christmas time in Italy, a favourite to have with a dark, strong espresso. Panettone is light and sweet – a bit like brioche, but even fluffier / lighter – and studded with candied citrus; you will have seen the tall, impressive cardboard boxes at your supermarket.

 

This raspberry dotted dish is a winner for when you have guests staying and you need to serve breakfast for a crowd. It’s delicious, pretty and easy so it ticks all the boxes. Panettone translates to “Tony’s Bread” so if you happen to have a friend named Tony you could (probably should) invite him over and impress him with this.

 

 

Baked French Toast with Panettone and Raspberries

 

500 ml milk

250 pouring cream

4 eggs

zest of 1 lemon

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 teaspoons softened butter

80 ml maple syrup

1 Panettone (sliced)

100 grams raspberries

3 tablespoons Demerara sugar

 

optional / to serve: greek yoghurt

 

Method

 

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees centigrade / gas mark 4 / 360 fahrenheit

Whisk the milk, cream, eggs, lemon zest and vanilla in a large bowl. Butter an ovenproof dish (I used an approximately 30 x 20cm rectangular one) and drizzle the base with the maple syrup.

 

Arrange the panettone slices in the dish, tucking the raspberries between the slices as you go (save some raspberries for the top). Pour the milk-cream-eggs mixture over the panettone, scatter with the remaining raspberries and top with sprinkled demerara sugar. Allow to soak for ten minutes.

 

Bake for 50 – 60 minutes and serve with thick greek yoghurt, if you fancy it.

Any leftovers can be eaten the next day, cold or hot, with a glug of runny cream.

 

Love, Hannah x

In: Food, From Hannah, Includes a recipe!

Not Your Regular Gift Guide : A christmas stocking challenge 0

November 30, 2017

It’s the first of December and the Christmas books are wrapped for our annual book advent calendar. There are outdoor lights waiting to be draped over the deck (whose entanglements nearly disentangled our marriage last year) and piles of tinsel that the kids have already started to use as reins – galloping wildly and nearly strangling one another whilst dropping shimmering, shining hairs all over the house. In short – all the old traditions are ready to go. Mess, madness, fun and frenzy! But, is it time for some new traditions?

 

We are really fortunate to be able to have a Christmas that is colourful and plentiful, packed with the kind of crazy we like best. Which mostly means hordes of family feasting for about a fortnight (slide into your stretchy pants, folks!) but also includes being able to afford gifts, including those from Santa, and all the extra expenses this time of year brings. We know it’s not the same for everyone. This year, in addition to the regular traditions we’ve grown fond of, I decided to set myself a new challenge to do something a bit different from the usual frenzy. Namely – to buy all our Santa / stocking gifts from charity shops.

 

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In: Food, From Hannah, Kids and Parenting

Not Sporty. 7

November 8, 2017

This is true: Running makes me feel horribly inconvenienced, pukey and annoyed; I prefer being inside with cake, tea and a book. I don’t want to swim in the ocean and I really don’t want to ski, thanks. Once, when put on a treadmill for one of those gym assessment thingies, I was told outright “You are not a natural runner”. I was the least active person in my family with a running, rugby-playing Dad and a local tennis champ and P.E. teacher Mum. If I was any of the Spice Girls I would not be Sporty.

 

 

And yet… this is also true: I played waterpolo from age 11 – 17 and my high school team won the National championships (several years in a row). When I can be bothered, I am a competent and natural swimmer. When I go out, I love to dance. In the last few years I joined up to Run Auckland and did several 10km races with my sister. Sometimes, when I’m running, I feel free and vibrant and happy. And in two weeks time I am undertaking my first half marathon.

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In: From Hannah, Writing

Secrets In The Garden 10

October 26, 2017

 

Okay folks, I can admit when I need help. And here I am, asking for it.

 

As you know, I am a parent who happens to really, really, really dig kids books. Recently I started reading “The Secret Garden” by Frances Hodgson Burnett to my two eldest (seven & five years old). I loved this book as a child but couldn’t remember too many of the finer details, just that there was a beautiful, hidden garden, a boy that could communicate with animals and a whole lot of mystery and wonder. Okay, I mostly liked the garden. I was excited to find a new version that had been illustrated by Lauren Child because, well, I am besotted with her. The kids immediately loved the protagonist, Mary, and the drama right from the get-go, with Mary’s parents dying of cholera in India. It was all going pretty swimmingly until…. well… it all got – quite quickly – racist. I’m not all that keen on repeating some of the content in the book but it is blatantly, upsettingly, alarmingly racist and I gaped and couldn’t read it out loud. I was puzzled and shocked because I couldn’t recall those parts from when I was a child. The kids were already transfixed by the story and I needed to make a call. I’m a quick reader so I could read ahead and omit any racist terms, remarks and sections altogether; which is what I decided to do. Here’s probably the worst example, to help you understand what I am talking about…

 

[May I reiterate – I DO NOT condone the language or sentiment in this excerpt]

 

“Eh! I can see [India is] different,” [Martha] answered almost sympathetically. “I dare say it’s because there’s such a lot o’ blacks there instead o’ respectable white people. When I heard you was comin’ from India I thought you was a black too.”

Mary sat up in bed furious.

“What!” she said. “What! You thought I was a native. You—you daughter of a pig!”

Martha stared and looked hot.

“Who are you callin’ names?” she said. “You needn’t be so vexed. That’s not th’ way for a young lady to talk. I’ve nothin’ against th’ blacks. When you read about ’em in tracts they’re always very religious. You always read as a black’s a man an’ a brother. I’ve never seen a black an’ I was fair pleased to think I was goin’ to see one close. When I come in to light your fire this mornin’ I crep’ up to your bed an’ pulled th’ cover back careful to look at you. An’ there you was,” disappointedly, “no more black than me—for all you’re so yeller.”

Mary did not even try to control her rage and humiliation. “You thought I was a native! You dared! You don’t know anything about natives! They are not people—they’re servants who must salaam to you. You know nothing about India. You know nothing about anything!”

 

So, in the face of this and other similarly racist references – what should I have done? What would you do? What have you done?

 

This problem is not uncommon with classic literature – it’s old and our attitudes have shifted (hopefully). But, naively, I didn’t suspect one of my nostalgic childhood favourites to be harbouring such stuff. Thankfully, I’m not the only one who has had this alarming experience. Another great article, by writer Leigh Anderson, warns against buying nostalgic books (including The Secret Garden) from your own childhood and exploring new, more diverse children’s books to read with your kids. Where to find those kinds of books? Here’s a good place to start and here’s a good place to go after that.

 

In nutting out this problem I’ve certainly have discovered great resources for selecting better, more diverse and respectful books going forward, but right now I am still stuck in the garden with Mary, Dickon and the robin. What should I do? I’m going to confess – I’d like to keep reading the book because the kids are so interested but I’m just not so sure. Do you have any helpful experiences to share?

 

This parenting business is tricky business isn’t it? Raising a young human to be a good human? I’m going to take some comfort from this quote, taken from the pages of another children’s book:

 

“You must never feel badly about making mistakes … as long as you take the trouble to learn from them. For you often learn more by being wrong for the right reasons than you do by being right for the wrong reasons.”

—The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

 

With gratitude,

Hannah

In: Books & Reading, From Hannah, Kids and Parenting