Thursday, December 27, 2012

Radiolab: Bliss

I love Radiolab. Jad and Robert are great cohosts - they bounce off each other perfectly.

I highly recommend the podcast as a regular listener.

However, if you're not going to subscribe or mess about with podcasts, may I recommend the 5 best minutes of radio that I've heard this year?

It's the first 5 minutes of their Bliss episode. I've listened to it twice (and then watched the video). Amazing. Fair warning: you might want your headphones - it's a bit loud.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Review: Code Name Verity

Before I start this review, I will say that I picked this up at the same time as Arthur Ransome's We Didn't Mean To Go To Sea (which is excellent, by the way), and somehow thought that I had picked up the Ransome to start reading when in fact it was this one. I was mightily confused by the opening set in Nazi Germany (and the complete lack of sailboats). Ahem.

So, if one picks up this book and is actually expecting it (and not a Swallows & Amazons sequel), it's actually rather good.

Set in England and Germany during World War II, it's a story told in two parts by two different narrators, about pilots, spies, and the WAAF. I found the WAAF parts particularly fascinating, as my mother-in-law served during the war. The characters were very well-drawn, the sense of place was well-presented, and I could tell a lot of research had gone into it. The story was heartbreaking (as were many people's stories during WWII, I imagine), and very engaging. 

I heard about it in the New York Times' list of the year's best children's books, and I love the review by Marjorie Ingall. As she says, if I told you more about the plot, I'd have to kill you!

Oh, and lastly, from Ingall's review, about Elizabeth Wein: 
"Wein’s earlier novels are set in Arthurian Britain and sixth-century Ethiopia. She has a doctorate in folklore and a pilot’s license. She met her husband at a dinner dance for hobbyist bell ringers. Nerd." Can I meet her?!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

The British Fork Rule (and Major Exception)

Brits, as a rule, use a knife and fork to eat most things. Including, but not limited to: pizza, hamburgers, picnic food, and fruit.


There is one FIRM exception to this rule.

Birthday cake.

Not the birthday cake that you serve adults at the end of a dinner party. There, forks are allowed. Nay, compulsory!

This bizarre fork-less birthday cake takes two forms, as far as I can tell from my extensive anthropological research on the subject.

First, children's parties. For reasons I cannot fathom, the assembled sing Happy Birthday to the relevant kid, then the parents take the cake away. They bring it back, wrapped in napkins (icing and all!) and then put it in the party bags with the party favours. This results in a number of possible outcomes.
a. The kid demands to eat his cake in the car on the way home (sans fork, obv.). Even cake distribution throughout vehicle ensues.
b. The cake becomes unwrapped and coats the inside of the party bag, favours included.
c. The cake is forgotten and rediscovered 2 months later, at the bottom of the kid's backpack. Science experiment!

Why not just feed the cake to the kids at the party (with plates and forks)? They're already good and sugared up anyway, guaranteeing a meltdown in the car on the way home.

Second, at-the-office "it's my birthday and I've brought cake" cake.

Aside: this is something that I don't understand: why do I have to bring cake on my birthday? YOU should bring cake on my birthday. I will make you cake on YOUR birthday. Most people just buy donuts and cake at the grocery store and bring it in. I spend the night before my birthday making brownies, apple cake, and cupcakes (or some similar combination). Not that I mind, it's just odd.

Anyway, once this cake arrives at the office, even if it would normally be eaten with a fork and a plate, it is immediately transformed into finger food. There are no exceptions for icing or general gooey-ness.

This whole post, by the way, was inspired by a colleague's birthday about 2 weeks ago, where I found myself eating (and trying unsuccessfully not to wear) a large piece of very delicious Betty Crocker chocolate fudge cake with chocolate frosting. Without a fork.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Golden hour in Lavenham

We had a break between our rehearsal and the concert last weekend in Lavenham, and decided to go for a walk. When we stepped outside the church, the light was gorgeous - the nice thing (!) about dark English winters is that you get the Golden Hour in the middle of the afternoon and you don't have to stay up. Also, it seems to last forever, since the sun is so low to begin with.

The concert was lovely, by the way. Among other things, we sang Morton Lauridsen's O Magnum Mysterium, which is now one of my favourite pieces. Go have a listen!

We also took advantage of the light to properly show off my snawheid:

Kate Davies posted on her blog this week that there will be a pattern for snawpaws (aka matching mittens) along shortly. I have one other project I need to make and then they will find themselves on my needles.

(Photo by Sarah Mansfield - thanks, Sarah!)

Friday, December 14, 2012

Smitten Kitchen is famous

Well. I've been making Smitten Kitchen recipes since at least 2008. That German apple cake was my gateway recipe.

And now she's all famous and has made a bestselling cookbook and has been featured in the New York Times.

And this week, I had some extra yogurt in the fridge. And I hit the "surprise me" button on her website, and found this. Grapefruit yogurt cake. 

It was like lemon drizzle cake but zingier. YUM.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Cup Of Jo's Avocado toast

I have to say, I love avocados. But it had never occurred to me to put them on toast until I saw Cup Of Jo's post about the best ever avocado toast.

I had two avocados that we had been planning to make guacamole with (for fajitas), and then our plans changed. I was faced with a lunch and no plans, and two perfectly ripe avocados. 

Result, below. Yumsters.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Review: Dyson vacuum & service

I married into a Dyson vacuum cleaner. John's Dyson is a DC04, which, according to its serial number and the nice lady we spoke to on the phone, was purchased back in 2000. Yes, it's a 12-year-old vacuum. It had been cutting out lately, and then comprehensively gave up the ghost about 10 days ago. We called the Dyson service line from their website. They said that we could either have £80 off a new Dyson, or have an engineer come out and fix our current machine, for a fixed £73 fee (which we would not have to pay if he couldn't fix it).

We decided to see if we could eek out a few more years before springing for another £400 vacuum, and  so the service chap turned up on Saturday. And proceeded to take our machine completely to pieces. As seen below. The whole breakdown took him about 5 minutes.

He disappeared out to his truck, and returned with a few boxes. We thought he was just going to replace the cable, as that was the part that was faulty. Apparently not. Their policy, according to our repair guy, is to replace everything. New motor, new brush-thingy, new clutch, new internal hose, new filter, and a new power cable. That would be a new vacuum, then. Oh, and once he turned it on he announced that the cyclone bit "wasn't making the right sort of noise" and that a new one would arrive in the post shortly. Oh, and a new hose. The only original bits now: the wheels, tall bit, and the handle (and attachments). 

Another 12 years, please?

The only complaint I have is that the stair attachment doesn't stay on terribly well (I usually have to put it back on once or twice). My mom bought a Dyson on our recommendation and does NOT like it - none of the hoses stay put. We asked the service guy and he said that the American division is a different operation, so fair warning.

And yes, I did just write a post about our vacuum cleaner. Deal with it. (And no, it was not sponsored!)

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Latke season!

Hooray! It's latke season! Melissa Clarke has posted a video & recipe for those of us who do NOT have Jewish mothers to teach us how to make them.

Oh, and it's also hat-making season.

And model-making season (for the Husband).