Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Review: The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane

I read and adored Kate DiCamillo's The Magician's Elephant a few years ago. Something caught my eye last week, and I reserved The Tale of Despereaux and The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane at the library.

After I finished The Magician (no, it didn't get an better, and no, I'm not going to bother with the sequel even though he finished on a cliffhanger), I was feeling some what hopeless about finding a good book.

I shouldn't have.

I started The Miraculous Journey while cooking dinner, savoured it (and the fabulous illustrations), and finished it a few hours later.

The blurb at the front on the dust jacket drew me in:
Once, in a house on Egypt Street, there lived a china rabbit named Edward Tulane. The rabbit was very pleased with himself, and for good reason: he was owned by a girl named Abilene, who treated him with the utmost care and adored him completely.
And then, one day, he was lost.
It was heartbreaking, restoring, and gripping. (One of the Amazon reviewers complained it was too sad for her to read to her child...I say if the child sees that sadness can have redemption and healing through love, she'll be a better person for it.)

DiCamillo is an incredible storyteller. She sets the scene in a few words, sketches fabulous characters, and moves the story along. I can't wait to read her other books (although it's going to be like Eva Ibbotson...I'll have to spread them out and not let myself read them all at once). Keep writing, please, Kate DiCamillo!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Spontaneous London Adventure (epic Geek Day Out)

Fair warning: we three are Geeks. Serious Geeks. So this day out might not appeal to everyone. Teehee. We thoroughly enjoyed it.

We braved the snow this weekend for a day out in London, suggested at the last minute by the Husband. Stowmarket was having rail upgrade works, so we drove to Ipswich to catch the train from there. Because the tickets weren't as expensive as we had anticipated (but were still eye-watering), due to some jiggery-pokery with two sets of singles between Ipswich and Manningtree, and an offer running on tickets from Manningtree that included a day travelcard (yes!), we upgraded to first class. No, we didn't win the lottery. Husband was reading the railway mags, the Boy is reading It's Not Rocket Science, while I'm plodding through The Magicians. 

::Capsule-review & mini-rant starts::

It started strong and has faded somewhat. I'm nearly done, so I'll finish it, but unless something very exciting happens I'm not going to either recommend it or read any more Lev Grosmann. I was vaguely irritated from the beginning with the main character's obsession with "Fillory," an extremely thinly-veiled Narnia. As far as I'm concerned, get the rights and refer to actual Narnia, or don't bother. Or make Fillory different enough that I don't keep picturing scenes that C.S. Lewis (who is a better writer, thankyouverymuch) created so brilliantly. Ah. I'm not the only one.

::Capsule-review & mini-rant ends::

Anyway. We visited an extremely crowded British Museum, where John and the Horus appeared to be having a fascinating discussion. I think there was nobody else paying any attention to the Horus because he decides who gets to see him and who doesn't. We're some of the lucky few, obviously.

We headed over to Chinatown, stopping at Forbidden Planet and the Orc's Nest on the way. Obviously.

Then, thanks to TripAdvisor, we hit Joy King Lau, for dim sum. The steamed pork buns were the best I've ever had. (Sorry, Nom Wah, you're a close second.) We made a suitable mess on the table.

We walked up to Oxford Street, where we stopped at the local Games Workshop, Muji, and Cloth House to admire the fabric.

We then hopped back on the tube to head down to Waterloo, where we went to Ian Allan, a specialist railway and transport book and model shop.

Added to the list of oh-my-gosh-there's-a-market-for-that? These cab-ride DVDs of railway journeys across the UK.

Shut up.

I even found the one for my commute. However, I felt no need to buy it, since I ride the damn train all the time. Who buys these? Do they make some popcorn, grab some beers, and plop down on the couch with their friends? Do they secretly watch them when nobody else is home? Do you buy ones for routes you know? Routes you don't? Routes you wish you knew? Do you buy them for trainless friends?

Please, feel free to explain (or guess) in the comments. Also, there were several browsers full of these. Different brands filming the same routes, different routes, and a whole section of the same general idea, but for busses and bus routes instead. I understand not.

Then, since we were relatively close by, we went to the Tate Modern to make fun of the "art." Ok, so maybe we're uncultured philistines (see above non-comprehension of filmed railway journeys). Or something. It was truly, truly, crap.

This was the least-crap of all the crap. At least whoever the artist was had some skill with his or her jigsaw, and the planks made nice shadows.

At this point, we were tired, cold, and hungry. We trooped across the Millennium bridge, hopped on the Central Line at St Paul's, and subsided in front of warm, savoury bowls of Pho. Back on the train, through some snow on the A14, and into bed by 10.

Phew. An excellent day out was had by all.

Sunday, March 24, 2013


It's a little late for Purim. But it's perfect for rhubarb season.

I was making Deb's apple cake for work (we raised £800 for Comic Relief on Red Nose day), and flipped to the recipe for Rhubarb Hamantaschen. (Recipe's not on the'll have to buy the book! Her other hamantaschen recipes are here.) I suddenly had a rather overwhelming urge to make some. We used to buy them at Riesterer's Bakery in Garden City, where they were always perfectly shaped with pretty, glassy centres. However, they're traditionally either filled with prunes (blech) or apricots (meh). But Deb says we can make them with rhubarb. I LOVE rhubarb!

Onward, then.

Here they are before being folded:

And here they are fresh from the oven. Apparently my shiksa hamantaschen-crimping skills need work.

Some of them turned out quite pretty. We're not really in commercial-bakery-on-Long-Island territory, though.

I can verify that the rhubarb hamantaschen still taste excellent, regardless of shape. In case my New Rochelle Jewish-food credentials were in doubt, I make excellent latkes.

I can also verify that rhubarb appearing at the farm shop also means spring is coming, despite the fact that we had about 3 inches of snow yesterday and today. Blech.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Things my grandmother made

Boeuf bourguinon.

Carrots braised in butter.

Lots of other Julia recipes.

Fantastic omelettes.

Beautiful, classic dresses.

This cross-stitch, with our birthdays, the initials of the women in our family, and a note to me. 

She passed away a few months after I moved to the UK, 7 years ago. I still miss her (but can channel her when I make boeuf bourguignon).

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Review: Big Jambox

I must have been really good last year. On Christmas morning, Santa (aka Husband) gleefully presented me with a Jawbone Big Jambox. I'd been coveting the little jambox for ages, since I like to listen to the radio on iPlayer while I'm cooking or baking, and I listen to podcasts and music if I'm ever working from home.

It's great - it was easy to pair, the sound is terrific, and I just cart it wherever I need it. I've used it quite frequently and only had to charge it twice so far.

My only complaint is that it occasionally hisses at really low volumes when I'm sitting right next to it. The solution has been not to use it if I just need to listen to something and I'm right on top of the device that's playing it.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Sunday Cooking

It's Mothering Sunday here, so we had the in-laws over for lunch. We slow-roast a chicken using this recipe, and served it with mashed potatoes and Julia's braised carrots. Oh, butter, I love you. I went slightly off-piste and added some herbes de Provence to the braising liquid. Yum.

I also made apple and raspberry crumble. Not my finest effort, but redeemed by custard. It looked pretty, though!

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Reviews: Anna Karenina & Grave Mercy

One of my UK book group peeps saw the Tom Stoppard Anna Karenina when it came out over the summer, and suggested that we read it for book group. Thankfully, we all have kindles, so didn't have to drag hardback copies around with us.

Overall, I liked it. However, there was Way Too Much Rambling About Farming. And Russian Peasants.

Thankfully, the movie avoided the rambling, and pretty much just cut to the chase.

I'm glad I've now read it, but won't be seeking out any other Tolstoy any time soon.

I think it also may hold the record for "longest time for Kate to read a novel" - it took me nearly 6 months. Phew.

To follow, and because I felt like I needed a guilty pleasure after all that Russian angst, I read Robin LaFevers' Grave Mercy. It's set in medieval Brittany, and is about a girl who goes to a convent dedicated to Mortain, or Death. She trains as an assassin (along with the others in the convent) and is then sent out on a mission. Entertainment and drama ensue. I zipped right through it and really enjoyed it. AND I have excellent timing because the sequel is coming out in three weeks!

Oh, and this is what's wrong with America. French toast, with a side of bacon. It was delicious, but still.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Four Mornings in Maine

Did you ever read One Morning In Maine? It was one of my favorites growing up. I love Maine - the people are unbelievably nice, it's beautiful, and it's COLD! (I also spent an extremely happy 4 years at Colby). So when my Mom's planned ski trip was cancelled at the last minute, she asked if I wanted to join her for a weekend at Sunday River. Um, YES PLEASE! everything and hopped on a plane to NY. The following morning, we hit the road for Bethel. We found B.T.'s Smokehouse in Sturbridge, MA, on tripadvisor, as we were zooming up the Mass Pike. Oh, yum. I love the motto, below. The pulled pork was amazing (so much so that we had to stop on our way back down from Maine for a second lunch and to pick up dinner for my dad)! Thanks, B.T.!

The sign reads: 
Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well-preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, rib in one hand, beer in the other, body thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and screaming "WOO HOO WHAT A RIDE."
And then, snow. We arrived on Friday night, then woke up to snow on Saturday morning. It snowed all day and night Saturday, and all day Sunday. Fresh powder!

Our ski-and-stay package included our lift tickets and a daily clinic - our first day, we ended up as the only two in our lesson, and had a blast. I hadn't skied in 8 years, but it appears to be like riding a bike. Woot. The second day was even better - I was the only one in my lesson group (my mom stuck with the "light blue" group while I headed to "dark blue," and I had a super-intense lesson. I only wiped out once, and I am no longer afraid of bumps. Sweet!

Monday morning was a bit more crowded (it was NH school vacation week so EVERYONE had come up for the week to ski), and the lesson was a bit "meh," but the weather was absolutely stunning. Clear blue skies, temps in the 30s, and fresh powder? Why, yes, I think I will.

Here we are in the "oh dear, my ski jacket makes me look like a donut" picture at the top of North Peak.

And on the chairlift.

See that? Lift ticket says "Find your happy place." Thanks, Sunday River, we did! (And thanks Mom & Dad for the amazing last-minute vacation!) I am an extremely lucky person.