Red Queen

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Take Game of Thrones and mash it up with X-Men and you’ll have a pretty good representation of Red Queen. Set in a world divided by blood 17 year old Mare Barrow is born a Red blood, a lower class of citizen born to labour and slave for the elite and powerful Silver bloods that hold god like super abilities.

Mare lives in a poverty stricken slum known as The Stilts where unless apprenticed or employed by the age of 18 teens are conscripted into a lethal war to fight on behalf of the ruling Silver Bloods. When a pick pocketing encounter goes wrong it changes Mare’s life forever and places her in the court of the Silvers where Mare discovers her own latent powers that will threaten to collapse the entire structure of society unless the ruling Silver bloods can keep her identity as a Red blood and her power contained.

Stuck as a prisoner of the Silvers Mare finds herself in the middle of a very dangerous game of power where anyone will betray anyone. With a revolution building among the Reds Mare is key to the game for both the Red bloods and the Silvers. But power is a dangerous game. And in this world divided by blood, who will win?

If you like dystopian fantasy fiction such as Graceling, the Selection or Red Rising then definitely give this one a go. With themes of power, politics and allegiances this book delivers on the dsytopian struggle to address inequality with X-men like style. It also has one of the best Evil Queens I’ve read in a long while.

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A Court of Thorns and Roses

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Following on from her wildly popular YA fantasy series Throne of Glass Sarah J Mass gives us another completely absorbing fantasy realm to fall in love with in A Court of Thorns and Roses. The first book in this series has been preceded with a lot of hype in the YA literary world, not surprising considering the popularity of her other historical fantasy series, and I have to say it completely lived up to that hype. Curious and intriguing characters, on-the-edge-of-your-seat action and gorgeous imagery combine to make this magical fairy fantasy one of my favourite reads of 2015.

The book starts out with a dark Beauty and The Beast feel about it. Feyre (pronounced Fay-ruh) comes from a family that was once noble but is now impoverished. To survive and care for her family she hunts for game which is scarce in the harsh winter and so she must venture closer and closer to the fairy realm to find anything. One day she comes across a giant wolf that is about to poach her game and she shoots it, skinning the beast and taking the wolf’s lush coat to trade for coin. The wolf transpires to be a fairy in disguise and soon after another fierce beast comes to claim Feyre’s life for that of the fairy she murdered as per the treaty rules between the human world and the Fae world.

“What is the payment the Treaty requires?”

His eyes didn’t leave my face as he said, “A life for a life. Any unprovoked attacks on faerie-kind by humans are to be paid only by a human life in exchange.”

However Feyre and the beast strike a deal where her life will be spared if she instead accompanies him to the Fairy realm to live out the rest of her days. Leaving the bleak frozen human world behind is no loss to Feyre and nor really is leaving her ungrateful family except for the small detail of making a death bed pact to her mother that she would care for her sisters. Be-spelled for the journey she awakens in the Spring Court and the shock discovery that the beast who took her is none other than the Spring Courts own King, Tamlin.

Tamlin and his right hand fairy Lucian appear to be the only ones left in the Spring Court due to a curse that has diminished their kingdoms magic and for some weird reason left them all with permanent masquerade masques on.

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Yeah, I’ll concede that was a bit weird. As the story progresses it does become clear how the predicament came to be and while I understood the nefarious masques covering their faces was Maas’ attempt at getting the girl to fall in love with the Beast despite not knowing his real identity it felt a a bit contrived as a plot device to make the fairy hotties more mysterious and swoony. But swoony they were so I guess it worked.

If I had one critique about this book it would be that it shows more than tells which can be a good thing if done well but in this genre of book where you are thrown into a whole new fantasy universe I think a reader needs a little more telling. The story soon loses its Beauty and the Beast twist, especially when it is revealed Feyre can’t read or write (A Belle that can’t read?!) and becomes its own unique story with fairy shenanigans, mythical beasts, rescue missions, dungeons, quests, evil queens and the steamiest of love interests.

What I loved about this book was how flawed yet likable the characters were. They were complex and while they start out stereotypical ‘mean sisters’ ‘aloof, grumpy good King’ ‘dark menacing evil enforcer’ by the end of the book we are shown enough insights into these characters to understand who they are and why they are and even feel empathy for them. Feyre’s nasty sister and the evil Night Court Prince Rhysand were two of my favourite characters by the end of the book and I desperately hope they get their own chance to shine in a sequel.

This gorgeous and effortless to read book kicks off a new series that is going to captivate you from the beginning until the end. This book will appeal to a broad range of readers but especially those who enjoy high fantasy and re-imagined fairytales. The book does lean toward the New Adult side of Young Adult literature due to the sexual content.

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Book Review: Room by Emma Donoghue

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To five-year-old Jack, Room is the entire world. It is where he was born and grew up; it’s where he lives with his Ma as they learn and read and eat and sleep and play. At night, his Ma shuts him safely in the wardrobe, where he is meant to be asleep when Old Nick visits.

Room is home to Jack, but to Ma, it is the prison where Old Nick has held her captive for seven years. Through determination, ingenuity, and fierce motherly love, Ma has created a life for Jack. But she knows it’s not enough…not for her or for him. She devises a bold escape plan, one that relies on her young son’s bravery and a lot of luck. What she does not realize is just how unprepared she is for the plan to actually work.

Told entirely in the language of the energetic, pragmatic five-year-old Jack, ROOM is a celebration of resilience and the limitless bond between parent and child, a brilliantly executed novel about what it means to journey from one world to another.

Good literature is notoriously hard to define. Can a novel about such an ugly subject as sexual slavery be a ‘good book’ ? Why would someone want to read that? Obviously as the subject matter is so utterly vile there must be something more that makes one want to give such a book a chance to be good literature, that something needs to be aesthetically pleasing to make up for the ugly subject matter. That aesthetic quality then must lie in the writing. The Bone People is about child abuse, an ugly subject yet the writing is beautiful, it becomes good literature because the writing made it aesthetically appealing to read. The Lovely Bones is, in a similar theme to this book, about kidnap and rape but also about murder and violence. Ugly, ugly subjects but written in beautifully engaging ways that made these books good literature. So what of Room, another ugly subject. Was the writing beautiful enough to make up for it? I’m afraid that the answer is a resounding no from me.

There was nothing about this book I can call good literature, there wasn’t anything in the plot, the style of the writing, the characters drawn or the moral purpose to it that I found remotely appealing. This piece of literature, and I use that term loosely, stirred no deep feelings in my person other than ridiculousness and boredom. Literature needs to stir something inside, otherwise what is the point of reading fiction at all, go and read a travel brochure if you just want to ingest words. I did try to be fair when I started this book, it was as book club pick and I set about reading it with fair play in mind, I was open to discover something about what the book had to say even if I did find the topic distasteful. A fairly quick, if not entirely ludicrous, read I was done in a few hours but was left feeling those hours were stolen from me. I gave this book and the author my time, my incredibly precious reading time and was not at all rewarded for it. There was absolutely no intellectual content (it was narrated by a five year old for fucks sakes) no moral purpose, no resolution or even discussion toward the resolution of weighty issues, it did not engage my mind or my feelings, it provided no enrichment to my mind at all. In short this book served no cultural function other than to make me annoyed at myself for giving it the time of day.

I found Room poorly written on a number of levels, first and foremost it was just not very gripping, I’d say that was primarily down to Donoghue’s choice of a five year old as narrator but also in part to her plot structure- she just didn’t tell the story well. The unintelligible, inconsistent baby babble and fucked up tenses by the five year old made me want to claw my eyes out at times. It was quite possibly the worst narration by a child I have ever read. It wasn’t at all believable or stirring. If you want to read a book that is written from the perspective of a child that deals with heavy adult subject matter give What Maisie Knew by Henry James a try. This was a joke, a bit of POV narration by an incoherent and verbally inconsistent five year old may have been tolerable, may even have added an interesting dimension to the structure of the story. However an entire book of that kind of narration was indigestible and uninteresting because the reality is five year olds, and especially ones sheltered from life, are just not at all insightful or interesting people and no amount of creative and ridiculous word play by the author to make that five year old sound precocious is going to work.

There was a disconnect between the reality of the traumatic situation Ma and Jack lived in and and the way Donoghue chose to tell their story that left me with little emotion or opinions on their plight that should clearly have been there given the subject matter. There was a failure to explore deeper issues of reentering the world after such trauma and only very superficial issues such as property ownership between Ma and Jack were entertained. These were human beings held captive for many years while vile crimes of neglect and abuse were perpetrated against them, there are going to be issues, huge issues, none of which were touched on with any depth or explored in an intellectual way. It was a cop out as far as writing is concerned, I see Donoghue likes to write from varying and odd points of view so clearly this is her thing, however she failed miserably on this account to do such a subject matter any justice at all. In reading Room I was hoping to gain some degree of deeper insight into the suffering that these characters endured, I was wanting to be left with some new things to think about from the cultural examination of a very real issue in our society, in short I wanted to be moved emotionally and I wanted to think. For me Room failed on all accounts.

Penguin Classics Wallpaper

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What does a bibliophile decorate their library walls with? THIS!

I have discovered the most amazing wall paper pattern that ever was patterned. A collage of penguin classic titles, adorned with vintage titles from Katherine Mansfield’s The Garden Party to Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights.
This washable, patterned wallpaper is a little pricey as far as wallpapers go but it is the kind of delight you probably only want to do a feature wall in I’d imagine. Personally I’d love to see this come out as a cheaper craft paper, it would look fabulous in a frame just as an image, or in creating a mixed media art work.

From Osborne & Little

Introducing PENGUIN LIBRARY wallpaper, produced with the kind permission of Penguin.

Penguin is synonymous with beautiful design and has played an important role in the development of graphic design, typography and illustration for over 75 years. Its iconic triband book jacket has ingrained itself in public design consciousness, recognised around the world from London and New York to Beijing and Rio. This design heritage dates back to the origins of the company, when its founder Allen Lane launched the first ten paperbacks in 1935. They broke the mould in a
number of ways. First, they were designed for the masses and priced at 6d, the price of a packet of cigarettes. Second, they were quality titles, previously unobtainable unless you had significant money to spend or a library card. Third,
they were designed and packaged attractively in order to encourage not just traditional bookshops, but also railway stations, tobacconists and chain stores, to display them.

The Penguin tri-band design was the work of Edward Young, a 21 year-old office junior who went on to become the company’s first Production Manager, who was also dispatched to London zoo to sketch a penguin for the now well-recognised and much-loved logo. The template he created consisted of three horizontal stripes: upper and lower bands colourcoded by genre (orange for fiction, blue for biography, green for crime, cerise for travel and adventure, for example) and a central white panel containing the author and, of course, they came printed with the iconic Penguin logo. The distinctive simplicity was a radical departure from the more ornate approach of its competitors and spoke volumes about the new company.

This classic tri-band book cover design subtly changed in its early years. The Penguin imprint, initially Bodoni Ultra Bold, was substituted with Gill Sans typeface and the Penguin logo was re-drawn several times, gently evolving from the original life-like penguin seen on the Ariel cover, becoming a dancing penguin as shown on A Room of One’s Own, to the affable penguin featured on Brighton Rock which is similar to that used today. Two non-fiction titles Civilisation and Explosives are shown on the wallpaper, identified by the famous Pelican imprint logo and pale blue covers.

The PENGUIN LIBRARY wallpaper is a collage of front covers of those iconic early paperbacks from this famous publishing house and includes Ariel, the very first Penguin paperback published in 1935. The book covers were chosen for their diversity of colour and to illustrate the breadth of Penguin’s publishing backlist. Great care was taken in the design to truly represent the original paperbacks in all their, sometimes well-read and a little worn, glory. The resulting PENGUIN LIBRARY wallpaper is a glorious colourful ‘conversational piece’ which we hope will be received with as much affection as the books themselves.

Book Club

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One of the things I love most about book club, aside from the fabulously awesome  people, free flowing wine and scrumptious food, is the fact I get to read books I wouldn’t normally read. If left to my own devices I would quite joyfully consume a literary diet of nothing but YA dystopian, urban romance and classic gothic/romance literature. Since my wee book club started 18 or so months ago I have read a slew of books that were out of my preferred genre comfort zones. Some books I’ve admittedly quite disliked but some I’ve found surprisingly interesting, not a one of them though have I ever regretted reading, I’ve always taken something away from each book, even that weird book Think:Straight Talk for women in a dumbed down world. That book was first class horrible but even from that I learnt something, that being Sarah Palin’s make-up artist was the highest paid member of her political team, earning more money that her speech makers and policy team. What can I say, random factoids impress me. No book is ever a waste of your reading time. Unless it’s a 50 Shades of Grey book, you’re better off reading a supermarket docket than one of those to be perfectly honest. Thankfully no one in book club has decreed we read any Twilight fanfiction, I mean tales of fiddy- yet.

Junes book club read was The Beauty of Humanity Movement, a contemporary and culturally rich novel that bridges the genres between historical, urban and romance fiction. Set in modern day Vietnam the story weaves between the lives of old man H’ung, a Pho seller from Hanoi who is a self appointed guardian to the art and ‘humanity movement’ that was stamped out by the communist regimes of the 50’s, Maggie and American born Vietnamese art curator searching for her lost artist father, and Tu, H’ungs surrogate grandson and a local tour guide who is full of the ideals of the contemporary young Vietnamese. This is a story about art, politics, food, friendship and reclaiming artistic expression and culture.

While I didn’t find the book had that ‘it’ factor for me, nor move me emotionally at a level it did for some that read it in my book club I did enjoy the the central image of food that Gibb created, the connecting link of the Pho that bound the past to the present, the people to each other and to the very land itself. I think it’s quite apt that the beef broth of Pho is made from the marrow, the blood and the bone, they are what strengthen the soup and those whom consume it. That image plays as a clever metaphor for the binding strength the Pho brings to the people of Vietnam. The Pho is the marrow and the blood that runs through her peoples veins reflecting their country’s tumultuous history and various occupations (Rice noodles from the Chinese, Beef from the French). Taking elements that these cultures left behind and brewing a soup that was uniquely Vietnamese; simple, understated yet elegant, enduring and strong, was the moral to the tale really. When it comes to producing art, in a country that has had its artistic expression censored for years, where do you draw inspiration? Where does the influence come from, where is the history? Like the Pho the idea is you need your old, your history, and your new, your contemporary culture to influence you,  then infusing it with something completely unique you come to your art. It doesn’t stand alone, art is never without context. How difficult this must be though in a land that has been historically censored due to communism then opened up to the excess of the west, popular music, boybands, rap lyrics, street art. What a bombardment of artistic expression, feast to famine, and to balance that against the scant artistic expression of Vietnam’s history would be an imbalance indeed. It will be interesting to see how young contemporary Vietnamese art, music, cuisine and culture develop over the next few decades, if just to map the influences.

Like I mentioned at the start one of the other things I love about book club is the scrumptious food. Our host this month decided to do theme food THEME FOOD! I love theme food. I’m probably way more excited about theme food than I should be but I just love the kitschiness of it all, food that matches the book ups my excitement for the night to bonus level, extra life zone.  This is a sampling of our supper treats, my photos are a little blurry as I was trying to take iPhone snaps as the food went by with one hand and balance my glass of Red in the other, Olympic skills for the best of lushes I think. Obviously we had Pho, a DIY smorgasbord of thinly sliced beef, noodles and garnishing. There were prawn skewers (skewered on sugar cane stalks!) summer/spring rolls, dumplings, dim sum and two kinds of Moshi, a sweet Japanese rice treat in Peanut Butter and one in Green tea. It was all very pretty and equally delicious.

July’s book Club is Sister by Rosamund Lupton, actually my book pick even though it’s not technically a book I go for. I wanted to read a thriller/mystery for some reason, blame the bleak mid winter season perhaps, anyway this one had good reviews ad looked interesting.

The significance of Cake

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Goodness I haven’t made a blog entry since last Christmas, how rude of me. There is a good excuse in the offering though, that being that I have undertaken a Bachelor of Arts degree and am busy getting used to the new ebb and flow of my life with full time university study and full time parenting of half a dozen or so dependent children. First semester was a whir of adjustment, fun and busyness capped off with some butterfly inducing exams and I am now in the midst of my mid semester break… along with those half a dozen or so aforementioned dependent children, so ‘break’ is actually a bit of a stretch.

At this point I’m working toward a double major in English and Social Anthropology with minors in History and Classics. I have no goal for when I grow up, I’m basically taking papers that interest me and I want to learn more about, that is the advantage I suppose of being an adult student, no pressure to ‘be something’ or to complete a degree you aren’t terribly invested in just because, well, just because you need a degree. I do have a loose ambition to write, what I’m not entirely sure, I quite fancy food writing as you can probably already deduct from this blog but I also quite fancy writing fiction. My husband thinks if I want to write I should just write, I suppose I could, but I doubt I’d be very good at it. I wouldn’t suggest to him he just go out and build a house if that’s what he wanted to do, you do in fact need a few skills to construct things, just as you need a few skills to write things. So skills I am a getting.

One of my double semester courses is a creative writing paper, the first semester just gone was all about Poetry, the second that I am about to start soon is on fiction. This is what I have learnt so far; Poetry is hard. I actually thought it would be a piece of piss, pour my feelings out on a piece of paper, make it sound a bit posh and wordy and voila, poem! Apparently not. Poetry it turns out is rarely about feelings, it might have an emotional center but those emotions are not often those of the poet, they are those of the poems speaker. The speaker can be any persona the poet wishes, man, woman, old, young, happy, sad, anyone, the skill of the poet is to convince the reader of that personona’s words, that the emotional center is genuine and how they do that is with well crafted words. Constructing a good poem is incredibly complex and involves much editing and honing and even then it may be technically perfect but missing that emotional center, as Sylvia Plath laments in her magnificant poem Stillborn,  that gives the poem life. I actually did learn a bit more than just poetry is hard, after all was said and done I came away with a B for my poetry portfolio which wasn’t too shabby I suppose. The critique was a little hard to stomach for my poems, as even though they aren’t based on my inner feelings or even about me at all, they are from me, they were creative works I brought forth with as much creative energy as I would put into producing a painting- and I don’t take critique very well on those either just so you know.

I have decided to be brave and share one of my favourite poems from my portfolio, in part because it was inspired by the title of this blog but also because I just like the way the words work. My tutor said the emotional center for this poem is ‘a little vague’ and some of the syntax I used plays into the cliche of the poems image (bun in the oven) but he liked my imagery very much and encouraged me to keep revising this one as it had promise. I don’t think I will, I am happy enough with it.

  Labour of Cake

She turns the pages

of the grease stained book

with scribbles in the margins,

carefully measuring

the love notes between generations,

the torn pages misaligned

with yellow tape obscuring

ounces and pounds.

 

The Kitchen aid,

toffee apple red and surgical steel,

chews up sugar and butter with

medical precision.

And she reads on,

lost,

in a pethidine daydream

of perfect pies and pretty plates.

 

Emulsified batter sits in tins

spring-formed, awaiting heat.

And she sits.

And she waits.

And she peers

through double glazed glass

at her half-baked batter child,

incubating,

in a uterus of enameled steel.

 

Resisting urges

primal

to peek at the progress,

control the process,

manage no less.

Weighing on salter scales

industrial marvels that accelerate and augment

against insight passed down in indelible ink.

 

She lets go,

surrendering.

Trusting the old.

Trusting the new.

Trusting the cake

for it knows how to bake.

She returns to the well worn book

her cake cooling at her side,

and in the margins she writes

for the next labour of cake.

 

The extended metaphor is a little obvious, as I’ve already mentioned it’s the cliche bun in the oven, but when I set about writing it my emotional center was actually, surprise, surprise about a person wanting cake. I’m a simple girl, what can I say. Anyway, one of my tutors comments was a little humourous if not completely offending, he said “I don’t really think this poem can be about just baking – there’s no significance there”. I beg yours, no significance in baking a cake? There is a universe of significance in baking a cake… it’s CAKE! And on that note I shall leave you with one of my favourite cakes, lemon yoghurt cake, this cake could end wars I am quite sure. No significance indeed.

Recipe

2C Self raising flour (280gms)
3 eggs
1C Caster sugar (200gms)
Juice and Zest of 1 Lemon
1tsp Vanilla extract
1C plain, thick, unsweetened Greek Yoghurt
1/2C light oil (125ml)

Beat eggs, sugar and oil together until pale and light. Add lemon zest, juice and vanilla and beat again.Add yoghurt and sift in the flour. Mix to comine and until batter is smooth but don’t over mix.
Bake for 40 minutes at 180C (320F) in a 23cm spring form pan.
Let cool for 10 minutes then turn out onto a rack. dust with icing sugar and serve with a dollop of greek yoghurt, some lemon zest and a drizzle of runny honey.

Pepernoten/Kruidnoten for Sinterklaas Day

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My children are half Dutch which provides me with a convenient excuse each Christmas to make and partake of the Netherlands delicious array of spicy, seasonal baked goods.

December 5th is Sinterklaas eve and in exchange for a wilted carrot left on the hearth St Nicholas will come and fill all your well worn and abandoned converse with sweets and treats. This year he left some home made Kruidnoten nuggets to nibble upon as well.

Now while this recipe is labeled Pepernoten in my little Dutch cookbook they are in point of fact, Kruidnoten. Apparently there’s are important distinctions between the two; though often even the Dutch themselves interchange the two names. They both have a slightly different recipe and blend of spices, are a different shape- Pepernoten are irregular, Kruidnoten are round, and are a different shade of golden colour.

Kruidnoten

  • 200gm Butter
  • 1C brown sugar
  • 5 tsp of Speculaas spice or 1/2 a tsp each of the spices listed below
  • 2C flour
  • 2tsp baking powder
  • 1/2C Milk warmed with a a star anise in it

Cream the butter, sugar and spices. Add the flour and baking powder and half the milk (after taking out the star anise). The mixture should come together in a dough ball. If it’s too dry keep adding a little bit more milk a Tblsp at a time until it comes together. Turn out and knead into a ball. Divide in two and wrap each in cling film. Chill in the fridge for around 2 hours.
Heat the oven to 160C and spray and line a baking tray. Pull little bits of dough off and roll into marble sized balls. Space the balls onto the baking tray and bake for around 15 minutes or until a dark golden colour. The biscuits should be quite hard and dry when done.

Spice blend

  • Cinnamon
  • Cardamon
  • Corriander
  • Nutmeg
  • Mace
  • All Spice
  • Ginger
  • Ground Cloves

I felt this was an appropriate song for this blog entry. Boots from The Killer’s RED Christmas Album. The song features dialogue from the Christmas movie It’s a Wonderful Life and is just lovely.

I can see my mother in the kitchen.
My father on the floor
Watching televsion
It’s a wonderful life

 

Kate Bush And Indian Spiced Gingerbread Reindeers

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I kicked off my holiday baking today with a really delicious recipe that came out last year with the food networks 12 days of Christmas Cookies,  Garam Masala Chocolate Gingerbread by Aarti Sequeira.
They are a nice soft gingerbread biscuit and the spice blend compliments so well with the cocoa, or the cocoa brings out the spices, either way it’s a really lovely combination.

It is fairly easy to buy Garam Masala blends here but in case it is not where you are there are a ton of recipes on the internet to make your own. This is what was in the blend I used- Nutmeg, Coriander, Cumin, Fennel, Cardamom, Cinnamon, Ginger, Black pepper and Red pepper.

Ingredients

  • 3 cups all purpose flour, plus for dusting
  • 2/3 cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon fine salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons Garam Masala
  • 12 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature (1 1/2 sticks)
  • 3/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 cup Treacle

Directions

Combine the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, salt, and garam masala in a large bowl. Set aside.

Cream the butter and sugar until light then add the fresh ginger and egg and beat again. Add the treacle and continue to beat until fully incorporated. Add the flour mixture a cup at a time until the dough comes together. It’s a slightly wet dough. Divide the dough in half wrap in plastic wrap, and pat into 2 (1/2-inch thick) rectangles. Chill for at least 2 hours and up to overnight.

Preheat the oven to 180C (350F). Lightly dust a clean work surface with flour, roll out and cut into shapes. Chill for 10 minutes. Bake for around 12 minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool completely. Ice with Royal Icing. Garnish with toasted fennel seeds, dried rose petals, or silver dragees. I used crushed Candy Canes because that is all I had. My cupboards are currently sprinkleless. It does make my reindeers look a little like they were standing too close to their mama while she had her brains blown out with a .22 though. Might also have had something to do with my musical influences at the time of baking. Read on to see what they were.

Royal Icing

  • 1 1/2 tablespoons egg white powder
  • 3 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 4 tablespoons water

Combine all the ingredients in a medium bowl. Beat with an electric hand mixer over medium-high speed until it forms thick and glossy peaks, about 6 minutes.

While I baked I was listening to Kate Bush’s new Christmas Album, 50 words for Snow. Despite the fact it was around 26C and the most stunning of summery days here in New Zealand this album really put me in the christmassy mood that is required for such off the beaten path baking adventures. It is a very Gothic like Christmas album, though would you really expect anything less from Kate Bush? It’s not sleigh bells and winter wonderlands and Sarah McLachlan like Rivers to skate away on- what the hell is that song about anyway? It’s Abominable Snowmen, Ghosts, Angels, Water Spirits and snowcrophilia (I made that word up, it means bumping uglies with a snowman) it is all things that make up the delightfully creepy side of the Yule tide season. This is the album you listen too while reading a Dickens tale or hanging your Jack Skellington decorations on the tree or baking gingerbread with warm and musky Indian spices. Do add it to your seasonal collection, I think it’s probably one of her best yet.

Film Review: Breaking Dawn Part 1

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Considering I fell asleep during the last 30 minutes of Eclipse from acute boredom it is safe to say I did not have high expectations for the latest film adaptation in the Twilight series. The most horrible of the horrible books come to life on the big screen. Yay, right?

Well quelle surprise, get this- I actually enjoyed it.

However the opening scene did leave me regretting my decision not to purchase a couple of bottles of Shiraz from the bar before I sat down. It was some typically awful Ashley Greene/Kristen Stewart scene where the wigs were ridiculous, the acting horrendous and the blinking and stuttering a traumatic reminder of rubbish films past.

To my thankful delight though things picked up not long after and I spent the first half of the film having some genuine laughs. Intentional laughs I should add, there were some unintentional laughs in the second half but we’ll get to that in time.

The Wedding speeches were gloriously funny. Billy Burke (Charlie) and Sarah Clarke (Renee) gave wonderful performances as Bella’s parents adding humour and emotion to what could have been a terribly cheesy wedding. The Forks kids shone as they always do, Michael Welch (Mike) and Anna Kendrick (Jessica) were charmingly funny. Jessica’s wedding speech ,the dialogue over the cake and her speculation on whether Bella would be ‘showing’ had the whole cinema rolling with laughter.

The wedding dress was quite gorgeous, I didn’t follow much of the pre-release hoopla so I’m not sure if the dress design was a closely guarded secret but I’ve searched google images and can’t see any pictures of it yet. The dress was very simple in design, almost Renaissance looking in it’s long, ivory elegance. She most definitely didn’t look like a meringue at any rate.

The scene at the wedding with returning Jacob was actually pretty touching and quite true to the book. In fact the whole film was very much true to the book, perhaps the most unaltered one so far. Taylor Lautner has grown up a lot since the first Twilight film and this seeps through in his acting, there is a definite aura of maturity and wisdom about him in this film.

The honeymoon. Ah the honeymoon, I was looking forward to this with equal parts cringe and shameful anticipation. Stephanie Meyer dragged out the courtship of Edward and Bella over four ridiculous books (and films) and now it’s payday. We get to see Edward finally get his end off after 109 years of virginal purity. The whole thing was quite tastefully done and included all the best bits the twihards love- that being the headboard breaking, the pillow biting and the feather apocalypse. I loved the whole chess game montage where Bella tries to ‘win the game’ and get Edward back in the sack following his decision never to touch her again after seeing the bruises he left on her during their first consummation. Kristen Stewart really does have an enviable wee body and it was put on full display in some very cute honeymoon nighties courtesy of the self appointed Cullen fashion police, Alice. You will want to immediately start starving yourself after seeing her in the little baby blue sheer number.

Now Kristen Stewart is tiny enough in real life but once she was knocked up with the sparkly vampire semen she became a virtual walking skeleton. An incredible job was done by the make up and special effects people on withering her away to skin and bone. Stewart pulled off the emotional vulnerability of going through a high risk pregnancy with aplomb. She admirably captured that heartbreaking netherworld of hope for your unborn child’s safety when things look grim and beyond all help. There was one scene where Bella was having her broken ribs x-rayed and she is yelled at by Edward for not giving them a future, such a dick. He walks out and she is left alone on the examination bed, frail, emaciated and so alone in her fight. I actually wiped some tears from my eyes. Go ahead and mock, but it was quite heartbreaking.

It’s about now that the laughs were in places they probably shouldn’t have been. There was the whole scene of the werewolves having a discussion over killing the unborn Ness monster. It was all so laughably horrible. Sadly none of the wolf people had improved their acting and I say sadly because they are actually my favourite characters from the books. I’m definitely team wolf but the high school acting of the chosen furies did let the film down.

My favourite part of Breaking Yawn, I mean Dawn, were the Jacob narrated chapters in the middle section. There was some incredibly witty and sarcastic dialogue that Stephanie Meyer wrote for him and his wolfy friends and I’m a little sad not much of it made it into the film. I guess the dilemma in splitting an incredibly boring book into two feature films is that the film makers need to fabricate some sort of cinematic climax toward the end of the first film (hell they’re going to have to fabricate something for the second one as well when it comes to it). This came in the form of a Wolf on Vampire mini battle just as Bella has her home c-section courtesy of Edwards vampire teeth.

All is called off when they discover Jacob has imprinted on the baby Ness Monster. I was quite dreading the imprinting scene. Imprinting is the most horrific and scary thing I’ve ever read in Young Adult Fiction and I was not particularly looking forward to seeing it in the flesh so to speak. Again I was pleasantly surprised to see this was handled quite well, dare I say even naturally.

The actresses chosen to represent Renesmee, from the infant to the teenager were remarkably stunning looking and exactly what you would imagine the child of Edward and Bella to look like.                                                                                                                            This is what happens when you cast according to book character description and not to whom you are friends with coughcatherinehardwicknikkireedcough.

The transformation scene carried directly on from the grissly birth fiasco and Bella turns from a broken, emaciated, sallow skinned scrag to a beautiful, porcelain skinned siren complete with fabulous eye make up and new hair do.

The film ends with Bella opening her red vampire eyes to the world in a scene that could have been straight from lost.

All in all a pretty entertaining film that I genuinely enjoyed. Please don’t not see this one based on your previous experience with twilight films or the twihard hype that follows them. This is a stand alone enjoyable film that is quite different from the others so far and I think people will be surprised by it.

Here is my Breaking Dawn related baking project. I was thinking of making a chess piece cookie but alas I didn’t have a chess piece cookie cutter. What I did have were 1 billion Christmas cookie cutters, some ninjabread men, a gnome, a fairy and a dinosaur. I went with the dinosaur and made some interpretive Ness monster gingerbread cookies. Please note the auburn curls of an angel.

Gingerbread Nessie Monsters

  • 125gm Soft Butter
  • 1/3C Brown Sugar
  • 1/4C Golden syrup
  • 1  Egg
  • 2C Flour
  • 1tsp Baking Powder
  • 1/2tsp Baking Soda
  • 1tsp Ground Ginger
  • 1/2tsp Ground All Spice
  • 1/2tsp Ground Nutmeg
  • 1tsp Ground Cinnamon

Pre heat oven to 180C/360F

Cream the butter, sugar and golden syrup until light and fluffy. Add the egg and beat until combined. Add the flour, baking powder, baking soda and spices and mix until dough comes together. Turn onto a floured surface and roll out into a 1/4 inch disc. Cut out Loch Ness Monster shapes, add some hair and bake about 10 minutes or until golden.

Ice with pipeable consistency royal icing.

Glazed Gingerbread Muffins

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I’ll pretty much consume anything if it has the word Gingerbread in it. There is just something about the word that evokes fairy tale images of icing sugar dusted cottages and Christmas cosiness. As much as I’d like to block out the rapidly approaching season and immerse myself in all things Spring and new it’s hard to escape the Northern hemispheres deluge of representation on the internet and all their talk of Autumn and pumpkins, gingerbread and spices.

During a burst of seasonal and Springly euphoria a few weeks ago I made a few batches of Lemon curd. I now have about a gallon of jarred lemony gold in my pantry that is only getting used on toast and scones. What can I do with all this Lemon Curd? I asked myself. Lemon Meringue pie would be a natural assumption but I am still feeling a little intimidated on the lemon meringue front after seeing the film Toast (which by the way is absolutely adorable and everyone should watch it) and the sky scrapper high piles of fluffy meringue the props people managed to construct for it. I don’t think I could ever produce a pie like that, hats off to you Nigel Slater.

What goes with Lemon? Ginger goes with lemon. What is the best way to consume ginger? Gingerbread of course. So I wanted something quick for pudding, I couldn’t be arsed making icing so a gingerbread muffin with a lemon curd filling and glaze it was.

Wet Ingredients

  • 100gm Butter
  • 1/4C Golden Syrup
  • 1Tblsp Black-strap Molasses
  • 1/2C Milk
  • 1 Large egg
  • 1Tblsp Fresh grated ginger

Dry Ingredients

  • 2C Flour
  • 3/4C Brown Sugar
  • 2tsp Baking Powder
  • 1/2tsp Baking Soda
  • 1tsp Cinnamon
  • 1tsp Ground Ginger
  • 1/2tsp Ground Cloves
  • 1/2tsp Nutmeg
  • 1/2tsp All Spice

Method

Melt the first four ingredients together in a saucepan. let cool then beat in the fresh root ginger and the egg.

Toss together flour, baking powder, baking soda and spices in another bowl.

Add wet ingredients to dry and fold together until just mixed, don’t over stir, flecks of flour are okay.

Line a 12 pice muffin tray with papers and half fill each one with batter. Using a teaspoon dipped in water make a little indent in the batter with the back of the teaspoon and fill with 1tsp of lemon curd. Cover the lemon curd with enough batter to seal. Alternatively, if you have the skills, you can posthumously fill your muffins with a pipping bag and Bismarck piping nozzle. I do not have the skills therefore I use the aforementioned antiquated and convoluted method.

Bake at 200C for 10-12 minutes.

Glaze as soon as you take the muffins from the oven and they are still hot.

Glaze

  • 25gm Butter
  • 1tsp Ground Ginger
  • 2tsp Golden syrup
  • 2tsp Lemon curd
  • 2tsp water
  • 1/4C Icing sugar

Warm together in a saucepan until a brushable consistency. Brush glaze over hot muffins.