Super Foods and Me

27 Oct

There was an article in the Herald Sun newspaper here in Melbourne yesterday on how so called “super foods” are heading our diets.

There was a rather snippy comment from a dietician about people not having to spend a lot on good food; that regular fruit, vegetables and grains were just as good.

I would like to point out to the dietician and the reporter and anyone else who read the article that not everyone buys super foods for their unproven abilities.  Mostly I buy them for taste.  I don’t care how super something is, I am not going to eat it if it tastes awful.  Goji berries come to mind.  One company covers them with dark chocolate and tries to flog them that way.  As far as I am concerned, all that does is ruin perfectly good chocolate.

The article mentioned the six most popular super foods as follows:

Kale - yes, I eat this.  But only in the winter in my soups.  I am amazed that anyone actually eats it raw in salads as it is as tough as buggery.  Though maybe that’s the idea.  Chewing as exercise.  And as for juicing it!  *shudders*  I think the most disgusting thing I’ve ever drunk was a sample of kale juice I was offered by a hawker a few months ago.  Yuk doesn’t even begin to cover it.

Cacao – Another yes.  It is one of the expensive super foods, but it is worth the price.  I pay $19.95 for 450gms of Australian Certified Organic Ecuadorian cacao which tastes a hundred times better than the mass produced cocoa you can get at the supermarket.  Also there is no added sugar and shit.  I use cacao to make my own hot chocolate, chocolate cakes, pear & cacao compote, and come the warmest days of summer, chocolate smoothies.

Chia seeds – Another big yes,  These delicious little seeds are a staple in my pantry.  Mostly used in my homemade bread and as a crunchy sprinkle on my breakfast.  I love the way they swell and ooze a yummy gel when they get wet.

Coconut Water – Haven’t really got into this at all.  However, I did spot coconut water with pomegranate at the supermarket at the weekend, so snagged one to try.  Pomegranate is one of my favourite fruits, so if this tastes good, this blend could become a regular part of my diet.

Spinach – Possibly my favourite green (next to chard).  Most versatile leafy green in my crisper.  Salads, soups, stir fries, pastas and curries.  If there is every a spinach shortage I may well have a nervous breakdown.

Berries – Oh hell YES!  Strawberries in particular.  Also blackberries, blueberries, and, when I can afford them, raspberries.  A big favourite for breakfasts, either fresh or in compotes.  Add them to smoothies.  I love them as a light lunch with a few lightly salted crackers and cheese.

The thing is, apart from the cacao, none of these so called super foods are really that expensive.  One of our supermarkets, Coles, does their own in house line of seeds and grains, so I can get chia seeds and quinoa (also for my bread) at reasonable prices.  Spinach is probably one of the cheapest green vegetables on the market.  Kale is reasonably priced here too.  If you buy berries seasonally then they’re not too expensive either.  Except raspberries.  Even in season they cost a bloody fortune!  I think the growers must be fertilizing the things with powdered bloody gold!

I personally don’t believe that super foods are a gimmick.  Like anything else, it doesn’t make good health sense just to live on them.  But part of a balanced diet they add a richness and a delicious fillip to your meals.

The Severed Streets

16 Oct

Quill, Costain, Sefton and Ross are back for their second outing in Paul Cornell’s “The Severed Streets”.

In this, the second book of the Shadow Police series, the team have to deal with the return of Jack the Ripper.  Yes, the Ripper is back, but this time he’s targeting white men.  When one particular man is killed, it stops being police work and becomes very personal.  They’ll kick down the doors of Hell itself to get the answers… and vengeance.

In this book we learn a lot more about the Sight and how this occult world that Cornell has created works.

We also meet two fantastic new characters in the shape of The Rat King… and Neil Gaiman.  The wonderful Mr Gaiman has allowed himself to be turned into a character, and I think we’ll be seeing more of him in future books.  What he does you’ll have to read the book for yourself to find out.  Let’s just say it is NOT a cameo appearance by any means.

“The Severed Streets” has all the bounce and verve of “London Falling” as well as massive character development, and some seriously wicked repartee.

If you loved “London Falling” then you won’t be disappointed by its sequel.

Highly recommended to all lovers of police procedurals, urban fantasy, and horror.

The Last King of Lydia

12 Oct

My good friend Andy on the Good Reads site recommended this book to me.

Written by Tim Leach, “The Last King of Lydia” is about Croesus, King of Lydia who had the reputation of being the richest man in the world.  In fact, we still refer to someone as being “as rich as Croesus.”  And as anyone who has read Herodotus knows Croesus went to war against Cyrus the Great of Persia and lost.

I found it a little hard to get into, mostly because Croesus is an unlikeable sod.  However, I persevered and ultimately became caught up in the story.

I know the story of Croesus from my reading of Herodotus, so nothing that happened in the story came as a real surprise.What I liked about the book was the philosophical themes of it.  Hubris.  Freedom vs slavery.  The nature of slavery.  The nature of freedom.  All of which combined to make “The Last King of Lydia” a very absorbing and thought provoking read.

It is also hard to believe that this is the debut novel of Tim Leach.  The book feels like a master work after years of writing.  I can only anticipate what his next book is going to be like.
I heartily recommend “The Last King of Lydia” to anyone who enjoys historical fiction and anyone who has read and enjoyed Herodotus.

Down These Strange Streets

29 Sep

The book “Down These Strange Streets” (edited by George R. R. Martin) is touted as “urban fantasy” which is something I will take issue with.  Several of the stories are by prominent writers of historical fiction and the stories are to me, historical mysteries NOT urban fantasy.

For it to be urban fantasy the stories all need to have the frisson of the unexplained – ghoulies and ghosties and long-legged beasties, and things that go bump in the night.

A number of stories fit that category, the vampires in Charlaine Harris’ story “Death by Dahlia” for example.  And S. M. Stirling’s creepy story “Pain and Suffering”.  But my favourite stories were, in actuality, straight out historical mystery fiction.  I have seen all the authors in mystery anthologies many times before.  Not to mention having read their full length novels.

Steven Saylor’s Gordianus the Finder as a young man solving a murder in the ancient city of Babylon in the story “Styx and Stones”.  A nice story that is more “Hounds of the Baskervilles” in its outcome than “Dracula”.

Diana Gabaldon’s wonderful Lord John Grey is out and about in Jamaica in “Lord John and the Plague of Zombies”.  The title explains the story.  Never mind Outlander, Diana needs to give us more Lord John.

But the story that delighted me the most was John Maddox Roberts’ story “Beware the Snake” using his delightful creation Decius Caecilius from the SPQR mystery series.  This story, whilst having a wonderful mystery involving a stolen sacred snake, (no ghosts, no vampires, no werewolves and no bloody zombies) had some of the funniest laugh out loud moments of any story I have read in ages.  Quote:

“The Claudians,” I observed, “are a family of insane hereditary criminals.”

“Look out!” Julia cried.  “He has a snake!  And he’ll use it!”

Pretty much sums up the book, really.

A good selection of stories, but if you go into expecting urban fantasy you will be disappointed.  The creep factor is quite low on the ground and the mystery/crime factor is quite high.  But if you enjoy well written short stories, regardless of genre, you will enjoy this book.

The Wit and Wisdom of Boris Johnson

16 Sep

I am always a little wary of books bearing the title “The Wit and Wisdom of (insert celebrity of choice here)”.  The majority of the time the person in question has very little wit and even less wisdom.  The book is usually little more than an excruciatingly painful (for the reader) way to cash in on the pseudo-celebrity’s current popularity.

“The Wit and Wisdom of Boris Johnson” is pretty much the exception.

For those that don’t know, Boris was an English journalist and politician who is now Mayor of London.  He hadn’t blipped on my radar until he visited Melbourne, Australia last year.  Suddenly this man was in our televisions and in our newspapers.  He came across as someone with immense personality and character.

As this book by Harry Mount shows, Boris certainly has both by the bucket loads.

Boris has a very polarizing personality.  You are either going to like him or hate him, so this book may not be for you.  He is no respecter of that hirsute behemoth ‘political correctness’.

Some examples of his quotations to help you make up your mind:

“All politicians in the end are like crazed wasps in a jam jar, each individually convinced that they are going to make it.”

“As Henry VIII discovered with at least two of his wives, this is the perfect place to bring an old flame.” – on the arrival of the Olympic flame at the Tower of London.

“More than anything I can remember, the Games have moved us and brought us together.  Total strangers have been talking to each other on the Tube. It is as though the city has been crop-dusted with serotonin.” – on the 2012 Olympics.

“In the words of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, my life is like the giant rat of Sumatra, a story for which the world is not yet prepared.” – on the subject of a biography of himself.

Love him or hate him, Boris certainly has a lot of interesting things to say.

Christmas Cakes in September…and Memories of Cakes Past

14 Sep

I went into the Coles supermarket at the Victoria Gardens mall here in Melbourne on Saturday and got a nasty shock whilst traversing the bakery department.  There, sitting quietly in their own display bin were Christmas cakes.  Not simply plain fruit cakes such as are available all year.  Oh no, these were iced up all pretty with the words “Merry Christmas” endorsed across the top.

I scampered quickly through the department, my mind reeling in horror.  It’s only the second week in bloody September!  How can they justify placing Christmas cakes on sale now?  I consoled myself with the thought that, maybe, just maybe, it was an isolated incident.

I. Was. Wrong.

Yesterday I went into the local Woolworths supermarket, again having to journey through their bakery department to get to my destination.  To my incredulous horror Woolworths was even worse than Coles.  I couldn’t see Christmas cakes BUT there were Christmas puddings stacked in festive little piles,   And mince pies.  Including imported English mince pies, just to give the whole affair an international flavour.

And those bloody ubiquitous rum balls.  God knows why supermarkets seem to associate rum balls purely with Christmas.  Just about every woman in my family has their own personal variation on rum balls which are produced at every family get together.  The rum levels vary from “Are you sure there’s actual rum in this?” to “Jesus! Did you drown these in a bloody distillery?”  My mother’s were at the distillery end of the spectrum.  Between the balls and mum’s boiled fruitcake, the local bottle shop tended to run out of rum before December 24th.  Most of it was in mum’s baked goods.  Never mind “peace and goodwill”, when my mother distributed her festive fare to the neighbours the usual result was “pissed and insensible”.

My father, bless him, was not a heavy drinker.  The occasional beer after a hard day’s work, and a whisky on special occasions.  Two slices of my mum’s Christmas cake tended to leave him sleeping on the couch for most of Christmas Day!  Friend’s were wise.  When they came to have a drink and nibbles with us on Christmas morning, they would carefully take a piece of cake home with them.  Eating it before driving could result in the loss of your driver’s license if the cops caught you.  My mother’s cake should have come with an official police warning.

Not that mum could see that her cake was borderline lethal.  She didn’t drink, apart from the occasional glass of sherry, and rarely did more than nibble at a tiny piece of her cake, so she never got the full belt of it.  One of my enduring memories of her cake preparations is the finished cake sitting in its tin, whilst mum stabbed it viciously with a knitting needle, then poured rum down the holes!  This was done several times in the run up to Christmas Day.  When you lifted the lid of the tin the escaping vapours were enough to get you completely shickered.

I learned young to avoid her cake  After getting comprehensively sloshed on a slice of it at age six.  I still view any fruit cake as being intrinsically evil and not to be trusted.

The same way I view anyone trying to sell me Christmas goodies three months before Christmas.

Books for Children in Chuuk, Micronesia

27 Aug

A post was shared in a book group on Facebook that I belong to, that I would like to share with you:

“Hello lovely people. I’m about to beg, please don’t change the channel.

The school that I’m working at doesn’t have any reading books. The children in my class, when asked what they want to do after school have all said they want to read books.

If anyone has one old book suitable for ages 10-14 and a spare fiver in their pocket to post it, it would make some very happy kids. And one overjoyed Mr Roger.

The address is
Roger Wotherspoon
c/o Worldteach
PO Box 42
Federated States of Micronesia.

I can’t give you anything for your generosity, apart from thanks and the warm gooey feeling in your chest, and my gratitude. Maybe a picture of one of my kids reading your book.

Spread the word the next big charity will be ‘Books for Chuuk.’ “

It is really terrible to me, a woman who grew up with a massive love for the written word, that there are children out there who want to read, but have nothing to read. 

This weekend, I intend visiting local opportunity shops in my area to see what I can find to send to them.  Many of my blog posts are of book reviews, so I know that you, my lovely readers, are also big fans of books too.  If you have just one book you could send Roger, I know he would be grateful.  There is no greater pleasure than being able to put a smile of joy on a child’s face.


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