Friday, January 29, 2010
Saturday, January 23, 2010
Maybe it is the after-effect of reading 'Colours' and realising how little I know about the natural world but this week I have been curiously attracted to finding out more about the animal kingdom. I've been reading Gerald Durrell's charming 'My Family and Other Animals' and earlier in the week we went to see Museum Victoria's new permanent exhibition, 'Wild: Amazing Animals in a Changing World'. Talk about bio-diversity! Over 170 mammals, reptiles and birds from all over the world all displayed from floor to ceiling in one big room.
The exhibition works on a number of levels the most obvious being scale. This mass display of animals does more than any book or television show ever could to give you a real-life sense of scale. Where else are you going to see a yak next to a bear next to a wolf next to a squirrel? There is also a certain poignancy about the exhibition with each animal labelled as extinct, endangered, vulnerable, or secure. For me the most powerful examples of this were the now extinct Tasmanian Tiger so beautifully preserved and the Thai dwarf (?) rhinoceros which has been in the museum's collection since 1884. There are now only 50 known adults in the wild. If you get the chance go and see it and be amazed.
- In the nineteenth century, grey lead pencils were first painted bright yellow for the American market as a subtle marketing tool. The graphite in the pencils came from a mine near the Chinese border with Siberia and and the yellow was a reference to the Manchu imperial robes and hence the mysterious East.
- White lead paint was still in common use on/in houses as well as in works of art until just before World War 1 when titanium paint was invented.
- Cochineal bugs live on prickly pear plants.
- The recipe for the orange varnish used on Stradivarius violins has been lost.
- The first analine dyestuff (that's pretty much all we use now) was not invented until 1856 when William Perkin made 'mauve' while trying to find a synthetic alternative to quinine to cure malaria.
- Denim is so called becaused it was cloth from Nimes (serge de Nimes). The pants later became known as jeans after the Genoese sailors who transported the cloth.
- The sky is blue because the blue/violet rays have the smallest wavelengths and bounce off the hydrogen and oxygen molecules in the atmosphere whereas the larger red wavelengths sail right through
Isn't the world an amazing place? I could go on (and on and on...). It made me realise (again) that there is so much that I do not know about the world and how we have arrived at the point we are today. Many of the places Finlay visited are plagued by wars and proverty. Many of the people she spoke to have lost touch with their own cultural heritage in just a few generations which means that even more of these amazing inventions and discoveries are being lost. Being the good story teller that she is, however, she always manages to track someone down who knows someone who knows someone who holds the answer to the riddle.If you feel like expanding your historical and geographical knowledge of the world give this book a whirl!
Sunday, January 17, 2010
Tessa Kiros' Chocolate and Cranberry Cookies
75g butter, softened
50g soft brown sugar
few drops of vanilla extract
160g plain flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
110g dark semi-sweet chocolate, roughly chopped
50g dried cranberries
Preheat oven to 190C (375F) and line two baking trays with baking paper. Cream butter and sugar, mix in egg and vanilla. Sift in flour and baking powder with a pinch of salt. Beat with a wooden spoon to make a soft sandy mixture. Stir through chocolate and cranberries.
Lightly moisten your hands and roll teaspoons of mixture into balls. Arrange on trays leaving room for spreading. Bake for 12-15 mins or until golden in centre and darkening on edges. Remove from oven but leave on tray to cool and firm up.
Makes 30 small biscuits.
Friday, January 8, 2010
On Christmas Eve eve, however, things started to go a bit pear-shaped. We had a terrible night with Henry coughing and gasping for air. We had him on the puffer and ventilator regularly all night and no-one got a wink of sleep. We were all up and dressed by 5am and heading for the Maroondah Hospital when he got a second wind so we waited until 7am and took him to the GP. He was put on antibiotics for a chest infection and we were told to keep up the Ventolin for his asthma.
Christmas Eve we had a special lunch (menu chosen by Isabella & Henry) of roast chicken, golden potatoes, honeyed carrots and green beans with lemon and almonds. This was supposed to be followed by the plum pudding we made together the previous week and the baby pavlovas Henry and I had made the previous day but everyone decided that they had already had an elegant sufficiency. Henry was a bit pasty and shaky from all the Ventolin but otherwise seemed a bit better.
Christmas morning was lovely with all the present opening and checking to see if Santa had eaten his pudding. We had planned to go down to Phillip Island for a few days but decided that lunch might be a better option as we were all so tired and we wanted Henry to be in familiar surroundings. So off we trotted for Christmas lunch. No sooner was lunch finished than Henry took a real turn for the worse and Tom's sister Alice suggested we get him to hospital (she's a nurse). We bolted back to Ringwood my heart in my mouth and my eyes on the rear-view mirror. I took him straight to Emergency where we stayed for the next 5 or 6 hours. Following a chest x-ray the doctor suggested that the Ventolin wasn't working as the problem wasn't really asthma but a severe chest infection (which turned out to be pneumonia).
A few days went by and Henry started to get better so Tom wanted to go back to Phillip Island. For some reason I just had the most enormous panic attack ( I hadn't really slept for a few days by this time and had been missing Mum & Dad and worrying about all the work we still had to do at their house) so I decided that I would follow them down in my own car to have a bit of time on my own and to have my own escape vehicle if necessary! So off they went and I puddled about a bit and got ready to go. For some reason I decided to top up the oil in my car as I have a slow leak in one othe seals but not only did I use the wrong oil but I put in far too much (this just shows you where my head was!). Black smoke and lurching all the way I made it back to the house after just a few minutes and was stuck at home.
No mechanics open, limited funds anyway, Tom with the kids and computer on their way to Phillip Island so I just stayed home and slept, read and ate very simple things like beautifully ripe tomatoes and contemplated how I had come to this point. Many tears later I decided that it was the universe's way of telling me that I deperatately needed some 'me' time. Even when I had the car fixed the next day I decided not to meet the others in Phillip Island. They had a lovely couple of days without me and I had the chance to do the simple things I never seem to be able to fit in like going for a walk, seeing a movie (not a kid's one!) and reading a book in one day.
Things are back to normal again now and Henry is feeling much better but I won't forget this Christmas and the lessons it has imparted anytime soon.