Camembert, Colby and The Whole Fromage!

16071716“There were cheeses with wild mulberry leaves pressed into their tops; cheese bound with rushes; cheeses covered in ashes, in cumin, in raisins, in bits of grape skin…”

Kathe Lison is definitely a Gypsy of the food world. When she discovered the literally hundreds of cheeses made in France (a number no one can agree on, not even General de Gaulle, it seems) she wanted to find out more. I would been content just to drive around France sampling them all, but Lison wrote this book as well, and opens the gates of Paradise to other cheeseheads.

Right away I started learning new cheese stuff – for example Colby, which is sold here in Australia as Australian cheese, comes from Colby in Wisconsin. Lison should know – she hails from Wisconsin and a family history of dairying. I learned that putting cheese in the freezer is “an act of murder” – not that I ever would do such a thing!

Lison’s journey starts in the Auvergne, with a paean of praise for the Salers cow, which is certainly charming to look at, and a French punk wearing a Metallica tshirt and biker boots, herding a handful of these cows. Many of Lison’s word pictures are delightful, and her stories of cheesemakers are often quite touching, like Justine, who lost two of her sons as babies, and two in WWI; and the story of the epitome of the arisanal sheep’s milk cheesemaker, who refuses to use plastic molds and milks his sheep by hand.

But this odyssey through romantic districts and the cheeses they produce is really for those fascinated by cheese making history and the characters it attracts. It is not really for those who just love to eat and cook with cheese. It gave me inspiration for cheeses to track down, but I’ll have to find the recipes elsewhere.

Comfort Food cookbook review

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I like this cookbook, from the ‘fine cooking’ series by Taunton Press, even if it does look quite basic at first glance. The recipes are well laid out and easy to follow, and while they are ‘comfort food’, the dishes are varied and created with healthy ingredients. No short cut or processed ingredients are used. The only hitch for me, in a metric country, is that the measurements are in lbs and ounces and need to be converted.

The dishes covered are soups, chilis, stews, gumbo, ragout, pasta, one pot dishes, casseroles, fried chicken, curries, and familiar classics like chicken cacciatore, meatloaf, osso bucco and pot roast.  If you are a seasoned cook with a large repertoire (and a bookshelf groaning with cookbooks already) you probably know most of them but for a new, aspiring cook this is a good basic collection of recipes. It is always good to have reliable recipes for hearty international favourites like steak and Guinness pie, beef stew with red wine, braised lamb shanks, and of course, paella.

 It is a good all round reference recipe book for all sorts of occasions and meals. There are breakfast and lunch dishes with step by step photo guides. Every cook needs to know how to make a perfect omelet, blueberry muffins, buttermilk pancakes, waffles and eggs Benedict, to serve up a scrumptious breakfast, and homemakers, whether sharing or single, can benefit from tips like a buyer’s guide to bananas and how to fix a broken hollandaise. In fact, as a first cookbook, this would be an invaluable gift for a new homemaker. It even covers sandwiches, from classic grilled cheese to croque Madame.

Other sections of the book covers side dishes, like scalloped potatoes, shrimp fried rice and mashed potatoes. There there are the desserts, all classic comfort foods like eich, dark, sinful Southern Devil’s Food Cake to pure hearted, country style carrot cake (although it looks more on the indulgent than healthy side with a whipped cream cheese and vanilla frost). There are also instructions on how to ice a cake, how to make perfect pie crust, flaky pie crust and a classic rice pudding. In fact it covers almost every aspect of comfort food cooking in one book. I think it’s good value, available from both Amazon and Book Depository.

My thanks to NetGalley for the opportunity to review this book.

Live Music and Cultural Values

AC/DC Lane
AC/DC Lane (Photo credit: zoonabar)

 

It is really not surprising that Gypsies performed live entertainment as they travelled – making live shows in one place gave you the coin to move on to another place. I was born into that life. My father and his family were travellers. In his time, he was a musician, a magician, a carnie sideshow operator, an actor – whatever it took to make the coin to keep moving.

 

I grew up listening to him playing the and the banjo. I heard Chuck Berry and Sonny Terry and Barnie McGee on the radio when he tuned into the American Forces Network to learn new songs. Later my own children were similarly brainwashed with blues and rock and roll. We regard busking as an honorable profession (because my dad was a busker in Dublin before and after the war). My daughter Lucia is the lead singer with A Girl’s A Gun. One of the highlights of my writing career was being entertainment reporter for a Western Sydney newspaper, and meeting people like Adam Rawson of Normal Day and The Australian Music Industry Forum, who is passionate about creating more live venues for Western Sydney bands. Yeah, music means a lot to us.

 

More than that, more than what it means to my family, live music and entertainment are an essential part of the cultural life of a place. I get angry when developers and newcomers move into a city area and demand that the life and zest of the place be changed to suit them, as happened at AC/DC Lane in Melbourne. I detest it when people claim live music is dead. Sit at Brisbane’s South Bank with me and tell me that. There is plenty of live music in Brisbane, and plenty of people who want to listen. Only culturally lazy people say,”Yawn, no one wants live music anymore, we have the Internet…” Rubbish. Couch potatoes and Internet Heads are excluded from this conversation. While you are glued to your screens, people are out having a good time and looking for more places to go.

 

So when PM Kevin Rudd says he is going to fight the good fight for the Australian live music industry, I am waving my cultural flag in support. Some may think it pales in comparison to saving other industries but Australian music has been very profitable for this country and deserves the same respect and support as every other. It provides employment, not just on the stage, but in many other areas of Australian working life. It is something Australia can be proud of – we know Australia’s got talent. Just give it somewhere to be heard, and keep party politics out of it. I don’t care who does it, as long as it gets done.

 

 

The Man Who Would Be Jack the Ripper

The "From Hell" Letter postmarked 15...
The “From Hell” Letter postmarked 15 October 1888 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There is no shortage of books purporting to have been ‘discovered’ in a secret hiding place, rather than written by a contemporary author. It’s a popular conceit in the literary world, and sometimes it succeeds for a while. But The Autobiography of Jack the Ripper has a twist. The manuscript, it is claimed, was found among the possessions of a real person, the late S.G. Hulme-Beaman, who created Toytown and Larry the Lamb.

 According to the preface, Hulme-Beaman’s niece, Mrs. Jean Caldwell, called Alan Hicken, of the Montacute TV, Radio and Toy Museum in Somerset, and asked him if he would like a collection of memorabilia belonging to her uncle. As Larry the Lamb was a popular radio character for children, Hicken enthusiastically accepted. Among the items, he found an unpublished manuscript, The Autobiography of Jack the Ripper.

 The author of the ms. claimed to be one James Carnac, the son of a doctor who was briefly a medical student in his turn, and who, in the book, claimed to be the man who killed and dismembered several women in London’s Whitehall district in the 1880s. Part One of the book is about Carnac’s early life, while Part Two covers the period of the murders. Part Three appears to be Carnac’s last years before his death.

 After reading the manuscript and becoming convinced it was genuine, Hicken passed it on to crime historian and ‘ripperologist’ Paul Begg. His lengthy analysis also appears in the book, as well as a prologue by him, in which he states that, at the very least, this manuscript can’t be viewed as legal evidence, as it is not signed by witnesses.

I’m not convinced it is anything but a piece of fiction. It was likely written by Hulme-Beaman himself, who like J.K. Rowling, probably just wanted to do something different after writing for children. So the only question is – is it any good? And the answer to that is no. If you are looking for shock and horror, there are any number of books that will give you blood curdling descriptions of the crimes. This one won’t. It is claimed the manuscript was ‘edited’ by the executor of Hulme-Beaman’s will, which is very handy if you don’t want to into detail that might be proved wrong. As well, it is badly written, and here the author falls back on that old excuse that goes something like “I’m a serial killer, not a writer.” Ho hum.

Then there is the fact that James Carnac never existed at the time and place he mentions in the manuscript, nor is there any record of his parents, his landladies or anyone else connected to him (except the victims). Possibly he changed all the names – but why would he, if this is a confession only meant to be read after his death?

 So, on this occasion, the ‘discovery’ might actually be real, but what was discovered is still clearly a work of fiction. If you want to make the world think someone long dead wrote your manuscript, you are going to have to a hell of a lot more convincing than this.

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The book is available at Book Depository. My thanks to NetGalley for the review copy.

South Bank Dreaming…

South Bank in the late afternoon is ambient and wonderful – drinking a strawberry smoothie from New Zealand Natural, gazing across at Little Stanley Street, with its left bank atmosphere and sidewalk cafes.

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The sounds we can hear are the bubbling little water fountains, and musicians performing at the Plough Inn, just a few metres to the left. One of my favourite songs – “Better be Home Soon’ written by Neil Finn.

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On the tables is a gentle warning against feeding the Ibis, the water birds that frequent South Bank. They can become a downright nuisance to rival Sydney’s seagulls if you give them half a chance.

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On the way back we pass the Plough Inn and pause to watch the musicians we were enjoying earlier.

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