Sunday, 26 August 2012

Lynley Dodd: A Retrospective

As a lover of children's books, I know that there is far more to creating one that most people would ever imagine. Ideas can take years to develop, write, hone and polish. That's why I was keen to see Lynley Dodd: A Retrospective, an exhibition celebrating her work. Over the years, her books have become household names, not only in New Zealand but all around the world.  For those who are unfamiliar with Dodd's work, there are copies on display to read and reread - something which we really enjoyed doing.

Hairy Maclary from Donaldson's Dairy
The exhibition shows how Lynley Dodd first began illustrating children's books once she had young children of her own. She also illustrated children's teaching materials before collaborating on a children's picture book with a family member. We saw how Dodd's sketches developed through various stages when illustrating My Cat Likes to Hide in Boxes and were delighted to still be able to remember almost every cat in the book! We also met Hairy Maclary and his friends and learned how Hairy Maclary from Donaldson's Dairy came to be such a popular hangout for him and his canine buddies.

Whether you have children or not, or simply love children's books, Lynley Dodd: A Retrospective is a delightful exhibition that worth checking out at the Dowse Art Museum until 28 October.

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Carnival fireworks

I love fireworks. Although I understand that it is simply setting money on fire, fireworks put an instant smile on my face. I love wrapping up warm to stand by the waterfront, the pretty colours, the shapes, the ones that look like a giant flower framed by little stars, the huge explosions ... yes, guaranteed smiles. I'm not too fussed about them being synchronised to music; it rarely works but no-one seems upset by it.

I wasn't always a fan of fireworks, though. My father was born with a bang on Guy Fawkes Day and, when I was 5, my mother asked if we should let off some firecrackers for his birthday. I wasn't keen at all as I imagined trying to blow up Huntley & Palmers cream crackers, which I quite liked to munch on. Where's the fun in that? Luckily my parents ignored me and we started a tradition of letting off firecrackers at home after Dad's birthday dinner before going out to watch public displays.

The Petone Winter Carnival has just wrapped up with a fantastic fireshow. They seem to get better every year. The weather behaved itself by providing just enough of a breeze to disperse some of the smoke in the air and only a tiny drizzle of rain.

In other news, if anyone has seen my pussy cat, can they tell her the explosions have now finished and it's safe to leave her hiding place and come home?

Sunday, 19 August 2012

New Zealand craft beer tasting

Among other things, Wellington is known for being the craft beer capital. There is a craft beer trail that enthusiasts can follow and a growing number of microbreweries popping up around the city. It's not surprising considering this city's foodie culture. Just look at how popular events such as Wellington on a Plate are becoming, which Beervana was a part of this weekend.

A few weeks ago, we went to a tasting of New Zealand beers at Wellington's brew pub, Fork & Brewer. After learning more trivia than we imagined possible (or plausible) at another beer tasting last year, I was keen to add some new brews to my tiny but growing beer palette. We sampled four beers and made some interesting discoveries about creative flavour combinations. Apparently, if you can imagine it, you can (sometimes) make it happen!

Here are my beginner's beer sampling impressions:
  • We started with a kiwi pilsner from Dunedin brewery Emerson's. Even though it boasted an overly citrus flavour (which I usually love), it was far too hoppy for me.
  • Our next beer came from Croucher Brewing in Rotorua. The pale ale had a toasted caramel colour and heavy grain flavour. I found it less bitter than the pilsner but wasn't keen on the aftertaste, even though this is supposed to be one of its best features.
  • Our most unusual beer was from Mata Beer in Kawerau: hangi flavoured beer. Everything about the tasting notes sounds wrong: spicy pumpkin, smoky bacon and 7.4% alcohol are more like something you would take an hour to eat, but it worked surprisingly well in a glass with a lingering aftertaste. It even warranted buying a second glass to have with dinner.
  • We finished our tasting with another offering from Croucher's: coffee stout. It (obviously) had a strong coffee scent but the flavour was not too overpowering. At 5.6% alcohol, it packs a reasonable punch but the finish was surprisingly pleasant.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Chocolate out of the wrapper: The inside story

I have had a lifelong love affair with chocolate. Actually, that's not true; an affair would imply something secretive or hidden. I have long professed my belief that chocolate could quite possibly be the world's most perfect food. Recently, I celebrated an occasion where I enjoyed chocolate treats from here and here and here. I also baked cupcakes with liberal doses of these products. Nom!

Last night, I stepped it up a notch with a Wellington on a Plate festival event. Chocolate out of the wrapper: The inside story sounded just like my kind of good night out. We learned all about different varieties of chocolate, particularly dark chocolate, and sampled bars made from different varieties of beans as well as single origin. (See, I'm learning how to talk the talk!) Did I mention there were samples? Oh, my!

Jo Coffey from L'affaire au Chocolat in Berhampore was our host for the evening. We alternated sampling about 12 different types of chocolate with learning about how chocolate is made, its history and the origins of the beans. Every time Jo's alarm went 'ding', it was time for another sample. (We really need one of those alarms at home!) Chocolate bars of note for me included two Pralus varieties, one each from Republique Dominicaine and Madagascar, and a bar from El Ceibo made by a Bolivian cooperative and featuring tiny bits of cocoa nib and salt, giving it an interesting texture.

... and the goodie bag? I don't think it's going to last long. ;-)

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Memorable books

I love to read - always have, always will. I consider myself a wannabe avid reader. However, my ever growing TBR list and the time I have available for reading simply don't relate, but I can still dream. At lunch with a friend yesterday, we got to talking about what we're both currently reading. My friend is the bookworm I long to be, with boxes of books she has read, wants to read or plans to reread. Reread? Such luxury!

She described a teen novel she is currently reading (and whose name escapes me) that she considered quite graphic - gruesomely so, to the point that she couldn't get certain images of decapitated bodies out of her head for the past week. We pondered the genre of teen fiction and wondered whether it was any different to some of classic books that are common novel studies in high school. I was thinking of Lord of the Flies by William Golding (which I absolutely hated). She said that she found A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess extremely disturbing to read; she would force herself to read a paragraph at a time. I agreed, saying that it took me a couple of months to read a page at a time and that I still find so much of the content disturbing today. Although neither of us actually liked A Clockwork Orange, we considered it to be a truly memorable book.

Last night, I got to thinking about other books I've read that have been truly memorable. They are not necessarily books I have loved but for various reasons are simply unforgettable. I made a quick list on my phone, then looked back through my blog tonight as I started writing this post. Lo and behold, I had completed the 15 books meme a couple of years ago where I had made a similar list. (Obviously the post itself was actually less than memorable for me, as I was only reminded of it when I went searching for book reviews I had written!) Interestingly enough, most of the books on last night's list were on my 15 books meme.

A Clockwork Orange - Anthony Burgess
Truly disturbing. I found the rape scenes described in almost unbearable detail but couldn't stop reading. The prison and rehabilitation sections were simply gruesome, as was adapting to life without being able to experience one's greatest (or only) pleasure. Psychologically tormenting.

Captain Corelli's Mandolin - Louis de Bernières
I don't think I have read any other book where I actually spontaneously laughed out loud then cried a few chapters later. Again, I found this to be a challenging read and think it took me a couple of months to finish, returning to it in between reading several other things. The empathy and humanness of the characters remains with me today. It's a shame the movie of the same name could not even come close to capturing this.

Wild Swans - Jung Chang
This is always one of my nominations for the Whitcoulls Top 100 list. I learned so much about life in communist China from reading Chang's account of her mother's and grandmother's lives. The courage and strength of the women trying to hold their families together in such trying circumstances is truly admirable.

Papillon - Henri Charrière
I found this book exhausting to read. With every thwarted attempt at escape, my hopes were raised and my spirits soared only to be dashed so cruelly as something inevitably went wrong and Papillon was back at square 1 (or worse) again. Another book that took me a long time to read as I needed to intersperse it with lighter content.

Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden
It's sometimes hard to remember that this book is actually a novel. The story of a poor girl training to be a geisha gave readers a rare insight into the lives of Japanese women of a particular era. The characters were truly memorable; I could feel Sayuri's loneliness, her fear of Mother and her honour-bound drive to serve the life she was bought into. Another movie that could not capture the magic of the novel.

Mao's Last Dancer - Li Cunxin
Another autobiography set in communist China. We are introduced to a loving but poverty stricken family whose sixth son of seven is afforded a opportunity to join Madame Mao's prestigious Beijing Dance Academy. But, of course, not all that glitters is gold and with opportunity comes sacrifice. Li's first foray into the Western capitalist world is vastly different to the propaganda he and his countrymen were taught to believe.

What books would make it to your 'most memorable' list?

Thursday, 9 August 2012


My love of dance stems from learning ballet for six years during my childhood. More recently, we enjoyed watching the first two tv series of The Secret Lives of Dancers, which followed members of the Royal New Zealand Ballet while they rehearsed to go on tour. We got to know some of the dancers, celebrated their success and felt the pain of their injuries. A highlight of the 2011 World of Wearable Art Awards was the spectacular avant garde segment featuring the Royal New Zealand Ballet and accompanied by opera singers.

The cast of Cinderella
Last night, we saw the Royal New Zealand Ballet perform Cinderella at the St James Theatre in Wellington. It was a real treat to see some familiar faces on stage, including the adorable Lucy Green as Cinderella and Abigail Boyle as the fairy godmother – two of our favourites from the tv show. The two stepsisters and stepmother (who were far from ugly) provided many moments of humour. Danseurs of note included a dashing prince, an exceptional grasshopper and a rare treat in the form of an appearance by ballet great Sir Jon Trimmer.

Cinderella is a delightful performance for ballet buffs and casual fans alike. The show is on for a couple more nights in Wellington before moving on to Invercargill, so there are still some chances to catch it around the country.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Things I'm loving

Here we are at the start of the eighth month of 2012. How the year has flown! We are just one month away from my favourite season, spring, and I saw daffodils and freesias in the supermarket today as early teasers that we don't have too much longer to wait until the weather improves. Reflecting after a family bereavement this week, I can see there are lots of exciting big and little things going on at the moment for me and those around me. Life is good - remember to enjoy every moment you can, for you never know when it will be your last.

Things I'm loving right now:
  • The paddle attachment on my Kenwood mixer. Is there anything it can't do?
  • Everything Kindle - the way to read.
  • Knives - sharp ones. So very practical. So very satisfying.
  • The Olympic Games, where I get to be a judge awarding points and deducting penalties in sports I know nothing about, all from the comfort of my armchair.
  • Baking, baking and more baking. I agree that baking is therapeutic. I'm sure those who get to sample my kitchen creations are also happy with this addiction of mine.
  • Early birthday presents, especially when they come from The Chocolate Story. Nom!
  • Brunch with friends. It is fast becoming my favourite meal of the day.
  • Birds singing in the trees - even the one that sounds like a car alarm.
What's good for you at the moment?