Saturday, 22 November 2014

Popping Down to the Shops- Singapore Style

I do love trawling through foreign supermarkets when overseas. It is one of the most fascinating and easy ways to glimpse a foreign culture to check out what is on the shelves of the supermarkets. This was a trip into Cold Storage at the Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands.

$23 SGD boxed melons from Japan

Miles of nice looking sushi

Kaya is a rather delicious coconut spread.
No room in the suitcase anyway-
but you can buy it in Australia

Singapore Slings
although I'm not a gin drinker 

Other Intriguing Drinks

Many Hello Kitty products 

Way too many durian products

Lots of other exotic sounding biscuits

A different sensibility

More dried mango than you can poke a stick at

Pistache Magnums! Oh I hope we get those soon. 
These looked good. Sadly untried. 

Not that I'm much of a chip eater,
but I'd give salt and seaweed a go.

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Friday, 21 November 2014

Gangsta Granny

I do love David Walliams and his phenomenally successful kids books. He published his first book, The Boy in the Dress, back in 2008, but I didn't get to read it until just over a year ago. It's quite astonishing for me to see that just in the past year or so I've already read four of his books. Mr Stink. Billionaire Boy. Ratburger.

David Walliams has published one book a year since he began, and it was the arrival in the stores of his latest, Awful Auntie, that prompted me to get Gangsta Granny off the shelf. I now see that Philip Ardagh in The Guardian has called Awful Auntie his "best book yet"- oh dear, I won't be able to leave that one for too long now.

My favourite thus far remains Billionaire Boy. Billionaire Boy was a story about a lonely, rich boy. Gangsta Granny is about another rather lonely boy. Eleven year old Ben is a slow reader and has been held back a year at school. He visits his Granny every Friday night for a sleepover. Dumped there by his parents each week so that they can go to Strictly Stars Dancing. "But Granny is soooo boring".

"I hate spending time with her," protested Ben. "Her TV doesn't work, all she wants to do is play Scrabble and she stinks of cabbage."

Ben has trouble with his parents too, they favour glamorous ballroom dancers to his own interests. Ben dreams of being a plumber one day while his parents want him to follow their passion into dancing. Only David Walliams could write a fun and silly book about dancing, plumbing, cabbage, jewel thieves, grannies who fart without realising it and bumbling parents.

It was a Saturday, so after the show had finished the family were going to be having Cheesy Beans and Sausage. Neither Mum nor Dad could cook, but of all the readymade meals Ben's mum took out of the freezer, pricked with a fork and placed in the microwave for three minutes, this was his favourite. 

Gangsta Granny is full of the trademark Walliams humour, lists and Raj the newsagent. Once again Tony Ross' illustrations are perfect. And like all David Walliams books Gangsta Granny has a lovely heart. In amongst the humour David Walliams is reminding us that old people were young once, that perhaps they haven't all led boring lives, that you should spend time with them while you can, and tell people you love them if you do.

The lovely folks at Harper Collins gave me a review copy of Gangsta Granny way back in May at the CBCA Conference (my first ever review copy, I'm somewhat disappointed in myself to take six months to read it, but hey at least it was only six months, I have many, many books sitting about the house unread for years).

Thursday, 20 November 2014

50 Books Every Kid Should Read

Seems like there's a new must read list every week. Fine by me. Here's a new one from Entertainment Weekly this week.

The Lion and the Mouse - Jerry Pinkney 2009

Green Eggs and Ham - Dr Seuss 1960

Library Lion - Michelle Knudsen 2006

Bread and Jam for Frances - Russell Hoban, Lillian Hoban 1964

The Polar Express - Chris Van Allsburg 1985

The Mitten - Jan Brett 1989

Where the Wild Things Are - Maurice Sendak 1963

Madeline - Ludwig Bemelmans 1939

Strega Nona - Tomie DePaola 1975

A Bear Called Paddington - Michael Bond 1958

Diary of a Wimpy Kid - Jeff Kinney 2007

The Story of Barbar - Jean de Brunhoff 1931

Dinosaurs Before Dark - Mary Pope Osborne 1992

Ramona the Pest - Beverly Cleary 1955

Tar Beach - Faith Ringgold 1991

The Arrival - Shaun Tan 2006 (see my review)

Sylvester and the Magic Pebble - William Steig 1961

Charlotte's Web - E.B. White 1952

The Adventures of Captain Underpants - Dav Pilkey 1997

James and the Giant Peach - Roald Dahl 1961

One Crazy Summer - Rita Williams-Garcia 2010

The Black Stallion - Walter Farley 1941(see my review)

Island of the Blue Dolphins - Scott O'Dell 1960 (see my review)

The Tale of Despereaux - Kate Di Camillo 2004

Where the Red Fern Grows - Wilson Rawls 1961

The Phantom Tollbooth - Norton Juster 1961

All-of-A-Kind Family - Sydney Taylor 1951

The Borrowers - Mary Norton 1952

D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths - Ingrid and Edgar D'Aulaire 1962

Wonder - R.J Palacio 2012 (see my review)

Esperanza Rising - Pam Munoz Ryan 2000

Smile - Raina Telgemeier 2010

Harriet the Spy - Louise Fitzhugh 1973

The Bad Beginning - Lemony Snicket 1999

A Wrinkle in Time - Madeleine L'Engle 1962 (see my review)

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler - E.L. Konigsburg 1967 (see my review)

The Giver - Lois Lowry 1993 (see my review)

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry - Mildred Taylor 1976

Bud, Not Buddy - Christopher Paul Curtis 1999

Holes - Louis Sachar 1998 (see my review)

Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret - Judy Blume 1970 (see my review)

The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe - C.S. Lewis 1950

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone - J.K. Rowling 1997

Bridge to Terabithia - Katherine Paterson 1977

The Book Thief - Markus Zusak 2005

The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants - Ann Brashares 2002

The Hunger Games - Suzanne Collins 2008 (see my review)

Monster - Walter Dean Myers 1999

The Outsiders - S.E Hinton 1967

The Fault in Our Stars - John Green 2012 (see my review)


And yes, that groaning noise is the sound of my TBR growing yet again. And perhaps my Fishpond bill.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

A Dog So Small

I didn't know all that much about this slim little book when I started reading it. I knew of the author, I'd read her more famous book Tom's Midnight Garden (see my review) a few years ago. I liked it well enough, but wasn't bowled over. So I approached A Dog So Small with a fairly open mind as I usually like a dog story. I'm rather riled up about this story and there are more spoilers here than I would normally share. 

From the beginning I wasn't quite sure what to make of it.  Ben Blewitt is rather a lonely child. He is the middle child of five, sandwiched between his two older sisters and his two younger brothers. His sisters are planning the upcoming wedding of the eldest, and his brother are happy with their pet mice and feeding wild pigeons. 

Ben pines for a dog. His grandfather promises him one, and at the very start of the story Ben wakes up on his birthday expecting news of the dog he has been promised. But his grandmother won't let his grandfather get him one, because they'd be beholden to get one for all the grandkids, or at least all of the families. And so they send Ben a Mexican cross-stitch dog for his birthday. The cross-stitich dog is a Chihuahua, while Ben has been dreaming of nothing but borzois, bloodhounds and Irish wolf-hounds for months. His disappointment and anguish are palpable. 

Ben lives in Central London so his dreams of a massive dog are not particularly realistic. Our childhood dreams, and even our adult dreams aren't always realistic. Ben is reduced to having an imaginary dog "a dog so small you can only see it with your eyes shut". He becomes obsessed with his imaginary dog, a Chihuahua, like the cross-stitch dog. Ben takes to spending as much time as he can with his "dog so small". He walks and travels around London with his eyes shut so that he can see his dog. 

The dog Chiquitito was becoming a continuous presence for Ben. When the boy’s eyes were shut, the dog was there, visibly; and when his eyes were open, the dogs still seemed present- invisibly. Ben felt it there- knew it was there, now loyally and alertly beside him, now with its active and bold spirit speeding it to engage in some new and extraordinary exploit. Always the dog was either before Ben’s eyes or in his mind. His mother, watching him when he did not know he was being watched, saw him with eyes open but vacant- abstracted and absorbed, she supposed, in some inward vision. She told herself that the boy slept well, ate well, and admitted to no worries, but she was uneasy. 

I was uneasy too. I found the notion of Ben walking around London with his eyes shut dreadful. Initially it was sweet, his imaginary dog friend, but it got way too weird for me. Imagine seeing this boy walking around with his eyes shut, sitting in class all day with his eyes shut. It all culminates in a terrible accident, a terrible price to pay- Ben's obsession nearly kills him.

It is nicely written.

The front of the house looked over the road and its infrequent traffic. The back looked up the driftway- a rutted track that ambled between fields and meadows, skirted a wood, crossed the river by a special bridge of its own, and came out again at last- with an air of having achieved nothing and not caring, anyway- into another country road just like the one it had started from. 

And there are some marvellous words- poppling, strophes, driftway. 

But overall I found the book unkind and rather absurd. I realise that the dog so small was emblematic for how much Ben wanted a dog, and the story is telling us to be careful what you wish for. 

He saw clearly that you couldn't have impossible things, however much you wanted them. He saw that if you didn't have the possible things, then you had nothing.

Ben acts in rather fallible and really quite mean ways when he does finally get to have a dog of his own.  His real dog can't match up to the feats of his imaginary dog, and he rejects the poor thing trying to lose it on Hampstead Heath before realising the error of his ways.

I'm not quite sure why I'm so incensed by this book. I've been thinking about it all day. I did find it an interesting contrast to The Incredible Journey (see my review) that I finished a few weeks ago. Both were published at essentially the same time, A Dog So Small in 1962, and The Incredible Journey in 1961. A Dog So Small was so much more dated- the language I guess (whilst charming), and also the city life it portrayed is one long gone. It did provoke a strong reaction I guess, sadly not a more positive one. 


Monday, 17 November 2014

Masmoudi Paris

There were so many culinary highlights on my recent trip to France. One was definitely my first visit to Masmoudi.

Don't blink and miss it
106 Blvd St Germain
The roof was brought from Tunisia
As are all the luscious treats
All are beautifully displayed

and arranged

So much pistache!

So pretty and so delicious!
I got a tiny sampling of the pistache range
They're almost too beautiful to eat.

Sadly I went to Masmoudi on my second last day in Paris. And I ate my treats from Masmoudi in Zurich. They were fantastic. Beautiful, delicate, exquisite flavours. But I couldn't go back and buy more. Next trip I'll be sure to visit early, and visit often.

Masmoudi have several locations in Paris, and throughout France, Tunisia, Algeria, Belgium, Germany, Ireland and Holland. You can see their vast range of goodies on their website.

Dreaming of France is a wonderful Monday meme
from Paulita at An Accidental Blog 

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Biggles: The Camels are Coming

I was unsure about approaching Biggles. He's a rather a cultural icon for those of us in the English speaking world. Well at least the Commonwealth parts of it. But I'd never read any before. Of course I knew that Biggles was famous for his dogfights with German fighter pilots, most notably the Red Baron. But I didn't know how much of a cultural icon he really is. There are many fan sites, crazed book collectors, and it seems everyone reads Biggles, even Hilary Mantel. 

James Bigglesworth is a young pilot stationed in Northern France in the later days of World War I when we meet him in Biggles, The Camels are Coming, released in 1932 and the first of 96 Biggles books. Boys of a certain age cut their teeth reading Biggles and his adventures. A friend in his 70s came over while I was reading Biggles- he saw my library copy sitting on the desk, and immediately a warm smile spread across his face, as he fondly remembered Biggles, Algy, other characters and their companions. 

Written as a series of 17 short stories, The Camels are Coming is a fascinating insight into the action of the first world war. Captain W. E Johns, himself a pilot, although not ever a Captain, is clearly familiar with his subject. 
From his elevated position in the cockpit of a Camel, Biggles surveyed the scene below him dispassionately. An intricate tracery of thin white lines marked the trench system where half a million men were locked in a life and death struggle, and a line of tiny white puffs, looking ridiculously harmless from the distance, showed the extent of the artillery barrage of flame and hurtling steel. 

I did come to wonder though if war really allowed so much individual decision making as Biggles charged off on yet another rather solitary and unplanned undertaking. I can believe that whiskey played such a large part. Biggles gets drunk with German captives, and drowns his sorrows after a love interest goes bad. It is unusual though to have a children's book hero be such a prodigious drinker.  But I can well see why he needed to. 
"Don't shoot outside 200 feet- it's a waste of ammunition."

There was more humour than I was expecting, and more emotion too. I was astonished when Biggles took leave, and went to visit his family.
Arriving home, he discovered the house closed; he telephoned a friend of the family, only to find out that his father and brother, his only living relations, were in the Army and 'somewhere in France.'

Amazing to think about the level of uncertainty that everyone lived with back then, and such a contrast to our connected world, where we can contact friends, family, or even strangers so simply and around the clock. 

248/ 1001

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Salon du Chocolat Sculptures

There were so many things to see, do and taste at the recent Salon du Chocolat in Paris, check out the chocolate fashion parade

Another particular highlight was an area displaying the magnificent works of art submitted for the Charles Proust Trophy. Held every two years since 2006 the candidates must produce a themed showpiece- this years theme was Dali and his works. They were also required to prepare a chocolate praline cake with a touch of Grand Marnier for tasting (only by the judges sadly). Jean-Paul Hévin, one of my very favourite Paris chocolatiers, was the chair of the judging panel this year. 

It was an incredible, breathtaking display. 

There was a photo frenzy -and it wasn't just me!

3rd prize Charles Proust Trophy

Second Prize Charles Proust Trophy

First prize Charles Proust Trophy

My favourite on the day
It won the public prize

All of them had sensational aspects
The attention to detail is stunning
They were all so imaginative 
and beautiful

The first and second prizewinners were Japanese this year, with the third place going to Antibes, in regional France. I wonder if this caused a stir in the Paris chocolate world? You can see the full results here

I watched the incredible documentary Kings of Pastry a few years ago, so I have some small inkling of the blood, sweat and tears that goes into making these extraordinary things of such beauty, precision and fragility. Do check it out if you haven't seen it.

Dreaming of France is a wonderful Monday meme
from Paulita at An Accidental Blog 
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This post is linked to Weekend Cooking
a fabulous weekly meme at BethFishReads