Ginger cake

I love ginger – in sweet or savoury dishes, and the hotter the better! For a family get together I’ve decided to make a ginger cake – cousins are bringing fruit, lemon, chocolate brownies, flapjack, all sorts of delciousnesses.

I am just going to follow an ordinary recipe (too often I get too clever and it doesn’t turn out right) but I’m adding chunks of preserved ginger cut small and also I have some ginger preserve to either go on top or go through the middle once it is cooked and cooled.

I know ginger is a rhizome, but I’m not sure I remember anything else very much about it… Well, on looking it up I find it is a perennial plant with yellow flowers, and its cousins are turmeric, cardamom  and galangal. It came originally from tropical rain forests, but it seems there is no wild ginger growing anywhere, it is all cultivated. The word ‘ginger’ goes back over thousands of years, to Sanskrit, maybe.

As well as being an excellent flavouring for all sorts of foods, in combination with other spices or on its own, it is also used medicinally for various things, mainly to do with digestive problems. While we were on our wonderful Tasmanian adventure, we went on a boat trip which was expected to be very rough, and everyone was offered ginger tablets. We thought we would be ok, but we accepted the tablets and took them… and we were fine. Now whenever I think of ginger, I think of that wonderful cruise… in fact, that’s where my featured image is from!


Tasmanian adventure – Wonderful Mr Wolfhagen

Although we spent most of our time in Hobart while we were in Tasmania, we did hire a car and go on a ten-day tour of the island. We spent a couple of days in Launceston, a beautiful city in the north of the state, which is at the junction of two rivers, the North Esk and South Esk. Once they have joined they become the Tamar River. We parked our car when we arrived, and we didn’t get into it again until we left two days later.

We wandered the city, admiring the architecture, taking photos, and visiting the two site of QVMAG, the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery. As with all the museums and galleries we visited while we there, big and small, they were exceptional, wonderful, inspiring places. it’s going to take a while to properly process and reflect on all we saw and experienced, and little memories keep popping up and returning unexpectedly.

Today, the sky here was a lovely spring blue, the wind had died and we had a very pleasant and sunny day. Something about the quality of the blue triggered my thoughts of visiting Launceston, and seeing some of the works of Philip Wolfhagen in an exhibition called ‘Transformations’. Mr Wolfhagen is an artist born in Launceston in 1963. He went to the Tasmanian School of Art in Hobart, and also the Sydney College of the Arts, but now he resides and works back in Tasmania.

On his website he is described as being ‘recognised as one of Australia’s leading contemporary landscape painters. His paintings are inspired by the atmospheric landscape of northern Tasmania and the emotive qualities of light and weather.’

That absolutely sums up his work; I sat in the gallery just immersed myself in his wonderful paintings – I was just pulled in and overwhelmed in a peaceful, energising and positive way by the power of his work. There was a huge single painting,  a panel of seven different but linked work, and then twenty smaller paintings hung together to form a complete work – I don’t think I have explained that very well!

I could have sat there all day, but there was so much more to see, more to do… and the gallery was closing too!


The Winter Over

My favourite genre of books is mystery and crime… I do read all sort of other books too, but this is the particular sort I most often read. I don’t just read British and American crime novels, I read lots translated from other languages and set in other countries.

While we were way on our Tasmanian adventure recently we learned a lot about Antarctic exploration as Hobart is where many expeditions set off from historically, and where many ships still leave from on their way down south. We saw several scientific ships ready to depart for the southern most continent. There is a museum in Hobart about the explorer Douglas Mawson and his trip to the south in 1911, which is well worth a visit – in fact I went twice it was so interesting.

So having leaned a lot about the Arctic from visiting the Mawson’s Huts replica museum, I was intrigued when i saw a crime novel set in the Antarctic, on a scientific station based there. The book is The Winter Over by Matthew Iden – the title referring to the situation for those at the antarctic station who have to stay there over winter as it is impossible to leave because of the weather conditions – they are virtually trapped!

The blurb says:

Each winter the crew at the Shackleton South Pole Research Facility faces nine months of isolation, round-the-clock darkness, and one of the most extreme climates on the planet. For thirty-something mechanical engineer Cass Jennings, Antarctica offers an opportunity to finally escape the guilt of her troubled past and to rebuild her life.
But the death of a colleague triggers a series of mysterious incidents that push Cass and the rest of the forty-four-person crew to the limits of their sanity and endurance. Confined and cut off from the outside world, will they work together or turn against one another? As the tension escalates, Cass must find the strength to survive not only a punishing landscape but also an unrelenting menace determined to destroy the station—and everyone in it.

I hadn’t heard of Matthew Iden before but he has written many other books, great news for me, more to read! “In addition to his most recent thriller THE WINTER OVER (set in the harrowing landscape of a South Pole winter), Matthew Iden is the prolific author of the Marty Singer detective series—A Reason to Live, Blueblood, One Right Thing, The Spike, The Wicked Flee, and Once Was Lost—as well as several acclaimed stand-alone novels.

I’m a good way into the novel and it is really fascinating, as well as being a gripping and puzzling story. I will report back when I’ve finished it!

Tasmanian adventure – Boa Vista

Every morning we woke up in Tasmania we had a sense of excitement – what would we do today? What would we see? What would we discover? What interesting things would we find out? Our first few days were spent in Hobart and from the first moments of driving into the city in the airport shuttle bus we could see what a really beautiful city it is – so many wonderfully preserved and elegant old buildings, so much new architecture to admire, so many stunning views and vistas…

One of the reasons for visiting the island state was to connect with my family – my family history to be exact for I don’t think any of my distant relatives still live there. My great-great-grandfather and his brother-in-law moved to Tasmania from London in the late 1830’s early 1840’s and set up an import export business, Nathan and Moses. They had warehouse, at least two shops, and several ships which traded across the Pacific, South China Sea and no doubt the Southern and Indian Oceans.

Samuel and his family moved out of the town, to a fabulous mansion called Boa Vista where they entertained lavishly. By the time they moved up from the town, they had several children, including my great-grandfather Louis. They returned to England in the 1860’s but Louis remained behind and I think eventually moved to live in Sydney on the mainland, or the Big Island, as Tasmanians call it. However, Boa Vista remained in the family, until both Samuel and his wife had died, and it was eventually sold in the early 1900’s.

Various things happened to the old mansion, but eventually, sadly it was pulled down, and, built on the site  now is a school, a Friends’ School – which is a little coincidence, since my son, their great-great-great grandson, went to a Friends’ School here in England. However, I knew from my research, that the gatehouse of the old place was still in existence, I had seen many photos of it, so on our first full day in Tasmania, we set off to look for it.

It was a most glorious day; brilliant, crystal clear blue skies, perfect gorgeous sun, just right for a stroll to see the old family residence… it was a little further than we anticipated. It was a very easy walk in one sense, a main road out of the city, past the synagogue in which my family had such a significant role, up a very steep hill, through an area of low-level industrial and business units, past some wonderful and interesting houses – we did stop to take a lot of pictures on our expedition, partly because the buildings were so interesting, partly to have a rest in the shade…

To be honest, it got to a point when we thought either we had somehow missed it, or that it was going to be too far for us in this unaccustomed heat – almost straight from a very wintry England to a brilliant summery Tasmania – and I had just said, ‘we’ll walk to the next rise and if we don’t see it we’ll turn back and catch a bus up here on another day…‘ when we saw it!

There was the gatehouse! The porticoed gatehouse or lodge! I was so excited I was almost beyond words. Originally this would have been in open parkland, now it is all built up, with houses on either side and on the opposite side of the busy road, the school behind, but the views, oh the views! Standing by the gatehouse I could see straight across rolling hills to kunanyi – Mount Wellington – no wonder it was called Boa Vista, Beautiful Vista, it was just breathtaking!

tasmania-17-93The gatehouse

The view – the boa vista

I stood, imagining Louis as a little boy then a young man here…  maybe arriving at the gatehouse and getting out of his carriage or off his horse, or maybe setting off with pet dogs to walk around the estate and see wildlife which to our English eyes was exotic but to him would have been as usual as rabbits or badgers are to us.

One of the first things which struck me when I got off the plane was the smell, the distinctive, perfume of the island – Louis, born in Hobart would have grown up with this, it would have been natural to him… did he dream of it when he moved to England, to the ‘great stink’ of London?

Maybe I am fanciful, but I felt very close to my unknown ancestor, here and in other places we visited…

After our exciting discovery, the long walk back to town, but at least it was down hill!

Tasmanian adventure – quiz night at the Duke!

Even when we are away on holiday, the combination of a great pub, great food, great beer and a quiz is unmissable! We had seen a nice looking pub, the Duke – actually The Duke of Wellington Hotel, on one of our tours, so one evening we toddled up the road from our hotel to have dinner. Unfortunately we hadn’t quite grasped at this point that Hobartians are early birds compared to us… we might go out for a meal at nine, or even ten, out to the pub at ten or ten-thirty, so when we walked into the restaurant part of the Duke just before nine, it was coming to the end of service, but the lovely waitress assured us we could just be squeezed in.

We had two enormous and delicious pizzas – two between us, not two each, obviously! We had a Jumbuck which has a topping of the most delicious slow braised lamb, roasted mushrooms, caramelised onion, feta cheese and kalamata olives, and a Woodcutters which has a topping of salami, chorizo, bacon, pancetta, spanish onion & crumbled mature cheddar on a barbecue base – they were so good! Combinations of ingredients we had never seen on a pizza before.

We got into conversation with the friendly people as we had a few drinks afterwards and found that not only is there regular live music, but there is also a weekly quiz! We felt a little out of practice having missed our weekly quiz at the Dolphin in our little village, so we resolved to come back to the Duke for another lovely meal and join in the quiz.

…which we did! We sat down for dinner, along with many others, potential quizzers we decided; I had salt and togarashi squid, followed by six-hour smoked ribs (the most yummy thing you can imagine!), my husband had Tasmanian Scotch fillet and I think he had that with red wine jus… followed by the self saucing pudding – which is a raspberry pudding with Chantilly cream , honeycomb, vanilla bean ice cream, dusted with beetroot and finished with vanilla floss – sounds extraordinary to our unadventurous minds but he assured me it was delicious and there wasn’t a splodgle or a splash or a smear of anything left on his plate!

Armed with our pens we left the dining area and were shown by a friendly lady to some seats, right near the bar – she obviously saw what sort of people we were! The quiz master was a great character, very comical, very quick and really welcoming to us. I think most of the other teams were locals and regulars because there was a lot of banter and jokes flying. There were three rounds, and although we didn’t win (hardly likely as there were only two of us and some of the teams were much bigger, also there were quite a few questions as you would expect which were about Tasmanian or Australian subjects which we didn’t know) we didn’t come last. However the main thing was we had a really wonderful time and felt most welcome.

One thing which surprised and amused us… as soon as the quiz finished all the contestants deserted the pub. So there was only us, the quiz-master and the staff there! In the Dolphin people keep sitting around chatting and having another odd pint until time is called and we almost have to be kicked out! However, we stayed for a while, had a nice chat,  another drink, and then walked down the hill to our hotel. What a very splendid evening!

If you are in Hobart – even if you don’t go to the quiz, go to the Duke for its excellent beer, wine and food – and live music if you’re lucky!

My family story… maybe it could be like this…

In our excellent writers meeting this afternoon a new phrase was brought up, ‘creative nonfiction’ which most of us had never heard of before but were immediately intrigued by. Creative nonfiction is apparently also known as literary nonfiction or narrative nonfiction, and as you can guess is a genre of writing. It employs literary styles and techniques to produce stories or narratives which are factually accurate . It’s different from most other ways of writing factual pieces which although maybe beautifully and even poetically written, are presented for their factual and accurate content. Recently for my book club I had to read ‘Seven Brief Lessons on Physics‘  by Carlo Rovelli; I hardly understood any of it, but I read all of it because it was so elegantly and well-written. There are also literally millions of novels written about factual things and actual events which are, nevertheless, fiction.

I looked to Wikipedia for a definition, because I grasped the idea but needed to see it explained. According to Wikipedia, the literary critic Barbara Lounsberry suggests several characteristics of the genre in her book ‘The Art of Fact’

  • document able subject matter chosen from the real world as opposed to ‘invented’ from the writer’s mind… topics and events discussed in the text verifiably exist in the natural world
  • exhaustive research which allows writers “novel perspectives on their subjects” and “permits them to establish the credibility of their narratives through verifiable references
  • the scene –  vividly describing  the context of events in contrast to objective reportage
  • fine writing with a literary prose style
  • verifiable subject matter and exhaustive research ensure the nonfiction aspect of literary nonfiction
  • narrative form and structure display the writer’s artistry
  • polished language reveals that the objective of what has been written is literary

A book I read some time ago which I think may partly fall into this genre is ‘The Suspicions of Mr Whicher, or, The Murder at Road Hill House’ by Kate Summerscale, which was an examination of the facts surrounding the murder of a little boy in 1860, and the investigation into the crime by Mr Whicher of Scotland Yard. When I read it I recognised that some of it was written in a way different from the usual historical accounts of events. Ms Summerscale had done research to be able to describe the weather, the state of the harvest, the vegetation in the countryside through which the train travelled from London to Somerset. I found it a little irritating as it seemed to fall between a factual account and something more elaborate. I think why it didn’t work for me was that it wasn’t consistent, and also occasionally, the author subliminally appeared in the text. Maybe I should read it again, and think of it from the outset in a different way.

So creative nonfiction, and a story I want to tell… the story of my great grandparents Louis Walford from Tasmania, and Lois Penny from Northamptonshire… I am never going to be able to know all of their story, but maybe by using aspects of creative nonfiction, I could tell part of it in an imaginative and yet truthful way.

Here is a link to the Wikipedia page I mentioned:

Dear diary…

To be honest I am not very good at keeping a diary, apart from here where I do tend to share some of the things I’ve been up to and some of the thoughts I’ve had. I have an old friend who has written a diary every day since she was about ten, and writes at least a page… she is now well into her seventies… what a treasure, what history! I do have a diary, and for the last ten years or so I have had diaries and made notes and jottings each day, if I remember, but notes and jottings is all they are.

However, when we went away on our six week big adventure, I resolved to keep a diary, and keep it as fully as possible and keep it every day. We would have plenty of time, we thought, and indeed we did. I thought I might write on the flight to Tasmania, but it was too cramped, too hot, too uncomfortable, and maybe I was too excited.

We arrived and got settled in our hotel and a pattern to our days emerged – even when we went on our car tour round the island, we kept pretty much to the same routine. We got up early, breakfasted and then went out exploring, usually having a snack or light lunch, or sometimes just a cake with coffee. We would return to the hotel, maybe at four or five, maybe earlier, and after a few hours relaxing and unwinding, we would go out for a meal and to find some beer – while we were in Hobart it was usually at our ‘local’, the Shamrock.

So really I had plenty of time for a diary, but somehow other stuff got in the way, doing other writing, watching the Tasmanian and Australian news, reading, looking at the leaflets, magazines and books we had picked during the day, chatting…

I had a thick writing book, and I did half fill it, and I wrote in other books too – when we were out and stopped to sit in a park, by the shore, on the beach, he would draw and I would write.  I wrote fairly consistently, but not always in sequence, reflecting on things we had done a few days ago, as well as what we had done that day.

Part of the problem for me writing my diary, and this may sound silly, I just couldn’t decide what ‘voice’ to use… I didn’t want a list of ‘we did this, and then we did that, and then we went so and so and saw such and such…‘ – and because I am so used to using a keyboard because my handwriting is so illegible, it did slow me down trying to write so anyone including myself could read it. We left Tasmania, so sad to depart, but looking forward to seeing our friends in Brisbane, a new place for me! I didn’t write a single word in my diary while I was with our friends!

So my diary; it was a partial success in that I did write something, but it is not complete… I’ll try and catch up with the missing bits here, which I daresay won’t be as vivid, but at least I might complete the story of our adventure!