Archive for the ‘Television’ Category


I am on a baking bender this month, which, as far as benders go, has to be the most enjoyable kind.  There is something so soothing about baking, which means I’m drawn to it most when I’m busy, as I have been lately, as a sort of relaxation exercise.  I love to cook but the strictness of baking makes it a much calmer process.  And you end up not only more zen-like but with a delicious cake to hand.  The very definition of a win-win situation.

Last weekend, I was using up mammoth zucchinis and turning out perfect zucchini loaves studded with walnuts and currants and delicious, chewy shreds of coconut.  This weekend, I turned to my favourite baking fruit: the Italian prune plum.  The local plums have just started appearing in stores and while some are still a bit too firm to be perfect for eating they are ideal right now for baking.  Rather than turning to one of my tested plum recipes, I tried Dorie Greenspan’s Dimply Plum Cake (recipe via Luisa Weiss).  It turned out perfectly.  The smell of the cooked plums is almost better than the taste of the cake itself.  Almost.

Meet Me at the Cupcake CafeSince it is impractical to bake all the time (at least without having a team of hungry rugby players to hand to eat the results), I’ve also become a bit baking-mad in my reading and television watching.  Last weekend, while baking the zucchini bread, I read Meet Me at the Cupcake Cafe by Jenny Colgan, a delightfully frothy little novel about a young woman who opens a small bakery.  Issy Randall grew up in her grandfather’s chain of bakeries and has always been a favourite with friends, coworkers and even the people who stand in line for the morning bus with her for the wonderful cupcakes and treats she bakes and shares with them.   When she loses her job and a small storefront in her neighbourhood becomes available, she takes the plunge and decides to open her own bakery.  This is 100% wish-fulfillment fantasy, which made it perfect for a lazy early morning read.  I particularly enjoyed how Issy’s story was complimented by those of the people around her, whose lives were also impacted by her decision to open the bakery.

The Great Australian Bake Off

To fill the great big Mary Berry-sized hole in my life as I wait for the new season of The Great British Bake Off to start (only a couple of days now!), I have been watching The Great Australian Bake Off.  While the America riff on the GBBO was dire and best banished entirely from the memory of those unfortunate enough to witness it, this Aussie version has been wonderfully fun.  It feels louder and younger than the British version and, in earlier episodes at least, we get to see more of the participants’ shenanigans but the set styling and format is very familiar.  And it has the marvellous Dan Lepard, whose recipes have never failed me, as one of the judges.  It is the semi-final this week and my two favourite bakers (Maria and Monique) are still the in the running.  Has anyone else been watching?

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War and PeaceHave you heard that Andrew Davies is adapting War and Peace into a six hour television miniseries?  Davies is responsible for some of my very favourite adaptations – Wives and Daughters (1999), Vanity Fair (1998), and, of course, Pride and Prejudice (1995) – and I cannot wait to see how this turns out.  Having seen how wonderfully he handled both Elizabeth Bennet and Becky Sharp, I trust Davies to do full justice to the entirely charming Natasha.

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Christmas Books 2012

Last Christmas, my family showered me with Angela Thirkell books.  This year, they turned to the always reliable Persephone Books (correctly understanding that, with 90% of my wish list devoted to Persephone titles, I might be interested in increasing my collection) and the results were incredibly generous.  In total, I have seven new Persephone books:

Kitchen Essays by Agnes Jekyll

Patience by John Coates

High Wages by Dorothy Whipple

Princes in the Land by Joanna Cannan

Fidelity by Susan Glaspell

The New House by Lettice Cooper

Hetty Dorval by Ethel Wilson

Of these, I am probably most excited to read The New House but, unsurprisingly, they are all very appealing.  I was lucky enough to be given some other books as well, including Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure by Artemis Cooper, which sounds wonderful.

Christmas cake

Christmas cookies

Though I am obviously excited about my presents, the best part of Christmas (Eve, in our case) is getting to sit around the living room with the rest of the family, enjoying each other’s company and some truly excellent baked goods.  Whenever I read those newspaper advice columns about people dreading the holidays and time spent with relatives, I am thankful for my own friendly family.  It is truly a delight to spend five or six hours together.

Since Christmas morning is a non-event in our house, my mother and I sat down today and watched episodes two through six of the 1995 Pride and Prejudice miniseries (we watched episode one a few days ago).  Curled up by the fire and with the rain coming down outside, it was the perfect way to spend the morning, our sighs over Darcy and Elizabeth interrupted only by breaks for tea, oranges, and Christmas cookies.

P&P 1995Now, I’m hoping to spend an hour or two finishing Sylvester before we must prepare to head off to Christmas dinner with my brother’s girlfriend’s family.  Our families get on very well and it is always fun to see them.  It should be the perfect end to a wonderful day!

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n321536Living in the wilds of Canada, I knew that a television adaptation of The Making of a Marchioness by Frances Hodgson Burnett was going to be airing on ITV this December but I did not know when.  However, since there was apparently a mad rush by viewers to Google the book in the hour or two immediately after The Making of a Lady aired Sunday night, I now know.  I came home after spending the morning volunteering to find that my visitor stats had gone through the roof.  I feel a bit exasperated that such a surge comes for one of my oldest reviews and for a book I did not like but isn’t that just typical of how little control we book bloggers have over directing readers to the reviews we are most proud of?

Obviously, I haven’t seen the adaptation yet but the reviews seem to be almost universally negative .  If you saw it, what did you think?

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Between work and a newfound passion for the marvellous Borgen, I have not done a lot of reading the last week or so.  By day I have laboured and by night I have obsessed over two season’s worth of fictional Danish politics.  I know many of my British readers will have seen the show and now I can finally agree with you that yes, it is amazing.  I have always loved shows focused on politics but this is the best I’ve ever seen, by far.  Writing realistic strong female characters can be difficult – it is certainly a discussion that comes up on book blogs often enough – but Prime Minister Birgitte Nyborg is the best one I have come across in a long time and all the other characters are equally compelling.  But now I am finished Season Two (thank you, Internet) and have to wait until spring for the next installment.

In addition to work and Danish television, there’s been the usual mix of friends, family and volunteering filling my time and last night I was at the theatre to see She Stoops to Conquer.  I’ve got another theatre date for next week so am doing my bit to support the arts here!

Even though I haven’t been reading in earnest, I have been dipping in and out of The Gentle Art of Domesticity by Jane Brocket again.  I love this book and find it both comforting and inspiring.  It is just so eclectic and positive, full of appreciation for all the little domestic details that can bring one so much pleasure.

I always love rereading her book recommendations, perhaps because she focuses on books I already love, like The Home-Maker and The Diary of a Provincial Lady, or am eagerly anticipating reading, like They Knew Mr Knight.  I also really enjoy the selection of paintings she highlights, especially Summer in Cumberland by James Durden, which Brocket likens to “the domestic novels of Angela Thirkell with their tennis parties, rectories and lovely mothers…”  Well, that clearly explains why I was drawn to it!

I was also amused to come across a photo of bright pink and yellow fondant fancies that are a clear reminder of what those tiny cakes should look like – unlike the sloppy specimens presented on The Great British Bake Off finale earlier this week.  Though how you can get them looking that precise when making them at home (Brocket’s were wisely store-bought), I have no idea.

Right now though, what I am really drawn to are Brocket’s handcrafts – specifically her quilting, knitting and crocheting.  Maybe it is just the sudden onset of autumn that is making me long to take up such cosy, productive activities but I cannot deny the allure.  Technically, I do know how to crochet but it has been years since I made anything and I don’t even know where my hooks are after the last two moves.  I have absolutely no sewing skills but for some reason quilting seems the most attractive activity in the entire book.  My house is full of crocheted blankets (they are in every room and more are stored in every chest of drawers) but there are no quilts anymore.  The ones we have from my grandmother, great-grandmothers, and great-great-grandmothers are all too fragile for everyday use.  And I love quilts.  I don’t think I could live with the brightly coloured, dizzyingly patterned beauties that Brocket creates but I admire them nonetheless.  Maybe it is time to take up a new hobby…

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