Holiday reading

IMG_8841.JPGI love books.  I’ve been a keen reader since I can remember.  According to my mother I had been very frustrated as a little kid by the fact that I could, at that time, not yet read.  Once I remedied that problem, I read just about every book I could lay my hands on.  Trips to the public library were a highlight of my childhood.  I used to take not only my own but also my parents’ library cards and would borrow huge stacks of books.  The hunt for interesting and intriguing books in the library was, in itself, an adventure.  But the best part is the new friends you make and the worlds you explore once you start reading.

These days I struggle to find time to read. Since I started working, life got busier and precious reading time got less.  When I get into bed in the evening I am usually lucky to stay awake long enough to read a magazine article, never mind a decent length chapter of a novel.

A great discovery I made a few years ago is the wonderful world of audio books.  This way I can listen to books whilst getting dressed, driving or doing household chores.  Most of the books I’ve “read” in the last five years or so were in this format.  I find that, once you get used to listening to books, instead of reading them yourself, you can follow the story quite easily.  Only if something out of the ordinary distracts me, I may need to rewind a bit to catch a section where I was not paying enough attention.  And a good narrator is an absolute treat to listen to.  I think that, sometimes, books can be better experienced by listening to a great narrator than by reading it yourself.

When I get the opportunity to spend some quality time reading, I grab it with both hands.  This usually happens when we go on vacation.  During December and January (being summer vacation time for South Africans) I overdose on reading, getting through as many as I can.  The great thing about living in the 21st century is that we can transport a whole libraries on our phones and tablets and, in most instances, we can buy books anytime, anywhere.  If you run out of books in the Lesotho mountains or on a tiny Thai island with no book shop anywhere nearby, no problem!  If you go to a destination without WiFi or some other form of data connection, though, you better go prepared with enough of the real thing.

Throughout the year I gather a stack of books (bought, borrowed and received as gifts) on my bedside table, where they patiently lie and wait for holiday time to arrive.  This stack sometimes ends up resembling a literary Tower of Pisa as year-end draws near.

In anticipation of a road trip to Namibia this coming December, I inspected the book stash and identified the reading list for the trip’s reading extravaganza.  The selection is quite out of the ordinary for me, containing two non-fiction works and two Afrikaans books (English fiction being my usual staple).

1. On Writing – Stephen King
This book frequently features on lists of essential reading for aspiring writers.  Who better to teach you something about writing than one of the greatest storytellers of our time?

2. Agaat – Marlene van Niekerk
This is a serious novel, not the type of book I read as a general rule. I like light entertainment, an escape from all the crap that we have to deal with every day in the real world.  I suppose you can call me a bit of a lazy reader in this respect.  But sometimes we have to confront more serious matters, also in our reading.  Agaat is set in apartheid South Africa and explores the relationship between a white woman and her black domestic/care-taker.  I saw this book on a friend’s bookshelf and promptly borrowed it, as I have been meaning to read Marlene van Niekerk’s work for some time.

3. Beseringstyd – FJ Labuschagne
This is quite an interesting addition to the holiday reading list.  This is the debut work of a fellow South African lawyer (we know each other from varsity days).  When I heard that he published a novel I was intrigued, as this is something that I would love to do one day.  The subject matter (varsity rugby) is not something that would normally attract my attention.  I am just really curious to see what he came up with.

4. My Brief History – Stephen Hawking
An autobiography by (arguably) the world’s smartest man.  Once I’ve read this, I’ll give A Brief History Of Time another go.  Never managed to get past the first few chapters.

5. The Picture of Dorian Gray and Other Works – Oscar Wilde

My brother-in-law bought me a hardcover collection of Oscar Wilde’s works some time ago.  It has an old-fashioned, gold and silver embossed cover with gold page edges – so pretty that I am afraid I’ll damage it when reading.  But I’ve decided it is now time to read this book.  Maybe a bit of Oscar Wilde will do me good.

What do you read when you’re on vacation?  Anything interesting on your reading list for an upcoming holiday?

NaBloPoMo

What better way to kick off my renewed blogging effort than by participating in NaBloPoMo. For those who are not familiar with the acronym (I wasn’t until about a week ago), November is National Blog Posting Month, during NaBloPoMo_1114_465x287_NOVwhich participants aim to publish a post on their blogs every day.

I hope that NaBloPoMo will help me get into the habit of regular writing and blogging, forcing me to actively search for topics and not just waiting for inspiration to hit (which generally doesn’t happen very often). I can’t guarantee that the posts will be any good but I suppose even bad writing is better practice that no writing.

To add to all my blogging fun, I’ve also signed up for Blogging U’s Blogging 101 course, which starts tomorrow.  Hopefully I will learn more about blogging and writing in general, in order to broaden my own skills and save you, dear readers, from being bored (or scared) to death by sub-standard material on this blog.  I hope for all of our sakes that I achieve this goal.

It was touch-and-go but Day 1 of NaBloPoMo was successful, with me succeeding to get that first post published in the last couple of hours of 1 November. I hope I can remain disciplined and keep it up.  Just have to write, write, write.

Now, let me go and find a muse…

For more information on NaBloPoMo and Blogging U, click on the badges on the top right of the page.

Lamb neck and tomato stew

A few weeks ago I was meandering around the Woolworths food aisles trying to come up with some new ideas for the next few days’ dinners. I’ve been a bit cooking inspiration impaired since I completed a chef certificate course last year (not quite the result I expected but I suppose I overdosed a bit on compulsory cooking…), so going to the grocery store has been a bit tedious for the last 10 months or so. I suppose part of the problem is that I am trying to follow a low kilojoule eating plan prescribed by my dietitian, in order to shed those 10 odd sneaky kilograms that I picked up since varsity. It is hard to be creative with food when you can basically only eat steamed veggies, salad and lean, grilled fish and chicken. I know, I know, there are lots of interesting yet healthy recipes out there but the idea of being on a “diet” just cramps my cooking style.

Anyway, so I was wandering down the meat aisle when I saw some lamb neck cutlets. Not the most low-fat meat around, I know, but something different from my usual fish, chicken breasts and ostrich mince. I’d never cooked lamb neck myself. My mom made it from time to time when I was a kid but I never really fancied it. But seeing the pack on the shelf that day, I thought “hmm… this is something different and my husband would probably appreciate it, being the lamb nut that he is”, so I bought a pack in an attempt to break the monotony that has been plaguing my kitchen lately.

So the next evening I put together a simple yet hearty little stew. And yes, the hubby was very chuffed!

Lamb neck and tomato stew

Ingredients

1 tablespoon of canola or olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
6 pieces of lamb neck
1 cup red wine
1 can of chopped tomatoes
1 bay leaf
Sprig of fresh rosemary
½ tablespoon Robertsons Italian Herbs (or a similar dried herb mix containing marjoram, origanum, sage and thyme – you could also use these fresh if you have them around)
½ tablespoon honey
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional – for a bit of a bite!)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Mixed roast vegetables and mashed potatoes to serve

Method

Heat the oil in a large saucepan to a medium heat.

Fry the onion for about 10 minutes, until soft and translucent.

Add the garlic and fry for a couple of minutes.

Add the lamb and fry on medium to high heat until browned.

Add the wine and simmer for a few minutes until alcohol dissipates.

Add tomatoes, bay leaf, rosemary, dried herbs, honey, cayenne pepper, salt and pepper and bring to a simmer.

Turn down heat, cover and simmer gently for two hours or until the meat is soft, stirring occasionally. Add a bit more wine or water, if necessary.

Check seasoning and serve with mashed potatoes (or another starch of your choice) and a side of roast veggies for a lovely, comforting winter meal. And don’t forget the red wine!

Yum!
(I added about a third of a can of borlotti beans to this batch)