Saturday, February 09, 2008

THIS TIME TOMORROW I WILL BE WINGING MY WAY TO SOUTH AFRICA FOR MY 40TH MATRIC REUNION, AND TO CATCH UP WITH DEAR FRIENDS - so there may be a bit of a hiatus in my blog posting for a week or two.


People of the Book is the latest novel by Geraldine Brooks who wrote March (which won the Pulitzer Prize) and a wonderful first novel, A Year of Wonders.

This novel is a book about a book, a very special book known as the Sarajevo Haggedah. In 1996 a young Australian woman, Hanna Heath, who is a rare book conservator specialising in the repair and restoration of incunabula ( books produced before 1501 AD), is appointed by the UN to go to Sarajevo to examine a book which has been kept hidden during the Bosnian War. The book turns out to be the renowned Sarajevo Haggadah, a lavishly illustrated Mediaeval Hebrew manuscript which was made at a time when Jewish belief was very much against illustrations of any kind. This was because the Jews of the Middle Ages still adhered to the command given in Exodus that “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image or likeness of anything”.

On close examination, Hanna finds that the book contains some tiny clues as to its earlier life – an insect wing, wine stains, some salt crystals and a white hair. Following these clues she attempts to unravel the history of this remarkable book,

Geraldine Brooks has inserted tales of the various times and places which have featured in the life of the book into the story of Hanna Heath and her investigations and how they impact on both her professional and private life, cleverly marrying fiction with what is actually known about the book.

Moving backwards through time the reader discovers what happened to the Haggedah during the 2nd World War when a Muslim librarian saved the book from the Nazis; through Vienna at the turn of the 19th Century when anti-Semitism was on the rise, and the book became a pawn in a deadly game; back through the Inquisition in Venice where the Haggadah was saved from being burnt by a Catholic priest. Finally we learn of the book’s early history in Spain where it was originally produced in 1480 AD to be a wedding gift, and why it was illustrated in the way it was.

The author has based her novel on a true story, but has written her own version of the people that were involved with this remarkable book. What is particularly remarkable is that on two occasions Muslim librarians risked their lives to save a single book that was testament to the endurance of a faith which was not their own.

I learnt a great deal from reading this book - about 15th Century Spain, about the conservation of rare books, about Judaecia, about the Hapsburg Empire at the fin-du-siecle, and above all, about how special librarians are.

This book has a great story, and is an informative read, I really recommend it to you.

Rated 5*


Thank the lord I shall be out of the country on Valentine’s Day as I am heartily (geddit?) sick of the overpriced commercial tat that is everywhere. And I do mean everywhere, shops, supermarkets, hairdressers, petrol stations….(would YOU want a love token purchased from a garage forecourt?)

How does it get to the point where a rather quaint old-fashioned tradition turns into a mega-marketing opportunity so that the whole thing has become a nauseously unromantic parody of what the day originally represented.

Every restaurant is fully booked for that evening, I suspect they could be serving mildewed tripe on toast and still make a huge profit, service will be abominable as they pack in too many punters. As far as I’m concerned it is the one night of the year where it is best to avoid restaurants like the plague. I’m slightly surprised that MacDonald's hasn’t jumped on the bandwagon with a heart-shaped Big Mac.

For days beforehand the cost of flowers rockets upwards, and if my DH ever thought of buying me any of the exorbitantly priced, scent free, red roses that the florists are stocking in bulk (which he won’t be doing as we will be about 8000 miles apart) I would probably bash him over the head with them for wasting his money.

Many of the Valentine’s cards on sale have lavatorial jokes, or sexually crude messages that would make a stripper blush – who would want to receive one of those from their paramour?

As far as I’m concerned you can take all the sickly pink heart-shaped marshmallows, cheap milk chocolate heart-shaped lollipops, heart-shaped helium balloons etc and dump them in some land-fill site.

Big business has targeted the day, and managed to shoot Cupid in the process.


We have two friends who have Coeliac disease which means that they cannot tolerate any gluten in their diet. When I have either of them to dinner I have to plan the menu carefully because it is amazing how often a recipe calls for a spoonful of flour here or there. I came across this marvellous, completely gluten free recipe on a food blog I often read, Kalyn's Kitchen (to visit her blog click HERE), and I tweaked it a bit to fit what ingredients I had in store. This is one recipe I will be making regularly, and not just for those who have Coeliac disease.


Serves 4

3 large skinless and boneless chicken breasts,

3 Tablespoons mayonnaise
3 Tablespoons Dijon mustard
Tablespoons balsamic vinegar
Tablespoons water
1 large clove of garlic, pushed through a garlic press

¾ teaspoons seasoning of your choice - I used Tesco's Hot Spicy Rub

3 Tablespoons freshly grated parmesan cheese

1½ cups ground almonds
½ teaspoons seasoning
salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste

Slice the chicken breasts crosswise into 1½ cm wide strips – each breast should make 6-7 pieces.

Whisk the mayonnaise, mustard, balsamic vinegar, water, garlic and seasoning together in a bowl, and then add the chicken pieces, stirring well so they are completely coated in the marinade. Cover with clingfilm and marinate for at least 3-4 hours (you can make it in the morning or even the night before).

Pre-heat the oven to 220°C

Use non-stick baking spray to coat a large baking tray (or grease it lightly with vegetable oil).

Remove the chicken and marinade from the fridge and allow to come to room temperature.

Mix the grated parmesan, ground almonds and seasoning together in a large shallow bowl.

Shake excess marinade off each piece of chicken and toss in the coating mixture until well covered, lay the pieces in a single layer, not touching, on the greased baking tray.

Bake in the oven for 10 minutes, then take out, and using a metal spatula gently turn each piece over before returning to the oven for a further 8-10 minutes. The pieces should be a golden brown.

Serve with a crisp green salad.


Nick said...

I do agree about Valentine's Day. The whole thing has become just another mega-commercial racket. With the extra complication this year that most of the flowers in the UK are in fact flown in from Kenya which is in turmoil. Jenny and I avoid the commerce and keep it simple - we might share a glass of wine, some chocolates and some loving kisses and that's it.

Teuchter said...

Thanks for your post. I've had a bit of a nasty time with the RFA - but am fine.

Have a fab trip. Look forward to hearing about it when you're back. If you could just bring a wee bit of sun back with you ...?

Can't agree more about the over commercialisation of St Valentine's Day. We'll be ignoring it, as usual, chez T.

Kit said...

Have a safe flight to SA. I've just come home to SA from the UK myself and there is a big difference in the level of Valentines Day stuff in the shops - far less here, though I did notice that Easter Eggs are already featured in our local Spar!! I'm blessed with a husband who can't bear artificially hyped occasions either so Valentines is a low key occasion for us too.

Bybee said...

In Korea on Feb. 14, women give men candy. On March 14,(White Day) men give women candy. On April 14 (Black Day), single friends go out and eat noodles with black sauce then go get drunk. At least with us, it's over until next year after the one day. Here, the concept goes on and on.... I liked the cupid! LOL. Have a great trip.

Jeanne said...

I still rememebr when I was at school and I used to hand make a valentines card for my secret love and it was all very sweet and clandestine. When you are a) married b) surrounded by all the tat you describe, it is quite the opposite!! Bah humbug.

And lucky you jetting off for yuor reunion - hope you had a good time. I only had my 20th a couple of years ago so I'm a bit behind you :)