Alexa Johnston: maker of puddings, transmitter of wisdom

CoverAnother day, another piece of happy, thanks to the Press Christchurch Writers Festival.  It’s Wednesday afternoon, and I’m heading home full of summer pudding and chocolate chip torte, thinking not What’s for Pudding (Alexa Johnston’s most recent recipe book), but what’s for tea.  Whatever it turns out to be, it doesn’t have a hope of matching the roll-call of dishes we’ve just all been discussing.

Lemon delicious, golden syrup steamed pudding, jam roly-poly, rhubarb crumble – all names guaranteed to bring a tear to the eye and a rumble to the tummy.  There’s bucket-loads of nostalgia in the room, although there are also ambivalent sounds when some of the more contentious puddings are mentioned.  Seems that junket, flummery and blancmange carry fewer happy memories for some, and Alexa floats her theory that those who attended boarding school and who were fed lots of institutional milk and egg-style puddings were so traumatised by the experience that even the mention of rice pudding turns them slightly green.

Chair Kate Fraser notes that when she was at boarding school, they had ‘pudding’ during the week, but ‘dessert’ at the weekends, and asks Alexa what the difference IS between the two.  None, says Alexa – she believes the word ‘dessert’ is an American affectation supposed to make pudding sound more sophisticated and exotic.  She also notes that there is truly nothing better in the world than “a pudding made with love by your mother”.

Alexa has brought with her a selection of her favourite Canterbury cookbooks, which range in era from the 1920s right through to modern ones, and explains how she has chosen the recipes for this most recent book.  She sees herself not as an inventor of recipes, but as a transmitter of wisdom, and after (very unscientifically) interviewing a bunch of people, she gathered a list of dishes, then set about finding the best recipe for each pudding.  Turns out that writing a cook book is much more about statistics and spreadsheets than I’d imagined, although each recipe is thoroughly road-tested – a necessary evil when some of the instructions in older books are simply a list of ingredients followed by the words “combine as usual”.  Older recipe books assumed knowledge because everyone DID actually know, so it can be quite hard to tease out methods and get the right result.

The session is glorious, the book a thing of beauty, the audience buy-in 150%, and Alexa and Kate are both great speakers.  Alexa’s background as art curator and Kate’s long-standing career as foodie writer and author combine to make a great afternoon’s entertainment.  I am happy and full, and have a new determination to go home and sort out all my cookbooks and revisit old family favourites, leaving you with the best quote of the afternoon:

If someone makes your favourite pudding for you, you can be pretty sure they love you.

Have your say on the Draft Central Christchurch Plan

logo for the planLight rail? Seven storey buildings? Cycleways? Markets? School choice? What does it all mean for our beautiful city? What are your thoughts on all these plans? Now is the moment to get reading thinking and commenting on the Draft Central Christchurch Plan .

There are only so many paper copies of the plan around and in the spirit of green, I decided to have a look at the plan online. There are two ways to do this – download the plan as a PDF (14.8mb) or use the online flipbook.

I chose the second option and found it a really good way to look around the plan. I was familiar with the flipbook’s page turning feature from online fashion catalogues. In the initial view the type is small but by mousing on to each page you can read the text clearly. Closing the toolbar which appears at the top of the enlarged page takes you back to the flip page format and you can easily move from there to other sections of the plan.

I also viewed it in the PDF format but my preference was for the flipbook. You can take advantage of   our libraries’ computer services to view the plan online.

Paper copies can be viewed at all our libraries and at other locations around the city like Council Service Centres and the Drop-in Centre at the Christchurch Events Village in Hagley Park.

You can request the plan on a CD or as a paper copy by called the Council Call Centre on 941 8999 or 0800800 169. To make comments you can do this electronically on the Council’s website, by email or letter or using the form enclosed with the printed Plan. The deadline for comments is Friday 16 September 2011 at 5pm.

Classical music for beginners

CoverDo you sometimes hear hauntingly beautiful music in an advert or film which makes you think you’d like to listen to more classical music – and then don’t know where to start?

One place you could start is in our new catalogue. We have just published a list called If you want … an introduction to classical music which is a list of CDs containing selections of classical music for the beginner. All of these are held in libraries that are currently open. A general search in the catalogue lists for ‘classical music’ will also reveal lists made by other libraries and individuals.

Another place to try is our Naxos Music Library, a free music streaming service. This contains a narrated History of Classical Music which is a really good place to start. You could then try listening to the chronological pieces under Playlists and follow up with the student tutorials under Study Area. By now you’ll be an expert.

There is a lot of rewarding music in the classical repertoire and it’s worth a little bit of effort to get to know it. So go on, give it a go.

R.A.K. somebody today!

CoverWe all know that today is the first day of spring (and yay, so far it’s looking pretty good!) , but did you know that today is also Random Acts of Kindness Day?

New Zealand is apparently the only nation to celebrate a country-wide RAK Day, so let’s help make it a success!

Here are some links to inspire you:

And, if you do indulge in a spot of randomness or kindness, please post it here – we would love to hear about it!