The title of the novel Swamplandia! relates to its primary setting - a fictional theme park located on an island off the coast of Florida.  The theme park is owned and operated on a shoestring budget by a family whose matriarch is the show's star - a woman who swims and wrestles with alligators.  Struck down by cancer, the woman leaves behind a father, husband, son and two daughters.  It is through the eyes of the youngest daughter, Ava, that we see how the family falls apart, comes together and falls apart again throughout this tragedy.  The story takes several unexpected twists and turns, part-way through becoming almost fable-like.  Ava decides that she will become the world's youngest alligator-wrestler, her sister starts talking to spirits, her brother defects to a rival theme park, and all manner of adventure happens.  All of it is written exquisitely.  If there is one word I would use to describe this novel it would be 'vivid'.  You really do get a sense of the Florida swamps, and of what young Ava and her kin are going through.

I picked up Swamplandia! partly because of its quirky premise, and partly because it was voted by Times as one of the top 10 books of 2011.  It is quirky, and it's also very good, however it is a lot darker than I had expected.  If you like the sound of this book and aren't put off by an occasional delve into the sinister, then it might be for you.

Winter garden

At the start of winter I had a few things still thriving in my kitchen garden including purple capsicum (which I've discovered I'm not really fond of), and fennel (which I adore - I've made tomato and fennel soup from this crop).

I'm sad to say that here in mid-winter my garden isn't nearly as full, and I have more than one bald patch of a bed, and more than a few weeds.  There is one raised bed that I am quite happy with though - full of greenery include mizuna and two types of kale.  Kale is incredibly trendy at the moment. It's supposed to be a superfood, full of vitamins and nutrients that do wonders for your health.  Sounds great to me.  If only I had more ideas of what to do with it.  


Queenies Lunchroom had been recommended to me by a few people who had said "it's very you".  I can see why - the staff are friendly and relaxed, the food is wholesome and down home and the decor is vintage/retro/kitsch kiwiana - pacifica mixed with royal memorabilia.  Yes, very me.

The food is a bit on the expensive side, but worth it. I had kedgeree, which was delicious.

I highly recommend their meringues, which are the best I've ever eaten and are good value for money for their size and presentation.  Note that they are definitely meant for two.


I love pot plants, but they don't seem to love me.  It is my own fault for abusing my plants.  I always seems to forget to water them, or over-water them, or put them in the wrong environment where they will not thrive.  I am far better at vege gardening than I am at pot-plant-keeping but I'm hoping that I can break the curse.  There is a hook near my front door just begging to cradle a macrame plant holder.  And I would love to fill the rest of my house with greenery.  Today I started with buying some Hedera to go atop my bookcase, inspired by the beautiful Ivy at Everybody's.  


The first season of Portlandia screened on local telly a while ago, and I've just finished watching the second season.  It is good.  Portlandia is a skit show featuring musician Carrie Brownstein, and Saturday Night Live cast member Fred Armissen.  It's produced by Lorne Michaels, who is responsible for 30 Rock - so really there's no wonder I like it.

When I say it is good, the recommendation comes with the caveat that you know enough about hipster culture to be able to laugh at it.  If you're able to find humour in trendy brunch places, crafting, culture snobs, earnest organic and gluten free enthusiasts etc then you'll enjoy Portlandia.  Some of my favourite sketches are Two Girls, Two Shirts, Did You Read It?, Put A Bird On It! and She's Making Jewellery Now.  What really got me though, was the series of sketches around Battlestar Galactica.  Too close to home.  Too close!

Borlotti Beans

Borlotti have to be my favourite beans.  I love them in stews and soups, but mostly I love them for how pretty they are.  The pods are a beautiful colour and peeling them open, once fully developed, reveals beans that look like jewels or little birds eggs.  

Really they should be treated as an ornamental plant.  The shrubs that they grown on are small and require no support (no bean poles necessary), and they're not the sort of beans that produce all season long.  These are strictly one crop per plant, and you need to grow many plants to make a decent meal's worth of beans.

The below are Borlotto Firetongue Beans.  It took patience and experience to figure out that the beans inside are ready when the outer shell starts to shrivel and look ugly.  If you pick these too soon the beans will be underdeveloped - green and starchy.  You'll notice that I am holding a mix of beans that are ready, and beans that could have done with a little more time.  At any rate, they were all delicious once mixed into my meatball soup.


Carrot, Kumara and Coriander Soup

Carrots are ridiculously cheap as well as nutritious, and have become a staple of mine of late.  I ate a lot of grated carrot salads in summer and am now experimenting with stews and soups.  This particular soup started off as a basic roast carrot and coriander soup, but I wasn't happy with the watery consistency so added kumara (sweet potato) for some substance.  If you like heat, a little chopped up chili wouldn't go amiss... You'll notice that I haven't added any quantities.  You can make it up as you go along, making as much or as little as you need.  The important part is to have a good vegetable to stock ratio so that the soup doesn't end up too watery.  I would guestimate 1 part cooked vegetables to 1.5 parts stock.

Kumara (sweet potato)
Vegetable stock
Salt and Pepper

  • Peel a large quantity of carrots and kumara and chop into large chunks.  Put in a roasting dish (on baking paper so it doesn't stick) and sprinkle with salt.  Roast until cooked.
  • In a large pot simmer vegetable stock with a good handful of chopped up coriander.
  • Add the roasted vegetables to the stock pot and add the juice of an orange and a liberal grinding of black pepper. 
  • Use a hand stick blender to puree the vegetables.  Add more salt and pepper to taste.

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