Saturday, June 28, 2014

Book Reviews / June 2014

From the author of Lost in Shangri-La comes another tale of war time survival and hardship, this time set in the bitterly cold Arctic region of Greenland rather than in the hot tropical jungle of New Guinea.
This book is two stories in one.
In 1942, a US cargo plane crashed into the Greenland Ice Cap. Four days later, the B-17 sent on the search and rescue mission became lost in a blinding storm and also crashed. However all nine men on board survived, and the US military launched a rescue operation. But after picking up one man, the Grumman Duck amphibious aircraft flew into a severe storm and vanished.

Frozen in Time tells the story of these crashes and the fate of the survivors. It  brings to life their battle of enduring 148 days of the brutal Arctic winter until an expedition brought them to safety.
At the same time Mitchell Zuckoff recounts the efforts of the Coast Guard and North South Polar Inc. who worked for years to solve the mystery of the Grumman Duck’s last flight and try to recover the remains of its crew.
Will they find anything in the short window of opportunity that is the Arctic summer?
A fascinating and well told story, some of it 'edge of your seat' stuff.
Really worth reading.
Australia gained nationhood on January 1st 1901. The infant government of the day wanted a navy to protect its new territory as well as achieve a naval strategic balance against the German presence in the Pacific. Germany had a considerable number of colonies in the area and a fleet operating in Chinese waters, mainly out of Tsingtao.
Despite Britain's dismissal of such an idea (another one of Winston Churchill's many follies involving Australia in both world wars), Australia's first naval fleet sailed into Sydney Harbour on 4th October 1913.
One of those was the light cruiser HMAS Sydney.
With the onset of World War 1 soon after, Sydney was used to capture German colonial assets in the region.

Meanwhile the German Pacific fleet made a run for 'home' from China across the Pacific around Cape Horn into the Atlantic (Battle of Coronel / Battle of the Falkland Islands).
They left behind the raider Emdem which proceeded to cause havoc with allied shipping in the Indian Ocean.
While escorting troop ships bound for Europe from Australia, Sydney encountered the Emdem eventually sinking her in the Cocos Keeling Islands.
First Victory 1914 is a well written and detailed history of HMAS Sydney at war and in particular its action against the raider. While disturbingly graphic at times, the author brings the crews of both ships, from the bridge to the boiler room, to life. For me it was a virtually unknown part of Australian history with emphasis of our World War 1 activity always being concentrated on the Western Front in Europe and of course Gallipoli in Turkey.
The remains of the Emden are still beached in the Cocos today. A 100th Anniversary commemoration will be held this year in November in the Islands.
What induced me to read Body Surfing I can't remember. I certainly didn't download it to my Kindle. Someone must have left the book in the house and I was looking for something light. Anita Shreve did not let me down.
It was her typical formulaic style where almost every romantic cliche seems to get a run.
The story takes place in the same New Hampshire house as the Pilot's Wife and Sea Glass.
There is the two time widowed summer time tutor looking after the family's 'slow' daughter, the two brothers each vying for the tutor's affection, the disagreeable mother and the tolerant and likable father.
All sorts of twists and turns which resolve themselves in the end.
If you like this author and genre you wont be disappointed.
For anyone interested in the American musical theatre Anything Goes is a must read.
Ethan Mordden chronicles the four eras of the American musical ie. the European prehistory, the American melting pot from which Jerome Kern emerged, the glory days from Oscar Hammerstein to Stephen Sondheim, and finally that which many consider to be its decline.

The author also dispels the notion that the American musical is purely a homegrown invention. While it is true it discovered its full potential in the multi cultural melting pot of the immigrant communities in New York, the British operettas of Gilbert & Sullivan and the European offerings of Offenbach were extremely influential.
The Irish-born, German-raised American composer Victor Herbert is credited with being one of the pioneers of the modern American musical. In addition to his role as "grammarian, innovator and debate club coach", he is said to have "reshaped the very structure of the American song, shortening the verse and lengthening the chorus until his heirs, from Irving Berlin and Kern to Rodgers and Hart and the Gershwins, had a more dramatically protean format to work with".
Being a fan of these two, "The Rodgers and Hammerstein Handbook" section was, for me, of immense interest and insight.
The author obviously has a love of words which will have many regularly 'reaching' for Kindle's online dictionary. But this is part of the charm of this book.
Loved it!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Blending Wine

Blending of wines, both in the red and white categories, is very common in many places around the world.
However when sold under a regional label eg. Bordeaux, it is almost impossible to know what grapes make up the wine in the bottle.
Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec and Petit Verdot are the permitted red grapes grown in that area and wines are usually a blend of some of those. Cabernet Sauvignon dominates wines from the left bank of the Gironde and Merlot is the major component in wines from the left bank.
Whites from that area are usually a blend of Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc although there are a number of permitted lessor known varieties.
In contrast Red Burgundy is always 100% Pinot Noir. Of course Gamay is used for Beaujolais but that wine is marketed under its Burgundy regional name.
In my area of special interest, Rioja in Spain, a typical red wine blend will consist of approximately 60% Tempranillo and up to 20% Garnacha, with much smaller proportions of Mazuelo and Graciano.
Each grape adds a unique component to the wine with Tempranillo contributing the main flavors and aging potential, Garnacha adding body and alcohol, Mazuelo adding seasoning flavors and Graciano adding additional aromas. In some special cases the use of Cabernet Sauvignon is allowed in the blend.
Australia (and many other New World countries) generally markets wine according to its variety.

The law here says that a wine must contain at least 85% of a variety to be called a single varietal. The origin of the remaining 15% does not require identification.
Wines sold as blends must have the various component wines listed in descending order.
A typical Australian blend not found in many other places is Cabernet Sauvignon/Shiraz.
I have never considered blending here but this year decided to see what could be achieved with the higher quality wine produced this vintage.
I left the Pinot Noir as a straight varietal and looked only at a Tempranillo/Cabernet blend starting with 15% then 20% and 30% of the latter.
The tasting panel consisted of myself and the co-driver.
We both agreed that the 20% Cabernet addition made an interesting wine discernibly different from both the Tempranillo and Cabernet themselves. The lower end addition did not alter the base wine markedly and higher end addition really did nothing for the base wine.
So we shall blend off half the Tempranillo that way and will have four red wines to offer our 'customers' from the 2014 vintage.
The Semillon has been bottled and is in the 'market place' for evaluation.

Monday, June 09, 2014

Queens Birthday Long Weekend

It comes as a surprise to many that the Queen of England is also the Queen of Australia.
For a lot of Australians, however, the only benefit of this relationship is a long weekend to celebrate her birthday.
All but one of the states do this on the first weekend in June although her actual birthday is on 21st April. She was 88 this year.
It is a busy time in our local area.
There is a considerable tourist influx, mainly from Canberra and Sydney, for the three days.
There is plenty for them to do.
One of the main activities was the Winter Wine Festival, the 11th, which covers the whole Shoalhaven Coast Wine Region and includes the three wineries in our area: Cupitts, Fern Gully and Bawley Vale.

There was wine and cheese tasting, winery tours, live entertainment and gourmet dinners over three days.
Last year an estimated seven thousand people attended. This year they are hoping for ten thousand.
The Scarecrow Festival is an annual event of the weekend (for the 20th time this year) with more than 100 scarecrows popping up all around the towns of Ulladulla and Milton.
This year's theme is Seaside Scarecrows.

A festival highlight included the inaugural Billy Cart Derby held over a 140 metre downhill course.
Other attractions were a climbing wall, mechanical surfboard, petting zoo, golf and football games, cow pat guessing competition and dance demonstrations.
Lots of live music, a variety of market stalls and an evening outdoor screening of the "Wizard of Oz" rounded off a great Saturday
The Fabulous Threads Quilt Show is a biennial event showcasing the talents of the local quilters with, this year, 85 quilts and wall hangings including seven from the co driver. There is no judging, just a viewers choice on each day.

It was well attended at the time we went and there was some amazing work on show. There was a guessing competition. How many hexagons in a particular quilt....11,700 tiny pieces.
Plenty of vendors too with plenty of chairs for the inevitable group of waiting partners.
The co driver won the quilt raffle. Just what she needs: another quilt.
Despite some dire predictions from BoM about the weather it was bright and sunny most of the weekend before some persistent heavy rain showers moved in on Monday morning.
With them the cooler temperatures have now arrived.
The lengthy Indian summer looks to be over.

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Winter Is Here

The first day of winter arrived with a fair bit of rain and a cool south westerly wind.
But really it still isn't cold for this time of year. Maximum was 19°C (66°F)
We have had the warmest autumn on record.
May's average top temperature was around 23°C (74°F).
The last 12 months has been the hottest in 155 years of records.
The weather bureau's seasonal outlook released this week indicates all of New South Wales has a high chance of abnormal dry and warm conditions this winter.
Luckily our tanks and dams are full. But we have plenty of firewood, just in case.
Our exotic deciduous trees have decided finally to change colour (in contrast to our native trees which never lose their leaves) and the grapevines are dropping their leaves.

And at last the autumn flowers are starting to make an appearance albeit 6 weeks later than normal.

We have started pruning.  Getting the Pinot Noir done first was a priority as we have some remedial work on that block to be done. We had to replace a broken end post and need to get the netting stretched tighter. Getting the canes out of the way is the first step. We noticed there was still considerable sap 'run' when cutting the canes which is a sign of the late onset of cooler weather.
The other job is bracken (Pteridium esculentum) spraying.

Bracken had basically taken over pastureland on the south side of our creek and had reduced the available cattle feed. We had started spraying last year and 'knocked over' half of it.
Bracken is a difficult weed to control as it has an extensive, spreading root system, with rhizomes or underground stems that form a vast network in the soil and give rise to new shoots. Burning and slashing live plants just encourages additional growth.

We have found specific systemic herbicides eg. Brush-Off® or Associate® (metsulfuron methyl) with an organo-silicone surfactant to improve penetration and absorption gets the best results
The window of opportunity for getting a good 'kill' is relatively small. The plant has to be still actively growing and the fronds completely expanded so the chemical is absorbed through them and translocated to the roots. For us this means autumn before the plants 'shut down' for winter.
Luckily the warm autumn has extended the growing season this year and we are just about on top of getting the rest done. Sunday's rain will delay things a little with the creek being up making getting equipment across a little difficult. Finer weather is predicted for next week.
It takes many months to find out how successful the spray program has been as these particular weeds die a very slow death. On younger plants a slight curling and browning of the newer fronds is evident after a few weeks but the more mature ones will probably not start to visibly deteriorate until spring.
Then in the densely infested areas, the dead fronds collapse in a thick 'mat' which in turn continues to retard pasture growth.
This needs to be disposed of in some way, probably slashing and burning.

Then in the newly exposed areas, weed species that have been lying dormant eg. native tussock and snake vine (above) will immediately start growing and need to be controlled.
It's seemingly a never ending cycle.
But the success we have had on the north side of the creek makes the effort worthwhile.