Sunday, 31 May 2009

A weekend bake-a-thon

Finally I have a weekend off, and it's been time for some serious baking.

#1 Bakewell tarts.
I'd normally post the recipe, but I saw a lot whilst planning to make them, and I ended up combining various recipes, which worked out quite well. I bought some cute little mini flan tins which I've been desperate to use, and that used about half a pack of a 450g pack of ready to roll pastry from M and S. I know, I should have made my own, but I was a bit nervous. Actually, I definitely should have made my own, as the pastry fell to bits when I unrolled it, and I had to squidge it all together and then roll it anyway. I then creamed 4oz butter with 4oz golden caster sugar, beat in 2 eggs, and then added a 100g packet of ground almonds. I added a bit of SR flour to make the almonds equal the sugar and butter in weight, along with a teaspoon of almond essence to ensure it was really almondy. I didn't actually blind bake the pastry, but it doesn't seem to have gone too soggy, so I then spread the bottom of each tart with jam* and put some of the mixture in each tart tin. I had way too much mixture leftover, so I put the rest in a tin with some fresh, pitted cherries to make a kind of frangipane cake (see pic...). Anyway, here is the result which I served with cream to my lovely boyfriend as part of a special end of the week dinner.

* Jam. From the recipes that I've seen the flavour of jam can be quite controversial, and I'm not exactly sure what is traditional in Bakewell. I've done some research on the internet but haven't been able to find it out. Some people favour raspberry, but mainly because I had it in the fridge, and we like it, I used some Tiptree Morello cherry jam.

#2 Coffee and walnut cupcakes
Just a simple mix of 2oz vegetable spread, 2oz soft brown sugar, an egg, and 2oz SR with a tablespoon of Camp Coffee and 1 oz of chopped walnuts. I love Camp Coffee for adding coffee flavour to cakes. Baked in the oven for about 10 mins at 180C, and then iced with butter icing (1oz butter, 1.5 oz icing sugar, and a good slosh of camp coffee). These are for my boyfriend's packed lunches - I always make him some sort of sweet treat (cereal bars, flapjacks, lemon buns, fairy cakes, shortbread hippos...).

#3 Birthday cake for Dad.
Not the sort of thing I'd want to eat myself, but apparently this is what his Mum used to make. My Mum used to make it for him, but now I seem to have taken on that role. It's just a regular sponge, with buttercream in the filling, and water icing on the top. Really the water icing should be pink, but I don't use food colouring. Sugar overload but it's what he likes.

#4 Carrot and banana cake
Something slightly healthier perhaps?! This is a recipe from where I get a lot of my recipes. I've never made a cake using oil before and was slightly disconcerted when I poured the oil in and it just sat on top of the mixture. It took a lot of stirring to absorb, but by the time I'd bunged in the bananas and carrots etc it looked ok, but did taste a little greasy IMO. I liked the idea of combining carrots and bananas as during the last week I've had Pret's carrot cake and banana cake, both very yummy. I also just made a butter icing as I didn't want to open a whole tub of cream cheese.

It still hasn't quite satisfied my baking urges - I'm wanting to do something with rhubarb, and found this, I STILL want to make the spelt bread that Scandilicious blogged about ages ago, and now strawberries are in season I want to give this a go that I didn't get around to last summer. I think I'm going to have to do something with bananas this week as we've got some leftover, and it's been ages since I made brioche in my bread machine. And I still haven't tried Nicola's cinnamon buns. And I've got the June and July editions of BBC Good food, Olive and Delicious which are bound to have more ideas! Maybe I need an alternative career... Or maybe not if we are to retain our waistlines.

And, no, we haven't been just been doing a Marie Antoinette all weekend, it's also been a weekend of pasta eating, just because I didn't feel like slaving over a hot stove. I made a tuna and olive and chilli sauce on Friday night, with heart shaped pasta, an asparagus and basil and tomato sauce with fresh tagliatelle on Saturday, and a marinated peppers and tomato sauce, also with fresh tagliatelle for Sunday. Better come up with something else for the boyfriend on Monday as he's got to have a packed tea two nights this week which invariably means pasta salad of some description!

PS: Ooh, I've just found this recipe which looks fab - spelt rhubarb cake. I've been meaning to try spelt to see if it's gentler on my stomach so I definitely should give that a go next.

Friday, 29 May 2009

Lots of people have been blogging about the following list which is the Orange Prize longlist 1996-2009 (I think that's how long the prize has been going for) - which I've got from here. The consensus seems to be that most people haven't read very many, but as you can see from below, I've done quite well! With a further 3 awaiting reading on the tbrbc. I attribute this to getting interested in the prize back in about 2003, when I was working in a public library. We were encouraged to read at least one book from the list, and I ended up trying to read as many as possible. I loved the fact that I was reading all sorts of things that I wouldn't otherwise have read, and since then I've always looked out for the orange promotions in the library. Some of the books on this list have really gone on to be bestsellers but other ones I can barely remember what the plot was about! Anyway, an interesting exercise!

A L Kennedy Everything You Need
A L Kennedy So I am Glad
Ajay Close Official and Doubtful
Ali Smith Hotel World - shortlist
Ali Smith The Accidental - shortlist
Alice Greenaway White Ghost Girls
Alice McDermott Charming Billy
Alice Sebold The Lovely Bones
Allegra Goodman Intuition
Amy Tan The Bonesetter's Daughter
Amy Tan The Hundred Secret Senses - shortlist
Andrea Barrett The Voyage of the Narwhal
Andrea Levy Never Far from Nowhere
Andrea Levy Small Island - winner
Anita Desai Fasting, Feasting
Anita Desai The Zigzag Way
Anita Rau Badami The Hero's Walk
Anita Shreve The Weight of Water - shortlist
Ann Patchett Bel Canto - winner
Ann Patchett The Magician's Assistant - shortlist
Ann Weisgarber's The Personal History of Rachel DuPree
Ann-Marie MacDonald Fall on your Knees
Anna Burns No Bones - shortlist
Anna Quindlen Black and Blue
Anne Donovan Buddha Da - shortlist
Anne Michaels Fugitive Pieces - winner
Anne Enright The Gathering
Anne Tyler Digging to America
Anne Tyler Ladder of Years - shortlist
Anne Tyler The Amateur Marriage
Audrey Niffenegger The Time Traveler's Wife
Barbara Ewing A Dangerous Vine
Barbara Kingsolver The Poisonwood Bible - shortlist
Barbara Neil A History of Silence
Bella Bathurst Special
Bernadine Evaristo Blonde Roots
Beryl Bainbridge Every Man for Himself
Beryl Bainbridge Master Georgie
Carol Shields Larry's Party - winner
Carol Shields Unless- shortlist
Carrie Tiffany Everyman’s Rules for Scientific Living - shortlist
Catherine Chidgey In a Fishbone Church
Catherine O’Flynn What Was Lost
Célestine Hitiura Vaite Frangipani
Charlotte Mendelson When We Were Bad
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie Half of a Yellow Sun - winner
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie Purple Hibiscus - shortlist
Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni The Mistress of Spices
Chloe Hooper A Child's Book of True Crime - shortlist
Christina Koning Undiscovered Country
Christine Dwyer Hickey Tatty
Christine Pountney Last Chance Texaco
Clare Allan Poppy Shakespeare
Clare Clark The Great Stink
Cristina Garcia The Aguero Sisters
Crystal Wilkinson Water Street
Curtis Sittenfeld American Wife
Curtis Sittenfeld Prep
Danzy Senna From Caucasia, with Love
Deborah Robertson Careless
Debra Adelaide The Household Guide to Dying
Deirdre Madden One by One in the Darkness - shortlist
Deirdre Purcell Love Like Hate Adore - shortlist
Dinah Lee Küng A Visit from Voltaire
Donna Tartt The Little Friend - shortlist
Drusilla Modjeska The Orchard
E Annie Proulx Accordion Crimes - shortlist
Edna O’Brien In the Forest
Eilis Ni Dhuibhne The Dancers Dancing - shortlist
Elizabeth Knox The Vintner's Luck
Elizabeth McCracken Niagara Falls All Over Again
Elizabeth Strout Amy and Isabelle – shortlist
Ellen Feldman Scottsboro
Elspeth Sandys River Lines
Emma Richler Sister Crazy
Esther Freud Summer at
Esther Freud The Wild
Gail Jones Dreams of Speaking
Gillian Slovo Ice Road - shortlist
Gina B Nahai Moonlight on the Avenue of Faith
Gina Ochsner The Russian Dreambook of Colour and Flight
Haven Kimmel The Solace of Leaving Early
Heather O’Neill Lullabies for Little Criminals
Helen DeWitt The Last Samurai
Helen Dunmore A Spell of Winter - winner
Helen Dunmore House of Orphans
Helen Dunmore The Siege - shortlist
Hilary Mantel Beyond Black - shortlist
Hilary Mantel The Giant O'Brien
Ingrid Hill Ursula, Under
Isla Dewar Keeping Up with Magda
Jackie Kay Trumpet
Jacquelyn Mitchard The Most Wanted
Jamaica Kincaid The Autobiography of My Mother
Jane Gardam Old Filth - shortlist
Jane Hamilton The Short History of a Prince - shortlist
Jane Harris The Observations - shortlist
Jane Mendelsohn I Was Amelia Earhart - shortlist
Jane Rogers Island
Jane Rogers Promised Lands
Jane Smiley Horse Heaven - shortlist
Jane Smiley Ten Days in the Hills
Jane Urquhart The Underpainter
Janet Davey English Correspondence
Jayne Ann Phillips Motherkind
Jeanette Winterson Gut Symmetries
Jeanette Winterson The PowerBook
Jennifer Clement A True Story Based on Lies
Jhumpa Lahiri The Namesake
Jill Dawson Fred & Edie - shortlist
Jill Dawson Watch Me Disappear
Jo-Ann Goodwin Danny Boy
Joan Brady Death Comes for Peter Pan
Joan Didion The Last Thing He Wanted
Joan London Gilgamesh
Joanne Harris Five Quarters of the Orange
Joolz Denby Billie Morgan - shortlist
Josephine Humphreys Nowhere Else on Earth
Joyce Carol Oates Middle Age
Joyce Carol Oates Rape A Love Story
Joyce Carol Oates The Falls
Judy Budnitz If I Told You Once - shortlist
Julia Blackburn The Book of Colour - shortlist
Julia Blackburn The Leper's Companions - shortlist
Julia Darling Crocodile Soup
Julia Leigh The Hunter
Julie Otsuka When the Emperor was Divine
Karla Kuban Marchlands
Kate Atkinson Case Histories
Kate Grenville The Idea of Perfection - winner
Kathryn Heyman The Breaking
Kathy Page The Story of My Face
Kira Cochrane Escape Routes for Beginners
Kiran Desai The Inheritance of Loss - shortlist
Kirsten Bakis Lives of the Monster Dogs - shortlist
Kitty Aldridge Pop
Laura Fish Strange Music
Laura Hird Born Free
Laurie Graham Dog Days, Glenn Miller Nights
Laurie R King With Child
Leila Aboulela Minaret
Leila Aboulela The Translator
Leone Ross All the Blood is Red
Lesley Glaister Now You See Me
Lesley Glaister The Private Parts of Women
Leslie Forbes Fish, Blood & Bone
Lily Prior La Cucina
Linda Grant The Cast Iron Shore
Linda Grant The Clothes on Their Backs
Linda Grant When I Lived in Modern Times - winner
Lindsey Collen The Rape of Sita
Lionel Shriver We Need to Talk About Kevin - winner
Lisa Moore Alligator
Lissa Evans Their Finest Hour and a Half
Liz Jensen Ark Baby
Liz Jensen Egg Dancing
Liz Jensen War Crimes for the Home
Lori Lansens The Girls
Lorraine Adams Harbor
Louise Welsh The Cutting Room
Louise Young Baby Love
Lucy Ellmann Dot in the Universe
Lucy Ellmann Man or Mango?
M J Hyland Carry Me Down
Maggie Gee The Flood
Maggie Gee The White Family - shortlist
Maile Meloy Liars & Saints - shortlist
Manda Scott Hen's Teeth - shortlist
Margaret Atwood Alias Grace - shortlist
Margaret Atwood Oryx and Crake - shortlist
Margaret Atwood The Blind Assassin - shortlist
Margaret Forster Over
Marianne Wiggins Eveless Eden – shortlist
Marilyn Bowering Visible Worlds - shortlist
Marilynne Robinson Gilead
Marina Lewycka A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian - shortlist
Marly Swick Evening News
Mary Kay Zuravleff The Frequency of Souls
Mary Morrissy Mother of Pearl
Maureen Duffy Restitution
Meaghan Delahunt In the Blue House
Meera Syal Anita and Me
Meg Wolitzer The Position
Melanie Finn Away From You
Melanie Wallace The Housekeeper
Michele Roberts Impossible Saints
Michelle de Kretser The Lost Dog
Michelle Huneven Round Rock
Michelle Lovric The Remedy
Miranda Hearn Nelson’s Daughter
Miriam Toews The Flying Troutmans
Monica Ali Brick Lane
Nadine Gordimer The House Gun
Nancy Huston Fault Lines
Nani Power Crawling at Night
Naomi Alderman Disobedience
Nell Freudenberger The Dissident
Nell Leyshon Black Dirt
Nicole Krauss The History of Love - shortlist
Nora Okja Keller Comfort Woman
Nora Okja Keller Fox Girl
Oonya Kempadoo Buxton Spice
Pagan Kennedy Spinsters - shortlist
Pat Barker The Ghost Road
Patricia Ferguson It So Happens
Patricia Ferguson Peripheral Vision
Patricia Wood Lottery
Paulina Simons Red Leaves
Pauline Melville The Ventriloquist's Tale - shortlist
Penelope Fitzgerald The Blue Flower
Philippa Gregory The Constant Princess
Preeta Samarasan Evening is the Whole Day
Rachel Cusk Arlington Park - shortlist
Rachel Seiffert Afterwards
Rachel Seiffert The Dark Room
Rebecca Gowers When to Walk
Rose Tremain The Colour - shortlist
Rose Tremain The Road Home
Rosina Lippi Homestead - shortlist
Rupa Bajwa The Sari Shop
Sadie Jones The Outcast
Samantha Harvey The Wilderness
Samantha Hunt The Invention of Everything Else
Sandra Benitez Bitter Grounds
Sandra Cisneros Caramelo
Sarah Hall The Electric Michelangelo
Sarah May The Internationals
Sarah Waters Fingersmith – shortlist
Sarah Waters The Night Watch - shortlist
Sena Jeter Naslund Ahab's Wife
Shauna Singh Baldwin What the Body Remembers
Shena Mackay Heligoland - shortlist
Sheri Holman The Mammoth Cheese - shortlist
Shirley Hazzard The Great Fire - shortlist
Siri Hustvedt The Enchantment of Lily Dahl
Siri Hustvedt What I Loved
Sonya Hartnett What the Birds See
Stef Penney The Tenderness of Wolves
Stella Duffy State of Happiness
Stephanie Grant The Passion of Alice
Stevie Davies Kith & Kin
Stevie Davies The Element of Water
Sue Gee The Mysteries of Glass
Sue Miller Lost in the Forest
Sue Monk Kidd The Secret Life of Bees
Sunetra Gupta A Sin of Colour
Suzanne Berne A Crime in the Neighbourhood - winner
Toni Morrison Love
Toni Morrison Paradise - shortlist
Tracy Chevalier Girl with a Pearl Earring
Trezza Azzopardi The Hiding Place
Tricia Wastvedt The River
Valerie Martin Property - winner
VV Ganeshananthan Love Marriage
Xiaolu Guo A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers - shortlist
Zadie Smith On Beauty - winner
Zadie Smith The Autograph Man - shortlist
Zadie Smith White Teeth - shortlist
Zoë Heller Notes on a Scandal

Borders online

I don't want to make a habit of ranting on my blog, but I'm desperate to know how Borders online get it so wrong, when Amazon, Blackwells, and a whole host of independent retailers and second hand book dealers get it so right. I've had nothing but excellent service from these - you order, the payment is taken (or you post off a cheque (in fact some second hand book dealers will even send you the books on trust once you've ordered from them before!)) and the books arrive. Happy customer. End of story.
Borders however has been a different matter. Normally I do my online book shopping from Amazon, because it's generally cheapest, the delivery is free, and the marketplace is fantastic for out of print books (or just getting a book second hand cheaper than the list price). However, I was seduced by Borders' recent "Buy one get one half price" offer, which was just to good to be true. It's like the credit crunch version of the 3 for 2 (although if you've read my earlier posts, you'll know that sadly Waterstones have probably made enough out of me on this last weekend to keep them going through the recession). I bought a few instore, and then realised the offer was available online and that this was a fantastic opportunity to get things cheaply that aren't available in store (yes, Persephone books!!)(although I have found a few Perspephones in our Borders).
I filled my basket and arranged for the books to be delivered to the store, just in case they didn't fit through the letter box, and because it's nice to have an outing at lunchtime. Unfortunately it all went downhill from there. First I got an email saying that they couldn't process my payment, so I should call the helpline. I called the helpline and the guy on the phone said that I needed to cancel my order online and replace the order. Logged back on, but it wasn't possible to cancel the order. Emailed the helpline who then said that the order had gone through fine. Then I noticed that two items had been inexplicably cancelled, but I wasn't notified. And then I waited. The orders were showing up as "dispatched to store", so I was expecting an email or a phone call to go and collectthem. I waited some more. Eventually I went into Borders to speak to a human and find out what was happening, and the books were there! The money had been taken from my credit card but no-one had informed me of their arrival. I was quite happy to finally see my books, although I did later write to the helpline (who said that books arrive 2 days after their dispatch). Of course the story doesn't quite end there; the bag they gave me was incapable of holding 6 Persephones and fell apart on the way home, and all of this was a couple of weeks ago, and I'm *still* waiting for two books.

Thursday, 28 May 2009

How do I choose the books that I read?

Or perhaps more precisely, what do a I choose to read? I had a long think about this the other day, after my boyfriend apparently told one of his colleagues who asked what I read "a lot of different things, but there's a lot of chick lit in there". I was a bit upset, as although I admit that I do read chick-lit (primarily in bed before I put the light out, as I don't like anything more intellectually stimulating at that stage), and I'm not ashamed of it (there is good chick lit, and there is bad chick lit, just like any other books, and I enjoy both actually), I didn't really want to be identified as a chick lit reader.* He's now been trained to say "she reads a lot of things, but is particularly interested in women's literature from the first half of the twentieth century". I think that sums things up quite nicely for people unacquainted with the niceties of Virago and Persephone.
I choose books in lots of ways. Firstly, there is the obvious reading the rest of an author that one likes. At the moment, I'm reading my way through Jane Gardam and Margaret Drabble and Hilary Mantel (and less avidly, Anita Brookner, Penelope Fitzgerald, Nina Bawden...), as well as postponing reading the last 2 Barbara Pym's that I've not yet read, and the last Monica Dickens. And this was responsible for my Sarah Waters disappointment.
Then, there's the method new to me this year, of pursuing particular publishing houses. Obviously I'm thinking of Persephone (and my ambition to own the majority of their books - I have to say I'm not so fussed about the cooking and gardening ones), but also of Virago. Particularly the green covered ones. (I fell down recently with a new Virago - Miles from Nowhere by Naomi Mun - I reserved it at the library simply because it was a new Virago, but didn't really connect with it at all). I've chosen several books which await me on this basis - Cosmo Cosmolinos (picked up back in January), and The dud avocado (which I wrote about the other day). I'm not sure if there are any other publishing houses that fit my interest, though I'm looking forward to the Bloomsbury publication of the so called "Bloomsbury group" titles in August - things like the Brontes came to Woolworths, and Miss Hargreaves. Can't wait!
Some books also have the blurbs of other books in the back. For example, the Play Room which I'm reading now has that of The doves of Venus (which I've read and enjoyed), The wind changes (another Olivia Manning), A particular place by Mary Hocking ("Mary Hocking is confirmed as the successor to Elisabeth Taylor and Barbara Pym") (ok, so that's a must read then! And is available on Amazon....), and A tortoise by candlelight by Nina Bawden. I guess my point is that if you've enjoyed the book in hand you might enjoy the other suggestions, but often in older books it can draw your attention to other things you might not have come across.
I'm also a big fan of Amazon's "Customer's who bought this also bought..." and Borders' "Spookily accurate book suggestor".
Finally, there's just browsing and serendipity. The look of covers and the blurb on the back. I love to pop to the library in my lunchbreak, and particularly to look at the recent returns shelves - I'm always fascinated to see what other people have been reading. And on that note, recently since I discovered the blog world, that has given me a number of ideas too.

* Mind you, after today's lunchtime escapade in my boyfriends office, where he unpacked the M and S parcel of clothes and things we'd ordered to take advantage of various special offers, and apparently first pulled out my new underwear, I have can't do much about what his colleague's think of me.

Bilgewater and The play room

I finished Bilgewater last night over supper, and really enjoyed it; it's been sitting half read for about a week now. I can't believe I missed out on Jane Gardam when I was at school, and am determined to rectify this. She has a mixture of books both in print and not, and I've already got 4 of them waiting on my bookcase. I think I'll probably try A long way from Verona next.
I started reading The play room by Olivia Manning at lunchtime. She seems to be most famous for her two trilogies - the Balkan trilogy and the Levant trilogy, but neither of them have ever hugely appealed to me. Anyway, the other week I read the Doves of Venus, about a girl who comes to London to seek her fortune and ends up embroiled in a hapless love affair (theme of rather a lot of books wouldn't you say?), which I enjoyed, so I thought I'd look at a few of her other novels. This is a coming of age story about a girl called Laura. It's only a short book so I should finish it later but I'm enjoying it thus far - I like the way Manning writes as much as being interested in the plot and wonder how much is drawn from Manning's own life - coming of age stories often are I think, and I believe the Balkan/Levant trilogies are.

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Two first novels

A rainy lunchtime, and a misbehaving stomach unable to face the delights of anything more substantial than a cappacino and some maltesers made the lure of the Oxfam bookshop on Turl street irresistible. I've been buying a fair few books from Amazon recently, but nothing beats a good browse in a bookshop. However, I nearly ended up buying Elizabeth Bowen's Death of a Heart, before remembering that I have ordered a copy online - oops!
Anyway, I didn't come away empty-handed :-s I bought two first novels. I'd started off looking at Margaret Drabble, and they had the Radiant Way, which I'd already read and didn't particularly enjoy, one of its sequels, which I wasn't terribly interested in, and a Summer Bird Cage. This is her first book, about a pair of sisters, and it looks interesting. I'll be interested to see whether it is as good as the Waterfall or as less good as the Radiant Way.
Then I found a lovely old Penguin edition of Malcolm Bradbury's Eating People is wrong. Funky title. It's another campus novel, like his more famous The history man. I remember reading the latter on the recommendation of my tutor in about 2004/5; I can't actually remember whether or not I particularly enjoyed it, but I do like campus novels, and having exhausted David Lodge, I'll give this a go in due course. Bradbury writes a lot of academic books on literature etc so I suspect that his novels are heavily drawn from experience - I just looked on Amazon, and he seems to have written less fiction than other books. This might also be one to lend to my boyfriend (well, it's written by a man, which is a good start!).

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Cardigan collection

Too tired to write a proper post tonight; feel like I have been at work for most of the last month. This actually is nearly true; I've worked three six day weeks in a row, both the bank holidays, and was at work until 7pm last night. No wonder I can't think straight and can barely move! On the plus side, it pays the bills, and funds the purchase of books and...cardigans. I thought I'd share the inspiration for my blog name and list my cardigans. One of my friends think it is ridiculous that I own more cardigans than pairs of pants, but I reckon that more people are going to see my cardigans, and they come in more varieties. Plus I'm a librarian. Enough said.

one cropped, long-sleeved, wraparound pink cardigan (Kookai)
one 3/4 length sleeved cerise pink cardigan (Jasper Conran)
one 3/4 length sleeved small lilac cardigan (Bay trading?)
one 3/4 length sleeved small grey cardigan (Primark)
one long sleeved charcoal grey cardigan, as yet unworn (H and M)
one long sleeved cropped grey cashmere cardigan which is going all bobbly (Jane Norman)
one long sleeved grey cardigan with diamante buttons (Jane Norman)
one long sleeved grey cardigan with decorative bits (Red Herring)
one long sleeved black cardigan with decorative bits (Red Herring) (matches the above!)
one 3/4 length sleeve grey cardigan with flared sleeves, not yet worn (New Look)
one 3/4 length sleeve blackcardigan with flared sleeves, (New Look) (friend of the above)
two cropped 3/4 length sleeved black cardigans (slightly different buttons) (both from Jane Norman)
one wrap around crochet black cardigan, bracelet length sleeves (Red Herring)
one 3/4 length sleeve plain black cardigan (Jane Norman)
one 3/4 length sleeve plain black cardigan with flared sleeves (Kookai) (this is my favourite cardigan in the entire world - I was gutted when I lost the original, and sooooooo happy when I found a replacement on ebay - wearing it today!)
one long sleeve black cardigan (Dorothy perkins)(cast off from my friend Kate; one of my school friends had the exact same one at school).
one black fine lurex shrug (Jane Norman)
one oversize black cardigan (Morgan - ebay bargain, very warm!)
one very long black cardigan (George at Asda- bought this after I got my first librarian job - I thought it would be very librarianly. In fact I've only once worn it to work, when the heating broke down).
oversize purple cardigan with waterfall front (M and S) (kept me warm all last winter!)
chenille purple cardigan

Monday, 25 May 2009

The past 6 years

I've been recording the books that I've read since January 2003 in a spiral bound, George from Rainbow, notebook that I bought just before I went to college in 2002. It's an invaluable record of everything I've read (with the exception of the books that had to be read as part of my two degrees) since then. However, I decided this weekend that it is time to go digital, and make a transcription of it. I don't intend to give it up - it's much easier to make a quick note of a book that's just been finished in a notebook lying handily on the side than to switch on a computer and record it in excel. But it will be useful to have a record that's a bit easier to search: I often find myself wondering "have I read that?" and then having to look back through my untidy scribbles.
It's been an interesting task - I'm surprised at how good my recall is of the majority of the books, and I'm interested by the way my reading goes in spurts of certain subjects or certain authors. I'm also slightly shocked that 3 books currently sitting on the tbrbc have already featured, back in 2004 (Loving / Henry Green; The Kiss / Joan Lingard; Slipstream / Kate Bingham). Shocking! I had my suspicions about Slipstream, and now I think about it I can remember the Kiss, but I don't remember much about Loving at all. It's nice to reread books however, and I have a code (RR) in my notebook which I use to denote books that I'm rereading (I also note autobiographies (AB), biographies (B) and children's books (C)). However, with 200-300 books read each year, it's going to be a long task of writing it up.

The Little Stranger

I couldn't resist starting this straight away; I didn't even manage to hold onto it until today to read in my teabreaks (yes, I have to work on the Bank Holiday - they're not observed at Oxford in termtime).
I was hugely disappointed as for me it didn't live up to any of Sarah Waters' previous books. her last novel was a departure from the victoriana, but it worked, and was a gripping read. This book was readable but nothing special. One of the things that makes her books special is the level of historical detail, so that you feel as if you are learning something by reading the novel - I've learnt about victorian prisons, and theatre. This is set in a country house, post-second world war, but there wasn't enough detail to make this significant. Secondly, the plot was very straightforward, and even though it was a ghost story I didn't find it either scary or page turning. And finally (and I'm sure this will be controversial among Sarah Waters' fans) all of the characters are straight! A definite departure. Anyway, I read through it, and quite enjoyed it, but it by no means lived up to my expectations.
So what will I be reading on my teabreaks today then? Well, I spent my first tea break having a browse in Waterstones. I was delighted to find that they had a book which I really wanted to read (but forgot to look for yesterday) - Coles' Well-tempered clavier. Then I stumbled upon a book called the Dud Avocado, by an author I've not come across called Elaine Dundy. To be honest the content doesn't look as if it hugely appeals to me, but it's a Virago, and who could resist a book with a title like that? And then I bought Quartet in Autumn, another Pym, which I've read, but not got.

Sunday, 24 May 2009

Back to Waterstones... take advantage of the 3 for 2. Or rather 6 for 4. Which has taken me over 800 books on library I'm not sure whether or not this is good.

I took the opportunity to get some more Persephone books - the Persephone classics are stocked in most bookshops I'm finding, even if it is rarer to find the others.
I got:
* Cheerful weather for a wedding, which I read last month and loved...
* Mariana (Monica Dickens). This is the only Monica Dickens I haven't read, and I have it in an old orange Penguin edition, and have been saving it, again like the Barbara Pym's because I can't bear to never have a new Monica Dickens to read. I don't often buy multiple editions of books (more on this another time I think) but this is such a lovely edition, with a preface that I couldn't not.
* Little boy lost (Margaret Laski)
* Someone at a distance (the only Persephone Whipple I haven't yet read).

I also got:
* Hungry Hill (Du Maurier), which is the only one of hers I haven't read. Bizarrely this one passed me by when Virago republished her books a few years ago, I think it was one of the last ones they did. Anyway, I've got it now, and it is looking lovely with my other DDMs.
* The Sea Lady by Margaret Drabble. I could probably have got this second hand very easily, but I so enjoyed the Waterfall that I read yesterday, and this was a)the only Drabble Waterstones had b) about the sea, which I'm desperately missing being stuck in Oxford on a beautiful sunny weekend.

So...this is the state of cardigan girl's bookcases:

Cherry cake

Was a little puzzled by this recipe...although it turned out ok in the end. The amount of cherries given was far too much for the amount of batter, so I halved it. And the amount of batter was too small for a 20 cm tin, so I used an 18cm one. DIdn't think the amount of crumble looked sufficient, so increased that by 50%. And then it took more like an hour to cook than 30-35 minutes....

Anyway, it seems to be going down well:

Saturday, 23 May 2009

Margaret Drabble

Margaret Drabble is another new author to me this year, and so far I'm undecided. The Millstone was recommended to me, and although I've got it sitting on the to-be-read-bookcase, I haven't had a chance to have a look at it yet. In the meantime I read The Radiant Way which was about three women, who met at Cambridge, and their lives during the 1980s. It sounded like the sort of book that I'd like to read (and so I was excited that it was part of a triology) but I found that it dotted all over the place and was confusing to follow. I didn't really warm to the characters so was somewhat disappointed. However, as I was still looking forward to the Millstone, so I decided that I'd look to see if we had anything by her at work. We did; the Waterfall. It's about a woman who has an affair with her cousin's husband after her husband leaves just as she is about to have a child. It doesn't sound like much of a plot, but it is beautifully written and told and a wonderful love story. So, I'm enjoying this more than the Radiant Way so far. incidentally has suggested that I might like to read The Garrick Year, and judging by the blurb I think I might do. So, will have to look out for that. It's impossible to judge an author on one book - for example, if I'd read one of Daphne Du Maurier's more obscure novels then I might never have got to Rebecca, I'll Never Be Young Again, Frenchman's Creek, or Julius.

It wasn't exactly surprising

...that I wasn't able to resist the 3 for 2 across ALL BOOKS in Waterstones at lunchtime. (they're obviously competing with Borders' current "Buy one get one half price" (which is rather more credit crunch friendly) Particularly when the new Sarah Waters which I'm desperate to read (but thought I'd have to wait for in the library or to come out in paperback) was half price.
I took the opportunity to get another Jane Gardam (The Queen of the Tambourine), and had a long chat with the guy at the till about the fact that I'd just discovered her. He was a big fan of Old Filth, which I have to say is the only one that doesn't really appeal to me.
Then I spotted a Persephone book, Saplings, which I mentioned earlier as being one of the first ones that I've read. This one has a slightly different cover with a picture, rather than the more traditional Persephone grey. But I'm a big Noel Streatfield fan, having a lot of her children's books, so this was a must have. I arrived guiltily back at work with my Waterstones bag. I'm now up to 795 books on, and probably have over 40 books on my to-be-read shelves.

Booking through Thursday (or in this case on Saturday)

I've stumbled upon this rather cool blog, and intend to join in with mine as it fits in with my theme of books...

This week's question is:

What book would you love to be able to read again for the first time?
This is almost impossible! I wrote earlier that I can't bring myself to read the last two Barbara Pym books because I don't want to never read anything new by her again. I think it would probably be Daphne Du Maurier's Rebecca - I was so gripped when I read that (in 2003 or 4?), wondering how it would pan out. But I'd like to read the Diary of a Nobody for the first time again; how much I laughed!


On Thursday, I had the privilege of visiting the British Library for an event run by the CILIP Rare Books group (CILIP is the professional body for librarians, of which I am a chartered member) called "Great Books of the British Library" which aimed to give librarians working with special collections the chance to have hands on experience with some significant texts.

I'd only been to the British Library once before, to see the Religious Books exhibition a couple of years ago, so I took the chance to also have a bit of a nose around and to catch the Henry VIII exhibition. Unfortunately it was one of my poorly days, so I only had the chance to briefly skim the Henry VIII, but it was worth it just to see the original manuscript of Pastymes with Good Company, attributed to Henry VIII. This is one of my favourite brass band pieces, although I don't think I've actually played it since my Lympstone days (1998-2002). The exhibition was interesting though, particularly since I only studied the Tudors at a very basic level, so I learnt quite a lot (I was ignorant of the fact that Henry when born was only 2nd in line to the throne). And there were a lot of lovely books and artefacts too.

The British Library seems to have a pretty good set up.   There is lots of sitting around space in the foyer, a cafe (with an amazing tower display of rare books behind glass), a gift shop, and several free exhibitions. They have a Treasures gallery, showcasing all sorts of wonders - the things you'd expect to see like a Gutenberg bible, a Magna carta, Shakespeare's first folio etc etc, but other unusual items - I spotted Beethoven's tuning fork. There was also an exhibition on nonsense poetry!

Anyway, the main reason I was here was to experience some "Great Books". We were taken up to the executive floor where about 35 items awaited our attention. Six of the curators took turns to introduce the books that they had chosen (falling into categories such as "Bibles", "travel", "literature", "19th century printing"), and then we were able to go around and examine the items ourselves, and ask questions. The books had either been chosen for their significance in terms of content or significance in terms of their bibliographic history (i.e. sort of printing).

Some highlights:
* The first quarto of King lear (which differs from the first folio edition of King Lear)
* a bible with amazing foreedge printing - no picture was visible when the book was closed, but when the pages were splayed out, it revealed an illustration of Samson - I had not seen this sort of decoration before.
* an edition of Virgil's Opera which is the first example of italic printing
* Aesop's fables with early woodcuts
* Copernicus' De Revolutionibus
* a beautiful Kelmscott press version of the Canterbury tales
* first edition of Darwin's origin of the species
* first editions of the King James Bible and Book of Common prayer
* Mrs Beeton - issued in a series of pamphlets
* the first edition of Tristram Shandy (I'd not encountered this book ever, but it is fascinating with marbled paper pages and blank pages and black pages all forming part of the text0

I felt quite overwhelmed by the end of the day having seen so many wonderful things!

...and what have I been baking this year...

I've only had a digital camera since my birthday in April, so I'll limit this to things baked since then. I love baking - it's very relaxing to mix ingredients together and then make my flat smell amazing, and I love to treat my boyfriend. I get my recipes mainly from the BBC Good Food magazine and website, but also from Olive magazine, Delicious magazine, Easy Cook, and from the Waitrose website, and Delia Online. And I've just bought Nigella's baking book!

Dorset apple cake

Easter biscuits
Sooooooo good!

Lemon biscuits, also made for Easter
This was such a big faff, but definitely worth it!!

A half size Victoria sponge cake - I didn't want to make a whole one as they don't keep hugely well...I guess you could call it an "oria nge" cake.

Raspberry and white chocolate cake with a few raspberry and white chocolate muffins.

Loosely based on
except I couldn't get cherries and my icing didn't turn out like it was supposed to!

Shortbread animals.

So...what have I been reading in 2009?

I guess the best place to start is with what I've been reading during this year.

The year took off when I discovered Rosamund Lehmann, who had somehow passed me by as a teenager. I stumbled across Dusty Answer at the tail end of 2008 and was hooked. From there it was a short step to Invitation to the Waltz and all of her other writings. I rushed into work to see what we had by her (my library has an English literature section) and was astonished to see that we didn't have anything, and in fact, we were very short of any 20th century English writers. I discovered the Virago website and tried to rectify some of the gaps. After that I started to read other Virago authors as so many were from the same period as Lehmann. I tried Sylvia Townsend Warner (loved Lolly Willowes), Elizabeth Taylor (started with Angel, and was absolutely addicted, so had read her complete works by March), Rebecca West (not so much of a hit), and Barbara Pym. I'd read Pym's autobiography previously, but none of her fiction, and found her absolutely hilarious. I'd like to say that I've read all of Pym now, but I've still got two to go (Excellent Women and Some Tame Gazelle), and I'm saving them as I can't bear the thought of only being able to reread her. It was interesting reading so many Virago authors together, especially when I realised that two of my existing favourite authors - Daphne Du Maurier and Antonia White, were also published by Virago.
The other publishing house that I have been using as inspiration, has been Persephone. Persephone published neglected classics, in beautiful grey softback bindings with exquisite endpapers. I'd read a couple of these volumes back in 2004 (Saplings and Family roundabout), but they were suddenly brought to my attention by Amazon and their "other customers bought this". I have a slight confession to make with regard to Persephone books, I haven't read all of them in the Persephone edition; the public library had a number of the original books stored in the depths of the library. But I loved the Dorothy Whipple books, and decided that I liked their ethos so much that I wanted to read all of the 80+ books. So, quite a lot of books on my to-be-read shelves are Persephone books.
Persephone aren't the only publishers bringing out old books for today's audience. I've got a set of the GreyLadies books (on my to-be-read bookshelves) which I'm looking forward to immensely, especially the Noel Streatfield ones, and I've just placed orders for some titles from Bloomsbury coming out in August (search for "Bloomsbury group" on which I'm really excited about.
I'm digressing from "what I have been reading about" to "what I will be reading" which is going to be the subject of another post.
I've also read a lot of Hilary Mantel this year (who deserves a post of her own), and quite a lot of chick lit (I'm not ashamed of it, I like to read something completely non stressful before I go to sleep), and also Rebecca Shaw (who writes primarily for a middle aged audience (my Mum is a fan) about a village called Turnham Malpas, which are non challenging and surprisingly addictive - a more up to date, and a bit like Miss Read, but without the social historical interest).
I've read some non fiction too - I enjoyed the Played in Britain book "Great Lengths" about indoor swimming pools (although not as much as Liquid Assets, about Lidos) and the Played in Britain book about Birmingham (interesting reading about the Cadburys). I've also read a number of books about stomach problems in an attempt to figure out what is wrong with me, but more cheerfully, my boyfriend and I were reading Nigella's How to be a domestic goddess last night to figure out what I should bake next!
Which takes me conveniently onto my next post - what have I been baking this year?!


This is my first foray into the world of blogs, although I've been thinking writing for a while. I'm planning to write about books, and baking, with the odd deviation into other areas of my life. I'm a librarian, hence the collection of cardigans. 2009 has been a strange year so far, as I've been ill with incapacitating stomach problems, and have had to give up many of my customary pursuits. However, it has done wonders for my reading and book collecting, and I've discovered a huge range of authors who had previously passed me by. I've also taken up baking on a large scale since my lovely boyfriend moved in, and have been trying out many many different sorts of cakes.

Currently reading: Bilgewater (Jane Gardam)
Just finished: Consequences of Love (Addonia)
Just baked: Cherry cake with a crumble topping (