Sunday, 31 October 2010

The month of October

Last month I enjoyed writing a round up of September, inspired by Joan at flowers and stripes, and I'm going to do it again. JoAnn at Lakeside Musing managed to do an alphabetised list of her month - I tried to do it, but it was a bit beyond me.

Here's what October was for me...

Reached total of £1550+ raised for Mind, with my epic swim, in memory of my dear friend Emily, and realised that this means over £3100 raised in two years!
Marked the anniversary of Emily's death by going to a singing day with John Rutter.
Huge sadness with bereavement in K's family.
Much tiredness.
Wonderful support from friends.
A few new books due to the kindness of a friend and a preorder - cheered up the lack of books being bought.
Learned to make pastry in my Kenwood mixer and made 2 quiches.
Took up Get Latin Fit class as so bored of staring at the bottom of the swimming pool whilst ploughing endlessly up and down in an attempt to stay fit.
Began preparing for Christmas:
Started frantically cross stitching Christmas cards; did a number of Christmas trees, 2 Forever Friends and now enjoying a set of The Snowman.
Made mincemeat, and plan to make Christmas chutney.
Tried to persuade K to help me make Christmas cards with spray paint, as incapable of cross stitching 60 cards..
Completed all my Christmas shopping, bar K who still hasn't made up his mind.
Started dropping hints left, right, and centre for things that I would like (isn't twitter great!)

In November, I'm looking forward to...
Making more preparations for Christmas.
The arrival of our piano!
Going to the ROH to see Sylvia, K's birthday present from me.
Trying desperately to be frugal...
Hopefully seeing the husband of a good friend at the end of the month - if I can't see her, seeing him is the next best thing!

Saturday, 30 October 2010


Having discovered Wilkie Collins, it wasn't too long before I picked him up again. K and I have decided that Dead Secret was perhaps not one of his better novels, it lacked pace towards the end, and wasn't as terrifying as The haunted hotel which I read last weekend, but should have saved for Halloween!

The haunted hotel is a melodramatic novella set partly in London and partly in Venice. It's a cross between a detective story and a ghost story and it had me gasping out loud at certain points and really quite terrified.

I don't really celebrate Halloween, but I may get another Wilkie Collins from the pile of library books (I've got several to choose from - thanks for all of your recommendations - it seems that No Name is one of his best, as is Armadale), and I think we will have stuffed pumpkin for tea. I've just remembered that I've also got the Edith Wharton book of ghost stories which I want to read and write about for my Virago Venture.

Friday, 29 October 2010

Persephone perchance?

It's been a bit of a Persephone week or two hasn't it? Very exciting for a Persephone lover such as myself. Even if I haven't yet ordered the new books (but I will do, just waiting for a more financially favourable moment). I am excited by both of the new books - Monica Dickens is one of my very favourite authors, and although I have read all of her oeuvre, I will be looking forward to rereading Winds of Heaven -I am always interested to try and read the books from the view of why they were chosen as Persephone titles and for what they have to say about domesticity and women's lives so it will be good to read it in that context. Mrs Oliphant is familiar to me from reading her titles published as Virago Modern Classics, and she can certainly tell a good tale so I am looking forward to this collection of her two novellas.

As I'm sure many of you will know, Persephone have also published a 2011 diary! I am very lucky in that my lovely and extremely kind friend Claire was given a copy to give as a gift having helped Nicola and the team with envelope stuffing of the Persephone BiAnnually's last week, and she decided to give it to me! I am very much looking forward to seeing it when I meet up with Claire at the start of December.

Talking of Claire, or Paperback Reader, as you may know her, I feel I should mention that she is hosting the Persephone Secret Santa this Christmas. I'm not sure whether my finances will favour my involvement but do pop over and think about joining in.

Anyway, I decided to get a Persephone book off the shelf at the start of this week - I have read my way through all of them (with the exception of the two just published), but some I have never read in Persephone editions. It has been a while since I read a Dorothy Whipple - encountering her early on in my Persephone experience, I quickly ordered all of the ones that I could from the store at my library headquarters and devoured them. They were sisters was my choice, and it has kept me enthralled, even on the second reading, throughout a week of lunchbreaks. It's a rather disheartening picture of marriage as the book tells the story of three sisters and their very different husbands, and how the husbands and marriages affect the three women. Whilst Lucy's husband is a wonderful companion, Vera is bored by hers and seeks entertainment elsewhere. Charlotte's husband is emotionally abusive and drives her to breakdown. It's fascinating seeing how events play out, and the effects of marriage on parenting and children. I am now very keen to reread High Wages, but as this is one of the very few Persephones I don't yet own, I will have to wait.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Mincemeat (domestic arts 10)

Or perhaps rather than the tenth of my domestic arts posts, this should be the first of my getting ready for Christmas posts...

Finding myself with some spare time at the weekend, and a desire to do something towards getting ready for Christmas, and with a number of spare apples from a colleague's mum's tree, I decided to make some mincemeat! I'd never made mincemeat before - like jam it seemed like a bit too much domestic goddessness when you can get very good stuff in the shop. I hunted around for a recipe - I didn't want to use suet, because even though you can get vegetarian suet these days, I wanted to avoid using something processed. My online research revealed that the recipe I had found in Nigella's How to be a domestic goddess was probably the best one to try, but it also gave me confidence that even while following a basic recipe, you can play around with the different dried fruits used. I can't stand glace cherries, so I put in cranberries instead, and I only used a tiny amount of nuts.

Here is the original recipe in case you want to give it a go:

Hettie Potter’s suet-free mincemeat

Source: How To Be A Domestic Goddess by Nigella Lawson

Makes about 2kg

250g soft dark brown sugar
250ml medium dry cider
1 kg cooking apples, peeled, halved and quartered
1/2 teaspoon mixed spice
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
250g currants
250g raisins
75g glace cherries, roughly chopped
75g blanched almonds,
finely chopped rind and juice of 1/2 lemon
6 tablespoons brandy or rum

In a large saucepan, dissolve the sugar in the cider over a gentle heat. Add the roughly chopped apples to the saucepan. Add all the ingredients, apart from brandy/rum and simmer for around 30 minutes until everything has a pulpy consistency. Take off the heat and when it has cooled slightly stir in brandy/rum.

And here is the finished result!

I've restrained myself from making mince pies thus far, or my very special mincemeat shortcake, as I know that if I do, all of the mincemeat will disappear before we even get to Advent. I have to confess to having a couple of spoonfuls straight from the jar though.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Wagamama Ways with Noodles book.

As regular readers of this blog know, I've been following a pretty restricted diet throughout most of 2010 in the hope of easing my stomach problems - it's worked and it hasn't worked, and it has made me a little bored with the difficulties of eating out and with eating the same things over and over again. However, in the summer, we discovered a new food that I liked, and a new place that we could go out to eat - Noodle bar food! And in particular, Noodle Soup. As long as I choose rice noodles, then it is an absolutely fabulous option - no dairy products in sight and hugely hugely tasty. It's not exactly baking, but I am quite pleased about it, so thought I'd tak about it on the blog.

It wasn't long before I wanted to recreate the noodle bar food at home. I initially made up a recipe, but then a friend recommended the Wagamama Cookbook. I've not actually been to Wagamama - it's more pricey than the Noodle Bar in Oxford, and the menu options actually seem less appealing, but I knew that they were famed for good noodle recipes. I looked in the library, and whilst the Wagamama Cookbook was out on loan, I spotted another book - Wagamama: Ways with noodles. What fantastic inspiration, some lovely ideas of different ways to cook noodles.

One night, stuck for what to cook for dinner, I found a recipe and showed it to K and asked him if he'd like it. He gave his approval and then I broke it to him that I didn't have any of the right ingredients really - we didn't have sea bass, but we did have salmon, we didn't have the veg. listed but we did have a bag of stir fry veg, we didn't have the right sort of noodles, but we had some other ones....*

So here follows my special noodle soup recipe, inspired by the Wagamama Noodle Book.

* Cook enough noodles for however many people you're feeding, and drain (can be thin rice ones, fat rice ones, any sort really - I used thin white ones).
* Grate some fresh ginger into a saucepan, add a good shake of chilli flakes (or some chopped fresh chilli), add a good shake of soy sauce.
* Add some boiling water and bring this to the boil.
* Throw in some stir fry veg (either cut up your own or use a ready mix)
* Put in a piece of salmon, per person (or you could use prawns) and simmer with the veg until cooked through.
* Remove the salmon onto a plate
* Put the cooked noodles in with the vegetables to reheat.
* Plate up the noodles and vegetables and soup (need a nice big bowl really) and serve the fish on top.

I won't be posting tomorrow as I have to attend a funeral, but I have an exciting domestic arts post lined up for Thursday - it's been a while since I did one of those and I'm quite impressed with my latest domestic art.

* This has led to subsequent difficult conversations regarding what to have for dinner these days. I'll ask K what he wants, and he'll say something like - "yes, let's have roast beef, but without the roast beef".

Monday, 25 October 2010

Library loot

On my return from the library at lunchtime, my colleague asked me what I'd picked up - and as it is such an interesting and eclectic mix, and I don't have anything else hugely pressing to write about, I thought it was time for a library loot post. I go to the library so regularly, that I could blog just about my library loot, so I don't, but it is fun to write about it from time to time.

I started by looking for some books for K - I have custody of both our library cards (!!) (this enables me to borrow up to 40 books at once) and am often looking for things for him. Today I came back with:

The giant turnip - this is a children's book - but it is in Russian! K has been learning Russian for sometime, and last Christmas I bought him Paddington Bear in Russian. Sadly, this was beyond him, so we're borrowing picture books from the library at the moment - they have a good selection of dual language books, and he reads them out to me in the Russian and the English. This is apparently an adaption of a traditional Russian tale.
Surfing Handbook - K had a surfing lesson for his birthday 6 weeks ago, and has been unable to talk about much else since - perhaps if he is reading this he will be talking less about it?!
Edward Gregson's Trombone Concerto - our library also stocks sheet music! K and I met playing in a brass band, although we don't play at present. We're trying to "get our lips back in", or rather get back into practice, so I've borrowed this for him to have a go at. Again, if he's playing his trombone, he might not be talking about surfing.

For me:

A lovely book about Dolls Houses published by the V and A. This will be perfect for when I am next confined to the sofa with poorliness - lots of lovely pictures.
The girls guide to being a boss - saw this on the returns trolley, and it amused me. It is pink. I am not sure whether the pinkness will go down with the 60% male majority among the staff members that I manage. As I've yet to read it, I'm not sure if it will involve "bribery with cream cakes" as aforementioned colleague suggested.
Jubilee by Eliza Graham - I've been looking forward to reading this since I read about it in the last Waterstones Quarterly, especially so since my Mum told me that she was reading it when I saw her 10 days ago. So was very excited to spot this on a shelf.
And finally, two books by Jacqueline Wilson - something nice and gentle for the evenings. Well, her books can deal with very gritty issues, but they are eminently readable. Longest whale song is her most recent book so I was happy to see that, and Midnight is another one that I haven't read (she's v prolific isn't she - so many books published since I first encountered them in my school library aged 14).

What have YOU been picking up at the library recently? And do you choose books for your nearest and dearest??

(K took the pictures BTW - he's much better at it than me)

Friday, 22 October 2010

Meme from Simon

It's a bit of a mishmash this week and I thought I'd fill out this meme which like Simon at Stuck in a book, "I saw quite a while ago at Thomas' blog, and thought it looked fun" I thought my answers might be interesting, and you might like to do it too!

1. Favourite childhood book?

Many many books - Swallows and Amazons, the Family at One End Street, Adventures of the Little Wooden Horse, Enid Blyton...could write an endless list.

2. What are you reading right now?
Hilary Mantel's autobiography, along with Amy's Honeymoon by Julia Llwelyn. I' m also halfway through rereading Teddy Robinson, and I might get that out tonight as I'm feeling in the need of something comforting.

3. What books do you have on request at the library?
The secret life of Bletchley Park and Maggie Gee's autobiography. I also have about 30 books on my "wishlist" which I'll reserve when I have some spare cash.

4. Bad book habit?
Multiple editions of the same book.

5. What do you currently have checked out at the library?
I have 20 books ranging from non fiction through biography through cooking through chicklit and children's books. Actually, I probably have more as I have some checked out on K's card too (and vice versa).

6. Do you have an e-reader?
No, can't stand the idea.

7. Do you prefer to read one book at a time, or several at once?
I generally have one book on the go for the daytime and another one (usually chick lit or something light) by my bed.

8. Have your reading habits changed since starting a blog?
I read more! I think actually they have changed more since reading other people's blogs and finding out about other books.

9. Least favourite book you read this year (so far?)
Some of the books I've read for my Virago venture haven't been hugely good, often the short story collections, most recently I struggled through George Egerton's Keynotes and Discords.

10. Favourite book you’ve read this year?
Ooh, hard to say. I loved The hopkins manuscript (RC Sherriff) and Still Missing, both Persephone books which I couldn't put down.

11. How often do you read out of your comfort zone?
Mainly when reading for my Virago Challenge - some of the books are long and not hugely what I would choose to read.

12. What is your reading comfort zone?
Definitely a good children's book.

13. Can you read on the bus?
Sadly no, but I don't tend to go on buses anyway.

14. Favourite place to read?

15. What is your policy on book lending?
I love lending people books; I used to keep quite good track of who had what, but I seem to be less good at that. Still, it means that I have extra space on my shelves.

16. Do you ever dog-ear books?

17. Do you ever write in the margins of your books?
I used to, in pencil, in my text books but not now.

18. Not even with text books?
See above.

19. What is your favourite language to read in?
I'll echo Simon here "English. It's all I've got."

20. What makes you love a book?
Good plot, and likeable characters.

21. What will inspire you to recommend a book?
If I think that something I have enjoyed will appeal to someone else.

22. Favourite genre?
Fiction - is that a genre? Literary/contemporary/and also 20th century women's.

23. Genre you rarely read (but wish you did?)
Young adult

24. Favourite biography?
Ooh, that's a tough one. Am I allowed autobiography? if so, Monica Dickens - One pair of Hands and One pair of Feet.

25. Have you ever read a self-help book?
Yep, books to help me sleep and to solve my stomach problems. Not that they worked but it's comforting to read about similar experiences!

26. Favourite cookbook?
Ooh, I have lots of favourite baking books - I love Nigella's How to be a domestic Goddess, Mary Berry's Baking Bible, but I think my current favourite is Fiona Cairn's Bake and Decorate.

27. Most inspirational book you’ve read this year (fiction or non-fiction)?
Perhaps the above Bake and Decorate book which has inspired lots of fun baking like my cake with gold leaf.

28. Favourite reading snack?
Flapjack or gluten free toast. Prefer a nice toasted teacake but that's off the menu at the moment.

29. Name a case in which hype ruined your reading experience.
Henrietta's War by Joyce Dennys.

30. How often do you agree with critics about a book?

They so often vary that it's impossible to say.

31. How do you feel about giving bad/negative reviews?
I often can't be bothered to write about a book that I haven't enjoyed. Life's too short when there are so many great books to tell people about.

32. If you could read in a foreign language, which language would you choose?

Maybe Latin - I did Latin at school and it is such an elegant language.

33. Most intimidating book you’ve ever read?
Parallel Lives by Alan Bullock (a double biography of Hitler and Stalin that's nearly 1000 pages but an absolute classic)

34. Most intimidating book you’re too nervous to begin?
Anything that's long with v small type.

35. Favourite Poet?
I don't know much about poetry but I do like John Betjeman as he writes about things that I care about.

36. How many books do you usually have checked out of the library at any given time?
At the moment I have one more than the limit as the lady at the desk sensed my pain when the book of the Great British BakeOff which I'd reserved had arrived but my ticket was full. So that's 21. I also have use of my partners card and have about 10 books out on that.

37. How often have you returned book to the library unread?
Very rarely.

38. Favourite fictional character?
Another tricky one

39. Favourite fictional villain?
Captain Flint in Swallows and Amazons, cos he isn't really a villain at all.

40. Books I’m most likely to bring on holiday?
I don't tend to differentiate between holiday and non holiday, but I'm often likely to save new books or books that I'm especially looking forward to for a treat on holiday.

41. The longest I’ve gone without reading.
March this year when I had norovirus - 48 hours and I couldn't read a thing. It was horrible. I remember just lying on the floor not able to do anything, not even get onto the sofa.

42. Name a book that you could/would not finish.
When I was still living at home, my Dad gave me The diary of a nobody which I hated. I just didn't get the humour aged 12. I then came to it again a decade later and loved it, I laughed so much that the girl in the room next door to me must have been able to hear me. Definitely one of my favourite books now.

43. What distracts you easily when you’re reading?
Receiving a text message.

44. Favourite film adaptation of a novel?

The channel 4 version of Brideshead Revisited

45. Most disappointing film adaptation?
The recent Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. *shudders*

46. The most money I’ve ever spent in the bookstore at one time?
I don't think more than about £20 - I tend to mostly buy in dribs and drabs from Amazon.

47. How often do you skim a book before reading it?

48. What would cause you to stop reading a book half-way through?
Being bored.
49. Do you like to keep your books organized?
Yes, alphabetically by author for fiction and in subject for the rest. Otherwise I wouldn't find them!

50. Do you prefer to keep books or give them away once you’ve read them?
I get rid of books that I haven't enjoyed/won't read again/wouldn't want to lend.

51. Are there any books you’ve been avoiding?
Some of my TBR has been there for a year.

52. Name a book that made you angry.
Can't think.

53. A book you didn’t expect to like but did?
The hopkins manuscript by R.C. Sherrif.

54. A book that you expected to like but didn’t?
The little stranger by Sarah Waters - I did like it, but not as much as I hoped I would.

55. Favourite guilt-free, pleasure reading?
Probably anything from my bookshelf that I've previously read and enjoyed.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Wilkie Collins

I have a bit of a confession to make. I have only just "discovered" Wilkie Collins. And I'm not quite sure why it took me 26 years. I knew about his books, I read about them on other people's blogs, I watched the films of The moonstone and The woman in white, I even borrowed some of his books from the library for K to read. But I'd not read any of them myself. I think partly it was the fact that most of the editions I saw were v. dense with v. small writing.

I'm not quite sure what changed. I picked up a copy of The dead secret, which Hayley wrote about on her blog, partly after I discovered that it was set in Cornwall, one of my favourite places. I thought it might appeal to K, who hadn't been reading much at that time (he's got back into it now, and read 2 books in 3 days over the weekend). He got about 10 pages into it, started reading something else, and I, without a book to hand, started reading it. After all, as Hayley says in her post, "Autumn feels like the perfect season for Victoriana, particularly the sensational kind".

And what a read it was! The denseness and small writing didn't matter a jot as I was absolutely gripped and hooked into Wilkie Collins. I won't say much more about the plot as Hayley did an excellent job and you might as well read her review than me repeating her here.

I followed it up with Legacy of Cain, which was good, but not so as The dead secret, so I took it back to the library rather than leaving it for K to read (as he's still to reunite himself with The dead secret). I've got The haunted hotel to read next from the library, which seems perfect to read in the next ten days as we approach Halloween. But most of all I'm excited as he has a long back catalogue of books for me to work my way through.

Fellow Wilkie Collins fans, and I know there must be plenty reading this blog, because I've seen you writing about his books - which is your favourite one (apart from the two most famous - Woman in white/Moonstone...)?

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Librarians in literature: Passing on (Penelope Lively)

A Penelope Lively was my next choice for a book about a librarian from the bibliography of librarians that I read earlier in the year. (Actually, I've read 3 more since I last posted about one, but need to do a catch-up post on them!). It was a somewhat depressing book, and rather ill-timed with me reading it, as it dealt with an unmarried brother and sister, Edward and Helen, coming to terms with the death of their rather manipulative mother. It didn't actually talk much about Helen's part-time job at the library, but there was this lovely passage about Helen's love of books and choice of career.

"Helen read a great deal. The feel of a book in her hands was an ancient solace - not, originally, because of what lay between the covers, but as a screen, a defence, a shield. The book she was reading had once been the physical barrier between her and her mother "head in a book as usual," Dorothy would say with contempt. "You should be doing something, not just sitting there. Helen had drawn Edward into this sheltered place, and read aloud to him. And presently, what was within the books became significant also - quite small books would do, she discovered, because of what they said, one did not always have to get behind Bartholemew's atlas or the bound volumes of Punch that lurked in the bottom of the sitting room bookcase. She read her way through what was in the house - not a daunting process, given her mother's resistance to the printed work - and then resorted to libraries. Her choice of occipation, she realised had perhaps been fore-ordained, written into the scheme of things like some genetic prescripption, laid down by her mother's inclination. Dorothy did not care for books, so Helen became a librarian"

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

The camper-van cookbook

It's National Baking week this week, so although I hadn't been planning to write about The Camper Van Cookbook until next week, as most of my recent baking has been from this book, I thought it was time to discuss it. I should confess that I am not a camper van type; I like my creature comforts and my hair straighteners too much to want to holiday in one, but I did stay for two nights in my future-brother-in-law's camper van when in Edinburgh at the end of August. It wasn't nearly as bad as I anticipated, particularly since the fact that I needed to train for my swim necessitated daily trips to the swimming pool where I could get a proper shower. We didn't actually do any cooking in the van, instead relying on meals out, but the principle of cooking on 2 rings is quite appealing to someone whose cooking is minimalist (apart from baking) and so when I spotted it in the library, I thought I'd borrow it.

How does baking fit into this cookbook? Well, the baking recipes are at the beginning and designed to be made to take along on your trip. But, you don't need the excuse of a camper-van trip to bake! (Imagine how many trips I'd have to make). I've got three recipes to share with you today, two made, and one still in process:

1. Prune and sultana earl grey tea loaf - I made this to remember my friend Emily who was a big fan of earl grey tea. K's been eating it spread with unsalted butter.

2. Peanut cookies. I've developed a real thing for peanut butter recently, and am a convert to making things with peanuts - I genuinely thought I hated it! Anyway, I couldn't resist making these cookies which are peanut and cherry, and made chocolatey with cocoa powder. They are apparently extremely light.

3. Nut slices. These are still in process; essentially they are like millionaire's shortbread, but rather than having a traditional shortbread biscuit base, the base is made with crushed hazelnuts. I've done the caramel layer and the chocolate layer on top, but it's currently setting in the fridge.

By the way, the photos are much higher quality than usual since I got K to take them as I didn't have time! I also want to make the ginger cake from this book, and, I am contemplating making the halloumi and grilled vegetables from the actual camper van cooking bit before the book goes back to the library.

As a postscript - many of you were interested in my pastry experiment. I can report that the shortcrust pastry, although it ended up thicker than shop bought pastry (especially ready roll!), was thought far superior to that which comes from the shop. I used it to line a quiche filled with smoked salmon and broccoli, both of which were leftovers, and then the usual egg and milk mixture. And no, I didn't ever make pastry at school - we did do some cookery, but I seemed to make endless pasta sauces, as well as the infamous pizza that my Dad broke his tooth on...

Monday, 18 October 2010

Bits and bobs (bookish and otherwise)

A bit of a rambly sort of post today I'm afraid. (Inspired perhaps by Elaine at Random Jottings, who does a wonderful line in the occasional off-topic random ramble). I don't feel hugely in the mood for writing anything particularly bookish but I still feel like writing. And first of all I want to say thank you very much to everyone for their kind messages on my 16th October post. It is always a sad occasion but I think everyone who knew Emily tries to make something positive out of the day - her Mum and sister went to see the Railway Children at Waterloo (something I'm keen to do), and another friend went to a firework display. We had a lovely day with John Rutter, who is an absolutely fantastic leader of singing workshops and a genuinely nice man. We spent the morning singing a variety of sacred anthems from across the centuries, interspersed with stories and anecdotes from John, and then spent the afternoon singing through his Requiem, and then his arrangement of spirituals called Feel the spirit. He has a new CD out, and I dropped some big hints about it for Christmas.

We the had an extremely relaxing Sunday, apart from the fact that I went to an exercise class! I haven't done any formal non swimming exercise in absolutely years (apart from my functional cycling and walking and running up and down stairs). But I am very bored of staring at the tiles on the bottom of the pool as I swim up and down, so when I heard about a new class at the swimming pool, I thought I would give it a go. This was Get Latin Fit, a latin dance inspired keep fit class. Apart from the fact that the instructor was petite and curvy, and I, am tall and skinny and felt like a spider, I quite enjoyed it and might even go again.

I read two books - Susan Hill's incredibly evocative and moving Service of clouds, which was quite unlike any of her mystery books, and then Grey skies, green waves, by Tom Anderson, which I spotted in the library and brought home for K. It is a book about surfing, which is proving somewhat of an obssesion for K at the moment, since he had a surfing lesson for his birthday, and he raced through the book but I also found it fascinating. I carried on with my cross-stitch, completing the second mini Christmas tree in four days; I'm trying to make some cross-stitch Christmas cards (more on this later), but I think I may get a little bored with trees soon. Might see if I can beat last night's time of 2 1/4 hours to complete one.

It was back to the grindstone today, but I managed to make some pastry before work in my Kenwood mixer (I realised when I went to sleep last night that if I wanted to make quiche for supper, then I'd have to do the pastry first thing, as it needs time to chill). I've never ever made pastry before, after all, I read Anthony Worrall Thompson saying that there was no point when readymade is so good, but, if I am ever to get on The Great British Bake-Off if there is another series, I'll need to be able to make pastry! Once I've finished writing this, it's off to see if I can get it to roll out, and then will fill it with smoked salmon and broccoli and the usual egg/milk mixture. It is National Baking Week here in the UK this week, not that I need any excuse.

Back to normal service tomorrow - I did have a non baking cooking post written, but in light of the aforementioned National Baking Week, I may postpone that until next week.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

16th October

The 16th October has been a day tinged with sadness for the last four years, as it is the anniversary of the death of one of my very dear friends. I wrote about Emily, and in particular some bookish memories, on this date last year, so I won't repeat myself too much again. Like last year, the best way to remember Emily seems to be to do something with Earl Grey tea, and fortunately I have had a slightly better experience than with last year's Earl Grey biscuits which I described in the comments on that blog post as "the consistency of lego bricks". This year, I contemplated some Earl Grey cupcakes, from my Primrose Bakery Cupcake book, but I'm not a huge cupcake fan, so when I discovered a recipe for a prune and earl grey tea bread, I thought I'd give that a go! It sounds a bit healthy, but spread with unsalted butter, it had a rather delicate flavour. The recipe came from Martin Dorey's Camper Van cookbook which I shall write about more in due course, as I've tried another fabulous recipe from it.

More excitingly, I managed to find decaffeinated earl grey tea-bags which I used in the recipe; I've not drunk caffeine for over three years now which has put off the consumption of earl grey in Emily's memory, so I shall be making a cup of that in a mug which I gave to Emily, and which her Mum gave back to me to remember her by.

In addition, I can report that I've now raised over £1500 with this year's epic swim, which added to the money raised last year with a less epic swim, means I've raised £3000 for Mind, the mental health charity, in her memory.

Emily liked singing, and I remember her encouraging me to join the choral society at the boys school down the road from our school in my last year at the sixth form, where I sang my first big choral work, Haydn's Nelson Mass - an absolutely terrific piece of music. Later on, when I was at university, Emily encouraged me to audition for the city choir when I discovered that they were rehearsing the Nelson Mass. So, finding out that one of my favourite choral composers, John Rutter, was running a singing day on 16th October, less than 2 miles from my house at the college where I used to work, and that the day would include a performance of his Requiem, I decided that it would be a wonderful way to mark the day, and I'm shortly off to celebrate my memories of our friendship, whilst wishing her peaceful rest from the difficult years that led to the end of her life.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Librarians in literature 2

I mentioned before all of my holiday breaks that I had been lent a bibliography of librarians in literature and that I had sought out some titles which had appealed to me from it in the hope that I would blog about them. Unfortunately, this sort of fell by the wayside, as I have now read three from my original list, but failed to write about any of them.

First up was That uncertain feeling by Kingsley Amis. Many of you will be aware of Kingsley Amis as the author of Lucky Jim, a classic university campus novel. I'd read Lucky Jim but always thought it compared unfavourably to other examples of the genre, such as Malcolm Bradbury's The history man or David Lodge's books. That uncertain feeling tells the story of John Lewis, a public librarian, who is pursued by one of his customers. It didn't surprise me as a plot device as many librarians I know have been stalked/harrassed! (fortunately not myself). What I liked most about the book was the description of John Lewis's marriage and insight given into that, but on the whole, whatever it was that I didn't really like about Lucky Jim was probably what I didn't especially like about That uncertain feeling. So if you liked Lucky Jim, then I would probably recommend this - it's good to see books about librarians! Apparently it has been made into a film with Peter Sellers and I wouldn't mind seeing that, can't think of too many films with librarians in.

Second was DE Stevenson's Young Clementina. I came across DE Stevenson last year, when I read the fantastic Miss Buncle's book (published by Persephone) and its sequels. I didn't enjoy the Bloomsbury Group Mrs Tim of the regiment so much, but I quite looked forward to reading this. And it was very good. I can't remember too much of the plot now I'm afraid and it's gone back to the library, which is a bit of a cop-out I'm afraid.

Thirdly, Business as usual by J. Oliver and A. Stafford. This was an absolutely hilarious book which I'd like to see back in print. It's based on the letters of a young girl who fills in the year before she plans to get married, by leaving home and taking up a job. Set probably in the 1950s, we follow her progress living in a bedsit, budgeting for stockings, and working her way up in the lending library of a department store. It's told through the letters that she writes to her fiance and parents and as the year passes she makes some interesting discoveries about herself and what she wants from life. It is a wonderful insight into the world of the commercial lending libraries.

I've still got another two librarians novels from the library to read, plus a Chalet School fill-in title which centres on a librarian, so hopefully there will be another post on the subject soon.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Portrait of the mother as a young woman (Delius)

I have to apologise to Periene Press for being so dilatory with the review of this wonderful book that they sent me; especially as I frequently end up chatting to them on twitter (what lovely people!). Part of the problem was that although they sent it to me at the beginning of August, and I read it then, the title was embargoed until its release at the end of August (fair enough, you don't want everyone getting excited about a book that is not yet out). I then mislaid the book - it turned out to be in my secret-under-one-of-my-desks-at-work bookshelves (an overflow of books read at lunchtimes and emergency supply of books), but because of building work, I'd not been at that desk very much. I was very relieved when it turned up as I couldn't think where it was!

First of all, a word about Peirene Press. Probably regular blog readers will already be familiar with them, as they are extremely kind to bloggers, passing out books for review quite extensively, which creates a vibe around each title (and it's nice to be able to discuss a book with fellow bloggers, as often we don't read books at the same time). They are a publishing house printing translations of contemporary European literature, predominantly short books, and in a way, they are doing what Persephone books have done for another often overlooked genre, promoting it more widely. I have to say that whilst I was already reading the sort of literature that Persephone publish, I would not be reading that published by Peirene - it is a little beyond my immediate radar, so I thank them for this. I have not spotted any of their titles in bookshops as yet, probably not looking hard enough, but I hope that they are there as it may encourage other people to read wonderful books that may be beyond their usual reading sphere.

Onto Portrait of the mother as a young woman. It's difficult to add much to the excellent reviews I've already seen of the book, which describe its lyrical language and the amazing construction whereby the narrative is a single sentence, lasting for 117 pages. Set in Germany in 1943, it's the story of a young woman coming to terms with the reality of the war and the fact that her husband may not return, and describing her experiences of living under the Nazi regime. What is wonderful about it is that it is essential a stream of consciousness of her thought which gives far more insight into her world than any other form of narrative could. I am sure a large part of this is due to the excellent translation which did not feel at all clunky.

I've been lucky enough to borrow and enjoy the other two Peirene titles, Stone in a Landslide, and Beside the Sea, the latter which I found hugely compelling, and I am looking forward to seeing what they will bring out next.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Three new acquisitions

Well, I haven't exactly gone back on my no-book-buying, but I was extremely lucky to recieve three new books last week (all of which have sadly gone unopened; I'm afraid I was absent at the end of last week due to some bad family news on my fiance's side, which somehow seemed to occupy my time and thoughts too much to do anything constructive readingwise/anythingwise/certainly blogging wise).

However, I would like to thank my friend Claire, at Paperback Reader, for two of these books. Claire spent two weeks doing work experience at Random House (which you can read a little about here) and she sent me two books which she thought I'd like.

Firstly, Goodbye to Berlin, one of the gorgeous Vintage classics (and you can see quite how fabulous the cover is in the picture at the bottom of this post). I read this book just before starting my A Levels; my history teacher wanted us to read something about the Weimar Republic before we started to study it - it was a fabulous idea as it really introduced me to the idea of putting things in context by reading outside of textbooks. With the Christopher Isherwood revival earlier this year when A single man was at the cinemas, it's definitely timely to read it again.

Secondly, The whoopie pie book. As you know, baking is something that I love, and Whoopie Pies are right on trend - this year's cupcakes. I got quite excited about the idea of them in the summer, but never got around to baking any, so I will surely be having a go at these very soon.

Finally, Nella Last in the 1950s. Ok, yes, this was a purchase, but it was a pre-order, and according to one of my bookish colleagues, they don't count (well, I know they do, and have argued with her over this, but for the purposes of this blog post they don't). I mentioned earlier that I coveted this book; I immensely enjoyed the last two volumes, and think that this may well be the thing to occupy me on my evenings alone this week.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Great British book of baking

Regular readers will not be surprised to learn that I was absolutely glued to the recent Great British Bake-Off on television. It was a fantastic programme where contestants each programme had to make a variety of things, each time centring on a different area of baking - we started with biscuits, progressed through cakes, did bread, was absolutely wonderful! I also enjoyed the historical background given to cake baking, which added a more educational element to a programme which was essentially the X Factor of baking (but oh, how much more enjoyable than the X factor!).

I was very excited to find out that there was a book to accompany the series, and immediately ordered it from the library. When it arrived, the kindly library assistants let me borrow it even though I was already up to my limit of books (I got the impression that the sooner I borrowed it, the sooner it would be back for them to take home). I was a little disappointed that only a handful of the recipes baked on the series feature in the book (although I am looking forward to being able to have a go at that Mark's sticky marmalade loaf that reduced him to tears in the first episode), but actually the book, by the well-renowned baker Linda Collister, is an extremely comprehensive book of baking (it does what it says on the tin - haha!), with sections devoted to the areas covered in the television competition. The recipes are all introduced and there is some of the sociological/historical information that we had in the programmes. I immediately made the jam thumbprint cookies (but forgot to take a picture of them), and then moved onto the bread section where I made these amazing stilton and walnut rolls.

Other recipes that I am looking forward to trying are the cheddar and sundried tomato rolls, the chocolate shortbread, and perhaps the saffron buns which have far better instructions than the recipe in my favourite Cornish recipes book - maybe I'll actually have some success with them!

I would love to enter this competition if they do the programme again (and I'm not sure if they would...), but in all honesty I don't think my baking is sufficiently technically good or innovative to make the grade.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Gingerbread couple

Just a quickie post today; it's a busy week, but I thought you might like to see the gingerbread men that K and I decorated at the weekend. K had the wonderful idea of decorating one to look like him, so I did one that looks like me (well, you can tell it's me due to the combination of cardigan and sparkly engagement ring!). K is in his running kit (and he does have yellow running shoes).

We did some other ones too to keep us company - I like the one with the chest hair best!

I just don't see how K is going to manage to eat me though!

Monday, 4 October 2010

Puffin postcards

I mentioned a little while ago how much I coveted the 100 Postcards from Puffin - I loved the 100 Postcards from Penguin, and have spent many happy hours flicking through the box and finding appropriate cards for every occasion. Because it was slightly before my current frugal phase, I did actually give in and pre-order them (it wasn't technically a book), and they arrived at the weekend.

Lovely! They're a bit different from the Penguin postcards, in that they are likely to trigger huge waves of nostalgia as you see books that you read with the exact same covers as the copies you had as a child, but also as you see books which you read with different covers. I remembered, looking through the boxes, how many of my very favourite books were Puffins and I pulled a few of them out here:

There were also plenty of books which I hadn't heard of, and I particularly liked these two, which sum up two of my interests:

It will be difficult to part with these, but I shall be using them for my correspondence over the next couple of months and have already given my first one (Watership Down) away.

Saturday, 2 October 2010

The month of September

Joan over at Flowers and Stripes does a lovely summary of her month each time, and it is something that I enjoy reading and have thought that I would like to do. How easy it is when you don't keep a diary to let things slip away from you.

The month of September began finding out that the Great North Swim was cancelled and entering a 3.8km swim.
We had a lovely week in the Lake District, following in the footsteps of Arthur Ransome, walking, swimming and playing with a log fire in our cottage.
Made Ken a gold leaf decorated birthday cake.
Ate out at Loch Fyne for the first time.
Returned to work, tried to catch up after having had 2.5 weeks off, but then had another long weekend and a visit to Cornwall.
Watched the sun set over the sea from our hotel room and ate skate for the first time.
Thought about stopping blogging but ended up starting blogging again.
Started to make plans for the Autumn and for Christmas - booked tickets to see ballets.
Back to work properly, getting things ready for the start of term and reopening my reading room closed for building works.
Miles and miles of swimming before work.
Planning frugality until the end of the year to save for wedding - started drinking instant coffee in the week, not pleasant.
A housewarming party in the Cotswolds.
3.8km swim in 15C water which took 1 hour and 25 minutes and enabled me to raise over £1250 for Mind - still hoping to get to £1500.
Followed by the worst cold that I ever had - a whole day in bed, listening to 3 Enid Blyton audiobooks, and discovering that I can download audiobooks directly onto my ipod touch.
Starting an introductory certificate in management and enjoying doing some studying again (and having a bit of time out of the office)
Reading my first Wilkie Collins (The dead secret) and the new Shopaholic book (both excellent).

In October I'm looking forward to...
No buying books and more instant coffee than trips to Pret. In theory. And a glow of saving some money.
A singing day with John Rutter.
Visiting my Dad in his new house.
A busy few weeks at work.

Friday, 1 October 2010

From comfort reading to comfort television and comfort eating...

I meant today to write about the new Shopaholic book (Mini shopaholic) which one of my colleagues had kindly left on my desk for my return to work; we both hoped it would cheer me up, but when I got home I was too tired to do anything beyond lie on the sofa.

I did manage to put on the television last night and caught the first episode of the latest series of Nigella. I have mixed feelings about Nigella's cookery programmes - I think they are more entertaining than anything else and one can rely on the usual outcry by the critics regarding the "food porn" nature of the programme. But, it filled half an hour.

I *do* however like Nigella's cookbooks, well, specifically I like her book, How to be a domestic goddess (I have problems with most regular cookbooks since they are often at least half-filled with recipes containing meat which I don't eat, but this is rarely so much of a problem with a baking book). I also have her Christmas book, although I've only had it for one Christmas, so it is as yet to become as firm a favourite. I've been quite tempted by her latest book, as it has been half price in Waterstones for about a fortnight, but my current economic climate has forced me to resist.

However, I recently spotted a recipe from the book on a blog for a coconut and cherry banana bread, so with plenty of bananas that were going off (we'd bought them for refuelling after our swim), I thought it was time to make it. (In fact, it was the sight of browning bananas and my insistence on turning them into cake that proved to me that I had turned the corner in my recovery from my nasty cold).

It was pronounced very nice, and I'm minded to make it again, although it is a bit more extravagant than a regular banana bread. I'm also wondering about using that combination of flavours in a Verity friendly recipe (since I don't eat dairy or gluten), by making a coconut, cherry and banana flapjack.

It's shown here with a coconut cake that I made for my fiance last weekend, a recipe from a BBC Good Food 101 bakes and cakes book that I'd made before. I'd run out of butter so I had to use Pure (vegan spread) for the icing, but it gave it a wonderful texture and he said that he couldn't really tell the difference.