How Lovely Are Thy Branches.

O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree…

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It was a fiasco. (See instagram post here)IMG_0642

Every light that could break, broke. IMG_0646

Some lights died, were resuscitated and died again. Others came out of their brand new packages dead. IMG_0661

It took seven hours, three visits to the local hardware, and a partridge in a pear tree to get it going.IMG_0651

But, despite the chaos and frustration, the mess and expense, the torment to small children waiting with baubles at the ready, for hours, it was a memorable day for all the right reasons. We kept it together. We laughed. We ate cake. We had a couple of stiff drinks. IMG_0657

We kept in mind that, even when it all seems to be going wrong, these days are precious. So very much depends on how you look at things.

This is the view from the kitchen window, street lights versus Christmas tree with honesty (lunaria) inside and teasels outside. I considered writing a whole post based on this photograph. I might yet. IMG_0673

Then I turned on my heel and took this photograph. I love the way the street light still threw its shadows on to this one.IMG_0676

The tree is up. Let the festivities begin.

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Tidings of Comfort and Joy.

Nigel Slater's Fig tart

Right so, who’s up for a frank and honest conversation about perimenopausal symptoms, the perils of freelance writing, and the politics of who is going where on Christmas Day?

No? No. Me neither.

Can we escape, instead, into a book? Come with me, please, this one is worth it.

The books. There are books in the kitchen, books in the study and books in the drawing room. There are books in my satchel, books on my desk and books by my bedside. There are novels and short stories, biographies and diaries, haikus and travelogues. There are gardening books and poetry and of course there are cook books…”He was never without a book.” I can see it now, carved on my gravestone.

He had me at “drawing room” and doubly so at “satchel.” That’s Nigel Slater using some of those words in the English language that we Irish have never felt fully entitled to use. It is an excerpt from a chapter, or entry really, as The Christmas Chronicles is more diary than cookbook, entitled A Sweet Moment. Slater describes the simple pleasure of sitting in a comfortable chair to read a book.

Howling wind or falling snow aside, the best reading companion is the smell of something baking in the oven.

No arguments here.

This is an extraordinary cookbook. I’ve never read any other cookbook that felt so intimate, so genuine, so much like an invitation to step inside a real kitchen and make myself at home.

“Come in.” Two short words, heavy with meaning. Step out of the big, bad, wet world and into my home. You’ll be safe here, toasty and well fed. “Come in.” They are two of the loveliest words to say and hear.

Can anyone else hear the ghost of Christmas present laughing in the background?

And yes, I know the world is a shit-storm at the moment, but we all need a safe harbour.

Nigel Slater’s writing would verge on maudlin, if it wasn’t tempered with such enthralling honesty. He doesn’t pretend that his memories of Christmas past aren’t tainted by grief. He doesn’t pretend that he always makes his own mincemeat. He doesn’t blithely ignore the existence of his competitors on the cookery bookery shelves. He gives credit where credit is due.  He mentions, and thanks, his followers on social media as though they were flesh and blood people.

All of this adds up to something that feels fresh and immediate and very modern. At the same time, by some sorcerer’s trick, Slater endorses time-worn traditions and exudes acute nostalgia. He made my chest ache. Ah, listen, let me cut to the chase. He made me cry. A flaming cookbook made me cry, IN THE SHOP, before I even paid for it.

If you are expecting a book of practical instructions on how to cater Christmas, you may be disappointed. The chronicles take the form of a day-by-day diary, beginning November 1st and ending on the 2nd of February. There is a lot to learn from this book: anything from the history of tinsel, Christmas stamps and pantomimes to the burn rate of candles to the best Brussels sprouts.

Nigel Slater's Fig tart

You don’t know what you are going to get from one day to the next and at times it reads as though it was a surprise to him too. Some of the entries bear all the hallmarks of a sleepy head – half formed thoughts jotted down by candle-light before dawn. A less well established author might have been compelled to edit, to tighten up, but these sleepy paragraphs, to me, were beguiling.

The only fault I found was that the book ends rather abruptly, as though he simply tore this clump of pages from his diary and sent them off to his publisher. One can only presume that we will pick up with him again, on February 3rd. It works, it leaves you wanting more, but it’s a bit too low key for me. I’m needy.

The food? I have two words for it. Comfort and joy.

Have you ever roasted a head of cabbage and then smothered it in cheese sauce? It is, without exaggeration, a cruciferous revelation.

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You’ve heard enough, I think, ( here) about the Jerusalem artichoke soup. Perhaps less of the comfort on that one but certainly joy, or maybe glee. It was worth it for the laughs.

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Cauliflower soup with a cheesy sourdough crouton was an equally delicious and less incendiary option.

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Toad-in-the-hole is not something we habitually eat in Ireland. Like drawing rooms and satchels, and Paddington Bear, this is a particularly British thing that we are not certain we are entitled to enjoy. It’s funny, when you think about it, how distinct are our cultures. I like it that way which, I suppose, is why I resist the blending of them. Regardless, this was undeniably comforting on a wet Saturday night.

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Slater’s recipes are mostly very easy and undemanding. What he offers are suggestions for a way of eating, and a way of enjoying the winter, rather than prescriptions for what is correct, or seasonal, or must-have or must-do or must-make.

My six-year-old made the Lebkuchen Chocolate Cream, all by herself…a triumph!

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The Stollen was my own particular triumph – a first but my no means last attempt. I even made the marzipan. It doesn’t look remotely like Nigel Slater’s stollen but it was very good to eat. Yes, I am quite proud.

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The Ricotta Filo Tart, a sort of Sicicilian baked cheesecake in a crispy shell was almost too pretty to crack open. Almost, but not quite.

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My forays into combining fruit with brandy have already been well-documented (here) but, I assure you, the joy continues.

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I made four jars of Slater’s quince mincemeat. It may not look beautiful but this stuff has been the mainstay of my mental health in recent days. Jar, spoon, Poldark book 10…I may just survive.

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This afternoon, by popular demand, after my girls have had their piano lesson (the piano is in the kitchen which is a very good thing with only occasional drawbacks), I shall make another batch of these quincemeat and mascarpone pies. They are exquisite little self-contained puffballs of Christmas cheer. You do have to eat them while they are still warm. Does that sound like a problem?

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I have only one other Nigel Slater cookbook on my shelves. It is called Real Food. I hardly ever cook from it, I’m not sure why not, but it contains my most favourite ever recipe –for a perfect chip butty. It’s not really a recipe, it’s a poem.

The fact that I didn’t cook much from that book has thus far inhibited me from buying any other of Nigel Slater’s books. That and the inescapable fact that they are quite expensive. Nonetheless, Item 1 on my list of New Year Resolutions is to source (hopefully second-hand) more of his books and to devour them just for the pure pleasure of it.

Slater’s is the sort of writing that makes me feel better. His words provide a sort of nourishment for the weather-beaten soul. I found this book both enlightening and inspiring. I want to eat like this, have a garden like this, make a wreath like this and yes, more than anything else, I want to write like this.

While Nigel Slater may not have the power to halt the shit-storm, he might empower you to shut the door on it. If nothing else, here is a book full to bursting with tidings of comfort and joy.

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A Fairly Unbiased Book Review: Uncommon Type by Tom Hanks.

Can there ever be such a thing as an unbiased review?

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A good portion of the people who pick up Uncommon Type will do so out of curiosity to discover whether Tom Hanks, the Hollywood A-lister, can write. You would expect him make a decent fist of it, wouldn’t you? After all, we already know Tom Hanks is a smart and articulate man. He’s a professional communicator, has an understanding of timing and character development and he’s funny. Does all of that add up to being a good writer? I, for one, was rooting for Forrest Gump to come up trumps.

Occasionally, when Tom Hanks is out and about in the real world, he meets a small child who can’t understand how the man he is facing could possibly claim to be Woody from Toy Story. Hanks knows exactly what to do. He asks the child to close his eyes and then, to the amazement of all, he performs the voice and the child knows without any doubt that he has met the real Woody.

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Having read Hanks’ first collection of short stories, I’m left with the impression that he intends to play the same trick on his readers. Even the most commercially successful of authors, Stephen King or Dan Brown or Paula Hawkins, don’t have the advantage Hanks has of having a voice so very familiar to us. If I were to say to you, ‘My Mama always said life was like a box of chocolates…’ I’m willing to bet you can hear Tom Hanks’ voice in your head finishing the sentence.

There is no doubt that the actor’s spoken voice shines through, clear as a bell, in his writing and that, absolutely, is a real pleasure. He brings the same affable, jocular manner we’ve all seen on some chat show or other. He sounds like himself – at his ease and, more significantly, in control. Hanks is a natural raconteur, an exemplary story-teller and to read his book is the closest you will come to having the Tom Hanks you know so well from the movies actually take a seat by your fire-side and spin you a yarn.

My problem is this: I think he’s still acting. He’s still performing voices, acting the author, while we, so to speak, read with our eyes shut.

The collection opens with a story called Three Exhausting Weeks in which a man who was previously content to spend his days doing a load or two of laundry and watching a game on TV begins dating an old school friend, a woman who is fit and smart and driven to succeed.

“Being Anna’s boyfriend was like training to be a Navy Seal while working full-time in an Amazon fulfilment center in the Oklahoma Panhandle in tornado season.”

The story charts the increasingly hectic, but mercifully brief, course of their mismatched relationship.

It’s a snappy and entertaining piece of writing and introduces a quirky foursome of friends who appear twice more in later stories. With each reprisal, I liked these characters a little more but even three stories, a trip to the moon and a bowling championship, later, they seemed more like the cast of a sit-com than real people.

Another character who wins himself several appearances in the collection is Hank Fiset. Now, this guy I really like. Hank Fiset is a bit of a crank, a Grumpy Old Man but also an old school, small town, newspaper man who crafts his column so that it can be read in exactly the time it takes to boil an egg. He accompanies his wife on a trip to New York where he finds the Caesar salad too tart, the parking inconvenient and the art for Art’s sake only.

“I saw a movie that was nothing more than time passing – really, a lot of clocks ticking and people looking at their watches. I gave it ten minutes.”

He mourns the demise of print newspapers and recalls a colleague, a re-write man at the old associated press, whose type-writer was a Continental.

“The man made quite a racket doing his job a few hundred times a shift– the chonk-chonkka of his typing with the ba-ding of the bell, the krank of the carriage return, the shripp of the copy ripped from the machine.”

This brings me to the author’s most charming device, the hook on which the collection hangs. In each story there is an individual type-writer. Some are older than others but all can lay claim to the term vintage. In some stories the type-writer plays a starring role, in others it’s an extra hanging about in the background but it’s always there somewhere. The type-writer made me smile, every time.

Close enough to the centre page of this book, and at its very heart, you will find a real gem, a story called These Are the Meditations of My Heart. It’s about a girl who can’t resist buying an old type-writer that’s going cheap at a yard sale.

She brings the type-writer to a repair shop where an old fellow with a, probably, Polish accent teaches her a thing or two about type and type-writers and why we are so attracted to them.

“Because they were built to last forever.”

Can’t you just hear Hanks doing that probably-Polish accent?

“You are seeking permanence,” he says.

It was in this story that I thought we might, just might mind you, be hearing the voice of the real Tom Hanks rather than another of his myriad characters.

“I’m not one who types between sips from a tumbler of booze and drags from a pack of smokes. I just want to set down what few truths I’ve come to know.”

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Hanks failed to convince me that he is a writer. He doesn’t display the compulsion to bare his own soul . Sure, Hanks writes and he writes well. He writes convincing scenes of American lives, poignant characters who recall a better past or believe in a better future. But, he doesn’t say anything in these stories that he wouldn’t have said better in a movie. He doesn’t give himself away. He’s still playing Woody, doing a voice, acting.

It may be that Hanks is too good an actor, too smart, too practised at guarding his privacy, to be a writer. It may be that I was looking for something he was never going to give.

When you see Hanks’ name on a movie poster you know you are in safe hands. Tom Hanks is never less than entertaining. Equally, his stories are thoughtful and congenial. Some are moving, others hilarious but they are not provocative and they are not personal. His stories are safe, which is a pity really, because Tom Hanks can write.

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The Crazy Days Before the Calm (we hope).

There is always a drama at this time of year involving some daft item that simply must be sourced or the world will possibly end or, at the very least, Christmas will be ruined. One year, it was a very particular Lego set with a Darth Vader mini-figure. Another year, it was a Barbie and Ken wedding. There was the time I set my heart on a pair of burgundy patent shoes for my then two year old eldest daughter. You wouldn’t believe the distance I drove for those shoes but, oh my, she was a picture in her little wool coat and beret. My excuse is that these are the things that give us a sense of having kept Christmas well, that it’s not just a case of buying and wrapping the cheapest or random gifts and receiving the same in return with fingers crossed that the tags are attached. You have to put an effort in; that’s the whole point.

This year, it’s a donkey outfit. Small Girl is to play a donkey in Seó na Nollaig (nativity play). I was all set to make one, had a hat half crocheted, when Middle Daughter informed me, in the kindest terms, that EVERYONE ELSE is buying one from the shops and poor Small Girl will be a laughing stock in a homemade outfit. Sigh. (I’m clearly alone in my views about putting an effort in.)

And so, bowing to peer pressure, I spent this morning trawling the recommended shops for the recommended donkey onesie. I found a very cute dragon onesie, and two different unicorn onesies. I stood stock still in the shop and put serious thought into attaching donkey ears to a unicorn but wasn’t sure how much of a sense of humour the Senior Infants teacher has, or my daughter for that matter. I’ve come home with a pair of grey leggings and a grey hoody and a sinking feeling that I’m getting this one wrong.

I have a few ongoing crafty projects which are Top Secret and Highly Classified. I’ve had to do some very stealthy crocheting. I’ve learned that I can really only get away with giving handmade gifts to my own offspring which is trickier, of course, since they are here all the time.

I’m working on a set of the elf characters from Matt Haig’s A Boy Called Christmas, all of my own imagining and purely for my own satisfaction. They posed for some photos this morning. Here’s a sneak preview:

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Aside from under-cover crocheting, I have done a terrifying amount of credit card tapping, a reassuring amount of list-making, including the ultimately comforting booklist-making, and a properly scandalous amount of steeping things in brandy. I blame Nigel Slater.

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I’ve got vanilla pods in brandy, apricots in brandy and prunes in a mixture of muscat and brandy. I’m seriously considering dunking the last Jerusalem artichokes in brandy – with a label attached saying “Nobody light a match.”

Segueing neatly to another root vegetable, we harvested our first Oca. We were prepared for something that tasted like potato dipped in lemon juice. IMG_0294 (2)

The first attempt to cook them, by boiling, went poorly. They turned out, those that didn’t simply dissolve into the cooking water, as thin-skinned balls of watery, lemony, mush.

The second batch had a big weight on their little knobbly shoulders. If the kids didn’t like them I would be facing a heck of a lot of lemony lunches. What to do?

I applied the same method that I used to convince my kids they likes Brussels sprouts and turnips- I roasted them in the juices of a leg of lamb.  Oh yes, that worked. They may not have been crispy but they tasted like very good new potatoes that had been roasted in lamb fat, and dipped in lemon juice. Yum.

However, a leg of lamb is pretty expensive method of flavouring your homegrown (read, free) vegetables. Anyone have any suggestions for less indulgent (read, cheaper) alternatives?

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I am, once again, endeavouring to lose a little blubber – if only enough to make room in my jeans for mince pies. To that end, I am comfort-eating in lieu of puddings.

Jenny Colgan’s The Bookshop on the Corner is as sweet and light as that strawberry pavlova Nigella made last night (is anyone else irritated by the way she abbreviates it to “Pav” ? Sorry, grumpy, hungry woman syndrome).

This book will do you no good whatsoever but you’ll feel marvelous as you devour it, and pleasantly guilty afterwards.

I have one major gripe: I made a list, as I read, of all the books Colgan mentions. There was one children’s book in particular, a magical classic adventure that plays a big role in the story and seemed like just the thing for my Small Girl. Wondering how on Earth I’d missed this one, but you know, it happens, I searched the great bookshop in the sky and came up with…exactly nothing.

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She made it up. And I wasn’t alone in my foolish hopefulness; in the reviews of an unrelated book of the same title, two other disappointed souls wrote, “this is not the book from Jenny Colgan’s book!”

That’s not fair! Authors: You can’t be making up books that don’t exist and then telling us they are brilliant, for flip’s sake.

Did you notice the quince there, in the book photo? They have nothing to do with the story at all but happened to match the cover. Or they would, if I could only figure out how to photograph yellow things. Why is yellow so difficult?

My quince tree remains barren. I bought these for a Nigel Slater recipe. There’s something very evocative about quince.

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They make me think of owls and pussycats…IMG_0263

…and make me long for a runcible spoon.IMG_0274

I’ve been trying to figure out how to take photographs in the scant light available. My family completely ignore me as I wander about the house taking shots of light switches and fruit bowls. This was supposed to be a picture of the chillies, a failure obviously, but I think it is an honest snap shot of my kitchen at dinner time, six o’clock, with the plates laid out and tea towels draped willy-nilly, and me pottering about with the camera when I should be dishing up.IMG_0234

Here’s a nice one:IMG_0214

And here is my little reindeer keeping guard over those apricots in brandy.IMG_0209

One last thing…I threw my cap in the ring for this incredible prize. It’s a competition for a writer’s retreat, open until tomorrow night, and all you have to do is convince the judges that you deserve it. If you are tempted, I wish you luck but, for God’s sake, don’t come back here to tell me that you won!

Right, I’m off to see what can be done about the donkey’s ears and, failing that, to see what else I could possibly steep in brandy. Cheese? Figs? Sultanas?! Oh! Only imagine the brandy-soaked-sultana buns…

A Light Breeze, Rising Slowly.

“The inclusion of peas also seems to stop the wind, the other sort, not the one that rattles down the chimney.”

That’s Nigel Slater, in his new book, The Christmas Chronicles, writing about his recipe for Jerusalem artichoke and pea soup. I’ve heard, of course, of the explosively flatulent effects of the Jerusalem artichoke but I had never even seen one, let alone eaten one, so I didn’t fully appreciate how significant the inclusion of peas might, or might not, be. Still, Slater’s doggedly honest writing really hit a nerve in me, not just this recipe but his writing in general, and I resolved to set forth on a search for the infamous root.

Then, would you credit it, on the very same day (last Saturday), I was picking up a bottle of organic wine in the farm shop (how fantastically middle class is that statement?) at Ballymaloe Cookery School (yes, very fancy) when I discovered they had the aforementioned artichokes for sale (well, naturally). The stars were aligned, my friends,IMG_0057

and my bowels were in for a shock.

No, Mr. Slater, the peas did not alleviate the situation, or if they did, God help the soul who went without them. Dear Lord, I was so full of gas my ears popped.

I suppose I ought to mention that the soup was delicious. Everyone agreed it was yummy, and then quietly removed themselves to private (well-ventilated) spaces.

I’m left with two tubers which I held back from the soup pot with the intention of planting them. They are, by all accounts, ridiculously easy to grow. I can’t decide, now, what to do with them. Has anyone any advice? Is there a secret I don’t know? Maybe I should just raffle them off on Instagram? (WIN!! Farty tubers!! Tag your friends!!…)

Let me try to redeem myself somewhat from that unseemly interlude:

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That blue Le Creuset pot was a wedding present, making it twenty years old. I used to use it for making casseroles until the family out-grew it and I had to buy a bigger pot (not Le Creuset, sadly, more the industrial catering variety). The lovely blue pot, then, fell out of use for years and years which was a source of genuine regret. I would move it about from shelf to dusty shelf with a mixture of affection and irritation.

About eighteen months ago, I discovered The Common Loaf from Riot Rye and set about becoming the sort of person who has a sourdough starter living at the back of her fridge (I do!) and makes real, really good, bread. I think I’m about three-quarters of the way there. In other words, my bread turns out to be really good about 75% of the time. The two things that make the greatest difference, I think, are time (it really needs at least twenty-four hours rising, there’s just no way to cheat on that) and the blue Le Creuset pot.

The pot gets pre-heated in the oven, the dough goes in, and when I lift the lid an hour later I get this:

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I’m experimenting at the moment with a recipe for walnut bread. It’s a long story but the shortest version of it is that, when I was in Paris, I bought a booklet of recipes for things to make with leftovers of Poilâne’s walnut bread. (Here is an article from The New Yorker about Poilâne, if such things interest you, and here is a video in which Julia Child visits Poilâne and bakes bread.)IMG_0096

Now I have managed to make myself some very good walnut bread. Yeay!It might not be from Poilâne but listen, short of moving to Paris, what are my options ?IMG_0119

However, the chance of there being leftovers is slim to nill. And, could there possibly be any better use for them than buttery toast?IMG_0147

I’m 160 pages in to The Break by Marian Keyes. I’m totally hooked…need more toast…

Hope you’re having a good week,
Lynda.

PS. There is NO LIGHT at all coming from the sky these days and my photos look miserable. A set of fairy lights (three euros twenty-six) is the most cost effective lighting solution I can come up with.

Small Joys.

Here’s a thing: I often find myself, completely unintentionally, writing in my head. I form words into sentences, build a pleasing rhythm, hit an excellent (in my mind at least) crescendo and, just as I’m congratulating my inner writer on the marvelous blog post I’ve created, I draw a mental line under it and forget the whole lot. The writing, whether it ever makes it to the page or not, seems to be a lot about drawing lines under things, and moving on.

Not too long ago, I heard an interview with Marie Heaney, Seamus Heaney’s wife. She said that she would watch him tapping out a beat on the steering wheel of the car while he was driving and she would know that he was writing in his head. I thought there was something very moving about that, that she could almost see what was going on inside his head, almost read his thoughts in a kind of tapped out code, and that she let him at it where I would probably have been nagging him about the state of the garden shed.

Anyway, my point is that I have been here in my head, you just couldn’t see me.

I often hit a low at this time of the year, when the light fails but it’s too early for fairy lights. This year though I’m grand and just for that, I am grateful. I do feel the need for quietness, especially after the busy-ness of Halloween and I breathed a long sigh of relief when the kids went back to school.

Let me tell you some of the small joys I’ve been relishing.

I’ve been basking like a cat in the sunshine of these last few days and taking the opportunity to tidy up the garden. We still have a few roses…IMG_9836

…and a few visitors…IMG_9834

…and fruit! I am still managing to nab an alpine strawberry or two most days (I don’t share them) and I have planted (on Rory O’Connell’s advice) a myrtle bush. This is Myrtus ugni, also known as a Chilean strawberry. The berries taste like a strawberry inside a blueberry. To walk out to the garden in November and pick a handful of berries feels like a small miracle.IMG_9816

In previous years I would have cleared the flowerbeds by now but this year I am leaving all the seed heads, including the mighty teasels, for the birds. I can’t tell you how much I love to look up from a book and see a family of goldfinches outside the window. I think they may even be getting used to me sneaking up on them with my camera aloft.IMG_9929 (2)

On our last evening in Paris, after we left Shakespeare and Company, and had a little snog on the street and that kind of thing, Husband and I contrived to bring home a few sprigs of rosemary as a memento. We put them in a water bottle and then transferred them to a smaller-than-100mls shampoo bottle for the flight home and then, with just a little bit of wishful thinking, nursed them in a glass of water for a fortnight until little roots appeared and then potted them up and, hey presto, by the magic of plant science, we have at least one survivor growing strong and making me very happy.IMG_0034

Also making me smile is our substantial crop of chillies. We’ve taken to making fermented chilli sauce about once a month (see this post for more on fermented foods). I’m not certain whether it is the satisfaction of growing the chillies, the prettiness of them, the pride in making the fermented sauce, the kick of eating it or the gastro-intestinal benefits of consuming it but, all in all, the whole affair is making me happy.IMG_9919

Another thing, of even greater joy, is watching the Small Girl playing the piano. She has to climb up on to the piano stool and her feet dangle in mid-air while she reads the notes and counts the beats out loud while she plays and concentrates so hard I can nearly see steam coming out of her ears. The dog, meanwhile, nods his approval.IMG_9914

I could write a whole post about the book in that photo (I did, in fact, in my head). I found it in the wonderful Prim’s Bookshop in Kinsale. It’s Real French Cooking by Savarin, this copy printed in 1956. As well as some hardcore cooking techniques, Savarin includes a generous smattering of cartoons and anecdotes, as he says, “in the hope of pleasing the housewife in a rare moment of leisure.” Did you know, for instance, that the speciality of the Tour d’Argent in Paris is the Canard au Sang, a duck served in the juice of two other ducks? Every duck served has an individual number and a record is kept of who ate it. Number 112,151 was eaten by Franklin Roosevelt in 1929. The Duke of Windsor had number 147,883 in 1935. The late Queen Mother and her guests had numbers 185,197 and 185,198 in 1938.

“Eight months later, number 203,728 went to Marlene Dietrich.”

Is that not fantastic? I’ve suggested to Teenage Daughter that she begin a register of her meringue swans. She continues to think I am nuts.IMG_0033

So far, on Savarin’s instruction, I have recruited the family to help me cook and peel chestnuts and have made a scrumptious Cevennes Pie (pork, chestnuts and apple encased in buttery pastry). There is no photo of the pie, unfortunately, they ate it that fast!IMG_9943

Sticking with the theme of French cookery (yes, I’m a little obsessed of late), I have been watching Julia Child on YouTube. Now listen, I am all to familiar with the feeling of finally getting the joke after everyone else has gone home but forty years late is a record even for me. Alas, so it was. I was two minutes into this clip when the forty-year-old penny finally dropped:

It’s the Swedish chef! For God’s sake, tell me I wasn’t the only Swedish chef fan on the planet who didn’t know this!

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Well, Mr. Henson is still making me laugh so that counts as a good thing.

I’m going to lightly trip over this book:IMG_9945

…which I found desperately sad. It has sat on my shelf for nigh on a year because I was afraid it would depress me and, to be honest, it nearly did. It is good but I didn’t like it. Bring on the happy books, I say.

I bought Matt Haig’s A Boy Called Christmas for Middle Daughter last year but didn’t read it myself until January, too late to recommend it. I read it again last week and am currently on a third reading, aloud to the Small Girl, and it is STILL making me laugh. Read it, please, just read it! I’ll post a review soon.

I have a small (literally tiny, elfin even) crochet project on the go which is making bubbles of glee rise up and burst at the top of my head.

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Ooh, almost forgot, my Cooking The Books project for November is, if I do say so myself, a good one. It’s a cheering recipe and a flipping brilliant book. Belated thanks to the lovely Kathy at Gluts and Gluttony who recommended The Debt to Pleasure by John Lanchester when we met at Litfest. I loved the book, loved the pudding, and took huge pleasure in writing this article. Find it here.

Now, I have two more joys awaiting my attention. Look what the morning’s post brought:IMG_0032

You will notice I have decided to quietly introduce a few very tiny fairy lights. Sure, why not?

Wishing you many small joys,

Lynda.