Cookbooks Tried and Tested: Rory O’Connell’s Cook Well, Eat Well.

Sicilian Cassata Cake. Rory O'Connell.

For the sake of full disclosure, let me remind you all that I live in Cork and that Rory O’Connell is a local food hero. I am, in this case, a biased reviewer. Fortunately, his book lived up to expectations…and then some.

Rory O’Connell’s first book, Master It, won the prestigious André Simon Food Book Award in 2013. It is, in essence, a concise cookery course with sections devoted to various techniques: stocks and soups, pan-frying, casserole-roasting, hot puddings, a few cakes, and so on. In his second book, Cook Well, Eat Well, O’Connell continues in the role of teacher but this time presents his recipes in a series of separate menus.

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Each menu contains three courses, a starter, a complementary main course and something sweet to close. The meals are arranged according to the seasons and for each season there is one vegetarian meal. O’Connell takes seasonal cooking as his starting point …Click here to read on.

Heartburn, Bread Pudding and October Books.

Nora Ephron's Heartburn. Bread Pudding.

Nora Ephron‘s Heartburn made me laugh and made me cook. I built my October Cooking the Books column around her recipe for bread pudding. Read more by clicking here. Trust me, this one is worth it.Nora Ephron's Heartburn. Bread Pudding.

I get a particular satisfaction out of reading books in the appropriate season and it is all the sweeter when I can match reading material to the month at hand. Am I alone?

The Hunt For Red October. Tom Clancy

I compiled a list of October books, strictly those which have October in the title. You can read that by clicking here.

I would write more for you but I’ve used up all my time on France (that sounds better if you sing it to the tune of This Charming Man); 9,000 words –I’ve made it to Midday on Saturday. I can’t stop now, I’m committed to it.

Bisous,
Lynda.

 

Books for Francophiles.

Shakespeare and Company

I bet you’re wondering how the write-up of My Weekend in Paris is going. Très lentement, I believe, is the phrase. I’m up to 5000 words and I haven’t got through dinner on Friday night. C’est fou!.

While you wait, I thought I might catch you up on what I’ve been reading. You’ll notice a francophile theme. In fact, the eagle-eyed amongst you may have noticed a preponderance of books set in France in recent months.

Coeurs a la Creme and Les Liaisons Dangereuses.

I compiled a list of great love stories set in France which you can find HERE. Les Liaisons Dangereuses is an old favourite, and certainly bore a second reading but my most beloved on that last has to be A Tale of Two Cities. Is it the best of books or the worst of books? I’ve never found anyone who loves it as much as I do. I think it’s one of the most romantic stories ever told but then, as I’ve mentioned before, I’m a sucker for a bit of unrequited love. I happened across an ancient copy, in French, in the library of Shakespeare and Company which seemed to me like it could have magical powers. It seemed to weigh more in my hands than the weight of the pages. Does that make sense?

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Back in August, I followed Hemingway to Paris in this article about A Moveable Feast, complete with a fine recipe ( if I do say so myself) for crabe mexicaine, a dish which Hem and Hadley had as a great treat after a big win at the races. If you missed that, it’s HERE.

Beatrice Colin’s To Capture What We Cannot Keep was my holiday reading. I couldn’t resist the beautiful cover. My review is HERE.

To Capture What We Cannot Keep. Beatrice Colin

I’ve spent this past week with my head stuck in the glorious, inspiring and very moving history of Shakespeare and Company– The Rag and Bone Shop of the Heart. I can’t recommend it highly enough. Here’s a tip if you’re contemplating Christmas gift shopping: buy it from the Shakepeare and Company, online, and they will add the legendary shop stamp for you along with customising your gift in the sweetest ways.

Anyway, we made a pretty picture, the family glued to Bake-Off while I sat in the corner with tears streaming down my face. Ethan Hawke made me cry, not for the first time. He can write.

Shakespeare and Company

I stole an hour extra in bed this morning to begin Julia Child’s My Life in France. Already, I adore it. From page one it is warm and funny and self-effacing and fascinating and lovely.

With Julia’s voice in my head, the day has been spent cooking. I’m testing/reviewing Rory O’Connell’s new book– by golly, we are eating well!

Sicilian Cassata Cake. Rory O'Connell.

There’s a slice of Sicilian Cassata cake with my name on it waiting patiently so I will bid you adieu and a good weekend,

Lynda.

How To Stop Time.

How To Stop Time. Matt Haig. Review

Dear Matt Haig,

Are you out there?

I think you are brilliant.

How To Stop Time. Matt Haig. Review

Thank you for making me laugh, and for reminding me that life, long or short, is precious.

Do you know this song? It’s, sort of, the same story and a waltz, like a heartbeat…

P.S. I reviewed How To Stop Time : here.

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The Story of My Shelves.

‘Where are we going on our holidays?’ asked the Small Girl, for the umpteenth time.
‘We are going to Sofa,’ replied Teenage Daughter with admirable resignation.

You see, following last year’s fiasco (matchbox chalet teetering over a cliff in driving rain), I determined that the family’s holiday budget would, instead, be spent on a blue velvet sofa. Yes, I do feel guilty. Not very, but a bit. In fairness, with some teasing, the holiday budget stretched to a sofa, a chair, two rugs and SEVENTY-SIX (!) shelves.

I put a post on Instagram back a bit. This picture:

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With these words:

When Husband first came to call on me in my college bedsit my fledgling book collection was lined up on a lovely marble mantelpiece. To his dismay, my microbiology/biochemistry tomes were liable to topple over the edge at inopportune moments. ‘I should build you a book shelf,’ he said. I replied, in my head or maybe even out loud, ‘you’re the one.’

The One and I have a history with book shelves.

That first set of shelves was handsome. He built a tall space for my folders of lecture notes, a middle shelf for science books and two shelves that snugly accommodated my rapidly expanding collection of fiction…there were signs of things to come there.

He carried that bookcase on the bus to deliver it to my bedsit and I was certain then that no-one on Earth had ever loved me more.

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It was, let me think, nine years later that we moved into our first house, together with Toddler Boy and Baby Girl. We had just spent 12 weeks in Florida while Husband went through training for his new job. We were forced to cancel a week’s holiday in New York because of visa difficulties but we were happy enough to come home and pick up our very own house keys from the Auctioneer and use Husband’s holiday (clearly, I have form on this one) to build some bookshelves. We hadn’t a stick of furniture, you know. The in-laws donated an old garden table and two deck chairs so that we wouldn’t have to eat off the floor and still, my priority was the bookshelves.

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Husband was younger then, weren’t we all, and he banged up those shelves in a couple of days. We gave them a coat of gloss and took a day off while the paint dried.

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There was an abandoned summer house in Glandore, owned by Husband’s Godfather but not used, where we knew that there were trees laden with forgotten apples. We made peanut butter sandwiches for Toddler Boy (it was a phase) and filled a flask of coffee and drove our rusty banger down the road to West Cork. We were so happy, bubbling with joy. We were totally besotted with each other and with the children and so excited about decorating the house and so convinced that we could never want for more.

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We picked bags of apples, cookers and eaters, and then lay back on the grass and soaked up the golden light. It was an exceptionally golden day.

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The garden ran all the way down to a private beach and we were much taken by surprise when a naked man emerged from a gap in the hedge. Mind you, he was caught even more off-guard. We sheepishly explained our tenuous entitlement to have trespassed while he covered his assets and admitted he was the gardener. We parted with a mutual confidentiality agreement.

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Cast out of Paradise, we took a stroll through the village of Glandore. It’s a spectacularly beautiful place, a sheltered bay dotted with picturesque islands, handsome Georgian houses standing guard around the coast and a neat row of pubs holding the centre. You couldn’t find any place prettier on a sunny September afternoon which is why we had our wedding reception there.

(This next photo, by the way, is probably the best representation of the paint colour, it looks a bit, more than a bit, lurid in most of them.)

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As we passed an open pub door we overheard an odd sound, a collective gasp followed by a low groan. The sort of sound you might associate with a narrowly missed opportunity to score at football only with a sense of greater anguish. A man strode purposefully out the door as if looking for someone to tell:

‘A plane crashed into a building in New York.’

You know the rest.

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We drove home with the kids asleep in the back and the radio on. We were on the Clonakilty by-pass when the second tower fell. Funny the things you remember.

When we got home we set up the telly on a box of books (the shelves still weren’t dry) and sat on our two deckchairs and thanked God for visa difficulties.

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We moved into this house exactly ten years later. Through all the two-year-nightmare of purchasing, planning, demolishing, building and near bankruptcy I maintained my sanity by living mostly in my imagination.

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Officially, our planning permission was for an ‘extension’ but, in reality, we knocked everything except the front facade and this room. When there was nothing else, genuinely nothing at all, I sat in here with a flask and a bag of scones and built shelves in my head.

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We managed to have the floor put down before the budget ran dry. It was a basketball court in a previous life and came complete with all the lines and markings in yellow paint. Small Girl was six weeks old. I used to carry her in a sling when I came in here and mopped the floor of this otherwise empty room and I spun around and the imagined picture of those shelves got a little sharper in my head.

That painting, by the way, was a wedding gift from the godfather whose apples we stole.

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It has taken six years of imagining, eight if you count the nightmare two, but it’s done.

Seventy-six shelves.

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Yep, he’s the one.

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A Review and a Recipe.

IMG_8572Refuge resonates with a ring of truth. Dina Nayeri reveals her own story, her own experience as an expatriate, her own insight into the life of Iranian refugees seeking shelter in Europe, and all under the wispy veil of two words, inserted in a tiny font, between the title and her name: ‘a novel.’

To read my review, and discover a really easy-peasy but very yummy recipe, CLICK HERE.

A Bit of Bookish Rambling and Up-Cycling: Bookish Tote to Bookish Cushion in 30 minutes.

Pelican book tote/ cushion conversion.

 

‘Autumn seemed to arrive suddenly that year. The morning of the first of September was crisp and golden as an apple.’ J.K. Rowling. The Deathly Hallows.

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It’s the first day of a new term. I’ve got that enthusiastic, excited and slightly apprehensive feeling that comes with new copies, fresh pencils and the proverbial clean slate. The sun is shining. The sky is blue. The air is chill and redolent with the intoxicating aroma of freshly-laid tarmacadam. Ah yes, the Cork County Council workers are working untypically industriously on the other side of our garden fence and, with the windows open, I am getting a fairly decent high on the fumes. Be warned: this post could go off-piste.

I’m starting myself off gently with an easy post, equivalent to the ‘My Summer Holidays’ or, as gaeilge, ‘Mo Laethanta Saoire’ compositions that my two youngest children are doubtless working on as I write. Consider this Part One of what will likely be a long-winded account of the MASSIVE project Husband and I undertook over the summer to turn our dinky front room into something approximating my fantasy of a library/bookroom/reading room. This cushion was a tiny side project that gave me an excuse to take a break from sanding/painting/holding things over my head.

The first task was to take my paint be-speckled self into Waterstone’s bookshop. I have been longing to buy one of these gorgeous Penguin/Pelican bags for ages but couldn’t, until now, justify it. They are quite pricey but utterly gorgeous. I brought my fabric swatches with me and enjoyed an intense debate with the two lovely ladies behind the counter (it was quiet day) on whether The Great Gatsby in Penguin orange was unacceptably garish (it was), whether the purple of A Room of One’s Own clashed too much to outweigh the perfection of the title (it did, such a pity) and whether it was alright to choose the best colour even though the only book available in Pelican Turquoise is one I’ve never even heard of, let alone read (they assured me it was fine although they may, by this point, have simply been desperate to get me out of the shop).

Anyway, you need a tote bag of your choosing, ideally one with sides and a bottom as opposed to one with just a front and a back, and you need a zip which is an inch or so shorter than the width of the bag. Also, a seam-ripper is tremendously helpful.IMG_8642

Carefully rip the seams holding the handles to the bag and then rip the handles open lengthwise to give you two new strips of fabric. This is the slowest part of the job.

By the way, I subsequently managed to track down a vintage copy of Eustace Chesser’s Grow Up and Live. It turns out to be a ‘birds and the bees’ handbook for adolescents dating from 1949.  Dr. Chesser was a font of common sense.

‘Real good manners,’ he tells us, ‘are not so much a matter of convention as of grace.’

And later, in a chapter on The First Love Affair:

‘This question of ‘good manners’, both practical and spiritual, will overlap very closely with your first friendships and love affairs.’ IMG_8645

Now, insert the zip between the two strips of fabric you have liberated from the tote handles. Mine may well be an example of precisely how not to insert a zip as I was too lazy to even look it up on YouTube. I guessed. It zips. What more do we need?

An aside: In my searches through virtual stacks of vintage Pelican books I found a sociology handbook called The Nature of Mass Poverty by J.K. Galbraith which led me to wonder if that was where Joanne Rowling found inspiration for her pseudonym. Anyone know anything on that score?

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Next, trim this newly formed, zipped, panel to fit the top of the bag, leaving a 1cm seam allowance. Stitch it in. Ta-dah! You’re done!IMG_8649

My fuss-pot preference is for feather-filled cushions so I had to trawl the shops for a feather-filler. IMG_8651 (2)

Finally, from Dr. Chesser, from a chapter entitled On Becoming a Man or Woman:

‘1. You are You.
2. There are Other People besides You with equal right to live and be happy.
3. There is a fascinating world around You to be explored.
4. This world contains the accumulated knowledge of many centuries which is interesting to examine.
5. There are friendship and love in the world to be given and taken.’

And now, my friends, already, it is time for the school collection…more anon.

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