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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Getting back on the horse.

‘I’ve been showing off, it’s a soothing feeling.’
Winifred Watson, Miss Pettigrew Lives For a Day.

I have fallen off the blogging horse and it was that line, from a book about grabbing life by the horns, ironically enough, which threw me.

It made me think about what I’m doing here. I hadn’t considered before that much of the pleasure I’ve taken from blogging has, in fact, been due to the soothing effects of showing off. I’m not certain that my garden, over-run as it is with dandelions, or my amateur attempts at cooking, however excellent my cheese toasties, are good enough to merit boasting about.

Besides that, for a stay-at-home parent the school holidays demand a different rhythm. There is the pleasure of time spent helping the Small Girl with her Country House Sticker Book, you can probably guess that book was really a little present for myself, oh, the joy of it, and playing Paper Dolls and doing things for which there is no internet link, like picking bowls of white currants together and chasing butterflies.

The summer holidays also bring the complementary penance of never having ten minutes alone which makes any type of writing an almost impossible endeavour.

What little quiet time I have carved out has been spent at work. The highlights:

Tragically tardy, here is a link to my July edition of Cooking The Books. I chose a light and frivolous book, ideal for a bit of mindless beach reading. While the title may be less than appetising, the recipe, mind you, is seriously delicious. No-one has eaten my quiche (my mother’s quiche, to be exact) without asking for the secret to it’s light and, dare I say, frivolous texture.IMG_7848

Sarah Healy tweeted that my article on her book was a ‘candid, beautiful review’ which gave me quite the thrill. A review of the review, eh? It meant a lot to me. Click here to read about The Sisters Chase.IMG_7800 (2)

To the cohort of Persephone fans out there, thank you again for inviting me to join your ranks. I contacted the wonderful women at Persephone Books and they sent me reams of information and some gorgeous photos for this article: Though she be but little, she is fierce!IMG_8079If you haven’t yet come across Persephone Books, can I plead with you take a look? They are very special.

Last week was enjoyably spent testing recipes from Valeria Necchio‘s gorgeous new cookbook, Veneto. This, truly, was a labour of love. Our happiest days of newly-wedded bliss were lived in the Veneto. Teenage Son, my eldest, was born there and cut his teeth on the region’s crusty bread. It was a shock to realise how long ago it was but also how much the food, and a glass or two of Prosecco, still has the power to bring it all back. Click here to read my review of Veneto.

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So tardy am I with this post that the time has come round to tell you about the August edition of Cooking The Books. Having taken the light and frivolous route for July, I opted this time for a classic. Both the book, Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast, and the dish, Crabe Mexicaine, are mouth-watering. Click here for a sneak preview of Eat Like Hemingway.

Still, I am circling that horse and thinking it looks a bit too high for me. If I could only do it half-heartedly, without revealing too much of my self, it would be grand. But I can’t. I’ve decided to take a short break, to enjoy the summer, fleeting as it is, and to live life for a while without forming it into sentences in my head.

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Thanks for sticking with me,
Lynda.

The Power.

The Power. Naomi Alderman

I’m going to climb out on a limb here. Please don’t shove me off.

I’ve never been a good enough feminist, perhaps because I haven’t needed to be. I was raised by a fiercely independent mother, herself the daughter of a woman who ruled her roost and then some. I have access to healthcare and contraception. I’m married to a man who has demonstrated, many times over, that he stands between me and danger. I am sufficiently well educated to know that I am fortunate.

Here is what I believe: I believe that men and women both, obviously, are animals. I believe that we are driven, more than anything else, by instinct which is conducted by hormones. I believe that our primary instinct is to make babies and to protect them, just the same as every other mammal out there. I believe that men have an instinct to prove their strength which has led us in to no end of trouble.

In her Bailey’s Prize winning novel, The Power, Naomi Alderman asks what would happen if women ruled the world. What would happen if the next generation of women were physically, unassailably, stronger than men? How would things turn out? It’s an interesting question.

Alderman proposes that a genetic mutation has caused a new organ to develop in women’s bodies which gives them a super-human electrostatic power as well as the instincts to use it.

Here’s the thing: she makes women the stronger sex and then asks how things would change. Well, surprise, surprise, the stronger sex takes charge and it all turns out much the same. The stronger women are power hungry and greedy and completely dismissive of men. Some even rape and pillage, mutilate, torture and degrade the weaker sex.

When we ask, as we do, what would happen if women ruled the world is this: What would a world be like that was governed by the physically weaker sex? To give women an unassailable physical strength is to redefine them. Alderman just changed the nomenclature. She called the weaker sex men and put women in charge.

The Power. Naomi Alderman

What I would rather she had asked is what, unimaginable, alterations to our society, our thinking and our instincts, even our endocrine system, would need to take place for the physically weaker sex to take control of the planet. Is there a point in our future where intellectual ability could simply outweigh physical strength?

There’s another way of looking at this book. Alderman also examines how we think about the way women have been treated and maltreated throughout history. She suggests that we are thoroughly conditioned to accept the second class status of women. This is probably true. All the same, I can’t accept that it is any more shocking to imagine unborn boys being wilfully aborted by families desperate for a daughter, or more horrifying that the genitalia of young boys would be mutilated or in any way worse than young men might be terrorised, raped, scarred, trafficked, humiliated, bought, sold or killed. It certainly didn’t make for comfortable reading but I can’t imagine that any decent man who has cradled his infant daughter in his arms isn’t at least as much repulsed by the undeniable abuse of women. Does the author really believe that men don’t possess that much empathy? Does she really believe that women don’t?

Interestingly, not one of the archetypal strong women in this book, not the ambitious politician, nor the religious reader, nor the crime boss, has a son. The women I know would take each other’s eyes out, if it came to it, to protect their sons. For the vast majority of us, protecting our offspring, and guarding our nest, is the be all and end all.

I am glad that I live at a time and in a country where this book is published, lauded and even applauded. Equally, I’m glad to live at a time and place where I don’t have to like it.

Does The Power have an interesting and original premise? Yes, it’s clever and well-constructed but the argument, in my opinion, is intrinsically flawed.

Is it a good read? That depends. The plot is compelling but not nearly so much so as the headline reviews (‘kick-ass, thrill a minute vim’) had led me to expect. The characters are cartoonish ‘types’ and it all comes off a little like watching a school production of a Shakespearian play with all the male characters being played by earnest girls with painted beards.

Did The Power make me think, and re-think my understanding of feminism? Absolutely; that’s why I’m here with a bee in my bonnet. I’m still not, it seems, a good enough feminist.

I feel obliged to warn readers that this book contains graphic scenes of physical and sexual violence. Having said that, I think it would certainly add spark to a book club meeting and I’d love to know what you think.

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Words to Live By.

freshly podded peas.

I’ve no idea how it can possibly have come about but I find I have read another Hemingway. It was entirely unintentional, I assure you. I had sworn to avoid the man as being far too depressing but his books, somehow, keep popping up just as I mutter the words, ‘what will I read next?’

A Moveable Feast, Hemingway’s memoir of his early days in Paris, turns out to be barely an amuse bouche of a book at just 125 easily read pages. That’s the thing; he writes with such simple eloquence, you can knock it back with barely a thought until the bitter note at the end leaves you reeling with sadness.

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He’s a bit of an arse too, isn’t he? I mean, I just can’t bring myself to like him. Or perhaps it’s that I feel I wouldn’t trust him. There’s something else though: his writing is sexy. Listen, it’s a much misused word. I’m the first to roll my eyes in despair when I hear a chef describing a cheese toastie as sexy, and you are all aware of the intensity of my relationship with cheese toasties, but I do think Hemingway, well, just has it. Charisma. Scott Fitzgerald, apparently, turned to Hemingway for advice on how to satisfy Zelda. Poor Scott, I don’t suppose he expected his buddy to publish the conversation in a book. While we are on the subject, can anyone tell me whether that scene in For Whom the Bell Tolls is the origin of the phrase the earth moved ?

‘…suddenly, scaldingly, holdingly all nowhere gone and time absolutely still and they were both there, time having stopped and he felt the earth move out and away from under them.’

Moving swiftly along…he writes a lot about visiting Gertrude Stein at her salon and recounts some of her advice to him. Stein advised Hemingway to stop writing stories which were inaccrochable. I had to look that one up. I think its safe to say he ignored her.

She refused to discuss Joyce and implemented a three strike rule where those who mentioned his books a third time were never invited back. I might do the same, if only to avoid embarrassing omissions from personal reading list (note to self: try Ulysses again).

‘You should only read what is good or what is frankly bad.’

Sound advice. I wallowed merrily in Hello magazine this morning and it did me a power of good (those royal toddlers are too cute). Of course, as Hemingway points out, choosing books is just another form of gambling; no book, whatever the reviews say, is a sure thing.

Word of mouth is the way to go and there are some lovely people hereabouts who have never put me wrong when it comes to book recommendations. Several of you urged me to take a look at Persephone Books and, oh, my goodness, what a well spring of pure joy I have discovered! Thank you, so much, for pointing me in the right direction. I have, in turn, pointed Husband in the same direction with a whisper of ‘all I want for Christmas…’

So far, I have read E.M. Delafield’s  Diary of a Provincial Lady. I can’t recall laughing aloud so heartily or so often since I read Adrian Mole. Proper, nearly choked on my coffee, laughter. There aren’t enough funny books anymore. I’ll write more about this another day. I’m moving on, gleefully, to Agnes Jekyll’s (sister-in-law to Gertrude of the rose) Kitchen Essays.

Persephone Books.

Where was I? Oh yes, Gertrude Stein’s advice to Hemingway: ‘You can either buy clothes or buy pictures,’ she told him,’it’s that simple. No-one who is not very rich can do both.’

I opted for a picture, just the one, and it’s very small, but I love it. Husband, Teenage Daughter and I met up with a dear old friend, with excellent taste it must be said, and we all went along to the Crawford School of Art Graduation Exhibition. The clientele was almost like a separate side exhibition of the Cork populace. The place was jammers with blue-haired artistic types who had clearly constructed their own clothes from crisp packets, their proud relations, canny financial types with a keen eye for a bargain and a few random punters like ourselves doing our best not to accidentally drink an installation.

From the Crawford Graduation Exhibition, 2017

Belonging, firmly, in the ‘not very rich’ category, I spent the next evening darning the elbows of school jumpers and re-enforcing the toes of my beloved espadrilles.

Dinner, following this week’s splurges on fine books and fancy pictures, must be foraged from the garden. Spuds, peas, beans, courgettes and herbage a plenty; what more could you want?

Grow your own food.

Now, that’s what I call a moveable feast.

freshly podded peas.Did you ever see anything lovelier?

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A Glut of Gooseberries.

It has occurred to me that I have scuppered my chances of substantial blogging ‘success’ by stubbornly refusing, against advice, to separate the books from the baking, etc. I’m sticking to my guns. I’m a housewife; surely that’s niche enough these days. I bake, I garden, I make and mend, I moan a lot, occasionally rejoice, and I read a ton of books. Because of this blog, my lovely fellow-bloggers, and your kind comments, I know I am not alone. That, my friends, is all I need.

One more thing: while I am fortunate enough to be paid for contributions to Bookwitty.com, my blog posts are not sponsored in any way and are not affiliate-linked. If I mention a book here, or link on to a review, it is simply because I really love it and want you to know about it. That’s all.

Moving on…

I have no idea what the collective noun is for gooseberries but the word around here is glut. I’ve run short of jam jars and the freezer is already chock-a-block and so, I have been driven to remarkable (by my standards) creativity.

There are, in my garden, two types of gooseberry bush. The first is a vicious creature, intent on impaling its owner with inch-long thorns.The fruits of this bush, which take considerable determination to gather, are massive, green, hirsute, tough-skinned, globules of concentrated citric acid. They make excellent jam (as seen in this post) and now, believe it or not, they make a fabulous kimchi. Now listen, I’m no expert, the only kimchi I’ve eaten thus far are those I’ve made myself. I don’t even know whether it is correct to write kimchi or kimchis in the previous sentence. Whichever, this is tasty stuff. Husband and I have been piling it up on burgers and barbecued chicken. The recipe is a variation on the Rhubarb Kimchi in Fiery Ferments by Christopher and Kristin Shockey. I recommend their book as an excellent guide for any fellow novice fermenters. Take a look at their website, here. If you have a few gooseberries, this is surely worth trying for novelty factor alone.

Gooseberry Kimchi.

300g gooseberries, sliced as finely as patience allows
3 scallions (spring onions), sliced finely
1 tsp salt
3 cloves garlic, crushed to a paste
Generous tablespoon of chilli flakes
Generous tablespoon of grated fresh ginger.
Combine everything together in a bowl and give it a good mix until it all looks a bit juicy. Then, pack the mixture into a small fermenting jar, if you have one. I don’t. I’ve used either small Kilner jars or recycled beetroot jars which seem to be exactly the right size for our appetites. The important thing is to press it down as firmly as you can to eliminate as much air as possible.

Leave the jar in a shady corner of the kitchen for a week, remembering to ‘burp’ it daily by the simple expedient of quickly opening it and closing it again. You should see tiny bubbles so you know it’s alive. The flavours mellow and mingle as the week progresses.

It’s ready to eat. I keep it in the fridge too prevent further fermentation or spoiling.

Gooseberry Kimchi.
Gooseberry Kimchi!

 

The second variety is a far more gentle gooseberry; smaller, smooth-skinned and turning a rosy pink under the cerulean blue skies of this past week. With a stroke of pure genius (it might have been the sun) I had a notion of making a Gooseberry Clafoutis. This is a variation on a recipe for Rhubarb Clafoutis taken from a children’s cookbook (Yumee by Aoileann Garavaglia) so it’s dead easy and, honestly, very yumee. I doubled the recipe; you could easily halve it again if your home is not populated, as mine is, by ravaging savages.

Gooseberry Clafoutis.

500g gooseberries
4 eggs
350ml cream
200ml good, full fat, natural yogurt (my favourite is the greek-style from Lidl)
4 tb.sp. golden syrup.

Ingredients for gooseberry clafoutis.

Place the topped and tailed gooseberries in a large, oven-proof dish. Mine is a 28cm diameter tart dish but a lasagne dish works fine too.
Whisk together the remaining ingredients to make a custard and pour over the gooseberries.
Bake at 180°C for 35-40 minutes. Watch it closely at the end and try to nab it when the edges are browning but the centre still has a wobble to it.
Serve with cream and a good book. (I’m reading Diary of a Provincial Lady by E.M. Delafield; it’s a joy! Thanks, Sam, for convincing me to treat myself.)

 

Gooseberry Clafoutis.
Gooseberry Clafoutis.

If even those simple recipes seem too much like hard work or if, like me, you STILL have MORE gooseberries, try this one.

The One-Week-When-The-Sun-Shines-In-Ireland Dinner.

Method:

  1. Suggest to husband that he take the barbecue you bought him for Christmas out of the bubble wrap. Allow Husband cook just as much MEAT as his heart desires. Pass everyone a ripe tomato for sake of conscience.barbecue
  2. Suggest to offspring that they pick everything that’s ripe, with a particular emphasis on GOOSEBERRIES, and encourage to have huge fun wrapping fruit in tinfoil parcels (I’ve read, by the way, that Americans find our persistence with tinfoil quaint). Deliver parcels to expert at barbecue.barbecue fruit parcels
  3. Relax in the company of Small Reader and above-mentioned Provincial Lady.IMG_7648
  4. Relish, ideally with vanilla icecream, the fruits of your labour.IMG_7666

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PS. STILL have more gooseberries!

Sequels and Spin-offs: 11 ways to re-live Pride and Prejudice.

Pride and Prejudice.

The very first published piece of Pride and Prejudice fan fiction, which I suspect may have been the first of any fan fiction, was a book called Old Friends and New Fancies by Sybil Brinton. Having no small number of Pride and Prejudice spin-offs on my own shelves, I had a notion of collating a list. Holy Moly, I had no idea how many were out there! A girl could spend her entire life reading nothing else. Darcy and Elizabeth grow old, or don’t, have two sons, have five daughters, have affairs with Bingley and Charlotte respectively (yes, in that order), battle zombies, are transformed into Antipodean animals, and, most horrifying of all, agree to take part in a reality TV show.

My girl reading Pride and Prejudice.

Meanwhile, my lovely twelve-year-old daughter has been reading the real thing. She ran upstairs last night to tell me, through the bathroom door (why must big announcements always be made through the bathroom door), that she had finished it.

‘It was so exciting! At the end! It all happened so fast! After all the long stories! With Wickham and everything! And then Jane and Bingley! And then Elizabeth and Darcy! It was like wham, wham, wham, The End! But what will I read now?’

Like thousands before her…

Eldest daughter helped me design a solution to finding your ideal dose of Darcy. For rapid reviews of these books, click hereSequels and Spin-offs to Pride and Prejudice.

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