Archive | April, 2012

More reading

24 Apr

I’ve been busy over the last few months, which is probably why I haven’t written much on here of late. But it’s not all been going out and having fun, or staying home and gardening. There’s been time for a bit of reading.. so here’s what I’ve read since Pigeon English (which seems oh so long ago now).

What a Carve Up! by Jonathan Coe

This was a book group book, and was one which I doubt I would have read if it wasn’t for book group… and it’s unlikely I would have finished it once I started if it wasn’t for that peer pressure. Having said that, once I had finally finished it I had no desire to discuss it and so never went to the book group meeting (which I know is naughty, but I’m a grown up and surely I’m allowed to not go to things if I don’t want to go to them?). The next book is Oliver Twist which I’m looking forward to, having never actually read any Dickens in my life. Oh the shame!

The Secret Intensity of Everyday Life by William Nicholson

I’d read a review of this book a while ago, over Christmas I think, and had made a note to read it at some point. I didn’t know much about it, except that it takes place in a small Sussex village and details the mundane minutiae of their day to day lives. The characters are so beautifully drawn, that you really get to feel what it might be like to be in their skin. There is the local vicar who is no longer sure of his christian faith, there is the woman of a certain age who is infatuated by her young neighbour, a schoolboy in thrall to the school bully, the single mother who can’t resist her ex, and a murdered poodle. The lives are entwined, overlapping and coming together, in the way real lives do butt up against one another and then continue on their way.

Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual by Michael Pollan

I heard Michael Pollan on Radio 4, on The Food Programme a few weeks ago. He was talking a lot of  sense about how we, in the west, no longer instinctively know what to eat. Food scientists or nutritionists tell us what the superfoods are and what foods have omega 3 or certain vitamins, or whatever the latest ‘good’ thing is. It used to be fibre, which at least was easier for an ordinary human to identify. He likened this to a religion – the food scientists are the High Priests who tell us the gospel; there is Good (omega 3 / vitamins) and Evil (fat / sugar).

Michael Pollan makes it much easier. His rule is

Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

This book is a distilled version of his In Defence of Food (or so I’ve been told). It makes sense. It’s full of good advice. Now I need to follow it.
And the Land Lay Still by James Robertson
I’ve not finished this yet, so will write more on it at a later date. 
52 Small Changes: One Year to a Happier, Healthier You by Brett Blumenthal
Damn you kindle and your clever ways of making me buy more books!  This was suggested as a book I might like at the end of the Michael Pollan book. Well, I didn’t buy it immediately, but I read a few reviews and decided there could be no harm in buying it. Or reading it. 
So, here I am, each week reading one chapter of a self-help book. So far I have upped my intake of water each day, got more hours sleep each night and started taking a multi-vitamin again. All these are good. I’ve also attempted to be a bit more active, and kept a food diary for a week. 
The suggestions are good, and I like the idea of making a small change each week, and then once it feels like a habit (which it should after 7 days) you move onto the next small change. Sadly I’ve not been as brilliant at forming new habits as I’d like to be. Anyway, I’ll give a final review of this at the end of 52 weeks. And we’ll see if I really am healthier and happier. 
The Hand That First Held Mine by Maggie O’Farrell
It was World Book Night last night (and more of that some other time), and Edinburgh Central Library hosted an event with Maggie O’Farrell, interviewed by the fabulous Jenny Brown. I’d only read one MO’F novel before: The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox. I hadn’t loved it. It had felt more ‘slight’ than I had expected, and so although I have a copy of My Lover’s Lover on my shelf I’d not been tempted to pick it up and read it. 
But I decided it would be worth reading her latest novel before the event last night so I downloaded The Hand That First Held Mine onto my kindle and started it. I LOVED it. It’s set in London, in the 1950s and in the present day, following two women: Lexie in the 1950s and Elina in the present day. I’m a little bit in love with Lexie, and the Soho of the 1950s which she inhabits. 
It was interesting to hear Maggie O’Farrell describe how she started this book with the character of Lexie, a character who had been swimming about in her head for awhile, and came into sharp focus when she went to the John Deakin photography exhibition a couple of years ago. Lexie superimposed herself into his black and white images of his friends and neighbours in Soho in the 50s. And as she was writing, Elina kept on interrupting her writing, like an old radio that keeps picking up a signal from another station (or the police or CB when I was wee). Thus the two stories intertwined into this great novel. 
After reading this I felt I just had to re-read Rebecca. Now, I pretty much never re-read books. Why read any again, when there are so many more un-read books still to read? But The Hand made me really want to re-visit Rebecca, and then Rebecca’s Tale. Was it the issues of identity, of searching for the truth of your childhood? 
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
I first read this many many years ago. I loved it. And I loved the Hitchcock movie. Has no-one else made the movie since? You’d think they would have. 
Re-reading Rebecca was comfortingly familiar, but also unfamiliar enough to feel new and exciting. I’d forgotten that we never know the second Mrs De Winter’s name. And I’d forgotten what a dreadful little mouse of a thing she is – she is no heroine, and Max De Winter is no hero. Rebecca is the star. Rebecca and Manderley. 
The version I read (on kindle) had a thought-provoking afterword by Sally Beauman, the writer of Rebecca’s Tale.  
Rebecca’s Tale by Sally Beauman
This is effectively the prequel to Rebecca. It’s a fascinating imagining of what Rebecca’s life was like, and I’m so glad that I read it back to back with Rebecca this time. It was definitely worth a re-read while the original story was fresh in my mind.  
 

5-a-day muffin style

24 Apr

Muffins are one of the easiest things to bake. Once you have a recipe, it is easily adaptable – just make sure you have roughly the same proportion of dry goods to liquid and you’ll be fine.

I don’t always manage to get my 5-a-day of fruit and veg and I know I’m not alone. So, these muffins will help you on your way. OK, they might not get you that far along the way, but they are healthier than chocolate muffin.

Tropical muffins

  • 9oz plain flour
  • 1oz porridge oats
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 egg
  • 4oz soft brown sugar
  • 3fl oz vegetable oil
  • 6fl oz milk
  • 8fl oz tinned crushed pineapple (without too much of the juice)
  • 2fl oz pineapple juice (some of that juice squeezed from the pineapple in the tin)
  • 50g creamed coconut (I use one of the Patak’s sachets)
  • desiccated coconut for topping

Makes 12 standard muffins.

Prepare muffin tins. Preheat oven to 375F / 190C / GM 5.

  1. In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, bicarb of soda and salt. Stir in the porridge oats. This will be the bowl everything ends up in, so make sure it’s big enough
  2. In another bowl beat the egg and stir in the sugar, oil, milk, pineapple and juice
  3. If the creamed coconut is solid, warm it up to loosen it enough to pour, and add to the eggy mix bowl
  4. Pour all of the wet mixture into the dry and stir lightly just to combine. You don’t want any dry flour left in the mixture, but really it hardly needs stirring at all or the muffins will end up more solid than you’d like.
  5. Fill muffin cups about 3/4 full.
  6. Sprinkle generously with desiccated coconut.
  7. Bake for about 20 minutes or until tops are lightly browned and spring back gently

I suspect you could substitute some of the milk in this recipe for malibu to make a proper grown up cocktail muffin. I think I may have to do a series of cocktail home-baked goods.

A Manhattan tray bake might be my next challenge.

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