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.

Https%3a%2f%2fs3.amazonaws.com%2fuploads.bookwitty.com%2fb92ea450 d423 45d7 9c51 1c9f75f1da49 inline original.jpeg?ixlib=rails 2.1

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?

IMG_8135

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.

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

 

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:

IMG_8513

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.

IMG_8579 (2)

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.

IMG_8515

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.

IMG_8644

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.

IMG_8715

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.

IMG_8721

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.

IMG_8724

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.)

IMG_8726

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.

IMG_8731

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.

IMG_8733

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.

IMG_8747

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.

IMG_8772

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.

IMG_8794

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

Seventy-six shelves.

IMG_8800

 

Yep, he’s the one.

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

 

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.

IMG_8823

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?

IMG_8648

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.

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

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.

IMG_8426

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.

Follow me on Bookwitty for book reviews, book lists, books cooked and all things bookish.
Follow me on Instagram for inevitable spillage of words and pictures.

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.

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

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.

Image result for hemingway

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?

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.