Heart and Sole.

Coeurs a la Creme and Les Liaisons Dangereuses.

Long, long ago, back in the mists of the last millenium, the restaurant at the Crawford Gallery used to stay open late for dinner and that is where he brought me to celebrate our first St. Valentine’s Day together.

It was a very special place; Myrtle Allen and her daughter Fern were running it at that time. They had the Ballymaloe trick (they invented it, of course) of combining faded grandeur with homeliness so that you felt you belonged. Can you imagine? Two starving, grubby students, scrubbed up and loved up, playing grown-ups and acting posh. I have no idea to this day how he paid the bill. He may have left a portion of his liver behind.

It was magical, everything about that night, from beginning to end. There were masses of candles on the windowsills, reflecting in those long windows, and a harpist strumming away in the corner. As seduction scenes go, he was on to a winner.

We ate Dover Sole, stuffed with salmon and served with champagne sauce. It was, without a shadow of a doubt, the very best dish I had ever eaten and indeed, I can’t think of a thing that has surpassed it. Honest to God, I was in ecstasy.

For dessert we had Coeurs à la Crème, something I have never seen on a menu before or since. They had me at à la Crème. It was sublime.

I was lost.

We had, by that date, broken up more than once. In fact, I believe I had sent him packing no fewer than six, SIX, times! But, he won in the end. Well played, mon amour!

There was no going back from the Coeurs à la Crème.

I was his.

A couple of months later, for my birthday, we went to see the the RSC production of Les Liaisons Dangereuses at Cork Opera House. Oh, it was wonderful. I adored it. The two nights remain associated in my brain, a tangle of memories from a time of golden, libidinous, joyful adventure.

When I sat down to choose a book for my February edition of Cooking the Books on Bookwitty, there was only one possibility. It was beyond my control.

Coeurs a la Creme and Les Liaisons Dangereuses.

I scoured the internet and found the moulds for Coeurs à la Crème here. I referred to my trusted Ballymaloe Cookery Course for Myrtle’s recipe but it was for four servings which seems remarkably silly. I cut it down to two and tweaked it a little, reducing the amount of cream and adding vanilla. I’ve lost count of how many Coeurs à la Crème I’ve eaten in the last month but it has been fun, like playing grown-up and acting posh all over again.

Click here to read my review of Les Liaisons Dangereuses and my slightly risqué recipe for Coeurs à la Crème.

For anyone else who believes that Rickman owns the role of Valmont, here is a precious snippet of the master on stage:

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Harry Potter, The Cursed Dad?

Harry Potter and The Cursed Child, review, J.K. Rowling, Lego Harry Potter, Lego Draco Malfoy, Scorpius Malfoy, Albus Potter,

Here be spoilers (but not big ones ).

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Has ever a book had such a build up? In this household we’ve had seven books, eight  movies, badges, games, colouring books and pencils beyond count, at least five dressing-up costumes (including homemade wands and hand-knit Gryffindor scarves) and one very serious obsession with Alan Rickman. Let’s just say expectations were high. Click here to continue reading…

 

A Tale Of Two Handsome Princes.

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Once upon a time there were two handsome princes who wanted to bring their girlfriends out for a slap up meal. Sadly, they were student princes without the necessary cash to actually pay for food. (Aside; these princes belonged to a debating society so they owned their own tuxedos which was of great benefit when wooing women but no help at all when it came to paying restaurant bills)

They put their handsome heads together and came up with an elaborate plan.

They would recreate the ambiance of a charming French bistro in a tiny, grotty bedsit (ie, Chez Moi).

They raided their respective palace kitchens and stole the makings of Tarragon Chicken for four. There might have been a chocolate cake from Marks and Spencer (considered the pinnacle of luxury in 1992) and there was, clearly, a bottle of Blue Nun.

They rented a video and borrowed a VCR and a TV.

After dinner they sat, all four of them in a row, on the floor with their backs against the single bed and a duvet over their legs, and watched a movie. This was a very big treat for the girl who lived without TV.

The night was a success.

The video was Truly Madly Deeply.

One of those handsome princes got his girl, married her and has treated her as his princess ever after.

The girl, of course, has remained truly, madly, deeply in love with the handsome prince

and with Alan Rickman.

After all this time ?

Always.

 

 

 

Operation Mincemeat.

I have a suspicion that poor old Ebenezer Scrooge may simply have been labouring under the effects of a prolonged dose of the dreaded lurgi. It has been observed, by teenagers who shall remain nameless, that the Bah Humbugs are a noticable side-effect of lurgi.

How on Earth can I, in my feeble state, gather the will or the energy to pull together this thing called Christmas? How many gatherings? Who to invite? Who not? Who not at the same time as the first who?

What military operation can be organised to ensure that I will wind up St. Stephen’s Day cuddled on the sofa with a mince pie and Alan Rickman?

On the other hand, the pondering and planning of blog posts has the effect of calling forth the ghosts of Christmas Past and Future.  I am at a perfect moment in my life. I have a warm, busy, noisy home. I have children old enough to provide musical accompaniment and children young enough to bring the magic. I have a husband who makes killer mulled wine. In too many ways to mention, I have it all.

My difficulty is that I find it tough to share it. I want, like Silas Marner, to hoard their golden glow. It makes no sense, does it? Other people, whose moment is yet to come or long gone by, just want to visit, bask awhile and maybe pick up a bit of glitter on their jumpers. Why does the very thought fill me with breathless anxiety? They can’t take it away with them.

Can they?

My coping strategy revolves around the food. It is a tried and tested formula that chicken liver paté fills every gap in conversation and a mince pie answers every awkward question.

In preparation, all my stress is transferred to the food, as if my guests were reviewing me for a michelin, not Christmas, star. I make vast lists of Christmas must-makes; pudding, pies, pots of soup and not forgetting the polyfilla paté. I fill my freezer and, all the while, stockpile my anxiety.

Now, here is where it gets complicated.

The list is always too long.
It’s not humanly possible to do it all.
So, I take shortcuts.
Buy Mincemeat.
Frozen pastry.
Buy cranberry sauce.
Mulled wine in a bottle.
All the while believing
that I am doing myself a favour.

So what, you shout. There is nothing so terribly wrong with any of those shortcuts. The thing is, pottering about the candlelit kitchen with my apron firmly tied and Dean Martin in the background, spiced pots simmering, oven thrumming and flour on my nose…that’s when I am happy. That’s my dream. My Christmas wish.

Operation Mincemeat was an intricate ruse undertaken by the Allies in 1943 to fool the Germans into believing that the imminent invasion would be of Greece and not, as was really the case, of Sicily. You can read the whole story here. My own tactics share nothing more than nomenclature, and I aim to convince no-one other than myself. There will be no invasion. This time, right now, today, is mine. Mine to fritter away list-making. Or mine to make mincemeat.IMG_8111

I have devised my own mincemeat recipe (hey! now we’re talking!). It’s a hybrid between this from Darina Allen and this from Mary Berry. By all means, if you want absolute reliability, go with either of those ladies. It’s worth clicking on the Darina Allen link just to see the photo. I have met the doyenne of Irish cookery a couple of times and she puts the absolute fear of God into me. It’s quite reassuring to see her with purple baubles hanging from her earlobes.

I wanted the suet-free option which tipped me towards Mary but I hung on to the marmalade and dark sugar in Darina’s recipe. Darina was, I thought, heavy-handed with the sugar while Mary was heavy on the booze. I split the difference.  There was a small amount of cross-multiplication involved in figuring this out but that made me all the happier. I do like to feel brainy once a year or so.

Can you tell how much better I am feeling already? Jingle, jingle.IMG_8087

On a practical note: I used 700g of mixed, dried berries and I don’t think anyone needs to fret about exactly how you make up that weight. I put a bowl on the scales and emptied jars and packets as I put my hand to them. After all, this is supposed to be an exercise in relaxation…IMG_8088

I went the whole hog and made my own mixed peel. You can find the recipe if you scroll through this. It’s a delightfully slow process and worth it only if you are willing to wallow in it.IMG_8105

My Mincemeat. 2015.

Ingredients:

1 cooking apple, peeled and coarsely grated
zest and juice of 1 lemon
330g sultanas
200g raisins
100g golden raisins
70g dried cranberries
60g mixed peel
125g butter
200g dark brown sugar
1 tbsp marmalade
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp mixed spice
100mls brandy.

Method:

Put everything, except the brandy, into a large saucepan.
Ideally, have a child practise this on the piano while you gently stir, over a medium heat, until the butter and sugar have melted.
Let the mixture cool while you get four sterilised screwtop jars lined up.
Stir in the brandy.
Inhale deeply and sigh with pleasure.
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Pot it up. The mincemeat and the pleasure.IMG_8103

Operation Mincemeat was a great success. A message was telegrammed to Churchill, then in the United States, stating, ‘Mincemeat swallowed, rod, line and sinker.’

Now, has anyone a contact number for Alan Rickman?

 

 

 

 

Go Set A Watchman. Harper Lee.

IMG_5364I have tried to maintain a media blackout while I read this. To be honest, it wasn’t as difficult as I expected. Just one comment scrolled by on Facebook and I gave it a wide berth. I’ve opted to write this before I google.

I am no scholar; I can only tell you whether I enjoy a book and how it makes me feel. Right, here goes.

Through the first half of the book I was convinced that Go Set A Watchman was a phony. I’ve read my fair share of Pride And Prejudice fan fiction. There’s a certain, lazy pleasure in having someone else imagine a future for your favourite characters. Methadone for Darcy addicts. Of course it’s not as good as the original but it’s a bit of fun. It works for Pride and Prejudice because Jane Austen’s writing is all about having fun.IMG_5366 Anyway, I thought Go Set A Watchman was reading a lot like Mockingbird fan fiction. We are transported back to Maycomb, all our favourite characters get a mention and Atticus Finch is a Gregory Peck shaped super hero. The problem is that nobody wants to read Harper Lee fan fiction. They want to read more Harper Lee.

I read the second half in one sitting and I have to say, I started to roll with it a little. I chuckled through chapter 12 (falsies) which was, for me, the highlight of the book. I think that Chapter 12 could stand alone in a way that the book, as a whole, can’t.  I was saddened by Scout’s disillusionment with her father (sad for Atticus, not Jean-Louise). I almost cheered when Uncle Jack, the hero, informs Scout that she is an ordinary turnip-sized bigot ( not really a spoiler).

I thought that grown-up Scout was a self-righteous whine. Hank, the Southern gentleman, is adorable. Uncle Jack is so similar to Professor Snape that I think J.K. Rowling was lucky to have had her book published first (surely the role should go to Alan Rickman). The wonderful Calpurnia doesn’t get a whole lot of lovin’, for all the talk of colour blindness.

I have only a sketchy idea of the story behind this book. It is, quite clearly, unfinished. It is also clear that Harper Lee was not happy to publish it, as it stood, for over half a century. Why didn’t she polish it up and cash in?

My guess would be that the author of To Kill A Mockingbird could see that Go Set A Watchman doesn’t add anything of value. This one doesn’t match and certainly doesn’t complete the other.

And as for Atticus, I hated everything that this book did to Atticus Finch. Let’s just dust him off, put him back up on his pedestal and leave him there.wpid-wp-1434120724351.jpeg