Sunday, 20 July 2014

We are proper caravanners now

And all thanks to the St Wilfrid's Rotate charity shop in Terminus Road in Eastbourne!

I met my friend Kerry in town yesterday morning for coffee. We went to Beanzz on Grove Road who do a lovely rooibos tea. I would also highly recommend their peanut whoopie pies but, as I ate the last one, that's probably unfair gloating. I had trawled a half dozen charity shops on my way to meet Kerry, searching for a pepper mill. Our nice wooden one is restaurant size so not the best thing for the caravanning life. Unfortunately, the cheapest we've found new is £9 and I'm loathe to pay that much, especially for naff plastic. Anyhow, I failed in the pepper mill hunt, but did spot this instead:

A boule set! I'm exaggerating I know, but seemingly everyone had a boule set while we were away. A couple of the campsites even organised weekly tournaments with decent prizes. And now we have our own set too. We just need to learn how to play ...

Friday, 18 July 2014

Forgive Me Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick / October Mourning by Leslea Newman / Perfume by Patrick Suskind

Forgive Me, Leonard PeacockForgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I initially thought that this first-person tale of a self-obsessed teenager was going to wear thin very quickly. Leonard is suicidal and his constant need to tell us that he is going to kill himself 'today' does become irritating. Methinks the lad doth protest too much! However, as Forgive Me Leonard Peacock settles into its storytelling, I became quite engrossed in his life. My Hachette audio came via AudioSYNC. Praise is due to Noah Galvin for a competent narration.

Matthew Quick tells us how Leonard has got so screwed up by describing his closest relationships with four other people. He is an oddball who does not gel with his classmates. There are 1984 echoes of double-plus in Leonard's frequent use of uber, particularly uber-moron to describe High School bullies. I could have done without the letters from the future which were too coy. Otherwise the reveals of how Leonard has gone from carefree child to angst-ridden desperation are well-paced to maintain interest. The main characters are nicely done - Walt, Lauren, Herr Silverman and Leonard are very real although perhaps Linda is more caricature.

I didn't realise until posting my review in my Amazon aStore that Matthew Quick also wrote Silver Linings Playbook. I've not read it but enjoyed watching the film on the plane to New Orleans. That was in March 2013 which already seems a lifetime ago!

October Mourning: A Song for Matthew ShepardOctober Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard by Lesléa Newman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I downloaded October Mourning from AudioSYNC having previously not been aware of either the book or its tragic inspiration.
Leslea Newman was obviously profoundly traumatised by Matthew Shepherd's murder and hearing her words about meeting and speaking for his college friends and classmates is very moving.

The poems themselves are simple in form with many using, or perhaps overusing, repetition or listing to make their points. I liked the idea of the variety of viewpoints, human, animal and object and found myself having an unexpectedly emotional response to the poem of the fence. None of the poems stand strongly on their own, but as a collection I think this book is a meaningful memorial.

I was surprised by how many poems described more violence being the demanded result of the murder. The father's poem was obviously meant ironically, but comments such as the prison guard's 'bang their heads together' and the appalling behaviour of the Christians at Matthew's funeral made me nervous for the future. Treating violence with hatred and more violence is never a good answer.

Perfume: The Story of a MurdererPerfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Süskind
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I often catch up with books years after their first publishing and any hype has faded. I remember Perfume was huge for a while but, having now read it, I'm struggling to understand why. Perhaps the John E Woods translation I borrowed just didn't do the original justice?

I did appreciate the olfactory descriptions at the beginning. This is an unusual concept for a novel so it was nicely different. However our protagonist, Jean-Baptiste, is such a blank person that caring about his story was impossible and so my interest in the writing's other aspects faded as fast as one of his perfumes.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Goodbye to grotty old bakeware

A nice surprise was waiting for me when I got home from work today! A set of silicon
Let's get baking 

I have been accumulating points on which is like a reward thing for shopping online, except I normally just do the surveys and watch the videos so it takes ages to build up points. Anyway, a month or so ago, when I baked another fruitcake, we noticed that where the loaf tin creases in the corners, it is getting 'past its best'. I had vaguely thought about replacing it, but not actually done anything about it. Then, scrolling through the Maximiles rewards, there was this VonShef set of silicon bakeware - a loaf tin, a dozen little cupcake cases, two round cake tins, a spatula, pastry brush and icing cone. I love the bright colours which make me feel joyful even before I reach for a recipe book. Plus everything is much lighter than metalware so ideal for caravanners-in-waiting.

Perfectamuntyminty (as we sometimes say around here).

I've already put the icing cone in the charity shop bag because I'm unlikely to ever use that and the spatula may follow it shortly. I can finally give my sister back her cupcake cases that I've had for getting on for a decade. Perhaps that's why she hasn't baked for me in a while? However the loaf tin is perfect. The two round cake tins seem huge - 9 inch diameter and twice as deep as sandwich cake tins. So I guess that will be a double Boterkoek batch then!

And what shoul a cake tin be called when it isn't made of tin?

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Portrait Miniatures by George C Williamson / The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom / Room Full of Mirrors by Charles R Cross

Portrait MiniaturesPortrait Miniatures by George C. Williamson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Shadow of Night, a fantasy novel which I recently read, made much of a pair of miniature portraits so when this book popped up as the ForgottenBooks choice of the day, I was interested enough to download it.
Williamson has written a brief essay overview of miniature portrait artists from the 1500s to the 1800s. Due to its short length, not many get a look in, but the essay is studded with biographical details and anecdotes about the works. The writing is quite dry, but informative.
The shame about the presentation of this book as a reprint download is that the great quantity of illustrations are all in black and white, and none are particularly clear. It is possible to zoom in, but not to make out the intricate details referred to by Williamson.

The Hiding PlaceThe Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Hiding Place is another triumph for the AudioSYNC audio book download series. I'm so glad to have discovered it!
I was already aware of Corrie Ten Boom's autobiography but had bypassed it in favour of others, primarily because it is always publicised as a Christian book. I think this does the work a disservice because, although Corrie's faith is fantastically important to her, there is much more to her story.
The Ten Booms were watchmakers in Haarlem, an extended family living in a fairly small house over their shop. They were already known for helping the less fortunate throughout the district and I enjoyed reading about their pre-war lives. The horrors of the war are often told, but small details get overlooked. In The Hiding Place, the accumulation of such detail made for an interesting listen. I liked the way events were told with an eye to humour, especially as the little house begins to fill with strangers passing though. Listening had the cosiness of a aging relative telling stories and it was easy to see Corrie's attraction as a speaker post-war.
A theme she often returned to was how only looking within a small sphere makes huge events less mind-blowing, and this is essentially how Corrie kept her sanity despite the horrors she endured. Her prop was the religious belief she had been taught since earliest childhood, and the autobiography does overplay everything potentially miraculous, but Corrie also shows how quiet organisation, determination, kindness and consideration can mould many small deeds into a truly inspirational life.

Room Full of Mirrors: A Biography of Jimi HendrixRoom Full of Mirrors: A Biography of Jimi Hendrix by Charles R. Cross
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'm not a big Jimi Hendrix fan and so knew very little about him other than a few of his hit songs and his early death. Dave had this copy of Charles Cross' Hendrix biography and found it interesting so I thought I'd give it a try too.
The book is surprisingly dry for such an outrageous star. The coverage of Jimi's early life seems thorough and is sad to read as family life was pretty much nonexistent. Violence and poverty are recurring themes with whichever Hendrixes constituted the household at the time frequently moving from one dump to another.
Once Jimi finds music and begs a guitar, he works for, and later with, a bewildering number of musicians. Pretty much any star in sixties London is name-dropped at some point!
Cross has obviously done a fantastic amount of research, but I thought some of his inferences seemed contrived. The writing style is hit and miss and I felt tighter editing was needed, especially for incidents that a cited on multiple occasions, but without recognition that they have been mentioned before.
Jimi Hendrix did certainly lead a fascinating life and this is a good rendition of it, but I think a stronger writer could have made this a greater book.

View all my reviews

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Bailey is ready for the open road

I am happy to report that we brought Bailey back from John's Cross this morning with
Roses in our garden 
the motor mover not only fixed but realigned as well. The electrical fault turned out to be the isolator switch which, fortunately, was easy for the mechanics to repair. We took the opportunity to browse the store at John's Cross too. They have a good range of camping and caravanning gear. Dave is quite tempted by the inflatable kayaks. He did a kayaking course a couple years ago and there were a few places last winter where such a craft would have been ideal - the Ria Formosa at Tavira for example. Instead, we bought a pair of chocks, an elegant hanging LED lamp by Kampa for the awning, and two replacement ends for the electric hookup cable. Ours got chewed up when it didn't fit well at Humilladero so Dave's now swapped out the damaged one and we have a spare in case it happens again. We also got a spare Whale submersible water pump. This was more of an outlay at £29.99, but we are not sure how easy the pumps are to find in Spain and want to avoid a Sod's Law situation if our current one does wear out!

The only thing we couldn't find was a suitable table for eating outside. There were a few to choose from but most were family sized or way above our budget. We wanted to look at the Kampa Medium Camping Table. Sadly stocks won't be replaced until next week. We are now considering taking our pretty blue Gisela Graham garden table instead. It has a metal frame so is considerably heavier than a genuine camping table. However, we know it is nice for two to dine at and our wooden folding chairs fit it ok. Getting more use from it would make sense, but I think we will need to judge the weight against how much other stuff we end up taking. I don't want to find we've overestimated what our lovely new Mondeo can manage and find ourselves STILL crawling up hills being overtaken by tankers!

Friday, 11 July 2014

Chocolate fudge brownie recipe

Cathy-at-work bought a pack of Thornton's chocolate brownies for us to share last week.
Chocolate fudge brownie 
They're very nice! However, daft me mentioned that brownies was something I used to bake so another team member, Ian, has challenged me to a bake off. I've taken the brownies into work today, together with the remnants of yesterday's Boterkoek. Let's see which vanishes fastest!

45g cocoa powder
60g plain white flour
100g sugar
55g salted butter
1 egg
1 tsp golden syrup
1 tsp vanilla essence or a little finely chopped vanilla pod

Preheat the oven to 150c.

Grease a baking tin. Actually I use the lid of an vintage pyrex dish which is just the perfect size. It is cm across.

Place all ingredients into a large bowl and combine until mixture is a thick sticky dough.

Press into the tin/lid and bake for 30 minutes.

I can't remember where I originally saw this recipe, but I do remember that it called for 150g of sugar which was far too sweet - even for us. Fine white sugar makes the brownies fudgier than demerera sugar.

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Albertje's Boterkoek recipe

I have been listening to an audiobook set in the Netherlands this past week. It is The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom and my review is the middle of the next trio to be published here as soon as I've finished one more book - might be a Jimi Hendrix biography, might be a novel about a suicidal American teen.

Albertje's Boterkoek 
Anyway, part of The Hiding Place is set in pre-war Haarlem where Corrie's mother is frequently baking cake to celebrate various birthdays. This reminded me of our celebrating a couple of Dutch people's birthdays by eating Boterkoek while we were in Portugal last winter. And that reminded me that I had never gotten around to baking Albertje's Boterkoek recipe which she so kindly translated and wrote out for me.

Boterkoek is more like a soft cookie-style biscuit than a cake. (That's the British meaning of biscuit, not the American which is more of a scone.) The word literally translates as butter cake and there is a LOT of butter in the recipe. I guess that is why it is a traditional birthday celebration food - one should only eat it once a year!

225g plain white flour
170g brown sugar
200g salted butter
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 200c.

Place all the ingredients into a large bowl and mix together until combined. It helps if the butter is already at room temperature for this.

Press the resultant 'dough' into a loose based tin and put the tin onto a baking tray. My tin did leak a little liquid from all the butter so the baking tray is basically just to catch this.

Bake for 20-25 minutes until the Boterkoek is golden on the top. Leave to cool before attempting to remove it from the tin.

Serve cold. To be traditional, serve in slices, with freshly brewed coffee, to a gathering of friends.