Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Treacle Tart recipe

Treacle Tart 
We didn't manage to eat the last loaf of bread I baked quickly enough so a third of it went stale. Rather than waste the bread, I tried to think about how we might use up and remembered that I had previously baked a treacle tart using breadcrumbs. We've brought a couple of large tins of Golden Syrup away with us because we like a little in our morning porridge so I had all the ingredients I needed.

Ingredients
4 oz plain white flour
2 oz butter
Cold water

4 large tbsp golden syrup
12 tbsp breadcrumbs
Squeeze of lemon juice

The first three ingredients are to make the pastry shell although you could use bought pastry if you prefer. I made enough for an eight inch diameter pie dish.

Rub the butter into the flour as lightly as you can until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Slowly add cold water, tbsp by tbsp, stirring it in until you have a soft dough. If your dough gets too sticky, you might need to dust it with more flour. Try to handle it as little as possible or your pastry will be hard instead of flaky and crisp!

Wrap the dough in cling film and refrigerate it for 30 minutes.

Grease a pie tin and put the oven on to preheat to 180c.

Roll out the pastry to about the thickness of a pound coin. Line your pie dish with pastry, trimming off any excess. Prick the pastry base several times with a fork.

Treacle Tart 
Put the golden syrup into a saucepan over a low heat. When it thins, stir in the breadcrumbs. Mix well so all the breadcrumbs are soaked with syrup. They change colour as they do so. Stir in a good squeeze of fresh lemon juice too.

I wasn't sure exactly how much treacle filling I would need so I added a tbsp of syrup and 3 of breadcrumbs to the pan at a time, building up the quantity until it looked enough to fill the pastry shell.

Pour the syrupy breadcrumbs into your pastry shell and place the tart on a baking tray in the preheated oven. The baking tray is in case the tart boils over while cooking. I didn't want golden syrup going everywhere!

Bake at 180c for 25-30 minutes or until the tart filling is bubbling and the pastry is golden. Remove from the oven and set aside for five minutes to give the filling a chance to firm up a little before serving.

You can eat Treacle Tart warm or cold. We had ours warm with a dollop of coconut cream which was delicious. You can also serve it with creme fraiche, cream or ice cream.


Monday, 5 December 2016

#WorldReads - five books from South Africa

If this is your first visit to my WorldReads blog series, the idea of the posts is to encourage reading of global literature. On the 5th of each month I highlight five books I have read from a particular country and you can see links to previous countries at the end of this post.

For this installment I have chosen to reminisce about five books I read by South African authors and I will start with indie author Vered Ehsani and her steampunk mystery series.



Ghosts of Tsavo by Vered Ehsani

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I loved the no-nonsense character of Mrs Beatrice Knight in this book. Despite coping with a possesed horse, a dead zebra on the lawn, a ghost husband and a murder mystery, she maintains perfect etiquette at (almost) all times and appreciates a good cup of tea even more, I think, than I do! Since Ghosts Of Tsavo, I have purchased Ehsani's boxed set of the first four Society Of Paranormals novels and read their prequel, That Night In Lagos. My review of the second, The Automaton's Wife, is to be on Literary Flits today (from noon).


The Woman Next Door by Yewande Omotoso

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Yewande Omotoso was born in Barbados and grew up in Nigeria before moving to South Africa so I could have included her as a representative of any of these countries' literature. This is a very South African novel though and a great portrayal of elderly former-career women in all their stubborn, witty and forthright glory.


Waiting For The Barbarians by J M Coetzee

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This was my second J M Coetzee book, having been very impressed by my first, Disgrace, a few weeks previously. Waiting For The Barbarians I thought was even more powerful and I was blown away by its striking imagery and relevance to the whipped-up Brexit paranoia at the time I was reading it, Trump-induced divisiveness now.


The Road To Soweto: Resistance And The Uprising Of 16 June 1976 by Julian Brown

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My only nonfiction suggestion in these South African reads, The Road To Soweto is a scholarly book which did get a little too dry for my taste at times, but still provided a fascinating explanation of how the country dragged itself out of the horrors of apartheid towards a fairer society. I was glad to have read it before my final WorldReads - South Africa book as my enhanced understanding was certainly useful.


Bitter Fruit by Achmat Dangor 

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Bitter Fruit is set as Mandela is relinquishing power to his successor and the Truth and Reconciliation Committee completes its report. Dangor portrays South Africa through the lens of a single disintegrating family showing that not every act can be forgiven and psychological damage from extreme racial divisions will continue to shadow South Africa through her future generations.


That's it for November's WorldReads from South Africa. I hope I have tempted you to try reading a book from this country! Please do Comment your own favourite South African books below and if you fancy buying any of the five I have suggested, clicking through the links from this blog to do so would mean I earn a small commission payment.

If you missed any earlier WorldReads posts, we have already 'visited' Australia, Canada, France, Ireland, ItalyNigeria and Spain. I'm not yet sure which country's literature next month's post will highlight. Maybe books from Russia, maybe New Zealand, or maybe somewhere else entirely! See you on the 5th to find out!

Sunday, 4 December 2016

Limoux and the Automaton Museum

Elegant cat automaton 
Limoux is the nearest sizeable towm to our Alet les Bains campsite and is the location of the Super U (and Lidl if that's your preferred supermarket!). There's a tiny grocer's and a baker's in Alet, otherwise everyone goes to Limoux. We had a wander around on Friday afternoon.

The river Aude traverses Limoux and looked beautiful flowing under this old bridge (pictured below) which I think dates to the same era as the one at Alet les Bains, the early 1660s. They are both of very similar design and construction. Many buildings are timber framed, with the timbers on show, which together with their overhanging upper storeys and a multitude of narrow alleys give Limoux a strong sense of history. This was obviously a rich town at one time too because several houses are rather grand, particularly those along the river banks. There have been disasters here too as was shown by a shoulder-high plaque on one wall commemorating a terrible flood in October 1891. Water from the Aude rose some 8 metres above its normal level! I found further details and images in this interesting blog post.

Bridge over the Aude at Limoux 
Automation butterfly 
The highlight of our afternoon for me was a visit to the Musee des Automates which we had noticed advertised on a flyer at our campsite. The museum is signposted from Place de la Republique and is about a ten minute walk away. It is family owned and now run by the second generation of automaton makers, Martine and Remy, who between them complete every aspect of the process from imagining designs to moulding heads and limbs, from constructing the movements to sewing costumes. Their parents began the business about forty years ago and automata made here are sold far and wide for public displays and to private collectors. The museum itself displays dozens of automata, all fabulously attired in Venetian style costumes and masks, and eerily moving their heads and arms. A couple even appear to be breathing! My favourites included a pair of white cats (pictured above) and an ornate golden butterfly. There's a band too and any number of malevolent-looking sprites. After touring the museum, we watched a film about the history of automata since the 1700s. It was in French, but I was pleased at how much I could understand. We then got to nose about in the workshop too. All in all, good value for the €6 entry fee!

We were also given a free Le Guide TPPO card which is a regional initiative offering discounts off lots of attractions from Mazamet to Limoux, Toulouse to Narbonne. If you're staying around here a while it's definitely worth getting yourself one of these distinctive red cards!

Automaton 

Old door in Limoux 

Saturday, 3 December 2016

Boucle de Saint Polycarpe - hiking in Aude, France

Aqueduct at Saint Polycarpe 
Boucle is the French for a loop and the word is applied to routes for hikers, cyclists and motorists. We picked up a half dozen boucles from Alet les Bains tourist office and set out on the first of them yesterday. Saint Polycarpe is a village about 20-30 minutes drive from our campsite - into Limoux and then almost back on ourselves out again! Like Alet les Bains it too has a Abbaye and also boasts a part-ruined aqueduct which originally brought water to the religious community. I don't think it still does. Our leaflet told us that car parking was available at the Mairie (the town hall), but this building actually fronts onto the narrow main through road so it is better to turn off where parking is signposted for the Abbaye and Aqueduc. There's a small car park here, over an old stone bridge, which might fill up quickly in summer, but had plenty of space at this time of year!

Apple press? 
We set out towards Buc and our route soon left the road at a ruined apple press. Uphill - all the best walks start out uphill - towards villas and past barking dogs, I thought the route was going to peter out almost before it had started, but a grassy footpath leads off into trees and woodland. The steepest climb of the whole walk was this first fifteen minutes and was just enough to make me start thinking that a 'two boot' graded walk might be beyond my capabilities right now. I have gotten way out of condition over the summer! However once we attained the crest and were strolling along the ridge, my breathing calmed down and we were able to enjoy some stunning views over the valley below. Once past a dedicated viewpoint, we were delighted to see numerous strawberry trees (arbutus unedo) which reminded us not only of the one we grew in our former Polegate garden, but also of our weeks spent at Serro da Bica in Portugal. Dave tried the local firewater there which was flavoured with the trees' fruit.

Superb views from the ridge 
Golden vineyards 
I liked the variety of terrain encountered on this walk. We saw the towns of Saint Polycarpe and Villar-Saint-Anselme as well as walking through woodlands and out in the open past numerous golden-leaved vineyards. It seems every spare inch of land around here has a vine planted in it and the resultant local wine is highly thought of - a sparkling wine which is claimed to be the forerunner of champagne. We haven't tried it yet! Back to the walk and I was impressed by how well signed it was. The symbols were a yellow dot over a yellow stripe and these were painted at regular intervals and very clearly at junctions. We almost didn't need the flyer although it was nice to have both. I'm certainly now confident to try more walks in the series and we considered a drive to Couiza to get more leaflets. It has turned distinctly frosty here in Alet les Bains valley though so Dave might prefer to move on to Sigean where the campsite is on an open plain and may have sunshine for longer each day!

Boucle de Saint Polycarpe 

Friday, 2 December 2016

Beck Valley Books Advent Calendar

I've loved being part of Beck Valley Book Tours over on Literary Flits in recent months. You can see the books I have already reviewed for them Through This Link. There's another three coming up over the next couple of weeks too and they all have giveaways, so keep your eyes peeled. Now I am excited to spread some seasonal joy on this blog by sharing Beck Valley Book's unique interactive Christmas Advent Calendar for booklovers! (And I'm only 1 day late in posting it) If you're looking for bookish gifts or just want to treat yourself, dive right in! The Advent Calendar is full of fabulous books from many amazing authors, ideal for Christmas Gifts or for you to enjoy, and there's special offers too!

Hover over the dates and they will become alive with wonderful book choices and offers! Click on the blog post link for each date to be taken to the author's own Christmas Advent page where you will find out much more plus what makes Christmas special for them this year.

Hover over the advent calendar dates to find out which book is hidden behind...






Merry Christmas from all the Beck Valley Books reviewing team xx

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Thursday, 1 December 2016

Alet les Bains - we're in Cathar country

Alet les Bains 
Our newest campsite is the pretty Val d'Aleth in Alet les Bains. The town itself is small and incredibly historic. It dates back to Roman times and many of the narrow streets and overhanging buildings still have a distinctly Medieval feel. The campsite is at the edge of town, right on the banks of the river Aude, and is approached over an old stone bridge which looked a tad snug as we drove up to it, but was absolutely fine! The sharp right turn into the campsite lane is wider than it first appears too! We're using our ACSI card here to get us a price of €16 a night which includes the pitch, two people, 6A electricity and free wifi. The wifi is technically only around the Reception building, but at quiet times the signal does stretch as far as our pitch. At the moment though I am sitting out in glorious sunshine at a picnic bench to write this post.

The campsite is just over the river from the main road so there is fairly constant traffic noise, but it has lots of trees and hedges so feels tranquil. There's a railway line too and Alet les Bains station is easily walkable from the site. Trains go to Carcassonne and Quillan. The shower block onsite is reasonably new and smart, and there is a small shop in Reception. There's also several shelves of swappable books in a variety of languages. That's me sorted then!

Lion at Alet les Bains 
We took a wander around Alet les Bains on our first afternoon and stopped in at the little tourist office where we were given several local walking maps. We're hoping to get a walk from St Polycarpe in this afternoon. Alet les Bains is famous for its ruined 12th century abbey. Visits are possible when the tourist office is open (not every day at this time of year), but we just peered through the fence for now. There's another tiny book exchange under cover in the main square. It's community run which was great to see. All the books here are in French. Alet les Bains also has thermal springs and a large old 'Thermes' Spa park and building with this lion statue created by Mce Denonvilliers. Slightly further away from the old town, although nowhere is very far here, we discovered another community project - a recreated Medieval Garden with beds of plants separated according to their purpose, medicinal, edible, etc. The Garden was only started this summer and, obviously, doesn't look its best in November, but we enjoyed seeing how many plants we could recognise and labels we could translate.

Jardin Medieval at Alet les Bains 

I'm not sure how long we will stay here. Our plan before we arrived was maybe three weeks because the campsite shuts between Christmas and New Year. There's several towns nearby to explore, walks to take and this area of France is beautiful. I love seeing the golden vine fields! We might even take a trip back to Carcassonne. It must be about a decade since we were last there.

Symbols in Alet les Bains square 

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

A Month in Books - November 2016

I hadn't initially thought that November was outstanding month of book reading but, looking back to write this post I see I was wrong. I mostly awarded three or four star ratings so goods and very goods rather than five star wows - although there are two of those! - but I did have a good run of indie author reads including two travel memoirs, a great mental health YA novel, an interesting self help guide and another thought-provoking Joss Sheldon novel. There's also a Christmas classic and thrilling Scandi-crime fiction.
If you read all the way through to the end of this post, I'm running a giveaway for my last read of November!



Four Chambers by John Henry Winter

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Winter was inspired to write this novella by quantum physics and his boom explores the idea of disparate events being connected in tiny and unexpected ways. It is cleverly done and I needed to read slowly (for me) so as not to miss any hints that were later shown to be important connections.


A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

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I have seen several theatrical and film versions of A Christmas Carol over the years, but hadn't actually read the book since childhood and that was probably an abridged version. I loved rediscovering this timeless classic and thought Dickens' portrayal of London and her people must be pretty much impossible to top!



The Last Hotel Room by Sean McLachlan

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I have been impressed with all my KindleScout reward books so far and The Last Hotel Room was no exception. McLachlan evokes various aspects of life in Tangier, Morocco, and also explores the predicament of Syrian refugees trapped in poverty within the city.


Berta La Larga by Cuca Canals

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This young adult novel reads like a myth or a fairytale and it is great fun. Very Spanish in style, it tells of poor Berta who is supposed to have magical powers but seems to only be possessed of great height. However when she falls in love with a postman from the hated neighbouring village, her powers are unleashed to devastating effect.



Road To Nowhere by Jim Fusilli

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I bought this audiobook from Audible a few years ago, but for some unknown reason it wouldn't download so got forgotten about until now. It's an odd crime thriller, well narrated but with a strange premise that I couldn't completely get behind. I did like the female characters' portrayal although our 'hero' is depicted in too enigmatic a way for me to understand him.


London Overground: A Day's Walk Around The Ginger Line by Iain Sinclair

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I had been looking forward to reading this one as I like urban history, long distance walking and trains. However I was disappointed. There were some sections which were interesting, but much of the book is Sinclair's reminiscences about his own arty and literary friends and it came across to me as too pretentious.


The MacKinnon's Bride by Tanya Anne Crosby

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If you are a light romance fan and have never heard how Scottish people really speak then you might well like The MacKinnon's Bride. It's light and pretty predictable and I did quite enjoy the quick read. The interspersed 'historical language' is very odd though!


Wasp Days by Erhard von Buren

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It took a while for me to get into this book and I don't think it is one that would appeal to a wide audience. Essentially an elderly man reminiscing about his life, I was interested in historical Paris and in a journey he took to China.


Until Thy Wrath Be Past by Asa Larsson

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A great charity shop find and, as soon as he finished reading, Dave was straight on to Amazon to buy another mystery in this series! Perhaps not completely believable, but go with the flow for an exciting read.


Three Days In Damascus by Kim Schultz

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Another perspective on the refugee crisis, Schultz's newly published memoir recounts her long-distance relationship with an Iraqi man stranded in Syria.


March by Geraldine Brooks

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One reason I chose to read Little Women recently was because I knew I had this audiobook awaiting me. It fills in a story of Mr March, the girls' absent father, during the American Civil War and in his younger years. I particularly liked how Brooks weaves her novel around the original.


I Am The Ocean by Samita Sarkar

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Canadian Sarkar spent a month travelling in America alone and this memoir recounts both her physical experiences and her spiritual growth during her journey. Her Hare Krishna faith is an important aspect of the book.



The Whale Rider by Witi Ihimaera

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Another great charity shop find! We had already seen the film of this book and, unsurprisingly, there is a lot more to the novel although the film keeps very closely to its source material. I was fascinated by the portrayal of a Maori New Zealand community.



The Little Voice by Joss Sheldon

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Newly published last week, this first person narrated novel explores how we condition our children and asks whether what is considered to be best for our society is damaging its members. This is the second of Sheldon's books that I have loved and he has joined my favourite author list!


Your Flight To Happiness by Toni Mackenzie

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This self help guide to emotional resilience uses the author's former career as an air stewardess as its hook and includess useful exercises and mindfulness ideas, most of which look fairy easy to implement.


Turkish Gambit by Boris Akunin

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Disappointing historical fiction because there wasn't enough period detail for my tastes. The book is set during the Russo-Turkish War of the 1870s and does have a nice spy story mystery, but the characters aren't all particularly well developed.


And The Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini 

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A bit of a sprawl of a novel, I didn't think this book had a strong enough structure and it lost direction during the second half. It's still good, but I think not a patch on Hosseini's first two books.


My Friends Are All Strange by M C Lesh

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Newly published in October this year, Lesh has written an insightful YA novel of a teenager trying to cope with her disintegrating mental health. This book is suitable for older readers too and I have a copy to give away on Literary Flits this week. (The post publishes itself at noon today).

Eighteen books later, that's all my November reads and I am set to start on December's delights! I know I have one Christmassy novella lined up and it comes with a Blog Tour giveaway for you to enter. There will be a witchy fantasy story with a giveaway too and I am wondering whether to take the plunge and start The Luminaries. I can't keep being intimidated by its brickness forever!