Thursday, August 31, 2006

Balance in our lives, that's what we all need to be happy, well rounded people.
Recently I read that to achieve that, one should have three boxes in one's life - a spiritual box, a physical box and an intellectual box. Every day one should put something into each box. Today I have put something into two of the three boxes - can I find something spiritual to put into the box before I go to bed ?

Several people had recommended Nadeem Aslam's latest book Maps for Lost Lovers to me and I finally got hold of a copy from the library and have just finished reading it. It is an engrossing but not always easy read, and apparently it took Aslam 11 years to write it.

In an unnamed town in England Jugnu and his lover Chanda have disappeared. Rumours abound in the close-knit Pakistani community, and then on a snow-covered January morning Chanda's brothers are arrested for their murder. Maps for Lost Lovers tells the story of the next twelve months. What follows is an unravelling of all that is sacred to Jugnu's brother and sister-in-law, Shamas and Kaukab. As the seasons pass Kaukab tries desperately to maintain her Islamic piety as she struggles to come to terms with the double murder and its corrosive effect on her family.
At first I found it quite difficult to get into the book, but as I perservered I became completely immersed in the lives of people who are living in a cultural cocoon, resolutely keeping British society at bay. They persist in regarding themselves as exiles even though they have come voluntarily as immigrants to the UK - and not just as individuals but in whole communities. In so doing they bring with them habits, manners, and ancestral feuds from their villages in Pakistan, together with outrageous "laws" which they enact in the name of Islam, vindictively maligning one another over perceived transgressions.
Aslam writes in heavily lyrical prose, which at times comes across as over-blown, but is reminiscent of the classical Urdu poetry, chunks of which are quoted throughout the book.
Within this book is a lightly-veiled anti-clerical polemic and it is surprising that the fundamentalist Muslim lobby in this country has not taken exception to his writing as they did to that of Rushdie.
Reading this as a white British woman, I felt depressed at the huge gulf between "us" and "them", angry about the deeply ingrained attitudes to women that the Pakistani communities have, and fearful for what this bodes for us all in the west in what are becoming troubled times.

Do you know what this is ? It is a Hummer H2 aka a Hum Vee, and this afternoon I had what air traffic control would call 'a near miss' with one of these monsters. I was innocently driving along in north London when suddenly this huge, black beast overtook me on the inside, and then slammed on its brakes, giving me palpitations. And guess what it was being driven by a young blonde woman, with lots of gold jewellery, heavy suntan, and Jackie O sunglasses - a WAG or clone of a WAG. The brain of anyone who owns and drives one of these monsters in London is in inverse proportion to the size of their vehicle (I refuse to call it a car).

This vehicle was specifically designed for the US Army back in 1979, they asked the designers to come up with a "High Mobility Multi-purpose Wheeled Vehicle", and as you can see the designers met their brief and did exactly that, and you can see how it got it's name.

If one were on the battlefields of Iraq, Afghanistan or the Congo I realise that this would be a very useful and practical set of wheels to have - but here in London it is an affront to decency, global warming and my nerves. Nobody should be allowed to have these in normal urban and suburban areas, they are not necessary and they are not nice.
What on earth will be the next motor fashion statement ? A Sherman tank?

What did you have for breakfast ? I tend to eat the same two pieces of toast and a mug of coffee that has been my habit for years, but every so often it is great to make a change and Granola is one of the best things for breakfast as you can mix it with milk, or yoghurt or fresh fruit as you prefer. I only started making my own Granola a year or two back and my recipe evolved through various trials. It is really easy to make and keeps well in an airtight container.

My Nutty Granola

500gms jumbo oat flakes

1.5 cups flaked coconut

1 cup wheat germ

¾cup sunflower seeds

3 cups mixed nuts (chop the larger ones) Almonds, pecans/walnuts, hazelnuts

½ cup pine nuts

½ cup honey

½ cup water

½ cup brown sugar

½ cup sunflower oil

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

½ teaspoon salt

1 cup raisins or sultanas

1 cup chopped dried apricots

In a large bowl combine the first six ingredients and stir well to mix.

Combine honey, oil, water, vanilla, brown sugar and salt in a large jug. Mix well together and pour over the oat mixture. Stir well until everything is well coated.

Heat oven to 180°C

Spread the mix evenly in a very large, lightly oiled, shallow roasting pan; bake for 25 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes so it all browns evenly taking care it does not burn. The mix will not be crisp when first removed from the oven, let it cool and then stir in the raisins and apricots.

Store in an air-tight container (1-1½ months)

Sunday, August 27, 2006

If a tidy desk is the sign of a tidy mind, then my mind is a shambles.
Every evening I tell myself that when I have an hour to spare I will use it to get everything sorted out, filed and dusted, so that my desk will become an uncluttered space reflecting inner peace and harmony. And so I day soon...

Years ago I went to an exhibition at the British Museum entitled “Ancient Faces", and it blew me away. In the semi darkness of the exhibition rooms I felt as though the past two thousand years had rolled away and I was gazing into the faces of living men women and children. It was an exhibition of Mummy portraits from Egypt at the time of Ptolemey, Cleopatra and Mark Anthony.

Fayum portraits are funerary paintings from the Roman period and one of the oldest human representations of cultural heritage. These portraits were widespread in Egypt from the 1st Century BCE to the 4th Century CE. Pictures of the dead, they were inserted inside the sarcophagi between the wrapping of mummies, over the face. They were painted on a thin or thick wood plank. They could also have been painted on linen wrappings that enveloped the head of the mummy.

My dear husband gave me a copy of “The Mysterious Fayum Portraits, Faces from Ancient Egypt” by Euphrosyne Doxiadis, in which the author has gathered together full colour reproductions of all these portraits which are now scattered round the great museums of the world. The Egyptian climate had enabled their preservation. Commonly called “Fayum portraits,” from one of their discovery locations, some of these portraits have been excavated from other Egyptian sites, especially Antinoe. The people living in Egypt at that period were from many lands and cultures, Greeks, Romans, Syrians, Jews, Nubians, Libyans, Persians, and all are represented in these remarkable portraits. The author has grouped them according to the areas in which they were found, which allows the reader to recreate communities and family relationships. Her impressively scholarly text is lavishly illustrated and sets the people and the paintings in their social context. I particularly love the pages of hairstyles, jewellery and other cosmetic devices used by women all those many, many years ago. It is a book I dip into again and again. Sometimes when I feel particularly fraught or fed up with things, gazing at one or two of the portraits helps me to put life back in perspective. They were people like myself, now long gone, and their troubles and worries long gone too. One day I too will be gone, so I must live life to the full while I have it, and not become bogged down with minor anxieties.


I have just been listening to a current affairs programme on BBC Radio 4 on the subject of "Agro Terrorism".

For heavens sake, talk about galloping paranoia. Interview after interview with farmers in the Texan "beef belt" showed how they are being led to believe that this is a very real threat . Millions are being spent on prevention of something that has never happened and is highly unlikely ever to happen. It is an exercise in using fear to make money and political capital. Somehow wicked evil terrorists guided by bin Laden -or someone similar- will get into the heartland of the USA and poison the cattle or the milk or the cornfields....what the f**k do they have for brains? I should think more people would be likely to die of food poisoning from poor personal hygiene whilst eating a beef burger than will ever die as a result of Agro-terrorism.

I think that the US Department of Homeland Security should really get their thinking caps on and figure out some other likely terrorist plots. How about a wily member of Al-Qaeda getting a job in a soap factory and putting a poison in every bar of bath soap so the population would all die when they had a wash....just as likely don't you think?

But hang on a minute, why am I surprised, surely to keep their department in funds and focussed, the USDHS must be in the business of scaremongering.

Although the short English asparagus season ended some time ago, there is still a lot of asparagus from Spain and Portugal available, and tonight we are having one of my favourite "comfort" foods for supper. It is so easy to make, and there is something immensely soothing about stirring the rice slowly and watching it turn a beautiful delicate shade of pale green after you have added the asparagus.


Serves 4 generously or 6 as a starter

Ingredients500g/1lb 2oz asparagus

1 onion, finely chopped
85g/3oz butter
300g/10½oz Arborio or Carnaroli rice
750ml/1½ pints hot chicken or vegetable stock
55g/2oz freshly grated parmesan cheese
freshly ground black pepper

Prepare the asparagus by breaking off the tough ends of the stalks.Steam the asparagus for 3-6 minutes or until tender to the point of a knife. Once it is cooked cut the tips off and set to one side, chop the stalks roughly.
Gently fry the onion in the butter until it becomes translucent Add the rice and cook for a couple of minutes on a medium heat, stirring so that it gets a good coating of butter.Add a ladle of hot stock at a time stirring until it is fully absorbed before adding more, add the roughly chopped asparagus stalks and continue adding stock and stirring until all the stock has been used.Add a knob of butter, the asparagus tips, half the parmesan and a good grinding of black pepper to the risotto and give it a stir. Serve the risotto in warm bowls with a sprinkling of Parmesan on top of each serving.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Up betimes and at my blog; a busy day lies ahead - as usual I seem to have bitten off rather more than I can chew - which is why I am sitting hunched over a keyboard in the pearly light of dawn, mug of coffee to hand, typing this!

Friends gave me a copy of “Suite Française” by Irène Némirovsky as a birthday present, and I read it this week. (Curiously, my mother and my sister had each been given copies of the same book for their birthdays.)
It is not a complete book, the author, a Russian Jewess living in France, who had already written several acclaimed novels started writing it in 1941. She intended the finished book to be in five parts, like an orchestral suite of music, but was seized by the Nazis and died in Auschwitz in late 1942, having written only two of the five parts. These two parts, together with her copious notes on what she was writing and her planning for the remaining three parts of the book, miraculously survived in a small suitcase which her two small daughters had with them when they fled the Nazis and went into hiding. As adult women, Iréne Nèmirovsky’s daughters decided to transcribe what they had thought was her daily journal, and discovered that it was a book, or part of a book. “Suite Française” is a collection of the two parts she had written, all her notes, letters between herself and her publishers and friends about her books, and then the frantic correspondence between her husband Michael Epstein and anyone of influence in occupied France whom he thought could save his wife after she had been arrested.
Her writing is exceptional, light, delicate and intimate. She conveys the horrors of the Nazi invasion of Paris so well that you live through the nightmare and the panic as you read.
Her account of rural life under the German occupation is superb; she views everything and everyone with an unsentimental clarity. It is not too exaggerated to say I found her writing on a par with Flaubert. What a terrible loss to French literature.
I am quite unable to do justice to this book in a few words, suffice to say I thought it was simply wonderful, and urge everyone to read it, particularly teenagers. It is a beautiful and chilling reminder of what happened in the mid 20th Century, and what we must guard against ever happening again

There has been much huffing and puffing about profiling in the past week. At present all airline passengers are considered equally likely to be terrorists and are all subjected to the same treatment whether they are little old ladies, frequent business flyers, or young asian men in Islamic dress. Consequently the security queues at airports and elsewhere are taking longer than ever. Personally I think this is a crazy way to proceed. Last week the cartoonist Matt who draws for the Daily Telegraph had a brilliant cartoon which sums it up; I hope he and they will not mind me including it here.
We spend our normal lives catagorising things, situations and people, why should this not apply to security too?
Of course security proceedures should not rely solely on profiling, but it should certainly be one of the methods in use. The Muslim Council of Britain is vehimently opposed to any form of profiling, saying it would not be fair, and would antagonise the innocent asians who were subjected to it. That might be, but at least they would be safer. The other arguement put forward by the MCB is that the terrorists would switch to recruiting tall blonde Scandinavian women to carry their bombs or whatever. Oh really? and how are they going to do that ?
Many groups in our society have been at the forefront of profiling - a case in point is the situation some young male cancer sufferers have found themselves in. Chemotherapy has caused hair loss, and bouncers at clubs and gigs in Birmingham and elsewhere have been refusing to let them in, assuming they are skinheads and will cause trouble. Have they been whining about it not been fair that profiling young bald males as probable skinheads has caused them to miss out on some relaxation and fun? no, they have found a way to sort it out. Take a look at this example of a card that they now carry to persuade the club security teams that they are hairless because they have cancer.

This is a great recipe for a mid week supper as I can prep it the previous evening if I am in court the next day -and come home knackered - it is all ready to cook.


4 thick pork chops

1 onion peeled and finely chopped
4-5 spring onions, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 teaspoons fresh Thyme
1 red chilli, deseeded, finely chopped
1 level teaspoon cayenne pepper
½ teaspoon grated Nutmeg
2 teaspoons salt
1 ½ teaspoon sugar

Olive oil

Place chops in a shallow dish.
Whiz all the remaining ingredients except the olive oil in a blender or food processor to make a purée.
Mix 2 heaped tablespoons of this mix with 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Spread the mixture over the chops, cover the dish and leave to marinate for at least 6 hours or overnight.
Grill or braai the chops for 10-15 minutes, turning once, until cooked through. Garnish with a little chopped red chilli or fresh thyme. Serve with rice and peas.

The remaining jerk marinade keeps well in the fridge for at least one week.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Wrestling with technology should be recognised as an Olympic sport. I am still finding it a huge challenge, after umpteen fruitless attempts to get a link list onto this blog, I have decided to resort to an old fashioned method and read an instruction manual. So it's off to the library for me this afternoon to search out a book about posting on the web, blogs and other arcane hypertext topics - wish me luck!

The Booker Prize long list was announced today, as always some of the usual suspects are on it but one or two new and interesting choices - see what you think.

Peter Carey, Theft: A Love Story (Faber & Faber)
Kiran Desai, The Inheritance of Loss (Hamish Hamilton)
Robert Edric, Gathering the Water (Doubleday)
Nadine Gordimer, Get a Life (Bloomsbury)
Kate Grenville, The Secret River (Canongate)
M.J. Hyland, Carry Me Down (Canongate)
Howard Jacobson, Kalooki Nights (Jonathan Cape)
James Lasdun, Seven Lies (Jonathan Cape)
Mary Lawson, The Other Side of the Bridge (Chatto & Windus)
Jon McGregor, So Many Ways to Begin (Bloomsbury)
Hisham Matar, In the Country of Men (Viking)
Claire Messud, The Emperor’s Children (Picador)
David Mitchell, Black Swan Green (Sceptre)
Naeem Murr, The Perfect Man (William Heinemann)
Andrew O’Hagan, Be Near Me (Faber & Faber)
James Robertson, The Testament of Gideon Mack (Hamish Hamilton)

Edward St Aubyn, Mother’s Milk (Picador)
Barry Unsworth, The Ruby in her Navel (Hamish Hamilton)
Sarah Waters, The Night Watch (Virago)


En route to my court at Bow in east London this morning I observed one of those hideous monstrosities - a bendy bus - nearly mowing down a group of pedestrians standing at a corner. I started thinking about these buses and why I , and so many other Londoners, really loathe them. They are so long that when they have to stop because of volume of traffic they can block an entire junction thus causing gridlock. They have a third less seats than our beloved old Routemaster bus, and although they have quite a lot of standing room, there is not always something to hang on to when the bus is moving. I have heard young people refer to bendy buses as RFFs (Ride For Free) as you can enter and exit the bus at the middle or the rear doors without paying. TfL did not replace the Routemasters with the same number of bendy buses, so they run less frequently, which means you have a longer wait between buses than before.

A plague on Ken Livingston for foisting them on us. If London were a city like Los Angeles, then a bendy bus might well be ok, but they are totally unsuitable for our narrow streets, which run in higgledy piggledy routes having grown up over centuries rather than having been planned and built on a grid system. Get rid of them, bring back double deckers!


This morning I found a loaf of ciabatta bread left over from yesterday's lunch, so I have decided to make soup with it. This is a classic Tuscan housewife's recipe to use up stale bread and slightly over-ripe tomatoes. It is both simple and delicious. I first had it several years ago when on holiday in Lucca with old friends who are wonderful cooks, and it has become a family favourite.

PAPPA AL POMODORO: Tomato and Bread Soup

3 tablespoons olive oil
2-3 large garlic cloves, crushed to a paste with ½ teaspoon salt
750g ripe tomatoes, peeled and chopped (some like to deseed them as well)
200g of stale white bread, crusts removed, broken into pieces – do NOT use pre-packaged sliced bread it will go horribly slimy,
use country bread like ciabatta, bloomer, sourdough etc.
1 litre chicken or vegetable stock
10 -12 fresh basil leaves
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Extra virgin olive oil, basil leaves, Parmesan shavings – for serving/garnish

Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan and sauté the garlic gently without letting it brown, then add the tomatoes, basil and bread (tear the basil leaves with your fingers, NEVER chop basil with a knife or scissors it changes the flavour). Add the stock, little by little, stirring and mashing the bread down until the mixture begins to resemble a porridge, pour in any remaining stock. Taste and season. Garnish with a swirl of olive oil, extra torn basil, and some shavings of Parmesan.
This can be served hot, warm or cold but I think it is at its best at room temperature on a hot day. It can be made a day ahead and reheats beautifully, but doesn't freeze well.

BTW the word "pappa" in the name of the soup doesn't have anything to do with dad, daddy, father - it means pap/puree/mush.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Thank God I am not flying anywhere for the next few weeks
Don't get me wrong, I am not afraid of Islamic fanatics blowing up a plane I'm on, frankly I think even with this security scare airline travel is one of the safest methods of transport; whereas every time I get in my car for a local journey I am at major risk of accident, injury or death - no, what terrifies me is the thought of having to go to an airport or on to a plane without a book to read.

I've always been partial to a good police procedural crime novel. I first read one of Ed McBain's 87th Precinct books when I was 13 (It was 'Cop Hater' in case you are interested). Almost as soon as she started writing I fell upon Ruth Rendell's Inspector Wexford series, and the same was true of Ian Rankin's Regan books set in Edinburgh where the city is as much a character as the goodies and badies. Since then I have enjoyed so many other police procedurals especially those which are set in far-flung places: Barbara Nadel's books set in Istanbul featuring Inspector Ikman, Donna Leon whose protagonist Commissario Brunetti lives and works in Venice, and Henning Mankell, whose lugubrious hero Inspector Kurt Wallender covers murder and mayhem in southern Sweden. Part of the attraction of these books is that not only are they well written (and well translated when necessary) with a cracking crime tale as their backbone, they also transport me into another country and way of life.
Today I introduce to you - with some excitement - my latest discovery in this genre....roll on drums....Inspector Chen Cao, in 'Death of a Red Heroine' by Qiu Xiaolong. This is the first of the Inspector Chen novels, and I am looking forward to reading the others. Set in in the People's Republic of China in 1990, Chen who is head of the Special Investigations Department in the Shanghai Police has to solve the murder of a young woman who was a "People's Model Worker", is he dealing with a straight forward homicide, or something much more political? China is moving from the restrictions of the Maoist era and post Tiananmen, change is on the way. As someone who has been priviledged to visit China several times since the mid 90s I found it incredibly evocative, and Chen, a poet manqué, plus his side-kick Detective Yu were really well rounded characters who engaged my interest. This book won the Anthony Award for Best First Crime Novel.

What a ghastly, frightening,two days air passengers in the UK have had. I could rant for hours but it would not make me feel any better, and it wouldn't add anything to the acres of printed rants the newspapers have produced. So, inspired by the book I have just finished reading (see above) let me introduce you to an entirely novel ranting concept. In the ancient former southern capital of China, Nanjing, a new bar/restaurant has opened.
The Rising Anger Bar

Wu Gong, the owner was a migrant worker in China (presumably he migrated from the countryside to the city) and knew of the pent up frustration people have. Customers of the bar(a huge proportion are women who work in the "entertainment sector")are encouraged to rant, smash glasses, beat up waiting staff and generally vent their rage. Employees can be paid to dress up as the object of hate - boss, ex-wife, party official. Wow, this is something we need in London, and I suspect New York and L.A. would take it to their hearts!

This weekend my son is going to a Sopranos
supper party, the guests are each taking one course of food to fit the Italian Mafia theme and he has opted to make the ubiquitous dessert, Tiramisu - which means means "Pick me up" in Italian. I have made it many times for special occasion dinners and he loves it. There are many recipes for Tiramisu, but I think the one from the Sainsbury Cookbook by Patricia Lousada to be the most authentic, and it is the recipe I will be giving him to use:

Make a day in advance Serves 8-10

125ml Brandy
125ml Marsala
250ml very strong coffee
32 Savoyard sponge fingers (approx)
3 eggs, separated
3 Tablespoons caster sugar
325g Mascarpone
65g plain dark chocolate, refrigerated

Mix the Brandy and Marsala together and add half of this mixture to the coffee. Place 16 sponge fingers* in the bottom of a large (1.75litre) shallow dish and sprinkle them with half of the coffee mixture.
Whisk the egg yolks with the sugar until thick and pale, and then blend in the Mascarpone and stir in the remaining Brandy/Marsala mix.
Whisk the egg whites with a pinch of salt until stiff peaks form and fold them into the Mascarpone mixture.
Spoon half this mixture over the sponge fingers in the dish.
Dip the remaining sponge fingers into the rest of the coffee mixture and place them carefully over the Mascarpone layer in the dish. (Dip them very quickly, as they become soggy and crumbly very easily). Now spread the remaining Mascarpone mixture over them.
Grate the cold chocolate over the top of the dish, covering all the Mascarpone mixture. Cover and refrigerate for at least 8 hours.

*Buy the big Italian sponge fingers, called Savoy Biscuits.

BTW Tiramisu is about a milllion, zillion calories per portion - unless you've had two or three glasses of white wine in which case the calories don't count and you won't care!

Monday, August 07, 2006

Hey ho - another week begins. All the cliches I can think of about time flying spring to mind, but I am certain sure that time is speeding up. I'll probably need to borrow Cecil Rhodes's dying words for myself "So much to do, so little done".

I've been an avid member of Bookcrossing for almost four years now, and have found it a wonderful way of decluttering our bookshelves, discovering new authors, and meeting other fanatical readers. A good friend, KGJ, came round on Saturday with a big bag of paperbacks which she no longer wanted so that I could register and release them. It was a very mixed bag, but I picked up one of them and became totally hooked. An unlikely book for me to read, I would never have even picked it up in a bookshop or library, but as it was sitting here on my desk I was intrigued. What is the book? "Confessions of a Park Avenue Plastic Surgeon".
The book is written by a very well known cosmetic surgeon who works in both the USA and Britain. Some of the cases he describes are absolutely eye-popping - the things women have done to their bodies is extraordinary. Why on earth do women put themselves through so much pain, expense and physical danger just for vanity? I just find it difficult to put myself in their mind-set. The author Olivia Goldsmith who wrote "The First Wives Club" and ten other novels, often used cosmetic surgery as a theme in her writing. In her 1998 novel "Switcheroo" she wrote about a woman who tries to win back her philandering spouse by transforming herself into the spitting image of his younger mistress. Then Goldsmith herself succumbed to the dream that changing her external appearance would change how she felt about herself. She checked into one of Manhattan's top private clinics for a chin tuck and face lift. Being nervous of the op she chose to have a general anaesthetic and within four minutes went into a coma and died - for what? for a face lift. Plastic surgery is not for me. I am not disfigured in any way, and whilst not enamoured of the visible signs of ageing, they are normal and natural, and I don't want to kid myself and others that I am younger than I am.


Why do manufacturers make plastic blister packaging so bleeping difficult to open ? This morning I tried to open a six pack of razor blades so that I could give one packet to my DH. I tried scissors, my teeth, a sharp pointy thing in the tool box and two different kitchen knives, receiving a nasty plastic cut in the process, before the beastly package finally yeilded.

For years now Monday night has been pasta night in our house. It makes life so much easier when I don't have to think too hard about what is for supper. This is a wonderful pasta sauce recipe which I discovered when the kids were little, it is cheap, delicious, and any kids who refuse to eat vegetables get a good helping of carrots without realising they are doing so! I often make a double or triple quantity and freeze it.

Serves 8
500g good quality meaty sausages (Italian are good)
2 tablspns oil
30g butter
1 medium/large onion finely chopped
4 large carrots, grated
2 large tins peeled tomatoes, blended in the can
250ml stock (made with beef or chicken stock cubes)
1 heaped teaspn dried oregano
2 bay leaves
Salt + Pepper

Remove the skin from the sausages and break up the sausage meat. Heat the oil and butter together in a saucepan and cook the onion until translucent. Add the sausagemeat and lightly brown, using a wooden fork to break it up all the time. Add the grated carrots and stir for a few minutes. Add the tomatoes, stock, bay leaves and oregano and cook, covered for at least 30 minutes. Taste for seasoning.
This goes well with almost any pasta but is really best with penne.
When serving, sprinkle generously with grated parmesan.
The sauce freezes well for 3 months.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

"Lazin' on a sunny the summer time..."
thats what I've been doing today; whenever I hear this song by the Kinks the years roll away and I am a teenager again.

Sometimes I can't make up my mind what to read next. I have a monster pile of books TBR* but somehow don't fancy any of them. It's a bit like being hungry, going into a restaurant and there isn't a thing you want to eat on the menu. Fortunately for me a few websites have sprung up which help focus the book reader's mind, these are just two that I have used Bookslut and Meet the Author . Bookslut is rather US-centric and Meet the Author has a preponderence of light reading but both provide me with another way of making my mind up.

London's Burning, London's Burning....well it will be if and when the latest daft decree from those wonderful folk at the Health and Safety Executive is implemented, as it is being in Devon. Apparently it is far too dangerous for firemen to slide down the poles which take them from their quarters down to the engines, "they might suffer ankle injuries". So now they are to run down flights of stairs instead!! MUCH safer don't you think? Of course, this new system will add up to a minute or more to getting a fire-fighting team assembled, but what the hell, the fire can wait, time is not of the essence here, safety is the priority. Has anybody suggested to the HSE that fighting fires is very dangerous and speaking from a Health & Safety perspective should be banned completely. My advice to you dear reader is to hide the matches from the kids, and never, never pour petrol on a braai (BBQ) to get it going, lets be careful out there.

BTW just in case anyone thinks that this is a photo of me sliding down a firemens pole, it isn't, its Briget Jones.


Lazin' on a sunny afternoon came to an abrupt end a few hours ago when my dear friend J arrived with a humungous bag of plums from the tree on her allotment . Nearly 6 I decided I'd better tackle them asap, but only had enough sugar in the house to deal with 1½ kgs. So today's recipe is for easy-peasy, foolproof plum jam.


1½ kgs (3 lbs)plums, washed, stoned and cut into quarters
1½ kgs (3 lbs) sugar,
Juice of one large lemon,
1 cinnamon stick, broken in half
250ml (½ pint) water

Before you begin, put one or two saucers in the fridge to chill, get your jam jars, wash them in hot soapy water, rinse, dry and leave them in a very low oven to keep hot.

Put all the ingredients into a large jam pan (the pan must be large as the mixture boils up and you don't want it to boil over). Stir over a gentle heat until the sugar is dissolved. Then turn the heat up and let it boil until it darkens and thickens. After about 15 minutes turn the heat down or off, take a teaspoon of the mixture, put it onto one of the chilled saucers and put back in the fridge for five minutes. Then test whether it has reached setting point by pushing the jam on the saucer with your finger. If it wrinkles up it is ready, if it is still liquid it needs to boil for a few more minutes. Then test again. You will eventually reach setting point! There maybe a whitish foam on top of the jam. Disperse this by taking a very small knob of butter - the size of a fingernail - and stirring it lightly through the foam. Fish out the cinnamon stick with a fork.
Fill the hot jam jars with the jam. Seal with waxed discs whilst hot, allow to cool before putting lids on the jars.
This quantity made 6½ jars of jam. Store in a cool dark place.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Better late than never.....arghhh, its been days since my last blog, dear reader please forgive me. It has been worrying me that there don't seem to be enough hours in the day to fit everything in, never mind writing a blog. I am going to have to set myself some kind of timetable and NO Gin & Tonic will be allowed if I don't stick to it. Something else will have to give - cleaning the downstairs loo for example!

Just like my blogging, reading has been relegated to the sidelines by the number of visitors, the number of court sittings, the bathroom renovation etc etc. Having said that, I have enjoyed "Freakonomics" by Steven D. Leavitt and Stephen J. Dubner. Easy reading, it presented fascinating ideas , statistics and a sideways look at how the world works from a maverick economist at Harvard - ably assisted by a top-rate writer. You might not agree with all the ideas that are presented in the book, but you will certainly have lots to think and talk about. It is a very different perspective on things that is presented in this book. For me the most fascinating section was the one on the primary reason for the rapid decrease in crime in New York...if you thought that that was a result of Mayor Guliani and his zero tolerance policies, think again. Well worth reading.

Here in England the outcome of a court case in which a drug dealer was charged with a double murder has been receiving a good deal of press coverage. Three years ago Bertram Byfield, a Jamaican drug dealer living in London, and seven year old Toni-Ann, the little girl he considered his daughter, were shot dead by another violent drug dealer, Joel Smith. The child was shot in the back by Smith, presumably to prevent her being a witness to his having killed her father. A truly henious crime, to shoot a child in cold blood. Smith has been tried and found guilty and will serve a life sentence.
It transpires that Toni-Ann was in the care of Birmingham Social Services at the time of her death, and they have been getting a lot of criticism/blame for what happened to her. What none of the media have really addressed is WHY was this little girl in the care of a local authority in a country far from her mother and other close family? Her mother, who lives in Jamaica had sent her - as a four year old - to the UK on a 'holiday' . Having had a 10 year relationship with Bertram Byfield (who was serving a prison sentence himself when Toni-Ann arrived here) the mother must surely have had some inkling of his involvement with the criminal drug culture. Neither Bertram Byfield nor Toni-Ann were British citizens, and correctly speaking neither of them should have been here at all. Toni-Ann was passed from one set of people to another in Birmingham until she ended up being taken into Care. Byfield then started to make applications to have her with him. Birmingham Social Services were lied to by him, and by his ex-girlfriend who claimed to be Toni-Ann's aunt, and so they permitted the child to move to live with the so-called aunt in London, who immediately passed her over to live with Byfield himself.
Nobody has questioned all the adults - particularly her mother - who used and abused the benefits and advantages of British residence, as to why THEY should not be held to account for what happened to Toni-Ann; why they allowed a man most of them must have known was a violent drug dealer with a criminal record to have her with him. For the press to focus on an overworked social services department is not helpful, they should cut to the root of the problem and condemn the whole Jamaican drug culture which is so damaging our inner cities, THAT is what killed Toni-Ann.


Cumin is possibly my favourite spice, it is used so widely in cooking, from India through the Middle East to North Africa, and I can't get enough of the taste.
I also love meals which consist of lots of small dishes. 'Meat and two veg' is all very well from time to time, but I prefer tapas, meze, dim sum. Tonight we are having just such a meal and one of the dishes I've made is:


2 425g cans chick-peas, drained
2 fat cloves garlic, crushed
1 bunch spring onions – white parts only, finely chopped
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 large fresh green chilli, seeded and finely chopped
2 tablespoons fresh coriander, finely chopped
1 egg, beaten
2 tablespoons plain flour
Salt & freshly ground black pepper

Seasoned flour for shaping
Vegetable oil (NOT olive) for shallow frying

Lemon wedges and fresh coriander for garnishing

Tip the drained chick-peas into a food processor or blender, and process until smooth. Add the cumin and ground coriander, garlic and spring onion whites and process again until well mixed.

Turn the mixture into a bowl and stir in the chopped chilli, fresh coriander, beaten egg and flour, mix together well. Season. Mixture should be fairly stiff, if it is too soft add some extra flour and mix again. Cover the bowl and put in the fridge for at least 30 minutes to firm up.

Using floured hands, shape the mixture into small balls the size of a squash ball, roll each one in the seasoned flour and flatten slightly to make into a patty.
Heat the oil in a frying pan and shallow fry the patties in batches for about one minute each side until they are crisp and golden. Drain on crumpled kitchen paper.

These are delicious served with a tzatziki style dip made from yoghurt, garlic, mint and grated cucumber.