Thursday, January 25, 2007

"O WAD SOME POWER THE GIFTIE GIE US,to see oursels as ithers see us!
It wad frae monie a blunder free us and foolish notion . . ."
'To a Louse' by Robert Burns


A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews

I picked this book of a shelf in the library because I was intrigued by the title, and when I glanced at the first page this sentence hooked me, and I had to borrow it: ‘Half our family, the better-looking half, is missing.’

Nomi Nickel is a sixteen year old Canadian Mennonite girl living with her father in a Mennonite community in Manitoba. Three years previously her older sister left the community and some months later so did Nomi’s mother, neither have been heard of since. Told as a quirky first-person narrative the book has echoes of Holden Caulfield in Catcher In the Rye. Nomi is something of a misfit, full of teenage angst compounded by the demands and expectations of the Mennonite community which is lead by her self-righteous uncle who she calls “The Mouth”.

Written as a stream of memories of her mother and sister and of family life before they disappeared, but woven through with her difficulties in day-to-day living, having a boyfriend, school, and a dead end future working in a chicken processing plant, Nomi endeared herself to me with her often hilarious take on life. She, and other Mennonite teens drink and smoke dope illicitly, they listen to pop music (which is banned) and they dance (which is totally forbidden).

At the same time the author has managed to convey the hypocritical religious zealotry which exists in such communities. The
Mennonites are Anabaptists, closely linked to the Amish and the Hutterites, and their chief mantra for life is “in the world but not of the world”. Until I read this book I knew next to nothing about them and how they live, but as you read, you are slowly introduced to their ideas, prejudices and practices. It is a very controlled way of living, everything is predicated on getting to heaven, either by dying a good Mennonite, or being ready for The Rapture – the moment when all humans will be either swept up to heaven simultaneously or left behind to burn in hell. Those who fail to keep to the rules will be Shunned, a form of living excommunication where you continue to live within the community but no-one will look at you, speak to you, touch you, eat with you, sleep with you, even husband to wife, brother to sister, or parent to child. A truly traumatic, psychological, living torture. Nomi is torn between a wanting a normal life, despising the hypocrisy she sees around her, and loving her father who is a good man dedicated to his community. Finally she comes to understand what happened to her sister and mother, and why she too will have to decide where and how to live her life.


I love markets, the hustle and bustle, the noise, the colours, the smells, the people and the variety of goods you get at different markets. People always go on about wonderful markets in France and Italy, and other parts of the world, but we have some excellent markets right here in London. There are two London markets I use regularly, the flower and plant market at Columbia Road in the East End, and Borough Market, which sells fruit, vegetables, meat, breads and all kinds of delicious foods from all over the country, and from all over the world.

For those of you who don’t know it, Borough Market is the oldest market in London, there has been a market on this site selling food and produce to Londoners since the Roman occupation, 2000 years ago. It is a covered market, and recently the whole structure was comprehensively refurbished.

Over the years I have bought food for family meals there, food for Christmas there, food for dinner parties there; I have often taken foreign visitors to spend a morning there, and the market is well known abroad thanks to Jamie Oliver who has featured the market in his cookery series for TV several times. Indeed tour guides and London guide books recommend it as part of the whole London experience.

So I was spitting blood when I heard from my daughter that there are plans afoot for Network Rail to increase their tracks by destroying many of the beautiful old buildings on the edges of the market. Apparently they have already been granted planning permission and are now awaiting funding. 23 market buildings would go, and it would change the ambiance of the market for ever. How could the powers-that-be (ie The Secretary of State) be so bloody stupid and short-sighted; this market should be preserved not threatened with desecration. Any town or city can have rail tracks, few can have a market as excellent and as ancient as Borough. Please, if you feel as strongly as I do, sign the on-line petition to try and prevent this horrible plan going ahead.


Great Chieftan o' the Puddin'-race!
Aboon them a' ye tak your place,

Painch, tripe, or thairm:

Weel are ye worthy of a grace

As lang's my arm.
To A Haggis by Robert Burns

Tonight is Burns Night, so we will be having a Haggis. Traditionally it is served with Bashed Neeps and Tatties – which is mashed swede (turnip) and mashed potato, and with it you serve a dram or two of Scotch whiskey which you sip between mouthfuls! I actually prefer another version of neeps and tatties, so I will be serving


700g potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
700g swede, peeled and cut into chunks
75g butter
2 tablespoons finely chopped chives
Salt and Pepper

Boil the potatoes and the Swedes separately and then mash them. Combine the two mashes and mix together with the butter and the chives. Season well. Put the mixture into a serving dish and keep warm until ready to serve the haggis.

*this is also good as an accompaniment to sausages or grilled chops.

A dessert I often serve on Burns Night is:


2 cups (generous) soft cream cheese (its not very Scottish, but I use Mascarpone)
2 heaped tablespoons Marmalade
2 tablespoons caster sugar
3 tablespoons whiskey
1 tablespoon lemon juice

Put all ingredients into a mixing bowl and whisk together. Spoon into six ramekins and chill in the freezer. Remove from freezer 10 minutes before serving.

A shortbread biscuit goes well with this.


violetforthemoment said...

Quite taken aback by the news about Borough Market. I don't go there often but there's a probation training centre nearby, so when I'm compelled to make a 1 1/2 hour journey to learn depressing things about sex offenders and the like, getting yummy things from the market and a de gustibus lunch makes it all worthwhile. I love the gorgeous old-fashioned-ness of it - the kind of thing I rolled my eyes about when I saw it back home but that I love when I find it in London. I hope the plans don't go ahead.

Jeanne said...

Thanks for the heads-up on this - I had no idea. How does London always manage to do its best to screw up it's quirky, historic areas?? I hope to post about this on my blog too.

As for the Caledonian Cream - OMG! Sounds divine!

GreatSheElephant said...

Just insane, isn't it. I've signed the petition.

btw, given that we live in the same neck of the woods, do you fancy coffee sometime? My email address is on my profile.

charlotte said...

I adored A Complicated Kindness - it was one of my favourite reads of last year. I am completely excited by the idea of the Caledonian Cream. I think I will be serving it up at my next dinner party (I think Jamie Oliver has a lovely shortbread biscuit recipe, so I could combine the two. Mmmmm.)

Anonymous said...

hello there thanks for your grat post, as usual ((o: