Wednesday, February 07, 2007

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: " noi non potemo aver perfetta vita senza amici" Dante Algihieri
which loosely translated means : "A perfect life needs friends"


Always on the lookout for a new crime author – new to me I should say, I spotted this in the HLSI library and pounced on it with glee. The Messengers of Death is by Pierre Magnan and is translated from the French by Patricia Clancy. I’ve read little French detective/crime fiction, so this was an ideal opportunity to try a novel by one of France’s most popular authors. M. Magnan is from Provence and this book is set there, in the department of Haut Provence to be exact. It is a convoluted tale of murder, greed and suspense within the closely knit communities of this stark mountain region. The book begins with a retired postman Emile Pencenat, busy in the local cemetery where he is designing and building his own tomb. He notices an envelope addressed to Mlle Véronique Champourcieux has been placed in the disused postbox on the cemetery gate, and decides it is his duty to buy a stamp and post it properly. To local consternation, the body of Mlle Véronique is discovered not long afterwards pinned to her piano by a bayonet attached to an antique rifle. After several further bizarre deaths in the locality, retired detective Commissaire Laviolette is persuaded to investigate. He uncovers a dark tale of avarice and vengeance stretching back over 100 years.

The style of writing reminded me of the novels of Marcel Pagnol – ‘Jean de Florette’ and ‘Manon des Sources’ - though maybe that was just because they too are set in the peasant communities of Provence. I did enjoy Magnan’s evocative descriptions of the countryside, the dark brooding forests, the mountains and the extremes of weather in the region, with violent storms, baking heat and freezing fogs, which gave a strong sense of place. However I didn’t really engage with the characters, and found the plot tortuously convoluted. Apparently this is the latest of his crime novels, so maybe I will try one of his earlier ones before deciding he is not going on my must read list.


Remind me not to travel with British Airways again if I have any reasonable choice – that is assuming the Save Our Environment fanatics will let us continue flying anywhere anyway.

British Airways are changing their baggage limit policies, and changing them in such a way it will make the whole business of travel more difficult and complicated for me and thousands of other potential customers. If I travel by BA World Traveller class (Economy/Steerage to you and me) I will now be allowed to check in ONE piece of luggage weighing 23kg (51lbs). I will also be allowed ONE item of sporting equipment (skis, snowboard, bag of golf clubs etc). If I take TWO items of luggage to check in, I will be charged excess baggage on the second item even if the total weight of the two pieces comes to less than 23kg. For example, If I go to Edinburgh for a long weekend – which I am doing later this month – and I take two smaller bags each weighing 8kg, I will be charged £30 excess on one bag on the journey to Edinburgh, and £30 on the return journey – a total of £60 to add to the airfare, and on a long haul flight the cost is exhorbitant.

Why, I hear you ask, don’t you just take one big bag? Well, I am not as able as I once was, and it is easier for me to pull two lighter bags on and off tubes and buses, wheel them around in the airport, and remove them from the luggage carrousel than one large heavy bag. I know I am not alone, there must be hundreds of disabled or elderly passengers who are just like me, why is British Airways going to penalise us in this way? What advantage does it give them? My daughter and friends, all fit, young twenty-somethings flew off to Geneva last week to go ski-ing, each had a bag or rucksack and either skis/snowboard. Under the new BA policy they won’t be penalised for having two items. This strikes me as blatant discrimination against the aged and infirm, and I think it stinks.

You have been warned.

At the weekend my DH defrosted the freezer in our cellar (a job I loathe but it does have to be done every 6 months or so) and I found a frozen Gressingham duck
which I had bought on special offer a month or so ago. So for dinner on Sunday it was roast duck, but roast duck with a difference. Ever so easy to do, it fed four generously and there was enough meat left for some rather exotic sandwiches the next day. BTW,
If you have a good Chinese supermarket nearby you can buy a jar of Kung Pao sauce and use that instead of making the basting sauce.


1 medium/large duck
4 fat cloves garlic
Large piece of ginger, peeled
2 star anise

½ large stick cinnamon
2 tablespoons soy sauce

2 tablespoons Shaoshing wine (or you can use dry sherry)
Salt and Pepper

Basting sauce:
2 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons chilli sauce
1½ tablespoons rice vinegar
1½ tablespoons sugar
3 teaspoons cornflour

5 tablespoons water.

Remove any giblets from inside the duck, and cut away excess fat from inside the body
cavity. Put the duck in a large colander or sieve, pour a kettleful of boiling water over it, turning the duck so that the boiling water reaches every bit of skin, and then pat it dry. Prick the skin all over with a skewer and rub with salt and pepper (you could use Chinese Five Spice seasoning if you have some instead of S&P).

Put the garlic, ginger, soy sauce and wine together into a blender and whiz into a coarse paste. Rub the paste over the inside of the duck, place the star anise and the cinnamon stick into the body cavity, secure the opening with a skewer.
Rub the remaining garlic paste all over the duck and leave to marinate for at least one hour.

Make the basting sauce by whisking all the ingredients together in a small saucepan, and heat gently until it thickens, stirring all the time.

Preheat oven to 180°C.

Place the duck on a wire rack in a roasting pan, and pour 1-2 cups of water into the pan.
Bake in the oven for 30minutes, then use a pastry brush to baste the bird bake for another 30
minutes; using two wooden spoons turn the duck over and baste again, continue baking for another 20-30 minutes.
Put the duck on a platter and leave to cool for a
few minutes before serving.

This is great with fried rice, or plain steamed rice, and stir-fried pak choi which can be tossed in some oyster sauce or finely sliced garlic.

No comments: