Friday, March 12, 2010


*Psittacula krameri


Small Wars by Sadie Jones is one of those books which you find yourself thinking about long after you've finished reading it. It is her second novel, her first -The Outcast - won the Costa 1st Novel Award in 2008, but I think that this is by far the better book.
Small Wars is set in Cyprus and England in the mid-1950s, it is both the story of a marriage, and of British foreign policy. Major Hal Treherne  has been posted to the British Colony of Cyprus in during the EOKA Emergency. Hal is a decent man, the only child of a family with a long military history, and after six years  stationed in Germany where there was no action to speak of, he is looking forward to doing the soldiering job for which he has been trained.  He is joined in Cyprus by his wife Clara and their two little daughters. Hal and Clara have a good marriage, they are very much in love, but living in the army base near Limassol they soon find that they are leading parallel lives and this 'small' war strains their marriage almost to breaking point. 
Hal finds he is being expected to ignore incidents of torture, rape and murder by army personnel, and his Colonel, who is a friend of his father, more or less tells him that he must set aside his integrity in the interests of military pragmatism. Suddenly everything he has ever believed in, the army, his country, his honour, his marriage, seems to be crumbling away. For the first time in their marriage Hal and Clara seem unable to communicate their feelings to one another and become more and more distant; she is fearful for her daughters and unable to understand why Hal has become so hard and taciturn, and he cannot begin to express to her the depths of his disillusionment. 
I cannot tell you more about what happens without spoiling the book for those who want to read it, but the ending is both inevitable and yet unexpected.

Since World War Two Britain has been involved in any number of 'small' wars, they are often in places where the job of the army is as much to win 'hearts and minds'  as it is to fight an enemy, and often the 'enemy' is the population of the country they are in. Afghanistan is a case in point, and the issues of how the military should to deal with 'insurgents' are very much the same now as they were for Hal in Cyprus in 1956.

Rated 4*


What in the world was Lori Mason thinking of when she allowed her husband, maverick chef/restauranteur Daniel Angerer to make cheese using her breast milk and then serve it to his customers?
Yuck, yuck, yuck! Human breast milk is for babies, not for over-sophisticated Manhattanites to munch on whilst sipping a glass of Reisling. Presumably Mr Angerer and Ms Mason have an infant otherwise she would not be lactating, so the poor babe must be losing out as some of the milk he/she could be having is being syphoned off (pardon the expression) so that dad can make cheese with it.  Apparently the New York Health Department are not happy about this and are taking steps to prevent this breast milk cheese being made, kept or served at the Klee Brasserie.
Years ago I took my kids to a farm in the Auvergne to see St. Nectaire cheese being made  (the expedition triggered a major family row about 'elf an safety, and EU farming subsidies, but that's another story) and I remember being surprised how much milk is required to make quite a small amount of cheese. With that in mind, Ms Mason would have to be 'milked' several times a day to get the liquid volumes required. I have only two words for her: Silly cow.


Cauliflower is not top of my list of favourite vegetables, it can be so bland and wishy-washy , especially if it has been over cooked. Over the last few years I have learned to appreciate it more, mainly because I have discovered some delicious recipes, and this is one I came across recently. It is from the Ottolenghi cookbook, though I have tweeked it a little. If you like spicy food, and like pakoras, you'll love these fritters.


Serves 4
350g cauliflower  
120g plain flour 
3 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley 
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped 
2 shallots finely chopped 
4 large eggs 
1.5 teaspoons ground cumin 
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon 
0.5 teaspoon ground turmeric 
1.5 teaspoons salt 
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
500ml sunflower oil for frying

First, prepare the batter by mixing the flour, chopped parsley, garlic and shallots together with the spices, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Add the eggs and use a wooden spoon to mix everything together and then beat the mix into a thick batter - make sure that all the flour and spices are well mixed in and that there are no pockets of dry ingredients.

Prepare the cauliflower by cutting off all leaves and the thick central stalk,and then divide it into small florets.  Put the florets into a steaming basket and steam over boiling water for about 20 minutes until very soft. (You can cook the cauliflower in boiling water if you wish but make sure you drain it really well)
Add the warm cauliflower florets to the batter mixture, and mix everything together breaking the florets down as you do so.

Put the sunflower oil into a large frying pan - it should be about 1.5cms deep - and when it is very hot carefully spoon quite large portions of the fritter mixture into the oil, approx 3 tablespoons per fritter. Make sure they are spaced well apart. I find that you can fry four fritters in the pan at the same time. Fry them for about 3-4 minutes each side, take care not to let them burn, if the oil is getting too hot, adjust the heat.
Use a fish slice or slotted spoon to remove them from the pan and drain them on crumpled kitchen paper to remove excess oil.

They are great tucked into pitta bread, with some tomato and cucumber, or served with a dollop of yoghurt or chutney.


Bybee said...

That's really gross about the breast milk! Ewwwww....

As always, your recipe is sublime. I love cauliflower so much.

Anonymous said...

Do you think there is a large demand for that cheese? Yuk!

herschelian said...

Hi Bybee - good to hear from you, do give those fritters a try, they are really tasty!

Anon - well I certainly wouldn't order it!!!

Anonymous said...

IS VERY GOOD..............................

Carolyn said...

I found your blog by chance (not even blog hunting) - and I just love your rantings! What wonderful information about the books you read and some inspirational recipes. Well done! Love it!

herschelian said...

Carolyn - welcome, I just moyesed over to your blog page - love the photo - the place looks idyllic, I presume you're in Tasmania?

caroline said...

I found your blog when looking for an ottolenghi recipe - the one for green beans,hazelnuts and orange zest - which you published a while ago. Left my recipe book behind after a recent holiday in the Cape and am too mean to buy a copy for London. Loved your blog as I am a great reader and so far am in total agreement with your rants! I look forward to some more reads and rants.

Anonymous said...

Sure do miss reading your posts! Have you decided to stop blogging? Please let us know! (Hope you will continue.)