I finished the Costa first novel award book. Not an easy read.

In my previous post I said that the writing seemed to have become better and I was beginning to enjoy it. Then, suddenly, it was back to forcing myself to read. The similes began to jump out at me again.

(One of the advantages of reading a Kindle version – despite my love of real books – apart from taking no space in our small flat, is that some analysis is easy. The word ‘like’, the majority as part of a simile, occurs no fewer that 600 times. I’m surprised that none of the editors picked that up.)

The author seems to have had difficulty writing some chapters. Apart from the early chapters, the most obvious is when she introduces S&M. At the time I couldn’t see why it had been introduced but that becomes clear as you approach the end, though I’m still not convinced it was necessary.

Slavery

What I did like is that I learned quite a bit about slavery and that the ending was hidden well, at least from me. However, parts of the story were not believable for me, eg the court scenes.

Maybe my first novella/novel will not sound believable (if I ever finish it); though it’s fictional, most of it did happen, though not quite in the way I relate it.

Mermaid and bear

It was a relief to escape into my current reading, also a first novel, by a blogger I’ve followed for quite a while: Ailish Sinclair. I’ve got only about half way into it but already I can say that it has all the charm and magic of a good children’s story, wrapped up (so far) in an adult fairy tale.

I’ve always enjoyed her posts having learned a lot from them, which I why I bought her novel. Also the promise of some real history of witches, which I’ve yet to get to. Another draw was that she is/was a ballet dancer. I’ve been a lover of ballet since I was seven years old and some time ago I wrote a short story around a visit to Covent Garden and another visit there plays an important part in my unfinished novella/novel.

Ailish’s blog posts, especially about stone circles and castles, determined me to spend some of last summer in Aberdeenshire. It has been no surprise to find stone circles occurring in the book, momentous events happening within them (I don’t want to give too much away). Unfortunately, ill health prevented my visit. Maybe next summer.

A big surprise is that, halfway through the story I’ve been confronted with how I thought it would end. So I’m intrigued by where it will go now.

So, if you want a relaxing read, with all the ups and downs of a Catherine Cookson tale, this might be a book for you. But I’m only half way through so who knows what is in store.

Ailish’s novel is called The Mermaid and the Bear, published by GWL Publishing and available on Amazon and in some book shops.

Boxing Day was restful: a superb walk up to the Chevin Inn for lunch. Time in the afternoon to watch again some of the great dancing in ‘A Christmas Carol’ at the New Bradford Playhouse by watching my video clips (and later to put some more pictures and video clips up on the net – see below – as promised on the village blog which I edit).

We’ve called in the Chevin many times for a drink when walking back home from Otley Chevin but have never eaten there (though we quite often ate at sister pub The Stansfield Arms when we lived close to it). The food was good – wild mushrooms and gammon steak for Petronela, chicken liver parfait and braised lamb shoulder for me. The young people serving were very pleasant and efficient, and the Timothy Taylor’s Landlord was an excellent accompaniment. All in all a good experience. (more…)

First course: Stephane’s prawns flamed in Pernod were wonderful. The only thing I can ‘fault’ is you need asbestos fingers to eat them. But worth it. Washed down with a glass of cold, crisp ‘good French white’. They had been marinated for about 36 hours in the garlic, ginger and olive oil, with a pinch of cayenne.

The marinated prawns after 2-3 minutes a side on a very hot iron pan

The marinated prawns after 2-3 minutes a side on a very hot iron pan

This was Petronela's best effort to capture the 5 second event; I didn't - as she thought was certain - burn the house down

This was Petronela’s best effort to capture the 5 second event; I didn’t – as she thought was certain – burn the house down. Maybe the blur adds the right atmosphere

Main course: The decision to have a brioche dough for the ‘filet de boeuf en croute‘ was the right one – I think it’s much better then the usual puff pastry. I didn’t quite get what I was aiming for – the outside slices ‘a point‘ and the inside ‘bleu‘ (Petronela would have ‘passed’ at the sight of blood) – lack of practice I think (see below). The effort put into a real ‘sauce brune‘ is worth it: you just had to lift the lid of the saucepan, even when cold, let alone taste it, to know why. This washed down with a bottle of Languedoc; I did consider a Fleurie but decided a Burgundy was a bit robust for filet steak. (Just had a thought, I could have taken out a couple of slices and given them a minute or two on the griddle before re-assembling and then baked the whole thing for ‘bleu‘; didn’t think of it at the time).

A touch overdone (lack of practice) but still impressive I think

A touch overdone (lack of practice) but still impressive I think

Again, anxious to avoid putting my wife off her dinner completely with a sight of blood, a bit overdone for my taste

Again, anxious to avoid putting my wife off her dinner completely with a sight of blood, a bit overdone for my taste, though the inside slices were still nicely pink. The duxelle stuffing turned out wonderfully despite the lack of foie gras

3rd course: The pilgrim’s timbale was delicious, though not as pretty as I would have liked because the apricot glaze had to be omitted to satisfy Petronela’s aversion to fruit (so I just put my kirsch-poached apricots around with a few physalis). As I said before, far too much for us but it will keep for New Year’s Eve, when we’ll have open house for the day (Petronela’s birthday) so I’ll dress it up for that. By the way, the name – Le Pelerin en Timbale – comes from the lack of fridge etc so the pilgrims carried nuts and fruit to sustain them.

Delicious! But it'll be made prettier for New Year's Eve

Delicious! But it’ll be made prettier for New Year’s Eve

Practice

35 years ago, when I cooked such meals regularly, it would have been much easier. It’s the little things which really make it an effort. One example: making the classic ‘custard’ (creme anglais) with egg yolks, sugar and milk. When I made it regularly it was a doddle, taking just a few minutes. Through lack of practice I was anxious to avoid curdling the custard so had it on a very low heat; it took ages.

Similarly, well-practised I could have produced a piece of meat with outside ‘a point‘ and inside ‘bleu‘ without a second thought. But way back I had an Aga, which beat a modern fan oven hands down. And, of course, I still have a piece of the wonderful filet in the freezer so, without the croute, I’ll have my bit ‘bleu‘ and P’s ‘a point‘ without a problem. But the meat’s so good I might make myself a tatare.

And this point is brought home to me each time I want to produce something to post on my photo blog.

The point about practice was also brought home by my evening tv viewing: the Marlinsky Theatre of St. Petersburg ballet performing Swan Lake, with the almost incredible dancing of prima ballerina Ulyana Lopatkina in the principal role(s) – in fact of the whole corps de ballet – and the little explanations of technique given by our own Darcey Bussel. Blown away by the performance I didn’t get to doing this postscript last evening as I originally intended.

Now that my cooking marathon is over, I’ll get back to posting about other things which thrill, irritate or fascinate me – like how does a culture which can produce something as beautiful as what I saw last evening also produce something as ugly as so much of Communism?

50th post: I was surprised to be informed by WordPress that yesterday’s post was Grumpytyke’s 50th – in about 6 months; not a lot by the standards of some of you but I’m quite impressed with myself. Rest day today; we’re going to one of our local pubs for lunch.