Monday, 31 March 2008

Back from London

I've been back from London for a few hours but I needed two naps to recover! My first port of call was the book shop to get a signed copy of Donna Leon's latest detective novel. It was a revelation and I will definitely go back. I arrived about 10 minutes before the signing was to start and decided to explore. On my way from floor to floor, I picked up two books, one that I had heard about somewhere and written about in my notebook (The Night Train to Lisbon) and the other a mystery, originally written in French and taking place at the turn of the century (19th to 20th that is). I can't remember its name. As I was wandering around, I started questioning my decision to come for this book signing. Why did I need an expensive hard cover book signed by the author? Would it really make any difference to my mother? So, by the time I had finished my travels, I had talked myself out of buying the book.

Then I came upon Donna Leon, down on the first floor. All the fans had been and gone and she was sitting by herself, other than two shop employees and her minder from the publishing company. Somehow, we started talking and she asked me what I was going to buy. As soon as she saw The Night Train to Lisbon, she apologized to one of the book store employees, and told me not to read it because it was so boring. As a group, we talked a bit about the author and whether or not he wrote in German or French. From there she went on to suggest some writers I might like. Finally, as an afterthought, I told her how much I enjoyed the descriptions of food in her novels. I have a recipe book coming out next year, she declared and then questioned the girl from the publishing company as to whether or not they were going to publish it. If not she said, it would be out in German or French, so that would be fine for me! I then went off and found a book by one of the authors she had suggested. The other author is out of print and so when I came home, I ordered one on Amazon. In the end I did buy a copy of the book to remind me of our conversation.

My next stop was to be the bakery. I didn't want to go by underground so I decided to walk. It wasn't a sunny day but it was warm. I walked and walked and walked and 40 minutes later I accidentally came across Elizabeth Street, home of my bakery. I'm not sure what I was expecting but it wasn't what I found. This bakery was rather like a very expensive dress shop which takes minimalism to the extreme. (I suppose they don't need many dresses since they're all so expensive and the customer wants to feel that they have something exclusive!) There were a few items on display in the window, but not the abundance one would expect from a bakery, trying to entice customers through the door. It was the same inside. I was met on entrance by a young woman who asked if she could help me so I told her about the biscuits I wanted, and then I choose a half loaf of sour dough bread (sold by the kilo). I took a quick look around but there was nothing that caught my interest. This is strange for a bakery! Next a young man came out from the back and sat down in front of a ledger. She told him what I had bought, he wrote down the figures and took my money. I said thank you and good bye and the young woman opened the door for me. I couldn't help but wonder if it was a front for something else but the bread is just too good for that! I don't think I'll be going back.
This was sent to me today by a friend who is now teaching in Japan. I thought it might be of interest.

Home from India

I always think how I can share my trips with friends and family. Seeing the captivating colors and characters compels me to write. India is truly color-filled. And more. It’s like traveling through the pages of the Bible, only with electricity - intermittent as it is. A dust devil of traffic coming and going, with a ceaseless cacophony of horns to fill any gaps tells it all.
After a few hours on the road, my urge to gasp at an on-coming semi, whilst passing a teetering camel cart, dodging a meandering sacred cow, circumventing a herd of goats, and avoiding tsunami of motor cycles and was transformed to a casual laugh. Eventually my nervous giggles found the company of a good, steady grin. Except around the numerous beggars.

The sheer direness of these conditions is tearful. No Western solution fits, though we are moved to try. It is humbling to feel such dignity and yet such distress. We took to feeding as many as we could, which delighted most with a bright smile. Others insisted on money. There are lots of scams and some beggars can behave badly. There is
no way to prepare for this calamity.

But many of the needy are resourceful. Such as the 7 year old who charcoaled a mustache over his lip while his little sister, tied to a strand of yarn, performed a back flip like a circus monkey on the median. The traffic is bungled at these intersections and makes for a captivating performance and enough time to pass on a few grateful rupees.
There are faded affects of the British rule along side ancient traditions, tea time being the most obvious bustle in the congested streets about mid day. And every village has a cricket pitch rotating patch-clad players to the fascination of passing shepherds.

Holi is the Easter time holiday of recklessly splashing colors on mates and strangers. We broke curfew to join the ruckus and discover how Easter eggs experience the day. For days following our hands, hair, and shoes were stained the colors of jelly beans.
There are many religions in India. Temples, shrines, palaces, forts and deserted cities testify to a diversity of ideas over the centuries. Contrasts comprise the balance of daily ritual. Head coverings require a code to understand what sect is represented. Wound, tailed, capped or wrapped is part of the male regime.
Women wear head coverings similar to each other, brightly attired in both city and field. Whether harvesting grain, patting dung huts, or bathing in the Ganges, I saw beautiful saris worn. There are other styles of clothing for other religions too. I wonder how fashion would look in America if the Catholics, Jews, Baptists were to define their own garb. Who would get dibs on blue jeans?

I have returned from the land of turmeric-smelling camels and inlaid marble palaces; of fresh veg and spoiled water; of roadside bathing and curb side relieving; with Delhi in my belly and a flying carpet in my carry-on. Thank God and Allah and Shiva, et al.

Picts to follow. She promises with best of intentions…

Barbara Bertram

Off to London! If I'm lucky!

Yes, my wonderful two week holiday is allowing me time to go up to London. In fact, I think that I'll go twice. Once today (or tomorrow) and once on Friday. I don't like spending a lot of time up there because it exhausts me quiet quickly. This has always been the case, even before I had cancer. And the exhaustion is not just physical, but mental and emotional as well. So, long ago, I decided to choose one or two things to do and then come home. It's very tempting, especially since it costs so much to go on the train, to do as much as you can but I never find that very satisfying. Today, I'm hoping to go to a book signing (if the man who is going to value my house gets here before 10:30) and then to a French bakery.

First, the book signing! Donna Leon, who writes detective novels set in Venice, is at Hatchards today at 12:30. I have mentioned her writing a few times on this blog, especially in reference to her descriptions of food in Venice. I wouldn't normally go to a book signing. What do I have to say to Donna other than, 'Enjoyed your book'. However, I have difficulty finding birthday presents for my mother and I think that she would like a signed copy of Leon's latest.

The bakery is for me. I have been reading a cook book called 'Paris Sweets' by Dorie Greenspan. I recommend it if you enjoy baking pastries and desserts, or if you just enjoy reading cook books. This really is my kind of cook book - great recipes and a narrative that carries you through the pages. The very first recipe is for a biscuit called 'punition' (punishments)adapted from Boulangerie Poilâne. There is a Poilâne bakery in London I have discovered and I want to go and sample their wares!

So, here I sit waiting for the valuer and hoping that he shows up within the next hour! I need to catch the 11:23 at the latest in order to get there on time!

Sunday, 30 March 2008

More on the stew!

I was asked if the stew turned out well. Yes it did. I found some frozen turkey broth and bits of turkey in the freezer when I defrosted it. So it became the basis for the stew.

Defrosted Fridge Stew:

1 to 1 1/2 cups of chicken/turkey broth and bits of meat
2 potatoes, peeled and cut into cubes
1 sweet potato, peeled and cut into cubes
1 small can of tomatoes
1 onion, finely chopped
1 leak
2-3 cloves of garlic
Make sure liquids cover the meat and vegetables and so add water if you don't have enough broth
salt, pepper and whatever other seasonings you like to taste

1. Peel and chop onion and then fry on low heat in butter (with a bit of olive oil to stop butter from burning. Add chopped garlic.

2. Slice leak into 1/2 inch pieces (make sure the leak is clean) and fry with onion and garlic.

3. Add cubed potatoes and sweat potato and continue to fry for 2 to 3 minutes.

4. Add liquids and seasonings.

5. Simmer till vegetables are cooked.

Enough for 2 and a bit left over for the next day's lunch.

Saturday, 29 March 2008

Finished the fridge and onto cooking!

I'm still on the subject of defrosting (though thank goodness that is finished!) and cooking the items I took out of the fridge and freezer along with other items in the kitchen. The muffins turned out well. In fact, I put in a cup and a half of cranberry sauce and they turned out fine. I think they are probably more moist but that's just fine and at least I managed to use up both bottles.

Cliff and I have been waiting for the Oxford-Cambridge Boat race to begin. The coverage started at 4:00 and now it is 5:17 and they are just starting. How typical! I've grown bored and in a moment I'm off to start dinner using my refrigerator treasure. I'm going to make a chicken stew with carrots, a leek, some sweat potato, garlic, onion and anything else that turns up. I'll keep you posted on how it turns out.

Defrosting the Fridge! And cranberry muffins!

I never thought that I would again have a refrigerator that I would have to defrost. I remember having one many years ago as a student but since then I've either bought my own or rented somewhere that had one that didn't need defrosting. Why is this such a problem? I just don't like doing it and keep putting it off. Today I can't put if off another moment since I can no longer get anything past the wall of ice guarding the entrance to my tiny freezer compartment. In fact, I only just managed to get the food in it, out. (As a side bar for those who don't live in the UK, you need to know that there are still many people living with only an under-the-counter refrigerator that takes very little, especially in the freezer.) (Please don't chastise me for saying that when, yes I know, there are many people who live without clean water, let alone a frost-free refrigerator!)

I used to long for a North American refrigerator but I would need a much larger kitchen so for now I cope and for as long as possible ignore the tell tale signs of glaciation. Where is all this leading me? To recipes to use up some of the interesting items I have found lurking at the back. For example there are two partially used jars of cranberry sauce. One is definitely from this past Christmas. I'm not sure about the other. However, there isn't any mold so I'm going to bake something with them. I remember a recipe for muffins using left over sauce so here it is. It's especially good for the day after Christmas or Thanksgiving when you have so much left over sauce!

Cranberry Muffins

2 cups flour (8oz cups)
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup cranberry sauce
1/4 cup oil
1 cup cranberry sauce
1/4 cup oil
1 egg
1 cup milk

400F (200C) for 20 minutes

1. In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt.

2. Stir in the cranberry sauce. In another bowl, beat the oil and egg slightly.

3. Stir in the milk and pour into the flour mixture. Stir until just moistened.

4. Drop batter into well-buttered muffin tins - about 18 - and bake.

These are best eaten warm!

I have some frozen cranberries as well so I must go off and see what I can do with those.

Friday, 28 March 2008

Eating Brownies

I made the brownies this morning and discovered that I didn't have an 8 inch pan (I had a 9 inch). I used the 9 inch pan and reduced the cooking time but not enough, I think, because they were a little too dry for my taste. The next time I make them, I'll reduce the cooking time further and let you know how they turn out. Tomorrow I'm going to make the Nigella Lawson recipe. If you are interested in them, click on the link.

Thursday, 27 March 2008


I went into my local farm shop today. Have I mentioned the farm shop before? It's on one of the farms that was hit by foot and mouth last summer. I needed some fruit and veggies to last through to the weekend but I also wanted to take 4 banana muffins to Coral, the owner, who had kindly saved me a bunch of over ripe bananas (which of course I used to make the muffins). While I was there, I was asked about American brownies. What were they like? Were they like a chocolate sponge with chocolate chips? Well, no, I said, and promised to make them some for the weekend. I'm not sure why they are so interested. I wonder if they were thinking of selling some.

My favorite brownie recipe is Nigella Lawson's. However, it is very expensive to make. So, instead, I'm going to make one out of the Canadian Living Cookbook from years ago. I've never made it before so we will have to wait till tomorrow to find out what it's like!


2 oz of unsweetened chocolate
1/2 cup butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 eggs
1 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

1. In small saucepan over low heat, melt chocolate with butter, remove from heat and add vanilla; set aside.

2. In mixing bowl, beat eggs lightly. Gradually beat in sugar. In separate bowl, combine flour, baking powder and salt; stir into egg mixture. Stir in chocolate mixture, then nuts.

3. Spread in greased 8-inch (2L) square pan. Bake in 350F (180C) oven for about 25 minutes (brownies should appear slightly under-baked in center). cool; front if desired. Makes about 16 squares.


Cliff and I have just come back from our second visit to Othona down on the Dorset coast near Bridport. We first visited last October, and came home knowing that we had to go back. Did I talk about Othona back in October?

Our first encounter with Othona was back in the the early 90's. We were visiting my sister who lived in the Southend area at the time. We decided to go for a Sunday drive out to the Essex coast and ended up visiting a seventh century church, St. Peter's-on-the- Wall. After visiting the chapel, we walked along the beach and came upon the Bradwell Othona. We were invited in for tea and biscuits. I thought then that one day we would make it back there. We didn't but last September when I was looking for a retreat I did come across the Othona in Dorset at Burton Bradstock. If you're wondering, Othona is an open Christian community. At Burton Bradstock, they offer courses and retreats throughout the year. In October we went to the 'Teacher Chill Out' retreat. This last weekend we went to an Easter retreat.

So what's so special about Othona? I imagine that it is different for each person. For me, Othona provides the opportunity to be part of a community. This is so important. I hadn't realized how much I needed to be around people, to share meals, simple tasks, conversation and more. While at Othona, I'm also away from the distractions of life and can do whatever takes my fancy - meditating, reading, walking, writing, craft making. There's also the spiritual side of life and I don't want that to sound like an after thought. It's really the starting point of everything. I have needed to kick start my spiritual life and Othona has provided that initial spark. And finally, it's just a great place to be!

Friday, 7 March 2008

The Novel Continues

I didn't realize how long it had been since I last wrote. Three weeks! I have been continuing the work on my novel so that has been consuming most of my spare time. I've also had major tooth trauma and a cold. So all in all, I've been quite busy.

Today I finished chapter three. It's taken me a lot longer than the first two chapters. Part of the reason might be that it becomes more and more difficult to write a story organically the further into it you get. At least, that is what I've discovered with this one. Mary Jane in Reno says that she saw a writer interviewed who also just goes with the flow on the first 3 chapters and then starts to do some plotting. To facilitate this, I'm off to have lunch with Emma tomorrow to do some brainstorming.

Have I mentioned that my novel is in the romance genre. In the UK they are called Mills and Boon novels, in the US and Canada, Harlequin Romances. I did try to write one of these once before. Though I did manage to come up with some interesting plot lines, I never got further than the second chapter. So, already I am more successful than in the past. I am not necessarily expecting to be published but that would be nice. At the moment, I am simply interested in proving to myself that I can finish a novel. I also want to learn from this novel.