Saturday, 6 February 2016

Youth

I went to the pictures this week, to a matinee performance; it seemed a good way to deal with the miserable weather that we have been sunk in for what feels like months. What an indulgence it feels to be sitting in a darkened cinema in the daylight hours! The film was, 'Youth' by the Italian director Paolo Sorrentino. I have always been a soft touch for Italian films and although all the main characters in this production were American and British the underlying quality of the film remained essentially Italian. 
The story is of two long-term friends visiting a Swiss sanatorium for a health check and reviewing their lives, talking of what they remember and what they have already forgotten. It is a quiet, reflective film, a piece of work in a minor key. There are some beautiful images, artfully arranged; those in a steam room looking like a de la Tour painting and, viewed on a large screen, a sequence in a flooded St Mark's Square that was simply stunning.
Jane Fonda puts in a cameo performance with a fine show of vitriol followed by regret.
It's a very gentle film overall and rather sad, which seems to be the flavour of things at the moment.  Donna Baker said of my book choice, "is that all there is?" and she could well have the same comment to make about this film. But I enjoyed it.
There are few examples of youth in the film, but one is the New Yorker, Paul Dano, currently receiving a lot of attention for his portrayal of Pierre in the BBC production of 'War and Peace' which comes to an end tomorrow night. I haven't read the book for many years but this production is tempting me to do so. 

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Too many books?

This is the time of year for sitting by the fire and reading or sloping off to bed with a novel that can't be put down. I've just finished reading Anne Tyler's 'A Spool of Blue Thread'.
I can't recommend it highly enough and I'm joining Diane at bibliophile by the sea to link the opening sentences just so that I can spread the word!


Late one July evening in 1994, Red and Abby Whitshank had a phone call from their son Denny. They were getting ready for bed at the time. Abby was standing at the bureau in her slip, drawing hairpins one by one from her scattery sand-colored topknot.

Why do I like it so much? You can tell from the opening sentence that the writing style is straightforward and that the characters are 'ordinary folk'.  Her people are real, their foibles and flaws are displayed but not judged, they are people with whom it is easy to identify. The structure of the novel is clever, it isn't linear, so that only when we are well into the story do we get information that gives insight into the actions of various family members. There is no pat, 'happy-ever-after' ending and  although I've now started on another book I am still living with the Whitshank family and mulling over their lives.
If you have read this book I would love to know what you thought of it.
Our book shelves are overloaded, some of them are sagging rather under the weight!
Books are scattered all about the house. In the dining room china has been ousted from the china cupboard and filled with books.
We are in a reading group and this results in sometimes reading books that we positively dislike. It's easy to pass those books on to the library or put them into a redundant telephone box that acts as a book swap. But it's difficult to part with most of the books that we've read. We keep promising ourselves a great clear-out but it hasn't happened yet!

Friday, 29 January 2016

Skywatch under glass

We had afternoon tea under glass yesterday inside one of those fabulous structures that the Victorians built to shelter their precious plants. From the height of this one  I imagine that it was built as a palm house.


We came here after the memorial service for our sports-mad cousin held in the nearby church - a small and charming country building but bone cold. We were far warmer in the palm house!
His cricket bat and cap had been set out in the church.
The grandchildren's flowers displayed another of his enthusiasms, his Jaguar car.
On the back of the order of service card there was a childhood photo that made us smile; regulation school mackintosh, cap and a home-knitted scarf.  The photo that had been stuck on his cap is of his Uncle Harry who played rugby league for Great Britain. The occasion was Harry's benefit match at the end of his playing career.
 
Michael was his biggest fan.


Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Old photos

Bloggers have recently been posting pictures of themselves as children. My photos are small, battered affairs, some of them now a rather ancient brownish colour. I can remember my father developing them in the kitchen sink! My elder brother is due to go on holiday next month to celebrate his birthday and I sent him this image of us on holiday in Cornwall. He's the character in the sunglasses. Some style!!
I'm paddling sedately with the skirt of my dress held clear of the water. The two Stuart's are being obliging and posing but I am obviously having none of it. Awkward, moi? 
St Michael's Mount is in the background, somewhere that I've returned to many times since.
Here I am with my parents a few years later on another Cornish holiday. I've got a large umbrella across my lap. That's summer in Blighty for you folks! I can recall my mother's dress exactly, a red polka dot with white trimmings.
But we've been looking through our old photos for a sad reason, the unexpected death of my husband's younger cousin. The funeral is tomorrow and we are taking a selection of photos that might be of interest to his sons and grandchildren.  This photo shows three young cousins at the seaside. We were all war babies. I think it's 1945 somewhere on the Yorkshire coast, you can see a man in soldiers uniform in the background. There was probably a roll of barbed wire strung along the sea shore because the children don't look as though they intend to go swimming. Himself is the child with brown hair and the cousin that we mourn sits beside his mother to the left of the photo.
It was always expected that you wear black to a funeral and I still continue to do so unless there is a specific request to wear bright colours. But formalities have broken down these days and people seem to wear whatever they like to any occasion. Generally I think that is a good thing but, for me a black outfit feels like a mark of respect. Have customs changed where you live?
In the evening we watched a programme to mark National Holocaust Day and it was as heart-rending as always to hear the testimonies of survivors and listen to such beautiful music. I am always grateful that our family survived intact, father and uncles all returning safely home.  

Thursday, 7 January 2016

In the pink!

I've always loved the colour pink but my wardrobe is primarily a range of black, grey and white. This coat came in a very plain box at Christmas and I was expecting something equally plain to be inside. How exciting to lift the lid and find this joyful colour, described on the coat label as, 'bubblegum.' It's the shade of pink that used to be called, 'Italian' and before that, 'Shocking' after the French couturier, Elsa Schiaparelli. I used to wear her perfume, also called 'Shocking.' I remember it's packaging in a pink box with gold edged trim and I was sorry when I could no longer buy it. Elsa was an Italian working in Paris between the wars, a rival of Coco Chanel. My new coat was made in Italy, which, since it is Elsa's colour, seems rather fitting.
I've got a fine cashmere scarf that I've had for a while and wear almost daily throughout the winter.  Look how close the colours are. My daughters are SO good at shopping and choosing gifts for me!
Linking up with a well-styled life.

Friday, 1 January 2016

What we ate.

Well, the first thing to state is that we ate far too much rich food. Not that I'm complaining, for a short while it's great to be utterly indulgent! I made three cold desserts that were gradually demolished over four holiday days, with six full-time eaters and friends coming to join us.
A hamper arrived on Christmas Eve. Have I told you how much I love hampers? They have all the excitement of putting your hand in a bran tub and feeling about for treasure! You know there are going to be some tasty goodies inside but you don't know exactly what you will find.
 This year's hamper came from Harvey Nick's and was a stylish affair in black wicker. We delved about in the wrapping and discovered all sorts of tasty things. (Absolute favourite is their brandy butter!)
There was a ridiculous black taxi tree decoration on the top layer that went straight onto the tree.
The tree comes in from the garden every year and has ever fewer needles on it's branches. It looks rather forlorn until the decorations are in place.
These are the cold desserts that I made.
Cassata alla Siciliana 
3 eggs
3oz sugar
rind of a lemon
half teaspoon vanilla essence.  Whisk all together until thick then add
3oz sifted flour. Put in a lined and greased 2pint loaf tin.  
Bake for about half an hour at gas mark 5.

Filling and icing.
1lb Ricotta cheese
4oz castor sugar.    Beat together until light. Add
2 tablespoons Cointreau or similar. Divide into two portions. Keep a slightly larger amount for the icing and to this add
2oz grated chocolate
2oz chopped crystalized orange peel
1 tablespoon chopped pistachio nuts.

When the cake has cooled cut it horizontally into three layers and sprinkle the bottom and middle layers with another couple of tablespoons of Cointreau. Spread the filling on the bottom and middle layers of cake, put on the top layer and chill. Spread the remaining portion of sugar/cheese mix over the cake and decorate as desired. I used white chocolate stars. The photos show less than half the remaining cake, rather clumsily cut - it should show quite distinct layers of filling and cake. 
It tastes good! 

This torte is such a great recipe, easy to make, freezes well and is so rich that a little goes a long way. Eight of us ate it on Boxing Day and there was plenty left over for the following day.

Truffle Torte
3oz  crushedAmarette biscuits spread over the base of a 9inch cake tin that has been greased and lined with a circle of paper.
1lb melted chocolate
5 tablespoons liquid glucose
5 tablespoons rum mixed together and slightly cooled. Add
1pint lightly whipped double cream. Blend all together well and pour into the tin. Cover with cling film and chill. (Or if making well in advance of eating then freeze.)
Invert onto a serving plate and dust with cocoa powder.
 
I decorated with rum truffles and sprinkled on some edible gold dust that came in my Christmas stocking.
Rum Truffles
5fl oz thick double cream
1oz unsalted butter
2 tablespoons rum heated together in a saucepan to simmering point. Add
5oz  grated dark chocolate and blend everything together until smooth. Mix in
1 tablespoon Greek yogurt and pour the liquid into a bowl. Cover with cling film and refrigerate  to thicken.
Roll into small balls and decorate as desired with dipped chocolate, toasted almonds, chopped ginger or rolled in cocoa powder. Like the torte, they freeze well.

In contrast to the torte this cheesecake is refreshingly light and fresh tasting.
Lemon Cheesecake
4 oz crushed digestive biscuits mixed with
2oz melted butter and pressed into the base of an oiled 8inch loose-bottomed cake tin.
Filling
12oz cottage cheese
2 oz sugar
2 egg yolks blended together with the
rind and juice of a lemon.
Half an ounce of powdered gelatine melted into three tablespoons of water and
5 fluid oz lightly whipped double cream added to the mixture and blended in. Pour onto the biscuit base and chill.

If your New Year resolution is to diet then I apologise for posting these recipes!

Monday, 21 December 2015

Last-minute Christmas cake

In the spring I made a load of marmalade from my homegrown lemons. I didn't chop the peel very finely and the man wot I live with was not impressed. He's the marmalade eater and he hasn't eaten the stuff. What to do? Delia Smith's Christmas book has a last-minute Christmas mincemeat cake. Well, I've made my mincemeat and know from experience that it will disappear quickly enough over the holiday period so why not substitute marmalade instead? This is such a quick and easy recipe.

450g marmalade
225g sifted flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
150g dark brown sugar
150g softened butter
175g mixed dried fruit, (I added some dried cranberries for a bit of colour.)
50g walnuts
3 eggs.

Mix all the ingredients together thoroughly and pour into a 20cm cake tin that has been lined with greaseproof paper. Bake 1 hour 20 minutes approx at gas mark 3. leave to cool in the tin before turning out.
I added some blanched almonds and marzipan stars to the surface before cooking.
I should have kept it in the oven for a little while longer because as it cooled the centre dropped slightly. How annoying - I hope it will be okay when it's cut!