Sunday, 26 July 2015

Grey Doll Boosts Her Criminal Reading via Bitter Lemon Press

Well, I don't usually win competitions but last week I do. Hurray.
I like to read crime fiction from foreign lands (as you may know) and in order to keep an eye on new releases I subscribe to a newsletter from Bitter Lemon Press... an independent publisher which specialises in translated crime fiction and "roman noir" titles.
I entered a quick competition in the last newsletter .... and did win three books of my choice! Thank you, Bitter Lemon Press.

I've picked Entanglement by Polish crime writer Zygmunt Miloszewski (translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones)... his first book (I think) in his crime series featuring State Prosecutor Teodor Szacki.

Hotel Bosphorus, (translated by Ruth Whitehouse) and first in Turkish writer Esmahan Aykol's "Kati Hirschel" mystery novels.

And... Nights of Awe by Finnish writer Harri Nykanen .... the first of his Inspector Ariel Kafka books. (Translated by Kristian London.)

Did you see what I just did there? I take my crime fiction addiction very seriously. If it is a series, I like to start at the beginning. Then I know there's plenty more to come, if it's for me. I'll let you know how I get on with them. But for sure, if you like crime in translation... take a dip in Bitter Lemon Press's catalogue.... it's a tempting box of chocolates for crime fans like I.

Friday, 24 July 2015

Jumping Pink Grasshoppers

Chorthippus parallelus (pink form)
Wildlife is being a bit wild at the moment. At the time I was hosting a fledgling sparrow in the bathroom.... I spotted a pink grasshopper on the granite hedge of the garden. See?

Apparently these are a variation of the Meadow Grasshopper. Though first I wondered if it had some kind of "chameleon" quality because it did blend so well with the pinkish leaves and stems of the surrounding campanula.
Maybe it just knew where to be.

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

The Guest In The Bathroom - Part 2

... All Monday my guest chirps in the bathroom. The weather is full-on Cornish mist but I keep the window wide open (for the parent and the fledgling) whilst worrying about pneumonia in fledglings and such like. I can see that my guest is being fed - a very small clump of bird-feeder seed and several legs that were once attached to a Harvestman litter the box. The guest itself is on the floor again. I put it back in the windowsill box and close the access door to the loft.

But my guest is a magician. After an hour or two, I take a look... I can see no birdie but there is chirping coming from the loft. Heaving a sigh, we remove the access door again. There is a flurry of wings but nothing to be seen in the gloom. Perhaps the adult is coming to feed its chick by the roof space? Hearing loud chirps later in the day, I go into the bathroom again. No baby bird to be seen, not on the floor, not in the box. I look up at the loft hatch and there.... is a gapey yellow beak pointing at me from the dark of the roof space. Chirp.
How did you get up there? Or... are you a fledging sibling? I give up and mop up some of the bird poop and harvestman legs.
As it grows dark I go up to close the window. All is quiet. No birdie to be seen. I guess it is sleeping wherever it is. Tuesday morning - all is the same. No chirps. No bird. Peace and quiet. A sense of "Gone".
I close the loft access and wonder at this last conjuring trick.
Then I mop up and gratefully run a bath.
Bye-Bye Birdie and good luck.

Monday, 20 July 2015

The Guest In The Bathroom

It is the second day since our guest took up residence in the bathroom.

We have had fledgling problems in the past and on Saturday morning... there are chirps behind the bathroom wall where chirps should not be heard. During the course of the day these chirps move upwards and grow louder. On Sunday morning I remove the ceiling trapdoor and cautiously stick my head through the access hole. I can see a yellow, gapey beak pointing at me in the gloom. I slowly lower myself back to the floor, open the window wide... and leave, closing the door behind me. Later in the day, I am indeed cheered by the sight of an adult sparrow flying out of the bathroom window. But the chirping goes on and grows louder. The Old Man thinks the bird is now in the bathroom itself. The day grows dark. I open the door. The fledgling is on the floor, next to the bath. I close the window against the dark (surely Parent Sparrow have gone to bed now?), collect my night dress... and leave.

All night long I suffer guilt about small sparrow in the cold, dark, bathroom corner. I feel sure he have died of cold and hunger. So this morning, as dawn strikes, I am relieved to hear the chirps start up again. I creep into the bathroom. Very small sparrow is in another corner... delicate spatters of poop are growing in number. I open the window wide, creep out again, closing the door and returning to my bed. The next time I look, on my way to breakfast, the baby bird (it has all its feathers but is still very yellow round the beak-corners) is in yet another corner of the room. And I realise that there is nowhere for it to drop down into flight. Flying will mean lift-off from the floor. Doubt if it can manage that. And does the Parent still come to it? A flurry of shocked wings behind me tells me that it does.

The Old Man comes up with a temporary solution. He finds his polystyrene propagating tray with its sawn-off end (don't ask... can't remember why). I put it onto the bathroom's deep windowsill, with a towel covering part of the unsawn-off end (shelter). Next I pick up the outraged fledgling and pop it into its new "nesting box", on the sill and by the open window. I sigh, gather my toothpaste and brush and leave the room again.

It be chirping loudly as I write. But I do wonder when I get a wash.

Friday, 17 July 2015

Animated Goings On: Mrs D's Hair

I have a dreadful feeling that Mrs D will be having some kind of discussion with her Long-Dead Mother soon ..... About hair.

Mrs D's Long-Dead Mother will have views.

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Boxed Set Time: Fortitude

The Old Man and I have just worked our way through the boxed DVD set of "Fortitude: Series 1". (Series 2 is due out in 2016)...

This £25 million budget chiller looked right up my Nordic-Fandom street... Set in the Arctic; murder and mayhem in an isolated town; greed, hints of skulduggery and plenty of gore; big name actors and actresses. What's not to like?
Ah-Hem. Let me just say that viewing the entire series took all of me and The Old Man's ... fortitude. I don't mind stretching the boundaries of my imagination, psycho-chill..and sci-fi tolerance but the final episodes broke us. And set me back greatly in my attempts to build up The Old Man's tolerance of crime thrillers. The bad science enraged The Old Man... and the script and editing enraged me. Oh Dear! I couldn't agree more with poor old (Stanley Tucci's) DCI Morton when he do say towards the end ....
"I hate this place."

Friday, 10 July 2015

Grey Doll Turns From A Life of Crime...To Magic: Jonathan Strange And Mr Norrell

I loved the BBC TV serial adaptation of the novel "Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell" by Susanna Clarke which ended last month. The story is a blend of alternate English history and fantasy with perhaps... an element of satire. The production is a terrific blend of script, performances, visual effects, sets and props... which re-creates the book's world beautifully. And I find this a great relief..... because I am a little tired of visuals produced by over-clocking the CGI in a production so that everyone and everything, including the light, appear to have been been fed through a single smoothing filter.

Not so with this one. So...every hat I own is taken off to director Toby Haynes and adapter Peter Harness. Eddie Marsan's "Mr Norrell" is pitch perfect - all timorous distrust, dull wig and little pot belly. Berti Carvel's "Jonathan Strange" is as dashing and Byronic as you could want. (The whole thing seems to take a nod at the distinctions and conflict between the Augustan Alexander Pope's "Norrell" versus the Romantic Lord Byron's "Jonathan Strange" I think). Most of the performances were really strong so I would if I could not stop here with me glowing praise but......

Anyway, I love it all so much that I have downloaded the hours and hours of the spoken word version of the book from Audible and am plunging into its world of Georgian England alternate history and the battle between Theoretical Magicians and Practical Magicians all over again. A wonderful book, wonderfully written... and a long-time in writing (am I surprised?).

Note: Whilst researching Susanna Clarke, I see that she is the partner of (perhaps under-estimated) British sci-fi writer Colin Greenland, quite a few of whose books sit on my shelf from my sci-fi-reader phase. Well. There you go.

Saturday, 4 July 2015

Mrs D's Hair Expresses Itself

Mrs D have surprised herself with a new hair product which have given her hair a strange new life of its own. She do get enraged by her hair and is obsessed with "product".
Meanwhile I am nursing a headache and staring at the Saturday Pizza dough while it do stare at me....
And The Old Man be hacking and coughing as he have been doing all week.

The Garden is full of Ringlets which is more than I can say for Mrs D's hair.

(With apologies... having some trouble with Chrome and have reloaded today's post....This is a strangely difficult day on my computer... some stars must be crossed.)

Sunday, 28 June 2015

The Saturday Sourdough Pizza

Saturdays, I settle down to make a sourdough pizza for supper.
I use a recipe based on one by Giuseppe Mascoli and Bridget Hugo which I found on the Telegraph site.
This recipe is perhaps not for a sourdough beginner. But if you have the starter and have done some sourdough baking... give it a go. With sourdough you learn that it is wonderfully adaptable in its timing. Not ready to deal with it yet? Bung it in the fridge for a bit..... and so on. You also find that flours vary a lot in their behaviour so... each to their own favourites. With practice you also grow brave and know that you can knead and handle quite wet mixtures, you just have to be patient. Gently working it, or time itself, will bring the dough together. DO NOT panic and throw flour at it. Handling sticky doughs can be helped by oiling the work surface or your hands, even using a very little water to dip your fingers into whilst kneading (not enough to seriously add water to the dough, mind). If I need to use flour in the shaping stages, I flour my hand not the dough. Just remember...patience is a the dough and it gets its act together by itself in a surprising fashion.

My quantities will make enough pizza for two greedy people. It isn't "in the making" for as long as the original recipe which is started the night before. I start mine in the morning and let it rest until its final shaping and proving about an hour before baking. So that's about 7 or 8 hours. But... it isn't perhaps as well-behaved as the original. Well, what do you expect from me!

For the dough you need:
300g  strong flour (I use a mix of approx 280g Italian 00 wheat flour and 20g semolina);
2g salt (the original recipe calls for an equivalent of 10g salt... but we're not into that much salt on account of The Old Man's interesting state of health).
24g sourdough starter;
200g lukewarm water;
6g olive oil;

For Topping Sauce:
No need to cook down a tomato sauce, drowning the dough with sauce would make it too soggy, 2 or 3 tinned plum tomatoes squished, mixed with good dried oregano, seasoned to taste and set to drain in a sieve is all you need. Really.

Toppings: As you like.... a selection of... garlic, capers, stoned olives, sultanas (soaking in water beforehand helps stop them burning), pine kernels, sliced chilli, fresh herbs, anchovies, sliced sweet peppers and so on. Other ideas...soaked dried mushrooms (drained on kitchen paper), cooked squeezed spinach, thin courgette strips made using a potato peeler, thin slices of aubergine, slices of sausage of choice (The Old Man used best Cornish Hogs Pudding this week!). Finally Mozzarella and grated hard cheese such as Parmesan... (being veggie I like to use Old Winchester or the milder, creamier Fosse Way Fleece). And on and on, whatever you fancy dreaming up. Just not all at once. Less is more and simple is good.

So...  The Making:
In the morning put the flour and salt into large bowl. Into a smaller bowl or jug weigh the ridiculously small amount of sourdough starter and add the lukewarm water and the olive oil. Gently mix the liquids together.
Next add the liquid to the flour in stages, mixing with a spatula to bring the mixture together into a wet dough. Knead lightly for a short time (I use my spatula for this and keep the mixture in the bowl). Leave to rest for 15 minutes.
Knead again for 5 minutes. You can be brave and try this on a surface... but do not add flour. Give it a go.. you might be surprised how much it keeps itself together. Return it to the bowl and cover with cling film (or...I use cheap thin shower-caps that come in a pack). Rest for one hour. (The dough... but you may need a rest yourself.)
Next gather your courage. Oil your work surface and hands and tip your dough out. Shape into a round as for bread. (Gather it in gently and firmly by working around the outside and bringing the edges to the centre until it starts to tighten. Then turn the dough over and, with oiled hands, "chafe the dough", gently pushing the sides under whilst turning it. You should end up with a neat dome of dough.) Return shaped dough to an oiled bowl, brush with a very little olive oil and cover the bowl as before.

Leave to rest until an hour or so before baking. This time you flour your work-surface and turn the dough out. Divide it into two (we are greedy) or more pieces. Take each piece and shape (with floured hands) as you would for rolls. (Same process as above... bringing dough into centre before the final turning over and chafing.) Place the two or more pieces to rest on a linen cloth (couche) on a tray.. covering with same cloth. If you don't have a couche, try a floured tea towel. Leave to rest for an hour whilst you prepare your toppings and heat oven..
Bring oven up to top temperature. (I have a fan oven which I set to top heat of 240 C (475F or Gas 9 - Edit: Ooops Sorry! Top temp on my oven is 260 C, so... hot as you can go.). And prepare two baking sheets by sprinkling their surfaces generously with semolina.
Now is NOT the time to use a rolling pin, it's hands or nuthin' so take a deep breath, oil the surface and your hands and stretch each ball of dough in turn over oiled hands or on the oiled surface into something approaching a plate-sized round (mine are more often squarish but I ain't perfect and neither are me pizzas.) Do not stretch the dough too thin in the centre but do allow the edges to remain thicker so that they make  a natural rim.  Still breathing calmly and praying... or in my case shouting.... transfer each pizza base onto a sheet.
Spread the seasoned tomato pieces on each base...don't be frightened of seeing the dough between the tomato pieces... and arrange your toppings of choice on top. Finish with grated cheese and a little more olive oil sprinkled across the surface of each pizza.
Place the sheets into the hot oven and cook for about 10-12 minutes or until you think all is golden, melted, puffed and lovely. (Check the oven occasionally and lower the temperature a little if you think things are burning too much.)
Serve hot after a lot more shouting as you juggle with serving spatulas to get each one off their sheet and on to their plate. Smack lips and pour out the red wine. Delizioso.

Monday, 22 June 2015

Miracle Theatre Comes To Town : "The Magnificent Three"

Well.... After having enjoyed the filmic version of Miracle Theatre's production "Tin" (see here).... I do notice that they are playing a new production "The Magnificent Three" for two nights later this week down the road at The Stables on Penrose Estate... midway between Helston and Porthleven.
It be billed as a "saloon-door swingin', double-cross-dressin', Hoe-down-dancin', quick-draw slingin', Spaghetti Western Adventure..."
Shall we go perhaps? It's tempting...

Though it be open air and my old bones be somewhat stiffened these days for sitting on damp grass and so on. I dunno. But as I say... I be very tempted...

'The Magnificent Three' Open Air Theatre Touring Across the Wild South West 5 June to 29 August 2015 from Miracle Theatre on Vimeo.