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.

Monday, 15 June 2015

The Old Man Eats Peppermint Creams

Life is slowly returning to normal. Though the trips to Somerset aren't over. The other day we do treat ourselves to a day at the shops. Lunch out, too much money spent. Came home with a box of chocolate covered peppermint creams by way of nostalgia and that evening we do sample them for a treat. Swallowing is closely followed by gargling and coughing on The Old Man's part.

"It's the fondant," say I, "Don't let it go down the wrong way and make you cough." The Old Man do look at me most mournfully.
When I come back into the room I do find him hung forward over the table... nose almost touching the surface.
"I'm doing this so's it don't go down the wrong way and make I cough."
It's not a look I like. Reminds me of care-homes... or death. I tell him to stop it.

Friday, 5 June 2015

Grey Doll's Criminal Reading Travels: France - Karim Miske's "Arab Jazz"

Away from all this real-life funeral business.... I am returning to death in crime fiction.

There is a very distinctive flavour to some French crime-writing. Least-ways and of course.... the crime fiction I like to read: very individual, even eccentric, characters - a cultural mix that might be regional, class or ethnic - very human people and stories. I don't explain it very well but it's a flavour shared with some of my favourite classic French film makers such as Renoir or Truffaut.... right unto the wilder shores of Tati.

I think I first tasted this irresistable flavour as a kid... reading "A Hundred Million Francs" by Paul Berna... a children's book set in postwar France with a gang of ragamuffins tracking down the villains who steal something precious from them, their horse on wheels which they like to ride to crash-point on the pavements. This was great... the real stuff... nothing like the life portrayed in our 1950s English staple diet of Enid Blyton's middle-class girls and boys... who like to snoop on people when they ain't eating potted meat sandwiches.

In the 1990s I read two or three of Daniel Pennac's "Malaussene Saga"... and loved them. But I didn't return to French crime fiction reading until that I found the joy of Fred Vargas. I can't say anymore about Vargas, greatly popular... I think I've read most of her translated crime books. Another writer with this flavour... though darker by far.... is Antonin Varenne.... well I read his "Bed of Nails" anyway.... and thought it very good.

The point I'm getting to is that Karim Miske's "Arab Jazz" (published earlier this year in an English translation by Sam Gordon) falls slap bang into my French/Parisian menu. It deals with contemporary issues, the increasing radicalisation of religions out there on the street, and came as a warning shock being published so close to the Charlie Hebdo killings in January... although of course Miske had been in the process of writing for several years beforehand. That melange flavour is there - with the prime borderline personality of its main protagonist, Ahmed the Dreamer... first a suspect in the killing of his neighbour Laura then a man determined to find her killer... Add two individualised detectives and we are away into a distinctive, gripping, tale of the Paris Streets and the grouping and regrouping of relationships in a violent, extreme and fractured world. I absolutely recommend it. Read the full review over on the EuroCrime Blog.

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

A Death In The Family - Part Two

Thing is... this funeral and sorting out of property and belongings be exhausting. That is... when the party concerned did live 160 miles away, be very old... and have several marriages and relationships after the family connection. There be people involved in their later life what one have not even met, let alone be in contact with.
But we travel to Somerset again, get the parent's stationary car sorted and roadworthy and plough through yet more belongings. I do try and sort out family documents and old photos belonging to the other "relations". I never met me own grandparents on account of the stretched out generations of my family... so I do not understand their lack of interest or urgency. It doesn't seem to sink in with them that soon the solicitor will value and clear such belongings. Family memories will be gone altogether.

Water have flowed under the old bridge of The Old Man's relationship with his parent... and cloudy water it be too. People have taken offence and be flouncing all over the place. One is "not spoken to" for reasons one cannot know on account one hasn't really ever met the person what cannot bring themselves to speak. But others are willing to pass on such pointless "messages"....

My view of a sad and broken relationship is confirmed. The Old Man do try his best in difficult circumstances... trying to play it straight .... but my fuel reserves and patience be running out.
I call upon the spirit of my equally dead mother: "Please their selves," she would say, lips clamped shut, chin up ... and her gaze on something distant.

Friday, 29 May 2015

In Glastonbury Town...

When we come to Somerset we stay very near Glastonbury... where The Old Man be very impressed by the Biggest Veggie/Organic Supermarket he have ever seen. And this time he is also gob-smacked by a street musician playing a Hurdy Gurdy with great vigour and skill, so that he do actually give him some money.

We do live in West Cornwall .... where I am used to concepts taking over towns and hollowing them out from the inside. (I speak of St. Ives of course, that Barnum & Bailey Circus of the Fine Arts, where every other shop is a "Gallery" and you cannot move for Art and all Things Artistic.) .... Glastonbury now has a similar relationship with Spirituality.... I do not mind greatly. I have woo-wooed a plenty in my time. And, after the prevalence of Art in Cornwall, I find it refreshing to walk down a high street and be faced with an approaching gentleman ambling along in full dhoti and turban. This be after noticing a white-dressed lady peering (somewhat grumpily) out of a shop window which is festooned with golden pyramidal structures - the "Buddha Maitreya Soul Therapy Centre", no less. The Old Man has noticed however that the crystal shops and woo-woo centres on the High Street have increased since our visit three years ago. He no longer can find WH Smiths for his newspaper and have to hunt out a paper from a corner shop down a side street.

So it be that, tired and bewildered on the day of The Funeral, we fill a shopping basket in the Organic Supermarket and...The Old Man clutching as many Cheddar Strawberries as he can manage... we approach the tills to pay.
Bewildered by the loose arrangement of chatting people, The Old Man do ask:
"Is this the queue?"
"Does this look like a queue?" says a gentleman I shall call Mr Philosopher.
"???" say we.
"Your consciousness should bring awareness of those who are here before you." says Mr Enlightened, a young man with a "rasta do" to rival an Indian fakir.
Abashed, we do slide in front of a till... now philosophically unsure of  the existence of queuing whilst simultaneously worrying that we have destroyed its essential organic process.

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Somerset Stay

A bit of a time with family dealings... not the least of which is the funeral of a family member of The Old Man. In fact The Old Man do have a say in the proceedings and opted for an eco-coffin and a Humanist service. I think this may not have gone down well with some interested parties and I expect their jaws be still on floor ... (sigh).... Never mind.
The Humanist celebrant be lovely woman from Wells who produced a thoughtful dedication that spelled out the various stages of what she herself referred to as "a long and varied life". If the offended parties do take umbrage... well... they weren't there for all of that varied life, were they? For us... who do get a bit "shunned" by some... it was a healing thing that stitched together those "rich" variations.
However... it has all been quite exhausting and not sorted yet.

But we managed to take a walk over Shapwick Heath... a childhood haunt of The Old Man.... on a beautiful day. We walked along the main Drove and into Canada Farm with its wooded lane. To hear the warblers, a persistent cuckoo, and see hoards of blue damsel flies and a brimstone butterfly.... Well that were lovely.

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Grey Doll's Criminal Reading Travels: Egypt, Italy and Ireland

I likes to read crime fiction and I likes to travel when I read.
(As opposed to reading when I travel. I don't really go anywhere except in my imagination, see.)

So I thought I'd point you to some of the books I have read recently... and to their reviews over on the Euro Crime site.

I enjoy the books of British Sudanese writer Parker Bilal. "The Burning Gates" is his latest novel featuring Cairo-based Sudanese exile and private eye, Makana. And it does not disappoint. Makana hits the privileged world of art collectors and Cairo society but soon ends up in a stew of murder, stolen art works, war criminals and mercenaries. What I love about Bilal's Makana is his wit, his cautious humanity, his rich and varied pool of friends and acquaintances... and his sheer survivor instinct. Makana is a man who does not wear his heart on his sleeve but it bleeds all the same. Read a full review of Parker Bilal's "The Burning Gates" here.

I have also travelled to Italy for Conor Fitzgerald's "Bitter Remedy". This is the fifth in his series featuring  Commissario Alec Blume of the Rome police. Blume has found himself out of his personal depth and enrols on a natural remedies course which maroons him in the Italian countryside, increasingly ill, but nevertheless drawn into the search for a missing Romanian girl. Alec Blume is a quirky protagonist... who requires some patience to understand... as most of his workmates and his long suffering partner would testify. But there is subtle wit to be found in his neurotic dealings. Read the full review here.

Finally I visit Northern Ireland and the second Celcius Daly novel of Anthony Quinn. "Border Angels" takes us into the territory of sex-trafficking, rural brothels in ruined farmhouses and shipping containers. Daly is on the trail of a trafficked woman after the death of a pimp. The trail takes us, amongst other places, to a ruined half-finished housing development and a developer's vanity-project mansion, giving us a squint at Ireland after the crash. Quinn's settings are some distance from the gritty streets of Belfast but his eery, rural landscapes of mists and thorn hedges are unforgettable. The full review is here.

And I'm staying in Northern Ireland for a while with Stuart Neville's sixth novel, due out in June - "Those We Left Behind". It's a brilliant, chilling story. I'll let you know more later.

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Now What...

Gloom descends on this household for various reasons... not the least of them electoral.
Here, we have just lost a good independent-minded local MP through the collapse of the middle ground... roundly helped by the Lib Dem's original decision to go into "coalition". No amount of bleating on the part of Lib Dem leaders that they mollified Tory ravages by so doing will help. Those voters who were not Lib Dem supporters remain unimpressed and view them as weaklings, or worse... self-important weaklings. And a good portion of party-faithfuls and tactical voters view them as traitors.
About parliamentary Labour's hubris... I have nothing to say except that, judging by this morning's media headlines quoting the views of potential new leaders... they have learned nothing.
And now we have what we have. A frustrated electorate has voted for "who they want"... leaving the middle ground to collapse, the diverging edges defined but with no arena in which to discuss or compromise. It seems to me that the only solution will be electoral reform, proportional representation, whatever, in order to regain some working balance. Meanwhile... our new government will set about unpicking as much as they can of the tattered remnants of  the "State" system before they skid-addle out of Europe.
I honestly fear more unrest in the streets but... as I said.... I am feeling gloomy.

Meanwhile... we have to get to a funeral... at some point.