Saturday, July 30, 2016

Book Blast

  • The Girls - Emma Cline: If you are a person who reads books and uses the internet you have probably (hopefully) encountered The Girls - the book has been getting amazing coverage. It is an American debut and it tells the story of a fourteen year old girl caught up in a Manson-style cult in 1969 California. Cline is both a beautiful observer of details and a chronicler of the specific pains of girlhood - boredom, loneliness, the longing to fit in, the sometimes dangerous admiration/desire for older, more fully-realised girls. It's all sun-bleached, patchouli-scented, dark and sparkling. I loved this James Wood review.
  • The Empathy Exams - Leslie Jamison: This is a perfect essay collection. I had been meaning to read it for ages because I had read Jamison's Grand Unified Theory of Female Pain and The Devil's Bait which are both included in the book and which are both crazy excellent. The various essays in the book revolve around pain - long-distance running, gangland violence, addiction - and they are so humane and gripping and beautiful. "A work of tremendous pleasure and tremendous pain. Leslie Jamison is so intelligent, so compassionate, and so fiercely, prodigiously brave. This is the essay at its creative, philosophical best'" -- Eleanor Catton. Please read this and then come and find me and we can have a hug.
  • How To Be a Heroine: Or, what I've learned from reading too much - Samantha Ellis: This memoir-in-books is a duvet and a cup of tea and a packet of chocolate biscuits and maybe half a bottle of red wine. It is a pleasure, a delight and a very fine evening in. After being forced to consider that Jane Eyre might be a better role model than Cathy Earnshaw (Ed's note: she definitely is), Ellis reassesses all of the heroines who have shaped her life and world view. Lizzy Bennet, Anne of Green Gables, Sylvia Plath, Jilly Cooper... It is a treat and now I need to read Lace.
  • What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours - Helen Oyeyemi: I love Helen Oyeyemi. Her particular mixture of the fantastical/magical/folkloric with realistic and uncomfortable isn't for everyone but I find it totally compelling. I have read Boy, Snow, Bird and Mr Fox as well as WINYINY and White is for Witching is next on my list. This is her new short story collection and, aside from the very first story which left me a little cold, I found it weird and exciting. And I'm not a big short story reader. Very welcome as either an intro to her work or a top-up of her perspective.
  • The Argonauts / The Red Parts - Maggie Nelson: Cheating a bit here because I have read two Maggie Nelsons in the last few months and I can't pick one. I am in love with her - she is a genius and an oracle. Both books are memoirs and both are written with a clarity that I find truly remarkable. It is like she is speaking inside my head and in my own private lexicon. The Argonauts is the story of her starting a family with the artist Harry Dodge, having a baby as he undergoes top surgery. It's all scorching hot sex, gender bending and investigating, queer family making and love. The Red Parts is the story of the trial of a man for the murder of Nelson's aunt Jane who was brutally killed years before Nelson was born. This is gender from another angle, misogyny and violence, concepts of justice and history. They're both gorgeous and thought-provoking and everyone should read them.
  • The Gustav Sonata - Rose Tremain: I read and enjoyed Music & Silence a few years ago (omg, six years ago! I have just had a birthday and I'm feeling particularly sensitive to the passing of time) but I'm not a Rose Tremain expert. Although maybe you can't be a Tremain expert - she's one of those amazing writers whose novels are all completely different. M&S is set in C17th Denmark; The Gustav Sonata is set in post-war Switzerland. It is quiet and elegant and guttingly sad. There is a long and painful friendship between two boys that might become something more. My mum and I both loved this book so there's that.
  • The Swordfish and the Star: Life on Cornwall's most treacherous stretch of coast - Gavin Knight: You might think that you are not interested in a non-fiction book about Cornish fishermen but you would be wrong. This book is written in all of the voices of the people that Knight spoke to during his research. An extreme job and extreme environment breeds amazing characters and there are drugs and fights and amputated feet and crazy schemes and wrecks and storms and it is a riot. A failed lifeboat rescue might be the most I've cried during a book this year. Totally fascinating.
  • Dadland: A Journey into Uncharted Territory - Keggie Carew: This book has been a BIG part of my life for a long time and it is finally here! It is an everything book - a memoir, a biography, a history, an exploration. “I’m halfway through Dadland by Keggie Carew and OH THIS BOOK. Beautiful and fierce and brave. Memory and war and family and loss and, well, wow” – Helen Macdonald. The book is packed full of photos and archive material and Tom Carew is a rogue and a charmer. He wasn’t a straightforward father but he’s very difficult not to love. Everyone should read this and report back asap!

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Food Reviewed: Noodles

I am going to try and write about noodles because I don't know how to write about Orlando. I don't know what to say. I feel gutted but who am I to talk? I went to the vigil in Soho and cried helplessly when the London Gay Men's Chorus sang 'Bridge Over Troubled Water' and I gave money to the Pulse Victims Fund but I can't change America's insane gun laws or, it feels like, do much to end entrenched homophobia. Has Obama addressed the nation after mass shootings fifteen or eighteen times? How is that a question? If Sandyhook wasn't enough then what could be? It is perfectly obvious that the world cares less about queer Latinx than white children but neither tragedy changes anything. They are just two more testaments to the anger and violence that human beings are capable of directing at each other.

I had been meaning to go to Silk Road in Camberwell for years. Two or three. And I love that one of London's most applauded Chinese restaurants doesn't have a website. I don't think I've ever linked to TripAdvisor before but needs must. Luckily there is an easily accessible phone number because booking is essential; the restaurant is always packed and noisy and even when you book time slots are only an hour. At a capital R Restaurant I would find this outrageous - I want to be able to take my time and savour my pleasures; the joys of dining out aren't limited to food on plates but conversation and appreciation etc. - but I have never successfully lingered over Chinese food so I can't complain. I invariably inhale noodles and shower the surrounding areas in grease and splatter marks. I can do that in twenty minutes, I don't even need the full hour.

I keep saying Chinese but I understand that Chinese food doesn't really exist any more than Chinese does as a language. I don't know much more than that. I can't meaningfully distinguish between Cantonese and Sichuan food or, at least, not with much confidence. I would like to learn but a few years ago I asked a friend to take me out for "authentic" Chinese and it rather put me off the fine regional distinctions. She is Singaporean rather than Chinese but she is better informed than me and she took me somewhere near Liverpool St, to a place where I was the only Caucasian in the restaurant. This didn't put me off, quite the opposite, but the ducks' tongues did put me off. They're so springy and gristly? Why do they have bones in them? My tongue doesn't have a bone, does it? (I have Googled and am now satisfied that my tongue doesn't have a bone in it - the hyoid doesn't really count/doesn't alarm me.)

I didn't enjoy the fried pig tendons we sampled but the eye-watering salt content disguised a lot. No, it was the ducks' tongues that had me steering away from dangerous, unpredictable non-Anglicised Chinese food for a few years. (I'm just going to have to keep saying 'Chinese food' because I don't have the knowledge/vocab to be more accurate.) They were not For Me. Which is fine. Not everything has to be for me and it would be ridiculous to hold historic and national cuisines to account for my personal taste. Also, it is totally hypocritical on my behalf since I love a crispy duck pancake and I believe, deeply and rationally, in snout-to-tail eating. I applaud those who can eat and enjoy ducks' tongues. I feel like morally I should be able to as well but the textures really do make me feel queasy.

I feel guilty about not knowing more about Chinese history and culture. And African history and culture. And South American history and culture. I have never studied any of these formally, despite taking history until I was eighteen and getting a Good Degree from a Good University (albeit not in history), and I haven't done enough to educate myself about them. I know quite a lot about the Nazis' rise to power and the works of Jane Austen but I couldn't tell your Tang from your Quing dynasty.

Maybe I can accept that nobody can know everything about everything (MAYBE) but ignorance seems to be so close to the heart of so much hatred. We only have a garbled picture of the shooter's 'motivations' and, probably, they'll never be explicable but it seems impossible to me that you could kill so many people in cold blood if you understood them, knew them, comprehended their existence. Like, clearly people kill people they know intimately every day - domestic violence is often cited among the leading causes of death for young women - but maybe that is just another failure of understanding? The failure to see women and queer people and people of colour as people at all.

Atrocities are perpetrated around the globe daily. Orlando knocked me out because it felt (feels) personal. More personal than the Parisian attacks although I had family in that city. I didn't have to wait anxiously for text confirmation that cousins were safe in Florida; I didn't have to scan lists or photogalleries of the dead for friends of friends. I have become almost inured to the random attacks, the bomb blasts. In theory, if not practice, I almost accept them as the cost of modern life. I was in London for the 7/7 attacks and though, remarkably really, the city hasn't been bombed since then the possibility looms large. Living in a global capital the risk is always there. I live with the threat of explosions, fire and collapse but if you flinched at every loud noise or backpack you would go mad. Still, low-flying planes make me nervous.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Food Reviewed: Naughty Piglets

Or, Sense Memories: A Restaurant I Ate at Six Weeks Ago

P and I went to Naughty Piglets for her birthday last month. It is around the corner from her and we've been meaning to go since it opened. They call themselves a 'Charcoal Grill Restaurant and Natural Wine Bar' which is quite a lot to process but they have a relaxed, Francophile vibe and a great reputation.

They're almost exactly what you might hope an excellent local restaurant to be. I mean, in some ways it is a pity that you have to book and that their neighbours can't just walk in off the road but I am always and forever pro-restaurants that take bookings. Inevitably the neighbours would start queuing and I would lose my patience and never get to go. This is the story of so many London restaurants that I would like to eat at.

I have resisted learning exactly what natural wine is. Organic fruits? Unassisted fermentation? Brewed in mud? I don't really care - no need to answer in the comments. I am spoiled by a father and a partner and two excellent girlfriends who are full blown wine enthusiasts and experts. I am offered excellent wine and I will gleefully gorge on it and happily split the bill but I don't instinctively care about the details. I'd like to be a person who is knowledgeable about wine but not enough to actually make that happen. I am happy to merely enjoy wine and to take pot shots at restaurant menus and supermarket shelves when I am unattended by those in the know. I would like to be fluent in Italian and draw beautifully and be svelte and muscular but there are so many hours in the day and one must prioritise (by being none of the above?).

We had glasses with courses and we more or less ordered whatever the waitress recommended. They know their list better than I do. I remember that they were all pleasant and they all tasted pretty much like apple juice or, maybe, some kind of magical cider wine. Presumably there was a reason for this but we didn't bother to find out.

I think that we had burrata with lemon zest and lemon oil and probably some other things. Lemon and burrata is an interesting combination that I will happily eat even if I don't quite love it? I would rather have something acidic with all that luscious cream and the zest is more bitter than sharp. I like bitterness (I really want to read Bitter) but this isn't my dream pairing. My otp if you will. Ditto crab and peanut butter. Peanut butter improves all savoury food (and ruins all sweet and chocolate-based foods, you heathens) but it is pretty weird with crab. Also, I don't like crab so I'm biased. I think P enjoyed this. Both plates were cleared.

I think that we had some kind of lamb? I don't remember any of the details and I don't really care although I'm sure it was good. Unfortunately, for the lamb, not for me, it was grossly overshadowed by the star of the whole meal - 'BBQ pork belly, sesame, Korean spices'. A thick, wet, sticky slab of pork belly all black and sweet from open flames. The fermented chilli paste. THE FERMENTED CHILLI PASTE. Google suggest it was gochujang and I posit that it was some kind of umami dream. I love a sesame seed, I love smokiness on a fatty cut, there were probably other good things happening on the plate. It is all a blissful daze. I think this is a menu staple and I will try my best to eat it over and over again as long as this restaurant lasts.

There were also croquetas (fave) and some kind of pudding that I remember being enthused by at the time but which has since almost completely slipped my memory. There were crunchy bits and creamy bits? Maybe a custard? Maybe rhubarb? I have no idea. The pork belly is what has lasted in my mind.

Also, the beautiful and charismatic French waitress. I feel very strongly that women and waiting staff should be able to go about their lives and jobs without objectification but she had a winking swagger that rendered me inarticulate. If P and I managed to hold our shit together and not giggle coquettishly as we ordered it was a close won thing. It is a great relief (to me and the world) that I am not single. I have no game.

Gorgeous staff don't make your food taste better. I have been to very fancy restaurants where they seem to have hired their staff (both competent and incompetent) from central casting or some modelling agency's lookbooks. Generally I feel alienated by great physical beauty, especially when I am eating - who can lose themself in multiple courses when there are long, wispy supermodel types drifting about? I mean, I can but I do think it subtly undermines ones pleasure. Charm though? That is a different story.

I'm pretty sure that the food at Naughty Piglets was great but I can't rule out the possibility that the flavours were enhanced by a crooked grin and some Parisian witchery.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Skye High

We went to Skye the other week and we missed Kanye by mere days. THE INJUSTICE. The island was cold and bright and beautiful - all one could hope for from April. The trick is to expect it to rain miserably for the entire trip and pack accordingly. I sourced waterproof trousers and everything.

Our cottage didn't have wifi and it was bliss. I would highly recommend it, both the cottage and the disconnection. I (obviously) don't blog as I once did but podcasts and tumblr and netflix and gmail and iplayer and ao3 are still pretty central to my daily routine. I didn't miss them though. Occasionally it would have been useful to google something, addresses, opening hours etc., but otherwise it was hella chill. Give me a pile of books, plenty of warmth and 10 hours of sleep a night and I am HAPPY.

A couple of Skye favourites so I don't forget them:
  • The Oyster Shed: I don't know what it says that there is a market for fancy deli products on Skye? Good things if locals are buying and more worrying things if the only customers are pretentious tourists like me? Anyway, the farm shop at the Oyster Shed is fun but, more importantly, they do lobster and/or scallops and chips. I'm not big into seafood but sign me up. Beautiful views across mountains and inlets and a bracing breeze as you guzzle your garlicky chips.
  • Skyeskyns: It feels like there are more sheep than people on Skye. Maybe there are. They are everywhere, including all over the roads, and they give no fucks. They are the freest range animals I have ever seen and we spent a lovely hour or so at the Skyeskyns tannery stroking sheepskins and learning about the hands-on process behind them. So much passion and soft fluffiness.
  • Red Roof CafĂ©: Don't miss the enormous cheese scones. Local ingredients in fun combinations. Nettle bread and venison salami. Not cheap but very friendly and real coffee!
  • Skye Weavers: It's hard to say if I was more seduced by the pedal-powered loom or the colours and patterns inspired by local lichens. We spent twenty minutes wandering around in the sunshine debating the frivolity of one of their beautiful blankets before caving. I don't regret this decision. I quite want a pedal-powered loom now.
  • The Three Chimneys: Elegant, delicious, Michelin-starred. I had a pork belly starter because never have I ever resisted pork belly on a menu and a multi-beef main. Credit to the restaurant for making tongue not-revolting. I mean, I wouldn't order it again but it was basically inoffensive. The cheek though... now we're talking. Hot marmalade pudding. Also, lots of amuse-bouches which always pleases me. I am yours for 'free' food.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Book Blast

I'm so out of date on here but I thought I should catch up on (fairly) recent reads...

  • Gold Fame Citrus - Claire Vaye Watkins: I read this over Christmas and it made my 2015 Honorable Mentions but I didn't expand and it is out now so let's revisit it. A possibly sentient sand dune, the Dune Sea, has devastated California. The American South West is a wasteland of drifters and exiles. The rest of the country despises the Mojave refugees. When Luz discovers a strange child at a stoner party, she persuades her boyfriend Ray that they should go out in search of a better life, aiming for a whispered colony/cult at the foot of the dunes. This book is eerie and imaginative and alarmingly plausible. I didn't quite love it at the time but I still think about it often.
  • The Vanishing Man: In Pursuit of Velazquez - Laura Cumming: You know who is the best? Velazquez. (Also, Titian and Rembrandt. Don't make me pick.) Cumming is the Observer art critic and she approaches Velazquez, her great love, obliquely in this dual biography of the artist and a C19th bookseller from Reading who might have loved the Spaniard even more than me and author combined. He risked and lost everything for a painting that he believed to be a lost Velazquez. Cumming traces the lives of both men across the centuries and also reveals her own relationship with the artist. A lovely narrative biography with a bit of mystery.
  • Carry On - Rainbow Rowell: This book FASCINATES me. I really enjoyed the book but I love the idea. In case you're not familiar with Rowell, she wrote a YA novel, Fangirl, a few years ago which features a young woman who (among other things) writes fanfiction. She is part of the Simon Snow fandom - a very explicit Harry Potter copy. Fangirl features extracts from this fake series and from Cath's extended fanwork of the series. I found Fangirl interesting as a mainstream reaction to fandom but didn't particularly bond with it. Carry On is the final book in the fictional Simon Snow series (although it isn't necessarily totally faithful to the extracts in Fangirl). I would love for Rowell to write and publish Cath's fanwork, or something similar, next. I remain unconvinced that Rowell has a really organic experience of fandom or fanfiction but I love how fun and meta this series/world is. Carry On never surprised me but there is magic and cute boys kissing and lots of fully realised female characters and it is super enjoyable. I can't really conceive how you would react to this book without a working knowledge of both Harry Potter and fandom, you'd certainly miss a lot, but it isn't a complicated plot and I guess you'd still have a nice plot.
  • The Living Mountain - Nan Shepherd: I read this as part of an aborted book club. I would never have picked it up myself so it was good to read it even if I never got to talk about this. It is a slim memoir/essay of a mid-century walker's enthusiasm for the Cairngorms. It is beautiful and passionate and I never quite got into it. There were moments when I could almost touch the serenity it seemed to offer but I don't think I did it any favours reading it on and off urban public transport - I could never quite surrender myself to the experience of the book. Despite being deeply rooted in the countryside I have yet to find a piece of nature writing I really enjoyed.
  • The Gracekeepers - Kirsty Logan: This book was so much sadder than I was expecting. A drowned world, a grave keeper, a circus bear. It is imaginative, melancholic fantasy and thumbs up for not being hella straight.
  • Wildwood - Colin Meloy (Carson Ellis): Heads up, this is a children's book. From the internet's enthusiasm I was expecting it to be 'YA' and it isn't. Prue, the delightful heroine, is 10-12 (can't remember exactly) and I would have LOVED this book when I was little - I was charmed by it now but it isn't meant for me. Still, Carson Ellis's illustrations are beautiful and my library copy was covered in endearing crayon marks. There are talking birds, evil, magic queens, useless parents and sibling affection. Lots of plot and adventure and invention and strong moral messages without ever being didactic. I will be enthusiastically recommending this for 8-12 year olds.
  • A House Full of Daughters - Juliet Nicolson: A biography/memoir of seven generations of daughters. Nicolson is the granddaughter of Vita Sackville-West and although much has been written about Vita I never get bored of learning about her. She is only one aspect of this story though because this is a strange and varied family. The narrative travels from the slums of C19th Spain to Henry James's Washington, Knole Park to Sissinghurst, London in the 60s to New York in the 80s and on to the present day. The author discovers repetitions, patterns of behaviour and fractious relationships between generations, that illuminate her own life. The biographical elements are fascinating and the memoir elements are raw and contemplative and the two are compellingly combined.
  • All the Birds in the Sky - Charlie Jane Anders: This book is such fun! I read it over a weekend at-home holiday and it was a total pleasure. It is a smart, stand-alone sci-fi/fantasy-lite novel and it is a ball. There is nature magic and futuristic technology coexisting brilliantly in an apocalyptic near-future California. It is funny and pacy and if you enjoy genre writing I would highly recommend it.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Oh Comely Sunday Morning

I spent a happy hour this morning sipping tea and browsing the latest issue of Oh Comely. It's a lovely issue and I contributed to the What We're Reading feature again. The issue's theme is 'change' and the feature is about books that changed you which gave me the delightful opportunity to write about Emma. I feel like to legitimately understand me you must also understand that Emma is the greatest and that it is one of my defining texts. (Happily Alice Naylor wrote about His Dark Materials so I didn't have to feel too torn.) I could talk and write about how much I love it forever.

Issue highlights:
- Linnea Enstrom writing about her abortion and Virginia Woolf vs. Jean Rhys in regards to rooms of one's own (heart)
- Jack Murphy writing about teaching the Beatles to school children
- Naomi Shimada being beautiful and joyous
- Women Who Changed the World: Barbara McClintock, Claude Cahun, Jennie Lee, Audre Lorde

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Small Things

Sometimes life is busy and overwhelming. Balance seems impossible and you're exhausted more often than you're not. Which isn't to say that life is bad just that it is complicated and sometimes it can be hard to see the wood for the trees. I don't have an answer for stress. Take time for yourself? Exercise? See friends? Drink more water? Sleep more (actually this is almost always a good answer if you can find the time)? Re-evaluate your life and make assertive, positive changes? Fine, fine, sensible even, but time consuming and lacking the immediate pleasure hit that one sometimes need. Or that I do, anyway, because I am impatient and greedy. 

The above/below make me 5-10% happier on contact. It doesn't take much and it doesn't necessarily last but why would you look a relatively inexpensive, delicious gift horse in the mouth? These are small, good, cheering things:
  • Tregothnan Classic Tea: May I never recommend another product emblazoned with a Union Jack again. *shudder* This tea is grown in Cornwall (or, I think, 60% is) and it is really good. The price per bag is not sensible but I got a box in my stocking and I have very much enjoyed it as a weekend tea. It is strong and rich and vaguely local and I liked the flavour. It was deeply satisfying.
  • Whole Earth 3 Nut Butter: Holy crap, this stuff is amazing. I've only managed to buy it in my local supermarket once but it was life changingly good. I eat peanut butter every morning and almond butter on the regular and I've enjoyed a cashew butter in my time. Nut butters are my jam - I can't imagine a nut butter I wouldn't enjoy - but this reaches a new high. Peanut butter with the depth of cashew and the implied puddinginess of hazelnut. CRAZY GOOD, I TELL YOU. Catch it if you can.
  • Mini Daim bars: There are mini Daim bar wrappers down the back of my sofa and in the pockets of my coats. They drift around the flat. I'll admit that the individually wrapped chocolates are not environmentally friendly but they are also perfect and convenient. They have a more satisfying chocolate: almond caramel ratio than a full sized Daim bar and I LOVE them. R doesn't get it but he's wrong and they're amazing. Instant happy maker.
Also, border collies know what's up. Watch this Vine 27 times and just try not to grin inanely...

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Recent Home Eats

I had a New Year's Eve revelation about microwave curries, specifically Marks & Spark's butter chicken which is totally enjoyable in the right context, and the value (emotional, really) of instant food and it is something I'm going to be exploring more in 2016. Epiphanies aside though, I cook a lot and mostly from scratch (pasta and the like aside because, personally, I think making your own pasta is for suckers and hobby cooks. If you've got a free afternoon and nothing else to do then, sure, but it is never worth the time/effort of a week night).

I love cooking and thinking about food but it is time-consuming and I go through dry spells where I can't find things I want to cook or nothing is as good as I hope will be or it is all just uninspiring and tedious. Luckily though, I've been on a hot streak recently and I've made and eaten lots of great things. For other regular home cooks and my own memories here are some hits:

  • Roasted sausage, chard and cannellini beans (Food52): I made this with cavolo nero and real English sausages (what even are chicken sausages, America?? how?) and it was so easy. No pre-cooking, just toss and cook. Protein, carb and veg in a single bowl with jazzy flavours. 1 tin beans, 1 pack of cavolo nero and 1 pack of sausages (6) served two hungry people with no leftovers as a main.
  • Beef chilli with bourbon, beer and black beans (Nigella Lawson): Not necessarily #authentic but yummy and straightforward. Black beans are amazing. I always make Heston's slaw where slaw is called for - it is very moreish. 
  • Lemon and aubergine risotto (Ottolenghi): I've made this many times as a risotto and as a soup both are good although they really benefit from an open flame which I don't have access to in the flat. Reliably enjoyable.
  • Roasted squash cobbler (Claire Ptak): I wouldn't recommend starting this recipe at 9.15 on a Tuesday night because it is a bit time consuming but it is good and the biscuits are actually crazy easy. I always forget how quick biscuits are to make. I should make them more often.
  • Oxtail ragu with leeks and lemons over pappardelle (Ottolenghi): Man, this is great! I used shin because I couldn't get hold of oxtail and it was awesome. It felt super weird making a beef stew (basically) with white wine and lemon but it really really works. The pecorino on top makes it. The leek and chorizo pie in this column is amazing too in a really rich, luxurious way. Ottolenghi leek week forever. Leeks forever. So good.
  • Roasted pork belly with miso butternut squash and apple and walnut salsa (Nopi): Ok, I didn't make this, R did and it was a lot of work but DAMN it is good. The flavours complement each other perfectly. This is why you make all the sides and trimmings of an expert - they are more than the sum of their parts and their parts are superlative to begin with.
  • 'Boston' baked beans (ME): I decided to make Boston baked beans (or my idea of Boston baked beans - I've never been to Boston, I don't know if I've ever even really eaten 'Boston baked beans' before) on a whim and I couldn't find a recipe that did exactly what I wanted so I made one up and it was AWESOME. Easy, delicious, amazing for after work. The fanciest instant food ever.
Chuck's Pretend Boston Baked Beans
  • 1 tin cannellini beans (I realised afterwards that baked beans are normally haricots but whatever)
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 1 pack of lardons/sliced bacon (I wouldn't waste pancetta here but do as you wish)
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1/2 tsp chilli flakes
  • 1 tbsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 tbsp black treacle (in place of molasses)
  • 1 tin chopped tomatoes
  • Cheeeeese, maybe a nice moderately mature Cheddar?
  • (Baked potatoes)
  1. Preheat the oven to 200-220oC.
  2. Stick the onions, lardons and spices in a roasting tin and cook until the onions soften and the bacon has browned. 10 minutes?
  3. Stir the mustard and treacle through the onions.
  4. Throw in the beans and tomatoes and mix it all up.
  5. Bake until the tomato sauce thickens and is all dark and sticky and irresistible.
  6. Dollop out some beans into ovenproof cookware, top with cheese and stick back in the oven until the cheese has melted and everything is bubbling.
  7. Add a baked potato and call it a meal.
  8. Wrap yourself in a nice blanket and re-watch The Office US.
So there you go. Some food. Clearly winter is the time for beans and squashes. Yum.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Reading Wokely

I read Jia Tolentino's piece about noisy literary resolutions yesterday and I feel conflicted. I had been planning to do a (typically late) #DiverseDecember post but now I'm worried that I'm just being self-righteous and reinforcing binaries. I don't think I'm interested in scoring points for my own open-mindedness but I suppose that I wouldn't think that. And I do think it is a positive thing to make a concerted effort to read outside your own milieu and to read/buy/support authors and stories who have historically been overlooked and excluded from literary circles...

So rather than chase my own, anxious tail indefinitely I'm going to shout out some great books by BAME authors that I have read over the last year.

  • We Need New Names - NoViolet Bulawayo: Child protagonists can be risky but Bulawayo's Darling is a delight - joyful, sharp, unsentimental. The book is alternately glowingly happy and deeply scary in its depiction of Darling's childhood in Zimbabwe and her emigration to Michigan.
  • The Turner House - Angela Flournoy: Big families are full of love and trouble. The lives of the Turner children are beautifully drawn and woven together here. And the book is especially good on both Detroit and our current economic sitch. (More from me.)
  • Negroland - Margo Jefferson: A fascinating and unexpected (to me) memoir of upper-middle-class black life in America. Growing up as part of the black bourgeoisie seems remarkably emotionally complicated and Jefferson recalls her own experiences and the history of this subsection of society with sly elegance.
  • The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms - N. K. Jemisin: In terms of fantasy this was a little trad for me but that might be your cup of tea and I want 1000% more awesome POC fantasy heroines. 
  • The Twelve Tribes of Hattie - Ayana Mathis: This novel has a similar basic premise to The Turner House - a large black family in a rundown American city - but it has a wider historical and geographical sweep. If I could only pick one of the two I would go with The Turner House but I don't have to choose either/or and neither do you. Spoil yourself, read both. (More from me.)
  • Americanah - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: I have said it once, I have said it twiceAmericanah is FIRE. If you're one of the seven people who hasn't read it yet I would suggest you remedy that sharpish. Ride the hype or overcome it, depending on your own disposition.
  • The Woman Next Door - Yewande Omotoso: You know what is awesome? Sharp-tongued, short-tempered old women hating each other and gradually becoming friends. One to watch in 2016.
  • Men We Reaped - Jesmyn Ward: A crushing memoir of black death in America. Not pleasant but beautiful and very moving. A powerful book in its own right and your daily reminder to read Salvage the Bones like yesterday. I don't know why you're even here. Why aren't you reading Salvage the Bones right now?? (More from me.)
(Also, these kind of exercises, while imperfect, can be useful. In putting together this list I realised that none of these are British authors. That is shocking and something that I want/need to correct. Recs, specifically fiction, very welcome.)

Friday, January 1, 2016

My 10 Favourite Books of 2015, I Think

This is an inconclusive list in every possible way. I read 92 books in 2015 and there were so many that I loved, liked, disliked and forgot. I read many great books that aren't on this list. Most of these weren't published this year. These are the books that I enjoyed the most or felt most strongly about (see The Blazing World - liking doesn't always come into it); they are the most interesting and important to me at this specific moment in time. That might well change. Maybe when I look back in ten years these won't be the ten books I remember. Who can say?

If I could push any two books I read this year into the hands of everyone I do and don't know, though, they would be The Country of Ice Cream Star and All My Puny Sorrows. Please read them.

Most of the books I read before September are well documented on the blog and the best way to find them is my fiction tag. September-December has been very busy and I would like to promise that I'll catch up the highlights but, really, that seems unlikely! Anyway. Books.

My 10 Favourite Books of 2015, I Think (alphabetical order):
The Blazing World - Siri Hustvedt: Repulsive, Infuriating, Fascinating
City of Stairs - Robert Jackson Bennett: Complex, Fully-realised, Fantasy
Euphoria - Lily King: Atmospheric, Elegant, Anthropological
Forty-One False Starts - Janet Malcolm: Precise, Brilliant, Essays
Physical - Andrew McMillan: Moving, Gay, Poetry
The Rest of Us Just Live Here - Patrick Ness: Diverse, Imaginative, Young-adult
The Country of Ice Cream Star - Sandra Newman: Epic, Creative, Dystopia
Americanah - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: Real, Sharp, Undeniable
All My Puny Sorrows - Miriam Toews: Funny, Tragic, Mind-changing
The Interestings - Meg Wolitzer: Human, Inevitable, Bildungsroman

Honorable Mentions:
Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend - Katarina Bivald
We Need New Names - NoViolet Bulawayo
The Girls - Emma Cline
The Turner House - Angela Flournoy
Fates and Furies - Lauren Groff
Negroland - Margo Jefferson
A Sense of Direction - Gideon Lewis-Kraus
Gold Fame Citrus - Claire Vaye Watkins
Fingersmith - Sarah Waters

Graphic Favourites:
Step Aside, Pops - Kate Beaton
Hyperbole and a Half - Allie Brosh

Bonus - Great reportage and unforgettable creepy crawlies:
The Lost City of Z - David Grann

Bonus - Book I didn't really like but think about often:
Green Girl - Kate Zambreno