Vikings

27 Jul

“Vikings” was written as a companion volume to Neil Oliver’s excellent BBC documentary series of the same name.  However, it is a worthwhile read in its own right.

The book traces the Vikings from their earliest roots down all their divergent paths.

Danish, Swedish and Norwegian Vikings are all covered, usually separately, but sometimes together where their historical paths overlap.

Neil also takes a good look at Icelanders, who are the most obvious descendants of the Vikings.  Probably the most memorable part of this section is Neil’s encounter with hakarl – basking shark which is buried for 3 months and left to rot.  He gives an entire page to descriptions of the sensory experience of eating the stuff.  In the documentary, his face was a picture when he ate it.  In the book he describes the experience so minutely that you get the feeling that this is one particular experience that will remain with him for the rest of his life.

The book is lavishly illustrated with photographs and I recommend it to anyone with an interest in the Vikings, the history of Scandinavia, and the history of the United Kingdom.

Roseblood

22 Jul

Set in 1455 at the dawn of what history calls the War of the Roses, or, more accurately, the Cousins War, “Roseblood” is a bit of a change for Paul Doherty.  It isn’t really a mystery, what is truly is is a medieval political thriller.

Simon Roseblood is a taverner, alderman, career criminal, and loyal servant of the House of Lancaster.  Amadeus Sevigny is a clerk indentured to Richard, Duke of York, leading light of the House of York.

Amadeus’ masters want Simon Roseblood bought down, but as a much larger threat looms over both houses, Amadeus and Simon join forces to protect England and themselves, regardless of personal allegiances.

There are a lot of plot threads in this book, and I admit that at times I got very lost and very confused.  Mostly, I think, because I was expecting a murder mystery, when the book really is a political thriller.  Each type of book really needs a different mindset when reading.  Frankly, I was in the wrong headspace when I started the book.

This is certainly one of the best books Paul Doherty has written in a while.

It stands alone, but Paul has ended it so that it is possible that it may be continued further into the War of the Roses.

“Roseblood” has interesting and engaging original characters, and his take on historical characters is fascinating.  

I highly recommend it.

Let Them Eat Bread

20 Jul

Yesterday was a big first for me.  I made bread.  Yup, real bread.  My very own bread.  Please excuse me, I am still a little bit stunned by it.

I used to make biscuits and scones when I was in my teens, but making bread always seemed a bit too hard, or maybe a bit too hippyish.  People who made their own bread were “back to earthers” with huge gardens, wood burning stoves, and irregular bathing habits.

Well, to be fair, I was in my teens!  Now I’m nearing fifty and discovering that I am enjoying expanding my cooking repertoire to include baking again.  I haven’t made a biscuit or a scone since I was in my early twenties.  This will probably change, but, for the moment, I am luxuriating in my new found bread making skills.

Not that it takes much skill to make soda bread.  Which is what I made.  I haven’t the time to faff around with yeast and proving the dough.  Quick and dirty Irish soda bread is the way to go for me.

Once again, I can thank Hugh Fernley-Whittingstall for the push.  I was watching the “River Cottage Every Day” episode on bread on Saturday evening.  Hugh visited a baker and they made soda bread.  Hugh made traditional soda bread, but the baker made a version containing apples, cheese and Guinness.  I was surprised at how quick it was to make a loaf of bread, so I decided to make one for myself.

The problem with ideas from television is that you don’t have all the instructions, including things like oven temperature, and exact measurements.  A quick google just left me confused when I found literally hundreds of different soda bread recipes with massive variations in oven temperature and cooking time.  I decided to go with a mean average which resulted in an oven temperature of 200 degrees C and a cooking time of 30 minutes.  Worked a treat.

I was very proud when I pulled my scrumptious smelling loaf soda bread with chia, sesame, and poppy seeds, out of the oven.

I served warm buttered slices of it with my homemade onion soup for dinner. 

Bloody delicious.

Bye Bye Boring Breakfasts

13 Jul

Ever since I was a small child I’ve hated breakfast.  It came from either a cardboard box or the toaster, and was without imagination, taste, or culinary merit.  Except for on Sundays, when my dad did a fry up.  Eggy bread, bacon, and fried up leftover potatoes are a treasured memory of my childhood.  Though not something my vegetarian self would now go near.

Toast I can eat, but as I am not a lover of jams, or honey, or meat pastes, my toast tended to be smeared with butter and marmite and that was it.

I totally loath prepackaged cereals.  Even as a child I considered them disgusting and that the cardboard packaging probably tasted better than the contents, and, arguably, had more nutritional value.

However, thanks to Hugh Fernley-Whittingstall, boring breakfasts are now a thing of the past and I look forward to my first meal of the day. :)

I came across Hugh’s book “River Cottage Every Day” at the library and it had a section on breakfasts.  This was a revelation to me.  Hugh explained how breakfast could be exciting and interesting, and what to do to make it so, and even how left overs (including cake) can be utilized to make a delicious meal to start the day.

Now my weekends are full with preparing tasty foods to be used for weekday breakfasts.

Fruit compotes are my main stay.  At the moment I have large containers of Pear and Cacao compote, and Rhubarb, Honey & Cinnamon compote in my fridge. 

I also make drop scones (pikelets) out of wholemeal flour and oats for a tasty change from toast.  They are particularly tasty when smeared with yoghurt with compote piled on top.

I  now keep lots of different things to mix and match my breakfasts on a daily basis. My fridge always has greek yoghurt and thickened cream in it.

My larder contains rolled oats (mixed with fruit compote and left for 10 minutes to soften it’s delicious and filling), honey, slivered almonds, crumbed walnuts, and chia seeds – all of which are tasty when used to enhance a bowl of compote.

I keep as much fresh fruit as I can to add to my breakfast bowl as well.  Passionfruit, strawberries, cherries, and blackberries being my personal favourites.

As for leftovers, well, they can definitely be useful.  Yesterday I made lentil stew for dinner.  I didn’t make dumplings, as my memories of dumplings tend to be of things the approximate size, shape, texture, and density of a musket ball.  Instead, I made individual yorkshire puddings out of wholemeal flour, eggs and milk.  I ended up with a container of left over puddings.  So for breakfast this morning I had several yorkshire puddings smeared with honey, then a dollop of yoghurt added, followed by a dollop of rhubarb compote.

The result?  A  breakfast so bloody delicious that I wish I had made more yorkshire puddings than I did!

Can’t wait for breakfast tomorrow. :)

Lady Killer

8 Jul

I picked “Lady Killer” by David Krae up on Kindle because I had read and enjoyed David’s historical novel “Lucretia”.

I have to admit that at first I was dubious, as the first chapter was a little too graphic for my liking, but I persevered, and was rewarded, because this really is a little gem of a book.  It’s a short book, not much longer than a novella, but it doesn’t suffer for it.

Female television news reporters are being abducted, raped, and murdered.  There are no clues and forensic testing comes up blank every time.  Detective Victoria Scott is partnered with FBI Special Agent Tom Gracie to solve the crimes.  Susanne Amanti is a female reporter, hoping to work on television.  She’s an old friend of both Victoria and Tom.  As the clock ticks down it becomes apparent that Susanne is central to all that is happening.

Well written, fast paced, and the ending is a mind blower.

Special Agent Tom Gracie is an unusual character.  I do hope David considers writing more books about him.  He would definitely be worth a revisit.

I DID NOT see the reveal of the killer coming. In fact, I was genuinely shocked at the killer’s identity.  Kudos to David for that.  I usually work it out long before the reveal.

I recommend “Lady Killer” to anyone who enjoys good quality crime fiction.

Isabella: Braveheart of France

6 Jul

Over the weekend I read “Isabella: Braveheart of France” by Colin Falconer.

Isabella de Valois, the wife of Edward II, makes for a wonderful subject for a novel, this novel, however, is a let down on a large number of levels.

Firstly, it was impossible to form any sort of emotional connection with any of the characters. They were all mind numbingly bland. Piers Gaveston, one of the more interesting characters to sway across the stage of English history, is reduced to a giggling man-woman.

The chapters were short and detail was sparse. Giving rise to the repeated thought of “is this all there is?”

My main complaint is the editing, or lack thereof. Chapter 23 was immediately repeated as chapter 24. The opening paragraph of chapter 49 was used again to open chapter 57. Frankly this sort of shoddiness is not something I expect from a writer of the years of experience that Colin Falconer has.

Not impressed with the cover either. The woman on the cover, who is supposed to be, I would assume, Isabella, is dressed in ELIZABETHAN clothing.

I got “Isabella: Braveheart of France” from the library. If I had paid out money for it, I would be very angry indeed.

How to Land an A330 Airbus and Other Vital Skills for the Modern Man

2 Jul

Written by “Top Gear” host and engineering geek, James May, “How to Land An A330 Airbus and Other Vital Skills for the Modern Man” is possibly the weirdest little book I’ve ever read.  The title is self explanatory, and the contents extremely educational.  I ran the part on “How to drive a Steam Locomotive” by a friend of mine who is a serious train nut and was informed that the instructions are accurate!

Of course, as James May himself points out, the book is really just male fantasy fuel, and extremely funny fantasy fuel at that.

The section on “How to Deliver Twins” had me falling off my chair as I was laughing so hard.  James May’s comparison of the female reproductive system to a helicopter was as hilarious as it was disturbing.

I am a modern woman, rather than a modern man, but I do think it is vital to know how to land an aircraft in the event of an emergency (provided you can get into the cockpit), and everyone could do with learning how to deliver babies.  Escaping from Butlins I will probably never need, and God alone knows why anyone would want to invade and occupy the Isle of Wight.  I visited it once and was bored out of my tree.

All in all this is a delightfully eccentric little book and a source of a little light entertainment on a cold evening.

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