Tuesday 30 June 2015

Book review : Reader For Hire : Raymond Jean

Pereine Press have carved out a niche as the providers of lesser known novellas translated from foreign languages into English. I couldn't suppress a smile when I saw that this month's title, included in the "Chance Encounter" series, was Reader For Hire by Raymond Jean, whose original French title was La Lectrice. In my first year abroad, arriving as a naive 21-year-old for my first real job in France, I announced to my older male colleague that I was being employed as a "lectrice", the name given to a native-speaker employed as a language assistant in a university. He smirked and chuckled "ah, une lectrice, like in the book?" Seeing my look of total incomprehension, he explained "she's a woman who is employed to read in people's houses but she is very sensual and sexual". That was as far as that conversation went but I always assumed the book was a work of erotica that sounded a bit smutty and low brow. (I have since discovered that it was made into a popular film, which is probably why he had this rather reductive view !)

I was therefore surprised to see that, for the first two thirds of the book, there is very little that could be described as sensual or erotic. The main protagonist, Marie-Constance, appears to be a bit of a desperate housewife - she's a bland, bored, married woman who decides to put a small ad in the local newspaper, offering her services as a reader. Despite the newspaper editor's surprise and apprehension, warning that she will attract "the wrong sort", she is soon called on to become a paid reader for a number of clients, including a paraplegic teenager, an elderly Hungarian countess and an 8-year-old girl. Reading is an inspiring and enriching experience for each of her clients in different ways and, given my earlier conversation about the book, I wasn't really surprised when one of her male clients wants to enjoy her carnal as well as her vocal charms.

I had a hard time really getting into the story because I found Marie-Constance to be a bit of a mystery. Her frequent visits to her elderly lecturer friend for guidance show that she is in need of a father figure and I felt that she was a bit lost, using her new job as a voyage of self discovery. When she starts receiving indecent proposals, she asks her husband for advice and his oh-so-French words of wisdom are to be careful but to do what she wants. I didn't really feel that her voyage of self discovery and emotional emancipation really reached a satisfying climax, although the closing scene smacks of an awakening of feminist strength and self awareness that she undoubtedly didn't have at the start of the book.

Once again, after finishing a Pereine title, I am unsure of what I really thought about the book and whether I liked it or not, but once again, it has made me really think about the characters and my interpretations. That is without a doubt the sign of a good book so Pereine have again chosen an interesting work of fiction that packs an awful lot into less than 200 pages. It would be a great choice for book clubs as I'm sure different readers would have differing viewpoints about it.

star rating : 4/5

RRP : £12

  • Paperback: 174 pages
  • Publisher: Peirene Press Ltd (15 Jun. 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1908670223
  • ISBN-13: 978-1908670229
  • Product Dimensions: 12.5 x 1.4 x 19 cm

Picture book review : Hedgehugs: Horace and Hattiepillar - Lucy Tapper & Steve Wilson

Last year, we discovered the wonderful loved-up but spiky world of Hedgehugs so we were delighted to receive the second book in the series, Hedgehugs: Horace and Hattiepillar, especially after our close encounter with a real life hedgehog on a recent walk in the woods. The stars of the book are once again the ultra-cute duo made up of Hattie and Horace.

They are still best friends and still inseparable, doing lots of things together. I still think that the illustrations are so beautiful that they would look great on a child's bedroom wall.

In this story, they discover a caterpillar, help fatten him up (with overtones of The Very Hungry Caterpillar) and watch in awe as he transforms into a butterfly. It's a fun but educational look at the life cycle of a caterpillar and Pierre was fascinated.

Cute as ever, Hattie and Horace decide that they want to become butterflies too so they eat loads, have a long sleep in a silky bed of flowers and excitedly look at each other to see if they have changed. They may still be the same but they decide that they are beautiful and colourful (covered in flowers) and can even fly (with the help of a swing) so they've succeeded in their mission. As well as being a fun story, it's a great life lesson about making a failure into a success.

star rating : 5/5

RRP : £6.99

  • Paperback: 32 pages
  • Publisher: Maverick Arts Publishing (28 May 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 184886163X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1848861633
  • Product Dimensions: 26.7 x 0.6 x 26.2 cm

Disclosure : We received a copy of the book in order to write an honest review.

Globecooking recipe : Karkadeh (Egypt)

Karkadeh is an infusion of dried hibiscus flowers popular in Egypt, usually drunk cold although it can be drunk hot too. It sounds very similar to the apple tea (often made with other flavours such as pomegranate) that is given out in shops and markets across Turkey.

I received a bag of dried hibiscus flowers in this month's Egyptian-themed Kitchen Trotter box and, as the temperatures soared today, I thought it would be a lovely refresing drink to keep our fluid levels topped up.

Just infuse the flowers - 3tbsp according to the instructions on the pack or 6tbsp according to the enclosed recipe card so I went somewhere in the middle - in one litre of boiling water for 10 minutes then leave to go cold and chill in the fridge.

It's very tart so you'll need to add sugar or honey to sweeten it, to taste. This one got a mixed reception. I wasn't overly keen on the floral scent and flavour and Sophie downright hated it. Pierre and Juliette thought it was drinkable and Madhouse Daddy loved it. I think maybe it needed some more sugar or it could be added to sparkling water or white wine, or maybe even orange or pineapple juice, for a summery cocktail.

*** Don't miss my country-by-country globecooking recipe index ! ***

If you want to try some more Egyptian dishes, you might like Aish Baladi, Taamias and Date-filled Kahk

Madhouse diaries : Land of the Giants

You can't have a sunny Sunday afternoon without a bit of an adventure - well, not if you live at The Madhouse anyway ! - so we headed off to the town centre to see a gathering of the local giants.

Each town around Dunkirk has its own giant who is wheeled out on special occasions, carried along by a porter hidden away inside the wicker frame, who makes him trundle through the streets or even dance.

The mesh grille on the front of each giant is where the carrier's face is so that he can see out and you can sometimes spot their feet and the wheels underneath when they're on the move.

You can see the face panel more clearly here.

Each giant has its own distinct personality. This is Léonard le Pirate from Rosendaël.

Here we have Julienne on the left and Josephine La Peule on the right, from Coudekerque-Branche. I love the way the giants and their names reflect the traditions and history of the region. "Peule" is the nickname that used to be given to female workers, in reference to the flasks of blackcurrant infusion that they carried to help refresh themselves during their labours.

This is Violette La Baigneuse - Violet the Bather - from Malo-les-Bains, Dunkirk's seaside resort. She looks as elegant and refined as the seaside villas that Malo-les-Bains is famous for.

This highly colourful giant, and the costume of his carrier, is 100% recycled, made out of bottle tops.

These two elegant gentlemen giants are more traditional : Coudekerque-Village's Charles le Garde-Champêtre (rural policeman) and Gédéon from Bourbourg on the right.

Also both from Bourbourg, here we have Arthurine on the left and on the right, Florentine Soupe Sans Pain (Florentine Soup Without Bread) with a very fractious looking baby under one arm !

Again representing the heritage and traditions of the region, this is Rogé le Docker from Cappelle-La-Grande.

The meetings of the giants are always fun and festive occurences. Everyone has great fun and we couldn't help but laugh at these pantomime horses.

The star of the show had real horses though, including a very cute but rather intimidated-looking foal.

This is Dunkirk's very own giant, the imposing Reuze Papa.

And all the rest of the Reuze family.

After the static display, the giants and giantesses went for a parade around town.

They were accompanied by marching bands and supporters.

This is one of my favourite giants, Hilaire Patate (or Hilaire Spud) from Rosendaël, where many of the region's vegetables are grown - his group of merry companions always seem to be having a right laugh. They have a bawdy song about the women needing a wee which they do (using a secreted bottle of water) on the front man's big shovel (I just mistyped that as bog shovel which was rather apt - talk about a Freudian slip !) that he then throws all over the crowd, to squeals of horror/amusement !

Again Reuze Papa had pride of place closing the parade. Can you see the man sitting just in front of Reuze Papa on the carriage with a broom? He had the delicate job of lifting the telephone cables up high enough for the cortege to pass through !

If you want to get an idea of the atmosphere (and see that Hilaire Patate wee song that I was telling you about !), have a look at my video !

Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall 

Monday 29 June 2015

Echo Falls Fruit Fusions review

Echo Falls recently sent some bottles of their Fruit Fusion over for us to try out. It is a blend of wine and natural fruit flavours that make it perfect chilled or over ice as a refreshing summer tipple. We received two of the flavours - White Peach and Mango, "a refreshing and tropical white wine with a crisp, smooth finish" and Raspberry and Cassis, "a refreshing yet rich fruity red with red berry and juicy plum flavours" - but there is also a third variety available, Summer Berries, "a sweet fruity rosé with aromas of raspberry and strawberry".

We started off sampling the red Raspberry and Cassis flavour. Madhouse Daddy wasn't keen but he's French so he's a bit of a wine snob ! I thought it was quite drinkable and seemed lighter with a less overpowering aftertaste than most red wine. The tasting notes for this one suggest serving it with tomato based pasta dishes but I think it would also go well with red meat or casserole type dishes with heavy sauces.

The White Peach & Mango one has a lovely pale yellow, straw colour, as you can see in the bottle, and it is very light and fruity. Again, Madhouse Daddy wasn't keen but I think this is more geared towards the female palate. I decided to make it into a nice early evening drink by serving it with pineapple juice, which was nice, but I think it would also be great with something sparkling like lemonade or maybe even ginger beer.

I'm not the only one to think that it's great with mixers. Echo Falls have partnered with one of London’s expert mixologists, Clotilde Lataille, to create three delicious Fruit Fusion cocktail recipes to ensure there is a flavour to suit every sunshine occasion from picnics to garden parties.

Summer Serendipity


70ml Echo Falls Fruit Fusion White Peach & Mango
1 slice of lemon
1 slice of lime
1 slice of grapefruit
1 slice of orange
10ml elderflower cordial 
5ml pomegranate syrup
Crushed ice
Pomegranate seeds and a mint spring to garnish

Slice the citrus fruits into wedges and muddle in a hi-ball glass, add the Fruit Fusions White Peach & Mango, elderflower cordial and crushed ice then stir. Drizzle with pomegranate syrup. Garnish with pomegranate seeds and a mint spring.

Echoes of Pink


50ml Echo Falls Fruit Fusion Summer Berries
25ml raspberry purée
20ml lemon juice
5ml ginger cordial
5ml sugar syrup
20ml egg white
Edible pink glitter to garnish

Mix and shake together all the ingredients in a cocktail shaker. Add ice and shake again for 2 minutes. Strain cocktail into a chilled coupette glass and sprinkle with edible pink glitter to garnish.

Berry Fabulous Falls


50ml Echo Falls Fruit Fusion Raspberry & Cassis
25ml of cranberry juice
1 tsp of blueberry jam
10ml of lemon juice
5ml cinnamon syrup
Splash of tonic water
Edible flower to garnish

Stir all ingredients together in a cocktail shaker and add ice. Shake for 1 minute and strain into a jam jar filled with ice. Add a splash of tonic and garnish with an edible flower to serve.

Echo Falls’ Fruit Fusions range is currently available in Asda, Morrisons, Tesco and selected convenience stores at RRP £5.49 a bottle.

Disclosure : We received the products in order to write an honest review.

#KitchenClearout Maggi So Juicy Oriental Soy & Garlic Chicken

When I started the #KitchenClearout linky, the main idea was to get through my tin of seasoning sachets, many of which had been received in Degustaboxes or as free samples and that had flavours that I wasn't sure would appeal to us. They ended up lingering in the back of the cupboard taking up space so I decided to work my way through them. This week, we decided to try out the pack of  Maggi So Juicy Oriental Soy & Garlic Chicken. I'm not sure why but this one didn't really sound like it would work to me.

The pack instructions say to put four chicken breasts in the enclosed cooking bag along with the contents of the sachet. I decided to use three turkey breasts and threw in a few carrots and a big onion, peeled and chopped, to add some variety.

After sealing the bag with the blue tie, I gave it all a good shake then put it in a dish and popped it in the oven, leaving it to get on with it for 45 minutes. The bag puffs up so needs to go on the lowest shelf in the oven.

I tipped the contents of the bag out into the dish and broke apart all the turkey pieces that had congealed together into one lump. They were nicely cooked and, to my surprise, nicely browned too. The carrots and onions were perfectly cooked and worked really well with the meat and sauce.

It was actually nicer than I expected but was slightly bland so I sprinkled some chilli flakes and lime pepper on top to give it a bit of zing. Served with a sachet of microwavable rice, it was a great option for a quick midweek meal when we were in a rush.

Fancy having a look to see what's lurking in the back of your larder/freezer/fridge/spice rack? Join in with this month's #KitchenClearout linkie !

Madhouse recipe : Cheesy Mince Hotpot

I'm on a #KitchenClearout roll and today, I turned to the fridge to see what I could use up. I found some leftover gravy from the Sunday roast and some odds and ends in the vegetable compartment that were on their last legs (carrots, celery, leek, mushrooms). Having seen Nigel Slater making a rather delicious-looking Lancashire Hotpot on his TV show last week, I decided to try the same idea but with a pack of minced beef that I'd defrosted. The result was the perfect comfort food - similar to a cottage pie and equally delicious. More a winter warmer than a summer dish but definitely one that will become a family fave.

 Cheesy Mince Hotpot

ingredients :

500g mince
2 onions
1 clove of garlic
2 sticks of celery
3 carrots
2 large mushrooms
1 cup frozen peas
5 potatoes
leftover gravy
2 beef gravy pots
salt, pepper, garlic pepper
50g grated cheese

Without peeling them, put the potatoes in the microwave to cook for 10 minutes. Leave to cool slightly.

Fry the mince with the onions and garlic. Season with salt and pepper.

Add all the veg, fresh and frozen, plus the gravy/gravy pots and enough water to create a nice sauce. Simmer for 10-15 minutes for the sauce to thicken.

Transfer the meat mixture to an ovenproof dish. 

Top with sliced potatoes - push them down into the sauce so they are half submerged.

Sprinkle with freshly ground salt and pepper, dot with butter and sprinkle with grated cheese.

Put in the oven for about 45 minutes until the top is nicely browned.

Fancy having a look to see what's lurking in the back of your larder/freezer/fridge/spice rack? Join in with this month's #KitchenClearout linkie !
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...