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Sunday, 5 July 2015

Summer storms and an Alice in Wonderland reference...

To quote the white rabbit in Alice's Adventures in wonderland, "I'm late, I'm late...", sorry about that. I wanted to make sure I could talk about book-club;

Book-Club:

Last month's group read was The Narrow Road to the Deep North, by Richard Flanagan.


The story centres around the life and times of one Alwyn 'Dorrigo' Evans, a surgeon in the Australian Army during WWII. 

Before he is shipped out, he has an affair with his uncle's young wife, although he is already in a relationship with Ella. 

He is shipped overseas, and becomes the most senior allied officer in a Japanese Prisoner of War camp, building the Burma railway.

The descriptions of life in the POW camp are at some points, exceptionally detailed, but at others, less detailed, almost detached.

The narrative then continues to after the war. It shows the aftermath of the war for both the Australian POWs and the Japanese and Korean guards.

One of the things we debated at book-club, was whether Dorrigo's experiences as a POW coloured the way his later life progressed and his almost detached and emotionless life. 

This book really divided the group. A few members loved it, a few members weren't so keen. Personally, I found it really hard going, and although there were things about the book I liked, and it will certainly stay with me for a long time, I couldn't get past a few stylistic things the writer did, that I found particularly annoying, but which other people found endearing.

I'm glad that I have read it. I love that our book club is so diverse and we do take ourselves out of our comfort zone, but I'm looking forward to next months' book more.

We're reading To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. We chose it mainly because the sequel is being released in July 2015, and a few of our members are looking forward to that.

In June, I also finished both The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins, and The Strange Affair of Spring-Heeled Jack.

I had rather mixed feelings about both of these. The Girl on the Train had, for me, rather 2D characters, three women whose lives revolved around men. I found that particularly frustrating, if I'm honest. The main character, the girl, actually on the train, is a more-Bridget than Bridget Jones type car-crash of a person, and it would have been somewhat better if she'd never got involved. I'm sure a half decent detective could have figured it out without her eventually, and she could have simply pulled herself together. It may have been a very different, and somewhat dull book then though.

The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack, was recommended to me by a friend. I wasn't too keen to start with, I found the main characters a bit OTT, and to good to be true, and also it was steam punk. I am not usually a huge fan of the genre, finding history as it actually was, quite interesting enough, but this one was more enjoyable. It was a bit long winded in parts, for my liking, and there was too much chatting during the fights, and the action went from a bit slow to too fast to concentrate properly at at least one point, but there were a few twists and turns, and it all worked out in the end. I am not convinced I'd read more, I get the impression this is the first in a series, but I did enjoy it.




Cooking and Baking:

Moving swiftly on... the theme for the Clandestine Cake Club in June (for the Runcorn, Frodsham and Widnes group) was Anyone for Tennis, which resulted in 6 strawberry and cream flavoured cakes! Astoundingly, every single one was different!


However, I did promise that I wouldn't only talk about cakes this time!

I also made a Sausage Casserole, which is a family favourite. The secret is to get good sausages. My Mum gets ours for us, from a farm just on the border with north wales, and they are good, and fat and we know where the meat came from! I brown the sausages off first, and then I slice them up. It's personal preference, but I find it easier to eat, and it makes it go further.
I then cook off a large onion, some leek, and celery in one pan, whilst par-boiling root veg in another (carrot, sweet potatoe, butter nut squash, parsnip and ordinary potato). once the onion mix has softened, I add ginger, garlic, and a selection of herbs (I love the smell of thyme and basil is supposed to be good for the memory, I also add some coriander leaf). Then I add some tomato puree (just a little) and some red wine (a good splash), a tin of chopped tomatoes, a pint of stock (I used chicken, I always use chicken stock, it helps to fend off colds) and then I add the strained par-boiled veg and the sausages. Usually, I add some gravy browning, and if it needs thickening, a little cornflour paste, but I was in a hurry, so in went a scoop of gravy granules. It did the job, we let it simmer for a little and served it with crusty bread and lingon jam! There was enough for 2 meals, and a 2-left-over lunches for in the week.


I also made Sushi / Nori Rolls for book-club this month.

I bought the sushi-nori seaweed wraps (sorry, I'm not that adventurous) and I do buy the sushi rice (check the world foods section of your local supermarket).

I started with the rice, using my Dad's 15-minute rule. You wash the starch off the rice for 15 minutes (put it into a bowl, fill with cold water, swirl it around, leave it to stand, strain it and go again), then you boil the rice (2 cups of water for every cup of rice in the pan, and use cold water) and then leave to simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Finally, you take it off the heat, leave the lid on and do not touch it, for 15 minutes. 

If you want really sticky sushi rice though, the seaweed packet advocated a mix of rice vinegar, sugar, salt and vegetable oil drizzled over the cooled rice and then mixed in. I tried it, I liked it, I may try that again.

My nori rolls were pretty basic, I wanted everyone to feel safe trying them, so it's smoked salmon and cucumber. I was quite pleased that LittleBit asked t try them, and loved them, so I've had to make extra for pic-nic teas in the week!

Walking:

June started so well, and then the weather changed. It became actual bone fide summer in the North West! The sun shone, and I got sunburned. I had increased my daily target to 12,000 steps per day, and I was making it, but I was wearing myself out, especially with everything else going on, so I did have a week off.

I have readjusted my target back to 10,000 steps per day, and I am going to work on maintaining that, until I can do that every day without being really tired.

The summer storms haven't helped. The weather, which has been hot and sunny, occasionally turns, with little warning, to windy and then the rain starts, not a little bit of rain, but a deluge, with thunder and lightning. We've had at least 4 electrical storms just this week. Including one, so close, it set fire to a hedge on the other side of town!

Apart from the canal (as per my previous blog post) I have also been walking around Runcorn Hill Park, and hope to have another mid-monthly special blog post sometime in July.


Grow-your-own:

How does mu garden grow? Still slowly because I was so late sowing, I may as well just be the white rabbit!

I have done some potting on, some planting up in borders and bought a few deep planters for non-root veg. Because I'm not in the house all the time, I can only water the plants in the greenhouse at the start and end of each day, which in the recent heatwave, wasn't enough and I've lost a lot of seedlings. 

However, I have learned my lesson, and by the time we get the summer heat-wave next year, they should already be potted on and outside!




There's been very little of anything else for June, and next month is likely to be super-busy too, but I'm looking forward to a week off in August when I hope to get all caught up on stuff!

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