Easy savoury tarte tatin

(from a photo by Bob Bowie on Unsplash)

This is a really easy vegetarian recipe

You need:

*Tomatoes – cherry, halved, or if using larger, thickly sliced. Tinned will not work for this.

*Onion – any, sliced or roughly chopped then softened gently in a frying pan.

You can use either tomatoes or onions or both. Quantities are flexible but see method and adjust for your pan. Leftovers will keep in the fridge to add to easy mince…

*Bought puff pastry. (All the TV chefs tell you to use bought puff and filo pastry.)

*Butter (35g)

*Sugar (25g). Granulated or caster. Brown might be interesting.

*Balsamic vinegar (2 tablespoons)

*Herbs and seasoning

Method:

Roll out the pastry to fit the pan you are using plus a little extra diameter. Do this first, before getting things hot.

Turn on the oven to pre-heat. I use 180C and mine is supposed to be a fan oven, but you know your oven best.

In a pan that will go on the hob and in the oven, melt the butter, sugar and vinegar, stirring, until they caramelise. Be careful because caramel is very hot – this is not a recipe to suggest to your child who is just learning to cook. It’s really easy but needs adult handling!

Now turn the heat right down and place the tomatoes/onions in the caramel. You need a single layer with as few gaps as possible. Cherry tomatoes make a very pretty tarte. Onion is good at filling in the spaces. Make it decorative if you feel that way inclined but watch your fingers on that caramel. Sprinkle with chosen herbs and seasoning.

Place your pastry shape on top, Tuck down the extra using a spoon, maybe the one you measured the vinegar with and/or stirred the caramel. Make a couple of slits in the pastry to act as vents.

Bake for about 35/40 minutes.

You now need to turn this out onto a plate. Place the plate over the pan and use oven gloves to invert the entire thing. You might need to go round the edge of the pastry with a knife beforehand in case the sticky caramel has stuck it to the sides of the pan.

That’s it. Delicious. Serve with e.g. potatoes or bread and maybe coleslaw or a green salad.

Recollections of favourite fantasy reading.

The unicorn is a life-size or at least horse-size sculpture at a forge near Leatherhead in Surrey.

Since I write fantasy, I read and watch a great deal in the genre. In some films and books I might find inspiration – not directly, but in the sense that I write in the same general space, e.g. urban fantasy. Other books have had an undoubted influence on me. Since I grew up in the days of black and white television on a really small screen I can definitely say that books were my first introduction to fantasy and it’s intriguing to find my favourites now getting new life and wider appreciation via TV shows, some of which I also love.

I want to talk about some of my favourites and why I think they work so well, with the occasional mention of apparently similar works that don’t, for me, hold the same appeal. Fantasy often tips over into sci fi or speculative fiction and into fairy tales or legends. Sometimes it takes those as a starting point and sometimes it references them. If I have left out some of your favourites it could be because I regard them as belonging to those other genres.

I have liked fantasy since I was quite young. My introduction to the genre included the following.

The Princess and the Goblin (and the sequel) by George MacDonald. I adored these books and their dream-like illustrations (think old hardbacks). I think the concept of an unknown world beneath our feet really appealed. Later interactions with books like The Borrowers, or Truckers had a similar effect but those started with assumptions about our own world, whereas MacDonald’s offering built the fantasy kingdom for the princess first and then provided goblins beneath the castle.

Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Tempest in Lamb’s Tales from Shakespeare. These are wonderful retellings for children. They tease out the essentials from the plays and certainly had me believing in Titania, Oberon, Puck, Ariel and Caliban in a way that for example Enid Blyton’s stories never managed. Perhaps that’s because the plays are for adults, rather than children, so the characters have a depth that those in children’s books rarely achieve. I had the tales read to me from a very early age and think they probably inspired my first literary effort, a play for the Brownies to perform which included a fairy called Bluebell. I was too young to be a Brownie but my mother was Brown Owl and let me join in since I was the author. I don’t think, however, that my fairies had any depth.

Kipling’s Just so Stories were written for children but also appeal to the adult reader. The stories have inbuilt morality tales, like Aesop’s Fables, but don’t quite preach to the reader as those do, and have live animals doing all sorts of things like the ones in Beatrix Potter’s Tales, but again, the reader senses a deeper and richer back story. Yellow Dog Dingo, The Butterfly who Stamped, and Old Man Kangaroo have stayed with me much more vividly than Peter Rabbit. Even thinking about How the Rhinoceros got his Skin makes me feel itchy to this day.

The Silver Chair by CS Lewis. I was totally unaware (until I got to university…) that this was part of a series. I recall my parents being scornful about it because it didn’t deal with ‘real’ children, but it appealed to my sense of adventure and to the daydreams that included creatures like giants and marsh wiggles, and of course, heroic princes who in turn had to be saved by children like me. When I did, as an adult, read the Narnia books, I was somewhat disappointed to find the religious imagery and message embedded in them. I did love the films and TV series, especially the BBC version.

My next foray into fantasy was probably The Last Unicorn by Peter Beagle. I liked it a lot, but felt faintly cheated and wanted more. I think this is probably why trilogies and series work better for fantasy lovers. Once the reader has accepted a world and immersed themselves in it, they don’t want to leave at the end of a single volume. There are too many places to visit and threads to follow.

Lord of the Rings. A friend was raving about this and I was given the books for Christmas just after my sixteenth birthday. (My book lover son-in-law points out that if I hadn’t read and reread them they would be valuable…) I read the trilogy first, then The Hobbit, and then Tree and Leaf which is an essay about fairy stories plus an example of one. I never got on with The Silmarillion, which always read, to me, more like a history book which was a perfectly valid concept but not to my taste. I soon discovered that ER Eddison (The Worm Ouroboros) and Lord Dunsaney (The King of Elfland’s Daughter) predated Tolkien, but I still think Tolkien was the author who made fantasy take a leap into the twentieth century and spawned a plethora of similar books. I tried Stephen Donaldson’s The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant and Guy Gavriel Kay’s The Fionavar Tapestry but didn’t care for the way their characters originated in our world and somehow got magically transported to another. I gather their niche genre is now called portal fantasy. I started reading Terry Brookes. I enjoyed his Magic Kingdom books (despite being ‘portal’) but found the Shannara series derivative with most of the characters stereotypes based on Tolkien figures, fighting battles and fulfilling quests without making me really care about the outcome. I enjoyed Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea Series but can’t remember much about it, which suggests I wasn’t sufficiently immersed. Lord of the Rings definitely sparked my imagination and also my admiration of a style that switches effortlessly from heroics to the scent of mushrooms, enhancing both. ‘High’ fantasy is quite hard to read – Eddison’s work is a case in point – and the struggle to adapt the reading brain to a continuously heroic style can, for me, detract from immersion in the world. Tolkien avoids this by giving us endearing personal scenes and reactions before returning to the grand quest. I think it’s this that changes the way epic fantasy is seen and makes him such a popular figure.

Arthurian legend was another of my favourites from my teens onwards. Anya Seaton’s Avalon, Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Mists of Avalon, and TH White’s The Once and Future King are the authors I recall with greatest enjoyment, and I liked the film Camelot (and the animated prequel The Sword in the Stone, based on White’s books. There are others (whose names I have forgotten) who exasperated me with their odd attitudes to English history and place names, things which needs to be respected even while the fantasy kingdom is built. I wasn’t so keen on either Rosemary Sutcliffe’s The Silver Sword or Bernard Cornwell’s Last Kingdom series (I love his Sharpe books) because they lifted the fantasy saga into historical reality which spoilt it for me, but I enjoyed Mary Stewart’s Merlin Trilogy. I have visited places like Tintagel with a frisson of pleasure even though I know perfectly well that Arthur is not a historical figure. I have written about the Arthurian court, or at least about Lancelot and Merlin, and I have set my fae series on Alderley Edge which is one of the many reputed resting places of the knights of the round table. I did not enjoy what I saw of the TV Camelot series. The characters weren’t ‘my’ Arthur, Merlin, etc. however good the filming and acting may have been.

Three series I thoroughly enjoyed are:

Game of Thrones by George RR Martin, The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan and Memory, Sorrow and Thorn by Tad Williams

I have watched the entire TV series of Game of Thrones and adored it but still, actually, prefer the books and would very much like Martin to write the final one. It remains to be seen whether he will alter the ending. He has suggested readers are in for some surprises. I love the sprawling politics of the series, and the way the individuals interact both knowingly and unknowingly with forces much greater than themselves. I know Martin based his ideas on the mediaeval Wars of the Roses but history, whilst fascinating, doesn’t have quite the impact that novels like this do, possibly because we are very aware that historical protagonists are long dead whereas the novels have a sense of immediacy.

Politics and social commentary are a large part of The Wheel of Time, too. I did read the entire series, ably finished after Jordan’s death by Brad Sanderson, but I got a bit annoyed with Jordan in the middle of the fourteen books. He would spend page after page creating a detailed world, which was very well done, but then when the volume ended there was the feeling that the plot had not been furthered very much. The TV show (which intends to condense the books into eight seasons) can’t, of course, have the luxury of dwelling on descriptive detail but I think that makes it all the better. I am absolutely loving it, despite the liberties it takes with the plot and the sequencing.

I wish someone would make a show using Memory, Sorrow and Thorn. The four volume trilogy (!) has all the same elements as the Martin and Jordan series, with the personal stories set against a background of world politics and a clash of cultures. I think it’s probably my favourite of the three series.

I started to watch The Witcher but gave up. I understand the series was based on a Polish novel and some video games arising from it. It disappointed me because there didn’t seem to be any backstories or depth to any of the characters or locations, major or minor, and whilst further viewing might have remedied this, in the books and shows I love, the backstories themselves have backstories and these are obvious from the first chapter or episode.

Terry Pratchett’s Discworld is much loved even by people who don’t usually enjoy fantasy. I really like the way he comments on the human condition and on various social evils in the course of stories about a totally alien world with a number of cultures and some intriguing characters. Part of his success lies in using humour rather than preaching. However, a lot of authors have tried to copy him by attempting humour in stories of trolls, dragons, etc. Usually, they fail because their humour is too heavy handed. Pratchett’s situations are funny because none of the protagonists find them even slightly amusing. The lecturers at Unseen University never laugh at themselves, for example. I love the Discworld novels and have enjoyed the films I have seen so far.

Last but by no means least we come to something I regard as my own corner of fantasy, urban fantasy. (Although I have written both a series and a stand-alone that do not take place in our world.) Urban fantasy sets the scene in our modern era and has paranormal activity taking place in well known cities in our world.

My absolute favourite has to be Seanan McGuire’s October Daye series, with her changeling, October, living in San Francisco but alternating between being a private detective there and a knight of Fairyland. The way folk tales, fairy tales and legends are woven into this modern story is wonderful.

Laurell Hamilton’s Merry Gentry series has the same attributes but relies a little too much on sex to sell the stories to the reader.

Tanya Huff’s series, including the Blood series, the Smoke series and the Enchanted Emporium series, set in Canada and the far north west of US do a similar job but in, for example, her Blood series, she invokes sympathy for vampires, something that can’t be said of Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles whose characters were, for me, uniformly unpleasant. I loved Deborah Harkness’ All Souls series, which also presented vampires in a sympathetic light. I believe it has been filmed but not on a streaming service we subscribe to.

The Temeraire series by Naomi Novik presents an alternative reality where dragons fought on both sides in the Napoleonic wars. As a lover of dragons I am enchanted by these books and the way they show dragons as a normal part of our history. Peter Jackson has bought the film rights but nothing has happened so far. One of my favourite fanfics fuses Temeraire with Cornwell’s Sharpe, which is an interesting concept and actually fairly obvious, but it took a fanfic writer to think of it.

And finally, Harry Potter by JK Rowling. (There seems to be some kind of pattern here for fantasy writers to use multiple initials…). It falls into the urban fantasy niche. I first read the books when I was reading them aloud to school classes and kept ahead by borrowing from students. I loved the way they enticed reluctant teenage readers into grappling with long and unillustrated chunks of text but at a personal level found the writing rather flat and the characters slightly annoying. I was also seriously upset when the author killed off Harry’s owl and in an interview compared it to putting away childish things. The films changed my perceptions of the characters and the stories. I was able to focus on the school – so like my own UK boarding school except that our staircases stayed put – and the magical elements. I am aware that a lot of people object to the author making money from their work despite their current unpopularity arising from their stance on gender issues. All I can say is that I usually divorce the work from the author (you have to assume Tolkien was pretty misogynistic) and that for many writers, actors, etc. we have no idea of how they view or viewed things that concern us, because they never told us. I understand the feelings about JKR making a profit but I continue to enjoy the films.

As I said at the beginning, I have read fairly widely in the fantasy field and have mentioned here only the books that have stayed with me as examples of how to – or, of course, how not to. There are plenty of others that don’t quite meet fantasy criteria but are excellent Stephen King’s Dark Tower series is a good example. I thought about it and decided it would fit best on a shelf with magic realism alongside writers like Salman Rushdie and Gabriel Garcia Marquez, both of whose work I like but would not class as fantasy. On a lighter note I decided The Clangers are sci fi. Then there are others that whilst perhaps enjoyed at the time were not memorable or remarkable in any way. Eddings’ The Belgariad is one of those. I got tired of his style even though I initially devoured the series.

To sum up what appeals, I think it’s the world building, with the depth of the societies and their cultures, then the characters, with real personalities including flaws. The plot is often the same: a quest of some sort and people either meeting up to follow it or meeting along the way. There’s almost always absolute evil but rarely absolute good. The ‘hero’ is most often plucked from an ordinary life and is not any kind of ‘superhero’. Sometimes there’s romance, and occasionally there’s sex; those aren’t the main elements, just a pleasing addition. The book has to give me access to a new or alternative world, with a sense of wonder, and make me care about what happens there. My favourites do exactly that.

Happy New Year – and my December reviews!

This is the same tree that appears in my snowy post and in my social media icons. But, obviously, without snow. It’s the sycamore at the bottom of our garden. I watch it changing its seasonal attire all year round and also watch the magpies who live in it.

This is my last review post of 2021. I’m considering trying a new format for my reviews in 2022 but haven’t quite settled on anything yet. It might look something like ‘the very best of’ actually reviewed then the rest just listed with stars or no stars. Or I might do film reviews less often. Or…

Anyway, here are my December reviews – film, booksm short stories and fanfic.

TV and film.

Wheel of Time Season 1***** (Amazon Prime) Fabulous retelling of the long series by Robert Jordan, finished after Jordan’s death by Brad Sanderson who is consulting editor for the show. There are changes, yes, but I think they tighten and improve the narrative. The casting and acting is great, the locations, real and created. are superb and the filming is high quality. Now we have to wait for Season 2 but they’ve almost finished filming.

Terry Pratchett’s The Abominable Snow Baby ***** (Channel 4). Nicely done animated version of a Pterry short story. A slightly overdone Christmas message but saved by the actors voicing the characters. Granny (Julie Walters) is superb.

Hot Fuzz***** However often I watch it, I love every moment.

The Christmas Lectures**** BBC4. Jonathan Van Tam takes teenagers through various science and maths aspects of the pandemic. Very well presented and I liked the way he split the hour long lectures into shorter sections with different experts. That’s a good way to keep both his live and his viewing audience interested. Recommended viewing for anyone who wants the science/maths unpacked or for anyone who has teenagers.

Death in Paradise Christmas Special**** BBC1 I’m not sure this usually delightful series can stand the expansion to an hour and a half but the case had a great ending and there were some highly amusing moments in the tropical storm.

The Witcher (abandoned) Pales into insignificance beside Wheel of Time. Pretty actors but that’s about all I can say. I’ll be posting more about my tastes in fantasy, books and films, in 2022.

Books

The excellent. (No five stars this month but these were very good.)

Boy Banned by RJ Scott**** Great story about a song contest and a romance with one of the main characters on the autistic spectrum, beautifully depicted. (RJ knows exactly what she’s talking about from family experience.) I have now read novels based on various competitions: baking, property refurbishment, magician skills, and singing. I think it has become one of my favourite tropes!

Love’s Bequest by Blake Allwood**** A great finale to the Big Bend series. Ghosts, villains, angst, archaeology, and a lovely re-visit to much loved characters from previous volumes. One tiny niggle: the family trees were ‘pictures’ so wouldn’t enlarge on my Kindle and were too small to read.

Transposition by Gregory Ashe**** Hazard and Somerset Bk 2. Fascinating case where detectives are marooned with killer and victims. Brilliant descriptions of snow and storm. Some slightly confusing head-hopping but I love these guys anyway and must get the rest of the series.

Changing Worlds by Cari Z**** Great culture clash and alien planet sci fi. Lost a star because once Jason and Ferran were married I couldn’t see the point of the erotic interludes.

In this bed of snowflakes we lie by Sophia Soames.**** Touching romance between two rather awkward students. Rescued from college romance trope by the setting (Oslo in winter) and the age of the students (not teens). I loved the protagonists and the all-encompassing snow, exquisitely described.

Thicker than Water by Becca Seymour**** I think this was a re-read but I couldn’t find any evidence… It’s quite an exciting story with shifters, drug crime and mm romance all set in and around Sydney, but since I kept getting those ‘read this, knew that’ vibes, I wasn’t as engrossed as I probably was first time round. I nearly downgraded it to three stars but then thought that would be unfair and anyway, I could recommend it.

The readable (and some of you might rate them higher)

Charles: Learning to love by Con Riley*** A pleasant and well written romance but it lacked the ‘extra’ elements of mystery or outside drama that I’ve come to want in the genre.

Cinder and Ashes Bk 1 by X Aratare*** Ends on cliffhanger so presumably you have to read Bk 2***. I did and guess what? Another cliffhanger. I may continue because they’re on KU but I wouldn’t pay to own them. It’s an mm retelling of Cinderella that threatens to continue for an entire series. Still, it’s an interesting twist on the original.

Double Trouble by Barbara Elsborg*** First in the Lost and Found series. The ‘trouble’ was that I didn’t like the characters, either the ‘heroes’ or the villains. Exciting story with shifters, fae, vampires, etc. but not really for me. I won’t be reading the sequel.

Lacuna by NR Walker*** I normally adore this author’s writing but this was a fantasy (unusual for her) and I found the style slightly jarring. There were moments of almost archaic formality in the dialogue then we got things like marmalade (where previous descriptions had fruit pastes) and ‘dick’. Plus, I wasn’t really invested in any of the main characters. If you like high fantasy, this could work for you and if you’ll read anything by her, go ahead. I was vaguely disappointed.

The Key to his Heart for Christmas by Rebecca James*** A novella. Quite well written and a pleasant story (fire fighter picks up a homeless man on the way home) but the romance is a bit too sudden and there is too much explicit sex for my taste.

The poor This is the point at which I tell you not to bother.

Ghost Hunted by BL Maxwell** There was far too much ghost activity for the story to be creepy! And the writing was very repetitive.

Three Nights with the Manny by AJ Truman** OK, it was a sort of prequel novella to The Single Dads’ Club but I didn’t find it at all likely. Instant lust, yes; instant love – in this case, no. There was no character development to underpin the reactions, and most of this short story was explicit sex.

And the abandoned but this is my taste, not necessarily yours.

Rock, Paper, Scissors by Alice Feeney. The reviewers who praised this ‘thriller’ said they were hooked from the start. At the 15% mark (on my Kindle) I was still bored rigid so I gave up. For all I know it might have brilliant twists, as mentioned in reviews, but as I didn’t care what happened to Amelia or Adam I wasn’t wading through the book to find out.

Scintilla by Elizabeth Noble. The story starts with BDSM in a club – I’ve discovered I can’t cope with too much erotica of any kind but especially BDSM without some initial character development.

Pity the Dead by Rylan Cavell. Ghosts plus humour but I didn’t get to grips with the characters living or dead, or the humour, so gave up.

Short stories

Recommended

Christmas Roses by Fiona Glass***** Gorgeous brief sequel to December Roses, free in Fiona’s newsletter and hopefully later available elsewhere. A really beautiful story that questions all kinds of aspects of time travel, ghosts, etc. but manages to be very sweet and both sad and happy.

Five Gold Blings by Clare London**** Sweet and gentle story of a delivery driver who ends up with a vlogger and a partnership – both personal and business.

By the pricking of my robotic thumbs by Mary Robinette Kowal**** Interesting sci fi story exclusive to New Scientist (Christmas Special Issue).

Readable

Stardust Wake by Si Clarke *** An introduction to the characters from The Left Hand of Dog (mentioned in November reviews). Interesting if you have read or intend to read that, but not really a stand-alone.

Christmas with the Lumberjack by Daniel de Lorne*** Competent short story about loggers in Australia.

I also read numerous really short stories and ficlets in newsletters and FB posts. Too many to mention individually but they have kept me well entertained.

Fanfiction

I was still mostly reading in the Stargate Atlantis fandom. My own contribution, among others, to the Secret Santa went ‘live’ with authors revealed, on Christmas Day. (See my dashboard – https://archiveofourown.org/users/moth2fic – if you’re interested.)

Nevertheless, he persisted by mific***** Written for me in the SGA Secret Santa gift exchange. John, Rodney, Ronon and Radek get stuck on a planetary outpost during a routine inspection. Really gripping. 11k, https://archiveofourown.org/works/35838310

Not What It Seems by blackchaps**** SGA – an AU where scientists are slaves. 88k https://archiveofourown.org/works/743701 (and no, I hadn’t read this before I wrote my Secret Santa)

No Rest at all in freedom by Telesilla*** SGA. John ends up with wings when aliens see him as some kind of saviour. Although I like wingfic, these wings weren’t particularly appealing. 27k. https://archiveofourown.org/works/430985

And there is other fanfic out there…

A Bright, GuiltyWorld by Brumeier**** Trixie Belden mysteries but here Trixie is grown up with a new boyfriend and the mysteries are paranormal. I don’t know the original canon but I enjoyed the story and would like more! https://archiveofourown.org/works/34267990

Noah and the amazing multi-coloured dreamboat by Small_Hobbit**** Amusing Christmas ‘musical’ mash-up in this writer’s Sherlock Holmes AU with talking animals. 2739 words. https://archiveofourown.org/works/35070046

Trimmings: recipes in time for the holiday

Last year’s special meal. No idea why the sprouts look fuzzy. (They weren’t but I altered the photo to get the colours right, so…)

Happy Solstice and some holiday cooking.

Easy Trimmings

Whatever holiday you celebrate at this time of year you probably have a main dish (veggie or not) with lashings of extra veg and… all the trimmings. My daughter (who is veggie) agrees with me (I’m not veggie) that this is the best part of the celebratory meal. It is, of course, possible to buy all the trimmings or side dishes from your favoured supermarket or corner shop. However, some things are incredibly easy to make at home and (a) they taste better (b) you get much bigger quantities for a lower price (c) they make the kitchen and most of the house smell good.

Cranberry sauce.

Traditionally, this goes with turkey but so far as I’m concerned it goes with almost anything though I’ve never tried it with fish. (I don’t like turkey – find it a bit dry and bland – so we usually have chicken.)

Buy a punnet of cranberries well before the shops start to run out in December. Freeze it. Just throw it in the freezer.

You can start to thaw the berries but they’ll thaw as you cook so don’t worry. Put them in a pan with sugar, not too much but they can be tart – I use about two tablespoons of white granulated to a large punnet. Add a glass of orange juice plus shreds of orange rind if you happen to have been eating oranges or tangerines, a small glass of port (though sherry/madeira/etc would probably do) and make sure the liquid just covers the berries. If not, add a little water or more juice/alcohol. You can leave out the orange if you’re allergic to citrus or the alcohol if you’re teetotal. Though bear in mind that alcohol is burnt off during cooking so the sauce will not be alcoholic and is suitable for children. Put the pan on a medium to low heat and cook till most of the berries have burst. Then carry on till the liquid has reduced a bit but don’t go too mad as you are not making jam.

Store in the fridge – it will keep well into the new year if allowed. Ours isn’t and doesn’t.

Bread sauce

I think this is meant to go with turkey, too, and of course would not be suitable for kosher Jewish meals so just serve it with anything you like! Again, probably not fish.

Buy sliced white bread for this, even if you normally eat brown or whatever. Either buy a crustless loaf or cut off all the crusts which you can then turn into croutons if you feel inclined. I use about half a loaf for a dish of sauce that lasts through the holiday week for meals and sandwiches.

Peel a small onion and stud it with cloves. You might need to use a skewer to make little holes to help the cloves go in. Pour milk (any kind so maybe Jews or Vegans could use oatmilk) over the studded onion and bring to the boil then leave to cool. You can do this the night before you make the sauce and store the infused milk in the fridge but don’t take the onion out till you’re about to make the sauce.

Tear the bread roughly. Heat the infused milk and stir in the bread which should gradually turn into a mushy sauce mixture.

Stuffing

The kind you serve separately, either in a dish or in little balls, not the kind you put inside a roast.

Breadcrumbs. You need lots and the easiest way is to let half a loaf go a bit stale then whizz it in a food processor. (Tear it up first.) Add herbs – your choice. Sage is traditional with some meats, but other herbs work well. Thyme is popular. Also add things like sultanas and chopped dried apricots to make a more celebratory dish. You can create this mix well in advance.

Chop an onion very finely and cook by boiling in water then when the onion is translucent and glossy, add your mix, a little at a time, till you have the right consistency.

You can then make balls which are fiddly but give a crust that some people like, or just put the mix in a dish, dot with butter and bake on the bottom of the oven for about half an hour. (That’s what I do.) If you’re making the balls you’ll need a firmer initial consistency and you can use flour for rolling otherwise you’ll have ended up stuffing your hands and fingernails… I prefer the dish format, because I like the texture – more of the stuffing remains soft.

Dressing for e.g. shredded red cabbage, salad potatoes, etc.

I use half and half mayo and greek style yoghurt. You can also add a little mustard and/or lemon juice. This gives a good dressing that works better than either mayo or yoghurt alone. It clings nicely to the salad. My mother in law used soured cream instead of yoghurt but I think that was a question of what used to be available.

This actually goes well with fish e.g. salmon fillets

You might notice that I don’t mention seasoning i.e. salt and pepper. I use very little salt in cooking because nowadays a lot of people prefer to control the amount they add, at table. However, most dishes gain flavour if you add a pinch of salt when you start cooking. It’s up to you. Pepper, I prefer fresh ground and served at table though it can be a nice addition to dressing.

Don’t forget:

You can prepare all your veg in advance but make sure you put root veg like potatoes and parsnips in cold water to stop them discolouring. It really does make all the difference on the day of the big meal if half the work is already done.

Brandy butter

Intended to go with mince pies but I’m not wild about mince pies, or about custard or white sauce which traditionally go with plum pudding. So I have the pudding with brandy butter and very good it is too. (Indigestion tablets are recommended as a follow-up.) Leftover brandy butter tastes really good on toast, by the way. Just saying.

You can buy this and sometimes I do because I run out of cooking space and time, but really, all you need is butter, icing sugar, and brandy. Mix and then store in the fridge. The brandy might make it a bit sloppy but it should firm up in the fridge. Still, don’t use too much liquid!

As I’m posting this on the solstice I thought I’d share the card I made for my daughter’s birthday, which is on the solstice. I enjoy doing 3D decoupage (as well as cooking!) and this time made my own design using the inner sides of envelopes. It’s dead easy, and only needs sharp scissors, those little sticky fixers, and patience.

Sale and a new free story

I’ve enrolled my books in the Smashwords End of Year sale which runs from 17th December till 31st December. They’re all at 50% off which means the novels are now $1.49, the novellas and story collections are $0.99 and Silver Chains is free. The coupon will automatically be applied at checkout.

If you’ve ever thought about reading any of them, take advantage of this. In the new year I am considering raising some of the prices because I strongly suspect the low price makes people think the novels are just novellas or short stories.

I’ve also written you a holiday gift story which is now under the free stuff tab here. It’s called King of the Wood and is about plant shifters and mm romance (nothing explicit). The cover is based on a photograph from our garden. I thought it was very good of the holly and ivy to grow together for me!

I’ll be posting some holiday recipes later this week – before most of us do the celebration cooking, anyway!

(Incidentally my free stuff page is a mess but one of my friends is going to help me sort it out after the holiday. Meanwhile, you can still download stuff – it just looks disorganised.)

November Fanfiction

My current membership icon resized for WordPress

Just a reminder that all the fanfic I read is on AO3 which stands for Archive Of Our Own. This is a project of OTW which stands for Organisation for Transformative Works. I used to be a volunteer admin and their views and policies are still very dear to my heart. If anyone wants to read my own fanfic contributions you can find them on https://archiveofourown.org/users/moth2fic – a hotch potch of multi-fandom stuff, short and long!

I have read some long (think short novel length) and absorbing fics this month. All highly recommended and you don’t really need to know much about SGA other than that it is sci fi involving colonising an alien city on an alien planet and the central team are John, Rodney, Teyla and Ronon (who replaces Aiden Ford after Season 1).

Turn into something beautiful by blackchaps***** SGA – not only is John a were-cougar, all feline shifters have the gene and will go to Atlantis… https://archiveofourown.org/works/626440

Turn the Tide by Brumeier***** SGA John is a merman and Rodney is tasked with trying to communicate. This was a re-read from ages ago but just as good second time around. https://archiveofourown.org/works/13785420

Checkmate ‘Verse by Bead***** SGA. John is turned into a cat for a month by an ancient artefact. Rodney looks after him. The story is told in short chapters a bit like sections of episodes. Some are from a feline pov… The whole story gave me warm fuzzy feelings and I liked the HEA for John and Rodney in the final chapter. https://archiveofourown.org/works/221898

Where the Brave Dare Not Go by Telesilla***** SGA – an AU so far from canon you could read it as an original work. John is a were-cougar (as in the story by blackchaps). Rodney is a biochemist researching ways to make were cycles easier. http://archiveofourown.org/works/26467

I was supposed to be reading through the Pros big bang stories but had signed up for SGA Secret Santa so was immersing myself in SGA fic instead. My gift fic is now finished and will appear on my site, linked above, when it’s posted on 23rd December) so I will revert to my normal random reading and might even get to the Pros fics – I do have them all downloaded. I can’t give teasers about my fic because it’s meant to be a secret, but as it’s an SGA Secret Santa it will clearly be SGA… And I’ve just realised there will be all the other Secret Santa fics to read…

I also read Small_Hobbit’s ficlets as they appear in my inbox (yes, I subscribe). The human and animal inhabitants of her inimitable version of Sherlock Holmes are producing a pantomime this year based on Noah… Hilarious. https://archiveofourown.org/works/35070046 For those of you who don’t yet know her work, there are voles and mice and ferrets and so on who interact with the humans… No sex, no violence, just lots of fun.

To Brumeier and Small_Hobbit who are friends on Dreamwidth where I crosspost this, a huge thank you for the hours of pleasure you have given me over the year!

What I read in November

Apples, possibly crabapples, spotted locally in November

The excellent.

I should perhaps point out that five stars usually go to things I would read again if I ever have time. That means crime stories and mysteries rarely figure at higher than four.

Unplanned Coda by Kaje Harper***** A lovely ending to the Hidden Wolves series. I’m sad to leave these guys and would happily read more adventures in the same ‘verse.

Dances Long Forgotten by Ruby Moone***** A gorgeous mm twist on a Heyer Regency trope with a 21st century romance framing the story with the hearing of the ghost music that pervades it.

The Lost Ship of the Tucker Rebellion by Marie Sexton***** Brilliant sci fi that ticked all my boxes. The focus is on identical twins Denver and Laramie who have a semi-telepathic connection. There is some romance (mm and mf), lots of world building, and a bit of space opera but not enough to overwhelm the story.

Wed to the Barbarian and The Barbarian’s Vow by Keira Andrews***** High fantasy romance in two volumes. Really gripping and I couldn’t stop reading. This has all the usual ‘tropes’ – huge rough strangers, pampered princes, arranged marriage, plots galore and some really exciting drama but it also manages to smile wryly at itself and ends up explaining that life is not a fairy tale and that people are complicated.

Fragile Magic by Sharon Ashwood***** A rare (for me) five star short story. Selena (half fey) rescues a gargoyle and then of course she needs a vet (enter werewolf Jake). Romance that sparkles and some terrific world building in a short piece. Will definitely look out for this author.

Unwrapping his heart by Vin George.**** At first I thought it was just a sweet and well written story of friends to lovers then the totally believable various family dramas lifted it into the four star class. Lovely.

Jack O’Lantern by Fiona Glass**** Suitably creepy Halloween story but I read it on Nov. 1st over coffee! Will bear re-reading next October!

The Left Hand of Dog by Si Clarke**** (also Dare vs the Doll) I wasn’t wild about the short but tried the novel and got hooked. Humour of the Pratchett/Adams kind and fascinating friendships with aliens. Plus, of course, the dog… I have since read the prequel, Stardust Wake, and that deserves four stars too. If you like quirky sci fi, these are for you.

Wolfy by Tia Fielding**** Delightful book about a shifter/human relationship. I wanted more. More about the other wolves and their partners, and how they met, etc. Meanwhile, it filled the gap left by Hidden Wolves.

Romantic Rescue by Blake Allwood**** Blake is an author who can always be trusted to provide three dimensional characters (including the minor ones) and locations. I thought at first that this was going to be merely a sweet romance but there was mystery and danger in plenty before the end. Exciting and satisfying.

Fox and Wolf by Julia Talbot**** (Apex Investigations 1) A group of varied shifters as a detective agency. A gorgeous quote that I have to share: What did you do when you shot a mean tiger and all the bears had crocodile goo on them? That about sums up the plot, too.

The very readable but not special.

The Dragon Next Door by Holly Day*** Sweet story about a guy who wants to get to know his new neighbour. Nicely written but I find I want more than romance from romance stories.

Every witch way by Dakota Chase*** Well written tale of a young witch forced into using her multiple powers. High school settings are not my thing, and even though Diva goes off to Salem to do research there is still a high school vibe. This is not a criticism of the book. It’s just my taste! I suspect older teens would really love it.

Innate Magic by Shannon Fay*** Well written and the magic was interesting, but there was a lot of gratuitous violence and the core romance between Paul and Tonya wasn’t particularly gripping.

Ship Whisperer by Valerie J Mikles*** Competent sci fi and recommended for anyone who likes space opera and lots of future tech. The main character was fascinating. You’ll note from my four and five star recommendations that I like sci fi but I prefer it to focus on people and places rather than battles.

Rewriting History by Alex Jane*** A pleasant story in the new Podlington Village Romance series in which various authors get to play in the Podlington sandpit. Well written but not terribly memorable though I will probably read others in the series. I was curious about the references to Ashington because I grew up just outside a town of that name but got the impression this was not it. Another example of romance that is just romance. Nothing wrong with that, but I want more.

Run for the roses by Elizabeth Noble*** Well written story set in the world of horse racing with a convoluted murder mystery at the centre of the plot. First in the Circles series and another couple look interesting.

Just like cats and dogs by BA Tortuga*** A lot of head hopping, sometimes mid-paragraph, had me confused. Nice concept (cat and dog shifters find romance) and an exciting story.

Elven Duty by Rhys Lawless*** Nice story – not sure whether to get sequel or not but as it’s on KU I probably will. (I also liked their Foxy Heart.)

And lastly, the definitely not recommended

Shift by Heather MacKinnon* I was furious because this was introduced as the first novel in a series but turned out to be just the first three chapters. Just as it was getting interesting (a young woman is mauled by a wolf on a hiking trail then rescued by a brother and sister who talk about their ‘pack’) it stopped and there was a suggestion about clicking to buy the next volume. Even if the volumes were free or in KU I would not be impressed and definitely won’t be following the series on principle. I don’t object to ‘tasters’ but the author/publisher should be upfront about what’s on offer.

Bump in the night by Meredith Spies * Book One of Medium at Large. Confusing and confused paranormal detective story. The characters are insufficiently differentiated so it’s hard to tell who’s narrating each chapter, and the crime that underpins the plot is not well explained. There is some poor writing, including overlong paragraphs with a spoken sentence at the end meaning the reader hasn’t a clue who’s talking or why. I won’t be reading any more and would suggest you don’t, either.

That’s enough for now and I’ll leave fanfic to a later post.

My November viewing

Autumn colours arrived late this year, were glorious for a short time then disappeared rapidly.

Midway through December and I have failed to keep any blog promises so far… I meant to provide a playlist of last year’s December music – family emergencies and family celebrations have conspired to prevent anything from happening. I also intended to provide some Christmas cooking advice and that may yet happen. Meanwhile, I have, later in the month, a holiday story ready and waiting, and will also link to my Secret Santa fanfic once it is posted.

For now, have some reviews of what I watched in November.

Shetland***** (BBC1/iPlayer) Case satisfactorily resolved. Plenty of personal angst for next season.

Keith Jarrett: The Art of Improvisation*****. (BBC4/iPlayer) Repeat of a film I missed first time around. Nice long interviews with Keith and other musicians. I kept thinking how wonderful it would have been to have similar footage on composers like Mozart (Keith’s favourite).

Wheel of Time***** (Amazon Prime) I was excited to see this – I read all the books then gave them to a friend. She has now started a discussion comm (reading/viewing) on Dreamwidth. There are flaws (as there are in the books) but I shall continue. This is Amazon but is a weekly programme. I ended up writing a very angry letter to The New Statesman re a review of episode 1 by a journalist who clearly had no idea about the fantasy genre. I do not usually write to editors…

City Homicide.*** (Amazon Prime). An Australian cop show set in Melbourne. I was hoping for something like Mystery Road. I watched one ep and only carried on to the second because it was a two ep case. Adequate mystery and solution but the detective team was boring.

The Harder They Fall (Netflix) No stars. This is an alternative Western and sounded interesting. I stopped watching and read while husband got to the end. Brilliant acting and direction and fascinating to see black actors in all the leading roles, but the plot was very thin and there was almost non-stop violence so not a film for me. A friend recced it and I will be wary of her recs in future.

Joanna Lumley and the Human Swan (itv hub) Joanna followed the journey of a woman paragliding round Great Britain. No stars. I sat through this (doing other things) because husband is a keen paraglider. I am frequently irritated by Joanna Lumley and on top of her style of presentation we had some fairly stupid commentary about climate change. Yes, cliffs are collapsing but they must always have done so or why would they be there? Worthy but could benefit from some serious editing. I admit I was already a bit upset at the notion of a programme featuring a guy who died in an accident whilst they were filming; we knew from the outset that it was dedicated to him and again, worthy but not something I was happy to watch.

The End of November

This comes to you from a very snowy UK. The picture is from our garden and was in fact taken a few years ago but the scene today is exactly the same.

I thought I’d better post again before December. You may remember that last year I did a daily post of winter music. I will try to get a playlist of the music I recommended ready for your use but it might be a day or two because real life is quite busy at the moment.

I found daily posts quite hard so this year I’ll do some sporadic posts of seasonal cooking. Then I’ll have a seasonal story for you round about the middle of the month.

Meanwhile, I did a couple of memes I ‘stole’ from a friend (the writer smallhobbit).

1. Did you grow up with your parents together as a unit?
Yes until I was sixteen, when my father died. From the age of nine I was at boarding school and only saw them in the holidays and when they visited, once a term.

2. Did you reach adulthood with four living grandparents?

No. My maternal grandfather died before I was born and my maternal grandmother died when I was five. My paternal grandmother died a few weeks after my father when I was sixteen and my paternal grandfather survived until I was twenty.


3. Is your extended family a close one or not?
No. Nor is it very extended. My only uncle died before my mother did, in 2005. I have no first cousins but am still in touch with a second cousin and through her hear other news.

4. Does your family have a ‘black sheep’?

Not in recent history. My father’s surname derived from a lowland Scots group of border raiders, so once upon a time, who knows?

5. What is your first memory of a family member that is not your mother(s) or father(s)?
We lived with my maternal grandmother until I was three and then when my father (a CoE vicar) got his own parish she moved to live with us. So she was part of my life all the time.

6. What was a skill you were proud to learn as a kid?
Not sure I remember, but I do recall being pleased at being a good reader and at learning to read music (my grandmother taught me) at the same time as learning to read.

2. What’s something you used to be good at, but can’t do any more?
PE – cartwheels etc… And singing. I used to be in a choir but I no longer have the same range.

3. What’s something you haven’t done in a long time, but you could pick it right back up again with some practice?
Piano playing. I haven’t done any since I retired because for various reasons my piano is inaccessible.

4. What can you teach others to do?
I was a teacher so all kinds of things including: understanding grammar; various maths skills; how to review or critique something; how poetry works; how to read music. In craft terms etc. tatting, reading music, various papercrafts.


5. What would you like to learn next?
I would like to learn more skills with graphics programs.

Boring thrillers

Boring thrillers: a contradiction in terms? It’s something I’ve been promising to write about for a while now.

I like crime stories but I’m quite fussy about them. To begin with, I want to be in the position of the detective, amateur or professional, and I don’t appreciate being given the criminal’s pov, or some prologue that gives the solution away. I like being asked by the author to investigate alongside the detective and draw sensible conclusions then check them against the eventual ending. I like it when the author plays fair – no deus ex machina at the last minute and preferably no ‘well they were insane and nobody knew’. ( I read a couple like that recently.) I don’t like things that are too gruesome as we ‘watch’ though I don’t mind the investigation of gory crimes. Nor am I keen on really cosy mysteries, partly because I don’t often find them realistic; most investigation is done by professionals, either police or private detectives, not by amateurs.

Having said all that, I’m fairly careful about what I buy or borrow, and always read the blurb. I don’t read many reviews, in case of spoilers. I look at the first couple of pages and if an entire novel is clearly going to be in present tense I tend to turn away. Not a criticism because it’s clever and I know there are people who enjoy it – I’m just not one of them. It’s also a literary ‘trend’ and that’s something I don’t want in my genre reading.

However, recently I have read a number of thrillers that passed all those initial tests and then turned out to be totally uninspiring.

There are the police procedurals that are more about the procedure than the crime. I really think we can skip too much time explaining how a police station works. Even differences between different countries can be covered very briefly. Forensic science labs likewise. I want results and then the detective’s reactions to them.

Some stories have so many characters and so many threads introduced very early that my brain switches off. I have no objection to a cast of hundreds if they’re brought in gradually!

Then there are crime stories that are more about the detective than the crime. Yes, I want an interesting detective so that they come alive on the page and engage my sympathy, but I really don’t want chapter after chapter about their family or their problems till it detracts from the main plot.

That brings me to another kind of boring – boring detectives. I don’t necessarily want a superhero (in fact I don’t much like superheroes) or someone with so many quirks they aren’t real, but I do want them to stand out from the crowd. The same goes for their partner or sidekick. I’m happy with them finding romance – with each other or elsewhere – but again, it shouldn’t overwhelm the plot.

I love most Scandi-Noir on TV but have tried some Scandinavian novels and found them lacking. I think the actors and directors must bring extra life to the characters when books are used for series.

So when I give four or five stars to a crime story you’ll know it has passed all my tests. I’ll mention a few writers I love: Charlie Cochrane and RJ Scott both write mm romantic crime mysteries. KJ Charles does the same and includes magic. Phil Rickman’s Merrily Watkins series is wonderful, as is Ian Rankin’s Rebus. My comfort reading includes Lindsey Davis’ Roman detective Falco. There are others but this isn’t a critique or review post. It’s just to explain why sometimes in my reviews I talk about thrillers being boring.

And you know, when I invest time (and money) in a thriller, the last thing I want is for it to be boring!