Friday, April 30, 2021

Agatha in April

 The past week has been a struggle, to be honest. This is not unusual at this time of year as I settle into my yucky seasons. Things have been exacerbated this year by the fact that, for various reasons, I did not get my usual rest and recovery time in autumn and winter so I am starting off the difficult time of year already at a deficit. I'm always tired in April, but not usually exhausted until later in the summer. I'm starting early. However, it is what it is. It's not unexpected and I have a lot of practice. During times like this, I am even more happy to have good books available to distract me and to give me something for my mind to focus on. And there are booktube videos and book podcasts that I enjoy as well, both of which got me into some Agatha Christie during the month of April. 

Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? by Agatha Christie
Agatha Christie was mentioned in a book tube video I listened to and Poirot was the subject of a recent episode of the Shedunnit podcast. This put me in the mood for some Christie. This is a book I probably read decades ago and while I remembered small bits of the plot—mainly the very beginning—most of it was as if I was reading and enjoying it for the first time. Bobby, the vicar’s son, is playing golf on some cliffs with a doctor friend when he messes up his shot—he’s not a very good golfer. As he goe to find his ball, he sees something below. Turns out to be a dying man. The doctor says there’s no chance he’ll live and asks Bobby to stay with him while he goes to summon help. Soon after the doctor leaves, the man opens his eyes, looks directly at Booby and asks, ‘Why didn’t they ask Evans?’ Then he dies. Bobby is late for a job he promised his father, who can be rather stern, so when a stranger comes along to see what’s going on, Bobby asks him to stay with the body. The inquest returns a verdict of accidental death, assuming that the man lost his way in the mist and fell. But it soon becomes apparent to Bobby and his friend, Frankie (Lady Derwent), that all is not what it seems and that someone pushed him to send him tumbling over the edge. They set out to find out what really happened.

Partners in Crime by Agatha Christie
A few weeks ago, I was listening to a booktube video and the person mentioned this book, the second Tommy and Tuppence book Christie published. It’s been decades since I read it and decided to read it again. However, to my surprise, it was not on my e-reader. I have 60+ Christie books, but not that one. ‘Well, OK,’ I thought, ‘I’ll just borrow it from the e-book section of the library.’ Nope. They don’t have it, either. So I asked Bill to look for it at the usual places he gets books. He did, found it, bought it, and it arrived. I will be keeping it. It’s a fun collection of short stories in which many other fictional detectives are alluded to. Christie didn’t write many Tommy and Tuppence books, which is kind of a shame as there’s a humorous thread running through them. Even as they age as the books go on, the sense of humour between the two of them remains. I enjoy both of them and their relationship.

In this book, someone from Scotland Yard arrives, on a day when Tuppence is complaining of boredom, to ask them to take over Blunt’s Brilliant Detective Agency.  It seems that Mr Blunt may be involved in some international criminal shenanigans, so they want Tommy to ‘be’ Blunt and to run the detective agency. Tuppence is to be the confidential secretary, Miss Robinson. In the course of this investigation, they get clients with mysteries to be solved. As they take up each case, one or both of them decides on an approach taken by a fictional detective.

Poirot: The Greatest Detective in the World by Mark Aldridge
I heard the author on a Shedunnit podcast episode and instantly wanted the book. Bill bought it for me as a surprise, not telling me it was on the way until a couple days before it arrived. I was reading it when the next episode of the podcast dropped and he was a guest again. 

There’s always a risk that a book I’ve been eager to get my hands on turns out to be extremely disappointing once I’ve started reading it. That is definitely not the case here. I love this book. I must admit that Miss Marple is my favourite Christie character, but I like Poirot, too, so reading about him in this book was fun. Aldridge takes readers through the many lives of Hercule Poirot, decade by decade. We learn about his creation and Christie’s ongoing relationship with him, which was sometimes fraught. Poirot made his debut in The Mysterious Affair at Styles in 1920. By the 1930s, film adaptations of a few books were being made. I happened to see a 1934 version of Lord Edgware Dies on youtube. It was awful. Poirot, Japp, and Hastings were completely miscast. This would not be the last time Agatha Christie had problems with what other people did with her characters. The author describes these situations with regard to plays, films, radio, and television featuring Poirot. Sometimes things were based on Christie’s books and sometimes they borrowed the character and stuck him into new stories.  Christie liked some and hated others. So many people have turned Poirot into so many different kinds of person through the years.

 I got hooked on Christie when I was a kid and used to buy book after book. Sometimes this would lead to frustration, because I’d buy a book knowing I didn’t have that title, be excited about a new Christie, and open it only to learn that I’d already read the book. Since they were sometimes published under different titles in the US and UK, but the book store sold both, I would be fooled. 

One thing I enjoyed about reading this book was realizing how my understanding of Christie’s writing was often based on viewing the early years of the David Suchet TV series, when it was shown on PBS (Public Broadcasting Service in the US). I read her books voraciously as a kid and then only once in a great while after that, but I loved that series, which started in the 80s, as well as the Miss Marple with Joan Hickson (which stayed more true to the books). So when I would watch Suchet’s Poirot, I wasn’t really thinking about the time the stories were set in, which were often different from the books, or the fact that Georges the valet wasn’t there but Miss Lemon was, or that Hastings appeared on the TV series in stories where he wasn’t in the book. Aldridge explains why these choices were made.

With very rare exceptions, I don’t like movies, so I hadn’t seen the film versions he wrote about, but I quite enjoyed reading about the backgrounds of them nonetheless. If you’re not a big Christie or Poirot fan, this book probably isn’t worth your time. But if you are a fan, it’s definitely worth reading. It’s made me want to go back and re-read all the Poirots I haven’t read in so many years--in order!

Agatha Christie’s Poirot: The Life and Times of Hercule Poirot by Anne Hart
I read the author’s ‘biography’ of Miss Marple years ago, I think, and since I was on something of an Agatha Christie kick, when I saw this in the library e-book list, I borrowed it. It was a fun book, which went well with the Aldridge book. Where he wrote some about the character of Poirot, he also wrote about how other people interacted with and adapted the character. Hart is all about Poirot as presented in the books. This is how the book is described on the website:
‘‘My name is Hercule Poirot and I am probably the greatest detective in the world. 'The dapper, moustache-twirling little Belgian with the egg-shaped head, curious mannerisms and inordinate respect for his own 'little grey cells' has solved some of the most puzzling crimes of the century. Yet despite being familiar to millions, Poirot himself has remained an enigma – until now. From his first appearance in 1920 to his last in 1975, from country-house drawing-rooms to opium dens in Limehouse, from Mayfair to the Mediterranean, Anne Hart stalks the legendary sleuth, unveiling the mysteries that surround him. Sifting through 33 novels and 56 short stories, she examines his origins, tastes, relationships and peculiarities, revealing a character as fascinating as the books themselves.’

I'm taking a break from Christie for now--I have a couple dystopian novels borrowed from the e-book section of the library and will turn to one of those next. I've pulled a non-fiction book from the shelf and will see if I find it worth reading. The library's e-audiobook collection has had a lot of new additions in the past couple of days--many radio dramas based on books and short stories that I'm interested in. I've borrowed some already, so when I'm really tired and can't read myself, I'll stick in my earbuds and let someone else tell me a story. 😀 Gotta get my lit fix one way or another! I hope that there are plenty of good books in your world, too!

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Celebrating Mother Earth

Blooming through concrete
Reaching for the sky

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Seize the Opportunity


space between boulders
seizing opportunity
life's gorgeous colours

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Can't Argue

 Saw this sign on a fence. No argument from me! 😉

Monday, April 19, 2021

Happy Mail!

 We arrived at our door this morning with our weekly shop done and dusted, and spotted the postman a couple doors down. He looked up and I waved to him. He turned and started walking towards us. This was a hopeful sign, because it meant he had some small parcels that would not fit through the slot in our postbox. I was hoping it would be a book or two. Oh happy day! It was exactly what I'd hoped it would be! Two books--yippee!

The first was one I'd asked Bill to find a used copy of--Agatha Christie's second Tommy and Tuppence book, which is a collection of short stories--Partners in Crime. Someone mentioned it on a recent podcast or booktube video and I thought, 'Well, I haven't read that for yonks. Time for a re-read.' I thought it was on my e-reader, but although I have lots of her other books, I don't have that one. Next I checked the e-book section of the library website. They don't have it either. So Bill looked for it and found an ex-library copy, which is now mine. 😁

The other book is another one I'm excited about. I learned of it a couple weeks ago on an episode of the Shedunnit podcast titled The Many Afterlives of Hercule Poirot. The author was really interesting and the book sounded fabulous. I told Bill about it and unbeknownst to me, he found it and ordered it, only telling me it was on the way a couple days ago.
I can't wait to dive into this one! I am a couple hundred pages away from finishing the chunky novel I started the other day, so I will try to finish that today or tomorrow at the latest so I can start my new ones. I don't think I could make myself wait much longer than that!

I highly recommend the Shedunnit podcast if you're a fan of Golden Age detective fiction. It comes out every other week on Wednesdays and is usually around 25 minutes long. The topics are varied and it's clear that Caroline Crampton does a lot of research for each one. Often there are guests who are experts on whatever the topic is, as with the author of my new book. Check out the episode page here and have a listen to one that strikes your fancy! 😊

And now, back to my reading!

Sunday, April 18, 2021


 Mother Nature's artwork on a human made canvas 💜

Saturday, April 17, 2021

Lost in Thought

 When we were walking around Burtonport, we passed a small housing estate with a play area for the kids and a green area with a bench. I saw the guy on the bench and thought it was an interesting place for such a statue. Then I wondered whether it actually was a piece of art or an actual person--we were looking at the back. When I got closer, I could see that it was sculpture. 
On the way back, we went into the space and looked at him from the front.
It's too bad his hands broke off. 

Friday, April 16, 2021

Still Standing

 There are a couple of ruins in Burtonport. I'm not sure what this one in the town is, but it's right on the main road.
This old coastguard station is visible from the main road, but we turned down a dirt lane and got a better view.

This one isn't a ruin yet, but the way the ivy is taking over, it might be one before too long!
The old structures here are solid--the landscape is littered with shells of buildings still standing, but with roofs and windows gone. It always makes me wonder about the people who inhabited these buildings long ago.

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Ailt an Chorráin (Burtonport) Harbour

 There was a lot going on at the harbour yesterday afternoon. It was a whole different vibe than Killybegs, where the harbour was dominated by very large boats. This had small boats and the scenery was gorgeous!

This was what we saw when we got off the bus.

We left the harbour area at first to wander around a bit, but after we'd eaten our picnic lunch, we went back and walked around some more. 

There was a heart in the road
And showers available
There's a ferry to nearby Arranmore Island and boat trips to see marine wildlife. The ferry is running even with restrictions still in place. Not sure about the sightseeing boats, but even if they're not running now, hopefully they will be later in the year. We'd like to do both.

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

I Fell in Love with the Rocks

 For the first time in over a year, we hopped on a bus late this morning just to go somewhere and wander around. We went to spend some time in a neighbouring village, something we've been wanting to do and looking forward to for a long time. As of Monday, we are allowed to move around within our county instead of having to stay within 5km of our home, so we kept an eye on the weather forecast and decided today was the day we would finally go to Burtonport. It was a lovely day all around! 
the Irish name of the village, which means 'curved ravine'

One of the first things I noticed was the rocky environment, which I immediately fell in love with--so many textures and patterns!. 

It's such a beautiful landscape! We walked round for almost 4 hours and I enjoyed every minute of it! There is a lot more we want to explore, though, so we'll be going back soon. It's a very small village, but there are a few different walking trails along a disused railway line as well as dirt lanes and rural roads. 

I'm looking forward to the next walk!

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Slow Cooker Jalapeno Cheese Bread

 A few months ago, my bread maker decided it was done. I'd gotten it in a charity shop for €5 and used it regularly for 4 years, so I can't complain. I had to decide whether to replace it. I looked into various options. The problem was in the baking. Decades ago, I used to make all our bread and I quite enjoyed the mixing and kneading by hand. And I always had to manipulate the dough with bread machines, too, since flour will absorb different amounts of liquid and weather conditions play a role. So I always got my hands goopy anyway. But I am not a big fan of the fan ovens I've had in Ireland for baking bread. Muffins and rolls are OK, because they're smaller and bake faster. But a loaf of bread takes longer and with the fan on, the crust gets hard, even if I place a pan of water in the oven, too. If I don't use the fan, it takes forever. I really did not want to buy another machine, because I didn't want to have another bulky appliance. Bill joked with me that I was holding out for another charity shop bargain, but I replied that I wouldn't even buy one in a charity shop at this point. So I pondered various options and came across people baking bread in their slow cookers. This seemed worth trying!

The first experiment was semi-successful. All the recipes were pretty much the same, but I chose one from a site in the UK, because the slow cooker I have here has always seemed to me to not get as hot as the ones I had in the US. Also, the only slow cooker we could find 7 years ago when we first got here was a 3.5 litre one. This suits our needs just fine, but I think most of the blog posts I read about slow cooker bread involved a 6-quart--some people place loaf pans inside the crock, which isn't something I can do in mine. 

I made the dough, kneaded it, shaped it into a ball as directed in the recipe, placed it on parchment paper in the crock, set it on high and went back after the 2 1/2 hour baking time. It wasn't close to being done, so I flipped it and left it in, checking a few times. In the end, I stuck a thermometer in the centre as suggested in the recipe. It was close to, but not quite, at the 90C temperature it should have been at. By this time, it had been in there for 4 1/2 hours, so I just took it out and when I turned on the oven, stuck it in there for 15 minutes. It was mostly done--we could eat the ends, but the very centre was not quite as done as I wanted. I gave it some thought and came up with some tweaks that might make things work. Success! 

I tried a loaf of rye next. Instead of shaping the dough into a ball, I made it more of a log and then flattened it a wee bit when I put it in the crock. Then I tented a piece of foil over the top--just enough to cover the dough. This served two purposes--it radiated heat back down over the top, and it kept the condensation from dripping off the lid onto the dough (some people wrap their lids in paper towels or tea towels). I still needed more time than the 2 or 2 1/2 hours that most recipes call for, but that's OK. I flipped the loaf after 2 1/2 hours and then let it cook for another 1 1/2--so 4 hours altogether. This is not that much longer than the bread maker, which took 3 hours 40 minutes for a loaf of wholemeal bread, which is the only kind I make. So this takes me a few minutes to mix the ingredients, 10 minutes to knead, and 20 minutes more to cook. I'm cool with that, especially since the finished loaf is better than what I used to get from the machine or the oven. Yay!

Today, I made jalapeno cheese bread. It is delicious! here's the recipe:
In a mixing bowl, stir together
4 cups strong wholemeal flour (bread flour in the US)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
granulated garlic
dried jalapenos or chopped jalapenos from a can or jar (I used dry)
3/4 to 1 cup of cheddar or cheese of your choice
1 packet fast-acting dry yeast

In a measuring cup, add 1 1/2 cup warm water and 1 tablespoon olive or vegetable oil

Add liquids to dry ingredients and stir together. Turn out on lightly floured surface and knead for 10 minutes, kneading in more flour if dough is too wet. 

Shape into a log
Place on a piece of parchment paper so you can use it to lift the bread out of the crock later. Lift the dough into the crock of your slow cooker.
Tent a piece of foil over the dough, turn the slow cooker on high, and let it cook for between 2 and 2 1/2 hours, then check. Flip loaf if necessary. After 2 1/2 hours, the top of the bread was still soft, so I flipped it. Then I let it cook for another 1 1/2 hours. This smooshed the top a bit, but who cares!
I let it cool on the rack for 15 minutes and then sliced off the end--I should probably have left it longer, but I cannot resist the end piece of a freshly baked loaf of bread!
It is so good! I'm thrilled that this method works so well. I can use my oven for flatbreads and rolls and the slow cooker for bread, thus avoiding the acquisition of another bulky kitchen item that I will have to move one day. An added benefit is that I can make bread while not turning on the oven in the summer, thus avoiding having extra heat pumped into the room when I least want it. In winter, I leave the oven door open after I turn it off and the heat is useful, but in summer, the oven almost never goes on. It makes a noticeable difference, so I am happy to skip it. Now we are considering whether or not to get a larger slow cooker and donate the one we have. For now, I think I'll stick with what I have, but if it seems to be a good idea one day, we should be able to get one. They've become more readily available these past couple years than they were when we first got here.

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Gorse Glowing, River Flowing

 On our stroll by the water yesterday afternoon, the gorse was glowing

and the river was flowing
Such a beautiful, peaceful way to spend a small part of the day.

Friday, April 9, 2021

Easy Peasy Pizza

 Friday is pizza for supper night in our home. We like thin crust, so when I used to make crust, I would roll it out as thinly as I could and it was good. I've also used English muffins and pitta bread as crust. Again, good. We liked it. But then one day, I decided to do something different. I had some wholemeal wraps that needed using, so pizza crust seemed like a good way to do that. I haven't made pizza any other way since. It's just the way we like it best. I use wholemeal wraps most of the time, but of those aren't available, I buy the seeded wraps instead. One wrap is too flimsy to hold the toppings, so I use two that are 'glued' together with cheese and go from there. These are the two different pizzas I made tonight, but the possibilities are, of course, endless.

Tonight, I had some of this sliced mild cheddar that needed to be used, so that was my 'glue.' I use whatever cheese I have in varying amounts--mild or mature cheddar, sliced or shredded, or mozzarella.
Then i just place another wrap on top of ths and build the pizza from there. Bill likes tomato sauce, so I use what is called tomato puree here and tomato paste in the US. It's good and thick, so doesn;t run off when I spread it around. I then sprinkle on garlic granules, oregano, and basil.
I also like this, but lately, I've been liking pesto with some oregano sprinkled on top better, so that's what I've been making.
I sprinkle on the cheese--mozzarella or a mix of that and cheddar--and add diced bell pepper, sliced onion (I really like red onions for this, but any will do), and if we have some, fresh broccoli florets cut into very small pieces. We didn't have any fresh broccoli today.
I like pickled jalapeno slices on mine, too.
That's it! I stick it in the oven and wait for the cheese to melt, get bubbly and brown at the edges.

Sorry about the photo above--too much steam. You can just see, in the upper right hand corner, how the pesto browns nicely at the edge--it's sort of caramelized. It's so good! It's crunchy and a wee bit chewy.

Bill likes his with a few grinds of black pepper. I put on some grated Parmesan and grind some of this on top:
Aldi has it in summer, so I get it then to last until it comes back again. It is so good--a mix of jalapeno, garlic, chilli, and mustard. I'm nearing the end of my supply, so hope it returns soon.

That's all there is to it. Funny how sometimes the most simple things can be the best. It's quicker to make this than it would be to get one from a takeaway and it is so much better. 


Thursday, April 8, 2021

Walking the Talk

 "Our own life is the instrument with which we experiment with Truth."

—Thich Nhat Hanh

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Veg Patties

 Last week, I made some broccoli patties. They were so good! I made several to keep in the fridge--excellent to grab for lunch. Today, I used different veggies to make a different version.

I had half a medium head of sweetheart cabbage (the pointy kind, but any cabbage would work fine). I cut it up into pieces and whizzed it in my mini food processor.
Then I cut a small bell pepper and a medium onion into chunks and whizzed them up as well. Finally, I grated two medium carrots. I added all these veggies to the cabbage.
Then in went the herbs.
I also added dried parsley and black pepper. I didn't measure--just put in as much as I wanted and then mixed everything together.
Time for cheese now--about a cup or more or less to taste. When I did the broccoli patties, I used all cheddar, but this time I had some cheddar and some mozzarella that needed using, so I dumped those in. I also had the end of a wedge of Parmesan, so I sliced that thinly and cut it into very small cubes (I stuck the rind in a small bag and put it in the freezer--these are good to toss in the pot when making soup--just remove before serving--imparts a lovely flavour).

Beat three large eggs and mix in. Then add about 3/4 cup flour or bread crumbs. I used oat flour (just whiz up some rolled oats in a food processor to make oat flour), but after I'd gotten everything mixed, it dawned on me that rye flower and caraway seeds would have probably been great too. with these veggies.

I lined a couple pans with parchment paper and spooned the mixture onto the pans, smoothing with the spoon.

I baked these at 200C (about 390F) in a fan oven for about half an hour, until the patties were golden brown.

I love these! They're handy to have in the fridge and would probably freeze well, although I have not tried this. There are a lot of possibilities with these--by changing veggies, herbs, and spices, the resulting patties will vary in taste. These are easily adaptable and great for using up odds and ends, thus avoiding food waste. I made 10 patties today and I think 12 the other day--I made them thicker today. But I could have used fewer veg and then cut down on the cheese, flour, and egg as well. 

When I made the broccoli patties, I used the florets from a 500g head of broccoli and whizzed them up in the food processor. I used half a large onion. All the rest was the same, except I used all cheddar cheese. I also added a tablespoon of olive oil, because the florets were more dry than the veggies I used today. I used a wee bit more flour today than I did for the broccoli patties because the mixture was wetter. I could have squeezed out the moisture from the shredded veg, but that would have been unnecessary bother, so I just compensated for this and it was fine.

They're good hot or cold, on their own or in a wrap. I suspect we'll be having many more of these in one form or another in the weeks ahead. 😋