Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Smoked Mackerel Spread with Homemade Ricotta

 On Monday, I used some whey I'd saved from making yoghurt. Yestereay morning, I had some ricotta with berries and nuts for breakfast. I also wanted to use some of it to make a savoury spread, so I did that, too.

Into a bowl, I dumped the two small fillets in one small can of peppered smoked mackerel, caught nearby and canned locally. I discarded the oil. I took off a few small bits of skin, then mashed this up with a fork. To this I added a couple generous dollops of ricotta, some dried chives, parsley, some peri-peri seasoning, and a sprinkle or two of dried jalapeno flakes. I snipped some scallion and finely diced a piece of yellow bell pepper I had in the fridge that needed using. Then I mashed it all together with a fork. It needed to sit to let the flavours meld, but I couldn't resist having a taste. It is so good! 😋 I gave Bill a taste and he agreed. I put it in the fridge to sit overnight. I think it'll be great on rye crackers.
There's lunch sorted!

I still have a bit of ricotta left. Not sure how I will eat/use it, but I'll decide another day.

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Not Bad

 I made some ricotta yesterday, using whey saved from straining homemade yogurt. I will probably make a savoury spread with some of it, but this morning for breakfast, I put a couple spoonfuls in a bowl, topped with thawed frozen blueberries and raspberries, sprinkled with walnuts and flaked almonds, and munched. Yum! Along with a piece of toast and a mug of oolong tea, it really hit the spot. 
And, in what seems like a gift, it was unexpectedly raining. All in all, it wasn't a bad way to start a summer morning.

Monday, June 21, 2021

Wise Words

 The tears that I shed yesterday have become rain.
                                         --Thich Nhat Hanh

Sunday, June 20, 2021

Scraps to Socks

 I continue to use various scraps to make stuff. I love using bits and bobs of leftovers and odd balls to make something new. This time, I discovered a fairly large ball of leftover sock yarn when I was gathering my scraps to work with on my triangular pin loom. I'd made myself a pair of socks using that and some other leftover superwash wool from a cone that I got years ago at a charity shop for one euro. I have made many things with that cone and there is still some left. By using that kind of yarn for cuffs, I can make sock yarn go further. For the feet, which get a lot of wear, wool and nylon is best (usually 75% wool and 25% nylon). The wool is warm and the nylon provides strength so socks don't wear out after they're worn a few times. But the cuffs aren't subject to that kind of wear, so using superwash wool works great for those. Anyway, I had enough of that sock yarn left to make two more feet and plenty of plain superwash for cuffs, so I cast on the first sock of a pair for Bill a few months ago. This was a project that I could pick up and put down here and there as the mood struck. Last night, I did the toe decreases and wove in the ends of the second sock. 
He likes his feet plain, so this was a good mindless project, only requiring attention when doing the heel flap and turn and then at the toe decreases. Later, I'll be casting on with the light grey again, in an attempt to use up the rest of what's on that cone. At the same time I discovered the green/grey, I came across leftovers of some black and grey--there should be enough to make myself a pair of socks. If I run out near the end, I'm cool with adding in some other scraps to eke out the pair. I used to know people who would get very disturbed about socks not matching. Lucky for me, I am not one of those people. The funkier, the better, as far as I am concerned!

Just  few hours until solstice as I type and then we turn the corner and start heading towards autumn and winter. Whoop!

Saturday, June 19, 2021

Had a Craving

 This morning after breakfast, I got out all the stuff I'd need to make a big batch of hummus. I just had a craving.
Like almost everything else I make, it's never exactly the same every time. I don't measure--just eyeball stuff and watch the consistency. This time the different thing was the peri-peri seasoning I added. I love this stuff. I'd never heard of it until we came to Ireland and I saw it in grocery stores on other things. After looking it up, I thought it sounded good, so I bought a foil tray of peri peri (sometimes spelled piri piri) potatoes for roasting at the local grocery store. They were soooo good! Now Aldi sells the seasoning in a jar, so I keep some in the cupboard to use in various dishes. The seasoning consists of crushed chillis, onion granules, salt, dried garlic, dried orange peel, black pepper, chilli pepper powder, lemon peel, bay leaf, paprika, coriander seeds, parsley, cumin, and oregano, in that order, most to least.

Because I have a mini food processor, I do the hummus in three batches and then just mix together afterwards. Into the processor bowl, I dump some drained canned chick peas, some tahini, olive oil, some onion cooked until translucent, some jalapeno slices from a jar, sundried tomato, chargrilled peppers, garlic granules, oregano, parsley, peri peri seasoning, then whiz until smooth and creamy. If it's too lumpy, I add a bit more oil and whiz again. I use the entire jar of sun dried tomato and chargrilled pepper, along with the two cans of chick peas, so it makes a large batch, which is handy to have in the fridge.
I taste it, of course, as I'm making it, to see if anything needs to be adjusted. It is hard for me to stop at a tiny bit. I find it almost addicting and I have to force myself to put it away for later, rather than gobbling down spoonful after spoonful. But today I summoned up some willpower and it's resting in the fridge for later, flavours melding together. I will enjoy it for supper tonight. And lunch tomorrow and the day after that, and...

Hope it's a nice day in your neck of the woods!

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Scrappy Squares

 The other day, I posted some kumihimo braids made out of scraps and odd balls of gifted acrylic and novelty yarns. In addition to that scrappy project, I am also weaving squares on one of my pin looms. I started making squares when Bill first surprised me with the loom and I had a bunch made. I'd even started sewing them together into a funky scrappy blanket, but then I needed 70 of the squares for a different project, so more squares are needed. I am using some of the same yarns as with the kumihimo, but some of the novelty yarn I have doesn't work well for that. It does work with my pin loom, though, which has the pins farther apart than some looms to accommodate thicker yarns.

I leave long ends to use for sewing the squares together. I'm also making some plain squares so that when I put it together, I have some to break up all that texture. As with the kumihimo, this isn't a fast project, but it's fun to see the colours and textures playing together. I'm enjoying myself so it's OK with me if it takes a while. 😀 Maybe by the time the chilly weather returns, the blanket will be done. Less than 2 weeks until solstice and then we start losing that wee bit of daylight each day! Yay!

Monday, June 7, 2021

Scrappy Novelty

One of my current ongoing yarny projects is using up some of the novelty yarn I was given a few years ago. It took a while for it to tell me what it wanted to be, but one day as I was making a braid using one of my kumihimo disks, I was admiring the colours and pattern of the braid, paid attention to the fact that it's hollow and squishy, and thought, 'If I made a bunch of these and sewed them together, this would make a cool bath mat.' Out came some scraps and odd skeins/balls of plain acrylic, novelty yarn scraps, and some ribbon yarn that a friend sent me. The experiment had begun. 
I am not planning any designs on these. How the yarn goes on the disk is random and depends on how many lengths of various colours I can get out of the scraps I have. I love watching each braid emerge and seeing how the colours are playing together. It's all very scrappy and improv, which is my favourite way to work! 

I like having a braid in progress, because this is completely mindless. Kumihimo can be quite intricate and require attention, but this is a plain 8-strand round braid, which only requires me to move strands of yarn from one slot to another and turn the disk. 
When I want to have my attention on something else, but still do something with my hands, this is perfect. On the bus, there are no hooks or needles or balls of yarn/thread to drop and roll away--it's all on the disk. When I am tired, unable to concentrate, or feeling meh, I can still do this without worrying about making mistakes that I will have to rip out and correct in future. It's actually a good thing I feel this way because I figure that to complete this project I will need at least 50 braids--maybe a few more. Kumihimo isn't particularly fast. Braid 14 is looking fabulous on my disk at the moment. I have a while to go, but the yarn isn't going anywhere! 😁

Saturday, June 5, 2021

Breathtaking Colour!

 Walking through the grocery store car park, these stopped me in my tracks--oh that gorgeous colour!

Friday, June 4, 2021

May Books: Poetry and a Play

 In addition to the novels and nonfiction I read last month, there was some poetry and a play scattered throughout.

The Home Place by Brian Friel
This play takes place over the course of one day in 1878 in the fictional village of Ballybeg, Co Donegal. Christopher Gore lives in the ‘big house’ with his son, David and their assorted servants. Gore is originally from Kent (the ‘home place’) and feels nostalgia for it. There is animosity towards him from some of the Irish people in the village (at this time Ireland was still colonized by the British and there was a movement for home rule). This is exacerbated by a Gore relative, who is an anthropologist (in the horrible, racist early days of the discipline) who wants to take measurements of the local Irish people, thinking he could learn something about their characters and ways of life through these measurements of their physical features. They were seen as specimens, an attitude that was sadly common in anthropology and that hung on longer in some places than in others.

Silence’s Bell by Florentin Smarandache
(non-standard haiku poems, translated from Romanian by Stefan Benea, and refined by
the author)
This was available on the website of The Haiku Foundation, so I downloaded it. My favourite haiku in the collection was this one:
Tender snowdrops
 draw up the spring 
from under the snow. 

After the haiku, there is a postscript which provides a biographical sketch of the author, a discussion of haiku and how and when it became a form for Romanian poets, as well as how the poet’s life experiences, including that fo exile for a time, influenced his poetry. 

Death of a Psychotherapist and Other Poems by John Wood
This collection is an attempt to document, after the fact, the dreams and hallucinations the poet had while undergoing intense treatment for a rare kind of blood cancer. He was in the process of retiring from his work as a psychotherapist when he suddenly became ill and needed chemotherapy and strong medications which resulted in strange dreams, hallucinations, and experiences. The first section of the book contains the poems and the second is the author’s analysis of the poems and his experiences.

The Crow—A Book of Haiku by Chris Gordon
This was the book of the week a weekly Haiku Foundation email. It is, in fact, a collection of haiku about crows.

Dark Leaves by Carol Dagenhardt
This is a lovely haiku collection written by the poet in honour of her late father. It was a book-of-the-week in a Haiku Foundation email newsletter. Here is an example:
bent to earth
in his last garden
one white gladiola

And that's it for May. New month, more books--some things don't change. 😏😉

Thursday, June 3, 2021

May Books: Fiction

 It's so wonderful to pick up a novel and immediately enter a different time and place. I read a fair bot of nonfiction, but I am also never very far away from a novel of one sort or another. May was no exception.
Severance by Ling Ma
I read about this book in an article about authors of dystopian novels published recently, but before COVID was known about. This was one such book, published in 2018. It sounded good, so I clicked over to the e-book section of the library website and did a search. It was there and available, so I borrowed it. Loved the book, except for a few bits that I could have done without. Unlike many dystopian novels, this one takes place in 2011, not at some future time.

The protagonist is Candace Chen, a woman in her 20s who works for a company called Spectra Publishing, in New York City. Candace was born in the Fujian Province of China but arrived in the US when she was 6 years old. Her parents had already been in the US for 3 or 4 years by then, having settled in Utah so her father could attend university on a scholarship. Candace lived with her grandmother until they could send for her. 

The story begins in 2011, with a group of survivors who form a group and decide to go to a place called The Facility in order to try to build a new community. On their way, they come across Candace in a cab, severely dehydrated and in need of food. She joins the group and from then on, the narrative moves between what is going on in the present day, what happened leading up to that point, and Candace’s memories of her childhood. There is also a bit about her parents in Utah before she got there.

The reason the group is trying to make it to The Facility is because a disease called Shen Fever has killed many. Those who do not die right away continue to do things they used to do, but without any awareness of themselves or what they’re doing. Shen Fever is not transmitted between humans, but is breathed in with microscopic fungal spores that move all around the world on the consumer goods that wealthy nations are addicted to. The region where the disease originated, the reader is told, is the world’s biggest electronics manufacturing area. People get into the habit of wearing masks in order to keep the fungal spores out.

Candace has always had a problem getting close to people and being in social situations, so being in this group isn’t easy to begin with. Things get worse when she realizes that maybe being with these people, particularly Bob, the leader, isn’t such a great idea. 

The Big Four by Agatha Christie
After reading a couple books about Hercule Poirot last month, I decided to re-read his books here and there in order of their publication.  I’ve listened to the first two within the past year. I recently read Poirot Investigates when I discovered it on Project Gutenberg. Next would have been The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, but I’m pretty familiar with that one, so I moved on to this one. I remembered that it was an outlandish plot involving a group of people who wanted to bring down the current world order, but I’d forgotten most of the details beyond that. One thing I liked about it was how the reader really gets a sense of the deep friendship between Poirot and Captain Hastings. In this book, they’d been apart for some time as Hastings had married and moved to the Argentine to run a ranch. Business required his presence in France, so he went on to London when he was done with that and surprised Poirot. Of course they saved the world together, knowing that, while Hastings extended his stay, eventually, he would be leaving again.

From Doon with Death by Ruth Rendell (audiobook read by Terrence Hardiman)
This is the author’s first Inspector Wexford book, published in 1964. I’ve read various books in the series through the years, but not in order. I’ve picked them up here and there as I’ve come across them in libraries and charity shops. This one was available in the e-audiobook section of the library website and I was in the mood for a mystery, so I borrowed it. I liked it. 

When Margaret Parsons is found dead in a wood, Wexford and his sidekick, Mike Burden, investigate. In the attic of the house she shared with her husband, they find a collection of expensive books inscribed to Minna from Doon. The sorts of books on the shelves in the house were of a different sort altogether, so how did Margaret acquire these books, why did she pack them away and keep them in an attic, who was Doon, and what do Doon and the books have to do with Margaret’s death?

Guarding Maggie by Ellen McCarthy
After the library opened for browse and borrow, I did both! I browsed and this ws one of the books I found and borrowed. I loved it!

Maggie is 60 years of age, living on the family farm in rural Donegal with her brother, who is an 80-year-old tyrant. He controls Maggie, who keeps to herself and keeps quiet, finding quiet moments of joy with her cat and books. One day her quiet life is turned upside down when a visitor from the US shows up unannounced. It is her son, born when Maggie was 17 and immediately taken from her by the nuns in the convent laundry where she was sent. He was given to an Irish-American couple and grew up in the Boston area, but his adoptive parents had died and he had tracked Maggie down. Maggie defies her brother and continues to see her son. Shortly thereafter, the brother dies and someone starts harassing Maggie. 

This is one part mystery and one part family saga. As the narrative unfolds, the reader moves from the present day to the past and back again. Maggie remembers episodes from her past and learns about her brother’s past after he dies. She and her son travel around Donegal—that part was fun, because I’ve been in most of the places they went and I could picture them in my mind. As Maggie tries to piece everything together and discover why someone is tormenting her, the tension builds.

The ending was a bit abrupt and I knew who was out to get her way before the end, although the answer to why this person was doing these things did not jump out at me until almost the end. 

The Last Migration by Charlotte McConaghy
When I went to the library to pick up some requests that had come in, this was displayed on a shelf near the checkout desk. It looked good, so I added it to the pile. It was a really good read, so I’m glad I did!

The story unfolds at an unspecified future time. Many animal species have gone extinct. There are not any fish left in the oceans. There are few birds left. Franny, a troubled woman in her 30s, has always felt a connection to birds. She is a wanderer by nature and when we meet her, she is in Greenland, attaching tracking devices to the legs of three Arctic terns. We soon learn that she plans to try to finagle her way onto one pf the few fishing boats left and convince the captain to follow the birds to Antarctica in what her husband has told her may be the last migration. Since the birds migrate from the arctic to the antarctic and back every year, relying on fish for food, without the fish, such long migrations would no longer be possible. She has a list of captains to contact, but all of them have denied her request, except the last one on the list. She meets him and his crew in unusual circumstances at a bar and he agrees to take her, against his better judgement. She convinces him by insisting that if they follow the birds, the birds will lead them to the fish.

As the journey unfolds, the narrative moves back and forth in time as we follow the birds south and Franny remembers things from her past and considers how she got to where she is. She regularly writes letters to Niall, her husband, telling him what is going on, but throughout the narrative, there is a sense that things are off. What is really going on with Franny? Gradually, secrets are revealed and lives are changed.

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

May Books: More Nonfiction

 There was more fascinating nonfiction on my book pile in May.

And Now I Spill the Family Secrets: A Memoir by Margaret Kimball (audiobook read by Eileen Stevens)
From the e-audiobook listing on the library website:
‘In 1988, when Kimball is only four years old, her mother attempts suicide on Mother’s Day—and this becomes one of many things Kimball’s family never speaks about. As she searches for answers nearly thirty years later, Kimball embarks on a thrilling visual journey into the secrets her family has kept for decades.

Using old diary entries, hospital records, home videos, and other archives, Margaret pieces together a narrative map of her childhood—her mother’s bipolar disorder, her grandmother’s institutionalization, and her brother’s increasing struggles—in an attempt to understand what no one likes to talk about: the fractures in her family.’

I think it’s important to say that while the book begins with her mother’s suicide attempt, which is described in the prologue, the author and her siblings did not know about what happened until they were adults. She says her brother calls her one day to ask if she knew. So part of the story is the confusion and lack of understanding about what was happening felt by the kids as they grew up. The confusion continues when her brother begins to act in strange ways. he once picked her up at the airport with a hoodie on and the hood pulled forward in front of his face. He started recording the journey as soon as she was in the car. When she asked him why, he explained that he was being followed and tracked. At one point, he explains that there are planes flying over his home several times a day and when she asks him if he thinks this might be because he lives near an airport, he dismisses this idea immediately, saying they are there to keep tabs on him. The author struggles with all of this and more throughout the book. The story is compelling. The reader does a wonderful job as well.

Why the Germans Do It Better: Notes from a Grown-Up Country by John Kampfner
I read about this book in The Guardian late last year and put it on hold right away. It was in transit when lockdown 3 began, so I waited a while for it. Once things were moving again, it came in quickly. I learned a lot from this book. It was well-written and the author made good use of his own experiences, interviews with others, historical material, and more.

The author is British and he is primarily comparing Germany to the UK, but the US gets a few mentions as well. Basically, his argument is that Germany, while far from perfect (and he discusses the problematic issues at length), has done remarkably well societally speaking, considering where they started after WWII and that they had to absorb an entire (poor) country, essentially, after the collapse of the Soviet Union. At the same time, both the US and the UK have gone backwards. He attributes much of this to the cultural stories each country tells about itself--the UK and US look backwards with nostalgia to consider their mythical 'glory days' but Germany can't do that, even if they wanted to, so they're forced to look and move forward instead of trying to recapture an imagined past, which has served them well. I agree with what he says about the US (the country I am most familiar with) and the UK and I think he makes a good case for what he says about Germany. It was in his discussions of Germany that I learned a lot. The book provided much food for thought, which is always good!

I've got some great (I hope!) nonfiction on my current book pile, which makes me very happy indeed! 

I hope it's a nice day in your neck of the woods.

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

May Books: Nonfiction

 Another month is upon us--less than 3 weeks now until solstice when there is a wee bit less daylight each day. I always feel a little bit happier once we're heading in the direction of winter. May ended on a warm note--the word 'scorchio' was used in a news story for the first time. Here that means 20ish--a few degrees above in some places. The warmest place in the country the other day (at about 23C) was a place called Newport Furnace. When I saw that, I wondered if it was a joke, but it seems to be an actual place. It's cooled down a bit and rain has returned today. We went to the library in between rain showers to pick up some stuff that came in--and I grabbed a couple of other books from the display shelf, leaving them with a big space to fill. 😀

Rain or shine, hot or chilly, there was plenty of reading going on in May--yay! I'll start with the nonfiction titles.
Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century by Jessica Bruder
I’d heard of this book before and had been somewhat familiar with the nomadic culture the author studies, because I’ve watched some videos of people who live in vans and cars. Also, Bill and I spent a summer tent camping across the northern US and then another couple months living in our tent the following year. Both of these were really great experiences that I remember fondly today and often miss. So when I read an article about the film several months ago in The Guardian, I was intrigued—not by the fictional movie (I generally dislike movies), but by the non-fiction book the movie is based on. I put it on my list at the library so when it re-opened I could request it, but Bill ended up buying a copy, which came pretty quickly and was devoured by me in short order. I loved this book. The author did excellent ethnographic work, spending time living the lifestyle and tying her observations and the thoughts communicated to her by the people she interviewed and hung out with to larger societal issues. She became genuine friends with some of the people she met, which helped them feel comfortable talking to her and, in my opinion, would have helped her see things from their point of view. She’s an excellent writer and storyteller. I highly recommend this book.

Murder by the Book by Claire Harmon
When I came across this book in the e-book section of the library website, I did not hesitate to borrow it, even though I am not a reader of true crime books. 
‘Early in the morning of 6 May 1840, on an ultra-respectable Mayfair street, a footman answered the door to a panic-stricken maid from a nearby house. Her elderly master, Lord William Russell, was lying in bed with his throat cut so deeply that the head was almost severed.

The whole of London, from monarch to street urchins, was gripped by the gory details of the Russell murder, but behind it was another story, a work of fiction, and a fierce debate about censorship and morality. Several of the key literary figures of the day, including Dickens and Thackeray, were drawn into the controversy, and when Lord William's murderer claimed to having been inspired by the season's most sensational novel, it seemed that a great deal more was on trial than anyone could have guessed.

Bringing together much previously unpublished material from a wide range of sources, Claire Harman reveals the story of the notorious Russell murder case and its fascinating connections with the writers and literary culture of the day.’

As I hoped, the murder itself was not really the primary focus of the book. Rather, the author was more interested in the ways in which literature and societal attitudes to that literature played a role in what happened next. Since that dovetailed with my own interest in the book, I was pleased to have stumbled onto it. It was fascinating.

Art Since 1960 by Michael Archer
This book is exactly what the title says it is—a discussion of how some of the major categories of art came to prominence at various points in time starting in the 1960s. The book includes many photos as well. I found it to be highly readable and quite informative.

The Story of The Cope by Patrick Boner
The Cope is a store on Main St here in our town. It began as The Templecrone Cooperative Society over 100 years ago. One of the original members had a hard time saying ‘co-op’ once and it came out ‘cope.’ The name stuck. Bill wanted to see the hundreds of photos in the book, so when the library opened again, he checked it out. He told me I might want to read Chapter 5 on the knitting aspect of the business. When I picked it up, I started reading it from the beginning and quickly got into it, so I kept on reading. It was fascinating to learn how things were in this area and how visionary the founder, Paddy ‘The Cope’ Gallagher was and how much the co-op benefited the local people through the decades. Not only did he provide jobs to local people, but the wages he paid were higher than they could get elsewhere. He also sold things more cheaply than the 'gombeen men'  (in this case, shopkeepers who ripped people off by selling compromised products at inflated prices)--this was very good for local people, who were mostly quite poor. He created what they called tea vans, but were essentially mobile shops, so he could bring goods to people and he also collected goods from them to sell. This was good for inhabitants of more remote places, which was most of the area at the time--it meant they had a market for things such as surplus eggs and that they did not have to try to get their goods to where the merchants were, which would not have been easy on foot. He was quite a visionary in many ways. He provided electricity to the town years before the rural electrification scheme provided the same to rural communities throughout the country.

I also learned that, decades ago, the shop, which was much, much smaller then, was located right where we now live. I enjoyed the photos, too, and seeing what the town looked like over the last century.

I now notice some names in the town more than I did before and know that these families have been here for a long time. I'd heard of Paddy's grandson, Pat  The Cope Gallagher because he campaigned to be a member of the European Parliament when we first got to Ireland and Bill and I chuckled at the name, which was on big signs all over the town. We had no idea at the time we'd be in The Cope (or even what it was). 

I hope this first day of June is going well for you!