Archive | September, 2013

Some progress

12 Sep

I was listening to the BBC World Service this morning and heard something that might help the poor suffering citizens of Somalia. The al-Shabab movement is not only fighting itself, but it has also had a fatwa pronounced against it. Some 160 Somali religious scholars have declared that the aims of the movement are not Islamic.

One of the problems with Islam is that there is no single figure, like the Pope, who can rule on the party line. It has been obvious to me for over a decade that the Islamist militant groups are not motivated by religious extremism but by politics. Now, in one country at least, the scholars have made this clear. Where they have gained footholds of power these groups have governed with the most extreme violence and repression. A certain level of toleration is required for any society to work. But what they want is not so much religious purity as total control. It is possible that they fool themselves into thinking that they are doing ‘holy’ work, and the fatwa will certainly not convince the most militant. Let us hope that those confused by the religious rhetoric from the group will have their religious and moral position clarified.


Apples and Chutney

10 Sep

More on the glut of cooking apples and a recipe, well, sort of. One of the features of cooking apples is that they cook down to a pulp and can be used as a thickener in many recipies.

Chutney is a family of food condiments that we Brits brought back from India. Our versions are much more tame than some of the full-on Indian ones, like Chilli and Lime.

Apple and Tomato Chutney with Tamarind – makes six pounds

I used about four pounds of apples just under 2 Kg, peeled, cored and chopped. In my big preserving plan I brought half a pint of vinegar to the boil, then added the apples. The vinegar was spiced malt vinegar, which is very sour and acid. The spices I used were star anise, ginger and chilli. Don’t leave the star anise in at the end, but fish it out. I added two pounds of ripe tomatoes, a mixture of plum and salad varieties, roughly chopped, skins, seeds and all. There were a few raspberries and blackberries to be picked, so they went in as well. The other ingredient I used was tamarind pulp. Tamarind gives a sour, fruity taste to anything it is added to and deepens the flavours. The tamarind comes dried in a small block available from Asian food stores. I used about half a block, soaking it in warm water for about fifteen minutes. Put the softened fruit in a fine sieve and press with a spoon until the pulp comes through. Scrape this from the back of the sieve and put in the chutney. Throw away the skin and seeds from the sieve. You will need to add about 200 grams, six ounces of sugar, and a good teaspoon of salt. The other spices and herbs are optional. I used a half teaspoon of turmeric, two teaspoon of coriander and one of cumin, and half a dozen moderately hot pickled chillies, cut into chunks and a big sprig of rosemary, removed at the end. Feel free to make your own mixture up.

Cook the mixture on a low heat for about an hour and a half, stirring occasionally until thick and gloopy. Turn up the heat and boil down if too wet, stirring constantly. Heat up jars, minus lids, to 120C in the oven – put them in before turning the oven on and keep them in for five to ten minutes. Take the jars from the oven and place on a heatproof surface. Pour the chutney into the hot jars, just below the rim. Use a jug to do this and a jam funnel is also useful for neat filling. Put the tops on the jars. Clear away any mixture sticking to the thread of the jar. Using heatproof gloves, ensure the lid is tight, then invert to make a good seal. Put right way up and leave to cool. The lids will pop, becoming concave as the liquid and the air above cools. I still haven’t put the labels on, saying what it is and when it was made.

The chutney will improve with keeping but can be eaten right away. It is great with cold meat or a strong Cheddar cheese, and as a condiment in sandwiches.

Bodging it together

5 Sep

When I decided to be cheap and not pay a graphic artist to create a cover for the book, I was left with the options of using a modified template or creating one myself. The templates were all a bit obvious, so I decided to make one myself. Being both a history nut and a bit of a photographer I have plenty of pictures of the castles and stately homes around here. It was not too difficult to apply some artistic filters to change the basic photo. The book is an adventure yarn and I decided to pull out some pictures from my initial notes. There is a good deal of century old technology that crops up, so I used a picture of a type of car that appears in my text, a 1909 Napier. A character who also appears in the novel is Dorothy Levitt who was holder of the woman’s land speed record for almost a decade and set that record in a Napier. A had a picture of her and another of a Napier in a museum. It was quite a lot of work to cut out the picture of Dorothy and place her in the car, and the cut-out of the car was an involved business. I am quite pleased at the result. It is a bit comic-book and seems fit for an adventure story.

The background is part of Croft Castle, near to where I live. The rear cover shows a hill and a Bleriot monoplane. This involved another cut-out!

Oh, and go and read the book. Think Downton Abbey, think James Bond. Oh, dear no!

This is Most Secret. Do not read this book, do not tell anyone else about it!

Plenty of apples – but what do with them?

4 Sep

I’ve just been out picking some of the apples from the two trees in the garden. These are cooking apples, big sour things that are unpleasant to eat raw but make very good pies when sweetened. I have filled two trugs with the apples which will keep a while, maybe a month or two. There are plenty which have blemishes which mean they need using immediately.

The thing about cooking apples is that they are not very versatile. I could make cider out of eating apples but not from cooking apples which are too low in sugar for alcohol and too low in tannin for good flavour. Cider apples are very high in tannin. Most modern ciders are made from a mix of cider and eating apples.

Anyhow, I had to balance on a ladder and try to pull the laden branches of the tree towards me with a walking stick. At one point, one leg of the ladder sank into the ground, causing it to lurch quite spectacularly. Luckily I was on my way down at the time, but I very nearly fell. To be frank, I don’t really get on with ladders. In fact I have been known to get vertigo on deep pile carpets.

To get back to the cooking, I suppose that I shall have to make a large pile of apple sauce, or just plain stewed apples to put in the freezer. I shall add one or two to a large pot of tomato soup as there is a real glut of the red things at the moment, far more than we can put in salads or cook in tomato sauce for pasta or chillies.

If I can persuade the neighbours to take some off my hands it might reduce the pile a little. There are plenty more to pick, but I think I will wait for ‘er outdoors to hold the ladder safe before I go up again. Or maybe I will hold the ladder safe and send her up.

Meanwhile I am trying to finish the second book in the Most Secret series, Down in the Flood. I am doing the editing right now.

Down in the Flood

Most Secret Book 2



Lord Walter Mansell-Lacey is half way through training when he is sent on a mission to Paris to try to seduce Lenin’s mistress. The revolutionary is in exile but is still very active in promoting his cause and other revolutions. Walter, being Walter, becomes embroiled in a war between the French security agency and the Apaches gangsters. The Russian counter intelligence unit is also after him to find what he knows. His cover as a struggling artist accidentally leads to him gaining some unwanted commercial success. When the body of a Russian art forger turns up in the waters of the swollen Seine criminality is as strong a motive as espionage. Add a good dollop of local colour, such as an exotic dancer and a socialist cabaret artist and the entire brew is as convincing and exciting as in the first book. Walter’s suffragette chum, Godiva manages to extricate him from most of his difficulties but fate takes a hand when the great flood of 1910 hits Paris. Walter draws on his skills and courage to rescue a Princess and sort things out.

Some recent photos

2 Sep

Just a brief word today, and a couple of snaps from the past eight days.

On Monday 26th – a public holiday – we went to Croome Park in the next county, Worcestershire. The house is gradually being restored, but the main glory is the landscaped gardens, the first commission for Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown.

This is looking at the house across the lake.

Yesterday we went to the grounds of Berrington Hall, just up the road, Brown’s last commission. I know the house very well as I work as a volunteer room guide, but we have never walked around the grounds before. Here’s a couple of the pictures I took using the new toy: