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text 2018-03-04 19:08
The Sunday Post ... with Soup

Winter returned again last week, with some Siberian blasts that caused heavy snow storms and, because this part of the world doesn't cope well with the white stuff, a lot of chaos. 

People were stuck in places outside of the city limits, and it is only thanks to a lot of effort of volunteering farmers and council gritters that things got moving again by the weekend. Still, I have a friend who's been stuck at an airport in England since Thursday.


Despite the many, many news of people being stuck, road traffic accidents, and stupidity of people freaking out (as if no one can read a weather forecast...gaah...), there were also some great things happening during this unusual weather event: 


People volunteered a lot of help, especially out in the rural areas, to shovel, plough, and grit to help people out. Some of the responses have been rather awesome and do show that humanity is not doomed, yet.

It also seemed like people who got to go events that hadn't been cancelled, were in a particularly cheerful mood.  


I had a full schedule this weekend, starting with a theatre show on Friday night and spending much of Saturday at an event celebrating the centenary of Women's Suffrage in the UK (which rather unexpectedly included a civic reception arranged by the Lord Provost at the Town House),so today was really the first time I had a chance potter about. And as it is Sunday, I celebrated my day of doing bugger all by making some soup.


This week's concoction is a Sweet and Sour Chunky Potato Soup:



It is really simple to make and I love the taste of it. It should be even better tomorrow, when the gherkin juice and vinegar had a chance to permeate the veg. 




- 3 - 4 Potatoes, chopped into small chunks

- 2 carrots, cut into small pieces

- 1 onion, chopped

- 2 sticks of celery

- 2 tbs vinegar

- 2 tbs flour 

- 2 (veggie) frankfurters, sliced

- stock

- salt, pepper, paprika

- gherkins & the water they come in

- pinch of sugar


I added the potatoes, carrots, celery, half of the onion to the stock and boiled until they were halfway done. 


Meanwhile, I added the rest of the onion and the frankfurters to a pan and fried them. 


Once the veg are softening, I added the gherkins, juice, vinegar, salt/pepper/paprika to taste, and added the browned sausage/onion. 

I mixed the flour with some cold water and added as much as needed to thicken the soup a little. Once the potatoes are boiled, it's done.



This is definitely a soup I'll make again. And of course there is plenty left for tomorrow.


Happy Sunday, All!

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text 2018-03-01 20:01
The 2018 Mt. TBR Project - February Update

I don't know what happened this month, or indeed where February went already. It was over rather quickly...


February reading was all over the place, but I finished The War that Ended Peace, and I am chuffed about that. With respect to Mt. TBR, not much happened, other than I added some books again.


End of February Mt. TBR:



End of January Mt. TBR:



Start of the Year Mt. TBR:


The Stats:


Books read this month: 15 

Mt. TBR Books read this month: 7


Women / Men / Team*: 61% / 32% / 7%

Fiction / Non-fiction*: 75% / 25%

% of original Mt. TBR read: 31%

% of live Mt. TBR read: 26%


(* - of all books read since 01 January 2018)


Link to the original Mt. TBR (2018) post.

Link to the original Mt TBR (2018) Reading List.


Rules - same as previously - are that I picked a stack of physical books off my shelves at home which I would try to read over the course of the year. Any new purchases are added to the pile. If I pick another physical book of my shelves, I get to take one off the pile and put it on the shelf - as a swap.

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text 2018-02-26 00:42
The Sunday Post ... But with a Twist

Well, it is Sunday, and this is a post, but as some of you may have noticed, I have been out and about enjoying this year's Granite Noir Festival this weekend. The Granite Noir Festival is a short local event that celebrates crime writing - with lots of readings, author meets, workshops, tours, theatre, exhibitions, etc. For such a relatively small interest group in this rather remote part of the world, there was a lot to see and do.


I have already written about the author event last night, with Hugh Fraser and Robert Daws, and I had planned to join the conversation with Val McDermid on Friday night also, but may have fallen asleep on the sofa after work... Um, yeah. Never mind.


Anyway, the main event for me this weekend took place tonight in the rather snazzy restaurant of our local theatre - A Poisoned Cocktail Party hosted by none other than Dr Katheryn Harkup, author of A is for Arsenic (which you've probably heard me gush on about in the past)  and Making the Monster (which I am currently enjoying). 


So, here is the twist ... Instead of our usual Sunday Soup feature, I will share some of the cocktails with you.

The idea was that with each "round", Dr. Harkup would tell about some of the ingredients and what made them poisonous and present stories - mostly of a dark but humorous nature - about the use of the poison. Btw, these were not all the same ones as described in A is for Arsenic, which made for an added bonus of interesting trivia.


First off, we had this one:



This was a concoction of gin, Cointreau, and absinthe (or rather essence of absinthe), with a shot of juice (can't remember which one but there was a slight hint of grapefruit). 

The cocktail itself was not a winner for me - it was remarkably bland. 


However, the story of how absinthe was used and how the thujone, the compound in the ingredient wormwood, can be toxic and lead to hallucinations and convulsions. There is, apparently, very little of the stuff in absinthe, and most of the problems with absinthe may have been caused by the high percentage of alcohol in the drink - but it was interesting to hear that Victorians also added copper compounds and other things to the drink to get the green colour. And those added impurities may actually be a cause of concern of their own.


We also heard about Brazil nuts, which may, apart from selenium, also contain uranium, depending on where they have grown. Delightful.


In Round # 2, we were given this yummy looking duo:



That is, tapenade with poppy seed crackers (to soak up some of the %), and a blood orange and amaretto cocktail - which was delicious.


Let me just say, there was nothing to worry about with the olive dish. 


The drink, of course, provided the anchor for a discussion of cyanide, which was one of the poisons described in A is for Arsenic that I found particularly fascinating. It is fast and effective, and horrible. And yet, cyanide compounds are in so many things other than bitter almonds, cherry stones, apricot stones, and apple pips - but it is the reaction with stomach acid that causes the problems. (Btw, apparently one would have to ingest about 200 apple seeds before the getting into trouble.)


The poppy seed crackers led to one of the most elaborate discussions of the evening - which was all about opium and its derivatives morphine and heroin. It still shocks me that heroin was prescribed as a "non-addictive" painkiller and given over the counter to anyone, including teething babies.


Lastly, we had this one:



I have no idea what was in that other than some coffee-based liquor like Kahlua or Tia Maria. I don't drink a lot and was already struggling with the previous two cocktails at this point. (I could, of course, have opted for the non-alcoholic versions on offer, but ... nah... )


The cocktail was ok. I was far more interested in Dr. Harkup's discussion about caffeine. It is also a neurotoxin, but it is so prevalent in our diet that most humans have build up some sort of tolerance to it. However, there has apparently been an experiment where  spiders were given different drugs and the scientists observed the effect on the spiders' web spinning skills. Apparently caffeine messed them up tremendously. 


Read more about this here or here


What have I learned from this evening? Buy your cyanide fresh and take your coffee seriously!


In all seriousness, tho, this was a brilliant event and I can only recommend that, if you have the chance, you go and see Dr. Harkup talks or read one of her books. 

But then, you already know that I'm a fan.


Happy Sunday!


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text 2018-02-24 21:11
Granite Noir: Hugh Fraser & Robert Daws

I know this is a crappy picture. Sorry.

The talk with Hugh Fraser and Robert Daws this afternoon, however,  was quite a lot of fun.


It all started with a spotlight on a local author, John Bolland, who was given a chance to read a few pages from his own work - a crime novel written in Doric, which sounded like it was going to be an entertaining read. I need to find out if it was published, yet, or still in progress.


This was then followed by an interview of Robert and Hugh - with Robert doing much of the talking, I thought - and a follow on Q&A from the audience. 


It was fun. Both actors are well at home with interviews, both have a great sense of humour, and a very down to earth, approachable manner. They clearly enjoy their new career as crime fiction authors. 


As enjoyable as it was being part of the event this afternoon, there was very little I have learned in addition to what I had already read about the background to Hugh's series. Except maybe that Lizzie, the dominatrix/prostitute girlfriend of his main character Rina, was based on a friend of the author's. And that he used to work (playing in a band) in some of the dives in Soho that are described in the books. 


I was somewhat glad to hear hear about his motivation for some of the plot/character choices in his books, as I had some issues with them (mentioned here and here). I still have issues with some of these choices - the, what felt to me like, gratuitous sexual violence, the depiction of some scenes, the lack of decent make characters - but I get what he was trying to do, and I still maintain that the Rina Walker series is a fun romp of a read (just with added "eeww" and "wtf" factors).

Apparently, I was not the only reader who was knocked sideways by the books. The interviewer was quite shocked by the fact that this had come from the man who portrayed the quiet and genteel Captain Hastings for decades - these books are as far removed from the image of Arthur Hastings as you can get. A turn that Hugh said was not planned by him, but just happened that way when he first "met" Rina "walking into that hotel in Acapulco, the opening scene of the first book Harm. 


With respect to Robert Daw's books, I cannot say much. The setting in Gibraltar does sound interesting but I have not read the books. I may have a look at the library later next week. 


I leave with one of the funniest parts of the Q&A, when a lady in the front row prepared her question with something along the lines of "I don't mean any offence but you both are gentlemen of a certain age. What motivated you both chose much younger, more attractive women as your main characters ...?"

Much laughter ensued.

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text 2018-02-21 20:44
Very Little Reading...

is getting done this week and weekend around here, because this is one of those weeks where I am not destined to be at home much.


But there are very good reasons for it: A very short-notice work trip took me to London yesterday. Yay! And even better, the work commitments ended just after lunch, with my colleague asking if I had plans for the extra time before we had to catch our flight home. 


Me? Plans? Of course, I have plans! Apparently, he didn't but he was happy to tag along to see Charlie and the Whale...



I had not been back to the Natural History Museum for a couple of years, and this was the first time since they changed out the dinosaur for the blue whale in Hintze Hall. It is huge. What a great idea to feature it in the main hall. It really let you get a sense of scale and perspective to see it stretching almost all along the main entrance.


We didn't have a lot of time, certainly not enough to look at anything in detail or wonder off in many of the specialist areas, but I did make a point of us saying Hi to Pickwick's great-great-great-grandma/pa.



I love this place.

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