Friday, 11 July 2014

The Closet of Savage Mementos

(image from New Island Books)
This is going to be another post about books (and a wee bit of food!) I'm afraid.  Quite simply these long warm light summer evening are just perfect for lounging around with a great book and as the World Cup and the continued house renovations have employed most of Mr S's time, I have been taking the opportunity to escape into print, mostly fiction. There have been many recommendations that have passed around my book-club this year, but there has been only one exceptional novel that has achieved a consensus of enthusiastic approval.
The Closet of Savage Mementos is one of those books that will surprise and delight you with the skill and vitality of it's story telling. The characters continue to haunt you long after the final page has been read, you wish that it had been slightly longer so you could tarry a while longer in their company. Yet, there are no uneasy gaps in the plot, the characters have been allowed to have enough room within the novel to impart empathy yet retain a realistic unknowability. Nuala Ni Chonchuir tells a very particular story of love, the lightning-strike of passion and the impact of its absence but Lillis's story is also a universal tale, she is an everyman battling against exceptional circumstances to make her way in life, a life marked by great love and great loss.

Our book-club is lucky enough to have some very pro-active members, Pavlova Queen Fi who does all the Facebooking/admin and organising, Margaret who organises some great 'meet the author' nights and opens up her home and library to us and who blogs from here. Not forgetting, Lisa, who is a prolific blogger, bookseller, writer and book-fairy and who blogs from here. I just turn up occasionally and drink my coffee/wine and offer an opinion or two. In the past I have never really been that concerned to meet any authors, perhaps because they have always seemed very remote or perhaps being content with the book as a stand-alone piece of art.

However, last week when Nuala Ni Chonchuir graciously took some time out to meet us I was really looking forward to the evening, there was just something about that book! Having read it a good few weeks ago, I thought I better scan through, however it is so good I found myself properly re-reading again.We had a wonderful time chatting with Nuala, and getting some of the background to the novel, the process of writing and the experience of working with all the team who contribute to the process of publishing and marketing a book. I would recommend to any of you also in book-clubs to not only read this particular book but also to have a go and organise a 'meet-the-author' for yourselves.

As well as having a good natter, we always bring some food and drink to the hosts table. Cooking and drinking lovely wine in combination with book-talk - are for me - a sublime trinity of pleasure. For this night we had some dietary requirements to consider, one vegetarian, one person completely gluten-free and some other ladies trying to cut down on the amount of gluten in their diet. It was also a gorgeous warm summer evening. So a quick browse of the net, resulted in these two lovely recipes:

Pasta Salad with Haloumi and Lemon

I marinated the grated courgette for around an hour and a half in the dressing and replaced half of the olive oil with some camellia oil. This camellia oil is produced locally to me in the beautiful Boyne Valley and is apparently very high in omega 3,6 & 9 and has a delicious if slightly unusual nutty taste. I also replaced the pasta with a gluten-free alterative.

My sweet contribution is one of my favourite gluten-free recipes, these brownies are so scrumptious and just so easy to make. My kids go mad for these and of-course love licking the bowl after mixing. I didn't make the sauce as we were going to have a selection of goodies.
Nigella's Peerless Flourless Chocolate Brownies

Click on the titles for the links!
Enjoy-let me know if you try these! xxxx

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Inspiring Teachers

The school year is finally at an end, an auspicious year for our family as both children attended school. E moving out of the infants classes and O just at the beginning. Both children had a fantastic year and reading their school reports I was the most puffed-up proud Mama in the world! I have a feeling that O managed to totally charm his vivacious young teacher and I really appreciated how E's teacher discerned and fostered her love of reading, writing and maths. Did you have a teacher that inspired and championed you? What books from your school days do you still love or which are still totally hated because of exams and essays?

I detested school, the old-fashioned teachers, the naked aggressive bullying, the choking atmosphere of catholic containment. Additionally, Northern Ireland in the late 1980's was a bitter and uneasy place. There was one sustaining class though, Eng Lit/Lang, taught by the lovely Mr H. This class, the first cohort of GCSE student,s gave me an escape from the day-to day mundanity and the anticipation of a permanent absence. The power of words and a university education could take me away from the chilling graffiti chalked up on the 'gasworks wall', a release from the constant self-censorship both in words and of actions and of movement.

The images above are just three of the rich and vivid books that we poured over that summer. That cover of Cider With Rosie, while not my favourite was the text that we used and just a glimpse brings me back to that stuffy classroom, the shuffle of paper, the laconic buzz of a distant fly and the smell of Tippex, Impluse and cut grass. As Laurie explores Rosie in the hay, there was a corresponding fission of anticipation in that classroom. Occasionally Mr H would divert off into a monologue about his hobby of flying micro-light aircraft. I would surreptitiously stare out of the mobile classroom window at the handsome curly haired boy while my friend N had thinly disguised thoughts for Mr H's moustache.

A little later, armed with A levels I escaped to the beautiful but sometimes haunting city of Bath to study, Handsome Curly Haired boy married the girl next door at 21, Mr H stayed on teaching at the same school chalking up thirty years at the same school. I wonder how many students he inspired to continue and enjoy reading and writing not as a chore or even a sometime habit but as an essential fundamental part of  everyday life. I wonder if he still spends the weekends flying his little 'plane. I wonder did any of us thank him...

Inspired by Sue's wonderful post about Cider with Rosie and the centenary of Laurie Lee's birth falling so close to my own birthday I was inspired to pick this book for our June book-club choice and I cannot tell you what a wonderful experience it was to re-read. The rich descriptive language, the abundance of unforgettable characters, the Grannies, the Uncles, Miss Fluck and her pre-Raphaelite suicide, this book touches my heart like few others. Now, re-reading as a mother, the chapter 'Mother' especially emerges as one of the most loving and compassionate portraits in the English literary canon.

"She was as muddled and mischievous as a chimney-jackdaw, she made her nest of rags and jewels, was happy in the sunlight, squawked loudly at danger, pried and was insatiably curious, forgot to eat or ate all day and sang when sunsets were red."