Monday, 2 November 2015

Ightham Mote

After finishing Rebecca, I have been dreaming of a visit to Manderley. For those of you who haven't read/seen Rebecca, Manderley is the magnificent, grand old house that the protagonist, the new Mrs de Winter, moves into after she marries. Manderley is the book's anchor, and in many ways it features so heavily that it becomes a living, breathing character in and of itself.

I couldn't help but think of Manderley when we visited Ightham Mote yesterday. This beautiful, charming house dates from the 14th century (hard to believe!) and is surrounded by a moat and acres of gardens and orchards. Each of its 70 rooms is filled with fine antique furniture - including, much to our surprise, a Charles II daybed which we also have (if you remember, we found it in pieces, discarded in the street on Camberwell Grove!). No detail has been overlooked at Ightham Mote - the painted wallpaper, the linen on the beds, the wood paneling on the walls - it is enviable, that's for sure.

Unfortunately for me I struggled a bit, hobbling around Ightham Mote after slipping over in the rain on Friday, straight onto my knee... The worst part was two people walked by whilst I was on the ground, clearly in pain, but no one offered me any help - what is with that? Are people embarrassed or just don't care? I find it odd that you would just walk on by, and choose not to help someone who is clearly in need of it. It really upset me!

Oh well, nothing that a good National Trust property can't cure, eh?

Thursday, 29 October 2015

Book Worm

Long-time readers of Take Courage may recall that one of my New Year’s resolutions was to read more. I even started a little Take Courage book club at the start of the year but it didn’t really take off and if I’m honest I started to fall back into my old ways of watching trash telly right before bed instead of curling up with a good novel. This is despite the fact that binge-TV before bed always makes me feel terrible the next day, as I end up with disrupted sleep and crazy dreams – is it just me who gets that?

Well, I’m proud to say that I’ve managed to turn it around – since moving, my new 45 minute commute to and from work every day has worked wonders for my reading list. In just two months, I have devoured more than half a dozen books and my list of future reads is growing every day. Finally I have rekindled the love I had for reading as a child, something which I’ve longed for as an adult.

The books I’ve read recently are:

The Versions of Us, Laura Barnett – an interesting read, with a creative triple narrative, but I did find it a bit hard to follow (as I think others have too). The entire time I was reading it, I thought how much better it would work as a screenplay.

The Guest Cat, Takashi Hiraide – a sweet Japanese short story which I was too sad to read when Lily just died, but I’m glad I eventually returned to it.

Great Expectations, Charles Dickens – living just around the corner from the house which inspired Miss Havisham’s Satis House, I thought it was about time I read this classic from cover to cover. I absolutely loved it – Dickens has such a visual way of writing that it’s hard to take your mind off the book even once you’ve put it down.

Kafka on the Shore, Haruki Murakami – I wasn't quite sure what to make of this one; I certainly enjoyed reading it but the story is so dream-like and ambiguous that it’s hard to know what to think by the time you reach the end.

The Victorian Chaise-Longue, Marghanita Laski – a thrilling and terrifying read, I found myself willing the train to go slower so I didn’t have to stop reading! I’m not sure if this book is easily available, but I found it at Persephone Books.

The Rosie Project, Graeme Simsion – I needed a lighter read after the above, and a colleague recommend this. It's a charming, funny book, which is now being made into a movie thanks to the wonderful Richard Linklater (with Jennifer Lawrence as the star). A perfect beach holiday read.

Rebecca, Daphne Du Maurier – After spending a lovely week in Polruan, which is directly opposite Fowey where Du Maurier lived, I felt it obligatory to read one of her books and I'm so glad I did. Rebecca is one of my favourite Hitchcock films but the book was even better - there are subtleties which just can't be conveyed on film. I was hooked by this one, and ended up spending many hours in bed eating it up. I think I might read Jamaica Inn soon too.

I'm currently reading The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood by Rebecca Wells, which is keeping me occupied on the commute this week. I’ve also been recommended Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson, The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman and Longbourn by Jo Baker, so I’ll be working my way through those between now and Christmas. Have you read any good books lately that I can add to the list?

P.S. Thank you Jing for the care package while I was recovering from surgery!

Monday, 26 October 2015

Autumnal Pear and Fig Jam

So I said I was going to make jam this weekend, and hey, much to my surprise it turned out pretty good! I had never made jam before, but somehow these colder, darker nights had given me the urge to give it a go - and it was much easier than I expected. I wanted to try and make an autumnal jam, so I went for pears and figs from my local greengrocers, and I'm so glad because it tastes amazing. I've now got enough jam to last me until Christmas I think! If you fancy giving it a go, here's how you can make your own...

You will need  |  Three pears  |  Eight fresh mission figs  |  Three cups of sugar (two cups will be fine if you like it a bit less sweet) |  Three tbsp of orange juice  |  1.5 teaspoons of orange zest  |  1 teaspoon of cinnamon  |  1/2 teaspoon of butter

Step 1: Peel, deseed and chop up your pears, and slice your figs into pieces. The recipe I was following said to chop into 1 inch chunks, but in retrospect I think this was too large. For the figs and pears, I would recommend chopping into 1cm chunks (no bigger) to avoid needing to use a masher later.

Step 2: Place the chopped figs, pears and sugar into a pan, stir well and then cover with a cloth. Leave for 1 hour. At this point, place a small plate or saucer into your freezer - you will need it later!

Step 3: After an hour, uncover your fruit and sugar mixture. Add the cinnamon, orange juice, orange zest and butter, and stir well to combine.

Step 4: 
Place the pan over a medium heat, stirring frequently until the mixture starts to bubble and spit. Amazingly the mixture will condense down very quickly (I was so surprised by this!). Keep over the heat for 20 minutes, stirring constantly to keep the mixture from sticking to the bottom of the pan.

Step 5: After 20 minutes, take your saucer out of the freezer. Spread 1/2 a teaspoon of the jam onto the saucer and place back in the freezer. After 30 seconds, pull it back out again and run your finger through the jam - if it's thick enough to maintain a line through the jam then it's ready.

Step 6: Pour your jam into jars - if you sterilise the jars then the jam should last up to six months at room temperature, but I couldn't be bothered so will need to keep the jam refrigerated and eat within a week or so (not a problem, it's almost already all gone!).

Step 7: Enjoy on toast or on a scone or as a compote with natural yoghurt - or you could even make little mince pies with the jam instead of mincemeat! Yum!