Tuesday, 28 August 2007

You say zucchini, I say courgette.

Stuart, my permaculture friend, recently posted what sounds an absolutely delicious recipe for courgette/zucchini. I am a fan of this vegetable, especially raw, but never know how to cook them other than in a ratatouille.

However, his post reminded me that I had cut a recipe out of the Guardian Weekend supplement sometime ago. It was written by Rose Elliot though is originally an Elizabeth David recipe. (Phew, copyright issues over.) I haven’t tried it as yet but it does sound good. As Rose Elliot says, it is very buttery.

I’ll reproduce it as originally written.

Serves two to four, depending if you have it as first or main course.

900g courgettes peeled and cut into 5mm rounds. [I think the peeling is optional as in the photograph accompanying the recipe in the original article, the courgettes were au naturel.]
75g butter
450g tomatoes, skinned and chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed
2 tbsp chopped parsley
Soft breadcrumbs, for topping

Put the courgettes into a colander, sprinkle with salt and leave for at least 30 minutes. Drain and blot dry.

Heat 25g of the butter in a pan and fry half the courgettes until ‘soft and transparent looking’. Transfer the courgettes to a gratin dish and repeat with another 25g of the butter and remaining courgettes.

Melt half of the remaining butter and fry the tomatoes with the garlic, parsley and some salt and pepper until most of the liquid has reduced, leaving a ‘thickish puree but not too dry’.

Amalgamate this with the courgettes in the dish and smooth the top with a spoon. Sprinkle with a light layer of breadcrumbs and dot with the last of the butter.

Bake at 220C/425F/gas mark 7 for 25 – 30 minutes. (Vegans use five tablespoons of olive oil instead of butter.)

If anyone tries this before I do, let me know what you think.

Sun, Sea, Sweat.

Brighton! Brighton! Brighton! The place not to be on a Bank Holiday. Especially when the sun shines. Even more especially when the proceeding eight weeks have seen a continuous downpour that would bring back happy memories to Mr. & Mrs. Noah.

My daughter, her fella and my granddaughter had planned to come and see me but they have just moved into their new house. Their first home. How wonderful.

So instead of coming to treat me to Dim Sum, (ah, how I love Dim Sum), they were queuing at Ikea along with the other half of the population who didn’t come to litter Brighton’s beaches with their bodies.

Poor them! Poor me!

Actually, quite rich me. I spent ten hours on Saturday editing a thirty-five page document for Tom, my recently rediscovered benefactor. (And long may he remain so, say I.)

This was on top of other work I have been doing for him in his role as Communications Manager for an NGO. My given title for that work is Editorial Consultant. I have never been an Editorial Consultant before. It makes me feel very adult.

I doubt if it is a position I could have held earlier. I was not so much slapdash but certainly careless about detail when younger. Detail bored me. Now I find it strangely therapeutic to structure the text so it is consistent in style and detail. It is not exactly creative but there is a satisfaction to be had in resolving technicalities. It offers the simple pleasures an artisan must experience bent to some intricate task.

And, talking of artisans, I must phone my daughter to discover how she is managing with her flatpacks. Will it be the allen key that is missing this time, or a vital thingymabob?

Monday, 20 August 2007

Ramblings about Scribblings

For some time now, I have scribbled short notes on books I have read. Initially, I guess, it was as a result of my university days. It seemed a waste not to put all the knowledge gained to some positive use. It also proved a practical aide-mémoire, my memory needing all the practical aide-mémoires it can get these days. But increasingly it serves another purpose. Now that I am trying to write myself, I find myself searching under the bonnet of the work trying to figure out how it has been assembled, to discover what makes it tick.

Setting down my thoughts helps me distil the significant elements of the book. Sometimes, this proves enlightening, at others disheartening. The latter because most plots, when refined, are remarkably simple, which leaves me feeling sort of cheated. There must be more to it than that, I think. And, of course, there is. If nothing else, it emphasises the need for quality in the writing and characterisation. Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea is the best example that immediately springs to mind.

Can you imagine touting that plot to a publisher?

"Got a surefire winner here, Sam. Man goes fishing, catches fish."

Anyway, in between reading Proust's In Remembrance of Things er... what was it again, I have been reading A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian by Marina Lewycka.Though not finished, here are my thoughts so far.

The book has a small but well defined cast of characters. They consist of a family of father, mother (deceased) and two sisters and an intruder, namely Koyla, Ludmilla, Nadezha, Vera, and Valentina.

The narrator, Nadezha, is a left wing lecturer, her sister a committed materialist, the father an engineer with somewhat confused humanitarian principles, the absent mother a romanticist (am not totally certain of this description), and the outsider a greedy, grasping, totally unprincipled woman bedazzled by the glitter of capitalism.

The plot is uncomplicated. The mother has died two years earlier and the remainder of the family, originally from the Ukraine, have all now grown apart when, to the consternation of the sisters, the father announces his intention to marry Valentina, a blowsy Ukranian well under half his age but with the undoubted bonus of a pair of Botticellian breasts.

The story revolves around the efforts of the sisters to patch up their political differences sufficiently so as to oust the cuckoo from their familial nest.

It is a topical, dealing, as it does, with issues of immigration, though unremarkable plot. Three things, however, lift it from the ordinary; the characterisation of the protagonists; the wit of the writing; and the insertion, periodically, of texts from the short history of tractors, written by Pappa and translated with the help of Nadezha.

With this clever device, Lewycka, gives her characters an historical setting, adding a context to their petty actions without ever attempting to rationalise or analyse them. It adds depth, interest and weight to what otherwise would have been an amusing but light tale.

Friday, 17 August 2007

Times of Trouble. Times of Respite.

The edges of my blog are curling and there are definite signs of foxing on the screen - it's been that long since I posted here. However, I have either been busy or not busy and miserable. In fact, the last few weeks go down as miserable with a big capital M.

Avid readers will know that I was doing a painting job for a friend of a friend. I don’t claim to be professional painter but do pride myself on doing a good job, to which at least one of my readers can testify. In my naivety, I had imagined that the individual concerned was financially strapped. (How wrong was I? While there I discovered that she was buying a second house so her son would have somewhere to stay when he went to university. I ask you! Halls of residence are obviously not good enough for the delicate child.) So, having estimated the job would take around two week, I was careful with my time and how I spent it.

About two-thirds the way through the work I received a call saying that she didn’t want me to continue. She gave some spurious reason or other. When I went around to collect my money, she said she wasn’t happy with my work, pointing out faults I was perfectly well aware of but had left. In terms of priority and saving time, hence money, I’d calculated it would be more efficient to do all the touching up at the same time.

I explained. She didn’t listen.

She gave me a cheque for the time I had completed when I had last given her an update on the hours spent. I had worked another day since. She refused to pay for it.

“We’ll agree to disagree,” she said in her best mangerspeak voice.

“We won’t,” I replied in my best barelycontainingmyanger voice.

“Well you can always pursue it, if that’s what you wish,” she continued, now using her best patronisingmanagerspeak voice.

“Pay me the money you owe me and I might be able to afford to do so,” I riposted in my sharpest aciddrenched voice. I was rapidly running out of voices, so left. Fuming.

A week later I receive a letter from my landlord’s agent saying, as I was behind with my rent, they would be taking proceedings. Proceedings followed shortly in the form of registered mail, which I left lying around the Post Office Collection Point for a week in the hope it would be used by someone for his origami classes.

I collected it. It was exactly the same form as before, though this time from solicitors. It too warned of proceedings.

This, I thought, is very unfair. I have been playing this game of catch-up with my agent, a lovely man, for years. Now he has taken my ball and won’t return it.

More proceedings. My agent is on my doorstep.

“Tell me, David, what is the position?”

I explain the position using diagrams backed up with a short PowerPoint presentation. Briefly, it explained that he had the ball and should now return it. (I had diagnosed the principles of tennis in my presentation as an analogy.) He wavered.

“I will e-mail you,” he said. I sensed the ball was in the air again.

He hasn’t e-mailed as of yet but I shall e-mail him for I have news. (In this game, unlike tennis, it is always advisable to alert the other where you will be sending the ball. And despite the fact that I technically don’t have the ball at this moment, I can point out to him where it will be bouncing on his side of the net should he lob it back to me.)

My news equates to work. I had applied for a job and put down someone who had previously commissioned quite a lot of work from me as a reference. I phoned him to warn him. It was a vague gesture, as I knew he was now based in South Africa and I only had his UK mobile number.

Holy miracles of modern technology! He only phones me back the following day having noticed I had tried to call him.

“What are you up to?” he asks.

“Oh, this and that,” I replied nonchalant as a seal lazing on Nonchalant Beach.

“I was just thinking I might have a few days work for you.”

The nonchalant seal suddenly becomes a very eager beaver. The result is I have had more than a few days work and with more promised. Hats in the air time, followed by bouncing balls, I shouldn’t wonder.