Great. Splendid. The best. I think I’m coming down with something. A fever-shakes-aches-and-pains-and-staying-in-bed type of something. MAYBE IT DOESN’T REALLY MEAN IT. One of the few up sides of ME is that it tends to be very jealous of its control over your health and to see off mere commonplace germs. But this is not something you can count on. Meanwhile in my little tap-dance and smoke-and-mirrors way there are twangly stressors that don’t get mentioned much in the blog. In the first place while it’s lovely to have a new book out, especially one you are receiving lots of lovely feedback on,* it’s also stressful. The bottom line is that if your last book doesn’t do too brilliantly the future of the next one is in doubt. SHADOWS seems to be doing well . . . but you can’t help worrying. Well, I can’t help worrying.
In the second place I received another of those lightning-bolts from headquarters not long ago** and . . . um. Well, it’s a homeopathic/alt medicine principle that sometimes you get a cold or a fever because your body is doing housecleaning and getting rid of or setting fire to stuff it doesn’t want any more. And this particular lightning-bolt was definitely the ‘get rid of this rubbish’ variety. So while my mind is still reeling my body may be getting on with business.
And third . . . I’ve been trying to think of a way to tell you this story. It would make such good blog material because it is bonkers to a very high degree. But I don’t think I can. Someone I deal with on an almost daily basis got knocked off her perch by something—I don’t even know what—and I’ve been morphed involuntarily into the Big Bad so she has someone to blame. WHAT? Talk about being in the wrong place at the wrong time. There was one truly spectacular phone call but a lot of it has proceeded by text and email so I can go back and READ IT and reassure myself that I’m not the crazy one here. Crumbs. But I’m still suffering bunker mentality, which is a germ magnet.
So you’ll forgive me if I use responding to forum comments as a crutch again, and then I’m going to bed. With a good book, but an undemanding good book. Possibly one I already know the end of, so I don’t have to worry about that.
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Never mind a sequel to Sunshine; I’m holding out for the cookbook.
That’s one of the biggest similarities between SHADOWS & SUNSHINE that I noticed… SHADOWS doesn’t have quite the emphasis on food that SUNSHINE does, but there were several dishes (starting with Maggie’s mom’s chicken, apples, & cream meal) that I very much want the recipe for!
This boggles my mind. SUNSHINE—and Sunshine—are obsessed with food. She’s a baker at her stepdad’s café! And although the story went as the story went, stories are often clever this way, and this does make the whole ‘feeding’ thing with Con more resonant. Maggie in SHADOWS is just a teenage girl who likes her food. I admit that I took advantage of opportunities to specify—the chicken, apples and cream, the chickpea and tomato stew . . . and of course the hot chocolate—but it didn’t seem to me there was, you know, lots of food. I may be suffering the mental and emotional effects of Post Menopausal Zero Metabolism/Possessed by Demons ME Digestion worse than I realised.
Oh, I’ve got that chicken recipe . . . somewhere. Remind me again when there’s less going on and I’ll look for it.
. . . my heart got a bit wrenched just by being reminded of OUTLAWS. I would adore a sequel to that book. But I adore all of the other worlds, too, including the ones I haven’t met yet,
so who I am to demand one over the other? . . . (Although I must say that knowing that any such sequel would NOT include Robin’s murder by a homicidal abbess greatly cheers me. I couldn’t believe it when my beautiful hardback, illustrated set of Robin stories as a child ended on that note.)
Howard Pyle by any chance? I know he’s ancient but that edition’s a classic. And it’s the one that ruined my life. It genuinely depressed me about being a girl—I wasn’t even menstruating yet, so I was still officially a kid. I had always clung to tomboy status, but I already knew I wasn’t going to grow up to be a boy. It wasn’t just that she killed him, my beautiful kind generous heroic Robin, she killed him by treachery. I couldn’t bear it. It makes me feel a little sick even now. A little sick and a lot angry.
Hmm. I could always just write that part of the story. Hmmm.
. . . I have trouble with the footnotes occasionally, but find they often read quite happily on their own. . . .
A lot of people read them like this. I know because they tell me. You read a post straight through top to bottom unless there’s a footnote at a particularly tantalizing point so you’ll flick down for that one. Or you’re reading the footnotes and you find one whose antecedent is not obvious so you flick up.
It’s okay. It’s only a blog. Nobody dies.
I have a feeling that the people that demand sequels are simply a little challenged in their ability to express their delight, and know no better than to ask for more of the same. I’m sure it’s intended as a compliment.
I think in some cases that’s true. This is another of those things I’d never quite articulated—partly because I’m not at my best when the s-word is used in my hearing—but I think you’re right, and I should try to remember it the next time it happens. It’s a sort of alternative formula for squeeeee.
Some of these people, however, are more addicts. These are the people who MUST HAVE MORE. They’re ripping open the next pack of Green & Black’s before they’ve finished the first. I’m that way about books myself. Just not about sequels.
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* And I delete unread anything that begins ‘you stupid cow’ or equivalent. I also delete immediately if something that started well devolves into ‘you stupid cow’ territory.
** You hear about burning bushes and ladders and angels and things in the Bible^ but you rarely hear about that sensation of having had a bucket of cold water dumped over you. Or maybe I just haven’t got to those parts yet.
^ Never sleep with a stone for a pillow, that’s my motto. How could you NOT have weird visions if you’re trying to sleep with your head on a stone?
Jodi Meadows, touring author, posted to the forum last night:
Getting here was kind of an adventure (Wherever she is right now, Robin just perked up and thought “guest blog?”)
Hey, I need cheering up.* Wild Robert had one of his semi-random upper-lower-level practises** tonight and I rang bob minor and Stedman okay, but I came unpleasantly and discouragingly unstuck on Cambridge. We did get through to the end, but that’s only because Wild Robert has two brains and six eyes. I rarely get to ring Cambridge, I lose anything I don’t use, and I never really had Cambridge to begin with, although I did spend some time at the point where I could straggle through a plain course more often than not (without being yelled at).
So let’s have a CHEERING-UP RECIPE in honour of the nearly four hundred quid I just paid for my new dwarf under-stairs refrigerator.***
I’m already seeing fresh rhubarb at the greengrocers, so here is something to do with it. The original recipe came from Rosie’s All Butter Fresh Cream Sugar-Packed No Holds Barred Baking Book by Judy Rosenberg, which you have often seen quoted in these (virtual) pages.
¾ c plain/unbleached white flour
¼ c ground oatmeal: whizz ordinary porridge oats in your blender or food processor. You can also leave them whole, but in this case I like the texture better ground.
8 T lightly salted butter, room temperature, chopped up in preparation to being smushed into the flour and oatmeal
5-6T icing/confectioner’s sugar
1 egg white for glazing
1 large egg, room temperature
½ c caster/granulated sugar. I know, caster is finer grained. It’s not going to matter here.
¼ c dark brown sugar. You can cut this down to 2 T and replace with 2 more T of the white. I like dark brown sugar.
2-6 T ordinary white flour
4 c sliced rhubarb. NOTE that both how thick you slice it and how much sugar and flour you use should vary with your rhubarb. If it’s young and sweet and tender, cut big fat chunks and trim the sugar. If the stalks look like the legs of sea monsters, slice more severely. If it’s really wet, add more flour. If it’s relatively dry, add less.
Optional: 1 tsp cinnamon
Or handful of fresh mint leaves, slightly shredded
If you have a food processor, you can make the pastry in it. I have one but I still make pastry with a knife or the back of a spoon and one hand.† Stir the flour and oatmeal and sugar (and cinnamon if you’re using it) together and then cut in the butter. You want to rub it together till it’s reasonably homogenous but don’t suffer over it. If you’re using unground oatmeal, add it last, after the pastry is mostly finished. Press this into the bottom of an 8” square pan and glaze with the egg white. The original recipe tells you to tip the pan back and forth. My egg whites do not behave very helpfully. I use either my fingers or a brush. If you have any egg white left over—this should be a glaze, not a pond—tip it out. Bake 350°F about 25 minutes. Take it out and let cool.
Whisk the egg. Whisk in the flour and sugar. Stir in the rhubarb. When the pastry is cool enough that you can pick the pan up in your bare hands, pour the rhubarb over, and put this in the oven for about an hour. Cool COMPLETELY before cutting, and chances are, rhubarb being rhubarb, you’ll still be serving it in bowls. Sprinkle mint leaves over, if you like mint leaves.
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* Guest blogs are very cheering.
** For ringers like me. I’m not a beginner, I ring inside, I want to scale a few of the modest heights of the method ringing craft. There are plenty of us erratic mid-level ringers. But why we belong in this category varies. Some of us are just passing through on the way to ringing Spliced Panjandrum Superlative Doohickey. Some of us are just TERMINALLY KLUTZY AND STUPID. ARRRRRGH. You can tell the latter subgroup by the condition of their method books, which are dog-eared and scribbled-in to disintegration. I really need to replace mine, before it completes its transformation into smudgy dust. Gemma’s, on the other hand, is very nearly frelling pristine. Can This Friendship Be Saved.
*** Speaking of ARRRRRGH. If my swift and delightful publisher doesn’t start disbursing funds here soon I’m going to pack my ninja kit, fly to NYC and start stealing all the vice presidents’ bicycles in protest. I shall create a Giant Bicycle Mobile and . . . well, New York is full of tall buildings. I’m sure I can find a suitable pair, hang my Giant Bicycle Mobile between them . . . and the Museum of Modern Art would probably pay me more for it than I was going to see for SHADOWS anyway, but unfortunately the entire plan falls down on trying to pack two hellhounds and a hellterror with the ninja kit. I can barely tuck the hellterror under my arm any more. One of these mornings I’m going to reach in to extract her from her crate at the cottage, and in negotiating the blasted 90° turn between the front of her crate and the rest of the kitchen . . . fall over.^
^ Getting her in the crate is much easier—I have of course put a little FOOOOOOOOOD on the crate floor, so she’s shinning up the chair legs for all she’s worth and she only needs an energetic heave. SPROING. But in the morning we’re all kind of sleepy and I don’t want her leaping down in the all-directions-at-once manner of a hellterror who suddenly realises she’s been in her crate for HOURS AND HOURS. She’d probably take out the tallboy.
† Note that I have cold hands. I’m told this is critical to a hands-on pastry-maker.
I would quit checking for your posts every day, but you keep posting!
Yes, but they’re about half length. I still haven’t got round to the Future of the Blog post—being easily distracted hasn’t changed—but it includes, among other SHORT things, reverting to having more recipes.
And today, when I’m crazy-stupid-tired* I thought I’d post the sort of recipe you need when you’re banging, or perhaps whimpering, over the final corrections of a novel, overdue optional.** Also, I adore corn/maize in nearly all its incarnations. Cornmeal and CHOCOLATE? Be still my heart.
This is adapted from UNWRAPPED, which is Green & Black’s cookbook. Really. And, as you would hope, it is chocolate porn of the highest quality.
Polenta Chocolate Cake
Okay, I haven’t exactly converted, but I do now have a nice small neat digital kitchen scales, and . . . I use it. So I don’t always recalibrate to American measurements.*** Also, there are now converters EVERYWHERE. Those of you with reliable internet connections can go on line. I have several converters on Pooka, because I am indecisive, easily confused and inclined to assume that the next one will be the best—and most aps are so engagingly cheap you can afford to be silly. PLUS there are aps specifically for kitchenware and cooking ingredients. Even if I do still tend to measure by handfuls and what stuff looks like.
8 oz dark chocolate, preferably G&B’s own either 70% or—recommended—the blow-your-socks-off 85% cocoa solids dark chocolate, which is intense. I find it a little too intense for plain eating but the sock-blowing thing happens when you bake with it.
125g (4 ½ oz) good quality slightly salted butter
5 large eggs, separated
150g (5 oz) granulated sugar. The original recipe calls for caster, which is finer-grained. I like granulated, which seems to me to leave a faint residue of grittiness even after baking, although I may be hallucinating this.
100g (3 ½ oz) polenta. Again, the original recipe stipulates fine. In my experience this cake doesn’t really rise anyway, it falls. It’s going to be gooey and sticky whatever you do. I like the slight grittiness of not-quite-fine polenta. All those eggs will stop it from being heavy, so if you like gritty, go for not-quite-fine. I also prefer yellow to white. This may also be hallucination but I think the yellow has a stronger flavour.
The original recipe also calls for rum. Feh. I like rum, in its place, but this isn’t its place. I use about two tsps of good vanilla—and I haven’t posted a recipe in a while, but you all remember my doodah about GOOD vanilla, right? None of this vanilla flavouring scam. Get the real thing.
The original recipe tells you to butter and flour a 10” deep-sided springform cake tin. I don’t. This is going to be STICKY so I want it shallow so I can get it out better. Springform is fine but I don’t think they make shallow springform? Dunno. But you could have chocolate-polenta goo all over your counter if you took the sides off too soon. I use an ordinary big flat cake tin, butter and flour it AND THEN line with parchment paper and butter and flour again.
Melt the chocolate and butter in your bain-marie, let cool, vigorously beat in egg yolks one at a time, and then beat in about half the sugar. It should be so gorgeously thick and creamy you have trouble not saying ‘bag the polenta’ and eating it as is.†
Beat the egg whites with the rest of the sugar. You want it as airy as possible but as I say, this cake is going to fall so don’t kill yourself over this.
Stir the polenta and vanilla into the chocolate mixture.††
Finally ‘fold in’ the egg whites as the cookbooks always say, like this is going to work. You do want to preserve as much of the air and structure as possible, but it is going to collapse, so don’t let this disturb you. Stir gently, till it’s shiny and homogenous.
Pour, still gently, into the cake pan, smooth the top, and bake at 350F/180C. The original recipe says 40 minutes, but it’s supposing a deep-sided pan. Because I am a twit, I have not written down how long I expect it to take. I’d guess about half an hour. It will change colour and look like it’s trying to turn into a cake . . . but as I say, think sticky. Then take it out of the oven and let sit FOR A VERY LONG TIME. Unless you want chocolate-cornmeal soup. Not that this is a bad thing.††† It WILL SINK as it cools. Not to worry.
Dust it with icing sugar. Then cut it up kindly and patiently into squarish globs.
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* I don’t know why^, but I hope it goes away. Like, now.
^ I mean, sure, I’m tying myself in knots over the last tweaks and twiddles on SHADOWS but I do this writing foolishness for a living. I should be used to it. Maybe I’m just dreading the copyediting stage.+
** And my angelic editor gave me a few days’ grace. Thursday was going to be hard. Monday is fabulous.
*** Thus forcing British and Australian and various other non-American readers to convert back.
†And if your eggs are fresh and from nice clean hens, I wouldn’t say you were wrong.
†† And taste again. You know you want to. If you didn’t, you wouldn’t be making this in the first place.
††† See: eating the batter before you put it in the cake pan.
I’m better. No, really. This time I really am better.
I had thought I went to bed last night at least a little more cheerful, even if I still couldn’t breathe and I think my back hurts quite so relentlessly and godsblattingly as much because of sleeping sitting up as because flu always makes me ache in places that the rest of the time I mostly forget are places, although the forgetting part does not in fact include my back, which has been a ratbag since I started falling off horses at the age of eleven. Anyway. I ache like fury, in both remembered and forgotten places, and the only reason to look forward to going to bed is to keep reading, since sleeping is an issue like global warming or the destruction of rainforest or the Republican nomination for president is an issue, and therefore if I was somehow feeling a little more cheerful this must be a good sign.
I got out of bed first try this morning.* I was, furthermore, hungry. How great is that. My stomach has been convinced that we have been involved in a highly unpleasant storm at sea the last week or so, involving much pitching and yawing, and has behaved accordingly. Calm seas today.** I got dressed. I had a cup of tea. I had an apple. I had . . .
. . . I wasn’t hungry any more. Oh. Well. Okay. Hellhounds and I went for a hurtle. We’ve been going out for about the right amount of time, the last few days, but somewhat less than the right amount of mileage. Today we were hitting nearer the mark. Yaay.***
Went down to the mews for lunch. I’m HUNGRY. And . . . I won’t eat anything. What. The. Frell. It’s like I woke up in the body of a hellhound or something.† Fed hellhounds. Even they are eating. Me . . . nah. Food. Nasty. OH COME ON. I’M OLD, I HAVE ME, I’M JUST GETTING OVER FLU, I NEED FOOD. I NEED PROTEIN.
Come any nearer with that olive/frond of dill/blameless scrambled egg and I will grow violent. Why yes, thank you, I would like another cup of very strong black tea.††
So I was thinking, okay, what do you do when you have some stupid little cow who’s been sick for so long she’s forgotten how to eat? What might not only tempt her but provide something nearly enough resembling nutritional value as might draw her further back toward sanity . . . and protein? How about . . .
Even with my history of telling you to judge your own ingredients and your own batter, this one is a bit mad. I’ve got notes all over the margins of wildly varying quantities. Note that both grated carrots and honey can have SPECTACULARLY variable water content. If your batter is runny, stop. Do not bake. Add flour or oatmeal. You want the batter sticky. These are drop cookies. They should behave like drop cookies.
2-3 c flour. Half wholewheat/meal is good
2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
pinch to ¼ tsp salt
½ tsp cinnamon (I round it up pretty generously)
¼ tsp nutmeg
¼ tsp cloves
2-3 c quick oatmeal
1 c raisins (I like golden in this recipe)
1 c chopped nuts (I recommend pecans)
½ c soft butter
1 c grated (raw) carrots
½ to 1 c honey, depending on how sweet you want it, including how sweet your carrots are. No, really. Taste your batter.
2 eggs, beaten frothy
Mix the dry stuff together: I’d start with 2 c flour and 2 c oatmeal. I don’t think I ever start with the full cup of honey; I usually start around the scant ¾ c level. Now beat the honey into the butter. Usually I’m a little carefree about the whole ‘soft’ butter thing, but if you want to beat it into honey your life will be a lot easier if it’s genuinely soft. Then beat in the eggs. Then the carrots. Now beat in the flour mixture gradually, as your arm or your electric whizzer can stand the strain. (If you’re using electric, you want it on slow enough it doesn’t pulverize your raisins and nuts. Ask me how I know this. I think food processors are a mixed blessing and I’ve mostly gone back to the wooden spoon technique, but then I don’t bake a lot any more.) If the texture is right, taste. If you need to drizzle another ¼ c of honey into the batter, it’s not rocket science, just do it, and beat it in, maybe with a few more flakes of oatmeal. If it’s too runny . . . well, you’re going to need more honey too because of the more flour/oatmeal you’re going to be adding, and if you’re adding more than a sprinkly handful you’ll probably want to cast in a little extra cinnamon.††† Practical Physics in Your Kitchen. You just want instructions, right? Sorry.
Drop in biggish globs on greased cookie sheets. 350° F, about 15 minutes.
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I wish to note for the record that I ate a large piece of fish for supper. I’m sure strength is pouring back into my valiant cells. Feh.
* * *
* There was some whimpering and clutching of bedposts, but we can’t have everything.
** I might even try putting my belt back on. This would be a good thing, since I’ve been eating so little the last few days my jeans are showing some alarming signs of falling off.
*** Mind you, I still can’t breathe, and I am terrifying on the phone.
† I thought I was having more trouble typing than usual . . .
†† How many hours before I can start on the cider?
††† Or you can shout, Wrangledabnag it!, and then pack the whole sloppy mess into a big baking dish. I think 13 x 9 will do it—I know I have done this but I didn’t bother to write down what size pan I used. It’ll probably take kind of forever to cook and be a trifle fragile. But it’ll taste just fine.
Oh BLERG. When (still) feeling like death and mildew and old socks . . . clearly chocolate is called for.* Besides, I need a night off.
Sometimes what you want is whatever you can do really fast.
(Almost) Instant Chocolate Gratification
4 T butter
8 oz dark chocolate
2 T golden syrup, dark Karo, or light molasses (warning: molasses has much more flavour than the other two. You need to like the taste of molasses if you use it here)
Cinnamon or vanilla, possibly
8 oz plain digestive biscuits, rich tea biscuits, wheatmeal biscuits, vanilla wafers, graham crackers, or whatever of that kind of thing either takes your fancy or you can grab in a hurry because the necessary moment is NOW
Melt butter, chocolate and liquid sugar together gently in a small pan. Stir till thoroughly mixed. If you want to use cinnamon or vanilla, use a half-tsp here. I use cinnamon not vanilla when I use molasses, other than that it’s whatever.
Rolling-pin your biscuits to fine crumbs. Stir the chocolate stuff in.
Pour into a greased or carefully parchment-papered (this includes up the sides) 8” square pan and refrigerator for several hours till set. Don’t cheat: it’s messy and annoying if you do.
So I guess I should say making this is dead fast (and easy). Waiting around for it to finish turning into itself you need a sofa, some hellhounds, and a few trashy novels.
Less (Almost) Instant Chocolate Gratification, But Still Pretty Fast
10 oz dark chocolate
6 T butter
½ tsp vanilla
1 c granulated sugar
1 ¼ c plain flour
½ tsp baking powder
Reserve about 2T of the sugar.
Melt chocolate and butter together and cool. Beat the egg, then beat in the sugar till light and pale. Add the chocolate mixture when it’s cool enough not to cook the egg** and the vanilla. Then add the flour. If it gets too stiff to stir easily, knead the rest in.
Break off bits of the dough and roll cookies into big round pebbles the size of walnuts. (I do this between my palms. Some people prefer a table.) Roll in the reserved sugar. Then space out on a parchment paper lined baking sheet. I squish them very lightly with a finger so they don’t roll around. They will not be pretty if they turn themselves from free electrons into molecule clumps. Ahem. You can get the lot on a single baking sheet, but use all the space, they do spread.
400° for 8-10 minutes. They crack all over.
They don’t take nearly as long to cool as the refrigerator bars do to set.
And may we all sleep better tonight than I did last night.
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* At least Chaos is feeling better.
** Generally speaking this is less of a disaster than you might think. In ordinary daily the-queen-is-not-coming-to-tea baking infinitesimal flakes of cooked egg disappear. Fortunately.