Pre-loved book haul.

I’m currently postponing a considerable amount of Uni work to write this blog post, which is far more interesting! Anyway, a few weeks back, I adopted some unwanted, lovely new books from my relatives. Here, I shall be going through some of my fiction and non-fiction choices…

My first adoption is ‘Walking Dickensian London’ by Richard Jones.

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If you enjoy classic literature and like London, then you’ll enjoy this. This is a delightful 200-page commissioned guide, covering twenty-five walks through the Victorian quarters of London, all associated with the life of Charles Dickens. The book opens with a modest biography of Dickens, revealing that it was a broken heart, poverty and a stifled intellectual desire that finally plunged him into writing in 1833. I’ve also learnt from this section that Dickens directed and acted in Willkie Collins’s 1857 play, ‘The Frozen Deep’.

Collins was another nineteenth-century writer who is perhaps best known for his psychological thriller novel, ‘The Woman in White’ (1859).

The Woman in White
BBC One’s 2018 adaptation of the “Woman in White”

At the bottom of page nine, you will find a short key which helps identify local churches, train stations – if you’re commuting to London beforehand, the walking route – highlighted blue, as well as city parks and gardens. Directions are generally broken down by short paragraphs, focussing on historic points of interest. My favourite walk is “Tower Hill to Barbican”, not least because Barbican is home to the Museum of London and the Barbican Centre – where I’ll be graduating (fingers crossed), but because the whole route is described as going straight through the “very heart” of the City of London and has a “warren” of very ‘Dickensian’ back alleys. I would say that since this guide is relatively old (published, 2004) and it feels slightly dated in terms of its layout and aesthetics. Nevertheless, a very interesting book. It’s relatively lightweight and a perfect companion to slip into your backpack. I feel inspired to embark on some walks!

My second adoption is
‘Walking Shakespeare’s London’ by Nicholas Robins.

As you may have noticed, this is related to the last book as a ‘Walking Guides’ series. This guide contains twenty walks and compared with Dickens, the introduction on Shakespeare is, perhaps unsurprisingly, quite short as very little was known about the bard himself. The introduction states that one of the most evocative Shakespearean buildings you’ll find in London, Shakespeare’s Globe, is incidentally one of the most modern additions, reconstructed from the original Globe Theatre in 1997 and 200 metres from the old site. This guide is similarly scattered with photographs, route maps, information on local buildings like Temple Church (p.112) as well as lots of context on historical society, Shakespeare’s contemporaries, political figures and literature in time gone by. This guide’s wide-ranging presentation of information offers an immersive insight into the past and is, therefore my preferred addition of the two.

My third adoption is ‘Nathaniel’s Nutmeg’ by Giles Milton.

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I took ownership of this book from my Dad who has had nothing but very high praise for it. In 1616, an English adventurer, Nathaniel Courthope, stepped ashore on the remote island of Run, six-hundred miles from the coast of Australia, to persuade the native islanders to grant a monopoly to England over their nutmeg. You may forgive the book for having such a seemingly mundane title, but if you’re interested in British naval history and the Age of Discovery, I have seen this book being frequently described as a “truly fascinating” read. The book is based on a little-known but very true story and from what I’ve read so far, Milton has interwoven imaginary writing in his own re-telling of the story of the spice trade; so we may call this a factual book with a little creative licence. Naturally, with any book covering our historic imperial past, there is the issue of a racist ideology which crops up as early as page two: “(the islanders of Run) are peevish, perverse, diffident, perfidious people…” Nevertheless, it serves the correct purpose of acknowledging ignorance of society of the time. I am yet to read this novel as it’s on my summer reading list, but I have high hopes for its depth of information.

Chicken and Mushroom pie.

Since it’s a glorious bank holiday weekend, I felt very much in the mood for some home baking. The result: A sumptuous, rich and creamy, aromatic lunch (or dinner if you’re cutting into big quarter slices!) I’m quite literally a disaster magnet in the kitchen, so if I can successfully bake this pie – anyone can.

Here’s how I made this chicken pie, following a basic recipe with some added improvisation and personal tweaks. By keeping the flame down whilst cooking the recipe, this will allow you more time to prepare and combine your ingredients, therefore preventing you from overcooking things and messing it up!

You will need:

  • 4 medium-sized chicken thighs, sliced into bitesize pieces.
  • A heaping handful of mini closed cup mushrooms, thinly sliced (normal size mushrooms are fine – adjust the amount accordingly)
  • 1 small tub of low-fat Creme Fraiche (Greek yoghurt is an excellent alternative)
  • Half a large onion, finely diced (or 1 whole onion if medium-sized)
  • 4 small spring onions with the outer green stems removed, thinly sliced
  • 300ml of vegetable stock (chicken stock is fine by the way)
  • A few of sprigs of Sage, Thyme and Rosemary.
  • A sheet of ready-rolled puff pastry.
  • Colman’s English Mustard
  • Plain flour from the cupboard, and a pinch of Nutmeg (entirely optional)

To make the pie filling…

In a large pan, gently sweat the diced onion and spring onions on a low-medium flame until softened, don’t brown them! After a minute or so, add the sliced chicken thighs and fry on a medium heat for five minutes until they lose their initial raw appearance. I then added the sliced mushrooms and continued to fry the ingredients for a further 5 minutes. Leaving the ingredients on a low flame, I ripped off a few leaves of rosemary,  thyme and sage – just enough to be a generous pinch – you don’t want this flavour to overwhelm the dish. Toss this into the pan, along with a light seasoning of nutmeg, and some salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

In the meantime, prepare the vegetable stock. I purchased my vegetable stock in the new jelly-like form, as opposed to the dry/ powdered cubes you can typically get. Place this in a Pyrex measuring jug and dilute in 300ml of boiling water. Since the Korr vegetable jellies are supposed to make 500ml of liquid stock, I cut a small tip of the jelly to adjust the ratio for the purpose of the recipe. In order to make the gravy, pour the vegetable stock into the pan with the chicken and mushrooms and on a high flame heat the mixture until it’s reaches boiling point. Reduce the pan to a simmer, add a generous tablespoon of Creme Fraiche (or Greek yoghurt – which I’ve found is pretty much the same thing), a small teaspoon of strong mustard, and a slightly heaped dessertspoon of plain flour to thicken the sauce. Mix in and simmer for a few minutes to reduce the liquid down to a slightly thick sauce.

Once finished, allow the mixture to cool slightly and then transfer into an 8″ enamel pie dish, spreading it out evenly. If you don’t have this, a Pyrex or china ovenproof dish will work just as well. Unroll your sheet of puff pastry and lay it gently over the top of the pie dish to form a lid. Trim the edges with a sharp knife and if you’re feeling confident, crimp the circumference of the pastry with your two thumbs placed in opposite directions, and applying a little pressure to the dough. Next, poke two small steam holes into the centre of the pastry with the tip of the knife. For some decoration, I made two small roses by slicing off two, thin strips of dough, rolling them up into a swiss roll, and then pushing the centre upwards to form the centre of the bud. Then using the tip of my knife, I made small flicks in the layers to give the appearance of petals. Finally, I cut two small leaves and gently scored some veins into the pastry to finish them off. I arranged all this in the centre of the pie lid to give the appearance of a small bouquet.

Before placing in the oven, I made gentle indents in the lid of the pastry and brushed the lid with a double layer of whisked egg & milk wash. The general rule of thumb is to cook the pie until the pastry has puffed up and baked golden-brown. This took about 15 minutes at gas mark 6 in the centre of the oven. Keep checking at regular intervals, as it can burn very quickly! Once done, serve immediately with buttery mash and boiled mixed vegetables. Bon appetit 🙂

Let me know if you try this recipe, and please like and follow my blog if you’d like to see more posts like this.

Hello, there!

Hello to my intimate group of followers.

It seems I have been running this blog for little over a month and things are settling in quite well. There are currently nine of you who are actively following my blog; I’m so pleased you could join me! And I didn’t expect to achieve quite so much positivity this early on – it’s all relative 😉

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I thought it might be helpful to share a modest amount of personal info so you – or anyone can get a better concept of me as I blog. I’m nineteen, rolling on twenty in June (tragic). People I meet tend to say that I’m way older than my years, which probably comes as a result of numerous family stresses. We all have baggage, don’t we?

I’ve been experiencing some serious medical issues lately, which means I’m not at Uni. And this leads me on to the blog – my new hobby – since I’m predominantly housebound. For now, let’s just say I’m extremely introverted; I read a lot of books and I enjoy writing about them, I like gardening, baking (mostly sweet things), a country lass at heart, I tend to get fired up when it comes to Politics and the NHS, I enjoy popular television shows, and I spend pretty much 100% of my time with my family.

Thank goodness for the internet because since I don’t have any close friends, I would have otherwise become very lonely – which can still be the case sometimes, but hey-ho!

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