Nothing to see except scenery!

Sant-Kouloum

The view from Sant-Kouloum

image

Sunshine, seafood, warm sea air, scenery – I have S covered, but nothing for N! We drove from St Malo to Cancale today, stopping along the way to admire these views. Mont St Michel was the omnipresent ‘rock of ages’ on this drive, visible from every lookout.

I am quite in love with this new part of France we’ve discovered, thanks to A-S and her family. As the Terminator said, I’ll be back!

Reading Maine in St-Malo!

I’m on a short holiday with daughter and our French besties, taking advantage of their hospitality. I’ve scheduled this post in advance of all the fun I anticipate, eating Bretonne galettes & other delicacies. Follow me on Twitter to see my updates, or have a look at TJ’s post on St Malo and hope I haven’t met the same fate as the lady with the camera 😉

I also bought Maine, by Courtney Sullivan, to read on my holiday. Review to follow – here’s the blurb: 

The Kelleher clan’s beachfront holiday house creaks under a weight of secrets. It’s a place where cocktails follow morning mass, children eavesdrop, and ancient grudges fester. One summer, three generations of Kelleher women descend on the shore. Kathleen, finally sober, hoped never to set foot there again. Maggie, pregnant, has left her useless boyfriend. Ann-Marie, bound to the family by marriage, fantasizes about an extra-marital affair. In the middle of all this is matriarch Alice, who drinks to forget her failings as a parent and the events of a single night, decades before. These mothers and daughters are by turns fierce and loving, cruel and unforgiving, and through their shared history and private dreams, Maine lays bare the paradoxical nature of family and the love that we are bound to, no matter how savage the storm.

The Lemon Grove

Although this book was intended for the impending holiday, I devoured The Lemon Grove in one sitting. I’m a sucker for a pretty cover and then I thought I would just read the first chapter. And then maybe one more. And before I knew it, I had ploughed through the entire book. There was nothing else for it. Helen managed to draw me in to Jenn’s holiday in the little Mallorcan village: I could feel the heat in my bones, hear the crickets, smell the dust. She has explored the tricky subjects of identity, family, ageing and the lure of the forbidden with an artist’s hand. I felt like I was the fly on the wall, or a voyeur, seeing the story unfold first-hand in all its conflict. Pure magic! Well, unless you were one of the characters. And that’s all I’m going to say.

“She eats hungrily, without restraint or embarrassment. The starchy inner flesh of the pastries has cooled and solidified, smearing her fingers in orange grease. The explosion of flavours, one after another – spinach and anchovies and olive oil – is good, each mouthful restoring her. The thunder rumbles again, closer, directly above them … The air is fat and tight.”

Since I’m done with this one, have you got any recommendations I must read?

Kanilsnúðar and kaffi (and koeksisters)

My sweet tooth is baring its fang(s) again, so we’re going on another round-the-world-tour to satisfy my cravings.

Icelandic kanilsnúðar, or cinnamon swirls, are available all over Scandinavia in one shape or another. They differ from cinnamon rolls in that they’re small, about two-bite sized, and not drenched in icing. Most recipes involve dry yeast, but it’s just too darn fussy for me, so my recipe uses baking powder for an equally delicious result (click on the recipe to see a bigger version to read/print).

#Cinnamon Swirls #buns #kanil

Heading south of the equator on our tour, let me introduce you to another delicious South African treat: the koeksister. The rough English translation is cake sister, which really doesn’t paint a picture of plaited dough, deep-fried & drenched in sugar syrup. So wrong, and yet, so right! We had them at our wedding, which may have been a mistake alongside the carrot cake with the thick, thick fondant icing. Our guests weren’t shaking for joy, they were shaking with sugar! Koeksisters are best eaten fresh, with a palate-cleansing cup of coffee, but can be stored in the fridge for a few days (they never last that long, in my experience).

I have been lucky enough to either have my friend, Hayley, make them for me, or just buy them from one of the zillion South African shops in London, but if I were to follow a recipe, I’d probably use this one for its simplicity: Tannie’s Koeksisters. The key is to make the syrup first, and have it really cool before you soak the koeksisters. And beware, prep and eating are both very messy. Persevere. The sugar rush will be worth it!

The Jungalow by Justina Blakeney

What I’ve carefully left off my About page, as well as blog posts, is the fact that I am a design junkie. I’ve hinted at my Pinterest pins, but anyone who follows me on Pinterest can confirm I am addicted, feverishly pinning into the wee hours of the morning (or until my husband threatens to kill the WiFi). Beautiful design and clever re-purposing make my soul happy ❤

I started following Justina Blakeney a few months ago, and I am hooked on her style. She is vibrant, colourful, bold and dare I say it, joyous! Her website is called The Jungalow and she has an inspiring mix of crafts, decor, recipes and personal styling showcased. I dare you to have a look and not be caught up in her fresh photos, and itching to try a project or five.

justina-blakeney-interiors

Invictus (William Ernest Henley)

Out of the night that covers me,

Black as the pit from pole to pole,

I thank whatever gods may be

For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance

I have not winced nor cried aloud.

Under the bludgeonings of chance

My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears

Looms but the horror of the shade,

And yet the menace of the years

Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how straight the gate,

How charged with punishments the scroll,

I am the master of my fate:

I am the captain of my soul.

Heaven & Hell

I grew up with a Catholic grandmother. The idea of Heaven & Hell was polished into the furniture, sprayed into the air, and shovelled down my throat with every mouthful. Was my grandmother devout? Nah. But keeping up appearances was vital, including the passegiatta to Saturday evening Mass when we stayed with her over weekends or school holidays.

In my child’s eye, Heaven was very similar to the Philadelphia Cream Cheese advert, all white, fluffy and clean. My grandfather would be hanging out by the smörgåsbord, handing me titbits of delicacies. Hell was obviously very hot, with no delicious nibbles, only the lumpy custard I had refused to consume (which the starving African children had rejected as well). 

I stopped going to church when I was about ten. I knew by then things were a lot more complex than the simplistic explanations which were foisted on me (blame it on the reading). I devoured all kinds of mythology. Norse mythology probably hit closest home; all the incredible characters, every single one of them flawed & human-like. Men & women as equals, in balance. I could relate to them, and I developed my own world view pretty early on. It’s still my world view today, interspersed with other learning.

Heaven and Hell are what we make here, today. How we deal with anger, pain and shame are as telling as how we accept grace, love and kindness. How we treat the random stranger when no one is looking. Raise our voices when others cannot. Take ownership for our actions. I’d like to believe reincarnation is a possibility; to see my daughter and husband again in another life would be magical. But what I do with my life now, is what keeps me going every day.

Have you followed, rejected or adapted the teachings of your childhood? How do you explain Heaven & Hell to your children?

Grief, that old chestnut

Grief is a banshee. It can churn your insides, leaving you whirling with emotion, but make it impossible for you to move, shower or eat. It whips you like a car antenna, raw and whimpering. It leaks out of you slowly, at inopportune moments. It appears to have no plan, except to level you flat and keep you there.

My grief left me numb, but functioning in a simmering state of rage. It took its toll in silent, insidious ways. Rapid, permanent hair loss. An auto-immune disease. Aches & pains in my joints which turned me into a cantankerous crone. And even when I dealt with the underlying issues, talked my way through therapy, and felt resolved, grief is that distant cousin, always waiting to pay a visit.

Does enduring grief really leave you stronger? Do those scars criss-crossed across my life make my soul more resilient, or more likely to rend? I’ve watched my friend battle with her child’s autism diagnosis, grieving for a childhood lost, but loving fiercely and fighting to get them help. She dances the same line I’ve danced between despair and anger and love and hope and such spine-bending sadness. In the dark moments, she comes over to my house, melts into a chair and says, “I just have to be here.”

And I let her sit, knowing that she is letting the pain wash over her, breathing in to it, letting it re-inflate her like a bouncy castle, to withstand the shocks that are sure to come her way once she gets up & goes home, to fight another day.

“I like to keep my issues drawn, it’s always darkest before the dawn.” 

― Florence Welch 

Fathers (A-Z)

My dad’s job took him all over the world, often for months at a time (this was 30+ years ago, long before the advent of Skype & even email). I remember him sending me letters when we were apart, with the most amazing drawings on every envelope. Cape Town, Gibraltar, Venezuela…they all came alive in black ink on those old-fashioned blue & red striped Air Mail envelopes. He gave me the world, one sketch at a time. When we travelled with him, we were encouraged to talk to people, try different foods, explore! I learnt so much from him, from how an engine works to reading a map, reading the night sky to learning to ride a bike, and then later, to drive a car. He invented the ‘indoor picnic’ for us, in our tiny apartment, balancing an old door on some books for a picnic table. He created a Cleopatra costume for me when I was ten, including the headdress, the make-up, the works! There was never a second where I felt like he thought I couldn’t be whatever I set my mind to be.

Listening to my daughter talk about her father, I realise I picked someone incredibly similar to my dad. “Dada has a great sense of humour, supports me in tricky situations, takes me on adventures, teaches me to play football (soccer), buys me lots of books and taught me how to take the Tube”, says K. He also chases her about, lets her fall, flings her in the air – all the things that make me shriek! He believes in her. He listens to her. He makes her feel valued, and has given her enough respect for her to expect no less from anyone else. What priceless gifts!

As wonderful as these two men are, they would probably both agree that their intro to fatherhood was similar to Phillip Toledano’s in this hilarious & heart-warming ‘Confessions of a Reluctant Father: How I Learned to Love my Daughter‘. Laugh out loud and enjoy.

And if you love your dad/step-dad/father-person, let him know. Today.

 Image from Pixabay

Estranged (A-Z)

Having become a stranger, of one who formerly was close, as a relative, friend, lover, or spouse

I was faffing about with my Kindle Unlimited searches, trying to find something new to read (one of my goals for 2015). The beauty of paying a flat fee per month for any number of books is liberating, because if the book is rubbish, I can just return it. I found this single and was drawn in by the cover; I read the blurb and was hooked. Reading Estranged blew me away. It’s a first-person account of growing up in a middle class family in a middle class town, except Jessica Berger Gross also endured verbal & physical violence at home, which she kept a secret for years.

“…at the age of 28, she realized that her family was so broken it couldn’t be put back together, and so she irrevocably cut ties with her mother and father. As she soon learned, however, such a choice could not be made without calling into question her own essential goodness and morality.”

I love how she explores these ideas of goodness and morality in various ways, and how she tries to make sense of, and peace with, the choices she makes. It’s an interesting topic I’ve seen crop up in one shape or another across various blog posts & comment feeds recently, but I don’t think any of us have taken the steps Jess took. Without giving too much away, the last part, where she’s exploring the morality and consequences of her choices, really hit home for me.

If you’re looking for a quick read, Estranged is £1.49 on Amazon UK, $2.21 Amazon.com or $3.16 on Amazon Canada.