Books from My Shelves: Small Delights

I can’t remember where I got these little books. I would like to say from one of the bookshops in Hay-on-Wye, but perhaps not. When living in England, I visited many secondhand bookshops so these could have been from any one of them. Or any two — I don’t think I found them in the same place.

The first is Alice’s Flip Book, featuring the Cheshire cat.

It makes me smile.

Here’s the front and back covers:

 

And the first and last pages:

 

The other book is Good Babies Bad Babies by John Lawrence. It’s not a cosy baby book and that is why I love it.

Here is the book: cover, endpapers, page decorations and, of course, the babies (my favourites are the bad one and the fin one. The good one is also funny – it looks so smug and the ox and ass look nonplussed!):

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WWW Wednesday

What are you currently reading?

I am struggling through Portnoy’s Complaint by Philip Roth. It’s an easy read in terms of style, but Portnoy is a whiny child who irritates me.

I have also begun Legends of the Condor Heroes, Book 1, which Kit got me for my birthday. So far so good.

And yes, I am still not-reading-reading Bird Cloud by Annie Proulx. I should get back to it.

What did you recently finish reading?

www3The Scent of Water by Elizabeth Goudge and The Boy On the Porch by Sharon Creech.

I enjoyed both books. They were the sort that provoked lots of self-reflection, which I like and find valuable and even comforting.

Goudge sheds light on life’s darkest moments, but her way is that of the Cross which I don’t subscribe to. Still, she doesn’t force it down your throat and herwww4 capacity to see good in all is a quality I admire.

Creech’s book was quirky, whimsical, charming and heart warming. I would have preferred an ending that was less sudden though. I can imagine what happens next, but I feel Creech could have provided more satisfaction by writing it.

What do you think you’ll read next?

Often it takes a while to settle on a book that fits my mood. I have a few possibles, including Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty, Her True-True Name, edited by Pamela Modecai, and I Hotel by Karen Tei Yamashita.

In Sandwiches or Spread on Fingers of Coarse Brown Bread

potted meat 4

I first came across potted meat in one of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five adventure stories. Potted meat sandwiches. What were they? I had no idea and could not Google it, but I imagined buttery white bread filled with something resembling mashed up luncheon meat.

omeIt was only when I read Elizabeth David’s An Omelette and a Glass of Wine that I found out what potted meat was. My introduction to Ms David was a little book published to celebrate the sixtieth anniversary of Penguin. I’ll Be With You in the Squeezing of a Lemon (named after a chapter in Omelette) collected excerpts from several of her books. It was also my introduction to food and cookery writing in general — David’s books remain my favourite in the genre.

An Omelette and a Glass of Wine is collection of the writer’s articles that were originally published in The Spectator, Gourmet magazine, Vogue, and The (London) Sunday Times. It contains a recipe for mayonnaise that makes me want to eat mayonnaise, never mind that I actually hate the stuff.

So, anyway, Omelette also features an article called ‘English Potted Meats and Fish Pastes’. By the way, I never did try potted meat when living in England. I can’t remember why I never tried looking for it at delis or supermarkets. Just as well because I would probably have been disappointed. Best I live in blissful ignorance, my imagination, aided by Blyton and David’s descriptions, conjuring the most delicious of sandwich fillings.

Here is David in a sub-section of the potted meat chapter:

pott

When and How to Serve Potted Foods and Pastes

‘A noble breakfast,’ says George Borrow of the morning meal offered
him at an inn at Bala in North Wales, ‘there was tea and coffee, a goodly
white loaf and butter, there were a couple of eggs and two mutton chops – there was boiled and pickled salmon – fried trout … also potted trout and
potted shrimps …’ A few weeks later he returns in search of more country
delicacies. He is not disappointed. ‘What a breakfast! Pot of hare; ditto of
trout; pot of prepared shrimps; dish of plain shrimps; tin of sardines; beautiful
beef-steak; eggs, muffins, large loaf, and butter, not forgetting capital tea…’

George Borrow was writing of Wild Wales in the eighteen-fifties. When
you come to analyse his splendid breakfasts you find that with slight changes
he might almost be describing a nineteen-sixties, chop-house revival period,
West End restaurant lunch. The potted shrimps, the trout, the steak, the pot of
hare (now the chef’s terrine de lièvre), the mutton chops (now lamb cutlets),
the salmon, now smoked rather than pickled, are very much with us still. The
March of Progress has alas transformed the goodly white bread into that
unique substance, restaurateur’s toast, while tea and coffee are replaced by
gin-and-tonic or a bottle of white wine, and for my part I would say none the
worse for that. Tea with a fish breakfast or coffee with beefsteaks have never
been my own great favourites in the game of what to drink with what.

Here we are then with plenty of ideas for an easy and simple English lunch; potted tongue or game followed by a simple hot egg dish; or smoked salmon paste with butter and brown bread to precede grilled lamb chops, or oven-baked sole, or fillet steak if you are rich. For a high-tea or supper meal spread smoked haddock paste on fingers of hot toast and arrange them in a circle around a dish of scrambled eggs. For cocktail parties, use smoked salmon butter, fresh salmon paste, sardine or tunny fish butter, potted cheese, as fillings for the smallest of small sandwiches. Fish, meat and cheese pastes do not combine successfully with vol-au-vent cases, pastry or biscuits, but in sandwiches or spread on fingers of coarse brown bread they will be greeted as a blessed change from sticky canapés and messy dips. Stir a spoonful or two of potted crab or lobster (minus the butter covering) into fresh cream for eggs en cocotte, into a béchamel sauce to go over poached eggs or a gratin of sole fillets. And as Mrs Johnstone, alias Meg Dods, author of the admirable Housewife’s Manual of 1826 wrote, ‘What is left of the clarified butter (from potted lobster or crab) will be very relishing for sauces’ while ‘any butter from potted tongue or chicken remaining uneaten will afterwards be useful for frying meat and for pastry for pies’.

And here is a recipe:

RILLETTES OR POTTED PORK IN THE FRENCH MANNER

This very famous charcutiers’ or pork butchers’ speciality is native to
Southern Brittany, Anjou and Touraine. It could be described as the French
equivalent of our potted meat – although it is very different in texture and
taste.

2 lb. of a cheap and fat cut of pork such as neck or belly; 1 lb. of back
pork fat; salt; 1 clove of garlic; 2 or 3 sprigs of dried wild thyme on the stalk;
a couple of bay leaves; freshly milled black pepper.

Ask your butcher to remove the rind and the bones from the piece of pork
meat (the bones can be added to stock and the rind will enrich a beef dish for
the next course) and if he will, to cut the back pork fat into cubes.

Rub the meat with salt (about a couple of tablespoonsful) and let it stand
overnight or at least a few hours before cutting it into 1 ½-inch thick strips –
along the grooves left by the bones. Put these strips, and the fat, into an
earthenware or other oven dish. In the centre put the crushed clove of garlic,
the bay leaf and twig of thyme; mill a little black pepper over the meat and
add about half a pint of cold water. Cover the pot. Place it in a very cool
oven, gas no. 1, 290°F., and leave for about 4 hours.

Now place a sieve over a big bowl. Turn meat and fat out into the sieve,
so that all the liquid drips through. With two forks, pull apart the meat and fat
(which should be soft as butter) so that the rillettes are shredded rather than
in a paste/Pack the rillettes lightly into a glazed earthenware or stoneware jar
of about ¾ pint capacity (or into two or three smaller jars). Taste for
seasoning. Pour over the rillettes (taking care to leave the sediment) enough
strained fat to fill the jar. Cool, cover and store in the refrigerator until
needed.

Rillettes should be soft enough to spoon out, so remember to remove the
jar several hours before dinner. Serve with bread or toast, with or without
butter, as you please.

pork rillettes

 

Perhaps I shall attempt to make potted meat from scratch one day. Until then, I will read and imagine and salivate.

WWW Wednesday

What are you currently reading?

Bird Cloud by Annie Proulx

Yes, still reading this. ‘Savouring’ is the word.

The Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch

It’s taken me awhile to get to this book although I’ve had it on my Kindle for some time now. Loving it so far. It’s funny and charming, and unpredictable. Reminds me of Diana Wynne Jones too, which is never a bad thing. I adore Peter Grant so far, but I disapprove of his attraction to Lesley. HarHar.

What did you recently finish reading?

Invitation to the Waltz and The Weather on the Streets by Rosamond Lehmann

Lehmann is one of my lovely dead white women authors. Invitation was a re-read, first time reading Weather.

Invitation sparkles. Olivia Curtis is adorable. I like her awkwardness and her honesty. And I love her and Rollo at the ball. Weather is more Olivia and more Rollo, but ten years have passed and their relationship is less than ideal. It’s a depressing book, on the whole. Enjoyed it, but it definitely made me droop.

What do you think you’ll read next?

I have no idea. I thought of re-reading Microserfs by Douglas Coupland but I can’t find it. I may read JPod by him, but I also have eleven new books I bought on Sunday. Maybe something from that pile. There is also the other pile by my bed. Maybe the short stories edited by Linh Dinh.

We Need to Talk About Lionel Shriver Being a Mean-spirited Racist Arsehole

A few years ago, realising that I was reading, almost exclusively, books written by (dead) white women, I decided to make a conscious effort to read more novels by Asian and African writers. This did not mean that I would read just any book by an Asian or African author. My decision just meant that I made the conscious decision to seek out African and Asian fiction, which I had hitherto simply not paid attention to.

LS

In response to Penguin Random House’s newly unveiled aims ‘that the books we publish should reflect the diverse society in which we live’, Lionel Shriver, in this piece for The Spectator, said, ‘Drunk on virtue, Penguin Random House no longer regards the company’s raison d’être as the acquisition and dissemination of good books. Rather, the organisation aims to mirror the percentages of minorities in the UK population with statistical precision. Thus from now until 2025, literary excellence will be secondary to ticking all those ethnicity, gender, disability, sexual preference and crap-education boxes. We can safely infer from that email that if an agent submits a manuscript written by a gay transgender Caribbean who dropped out of school at seven and powers around town on a mobility scooter, it will be published, whether or not said manuscript is an incoherent, tedious, meandering and insensible pile of mixed-paper recycling. Good luck with that business model. Publishers may eschew standards, but readers will still have some.’

How is being inclusive ‘eschewing standards’? It seems to me that the publisher is admitting that there are systemic faults that result in more white authors that authors of colour being published, and it is addressing this problem by making public its intention to ‘actively [seek] out talented writers from communities under-represented on the nation’s bookshelves‘. Shriver, on the other hand, is revealing her contempt for writers who aren’t white. She obviously believes that coloured communities are low on talent and that Penguin Random House will have to resort to publishing just any damn mss in order to fulfil their goals.

It’s telling how Shriver seems not to recognise/admit that mainstream publishing is a largely white, middle-class world. With most employees in publishing houses being white, it’s not hard to understand how there might be a bias (intentional or otherwise) towards white authors. So, in that situation, why don’t Shriver and other white writers worry that their work is being published purely because of the colour of their skin rather than because it’s actually good work? Because white privilege means they see themselves as racially neutral, i.e their race and skin colour have nothing to do with the lives they lead. And why does Shriver immediately assume that wanting to be more racially inclusive will result in fewer good books being published? I can’t think of any other reason besides the fact that she is a racist bag of manure who thinks that white authors are naturally more talented and able than authors of colour.

After all, surely she’s noticed that even without initiatives like those undertaken by Penguin Random House, publishing houses have published a fair number ‘meandering and insensible pile of mixed-paper recycling’, by white authors no less?

Diversity poses no threat to readers’ standards, it only challenges Shriver’s bigoted beliefs.