Cocktail Tuesday : Moscow Mule

Cocktail Tuesday : Moscow Mule

If you’re not having a dry January (or perhaps you were but have fallen off the wagon), you might want to cheer yourselves up by with slow ride on a mule, a Moscow Mule.

Over the past few years I have fallen for cocktails in the most head-spinningly giddy of ways.  An as yet never ending source of amusement to me, they have injected a sense of fun and often  lurid colour into my otherwise drab little world.

That’s why, on this most damp and gloomy of Tuesdays, I would like to share a simple-to-make  Moscow Mule  with you to kick back at those January blues.

Here’s how –

Ingredients: lime/lime juice/vodka/ginger beer/ice cubes


  • Add 1 part lime juice to 3 parts vodka (egg cup measure)
  • Dilute with ginger beer (half cup measure)
  • pour into a cocktail glass and add a wedge of lime and ice cubes

    not 1 but 2 Moscow Mules
za zda-ró-vye   To your health!

Food for Friends : Russian

Food for Friends : Russian

Our latest Food for Friends evening was January 7th  and the cuisine was Russian. It turns out that January 7th is Christmas Day in Russia.  (Who knew?  Obviously not me. ) So that meant that we were able to prolong the Christmas revelry, which we did, kicking the night off with a Moscow Mule.

We then had some pagach, a bread served with honey then chopped garlic. It’s traditionally the first thing eaten after the fast on Christmas Eve. The honey represents the sweetness of life, while the garlic represents its bitterness.

A type of porridge, called sochivo or kutya, consisting of grains, poppy seeds and (again) honey (where the grains represent hope, the poppy seeds peace and the honey sweetness again)  is then usually brought out. However, we forewent that pleasure and went for borscht instead.

Borscht, a beetroot soup served with soured cream and a sprig of dill, was worth serving for the colour alone.

We had this with vodka which went surprisingly well.

Then came the main course. Goose with soured cream sauce is popular on Christmas Day in Russia but the thought of cooking a big bird so soon after the turkey of a few weeks ago did not appeal. Instead we had a Russian stroganoff, beetroot, cabbage pie and spatzle.


The cabbage pie was a revelation, tasting as it did like a frittata. We then had to stop for a break, a Russian cocktail break, this time a White Russian.

Feeling a little full we listened to some rousing Russian music to give us strength for the dessert.

And then it came.

I was expecting some kozulya, biscuits in the shape of reindeer, goats or sheep, as these are very popular at Christmas time in Russia. But no, instead we were presented with not one, not two, but three Russian sweet treats – a honey cake, another honey cake and a fruity little number accompanied with a sweet syrupy juice (to put down the layers of fat no doubt needed to cope with the extremes of those Siberian winters).

a trio of desserts







We finished the evening with a warming vodka shot before smashing our glasses in the fireplace and making our way home…or is that a national stereotype for another country?

Recipes to follow.




                                                  Russian peasant-lookLena Hoschek F/W 2013, Berlin Fashion Week:




Happy New Year

It’s a new year and time to brush away the cobwebs…

take down the tree (distraction activity one)

show you my oh-so-funny Proust Christmas card. He’d have split his sides at this… (distraction activity two)

re-assess why I’m writing a blog.  Do I really quite like the cobweb look? Goes with my home after all.

As you might have guessed I’ve let it slip for a while.

Easily distracted, I lost focus which led to a phase of existential angst. I mean, why was I writing a blog in the first place?  To give some meaning to my formless little life? Failed on that score. To keep a record of places I’ve been? Couldn’t keep up. A file to keep the notes for the Proust reading group? Now that would have been so useful today at the first Proust reading group meeting of the year. And what about the sewing? What about that? As for the cooking and the eating?

As my formless little life became more formless so I had to let it go. It was all getting out of control.

Too busy (cooking and eating most of the time), I let it drift off,  sad and lonely, bobbing about,  anchorless, until it got swept out to the very edge of the big world wide web (because, as we all know, it’s a flat world, like any other), only to fall over the side and float about in a big, getting bigger  all the time, cloud, full of useful things, as well as cobwebs and other stuff that nobody knows exist.

And I was happy with that. For a while. But then 2 things happened. Plus one discovery.

The first was that I wrote a novel. Surely I should have written about that? But I felt too self-conscious to confess to this.  Then I wanted to look back at my notes on Proust on Mme de Villeparisis (who? Quite. That’s why I wished I’d uploaded them here). But I’d been too lazy to add them.

As for the discovery. Oh how sad for me! I’d curbed my worst writing excesses, sparing my nearest and dearest from reading about their foibles and idiosyncrasies of which they have many (instead forcing myself to go to cafes and restaurants to have something useful to post here). I hadn’t wanted to upset the poor, sweet loves. In fact, subconsciously, and on every other level, I’d wanted to please them. However, when I realised that not one of them (and I have an unbelievably large family) could be arsed (yes, arsed. Swearing can be such a comfort in times of family betrayal) to even remember that I had a blog, never mind remember what it was called, I decided that I would start again.  Evidently there was going to be no chance that they were ever going to read it so I decided to give it another go. And vent my inner bad fairy who’s  not been invited to the all-the-fairies-in-the-kingdom party.

Wonder if I’m adopted?

Now, in an ideal world I should have two blogs, one for Proust and one for my novel (and three if you count the rest of the hotch-potch of posts and pages) all far, far away from one another BUT in the real world, my real world, life is just a mish-mash to which I struggle to give some intelligible order.  So, why try? Why pretend by imposing a perfect structure on a gloriously imperfect, haphazard  set of disparate experiences?  Why indeed. Let the writing chaos begin.

Happy New Year and I wish you every joy and success in your own gloriously imperfect lives and endeavours.

Proust Book Group : le Côté de Guermantes

Summer is fast disappearing and we have dug out our forgotten copies of Proust and tried to remember what it was all about.
As we have  stalled at different places in the book we decided to go
with our slowest reader from p143 of Volume 2 ( Penguin Kilmartin
edition), in The Guermantes Way.
We have been reading together for about one year now and have agreed that quality, not quantity, works best for us. So we gave ourselves 2 weeks to read about 40 pages to half way down p187. We all managed to achieve this and were happy to take a bit more time to just enjoy it.
This is what we covered:
Page 143. the Elstirs, as an excuse to see Mme de Guermantes. N (the narrator) mocks his younger self while at the same time showing the real importance of art in life.  St Loup promises to write to her, and we and N believe he has done this but only a few pages later it becomes apparent that he has not. We all liked the description of “setting our mental stage with little puppets…”, and felt it applied to all of us.
Jupien is briefly mentioned here, almost as a non-sequitur, but we
think this is part of Proust’s way of weaving stories in and he will
be back.
P.146. We noted that his admiration for Mme De Guermantes is of a
similar pleasure he might  get from a work of art, like “watching the
brush strokes of a great painter.”. We would have liked to have seen
the red dress.We also like the humour of him pretending not to be
interested in her.
p.147 Seems to be about the power of the dream in creativity – the
dream creates something more intensely artisitic than in real life.
The theme of synaethesia.
p.157. The pear trees in blossom. images of virginal beauty and art
with religious overtones which refer to the Jeunes Filles en Fleur of
the previous book, and provide a stark contrast for the introduction
of Rachel, who is immediately recognised as a cheap tart, not worth 20 francs. The story of St Loup’s love for her has clear parallels to
that of Swann and Odette..
St Loup is shown as deluded and tormented. For him she is an ideal,
in contrasted to N’s view of her. But all is much more complex as
usual; the Narrator’s opinion of her slowly rises as his experience
shows him her great talents as an artist. He is learning the truth
through experience.
p.163. Aimé the waiter, is part of the homosexual theme which threads through the novel, clearly there, though obliquely referred to.We felt that St Loup’s unconscious/ suppressed homosexuality is shown, for instance, by the fact he notices that Aimé might be attractive to Rachel.
p170 There is also comedy in the appearance of M de Charlus, clearly interested in Aimé, but this is misinterpreted by St Loup, in a
self-centred way as being about himself. He seems not to recognise his uncle’s homosexuality – (or not to want to).
p174. N’s drunken image in the mirror – the theme of  fractured personality.
p.177 The humiliation of the actress and the theme of sadism. We spent some time discussing the subtleties here of the difference between hatred, (which he attributes to Rachel and her friends here) and sadism (which would just be to take pleasure in cruelty).
p186 Rachel flirting with the dancer to torment St Loup, his suffering and the 2 unexpected outbursts of violence which shockingly rupture his aristocratic civility. We felt they were at the same time painful and comic, and that again there are strong allusions to homosexuality in these scenes.
We all felt that while at times we had to puzzle out what was meant in a long difficult passage (and sometimes fail), that we were finding it was getting a bit easier, that you can develop a bit of an ear for his

Proust Book Group : Le Côté de Guermantes

Proust book group. Yes, we’re still going! Although I’ve not posted anything for a while.  But all that’s going to change.

Especially after the realization at our last meeting that we’ve read so much but can’t always remember it… time for some judicious note-making and keeping.

We’ve also decided to read just 55 pages  at a time just because the writing is so dense. So this should keep us going as a reading group for years…

Here’s something from Kate to start us off. It’s based on our discussion of pp55 – 119 Penguin edition ‘Le Côté de Guermantes’ :

The background story here is the narrator’s ‘love’ for Mme de Guermantes.

1. The Art of War. As a parallel to the creation of art works and
also in the context of the First World War.

2. The character of St Loup. As a good kind loving person, as an
idealist and hero worshipper, attracted by cleverness and reacting
against his background, holding court ( with Narrator providing the
entertainment), as the last of his line. His jealousy and the
homosexual aspect of the friendship, which Proust makes us consider whilst appearing to deny it.

3. Comic elements  and also the rude meaning of Cambremer (as explained in ‘Who’s Who’).

4. Francoise in contrast to St Loup and also what she teaches him about people. Francoise and characteristics she shares with narrator.

5. Sleep, dreams and the act of artistic creation. Memory as the
immortality of the soul – as part of a work of art. Also is Proust
reflecting on the religious doctrine he grew up with?

6. Proust mentions works of art. If you know the reference it creates
a picture. eg the shops lit up like a Rembrandt picture. Scenes from Breughel.

7 A pan of boiling milk described poetically. An invalid would have
time to notice.

8. Synaesthesia and the effect of the loss of sound.

9. the writing of a novel by the narrator. The untouched pile of papers.

10. Mme de Guermantes. The narrator thinks he loves her but he doesn’t know her. The comic elements in his inability to even recognise her at times.

11. Humour. How  the narrator can laugh at himself and make himself seem ridiculous to show his lack of self-knowledge (like a Molière character).
Phew! Is that it??

here are a few of my favourite things

Here are a few of my favourite things … to moan about!

First off, new phrases. One moment no one’s saying them (never mind understanding what they mean), the next they’re being used by virtually everyone. All of the time. Sounds like a good thing? Well let’s see.

Culprit number 1 : ‘Back in the day’


Seems to refer to some non-specific period in the speaker’s  past when everything was possibly better. Or possibly not. Though, grudgingly, could be said to be useful for those of us who have trouble remembering dates…

Culprit number 2 : ‘Happy days’

(uncannily similar to culprit number 1)

What’s wrong with that?

When I first heard this I confess to having found it  really quite charming. Full of joyful enthusiasm. Sort of catchy. So ‘sort of catchy’ in fact that I found it escaping from my mouth all too readily. Soon sounded rather simple.

Culprit number 3 : ‘Mac and  Cheese’

Odd to find it here you may think, but think again. When I first heard this I thought it had to be something far more mysterious, more exotic, than ‘macaroni cheese’. Even now I wonder whether I’ve got this one completely wrong. But I don’t think so. It is ‘macaroni cheese’. I’ve googled it (!). That dish that we had as kids when we’d run out of everything else. Suddenly it’s everyone’s favourite, and even my own kids bandy its name around as if they loved it ‘back in the day’. But they must have been chowing down on it at some other family’s table because they certainly didn’t have it at mine. I don’t know why but it sounds as if it belongs to the same family of words such as ‘dude. Or ‘bro’. (Which makes me think of ‘bromance’. And ‘Brovember’. And…Stop me. Stop me now.)

Culprit number 4 : ‘enjoy’

Now this is an old one. The first time it irritated me was back in the late 1980’s. Now I’ve got nothing against the sentiment. Please, do enjoy yourself. But just ‘enjoy’? It used to be so cool it made me want to stick my fingers down my throat. But I’ve grown up now. And calmed down. And whereas I can forgive, I can never forget.

Although I’m trying to distance myself from the times that I’ve succumbed to ‘enjoy’s easy charms myself. But it never did make me sound cool. More a people-pleasing, crowd-following twerp with no resolve. Damn.

Culprit number 5 : ‘fess up

So, time to ‘fess up myself. I cringe as I admit that I’ve used this one. More than once. How did it’s annoyingly catchy sound get so hardwired into my brain that I found myself reproducing it? Against my better judgement?

(For those of you who may still be ‘fess up’ virgins it’s simply a contraction of ‘confess’ + ‘own up’ = ”fess up’. Sorry to have corrupted you.)

Culprit number 6:

and this is the one, my nec plus ultra  (at the moment, at any rate) of irritating phrases. Wait for it –

‘First World problems’.


Though on first hearing it this one bowled me over.

Not least because I’ve come up with my fair share of moans deserving of such an epithet (is that even the right word? Please feel free to help me out here.)

‘I’ve not managed to get fresh clams for tonight’s spaghetti alle vongole.’ ‘I missed the last episode of War and Peace.’ Sadly both mine. I was nearly reduced to tears by one of them.

So, the reason I hate this phrase is that I’ve started to use it after nearly most things I say. And so have many of my First World chums. Instead of making us reflect on more serious problems it’s just served to give us a chummy, back-slapping out.

When I used it after ‘Waitrose has run out of hazelnut croissants!’   I realised I had a problem.

But here endeth the rant. For now.


Reading Matters

Reading Matters

Reading. That most solitary of  activities which has helped me understand and connect with others in the most profound of ways.

Pretentious, maybe. True, most definitely. And so I’ll lay myself open to derision because I would really like to share my latest reading discovery.

I was researching women who lived in fin-de-siècle Vienna recently because...well, that’s another story, when I stumbled across a short work by a woman called Adelheid Popp.

‘Who,’ I hear you cry, ‘is Adelheid Popp? Never heard of her.’

Well, after reading her autobiography you might start to question why that is. Why have you not heard of this most inspirational of women?

A Socialist and a Feminist, her story is charmingly written and beautifully moving. One of 15 children born into the most desperate poverty she rose to become one of the leading pioneers of her age, calling for fair wages, improved working conditions (including sick pay), all the while campaigning for universal suffrage and against sexism and exploitation of women in society.

Haven’t we heard it all before? I’d thought so too but it was only when I read her personal account of her youthful experiences and the hardships she endured that I actually felt it.

It will inspire, amaze and move you and the foreword written by Ramsay McDonald sets the scene.

And it’s all accessible for free. I downloaded the pdf version (which I’ve linked here)  and finished reading it in hours.

Adelheid Popp. It’s a crime that I’ve not heard of you before now.




Tankards, earthenware drinking cups and glasses clink, chink and clunk together as wassailers bid each other good health.

Wassailing. It hadn’t registered on my ‘excuses to eat and drink to excess’ before this year. And so when Martina suggested that we have a wassailing evening I didn’t really know what to expect.

But I do now.

Wassailing is a very ancient tradition involving drinking to good health and to a good apple crop for the coming year.  The word ‘wassail’ itself comes from the Anglo-Saxon ‘waes hael’,  meaning ‘good health’ though it refers also to the drink traditionally drunk  while wassailing. Wassailing is usually done on or around 12th Night, and the wassail itself was originally a drink made of mulled ale, roasted apples, curdled cream, eggs, cloves,  ginger, nutmeg and sugar  (sometimes known as ‘Lamb’s Wool’ due to its white and  frothy appearance caused by the pulp of the apple and the cream ).

However, Martina thought that we could have a wassail feast too. And  I was to bring a starter. A starter?

I didn’t know much about wassailing but from what I did know it seemed fairly obvious to me that  starters weren’t big in wassailing circles.  And so it proved. I spent hours pouring over recipe books and getting lost on the Internet.

But then I found it. The perfect wassailing menu on the site of ‘The Ethicurean’, a…but before I attempt to describe the place perhaps you’ll get a better idea of what ‘the Ethicurean’ is in their own words –

‘This is the idea of having a connection with the native land, its history and the community who grow food locally upon it. Our family team seek to discover harmonious pairings between the ingredients that surround the walled garden.’

‘The Ethicurean restaurant is set in the enchanting Barley Wood Walled Garden, a perfectly restored Victorian kitchen garden, bursting with fertile life. But far from your usual garden cafe fare, gardener Mark Cox sends his produce to the restaurant in the delightfully scuffed former glasshouse to be made by the team into some of the most delicious, innovative, vegetable-focused cuisine in the land.’

Get the picture?

And so it was here, perhaps unsurprisingly, that I found a wassailing menu. Once discovered I managed to find wassailing menus from previous years and eventually opted for Caerphilly and Cider Rabbit (posh cheese on toast), although I wouldn’t do this ever again, not least because it was too filling. In fact, the entire evening seemed to be a laying down of fat to cope with the harsh winter months ahead.  A veritable festival of fat, sugar and stodge…

The Menu



just click on dish to find most recipes

Caerphilly and Welsh Rabbit (The Ethicurean Recipe Book)

Belly Pork (The Ethicurean Recipe Book)

Apple Brandy Sorbet with Cheese Batons (The Ethicurean Recipe Book)

Apple. Mincemeat and Nut Strudel (Delia)


Lamb’s Wool

Mulled Cider 

Locally Produced Cider (from Grape and Grind, Bristol)

Locally Produced Wine (from Wrington)

Somerset Cider Brandy

Apfelkorn (a schnapps-type drink which Martina had at the back of a cupboard…)

I couldn’t get to sleep that night because I’d eaten so much… Although, thankfully, due to a bad cider experience in my youth, I’d refrained from drinking too much.



Most recipes are taken from the Ethicurean Cookbook –

The Ethicurean_bookjacket

If you don’t fancy cooking yourself you can eat at ‘the Ethicurean’  restaurant. Click here to check out a menu –

‘The Ethicurean’ is located at –

Barley Wood Walled Garden
Long Lane
BS40 5SA

And to read more about wassailing  go to    Time to bless some fruit-growing trees…

Proust Book Group Meeting

Proust Book Group Meeting

Not everyone made it to this meeting and so we used it as an excuse (opportunity?) to focus on the just start of the second part of ‘A l’Ombre des Jeunes Filles en Fleurs’.

Key Observations

  • the narrator’s focus on the blue of the blind at the window of the train carriage. Significance – to underline the importance of what we see ( in this case the colour) as opposed to what we know we see ( it is a blind).
  • the importance of light and its impact on what we see. As seen in the changing impressions of the same scene as observed through the train window as the train follows its winding track. Same scene, different perspective. Affected by time, light, distance.
  • the relevance of these visual experiences become clear when the narrator describes what he sees through his hotel window. eg he describes the sea as a mountain, the crests of its waves as snow.

Proust here makes the distinction between intelligence and intuition/ sensory response.  He reveals to us his developing aesthetic – that to touch the truth, create art, he needs to respond to the impression, to be faithful to what he sees, rather than to allow what he knows to come between its expression.  (cf. voluntary and involuntary memory)

To place this in a historical context, these ideas are clearly connected to those of the Impressionists.

We are told that the artist Elstir, even before he is introduced,  will have a significant influence on the narrator’s artistic evolution.

It is also aesthetically important that Baudelaire is mentioned here.  Baudelaire’s use of synaesthesia within some of his poems has a definite correlation to Proust’s use of metonymy here. To taste the smell of a rose is akin to seeing the mountain in the sea.

further points for discussion

  • humour. Now we’ve spotted it we see it everywhere. Perhaps the narrator’s grandiose claims and anguished exclamations are intended to express genuine pathos, but we can’t help but hear a self-conscious, self-mocking bathos – the voice of a wiser, more knowing older self who is prepared to elicit humour out of his more naive younger self, even in his most despairing of moments.  Waiting at the train station; seeing the milk girl; drinking the alcohol.

By concentrating on such a small section we managed to talk about the writing in detail. It really is a joy to be able to read ‘A la Recherche’ in this way and to see how much we’ve still got left to read makes my heart soar as it means we’ve got so much more to explore.


NEXT MEETING : Friday 5th February

TARGET : To finish reading the 2nd part of ‘A l’Ombre des Jeunes Filles…’ or, at least, try to.


Time to Brush Away the Cobwebs

I’ve clearly not been writing any posts in a while and did think that I would walk away from this website/blog all together.


Because I was becoming obsessed with stats, hits and search engines, that’s why, desperate to think of the latest click-bait to push those numbers up.

Because I found I was more intent on recording life on my phone than actually living it (that’s a BIG one). I dislike Facebook but it crossed my mind that what I was doing here had many of its negatives. And that had never been my intention.

Because I wasn’t concentrating on anything else in my life, just writing randomly and uploading it aimlessly. The result, one huge,  word soup, fairly sludge-like in consistency.

BUT  because I have stopped recording certain things that I find important and useful, I’ve learnt that when a moment has passed (the details of which I think I will never forget), I have trouble calling to mind even the most basic of information about it. The feeling always remains, of course. I can tell you with gushing enthusiasm, for example, my favourite book, or film. But I can’t always tell you why. And ask me what it’s about and I’m completely scuppered.

And so, for that admittedly selfish reason, I intend to continue writing up what I want to remember just in case I ever want to get my hands on recipes for a dinner party  or just rediscover what’s so great about  ‘A l’ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs’. I know this is not for everyone but as I get older I realise that it’s not about trying to please others but finding things that make me feel alive. The same things might not do it for you, and that’s fine, but this year on Frock Friday I  will offer what does it for me and if you want to share it please help yourselves. And I’m going to start with a little bit of Proust.

about reading & writing – what else is there?