Archive for homecooking

a journal of the plague year [december reviews]

Posted in Books, Kids, Mountains, pictures, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 19, 2020 by xi'an

Read only a part of a Brandon Sanderson’s novel, Steelheart, that I found incredibly terrible (given the achievements of the writer). With a few cardboard characters, incl. the (compulsory) nerdy teenager with unique skills and a David Copperfield childhood (also named David) and cartoonesque villains with superpowers. Until I realised, while looking at its Wikipedia page, that this was intended as a (very?) young adult novel… And did not try to finish the book (first of a trilogy) before leaving it in the exchange section in front of our University library.

Cooked (and enjoyed) a fennel and (local) honey tarte tatin and a broccoli polenta with Vacherin (cheese). Made several rye breads as I find them easier to knead and bake than other flours, once I found that I could get fresh yeast by the gram from my favourite bakery.  Fell into a routine of cooking winter vegetables, like pumpkins, butternuts, and cabbages, Jerusalem artichokes (a pain to peel!) and (expensive) tuberous chervil. Plus the available mushrooms.

Watched a few episodes of the Korean drama Two Cops (투깝스), more for the scenes showing bits and pieces of Seoul, than for a very thin and predictive plot. Following a radio broadcast mentioning Carol Reed’s The Third Man as one of the best movies ever—although I had read Greene’s novel a long while ago—, I tried to find it online but ended up instead watching for the first time Fritz Lang’s Die 1000 Augen des Dr. Mabuse,  which is his third Mabuse film and the last film he shot (in 1960). While the harsh lights and grainy surveillance TV screens, along with absolutely everyone smoking, put some perspective to the story, connecting post-war West Germany with its immediate past, I did not enjoy much the acting, which sounded very artificial, and the plot was quasi-nonexistent.

Read Olin Steinhauer’s The Bridge of Sighs, which was his first novel, as I had greatly enjoyed The Tourist. It takes place in an unnamed Eastern European country that could be Moldova (since Hungary and Czechoslovakia are described as West, while Romania is mentioned as another country, but the city could well be Szeged, both for having its own Bridge of Sighs and for being crossed by the Tisa), right after the War, as a Stalinist regime is under construction and a rookie cop, grand-son of a communist ex-hero, tries to navigate the new regime. I really liked the book: it is very well-written, meaning an attention to style and perspective that stays away from the usual endless dialogues in crime novelsand the characters have depth and originality, I enjoyed also the somewhat Mediterranean cum Balkanic feel of this post-war Soviet satellite. And will presumably seek the following volumes from UK resellers…

a journal of the plague year [lost September reviews]

Posted in Books, Kids, Mountains, pictures, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 12, 2020 by xi'an

Read a (red) book I bought in Chamonix last January (sounds like last century, at the very least!) at the Éditions Guérin bookshop, The Bond, by Simon McCartney, translated in French as The Ghosts from Denali. It starts more or less like a traditional mountain climbing story, with a pair of cocky young climbers attacking a new and difficult route and managing the opening despite severe adverse circumstances, which is what Simon McCartney and Jack Roberts did for the north face of Mount Huntington in Alaska, having run out of food and facing the constant threat of collapsing seracs. It however turns into a inner introspection as McCartney gets stranded on the mythical Eiger Nordwand (just like many before him!) after his large group keeps breaking their Charlet Moser icepicks due to the cold (!) and end up being airlifted. He later manages a Winter climb of the Eiger and reunites with Roberts to attempt the south face of Denali, never climbed before. This is when the book takes off, from the sheer difficulty of the route to the amazing unpreparation of the climbers, to Simon’s cerebral embolism building up and bringing him a hair away from death, to the altruism of several other climbers on the mountain to bring him down from the death zone, especially Bo Kandiko, and to a trauma-induced complete break from climbing when McCartney got out of Anchorage hospital. This is gripping and moving and unbelievable. The book received a Banff Mountain Festival award and no wonder. The story told by McCartney is actually seamlessly completed by diary excerpts by Roberts and Kandiko, where they question their own involvement against the very real danger of dying from staying with McCartney, much more than giving up their own attempt against the deadly mountain. A terrific mountaineering book, truly. As a sad coda, Roberts died ice-climbing Bridal Veil Falls a few days before McCartney’s attempt to reunite with him.

Spent several evenings baking fig jam when returning from the Alps as the fig tree was full! And ended up with a total of 35 jars. Resulting into a full “marmalade closet”, as in the past weeks my mom home-made the same amount of peach jelly and my wife’s mom even more rhubarb marmalade jars. Enough to stand a whole year of lockdown, jam-wise. And ate some of the few but tasty peppers that grew in our garden, for the very first time, despite the welcomed tomato and squash invasion! Also ate a terribly greasy risotto in a supposedly highly noted restaurant…

Started watching Dark on Netflix, a German dark time-travel fiction. But while I enjoyed the complex story, the play of the young actors, and the appeal of watching a show (and a Greek play within the show, with Ariádnê and Thêseús of course!) in German, the endless paradoxes of time-travel and the duration of the series made me stop after a few episodes, the town of Winden keeping most of its mystery for me.

a journal of the plague year [mo’vember reviews]

Posted in Books, Kids, Mountains, pictures, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 5, 2020 by xi'an

Read a short manifest [in French], Décarcérer [Uncarcerate] written by Sylvain Lhuissier about the uselessness of the carceral system and the potential alternatives. Much easier to read than Foucault’s Surveiller et Punir, obviously, but the author is also an actor in the construction of such alternatives in France. Most interestingly, he points out that the arrival of the COVID pandemic, with overpopulated prisons being obvious hotspots, led to an almost instantaneous reduction of the carceral population thus brought below its nominal capacity, without a ensuing explosion in criminal activities.

Made a few jars of green tomato marmalade, as there were a few left when I cleaned my vegetable patch. With little sugar and some peppers to stand between marmalade and chutney. And found a bakery cooking kouignou amman almost on my bike path, although the calories input they provide would require a much longer détour..! And also had a long discussion (at a safe distance) with a tea dealer, who made me taste a unique white Pu Ehr from Laos. She also had many tips on Kunming (even though it sounds less and less likely ISBA 2020 will take place there.)

Read a touching novel [in French] by Akira Mizubayashi, Âme brisée [Broken soul], a moving story around music, deracination, lutherie, childhood memories, travelling between France, Japan and China. (Judging from the summaries of his other books, the themes sound central to the author’s work.) 

Watched a few episodes of The Magicians (although Season 1 came out in… 2015!), although I had not much enjoyed the book (volume 1). And found them an improvement, considerably so, with most characters having enough of a depth and flaws aplenty to compensate for the still terrible plot with its Narnia-esque hidden universe. The central characters Quentin and Alice are pleasantly making themselves quite antipathetic. But the inherent dependence on the weak book plot, a growing boredom (and the terrifying perspective of an enormous number of episodes!) made me stop from pursuing the experiment!

a journal of the plague year [grey November reviews]

Posted in Books, Kids, Mountains, pictures, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 21, 2020 by xi'an

Read Evil for Evil, K.J. Parker’s second tome in the Engineer trilogy, published in 2009! Surprisingly, I remembered enough of the first volume for the story to make sense and I enjoyed it, for the same reason I liked Sixteen ways to defend &tc., namely for its attention to logistics and medieval industry taking over the muscle-display of standard equivalents, plus the self-demeaning attitude of most characters, again a welcome change from the standards! The pace of the story sometimes get bogged down, though.

Slowly cooked pulled pork with a hellish amount of red peppers, meaning I ended up eating most of it by myself over a few days. Tried cauliflower risotto, and liked it. Took my mom to a nice restaurant in Caen, À Contre Sens, after an oyster breakfast with her on the quays of a nearby Channel harbour, with a surprise lunch based on local (Norman) products. Finding hardly anyone in the restaurant due to COVID regulations made the experience even more enjoyable. And such a difference from the previous Michelin we sampled this summer!

Wasted hours watching the US presidential vote counting slowly unraveling, computing & recomputing from the remaining ballots the required percentage of Biden’s votes towards catching up, and refreshing my NYT & Fivethirtyeight webpages way too often. And remain fazed by an electoral system stuck in a past when less than 50,000 men elected George Washington.

Cleaned up our vegetable patch after collecting the last tomatoes, pumpkins, and peppers. And made a few jars of green tomato jam, albeit not too sweet to be used as chutney!

Watched the TV series The Boys, after reading super-positive reviews in Le Monde and other journals. Which is a welcome satire on the endless sequence of super-heroes movies and series, by simply pushing on the truism that with super-powers does not come super-responsibility. Or even the merest hint of ethics. Plus some embarrassing closeness with the deeds and sayings of the real Agent Orange. Among the weaknesses, a definitive excess of blood and gore, ambiguous moral stands of the [far from] “good” guys who do not mind shooting sprees in the least, and some very slow episodes. Among the top items, the boat-meet-whale incident, “Frenchie” from Marseille almost managing a French accent when speaking some semblance of French, and Karl Urban’s maddening accent that’s a pleasure to listen even when I understand a sentence out of two, at best.

 

a journal of the plague year [October reviews]

Posted in Books, Kids, Mountains, pictures, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 31, 2020 by xi'an

Read two more “little red” books from Éditions Guérin/Paulsen, the fantastic Chamonix editor, namely, Lénine à Chamonix by François Garde, a former Secretary-General of the Government of New-Caledonia, and Les Hallucinés (Un voyage dans les délires d’altitude), by Thomas Venin. The first book is a collection of short stories related to mountains, ranging from the realistic to the fantastic, and from good to terrible. I think in particular of the 1447 mètres story that involves a Holtanna like big wall in Iceland [good start then!], possibly the Latrabjarg cliff—although it stands at 1447 feet, not meters!, and the absurd impact of prime numbers on the failure of the climbing team. Lénine à Chamonix muses on the supposed day Vladimir Illitch “Lenin” Ulyanov spent in Chamonix in 1903, almost losing his life but adopting his alias there [which clashes with its 1902 first occurrence in publications!]. The second book is about high altitude hallucinations as told by survivors from the “death zone”. Induced by hypoxia, they lead hymalayists to see imaginary things or persons, sometimes to act against their own interest and often to die as a result. The stories are about those who survived and told about their visions. They reminded me of Abele Blanc telling us of facing the simultaneous hallucinations of two (!) partners during an attempt at Annapurna and managing to bring down one of the climbers, with the other managing on its own after a minor fall resetting his brain to the real world. Touching the limits of human abilities and the mysterious working of the brain…

Cooked several dishes suggested by the New York Times (!), including a spinach risotto [good], orecchiette with fennel and sausages [great], and malai broccoli [not so great], as well as by the Guardian’s Yotam Ottolenghi’s recipes, like a yummy spinash-potatoe pie. As Fall is seeping in, went back to old classics like red cabbage Flemish style. And butternut soups, starting with our own. And a pumpkin biryani!

Read Peter Hamilton’s Salvation, with a certain reluctance to proceed as I found the stories within mostly disconnected and of limited interest. (This came obviously as a disappointment, having enjoyed a lot Great North Road.) Unlikely I read the following volumes in the series. On the side, I heard that fantasy writer Terry Goodkind died on Sept. 17. He had written “The Sword of Truth” series, of which I read the first three volumes. (Out of 21 total!!!) While there were some qualities in the story, the setting was quite naïve (in the usual trope of an evil powerful character that need be fought at all costs) and the books carry a strong component of political conservatism as well as extensive sections of sadistic scenes

Watched Tim Burton’s 2012 Dark Shadows (terrible!) and a Taiwanese 2018 dark comedy entitled Dear Ex (誰先愛上他的) which I found rather interesting and quite original, despite the overdone antics of the mother. I even tried Tim Burton’s Sweeney Todd for a few minutes, being completely unaware this was a musical!