Reading Recommendations (for you and me)

Pretty much every year I ask for book recommendations from you all and here I am doing it again.

I’m off on holiday in three weeks time and from the moment I enter the airport to the moment I hit the sun-lounger to the moment I get off the plane again, I intend on reading lots and lots and lots.   Bothersome tasks like eating copious amounts of pizza, drinking Prosecco,  blethering to Dad, browsing in shops, running along the shore pathand taking pictures of lovely Italian buildings/scenery may infringe upon my plans slightly but there will still be lots of time for literary pursuits.  ;)

So, any recommendation for books (fiction or non-fiction) that will utterly absorb me would be greatly, greatly appreciated.

Like last year, I am bribing you for this information with a cute picture of Marco (see above).  Unlike last year, I am also offering you something else: my own reading recommendations. Below is a list of books that I love.  The first eight are books I have read in the last year and enjoyed and the latter four are my all time favourite novels.

Fair trade? Hope so.

Recent Reads

  • Gillespie & I  by Jane Harris – A rather unsettling but entirely engrossing read set in Victorian Glasgow.  Stayed with me for weeks and weeks after I’d finished it.
  • Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant by Anne Tyler – Read this by mistake.  Thought it was something else.  Not much happens but I felt a part of the fictional family by the time I’d finished.
  • Bjorkmann’s Point by Håkan Nesser – Do you like cheesy crime thrillers? I do and I really liked this one.  Swedish. Not hugely original but a very entertaining read.
  • Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts- Epic true story of a Western fugitive and his experience of working in the underworld in India.  Oddly uplifting.
  •  The Woman in Black by Susan Hill – Love a good ghost story, I do.  Didn’t want to see the film until I’d read the book.   The book’s great fun.  Still haven’t seen the film.
  • Dark Matter by Michelle Paver- Another ghost story. Set in midwinter-Spitsbergen at the beginning of the 20th century.  Not perfect by any means but really, really scary!
  • Blood River by Tim Butcher – Non-fiction book about a journalist’s journey along the Congo river.  Opened my eyes.
  • The True Deceiver by Tove Jansson – Author of The Moomin stories.  I’ve loved her short stories for a while now but this novel was beautiful.

All Time Favourites

  • The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon – Set in early 20th century Barcelona. Mysterious, funny, touching, atmospheric… Just loved it.
  • We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver – Stunning writer.  Chilling character.  Thought-provoking issues.  Subtly gripping plot.
  • A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth – Big, big book.  Totally worth the time investment.  May have said this before on these pages but I cried when it ended because I wasn’t going to know the characters anymore.
  • Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy – Heartbreaking.  Tolstoy’s prose is beautifully crisp.
  • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen – Needs no introduction but if you haven’t read it, do.  I read it every year without fail.

A Summer Roast

It’s June and it’s 11 oC here in the Highlands.  Perfect running weather and perfect roast dinner weather.  Perhaps if you live warmer climes, the thought of turning on the oven in the month of June makes you shudder.  Does it, sun-dwellers?  Does it?

If it does, then read no further.  Come back to this post when the temperatures dip and you are once more able to face turning that dial up.  But do come back because this is a wee cracker of a meal.  The flavours are light and summery and the meat is moist with a layer of crisp crackling.  It’s the potatoes who are the star of the show though.  As the lemons break down and the pork  begins to release its juices, the new potatoes soak up all that flavour and become slightly gooey and caramelised on the outside.

Best served in a sunny conservatory with a glass of white wine and thoughts of warmer days.

Roast Pork and New Potatoes with Lemon and Thyme

(serves 4, with leftovers for sandwiches)

1.25  kg rolled loin of pork (boneless), skin scored

Salt and pepper

500g new potatoes (I’m guessing the weight here!  It was about 4 passion-fruit-sized potatoes each) scrubbed and halved

2 lemons, cut into 12 slices

1 tblspn fresh thyme leaves (half that if using dried)

Olive oil

  • Preheat oven to 220 oC.
  • Use a mortar and pestle to bash up the thyme leaves with a generous few pinches of salt and pepper.  Rub a third of this  mixture into the skin of the pork.
  • Heat a little olive oil in a frying pan over a medium-high heat and sear the joint on each side for a minute or two until golden.  Place in a roasting tin and set aside.
  • Add the potatoes to some cold salted water.  Bring to the boil then drain immediately.
  • Add the potatoes, lemon, thyme mixture and a glug of olive oil to a bowl and combine well using your hands.  Scatter the potatoes around the pork joint.
  • Roast in the oven for 20 minutes then reduce the heat to 200 oC.  Roast for a further 1 hour and 10 minutes, making sure you turn the potatoes every so often.  Check the meat is cooked through by either ensuring the juices run clear or inserting a meat thermometer (I use the latter technique – it’s less fiddly than removing the meat to a plate).
  • Remove from oven.  While you let the pork rest for 10 minutes before carving, pick out the lemon rinds from the potatoes and use a slotted spoon to remove the potatoes from the fat to a warmed dish.
  • Serve the carved meat with the potatoes, lots of steamed green veg and a dollop of grain mustard.

Asparagus with Duck Eggs and Chive Butter

I was absolutely rubbish at poaching eggs.  There is no way I would have ever considered basing a starter for four around a poached egg.   That was until I bought some beautiful, fresh stems of asparagus and spotted some big fat duck eggs the day before our visitors arrived last weekend.  So I gave it a shot.  And it worked!  Thank you to Elise for the poaching method!

A recipe isn’t required here.  Melt some salted butter gently in a pan, add a generous amount of chopped chives and set aside.  Poach a duck or hen egg (like this) and blanch 4/5 fat spears of asparagus per person.  Each should take 4 mins to cook so you should start them at the same time.  Drain the poached eggs well (I failed here) and serve on top of the asparagus drizzled with the melted butter and some more chopped chives.

Tourist at Home

We had visitors from London up this holiday weekend (Hello Priya!).  Spent the weekend showing them around some of my favourite places in the area.  It was so good to take time out and just enjoy our where we live – I haven’t done enough of that in the last few years.  We sailed down the Caladonian Canal; visited  Glen Affric and Plodda Falls; shopped at the Cromarty Pottery and ANTA; dolphin spotted at Chanonry Point; and went to The Storehouse for lunch.  The sun was very cooperative; the dolphins and seals were not.

(Bigger versions of these photos can be viewed here - the Glen Affric photos – fifth and sixth – are well worth seeing in a larger size)

Kentucky Roast Chicken

Our favourite lazy dinner of the moment is Kentucky Roast Chicken sandwiches (so called as the spices are an attempt to mimic the KFC ones).  Simply rub a whole chicken with a very well salted spice mix (I used smoked paprika, onion powder, cumin, oregano, pepper and garlic powder but you might want to experiment with your own mixture or try one of these) and roast until the skin is golden brown and crisp.  Whilst the chicken is still hot, tear off pieces of the meat and skin and pop into a crusty baguette along with some mayonnaise and leafy salad.