I read The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald for my book club and I have to admit I expected it to be chick lit. It shows how little I knew about Fitzgerald, who I now know is an English Booker Prize-winning novelist, poet, essayist and biographer.
There are so many books out at the moment set in book shops, cafes, shops, that I assumed it was one of those and I was quite happy to read something a little lighter after finishing American Gods and Anatomy of a Soldier in previous months.
I didn't know what to expect and I was in for a story with a vastly shifting tone. It started with a little old lady, Florence Green, taking on the world and I really admired her passion and refusal to be cowed by her neighbours and the nasty Lady of the Manor.
The middle of the novel was my favourite, really laugh out loud funny with brilliant insights into life in a small village. I grew up in a village where anyone who hadn't been there for fifty years was an incomer, so this felt very familiar and Fitzgerald's portrayal of the array of characters you meet was cleverly perceived. I particularly enjoyed Florence's unlikely and often comical friendships.
But the rapper/ghost? Where did that come from? I thought it was a ploy to get Florence out of her shop, I did not expect a supernatural element to the story.
Maybe because I have my own dream of success that I felt so deeply for Florence. I wanted her to do well, to beat the odds, to get her happily ever after. Half way through the book I completely believed it was possible.
Things deteriorated rapidly and my heart broke as her life fell apart. The last line is maybe one of the saddest I've ever read. I won't share it as it gives the whole plot away but even now I feel really sad when I remember it.
By the end I was definitely in need of cake. Florence visited an old recluse and he gave her tea and fruit cake, so it was the perfect excuse to try out a recipe for Christmas.
I decided to try a Chocolate Cherry Christmas Cake from Good Housekeeping since I love chocolate, cherries and cake. The recipe makes a very dark, rich fruit cake, moist and quite decadent but unfortunately I didn't enjoy it as much as I expected to. I prefer lighter Christmas cakes in general, so I'm possibly not the most impartial of judges. I couldn't really taste the chocolate as it blended in but the sharp sour cherries provided a really nice tang. There's lots of fruit (cherries, of course!) and it was delicious with a slice of Wensleydale cheese - my Yorkshire roots showing.
On the upside it's a gluten free cake and as with so many recipes now you wouldn't know it. If you're looking for a good gluten free, rich Christmas Cake I'd definitely recommend it.
Publisher News: Still nothing and the whole Brexit/Recession/EU Who-ha has me concerned that publishers won't be investing in new writers. At least there are other alternatives and I shall wait and see what the next few months bring.
Writing Progress: I got distracted by my tax return but I've discovered that Camp NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month's little sister) is starting again in July so I am going to use that to spur me on to finishing my next draft. I'm really excited about it. The countdown is on to 50,000 words in 31 days.
As mentioned in a previous post, I'm trying to cut down on my gluten intake, the only thing that gets in the way is my love of cake and baking. Running the Clandestine Cake Club is a definite obstacle, although it's also one of the highlights of my month.
I wondered if there was a way around it and then I came up with the theme for September's Cake Club - Free From Cakes! I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to try different cakes that might be, if not good for me, at least slightly better than some.
I was not disappointed, there were lots of amazing offerings. I made a Gluten and Dairy Free Apple and Almond Cake by Nigella Lawson. It was really good, a subtle flavour of apple; but so moist. It took a while to cook and next time I'd reduce the temperature a little. Other than that I'd highly recommend it. You can find the recipe for the Gluten and Dairy Free Apple and Almond Cake here...
I added caramelised apple slices to the top of my cake - mainly because my cake had a slight crack from where it rose and then sank slightly! I used this recipe by the other Queen of Cookery, Delia Smith, recipe here... She uses butter, so they aren't dairy free; but I'm sure you could find a non dairy recipe if you wanted or just use caramelised sugar instead.
The recipe does use an insane amount of eggs; but since there's no butter of flour I figure it all balances up. It's easy to make, tastes great and you don't miss the dairy or gluten one bit. Win win in my book.
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I turned to trusty Google - I hardly ever use recipe books anymore. The only recipe I came up with was a bread and butter type pudding. It sounded amazing; but it would take far too long to cook at the party. I decided to create my own recipe and so my Sweet Pizzas were born!
They're the easiest thing and you can put anything you want on them. I raided my cupboards and found a pack of mini marshmallows and some bars of chocolate.
They work as a very yummy dessert; but I also tried one out for breakfast and it made for a very indulgent start to the morning - much more exciting than a croissant with a dollop of jam, even if it is homemade.
I used different combinations of toppings so people had a choice. You can use any of the following:
- fresh fruit
- mini marshmallows
- Nutella, jam, honey, syrup, peanut butter
The Smore Pizzas were my favourite they had:
- mini marshmallows
- strawberries (to make them healthy)
- Slice the croissant in half.
- Spread with Nutella.
- Add sliced strawberries.
- Sprinkle with mini- marshmallows.
- Place on a baking tray and cook in a preheated oven, 180C for 5 - 7 minutes.
- They are ready when the mini marshmallows start to brown. Or if you're using a square of chocolate, it starts to look slightly melted. The chocolates didn't go liquid melty when I did it, so don't wait for that or they will burn.
- Serve as they are or with a scoop of ice cream. Yum!
Just to prove that I really am trying to cut down on gluten, here is a delicious recipe I tried last weekend for Gluten Free Nutella Meringue Brownies.
When I first decided to alter my diet, I did not have high hopes for cakes. In fact I thought cakes were off the menu; but I've been pleasantly surprised.
I like the Marks and Spencer's Gluten Free Flour, it seems to work just as well as normal flour and I haven't noticed much of a difference in taste or perfromance.
I did mean to take a picture of them cut up into pretty squares; but they were so good that they disappeared too quickly.
I hope you enjoy them as much as we did!
I've finished my first novel while enjoying copious amounts of chocolate and cake.
Now I'm on to the next one. While you wait for my first to be published why not try...
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