More sci-fi

While I was away in France, I read The Word for World is Forest by Ursula K. Le Guin. The contrast between good and bad is pretty b/w, a little less nuanced than in some of her other books, but I really enjoyed it. It had some Heart of Darkness and Planet of the Apes (2010s reboots) vibes.

Off the back of that, these are a few new sci-fi items for the reading and watching lists:

  • La Planète des singes by Pierre Boulle published in 1963. I didn’t realise that the whole Planet of the Apes world started with this novel.
  • A Non-Euclidean View of California as a Cold Place to Be, an essay by Ursula K. Le Guin. It can be found in her essay collection Dancing At the Edge of the World: Thoughts on Words, Women, Places, can also be found bouncing around online. Recommended by GC. I need to get a better handle on Le Guin’s work in general actually, there’s just so much!
  • Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer published in 2014. The movie was based on this book, apparently both are pretty good but the book is particularly strong. Recommended by FB and GC.
  • FB, GC, and I were talking about how the strength of so much great literary fiction lies in the fuzziness, the areas where the reader is trusted to fill in the gaps. This is so often lost when a book is adapted to film. David Lynch is good at hanging on to this stuff (see Mulholland Drive, for example), but I’m not a big film buff and couldn’t think of many others. FB suggested we check out some Andrei Tarkovsky films, particularly Solaris (1972).
  • Related to that read Solaris, the 1961 philosophical sci-fi novel by Stanisław Lem. I had no idea the movies were based on one of Lem’s books.

Chocolate nut muffins

Double chocolate and nut muffins recipe

Calling these muffins instead of cupcakes is reallllyyyy pushing it IMO, but we’ll let that slide. I made these w/o the chocolate chips, with a dash of orange flower water instead of vanilla, and with pecans instead of walnuts + almonds. They were great, would definitely make again. They look super presentable with a single whole pecan on top of each muffin.

A few days in Ceyreste 🇫🇷

Sunrise in October in Ceyreste, France

Spent a few days in Ceyreste (FR) recently with new and old friends to celebrate our dearest GC’s 30th. Lots of good food, time in the sun, swimming, etc, just what the doctor ordered. These are a few things I’d like to remember.


Calanques national park is beautiful. It can also involve some serious walking. I’m glad we brought a proper map, glad that we’d brought enough water between us, glad that we’d just missed peak tourist season, and really glad that GC bought some snacks!

We drove to Cassis and parked as close as we could to Calanque de Port Miou towards the west end of the town. This ended up being the metered parking on the corner where Avenue Révérend Père Jayne turns into Avenue des Calanques, the rest of the way down to Calanque de Port Miou was marked “sauf riverains” or residents entry only. After that we walked down Avenue des Calanques till we hit Port Miou, then we walked southwest on the main gravel path marked white/green/red running parallel to the calanque. We paused where the white path looped north and the green/red path continued southwest, and that’s where LM and DP peeled off with the littlest one in the buggy to head back in to town along a reasonably flat path.

The rest of us continued on the green/red path to Calanque de Port Pin which was slightly rougher going. The rocks got particularly slippery right before the beach. We paused at Port Pin for a swim and to wait for some later arrivals to join us. The water was beautiful, and chilly! It was sunny, but the heavy wind probably contributed to the chill.

Swimming in Calanque de Port Pin in France

After Calanque de Port Pin, KB, SC, and their little one headed back to Port Miou on the white path heading north. The rest of us headed uphill on the green/red/blue path just as some dude with a carbon fibre alphorn showed up… The going was slightly rough but not too bad. The top of the hill was a sort of crossroads with another path running flat along the ridge. It marked the beginning of our descent towards Calanque d’en Vau.

The sign at the crossroads indicated tough terrain, and the path was marked with “danger dots” 🔴🔴🔴🔴🔴🔴 on the map. It was rough, incredibly steep and involved a lot of shuffling around on your butt. It was also super windy. We eventually reached the bottom unbroken and joined a reasonably flat white path leading the rest of the way to Calanque d’en Vau. A 4×4 ambulance blasted past us on this stretch, apparently some hikers had tried to go up the steep cliffside of the calanque and got in to a sticky situation. Unfortunately we got to the beach too late in the day for any sun, but we took a chilly swim anyway. Tons of fish! I’d love to come back to go snorkelling, I’d probably take a different path in though or at least wear much sturdier shoes.

To get back to where we had parked, we had to head back up the danger dots path. It was daunting but way easier going up. We then took a left at the crossroads to head north on the level white/blue path. When we hit what I think was a church, we took a right on a descending white path heading east which merged with the brown/yellow path about halfway down. Eventually Port Miou came in to view, and then the path switchbacked down to where we started.


Learned about a few new cocktails from the masters themselves. Boulevardier = 1 oz bourbon + 1 oz Campari + 1 oz sweet vermouth w/ orange peel to garnish (basically a Negroni w/ bourbon instead of gin). Paper Plane = ¾ oz bourbon + ¾ oz amaro + ¾ oz Aperol + ¾ oz fresh lemon juice. No amaro to be found at the hypermarchet sadly, but they still gave it the old college try and it was pretty tasty.

The ultimate moderator also led us in Werewolf, a game that was new to me. We played a simplified version w/ just a werewolf and a doctor which was perfect for a big group of beginners. It’s pretty similar to Mafia w/o cards.


The plants and landscape in Provence reminded me so much of southern California, and the dry stone walls along many of the smaller roads reminded me of Yorkshire.

There was wild rocket along all the highways just outside of Marseille, but unfortunately not where we were staying. There were a bunch of strawberry trees around the house and a lot of thyme and rosemary which was super useful for cooking. In retrospect I think there might have been savory as well, but I’m not totally sure what that looks or tastes like.

Not sure if I encountered many mosquitos outside but we definitely had 2–3 trapped in our room. I have some gnarly bug bites.


There was so much good food. Definitely glad I remembered lactase pills because it would have been super sad to miss out on the cheese and NB’s excellent carrot cake. Will definitely be referring back to that recipe, particularly since it works well with GF flour as well. And pizza! The place had a pizza oven which was excellent, particularly since the two Italians in the group were kind enough to lend their brains to the operation. Dinner on the last night was a use-up-all-the-things meal, see recipes / descriptions.


It had been far too long since I’d seen so many of these people.

Use-up-all-the-things meal

I was away recently for a lovely weekend with a big group of 16 people. Dinner on the last night was a use-up-all-the-things meal that I tag-teamed with BW. This is a rough description of each thing, a bunch of them were new to me but I’d like to make them again. We were super low on olive oil so went heavy on the butter, and we omitted garlic + onions in most things due to some dietary restrictions within the group.

Cheese

Use a peeler to get thin slices off any nearly-finished firm cheese in the fridge. Pile the slices together on a plate, then throw the rind in to the fridge or freezer for use in future stews or pots of lentils / beans.

Arbutus (strawberry tree) jam

Good with cheese. This was sort of based on a variety of recipes online. I didn’t mind the texture but it was probably a bit too seedy for most TBH, so next time I’d probably strain part way through cooking while the mixture is still relatively liquid.

Remove stems and bad bits from about 2 cups of ripe Arbutus (strawberry tree) berries, then rinse and put in a small nonstick pot. Cut an orange in to chunks and squeeze in the juice, then throw in the rind. Cut a lemon in half and squeeze in the juice of a lemon half, then throw in the rind. Add about ¼ cup sugar and a small pinch of salt, and then simmer over medium-low heat until the berries are completely dissolved. Add water during the cooking process if needed, and taste while cooking to adjust the sweetness. Remove the citrus rinds before serving. The colour of the cooked jam should be a reddish ochre, and the consistency is similar to fig jam, very seedy.

Lamb’s lettuce salad

In an enormous bowl, combine a big pile of Lamb’s lettuce with soft, crumbled fresh cheese, a chopped avocado, a big handful of chopped black olives, the sliced green tops from 3–4 scallions, and a very big handful of toasted pine nuts.

For the dressing, combine olive oil, some red wine vinegar, lemon juice, honey, a mashed anchovy, salt, and fresh black pepper. Taste the dressing and adjust it to balance it out, then add it to the salad and toss to coat.

Croutons

This was probably the biggest experiment. I’ve done this with cubed bread of all sorts in the past, but never GF bread. Specifically, we used leftover GF focaccia which had been made from leftover pizza dough and topped with capers, olives, rosemary, and tomatoes. It was pretty firm due to the GF flour, sort of the consistency of cornbread crossed with polenta. The resulting croutons were maybe a bit too big / crunchy for a salad but still very tasty, kind of like baked polenta. It actually worked pretty well with this meal since most of the other things lacked crunch.

Preheat the oven to about 200C. Cube a bunch of leftover firm bread, then toss it in butter or oil and season to taste with salt and spices or herbs. Roast in the oven until golden and crispy.

Puy lentils with rosemary and thyme

I definitely over-salted these! Still good though. Every other time I’ve made Puy lentils they’ve come out way too bland, so I’ll probably make them like this in the future, probably with a bay leaf and maybe some other herbs. I’d be a great side to make instead of potatoes or rice, for example.

Pour a 500 g box of lentils de Puy in to a medium sized pot with enough water (see the instructions on the box), the rind of a hard cheese, a good pinch of salt, a knob of butter, fresh black pepper, and about 2 tablespoons each of chopped thyme and rosemary. Bring to a boil and simmer until the lentils are tender and the water is mostly gone. Note that you may need to top up the water during cooking. When nearing the end of cooking, taste the lentils and adjust the flavours. Add a little salt, lemon juice, and / or orange juice to adjust the flavour and acidity. Remove and discard the cheese rind before serving.

Caramelised onions

Ours weren’t quite caramelised, but still tasty! Apparently sodium bicarbonate is a useful secret ingredient if you’re light on time, need to remember that for next time.

Thinly slice 4 onions and place in wide, flat-ish pot. Stainless steel or aluminium is best if you have a lot of time, nonstick works well if you don’t. Add a pinch of salt and a knob of butter, then cook over medium-low heat until a deep golden brown.

Roasted aubergines

These are good lukewarm or cold as well. Do not be tempted to season with salt before sticking them in the oven, there will be plenty in the veg still from the initial step.

Preheat the oven to about 200C. Slice aubergines in to rounds that are roughly 1 cm thick, then salt on both sides and place in a shallow dish. Allow the salt to draw out the water for at least 15 minutes, pressing on them occasionally to encourage them. Once a lot of the water has been drawn out, put the aubergine slices in a big bowl of cold water and rinse thoroughly, removing all of the remaining salt. Squeeze the water out of the slices, then place in a baking dish. Top each slice with a little butter or olive oil, generously top with fresh black pepper, then sprinkle over about 1–2 tablespoons each of chopped thyme and rosemary. Roast in the oven for 30–40 minutes, turning halfway. Taste when done and add a squeeze of lemon juice if desired.

Pasta with tomato sauce, basil, and anchovies

BW tackled this mostly, so here’s hoping I’ve remembered this correctly! She said it was based on a Rachel Roddy recipe so I had a look online. Her recipe for pasta with tomatoes and anchovy sauce looks really similar and very good, though I don’t think it’s the same one. Worth a try!

Heat some butter or olive oil in a large flat-ish pan, then add halved baby tomatoes and cook until very soft. Add two finely chopped anchovies and cook a little longer, then add one chopped stove-roasted red pepper and a can of chopped tomatoes. Allow the sauce to simmer and reduce while you cook the pasta. Cook the pasta of your preference in heavily salted water until al dente and then drain, reserving a small amount of the pasta water in the pot. Tip the sauce in to the pasta and reserved pasta water and then cook a little longer, allowing the water to reduce slightly and the pasta to finish cooking. Stir in a whole bunch of torn basil and serve.

Spiced roasted carrots + broccoli

Kind of based on the honey roasted carrots from this Guardian article. Try to avoid crowding the pan or cooking too much at once in the oven because it will inhibit roasting and will cause the veg to steam. If you have to cook a lot at once, consider cranking up the heat.

Preheat the oven to about 200C. Put a bunch of oblique / roll cut carrots in to a big baking dish with the florets and peeled stem of a head of broccoli. Add a very generous sprinkling of brown sugar, a good pinch of salt, a squeeze of lemon juice, some lemon zest, a lot of cumin seed, about a thumb’s worth of minced ginger, and about 1–2 teaspoons of ground coriander. Roast until the edges are well browned, tossing occasionally to cook evenly.

Spiced chickpeas and greens

The vibe was espinacas con garbanzos, but with what we had on hand. I would definitely consider adding some cayenne, smoked paprika, garlic, etc. in other circumstances. For the greens we used rocket and spinach, but this would probably be good with kale as well though the cook time would take a little longer.

Heat a knob of butter in a large pan over medium-high heat, then pour in a can of chickpeas, drained. Add a very good pinch of salt, at least 2 tablespoons of cumin seed, 1–2 tablespoons of ground coriander, and a solid pinch of ground cinnamon. Cook for about 5 minutes to allow the flavours to come together, then your greens and the juice from at least a half an orange. Allow the greens to cook to the desired doneness, adding water if needed. Taste and adjust flavours as necessary (salt, lemon, etc.).

Roasted potatoes with a roasted pepper sauce

The idea was sort of patatas bravas, but again, with what we had on hand. Would probably consider smoked paprika, cayenne, garlic for this as well.

Preheat oven very hot, at least 200C. Cut 5–6 thin-skinned potatoes in to chunks and parboil, then toss in to a baking pan with oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast in the oven until brown and crispy. For the sauce, reduce a can of chopped tomatoes over medium heat, then add a knob of butter, some cumin seed, and one finely chopped stove-roasted red pepper.

Citrussy black beans with chipotle chiles

Makes a big pot of beans, enough for 6–8 people.

These are basic guidelines for a well-flavoured, medium-spicy pot of beans that take little hands-on time. This recipe doesn’t call for soaked beans since it isn’t necessary, but you could soak them to reduce the cooking time. Chipotles in adobo are smoked, dried chiles in a spicy tomato-based sauce. Adobo can be made at home and has a great flavour, so consider making a big batch of it for use at home if you can’t find it canned.

In a large heavy-bottomed, oven-safe pot, combine:

  • 500 g (1 lb) dried black beans
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 1 orange, topped and tailed then cut in to large chunks
  • 2 TBSP ground cumin
  • 1 ½ TBSP ground coriander
  • 1 can (about 7 oz or 200 g) chipotles in adobo
  • 1 tsp vegetable bouillon
  • 2 bay leaves
  • A good pinch of brown sugar
  • A solid pinch of salt

Add enough water to cover the beans by the width of about three fingers and give it a good stir. Cover the pot and bring it to a boil over medium-high heat, then place in a 175C (350F) oven or simmer on the stove over low heat for about 5 hours. The older the beans, the longer it will take to cook them.

Check about every hour, more frequently if simmering on the stove. Give it a good stir to ensure nothing is sticking, and taste the mixture to adjust the flavours and seasoning. Trust your gut; this is a big pot of beans, so it needs a good amount of salt and spices. Worthwhile additions might include a cinnamon stick, crushed garlic, a squeeze of lemon juice, epazote, and much more.

When done, remove the orange skins, bay leaves, and any other whole spices. If you prefer a thicker texture, mash some of the beans with a potato masher.

Serve with salsas, chopped coriander (cilantro), sour cream or yogurt, and rice.

🌶🍅🥑🥭🍋

Cooked a big meal for friends this past weekend, will definitely make a bunch of these things again. Particularly polvorones! I hadn’t had those in years, since I was a kid. The asterisked items are things I hadn’t made before, I mostly referred to Saveur recipes for guidance on those. We had this with flour + corn tortillas from the shop and rice.

  • Mango salsa – frozen, thawed mango; minced red onion; minced jalapeño; lime juice; chopped coriander; salt
  • Chiltomate* – roasted, peeled roma tomatoes; roasted garlic; roasted habanero; salt
  • Pico de gallo – diced roma tomatoes; diced yellow onion; minced jalapeño; lime juice; chopped coriander; salt
  • Guacamole – mashed avocados; minced jalapeño; lemon juice; salt
  • Quick pickled red onions – finely sliced red onion; white wine vinegar; salt
  • Carnitas* – pork shoulder; bouillon; ground cumin; ground coriander; bay leaf; salt; ground black pepper
  • Black beans – dried black beans; chiles in adobo; bouillon; sliced onion; whole orange, cut in to chunks; bay leaves; toasted, ground cumin seed; toasted, ground coriander seed; salt
  • Polvorones* – pecans; white flour; cinnamon; butter; vanilla extract

Webmentions up and running

Finally sorted out how comments and webmentions are displayed on this site. It was kind of a hefty task since it involved sorting out WordPress comments as well. If everything works as intended (big if), webmentions should be displayed in a discussion thread below the post contents on permalink pages regardless of whether or not WordPress comments are enabled on that post. We’ll see how that goes!

As an experiment, I’ve turned on comments here, here, and on this note. Overall though, I’ll probably leave them disabled for the majority of my notes. This 2013 article by Kartik Prabhu sums up my feelings on the subject pretty well.

“Fans of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell are very polite. They are charming and highly intelligent. They have excellent dress-sense, and are kind to animals and small children.”

Just read the news that Susanna Clarke is due to publish her second book Piranesi in a year’s time. I’m pretty excited about this, Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell is one of my favourites. And I hope she’s feeling better, I didn’t realise that the long time between books was related to ill health (read interview) at least in part. Delightful news, particularly in contrast with the slimy state of current affairs.