Monday, 1 June 2015

The Year in Books - June

As predicted my Year in Books choice for May, The Narrow Road to the Deep North was not an easy, nor comfortable read. It feels wrong to say I enjoyed it when much of the subject matter was so harrowing but I found it engaging and a good read.

I knew very little about the Burma Death Railway and found the descriptions of the conditions and the suffering absolutely horrific. But this is not just a story about war and death but is also a powerful love story. But so sad too... Have a box of tissues at the ready!

When I finished I decided I needed a little light relief and picked up the latest novel from David Nicholls when I was at the supermarket. Us.  As I thought, it had a much lighter feel about it and made me laugh out loud on several occasions. It tells the story of Douglas and Connie who have been married twenty years. When Connie announces she thinks that their marriage is over Douglas attempts to win her back. Despite the comic veneer this is a moving and poignant story and at times incredibly insightful. I really enjoyed it despite at times recognising members of my family, and possibly myself, within these pages, which was just a little disconcerting!

And so to June... gosh, the months seem to whizz past. This month I am reading Nora Webster by Colm Toibin, which I am already enjoying. Especially with afternoon tea and date slice! This is something I haven't made in years and I don't know what made me think of it now but I'm glad I did. It does taste good! It is a recipe adapted from an old Cranks cookbook. Do you remember Cranks? I first discovered Cranks when I was working in London in the late 1970s and was toying with vegetarianism. They were very much part of the wholefood movement with wholewheat flour, raw sugar and plenty of pulses, beans and sandle wearing hippies. Not a bit like vegetarian food today with its flavourful Middle Eastern influences but good at the time and I loved their salads.  It is years since I've used the cookbook but it still contains some favourites like this date slice.
This is my version of Date Slice

350g dates
110g oats
125g plain white flour
100g wholewheat S.R. Flour
75g soft brown sugar
150g unsalted butter

Heat the oven to 100 deg C and great and line a tin approx 25cm x 20 cm.
Chop the dates and combine in a saucepan with 6 tablespoons (90ml) of water and heat gently, stirring until you get a thick soft mixture.
In another pan, melt the sugar and butter together until melted and then stir in the flours and oats until combined into a crumble mixture.
Spread half the crumble mixture in the bottom of the tin and press down. Cover with the dates and finish with a final layer of oats. Bake for 20 minutes. Allow to cool in the tin and then cut into slices.
Enjoy with a good book and a cup of tea!
This also works well with apricots... and I'm thinking of trying it with dried figs too. A sort of posh version of fig roll biscuits.

Speaking of apricots I also made a Tarte aux Abricot to take to friends last night. It looked good, tasted good... But the middle was a soggy mess so I need to work on that one before I go sharing recipes... or taking it to friends again! My brain is obviously still in a muddle! 
What are you reading or eating?

Joining in with Laura from A Circle of Pine Trees for The Year in Books


  1. I have just finished re-reading Jamaica Inn, My Cousin Rachel, Frenchman's Creek and Rebecca, all Daphne du Maurier titles, and must find something else for when I have exhausted myself tidying the front garden. I'm not brave enough to tackle anything harrowing.

  2. I'm just finished Gone Girl and I'm now reading The Life I Left Behind by Colette McBeth which was a recommendation from the author of The Girl on The Train.
    Not sure if it was Cranks, but I remember a veggie restaurant in the 70's/80's that was behind Oxford Street, near Broadwick Street, that specialised in lentils!

  3. I understand what you mean about difficult books. It isn't so much that they are "fun" it is that they are interesting and tell the story well, and appreciation of a story well told is they enjoyment bit. I hope that you enjoy your June reads and that you work out the tarte issues as it sure looks delicious!!! xx

  4. Date slice - inspired! I have those two books and still use them quite a bit.

    I've just come back from our book club where shamefully I only managed to get halfway through this month's read - Wilkie Collins' "The Woman in White" which got an all round thumbs up. Victorian melodrama at its best but at 700 odd pages quite a long term relationship. Next up is Anne Tyler's Homesick Restaurant which I'm really looking forward to revisiting. Apparently, the author's favourite of her books.

    I've just finished Pascal Garnier's "The Front Seat Passenger", marketed as for those with a taste for Georges Simenon and Patricia Highsmith. Not sure about that - very dark, very European. And also on my bedside table is Picador's anthology of Wedding Poems. Yes. Really. You never know when an epithalamium might come in handy.

    Hope you enjoy your next round of books.

  5. I have that Cranks recipe book. Time to look at it again.
    Reading about Vietnam - Paradise of the Blind by Duong Thu Huong.

  6. I had the Narrow Road to the Deep North at home but couldn't get into it. I didn't quite feel strong enough for the book at the time. I find the evening news sickening enough and I often choose to bury my head in the sand instead of confronting reality, or a fictionalised account thereof. I like David Nicholls, I'll look out for this book next time I go shopping. As for the date slice, I am jotting the recipe down just now because I want to make some for the kids this afternoon after school. It sounds like the perfect snack! Thank you. Cx

  7. Yum! Date slice - one of my favourites :)

  8. Very interesting to read your review of Narrow Road to the Deep North. I have it on my 'to read' shelf, and it was a toss-up this month between it and 'Aftermath' which I ultimately chose. I tend to avoid really harrowing books; the world can be harrowing enough, but I will give it a shot and see how I get on with it! The date slice looks absolutely delicious, I have the Cranks cookbook, though I rarely use it, but this recipe really does look good, and I love oats, and dates. X

  9. Nora Webster is in the to be read pile next to my bed (I bought a copy after listening to the author talking about it on Radio 4) and Sebastian Faulks' A Week in December is the current book at bedtime. Haven't used my Cranks recipe book for a long time (I remember the vegetable crumble and homity pies used to be favourites here). I'm a huge fan of dates, eat them every day just about, so must give your slices a try.

  10. Great to hear your recommendations - I'll go for the light-hearted one first I think. Not eating very much at all at the moment as the attempt at taking up running ended in a torn knee muscle and no exercise at all now! So salads and fruit - definitely not apricot tart, much as I would love it! x

  11. I made a version of an old Cranks recipe for lunch the other day - Courgette and Lemon soup. I loved it. It was subtle and refreshing but the other half wouldn't touch it so I suspect it won't be made again in a hurry. Shame that, as we seem to be planting loads of courgettes and I'm already anticipating the glut later in the summer..... As for reading, I'm still working through the new Robert Macfarlane 'Landmarks' and Patrick Barkham's 'Coastlines' whilst also trying to finish re-reading 'My Family and other Animals' by Gerald Durrell. Must look out for those titles you're reading but there's only so many hours in the day!

  12. Gina, you've given us a very interesting buffet of topics here.

    I've made a note of some of your recently read books. I've been reading a real mix of books and lots lots interesting articles from The New Yorker magazine on my subway travels. I checked out Nell Zink's newly published and well hyped book from the library and gave up after less than 50 pages (much like my reaction to The my taste may differ from others. I did enjoy a memoir my friend Elizabeth Wix wrote about the years she and her husband lived in a little house in Marracech. I loved Esther Freud's Mr Mac and Me. And Donna Leon's most recent Venetian detective novel.

    On my borrowed-from-the-library stack are Graham Swift's short story collection, England and Other Sotries, Lucy Boston's memoirs Perverse and Foolish, and Memory in a House, and a couple of other mysterie books...Cara Black's Murder on the Champ de Mars, and Cynthia Harrod-Eagles Star Fall. And...yet another book that I may finish in time for an as yet unscheduled book club meeting, Christabel Bielenberg's When I Was a German.

    Eclectic assortment, would you not say?

    Your baking inspires me as ever. It's turned chilly here along with days of rain. I might yet get around to heating up my little kitchen's oven and baking in June. As I type, I am actually wearing a cashmere pullover. In June.


  13. I loved 'Nora Webster' - really amazed how a man so successfully and convincingly describe life from this woman's perspective. I hope you like it and will look out for your comments on Year in Books. I wasn't that keen on 'Us'. Connie didn't convince me at all. Nicholls better on men than women I think.

  14. I did have a look at The narrow Road to the Deep North but I'm not sure it's the book for me. I have US patiently waiting amongst the pile of books waiting next to my bed for my summer reads and I am really looking forward to reading it.

  15. I have just started Britain's Hour by Vera Brittain. I have not read her previously and this is a free download onto my tablet frim Kobo. Very badly transcribed but just about readable.


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