May. 29th, 2011

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Last week's Sunday roast was a Middle White pork belly roast, slow roasted on a bed of potatoes and carrots, with the skin scored in a diamond pattern to release the fat. It carved into four substantial ribs -- and yes, it needed carving, separating out the ribs by cutting through gristle. The flavour was excellent, but it has to be admitted that the result is remarkably fatty. Not enough to bother me, but any future purchases will be for when Spousal Unit is away on business and I'm eating alone. Makes lovely crackling, though. :-)

Savin Hill were back in the market this week, so I picked up some lamb chump chops for Friday's dinner -- flavour good grilled, but I thought my chop was a bit on the tough side. Probably better to pot roast them in future if I have time to do so. Tonight's roast is a small half shoulder of lamb, and there's a Cumberland sausage for later in the week. They didn't have any of the Cumberland patties this week, alas -- I'd have been happy to buy several packets to stick in the freezer.
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Kalypso_v came round for dinner and Doctor Who last night. Dinner this week was home-made pizza, and since our local cheese shop had both water buffalo mozzarella and cow's milk mozzarella (both vacuum-packed in brine), I decided it was time for a comparison. Not a lot of difference in appearance or texture out of the packet, other than the obvious one of the buffalo variety being sold in a larger ball. Tasting them raw, Kalypso_v, Other Half and I all agreed that the buffalo was a little saltier and had a little more flavour, but that there wasn't a huge amount of difference. No obvious difference on the cooked pizza.

So was it worth paying the higher price for the water buffalo version? Not really, if it's a choice between mozzarellas to put on a pizza. But if it's a choice between a good mozzarella and some other cheese, then yes, it makes a very good pizza and I'd rather buy the water buffalo variety if that's what's in stock than a less suitable variety of cheese.

We do not intend to to taste test the pre-sliced low moisture mozzarella that was the only version available in the local Co-op yesterday. They had been stocking the fresh-in-brine cow's milk balls, but have obviously decided to go for the long shelf-life stuff instead. :-(
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46) Alex Epstein -- The Circle Cast: The Lost Years of Morgan Le Fay

Note: I received a review copy of this book as part of the LibraryThing Early Reviewers programme.

Young adult novel about what happened to the sorceress Morgan le Fay between the point in her childhood when her father was murdered by Uther Pendragon, and her return as an adult to trouble her half-brother King Arthur. The book opens at the council of war amongst the Romano-British leaders where Uter (as it's given in the book) first sets eyes on Ygraine, wife of Gorlois. Uter wants Ygraine enough to make war on Gorlois, enough to seek the aid of the magician Merlin -- and with the death of her beloved father, the child Anna finds herself sent to exile by her mother for her own safety. An exile so complete that she must change her name and tell almost no-one who she is when she arrives in Ireland. A safe place with a distant relative proves less than safe when the tribe loses a battle with its neighbours, and Morgan spends years in slavery, learning a little magic openly from the village wisewoman who owns her, and a great deal more magic in secret. Then there is escape, and a few months of peace and study with a new Christian settlement, and then a chance of love with a chieftain's son who can appreciate the knowledge of Roman battle tactics she brings. By the time she is eighteen, Morgan has learnt a great many things, but the one thing she has not learnt is how to let go of the need for vengeance. It has, after all, kept her alive through the dark times...

I found the book a bit hard to get into at first, but once I got into the rhythm of the writing I was hooked. Epstein has taken the historical period of 500AD as the basis for his story, a time when the Roman legions had long withdrawn from Britain but many of the British still thought of themselves as Roman. He's drawn on Irish mythology and blended it with modern Wiccan practice to create a believably consistent picture of magic, in a time when both Druid priests and Christian missionaries can draw on the power of the earth, and a young exile can learn to use it to protect herself and the people she loves. The result is a solid addition to the Arthurian legend, covering an area not much touched on, and giving a plausible reason for the adult Morgan le Fay to be who she is. Here she is a strong and sympathetic character, and it's only too easy to understand why she makes the choices she does.

The book's been written in such a way that it can be enjoyed both as a free-standing novel suitable for someone not familiar with any of the mythology and literature that has accreted around Arthur, and as a fascinating new contribution to that ongoing literary conversation. An excellent YA fantasy novel that should appeal to adults as well.

ISBN 978-1-896580-6-30
trade paperback at Powell's
trade paperback or Kindle ebook at Amazon UK (available now)
trade paperback or Kindle ebook at Amazon US (for pre-order)
LibraryThing entry
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47) Agatha Christie - A pocket full of rye

City businessman Rex Fortescue has a nice cup of tea at the office, and dies of poisoning. The peculiar points to this are the poison used, and the fact that the dead man's pocket had grains of rye amongst the contents. Inspector Neele sets about investigating the dead man's household, which provides a good selection of potential suspects. Alas, one of the best suspects is next on the murderer's list, and then there's a third death.

Miss Marple doesn't appear until nearly half way through the book. Her interest in the matter is the housemaid who was murdered, who happened to be one of the many girls Miss Marple has trained as a maid over the years. When she arrives to provide information on the girl's background, Inspector Neele recognises her as someone who has a great deal of common sense and the ability to get people who wouldn't dream of talking to a policeman to reveal secrets to her. The resulting interplay between Neele's investigation and Miss Marple's investigation is most entertaining. Neele's no fool, even if he's happy to play one in public, but it's Miss Marple's experience of human behaviour that allows them to unravel who, how and why.

Well plotted, with one or two twists on the resolution of the red herrings which make them interesting little tales in their own right, rather than just a distraction from the true identity of the murderer.

LibraryThing entry
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48) Justin Richards -- Doctor Who: The Deviant Strain

Fourth of the new series tie-in novels. This one has Rose and Captain Jack as the companions, in a story set in a remote Soviet naval base abandoned after the end of the Cold War. The nuclear submarines were simply abandoned to rot as the cheapest method of dealing with them, as were the people from the village that had been there since before the base was built. The last real link with an unheeding government is the research institute which still receives limited funding and supplies. At least until something very odd is spotted by a satellite, and a Russian Special Forces team is sent to investigate.

The Tardis crew show up as well, because Jack has unthinkingly answered an emergency beacon's signal. While there is some suspicion from the Russian group, this is because Nine's psychic paper ID has declared him to be from a rival agency, and Jack is considered to be the sort of Intelligence agent who wouldn't know a real fight if he saw it. The two groups manage to work together reasonably well in spite of the tensions, investigating a series of mysterious deaths that show all the hallmarks of a mythical monster.

Enjoyed this one a lot, and not just because it has Captain Jack (who does not get to be on the cover). There's a good science fantasy mystery here, with the Special Forces team being more than just foils to show off how clever the Doctor is.

LibraryThing entry

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