Tuesday 30 August 2011

Hollinghurst: "The Stranger's Child"

This is 'Booker Longlist' time of year, when I'm trying to second-guess the judges about what will make it onto the shortlist  (to be announced tomorrow week), and so polish off as many of the shortlist as I can before we're in endgame territory. The judges have never (since I started doing this, anyway) agreed with my choice of winner - although they've come close, on occasion. And the point of having read all of the shortlist before the announcement is in order to make an informed decision in advance of the official one - whatever it might turn out to be. I didn't mind when Hilary Mantel won, for example (although I thought 'The Glass Room' ought to have won, that year) or when Hollinghurst won in 2004 (although the book by Colm Toibin that was also shortlisted that year, 'The Master',  was by far the better piece of writing). Last year's winner (Howard Jacobson) was a poor choice - but then, the shortlist itself was a complete mess, last year - and the occasions when they chose Anne Enright and Kiran Desai were just completely barmy.

 Anyway. I've just finished Hollinghurst's 'The Stranger's Child' (originally the bookies' favourite, but apparently it's now dropped to third place) and realised that the whole thing is an enormous game on the part of the author. Each part of the book reflects the work of a notable author in the twentieth-century english canon: part one is Forster ('Room With a View' meets 'Maurice' meets 'Howard's End'); part two, inevitably, is Waugh (but rather than 'Brideshead', it seems to be an amalgamation of 'A Handful of Dust' and 'Vile Bodies'); part three is probably Iris Murdoch (but, since I've never been a fan, I couldn't pinpoint which novels precisely); part four, I would guess is Anthony Powell (later volumes of 'A Dance to the Music of Time') or possibly C.P.Snow....although the latter might not be 'important ' enough for Hollinghurst; and part five is a tongue-in-cheek (it's to be hoped, anyway) reference to Hollinghurst himself (obvious references back to 'The Swimming Pool Library'). Oh, and the bit in part four with the interview with the lecherous octagenarian is probably another reference back to Forster, as well. Even the title of the book, which is ostensibly explained as a reference from 'In Memoriam', could reflect the idea of planting chunks of new writing, cuckoo's-nest-style,  in the oeuvres of the aforementioned late, greats. All things considered, it's probably too self-consciously 'clever'  (typical of the author in person, I gather) for its own good, and the game gets in the way of the book - which isn't to say that I didn't enjoy it immensely, of course.

Onward and upward. 'Derby Day' (D.J.Taylor) is next.

Tonight's Dinner:

Prawns in Garlic and Wine.

Chicken Korma; Rice Pilaff.

White peaches with fresh Raspberry Sauce.

Sunday 28 August 2011

Recipe: Greek Yoghurt

We've been regresssing, this summer. I think it began when we 'adjusted' the access to the courtyard, in June, and suddenly found we were using it much more often than before. Bizarrely, we were both struck by how reminiscent it was of the small courtyard in the first house we lived in in Greece, in the Seventies....something to do with the shape, and the whitewashed walls, and the beautifully 'hidden' quality of the place (and although the presence of a stonking great thirteenth century church forming one wall of the courtyard ought somehow to diminish the similarity, it doesn't manage to). The fact that Esselunga were running a BOGOF promotion around that time for FAGE yoghurt was another factor in the equation, and before we knew it, a habit had developed of bowls of greek yoghurt (sprinkled with hazelnuts and raisins, and liberally drizzled with honey) to accompany coffee, taken in the courtyard each morning at around 10.00. The habit took hold, we became firm devotees...and then Esselunga finished their BOGOF. Scottish genes being what they are, I revolt at the thought of paying one euro thirty for a pot of yoghurt, and the only alternative was to see about home production. And discovered that it couldn't be easier. The fact that UHT milk can be bought, ready sterilised, in screw-top containers is an enormous help, since it means that all you need do in terms of preparation is introduce (with the aid of a scrupulously clean coffee spoon) a couple of tablespoons of yoghurt into the milk container, replace the lid, and shake.
Anyway, the actual steps are as follows:
1. Add a couple of spoons of yoghurt to a litre of UHT full milk; try and ensure that no air remains in the container before you replace the lid, as this can swell during the process, and might cause problems if it swells too much. 

2. Shake the container, to combine the yoghurt and milk, and warm for seven hours at around 43 °C. The best place to do this is in the warming drawer - if you have one - of the oven; failing that, it also works if you heat water in a deep fat fryer to the right temperature and then immerse the milk container in that.(The warming drawer is preferable, though, since it allows a number of containers to be processed at the same time). Do NOT allow the temperature to go above 55°C, as the yoghurt culture won't survive at that temperature.

3. After seven hours, place the containers in the fridge for about a day (from the afternoon of one day, they'll be ready for consumption the following morning), and then strain them through fine cloth (I use a linen napkin, placed inside a collander over a bowl) for about an hour, in order to achieve the thickness of traditional greek yoghurt. If you want a thinnner, runnier version - the sort appropriate for indian cooking - then strain for less time.

That's it. 

I believe the yoghurt will keep for up to a week, or so - but not in this house! TD calculated that the home made yoghurt came out at a fifth the cost of the commercial version (not including the cost of the electricity for the warming drawer) - but that you then have to reduce that saving by 50%, as we eat twice as much of it at each sitting!