It was difficult to read this novel without a growing sense of foreboding. The very title can mean retribution, or it can also mean an enemy in North American usage. The very ambiguity of the interpretation of the title feeds into Bucky’s feelings of guilt and makes the reader question why Bucky feels he must shoulder so much blame for the polio epidemic that is raging through New Jersey while World War II is being fought in Europe and the Pacific. Is he really an agent of doom, or can he never forgive himself for not being fit enough to fight in the armed services? Bucky can run, but he can’t hide. The novel also questions the existence of a cruel or a caring God and leaves you feeling unsettled and angry and upset for Bucky, the life thrust upon him, and the choices he has made.
I like to cook foods that are in season, but I also like to mimic nature’s colours if I can. When the leaves change to shades of gold and brown and start to drop from the trees, I yearn for ‘harvest’ foods in similar hues. These colours are abundant in squashes and pumpkins, carrots and peeled sweet potatoes. It’s simple to make a nourishing vegetable soup from any or all of these ingredients.
1 onion, finely chopped
1 stick of celery, finely chopped
3 carrots, diced
1 medium size sweet potato, diced
1 medium potato, diced
Half a medium butternut squash, peeled and diced
About three good handfuls of soup mix (the ones that contain lentils, barley, beans and split peas)
1 tablespoon of tomato purée
1 litre of vegetable stock
Seasoning to taste
Heat a couple of tablespoons of oil (or butter if you prefer) in a large saucepan. Lightly fry the onion and celery in a little oil until soft. Add the other vegetables, toss with the onion and celery and leave to sweat over a low heat for about five minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the beans and pulses and mix in well with the vegetables, then add the tomato purée and make sure everything is well coated. Finally add the vegetable stock (or chicken stock if you prefer), bring to the boil, season to taste, cover the pan and leave to simmer for about an hour until all the ingredients are cooked quite softly.
The ingredients and quantities can be varied and played around with. Any squash or pumpkin will work and leeks can be used too. Served with some chunky bread and cheese this soup is a main meal in itself.
When the weather changes, so do our appetites. Well at least mine does. In the summer, or when it’s hot I prefer to eat cold or cooler food, especially if it means I don’t have to slave away in a hot kitchen. When it becomes colder as the days draw in, I instinctively yearn for comfort foods and meals that will warm me from the inside out. Obviously casseroles and stews are categorised as winter dishes, although I once enjoyed a delicious Boeuf Bourgignon in Dijon on a hot summery evening. I ate outside and didn’t have to do the cooking.
One dish that has been a favourite in my house for many years is a meatball casserole. It’s easy to cook, is warm and comforting, contains loads of juices for mopping up with bread, and takes far less time to cook than a casserole made with more solid pieces of meat.
500 g (1lb) minced beef
1 slice of bread (can be white or wholemeal)
½ large onion
1 large egg
½ teasp salt
10 grinds of black pepper
2 teasp dark soy sauce
1 tbsp (approx) fresh breadcrumbs
Some plain flour seasoned with salt and pepper
½ large onion finely chopped
2 teasp salt
10 grinds of black pepper
2 tbsp brown sugar
2 teasp ready made mustard (I use Dijon)
2 teasp soy sauce
1 tbsp lemon juice
5 oz tomato pureé mixed with 10 fl oz water
To make the meatballs put the bread, onion, egg, salt, pepper and soy sauce in a food processor or blender until smooth, then add to the minced meat, with breadcrumbs to take up any slack. Put the mix aside for about half an hour to firm up a little. Put the seasoned flour on a plate and form small balls of the meat mixture (you should get six from this quantity) between dampened hands. Roll the meatballs in the flour, squashing slightly to make patty shapes. Heat some oil in a heavy frying pan for about four minutes, add the patties and fry until they are a rich brown colour on both sides. Remove and drain on kitchen paper.
Use the left over oil (or add a little more if necessary) to the pan and lightly fry the chopped onion until golden, add the remaining ingredients and simmer for about five minutes until well combined and starting to thicken. Return the meatballs to the pan, baste with the sauce, cover with a lid and simmer on the hob for about thirty minutes, or bake in the oven (150°C) for about forty-five minutes. Serve with creamy mashed potatoes, rice or pasta and any other vegetables that you fancy. My other half is also happy to eat any leftovers in a sandwich.
I’ve been a Penelope Lively fan for years, so I jumped at the opportunity of attending a radio recording of her talking about her Booker prize winning novel, Moon Tiger. I’ve been to the BBC Radio Theatre several times, but this was a World Service programme, so it took place at Bush House.
The experience was a completely different one. We were taken down a couple of flights of stairs and across a courtyard then down a further couple of flights, ending up in the bowels of Bush House. Having started out at the Kingsway entrance to the building, we were now over on the Strand side. In a highly civilised manner we were offered glasses of wine before going into the studio, where Penelope was already seated with Harriett Gilbert. There were only about 30 of us in the small studio, and I was told that mine was to be the second question of the programme.
After Harriett introduced Penelope, the writer read a short passage from the novel before taking the first question. The pattern of the programme was a series of questions, some taken from the audience, others put to Penelope by Harriett, who had received them by email, and a couple more came in by phone from around the world. It was interesting to take into account the questions posed by others and to learn of some of the writer’s insights into her working processes and the building up of character.
My question was on the conflicting perspectives given in the novel, others asked about the research put in to build up a story, why the story didn’t have a necessarily happy ending and how much of the writer was in the protagonist.
It will be interesting to listen to the programme when it is broadcast in a few weeks, especially as our hour and ten minutes in the studio will be edited down to 53 minutes. After that the programme will remain in the BBC’s archives indefinitely.