Thursday, August 21, 2014

Stressful few weeks so an update on reading

It has been a somewhat stressful few weeks, the details of which I (mostly) spare the Imaginary Reader. "Mostly," I say, because the two books I've read in the last few weeks were both pretty crappy and of them I shall write.

 First up, the impulse buy of A Fistful of Collars which is really not a book I would buy in normal circumstances. But a friend wanted to go to the author's reading and I am, it has been demonstrated on too many occasions, incapable of not buying an author's book if I attend their reading. I have bought second copies of books I already own as a result of attending a reading. I have bought books I knew were awful just because I've been at the reading. At least in this case I opted to skip the newest hardback and bought a less-expensive trade paper title from midway through the series. The premise of this very successful series of mysteries is that the narrator is the detective's dog, Chet, who considers himself part of the "Small Detective Agency" team. Let's just say the dog isn't a very good writer and he makes the same stupid jokes about as often as you might expect a dog to do the same stupid thing.

 While I was at Third Place Books for the Chet reading I naturally looked around the stacks and bought some other titles as well. One was an older Julian Barnes (copyright 1982). I've liked other Julian Barnes books I've read; some I've really loved. So I was unprepared for just how unpleasant I would find the experience of reading Before She Met Me. The premise of this book is that a nice mild-mannered academic finds out that his (second) wife acted in B-movies before he met her and he becomes obsessed with the men with whom, in the films, she slept and also the actors, from the films, with whom she may have had sex. The nice guy turns into a truly repulsive sort while his nice wife assumes that it's just a rocky period through which all marriages must pass and so she puts up with his increasingly disturbed behavior. I don't know what point Mr. Barnes thought he was making in this book but it was mostly just an icky read I was glad to finish. The NY Times review to which I've linked suggests that it's "darkly comic."

 So now I have started A Guide to the Birds of East Africa, also purchased at Third Place, this time with a "money-back" recommendation from a usually reliable friend, and I am hoping, desperately, that the third title will be the charm. Otherwise, it's straight back to the safe world of either Mr. Trollope or Miss Thirkell's Barset(shire) from which I shall just never emerge.

Sunday, August 10, 2014


I asked Scott to help me with the layout on this page but he is *not* responsible for the mess that has resulted. I'd like a nice background image and that led to trying to adjust the various element boxes and, yeesh, the results are pretty horrendous. But I'm tired to death of fussing with it so I'm leaving it as it is for now.

It does, however, occur to me that I could likely add a widget column, similar to the "books" list (a work in progress) and use it to keep track of birds. Which likely is no more useful than keeping track of them in the lab book as I am currently.

For posterity, however, I'll update on jam. We got to the Farmers Market too late to buy raspberries today so, instead, we picked some blackberries on the way home. Popular opinion seems to be that blackberry jam is too seedy so, after cooking them for 15 minutes, we strained the berries. This left us with a fair bit of juice and a lot of sadly discarded pulp and seed. We need to get a proper sieve, possibly. But the pot of juice seemed to put us into the business of making jelly more than jam which in turn made deciding whether the stuff to which we added sugar and lemon and put back on the stove was "done" even more of a mystery than usual. We decided it seemed right and started ladling the results into jars but then I noticed that the consistency seemed uneven so we dumped the contents of the jars back into the pot to cook a little longer. This led  to a lot of shrinkage, what with some jelly/jam/whatever being left behind at each stage. We ended up with less than three half-pint jars of jam at the end of a somewhat hot and sticky afternoon. On the bright side, what blackberry spread there is is seed-free. We've not yet decided if we're making more blackberry jam next time out or just getting to the market earlier. Happily, there were cocktails.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Just another day chez Aurora (with Gradka)

I'm still not sure what I'm doing with this space but, for now, I toss a photo on here to document what I'm doing rather than deal with the question.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Making raspberry jam on an 85-degree afternoon

How much, I ask, can I just cut and paste from LJ here? Let's find out.

Today we discovered that small batch raspberry jam is a lot easier than processing forty pounds of apricots in a single hot afternoon. Of course, this means we have only ten jars rather than three or four dozen so we may end up doing more later or maybe we'll just be less sharing than usual. But it was pretty easy and, I think, enjoyable enough for both of us. Some photos were taken:

I call this one the ingredients list though the sugar in the photo is for twice the quantity of raspberries shown. The recipe was sort of a melange of Joy of Cooking, Fannie Farmer, and an recipe as modified in the comments section. (Three cups sugar, four packed cups fresh raspberries, juice and zest of half lemon will yield five 8-ounce jars of jam.)

Mash the berries, cook at medium heat for fifteen minutes, then add sugar that has been heated in a 250-degree oven for the same fifteen minutes.

Always have a Virgo partner when making jam; Scott was a fiend for wiping up splatters and mess as we went. This was during the lengthy "boil until it seems like jam" stage. We eventually despaired of reaching a sufficient temperature and instead followed the tip in the Epicurious recipe: how does the jam drop from a cool spoon?

And the final result. Madame Gradka's Apricot Product Raspberry 2014 Jam.

Also, in unrelated news: When Scott saw this photo he naturally said, "It's The Astrowloger.