Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Bookstravaganza!


A glimpse inside book publishing's most glamorous event.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

The Canadian Living Affordable Feasts Collection

Affordable Feasts Collection
Budget-Friendly Family Meals
by The Canadian Living Test Kitchen

Trade Paperback, 256 pages

I love the Canadian Living Collections. They are well researched, well-tested and well loved. This season brings us a much needed Affordable Feasts Collection to help us recoup from holiday spending and generally help stretch the household budget without sacrificing fun and flavour.

The book is in their signature easy to follow format, peppered with many full-page colour photos of beautiful meal ideas from traditional to exotic but always affordable.

Chapters Include:
Red Meat
White Meat
Eggs, Beans & Tofu
Pasta, Noodles & Rice
Hearty Vegetables

They feature the most affordable cuts of meat and produce and how to make the most of your shopping and cooking.

And - my favourite part of the book - it has ideas for how to repurpose your leftovers into another exciting and delicious dish! Leftover pot roast from page 48 can be used for beef perogies on page 49! I love that.

This is a great book for households on a budget (and really, who isn't these days?) who still want great taste, fun, and variety at the table. 

THE CANADIAN LIVING TEST KITCHEN creates and tests thousands of recipes every year to ensure that they turn out as perfectly in your home as they do in our kitchen. We develop each recipe with you in mind by using everyday ingredients and only the most common cooking equipment found in households across Canada. This makes cooking easier on you, leaving you more time to share good food with family and friends.

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Roddy Doyle sits down with the Hazlitt team to discuss his new book Two Pints.


 "Three Mennonnite girls in an empty field, one bare-chested, one bewildered and one on the run"

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Jam Fantans!

So far this year there have been a lot of changes in my life. And we are only two weeks into the new year!

One child moved out, another moved back in - bringing with him a giant dog. Actually, he is fitting in pretty nicely, even my shih tzus like him. I don't even mind walking him in the early morning, but then again it has been pretty mild this winter. Ask me again when the temps drop.

My food blog turned food/book blog over the years and recently I made the commitment to full book blogging. Did I ever mention how much I love books? A lot. I have been known to smell them in bookstores and especially used bookstores. Maybe one day e-readers will come with scent boosters for those of us who miss book-smell. But for now I prefer good old paper books. I like the tactile feel and of course the smell.

Which is not to say that I don't also love the smell of fresh baked bread - that is definitely a favourite. And even though I slightly over-baked these Jam Fantans - they smelled and tasted divine.

Elle is our Hostess Babe of the month and presented this jammy goodness as a winter treat. Everyone had fun subbing in their own filling so I did the same - I used the Italian Prune and Cardamom Conserve, from The Blue Chair Jam Cookbook by Rachel Saunders. (Below)

I don't know yet where the fantan recipe comes from - but when I do I'll let you know.

(And if you'd like to know about what bread books I use - check out the list on my sidebar.)

I am a bit of an everyone into the pool baker, and basically threw everything I needed into the mixer, starting with the smaller amount of flour and adding in the rest as it needed. 

My kitchen is not warm, so I gave the dough 2 hours for each rise. We then sat down for a congratulations party for my son (who found a job in town) and proceeded to forget that I had stuff in the oven. Now would be the time that I would normally blame my husband for not replacing my timer batteries.... but he had done so 2 weeks ago and I have nobody to blame but myself. Luckily - the fantans are very fragrant and let me know to take them out of the oven. A little crispy around the edges but still delicious. 

Elle's Kitchen
Sweet Orange Marmalade Fantan Rolls
Recipe and prep photos below 

provided by Bread Baking Babe Elle

and she will soon have the recipe posted with information 
on how you can be a Bread Baking Buddy! 

Makes 12 rolls

Equipment
stand mixer with hook attachment (or mixing bowl and wooden spoon)
large mixing bowl, lightly coated with cooking spray (or clean, if you prefer)
12 cup standard muffin tin, buttered

Ingredients
3-4 cups all-purpose flour, divided
1 cup whole wheat bread flour 1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1 cup whole wheat sourdough starter OR 1 package of RapidRise yeast mixed with ¼ cup warm water
Elle's Kitchen
1 cup non fat evaporated milk
¼ cup (1/2 stick) butter
¼ cup pure maple syrup
¼ cup egg substitute OR 1 egg, lightly beaten
½ teaspoon vanilla
6 tablespoons + 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, divided
2/3 cup marmalade (about), warmed

Preparation
Sift 1 cup of the all-purpose flour, the 1 cup of whole wheat bread flour, salt, and nutmeg into a large mixing bowl. Stir until well blended. Set aside.

Placed evaporated milk, butter and maple syrup into a saucepan and heat until butter is nearly melted. Remove from heat. Stir a few minutes to help mixture cool. Let cool to 110 degrees F.

Add yeast (sourdough or fresher) mixture to milk mixture, then add milk mixture to flour mixture; beat well. Add egg and vanilla; stir until blended. Add 1 cup all-purpose flour, stir until thoroughly incorporated. Gradually add enough of the remaining flour to make a soft dough that is rather sticky.

Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead 3 minutes or until dough is smooth and silky. (Add additional flour if needed while kneading, but only enough to keep it from sticking a lot.) Place in oiled (or clean if you are Elizabeth) bowl, turn dough to lightly coat with oil. Cover with plastic wrap and set in a warm place to rise for 1 ½ to 2 hours.

Dust your work surface with flour. Punch down the dough, then halve it. Wrap one half in the plastic wrap and set aside. Roll the other half into a 12×12-inch (30.5×30.5 cm) square. You may have to roll slightly larger, and then trim the ends to even out the square. Brush dough with half the melted butter.


Elle's Kitchen

Spread the surface of the dough with about 1/2 the warmed marmalade, leaving 1/6 strip plain. This will allow you to have a plain side of dough on each side of the roll touching the muffin cup. Cut into 6 equal strips, then stack the strips on top of each other with the plain strip on top. Cut through the layers into 6 equal pieces,


Elle's Kitchen

then place each into a buttered muffin cup, standing up so the layers are visible. Gently fan them open. Each will have six dough pieces with marmalade or other filling in between. Repeat with the remaining dough and the rest of the marmalade for the other six cups of the muffin tin.


Elle's Kitchen

Cover with a tea towel and let the rolls rise in a draft free spot at warm room temperature until the dough doubles, about 1 to 1-1/2 hours. (Optional - I put a piece of plastic wrap between the rolls and the towel because of the sticky marmalade.)

Place the rack in the middle and preheat the oven to 375° F/190° C.

Remove the towel and bake the rolls until they are golden brown, about 20 to 25 minutes. Cool in the pan ten minutes, then transfer to a rack and allow to cool for about another 20 minutes before serving. If desired, drizzle a glaze of 1 teaspoon milk whisked together with enough confectioners' sugar (icing sugar) to make a drizzle that will not spread too much. Use the tines of a fork to drizzle it on. Let dry before serving the rolls.


The Bread Baking Babes
Italian Prune & Cardamom Conserve
From The Blue Chair Jam Cookbook by Rachel Saunders

The term conserve typically refers to a jam involving both fresh and dried fruit, often with the addition of liquor, spices, and nuts. These preserves are traditionally served alongside savory dishes or with cheeses, as well as for breakfast. In this delicious fall conserve, Italian prune plums are accentuated by dried currants and a generous splash of plum brandy.

Ingredients:
4 pounds pitted and halved Italian prune plums
1 1/2 pounds white cane sugar
3 ounces strained freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 ounces slivovitz or other dry plum brandy
2 ounces dried currants
1/2 teaspoon white cardamom seeds

Day 1
Place the prune plums, sugar, lemon juice, slivovitz, and currants into a glass or hard plastic storage container. Stir well to combine, cover tightly, and refrigerate for 48 to 72 hours, stirring once each day.

2 to 3 Days Later
Place a saucer with five metal teaspoons in a flat place in your freezer for testing the jam later.

Transfer the plum mixture to an 11- or 12-quart copper preserving pan or wide nonreactive kettle. Place the cardamom seeds into a fine-mesh stainless steel tea infuser with a firm latch and add it to the mixture.

Bring the mixture to a boil over high heat, stirring frequently with a large heatproof rubber spatula. Continue to cook, monitoring the heat closely, until the conserve thickens, 35 to 45 minutes. Skim off any surface foam with a large stainless steel spoon. Scrape the bottom of the pan often with a heatproof rubber spatula, and decrease the heat gradually as more and more moisture cooks out of your conserve. For the final 10 to 15 minutes of cooking, stir the conserve nearly constantly to prevent burning.

To test the conserve for doneness, carefully transfer a small representative half-spoonful of conserve to one of your frozen spoons. Replace the spoon in the freezer for 3 to 4 minutes, then remove and carefully feel the underside of the spoon. It should be neither warm nor cold; if still warm, return it to the freezer for a moment.

Nudge the conserve gently with your finger; if it seems thickened and gloppy when you nudge it, it is either done or nearly done. Tilt the spoon vertically to see how quickly the conserve runs; if it runs very slowly, and if it has thickened to a gloppy consistency, it is done. If it runs very quickly or appears watery, cook it for another few minutes, stirring, and test again as needed.

 When the conserve is ready, remove the tea infuser, then skim any remaining foam and discard. Pour the conserve into sterilized jars and process according to the manufacturer’s instructions or as directed on page 52. (Or this page from Simply Canning)

Approximate Yield: five to six 8-ounce jars
Shelf Life: 18 months

The Blue Chair Jam Cookbook, by Rachel Saunders, is the definitive jam and marmalade cookbook of the 21st century. Using Blue Chair Fruit's modern sustainable approach to creating fresh and vividly flavored preserves, Rachel offers more than 100 original jam, jelly, and marmalade recipes, from Italian Lemon Marmalade to Early Girl Tomato Jam. She presents recipes by season, month, and type of fruit. The Blue Chair Jam Cookbook is a must-have resource for home and professional cooks everywhere, and has recently received a James Beard Foundation Award nomination for Best Food Photography!
See http://bluechairfruit.com/ for more.

Monday, 14 January 2013

Supergrains! Cook Your Way to Great Health

Supergrains
Cook Your Way to Great Health
by Chrissy Freer

Softcover, 224 pages

By now most of us know that eating whole grains is best for healthy digestion, weight loss, blood pressure, sugar levels and all-around good living. But we can do better than just choosing whole wheat bread at the grocery store - there are all sorts of great grains that pack a nutritional punch and have unique flavour and texture.

Supergrains wants to help you expand your great grain repertoire with 12 different and exciting grains - over half of which are gluten-free!

There are 100 simple supergrain recipes to help you get your year off to a great start. You are what you eat - this year you can be even more super! 

Contents of Supergrains include:
Introduction: 
What are supergrains?
Health benefits
Cooking guide
How to use supergrains
Quinoa
Amaranth
Buckwheat
Brown Rice 
Chia
Millet 
Oats
Spelt & Kamut
Barley
Farro & Freekeh

Look for the Supergrains challenge at http://www.cravebyrandomhouse.ca/!

Try this Supergrains recipe tonight, as published on the Ottawa Citizen

Chia-Crusted Salmon with Asian Greens & Tamari Dressing

Makes: 4 servings
Preparation time: about 20 minutes
3 tbsp (50 mL) white chia seeds
3 tbsp (50 mL) black chia seeds
Four 6-ounce (170-g) skinless salmon fillets
2 bunches choy sum (the small centre parts of bok choy, about 1 lb 9-12 ounces or 700-800 g), washed and trimmed
3 tbsp (50 mL) sunflower oil, divided
1 1/4-inch (3-cm) piece ginger, peeled and julienned
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
Noodles or steamed brown rice, to serve

Tamari dressing:
3 tbsp (50 mL) oyster sauce
3 tbsp (50 mL) tamari
1 1/2 tbsp (22 mL) Chinese rice wine
1 tsp (5 mL) sugar

1. Combine the white and black chia seeds on a plate. Press each salmon fillet in the chia seeds to evenly coat one side, then set aside.
1. Combine the white and black chia seeds on a plate. Press each salmon fillet in the chia seeds to evenly coat one side, then set aside. Remove the stems from the choy sum.
2. Remove the stems from the choy sum, cut in half if long and reserve. To make the tamari dressing, put the oyster sauce, tamari, rice wine and sugar in a small bowl and stir to dissolve the sugar.
2. Cut choy stems in half if long and reserve. To make the tamari dressing, put the oyster sauce, tamari, rice wine and sugar in a small bowl and stir to dissolve the sugar.
3. Heat 1 tbsp (15 mL) of the oil in a large non-stick skillet over high heat. Cook the salmon, chia side down, for 2-3 minutes or until golden. Turn and cook for a further 2 minutes (for medium) or until cooked to your liking. Set aside and keep warm.
3. Heat 1 tbsp of the oil in a large non-stick skillet over high heat. Cook the salmon, chia side down, for 2-3 minutes or until golden. Turn and cook for a further 2 minutes or until done to your liking.
4. Meanwhile, heat the remaining oil in a large wok or skillet over high heat. Add the ginger and garlic and stir-fry for 30 seconds.
4. Set cooked salmon aside on a warmed plate and keep warm. Meanwhile, heat the remaining oil in a large wok or skillet over high heat. Add the ginger and garlic and stir-fry for 30 seconds.
5. Add the choy sum stems and stir-fry for 1-2 minutes, then add the choy sum leaves and stir-fry for 1 minute more or until almost wilted. Add half the dressing and toss to combine.
5. Add the choy sum stems and stir-fry for 1-2 minutes, then add the choy sum leaves and stir-fry for 1 minute more or until almost wilted. Add half the dressing and toss to combine.
6. To serve, divide the choy sum among serving plates, top each with a piece of salmon and drizzle over a little of the remaining dressing. Serve with noodles or steamed rice.
6. To serve, divide the choy sum among serving plates, top each with a piece of salmon and drizzle over a little of the remaining dressing. Serve with noodles or steamed rice.


Chrissy Freer  is a qualified nutritionalist, food writer and recipe developer who has worked with a host of celebrity chefs, including Bill Granger. She has contributed to more than ten Weight Watchers cookbooks, as well as the Biggest Loser Families Cookbook. She is a regular contributor to an extensive list of publications, including Delicious and Bon Appetit magazines. 

Friday, 11 January 2013

A Question of Identity by Susan Hill

A Simon Serrailler Crime Novel
by Susan Hill
Hardcover, 368 pages

I first discovered Susan Hill when I saw she had a hearty endorsement from one of my heroes, P.D. James. Like James, Hill crafts an intricate British crime novel that starts at the edges and peels away layer by layer until you get to the climax.

In A Question of Identity, the town of Lafferton is blanketed by snow and the hush keeps the crime rate low. However, someone has been lurking about the new senior housing in Duchess of Cornwall Close. One elderly woman is murdered in her new home in a most terrifying way. DCS Simon Serrailler juggles his personal and professional life as he mounts a hunt for the killer. When more are killed, he finds a link between these murders and murders from the past.

What he can't find is an identity for the killer.

A Question of Identity explores human emotions as much as mystery, and of course what is more mysterious than human emotions?

A great fireside English mystery. Fans of P.D. James and Ruth Rendell will love Susan Hill's Simon Serrailer series.

Other books in the series:

The Various Haunts of Men
The Pure in Heart
The Risk of Darkness
The Vows of Silence
The Shadows in the Street    
The Betrayal of Trust 


Susan Hill’s novels and short stories have won the Whitbread, Somerset Maugham and John Llewellyn Rhys Prizes. Her novels include The Mist in the Mirror, the Simon Serallier crime series, and I’m the King of the Castle. She also wrote Mrs. de Winter, the sequel to Rebecca, and her ghost story The Woman in Black was adapted for the stage and has been running in London for over 21 years. She lives in Gloucestershire, where she runs her own small publishing company, Long Barn Books.

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Meatless - from The Kitchens of Martha Stewart Living

Meatless
More Than 200 of the Very Best Vegetarian Recipes
from The Kitchens of Martha Stewart Living

Trade Paperback, 384 pages

Are you ready to start the year off right? Meatless is a beautiful book of 200 vegetarian recipes and full colour accompanying photos that will delight and inspire your vegetarian palate. Whether you are strictly veggie, flexitarian, or just looking to add more veggie dishes to your repertoire, you will find lots of simple and delicious recipes for a healthier you.

Vegetarian dishes can be vibrant, exciting, colourful, and fit for guests - and Meatless shows you how! 

Selections include:
-Small Plates to Mix and Match: Smashed Chickpea, Basil, and Radish Dip with Pita Chips; Roasted Baby Potatoes with Romesco Sauce; Stuffed Marinated Hot Red Chili Peppers; Grilled Polenta with Balsamic Mushrooms
-Stovetop Suppers: Frittata with Asparagus, Goat Cheese, and Herbs; Spring Vegetable Ragout; Farro Risotto with Wild Mushrooms; Southwestern Hash
-Soups, Stews, and Chili: Tomato Soup with Poached Eggs; Bean Chili; White Cheddar Corn Chowder; Chickpea Curry with Roasted Cauliflower and Tomatoes
-Casseroles and other Baked Dishes: Ricotta and Spinach Stuffed Shells; Italian Baked Eggplant with Seitan; Black-Bean Tortilla Casserole; Apple, Leek, and Squash Gratin
-Substantial Salads: Raw Kale Salad with Pomegranate and Toasted Walnuts; Avocado, Beet, and Orange Salad; Arugula, Potato, and Green Bean Salad with Creamy Walnut Dressing; Roasted-Tomato Tabbouleh
-Sandwiches, Burgers, and Pizzas: Quinoa Veggie Burgers; Grilled Asparagus and Ricotta Pizza; Chipotle Avocado Sandwich; Portobello and Zucchini Tacos
-Pasta and Other Noodles: Fettuccine with Parsley-Walnut Pesto; Roasted Cauliflower with Pasta and Lemon Zest; Soba and Tofu in Ginger Broth; No-Bake Lasagna with Ricotta and Tomatoes
-Simple Side Dishes: Mexican Creamed Corn; Cabbage and Green Apple Slaw; Shredded Brussels Sprouts with Pecans and Mustard Seeds; Baked Polenta “Fries”

Believe me, nobody's going to miss the meat!  

Try this sneak peek recipe for Warm Edamame Salad, from Meatless

Photo: John Kernic
Warm Edamame Salad

Using frozen edamame is a convenient way to add protein to Asian soups and salads such as this one. It gets lots of interesting textures from water chestnuts, mushrooms, and snap peas, and spicy flavors by way of fresh ginger and hot chile sauce.

Yield Serves 4 to 6



Ingredients

    2 tablespoons canola oil
    4 cups (12 oz) cremini mushrooms, sliced
    1 16 oz package frozen shelled edamame, thawed
    1 cup (4 oz) sugar snap peas, sliced in half
    1 teaspoon fresh ginger, peeled and minced
    1/2 cup jarred roasted red bell peppers, cut into 1/2-inch strips
    1 8 oz can sliced water chestnuts, drained
    1/2 teaspoon Sriracha chile sauce
    Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
    1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
    1 teaspoons rice wine vinegar

Directions

    Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large pan over medium-high heat. Cook the mushrooms, stirring, until tender, 6 to 8 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.

    Add remaining oil to pan. Cook the edamame, snap peas, and ginger, stirring occasionally, until peas are tender and edamame is bright green, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the red pepper, chestnuts, Sriracha, and mushrooms and cook, stirring, until heated through. Season with salt and pepper. Remove from heat; stir in the toasted sesame seeds and vinegar. Serve hot, or refrigerate and enjoy cold.

Saturday, 5 January 2013

Twitch Upon a Star: The Bewitched Life and Career of Elizabeth Montgomery

Twitch Upon a Star
The Bewitched Life and Career 

of Elizabeth Montgomery
By Herbie J Pilato

Hardcover, 472 pages

It's hard not to feel affection for Elizabeth Montgomery. She has beauty, grace and a devilish twinkle in her eye that has bewitched fans for decades. Author Herbie J Pilato is a self-confessed fan of her life and her work and his adoration shines through in the book.

Before Twitch Upon a Star, Pilato penned two books on her most famous television series - Bewitched Forever: The Immortal Companion to Television's Most Magical Supernatural Situation Comedy, and The Bewitched Book.

In Twitch Upon a Star, Herbie compiles interviews with Elizabeth herself, as well as friends, co-stars, and family. The result is a deeper look into her life, her 4 marriages, her relationships, both on and off the screen, and the events that shaped her until her death of colon cancer in 1995.

Elizabeth Montgomery was a fascinating woman, born from famous parents, with a broad career that extended well beyond the cute little Witch-with-a-Twitch that we all love. She broke boundaries, stood up for human rights and was an enthusiastic activist for gay rights and AIDS research.

Fans of Elizabeth Montgomery and Bewitched will love this book.

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Edge of Black by J.T. Ellison

Edge of Black
by J.T. Ellison
Paperback, 368 pages


The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides.

I fell in love with J.T. Ellison's novels with her Lt. Taylor Jackson series. Ellison does a hard-hitting procedural crime drama and is not afraid to kill her darlings. Edge of Black is the second in the Samantha Owens, M.D. series, a spin-off from the Jackson books. 

Owens is trying to piece her life back together after losing her husband and children to the floods. But after barely settling in to her new job, new city and new life - she finds herself in the middle of a seeming terrorist attack. A pathogen of some sort is let loose in the Washington Metro and, although many are afflicted with breathing and lung issues, only three die. 

This in itself is a puzzle, and the more Samantha, her new boyfriend and ex-army ranger Xander, and detective Fletcher dig, the more puzzling it gets. 

They find themselves racing against the clock to solve the mystery before more people die, including them. 

A great winter read for curling up under a blanket - you won't be able to put it down. 

1st book in this series
photo by Chris Blanz, Cabedge
J.T. Ellison is the bestselling author of eight critically acclaimed novels, multiple short stories and has been published in over twenty countries. Her novel THE COLD ROOM won the ITW Thriller Award for Best Paperback Original of 2010 and WHERE ALL THE DEAD LIE was a RITA® Nominee for Best Romantic Suspense of 2012. She lives in Nashville with her husband and the ghost of a poorly trained cat, and is hard at work on her next novel. Visit JTEllison.com for more insight into her wicked imagination, or follow her on Twitter @Thrillerchick.


Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Unusual Uses for Olive Oil by Alexander McCall Smith

Unusual Uses for Olive Oil
A Professor Dr von Igelfeld Entertainment Novel (4)
by Alexander McCall Smith

Trade Paperback, 224 pages

I could love Alexander McCall Smith's books for their titles alone. Unusual Uses for Olive Oil is the 4th in the Dr. Moritz-Maria von Igelfeld series. The bumbling but brilliant Dr. Moritz-Maria von Igelfeld, an absent-minded professor if there ever was one, finds himself in a variety of hilarious situations - mostly due to his dislike of his colleague Detlev-Amadeus Unterholzer and desire to one-up him at every chance. 

This installment of his predicaments has him courting a wealthy widow, scaling mountains, and delivering inspirational lectures. All situations he landed in quite in spite of himself but plowed ahead with in his own inimitable way.

I love being inside his head, with him as he rationalizes his surroundings and subsequent actions.

The first three books:
Portuguese Irregular Verbs follows the Professor from a busman’s holiday researching old Irish obscenities to a flirtation with a desirable lady dentist. In The Finer Points of Sausage Dogs, von Igelfeld practices veterinary medicine without a license, transports relics for a schismatically challenged Coptic prelate and is mobbed by marriage-minded widows on board a Mediterranean cruise ship. In At the Villa of Reduced Circumstances, the third novel in the trilogy, we find our hero suffering the slings of academic intrigue as a visiting fellow at Cambridge, and the slings of outrageous fortune in an eventful Columbian adventure.

This is comedy of the absurd and a delightful distraction from everyday life!


Photo credit: Michael Lionstar
Alexander McCall Smith is the author of the beloved bestselling No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series, the Isabel Dalhousie series, the Portuguese Irregular Verbs series, the 44 Scotland Street series, and the Corduroy Mansions series. He is also the author of numerous children’s books. He is professor emeritus of medical law at the University of Edinburgh and has served with many national and international organizations concerned with bioethics. He was born in what is now known as Zimbabwe and taught law at the University of Botswana. He lives in Scotland. Visit his website at www.alexandermccallsmith.com.

 



Excerpt from Unusual Uses for Olive Oil

Chapter 1.

Surprising? Astonishing? No, it was more than that, far more – it was shocking, quite nakedly schrecklich. Professor Dr Dr (honoris causa) (mult.) Moritz-Maria von Igelfeld, author of that definitive, twelve-hundred page scholarly work, Portuguese Irregular Verbs, was cautious in his choice of words, but there were times when one really had no alternative but to resort to a strong term such as shocking. And this, he thought, was one such occasion. It was ganz, erstaunlich shocking.

The news in question was conveyed in the pages of a journal that normally did little to disturb anybody’s equanimity. The editors of the sedate, indeed thoroughly fusty, dusty, crusty Zeitschrift für Romanische Philologie, a quarterly journal of linguistic affairs, would have been surprised to hear of any reader so much as raising an eyebrow over its contents. And certainly they would have been astonished to see one of their better-known readers, such as Professor von Igelfeld, sitting up in his chair and actually changing colour, reddening in his case, as he studied the small item tucked away in the news section of the review. It was not even the lead news item, but was at the bottom of the page, a mere paragraph, reporting on the announcement of the shortlist for a recently endowed academic prize. This prize, set up with funds left by a Munich industrialist of bookish tastes, was for the most distinguished work of scholarship – an article or a full-length monograph – on the subject of the heritage and structure of the Romance languages. What could possibly be controversial about that?

It was not the fact that the prize had been established that shocked von Igelfeld, rather it was the composition of the shortlist. There were three names there, all known to him, one very much so. As far as Professor J. G. K. L. Singh was concerned, von Igelfeld had no objection at all to his heading the list. Over the years he had had various dealings with Professor Singh, exchanging letters at regular intervals, and he had become quite fond of him. Certainly he did not agree with the rather unkind nickname that some scholars had given the celebrated Indian philologist– the Great Bore of Chandigarh – indeed, von Igelfeld did not agree with nicknames at all, thinking them puerile and unhelpful. His own name, which meant hedgehog-field in German, had resulted in his some- times being the butt of schoolboyish references, masquerading as humour, but of course he had always risen above such nonsense. It was true that Professor Singh was perhaps a little on the tedious side – indeed, he might well have been quite incontrovertibly so – but that was no excuse for calling him the Great Bore of Chandigarh. The British – ridiculous people! – and the Americans were the worst, he had noticed, when it came to this sort of thing, with the British being by a long chalk the more serious offenders. They saw humour where absolutely none existed, and it seemed to matter little how elevated they were – their jokes often being at the same time unintelligible and silly. Professor Thomas Simpson of Oxford, for example, a major figure in the study of vowel shifts, had referred to Professor Singh by this sobriquet and had remained silent in the face of von Igelfeld’s protest that perhaps not everyone found Professor Singh boring. And he was no longer at Chandigarh anyway, von Igelfeld pointed out, which made the nickname out of date.

‘He has been translated to Delhi,’ von Igelfeld said. ‘So the reference to Chandigarh is potentially misleading. You must be careful not to mislead, Herr Professor Dr Simpson.’

This comment had been made in the coffee break at the annual World Philology Congress in Paris, and later that day, as the delegates were enjoying a glass of wine prior to the conference dinner, von Igelfeld had overheard Professor Simpson saying to a group of Australian delegates, ‘I’m not sure if the Hedgehog gets it half the time.’ He had moved away, and the flippant English professor had been quite unaware that his remark had been intercepted by its victim. A few minutes later, though, he found himself standing next to Professor Simpson at the board on which the table placements had been posted. Von Igelfeld was relieved to find that he was sitting nowhere near the condescending Oxonian, and he had turned to him with the remark, ‘You will be happy, I think, to find that you are not sitting next to a hedgehog. They can be prickly (prickelnd), you know.’

It was a devastating shaft of wit, but it brought forth no response from its target, who appeared not to have heard. ‘What did you say, von Igelfeld?’ he asked.

Von Igelfeld hesitated. It was difficult to serve a dish of revenge twice within the same minute. ‘I said that hedgehogs can be prickelnd if you sit next to them.’

Professor Simpson looked at him with amusement. ‘I would never sit on a hedgehog if I were you,’ he remarked airily. ‘Not very comfortable, as surely you, of all people, should know! But my dear chap, you must excuse me. I’m at the top table, you see, and I must get up there before the rank and file clutter the place up.’

If he rather welcomed the inclusion of Professor J. G. K. L. Singh’s name on the list, he did not feel that way about the next name, which was that of Professor Antonio Capobianco of the University of Parma. He knew Capobianco slightly, and found his work slender and unconvincing. Two years ago the Parmese had written a book on the subjunctive in seventeenth-century Italian, a book that von Igelfeld had reviewed in polite but unambiguously dismissive terms in the Zeitschrift, almost, but not quite, describing it as scholarly ephemera. He would certainly not have chosen Capobianco had he been a judge, but at the same time he could understand that there might have been political reasons for including him on the list. It was nice to put Italians on lists – they so appreciated it; Italians, von Igelfeld was convinced, had a profound need to be loved by others and consequently were always reassured to see their names appear on any list. He had even heard that they tended to get upset if they were left off negative lists – such as those that ranked the most corrupt countries in the world. ‘But we lead the world in corruption,’ one Italian prime minister had been said to complain. ‘How can they put us below Mali?’ So there could be little doubt but that Capobianco would be very pleased to see himself on this shortlist and would presumably make every effort to bribe the judges to decide in his favour – or, if he did not, some of his friends and relatives could be expected to do so on his behalf. But he would never win.

But then there was the third name, and that was where enthusiasm and mild irritation were succeeded by outrage. Professor Dr Dr Detlev-Amadeus Unterholzer, the journal announced, had been nominated on the basis of his work on Portuguese verbs – work which enjoyed a considerable reputation not only in Germany but throughout the world. His research has put Regensburg’s Institute of Romance Philology on the map, the journal concluded, and deservedly so. This makes him a very strong candidate for the award of this prize.

It was difficult to know where to begin. Unterholzer had been von Igelfeld’s colleague for a considerable time. Their relationship was not a simple one, as there had been a number of issues over the years – none of them von Igelfeld’s fault, of course – because of which the friendship between them, if one could call it that, had been strained. Most notably there had been the incident of Unterholzer’s dog, the unfortunate dachshund, Walter, or Dr Walter Unterholzer, as the Librarian, Herr Huber, had so wittily called him. This dog had lost three of his legs in circumstances for which Unterholzer blamed von Igelfeld, and the poor animal was now obliged to get about on a prosthetic appliance involving three small wheels. Walter had, some years previously, disgraced himself by coming across and eating a small collection of bones. These bones had not been intended for consumption by dogs, rather they were sacred relics of particular interest to the Coptic church, being the bones – or some of them – of the late Bishop of Myra, none other than St Nicholas. Thereafter, Walter had become an object of veneration within the Coptic church as he had consumed holy relics and was therefore, in a sense, a reliquary, even if an ambulant one. He had enjoyed a brief period of veneration in a church, occupying a small gilded kennel before which pilgrims would kneel. Unfortunately, many pilgrims expressed surprise at the barking sounds which emerged from this kennel–reliquary, and so in the end Walter was restored to his original owners, the Unterholzers.

Von Igelfeld’s responsibility for Walter’s unfortunate injury had led to ill-feeling, but even putting that casus belli aside, there had also been numerous occasions on which Unterholzer had sought to obtain some advantage over von Igelfeld. Some of these were minor – and could be forgiven – but others were of such a serious nature as to remain a stumbling block in the way of normal relations. One thing was clear, though – that von Igelfeld was the better scholar. Unterholzer had written his own book on Portuguese subjunctives years ago, a minor insubstantial book, which had concentrated only on a few modal verbs. Certainly that work was not fit to be mentioned in the same breath as Portuguese Irregular Verbs, and indeed never was, at least by von Igelfeld, who always made sure that he left a gap, a silence, between any uttering of the names of his own book and Unterholzer’s.

It was the glaring disparity between their respective contributions to Romance philology that made this announcement so hurtful. If anybody’s work had put Regensburg on the map, it was his, von Igelfeld’s, that had done so. A few people abroad might have heard of Unterholzer, von Igelfeld conceded, but they would not necessarily know him for his work. They might have seen him at conferences, perhaps, where they surely would have noticed, and perhaps even discussed, Unterholzer’s rather vulgar nose; not the nose of a scholar, thought von Igelfeld. Or they might have come across a reference to Unterholzer’s book while looking for something more substantial, such as Portuguese Irregular Verbs itself. But they would certainly not have bothered to sit down and read Unterholzer’s observations on modal verbs.

So why, then, had Unterholzer been shortlisted for what was, after all, a rather generous prize of fifty thousand euros? As von Igelfeld was thinking of this outrage, he was joined in the coffee room by the Institute’s librarian, Herr Huber.

‘Anything interesting in the Zeitschrift?’ asked the Librarian. ‘I haven’t read the latest issue yet. It’s on my desk, of course, but I’ve been terribly busy over the last few days, what with my aunt not being quite as well as she might be, poor soul.’

The Librarian lost no opportunity to mention his aunt, a resident of a nursing home on the outer fringes of the city. This aunt, who enjoyed bad health, was the subject of long monologues by the Librarian, who laboured under the impression that his work colleagues were interested in endless details of her complaints and afflictions.

‘No, she has not been all that well,’ mused the Librarian, quite forgetting the question he had just put to von Igelfeld. ‘She has blood pressure, you know. I did tell you that, didn’t I? Yes, I think I must have. She’s had it for a long time.’

‘Everybody has blood pressure, Herr Huber,’ said von Igelfeld cuttingly. ‘If one did not, then one’s blood would simply stay where it was, rather than going round the body. Your aunt would not last long without blood pressure, I can assure you. Nor would you, for that matter.’

This last remark was an aside, but even as he uttered it, von Igelfeld wondered whether the Librarian had, in fact, much blood pressure. There were some people who gave the impression of having a great deal of blood coursing through their veins – robust and ruddy people who moved decisively and energetically. Then there were those who were pallid, and slow in their movements; people through whose veins the blood must move sluggishly, at best, with only the pressure expected of a half-inflated bicycle tyre. The Librarian belonged in that group, von Igelfeld thought.

Herr Huber laughed. ‘Oh, I know that. I meant to say that she has the wrong sort of blood pressure. It’s either too high, or too low. I can’t remember which. And there is one sort of pill for high blood pressure and another for low. You have to be terribly careful, you know. If you took the pill for high blood pressure and your blood pressure was really too low, then I’m not sure what would happen. Heaven forfend that anything like that should happen to my aunt, of course!’

‘Indeed,’ said von Igelfeld. ‘That would be a most unfortunate occurrence.’

‘Of course, these days pills are made in different colours and shapes,’ the Librarian went on. ‘One of the nurses said that most pills used to be white, which could lead to bad mistakes in their administration. Now they are different colours and have markings on them.’ He paused to take a sip of his coffee. ‘She – my aunt, that is – used to have a large red pill that she had to take before she was settled for the night. Sometimes I was there when they gave it to her. She called it “my red pill” and I once asked her, “What is that pill for, Aunt?” and she said, “I am not sure. It is my red pill and I have been taking it for a long time. Perhaps it is meant to turn me red.”’

Von Igelfeld stared glassy-eyed at the Librarian. ‘And did she turn red, Herr Huber?’

The Librarian laughed. ‘No, that’s the funny thing. She took that red pill for years, always saying that it was intended to turn her red, and I thought she was just joking. Then when I said to the doctor, “I see that you have prescribed a pill to turn my aunt red!” he answered, “That’s right.”’

Von Igelfeld said nothing.

‘And the funny thing,’ continued the Librarian, ‘was that the red pill was for anaemia. It was iron, you see. And if she had not taken it, she would have appeared very pale. So the pill really was intended to turn her red.’

Von Igelfeld pursed his lips. ‘Your aunt’s affairs are of great interest, Herr Huber,’ he said. ‘But will you forgive me if I return to the question you asked me when you came in? You asked me whether there was anything of interest in the Zeitschrift. I would like to answer that question now, if I may.’