Almost all my novels feature good food and cooking somewhere. The reason is simple – food and cooking is my third passion. Oh, the first two are beautiful women, my beloved B in particular, writing is second, third cooking (And eating.) The writing means I have the time to devote to imaginative and original cooking. Sometimes that will involve exotic or expensive ingredients but more often than not, it will be something simple and thrifty. The one ingredient I can afford to be generous with is time.
I’ve decided to share some of these ideas with the blogisphere. So I will do a series on various dishes I cook over the next week or two. You will not find exact recipes – I don’t work like that, but all will be easy to do if you can spare some of that precious commodity – time.
Irish sea farmed Atlantic Salmon is easy and inexpensive to buy here and in
particular when bought whole. The salmon I used came from the fish counter of
our local Dunnes Store and cost under thirteen euros.
My fish kettle is not often used, but it has been worth dragging around for years because when you need a kettle — you need a kettle. One can try roasting pans and faff about with strips of foil to lift the cooked fish but… just get a kettle.
So Thai style salmon tart is what you see here. It was excellent and would feed six.
I started poaching
the whole fish with various veg, bay leaf and white wine. As you can see, I
make use of our small stove for more than heating the house. It’s great for
simmering too. The kettle was on there less than thirty minutes and then taken
off and left to cool.
The fish was then
peeled and the flesh taken off in large pieces. All the small bits and bobs
were put with a tomato, a little ginger, a dash of Mirin a slice of white bread,
mayo, tomato ketchup, Tabasco and whizzed into a moose. We had some of that on Swedish
crisp bread as a starter.
Next day I made a thick white sauce with butter flour and coconut cream. To this I added a handful of prawns/shrimps, the rest of the salmon moose, grated ginger, chopped red chilies, a handful of chopped coriander/cilantro a dash of Thai fish sauce and a squeeze of lime.
I blind baked
shop-bought short-crust pasty, in a spring-form cake tin, coating the inside of
the pastry with beaten egg twice to seal it during cooking.
When it was cool I began to layer it. Salmon, thin sliced onion, sauce, salmon, thin sliced cucumber. and strips of pickled ginger. Final layer was slice ripe Papaya and strips of pickled ginger. (Fruit and Salmon are great together.) Top with the thick sauce. A final brush of the top with the left-over egg and into a moderate oven, 170 for thirty-five minutes.
Best served cool, room temperature. Good with salad but we had tinned mini peas and carrots.
It was fab! We
couldn’t finish it – as often the case with my cooking – over generous.
Next time, two dishes with a Farmed Rabbit. Starting with my ‘Brilliant Blatered Bunny Burger’.
No apology for the long break between blog posts. It was deliberate policy to retreat from all social media activity. We have been distracted by the enforced need to find a new home or nest as we call it. Our long-term lease on our place at Killoscully was not renewed. It was understandable, the landlords’ daughter needed the house, but it was a blow for us. We were settled and happy there. The idea of having to move was unappealing to say the least. No it was horrific!
We have gathered a lot of stuff over the years, much of it was resistant to the idea of downsizing. (I simply can’t part with books or art.) We toyed with and explored the idea of buying an old cottage to do up. That proved a painful search with our limited budget. Everywhere we found was either much too small or had issues that would have swallowed vast amounts of time and money – so rental it had to be. The rental market here in Ireland is under great strain and prices have skyrocketed. We needed to stay within reasonable traveling distance of beloved B’s place of work at the University of Limerick. Long searches on-line were discouraging, but eventually we found the right place at the right price. The cottage is much smaller than our previous place so we had to be ruthless and dispose of a lot of stuff, even so, it was and is a very tight fit. I spent all of October shifting what remained by turning the camper Rocinante from old charger to a packhorse pulling a trailer.
The last week was a trial when I ripped a muscle in my calf and could no longer lift or even walk. I spent a painful time watching beloved B toil over the last weeks work. We rented a man with a wee lad with a van to move the beds and big sofa right at the end. At the beginning of November we were in, mostly sorted, and utterly knackered.
B’s birthday celebration had had to be postponed for a week as it fell on the day after the final move. We planned a few days escape to a hotel and spa to recover. Our new favorite restaurant in Kenmare Kerry, the Limetree was booked for the birthday dinner. Fab scallops, followed by Hake for B and Salmon for me. We went to the ever lovely Glengarrif where I bought a walking stick to help me hobble to the Blue Pool to take in the beauty. We drove back over the spectacular Healy Pass and spent an hour in the spa pool, B swimming, and me submerged in the Jacuzzi being massaged by hot water to ease the gympoid symptoms.
have set up a new work station and have now gotten back into writing. My latest
is a novel following my FBB heroine Rachel, whom I’d tried to kill off in the
last novella of the series. That was met with howls of protest by a loyal fan
base – so she had to be resurrected. Thus the title: ‘Rachel’s Resurrection’.
I’m glad I left her end ambiguous so this resurrection was possible. I am enjoying writing the new adventure which sees her seeking revenge for the… oops – nearly a spoiler there. Anyhoo she’s back as feisty and dangerous as ever, but will have a total change of path and try to renounce her life as a spook. I expect to publish it around February 2020.
I found this and thought it might be of interest to readers. It’s an older film that was never completed but it does explain why this location was used in so many of my novels. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TjexpA59O1k
Many years after I began independent publishing I am still asked (and sometimes ask myself) why I did not go the more accepted traditional route. The reasons are various but the often received response from publishers and agents: “Not mainstream enough.” “Perhaps tone it down and avoid the controversial subjects” “Great story and wonderfully drawn characters but just too unconventional.” I got all these responses in my first years trying to go down the traditional route. It was dispiriting and hard to hear. Everyone was telling me I was not writing to an accepted formula. Yes, yes, that’s the point of my writing – it’s not formulaic, it’s not conventional. It is original, challenging, thrilling, truthful, and character driven. I was not prepared to try to become a clone for the sake of a publishing deal. So… I learned to do it myself. I was an early adopter of Indi publishing and quickly established that proper editing, good covers and interior formatting, as good as or better than mainstream, was what I needed to achieve. I believe I did that. I am sure any of my twenty plus novels will stand close critical scrutiny. The freedom I now have is invigorating. I can let my imagination run free unconstrained by the gatekeepers rules and constraints. I am free to re-edit and re-publish all my work. It improves over time and it is always available, unlike trad books that have a very short active life. The one downside to Indi, is the difficulty of getting noticed among the floods of mediocre drivel crowding the Amazon lists. I tried all the various methods advised by so called Indi experts – none are effective except as a means to sell their work and services. Reader loyalty and recommendations is the only method that works; but one has to be patient. I’ve never paid for reviews or cheated in any way. My sales are modest, but steady and ever growing, as readers discover my work and keep coming back for more. When I get a genuine review that is praiseworthy I am delighted and gratified because I know that reader will tell others and so sales keep coming. I will never earn much, but I write because I have to. It is my creative life and it is immensely rewarding. Discovery by a new reader is wonderful and getting noticed by a film maker would be an unlikely delight. Ultimately, I write and Indi publish because I have to – it has been creative liberation. To all who are regular readers I say thank you and keep talking!
Always Leoti, is the title of my next novel. The launch will be next month and will include a filmed reading. This is a departure for me, being slightly experimental. It is fourteen chapters that read like a series of short stories each using the same two protagonists, Leoti and Aaron, but set in different historical time periods. That sounds odd, but test readers have enjoyed the experience and I have had a lot of pleasure researching the history and settings.
I had published a novella called Leoti, but that has now been withdrawn to make way for the full novel.
The appeal of athletic and strong women is fascinating in it’s complexity. I recall an event when I was single and much younger, that sums up that complexity. I had a large poster in my bedroom featuring a very sexy female bodybuilder called Tonya Knight. She was by no means as big as some, but was very athletic, and in my eyes, very feminine. A girl I started dating saw it and said, “You must be gay to like her!” I had already demonstrated my fully heterosexual appetites to her on several occasions, so I found this comment puzzling.
Since then I have heard similar comments from men and women. I can see why they might arise in the case of female bodybuilders that push too far and take testosterone and other drugs. They do often look, at best androgynous, and at worst masculine. My character Rachel is not of that type, she is athletic and genetically suited to building muscle. She is fully feminine and beautiful. In these stories she struggles with societies perceptions of what it is to be female. She is often described as an amazon warrior. I use these tales to explore sexual roles and to push against stereotypes imposed by those who are threatened by strong women, strong of character and body.
Chepi, born at a time of great transition on the Canadian plains, is gifted with the ability to see into the past and into the future. Solitary and wholly independent, yet deeply connected to her Native Cree culture, she moves fluidly between worlds as both medicine woman and pragmatist, both nurturer and warrior.
Intuitive and intellectual, her highly adaptive survival skills help others to survive, to awaken, and to change, as she travels across oceans and continents, seeking knowledge of a rapidly changing world. All that she sees and experiences will be applied, when she returns home.
How Chepi’s self-contained, magnetic presence and decisive energetic influence holds others together, whether their meeting is brief or enduring, is the element that makes this story so compelling. The author provides his readers with a well- researched historical journey, a cross-cultural exploration of the human condition, and a deep character study of the singular, ineffable, magnificent creature who is Chepi.
This novel was two years in the creation – the longest time I’ve ever spent on a project. It is by no means my longest at less than 80,000 words. 100,000 + is my norm.
The time was taken by deep research and a desire to refine and reduce this complex story to a poetic fine point.
Chepi will be known to anyone who has read The Prairie Companions, the Daniel Series or the previous two in the Butterfly Effect Trilogy. In those novels, she was an important but secondary character.
I always felt she was deserving of her own story and so here it is. I am unashamed to say I feel it the best work I’ve done… so far. I have included a few extracts here as a taster.
(From Chapter 1)
The grey wolf ran darting and diving through the thick forest, the wet mist parting before him and trailing in eddies behind. Above him a hawk swerved and swooped, easily following. The hawk squealed and the grey wolf stopped and raised his head in cry, howling twice. He sniffed the air and howled once more. The hawk landed above and chirped his high squeal in answer. The grey wolf said, “The little fairy has no sex. The little fairy is not boy or girl and is both.” The hawk swooped and flew into a mist swirling above the canopy. Its call echoed and grew distant until it was a whisper. Sooleawa called in the mist, “Manito, tell me what grey wolf spoke to you.” The hawk hovered above her and spoke its music high and piping and its words entered Sooleawa in her mind but not her ears. She smiled and nodded and gave thanks to her manito.
(From Chapter 12)
It was almost black dark when she reached the river. She stopped and stilled. Breathing slower, she closed her eyes and looked with ears and nose. The river misted the air with chill freshness and old wood and leaves added their musk tone. A pine amber scent spoke of evergreens near. A mushroom pungency rose somewhere close. Little scampering scuttling things rustled in the leaf litter but no large animals gave up their presence to Chepi’s searching senses. She opened her eyes and the darkness was gone, replaced by slants of silver moon and starlight. Dark flashes of movement drew her eyes, as bats cruised the river picking moths foolishly lingering in the moonlight beams.
An area of low scrub on a rise of the riverbank was trampled flat as Chepi set up her small tent, tying it to branches around rather than using easily lost tent pegs. She unrolled her ex-army sleeping bag and found her bag of pemmican, cornbread and water bottle. She did not feel like disturbing the night with a fire so washed down her supper with plain water. She popped a rock of golden sugar under her tongue as a sweet treat and settled cross-legged by the tent entrance. She lit a pipe and whispered: “Sorry, forest things, if tobacco smoke intrudes upon you, but we humans are part of you and we bring far off things with us.”
Chepi sat late into the night in a state of peaceful stupor, her mind as blank and directionless as in sleep but… but she was hyper-awake – attuned to the nightlife of the forest. Lost in its palpable throb and pulse. She would from time to time have to bring her focused attention to a presence near. A bear came to the stream as morning was beginning to fanlight through the leaf lace. Chepi watched it drink and then snuffle and dig in the soft river banks, breakfasting on snails, worms and crunching beetles and the crawfish it nosed and clawed from their unsafe pools. After a time, the bear lifted its head and sniffed the air, slowly turning to the human scent Chepi wafted to it. It grunted its displeasure and plunged away into the forest, noisy and frustrated by the disturbance of the danger-laden human scent.
Chepi hung her rucksack high in a tree, then climbed into her sleeping bag, sighed, put her head down and instantly found a dream-free sleep. It was perhaps ten when she woke and crawled from her tent. She toileted, then plunged naked and squealing into the river to bathe. While there she spotted little trout hiding in a small pool nearby. She lay on a rock and fished for them with her hands. She was beginning to shiver with cold when she threw the second onto the bank. She lit a fire and put two stout sticks through the centre of the trout, pushing their spine and most of the small bones out as she pulled off the tails, spine bones and all. The fish cooked as she dressed and fetched water in her billy to boil for coffee.
When the coffee was blown cool enough to drink, she sat with her back on a tree and savoured the sugar tucked in her cheek, the heat of the coffee and the growing warmth of the day. Maybe I stay here longer. It is a good place here and I feel lazy and unwilling to walk. My feet and legs are pained still. Yes, another day and night here and then I climb high and look at the plains. I am at peace already – it was good to come here. I must keep thought and remembrance from me.
(From Chapter 15)
Only when she had made that eye contact with everyone present, did Chepi speak: “Gentlemen, ladies, I am Chepi Morningstar and I am Nehiawak or Cree in English. Beside me is Bonny-Ann Beckett an officer of the Canadian Security Service. Forgive me for this deviation but I must say why she is here. I call her Numees Bonny-Ann or simply Numees. This means sister or spirit-sister and this is what she is to me. If she had not been with me here, I would be dead. This morning three men tried to kill me outside our hotel. Numees stopped them, they’re all dead.”
Chepi paused as a murmur arose in the room. She waited for everyone to still and look back at her before she continued: “Numees, my sister, came to me when she was a girl of fourteen. We knew we would meet and we saw each other when we did. Saw we were sisters. I do not intend to explain the mystic element of this bond, it is not relevant to this place. I mention it to show you that all human kinship and human bonds know no boundaries of race or colour or background. Numees came with me because she knew I was in danger. She knew there are those who do not see these bonds, who do not believe in the commonality of humanity. Indeed, they are threatened by relationships such as ours because it undermines their dreadful certainties. This certainty is what drove those three men to try to kill me this morning and their dreadful certainty is encouraged and enabled by the various acts the Canadian government has in place to forcefully assimilate First Nation peoples. I will use that term rather than ‘aboriginal’ because Numees warns me ‘aboriginal’ is often a pejorative term.
I have seen dreadful certainty of this kind once before. It was in Germany and Poland in the 1930’s. There too, a government sought to de-humanise people. They made them separate – other – sub-human and then they tried to exterminate them. Yes, dreadful certainty is not a new thing. Genocide is not a new thing. My government has not resorted to death camps and I do not mean to compare them. But they have enacted laws that forcefully remove children from their parents and subject them to so called industrial schools and fostering. They seek to remove the cultural identity of those children and force a new culture upon them.”
Chepi was born into the void between male and female – the void between First Nation Cree and European Canadian – the void between native mysticism and science. Chepi must forge a new path using her unique abilities that may be a burden or a priceless gift. Chepi will touch the lives of many and change their life-paths, but Chepi will always be separate and alone.
This is part of the introduction to my next novel Chepi The Butterfly Effect due out next month. The theme of this, (and indeed the novel in progress right now. Title: Always Leoti.) is the life of an outsider.
In both these cases I created First Nation or Native American primary characters because in my view these people have been the ultimate outsiders. Here are a few lines from Leoti that are illustrative:
“I am sorry I have worried you my husband. I thank you for letting me be still and absent from you. As you say, demons have been at me and I have been fighting them. I can’t describe it, it is too complex but if I say that I have been coming to terms with the fact I am an orphan it might explain this struggle. I am a cultural orphan and I am orphaned from my family too. I think you know this feeling well my Aaron. You too are this kind of orphan yes.”
Aaron is from Belfast, as am I, and he too is a ‘cultural orphan.’
This feeling of not belonging, even in the country of ones birth, is fundamental in both these books.
Right now in the world, outsiders and cultural orphans face monumental challenges as rampant nationalism gains traction. In so many cases, those propagating and exploiting division and fear do so for the most crass motives, personal power and financial gain.
Those in power distract their followers with lies and fear and forget they and those that follow them were once outsiders, were once displaced and despised.
Our common humanity is degraded and history forgotten.
These two novels are my small attempt to remind us that all humanity share the same needs and value the same fundamental morals. We are all outsiders and we all need to feel wanted and included.