The Gathering


I have been reading Anne Enright’s The Gathering, winner of the Man Booker Prize 2007.  Bit late, you might think and I would agree.  Impossible now to plug the gaping holes in my reading but like the little Dutch boy attempting to prevent disaster, I keep trying.

Enright examines  memory almost as a good Catholic examines conscience, at times with  gleeful detachment, at others with ensuing guilt, with the innocence of an eight year old and with the grief of a grown woman reassessing her life after the suicide of  her brother as the family gather for the wake.

The book is tender and subtle, as Colm Toibin says, but I am no judge if Enright’s vision of Ireland is ‘brave and original.’  It is an Ireland of thirty years ago, of seventy and of now, of her dreams, of her making and of her ancestry.

The book is about love and disappointment and is  beautiful and quite brilliant, as Joseph O’ Connor says.




The view from my window


Sometimes we imagine ourselves living somewhere else, somewhere where stuff happens and life is exciting, usually when we are elsewhere out and about doing some of the stuff that happens. Then we retreat to our far west coast and begin counting our blessings all over again.



The soft, seedy lighting of this photograph of the cover is quite fitting for a book that starts, ‘First, I’ll tell about the robbery our parents committed. Then about the murders, which happened later.’

Narrated in the voice of a fifteen year old boy whose naiveté   masks the darkness of the tale that unfurls. Dell Parsons the son of Bev, ‘a smiling, talkative only son of Scotch-Irish Alabama backwoods timber estimators – and Keeva Kamper, ‘a tiny, intense, bespectacled woman with unruly brown hair, downy vestiges of which ran down her jawline… and a pale indoor complexion that made her appear fragile –  which she wasn’t.’

The physical description of his parents seemingly at odds with the assertion that they were ‘the least likely two people in the world to rob a bank.’ There is something odd in the mis-match marriage filtered through adolescent eyes and the wise eyes of the the older man.

It is a coming of age story, delightful on one level but so  stark.   Parents in their mid to late thirties ruin their lives and those of their children when they decide to rob a bank. When they are arrested and incarcerated the children never see them again. Dell and his twin sister Berner  have to fend for themselves. Dell’s plans of going to high school, joining the chess club, making new friends and, God forbid, fitting in are over for ever. Berner runs away and Dell is taken over the border to Canada  to live as a backwoodsman almost in complete isolation because his mother had assumed that life in a state orphanage – the only alternative –  would be worse.

Then there is the gruesome, casual murder, but for that – read the book!



A piece of Vienna



The internet is a mixed blessing. Looking up the recipe for the cake I found the history and decided to share.  Could just imagine Franz Sacher – pictured – eating chocolate cake!


When 16 year old apprentice chef Franz Sacher created the Sacher Torte at the court of Prince Metternich in 1832, little did he know the impact his cake would have on chocolate lovers worldwide. The recipe for the Original Sacher-Torte is a well-kept secret, known only to confectioners at Hotel Sacher in Vienna.


7 egg yolks
150 g softened butter
125 g icing sugar
200 g dark chocolate
1 packet (8g) vanilla sugar
7 egg whites
125 g crystal sugar
A pinch of salt
150 g flour
Butter and flour for the mould
150 – 200 g apricot jam, for spreading
Rum, if desired
Whipped cream to garnish

For the glaze:
200 g dark chocolate coating or cooking chocolate
250 g sugar
150-170 ml water

How to make it:

1. Melt the chocolate slowly (ideally in a bain-marie). Meanwhile, mix the butter with the icing sugar and vanilla sugar until creamed. Gradually stir in the egg yolks. Pre-heat the oven to 180 °C. Grease a cake tin with butter and sprinkle with flour. Whip up the egg whites with a pinch of salt, add the crystal sugar and beat to a stiff peak. Stir the melted chocolate into the paste with the egg yolks and fold in the whipped egg whites alternately with the flour. Fill the dough into the tin and bake for around 1 hour.

2. Remove the cake and leave to cool off (to achieve a flat surface turn the cake out on to a work surface immediately after baking and turn it again after 25 minutes).

3. If the apricot jam is too solid, heat it briefly and stir until smooth, before flavouring with a shot of rum. Cut the cake in half crosswise. Cover the base with jam, set the other half on top, and coat the upper surface and around the edges with apricot jam.

4. For the glaze, break the chocolate into small pieces. Heat up the water with the sugar for a few minutes. Pour into a bowl and leave to cool down until just warm to the taste (if the glaze is too hot it will become dull in appearance, but if too cold it will become too viscous). Add the chocolate and dissolve in the sugar solution.

5. Pour the glaze quickly, i.e. in a single action, over the cake and immediately spread it out and smooth it over the surface, using a palate knife or other broad-bladed knife. Leave the cake to dry at room temperature.

Serve with a garnish of whipped cream. If possible, do not store the Sacher Torte in the fridge, as it will “sweat”.

Baking time: approx. 1 hour

Sacher Torte versus Tarta Santiago

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A new cafe in a small seaside town creates a frisson of excitement.  Austrian, no less and from Vienna. Immediately there are thrilling undertones of The Third Man,  to say nothing of sachertorte and pastries.

It gets better! There will be yoga on the beach (couldn’t be a better summer for it) and  occasional literary evenings with local authors -including yours truly and readings from Murielle’s Angel!

We have suggested a bake off,  sachertorte and tarta Santiago –  eggs and chocolate or eggs and ground almonds – the one so Viennese the other so typical of Santiago de Compostela the end of the Camino.

Sadly we have missed St James’ Day on the 25th July but any day with cake can be cause for celebration.




Quietly Getting On

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In the evening, a blackbird sits  on the fence above a straggling rose. He barely blinks and doesn’t seem to mind as I take his photo.  He just sits there every evening about this time as  I  trawl through the manuscript for spelling mistakes and inconsistencies.   Then a little later, after he has gone and I am still trawling,  a speckled version, perhaps a lady blackbird, is on the ground beneath the fence foraging for worms.

There is no great wisdom to be gathered from this observation , or If there is it has passed me by.  I am struck by the  ordinariness of the everyday of the birds going about their ordinary every day business.

Perhaps they will be there until the editing is finished.
Perhaps the editing will never end and the birds and I will be for ever quietly getting on.