Hackney loop, Lee River and canals

canal by Hackney Marsh

An 8 mile walk we did a couple of weeks ago, on a glorious Sunday morning. We headed across Hackney Downs and Clapton to Hackney Marsh, along Lee River towards the Olympics bit, then crossed to Hertford Union Canal, passing Victoria Park and back along Regent’s Canal. Canals full of boats – I don’t think I’ve seen this many boats around in the height of summer, people everywhere, glad to be out of winter coats. Lee River sparkling in the sun, magnolias out, a lovely spring morning.

canal by Hackney Wick

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Victoria Park was positively heaving with people, we looked for quieter paths. Tourists claimed Regent’s Canal path, to the annoyance of cyclists and joggers and you could tell Broadway Market would have been packed. We stopped at Duke’s Brew and Que for sustenance and a pint instead before heading home.

Victoria park Hackney loop

Regent's canal by Queensbridge Road

 

So good to have this practically at our doorstep.

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Just read, The Chateau by William Maxwell

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Oh dear, I haven’t been posting much lately, I haven’t been posting at all… What has happened is that I have thoroughly underestimated how much time I’d have to spend on study this time around. I’ve been studying part time for several years, inching my way to a history degree while working. I’ve been enjoying it immensely but the course I’m doing at the moment, on 20th century just has a huge amount of reading – some compulsory but mostly it’s all been so interesting that I can’t quite help myself so I read more and more: have already bought 14-15 books on top of what’s available through my course so this has basically taken over my life… Anyway, William Maxwell’s The Chateau arrived a few months ago as part of my Daunt fiction subscription and I picked it up – not deliberately other than on some subconscious level, perhaps, just as we were studying postwar reconstruction in Europe and Marshall Plan. As it happens, Harold and Barbara Rhodes, the couple at the centre of the story travel to France in 1948 to spend the summer and it was interesting to compare a fictional account with the political, social and economic I studied. It is a grand tour of sorts, albeit one that deals with search for friendships and intimacy rather than art and architecture of the old world. Barbara and Harold are a happy couple but many of the characters they meet are not. For the French, there are burdens of years spent under German occupation, of wartime destruction, rationing. The Americans, on the other hand, appear to have it all, confidence, youth, nylon stockings, sugar and hunger to see, experience, do.  Much of the story takes place at the chateau where Barbara and Harold spend a couple of weeks and later in Paris where they see some of the people they’d met at the chateau again. There are uncomfortable silences, stilted conversations and misunderstandings, not helped by the language barrier when all Barbara and Harold want is to be accepted, to be open with everyone they meet, to make friends. Barbara and especially Harold spend a lot of time worrying whether they have said or done the right thing, hurt when it seems that someone they’d reached a level of intimacy with one day, reverts back to coolness or aloofness next time they meet. I enjoyed this book a lot, it is a wonderful study of character, what we present to the world and what we keep inside. Beautifully written and engaging, it’s a rewarding read. I’ve already passed it on for others to enjoy. I think it will be doing the rounds for some time.

 

Thames path Kew to Victoria

First walk in ages and a fantastic day for it on Saturday. We met Beloved’s Pater familias at Kew, where we looked at fabulous orchids, then walked the Thames path to Barnes. Pater familias and M left us here while Beloved and I continued along the path to Victoria. 12 miles in total – a good length considering we haven’t walked for a very long time.

kew gardens

 

We were at Kew as the gardens opened to public in glorious sunshine on Saturday morning. Spring in the air (finally!) and snowdrops on the ground (yay!)

snowdrops

 

Also crocus carpets, I do love a carpet of flowers!

crocus carpet

 

Mindful of holding everyone up, I resisted the urge to throw myself on the ground and take lots and lots of crocus close up photos, besides the grass was wet. We were also about to go see the orchids – there’s currently an orchid festival at Kew until 9 March and I was about to take a lot more photos.

orchids

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orchid display

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Pater familias said that Kew relies on volunteers to help bring the annual festival about, sounds like a marvellous thing to be involved in. There is also a new hybrid orchid Kew created for this year, a speckly fuchsia and white, which you can buy. Unfortunately, I couldn’t carry one with me but wouldn’t mind going back to get it now that I’ve finally learned how to look after orchids. I’d recommend visiting Kew while the orchid displays are still on, although best to do this early in the morning, it was already getting busier as we left.

Leaving Kew Gardens, we walked along the Thames path to Barnes, this stretch of river is lovely and quiet.

tree by thames

 

Barnes itself was busier, we stopped for coffee and at the farmers market where I picked up a couple of apples for sustenance and then continued, on our own towards Hammersmith. We used to live in Hammersmith years ago and haven’t been back to the area much, the riverside in particular has been built up a lot since we moved.

birds on old barge

 

Still, nice to see that not everything has been gentrified. In particular, the stretch around Putney and going into Battersea, the Imperial Wharf on the other side with all the new and newish builds is still completely characterless. Property developers eager to attract custom cover the empty retail units with posters of cappuccino drinkers, romantic looking couples and people with laptops – see, all so multipurpose! They seem very keen on cappuccino drinkers and also on ‘zen’ gardens – every newish development had tiny green spaces that had obviously been landscaped but not in a good way. Nothing nice to look at and even the pint of ale we stopped for at a pub in Putney lacked character. This old power station on the other side was the only interesting building for miles.

old power station

 

We thought about finishing the walk at Battersea bridge and getting the bus back home but decided against this, the last few miles had been fairly depressing looks wise so we thought going past Battersea Park and towards Victoria would at least give us nicer things to look at.

v&a bridge ahead

 

Beloved later said we should have continued onto Vauxhall as Victoria was very busy, as usual with travellers of all sorts. All in all, Saturday was a walk of two halves, from the beauty of Kew Gardens, a quiet and peaceful Thames path to Hammersmith and then the visual assault and the soullessness of the built up stretch of the river. Still, the weather was pretty glorious throughout and we got some much needed exercise.

Coconut and cranberry granola

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I’ve become pretty good at making granola regularly – so much cheaper than buying it on way to work. Have recently started using coconut oil with great results so I thought I’d post a recipe:

In a bowl, mix 400g rolled oats with 4 tablespoons each of: wheatgerm, flaxseed, linseed, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds and desiccated coconut. I also added around 50g ground almonds to the above granola because they were nearing expiry date but I’ve made the same recipe without and it’s fine. You can also add other seeds or nuts. Melt 4 tablespoons of coconut oil and add 4 tablespoons of honey to combine, then add the wet ingredients to the dry and mix well. Bake in an oven preheated to 150C fan for about 30 minutes, turning the granola every 10 or so minutes until it’s browned. Add a packet of dried cranberries (100g) to the finished granola and leave to cool, then put in an airtight container. This quantity usually lasts me for 3 weeks and I have it with a combination of soy milk and Greek yoghurt.

A good loaf

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A marvellous, plump loaf of sourdough from last week. Since I’ve been keeping two sourdough starters, I’ve been experimenting with using both, adding progressively more starter to the dough over the past couple of months. My proving basket is now too small so I used a ceramic bowl for this loaf, lined with double layer of muslin – I’ve used the muslin before so it’s nicely floured. It expanded beautifully in the oven – as you can see from the slashes. Next time I make bread, I’ll try to remember to measure how much of each starter I’ve used so I can post up a recipe – I’m still keeping to 500g flour (mix of white and wholemeal) and 58-60% hydration because with this quantity of starters, 65% hydration makes the dough too wet to handle. The final loaf was quite big – I cut it into thirds and froze two pieces. Going to have the last of it today I think.

Recent books, fiction

A group book post since I never got around to posting up recent reads individually. To be frank, none were amazing so I may as well bundle them together. First up, A Valley of Unknowing by Philip Sington, one of the books Daunt sent me last year as part of the fiction subscription. It took me a while to get through it, I stopped half way a month or so ago and only picked it up again last week in order to get it done, not because I was particularly enjoying it. It takes place in East Berlin during the early/ mid eighties and deals with fear, paranoia, insecurities – the usual sort of Eastern Block stuff and love. I found it tough going because there wasn’t anything particularly redeemable or interesting about the main character. I hoped this would change but it didn’t and there was no real depth to any of the other characters, even the love interest. Afraid I get bored with inner monologues that go on forever and this book felt like a one long inner monologue. It’s not meditative or poetic like a Kundera book and I just found it lacking depth overall.

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Beloved gave me S by J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst for Christmas, which I enjoyed a lot more than the above. This story within a story within a story is a bit meta and took a while to get into and focus but once I did, I read it pretty quickly. It’s had quite a bit of press for the innovative design – it features a ‘book’ called Ship of Theseus by a chap called V.M. Straka, which a college girl finds in a library with some handwritten notes, she writes notes of her own and thus begins correspondence with a postgrad student to whom Straka’s book belongs. The pair also leave ephemera for each other in the book as they attempt to unravel mysteries and conspiracies surrounding the identity of author, his translator and various other interwar figures. As they correspond, their relationship deepens.

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The outer packaging and the inner book. The relationship in the notes, ‘written’ in different colour pens over time (photo below) I found more interesting and engaging than the story of  Ship of Theseus, although this was pretty good too. The actual search for Straka’s identity I found less plausible, mainly because here the fiction (Straka and the circle of people presumed to be Straka) is occasionally interwoven with real events and real characters. The historical elements, I thought, could have been better researched. The search for Straka’s identity then also slowly develops into discovery of a love story so on top of everything else there are several layers of love stories and not all of them work equally well. On top of that (see, full on meta!), the authors have left a few unsolved mysteries for readers to look into. So we’re in Lost territory and I was not a fan. Otherwise, I liked the idea of S, it reminded me a little of William Boyd and the trick he played on the gullible art world with the imaginary artist Nat Tate – although I am not sure whether Boyd deliberately set out to trick anyone. I liked the interactive elements and I liked the commitment it required of the reader. Example of the ‘interior’ below.

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Finally, some quick sci fi/ fantasy kindle reads. Alif the Unseen by G Willow Wilson won several awards last year and sounded interesting: Arab spring, hacktivism, religion with elements of fantasy. Interestingly, I liked the religion bit the most – place of faith in modern society. The story revolved around a manuscript, a sort of an opposite of A Thousand and One Nights and I wished the manuscript text featured more, also the djinn, the ‘unseen’ supernatural characters. They were more interesting than the main characters, who were not particularly well developed and neither was the ending. An OK read I guess.

The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi, I found out later, has been dubbed ‘biopunk’. This book, too, won awards a few years back and I enjoyed the concept although it wasn’t too original: Earth with fossil fuels used up, rising water levels and temperatures a la Drowned World, corporations engineering foods and AI and everything else. It’s fast paced and fun although it was running out of steam towards the end. Same with Redshirts by John Scalzi – this I haven’t even finished because it was running out of steam half way through. Struggled to about 70 something percent (on kindle again) but there’s no point in continuing. Beloved had to explain what ‘redshirts’ meant in Star Trek terms but Scalzi also does this, it seems unnecessarily. No idea why this book also won awards and that’s all I’ve got to say about that.

Back with Seville orange marmalade

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I haven’t posted anything in nearly two months! Not very good at all but I’m back now with a veritable party of marmalade jars, all freshly made this morning. Unlike last year, my first making any sort of preserve, I got better organised in advance, freeing up jars and using a mandolin to cut the peel (and a finger) as last year’s was quite thick cut. This year’s is very fine cut. Very pleased with the result even though I had to free up a few more jars last minute because there’s quite a lot of it – perhaps not all that much better organised… Ended up with 11 and a half jars (total marmalade party) of various sizes out of 1.6kg Seville oranges at a total cost of £10. If that’s not a good enough reason to make marmalade at home, I don’t know what is.

While I haven’t done much baking over the past couple of months, I’ve continued making sourdough bread using a mix of white and rye starters. Didn’t think I’d really keep two starters going but I’ve gotten used to it and I like the end product. White starter gives the loaf a good rise while the rye gives texture. I’ve been experimenting with hydration and am now happy with around 60% – I think sourdough purists would raise an eyebrow (usual amount is around 65%) but with the amount of starters I add, any more water just makes a flatbread not a loaf. I still end up with a good amount of air, here’s this weekend’s loaf – one note to self though, must sharpen knives…

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