Apologies for not having posted more from this visit to London. It’s been such a blur I’ve had a hard time remembering what I’ve done the day before, much less managing to write it down in either the blog or the trusty trip journal I like to keep.
I can blame at least part of the failure-to-post on the Droid. This was my first trip overseas with my Android phone, having switched from a Blackberry after my visit to London last February. I’d loved uploading photos to Facebook from the Blackberry, so it was quite a shock to learn I’d used almost the entire data package I’d bought for the trip my first two hours in London. Needless to say that nixed posting pics from the phone. I learned, however, that I can take pictures with the phone, then turn on data roaming, email the pics to myself, then turn the data roaming off again and post the pictures from my laptop.
Hence my little pictorial essay from yesterday’s visit to St. Pancras Station (and no, spellcheck, I do NOT mean St. Pancreas!) although I do miss the fun of immediate sharing.
Yesterday afternoon I paid a quick call at my UK publisher, Pan Macmillan, in New Wharf Road, which is just round the corner from King’s Cross. So, a perfect opportunity to make what has become my ritual visit to St. Pancras. Since I was there last, the restoration scaffolding has come down, the St Pancras Renaissance London Hotel is open, and while I haven’t been in to have a look myself, I highly recommend their website for lovely pictures of the station–much better than mine–as well as some interesting history.
I was on a mission to buy my favorite tea at the Peyton and Byrne shop in the station’s lower concourse, but they were OUT of loose tea! Any sort of loose tea! No idea when they might have it again. Sigh.
But my disappointment was somewhat alleviated by the live music performances in the concourse, part of an ongoing series called The Station Sessions. First, a girl called Lexy, who I thought was very good, then a singer named Charlie Simpson who used to be in a band called Busted. As I couldn’t see much over the crowd, I went upstairs and watched from the upper concourse railing for a while, but was not too thrilled with the view of the the tops of the band’s heads and sound muffled by the glass railing.
So I abandoned the bands for the last part of the ritual pilgrimage, the glass of champagne at Searcy’s, the champagne bar on the station’s upper level. I sipped, watched two Eurostar trains pull out, and dreamed of the Orient Express . . . Oh, and a room at the St. Pancras Renaissance London Hotel wouldn’t be half bad, either.
Sunday, October 2, 2011
DEBORAH CROMBIE: The first time I had Sticky Toffee Pudding was in London, at the Oriel Brasserie in Sloane Square. A very English desert for such a French restaurant, but oh, my, I was hooked. They served it warm (as it should be) with a swirl of toffee sauce and a dollop of creme fraiche (and I still think the slight tanginess of the creme fraiche makes the perfect foil for the sweet, steamed cake.)
Alas, the Oriel took the Sticky Toffee off the menu, and now the Oriel itself is gone, a victim of redevelopment. I’ve had many Sticky Toffees since, but am still looking for one to compare.
Nor have I made it, as the recipes always seemed a bit overwhelming, but here is one that I’m definitely going to try, from the gloriously English Nigella Lawson. Apologies for the metric measurements, but if you go to the recipe on Nigella’s web page, there’s a handy conversion table. (Oh, and muscovado sugar is dark, raw sugar, so a good US equivalent would probably be Succanat.)
FOR THE CAKE:
- 100g dark muscovado sugar
- 175g self-raising flour
- 125ml full-fat milk
- 1 egg
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 50g unsalted butter, melted
- 200g chopped, rolled dates
FOR THE SAUCE:
- 200g dark muscovado sugar
- Approx. 25g unsalted butter in little blobs
- 500ml boiling water
- Preheat the oven to 190°C/gas mark 5 and butter a 11/2-litre capacity pudding dish.
- Combine the 100g dark muscovado sugar with the flour in a large bowl. Pour the milk into a measuring jug, beat in the egg, vanilla and melted butter and then pour this mixture over the sugar and flour, stirring – just with a wooden spoon – to combine. Fold in the dates then scrape into the prepared pudding dish. Don’t worry if it doesn’t look very full: it will do by the time it cooks.
- Sprinkle over the 200g dark muscovado sugar and dot with the butter. Pour over the boiling water (yes really!) and transfer to the oven. Set the timer for 45 minutes, though you might find the pudding needs 5 or 10 minutes more. The top of the pudding should be springy and spongy when it’s cooked; underneath, the butter, dark muscovado sugar and boiling water will have turned into a rich, sticky sauce. Serve with vanilla ice cream, creme fraiche, double or single cream as you wish.
Saturday, October 1, 2011
DEBORAH CROMBIE: Whenever I go to England, I realize I live a very insulated, smoke-free life at home in Texas. I am a non-smoker. No one smokes in my family (my husband quit a year ago, thank goodness, and even when he smoked, he never smoked in the house, in the car, or in public places.) No one is ever allowed, on pain of death, to smoke in my car, and when I go out it’s usually to smoke-free shops and restaurants.
So it’s always a bit of shock to be thrown into the midst of very public London, where people smoke on the streets, and there is a whole new culture of pavement-smoking outside restaurants, pubs, and clubs. Suddenly I have to remind myself that at least some characters in my books should smoke. This is not so much a matter of approval or disapproval, but simply that as a non-smoker, smoking doesn’t occur to me.
While certainly bad for one’s health, smoking has always provided a nice “bit of business”, both on the page and screen. It’s something for your characters to do while they have a conversation (other than drink endless cups of tea.) It can convey an emotional state such as agitation or nonchalance, or give subtle insights into character (I’ve loved Sergeant Hathaway’s attempts to give up smoking in the recent episodes of Lewis), class, or background. (Think James Bond here…) Camel or Silk Cut? Does the smoker carelessly put out the stubs in old cups of coffee, or tamp them out and tuck them away in a plastic baggie?
And with many of the popular retro shows like Mad Men, or The Hour (I’ve yet to see if they will smoke on Pan Am, but am horrified to remember that people actually used to smoke on airplanes!) smoking is once again being shown in a glamorous light (excuse the pun.)
As a reader, I like to play a little guessing game about whether or not the writer is a smoker–if almost every character in a novel smokes, I’m inclined to think the writer (I could name a few) does, too. But at the moment, I’m halfway through Felix Francis’s new novel, Gamble, and I’ve just realized that not a single character has been seen smoking. I’d be willing to bet (excuse another pun) that Felix Francis does not.
JAN BROGAN: I think the characters should smoke if you think that’s part of who they are. I had a teenager in Teaser smoking because I thought that’s what she’d be doing and I wanted my reporter Hallie Ahern to show she had good getting-people-to-talk skills by allowing the young girl to smoke in her car even though it was driving her out of her mind.
I’m thinking of setting my next novel in southern France, where at least half the French characters must smoke.
DEBS: Yes, the French and the Italians are all big smokers, but the red wine and olive oil probably keep them from getting cancer . . .
HALLIE EPHRON: I’m writing a novel in which the main character’s dysfunctional alcoholic mother smokes. As Jan says, it’s essential to the character.
It’s pretty astounding how much public has changed about smoking. My husband brought home a “Rugged Men” magazine from the 50s. It’s a real period piece, soft porn and enlightening article, like “Let’s Get Rid of the Girls Who Shake Their Cans” by Dunwoodie Hall. In it there’s an article that dismisses the “health scares” of smoking and concludes, “Thus, it can literally be said, ‘Smoke–And live longer!’”
ROSEMARY HARRIS: I’ve had a few characters smoke, but no main characters. If they’re going to die, I’d rather kill them off in my own way.
HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Huh!Not to give anything way, but you’ve made me realize that the people in my books who smoke–are the bad guys!
(I tried smoking in college. Once. ONCE! My best friend Hallie (a different Hallie!) and I shopped for the coolest package. Montclair, navy blue with a gold crest. I took one puff at age 17, choked, tipped over the ashtray onto my bedspread, burned a hole in the blanket and that was the end of that.)
The good part about people smoking in books–it give them something to do, you know? And it can be very dramatic, a la Bette Davis.
JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: I’ve just realized that I’ve had exactly one smoker in my books – and that was because it was necessary for the plot. I’m like you, Deb, never smoked, no one in my family or circle of friends smoke, so it rarely crosses my mind. Since smokers tend to fall into a few distinct groups nowadays, I think having a cigarette-user makes more of a statement about the character than it once might have. We have the 80-year-old Dan Drapers and Joan Holloways who haven’t died off yet. Young people still light up for the same reasons they always did – smoking is way down in high schools but on the upswing on college campuses. And increasingly cigarette smoking is a class marker, with a sharp divide in smoking rates between socioeconomic and education levels.
This has definitely given me food for thought! I’m going to go back over my current work-in-progress and see who might profitably be made a nicotine fiend.
DEBS: Interesting, Julia. Yes, there are beginning to be class issues associated with smoking, but one can’t make blanket assumptions. My husband fought a forty-year battle with nicotine addiction–and I do mean BATTLE. We learned some very interesting things when he was finally able to quit (we certainly hope for good.) One is that there are take-it-or-leave-it smokers. I was one. I smoked in my teens and gave it up at twenty without a bit of bother. And there are some for whom nicotine addiction is worse, and harder to kick, than heroin. It apparently has to do with the difference in the chemical receptors in people’s brains. The same seems to be true for alcohol addiction, except that the take-it-or-leave-it percentage is much greater for alcohol than for nicotine. It’s much, much easier to be a social or occasional drinker than an occasional smoker.
So all food for thought, and for creating interesting characters.