There's no logic in Christmas puddings.

I won't bother writing the recipe down, as I posted it last year, but here are a few photos of this year's Christmas pudding making.

 Old trusty recipe. Half made up, half copied from various books. Thoroughly imprecise. Vague quantities. 

 This is what we use for sugar: the gunk at the bottom of last year's pekmez bottle. We buy it in Cappadocia from a friend of a friend who makes it with white grapes, which is nicer than the stuff you buy in the markets and is made with black grapes. Apparently.

 Fruit, spices, more fruit, candied peels. The sherry is mine. I've nearly ran out and forgot to order more supplies. I'm worried I won't last the winter.

 This year I had to do without the mango amchoor powder as we'd run out. Instead I used what may or may not have been mace. It smells like pepper. I put a lot in. Just to see.

 Diogene asked that I put in this photo of him, as opposed to one when he was trying to nick the fruit, stick his paws in the mix, or knock down jars.

 The traditional family stir up. Efes dark in the background. That's Guinness substitute to you.

Glass bowls, some grease proof paper and a bit of string.


We decided to use one and a half time the quantities, for some reason we ended up with twice as many puddings. There's very little logic in puddings.


The shocking truth about Marie-Antoinette, by the hon. Edmund Burke.

August 1795, London.

It is with great sorrow that I find myself obligated to report, for the sake of posterity, on a grave but thoroughly excusable mistake I have made. I am, I most shamefully admit, too much of a coward to share my recent observations with my own colleagues. The queen has been executed, and I do not want to sacrifice my reputation along with hers. I can still do some good for my country by holding the values I have always defended against those who would throw us into a senseless and bloody uprising.

It has come to my notice via a certain friend of my old enemy Price, that it was possible to publish one's thoughts for posterity without fear that they would be known during my lifetime. Though I am ignorant of the mechanics I have no choice but to avail myself of this method.


Portrait of Autism #18

'He's not autistic', he tells me, three lines into our conversation. 
It's my son, he's talking about, not his own, the three-year-old struggling to escape from his father's grasp so he can slide down to play on the floor. Not quite his business, you may think. Except of course, that I'm at the special education centre, where autism is everybody's business. He tries to explain, but he struggles, as his English is not what it used to be – he studied at an English language university, as I know from a previous meeting. Max can speak, he wants to say, he's friendly, so he's not autistic. I point out that even now that Max has made so much progress, we're still experiencing quite a few difficulties related to his autism. The fact that if the slightest thing freaks him out at school he refuses to go the next day, and is incapable of telling us why. The fact that he still has temper tantrums that make us worry the neighbours will report us to security, again. The fact that the rare conversations we have with him are only ever about what he's drawing or transportation, who lives where and where we're going to on holiday. Not that I'm complaining: it's wonderful that he can speak at all, the tantrums are a fraction of what they used to be and he goes to school often enough that he's actually learning stuff.


A very zombie love affair

After a long silence, we hear again from our eighteenth century correspondent, Mary Wollstonecraft who has much to relate of her  philosophical progress since she last wrote here.

I am sitting down to write this half-way between Paris and Lille which I hope to reach before tomorrow night. I am tired from the journey, and being with child has affected my capacity to reminisce – nonetheless, dear loyal reader, I will now attempt to bring back with words some of the painful events that have plagued me since I last wrote here.

'Tis two years now since I fled infected London for Paris – two wonderful, peaceful years, when the only upsetting events were the occasional loss of a dear friend to the guillotine. 'Tis in Paris that I met my dear beloved Imlay, adored companion and father of my child to be. France is mercifully free of zombies. I believe the revolutionary practice of using the guillotine often and plenty has so far prevented a general infection of the country: the blade that slices through the neck is democratic enough in that it kills zombies and royalists alike. M. Guillotine, I should note, was one of the early proponents of the view to which I fully subscribe that in order to destroy a zombie and prevent it from rising again, one should separate its head from its body.


Midnight in Manhattan

Is it just me or has Woody Allen taken to recycling scenes in his dotage?


First catch your pumpkin: a recipe.

I' ve always felt a bit iffy about recipes that start with 'First, catch a rabbit'. I think Mrs. B used it, but given she was a London journalist, and she' d never set foot any where she could have caught a rabbit, one would be justified in thinking it was done for show.
So for readers who feel as I do, I apologise for this extravaganza.

First catch a bus, from the Ankara bus station, ASTI, in the direction of Nevsehir. At Nevsehir, get into a smaller bus to Goreme. When you get off, walk to your hotel, greet the owners like the old friends they have become, dump your bags, and go off for a restorative meal and walk.

The next day, hop into a minibus, driven by an even older friend, Zekerya bey, leaving the kids to sit at the back with his daughter, and enjoying the view. Drive south. Make your first stop at the market in Urgup. Feel a bit sad at the sight of the cows and sheep lined up for the coming sacrifice (Kurban Bayram), reflect that they've got it easier than the cows whose bits you buy in the supermarket most week. Let go.

Look at weird stuff, get daughter to ask what it is, taste it - like stewed apples, she says - buy a little, 'cause what the hell. The leaves make good tea, they say.
Study grapes, ripening in wooden crates, lettuces, lined up like wallpaper, nuts, herbs and spices in rolled up vinyl bags. No apples thanks, we'll pick our own, later.

Settle on a pumpkin vendor, ask his price: 1tl a kilo. This small one is three kilos - that's cheap and not too big to carry back.

They have olives! Husband is excited. He thought he'd missed the olive season. Not the olives in jars season, you understand: the raw olive season. He likes to prepare them himself in brine. We buy four kilos.

Next get everything back in the minibus. Drive some more. Stop off to look at some old stone with writing on it. It's not in any of our guides, we've never heard of it before, and have no idea what the writing is. Some really strange hieroglyphs.

A couple more stops: a prehistoric village with houses you can climb into, a monster of a church with Byzantine pretensions, surrounded by a huge monastery complex dug into the stone. No one around: again, this is not in any of our guides.

Our final destination: Soganli. Zekerya bey calls the restaurant ahead to tell them we're coming. They're crowded with two tour groups: but they'll make room for us, we come this time every year.

Out of the bus we fall, Max carrying a huge empty Safeway shopping bag.
The tables are set indoors. Normally we eat in the orchard but it's bloody freezing. But before lunch the ritual. Zekeya shakes the apple trees. The fruit falls every where and the children run and gather it in Max's bag. Zekerya and the restaurant owner cry: 'more! more!'

Bring the bag home after the holiday: fifteen kilos of apples, a pumpkin, some olives, and other essentials.

Carve the pumpkin for Halloween. Use the flesh for a soup, and for a pie.
Put a handful of flesh in a pan with a spoonful of water. Heat it a bit. Don't burn.

Wizz it with a hand mixer. Bang it in the fridge till you need it - it should keep a couple of days.
Mix a small carton of cream with the pumpkin. Add cinammon, crushed allspice, and grate what may or may not be mace into it. Add a bit of sugar, not much.
Prepare a crust: 200 g of white flour, 120g of cold butter, a couple of spoonfuls of sugar and a bit of salt. If you use gluten-free flour, add an egg yolk. Mix with your fingers and don't be ages about it. Add a bit of cold water, roll it, flatten it on some grease proof paper, put the greased pie dish on top, turn it over and make it fit.

Add the pumpkin mix, bang in the oven for about half hour. Take it out to cool, well out of the way of the cat. Eat.


The Piano Tuner: a Halloween Tale.

- 'Shall we watch a horror movie? I ask. It's Halloween. It's what grown ups are supposed to do.'

- 'No.' He says.

He's wet, I think. Afraid he'll have nightmares.

- 'Fine.' I say, resigned. 'Let's go to bed, then.' 

He looks up from his laptop:

- 'Coming. Leave a note for the piano tuner, will you?'

He doesn't mean anything by that. He said it as he sometimes says: 'Don't forget to put the tiger out'. I ignore him: our tiger is very small and it is not allowed out.

In bed, he says it again.

- 'Did you leave a note for the piano tuner?'

So I decide to tease. Is the piano tuner, I ask, a zombie freshly dug out of the grave to eat our brains while we sleep? Is he a vampire, who will knock on our door once and wait politely to be invited, before he bleeds us to death? Is he perhaps an escaped lunatic, carrying with him the dripping head of his previous victim in one hand and a long shiny knife to kill us in the other? Or is Freddy Krueger, with knives for fingers, a rotten face and an old stinky hat, waiting till we drop off to get us in our dreams? Is the piano tuner a small creature with a bent back and a hooked nose and piercing red eyes, who'll paralyse us with his spit and peel off our skin while we watch? Is he a small child with empty eyes, who will send us crashing to the ceiling with his supernatural strength? An old woman with an axe and a mad determined look on her face? Or a doll, even, a clown, anything at all, that I can summon from the films you don't want to watch with me?'

- 'Go to sleep.' he says. 

But now I can't. The piano tuner is coming. I don't know what he is, but I know I should not close my eyes, or he will come for sure. I mustn't get up to check I've locked the door. Walking alone in a dark corridor is not recommended in this scenario. I might as well invite him in. Or go investigate a noise in dark attic by myself. Or find help where I might normally expect it. I look down at the shape of my husband's neck and head, half under the cover. Can I be sure it's him? I wake him just in case. I need to check. I look deep into his sleepy eyes. I have a vague memory that sometimes in films husbands get possessed by evil aliens. Better not to look too hard, then. If I'm lucky he'll wait till I'm fast asleep to murder me. Ignorance is bliss. I would rather die in my sleep. Painlessly, even, maybe.

But in the end, it is painful. I hear footsteps. My arms and legs are pinned to the bed by needles, knives and stakes. I try to hide under the cover, but again it comes for me. I manage to free a leg and I kick. The thing screams an unholy scream. It's a devil, now I know. Can I find enough strength to wake my husband and tell him to find a priest, an Italian, just like in the Exorcist? I fear he may be possessed already, as he's still fast asleep. I steal myself for more pain. I feel it moving towards my head. Will it enter through the mouth, the eyes, the ears? I close my eyes, shut my mouth, cover my ears and wait. And then it purrs. It was the tiger after all.

I put it out. I close the door.

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