I came to the realization many years ago that I like big, strong, even aggressive tastes: cheddars so sharp they make your eyes water, curries in general, though preferably fairly hot, garlic-heavy Middle-Eastern mezes, chilli-saturated Mexican dishes, hugely fruity Aussie wines, and thumpingly, almost aggressively flavoured whiskies. — Iain Banks in Raw Spirit: In Search of the Perfect Dram
I can smell garlic, cumin, nutmeg, cardamom, ginger and butter-braised lamb as I approach our Kitchen… All welcome smells, especially on this raw, rainy afternoon on this Scottish estate where the temperature will be hard pressed to reach freezing.
It’ll be a day of naps, reading and noshing for most of the Estate staff who can avoid going out into the raw weather. Rebekah, our newish Kitchen staffer who’s from Haifa, uses a day like this to do a stunning array of Jewish sweeks, to wit date-filled hamantash, krembo (a chocolate-coated marshmallow treat), rugelakh, some filled with raspberry jam and some filled with chocolate, and even ma’amoul, small shortbread pastries filled with dates, pistachios or walnuts.
And that yeasty smell that is ever appreciated is freshly baked whole wheat sourdough rolls more than warm enough to warrant butter and the jam of your choice on them are present as will. Join me in the Kitchen after you peruse this Edition.
April starts our book reviews off with a work from Charles de Lint: ‘Part murder mystery, part horror story, Mulengro is a de Lint urban fantasy of a different sort. Set in and around modern day Ottawa, the novel is, above all else, a study in colliding cultures, namely those of Rom and Gaje (all that is not Rom), that which is resilient yet transitory and that which is possessive.’
Cat has a caution about Boneland, an Alan Garner work he listened to: ‘Let’s start off with what Boneland isn’t: despite sharing a primary character with The Weirdstone of Brisingame andThe Moon of Gomrath, beloved children’s novels known as The Alderley Tales that were published in 1957 and 1964, this is very much an adult novel not intended for the pleasure of children whatsoever. Indeed its tone is more akin to what the late Robert Holdstock did in his Ryhope Wood series than anything else Alan Garner has done excepting Thursbitch and Strandloper.’
Denise is an unabashed Sookie Stackhouse fan (don’t know that name? Maybe you’ve heard about the television show True Blood? Thought so.) So when author Charlaine Harris came out with The Complete Sookie Stackhouse Stories, she gave it a look. And she liked what she saw. ‘It’s good to be back in Bon Temps y’all. Reading these stories felt like I was slipping on my favorite pair of jean shorts and settling into the front porch swing. Fans of Sookie will definitely feel the same. A tall cool glass of sweet tea is optional, but highly encouraged.’
Robert has a look at one of a series that has become rather more than a mere series. In this case, it’s Kage Baker’s The Machine’s Child: ‘What Baker is doing is putting together an extended mega-novel with all of time and all of humanity as its focus. By this stage of the game, it’s become something on the order of Wagnerian opera, but accomplished with characters and relationships rather than with musical leitmotifs.’
Films start first as scripts that are continuously amended as circumstances require. Denise looks at Neil Gaiman and Roger Avary’s Beowulf: The Script Book: ‘Unlike most people, I have fond memories of reading Beowulf in high school. Maybe that’s why I’m writing for GMR rather than some other site. But the tale of a hero riding in to save the day — and rip the arm off of a monster with his bare hands — was fantastic to my highschool D&D playin’ eyes. I like barbarians, what can I say? So I figured the script book would be just as interesting.’
Ahh Time Bandits. Not ‘tall surprisingly, Kage, author of the aforementioned, time spanning The Company series, loved it: ‘Time Bandits was a critical and commercial hit. Blessed with a cast that included Sir Ralph Richardson as the Supreme Being, David Warner as Evil, and Sean Connery as King Agamemnon (and a fireman), Time Bandits is a classic magical adventure story in the mold of E. Nesbit’s books, but with an updated edge and a sharper sense of humor. Unlike most candy-coated parables handed out to kids, it tells no lies and ends in a brutal and surprisingly exhilarating way.’
As Hallowe’en has come and gone, thoughts turn from Fun Size treats to things more substantial. Denise tore into a bar of Alter Eco Dark Blackout 85% Cocoa Chocolate Bar, and paused just long enough to jot down a review. ‘If this is the kind of stuff Alter Eco puts out, I’m eager to try more. Read on to find out exactly what this dark-but-not-too-dark chocolate lover thought about this treat.’
April reviews the first volume in an ongoing series by David Petersen: ‘The year is 1152, treachery is afoot, and the Mouse Guard, defenders of all mice, must suss out the traitor in their midst before the Guard is destroyed. So goes the basic plot of Mouse Guard: Fall 1152, a graphic novel collection of Petersen’s award-winning comic. And just so there’s no confusion, Mouse Guard isn’t a nickname or colloquialism — the protagonists really are mice, the small, furry rodent kind.’
Blowzabella is one of our favourite groups here, so a tune book by them is a great treat! Barb, a practicing muiscian and music teacher, is the reviewer for Blowzabella — New Tunes for Dancing. She says it is ‘a fabulous collection of 130 tunes that have been composed by various members of the band over the years and is supplemented by a wealth of other information: a history of the group, dance instructions, personal histories by ten musicians, photos, discography, and a membership history (complete with a listing of instruments and makers). It is a volume both dancers and musicians will appreciate.’
Gary reports from the mysterious frontier portrayed in the music of Gun Outfit. Their new album Out of Range, he says, is ‘a guitar-laden melange of cosmic Americana, psychedelia and desert airiness, recognizable to fans of the Flying Burrito Brothers, Meat Puppets, Giant Sand and the like.’
Gary also reviews a new album by American singers Jolie Holland and Samantha Parton, founders of the Be Good Tanyas. Wildflower Blues, he says, ‘… has a slightly ramshackle, down-home vibe … that fits these songs and musicians well.’
Kim exclaims of Gjallarhorn’s Grimborg that ‘What is it about Nordic folk music that draws you? Is it the wailing fiddles, the slight dissonance that seems to tap into something very basic? Is it the melodies, the lilt to the tunes? And Gjallarhorn’s magic? Was it the wild cant to the songs that married didgeridoo, fiddle and wild percussion? Or was it the evocative strings? Dear Reader, if you haven’t yet had the Gjallarhorn experience, you’ve missed out!’
What’s the best way to spend a birthday? For some, it’s a rollicking craic with a few hundred of your nearest and dearest. Others prefer a smaller gathering of friends, while there are those who choose to bask in the company of one, and a single candle to commemorate the occasion. Here at GMR, birthdays are typically a whirlwind affair complete with Cook’s famous/infamous Mystery Cake, ‘Birthday’ by The Beatles on the turntable, and, of course, lots of candles. However you celebrate, be sure to be kind to yourself. And remember, it’s not just a birthday, it’s a birth month. And technically a birth year … but until that time machine is perfected, days and months are all we’ll be getting. Probably for the best.
We have something a little out of the ordinary for our Coda this week — a glimpse of something sensuous, hypnotic, and almost tropical to counter the wintery day: Dead Can Dance peform ‘The Lotus Eaters’ live in Den Haag. The song is also found on their ‘best of’ album, Wake.