Today’s letter is J, and J is for journeys with J.K. Rowling. I have always loved books and reading, however along with this I have a less well known love for audiobooks! When I was little I had LOADS of stories on tape (do you remember having to turn a tape, or wind it on?!), I used to listen to them as I went to sleep, while I played in my room and best of all in the car. For years and years as we traveled up and down the country some of my favourite characters would come too; Moonface and Pixie in The Magic Faraway Tree, Sophie who wanted to be a lady farmer, Triffic the pig, and of course Harry, Ron and Hermione.
The Harry Potter books, written by J.K. Rowling but read by Stephen Fry, were some of the most wonderful books to listen to. Stephen Fry reads perfectly, he has such animation and enthusiasm, but isn’t overpowering and still allows your imagination to do the work. I listened to Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone until I could almost read along with him and the tapes were worn out. The later books we had on CD and they brought hours of pleasure to car journeys – there was less of the ‘are we nearly there yet?’ and more of ‘can we drive round for a little longer?!’ We used to joke that when my mum and I fell asleep in the car (inevitable!) it would just be my dad and Harry driving us the rest of the way – I’m not sure what this did for his street cred, we should probably keep it on the down-low! The best books were always saved for long journeys, but if it was really, really good I could be found sat in the car in the driveway until it reached a point were I could leave.
Recently I seem to have re-found audiobooks, not that I ever really left them, but in a different form. Audible.com has to be the best invention. You can download almost any book you fancy, have it on your ipod, and while everyone else in the world thinks you are just chillin’ with your music on, secretly the geek inside me is on some adventure somewhere far far away!
I have lived in Aberdeen for four almost four years now, and I am now just coming to the end of my time at university here. I can remember so clearly first sitting with my Lonely Planet Scotland book, months before first came, and looking at all of the potential for adventure hidden between the pages. One adventure, or several really, that I have been lucky enough to embark on are visits to a few of Scotland’s beautiful, historical and rugged islands, something that has just left me wanting to see more…Iona…Arran…Islay…here I come!!
So, grab your scarf and your woolly hat (they tend to be a bit blowy) and I’ll show you some of the magical places we visited last summer…
Tiree is about a four hour ferry journey from Oban. It is ten miles long and five miles wide, and is desolate and beautiful. I am told it is one of the sunniest places in Britain, however it is also very windy and know for it’s great windsurfing. We drove straight of the boat into the nothingness and tranquility, and stayed our three nights in the cutest little traditional black and white crofters cottage.
Lewis is the largest island in the Outer Hebrides covering about 683 square miles, it is also home to the largest settlement in the Western Isles, Stornoway. We only visited Stornoway once for provisions, spending most of our time exploring the diverse landscape and travelling along the deserted, sweeping roads and trying not to be blown away in the little wooden wigwam we were staying in. Two golden eagles even came out to play for us!!
Harris is attached to Lewis, and is MUCH more mountainous, meaning fewer inhabited areas, it is also home to the sought after Harris Tweed. It has some of the most breathtaking, sweeping beaches I have ever seen and makes for some very exciting driving!
Last week we took a little day trip to London, and while we were there visited The Hummingbird Bakery. They have six bakeries dotted all over London, but I have never been in, just occasionally drooled at the brightly coloured cupcakes through the window. I have been baking from their cookbooks for years (they are the creator of my go to brownie recipe), and so jumped at the chance to eat the actual thing when pudding was called for!
I went for a carrot cupcake, a recipe I haven’t tried, but now fully intend to. Dom had the real-thing-brownie, topped with it’s own icing sugar Hummingbird, which he claims it wasn’t as quite good as mine…but I think this was probably more of a brownie insurance ploy. And Luke, just out of shot, devoured the biggest piece of red velvet you have ever seen.
Delicious, and most certainly worth a visit if you happen to be passing.
Starbucks used to do this amazing stem ginger muffin, it was literally THE BEST THING and I still feel a pang of sadness that it no longer sits in their cake cabinet as I wait for my coffee (and make do with a lemon and poppy seed instead…a hard life, I know). I appreciate these emotions are a little extreme, it was just a muffin, but it was a really great muffin. It wasn’t a ginger cake in the traditional sense, dark and heavy, but light, airy and slightly sticky with chucks of actual stem ginger lurking within, all topped with a runny ginger icing (YUM). This recipe that I am going to share with you is about the closest I have ever found – it doesn’t make muffins but a big square cake that can be cut into extra large slices when nobody is looking.
The best recipes are always those which live most of their lives scrunched up, sticky and stained in an old recipe book. I think my mum brought this one home from work one day, but we’ve been making it for such a long time now it has sort of become ‘ours’.
Line your tin, the instructions specify a 7 inch cake tin, I’ve always used this handy oblong shaped one which is about 11″ by 7″ and makes good cake squares of a nice thickness but just see what you have in the cupboard! Then dollop into your bowl the butter and sugar and beat them together until nice a fluffy.
Now add your four eggs, extra points if they are as well traveled as mine…these good little eggs were given to me by my mum last week when I was home. Fresh from her chickens and extra dirty, they sat on the back seat of the car as we drove first across the country from Shropshire to near Nottingham, down to Leicester for the day and back again, then all the way up to Aberdeen!
Beat in your eggs one at a time before sieving the flour into the mixture.
I always use this preserved stem ginger that you can buy sitting in syrup, it is super gingery and the syrup is just perfect for the icing we will make later, so hold that thought. Chop up about 3oz – I always add a little more because I love it so much, and chop rather carelessly so that I find extra big chunks in my cake – and then fold into the mixture along with a little slosh of milk.
Finally dollop into your cake tin, spread flat, and prepare to wait patiently as delicious smells fill the room. The cake cooks for 75 minutes – that’s an hour and 15 for the less mathematically minded of us (which is me, every time)!
When a your cake is a golden brown colour and a knife comes out clean it is cooked and, as tempting as it is, let it cool before icing. I promise it will be worth it!
Make up some icing with as much ginger syrup as you can spare, then making the consistency right with a little boiling water. Allow it to drip deliciously into pools down the side of the cake, but make up a bit more thicker icing if it runs straight off the middle of your cake leaving it bare! Then decorate with more preserved or some crystallised chunks of ginger. Finally cut into bite sized (or not-so-bite-sized) pieces.
Iced Ginger Cake
For the cake:
8oz soft brown sugar
4 eggs (well traveled or not!)
10oz self raising flour
3oz preserved ginger (chopped in accordance with your preferences)
2 tablespoons milk
For the icing:
6/8oz icing sugar
What to do:
Grease and line your chosen tin.
Beat the butter and sugar until soft and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Sift the flour and salt into the mixture, then add the chopped ginger and milk. Fold all of this in until it is all well incorporated. Turn mixture out into the prepared tin.
Bake for 75 minutes, above the centre of the oven at 180 degrees C/350 degrees F/gas mark 4.
Once your cake has cooled sieve the icing sugar into a bowl and then add the ginger syrup and a little water until you have a thick but spreadable runny icing. Spread over the top of your cake and allow to run down the sides a little, then decorate with more preserved or crystallised ginger pieces.
I am currently in my forth and final year of an undergraduate degree in Philosophy, and last Friday I handed in my 11,000 word dissertation. It is my very own little contribution to the philosophical conversation and, despite all the late nights in the library, something I really enjoyed writing.
The broad topic was philosophy and literature; more specifically I was looking at how we, as readers, respond emotionally to fiction. It is a rather uncontroversial fact that we respond emotionally to fiction. However I was looking at how this goes further and when a reader is matched with a novel that they find emotionally affecting, and it is read is an attentive way, there is potential for the development of their emotional intelligence.
But what is this emotional intelligence?
Emotional intelligence, or EQ, is a term that was coined by Daniel Goleman in 1995. He uses it to express the awareness of an individual in regards to their own emotions and the ability to communicate, express and deal with emotion effectively. It also refers to being able to get along with others successfully by recognising and understanding their emotions, something that will lead to better relationships, success at work, good personal mental health and good physical health. Goleman claims that emotions matter for rationality as they undoubtedly play a part in guiding our actions therefore emotional intelligence, not just intellectual intelligence (IQ), is important for a successful, rounded and good life.
There have previously been claims that fiction can be beneficial for our emotional and moral development (reasons for which I will not go into just in this short blog post!), however these were only made in accordance with classic, morally serious novels…think Jane Austen, Henry James etc. I took this one step further, claiming that it is not the mirroring of the exact realities of our lives that allows us to relate to those of the characters but the presence of some universal human traits such as free will, morality and emotion itself. These are the things that we relate to and start to recognise as similar even in the most fantastical situation. Fiction allows us a sort of rehearsal for real life; of course it will never be quite the same as feeling emotion in actuality but it can prepare us for dealing with difficult or new emotion, or for helping us to understand why others may react so differently, and hopefully teaching us to be more tolerant.
So this, in a couple of hundred words, is the bare bones of my dissertation. I supplemented my work with examples from Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials – a fantasy trilogy which, I felt, had some sort of emotional effect on me when I first read them at about the age of 13. One of the most interesting things I found when telling people about the work I was doing was that everyone immediately wanted to tell me about a book that stood out for them, what they had learnt from it, and the effect this had had on them. This was something that I couldn’t really talk about in my philosophy work where the focus is on theory and argument rather than this sort of evidence. Although it did play a part in they way I went on to stress the importance of the individual, their choice of novel and a personal interpretation of it.
So, I thought I would put the question out to the big wide world right here…what is the novel that springs to your mind when you hear this? Do you have one? It might be a novel that sticks in your mind for days on end… and story that has influenced how you live your life, or one that helped you deal with a difficult situation. Maybe your story isn’t a novel, but a film or poem…leave me a comment, let me know what you think :)
For more information on EQ: Daniel Goleman, Emotional Intelligence (Bloomsbury Publishing: London, 1995)
For theories on emotion in literature: Jenefer Robinson, Deeper Than Reason: Emotion and its Role in Literature, Music, and Art (Clarendon Press: Oxford, 2005)
Some parts of this blog post have been taken from my own dissertation.
I had a text from my mum this morning telling me about the inspirational people she had bumped into while she was in our local town this morning. She asked if I had a theme for my ‘d’ blog today as these amazing people were walking from Dover to Carlisle…the kind of challenge that is right up her street (any excuse to do something slightly crazy for a good cause)!! To my delight they also have a blog you can look at and so I asked her to write me a little piece about them, here is what she had to say…
“I was just walking back to the car when I saw a lady checking her map, it always takes me right back to being lost somewhere between John O’Groats and Lands End and so I stopped to ask where she was headed. I didn’t expect her to say Carlisle! It transpired that John and Nancy are walking from Dover to Carlisle to raise money for a Christian Aid Project, Transforming Women’s Lives in Afghanistan through education and community development. What an inspirational team they are, they have a blog too, so not only are they walking every day, Nancy also takes time to write and share their adventures.”
Their blog is definitely worth a look, here is the link. Have a read of their adventures, maybe you can help them towards their cause, and if you live somewhere else along their route you absolutely must keep an eye out for them. Good luck John and Nancy!