Day #14180: The Very Best Things I Read In 2022

I mean, you’re right, it does seem foolishly late to be going on about 2022, as we find ourselves here, already 6.5% of the way through 2023.  But I didn’t get this done before now, so here we are and there we go.  I’ll keep it brief anyway, and let the pretty pictures do most of the work.  Below are some of my favourite things I read last year + my favourite records released in 2023 (I don’t know why, it seems kind of wrongheaded when you think about it, that I do this every year and my books are books published any year and the record are only those released in that year).

My two favourite novels of the year, Hotel Splendid by Marie Redonnet (published in 1986) and Children Of Paradise by Camilla Grudova (published this year) had much in common – both are tales of havens deteriorating, falling to rack and ruin. 

Hotel Splendid is about a hotel built on the edge of a swamp, somewhere, somewhen. It is run by three sisters who argue amongst themselves and try to accommodate the series of workmen who are extending the train track through the swamp. 110 pages of damp, sinking, faulty wiring, blocked pipes, bills, illness and various other types of turmoil. Brief moments of respite shine through the gloom to make all the work seem worthwhile, but the hotel’s trajectory seems inevitable.

The setting for Children Of Paradise is an ailing old cinema, at which the narrator, known only by the pseudonym Holly, is employed.  Taking on a job at the Paradise, she descends into the strange permanent-night of cinema work and finds herself sucked into a dark, dingy and surreal underworld.

I read loads from Fitzcarraldo Editions and they pretty much all hit the spot.  Paradais, the new Fernanda Melchor, dialled back the magical realism of her debut Hurricane Season (my favourite novel of the year a few years back) to become a flat, brutal, desperate tale.  Box Hill by Adam Mars Jones was a beautifully-written eulogy to a time and place.  Best of all was Bonsai by Alejandro Zambra, a slight but perfectly formed novella which I read in one afternoon, sitting in the sun. 

Hand in hand with my year’s favourite works of fiction, I was fascinated by Cal Flynn’s Islands Of Abandonment, and her reports from places in the world that have been abandoned by humans and taken back by nature. 

Now-traditional Extra Music-Bloggery Content: My Favourite Albums Of 2021

BLACK COUNTRY, NEW ROAD – Ants From Up There

CAROLINE – Caroline

JEREMIAH CHIU & MARTA SOFIA HONER – Recordings from the Åland Islands

MITSKI – Laurel Hell

AOIFE NESSA FRANCES – Protector

MOUNDABOUT – Flowers Rot, Bring Me Stones

DRY CLEANING – Stumpwork

CLARICE JENSEN – Esthesis

THE SOFT PINK TRUTH – Is It Going To Get Any Deeper Than This?

 

 

 

 

Short Story #2: Events by Daniil Kharms

Hello, back again with another entry in this series.  Not sure it needs a preamble, except to say it was predictably longer than a week between the first and the second installment.  Quelle surprise!  Oh well.  Here it is, and we’re still in the realm of the super short stuff…

I wanted to do a Kharms story and it was either this or Tumbling Old Women – that’s the one about a series of old women falling from their windows.  It begins:

Because of her excessive curiosity, one old woman tumbled out of her window, fell and shattered to pieces.

Daniil Kharms was a Russian absurdist active in the first half of the 20th century – he wrote stories, plays and children’s fiction and was arrested and exiled for anti-Soviet activity before dying of starvation in a psychiatric ward during the siege of Leningrad.  His short stories are ridiculous and fizz with manic energy and a refusal to bend to logic.

Here’s his short story Events (found in Today I Wrote Nothing: The Selected Writings of Daniil Kharms):


There will follow very little analysis, because I don’t know how to analyse it.  The whole thing is perfect.  It’s short and hectic, a relentless list of people whose sanity is being constantly chipped away at by inconveniences.  It gathers momentum pretty quickly and makes no attempt to explain why the death of Orlov seems to prompt this domino effect – or even if the series of deaths are connected.  Each of them is ridiculous

fell from the cupboard

and very funny. 

Our instinct is to look for meaning as each of the characters inevitably breaks down – as readers we are always looking to interpret everything, to search for meaning, whereas Kharms makes me think of this quote from Rene Magritte:

When people ask, “What does this mean?” they are afraid.  They express a wish that everything should be understandable.

We cannot hope to understand Orlov, Spiridinov, Mikhailov, Kruglov or Perekhryostov – like them this Kharms piece is is giddily unanalysable.  I don’t necessarily want to understand it, only enjoy it.  And I do enjoy it, every time I read it – I cannot explain exactly why.

Next time – we finally leave Eastern Europe and head to America, to Berlin.

Short Story #1: Untitled by Franz Kafka

This is the first post in what I am hoping will be a weekly (or something like that) series, in which I will pick up a short story I have enjoyed and examine it, praise it and sometimes just look at it and wonder what it’s all about.

In typically contrary fashion, I have chosen for my first piece a short story which doesn’t have a title (just to keep life nice and simple).

This untitled fragment was published in Franz Kafka’s The Lost Writings (translated by Michael Hoffman and published by New Directions in 2020).  It can be read on the New Yorker (https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2020/06/29/the-rescue-will-begin-in-its-own-time) – it’s the second fragment in the set published in that article.

It begins very simply:

A large loaf of bread lay on the table.  Father came in with a knife to cut it in half.  But even though the knife was big and sharp, and the bread neither too soft nor too hard, the knife could not cut into it.

Nobody describes failure and confusion quite so beautifully, or so logically, as Franz Kafka, and this is one of his best, most succinct explorations.  There is so much going on in this short piece and yet, clearly, nothing happens at all – it could be summarised as, ‘A man fails to cut open a loaf of bread.’  Which is a ridiculous premise for a story (but coming up, in a few weeks maybe, we will also have ‘a man gets stuck in a jumper’).

I love the use of the first person plural when describing a shared consciousness and it is especially effective when showing children taking in the adult world.  So, we have this mass of consciousness, trying to understand the way the world works and we have the Father, to them a figure who should be able to do everything they cannot do.

Like, for instance… cut open a loaf of bread. 

It was only when looking at this again that I realised, having read this countless times, I have never questioned why the father is unable to cut the bread.  It seems I swallowed Kafka’s assertion whole:

“Why should you be surprised?  Isn’t it more surprising if something succeeds than if it fails?”

This feels like Kafka in miniature – as in The Trial, there’s a difficult, convoluted process (when the children wake the next morning it becomes apparent that the father has spent all night trying to cut open the bread); as in Metamorphosis, there is a physical change to the state of one of the characters as the bread suddenly becomes small and hard:

The bread seemed to shrivel up, like the mouth of a grimly determined person, and now it was a very small loaf indeed.

And with this, it seems to extinguish any hope that “it is sure to give in sooner or later.”

One of the things I love about short stories is that they are self-contained – usually they can be read in one sitting.  Stories like this piece of Kafka’s go a step further – there is something very satisfying about being able to see the entirety of a piece of work in front of you.  It is there, contained on the one page, as much an object as it is a story.

So, that was the first installment.  Maybe it did what you expected, maybe it didn’t.  But what did you expect?  Isn’t it more surprising if something succeeds than if it fails?

Day #13785 :The Very Best Things I Read In 2021

These were my favourite three books this year – one is a novel, one is a manual on writing and reading and the other one is… I’m not sure what it is.  The one I’m not sure what it is, Checkout 19 by Claire Louise Bennett, was my favourite.  Her first book was sometimes described as ‘short stories’ sometimes as ‘a novel’ or maybe just as ‘fiction.’  This one is… a novel or an essay or a memoir.  I dunno.  Anyway.  It’s good.  I think the way to read it is to not worry about what it is, and just read.

Checkout 19 makes sure to acknowledge that this is not a story plucked out of the ether – there is a story, there is a reader, there is a writer (who may be the author, or may be a separate character).  As readers we feel seen, and the writer tells us about all the things they have previously read, all the things they have done and all the things that have happened to them… all of which inform the writing of the story at the centre of the ‘novel’, a fabulistic tale about a character called Tarquin Superbus, which has the air of something Borges or Calvino would have written.  Even this part is not as simple as that – it is a re-telling, a re-embelishing of a story the writer had written some time ago – the storytelling cannot be untangled from the writer’s own life.  Whatever else it is, it is completely itself, completely it’s own thing.

Jon McGregor wrote another great novel.  Following on from his previous, Reservoir 13, he appears to be mining a rich seam in writing stories that are about what happens after the big event – about life going on, or trying to get back to some kind of normality.  Where the story calls for inventive writing – a character experiencing breaking down of thought and loss of language – McGregor delivers, and when the story calls for simply telling the reader what happens next, he does this equally well, and presents characters and events without passing judgment.

The subtitle of George Saunders’ A Swim In A Pond In The Rain is In Which Four Russians Give A Master Class In Writing, Reading And Life, which sells the author short somewhat because it is George as our guide – through short stories by Tolstoy, Chekhov, Turgenev and (my favourite) Gogol – who brings it to life and imparts much wisdom as he picks apart what makes them tick.  It is as much a guide on how to read as it is how to write.  In terms of writing advice, Saunders is much more focussed on process than on hard-and-fast rules, an approach which I am entirely in agreement with.  He stresses the need for constant iterative improvement of a line, a sentence, a paragraph, anything to constantly make a piece of work better via constant tweaks, the product of constant choices.  He writes:

I like what I like, and you like what you like, and art is the place where liking what we like, over and over, is not only allowed but is the essential skill. How emphatically can you like what you like? How long are you willing to work on something, to ensure that every bit of it gets infused with some trace of your radical preference?

I read lots of other great stuff, including:

Death In Her Hands by Otessa Moshfegh – a small novel not just in it’s shortness but also it’s scope.  It never makes it beyond the confines of the main character’s own mind, unwinding a wild murder mystery that could be something or nothing at all.

Long Live The Post Horn by Vigdis Hjorth – a novel about running a marketing campaign for the Norwegian Postal Union as they fight some new EU legislation.  No, come back!  Its way more engrossing than that sounds.

Pew by Katherine Lacey – I picked this one off the shelf at the library without knowing anything about it.  Sometimes the best way to find a good thing.  An unnamed character – whose description none of the other characters seem able to agree upon – and who either cannot or refuses to speak, appears one Sunday morning asleep on a church pew.  The character, christened Pew, is passed around the various families in the congregation and their presence acts as a mirror.  Both vague and incisive!

Morvern Callar by Alan Warner – in which the titular heroine finds a dead body and proceeds through a series of miniature hells, numbing herself from reality with her trusty walkman and endless southern comfort and lemonade.  Morvern is so detached from life that we get little analysis and lose all track of time, it is a portrait of a character sitting watching on from outside the world.

The Crying Of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon – I only just finished this the other week and I think this is a great introduction to an author I always thought might be right up my street.  This short novel has an interesting momentum, one thing leading to another to another, without it ever being entirely clear exactly, precisely why.

Also:

Drive Your Plow Over The Bones Of The Dead by Olga Tokarczuk
The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolano
The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa
The Double by Jose Saramago
A Spool Of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler
Winter In Sokcho by Elisa Shua Dusapin
Tell Me I’m Worthless by Alison Rumfitt 

All recommended (as if anyone needs MORE to read).

Now-traditional Extra Music-Bloggery Content: My Favourite Albums Of 2021

DRY CLEANING – New Long Leg
ELORI SAXL – The Blue Of Distance
POM POKO – Cheater
DEERHOOF – Actually, You Can
GROUPER – Shade
UPPER WILDS – Venus
HAIKU SALUT – The Hill, The Light, The Ghost
LANG LEE – There Is A Wolf
ST VINCENT – Daddy’s Home

Day #11643: Goodreads

The End of the StoryThe End of the Story by Lydia Davis

This novel is more about the narrator’s process of organising thought than about the actual plot – which is very simple, lacking in drama and barely worth mentioning in this review. This makes The End Of The Story difficult to write about.

Whilst telling the story, Lydia Davis – as author, narrator, protaganist (the lines blur) – is also considering and discussing the best way to tell the story, telling us how difficult the story was to write and also about other pieces she is working on at the same time. The narrative is broken down in to parts and every motive, every memory, every piece of reason is questioned and examined. The protaganist does ill-advised things and then critiques her decisions, the narrator wonders whether she is remembering things correctly.

It is sometimes difficult, exhausting, boring, brilliant…

We start at the end of the story, loop back to the beginning, wander around the plot’s timeline and then finish at the end… hence ‘The End Of The Story’. But the title has a double meaning in that by the end of the novel, the story Lydia Davis is telling has been so completely deconstructed it does not seem it would be possible to put it back together again.

View all my reviews

Crumbs: Mint Choc Flavour Crunch Creams

Digestive Press is a blog whose fate has always been intertwined with that of the humble biscuit – it’s in the name, it’s in the header and, back at the beginning, I was even in the habit of posting ‘biscuit journalism’.  These posts remain, a little depressingly, amongst my most read.  WordPress advises me to, “consider writing about those topics again.”

I had no particular plans to follow their suggestion until this week when it came to my attention that there was a new biscuit on the market.  This new biscuit was of course the Mint Choc Flavour Crunch Cream, a new addition to the Crunch Cream stable and what appears to be a close cousin of the Minteorite (my own prototype attempt to fill a gap in the market, another project that coincided with the early days of the blog).

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So, after waiting so long for a biscuit like this, what is the verdict?  Well, what we have here is a very tasty biscuit, you could call it a predictably tasty biscuit given the commendable consistency of the Crunch Cream.  I would say it is just about minty enough – neither too weak (like the recent tepid ‘mint’ KitKat) nor too overpowering (like a mint imperial (where the overpowering is the point).

Given the tried-and-tested texture of the Crunch Cream (honestly, they’re not paying me to write this), it seems that it has been relatively simple for them to inject a little mintiness, which makes one wonder why they haven’t done this sooner, and why even now these are only ‘limited edition’ (does this mean, they’re going to stop making them, unless we buy LOTS of packets?  Are they basically holding us to ransom?)

I don’t really have much more to write here – I seem to have discovered there’s only so many words you can spend describing a biscuit.  Still, WordPress might be pleased I took them up on their advice, and it was fun to return to the blog’s biscuitty roots, however briefly.

Day #11247

I can’t remember if I’ve ever written this out loud before or just included it as a habit of a character in some story, but when I’m out buying groceries and suchlike, I always look to see what the people around me are buying.  Often the items they have picked up make for strange combinations (the other day I queued behind a couple who were buying six litres of vodka to only two packets of wafer-thin ham (one smoked, one not)) (once I myself reached the checkout with milk, a pineapple and some batteries (my own finest shopping moment)).

Even better is when I happen to find a shopping list – usually on the floor or still attached to a trolley.  I’ve started a bit of a collection.  Since not much else is happening right now, I thought I would share it with you.

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a:  I like that the first two things this shopper thought of when they sat down to make their list were Grapes and Dog Poo Bags (I also like the way they have written ‘Dog Poo’ quite small and then ‘Bags’ much bigger, as if they felt they shouldn’t say ‘Dog Poo’ so loud, even on their own shopping list).  This list was found in December and suggests someone who had good intentions to document their 2014, but then as the year drew to a close decided they should at least make some use of their diary.

b:  On this one, I like the confidence with which a type of cake has been decided upon – Battenburg, for sure.  More drink, apart from making me think of Father Ted, is a brilliant instruction and makes me wonder whether the next week’s list included Even more drink?  Then a space, and tacked on the end, as if they are perhaps staple items that the list’s creator(s) stock up on every week – Jam, Bacon, Milk.

c:  This one actually had a list of tasks on the flip side – including getting the shopping.  And, for the most part this is quite a practical, organised list – Cotton Buds, a Card, Spray Oil (or, if not, Oil – let’s make sure we have a contingency).  But as it gets further down the page (well, post-it note), it unravels slightly… Biscuits (any will do), Choc (again, no more detail, not even the full word)… Soda and Whisky.

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d:  This one was a teeny-tiny list, one of those really wee post-its that are about the size of a Creme Egg (just measuring with whatever is handy) (are those post-it notes actually a proper paper size, like A8 or A9 or something?  Answers on a post-it note).  It’s clearly the list of someone very healthy – or at least someone who has intentions of being very healthy. 

e:  And this is another healthy one – more Blueberries (hope the shop is well stocked!).  This list has weirdly been written in the bottom right hand corner of a piece of paper, which suggests that some sort of psychological analysis would turn up something juicy.  I also initially misread the last item as Ears.  I assume it’s actually Pears and not Peas, unless they’ve got confused and started the list again.

f:  This one is quite difficult to read – and huge as well.  This shopper is really hedging their bets –  I mean, how are they going to know what to get from that?  It suggests someone manically scrawling a list as they head out – a last minute mishmash of vague Fruit, barelyconsidered Sausages, eleventh-hour Mouthwash and whatever it is they’ve written under Coffee there.  A shambles.  F-.

g:  From one extreme to another.  Very neat handwriting, seemingly precise, but actually completely illogical.  3 Grapefruit, 3 Bananas (which I’m sure normally come in bunches of >3), but how many Eggs?  Surely eggs are the classic ‘write down a quantity’ item of shopping?!?!  Madness.

h:  And finally… this is probably the most boring list in my collection actually.  I should have kept a more interesting one back so that I could end on a high.  Well… I’d like to think that this shopper actually went completely off script once they were actually there, and came back with all kinds of strange goodies.  There, that’s excitement for you. 

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Essentially, my collection of abandoned shopping lists tell me what people planned but not what actually happened.  Nevertheless, I find the idiosyncracies of strangers’ shopping lists oddly compelling in their structure and content.  But there’s something else I like about my collection…

In the information age, data is valuable – supermarkets use club cards to track our shopping habits, rewarding us with magical points when we agree to provide them with this information.

And if my collection of shopping lists represents anything, it is a gloriously pointless inversion of this practice, a personal, unscientific and completely profitless method of harvesting unreliable data that ultimately has no use.  Except that, in some small way, it makes me happy.

Day # 10228

Ain’t No Email Postmen (A Blog About Envelopes)

Item #1 – A Short, Fictitious History Of The Envelope By Way Of Introduction: Since well before the sixth century, the circulation of human correspondence in folded paper constructs known as envelopes has contributed to the continuing orbit of the planet Earth around the sun – indeed, before the industrial revolution and the introduction of steam-based technology, we were almost entirely reliant on postal movements to get us around the sun on a yearly basis. Now, thanks to numerous other worldly developments, envelope-passing is no longer needed for this purpose, though it does continue. In some places it has become an artistic form with a number of new ideas being applied to the design and decoration of the humble envelope. And, as always, change continues to happen – scientists predict that in the future it will be possible for humans to send post to each other without use of physical envelopes by using computers instead, and mind-to-mind mail transfers cannot be far away either. But whatever happens you can be sure that a glimpse of an envelope will remain a sight to quicken the human pulse, and that the internationally-recognisable symbol for an envelope – whether used in conjunction to physical or non-physical post – will serve as a symbol of the visceral thrill of post, and a reminder of our humble beginnings.

Item #2 – Envelopes, A Puzzling Journey Through The Royal Mail by Harriet Russell (Book Review):  There are not, that I know of, a whole lot of books about envelopes. Therefore, I am going to go ahead and arbitrarily proclaim Harriet Russell’s ‘Envelopes’ as the best (um, that I know about, and have read). It is a thrilling stormer of a biography, charting each and every fold in the production of an envelope, every lick and stick of it’s envelopey life and a thrilling hare-brained tumble through every step of the postal service and then the recycling process.  Not really! Ha, um, yes. No. It’s better (even) than that. Harriet Russel is an artist who seems to be incapable of addressing an envelope in a straightforward manner and this beautifully put together book collects some of the examples of her work as she set about her project to stretch the boundaries of what will find its way through the postal system, and testing the wits and inadvertently enriching the lives of some of their employees on the way.  She delights in taking something straightforward and functional and turning it into something interesting – her post may have taken longer to sort but each envelope is a miniature work of art itself.  Some examples include an envelope in which the address is hidden in crossword clues which needed to be solved before it can be delivered and one which features just the postcode and a drawing of the house to which it is supposed to be delivered.  One of my favourites is an envelope sent from New York to London, covered in a comic strip in which the sender tries to persuade a NY taxi driver to drive to London to deliver the post.

Item #3 – Grow Your Own:  Unlike Ms Russell, I wasn’t clever enough to think of more mischievous ways to address post (though I did do a few experiments, posting chocolate bars with addresses written on the front and letters with limerick-style instructions for the postman) but a few years ago I received a homemade envelope from a friend and decided to pick it apart and learn how to make them myself.  I built a template out of a cereal box and got obsessed with making my own envelopes (see illustration).  Ok, it doesn’t sound like the most interesting hobby and it’s difficult to rationalise it and explain why I enjoy it so much – it’s repetitive and as such takes minimal brainpower, and at the end of it you have some interesting envelopes.  I now have far more envelopes than I could ever need to use, they just pile up everywhere and I have to make things like this just to stop it getting ridiculous.  All you need is some tools (scissors, pencil, bonefolder (and once you start folding things with a bonefolder you won’t want to go back to folding things without)) and some ingredients (slimline double-sided tape, paper (the more interesting the better, usually pictures which are at least A4 in size – full page illustrations in magazines are good (food magazines always make for tasty envelopes, though paper from newspaper magazines can be a bit too flimsy), old calendars are good (big pictures and sturdy material)) and you are away (I could try and explain exactly how to make them, put it would probably come out confusingly, and anyway it’s more fun to try and work it out yourself).  Hours of very quietly exhilerating fun await.

Day #10047

The Toasted Sandwich Handbook, Part Two (Man v. Toastie – Four New Toasties In One Week)

Monday 3rd October:   Jarlsberg and Potato Waffle.  I love Jarlsberg.  It is probably my favourite cheese.  I had a think about what I could use with it to make a super-tasty toastie and decided that it might be interesting to see if it was possible to incorporate a potato waffle into such a sandwich.  This recipe is a little more involved than most toastie recipies as it involves grilling the potato waffle before assembling the toastie.  Once the waffles were done I cut slices of Jarlsberg and assembled two rather fat sandwiches.  This was a slight problem as the toastie maker had to be persuaded quite forcefully to shut.  But I was happy with what emerged after five minutes toasting – something I can only describe as being a bit like a cheese and potato pie, a kind of budget potato pie perhaps.  I was satisfied with this toastie and will make it again.  Thumbs up!

Tuesday 4th October:  Spring Onion, Honey and Cheshire Cheese.  Credit for this one must go to Rach who suggested we made toasties of the ingredients above in order to use up some spring onions we had left over.  Apparently Cheshire was the best cheese to use with these ingredients – I don’t know why!  It worked though so I have no complaints.  There were meant to be pine nuts as well but they had disappeared from the cupboard.  The honey was also Rach’s suggestion, though it may have been because I always want to put honey in savoury dishes.  Anyway, this made it very sweet in a nice way.  The spring onions gave it some crunch too.  Thumbs up!  Nb:  It should be noted that as this was a teatime toastie, as opposed to a lunchtime toastie, I prepared a salad to go with it.  The fact that I now serve salad with toasted sandwiches is the surest evidence I have so far that I am actually growing up.

Wednesday 5th October:  Jarlsberg, Apple and Raisin.  I had some Jarlsberg left from Monday and there were some apples and some raisins around.  What could go wrong?  I cut slices of Jarlsberg and slices of apple and then hid raisins in and around them.  I don’t know what I was expecting, but I wasn’t pleased with what came out.  It was not that this was a bad toastie, it just didn’t really taste of much – it had no punch, nothing to make it stand out from the crowd (of toasties).  This was not good enough.

Wednesday 5th October: Bacon, Peas and Wensleydale with Stem Ginger:  Annoyed at myself for the casual ineptitude which blighted my lunchtime toastie, I decided to try and redeem myself at teatime.  I needed a big ingredient to make this a good toastie and decided that (as is so often the case) bacon was the answer.  Not only this, I then did some research.  If I was going to come up with a new hit I needed to take this more seriously and so I reached for The Flavour Thesaurus and searched through the list of foods it suggested would complement bacon.  Some were things I didn’t like, whilst others would not work in the context of a toastie.  I settled on peas.  I suppose I liked the idea that it might be a bit like ham and pea soup… with cheese.

I thought it might be good to get some soft cheese so that I would have something to stick the peas in (so they did not just roll away) but ended up coming away from the cheese aisle of the supermarket with some Wensleydale with bits of ginger in.  How did that happen?  I spent about five minutes picking up cheeses and putting them back as I changed my mind and then in one mad moment I had swooped on the aforementioned Wensleydale with ginger, and that was it.

Back in the kitchen I grilled the bacon and arranged slices of cheese and frozen peas, pressing the peas into the cheese to stop them rolling away (somewhat less successfully than if I had got a soft cheese).  I lay the bacon on top and brought down the lid of the toastie maker.  I was pleased with the results – the bacon was good, the ginger in the cheese gave it an interesting kick and I don’t think I have ever tasted toasted peas before, so that was nice.  The spread of bacon and peas was somewhat inconsistent but at its best it did taste like a gingery ham and pea soup.  Thumbs up!

Conclusion:  It’s been a busy week and there have been some good discoveries as well as some disappointments.  I would suggest that if you try only one of the above, go for the potato waffle and cheese toastie.  Until next time, keep on toastie-ing!

Day #9847

The Toasted Sandwich Handbook, Part One

I had been out of the game for a good long while.  But last Wednesday night I got out our new second-hand toastie maker and gave it a spin (not literally).

Section One (Enthusiasm & Nostalgia):  “The first thing that came back to me on re-entering the toastie sphere was the smell.  Obviously, this was after I had plugged in the toastie machine, performed pre-assembly and assembly on my sandwiches and popped them in the machine.  But the smell, the same smell no matter what kind of toastie you are making, is unique…  When I was little, toasted sanwiches (ham and cheese) meant that it was Sunday night, that I had had a bath and that Dr Who was on the telly (if I remember it right)…  Years later they were a staple foodstuff whilst I was at University (cheese with Uncle Ben’s sweet and sour sauce) and in the first house I lived in in Manchester I armed myself with a camera and a load of ingredients and set out to make a toasted sandwich recipe book that I never finished.  It included a creme egg toastie (which I did make) and a Christmas dinner one (which I never got round to)…  Now, in our own flat, the smell is the same as the toastie sizzles and the smoke rises from the machine.  As a nod to the passing years and some kind of growing up I make what I call ‘A Toastie Supper’ which is a toastie (cashew, pesto and cheese) with a salad at the side (rocket, pepper, apple, more cashews)…  And then you bite in to them, cautiously at first – contents may be hot, ingredients may have moved in transit…  The taste, that basic toastie taste always seems to be a happy constant, no matter the ingredients – almost as if the toastie machine itself (no, all toastie machines themselves) have this same power to infuse any sandwich with that special toastie umami…  Nibble first around the edges… I always like the bit where errant cheese may have bubbled and seeped out of the side and then cooked and fused into a hardened yellow crust like escaped lava…  Which reminds me of the most dangerous toastie experience I have ever had.  The most dangerous toastie experience I have ever had was a foolhardy purchase of a baked bean toastie from a shop in Ramsbottom.  The toastie came in a paper bag, and as any experienced toastie eater will tell you if you’re tackling that kind of heat you need to have a plate and possibly a knife and fork handy…  But I escaped without burning myself and retained my love of toasties, which I will continue to write about on another day…”

Section Two (Instructions):  “A brief description of how to make a cheese, pesto and cashew nut toastie followed by a summary of its delights…  Take two slices of bread and butter on the outsides (as per usual), cut thin slices of cheese (standard cheddar or whatever you have in the fridge, nothing too soft or distinctive) and place them on the other side of the bread.  Now chop cashew nuts (plain, not roasted or salted) in half and place them across the cheese in a pattern of your choice.  Glob pesto across, but not too much.  Place in the toastie maker and allow to cook until such time as it is cooked…  I have always found that general advice with regards handling toastie machines is to do so with caution but I believe that the best way to approach a toastie machine is firmly, safely and with respect.  You may have to wrestle your sandwich from the machine but if you spend some time with it and build up a good understanding, you will come away unharmed…  Anyway… Since inventing this toastie I have made it for a number of people, all of whom have praised it (they may just have been being nice).  Here is a selection of comments:  “It tastes a bit like ravioli,” Rach.  I find that the pesto melts nicely into the cheese and the cashew nuts add a bit of crunch to the toastie experience… Try it for yourself and you’ll see.”