K. J. Charles „An Unseen Attraction“ – Part 2 – Polly’s ginger cure-alls

Dear Reader,

long time no read. How has Your year begun? What is the weather like in Your corner of the world?
Over here the mornings mope about the absence of snow, cover themselves in thick blankets of fog, and refuse to get up.

Londoners took a perverse pride in the „particulars“ of yellow, blinding fog; Clem had been raised in the countryside, where you could breathe.

Our local variety is no match for an old London pea-souper, but still manages to creep into coats of any thickness and chill you to the bone.
Why not stave off the chill and dreariness with a delightful biscuit (or a plate-full of them)?

The ginger biscuits were not long in coming, and Clem was pleased to see their restorative effect. He wasn’t sure what Polly put into them, and nor was anyone else; there were women up and down Wilderness Row formally Not Speaking to her because she refused to give out the recipe.

Luckily for us, the Author didn’t mind sharing the recipe with her readers.
All that is left for me to add is a note on substitution: if self-raising flour is not available, use regular flour and add a tea spoon of baking powder. Honey works in place of the syrup.
Also, do not take the note about spacing your biscuits lightly. I was a little lazy and decided against starting a new tray for just a few biscuits. Well, see for yourself:

…and they had much the effect on the system that a stiff drink had on people in books.

They are effective indeed. Along with a cup of tea they will warm you up in chilly times. Ginger is known for its pain-killing properties. A few of these biscuits manage to wipe out those pesky little weather-induced headaches for me (further clinical testing may be needed to support this claim, will report back after one more plate, or two).

How do you fight the murk and the morbs?

Yours warmly,


P.S. „But B.,“ you think, „has the ginger gone to your brain? This is Part 2. Did you forget Part 1 in the oven?“
If it’s Part 1 You seek, dear Reader, you shall have to brave the fog and travel to Nosferatu’s lair to retrieve it.

New year, new adventures.


Sometimes I catch myself wishing for K.J. Charles to rewrite Sherlock Holmes. The wish got the fuel added to it with the book „An Unseen Attraction“ (Sins of the Cities 1), where the detective plot-line really had me hooked!
Both Clem and Rowley prefer peace and quiet, which is likely why they soon found themselves having those common evenings together, by the fire, with tea and the lodging house cat named Cat. Rowley isn’t very talkative, and Clem has things to hide. And if that doesn’t make the foundations for sound friendship…

Read more at Night Mode


Stella Gibbons „Cold Comfort Farm“ – Part 2 – Cold Comfort food


Good morning, dear Reader,

both farming and meddling in other people’s business take a great deal of energy. And what better way to charge up your energy stores than a hearty breakfast?

In the large kitchen, which occupied most of the middle of the house, a sullen fire burned, the smoke of which wavered up the blackened walls and over the deal table, darkened by age and dirt, which was roughly set for a meal. A snood full of course porridge hung over the fire…


If you would like to have breakfast Starkadder style:
1. Procure large snood
2. Bring a cup of water to boil
3. Add a cup of any porridge flakes you’d like (I used a 5-grain mix – wheat, spelt, rye, oats and rice) and a pinch of salt
4. Cook on medium heat, stirring occasionally until almost all of the water has been absorbed
5. Take the pot off the stove, cover and let the porridge sit for a few minutes
6. Serve with a dab of butter (good thing we are not in hell) or some jam if you’d like a sweet breakfast
7. Go find your favorite porridge eating spoon

At first she thought the kitchen was empty. The fire was almost out, and ash was blowing along the floor, and the table was covered with the intimidating remnants of some kind of meal in which porridge seemed to have played the chief part.
‚Is there any breakfast, by the way?‘
‚There’s porridge, Robert Poste’s child.‘
‚Is there any bread and butter and some tea? I don’t much care for porridge.‘

Luckily for Flora, there was bread, butter and tea available. With a bit of salt to sprinkle upon the buttered slices.

‚This bread is really not at all bad , you know. Surely you don’t bake it here.‘

Do let me know, what kind of food you prefer to start your day with.

Yours truly,

Part 1

Stella Gibbons „Cold Comfort Farm“ – Part 1


Dear Reader,

we are still staying in the English countryside. This week we are visiting the Starkadders at Cold Comfort farm.

Miss Flora Poste, recently orphaned, decides she is going to live with her relatives.

We are not like other folk, maybe, but there have always been Starkadders at Cold Comfort, and we will do our best to welcome Robert Poste’s child.
Child, child, if you come to this doomed house, what is to save you?

Cold Comfort is a gloomy place and the Starkadders are a gloomy bunch of people, who would fit in any gothic novel. The cover illustration does aid one’s imagination quite a bit, I must say.
Flora is a modern young lady and…

unless everything is tidy and pleasant and comfortable all about one, people cannot even begin to enjoy life. I cannot endure messes.

So she proceeds to sort the mess out, one Starkadder by another.

Ms. Gibbons has a wonderful way with words, dropping them into unusual contexts (where they fit perfectly well) or just plain making them up when necessary as she moves along.

One [house] had been pulled down and a garage perpetrated upon its site.

She also helpfully points out parts of the text she finds are the best, marked with stars in the manuscript for the benefit of her editor and kept in the text for the benefit of us readers.

I found it a terrifically funny and entertaining read.
Do give it a try. Especially if you happen to like the likes of P. G. Wodehouse.

Yours truly,

P.S. The book has been adapted for the screen. The movie does not stray from the book much. The actors are well selected and do a splendid job. Well worth a watch.

Book info:
Author: Stella Gibbons
Title: Cold Comfor Farm
Pages: 233
Publisher: Penguin Books
Year: 1982
Find it on Goodreads
Part 2

Alan Bradley „A Red Herring Without Mustard“ – Part 2 – My kitchen – my laboratory

Dear Reader,

running about the countryside, solving mysteries leaves one mighty hungry.
If you find your access to a kitchen restricted, you might consider exchanging your apron for a lab coat and performing a few experiments in culinary chemistry.

Miss Flavia de Luce shall be our instructor today:

Ten minutes later I was back with a bowl of food nicked from the pantry.
„Follow me,“ I said. „Next door.“
Porcelain looked round wide-eyed as we entered my laboratory. „What is this place? Are we supposed to be in here?“
„Of course we are,“ I told her. „It’s where I do my experiments.“
„Like magic?“ she asked, glancing around at the glasware.
„Yes,“ I said. „Like magic. Now then, you take these…“
She jumped at the pop of the Bunsen burner as I put a match to it.
„Hold them over the flame,“ I said handing her a couple of bangers and a pair of nickel-plated test tube clamps. „Not too close – it’s exceedingly hot.“
I broke six eggs into a borosilicate evaporating dish and stirred them with a glass rod over a second burner. Almost immediately the laboratory was filled with mouthwatering aromas.
„Now for toast,“ I said. „You can do two slices at a time,“ I said. „Use the tongs again. Do both sides, then turn them inside out.“


If there`s anything more delicious than a sausage roasted over an open Bunsen burner, I can’t immagine what it might be – unless it’s the feeling of freedom that comes of eating it with the bare fingers and letting the fat fall where it may.

My laboratory being less extensively stocked than Flavia’s, I was short a Bunsen burner. But, as any chemist worth their sodium chloride might tell you, there is more than one way to get a flame.

In order to replicate this experiment you shall need a strong ethanol solution (make sure it’s pure and food grade!), matches, a heat-resistant plate, and, of course, some sausages.
Place the plate upon a fireproof base, arrange the sausages and douse them with the ethanol solution. Light the solution collected at the bottom of the plate.


As the ethanol burns off the sausages will grill lightly.

A note about safety: Prepare something with which to extinguish the flames if necessary (the alcohol may be burning too long and your sausages might become too charred, or the fat from the sausages may catch fire). A pot lid large enough to cover the plate or a damp cloth may be used to smother the flames. DO NOT put water on a grease fire!
I would also recommend tying your hair back and handling the experiment carefully. Nobody wants singed eyebrows.

Once the ethanol has burned off completely, transfer the sausages to a serving plate. Combine with scrambled eggs and toast to make a feast like Flavia’s.
An what is better to wash the feast down than a nice hot cup of aqueous Camelia sinensis extract?

As two cups of water came to a boil in a glass beaker, I took down from the shelf where it was kept, alphabetically, between the arsenic and the cyanide, an apothecary jar marked Camelia sinensis.
„Don’t worry,“ I said. „It’s only tea.“

And chemists like to drink tea periodically, on tables.  I propose a toast to the versatility of chemistry!

Yours truly,

P.S. If you’d like to replicate the experiment, I recommend trying with thinner sausages or with a stronger ethanol solution. The approx. 40 % solution that I used did not burn long enough to warm the sausages completely through.

Part 1

Alan Bradley „A Red Herring Without Mustard“ – Part 1


Dear Reader,

after last week’s ordeal in London, I thought it would do me good to escape to the countryside to recuperate. Little did I know, what awaited me was gloomy weather and a whole new collection of secrets.

At the village fair we meet up with Flavia de Luce, chemistry lover and aspiring detective. While getting her fortune told she sets the clairvoiant’s tent on fire (an accident, she swears), and as a means of apology invites the fortune teller to park her caravan on the grounds of Buckshaw and stay for a while. Dropping in to see how her guest has settled in, Flavia discovers that the woman had been badly hurt. But who would want to murder a traveling fortune teller? And why?
Flavia sets out to find the culprit and nothing shall stop her. Not the local police officers, who are not willing to put up with her „interfering“. Nor the torments doled out by her older sisters Daffy and Feely (pausing to plot revenge is acceptable, though).
Flavia’s investigation is aided by her knowledge of chemistry, and we are treated to an interesting tidbit every other page. My own nose can attest to the smelliness of the ethanolamine compound family. Yuck!
Upon first attempts to unravel the mystery, the knots just seem to become tighter and new loose ends keep turning up. By the end, however, we are left with several tidy balls of yarn.

I did enjoy my stay at Buckshaw, as well as the company of the de Luces, and will certainly be dropping by for a visit again in the future. Let us just hope the weather is less stormy next time.

Yours truly,

Book info:
Author: Alan Bradley
Title: A red herring without mustard
Pages: 399
Publisher: Bantam Books
Year: 2011
Find it on Goodreads

Part 2

Gyles Brandreth – Oscar Wilde and the Nest of Vipers – Part 2 – Royal cheese straws

Dear Reader,

be warned! Gyles Brandreth’s „Oscar Wilde and the nest of vipers“ may be full of delicious witticisms, but it should not be taken on an empty stomach.
Over the course of the novel our heroes breakfast, lunch and sup on multiple courses at London’s finest establishments. It would be ill advised to partake in these gastronomic paragraphs without having some refreshments at hand.

Among all the delicious morsels the book offers, none get as much attention as cheese straws (yes, you read that right).
Cheese straws

The Prince of Wales was half hidden, lurking between a bust by Canova and a potted palm. His mouth was full. He held a substantial silver goblet in one hand and a cheese straw the size of a large cigar in the other.
‚You have caught me unawares,‘ he mumbled, padding towards us. His genial smile revealed pastry trapped between his teeth.


Rub the butter with the flour until the mixture resembles bread crumbs. Mix in the cheese, egg yolk, salt, mustard powder and cayenne peper. I could not find cheddar in a form that could be grated in my local shops, so I chopped up some slices instead. Add some water to the mixture and knead. Wrap the dough in cling film and let it have a rest in the fridge.

All rolled out

Roll the dough out, cut it into strips and arrange them on a baking tray lined with parchment paper. Bake for around 15 minutes, until crispy.

‚Who knows what today will bring?‘
‚Cheese straws at Marlborough House, I hope,‘ said Conan Doyle, now mellowing. ‚I’m famished.‘

Baked biscuits

I had halved the original recipe, and still ended up with enough biscuits to fill two trays. Would this be enough to satisfy the famised Dr. Doyle?

Pair with wine

The end result is flaky, crispy, and delicious and goes very well with dry wine and wry wit.

The duke turned towards our group once more and said, a little distractedly, ‚It’s a fine wine, is it not? Helen was partial to a good Gewürztraminer. Parker will bring us further refreshments in a moment. I understand from Yarborough that you gentlemen have a penchant for cheese straws.‘

If you decide to try the recipe out, do let me know how it goes.

Yours truly,

Original recipe here.

Part 1

Gyles Brandreth „Oscar Wilde and the Nest of Vipers“ – Part 1

Dear Reader,

‚I can resist anything but temptation.‘ And one gloomy Saturday I allowed myself to be tempted away from my ‚currently reading‘ stack of books to join Oscar Wilde – dandy, dramatist, detective – as he embarked upon his fourth adventure in Gyles Brandrets’s mystery series.


London, 13.03.1890
The Duke and Duchess of Albermarle host a reception in honour of His Royal Highness, the Prince of Wales. The next morning the Duchess is found dead in her bed. Well, it was known that Her Grace had a weak heart… But what about the lacerations on her chest and those two small yet deep incisions upon her neck? Was her death the work of a vampire?
In his search for the culprit Wilde is accompanied and aided by Robert Sherard (journalist) and Arthur Conan Doyle. And of course, where there are vampires, there is also Bram Stoker.

The story is a whodunnit presented as a collection of documents – letters, telegrams and diary entries. The author gives each character their own distinct voice. Wildean witticisms abound.
As a few of the characters are medical men, we also get glimpses at the state of the medical science of the time, the main focus being on the treatment of hysteria.
The author tries to lead the reader by the nose (I admit, the trick worked), heaping suspicion on a character, leading you to think that there is no way they could be the culprit, it would be too obvious. Guess what?..
Is there such a thing as a double red herring?

I must admit, the ending left me rather conflicted. On the one hand, I was disappointed by the actions of a particular character. On the other, it was very much like that character to act this way, and the author did a splendid job.

All in all, a delightful snack, perfect for a rainy weekend.

Yours truly,

Book info:
Author: Gyles Brandreth
Title: Oscar Wilde and the nest of vipers
Pages: 426
Publisher: John Murray
Year: 2011
Find it on Goodreads