Mr. Midshipman Hornblower, C. S. Forester

I’m really not sure how I feel about this book.

On the one hand, I really struggled to get through it. However, this is almost entirely because I have almost no knowledge of sailing, the navy or anything maritime. I’ve never even seen the Hornblower TV adaptation, so I started out at a serious disadvantage. Forester, it seems, may have expected his audience to have a pretty sound knowledge of the navy and in particular the jargon associated with sailing. Tellingly, it was the more military sections (of which there are many) that I found the most difficult to focus on.

On the other hand, the characterisation really surprised me. When I started reading it, I was expecting an story that focused entirely on military action in which the characterisation would adhere to certain stereotypes. But Hornblower’s character is more complex than that. At the beginning of the story, he isn’t a super-confident young man; in fact he gets seasick before they even leave the harbour and seems a most unlikely candidate to be a hero of a book like this. This makes the character more believable, ensuring that even those of us who have not had any desire to join the navy can identify with his struggles.

I finished the book feeling pretty keen about the thought of reading a sequel, so I think on balance I enjoyed it. I would definitely recommend this if you know a lot about sailing in general. Otherwise, maybe keep a dictionary close to hand and prepare to view reading this novel as a means of expanding your knowledge.



Spicy Eggs

Oeufs en cocotte are one of the great comfort food dishes. I love runny eggs, so anything that includes one is likely to be something that I enjoy. I think of them as the perfect Sunday tea – a light but warm meal that you might have once you’ve started to feel peckish after the gigantic roast dinner you ate earlier in the day. I occasionally have a boiled egg and soldiers for a weekend breakfast and while I would certainly enjoy that for tea as well, there is something a bit more substantial about the baked version.

This version of baked eggs is a riff on a recipe from Rachel Khoo’s inspiring Little Paris Kitchen. I identify greatly with this book, having once had a little Parisian kitchen of my own, although I didn’t attempt anything much more adventurous in it than fajitas. Rachel suggests baking the eggs in teacups and offers a variety of suggestions for ways to dress up your eggs, including Tabasco. I was in the market for a way to use up some Sriracha, so played around. To her recipe, which involves baking the eggs in ramekins, sandwiching the eggs between dollops of crème fraîche, I added a splosh of Sriracha to the crème fraîche. I baked them for about 15 minutes and served them with toast soldiers.

I really enjoyed the combination of eggs and chilli with the slightly tangy cream. Whilst the cream/egg combination on its own is delicious and extremely comforting, the slight kick from the Sriracha provides a bit more interest and makes it slightly more exciting. Perfect for a weekend treat.

Oats and Honey

It is very definitely porridge weather. After the mild December we’ve just had, January has plunged us into freezing temperatures, making a hot breakfast extremely welcome. How to properly prepare and eat porridge is often a subject for much debate – it definitely tastes best when stirred slowly on the hob, but this is not a practical pursuit for most of us on a weekday morning. I make mine in the microwave (30g oats, 100g water, 100g milk and a pinch of salt, on high for 3½ minutes) which is much easier and still tastes comforting.

I’m not a fan of golden syrup on my porridge, although I know that this is a popular choice, preferring to eat my everyday porridge just with a pinch of salt. On occasion, however, I treat myself to a squidge of honey on top. When I was hunting for ways of using up the tail end of a bag of raisins that had been lurking in my cupboard for longer than I would like to remember, I came across a recipe for oat, honey and raisin muffins in 101 Cakes and Bakes. I’m sometimes a bit ambivalent about raisins (I often prefer to make scones without them) but they worked really well here. I wouldn’t necessarily make these muffins as a substitute for my breakfast porridge, but they were fantastic as an energy-giving snack to supplement a packed lunch or to provide a burst of energy mid-afternoon, just to get you through to the end of the day. The oats in the muffin batter make them more substantial – you’re not quite eating cake, but the honey also makes them feel like a treat.