Wednesday, June 27, 2012

BOOK REVIEW : The Mind's Eye - by Håkan Nesser

"Van Veeteren was generally able to decide if he was looking the culprit in the eye in nineteen cases out of twenty, if not more.  No point in hiding his light under a bushel."

Such is the wry humour behind Håkan Nesser 1993 crime thriller novel's protaganist: Inspector Van Veeteran, which has been (ably translated from Swedish to English by Laurie Thompson, and published in 2008.

This novel is philosophical at times, due mainly to the alleged perpetrator, Janek Mitter's, a teacher of philosophy and history comments, which makes the reader ponder about the nature of life and death at several moments in the book, (something rarely found in crime fiction).

The story revolves around a disconnected innocent husband (isn't it always the husband? according to Harry Hole), who is held to trial for the murder of his wife. He claims he did not do it, and his only pathetic defence is that he has suffered a memory loss. He wakes up with a severe headache and an enormous hangover, and can't remember any events of the previous night to find his wife dead in the bath tub, (behind a locked bathroom door). Suspiciously, upon finding her, he cleans the flat and to add to his worsening prospects, he ridiculously claims in court, that he "will admit to everything if someone would give [him] a cigarette!"

Despite this, Van Veeteran has reservations that he is the real killer and this is confirmed when a month after Mitter's imprisonment in a psychiatric facility, he is murdered. The dead wife, a sex goddess type, with a dysfunctional family background is a real mystery, and the colleagues at the school where Mitter worked, seem unwilling to support him in any way.

"Eva Ringmar turned up in the fourteenth chapter of his life. Between pages 275 and 300, she played the role that overshadowed all others: the priestess of love, the goddess of passion, and then she went away, would probably continue for a while to live a sort of life between the lines, but soon she would be forgotten. It had all been so intense that it was preordained to come to an end. An episode to add to the plot? A sonnet? A will-o'-the-wisp? Finished. Dead, but not mourned. End of valediction. End of contradicton. No doubt this must be the state of shock that was driving his thoughts into such channels. That had crushed and demolished everything, made it impossible for him to grasp what had happened. To grasp what was happening to him....?"

Van Veeteran's investigation and tenacity comes from his belief in a "determinant" and this helps him solve this puzzling crime, even in the absence of leads.
An unusual story, predictable yet solvable, only in the dying pages of the book. The humour is apparent from page 1 and really sets Nesser's novel apart from other crime writers. One cannot get enough of them, and it comes highly recommended.
If you are hoping to read about the real Sweden in these pages, forget it, as the locations are as mythical as the stories! Still the Scandinavian genre of murder mysteries is evident in the winter, cold and rainy atmosphere!
I have ordered the two following sequels from Amazon already! Does that say something that I am pondering about?

The Good: Humour, in small to moderate doses that compliments the story and the philosophical touches
The Bad:  The frustration a reader feels when one's instinct tells one that the wrong person will be jailed. And the tragedy that leads to the murder and depressing nature of institutional life
The Ugly: The meaning of the title?

Rating: 9 out of 10

Here is a list of Nesser's Van Veeteran series that have been translated, thus far:
1993 The Mind's Eye translated 2008
1994 Borkmann's Point translated 2006
1995 The Return translated 2007
1996 Woman with Birthmark translated 2009
1997 The Inspector and Silence, translated 2010
1998 The Unlucky Lottery, translated 2011
1999 Hour of the Wolf, translation 2012
Three more in this series await translation.
Nesser is the winner of the Best Swedish Crime Novel Award three times over and a Glass Dagger Award in 2000 for another book in the Van Veeteren series.
Nesser has written another detective series, none of which have yet been translated into English.

Monday, June 25, 2012

White / Brown Rice: What is the Difference? Recipes

Nutty brown rice Rice - its nutrition and place as a staple is unquestionable. Whole civilisations exist on it, or variations of it - even today in our modern societies.
Dr Lam at
tells us that white rice, is comprised of mostly carbohydrates, with the nutrients stripped off in the milling process, which removes the outer husk (where all the nutriets are contained) from the brown rice and thus is becomes "white" rice.
Carbohydrates are broken down into sugar inside the body. While carbohydrates are a good source of energy (yielding 4 calories per gram), excessive carbohydrate intake leads to sugar imbalance. Carbohydrates are also addictive, and lead to cravings. Thus brown rice is a way to break the addictive 'sugar' cycle.
Wiki also sheds some light on the difference telling us that whilst both types of rice have similar calories and carbohydrates, the main differences between the two forms  lie in processing and nutritional content.
When only the outermost layer of a grain of rice (the husk) is removed, brown rice is produced. To produce white rice, the next layers underneath the husk (the bran layer and the germ) are removed, leaving mostly the starchy endosperm. Several vitamins and dietary minerals are lost in this process. Fatty Acids, fibre, rice bran oil ( which can lower LDL cholesterol), are removed in the milling and Vitamin B1, vitamin B3, and iron are sometimes needed to be added back into the white rice making it "enriched".
One mineral not added back into white rice is magnesium; one cup (195 g) of cooked long grain brown rice contains 84 mg of magnesium while one cup of white rice contains 19 mg.
So, having established that Brown rice is better for us, can we make it a little better ? I have used this recipe on my family which has an intense dislike for brown rice, and so far I have three converts, well, 2 at least, one is sitting on the fence atm!!! So here is the recipes I use at home, which can be adapted or used as is, for a variety of dishes including Chinese fried rice, Rice Pilaf, vegetarian dishes and many more.

Nutty rice in the pot


2  tbspn olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
50 g ( 2 oz) pine nuts
1/4 cupsful of brown rice
1 1/2- 2 cups of vege or chicken stock or water ) boiling
1/2 tsp thyme
1-2 bay leaves
1. Heat oil in heavy saucepan and saute pine nuts for 1-2 minutes till golden brown
2. Saute onion till soft. ( celery could also be nice added in here for touch of greenery)
3. Add the rice, stirring well till all the grains are well coated with the oil.
4. Add the stock or water, and bring to the boil.
5. Add thyme and bayleaf and cover.
6. Cook 45- 50 minutes simmering on low - med heat till all liquid is absorbed. *
* I use 2 cups of liquid otherwise if left to simmer dry, it leaves a mess on the base of the saucepan, which required a good scrub to remove.
7. Season if desired - I usually don't as the nutty flavour and stock is enough to bring out the flavour.
Add  1/4 tsp cumin towards the end of cooking and raisins/sultanas as desired.
Leftovers can be turned in to a warm/cold summer salad  by adding bean sprouts, celery and / or stir frying left over rice for 5 mins.
This Nutty brown rice is so yummy it will convert even the more drastic of white rice eaters amongst us!!


For this you need: a microwave-proof bowl, or microwave-proof rice cooker.
1. First wash 1 and 1/2 cups white rice under running water till water is clear.
2. Place in microwave bowl or cooker with 2 cups of WARM water, placing paper towel underneath to absorb any overflow during the cooking process.
3. Cover with lid/plastic wrap
4. I program in the time but you can do it manually if you prefer:*
Microwave high power         - 3 minutes
Microwave medium power  - 7 minutes
Standing Timer / no power - 3 minutes
*Microwaves can vary in power, mine is 1200 watts, but I have successfully used this recipe in 800- 1000 watt microwave ovens too.
When done, fluff with a fork. That is it, enjoy.
This is a great way to prepare rice for Chinese fried rice, as you can easily make it the day before, allowing it to dry out in readiness for being stir-fried.

Which way will you prepare your next rice dish? And which rice will you use? Something rice eaters will more than likely ponder about.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Quick Beef Stroganoff - with Rice

A busy life with a family means hearty, nutritious meals that can be made in minutes. ( or half and hour: tops)  This is a variation of a Veal Goulash recipe I had that takes much longer to cook and uses stewing veal or beef as opposed to leaner, finer cuts.
Just why is something that I ponder about, but I do notice many young people are lacking this instinctive knack of creating a meal with whatever is in the fridge, so I have posted this recipe or "throw – together," as I prefer to think of it, for their benefit. Established cooks most likely will have this or a variation of this in their repertoire.

1 onion, 2 stalks celery, a quantity of beef /bbq beef/ beef schnitzel or similar cut, enough to feed the required amount of people, sour cream, tomato paste, handful- 1 cup of chopped mushrooms, 1 cup chicken or beef stock ( or 1 cup water and 1 chicken/beef stock cube)

1. Cut beef along the grain and cook on moderate to high heat, quickly, almost till done. Remove and keep warm.
saute onion and celery
2.  Saute some finely chopped onion and celery in a dash of olive oil till onion is transparent.
3. Add mushrooms,  and cook briefly, for several minutes.
4.  Add 3 tbspns of tomato paste ( or whatever quantity the sachet comes in) and 1 cup Chicken or beef stock and cook for about 5 minutes or till sauce has thickened.
5.  Return cooked beef to pan and stir through 1/2 cup sour cream. ( Substitutes for sour cream could be whipping/pouring cream, evaporated milk, full cream milk ( sauce may be more runny)
6. Serve with nutty /white rice ( see recipe on next post)
Recipes for preparing Brown and White rice: Just what is the difference?

This dish is also nice with crusty baguettes/ breads.


Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Book Review - HORSE BOY - Rupert Isaacson

 Quite unusually, I have this week been reading a book that has no dead bodies contained within its pages. I do sometimes read biographies of interesting people, but this book was given to me by a work  colleague and its title certainly does not indicate the intensity of the true story within its pages.
Horse boy is the story of a family's journey to heal their severely autistic son. Conventional western therapies were yielding little progress and their son's tantrums and neurological trauma appeared to be increasing.  Spurred on by the accidental discovery that Rowan had a special gift with animals, in particular horses, the family embark on a monumental adventure that takes them to the outer regions of Mongolia. 

Rowan, and his parents are in search of a shaman to heal their son, who is nearly six, has few words, is not toilet trained, and their lives revolve around preventing the next mega tantrum. Yet he is at peach and happy and a glimpse into his world is possible when he and his Dad are riding the neighbours horse Betsy, for Rowan seems to be able to communicate with animals on a level that most humans can't.  Rupert meets some shaman bushmen healers from Africa and an idea begins to formulate in his head of combining a shamanistic healing for Rowan, along with horses, and the only place to offer this combination was Mongolia.

This book is both painful and joyous. It will make your heart break and also give you a feeling of being uplifted, of hope in the face of incredible odds. The first half of the book is riveting as the author, Rowan's dad, eloquently and succintly takes you through the process of diagnosis of Rowan's condition,  and the day to day lives adjusting to a child with extra special needs. Some vivid description of the Mongolian culture and landscape will also thrill those interested in travel writing. An interesting moment in the final pages of the book comes when a disgruntled tourist finds Rowans' behaviour annoying, and Rupert challenges his thinking in a way that has my endless admiration in terms of advocacy for disabled persons/persons with special needs.

Against all autistic odds could be a fitting alternate title. Just when everyone appears to finally give up, there is a shaft of light! But you will have to read it to find out if it works!! 

The camera crew accompanying the family on their Mongolian adventure have produced a movie and here is a link:
Horseboy movie

Real healing and progress for autism, a condition that is considered incurable - that is surely something parents would ponder about.

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Thinking back to the snow and colder climes

Today I had a lovely restful day, after the manic few weeks of the early June. It was just what I needed to rest my overstretched brain and body. Retail therapy just does not have the same effect as sitting at my desk, painting a naive bavarian swiss scene, drinking, eating and listening to radio danmark.

Yet as I sit here, I find myself thinking of the day I took the train from Brig up to  Zermatt in switzerland and remembering the best of travel times. Whilst my travel log is still a work in progress, the images in my head have not faded every though it is now incredibly, almost seven months since I was there.

A brisk morning in my sub tropical part of the world can be much more brutal that below freezing or freezing temperatures in a colder climate. Why is that? Is there a mental factor in enduring colder temperatures? Can the complete lack of insulation in the houses here, take the total blame? Is there a dew point/ humidity level that interferes with how we perceive the cold? I would like to know why 8 degrees here feel so much much more cold than 8 degrees in Germany or Sweden? I would be wearing a t-shirt in Europe in 8 degrees, but here I have a thermal shirt and cardi on.....

So I guess it is easy to guess where I would rather be......something for people who don't know me, to ponder about....

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Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Creating The Perfect Cookie/Biscuit

Do you feel frustrated when your home-baked cookies/biscuits are too hard, too soft, way-too-spread-out, or hard enough to use as a baseball in the back yard? 

My investigations below were sourced from 2 websites (which I have linked) and lead me to conclude that baking is a kind of science, and pastrycooks and chefs who are required to replicate the exact same foods with the exact same textures and tastes have my endless admiration. For the path to creating the perfect biscuit is laden with pitfalls, and endless variables that are bound to confuse, frustrate and annoy the most patient and placid of us.
Not only do you have to achieve consistency at technique, control the uncontrollable variations in oven temperature and heat distribution, you also have to conquer such variables as appropriate shelf height and heat setting in multifunctional ovens, incorrect weighing/measuring of ingredients, the endless debate on whether to fold or beat, cover or uncover the cooked item, and the list goes on.
Something as simple as using low fat butter or milk can drastically alter results.  Nevertheless, it is useful to consider why things may have gone wrong.....
From › Food and Wine › Techniques:

What makes cookies soft and chewy?
High moisture content does; so the recipe, baking time, and temperature must be adjusted to retain moisture. Binding the water in butter, eggs, and brown sugar (it contains molasses, which is 10 percent water) with flour slows its evaporation. The dough needs a little extra flour, which makes it stiffer. The stiff dough spreads less, less liquid evaporates, and the cookies are thicker.
Mass also helps cookies stay moist--big dollops of dough make softer and chewier cookies than tiny spoonfuls of dough. Bake these thick cookies for a shorter time at a high temperature to firm them quickly and minimize spreading. Most important, don't bake them too long--remove from the oven when the cookie rim is brown and at least 1/3 of the center top remains pale. The cooked centers will be soft.
Why are some cookies cakelike instead of chewy?
A little extra liquid in the cookie dough from water, egg, or milk makes the dough more elastic and adds steam as the cookies bake, making them puff more.

What makes a cookie crisp or crunchy?
Reducing the amount of ingredients that hold moisture--flour, egg, and brown sugar--makes it easy for liquid to evaporate, producing crisp cookies. The fat, which goes up proportionately when other ingredients are cut back, gets hotter than the water in the dough and drives out the moisture. Fat also makes the dough softer and melts when hot, making the cookies spread. For crispness, bake cookies longer at a lower temperature to give them more time to spread before they firm. Then bake long enough to dry and brown them evenly to develop the maximum toasty flavor and crisp texture throughout.
What else makes cookies spread as they bake?
We've had many calls and letters from cooks having trouble with favorite recipes. All of a sudden, their cookies are spreading excessively. Most often the culprit is low-fat butter or margarine spread, which has about 20 percent more water, used in place of regular butter or margarine. It's this extra liquid that's causing the problem. Low-fat products can't be used interchangeably with regular fats for baking without recipe adjustments.
Cookies also spread when you drop high-fat dough onto a hot baking sheet; the heat melts the dough, and cookies spread before they're baked enough to hold their shape.
"When others follow my recipe for chocolate chip cookies, they turn out crunchy. Mine turn out chewy. Why?" asks Bobbie Barrett of San Carlos, California.
The way they measure ingredients and the real temperature of their ovens are the usual reasons cooks get different results from the same recipe. Flour should be stirred to loosen and fluff it, then spooned gently into a dry-measure cup (the kind you fill to the rim), and the top scraped level. If you tap the cup or scoop flour from the bag, the flour gets packed down and you can easily add 2 to 4 extra tablespoons flour per cup.
You can scoop up white sugar; it doesn't pack. But you should firmly pack brown sugar into a dry-measure cup and scrape the top level. Dry ingredients should not be measured in heaped-up cups or spoons; scrape dry ingredients level with the surface of the measuring tool. Measure liquid ingredients with liquid-measuring (usually glass or plastic) cups.
If your cookies bake faster or slower than the recipe indicates they should, chances are your oven thermostat isn't registering accurately. It's a good idea to double-check oven temperature with a thermometer and adjust oven setting as needed.

From some very useful tips:

Controlling Spread in Cookies with Baking Soda:

From How Baking Works; Exploring the fundamentals of Baking Science, by Paula Figoni
Cookies spread across a cookie sheet when a they have too little structure and cannot hold their shape. Whether this is desirable or not depends on what kind of cookie you wish to bake, but often some spread is desirable.
There are many ways to increase cookie spread: One way is to add a small amount of baking soda, as little as .25 to .5 ounce (5 to 15 grams) for 10 pounds (4.5 kilograms) of cookie dough. This increases pH of the dough, weakening gluten, and also weakening egg protein structure. With less structure, cookies spread more and have a coarser, more porous crumb. Since moisture evaporates from a porous crumb more easily, baking soda often provides for a crisper crumb, as well.
Measure baking soda carefully. Baking soda increases browning significantly, and if used at too high a level, it leaves a distance salty-chemical off flavor. Too much baking soda also causes eggs in baked goods to turn grayish green.
When working a high altitudes, omit baking soda from the cookie dough. The lower air pressure at high altitudes already encourages spread.

use date on end of egg carton
Eggs:  Check your date on your egg carton. Eggs should be at room temperature. Also the emulsion can be ruined if eggs or other liquids are too cold or too hot when they are added.
Measuring Flour: Too much flour can make some cookies rock-hard. When in doubt, err on the side of less flour. Even better, use a scale if the recipe offers a weight equivalent. Spoon the flour into your measuring cup and sweep a spatula across the top to level it off. Don't use the measuring cup as a scoop or it'll pack the flour and you'll end up with more flour in the cup than intended. See #6 below for additional information.
Nuts:  Smell and taste nuts before using. Oils in nuts can turn rancid quickly. Store any leftover nuts in the freezer for longest shelf life.
Butter:  Make sure your butter is at room temperature, otherwise it won't cream properly with the sugar. The terms "room temperature," "softened" and "soft" mean different things. The temperature of the butter can make a difference in the recipe. Most cookie dough recipes depend on the emulsion that occurs when you cream butter and sugar together. This emulsion will not happen if the butter is too hot or too cold.

Room Temperature Butter: It should be pliable enough that your finger can leave a mark in it, without being soft and greasy. Set the butter out at least one (1) hour in advance.
Softened Butter: Will feel a little warmer to the touch, and it will be much easier to leave a deep indentation, but it should still be firm enough to pick up without falling apart.
Soft Butter: Will be too soft to pick up.
Microwave Butter: Do not try to microwave your butter as it will just end up too soft. If you don't have an hour's lead time, increase the surface area by cutting the butter into small pieces or shredding it on the large holes of a grater. It will then come up to temperature in approximately 10 minutes.
Unsalted Butter: Unsalted butter is generally recommended because some salted butters have more sodium than others.  Do not use low fat butter/margarine. Low fat margarine has 20 % more water.

Salt:  Use the full amount of salt called for in a recipe, especially is using unsalted butter. If you use salted butter, only use 1/2 the amount called for in the recipe. Don't skip the salt, as salt brings out flavors and balances the sweetness in a recipe.

Sugar: The type of sugar used in your cookies can promote spread in baked cookies. To understand this, you need to know that sugar is a tenderizer which interferes with the formation structure. Sugars with a finger granulation promote more spread (probably because they dissolve sooner and only dissolved sugars will tenderize). Powdered sugar (confectioner's sugar), when it contain cornstarch, prevents spread in cookies despite it finer grind.

Good luck to you all, and I would be pleased to hear any more useful tips any other kitchen scientists care to share with me....I will certainly ponder about this. 

Friday, June 8, 2012

Maintaining your Optimal Brain Function


As we age, some of us find ourselves endlessly searching for items that we "just had in our hands and put down" or "put it away so it would not get lost" and that item is never to be found again despite entire family search parties taking packed lunches along for breaks between searching duties!

Is there anything we can EASILY, Quickly, and actively do to delay the onset of Cerebral aging?
I found a few tips this morning by searching google: tells us London cabbies have an enlarged Hippocampus (area of the brain) when compared to the general population. Their level of recall of London alleys and streets is disproportionate to the detail required by the public, at large, so what have researchers learned from this to  help us improve our memory:
"Pump up" or preserve your memory by:

1. Pay active attention  to external actions. Many researchers believe that inattentiveness is a major cause of forgetfulness in people of any age. Engaging your brain to really listen,* and observe will give your brain the chance to absorb and store information. 
*( this does not include listening to the TV, which is a highly passive activity and does not challenge or work the brain. )

2. Put frequently mislaid items such as keys in same spot each day, write out lists of important things you must do, and read the list aloud, at the same time, visualizing the action of each item on your list.

3. Slow down and repeat information such as lists of things to do and names, several times.
Names are some of the hardest things to remember as we age. Especially if they are not used regularly. We you hear a new name for the first time, repeat it to the speaker and to yourself, and some people even find associating the name with someone else they knew who had that name helps or incorporating it in the conversation will help, e.g."Hi Sammy, and what has Sammy been up to today?"
Rehearsing ideas and information aloud helps move information from your short term, working memory to your long-term memory according to

Writing a diary, "brain-training" or chess even on the DS can exercise your brain
4. Exercise your brain daily by engaging in a mental activity that requires your brain to remember, reason, and react quickly. Work a crossword or sudoku puzzle, draw, paint, or write in a journal,play chess or become a blogger! Learning a new language or new skill is very effective work for your brain.

Good luck! What'syournameagain? Something we definitely should be making our brains ponder about.