Chocolate and Berry Flapjack

This week has been quite a lazy one (and I’ve been a little distracted by visitors) so this recipe is wonderfully lazy. A nice, quick, throw-together.

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I chucked a slab of butter and about three spoons of honey into a pan to melt together, and then stirred it into a bowl of oats, a handful of cacao chips and some defrosted mixed berries. Then I popped it into the oven for about ten minutes at about 200C.

It’s not the most useful of recipes, I agree, having no real measurements. But I trust you to use your own judgement in working out if you have enough oats.

Authun and the Bear, Part Two

In Which Our Intrepid Hero Journeys South

Thorir waited for a favourable wind before rounding up his crew, complete with Authun and his bear, to make the journey back across the northern seas to Norway. Again, their journey was good, even with the added danger of the bear onboard.
When they reached Mœr and Thorir’s farm, they unloaded the ship’s cargo. When the southern merchants come and bartered, Authun negotiated with one in order to get himself and the bear at least to the southern fjords of Norway.
Unfortunately for Authun, when he arrived in the south of Norway, he discovered that Harald was in residence in the region. However, Authun remained undeterred in his determination to take the bear to Denmark. The merchant brought his ship to the shore and the crew dragged it inland. Authun led his bear behind him as he found and hired a place to stay while he worked out how to cross the straits between Norway and Denmark.
In his court, not far away (relatively speaking), Harald was surrounded by his retinue, celebrating the mid-summer. Not long after Authun had agreed a hire for a temporary shelter, the man with whom he had struck the deal was to be found in Harald’s halls. With the quantity of mead flowing, it was not long after that when a rumour of a valuable bear in his realm reached Harald’s ears. That an Icelandic man had brought such a treasure merely served to increase Harald’s desire for the creature. After all, an Icelander was essentially still subject to the Norwegian crown, wasn’t he? Harald had occasionally seen brown bears during his youthful travels through the Finnish and Slavic lands, but he had only ever heard tell of white bears before.
He demanded to meet the man who boasted in his cups of having seen and stood beside such a creature. The man, Thorkell, was brought before Harald. Thorkell, although not small, was dwarfed by Harald, whose head seemed to stretch towards the heavens, his yellow hair tumbling in untidy braids over his broad shoulders. As far as could be determined, he favoured braided hair to keep it from entangling with his beard and moustache, which drooped over his chin down his chest.
“Is this true that I’ve heard? Is there a white bear in your hut?” Harald asked of the man, now quivering at his feet, mostly because of the mead he had poured down his throat than because he feared his king. He was, it’s true, somewhat in awe of Harald; the king had a notoriously fiery temper and his eyebrows gave the appearance of sceptical disbelief, one permanently higher than the other. Not an encouraging demeanour. So Thorkell gibbered incoherently. He had not expected to be called upon to corroborate his possibly slightly exaggerated, alcohol-fuelled boasts, and certainly not to his chieftain. There was good reason that Harald had earned the sobriquet ‘Hard-Ruler’ (or ‘Hardrada’).
“Well, man? Speak!” roared Harald, volatile as a volcano. He brought his drinking horn down heavily onto the table. Thorkell winced.
“There’s, there’s a man with a bear. From Iceland. He’s renting my hut,” he gulped tripping over his words as he rushed to say them, hoping to avert the king’s wrath.
“Well, I want to see this man,” Harald stated calmly, his voice implacably determined. “Bring him here.”
“Yes, lord, straight away, lord,” Thorkell gabbled, his nose hitting his knees as he bowed and scraped before the king. He hurried backwards out of the hall in a bid to fulfil Harald’s orders as quickly as was humanly possible. Harald sent several men to ensure that Thorkell carried out the promised actions.
At Thorkell’s hut, Authun proved reluctant to accompany him back to Harald. He thought it inadvisable to leave the bear alone. However, eventually he was persuaded, Thorkell’s agitation offering a greater argument than any which he expressed.
Authun was brought before Harald as soon as they returned to the hall. They greeted one another with courtesy and respect. Almost, it was a warm greeting, if such can be had between men who have never met before. Harald smiled benignly.
“Is it true that you have with you a wild bear of immense value?”
It seemed to Thorkell, who hovered uncomfortably in the background, that Harald was being uncommonly pleasant, as if he feared that he would scare Authun. Authun stood proudly before the king, his head held as high as it could be, his back straight.
“Yes, it is true. I do own such a beast,” Authun replied clearly.
“If I was to pay you the sum which you paid for the bear, would you let me have it?” Harald asked.
Thorkell thought that the question sounded curious, idle, even, as if Harald had only just considered the matter.
“I will not, lord,” Authun answered. Again, his voice was clear and unwavering.
“What if,” Harald asked, “I give you twice the price which you paid? Would you let me have the bear then? That would, after all, be much more in your favour then, especially since you gave all you own for that bear, from what I heard.”
“I will not, lord,” Authun repeated steadfastly.
“Well, would you give me the bear then?” Harald demanded, exasperated. In his mead-addled brain, Thorkell thought that his king sounded quite desperate and, with some stretch of the imagination, Harald could almost be said to be begging Authun for the bear.
“No, lord,” Authun said, almost regretfully.
“But what on earth do you intend to do with the beast?” the king asked, by now confused.
“Um,” began Authun, suddenly aware of the danger in which he now found himself but unable to tell bare-faced lies to the man nicknamed ‘Hard-Ruler’. He hesitated, trying to find the best way of explaining his intentions to Harald. “Um, I have the intention to go to Denmark and present it to King Sweyn.”
King Harald’s men stared at Authun. Thorkell suddenly recovered his composure, despite the alcohol, for here was a man upon whom Harald was more likely to bring down his wrath. Harald wanted the bear, was prepared to pay vast sums to own the creature, and the man who did own it refused to sell it on the grounds that he wished to give it to Harald’s greatest enemy.
“Can it really be that you are a man so ignorant that you have not heard of the war which exists between us and Denmark? Surely in Iceland you have heard! Or do you honestly think that your luck is so great that you will manage to get to Denmark, unscathed, with such a valuable gift, even though others, on more urgent errands, don’t?” Harald exclaimed, scornfully.
Authun replied: “Lord, I know it is in your power to allow me safe travel or not, but surely nothing agrees between us but that which we had earlier intended.”
Harald considered him carefully. “Hmm. Well, if I allow you and your bear safe travel to Denmark, then you must return to me and tell me how King Sweyn rewards your gift and may it be that you are fortunate in your endeavour.”
“That I promise you that I will do,” Authun vowed.
At this, Harald called for someone to bring Authun a horn of mead and the midsummer festivities continued.

The Real and the Imagined

A year or so ago, in a Swedish class, we read several articles about people who “make friends” with TV characters. Or at least, consider TV characters their friends. They worry about what’s happening. They share in the ups and downs.

Now, I don’t exactly consider series characters as my friends, but I do get caught up in the emotions of a series. (If it’s a good enough series, that is.) I don’t normally watch many series as they’re being aired. I’m normally on catch-up. So I have lots and lots of episodes to watch at any one time. And I watch them. Obsessively. The TV equivalent of not being able to put the book down.

At the moment, I’m obsessively watching Criminal Minds. This is a bit tricky because my partner doesn’t like it much, so I can’t watch it when he’s about. But I do when he’s not.

I was a bit cross last November when Netflix ran out of episodes at the end of Season 4. That was upsetting. But I got my mitts on more a couple of weeks ago (thank you, Amazon Lovefilm!), and I’m already on Season 7.

Season 6 was devastating in more ways than one, and I’m thankful that Season 7 has made it right again. I’m not going to go into details because of spoiler-potential. But suffice it to say that the afternoon I spent finishing Season 6 was something of a tear-jerker.

My point, though, is this. I find the Fictional World infinitely more emotional than the Real World. Perhaps it’s because in the fictional world, I know what’s going on, but I can’t do anything about it. I can see trouble miles off (like the Wrath of God in The Raiders of the Lost Ark), but my favourite characters can’t, and I can’t stop them doing something stupid. And even when I can’t, and something leaps out to endanger them, the stress is such that I really don’t want to know what it’s like if a real person I care about gets got. Like the end of Season 4 of Criminal Minds. Too stressful and terrifying for words. I was really cross with Netflix for ending it there! (If you’re listening/reading, O Person at Netflix who Chooses New Content: the rest of Criminal Minds would be greatly appreciated. And White Collar, please. Ta!)

But normally, I assume that people in the Real World can take care of themselves, and their plights are generally less emotional. I can distance myself in a way which I can’t when I’m reading or watching something. Or maybe I’m just weird. Anyone else out there who cares more for the Fictional World than the Real World?

Banana Muffins

It’s been quite a busy sort of week. Lots of work going on (actually, that wasn’t very busy. Apparently people don’t want to be buying cards at the moment), plots and new ideas developing, and picking up the details of the wedding to tidy up now that time is speeding up and we’re into the last few months.

So this week, we finally sorted out the invites. I know, I know. We’re being slow. We’ve already received an invite for a wedding happening after ours. It took us a while to agree on the invites. Partly because I didn’t want to spend a fortune on them (seriously, prices can be extortionate! I’d e-mail it, but my partner insisted on proper invites. In the same way that I’d’ve preferred to elope – and in fact, I’ve always told my mother I would (and she’s offered me the train fare) – but he wouldn’t let us). Partly also because we (by which I mean he) didn’t want anything too flowery or butterflies. Which rules out quite a lot.

But we found some. Eventually. And they arrived the other day. So we can start sending them out. Before Royal Mail put up stamp prices.

Anyway, this week’s recipe is a sugar-free Banana Cake with cranberries and chocolate chips, courtesy of BBC Good Foods (the cranberries and chocolate chips are my addition).

Technically, this was supposed to be a loaf, but I don’t have a loaf-tin, so I made muffins instead.

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You will need:

3-4 Ripe Bananas, mashed

50g butter, melted

1 egg

Vanilla essence

1 tbsp milk

125g self-raising flour

Half tsp baking powder

Ground cinnamon

75g dried fruits

Opt.: chocolate chips. To be sugar-free, I used 100% cacao chips

Mix together the bananas, butter, egg, vanilla and milk in one bowl, and the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, dried fruits and chips (if using) in another. Pour the ‘nana mix into the flour bowl and mix thoroughly.

Spoon into your chosen tin/muffin cases.

If you’re making a loaf, it’ll need 30-40 minutes; if muffins, 20-30 minutes at 180C/160C fan oven/Gas Mark 4. Or until a skewer comes out clean.

Authun and the Bear, Part One

In Which Our Intrepid Hero Has an Idea

Once upon a time (for all good stories begin then), there lived a man. His name was Authun, and he lived in the Western Fjords of Iceland. Although this isn’t a fairy tale, it begins much like one. Authun was a poor farmer’s son, and his family was just his mother. Authun was probably much like any other typical Norseman. He had fair hair, pale skin and blue eyes and was probably over five and half feet, which was about average back then.

Fortunately, though, our hero and his mother have a good friend, a farmer named Thorstein, who gave Authun a job on his farm. A steady job, but Authun dreamed of other things. Of going on the ships which left every year for lands over the seas. But he was poor, and couldn’t afford to leave his mother.

Most importantly, though, Thorstein had a friend in Norway. This friend, called Thorir, owned a fine ship, which he used to travel across the Northern seas.

Thorstein, Thorir and Authun struck a deal. Let’s say that Authun is about twenty years old and we’re approximately in the year 1054. This seems reasonable, yes?

Anyway, back to the deal. Authun worked for Thorstein for a winter, and in exchange, he would get to join Thorir’s crew on the return to Norway.

And so that’s what happened.

The following spring, Authun collected all the money he had, put enough for hopefully three years aside for his mother, and got on the ship. And so they sailed away to Norway.

They spent a lot of the summer there. Traders and merchants from the south came north, bringing news and gossip too. Authun heard tell of a Jarl in somewhere called Northumbria wanting fighting men. Some man called Macbeth had killed the Jarl’s nephew.

Before the summer reached its end, Thorir and his crew, Authun included, set off again, across the seas. They went westwards again, although not to Iceland. This time they went further, to the land only relatively recently discovered. They went to Greenland.

Since they arrived so late in the year, they stayed the winter there. It was a harsher winter than any Authun had known in Iceland. Authun wondered why it was called Greenland. It wasn’t very green – quite white, in fact – and it looked rocky. Not easy farming land. But so it was. Norsemen had begun settling there just over fifty years previously, encouraged by Eirik the Red.

Not much is known of the visit to Greenland, except that in the following spring, Authun made an interesting purchase.

For the sum total of all of the possessions which he owned after the summer spent working on Thorir’s farm, Authun gained an ice-bear.

When asked why he wanted the bear, Authun simply shrugged and said, “I shall give it to King Sweyn.”

At which all the others wondered. King Sweyn was the King of Denmark. He was King Harald of Norway’s best frenemy. And to get to Denmark, Authun would have to first go to Norway. And try to get the bear, which was essentially a really valuable treasure, through to a hostile land.  

In the Eleventh Century North Sea

For a change, I thought I’d share with you a Norse story. But first, some context is needed because I’m going to make the assumption your knowledge of Scandinavian history is sketchy at best. My apologies if this is incorrect.

So, the story is an English translation of an Old Norse short story. It’s about an Icelander and a polar bear (or “ice bear” in the literal translation). The translation, and thus any embellishments, is mine. I take full responsibility for any mistranslation.

But before the story begins, the first part of which I shall post in a day or two, the historical context. For it is a “true story”, honest. It’s true in the sense that it might have happened; that the main character, Authun, might have lived; and that the two Kings certainly did, and at the same time. It’s not uncommon for reality to be a bit blurred in the “historical” sagas and for kings to be living when they shouldn’t.

The main characters are:

Authun – a poor Icelander

King Harald Hardrada – King of Norway

King Sweyn Estridsen – King of Denmark

The events take place somewhere in the 1050s. Authun’s background is, perhaps, unnecessary, since he seems to be in the role of ‘local boy made good’.

The two kings, though, are more fun. They have an interesting history.

I shall start with Harald Hardrada. You may know of him. He died in 1066, at Stamford Bridge, defeated by Harold Godwineson, two weeks before Harold was defeated at Hastings. Harald Hardrada (or “Hard-Ruler”) was the much younger half-brother of a previous King of Norway, Olafr, who became the Norwegian King-Saint after being killed in battle in 1030 (and Norway passing into the hands of Knut the Great of Denmark).

Now, really, Harald shouldn’t have been become King of Norway. Not only did Knut the Great have sons, but so too did St Olafr. Knut’s son Svein and his mother were unpopular regents of Norway, so the throne passed to Magnus, Olafr’s son. After Olafr’s death, you see, Harald had gone abroad. To Byzantium. Where he became quite rich, fighting in the Varangian Guard (the Byzantine Emperor’s personal bodyguard, largely made up of Norsemen), and plundering the empire when emperors died. Of which three did during his sojourn in the south.

While he’s busy getting rich there, Sweyn’s story. Through his mother Estrid, he was the nephew of Knut the Great. Apparently he had a limp, but this didn’t stop him from becoming a decent military leader. However, Knut’s son Harthaknut was King of Denmark after Knut’s death. He didn’t last long, and then Magnus (remember him?) managed to wrench Denmark into his control. Compensation for the death of his father, you see. Sweyn bided his time and rose to the rank of Jarl (Earl) under Magnus.

Anyway, having become quite rich, Harald returned to Scandinavia in the 1040s. Magnus had, by now, also become King of Denmark. After making a pact with Sweyn Estridsen and harrying the coast of Norway, they persuaded Magnus to split Norway with Harald. And to agree to let Sweyn have Denmark when he was done with it.

Fortunately for the pair of them, Magnus died in 1047. Somehow. The jury’s still out on precisely how, since reports vary from illness to falling overboard and drowning to falling off a horse.

But the end result is that Norway has Harald and Denmark has Sweyn. You’d think this was the end of this tale, wouldn’t you? Except it’s not. Of course it’s not. Otherwise I wouldn’t be telling all this, since Authun’s story is a decade later.

Because Harald decided that he wasn’t happy being just King of Norway. He wanted Denmark as well. In fact, as is seen in 1066, he wanted England too. He wanted what Knut had. A North Sea Empire. Because, you know, being King of one country, and having all that lovely Byzantine treasure, just isn’t enough for one man.

So the really important fact that you’ll need to remember while reading about Authun and his bear in a few days’ time is this. Denmark and Norway are at war. Harald and Sweyn are no longer friends.

But don’t worry. All of this short history will be there for your referencing convenience. Or, you know, Wikipedia.

The Frivolity of Femininity

With the weather turning today, and thus making this a frankly quite depressing kind of day, I thought I’d be thoroughly frivolous and share with you my shiny new nail varnish. Nothing like a bit of retail therapy and splash of colour to brighten anyone’s day!

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Although that doesn’t really do it justice. It’s quite a lovely gold/pink by BarryM in the Collection Aquarium (or Aquarium Collection, whichever way you want to read it).

I’d also like to say that I think there is absolutely nothing wrong with being either frivolous or feminine. I do my utmost to be both. Possibly one of my favourite TV characters has to be Penelope Garcia in Criminal Minds. I love her colourfulness.