Friday, 29 July 2011

My recent reading...

Heaven by Susi Rajah

...or The Gospel According to Sydney Welles, the title under which it is published in the US.
This was a very clever twist on the traditional chick-lit and has a lot more depth than many of the genre. It was also very entertaining with a plot that really hooked me in.

The Many Conditions of Love by Farahad Zama
This is basically a romantic comedy set in India with a cast largely of the wealthy middle and upper-classes; consequently, you might think that this would be a book that would not deal with heavy issues. Not so!
The topics of India's still-high mortality rate, failing harvests, genetic modification of crops, mixed-religion marriages and poor pay for those in the lower strata are dealt with sensitively and in an interesting way.

This is the second book of the series, but the first that I had read.  I enjoyed it very much and will seek out the others.

In many ways, it is quite similar in theme, but not style, to Alexander McCall-Smith's No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency series, set in Botswana, which I also enjoy a great deal.


Last night, we watched Piranha, which was LoveFilm's offering of the day.

This is not a film to stimulate the brain cells.  There is nothing subtle about this film at all!  Set on the edge of a lake in Arizona during the week of Spring Break (an American phenomenon, it seems.  I imagine the British equivalent is an 18-30 week in Ibiza, or is it really more like heading to a festival?).  There are lots and lots of skimpily dressed girls and boys, and curiously, all of them are slender and good looking!

However, it is a curiously moral tale.

The son of the sheriff is a good boy who is supposed to spend Spring Break babysitting his younger twin siblings (something that in the world of teenagers at Spring Break makes him a loser rather than a sweetheart for helping out his single Mum). 

Then, the downfall. He is offered a job as a location scout for a small group who wish to shoot soft-porn on location at the lake with a Spring Break theme.  He bribes his siblings to stay in the house and not tell his Mother that he has left them and then heads off.

Of course, disaster strikes!  An earthquake has released killer piranhas in their thousands from a prehistoric underground lake into the lake above, with very gruesome consequences!!!  Debauched Spring-Breakers and porn-crew alike get munched to pieces, whilst our hero, his cute siblings and their even more heroic mother, the take-no-nonsense sheriff, survive to live another day. 

Goodness prevails hurrah!!

It wasn't really scary, but it was very good at making me jump (something I imagine would be enhanced by the 3D if we;d had it). 

Altogether, quite entertaining, but not for those with a delicate disposition!


Tuesday, 26 July 2011

East Africa food crisis...

Looking back over my posts during the short time that I have had this blog, I have discussed delicious food in great detail several times.  Due to a failure of the rains in East Africa during late 2010, ten million people simply do not have enough to eat.  They are not concerned with whether half-ground almonds and half-flour makes a crunchier crumble than all-flour.  They are concerned that they and their children will starve.

Makes you think.

Please, if you have a pound (or fifty) to spare, please do.

Disasters Emergency Committe

Quick edit:  I wasn't quite clever enough to get the link and the picture in the same place, above.  Where the DEC graphic says "click here to make a donation", click the link just below. Thanks!

Monday, 25 July 2011

Raspberry and blackberry crumble

What better for a summery pudding than to use lovely fruit that is in season and ripe right now?!  I was going to make something completely different, but when I was in the shop, there was a punnet of raspberries and a punnet of blackberries for the bargainous price of 60p each.  They were clearly very ripe and need eating today and I am happy to oblige!

So, a super-easy, quick fruit crumble!
Ingredients (fills a 22cm lasagne dish):
80g ground almonds
70g plain flour
50g butter
50g demerara sugar
250g raspberries
250g of blackberries

Take your crumble ingredients (everything except for the fruit)  and rub the butter into the dry ingredients until you get crumbs:

Then, simply place your fruit into your dish and cover with your crumble mixture.

Bake in the oven for thirty-forty minutes until the crumble is golden and the filling is bubbling, then serve with custard, cream, ice cream or (as in the picture) crème fraîche.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Vegetarian lasagne (as delicious as a meat one!)

Right, all!  I have had a brilliant and productive day with nothing much scheduled, but much accomplished!

I like to make slighly fiddly things to eat at the weekend; those things you maybe wouldn't usually bother with during the working week.  Today's late lunch/early dinner was vegetarian lasagne, and you lucky things are about to learn the secrets of it!  The basic recipe is one used by my Mum, but I put plenty of my own little twists into it!

Ingredients for a lasagne to fill a 30cm lasagne dish (probably serves about six people):
For the base sauce:
Olive oil (a drizzle for frying)
120ml of red dried lentils (sorry this is such a strange unit!)
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped or crushed
1  (750g) large jar of passata
2 teaspoons of green pesto
Italian herbs
Various vegetables...I used:
1 courgette, sliced
1 green pepper, diced
10 chestnut mushrooms, quartered
 For the layering:
Dried lasagne verdi sheets
Rocket/spinach leaves
Béchamel sauce (I won't go into making it, but you can find a recipe here)
Grated cheese of your choice (I used extra mature cheddar)

The beauty of this meal is that it can easily adapt to what you have in the cupboard as well as your likes and dislikes.  You can substitute all of the vegetables for others if you like, or if you have only mushrooms and three colours of pepper, that will work too! 

To start fry up your lentils, onion and garlic in the olive oil.
Once your lentils have taken a paler yellow colour, you add your passata, around 400ml of water and your chopped vegetables.
Add the pesto, herbs and seasoning to taste, then cover and allow to simmer whilst you make your béchamel.

After half an hour of simmering, your base sauce should now look ready to go into your lasagne dish.  If you think it looks too wet, remove the lid and allowit to simmer on the stove until it has reduced a bit.

At this point, pre-heat your oven to about 180°C.

Now for the assembly:  I do a layer of base sauce followed by a layer of leaves (spinach, or rocket for extra pepperiness), then a layer of lasagne sheets, then repeat the whole thing again, top with the béchamel sauce and sprinkle grated cheese on top.
After forty-five minutes in the oven:
Serve with salad leaves:
If you try any of my recipes, I'd love to see your photos and hear of any modifications that you make.
Happy cooking!

TwitKnitClub Sunday update

So as per TwitKnitClub protocol, here is my Sunday update...

Peppa has come-on apace this week.  I've finished knitting all of her body parts and stuffed them, with just her dress and shoes to knit.  Once I have her dress I can attach the arms and tail (there are arm and tail holes in the dress, so I want to make sure that they match-up) and once I have attached the shoes to her legs I can sew them onto the body.  Finally I need to complete the embroidery for her eyes, rosy cheeks and smile.
Small children look away now!

Here's the most recent photo of poor Peppa in a dismembered state; the tubes in front of the body are the legs minus shoes; to the right are the arms and on the left is her tail. 

I promise that the next picture will be less gruesome!

Friday, 22 July 2011

Not a proper blog post...

Hello!  This isn't a proper blog post; hopefully I'll get around to that in the next day or two.  I've got some good ones planned, I think, but have been so busy doing stuff that I haven't sat down and written about it!

I was going to blog a new recipe of my own invention on Wednesday, but in the end I had a lovely text from my Mum, saying the magic words "Orange Wednesday?" and before I knew it, M and I had agreed to accompany my parents to see HP&TDH: pt2 (yes, our second time seeing it, but it is rather good!).  So I ended up cooking for my Mum and Dad and having them in the kitchen proved somewhat of a distraction.  At one point I was chopping onions and M rang to let me know when he'd get back.

A while later...
Mum: "so you've got one of those Star Trek things in the house, then?"
Me, puzzled: "what do you mean, Star Trek thing, Mum?" look at father who also looks puzzled
Mum: "like you have in the car, where you can speak into the air"
Me, twigging: "you mean hands-free?  My phone was just on hands-free"
Mum: "but I could hear M. I think it would be very useful to have that in the kitchen. It is just like in Star Trek."

And do you know what, once I'd stopped chuckling I thought, she's right, it both would be useful and is just like in Star Trek.

It's just the that my Mother is the Queen of the Cryptic Out-of-Context Remark.

Monday, 18 July 2011

Roasted butternut squash with mascarpone, pancetta & spring onion

The concept for this recipe wasn't mine...I can't remember where it originally came from; it's quite likely from the BBC Food website, but I can't now find the one I used.  Anyway, I haven't looked at the original recipe for a long time and it has evolved over time, generally depending upon what I have in the cupboard. 

First, you split your squash down the middle, scoop out the seeds and fibres from the cavity and place the two halves in a baking tray.  Season with a drizzle of olive oil, salt and crushed chillies.
Place in the oven at 200°C for about forty minutes. Meanwhile, sizzle up some pancetta, finely chopped spring onions and some garlic purée.  Add three dessert spoonfuls of mascarpone to the mixture and spoon into the cavity of the roasted squash and sprinkle with some grated cheese (parmesan is probably best). 

Then, give it another ten minutes in the oven for the filling to bubble nicely. It's lovely served with rocket leaves.
The finished product!


After one week of the new TwitKnitClub project 'Toys' here's my update.  To refresh your memory, I am knitting Peppa Pig.

So far, I have done her body (the piece on the right in the picture below), and I'm half-way through her head (on the needles). Progress has been slower than I'd have liked due to feeling quite rotten this weekend (yes, too rotten even to knit!).
Hopefully although the remaining pieces will be fiddlier, they are much smaller and will be quicker to get done, with the exception of her dress, which looks like it could take a few days to and from work on the train!

History is fun!

I've had the good fortune to come across some really fascinating historical(ish) blogs recently and I thought a little blog post to share was in order...definitely worth checking out!

First up, we have:


And finally (for now):


Saturday, 16 July 2011

Tasty summer tomato soup

This soup is really lovely for a summer evening or lunchtime and so very easy to make.
First, you get some largeish tomatoes (I used 12 to make lunch for two people) and place them in a baking tray with some peeled cloves of garlic and a drizzle of olive oil. Roast the tomatoes at about 200°C for about half an hour until they look like this:

Then tip the contents of the baking tray (including all of the lovely juices) into a large saucepan and blend roughly with a hand-blender. Season with salt, pepper, oregano and basil to taste and serve with a swirl of balsamic vinegar.

My review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II

To set the scene: I am sitting in our conservatory/lean-to and it is bucketing down with rain outside (possibly linked to the lack of internet connection).  The roof of this room is both translucent and very conductive of sound.  I feel like nature is giving this review a drum-roll!

I saw the much-anticipated final Harry Potter film last night, so I’d like to get some thoughts down whilst they are fresh.  Please be aware that this may contain some spoilers, particularly of Part I.  I’ll do my best to keep the key details of Part II under-wraps, but I’m new to this, so please bear with me!

As a fan of the books, I have been an interested observer of the films, but haven’t considered myself to be really that fussed by them until The Order of the Phoenix which is where the current director, David Yates took over the franchise.

The film is brilliantly done.  One of the worries that I had was that splitting the book into two would break the magic and lose the build-up; not so! It really isn’t an exaggeration to say that my heart was beating faster from pretty much the beginning of the film.  It was straight into scenes of Hogwarts under the new regime to set the scene and then back to our team at Shell Cottage, where we left them at the end of the last film.  I was pleased to see that the proper epitaph was placed on Dobby’s tomb, something which I had noticed and missed in Part I and this caused the first big sobs for me.

Our time at Shell Cottage is shortened by the necessities of film dynamics: the weeks and weeks of plotting and planning are truncated into two brief conversations with Mr Ollivander and Griphook.  The latter is particularly done-down by this editing; sinister as he should be; the books allow for lot more description of the history of wizard/goblin relations and the significance of the goblin origins of the Sword of Gryffindor is lost.  This leaves Griphook’s later actions looking rather colder than they were written in the book.

Pretty quickly, we move on to the Gringotts heist and I thought that Helena Bonham-Carter and Emma Watson teamed-up beautifully to portray Hermione as Bellatrix Lestrange.  They really captured the uncertainty that Hermione would feel and which was nearly the undoing of the whole plot.  Quickly, we move into the vault-scene, which was very true to the book with the small exception that Harry now seems to be able to hear the Horcruxes, which is something that I can’t remember from the books at all (and could be my faulty memory), but certainly seems to speed up the finding of them once he is in close proximity, and so may be a time-saving device for the films.

Next was the wonderful scene with the dragon. I’m fairly certain that this was an occasion where my imagination was surpassed by the film-makers!  The detail of the dragon destroying the chimneys and rooftops as it was trying to get enough lift was so clever, and gorgeous backdrop of the London sky-line was really atmospheric.

From about now, the pace doesn’t really drop very much at all, and I am afraid I can’t remember everything in the proper order so I will just jump to the points of significance, hopefully without giving too much away!

The trio end-up inside Hogwarts, where they are reunited with many of their friends and family who are ready to rally around and fight the last stand with Harry, but before that there are things to be done...

The sections in the Chamber of Secrets and the Room of Requirement didn’t quite have the urgency that I needed.  It was all over a bit quickly (and dare I say easily? No. I guess not, the struggle was portrayed but did lose something in being relatively short). The much built-up-to scene with Ron and Hermione was done really well and was spot-on with their characters and the circumstances in which they found themselves.

The collateral damage over the next few scenes is high, with many main characters not getting to the end. Again, lack of time here somewhat diminished the great sadness that was felt in the book, where the loss of certain characters is given far more significance.  I do wonder whether the way the film deals with these losses is actually more reflective of behaviour in the midst of battle and so I can forgive this.

The scene in the Shrieking Shack (now moved to a boathouse, with no great loss, but perhaps a more aesthetic setting) was just perfect.  Alan Rickman was so right and played it so well.  Combined with the bit in the Pensieve and I was blubbing properly!

Gosh, what next? Harry in the Forbidden Forest and Harry at Kings Cross.  I think that by this point in the book, I was racing through the pages and actually the pace of the film scene is slower than I read it, to great advantage.  Both in the Forest and at the station, I felt a sense of resolution and peace which really illustrated why Harry was able to do what he did. 

My absolute favourite part of the entire series of books is the duel between Mrs Weasley and Bellatrix Lestrange and I’m afraid I was slightly disappointed. I wanted it to be longer, more of a struggle, more of a triumph, but it was over before I really felt the peril of the situation. Bellatrix should have been a more formidable opponent.  

Neville’s significance as the other wizard boy born in late July 1980 is largely glossed-over in the films, but he really rises up as a “true Gryffindor” and I actually clapped him at one point. Great casting. I was unsure of Matthew Lewis to begin with, wondering whether he could carry off only the comedic bumbling role that he was given in the first few films, but he has really risen to the challenge and I think we will see more of him now that the HP franchise is over.

I can’t really go much further without giving away massive plot details.  The ending was well-done and thankfully didn’t have that annoying Hollywood trait of completely changing the end so that fans of the book leave the cinema annoyed and frustrated thinking “but that’s not what happens!”.  If you’ve followed the books or the films, you really should see this film.  I think even the most hard-hearted of audience members were sniffing and sobbing and when was the last time you went to the cinema and the audience spontaneously clapped as the credits rolled?

Friday, 15 July 2011

Currently I am...

Listening to:
The Family Jewels [+Digital Booklet]

Marina and the Diamonds: The Family Jewels
Which is getting me through typing three sets of minutes. Must remember not to volunteer for such things in future!

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Currently I am...

Reading: The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan
The Feminine Mystique


  1. Peppa Pig for TwitKnitClub  
  2. Red Herring Scarf for my Grandpa's birthday (shh...don't tell him!)

Juxtaposition of the day

Downloading the Special K app for my phone vs. having a cinnamon whirl for breakfast.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Blog débutante

Hello World! Here I am, blogging!

After my successful* venture into the world of Twitter last month, I have become more enthusiastic to have a voice in the online world; sometimes 140 characters simply isn't enough!

I'd like this blog to become a record of stuff I do and see.  We're lucky enough to live in this amazing time where there is so much to experience, but it's easy to become a little bit blasé about flying around the world, for instance.  Even seeing a 3D film was something that was completely novel just a few years ago and now it's fairly commonplace, yet still absolutely amazing if you stop and think about it! I feel that by documenting my experiences I will be doing just that, stopping and thinking about it.

So here's to enjoying life and appreciating every moment!

*Successful in that I am enjoying it greatly, you understand.  I don't profess to have conquered Twitter or anything!