January 31, 2016

Sweet Banana Rice Brekkie

I almost just wrote 'sweet banana rice oatmeal' in the title box of this post - but I thought that that might be a bit TOO MUCH of an oxymoron. Can you have an oatmeal made out of... not oats? I did play around with porridge briefly - but that brought up scenes of gruel and austere meals. Which is weird - I grew up with 'porridge' - now it just sounds... so... 19th century.

I think I've driven my friend mad though. She's not a fan of how she has started calling porridge oatmeal. Apparently it's too much exposure to me and my weird vocabulary and my love of oatmeal. What can I say? Oatmeal's awesome. 

Yeah. We'll just have to go with Brekkie. I mean. It's not even a real word. 

But it's the best of a lot of bad options. And sometimes that's all that we can ask for. I make it sound like I'm talking about a life and death. Well.... sometimes breakfast can seem like a life or death situation. 

It was my birthday a few weeks ago. It was great. I had so much work to do. What could ever be more fun? Nothing right?

I also went to see a movie with my friends and the day after we went to IKEA. Obviously - IKEA was brilliant. 

The hilarious story about the plate I bought is ALREADY broken? Not so hilarious. It was put on the stove top so that food could be spooned onto it... but the stove-top was hot and...

Exploding plate.

 Yes. I mean literally exploded. As in - dinner and place going everywhere. And a bang. And a mess to clean up...

And a reminder to remember that stoves that have just been cooking for will be HOT and so you should NOT place plates on them. 

But for my birthday - my parents gave me an Internet grocery delivery. They gave me a limit and I was allowed to put whatever I wanted into the virtual grocery cart, and it was delivered to me at my flat at college... (at 9pm the Friday night of my birthday.)

I'm a student. Its free food. It was the best birthday present ever (or up there at the top of the list in any case...). My Nana also gave me a gift card for the grocery store near where I live. Thanks Nana!!! So far I've got Nutella, Peanut Butter and Chocolate Chips.... all important student living essentials...

But I tried to think carefully about what I got in my Internet delivery. First to consider was what I couldn't get near to where I am... I'm looking at you Purple Laughing Cow triangles, Itsu hot sauce and black beans.

Next was almond milk - because its heavy and cheaper to stock up when they're selling it for a £1... so I got a dozen cartons...

Then came the stuff that's kind of expensive and I would probably spend way too much time deliberating over and then possibly still not end up buying.... the grapes, the pecan nuts.

And then some stuff that I was simply curios about like rice porridge flakes. I was looking in the 'free from' section for something else (vegan mayonnaise) and saw it and thought it looked interesting. If a little expensive (£2.50 for a 450g bag). It's my birthday (or was) - why not try something new - right?

When my parents saw what I'd chosen - as well as commenting on the lack of tinned tomatoes and 3 packets of cheese triangles (you can't get the right ones here ANYWHERE. Unless I walk 2 miles) they commented on my rice porridge flakes. My Dad did that thing people do where they say they simply name of something and in the process convey a spectrum of slightly confused and other, more prominent negative judgements. My Mom just pointed out that I loved it as a baby so I'd love it now.

Sigh. Eye roll. Resist the urge to hit them (gently of course) with the packet.

Well... if I'm eating baby food I might as well do it properly. So I went super simple here - just rice porridge, milk, bananas and sugar. Although I'm actually against babies being given sugar....

It doesn't matter cause I'm not eating baby food. Tak very much Mom.

Sweet Banana Rice Brekkie

Serves 1

  • 1/2 cup rice porridge flakes
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 banana, sliced
  • 1 teaspoon sugar 

  • Place the rice flakes and the milk together in a pan. You can cook this for a lower time on a higher temperature as the package suggests - but I found that it sticks way too much cooking like that; so I cook it for about 20 minutes on the lowest setting for the stove-top - stirring fairly regularly. You know it's ready when all the milk has been absorbed and the porridge has become thick, like a smooth rice pudding.
  • Transfer to a bowl and top with the banana slices and sugar. 

January 26, 2016

Roast Beet Chili

I love roasted veggies. I mean - who doesn't? Roasting veggies intensifies the flavors - which is especially  effective with sweeter veggies - carrots, squashes, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, parsnips... and beets.

So when I got some beets in my veg bag - they were chopped up and in the oven before I'd really thought about what I was going to do with them. So... beets in the oven. What next? I didn't have any cous cous - so the everlasting veggie standby of roasted veggies and cous cous was out. With pasta maybe? Or rice. I think (well I know) that I have some risotto rice in the cupboard somewhere. Maybe save them and have them cold in a salad. Some salad without any type of leaves or anything? Some salad that would be....

Not that I would ever mind having a bowl of roasted beets on there own. But I hardly think I would be allowed to call that a balanced meal...

So I started thinking about what I was in the mood for. Made what I fancied the heart of my dinner instead of what I had. It's cold - it's windy. I wanted something warming - something that I needed a spoon to eat. Something like a thick soup, or a stew, or a chili...

Can you put roasted beets in a chili?

Apparently you can. It it makes a lovely rich chili, the color is obviously glorious, and it's hot and has all the right textures - with bits to bite into and bits to chew and squishy tomatoes and right now I probably sound very weird. But what can I say? It's a good chili.

Roast Beet Chili 

Serves 2-4 (depending if you have it on it's own or serve it with rice etc..)

  • 2 beetroots
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 4 sticks of celery, washed and sliced
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons of cumin
  • 2 teaspoons of smoked paprika
  • 2 teaspoons of dried cilantro
  • 1/2-1 teaspoons chili flakes (add more or less to taste)
  • 1 14oz can of chopped tomatoes
  • 6 small (plum/cherry) tomatoes, washed and quartered
  • 100g frozen spinach (for me this is 2 'bricks'. If you want to use fresh spinach that should work - stir it in just a few minutes before the end instead)
  • OPTIONAL: 3/4 cup Quorn mince
  • 1 1/2 cups cooked black eyed beans (1 14oz can)
  • 3/4 cup sweetcorn

  • Preheat the oven to 200C/390F
  • Thoroughly wash the beets, and cut into small dice. I didn't peel mine (just scrubbed very well) but if you would like to that's fine. Place the oven in a baking dish and cook for 30-40 minutes. The beets should be soft but not burnt or falling apart. I didn't use oil (mainly because I forgot) and this worked out fine (they didn't stick and were still lovely and flavourful) but if you want to use a bit of oil and actually roast them - go ahead. 
  • When the beets are ready, take them out of the oven. Place the onions and celery in a medium saucepan with a little oil and saute for 5 minutes.
  • Turn down the heat slightly, add the spices and a 1/4 cup of water and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally until the veggies are soft. 
  • Add both kinds if tomatoes, the roasted beets, the spinach, and the Quorn mince if using to the pot - and cook for 7 minutes, constantly stirring as otherwise the spinach has a tendency to remain together as a lump. 
  • Add the black eyed beans and the sweetcorn and cook for a further 5 minutes, until everything is cooked through.
  • Serve with rice, bread, baked potatoes or on it's own. Can be topped with yogurt, grated cheese etc if desired.
Of course - Nutritional yeast can only make an awesome thing better

January 24, 2016

Japanese Apple Bunnies - Usagi Ringo

This blog is no stranger to bento lunches. The only tag with more posts attributed to it is recipes (you can see all my bento lunches from the past 2 years by clicking on the word 'bento' under the heading 'tags' in the sidebar). But mostly my bento's have been 'american' style. 'Western' food cut into pretty shapes. Or just Western food with a few food picks to make it look pretty as possible as has been of late. But I decided that it's time I got slightly more authentic.

Not much I grant you - but this is more like a half way point.

So I thought I'd master the art of apple rabbits - or usagi ringo. Apparently they are used as a space filler in Japanese bentos. But they do also appear a lot in American style bentos. They're not particularly difficult - and as fruit carving goes it's really not very fiddly. And yes - for some people these won't look very much like rabbits. But they're a good place to start.

As you may notice I am by no means an expert in making these yet. Often I'll cut the skin to thin, or the apple slice will break, or I'll accidentally take the ear of the rabbit off. As you can see by the photos - the bunny rabbits decrease in numbers as time goes by.

1. Wash and dry the apple. I think that red or maybe pink apples look the best for these- there's less contrast with green apples between the skin and the flesh - but if you want to green bunnies go ahead. (I know actually have a strong desire to get a golden apple and have pink and yellow bunnies...) Also fresher - more 'crisper' apples are better for this if possible - because they're gonna soak in water for a bit and the crisper the apple to start with the crisper they will be after soaking.

2. Cut the apple into slices and remove the core. For most apples I'd say that splitting it into 8 is a good call. You don't want them too thin - it's really hard to fit the 'bunny' in then - but if they're too thick it's harder to do. I also like to 'square off' the top end a bit - but that's just me.

3. Starting at the top - cut (it won't work with a peeler) the peel away from the apple until about 1/2 - 2/3 of the way down. I TRY and do it so there's a thicker 'peel' at the top and have it thinning as I get nearer the end of the cut. Emphasis on TRY. But you don't want it TOO thin at any point because then it just breaks away.

4. This is possibly the most fiddly bit. You need to cut an longish isosceles triangle out of PEEL of the apple (don't cut into the rest of the apple if that is at all possible), with the base at the top edge of apple, where the peel is fully away from the rest. You now need to very carefully remove this triangle - but be aware- if you pull to hard you may remove the ears as well. And no one wants a ear-less bunny rabbit.

5. Mix a little lemon/lime/orange juice into a bowl of water/lidded container. It doesn't need to be a massive bowl - but the water needs to be above the apples when you place them in. Place the apples in the water. This stops them going brown quite as much when taken out and placed in a bento box. They should be here for at least 5-10 minutes, but if you only want a few bunnies for each bento they are okay in here for a few days.

6. Use them to cuten up pretty much anything!

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January 23, 2016

Lemon and Sultana Pancakes

You know when you see something in the grocery store and you convince yourself that you DON'T really want them and you'll make something better when you get home and ultimately convince yourself not to buy them?

You know what I'm talking about - right?

That was what happened EVERY SINGLE TIME I went to the grocery store last semester. Didn't matter which one I went to (apart from I guess the health food/middle eastern store but that was more because they didn't sell them...) - or what time of day it was, what I went in for or if I was hungry or not. 

I really wanted one of those packets of little lemon and sultana scotch pancakes that they sell. 

And I have really no idea why. I'd probably have one - max two and then not want anymore. But one or two little pancakes is not enough to keep me full - so I'd evidently end up eating something else with them and then I'd feel overfull - because I really don't need two breakfasts.

And what's worse - I probably wouldn't ENJOY them. I'd probably find them two sweet, the texture not right. I'd probably have those one or two - and then put the rest in the freezer. Where they would probably sit until the week before I need to move out of this flat at the end of the semester and then I'd have to panic about finishing a packet of pancakes I didn't want/like on top of panicking about exams. 

And who needs that?

So why did I crave these pancakes every-time I saw them. 

I have no clue. 

Well.... I do actually have several clues. Just because I know that I probably wouldn't like them very much now- doesn't mean that I don't remember liking them. Growing up - we always had a special breakfast on Saturdays. Special wasn't extraordinary. Sometimes Mom would make scotch pancakes or welsh cakes - often Dad would buy something from the store. Toaster waffles or brioche or hot cross buns or teacakes or crumpets ... pancakes. Two packets. One packet of plain ones for my brother (because yes - he is a weirdo who doesn't like raisins) and one packet of lemon and sultana. (FYI - we didn't eat a whole packet ourselves. Our parents would help. Often there would be some leftover). 

I loved the crispy edges and soft, fluffy interiors that arise from toasting them. How as they came out of the toaster oven they would be two hot to handle and you might drop them a few times trying to fish them out (because you obviously couldn't use a fork to do it - electrical shock risk). I loved how if you put butter etc. on them - they'd still have that hard, crispy, toasted outside but with a thin layer of intense flavor on top. (and to anybody who knows me - yes as a general rule I don't like butter. But I can remember how great it tasted when I did like it). Or syrup. Obviously syrup. Maple syrup that we used to much of and made our pancakes soggy with. How you could pick out all the sultanas before you ate the pancake and it would leave little holes where they'd been. The lucky dip of how sometimes you'd get seemingly hundreds of raisins - and sometimes you wouldn't get a single one and you'd be asking if one of the plain pancakes had gone for a walk and gotten lost in the wrong packets. 

I have seriously no idea why it took so long for me to get around to making these. I'd tell myself every time (so maybe twice a week on average) that I'd make these for almost 4 months. I guess I'm not very good at keeping the promises I make to myself. But for the first Saturday Morning pancakes back at uni - the day after my birthday and whilst prepping for a trip to IKEA - I found myself reaching for the raisins. I later found that I didn't have any lemon juice (or lemons) and okay - that was a bit (a big) flop in terms of the plan to make lemon and sultana pancakes - but who cares. I had some very nice sultana pancakes. 

My friend once asked me if I practised making things more than once before I published them on here. I answered that I TRY to - but it doesn't always work like that. This time I didn't post the first batch. I didn't plan to - it was kind of a busy morning. But it's a good job that I hadn't planned to. Because... well... 

First of all I had no lemon juice. And I could guess - but how could I make sure that I had the right amount of lemon if I didn't have and to add? And then there was the 'disaster' with the baking powder. It wasn't a disaster exactly.... it's just that I added way to much. Lets just say.... expect there to be a recipe for pickles coming soon. 

Lemon Sultana Pancakes 

Based on a recipe for drop scones from the Be-Ro Cookbook.
Serves 2, makes about 9 (sorry - I know 9 isn't divisible by two)

  • 1/2 Tablespoon ground flax-seeds (ground lin-seeds)
  • 2 Tablespoons warm water
  • 1/4 cup white flour (plain/all purpose)
  • 1/4 cup fine plain wholemeal flour/white wholemeal flour (this has a finer grind than normal wholemeal flour used for bread, and no bits. I recommend the Dove's Farm one)
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 Tablespoons applesauce (apple puree, not the stuff sold in the UK as a condiment. Apple baby food is the easiest way to buy it in the UK)
  • 4-8 Tablespoons of milk (I used almond - but I'm pretty sure any type of plain milk would work)  
  • 1 Tablespoon of lemon juice (I used the stuff from a bottle - but go ahead and use freshly squeezed if you want!)
  • 2 Tablespoons of sultanas (This doesn't give pancakes with as much fruit in as the ones you buy, but it's enough for one fruit portion per serving of pancakes and I didn't want to add more as that raises the sugar content of the pancakes. If you like your pancakes with more fruit.... go crazy!)

  • Mix together the ground flax-seed and warm water in a small dish. Let sit for about 5-10 minutes, stirring a few times. It should amalgamate to make a thick but kind of watery paste
  • Combine the flours and the baking powder in a measuring jug. If you don't have one a smallish bowl is fine, but I find a measuring just works best for smaller batches of batter like this. 
  • When the flax is ready, add that, the applesauce, the lemon juice and about 1/4 cup (4 Tablespoons) of the milk to the flour mix. Fold this in to form a batter. Test it for thickness - it should easily drop of a measuring spoon. If not add more milk. I needed 6 Tablespoons - but this does depend on the flours that you use so you will need to experiment a bit. Always remember that you can add more - but you can't take any away. Make sure that the first lot is stirred in fully before adding more. 
  • Heat up a lightly greased frying pan. My Mom swears by a well oiled griddle for pancakes - but I've found that I get much better results with a frying pan and a spray of oil. Plus I don't have a griddle. It should be quite hot. 
  • Fold in the raisins to the batter. 
  • Drop the mixture onto the frying pan. I used 2 Tablespoons for each pancake and could fit 3 in the pan at the time. You need to make sure that there's enough room to flip them. 
  • Cook for about 2-5 minutes on the first side, then use a spatula to flip them. You will know that they are ready because the edges will be solid and have changed color - although the middle will still be uncooked and liquid - and they will flip with the spatula very easily. Cook for roughly the same amount of time on the other side. Both sides should be golden brown. You don't want them too dark because then they will overcook if you have leftovers to toast the next time.
  • Continue until all the batter is used up. I found that I needed to turn the heat of the stove-top down with each pan-ful - otherwise the pan would get too hot as time progressed and the pancakes would burn before they were cooked through. 
  • I served mine with sunflower spread and honey - but syrup would also be more than great. They can be frozen and reheated in the toaster- just turn it down to the lowest setting so that they defrost first without toasting until they're burnt. If you don't use honey these pancakes are suitable for vegans. 

January 10, 2016

The Lucy Variations by Sara Zarr

*review contains some spoilers*

When I started this book - it had probably been sitting on my shelf for about eight months. There was a time when it would be unlikely for me to have this book on my shelf for 8 hours without me at least starting. Often I'd of finished it too. Although to be honest at that point in my life- it wouldn't have even got to be on my shelf before I read it. It just wouldn't get there. 

Okay, so, back to the original point I was trying to make here was that when I first started this book after it sitting on my bookshelf for eight months I thought I was reading a historical novel. Or not a historical novel exactly - but one that was set sometime between 1900 and 1950. I have no idea why I thought this - I just did. I'm not entirely sure when I realized that this book was set in the present day - but when I did it was quite a shock. And again - I have no idea why. There is nothing to suggest that it was anything other than a contemporary setting - and actually most of the books not set in the present day have a description which starts something along the lines of "Its 1912 and...". But for some unknown reason I had got it into my head that this was a historical book. 

There were clues all along "call 911" - when did it become a thing that American households would have a telephone. And when did calling 911 become a thing? (just fyi - Google informs me that the first 911 call was in 1968. I'm shocked. I would have thought it be earlier.) Did people call it CPR in the early twentieth century? Or did they have another name for it? But then BOOM all of a sudden I realize that there have been a million different things shouting "I'm set in the present day." I think it was when her brother said the words "Mom's going to be pissed.". Why I didn't realize at the mention of a cell phone but did at the bad language - I don't know. But I did. 

Although there were some points where I don't blame myself for getting the wrong impression. The scene at the start of the book where it describes the protagonist Lucy and her younger brother Gus laying the table being one of them. I mean - salad plates and two forks? It seems overly fancy to me. 

My friend Anna (go check out her fantastic blog about applying to uni) and her family gave me this book when I was ill (hence the long time before I read it) and I have to say that of all the gifts I got when I was ill it was a good one. If I'm choosing a book to give someone as a gift I will spend hours and change my mind many times about which would be the perfect book to get them (and never mind do they already have aforementioned book) (n.b. dear best friend who got a book for her birthday and Christmas - be grateful!!! :P ) 

But this was a really good choice. It was perfect for what I needed right then. A lot of people were suggesting I read classics (thinking I suppose that I would find comfort in 'old friends' and great literature) but that was just too much archaic language and required concentration for me at that point. This was not like that in that it was easy to read - there wasn't complicated plot twists or confusing moments or seven syllable words. 

But don't take that to say that it wasn't a good book. It was no War and Peace, but it was still a compelling read. There were no life shattering plot twists- but as you were reading you didn't feel like you knew exactly what was going to happen at every second. Well - you could kind of see where it was going but there was enough substance to the book that you WANTED to read it. You wanted to read it through, to see what Lucy made of herself and where she ended up at the end, enough ups and downs and highs and lows. There was enough to intrigue and entice you to want to keep reading. 

The book has an interesting and unusual background to the plot. It's a book about family and expectations and slightly obsessive behaviour and friendship. Of independence and finding what you love. But it's set to a background of the music world. I've read a lot of books about dancers, and a lot of books about people who do sports or who are artists. There are plenty of books about people who are into anime and 'geeky stuff'.

And yes - there are a lot of books were the characters are musical, where they play guitar/drums/sing (for example Angel Dares by Joss Stirling) but I don't think I have ever really before read a book where the classical music world features - or if it does only to a very minor extent.

My Dad is a classical music fanatic. And not just he owns a few Cd's of 'popular' artists and works, and compilations of 'the best classical'. He is one of those people for whom 'classical' music is music from the classical era (about 1750-1820) and whom has Cd's from all musical era's. And when we say he has Cd's, we mean like thousands. Literally thousands. So suffice to say - I've been exposed to classical music. I don't know a lot - but it is not an alien realm to me.

I know that for a lot of kids this is not the case. There are a lot of kids who have never and would never go anywhere near classical music, because it's boring. And they may sometimes be right. But firstly, you do not need to know anything about classical music and the piano to enjoy this book. It's not an exclusive book. Some things are mentioned, for example names of pieces, but it doesn't matter if you have never heard of it before or if you can play it backwards on the harpsicord in your sleep; the music world is the world in which this book is set and not a book about the history of the piano. It's not a book about choosing not to play the piano, but about choosing not to do something that you love, and as such I think the main themes and plot would be equally applicable to piano playing or gymnastics or football.

And also there are leagues of kids who take up the violin or the piano or the flute or the trumpet or some other instrument. Wether they 'think it's cool at the time' or because they know someone else who plays or because their parents make them. Weather they only ever learn to play three blind mice or do it for years. Wether they perform at recitals or join the school orchestra or sit exams. Wether they never practice or practice for six hours every day. A lot of children learn to play an orchestral instrument, and I like how music plays a part in this book as I feel it is underrepresented in the children, and especially young adult, literary word.

And now I feel like I've rambled on about that WAY TOO MUCH.

One of the things that played a big part in this book is the relationships Lucy has. With her deceased grandmother and how her death effects Lucy. With her grandfather who expects nothing less than perfection from her. With her parents - it's interesting how this isn't always black and white, and I like  how they change depending on circumstance, and there's evidence of changing over time - it makes them feel more real to me. Your not just given a black and white snapshot of one parent being the bad cop and the other being the pushover good cop. Her relationship with her brother reminds me a lot of my relationship with mine. Sometimes we hate each other. Sometimes we will talk to each other for an hour (this is rare) in some sort of serene state. But there is no big change, it is constantly changing from 'friends' to 'enemies' and feel like this is the same with Lucy and Gus.

I felt that the relationships that Lucy has with her friends were slightly underdeveloped- I just didn't feel like they were a big part of the book, when for any teenager friends are a big part of their life. If they have them or not. But with Lucy - her friends were very in the background. You know their names, and that Reyna's parents are going through a messy divorce and that her Dad's a orthodontist. But that's about it. I just don't feel that they are properly fleshed out characters. But I think a big part of this may be that Lucy just isn't that bothered about them. They're more just people who are conveniently there. When she falls out with Reyna it doesn't seem to phase her much. And the fact that she really does only have two friends should say a lot. I feel that maybe they aren't fully developed is a reflection of how Lucy views them and thinks about them - which is quite frankly not a lot.

The other relationships that she has are with older men. In a slightly creepy way. It's not just crushes on older celebrities or commenting on younger men in her community (teachers etc...) because that's kind of normal. It's that Lucy is ACTING on her crushes, and they're not just crushes, she actually seems to have romantic feelings and obsessions with these people (her english teacher and her brothers new piano teacher) as if she was their peer. When she is not. It never gets really far but it definitely goes further than I think it should be allowed to go. Her friend jokes about her having a thing for older men, but it's not really a joke when she calls them in the middle of the night and creeps around their bedroom.

For a lot of the book Lucy is 'at war' with her family about.... everything. And her piano playing is the wooly mammoth in the room. It did get to the point where this gets a bit annoying - because it gets to the point where I feel where Lucy is just getting a bit unreasonable. There is a strong suggestion she is seen as a 'spoiled brat' by many in the music community and also by her grandfather. I don't think this is necessarily the case. I don't feel that Lucy is spoiled necessarily, just very used to a very different lifestyle. She is often late to school, and I don't feel like it's because she is entitled to be late, but more she's not used to having to be up on time, or used to what time she gets up a problem. I think she has always been used to a certain style of life - she left school so she could follow her piano career being 'the important one', the main player. Everything was about her. And all of a sudden she needs to get used to being a normal, unspectacular, high school student. I don't feel like it's necessarily because she's jealous, or resents her new situation- more just doesn't quite know what she's doing.

So yes - there was a point where I did feel like Lucy was a bit annoying. I was frustrated with how she was acting. Why didn't she hang on to her friends more? Why couldn't she see she was hurting Gus?

But I think that's just because Lucy was such a real character. She's normal. She's human. And that means that she acts like a human. And sometimes she is a bit annoying.

I think that's my main thing about this book. It's real. Its not just believable. It feels real. Sometimes I don't like books that are two real, because they're just a bit too real. But here I like it. I like how Sara Zarr has created her characters. And I like how the events and directions of the plots seem to be dictated by the characters, instead of her having a bunch of charercters and a plot. I feel like it's a well thought out book; that the scenarios are well considered and convincing.

So what I've just spent over 2000 words saying is that I like this book, I recommend you read it. It's different, it's interesting, it's believable. Yes, there are several chapters where I was a bit annoyed with Lucy, but after that bit when I understood her a bit more, and she understands herself a bit more I was glad I read through it because after that it was so gratifying. It's a fascinating and enjoyable read.

And lastly there's a bit at the end about the bits at the end of the book. The first one is 'Lucy's Love List for Will'. It's a 'copy' of the list she prepared when she was asked to make a list of the pieces of music that she loved. I love how it was included - because although we knew quite a few of the pieces because they'd been mentioned over the course of the novel - but I was interested to see them all together- and a couple that I'd either missed being mentioned or forgotten about. I made them into a playlist and I really like it - especially on shuffle it's an interesting mix full of things that I'd never heard before but are really very good songs.

The second bit is a few pages of discussion questions. Now. I am instantly weary of any book containing discussion questions. It reminds me of the TERRIBLE reading scheme we had in junior school. So I'm just not a fan of discussion questions. They should have been left as an available resource on the internet or something. The least said about them the better.

But luckily the novel itself is good enough to make up for the discussion questions. 

January 06, 2016

The To Make List - January 2016

As always - I have a list longer than me of all the yummyness that I want to make. The trouble with reading food blogs and being a cookbook addict is that there is always so many things I want to make. And then there's a whole load of idea's I have (some of which work - some of which don't) that I want to try out (because how else would I know if they work or not?) and I end up wanting to do a lot more cooking than I actually want to eat. I have to constantly be telling myself "No, I can't make abc until I have eaten all of xyz." (no, I can't try a candy cane brownie variation until I have eaten all the chocolate chip brownies) Which is kind of a problem. But there are some things that I don't just want to make - but that I really really want to make. 

So basically - in a nutshell - here's a list of things I want to make that you may be seeing on here soon - and also a list of recipes that I am super excited to try out. 

  • First up, I really want to adapt my Dad's tea bread recipe to make a banana tea loaf. Because banana makes everything better - right? I think that I'm going through a banana phase. Expect a lot of banana's. 
  • Black bean brownies. Okay - so I technically made a batch this morning - but when those are finished I want to try a candy cane variation. Yes- it is definitely too late. But I have a load of candy canes left over and I thought making some brownies might make them disappear a bit quicker (I do love candy canes- but I keep forgetting to eat them so I still have most of a box left). 
  • I want to make most things from Chelsea's blog - but these Sweet Miso Chickpeas are definitely top of my list! 
  • There's a couple of recipes in Deliciously Ella that I want to make before I get my copy of her second book in a few weeks
  • I would love to try some Chinese breakfast congee - but this Vietnamese version from The Viet Vegan also looks amazing. 
  • I don't have any special string-free celery - but I am sure that this Cashew Ginger Brown Rice Bowl will still be super awesome! 
  • I told you that I think I'm going through a banana phase - so please don't be surprised when I say that I want to make these Banana Chocolate Energy Bites.
  • When I'm back at uni and have my spiralizer again - I'm planing to make a spiralized cucumber salad with sweet and sour dressing. 
  • Kung Pao Brussel Sprouts. Need I say more? 
  • Baked Apples using date and nut bars
  • I want to make a load of date and nut bars to use with the baked apples. The last batch that I made were salted caramel. I'm thinking the next batch will probably be cookie dough because I think that cookie dough is probably my favorite flavor. 
  • And finally - I would like to make my Falafel burgers. Because they are super easy and super yummy and super versatile. And.... well super. 
So that's what I want to make this month. What about you? What do you want to make? And is there anything that you think I should add to my list? 

January 01, 2016

Hit the Glitterball

Okay. So for once- I have actually managed it. Or hopefully I'll of managed it. I'm writing this a few days before the whole New Years Day thing - partly because if I tried writing a post in one day it might not happen. I mean.... expect the unexpected right? And also.... I'm not really going to be accessing WiFi on Friday... (I'm going to be having a lovely quiet few days of avid reading at my Grandmother's instead) and so basically.... I just definitely wouldn't be posting anything if I left it till Friday/today. 

But - I think I definitely deserve a gold star. I mean.... the first time I did a New Years Post it was June. The second time it was February. Now it's January. Not just January. January first. So definitely a gold star. :) 

And I'm speedwriting this while listening to the Fangirl audiobook because I want to get back to my book and Danish and planning all the awesome stuff. Seriously. I have actually got some posts scheduled for like..... This time next year (there is no point publishing Christmas recipes in January) (because even I'm not that into Christmas!) 

And bedtime is fast approaching. 

I'm reading last years post. It's weird - reading things that I wrote just 12 (actually 11) short months ago. I'm not sure if it's slightly hilarious, slightly terrifying, or just slightly confusing. Was that really only 11 months ago. 

11 months ago I was still in high school. 11 months ago I had never lived anywhere other than home. 11 months ago I had never got a train on my own. I hadn't sat my A level exams. I hadn't worked out just how much I loved having books - and reading them. I hadn't read a book in french. I knew SO MUCH less Danish. I knew no Chinese (although to be honest I still don't really know anything). I had always chickened out of reading The Last Battle from The Chronicles of Narnia but this is the year that I decided that as someone who is almost twenty- I am just plain too old to be scared of reading a children's book. 

And then you realize that - never mind a week ago I got a train for the first time on my own - this time last year I couldn't even get to school on my own. I couldn't go shopping on my own yet. Now I do all my shopping. 

Last year feels..... so long ago. 

Even a few months ago when I started university seemed so long ago. That first week when I got lost more times then I didn't, when I didn't have any produce and was crazily posting MoFo recipes. Also - a time when there was actually light in Edinburgh. I swear- 2.5 hours on the train north and you loose about 4 or 5 hours of light. Which at the moment- only leaves about 3 hours of light. And that's not really brilliant super amazing light. More just... kind of grey and dreary light. People keep asking me if I could see myself living in Edinburgh - and it's hard. I mean - Edinburgh is a lovely city. So much better than here. But I would really rather live somewhere where I didn't have to have the light on about 23/7. I may have all these great ideas for recipes that I want to share with you - but I'm gonna struggle if I can't take any photos. 

You might just have to imagine what all the yummy food looks like. 

But now I am well and truly just waffling (when am I not though?) and so shall we just get on with it. Before my waffling gets slightly more doolally than normal because I'm tired as well as just.... well.... 

Let's just get on with it shall we? 

How did I get on with last years resolutions?

1. Learn Danish (Cause why not?)
Jeg kan snakker dansk. Not a lot. Barely any to be honest. I can understand a lot of what I read and what I watch. But I can't really speak Danish. I have written a 200 word piece all about me in Danish - it's not that good but it is exactly 200 words. I have not given it up tho. I am still working on it. I am also going to go to Denmark. At some point. And buy SO MANY books. Because I REALLY NEED to practise. And don't even get me started on the price of shipping from Denmark. I mean................. let's just say that it's a lot. I have VERY NEARLY ALMOST finished the Danish 'tree' on Duolingo. Which was kind of my goal for this year. I've just got 3 more skills to learn. And they'll definitely be done by the time that I go back to university in a few weeks. So.... I'm actually really quite proud of myself. 

2. Write a book
I'm writing a book. A bit like the Danish, this one is definitely a work in progress. But I have all my characters down. From all the ways Conrad can consume GORP to being able to tell you all about Lexi in Chinese (no, seriously) to Madi's love of Grimm's Fairy Tales. Working on that. It will get finished this year. For definite. This summer. Oh - and expect lots of recipes with bananas. 

3. Pass my A-levels
 This was stressful and I would rather not remember it. Suffice to say I passed. 

I thought that I was doing excellently at this. I loved tea and I was drinking it all the time. It was so.... great. And then I started at uni- and I drank so much more. I definitely aced my resolution to drink more tea. The only thing I don't do so much is drink tea from a teapot. Mainly because the teapot has a broken handle so it doesn't get used very often - but also because I didn't take my teapot up to college with me. Because of the broken handle and all. But I love my tea. All kinds of tea. Except maybe normal tea. I don't actually drink that all that much. But fruit teas and flavored black teas and green teas and oolong teas and white teas and mint teas and ginger teas hibiscus teas and all sorts of other teas. Because there are so many amazing types of tea out there why would I ever limit myself to just a few types? Yeah- I don't know either.

So I'm still working on writing a book and learning Danish (although I have a feeling Learning Danish is something that I will ALWAYS be working on.) I passed my A levels and I have totally aced drinking more tea. And now it's time to look at my 'Bucket List'. I'm looking at it for what is, to be honest, the first time in a long time. It starts off not to bad... and then it goes downhill. Fairly rapidly.

So just a reminder - this is what I wanted to do this year:

1. Make popcorn with nooch/golden sprinkles/nutritional yeast
2. Make Sushi
3. Make a Disney Princess Apron
4. Have my hair in a hair elastic. Just once. 
5. Make some really awesome bentos. 
6. A super secret thing that I'm not going to tell you about yet. 
7. Go swimming
8. Master making muffins
9. Finish one Octant in Senior Section
10. Take an ABRSM exam. Even if I have to take the prep test. Or maybe the performance assessment... (i.e. two exams that would be way more than stupidly easy for me) :P 

So how did I do? Well as I said it started off okay....

1. I did this one. Several times. My popcorn maker came out and I made popcorn. And then applied nooch to it liberally. Because YUMMY. And then did it again. And again. And I made a couple of recipes using popcorn and if I had any left over- well then out came the nooch. Because YUMMY.

2. I did this. I REALLY wish that I had a picture to show you - because to be honest- it was just ridiculously funny. I guess I made giant sushi. I don't know what I did wrong - apart from evidently using WAY TO MUCH RICE (although I used the right amount of rice according to the box) because the sushi was just MASSIVE. Like one piece was about the size of my fist. (although you should possibly know that I have really tiny hands). Suffice to say, I didn't need many pieces. It was SO GOOD tho. Obviously.

3. Okay. So I have the fabric. I haven't quite got to the point where I've done it yet. I'll get there at some point tho. When I've made up with Mom's sewing machine (we've fallen out again...)

4. I have so done this. It is still way to short really. It needs A LOT of bobby pins. And I only have ridiculous(ly cute) ones with little plastic colored balls on. And oh my goodness I've had my hair in hair elastics and it looks so ridiculous but I love it. So much. I just can't wait till my hair is a bit longer so it's a bit easier and I can do it properly....

5. My bento's just haven't been up to scratch lately. This is more like an epic fail. I would love to say that it is all the fault of me not having all my stuff with me at university - but it really isn't. It's just because.... I have made bentos. Many bento's. But they just haven't been awesome. By any standard.

6. Working on it.

7. So I have been swimming in the physiotherapy pool. I've actually done laps in the physiotherapy pool. With what is possibly the worst swimming technique that anybody has ever seen. But hey who cares? I have not actually been swimming in the public pool yet because a) scary and b) so expensive.  Since when did it become £5 for one visit. And as I quite fancy swimming at the moment - it's okay to say it's £5 because that's not too bad. But if I went twice a week that would be £10 a week. And that's like.... Way no. I have looked at going in the university pool - which is CONSIDERABLY cheaper - but they only have lane swimming there and so you have to be able to swim two lanes without stopping - and I'm just not sure that I'm there yet. So.... working on that one. But haven't actually gotten anywhere with it yet.

8. I have seriously mastered making muffins. And just FYI - it wasn't making muffins that I was struggling with but mastering making vegan muffins. That I actually wanted to eat. Before this year they either had SERIOUS structural integrity problems (think a load of crumbs that you had to eat them with a spoon) or they were so dense and hadn't risen and just not that great. At all. But this year was THE YEAR. The year that I finally mastered vegan muffins. And oh the muffins.... I think that my favorite was probably the snickerdoodle muffins - but the cranberry and banana ones were definitely a close second. Recipes to come (obviously).

9. Yeah. Just no. I have worked on lot's of different ones. But not gotten to the stage where I have finished one yet. Hopefully this will be the year. And I really don't see any reason why it wouldn't be. I've actually done a lot of stuff for them that I just haven't 'documented' yet. But hopefully.... this will be the year. There are several contenders for which will be the first to be completed. And also I actually have a camp blanket to put the badge on now- so there is definitely no reason not to complete it!

10. No. I was going to- I was all ready and had learnt my Grade 1 piano pieces. But then for various reasons I couldn't take the exam. AT SOME POINT I swear that I am going to. At some point. And when I do - it is possibly going to be the longest awaited exam ever. I may frame that far off certificate and display it like it was some sort of doctorate. It will be that awaited.

And just FYI - I have finished all the ones off my bucket list from 2014. Wow wasn't that a long time ago?

So are you ready to hear about my New Year's Resolutions for this year? Are you ready? Are you sure? Because it's going to be an epic year I swear.

My New Year's Resolutions 2016:

1. Read Something in French EVERY DAY

2. Post twice a week
3. Do some Chinese every week

1. This is mainly because I spent way too long learning French to want to just give it up. I don't really want to focus on learning french, partly because I'm still learning Danish and then there is Chinese mixed in there as well - and so I really don't want to be spending time learning French as well - but also because I'm a bit passed the 'Learn French' type of books. I AM NOT SAYING THAT I AM FLUENT - OR THAT I AM AMAZING AT FRENCH - OR THAT I HAVE NOTHING LEFT TO LEARN. I'm saying that I studied it to As level (or for 6 years) - and so I'm a bit passed things like learning the names for colors and animals and learning that there exists a thing called gender in french nouns. I do actually have some french grammar books that I can go through if I want - and I can always use Duolingo which is the same program that I used for Danish this year if I feel I need a bit of practise on something - but on the whole- I think for me at this point reading in french (and watching and listening when I can) is the way to go. I may not get any better at my French - but I'm hoping that this way I won't get any worse. Or at least not that much worse. I'm going for staying at the same level I'm at. Which is not very good but I can function in french. So I want to read every day in French. I want to make it a habit - just something a bit weird (as my Dad would say) that I do. Not something that I have to force myself to do or that is a chore. Just something that happens. And - to make it extra easy - as well as a whole host of children's books that I have in French - I also have a Disney treasury of princess stories (in French of course). They're more like passages really - super short. But there is also one for every day of the year. So I literally can't go wrong!

2. That is my aim for this year. I don't know how successful it will be - but that is definitely my aim. It's also my aim to post something on Instagram every day but that doesn't happen either. And it was my aim this year to post something every week - and yeah. I haven't even posted something every month. Although I did have a good run with it for a few months. But this year I am going to try super hard to get it done. Because I really love blogging - it is one of my favorite things. It's hard to explain exactly why it hasn't happened. Mainly because I've been too busy with life in general. But if I have to force myself to sit down and work - who cares? Because I love it when I do it. And right now I feel like twice a week is an awful big commitment - but I know it really isn't. Sometimes you might get some really rubbish posts. But.... I hope now. I even have a diary and everything with some resemblance of a 'plan' in. Because I am that organised. Or just that determined to share everything that I want to share with you this year.

3. This semester I had space in my timetable to do an 'outside course'. And as they wouldn't let me do Danish (stupid Physics getting in the way) I picked Chinese. And I loved it. Most of the time. I love the characters. Because hello - no spelling!! (I would say you should see my posts before I spell check them but on second thoughts I really don't want you to!) There were times on that course when I did not love it (the character for food is a particular enemy of mine) but on the whole..... I guess it's a bit like the french. I've spent time learning it (I probably know about 200 characters) and so I don't want all that time to of been wasted. Except I don't know anywhere enough to read anything yet and so I'm gonna concentrate on learning a bit instead. Not a lot. Maybe just 1 or 2 hours a week. Which I know in reality is no where near enough to learn anything. But.. it's something. I am doing a degree here people! I have to study! I have to do so much studying! But it's my hope that I can find space for some Chinese in there as well. 你好! (and just fyi - I do no more than just how to say hello!)

So those are my resolutions - but there's also a few things that I want to do this year - which aren't exactly resolutions. So here's my 'Bucket list' of things that I want to do before the end of the year.

My New Year's Bucket List 2016:

1. Go to Denmark. And Buy Books. 

2. Become a 'Memonist' on Memrise. (That's 2 levels above what I'm on now) 
3. Read one book in Danish. And I don't mean a picture book. I mean a proper book with chapters. It doesn't have to be a great work of literature - but I want to read a book with chapters. 
4. Finish writing my book. 
5. Fill my 'book of books' with all the books that I've read. I have already filled in about 10 - but I think that there's about 80 pages. So I better get on with it....
6. Write more in French/Danish/Chinese. Because although it's great being able to understand stuff- it's nice to be able to use what I've learnt. And I'm never going to get there unless I practise am I? 
7. Stop using my crutch for 90% of the time. 
8. Tidy my bedroom. Not just so that it's tidy enough but so that it's EXACTLY as tidy as I want it. So no boxes of STUFF in weird places. Including under my brothers bed. 
9. Knit myself a jumper. One that is good enough that I can actually knit. 
10. Read the Harry Potter series again. And reward myself with a Hufflepuff scarf. Because yes I am a Hufflepuff. Don't hate me. 

And still left over from last year is:

3. Make a Disney Princess Apron
5. Make some really awesome bentos. 
6. A super secret thing that I'm not going to tell you about yet. 
7. Go swimming
9. Finish one Octant in Senior Section
10. Take an ABRSM exam. Even if I have to take the prep test. Or maybe the performance assessment... (i.e. two exams that would be way more than stupidly easy for me) :P 

I don't actually think that the last one is going to get done. But there is always hope. But that one might be featuring on the list of 'things that I've still got to do' for a long time. For a very long time.

So now I have told you all about what I've done and what I've not done and what I'm going to do (hopefully) what about all of you? What are your resolutions and what do you want to do this year?