Friday, January 31, 2014

Dinner, 31/1/14: Ginger Chicken


A curry with ginger, coconut milk, coriander and various other things. Another dish we've had and liked before.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Dinner, 28/1/14: 5-spice Chicken Stir Fry


A simple stir-fry with chicken and courgettes. We've had this before, and one previous note said Olivia thought it would be nice with something crunchy added, like cashews, so we tried it that way. It was.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Dinner, 27/1/14: Sausage and Bean Casserole


Sausages, leeks, haricot beans, and so on. Served with mashed potato (not pictured)...

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Dinner, 26/1/14: Lasagne (al forno)


...or as my family calls it "normal lasagne" -meaning one with a bechemel sauce and a meat ragu in it, as opposed to a vegetable one, which I am most likely to make (less work). Still, yum!


Saturday, January 25, 2014

Dinner, 25/1/14: Vegetable Biryani


A standby favourite - tasty, easy, makes lots (so there are leftovers for lunches).  

Scout Camp!


Alex is away this weekend at Scout Camp - they are at a PGL activity centre (good prices in the winter as the weather is less than perfect).   The photo above shows them kitted up to go (we think) quad biking - Alex is actually in this one - he's the kid standing behind the seated ones.


Not sure if he's in this photo or not, but it does show the Jacob's Ladder, which is one of the activities they'll do over the course of the weekend.  The weather was ok yesterday, but today is supposed to be rainier - hopefully it won't be too bad for them!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Dinner, 22/1/14: Vegetable Soup with Pasta


Geoff cooked tonight - something I'm going to try to encourage, especially on some Wednesday evenings, which can be a bit busy for us...

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Monday, January 20, 2014

Dinner, 20/1/14: Kale Pasta with Chilli and Anchovies


This was great. Kale may be trendy at the moment, but I like it anyway.  Would also work ok with spinach or greens, but I thought the texture of the kale made a nice contrast.  From Good Food magazine.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Dinner, 19/1/14: Lamb Steaks, Creamy Garlic Potatoes, Broccoli


Creamy Garlic Potatoes  +


lamb steaks from the Farmers' Market +


tenderstem broccoli = 


Saturday, January 18, 2014

Dinner, 18/1/14: Black Bean Burritos


An alternative to fajitas, which we also have fairly often. This one a veggie option, with black beans and peppers as the main filling.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Dinner 17/1/14: Paella-style rice with chicken and black olives


This was great and easy as well (though I subbed green for black olives as that was what I had).  Conveniently, someone else has blogged about it, and posted the recipe, so if you are interested, here it is.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Dinner, 16/1/14: Leek, Cheese and Bacon Tart

Sarah cooked this, and it was lovely, but she didn't photograph it. By the time I got home, there was only a little bit left and it was put away in the fridge, so I didn't photograph it either.  Oh well!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Dinner, 14/1/14: Sausages, Mash, Yorkshire Puddings, Green Beans


These sausages are from our favourite local butcher - Bevan Brothers, in Kingston (via the Garson's Farm Shop).  Hard to beat really good sausages.  The Yorkshire puddings were actually free - a mistake in my Christmas shopping order - a package of Waitrose frozen Yorkshire puds. They were actually very good and a lot easier than making your own (which I will probably still usually do, but it's nice to know...)

Monday, January 13, 2014

Dinner, 13/1/14: Aubergine and Goat Cheese Pasta


I love aubergines (eggplant) as does Geoff, but the kids aren't so hot, so this worked well for the family as I was able to serve it with only a little aubergine for the kids and more for us - the rest of the sauce was tasty enough that they didn't mind not having a main ingredient...

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Dinner, 12/1/14: Roasted Breast of Lamb with Lemon, potatoes, courgettes


A while back at the Farmers' Market, I bought a rolled lamb breast, which is something I've only cooked a few times, so I don't have a store of recipes. I went searching on the interwebs :)  to see what I could find, and this Tesco Recipe was very nice - I didn't spread the filling inside the breast, as mine was already rolled and I had no kitchen string in the house, only rough twine, so I just used it as a marinade, but I'm sure it would be lovely rolled inside. And I cooked the courgettes in a separate pan, though I did chuck the potatoes in the oven with the lamb, which was excellent.  Mmm.


Saturday, January 11, 2014

Dinner, 11/1/14: Mushroom (or not) and Pancetta Risotto


I'm a firm believer in children eating what they are given, but when it's something easy to avoid - like not piling a lovely pile of delicious fried mushrooms on top of the risotto, I don't push it.   And my kids think I'm unreasonable...


Friday, January 10, 2014

Dinner, 10/1/14: Courgette Lasagne


This has a filling of courgettes (surprise!) and ricotta and everyone likes it, even those who might otherwise complain about courgettes. They are grated and cooked a little first, which helps reduce the liquid they might otherwise produce. Very quick to make and cook, which makes it suitable for a weeknight...

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Dinner, 8/1/14: Pea and Potato Curry


A nice curry, fairly ordinary, but tasty.

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Dinner, 7/1/14: Ham and Cabbage Broth


...using the last of the leftover ham. And also, the leftover carrots!

What I read in 2013


Last year, at the end of the year, I did a roundup of my favourite books of the year (and some useless and probably not even very interesting statistics about the books I'd read) and whether or not any of my readers really cared, I personally found it an interesting resource for future reference, so I thought I'd do it again. it's a little easier this year, as I have been doing monthly or semi-monthly roundups of my reading anyway, so I don't have to rush off looking for cover photos to collage...

Anyway, in 2013, my list of books I at least tried to read contains 106 entries. One was a trilogy, so it counts as three books. Of these, there were only 8 I didn't finish - which either means I am more persistent, or perhaps just luckier with my choices this year. (And frankly, I read over half of My Name is Red, which is very long, so even half nearly counts as a whole book!) That means I read 100 books in 2013, which averages out to about 8 books a month, give or take, which is about what I read in 2012 as well. Shall I make a prediction for 2014?

Of these 100 books, 10 were re-reads, 15 were fantasy and 14 were crime. One was a teen fiction collection of three short novels which I read due to being stuck on an airplane circling Arizona in a duststorm and having finished my book - I swapped with my (then) 15YO who had also finished her book. It was surprisingly good. And 4 of the books I read were non-fiction [one a memoir of Communist China, one a travel/food book - also about China, one about the history of Hawaii (which I didn't quite finish, but I'm counting it as I read most of it) and one a book about pianos - I don't read a lot of non-fiction, but what I do read is very varied].

I've highlighted those which were my very favourites (not counting re-reads, which by their very nature are often favourites) and underlined those I thought very good but not the best of the best. I should say, of course, that any book I take the trouble to finish reading, is pretty good - there are so many books I want to read and so little time, that I don't stick with stuff I don't like...

I'm not usually able, over a long period of time, to pick out a single book as a top read or favourite, but I'd almost be willing to make an exception this year - the one book which really stood out was Jonas Jonasson's The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed out a Window and Disappeared. I can see reading this again (even though it won't have quite the same element of surprise) - this was truly an amazing and original novel and absolutely great fun.

And a final note - the books are in reverse chronological order, as that's the way they go up in the sidebar on my other blog - it's easier to just nick the text from there than to type it all again!

Flowers Stained with Moonlight, Catherine Shaw
Still Life, Louise Penny
The White Tiger, Aravind Adiga
The Registrar's Manual for Detecting Forced Marriages, Sophie Hardach
A Trick of the Light, Louise Penny
A Discovery of Witches, Deborah Harkness (50pp)
The Time-Traveller's Wife, Audrey Neffenegger (re-read)
The Piano Shop on the Left Bank, T E Carhart
The Facts of Life, Patrick Gale (Dec 2013)
Dead to the World, Charlaine Harris
The Haven Home for Delinquent Girls, Louise Tondeur (50pp)
Broken Homes, Ben Aaronovitch
The Beginner's Goodbye, Anne Tyler
This is Not a Novel, Jennifer Johnston
The Dressmaker, Kate Alcott
84, Charing Cross Road, Helene Hanff (re-read)
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
Skylight Confessions, Alice Hoffman
The Corrections, Jonathan Franzen (50pp)
The Lifeboat, Charlotte Rogan (Nov 2013)
Fire, Kristin Cashore
The Three Body Problem, Catherine Shaw
The Sunday Philosophy Club, Alexander McColl Smith
The Age of Miracles, Karen Thompson Walker
Club Dead, Charlaine Harris
Whispers Underground, Ben Aaronovitch
Graceling, Kristen Cashore
The Sea Change, Joanne Rossiter
Sacred Hearts, Sarah Dunant (Oct 2013)
Moon over Soho, Ben Aaronovitch
Memoirs of a Geisha, Arthur Golden
Arlington Park, Rachel Cusk
The Cleaner of Chartres, Sally Vickers
The Hour I First Believed, Wally Lamb (Sept 2013)
The Scent of Rain and Lightning, Nancy Pickard
Let it Snow, Maureen Johnson, John Green, Lauren Myracle
The Chaperone, Laura Moriarty
Drawing Conclusions, Donna Leon
Rivers of London, Ben Aaronovitch
Girl in Hyacinth Blue, Susan Vreeland (re-read)
Run, Ann Patchett (re-read)
Where the Heart Is, Billie Letts
The Quilter's Apprentice, Jennifer Chiaverini (re-read)
Dawn's Early Light, Elswyth Thane (re-read)
The Golden Egg, Donna Leon
Unfamiliar Fishes, Sarah Vowell (August 2013)
My Name is Red, Orhan Pamuk (more than half)
Pure, Andrew Miller
Tell the Wolves I'm Home, Carol Rifka Brunt
The End of Mr Y, Scarlett Thomas
Stonemouth, Iain Banks (July 2013)
American Gods, Neil Gaiman
Shark Fin and Sichuan Pepper, Fuschia Dunlop
The Peacock Emporium, JoJo Moyes
Seraphina, Rachel Hartman (June 2013)
Flight Behaviour, Barbara Kingsolver
The Blue Sword, Robin McKinley (re-read)
The Last Runaway, Tracy Chevalier
Gold, Chris Cleave
The Gargoyle, Andrew Davidson
The Fever Tree, Jennifer McVeigh
Living Dead in Dallas, Charlaine Harris
The Invisible Circus, Jennifer Egan
A Perfectly Good Man, Patrick Gale (May 2013)
The Panopticon, Jenny Fagan
Valeria's Last Stand, Marc Fitten
An Awfully Big Adventure, Beryl Bainbridge (part)
Instructions for a Heatwave, Maggie O'Farrell
The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out a Window and Disappeared, Jonas Jonasson
The Year of Wonders, Geraldine Brooks.
The Other Side of You, Sally Vickers
Daydream Girl, Bella Pollen
The Girl Who Chased the Moon, Sarah Addison Allen
The Troubled Man, Henning Maskell (part)
The Windsinger Trilogy, William Nicholson (April 2013)
The Girl you Left Behind, Jojo Moyes
Finding Mr Flood, Ciara Geraghty
Spindle's End, Robin McKinley
The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox, Maggie O'Farrell
Dead Until Dark, Charlaine Harris (re-read)
Venetia, Georgette Heyer (re-read)
Mary Reilly, Valerie Martin
The Land of Decoration, Grace McCleen
The Peach Keeper, Sarah Addison Allen
The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of her own Making, Catherynne M Valente (March 2013)
The Distance Between Us, Maggie O'Farrell
Cross Bones, Kathy Reichs
Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck (re-read)
The Pirate King, Laurie R King
Watership Down, Richard Adams (re-read)
The Snow Child, Eowyn Ivey
The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman
Guard your Daughters, Diana Tutton
The 19th Wife, David Eberhoff (Feb 2013)
Rosie Hopkins' Sweet Shop of Dreams, Jenny Colgan
Appointment with Death, Agatha Christie (re-read)
One, Two, Buckle My Shoe, Agatha Christie (re-read)
The Book of Summers, Emylia Hall
The Road Home, Rose Tremain
The Story Sisters, Alice Hoffman
Daughter of Smoke and Bone, Laini Taylor
The Third Child, Marge Piercy (half)
Crazy as Chocolate, Elizabeth Hyde
Homeland, Clare Francis
Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, Helen Simonson (half)
Daughter of China, Xu Meihong (January 2013)

Monday, January 06, 2014

Dinner, 6/1/14: Gnocchi Carbonara


...except guess what I used in place of the pancetta in the recipe...

Sunday, January 05, 2014

Dinner, 5/1/14: Jambalaya with Cornbread


One of the many ways to use leftover ham. There will be a few more!

Saturday, January 04, 2014

Wet winter walk


Although our original plans to visit Wisley RHS Gardens had to be cancelled due to weather, after our lunch with Geoff's brother and sister-in-law, we decided to go out for a brief walk at Claremont Gardens - we are all National Trust members, so it didn't cost us anything to get it - and therefore didn't matter if our walk was short and a little rainy. It wasn't too bad, actually, and we weren't by any means the only folks out in the somewhat dubious weather...



We may not be good at snow or blazing sunshine, but we manage to cope with drizzle very well in the Britain!


Olivia was not the only child in wellies playing in a puddle, though I'd take bets on her being the oldest one doing so...


the ducks and geese played in puddles too, though not a wellie in sight. 


Not many photos from the day, as it was raining lightly a lot of the time, which is annoying with a camera lens.  But here's a black swan we saw right at the end...

Dinner, 4/1/14: Roast Chicken, Roast Potatoes, Cabbage with Mustard Seeds, Carrots with Sage Butter


Originally, we were going to meet up with Geoff's brother and SIL at Wisley and have a lovely (if wintery) walk around the gardens, but the weather was foul, and the forecast for later not much better, so we decided to meet at the house and eat here, then if the weather was clear enough, go for a walk afterwards.  Given that this was a last minute decision, I decided to go for something easy, like a roast chicken with some sides.  There were roast potatoes, 


cabbage (I did Spring cabbage with mustard seeds, which we all really liked)


and some Chantenay carrots with sage and butter. Yum!

Friday, January 03, 2014

What I read: November & December 2013


1. The Lifeboat, Charlotte Rogan - A story about people in a lifeboat after being shipwrecked, the dynamics of the relationships and politics, what happened when they didn't get rescued straightaway, etc. The novel focuses on one female passenger and the part she played, or didn't. This was an interesting story, with a highly unreliable narrator (which always adds some tension) and a lot of grey areas in terms of morality (which I also like).  Well done, I think.

The Corrections, Jonathan Franzen - about 50 pages. Hated it.  Didn't warm to any of the characters, and found the tone a bit smug - I could tell the author thought his characters were great, even when (or perhaps especially when) they were going to act like dickheads. I gave up reading that sort of thing (except the occasional crime fiction novel) when I left university.

2. Skylight Confessions, Alice Hoffman - I like Alice Hoffman a lot, but there are some of hers which I like better than others. Not sure why, perhaps some feel a bit more realistic (despite the magic) - this one I thought was super. If you like magical realism and its related books at all and haven't read Alice Hoffman, do give her a try.

3. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Burrows.  A litte gem of a novel - very sweet and well formed and just compelling. Due to its epistolary nature, it reminded me of 84 Charing Cross Road, which I also love (though Guernsey... has a lot more story to it, and is fictional). 

4. 84, Charing Cross Road, Helene Hanff  - a re-read, of course. Couldn't not read it again after being reminded of it in the above book.  This is such a quick but lovely story (and the film with Anthony Hopkins and Anne Bancroft isn't bad either). 

5. The Dressmaker, Kate Alcott - totally unintentionally, another story about people's behaviour in lifeboats after a shipwreck (this time, The Titanic). A different focus here, as the main character is a servant and isn't involved in the dubious behaviour (other than being employed by the perpetrator) or even in the lifeboat in question.  This was a nice historical novel, a little predictable, but enjoyable to read.

6. This is Not a Novel, Jennifer Johnston - of course, it IS a novel. I really like Jennifer Johnston. She's under-rated, I think (at least by the general public, perhaps not by the critics), and is very good at observing human nature. Her books are frequently short, but always well-crafted and interesting.

7. The Beginnger's Goodbye, Anne Tyler - another old favourite, though again, some of hers I don't like as much as others. Recently, I've been less impressed with her novels - some of them have felt a bit samey - but I think this one was excellent - back on form. She is still writing the kind of intimate portrait of a relatively ordinary life which she does so well, but this one felt quite fresh and new to me, as opposed to a couple others I've read recently (Digging to America, Noah's Compass).  Don't get me wrong - I don't think her books are ever BAD, just a few of them seemed not to sparkle as much...  Sparkle's back in this one!

8. Broken Homes, Ben Aaronovitch - the latest in the series about Peter Grant, a detective in the special section of the London police which deals with magic. This was good, and lots of things were set up here for future books in the series (but without it being too annoying).  Aaronovitch is very clever in his story telling, and I love his tone.  Great fun to read.

The Haven Home for Delinquent Girls, Lousie Tondeur - 50pp or so.  Not sure why this one didn't grab me - it probably should have, given the style and topic and whatnot, but it just didn't. 

9. Dead to the World, Charlaine Harris - another in the Sookie Stackhouse southern vampire series. This don't make any pretence to be anything other than what they are - well-written, enjoyable, entertainment.  

10. The Facts of Life, Patrick Gale - I really like Patrick Gale - he does the family saga sort of novel very well. It's never quite what you expect, although it neither does he spend all his time trying to shock you.  

11. The Piano Shop on the Left Bank, T.E. Carhart - I don't read a lot of non-fiction but occasionally I enjoy a nicely written, not too detailed book about something interesting. This was definitely in that category and it's not something I'd ever think I'd enjoy a book about - a piano shop, pianos, history of pianos, how pianos work, and so on. Except that it's not really about that - it's only a little about that - it's also about people, of course. Anyway, I really enjoyed this.

12. The Time-Traveller's Wife, Audrey Neffenegger - a re-read. I'd been thinking about re-reading this for a while, and then we had a friend to lunch and happened to talk about it a bit in passing, so I had to read it again. I love it - even the third time around - but I know people sometimes find it a bit hard to follow the chronology (my advice - don't try too hard, it will all come together, I promise).

A Discover of Witches, Deborah Harkness - 50pp (I don't always read only 50 pages of books I give up on, but that's my way of saying I read enough to see what it was like, but didn't like it enough to carry on). This didn't grab me. I kind of liked the idea, but the writing was a bit shallow and facile.

12. A Trick of the Light - Lousie Penny - a crime novel which a visiting friend left me a while ago to try out - it's the latest in a series, and I thought it was very well constructed with interesting characters (though I've missed some back story - didn't really harm the mystery, but I'm sure there are things which would be better explained had I read the prior novels). Decided to get the series out of the library and catch up with it. 

13. The Registrar's Manual for Detecting Forced Marriages, Sophie Hardach - I thought this was a good story, with a lot of interesting bits about the Kurdish communities in the UK (though not too much info...) but I did feel that the fact that the author tried to be a bit clever with revealing some of the central information in the story (which I guessed straight away anyway) made the start of the novel a little clunky.

14. The White Tiger, Aravind Adiga -  it's a funny thing about Booker Prize winners - sometimes I really like them and sometimes I don't (Orange Prize, for me, is more consistently a winner). This book was nothing at all like I expected it to be - that said, I don't know what I expected, but this was different. But very readable and I enjoyed it. 

15. Still Life, Louise Penny - the first in the series mentioned above. A nice mystery. I was fairly certain who the murderer was, but that was only because it was someone who I thought would have been mentioned a lot in the previous one I read, but wasn't.

16. Flowers Stained with Moonlight, Catherine Shaw - the second in a series I read the first of at the end of October or so, set in Cambridge in the late 19th century. As with the first, some of the plot focuses around mathematics (though not so heavily as in the first one). I'm not finding this one quite as compelling as the first, but it's still a solid story.  Haven't quite finished it yet, but expect to in the next few days.

17. (Out of Order, no photo) - Fire, Kristen Cashore - just realised that I have somehow left this off my list - not sure when I read it, but it was after the first one (October) and before the third one, which is my first book for January.  Not exactly a sequel to Graceling, in fact, it's set beforehand, but it's in the same world and lands, and has some character overlap. Excellent fantasy - looking forward to the third in the series (which does come after the first one, though again, not precisely a sequel).




Thursday, January 02, 2014

The World of Harry Potter


We are big Harry Potter fans (though not in a stupid way, we just enjoy the books and films) so I decided that it was time for us to visit the Warner Brothers Studio Tour - only about an hour away from us, and the kids were keen to go.  So I booked tickets for over the Christmas holidays, and off we went.  We got there before our time slot, so we had a browse in the shop first - here's Alex being sorted - sort of. We didn't buy the sorting hat, mind you, but we had fun playing with it.


The studios have tons of props on display - from the larger ones, like the flying car (Chamber of Secrets), which hangs in the lobby area, 


to things like one of Neville's cardigans


gowns from the Yule Ball (Goblet of Fire)


a model of Jason Isaacs' hair for styling


the penseive, in Dumbledore's study


the Triwizard Cup (Goblet of Fire)


to quite small props like a golden snitch (and you can see the edge of Dumbledore's deluminator)


and the Time Turner (Prisoner of Azkaban).


There were a number of actual sets you could view, or in the case of the Great Hall, walk through.  This self-knitting jumper was located in the set of The Burrow (the Weasley's house)


as was this clock, which is one of my favourite gadgets from the series - I particularly love that it has "mortal peril" on it. 


We also we able to tour the Back Lot, where some of the exterior sets were located - behind Sarah, who is showing off a Butterbeer mustache, is the Knight Bus (Prisoner of Azkaban), 


while here are Sarah and Alex riding in Hagrid's motorcycle and sidecar.


All three kids in front of the Dursley's house in Privet Drive


and boarding the Knight Bus. 


This is a section of the bridge at Hogwarts - only a section exists - the rest is added into the relevant films by computer effects. 


There was also a section with animatronics and creature effects - for instance the Monster Book of Monsters (Prisoner of Azkaban)


in various states...


Dobby the house elf is largely special effects, but in the 7th film (Deathly Hallows, part 1) Harry has to carry Dobby's dead body and this is the model used. 


Enough said perhaps about this model, hanging from the ceiling in one room...


We were also able to visit Diagon Alley (though unfortunately, the shops weren't open - shame!)  -


here's Olivia outside Ollivanders, wishing she could step in and chose a wand (or have a wand choose her - after all "The wand chooses the wizard")...


We also saw a good display of model and artwork for various sets and concepts, which I enjoyed, 


and then visited the proper model of Hogwarts, used for exterior shots not involving people, and zooming views, etc - it's HUGE. Takes up a whole room. And not a small room. 



Finally, before being shuffled back into the shop, we visited a room full of wand boxes - each label features the name of someone from the cast or crew of the films - we had fun for 10 minutes spotting names we knew and chatting to the two guys working in the room about the different actors.

It was a lovely trip out - it's not a cheap experience, but there is lots to see there, so if you are a Potter fan at all, I do recommend it as a treat. (Forgot to say, we did get to "ride a broom" in the green screen room - none of the photos turned out well enough to buy - but the kids had fun with it...)