Saturday, February 28, 2015

Book Plan Update - February

If you're a regular reader here, you'll remember that at the start of the year, I made a plan to try to read through books I owned, and not buy any new books until I'd made a substantial reduction in the (unread) books I owned. I did, however, allow myself library books (both those I order in because they are part of a series I'm reading and those which I happen to see which take my fancy) and a few gifts, e.g. birthday and Mother's Day. 

In the first month, I didn't gain any books, but I read a lot of stuff from the library and a few re-reads from what I already own, so I only managed to remove 2 titles from my list.  

Was Month 2 any better?

  • I bought 2 books from a charity shop, but one was a book I've already read by a favourite author, so it's going on the shelves with the other stuff by that author. The other goes into the reading list (Can't Wait to Get To Heaven, Fannie Flagg).
  • No library books this month (there was a cookbook/memoir I ordered which I had a look through and decided not to buy, but it doesn't really count as a read).
  • There were two  re-reads from the books already in the house, including the book that Alex and I were reading aloud as a bedtime book. (The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catheryne Valente)
  • I managed to read six titles from my list. (A Gate at the Stairs, Lorrie Moore; The Distant Hours, Kate Morton; Losing Nelson, Barry Unsworth; Cold Comfort Farm, Stella Gibbons; Foolish Mortals, Jennifer Johnston; PopCo, Scarlett Thomas )
  • One title from my list (The Small Hours, Susie Boyt) I didn't really like, so after a few chapters, decided to donate it to the charity shop. It counts as a book off the list, but not as a read title...
So, a good month - one book added to the list, but 7 removed, for a net loss of six.  Pretty good in a month!

Here's the updated list of Books to Read in 2015.  There are now 49 books on the list, with 10 months to go. That's down from 5 books per month left to read to 4.9 books.  Yeah, I know, not down by much!  But it's still very feasible - the main thing being, more steps forward than back, which is the main idea of the exercise!
  1. Karin Altenberg, Island of Wings
  2. James Anderson, The Affair of the Bloodstained Egg Cosy
  3. Gerhand Bakker, The Twin
  4. Bill Bryson, One Summer: America 1927
  5. Michael Collins, The Resurrectionists
  6. Wilkie Collins, The Moonstone (this one would be a re-read)
  7. Arthur Conan Doyle, The Hound of the Baskervilles
  8. Jim Crace, Harvest
  9. Esi Edugyan, Half Blood Blues
  10. Jeffrey Eugenides, Middlesex
  11. Jim Fergus, One Thousand White Women (Summer 2013)
  12. Anne Fine, All Bones and Lies
  13. Fannie Flagg, Can't Wait to get to Heaven (Feb 2015, charity shop)
  14. Ford Maddox Ford, Parade's End (Nov 2012 - birthday present - bought after the BBC adaptation - but I knew I wouldn't read it straight away as I wanted to let time pass from the adaptation.  Enough time has probably passed now...)
  15. E M Forster, Howards End
  16. Karen Joy Fowler, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves (Christmas 2014)
  17. Miles Franklin, My Brilliant Career
  18. Robert Galbraith, The Cuckoo's Calling
  19. Patrick Gale, Rough Music
  20. Gabriel Garcia Marquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude (re-read, bought shortly after his death - spring 2014 - as I was reminded how much I enjoyed it)
  21. Elizabeth Gaskell, North and South
  22. Rumer Godden, Kingfishers Catch Fire
  23. Laurie Graham, A Humble Companion
  24. Graham Greene, Brighton Rock
  25. Nicholas Griffin, The House of Sight and Shadow
  26. Jane Haddam, Glass Houses
  27. Laurell K Hamilton, Bloody Bones
  28. Anjali Joseph, Sarasawati Park
  29. Jim Lynch, The Highest Tide
  30. W Somerset Maugham, The Magician
  31. Azar Nafisi, Reading Lolita in Tehran
  32. Kate O'Brien, The Land of Spices
  33. Regina O'Melveny, The Book of Madness and Cures
  34. Michael Ondaatje, The Cat's Table
  35. Anuradha Roy, An Atlas of Impossible Longing (Winter 2013, bought in a cheap shop in Oxford)
  36. Kathy Reichs, Spider Bones
  37. Carlos Ruiz Zafon, The Watcher in the Shadows (Christmas 2014)
  38. Richard Russo, Straight Man
  39. Simon Sebag Montefiore, One Night in Winter
  40. Muriel Spark, Memento Mori
  41. Mark Slouka, The Visible World
  42. Betty Smith, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (Summer 2013 - a re-read, as I read it when a teen)
  43. Magda Szabo, The Door
  44. Amy Tan, The Valley of Amazement
  45. Rose Tremaine, Merivel
  46. Rose Tremaine, Music & Silence
  47. Barry Unsworth, The Ruby in her Navel
  48. Ayelet Waldman, Love and Treasure (new in December 2014)
  49. December, Elizabeth Winthrop

Dinner, 28/2/15: Spicy Cheese & Tomato Bake

This was a case of using a recipe as a jumping off point - I also tweaked this to accomodate all the various leftover bits and pieces of stuff we had hanging about - some leftover mozzarella, tomato sauce and pepperoni from the pizzas the kids made last night, some leftover sunblush tomatoes from the carbonara style pasta from the other night, and some grated goat cheese from a block from something last week (instead of the soft kind in the recipe). Result:  really nice dish, definitely going into our pasta bake rotation.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Dinner at Yauatcha

Dinner out for our anniversary at Yauatcha in Soho - the best dim sum I've ever had. The rest of it was great too, though I did find the table lacked leg room a little...  

Sometimes when I'm dining out in fancy places, I don't photograph my food as it seems tacky, but this was the type of place where you definitely could do that without feeling odd, so of course I did. I didn't take a picture of everything we ate, but here's a good selection.  Rather than go a la carte (which hurts your head - too much choice!), we chose the dim sum menu, and ate:

  • Blue swimmer crab salad with peanut and sesame dressing 
  • Venison puff
  • Poached Peking chicken dumpling (top right) 
  • Har gau 
  • Pork and prawn shui mai (top left) 
  • Seafood dumpling soup (bottom centre) 
  • Three style mushroom cheung fun (bottom left) 
  • Crispy aromatic duck ¼
  • Fried chilli squid with oatmeal and curry leaf (top centre) 
  • Chinese vegetable (top centre)
  • And then I also ordered a citrus tart for dessert, which was lovely  (bottom right)

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Book 17: Cold Comfort Farm, Stella Gibbons

This is one of those books which I have been meaning to read for ages - years, even. And honestly, why did I wait? Very amusing, very light touch, and far more than (as has sometimes been asserted) a satire on the pastoral novel of the day. A winner, for sure. 

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Dinner, 24/2/15: Red Pork Curry with Green Beans

We love this and have cooked it several times before - the main change I've made to the recipe is I only add the palm hearts in right before the end - maybe 2 minutes, just enough to warm through. Otherwise they get mushy.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Dinner, 23/2/15: Courgette and Goat Cheese Frittata

Taking advantage of Olivia being away to cook a meal using two things she really doesn't like - eggs and peppers. Sometimes I make her eat them anyway - especially peppers, which we have in a lot of meals - but it seemed like a good time to cook a meal with both of those things in it!

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Dinner, 22/2/15: Mexican Style Salmon

A nice easy salmon dish, with potatoes - the salmon cooks on top of the potatoes (just for a few minutes at the end) - and then you add the salsa on top before you eat it. Tasty!

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Book 16: The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, Catherynne M. Valente (re-read, JF, aloud)

This was my bedtime book with Alex, after finishing up Watership Down. I've actually read it before myself, but it was new to him. It's a lovely and strange story, full of quirky fantasy and reminiscent in some ways of those odder bits of children's fantasy such as Alice or  Oz (especially the books, which are odder than the films in many ways). There are at least two more in the series (of which I have read one but not the other), so I imagine we'll be seeing these characters again at bedtime, though not next, as next up is Voyage of the Dawn Treader, as we make our way through the rest of Narnia (four down, three to go).

Book 15: Foolish Mortals, Jennifer Johnston

I always enjoy a Jennifer Johnston, and was pleased to pick this up in a charity shop a while back. A great portrait of a rather disfuntional family in the lead up to Christmas - a very quick read, partly because it's very readable, but also, there's lots of dialogue, which reads quickly. Not much to say about it, except the characters are well drawn and ring true (in a novelistic, slightly over the top, Irish Character way in some cases) and the whole thing, while somewhat High Drama also feels quite real. 

I think I've read 5 or 6 books by Johnston, but there's quite a few more than that listed inside, so perhaps I should check the library and see if they've any more in stock (because I need more books to read!)

Dinner, 21/2/15: Greek Lamb with Orzo

A lovely casserole - really tasty and warming. We've had it before, according to my notes, but not for a while. But very simple and the orzo is fantastic in it....

Friday, February 20, 2015

Dinner, 20/2/15: Chicken Soup with pasta

Using the stock from the roast the other day, plus some of the leftover meat. Can't beat a good chicken soup!

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Book 14: Losing Nelson, Barry Unsworth

I'm generally a fan of historical fiction or fiction mixed with history or other things of that ilk, and this book appealed despite my lack of extreme interest in All Things Naval. And for the most part, I enjoyed this story of a man obsessed with Nelson's life and the parallels he sees with his own life. The writing was very good, and I found the main character (often painfully) well drawn; in the end, I did skim a bit in the last third or so, as I just found it a little too much Nelson and naval engagement re-enaction for my taste, but I have another book by the same author on my shelf (not about Nelson!) and I'm looking forward to reading it in due course. 

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Dinner, 18/2/15: Roast Chicken, Oven Potatoes, Brussels Sprouts

A roast dinner mid-week? Must be holidays... And I'll make stock with the carcase tonight so that we can have soup on Friday... (Tomorrow I am out all day with Olivia, so I'm not cooking.)

Spring walk

The weather in England is a funny thing - cold, rain, grey skies are often a feature of the winter, but most years, we get at least one sunny day, where it's warm enough for a nice walk outside, during the February half-term holiday (some years, several days, like this year). So of course, we went for a walk - this one was just Alex and me, as the girls both had committments.  The sun is low, but you can see it shining brightly for us, nonetheless!

This is one of our favourite walks - Morden Hall Park - because you can walk through a park, a little wetlands, down to a petting farm, along to an old mill down the Wandle (River) Trail, and then back, via a playground, and end up at  a National Trust teashop. All in the space of an hour and a half or so, depending on how fast you walk (and how long you spend at the little farm - these days, we don't spend long).  You can't beat that - especially not 10 minutes drive from home!

Oh, and you also get to cross a tram line - this is less of a thrill now that my little boy is 12, but when he was about 4, it was one of the highlights of the walk...

Part of the tram line is single track; we got to see them waiting to pass at the double point - very exciting if you are a small boy who loves trains. We are neither of us that any longer, but it was still interesting.

And the best thing was, I put a chicken in the oven to roast (on the timer, so it would turn itself on) before we left, so we came home to the smell of roasting chicken!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

A Double Pancake Kind of Day

It's not often that Pancake Day falls during the half term holiday - usually it's during the school year, which means that although we can try to slip in pancakes for dessert, it's hard to have them at breakfast. This year, we had a lucky opportunity, which also meant that we could have both kinds of pancakes: the American kind, which are fluffy  and more cakey - in the UK you'd call these either Scotch pancakes or drop scones, probably; and also, the English kind, which are thin and pliable - what in the US (and France) would be called crepes. So we had the American ones for breakfast with various toppings and the English ones for dessert, with butterscotch sauce. Of course, in our house, we probably won't stop eating fatty, rich foods just because it's Lent. But I doubt there will be any more double pancake days for a while...

Alex helped make the American ones for breakfast.

I did most of the making for the English kind, though Alex did practice his flipping skills. No photo of that, unfortunately!