Wednesday, 27 January 2016

216 Reading Challenge - My List

A friend, who'd seen  Bristol's 2016 Reading Challenge before me, has offered to send me her list.  Which got me thinking about mine.  Rather than draw up a definitive list I've decided to note down a few possibilities and see which one takes my fancy when the time comes.

A book published this year

I'm going to leave this one until later in the year when there will be more to chose from.

A book you can finish in a day
I've already ticked this box with Food Rules by Michael Pollan, but a friend has suggested Love that Dog by Sharon Creech which intrigues me.

A book you've been meaning to read

There are almost too many to mention but Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies by Hillary Mantel deserve a mention, despite the fact that, having already made a start on Wolf Hall, it should rightly be listed in another category.

A book recommended by your local librarian or bookseller

I wonder if a book picked from the 'Recommended' shelf of Bedminster Library or Foyles would count, or whether I should seek a personal recommendation from the person at the desk.

A book you should have read in school

I'm not sure whether this is a book you failed to read at school or one you feel should have been on the reading list.  I'm going to have to give this one further thought.

A book chosen for you by your spouse, partner, sibling, sibling, or BFF

Last year my elder daughter bought me two books, one for my birthday and the other for Mother's Day.  They are This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein and Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee.

A book published before you were born

Again I am spoilt for choice.  I will probably plump for one of the classics.

A book that was banned at some point

Vladimir Nabokiv's Lolita and Salman Rushdie's Satanic Verses - but LFrank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and Lewis Caroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland?

A book you previously abandonned

This has to be A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving, which I have unsuccessfully attempted to get though on more than one occasion.  Maybe this time I'll make it to the last page?

A book you own but have never read

There will be plenty to choose from my laden shelves and tottering piles - Life after Life by Kate Atkinson, The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton, or The Hundred Year Old Man who Climbed out of The Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson?

A book that intimidates you

This could be The True History of the Kelly Gang by Peter Carey, for its vernacular style with little punctuation or grammar, or Ulysses by James Joyce, for its modernist stream of consciousness technique.  Or perhaps the relentless horror of The Road by Cormac McCarthy.

A book you've already read at least once

I suspect this will be a toss up between Fugitive Pieces by Anne Michaels and if nobody speaks of remarkable things by Jon McGregor, both of which I love, not just for their subject matter, but for their exquisitely poetic language.

Which books would you choose?

Monday, 25 January 2016

2016 Reading Challenge

Bristol Libraries have tweeted a Reading Challenge.  On the basis that one book a month should be do-able, even for someone who struggles to find make enough time to read, I've decided to go for it.  I was attracted by the categories which should provide a wide range of possibilities.  I'm particularly looking forward to reading a book that was banned at some point.


What's more, I'm proud to announce that I have already ticked my first box, ie a book you can finish in a day.

A while ago I borrowed Food Rules by Michael Pollan from the library.  I skimmed through it but didn't take time to read it properly until I received an email from the library to say that it had been recalled.  So this afternoon I read it from cover to cover.  It's an expansion of Pollan's philosophy on food, namely 'Eat food.  Not too much.  Mostly plants.' and is packed with commonsense rules to help steer us away from our modern processed food diet to a more traditional one of natural products, simply prepared and carefully eaten.  My favourites include 'Don't eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn't recognise as food', 'Don't eat breakfast cereals that change the colour of the milk' and 'Break the rules once in a while'.

PS  As the mother of a third year art student I should mention that it is exquisitely illustrated, although I can see no indication of the identity of the artist.

Sunday, 24 January 2016

What's for tea?

One of the joys of blogging is being inspired by other bloggers.  Eliane over at faites simple has challenged herself to plan her week's meals in advance on Sunday evening and to make better use of her 'embarrassingly unused cookbook library'.

This is something I have tried at various points in my life.  When I succeed it transforms my week.  No more midday panics over what we're going to eat that evening, no getting halfway through a recipe only to discover that I'm missing a key ingredient, no nasty discoveries at the back of the fridge ...

So this week I'll be (mainly) cooking from Rose Prince's the new english kitchen.

Haggis, neeps & tatties (in celebration of Rabbie Burns)

Baked chick peas, peppers & potatoes with yoghurt sauce

Butternut squash risotto

Braised red lentils with lime juice & feta

Tamarind fish stew (from the freezer)

Chicken curry (from the freezer)

Beef braised with rhubarb

Friday, 1 January 2016


I have succumbed to the recent trend of choosing a word to inspire me during the course of the year ahead.  I pride myself on not jumping on bandwagons but on this occasion I think it makes sense.  Traditional new year's resolutions can very easily, or at least in my experience, become hostages to fortune.  A word is so much more forgiving, especially if it's regarded as being more of an aspiration rather than a fixed goal post.

Anyway, my word for 2016 is 'sustainable'.

It has been prompted by recent events including the Paris Climate Change Conference and the floods in the north of England and Scotland.  The environmental aspect of it is fairly obvious but I'd like to extend it to other areas of my life.  Here are some of the ways in which I'd like to see it work out in practice:

  • I'd like to eat less meat and more plants
  • I'd like to cut down even further on my energy consumption
  • I'd like to get rid of more 'stuff', preferably to other people rather than landfill
  • I'd like to get more sleep
  • I'd like to redress my work/life balance
  • I'd like to make more time for people
  • I'd like to grow more of my own food and prepare more meals from scratch
  • I'd like to push sustainability higher up on the agenda during the coming electoral campaigns
There's plenty to be getting on with!

Sunday, 15 November 2015

This Weekend

This weekend ...

... I paid an early morning visit to Sanctum where I listened to an intriguing soundscape and a tap dancer, followed by breakfast at Harts Bakery

... I helped plant an orchard on a derelict plot in Bedminster

... I attended Quaker Meeting for Worship where a Friend reminded us that hope does not always have a happy ending.  It's tenuous and sometimes you have to hold on tight to stop it slipping from your grasp.

Saturday, 14 November 2015

30 Day Vegan Challenge: The Verdict

Post Challenge Breakfast
I had every intention of posting my reflections on my 30 Day Vegan Challenge weeks ago, while it was still fresh in my mind.  However best laid plans ...

Anyway, here goes:

To begin with, it wasn't nearly as difficult as I'd imagined (feared?).  Or at least not for most of the time.

It took me a week or so to find an acceptable substitute for milk in my tea.  I experimented with almond (which curdled!) and oat (which was too watery), before settling on soya, which didn't separate and gave a good colour.  It had a slightly chalky taste which I almost, but not quite, got used to.

I bought a tub of industrial looking vegan sunflower spread which was alright if I spread it thinly and and topped it generously with jam or avocado.  I reluctantly succumbed to a tub of sheeze(!) but had reason to be grateful for it on more than one occasion when I returned home hungry and needed something to keep me going until tea time.

Apart from that it was relatively plain sailing.  I did need to think ahead, but even on days when I failed to do so, I always came up with something perfectly edible.

It helped that I love soup, and virtually anything with rice, pasta, rice noodles or couscous.  As a base for lentils, vegetables or tofu in a tomato or coconut sauce, livened with herbs or spices, the possibilities were endless.

Entertaining at home wasn't a problem.  When my younger daughter arrived with a gaggle of her university friends (one of them a vegan) I was able to offer tasty alternatives to cottage pie, cake and a Sunday morning fry up.  Anna Jones' A Modern Way to Eat was a valuable resource.  Her mushroom biryani which I cooked for for a couple of our friends is bookmarked for future use.

Eating out was almost as easy, with one notable exception.  Bristol is well served with restaurants and cafes offering vegan alternatives which don't leave you feeling you've missed out.  A day trip to Salisbury was trickier.  We stumbled on a brasserie with a fixed price menu offering one vegan sounding dish per course.  I have to admit to not having asked any probing questions for fear of having to go hungry.  The notable exception was a local pub whose only vegan options were a soup and a sharing platter, neither of which constituted a proper meal.

There were a couple of shared meals during the course of the month, both of which offered enough choice to keep me happy.  A friend's kitchen warming party was not so successful, with plates laden with the most gorgeous dairy rich cakes I've seen in a long time.  If it hadn't been for a bowlful of pakoras I'd have wept with frustration.

I lost 2 kg.  Whether this was as a result of cutting out cheese and butter, or being unable to partake of the omnipresent selection of cakes and biscuits in the staffroom, I don't know, but I wasn't complaining.

Having decided to steer clear of meat substitutes and ready made meals (though I discovered a tasty felafel mix and Aldi do excellent burgers), the challenge forced me to cook from scratch, to eat more vegetables (though strangely not more fruit), to rediscover tofu, to introduce nuts and seeds into my diet and to play with colour and texture.

Breakfast on the day after my challenge ended was a bacon and egg fry up washed down with a cup of tea made with cow's milk.  Never did they taste so good.  But it's not been back to business as usual.  Having discovered that I can manage without any meat I'm going to try and live on less, restricting it to the weekend and special occasions and, ideally, as a flavouring rather than the centrepiece of the meal.  I'm back to using milk and butter, but will go easier on the cheese.  There will be more grains and nuts and seeds, and fish from our new fishmonger on Thursdays and Fridays.  And I've got to find space for more (any!) fruit.

Thursday, 8 October 2015

30 Day Vegan Challenge

I'm now 9 days into my 30 Day Vegan Challenge.  Time for a few initial reflections.

  • I've had to accept that my beloved cuppa will never taste as good as it does with cow's milk.  I have been experimenting with some of the impressive range of alternatives.  Soya milk tastes chalky and rice & almond milk curdles.  Oat milk has proved to be the most acceptable, but none of them produce a liquid of the right colour.
  • Porridge, however, is improved with being made with rice and almond milk.  I suspect this will hold true for rice pudding.
  • Avocado on toast makes a good breakfast, spiked with a few drops of Tabasco and a squirt of lemon juice.
  • Vegan margarine looks like it belongs in a garage.
  • You can't go wrong with olive oil, onions, garlic, tomatoes, a tin of beans (any variety) and a shake of dried herbs (again, any variety).  Served with a grain, the job's a good 'un.
  • Vegan risotto is alright, but would be even better with the addition of crispy bacon and a sprinkling of parmesan.
  • Tofu fried until crisp on the edges is a thing of beauty.
  • Adding water to a carrot cake mixture is scary, but it works.
  • Wagamama's Yasai Katsu Curry is yummier than the chicken version (my younger daughter's verdict and, believe you me, she's an expert!).
  • It didn't take long before I relented and bought a tub of 'Sheeze'.
  • Watching The Hairy Bikers and The Great British Bake Off while undertaking this challenge is not helpful (which is when the 'Sheeze' came in handy!).