Thursday, 9 February 2017

January Reading Wrap Up


I've decided to take part in the Goodreads reading challenge for the first time this year, to try and push myself into reading the frankly ridiculous amount of unread books I own. I've set my goal to a modest 52 books for the year and with six books read in January, I think I'm off to a pretty good start.

Mansfield Park by Jane Austen

Mansfield Park was actually December's book for the Austentatious book club and I did start reading it in December but it just seemed to take forever to get through. Even so, now that I have finished it, Mansfield Park definitely stands next to Emma and Pride and Prejudice as one of my favourites of Jane Austen's novels. And I love that I can finally say things like that.

★★★★★


Very British Problems: Making Life Awkward for Ourselves, One Rainy Day at a Time by Rob Temple

There isn't really too much to say about this. If you like the Twitter account on which it's based, which I most definitely do, then you'll like the book. It's a quick and fun read with a few repeats of jokes you'll have already seen on the Twitter account but plenty of new stuff too.

★★★★☆


Wigs on the Green by Nancy Mitford

Nancy Mitford wouldn't allow Wigs on the Green to be reprinted during her lifetime and now that I've read it I can understand why. In Wigs on the Green Mitford sends up Oswald Mosley's Blackshirts (and, by extension two of her own sisters) and fascism in general before the second world war in a way that really only she can. Although I thoroughly enjoyed the humour I can understand how some people might find it a little too flippant for the subject matter. Personally, I think it is a great read for the current political climate and one of Nancy Mitford's funniest novels.

★★★★★

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

Sense and Sensibility was the final book for the Austentatious book club so I can now officially, at last, say that I have read all six of Jane Austen's completed novels. That feels pretty great. However, this is not one I will be reading again. I just didn't really click with Sense and Sensibility at all. It had its moments, and it certainly isn't a bad book, but this one just isn't really for me.

★★★★☆


Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There by Lewis Carroll

It was Lewis Carroll's birthday last month and I had Through the Looking-Glass sitting around on my shelf because I bought it after reading Alice's Adventures in Wonderland last year. I enjoyed Through the Looking-Glass a little more than Alice's Adventures in Wonderland but unfortunately neither book is really a favourite. They are fun and I might have enjoyed them more had I read them as a child but as an adult I think I just like something with a little bit more of a plot. Or any plot at all.

★★★☆☆

Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton

Rebel of the Sands was a delight. I read it the way I used to read as a kid, with a kind of feverishness and determination to absorb the whole story at once, sitting in bed with it for hours and carrying it around the house with me to sneak a few pages in whenever I had a minute. I actually had a bad back while I was reading this. I could barely move and had to sleep on the floor for a couple of nights because I couldn't get into my bed and this book was exactly the kind of story that I needed. I've already ordered the sequel and anxiously await returning to this world.

★★★★☆

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Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Going Analogue


My secondary school had a darkroom that was literally built inside a cupboard. It attached to the main photography classroom via a door with an elaborate curtain set up to keep the light out and it was my favourite place in the whole school. I would spend entire lessons in there and then stay on during lunch or after school to keep going.

No one else in my class really liked shooting film. I was always the only person in the darkroom after school, our teacher in the next room or sometimes not even there at all, trusting me to know what I was doing (until he walked in once and found me eating a pasty over the enlarger with a coke balanced behind it. Then I got a little bit of a telling off.) To me, film felt like magic. Waiting for a photograph to develop, watching an image appear on a blank piece of paper in the faintly eery glow of a red light, that was the closest I would ever get to Hogwarts.

Digital is safer. That's why everyone else in my class preferred it. You can look at the image you've just taken straight away, there's no cost of film or developing, and Photoshop is always there to help make the image look exactly how you imagined. These are all the reasons I mostly use digital now too and there's nothing wrong with that. I'm certainly not going to stop using Instagram. But I want to use my film cameras again too. I want the excitement of not quite knowing how the image will look until it's too late.

I may not have access to a darkroom any more but I can still have a little of that thrill. Filling my roll of film with images, dropping off that little canister at the photography shop in town, and waiting for that phone call two days later. Waiting to get that little packet of prints, 6x4 on gloss paper. That moment just before I peel back the top of the envelope and see my photos for the first time. I can still watch my instant prints develop before my eyes, the colour slowly fading in, that moment when you think the white is sticking around for a little too long and then the first blooms start to appear.

I'm not quite ready to do a 365 project like Rhianne, on digital or on film (mostly because at least 350 of those images would just be me sitting at my desk staring at a blank page all day) but her 366 project of last year has inspired me to want to take my film cameras out more. This year I want to shoot at least four rolls of 35mm and more shots on my Instax camera. I'll be shooting colour film, which is relatively new to me (we always used black and white at school because the photography department couldn't afford all the equipment for colour printing) and these are films that have been sitting in my desk drawer for years so there's a good chance that I'll only end up with a handful of decent images to share here but that's okay. That's part of the magic too.


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Thursday, 12 January 2017

December Reading Wrap Up


Let's pretend that we aren't already nearly two weeks into January and that I am actually posting this in a timely fashion, okay?


Christmas at Little Beach Street Bakery by Jenny Colgan

There is something incredibly warm and comforting about Jenny Colgan's writing. I'm particularly fond of her books set in bakeries and sweet shops and even more fond of the Beach Street Bakery series because of its Cornish setting. I also love Christmas so my enjoyment of this story was pretty much a foregone conclusion.

★★★★☆

The Twelve Days of Dash & Lily by Rachel Cohn & David Levithan

My only complaint about this book was that it wasn't long enough. I loved seeing Dash and Lily have a little bit of a personality switch from the first book and I liked that it didn't rely on introducing any new love interests for relationship drama. I just wish we had got to see more of Dash's twelve days of Christmas plan instead of having so much of it happen off the page.

★★★★☆

Adulthood is a Myth: A "Sarah's Scribbles" Collection by Sarah Andersen

Sarah Andersen's drawings are so relatable and funny that I would recommend a flick through this to any current 20-something. You're bound to find a truth in here to make you giggle. I received Adulthood is a Myth as a Christmas gift and read it in an afternoon, chuckling to myself in the corner of the living room while my dad did the same with his new copy of The Ladybird Book of The Meeting.

★★★★☆

Short Stories from Hogwarts of Power, Politics and Pesky Poltergeists, Short Stories from Hogwarts or Heroism, Hardship and Dangerous Hobbies, and Hogwarts: An Incomplete and Unreliable Guide by J.K. Rowling

What can I even say about these? I know in the last couple of years some people have started to get tired of J.K. Rowling constantly adding to the Harry Potter universe but I am not one of those people. I will always welcome new Potter canon and these were a fun, interesting, and quick little look into the world I love so much.

★★★★★

I did also read about half of Mansfield Park in December but didn't manage to finish it before the end of the month so you'll just have to wait for my January wrap up to see what I thought about that. Judging by the delay on this post that will probably be up sometime in March...

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Tuesday, 3 January 2017

New Year


Every year I host New Year's Eve at my house. Or, I should say, at my parents' house. Every year since I was eighteen my friends come over, we listen to music in the living room, we play Jools Holland's Hootenanny muted on the TV until just before midnight when we turn the sound on to hear the countdown, we eat pizza, we drink, at midnight I go outside and pop open a bottle of sparkling wine provided every year by Alice. We all drink a glass and toast the new year.

We tell each other our resolutions, which are almost always the same. I want to finish my novel, Alice wants to finish her novel, Rose doesn't make resolutions on New Year because she is an actual, genuine scientist and doesn't entertain superstition like the rest of us do.

This year I really do want to finish my novel. I want to start driving lessons and pass my test. The same things I wanted to do a week ago and a month before that and seven years ago when we first started these traditions.

But this year I've also decided to do something different, something I saw on Rhianne's and Ria's blogs. Something I've seen before but never really thought about doing myself until now. Until I saw Rhianne's and Ria's posts and something clicked in my brain.

I'm picking a word, just one word, for 2017. Something I will try my best to live by and to remember and to be all of this year. It's a word I didn't actually pick, so much as it picked me. It jumped into my head after I read those two posts and immediately it felt right.


In 2016, with so many heroes dying and so many terrifying ideas rising, I have felt more hopeless and fearful than I can remember. Watching half of my country vote against what I believe in, watching America do it too, hearing about the far right rising in Europe and wars all over the world. 'Hope' might have been a good word too but I don't think that's what I need. I think I've always had that. Fearlessness, that's something else. That's something I've never had.

If I want to complete my resolutions this year then I need to get rid of my fear of driving and of letting people read my writing. I especially, and this will be the trickiest of all, need to get rid of my fear of what other people will think of me.

This post is a start. This post feels more personal than most of what I write here but I need to lose that fear too. 

This year I will be fearless. Starting now.

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Thursday, 22 December 2016

The Hairy Bikers' Polverones.


According to the little bit of online research I've done about these biscuits, the correct spelling is actually 'polvorónes' but since this recipe is from The Hairy Bikers' Big Book of Baking, I will abide by the Bikers' spelling.

Polverones are a Spanish almond biscuit, similar to shortbread in texture, that are apparently very popular in Spain at Christmas time, which is exactly why I chose them!


This holiday season I wanted to make something new and specifically I wanted to make something European. Maybe it's my own tiny backlash against the mood of this last year or maybe it's just because Christmas always makes me think of beautiful European treats and Christmas markets. Either way, I grabbed my copy of The Hairy Bikers' Big Book of Baking, full of recipes from all over Europe, and looked for some Christmas biscuits. With all that white icing sugar like snow, the polverones looked perfect.



Luckily, this recipe is so simple, even I couldn't screw it up. I'd recommend it on that basis alone.

The Hairy Bikers' Polverones

Ingredients

  • 75g icing sugar, plus extra for dusting
  • 250g plain flour
  • 75g ground almonds
  • a good pinch of fine sea salt
  • 125g butter, softened

Method

  1. Sift the icing sugar and flour into a bowl and stir in the ground almonds and salt.
  2. Add the softened butter and very slowly rub the butter into the dry ingredients, using your fingertips. The mixture will be very dry to begin with but after a while it should begin to form a dough - similar to a shortbread mixture.
  3. Preheat your oven to 180C/fan 160C and line a large baking tray.
  4. As soon as the dough begins to come together, form it into a flattened ball and place between two sheets of baking paper. The dough will be very crumbly so you may need to press it together a little. Using a rolling pin, press the dough down very gently until it is about 2cm thick.
  5. Use a plain 4-5cm biscuit cutter to cut the biscuits and carefully transfer them to your lined tray. Bring the trimmings back together and repeat this process until you have used up all of your dough. You should get around 12 biscuits.
  6. Bake the biscuits for 12-15 minutes or until they're just beginning to turn golden. They should be pale so don't let them brown too much.
  7. Leave the biscuits on the tray to cool completely. They'll still be very crumbly so don't even try to move them while they're still warm.
  8. Finally, dust with icing sugar!


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Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Gingerbread house mark II.


We did it! Last weekend, the same day that we went to Eden's Festival of Light and Sound, Jess and I finally made a successful gingerbread house. Look at it. It's a beautiful little gingerbread chalet with only one tree outside because my mum ate the other one and thought we wouldn't notice.

Some of you may remember when Jess and I tried to make a gingerbread house last year...


But let's not dwell on that! This year's house is beautiful and covered in jellybean roof tiles and able to stand up all on its own!! Well it was... it's all been eaten now... let's look at some more pictures of it!




My tips for a successful gingerbread house are as follows:
  1. Just buy a kit. I actually wanted to get one of those kits where the gingerbread is already made and you just assemble and decorate but we ended up using a box mix instead. It was still 1000x easier than making it from scratch.
  2. Think small. Last year's house was ridiculously large. Those gingerbread house cookie cutters are out of here.
  3. In Jess's words: 'if in doubt, cover it in sprinkles.'
Also, of course, we had some gingerbread dough left over so I got out the cookie cutters and Jess made some shapes, just like last year. No Donald Trump gingerbread man this year, thank God, but she did try to freehand a snowflake that ended up looking a little too much like a spider for my liking...


(I decorated the snowman in the first picture but the rest of these are all Jess. I'm particularly fond of the tree and it tasted just as good as it looks!)

Sunday, 18 December 2016

Eden Project Festival of Light and Sound.


Last weekend my parents, Jess, and I all headed out to the Eden Project for this year's Christmas at Eden event - Festival of Light and Sound.



This year's event is primarily a laser show filling the Mediterranean Biome with an otherworldly display of light and music. Lasers stretch out across the landscape outside the biomes and a few charming sights can be seen inside the Rainforest Biome (including the lovely fairy below who was probably my favourite part of the whole evening. She was pretty fond of my light up Christmas tree hat too) but the Med is definitely the main attraction.

I have to say, the droning monk music and laser display didn't quite fill me with Christmas cheer as much as last year's Enchanted Rainforest event, but there is a certain alien beauty to this year's display and I hope you'll agree that it made for some great pictures!
























If you're in Cornwall and want to check out the Festival of Light and Sound, the dates and times can be found here and there's even a twitter and instagram competition to win gig tickets for next year's Eden Sessions.


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