Tag Archives: lists

Menu Plan 19 Jan

19 Jan

Do you make New Year resolutions? I sort of do. Well, I do, but they are usually just sort of slight changes to my behaviour rather than fully blown resolutions.

I’ve made some this year. They are written down on a full page of a lovely notebook. They are also on a word document, and there is a shortcut direct to it on my desktop. The notebook may be referred to again, but the list there won’t necessarily be updated, while the word document will be updated as I make progress. I’m already changing my language around the resolutions, see: I will ‘make progress’ instead of ‘crossing them off when I achieve them’. You see, most of my resolutions are things I want to do better at, rather than completely new directions. Even my weight loss goal is building on the stone and a half that I lost last year.

But anyway, one thing I am trying to do is decrease my reliance on my local supermarket. I’m not even going to mention its name, but I have got into the habit of going there pretty much every weekend, and spending between £50 and £100. This is soul destroying – the shopping experience isn’t much fun; I always buy more things than I intend to and which I don’t actually NEED, or not now at any rate; I’m not supporting my local economy; we have a good local farm shop. There are so many reasons I should change my shopping habits.

Towards the end of last year I started sporadically menu planning. For years I have day by day thought about what I’ll cook. At the weekend I will have bought a variety of fresh ingredients, which I instinctively know will work together and will make tasty, nutritious meals, but I haven’t actually planned what will go with what or precisely what meals they will make. So sometimes there were things leftover, sometimes they went off before they were used and were thrown out. Yes, I am feeding that shame-making mountain of food waste in the West.

But I found that if I planned the evening meals for the week over the weekend, then I was more likely to use all the food I had, before buying any more. And it was much easier getting home and knowing exactly what you were cooking as soon as you got in the door.

So, one of my Not-Exactly-Resolutions is to plan menus each week. And follow them. This will not only reduce waste, it will also probably save me money and time.

We have hens and get 2 or 3 eggs a day and i make our own bread. Breakfast for me is usually either toast or cold frittata (eaten on the train). The Captain generally has porridge in the office. I haven’t included lunches in the menu plan – most lunches will be leftovers, or soup, or bread and cheese or ham. Most days I don’t need lunch as I meet friends in a cafe in town.

Anyway, this is what I have bought this week:

Butchers

Cheddar, chicken breasts, sausages, black pudding, bacon, mince, ham hock, haggis, apple pie

Farm shop

Seville oranges, beetroot, cream, milk, red cabbage, potatoes, biscuits (already eaten), plums, pears, bananas, onions, carrots

Co-op

Parma ham, sliced ham, wine

Things I need to use up

A few mushrooms, those expensive silly mini peppers, brussels sprouts

And the meals, day by day:

Saturday: chilli con carne. Make EXTRAS: creme brulee

Sunday: chicken wrapped in parma ham, potatoes, brussels sprouts. Apple pie. Make EXTRAS: marmalade, lentil soup, winter slaw

Monday: Chicken stir fry

Tuesday: I’m out for the evening. The Captain will probably have what is known as a Kraft Dinner (cheesy pasta!)

Wednesday: Black pudding and poached egg on toast with winter slaw

Thursday: Toad in the hole and carrots

Friday: Haggis, carrots and tatties as it’s Burn’s Night, probably joined by some pear upside down cake, or pears with chocolate sauce

There. That has made me happy. Food for a week. And not much left over.

State of Wonder

21 Jun

I love Ann Patchett. I didn’t know I loved Ann Patchett, but really I think I do.

She’s one of those authors who have crept up on me.  I’ll be honest, I’d never heard of her and then I started coming across Bel Canto a few years ago, and it became one of those books that I ended up having to read, or it felt like it would keep cropping up in my life until I did. But let’s face it, it was no hardship to read it was it? If you haven’t been there yet, just buy it this weekend and find a comfy spot and start reading. You’ll thank me.

Then I saw Ann Patchett at the Book Festival in Edinburgh a few years ago. She was with another author, Valerie Martin I think, and I have a feeling that it was the other author I was initially interested in. Anyway, I no longer recall why I was quite so determined to see this event… out of around 800 events with world class authors, thinkers, politicians, commentators, illustrators, historians, philosophers, scientists, et al why would it be this one that I actually go to?  You see, although I worked at the world’s largest (and possibly greatest) book festival for a number of years my attendance at live literature events was woefully low. But I read a lot, and had a great time, so no regrets!

Anyway, back to Ann P. I bought her novel ‘Run’ off the back of seeing her in conversation with Valerie Martin. And it didn’t disappoint either.

So, when I saw that State of Wonder was shortlisted for the Orange, I knew I had to read it. That was all I knew about State of Wonder though – it was written by Ann P and had been shortlisted for the Orange prize. So, two good reasons to read it really.

It’s interesting when you start reading a book with no real idea of ‘what it’s about’. Especially if you read on an e-reader and so don’t see even the front cover as a clue, or the blurb on the back to give you an idea of what might be within. I realise that ‘what it’s about’ is often not what makes a book great – recently I have read about an orphan, shopping malls, the life of Achilles, a second marriage, a child in a poor estate in south London, and so on….

Anyway, I wasn’t expecting a research scientist from a large pharmaceutical company to shlep off to the Amazon to try to get a major research project back on track, and find out what happened to her colleague who had been despatched to do the same job some weeks earlier. But State of Wonder isn’t just about any of those things, is it? It will be about different things to different people I’m sure, but for me it’s about where you belong, and about loss and being lost. And found. And about parenthood. It’s about dreams. And nightmares. About ideals and compromise; about hopes, dreams and desires. It’s beautifully written, evoking the intense heat and sheer ‘foreign-ness’ of arriving in a town on the Amazon. The main characters are all women and all strong women, but each with their own vulnerabilities. Ann P is so good at drawing characters, people you feel you know from the first encounter with them, and then as you read, you just get to know them better.

I studied science many years ago. In my naivety at school I had hoped to be a research scientist, discovering the cures for all the world’s ills, or at least cancer (AIDS hadn’t appeared in our lives at that point. Yes, I’m that old!). So, I studied for a degree in Medicinal Chemistry. And quickly realised that I would never work for a large pharmaceutical company and would never discover any cures. I’d already worked out that scientific research probably wasn’t my vocation in life (really? I have to do exactly the same experiment over and over and over again every day for weeks and weeks and weeks just tweaking at the different components and reporting on any changes? How dull). But when the pharma companies started the ‘milk round’ of recruitment of fresh young graduates the remaining vestiges of that enthusiastic naivety and hope for the future died. They were oh so proud of a drug they had produced which reduced the symptoms of ulcers (and therefore made them lots of $$$ from stressed American businessmen). In the very next sentence they told us they were cancelling all research into a drug which had the potential in the future to eradicate a third world disease (was it cholera? Malaria? Or something altogether different, I can’t recall). But it would never make them any money. So the research was being pulled.

State of Wonder reminded me of my earlier self, and the erosion of my state of wonder. But I’m glad I’m not a research scientist. I would have been pretty rubbish at it, and I never looked good in a white coat anyway.

The Forgotten Waltz

19 May

A colleague has lent her kindle to a mutual friend who is in hospital. As a result she is buying REAL books and lending out ones she loves. So, on a recent trip to London and Brighton she bought The Forgotten Waltz by Anne Enright, and by the time she’d returned to Edinburgh she had finished it and was desperate for me to read it so we could talk about it.

And I’m SO pleased she lent it to me to read; it’s a great book. I’m not giving anything away by telling you it’s about an Irish woman who is having an affair with a married man. And yes, it absolutely is about that. It’s about the course of the relationship, from the moment she first sees him at the bottom of her sister’s garden at a barbecue…. I won’t say where it goes, as I don’t want to spoil it for you.

Except that in many ways, the story isn’t what I found so remarkable about this book. Gina, who is having the affair, is the narrator. She is an IT professional in her mid 30s. Her husband is a like-able bear of a man. Her lover has ‘too beautiful’ eyes and a daughter who is captivating and strange.  The writer captures the detail of the emotional roller-coaster the adulterer goes through. But more than that she captures the minutiae of daily life, down to the noise made by the rubber strip as you pull open the fridge door.

By the end of the novel the economic boom has bust. But has the same happened to the relationship? Read it and find out.

The Forgotten Waltz has been shortlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction; it’s the second of this year’s shorltist that I’ve read, so watch this space for the remaining books. They are on my wishlist.

My Lover’s Lover

2 May

I went to a World Book Night event last week (or possibly the week before) with Maggie O’Farrell and Jenny Brown.

I read Esme Lennox years ago, and didn’t particularly enjoy it, but I didn’t hate it either so I read Maggie O’Farrell’s latest book before I went to the live event. I was glad I had: I loved the book and I felt that I got more out of the event having read it.

Anyway, that’s all some background to say that after the event I decided I really wanted to read another, and so I picked My Lover’s Lover off my shelf, where it had been languishing for some years and started it.

I feel somewhat disappointed now, but also cheered by the thought that the author is probably getting better with each book she has written.

My Lover’s Lover is a Rebecca-like tale of Lily and her new lover, Marcus. And Lily’s obsession with Sinead, who is ‘no longer with us’ … but was very much with Marcus until recently. Lily narrates the first part of the novel, and like the new Mrs de Winter seems to be a bit of a mouse of a creature, who ends up in bed with the glamorous,older architect, Marcus, living in the warehouse apartment he designed himself. She starts seeing Sinead everywhere, and believes her ghost has come back to tell her something.

For me, the warehouse apartment is almost the strongest character in the book (more echoes of Rebecca with Manderley?).

Image

I wonder if my disappointment in this book was related to the fact I’d loved the live event so much? Or that I had just read both Rebecca and Rebecca’s Tale? It certainly drew from Rebecca, with the two lovers even watching Hitchcock’s Rebecca in an early scene in the book.

I’m now reading Oliver Twist for book group, but think that the next book should be Ewan Morrison’s Menage. I like reading books that feel as though they have some link with what you’ve just read, and this seems perfect.

More reading

24 Apr

I’ve been busy over the last few months, which is probably why I haven’t written much on here of late. But it’s not all been going out and having fun, or staying home and gardening. There’s been time for a bit of reading.. so here’s what I’ve read since Pigeon English (which seems oh so long ago now).

What a Carve Up! by Jonathan Coe

This was a book group book, and was one which I doubt I would have read if it wasn’t for book group… and it’s unlikely I would have finished it once I started if it wasn’t for that peer pressure. Having said that, once I had finally finished it I had no desire to discuss it and so never went to the book group meeting (which I know is naughty, but I’m a grown up and surely I’m allowed to not go to things if I don’t want to go to them?). The next book is Oliver Twist which I’m looking forward to, having never actually read any Dickens in my life. Oh the shame!

The Secret Intensity of Everyday Life by William Nicholson

I’d read a review of this book a while ago, over Christmas I think, and had made a note to read it at some point. I didn’t know much about it, except that it takes place in a small Sussex village and details the mundane minutiae of their day to day lives. The characters are so beautifully drawn, that you really get to feel what it might be like to be in their skin. There is the local vicar who is no longer sure of his christian faith, there is the woman of a certain age who is infatuated by her young neighbour, a schoolboy in thrall to the school bully, the single mother who can’t resist her ex, and a murdered poodle. The lives are entwined, overlapping and coming together, in the way real lives do butt up against one another and then continue on their way.

Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual by Michael Pollan

I heard Michael Pollan on Radio 4, on The Food Programme a few weeks ago. He was talking a lot of  sense about how we, in the west, no longer instinctively know what to eat. Food scientists or nutritionists tell us what the superfoods are and what foods have omega 3 or certain vitamins, or whatever the latest ‘good’ thing is. It used to be fibre, which at least was easier for an ordinary human to identify. He likened this to a religion – the food scientists are the High Priests who tell us the gospel; there is Good (omega 3 / vitamins) and Evil (fat / sugar).

Michael Pollan makes it much easier. His rule is

Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

This book is a distilled version of his In Defence of Food (or so I’ve been told). It makes sense. It’s full of good advice. Now I need to follow it.
And the Land Lay Still by James Robertson
I’ve not finished this yet, so will write more on it at a later date. 
52 Small Changes: One Year to a Happier, Healthier You by Brett Blumenthal
Damn you kindle and your clever ways of making me buy more books!  This was suggested as a book I might like at the end of the Michael Pollan book. Well, I didn’t buy it immediately, but I read a few reviews and decided there could be no harm in buying it. Or reading it. 
So, here I am, each week reading one chapter of a self-help book. So far I have upped my intake of water each day, got more hours sleep each night and started taking a multi-vitamin again. All these are good. I’ve also attempted to be a bit more active, and kept a food diary for a week. 
The suggestions are good, and I like the idea of making a small change each week, and then once it feels like a habit (which it should after 7 days) you move onto the next small change. Sadly I’ve not been as brilliant at forming new habits as I’d like to be. Anyway, I’ll give a final review of this at the end of 52 weeks. And we’ll see if I really am healthier and happier. 
The Hand That First Held Mine by Maggie O’Farrell
It was World Book Night last night (and more of that some other time), and Edinburgh Central Library hosted an event with Maggie O’Farrell, interviewed by the fabulous Jenny Brown. I’d only read one MO’F novel before: The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox. I hadn’t loved it. It had felt more ‘slight’ than I had expected, and so although I have a copy of My Lover’s Lover on my shelf I’d not been tempted to pick it up and read it. 
But I decided it would be worth reading her latest novel before the event last night so I downloaded The Hand That First Held Mine onto my kindle and started it. I LOVED it. It’s set in London, in the 1950s and in the present day, following two women: Lexie in the 1950s and Elina in the present day. I’m a little bit in love with Lexie, and the Soho of the 1950s which she inhabits. 
It was interesting to hear Maggie O’Farrell describe how she started this book with the character of Lexie, a character who had been swimming about in her head for awhile, and came into sharp focus when she went to the John Deakin photography exhibition a couple of years ago. Lexie superimposed herself into his black and white images of his friends and neighbours in Soho in the 50s. And as she was writing, Elina kept on interrupting her writing, like an old radio that keeps picking up a signal from another station (or the police or CB when I was wee). Thus the two stories intertwined into this great novel. 
After reading this I felt I just had to re-read Rebecca. Now, I pretty much never re-read books. Why read any again, when there are so many more un-read books still to read? But The Hand made me really want to re-visit Rebecca, and then Rebecca’s Tale. Was it the issues of identity, of searching for the truth of your childhood? 
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
I first read this many many years ago. I loved it. And I loved the Hitchcock movie. Has no-one else made the movie since? You’d think they would have. 
Re-reading Rebecca was comfortingly familiar, but also unfamiliar enough to feel new and exciting. I’d forgotten that we never know the second Mrs De Winter’s name. And I’d forgotten what a dreadful little mouse of a thing she is – she is no heroine, and Max De Winter is no hero. Rebecca is the star. Rebecca and Manderley. 
The version I read (on kindle) had a thought-provoking afterword by Sally Beauman, the writer of Rebecca’s Tale.  
Rebecca’s Tale by Sally Beauman
This is effectively the prequel to Rebecca. It’s a fascinating imagining of what Rebecca’s life was like, and I’m so glad that I read it back to back with Rebecca this time. It was definitely worth a re-read while the original story was fresh in my mind.  
 

Resistance by Owen Sheers

2 Feb
Cover of "Resistance"

I loved this book.

When I started it I knew nothing about it, nothing at all. A friend recommended it to me at our last book group gathering – in fact she suggested that we have a book group outing to see the movie of the book when it comes to the Cameo in Edinburgh later this month.  I like this plan.

And when a couple of days later I finished the current book, Resistance felt like the right next book to start. I’m slightly picky about what order I read books in, and never really decide which book will be my next book until I’ve actually finished the one I’m on.  (OK sometimes I read more than one at a time, but that doesn’t count). I downloaded Resistance onto my kindle on the train down to London – what a blissful piece of technology a kindle is! But more on that another time.  And possibly on another place. I need to tell you about our new blog.  I say ‘our’. The fabulous patothecity has set up edinburghbookgroup.  It’s a place for people to chatter about books. It’s in its infancy, so who knows where it might go, but I have visions of a virtual book group – a resource for people wanting to discuss what they’ve read, whether it is online or in their own local book group. Go have a look, join in by commenting if you feel like it…

But back to Resistance.

You’d expect Resistance to be beautifully written, given that the author is a poet, but I don’t think I was prepared for such an evocative book.  It’s set in the last months of the second world war, but it is a different second world war: Germany has invaded Britain and is winning. So,although there is a very strong sense of time, it’s not the time as we’ve seen it before, it is distorted by a dramatic change of circumstances.

The whole story is set in an isolated Welsh valley, opening one morning with the womenfolk of the valley who all wake up to discover that their menfolk have upped and left them in the middle of the night. The sense of loss is almost physical, with a recurring description of the imprint from his body on the mattress. But the women choose to go on as though nothing has happened; or perhaps there was little choice. Country life is hard, and life in the country during the dying days of a war are unbearably hard. Owen Sheers depicts that hardship beautifully.

If you want to see what else I’ve read this year, see my list.  If you have any recommendations for me, leave a comment.  Preferably not chick lit though.

What I’ve read this year – 2012

14 Jan

So, let’s see how I do against my targets for this year… Let the reading commence!

Oh, and in case you care, my links to buy the books are all for amazon.co.uk. If you don’t like amazon, other booksellers are available, just google.  

January

Stieg Larsson‘s The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest.  The final book in his Millennium series, and yet again a book that could have done with a good edit. Having said that it was yet again a good thriller and a compulsive read, finished in about a week.

Carol Birch‘s Jamrach’s Menagerie.  Our book group’s first book of 2012, and a worthy book to discuss.  What started as a kids’ adventure story became a true horror story, full of gore, slime and grime. It will generate interesting discussion, of that there is no doubt.

Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal by Jeanette Winterson. A powerfully emotional book, the ‘true’ story behind her debut Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit.

Before I Go To Sleep by SJ Watson only came to my attention because it is in the Richard and Judy book group, and I saw Judy absolutely raving about it on telly one evening. It’s a quick read, and kept me guessing. The narrator of the book is a woman close to my age who wakes up each morning with no memory, but with a sense of horror that she’s in bed with a middle aged man – her initial thought is that she got wrecked the night before at a party and can’t remember who she came home with. It’s not a Groundhog Day book, and it’s not a love story – more a psychological thriller. And, as I said, a quick read.

I loved Resistance by Owen Sheers. And it brought my total for January to five books finished. Yay!

February

In Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman Harri searches for clues after the murder of a boy from his school. He hopes the clues will lead to the killer. Harri has an innocence, he is a boy about to become a man. But what sort of man can he possibly be, brought up in this violent, unkind environment? His mother has brought him from Ghana, in the hope of giving him a better future. Harri’s voice felt ‘true’ although I did find it vaguely annoying after a while.

I read What a Carve Up by Jonathan Coe as a book group book. And unusually I read it all the way through (not enjoying much of it at all) and then refused to go to book group to discuss it. I just felt I had nothing I wanted to say about it. And I found that after I’d finished I couldn’t even distinguish between the different hideous family members. Various friends have told me how much they loved this book. I didn’t. And I’m not sure it was helped by reading it in e-book form, so I couldn’t flip back easily and see who was who.

I read about The Secret Intensity of Everyday Life by William Nicolson in the Sunday Times one weekend. It wasn’t a review, but was in someone’s column, and I honestly can’t remember whose. I kinda wish I could, as I really enjoyed the book, which absolutely is described in the title. It focuses on a few days one early summer in a small village in commuter distance from London. The characters are well drawn, the situations perfectly described. It’s not a rip-roaring read, but thoroughly enjoyable.

March

April

May

My Lover’s Lover by Maggie O’Farrell had been on my shelf for years (I got it as a bookcrossing random act of book crossing kindness years ago, and really must pass it on now that I’ve actually read it). It had elements of Rebecca about it, and inspired me to re-read Rebecca and Rebecca’s Tale.

After my Maggie O’Farrell feast I turned to an author new to me, recommended by my good friend Salidatious: Anne Enright’s The Forgotten Waltz. Sal had read it quickly and loved it, and wanted someone else to read it so she could talk about it. I love that about her. And was so glad she’d recommended, and loaned, this book to me. A worthy shortlisted book for the Orange, a tale of an adulterous affair in Ireland. The backdrop to the tale is the arc of the Irish economy, from roaring tiger in the boom years, to the depression of the recession.

And so it seemed sensible to read another Orange shortlisted book immediately after I’d finished the Anne Enright. And as I’d bought Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder a couple of months earlier, now seemed like the time to start reading it. Some books nourish you, and stay with you long after you finished them. This is one such book.

Ewan Morrison’s Tales from the Mall has been in my subconscious for a few months, mainly on social media, but also in bookshops, and newspaper book reviews. It’s a fascinating read, especially for someone who doesn’t like either shopping malls, or short stories. It’s made up of perfect bitesized chunks of reading goodness, a mixture of fact and fiction, but all related in some way to shopping malls. You’ll learn all manner of things, like why cross dressers like malls, and why walking round a mall is considered a terrorist threat. Unsettling and fascinating (but not necessarily in that order).

After I’d whet my appetite with TFTM I chose Swung, also by Ewan Morrison. There’s a lot of media coverage of 50 Shades of Grey just now, but I suspect it isn’t nearly as interesting as Swung, the story of a Glasgow couple trying to make their relationship work.

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