Sunday, January 31, 2016

Project 52: Week 4

I am a highly suggestible person, an advertiser's dream, I often find myself browsing an online shop, having seen it in a magazine, or as last night when my friend told me she had a chinese takeaway for tea, despite having just finished a curry, I suddenly had an urge for a spring roll! And so it was that, having watched Great British Bake Off this week for Sport Relief, I decided I would make Paris-Brest for after Sunday dinner this week. 

I had never made choux pastry before, and I enjoyed making it, but it didn't rise quite like I hoped. I'm not sure what I did wrong, it was very light and tasty but quite flat, which made slicing it in half a bit tricky. They went down very well with the family today though, and I'm desperately trying to work out where else I can use the hazelnut praline which I have left, so that I don't just keep returning to the tub for another spoonful.

It's a bit of a blurry picture, but they didn't last long enough for me to have another go. I seem to be alternating between Millie and food at the moment, so I wonder what next week will bring!

TheBoyandMe's 366 Linky


word of the week

I tried my hand at gothic lettering for this week's word. It's a bit blotchy in places, but it makes me want to find the wax seal I had when I was little and and decorate some envelopes!

A week full of moments, as is every week I suppose. There have been contented moments, cooking Sunday dinner for my parents and Grandad, and gathering round the table for a catch up over a meal. Moments of chatter and cups of tea, catching up with the best of friends, and moments of happiness when she announced she would be able to come to gathering we are having for my birthday, having managed after lots of trying to swap her shift at work. Moments of productivity, spending an hour or so shopping and managing to get gifts for lots of forthcoming birthdays over the next few weeks, and enjoying wrapping the presents and decorating them with ribbons when we got home.

Moments of sadness, at a friend's funeral, very glad to have The Husband on one side, and Mum on the other, and hands to hold. Moments of nostalgia, as my parents of having building work done at home. Their conservatory got dismantled to make way for a new extension, and as it is the room where we traditionally open gifts on Christmas and birthday mornings, there was a lifetime of memories captured in the walls. Moments of happiness, seeing pictures of my cousins beautiful new baby, and celebrating a new addition to the family.

I also have been trying to be a little more in the moment this week. Having read psychologies magazine in the middle of a busy week, I was interested in an article about trying to single-task rather than multi-task. It's not a new concept, and dedicating short bursts of time to things but being wholly committed to them during that time, is something I've known about as an anti-procrastination tool for a long time. However, this week the idea seemed to stick, and it has been helping be progress things at work, and also to enjoy time with friends and family without also trying to check my phone or being distracted by other things. 

For tonight, now a moment or two of blogging, and catching up with comments and other people's blogs. Then, a moment of calm, an early night and a book ready for an exciting week ahead. Hope you have had lots of lovely moments this week, and in the days ahead too.

The Reading Residence

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Cookery Calendar Challenge: January

At the start of the year, the lovely Penny, of The Homemade Heart, announced that she would be doing a Cookery Calendar Challenge. The idea is beautifully simple, to pick a recipe book each month, and cook two new recipes from it. With kitchen shelves filled with much-loved but under-used recipe books, it sounded like a great challenge, with just the right amount of effort required. Particularly having decided this year to sign up for a weekly shopping delivery, which I order mid-week, saving us a few hours around the supermarket at the weekend (though I do miss wandering the aisles a little!), it has been really straightforward to sit with the book and add the required ingredients to the list.

So for this month I chose Mary Berry's Complete Cookbook. It has a great range of recipes, some really useful sections on basic techniques, and also introduces each chapter with an index of few of the recipes sorted by cooking time, a helpful feature I haven't seen in other books. 

I usually turn to recipe books for baking, so I thought I would use this challenge to try a few new savoury recipes. The first recipe, pork with chilli and coconut, has been quickly added to the household favourite list. It was very simple, and didn't require many ingredients, yet tasted really good, full of authentic Thai flavours. The meat does need marinating for 2 hours before cooking, so this was good to make at the weekend, and there were plenty of leftovers for a spare portion for the freezer.

I bought jasmine rice to serve with the dish, and it all worked together really well. I don't normally make dishes with these flavours, even though I love them, and it was the first time I had used creamed coconut. Luckily there were multiple sachets in the pack so I will definitely be making the recipe again! It even earned a high-five from The Husband, so the challenge got off to an auspicious start.

With an abundance of mince in the freezer, I decided to find a recipe to use some up, and opted for beef florentine. The recipe in my book is slightly different from that I have linked to, both are by Mary Berry, but the one I made included Gruyere, and didn't have mushrooms. In effect, it is minced beef in a tomato and garlic sauce, topped with a layer of cooked spinach, cheese and eggs, and then with a filo pastry lid.

I wasn't convinced all of the flavours would work together, there seemed to be a ridiculous amount of spinach, and cooking the beef in butter produced a very oily meat sauce as you can see above. However, I should have had more faith in Mary, it was really good, and I enjoyed it far more than I expected. It also proved to be really filling, serving us as dinner for two, lunch the next day, and dinner again the next night (plus a few bits of pastry off the top for Grandad when he came to visit), and I was still looking forward to it for the third meal! I did inadvertently add a big spoonful of ginger as I mistook it for the jar of garlic from the fridge, but luckily it didn't overpower it. I'd leave it out next time though! The only thing I'd change about this recipe was the fact that I tried to cook it after work, and it took a good hour and a half, which felt a bit involved for a week night.

So, the first month has been a resounding success, many thanks to Penny for such a brilliant idea for a challenge. I haven't decided for definite on next month's book, but I was very excited to get Jamie Oliver's 15 minute meals and 30 minute meals years ago and haven't ever gone beyond flicking through them, so they are looking high on the list. Really looking forward to seeing what other people have done this month, do feel free to join in over on Penny's blog.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

word of the week

Well the calligraphy went a little better this week, back to using the proper pen. Unfortunately my photography left a little to be desired, so some of the edges were cut off in a bid to get the lettering straight. I think I need to be a better student and draw out my lines before I go rushing in with the pen!

There have been lots of lovely conversations this week. I was also considering the word confidence, as a few of the conversations have been ones that required a bit of self-confidence too! For the first time in my life I walked into a new hairdresser and asked for a consultation. Since going short, I've been realising that you can't grow it out easily, or quickly, and have been wondering whether to go down that route or persist with the crop. Having decided to try a new hairdresser I called in on the offchance, and had a very helpful chat, and have booked an appointment. I don't know why, but I always find walking into the hairdressers quite intimidating, and this one is quite a smart looking salon so I was a bit wary about wandering in off the street, but I was pleased with the outcome. I only hope I'm pleased with the outcome of the haircut too (I decided to stay short for now!).

I also walked into a perfume shop, as I'm on the hunt for a new perfume - it doesn't take much psychoanalysis to wonder if all of these changes might be linked with the impending 30th birthday! Rather than my usual tactic of avoiding eye contact with shop assistants and turning down any offers of help, instead I had a nice chat about what I was looking for, and tried a few options. I don't think I've found the winning one yet, but it was a helpful discussion. I've had a few bits of small talk with people in shops this week and it did make me realise how even a little spontaneous human interaction can cheer up a day.

There have also been a few conversations with colleagues and supervisors about a piece of work I did recently that seems to have been well-received. I got some really positive feedback and we are having discussions about how it can be developed further, so they were some more confidence boosting conversations. Particularly as it is in the area I'm quite interested in pursuing long-term, it was really reassuring to know I had made a decent attempt at it.

Then today The Husband and I went to visit some friends. It is one of those lovely friendships where I met someone through work, and we got on brilliantly, and managed to make the transition to friends in "real life" too. Because I was away on a placement last year, and she then went off on maternity leave, we haven't seen them in a while, so it was lovely to spend the afternoon there. They did us a lovely Sunday lunch, and there were conversations aplenty, catching up, sharing stories and meeting their new baby. It was a brilliant end to the week, a really relaxing way to spend the day, and its always fabulous to see a friend after time apart and realise you are able to pick up exactly where you left off. I hope you have all had good weeks too.

The Reading Residence

Project 52: Week 3

I haven't used the camera much this week, so today's Sunday photo is actually from Sunday night, a last minute snap  of Millie as I sat down to write the blog post. It's a good job she's so photogenic!

TheBoyandMe's 366 Linky


Sunday, January 17, 2016

word of the week

The calligraphy did not go so well this week. There were ink spillages, and wobbly nibs, and then I decided to hand-draw the lettering instead of using a calligraphy pen and it went a little (a lot) wrong. I decided to practice the flourishes as I find that I tend to do the same swirl repeated over and over, and they went a bit wrong too. I decided that once I had put ink to paper I was not allowed to start again, and I must try to make the best of whatever I ended up with, an exercise in accepting imperfections. So here it is, although I must admit I shared it to instagram then swiftly deleted it, so perhaps I still have some work to do on the acceptance part!

It has definitely been an unusual week. For all of my talk about planning last week, any semblance of usual routine has gone out of the window a little. Work has started late, and finished late, and there was a day off on Thursday for The Husband and I to make use of an afternoon tea voucher my parents kindly got us at Christmas. It was a real treat, and felt even more special having a midweek trip together. There has been good new and bad news, a bit of an emotional rollercoaster, and I wrote an unusual blog post for me, in that it was a bit more serious than I tend to be, It was incredible to have such kind, thoughtful comments back, and made me very grateful for the lovely people that visit here. There was also a mid-week visit from my best friend, who lives quite a way away, and it was great to see her.

I have had some unusually early nights, but also tried to remember last week's word, and have some evenings of gentle productivity, to keep on top of things to some extent. I would say that the weather has been unusual too, but I have memories of being in Australia last January and my mum sending us pictures of Millie playing in thick snow, so maybe a cold, snowy January is starting to become the norm. And whereas Sunday night is usually a quiet evening in spent winding down and getting ready for the week ahead, tonight Grandad and I are off to see a show together, which will be unusual in the best kind of way.

The Reading Residence

Project 52: Week 2

I was very tempted to use this picture as it was definitely a favourite picture this week, but I decided not to have Millie for two weeks on the run. Instead, here is part of the beautiful afternoon tea The Husband and I went for, a lemon macaroon and a dark chocolate tart. We received the afternoon tea as a gift from my parents at Christmas, and this week we took a day off work to go and enjoy it. It was a lovely treat, great to have some time off mid-week, and we spent a very happy few hours together.

TheBoyandMe's 366 Linky


Wednesday, January 13, 2016

something unpredictable

(Green Day)

Tonight's post was going to be about our recent trip to Breakout, in a bid to blog more regularly, and write about things as they happen, rather than months after the event. Then today, we found out that an old school friend had died, and it seemed a bit flippant to sit and write about room escapes when I was feeling this strange mix of emotions. It also seemed overly dramatic, though, to write this post about loss, when I don't really feel the right to make claim on those feelings, having not seen him in many years.

It has got both The Husband and I feeling reflective, and there is that troubling sense of relationships that once meant so much having disappeared somewhere along the way, and not being able to put your finger on when, or why. We were both very close to him, in that way you are as teenagers, convinced that you will be friends forever. He was probably key to The Husband and I first starting dating, through his friendship and advice, and we shared exams, milestone birthdays, holidays. Gradually, though, as happens, you see less of each other, contact becomes less frequent, and while there was never any sense of a parting of ways, or an ending of the friendship, it is a long time since we last saw him. There have been messages, occasional online exchanges, and plans to meet that never materialised, both parties equally guilty of failing to keep those promises to get together and catch up.

I can't help but wonder at how such a strong, close friendship got lost in among the mundane, the everyday, and to think about whether it's a sign that our priorities are wrong somehow. That focussing on the minutiae of daily life stops us putting time and effort into the things, and people, that actually matter. There is another part of me, though, that knows that friendships, relationships, even ourselves, change over the years. I am not who I was at 16, 18, or even 25, and as we move through different stages of life, our connections and those we keep company with change too. Social media, I think, has made us the first generation that has almost permanent superficial connections with people that in years gone by, we would simply have lost touch with. We see what is going on in people's lives without being part of it, and feel somehow linked to them without any real effort on either side, then something like this happens and the loss feels real, and deep, even if the relationship wasn't so much. I think the flip-side to that is that it makes it easier to feel that you are maintaining a relationship with occasional birthday wishes, and a liking of a photograph, only to look back, as I did today, and realise it is over a year since you shared any kind of conversation, and that, sadly, you cannot even recall for certain the last time you met.

Part of me wants to reach out, and re-forge connections with lots of old school friends, re-establish contact with people who have been part of my history. But I think that part of growing older is accepting that there are some people in your past who you will have seen for the last time, and being comfortable with that. For the most part I am, but I also feel sad, and ashamed, that I didn't do more to nurture and treasure this particular friendship, that of all those superficial connections, this was one of the few that was worth more effort, and I think the 18 year olds in my memories would never have forseen this ending as they planned their futures together.

I don't really know how to end this. I want to explain that this is not a sympathy-seeking exercise, but that sounds crude. I am never one for writing condolence messages on social media, or writing posts to, or about, people that have passed away. That is not to judge, or somehow criticise those that do, I just don't choose to express my grief in that way. And so, I feel uncomfortable about writing this, but also uncomfortable about pretending it hasn't happened. Even to talk about grief seems self-centred, somehow creating a personal drama from the death of someone I hadn't seen in a very long time. We may not have been close, or in regular contact these days, but I guess my enduring feeling is that he was still someone I considered a friend, and for the memories we shared, and for those teenage years and the friendship we had, I am grateful.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Project 52: Week 1

After toying with idea of doing project 365 again (or 366 as it will be this year!), I only got a few days in to 2016 and realised that during the week I often end up resorting to the same few images around the house, and it makes it feel pretty uninspired quite quickly. Instead, I have decided to post a weekly photo, so that I can enjoy joining in with a photo project over the year, particularly as I'm also going to try Emma Davies' A Year with My Camera workshop.

So instead, I'll be posting a weekly photo on a Sunday, and linking up with the 365/366 page, and also with the My Sunday Photo page too. I'll also be making more of an effort to use instagram a little more too, to try and encourage myself to take more pictures when I am out and about.

This week has included lots of snuggles with Millie, and whilst this isn't her most flattering angle, I love the way her mouth scrunches up when she's dozing. She often sits up from a nap with one ear turned inside out, and her mouth ruched halfway up her face, looking adorably comical.

I got a new phone in the last week, a Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge, which is a much improved camera from my previous iphone 5S. Whilst I do hope to use our "proper" camera more over the coming year, I know that realistically, I'm much more likely to take pictures on my cameraphone, and I'm looking forward to getting to play with this one. Here's to twelve months of improved confidence with cameras, and getting to find lots of lovely blogs to visit too.

TheBoyandMe's 366 Linky


word of the week

It is lovely to be joining back in with Jocelyn's Word of the Week project, and having done a calligraphy course late last year, I thought my weekly word would be the perfect chance to practice my lettering and make use of the lovely inks and pens I got as Christmas gifts.

So we are officially through our first full week of 2016, and I think for me, rather than resolutions, I made plans. Lots of plans. The calendar is nicely filled with catch ups with various friends over the coming weeks, starting with a lovely weekend this weekend. We did a room escape at Breakout in Manchester (one of The Husband's Christmas gifts) and followed it up with lunch with one of my university friends and her fiance, hearing all about their exciting wedding plans. Today we finally went to visit another of my university friends to see her gorgeous new home, and have a lovely catch up, then we called at our wedding venue for a beautiful Sunday dinner. It has been gently busy, a weekend well spent, and so wonderful to see some fabulous friends so happy.

I have also been trying to make a plan for our weeks, trying to develop a bit more of a routine. I know that I want to blog, I know that it matters to me to keep on top of the chores and feel like they are not piling up, and that I value feeling like we have time free for weekends like the one we have just had. So I started trying to think about my weeks in chunks of time, and allocating clear blocks to blogging, walking the dog and so on, in a bid to stop time disappearing unnoticed. It was a good way to work out priorities, and see how much free time there actually is each week, even when the boring stuff is accounted for, and a good incentive to try to get into a routine over the year ahead. I planned to join back in with a variety of blogging projects over the year, as long as I enjoyed them and could take part without it becoming too all-encompassing. As a result it took only a few days before I decided not to do the 365 project this year, as I went to bed one night looking round wondering what to photograph and feeling it was more of a chore than fun, I decided to do a photo a week instead, and make more of an effort to post more regularly on instagram, so do feel free to follow me over there too (button on the right)!

Having said all of that, I have quickly realised that the plans are not set in stone. For instance, this should have been written on Friday night, and the ironing I had planned for Thursday didn't happen either. Sometimes life doesn't fit neatly into those time slots, and if I make any resolution for the year ahead, it is to learn that spontaneity and flexibility can be just as enjoyable and important as a routine.

Wishing you a very happy 2016, and hoping you have some great plans for the year ahead.

The Reading Residence

Monday, January 04, 2016

the year in books: january

As happened in 2014 too, my year in books contributions seemed to tail off towards the end of the year. I did read quite a few more books though, and will definitely be joining back in again with the project this year. It really has made me rediscover my love of reading, and our family has started a mini book club, sharing books between my parents and I, with recommendations and discussions, including text updates from Mum as she reaches particularly moving or shocking parts!

I am very happy to say that Laura is running the project again this year, and you can take part on instagram, via a blog, through the monthly twitter chats, or a combination of them all. For now, I plan to do a blog post still, but I may move over to instagram alone as the year progresses! Laura is also suggesting a single book in February that people could choose to read, which seems like a lovely way of uniting us all virtually, in an informal way.

So, books that I didn't get round to writing up last year were:

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte - I didn't know much about the plot, but had a notion of Heathcliffe as a doomed romantic hero wandering the moors. It was a lot darker, and more in the realms of a ghost story at times, than I expected, and I didn't find many of the characters particularly likeable. I did enjoy reading it, and thought the writing was excellent, and I would be interested to read some of the analyses of the text, and possibly see how it has been adapted for screen too.

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins - After seeing lots of mixed opinions on this, I was a little wary, but I couldn't put it down. Again, there isn't much redeeming about any of the characters, and I had sussed some of the plot turns quite early on, but I did find it compelling and it definitely made the commute a little more thought-provoking!

The Kind Worth Killing by Peter Swanson - I bought this on a hunch after seeing a poster, and what a good hunch it was. Much like Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train it was filled with suspense, and the characters failed to evoke much sympathy, but there was a macabre fascination with the plot and how it would progress. I loved the ending of this book, and thought it was the most gripping one I've read in a while.

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman - Another one I had seen mixed reviews of, but I adored everything about this novel, even if it did have me laughing and weeping at far too regular intervals. It was a lovely, beautiful plot with very believable characters and one I will definitely revisit.

Kate's Wedding by Chrissy Manby - I found this in the holiday cottage we stayed at in December, and spent a lazy few hours devouring it. It was light-hearted, based on two women getting married the same weekend as the royal wedding, with a few plot twists along the way. Much of it was predictable, but it was fun, and there was enough going on to keep it interesting, exactly my kind of holiday read.

I can't think that there are any others, but I'm sure my parents will be in touch if I've missed any out!

Having got lots of wonderful books for Christmas, my first choice has been Sue Perkin's memoir, which is so far proving to be a brilliant read. Do pop over to Laura's blog if you fancy joining in, and hopefully catch some of you at the first twitter chat at the end of January.

Friday, January 01, 2016

first things first

The first of January.

The first day of 2016. A beautiful brand new year to look forward to with all the promise it brings.

The first day of a long weekend, with plans for dismantling the decorations, pottering around the house, enjoying some leisurely afternoons before the return to routine on Monday. Although both The Husband and I were in work this week it was that odd kind of atmosphere where some people came in dressed casually, and everywhere was quiet, with trays of mince pies hanging around and that general air of conviviality and comraderie amongst the few of us that had ventured in. Next week will no doubts be back to normal, with that gentle disbelief as the day begins that Christmas is over for another year, and that slight disorientation of having to write 2016 for the first few times.

The first family gathering of the year, with a visit to my Aunties, and time spent chatting, making plans for the year ahead, reflecting on the incredibly year that has passed and generally realising just how much we achieved, helped almost singlehandedly by my fabulous Grandad and my amazing parents.

The first day of setting up my new phone, or should that be The Husband setting up my new phone. My contract was coming to an end, so I decided on a whim to order a new one, with a swanky new camera, ready for a new year of photography, hopefully with lots of lovely memories ready to be captured. I always have a few days of regret when a new phone arrives, feeling like I'll never get as accustomed to it as I was to my previous model, but I seem to have taken to this one quite quickly. I've moved to a new provider, and made the switch from Apple back to Android for the first time in years, so am very excited to start playing with it and finding out what it can do.

The first, as you may have noticed, blog post in a while. If you visit here frequently you won't be surprised that I have reappeared today, with my love of fresh starts, new beginnings, and the optimism that comes with a new week, month, or year. It wasn't a deliberate break, but once I missed a week of the different projects I was taking part in and realised it didn't suddenly undermine all the weeks I had done, I relaxed a little. It was a shame not to finish the projects, like 365 photos, and the year in books, and I'm still contemplating writing my last two bake off posts, especially as I was so proud of the Millefeuille! I've been trying to get a bit of a better balance between being a perfectionist and giving up entirely when something slips, and taking a bit of a break from blogging was a good way of realising that I can take a bit more of a relaxed approach to it for the year ahead without packing it up entirely. In the last few months I moved placements yet again, we had a lovely family holiday to the Lake District with my parents and grandad (who was making a fabulous recovery from his second knee operation in less than six months), Millie ended up very poorly in the vets for a second time (we have now discovered that it was caused by her finding her way into her food supply and literally gorging herself sick so at least it has been easily remedied!), I have rediscovered calligraphy, and of course there has been the fabulous festivities of the season. It's not really surprising that blogging took a back seat for a little while, but I am very glad to be back and will hopefully be posting a little more regularly and visiting all of those blogs I have missed very much over the last few weeks.

And now I think the first dog walk of the year, followed by the first early night, and perhaps the first few pages of one of the new books I got for Christmas. I wish you all the very best of years ahead, and thank you for finding your way to this little corner of the internet today, and for any previous visits you may have made. Happy New Year.