Fiction Friday

I think I’m making progress. At one point today one of my hands did come somewhere close to touching one of my toes (in yoga that is, not whilst doing the weekly shop at Tescos).

Reading those two yoga books whilst sitting on the sofa with a nice cup of tea has obviously done me the world of good.

I’m still working my way through Bring Up the Bodies so in honour of Chinese New Year I thought I’d share a few books (some non-fiction) that are relevant and timely

For the Young Reader

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This is a nice, easy introduction to some of the main Chinese festivals, including activities and crafts. Nicely illustrated.

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This was sent to us by friends who lived in Singapore. There are five books in the set, providing a gentle introduction to life in Singapore, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok and Bali. I did try to persuade the family that actually visiting Singapore, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok and Bali would be a fab introduction to life there but it seems we’re sticking with just reading about it for now 😉

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I find this book a little bit “worthy”, but the kids really engaged with the colourful, comic-strip illustrations, and it does give a lot of information along the way.

For the Grown Ups

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This was Amy Tan’s fourth novel, and it really struck a chord with me. The story centres around the difficult relationship between a Chinese-American woman and her Chinese mother, the extra strain put on that relationship when the mother starts to suffer from Alzheimer’s, and how greater understanding of her mother comes when the daughter gets her mother’s autobiography translated and learns of her early life and hardships in China. Beautifully written, evocative, a compulsive read

Gung Hay Fat Choi!

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Cake

I remember when birthdays meant creating cakes in the shape of woodland scenes, with pixies and rabbits and cute things.

Now

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Sob.

This weekend six hyped-up 12 (or soon to be 12) year old boys will be rampaging, sorry, quietly and considerately mooching, around our house as oldest child celebrates his birthday. There’ll be a trip to the cinema, a sleepover, and Minecraft.

Lots and lots of Minecraft.

I don’t get it myself.

But then I’m his Mum so I’m really not supposed to.

I just get to roll with it.

And bake the cake.

This is a really nice chocolate cake recipe. Chocolatey, a little drier than I would normally go for, but that works well when you have several layers of icing doo-dahs to perch on top.

For the cake
3tbsp cocoa powder
200g self raising flour
200g butter (softened)
200g caster sugar
1 tsp baking powder
3 eggs (large)

Heat oven to Gas 4

Cream butter and sugar
Mix the cocoa powder with approx 4 tbsp boiling water and mix together. Stir into the butter and sugar. Add the eggs, sift the flour and baking powder in. Mix well.
Grease and line 2 cake tins and divide the mixture between the two. Bake for approx 25 mins.

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I usually use a chocolate buttercream filling for this cake.
Dissolve 1tsp of instant coffee powder/granules and 1tsp cocoa powder in 2 tbsp boiling water.
Put in a small heatproof bowl and add 60g good quality plain chocolate (broken into small pieces). Melt, either in a microwave or over a pan of simmering water. Let cool
In a fresh bowl cream 250g softened butter with 75g sifted icing sugar. Add the chocolate/coffee mix and stir well. Beat until the mix is pale and fluffy.

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Smother the top of one of your cakes with the buttercream

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Add the top layer of cake and then whatever icing creation good taste, or small children, demand.

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I drew a line at Mooshrooms.

Ooop North

A long overdue trip to see friends.

We met half way at a pretty little Peak District town called Crompton, site of the revolutionary Arkwright Mills. The Mills are picturesque now, with a very nice tea shop 🙂

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This photo was taken a couple of seconds before the sky darkened in a threatening and frankly slightly scary way, a few more seconds before lightning split the heavens, and a further few moments before hail stones the size of frogs sent us shrieking to the car.

Gives a whole new meaning to the “dark, satanic” imagery.

We took shelter in Scarthin Books, which is a fabulous bookshop (new books! Second hand books! Coffee shop!) also in Cromford, before heading up to Sheffield where our friends live.

We ate lots, drank lots and talked lots.

Quite the perfect weekend 🙂

We also tracked down this place

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This used to be Cherrytree Orphanage.

When my maternal grandmother died and my maternal grandfather enlisted, the children were placed in this orphanage as there were no other family members willing or able to look after them. My Mum used to talk about how happy she was there and how nice the staff were. It is also the place where she got her first and only doll.

I hope that seeing a photo of this place will help touch some deeply stored memories….

Fiction Friday

Well, in addition to last week’s dying dog, I have added squatting hippo, flailing windmill and expiring fish to my repertoire of yoga moves.

I am sure my 80 year old self will thank me for all this.

It’s just my 45 year old self who has stopped talking to me.

This Week I Have Mostly Been Reading

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I now know an awful lot more about the Nineteenth Century textile industry than I ever thought I would want to.

This is a hard book to place. It isn’t a ghost story- unless you count being haunted by consequences and possible consequences of your actions. It isn’t historical fiction. It isn’t a thriller. It isn’t particularly eerie or chilling or spine tingling.

It is a good read. The description of the textile industry is fascinating. Honest. The characters? Some are better drawn than others. None of them are particularly endearing, but you do want to find out what happens to them.

My main criticism of the book is that it is ultimately unfulfilling. I enjoyed the narrative all the way through, got to the end and thought “and? is that it?”

But perhaps that’s the point the author is trying to make: that stories, just like so many lives, can end not with a bang, but a whimper.

Next Week I Shall Mostly Be Reading

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I really enjoyed Wolf Hall and have read excellent things about this volume. I suspect it may take me a bit longer than a week to read it though…. 🙂

But What Did The Romans Ever Do For Us?

Well, they did provide a good few hours entertainment when we took the children to visit Wroxeter Roman City.

There were a few negative comments on Trip Advisor from people complaining about the lack of interactive buttons and levers and whistles and bells to keep the children amused.

But really, all they need is

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Roman ruins

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Plenty of grass

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And a bit of imagination.

Can I present The Death of Boudicca?

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RSC eat your heart out.

Of course the classical, thespian tone was somewhat ruined by the children proceeding to rampage around the ruins with Nerf guns, playing “The Hunger Games”.

But we won’t go into that here.

🙂

Fiction Friday

I write this, a broken woman.

Literally.

Today was my first yoga class. Ever.

And given the fact that I may never move again, it may well be my last.

I’m sure the premise when I signed up was that I would become lithe and bendy, rather than stiff and creaky.

No mention was made of total body paralysis. I would have noticed.

Probably.

There was one point, I’m not sure when exactly as it has all become a blur of creaking, groaning and pain, but there was definitely one point when the instructor blithely hooked his leg over his shoulder. Yes, at that point a whimper definitely escaped me.

They’ve named a new yoga position after me.

It’s called the dying dog.

Can’t wait for next week’s lesson. 🙂

This week I have mostly been reading

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What can I say? This was a gripping, uncomfortable read. The basic story is that of Solomon Northup, a free black man who lived in New York and was tricked into travelling south to Washington where he was kidnapped and enslaved. The beatings, cruelty and hardships he endured make excruciating reading but the narrative is told in such a matter of fact way that the reader escapes those icky feelings of voyeurism which stop me, at any rate, from reading some of the more brutal literature which seems to be en vogue nowadays.
If there is a criticism, it is that the style and tone of the narrative didn’t ring quite true. I can’t claim to be any great expert on the vernacular of the time, but the voice that comes over is certainly more that of a well educated, middle class, white, male. Reading a little about the background to the book, it seems it was an “as told to” ghost written publication, and given the level of editing that I guess went into producing the narrative as it stands, it does make you wonder what elements of the story itself were edited to make it tie in with the ghost writers agenda.

That said, it is still a good read, on an evil subject.

Next Week I Shall Mostly Be Reading

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The blurb on Amazon describes it as “A haunting Victorian ghost story of love, loss and the mystery of death from the bestselling author of THE THIRTEENTH TALE.”

Sounds just my cup of tea.

Fiction Friday

I’ve signed up for a yoga class.

How did that happen?

Perhaps it was the alarming clicking coming from my knees every time I move after spending time curled up on the sofa reading.

Or perhaps it was the way that sometimes my left leg seemed to not be attached properly. Which necessitated making violent and painful circular movements with said leg. Much to the embarrassment of the children. Especially when I did it in the middle of Tescos.

Or maybe it was the crowd of lithe and healthfully glowing people who came out of a yoga class at the cafe where I was having coffee and a chat with T this morning. Lithe and healthfully glowing people who were all about twenty years older than me but could probably run rings around me. Literally.

The nice man who runs the class said they could “accommodate” absolute beginners though We would find it “challenging”.

“Challenging in a good way?” I asked.

He laughed.

Which I think was a yes.

Gulp.

Anyway.

I have spent a few weeks reading cosy comfy Chris lit and now I’m ready and raring to go with something more erudite. So without further ado….

This week I shall mostly be reading

There’s a lot of hype surrounding the soon to be released film version of this so I am keen to read it before being sucked in to the Directors interpretation. I haven’t read a lot of works covering slavery and US racism and race relations – The Color Purple, The Help, To Kill a Mockingbird and, dare I say it? Gone With the Wind- so this should be an interesting read. Challenging possibly?

By this time next week I may be needing a bit of boring and predictable just to redress the balance a bit…

Streuth

First day back at work after the Christmas holidays.

Waaaaahhhh.

The feeling of dread the night before.

The painful peeling open of the eyes after nearly three weeks of (comparative) lie-ins.

Another day of rain.

It was not good. Not good at all.

The slough of despond threatened to take over this evening as well, but I thought, “NO! begone ye curmudgeonly beast, I will not surrender to your glumness and gloom”.

We need Nuts.

And chocolate

And a little bit of sour cream.

And suddenly…

It was a bright, bright sunshiny day.

Well, not quite, but you get the idea.

White Chocolate and Nut Streusel Cake

A bit more involved, this recipe, but I find that helps when you’re looking for a distraction

Preheat your oven to Gas 4.

For the crumble combine 175g brown sugar (I used a mix of light brown and light muscovado as that’s all I had in the pantry), 2tsp ground cinnamon, and 50g of butter. Rub together until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs then add 115g chopped nuts -I used a combination of pecans and walnuts as, again, that’s what was in the cupboard.
In a separate bowl cream 115g butter with 150g granulated sugar then add 3 eggs and beat well.
In yet another bowl sift together 175g plain flour with 1tsp bicarbonate of soda and 1tsp baking powder. Sift from a height to get maximum air into the mix.
Fold 1/3 of the flour mix into the butter mix,

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then add 85ml sour cream and fold in

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followed by 20g grated white chocolate. Repeat these steps twice more until all the ingredients are mixed together.

Line a square cake tin with grease proof paper and then grease the grease proof paper.

Pour half of the batter into the tin and then put half of the crumble on top. Add the other half of the batter

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and then top with the other half of the crumble.

Bake for about an hour.

Let it stand until nearly cooled then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Slice into squares.

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Beat the children off with a big stick to stop them snaffling the whole lot.

Have a long sit down to recover from the shock of baking something that both children want to eat.

An Epiphany

Epiphany. And so it’s all over with for another year. I hope you and yours had a lovely Christmas and New Year 🙂

January is traditionally a time to take stock and reflect on what has been and where you want your life to go in the future.

On reflection:

1: I don’t think I’ll make Figgy Pudding again. 8 hours to steam first time around. Plus 2 hours to steam to eat it on the day. It was fine if a little, um, wholesome.

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Lets just say that with all those figs it can certainly kick start the post Christmas weight loss regime…….

2: Getting a Kindle for my birthday? It’s like taking an alcoholic on a booze cruise.

Happy New Year!