Sunday, 22 February 2015

Word of the Week

This week's WotW flows naturally from last week when I thought about the convenience of using ready meals and whether it was a false economy. So this week  my word is

Last week I set myself a challenge of not using any ready meals for a week. I was concerned about how lazy I had become, relying on pre-prepared meals more and more. The size of some of the portions also surprised me when I actually stopped to look at them, small even for one person yet stating it was 2 portions.
So on Monday I headed for the supermarket clutching my shopping list with a week's worth of meal plans whizzing through my brain. Luckily most of the things on my list were in stock and I awaited the delivery with baited breath.
Without boring you with all the details, I made it! Every meal in this house last week was prepared from scratch. I confess that my lunch time soup was from a tin - I've never made soup in my life (bad, bad, bad) and I didn't want to set myself up for a fall so I leant on Heinz who've been making soup for a while and are rather good at it!
What I did discover is that, with a little planning, I can cook a fresh meal every day. I don't need to use pre-prepared meals and I didn't melt down at any stage. Being a stay at home bod obviously helped - I think I'd have found it more of a struggle if I'd had to put in a full day at  the office, needing far more planning and doing things the night before.
I now intend to carry on with this way of cooking, I really enjoyed it and I hope my family did too - not that they've commented, probably haven't even noticed! I'm also hoping to branch out and try out some new dishes - last week was relying on my old faithfuls rather than new and untried recipes.
So a big pat on the back for me and here's a hearty goodbye to ready meals. Although I might slip the occasional pizza into the trolley!      

Friday, 20 February 2015

The Prompt - Dream

It is real, honestly! If you look you'll see them and then you can rescue me. But watch out for their teeth!
No, I'm not dreaming, they are really there and I'm scared that they'll get me.  I can't move, can't get out of bed because they'll get me.
Please, just look, they really are under there, waiting. They'll bite me and tear my feet off.  Then they'll start to chew my legs off and then I'll die.
Just have a peep, please? I can't put my feet on the floor because then they'll eat my feet. Don't you see? Why can't you understand?
There are hundreds of them, all snarling eyes and sharp teeth. They came after me but I managed to climb up on the bed. If I pull the covers over my head they can't see me. Then they can't get me so I am safe if I stay in bed under the covers.
Please, look under the bed, they're all hiding there, waiting for me to put my feet on the floor. They want to eat me! Why won't you understand?
Be careful! They might want to eat you too! They wait until you're not looking then they sneak up on you, baring their teeth and start to bite. They nip with needle sharp teeth, drawing blood which drips down onto their white feathers.
Here they come, waddling out from under the bed, teeth bared, snarling, snapping, coming to get me ...
This is inspired by a memory of a nasty dream I had as a child involving a gang of killer penguins. In my defence I was only about five at the time!   

Friday, 13 February 2015

Book Review - Elizabeth Is Missing

Well this is a first. I set myself a challenge of reading a book each month by an author I'd not read before. It's only 13th of the month and I'm reviewing my third book by a new author.

Elizabeth Is Missing by Emma Healey is a mystery story - where is Elizabeth? The protagonist is Maud, an 82 year old who suffers from Alzheimer's. She lives in a world full of confusion and shifting reality. Pockets full of notes remind her what she can do, what she mustn't do and what she has done but these only leave her more confused. When she can't find her friend Elizabeth she starts to search for her, driving everyone else mad in the process. Mystery also surrounds Maud's sister who went missing 70 years earlier.

 Maud is a fascinating character. She is dogged in her attempt to find her friend even though she has a flimsy grasp on reality. Her memory of her sister's disappearance is crystal clear which acts a stark contrast to the confusion of her recent memories. I have little knowledge of Alzheimer's beyond what I gather from the media but looking at the world through Maud's eyes was fascinating. Even her grasp of language fails her at times when she can't remember the words for things. This would really scare me - as an avid reader and amateur writer I would hate to lose language. But for Maud it is just the way it is and Emma Healey conveys the confusion of a mind slipping away beautifully.

The two mysteries entwine both in Maud's mind and in the narrative of the novel. The narrative switches from the present to Maud's past and the reader is given clues to the fate of the two women. Although the answers to the mysteries isn't really much of a surprise, there are enough red herrings to keep the reader interested.

The secondary characters are interesting too. Maud's family are torn apart by her sister's disappearance and feelings of helplessness. Maud's daughter and grand-daughter deal with her Alzheimer's in different ways - the frustration of her daughter is wonderfully handled and feels all too real.

I didn't want the story to end and I loved living in Maud's world for a while, although I was all too glad to leave it behind and get my marbles back! If you liked 'The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out Of The Window And Disappeared' or 'The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry' then you will enjoy Elizabeth Is Missing'. 

Word of the Week

This week's word only sprung into my mind yesterday and doesn't really sum up the week as such but there hasn't really been an over-riding feel to the week so it will suffice.

Yesterday I cooked tea.  'Wow' I hear you all shout. Well, yes, it's not that exciting in itself is it?  I cooked cod fillets in crème fraiche and with pea and mint crush. Sounds lush, n'est pas? I confess - it was a Waitrose ready meal ... Just shoot me now for being a bad wife ...

What I noticed was how small the portions were, no bigger than my coasters. Actually, the coasters are larger! The packet said there were two servings - I can only assume they didn't mean two people!

However, this got me thinking about convenience.  I confess that I use ready meals sometimes, a few times a week if I'm honest. It's become a habit; I wander round Waitrose and pop a couple of packs in the trolley without really thinking about it.  I do it for convenience. I know that there are a couple of fool-proof meals in the fridge and one of my few culinary skills is peeling back the film from a foil tray!

But is it really convenient? Maybe time wise but what about in other ways? Food should be an expression of love and care - what am I saying by buying it ready made and merely re-heating something made in a factory?  Have I really got that lazy and complacent?

So I've set myself a challenge: next week I'm not buying anything 'convenient' at the supermarket, I intend to make all meals from scratch. This will take some planning so I'm planning a weekend of pouring over cookbooks finding ideas for a full week and actually planning all meals rather than grabbing what's in the fridge in a foil tray.

Actually, looks like next week's Word of the Week could be planning ... Watch this space!

Friday, 6 February 2015

The Prompt

Winter has always been my  least favourite season. I don't like being cold & I hate snow and ice.
I can appreciate the beauty of a snow scene but I have no desire to be anything other than an observer from a distance. I can't imagine anything worse than winter sports so have never been on a skiing holiday.
My favourite quote about winter is from The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe:
'Always winter but never Christmas'
What a hellish vision - all that snow and cold yet nothing to celebrate.
So wrap me up in a nice woolly cardigan, turn the fire up, pop the kettle on for a nice cup of tea and wake me up when it's Spring! 

Thursday, 5 February 2015

Book Review - The Miniaturist

The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton
There are precious few novels that I devour over the course of a single day but once I got into this I couldn't put it down.  I'm so impressed by tis debut novel that I can hardly wait for Jessie Burton's next offering, which I understand is different in theme and scope.
So, what is so good about this novel? Well the setting is marvellous. Seventeenth century Amsterdam is so beautifully drawn that I almost believed that I was walking along the canals or wandering through the hall in my indoor pattens. reading it on one of the coldest days of the year also helped me to empathise with the characters when the canals froze over! I also enjoyed learning something about the culture and mores of a time which I knew little about. The rigid Puritanical code of ethics made for a stifling cage which imprisoned the characters in various ways and ultimately led to tragic endings for some of them. 
The characters were well drawn though I did find it took me a while to warm to some of them.  I loved the central character of Nella from the first page; she's a feisty young woman at heart who blooms as the novel unfolds.  Some criticism of the novel is that she blooms rather too fast and this is not realistic. I can see what is meant by this but I didn't feel that this detracted from my enjoyment of the novel nor did it feel forced. Events unfolded that meant Nella had to draw on her inner resources perhaps more quickly than if her life had unfolded in an uneventful fashion. Also I think there's little to be gained trying to second guess what a character would do in 'real life' - they are after all a character in a work of fiction so some artistic license is to be expected.
The character of the miniaturist is mysterious and intriguing. The miniatures that are created help Nella to navigate her way through  her new family, to understand the events happening around and to her and to find the strength of character to do what must be done. Knowing that the miniature house is sitting in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam makes me want to visit that city to see it in reality.
Lastly the book is beautifully written. It is easy to read and a real page turner. There is an element of mystery and suspense in the novel, also an element of the supernatural, all handled really confidently. Even though some of the things that happen are astonishing they never feel unrealistic and Jessie Burton handles the tension and surprises really well.
I truly loved this book, it is up there with The Night Circus as a real favourite that I know I will read again.  It made me cry on several occasions and that is always a good indicator of how much I have invested in a novel - you can't beat a good weep over a character who has touched you!
I heartily recommend this novel. If you read it, let me know what you think.

Sunday, 1 February 2015

January's New Author

One of the things I promised myself I'd try to do this year is to read a book by a new author (to me at least) each month.

In  January I read The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster. I remember my son reading this book when he was at primary school and he enjoyed it.  Every time I moved the book during a sporadic tidy up he'd tell me I should read it as it was a book I'd enjoy too.  So last month I finally got round to opening the front cover and diving in.

Now I'm not the target readership of this book so I wasn't totally hooked by the plot. It was rather simplistic and I wasn't drawn in.  The characters were also rather one dimensional but they were more symbolic than realistic so I'm not too concerned with that.

What I did enjoy was the punning and word play.  The English language is very rich but also complex and often infuriating. The way Norton Juster used the absurdities of our grammar and vocabulary was most amusing. I can see how younger children would enjoy some of the word games and they certainly raised a smile. He also wrote a book about geometry which I saw made into an animated film many years ago; reading The Phantom Tollbooth has prompted me to find it on
Youtube for some nostalgic viewing.

I'm torn between two novels for February - and I've still got 200 pages of Don Quixote to read!