Monday, 30 November 2015

bookclub #7

This past couple of months has been a good one for reading! I always see a dip in the number of books I read when I go back to work after the summer break - the early morning and busy days render me pretty useless by 9pm. This year, however, I've made a conscious effort to make time to properly wind down before going to sleep; going to bed a little earlier so I can get a good few chapters in. And it's paid off! This is the seventh book I've read since going back to work after the summer break. It also happens to be book number seven of the Blogger Bookclub series.

#7: Techbitch by Jo Piazza and Lucy Sykes 

I feel a little embarrassed to be reading a book with such a naff title... let alone to admitting it on the internet! Techbitch follows Imogen Tate, magazine editor extraordinaire, and her return to the fast-paced world of fashion after time out following treatment for breast cancer. When arriving back in the offices of Glossy magazine she finds life as she knows it is no more. Glossy magazine is now and her former assistant Eve has taken control of the reins. Techbitch tells a story of technology replacing human potential, the bitchy world of fashion, and ageism in its worst form. 

You want me to be entirely honest? I hated this book at first. It is full of contemporary references - to the point that it felt like this was a game of 'how many references to popular culture can we cram into each chapter'. I found this completely cringe-worthy and embarrassing to read. In fact, my boyfriend read this over my shoulder one evening and stated "what the f**k are you reading?!". In addition to this, it is (at least in places) very poorly written, making it at times hard to follow.

That said, I persevered and did find it easy to read. I warmed to Imogen's character and really despised Eve - the characterisation was good in that sense. The blatant ageism and disregard for Imogen really enraged me! It was fairly predictable, but an easy, fairly amusing read none-the-less. I haven't really read something quite so chick-lit-y for a long time, so this was a change for me. If you've read and enjoyed The Devil Wears Prada (or other reads by Weisberger, I quite liked Chasing Harry Winston many years ago!) then this might be the book for you. 

Don't forget to check out Lorna, Leanne and Charli's thoughts.


Saturday, 21 November 2015

SE Asia: why there?

In case you missed it, last week I shared the exciting news that in February my boyfriend and I are going travelling for six months! Yup, six months of exploring SE Asia and all it has to offer. Excited is a bit of an understatement I guess - we're counting down the days already.

Last time I briefly explained the reasoning for our trip. Essentially, it's a case of if not now, when? 

This trip has been a long time coming; we decided on Christmas Eve 2014 and have spent all of 2015 saving, planning... and building excitement! So I guess this post is about how we've gone about organising our trip and the things we still have left to decide on. I'm hoping others who have travelled the countries we're planning on visiting will be able to pass on some hints and tips - as well as maybe giving others that nudge to consider a big trip. 

Both Rich (boyfriend) and I have visited Asia before. We went to Malaysia together two summers ago and packed KL, the Perhentian islands (my second time), Penang and Langkawi into a two week trip. Previously I spent a month in Malaysia and Indonesia with Kat, again visiting the Perhentian islands (heaven on earth), KL, Bali and the Gili Islands. Rich has also visited various Thai islands with his friends - so we feel we've had a good taste of what Asia has to offer already. 

You may be thinking - why are you going back? Spread your wings! And we thought exactly the same. We initially planned on spending the six months in South America, but after looking into it some more we realised our hearts lie in Asia. All our travels have done so far is whet our appetite - we want to see more! So this time we will be skipping most of Malaysia, Indonesia and the Thai party islands and instead seeing more of what Asia has up it's sleeve. 

We've decided on the following as definites:
Philippines - likely splitting our time between Palawan and Boracay
Malaysia - returning to Penang as we loved it before and didn't get to see enough
Thailand - Krabi, Phi Phi and then moving up to Chaing Mai and Pai
Myanmar/Burma - Yangon and Inle lake
Vietnam - Hanoi and all the way down the coast to Ho Chi Minh
Cambodia - Siem Reap, Phnom Penh, Sihanoukville

All we've done so far? Booked our flight out there and a return, coming back in August. We're flying to the Philippines to start and coming back from Bangkok. The rest we will be (largely) figuring out when we're there! 

I'd love to hear from anyone who has visited SE Asia and any of the places we're planning on seeing - or any others we've missed out and must see! Any feedback would be gratefully received.


Monday, 16 November 2015

bookworm #42

Back in early 2013 I read Gone Girl, and completely loved it's messed up, entirely gripping plot. The film also didn't disappoint - in my eyes at least. So when I heard they were making another of Flynn's novels into a film, and subsequently seeing the trailer on social media I knew it would top my 'to read' pile. 

Dark Places by Gillian Flynn.

Dark Places tells the story of Libby Day, whose mother and two sisters were killed when she was a child; she managed to escape. Her brother Ben was charged with their murder, partly due to Libby's testimony, and is serving a life sentence in prison. Fast forward twenty-five years and Libby is down and out, skint and pretty miserable. She is approached by someone who says he can get her money - if she helps The Kill Club investigate the murders and potentially reveal Ben's innocence. Reluctant at first, Libby soon finds information that challenges everything she thought she once knew. Her world unravels and she is sucked into a mystery she would have preferred to keep buried. 

I really enjoyed this book! It was gripping from the off, with sub-plots and twists at every corner. It was quite a long read - a bit like Gone Girl it could probably have done with fewer pages, but that said it didn't feel onerous.

I'd love to see how the film compares but it doesn't look like it was released in the UK... if anyone has any info on this I'd love to know where I can find it!


Friday, 13 November 2015

if not now, when?

This post has been a long time coming. Eleven months, in fact!

Last Christmas Rich and I made a big decision - that in 2016 we would leave reality behind us, pack our bags and travel.

Idealistic? Perhaps. Selfish? Perhaps.

And after almost a year of hard saving and life planning, it's on! In February - a mere three months time - we'll be leaving life as we know it behind and boarding a plane bound for SE Asia for six months of exploring.

Philippines - Thailand - Myanmar - Cambodia - Vietnam... and the rest!

This is a pretty big deal for us; we're leaving our home (we rent in Farnham, Surrey) and jobs, putting our things in storage and leaving reality behind. I've been lucky enough to be given a sabbatical from my teaching job, so will be coming back to my job in August. This really sealed the deal for us - when I asked, I didn't expect them to say yes! Call it a sign, fate, whatever... it was clearly meant to be.

For me, life feels pretty hectic. I'm twenty-eight, a busy teacher in the hamster wheel of life which seems to be relentless. But right now, we have no ties. No mortgage, no babies. For us it is the perfect time to spread our wings and finally do what we've always fantasised about - put life on hold for six months and explore.

If not now, when?


Monday, 9 November 2015

smoked haddock risotto

A risotto isn't exactly a quick and easy dinner; it requires attention and a little bit of love. That said, don't write it off as a mid-week meal. This recipe is straightforward and really packs a punch flavour-wise. I started off with this recipe but adapted, tweaked and altered to make this. This will serve two hungry people. 

You will need
1 finely diced onion
1 teaspoon medium curry powder
150g risotto rice
700ml vegetable stock
1 handful frozen peas
2 smoked haddock fillets
1 handful cooked and peeled king prawns
1 handful chopped parsley
1 tablespoon mascarpone/quark
2 eggs, poached
1 lemon

Start by cooking the haddock according to packet instructions; I buy and cook from frozen in the oven in a little foil packet for about 20 minutes. 

Fry the onion on a medium heat, once softened add the curry powder and combine. Add the rice and ensure it is well combined and coated in the onions and curry powder. Add the stock a glug at a time; slow and steady really wins the race here! Don't throw the liquid all in at once - take it easy, bit by bit. Taste every so often to check when it's cooked. You may not need to use all the stock, or may need a little more. 

When you add the last glug of stock, throw in the frozen peas and leave to cook until the last of the liquid is absorbed. Now add the quark or mascarpone, prawns, parsley and flake in the haddock (and any fishy cooking juices).

Serve with a squeeze of lemon, a sprinkle more parsley and top with a runny poached egg. Delicious. 

Slimming World - syn values
Use fat free quark instead of mascarpone and this dish is syn free! 


Friday, 6 November 2015

bookworm #41

So last month I joined a 'real life' bookclub! As well as being a part of an online bloggers bookclub, I now attend a monthly bookclub with a few local ladies. It was started by a work colleague who also lives in Farnham, and earlier this week we had our first book chat. The Children Act was my choice, and was a real hit!

The Children Act by Ian McEwan

The Children Act is a novel centring around Fiona, a high-court judge, who has to make some pretty difficult moral and ethical decisions over other people's lives. A pair of Siamese twins who will both die if remain adjoined, but one may survive if a risky operation is performed. Two Jewish girls whose parents have very different ideas about the sort of education they should receive; an orthodox Jewish school or a secular school. A seventeen year old Jehovah Witness who requires a blood transfusion to fight the leukaemia which will otherwise kill him, but is refusing on religious grounds. 

There was a clear debate running through this story; religion vs. rationality. I found this really interesting, right up my street! As you'd expect from a McEwan novel, it is intelligent, well-researched and thorough. That said, it's not heavy-going. It's a good length, has short chapters and is gripping from the get-go. It's definitely one of those books that will get you thinking - what would you have done?

My next read: Dark Places by Gillian Flynn.


Sunday, 1 November 2015

a simple chicken ramen

I did it! I made ramen! To me, this is comfort in a bowl. Chicken, noodles, perfectly boiled, runny eggs. I'd heard horror stories of ramen gone wrong and how it can take days to perfect those deep ramen flavours... so I was a little apprehensive to get started. 

A simple chicken ramen recipe.

After lots of pinning and recipe hunting, I found this seemingly straightforward recipe - too good to be true? Nope! Perfect, rameny loveliness. I've tweaked and made UK ingredients and measurement friendly. This makes enough ramen for two hungry folk. 

You will need
2 chicken breasts
3 tsp garlic paste (here)
2 tsp ginger paste (here)
3 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp mirin 
(a sweetened rice wine, find it in most large supermarkets)
1 litre chicken stock
(I used two knorr chicken stock pots in boiling water)
1 handful dried shitake mushrooms
(soak these in boiling water for 20 minutes in preparation)
2 eggs
1 handful spring onions
100g dried noodles
(I used these from the world food aisle, perfect!)
Coriander to serve

Start by frying the chicken in a non-stick pan to seal and brown the outside. A few minutes on each side is plenty, or until golden. Place in a tin foil parcel and cook in the oven for a further 15 minutes or until cooked through. You can add any chicken juices into your jug of chicken stock!

In a large saucepan, fry the garlic and ginger paste on a low heat before adding the soy sauce and mirin - stir to combine. Add the stock and bring to the boil and simmer for 5-10 minutes. Add the dried, soaked mushrooms and simmer for a further 10-15 minutes. You may need to season to taste, however if you've used a dark soy sauce like I did, you probably wont need to. A light, lower salt soy sauce might be better to use in this. 

Whilst this is simmering, make your soft-boiled eggs! Bring a pan of water to the boil and then add the eggs carefully. I don't keep my eggs in the fridge, so they are at room temperature. Set a timer for 6 minutes. Once the time is up, remove from the boiling water and put into a bowl of iced water. This stops the cooking process. Leave in the icy water for 5 minutes before peeling and slicing lengthways. 

In the water you used to boil the eggs, cook your noodles. Follow packet instructions - usually 4-5 minutes. 

Assembly time. Pour the broth into two bowls then place the noodles, chicken breast (sliced), eggs and top with the spring onions (sliced) and a sprinkling of coriander. Season with black pepper and enjoy!

Slimming World - syn values
Mirin, 2 syns per tablespoon

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