Stuff Helen Does – The next chapter

4 years later…

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  • Minus one bunny. 😦
  • Plus one baby. (Internet, meet Tobias Arthur.)
  • Plus one mortgage/house in desperate need of a makeover.
  • Swap Manchester for Cheshire.
  • Swap the desk job for juggling freelance work with wiping an 11 month old’s bottom.

It sounds like I’ve grown up… but in reality I’m just sitting here grasping my wine, wearing Harry Potter socks, and wondering what’s happened. It’s all good.

January’s Reading List

Well… I’ve actually kept up one of my new year’s resolutions until the end of January! (And long may it continue!) I decided that in 2014 I wanted to read much more than I have been over recent years, and so far I’ve already made it through four books, so I’m dead impressed with myself.

As a kid I was a bit of an obsessive reader (the days before I got the Sega Megadrive!) I’d even get excited when it was the school summer holidays because our local library allowed you take out 10 books instead of 5 (I was easily pleased as a child!)  I remember one particularly hot summer spending almost the entire six weeks off school sat in the paddling pool in the back garden keeping cool with a stack of books.

During the peaceful hours spent reading you get to be someone else, living an entirely different life and forget all the trivial annoyances, stresses and sorrows of the real world.  Reading is definitely my therapy of choice.

Once I reached the age of 17 or 18 I more or less completely gave up reading for the next 10 years.  I suppose I got a life and decided to live in the real world for a while.  Now I’ve reached the grand old age of 27 (nearly 28) and I’ve become dead boring again! So here I am rediscovering my love of fiction.

This was my January reading list:

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1) Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

After reading Gone Girl whilst on holiday in Corfu last year I was pretty excited to get my hands on the previous two novels that Flynn had written.  Sharp Objects was her debut and I absolutely loved it. It’s about a young journalist called Camille who works for a small town newspaper in America.  Her boss sends her packing back to her hometown to try to get a scoop about the recent spate of child murders.  Being forced to stay with her estranged mother and family forces Camille to painfully unravel the secrets from her own past as she struggles to solve the mystery of the murders.  The book is, in my opinion, much darker and more chilling in the way that it is written than her other two novels.  The characters are intense; and characters that I care about is an absolute must for me.  This is the shortest of Flynn’s books, but probably my favourite of the three.

2) Dark Places by Gillian Flynn

To complete my Gillian Flynn binge I moved onto Dark Places.  This book has already been swept up for a film adaptation which is due for release in September or October of this year (around the same time as Gone Girl I think).  It took me a little longer to get into this one, the main character Libby Day has a rather (intentionally) flat character.  Libby was just a child when her entire family were murdered and she gave evidence which condemned her own brother to prison.  Now aged about 30 and with her donations from well-wishers and sympathizers drying up, Libby is forced to confront what really happened all those years ago.  I loved this book, but I did find myself hurrying through the ‘present day’ chapters to the chapters detailing what happened in the past.

3) Divergent by Veronica Roth

I picked up Divergent after it was recommended to me by a friend and after hearing it being described as ‘the next Hunger Games’.  It’s important to keep in mind that this is a kids’ book, so after my recent Gillian Flynn binge it took me a while to get back into the swing of reading children’s fiction.  Veronica Roth is/was very young when she wrote the first Divergent book (her first novel), and I did feel a little put off by the simplicity of the book when I first started.  I’m by no means a literacy snob, I struggle to enjoy a lot of the ‘classics’ and only read what I enjoy (fairly easy reads), but I still felt a little like this book was a bit overly simplistic like “Let’s do this” she said. “Ok” he said.  The plot and characters were fairly interesting though and although I’ve not raced to buy the second book in the trilogy yet I’m sure I will eventually do so.

4) N-W by Zadie Smith

This book wasn’t really my cup of tea.  I’ve not read anything by Zadie Smith before, but since reading this book I’ve heard that this one is a bit different to the rest of her stuff, so I’m not going to write her off yet. The book is divided into a few different sections, and each section is about a different character.  The character’s stories  intertwine throughout the book.  The whole book is based in London and describes the different cultures and lifestyles led by the city’s inhabitants.  Throughout the book, particularly at the beginning there are descriptive sections that are written in broken sentences that I found that I really had to concentrate on to understand.  Call me a lazy reader but I don’t like books that are hard work, I read for enjoyment and to get lost in a story – if it’s too much like hard work I tend to stop.  This book  can’t have been sooooo bad as I did make it (somewhat reluctantly) to the end but it didn’t really capture my imagination or interest, I wasn’t very excited to keep picking it up.

Baking to beat the January blues

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Lemon and poppy seed muffins.

(Recipe via Two peas and their pod)

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Caramel-filled chocolate chip cookies (The recipe suggests using Rolos, I used squares of Galaxy caramel)

(Recipe via Sally’ baking addiction)

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Irish soda bread

(Recipe via Cafe Johnsonia)

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My kitchen companion and this blog’s namesake – Darwin! 🙂

Hello February, January is finally behind us.  January is always a pretty quiet one for me.  I’m usually still paying off Christmas and being so broke is the perfect excuse for holing up at home in front of the fire and developing an unquenchable thirst for tea.

This January I refused to admit that December’s gluttony was truly over by beating my January blues with plenty of freshly baked things to eat.  Hey, it’s freshly made so it can’t be all that bad for you! (That’s how it works right?)

If Darwin’s in a good mood he likes to follow me into whichever room I go to and keep me company (he’ll even come and lay at my feet on the bathroom floor when I’m having a toilet break).  His new favourite spot this January has been the dining room chairs when they’re pushed under the table (not sure how he jumps up there without hitting his head on the underside of the table).  The first time he decided to take a nap under there it took forever to find him… the little imp!

The Great Soup Chronicles

Over the past 10 weeks or so (not including Christmas) I’ve been on a little bit of a soup cooking mission.  This was fueled by a couple of things:

  • I hate sandwiches and I needed something to eat at work.
  • The lack of plates, cutlery, toaster, cooker or kettle at work makes it pretty difficult to create anything very imaginative to eat for lunch.  Despite our lack of most kitchen appliances, we do have a microwave – so heating up a tupperware full of soup is perfect.
  • I wanted to eat something light and healthy at lunch.
  • A friend at work started bringing homemade carrot soup… so I decided to copy her. (Ha! So THERE’S the real reason, I’m a total copycat.)

So! I dug out our neglected food processor, got onto Pinterest and got to work.  However I’d soon pinned so many different delicious looking recipes that I was excited to try them ALL and since then I’ve refused to make the same soup twice.  Unfortunately I wasn’t blogging when I started making them so I don’t have my own pictures, so you’ll just have to suffice with the (far more beautiful) pictures from the original recipes.

1) Spiced carrot and lentil soup

Spiced carrot & lentil soup

The soup that started the craze! The soup of all soups! This is the recipe that my friend at work first pointed me towards, she swears by it.  And it is pretty good, simple and yet delicious! I think when I made it I threw in a couple of parsnips and a bit of greek yoghurt too, yum.

2) Creamy broccoli and cheese

I’ll be honest, I have a real weak spot for cheese.  I have a terrible guilty secret to share. When I go to the fridge, I often like to bite into the block of cheddar, Alex gets pretty annoyed at all the bite marks, it’s really disgusting.  This soup didn’t really fall under ‘healthy’ it did however give me my cheese fix for the day. Delicious!

3) Tomato cheddar soup

Tomato Cheddar Soup with Garlic Cheese Toasts

Yeah.. more cheese (don’t worry there are actually some healthier recipes coming!)  In this instance I was actually lacking cheddar when I made this soup but I had some feta that needed using up so I used feta instead. As much as I love cheese the feta was pretty overpowering and maybe a little too much (I still ate the entire batch though).

4) Silky butternut squash and cauliflower

I love butternut squash! This soup was healthy and delicious too (I’d actually forgotten about this one until just now, must resist the temptation to make this one again!)

5) Leek and potato soup

Usually this is one of my favourite soups, but this (dead simple!) recipe didn’t quite hit the spot.  I don’t know whether it was the recipe or the potatoes that I used, but the soup seemed a bit sticky and starch.

6) Curried parsnip soup

I’m not usually a massive fan of parnsips, but I have to say they make a pretty mean soup.  The only mistake I made was putting too much curry powder in, plus a whole chilli with seeds.. The burn was a little too much for a work lunch break, I was sweating all over.

7) Squash, stilton and sage soup

Squash, Stilton & sage soup

This was the point in my life where I discovered just how much I HATE stilton. I couldn’t even smell this soup without gagging.  Alex however like stilton and reported back to me that it was delicious (soup disaster number one).

8) Curried butternut squash

I’ve lost the recipe for this one, sorry!

9) Sweet potato and leek soup

There’s no picture with this one… it doesn’t taste at all how it looks.  It comes out dark green because of the spinach but then only really tastes like sweet potato. Lovely silky smooth, creamy consistency though.

10) Roasted parsnip and apple soup

This was probably my most adventurous soup.  I generally go for quick boil-everything-in-one-pot -then-blend type recipes (I like to drink my soup not chew it!)  So this one took a little longer as you tray roast everything for a bit, then boil it, then blend it.  And the flavours were more unusual too.  I actually enjoyed this soup, but Alex didn’t.  The parnsip and the apple combine is really sweet if you’re used to savoury soups, I loved it the first couple of days, but by days 4 and 5 I was well and truly over it (too much of a good thing and all that!)

11) Spicy vegan black bean soup

I’m sure this recipe is delicious, but at the moment I have 5 portions of it sat in my fridge waiting to be binned. Do not… I repeat DO NOT try to substitute black beans for kidney beans and black-eyed beans.. just don’t do it! And don’t blend it too much either.  The result looks like excrement.  I just couldn’t bring myself to take my embarrassing and un-appetising soups to work for fear of putting everyone else off their lunch, aren’t I considerate… ok, so mostly I just couldn’t bring myself to eat it.