Recent Recipes

I’ve been cooking some delicious things recently, even if I do say so myself. I’ve not been eating meat during the week (first unconsciously and now I’m making a point of it), and have found that it’s forced me to be a bit more creative with the meals that I cook for myself. While a piece of chicken and some potatoes simply served might make quite a satisfying meal, a pile of plain veg on a plate will not, so I have to try a bit harder than that.

If you’ve ever read one of my recipe posts before, you will know that I don’t measure or weigh anything, so all quantities will be approximate. If this bothers you, then run. Run away now. Regard it more as inspiration for a meal, rather than a structured, prescriptive recipe. Bonus points: these meals are mostly vegan (with obvious exceptions) and pretty damn cheap to make if you’re savvy when shopping. (My best bets for cheap vegetables are Aldi, Morrisons, and your local greengrocer if you’ve a good one nearby.)

 

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Spaghetti with cream cheese, pesto, and mushrooms

If you’ve been a student any time in the last few years, you might be sick to the back teeth of pasta with pesto and scroll right past this one. That’s fair. I don’t blame you. It took me a while to come back round to the idea of eating this as a genuine meal. But trust me, this is delicious, and easy peasy to put together. Start with pasta – your choice, I think spaghetti works great with this kind of non-saucey sauce, but just go with whatever you’ve got in the cupboard. Cook your mushrooms in a little oil and butter (throw some onions/shallots in there if you have any) while the pasta is boiling. Add a dollop of cream cheese to the pan with the mushrooms and stir around until it breaks up and becomes like a sauce (if you want it to be thinner, feel free to add in some milk and/or some of the pasta water). Add a generous amount of green pesto into the mix. Once your pasta is cooked to your liking, drain it and mix everything together. Serve with a lot of black pepper and maybe some parmesan if you’re a double-cheese sort of rebel.

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Stir-fried vegetables with nuts, served with rice

Okay, I absolutely can’t get away with calling this a recipe. But I’m posting it because the combination of these vegetables together was excellent so I would like to suggest it, and I would also like to suggest buying the bags of mixed peanuts and cashew nuts from Aldi and eating them with this. In the mix was courgette, red/green/yellow pepper, and some curly kale, cooked with lots of fresh garlic, ginger, and chilli.

recentrecipes-3 Thai curry/soup

I’m calling this Thai because it reminded me vaguely of a Thai green curry. I will accept any and all criticism to the contrary. Start by mincing garlic, ginger, chilli and a few coriander stalks very finely. You want them mushed up into a sort of paste that you will then fry in a bit of oil. Once that’s lovely and fragrant and hopefully not too burnt (I’m still getting to grips with my new cooker; perhaps you are more au fait with yours) add in a selection of robust vegetables – I went for baby sweetcorn, aubergine, and courgette. Stir fry these for a few minutes and then pour in a tin of coconut milk. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and leave it simmering away with a lid on it for about 15-20 minutes – you want to take it off the heat when the veg is cooked through but not yet a mushy mess. Serve with cashews, peanuts, and coriander, if you have any of those things. For a more filling meal prepare some noodles or rice to go on the side.

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Aubergine, sweet potato and lentil stew (a.k.a. Leftover Parfait)

This pretty much was leftover parfait, Malcolm in the Middle style. Or, at least, it was a meal borne out of scrounging through my fridge and cupboards to find what was lurking there and then cooking it all together, with little concern as to whether it was going to taste good together. Excellent outcome: it did. In here went two medium sweet potatoes, most of a medium aubergine, a tin of plum tomatoes, a large handful of red lentils, cooked with garlic and chilli. (Perhaps a bit too much chilli – but I would advise using a decent amount, this is the sort of dish that needs something to perk it up slightly.) Using those quantities yielded enough for four generous single-lady servings.

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Soy-sauce vegetables with a fried egg

Once again, absolutely not a recipe. Nobody’s going to be convinced by this one. Just a heads up as to what things taste utterly delicious together. Mushrooms, spring greens, courgette, baby sweetcorn, and green peppers. Stir-fried with the usual suspects (ginger/chilli/garlic) until almost cooked, then I threw a hefty dash of soy sauce in the pan and cooked it on a high heat for a few minutes. The result of this was that the soy sauce thickened and made a sticky, delicious, intensely savoury sauce. I threw a fried egg on top because fried eggs are delicious. I cook them with just a smidge of oil in a frying pan and then put a lid on it, so that the yolk almost steams while the bottom of the egg goes nicely burnt and crispy. You’re welcome to cook yours in a more civilised way, of course.

Here’s to many more delicious meat-free meals, vegetable-filled meals on the horizon. The plan for tonight is avocado pasta with a side of roasted vegetables including mushrooms, pepper, and courgette. Have you any ideas for delicious, easy, and preferably cheap meals?

Good Morning

I am categorically not a morning person. If you’ve ever spent any time with me, this will not be new information for you. I thought that getting a 9-5 job might cure this but it turns out that when you’re allowed to turn up at the office whenever you like (within reason) you won’t be very eager to get there bright and early. In fact just recently I bustled in at 8.55 to be greeted by my wide-eyed manager, gazing in disbelief. “You’re early… You don’t usually get here before 9, do you?” And in fairness, I was only there pre-9am because my bus had inexplicably cruised into town rather than getting snarled in traffic as usual.

I thought that after a certain amount of time (perhaps 23 years to be exact) I would come to terms with not being a morning person. But I just can’t. Something deep within me yearns to be a morning person. ‘Morning people just seem like better people’ is my thought process of an evening, soon replaced by ‘morning people are awful and must be stopped’ as a beeping alarm draws me out of my duvet cocoon.

I’m always reading about how successful, productive people have good morning routines. (I’ve yet to figure out quite how we’re defining success and productivity in this context, but they sound like pretty good attributes.) My morning routine is along the lines of: snooze alarm about fifteen times, reluctantly clamber out of bed while grumbling, shower, throw on some clothes, escape the house. If I’ve showered the night before I might even skip that step. One morning I woke up at 8 and still made the 8.24 bus. Impressive, perhaps, but is this really setting me up for the day? Probably not, realistically. Recently I’ve been feeling generally unsettled, anxious, panicky even, and I can’t help but wonder if a better morning routine wouldn’t help this. If five days out of seven start with a battle with my bed and then a mad panic to get out of the door, can I really expect to feel particularly serene at any point?

I have an image seared onto my mind of what ‘being a morning person’ looks like, and I think it may have come straight from a coffee advert I saw when I was younger. A glamorous woman wearing a silky nightie, marooned in the middle of a bright white bed, sipping black coffee and looking misty-eyed but content. The clock reads 07:05am or something equally virtuous and horrendous. Maybe this lady could be me!

But what do early risers even do? This cartoon essentially sums up my feelings on the matter:

cartoon via Toothpaste for Dinner

I feel like coffee might be an essential component. Breakfast, perhaps, though I have fallen into a fairly comfortable routine of eating porridge at my desk. Maybe it should involve reading, but I do that on the bus anyway. Writing a diary? Yoga? Staring glumly into space and wishing I was still asleep? The possibilities are endless. What I’m going to do is figure out what a proper morning should look like and then do those things and see if this makes all the little pieces of my life fit together a bit more smoothly.

What does your morning routine involve? Are you an early riser or not? How do you think this affects your life?

Soup, Glorious Soup

It’s that time of year – the time when barely anybody consumes solid food. It’s all porridge for breakfast and soup for every other meal of the day. Maybe a stew if you’re really feeling wild. As long as it’s warm and comforting and could adequately be described as a hug in a bowl. (And as long as you can heat it up in the microwave and eat it at your desk.)

I have pretty strong feelings about soup, brought on in part by the fact that my boyfriend just ‘doesn’t understand’ it. I find that when I have to advocate for something I end up loving it all the more. I love it and I’ve got pretty good at making myself – not that anything about making it is difficult, just slightly daunting before you first give it a go. So here are my most favourite soups to make – chosen because they are cheap, easy, and delicious.

Red Lentil, Chilli and Chickpea

I’ve seen quite a few other people blog and tweet about making this soup recently, and with good reason. It’s incredibly tasty, simple to make, and doesn’t require you to buy anything more exotic or exciting than a tin of chickpeas. (For what it’s worth, I am a philistine and don’t bother with that dry-frying cumin and chilli bit. I just use bog standard chilli powder.) It’s also far more filling than you would really expect any kind of soup to ever be. When I was at uni I used to make huge batches of this, freeze portions, and then essentially live off it on days when I was skint/lazy/skint and lazy.

Sweet Potato and Coconut

I would love to link you to a fantastic recipe for this one but honestly, I couldn’t find one. All I knew is that I wanted to make a soup with these two ingredients, everything else was up for grabs. Reading through a variety of recipes led me first to the conclusion that doing so would be complex and bizarre (having to grate the sweet potatoes, including milk and an apple as ingredients), and then to the conclusion that it can’t really be so bloody hard, can it. So I used sweet potatoes, red lentils, onion, garlic, ginger, coconut milk, curry powder, and sweet chilli sauce. I don’t really feel like I need to write detailed instructions because most vegetable soups operate on the basic principles of: fry, boil, blend. Using coconut milk makes it a really rather insipid colour, unfortunately, rather than a nice inviting orange.

Carrot and Lentil

This is not going well for if you have a particular aversion to red lentils. Well, sorry I’m not sorry. They’re inexpensive, they’re good for you, and are well suited to festering in your cupboard for ages and being brought out every once in a while to make soup out of. This soup is just so easy to make. Like the first recipe, it advises you to dry-fry cumin and chilli. Do it, don’t do it, I can’t see a huge difference. I also don’t necessarily think it needs all the milk, and have made it with significantly less. However I like thick soup, preferably thick enough to stand my spoon up in, so you don’t have to do what I do.

Potato, Apple and Celery

Honestly I’ve only made this soup once, and I’m not entirely sure if this is the recipe that I used, but it seems close enough. The basic concept is there. This soup is a little bit weird and a lot bit delicious. The potato base and nutmeg flavours make it creamy and soothing, while the apple brings not a sweetness but a much-needed ‘clean’ flavour. The addition of lemon juice is also important, lifting the whole dish and making it much brighter.

Mushroom

I’m not going to hunt down a recipe for this. It’s mushroom soup. The main ingredient is, unsurprisingly, mushrooms. (No lentils in this one!) Fry some mushrooms in oil and/or butter and garlic. Boil them in stock until soft. Blend. Add in a bit of cream. (The amount of cream to be added proves quite controversial. To me, overly creamy soups taste very odd, almost veering into pudding territory.) The secret ingredient, as discovered by me and my family (or maybe everybody else has been doing this all along?!) is tomato ketchup. No specified amount, this is a case of tasting as you go. We find that it really pulls together the earthy mushroom flavour with the creamy texture, and adds a depth of flavour that just isn’t there otherwise. This is another one that benefits from a large splash of lemon juice upon serving, as well.

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Are you a soup lover? Soup hater? Indifferent? Tell me your favourite recipes. I’m interesting in staking my claim over the shared freezer space by filling it with endless portions of soup.

CC BY 2.0) Seba S

2013 in Books

Every year I vow to read 50 books. Every year I read about 40 books. Why I can’t seem to make that final push of 10 books remains a mystery, but there you have it. I’ve all but given up on feeling guilty over it. Sometimes I do feel slightly sad about all the potentially good books that I’m not reading, but as I am decidedly stubborn I know that forcing myself to read more would result in me throwing in the towel and reading nothing but Twitter/Reddit/the Metro.

I’ve read some really good books in 2013, but overall I don’t think it’s been a great year for reading. Read on to find out what was good, what was bad, what was disappointing and what turned out to be a lot better than expected. All links are to Goodreads or Judging Covers.

The Good

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These are just good, no ifs, ands, or buts.

The Bad

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I used to struggle with saying that a book was bad. I would qualify it by saying ‘I would recommend it if you like xyz’ or ‘not really my style’. I’m not going to be shy about saying, though, that these books were bad. Bad, and not good.

The Disappointing

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Expecting a book to be great is just one of the worst things to do sometimes.

The Better-than-expected

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Sometimes I end up buying a book despite not being particularly convinced by it. True to form I read them anyway, and sometimes they are really bloody good after all.

So that’s the long and the short of my year in books. I read far fewer amazing books than I would like to but hey, at least there’s room for improvement. Having recently gone on a frankly terrifying* book-buying rampage in the Kindle store, I have about a million things lined up to read in January, including almost everything ever written by A.M Homes. (Is she any good, or have I been swayed by flashy Amazon blurbs?)

How was your year in books? Did you read any of the same books? Do you want to disagree with me? Go on, I love arguing about books.

* I wasn’t scared at all. My boyfriend, who witnessed this, was.

Good Things

+ First things first, to get this one out of the way: I have a job! A real one, that involves me getting up on a morning and going into an office and doing things that are somewhat more productive than serving beer and washing pots. So you don’t have to listen to me moaning on about looking for jobs! I have also jumped ship from my parent’s house and have my own room in a house in Manchester. So copy me in on the next Manchester blogger’s meetup or whatever it is that you city-dwellers like to do.

+ I started another blog – yeah, yeah, bear with me – for my creative writing attempts. You can find it here, if you are so inclined: A Blanket of Noise. I have let it slip by the wayside in a rather tragic fashion since starting work but I am hoping to get cracking with it again soon,

+ I have a new winter coat. Yes that is worthy of a good things post – if you’re questioning the premise right now it’s time to go read something else. It was thirteen English pounds from Oxfam and it’s grey and supposedly it is a woman’s coat but somehow it fits my broad shoulders perfectly, and is really quite long even though I’m pretty tall, so. If you’ve known me for a while now then you will know that I can develop very strong and potentially inappropriate feelings about a nice coat, so be glad all you’re getting is a few pictures and that I haven’t written a book about it. 1-IMG_0413

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+ This is just shameless bragging now but… I won a competition for £100 of vouchers to spend at Yo Sushi! The competition said they were to spend at The Trafford Centre, but the vouchers themselves say they can be redeemed anywhere, so I’ll have to decide whether to do as I’m told or not. SO MUCH FREE SUSHI. Happy days.

+ Tell me about the good things happening in your life :)

Book Survey

I spotted this book survey on Emma’s blog, and I’m never one to let a bandwagon roll past without jumping on it, so here you go!

Do you remember how you developed a love for reading?
No. I feel like reading has always been a part of my life so I can’t really remember a time that I didn’t read. It must have been in primary school, as I can vaguely remember growing tired of the usual Bif Chip & Kipper fare and insisting on reading something more grown-up in true precocious child style. (If I remember I read something about a dinosaur, so definitely very srs literature.) I’m glad that my teachers encouraged this though! I feel as though some English teachers don’t actually want to foster a love of literature in children, which is a bit sad.

Where do you usually read?
Reading in bed is a classic. Reading on the bus is just good sense. I really feel for people who can’t read on public transport. Reading in a coffee shop with a fancy drink is lovely as a once-in-a-while treat, but not very sustainable in the long term.

Do you prefer to read one book at a time or several at once?
It’s only in the past year or so that I have got into the habit of reading more than one book at once, and honestly I hate it and I’m trying really hard to stop.

What is your favourite genre?
Genres remain a bit of a mystery to me, even after so many years of studying literature, so I don’t know!

Is there a genre you will not read?
No. There are some that generally don’t appeal to me, like thrillers (of the Lee Child variety) and very dry styles of science fiction, but I feel that I can always be swayed by something. I feel like the obvious answer for a modern emancipated woman such as myself is chick lit, but I have read and enjoyed far too many fluffy-cheesy novels and enjoyed them in my time to say that with a straight face. (Also as I say, genres confuse me. What is chick lit? A lot of it is just normal books with rather shrewd marketing. I recently read The Ice Cream Girls by Dorothy Koomson, was that chick lit? I just don’t know you see.)

Do you have a favourite book?

I have many favourite books, and my answer to this is liable to change depending on when you ask me and how I feel. On Goodreads I have 31 books categorised as ‘favourites’. Today I’m going to say Ghostwritten by David Mitchell. But ask me again tomorrow if you like.

What is your least favourite book?

Here we have two categories: books that were so bad I abandoned them, and books that I persevered with for no reward. From the first category, I would choose Beauty Story by Luke Jennings. From the second, Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion.

What is the longest book you have ever read?

I’d like to say it was The Heavenly Twins by Sarah Grand – but I didn’t read all of it. Don’t tell my university tutor that though, she was truly formidable and would probably track me down to bollock me for not reading it!

What was the last book you bought?

As per my last post I am on a book-buying ban this month, so it was a while ago. Shortly before my ban came into effect I grabbed Dark Places and Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn for 99p each on the Kindle. In honesty I didn’t love Gone Girl, but thought at that price they were worth buying.

Do you prefer library books or buying books?

I think they each have their own charms. I’m all for equal opportunities when it comes to books and reading. The library has its place in the world, as do bookshops – both independent ones and huge chains. Just like how I think that Kindles are no better or worse than paper books, just a different take on the same theme. I will always buy paper books, I will always buy ebooks, and I will always visit the library, all for as long as I am able to read.

What are you currently reading?
Deathless by Catherynne M. Valente. Honestly I’ve been reading it for what feels like an age! I really like it but have just been taking my sweet time with it.

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Now it’s your turn. Give it your best shot. 

No New Books in November

I’ve mentioned before that I have a serious spending issue, especially when it comes to buying books. When I was a student I also bought a lot of clothes, to the extent that when I was moving out of one of my rooms I had to enlist a ruthless friend to help me get rid of some of them. In the past few years I’ve mainly bought books. (And food… but food is kind of a necessity.) As I now have a bookshelf creaking under the weight of all the books I own, and a Kindle that could keep me occupied for a good few months if I ended up bedridden, I have decided that I am not going to buy any books in November.

The idea is that this will spur me on to read the books that I already have. Also, if I read a paperback, I’m going to donate it to a charity shop when I’m done with it, or give it to a friend… or do a book giveaway. The possibilities are endless really, but what’s important is that I want to get out of the habit of hoarding books and never reading them. Books are pretty useless as possessions, really. They’re nice and I love a good bookshelf and I can’t imagine a house without books but they’re not ornaments and there’s no point me having so many unless I’m reading them.

So. I don’t know who is going to hold me accountable to this, but that’s the plan. No new books for the entire month of November. When December rolls around I might have to give in to the temptation of Christmas-related deals in bookshops and on the Kindle store. Maybe you would like to join in and we can hold each other accountable? I don’t know if other people feel as much guilt as I do over the amount of books they own, but if you do… leave a comment telling me you’d like to join in!

Here are my rules, in brief:

  1. I will not buy books from charity shops, bookshops, supermarkets, or any other shop.
  2. I will not buy books online from the Kindle store, or any other website.
  3. I will not accept books for review from NetGalley, or any other review opportunity.
  4. I will accept books from other people (mainly because this is wishful thinking and nobody gives me books).
  5. I will read as many books as humanly possible from my stash and from my Kindle.

That’s about it. It’s easy, but it’s going to be so hard. At the end of the month I’ll do a recap of the books that I managed to read (hopefully lots). And maybe give some of them away, if people are interested in getting my cast-off charity shop books.

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