Back to Bread

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A recent trip to York and a visit to a wonderful chocolate shop gave me the inspiration for a ‘new’ flavour bread. The Cocoa House in York is a place you must visit. The hot chocolates, the cakes and, in fact, every one of their dishes is a delight. The highlight was a slice of chocolate stout cake. Words can’t describe it. It was rich and sweet and gooey and bitter all in one. Amazing. All of which got me thinking about bread. I use beer regularly when I make bread, experimenting with different ales to find different flavours. I use chocolate drops when I make my strawberry and white chocolate bread. But stout and chocolate – that I had to try.

So, I bought a bottle of London Porter – rich and dark – to which I added some boiled water to provide me with the warm liquid for the dough. Then, I melted half a bar of Lindt 70% chocolate into the beer/water mix. That was the liquid to add to my flour and yeast.

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The result a chocolate-coloured loaf which had a wonderful bitterness offset by a hint of rich chocolate. I count that as a success and it will definitely be a bread that I will be making again. I have bought some Double Chocolate beer this week, so I see another experiment in the near future.

 

A God in Ruins – a review

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I am a fan of Kate Atkinson and was excited when this book was published as a companion to ‘Life After Life’. It isn’t a sequel, or a prequel – it is a book in it’s own right and it reacquaints us with the characters that we met in ‘Life After Life’.

This is Teddy’s story. We follow him from his youth, through his war to his old age, but, written as it is in Atkinson’s wonderful style,  we leap in and out of decades. We hear Teddy’s story from his own lips and from those around him which gives us different perspectives. It’s story-telling at its best, it’s life in all its shapes and sizes. I have to be very careful not to give spoilers. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry but you will not forget Teddy and his family and what they tell us. And – a second reading is just as rewarding, in fact, I think I fell in love with it even more.

The Lie Tree – a review

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Wow, have really slipped with my blog entries. I knew that I had fallen a little behind with my book reviews etc, but didn’t realise that I have not actually posted anything since March. Life catches up, I suppose, and one reason is that I am now back to full time work – in a move that is as far away from teaching as you can get. Time is now more limited and poor old Mike Malone has had to take a back seat as well. There is another book in the pipeline, but it is a long way from being completed. I’ll get there – I always do.

But back to my book review – one of many as I am 16 books behind.

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I chose this YA novel by Frances Hardinge for two reasons. One, it won the Costa Book Award and two, as an English teacher, I do enjoy dipping into YA fiction so that I can discuss/recommend reads to my pupils. Previous YA novel have featured dystopian themes so this creative tale, set in Victorian Gothic tradition was a refreshing change.

The storyline is dark and intelligent. Fourteen year old Faith wants to be a natural historian like her father, but the expectation of the 1860s for a young woman is very different. To quote from the book, ‘There was a hunger in her, and girls were not supposed to be hungry. They were supposed to nibble sparingly when at table, and their minds were supposed to be satisfied with a slim diet too. A few stale lessons from tired governesses, dull walks, unthinking pastimes. But it was not enough.’

Scandal forces her father to move the family to the island of Vane and Faith is determined to find out the truth. She is ‘helped’ by the Lie Tree which has the power to reveal hidden secrets but needs the telling of lies in order to reveal what it knows. The more people believe in the lie the more truth the tree reveals. But is the truth always good?

The story moves at a good pace, the characters are well formed and this is a story that adults will enjoy.

 

 

Peter Pan in Scarlet – a review

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Having read the classic as a child and as a parent, I wasn’t sure how the sequel would compare. However, I had read Geraldine McCaughrean’s novel ‘The Middle of Nowhere’ when I was reading all of the books shortlisted for the Carnegie medal last year, so I knew that JM Barrie’s legacy was in good hands.

I wasn’t disappointed.  Although Wendy and her brothers are now adults in post war Britain, dreams are telling them that all is not well in Neverland. So they go back – I won’t reveal how they manage this feat  – but there is a theme through the book that we become the clothes we wear. In Neverland, they join up with Peter Pan again and set off in search of Hook’s treasure on Neverpeak mountain.

The book captures the magic of the original – pirates, fairies, and Lost Boys, but there is also a darker side – the characters have to face their fears, they have to remember the children they were and recall the grief of loss. We are also introduced to new characters, one quite sinister and one enchantingly bossy.

If you loved Peter Pan, you will enjoy this.

 

Nearly two years and counting

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It’s now nearly two years since I changed my life. I know – sounds drastic doesn’t it? Well, it was. My son is 25. For 25 years, I carried the weight that I gained during my pregnancy plus some. Being ‘large’ became normal and I adjusted my lifestyle accordingly. At work, as a teacher, I wore long length jackets that skimmed my hips and hid my stomach. On holidays and outings, I avoided anything that would cause me to become out of breath, anything which required me to squeeze my bulk into tight spaces. Was I happy? I was cheerful. I was jolly. I always had a smile on my face. My mantra was be happy in your skin. As for food – I enjoyed it! No diets for me, I ate everything. Pasta, risottos, cakes, desserts, ice creams. A typical weekend involved a ride out for a coffee and a slice of cake. I was fat and thirty. I was fat and forty and even though I didn’t really want to, I became fat and fifty. Then everything changed!

 

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Before

The catalyst was my son’s decision to spend a couple of years in Canada and no, I didn’t pine away. I knew that we would go out and visit him and I remembered with sadness previous holiday flights when I had been squashed into an airline seat, when my stomach was so large that there was not enough room for the tray to drop down. To suffer a nine hour flight in that condition – well, it couldn’t happen, it wouldn’t happen.

I didn’t go on a conventional diet, I certainly didn’t rush out to buy  replacement meals. I have seen too many friends lose weight on these replacement diets only to put the weight back on as soon as they reverted to normal eating. No, I changed my eating habits. Although I stuck to 1500 calories a day, I kept my meals normal except for one huge change. No potatoes, no pasta, no rice. Being aware that my one weakness was chocolate, I would buy 200g bars which I would break into squares which went into a plastic tub which I kept in the fridge. I allowed myself 2 squares a day – enough to satisfy my craving, enough to stop me going mad because I was depriving myself. My passion is bread; if you have read my previous posts, you will know that I like experimenting when I make bread, and so I allowed myself a sandwich at lunchtimes. As my husband is a vegetarian, at home we always eat quorn which is low fat compared to meat so that helped as well.

A typical daily menu:

Breakfast – a bowl of porridge

Lunch – a sandwich made with my homemade bread

Dinner – a quorn dish with at least three servings of vegetables followed by a yoghurt

Evening – 2 squares of chocolate.

I never felt that I was depriving myself of anything. When we went out, I would choose meals carefully. Places like Pizza Express and Prezzo have ‘lighter’ menus. Restaurants are quite happy to exchange chips for salad. Desserts I didn’t miss because the benefits were amazing.

After a few weeks, for the first time in years I was able to go into Marks and Spencer and try on something off the shelf. It might have been the largest size in the shop – a size 22, but when my usual size was a size 28 – well, that was progress. Seeing my shape change and shrink was fantastic. I developed a love of shopping. There were some real fashion disasters because, as I dropped down the sizes, I wanted to try on every thing. And the bonus – that was getting on the plane to Canada as a size 18,  9 months into my ‘journey’ and seeing my son’s face at the change in his mum.

It took a year to get to my goal – a loss of 80lbs/36kg. That was in July 2014. Since then I have dropped another 15lbs/6.8kg. I don’t calorie count any more because I have become accustomed to my new way of eating. It isn’t a hardship and I will not revert to my old habits. I don’t miss potatoes, pasta or rice. I occasionally treat myself to a dessert when we go out. On holidays, I enjoy myself – in Vienna I had cake!!! As for chocolate – after allowing myself 2 squares a day, I gradually found that I didn’t need it. I go for days/weeks without even wanting any and when I do – one small bar is all I need and then it might be weeks before I fancy any again. The benefits are brilliant. I can walk for miles without getting out of breath, my energy levels have increased. I feel younger. I should have done this years ago

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After

The Buried Giant – a review

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This is the first Izhiguro novel that I have read, so I approached it with an open mind and well, where do I start.

The basis of the story, which is set in an England after the death of King Arthur, is that of an elderly rural couple who decide to go on a quest to visit their son after years of not seeing him, but it becomes evident that there is something that is affecting memories, because they can’t really remember him, or indeed, why he left. They blame the ‘mist’ for removing their memories, but it becomes evident that the ‘mist’ has removed memories to bring peace to the land.

The style of the novel is reminiscent of the fairy tales of my childhood and just like them, there are dragons and quests, knights and ogres. And as for the buried giant…

For me, and I am sure that everyone who reads this book will have their own ideas – this is about the fear of forgetting, about reaching the end of a life and being unable to remember the good times – and the bad – that have filled the years; of reaching the end of the path and being unable to remember the journey. However, the idea of the ‘mist’ – this strange spell that has removed all memories of war and wrongs so that peace reigns – isn’t that where we are now? The last soldiers that fought in WW1 are now no more – soon memories of WW2 will fade – in fact, some children today have no real knowledge of the sacrifices that their grandfathers and great-grandfathers made. Is Izhiguro making a comment here about how we have forgotten war and the buried giant is now re-awakening.

There is also the story of Axl and Beatrice, the old couple – this is their story, the story of a marriage and secrets which have been buried and forgotten. But ultimately the story of an enduring love. Beautiful and heart-breaking.

This is a fable with so many layers – on the surface a modern fairy-tale but look underneath and you will find quests that challenge your thoughts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Ice Twins – a review

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This was not my usual choice of read but I was intrigued by the title and the blurb. Twin girls – one dies – but which one? Interesting.

The novel is eerie with lots of twists and turns. Is the remaining twin being haunted or is she manipulating her parents? And the landscape itself becomes another character, also haunting and harsh. The mother, Sarah, narrates part of the story while an unknown narrator tells another part.

As I said, lots of twists and turns and the ending was … well, I’ll leave you to  make your own mind up.

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