Monday, January 16, 2017

Sylvester by Georgette Heyer

When Sylvester, the Duke of Salford, first meets Phoebe Marlow, he finds her dull and insipid. She finds him insufferably arrogant. But when a series of unforeseen events leads them to be stranded together in a lonely country inn, they are both forced to reassess their hastily formed opinions, and begin a new-found liking and respect for each other. Sylvester calls to mind the satirical genius of a Jane Austen novel and is adored for its wit and a fast-paced plot that ranges across a myriad of settings

I first listened to this book just under 3 years ago, but I never did post anything about it, which was remiss of me but I think not really unexpected. After I finished The Passage and then another audio book, I was trying to decide what to read next. I do have a few books that I have already purchased but not yet listened to, as well as a list of books I'd like to get to someday, but none of them really tickled my fancy. And then I hit on the idea of listening again to a Georgette Heyer novel as narrated by Richard Armitage, mainly because it is my idea of aural bliss to listen to him read anything, but he does seem to be particularly suited to narrating Heyer novels.

He has the right tone in his voice that lends itself to upper class accents and his characterisation is so good that it doesn't matter whether the character is old or young, or female or male, each character is individual and recognisable.

Now, I should mention up front that this is an abridged audiobook, but it is a well done abridgement. I don't think I have missed anything through the story so it might be interesting to read in full one time to see what was cut out. That's not always the case. Years ago I listened to a novel where the abridgement wasn't quite so good. At one point the main character was regretting having kissed someone other than her husband and I was like wait...what.

What about the book itself. It is Heyer, so it is all Regency ballrooms and dukes abound, but it is a fun read. I don't want to recap the plot as such because I don't want too start to feel like I should write a full review, rather than just commentary. I will see that I did find myself wondering how much of the language that Heyer used was made up. I am sure that I heard somewhere that she did.

I fully expect to listen to more of the Heyer books Richard Armitage has narrated. It is a totally enjoyable treat.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Weekend Cooking: Triple Berry Jellies

You wouldn't think so if you so me chowing down on dumplings last night, but I am still trying to eat a bit healthier. That also means that I have gone back to doing the things I was doing when I lost all that weight before I stopped doing all those things and put it a lot if it back on.

So, what are the things that I was doing, stopped and now I am doing again.

On the food front, it is to watch what I eat (so make better food choices), how much (portion sizes) and, in theory, move more (exercise), although I am not doing so great on that one.  For the other aspects, I have gone back to keeping a food diary, studying (yes, studying) food magazines and diet related cookbooks. The most important aspect is planning and preparation, having some idea of what food we are going to be eating for lunches and dinners rather than having takeaway several nights a week.

Sttudying food magazines mean getting ideas for snacks and new recipes. Sometimes it is the simplest of ideas that strikes a cord. For instance, because I was a bit slack and didn't get to the shops in time, I ended up just having egg, ricotta, spinach and tomato on toast for dinner. Simple, but tasty. And something I saw in a magazine as a breakfast suggestion. Breakfast for dinner. Yes please.

This is definitely a simple idea, and one that really should have occurred to me before. I mean, when we were kids it was a treat to have canned fruit set into jelly, but because the boy doesn't really like jelly I don't make it very often. This time instead of making a giant bowl of jelly and fruit I have made the individual serves as suggested and I am hoping that will mean that,  for this week at least, if I fancy something sweet I can just grab one of these and maybe have some yoghurt with it. Or ice cream maybe.

Oh, and expect to hear more about dumplings because I had two of the best dumplings I ever ate last night and I am so going to go on a quest to eat more egg custard dumplings. You have been warned. Not part of the plan but oh, so good.

This recipe came from the January/February 2017 issue of Diabetic Living.

Triple Berry Jellies

125g punnet blueberries
125g punnet raspberries
125g punnet blackberries
4 strawberries, cut into thin wedges
9g sachet raspberry diet jelly crystals
250ml (1 cup) boiling water
250ml (1 cup) cold water
2 Tbspn strawberry liqueur (optional)
500g extra berries, to serve
Mint leaves, to serve (optional)

Divide berries evenly between 4 185ml (3/4 cup) capacity glasses.

Put jelly crystals in a heatproof jug. Pour over boiling water, stirring until jelly crystals dissolve. Stir in cold water and strawberry liqueur, if using. 

Pour jelly evenly over berries. Put glasses on a tray and refrigerate for 4 hours or until set.

Serve topped with extra berries and mint leaves, if using.

Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. For more information, see the welcome post.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Audiobooks as noise reduction

I recently went on a cruise and one of the things I realised was that if I was going to be listening to audiobooks at all, possibly I needed something a little lighter than The Passage, which I was listening to at the time.

Little did I know, that I would listen to something for a while but not quite just for the joy of the story.

I went on the cruise with my friend and her son as well as my son. The boys have just turned 18 so before we went away there was a bit of discussion about changing rooms so that they were together and my friend and I were together. Once we were on the boat pressure was bought to bear to do just that and so I acquiesced.

My friend had mentioned that she was a snorer, and so I should have been prepared, but oh my goodness..... The first night I didn't get a lot of sleep. The second night I tried to get to sleep but I was unsuccessful so in the end I decided that I would try putting on my audiobook to block out the noise.

It was a good plan. It really was. There was, however, one flaw.

I assumed that listening would block out the noise, and it certainly muffled it a bit, but not totally so I did still keep on waking up but now there was the added complication that I would wake up and hear something in the audiobook and think things like wait, who's Jack? Why is this character talking to a truck driver at a truck stop. Wait. did she just say she's married.

So then I had to contend with the thoughts in my head and the snoring.

After the second night, we swapped back. And I started listening to the book again so that it made some kind of sense.

Sunday, January 08, 2017

Weekend Cooking: In Search of Sfogliatelle

For all that I talked a couple of days ago about starting to eat healthily and try to lose some weight (again), today I am posting about sfogliatelle - ricotta filled pastry shells - that originate from the south of Italy.

I don't remember hearing about sfogliatelle before a couple of months ago, but I have been watching a number of cooking series about baking and/or Italian cooking and it has come up a few times. I know I saw it in Paul Hollywood's City Bakes series, and I think one of Rick Stein's series. Actually, Rick Stein is to blame for a couple of cravings at the moment. The other day I was watching a show where he does a long weekend in Vienna and it showed wiener schnitzel and oh my goodness I have been thinking abut that ever since. Maybe I need to stop watching these shows, but I do like living vicariously through them.

Anyway, back to sfogliatelle.

Now, I am determined that I want, no, make that NEED to try one of these Italian treats. Luckily for me there is a famous Melbourne cake shop called Brunetti's that makes them so it was always just a question of time before I would actually try one. And try one I did. Actually, technically, I think I tried two and something very similar that I can't remember the name of.  Did I like them? I was surprised that they were pretty small. In theory, you could probably shove a whole one in your mouth, but I was a bit more ladylike and ate them in two bites. The crunch on the pasty was a-maz-ing, and the filling was very nice. Having said that, the one that I can't remember the name of was probably a bit more to my taste. All the delicious crunch but instead of being filled with ricotta it was topped with a custard like blob and a piece of cherry. I would be happy to eat either one of them again though. Maybe next time I go to Brunettis!

Would I try to make some? One hundred percent, absolutely not. These things take some serious skills to make as you can tell from the video below and given that I've never made pastry, there's no way I will try to make them. I will, however, continue to try them when I get the opportunity.

Do you have something that you really want to try?


Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. For more information, see the welcome post.

Friday, January 06, 2017

The Passage by Justin Cronin - aka the book that I forgot

Well this is a bit interesting. A book related post. I'm not sure I even remember how to do this, but I am thinking that maybe I will give this blogging thing a go but on the basis that it won't be a full on reviews. Maybe just pared back thoughts about the books I am reading. It still isn't many, but it does feel a little bit more likely that I will be reading or listening to more books this year. Not to the obsessive level of years past, but I am actually okay with that. If I can find a happy medium between the 200 plus books a year that I was reading a few years ago and the less than 10 of the last couple of years then I will be a happy camper.

I am also, once again, trying to focus on healthy eating as I have undone a fair amount of the good work I did in losing lots of weight a couple of years ago, so I will most likely be posting some updates related to that.

Really, what I am looking for this year is to have more balance in my life. So, less late nights at work making myself super tired all the time, more home cooked meals. More and less of lots of things really. Lets call that my new years resolution shall we.

So let's talk books. Or maybe book. Singular.

A few years go now (well, more than 6 but who's counting!) I read The Passage by Justin Cronin. Whilst I didn't review it, I graded it 4.5 out of 5 and so clearly finished it, and loved it. I went to a session at Melbourne Writer's Festival where the author spoke because the third book in the trilogy is now out and I realised that at some point I did want to read the second and third books but it had been a while since I read this one so it was time for a reread. Yes, I don't usually reread but things are definitely not usual in my world at the moment so why not.

One of the things that I pride myself on is that I have a pretty good memory. Normally I think that whilst details may be a bit blurry I can generally remember the major story arcs. Or so I thought. It turns out that maybe that is not the case.

When I first started listening, it was great. It was like revisiting an old friend. I remembered the story about a young girl being infected with a virus that in effect allows her to live ageing very, very slowly. I remembered how the FBI found her and took her to the army to become part of a top secret trial that goes awry in a big way and pretty much destroys the world as we know it.

Really, it was after the first third of the book and as the story moved 100 years into the future where I realised that my memory is nowhere near as good as I thought it was because I couldn't remember it. Not just that it was blurry or a bit fuzzy, but I literally had no memory of any of the characters, any of the storyline. So it was kind of like visiting a friend's house and then finding yourself at a party with complete strangers.

I decided to listen to the audiobook because I had so many credits on Audible, but it is a decision that paid off. The narrator for the majority of the book is Scott Brick and I look forward to listening to the next books in the series where he is the sole narrator. And who knows, maybe even looking for some other books that he has narrated at some point. Nothing wrong with following a narrator is there!!

Overall, it was an enjoyable listening experience. I think I will listen to something a little lighter before going back to listen to the second book in the trilogy. And catch up on The Walking Dead episodes that I didn't feel I could watch while I was listening to this! It would have been way too much to be listening to this post apocolyptic vampire novel whilst watching a post apocolyptic zombie TV series.

Well gee, it appears that I had plenty to say after all.

Saturday, October 08, 2016

Weekend Cooking: Apple and custard crumble

I mentioned last week that we had a lunch gathering to celebrate my son's 18th birthday and when I asked him what he wanted for dessert he very quickly answered apple crumble. Now, I have made apple crumble several times before but I hadn't saved the recipes that I had used to I went looking for a new recipe.

When I saw this recipe I thought "Of course!!" Why isn't this more common. I mean, most of the time when you have apple crumble you have custard too so why wouldn't you combine the two.

I found this recipe on which used to be one of my go to websites for recipes, but I did take note of the comments and made a few changes to the recipes below. Firstly, I made double the quantity of custard. I also used brown sugar in the crumble topping instead of the caster sugar and I threw in a smattering (technical measurement) of oats as well to add to the texture.

And the result.....delicious! And my sister's mother-in-law asked for the recipe too which always makes me smile a bit because she is an awesome cook!!

Apple and custard crumble

1 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/2 tablespoons vanilla custard powder
1/2 cup caster sugar
800g can pie apple
1 cup plain flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
100g butter, softened
Double thick cream, to serve

Preheat oven to 180°C. Combine milk and vanilla in a saucepan. Bring to the boil over medium heat.

Meanwhile, whisk 1 1/2 tablespoons custard powder, 2 tablespoons caster sugar and 2 tablespoons cold water in a heatproof bowl until smooth. Whisking constantly, pour in hot milk mixture in a thin stream. Return mixture to saucepan.

Cook, whisking constantly, over medium heat until custard comes to the boil. Reduce heat to low. Stir for 3 minutes or until reduced slightly (this cooks out the raw custard powder flavour).

Spoon apple into six 1-cup capacity dishes or one 6-cup capacity baking dish. Pour over warm custard.

Combine flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, remaining custard powder and sugar in a bowl. Stir to combine. Add butter.Using your fingertips, rub into dry ingredients until mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Scatter crumble over custard. Place on a baking tray bake for 30 minutes or until golden. Serve warm with cream.

Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. For more information, see the welcome post.

Saturday, October 01, 2016

Weekend Cooking: Cherry tomatoes!!

Last weekend my son turned 18 years of age. 18! Can you believe it?

For those of you who have followed my blog for any length of time, he started out as the boy, and then was the little chef but I guess now he's an adult (legally anyway) and so I should call him something else. Maybe the young man or something.

We had a family event for Sunday lunch and it was a veritable hit list of dishes that I have posted as part of Weekend Cooking over the years but there were a couple of new recipes too.

This is the menu:

Barbecued chicken (marinated in lemon and olive oil)
Greek style roast beef
Roasted vegetable salad
Apple and custard crumble

And my sister did another amazing job with the cake.

Anyway, the title of this post is cherry tomatoes, so I guess I should talk about the delicious red orbs that are cherry tomatoes.

If there is one thing that I love the flavour of it is cherry tomatoes. I like them in salads, not only because they are so easy to chuck in a salad (I don't even chop them up) but my favourite way to eat them though, is cooked, say in a recipe like Pasta Pomodoro but  especially roasted. There's something so delicious about taking a bite and have a burst of deliciousness fill your mouth as you get the full roasted flavour. I have been known to roast them just by themselves, but also as part of a bigger dish.

Whilst I did go back to some of my favouirite recipes for the barbecue I did also want to try a couple of new recipes and so when I saw that this recipe was for a salad that included cherry tomatoes, I couldn't resist. Because I was making a few other dishes I only did half the vegetables. 

I was trying to be very organised and not stressed for this lunch, so in the end I roasted all the vegetables the night before and just cooked the ricotta that day but I would say if you are going to do this it is probably best to also make the dressing the night before as I suspect the garlic mixes in a bit better if it is still warm. There is a note that this salad can be served warm or at room temperature.

Roasted Vegetable and Ricotta Salad

2 red capsicums, cut into chunks (peppers)
2 large zucchini, cut into chunks (courgette)
1 eggplant, cut into chunks (aubergine)
2 red onions, cut into thin wedges (red onions as far as I know!!)
2x 250g punnets cherry tomatoes
3 Tbspn extra virgin olive oil
1/2 head garlic
200g piece low-fat ricotta, drained overnight in the fridge on paper towel, covered in plastic wrap
Olive oil cooking spray
1 Tbspn balsamic vinegar
Freshly squeezed juice of 1/2 lemon

Preheat oven to 190C (fan forced). Line 2 large roasting pans with baking paper. Divide vegetables between prepared pans. Drizzle over oil and toss to combine. Wrap garlic in foil and add to 1 of the pans. line a small ovenproof dish with baking paper. Add ricotta and spray with cooking spray.

Roast vegetables and ricotta for 25-30 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Remove vegetables from oven and set aside. Continue to cook ricotta for a further 15 minutes or until ricotta is golden brown around the edges. Set aside.

To serve, squeeze garlic into a small bowl. Add vinegar and lemon juice. Whisk to combine. Drizzle over vegetables and toss to combine. Transfer to a serving platter, crumble over baked ricotta and serve.

Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. For more information, see the welcome post.


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