Thursday, 29 September 2016

I Took A Break From Blogging

The more eagle-eyed among you may have noticed that my usual schedule of posting three times a week didn't really happen in the last part of September.  A bout of illness, travelling, job interviews and then more illness meant that I didn't even finish the blogposts I had in my drafts.  It serves me right for always being on the last minute with posts; something I'm aiming for is to always have a week's worth of posts scheduled so I can chill if life gets in the way sometimes.  

To make it up to you all, but mostly to make it up to myself (I've been really kicking myself about it) I'll be taking part in Blogtober as my challenge to myself for October.  I've been challenging myself to try something new or achieve something every month since July, and I've had some mixed results! 

For September I was all about baking with the return of GBBO, but aside from some incredibly misshapen pasties I tweeted about, and my Camembert and Quince Flatbreads, I've been pretty crap at sticking to it this month.  There may be one more bake for the last day in September, but we'll have to see how it goes.

As you can no doubt imagine, I'm currently frantically trying to even think of thirty one blogposts, let alone write them fast enough for one every day of October.  I'm kind of dreading it, as I have a feeling that my October is going to pretty hectic so I'm trying to get as many of them written as possible. Pray for me.

Update, 11:30 29th October
Yeah that baking post isn't happening.  I just attempted these amazing looking lemon caramelised bites and it looks like an someone vomited on a plate. Oops.

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Saturday, 17 September 2016

I Think I'm In Love With Running

Couch to 5K

The first thing you need to know about me is that I've always hated running.  Back in high school I used to deliberately get myself moved down to the slower group for the cross country runs, using the excuse that a friend was scared of heights and needed me with her to go over the motorway bridge that was part of the route.  I hated the mud, I hated the way my legs burned, I hated slipping and sliding and the imperious whistles of the teachers insisting that we run faster, longer, and not sneak off down a shortcut.  Team sports were more my thing; hockey in particular was my go-to anger management, and I was a bit of a demon on the field (I broke that teacher with the annoying whistle's foot once, by accident, I swear).  Running though?  Definitely not for me.

Fast forward many years though and post terrifying hockey accident that led to me retiring from the team in high school and never starting up again in sixth form, and I'm overweight and extremely unfit.  Even at peak angry-hockey-girl I was never that good at endurance; it was all short bursts of speed and smashing the ball/the other team's ankles.  

At the beginning of August I had a phone conversation with my friend Matt that led to me lacing up my trainers and pulling on some scabby old leggings and starting the NHS Couch to 5K.  Matt is the friend I visited New Zealand with last year, and we had the most incredible time out there.  However, frequently I would opt to stay in the coffee shop at the bottom of one of the mountains that Kiwis say are hills, rather than walk up it with Matt.  The reasons were that I was very aware of the fact that I was a lot less fit than him.  I frequently slowed him down when we were doing a lot of walking and climbing, and I just generally suffered from the punishing gradients that New Zealand is seemingly built on.  We were making vague plans for a return trip, and he was insisting that I go up one particular hill with him, because I really missed out on a spectacular view over Auckland.  I started to say that I would have to get fitter, and he immediately began denying this, saying that I would be fine and we would just take it slow.  

As I heard this, I got angry.  Not at Matt, but at myself.  He was taking pity on me, making allowances for the fact that I'm overweight and unfit.  Was I really going to let him to do that?  Last time I got around it by avoiding the big hills so I didn't slow him down, and as a result, I missed out on seeing some of the most beautiful sights in the world.  Was I really going to do that again?  Ten minutes after that conversation, I was puffing and panting my way through the first run of Couch to 5K.  I'm not going to lie to you, it was damn hard.  In the first week I was only running for sixty seconds at a time and still came very close to throwing up in someone's garden.  

Today I ran for twenty minutes solid for the final run of week five, and I feel like I can spit fire.  There are still four weeks to go and I can't wait.  It's only in the last two weeks that I've started to enjoy running, but this evening I had something close to an epiphany.  I AM A HUMAN BEING.

To explain that slightly odd sounding comment, I had reached the point in the podcast where the instructor tells you that you're ten minutes in and only had another ten to go.  I suddenly realised as she said this that I wasn't tired.  My legs weren't really burning, my breathing was quick but controlled, my left knee wasn't playing short, I felt like I could run forever.  I had found my ideal pace.  It wasn't even a particularly slow jog; it was a decent pace for me.  Yet I found that it almost felt like it was the rest of the world moving smoothly around me while I stayed still.  My mind was detached from my body, and I could have stayed that way forever.  That was the point at which I remembered something about pre-agricultural humans.  

Before we figured out spears and more sophisticated ways of hunting, human beings literally ran their prey to death.  We're the one of the best distance runners on the planet, and can outlast basically any prey.  With the right fuel, we can pretty much keep moving until we have to sleep as proved time and time again by extreme runners.  It was then that it suddenly hit home that I could just keep going.  I had eaten well that day, had plenty (too much) of fat storage and I was loving every second.  Towards the end of that run I must have been terrible to behold; a red faced, very sweaty girl with a maniacal grin plastered across her face.  It was one of the most incredible things I've ever experienced, and I've experienced a lot of amazing stuff in my time.  This was like I could almost see how much I could achieve.  I could do almost anything.  Five weeks ago I couldn't run for sixty seconds without a stitch and nearly ruining an old lady's hyacinths, and here I was feeling like I could outdistance a tiger.  

I've started the Couch to 5K challenge before and never got past week one.  This time though, with New Zealand hills firmly in sight and my brother and mother quietly encouraging me with their approving smiles, I've learned something new about myself.  I can do things I never thought I could, and one of those things is run like the god damn wind.  I'm not stopping now, and I'm not sure if I ever will.  I don't want that euphoria to go away.    

I'm human, and that's amazing.  I can run for days, I could write that novel, get that dream job.  I've always aimed high, and almost always failed at the final hurdle.  Now though, it's strange.  I feel clean after running, and tonight it was different again.  I feel like a haze that has been covering me my entire life has lifted away and I can see. I can see everything and anything I could be, if only I have the nerve to do it.  And damn it, I'm taking what I want.  What do I want right now though?  I want to go running.  

Stalk me!

Monday, 12 September 2016

Boots Haul September 2016

I had some money burning a hole in my pocket and decided that a trip to Boots was the best solution.  I went in deciding that I wanted a lipliner and maybe some nail varnish, but I came out with rather more than that.

L'Oreal Nude Magique Cushion Foundation in Shade 1
I was intrigued by these cushion foundations from the get-go, and after reading several reviews and watching many a youtube video, I decided that I would have to make my own mind up.  I picked up the lightest shade, which is still a touch too dark for me right now.  It gives a slight warmth to my skin, making me look like I have a very slight tan.  I found it to be quite light coverage but buildable, and very moisturising on the skin.  I think this is fab for travelling, as although using a beauty blender helps for all those awkward corners, you can manage with the built in compact sponge. 

I'm still making my mind up on this one.  I was after a nude eyeliner for my waterline, as I think white can be a bit harsh at times.  However, this seem really dark and not all my kind of nude, so I may try a white one.  If anyone knows of a paler nude eyeliner please let me know!

I was after more of a nude lipliner, as I only really own bright reds for some reason.  This is really nice pinky nude, which looks more mauve toned on my lips and isn't reflected in the initial swatch.  It lasts relatively well, but it's not amazing.

I've yet to give this one a go, but I was after a nice, clarifying clay mask to really tighten up the skin and leave me feeling super cleansed.  Hopefully this will do the job!

I'm sceptical about the benefits of coconut water and oil in nail varnish, but I just loved this colour so much that I bought it anyway.  This is going on my nails asap!

So there you have it!  Just a few bits I've picked up lately.  I imagine the rest of money will be going on the books in my Autumn Reading List.

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Saturday, 10 September 2016

Autumn Reading List 2016

I'm back with another reading list for Autumn, and I'm really excited about the next few months' books!

 I am serious fan of Garth Nix's Old Kingdom series, and even went to get my books signed when he toured the UK for the release of Clariel.  He's back again with Goldenhand, which follows Lirael and Nick, picking up where we left off after the novella Nicholas Sayre and the Creature in the Case.  There will no doubt be a full review of this coming because I'm freaking out just thinkng about it.

This book was released a while ago, but came to my attention as it's being adapted for film starring Emma Watson and Tom Hanks.  There's no such thing as a bad Tom Hanks film, so I figured it must be pretty good.  Having read the blurb, this sounds like an intriguing sci-fi novel surrounding our obsession with the internet, and the companies we implicitly trust with our confidential information.
 I've only read Kristoff's work in collaboration with Amie Kaufman on Illuminae, but I absolutely loved it.  Nevernight is a new fantasy novel one half of that incredible duo, and I'm looking forward to getting my claws into this new world.

 If you haven't seen this plastered across the blogs of late, then I don't know where you've been hiding.  Hygge is the new scandi-style way of living that's taking over the internet in the way these things do, sweeping in from Denmark are cups of hot coffee, snuggly blankets and making time for what matters.  Who wouldn't want to live that way?
Set in the Alaskan wilderness, To The Bright Edge of the World promises to be a tale of hardship and love, as Lt. Forrester heads off on an expedition into uncharted tundra, leaving his new wife back at the Vacouver barracks.  Danger abounds for both of them, and mystery seems to lurk around every corner.  Told in the form of letters and diary entries, this apparently reads more like history than fiction.  A slightly different sort of book for me, but one I'm definitely interested in reading.

Set in Regency London, Sorcerer to the Crown follows England's first African Sorcerer Royal as a malicious faction seeks to remove him from power.  The levels of magic are unstable, and England seems to be crumbling around him, and it's Zacharias Wythe's job to fix it.  I've heard some interesting rumblings about this book, all very positive, so I'm looking forward to forming my own opinion. 

There's somthing for everyone this Autumn, and a hell of a lot for me.  Waterstones is going to take all of my money, I can feel it already.

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Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Camembert and Quince Flatbreads

As promised in my September Challenge post, this month is all about baking. Tonight is week three of the Great British Bake Off, and week three is bread week!  Now, I'm a decent baker when it comes to cakes and pastry, but bread is usually my downfall.  I'm terrible at kneading!  I have no idea what I do wrong but without fail I screw up some part of a bread bake.  This one was no exception, although the end result wasn't too bad!

I made these camembert and quince flatbreads based on a Paul Hollywood recipe with a few tweaks to counteract my general incompetencies.  It soundeds easy enough, what could possibly go wrong?

 I mixed togther 500g strong white bread flour, 1 sachet of yeast and 10g of table salt, gradually combining it with about 300ml of tepid water.  This made a sticky dough, which I then proceeded to knead for what felt like the rest of my life.  I'm pretty feeble, and it took me about 20 minutes to get the dough looking half decent; generally it takes about 10 minutes to get a smooth dough.

 Not the ideal dough! Do not use this as a measure of if your dough is done when baking!
 At this point you need to add your 200g camembert cheese and 150g quince jelly to the dough, and this is where things got a bit disastrous.  I think perhaps my jelly was more watery than it should have been, but it basically reduced my slightly too tough dough to a disgusting mess.  It was like pink vomit, so I'll spare you the photographs.  Since I had expected it to combine rather more effectively instead of turning into slop, I had added it in while the dough was still on the work top, meaning I had a serious mess to clean up.  I panicked at just how wet the mixture was, and added in about another 50g of flour to try and counteract the wetness.  I whacked the lot in an oiled bowl covered with clingfilm for an hour and left it, fully expecting it to not rise at all.

 Astonishingly, the dough disaster doubled in size!  I then knocked the mixture back to get out some of the air, and divided it into 12 blobs.  At this point the recipe called for me to roll it out into oval shapes ready for frying, but the mixture was still so wet and sticky it was impossible.  Instead, I chucked one lump in the pan at a time, fried one side and flipped it, which allowed me to press down on the partially cooked side without the whole thing sticking to my spatula.  Not going to lie to you, it was a right palaver!

 In the end I have 12 (now 6) very tasty flatbreads, and if they're slightly uglier and less regular than Paul Hollywood's then who cares?  They taste great, although the quince gets a bit lost due to the strength of the camembert.  Can you tell I'm blaming the quince jelly for all the trouble I had with this bake?

I actually ended with a good bake, but a horribly messy kitchen.  I won't be baking them again unless I can find some quince jelly that is a lot firmer.

To sum up, this was my most middle class bake of all time.  Do you know how hard it is to find quince jelly?  There isn't a Waitrose withing 40 miles of me and M&S failed me.  Might make some pasties or something next week and go back to my roots.

There'll be more bakes coming your way for all of September, so keep an eye out!

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Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child | Review

I received a copy of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child for my birthday from Grandmother, and was admittedly a little apprehensive about reading it.  I had avoided the spoilers, but the majority of the reviews I had seen were pretty negative.  I didn't want to it to ruin my love for JK Rowling and the world of Harry Potter, but I eventually decided that while my opinion of Rowling might change, nothing would ever diminish the joy and sense of belonging I felt when I first read the books.  So, with my guard down and an open mind, I dived into the Cursed Child screenplay.

Right off the bat, people are being far too harsh.  The Harry Potter fan base is so incredibly hyped up and set in its ways, that anything that wasn't written as a collaborative effort by the fans was going to disappoint some people.  I also imagine that Cursed Child is much better when seen on stage.  A lot of the tension is lost in a screenplay as opposed to actually seeing it, as many of the descriptive aspects of a book are instead found in the set, which is obviously lacking in a screenplay.  

However, I had read that the plot was contrived and lacking in any real substance, but it was far better than I expected.  Yes, it was dependent upon some pretty unlikely circumstances, but that's the case in basically all of the Harry Potter books.  Coincidence, both fortunate and unfortunate, is the driving force of many plots, and I didn't think that Cursed Child's plot was particularly forced.  

One thing that did seem a little strained was a budding relationship between two of the characters, when in fact the two main characters seemed far more attracted to each other and a romantic relationship would have made far more sense there.  There were one or two occasions where I raised a disapproving eyebrow and thought to myself that I wouldn't have written it that way, but the reality of the situation is that I didn't write it, and probably wouldn't have done a good job if I had.

As to whether or not Cursed Child is canon, I'd say that you can decide for yourself.  There's a lot of time related misadventures, so the writers have given fans a get-out clause as you can in good conscience consider it as occurring in a separate timeline to the rest of the books and the previous "19 Years Later" chapter at the end of Deathly Hallows.

I enjoyed Cursed Child, and still want to see it in the theatre and hopefully will get the chance to at some point.  It's no work of genius, but likely works better as it was intended to: on the stage.  Most of all, people need to calm down.  It's not perfect, but it was never going to be.  Chill, people.

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