Monday, 28 October 2013

October reads

1. I picked up 1066 And All That for a couple of quid in Brighton, attracted by the wonderful Penguin Classics cover.  Rather juvenile humour, and you'll only really get the jokes if you're as much of a history geek as I am, but it makes for amusing reading and is perfect to dip into at bedtime.

2. Another bargain book, this time from Fopp in Nottingham.  I really loved Beth Ditto's autobiography, which was a pleasingly slim volume.  I can't be doing with bloated celebrity memoirs of people who've achieved nothing bar winning X Factor, and Ditto undoubtably has more to say than any of them, and manages to do it entertainingly in fewer words.  I'll be writing a proper review of this book for Daire's Non Fic November.

3. On a trip to London (gosh, I've got around this month haven't I?!), I discovered to my horror that my Kindle battery was dead.  So, as soon as I was off the train I descended on the first bookshop I could find and bought The Redeemer for the princely sum of £2.50.  I'd enjoyed The Snowman, another book in the Harry Hole series, but found this one hard going.  The premise - a Salvation Army officer is shot dead during a carol service, but the assassin goes rogue when he discovers he's killed the wrong man - was a good one, but it became somewhat predictable and was overly long.

4. Close My Eyes was easily one of the worst books I've read this year.  I had read a positive review of it on a blog (I can't recall which, but whoever's it was - I hate you!) and thought it sounded good.  It wasn't.  A sub- Gone Girl and Before I Go To Sleep thriller that rips off the latter unashamedly, it had the most ludicrous plot (I had to keep putting it down just to share the latest ridiculous 'twists' with The Boy so we could laugh at them), which I still somehow managed to work out miles before the end. 
5. My mum had recommended Sayers' detective novels, from the so-called Golden Age of crime writing (think Agatha Christie), so when I saw this cheap I snapped it up.  It was an enjoyable romp set in 1930s Kirkcudbright (an artist's colony in Scotland), with Sayers' detective, Lord Peter Wimsey, trying to sort the red herrings from the murderer in a case where everyone seems to be guilty of something.  I'd certainly read another in the series if I happened across a copy.
6. The final crime novel of October, Unseen was a typically bleak and tense tale of drugs barons, murderers and child trafficking, set in Atlanta, Georgia and featuring regular Karin Slaughter characters Will Trent and Sara Linton.  I really liked it, but I'm a fan of the series and I'm not sure it would make a great deal of sense to new readers.

Seen & heard: October


1. This is what happens when you go out with a philosphy graduate: you have to go and see films such as philosopher Slavoj Zizek's documentary, The Pervert's Guide To Ideology.  I can't pretend to have understood much of his "inventive interpretation of moving pictures to examine ideology - the collective fantasies that shape our beliefs and practices"* but it was enjoyable nonetheless.  I particularly liked the section on West Side Story, looking at how the narrative of a song such as Officer Krupke has echoes in liberal interpretations of the London riots.

2. From Dazed & Confused to School of Rock to the Before... trilogy, I'm a huge fan of everything director Richard Linklater has made, and Bernie turned out to be no exception.  Based on the true story of a small town funeral director in Texas who was convicted of the murder of a widow he'd befriended, it's a gentle film which ingeniously combines actors (Jack Black is particularly effective in the title role) with talking head interviews from the real townspeople. 

3. Like writer/director Martin McDonagh's previous feature In Bruges, this was a hugely enjoyable and at times shockingly violent black comedy about, well, seven psychopaths.  Colin Farrell was superb as an alcoholic screenwriter working on a script called Seven Psychopaths and watching as his screenplay slowly comes to life through the machinations of... well, that would be spoiling it.

I also went to see Alexei Sayle's first stand-up gig for many years, which was riotously funny and acerbically political, just as you would expect it to be.

* Source -


I've mostly been listening to lots of Midlake, after seeing them last week.  I can't wait for the new album next Monday!

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Thrifty Christmas gift swap

What do you mean, it's too early to think about Christmas?!  By this time in October I have already started making notes and lists, and the present buying is well underway.  I'm starting to dig out last year's decorations and thinking about what to use this year, and the temptation to start listening to Sufjan Stevens' Christmas albums is building (every year I try - and fail - to hold off until December 1st).

Last year, Christmas was extra-special because a small group of lovely people - bloggers and non-bloggers - took part in my thrifty Christmas gift swap.

I had so much fun picking out my gifts last year (I ended up giving a mixtape-print tea towel, a vintage tea cup with chai tea bags, a homemade vinyl bookend, a secondhand Penguin Classics novel, a mix CD, and a hand-sewn lavender heart) and even more fun awaiting the arrival of my own box: I still use the to-do-list book that Helen made for me.

I'd love to run it again, and only need a handful of participants to make it work.  So, if you're interested, have a gander at the rules below and then contact me on the email address below to sign up.  If you're a blogger, feel free to reblog this post to spread the word!

The Rules
1. Send your name, address, blog address (if you have one) and a couple of lines about yourself to by November 17th.
2. Wait to receive the details of your swapee (to be sent out by November 24th). 
3. Put together a box of thrifted, handmade or secondhand goodies that you think your recipient will love.  Last year, gifts ranged from homemade marshmallow vodka, to Christmas mix CDs, to fanzines, to books
4. Pop your parcel in the post by December 10th (although try and be a bit more prompt if sending overseas).
5. Sit back and wait to receive your own box of delights from a mystery giver!

Friday, 25 October 2013


Just north of my hometown, Bradford, Saltaire is a jewel of a place. Bradford - or at least, my part of it - did not ever feel like a place where art, reading and culture were valued, so Saltaire has always been an escape for me; somewhere I could enjoy chic cafes, bookshops and art galleries, feeling a million miles from the busy urban sprawl of West Yorkshire.
At the heart of Saltaire is Salt's Mill, which houses the famous Hockney Gallery (David Hockney grew up locally) as well as a stunning bookshop, a cafe, and various other small shops and businesses.  We also took the time to wander around the village, popping into the Saltaire Bookshop (of course) and enjoying a rummage in both Brown Sugar Vintage (where I very nearly bought an original Husker Du t-shirt) and, on Victoria Road, Horsley & Henderson (where I was terribly tempted by the lovely variety of small homewares and accessories that sit alongside high quality vintage fashion).  I also loved Rad Studio, also on Victoria Road, with its emphasis on funky, striking screenprints on gifts and homewares.
Finally, a walk along the canal in the sunshine before heading home.  Should you find yourself in West Yorkshire, I would strongly recommend you get yourself to Saltaire.

Midlake live at Nottingham Glee Club, 22nd October

It's not unusual for a band to continue recording after the departure of a key member, but it is more notable for a band to stay together following the departure of their lead singer and songwriter.  In Midlake's case, when founder member Tim Smith left the band in 2012,  the remaining members made the decision to keep writing and recording as Midlake, with guitarist and backing vocalist Eric Pulido taking over leadership duties.  As a longtime fan of Midlake - a band who, even when performing with the original line-up would tend to come out with a slightly new sound with each new record, from their oddball Americana debut Bamnan and Slivercork, to the prog rock-ish concept album The Trials of Van Occupanther, to 2011's folk song cycle, The Courage Of Others - I was intriuged to find out how the new line-up would affect their sound.

It wasn't the most auspicious of starts: throughout the support act I was feeling sick, dizzy, hot, and rather like I wanted to go home and lie down.  But it didn't take much more than to hear the rhythmic drum beat that heralded the start of Midlake's crowd-pleasing opener Young Bride to get me feeling bright-eyed again.  Knowing that an audience needs to be eased into new material, they followed up with two tracks from The Courage Of Others, the gentle folk of the record here beefed up into a bigger, rockier sound. 

Only the most oblique reference was made by Eric to the drastic changes to the line-up ("It's been a while, and we're a little different... [beat] our beards are bushier and our bellies fatter").  New single Antiphon was well received, the four part harmony sounding full-bodied and rich.  Another new track, It's Going Down, reminded me of Grizzly Bear at their most melodic and harmonious, while the remainder of the new material did not sound a million miles away from Midlake's last album.

The real highlights, though, were the handful of tracks from ...Van Occupanther, which received a riotous reception.  Roscoe, with its 70s keyboard sound, Van Occupanther and Head Home (both from the encore) were performed with a joyous energy, the band clearly having the time of their lives, and so too the audience.

Monday, 21 October 2013

Weekend in Brighton

And so to Brighton, to celebrate our first anniversary.  Quite where the last year has gone, I don't know, but it was almost twelve months ago that The Boy and I met and so this weekend we took ourselves off to Brighton - home of plentiful vegan food, fairground attractions, hipsters, and pebbled beaches - to celebrate.
Thanks to the heavy rain, we spent a large portion of Saturday in the pub (The Prince George, a vegetarian and vegan pub in North Laine) eating delicious food and drinking cider before heading to our rather posh hotel (The Old Ship) on the sea front, where we lay on the bed for quite some time claiming we could never eat again, before doing just that.  Brighton might be the only city in the UK where even the 4* hotels have vegan options on their menu, so we dressed for dinner and stuffed our faces a bit more. 
On Sunday morning, there was time for a very windy stroll along the prom (prom prom) and down to the pier, before some shopping in North Laine and then returning to the pub to meet two of T's Dutch friends, who happened to be visiting.  Another downpour tethered us to the pub (we're not very imaginative in our excuses, are we?  It might be more honest to admit that we actually just really like hanging out in pubs), so there's a lot that we didn't manage to do or see.  I think a return visit might be in order.


Thursday, 17 October 2013

Top five vegan recipes: part two

Because I didn't quite have the room on yesterday's post, here are my final two fail-safe vegan recipes.  One thing that going out with The Boy has taught me, is that things that seem scary or difficult - making curry from scratch, or attempting dairy-free baking - are actually not only fun but also super-easy.  Even if you're a proud meat- and dairy-eater, I'd urge you to give vegan cooking a go once in a while.  Lower in fat, lower in cholesterol, generally high in nutrients (this channa masala, for example, is packed with good stuff) and much more sustainable and kinder to the environment: it's a win on all levels really.
 Photo via
Channa masala

The best thing about this curry recipe is how endlessly adaptable it is.  Chickpeas (channa) make a great base ingredient, but you could try spinach or sweet potato (or both) in place of the aubergine.  You can also mess around with the spices, tomato and coconut milk until you find a blend that works for you.

1 large white onion, chopped
A thumb-sized piece of ginger, chopped
Three cloves of garlic, chopped
Cold water
1 teaspoon each (approximately, adjust to taste) of coriander, cumin, garam masala, mild chilli powder, cardomam
1/2 teaspoon each of turmeric, cinnamon, mace and paprika
Two cans of chickpeas, drained
A large aubergine, diced
Vegetable oil
Tomato passata to taste
1/2 can of coconut milk OR 1 cup of soy yoghurt

1. Heat a tablespoon of oil and fry the onion, garlic and ginger for 5-10 minutes or until soft.  Add a splash of cold water, just enough to cover the bottom of the pan, and continue to cook over a low heat for another 5-10 minutes.
2. In a separate pan, gently fry the aubergine in a little oil (be carefully, it will soak up as much oil as you throw at it, so less is more).  Set aside.
3. Pour the onion mixture into a blender and pulse until a smooth paste forms.  This is your curry base (we tend to make double quantities and freeze half, for days when making curry from scratch seems too much hassle).
4. Return the base to the pan and add the spices, heating through until gently sizzling.  Stir to ensure it doesn't burn.
5. Add a splash of tomato passata to the sauce; I generally go for about two generous tablespoons, but adjust to taste.  Stir through the coconut milk, if using.
6. Add the cooked aubergine and the drained chick peas, and simmer on a low heat for 20 minutes, or until everything is cooked through.
7. If using yoghurt, stir through when you take off the heat.  Serve with rice and naan or chapatti, and a little fresh coriander sprinkled over the top if you have some to hand.

Chocolate cupcakes
The recipe for these delicious chocolate cupcakes comes from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over The World by Isa Chandra Moskowitz.  With a light and moist texture, I honestly think they're superior to 'normal' chocolate cake.

1 cup soy milk
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
3/4 cup caster sugar
1/3 cup oil (vegetable, rapeseed, sunflower, etc)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup plain flour
1/3 cup cocoa powder (ensure it is dairy-free)
3/4 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt

1. Preheat oven to 180c/gas mark 4/350F.
2. Whisk together the soy milk and vinegar and leave aside for a few minutes to curdle. 
3. Add the sugar, oil and vanilla extract and beat until foamy.
4. In a separate bowl sift together the remaining dry ingredients.  Add in two batches to the milk mixture and beat until no large lumps remain.
5. Pour into cupcake cases until three-quarters full and bake for 18-20 minutes.

I found these were great topped with a vegan buttercream: vanilla extract, soy or sunflower margarine and icing sugar beaten together.  Add some cocoa powder, made into a paste with water, for chocolate icing.  

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Top five vegan recipes: part one

Meeting The Boy has changed my life in all sorts of ways, but probably one of the most immediate impacts has been on my kitchen.  I've always loved cooking, but meeting a vegan has meant I've had to change my ways somewhat.  Coincidentally, at about the same time I met T, I was diagnosed with IBS (for which one of my main triggers is dairy), which posed the problem: what's a keen cook and baker to do when suddenly a whole host of ingredients are denied to her?  Find new recipes, of course!

Over the last year, I've become a lot more experimental in the kitchen; having to cook vegan food has been a fun challenge.  I've also had some not-so-great experiences (a fairly terrible apple cake springs to mind).    For me, the best vegan cooking is food that you don't even notice is vegan.  And here are some of my top five recipes which definitely fit the bill.

 Photo via weheartit
American-style pancakes

A breakfast favourite, the addition of fruit lets us fool ourselves that it's healthy.  I think these are easily as good - if not better and lighter - than non-vegan pancakes.

1 cup plain flour
2 tablespoons caster sugar
3 teaspoons baking powder
Pinch of salt
1 cup soy milk
2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1. Combine the dry ingredients in a bowl.
2. Add the soy milk and oil slowly, stirring until it is all blended into a smooth batter.
3. Lightly oil a pan and heat on medium.  Drop spoonfuls of the batter into the pan and cook until bubbles begin to form on top.  Flip, and cook on the other side until brown.
4. Keep the cooked pancakes warm on a foil-lined plate, and return briefly to the pan to warm through properly before serving with sliced bananas or blueberries and lashings of syrup.

Tex-Mex is probably one of my favourite things to make at home, and when I first met T I was worried about whether I'd still be able to continue eating chillis, fajitas, enchiladas, and nachos.  Of course, with meat substitutes like soy mince (of which there seems to be a shortage at the moment; Tesco, Asda, Morrisons and Sainsburys all having empty freezer compartments), soy 'chicken' and tofu, the main bulk of a Tex-Mex meal is easily done vegan-style.  But what about the trimmings?  Sour cream is obviously out, as much for my IBS as for his veganism, although we've found a fabulouse vegan cheese to replace cheddar.  However, almost all mass-produced guacamole contains yoghurt or cream.  And that's where this homemade guac comes in.  Easy to make in ten minutes, it keeps well in the fridge, and tastes so good that you'll never go back to store-bought again.

1 red chilli, partly deseeded
Small red onion
Two very ripe avocadoes
The juice of a small lime
Large clove of garlic
Salt, to taste
Small tomato (flesh only) - optional

1. Whizz the chilli, onion and garlic in a food processor until finely chopped.  If you are using tomato, whizz this in the processor too.  We have begun to leave it out recently as it doesn't seem to add much to the overall flavour.
2. Scoop the flesh from the avocadoes and mash in a bowl with a fork.
3. Stir in the chopped vegetables.
4. Squeeze in the lime juice and add salt, to taste.

Photo via The Ethical Chef
Lemon cake

I found this recipe on The Ethical Chef, and absolutely love it.  For very little effort you get a deliciously light, tangy and tasty cake.  We found it very sweet with the amount of sugar suggested on the website, so cut it down a little in this version, which works just as well.

275g self-raising flour
150g caster sugar
1 tsp baking powder
Zest & juice of 1 lemon
100ml vegetable oil
170ml cold water

1. Put the flour, sugar, baking powder and zest into a bowl and mix well.
2. Add the oil, lemon juice and water and mix until combined thoroughly.
3. Pour into a lined cake tin and bake for around 30 minutes (or until a skewer comes out clean) at 200c/gas mark 6.
4. When the cake is cool, make a glaze from 150g icing sugar and the juice of a second lemon (or, at a push, bottled lemon juice).

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Made: vintage map artwork

I'm obsessed with maps and with all things personalised, so when my friends Cara and Dan got married I wanted to make them a gift that combined the two.  To buy, a framed map artwork is mega-bucks, but I knew it would be easy to make myself... and so much more personal, too.

I spent months scouring the shops for suitable maps to make this and a similar gift for The Boy.  Charity shop bookshops are great sources of vintage maps from all eras, and I think the finished product looks much nicer if you combine different maps rather than having all the cut-outs sourced from the same map.  In the end, I lucked out with some old Ordnance Survey maps of Devon (where Cara and Dan got married), a London road map (featuring Crouch End, where they live), and a vintage map of Scotland (where they got engaged).

So, once you've chosen the maps, you need to make your heart cut-outs.  My heart hole punch came from eBay, and is my favourite new toy.  It made making the heart shapes a breeze - I just cut a square from the map, centred the place-name in the middle of the heart, and punched it out. 

I used some heavy duty craft card with a nice textured finish - from Paperchase - to mount the heart shapes.  I'd recommend using Spraymount to affix them to the card, as it allows you to reposition until you're happy with how they're all lined up. 

I put the finished picture into an Ikea frame and et voila!  One completely personalised yet completely bargain wedding present. 

Monday, 7 October 2013


I have had some great thrifting luck recently. 

Firstly, fellow Leicester bloggers Make, Do And Spend alerted me to the presence of a brand new vintage furniture store here in my own fair city.  Junk Monkey can be found at an old petrol station and forecourt on the A47 between Leicester and Hinckley, and is a fantastic place for a rummage and a bargain.

The Boy was looking for a chair for his new house, and although he fell in love with a brown monstrosity (to be fair, it was very comfortable), he decided not to splash his cash in the end.  The furniture on offer was a good mix of upcycled items (I fell rather in love with a large chest of drawers), 50s and 60s vintage, and things that are just plain shabby but would soon be chic with a bit of care and attention.

In the end, we left just £10 lighter as I picked up a wire vegetable trolley from the 1950s, which I intend to spruce up with spray paint and use as storage for craft supplies.  We will definitely be back for a regular browse though. 

Then, last weekend in Hebden Bridge, we stumbled upon the Hebden Bridge Antiques Centre, on Albert Street in the centre of town.  This was a treasure trove of mostly smaller vintage items, from old Singer sewing machines and wooden reels of thread to lovely 1950s gowns and secondhand books.  There was a smattering of furniture in the basement, but we came away with just an old basket (perfect for Christmas hampers) and a vintage map of Leicestershire. 

With lots of travelling the UK still to come this autumn, I'm keen to hear about any other great antique and vintage stores near you.  Where are your favourites?

Thursday, 3 October 2013

September reads

Well, this is a pathetic collection even by my recent standards.  I blame two things: the return of The Boy, which means a lot of my usual quiet reading time is spent doing other things (get your minds out of the gutter!  I meant things like going for meals and watching films); and Game of bloody Thrones, which is so ludicrously long it sucks up what little reading time I do have.

1. I'm still slogging my way through the third novel in the Game Of Thrones trilogy: it's taken me all month and I'm still at it (and this is only part one of two paperbacks!).  Did anyone else start to flag when working their way through the series?  As much as I love it, I do want to shout, "oh hurry up!" at times.  A break is in order soon, methinks, if only to allow other things to be read.

2. The Universe Versus Alex Woods was this month's book group choice and, when we met last night to share our opinions, they universally (no pun intended) skewed towards, "meh."  There were some very funny moments, some sweet moments, and some interesting ideas, but I found myself getting a little bored with Alex's story at times, and the plot was deliberately predictable.  If it had been a hundred pages shorter, I think I would have liked it a lot more.

3. I remember once claiming, in a books Q&A post, that I'd never bought a book just because of it's cover.  Which was a lie; I'm always keeping my eye out for pretty orange Penguin Classics and for the gorgeous matte grey slipcovers of anything published by Persephone Books (annoyingly, I couldn't find a picture of the plain edition of the cover).  Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day was a bargain find in a local charity shop and I really enjoyed it.  It's a light, fluffy Cinderella tale and a wonderful period piece; it makes perfect bedtime reading.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Seen & heard: September


1. Filled with stock characters who never undergo much development and about whom we know very little, apart from that which is relevant to move the plot forward, I nevertheless really enjoyed I Give It A Year. Filled with crude, laugh-out-loud moments (three words, "tits or face," will haunt me for a while), it was a superior rom-com and perfect for a lazy Friday night in.  What on earth did they do to the gorgeous Anna Faris, though, to turn her into such a cliche of the frumpy girl-next-door?!

2. Silver Linings Playbook was the first film in a while that I've been unable to finish.  After about 40 minutes, we decided to switch it off and just read the wiki entry to find out how it ended! I'm hard-pressed to say exactly what left me cold about the film, except that I found the characters hard to sympathise with or connect with. Did you love this film; am I missing something?

3. About Time was really wonderful.  Just as Hollywood blockbusters don't present a realistic portrayal of American families and homes, I don't go to a Curtis film for social realism. I go for the posh-but-wacky characters, the bumbling heroes who win the girl, beautiful shots of London, and gorgeous bohemian upper class houses.  You get all of this with About Time, but also more.  What started as a classic 'girl-meets-time-travelling-boy' (btw, what is it with Rachel McAdams and time travellers?), becomes a love story about parents and children, about memory and loss.  Massively worth seeing, but take the tissues.

4. If you asked me what I was looking forward to most - The Boy coming back to Leicester, or us being able to start watching the Game Of Thrones boxset - I would have been hard-pressed to answer.  But, although having my boyfriend living in the same country has been nothing but wonderful, I'm slightly underwhelmed by GoT.  Is it because I know exactly what's going to happen at all times?  I've read the first book so recently, that I'm constantly being the irritating viewer who winces before something happens, or who pipes up, "that's not how it is in the book." 

5. I'm a long-time fan of Alan Partridge, and Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa did not disappoint. I thought it did a very good job of extending a half-hour TV show to a full-length film feature.


1. Looking forward to seeing Midlake later in October, and to hearing their new album in November.
2. Hearing the rumours that Veruca Salt are recording new material - yay!
3. Listening to Wake Up, a collaboration between The Roots and John Legend.  Perfect music for chilling out with my boy.