Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Whip up Something New: Banana Cake and Vanilla Cupcakes

I had a blast cooking this weekend! Or baking, rather. Which means I have two recipes to talk about for January's edition of Whip up something new! and for Beth's Weekend Cooking. Yay me!

When I saw the first contribution ever to Whip up something new!, Elise's Old-fashioned Banana Cake, I immediately thought of the perfect occasion to try it - my Baby Shane's first birthday party! :-)

Yes, that's right, Shane is now officially a toddler - and toddle he does. The cake, with it's banana goodness and lots of moisture from the added sour cream - and let's not forget the cream cheese frosting - was a huge hit with kids and adults alike. Lovely for a Sunday afternoon, no matter what age group you've invited. Thanks Elise!

But - as you can from the photo, the banana cake is one of those 'proper' round cakes so I couldn't cut it open and see if it baked properly and all that... so I also made these vanilla cupcakes. It's a Martha Stewart recipe for plain cupcakes, which is just what I wanted. I frosted them with ready-made chocolate frosting and they were good, though not as good as the banana cake!

I am SO proud of myself for making Shane's first birthday cake from scratch. That's some serious Mommy behavior, I guess I'm growing into the part. :-)

Friday, January 21, 2011

Cross my Heart and Hope to Spy by Ally Carter

This is the second book in the Gallagher Girls series and was in my gift package from my Secret Santa, along with the first one, I'd Tell You I Love You, But Then I'd Have to Kill You, which I read as soon as it arrived back in December but never reviewed. Now that I finished the second one and still want to continue with the series, I thought I'd write up some thoughts.

But first... thank you, thank you, thank you to my awesome Secret Santa, Kathrin from Secret Dreamworld of a Bookaholic! Kathrin looked through my wishlist and chose books that she loved herself, which I think is the perfect way to choose gifts. Kathrin, they were great choices, thank you so much!

Now on to the Gallagher Girls... they are not just ordinary girls. They go to a special privileged school, but it's not what sets them apart. The Gallagher Academy isn't for rich girls, it's for future spies! Yes, that's right, we're talking about teenage girl drama set in a spy school! How fun is that?

The characters are fun, the back stories are intriguing and even the simplest story lines become fresh when you add some spies-in-training, some family secrets and practice missions to the local town where the boy you like lives. Oh and I love the 'in-passing' mentions of some fantastic inventions that originated in the labs of the Gallagher Academy. And the mentions of some of the exciting things the teachers did when they were still working as spies. Not in too much detail obviously, a higher level of security clearance would be needed for that!

These books are light and great fun so if the mood strikes... indulge. I am - I just ordered the third one, Don't Judge a Girl by Her Cover. :-)

Challenges: 2011 Challenge

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Weekend Cooking: Lemon chicken with chickpeas

I recently realized that, no matter how good our intentions, it's simply not possible for us to cook meals on weeknights. Which means that either we live on frozen convenience foods like 'fish and chips' or we get take aways. The only solution for us is to batch-cook at the weekend so that we have nice things to eat during the week.

Setting aside a few hours at the weekend for cooking doesn't always work, but we try. This weekend we managed and this lemon chicken with chickpeas is one of the things we made. This is my entry into this week's Weekend Cooking event hosted by Beth Fish Reads, as well as my first entry into January's Whip up something new! challenge. Did you make anything yummy this weekend? Blog about and post a link!

This came out very good and I'm looking forward to having it with some rice some evening this week. Plus it takes no time to make, such a plus! The recipe is out of my stash of pages torn out of magazines, though this one is glued into a notebook, inspired by Trish. It's likely to be from BBC Good Food magazine, I almost always buy that one.

Lemon chicken with chickpeas

Serves 4, suitable for freezing

1tbsp sunflower oil
1 onion, halved and thinly sliced
4 skinless chicken breasts, cut into chunks
1 cinnamon stick, broken in half
1 tsp each ground coriander and cumin
grated rind and juice of one lemon
400g can chickpeas, drained
200ml chicken stock
250g bag spinach

Heat the oil in a large frying pan and fry the onion gently for 5 minutes. Turn up the heat, add the chicken and fry for 4 minutes, until golden. Stir in the spices and lemon rind, fry for one more minute, then tip in the chickpeas and stock. Put the lid on and simmer for 5 minutes. Season, then tip in the spinach and re-cover. Leave to wilt for 2 minutes, then stir. Squeeze over the lemon juice just before serving.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Hell's Belles by Jackie Kessler

This was my second Kindle book and the first I actually paid for. I bought it immediately after reading Jackie Kessler's guest post and interview during the fabulous Smugglivus event organised by the The Book Smugglers. She just sounded so cool and the fact that Joss Whedon thinks so too and she was asked to do some writing for the Buffyverse comics, well, I couldn't not see what she was about after that.

Hell's Belles is about a succubus demon called Jezebel. She likes what she is and enjoys working out of hell, until some changes are introduced. She then leaves and tries to make it as a human. You're not given all the information at the beginning though... the book starts pretty much with Jesse's human life and all you know is that some hell beasts are after her. 

A succubus demon is a sex demon and I admit that there were parts where I could have done without the sex scenes. But Jesse is sex and she works in a strip joint so there isn't any way of skipping over those bits.

Other than that (and it's possible to get over it and into the story), the book is great. The story is interesting, the characters are interesting and I love what Kessler did with the heaven/hell/God/Lucifer story that is general knowledge. And I love her writing style, it's engaging and really brings the story alive. It totally works for me.

I'm definitely curious as to what will happen next and am glad that The Road to Hell is out there. And of course I can't wait to see what Kessler contributed to the Buffyverse!

Challenges: 2011 Challenge, What's in a Name 4

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

A book unfinished and a book postponed

I've spread myself a bit thin on the reading front lately, starting too many books at once and not finishing anything. One of these books will have to remain unfinished I think. I've been reading Eric Segal's The Class on and off for months and can't seem to care enough about the characters to get through it at any sort of reasonable pace. It's not bad or anything, the story is interesting enough I guess, but the style and the choppy chapters irritate me. I know he's all famous and I remember loving Love Story, both book and movie, but this just isn't doing it for me.

Another book will have to be postponed. I've been working on The Winter Solstice: The Sacred Traditions of Christmas by John Matthews and already wrote one post on pagan midwinter traditions. I read a couple more chapters now and have plenty of notes and ideas, but with Christmas long gone both reading it and writing about it don't seem appropriate. So I decided to leave writing anything more on the subject until next December when it's all Christmassy again.

So there. On to the other five or six books I have going! :-)

Sunday, January 9, 2011

January Foodie Challenge: Whip up something new!

There are still a couple of weeks left in January so we're starting right away! I'll be your host this month. :-)

If you don't know what I'm talking about, go here.

Otherwise -

Get out those piles of un-filed recipes, look through your binders or your cookbooks and start cooking! Make at least one new dish in what's left of January and add your link below - each new recipe must have a separate post and a separate link. Make sure you're linking to the specific post(s) and not to your blog in general, I will be deleting links that don't follow this (sorry, but otherwise we won't be able to find your post!). Leave the name of your dish in brackets after your name.

Deadline for adding links - Monday January 31.

Don't forget to also add your recipe to Weekend Cooking, a weekly event hosted by Beth Fish Reads. Hey, what a great place to find even more recipes to clip and put in your to-be-tried pile! :-)

Have fun - I'll post a January round-up of submitted recipes on February 1.

P.S. If someone can make a button, that would be great!

Foodie Challenge: Whip up something new!

It seems that many of us have recipes torn out of magazines or given to us by friends, recipes that remain in the 'to-be-tried' pile way too long. After Trish posted about her new recipe scrapbook project to organise all the great recipes she's collected over the years, the comments were quickly full of similar stories - too many untried recipes floating around!

Whip up something new! is a monthly challenge for the many of of us who promise ourselves that we'll try new recipes and yet we end up cooking the same old things. Although it was inspired by organising those ripped/cut out recipes, if you don't have such a pile of paper to sift through, feel free to make something from one of your cookbooks or from the hundreds of fabulous cooking blogs. The point is to try cooking new things!

This is how it works - 

Each month, you are asked to make (at least) one dish from a recipe that is new to you and to blog about it, whether it was delicious or not-so-much. The person who is hosting the challenge that month (yes, we have a rotation going on!) will make an introductory post with the possibility of leaving a link to the new recipe posts. The host chooses how to do this and will also do a wrap-up post at the end of their month. Other than that, they can run the challenge any way they wish during the month they're hosting, including mini-challenges and related events.

This post will always have a link to whoever is hosting the following month. I'll do January myself and Trish will host in February. If you're interested in being next, leave a comment and let me know!

January - Joanna (add your recipe here)
February - Trish (add your recipe here)
March - Elise (add your recipe here; see the wrap-up post here)
April - Michelle (add your recipe here)
May - Kristi (add your recipe here)
June - Gnoe (add your recipe here)
July - Margot (add your recipe here)
September - Joanna (add your recipe here)

Here are some buttons for you (thanks Violet and Veens!)- feel free to use them, just make sure you link to this post so you know who the current host is!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

What took me so long? People around me have been loving Jane Austen for a very long time and I still held on to my 'classic are boring' frame of mind. I've been making such an effort to read more classics in the past few years and I'm happy with how I'm doing - but I was still wary of Jane Austen. How can a love story set 'back then' be of any interest? How can it compare with today's chick lit books? I won't be able to relate!

So. Not. True.

I absolutely loved Pride and Prejudice when I read it in December. I loved Lizzie and her defiance and her softness. I loved Jane and her calmness and wisdom. I loved their father and the way he looked at a life he wasn't entirely happy with. I loved Darcy. The mom and some of the sisters got on my nerves at times, but it wouldn't have been a very good story without them.

I felt so much while I was reading this. The emotion is incredible. And Austen's humor, wit, sarcasm were all completely, utterly unexpected. Pride and Prejudice was a real pleasure to read and I can't wait to read another Austen.

I ordered the BBC adaptation from Amazon. And in the meantime watched Bridget Jones, she has a Darcy too, right? :-)

Monday, January 3, 2011

TV shows I love

I've seen many, many posts about TV shows around the blogosphere and have been wanting to do a TV post of my own for ages.

I love TV. Intelligent TV, escapist TV, funny TV. Joe and I spend our evenings watching series on DVD and we feel only slightly guilty about it. We've discovered loads of shows that we both like so we have many choices and we keep discovering more.

Last night, we watched the first couple of episodes of Season One of Glee and the first episode of Season One of Mad Men. All were FANTASTIC and I think I can honestly say that both shows will be up there with our favorites - Buffy, Angel, Gilmore Girls, Veronica Mars, Outnumbered, Arrested Development.

A word on Glee - oh my Gods, can a show be any more perfect? All that beautiful singing, all that great choreography and all set in a high school, which is my preferred fun setting! The script is great - funny, quirky and quick. A couple of lines in the first episodes made me laugh so hard I had to pause the show. Fabulous.

And Mad Men. I have a specific interest in the 1950s, especially in the role/treatment of women and I'm also fascinated by the advertising industry and how they pass messages to us. I loved the first episode and can't wait to watch more. Though the treating-women-like-shit thing makes me very angry and I end up yelling at the TV...

What are your favorite shows? Anything I need to buy? :-)

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Books Read in 2011

62. Matched by Ally Condie
61. Maggie Again by John D. Husband
60. Ravenstoke by Augusta Blythe
59. Committed by Elizabeth Gilbert
58. Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier
57. Percy Jackson and the Last Olympian by Rick Riordan
56. Can Any Mother Help Me? by Jenna Bailey
55. Invisible Monsters by Chuck Palahniuk
54. audiobook - The Fox Inheritance by Mary E. Pearson
53. A Room with a View by E.M. Forster

52. Wicked by Gregory Maguire
51. The Cat by Colette
50. Gigi by Colette

49. A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
48. One Day by David Nicholls
47. Holes by Louis Sachar
46. Definitely Dead by Charlaine Harris
45. Percy Jackson and the Battle of the Labyrinth by Rick Riordan

44. *The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister
43. The Weed that Strings the Hangman's Bag by Alan Bradley
42. Soulless by Gail Carriger
41. The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga
40. audiobook - Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants: The Second Summer by Ann Brashares

39. Dating Big Bird by Laura Zigman
38. Making History by Stephen Fry
37. Wish me Dead by Helen Grant
36. Mini Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella
35. Only the Good Spy Young (Gallagher Girls #4) by Ally Carter
34. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

33. The Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett
32. 13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson
31. in Polish: The Street of a Thousand Blossoms by Gail Tsukiyama
30. Dead as a Doornail by Charlaine Harris
29. Dead to the World by Charlaine Harris
28. Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons by Lorna Landvik

27. Nurturing Superwoman by Carolyn Moody
26. The Kind Diet by Alicia Silverstone

25. Club Dead by Charlaine Harris
24. *Winterborne by Augusta Blythe

23. The Summer I Turned Pretty by Jenny Han
22. Getting Revenge on Lauren Wood by Eileen Cook
21. *The Little Lady Agency by Hester Browne
20. The Very Thought of You by Rosie Alison
19. One for the Money by Janet Evanovich
18. audiobook - When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
17. Something Borrowed by Emily Giffin

16. *audiobook - The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary Pearson
15. Brooklyn by Colm Toibin
14. Fables 3: Storybook Love by Bill Willingham
13. Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt
12. Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta
11. The Reptile Room (Book Two in A Series of Unfortunate Events) by Lemony Snicket
10. The Reading Group by Elizabeth Noble

9. DNF - Ink Exchange by Melissa Marr
8. The Princess Diaries, Take Two by Meg Cabot
7. *The Rights of the Reader by Daniel Pennac
6. *audiobook - Starring Sally J. Friedman as Herself by Judy Blume
5. Don't Judge a Girl by Her Cover by Ally Carter

4. *audiobook - The Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale
3. Cross my Heart and Hope to Spy by Ally Carter
2. The Class by Eric Segal (DNF)
1. Hell's Belles by Jackie Kessler