Soup Kitchen

I was lucky lately to have won a raffle and get a recipe book of soups, a little gem of a book. I have made lots of things and got lots of ideas. Soup for me is not a seasonal thing, I can eat it and do all year round.

My first recipe was Butternut Squash, ingredients are pictured below. Squash is a pain to peel and cut!

I would show you a picture of it cooked, but well I ate some and it was delicious and the rest has gone into the freezer for future days.

Then whilst I was in Tesco I saw a new soup mix, Red Pepper, Sweet Potato, Carrot which with some stock and three lovely portions to freeze! That I did get a picture of – but I know I put a bit too much stock in this one, and needs thickening up next time I defrost some and eat it.

There is a section in the book, where there are soups which are more like hearty meals in a bowl and so I had to try on these out and this was the result.

Italian Chicken and Tomato Soup – it was delicious and is one I would make again. Although perhaps upon reflection it does not look to appetising in the saucepan! To make it a bit more substantial (especially when you have been at the gym) I added some soup pasta into it. It looks slightly better in the bowl!

Not sure what I am going to try next from the book? Perhaps some minestrone? Chicken and noodle? Decisions….


The Secret Mandarin – Sara Sheridan

Mary Penney is “dragged three thousand miles on account of an illegitimate child and a talent for the stage”. Her penance is to go to Hong Kong and be married off and never to see her son or England again. After a false start, she is forced to accompany her brother in law, Robert Fortune on his mission to China to obtain tea plants. Robert is less than pleased, and makes Mary suffer along the journey. In a twist of fate Mary finds the strength to forget her past and indulges in everything she is learning on this journey and has reserves that even Robert did not know she possessed. As the journey comes to an end with adventure a turn of fortune means that life changes for them all.

I was attracted to this book by the blurb on the back, it had something that appealed to me from the history student in myself and I thought I would learn about nineteenth century China the culture and people, botany, tea growing and the opium wars.  I did learn something but I felt what I did learn was padded out with the ineffectual characters of Mary Penney and Robert Fortune. I did not realise until I reached the end of the book, that Fortune is in fact a real person and has been used to create this piece of “faction”.  There is not much made of Roberts involvement with the British Forces and his apparent spying (according to the blurb), it was very much glossed over as if its mention was supposed to give the character more depth.

I leave this book feeling rather disappointed and that actually it could have been a real page turner, but it was lacklustre and weak. A sudden need to incorporate all the research done into the book at the detriment of losing the plot, characters and pace of the storyline. I will be wary of picking up another of her novels.

I did have high hopes for this book and I thought I would be getting something like The Sandalwood Tree a cracking story, a culture new to me and history thrown in. I suppose I got all of that, but actually it was all rather weak and insipid. I felt cheated from reading this book, it was not paced enough for me to keep turning the pages because I was enthralled with the story. 

Another helpful part of the book would have been some sort of map, so it would have been easy to try and place visually the distance they were travelling. I was pleased that they put at the end that in fact Robert Fortune was a real person, and did in fact discover that black and green tea came from the same plant (this for me was not made much of in the book). In the world of Botany, Fortune’s name is a prevalent one and I feel that perhaps if he knew his story was being played a bit fast and loose with he may not be best pleased. 

If you have read this book I would be interested to hear your thoughts. 


The Distant Hours – Kate Morton

Edie’s favourite book is The Mud Man by Raymond Blythe and she devoured it as a child, but as adult she did not think she would revisit it, and certainly not in the way it actually affected her life and her mothers.  When a letter turns up after fifty years, Edie finds out that her mother was evacuated to Milderhurst Castle during the Second World War and stayed with the Blythe family. The father, the author Raymond hardly seen by Edie’s mother during his stay and his three daughters Percy, Saffy and Juniper. But there is something about these three sisters which when Edie suddenly gets the chance to meet, years later the whole story starts to tumble out and it is not what it seems to be. Secrets eating everyone up from outsiders of the castle to the sisters themselves, Edie becomes part of their story just like her mother did.

This is Kate Morton’s third novel, and in my opinion not as good as the previous two. She seems to have lost something with this book and I am not sure what it has lost. I did not connect with any of the characters in particular, I found Edie rather ineffectual and weak not standing up to anything past or present, dealing with a split from her boyfriend was testament of this. Her mother was merely a vehicle to tell the story and that was a shame, because I think she was the stronger of the two. The three Blythe sisters were characterised well and it was clear where their strengths and weaknesses were. The rest were and are quite forgettable.

Structurally I felt the novel worked, it flowed quite easily between the time periods, late nineties and the Second World War but it was ultimately too long, at least 200 pages too long. Too much was made of something and nothing through prose. It just seemed to take a long time to get going then when it did it came to a halt and we were back to a meandering too slow pace. There was not enough about the Second World War for me, the research that she might have done and mentioned at the back of the novel, not enough of this content within the book.  What was there was perhaps boring and been done before.

A gothic dark novel which was neither and it was disappointing when I was expecting so much from this novel and author. I would still be interested to see what else comes from the pen of this author but if you are new to her, then do not start with this book.

I was disappointed that I did not want to devour this book as soon as possible once I started reading it. Morton’s previous novels were like that. I felt that I was being harsh, then I realised that whilst I was reading this book I had started another and was enjoying it more and downloaded a couple of samples to my kindle and yes I was enjoying them more. I was telling myself something. 

I normally love books which feature a big house/castle in the story as they become characters themselves. This book was not one of them. 

Have you read any books which disappointed you? Did The Distant Hours live up to Kate Morton’s previous novels? 


A Little About Me

This has been doing the rounds on a few blogs at the moment,please pop over and find more about Verity and Dot both excellent blogs for books. I thought it might be interesting to share a bit with my readers whilst you are probably waiting for more book reviews and crafting stuff. I promise you they are on their way.

Age: 33 (34 on Thursday)

Book Size:  Well I love Hardbacks, but they are hard to read because they are so heavy, paperbacks are good and I also have a kindle so I think I will sit on the fence with this one.

Chore that you hate: Drying up. Do not mind washing the dishes but have never liked the drying bit!

Dogs: Had a lovely golden lab when I was little called Bandit, but I am actually allergic to dogs.

Essential start to your day: Breakfast always breakfast.

Favourite colour: Purple

Gold or Silver:  Silver, second to my favourite colour above.

Height: 5′ 4″

Instruments you play: None. Tried to play the guitar when at school but that was a short lived experience.

Job Title:  Wardroom Mess Treasurer

Kids: Tolerable.

Live: Portsmouth

Milk: Semi-Skimmed but very limited amounts.

Nicknames: Not that I know of, but what is said behind my back….

Oldest living relative: A Great Aunt who was 95 in July this year and is sharp as a tack of not a little unsure on her feet.

Pet Peeves: Bad Manners, poor service, screaming children….I will stop there!

Quote from a movie: It’s been emotional.

Right or Left handed: Right.

Siblings: None

Time you wake up: 0530 on a good day, 0550 on a not bad day and 0615 on a bad day. Any time at a weekend!

Underwear: Of course!

Vegetable you hate: Celery

What makes you run late: Not really sure, I was overdue when I was born and I think I have been trying to make up for it ever since.

X-Rays you’ve had: Other than teeth, I think something for TB.

Yummy food that you make: Well I like all the food I make, others may disagree?

Zoo animal: Penguins


From Notting Hill with Love… Actually – Ali McNamara

Everything to do with films features in Scarlett’s life. Her name, her job involves selling popcorn machines to cinemas, her fiancé’s family are owners of a large cinema chain, her mother was obsessed with films and so is Scarlett. And as the title of this novel goes From Notting Hill to Love Actually with every chick lit film in between, Pretty Woman, Bridget Jones, Four Weddings, Sleepless in Seattle to name a few.

Scarlett believes that you can live your life in fact that life is just like the movies whilst the prospect of settling down and living a life that is not like the movies scares Scarlett she wants to prove them wrong. Getting the opportunity to live in Notting Hill, it suddenly does look like everything seems to be mirroring something well known from the big screen but the she starts to seek something else and life can change and it does not really need the movies to do so.

This is pure chick film lit. If you know anyone who has seen these films and is fan and can probably quote parts then this is the book for them. The characters are not actually that strong, its plotline is lifted from all the films, and then just strung together with the main characters, Scarlett, her fiancée, the new friends in Notting Hill and the handsome man living next door. I can see where the author was going with it but sometimes it just did not work.  But it is fun and humorous in parts with a sprinkling of romance for anyone that wants to enjoy a book. This is the author’s first novel and a good effort and a clever idea nevertheless there is room for improvement in future novels, but I will still seek them out.

*(the lead female character in Gone with the Wind)

I read this in a day and it was a book I loved and did not like. I think it was the light escapism I loved, the films it reminded me of and the memories that they evoked. I have seen all the films that are mentioned in the book and remember when they first came out. With out a doubt, the British Films have some memorable moments that could go down in movie history!  

What I did not like about the book? Not that much really, but  I think it was the weakness of structure as I mention in the review, all the scenes are linked together and reenacted and the rest is just pure fill in. The films are better than the book if that makes sense. 

However, I have read the blurb for her new novel and this sounds interesting and I will certainly give it a go as the second novel I hope will have more structure to it. 

Crafts · Cross Stitch · Knitting

Christmas Cards & Presents

I have good intentions of making lots of Christmas cards but I get quite easily distracted because there is always something new to try, but eventually I do settle down to something. I have somewhat neglected my larger project for many months now, so to get back with the stitching I thought I would try a little free kit of a magazine. One to stitch because it is by Margaret Sherry and I love her designs, and stitched many before and have a lot more stitch as well.

It tested me, as the material I could tell was cheap and the amount of back stitch started to get on my nerves, however it was worth it in the end. Now I have to decide who to give this to.

And while we are on Christmas, thoughts turn to presents so having finished some scarves with some funky wool one or maybe two of these could end up as so.

The black and white scarves, of which there is two in the photo was wool from last year. The purple/blue wool (bought this year) one was a pain to knit and took a couple of goes to get into the rhythm. Not a wool I would choose again to be honest.  Wool from last year which was my mum’s choice has arrived at my needles so more scarves are imminent.

Hopefully this will produce two scarves.

From my sojourn to Alexandra Palace back in October, felting was becoming a growing craft.  I have already experimented with the poppy which I wore with pride leading up to and including Remembrance Sunday. Many people stopped and asked about it, and perhaps if I could have got hold of more of the red circles (they were out of stock) I would have a lot of orders. Next year perhaps with any profit going to The Poppy Appeal.

Keeping with a flower theme, I bought some flower shapes already cut out and beautifully thick felt, not the thin stuff from childhood although that has many uses. I wanted to decorate some bags and this was what I came up with, following no pattern this was the result. (Please excuse the wonky photography) I have since bought some more bags (brightly coloured) and more felt flowers.

So on with the knitting, the flowers and bags, the stitching…..


Strawberry Shortcake Murder – Joanne Fluke

This is the second book in Joanne Fluke’s series of Hannah Swensen mysteries with the added bonus of recipes. (Please note that these recipes are with American measurements).  This picks up in some way from the first book, as there are some familiar characters in this case Danielle Watson and her husband Boyd, the school basketball coach. However there is a secret between Danielle and Boyd and when tragedy strikes Hannah is on hand to make sure that the investigation comes to the correct conclusion and not the easiest one for all those concerned.

With the background storyline of a bake-off actually made it quite a fun book to read at the moment, especially with the sudden British love with all things baking. Hannah is seemingly one step ahead of the police, and with the help of her sister, Andrea who seems to want to build bridges from a rather fraught childhood they stumble across secrets and lies about all sorts of people.  Lisa her faithful assistant in The Cookie Jar, who seemingly keeps the business running whilst Hannah is off detecting becomes a more prominent character this time round. Plenty of locals are mentioned and no doubt this leads us to future plots and books.

A cosy crime and in my opinion better than Fluke’s first novel The Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder. She has found rhythm with this book and for me Lake Eden comes to life, especially with the locations, the people and the cold weather! I look forward to settling down with the third book.

I was not sure whether I was going to actually read this book, I have 6 on my kindle by this author and was left a bit disappointed by her first book. I knew they were cosy crime, and they are of no great literary value but it was not quite up their for me with Agatha Raisin. However this one was more fun, I think because it featured a baking competition which was rather apt as I had seriously got into The Great British Bake Off this year, it struck a chord with me. It will be interesting to see if the next book holds my interest again. 


The Birthday Party – Veronica Henry

Delilah is a media darling, an actress, model turned cooking celebrity who has high profile television programmes and tie in books. Her husband is the actor Raf Rafferty, ex actor has it all and let it implode when the drink became the demon drink. Their three daughters; Coco an aspiring young actress about to make her debut on televisions successful medical drama, Violet the young singer looking for her own muse to write her own songs and Tyger the baby of the family, successful business woman with her own lingerie’s company. All them a paparazzi dream!

Everything is changing for Delilah, her children do not need her as much, and her husband has landed a role in a British film which has box office written all over it and Delilah is turning 50 and celebrity status seems to be waning and Delilah starts to run.

This is a real escapism novel, it felt like picking up a copy of Hello and OK and indulging in the gossip of familiar faces from the screen, In this case it was fleshed out with words and was a joy to read. Veronica Henry really has captured the celebrity element, the wish to lead a life away from glare, but also knowing that this glare has provided all the trappings they all enjoy. I spent a great couple of days reading it and also wondering who exactly these characters and some plot lines were based on. In the age of celebrity which can be made or broken by actions then this is the book for you.

This is a rather short review, looking back. I think mainly because to go into any more details would have given the plot away and that detracts from going out and buying the book to read! It was like reading a celebrity gossip magazine and for that reason alone I loved it. I was rather disappointed at the last Veronica Henry I read, Wild Oats but this book is much stronger in my opinion and whilst you could say that Veronica sticks to ‘chick-lit’  they are all very different and do not stick to any sort of format for that it makes me want to read more Veronica.

I just love this cover which is a rather shallow reason for liking a book, but when it is dark by 430pm and some days never seeming to get light a nice  bright cheery book on the bedside table is something to look forward to. 

Find more about Veronica Henry here and her new book is out Marriage and Other Games and looks good as a winter read. Snow on the cover hints at that! I am so tempted. 


Brunswick Gardens – Anne Perry

This is an Inspector Pitt (a Victorian Detective) detective story by Anne Perry, and one of many in the series. I have jumped in at Brunswick Gardens.

Pitt is asked to investigate when a young lady, Unity Bellwood is found dead at the bottom of the stairs, after crying out “No, No Reverend”. Witness heard her but nobody saw her fall, she does not appear to have tripped over and she was previously having an argument with Reverend Parmenter, soon destined to become a bishop regarding the translation of some work for which Unity was employed for.  Unity’s belief in Darwinism rather god’s creation put some strains on this working relationship.

But it does not seem so straightforward to Pitt and despite pressure from the Bishop wishing to declare Parmenter insane to plead clemency in the act, their belief being it must have carried out the act, there is something that is not right. Pitt encounters the other members of the family, Vita Parmenter the Reverend’s wife, who seems to be suffering in a rather odd way and displaying affection rather freely. Their daughters, Clarice and Tryphena have rather conflicting feelings for Unity, Mallory their brother who has revoked his faith to convert to Catholicism which caused much upset for his father and additional joy for Unity to barrack when testing the theories of their god and their ideas behind their faith. All their alibis stand up, and the servants are not given a second thought which I thought was an interesting twist on the plot of this acceptance that they were never considered suspects.

To Pitt’s surprise though he encounters a face from his past, his personal family past Dominic Corde who has found solace with Reverend Parmenter and found strength in God and himself to pursue a life in the church. A far cry from ten years ago when he first met Dominic.

This is rather a meandering type of detective novel for me there were no exciting peeks and troughs although from a historical point of view (it is set in the late 1890s) there are some interesting class aspects but again this is the middle to upper classes. Servants are a given and they have their place, as do the police, which is why Inspector Pitt’s home life is more interesting and actually helps spark the story along.

A pleasant bit of escapism, no violent scenes or bad language, the plot if anything makes you think about faith, beliefs, feminism and women’s role in society at the time; they may study Theology but it will get them to no position in the church. The murder in some cases is merely a supporting plotline. A book of today, but set in the Victorian period when everything was so different.

This is the first Anne Perry I have actually read. Previously I have only listened to one Buckingham Palace Gardens which was good. The main reason for reading/listening to it was the historical element regarding Queen Victoria and The Prince of Wales. However I really do struggle with audio books, I somehow lose the thread completely and have to keep rewinding to get back to what I remember. 

That said, my mum is a fan of Anne Perry’s Inspector Pitt books which was one of the reasons I was drawn to reading one, plenty on the shelf at the parental home to read is the mood took me. It was good but I felt perhaps I did not learn as much about society and the people as I did with listening to Buckingham Palace Gardens. It felt very insular in the plot line but was interesting in showing how Darwinism and Feminism were starting to threaten those who believed in God and challenge long held beliefs. Perhaps more could have been made of this, than there was I felt in the book. 

An author I will return to but would not worry if it was not for a number of years. I do not have an overwhelming urge to rush out and buy (or borrow) and catch up on the series of books. 


How to be a Woman – Caitlin Moran

This book is very the ‘in’ book to be reading in 2011. Caitlin Moran’s How to be a Woman is part autobiographical and part a license to rant about all female issues. I am not normally a fan of these books, but a free copy available to me meant I thought I would give it a try. It starts off quite well, and in parts is quite funny and with pathos as we learn about Caitlin’s childhood when she starts to wonder what it will be like to be a woman, but not necessarily the rules on how to be one. But then it somehow changes.

We go through chapters about being fat, being in love, getting married and having children and we see glimpses of Moran’s life and opinions of how woman relate themselves in the world. The way the book is structured is very journalistic and you can actually dip into each chapter and read that as essentially the only common thread through the story is that of Caitlin. I do not deny that perhaps some of what she says is quite true but the rather wild and raving way it comes across the page made me want to go I agree but please do not go on about it so. I had no knowledge of this journalist and never read any of her columns and I think I will probably pass over them now as I did quite a bit of this book.

It has taken me ages or it seems to have taken ages to finish this book. I started it with good faith and a had a chuckle then got annoyed with it, put it down and picked up more interesting reads. However, as I was on a roll to finish and tidy up a few things all of a sudden I finished the book. A lot of it was skim read though. A habit I hate, but I know when I am doing it, I am telling myself something. Not a book I will remember for 2011.