Cookbooks: November 2017 – January 2018

Hello my fellow bookworms and foodies, I’m sorry it has been too long since I did a cooking update! During November and early December I was still very much in the mood for warming, comforting dishes. So I gave these a go:

Aubergine Bake
The Hairy Dieters 3 – Veggie Wonders – Page 122

A low-calorie version of the Italian classic, Melanzane Parmigiana, which is a veggie delight of layered aubergines and tangy tomato sauce, topped with mozzarella. There’s a few stages to this dish but they were relatively easy to follow and the final result was a delicious vegetarian dish that thoroughly pleased two meat eaters. Great recipe.

Hearty Chilli
Plant Based Cookbook – Soups and Stews – Page 109

As soon as I saw this meat-free version of the classic Chilli Con Carne – packed with beans, mushrooms, peppers, onions and tomatoes, which has a good kick of spice – then I knew I wanted to try it. And I wasn’t disappointed! This was an easy to make and delicious one-big-pot-of-joy that made plenty to eat and freeze for later. Great recipe.

Chicken Fricassee
Co-op Magazine – Unknown Edition – Page 33

A classic dish of chicken, onions and mushrooms sautéed in white wine and stock, and finished off with a dollop of crème fraiche; which was very quick and easy to cook. I served it with carrot and potato mash and steamed green beans to make a rich, hearty supper. Great recipe.

That was three new recipes tried over those two months. Then the wonderful craziness of Christmas took over and I didn’t find time for cooking anything new. It was time for quick, comfort favourites instead. Including The Hairy Dieters’ Chicken Bhuna curry and their Rich and Meaty Bolognese. Also I made large batches of The Hairy Dieters’ Golden Vegetable Soup and Red Lentil and Bacon Soup, and Jamie Oliver’s Happy Frumpy Minestrone soup. Which meant I had plenty for lunches for once I returned to work in January.

At the beginning of this new year I finished reading the brilliant Super Food Family Classics by Jamie Oliver and now I have a copy of the new The Hairy Dieters (5) Go Veggie by Si King & Dave Myers. So I am looking forward to discovering many more new recipes this year.

Do you fancy any of these recipes?

What cookbooks are you reading? Have you tried any new recipes?


New Read: Cleopatra

After Elizabeth I, my next greatest historical obsession probably has to be Ancient Egypt and its most famous queen: Cleopatra. So when I saw that Endeavour Press were offering a re-issue of Cleopatra by Ernle Bradford for free, via their weekly newsletter, I just had to give it a go!

Over time Cleopatra has been much maligned as an infamous woman, who was given to sexual excess and capable of every perfidy, but is that really true? Or is that just Roman propaganda? Instead it could be argued that she was a woman, a monarch and a politician of infinite courage, intelligence and resources. Who, from a young age until her death, fought to free her country and to secure her son’s inheritance from the iron dominance of Rome. The subject of many a biography and tragedy, Cleopatra continues to fascinate two thousand years after her glorious but doomed life.

Using ancient sources Ernle Bradford pieces together the life of Cleopatra from birth to death and reflects on the many different portraits of her throughout history. I particularly found interesting the sections on the early Ptolemies, the rise and decline of the dynasty and the founding of one of the wonders of the ancient world: the city of Alexandria; all of which I knew little to nothing about before. Also it was interesting to find out, in  tremendous detail, about Cleopatra’s two great love affairs with the powerful Roman men: Julius Caesar and Mark Anthony.

Cleopatra clearly set out to seduce Anthony and amidst their tumultuous passion they did seem to bring out the worst in each other, which would ultimately lead to their doom. On the other hand Cleopatra really did seem to have some true affection for Caesar. Furthermore with Cleopatra being just seventeen when they met and given Caesar’s Lothario reputation, it is highly unlikely she was the one doing the seducing in this case; unlike what history and films have claimed. Caesar’s shocking downfall was clearly a blow to her both emotionally and politically, as they had hoped to rule the Mediterranean world together and found a Julian-Ptolemaic dynasty.

All in all I thought Cleopatra was an extremely interesting, balanced and accessible history of the life and loves of one of the most controversial women in history. Good read.

Have you read this? Or have you read anything else about Cleopatra?

New Read: The Shadow Queen

Having read and enjoyed The Forbidden Queen, The King’s Sister and The Queen’s Choice, three of her previous historical fictions, Anne O’Brien has become one of my go-to authors for my historical fix. So I was excited at the end of last year, to pick up her latest offering The Shadow Queen, which was released earlier that year.

In The Shadow Queen, O’Brien swept me back to 1340 to meet the beautiful, headstrong Plantagenet princess, Joan of Kent. She was the daughter of the attainted traitor, Edmund of Woodstock, the 1st Earl of Kent and first cousin to King Edward III. Joan has come to be better known to history as ‘The Fair Maid of Kent’, the wife of the doomed Black Prince and the mother of the child-king Richard II. However in her lifetime Joan’s reputation was not so good due to her ambitious nature and a string of salacious marriages!

First, at the tender age of just 12 years old, Joan secretly married Thomas Holland, a lowly knight, without gaining royal consent. This was followed only a year later by a bigamous marriage to the far more suitable William Montacute, the heir to the Earl of Salisbury, which was arranged by their mothers. With the chaos that ensured after all was revealed and the Pope was appealed to, to decide the matter, you’d have thought Joan would have learnt her lesson. But oh no! As a young widow, Joan went on to secretly marry Edward Woodstock, the son and heir of her cousin the king, again without royal consent or a Papal dispensation for their close kinship.

Of course if Joan had learnt from her mistakes and curbed her behaviour we wouldn’t have such a fascinating life to read about now! Previously, I have not read anything about Joan, so this was as much a history lesson as it was an entertaining read. O’Brien portrays Joan as an independent, passionate and ambitious woman, in a time where these were most unattractive traits in a woman. I couldn’t help but admire Joan who knew her mind from a young age and acted upon it, whatever the consequences, however I can’t say I particularly liked her because many of her actions are also rash and selfish.

Other characters it was interesting to read about was Edward Woodstock, the Black Prince who I had never read about before either. Also seeing Richard II and Edward IV young after having read about them as adults in O’Brien’s The King’s Sister and The Queen’s Choice. Plus it was Joan’s third son from her first marriage, John Holland, who went on to have his own salacious affair and subsequent marriage in The King’s Sister. I just love how O’Brien’s characters overlap in her books, which makes it possible for us as readers to see the bigger picture of the time period all from the perspective of the powerful, if often overlooked, women of the time.

Overall, I thought The Shadow Queen was a well written look into the rather thrilling and racy life of the ambitious Joan of Kent. I look forward to reading more by Anne O’Brien – I already have her The King’s Concubine waiting on my Kindle for me. Good read.

Thank you to the publishers for providing a copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for my honest opinion.

Have you read this? Have you read any of Anne O’Brien’s other novels?

Tough Travels: Elves

Tough Travels is a monthly meme, re-ignited by Fantasy Faction and now hosted by The Fantasy Hive, which, inspired by The Tough Guide to Fantasyland by Diana Wynne Jones, spotlights each month a different fantasy trope for us to compile lists and have fun with. Last month we discussed MENTORS. This month’s topic is:


‘Elves claim to have been the first people in Fantasyland. They are called the Elder Race. They did not, they claim, evolve like humans, but sprang into being just as they are now.

The Elves’ claim is borne out to some extent by the well attested fact that their flesh is less gross and substantial than that of humans.

‘In looks, Elves are taller and more slender than any humans, and very beautiful. Most of them appear youthful.

All Elves feel themselves superior to humans and make it very clear that they do not operate by human rules. This is true, in that many of them can do some MAGIC.

If you meet Elves, expect to have to listen for hours while they tell you how great numbers of their race have become so wearied with the thinning of the old golden wonders that they have all departed, departed into the West.

Diana Wynne Jones, The Tough Guide to Fantasyland

I apologise in advance that this is going to be a bit of a Tolkien fest! Due to the fact that I found it almost impossible to think of elves that weren’t from The Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit. So lets explore the elves of Middle-Earth, as well as two non-Tolkien elves I managed think of, for some sort of balance:

  • Legolas – First up from Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings we have Legolas, who is a prince of the Woodland Realm of Mirkwood. Like many of his brethren he is tall and fair, with keen eyesight and hearing. He is also a master bowman. But rather against Woodland Elf nature he travels widely and becomes good friends with the Dwarf Gimli.
  • Galadriel – Second from Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings we have Galadriel, who alongside her husband, Lord Celeborn, rules over and protects The Golden Wood. Like Legolas she is tall and fair, but she far surpasses nearly all her other brethren in age, beauty, wisdom and power. Basically she is brilliant…a bit scary… but brilliant!
  • Elrond – Next from Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit we have Elrond the Half-Elven Lord of Rivendell, which is a hidden river valley located at the base of the Misty Mountains; known to many a weary traveller as ‘The Last Friendly Home’. Elrond is tall and dark, and is of a great age and wisdom. Unlike the Woodland Elves, Elrond and his people are far more welcoming of others races.
  • Rivendell Half-Elves – My final Tolkien entry in this list, has to be the beautiful, merry Half-Elves of Rivendell; who little Bilbo fell so in love with in The Hobbit, as they played music, sang and danced, and swam in the streams and pools. If I could go to Middle-Earth that’s where I would go. Later, in The Lord of the Rings, all the elves get a bit too serious and melancholy for my liking.
  • Dobby – Now from J K Rowling’s Harry Potter series I bring you a very different type of elf: Dobby the House-Elf! Breaking elf conventions completely, Dobby and his fellow House-Elves are small, wizened magical creatures, who work devotedly for their masters. Poor Dobby was in servitude to the cruel Malfoy family until Harry helped to free him.
  • Prince Nuada – Finally this list wouldn’t be complete without a bad elf, so here is Prince Nuada from Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008). Nuada’s race, modelled on the Daoine Sidhe from the Hellboy comics, are tall, very pale and unusually striking. An ancient, once proud people forced underground by the greedy human race, for which Nuada seeks revenge.

Do you like my choices? Can you think of more elves I should check out? Please link in the comments below if you have taken part in this month’s topic too.

 Come back next month for: SHAPESHIFTERS.

Adaptations: December & Christmas 2017

Hello my fellow bookworms and adaptation lovers, here are the adaptations I watched through December and the festive period:

Legend (2015)
Not Read     Film    Television

A stylish crime thriller film written and directed by Brian Helgeland, and adapted from John Pearson’s book The Profession of Violence; which follows the rise and fall of the infamous Kray twins in the criminal underworld of 1960’s London. It is worth a watch even just to see the brilliant performances of Tom Hardy as both Reggie and Ron Kray. Good watch.

Poldark (Series 3)
Not Read     TV Series    Television

This gorgeous period drama, based on the books by Winston Graham, returned to the BBC for its 3rd series back in June 2017. We re-join Captain Ross Poldark (Aidan Turner) and his family and foes, as the pressure of war and revolution presses down upon them. All of which was again brought to life by a strong ensemble cast, with stunning Cornish scenery and beautiful costumes. Good watch.

Justice League (2017)
Not Read     Film    Cinema

The fifth film in the DC Extended Universe, directed by Zack Snyder, brings together comic book heroes Wonder Woman, Batman, The Flash, Aquaman and Cyborg. Who join forces, in the memory of Superman, to save the Earth from Steppenwolf and his army of Parademons. While this is another entertaining, CGI spectacular it isn’t as great as the solo outing of Wonder Woman from earlier in the year. Good watch.

Beauty and the Beast (2017)
Read     Film     Apple TV

Sadly I didn’t get to see this live-action version of Disney’s 1991 animated film, based on Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont’s fairy tale, at the cinema but I still loved it on the small screen. A sumptuous and magical adventure brought to life beautifully by Emma Watson (Belle), Dan Stevens (Beast), Luke Evans (Gaston) and a star-studded cast of voices too. Great watch.

Little Women (2017)
Read     TV Series     Television

Starting on Boxing Day the BBC aired this delightful, new three-part adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s much loved, coming of age tale of the four March sisters. This beautiful production was brought to life by a cast of new, young faces and held together by the strong performance of Emily Watson as ‘Marmee’. A perfect watch for over the holidays, but it hasn’t quite supplanted the 1994 film for me. Good watch.

The Miniaturist (2017)
Read     TV Series     Television

Also starting as part of the BBC’s Boxing Day programme of delights was this gorgeous new, two-part adaptation of Jessie Burton’s bestselling, debut novel; which takes us back to 1680’s Amsterdam, where me meet young Nella Oortman, her doll’s house and the web of dangers she finds herself within. All of which was recreated beautifully and faithfully in this production by a strong cast, authentic settings and sumptuous costumes. Great watch.

That’s another very impressive six new-to-me adaptations! Over the festive period I also enjoyed re-watches of the classic Ben-Hur (1959), the hilarious The Grinch (2000) and family favourite Big Hero 6 (2014). Bringing my total up to nine adaptations altogether.

As for non-adaptations, I tuned in each week to watch David Attenborough’s stunning and ground-breaking new documentary Blue Planet II. While over the holiday, I watched Transformers: The Last Knight (2017) with my brother and I went to the cinema to see the amazing Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017).

During these cold, dark months, I really do find myself wanting to curl up to watch more television, and knowing this I think the TV channels save some of the best shows and films for this time of year.

Have you watched any of these? What did you watch in December and over the holidays?

Goodbye December 2017, Hello New Year!

Hello my fellow bookworms, I hope you are all well and that you had a wonderful Christmas and a happy New Year. December whirled past me in a blur of shopping, writing cards, snow, wrapping presents and spending quality time with family and friends. In amongst all the wonderful craziness of the holidays I managed to read these:

Fiction: 1          Non-Fiction: 1

During the month, I took time out to escape into historical fiction The Shadow Queen by Anne O’Brien, which took me back to 1340 to meet the beautiful, headstrong Plantagenet princess, Joan of Kent. Alongside this I read the history Cleopatra by Ernle Bradford, about the infamous Egyptian queen and her powerful lovers: first Julius Caesar and then Mark Anthony. Two really good reads but with all the busyness around Christmas I have yet to post my full thoughts on them, so keep your eyes peeled for those which should be up very soon.

Pick of the Month: The Shadow Queen

Altogether that is only two books completed in November, which makes it my new lowest month of the year! To be fair though it is a busy time of year, where I spent more time socialising and watching films and adaptations. Also at the end of the month, I was extremely close to finishing Super Food Family Classics by Jamie Oliver; I was a good way into my re-read of The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman; and I’d started reading Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus by Nabeel Qureshi, for my church’s book club meeting in early February.

In January, I am looking forward to celebrating a particularly special birthday and seeing what the new year will bring me reading wise.

What did you do and read in December? What are your plans for January and the new year?

Top Ten Tuesday: New-To-Me Authors I Read In 2017

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish. If you love books and making lists, this is the meme for you! This week’s topic is:

Top Ten New-To-Me Authors I Read In 2017

Last year, I was blessed to read and enjoy many new-to-me authors and here are ten of my favourites (ordered alphabetically by surname) and their books I read from across the year:

  1. Catherine Curzon – her light and fun, historical fiction The Mistress of Blackstairs was just what I needed on my flight home from Rome.
  2. Kevin DeYoung – for my church’s book club in November I read his short, down-to-earth and helpful Christian non-fiction, Crazy Busy.
  3. John Ortberg – my first read of the year for my church’s book club was his thought provoking Christian non-fiction, If You Want to Walk on Water You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat.
  4. Chris Packham – the much loved naturalist and TV personality’s memoir, Fingers in the Sparkle Jar was a powerful and emotional read for me.
  5. Emilio Salgari – his Italian classic Sandokan, The Tigers of Mompracem was a rip-roaring adventure and a great escapist read for me.
  6. Trish Sebben-Krupka – brought me lots of new yummy vegetarian recipes in her excellent Plant Based Cookbook.
  7. Jodi Taylor – her fantastical, time-travelling romp Just One Damned Thing After Another was the perfect easy read for my holiday.
  8. Rosy Thornton – I just had to read her wonderful short story collection Sandlands after hearing such praise from other bloggers.
  9. Geoffrey Trease – I took a chance Seven Stages his history about seven influential figures from the stage and found it absolutely fascinating.
  10. William Paul Young – In February for my church’s book club I read his inspirational and controversial, international bestseller, The Shack.

Have you read any of my choices? What new-to-you authors did you read in 2017? Also, please link in the comments below if you have taken part in this week’s TTT topic too.