Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Recipe: Minestrone Soup

I've been feeling a little under the weather today. Lack of sleep, a busy weekend at work, and a few semi-stressful things happening have left me a bit drained. So, I've taken to the couch with a massive bowl of this soup, the US Office on Netflix and a pot of green tea. Being productive can wait for another day!

Minestrone recipe

three large carrots, roughly chopped
one large onion, roughly chopped
1/2 savoy cabbage, shredded
2 handfuls of spinach
400g tin of beans of your choice
400g tin of chopped tomatoes
150g small pasta
2l vegetable stock
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp tomato puree
1 tsp basil
1 tsp oregano

  • Heat the oil in a large pan and cook the carrots, onion and garlic for five minutes until softened
  • Add the vegetable stock, tinned tomatoes and tomato puree, bring to the boil and then simmer for ten minutes
  • Stir in the tinned beans, pasta and herbs and boil for a further ten minutes
  • Just before you're ready to serve add the cabbage and spinach and cook for two minutes
  • Season and serve

Soup is one of my favourite things to cook. It's so simple, a great vitamin boost and perfect for making in bulk. This one takes about half an hour to make, and I've already had two bowls today so it's definitely delicious!

Friday, 31 January 2014

January Health and Fitness Challenge: Week Four Round Up

I'd forgotten how much I enjoyed having specific goals to work towards. Fiona's January Challenge was the perfect focus for a dark and dreary month and I'm a wee bit sad that it's over! To give me a challenge for February I've just signed myself up for a 30 day yoga challenge which I'll also be blogging about.

Week Four was quite a nice way to finish the month. We were to do an activity that we love, and for me that's yoga. I went to four classes this week, and although I'm still struggling to find an instructor that I like, I am loving practising regularly again.

The food focus for this week was breakfast. YUM. I love breakfast food, but rarely make a decent effort with it as I'm on my own. This week I tried to step it up a bit and had a few variations of porridge, poached eggs and spinach, and my current favourite oatcakes with banana and peanut butter. All super healthy and oh so delicious.

How was your January? Did you stick to your goals?

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Book Review: The Book Thief

It is 1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier, and will become busier still.

Liesel Meminger is a foster girl living outside of Munich, who scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she encounters something she can’t resist–books. With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, she learns to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbours during bombing raids as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement.

I wish I could put into words just how much I adore this book. Do you want to read something that is so beautifully written it's almost poetic? Something that has you falling in love with every single character? Something that focuses on a young girl who is just as obsessed with the written word as you are? Then this is a story that you will treasure forever.

Set in the holocaust, this is not your run of the mile account of the Hitler reign. The Book Thief is narrated by Death. Yes, the scythe wielding, cloaked, skeleton figure is our storyteller and oh what a wonderful storyteller he is. Death foreshadows throughout the book, which adds to the sense of anticipation and dread you experience, and isn't that exactly what war does to a person? Has you worrying about when you or someone you love will lose their life? Instead of spoiling the events, I think this only increased my heartache when the inevitable happened and I will freely admit that this book has me sobbing uncontrollably at points.

Zusak's characters are utterly perfect. Each individual is full of flaws, interesting, rich and so full of love and kindness that it breaks your heart. Despite despising a few characters at points, Zusak let's us see qualities in everyone that are so completely human and endearing and it's this that has you weeping for every loss encountered.

There's a dark humour laced within the pages, uplifting what could be an extremely depressing subject. Death's observations of human behaviours, the characters attitudes to one another and normal behaviours in such a tense time are what bring this novel to life.

The writing in The Book Thief is the thing which makes this book one of my favourites. The story is strong, the characters are wonderful, but Markus Zusak's writing is hauntingly beautiful. Zusak has proved himself to be a poet, a lyricist, an artist and a literary genius. Yes, I said genius. That's how strongly I feel about this piece of work. This is a story about the power of words. Words brought Liesel to life, built a foundation for her most treasured relationships, and were what brought Hitler to power, and Zusak captures this with his own writing style perfectly.

As I said, there's no way I could ever articulate my love for The Book Thief. I've read it quite a few times now, and fall a little more every time I flick through it's pages. Please, please, please read it if you've not already. And do it before the film's released.

“I wanted to tell the book thief many things, about beauty and brutality. But what could I tell her about those things that she didn't already know? I wanted to explain that I am constantly overestimating and underestimating the human race-that rarely do I ever simply estimate it. I wanted to ask her how the same thing could be so ugly and so glorious, and its words and stories so damning and brilliant.”
― Markus Zusak, The Book Thief

Sunday, 26 January 2014

January Health and Fitness Challenge: Week Three Round Up

I've had annual leave from work this week, so have had absolutely no excuses for being lazy. But, I have been. The only exercise I've done for the week has been for this challenge. I've not been to the gym, I've not been to classes and I've definitely not been running. Oh dear.

Here's how I got on with this week's tasks:

On Monday set a timer for 60 seconds and count how many press ups you can do. Every day repeat that number of press ups again, adding on at least 2 more each time. Don’t time yourself after the first day, just aim to complete more press ups than the previous day: Oh my word. I'm absolutely terrible at press ups, I won't lie. On Monday I only managed to do 11 and that was a struggle!! But, I persevered each day and added on two more each time, but today it definitely took me longer than 60 seconds!

Don’t eat any ‘naughty’ desserts until the weekend. Try not to overdo it at the weekend either!: Generally, I don't eat desserts at home. If I'm looking for something to nibble on after dinner I'll have greek yoghurt or fruit, but normally a wee peppermint tea is all I need. Yesterday was my aunt's birthday so I baked a victoria sponge and had one slice yesterday and one today so I think I did alright with this one!

Fiona's just put up this week's challenge and it looks like a fun one! We've to do activities that we love, and have good wholesome breakfasts. This, I can do.

How are you all getting on with your January goals?

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Book Review: A Feast for Crows

I'm a fast reader. And when I sink my teeth into a book I'm a ridiculously fast reader. Yet, it took three months for me to finish this instalment in the A Song of Ice and Fire series. I don't want to give too much away as I know so many people who are invested in the television show who have no interest in reading the books (these people are no longer my pals. READ BOOKS!), so I'll be limited with what I say.

The previous three books absolutely captivated me. Chapters built around individual character's viewpoints, deaths at every turn, battles, a whole lot of sex and SO MANY people to fall in love with and absolutely despise. But, A Feast for Crows didn't hold my attention in the same way. I enjoyed reading it, but I also found myself reaching for other books at the same time. I hope that it's simply because George R.R. Martin originally wrote this and the next volume A Dance with Dragons as one novel, which he then split in half due to its absurd length. This has resulted in a much slower pace and leaving the reader wondering just what's happening to many of our beloved, but AWOL friends and foes.

A Feast for Crows follows Cersei, Brienne, Samwell, Arya, Jaime and Sansa and introduces some new players into the Game of Thrones. So we are missing quite a few strong main characters, and pretty vital story lines. The story plods along, with nothing overly exciting actually happening. Journeys are drawn out, conversations are lengthy and battles are minimum. I feel like Martin uses a lot more repetition in this book, there are scenes that are oh so very awkward and the writing is just not up to par with the previous three. Not to mention that many of the new characters have similar names to existing ones (Elys, Alys, Pate, Pod and Peck?), which makes for an already hard to keep up with storyline to become even more confusing.

I really got into the stories around 80% of the way through, which is a shame. I'm loathed to say that I didn't enjoy it as much as it's predecessors as really, it is only half of a book. Nothing exciting happened? I bet it all kicks off in A Dance With Dragons (or so I hope). So, I'm off to start the next one and pray that the series hasn't lost it's momentum.

All in all, I'm so grateful that I'm a latecomer to the series as Martin's little note at the end teasing you with another finished book that then wasn't released for five years might just have made me give up.

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

January Health and Fitness Challenge: Week One Roundup

(Image from Fiona)

Phew, what a week! I realise that it's now Tuesday evening and I'm only just typing up last week's fitness challenge round up, and I wish I had a really exciting reason why I'm so late, but really it's all due to being on night shift for a week.For some reason when working nights, all I can handle doing is working, coming home, crawling into bed then simply getting up, getting ready and heading back to work. Any semblance of a life disappears for a couple of days. But, all is well and I'm off for a couple of days now and have plenty of time to catch up on blogging!

Last weeks challenges were super fun. So here's how I did:

Work out at least three times: I managed to do the first week of my half marathon training plan, which involved three 5k runs. The plan roughly follows the popular Couch to 5k plan for the first 9 weeks, so the runs involve running/walking for alternate intervals. It was raining every single time I went out, and I would have much rather lay in bed and snoozed away but as always, the endorphins kicked in when I was finished and it was all worth it. I went to one yoga class, which I'm trying to get back into big time. My aim is to go to a yoga class on each of my days off, as my mind and body absolute thrive on the mindfulness and stretching that yoga brings. This week's fitness schedule will be roughly the same with a body pump class or two thrown in for some strength training.

Eat at least 3 healthy vegetarian dinners: As I said last week, I am vegetarian, but the last few weeks have definitely not been healthy. This was the little push I needed to get my meals back on track. Generally, I eat really well. Lots of veggies, fruit, pulses and if it's possible I might drink a little TOO much water. I wanted to document my meals in pictures, but I picked up some extra shifts at work, so most of my meals were had there and it's not an ideal place to snap away at your dinner! I had a quorn and vegetable sweet chilli stir fry, a spinach and tomato omelette, quorn ceasar salad, red thai veggie curry, homemade pizza and spinach and chickpea curry. All veggie, all healthy, and all absolutely delicious.

This week's challenges are:

Fitness challenge:

Do the January Core Workout at least 3 times this week. No equipment required so no excuses!

Nutrition challenge:

Aim to substitute all coffees and energy drinks for decaffeinated coffee or herbal teas. Or go one better and aim to only drink water. You should aim for 1-2 litres a day and more if you are exercising.

I've not looked at the Core Workout yet, so I'm a wee bit scared, but I'll do it first thing in the morning after my run!

How are your January Goals going? I feel so much better about this moody little month knowing that I have things to focus on.