2015 book challenge – #6 – The Goldfinch

(explanation of the challenge here)

#6 is The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt.

You’ve heard of the Goldfinch. It won a prize. Everyone was talking about it last year. Googling says it’s the Pulitzer Prize, which I always thought was for journalism, probably because fictional journalists all aspired to it.

You may have noticed that this is the biggest gap between books so far. That’s not just because The Goldfinch is long (it is – 881 pages) but also because I did not read it quickly. Why didn’t I read it quickly? Because I didn’t ever feel that I wanted to read my book rather than doing something else.

Unlike some other “books that everyone was talking about”, I didn’t find this gripping. I slogged through it, not really caring what happened to the protagonist or his bloody painting. I don’t mind a protagonist who drifts through the world letting things happen to them (I love the Robin Hobb Farseer books, even though all Fitz ever wants to do is settle down and live an ordinary life with his teenage sweetheart). But Fitz is surrounded by compelling characters and situations. I felt that Theo was not.

I have no fear in admitting this. I am the only one of my friends to have enjoyed Wolf Hall. I figured out what was going on when a chapter opened with unmarked dialogue and two men called Thomas were plotting together, because I wanted to read more. It wasn’t even because I “wanted to know what happened” – everyone knows what happens there (spoiler: heads are cut off). I don’t need to assert my literary book-reading credentials (and yes I know my last review was chick lit). This book was just not for me. And if it’s not for you, don’t let people judge you for it. Even if it did win a prize.

Tuesday Playlist – unhappy in an empty house

That sounds like a depressing title, sorry.

I happened to notice the other day that the music videos to a number of songs that I like follow a theme. Th theme of I am alone in an empty house and I’m not so happy about it.

So this is an excuse to show you some music videos.

#1 – Stay (I Missed You) – Lisa Loeb

If I said “Lisa Loeb” to you, you might think that you didn’t know who I meant. But you DO.

This is a classic empty house (flat?), hardly any furniture, cat in the background.

#2 – Torn – Natalie Imbruglia

This house doesn’t start out so empty, but by the end it’s being dismantled.

Some might say that it’s not even empty, there’s a man there, but I think he is in her mind.

#3 – I Want Love – Elton John (ft. the face but not voice of Robert Downey Jr)

Do you remember in Friends when Phoebe made a music video for Smelly Cat and they used someone else’s voice, because Phoebe looked good but couldn’t sing? Well Elton John can do that kind of thing to himself, because he can.

This empty house is more of a mansion, but what do you expect Elton John to live in?

Hello Fresh – Smokey Burritos

Persoally I'd spell smoky without the 'e', even though I do put one in nosey.

Personally I’d spell smoky without the ‘e’, even though I do put one in nosey.

This is recipe #2 from my Hello Fresh box – and yes it was fresh when I cooked it, I just didn’t get around to writing it up. Unlike recipe #3, which was supposed to be salmon but I didn’t check the dates and the salmon went off to days after the box was delivered. Normally I’d always say “just smell it, it’s probably fine”, but I can’t do that with fish. I don’t trust my fish judgement because my friends who LIKE fish (I used to hate it, now I am teaching myself to tolerate it) say “fish only smells fishy if it’s off”. No, fish smells fishy all the time. Fish-y. The clue is in the name. I suspect there is some other BAD fishy smell that they are referring to, but it bugs me that they can’t smell the inherent this-smells-of-fish-it-is-fishy-because-it-is-fish fishy smell. So I can’t judge off fish by the smell.

Anyway, smokey burritos. Stuff in a tortilla wrap. I have to admit I was underwhelmed with these, for two reasons:

  1. Making something nice in a tortilla wrap is EASY.
  2. It told me to put the oven on at the beginning of the instructions, and then the oven was never used.
Here's the stuff

Here’s the stuff

Don’t get me wrong, it made a tasty-enough meal, and the texture of the potato in the wrap was very nice, but I could make something decent to go in a wrap without having to use two pans (boiling the potato, you see).

 

They obviusl also

The recipe in full, if you want it, which you probably don't.

The recipe in full, if you want it, which you probably don’t.

They obviously also had a tie-in with a brand of chipotle stuff, which is fine I guess but you’d think that at £39 full price per box (3x meals for 2, or 2x if you foolishly let the fish go off) you’d think they didn’t need extra money from product placement.

And nobody can wrap the bloody things and keep them in shape

And nobody can wrap the bloody things and keep them in shape

Still, I ate them and enjoyed eating them, and the feeling of “I could do this better” will probably encourage me to make some more in future. So I have at least gained some inspiration, even if it’s of the slightly-exasperated “just let me do it” variety.

2015 book challenge – #5 – The Frog Prince

You’re going to think I’m cheating, sneaking some nice easy chick-lit into my book challenge when I’m only on #5, but I have a good reason. The author came to my workplace to do “research” before writing it!

(recap of the 2015 book challenge is here)

Frog Prince

The Frog Prince by Sophie Ranald is, as I’ve said and as you can tell from the cover, “chick lit”. Modern romance. It’s a perfectly decent example of the genre, and if you like that sort of thing you might like this. It’s not an amazing example, and it’s unlikely to convert anyone who doesn’t already know that this is their kind of book.

I enjoyed the book, but what took it from “fine” to “fun” for me was spotting the references that had clearly come from the author’s experiences with my company. In some cases she was clearly playing on the stereotypes of the industry, which to be fair are mainly based in fact. In other cases, most obviously the presence in the office of a 6 foot tall inflatable dinosaur with a girls’ name, this was entirely taken from my workplace.

Our dinosaur is called Lydia, by the way.

2015 book challenge – #4 – Freeze My Margarita

(for a recap of the point of the 2015 book challenge look here – it’s in the year 2015, not 2,015 books)

This book was recommended as part of a discussion of “who to read when you’ve read ALL of Christopher Brookmyre”. From a point of view of someone looking for crime books, in the real word, in approximately current time, with good characters (ideally some interesting female characters).

Note that I said interesting female characters, not “strong female characters”. Strong is far too one-dimensional. I want female characters to have as much opportunity as male characters (and also any characters who may not explicitly/entirely identify as male or female) to be strong or weak, good or bad, clever or stupid, flawed and biased and nepotisitic and any other attribute that may or may not be a real word.

In looking for a link to give you in case you don’t know who Christopher Brookmyre is, it turned out that I have NOT read everything he’s written. I nearly abandoned this blog post (and my book challenge) and just went straight off to read them. If you are new, either start with Quite Ugly One Morning (the very first, and the first with Parlabane, the Scottish journalist/crimefighter/sceptic), or with A Big Boy Did It And Ran Away (featuring the inimicable Angelique De Xavier, police officer and Mogwai/merlot fan).

Anyway, this book – Freeze My Margarita by Lauren Henderson (part of the Sam Jones series apparently)

Freeze my MargaritaIt opens in a kinky club of some kind, which is not surprising given the person who recommended it to me. This turns out not to be relevant to the plot in any way (knkiness does not equal likelihood of murdering – who would have guessed?), it’s just a bit of recreation and get-to-know-your-main-character, a sculptor who ends up involved in a theatre production where there’s some murdering going on.

The theatre production is rather Jilly Cooper in its scandals and machinations, and even the murder fits quite well if you think of Score! rather than Riders (yes the exclamation mark is a part of the title). The main character here could quite easily find herself amongst some horsey folk in her next book, and if she does I say “bring it on”.

Technically this book was “in the current time” when it was written, and the majority of the actual plot stands the test of time very well. Some aspects, however, such as the run-down-ness of Kings Cross or the outfits lovingly described, end up with the same problem as The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo when the exact make and model of her laptop is specified. The laptop might convey “top of the range” at the time of writing, and the outfits might convey a specific subculture or level of “cool”, but from the perspective of 2015 you’ve got what TV Tropes call an Unintentional Period Piece.

When I’m done with the challenge and allowed (silly word, I am obviously allowed to read whatever I like) to read non-challenge books again, I would definitely like to get to know Sam Jones better. And not just because I like women with unisex names.

 

Hello Fresh recipe – chicken with mushroom sauce

You may have noticed that I quite like to cook. I’m not really the target audience for an organisation like Hello Fresh, whose MO is to deliver precisely-portioned ingredients and instructions for people who don’t want to buy a bunch of coriander and see half of it go slimy.

I am quite in favour of this sort of thing actually – just because I find something easy and enjoyable doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate that others may find it dull or difficult or scary (that’s how I feel about driving after all, and yet Top Gear still exists). I suspect 3 main target markets exist:

1 – Lazy people
2 – People who cook rarely and so won’t ever use up a whole bunch of coriander or a whole bag of potatoes
3 – People who are nervous about cooking new things and find it helpful to be shown exactly what is meant when a recipe book says “a thumb-sized piece of ginger” or similar

Technically I fall into #2, since I’m mostly cooking for one these days, but I was only really interested when a colleague had a voucher thingy for me to get my first box for £1. I do love a bargain.

The first recipe I cooked from the box was a chicken and mushroom thing.

The

Here are the ingredients - including ONE clove of garlic

Here are the ingredients – including ONE clove of garlic

Everything is measured out for you, and you have only exactly the “right” amount. I was determined to approach this as if I did not know what I was doing and follow the instructions completely, or else I’d be “cheating” on the Hello Fresh experience.

You can probably zoom in and read the whole recipe if you like

You can probably zoom in and read the whole recipe if you like

I made notes as I went, so here are a few thoughts on the process.

Pluses:

  • Good sized chicken breasts
  • Nice note on the chicken breast packaging that basically said “there might be a slightly odd smell for a few seconds when you open this, don’t panic”
  • Telling you not to wash up the pan you fried the chicken in, sensible!
  • Useful to tell you to properly BOIL the rice because it’s brown rice and needs boiling harshly

Minuses:

  • Does expect you to have oil and salt (fine in itself) but specifies olive oil without telling you that it would actually be 99% fine if you used sunflower oil or vegetable oi, or any oil at a really
  • Putting the fried chicken straight onto the baking tray could stick if your tray was not non-stick
  • How do I tell if my mushrooms have gone soft?
  • No mention of draining the rice at all – I would have hoped for a tip on how to do it well, but you get to the end of the recipe and it just says “serve with the rice”

The recipe was tasty, of a good size, and satisfying. If I were using my own judgement I might have sightly less rice (175g of dry brown rice for 2 is on the larger side), more mushrooms, and more creme fraiche in less stock to make a thicker sauce. The thyme was very nice, and the addition of the little sachet of mustard to the sauce didn’t make it “taste of mustard”, it just tasted nice.

This is their picture of the result

This is their picture of the result

This is MY picture of the real-life result

This is MY picture of the real-life result

Trying out the spiralizing fad – courgette “spaghetti”

“Spiralizing” seems to be a word now. As far as I can tell it doesn’t involve any spirals at all, but turning vegetables into long thin strings resembling spaghetti, then mashing up the name of the vegetable with “getti” on the end.

I love a kitchen gadget, but I don’t have a lot of spare space, so I’ve bought myself a julienne peeler. I’m not sure that I’m entirely convinced by low-carb, but I do need to find ways to con myself into eating more vegetables (coming up sometime – cauliflower rice!).

I picked this one because I could get next-day delivery. It is SHARP.

I picked this one because I could get next-day delivery. It is SHARP.

 

 

Here’s a picture of shaving the courgette.

This is actually pretty fun

This is actually pretty fun

I fried bacon and mushrooms and added creme fraiche to make a creamy sauce

This doesn't look like much but it is lovely.

This doesn’t look like much but it is lovely.

One courgette made *this much* courgetti strings. I cheated and ate half courgette half “real pasta”, but I’d guess that one medium courgette would be about the right amount for one person.

Pile of courgetti

Pile of courgetti

I didn’t cook the courgette at all, just stirred it into the hot sauce in the pan.

Use a bigger frying pan than you think

Use a bigger frying pan than you think

And ta-dah! Dinner.

If there's a way to make a bowl of pasta look exciting, I can't be bothered to do it

If there’s a way to make a bowl of pasta look exciting, I can’t be bothered to do it