Monday, 8 January 2018

2017 Favourite Books, Films, Podcasts etc.

I've read some truly amazing books this year and it made me really want to write a post on them! Then I thought back over the brilliant films, TV shows and podcasts I've enjoyed this year and thought it would be fun to do a little roundup of my favourite things this year.

I'm rubbish at writing reviews, so this is just a list of my favourite things in 2017. Nearly all of these books/films etc did not come out in 2017, I'm just super late to the party.

I have no real aim of this list except it gave me great joy to reflect on my favourite things of the year and relive the enjoyment of reading/watching/consuming all these wonderful things, and it makes me excited for my books and films and podcasts in 2018! It's also a reminder to me of all the awesome books and films out there that I am yet to explore.

So here we go!

Books I loved in 2017

I read 43 books in 2017 and these were my absolute favourites (follow me on Goodreads for the rest!). In no order except the order in which I read them:
  • The Easter Parade by Richard Yates
  • My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout
  • The Lottery and Other Stories by Shirley Jackson
  • How to be a Grown Up by Daisy Buchanan
  • The Other Mrs Walker by Mary Paulson-Ellis
  • Skippy Dies by Paul Murray
  • Anything is Possible by Elizabeth Strour
  • My Shitty Twenties by Emily Morris
  • The Gustav Sonata by Rose Tremain
  • The Disaster Artist by Greg Sestero
  • I know this much is true by Wally Lamb
  • What I loved by Suri Hustvedt

Favourite films at the cinema in 2017

Phil and I have Cineworld Unlimited cards so we go to the cinema at least twice a month. These were my favourite "new" films in 2017. In no particular order:
  • La La Land
  • Manchester by the Sea
  • Hidden Figures
  • Hacksaw Ridge
  • Moonlight
  • Wonder Woman
  • The Disaster Artist
  • Baby Driver
  • Get Out
  • Dunkirk
  • War for the Planet of the Apes
  • It
  • Wonder
  • Battle of the Sexes

My favourite films I saw the first time in 2017 that I definitely should have seen before:

Phil has a list in his phone called "Films I'm embarrassed Charlotte hasn't seen". He is constantly educating me in all the films I never managed to watch growing up! Here are some of my favourite new-to-me films I watched in 2017:
  • The Exorcist
  • American Werewolf in London
  • The Birds
  • Annie Hall
  • Let the Right One In
  • Minority Report
  • The Room 
  • Speed
  • Deadpool
  • Lars and the Real Girl

The best podcasts I discovered in 2017

I'm kind of addicted to downloading hundreds of podcasts every month and then I never listen to them all! Some of these were new in 2017, some were new-to-me, but these are the podcasts getting me through my long runs last year:
  • What page are you on?
  • The Guilty Feminist
  • Beautiful Anonymous
  • Made of Human
  • Hello Friend
  • And then what?
  • Sincerely X
  • Dirty John

TV shows I loved in 2017

Phil and I suck at watching TV shows - we still haven't watched the new season of Stranger Things and we've not caught up with Peaky Blinders yet, but these are the TV shows we did finish this year:
  • Mindhunter 
  • The Handmaid's Tale
  • The US Office (we finally finished this after starting it over 2 years ago!)
  • The Night Of
  • The People vs. OJ Simpson

The recipe books I loved in 2017

I don't even want to count how many new recipes books I bought or received in 2017, but these are the ones that I keep using over and over:
So those are my top favourites in 2017. It's like Oprah's favourite things list except I don't get to give you a car.

I'm excited to see which of the books on my 200+ to read list will be on 2018's list, or which films I'm excited for, and which podcasts I will discover. Only time will tell!

Also please please please hit me up if you have any recommendations for me based on my favourites (ESPECIALLY book recommendations cause I loooooooove book recommendations!).

Charlotte x

Saturday, 6 January 2018

December Life Lately

Ahh I know it's already the 6th December and I'm super late to the party, but with the end-of-year blog posts I wanted to write I've found myself a bit behind with this one (and I'm still only half way through another 2017 post!) but I love writing these posts and reflecting on my month so I thought better late than never!

December feels an age away now but I swear I always feel like that at the start of a new month. There are some things on my list where I think, wait was that only last month?

So I promise I won't detail everything to do with our engagement again (I am still milking it for at least another few weeks on Instagram though!) or go into loads of detail about Christmas (because it feels forever ago!) but this is what I got up to in December...

What I've been doing

On 29th November I handed in my final piece of coursework for my marketing diploma, so to celebrate Phil and I took a few days off work. It was absolutely love to have a few days to go to the cinema multiple times, go for lunch, see family and friends and have the kind of weekend I haven't been able to have for a very long time! 

One of the things we did as part of our time off was explore The Light which is at the new leisure complex in Stockport, Redrock. As I've written before, Phil and I are both Cineworld Unlimited card holders and go to the cinema at least two or three times a month (and sometimes a lot more!) but while we were off we thought we might go and see if the grass is greener!
The first thing that pique our interest was a showing of Gremlins on 1st December - just when I was starting to get in the festive spirit! - which included a Q&A with Zach Galligan who played Billy. We couldn't resist watching one of our favourite Christmas films and the Q&A totally sold it for us. The cinema is absolutely gorgeous with so much legroom (even Phil, who is 6'5" could stretch out!) and while we were waiting for the film we found out they were offering Unlimited card holders a week of trying out the cinema for free - sold! Gremlins was brilliant and I got to ask Zach what he thought of the "dead-Dad-stuck-up-the-chimney" storyline which has always haunted me, and we got to meet him after! 

We ended up going to The Light twice more in December which I'll go into in my "watching" section!

This month we also booked my Birthday trip to Bruges which I'm so excited about! We're going to London to see Hamilton (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!) finally on the 29th March, and my Birthday is the 30th which happens to be Good Friday. So we're getting the Eurostar across to Brussels then travelling to Bruges and having a long weekend there before coming back on Monday. We've been talking about booking this trip ever since we booked Hamilton tickets a year ago so I'm really excited!
We've done a lot of work on our house in December too. A few weeks ago we finally painted the bathroom after buying paint samples in August so it's no longer bright Barbie pink.

And then we spent two days between Christmas and New Year stripping our living room, stairs and landing wallpaper so we can start afresh with something new for 2018. So far we've got about as far as picking paint colours, and we're going to completely change up the room and make it ours which is really exciting so stay tuned for that over the next few months!
Of course we also celebrated our 5th Christmas together with our traditional two-Christmas-dinners, and I was completely spoiled as usual! Highlights include a tofu press, a cast iron pan, new slippers and a new dressing gown, and from Phil I got a print of Duluth, which was my home in Minnesota for a year while I was at uni, and a print of the building we lived in in Manchester from the 1920s. We had a drink early last year in the pub underneath our old building and they had this old photo on the front of the building and I loved it and said we had to find a copy for the house. So Phil spent ages looking through the library archives before emailing the pub to ask for a copy. It's so amazing to see that old building nearly 100 years ago!
And yes, if I haven't milked it already, on Boxing Day we got engaged in Lyme Park, and you can read the full story of how it happened in this post. That was definitely the biggest surprise in December!
We brought 2017 to a close quiet(ish) with a board game night at Phil's parents. However I'm not sure we've all quite recovered from the fall-out over Codenames!

What I've been eating
After really loving Meera Sodha's Fresh India, I bought Made in India last month after borrowing it from the library and deciding I needed it! Highlights so far are the green beans, the dal and the chana masala.

Also this month I finally learned to make amazing poached eggs, so I've basically spent the last few weeks eating poached eggs at every opportunity. (I use this recipe!)
I'm currently working through the Winter/Start of the Year second of The Modern Cook's Year (read my Autumn review over here) and so far my favourite thing has been the cauliflower-topped puy lentil pie.
And finally, Phil made this excellent lemon meringue pie for New Year's Eve and I am super impressed with his egg white skills!

What I've been loving
Ooh lots of lovely things this month!

One of my goals for 2018 is to look after my mental health and I started this in December with the Happyfeed app. Every day I have to write about 3 things that made me happy that day. I like to do this the following morning as it gives me time to reflect on the previous day and it really makes you think about the little things you might have forgotten!
At the start of December I decided I wanted to buy a few new nail polishes, and I always buy Essie. While I was picking colours I noticed Superdrug had an Essie Advent Calendar for only £25, which had 7 full-size colours and lots of smaller colours and other nail products. I got one for myself and one for my Mum! We both absolutely loved having a little nail polish treat every day of December!

One of my favourite people, Cate of Cate in the Kitchen has started a podcast and it's absolutely brilliant. It's all about food and cooking and food culture and food memories and ah, it's just lovely. Go download it now!
Every Christmas I make Phil's parents and my Nan a hamper, and this year I got one myself! My friend Riven made us the most amazing hamper, containing two books, homemade flavoured gin, two kinds of biscuits, two kinds of condiments, chocolate, SHARK name but a few! It was so lovely and thoughtful and everyone has been amazing so far!
Finally, I got myself a Buddy Box this month so I could get a copy of their Self Care book and it was really lovely. If you haven't heard of Buddy Boxes they're a subscription box from mental health charity, The Blurt Foundation, full of treats to help your mental health. I got a copy of the Self Care book, lovely socks and lots of other lovely things this month.

What I've bought
On top of Christmas presents, just two small things this month! A new bullet journal because I've finished my first one (and I'm still in the process of moving everything over!) and World Vegetarian which I got for a few quid second hand and I'm using for the first time this weekend.

What I've been watching
A bit of a mixed bag this month! I absolutely loved everything we saw at the cinema this month - Wonder, Battle of the Sexes, The Last Jedi and The Disaster Artist.

But films we watched at home, not as much. This month we watched Glengarry Glen Ross and The Game, which were both a bit disappointing!

Finally, Phil and I are completely obsessed with Love it or List it, the Kirstie and Phil programme. As we're redoing our living room we're kind of obsessed with home programmes and instead of catching up with Peaky Blinders or Stranger Things 2, we're really enjoying watching mindless episodes of this!

What I've been reading
I've read 5 books this month, my absolute favourite being What I Loved, which has instantly made it's way into my favourite books list. I read Siri Husdvedt at uni but hadn't read any of hers since, and I'm really excited to work through all her books.

I also really enjoyed Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine at the end of the month, and am glad to hear it's won a Costa award.
Other books this month were Fever Dream, which was a surreal and bizarre but interesting read, Fingersmith which I was super into but then got a bit bored of towards the end, and You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine which I'm still trying to decide how I felt about!

What I've been reading online
I absolutely adore Louise and she is one of the people I'm so glad I "met" in 2017. All her blog posts are brilliant, but I love this one on Why your dreams don't have to scare you.

Google's A Year In Search video gave me all the feels.

And The Pool's post on Matt Damon completely summed up how I felt.

So there we go - better late than never right? In January I am looking forward to a quiet month, choosing paint for our living room and playing with layouts and maybe starting to plan our wedding!

Hope 2018 is treating you well so far!

Charlotte x

Sunday, 31 December 2017

2018 goals

As I wrote in my newsletter a few weeks ago, goals are a funny one.

A year is a long time, and what might be a huge priority to you at the beginning of January might mean nothing to you by the end of March.

For example, one of my goals for 2017 was to sort out my blog layout. I've had this layout for several year and it looks crap on mobile and at the start of this year, I was blogging a lot, getting back into the habit of promoting my blog and scheduling tweets and writing regularly, so this made sense to maximise my hard work.

But then once March rolled around and my coursework deadlines were getting closer, and then I had an exam, and almost straight away I had to start working on another piece of coursework, blogging slipped down the pecking order. I had loads of ideas and was fizzing with inspiration, but it was hard for me to find the time to articulate them. So instead, in June, I started a newsletter.

Like I said in my 2017 Best Bits post, my newsletter is now something I write every single week and I love so much more than my blog. So while I didn't achieve my goal of working on my blog layout, I found a similar creative pursuit that I enjoy more.

Similarly, one of my goals was to get a half marathon PB. Now, as you might know I got injured in the summer, just as I was about to start training for my second half marathon of the year, after being a few seconds off a PB in May thanks to a more challenging course. So I had to cut back my training quite a bit to avoid exacerbating my injury (which I managed to do anyway!) and instead, we started to do British Military Fitness every week. Again, this is something that still fits into my fitness goals but is something I had no idea I would start to do at the beginning of the year!

So here are my goals. Some I may achieve, some I won't, some I might do an adapted version of. I can be way too goal orientated at times and this is at odds with one of my goals to take care of myself a little more this year, so if I finish the year happy and healthy and in a good mental health place, I think that's worth not achieving any of my other goals!

Goals for 2018

  • Run two half marathons
  • Get a half marathon PB
  • Run 5 races
  • Read 40 books
  • Start reading my "should have read by now" books
  • Finish decorating our living room
  • Start a new hobby
  • Practice yoga more often
  • Do one good thing for my mental health every day (especially if it's been a good mental health day!) - yoga, meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, gratitude list, morning pages, worry journal etc. and try to find what works best for me
  • Finish the year knowing what works for my mental health
  • Buy more from bookshops 
  • Start learning Spanish again
  • Cook more without recipes and grow in confidence in the kitchen
  • Keep using the Forest app to focus on reading more instead of mindless scrolling on my phone
  • Stop feeling guilty about spending money on experiences
  • Take care of myself a bit better - practice regular self care (that's actually good for my brain, not just the fluffy "paint my nails" that brands are always trying to push) and stop focusing on what I "should" do, and ask myself constantly "do I have to?"
Some of these goals are a bit hard to measure (the same can be said of some of my goals last year, and it's hard to decide whether I achieved some of them!) but I'm hoping they can keep me focused in 2018.

Happy New Year, and I hope you have a wonderful 2018!

Charlotte x

Saturday, 30 December 2017

2017 Best Bits

When I originally started planning this post I'd coined it as "2017 achievements" and I'd written a list of all the things I'd done this year and a list of goals for 2018.

But when I look back on 2017, it's not all the goals I think of. It's not the races I've run or the coursework I've completed, it's the little moments. Buying a house was a huge and exciting experience, but when I look back, it's not the "achievement" of buying a house I look back on and smile at, it's that first meal we had at our dining table, or the day we spent painting the bathroom. 

I'm not going to forget finishing my marketing diploma or buying a house or Phil proposing to me, but I might forget the actual best days and best moments of my year. Those days of warm, fuzzy happiness that you just want to bottle.

So instead of my top goals or top achievements or top successes, here are my favourite things that happened in 2017:

Buying a house

For us, buying a house was one of the hardest things we'd ever done. We had an offer accepted on a house last October and moved out of our flat in February and back in with my parents. We waited 6 months for approval on our mortgage which never happened. In the end, the company we were buying the house from wanted us to take more risks that we were prepared to take and we had to pull out.

But as fate would have it, the weekend after we decided to pull out of our house, we found our home, and everything was relatively plain sailing after that. We moved into our lovely little house in July and it's been amazing. After all the stress, even now I sometimes walk around going "this is our house!". 

It's definitely home for us, but I'm excited to see what we do in 2018. We've recently painted our bathroom after paint samples sat on the walls for 3 months and it was so much fun and really feels "ours" now (we weren't fans of the bright pink bathroom!), and this week we stripped all the textured wallpaper from our living room (a bloody tiring and painful job but so worth it!) so now we have a blank canvas to make it really "ours". I cannot wait to pick paint colours and buy a sofa and choose everything ourselves. It's really exciting!

Finishing my Diploma in Professional Marketing

On Wednesday 29th November I sent in my final piece of coursework for my Diploma in Professional Marketing. It's been a bloody long 14 months!

I started my diploma in October 2016 and it's been incredibly hard to work full time and study (it's the equivalent of a degree so it's not been easy!), along with all my other commitments and hobbies and you know, running a house. Some weeks I was getting home from work after a full day, making dinner and then working for three or four hours, and pretty much every weekend the two months before I had coursework or an exam was written off so I could revise or write coursework.

In April I took my first exam since I was 22, which was absolutely terrifying. I had a piece of coursework to finish first, and then revision for a three hour exam, which was completely overwhelming, and in June I found out I'd passed! Then I handed in my Digital Strategy coursework in at the end of June and found out I'd passed in September, and now I just have to wait til February to find out if I'd passed my final module and my diploma overall!

It's been incredibly, incredibly hard work and I had so many tears over this diploma. I've sacrificed so much of my time and there have been so many weekends when Phil has been out having fun (or ring shopping it now transpires!) and I've had to be inside working, but I've worked so so so hard that now I just hope it was all worth it!

We're engaged!

If you follow me on social media (seriously, I haven't shut up on Twitter and have plastered photos all over Instagram and Facebook), you'll know that on Boxing Day, Phil proposed and I said yes! It's still all kinds of surreal and exciting and I'm still a bit in shock!

He'd had the ring for a few weeks (he'd been telling me he was working late or going to his parents' when he was sneaking off to the ring man to choose my custom-made engagement ring!) and only decided at the last minute to ask me on Boxing Day. We got up and didn't have a plan for the day so we decided to go to Lyme Park, a beautiful National Trust park near us for a walk. And there in the gardens, there was a pretty little bridge over a stream with little waterfalls and as we walked onto the bridge, to my surprise, Phil pulled out a ring and went down on one knee and asked me to marry him!
I love that only my Dad knew he was going to do it on Boxing Day, so we could spend the day going round and telling our closest friends and family. Telling my Mum we were engaged was one of the best moments of my entire life. Everyone has been absolutely thrilled for us, which for me, has been one of the best bits. It's so wonderful when other people are so excited by your great news!
We have no plans to get married soon - especially given all the work we have to do on our living room - but I'm enjoying being engaged before worrying about the wedding we have to plan!

Phil's Birthday Trip to Berlin

In March, I surprised Phil with a trip to Berlin for his Birthday to stay with my friend, Kayleigh and her boyfriend, Alex, who live out there, and tickets to see Joshua Radin, his favourite singer.

When it comes to memories of this year, that concert is one of my absolute favourites. We were on the last minute because we queued for an hour and a half to get a famous kebab from Mustafa's and we got there just as the support were finishing.

It was a weird gig, everyone seated and completely silent. Nobody was shouting or singing along. It was incredible.

And I cried. Twice.

It was honestly one of the most incredible moments of the year - in Berlin, at this gorgeous concert with beautiful music and with my favourite person. It was amazing. 

100 parkruns

Who would have thought back in 2013 that I'd have run 100 parkruns? (It will actually be 120 after this weekend!). Phil celebrated his 50th run in February and I followed with my 100th in July. It was the best day. 

We went to Heaton Park because they have milestone vests so I could wear the 100 one and all day people were congratulating me as they ran past and they announced my name at the start. I absolutely love the parkrun family and this was such a special moment for me, as when I first started running my first big goal was to complete a parkrun. And now I've done it 120 times!

I can't wait to receive my tshirt next year when they have new stock in - only 130 more to go til my next tshirt!

Starting a newsletter

I got super passionate about my blog at the end of last year/early this year, but I think with the stress of my coursework it started to feel like a completely overwhelming task. I didn't have the time or the energy to write the posts I wanted to, but I still had that drive and inspiration to write.

So in July I decided on a whim to start a newsletter, and it was one of my best decisions this year.

I absolutely love reading newsletters - they feel so much more intimate than a blog post and there's something about the unexpected excitement of finding one in your inbox. And they feel more freeing - you can write about whatever you want without the need for a structure and pretty photos like a blog post.

I've been writing mine every week now for 6 months, and I absolutely love it. I no longer want to broadcast my intimate feelings over the internet, and my newsletter feels more like chatting to old friends. I can say what I want to say without knowing it's going to be public on the internet, and that's made me feel like I can be more open and vulnerable, which is something I've missed from blogging.

I do want to blog more in 2018, but right now my newsletter feels more of a priority than my blog and I'm okay with that. I like having my blog for my monthly life overviews and reviews and lists and posts like this, but I like having my newsletter for stream of consciousness nonsense that I can't articulate enough to make into a blog post.

Two more half marathons

This year I ran half marathons four and five with the Great Manchester Run Half Marathon in May and the Manchester Half Marathon in October.

I ran the Great Manchester Run sub 2 hours which I am absolutely thrilled about (it wasn't the easiest course and the last mile I was chasing the sub-2-hour pacer and was dying at the end!), but I found myself injured in June so the Manchester Half Marathon was a real challenge. I was injured throughout pretty much all of my training so I was thrilled to finish in 2 hours 5 minutes even though I was in a lot of pain! 

I've decided not to run another marathon for a while, but I'm excited for a half marathon or two in 2018!

Starting British Military Fitness

In June, out of nowhere, Phil asked if I fancied a free British Military Fitness one weekend and I was a few weeks off from starting training for my next half marathon so I said, sure, why not?

We've now been doing British Military Fitness at least once a week for the last 6 months, and I've recently started to go at least twice a week while I'm not half marathon training and I love it. I definitely want to write a full post on this because I never thought I'd be the kind of person who would go to a group fitness class but it's absolutely brilliant and while it's tiring, I always have a good time.

It's hard bloody work and as a morning exerciser, it can be hard to drag myself out of the house on a cold, dark Wednesday evening after a long day at work to go do burpees in a dark park but it's so much fun! I'm excited for more BMF in 2018!

Lots of reading

It's not fair to say "get back into reading" because I read 32 books in 2016, but this year I made a real effort to read every day and dedicate more time to reading, especially in the morning. When we moved out of our flat I lost my 45 minute commute each way so I've had to make more of an effort to read this year, and I've read some really brilliant books. 

I've been much more excited about books this year, thanks mostly to What Page Are You On? podcast and being involved in book conversations on Twitter and now I have a to-read list that's hitting 200 and it's so exciting! I've been much better this year at putting books down I'm not loving because I know I have hundreds more books to read.

Reading makes me feel amazing and I plan to make as much of an effort to read in 2018, and also ensure I buy more books from bookshops and second hand and not just from Amazon, and that I also treat myself to at least a book or two a month (if I can't get what I want from the library - library first always!) because buying books should never feel like something that makes me feel guilty. Also how exciting is going into a book shop and picking something that sounds really great?

I'm currently on 43 books this year so I'm going to set my goal to 40 for 2018.

Started bullet journalling

Another thing I really want to blog about next year is my bullet journalling. I started in March and I've just started my second journal (it's taking me a while to move everything over so I'm currently carrying two around!). I don't do "traditional" bullet journalling - I just do what I like and what works for me, and that's what I really like about it. 

I use my bullet journal to plan my week and my month, and for lists mostly, and I really love it. I don't do layouts or use colour or anything fancy (I do everything in pencil and it's super minimal) but it's something I'm really glad I started in 2017 and know I'll keep doing in 2018.

Yoga and meditation

With all the stresses of 2017, my mental health has taken a bit of a hit and one of my goals for 2018 is to keep trying different things and practice what works for me. I started doing yoga once a week at the end of 2016 and I've practiced most weeks this year and hope to carry on.

I've also very recently started to do a daily meditation which is something I really want to explore next year to see if I can make it part of my morning routine which I hope will help me to handle future stresses a little better!

Trips to Anfield

Phil and I are both massive Liverpool fans and thanks to getting club membership for both our Birthdays in March, we've been four times this year.

Highlight was 4-2 against Hoffenheim under the lights on a cold Wednesday night that got us into the Champion's League!

Concerts and musicals, past and future

In January, we were so lucky to get tickets to see Hamilton and I am absolutely buzzing with excitement for 29th March! I honestly want to cry every time I think about it.

This year we also saw La La Land with a live orchestra and I cried, so for Christmas I got Phil tickets for us to see Jaws with a live orchestra in April which I'm super excited about.

Other highlights of the year - finally getting to see Penn and Teller and a great night watching Jamiroquai.

Two of our favourite people getting married

In May two of our best friends got married and it was the best wedding we'd ever been to! Phil lived with Simon for two years and worked with Meg, and we've spent a lot of time with them and their friends, so we knew loads of people and it was just the best day! If our wedding is half as good as theirs I'll be thrilled!

Lovely holidays!

This year we have been lucky enough to eat our way around Berlin, climb up massive hills in the Lake District and have our yearly trips to Whitby and Spain. We're so grateful to have had some lovely relaxing breaks this year!

So for us, 2017 has been a whirlwind. I had no idea at the start of the year I'd finish it in a completely different house than we'd planned and engaged, but it's been a truly amazing and wonderful year for us.

I don't expect 2018 to be quite so eventful but I'm looking forward to seeing what it brings!

Hope you've had an amazing 2017!
Charlotte x

Monday, 4 December 2017

Cookbook review: The Modern Cook's Year - Autumn

Anna Jones is hands down my favourite food writer (I've written about my love of her before in 2015). Her first two books, A Modern Way to Eat and A Modern Way to Cook are my desert-island recipe books, with her dal with sweet potatoes and one-pot kale and lemon spaghetti being two of my favourite recipes of all time. Her food is all vegetarian and mostly vegan, with an emphasis on great-tasting healthy food which doesn't preach "clean eating" (which I despise). 

While she has her moments of recipes requiring "smoked water" and "pickled peppercorns", I find most of her recipes accessible and simple to make, and over the years she has rarely let me down.

So of course, as soon as I heard about The Modern Cook's Year I had it on pre-order. Unlike her previous two books, the format of her third offering is a little different. Instead of being split into meals and meal types like her first book (breakfast, salads, mains, desserts etc.) or timings like her second book (in the time it takes to set the table all the way to over an hour), her third book is split by season, into 6 seasons in total, from the start of the year to winter.

And this book is a beast. It's about twice the size of her previous books with over 250 recipes and each season starts with a guide to what is in season during that particular time. I admit I don't usually pay as much attention as I should to seasonality when cooking, so I decided that due to the size of this book, and to pay attention to the seasons, I would review this book in several posts. So obviously, first up is autumn.

I received this book in September after coming home to a changing leaves and cooler temperatures after a week in balmy Spain, so it was the perfect time to work through the autumn chapter. I'll admit this now, I am definitely one of those autumn-obsessed people, so I was particularly excited about this chapter. 

First Impressions
Autumn is one of the bigger chapters in the book (I realised this when I started planning for my winter recipes and deciding to combine both Winter and Start of the Year as these sections are much shorter) and I really appreciated the list of in-season vegetables and fruits which was particularly useful when doing my meal planning with recipes not from this book.

I wrote a list of 13 recipes I wanted to make from this section, with 9 seeming do-able for midweek and 4 being more weekend affairs. These ranged from breakfasts to main courses to desserts.

I haven't really explored the book beyond the autumn and winter sections so far (I didn't want to get excited about some delicious courgette or aubergine dish in the summer chapter that might lure me away from my seasonality goals!), but I know already this chapter will be a favourite, thanks to root vegetables, pumpkins, and curries. However, we'll have to wait and see!

What I made
So I actually only made 6 recipes, as towards the end coursework kind of took over and there might have been a time I had Quorn nuggets and chips for tea (no regrets), and I do want to go back and make the carrot fritters seeing as I waited 3 weeks for a jar of lemons to preserve in order to make them, but I did make one recipe twice so that might count?

Autumn bowl
I love a simple bowl meal, and this gave me loads of inspiration for future bowl ideas. I absolutely loved the homemade chilli sauce and spent the week throwing it on everything - I just wish it lasted a bit longer in the fridge! Phil didn't like the big grilled spring greens but this recipe did start my obsession with spring greens which I've been enjoying shredded and fried in loads and loads of garlic, so I'd do that instead next time. An easy and simple dish but with that chilli sauce it really hit the spot.

Dal baked eggs
Dal is basically my favourite food and we eat a lot of eggs, so I knew this was going to be a winner. We had it for dinner with pitta and the aforementioned garlicky greens and it was delicious. It needed the lemon juice to cut through it, but it was easy, quick and a great recipe to have on hand as it's made entirely of ingredients I always have in.

Squash Piadinas
One of my favourite Anna Jones recipes is her sweet potato quesadillas in A Modern Way to Eat, and I've tweaked and adapted the recipe so many times it's become a real easy-dinner staple with lots of chilli and feta. These felt a bit like an Italian version of those, but just not quite as good. It was tasty and quick, but I'd reach for sweet potato quesadillas, especially as I always have sweet potatoes in, over these.

Sri Lankan Squash Dal
I've made this recipe two weeks in a row (basically unheard of in our house!) and I absolutely adore it. I impulse-bought a spice grinder a few weeks ago and this recipe gave me the perfect opportunity to try it out. It's a little bit of a pain to make the curry powder, but it makes loads so I've popped mine in a jar so I can make this any time.

I got a bit obsessed with pumpkins during the autumn as Aldi had these adorable little mixed pumpkins for 80p each, and I think I bought about 10 in total. I used them as decorations for a few weeks and then most of them ended up in this.

I really recommended getting hold of some alternative pumpkins to the usual butternut squash as I fell in love with the super sweet orange pumpkins and deep green pumpkins I tried. They are absolutely incredible roasted and I kept sneaking pieces before they could make it into the curry.

The curry itself is very easy, with the only time consuming part being chopping up and roasting the pumpkin. After that it's plain sailing.

This was definitely the best recipe I tried and I know I'm going to make it over and over again. Now pumpkins are going out of season I might try it with other roasted roots or sweet potatoes.

Sweet Potato Mash
This isn't really a full meal, but Anna gives you some ideas of how to use it. This sweet potato mash is flavoured with chilli, coriander and soy sauce and partially blended which makes it super smooth and sweet. I had it with fried halloumi, garlicky greens and roasted chickpeas and it was pretty much my absolute dream meal. 

Maple Crumble
I'm not really a dessert person but I wanted to give one of the puddings in this chapter a go. I was planning the make the malt loaf, but I didn't want to spent god-knows-how-much on two different kinds of spelt flour and malt extract, so I settled for this.

It was pretty easy to make, but the dried fruit felt a bit unnecessary (and was quite expensive to get hold of!) and made it all a bit dry. Phil didn't like the dried fruit at all and would definitely preferred me to have just made a regular crumble! I did eat some for breakfast one day which was quite nice with yoghurt, but I'm not sure I'd be in a rush to make this again.

I'm really excited for the rest of this book, as there have been some real hits here in the Sri Lankan dal and sweet potato mash. One thing I will say of Anna Jones, which has been a problem for me throughout her books, is her portions can be tiny, or she'll suggest just a small salad on the side of a bowl of vegetables, and as a volume eater, it just doesn't do it for me. I'd definitely recommend having a few sides ready to go when cooking from her books.

I do love the format of this book, though, and it's really made me think more about buying in season and checking where my veg has come from, and maybe, sometimes, having second thoughts about aubergine in November and maybe swapping it for sweet potato. I'm looking forward to understanding more about seasonality as the book goes on.

I've already started planning some recipes to make from the winter and start-of-the-year chapters so keep your eye out for those in the new year!

Charlotte x

Sunday, 3 December 2017

November Life Lately

It's December! My favourite month of the year, and the month that I am FINALLY FREE OF COURSEWORK! After 14 months, three modules, three pieces of coursework and an exam, I completed my final assignment in my Diploma in Professional marketing on Wednesday. It's been incredibly hard sacrificing nearly every weekend and endless evenings for over a year to studying, reading and working on coursework, and I am so exhausted and relieved and thrilled it's over! I'd wanted to do the course for years (it's the equivalent of a degree so I'll basically have two degrees once I get my results!) and it's been incredibly interesting learning the theory of what I do at work every day, and I really feel like it's helped my at work, but I am definitely glad it's over! Now, just to wait til February for my results!

Because of this, however, November has been far from an exciting month! I have spent every single Sunday, nearly every Saturday, and most Monday and Thursday evenings doing coursework this month, and that's really been my focus. I've missed runs, British Military Fitness classes and social engagements to stay inside hunched over my laptop so I'm looking forward to getting back into my routine this month!

However, I have done a few nice things this month, so here's what I've been up to which hasn't been related to "Measurement and Metrics":

What I've been doing
I've been trying out Forest app after reading about it on Rosie's blog. The concept is simple but it totally works. You set how long you want to not use your phone for, say 20 minutes, and then it grows a tree while you're not on your phone. If you use your phone, the tree dies! I'm finding it really great because I refuse to kill a tree! I put my phone on aeroplane mode, set my tree to grow and get on with reading or watching a film. It was also brilliant for coursework! I already use the Pomodoro technique and I've sworn by it during coursework, and this has been a really helpful addition.
At the start of the month Phil and I went out for dinner to go see Jamiroquai at the Manchester Arena. I didn't really know what to expect when Phil booked the tickets, but they were always on his list of "bands to see no matter the price when they go on tour" and we'd booked these tickets back in February. It turns out you forget how many amazing songs Jamiroquai have! It was an absolutely brilliant concert and they were amazing. I'd definitely go see them again!
We've also been at the football this month where I ate chips and curry sauce and we beat Southampton 3-0 and it was excellent.
And finally, November marked mine and Phil's four year (!) anniversary. We celebrated in true Charlotte and Phil style by going to British Military Fitness and doing burpees in the dark in a freezing cold park, but then a few days later we went out for a fancy-pants meal in town. We went to El Gato Negro Tapas which I've been eyeing up as an anniversary meal option since about July as it looked gorgeous and just a little bit more fancy than somewhere we would go for a standard meal out, and it did not disappoint! We had the most amazing food - sweet potato with mango, tomatoe-y chickpeas, king prawns, tiny fish cakes, I can't even remember what else, but it was all stunning. I would definitely recommend it as somewhere for a kinda-fancy meal in Manchester as the food is exceptional. We then had a drink after in one of our favourite places - The Fitzgerald.

What I've been reading
Despite studying most of the month, I always make time to read, and this month I read a novella, a graphic novel, and two novels (with one being 900 pages!).
I've gone on and on enough times about What Page are You On? podcast, and I basically read every book they talked about in their Halloween edition. Such Small Hands was a gorgeously creepy novella, which I followed up with the gorgeous Thornhill which was the most stunningly beautiful gothic graphic novel.

Next up was The Upstairs Room which I was super into until right near the end, and finally, one of the best books I've read in a long, long, long time, I Know This Much is True.  This book completely took me by surprise and absolutely broke my heart. It is absolutely stunning and at 900 pages I was so glad I had so much to read. I was devastated when it was over and I know it's going to stay with me for a long, long time. 

I'm going to do a bit of a write up at the end of the month on my favourite books, films etc. of the year which I'm really excited about!

What I've been watching
This month we finished Mindhunter which was absolutely stunning and wonderful and perfect. I was devastated when it was over and can't wait for a second series. I am the biggest Fincher fan girl (plus, Jonathan Groff!!) and this totally hit the spot for me.

We have also been watching The Sinner which we're kind of, eh. It's okay. We are determined to not leave another series unfinished but we're not super into it, but with only a few episodes left we're probably going to stick it out but it's been a little bit disappointing!

Finally, I mentioned last month I read Let the Right One In and this month we watched the Swedish film adaptation. Wow, this was such a beautiful and gorgeous film and a brilliant adaptation of a book I loved.

What I've bought
Not much this week as I had a bit of a Black Friday disaster. I bought a dress that was too big, a jumper that was too small and three times now Topshop have sent me the wrong coat! The only good thing was Phil happened to be in town when I discovered the jumper I ordered was too small and managed to get me another size. So Phil and I are the proud owners of almost-matching fairisle jumpers.

What I've been eating
A few winners this month. Lebanese moussaka from Slow Burning Passion is one of my favourite things ever and I'm so glad I rediscovered it this month. 
I also gave mythical-sounding slow cooker mac and cheese a go from Miss South's Slow Cooked which we were a bit dubious about, but it was EXCELLENT.
I finally used my last two decorative pumpkins this month to make some amazing completely-made-up pumpkin soup and another completely made up vegan breakfast burrito which was bloody amazing and I regret making it on Instagram stories because I can't remember what I put in it.

I've also been cooking LOADS from the Autumn section of Anna Jones' A Modern Cook's Year and my review of the autumn section will be up over the next week or so!

What I've been reading online
This kind of depressing (or inspiring?!) cartoon that Amy shared
The Guardian - What's your biggest regret?
Rosie has had a really challenging year, so I loved her post On Contentment
The Guardian - My Week Eating Nothing but Recipe Box Meals
Swoonworthy - Let's talk Infertility
Kate Leaver - Feminist reading really can beat anorexia. It worked for me.
New Statesman - Ghost Watch: The Halloween Hoax that Changed the Language of Television
Mara Wilson - A 13 Year Old Girl is Not "All Grown Up"
The Pool - The Piercing that Made me Feel Powerful
Metro - Male Incompetence is a Subtle Form of Misogyny
Buzfeed - 100 Tweets that Made British People Piss Themselves in 2017

I'm looking forward to getting back into blogging this month. I've got a recipe book review planned, a look back on my year and a bit of a favourites of the year to do. Plus it's my blog's 8 year anniversary at the end of the month!

Hope you're having an awesome December so far!

Charlotte x