Tuesday, 23 October 2018

The Pros and Cons of a Backpack

After years of being perpetually wonky from carrying a full bottle of water, purse full of copppers, notepad and at least a couple of books around with me at all times, I decided a few weeks ago to make the switch to a backpack for work.

I'd dipped my toe in the backpack water over the summer when I bought a light backpack for holiday and I absolutely loved having both hands free and being able to go on long walks without feeling lopsided, and realised the perpetual fear of being robbed was mostly unfounded.

But after seeing a few stylish backpacks around the office, and accepting that my big black bag was 90% receipts and tissues, I decided to take the plunge.

I asked my Twitter pals for recommendations and got a list together of the best options (people love their backpacks!) and had a look at a few different options.

In the end I went for this backpack from Amazon as it seemed a similar style to the Anello backpack which was recommended to me, but at only £17 (ooh it's £20 now!) it was a good opportunity to try out if I liked it without a huge investment. I went for classic black, and I liked that it had wire inside to keep it open (more on this later).

It arrived the next day and instantly I loved it. For less than £20, it looks really smart and it's huge, and the straps are really comfy.

But it's definitely been a learning curve but here's what I've found so far:


  • I love having both hands free
  • I can fit everything in it, including my lunchbag, so I don't have to carry any other bags
  • It's good to have all the weight of my bag on my back, and definitely makes me feel less one-sided!
  • It looks cool!
  • It has a cool little side pocket for your water bottle (two, in fact!) so you don't end up with a water bottle leak and everything inside getting soaked (this has happened to me SO many times!)
  • There's plenty of space inside and I can get my work laptop in it
  • I like that it has a top handle too for carying
Mine has a zip on the back (the side facing your back) so you can get things out without taking it off (I haven't tried it yet) and also wire inside to keep it open which is quite cool.


  • Taking it on and off takes some practice!

  • Having to take it off to get anything in or out. I know this is an obvious one, but so far it's definitely testing my patience! I have to lock the front door, then take it off again to put my keys away, get my bus pass out, then when I get to the bus stop I have to take it off again to get my book out! Otherwise I'm just carrying everything to the bus stop which doesn't seem to be the point!

  • I find myself switching bags at the evenings and weekends. Normally my big black (scruffy, falling apart) "work" bag is my everything bag, and I only change into a different bag if I'm going somewhere specific. Now I find myself switching to a smaller bag for going to the cinema or to someone's house or for dinner, which I wouldn't normally do. A backpack just feels too big and not smart enough to carrying around as a handbag, to me at least. This is good because it means I am using all my other bags, but I know I'm going to leave something important in the wrong bag at some point!

  • It has to be completely zipped up at all times. This is where the wire gets annoying. It's useful that it holds the bag open, but it means you can't just nip in and grab something - you have to open the whole back. This is partly just a design of my bag, but having to have everything zipped up is applicable to all backpacks.

  • Even though I use it for work, I don't feel comfortable bringing it to really important work stuff

  • I have to make sure I'm aware of the space behind me!
I know that seems like a lot of cons, but I knew a lot of people who love their backpacks and I think it would have been useful to know the downsides of using a backpack too! I really love mine and will definitely carry on using it for work, but I am really glad I didn't spend too much money just yet!

Overall, I love having everything on my back with both hands free, and I'm really happy I found a style that I think still looks smart, but it's definitely a learning curve when you're used to just dipping into your bag to grab something!

I hope this is useful if you're thinking of switching to a backpack!

Charlotte x

Tuesday, 2 October 2018

September Life Lately

Everytime I start writing one of these I think, flipping heck this month has gone fast! But then when I start looking back on everything I've done over the month I realise how long a month is!
Here's what went on in September:

What I've been doing
Wedding planning seems to come in bursts - we have a few weeks of doing very little, then suddenly loads comes at once! This month we got absolutely loads ticked off!

At the start of September we had a lovely day in Macclesfield with Phil's Mum and sister helping Phil pick his wedding suit. It's funny because I watched Phil go through the exact same thing I went through picking my dress! Initially he was really excited and keen to try anything on, then he got tired, and then he got frustrated and then he got sick of everyone making him try things on! But the trip was a success and he chose his wedding suit (eeeee!) and a few weeks later we went back and chose the combination for the groomsmen and Dads. This was a big one ticked off, especially as I wanted Phil to choose his suit before I started looking at bridesmaids dresses so I can start looking at getting this big one crossed off soon!

On the same day we also went to a bakery which we've chosen to make our wedding cake! Yes, we did get to taste the cake!

This month I also booked the makeup for myself and my bridesmaids and we also booked our wedding transport. Oh and we also went to the travel agent to discuss our honeymoon! We're pretty much sorted with what we want to do and where we're going for our "megamoon" (and have a few ideas for our mini moon) - we are SO excited!
This month also brought my 150th parkrun! I've been so excited to hit a new parkrun milestone after running my 100th last year. We always run our milestones at Heaton Park as they have bibs you can wear for your milestone runs, and everyone was saying congratulations to me as I ran along! I've already checked there's a 200 one I can wear next year.

I also got a parkrun PB at Heaton Park which led the way for three parkrun PBs this month! I had no idea I'd got a PB until I got my text as I'd misremembered my PB time, and then I looked at my Wilmslow parkrun personal best and thought hmmm, I could beat that. So the following week I ran a 40 second PB at Wilmslow parkrun. But I knew I could do a little bit more, so the last two weeks I've asked Phil to help pace me to get another PB. Two weeks ago Phil's watch wouldn't charge and we missed a PB by a few seconds, but this week, thanks to Phil's amazing pacing, I scraped a PB by 9 seconds! 
In other running news, September always means Stockport 10K. This was the first race I ever ran in 2013, and I've ran it almost every year since. It's a tough, undulating course (seriously, my second mile was 2 minutes slower than my first as the whole mile was a steep uphill climb!), but I finished feeling good and I'm really excited now for my next half marathon in less than 2 weeks.

This month was also sponsored by board game nights and street food markets (we did two of each this month!).

Where I've been

As a late Father's Day present, I took my Dad (and my Mum, and Phil) to Dino Falls adventure golf. It was crazy busy but a gorgeous day so we didn't mind standing around in the sunshine waiting at each hole. It was so much fun (the dinosaurs ACTUALLY MOVE!) and really well done (even though I lost!)
Another highlight this month was going to see Deborah Frances-White at Manchester Central Library (one of my favourite places!) launching her book The Guilty Feminist, based on the brilliant podcast. She read from her book, did some stand up and did a Q&A, and it was so amazing and empowering to be around so many badass feminists! She also took the time to sign our copies of her book. I've been a fan of hers and the podcast for a few years and went to a podcast recording last year, so it was incredible to meet her!

What I've been reading

I think September might have been my absolute best month for reading, not only in terms of the number of books I read, but the quality. I am sure many of these books are going to make it into my favourite books of the year.

I read 10 books in September (and I'm half way through two more!), bringing me to 67 so far this year. Here's what I read this month:

Everything I Know About Love
The Guilty Feminist
Normal People
An Unremarkable Body
Skin deep
Us Against You
The Tidal Zone
The Necessary Marriage

Everything I Know About Love is one of my books of the year. I read it in a weekend and it was beautiful, nostalgic, funny, sad and unputdownable. I cried when it was over.

Similarly, I read Deborah Frances-White's The Guilty Feminist in a weekend. A few of the stories I knew from the podcast, and some parts she read at her signing, but this is the book I want to give to every woman I know.

In fiction, Sally Rooney's Normal People was everything I wanted it to be. I loved Conversations with Friends, but I haven't stopped thinking about Normal People since I finished it three weeks ago. It's one of my favourite fiction books of the year so far.

Honorable mentions to An Unremarkable Body and The Tidal Zone, which I really enjoyed. Transcription was brilliant but nowhere near close to my beloved Behind the Scenes at the Museum or A God in Ruins, and while it was great to be back with the characters and town of Beartown in Us Against You, I found the sequel a little over-the-top, schmaltzy and lacking the quiet subtlety of the first book (though I will, of course, keep reading any future books in the series).

What I've bought
As a owner-but-rare-user of not one, not two, but three Ottolenghi books (Plenty, Plenty More and Jerusalem), I definitely fall into that category of people who love the idea of Ottolenghi's recipes but most of the time are far too intimidated! So of course I was intrigued by Simple. I've made a few recipes so far that have been good, but I haven't decided yet if I'm going to do a review, so watch this space.

This month I also nipped into Asda for a loaf of bread and came out with a stripey jumper. No regrets. It was a tenner.

What I've been watching

As a surprise-that-I-accidentally-figured-out, Phil took me to see Gravity in 4DX this month. I'd only seen Gravity on a teeny TV screen so it was more to get the wow factor of it on a cinema screen. The 4DX was fun too!

At home we watched The Master (not enough Scientology), The Apartment (hey who knew old films were really great? See: All About Eve) and Halloween (as part of our only-watch-horror-films-in-October-but-let's-start-on-30th-September).

And we've also started Gavin and Stacey - which I've never properly watched all the way through, and The Good Place, which I am loving so far!

What I've been loving

Phil's Auntie Jane (HI AUNTIE JANE!) is over from Australia and we both love Ottolenghi, books, amazing food and podcasts, and she told me that I had to listen to The Teacher's Pet podcast and tell her what I think. Well, I am 6 episodes in and I haven't listened to anything else since because I am completely hooked. If you are into true crime podcasts, this is your new obsession.
Guys, it's autumn and I am basic. Sorry not sorry. I went to Aldi the other day and squealed when I saw they had all the squashes out. I then proceeded to run towards our trolley with my arms full of pumpkins, much to the amusement of the shop assistant.

Speaking of autumn, I implore you to make this mac and cheese. You can thank me later.

What I've been reading online

The Pool - Being a woman means being good-greedy or bad greedy

Cooking on a Bootstrap - Stop throwing away your food

The Pool - The sudden concern about Tess Holliday's health is a big fat lie

The Pool - It's okay to sweat the small stuff - sensitivity is a super power

NY Times - Never cook at home

Medium - Bubble baths are for washing, not for fixing mental illness

Cooking on a Bootstrap - Jack Monroe's student essentials for under a fiver

The Pool - How to hold onto that holiday feeling

Wit and Delight - Stop being intimidated by these stupid things

The Times - Dolly Alderton on why she's done with dating

The Cut - Why it's so hard to stop reading books you don't like

Biscuits and Blisters - 25 things I unapologetically don't care about now I'm 25

Real Clear Politics - Tracey Ullman hosts woke support group

Little Winter - 29 things I've learned in 29 years

The Guardian - The Guardian review of lengthening books

Highline - Everything you know about obesity is wrong

Buzzfeed - 21 tweets you'll enjoy if you're frankly exhausted by men

What I'm excited for

October brings our pre-wedding photos which I'm really excited about, and my next half marathon (desperately hoping a few days of being ill and one missed long run won't make a difference to my fitness!). The 13th will be 6 months til our wedding so I'm hoping to get a few more things ticked off, and I reckon we'll book our honeymoon!

We've got a few days of annual leave booked in for October and we've got a few nice things in the diary with friends, so I think it's going to be a great month!

Charlotte x

Saturday, 8 September 2018

August Life Lately

Happy September! August was a great month - after a busy July a quiet August was needed, so lots of books read, time with friends and excellent reads this month!

What I've been doing
In not-very-Phil-and-I fashion, we impulsively decided to paint our front room this month! Okay, I say impulsively. We realised we had a quiet weekend on a Wednesday, one of us mentioned the idea of doing something around the house that didn't cost much, our living room is basically finished in terms of decorating and just needs new furniture, so our thoughts went to our front room. We are very lucky to have two good-sized reception rooms in our house, and our front room is more of our "winter" room, as it's a bit more closed-off and cosy. It desperately needs a new carpet, which is next on our list, so this seemed like a good time to decorate! We started out talking about a dark feature wall, but as we already have a mustard yellow feature was in our living room we didn't want another, so after some debate we decided to go the whole hog and paint the full room the most gorgeous dark blue!
It's so cosy and lovely, we absolutely love it, and I'm so proud we did it all ourselves! I've noticed that everyone over 50 hates it and everyone under 50 loves it so I'm interesting in finding out where the tipping point is haha!

Our Bank Holiday weekend was excellent - how great are Bank Holidays? I read two books, slept in one day til 8.30am (unheard of for me who wakes up before 6.30am even on weekends), watched most of a TV series, had a day where I didn't leave the house except to go for a run, went out with friends twice, did loads of wedding stuff, watched lots of football on TV, went to a football match, hung out with my parents, made a recipe I'd wanted to make for years (the Caramelised Garlic Tart from Ottolenghi's Plenty was worth the wait, and the peeling of all the garlic - it was excellent!)
I also went along to my first GoodGym session this month - the concept is really cool. It's basically a running club, but you run to somewhere to do work in the community and then run back! We went to a local community centre and helped out clearing out the garden and cleaning windows. It was such a great opportunity to do something nice locally! I am definitely much more of a solo runner, but it's made me think about what I can do to help out more in my local area.

Where I've been

This month I have eaten vegan poutine at Grub, watched Bolton Wanders play Sheffield United (not successfully, but I had a great time nevertheless!) and realised that Lyme Park is a lovely place to get engaged, but not to do parkrun (it's one of the hardest in the UK and now I know why!)

What I've bought
I got a bit obsessed with Sugarhill Boutique this month, and finally caved and bought the Llama jumper and a stripey top I've been pining after for months, waiting for them to go in the sale. And I also bought a cute top with ice lollies on for my Friday-Sunday summer uniform of jeans-and-a-printed-top.
I obviously put my new yellow dress with (some of...) my other VERY DIFFERENT yellow dresses

I also bought yet another yellow floral dress. No shame! I couldn't resist and plus, it was from Oasis which is my favourite shop, and it's perfect.

Finally, I got excited for the new season and couldn't not buy this ridiculous sequin cosy jumper. I'm going to be wearing the hell out of it in December! (It's still available!)

What I've been reading
Ooh I've read some great books this month! Here are all the books I read in August:

The Myth of the Nice Girl
The Nix
The Unseen World
The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox
The Hand the First Held Mine
From a low and quiet sea
Bitter Orange

I loved The Myth of the Nice Girl as a non-fiction read about women in business and leadership which I read over a weekend, and I adored The Nix and both the Maggie O Farrell books. I also really enjoyed Bitter Orange and From a Low and Quiet Sea. It was an excellent reading month!

What I've been watching
Phil is a huge Tom Cruise fan and has spent the last 4 and a half years trying to get me on board (mostly successfully) and we both absolutely love the Mission:Impossible films, so we were absolutely buzzing to see Fallout!

We actually ended up seeing it twice this month, once just after it came out, and then again in IMAX. I think it's absolutely brilliant and by far my favourite in the series (and that's saying something!).

Our local cinema recently got a 4DX screen where your seat moves, they spray water at you, pump in noises and blast you with air, so we decided to test it out by going to see The Meg. The film is utterly ridiculous but it's the perfect film for 4DX - it's so fun to be moved around in sync with the film's action. I probably wouldn't recommend The Meg but I'd definitely recommend 4DX!

At home we finally finished The Handmaid's Tale, and to fill the dark-female-led-drama hole in our lives we started Sharp Objects. I read the book years ago but cannot remember anything about it at all, which is great because we have two episodes left and I'm as uncertain about where the ending is going to go as Phil is!

We've also watched Boogie Nights and Predator for two of our Sunday night films, and two Netflix documentaries, Casting JonBenet which I found completely fascinating and really unusually done, and Jim & Andy.

What I've been reading online

Lots this month! As I mentioned last month, I've been scrolling less through my social media feeds (I haven't had notifications on for months, and I don't have any of the apps on my phone) and if I do read my phone, I try to read articles instead. Hence this very long list of great reads this month.

From Yes and Yes:
Why you need to literally schedule fun into your life
How to use your failures to plan for success
A better way to think about busy
Why we can't break bad habits
Why you should make an "every damn day list"
You're totally allowed to buy that latte (and other shocking money insights)
I'm wasting my likeable on the wrong people. Are you?
How to stay smart

From The Pool:
Hollywood isn't doing as well with diversity as it thinks
Having a wedding has become a live Instagram performance
The joy of a hobby - not a side hussle
The rise of "verbal Instagram" and why we need to turn off the filters in real life
Self-care can involved margheritas and babybel cheese
Is coconut oil poison or an acceptable way to fry your food?

Gizmodo - When a stranger decides to ruin your life
NPR - Black mothers keep dying after giving birth edit: This is fascinating and shocking and really needs a listen
Medium - How deliberate elimination can change your life
The Guardian - It's all love and fun that drive innovations like parkrun
Medium - Laziness does not exist
As the Sparrow Flies - What to do when the travel has to stop
The Curious Reader - Sabrina and the rise of the graphic novel
The New Yorker - How to spend your privilege
The Wedding Shoppe - 10 things your wedding guests don't care about
The Millions - A brief hate affair
Eater - Ruby Tandoh on sugar in our culture
The Paris Review - Seven books I'll never read

I'm having a lovely September so far and I'm hoping that continues for the rest of the month!

Charlotte x

Monday, 27 August 2018

Cookbook review: The Green Roasting Tin

Last year, Rukmini Iyer's The Roasting Tin was hands down my favourite recipe book of the year (maybe even ever). I stumbled over it, as I often do, during a book-buying ban, when my friend Sarah won it in a competition, and once she started sharing photos I was obsessed.

As much as I love to cook, I don't always love spending inordinate amounts of time in the kitchen. As a vegetarian, I spent a LOT of time chopping, and after a long day at work, I don't always want to spend an hour standing in the kitchen stirring and mixing and checking recipes.

One of the things I loved most about the original Roasting Tin was the "shove it in the oven and forget about it" mentality. It completely frees up my evening - I can get a load of washing in, read my book, or do anything that doesn't involve having to stand over a stove!

I've recommended the Roasting Tin to so many people I've lost count. I've bought it for my Mum, two of my colleagues have it, my cousin has it, and I feel like I've shoved it onto most of my Instagram followers!

There are loads of vegetarian recipes in The Roasting Tin (you can read my review of it here) but I was absolutely buzzing when I found out there was going to be an entirely vegetarian sequel.

Even more amazingly, Rukmini herself got in touch with me to ask if she could send me an advanced copy thanks to all my support for The Roasting Tin! I was absolutely thrilled! (edit: this is not a sponsored review at all - the book was a gift and I was under no obligation to write a review for my blog).

I've waited absolutely months to finally get hold of this book, and, spoiler alert, it was completely worth the wait! What's also been great has been the community around this book - my friend, Alice, started the hashtag #tinlads when she got her copy, and I've really enjoyed keeping in the loop with what everyone else using the hashtag was making too!

So, what was it like?

First impressions

This was everything I wanted it to be and more.

First off, I love the way the book is laid out. The first half of the book is all vegan recipes, divided by the time the recipe takes to cook - quick, medium and slow, and then the second half is vegetarian recipes split the same way, so it's really easy to get inspiration depending on what it is you're looking to make and how much time you have.

Secondly, I really feel as though Rukmini has addressed a few issues I had with the first book, with the main one being what to serve each dish with. While some dishes in the original The Roasting Tin felt like complete meals, there were times when I pulled something out of the oven and realised it wasn't really enough on its own. In this book, she has an opening section where she discusses side dishes, and any recipes that requires a side mentions it in the intro.

Finally, I love the mix of dishes here - with everything from classic roasted vegetable dishes reminiscent of the first book, to grains, salads, curries and even stews.

Also, the super-helpful Infographics at the start of each chapter in the original book are back in the middle of this book too.

On to the recipes...

Escalivada: Slow roasted peppers, aubergines and tomatoes with basil and almond dressing
The day after The Green Roasting Tin came out was my Mum's Birthday, and, as I knew she loved the first book, I preordered green version for her. 

We were off to Spain a few weeks later, and while I'd taken a few photos of recipes I wanted to make while we were there, my Mum packed her copy of the book!

This recipe was described as reminiscent of a Spanish cafe, so I knew it would be perfect to make while actually in Spain!

It felt a bit of a risky first - my friend Alice had posted that the recipe hadn't worked for her. Rukmini replied to her tweet and it turned out that Alice's dish was a bit crowded, and that the recipe works better in a metal tin, so I followed the advice and used a huge roasting tin for this one.

It's a funny one that feels like it won't work - you pretty much just chuck everything into a tin unchopped - whole aubergine, whole peppers, whole tomatoes (perfect if you're a tired vegetarian who is sick of spending her life chopped) - and let the oven do its magic.

The result is absolutely wonderful. So tasty, so unbelievably easy, so fresh-tasting. It made so much we ate it for a few days, and it produces a lot of liquid so it's beautiful with just bread. I particularly loved the roasted garlic.

My oven can be a bit temperamental so the real test will be seeing if this goes as cripsy and collapsed at home, but it's one I'm definitely keen to make again.

Crispy gnocchi with roasted peppers, chilli, rosemary and ricotto

This isn't the kind of recipe I'd normally be interested in (I've never made the roasted gnocchi from the first Roasting Tin book), but a lot of people were posting about this on Twitter and Instagram with the #tinlads hashtag, so it piqued my interest enough to want to give it a go.

It's exactly what I want from the Roasting Tin - super easy, minimal prep, chuck everything in a tin and let your oven do the hard work. 

I knew Phil in particular would love this but I enjoyed it a lot more than I expected - I've already made it again since, and I made it when we had people over for dinner - the ultimate praise!

All-in-one jewelled pearl barley with squash, pomegranate, watercress and feta
I had some goat's cheese to use up so I looked up recipes with feta so I could use it as a substitute, and this looked right up my street.

I always feel a bit nervous when making a recipe where the grain cooks in the oven and this was one of those, but I needn't have worried. This was lovely and Phil in particular enjoyed it.

I made a few substitutions - the aforementioned feta, a bag of spinach, watercress and rocket, and I forgot the garlic and had to fry it off and add it at the end. I only had quite a small squash so I wasn't sure it would make enough but it made loads - enough for dinners for us both and two lunches. 

I did try to use the seeds from my squash but they didn't really roast so next time I'd just use some from a packet!

All-in-one sweet potato Thai curry
I've written in my notes "flipping heck this is absolutely delicious" and this is one of my favourite recipes from the book.

It was another where I wasn't convinced it was going to work, and of course, I was wrong. I really feel as though this book is really well tested which I really appreciate.

I couldn't believe how complex this tastes with so few ingredients!

This made a LOT (which was great, because I got to eat it for lunch for a few days). I definitely want to make it again, and next time I'd like to try it with different veg.

Squash and spinach curry
Another easy dinner after initial prep and really adaptable - I can definitely see myself making this again.

It's quite a mild curry but really tasty.

All-in-one sticky rice with broccoli, squash, chilli and ginger
This is another dish that I would normally overlook but something about it intrigued me. 

I made this in a week where I'd made the squash curry and the pearl barley so I was getting a bit sick of cutting up butternut squashes by this point! 

This takes about an hour so we had to have some emergency cheese and crackers! (This happened a few times...)

Again, I was nervous about the rice in the oven but it was perfect. 

Oven baked shakshuka; roasted peppers, tomatoes and chilli with eggs
Shakshuka is my favourite weekend brunch and it's taken me a long time to find my perfect method (my current favourite is this one from the Guardian), so I had to try a roasted version.

This wasn't loads quicker than my usual method - 45 minutes in the oven vs. my usual 15 minutes hands-on time followed a 30 minute simmer.

It was tasty, but more watery than my usual shakshuka, and I prefer the more concentrated flavour of my stovetop method, but while I won't make it again, it was by no means a fail.

Miso aubergine with tofu, sesame and chilli
This feels like a combo of an Anna Jones miso aubergine recipe I've made and an Aine Carlin miso tofu recipe I also like, and as a lover of miso, aubergine and tofu I was obviously keen.

I was home alone so I halved this recipe, but I could easily have eaten it all!

I flipped the aubergine and tofu halfway through as they were starting to catch, but this might be to do with using slightly less having halved the recipe. I couldn't get spring greens (they're one of my favourite things but my Aldi hasn't had them for a while!) so I used kale, and I added sriracha which was a nice addition and cut through the lime juice which was a little overpowering.

I liked this, but I'm not sure I'd make it again.

Groundnut stew: sweet potato in a peanut and tomato sauce
The combination of sweet potatoes, tomatoes and peanut butter reminded me of an old slow cooker recipe I used to love years ago (I feel like I might have been on my year abroad in 2010 so this was a while ago!) so I went to the liberty of adding kidney beans and spinach into the sauce. This bulked it out a bit so we could just have it with bread.

Phil isn't a massive fan of peanut butter normally so I wasn't sure how he'd feel about it but he really enjoyed it. Definitely one to make again!!

Gado gado: Indonesian salad with warm potatoes, green beans, beansprouts and peanut-coconut dressing
I've written in my notes "I mean it's roast potatoes and peanut sauce, of course I loved it!". Seriously though, the peanut sauce is absolutely incredible, this is absolutely delicious and I even loved the beansprouts, which I don't normally like. One of my favourite recipes in the book.

Three bean chilli with avocado salsa
I feel like I say this in every review of every book - I make and eat a lot of chilli. Chilli is one of my favourite foods, and I reckon we eat it at least once a fortnight and I have a few favourites (the Bosh! one I made last month is up there at the moment with the butternut squash chilli from Love Real Food and the super-thick chilli from the Minimalist Baker book), but I was obviously intrigued by a hands-off, oven-only version.

This wasn't my absolute favourite chilli, but I liked how hands off it was so I wouldn't rule out making it again, but it was easy and tasty, and I enjoyed the accompanying avocado salsa which deliciously refreshing.

Sweet potato and parsnip tagine with dates and coriander
My first fail! I'm not sure what went wrong here - perhaps the foil wasn't tight enough on the lid of my dish, or I cut the pieces too large, or I used the wrong kind of dish? I took it out of the oven after an hour to rock-hard veg and not being sure whether to put it back in the oven or throw it in the microwave, I decided to give it a quick go in my Instant Pot. I also added chickpeas because I feel like a tagine always needs chickpeas!

I'm a huge fan of tagine which is another thing I make frequently, so once I got this right it was delicious, but I'm still not sure what I did wrong!

Spicy Harissa sprouts and broccoli with halloumi and spinach
You know what, I don't think I actually like sprouts. I think I really, really, really want to like sprouts, but actually, unless it's Christmas and they're smothered in gravy and cranberry sauce and tradition, I don't think I like them.

So the halloumi was lovely and the harissa was lovely and the broccoli was lovely but I need accept that I don't like sprouts!

Herb-stuffed roasted onions with cherry tomatoes and cannellini beans
This was really unusual! I don't really know how to describe it - Phil said it seemed like a series of side dishes. But it wasn't a bad thing at all!

The baked buttery onions were gorgeous and I loved the lemony beans and feta - we ate all four portions between us with crusty bread.

All-in-one daal with roasted shallots, coriander, pomegranate and cashews
Dal is my favourite food. I love a delicious bowl of spicy, creamy mush. It's the best. I've almost never met a dal I didn't like, but as with chilli, I have my favourites (it's another Aine Carlin recipe, and is weirdly, one of the simplest dal recipes I have. Some things don't need to be complicated!).

I was very nervous about this going dry - especially as I used green lentils instead of brown because that was what I had in, and because I went out to my physio appointment while this was in the oven so I couldn't check on it. It was tense peeling back the foil!
This is probably the recipe with the longest cooking time of anything I made - about 1 hour 20 in total, not included peeling those pesky shallots! But I think it was my absolute favourite.

I will definitely be making this again (with regular onions!) and I didn't think the pomegranate seeds were totally necessary, but as someone who eats dal as often as I do, I did not expect to find a few favourite!


Everything I wanted it to be and more. It was hard to stop cooking from it so I could finally write a review! I think this is the most I've made from one book to review!

I still have a few things I want to make - I plan to make the ratatouille next time Phil is out as he's not a big fan, and there are so many things I know I'm going to make again and again.

My favourite recipes were the dal, gado gado, groundnut stew and sweet potato Thai curry, but there were only a couple of recipes I wouldn't make again.

I didn't think the first book could be topped, but she's done it. A huge triumph for veggies and non-veggies alike!

Charlotte x

Saturday, 4 August 2018

July Life Lately

July was a month where it felt like I spent the whole time being away, or preparing to go away, so I feel as though I was super busy without actually doing much!

We started the month in Centre Parcs (which I talked about last month), spent 8 days in Spain, and then two days after I got back from Spain I was down in London for 4 days, so it feels like I haven't actually been home much at all!

Here's what I did get up to this month...

What I've been doing

This month, 5 months earlier than billed, I hit my Goodreads reading goal for the year! I set my goal as 4o books even though I know over the last couple of years I've been reading about twice as voraciously! I didn't want to make reading a chore, and give myself some big lofty goal which would make me pick up novellas instead of big, lofty books I really wanted to read. I'm really proud of achieving my goal already, and I'm currently up to 51 books. I reckon I'll read somewhere between 70 and 80 books this year.
I hung out with some doggies.

We've started to tentatively think about redoing our living room. We had it redecorated a few months ago but we've not really been in a rush to buy new furniture (I nearly said "to get it finished" but I don't think a room in a house is ever "finished"!). We've got a few ideas of what we want, after a few trips to Next and IKEA and Dunelm, and we've made a start putting pictures back up after we took them all down after we decorated, and we got a lovely floating shelf from IKEA which I'm totally in love with. We're taking it very one-step-at-a-time so we don't rush into any decisions but I'm excited for make progress.
For my Birthday last year I got a little set for growing your own herbs on the window ledge and a few months ago I finally got it all set up. I'm not green fingered by any stretch of the imagination (RIP the tomatoes I tried to grow), but I love my little herb garden and I was really worried they would all die while we were on holiday. So before we went away I decided to at least use them if there was going to be a chance I'd be coming home to dead mulch, and it was really exciting to use my own basil, dill, coriander and mint! And thanks to a little plastic mini greenhouse find in the Aldi middle aisle, they survived my time away!

Where I've been
Gig tickets these days are so expensive that Phil and I have a game called "who would you pay £60 to go and see?", and honestly, the list is pretty short. But when tickets went on sale for The Killers, even though they were £65 (we honestly did dither over the extra £5!) we had to go for it. I last saw The Killers at Leeds festival in 2008 so I knew it was going to be a good show. We didn't get off to a good start - it took us 3 hours to get the 22 miles to Bolton, and we thought we were going to miss the gig! We ended up arriving only 5 minutes before they came on stage! They were absolutely incredible - one of the best gigs I've been to in ages!
This month I also headed off to Spain with Phil and my parents for 8 days. I absolutely love getting away, turning off my phone for a week, completely disconnected from the world and focusing on reading, eating and nice walks by the sea. 

I also had a busy trip to London this month. I was down for work doing some courses in the week and Phil was heading down for at weekend for his friend's Birthday so we made a nice little weekend of it. We did some tourism at Burgess pakrun - eventually! Turned out after waiting 20 minutes for a bus that all the buses were cancelled, ran to another bus stop and waited 10 minutes for the bus, got on board and found out we couldn't both board with one contactless card and ended up having to run the 1.5 miles to the park! We arrived 5 minutes late, and exhausted, so we didn't get our best parkrun times, but it was an absolutely beautiful park so I'm glad we made it! We spent the afternoon exploring Walthamstow Wetlands which was gorgeous, went to a gin bar in an industrial park and had a great time catching up with Phil's friends from uni.

What I've bought
Whatever the opposite of an impulse buyer is, that's me. This month I finally bought a top and a jumper I've been wanting to buy for probably 4 months.

It's not quite the weather yet, but I am so excited to wear my new llama jumper and stripey top
And along the theme of quirky prints and stripes, I also got this stripey (check!) banana print (check!) top for €2.50 from Primark in Spain.

What I've been reading
So as I mentioned earlier, I hit my Goodreads challenge of 40 books read this year, and I actually hit it before I went on holiday and read 7 books. 

Here's what I read this month:

I Capture the Castle
The Cabin at the end of the World
The Stepford Wives
Everything I Never Told You
Instructions for a Heatwave
The Great Believers
Gentlemen and Playes
My Year of Rest and Relaxation
The Water Cure
The Party
This Must be the Place

My favourites were The Stepford Wives, Everything I Never Told You, The Water Cure, Educated and This Must be the Place. I cannot get enough Maggie O' Farrell at the moment and This Must Be the Place left me broken and bereft when it was over!

What I've been loving
You might remember by obsession with The Roasting Tin last year. It was my favourite recipe book of 2017, maybe even ever. I've lost count of the number of copies I encouraged friends to buy - two of my colleagues have it, my cousin has it, I bought a copy for my Mum - it's my most recommended book ever.
So I was obviously ecstatic last year when I found out there was going to be a Green Roasting Tin full of vegetarian and vegan recipes! Rumi actually messaged me herself and said she wanted to send me an advanced copy to thank me for all my support for The Roasting Tin which was absolutely lovely and completely unexpected!

I'll be reviewing it soon, but for now you can see everything I've cooked from it on my Instagram, and I'm also using Alice's hashtag, #tinlads

I have a habit of getting super excited about new podcasts, downloading hundreds, getting my phone full and then deleting them, and about two months ago I was looking for book podcasts to supplement my beloved What Page are you On? and one recommendation I got was Reading Glasses. It sat in my "unlistened" pile for weeks until a few weeks ago when I decided to give it a go, and now I'm obsessed! Unlike What page are you On? it's less about particular books and reviews and recommendations, and more about reading life and book culture. I absolutely love Mallory and Brea and I would recommend this to anyone who loves reading and talking about reading!

What I've been watching
Well, football didn't come home but I absolutely bloody loved the World Cup. I watched every single game I could and I was absolutely gutted when it was over - good job the Premier League Season starts next week!

Phil and I have been putting off watching All About Eve for years - it's been a running joke that we would never watch it. We kept hearing how good it was (Buzzfeed chose it as its number 1 Best Picture winning film a few years ago) but we just didn't fancy it. But this month, on a football-less Saturday night, we finally caved. And guys, it's so so so good. SO good! We totally get it now! It's on Netflix so you should definitely watch it.

We're finally catching up (although still totally behind) on The Handmaid's Tale. It's not always the easiest thing to watch (so dark, so depressing) but it's absolutely brilliant. I'm really intrigued by where this season is going!

In other "films-we've-been-meaning-to-watch-forever", this month we also watched Before Sunrise which we both completely adored. It's the exact kind of film we both love and I found myself crying at the end but didn't know why?! I can't wait to watch the rest of the trilogy.

What I've been reading online
I've been working on scrolling less and when I want a break to look at my phone (usually when I'm drying my hair!) I've been trying to read articles instead. Here are some of my favourites I read in July:

A Rosie Outlook - Sacking off my 2018 resolutions
What Olivia Did - When jeans don't fit
The Guardian - How the psychology of the England football team could change your life
Biscuits and Blisters - Spare Change
The Pool - Insatiable's fat-shaming feels unfunny – and potentially dangerous and also my girl Bethany Rutter's piece on this too
Medium - Why waking up at 6am won't make you productive
Yes and Yes - How to feel richer and fancier without spending any money
Vix Meldrew - Making friends as an adult
The Pool - When is knowledge not power? When you’re a woman picking up the pieces

Hope your July was great and your August is going well so far!

Charlotte x