Monday, 26 October 2020

6 Scary films (and one scary TV show) for October

Following on from my post on
spooky books for October, I thought I'd write about a couple of my favourite scary films too.

I used to HATE horror films, though like I said in this post I loved a horror book. I'd quite often read a scary book then be too scared to watch the adaptation!

Now I enjoy horror films much more, but I have very specific requirements. I hate gore. I can't even watch injections, so I am behind a blanket for anything gory. I also hate anything overly jumpy. And I'm good at knowing what is, as we call it "too scary for Charlotte" (it took me a loooooong time to watch The Exorcist, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre terrified me, and there are a lot of films I know I'll never watch). Basically, I'm still a bit of a wuss, but I'm trying.

So while I'm quite new to the genre (and there are sooooo many classic horror films I'm yet to see) I definitely have a few favourites. Like with the scary books, there are so many I wanted to include on this list but I've tried to keep it short, and to keep it to films I've seen more than once (with one notable exception) and one TV series.

Also, scary is completely subjective. And like I said, I'm a bit of a wuss.

So here are some of my favourite scary things to watch this October...

The Shining

I was 16 the first time I saw The Shining and it terrified me. Then at university I read the book (my first Stephen King) and loved it so much I found the adaptation disappointing. Now it's one of my favourite ever films. It was one of the first films I ever saw with Phil and last October we went to see it on the big screen which was incredible. I've watched the documentary Room 237 about it. I have a tshirt with the carpet pattern on, and socks with the Grady twins on (thanks Riven!). I love it. It's one of my favourite films which still manages to scare me every time.

The Thing

I only saw The Thing for the first time about 5 years ago, but it instantly became one of my favourites. I love the atmosphere, I love the tension, I love the practical effects (so many incredible moments!) and most of all I love the ending (no spoilers here I promise!). It's one of those films I think about a lot.

Cabin in the Woods

I watched Cabin in the Woods for the first time last October and it's now one of my absolute favourite films. I love everything from the opening scene to the way it subverts the genre to the final horrible climax. I love the little Easter Eggs in the background and I get something different out of it every time. Oh and it's really funny (you'll see from my next few entries I love a comedy horror). One of those films I could watch at the drop of a hat - October or not.


Until this weekend I hadn't seen Scream since I was a teenager and I have such bad movie memory that it was like watching a film for the first time. 

Scream is absolutely genius, and definitely enjoyed it even more now I can really understand a lot of the references to other horror movies and the rules of horror. I found it absolutely great fun, hilarious and utterly meta. I can't wait to watch it again next October.

American Werewolf in London

American Werewolf in London is a "Phil's family" film. I never get tired of the story of Phil's Mum going to see it when she was at uni in London and her friends having to walk her home because she was too scared (on the Underground particularly I think!).

We rewatched this last week and it's just utterly perfect. As I mentioned before I love a blend of horror and comedy and this film is just so iconic. Plus also, practical effects! I love them! I love learning about how they were done! Another of my favourites.


Okay I broke my own rule for this one, as I've only seen it once, but if I had £1 for every person I've recommend this film to during lockdown I'd be able to buy Bobby even more treats.

The first time we heard about this it was from Phil's brother, Andy, who knew a lot of the cast and crew from his Master's course. It sounded really fun - a horror film set, and filmed, during lockdown. But then we started to hear more and more people talking about it and knew we had to watch it.

One downside, it's currently only available on Shudder (we got a free 1 week trial to watch it), but I believe it is getting a theatrical release.

I cannot recommend this film more right now. As it's not only set during lockdown but filmed during it, it captures everything about this time perfectly, from the boredom to the struggling relationships to the endless Zoom calls.

If you watch one film from this list this year make it this.

The Haunting of Hill House

I'm sure I'm preaching to the converted here because I'm not sure I know one horror fan who isn't completely obsessed with this masterpiece, but I couldn't write a list without including it.

The Haunting of Hill House is one of my top 5 favourite TV shows of all time, and maybe my absolute favourite horror watch. I really enjoyed The Haunting of Bly Manor, but it was nothing like Hill House for its scares, its perfect editing and its haunting sadness.

I'm simultaneously still reeling from some of the scares (the car! The entirety of episode 5!) but also desperate to give it a rewatch (the genius of episode 6!). It's one of the best things I've ever watched (but watch out for those hidden ghosties!).

Hope you're having a spooky October!


Saturday, 24 October 2020

Cookbook Review: Flavour by Yotam Ottolenghi and Ixta Belfrage - Part 2

This is part 2 of my review of Flavour - part 1 has my first impressions and the first 9 recipes I tried. You can find it here

So here we are, part 2! In my last post I wrote about the first 9 recipes I made from this book, as well as my first impressions, so in this post I'm going to cover the second 10 recipes I cooked and my final thoughts.

What I made (part two)

Tofu meatball korma

I knew this was going to take a while so I set a timer for how long it took - 1 hour 40 in total. It's pretty intense too - maybe 25 minutes of that is hands-off - but it's perfect for a Saturday night, and I made the full portion to serve 4 so we could eat it for 2 days.

Unsuprisingly, the tofu balls completely fell apart and by the second day this was more ground tofu curry. It was tasty but needed an extra squeeze of lemon to bring out the flavours, and with the time it took I'm not sure I'd make it again.

Lime and coconut potato gratin

For day two of the tofu korma, I made the lime and coconut gratin as a side.

My first note is "no way am I going to do a spiral pattern with my potatoes", and this was true.

You definitely need a food processor for this, especially if, like me, you cut the end of your finger off with a mandolin once and can barely read the word without feeling ill. 

I did manage to somehow burn the aromatics and had to start again (10 minutes feel a long time to be frying garlic for!) and I didn't have spring onions so used shallots.

This takes a while so it's definitely a Sunday dish. It takes a good 2 hours in total, but the second hour is pretty much entirely hands off.

And it's worth it. I love a gratin anyway but this is so fresh-tasting with the lime juice. I would definitely make this again for a Sunday lunch. My only changes would be to halve it, as I ended up with loads for two of us and it was a bit of a strange for lunch leftovers on its own, and I'd maybe omit the coconut cream because it's expensive and I could barely taste it. I'm definitely making this again though.

Cucumber salad à la Xi'an Impression

I made this as a bit of an afterthought to go along with the tofu korma and potato gratin. I tried to halve it for just me and also because I didn't have as much cucumber as I thought. 

I liked the cucumber but didn't love the dressing so I probably wouldn't bother with this again.

Giant couscous and pumpkin in tomato and star anise sauce

I made this for a midweek dinner and it was just about do-able. I used a butternut squash as I'm saving my pumpkins for my favourite pumpkin curry.

This is another one where the order of the instructions doesn't quite make sense - you cut up all the pumpkin first even though you don't need it til later, so you could easily save some time and chop it up while something else is cooking.

I had a bit of a panic at the start that this was a bit too big of an undertaking for a Monday night, but after the first half an hour this is mostly hands-off.

I found the onions a bit overdone after 18 minutes so I'd cut that down to 15 next time, and also for me the squash was  a bit bland (probably why you're meant to use pumpkin!).

This was nice (Phil particularly loved it) but not my favourite and after taking an hour and a half in total I think it was a bit much for midweek. I liked a lot of the flavours (and like a lot of recipes in this book, it was better as leftovers as the flavours intensified) but I don't think I'd make it again.

Mafalda and roasted butternut in warm yoghurt sauce

Another butternut squash recipe! I wasn't sure about this at first as pasta in creamy sauces is very much not my thing, but it caught my eye and looked pretty quick so I thought I'd give it a go.

There's a lot going on at once here - squash in the oven, garlic cooking, pasta cooking, stirring the sauce - it felt very intense!

However it was really nice and Phil really loved it. The hot sauce really cuts through the rich yoghurt and it's such a delicious combination. It also made 3 portions which meant I could have a lunchbox too which was great. There's a lot of washing up after but I would make it 

Roasted carrot salad with chamoy

This was part of another multi-meal dinner, with the tomato salad and roasted cauliflower (plus chicken for Phil and some nice bread). 

I have a few issues with my oven and the heat not circulating very well when there's more than one tray in it, so my carrots ended up more steamed than crispy which was a bit of a shame.

It's pretty straightforward to make and there's a lot of flavours going on, but I found it a little bit too sweet and it needed some more salt for balance.

Cauliflower roasted in chilli butter

This didn't make my original list of recipes to make, but I read a few reviews saying it was great so I thought I'd give it a go. Phil isn't a massive cauliflower fan so I halved it and ate it for 2 days (it serves 4). 

It seemed like a lot of chillies (8, on top of the harissa) so I decided to reduce it down to 2 in the tray, and I skipped the additional chill flakes. 

It's another Sunday dinner as it takes just over an hour, however it is pretty straight forward.

It's nice - the leaves especially! - but I found with the amount of butter it got very rich very quickly and needed a bit more seasoning. I'm not sure I'd make it again but I did enjoy it.

Tomato salad with lime and cardamom yoghurt

I made this because someone recommended it to go with the roasted cauliflower and they were not wrong - the rich, spicy cauliflower is really complemented by the creamy, sharpness of this salad.

I'm not entirely sure why you make one part of the salad in one bowl and then the other part in another, but it comes together quickly despite that. In my multi-dish dinner this was by far the best thing I made - it was absolutely beautiful.

I had some goat's cheese leftover so I made this again a few days later with a few adaptations (ground cardamom rather than grinding the seeds, no fresh herbs as I didn't have any) and it was so so delicious again. I always have cherry tomatoes and yoghurt in the house and I'm wondering if it would work with feta (which I also always have in) so we could have this more often. One of my favourite recipes from this book.

Miso butter onions

I'd heard a lot about these and I was intrigued although not entirely sure what to do with them!

I had quite small onions so I halved the quantities of everything (it's handy the weight of the onions is included). It's a pretty storecupboard, using only onions, miso and butter.

They take a while, but apart from the odd basting, it's all hands off.

We had these alongside a roast and they were lovely, but I wasn't sure how to handle the lefovers. They were a bit too liquidy for on toast (and don't even ask about the omelette I tried to make with them!) so while they were delicious I'm not sure I'd have a reason to make them again.

Pappa al pomodoro with lime and mustard seeds

Our final dish from this book!

This is meant to be a side dish to serve 4, so I thought it might work out about right quantity wise as a main for 2 and it was about right for that!

I didn't have any curry leaves but Ottolenghi said you can just leave them out (thank you!), and I didn't use quite as much oil as it stated (as my final recipe I'd just started to get a bit sick of all the oil in this book!). I also used some leftover tiger bread as the bread element.

This takes about 40 minutes to prep and then you just leave it to rest for a bit for the flavours to intensify.

It was quite intense as a main course but I would definitely make it again in the summer as a side dish or part of a multi-dish meal.


If it's not clear here, I loved this book.

It's been a long lockdown and I've only eaten out 3 times since March so I was starting to feel very sick of cooking and food shopping and meal planning.

This book completely reignited my love of cooking. I loved the experimental flavours and the unusual techniques and ending up with something unlike anything I'd eaten before. Because that's why we eat out isn't it? To try something new.

Nothing was a complete disaster, nothing took hours and hours and made me scream, nothing made me take multiple trips to the supermarket. Ottolenghi has listened to feedback and he's made a book where it's clear how long everything takes, there are suggestions as alternatives if you can't find certain ingredients, everything is vegetarian (anything with say, fish sauce or anchovies in has an alternative), everything has a  serving suggestion and everything is delicious.

Yes, I've never zested more limes in my life. I've never used so much oil. I've never filled the dishwasher so quickly. I've never had to buy two jars of rose harissa at a time. But it was all so so worth it.

This is one of the best books I own. I hope I continue to flick through it for weekend inspiration for multi-meal dishes as well as for midweek cooking. I never thought I'd be cooking Ottolengho midweek!

If you're prepared to invest some time in getting your initial set up (you definitely need harissa, miso and tahini, so if those are unusual ingredients to you, you might need a trip to Sainsburys) and you definitely need to invest some time, but if you want to be able to make restaurant quality meals at home, this is the book you need.

This the perfect book to reignite your love of cooking, to help you discover flavour combinations you'd never even imagined and to help you expand your repertoire.

It might have saved my lockdown cooking. And I can't praise it more highly than that!

Charlotte x

Wednesday, 14 October 2020

Cookbook Review: Flavour by Yotam Ottolenghi and Ixta Belfrage - Part 1

I have a bit of a process when I get a new recipe book.

First is my initial flick through, this is where I start to get excited about a new book.

Next, I get a piece of paper and go through the book again, writing a list of all the recipes I want to make, and the page numbers (side note, I did use to use sticky notes but I find this method much better for finding what I want quickly).

Then I start planning what I'm actually going to make, especially if it's a book I want to review on my blog.

From my list of recipes, I tend to choose about 8-12 I definitely want to cook for my blog review. This can vary depending on what I've got going on (right now as you can imagine, not a lot), the seasons, the faff factor and generally whatever I'm in the mood for. I also spend a lot of time looking for reviews of books, so sometimes I'll add in a recipe or two that other people recommend online, or from Eat Your Books (I promise I've got a review of Eat Your Books planned because if you have a lot of cookbooks like me it's a godsend).

Then when it comes to figuring out when to stop cooking and when to start writing my review, I usually aim for 10 recipes. It's pretty clear when I own books which aren't going to hit the 10 recipes goal - maybe they're more weekend books, or more focused on a particular cuisine (for example, it might take me longer to cook from a book entirely about curries, because while I could eat curry every single night, I'm not sure Phil would love it). 

I keep notes about every recipe I've made in my journal, and usually after 10 I feel like I've got a proper feel for the book. I try to do a good mix of recipes and after 10 I'm usually pretty ready to move on.

When it came to Flavour, this was not the case...

First Impressions

So due to a bit of a cock up with where I ordered my copy from, I ended up not receiving the book til a week after it was published (my disappointment when I was waiting for it to arrive and I saw it right there on the shelf ready to be picked up and put in my basket in Sainsburys was palpable). And as a result this gave me plenty of time to read reviews/obsess over the book that had not arrived.

Now I'm a big fan of Ottolenghi, but being honest, more in theory than in a practical sense. I own Plenty, Plenty More, Jerusalem and Simple (plus Falastin which, while it isn't Ottolenghi, it's written by his co-writer so I consider it part of the club), and until recently, I'd probably cooked 10 recipes from them all in total. As I was trying to convince myself to buy Falastin, I forced myself to cook from Jerusalem (which I'd literally never cooked from despite owning it for probably 4 or 5 years - the shame!). We had a lot of multi-dish, mezze-style meals from Jerusalem and Falastin over the summer and I found loads of new recipes I loved.

But herein lines the probably. Ottolenghi is for weekends. Ottolenghi is for one meal which is actually really 3 side dishes. Ottolenghi means a delicious-sounding vegetarian dish which is recommended on the side of some lamb (which you do not eat). Ottolenghi involves a trip to the fancy supermarket or buying ingredients online which you've never heard of before. And more than anything else, Ottolenghi means time.

So while I waited for my copy to arrive, I scoured the internet for recipes and reviews. And the reviews were very mixed. In fact, for the first few days they were really, really disappointing. I was so gutted that this delicious-sounding (and fully vegetarian!) book by one of my favourite chefs was going to be a disappointment.

But guys, this wouldn't be a post entitled "part 1" if this wasn't a success.

I admit to not being bowled over by the sample recipes in The Guardian in the weeks leading up to the book's publication. However, when the book actually arrived (finally! After a week!) I was absolutely stunned. 

I couldn't believe how many things I was dying to make.

From an initial flick through there were 23 mains (mains! There are main courses in this book!) and 25 side dishes I wanted to make, and there's a brilliant section in the back of meal planning ideas (including 19 recipes than can be made in under an hour!).

Plus, of the recipes I wanted to make, I hardly needed to buy anything that wasn't already in my cupboard (plus there are actually recommendations for alternatives if you don't already have a cupboard stuffed with dried limes).

I already knew this was going to be a favourite.

As a result, I ended up making 19 recipes from this book (hence it being a multi-part blog post!). I just kept finding "one more recipe" I wanted to make before I wrote this review.

I weighed up how to structure these posts (one on mains and one on sides?), but decided that it made more sense chronologically (plus I know I'd probably skip reading a blog post entirely about side dishes but in this book I think the sides were the best things I made), so here is part one of what I made...

What I made (part one)

Portobello steaks and butter bean mash

I actually made this before my copy of the book arrived after finding the recipe online. I knew straight away this would be very much my cup of tea and very much not Phil's cup of tea, so rather than spending the whole meal going "do you like it? You're not sure are you? Well I think it's delicious", I decided to half this and eat it over two nights just for me.

It takes a really, really long time, but if like me you're working from home at the moment, it's perfect for a weeknight as it's nearly entirely hands off, and you can get ahead by making a start at lunchtime (side note, another great thing about this book is lots of recipes have notes on what you can prepare in advance). 

This was my first experience of a flavoured oil drizzle in the book, so while I am super chill about the amount of oil in a recipe, this seemed a lot so I reduced it, but in hindsight I definitely wish I'd done the full quantity so there was extra in the fridge (this is another common theme - most of the flavoured oils in the recipes make loads extra - the idea being that you can keep them in the fridge for serving with other things). 

There is so so so much going on here with the meaty mushrooms and creamy mash and incredible sauce. It's exactly what I wanted from this book - completely delicious, restaurant-quality, and completely different from anything I've ever made myself before.

This is definitely a keeper for next time I'm cooking for myself.

The ultimate traybake ragù

I made this when we had friends over a few weeks ago (back in that brief period in the North West when we could have people over!). I've finally reached a point where I no longer feel the need to make 5 different dishes when we have friends over (though I do sometimes) and instead I've been finding myself making a delicious pasta dish with a nice salad and a couple of baguettes of cheap garlic bread, with bowls of crisps as a starter and letting Phil take care of dessert.

There's a lot going on here - miso, harissa, soy sauce, dried mushrooms and coconut cream, as well as minced mushrooms and lentils. I definitely needed a trip to Sainsburys for this one! It's a pretty perfect recipe for having friends over, because even though it takes a good 90 minutes, after the initial prep it's nearly entirely hands off.

I think this was a true example of the cook just being too tired by the time they served the meal to really enjoy it, as I thought it was just nice, and Phil really loved it. However it made absolutely loads (I served 4 people and had 4 portions left over) and I actually enjoyed it much more from the freezer.

I'm not very good at using my freezer for meal prep, but if you are I think this is the perfect long, slow Sunday afternoon recipe to fill your freezer with.

Sweet potato in tomato, lime and cardamom sauce

This seemed midweek do-able, so I ordered some ground cardamom online especially to make this (ebay is your friend!). The timings almost work out perfectly until right at the end, but it's definitely possible to make this midweek. I'd originally planned for us to have this for dinner one night and then I was going to eat leftovers for lunch for a few days - this ended up being so good I felt guilty "wasting" it on my lunches so we had the leftover for dinner a few days later.

We had it the first night with cous cous and the second time with rice and both were delicious. I cannot wait to make this again.

One-pan orecchiette puttanesca

Ding ding ding! First recipe I've made from this book twice already.

This is so good I cannot stop thinking about it.

Puttanesca is always a winner in this house because we both love capers and olives, and the addition of the caraway seeds and chickpeas really intrigued me. This was one of my favourite recipes I made from the book.

My only change would be that I could definitely have cooked the chickpeas while I made the pasta, although I appreciate that the logic is to not add an additional pan to the washing up pile (which is definitely not the approach in most of the other recipes in this book!). The second time I made this I crisped the chickpeas while the pasta cooks and it was much, much quicker.

This is definitely going to become a household staple.

Noor's black lime tofu

Guys I did not buy black limes. Not when the recipe states I can use regular limes instead. Regular limes than I can buy in Aldi.

I made this alongside the chaat potatoes (see below), homemade naan and rice (triple carbs yessss!) and while it was simple and straightforward (though I did shallow fry the tofu as I am scared of deep frying), it didn't really do anything for me. Maybe those dried limes do make a difference...

Chaat masala potatoes with yoghurt and tamarind

I knew I was going to love this, because it sounds exactly like the kind of thing I love to order in Bundobust or Mowgli, plus potatoes.

There's roast potatoes, tamarind sauce, coriander chutney, yoghurt and onions and chillies. What's not to love?

I could easily have just had a bowl of this for my dinner, and even though it's pretty intense with a lot to prepare, it comes together in about 45 minutes.

I can't wait to make these again!

Curried carrot mash with brown butter 

This was another recipe I knew I'd love from the ingredients - pickled chillies, ginger, brown butter, cinnamon, lime juice, curry powder, cumin seeds and nigella seeds. This is not your Mother's mashed carrot! This is unbelievably delicious - the perfect accompaniment to a roast dinner. I could have eaten the whole bowl!

I have most of these ingredients in all the time so I'll definitely be making this again.

Spicy roast potatoes with tahini and soy

I made this as something different to have with leftovers as I had all the ingredients in. It's exactly what it says on the tin - roast potatoes with a bit of spice and a tahini and soy sauce.

Super easy, super tasty, a really nice change from normal roast potatoes - I'd definitely make again.

Potato and gochujang braised eggs

When I first presented this to Phil for brunch he said "is this egg and chips?" And I guess he isn't wrong!

This is the perfect hands-off brunch which is exactly what we need on a weekend morning after we'vre been for a run. The potatoes roasted while I had a shower and by the time we were dressed and ready it was basically done!

I did all potatoes because I didn't fancy the kohlrabi, and halved it to about 2.5 potatoes in total. This is so so delicious and the kind of thing I can definitely see myself making again, particularly as it's made of ingredients I pretty much always have in. This would also make a perfect dinner with some greens on the side too.

I'll be back soon with part 2!

Charlotte x

Tuesday, 6 October 2020

5 Spooky Books for October

I wrote in my September Life Lately post that I wanted to write some more short posts and not dedicate 3 days and 2000 words to every single topic.

So inspired by my friend, Michelle, who is both brilliant at writing short posts and loves October, here's a little mini post on some of my favourite spooky books for Halloween season.

Now I love a spooky book, and I've loved a spooky book since the Point Horror books of my teens. In fact, until a few years ago I would read any scary book but I was terrified of most scary films (this has changed a lot - I'm planning a post on my favourite scary films soon too!).

When I went through my Goodreads to hunt for my favourite scary books, I found myself with a stupidly long list (what me? Writing a long list? Me who wrote a post so long I lost count of all the points?), and it was also way too hard to pick favourites.

So I went with my gut and went with the first books that came to mind when I think of spooky books (though these are all definitely in my top 10 favourite scary books). Some of these are old classics and some are more recent, but these are all great books for getting you in the spooky spirit this October:

The Six Stories series by Matt Wesolowski

Six Stories by Matt Wesolowski is a series of books set around a podcast called Six Stories (you know what I love nearly as much as books - podcasts!). Each book in the series is also a series of the podcast, and each episode is a story from someone involved in a spooky mystery. 

It's a really tricky line to combine two mediums, especially as true crime podcasts are so popular, but what works so well about Six Stories is how it seamlessly blends the genres - it feels both like a podcast and a novel.

There are now four books in the series, Six Stories being the first. Six Stories follows the story of the death of a teenager ruled as misadventure, but not everyone is convinced. The second in the series, Hydra, is the story of a young girl who killed her family. Third is Changeling, the story of a missing child. And more recently, Beast, the story of a vlogger who is found frozen to death.

All the stories in the series are spooky, mysterious and ultimately incredibly compelling. I also found the series gets better and better as it progressed. I think this was originally meant to be a trilogy as Changeling nicely ties up the other stories, but Beast appeared early this year so I'm hoping there might be more to come!

The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell

The Silent Companions is always the book I recommend to anyone asking for a spooky story, mostly on the grounds that it was so scary it made my friend sick. If that isn't a strong review I don't know what is.

Just thinking about the ending to this book makes my skin crawl. It is truly one of the scariest books I have ever read.

I really don't want to give anything away so all I'm going to say is this book is a hauntingly atmospheric gothic which is perfect for Halloween.

Pet Sematary by Stephen King

I could have put so many Stephen King books on this list, but I've kept it to just this one. I only read Pet Sematary last year as Phil had started to read it a few years ago not long after a bereavement and found it too sad to finish, which made me worried I'd find it too upsetting.

It is definitely the saddest of the Stephen King horrors I've read (I personally love when horror is also sad and deeply emotional - it's what I love most about The Haunting of Hill House), and I did find it incredibly upsetting, but it's also probably one of his scariest. 

I would write a review, but I would say with this one, the less you know the better.

Honorable mentions here to my other favourite Stephen King books - The Shining and It.

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

Is Rebecca a horror? Is it a ghost story? Maybe not, but it's definitely a spooky book.

Rebecca is everyone's favourite book for a reason - it's atmospheric, it's dark, it has moments that stick with you for a lifetime. 

It's the perfect book for autumn - spine-tingling, intense, haunting and unforgettable. And is it a ghost story? I guess that's for you to decide.

The Lottery and Other Stories by Shirley Jackson

Let's finish with some short stories shall we? And let's finish with the queen of the gothic, Shirley Jackson. The Lottery is the most famous story in this collection, but for me the story "Like Mother Used to Make" absolutely haunts me and I think about it all the time.

The titular story, The Lottery, does not disappoint either for its horrifying premise. This collection might have been written over 70 years ago, but it still feels as haunting today.

Saturday, 3 October 2020

September Life Lately

I promise I am not going to keep starting all these blog posts with "ermagerd it's [month]" but it really is hard right now!

It feels a while since I last wrote here - so much so that my Mum asked me last week if I was still writing this blog!

I am, still here. Coming up to 11 years later!

I've got so so many posts in drafts and I feel like I'm not far off one of those periods where I just want to write constantly. I have a journal full of ideas of topics and I think maybe now the nights are drawing in I'll feel a bit more inspired to write. 

I've also had a lot of thoughts lately about the length and topics of my blog posts. I write this monthly review post every month and they take at least 2 or 3 days to finish and clock up at upwards of 1,500 words a time. That's a lot of words and a lot of time! This blog post could easily be 3 or 4 different posts. I kind of miss just spontaneously writing just because I have some inspiration. Last month I had a post in drafts I wrote in 20 minutes while I dried my hair, but I never posted it because it didn't feel long enough or didn't feel like it had enough of a point. I've had posts in drafts for months purely because they feel like such big hefty topics that I want to make sure they're complete, and it's just meant months and months of work potentially going out of date or not feeling relevant. I want to get back to writing a few hundred words on a topic just because I feel like it, and every blog post not needing days to complete! So many other bloggers I know write these little posts and I love them, so I don't know why I feel the need to write such long and in depth posts, and don't bother writing up my little ideas. I have a few ideas but I'm naturally quite verbose so it's hard for me to come up with topics which don't requite an essay on! But I have a few posts ideas so watch this space!

Anyway, here we are, October. I've just ordered a load of new, bright and brilliant jumpers (I absolutely love Sugarhill Boutique for most things, but knitwear especially), my candles are ready to be lit, and we have a few roast dinners on the meal planning list over the next few weeks. Phil has a list of films ready for "October horror films only", I have a books-to-read list as long as my arm, and The Haunting of Bly Manor starts next week.

As positive as I'm trying to sound, the last few weeks have been tough. As the weather started to turn last week, both Phil and I (and it seemed, a lot of people we knew) found ourselves spiralling. It was cold and grey and miserable, and there was just nothing to look forward to. Where I live in Stockport, we had less than a month of being out of local restrictions before we were forced back in again. Christmas loomed gloomily on the horizon, and everything felt uncertain and dull. We're bored and restless but also anxious about keeping safe and following the rules. We ambitiously started what we thought would be fairly minor work on the house which has now left us with our bedroom stripped of its wallpaper and it feeling naked and unfinished, the office room completely out of use with bare brick and leaving Phil to work in the front room with a desk shoved against a bookcase and everything feeling dusty and messy. The house feels in limbo which makes us feel even more uncomfortable and uncertain, and makes us want to escape the only place we can really be right now.

And like a lot of other people, we have been fighting ourselves and our "right" to be miserable. We both have our jobs and both love working from home, we're forever grateful we got married last year (I cannot tell you how upset I feel for everyone who planned to get married this year and what you're going through. I really can't imagine it), we have our wonderful dog and our home and lots of friends and family on the end of the phone. Neither of us have had the virus or have lost anyone we love. We're coping okay just the three of us, and we're so grateful to have our space and each other.

But this last week has been better. We didn't force ourselves to feel better but after a few days of not being able to see the light at the end of the tunnel, there was a tiny glimmer of hope, and thankfully we're feeling slightly better. The house is still a mess, working on a dining chair is still uncomfortable and the house is still freezing (the heating went on last week!),but we're going to throw ourselves into autumn and winter the best we can.

Here's what I got up to in September (and here's my One Second Every Day for the month):

What I did

In the very brief period when our local restrictions were lifted I was very lucky to catch up with most of my close friends as well as my family. 

I took advantage of being able to meet friends outside and celebrated my friend Riven's birthday with a picnic and exploring the local charity shops. We got probably the best M&S picnic of all time, and came home with plenty of charity shop goodies (including a Nigella book and a sparkly top!). I'm sad the weather is changing now because I've really enjoyed the picnics and walks I've had with friends over the summer this year.

Speaking of walks, Phil's parents have a time share in the Lake District, so a few weeks ago we headed up for the day and took Bob for an explore. The weather was drizzly but we didn't let that stop us - we even stopped for a soggy drink in a pub garden! It was so lovely and I can't wait to go back next year.

I mentioned back in August that I ran the virtual Great Manchester Run half marathon, and a few weeks ago my medal arrived! I'm still counting it as half marathon number 8, but I can't wait to be able to race properly!

Untitled Goose Game was one of our favourite things on the Nintendo Switch last year so we were absolutely thrilled when they released a free update - Untitled Geese Game! Now we can both play as horrible geese together. I loved watching Phil play this last year so I'm so glad I can help out terrorising the neighbourhood now too.

Finally, one of the biggest joys of September for me was the release of the new Ottolenghi book, Flavour. Guys I cannot wait to share my review with you. It's genuinely one of the best books I own. Everything I've made has been absolutely incredible and I've been finding myself planning our meals weeks and weeks ahead so I can squeeze in everything I want to cook.

What I read

September was a brilliant reading month! I read 10 books - 9 physical and one audio.

The Lightness
I am Dust
Leave the World Behind
Exit Management
The Dutch House

And on audio The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck, which I actually enjoyed more than I thought given the click-baity title.

One of my favourites was I Am Dust, which I read pretty much in a day, a spooky mystery over multiple timelines set in a theatres. 

Also, I adored Memorial, which I was thrilled to get as an Advanced Reader Copy cause I'd heard so much about it. It's the story of Mike whose father is dying, so he goes back to visit him in Japan at the same time as his mother comes to visit, leaving her with his boyfriend, Benson. This is a story of family and change and relationships and culture and home and food. I was almost crying by the end, I loved it.

I've had it on my kindle for months because I knew I'd love it but The Dutch House was exactly my cup of tea. Multiple timelines, check. Family drama, check. Loved it.

Leave the world behind was another book I knew I was going to love from the premise. A family rent a house in the middle of nowhere, and in the middle of the night, the couple who own the house arrive in a panic, telling them the city has had a powercut. I don't want to give anything away here but I read this in an afternoon because I couldn't put it down.

Finally, Exit Management was another book I'd been really really looking forward to and it did not disappoint. I'm actually glad this wasn't an ARC because I have no idea of explaining it or why I loved it, but it's brilliant and I really recommend it.

What I watched

Football is back, which means my TV watching is 90% football, so we only managed 4 films this month.

We rewatched Role Models on a lazy Friday night and I loved it. I am terrible for rewatching films. I always want to watch something new, and I forget the joy of revisiting a film I love. One I need to remember during this cold dark winter - watch fun films you love!

The other films this month were two I'd been looking forward to for ages - I'm Thinking of Ending Things, because I love Jesse Plemons and I loved this book, and The Devil All the Time. I'm Thinking of Ending Things was a bit too weird for me and too much of a departure from the book, and The Devil All the Time was just too bloody bleak man. I have a penchant for the depressing and maybe I would have preferred the book but Jesus this is just one depressing thing after another. 

On a cheerier note, we were struggling for something short to watch earlier this week and ended up watching a documentary on competitive Rubix cubers on Netflix called Speed Cubers which I genuinely loved.

In "other good things we watched though", we finished the TV series of I'll Be Gone in the Dark and wow, I just loved it. I might have mentioned this last month but they do such a good job of a) making it Michelle's story and b) making it the victims' story. True crime isn't really my thing but this is masterfully done. I cried a lot.

What I read online

Anne Helen Petersen - Quarantine Grooming
The New Yorker - The Age of Instagram face
Writing Between Pauses - Should I outsource or should I learn?

Here's to a cosy and spooky October!

Charlotte x