Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Amigurumi Bigfoot Elephant

I love elephants, in case it wasn't obvious by the title of my blog, so it was clear that when I discovered Amigurumi ("the Japanese art of knitting or crocheting small stuffed animals and anthropomorphic creatures" - Wikipedia) the first project I would attempt had to be an elephant!

And here he is:

I think he turned out quite well considering I had to teach myself how to crochet as I went along.  He's kinda cute though isn't he?!

When I decided to take up this new hobby I scoured the internet and luckily came across this fabulous website Amigurumi To Go! where I found the pattern for this little guy.  Sharon has lots of other similar patterns available on the website which I will eventually be trying my hand at.

As I mentioned I had to teach myself how to crochet and Sharon also has a really good video tutorial on how to start off your Amigurumi with a Magic Circle which was explained really well and helped hugely when I was starting and I'm glad to say that I have used this technique on other projects since.

Before Assembly:

And here he is posing some more:

Many thanks have to go to Sharon Ojala and all the other bloggers out there who take the time to share their patterns online and make then available free of charge.  It gave me the opportunity to learn a new hobby which I am really enjoying and hopefully I'll one day be able to create some patterns of my own....although I think I'm a fair bit away from that yet!

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Review: Shatter by Michael Robotham

Professor Joseph O'Loughlin is currently teaching Psychology in a University while battling quietly with Parkinson's disease. He is quickly brought back into the action when he is called to try to help talk down a jumper on Clifton suspension bridge. The woman is naked and appears to be talking on a mobile phone. Unfortunately he cannot save her and she jumps. 

Shortly afterwards, he receives a visit from her daughter, who claims that her mother would never have commited suicide and that somebody must have made her do it. And so the investigation begins as Joe tries to use his skills at reading people to find out what is going on. As more suicides take place the plot thickens. 

I really enjoyed this book, slight variation on the normal crime thriller and the protagonist is excellently written and is a very likeable character. 

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Mount TBR Challenge

So I might have mentioned that I love books, so much so that I have a teeny weeny addiction to buying them.  Around about this time last year I realised that I had 130 books on my shelf.....that I hadn't read yet!  And so, I decided to set myself a challenge for this year, I would not buy or borrow any books and would only read the books which are on my unread shelf.  The only exception to this rule is any Book Club books but my choices for the book club must be from my own shelves.

It's been tough and approaching the end of the year, I'm nowhere near as far through these 130 books as I had hoped but it's still going strong.  If you fancy having a look to see how I'm getting on, you can follow my progress on Leeds Book Club for reviews and scores.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Review: We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver

We need to talk about Kevin was another book club choice...not mine I hasten to add, but having heard recommendations from others, I was looking forward to reading it. Oh how my mind was soon changed. 

I have avoided reviewing this book for a while now, because I'm very conflicted about it. In some ways, it is an excellent book and I would urge others to read it, however it then comes to mind how I practically threw the book at the person who loaned it to me the very next day after I finished it, and shouted at them for making me read it. I soon calmed down.

Here's some arguements for and against We Need to talk about Kevin.

Lets start with for shall we?
Once you get past the very slow paced start of the book where Eva rambles on about her heritage,her courtship with her husband Franklin and her carefree existence travelling the world, it picks up pace hugely and is quite un-put-downable.It is completely a book which sucks you in, and despite the fact that I really didn't like it (see below), I couldn't stop reading it. 

Yeah that's pretty much it for the for arguement, lets move on to against.
The main reason I suppose I disliked this book is that the story is so shocking. Well it was to me anyway. Something I've discovered while discussing the book with others is that this is very much a matter of individual perception. For me, the thought of having a child is a little bit scary, and the book really played on this for me. Eva decides to have a baby because her husband Franklin wants one, and she thinks that she should, not because she particularly wants to. We find out early on that Kevin has participated in a school shooting, and the premise of the book is the debate on nature vs nurture I suppose you could call it. Has Kevin committed this atrocious act because Eva never really wanted him in the first place or are there arguments put forth in the book to show that Kevin is inherently "evil" and nothing she could have done would have prevented his crime?

The book chronicles Kevin's life, and as I mentioned, life before Kevin, in a series of letters from Eva to Franklin and in my opinion there is no doubt that there was something wrong with Kevin from early on in his life. Others however say that the stories Eva tells throughout the book are nothing but exaggerations of actual events and that she had decided that she didn't love him, when he was born and needed a good reason for this, (not accepting post-natal depression?). 

I was quite horrified throughout the novel with the different events and with Kevin's character, and this is mainly why I needed to get the book off my hands as soon as possible. It haunted me, Kevin haunted me, even little baby Kevin appeared in my dreams while reading this book. It is not something I would put myself through again....

However, at book club, we spoke about this book for no less than 4 hours, non-stop. 
That's the most we've ever talked about a book for. So is that a good sign? I would be disinclined to recommend this book to an individual, but for a book club, maybe. Everybody's opinion on this book is very different, and it stirs up great conversations. When I finished it, I needed to talk about it, perhaps because I was traumatised, or perhaps because it's just one of those books. 

So to conclude, I definitely didn't like it, in fact I hated it, but for it to stir up such a reaction as all of this, maybe it's worth a read.

 Score: 1/5

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

My Knitted Patchwork Style Throw

Up until now, I haven't really been talking much about my craft section, however I have secretly been working on a few projects which I will share with you.

The first one I want to show you is my Knitted Patchwork Style Throw.  I have been working on this on and off for years now, I would knit tirelessly for a couple of weeks then leave it to one side and not pick it up again for maybe months.  However about 6 months ago, I decided with only a few squares left to do on it that I was going to finish it once and for all, and it's something I'm actually really really proud of.

The pattern was taken from a knitting magazine which I started collecting.  Included in each issue was a pattern for each square and a ball of wool.   Given that there are 90 squares in total, you imagine this took a long time to collect.

But finally I did get them all and here is the finished product.  I would say that I started this originally at least 5 years ago, but each square probably took between 2 and 4 hours to knit depending on the difficulty level and also any extra embroidery or embellishment which had to be added.

The most daunting part of the task was actually putting all my squares together.  Remember I had 90 of them to sew and I'm not too confident with my sewing skills so this particular operation was put off for quite a while.  Once I had the squares sewn together, the next step was to add a crochet edging to it, you can't really see from the photos but there are 2 rows of edging, a bluey grey and then maroon on the very outside.

I'm not too sure what to do with this now that it's done,  it's actually very very heavy and even when I was working on the edging and had it spread over my lap, I was absolutely boiling underneath it!  For not it will probably stay on the bed in the spare room, where I can show off my handiwork. :)

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Review: The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

There seems to be a huge influx of dystopian novels on the market again. I recently read an article which claimed that the number of books in this genre rises and falls in relation to the political or economical situation in the real world. Perhaps people are looking for reassurance that things could in fact be worse, and what better place to get it than a dystopian novel?
I personally love a good dystopia, hmmm seems a bit of a contradiction there, but it's true. I'm a big fan of 1984, Brave New World and A Clockwork Orange (the classics) however Margaret Atwood is definitely getting closer to the top of the list.

This is the second of her novels I have read, and this one far surpasses the previous one.

As with any good dystopia, it is written in a sort of way which presumes that the reader knows what this world is like, and has experience of it, so you have to learn slowly about this horrible new place as you read and gleam small pieces of information dropped casually into conversation. The narrators are writing, not to readers in the past or in a different dimension, they are writing to their peers, and the commonality amongst them all is that the point of view we see is contradictory to the expected or perhaps even legal one of their world.

From what we know of the world in The Handmaid's Tale, something (an unknown something) has happened which has caused a large percentage of the population to become sterile. Because of this, young and fertile women are given the position of Handmaid's. These handmaids are then selected to serve rich or powerful couples, such as members of government whose wives cannot bear children. The thing I particularly like about this part of the novel is the incongruity in what exactly this means. In one way, a Handmaid is a servant, however in another way they are looked upon with awe and respect by many. Within the families where they are employed however, many of the wives feel threatened by these women brought in to do something where they have failed. It's a mixture of reverence and revulsion that they experience in their daily lives. 

At the back of it all however, they are nothing more than slaves, whose only purpose is to bear children. If they cannot do this after 3 attempts, they are banished and declared an unwoman. Sex becomes a ritual almost religious ceremony where husband, wife and handmaid all take part. But women have no rights, and no power in this world. Both the handmaids and the wives partake in this almost primitive lifestyle, with no hope of escape. Once again, failure to conceive is blamed on the woman, the chance that the man may be the sterile one is never really considered and I'm sure would be considered blasphemy. 

The further you read in this novel, the more familiar I think it sounds. That's the disturbing part of dystopias for me, the knowledge that something like this isn't as alien as it appears at first. This world was created by a military dictatorship who froze women's assets and made them completely dependent on their husbands and partners. It could happen, in fact, it is almost a return to earlier times.

Either way, I absolutely loved reading this book, I was completely hooked and it just got better as I read on.

Score: 5/5 - Amazing Read

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Butterfly Cakes

Started craving these cakes one day, and had to ring my mum and describe them to her to find out the actual name for them.  I remember these from when I was younger, they were the staple snack at all my friend's birthday parties and they are yummy!  So when she finally understood what I was talking about... (my description went something like "you know those cakes with the cream and the top of the cake is cut off and stuck on top....") I went looking for the recipe, found a really easy one at BBC Good Food to which I added my own small touches.  Also had a fabulous 6 year old helper with me making these, hence the pink icing and the sprinkles!

Recipe: (Makes 14)

113g butter (softened)
113g castor sugar
113g self raising flour
2 medium free range eggs (again, I only had small ones so threw in 3)
1 tsp vanilla essence

Butter Cream Icing:
56g butter (softened)
113g sieved icing sugar
1 tbsp boiling water
1 tsp vanilla essence
Few drops of red food colouring
Lots and lots of sprinkles

1) Preheat oven to 190° C
2) Cream butter with sugar until light and fluffy and pale
3) Beat eggs and add them bit by bit with spoons of sifted flour to ensure mix doesn't curdle
4) Gently fold in any flour left over when egg is used up and add Vanilla essence
5) Half fill paper cases with mixture and bake for 15 mins until risen
6)When cakes are cool, carefully cut a slice from the top of cake and cut this in half
7) Spread the butter cream icing on top of the cake, cover with sprinkles and stick the 2 halves of the top of the cake back on to resemble wings!

They were absolutely gorgeous for a first attempt, only thing I forgot to do was sprinkle some icing sugar over the top, but they worked without it too!

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Review: Alone in Berlin by Hans Fallada

Otto and Anna Quangel lose their son, fighting for the Nazis in the war. Soon they go from being loyal Germans to being rebels in the only way they know how, writing anti Nazi postcards and leaving them around the city of Berlin. It may not seem like much however the punishment is still very severe for being seen to be anti German. 
I really enjoyed this, you really felt for all the characters, how they got swept up in the times and some got carried away with the strict regime,so eager to survive that they would give up their friends and neighbours. It really showed how helpless some Germans felt at the time, knowing that it was wrong but needing to make themselves come out the other end of the war. It also showed the bravery and determination. 

It was heartbreaking in places and I shed a tear or two at times. Worth a read.

Score: 4/5

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Review: One Day by David Nicholls

The story begins on St Swithin's day 15th July 1988. Dexter and Emma having graduated, spend the night together. However Dexter starts off thinking purely how he can leave Emma without ever having to see her again, but as the night progresses and nothing sexual actually happens between them, they begin to talk about themselves, about their futures and so the friendship begins. Each chapter focuses on that same day each year for twenty years. Their friendship becomes closer and closer during this time, and they each go through major upheaval in their own lives, with jobs, partners and life in general. 

The annoying part of this book is that there were times when I didn't like either character. Dexter took Emma for granted. Emma whines a lot. However you can't help but root for them, and want them to get their act together and admit the way they feel for each other. It becomes painfully clear early on in the novel that Emma has feelings for Dexter, and he seems to have feelings for her also, but not as willing to admit them to himself as she is. Life always seems to keep them apart, which is frustrating for the reader, however would we really do anything differently?

It's a book which is un-put-downable until you reach the end, and when I did, I wished I hadn't. I wanted to keep reading about these 2 people, who I had seen grow up and mature and been a part of their lives for so long, even if it was only to catch up with them one day a year.
Still haven't seen the film but will definitely be doing so, just hope it does the book justice.

Score: 3/5

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Chocolate Meringue Biscuits

Really getting back into baking at the moment and wanted to try something a little bit different.  So I decided to try making biscuits.  I really want to learn how to make those chewy chocolate chip cookies but need to start somewhere.

This was a really easy peasy recipe, the electric mixer my mum got me for Xmas is working overtime these days!

Recipe: Supposed to make 10 biscuits but I got 9 good sized ones out of the mix.

2 Egg Whites (I had really small eggs so decided to use 3)
125g Icing sugar (sieved)
125g Water Crackers (finely crushed)
100g dark cooking chocolate (melted and cooled)
A few drops of Vanilla Essence

1) Preheat the oven to 180° C and line a baking sheet with baking parchment
2) Whisk egg whites until they form stiff peaks
3) Whisk in the icing sugar 1 spoonful at a time
4) Gently fold in the crushed crackers, melted chocolate and vanilla essence
5) Place spoonfuls of the mixture onto the baking parchment (leaving a little room for them to spread out)
6) Bake for 15 mins until they are firm to touch
7) Allow to cool on a wire rack

Before going into oven:

Finished product: 

End Result:  I found the texture to be a little chewy so I think next time, I would try adding less of the water crackers, although got good responses from the other 2 people who tried them!  I was considering replacing the crackers with flour, but again was advised that this might not work as well. But maybe a little more experimentation will get them just the way I want them.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Dishy Dolls Bookclub Round 3

Took place between September 2011 and  January 2012
Find out more about Dishy Dolls here

Book 1: One Day by David Nicholls (Read my review here )

Book 2: Alone in Berlin by Hans Fallada (Read my review here )

Book 3: The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood (Read my review here)

Book 4: We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver (Read my Review here)

Book 5: Shatter by Michael Robotham

Overall Favourite: We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver

Least Favourite: The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Review: The Secret by Rhonda Byrne

The Secret was chosen for our Book Club, and although it is not something I would have chosen myself, I was quite looking forward to having a read of it. The idea of The Secret is that there is a way to get everything you could ever want, whether it's love, money, success or good health, and the secret has been passed down from person to person. Many people are using the Secret or so we are told, and the book is filled with testimonials and quotes from people who have studied/used the secret, to find happiness.

I won't go into detail, as you really need to read the book yourself in order to find out what the secret is, but I would definitely recommend it for a very quick read.

Score: 3/5

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Review: The Princess Bride by William Goldman

The Princess Bride, I've seen the film a couple of times and after picking a book which is a little hard going at times for the last book club (Alone in Berlin), I decided to pick something more light hearted this time. 

The book was more like the film than I would have thought, right down to the little interruptions from the boy, who turns out to be William Goldman himself.

The edition I have features an introduction by William Golding, explaining how he came to do the abridgement of the novel by Morgenstern. As a young boy, he contracted a serious case of pneumonia, which confined him to bed for weeks, during this time, his father pulled out his copy of The Princess Bride and read to him. To this day, William is convinced that this helped him to pull through. After buying the book for his son's birthday, he is a little disgusted that the boy could not make it past the first chapter, he loved so much himself that he wanted his son to adore it too. However it wasn't until he picked up the book himself as an adult that he realised that he had never read it himself, he had only had it read to him by his father. And at this point he also realised that his dad had skipped past a lot of the book, which was filled with histories and 56 pages describing people packing and unpacking suitcases. This is when he decided to do an abridgement of it himself and bring it back to the story that his dad read to him.

I really think this adds to the story, knowing the back story of the author's love of the book made it more personal somehow. When he interupted (as he does quite a lot), it was informative and entertaining, it adds humour to a book which has more than enough already, all in all making it a very enjoyable read which I will be more than happy to pick up again. 

Score: 5/5

Monday, 16 July 2012

Dishy Dolls Bookclub Round 2

(Took place between Jan and May 2011)
Find out more about Dishy Dolls here

Book 1: The Princess Bride by William Golding  (Read my review here)

Book 2: The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold

Book 3: Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

Book 4: Get off the Unicorn by Anne McCaffrey

Book 5: The Secret by Rhonda Byrne (Read my review here )

Overall Favourite: The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold

Least Favourite: Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

Saturday, 14 July 2012

Dishy Dolls Bookclub Round 1

(Took place between July and December 2010)
(Find out more about Dishy Dolls here )

Book 1: Persuasion by Jane Austen    

Book 2: Heartshaped Box by Joe Hill

Book 3: Picture Perfect by Jodie Picoult

Book 4: High Fidelity by Nick Hornby

Book 5: A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

Overall Favourite: Picture Perfect by Jodi Picoult

Least Favourite: High Fidelity by Nick Hornby

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Strawberry and Banana & Blueberry and White Chocolate Muffins!

So the other day a couple of the girls called over to my house for an evening of Twin Peaks watching!  We are trying to work our way through the series, and so far have managed to watch Season 1, and episode 1 of Season 2 about 3 times, it's a really bad episode and very hard to get through.  We usually leave it so long in between watches that by the time we decide to start Season 2 again, we need a major recap on Season 1.  Anyway, because of this, I decided to try out a couple of muffin recipes.  The other half had kindly brought me home a load of strawberries and blueberries, which I wasn't going to finish by myself so I thought this was the perfect way to use them up.

The first recipe I tried was Strawberry and Banana muffins, and I got the recipe from this lovely website full of scrumptious food For the Love of Cooking.

Here's Stage 1: Yum yum

And here's the finished product: Yummier!

Recipe (Makes 12)
(Note, the original recipe which you can find on the link above uses cups as measurements, I have converted these (with much difficulty surprisingly) to grams, and they seemed to turn out quite nice so hopefully my maths works!)

Dry Ingredients:
280g Plain Flour
1/4 teaspoon Baking Soda
1 & 1/2 teaspoon Baking Powder
1/2 teaspoon Salt
1 & 1/2 teaspoon Cinnamon
Fresh Strawberries diced (Note: I found the best way to measure the amount of strawberries needed was to dice and add as required to the muffin mix, the original recipe asks for 1 & 1/2 cups which is quite hard to convert to grams so I kind of just guessed at this. I love strawberries, so the mix was packed!)

Wet Ingredients:
165g Brown sugar (I used Demerara which is quite chunky but worked nicely)
2 eggs
113g butter, melted
2 Large Ripe Bananas, mashed
1 teaspoon vanilla (added this myself)

1) Preheat oven to 180°C
2) Combine all the dry ingredients and fold in Strawberries
3) Combine all the wet ingredients in another bowl
4) Slowly combine the 2 mixes but don't overmix
5) Bake in muffin tray for 20 - 25 mins

The second recipe was Blueberry and White Chocolate muffins which I found at BBC Good Food.

Again, here they are before they go into the oven:

And here they are when done: (they don't look quite as appetising as the ones above because I think I left them in the oven a little bit too long, but they still tasted great!)

Recipe (Makes 12)

300g Plain Flour
100g Golden Castor Sugar
1 tsp Baking Powder
2 pinches Salt
1 tsp Vanilla Essence
2 Eggs, beaten
100g Butter, melted and cooled
200ml Milk
150g Blueberries
150g white Chocolate, chopped

1) Heat oven to 180°C
2) Add Blueberries and White Chocolate to the Flour, Castor Sugar, Baking Powder and Salt
3) Combine the wet ingredients and mix into dry, again, don't overmix.
4) Bake for 25 - 30 mins

Both recipes are so simple and really quick to make.  I couldn't believe how quickly both batches were done.  As for the feedback I got, the Blueberry and White Chocolate ones went down much better, they barely lasted the night. Because of the milk in that recipe the consistency was much more moist and the melted white chocolate didn't hurt either!

In comparison the Strawberry and Banana muffins were much drier, I think in this case the Banana is used to add moisture to the mix which didn't work quite as well, I even noticed this when I was putting the mix into the tin.  However having said that, when I returned to the website, the original poster had suggested serving the Strawberry and Banana muffins with some butter, reluctantly I tried this, and it was absolutely gorgeous.  In conclusion I think these would make a perfect breakfast muffin (that's how I finished off the batch anyway!) and the Blueberry ones are the ones I would save as a special treat for myself!