Friday, 28 February 2014

Magazine Musings

My name is Sophie, and I buy FAR too many magazines.

That would have been my confession just six months ago. For as long as I can remember, I have loved the world of magazines. The glossy covers, the beautiful images, that mixture of beauty, fashion, life and advice. Monthly magazines, gossipy weekly magazines, it didn’t matter. I loved them, one and all.

Looking back at the amount of money I must have spent on magazines over the years actually now makes me shudder. When you consider your average glossy monthly is around the £4, and I loved far more than one of them…

Then, about six months ago, I graduated from university and ‘real life’ begun. I moved back home whilst job hunting, and began work in September of 2013. I realised more than ever that I needed to watch my pennies. Don’t get me wrong, I learned a lot about budgeting at university, but it took starting work and earning an actual salary to really make me think.

Flicking through the November issue of a popular magazine, I found myself ignoring multiple pages. When I closed the back cover, I realised I hadn’t really enjoyed it. What used to be my favourite relaxing thing to do just wasn’t that interesting. The internet gives us so much, and when I constantly get brand emails or read blog posts that cover exactly the same material in an often more exciting way, spending so much on print magazines just didn’t seem as exciting.

So I stopped.

I decided not to buy them any more. And on taking that action, it became clear that I stopped loving them a long time ago. Maybe it was overkill as I had read so many. And I’m talking silly amounts, it had become a habit or a compulsion to buy them all the day they came out. Maybe the amount of money I had spent I would now prefer to spend on meals out, or trips away. But I don’t miss them.

Don’t get me wrong, when I’m on a long journey or really fancy a magazine, or love a cover star, I’m not going to stop myself. But it’s no longer just a force of habit, an almost ritualistic way of frittering away my money, without pausing for thought. Three months on and I’ve not caved yet. And I feel fine about it.

How much to you spend on magazines?

Sunday, 23 February 2014

The Reading List #22

A day late I know, but here is this weekend’s reading list round-up:

Jacob’s Room, Virginia Woolf

It’s not been long since my last Woolf book, but I’ve had a few hanging around on my shelf waiting to be read! This is the story of Jacob Flanders, killed in the First World War. It conjures up the period beautifully, and also covers the stories of those left at home.

This, as with all of Woolf’s work has a very clear and unique style. The writing is very fluid, and you skip through the pages. The spectrum of characters and emotions it covers are broad, and I think it’s my favourite all round book of Virginia Woolf’s.

Kate Moss, Chris Roberts*

I was lucky enough to be sent this beautiful biography of Kate Moss, and it would make the perfect gift for any fans. Although there is a lot of emphasis on the images, it is written in the style of a more wordy biography. By that I mean it’s not just a few words around lots of images, it’s actually a well-crafted and ordered story of Moss’ life and career so far.

The pictures, though, are of course stunning. They are well selected and beautifully printed. This is a perfect coffee table book, with the bonus of great writing. I don’t think I’d have necessarily picked up a Moss biography, just as it’s not a genre I read much of, but I’m really glad I read it.

My Dear, I Wanted to Tell You, Louisa Young

Back to the First World War theme, this book centres around the summer of 1917, when a letter reveals a lie. It covers the trenches and the home front, and weaves a story of betrayal and heartache. I know that’s quite a cliché description, but it’s hard to say much without giving lots away!

It fits into the slightly more trashy read category, but covers some great themes and the plotline is good I certainly kept me turning the pages, and there’s were some very unexpected twists. The emotion at times is really genuine, and it’s worth picking up for a fairly easy read, but with a good story behind it.

The Fencer, Ayala R.*

This is the story of a fencer, of his career, and of his life. It flits between a fencing competition, and his childhood, growing up alongside his equally competitive brother.

This has shot straight to the top of my ‘recommend to everyone’ list. I absolutely loved it. I has a very unique style, and feels almost like a dance, or I suppose a fencing match. There are lots of French words and phrases left in, which are so musical, and the way the chapters and parts are structured only adds to this musical, dancing style. The story is gripping and raw, and I was so impressed, I can’t remember reading anything like it, and it was really very beautiful.

So there you have it. Have you read any of these things?

Let me know what you’ve been reading recently!

*PR copy for review consideration

Thursday, 20 February 2014

The Recipe Post #4: Easy Mediterranean Feta Rice

This is one of my complete go-to, easy recipes. It’s unbelievably quick, and tastes fresh and filling. Plus, it has feta cheese in it, which is just the best. The cheat is the use of the Tilda rice, which adds some extra flavour and saves more time.

I initially found this on a site like Good Food using different rice and veg, and then have adapted it a little each time I’ve made it to suit my mood or the people eating it.

To serve 2, you will need:

6-8 cherry tomatoes, halved
Handful rocket leaves, and extra to serve
1tbsp olive oil
125g feta cheese – I tend to vary how much depending on how sticky I want it!
1 red pepper, diced
Tilda lime and coriander rice (one of the ‘2mins in the microwave’ packs)
200g (1/2 can) of chickpeas, drained and rinsed

Pour the olive oil into a deep non-stick frying pan over a gentle heat. Add the roughly chopped tomatoes and diced pepper and gently fry.

Stir in a generous handful of rocket leaves. When wilted, add the diced feta cheese.

Carefully spoon in chickpeas and the Tilda rice and continue to cook, stirring slowly for 3-5 minutes, until cooked through.

Serve hot, with fresh rocket. We sometimes add warm pitta breads if you want more substance to the dish.

Quick, simple, and tasty. I made this for me and my sister when our parents were away and I took over the week’s food…  it went down very well!

What are your favourite quick meals?

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

The Reading List #21

Finally my reading lists are catching up with where I’m actually at with my books! I have slowed down a little bit recently as I’ve been busier, but will be back on the reading bandwagon soon. Here’s the latest list:

The Uninvited Guests, Sadie Jones

On the eve of Emerald’s 20th birthday, mysterious strangers appear on the doorstep, stranded in the area by a train accident. As the night goes on, the Torrington family realise there may be something more complex going on amongst their guests.

This story had potential, and the set-up was done very well. I wasn’t sure about any of the characters, though, and didn’t feel I knew them very well. The suspense was well sustained, though, and it kept me turning the pages.

A Visit from the Goon Squad, Jennifer Egan

Bennie Salazar, an old music mogul, and Sasha, his young PA, offer two perspectives on their lives from the 1970s onwards through their careers. They face ups and downs, travel everywhere from Africa to San Francisco, and meet with people from record producers to political and army figures.

This is quite a whirlwind. The pair often seem to just miss out on things, and at times it’s really sad. Told in simple prose, it was quite unlike anything else I’ve read in a long time, and worth a look.

Imperium, Robert Harris

Set in Ancient Rome, Marcus Cicero is a rising lawyer. He gambles in the courtroom, and will do anything to succeed. The novel is narrated by Tiro, his secretary, and follows his path moving up through the political world of Rome.

I loved the setting of this, it just reminded me of doing Latin GCSE. There was a great narrative voice, and an interesting story. I wasn’t as blown away as some people apparently were by this book, I definitely prefer some of his other work, but it is still a good read. Harris is a master at conjuring up a time and a place with authenticity, and that shines through.

The Queen of Subtleties, Suzannah Dunn

This novel combines two stories: Anne Boleyn is telling her life story from the Tower before her death, and Lucy Cornwallis, confectioner in the palace kitchen, tells her own story. Cornwallis’ confidante is Mark Smeaton, who becomes embroiled in Boleyn’s scandals.

This captures the complexities of court life well, and I loved the contrast between the two stories, and the different voices. It’s a nice historical novel, and I think this period is so fascinating anyway!

A nice mixture in this list, and that’s a theme that has continued yet again… Next instalment coming at the weekend.

What are you reading at the moment?

Sunday, 16 February 2014

The Recipe Post #3: Courgette and Tomato Pasta

Next up, it’s another pasta recipe! A couple of weeks ago some of my girlfriends came round in the evening before one returned to uni, and I wanted to make something simple and tasty, that wouldn’t involve me standing over the stove and excluded from the general conversation. Everyone had had long days of work or uni, and so we needed something tasty.

I have no idea where I got this initial recipe from, but I took the basis of it and threw in my own substitutions or alterations, and it seemed to go down well. I’ve got more into making sauces for pasta recently. It can be so cheap and easy to throw in a sauce that I had fallen into the trap of doing that, but it’s so inexpensive to make your own sauce, and it has an extra edge of tastiness.

For this recipe, which serves about 4, you will need:

4 cloves garlic, crushed
400g can chopped tomatoes
12 cherry tomatoes, halved
400-450g amori pasta (twirls)
2tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp crushed chillies
2 courgettes, diced
25g fresh basil leaves, torn

Heat half the oil in a small pan and cook the garlic and chilli over a low heat for about three minutes until soft but not browned. Add the canned tomatoes and seasoning and simmer gently for 15 mins, stirring occasionally until thickened.

Heat the remaining oil in a medium frying pan and add the courgettes and fresh tomatoes. Fry over a high heat for 3-4 minutes until golden.

Add the fresh vegetables to the tomato sauce, and add in the basil

Meanwhile, cook the pasta in a large pan of boiling water, and then drain. Add the sauce and toss again, before serving.

This was simple, cheap and tasted really fresh, with a nice little kick from the chillies. I’ll definitely use it again!

What are your favourite pasta recipes?

Sophie x

Saturday, 15 February 2014

The Reading List #20

How miserable is this weather? I just can’t believe it’s still raining, and the wind is so strong. If you’re hiding inside this weekend, here’s my latest round-up of reading…

Tigers in Red Weather, Liza Klaussmann

Nick and her cousin Helena grew up together and spent their summers at Tiger House, a tradition that continues when they have their own families. One year, a tragedy happens that mean summers can never be the same.

This book was packed with very interesting family relationships, and contained some great observations and complex characters. It was a nice read, but I wasn’t wowed by the overall plot, and felt it could have been taken a bit further. An interesting read, maybe for on a holiday, but not the best thing I’ve read recently.

Tess of the D’Urbervilles, Thomas Hardy

Yet another classic that I have finally got round to reading. I had a friend at school who adored this book and I’m not sure I ever actually admitted I hadn’t read it! In a nutshell, Tess is seeking part off her ‘lost’ family fortune, and the new connections she makes become part of her downfall. Angel Clare is able to offer some hope for a future, but Tess must decide between remaining silent or confessing to her past.

I really enjoyed this. Parts of the novel were fairly slow, but overall it had a nice pace and I love the period and style. A part of me is glad I waited until now to read it, rather than coming across it at school or university. Now I’ve distanced myself more from the world of studying literature, it was nice to be able to read a novel like this and appreciate it for what it is, rather than ‘studying’ and dissecting it.

The Secret Scripture, Sebastian Barry

A mental hospital is due to shut down, and this novel focuses on a patient, Roseanne, and Dr Greene. Roseanne’s memoirs reflect back in her life - she is about to turn 100 – and include her childhood in 1930s Ireland, her marriage etc. Greene’s discoveries about her life are shocking, and his book also reveals details of his own life.

It’s really well written, and it kept me turning the pages. I liked the combination of the two voices, and it was fluid and easy to read. A thoughtful novel, it kept me thinking, and had a very interesting storyline. Worth a read.  

The Newlyweds, Nell Freudenberger

Amina and George meet online, and she moves from Bangladesh to the USA to marry him. They have both not been entirely honest about their pasts, so there is plenty to be revealed. In addition to this, Amina is struggling to find her place and settle in a new country.

I could not stop telling people about this book whilst I was reading it. The topics it covers are vast – marriage, arranged marriage, religion, tension, the USA, family – yet it hits each one on exactly the right note. I absolutely loved the style of this, and some of the issues it discussed. I’ve recommended this to a lot of people, and I now recommend it to you!

What have you been reading recently?

Sophie x

The Great Facebook Purge

A couple of years ago, I deleted a LOT of people from Facebook. Well, I ‘unfriended’ them. When you first get Facebook, which for me was at school, it becomes all about how many ‘friends’ you have, and about immediately connecting with everyone you meet. Then you start university, and that game starts all over again. The problem is, the majority of those people you just don’t care about. It’s not that I wish ill on any of them, but I just don’t need to know every detail of their lives. The new rule is, if I wouldn’t stop for a chat in the street, or drop them a message to catch up, I don’t need to be a Facebook friend.

I think that became even more clear for me when I got into Twitter. Twitter is more about connecting publicly with a wide range of people, who share your interests. In contrast, I see Facebook as much more private, a space to share photos and messages with ‘real life’ friends. I’m not too strict, and there are people in my ‘friend’ list that I’ve not caught up with in a long time, but broadly speaking I’m friends with the people I want to be.

I was Facebook friends with plenty of people from my school who I never even spoke to when we were there. How ridiculous is that? We never communicated when we were in the same building every day, but I know when they’re in a relationship, I’ve seen their holiday photos and I know how they’re doing at university. Some people like the nosy element of this, but the bit that bothered me the most was that they also get the same from me. They see all my interactions, my photos, my friendships. But if we never speak and have never spoken, why am I sharing that? I know I write a blog, which puts things out on the internet, but that’s from a different perspective, and written in a way I’m ready to share.

Interestingly, my friend Alex told me something that made me happy about my decision to ‘edit’ my Facebook connections. She saw a boy from school in summer, someone I maybe spoke to a couple of times, and her friends came up in conversation. He said ‘Oh Sophie, hasn’t she unfriended, like, everyone from school?’ It turns out people have noticed, and people have spoken about it. Yet most of his friends are people I have never even spoken a word to. Intriguing.

This has been a bit of a ramble, but what I’m trying to say is that I use different things for different purposes. My blog is where I write, share opinions, or muse on things. Twitter is for connecting with brands, like-minded people and the world around me. Facebook is now for those people who are real as well as virtual friends. I want to log on and smile, because I’m seeing photos of my cousin’s children, or my friend’s new life in London. And if people notice I have ‘unfriended’ people I never even knew properly, then so what? It’s my account, and my life, and I’ll keep in it the people I treasure.

Have you ever had a ‘Facebook purge’?

Sophie x

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

The Recipe Post #2: Tomato and Pancetta Pasta

My friend Hope came over for dinner recently, and after long days at work and a lot to catch up on, we needed something quick and filling. I originally tore this recipe out of Reveal or Closer magazine months and months ago, and it certainly filled that gap in our tummies! In fact, my dad had the leftovers as a pasta salad the next day, and was also a fan!

For this dish, to serve two, you will need:

1tbsp olive oil
1 small red onion, finely sliced
½ tsp dried chilli flakes
75g diced pancetta
400g can chopped tomatoes
2tbsp flat-leaf parsley, chopped
Dried pasta, to serve 2

Heat the oil in a large pan and fry the onions over a medium heat for about three minutes. Add the chilli and pancetta and cook for a further five minutes, stirring occasionally.

Pour in the chopped tomatoes, stir, and gently simmer for five minutes, stirring occasionally. Season with salt, remove from the heat and set aside.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta, drain and tip into the pan with the sauce.

Return the pan to a medium heat, sprinkle over the parsley and stir everything together gently.

One thing I love about pasta is the huge variety of things you can add into the sauce. What are your ingredients of choice?

Sophie x

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

The Reading List #19

I cannot believe the weather outside, it’s getting more and more wintery! When will spring be here? Tonight I will be curled up in the warmth with a book. If you’re looking for something new to read, here’s my latest reading list:

Animal Farm, George Orwell

This is an absolute classic, and one I can’t quite believe I’ve not got around to reading until now. Everyone knows the set-up of this story, and it’s so widely quoted and parodied that I found myself recognising huge chunks of it.

The animals of Manor Farm get rid of their humans, and decide to run the farm themselves, but an elite group begin to take control. It is a fantastic piece of work, well measured, and creepily true to life. I understand fully now why it occupies such an important place in history and writing, and it is well worth picking up.

To the Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf

This is the story of an island overlooked by a lighthouse, and the people that live in its shadow. Mrs Ramsey is the central figure, and there are then others around her. War taints the lives of those within the story, and the novel reflects on war and death, and how such issues are dealt with when ordinary life continues.

It is full of brilliant observations, and carefully crafted characters. It almost goes without saying that the style is fluid and some of the descriptions are just exquisite. I’m glad I finally got round to reading this gem.

Age of Iron, J M Coetzee

Set in Cape Town, a Classics professor writes to her daughter, telling her of her dying days. She has come face to face with the truth of apartheid, and her only companion is a homeless man, whom she confides in.

I first discovered Coetzee during my literature degree, and if I’m ever asked a favourite writer he is the first to spring to mind. His writing is so distinctive, and has an almost poetic simplicity, but through that he delivers such power. This novel really brings out the hostility of elements of South Africa, but those facts are never overplayed. Absolutely fantastic.

Life’s Too Short, Grace Saunders

This is really just a perfect little book of tips on life. It covers tress, relationships, weddings, babies, style, work, and pretty much anything else you can think of. It left me with so many ideas, and things to follow up on, and it all felt so accessible and friendly. There are also sections from well known celebrities and experts in certain fields, making the informative elements even more wide-ranging.

It’s all told with a touch of humour, but accepting the fact life can sometimes feel really tough! I loved this, it made me giggle and left me feeling helped and newly informed on a number of things.

How successful was that group? Such a good selection, and things I would wholeheartedly recommend.

What have you been reading recently?

Sophie x
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