Archive | August, 2018

Things I learnt in August

31 Aug

Another month is almost over and I have been having a think about what interesting things that I have learnt this month.

1. A flying fox and a fruit bat are the same thing. This made my brain hurt when I found this out this week. I ‘m not sure exactly what I thought a flying fox was. I didn’t think that it was a type of bat though. bat-2639114_960_720If you look at this picture though, you can see that it does look a bit like a fox so I can understand where the name now comes from. It’s always confusing when people use different words for the same thing. Like the whole debate about what a small bread roll in English is called. I’m not even going to open that can of worms.

2. According to my knee doctor, my knee is (and I quote) perfect. I don’t want to sound like I am showing off but he did use the word perfect several times when talking about the cartilage, tendons and ligaments in my right knee. He was able to “show” me this because I had an MRI scan for a knee problem that I’ve had a bit of trouble shaking off. So I had the MRI as a precaution to make sure that everything in my knee was still in one piece. It was reasserting to know that after playing so much sport over the years, running a marathon and trying to be a regular runner hasn’t had a negative effect on my joints so far. Which means that I have no fear about training for one of my next challenges – to run an Ultramarathon.

3. I am a turophile. I love eating cheese. I really could sit and eat cheese until I made myself sick and then I would probably carry on eating again. Not being able to eat cheese was the hardest part of my vegan challenge. I looked up the etymology of the word it comes from the Greek word for cheese which is “turos”. Interesting stuff!cheese-1972744__340

4. Patience is a virtue. Recently I have been waiting for news and I have realised that I’m just got good at it. As much as I try to not think about it and distract myself by doing other things, I still end up checking my emails every fifteen minutes. I am not even sure if it is possible to train yourself to be more patient. If someone does know if it is possible, please feel free to get in touch!

5. Classic novels are wasted on youths. In the last month I have read a few classic novels that I have been meaning to read for an age. I have also just started reading Northhanger Abbey by Jane Austen and I will probably read Wuthering Heights next. When I was at school, I hated reading all of these classics. It wasn’t because I had to read them for an exam but I just found them boring. Perhaps it is an age thing but I do enjoying reading these novels now. At school students shouldn’t be forced to read classics but be encouraged to read whatever they find interest.

And that is the 8th month of 2018 finished! I hope you have also learnt some interesting things this month.

Spain and Andorra

29 Aug

Last weekend we went to visit some of my boyfriend’s friends just outside of Barcelona. It was a nice short break and we managed to eat, drink and see a lot.

After collecting our rental car, we drove to Montserrat, a mountain range just outside Barcelona. The views from the top were nothing short of stunning. It is possible to walk to the top but we took the cable car to save our legs!

There is an impressive Basilica at the top and even more impressive queues to go into the church and pray to the Madonna at the top of the High Altar. Because of the heat, we decided not to wait but to go and have some lunch.

Later we drove to Manresa, where we would be staying. We found an amazing jamón shop where we tried some jamón, tomato bread and red wine. The wine was only 1.50 Euros and I was expecting it to taste like vinegar but I was pleasantly surprised at how good it was. When we met up with our hosts, we got ready to go for evening meal and then onto a club where there was a jazz festival. It was a great atmosphere but after food and an early flight we were happy to go home for some rest.

The next day we went to Andorra. If you have been reading my blog for a while you will know that I have a #40Before40 challenge, in which I have challenged myself to do 40 challenges before I turn 40 (I have a few years to go yet!). One of my challenges is to visit 40 European countries and Andorra is one that I haven’t been to before.

Andorra wasn’t what I expected. It is a shoppers’ paradise because there are no taxes on the goods. It felt like every shop sold tobacco, booze, perfume and shoes and nothing else. I thought it had a bit of a weird atmosphere – like a place that’s in between here and there. I can’t imagine living there. It also took a long time to get in and out because so many people were crossing the border to get a bargain. However, I have been and it’s one less country to visit.

The next day we went to Sitges, a coastal town near to Barcelona. I had visited once before as part of a business trip but it was nice to go back again, especially for the delicious paella! I think Sitges is a bit like Blackpool for Spanish people. It was packed with lots of people who were just there for the weekend.

And then it was time to come home to Switzerland. I’m sure that weekends go quicker than weekdays – the secret is then to enjoy the weekends more!

Challenge #8 – update

25 Aug

Challenge number 8 on my #40Before40 is to watch all of the 250 Top Films as rated on iMDB.

I have now watched 120 out of 250 films, which means I am almost half way to the finish line!

23. The Silence of the Lambs

I thought that I had seen this before but I obviously hadn’t because the opening scenes were what I thought were the closing scenes. It wasn’t as scary as I thought it would be but I now know why the book version that my Dad used to have on his bedside table showed a person with a moth over the mouth. This hasn’t done anything for my moth-phobia. I thought the plot twist at the end was a little bit predictable but otherwise it was relatively enjoyable.

27. Léon: The Professional

This was the story of a professional hitman, who takes a orphaned girl in after her family have been brutally murdered. He teaches her how to make a hit but when she decides to kill the people who murdered her family things start to go round. It was action-packed, although the ending was a little bit predictable.

29. Spirited Away

Only one word can describe this film – weird! It was a Japanese Anime and I wasn’t sure what was going on most of the time. A girl is transported into a parallel world where her parents have been turned into pigs. She has to work in order to free them and return back to reality. It was confusing and surreal to watch. I just didn’t get it.

32. Interstellar

I have so many questions about the movie plot that I still don’t understand. The basic premise is that NASA is searching for other planets for the human race to escape to because nothing grows on the earth any more apart from corn. I was kind of with the plot until there is a long exploration of time being a non-linear concept. At this point it just became a bit too surreal for me. I don’t know why this film is so high on the list. It was ok but I didn’t think it was incredible.

34. City Lights

This is the first silent movie I have ever seen. It stars Charlie Chaplin as a tramp who falls in love with a blind girl. I found it really funny but sometime a bit predictable because the jokes have obviously been stolen and rehashed over the years. It also amazing how you don’t need dialogue to understand what is going on throughout the film.

37. The Intouchables

This is a French film (I watched it with subtitles) and is based on a true story. It’s about a carer and his patient who is an incredibly intelligent man but is paraplegic. At some parts of the film, I was howling with laughter. It was incredibly real and the end was heartwarming. It is to discover films like this that I would never watch normally.

38. Modern Times

Another Charlie Chaplin film on the list. I like that the characters in his films don’t have any name; he is just called “the Tramp” or “the factory worker”. Half of the time I don’t remember the characters in a film once I have watched it. The story is about a factory worker who has a nervous breakdown and then accidentally gets sent to jail when the police wrongly think that he is the leader of a protest. Like City Lights, I liked the jokes and the slapstick comedy.

42. Rear Window

Another Hitchcock film on the list and one of my favourites of his so far – there are quite a few Hitchcock films on the list. The story is set in an apartment block. The main character, played by James Stewart, is recuperating from a broken leg and spends all day watching the neighbours come and go. Things take a drastic turn when he witnesses a possible murder in an adjacent flat. I also spotted Hitchcock’s cameo when he was winding up a clock in an apartment when he was playing a butler.

45. Whiplash

I had no idea what this was going to be about – possible someone suffering with the after effects of a car accident and was thinking of suing? Thankfully it was about a young drummer trying to break into the music industry and his relationship with his mentor. It explores the fine line that exists between trying to nurture talent and the consequences when someone is pushed to their limits. It had a very moral and ethical undertone to it.

47. The Prestige

Another film that I have never even heard of on the list. It’s the story of the rivalry of two magicians. It’s one of those films that you could re-watch to get all of the clues about how the story will unfold. I had managed to pick up most of the clues but it was only right at the end that I had the “A-ha!” moment. Highly recommended if you haven’t seen it!

79. Requiem for a Dream

Three words to describe this film: weird, weird and weird. It explores the relationship that four people have with drugs, though not all of them are illegal drugs. It is shot in a dream-like manner where reality and fantasy overlap each other. I still don’t know how I feel about the film as a whole. The ending was abrupt and left me wanting to know what would happen later to the characters, although there is an overwhelming sense that the characters are all trapped and they won’t be able to achieve the dreams and the lives that they were hoping for.

94. The Sting

This was a film about some conmen and the elaborate sting that they set up. I couldn’t really get into it. It seemed a little bit outdated when you have seen the Ocean’s series. The best thing was Robert Redford’s dapper pin-striped suit and matching hat.

104. The Hunt

This is the story of a teacher, who is falsely accused of child abuse by his best friend’s daughter. Halfway through I was wondering what this had to do with “The Hunt” but the title of the film has a double meaning but you only find that out at the end of the film. An interesting portrayal of something that often happens in our society.

156. Dial M for Murder

A man blackmails a friend to kill his wife but it all goes wrong and the police soon suspect that he is to blame but proving it is difficult. Another Hitchcock’s film but not one of the best of them, in my opinion. I did think this was the best cameo role that Hitchcock plays.

197. The Grand Budapest Hotel

I have been avoiding this film for a while but I think it’s because I was mixing it up with the film with a similar title. It is one of the best films that I have seen in a long time, even though it had Jude Law in it. It’s all about a valuable painting that is inherited by a hotel employee and the family of the deceased trying to steal it back. Funny, strange and wonderful all at the same time.

182. Into the Wild

Another true story in the list about a young man who leaves his family and hometown without a word because he doesn’t want to live according to society’s rules. He survives by moving from place to place earning enough money to get by and learns how to hunt and fend for himself off the land. He also visits Salvation Mountain which I did a few years back. I remember our tour guide saying that it was featured in a film and since then lots of people have come to see it.

243. In the Mood for Love

This was set in Hong Kong and Singapore and was mainly in Cantonese so it was lucky that I was able to get the film with subtitles. It’s the story about two neighbours who realise that their spouses are having an affair with each other. Even though they both have feeling for each other as well after becoming friends, they find it difficult to act on their emotions because they don’t want to be cheaters, despite the actions of their partners. It’s an interesting movie and I thought the music was interesting as well.

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The Problem with My Accent

22 Aug

I have never thought that my lovely Northern English accent was much cause for concern. But lately, living in Switzerland has made me more aware about accents and how I speak.

I have recently upped my German learning intensity and I have been taking classes online with native German speakers, who live in Germany. I have been more than a bit surprised that all of them (without exception) have commented on my German accent. All of them describe me as having a Swiss-German accent. This is strange because as soon as I talk to a Swiss person they will say that I have an English accent when I speak in German.

I’m not so naive to think that I have been speaking the equivalent of The Chancellor’s German but I have still be shocked about how noticeable it is that I haven’t learnt my German in Germany.

One of the teachers that I had a lesson with this week gave me the feedback that she “enjoyed my unique British-Swiss-German accent”. I’m speechless. Is British-Swiss-German even an actual thing? Or have I mistakenly started a whole new dialect all by myself?

I think I have picked up some of the vowel sounds from Swiss-German, which are quite different to standard German, because I hear these sounds all the time when I speak to people in Switzerland.

I also have problems with my vowels in English when I speak to non-native speakers. The vowel sounds that I use tend to be longer in words like ‘lunch’ and I have made a few people confused when I have said things because my accent isn’t 100% like The Queen’s. Some have even asked me how is a certain word meant to be said. To which I have replied that how I have said it IS the correct way to say it. I refuse to modify my accent – I have been working on refining it to its current state for the best part of 35 years.

Sometimes I think that a lot of the stigma related to accents is down to snobbery and nothing more. And while I have been teased about the way I say certain words in English and now in German, perhaps it’s not my accent that is the problem. Perhaps having a unique and distinct accent is something that people should be proud of instead of thinking it as a negative thing.

However, I would like to make it clear that I am officially the founder of the British-Swiss-German accent and you heard it in all of its uniqueness here first.

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Photo An Hour – August 18th 2018

19 Aug

Yesterday I took part in August’s Photo An Hour. This is a small challenge in which you try to take a photo every hour to record your day. I tend to find these days are my most productive because I want the documentation of my day to be interesting!

Here is what I got up to yesterday:

7am: Good morning world!

8am: Even though I’ve got quite a bit to do today, I’m going to do some reading. Starting this book today after finishing one last night

9am: DIY time

10am: Waiting for the second coat to dry before touching up the paintwork

11am: Painting and jobs done so it’s time for a shower

12pm: Cuppa soup for lunch

1pm: I love that our new apartment has a washing machine

2pm: Done the shopping

3pm: Washing almost dry

4pm: Finally getting started on some short story ideas

5pm: Made a game to help me learn German Modalverben. Might have to go on Dragons’ Den with this one!

6pm: Making dinner

7pm: Dinner time with newly painted table

8pm: Refreshments for film watching are ready!

9pm: Halfway through a film! My last post for the night.

Book Challenge By Erin – completed!

15 Aug

Recently I stumbled upon a reading challenge which is run via a Facebook group. The challenge is relatively easy. There are ten categories and you have to read one book from each category. The books have to be at least 200 pages long. You then have four months to read the books that you have chosen.

The challenge started on 1st July and I am pleased (and a little bit surprised) to say that on Monday I finished the challenge! I found the challenge a lot of fun and it also meant that I was able to read some books that have been on my to-read list for an extraordinary length of time and also to read some books that I would never normally even think about reading.

Here is a quick review of the books that I have been busy reading:

Freebie (any book of your choice that is at least 200 pages long)

I chose Murder Games by James Patterson. This is the easiest read on my list by a long way. I have read a lot of James Patterson books and they are an easy read. As this is my first challenge I thought that having an easier read to begin with would be a good idea. This story was about the race to stop a serial killer. A university professor and detective team up to find the killer before he strikes again. There are quite a lot of plot twists that keep you guessing right until the end!

Read a book that starts with the letter “N

I chose Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall by Kazuo Ishiguro. I really enjoyed this book. A lot of Ishiguro’s books are long and not very accessible but these short stories were easier to read. I liked that each of the stories was about music and that the first and the last stories were connected. It felt like I was reading a novel rather than several stories that had no connection with one another. I especially liked the description of the Swiss couple who are holidaying in England in the third story because I thought the mannerisms and attitude of the pair were very accurate.

Read a book that has a (mostly) orange cover

I chose Appointment with Death by Agatha Christie. I have never read any Agatha Christie novels so I thought this might be a good place to start. It was clear right from the start the a murder had been committed and it made a nice change to start in the middle of the action rather than waiting for a long build up before you knew who the victim was. The case was all solved within a matter of hours and I wasn’t expecting the twist at the end of the novel (because it never is the butler who’s done it).

Read a book that has an unlikeable character

I chose The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. I think just about everyone read this during my teenage years at school – apart from me. Knowing Plath’s personal demons, I have been avoiding reading it. Although mental health is a main theme of the book, I was pleasantly surprised how well-written and engaging it was. The analogy with the fig tree would have perhaps had a greater impact on me had I have read it in my teenage years but being older I can appreciate the cleverness of the imagery.

Read a book from the list of 100 books that PBS calls “The Great American Read” 

I chose The Color Purple by Alice Walker. I have been meaning to read this for a while. There were a lot of books on the list that I thought would be interesting to read but I decided on this one. There are a lot of difficult themes that are tackled in the book, namely racism and abuse, and, although they made me think about these themes in more detail, it was necessarily an un-enjoyable read.

Read a book with something related to water in the title

I chose The Falls by Ian Rankin. I have read quite a few Rankin novels and I had this book anyway. It seemed like a good opportunity to stop this book from gathering dust on the book shelf. The book is one of many in the Inspector Rebus series and Rebus and his colleagues have to find out who killed a student. When the case is then linked to unsolved murders dating back over the last 30 years, the investigation takes an unexpected turn. There is also an interesting subplot because the student was involved in an online role playing game. It also looks like Inspector Rebus may have fallen in love finally, after his marriage fell apart because of his commitment to his job.

Read a book you’ve owned the longest but haven’t read

I chose Porno by Irvine Welsh. I am not 100% sure that this is the book I have had the longest as there are a lot of contenders for that but I have been meaning to read this for a long while. This is actually the sequel to Welsh’s Trainspotting novel that was the basis of the film of the same name. I read Trainspotting and enjoyed it immensely. Both of these books (and quite a few of Welsh’s other books) are written, at least partly, in Scottish dialect so it is a bit of challenging read, which is why it has been on the “To read” list for so long.

The start of the book was quite predictable. The characters from the Trainspotting book are now (largely) clean and drug-free but in an attempt to make a quick buck they decide to get involved in the making of a pornography film. It took a while to get going because it was obvious what was going to happen. The book is told from all of the characters perspectives which I thought was interesting. There is a plot twist at the end that I wasn’t expecting. But beware if you decide to read this – there are some characters who curse with every other word that they use.

Read a book with an emotion word in the title 

I chose The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan. I recently bought this book and luckily it fits nicely into this category. Luckily (please excuse the pun), I really enjoyed this book. A interesting exploration about how much of our lives and personalities are influenced by our heritage and our family. The descriptions of the many, many Chinese superstitions and beliefs were also fascinating!

Read a book (must be at least 2 words in the title) where each word in the title of the book begins with the same letter 

I chose Black Beauty by Anna Sewell. I have never read this, even though I can hear the theme tune of the TV series in my head the moment that I think of the title. I don’t know very much about the plot apart from there is a black horse in it. I was surprised that this book was written from the point of view of the horse. During the book, the horse experiences good and bad masters and how he sees other horses being treated.

Read a book featuring a character who shares your profession or a similar one

I chose Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe. This is a bit of a tenuous link to my job. I work in Finance, most recently in a bank and the main character works in bonds and trades on Wall Street. This is another book that has been gathering dust and, without this challenge, I don’t think that I would be attempting to read it. This was a long book (720 pages). Although I had left this book to the end and it felt like I was never going to finish it, I think it might be one of my favourite books of all time. The plot is straight-forward but the political ramifications are quite complex. I liked the way that all the characters had strong mannerisms and how the action in the book was relentless.

There is now a bonus round to the challenge which I have decided to take part in. You have to choose another book from each of the categories but you get extra credit if you read something that someone has already selected. I am not sure if I will have time to complete another 10 books but I will let you know if I do!

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Challenge #25 update

11 Aug

I am continuing in my quest to cook every recipe from one cookbook. As I also recently took up the challenge of eating a vegan diet for three months, I chose a vegan cookbook for this challenge.

As the challenge stands I have now cooked and eaten 57 recipes out of a possible 100. The end is getting closer. Here is a quick review of the recipes that I have recently completed.

Tuscan Bean Salad

This was a really easy recipe to make. I have never cooked with Haricot Beans before so it was good to get familiar with another ingredient. I made enough of this to feed about 30 people so it was good that it kept in the fridge for a while which enhanced the flavours.

Arabian Lentil Salad

After finally perfecting the art of cooking green lentils, this recipe was also easy to make. It is a good accompaniment to vegetables because we ate it with grilled peppers and sweet potatoes but you could also eat it on its own as a big salad.

Vegan Mayonnaise

This was my second attempt at making this; the first time went horribly wrong and I had to throw it all away. Although the consistency was like mayonnaise, I found the taste a bit odd and it took me a while to get used to it. I must say that there are much easier recipes for vegan mayonnaise on the internet and on Youtube with fewer ingredients and processes so I am not sure that I would use this recipe again. Also a lot of supermarkets now have the vegan equivalent for mayo. I’m inclined to be of the opinion that life it too short to be making mayo from scratch anyway…

Tartare Sauce

I had no idea that tartare sauce had capers in it. You learn something new everyday. The base of this sauce was the vegan mayonnaise and then cucumber, herbs and capers were all added. It was easy to make and surprisingly tasty.

Thousand Island Dressing

Again the basis of this sauce was the vegan mayonnaise and then tomato ketchup, chilli and herbs were added. A really delicious sauce that would be a good addition to a sandwich.

Smoky Paté

I wasn’t too sure about this. Part of the problem was that my blender wasn’t quite big enough for all of the ingredients and the resulting mixture ended up being a bit on the coarse side. However, it was nice on the top of some bread and some vegan crackers that I found.

Spinach Tofu Scramble Wrap with Rocket

This is possibly the greatest triumph so far. When I presented this to my boyfriend, he asked when I had gone to buy eggs. That is how convincing the tofu scramble was as an egg scramble substitute! I had some tofu left over from another recipe to use to make this so it is a simple way to use up some leftover ingredients.

Homemade Hot Dogs

The whole way through this recipe I was thinking, “There is no way that this is going to remotely resemble a hot dog at the end. It was fairly complicated and it was only when I came to cook them that I realised that you had to steam them to cook them. We don’t have a steamer. Luckily, Google was on hand to help me “build” one at home and that did the job. I was very surprised at how well they turned out and they tasted better than I thought they would.

Homemade Currywurst

The recipe used the Hot Dogs from the recipe above and was basically a sauce to eat with the hot dog. The curry sauce really was delicious and I could see me making it again and again for vegetable and meat dishes.

Mezze Green Beans

Such a simple dish but tasty, especially as now is the season for green beans so you can get them in the supermarkets for a reasonable price. As the recipe called for garlic, I think I might have put too much in the dish (definitely more that what was stated in the recipe) so it kept the vampires away at night!

Redcurrant and Coconut Turnovers

I left out the coconut in this recipe because I am not a big fan of coconut. It is also coming to the end of the redcurrant season so I knew it would be good to get this recipe finished or I would have to wait a year for this to come into season again. Although this is a dessert, we actually had some of them for breakfast. I am still amazed that it is possible to make pastries and cakes without dairy products. This recipe used baking soda, bicarbonate of soda and lemon mixed with plant-based milk as a raising agent.

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Juicy Mandarin and Chia Seed Muffins

As I couldn’t find mandarins in the shops, I used a blood orange instead. The recipe called for three different types of flour in this mixture and the cake itself is heavier than a traditional sponge recipe but it was yummy to eat.

Raspberry and Chocolate Windmill

This was a disaster and such a pain to make. I had to use fresh yeast (for the first time) and the dough itself ended up ok. The problem was that the recipe needed vegan custard powder which I couldn’t find here in Switzerland. So I made my own vegan custard. I think that the custard wasn’t thick enough and it didn’t end up looking like it did in the book. I was disappointed with the result because the cake ended up being heavy and too rich. I might try this another time if I can find vegan custard powder because I think it could be a good recipe for parties and so on. But with my substitute custard powder it definitely wasn’t a crowd pleaser!