Archive | December, 2018

Goodbye 2018

31 Dec

As 2018 draws to a close, I can’t help but thinking that it’s been another pretty good year.

This year I have:

  • had 5 weeks travelling around South America doing and seeing a lot of things that I never thought I would
  • read 68 books – a new personal record
  • moved into a new apartment that I love, love, love
  • quit a job that I didn’t like
  • completed 4 of my 40 Before 40 Challenges and 8 are almost finished
  • finally recovered from a knee injury so that I can get back to playing sports in 2019
  • made some new friends
  • became a vegan for 3 months and realised that not eating animal products is not the end of the world
  • had a celebrity reply to one of my tweets (Kim-Joy from Great British Bake Off)

All in all, it’s not been so bad at all. Of course there are some things that I have said that I will do but I haven’t got round to them but everyone has things that they have to carry over into next year. I see it as having a few extra things to tick off next year. I have high hopes for next year and I hope that I will be able to cross off more than a few the challenges from my list.

I hope you also will be saying goodbye to 2018 with fond wishes and high hopes for 2019.

All the best, thank you for reading in 2018 and Happy New Year!

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Airport delays

28 Dec

The Christmas festivities are almost over and we are now in that funny time of year where no one knows what day it is or what they should be doing to keep themselves busy.

Apologies to my readers for a lack of a Happy Christmas message on my blog. My intention was to sit down on Christmas Eve after we arrived back in Switzerland after our brief trip to the UK. However, our flight was delayed by 2 hours so by the time we had landed, got our case, got back home and then went to do the food shopping before the supermarkets closed, there wasn’t enough time for me to see through my good intentions.

This airport delay was an inconvenience but nowhere near as bad as people who were flying into and out of Gatwick experienced in the run up to Christmas. Such inconveniences are things that we will have to put up with if we want to spend time at Christmas with both of our families. It was nice to enjoy the build up to Christmas in a British way, which means mainly starting drinking at 3pm, and finishing off with a cheesy Swiss Christmas, including fondue and raclette.

I hope that you did have a good Christmas. I feel like I have been constantly eating and drinking this festive season. I have got plans to get back to doing sport (in the form of swimming while it is cold outside) and get back into shape after my recovery from my knee injury. I will be glad to get back to normality when I don’t have to have monster-sized portions, followed by dessert and nuts and snacks to finish.

I still can’t believe that it is Christmas. This year seems to have flown by. While I still can, I will enjoy the leftovers and the biscuits and snacks before it’s January.

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Dinner Party Madness

20 Dec

We are still a few days off from Christmas and I am almost ready for the New Year to be here so I can have a long period of abstinence. From the end of November we have had a lot of dinner parties and meals to keep me full-to-bursting. It is nice to catch up with people over a tasty meal and enjoy winter food that we don’t get to eat for the rest of the year.

Here are some of the festive dinners that we have had over the past few weeks with family and friends.

Raclette

Six of us sat down at the end of November for Raclette. Since moving to Switzerland, cheese raclette has become a firm favourite of mine. And why wouldn’t it? It’s melted cheese with potatoes and meat. This is one of the main reasons why I decided to do my vegan challenge in the summer. I don’t mind cutting out dairy and meat but cheese is really difficult for me to deny myself. We all ate until we had eaten and drunk our own body weights. I was slightly shocked that between the six of us, we managed to drink six bottles of wine plus about eight bottles of beer – and one of us was driving. Needless to say we all had a great time. What was even more great was that we ended up having the leftovers (we always prepare far too much food for guests) the following evening.

Sunday Roast

Two of our friends heading off to go travelling in the next few days. Because we aren’t able to go to their leaving drinks because we will be in the UK, we invited them over on a Sunday to experience a traditional British Sunday Roast. I’m always a bit wary of sharing British classics with other nationalities because literally everyone else in the world thinks that British food is shockingly bad. However, I was pleasantly surprised to see that my homemade Yorkshire puddings, stuffing balls and gravy were all quickly devoured!

Cooked Ham

Three days after the Sunday Roast two more of our friends came round to enjoy one of the hams that we had won at a shooting competition. It was basically the same as the Sunday Roast but with ham substituted for chicken and no yorkshire puddings. I was surprised by how good the ham was. Sometimes when you win food stuffs at a competition it’s not the best quality but we were all very impressed by it and again there wasn’t anything left at the end of the meal.

Mongolian Pot

My boyfriend always invites some of his former work colleagues to ours for a pre-Christmas dinner. We had mongolian pot which is something that we only eat around Christmas time. It is basically a pot of stock that you cook meat and vegetables in. I like that it is a very social meal. You need to wait for certain things to cook so you can talk, drink and laugh while you are waiting. Theoretically it means that you shouldn’t overeat because you have time to recognise that you are already full. I must admit I am still working on that bit! Also I have no idea why it is called Mongolian Pot but is still extremely popular in Switzerland.

I also made chocolate brownies from a new recipe which turned out far better than I expected!

Fondue

Another tradition for us is choosing our Christmas tree at a local farm and then enjoying Glühwein and Fondue before carrying the tree home. The fondue is so good there. This dish has been another one that I have become very fond of since moving here. I was very sceptical to begin with because I wasn’t so sure that melted cheese and bread actually constitutes a proper meal. But it does fill you up and now it is one of my favourites.

Over Christmas we will definitely be eating Raclette, Fondue and Mongolian Pot at least one more time. Plus we also have invites to a few friend’s houses over the Christmas and New Year season. Now perhaps you can understand why I will be ready for a “detox” in the New Year.

The first snow of Winter 2018

16 Dec

There is nothing quite as magical as waking up to a blanket of white snow and that is what happened this morning. As soon as I realised I started jumping around saying “It’s snowed!” My Swiss boyfriend wasn’t so excited – they are pretty much guaranteed snow every year but it is still a novelty to me.

What made it even more magical was that we bought our Christmas tree from a local farm last night. This has been a “tradition” for the past three years. We choose our tree, pay for it and get it packed up and then go inside to the small restaurant to have a Glühwein and eat Fondue until our sides split.

When we came back home last night, carrying the Christmas tree and full of wine and cheese, we had no idea that there was going to be a flurry of snow overnight. Yes, it was definitely cold enough to snow but in the hours that we were asleep we had no idea that the snow was gently coming down.

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I was feeling so Christmas-y that I demanded that we decorate the tree as soon as possible. So that is what we did with some new lights, new baubles and a special ornament that we bought when we were on holiday in Spain earlier this year.

I love having a real tree at Christmas. It gives the place a bit more sprinkle of magic and You don’t have to dismantle it and squeeze it back in the box for next year in January.

Have you already got your tree up? My next job to make me free ever more Christmas-y is to bake some mince pies to eat. Of course, I need to make sure that there is at least one spare to leave out for Santa in a week’s time!

Challenge #25

12 Dec

Another update about my #40before40 challenges! Brace yourself for a long post!

I completed my challenge to eat a vegan diet for 3 months at the end of July but I didn’t manage to cook all of the recipes in my vegan cookbook which is number 25 on my list. So the vegan eating has been continuing off and on over the past few months. Out of the 100 recipes in the book, I have now cooked 80 recipes. Which means that I only have 20 to go! The end is in sight!

Spicy Kale Crisps

This was easy to do and was intended to be a small snack. I didn’t really like the taste though to be honest. It was very bitter. But I can imagine that someone with a less sweet tooth than me would enjoy it.

Smoky Coconut “Bacon”

I don’t like coconut at all and I was hoping that the rest of the ingredients would mask the coconut-y taste but unfortunately it did. Needless to say that it wasn’t my thing. I am also very skeptical about any food that introduces itself with quotation marks. There is no way that that is going to be a true representation of the real thing is it?

Super Crunchy Almond Nut Balls

These tasted ok but they weren’t very crunchy. The recipe asked for firm nougat but I couldn’t find any that was firm, which probably why they were soft. I didn’t even know that nougat came in different forms of firmness so the likelihood that I would find some was always going to be almost zero.

Energy Balls with Choco Pops

These were much better than the Almond Nut Balls above. They weren’t so messy to make and they must have tasted good because they didn’t last long at all. I would happily make these again as a snack. I might have to make a bigger quantity next time because I think my boyfriend likes them as well.

Granny’s Pearl Barley Stew

I had to buy the pearl barley when I was in England one time because I have no idea what pearl barley is in German. I was really impressed with this. It didn’t take hours and hours to make as some stews can and it was tasty. I would happy make this again (and I sort of have to now that I have 400 grams of pearl barley left in the cupboard) as it is a perfect warming dish for the cold winter nights.

Speedy Yogurt and Walnut Dressing

Does exactly what it says on the tin. This was a nice dressing to go with salad or veggies. It didn’t take any effort at all (which is always a positive thing) and was delicious.

Soy Labneh and Pumpkin Seed Spread

This wasn’t very successful. We did manage to eat it but it was a strange consistency to it. I had to leave soy yogurt straining in a tea towel overnight and then squeeze out as much liquid as I could. Apparently this results in soy labneh. Perhaps I didn’t do this properly or squeeze it out as much as I should have. Either way it was far too much faffing about for my liking. I won’t be making this one again.

Hot “Cream Cheese” Spring Sandwich

Once again beware of foods in quotation marks. For the “cream cheese” I had to blend cashew nuts until they were smooth and use this as a spread for the sandwich which then had radishes, tomatoes, cress and spring onions added to it. For me the cheese was far too gritty and not a very nice texture.

BBQ “Pulled” Jackfruit Sandwich

I have read a lot of articles on the internet saying that Jackfruit is a great substitute for meat but I was a bit skeptical. It took me a while to find the ingredient itself but when I did I was really surprised by the outcome. The dish was filling and, although it wasn’t quite the same as eating pulled pork, it wasn’t too bad.

Tempeh Mayo Bagel

Before this challenge I had no idea what tempeh was. It’s fermented soya beans and originates from Indonesia. It looks quite weird and to eat it on its own is bland so you have to add as much flavour to it as possible. I wasn’t a huge fan of this recipe. It was easy to make but I just didn’t like the overall flavour. However, this could be because it was the first time I have had tempeh. I have had it since and quite liked it. In case you are wondering the mayo in the bagel was homemade and vegan!

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Hash Brown Deluxe Sandwich

A bit messy to make because you have to spend hours peeling and then grating potatoes but I was happy with how this turned out and it did taste really nice. I mean it’s a hash brown in a sandwich – what is there not to like?

Focaccia with Spinach Hummus and Red Lentil Kofta

On more than one occasion I have been wondering why my version of the recipe doesn’t look like the picture in the book. I realise too late in this recipe that I had forgotten to blend the lentils after they had been cooked. This meant that it was even harder to roll up the lentils into balls before frying. Even so I don’t think that this altered the taste. I would do this again – and remember to blend the lentils!

Vegetable Wraps

The idea of this recipe was to use cabbage leaves instead of wraps for a low carb option. It was quite fiddly to do and it was hard to get the cabbage leaves wrapped around the filling without it falling out. The taste was good but I’d rather eat the carbs and run them off later than mess about with a cabbage leaf substitute.

Asian Glass Noodle Salad Wraps

We had most of the ingredients for this at home. It was quick to make and quick to eat as well. I would happily have this again.

Mediterranean Stuffed Tomatoes

Once I had found tomatoes that were big enough to stuff, I made this recipe. The filling was interesting – it tasted a lot better that I thought it would do when I read through the ingredients. This is in the book as a “Satisfying Main” but it wasn’t enough to fill me up so I had some grilled vegetables to accompany it.

Potato Risotto

This is one of the top 5 recipes that I have cooked out of the book so far. It was a bit time consuming because there was a lot of chopping and peeling to begin with but once everything was in the pan it cooked quickly. I wasn’t too sure about some of the flavour combinations (capers and sun dried tomatoes) but all together it tasted great and was really filling.

Spaghetti Frittatas

This was cooked spaghetti that was then baked in the oven until it crisped up. At least that was the theory. Mine didn’t crisp up. I think I might have added too many of the liquid ingredients. It was therefore hard to service and some of the sauce went everywhere. It reminded me of a carbonara and if I was going to do it again. I think I would not bother with the (unsuccessful) oven-baking and just have it as a pasta dish.

Spaghetti Pomodori e Olio

This is another dish in my top 5. It was easy to make and really delicious. Why can’t all the recipes in the book be as good as this one. Needless to say, I will be cooking this one again in the future.

Potsticker Noodles

I’m not sure that I bought the right noodles for this one. The book is very specific about some of the ingredients that are used. We had most of the ingredients at home for this one so the preparation for it didn’t take any time at all. The sauce was yummy and I think you could also this as a tasty marinade for tofu and vegetables before grilling. Big thumbs up!

Fried Rice with Pineapple and Cashew Nuts

This was a great lunch for me and my friend, Mark, a few weeks ago. Again most of the ingredients we had at home for this one so no special trip to the supermarket for this one. I had to caramelise the pineapple in vegan margarine first and I didn’t see the point of that to be honest. I don’t think it added that much to the flavour. Having said that the flavour was great and the recipe can be made to use up leftovers.

Chia and Almond Pizza

Having found good vegan pizza during my challenge, I wasn’t so happy about having to recreate this at home. However, it was great. I made this when my mum was staying with us and even she liked it! It is strange eating a pizza without cheese but you are probably saving a lot of calories as well.img_3704.jpg

Cinnamon Swirls with Cashew Maple Icing and Pecans

If this was a technical challenge on the Great British Bake Off, I would be telling the camera that I “really need to pull something out of the bag for the show stopper”! For some reason the dough was really wet and sticky and it was almost impossible to roll out even though I added a lot more dough and kneaded it over and over to try to save it. The result was some sorry looking pastry. Definitely no marks for presentation but they were devoured fairly quickly.

Super-Chocolatey Snacking Cake

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This was another recipe that I made when my mum came to stay. This was more successful than the chocolate swirls. I wasn’t sure how the cake was going to rise without eggs etc but the substitute of sparkling water and baking powder worked a treat. I thought this might last a few days. It was gone in under 30 hours.

 

That leaves me with 20 recipes to do! In a rare mishap in planning, 6 of those recipes are desserts, including Easter Buns. It looks like Easter will be coming early in our house!

Reading matters

10 Dec

This year has been an excellent reading year for me. I have been trying for years to read more than 52 books (an average of one per week). It is the beginning of December and I have already read 61 books. Some of them have been shorter novels but I have also read some books that were longer. The longest one I have read was over 700 pages.

One of the reasons that I am reading like a woman possessed is because quite a few of my challenges for my #40before40 list involve reading. So by default I have been reading as many books as possible so that I can tick some more challenges off my list.

The twenty nineth challenge on my list is to read The 40 Books Every Woman Should Read. Some of the authors (all female) I haven’t even heard of before I started the challenge and I have been really surprised about how good some of these books have been.

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Here are the books that I have recently read from the list:

The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

This was a short story collection that is set in Nigeria or has character which have Nigerian heritage, where the author is from. I was quite surprised that a lot of the stories are set in really unusual situations which meant that the author was able to do a lot with the characters involved.

From my point of view, I thought that it was a bit too feminist for me. The stories mainly focus on women who are at the mercy of their male counterparts. Considering the background of the author this is understandable and I found it interesting to read stories that I normally wouldn’t choose to read.

A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

This was the Winner of Pulitzer Prize 2011 but if I am being brutally honest, I am not sure how it managed to get this prize. The plot was interesting because it followed a group of characters who were interconnected because of their associations with music. One chapter was written as a Powerpoint presentation which I initially thought was a bit of gimmick but the chapter was surprisingly easy to read and I knew exactly what the author wanted to convey in the chapter.

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

I didn’t read this as a teenager, which I think virtually everyone else in my school did and raved about until the end of time. Knowing what happened to Plath and how depressed she was during her life, I wasn’t keen to read anything that she had written. However, I didn’t find the book too depressing even thought there were depressive thoughts in there. Also some of the description was beautiful in a tragic sort of way.

The Color Purple by Alice Walker

I have tried reading this book before and given up because I wasn’t enjoying it but I was glad that I chose it for the challenge and persevered with it. The story deals with some difficult topics such as racism, abuse and sexism but it’s written well and is engaging. I know that it was turned into a film later starring Whoopi Goldberg and Oprah Winfrey but I haven’t got round to watching it yet.

The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan

I really enjoyed this book. It was an interesting exploration about how much of our lives and personalities are influenced by our heritage, our family and what we experience during our lives. The descriptions of the many, many Chinese superstitions and beliefs were also fascinating!

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel

I read this in a few hours. This is a graphic novel. I have never read a graphic novel before but it was so interesting and easy to read. The novel is autobiographical and is about the death of the author’s father and the consequences of his death that reveal secrets that both parents have been hiding. Well worth a read.

The Age of Grief by Jane Smiley

I have been surprised by how many of the books on the list are short story collections. I was expecting most of the books to be novels. This book is a collection of short stories with a novella (up to 40,000 words). The short stories were well written and I managed to read them quickly. The novella was about the marriage and relationship of two dentist but written from the man’s prospective. I’m glad that I bought this book because I will definitely be re-reading it in the future.

Out of the total 40 books that I need to read on the list, I have already read 17 and I am looking forward to reading the rest.

The results are in…

6 Dec

Four weeks ago, I was sitting nervously in an exam room trying my best to prove that I could pass the C2 German exam. After being really sick the week before, I was just glad to be able to make it to the exam room and take the test.

Today I got the results. There is good and bad news. The good news is that the modules that I passed I got good marks in. The bad news is that the module that I didn’t pass I was only short one mark. One measly mark. Personally I think that they should have rounded up the total so that I could pass.

I knew that this module was hard because the examiner had also commented to us that she wouldn’t have been able to answer all of the questions correctly. I was expecting not to do so well in this and I also thought that I might have to resit it.

So resitting this is exactly what I am going to do. If I can only just fail when the questions are hard, I am confidence that I will pass with flying colours when the questions are a bit easier. I think that they vary how hard the modules are so I am banking on the resit being much easier than the original exam.

Of course, I don’t have to resit but it would be nice to get the full certificate and, more importantly, the first thing to do on my #40Before40 list is to pass the C2 German exam. It is annoying that I didn’t manage to get every module passed in one time but that’s life.

Fingers crossed for the end of January when I will be back in an exam room once again.

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