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Challenge #17 complete!

2 Jan

Another challenge from my #40Before40 list is complete. My seventeenth challenge was to write a diary for a whole year.

As a teenager I always thought that this was a good idea but soon got bored of it, so I thought that this would be interesting to see if I would have the discipline to do this as an adult. It was also a way to make sure that I was writing something at least once a day. I have heard that it takes between 30 to 60 days to form a habit so it was also an opportunity to test this theory.

I started the challenge on 1st January 2018 and finished writing my last entry on 31st December 2018. I was glad that I chose this year to document. We spent the best part of five weeks travelling around South America last year. While I wasn’t able to write down every single thing that we did on holiday and all of the funny encounters that we had, I have a comprehensive account of our time there and I think I will definitely come back to the diary to relive some of the things that we did and experienced there.

Of course, there are a lot of days when not a lot at all happened. This is perhaps a reminder that life isn’t always go, go go and that we need some normality mixed into the extraordinary to achieve the right balance.

I was particularly impressed that I managed to fit the whole year into one book and I didn’t have to buy an additional one. My entries towards the end of the year seemed to get a bit shorter at the end but every day is accounted for. I used the ink from one and a half pens over the course of the year. I was careful to find the same type of Biro when the first one ran out. I couldn’t stand a different colour being used for the second half of the year.

So there you have it. One of the “longest” lasting challenges from my list is completed. I will miss sitting down at the end of the day to think about what the stand out point of the day have been. I may even carry on but not commit myself to write in it every single day but there are more challenges to get on with (34 in fact!) so I can use some of the time I am saving to concentrate on my other challenges.

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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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Book challenge – Bonus Round

28 Nov

Those of you who have been reading my blog for a while will know that I signed up to take part in a reading challenge. The basic premise is that there are ten categories and you have to read a book in each category to complete the challenge. The challenge lasts for four months and if you complete the first round you can then take part in the bonus round.

I managed to finish the first round of the challenge relatively quickly. These are the books that I read and what I thought of them. I decided the take on the bonus round as well. The bonus round is the same categories of books again but you collect extra points by choosing books that other people participating in the challenge have already selected.

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Unfortunately, I didn’t quite manage to read every choice off my bonus round list. I was getting dangerously close to the start of my German exam so I made the brave and dedicated step of stopping the challenge to reading some books in German to help me learn a bit more for the exam. So I was still reading but just not for the challenge.

Here are the eight books that I managed to read for the bonus round:

Exposed by Roberta Kray

I have read a few of Kray’s books before and the plot of this book was very similar to other books that she’s written. Having said that it was a real page turner. I wasn’t sure how the book was going to finish until right at the last moment. It was an easy read and I would recommend it.

Northhanger Abbey by Jane Austen

I have been getting into my classic novels recently so I thought that I would give this one a go. I didn’t think that this book was as good as her other novels and I can see why her other works are more famous. I felt that the end of the novel was rushed and I had a lot of questions that weren’t answer. Overall, I was a bit disappointed.

The Last Anniversary by Liane Moriarty

I have read at least two of Moriarty’s books before. I didn’t think that this was as good as The Husband Secret but I still enjoyed it. The characters were realistic and the author was constantly teasing the reader throughout the story. I was desperately trying to work out the explanation for the story but failed, even though all of the clues were there. After reading this book, I got a good idea for a book, which I have started writing. Watch this space!

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

I read this in less than a day. I had heard a lot about it and I was disappointed after reading it. The subject matter isn’t the most pleasant (children being treated for cancer) but I thought that the plot was a bit predictable. I think the predictability had a bit to do with the genre and because that is what the readers expect (or don’t). I can see what the book has been so successful though.

Wuthering Heights by Emile Bronte

This book wasn’t what I was expecting at all. I can honestly say that I have never hated someone living or dead, fictional or real than Heathcliffe. I really despised him and I only read on because I wanted to make sure that he got his comeuppance. It was interesting that the story was narrated by Mr Lockwood who was guest and not one of the main characters. It gave the story an certain sense of objectivity.

The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

I was so disappointed with the book and I would never have finished this if I had’ve chosen it for the challenge. I was really hoping that it would have been enlightening – the story is about how the author spent a year trying to improve her life and happiness. It was less of an epiphany and more of a bit of common sense written over pages and pages of boring drivel.

Captains Courageous by Rudyard Kipling

This is a perfect example of a book that I would never have read if it was for the challenge. I hadn’t even heard of this book before. It was the story of a boy being washed overboard and him being rescued by another ship where his status and wealth counts for nothing and he needs to work to earn his keep onboard and learn how to get along with the crew members.

The Last Juror by John Grisham

I was surprised that this was less about a court trial and more about the story of the last juror who is selected for a trial. The verdict of the trial was fairly cut and dry so this is why it wasn’t the subject of the novel. I thought it was an interesting spin for the story and racism and other important themes were touched upon.

I’m so glad that I decided to take part in the book challenge. I’ve managed to read books that I never would have without the challenge. It also means that I have smashed my reading goal for this year by reading 60 books so far this year. Not all of them have been more than 200 pages but I still think it and impressive total and there is one more month to go.

I can’t wait for January 2019 when the next edition of the book challenge will begin!

One more challenge completed!

16 Sep

I’ve been thinking for the best part of the last week if I have completed another one of my #40Before40 challenges.

I wasn’t sure if that I had done counted or not but, after I wrote down on paper the criteria, I am now convinced that I have completed Challenge #20 from my list: to throw a birthday party for myself.

I can’t remember the last time I had a birthday party. To be honest, I am not really a huge celebrator of birthdays not because I don’t like getting old, but more because it is a bit of a faff to organise and people tend to let you down. I thought I make the effort to have a party and see if this time that I felt different about inviting people over to celebrate.

In my consideration of the criteria for a party, I came up with this list:

  • Invited guests
  • Uninvited guests
  • Selection of food and drink
  • Birthday cake
  • A rousing chorus of Happy Birthday
  • Presents
  • A speech from the celebrating person
  • Party game
  • Huge amounts of tidying up

Let’s look in turn at each of these:

Invited Guests

Either by Whatsapp or by mouth people received an invitation to come. My original idea was to make handmade or printed invitation but then I would need to find out peoples’ addresses to send them. It was a lot easier to send everyone a message and get a quick reply if they were able to make it or not.

Uninvited Guests

There is always someone who turns up unannounced or someone brings some one to the party who hasn’t specifically been invited. In my case, this was the neighbours’ cat. As we had a BBQ, we were outside and the cat made an appearance. I think he was scared about the number of people who were there and he didn’t stick around for long.

Selection of food and drinks

If anything, we prepared a selection of food and drinks that was far, far too much. One fridge was full with beer and the other was full with food. There was plenty of food to go on the grill, salads, finger food and desserts. We had so much left over but enough room in the freezer to save it for another time.

Birthday cake

I didn’t plan to have a birthday cake but I was fairly confident that one of my guests would bring one for me. Luckily, my friend, Stefan, didn’t let me know. He made me a fantastic Spider-Man cake that I am sure that he spent hours and hours made. It not only looked amazing, but it tasted incredible too.

A rousing chorus of Happy Birthday

I was treated to Happy Birthday in English and in German, which I think deserves double points. I think I did have Happy Birthday sung to me last year but it is an essential part of birthday party.

Presents

I was treated to some lovely presents. The main theme of my presents was a high alcohol content. I think I should be ok for alcoholic drinks from now until next March. I will need to consume it all before I take on my challenge of not drink for a year. It seems more and more unlikely that I will be able to achieve this and I haven’t decided when to start this challenge yet. I have been trying to find a “good time” to do it but I don’t think that such a thing exists.

A speech from the celebrating person

I did make a small speech to thank everyone for coming and making the party a success. I was actually really pleased about how many people had made the effort to come.

Party game

There was a Swiss game of King’s Chess that was played in the garden area outside. I’m still not 100% sure what the rule of the games were but it involved throwing wooden blocks at your opponents’ posts and being the first to knock down the King in the middle.

Huge amounts of tidying up

It’s strange that you spend so long cleaning your place for guest to come round and when they have left you have to start the cleaning all over again. The washing machine was put on about five times, the floors in the apartment had to be wasted again, the recycling taken to the recycling centre, crockery returned to the right guest and tables and chairs that we had borrowed from relatives returned as well.

Looking at the evidence, it is fair to say that I have now completed Challenge #20 of my #40Before40.

I did genuinely enjoy the party. I wasn’t able to talk to everyone as much as I would have liked (which is the downside of hosting so many people) and it was hard work getting everything ready and tidying up but it was worth it and I would do it again. Thank you to everyone who came to join the celebrations!

Four years to go…

5 Sep

It is now only four years until my 40th birthday and hopefully in this time I will have completed all the items on my #40Before40 list.

One year into the challenge I have completed 4 out of the 40 challenges. This sounds disappointing but several of the challenges are well underway and should be completed sooner rather than later.

The challenges I have already completed are:

  • Enter a photography competition
  • Go to the Opera
  • Go vegan for 3 months
  • Watch a series of 24 in 24 hours

Here is an update of where I am with the rest of the as-yet incomplete challenges:

  1. Pass C2 Goethe German exam – planned for November 2018. My life is currently a sea of German verbs, Grammar and practice exam papers and I am motivated so that I don’t have to take any more German lessons after the start of November.
  2. Visit 40 countries in Europe – visited 26 out of 40 and at least two more visits planned before the end of 2018.
  3. Go paragliding
  4. Enter a photography competition – completed on 16.01.2018
  5. Write my will and plan my funeral
  6. (Re)Learn the flute
  7. Go alcohol-free for a year
  8. Watch every movie on iMDB Top 250 Films list – watched 120 out of 250
  9. Write a novel (at least 50,000 words) – I have a number of ideas that I am currently working on and then I just need to chain myself to a chair and write.
  10. Beat at least one of my running PBs for 10k, 10 miles, half marathon or marathon – I have been struggling with a knee injury for most of this year so unfortunately I will have to try to complete this next year and hopefully my knee will be fit enough to get me round quickly enough
  11. Read the Bible cover to cover
  12. Go to the Opera – completed on 04.07.2018
  13. See the Northern Lights
  14. Go vegan for 3 months – completed on 15.07.2018
  15. Have something that I have written published
  16. Save money for a rainy day
  17. Write a diary for a year – currently in progress
  18. Take a Hot Air Balloon ride
  19. Take part in an Ultra race – I was hoping to do this in 2019 but with the knee injury that I have had in 2018, I might have to wait until 2020
  20. Throw a birthday party for myself
  21. Watch a series of 24 in 24 hours – completed on 25.11.2017
  22. Learn how to wolf whistle
  23. Try snowboarding
  24. Take an overnight sleeper train
  25. Cook every recipe from one cookbook – currently in progress – completed 60 out of 100 recipes
  26. Learn how to fold 40 origami designs
  27. Read 40 novels in German – read 6 out of 40
  28. Take a wine degustation course
  29. Read The 40 Books Every Woman Should Read read 15 out of 40
  30. Solve a Rubik cube – currently in progress
  31. Take up a new sport
  32. Catch, cook and eat a fish
  33. Make an item of clothing to wear
  34. Stop biting my nails
  35. Read 40 non-fiction books –  read 6 out of 40
  36. Fly long-haul business class
  37. Have a haircut at least 4 times a year – this is in progress but I am not going to tell you every time I have a haircut! That would be far too boring to read about!
  38. Be able to touch my toes
  39. Downsize – get rid of anything I don’t need or want by selling, giving away or donating
  40. Start and maintain my own travel website – the planning for this is well underway and I am hoping to go live in early 2019

Slow and steady progress – I will get there in the end!

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