Tag Archives: challenge

#40Before40: Challenge #14

18 Apr

By the time you are reading this, I will have hopefully survived three days on a vegan diet with about another 87 days to go. As a quick recap, I decided that this would be a good challenge for me to undertake because I have previously tried a vegetarian diet for three months and I didn’t find it too difficult. It seemed logical that a vegan diet would be the next challenge.

Also, I read a lot of information saying that a vegan diet is very beneficial not just for animals and the environment, but also for anyone who follows a vegan diet. I’ve been quite surprised by the number of international athletes who are vegan and the number of athletes who are becoming vegan and reporting big gains. Of course, there are lots of Hollywood actors who are also vegan but they try out some weird stuff, so they haven’t  been a source of inspiration.

In essence, the challenge is to eat a vegan diet for three months. A vegan diet means not consuming animal products: no meat, eggs, milk, honey or anything else that was produced by an animal. I have had a long hard think about whether it is cheating to eat product that says, for example, “May contain milk” because it was made in factory that produces milk and this could mean that cross contamination has occurred. As I am not 100% motivated to ban animal products from my diet because of the traditional reasons that vegans do, I don’t class this as cheating. However, wherever possible I will avoid eating the products.

As I have maintained from the beginning, I think this is doable if the right planning and preparation has been made. I have no hope of succeeding this challenge if I decide a lunchtime that I will pop into the nearest supermarket and pick something up for lunch. As a result, I am planning meals one week in advance. I am not so optimistic that I will be able to keep this up for the whole challenge but I will try.

I will be researching new recipes online and in a vegan cookery book that I bought in preparation for this challenge at the end of last year. There should definitely be enough recipes and food ideas that I don’t get too bored or starve.

I started the challenge on 16th April 2018 and I am due to finish it on 15th July 2018. I will be blogging about my experience and how I am getting on with the challenge as I go. I know that a lot of people roll their eyes and groan when someone declares (and it is always a declaration isn’t it?) that they are vegan. So if that sort of thing offends you look away now! Or, you could read on as I complain and squirm about my self-imposed veganism. Whatever you are eating: Bon Appetit!

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40 Before 40: Challenge #29

21 Mar

My 29th Challenge is to read the complete list of the 40 Books Every Woman Should Read. 

Being on holiday for five weeks has given me the time to read another three books from the list. Here is what I have recently read.

Runaway by Alice Munro

Alice Munro is a recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature but, like so many of the authors on the list, I had never heard of her. She specialises in writing short stories and many of the stories flip back and forth in time. I don’t read a lot of short stories but it is nice to be able sit down and read a whole story in one sitting.

One of the stories, in particular, I thought was incredible. It was about a woman, who met a man after she had lost her purse. They have a spend a night together talking and getting to know each other. He asks that she comes to see him in a year’s time. She does this but when she goes to see him, he is incredibly rude to her and she feels that he has made a fool out of her. It is only years and years later, when she is working as a nurse, that she thinks he has been admitted to the ward where she was working. The man is not the man she met, but his twin, who has learning disabilities. This was the man who was rude to her and sent her away the second time. The man she actually met had passed away a few years earlier. It was heartbreaking to hear that arriving at slightly the wrong time left her embarrassed and affected the rest of her life without her realising it. I guess this kind of things happens all the time in real life, which makes it even more sad.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

I don’t know how I have managed to make it to my age and to have not read this book. It was never an option for our GCSE set and so it was just back luck that I’ve managed to miss it. Of course, I have seen some of the many screen adaptations that have been made, especially the version with Colin Firth as Mr Darcy.

Even though I know what happens in the book, I was still completely surprised when Darcy announces his love for Elizabeth Bennett. When you know the thoughts of the characters, it’s a far more shocking revelation than watching in on TV.

Although the book was first published in 1813, there are quite a lot of issues and problems that we still have today. For example, people judge others and form opinions about them far too quickly. It’s then very difficult to be persuaded otherwise. I was thinking about a person recently, who when I first met them, I was convinced that I would never be able to get along with them and didn’t want to have that much to do with them. It’s only as time has moved on that I have changed my opinion of them and actually don’t might spending time with them at all. The last time I met them, it was no effort to see them for a few hours and get along well with one another.

Also, there is a lot of talk about marriage and Lizzy is worried that her family will not approve of her engagement to Mr Darcy. This, I am sure, still happens all the time. It doesn’t really matter how old you get or what walk of life you come from, everyone still want to have approval from the actions that they take – despite what some people might claim.

I wonder how much forcing schoolchildren to read classics at the age of 13 to 16-years-old actually puts people off reading these books for the rest of their life. If this book hasn’t been on the list, there is no way I would have read it. But I am glad I did.

The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold

I have seen the film of the book and I was a bit nervous about reading it. In case you don’t know the book is about a young girl who has been murdered by a man in her local community. The story is told from her perspective as she looks down on earth from heaven and watches her family and friends come to terms with her death and what happened to her.

As is normally the case, the book is far better than the film and is beautiful written and thought-provoking.

I’m not sure if I liked this book so much because in a lot of respects it corresponds to what I think heaven would be like: that our loved ones never leave us but watch over us from afar.

If you haven’t read this book, I really think that you should. The subject matter seems morbid but the story itself is more about hope and the connections that we have with one another.

Disappointments and small victories

11 Mar

I was so excited on Thursday because I was ready to tick off one more item off my #40Before40 list. Unfortunately, the paragliding we had scheduled to do in Iquique was cancelled because the wind was too strong.

I was disappointed but obviously in the interest of health and safety it was the best thing to do. The guy whose company it was actually explained to us the reasons why and said he really wanted to take us up there.

As a Brit, I find it a little bit strange that sports get cancelled because of weather, particularly “a bit of wind”. I’m pretty sure as a teenager that I took part in athletics competitions in hail and I definitely played hockey in 2 inches of snow.

We will try again at the next available paragliding place on our trip.

The bitter taste of disappointment was sweetened a little when we went sandboarding in the evening instead. If you know my #40Before40 list as well as I do, you will know that one item on the list is to try snowboarding.

Although they are not quite the same, it’s given me a bit of an idea about what I am up against.

I wasn’t 100% happy with the lack of instruction that we were given. Everyone else in the group had snowboarded before and I think that it would have been good to be able to have some tips of what to do.

It was quite exhausting because you had to walk up the sand dunes after every run and re-wax the bottom of the board with a candle before going down again. Obviously you don’t have to do this with a snowboard.

Also there was no aprés-ski available – no small bar at the bottom of the hill where you can get a beer or two. I will never not admit that I am more of a social winter sports person than any sort of winter sport athlete!

Still it gives me a bit of hope that I should be able to enjoy snowboarding to a small degree when I finally take the plunge and try it. That will have to be next season now as the snow will have gone by the time we get back. Only around 8 months to wait…

40 Before 40: Challenge #27

6 Mar

For this challenge, I need to read 40 novels in German.

I haven’t put that much effort into this challenge yet, which is partly due to the fact that I still have to look up quite a lot of words when I am reading in German. I have, however, managed to read two more novels in German this year.

Der kleine Prinz (The Little Prince) by Antione De Saint-Exupery

This is a very well-known children’s book across Europe but I don’t think that I have even seen in the UK. The story is about pilot who, while trying to fix his plane in the desert meets a small prince who is travelling to Earth from an asteroid. The prince describes different worlds that he has explored.

Although this is a children’s book, it is very philosophical in nature and criticises the social nature of the world. I managed to learn a lot of words while reading it. I could see myself re-reading this book again in the future. It is only short and it would also be a good way to make sure that I have remembered the vocabulary that I have learnt.

Die Frau mit dem Hund (The Woman with the Dog) by Birigt Vanderbeke

This was a longer, and definitely, more adult book. When the book began, I knew that normal life was not being described. The first character in the book, Jules, has to go to the supermarket to buy goods with points and, from the descriptions, the whole place is very clean and regulated. When she gets home, there is a young girl called Pola with a dog sat outside her apartment. She panicks because dogs are not allowed in District 7 and she quickly ushers her into her apartment so that the caretaker or someone else doesn’t see her with the stranger.

After giving her food, she discovers that she is pregnant and she says that she needs to get to another district when women have babies. She is so scared about the authorities finding the pregnant woman with her dog in her flat without ID that she tells her that she has to leave. Meanwhile, the neighbour, Timon, has smelt the smell from the dog and this reminds him of the time when he was growing up before the districts were formed. He finds the woman the next day and takes her in. Timon and Pola, with the help of some people she knew before she ended up in District 7, build her a place to live in the attic. Pola ends up giving birth to the baby in the attic one night, even though Timon has tried to get her ID and a safe passage into the birthing district.

At the end of the book, I really wanted to know more about the circumstances of these districts because nothing is 100% explained to the reader. A lot is left to the imagination of the reader, which is no bad thing, but so many things are left unsaid that it is a bit frustrating to know exactly what happened for the living and working condition of the population to end up like this. The book could also lend itself to further books, where the reader sees exactly what happens to Pola and her baby girl, who she, for some reason, calls Michael.

40 Before 40: Challenge #29

3 Mar

Challenge #29 on my list was to read all the books on the 40 Books Every Woman Should Read. This is a list of 40 books by female authors, the majority of whom, to my shame, I am not familiar with or even heard of.

At the start of the challenge, I had already read 4 of the books on the list, mainly because we were forced to read them at school and not necessarily because I was particularly interested in reading them.

As I have got older, I tend to read only contemporary books. There are quite a few older books on the list, like Little Women and Jane Eyre. To be blunt, I wasn’t looking forward to reading these at all. It was always hard work reading them as a young adult.

For this update, I have read two of these “older” books and I have to say that I have really enjoyed them. Below are some of my comments about the books that I have read from the list.

Near to the Wild Heart by Clarice Lispector

This is one of the authors from the list that I haven’t heard of. She is actually Brazilian and the book was originally written in Portuguese. Before I started to read the book, I found out that her writing style has been compared to that of James Joyce, who made famous the stream of consciousness narrative style. In fact, the title of the book is actually a quote from Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. I enjoyed reading Joyce for my English Literature A-Level exam so I was hopeful that I would also find this book enjoyable.

The main character is Joana and the story provides flashbacks between her childhood, her adolescence and present day. It tells the story of her relationship with her husband and their divorce (which must have been scandalous to read in the 1940s) and the woman, who her husband gets pregnant. In one part of the book, Joana meets with this woman, Lidia, who she knows is having an affair with her husband. Her reaction was a bit strange as she is not particularly bothered by this.

I really enjoyed this book. Sometimes the book was hard to follow because it flipped between different times but some of the descriptions and the writing was incredible.

Little Women – Louisa May Alcott

I had this book as a child but I only managed to ever read a couple of chapters of it. It is perhaps one of the most famous books on the whole list. The story is of a group of four sisters, who are growing up during the time of the American Civil War. Their father is away working as a pastor and the four girls and their mother are left at home waiting for news about his return.

The four young women have very different characters and personalities: one is a tomboy; another very quiet and interested in art; another the mother figure of the group, when their mother is absent; one is very shy and musical.

The story tells what becomes of the sisters as they grow up, which includes marriages, deaths, births, work and extensive trips to Europe.

The BBC showed an adaptation of the book between Christmas and New Year. As it was after I had read the book, I thought it might be a good idea to watch it. Unfortunately, I just couldn’t get into it. Perhaps the characters didn’t look as I thought they would have done. I also found the American accents a bit uncomfortable. As I was reading the book, I did have the tendency to forget that the story was set in America and not in England and so it sounded a bit funny to my ears. I only got about 20 minutes into the programme and I decided to stop. I guess, in this case, the book was better than the screenplay.

Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte

I always find this book confusing. Is it Jane Eyre written by Charlotte Bronte or Charlotte Bronte written by Jane Eyre? Again I think that this was a book I had when I was younger that stayed on my book shelf unread. In the end I really enjoyed this book, so it was a shame that I had left it so long to read this book.

As many books from this era begin, Jane Eyre is an orphan, who is unwanted by her uncle’s family, who she is put into the care of. Eventually, she is sent away to a boarding school, where she is educated and thrives, but not before she watches her best friend in the world die of consumption. She goes on to be a teacher at the boarding school but, after getting a job as a governess of a child in a private house.

Jane falls in love with the Master of the house and is due to marry him until the wedding is stopped because Mr Rochester is already married. His wife is actually a lunatic who lives in the attic (all very bizarre). Jane leaves in the middle of the night because she does not want to become his mistress. Exhausted and hungry, she comes across a house where the people take pity on her and nurse her back to health. The new Master of the house gives her the job of a new governess of a school for poor children. He wants to marry her but she is still thinking about what happened to her Mr Rochester, who she still loves and always will. She goes off in search of him to see what has happened to him and… I won’t spoil the whole thing. You can read it yourself.

I liked the book because, although it was a romance, it wasn’t too over the top. I think a lot of books talk about love as it is some magical spell that transforms people suddenly, when in most cases love is a lot more dignified and isn’t necessarily know to the beholder immediately.

Also I learnt the word “lugubrious” which means looking or sounding sad or dismal. This is my new favourite word. If I was still at school, I would be desperate to get this into one of my exam scripts. I might try to get it into one of my short stories.

I have now read 7 out of the 40 books that I need to complete this challenge. I am so glad that I decided to have this one my list. I’m really enjoying it.

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40 Before 40: Challenge #8

24 Feb

Here is an update about my #40Before40: Challenge #8, in which I am attempting to watch all of the Top 250 Films as rated by iMDB.

These are the films I have managed to watch recently:

5. 12 Angry Men

I had never heard of this film before, but what a film it was! It’s a really interesting look at a jury deliberating on the fate of a man on trial. I was captivated because, although the film begins with the judge saying his final words before dismissing the jury to agree on the verdict, the audience never once hears from the defendant or any of the lawyers. We only hear the discussions of the jury and what they remember from hearing at the trial. The case looks clear cut until one of the jury has doubts that the defendant is guilty and this leads to intense discussions about the notions of proof and doubt. I would highly recommend this film, if you haven’t already seen it.

49. Memento

I realised as soon as I sat down to watch this that I had seen this before: As I have so many left on my list to watch and I can remember clearly what happened in the film, I decided not to watch it. If I have time at the end, I will probably watch it again. It is a great film though about a man who had a condition where he can’t remember anything. Which is ironic because I couldn’t remember seeing it.

52. The Great Dictator

I have never seen any Charlie Chaplin films before and I was surprised by how much I liked it and by how funny it was. We are often shocked by things that comedians say or do today but this film shows that this has been the case for decades. The film essentially parodies Hitler, who saw himself as a great dictator. It was filmed during the time of the Second World War, which I find quite shocking with some of the impressions and suggestions that Chaplin makes. Chaplin plays both the role of the Great Dictator (a dictator of the fictional Tomainian) and a Jewish barber, who experiences trouble with his memory after saving the life of a pilot. I read later that Chaplin cast himself as a Jew because Hitler had mistakenly thought that he was Jewish. It was very satirical on many levels. I think that there is another Chaplin film on the list to watch and I am very much looking forward to watching that as well.

143. Casino

This film had a sort of an Ocean’s Eleven feel about it and at the start I had the feeling that it was going to run on similar lines. It was a typical gangster-type film with Robert DeNiro and Joe Pesci, whom I can never watch without thinking of the Home Alone movies. I think that I liked the film overall but for me the film was a touch too long (two minutes short of three hours). I’m not sure if a shorter film would have taken away from the feel of the film or not but I guess that is a question that the director and the producers have to make. It also stars Sharon Stone as a former prostitute/coke head, who is married to Robert DeNiro’s character and you know that she is going to be trouble right from the off, even though he clearly loves and trusts her implicitly. In my opinion, this is the best role I have seen Stone play, though I am not sure that I would be able to name any other films that she was in off the top of my head.

153. La La Land

I love musicals but I am not so sure that I loved this film. If I am being honest, I don’t get why this film was such a big deal at the Oscars. The plot at the beginning was a bit too predictable: struggling actress who works in a coffee shop means musician who is having his creativity stifled by the industry hate each other but then end up dating. I can’t decide if I thought the ending was genius or a bit pathetic. It definitely wasn’t a traditional Hollywood ending and I’m still deciding how the ending made me feel and how I should interpret it. I did, however, love Ryan Gosling’s tap dancing.

So, that is another 5 movies off the list. I have now watched 90 and I have 160 left to watch. To me, it seems like I am making very little process with this list. I’m hoping in the next months, I can get quite a few more ticked off the list. I might have to have a big of a binge watch to start making a dent in the list!

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Vegan dinner

7 Feb

I seem to be obsessed at the moment about doing research into finding vegan-friendly alternatives for when I start my #40Before40: Challenge #14, when I will attempt to eat vegan for three months. This challenge is enough to make even the most determined person weak at the knees – hopefully not literally though. However, the more research I do, the more confident I am that this is more achievable than I thought it was and the more inclined I am to think that I could actually remain eating a vegan diet long after my little experiment is done and dusted.

There are plenty of websites and information about there about eating a vegan diet. Obviously some of the claims that are made are probably coming from a biased angle, so it is not always easy to sort fact from fiction. But, if even half of the claims are true, the health benefits alone are a reason to cut dairy and meat  products from your diet. I was also surprised that lots of athletes are switching to vegan eating and are actually performing much better than previously, which goes against the stereotype that all vegans are puny things that lack nutrients.

As part of my planning and research before I jump head first into the world of veganism, I decided to cook a three course meal for three of my friends at the weekend. My definition of friendship is that if I am suffering then you should feel my pain too. After assuring them that the beer and wine I had was also vegan and, therefore, we would not be drinking tap water for the whole evening, they accepted my invitation.

Here is what I made for them.

First course was a roasted red pepper and sweet potato soup with a hint of chilli, which I was assured was the “right amount of spice”. I served this with bread and some homemade houmous.

The main course was a vegan moussaka. I love moussaka and, although I don’t eat it all that often, I was keen to try it out to see if it was any good or not. It took a while to make it and I managed to make enough for about 8 people. I was worried that we wouldn’t be full from a dish made from aubergine, tomatoes, mushrooms and walnuts. It was so tasty that I was more than happy to finish off the leftovers for dinner the following night.

The dessert was a bit of a disaster. I decided to make a macadamia nut cream from a vegan cookbook and an egg free meringue recipe that I found online. The macadamia nut cream went down well but I wasn’t so convinced about the texture as I thought it would have been better if it was smoother. But everyone ate it. The meringues just didn’t work and I’m not sure why. I make a lot of meringues and pavlovas and the mixture itself was identifical to the mixture that I have made with eggs. I think that the temperature for the oven in the recipe was wrong because the meringues came out flat and it came out a bit more like honeycombe than anything else. As I had vegan sorbet in the freezer, I served the sorbet with some of the meringues/honeycombe stuff sprinkled on the top. I will try the egg free meringue mixture once again though and see if the oven temperature was the problem.

All in all, I think we all enjoyed the meal. So a BIG thank you to Stefan, Mark and Araz, who suffered in the name of friendship and who, I am sure, will have to endure some more vegan meals in the near future!

One question that still remains about the diet is about the use of ingredients that technically are vegan (i.e. contain no direct animal products) but come with the warning may contain milk, because they were produced in a factory where milk products are made. On the one hand, you could argue that because the products will possibly only contain traces of animal products that I should be able to eat them. But, if you had a nut allergy, there is no way you would eat something which said it may contain nuts. I have also found a product which has an official vegan label on it but the small print for the ingredients says it may contain milk. So how can that be vegan?

Do you see my dilemma? I have asked several people what they think and I still haven’t found a general consensus. Do any of you have the answer? Please let me know your thoughts?