Monday, 1 September 2014

Book Review #1 - The Grapes of Wrath

I had actually intended for my post about books to be my first book review. I had planned it out - a little introduction to me and why I love to read, followed by a nice sentence that linked into this review. However, when I began to type I realised the post would have to be split into two parts because there was simply so much to say.

So, without further ado (you've waited long enough already), let's launch into my new series of book reviews with a gritty one - The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. 

If you study GCSE English Literature, you may have had the opportunity to read 'Of Mice and Men' by Mr Steinbeck himself. One of my friends loved the book and recommended it to me - but we didn't have a copy at home. (I refuse to buy Kindle books when I could have the real paper product in front of me. Call me old-fashioned.) 
Still, my urge to read Steinbeck could not be calmed. If we didn't have OMaM, I would have to find something else... and here entered The Grapes of Wrath! 

I read the book without knowing very much about America in the 1930s. Yes, TKAM (To Kill a Mockingbird, keep up!) was set in the same decade, but Harper Lee focused very much on the prejudice of society and so I didn't know that much about America during the Great Depression. 

I've done a little bit of research and found out that Steinbeck 'frequently used his fiction to delve into the lives of society's most downtrodden citizens' (link), and that certainly comes across in this book. He focuses on the Joad family - a farming family, driven away from their dusty, overcultivated land by the threat of large companies and the hope of something better in California. 

Unfortunately the Sunshine State isn't as sunny as they hoped. Everyone else in America has had the same idea and it's difficult to find work amongst all of the orchards. There is nowhere to stay but in camps, where the threat of being burnt out of their tents by the local sheriff is real.The government camps are brilliant, but it's impossible to stay there for long. It seems as if they are unloved and unwanted - the cast-offs of society.  The local people look down on the 'Okies' and seem to treat them like animals; they don't recognise that the travellers are simply trying to make a living. 

It seems as if nothing is going well for the Joads. In that way, the book is quite dismal. Steinbeck doesn't shy away from killing off characters and disaster after disaster occurs. But I kept reading because I wanted to find out what would happen to this family that I had come to know so well - cheerful and organised Ma, optimistic Rose of Sharon, the quickly maturing Al... I felt a real connection with these people and I wished that I could make their situation better. The book is also written in a beautiful style  - descriptions of the hot, dusty journey; conversations between the shifty car dealers, perspectives from a shopkeeper - which piqued my interest and really added to the 'texture' of the book. 

As I got closer and closer to the end of the book I wondered what would happen to the family - would they suddenly be rescued from their poverty? Somehow I didn't think so; that would have been too much of a 'Hollywood' storyline for Steinbeck. The ending is abrupt, which disappointed me slightly because I like everything to be wrapped up neatly, but on reflection I can see why Mr S chose to end the book in such a way. We will never know what happened to the Joad family, nor to the thousands of other families who migrated across America. But it's important that they are remembered not only for their perseverance, but for the kindness they showed to others even when they have nothing to share. It's often said that the less you have, the more generous you are, and that's a phrase that definitely applied to the Joads. 

I enjoyed 'The Grapes of Wrath' a lot more than I thought I would. Once I got into it, it was very easy to read, and I liked learning a little more about the history of America. The book made me think about how I should treat other people, too, and how I should put myself in their shoes more often. It was challenging, thought-provoking, and a book that will linger in my memory for a while. 

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Sweet Potato Salad with Goats' Cheese

I'm not a big salad person. As a side with pizza or lasagne, yes. But as a meal? What about carbohydrates?!

Still, there's something to be said for the ease at which a salad can be thrown together - and recently most of my lunches have consisted of lettuce, cucumber, beetroot and coleslaw with some ham. It's different from a sandwich (which I eat four or five times a week during term time) and makes a nice change!

I love looking at salad recipes but I rarely make them (as happens with most things pinned on my Pinterest boards). However, when I saw Katy's lovely looking recipe with roasted squash and sweet potato, cheese and courgette, it sounded right up my street. I'm a big fan of roasted vegetables (see roasted vegetable summer pasta and stuffed squash) and what savoury meal can't be made better with a sprinkling of cheese? 

I varied the recipe slightly according to what we had in the house. Chickpeas for extra protein, goats'  cheese instead of feta (come on, it's goats' cheese!), omitting the squash because we didn't buy one during the week... the beauty of savoury cooking as opposed to baking is that it is possible to fiddle around with ingredients  so that you end up with a recipe that is perfect for you - not for anyone else. 

Have you cooked anything 'experimental' recently? I'd love to know!

Warm Sweet Potato Salad (serves 1)
1/2 - 1 sweet potato
handful chickpeas 
goats' cheese, chopped
balsamic vinegar
1/2 courgette
flavourless oil e.g vegetable
salt and pepper

*I added in half a yellow pepper because it needed using up. *

1. Heat the oven to 200 degrees C. Cut the sweet potato into chunks, drizzle with oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast for twenty minutes or until soft.

2. Grate the courgette into a bowl. Add in the cooked sweet potato, chickpeas and goats' cheese. Drizzle with balsamic vinegar and tuck in!

Monday, 25 August 2014

Italian Adventures

Instagram followers will know that I spent two weeks in the south of Italy in June. And what an amazing holiday it was! There was time to read books (eight), cool down with ice-creams and relax in the sun - just what the doctor ordered after two months of exam stress!

I won't go into huge detail but I thought I'd share a few memories with you. 

Week One: Calabria. 
We stayed in a little town by the sea. We spent a few mornings on the pebbly beach and enjoyed wandering aimlessly around the town. It was a mixture of modern and old - but I know which part I liked the best.

There were some fabulous ruins in the nearby town of Locri. We spotted an ancient temple!  There were lots of other ruins but they were overgrown and we didn't want to venture too far into the wilderness for fear of snakes, which was a liiiiittle disappointing.  

One afternoon we decided to venture up into the town of Gerace. Villagers from Locri fled here in the ninth century after a Saracen attack - and we could see why! The road up to the town was full of twists and turns that any invaders would have been exhausted by the time they reached the top!
We 'oohed' at the old castle and paused on a bench to admire the gorgeous view. There was so much more of the town to explore but we didn't feel up to it, unfortunately. Maybe next time! 

Week Two: Cefal├╣, Sicily.
This was a tourist town but still incredibly beautiful. We stayed in a hotel by the sea - which had the added bonus of a private beach with sun loungers! Needless to say, we skipped the pricy beach clubs and often wandered down to the seaside to sunbathe and read. 

This was the first time I'd ever stayed in a hotel longer than a few days, but we certainly felt at home in the Hotel Tourist. (Though I wouldn't name my home 'tourist'...) The staff were friendly and willing to talk, and the range of food each evening was good - though not as pleasing for my sister, who isn't into fish! We tried traditional Sicilian dishes such as caponata as well as lovely little pastries and lots of vegetables.

The walk into the historical old centre took about twenty minutes, but in hot weather it felt like an age! Ice creams and granite were required.

We ate many ice-creams and granite over the course of our two-week stay. I can recommend in particular the forest fruit, melon and lemon flavoured granite. Almond milk is also a good call! All of the ice creams we tasted were heavenly and there was such a great variety of flavours that I don't think any of us had the same flavour twice. 
Cherry was particularly tasty. 

One sunny day we decided to drive up into the mountains to escape from the heat. A good plan, in theory - but it turned out that it was hotter in Castelbuono than at the coast! The  town was very picturesque, though (just look at that view!), and we refreshed ourselves by dipping our hands into cooling fountains. 

We also went for a walk up 'La Rocca', to find the ruins of an old town, Diana's temple and some stone battlements. We could have climbed higher to see the castle but to be honest, the views were stunning from only halfway up the rock. I'd never seen sea so blue before!  

I really enjoyed our trip to Italy. Whilst it was somewhat more relaxed than previous holidays (no bike rides involved), I embraced the slow style of life and spent some time reading and reflecting on the year so far. Our time in Calabria contrasted very much with Cefal├╣, but I think that it was good to experience both the local side of things as well as the more touristy aspect. 

Where have you been to recently? What was your highlight? 

Monday, 18 August 2014

Life Lately - July

July has been an interesting month for me. (Yes, I know it's now the middle of August, but let's just ignore that fact...)  We're often away for the first two weeks but this year we took our holiday in June and so were able to experience most of month seven at home.

So, in July I have....

... tried to curb my coconut addiction by eating this gloriously thick yoghurt.

... experimented in the kitchen, with Jamie O's chickpea falafels (tasty).

... visited the Ulster Museum and caught two current exhibitions - "The Age of Liberty" (fashion) and "The Art of the Troubles" (art). I thoroughly enjoyed both of them and the latter made me think a lot about NI's past. It's good to see that we're beginning to move on!
(Plus, entrance is totally FREE. Unless you want to buy a postcard...)

... found my new favourite blog, "My Name is Yeh". Wow. This girl is something else! Such an unusual style of writing - which I adore but could never do myself - and some gorgeous pictures. I'm in love.

... helped lead a camp for eleven year olds along with other Christian teenagers. Definitely the best part of my summer - it was so good to work as a team and see God at work!

... watched The Fault In Our Stars and, despite knowing how it would end, bawled my eyes out during the final scene. I'm a little bit embarrassed.

I have tried to fill my summer with as many interesting things as possible - and all for as cheaply as possible, of course. (Fellow NI teens take note - the Y link card is a good investment to reduce your bus/train fare!) 

What did you do in July?

P.s. No pics in this post because... well, why not?

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

A love of Literature

Have I ever told you how much I love reading? 

My house is filled with books. There are bookcases in all of the bedrooms, bookcases in the living room, a bookcase in the kitchen, a huge wall of books in Dad's study... I'd never thought about how many we had until a guest remarked on it one day! 

Ever since I was born, reading has been a huge part of my life. Mum and Dad would take us on the weekly trip to the library where my sister and I would stock up on our favourite picture books. Apparently we sometimes had to be dragged away!

I can remember eagerly awaiting bedtime because Mum would read another chapter of 'The Faraway Tree' to us. We'd gasp when the Tree became sick, lick our lips at tales of tasty treats and laugh out loud when the Saucepan Man threw all of his saucepans away. (Don't judge. I was five years old.)

Saturday mornings had a routine. Gymnastics at 9:30 for an hour, then off to the library to pick out eight books that had to do us for the week. I'd spend the rest of the day curled up in an armchair, reading at least one of my new books from beginning to end, and sometimes finishing a second one too. 

I can vividly remember bringing Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix into class when I was seven years old, and sneaking it under the desk to read whenever I'd finished all of my work. I admired Hermione, the clever witch who didn't let a head of uncontrollable hair stop her (something I try to remember) and I had my favourites in the form of Sirius, Fred and Dumbledore. 
(Looking back, maybe I shouldn't have picked favourites....)
Harry Potter was the book of my childhood. I whizzed through the first three books several times and then waited for Mum to read each new book before I could get my hands on it. I actually remember sneaking into my parents' room after I'd gone to bed, removing the Goblet of Fire and reading it under torchlight, hurriedly replacing it back by their bed when I heard they were coming upstairs. 

As I grew up I began to read more classic novels. Northanger Abbey on holidays in France. The Three Musketeers when I was eleven, Tess of the D'Urbervilles at twelve. And my love for classics has continued up until this day! Recently I've become more interested in modern classics as well, and have been slowly working my way through American novels such as To Kill A Mockingbird, The Grapes of Wrath and On the Road

I will read anything. A bit of romance here, some crime there, sprinkled with dystopian fiction and topped with an historical novel or two. I'm so grateful that I've had the opportunity to immerse myself in books; that I am able to escape into the fantasy world of Middle Earth when I've had a bad day; that I can fall in love with beautiful boys without going through the turmoil of heartbreak myself. I am forever indebted to the P1 teacher who taught me my letters, and, of course, to my parents and grandparents who taxied us to the library faithfully each week. 

After this rather long-winded post, it will come as no surprise to you to say that I intend to write several book reviews about what I've been reading each month. I would really love to hear what you've been reading as well - and whether or not you agree with my opinions! Stay tuned for my first review...

All pics from this board.

Friday, 8 August 2014

New beginnings

Okay,  I couldn't keep myself away from Blogger any longer. 

The past month has allowed me to think about lots of things, bake several cakes and read many books. And I've come to the conclusion that I don't want to stop blogging. I think I just need a change of direction! 

I really love writing articles/essays/stories; and initially that's what this blog was - somewhere to share my thoughts and write about what I'd been up to. But somewhere along the line, the photos of food became the focus of each post. I don't mind photography, but it's not something I'm passionate about (unlike writing) and so blogging began to feel like a chore. 

I began to feel boxed in, only writing about food or restaurants when in reality I wanted to tell you all about the latest book I'd read, the newest TV programme I'd watched or my most recent CD purchases. I was only expressing one side of me - and whilst that was fine for a while, I didn't feel like I was being totally honest. 

It's funny, isn't it, how a blog started purely for personal pleasure can morph into something undertaken to please others. I was afraid to write about other things close to my heart in case I 'lost followers', or received some snide comments down below. But this part of the Internet is mine! (Or at least partly mine.)  I shouldn't feel pressurised to write about something because I think others will enjoy it; I need to write it for me. It's only when I truly start writing from the heart that I will feel comfortable with CIC. I was inspired by my friend Sarah, who has recently started a blog 'to write something besides English essays for school.'  Her blog, though new, is totally her own - and that's something I really admire. 

So, from now on, Cooking In Cashmere is going to change. That may mean a new header (testing my creativity skills to the limit). It may mean a new layout. But it will mean a change of content. From now on I'm going to write about what is on my mind, whether it be about food, music, books, fashion... anything and everything! 

It's a new step for me, but I can't wait to see how it turns out! 

Monday, 7 July 2014

Farewell for now

This is a post that has been on my mind for some time. Recently I've been questioning the meaning of blogging, and the point of it all. It seems like everyone has a blog nowadays and so it's hard to 'stand out', as it were.

It's not that I want to achieve international fame. But realistically, where do I see this blog going? A book deal? A cooking program? None of those things really excite me. In fact, I can't think of anything worse than blogging as a living. I admire those who do so for their courage and determination - running a blog is hard work! - but it's not for me. 

In addition, blogging is really difficult. Of course, it all depends on the author, but for me, one post requires a lot of work. Thinking about a recipe, making it, taking photos before my family had eaten the food (and I'm not a natural photographer), uploading photos, writing a post, writing the recipe, any links, formatting the post.... One blog post alone could consist of three hours of work. And realistically, I don't have that time. I want to focus on baking and cooking without worrying about what it will look like on a camera lens; without panicking when a recipe goes wrong because I have no back-up posts; without the pressure that comes with blogging. 

It's been a hard decision but I've been thinking over it for the past two months and I think it's time to call it quits.

I'm not saying that I will never blog again (my enthusiasm for writing is too much for that). I'm simply going to take a little break over the summer and see where my path takes me. I may return in the autumn - and I could be writing about anything and everything from food to clothes to books. As Fitzgerald famously said, "Life was beginning over again with the summer" - 
and this summer is a time for me to explore where my passions really lie.

Thank you for taking this journey of exploration with me! You can still see what I'm up to via my Instagram page or see what inspires me via Pinterest