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This Week

This week I have been stressed.

Honestly that could be the end of that. However I have been up to a few things that might be worth mentioning. My latest cookbook review has been posted on the Huffington Post blog looking at ‘Boutique Baking’ by Peggy Porschen.

I’ve been writing political poetry, I’m not sharing much of it online but I am thinking of combining the found poetry idea with political poems to see what comes next. I’ve also looked at more paint colour combinations than is healthy. I now sit and talk about interior decor. My apologies for becoming so deeply dull.

I have read a huge number of books recently and took loads back to the library so I’ll just name a few. ‘Matched’ and ‘Crossed’ by Ally Condie were great although it took me a while to get into them. ‘The Secret Countess’ by Eva Ibbotson sounded like it would tick lots of boxes for me and I was thrilled when I liked it as much as I thought I would! ‘Miss Wonderful’ by Loretta Chase which was an unusual pick for me but I actually really enjoyed it. A lot of the books I’m reading at the moment are ones that were 9 or 10 rated by The Book Smugglers. I also decided to re-read ‘The Daughter of Time’ by Josephine Tey after reading Nicola Upson’s series about the author. Another recommendation was ‘Hexwood’ by Diana Wynne Jones which Zoë Marriott recommended and I have three more that she suggested for when I am in the middle of moving. I finally read ‘Looking for Alaska’ by John Green (I’ve been spacing them out to save them) which I thought was wonderful but it still only sits at #3 or 4 on my John Green list. I’m glad I didn’t start with it, anyway. ‘The Iron King’ by Julie Kagawa was a surprise and another that took me a while to enjoy but I’ll be getting the rest of the series. I’m now reading ‘Half-Brother’ by Kenneth Oppel which is great so far.

And, if that isn’t enough I have four books to read that I picked up at Edge Lit yesterday. For once all of the books I got at a convention were ones that I wanted to read – no swapping required! It was a brilliant day out where I saw friends that I don’t see often enough, met some people I only knew from the internets and (if I didn’t terrify people too much) made some new friends as well.


Newark & Strays

Heading fast down a dual carriageway and being repeated told to turn right in 80 yards gets wearing very quickly. It sort of set the tone for the whole of my day out though.

As plans to try out one of the coffee shops I had been looking forward to visiting was scuppered by surprise Monday closing I set out rather late for Newark. I had heard of a little coffee shop that made great lattes and planned on looking around the church in town as well. Despite my sat nav having a mid life crisis on the A52 I managed to find my way to Newark without too much trouble. I have a rather old fashioned habit of navigating by churches when I don’t really know where I am going and so I ended up parked in the shadows of St. Mary’s.

Newark strikes me as a very strange place all over, there are so wonderful shops and for a market town it has been surprisingly well maintained with lots of independent retailers and fewer chains than I had been expecting. Naturally it has not been entirely left alone and there are still quite a lot of charity shops and the usual brand stores but it still feels like a little local town. One of the things that I am sure has helped to keep it tied to its past is the layout of the streets, the Market Square in the centre with a large number of streets winding around it mean that you seems to be in a maze of smaller, less pedestrianised streets most of the time.

I had a walk around but having skipped breakfast headed to have an early lunch at Strays, a cafe I had heard much about. It turned out that I had gotten the wrong end of the stick completely about Strays. It is not just a small cafe but also a bookshop, tapas restaurant and jazz venue. Now, for people who don’t know me I just listed several of my very favourite things. This should have been a winner from the start but sadly there were a few key things that really let it down.

They serve breakfast, light bites and drinks through the day as well as tapas on a Friday from 5pm and then they also have live jazz on Fridays from 6pm. I had a CBM panini (£4.95) which was “herb-roasted chicken with oven-baked bacon, fresh lemon mayo and a little black pepper”. They have an extensive menu with lots of options for all sorts of diets and specials each day as well. My panini was lacklustre to say the least, the chicken was quite dry, the bacon was nothing special at all with little flavour (also not cooked very much, and I happen to prefer it very well done) there was almost no mayo and if the pepper was there it wasn’t noticeable. It was served with a very lovely portion of coleslaw and a generous handful of salted crisps. The sides were definitely the best part although I perhaps chose poorly because several of the other meals that I saw people eating looked nice, however I can’t honestly recommend it. I had been told about Strays by a coffee lover so I went for a walk around the town to work up an appetite for a hot drink.

The main draw of Newark must surely be the architecture, a town with such history is bound to have lovely buildings, and the streets are crowded with a timeline of English history. I hit upon market day completely by accident but it looked mostly bric-a-brac so I steered clear and carried on wandering around. Although the streets were beautiful it didn’t feel like a welcoming place and is not somewhere that I will be hurrying back to.

Back at Strays again I ordered coffee and sat down, in another section of the cafe. The cafe really is huge and very spread out, it is like a maze although from eavesdropping it seems that It has recently been changed around. The wait for coffee was about ten minutes at lunch time which is perfectly fine for a good cup of coffee, which this was. Breaking the rules a little I had a skinny latte, simply because I felt rather unsettled after lunch. It was well made with just the right ratio of foam to hot milk. The coffee itself was strong without being too bitter and had lovely art on top. It was well blended, and there were no grounds left in the cup afterwards. It was a generous portion which was nice considering that it cost £2.50 for a regular size. According to their website the coffee is ethically sourced and locally roasted.

There are a lot of doors so it’s hard not to end up sitting in a breeze even when not in the contained courtyard. Where I was sitting the second time there were also a large number of flies buzzing around which was pretty off-putting while trying to eat. The chairs are arranged badly and because of a rather strange organisation within the cafe it meant the staff were constantly wandering around people trying to find out whose food belonged where. I didn’t try any of the cakes but they had over twenty different types, two of which were gluten free.

Although there are steps inside most of them are quite low and it was reasonably disabled friendly but it would be very hard trying to get a wheelchair inside due to the room and the counter for ordering was up a few steeper steps. The staff were friendly but seemed quite flustered even when it wasn’t busy. For what I ate I would say that it was a little pricey considering the quality. I’d definitely recommend going for a cup of coffee and perhaps a cake but avoid the paninis at least if you are looking for lunch.

A nice coffee shop with a good atmosphere, if you aren’t there at peak times, great tasting coffee and a large menu but let down by the food a little.


This Week

This week I have been reading, writing and working. So not a huge change to every other week.

I read ‘Hounded’ by Kevin Hearne, kindly given to me by a friend last weekend. Once again I have taken back all of the books I was reading to the library so I can’t remember what they were. I’m pretty sure they were thrillers. I think I read another Kate Ellis as I seem to pick one up every time I’m in there. I’ve almost finished the next Stephen Leather book ‘Midnight’.

I’ve been trying to get lots of admin done for my business site as well as working on the Bio page over there which has led to me thinking back on my Who Are You post that I wrote here. Over on Jackdaw 19 I posted a list of links about people whose work I really admire. There are some hugely talented people on the list if you’d like to check it out. I also launched a new section of the business where I offer website, blog and social media critiques for people who already have an online presence. Fun – right? Right? Okay, well I’m excited anyway!

I’ve had my head so far into research and reading that I’ve been really quiet online lately and seeing as I never got out of the gates with G+ I’m trying to get going with it again. I’ve managed to get quite a lot of work done today but on the downside most of it has been done from bed as I seem to have managed to get a bug and so feel rather unwell.

I have blogged here about my alternate Flickr account as well as the not-at-all-easy decision I made to stop selling my art and jewellery (as well as trying to sell it wholesale).

My head is now getting far too foggy to remember what else I was going to blog about today. I have a feeling I might need to re-check all of today’s work when I’m feeling better! Hope everyone else is having a good weekend.


This Week

This week I have mainly been working. There has also been a lot of reading.

Having not posted a round-up last week I’m a little behind on the links. I reviewed ‘Tea With Bea’ by Bea Vo, ‘Food You Can’t Say No To’ by Tamasin Day-Lewis and ‘Adventures with Chocolate’ by Paul A. Young on the Huffington Post UK blog.

Over here I have done a review of ‘The Cook and the Gardener’ by Amanda Hesser. I have finally gotten around to posting all about my business (just in time for me to go and add a new section to the website in the next couple of weeks!) and I’ve also added some new pictures and recommendations from my visit to Shropshire.

I’ve read ‘Dreadful Sorry’ by Kathryn Reiss which was excellent, ‘I Am Legend’ by Richard Matheson which I really didn’t enjoy and some fantastic thrillers. Having seen a recommendation on Twitter I picked up ‘The Obelisk’ by Howard Gordon and finished it in about six hours flat and then even more surprisingly did exactly the same with ‘Lock Down’ by Sean Black. I can’t wait to get more from both authors. I also read ‘Perfect Death’ by Kate Ellis, I try normally not to jump right into the middle of a series of novels but I wanted to try this out and it did stand alone well, and I’ll try and find others as well now. The other books I’ve been reading have mostly been poetry – partly because I love reading it and also to find some new poems to use when I’m doing my ‘After Poetry’ project and writing-in-the-style-of poets.

I’m planning a trip into town to look for some new cookbooks to review because I have completely run out and so until I’ve found some new ones the reviews will be quiet for a while.

And now I’ve got a quick reading break in the sunshine before getting back to work on a very long to-do list for my business-side. There will probably also be a large cup of tea involved.


The Cook and the Gardener

Since I started blogging my recipe reviews over on the Huffington Post UK blog I’ve more or less completely stopped reviewing cookbooks on this blog. I’m organising a full archive with links to all of the cookbook reviews I’ve done. It’s taking me a while because I keep changing my mind about how I want it organised – this is nothing unusual for me! That will be coming soon.

I’ll be doing a couple more cookbook-ish things as well in the future but for now I thought I would do some mini reviews of books that have been out a while but that I have gotten out of the library recently and enjoyed. So here’s the first.

The Cook and The Gardener – Amanda Hesser
Absolute Press – 2005
Illustrations: Kate Gridley

“The Cook and the Gardener” is all about Hesser’s (the cook) time spent at the Château du Feÿ and the influence of Monsieur Milbert’s (the gardener) walled garden and wonderful vegetables. This is pretty much the ultimate lifestyle/recipe book.
There are vast quantities of notes and long written sections with recipes dotted between them. The recipes themselves are organised in a seasonal frame with the best ingredients from each month highlighted one at a time. There are no photographs at all but small illustrations dotted through the book. It feels like something to sit and read on a Sunday afternoon while jotting down ideas for recipes for the week ahead.
I am always on the lookout for cookery books that can become staples in the kitchen. Books like Delia’s Complete Cookery Course or the Ballymaloe Cookery Course where you know you will find the right flavour combination, a good lunchtime idea or the timings you need for a roast dinner. “The Cook and the Gardener” is along those lines and has a very impressive number of recipes. There is a lot of writing in here so if you want just recipes this is probably not the right book but if you like the story behind the food it is very well written.
There are beautiful and rustic ideas all the way through that are inspired by classical French cooking as well as some lovely and innovative recipes. Some of the meals can be quite long and often run over several pages which makes it a bit more awkward to cook from but there are also lots of quick soups and sides. The notes that Hesser has included are wonderful and give a real insight both into her own cooking and also the way that you can adapt recipes to suit your own style.
This is not an easy book to get hold of anymore but I would highly recommend grabbing it if you do come across it. Lots of beautiful ideas for everything from large dinner parties to a comforting, simple supper dish. A real treat.