Summer Vegetable Chilli

This week I’m cooking for one, as Beardy Man and Little Bean have gone to visit his parents. He’s self-employed so within reason can have as much time off as he likes, whereas I’m not, and have run out of days, hence staying behind. This means I’m cooking all the meals I can’t normally cook because at least one of them won’t eat it. This is one of my favorite just-for-me meals and so was first on my list.

Summer Veg Chilli

I basically make two kinds of veggie chili: a winter one (with squash and sweet potatoes) and this one, full of summer veg. It freezes well, so what I’ve done is make a batch and put several pots in the freezer for next time I find myself eating alone. Yesterday I made a load of guacamole to go with it – neither of them eat avocados so this is another “just me” treat. I picked things that were different colors – green pepper and yellow courgette, because I thought it would look colourful with the red tomato sauce. There is no logical reason why, as I think they taste the same, but I much prefer yellow courgettes to green ones. Maybe the yellow is just more cheerful?

Chilli Ingredients

Ingredients

  • 1/2 bell pepper, diced
  • 1/2 courgette, diced
  • 1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • splash olive oil
  • 1 tin chopped tomatoes
  • 1 tin red kidney beans, drained
  • cracked pepper
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp chopped oregano
  • 1 tsp chilli paste
  • pinch of  chilli flakes

Instructions

  1. Heat the oil over a medium heat. Add the onion, pepper and courgette, then the cracked pepper and sweat until soft (about 10 minutes).
  2. Add the garlic and cook for another minute or so. Add the tomatoes and stir, then add the paprika, oregano, chilli flakes and chilli paste (adjust this to taste if you like it more or less spicy!).
  3. Leave to simmer for as long as you like, but at least twenty minutes, while you make whatever you want to go with it – rice, tortillas, guacamole, cheese and so on (depending what you pick you can make this both vegan and gluten free if you need it to be).

This quantity made four portions, so there’s three in the freezer for whenever I need them.

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Simone de Beauvoir: The Second Sex

The Second Sex

I haven’t posted a book review on here for a couple of weeks. That’s mainly because I’ve been buried inside this monster of a book. The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir is the next book on my Gilmore Girls Reading Challenge, featured in the first episode when Rory is clearing out her locker, it’s one of the books she has stashed in there. I think it’s also referred to later on in the series again. It’s something that I’ve always had on a vague list of “things I’ll get around to reading one day”, so it’s good to have finally read it, even if it was, most definitely, an effort to do so.

The Second Sex was published in 1949 and is a study on what the author thought it meant to be a woman, at that point in time. It’s one of the things that inspired second wave feminism (first wave being things like suffrage and equal property rights for women, second wave being the movement in the 1960s to try and get more social equality for women) and I had to keep reminding myself this as I was reading it. Reading it now, almost 70 years after it was published, some of it comes across as toe-curlingly hard to read.

De Beauvoir’s description of women is quite narrow. She begins by describing the physical nature of women, their biology, and the changes that occur as they grow from child to adult. She discusses the “types” of women that she thinks men expect to see – the mother, the whore, the innocent etc. Then she talks about how women’s relationships with men change through their lives. I found it an interesting mix of things that are still true today, for example when she says about it being harder for women to, say, walk around a city at night alone, and things that we’ve managed to overcome. When this was written, contraception, for example, was hugely unreliable and generally controlled by the man. Women working wasn’t the norm, and unmarried mothers were outcast pariahs. We’re now in a much better position, and I found it really reassuring to think how much progress we seem to have made in a couple of generations; a lot of the behaviours and attitudes she describes, which caused huge problems for women of my grandmother’s generation, just don’t exist any more.

Many of the issues she describes however, are still problems. And they’re battles feminists are still fighting. De Beauvoir discusses how little girls of her day were brought up to expect certain things – to be dressed in a way that restricts their movement, to not expect to do as well as men academically, to be dependent on their husband. She comments that things were changing when she wrote the book and the next generation would have it better. But while I was pleased that so much was better than 70 years ago, I did recognize a lot of what was being described. Her discussion about bringing up boys and girls in different ways reminded me a lot of the Let Toys be Toys campaign. Her conclusions about how it’s up to both men as well as women to fight for equality sounded much like today’s #HeForShe movement.

I did get the sense that De Beauvoir didn’t particularly like being a woman, and felt somewhat apart from the rest of women. It comes across that she doesn’t include herself in the narrow definitions and descriptions of women. I also get a sense that she didn’t have much time for the large numbers of women who accepted their lot as wives and mothers – although she’s well known for having a number of lovers both male and female, de Beauvoir never married or had children. I gather she had a somewhat unconventional upbringing and was very much an independent intellectual, with a very different situation to those of the women she was describing as typical. In 2018, I would say she doesn’t seem very aware of her own privilege as far as being more educated and less repressed than most of her contemporaries.

I’m going to give this 3 out of 5 stars. As a feminist, I’m glad I read it, because it casts a long shadow over so much of the battle for equality that’s been fought since it was published and is still being fought now. I can see that this is the book that inspired a lot of the change I benefit from. However, quite a lot of it is quite dated, and I felt quite dismissive of women, and a bit pigeonholing. There were some comments along the lines of “women do x because y” and I felt they were far too sweeping and that actually things are more subtle a lot of the time, and more complex. It’s also a super long book that didn’t need to be, and that repeats itself.

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Sri Lanka

A few weeks ago, when I said I wanted to blog about a wider range of subjects, one of the things I was thinking of was travel. I love traveling and seeing new places and would love to share some of my experiences. I’m almost done with uploading the photos from our family trip to Sri Lanka earlier this year, so I’m going to start with that. I’m afraid I’m one of those people who take 5 months to upload their holiday snaps. In my defence, I took a lot of photos!

Golden Temple

Sri Lanka is an amazing country. It’s not large – 270 miles long and 150 miles wide however we found this fairly deceptive as it takes quite a long time to get from place to place. A few of our friends had been and they all recommended hiring a driver for the whole trip. We did this, which turned out to be a great idea as not only do you get your transport, you also get someone who speaks the language and has local knowledge. So, while we had an itinerary agreed in advance, we were able to make changes, and indeed our driver suggested places that weren’t on it as we were near them. We did spend quite a lot of time in the car. The roads are not great, many are narrow, hilly and twisty and the driving standards are pretty bad – another reason not to hire a car and do it yourself, I suppose. The car is not the main mode of transport in Sri Lanka – expect to get snarled up in a lot of tuktuks, buses and bicycles. So what looks like, say, a thirty mile drive will take you several hours. Fortunately the scenery is amazing so the time in the car passed quite quickly.

Kotmale Reservoir

Sigiriya

We were only in Sri Lanka for a week so we barely scratched the surface of what’s there. However, I feel we got the most out of the trip. Some of the things we did include: walking with elephants, visiting temples, going on a safari, visiting spice gardens, batik workshops and tea plantations, eating amazing food, visiting ancient ruins, chasing monkeys, exploring caves, watching traditional dancing, enjoying sunset over the Indian Ocean and meeting some great local people. I’m planning on writing number of posts over the next few weeks about some of these things, so this is kind of an overview.

Negombo Sunset

For our trip, we used a local travel company (N2 Travels), gave them a list of things we wanted to do, and how much we wanted to spend on hotels, and they arranged an itinerary covering most of them, provided a driver, and booked the hotels. I’ve never done this before – normally on a trip we book everything ourselves. But this worked really well. The hotels were all great – we stayed in three different ones as we were moving about. The driver was amazing, a really nice guy who spoke great English and, as I said, had invaluable local knowledge and suggestions when we wanted to change our plans.

Toque Macaque

We visited in February and this was ideal – the weather was pleasantly warm without being horribly hot or humid. I think it rained once, briefly. It is one of those places that you need to check the rainy season when booking a trip. Confusingly it has not one but two rainy seasons –  the best time to visit the west and south coasts and hill country (most of our visit was to the hill country in the centre) is from December to March, while the best weather on the east coast is from April to September.

Elephant

The food in Sri Lanka is amazing. Because we had Little Bean with us (who can’t stand anything spicy and will refuse to eat even the mildest of curries), we mostly ate in the hotels in the evenings. This worked out fine as they tended to do buffets where she could get something she recognized and Beardy Man and I could sample local things. We came away with a large list of dishes we want to recreate. The staple curry in Sri Lanka struck me as more south East Asian than Indian (not having been to either place (yet) I’m basing this on what I’ve had in the UK), reminding me mostly of Thai red and green curries. There is a lot of fish and a lot of rice, and a lot of vegetarian food. Pretty much every meal came with lots of fresh fruit – mainly mangos, papayas and pineapples, all of which we saw growing on our travels.

Lovely Bunch of Coconuts

All of the people we met seemed to speak at least reasonable English. I’m always slightly embarrassed by this (in the sense that it feels arrogant to just walk in somewhere and expect people to speak English), and we did learn a few words such as please, thank you and hello, which people seemed to appreciate. Everyone we met was friendly and seemed to want to talk to us. I found that, contrary to what I half expected, very few people tried to sell us anything.

Kandy Sunset

We really enjoyed our trip to Sri Lanka. It probably wasn’t the ideal holiday for a six year old, and we did have to work hard to entertain her for the long stretches in the car. However, there isn’t really much choice if you want to see the wide range of things the island has to offer, and, in my opinion, it was worth it, because we all had the opportunity to enjoy some amazing experiences that we may never get to again. I’m looking forward to sharing some of those in detail over the next few weeks.

 

Cherry and Almond Muffins

There’s something about the combination of cherries and almonds that really works. I had some fresh cherries that needed eating so Little Bean and I made some muffins with them at the weekend. As always with muffins, they’re best eaten freshly cooked and still slightly warm, but will keep well for a few days if you don’t. This recipe has no eggs so is ideal if you have someone with an egg allergy.

Cherry and Almond Muffins

Makes 12 muffins

Ingredients

  • 300g / 10 oz self-raising flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 85g / 3 oz caster sugar
  • 180g / 6 oz fresh cherries, washed and stoned
  • 225ml / 8 fl oz buttermilk (you can mix half milk and half yogurt if you don’t have this)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 85g / 3 oz melted butter
  • 30g flaked almonds

Instructions

  1. Place paper cases into a 12 hole muffin/cupcake tin. Heat the oven to 200℃ / 180℃ fan / 400℉ / Gas mark 6.
  2. Sift the flour, baking powder and sugar into a large bowl. Add the cherries.
  3. Combine the buttermilk (or milk and yogurt), vanilla extract and melted butter in a jug then pour onto the dry ingredients. Stir gently until combined, but don’t overstir – stop when there are no dry ingredients left.
  4. Divide evenly between the muffin cases. Sprinkle the flaked almonds across the top.
  5. Bake in the centre of the oven for 20-25 minutes, they should be risen and golden. Let them cool for 5 minutes in the pan, then remove and cool on a wire rack.

Unplugging

Portable Tech

Last weekend I took Little Bean shopping. We needed some mother-daughter shopping time as this weekend is Beardy Man’s birthday, so we needed to go out without him. For some reason, I left my phone at home. I’m not one of those people who is particularly attached to their phone, but it’s unusual that I would go out without it. Anyway, while we were out, we went to get drinks. While we were sat in the coffee shop, I realized that if I had had my phone with me, I would have been using it. Not to make calls, but just to fiddle. To check social media. To generally not interact with my daughter fully.

But without the phone, we had a lovely time. We chatted and joked. She’s good company even though she’s seven. And it made me realise how much time I spend not giving her, or other people, my full attention. We had a really nice morning together, and I’m sure it was so much better because I had, albeit unintentionally, detached myself from my phone. So, the three of us went out for dinner with some friends on Monday night. I deliberately didn’t take my phone. And I didn’t miss it at all.

I’ve been thinking about this. I’m 36, so I grew up without mobile phones and tablets. I didn’t own a mobile until I was 18, and was out of university and married before social media was a thing. So I’m not a “digital native”. But I think I’ve let devices and the social media on them take over too much of my life. I don’t need to be checking it all the time. And it’s so much better to put it down when I’m with other people (assuming they’re not glued to theirs as well!). Yes a lot of my friends live thousands of miles away, but that doesn’t mean I need to be glued to my phone or tablet all the time.

I went for a run this morning and it occurred to me that this even intrudes into my running time, as I regularly checked my watch to see how far I’d run, and how fast I was going. When I started running, once I was able to run 5k, I didn’t do this. I just picked a route, and set off. I ran at a speed that felt nice. I was alone with my thoughts and I found it an amazing way to clear my head. And I’ve lost that, as I’ve done more running and got to know more runners, I’ve become more about the stats. How will this look on my Strava? Is it a PB? What is my average per kilometer speed? By tracking my stats as I go, I’ve lost the relaxation aspect that made running so much fun. I need to stop checking my fitness watch!

So I’m going to make a real effort not to be online all the time. To not keep looking at how fast I’m going. Of course I care what my online friends are sharing, but it can wait for a few hours. Of course I care how far I’ve run, but I’ll find that out at the end. Whoever and whatever is in front of me deserves my time and attention. So I’m going to try and switch off more, and focus on now, what I’m actually doing, right this second. I don’t know how best to manage this. I think setting aside a block of time each day isn’t going to work, but hopefully if I make a conscious decision to limit how often I check my devices that will help.

Gail Honeyman: Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

This has been on my to-be-read pile for ages, after seeing so many reviews saying how great it is. This week I finally got round to finding out what all the fuss is about. Eleanor Oliphant is just fine thank you. She’s a thirty year old accounts clerk who lives by herself and has her life down to a simple routine. Her social skills are almost nil – she neither understands how to interact with other people or particularly wants to. She is also carrying around the burden of traumatic events that happened in her childhood which she doesn’t remember properly, something she achieves by spending her weekends drinking vodka. One day Eleanor sees an old man collapse in the street as she is leaving work. One of her colleagues, Raymond, persuades her that they should help him, and as a result of doing this, Eleanor’s life begins to open up, as she becomes friends with Raymond and the old man, Sammy, and his family.

Over the course of the book Eleanor starts to realize what she is missing by not having other people in her life. She starts becoming more social and enjoying it. However, once a week Eleanor also has a phone call with her Mummy, who she tells us she can’t visit – the implication is that her Mummy is in prison. Eleanor’s Mummy is not a nice person at all, and we learn that Eleanor as a child never really knew what it was like to be loved, which explains a lot of why she’s like she is. Her Mummy is constantly putting her down and telling her how pathetic it is. To keep her Mummy happy, Eleanor fixates on a man she sees singing in a band. She does various things to try and make herself attractive to him, which fails spectacularly, causing things to get pretty dark for Eleanor, but ultimately, for her to seek professional help and uncover the darkness in her past and resolve it.

I really liked this book. Eleanor is just lovely. She’s odd, but in a likable way, and in a way I can relate to somewhat as a lot of the things she doesn’t understand about people I don’t understand either. I also really like Raymond. He’s something that’s a bit under-represented in modern books – a good guy. He’s not a dashing hero that swoops in and saves the day, he’s just a decent human being who is kind, as a result of which Eleanor begins to see what it is to have a friend, and begins to become more empathetic herself. I like that it’s not a love story between these two – at the end of the book it’s not clear whether they are going to remain friends or something more. Normally I don’t like things to be unresolved, but in this case, I think it works.

I’m not going to spoil the story completely. There are a couple of things that are revealed towards the end, one of which I saw coming fairly early on, the other of which I didn’t. I like being surprised, so I enjoyed not spotting at least part of the reveal. I’m going to give this book 5 stars because I was completely hooked into it, and loved the two main characters and their stories. I also like that it made me think about my own friendships and relationships, and made me feel really grateful for the lovely people I’m lucky to have in my own life.

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40 Before I’m 40

Tomorrow is my birthday! I turn 36. Which means there are 4 years to go until I’m 40. I’m not particularly bothered about getting older, but I did think this would be a good time to take stock of things and set myself some goals for the next 4 years, and try and achieve some of the things I’ve been putting off. I came up with the following list, which, being me, I broke up into sections. I’m amazed I managed not to colour code it!

Books/Writing

1 Write a book. I’ve had several attempts at this (usually as part of NaNoWriMo) and never ended up with anything I felt was worth putting any more effort in to finishing. I think I have it in me… and I definitely do have some ideas that seem good… I just need to crack on and do it, but do it properly with a bit more planning than my NaNo attempts have had!

2 Read 1000 books. That’s 1000 in total, not 1000 over the next few years. Goodreads thinks I have read a little over 700, so 300 in 4 years seems reasonable.

3 Read a non-English book in its original language. I speak reasonable French, some German and a smattering of Italian. It’s therefore probably going to be French!

4 Still be Writing this Blog. I’m really bad at blogging. I do it for a bit then I give up on it. I feel like I’m on a roll this time so I’m hoping to still be doing this in 4 years’ time.

5 Read a Book in 1 Sitting.  Before I became a parent, I could read for hours. These days that’s harder to do, but not impossible. I want to make time to read a book and be so engrossed in it that I lose track of time and don’t stop until I’m finished.

Running/Fitness

6 Run 5k in less than 25 minutes. Not an overly ambitious time… I started running just over a year ago, and once I got to 5k, started decreasing my time. I’m at about 27 minutes so this ought to be achievable.

7 Run 10k in less than an hour. I’m hoping this one will be super easy as I can do it in 1hour 1 minute 12 seconds. I can get pretty close to the hour but have never cracked it.

8 Run a half marathon. Feels like the next thing to aim for as I can run 10k quite happily when I’ve been training enough. I originally just had “run a marathon” but that feels like a big leap so I’m adding a half as a separate challenge.

9 Run a marathon. As a runner this feels like something I want to be able to say I’ve done. I can’t imagine doing it regularly but to be able to say I did it once in my life would be amazing.

10 Reach my ideal weight. It’s taken me a long time to lose most of my baby weight after having Little Bean. I’ve got another 6 or 7kg to go and then I should be at my ideal weight for my height and age (63kg). Which is about what I weighed before I was pregnant.

11 Complete the 100 burpee challenge. I hate burpees. So I’m going to make myself do lots of them to see if I can learn to, if not love them, hate them slightly less!

12 Be able to pull myself up. My upper body has never been strong. Pullups, pushups, rope climbs… I’ve always struggled. I’d like to be able to do one pull up. Just one!

Big Grown Up Stuff

13 Own My Own House. With Beardy Man, that is. We’ve always rented and I’ve had enough of things like landlords wanting their houses back, landlords not repairing things, not being allowed to decorate etc. We’re saving and I think it should be do-able in the next 4 years.

14 Be completely debt free. I don’t think I can do both this and own a house, as the house will need a mortgage… I see it as do this and then buy the house. I don’t have massive debts, but I am paying off a car loan. I cleared my student loan last year and that felt so good… the loan should be gone in a couple of years.

15 Upload and Organise all my Photos. I have so many digital photos, and most of them are sat on memory cards or USB sticks. I really want to upload them all to proper storage. And organise them – just mass storage isn’t enough!

16 Adopt a Kitty. We had a beautiful cat, Lyra, who we adopted from a cat rescue and was with us for over a decade. Sadly she died a few months ago. We’re still sad about Lyra, but we’re about ready to look for a new kitty. I’ve suggested maybe a couple of kitties. Beardy Man rolled his eyes a bit but he didn’t say no…

Travel

17 Visit 5 countries I haven’t before. Before Little Bean was born we were both working a lot, and didn’t travel anything like as much as we wanted to. Then we became parents and found travel really hard. As she’s getting older, travel is getting easier and we’re taking her to some amazing places. I think 5 new countries in the next 4 years is do-able.

18 Cross the Equator. I’ve got pretty close to the Southern Hemisphere – we went to Sri Lanka a while back, which is only a few degrees above the equator – but never got there. Haven’t decided where we’ll go yet!

19 Visit the New Zealanders. This is the one I’m least sure we can achieve, just because of the cost. Both Beardy Man and I have family in New Zealand and I’d love to go and visit them all.

20 Find 250 Geocaches. Geocaching is something I started doing with Little Bean a couple of years ago. It’s fun, but we’re a bit rubbish at remembering to go and do it. We have found about 120 of them. I’d like to about double this.

Craft

21 Make and Install a Yarnbomb. So, I have kind of done this already – a few years ago my friend Kathryn did a yarn bomb and I made a few bits and helped attach them. It was cool, and fun, but it was quite minimal, and I want to do a really “wow” one. The ones that cover whole trees or benches etc.

22 Finish my Patchwork Quilt. I saved a lot of Little Bean’s baby clothes with the intention of making a patchwork quilt from them. I’ve started. But it’s a long way from being finished.

23 Learn to Decorate Cakes. I love baking, but I’m rubbish at decorating my efforts. Slapping buttercream and sprinkles on is about as far as I go. I’m thinking I might sign up to an evening course for this, but have never got round to doing it. So it’s on the list.

24 Learn to Use my Camera. I have a good digital camera. A proper one. But I don’t use all the fancy bits, I generally go with the automatic setting and let it do it for me. I want to learn how to actually make the most of all those fancy settings.

25 Have one Christmas where all my gifts are Handmade. By me. I really dislike running about trying to find gifts in shops before Christmas. Sometimes you get nice things, often it’s really hard and I end up giving things I’m not happy about. So I’d like to try making gifts for people instead.

Experiences

26 Go Wine Tasting. I like a glass of wine, but I don’t really know much about it. I’d like to go on a proper wine tasting and learn more about it generally.

27 Learn to Dive (number 1). This is embarrassing but I can’t dive into a pool. I love swimming but always either jump in or use the steps. I just freak out when I try and dive in. And usually end up smacking my chest on the water. I really want to be able to do this.

28 Learn to Dive (number 2). I’ve been looking at PADI diving qualifications as I like snorkeling and have scuba dived a couple of times and enjoyed it. It feels a like a good step to get qualified.

29 Take Little Bean Stargazing. She loves looking at the stars but we live in a city so don’t see many. Next time we go camping somewhere with less light pollution, I want to be prepared with e.g. star maps so we can talk about what we’re looking at.

30 Spend a Day Volunteering for a Good Cause. I haven’t decided what this is going to be yet but there’s no shortage of options. I’d like to involve Little Bean in this with me.

31 Watch all of IMDB’s Top 250 Films. Beardy Man is regularly horrified that I haven’t seen really famous films. This looks like a good list to work through to rectify that. In my defense, I have seen lots of obscure sci-fi ones!

32 Do Something Awesome for my 40th Birthday. Not sure what this is going to be… probably not a big party as I’m not really a big party kind of person. Something memorable, and fun, with Beardy Man and Little Bean and maybe some close friends.

Skills

33 Learn to make Fresh Pasta. Just something I always wanted to do but never have.

34 Learn Arabic. I do a lot of work with GCC natives who speak Arabic as their first language. I’d love to be able to say more than “Salaam Aleikum” to them – and I’m sure they would help me if I said I was learning.

35 Grow my Hair Long. OK so not really a skill, other than mastering my patience! I used to have long hair and about a year ago cut it short. I’m now growing it out (it’s about ear length) as I really miss my long hair.

36 Research my Family Tree. Not really a skill either but I wasn’t sure where else to put it! We have Beardy Man’s family tree, and I’d like to do mine and find out more about where I came from.

You’ll notice that isn’t 40. I’ve left a few spare spaces, as I’ve no doubt that new things will occur me over the first few years of this challenge; I’ll add them to the list. I also haven’t added anything like “finish Gilmore Girls reading challenge”. There are over 300 books in the challenge… and while I want to read about 300 books, I don’t just want to read books on the list! So I’ve left that one off.