It’s Bloggiesta time!

Bloggiesta Spring 2014

Okay, the fact that Bloggiesta started on Thursday and I am only just posting about it on Saturday evening shows that I don’t have a whole four days of intensive blog updating planned, but I do have some goals for the next 24 hours and have already been hopping around looking at other people’s Bloggiesta plans and challenges.

So: what is Bloggiesta? It’s essentially a collaborative spring clean for book bloggers (except that there’s more than one per year, so they’re not all in spring, but this one is, so the analogy works this time). Some people do a complete redesign or overhaul of their site, others post useful hints and tips about blogging, most of us just tidy up a bit and have a natter on Twitter. Whatever way you use it, if you’re a blogger it’s a super useful reminder to get round to those mundane tasks or small changes you’ve been putting off or just to gather info/opinions from fellow bloggers.

Here is my to do list for this weekend, which is probably massively overambitious, as this is largely a brain dump!

1. Update my TBR with all my guilty new books I’ve bought (shame face).

2. Update my About Me page as part of the Bloggiesta Mini-Challenge: Are About Me Pages Necessary?

3. Investigate a new theme for the blog that can actually handle threaded comments and replies properly.

4. Write some notes for a review of the book I finished this morning.

5. Sort through the rest of the photos I took on holiday and process those relevant to (a) a post about Amsterdam and (b) a post about Anne Frank.

6. Write posts about Amsterdam and Anne Frank.

7. Join in at least one Bloggiesta chat on Twitter – well, I didn’t join in any official chats due to timezone difference but I did chat with other Bloggiesta folk on Twitter, which basically counts, right?

8. Back up blog (I almost forgot to include this – thank you Whitney for the reminder!) – this caused me great hassle as my blog host had changed some settings and our internet connection has been flaky this weekend, but I got there in the end! Possibly at the expense of ticking off some other things on this list, and also a little part of my sanity.

9. Update my Popular Science Reading Challenge page.

10. Read!

Sorry to non-bloggers if this is all boring. It’ll be back to business as usual come Monday, don’t worry! For fellow bloggers who haven’t yet joined in Bloggiesta, it’s not too late, see?!

Cookery challenge #1

Hamlyn All Colour Vegetarian Cookbook

Hamlyn All Colour Vegetarian Cookbook

I mentioned vaguely a while back that I had an idea for a challenge involving all the cookery books that I almost never refer to any more. My plan is to feature the books one at a time on this blog and each time I do that, to actually use a recipe from them! Simple, but hopefully it will widen my cooking repertoire and reinvigorate the fun that the kitchen used to hold for me but hasn’t so much lately.

Let’s begin at the beginning. When I was 13 I told my parents I wanted to be a vegetarian. Their response was to buy me the Hamlyn All Colour Vegetarian Cookbook. When I look at it now, it seems a bit cheesy and dated, but this was how I learned to make ratatouille, pasta bake, stir fry, curry and peanut butter cookies. (Don’t get the wrong idea, I wasn’t suddenly left to fend for myself; my Mum and I explored this book together to begin with, but also my desire to be vegetarian came with a surge of interest in what I ate and how to vary it more.) This book went with me to university and every house I have lived in since then, and it falls open at favourite recipes such as carrot and mushroom loaf.

Recipes

This week I was looking for a quick meal that would use some of the huge pile of vegetables from the veg box that was delivered Monday morning and I lit on a simple stir fry recipe in this book, blending British and Asian ingredients: chinese cabbage, brussels sprouts, leek, cauliflower, soy sauce. I amended it a bit to what we had available and voila: a variant on my favourite quick supper. Very tasty too. And I have a hankering to make carrot and mushroom loaf again soon.

Stir fry

48-hour TBR read-a-thon – it’s a wrap

48-hour TBR read-a-thon

It’s now roughly 48 hours since I turned off the TV and started reading on Friday evening. I’ve got a lot of reading done – two full books, the last quarter of one and the first half of another – and I’ve been thoroughly reminded of the pleasure of putting reading before everything else, of spending hours on end absorbed in the pages of a book, so thank you to Wallace of Unputdownables for the challenge.

I haven’t read entirely solidly, of course. Besides a couple of long nights’ sleep, I also did some housework, ran some errands, met friends for lunch. And I’m not stopping right now either, though I do have evening plans that will prevent me getting much more reading done this weekend.

In total, I finished off Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book, read Saturday by Ian McEwan (on the back of a recommendation from Kath of [Insert suitably snappy title here…]), read Slaughterhouse 5 by Kurt Vonnegut (as recommended by Gusset and several others on Twitter) and made a good start on reading Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (recommended by Amy of Amy Reads).

All the books I’ve read this weekend were really good, excellent even, and full reviews will follow when I get a chance to write them out! I hope all my fellow read-a-thoners have enjoyed/are still enjoying their weekend reads.

(If you missed my previous posts and are wondering what all this is about, Wallace of Unputdownables challenged her readers to join her for a 48-hour TBR read-a-thon this weekend. I look forward to the next one!.)

48-hour TBR read-a-thon – halfway point

48-hour TBR read-a-thon

So, an update on my progress so far in the 48-hour TBR read-a-thon. Yesterday I started well, finishing off Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book (which I was already three-quarters through) before reading Saturday by Ian McEwan, on the back of a recommendation from Kath of [Insert suitably snappy title here…]. That turned out to be an excellent choice, keeping me so absorbed that I was awake until 1 a.m. when I finished it.

Today I decided to tackle Slaughterhouse 5 by Kurt Vonnegut, which I’ve been eager to read for a while but then I mentioned this to a friend on Thursday who said she thought it was horribly hard-going, so that put me off. Some encouragement via Twitter put me back on track and I am definitely liking it so far. I’m only halfway through, partly because it’s not a quick read despite its short length, but also because I wasn’t able to entirely ignore the rest of the world today.

I’ll write proper reviews at a later point, but for now some quick summaries:

The Graveyard Book is an evocative, imaginative adventure with intriguing characters and, in true Gaiman style, doesn’t shy away from tough subject matter. However, I just wasn’t absorbed by it and kept putting it aside to read other things instead.

Saturday, on the other hand, was all-consuming and brought together politics, self-discovery, brilliant characterisation and outstanding writing. My only complaint would be that the main character is so irritatingly, snobbishly upper middle class; but that’s part of the point of course.

And now I’ll get back to the reading. I hope all my fellow read-a-thoners are enjoying their weekend reads!

(If you missed my last post and are wondering what all this is about, Wallace of Unputdownables challenged her readers to join her for a 48-hour TBR read-a-thon this weekend. I am still intending to read the Southland Tales books by David Kelly, Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Double Fault by Lionel Shriver. Or at least, that’s the slightly unrealistic aim.)

48-hour TBR read-a-thon – the plan

48-hour TBR read-a-thon

Wallace of Unputdownables has challenged her readers to join her for a 48-hour TBR read-a-thon this weekend. Because clearly I have nothing else I should be getting on with (like decorating or building bookcases) I have decided to join in.

(I know, I know, I am all about the challenges lately, which is a little unlike me. Thing is, I’ve been struggling a little to read much but these mini challenges from wonderful fellow book bloggers have helped me enormously, so thank you to everyone who takes the trouble to run these things.)

Anyway, the point of this particular challenge is to make a dent in the TBR, which in my case is more than 130 books. That’s a lorra lot. We’re supposed to pick out a few that we intend to read, but I’m a bit lost as to where to start so I thought I’d ask for recommendations. My TBR is here. Please do take a look then come back and tell me what you both recommend and think I stand a chance of getting through in a weekend.

I was thinking of queueing up Half of a Yellow Sun, Slaughterhouse 5 and the Southland Tales books. Any advances on that?

Hello Japan! January mini-challenge: Something New

Hello Japan! mini-challenge

On Tanabata’s book blog, In Spring it is the Dawn, she challenges her readers every month to do something Japanese. Each mini-challenge has guidelines and January’s was “try something Japanese that you haven’t tried before”, which I did. And it was most certainly an experience.

For my birthday earlier this month I booked a karaoke booth at a local Japanese restaurant. I love Japanese food, I love karaoke, as do several of my friends – what could possibly go wrong? The only real question was why I had never done this before.

There were some setbacks. A few karaoke-friendly friends couldn’t make it so I ended up with a group heavy on the “I’ll come but I probably won’t sing” side. On arrival, as we squeezed ourselves into a tiny room that could only possibly have seated the advertised occupancy of 20 if they were all model-thin, was boiling hot and had the music volume so loud we couldn’t hear each other across the table, I began to worry this wouldn’t be all it was cracked up to be. The hostess didn’t explain the computer properly and we appeared to have a songlist composed solely of Madonna, Britney, Mariah and Japanese acts we’d never heard of.

Thankfully, while I knocked back my first flask of warm sake and caught up with my friends over the as-always immensely tasty food there, some of my more computer-savvy friends worked out not only how to adjust the volume to an acceptable level but also that there was a huge long list of songs to choose from hidden in a sub-sub-menu. And we were off!

And it was a brilliant night. Sure the computer crashed a few times, wiping our carefully crafted playlist. We suspected that the karaoke tracks and videos were largely cheap knock-offs, with hilariously wrong lyrics and videos either from some tourist agency or a sort-of Japanese Pop Idol show. But everyone had a good time, everyone sang (sometimes all at once with harmonies and everything) and I laughed so much I cried.

I loved that we had to take our shoes off and that we sat at a table at floor level, something I’d only seen in films before. I loved that the most resistant of my friends let inhibitions go and belted out tunes wholeheartedly. If they had let us we could have carried on all through the night and they would have made a fortune out of our sake and Asahi consumption, but sadly they closed at 10.30pm.

It was a great way to spend an evening with friends and I shall definitely accept any opportunity to try it again.

(By the way, this is my 100th post! Very exciting. I was hoping to post about my newly redecorated library on this auspicious occasion but progress has slowed on that front, mostly because I’ve been too exhausted to help Tim out with the legwork. We will finish it…one day.)