Friday, 30 September 2016

The Big Sleep 2016 - Hastings

If you're on Hastings seafront tonight and notice a lot of folks in cardboard boxes, don't be alarmed! It's not a hobo convention, but a fantastic initiative to raise funds and awareness of homelessness within our communities: The Big Sleep. I learned about the Hastings event through our friend, Steve Royston, who is bravely taking part. If you know and haven't yet sponsored Steve, you can find out how to swiftly redeem yourself by clicking this link.

The Big Sleep team are building a cardboard city on Hastings Stade and the whole event will run from 7.30pm until 7am. Entertainment is free and open to all, sleepers and visitors, between 8pm and 10pm so do pop along to show your support before heading home to your cosy bed. Comedian Steve Furst will be hosting and headlining the music will be award-winning blues man King Size Slim and The Rufus Stone Band. The sleepout itself is a ticketed event which commences at 10pm and is only for those who have already registered. I understand that on-the-night registration is not possible.

Proceeds from The Big Sleep will go to Seaview, a worthy and unfortunately vitally needed local charity. For over 30 years Seaview has been supporting some of the most vulnerable people in Hastings and St Leonards, most of whom experience problems with their accommodation. They work with more than 1,000 people a year, and in the last year alone served more than 6,500 hot, affordable meals. Seaview finds up to 30 people sleeping rough each week on their outreach sessions and, in the last year, worked with 197 homeless people, including supporting 147 rough sleepers, aged from 18 to 60 plus.

I want to wish all the best to everybody sleeping out tonight! Fingers crossed that it doesn't rain.

Thursday, 29 September 2016

#ThrowbackThursday - where we were on this date in Septembers past

Porto, Portugal 
We've often been travelling at the ends of Septembers because Dave's birthday on the 25th is a good excuse to get away! I know then that during late September a decade ago we were visiting Austin, Texas, for the first time with our friends Andy and Barbara. Amongst other memorable experiences, Wednesday the 27th was the evening we went to an amazing small gig at The Cactus Cafe, discovering singer-songwriters Danny Schmidt and Anais Mitchell. They are both still favourites of ours! I wasn't blogging that long ago though so don't have photographs.

Instead, this first photograph is of a huge public sculpture in Porto, Portugal, where we had a long weekend in late September 2013. It rained. A lot! But we did still get out and about taking a tram ride to the coast, being awestruck by the gorgeous Lello bookshop and loving the art deco Fundecao de Serralves park.

Waiting for the tide at La Flotte 
On this day in 2014 we were caravanning on the Ile De Re in western France. This was before I had bought my Roquetas folding bicycle so I wasn't able to totally appreciate the miles of cycle routes criss-crossing the island. I must go back. We did enjoy fresh sardines and several good walks though. I remember the fishing villages here being particularly picturesque. We had to leave on the last day of September though because the campsites were closing down for the winter season. We weren't quite the last to leave and could happily have stayed longer.

St Nicholas' church window 
We were in the UK for the 29th September 2015 and it was the last day of our British summer tour which we had begun in the April. We were near to Weymouth and back on the trail of Lawrence Of Arabia, plaques to whom seem to crop up disproportionately often in our travels. We visited Moreton to see his grave and also the incredible engraved glass windows in nearby St Nicholas church. The day before we had met up with Dave's brother, Andy, and his wife Lynda for a pretty walk that included spying over a hedge to Thomas Hardy's cottage. The cottage is owned by the National Trust which I am considering rejoining, for a year at least, because there are numerous properties across south Devon that we haven't previously visited so a year's joint membership could be worthwhile.

I love being able to look back across my blog posts like this, reminding myself of how much we have done and seen over the years. I wonder where we might be this time next year?

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

A Month In Books - September 2016

Sixteen books read this month and there's some great literature among them. I think the oldest book I read in September was published in the 1890s and the most recent published just a couple of weeks ago. Authors come from as far away as New Zealand and Nigeria and books are set as far afield as Lithuania, Israel, Sierra Leone and Argentina. I have managed to actually read two of the books pictured in my Month In Books logo too - scroll down to discover which ones! Plus there's a travel memoir, young adult fiction and classic 1970s science fiction, and I might still sneak another book in for September as it's only the 28th today. (Other scheduled posts are taking up the 29th and the 30th spots on Stephanie Jane.) 
I hope some of the following suggestions might appeal to you for your next read. If so, please use these links to buy your copy - I would get a few pennies commission and every little helps!

Rosshalde by Hermann Hesse

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This is my 1910s book for the Goodreads / Bookcrossing Decade Challenge and I found it a beautifully quiet and thoughtful read. The novel focusses strongly on the creation of art and so reminded me of An Amsterdam Affair by Amanda Addison and of Mario Vargas Llosa's The Way To Paradise.

Words In The Dust by Trent Reedy 

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This great book was one my AudioSYNC audiobook finds this summer and I was impressed by its realism and portrayal of Afghan life. Reedy is an American soldier who served in a peacekeeping capacity in Afghanistan and has used his experiences to brilliantly create our young heroine, Zulaikha, and her family.

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

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This is my 1950s read for the 2016-17 Goodreads / Bookcrossing Decade Challenge. A second AudioSYNC audiobook for the month already, Things Fall Apart is Achebe's, and arguably Nigeria's, most famous novel. I had frequently heard about the book and was pleased to listen to it, especially as I had already heard an audio version of its sequel, No Longer At Ease.

Deadly Ties by Maggie Thom

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This was my first read for Beck Valley Book Tours and I was excited to get involved with the tour, but then found myself disappointed with the book itself which was awkward to say the least!

The Memory Of Love by Aminatta Forna

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There are three five-star books on my list for September, but The Memory Of Love, a novel set in Sierra Leone, is my standout favourite. Absolutely gorgeous writing! I was swept away by Forna's creation.

Route Number 11: Argentina, Angels and Alcohol by Harry Whitewolf

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This beer-fuelled South American travel memoir of an out-of-place Englishman escaping himself makes for surprisingly refreshing reading. Whitewolf's Tourist is searching for spirituality and life answers and I enjoyed his unusual poetic writing style.

A Straits Settlement by Brian Stoddart

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This is the first of two September books I thought had great cover art and I enjoyed both of their stories too. Here Stoddart evokes 1920s Madras in all its colourful atmosphere and has created a good mystery to boot. I was reminded a little of Steve Turnbull's Maliha Andersen series, albeit without the steampunk angle.

About The Night by Anat Talshir

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Another five-star read, this one set in 1940s Jerusalem, and I think if you already enjoyed The Memory Of Love then you will probably like About The Night too.

The Eskimo Solution by Pascal Garnier

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I was delighted to be contacted by Gallic Books and offered a copy of  this book - their newest Garnier English translation. I love his noir storytelling and this is a good one!

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

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This is my 1960s book for the Goodreads / Bookcrossing Decade Challenge and my first of two classic books this month examining women's mental health. I liked the simple matter-of-fact writing which made Plath's descriptions of mental health 'care' at this time all the more shocking.

Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said by Philip K Dick

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This is my 1970s book for the Goodreads / Bookcrossing Decade Challenge. I bought the audiobook from Audible a couple of years ago, but couldn't get it to download properly and forgot I had it! It's good, but an odd mix of stark totalitarian dystopia with 1970s technology.

Between Shades Of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

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This is a superb, but upsetting read which is solidly rooted in fact and is remarkably powerful for young adult fiction. Sepetys imagines a teenage girl who, together with her family, is abruptly exiled from their Lithuania home to Siberia as a result of Stalin's manic paranoia.

Trust Me I Lie by Louise Marley

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My second indie author read of the month and I was already confident that this would be a good thriller because I had previously enjoyed another of Marley's novels, Nemesis. Central character Milla is great fun and (be warned!) the mystery goes to some pretty dark places.

The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

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This is the second of my women's mental health themed classics. The short story was first published in 1892. It's less than thirty pages long, but packs a hell of a punch.

Hutchins Creek Cache by Deborah Garner

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More seconds here too as Hutchins Creek Cache is the second of the great cover art books I mentioned earlier and also my second Beck Valley Book Tour read. Fortunately this romance mystery is good and you will be able to read my full review - and enter the giveaway! - when my Literary Flits post publishes at noon today.

Omnia by Laura Gallego

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My Omnia review is due to publish at noon on Thursday so, if you're reading this before then, that link above won't work just yet. Do come back! Omnia is a young adult book so has straightforward prose and is a compelling, fast read. The issues it raises are considerably more complex though and I think it would be a great book club choice instigating widespread and interesting discussions.

So that's it for September and despite a concerted month of reading effort, I have still managed to end up with more books awaiting me than I started with. Not that I am complaining, but best get back to it!!

Monday, 26 September 2016

Happy Birthday Dave!

Yesterday was my Dave's birthday!
Happy Birthday Davey!

I'd like to take this opportunity to pass on his thanks for all the messages, cards and presents he received. You all made his day!

We lunched at a new-to-us restaurant, Amici, which is on Torwood street in Torquay and serves Italian style cuisine. We were impressed! Firstly they blend a good Long Island Ice Tea cocktail which is Dave's favourite. He drank them on his 60th birthday in Austin, Texas, so had to have another yesterday. It's a tradition! Then we chose to share three starters expecting to also treat ourselves to a Chinese dinner in the evening so didn't want to be too stuffed. We had White Crab Bruschetta for one, Calamari Fritti and Funghetti E Panna Al Forno. All three were very good, but the simple mushroom dish was unexpectedly the highlight. As it turned out, we've had to reschedule the Chinese for later this week as Amici's food was not only delicious, but also so filling that we didn't bother with any dinner. Admittedly, a few Thornton's chocolates might have helped! Their Pudding Collection is gorgeous and is a limited edition intended for Christmas so snap them up quickly.

Excellent presents included Audio Technica headphones which are needed right now as Dave's got right back into music recording now that he has a room of his own and his old headphones are disintegrating more each day. We also both loved this olive wood chopping board which our friends Andy and Barbara got from The Rustic Dish. Isn't the wood gorgeous? It's far too beautiful to actually use! And the grain, to my eyes at least, resembles a man in a crown which seemed appropriate for a birthday boy! The 'Most Apt Card' prize goes to Steve and Frances for their brilliant choice. The design is by Pigment Productions and, although Dave was considerably more excited about his big day yesterday, it is still pretty close to the bone!

Saturday, 24 September 2016

The @NTlive Threepenny Opera in Torquay

It's a shame there weren't more of us in attendance for NTlive's broadcast of The Threepenny Opera on Thursday in Torquay because it was a fantastic filthy romp of a show. Sex, violence, cross dressing, x rated language - where were you all?!

Perhaps the Bertolt Brecht name put you off, but this Simon Stephens adaptation is easily accessible and I found it simpler to keep up with the narrative than when we saw his Caucasian Chalk Circle performed by Blackeyed Theatre back in Eastbourne. That was a good production too though. Rory Kinnear has received well-deserved acclaim for his role as Macheath, but he is surrounded by other fabulous creations and I didn't think there was a duff moment in the whole musical. I loved all three Peachams (Rosalie Craig, Haydn Gwynne, Nick Holder), the poor stabbed policeman, the bickering gang, hard-done-by Jenny, the Pastor ... pretty much everyone and I wish I had kept my printed cast list so I could name all the actors! As I expect from the National Theatre, the set and costuming were amazing and probably my only criticism would be that it was often a little too dark to see all the details of what was going on. I loved Kurt Weill's music too. It must have been a nightmare to learn as the melodies aren't at all predictable, but the whole sound is wonderfully evocative of 1920s Germany which provided a dark atmosphere to complement the blackly humorous libretto.

If this post has now tempted you to go and see The Threepenny Opera of if you just forgot it was on and are now kicking yourselves, there are a few encore screenings across the country in the next week or so. Nearish to us in south Devon, Exeter Picturehouse has it on Tuesday the 27th or The Plough in Great Torrington is tomorrow (Sunday the 25th). Further afield there are screening dates out until November and you can check your nearest here.

In the meantime, here's a short video of the show:

Thursday, 22 September 2016

#TreatYourself - special offers that caught my eye

Christmas kits at OhSewBootiful 
Welcome to September's TreatYourself quintet of special offers and discount codes that caught my eye. I was gleefully informed this weekend that there's now less than 100 days until Christmas which I must admit was underwhelming, but it does give me a good excuse to start this post with a distinctly Christmassy discount code.

I discovered embroidery kit creator OhSewBootiful via Twitter and I love these seasonal hoop kits which would be wonderful presents for crafty friends or, if bought early enough yourself, would make up into unusual Christmas decorations for your home. I am told that only beginner embroidery skills are needed for most of the kits and the repetitive nature of the stitching is great for people practicing mindfulness techniques. Are you tempted? If so, the complete kits are £16.50 each or £40 for three and there are many different designs including Halloween pumpkins or romantic hearts. OhSewBootiful also have a September discount code of 20OFF60 - use the code at checkout to get a generous £20 off any order over £60.

Biscuiteers biscuits 
Also in celebration, but this time of birthdays, did you catch any of the Biscuiteers Birthday blog posts across the web last week? This was mine! I was lucky enough to get to sample one of their gorgeous tins of biscuits and was seriously impressed. Biscuiteers offer a wide range of themed hand-iced biscuits which make perfect gifts for pretty much any occasion. You can give them a try with a nice £5 off incentive just by signing up to the Biscuiteers email newsletter before you place your first order.

Cornishware are another company offering a £5 discount in return for signing up to their email newsletter. Having done so, you can then benefit from £5 off an order of £25 or more. That's not all you will get though because Cornishware orders over £25 also get free UK shipping AND there's a 20% sale across all their ranges at the moment so this is a great opportunity to refresh your kitchen with classic striped cookware. The company has been in business since the 1860s so they definitely know a thing or two about manufacturing durable and stylish tableware. The iconic blue and white striped range was introduced in 1926.

Cornishware teapots 
Recycled Wool Throw / Picnic Rug 
It almost felt like summer was over once September began, but I have been glad to see a resurgence of sunny weather in the past week or so. Long may it last! If you're still eking out picnic season then English Heritage have a special offer at the moment which might just appeal. Their Recycled Wool Picnic Rug is a very reasonable £15 anyway, but until the end of September you can get an extra 20% off this price by entering the code APR20 at checkout. Each recycled throw-rug is made from approximately 85% recycled wool and 15% other fibres which have been re-spun to create this environmentally friendly product. The random nature of wools available for recycling mean that every throw-rug is individual and unique, but also means that you will have no idea what colours yours will be until it arrives!

Union Jack selection box 
Finally, you can join in celebrating our Olympic and Paralympic heroes in a burst of patriotic fervour with Twinings this month. Their Union Jack selection boxes each contain six different varieties of tea (10 bags of each variety) with each bag wrapped in its own envelope for extra freshness. You can choose from greens, blacks, infusions or mixed teas. The 60 bag Union Jack selection boxes retail at £13.50 each, but you can take advantage of a Buy One Get One Free offer by entering the code UNIONJACK at checkout on the Twinings website. The offer is valid until the 30th September or while stocks last so don't leave to the last minute or you might miss out!

I hope you like this month's moneystretching offers and I will look out for more ideas for October.

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Enjoying a Square Mile Red Brick Coffee

If you pop over to my book reviews blog, Literary Flits, after noon today you will see my review of and giveaway for a brand new copy of The Bitter Trade by Piers Alexander, a historical fiction adventure set among the coffee houses of seventeenth century London. I received the giveaway prize from The Pigeonhole who also kindly sent a bag of freshly roasted coffee beans from the multi-award winning East London coffee roasters Square Mile. The chosen blend was Red Brick and its aroma - even through the sealed packaging - was divine! I learned that the composition of Red Brick does change with the seasons so my coffee's blend of 40% Rabanales from Guatemala, 30% Montanas del Diamante from Costa Rica, and 30% Kagurno from Kenya might not be exactly the same as is currently for sale.

I appreciate the ritual of making a proper cup of coffee so gathered together my tools to do justice to the first cup of Red Brick. My vintage Turkish grinder is from Kawaii Rose Vintage, bought to replace a worn out wooden version. This new-to-me grinder is entirely metal so should last for decades and its small size is both cute and ideal to take away on our next winter caravanning expedition. I discovered that filling the top section with beans results in the perfect amount of ground coffee for one good cup and that heady aroma again almost made the actual drinking superfluous! The Finum Brew Basket was also bought with caravan travel in mind and its compact size is ideal for minimalist living. It's perfect for making cafetiere style coffee hardly any washing up or the risk of broken glass in transit. I find it much easier to judge the strength of my coffee with the basket than I used to with a cafetiere as well.

Red Brick has a rich fruity and sweet taste which I loved. This id absolutely a high quality coffee and being able to drink it within a couple of weeks of its roasting makes such a difference to the flavour. I am thrilled at having a large bag of beans still to grind up and enjoy. Thank you so much to The Pigeonhole for their generosity! Don't forget to click through to Literary Flits for this week's giveaway ...

Monday, 19 September 2016

Our Dartmouth Steam Railway and River Boat day out

One of the great things about having visitors to stay is that we get to indulge in special excursions in the name of showing our guests how much fun our new Torbay home can be! This was especially true for the weekend just gone as Dave booked the four of us onto a day trip with the Dartmouth Steam Railway And River Boat Company. The company does pretty much what is says on the tin - steam train and boat rides - and both are perfect ways to see the gorgeous scenery around here. We began our tour by driving to Paignton to catch the steam train. Car parking in the public Station Lane car park is £8 all day and is only a short walk away. Be aware that the mainline rail station is right next door to the steamline rail station, but they are clearly signposted so we didn't wander into the wrong one!

The Lydham Manor 
Our locomotive for the day was the 7827 Lydham Manor which was built in 1950 in Swindon. It pulled a train of several vintage carriages all from different eras. Our outward journey carriage wasn't very far removed from ones I used in the 1980s whereas our return journey carriage felt much older and more luxurious. We travelled from Paignton along the pretty coastline getting to enjoy great views across beaches and out to sea. One of the stops was for Agatha Christie's former home, Greenway, which is now owned by the National Trust and is somewhere I am keen to visit. For this journey though, we stayed on the train all the way to Kingswear where our all-in tickets allowed us to immediately board the Kingswear passenger ferry and cross over to beautiful Dartmouth.

We were booked onto an hour-long river cruise at 2.15, but didn't hear it mentioned during announcements on board the ferry so took the prudent step of checking at the kiosk before wandering off to look around Dartmouth. It was a good thing we did because it turned out that particular cruise had been cancelled. My only complaint of the day was that it would have been nice to have been told this when we picked up our tickets that morning!

The Kingswear Castle 
Fortunately there was room for us on the 1.30 sailing so, instead of going for lunch we trooped back down to the boats to set sail down and up the River Dart. We were lucky that our boat for the trip was the elegant Kingswear Castle paddle steamer. She was built in Dartmouth in 1924. We sailed (paddled?) down the Dart to see the castles at its mouth before turning around and heading upriver as far as Greenway which we briefly saw high above us on a hill. Our informative guide told us about the river's history and explained buildings we could see on the banks. We all enjoyed the cruise and I am now tempted to take some of the other river and sea journeys offered from Dartmouth. Considering how ill I usually feel on cross-channel ferries, I was delighted to have no problem at all on the Kingswear Castle!

Returning to Dartmouth at half past two meant we were all hungry and the town has a bewildering array of cafes and restaurants! We must have wandered around for another half and hour just trying to decide where to eat and finding somewhere that wasn't already completely full. I was often distracted by beautiful historic architecture too including this timbered and painted frontage, and the wonderful leaning walls of the only surviving medieval house in the borough of Dartmouth which is The Cherub Inn. I've included its photograph at the end of this post. The Cherub is believed to date from about 1380. We didn't go there though, but chose another old building which houses The Spinning Wheel cafe. Here they do good well-filled sandwiches, but Dave thought his traditional pasty was a bit dull. It's pretty pricey too, probably because of the surroundings and ambience.

Lunch munched, we explored narrow streets and interesting boutique shops, failed to spot a bride although we were deafened by the bells rung to celebrate her wedding, and just got to the old market to look around before it closed for the day. My favourite shop was Candles And Soaps Of Dartmouth on Foss Street which has a colourful range of attractively scented soaps at good prices and lots of Christmassy decorations already twinkling away! Dartmouth is nicely arty and we soon learned to look up as well as forward because several shops and homes have unique additions - like this fish!

The last return train of the day was at 5pm and we got the ferry back from Kingswear in time to have a quick look around the visitor centre on the platform, but unfortunately it was already closed up so we just had the gift shop instead. Brief excitement on the way back consisted of the conductor politely but firmly dealing with a faredodger! Considering that most of the day involved sitting down, I was surprised by just how tired I was when we got back home. It was a great day and I thought very reasonably priced at £23.50 each which included the two train rides, two ferry crossings and the hour's river cruise.
The Cherub Inn 

Sunday, 18 September 2016

Ilsham's Vintage Cafe Bar - a fab find in Wellswood, Torquay

Ilsham's Vintage Cafe Bar 
We've had a lovely weekend entertaining visitors! Dave's daughters came down from Bristol and London and tomorrow I will blog about our steam train and paddle steamer excursion to Dartmouth, but today I want to talk about a quaint and pretty cafe we discovered near to our home. It's on the Ilsham Road through Wellswood in Torquay and is, appropriately enough, called Ilsham's Vintage Cafe Bar. They don't actually sell alcohol although we learned today that it is ok to bring your own, but do a great brunch as well as full meals, light lunches and snacks, and a traditional Devon cream tea.

Today was the second Sunday running we have visited and I am developing quite a taste for their excellent vegetarian breakfast - fried eggs, veggie sausages, plum tomato, mushrooms, baked beans, hash browns and two rounds of toast with butter and marmalade. It's easily enough for breakfast and lunch in one meal and very reasonably priced! Everything is freshly cooked to order - no bunging it in the microwave here - so there is a little wait, but the food is well worth it and even impressed our Bristol foodie - a feat indeed! One other customer today had the Sunday roast dinner which also looked delicious and we might well be visiting again sometime soon to try it for ourselves!

What makes Ilsham's special for me though is the attentive service and the fabulous vintage decor. Nothing matches! All the chairs are different to each other, as is the china and I love that teas and coffees are served in good quality floral china cups and teapots. There are proper linen napkins too and fabric tablecloths too. Menus are written up on the glass of antique mirrors with specials advertised on chalk boards outside. A mad array of artwork on the walls caught our attention as we waited for our meals and the extra teacups hanging from the ceiling and chandeliers are a great touch. I wonder who used to wear this dress?

Friday, 16 September 2016

Deliciously sticky Carrot Cake Recipe

Great Carrot Cake! 
We got caught out by an early closing greengrocer this week so instead of just buying the couple of carrots we needed for a meal, we had to buy a whole bagful from the Co-Op leaving us with plenty left over. I thought this would be a great opportunity to bake Carrot Cake and googled about for a good recipe. This recipe on the And Baby Cakes Three blog was highly recommended elsewhere so I used it as my start point and just made a few alterations as detailed below. I love that, thanks to our house-warming Joseph Joseph Nest present, I can now confidently bake with American cups recipes rather than trying to translate into grams or ounces and getting it wrong!

I'd made this delicious Vegan Banana Bread recipe a couple of weeks ago for a dairy-intolerant friend's visit and was delighted at how rapeseed oil made for a much lighter cake, however we don't have a lot of oil at the moment so I went half and half with softened butter.

2 cups strong plain flour
2 cups demerara sugar
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 tsp ground cinnamon

1/2 cup rapeseed oil
1/2 cup softened butter
3 cups grated carrot
4 eggs
Splash of apple juice
1/2 cup chopped mixed nuts

Preheat oven to about 180c and grease two loaf tins

Measure all the dry ingredients (flour, sugar, baking powder and soda, salt, cinnamon) into a large bowl and mix together thoroughly.

Add the oil and butter and mix well.
Add the carrot and mix well.
Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well between each.

Add a splash of fruit juice if your mix doesn't look soft enough. I would have preferred to use orange juice, but we only had apple!

Mix in the chopped nuts. You could substitute sultanas or other dried fruit, chopped chocolate or even mixed seeds at this point.

Spoon the cake mixture into the prepared tins and put into the centre of the pre-heated oven. Bake for about an hour or until a skewer comes out clean. My cakes needed covering with foil after about 30 minutes because the tops had browned, but the centres were nowhere near cooked.

When cooked, leave the cakes in their tins to cool. If you try and remove them when they are still warm they will just crumble up.

I was very pleased with how this recipe turned out so a big thanks to And Baby Cakes Three! The cake is moist and sticky - almost like a gingerbread texture - and has such a good flavour that there was no need to add any kind of icing or frosting. It's very moreish so I am glad I made two loaves or there wouldn't have been any left for our guests today!

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Save the Charles Cryer Theatre in Carshalton for the community

My sister and her family live in Sutton where they are stalwarts of the local amateur dramatics scene. I was looking forward to going to see my young niece on stage in November in Sutton Theatre Company's winter production, however I have just learned that the show will have to find an alternative venue because the a second of their local theatres is in jeopardy - at least for community use. Local amateur groups are already unable to use the Secombe Theatre and now the Charles Cryer Theatre is being taken away too. This would be a real tragedy so I am happy to get involved in the fight to keep at least one of their theatres from darkness.

My sister alerted me to the following petition on which was created by Dick Bower and will be presented to Cllr Ruth Dombey.

'Sutton has for a great many years enjoyed a vigorous, talented, abundant and popular community drama and musical theatre scene, until recently benefiting from two good theatre venues. Now, it looks as though we may lose both of the theatres, in which, together with their public hall pre-cursors, thousands of local actors have performed to audiences of possibly hundreds of thousands since the beginning of the 20th century. For well over a hundred years a great many people have been introduced to the joys and challenges of the theatre and the public has been entertained and educated. If the London Borough of Sutton is not to lose its unsurpassed theatrical heritage and excellence for ever, it is vital that we save at least the Charles Cryer Theatre in Carshalton for use by local theatre groups of adults and young people, plus appropriate professional performances.'

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

I've found a new blog tool: Gleam giveaway widget

I've had varied success with the blog tools I have tried out here and on Literary Flits over the past few years. I still love the LinkWithin widget and am pleased with my first affiliate marketing program, Affiliate Window, which is easy to use. I've also recently signed up with another affiliate marketing program, Rakuten Linkshare. Their interface is pretty user friendly, but I haven't seen any real results yet. It's early though - hopefully soon! On the negative side, I soon gave up with CommentLuv as it wasn't compatible with Blogger's mobile view. I also abandoned LinkyTools due to a lack of interest from visitors and struggled to get my head around setting up Rafflecopter.

However I do enjoy running my weekly Wednesday giveaways over on Literary Flits so have been keeping a lookout for a professional looking gizmo to organise entries for me. I did initially try keeping a track across twitter / facebook / blog entries manually and I would NOT suggest attempting this to anyone else. Absolute chaos! For the past couple of months I have just been asking for a blog comment as an entry method and this was fine, albeit limited and a bit dull. Then two weeks ago I realised I was entering someone else's giveaway through a Gleam widget. I liked the procedure and flow from a user point of view so decided to learn more and try out Gleam on my blog.

Gleam is an Australian enterprise with a friendly, laid-back vibe and it turns out they offer far more than just giveaway widgets. There's lots more toys tools for me to explore using, but as yet I have only experienced the giveaway widget so that is what I will talk about here. It was really easy to sign up and find out where on their site I needed to be. It was also easy to set up the widget the first time although I did find it quite time consuming to add all the various options I wanted. The free version allows me to include a good selection of giveaway entry methods. I asked entrants to visit my Facebook and Pinterest pages, to follow me on Twitter and retweet a specified tweet, and to comment on my blog. I also added two custom options including visiting my Bloglovin page. This is what took time because I couldn't remember all the various social media URLs I needed. You'll notice I haven't gone around and found them all again for this post! Perhaps I should set myself up a draft email?! After that however, all I needed to do was check the start and end times and confirm how many prizes I would be giving away. The html code was created for me. I simply pasted that into my blog page, then sat back and watched the widget do its magic.

A week later I had seventeen entries to my first Gleam-run giveaway and received an email a couple of hours after the closing time reminding me to log in and pick a winner. This again was very easy to do. I logged in the next morning, clicked the big 'pick winner' button and the widget randomly chose a winning entry. It also confirmed said entry had completed the action they claimed to have done - in this case to have visited my Pinterest page. The winner's email address was revealed so all I had to do was get in touch and then pack up and ship the prize. Sadly Gleam has not yet invented a widget to stand in Post Office queues!

If you'd like to see the Gleam giveaway widget in action for yourself, please feel welcome to enter this week's Literary Flits giveaway! The post will publish at noon today and the prize is a copy of a humorous Devon novel, Not The End by Kate Vane. Alternatively, if I've already sold you on Gleam, click through any of their links from this page and get started running your own giveaways and competitions! It's fun!