Tuesday, 31 October 2017

October roundup and November preview

The big news for October is, of course, that we are no longer in the UK! Having originally planned to try and stay in Devon until at least after Christmas, we actually got fed up far sooner - for various reasons - and jumped on a ferry last week! We are now in Estartit in Catalonia where it is gloriously sunny. Lots of walking, cycling and exploring await us. We've both been paddling in the sea, lazed on the sandy beach watching surfers, and Dave nearly went swimming!

It's not all been perfect weather though. Nothing like the storms back home, but high winds a couple of nights ago resulted in this strange leaf phenomenon. All foliage was blown clear off our pitch except for this leaf pile that accumulated itself between our car and caravan.

Blogwise, I passed two significant milestone this month. My 50th consecutive daily post on Artisan Rainbow featured the vibrant red Cork And Chalk Board by LEBU Furniture pictured below:

And my 500th (count 'em!) consecutive daily Literary Flits book post featured the brilliant new Joss Sheldon novel Money Power Love. If you're looking for an engrossing and thought-provoking read, Buy This Book!

Looking forward to November, I anticipate writing more travel posts on this blog. We plan a mix of new-to-us campsites and revisiting some at which we have stayed before. At the moment our plan is to be in south west France over Christmas, but that might change with the weather forecast!

I want to make a concerted effort to improve my French. I've forgotten so much since A level (all those years ago). My cunning plan is to slowly work through translating my older travel posts into French. When I get myself up to a reasonable standard and speed I will start writing new posts bilingually. I need to find a French keyboard app for my Fire tablet though. My current English one doesn't have any accents. Any suggestions?

While I google the answer I'll leave you with these two views over Estartit harbour from our hill walk yesterday ...

Monday, 30 October 2017

A Month in Books - October 2017

I hit a milestone on Literary Flits this month - my 500th book post! That's 500 consecutive days of book reviews and spotlights highlighting an amazing array of books from indie author and small press publications to global literature and perennial classics. It hadn't really registered that this occasion was looming or I would have made it more of an Event. Maybe a Best Of selection post or a How Many Have You Read? Quiz. Actually that Quiz might be fun anyway - all the Literary Flits books are Listed By Author Here. Scroll down the page, give yourself 1 point for each  book you've read, and let us all know your score. The nearest to 500 wins the right to be smug for a day!

My 500th post was a review of the brilliant historical fiction novel Money Love Power by Joss Sheldon. I love this indie author's novels - this is the third to which I have awarded a full five stars! Joss has linked to Literary Flits from his website - love seeing  my logo there. It was one of 13 books I read this month. Find all their mini reviews and links to the original posts after the Spotlights below. Clicking on a bookshop name will take you to their website where you can buy your own copy (these are affiliate links). Clicking the book title or cover image will take you to its Literary Flits page.


Author Alert! Do get in touch to buy your Spotlight post(s) soon. I am already booking slots out until February! There's further details through This Link. Alternatively you could win yourself a Spotlight by following me and retweeting my pinned tweet on Twitter! September's winner was Gemma Lawrence who promotes her Tudor histfic The Bastard Princess - don't miss her generous giveaway ...

The Cutting Room Floor by Dawn Klehr + Giveaway

The Queen's Mary by Sarah Gristwood

The Bastard Princess by Gemma Lawrence + Giveaway

Haven by Mary Lindsey

Subhuman by Michael McBride + Giveaway

My reviews

I was intrigued by this novel's poetic title and its almost macabre cover art and so had high hopes of it before I began to read. I am glad to be able to say that I wasn't at all disappointed! Through the Sad Wood Our Corpses Will Hang is a beautiful, unpredictable story of frustrated humanity. Almost my Book of the Month!

The Diving-Bell And The Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby

To say that this is a beautiful, an incredible, a moving memoir is completely true, but doesn't come close to doing the book justice. On the one hand we have memories full of life, colour and detail. One the other I was always painfully aware of the extreme conditions under which Bauby wrote. He brings his predicament vividly to life and manages to allow readers into his world.

The Last Suttee by Madhu Bazaz Wangu + Giveaway

What most impressed me about The Last Suttee was the volume of research that the author must have done prior to writing her novel. Authenticity streams from the pages and I now feel that I have a good understanding of not just the suttee ritual itself, but its religious and historic significance.

The Prophet by Khalil Gibran

Translated into forty languages and never out of print since its 1923 publication, The Prophet is one of those books that I 'should' have read years ago. I'm not sure if I would have appreciated it so much in my twenties though as I do in my forties. I did not expect his words and ideas to be so easily accessible, to feel how relevant this book is to my own life, or to enjoy the gorgeous prose and imagery so much.

The Running Man by Gilbert Tuhabonye and Gary Brozek

The first thing I think to say about this memoir is that it is not a book for the faint-hearted. Tuhabonye does go into graphic detail of the violence he witnessed and experienced inflicted on Tutsi students by Hutu men. Secondly, this isn't really a running memoir either. Tuhabonye is indeed a runner and now a successful running coach, but that is only one aspect of his life. For me, The Running Man is a richly detailed memoir of a Burundian childhood, one which gives insights into a disappearing way of life.

Tale of a Boon's Wife by Fartumo Kusow

Tale Of A Boon's Wife is a very readable novel set in a wonderfully evoked Somalia. Author Fartumo Kusow has imagined an age-old tale of love across sociological divides and surrounds that narrative with rich details of Somali life culture.

A Small Place by Jamaica Kincaid

I wasn't prepared for the vitriolic anger of Kincaid's short book, A Small Place, or the sense of guilt on behalf of my country that it would engender. Antigua is one of many nations completely altered by a British empire presence and, as we learn from Kincaid, her people are still suffering the effects decades after their supposed independence.

Money Power Love by Joss Sheldon

Money Power Love is a novel of politics and economics, but don't be misled by that. It's is never dry, dull or boring. Lola particularly is great fun to spend time with and I kept reading pretty much non-stop as I couldn't bear to put the book aside! Another triumph for Joss Sheldon and a novel that I urge everyone to buy for at least one friend this Christmas! My Book of the Month!

Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolfe

I put off reading Mrs Dalloway for months because I was somewhat underwhelmed by my previous Virginia Woolf book, The Waves. The two are very different though and, once I got started, I soon found myself engrossed in Mrs Dalloway's world.

The Gondola Maker by Laura Morelli

I've been invited to join an Italy Book Tours spotlight tour for Laura Morelli's new novel, The Painter's Apprentice, next month. That story takes place in the same historical Venice setting as The Gondola Maker and, on the strength of this first book, I am certainly looking forward to the next in the series!

Iran: A Modern History by Abbas Amanat

Clocking in at a thousand pages, Iran: A Modern History is easy three times as long as books I usually choose so it is with all credit to Abbas Amanat's engaging writing that I happily immersed myself in this history for the best part of a week. I was fascinated to discover the rich history of this ancient nation and, although I have already forgotten many names, I do feel that I have a stronger understanding of Iran's culture and her people as a result.

Wanderers No More by Michelle Saftich

This interesting Australian historical fiction follows the Italian Saforo family emigrating from their homeland to start new lives at the end of the Second World War. The novel is based on the experiences of the author's ancestors and I liked the insights given into this 1940s mass migration.

The Stolen Bicycle by Wu Ming-Yi

The Stolen Bicycle has a mystical atmosphere to it. Certain scenes seem unbelievable, but were perhaps true; others start out in mundane detail and gradually become more fantastic. I enjoyed losing myself in Taiwanese history and piecing together the lost bicycle years.

That's it for this month and I know I have already got some great books lined up to read and review in November including The Architect's Apprentice by Elif Shafak and Dreams Of Maryam Tair by Mhani Alaoui. There will be a fifth Jane Austen review too! Keep up daily on Literary Flits or I will see you here at the end of the month for another round up.

Don't forget the Giveaways!

Thursday, 26 October 2017

It's so much warmer in Spain!

Almost exactly 48 hours after our ferry arrived in Cherbourg on Tuesday afternoon we crossed over the border from France into Spain. We're now at Les Medes campsite again - the same place we left from in March - having retrieved Bailey from the Caravan Parking Ter storage just down the road. They did a good job looking after our caravan over the summer. Plus it was washed and spruced up ready for us to collect today. We spent a good hour offloading everything from the car and remembering what goes in which cupboards! We seem to have a problem with the battery not charging properly which is a bit of a worry, otherwise all is good.

We had a smooth journey down: Ibis Budget hotels in La Roche sur Yon and the Cite de l'Espace, Toulouse, a good meal at CourtPaille in La Roche and superb pizza at La Villa des Oliviers in Toulouse. I highly recommend des Oliviers 'Donna' meal which is a half pizza with a green salad followed by a Cafe Gourmand (coffee with three mini desserts) for 14 euros. We've seen the Cafe Gormand idea before in France and wondered yesterday why it hasn't caught on in the UK. We were lucky at the Toulouse hotel. Having not booked ahead - for the first time ever! - we arrived to find it fully booked. Disappointed, we wandered across the car park to as at the pricier hotel next door but, before we got there, a guy came running our of the Ibis to say there had just been a cancellation so there would be a room for us after all!

We're staying at Les Medes for a few nights to get back in the caravanning mindset then will head off to pastures new. Possibly Banyoles ... it's great to be back on the road!

Monday, 23 October 2017

A Torquay lunch and a Poole Airbnb

Elaine's Airbnb, Poole 
I'm blogging tonight from Elaine's Airbnb in Poole, Dorset, where we are holed up awaiting our ferry to France in the morning. The main draw of the place for us is its proximity to the ferry port - a two minute drive to the end of the road! It's nice here too with a well thought out space which is a bonus! We've a large room with an ensuite shower room at one end and a little sitting area at the other. Elaine provided a range of teas and coffees plus there's croissants and fresh fruit for breakfast. The only downside is a couple of teenagers in the room overhead, but I can tell that they keep being shushed and hopefully they won't want to stay up chatting too late!

Dave and I are both excited to be off on our travels again. We had planned to stay in Torquay until after Christmas, but trouble with the next-door neighbour (now finally evicted) was stressful, plus a family bereavement means we're keen to put a line under this summer. What better way to do that than by cramming the car full and following the birds south for the winter!

We did organise ourselves a little treat before departure. Frognel Hall is a wonderfully named hotel fairly near to our flat. From the road it has an interesting roofline with many chimneys and we've often been curious about the place. Well last week, flyers were delivered advertising their Sunday lunches. We thought we would take the opportunity to enjoy a roast dinner and have a nose about. Stephen and Amanda are gracious and friendly hosts and Stephen cooks up a very good lunch. Dave had roast beef followed by blackberry crumble and I had the veggie option which was goat cheese tart, then bread and butter pudding. It's all charmingly traditional. We even took coffee in the lounge with the wood stove going. If you're in Torquay any time soon, get yourself to Frognel Hall for your Sunday lunch!

Frognel Hall 

Sunday, 22 October 2017

#TreatYourself - special offers that caught my eye

Skull Art by The Print Cave 
Welcome to October's Treat Yourself post! I have found another five special offers and discounts to hopefully help your cash stretch out to the end of this long month. Please note that all links in this post are affiliate links so if you choose to click through and make a purchase, I would receive a small commission at no extra cost to yourself.

While I was searching out fabulous Halloween items to feature on Artisan Rainbow this month I spotted a great deal on unusual art prints at The Print Cave. They are offering a Buy-Two-Get-One-Free on all their dictionary prints - simply add two to your basket and write a Note To Seller with your third choice as you complete checkout. These Skull prints make atmospheric Halloween decor and if you get your order in now (for the UK at least) your prints should just arrive in time for your spooky party!

With key children's events happening this month including, of course, Half Term Holidays, online bookshop Wordery have a special promotion on their kids' books range. Buy one children's book and use the checkout code HALFTERM to save 10% off all other children's books bought in the same order at Wordery.com. The 10% discount is applied to the second book and any subsequent product, in order of decreasing value. Only applicable to UK orders and on books from the children's category. Offer lasts until midnight on the 29th of October and you'll get Free Delivery too!

I was chatting on Twitter recently about the benefits of Vitamix blenders. I've not tried one myself, but am considering the investment and was encouraged by very enthusiastic reports from a couple of folks on #elevenseshour. If a Vitamix is on your Christmas list, pop over to Planet Organic before the end of October - they've got discounts of £100-£130 off three models. A massive saving, plus you'll get free delivery too. The discount will be applied automatically as you go through the checkout so there's no code to remember. Planet Organic have a site-wide sale on at the moment too with hundreds of discounts on all kinds of healthy and less-healthy foodstuffs. Have a browse around - there's chocolate!

One of my favourite Etsy sellers, Manchester designer Gail Myerscough, has a 10% discount across most of her shop for the entire of October. I love her retro designed fabrics and their bold colours. I already featured her 60s Girl Linen Cushion on Artisan Rainbow and have chosen this cool Atomic Kitten one to illustrate this post. Gail also offers items such as lampshades and coasters, notebooks, mugs and greetings cards, most of which which are included in the October sale. The discount is already applied by Etsy so you don't need to enter a checkout code.

Finally, for budding storytellers of any age, I spotted that English Heritage have a 25% discount on their trio of fairytale hand puppets - a Princess, a Knight and a Dragon. Each of the three is now reduced to £15 from £20 while stocks last. The puppets are recommended for children over 36 months old and a contribution from each purchase helps the organisation to secure our spectacular and unique heritage for future generations to enjoy.

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Making my own chickpea tofu - recipe

Scrambled tofu 
I have been meaning to write up this recipe post for ages! Scrambled chickpea tofu has become my go-to hot lunch because it is easy, has a delicious nutty chickpea taste and is ridiculously cheap to make! What's not to like about that? I mix up a batch of six tofu blocks, cook up one fresh and freeze the other five. It does mean a bit of organisation, but little enough that I can manage it!

I learnt that chickpea tofu is also known as Shan tofu or Burmese tofu although I am not totally sure if it actually originated in Burma. Its main ingredient is chickpea flour. Each six-portion batch uses roughly 100g of this flour and I can buy a 500g bag for about £1.50 so 25p a batch and, once the spices are in, about 5p a portion. However, I discovered that I can reduce that even more by buying the Indian-named gram flour which is Exactly The Same Thing! My local indie supermarket has 500g of Chickpea Flour for £1.50 and the same weight of Gram Flour for £1.25! On the same shelf! No doubt if I had a good Asian supermarket nearby and could buy bigger bags, it would get even cheaper. (If you can't find any nearby, Planet Organic have 1kg bags for £2.70)

1 cup of chickpea flour
3 cups of water
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp chilli powder or similar
1/4 tsp turmeric powder
Splash of Rapeseed oil

First I use the rapeseed oil (or whatever cooking oil you have to hand) to grease a baking dish. My larger Le Creuset is a good size - 26 x 18 cm.

I measure out 1 cup of chickpea flour and put it into a bowl with 1.5 cups of cold water. I whisk the two together until there are no floury lumps left. This takes a couple of minutes with a balloon whisk.

I then add the salt, chilli powder and turmeric and whisk briefly again. The chickpea tofu recipes I saw online - many of them, pretty much the same - all included turmeric, but also a whole teaspoon of salt. Personally I found that made the finished tofu far too salty for me so I have taken to using 1/2 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp of a hot spice instead. Bajan and Jerk Seasoning mixes work well instead of straight chilli powder and I also like piri piri seasoning. Experiment with whatever you have at the back of your spice cupboard!

I then bring the remaining 1.5 cups of water to the boil in a saucepan. As it starts to bubble, I pour in the chickpea flour mix and then stir gently over a low heat until the mixture becomes very thick. Like almost solid custard thick. This takes 15-20 minutes and it is necessary to keep stirring otherwise the mix just sticks to the pan.

Once the mix is so thick that the balloon whisk is effectively acting like a spoon, I remove the pan from the heat and pour the contents into the oiled dish. I then leave this to cool and set for 1-2 hours. It shrinks aways from the dish sides as it solidifies.

Once cold, I cut the tofu into six equal portions which are ready to eat. Some people eat it cold like this. I don't! Chickpea tofu is not as firm as soya tofu, but can be cooked in the same way and substituted into the same recipes. I have found that it becomes firmer when frozen and defrosted as more water can be pressed out as it defrosts. I freeze individual portions on a baking tray, then transfer them to a freezer container. This stops them sticking together so I can defrost one at a time as needed. I do the same with my slow cooker baked wholemeal rolls. A tofu portion takes about three hours to defrost at room temperature.

For my lunch, I cut a portion into 1-2 cm cuboids and fry these for a couple of minutes in a little oil. Then when they are piping hot, I crush them with a fork so the tofu resembles scrambled egg. I serve it with a fresh wholemeal roll and a dollop of sweet chilli sauce. Delicious!

Sunday, 15 October 2017

Thank you for our Ecotricity recommendation reward!

We got a lovely surprise earlier this week - an email from our energy supplier, Ecotricity, with a £25 John Lewis voucher as a reward for introducing a new customer! How nice is that?

I'd like to take this opportunity to say a big thank you to whoever signed up using my Ecotricity code recently. I hope you enjoy spending your voucher too. And maybe you were more adventurous in your shopping choices? We now each have a cosy winter's worth of socks!

I blogged last October about our Ecotricity sign up experience and am glad to say that we're still very happy with the company over a year later. I love that we are supporting their investment in renewable energy sources and their simple single tariff is easy to understand. Ecotricity promise to put as much green electricity into the National Grid as their customers take out and all their gas is Frack Free!

If you'd like to also experience a great sense of satisfaction for Doing The Right Thing, please take a few minutes to consider where your home energy comes from and how it is created. All the different suppliers and tariffs can be bewildering, but there's a good comparison table on greenelectricity.org which I found useful. Based on our experience, I recommend Ecotricity! If you also choose to switch to them, don't forget to use my sign-up code - rewards for us both are a John Lewis or Lush voucher!

Friday, 13 October 2017

Top Five Etsy Finds - Halloween Lights

Zombie Glass Jar Lantern
by ReclaimedBritain
I've been enjoying scattering various Halloween-themed Etsy finds through my October Artisan Rainbow posts, but wanted an even more specific theme for this Top Five posts. There's so much great work on Etsy that actually trying to narrow down choices can be overwhelming! My eye was caught by some ingenious lights and lanterns and, as effective lighting can make or break a Halloween party atmosphere, I decided to showcase my favourites today.

I first spotted the Zombie Glass Jar Lantern pictured above. Created by Stephen Doe at ReclaimedBritain in Newport, the lantern is made by painting a 500ml glass jar. Setting a tea light inside will give anyone the goosebumps as the flame casts spooky shadows that flicker on your wall. Perfect to go with a night of spooky ghost story telling or a Halloween party! The lanterns are available in three colours and with graveyard zombie or witch silhouette motifs.

The Zombie Lantern is for sale at £12 plus shipping.

Frankenstein Light Box by SatisHouseFive
Famous horror stories are perfect Halloween fare and Mary Shelley's tale of Doctor Frankenstein's monster is one of the best. This Frankenstein Light Box features a miniature vintage French movie poster advertising the Boris Karloff film version. It is designed and created by Ruth Robinson at SatisHouseFive in Bridport. The box is printed around the sides with an orange polka dot pattern on a grey/ black background, and gothic black lace surrounds the poster itself. The light box is illuminated by way of an LED tea light in the back which emits a flickering light.

The Frankenstein Light Box is for sale at £9.50 plus shipping.

Mannequin Hand Lamp by LadybirdLaneDecor 
A jump in budget takes us to this fabulous Mannequin Hand Lamp made by LadybirdLaneDecor in Wakefield. I love this upcycling company's inventive creations! The lamp is made from a black 1960's dial telephone converted into a 12v lamp with new wiring fed up internally through the hand and into the earpiece of the receiver. The disembodied vintage mannequin hand is permanently mounted on the planed wooden rustic base and holds the receiver as though taking a call. A quirky decor talking point for Halloween and beyond!

The Mannequin Hand Lamp is for sale at £95 plus shipping.

Halloween VHS Lamp by NancysJars 
Returning to a movie theme, Hayley Summers at NancysJars in Wolverhampton had the great idea of upcycling old VHS tape cases into table lamps. She can make a lamp to suit any theme for which a film was shot so I had to choose the Halloween VHS Lamp for this post. The Shining or The Exorcist would have been just as appropriate too! Battery powered LEDs mean the videotape cases don't get hot and Hayley also offers the choice of a USB power connector.

The Halloween VHS Lamp is for sale from £14.99 plus shipping.

Tin Can Lanterns by AliceMaudeDesigns 

I've chosen traditional lantern upcycling for the last of my Top Five and I love this set of five Halloween Tin Can Lanterns created by AliceMaudeDesigns in Birmingham. Each tin has been punched with a suitably spooky illustration and light from candles placed inside illuminates the designs. Battery-powered candles are recommended, especially if the lanterns will be used indoors, because the tins will get very hot with a real flame burning inside.

The Halloween Tin Can Lanterns are for sale at £15 plus shipping.

I hope you love these wonderful creations as much as I do. All the links on this post are affiliate links so, should you choose to click through and make a purchase, I would receive a small commission.

Happy Halloween!

Saturday, 7 October 2017

A #crafturday crochet sale!

Water Bottle Bags 
Just a quick post today!

I'm celebrating my first Etsy sale in ages - probably because I have been putting more effort into promoting my Artisan Rainbow and Literary Flits blogs. There's not enough hours in the day! Anyway, I'm delighted to have sent a Water Bottle Bag off to Glasgow this afternoon. The pink beaded one in this photo is no longer available!

We're planning to head off to our winter sun in a couple of weeks so if you have your eye on anything in my Etsy shop, now is the time to buy. I don't think I will take my craft box away again this year. There's not really enough room for it in the caravan.