Archive for January, 2014

January 31, 2014

Comfort Viewing: what are your favourite shows?

We’ve been watching our way through the Academy Awards nominees, Golden Globe winners and lots of new TV shows recently—and seen some incredible performances. I’m really looking forward to Matthew McConaughey in Dallas Buyers Club, having loved him since his Dazed and Confused days—which has a brilliant soundtrack that always makes me smile.

But alongside this, I’ve been craving some comfort viewing. The relentless quest for the new can be a bit tiring, and at the end of a seemingly endless January (and never-arriving payday!) I’ve been curling up on the sofa and watching some shows that I’ve seen so often, I could probably parrot every line back to you.

As I’m trying ever-so-hard to be a minimalist, I have hardly any DVDs left. Here are those that are my required comfort viewing, and so I still own. I think there’s only one film and one TV award winner amongst them…

Television

  • The Good Life. Obviously. Because I feel like I know every word. And I understand that the show isn’t really about Tom Good’s quest for self sufficiency. Anyone who has watched it as many times as I have realises that Barbara is the person who keeps the Goods afloat, and really the whole thing is a vehicle for Penelope Keith as Margot to steal the show time and again.
  • The West Wing. Preferably the first series. Everyone is fresh and new; it’s so utterly engaging, even if sometimes the politics baffles me. So many corridors to “walk with me” down. I rarely watch an entire series from start to finish but this is a notable exception.
  • The Darling Buds of May. Absolute rose-tinted cheese fest. I make no apologies for this. Plus, it’s David Jason, who can do no wrong.
  • Poirot. Or Marple. Or any other crime drama in which the actual murdering is terribly civilised and we’re completely confident that wrong-doers will be caught. Because what we’re really looking for in a crime drama is tension, resolution and the return to status quo. That’s the comfort and why they’re so damn popular.

The Good Life. Best TV ever…

Film

  • Amélie. Beautiful, dream-like Amélie. A bit too sweet for some, but I find it charming. Plus it’s set in Paris—albeit a rather different version to the real city—which I love and return to year after year.
  • Die Hard. There’s just something about Die Hard that I find incredibly comforting. The good guy wins, despite all odds. Plus, it’s Christmassy. And Bruce. In a vest. Enough said.
  • Twister. Sorry. I know this is low-brow. But I love Helen Hunt in this.

Documentary

  • Signé Chanel. A totally fascinating French documentary series about the people working behind the scenes to create Chanel Haute Couture. Sits well with Twister and Die Hard, doesn’t it? From Karl himself through to the incredible white-coated women who painstakingly turn his drawings into fabric reality, this peek into the inner world of Chanel is the perfect way to pretend I’m learning French…

There are a few others that I’d add to the list if I wasn’t trying to be a minimalist. Buffy the Vampire Slayer, for one, which I was obsessed with in college. Man on Wire is a superb documentary, and Dirty Dancing will always have a place in my heart, as I’m sure it does in many of yours.

What would your desert island viewing be? Is there something that you think is so unmissable that I should add it to the list? 

January 30, 2014

Restaurant review: COSMO, Leeds.

As I promised in my Shiny New Blogging Timetable Thursday will now include ‘going out in Leeds’ posts and so here’s the first of them.

The new COSMO restaurant on Boar Lane in Leeds is an all-you-can-eat buffet restaurant. I know what images might spring to mind when I say that, because they appeared in my mind too. However, COSMO is a lot more impressive than I was expecting. There are several reasons for this. Firstly, the overall impression of the venue is one that’s bright, clean and nicely designed. The wavy wooden ceiling was a well-designed detail and I really liked the wall of booths along the back. You’re not prepared for the size and bustle of the place when you first walk into the small, street-level entrance. On descending to restaurant level it feels more like a street market than a restaurant; there are several places where you can choose to have food cooked freshly for you and there’s lots of people walking around, browsing the array of food on offer.

COSMO restaurant Leeds

Image courtesy of COSMO

When we arrived for our special bloggers’ evening, the place was packed, with the diners ranging from couples on a night out to groups of people who’d arrived straight from work. A birthday party was taking place in one corner, complete with candle-festooned cake and singing. People were clearly enjoying the experience and the attentive staff were making sure that the place was kept tidy, despite the fact that people could have plate after plate of food!

What’s great about COSMO is that it addresses two big problems when eating out. Firstly, my terrible ordering indecision. I approach a menu like it’s my last supper. Every time. With a buffet, I’m free to choose a little of this, and a little of that without impunity. Excellent. The second  positive about COSMO is that everyone can find something they’ll enjoy. Global influences from sashimi, via pizza, curry and stir fry all the way back to British roast beef, mean there’s something to suit everyone’s taste. Which makes it the perfect place to take a big group of people. Add the dessert wall to that mixture and you’ve got a recipe for success.

COSMO restaurant Leeds

Image courtesy of COSMO

Of the food I tried, I particularly enjoyed the Chinese dumplings and the freshly cooked teriyaki salmon. There was a decent vegetarian selection too, which I largely chose from, as my diet is mostly veggie or pescetarian.  The paneer tikka was very tasty! I do think that the fresh food stations are where the difference between COSMO and many other all-you-can-eat places lies. It’s reducing the likelihood of all the food sitting there for ages —and I noticed that the staff were paying lots of attention to changing food over, covering it up and generally ensuring that it was all as clean, fresh and tidy as it could be.The chocolate pudding I finished with was pleasant and covering marshmallows in chocolate from the fountain was lots of fun!

So, is COSMO fine dining? No. But it’s great at what it does. Which is provide a giant range of food to suit every audience in an enjoyable setting. And I already know my children would love it…

With thanks to COSMO for the evening.

January 29, 2014

Three Good Things: International Book Giving Day

Today’s Three Good Things post is a little different, because I’m going to give three great options for getting involved in Inernational Book Giving Day. Celebrated on 14th February, International Book Giving Day is a way of sharing and celebrating books with as many children as possible. It feels perfect to me that that it’s being celebrated on Valentine’s Day — love of books is the best!

Having had such a great time as a book giver on World Book Night, I like any excuse to share books with as many people as possible and I really like the idea of celebrating it on the same day around the world.

There are loads of ways you can get involved in organising the day, see HERE for details.

If you fancy joining in on the day, how you can you get involved?

One: Give a book to a friend or relative: I never need an excuse to buy books for my children — I often lose far too much time in the children’s section of the local book shop! I will also buy my lovely nephew a book to celebrate.

Two: Leave a book somewhere public: Many places where children have to spend time, such as hospital waiting rooms, have few books available for them to read while they’re waiting. Buy a fun book and leave it in the waiting room of your choice!

Three: Donate some books: There are plenty of places who would really value the books that you might like to buy or share. Perhaps you’ve lots of books at home that your own children have grown out of? As chair of a local pre-school, I’m planning to see if they need any of the books that my children are too old for now. If there’s nowhere local, you could donate to Books for Africa.

International Book Sharing Day

Are you planning to take part in International Book Giving Day? If so, do go to their website and let them know!

January 28, 2014

Living without supermarkets: blog inspiration

Our’Living without Supermarkets‘ challenge continues. We do have our failures, but overall, things are going well. I refuse to beat myself up if we have to venture into the Co-op for the occasional item, life isn’t perfect. The main thing is to keep trying.

Our reasons for reducing our reliance on supermarkets continue to be:

1: Spreading the wealth. I heard a statistic a while ago that said of every four pounds spent in the UK, one of those is spent in Tesco. This may not be true, but it still made me shudder a bit. I’d like to put money in the hands of more than just a handful of multinationals.

2: Keeping our local stores and markets alive. With the British high streets and giant shopping malls up and down the country turning into a homogenised experience, you could probably be parachuted into many of them and simply not know where you were because of the identikit brands. Supporting those independent retailers who are fighting against this tide is important to me.

3: Eating seasonally.  Buying from local growers, producers and suppliers as well as eating what I’ve grown myself, helps to ensure that for some of the time at least, we’re eating with the seasons.

4: Less packaging waste. Our vegetables are delivered in a cardboard box that is returned for re-use time and again. Buying from a local market stall means paper bags instead of plastic – these can be composted. In many cases, I take a cotton bag and dispense with packaging altogether. There are many ways to reduce packaging by shopping locally.

Since starting on this journey, I’ve discovered and been inspired by many, many other folk. A handful of those are here:

The inimitable Mammasaurus has written a lovely, uplifting series of posts on supporting local suppliers.

You’ll find great supermarket-free and plastic-free posts over on Westywrites.

On My Make Do and Mend Year, the incredibly inspiring Jen writes about a variety of subjects, initially based around her year of not buying anything new. She writes passionately about upcycling, transition, community and positivity. I love this site and learn a lot.

Over on A Year without Supermarkets, Team Pugh are basically doing just that – living without supermakets. I’ve only just discovered this great site and I know I’ll return.

Are there any other great blog about going supermarket-free or plastic-free? Or do you write about eating seasonally, sustainable living or minimalism? I’d love to hear from you! 

January 27, 2014

Best iPhone Apps.

As someone who is trying to approach a more minimalist lifestyle, I’m trying to cull many the things that I don’t really need and make better use of those that I do.

This week’s plan is to apply that logic to my iPhone. When I initially took possession of my 64gb phone, my initial response was to put everything on it. All the apps in the world. Because I could. Apps I’d never heard of got installed just in case I ever found the time to try them or the energy to use them. The problem now is that my phone is a jumbled mess of folders, apps and tools. I need to streamline it. There’s no point in having every productivity and list-making app in the known universe, if I never actually use any of them!  Despite a plethora of such productivity tools, I’m more than likely to be found with a notebook and pen in hand, writing lists, than I am using Evernote. You just can’t beat a Moleskine…

Apps I use:

The big ones: Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram: These are so obvious, I wasn’t even going to list them, but they form the backdrop to my social life, so they probably should be at the top!

Springpad: I initially used this for keeping track of lots of plans and lists, but now it’s used for two things only: keeping a list of cultural events I’ve attended and keeping a list of books I’ve read or plan to read. I love it for that, because it adds images of book covers to the list so it’s really clear to see what’s on there.

Shazam: Not a productivity app, but one that listens to music and identifies it, so I can spend too much money buying music in iTunes.

IMDb: For deciding whether we should watch a film or not. But mostly for ending arguments about which actor was in which film, what that character was called, and if we’ve actually seen that film or not…

Vimeo: Like YouTube, but more attractive. With Kinfolk.

Afterlight, VSCOcam, A Beautiful Mess, Pro HDR, Snapseed. All photography apps, because at the moment I don’t have a camera and so iPhone photography is the only way for me. 

Duolingo and Mindsnacks French: Fun French study.

WordPress: For last minute blog posts alterations and on-the-go blogging.

Booking.com and Airbnb: We use these for microadventures and last minute hotel bookings.

As you can see, I’m only using a handful of Apps, and big, well-known ones at that. So I could do with your help.

Are there any iPhone apps that you love? What should I be keeping or adding to my phone, when I get rid of all my clutter? And is there a productivity App that is better than a Moleskine notebook and pen?

January 26, 2014

Photo of my week #2

Friday night was the opening celebration of the third Leeds Print Festival, where I bumped into  Nick, my letterpress tutor and then enjoyed making this:

Leeds Print Festival letterpress

January 25, 2014

The Weekend Pages #2

Welcome to week two of The Weekend Pages, in which I share my online searches.

Recently, I’ve been gazing at perfect table settings and thinking about creating my own. Making time for friends is an important goal for me this year. I’d like to have small but regular gatherings of our closest family and friends in our home. So I need to think about how to make this happen. I’ve been using my renewed interest in Pinterest  to map out my plans for this year and beyond…

In January last year, we were busy making marmalade at home. This year, I’m planning to leave the marmalade making to other folk, but make some marmalade puddings! This Nigella recipe looks fabulous. Or perhaps, this one from The Three Chimneys. Failing that, there are lots of marmalade puddings here!

Regardless of anything else in our home,  one of the things you’ll always find is great coffee and we’re big fans of the AeroPress; here’s why…

The AeroPress, with Huw from Kinfolk (kinfolk.com) on Vimeo.

Further afield, I’ve been thinking about travel, inspired by the beautiful maps at Herb Lester. I bought this Paris one, not because I have any particular plans for a solo trip to Paris, but just because maps are awesome and I love to dream of travel…

Herb Lester Paris map

Map: Herb Lester

 

Have you found anything great online this week?

January 24, 2014

Discovering fantasy novels.

Planning a trip last year, I threw a few possessions into an overnight bag without really taking too much notice of them. Toiletries, clothes, a couple of books. One of those books was a gift that I’d had sitting on my shelf for over a year. A fantasy novel. I’d been curious of the choice when given it; I’d never expressed any real interest in fantasy. In fact, I was firmly of the opinion that fantasy novels were for Other People. People with enough time to read epic series with twelve volumes, learn about other worlds, giant family dynasties and, y’know, elves and stuff.  Clearly, I was basing my understanding of fantasy on a combination of Tolkien and Robin Hobb — only one of whom I’ve read anything by, in any case.

In a period of huge life change, I decided to get over myself and give the book —and, by association, my friend– the benefit of the doubt.  The book was Scott Lynch’s The Lies of Locke Lamora and it changed the way I feel about fantasy novels forever. I’ve since read Nick Harkaway’s Angelmaker,  the Glass Book series by G. W Dahlquist, Ben Aaronavitch’s PC Grant novels set in London, and I’m currently enthralled by The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern.

Whether all of these books are fantasy is one matter. I’m reliably informed that Dahlquist’s books are steampunk, and I’m not sure how all of the authors would class their own works. Certainly they’re not all found in the fantasy section of Waterstone’s. Whether they’re fantasy, sci-fi, steampunk, magical, or a surreal mix of genres, it matters not. What they share is escapism from reality. One could argue that all fiction does that, and of course it does. But taking away the ‘normal’ world enhances that experience, even if the books are set on Earth, or even, in the case of Aaronovitch’s novels, in London.  It’s been something of a revelation to me. Now I’m one of the Other People, and very happy to have realised it. Whether I’ll ever get my head around Robin Hobb’s oeuvre is still in doubt, mind you…

Once I’ve finished The Night Circus, I don’t have a reading list. Now you know the kind of books I’ve been loving recently, I’d really love you to recommend a book for me!

What are you reading now? What books do you love? And what should I add to my reading list? 

January 23, 2014

Five gift ideas for Valentine’s Day.

In a couple of weeks it will be Valentine’s Day.  A day with a murky history involving the Roman feast of Lupercalia, a few executions and those pesky greetings card-makers getting us to spend our money — apparently it’s the second largest card giving day of the year after Christmas. However, even though I haven’t received a Valentine’s Day gift since a boy at school gave me a pack of Parma Violets (cue sad violin music) I’m not going to let that stop me from feeling optimistic about a day dedicated to love. 

For those of you looking for gift ideas for Valentine’s Day — or any day in which you might choose to declare your love through the medium of presents!—here are a few ideas.

One: Tattly tattoos.

Ok, so your idea of romance may not include a new tattoo (though I know a good number of people for whom a new tattoo definitely falls into ‘great gift’ territory) but these ones won’t hang around for long. Perfect for a new romance? And these pink hearts from Bekka Palmer at Tattly are glittery

Tattly sparkly heart tattoo

Image: Tattly

Two: David Austin roses.

Ah, roses. Ubiquitous on Valentine’s Day. If you’re going to buy roses, get them right. And the ones from David Austin are expensive but utterly glorious.

Three: A beautiful edition of a favourite book

For me, there’s nothing that says ‘I love you’ more than a special edition of a favourite book. Partly because books are the key to my heart but also because if someone takes the time to know what your favourite book is, they’re really rather special. For me, that would be ‘I Capture The Castle’ or a first edition Ruby Ferguson ‘Jill’ book, to help me complete my collection. The clothbound editions of classics from Penguin are also gorgeous.  I’ve chosen my favourite Austen novel, but the collection ranges from Emma to Dracula and Dante’s Inferno if you want to make some kind of point about a relationship!

sense_and_sensibility

Image: Penguin

 Four: The Nutter

I’ll admit, this list is getting very personal, because I’m assuming that you might have someone in your life who cycles. And if you do, then this would make them very happy indeed. The Nutter is a cycling multi-tool from Full Windsor (crowd-funded through Kickstarter, incidentally) presented in gorgeous leather roll. It’s both beautiful and useful.  I’d love one…and then I’d love someone to teach me how to use it!

The Nutter

Image: Full Windsor

Five: Time

The gift of time together is something that money cannot buy. A special date night, a long Sunday afternoon walk, a night at the cinema or cooking dinner with a glass of wine. Put aside your phone, switch off the TV and spend some quality time together. Perfect.

Have a lovely Valentine’s Day, however you choose to spend it.

January 22, 2014

Three Good Things: January film edition

This week’s Three Good Things has a distinctly cinematic theme to it. January is the perfect time for film. It’s cold and gloomy outside, and the prospect of snuggling up on the sofa to watch an old favourite has much appeal. I’m also a huge fan of the cinema, so we often venture out into the cold to watch new releases on the big screen.

If Christmas and the summer holidays are reserved for giant super-hero blockbusters, then January is the worthy month; all the serious award heavy-hitters are arriving on the big screen around this time. The Golden Globes have passed and the Oscar nomination list has just been announced. My plan is to watch all the nominated films this year, and I’ve made a good start already.

One.

Hyde Park Picture House.

We’re so lucky to have this beautiful cinema in Leeds, and we recently saw American Hustle there (part of our Oscar nomination list) which was good. Not amazing. But good. Jennifer Lawrence is superb, in my opinion and the source of most of the humour in the film. I’m hoping to spend a lot more time in Hyde Park Picture House this year…

Hyde Park Picture House

Photo credit: @man_with_bag, who also bought my ticket!

Two.

Making an appearance for the first time on Three Good Things – YouTube. Because Tina Fey and Amy Poehler’s Golden Globes 2014 hosting is perfect.

Three.

The third Good Thing this week is my joy to have found a fellow film lover to share my life with. As I mentioned, we’re working our way through the Oscar nominated films. Christmas was fun with Frozen and Despicable Me 2 (Best Animated Feature, so they count!)  and of the Best Picture nominations we’ve seen Gravity, Captain Phillips, American Hustle and 12 Years a Slave so far.  Of these, if I was to choose Best Picture it would be 12 Years a Slave. It’s a harrowing, important and beautifully acted film, with many incredible characters and a haunting score. In his Top 5 films of the week, Mark Kermode put 12 Years a Slave in all five positions. Whether it deserves that hype is another matter, but if there’s one film you should see in January, it’s this one.

What are your Three Good Things this week? What do you think will take Best Picture at the Oscars this year? And do you have any film recommendations for me to curl up on the sofa in front of?