Thursday, 8 August 2013

UK Recipe- Nutella Brownies

So, a rare recipe post and I will tell you why; as I was doing my daily browse on Pinterest, I stumbled across a fantastic- no wait- a fantabulous idea- NUTELLA BROWNIES. However, after following the link I found that all the recipes for Nutella Recipes were American, meaning that ingredients were measured in cups not in grams and I have never found this an accurate way of measuring ingredients and struggle to get the balance right. Therefore I decided to create my own recipe adapted from Delia Smith's Complete Cookery Course. The result was not exactly pretty but... the taste (if you could see that) was simply beautiful... sweet, nutty, chocolately, gooey, chewy, squishy... all round my mouth but I don't care... good. I just had to share the recipe with you, it's a crowd pleaser! 

Just look at that chewy, chocolately goo

You will need:

110g unsalted butter
110g chocolate (I used Galaxy, my favourite)
2 eggs
110g light brown sugar
100g caster sugar
50g plain flour
25g cocoa powder
1tsp of baking powder
100g Nutella

1) Preheat the oven to gas mark 4.
2) Put the butter and HALF the chocolate into a big heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water.
3) Stir until melted and smooth. Take the bowl off the heat.
4) Beat the eggs and add them to the bowl.
5) Sieve in the sugars, flour, cocoa powder and baking powder.
6) Chop up the remaining chocolate into small pieces and add to the bowl.
7) Add the Nutella in small blobs.
8) Stir until well mixed
9) Pour into a square tin, lined with baking parchment.
10) Cook for 35 minutes. I like them gooey in the middle but cook for longer if not. 

Thursday, 1 August 2013

University Summer Reading

Hi! Sorry, I know I haven't posted in a while but I've had a busy few weeks. I've been on holiday to Sorrento which was really lovely (especially as I didn't get a holiday last year), stayed at my boyfriend's house for a few days and caught up with family and friends.

Enjoying a nice dog walk with my furry friend

Just as I was getting into an incredibly lazy lifestyle (getting up at half past nine, lounging in the sun etc, etc) my summer reading list dropped into my inbox. For my final year at uni, I have to buy around 40 books. This doesn't include secondary books which I can borrow from the library, these are books I need to have my own copy of. Obviously this is always quite pricey so I buy the books in stages and shop around to get the best deal.

As you can see, there's quite a mixture there. I bought all the Bronte sister's novels that I didn't already have as I am planning on writing on some of their books in my dissertation. I have bought the Oxford World's Classics versions of most of the books as they have really useful explanatory and introductions which are a great help if not essential when you are using books for academic purposes. 

As for shopping around I bought these books from Waterstones Online, Amazon and eBay. Now I know a lot of people (especially my fellow students) write Waterstones off as far too expensive and favour Amazon but when I checked prices online, most of the Oxford World's Classics were either the same price if not slightly cheaper online. Not only that, but students get 10% off with Waterstones (which you don't with Amazon), Waterstones offer loyalty points and often free postage. I did buy a few books from Amazon because they are cheaper on somethings but was disappointed that the books took so long to come and that Amazon have started charging postage. Although eBay doesn't always have what you want, it can be great for books- much better (cheaper and dispatched more quickly) than the sellers on Amazon, probably because the feedback system on eBay is used far more successfully on eBay than Amazon and it's sellers want to maintain a good feedback score. For instance, I bought Shirley by Charlotte Bronte off eBay, brand new Oxford World's Classics edition for £3 including postage. So check on there for bargains. 

I have only read 2 of these books so far- The Professor by Charlotte Bronte and Villette by Charlotte Bronte, both of which I enjoyed and will write a small review of each on here soon. I will be attempting to read Ulysses soon, but I can't say I'm looking forward to it much; it's huge and supposedly difficult to read! Have you read any of the new books I've bought? If so, any advice? What did you think? 

Sunday, 30 June 2013

Looking for the Perfect Chocolate Birthday Cake Recipe

This week it was my sister's birthday. I volunteered to make her birthday cake and was quickly instructed that it must be a chocolate cake. I wanted to do something a bit more special than a victoria sponge recipe with cocoa powder and quickly thought of a Lorainne Pascale cake I made in the spring. I have linked the recipe above but it can also be found in the book below.

A quick note about the book- there are some great, classic recipes in this book but there are quite a few of them on the BBC food website so I would bear that in mind if you are considering buying it. Another small issue I have with this book is that for some of the recipes there are no photos. This is not always a problem but I was put off making the 'Red Velvet 3 Tier Cake' when I had no image to give me an idea of how my creation should look.

Lorainne Pascale cake I made in spring. 
I had a few issues with this recipe. Not really with the cake itself, more with the decorations Lorainne suggests and the buttercream. As you can see in the picture above, I did not use the chocolate cigarillos that look so beautiful in the picture of Lorainne's cake. This is because of how expensive they are! Lorainne reckons that you would need around 75 chocolate cigarillos to go round the cake and the cheapest I have found for that quantity for is on Amazon and they would come to £19 including delivery- ouch. I opted for Cadbury's chocolate fingers instead which don't look nearly as elegant but came to around £2.50. For my sister's birthday cake I wanted to find something more attractive than chocolate fingers but less expensive than cigarillos. I also wanted to change the buttercream to chocolate ganache- far more luxurious and suitable for special occasions. As pretty as the strawberries look on the cake above, they quickly made the cake slightly soggy and meant that the cake had to be kept in the fridge rather than the cupboard after the first serving. With this in mind, I quickly came up with a 'compromise cake'.

 For the chocolate ganache I  looked to Nigella's Lawson's book How to Eat for help and chopped up 120 grams of milk chocolate and 120 grams of dark chocolate and put it aside in a bowl. I then heated up 230ml of double cream (or heavy cream if you're American) until it was almost boiling, then poured it over the chocolate until a beautifully glossy mixture was achieved. Once the cake (Lorainne's recipe above) was cool, I spread the ganache generously across the sides and the top of the cake. I decided to use Mikado chocolate biscuit sticks instead of chocolate fingers around the side of the cake and they looked far more elegant. I then added these milk chocolate and white chocolate stars but they'd be pretty easy to make if you'd prefer. For the finishing touch, I tied the bright pink ribbon around the cake. So there you have it, my adapted 'I can't believe you made that cake'. Thanks Lorainne for the great recipe inspiration!

Monday, 24 June 2013

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

Five reasons why I would recommendThe Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte 

1. It's less talked about, dramatised and studied than Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights by Anne's sisters Charlotte and Emily respectively. This means that the story can be read without preconceived expectations which for me, made it more exciting to read. In my opinion, the story is more unpredictable and fast pasted than both Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights and I enjoyed it more.
Where's Anne? The Tenant of WIldfell Hall definitely deserves more recognition.
2. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is a Victorian Novel but it's easy to forget that when you read it today; it's themes are still relevant today. Bronte explores difficulties with domestic life which are still very much relevant today: domestic violence, alcoholism, separation, adultery and female oppression in the home.

3. The characters are especially intriguing; nobody is perfect. Helen, the protagonist, foolishly falls in love with a man who she knows, deep down, will be bad for her. Refreshingly however, she is a strong female character who stands up to and out-smarts her husband. 

4. Like Wuthering Heights, the structure of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is particularly interesting; the novel starts in the future, and the reader is quickly introduced to the mysterious character of Helen who is living in the run down Wildfell Hall with her son. The reader's curiosity is satisfied when the text changes form to Helen's diaries. 

5. If you are a student, then this is an excellent text to write on. I chose to write on how The Tenant of Wildfell Hall challenges the Victorian's expectations regarding domesticity and found that there was lots to say. This would also be a good book to look at if you're writing on   femininity, masculinity, gender relations or marriage. 

Friday, 21 June 2013

Nineteenth Century America, Race and Slavery

Part 1

You know the books that people always say that you should read? Books that will supposedly make you feel humble and fill you with a sense of gratitude because life is (comparably) so easy today? Well one of the many that I have repeatedly been told that I should read is Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe. Last autumn, I did. 

I'm glad I read it. As you may know, the subjects of the novel are both serious and unpleasant, the key themes being slavery and racism. However, Stowe represents many other horrific issues connected with these themes: the separation of families, sexism, rape, needless violence, heartbreak, pain and death. It's hardly a light read.

The novel is undoubtedly engaging and its characters strong. Stowe makes many, many  significant and well portrayed points about the injustice and horrors of slavery and racism. There are some amazingly insightful lines in Uncle Tom's Cabin that I will add to my favourite quotes page (which I will make after this post). 

However... Uncle Tom's Cabin seems to receive as much criticism as it does praise and it is not hard to see why. Despite my admiration for the novel, I do consider it, at times, to be overly sentimental. The protagonist Tom and the almost equally famous Eva are too good; their patience, morality and submission in the face of such immeasurable injustice I found distanced me from the characters rather than connected me to them. The characters Topsy and Miss Ophelia, though imperfect, are far more convincing and represent the novels themes in a much more believable and relatable way. 

Another problem which I (and I know others) have found with the novel are the condescending descriptions of the black characters- Stowe can, hypocritically, be seen to adhere to and endorse stereotypes of black people. 

That said, I would certainly recommend reading the novel. If you are a student, it is an excellent text to write on; there are many significant, controversial themes that are intriguing to explore and research. I would recommend the 'Oxford World Classics' edition that is pictured as it has very, very useful explanatory notes that uncover unfamiliar language, bible passages and name places. Though I have not said much about the plot as I do not want to give away any spoilers for people who have not read it, I found the novel to be very fast-paced, engaging and, at many times, touching. 

If you have read Uncle Tom's Cabin, what did you think? Do you share my views on Uncle Tom and Eva or did you connect with the characters? 

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Reviews- Harry Potter Page To Screen and Warner Bros. Studio Tour

I briefly mentioned in my first post about my love for the Harry Potter series. This post is just for fellow Potter lovers I'm afraid. My boyfriend, (who knows my love for all things Potter) treated me to tickets to the Warner Bros. Studio tour for christmas and the Harry Potter Page to Screen book for my birthday (excellent choices). I'm going to share my experiences with you now. If you've been on the tour or have read this book, please share your thoughts too! 

Harry Potter Page To Screen 

This is a big heavy book, full of fantastic drawings and pictures. It offers a fantastic behind-the-scenes-guide to the Harry Potter films. I would definitely say that this is one for the real Potter nerds; I'm talking the fans that know their Hippogriffs from their Thestrals. What I love about this book is the exploration of the detail in the films: the props, the costumes, the makeup - in short all things creative. In my opinion, it's the incredible attention to detail that makes the films such a success. The actors playing Harry, Ron and Hermione, for me, did not live up to Rowling's portrayals, but the creative producers of the films did a fantastic job creating Hogwarts, The Burrow, Hogsmeade, dragons, Gringotts, The Great Forest, The Chamber of Secrets, The Ministry of Magic- everything just as I imagined. And this is what this book is about! I love flicking through this book at my leisure, admiring the trouble that was gone to in making the films look as magical as they do- no expense spared.

Fascinating information about the 'Marauders Map' and beautiful sketches of Hermione's Time Turner.

Crucial Information about Wizarding News

Warner Bros. Studio Tour

Dumbledore, McGonagall and Snape in the Great Hall. 

I can not recommend the Harry Potter Studio Tour highly enough. What Potter fan could not love seeing, first hand, the actual props used in the films or to stand in the great hall which they dreamed of countless times? 

Luna Lovegood's fantastic costumes. 

For me, it was fascinating to see the enormous trouble that went into creating the films. I gained an understanding of the thought processes and reasoning behind the creative choices in the films which, when I watch them back now, makes me appreciate them all the more. The attention to detail is incredible; costumes that reflect the character's mood, power and personality, props worn with age, models of the Hogwarts castle. Maybe I'm a geek, but I was rather overcome by it all! 

A cardboard model of the Hogwarts Owlery
I know that there are hundreds of pictures of the tour online (I have chosen to put only a few of the hundreds I took) but if you haven't been, I would really go and see for yourself; the pictures really do not do the hard work that went into the making the films justice. One bad thing I would say about the tour is that the souvenir shop (which sells fantastic replicas of props and costumes from the film) is horrendously overpriced. I'm talking £8 for a small chocolate frog- really. 

Attractive, but overpriced Potter goods. 

Any Potter fans that can recommend any other Harry Potter books or days out to keep the magic going (cheesey, I know) please let me know, I am very interested. Back to muggle books soon.

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

What is Englishness?

In spring 2013 I read several books that opened my eyes to the hybrid nature of English culture.

As I have lived in the English countryside almost all of my life and study in a relatively small university town, I have had little experience with what Nick Bentley calls the 'new model of Englishness' (Bentley, 2007), that is, the effect that immigration has had on English culture. 

I read The Buddha of Suburbia by Hanif Kureishi, Anita and Me by Meera Syal, White Teeth by Zadie Smith, Brick Lane by Monica Ali and Small Island by Andrea Levy and discovered how unaware I am of diverse ethnicities in England.

Whilst I would recommend all the novels listed above the two that I enjoyed and learnt from the most would have to be Brick Lane and Anita and Me.

Why Brick Lane

Because there is a real sense of purpose with this novel; Ali explores and represents an ethnic minority who are rarely given a voice and the results are fascinating. The protagonist, Nazneen, grows throughout the novel: not only from a woman completely dependent on her husband to a woman who makes her own decisions and decides to take control of her life and reject her husbands plans, but also from someone restricted by Bangladeshi culture living in England to someone who takes the best from each culture and comes to relish her cultural hybridity. 

The characters in this novel are truly fascinating; as well as representing diverse cultures, Ali portrays diverse personalities. The characters can be: disgusting, childlike, hypocritical, malicious, loving, jealous, oblivious, ignorant, sharp, weak, strong, unhappy, bored, secretive and sensual but are all- some how- incredibly believable and engaging. Read it, read it, read it!  

Why Anita and Me? 

Because it is a book that some how manages to be sad and funny- no easy accomplishment. This book is semi- autobiographical and it shows, it is a book that I found incredibly believable and though it was published in 1996 and set in the 1960's, it's themes are still relevant. I have since given this book to my mum, who was a 60's child like Meera Syal- and she can't believe how accurately Syal has captured 60's life saying that Meena, the protagonist's, experiences could have been a record of her own. 

The young narrator's blunt observations and quick wit means that the novel is very funny; I rarely laugh out loud when I am reading but found my self giggling self-consiously on the train when reading some of Meena's brutally honest descriptions and childishly self-centred thoughts. 

Though this book could be seen as light-hearted and like I say, is very witty, it does approach some important topics. The problem of 'casual' racism is well represented. There are particularly heart-wrenching moments when Meena -who believes herself to be a regular 'Tollington wench'- gets publically humiliated due to her race. Her desire to align herself with Anita, the white, popular girl who is no match for Meena's vivid personality is also is troubling for the reader as it reflects a problem that is still very much relevant- the need for people (especially children) to conform and fit in with society if they want to be accepted. 

Therefore I cannot recommend this book highly enough. It is incredibly readable- you will probably finish it within three days but you will remember its themes and its humour for much. much longer. If you have read these books- what do you think? Are there any other books that you can recommend that represent diverse cultures in England? 

Monday, 17 June 2013

Where have I been?

I realise that it is over a year since my last post. My blog had barely started when my life as I knew it came crashing down. On the 21st of June 2012, my amazing father suddenly and tragically died. It was a terrible, terrible shock- this sort of thing had never happened in my family and I had naively took this for granted. It has been an extremely hard year for my family and I, and my priorities changed. I spent most of the summer at home with my mum and two sisters, the time passed but I'm not really sure how when I think back to it now.

I returned to university in October to start my second year studying English Literature. It was a difficult time, I found it very hard to leave my mum and sisters. I kept myself busy, mostly by focusing on my studies and trying not to think about anything and everything else. My boyfriend helped me a lot too.

I am not going to pretend that I have dealt with things in the best way; in fact, I have been quite selfish in that I have focused on my studies and acted like nothing has happened as much as I can. I've spent a lot of time reading both for my studies and as a form of escapism. I will share some of my reading experiences from the past year with you.

I realise this post has a very depressing feel to it- I have not intended it to. The point of this post in addition to explaining my absence, is to emphasise the power of literature; it has been a real comfort to me this past year.

To lighten the mood, here is a fantastic picture of a cow taken by my dad.