Bombay potato and pea curry with rice and a cheat's kadhi

Recipe: Bombay potato and pea curry with rice and a cheat’s kadhi

This is a quick version of a dish I grew up with. My mum makes a simple lunch dish of rice, kadhi (a yogurt and gram flour sauce) and a vegetable curry most Sundays, and it’s just a really nice, comforting dish with lots of flavour.

The kadhi is usually served warm and involves tempering various spices in hot oil and adding it to the sauce (which can sometimes cause a small explosion…!), but I’ve created a safer cold version here that’s not particularly authentic. However, it adds some sharpness to offset the spice of the Bombay potatoes and the sweetness of the peas.

You could even do away with the kadhi altogether and just serve the curry and rice with a dollop of sharp yogurt on top – but I like the moisture that the kadhi adds to the dry potatoes.

Bombay potato and pea curry with rice and a cheat's kadhi

  • Servings: 2
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

A quick and easy curry perfect for lunch.


Calories per serving: 488

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp sunflower or vegetable oil
  • 0.5 tsp black mustard seeds
  • 0.5 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed or finely chopped
  • 1 thin green chilli, finely chopped
  • 0.5 tbsp ginger, grated
  • 0.5 tsp red chilli powder
  • 0.5 tsp turmeric
  • 300g potatoes, peeled and cut into medium chunks (I like to use red potatoes in curries)
  • 80g fresh or frozen peas
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 0.5 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp garam masala
  • 0.5 tsp amchoor (dried mango powder) (optional)
  • handful of coriander, chopped
  • salt, to taste
  • For the rice:

  • 120g basmati rice, rinsed and drained
  • 10g butter
  • 2 whole cloves (optional)
  • 2 cardamom pods (optional)
  • salt, to taste
  • For the kadhi:

  • 60g sharp natural yogurt
  • 1 tbsp coriander leaves
  • pinch of red chilli powder
  • pinch of ground cumin
  • pinch of garam masala
  • salt, to taste

Directions

  1. Parboil the potatoes in salted boiling water for 10 minutes and drain.
  2. Heat the oil in a saucepan and add the black mustard seeds and cumin seeds. Fry until the mustard seeds start to pop.
  3. Add the onion and fry gently until soft.
  4. Add the green chilli, garlic and ginger and cook for a further minute.
  5. Add the potatoes and the red chilli powder and turmeric. Stir and cook over a low heat with the lid on while you prepare the rice and kadhi. You may need to give the potatoes the occasional stir to stop them from sticking to the pan.
  6. Cook the rice using the absorption method: put the rice in a small saucepan and add enough cold water to cover the rice by about 1cm. Add the butter, spices and salt, then place over a high heat until the water starts to boil. Put a lid on the saucepan and turn the heat down as low as it will go, and cook without removing the lid for around 13 minutes, until all the water has been absorbed and the rice has been cooked. Remove the whole spices.
  7. Make the kadhi by placing the yogurt in a jug and adding enough cold water to create the consistency of a thin gravy. Add the coriander leaves and spices, and stir thoroughly. Add enough salt to bring out the sharpness of the yogurt.
  8. Add the peas to the potatoes around 5 minutes before you turn off the heat.
  9. Once you turn the heat off, add the ground cumin, ground coriander, amchoor (if using), garam masala and coriander. Stir, then taste and add salt as needed.
  10. Serve the curry over the rice, then pour the kadhi over the top of everything. Enjoy!

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A bookish Six Degrees of Separation: From Like Water For Chocolate to Life After Life

There’s a wonderful book blogger challenge that takes place regularly called Six Degrees of Separation, where Kate of Books Are My Favourite And Best starts everyone off with a particular book and anyone who wants to take part writes their own post listing five more books in addition to this one, each inspired by the previous one in the list in some way. I saw my friend Jan do this on her blog and I just had to join in!

Like Water For Chocolate

The starting book this month is Like Water For Chocolate by Laura Esquivel, which I’ve never heard of but definitely want to read. It sounds really intriguing and is structured around the 12 months of the year, with each section starting with a specific recipe – as the main character is in love with someone she can’t have, and uses cooking to convey her feelings.

The House Of The Spirits

Like Water For Chocolate uses magical realism, which made me think of Isabel Allende’s The House Of The Spirits. I haven’t read this either, but it’s one of those highly acclaimed novels that is repeatedly recommended, so I hope I’ll read it one day!

Her Fearful Symmetry

The ‘Spirits’ bit of that title reminded me of Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger. The novel is about twin sisters who inherit a flat next to Highgate Cemetery in London from their aunt, who was also a twin estranged from her own sister, the twins’ mother. The twins soon realise that their dead aunt is haunting the flat…

Niffenegger wrote one of my favourite books ever, The Time Traveler’s Wife, which made me think of another time travel novel I read recently, Kindred by Octavia E Butler (you may have seen me gush about it on Instagram recently!). The book tells the story of a black woman who is forced to travel back in time from the 1970s to slavery-era Maryland where she has to repeatedly save her white slave-holding ancestor from dangerous situations – while also experiencing the grim reality of life as a slave during this period.

This reminded me of another book I really want to read, The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead, which reimagines the real-life network of escape routes and safe houses used by slaves to run away to freedom in the US as an actual railway.

As The Underground Railroad is an alternate history, my last book on this list is Life After Life by Kate Atkinson, which tells the story of a woman forced to be born over and over again and live alternative versions of her life repeatedly. I absolutely loved this book when I read it, and the follow-up, A God In Ruins, is excellent too.

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The night is dark and full of terrors

The night before last, I went to a wonderful Manchester Literature Festival event in the city centre with a friend. I’d been looking forward to it for a while, and it didn’t disappoint. But as soon as it was over and we parted ways outside the venue to go home, the fear set in.

It was the first time I’d faced a journey home alone at night for rather a long time. Almost a year, in fact. Nearly 12 months to the day when I was mugged by two teenagers while walking home from the bus stop at some point after 8pm on a dark October evening.

They forcibly took my bag with my purse, phone, keys, books and all the other usual detritus that ends up in a woman’s handbag. I ended up on the ground in the middle of the road, shocked and angry and incredulous, while the thieves sped off in a car. But things are just things, and I wasn’t seriously hurt in a physical sense. They simply took my sense of confidence and safety away from me along with my possessions.

Since then, I haven’t had the will to go on any sort of outing that involves having to come home on my own at night and walk down the road where I was mugged all that time ago. I made one exception in the summer to see my favourite fantasy author speak at a bookshop event, but even that 5-minute walk from the bus stop in the still-bright evening reduced me to paranoia. Other than that, I only ever go out in the evenings with my husband (thank goodness that, literary festivals aside, we share many of the same interests!).

I keep thinking that I can just get a taxi if need be, but I already pay nearly £60 a month for my bus pass – why should I spend even more for feeling a bit safer? (Also, I’m not entirely sure that taxis are all that safe, anyway – I was once asked for my phone number by a driver who I’m pretty sure was unlicensed but was posing as a licensed black cab driver).

Going home from work was really difficult at first. There was no way to get around having to make that journey in the dark in the winter, so I started off by taking an alternative route up the next street along, and then going back on the normal route, practically running all the way. It was made all the more difficult later that winter when there was a spate of other muggings, attacks and sexual assaults in my area, which just made me panic even more.

It’s still been difficult in the lighter evenings, though. The sound of a car going too fast (the muggers had screeched up the road past me, then got out to mug me), quick footsteps behind me, a sighting of teenagers on the path ahead, strange men crossing to my side of the road… It all still makes me anxious, and I’m absolutely dreading the first walk home in the dark in the next few weeks.

I know it’s mostly in my head. I know that night a year ago could’ve been a lot worse. I know I should be grateful that I came out of it all in one piece.

I know all those things, but bloody hell am I angry that I’ve let them take my sense of freedom away from me. I used to saunter through the dodginess that is Bolton town centre late on Saturday nights on my way home from a day out in Manchester and sometimes have to run away from creepy men passing by in cars. I’ve been groped on trains and shouted at in the street and had quite frankly downright weird encounters with odd people on buses.

I never let any of that get to me for long, but being mugged seems to have been the last straw – perhaps because it’s not just ‘one of those things’ that comes with being a woman going from A to B on her own, unfair as it is, as it could’ve happened to anyone walking down that street at that precise moment. And it just so happened to be me.

The other night was a small step forward. I went out, I came home (albeit via the alternative route, and after some deliberation over whether to fork out for a taxi or not) and nothing happened, either in the city centre or on that last stretch from the bus stop. That’s good. It’s progress, I’m sure.

But I’m still not keen to try it again any time soon. When I reported the mugging to the police, I had a call from the victim support service asking if I needed to make an appointment to talk to someone, but I said no. I was distracted by things like waiting for replacement bank cards and a new bus pass, buying a new phone, trying to get a message to the police about where my debit card had been used after it was stolen (although I never heard anything from them after that, so of course I’m convinced that my muggers are still out there, somewhere), and just didn’t think ahead to how the whole thing would affect me in other ways.

Now I wonder whether it’s something I do need to talk to someone about, but they’ll probably say what I keep telling myself – that I’ll get over it in time – and, in any case, it’s difficult enough just writing this down.

I have another evening event in December that I’m determined to go to. If I can get back from that on my own without seeing potential criminals everywhere, I’ll consider that another small step forward.

Stepping stones

One step forward, four steps back

It’s Sunday morning and I’ve woken up with an urge to write something today. I have a big list of post ideas to choose from, but I don’t feel like writing any of those at the moment!

I’m currently recovering from a few days of flu that I came down with last weekend. It left me pretty much immobile for four days, and while I went back to work on Thursday, I still have a chesty cough and generally low energy. I hate being sick because it means putting exercise on hold until I get better – and I’d already put it on hold for a few weeks because of being busy with other things (plus the whole darker mornings thing – ugh).

Basically, all the good intentions I laid out in my post about losing weight have become unravelled remarkably quickly. I knew I wouldn’t lose anything over the few weeks covering my trips to Prague and Liverpool Psych Fest (in fact I somehow managed to put on just 1lb – perhaps pilsner has fat burning properties?!) and was focused on getting back into a healthy routine at the end of September.

But then the flu hit, and I haven’t done anything except walk to the bus stop a couple of times in over a week. My diet has been ok-ish, but I’ve been eating bigger portions than usual in an attempt to get better more quickly, and have unfortunately fallen into the ‘I’m ill so I should treat myself’ trap with chocolate and biscuits and so on. Which is absolutely okay for a couple of days, but I’m in danger of sticking with this pattern even after I’m better!

I haven’t weighed myself recently, but it feels like I’ve probably gained weight. And that’s okay too, because being ill is not exactly conducive to obsessively tracking calorie intake and burn. I’m just not feeling particularly motivated to get back to healthy eating and exercise. It’s getting colder and darker, and I feel so generally unfit that if I tried to go for a run I’d probably collapse after half a mile.

Perhaps the key is to get back into it gradually – healthy eating first, then gentle exercise when I’m not so cough-y. But just the very thought of it makes me feel a bit… meh.

What I’ve been…

…reading

I’ve had a run of really good reads recently, thanks in part to some great library reservations coming in. Highlights include:

New books
Just some of the books I’ve bought recently…

I’ve also bought an alarming number of books recently… oops. My to-read pile is back up over 60 after drifting slowly down towards 50 in recent months.

…watching

I finished watching Gilmore Girls: A Year In The Life while I was ill. It’s really impressive how the creators have managed to keep the show true to the original episodes while embracing a longer format. I’m going to miss Stars Hollow!

Orphan Black

I’ve started the final season of Orphan Black, a criminally underrated science thriller show on Netflix. I originally started watching this to fill the hole left by binge-watching Fringe a couple of years ago, and it’s so good. It has a largely female cast of characters, most of whom are played by the same talented actress, and the plot explores everything from eugenics and ethics to sisterhood, mother/daughter relationships and more. I’ll be sad when I’ve finished this season.

We’ve been slowly working our way through DVDs of the 1990s Moomins cartoon. I barely remember watching it at the time, but it’s been brilliant watching them recently, if only because there are some questionable accents that are probably not quite what Tove Jansson had in mind for her characters.

Of course, I’ve also been watching Great British Bake Off. I hate the ad breaks, but everything else is pretty much the same as it was on the BBC, if not a bit more surreal thanks to Noel Fielding. My favourites are Liam and Yan!

…playing

Layton's Mystery JourneyWe’ve been playing Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild on the Wii U for MONTHS. We came really close to completing it, but then decided to have a go at finding all of the Korok seeds before fighting the end-of-game boss. It’s been quite painful at times, but we’re about 150 seeds away from our target!

I started playing the new Layton game on the 3DS, Layton’s Mystery Journey: Katrielle and the Millionaires’ Conspiracy, this weekend. I buy every game in the series as it comes out, as I’m a sucker for a good puzzle game. There have been some tricky puzzles so far, including a couple that brought me close to throwing my 3DS through the window. But it’s still a great game.

…cooking

I haven’t done much cooking recently due to being ill. But we did make a wonderful tawa paneer recipe from Chetna Makan’s most recent book, Chai, Chaat and Chutney, for the first time the other day, and when I have been cooking by myself, I’ve mainly been focusing on comforting curries.

…baking

It’s been even leaner on the baking front, but I made some flapjacks yesterday as there wasn’t anything sweet in the house (gasp!) and oats are at least vaguely healthy, and I made some excellent ginger nut biscuits before I was ill.

Ginger nuts

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Furnace stage

Liverpool International Festival of Psychedelia 2017

We’ve been going to the Liverpool International Festival of Psychedelia religiously for a few years now. Also known as Liverpool Psych Fest, the event is a two-day extravaganza of live music showcasing the best of modern psychedelic music, which in reality covers a wide range of genres from shoegaze and drone to electronic and experimental music (although there’s usually at least one band and a fair few festival-goers’ outfits drawing directly on proper 1960s psychedelia!).

Unknown band

Furnace screens

I love this festival because it really is all about the music. Taking place across four stages of varying sizes at the excellent Camp and Furnace venue in the Baltic Triangle, the festival puts on performances from around 100 bands and artists in total.

Jane Weaver
Jane Weaver
The Telescopes
The Telescopes

You have to be really committed to see everything; the doors open at 3pm on the Friday and 1pm on the Saturday, and the live performances go on into the early hours of the morning, after which there are DJ sets and afterparties! We did well to make it to around midnight on both days this year, I think!

Blade Factory stage entrance
Blade Factory stage entrance
A Place To Bury Strangers
A Place To Bury Strangers

There were only three acts on the programme this year that we knew we definitely wanted to see – The Telescopes (intense), Jane Weaver (brilliant) and A Place To Bury Strangers (very, very loud) – so we were free to wander from stage to stage to see what else took our fancy the rest of the time.

Ex Easter Island Head
Ex Easter Island Head

We saw quite a lot of acts this way; I particularly enjoyed Baltic Fleet (excellent electronic grooves), Loop (noise old hands), Ex-Easter Island Head (a collective based in Salford who used a lot of guitar tables and some bells), Yassassin (indie pop), Is Bliss (good solid shoegaze) and probably a few other bands who I’ve forgotten (I should have taken detailed notes…).

Is Bliss
Is Bliss
Cosmonauts
Cosmonauts

Away from the stages, there was a space upstairs for a record stall, cinema and psychedelic art installations. We came up here a few times just to sit down and rest our weary feet!

PZYK cinema
PZYK cinema

We tried out the ‘Dreamachine’, which was a spinning cylinder with holes cut into it set around a bright light and on a spinning turntable. You’re supposed to sit in front of it with your eyes closed. It was a bit weird.

Dreamachine
Dreamachine

The biggest non-live music highlight had to be sitting down and having a chat with none other than snooker legend Steve Davis! My husband originally wanted to just have his photo taken with him, but Steve was having a chat with someone called Dave Newton (who we later discovered headed up a singles-only label called Shifty Disco and used to manage Ride) about the music industry and record buying trends, and invited us to sit down and join in. It was so interesting and very cool! Steve is a bit of a Liverpool Psych Fest regular – we saw him ‘in conversation’ at a previous festival and he did a DJ set this year. His music knowledge is *very* impressive.

(We didn’t get that picture in the end, though. While we were sat down about 3 other people asked to have their photo taken with Steve, so the right moment never came up!).

Kaleidoscopes

There were bars everywhere, although the prices were quite steep (but not out of the ordinary for a music festival). The festival is committed to serving beer from lesser known breweries, but we just stuck to the house pilsner as it was relatively cheap and quite nice!

PZYK cocktail bar
PZYK cocktail bar

(Also, another anecdote: we were walking back to the hotel on the Friday night when a driver in a passing car shouted ‘Hippies!’ at us in a somewhat derogatory manner, probably because I had a paisley pattern on my face and my husband was wearing flares. I wonder how many other festival-goers in even crazier psychedelic gear had a similar experience? I found it hilarious, anyway!)

Hippy

PZYK lager

Food-wise, we ate some excellent wood-fired pizza and some rather average burritos and nachos. We have a tradition of going to Indian street food restaurant Mowgli on Bold Street for our Saturday pre-festival breakfast/lunch, and we kept that up this year.

Pizza

Outside

Another psych fest tradition for us is a trip to the excellent News From Nowhere bookshop on Bold Street on the Sunday morning. We always manage it even when exceedingly hungover! I did, of course, buy a few books.

Bold Street
Bold Street
News From Nowhere bookshop
News From Nowhere bookshop

Books what I bought

All in all, we had another brilliant time at Liverpool Psych Fest, and I can’t wait to do it all over again next year! If you fancy a music festival with a difference (and don’t much like camping, like me!), then look out for early bird tickets coming on sale towards the end of this year/start of next year.

PZYK bag

PZYK bear

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Meal planner

Meal planning: why and how I do it

I impulse-bought a cute woodland-themed meal planner towards the end of last year. I’d been thinking about getting into the habit of planning out our meals in advance for a while, then I saw that the planner was in the Paperchase sale (and I can’t resist anything with animals on it!), so that was that.

It was on the fridge for a little while before we actually started using it; much like writing a novel or blog post, it’s easy to feel a bit too intimidated by the empty pages to fill them in. But we managed to get going, and we’re still doing it (most weeks) a whole eight months later.

Why plan meals?

I like to think of myself as a pretty organised person, but I used to be quite slapdash when it came to food shopping. I was definitely one of those people who go shopping with a vague idea of the required essentials and then come away with random things that don’t necessarily go together, and end up making the same old curry or pasta dish for tea.

Our meal planner

Planning meals in advance forces you to think about what you have in and what you specifically need to buy for the week ahead – and this has definitely cut down on conversations along the lines of ‘what on earth can we do with a leek, half a block of feta and some veggie sausages?’.

This has also helped us to rein in our food spending a little – I add up all our receipts at the end of each month, and I think we’re now managing to spend less as we get more used to planning meals, although this can sometimes be scuppered by going out for tea, heading to the pub or simply the rising cost of food (grrr).

It’s also been great for making us use our ever-growing collection of cookbooks. I was inspired by my friend Charlotte‘s habit of using meal planning to cycle through her recipe books and discover new dishes to include in her regular repertoire, and we now use at least one cookbook recipe a week in addition to our own tried-and-tested recipes.

Finally, as discussed in a previous post, I’m trying to get back into healthy eating habits again, and meal planning means I feel like I have more control over the calories I consume than I used to, which has been incredibly helpful!

How we plan meals

At the moment, we generally only plan weekday lunches for me and weeknight evening meals for both of us. We sometimes plan for the weekend if we fancy something in particular or if we know we’re not going out, but it’s nice to have a bit of flexibility a couple of days a week. We are definitely not those people you see on Instagram who fill dozens of tupperware containers with identical-looking meals for the week ahead!

We don’t plan breakfasts because I get up before my husband, who generally doesn’t eat breakfast. I always do, but never anything unusual; scrambled eggs on toast on days where I exercise first thing in the morning and need some protein afterwards, and granola and Greek yogurt for rest days.

I prefer to take lunches from home into work rather than buy convenience foods from the shop (also, there isn’t that much choice for cheap lunches near my office), so we try to plan our evening meals to make extra that I can take into work the next day. Sometimes this isn’t practical – it can be quite awkward to eat chapatis and curry at work! – so I either adapt the leftovers by, say, swapping chapatis for rice, or I plan a salad or sandwich to take in instead.

Chickpea curry with chapatis
Chickpea curry – one of our regular meals

Our meals are a combination of dishes we make regularly (mostly curries) and new recipes from cookbooks or the internet. We take into account anything in the fridge that needs using up first, and work in staples that we keep in the cupboard (generally tinned and dried pulses and beans, as well as our extensive stock of spices) to save money. Anything that requires something we have to buy gets added to the shopping list. It probably helps that we don’t eat meat, so we can rely more on storecupboard essentials.

Shortly after buying the meal planner, I also bought a couple of mini whiteboards to go on our fridge, one of which serves as an ‘essentials’ shopping list (milk, teabags and so on) that we can add to as we run out of things. We just add whatever’s on the ‘essentials’ list to the shopping list on the meal planner each week to create a master shopping list to take with us to the shop. This sounds complicated and slightly unnecessary, but we sometimes buy essentials during the week, so we can just wipe those off the whiteboard rather than scribble things out on the master list! I like to keep things neat.

Chilli paneer
Chilli paneer – another favourite!

We use the other whiteboard to list what we have in the freezer, as it’s easy to forget what’s loitering in there if you don’t use frozen ingredients that often. We’re not very good at keeping it up to date, though!

I love meal planning!

I think meal planning is working pretty well for us at the moment. We’re definitely better at it than we used to be, and it’s so nice to change things up every week and try something new. We do still have the odd week where we don’t have time to sit down and plan meals (or we simply can’t be bothered), but they’re few and far between now.

I would recommend it if you regularly feel a bit stuck for ideas when making meals, or you want to save money or lose weight by tracking calories. It does require a certain degree of organisation and willpower to keep doing it week after week, but it gets easier as you get into the swing of things.

There are loads of articles and blog posts with some great advice if you’re not sure where to start, but I would suggest just doing it and tweaking your own meal planning process to suit you as you go along!

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View of Prague from Petřín Tower

A short break in Prague

I spent a few days in Prague with my husband earlier this week. We tend to favour city breaks over beach holidays, and historic Prague really is a wonderful destination for a few days of sightseeing, eating and, of course, drinking!

What we saw

We wanted to keep things quite laid back and not have to follow a rigid sightseeing itinerary, but there were a few things I knew I definitely wanted to see and do. We spent our first morning exploring Petřín Hill, which lies just to the west of the city centre and north of where we stayed. This area is the largest green space in Prague and offers amazing views of the city.

We took the funicular train up to the top and, after some um-ing and ah-ing, decided to climb Petřín Tower to get some really good views of Prague. Note: neither of us are great with heights! It was slightly terrifying climbing up the spiral staircase, but we eventually made it to the top and were rewarded with our first proper sight of Prague in daylight (as we’d arrived the night before).

After we recovered from the climb, we wandered around the beautiful gardens on the hill and made our way to the most popular attraction in Prague, the Charles Bridge. This is a pedestrian bridge over the Vltava River that connects the castle district on the west bank with the city centre proper on the east bank, and is lined with a series of rather gothic-looking statues. It was incredibly busy, but worth the jostling to see the statues.

Architecture in Prague

The rest of the day was spent walking around and staring upwards. All of the architecture in Prague is gorgeous, with lots of perfectly preserved historic façades and some interesting details like paintings and statues on the exterior of many buildings.

Architecture in Prague

We also joined the crowds gazing admiringly at the astronomical clock at the town hall. I’d read that it wasn’t currently in action due to maintenance works, but the second time we went past it, it was definitely doing something on the hour!

Astronomical clock

We also explored the Jewish Quarter, which had some stunning synagogues and other buildings to stare at.

We visited Prague Castle on the second day. The castle itself is just some a collection of rather unspectacular buildings that once served as sleeping quarters for various rulers and their entourages, but the brooding yet magnificent St Vitus Cathedral is an amazing feat of architecture that was worth the visit alone.

St Vitus Cathedral

We saw the changing of the guard at the castle gates, which is supposed to be a spectacular affair at noon. To me, it just looked like a load of uniformed men marching around with guns while some other uniformed men played trumpets, but the crowd seemed to enjoy it!

Changing of the guard at Prague Castle

We went to look at John Lennon Wall, which was originally covered with lots of graffiti relating to the Beatle, but has been slowly taken over by less relevant graffiti. It was slightly disappointing, to be honest!

John Lennon Wall

Near the funicular station for Petřín Hill lies a sobering memorial to the victims of Communist rule in Prague. The memorial comprises several sculptures made in the image of the sculptor himself, but in varying states of decay. A plaque nearby describes how many residents were killed, imprisoned and exiled from Prague as a result of Communism.

On our last full day in Prague, we visited the Czech Music Museum. We both thoroughly enjoyed it; we explored a temporary exhibition on the association between music and fairy tales in Czech history, and then went round the main exhibit, which had lots of historic instruments ranging from guitars and pianos to violins and plenty of things we’d never heard of! It’s a brilliant museum and I would definitely recommend it to anyone with a passing interest in musical instruments.

What we ate

My husband is vegetarian and I’m pescetarian, so we knew we probably wouldn’t be able to sample authentic Czech cuisine, as it’s pretty meat-heavy. We still ate really well, though, thanks to the wide range of restaurants and cafes serving up all sorts of cuisine in the city.

We had an Indian buffet lunch at Dhaba Beas (there are several of these around Prague), authentic pizza at Pizzeria Kmotra, pub food at BeerGeek in the Vinohrady district, and Afghan food at Kabul Restaurant.

Prague chimney cake bakery

The highlight, however, was getting to sample Czech chimney cake, which is a sweet dough wrapped around a cone, baked, and dipped in sugar and cinnamon. We had ours with ice cream, because it’s not a holiday until you’ve had an ice cream.

Me with a chimney cake
I loved that chimney cake SO MUCH

What we drank

Everything. We drank everything.

Beer at Prague Beer Museum

Prague is famous for its cheap pilsner, and we certainly appreciated the prices after being regularly stung by craft ale prices back in the UK. However, the beer is also just really, really GOOD. We simply didn’t have a bad beer at all in Prague, and we had a lot of beer!

Dark beer at Lokal

There’s also a huge range of Czech beer types beyond your standard pilsner. We tried dark beers, wheat beers, fruit beers, amber beers, ruby beers… you name it, they’ve got it in Prague. And, like I said, it’s all so good and cheap!

Our favourite pub was definitely Prague Beer Museum, which is centrally located by the river. It has 30 beers on tap, so you’re never short of something new to try.

Prague Beer Museum
Prague Beer Museum

We also drank at Fat Cat Brewery and Pub, Lokal, the aforementioned BeerGeek in Vinohrady (which also had an impressive beer list from around Europe), and a rather intimidating traditional beer hall, the Golden Tiger, which was filled with imposingly large men downing huge mugs of beer in seconds.

Other drinking destinations included Café V Lese, an atmospheric little bar where we saw a couple of bands downstairs. It’s off the beaten path, but is located on a street known for cool drinking hangouts and creative spaces.

Absinthe Time
Absinthe Time

We tried some absinthe at Absinthe Time and also at Hemingway Bar, which is a brilliant little cocktail bar with staff who know what they’re talking about when it comes to spirits. It has a HUGE rum list, which was the main attraction for me!

Hemingway Bar
Hemingway Bar

All in all, we had a brilliant time in Prague, and would recommend it to anyone interested in a city break with plenty of history, architecture and cheap beer!

National Theatre

Prague street sign

Vltava River

Book on beach

Around the world in books: my 10 favourite reads set overseas

I love to read books set in countries other than the UK. It’s such a good way of immersing yourself in a new place and culture without actually travelling there – and also a great way of preparing for a trip to that country!

Here are 10 of my favourites in no particular order, along with some others that I couldn’t bear to not at least mention. They’re not exactly light-hearted beach reads, but they’re ruddy good books!

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (USA/Nigeria)

Americanah cover

This was the first book I read by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and I absolutely loved it. The novel follows two central characters who are childhood sweethearts in their home country of Nigeria and eventually go their separate ways as they venture to the USA and the UK. They meet again in Nigeria some years later.

It sounds like a rather standard will-they-won’t-they romance, but it’s really not. The main themes of race, immigration and belonging are incredibly well explored through the experiences of the characters. Plus, Adichie is just an incredible writer. The descriptions of places and feelings are wonderful and really do transport you to where the characters are and what they’re thinking.

I read and thoroughly enjoyed Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun not long after reading Americanah and it was similarly brilliant. I’m definitely going to explore more of her books, and I would recommend that you do too!

Alone in Berlin by Hans Fallada (Germany)

Alone In Berlin coverI have a bit of a thing for novels with wartime settings. Alone in Berlin is set during World War II in the German capital and tells the story of a couple, the Quangels, who used to support the Nazis, but start to resist the regime in their own small way after their son dies in battle. The book is focused on both the Quangels and the inspector determined to find out who is behind their small acts of resistance, but all sorts of other intriguing characters also make an appearance, making for a fascinating portrait of life as a resident of wartime Berlin.

This is not a particularly uplifting read, but it’s a superb one that I just couldn’t put down. The novel is based on a true story, which makes it all the more affecting. Apparently it took decades for the novel to be translated and published in English, but it received widespread acclaim when it did finally appear and was also recently made into a film.Definitely start with the book, though!

Schindler’s Ark by Thomas Keneally (Poland)

Schindler's Ark cover

I first read this as a 16-year-old and it had such a profound effect on me that I went on to devour many more books concerning the Holocaust and wrote my university dissertation on this topic (I was a very cheery teenager…!).

Another book about real-life events, Schindler’s Ark is the Booker Prize winner that inspired the film Schindler’s List. I think I was so affected by the book because it helped me to begin to comprehend the real tragedy of the Holocause; not just the huge numbers of people killed, but the immense suffering that took place in the run up to all of these deaths.

It sounds like it should be an incredibly depressing read, but it isn’t! The tragedy is portrayed alongside the wonderful efforts of Oskar Schindler to save as many Jews as possible from the horrors of concentration camps, and the novel format combined with Keneally’s talent for drawing out intriguing details from historical sources means Schindler’s Ark is a fantastically compelling read.

A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry (India)

A Fine Balance cover

I’m starting to spot a trend for slightly grim yet unputdownable reads in this list…! A Fine Balance is probably the best novel set in India that I’ve ever read, and I’ve read a lot.

The book is set in the 1970s during a particularly turbulent time for the country, and closely follows four main characters – a widow, a student and two tailors – throughout this period and beyond. Each character has seen suffering in their past and is looking to a better future – but, as you might guess, things don’t always run that smoothly.

This is one of those emotionally gripping novels that you simply can’t stop reading because you so desperately want things to turn out well for the four protagonists. It’s also a wonderful illustration of working class life in a bustling Indian city, especially through the minor characters who pop up from time to time (or even just the once). Even though it can be depressing in parts, I recommend A Fine Balance to everyone who asks for a really good book to get into.

Stasiland by Anna Funder (Germany)

Stasiland cover

I bought this on a whim some years ago, attracted by the promise of a glimpse into life in the old East Germany. It’s a collection of stories gathered by Funder from both residents of the GDR and some of the members of the Stasi who spied on them between 1961 and 1989, when the Berlin Wall came down.

The stories are both fascinating and unsettling, and sometimes it’s difficult to realise that these were real life events. I went into the book not knowing an awful lot about life in East Germany, and came away feeling much more enlightened (and slightly disturbed at the extent of the intrusions into privacy that GDR citizens had to endure).

As an aside, if you enjoy this, I would also recommend the film Good Bye, Lenin!, which provides a more humorous take on the effects of the Berlin Wall on GDR residents.

Villette by Charlotte Brontë (Belgium)

Villette cover

It’s no secret that my favourite book of all time is Jane Eyre, but Villette comes almost as close in my literary affections.

This is the most autobiographical of Charlotte Brontë’s works, as she draws on her experiences of travelling to Belgium to work as a teacher in a boarding school and falling in love with one of the married masters at the school.

The central character, Lucy Snowe, spends a lot of time exploring her conflicted feelings while wandering around Brussels, making for some interesting descriptions of the city. I particularly love the novel, though, for its unconventionality – it’s a love story, but not like many other romantic novels published in the same era.

A Novel Bookstore by Laurence Cosse (France)

A Novel Bookstore cover

This was an impulse buy while perusing the wonderful Shakespeare & Co bookshop in Paris a couple of years ago. I totally fell in love with the city on that visit and just couldn’t resist buying a novel set in a bookshop in Paris!

The story revolves around the opening of a bookshop, The Good Novel. The owners aim to turn it into a must-visit destination for serious bibliophiles around Paris and beyond, but have to deal with intense jealousy and criticism from all quarters – as well as the mysterious deaths of a number of authors associated with the store.

It suffers a little from pacing issues, but this is an excellent book that’s perfect if you love bookshops and often daydream about opening your own (mine would sell cakes on the side and have an epic sci-fi and fantasy section). The parts of the novel dealing with the solving of the murders should also whet your appetite if you’re also a crime fiction fan.

The Fountains of Paradise by Arthur C Clarke (Sri Lanka)

Fountains of Paradise cover

I’m a huge fan of Arthur C Clarke – he wrote some brilliant science fiction novels and short stories that manage to combine both solid scientific concepts and interesting characters. I bought The Fountains of Paradise a couple of years and then read it when we booked our honeymoon to Sri Lanka – as, quite happily, the novel is set in a fictional version of the island nation.

The book revolves around the building of a space elevator from Earth to the lower reaches of space, from where spacecraft can then travel into deeper space without the need for rockets from the ground. It turns out that the only place this can be built from is an island called Taprobane, modelled very closely on Sri Lanka. However, the monks living on the mountain where the elevator needs to be built are strongly opposed to the project.

The novel uses parallels with Sri Lankan history (or a fictional version of it!) to explore the dilemmas faced by the engineer behind the space elevator and how the building of such an ambitious structure conflicts with particular religious beliefs on Taprobane.

It sounds a bit highbrow and quite complicated, but as always, Clarke manages to help the reader navigate the science through some brilliant characters and a compelling plot.

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent (Iceland)

Burial Rites cover

We’re back in slightly-depressing-yet-brilliantly-written territory here with this haunting novel that imagines the events around the real-life last public execution in Iceland in 1829.

I picked this up because, despite being a big fan of a few Icelandic bands/artists, I’d never read any literature set in the country and was intrigued by the historical setting of the novel. The book focuses on a woman, Agnes, who is accused of committing murder in a farflung, rural part of Iceland and the winter she spends on a farm in the run-up to her execution – as there are no prisons for her to be locked up in.

There isn’t much in the way of dialogue, but there are many wonderful descriptions of the Icelandic countryside and seasons that really make you feel like you’re there in that place and time. The main drivers of the plot are the revelation of the circumstances that led to the crime being committed, and the ways in which the other characters react to Agnes and her plight.

It’s a beautifully written novel that I recommend to anyone with an interest in Iceland and/or historical fiction.

Blood and Beauty by Sarah Dunant (Italy)

Blood and Beauty cover

Blood and Beauty is a lively, gripping historical novel following the fates of the infamous Borgias towards the end of the 15th century.

I didn’t know much about the Borgias or indeed this period of Italian history before picking up this book, but I thoroughly enjoyed reading about the complex political and religious setting in which the family rise to become the most powerful in both the country and the Catholic world thanks to the appointment of Rodrigo Borgia as Pope.

The story is told through the perspectives of a wide range of characters, balancing the Borgias’ innermost thoughts and feelings with the events going on around them. There are lots of wonderful descriptions of Rome, too – both positive and negative. There’s a fair of sex and violence as you might expect from a book about the Borgias, but the novel is really about the characters and their ever more complex relationships.

Honourable mentions

  • The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon (Spain)
  • Wolf Winter by Cecilia Ekbäck (Sweden)
  • River of Ink by Paul M M Cooper (Sri Lanka)
  • The Leopard by Giuseppe Tomasi Di Lampedusa (Italy)
  • Wild Swans by Jung Chang (China)
  • The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova (various locations around Europe)
  • The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton (Netherlands)
  • A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini (Afghanistan)
  • Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (Colombia)
Quesadillas

Recipe: easy vegetarian quesadillas

One of my favourite “it’s the weekend!” meals to have on a Friday night is these incredibly simple yet delicious veggie quesadillas. You can fill them with whatever beans and cheese take your fancy, and all you need on the side is a salsa with a bit of a kick (and perhaps a margarita to wash them down with!).

I find that the trickiest part is turning over the quesadillas in the pan. This is mainly because I am a numpty and attempt to do it while they’re still whole, but you could always fill them, cook them on one side, slice them up into quarters and then turn them over. I’m just ridiculously impatient!

Easy vegetarian quesadillas

  • Servings: 2
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

Spicy, cheesy and oh so quick to make - what more could you want?


Calories per serving: 580

Ingredients

  • 1 tbsp sunflower, vegetable or olive oil + a little extra for frying
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 0.5 pepper (any colour), sliced
  • 1-2 garlic cloves, crushed or finely chopped
  • 1 green chilli, finely chopped (deseeded if you want to turn down the heat!)
  • 0.5 tsp red chilli powder, chipotle flakes or paprika
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 400g tinned beans (I like black beans or red kidney beans), drained and rinsed
  • 40g cheese of your choice (I like cheddar or manchego), grated
  • handful fresh coriander, chopped
  • 1 tbsp lime juice
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 4 tortilla wraps
  • salsa, to serve

Directions

  1. Heat the oil in a saucepan and cook the onions and sliced pepper until soft.
  2. Add the garlic and green chilli and cook for a few minutes longer.
  3. Add the rest of the spices and the beans, and cook over a low heat for 10 minutes.
  4. Stir in the cheese, then mash the whole lot with a potato masher or fork.
  5. Stir in the coriander and lime juice, and season to taste. Set the pan to one side.
  6. Soak some kitchen paper with a little oil and rub it over the base of a large frying pan. Heat the pan over a medium heat.
  7. Place one of the tortilla wraps in the pan and evenly spread half of the bean mixture over it. Place another wrap on top and cook for a few minutes, gently pressing the top tortilla down to keep it flat. Check the underside of the bottom tortilla – when dark brown patches start to form, carefully turn over the whole lot in the pan, so the top tortilla is now on the bottom (you can slice it up into quarters first and then turn them over if that’s easier).
  8. When the underside goes brown again, transfer to a plate. Repeat the process with the remaining tortillas and bean mixture.
  9. Slice the quesadillas into quarters (if you haven’t already) and enjoy with salsa.

Running shoes

Running is brilliant (even when you’re not very good at it)

I started running 4 years ago, not long after moving into my current home. I’d been meaning to give it a go ever since getting into exercise in general as part of a weight loss drive, but I only got round to it when I finally lived somewhere close to a park.

I began with the NHS’s excellent Couch to 5k programme, where you download a podcast a week and walk/run to the instructions and slightly odd original music 2-3 times a week for 10 weeks. It really eases you into things; the first few routines are definitely walking-heavy, but do a good job of getting you used to going faster.

Once I’d completed the 10 weeks, I realised that I actually wanted to carry on running, which I’d never really believed would happen! I’ve had a few injury-related setbacks along the way, but I managed to run my first race last year, the Great Manchester 10k, and am still running once or twice a week (only short runs, though, as I’m still not 100% fit).

Manchester 10k time
My Manchester 10k time – I was slow, but I finished despite being jetlagged!

Whenever I mention my injury history and the fact that I run at a snail’s pace these days, people must wonder why I still try to keep it up (goodness knows I wonder the same thing sometimes!). There are a few reasons, though…

It’s good for my health

As mentioned in a previous blog post, I’ve tried to lose weight in the past with the aim of being healthier. Running definitely helps with this – even though I go quite slowly it still raises my heart rate, helping to burn calories. I also always notice an improvement in muscle tone in my legs when I’ve been running regularly, which makes me feel well ‘ard.

Plus, there’s the post-run high that seems to clear my head and make me feel generally better overall!

It gives me a mental boost

There’s something incredibly empowering about the mere act of going for a run. It makes me feel like I’ve achieved something, whether I run 4k or 10k. I track my runs using Runkeeper and it was really gratifying to see my progress in terms of speed and distance in the first couple of years.

Runkeeper
Runkeeper

I’m not competitive at all (besides, I’m certainly the slowest out of all the runners I know), so I get my mental kicks from simply knowing that I’ve gone out and completed a run.

It’s cheap

Gyms can be incredibly expensive to attend. Running outdoors is practically free once you’ve bought some decent trainers and clothes you can run in, so it’s a no brainer when I’d rather spend the £30 or whatever it is a month to join a gym on make-up or a holiday instead.

It gets me out in the fresh air

It’s so nice to go for a run on a pleasant day and try to spot the local wildlife (mainly blackbirds, squirrels, robins and the odd fox) and identify the new plants that emerge along my running route every week.

Duck
A duck that once tried to race me (and won)

I know some people prefer treadmills, but I think it’d drive me bananas to stay in the same place indoors all the time! I particularly enjoy noticing the little signs of changing seasons while I’m out on a run – it does make me feel more at one with nature, for lack of a less hippy-ish term.

It’s a solitary activity

For me, at least! A lot of people love running with others – and I do enjoy the atmosphere of race days – but I hate the idea of people I know seeing me exercise, so I like that I can just head out on my own and get on with it.

I don’t listen to music when I run any more as I’m sick of my earphones falling out and need to listen out for approaching cyclists, so I generally let my thoughts wander where they want and sometimes end up with some new blog ideas! Although it’s more common that I just think of random things to add to the food shopping list or suddenly remember a weird dream I had the other night.

Those are the main reasons I run. If you’re thinking about taking it up, I would definitely recommend it. If I managed to do it despite having no previous running experience whatsoever and the top speed of a tortoise, you certainly can. Ease yourself in, get into the habit of doing it regularly, and you won’t look back!