Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto

Kitchen_Banana Yoshimoto

Let me preface this review by saying that Kitchen is a book that shouldn’t be judged by the cover, as aside from the garish colours, the description and synopsis on the back cover are downright misleading. This slim book compromises of two standalone stories covering similar themes of grief and loss, Kitchen and Moonlight Shadow.

The first story, Kitchen, is narrated by a young woman, Mikage Sakurai, following the death of her grandmother โ€“ and last remaining blood relative. After her grandmother’s funeral, Yuichi Tanabe, a young man who knew her grandmother invites Mikage to live with him and his transgender parent, Eriko; feeling cast adrift and at something of a crossroads in her life, Mikage gratefully accepts.ย The title of the story refers to Mikage’s favourite room in the home, where she finds a sense of comfort and purpose preparing food for the people she cares about or even just cleaning and setting things in order in the midst of her own turmoil and upheaval.

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Kitchen explores the different ways that the three characters, Mikage, Yuichi and Eriko experience and react to grief. Rather than seeming macabre and depressing, Kitchen is an inspiring and thought-provoking reminder not to sleepwalk through life lost in our daily routines because our time is finite and every moment is precious. As the narrator wrestles with her own highs and lows, she also ponders if we can really appreciate joy and triumph without also experiencing sorrow and disappointment, and it is Mikage’s acceptance of her own loneliness and mortality that encourages her to consider new paths and possibilities.

Unfortunately, Moonlight Shadowย is a bittersweet story with similar themes but it just didn’t resonate with me the way that Kitchen did.

This is a short book and so easy to slip into, yet it is one I savoured and will likely re-read. Have a lovely week. X

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On the Cusp of Autumn

On the Cusp of Autumn

It’s still warm in the sunshine, but there’s a crisp coolness creeping into the mornings and evenings, and it feels like summer is waning and we are on the cusp of another autumn. The British have a reputation for being obsessed with the weather, but I love living somewhere with such distinct seasons and changeable weather, and noticing all the subtle signs of one season flowing into the next.

In our garden, the kale and chard seeds I sowed have sprouted and we’ve harvested the first squashes. I planted four varieties as an experiment, and so far the Spaghetti and Uchiki Kuri are doing better than the Hunter or Sweet Dumpling, but it’s fun to grow vegetables that aren’t always available in the shops.

We’ve tried to create a bee-friendly garden full of plants that flower at different times to provide food for the bees (and butterflies) all year round but our bumbling visitors have been slowing down lately, and we had to revive one exhausted bee we found on the garden path with a spoon dipped in honey. The surest sign that the temperatures have dropped and autumn has arrived occurred inside our home though when our cat Mara decided to burrow under the duvet for a snuggle to warm up her cold little ears and paws for the first time in a long time.

This week we’ve had the chimney swept and stacked logs in the porch in preparation for the colder weather ahead. During the heatwave this summer it was hard to remember it being cold enough to light the fire, but as the daylight gradually shortens and the weather cools, I’m looking forward to savouring all the beauty and cosiness of autumn inside and out. Have a lovely week! X

‘The Travelling Cat Chronicles’ by Hiro Arikawa

‘The Travelling Cat Chronicles’ by Hiro Arikawa

The Travelling Cat Chronicles is a Japanese novel that tells the tale of Satoru and a stray cat he rescues and names Nana. Satoru is kind, easy going and whimsical with a deep affinity for misfits and strays of both the human and feline variety, while Nana is proud and independent but the pair quickly become devoted to each other. A few years after adopting Nana, however, Satoru begins to contact old friends and relatives to ask if any of them could re-home his beloved cat.

The Travelling Cat Chronicles is as much about friendship and families as it is about cats, and each chapter focuses on one of Satoru’s closest friends and relatives, and through each chapter the reader learns more about Satoru and the lives he has touched. In a way, this story explores the regrets and hidden hurts that people often carry through life, and what happens when life seems to give us another chance to atone for our past mistakes and heal some of our old wounds.

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The Travelling Cat Chronicles is a bit predictable, and yet it is such a poignant story that I still enjoyed it and was moved by the ending. Have a lovely week. X

Late Summer in the Garden

Late Summer in the Garden

I noticed the first yellow leaves on the trees this week, and although the weather’s still warm, it feels like summer is starting to wane in our part of the country. In our garden most of the annuals have died back, giving us an excuse to tidy up the flower borders and rescue some of the perennials that I planted in the wrong places.

Learning from our successes and failures over this summer and last, we’ve decided we’ll only plant annuals and wildflowers in the bed under the hedge as they don’t seem to mind the combination of the greedy hedge and full sun that the perennials struggle with. In the bed closest to the house, we’ve replanted the Aquilegia along with a few new additions to create a narrow herbaceous border.

Missing the privacy that the fir trees that used to be there provided, and wanting a screen to obscure the eye-sore building behind our garden, we decided to create a border along the fence with plants too tall for our other flower beds. My husband planted clumping bamboo along the fence and I’ve been filling in the gaps with varieties of perennial Mallow, Cirsium Rivulare and a Beautyberry shrub โ€“ a plant that we first saw during our honeymoon in Japan โ€“ though ours is unlikely to produce any berries this year.

I love looking at before and after photos of our garden, seeing all the changes we’ve made since we’ve lived here, but our garden is still a work-in-progress and it may be a while until it resembles the picture I have in my imagination. Have a lovely week. X

Exploring Cowden Garden

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Tucked away in the grounds of Cowden Castle Estate in Clackmannanshire, the Japanese Garden was originally commissioned by Isabella ‘Ella’ Christie in 1908, and brought to fruition by the female Japanese garden designer, Taki Handa. The Japanese Garden was closed to the public in the 1960’s due to vandalism, however, a restoration project was undertaken by Ella Christie’s great, great niece, Sara Stewart, and the garden has recently been re-opened.

A path skirts around the pond in the centre of the garden, and the garden features traditional elements of Japanese gardens such as bridges, stone lanterns and a Shinto shrine, which makes an unusual contrast against the Scottish landscape. There were a few gardeners still hard at work on the day we visited – and it’ll be interesting to see how it’s changed the next time we visit – but it’s already a beautiful and tranquil place to explore.

You can read more about the history of Cowden Garden and the fascinating life of adventurer Ella Christie here. Have a lovely week! X

Growing Together

 

GrowingTogether

The heatwave appears to have come to an end in our part of the country, and we’ve emerged from the shade back into the garden. Over the last week, we’ve also enjoyed spending time with my parents in their gardens as well.

I often feel lucky that my husband and I have so much in common with my parents, and we’ve spent many happy hours over the years watching films together, sorting ourselves into our Hogwarts houses on Pottermore, and just chatting over mugs of tea, but whenever we’re together it doesn’t usually take long for the conversation to turn to the subject of gardening.

My parents – both introverts by nature – come to life when talking about gardening, always as eager to share their advice and show off their gardens as they are curious to hear about what we’re growing in our own. Unsurprisingly, I have my parents to thank for my love of nature and gardening, and one of my proudest achievements as a child was growing a fuschia from a tiny cutting, which has since grown into a bush measuring at least five foot tall and three feet wide, and now my dad has offered me another cutting from the very same plant for our own garden.

Gardening often brings out the most generous side of a person, and I never seem to part from my parents these days without one of them pressing a packet of seeds into my hand or loading my arms with whatever fruit or vegetables they’ve had an unexpected glut of.

Families today are often separated by geographical distance, conflicting work schedules and a hundred other distractions, and yet it is lovely that something as simple as our shared love of gardening seems to have brought my little family closer together. Have a lovely week. X

Sweet Potato and Chickpea Curry

Sweet Potato and Chickpea Curry

Torrential rain and howling winds prevented us from getting out into the garden or further afield this weekend, and I decided to share one of our favourite recipes as it’s been a long time since I shared the last one.

This is a lightly spiced, creamy curry, which is both vegan and gluten-free. We tend to cook this in bulk and freeze the extra portions for quick midweek meals, so you may need to reduce the suggested quantities.

Ingredients (Serves 8):

1 Red Chili Pepper finely diced
3 Garlic Cloves minced
Large nub of Ginger minced
100g of Fresh Coriander (Cilantro)
2 Large onions diced
3 Large Sweet Potatoes peeled and chopped into small cubes
2 400g tins of Chickpeas (drained)
2 400g tins of Chopped Tomatoes
2 400g tins of Coconut Milk
2 cups of frozen peas
200g of frozen spinach
3 tsp of Paprika
3 tsp of Cumin
3 tsp of Tumeric
3 tsp of Cinnamon
3 tsp of Dried Rosemary
3 tsp of Garam Masala

Method:

Heat a large casserole dish or pan on a medium heat, add two tablespoons of olive oil. When the oil is warm, add the onions, garlic and ginger and lightly cook for a few minutes or until the onions begin to turn translucent.

Add all the spices and rosemary, mix well and add a splash of water. Cover, stir occasionally to prevent from sticking and add more water if required until it resembles a thick paste.

After a few minutes, mix in sweet potato, cook and cover for three to five minutes.

Add the tomatoes and coconut milk, stir thoroughly until both have combined. Cover and allow to simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the chickpeas, peas, spinach and coriander. Stir well.

Cook uncovered for another 10 to 20 minutes until thickened.

Serve with boiled rice and papadums.