The Masked City by Genevieve Cogman

I haven’t had much time to read or blog over the last few months as real life events (including caring for a family member and adjusting to a new role at work) have taken up most of my time and attention, but I’ve missed reading and I’ve always found something incredibly comforting about slipping into a story whenever real life feels overwhelming.

One of the best books I read last year was The Invisible Library (reviewed here), and the sequel picks up just a few months after the events in the first book as the resourceful and self-deprecating librarian, Irene, is caught up once again in the eternal battle between chaos and order when her assistant Kai is kidnapped. In The Masked City Irene races to rescue Kai and prevent a war between the fae and dragons that could destroy countless innocent worlds caught between them.

I really love the locations in these stories, and while the first book was set in a Victorian London with werewolves and other supernatural elements, the sequel mostly takes place in renaissance Venice. I also really appreciated the reversal of the damsel saving the prince for a change, but I missed the interplay between the characters who were separated for most of the story, and the villains just weren’t quite as dynamic or threatening as Alberich.

Although I didn’t enjoy this quite as much as the first book, these stories are so easy to read with a perfect blend of humour, action and suspense that I’m eager to see how the series develops. Have a lovely week! X

Advertisements

Gluten-Free Broccoli Quiche

Broccoli Quiche slice

Ingredients:

200g gluten-free plain flour
1 tsp of xantham gum
100g of butter
6 eggs
300ml of whole/full-fat milk
1 small broccoli (approx 100g) chopped into small florets
1 small leek, finely diced
1 medium onion, finely diced
150g of grated cheese (we use 75g of medium cheddar and 75g of hard goat’s cheese)

Broccoli Quiche

Method:

Add gluten-free flour and xantham gum to a bowl, then rub in the butter until it resembles the consistency of breadcrumbs.

Add up to 3 tablespoons of cold water and splash of olive oil to the pastry and combine until it starts to resemble a firm, moist dough, then set aside.

Heat a splash of oil in a medium sized frying pan, then add the onion and leek and cook for 3 minutes or until they start to turn translucent.

Mix in the broccoli florets to the frying pan and cook for a further 3-5 minutes or until it starts to soften. Remove from the heat and set aside.

In another bowl or jug combine the eggs and milk, season with salt and pepper and whisk until thoroughly combined.

Put the pastry between two sheets of grease-proof paper and roll out flat until it is the size of an oven-proof pie or quiche dish. It should be no more than 1/2 centimeter thick. For best results, transfer it to the pie dish and blind bake the pastry, then remove from the oven.

Add half the vegetables into the pastry, sprinkle with half the cheese, add the remaining vegetables and then pour in the mixed eggs and milk. Gently shake the pie dish to allow the liquid to cover all the other ingredients and seep between the gaps. Sprinkle the remaining cheese on the top.

Cook the quiche in the oven for 20-25 minutes at 200 degrees or until a skewer or knife can be inserted into the quiche and comes out clean. This will rise in the oven like a souffle but will sink down once it has been removed from the heat.

Allow the quiche to cool completely before cutting into it, but it can be eaten hot or cold.

Have a lovely week! X

The Jewel Garden by Monty & Sarah Don

TheJewelGarden

March is an unpredictable and changeable month in our part of the world, today we’ve had snow, sunshine and hail stones, and it’ll be a while yet until we can risk sowing any seeds in the garden, but a good friend and fellow urban gardener gave me a copy of this to read to tide me over.

Perhaps because I’ve only relatively recently fallen in love with gardening, I didn’t really know much about Monty (or Montagu as he prefers) Don, and found this to be a fascinating insight into his life. The Jewel Garden¬†initially follows a fairly typical rags-to-riches trajectory as Monty and Sarah describe being newly married and desperately poor when they decide to start a jewellery making business together in 1981; coinciding with the glamour and extravagance of the 1980s, their jewellery became an international success. Yet by 1989, their good fortune seemed to have run out as the business was struggling, they were on the verge of bankruptcy, Sarah had a slipped disc and Monty was sinking into a depression.

TheJewelGarden2

Monty writes openly and honestly about this period in their life, the apathy and lethargy, fatigue and restlessness, and the overwhelming sense of hopelessness he felt. Although Monty recognises the role that anti-depressants and a course of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy played in his recovery, he also extols the virtues of gardening which combines fresh air and natural light with gentle exercise, a sense of purpose and productivity.

The second half of the book focuses on the design and cultivation of the gardens at their current home, Longmeadow, including the stunning Jewel Garden, which was a reminder of their past but also symbolized rebirth and change. Their writing beautifully captures all the excitement of creating a border or garden from scratch, and all the creativity and experimentation that goes on behind the scenes. My only real criticism is that the gardens are vividly described but I’d have liked to see more photos, and at times it read like a list of every flower and plant in their garden.

I found The Jewel Garden to be an inspiring, moving and thoroughly entertaining read that left me itching to get back out into my own little garden. Have a lovely week! X

Early Signs of Spring

Early Signs of Spring

The shortest month of the year felt like the longest for us, and it was a relief to turn the page of the calendar and welcome both a new month and a new season. Over the last few days, I’ve enjoyed noticing all the little signs – from the first daffodil about to unfurl in our garden to the light creeping back into our mornings and evenings – that spring is on the way.

The end of February was unseasonably warm across the UK – such a contrast from this time last year when our garden was under a foot of snow, but for the most part we’ve had frosty mornings, sunny afternoons and cooler evenings in our part of the country. It’s been warm enough to resume my lunchtime walks in the park near my office, where I spotted catkins dangling from the trees like party decorations, and in our front garden the little Kilmarnock willow has also started producing furry catkins.

There still isn’t much growing in our garden yet, but we’ve started off a few things inside. In a fit of nostalgia, my spouse and I decided to grow something that reminded of us of our childhoods. My husband often reminisces about growing potatoes with his stepdad on their allotment, and there are now potatoes chitting on one of the windowsills. We’ve also started off some sweat peas, which remind me of happy hours spent playing in my grandparents’ garden. I let my husband pick whichever colours he liked, but insisted he stick to scented varieties.

When life feels overwhelming, there is something incredibly steadying about nature and the familiar cycle of the seasons; again and again, nature somehow finds a way to endure the harshest winters, scorching summers, and everything in between. Have a lovely week. X

The Giant Lanterns of China

One of my highlights of 2018 was visiting the Giant Lanterns of China at Edinburgh Zoo for Chinese New Year, and I was thrilled when I found out they were putting on another show this year. This time around the theme was Myths and Legends, and I loved the clash of Scottish and Chinese mythology, like the Loch Ness Monster tangling with a Chinese water dragon.

Nessie and Dragon

There were a few lanterns recycled from the previous event but I was impressed by how much thought and effort had been made to ensure it was every bit as original and memorable as the first, and I thought it was even better than the previous year.

Aside from all the fantastical creatures, there was also a section displaying extinct animals alongside currently endangered species, providing a pertinent reminder that we must act now to prevent species from disappearing in our lifetime due to climate change, hunting and loss of habitat.

Living in Scotland, we’re no strangers to inclement weather, but when it started snowing, it only made the experience seem more magical as we meandered between the gorgeous lanterns with cold hands wrapped around hot drinks, and it was a wonderful way to spend a wintry evening in February. Have a lovely week! X

The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch

TheLiesofLockeLamora

The first book in The Gentleman Bastards series follows Locke Lamora an orphan who grows into a criminal mastermind addicted to the thrill of pulling elaborate cons on the nobility. However, the delicate accord that exists between the nobles, law enforcement and criminal factions in the city of Camorr is torn apart when the mysterious Grey King arrives, and Locke and his crew find themselves caught in the middle of the murderous, political machinations of much powerful players.

The Lies of Locke Lamora is as much a story about found families as it is a fantasy heist, with each member of the Gentleman Bastards bringing unique skills to their operations, and the friendship between Locke and Jean (the brains and brawn of the crew respectively) is the emotional keystone of the story.

TheLiesofLockeLamora2

I often talk about books being easy or quick to read because many of us lead busy lives and it can be hard to find the time to read, and I tend to have a 100 page rule that if I’m not invested in a story by that point then I give up and move on to something else, but it took me about 200 pages to really get into The Lies of Locke Lamora. There are definite pacing issues, with a lot of verbose descriptions of Camorr and setting up all the rival political and criminal factions before the action begins, yet the endearing characters, witty dialogue, clever foreshadowing and the combination of heart-pounding, nail-biting suspense and thrilling, unexpected twists more than made up for the slow start, and as soon as I finished this I bought the next two books in the series. Have a lovely week! X

Winter Gardening Indoors & Out

Unlike many people, I don’t dislike January, it’s a peaceful month to recover from the excesses of the festive period and ease into a new year. Unfortunately, I don’t feel quite as charitable about February, which I find frigid and inhospitable while I’m impatiently waiting for spring to begin.

snowdrop

I dug up the Iris Reticulata and Snowdrop bulbs last year with the intention of relocating them but then didn’t get around to it, which will make winter feel even longer as we might not see many flowers until April when the tulips appear. I must have missed one of the snowdrops though, and it was a pleasant surprise to spot the little flash of white in the border.

buddha and bamboo

At this time of year, I’m desperately grateful for the greenery that the bamboo (Fargesia Robusta) provides while the trees are still bare, and it looks lovely edged with white when it snows. We’ve also treated ourselves to a little Buddha statue with vouchers the in-laws gave us for Christmas to add a little Zen to the border.

I’ve been enjoying watching the birds that visit our feeding station over the winter. We seem to have a multi-generational family of sparrows living in our hedge and a pair of blue tits that nest by the side of the house every year, as well as the odd robin and black bird that visit.

Inside our home, we’ve been enjoying the warmth and coziness of our woodburner most evenings, and I’ve been tending our little houseplant collection, which I’m often guilty of neglecting during the warmer months when most of my time and attention is focused on the garden. I was very excited to notice that two of the Echeveria seem to be growing flowering stems, especially as their once red and pink edges have faded to the leaftips. Have a lovely week! X