Tofu Quesadilla

A quick and tasty Mexican-inspired recipe, ideal for lunch or a light supper.

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Ingredients:

1 Onion, finely diced

1 Garlic clove, crushed or finely diced

140g of firm Tofu, drained and chopped into small cubes

120g of Cheese, grated

Handful of Cherry or Baby Plum Tomatoes, finely sliced

1 tsp of Chipotle Chili Powder

1tsp of Ancho or Guajillo Chili Powder

4 small Tortillas

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Method:

In a bowl, mix the cubed tofu with the chili powder.

Pour a dash of oil in a small pan on a medium heat. Add the onions and garlic, fry gently for around 5 minutes or until onions turn translucent.

Add the tofu to the pan and mix thoroughly. Heat for 3-5 minutes until warm through. Remove the pan from the heat and add the tomatoes, mix well.

Heat a large frying pan on a low heat. Fold the tortillas in half or using the back of a knife press a line along the middle. When pan is warm, place one tortilla flat on the pan.

Sprinkle a layer of cheese over half the tortilla, when the cheese starts to melt, spread a layer of the spiced tofu, tomatoes and onion over the cheese.

Once the underside of the tortilla starts to crisp, fold in half and press down to seal, then remove from the pan. Repeat the process with the remaining tortillas and tofu.

Serve whole or cut in half.

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Review of ‘Temeraire’ by Naomi Novik

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Temeraire is set during the Napoleonic Wars, but in a slightly alternative history where dragons exist. The story begins just after Captain Will Laurence of the HMS Reliant has taken command of a French ship carrying a dragon egg. Soon after, the egg hatches and the dragon chooses Laurence to be his rider, a role he is at first reluctant to accept as being bound to a dragon means giving up his naval career, plans to marry his childhood sweetheart and his position in polite society as (despite their vital contribution to the war) dragon riders are largely shunned by the rest of society. However, a bond quickly develops between Laurence and the dragon he names Temeraire, and their relationship is at the heart of this story.

Once they have joined the British Aerial Corps, both Temeraire and Laurence feel like misfits as Temeraire discovers he is a rare breed but lacks the fire-breathing or acid-spitting abilities of the other dragons, while Laurence struggles with the informality of the Aerial Corps and the inclusion of female dragon riders. The dragons themselves are all wonderful characters, and the plight of one particularly loyal and brave dragon brought tears to my eyes.

This an engaging story, but there are some pacing issues as Laurence and Temeraire don’t see any combat until the last third of the story. Having said that, the aerial battles are thrilling and capture the danger and savagery of combat for the dragons and their crews.

I’m a bit apprehensive about committing to a nine-book-long series, yet I found Temeraire quick to read and a little twist at the end left me eager to find out what happens next. Have a lovely weekend. X

Preparing for Winter and a Halloween Fright (courtesy of the cat)

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October has been a month of misty mornings, silvery sunlight breaking through the clouds and stormy nights in our part of the country. Over the last few weeks we’ve been racing against the decreasing daylight and worsening weather to finish tidying the garden before winter.

My husband has extended one of the raised beds to give us more space to grow some of our own vegetables again next year. I’ve composted the courgette and pumpkin plants, and we’ve bought a second compost bin to keep up with the kitchen waste, grass cuttings and ash from the woodburning stove. I’ve also planted snowdrop, tulip and crocosmia bulbs in the flower bed, and hopefully some of them will surface. I was sad to pull up the last of the wildflowers as some of the marigolds were still flowering but it is deeply satisfying to see the freshly turned soil free from all the weeds that were growing between the flowers.

Nasturtiums have been creeping along the back fence but I don’t mind as that part of the garden has been sorely neglected while we’ve been trying to decide what to do with it – we’ve discussed everything from apple trees to a zen garden or a chicken coop (if local by-laws allow). There are currently three fir trees growing at the back and though I hate the thought of cutting down trees and losing the privacy they provide, they’re almost twenty foot tall and still growing, they block out a lot of light and their lower branches take up too much ground space.

There is nothing like a visit from parents or in-laws to prompt a frenzy of cleaning inside the house, and this weekend we had back-to-back visits from both sides of the family. My in-laws live quite a distance from us and we don’t get to see each other as often as any of us would like, yet it always makes our reunions joyful occasions and we spent a lovely day chatting, laughing and playing board games together. No sooner had we waved goodbye to one set of parents than the other side of the family arrived as we wanted to treat my mum to a birthday meal and she chose a vegan restaurant near us. Afterwards, we all returned to our house and spent a few cosy hours chatting and half-watching one of mum’s favourite films with hands wrapped around cups of coffee and the fire crackling in the background.

This weekend also brought the first frosts of the season to our part of the country and we were up before dawn yesterday defrosting the car as our cat Mara was lethargic and off her food, and given the year she’s had we didn’t want to take any chances so we rushed to the emergency vet. Mara was severely dehydrated after eating something she shouldn’t have the day before and spent most of Monday hooked up to an IV drip but thankfully she was discharged in the evening. Our naughty little snaffler gave us a fright, but we couldn’t have been happier or more relieved when she woke us up at ten to six this morning whining for breakfast as usual.

Wishing everyone a happy Halloween and lovely week!

Review of ‘Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage’ by Haruki Murakami

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I sometimes hesitate to recommend Haruki Murakami to other readers as his novels are often strange and surreal, and I often find it hard to describe what they’re about and even harder to explain why I enjoyed them.

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage is easily one of Murakami’s most accessible novels and probably the one I’d recommend to anyone who’d never read anything by him before. However, Murakami is not for everyone, there are awkward sex scenes, some strands of the plot are frustratingly unresolved by the end and there is still a slightly surreal element to this novel with actions that occur in Tsukuru’s dreams seeming to have consequences in reality.

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The story follows Tsukuru Tazaki who had four best friends at high school but was the only member of the group without a colour in his name leading him to view himself as colourless and empty; then one day Tsukuru was rejected by the group suddenly and without any explanation. For the next sixteen years, Tsukuru drifts through life unable to form deep or meaningful relationships with others until he meets Sara, his would-be girlfriend, who pushes him to find out why his friends ostracised him all those years ago, sensing that until he heals those wounds he’ll never be able to connect with anyone else. Tsukuru’s quest takes him from Tokyo back to his hometown of Nagoya and all the way to Finland in search of answers to the questions that have haunted him for so long.

This is a story about friendship and belonging, rejection, loneliness, death and rebirth that allows Murakami to explore the difference between how we see ourselves and how others perceive us, the choices that define us and the ripple effects they create. Bittersweet, slightly surreal and even humorous in places, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage is laced with a sense of regret about lost time and the ways things could have been, yet it very much ends with hope.

An Enchanted Weekend in Pitlochry

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One of the events I look forward to every October is our annual trip to the Enchanted Forest in Pitlochry. This was the sixth year that my husband and I visited, but the first year that schedules allowed us to visit the forest with a couple of good friends, and it was lovely to be able to share the experience together.

We have always been lucky with the weather, and although the path was a bit muddy in places, it was a mild and dry evening with a waning gibbous moon just visible above the tips of the tallest trees. The Enchanted Forest follows a path around Loch Dunmore in Faskally Woods using the bridge across the loch to create a figure of eight circuit. It is only a couple of kilometres long but there is always so much to see that we can easily spend an hour or so meandering through the forest savouring all the different sights and sounds of the show, and we always wander around more than once.

The theme changes every year, but the designers often draw their inspiration from nature; this year the show was called Oir An Uisge meaning Edge of the Water in Gaelic, and both weather and water were recurring motifs. I’m often guilty of viewing life through a lens and it’s especially challenging to remember to lower my camera and actually experience the Enchanted Forest because it’s all so wonderful and I want to capture it all.

We have stayed in a few different hotels and guest houses in and around Pitlochry over the years, but this year we returned to the Atholl Villa for a third time as the rooms are clean and comfortable, the staff are friendly and helpful, and it is conveniently located just a five minute walk from where the shuttle buses collect and drop off visitors to the Enchanted Forest. The following morning, we took a wander around Pitlochry itself, which is a pretty town full of boutiques, gift shops and cafes, and although I don’t really start getting excited about Christmas until after Guy Fawkes night, I can’t resist a quick look in the Christmas Emporium whenever we visit Pitlochry.

This was the first time we’d left our cat Mara alone overnight since moving into our new house, and she gave us a very warm welcome when we returned from our little adventure. It’s lovely to be cosy at home again after an enchanted weekend away with friends. Have a lovely week.

A very special anniversary… ❀

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Just a quick post to mark that it was two years ago today that we adopted our cat Mara from the SSPCA. As Mara is a rescue cat we don’t know when her birthday is or even how old she is but we like to celebrate the day we adopted her, and this is a very special anniversary as we weren’t sure that she would even still be here to celebrate it at all.

Back in January when our vet diagnosed the lump we’d found on her tail as a mast cell tumour, they had warned us that she might only have six to twelve months left. The vets amputated her tail to give her the best chance of survival, but the next six months were full of blood tests, ultrasound scans, x-rays and fine needle aspirates to ensure the cancer had not originated or spread elsewhere. It was a relief for all of us in July when the oncology department at the small animal hospital finally gave us the all clear, and we’re so grateful to all the vets who have helped us.

We all still miss that fluffy, tabby tail crooked like a question mark when she walked around, thrashing from side to side when she played or curling round our wrists when she was asleep, but nowhere near as much as we’d miss Mara if we hadn’t found the lump in time. Mara has been so brave and resilient throughout it all, she made a full recovery and adapted with no continence issues or loss of balance and mobility, and she is still every bit as affectionate, mischievous and curious as the day we adopted her.

Back then, we were newly-weds just back from our honeymoon, when we visited the rehoming centre to look for a potential new addition to our little family. I still remember seeing the tabby and white cat pressed up against the door of her enclosure and rearing up on her hind legs to let us stroke her when we went in to say hello. Bringing her home, we were almost as nervous as we were excited, as she was the first pet either my husband or I had had since leaving our family homes, and it seemed like such a big responsibility, yet Mara easily settled in with us, quickly becoming the centre of our world and the beating heart of our home. Now, two years later we are happy to have an excuse to spoil her a little more than usual today – even if she steadfastly refuses to let me take a photo of her wearing a party hat. Have a lovely week.

Review of ‘The Wolf Wilder’ by Katherine Rundell

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The cover of this book caught my eye in a bookshop a few months ago, but I held off reading it over the summer until the stormy weather in our part of the country last weekend gave me the perfect opportunity to settle down in front of the fire to read as the wind howled and the rain pattered against the windows.

The Wolf Wilder has something of a fairy tale quality and the story is beautifully illustrated throughout by Gelrev Ongbico. Set in Russia before the revolution, this is the tale of twelve-year-old Feo, who like her mother is a wolf-wilder, teaching wolves that were kept as pets by the aristocracy how to howl, hunt and live in the wilderness once their masters have bored of them. When her home is burned to the ground and her mother is arrested by the tyrannical and cruel General Rakov, Feo embarks on a quest to rescue her mother.

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At times, Feo is hard to relate to, she can be reckless and coarse, and she much prefers the company of her wolves (simply named White, Grey and Black) to people. Yet over the course of the story, Feo softens as she makes friends with members of her own kind who offer her food, shelter and help when she needs it most. There is almost a sense of reversal as the wolf-wilder girl is not exactly tamed by the end of the story but regains some of her own humanity along the way.

The Wolf Wilder is a story that doesn’t shy away from describing cruelty, injustice and death, but also one that reminds us that sometimes we have to be braver than we feel, that challenges can be overcome and bullies can be defeated. This is a thrilling adventure ideal for dark and stormy nights. Have a lovely weekend.