Lentil Bolognese Recipe

Ingredients (serves 4):

1 Onion finely diced

1 large Carrot grated

1 stalk of Celery grated

1 Clove of Garlic crushed

1 Courgette quartered lengthwise and finely chopped

1 Red or Orange pepper finely chopped

1/2 cup of Red Lentils

400g of Tomato Passata

1 tsp of vegetable stock powder

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One of the first vegetarian meals I learned to cook, this is a nourishing and adaptable meal.

Method:

Pour a splash of olive oil in a medium sized pan, put on a medium heat. Once the oil is warm, add the onions and garlic. Cook for 3 to 5 minutes or until onions are translucent.

Add the grated carrot and celery, mix well and cook for 2-5 minutes or until softened.

Add the courgette and cook for 2 minutes, then add the pepper and cook for a further minute. Add 1 tsp of vegetable stock powder and mix well.

Pour in 1/2 cup of red lentils. Mix thoroughly to ensure the lentils are spread throughout and cook for one minute.

Add the tomato passata and up to 2 tablespoons of water. Simmer for 20 to 25 minutes or until sauce thickens and lentils start to break apart, stirring frequently.

Once cooked serve with pasta.

Review of ‘The Good, The Bad and The Furry’ by Tom Cox

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I had been vaguely aware of Tom Cox and his cats on twitter, but I only stumbled upon his books recently while looking for A Street Cat Named Bob by James Bowen (reviewed here)The Good, The Bad and The Furry follows roughly a year in the life of Tom Cox and his cats starting at the end of his nine year relationship with his wife and explaining the difficulty of reaching a custody arrangement for the couple’s six cats, his grief following one of his cat’s deaths, a new relationship and eventually a new kitten.

Tom vividly describes his relationships and family, his own beloved cats and other wildlife (including a toad living in his dad’s shoe) he meets along the way. There is considerable anthropomorphism throughout the book as Tom tries to convey his cats’ personalities and quirks, and the animals are every bit as memorable as the people.

I chuckled aloud at so many points during this book, and could relate to Tom’s descriptions of life with cats from the conversations he has with them (“It’s a carrot, you wouldn’t like it”) to his anxiety and sorrow when any of his cats are unwell. I was also moved by his realisation about just how much of his identity and history is tied up with his furry friends.

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It seems somewhat unfair to compare The Good, The Bad and The Furry to A Street Cat Named Bob as they are very different books, one written by a middle class journalist with four cats living in Norfolk and the other by a recovering addict in London who takes in a stray cat, yet they are both aimed at a similar demographic sitting side by side on the bookshop shelf. Both books are autobiographical, but differ in tone and content, yet both writers are equally devoted to their feline companions, and they share similar insights into the comforting sense of purpose and routine that caring for pets provides during all the ups and downs of life.

After a hectic week that included taking my cat to see an oncologist and my husband to A&E along with hosting family and friends at home, The Good, The Bad and The Furry was an easy to read and often amusing book I could dip into during the rare quiet moments I had to myself.

At Home with Mara-cat

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Our evenings and weekends lately have been spent at home as my husband and I tackle various projects around the house and garden, before changing out of our muddy, paint splattered clothes to play games on the rug with our cat Mara or snuggled up on the sofa with her stretched across our laps. Mara is recovering well from her recent operation, and is almost back to her scampering, chatty and cuddly self.

So many of our daily rituals revolve around Mara: our mornings invariably start with the sound of her plaintive mewing for breakfast, and our evenings end with her wishing us “goodnight” in her own way by nuzzling her face against each of ours in turn before she settles down to sleep by my ankles. Mara is almost always there waiting behind the front door to welcome us home when we’ve been out, and she often follows us around the house like a little shadow as we go about our routines and chores.

I’ll never forget the day we brought Mara home from the rescue centre: When we released her from the cat carrier into our bedroom, after a quick exploration of the room, she jumped up on our bed and began affectionately butting heads with us. Mara was timid and unsure, but seemed overjoyed to be out of the cattery and eager to bond with us. Since then, our home has very much become her home with all her countless toys, dens and miscellanea scattered everywhere, and scratch marks on the upholstery to prove it. Many of our friends (even those with pets of their own) think we spoil Mara, but from the moment we adopted her, she has given us so much love, affection and companionship that it always seems like a fair trade.

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Hanging in pride of place on our living room wall is a framed picture of the three of us drawn by web-comic artist Li Chen. My husband commissioned it shortly after we adopted Mara and it was our Christmas present to each other that year. To us, it represents that no matter what happens or where we go, Mara will always be part of our little family and home.

We often lament that we have no photos of Mara as a kitten, though we imagine she must have been very cute given how kittenish some of her mannerisms still are. We knew so little about her when we adopted her, only that she had to be rehomed because her previous owner died, and even her age is estimated.

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Mara has had such a lot of upheaval over the last couple of years from losing her previous owner and everything familiar to being adopted by us, moving house with us at the end of last year and most recently having her tail amputated after we found a malignant tumour near the base of it. Yet throughout everything, Mara has shown such bravery and resilience, and given us her unwavering trust and unconditional love. Whatever the future holds for us all, I’ll always be grateful for Mara, and I’ll cherish every moment we’ve spent together. Have a lovely week.

Spicy Carrot and Lentil Soup

Ingredients (serves 2-4):

1 medium Onion finely diced

1 medium sized Sweet Potato grated

2 medium Carrots grated

1 stalk of Celery grated or finely diced

1 clove of Garlic crushed

1cm cube of Fresh Root Ginger diced

2/3 cup of Red Lentils

2 tsp of Cumin

1 tsp of Turmeric

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A simple to cook fresh and slightly spiced soup.

Method:

Heat oil in a medium sized pan on a medium heat. Once the oil is warm, add the onion, garlic and ginger to the pan. Cook for 3 t0 5 minutes or until the onions turn translucent.

Add a pinch of salt, cracked black pepper, turmeric and cumin, stirring well for 30 seconds.

Add the grated carrot, sweet potato and celery to the pan, mix well and cook for one or two minutes until the the carrot and sweet potato have slightly softened.

Add the red lentils and stir thoroughly.

Add about one and a half pints of boiling water to the pan, mix in. Bring to the boil and reduce to a simmer. Simmer for 25 to 35 minutes or until lentils have cooked. Add more water if it appears too thick.

Blend with a handheld blender or in a food processor for a smoother soup.

Our purr-fect patient

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Mara before the operation

A little while ago, my husband found a lump about 3mm wide and 8mm long near the base of our cat Mara’s tail. Our vet took samples but didn’t seem particularly concerned. About a week later, the vet called us to advise that the lump was a malignant tumour and they recommended operating to remove it, because this type of tumour was particularly invasive and reactive; they also apologised that they hadn’t recognised it at first as they never see tumours at such an early stage. We were warned that the location of the lump meant tail amputation might be necessary. It came as a shock because in every other respect Mara seemed perfectly healthy; eating, playing, grooming and cuddling as normal.

It was painfully reminiscent of when my family’s cat Peach died of cancer. It was me who took Peach to the vet when he stopped eating, became lethargic and breathless, and I also brought his body home after the vet called to tell me Peach had died in his arms.

My husband and I took the day of Mara’s operation off work. Signing the consent form warning us that some animals don’t wake up from the general anaesthetic and about the risks of unexpected complications during surgery made leaving Mara there difficult. We spent most of the day driving, as there were too many reminders of Mara at home and it was too quiet there without her. We tried to distract each other but couldn’t stop ourselves from anxiously checking our phones every few moments. My husband answered the vet’s call, they had unfortunately had to amputate Mara’s tail as they found a second smaller lump next to the first, but she had woken up from the anaesthetic and we were able to have her home that evening. We both shed tears of relief and sorrow.

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Mara slept on me every night for a week after the operation

Our world shrunk as we wrapped ourselves around Mara to make sure she was as comfortable and pain-free as possible in the days after her operation. Mara has been a purr-fect patient, she’s a very special little lady, and she was soon back to affectionately butting heads with us (albeit awkwardly because of the cone she has to wear to stop her from licking her wound), squeaking for her food that she gobbled up despite the medication hidden in it, and sleeping stretched out on my torso every night after the operation.

It’s hard to explain to those who don’t have pets just how much love and joy they bring to a home, but also how much we worry when our animal companions are injured or unwell. Many of us consider our pets to be members of the family, and often it is the daily routines of feeding, petting, playing with them or even washing their bowls and litter trays that ground us in the here and now when other personal and global events seem overwhelming.

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Enjoying some cuddles with the cone off

We’ve been touched by the messages and calls from well-wishing family and friends, and we’re so thankful to our vets who acted quickly and decisively to give Mara the best chance of survival, and for all their advice and after-care. There are unfortunately more procedures and tests on the horizon for Mara, but for now we are just relieved and grateful to have her recovering at home with us.

Smashed Avocado on Toast with Poached Egg, Tomato and Spinach

Ingredients (serves 2):

2 large avocados

1 tsp diced chilli

2 fresh eggs

12 cherry tomatoes

1 large handful of fresh spinach

Squeeze of lemon juice

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This recipe was inspired by a brunch I ate in the West Village of NYC on holiday, it’s a simple and tasty alternative to a “fry-up” or cooked breakfast.

Method:

Put a small pan of water on to boil with a pinch of salt and a splash of vinegar.

Cut the cherry tomatoes in half and place in an grill proof dish. Season tomatoes with salt and pepper. Put cherry tomatoes under the grill on a medium high heat.

Scoop out the avocados, remove the stone and cut the avocados into cubes. Put into a bowl, season with salt, cracked black pepper, lemon juice and diced chilli. Mix with a fork until slightly mashed but still chunky.

Shred the spinach. 

Once the water in the pan begins to simmer, crack one egg into the water from a low height. Add the second around 30 seconds later.

Remove the tomatoes from the grill when they are softened but not charred and set aside.

Toast the bread until lightly browned.

After about 1 minute, remove the eggs from the simmering water. The egg should feel firm but with a slightly soft yolk.

To serve, spread the smashed avocado on toast and place one poached egg on top or to the side, then place the grilled tomatoes on a bed of fresh, shredded spinach to the side.

Review of ‘Big Magic’ by Elizabeth Gilbert

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By the time February arrives, my sense of winter wonder has usually waned and all the optimism and enthusiasm I felt about the new year has faded as I hit the winter doldrums, which makes it seem like the ideal time to read a book about overcoming blocks and kick-starting creativity.

Big Magic is not a how-to-write book, instead Elizabeth Gilbert takes a more holistic view of creativity that stretches from writing to ice-skating and everything in between. Autobiographical in places, Elizabeth is passionate about creativity and eager to share her knowledge and experience to inspire others.

I could relate to many of the anxieties and blocks that inhibit creativity covered in this book, some of which were the same reasons I delayed starting my blog for so long after conceiving the idea in January last year. Big Magic is full of advice and encouragement on how to overcome the self-doubt and fears in your mind, as well as the disparaging voices of everyone else who tries to dissuade you from living creatively.

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I really admire Elizabeth’s dedication to writing and her gritty determination to keep writing no matter what, both as a relatively unknown novelist before the success of Eat Pray Love and afterwards when the weight of public expectation was at its greatest. Elizabeth believes it’s a privilege to be able to earn a living from her creativity, yet it’s clear that she’s not doing it for the money or fame but simply because she loves to write.

Like many before her, she asserts that practice and habit are more faithful companions to creativity than inspiration. She debunks the myth of the tortured, struggling artist as dangerous, and I found her belief that ideas are alive in the air and searching for people to bring them to fruition delightful.

Big Magic is a humorous, honest and inspiring book that I’d recommend to anyone who would like to overcome the blocks holding them back and embrace their creativity, and it’s a book that I’ll reread at times when I need to reignite my own creativity.