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book list 2010

Edinburgh has proven to be the perfect city to read in. Long, dark winter nights leave lots of time for cuddling up under a blanket with a good book and a cup of tea, while the long summer nights are perfect for grabbing a book and blanket and heading to a park to make the most of the gloriously long summer days you get this far north. Add to that a fabulous book club and a wonderful group of friends that are as enamored with reading as I am, and this past year has proved to hold some of the best stories I’ve had the pleasure of enjoying in a long time.

So, in chronolgical order, I give my book list for 2010:

The Elephanta Suite: Three Novellas, Paul Theroux
When We Were Romans, Matthew Kneale
English Passengers, Matthew Kneale
Gourmet Rhapsody, Muriel Barbery
Broken, Daniel Clay
Masterpiece, Elise Broach
A Time of Gifts: On Foot to Constantinople: From the Hook of Holland to the Middle Danube, Patrick Fermor
In the Time of the Butterflies, Julia Alvarez
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, Mary Ann Shaffer
The Careful Use of Compliments, Alexander McCall Smith
The River Why, David James Duncan
The Help, Kathryn Stockett
Home, Marilynne Robinson
Girl With a Pearl Earring, Tracy Chevalier
Gilead, Marilynne Robinson
The Island, Victoria Hislop
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Muriel Spark
The Lacuna, Barbara Kingsolver
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, J.K. Rowling
Wise Blood, Flannery O’Connor
Housekeeping, Marilynne Robinson
Middlesex, Jeffrey Eugenides

I love the way a good story can completely transport me to another time and place, and yet continue to reverberate in my own life long after I’ve finished reading it. Out of the 22 books I read this past year, the following are at the top of my list and books that I would hardily recommend to all.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, Mary Ann Shaffer

This book is a quick read, but a very sweet story that is written through a series of letters. It is set just after WWII and tells the story of the island of Guernsey (one of the islands off the coast of England). It is a very tender book, and a great vacation book or one to curl up with over a cup of tea.

The River Why, David James Duncan

David James Duncan has long been a favorite author and The River Why only reinforced my love of his writing. This story is based in the Pacific Northwest and reading it transported me back home and helped to ease some of the homesickness I was feeling shortly after we moved here. He also wrote The Brothers K which is another excellent book and either one would make a great addition to your book lists for 2011.

Home, Marilynne Robinson
Gilead, Marilynne Robinson
Housekeeping, Marilynne Robinson

Marilynne Robinson is an author I’ve heard about, but had never read anything by until this year when I read Home. This book holds some of the most beautiful prose I’ve ever read and a story that has stayed with me and continued to touch me months after my first reading. Because this book had such a profound impact on me I had to read Marilynne Robinson’s other two novels, Gilead and Housekeeping. These books are equally good and all three have already become dear favorites that I return to regularly simply to soak in more of the beauty of both the writing and the stories. Read them, you won’t be disappointed.

I’m now busy pulling together a list of must reads for 2011. So far my list includes: To Kill a Mockingbird (Lee Harper), Wuthering Heights (Emily Brontë), Sister of my Heart (Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni), The Sweet Life in Paris (David Lebovitz), Persuasion (Jane Austen), The Country Diaries: A Year in the British Countryside (Alan Taylor), and At Home: A Short History of Private Life (Bill Bryson).

My reading goal for 2011 is to read thirty books, so I’m happily accepting book suggestions. Any ideas would be most welcome!

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happy thanksgiving!

I love Thanksgiving, and today I have so many reasons to give thanks! J came home last night after a week-long trip away, this afternoon we will gather with friends to celebrate Thanksgiving (thanks to A we’re even having a turkey, which is a huge feat given our crazy ovens over here), and tonight we will head off the official tree lighting ceremony, followed by a beautiful concert at St. Giles and a walk through the Christmas markets that are opening today. It’s like Edinburgh is throwing a great celebration just for Thanksgiving! I’m so looking forward to it all, and continually thankful for the time we have to live abroad and enjoy many new friendships and experiences.

So, Happy Thanksgiving everyone! May your hearts and stomachs be full today!

 

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I admit it. I. Love. Christmas. And I honestly don’t see anything wrong with listening to Christmas music year round. Unfortunately, J disagrees so we’ve had to negotiate a listening schedule we can both abide by. That means no Christmas tunes before my birthday at the end of October. It used to be no Christmas tunes until after Thanksgiving, but as we keep moving to countries that don’t celebrate Thanksgiving for J’s schooling, I’ve managed to gain a little ground.

Anyway, in preparation for the upcoming Yuletide season I’ve had a lovely weekend filling our home with the delicious smells of Christmas and working on an Advent Calendar that I’d fully intended to make last year, and am determined to have finished in time for Advent this year!

One of my favorite hangouts in Edinburgh is a lovely cafe called Peter’s Yard. It is situated just off a gorgeous park, and come rain or shine the cafe always feels light and airy. I love it. On top of the perfect-for-me atmosphere, they also have the MOST incredible baked goods. My absolute favorite pastry is their cardamom bun. Truly delicious, and mildly addictive. Served alongside a steaming mug of Rooibos tea and a good book and that’s me sorted for the afternoon. I’ve been wanting to try my hand at making some cardamom buns for awhile now, and though they aren’t quite the same as the buns from Peter’s Yard, they are quite tasty, and a good substitute in a pinch.

Cardamom Buns

(adapted from Tessa Kiros’s recipe in Falling Cloudberries)

bun dough

  • 250 ml (1 cup) milk
  • 100 g (3 1/2 oz.) caster sugar
  • 2 packets active dry yeast
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 125 g (4 1/2 oz.) butter, softened
  • 1 1/2 tsp. ground cardamom
  • 1/2 tsp. allspice
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 470 g (4 1/4 cups) plain white flour

spiced butter

  • 2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. freshly crushed cardamom seeds
  • 50 g (1 3/4 oz.) caster sugar, plus 1 tbsp. for sprinkling on top of prepared buns
  • 80 g (2 3/4 oz.) butter, softened
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten

Put the milk and sugar in a bowl, stir to dissolve sugar. Add yeast, leave for 10 minutes, or until the yeast begins to activate. Add the egg, butter, cardamom, allspice and salt and mix in. Add the flour, bit by bit, mixing it in with a wooden spoon until you need to use your hands, and then turn it out onto the work surface to knead. It may seem a little too sticky initially, but will become compact and beautifully soft after about 5 minutes. Put the dough back in the bowl, cover with a clean cloth, and leave in a warm place until it has doubled in size (1 1/2 – 2 hours).

To make the spiced butter, mix together the cinnamon and sugar. Divide the butter into four  portions and keep on one side.

Put the dough on a floured work surface roll out to a rectangle measuring 20×16. Spread softened butter over the surface of the dough with a palette knife or blunt knife. Sprinkle with spice mix, covering the whole surface with quick shaking movements of your wrists. Lightly press dough to push spice mixture into the butter. Fold the bottom 1/3 of dough over itself. Next fold the top third down, so that the dough has been folded as you would fold a letter, only in a landscape, not portrait orientation. Then, using a pizza cutter or sharp knife, cut 1″ strips of the folded dough. Take each piece and tie into a knot, tucking the ends under.

Line two large baking trays with baking paper, or bake in two lots if you only have one tray.  Put the buns on the baking trays, leaving space for them to puff and rise while they bake. Brush lightly with beaten egg and sprinkle a little sugar, cinnamon and crushed cardamom over the top.

Leave the buns to rise for half an hour and preheat your oven to 180C (350F/Gas 4). Bake them for about 20 minutes, or until they are golden. Check that they are lightly golden underneath as well before you take them out of the oven. Serve hot, warm or at room temperature and, when they are cool, keep them in an airtight container so they don’t harden.

Makes about 20 buns.

Advent Calendar

This next project is one that I have been working on for far too long. I first saw it here, and have been dreaming about making one for our home ever since. Well, this year is the year, and this weekend I’ve been busy cutting all my squares for the pockets and lovely red felt numbers to mark the days. I’m so excited for the finished project and can’t wait to hang it up to use this year! What do you think, is mid-November too early to start decorating for Christmas? Here’s a pic of my progress so far, I promise to post another once I’ve got it finished. Now I just have to figure out what to fill the sweet pockets with…

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Well, it has been a ridiculously long week at work, so today is a day I plan to fill with all my favorite things… A hike through the country, a visit to the farmer’s market, a trip to check out a groovy grassroots venture here in Edinburgh, and an evening with new friends. Delightful. So what could make a wonderful day even more wonderful? Pancakes. And not just any pancakes, I’m talking about a little domestic art to start the day off right. I recently stumbled across this amazing blog (go check it out… this guy is INCREDIBLE!) and couldn’t wait to give it a try myself. I decided my first attempt at pancake art ought to reflect a bit of Scotland. Definitely room for improvement, but my mind is already spinning with new ideas for pancake creations!

Just in case you need interpretation… it’s a wee sheep, standing on a lovely field of homemade applesauce! 🙂

 

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It’s been a busy few months here in Edinburgh with plenty of great weekend trips, a new job and a month long visit from my dear parents (what a treat!). As a result of all the fun I’ve been too busy to get much crafting done. But, I do have a delicious cookie recipe to share with you that is easy to throw together and will make your home smell delightfully of fall as well as an adorable little sewing project and etsy shop recommendation, so read on!

Spicy Molasses Cookies

  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon all spice
  • pinch of salt
  • 3/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup molasses
  • 1 egg, room temperature
  • sugar for rolling

Directions

  • Preheat oven to 350F (175C)
  • Sift flour, baking soda, spice and salt in small bowl. Set aside.
  • In a large bowl, mix egg, brown sugar, oil and molasses until well combined. (Efficiency note: we don’t have a dishwasher in our wee flat, so whenever possible I try to minimize my dishes! For measuring the ingredients in this recipe, you can do it all with a 1/4 cup measuring cup. Start with the flour, then for the wet ingredients, first measure the brown sugar, then oil, and finally molasses. This way you won’t need to dirty any extra measuring cups and the oil will help the molasses slide right out. Easy-peasy.)
  • Blend the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients.
  • Using a 1″ ice cream scoop, scoop out dough balls and roll in the sugar and coat well. Place on parchment lined cookie sheets. Do not flatten.
  • Bake 7-8 minutes until the surfaces become wonderfully cracked and the edges look done.
  • Let cookies cool on cookie sheets for five minutes, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely. Once cool, store cookies in air tight container.

These cookies are wonderful on their own, but simply irresistible when served along side this tea. (A recent discovery from a friend here in Edinburgh… perfection in a cup!) I’m not sure if you can get this tea in the States, has anyone seen it? If not I may have to get into the import business when we move back in a few years….

Binky Bunny and other delights from mmmcraft!

Remember back when I made this cutie? The pattern was from a wonderful crafter that has created numerous patterns for some of the sweetest plush animals you could imagine. The following project is yet another great pattern from mmmcrafts that I just had to try. And I just love this little bunny! Isn’t it sweet with it’s wee blanket? A perfect sleepy time companion to snuggle with… You must check out her blog and etsy shop – so lovely!

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wanderlust

Since moving to Edinburgh, J and I have had a serious case of wanderlust. Until recently, getting acquainted with our new town proved sufficient means of curing my longing to travel, but the past few weeks I’ve been antsy and restless to get out and see a bit more of this beautiful country. And it is beautiful. We rented a car for the weekend and were off to Loch Lomond for a good dose of countryside, and a chance to explore our new land.

This sweet beast greeted us on a hike we took around Loch Ard where we were surrounded with all the sights and sounds of nature that I’ve so been longing for since we arrived here. We may live in a bustling city, but there’s nothing like a “whiff of nature” to restore the soul and put the heart at ease. While I may still long to take in new places and am not at all ready to put away my travel bags, this weekend away was perfection in itself.

The following is a poem written by a Scottish native that lived near Glasgow during the late 19th century. I hope to always be the sort of person who is in love with the songs of nature.

A Whiff of Nature

by Alexander Anderson

I stand alone on the hillside,
The scent of heather about;
I am so free of the city
That I leap and dance and shout.

The curlew and the lapwing,
They look for a moment at me,
Then they whoop and dive together,
For they understand my glee.

I can fancy I hear them singing
As I see them flying along —
“Here is a weary old fellow
Who is still in love with our song.

“Let us sing him our shrillest and wildest,
That it may sink in his heart,
And be with him again in the city
When he turns his face to depart.”

And over moss and moorland,
They swoop and wheel and sing,
Till the very ferns beside me
Begin to quiver and swing.

And ever, as if from dreamland,
The wind brings this echo along —
“Here is a weary old fellow,
Who is still in love with our song.”

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nap mat

Next weekend some of our dearest friends are coming to visit, and I can hardly wait! This is the first time I’ll be seeing their precious little girl in almost a year and I am so excited to see all the ways she has grown and get to know her little personality – what a treat! In anticipation of their visit, and the hope that more of our friends/family and their little ones will be heading our way in the next few years, I decided to figure out something that will work as a little bed for our wee guest(s). And so, the nap mat was born.

This cute little mat is based off a tutorial I found here (this is a great blog, BTW – I highly recommend checking it out). The original pattern has instructions for attaching a blanket and making one seam velcro to make removing the foam padding easier, but honestly I just couldn’t be bothered. It also had a tab/button closure, but as I wanted my mat to be reversible I didn’t want to attach buttons anywhere. So, I think instead I’ll make a little matching belt for it to keep it rolled up when not in use, I just haven’t gotten around to doing so yet. Now, without further ado, I give you the nap mat!

It’s a cold, cloudy and windy day here in Edinburgh. Looking at this little nap mat is making me sleepy! I may just have to make myself a pot of tea, curl up with my book, and if I end up getting a little nap of my own so be it!

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