Sunday, 15 January 2017

Books: The Hits and Misses of 2016

Anyone who knows me well, will know that I always have at least one book on the go at any one time. In 2016, I set myself a Reading Challenge of 24 books, which I actually surpassed. I also started listening to Audio books this year - a great way to spend my hour commute.



Fiction Hits
I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes: this seems to be a bit of a Marmite book, but I loved this action packed thriller which no doubt will also make a fantastic film.

The Bees by Laline Paull: set in a beehive, this book about a bee who breaks out of her allocated role is brilliant.

The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters: a wonderful ghost story.

The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma: (2015 Man Booker shortlist): the story of four brothers and how they are affected by a curse after fishing in a forbidden river.

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman: a heart-warming story about a grumpy old man and his neighbourhood which has you laughing one minute and crying the next.

Us by David Nicholls: a couple on the verge of break-up who take their son on a European Grand Tour the summer before he starts uni. I read it in the summer before Albert went to uni so was quite poignant for me.

This Book Will Save Your Life by A.M. Homes: a very witty book about a man whose life suddenly changes one day due to a medical emergency and the resulting impact it has on his life.

At the Edge of the Orchard by Tracy Chevalier: I love Tracy Chevalier's writing - this is about a dysfunctional family trying to grow apples in the swamps of America.

Fiction Misses
Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee: This sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird just didn't do it for me. Disappointing.

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante: The first in a trilogy that I thought I was going to love but actually hated.

Satin Island by Tom McCarthy: (2015 Man Booker shortlist) - it was so bad that I can't even remember what it was about. I just remember thinking it was pretentious.

J by Howard Jacobson: (2015 Man Booker shortlist) - I didn't hate this, but struggled to read it. I usually like dystopian novels but not this one.

A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James: (2015 Man Booker Prize Winner) - I tried reading it but resorted to the audiobook but it just didn't do it for me. There were far too many voices and it was just too bloody long!

Fiction: The Rest
The Tea Planter's Wife by Dinah Jefferies: This was a gift and not something I would usually read, but I did really enjoy it.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr: I enjoyed this book which is about a blind girl hiding a gem in St Malo in WWII, but thought it could have been so much shorter.

The Hand That First Held Mine by Maggie O'Farrell: I wanted to read this because someone told me it would make me cry. It didn't. Perhaps I read too much, but I found it a bit predictable.

Stone Mattress: Nine Tales by Margaret Atwood: I'm not usually a fan of short stories but the majority of these were great and all a little macabre.

Number 9 Dream by David Mitchell: It was a little difficult to separate the fantasy from the reality in Eiji's narration, but this is a great story.

Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey: About a lady with dementia who is convinced her friend is missing but uncovers the truth about her sister.

The Last Runaway by Tracy Chevalier: This is a great book for quilters!

Etta and Otto and Russell and James by Emma Hooper: Etta journeys on foot from her home to the sea and her and Otto's love story enfolds.

The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood: In a similar vein to Oryx and Crake, another dystopian novel from Atwood. Not quite up to her usual standard.

Our Man in Havana by Graham Greene: This felt very dated - not Graham Greene at his best.

Harvest by Jim Crace: An interesting tale about a new family that settle in the neighbourhood and how this becomes a catalyst for a whole heap of trouble.

A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler: (2015 Man Booker Shortlist) a good story, but again, Anne Tyler has written better.

The Driver's Seat by Muriel Spark: A disturbing little tale about Lise, an office worker who is taking a holiday but turns into something much more sinister.

Non-Fiction
Complications: A Surgeon's Notes on an Imperfect Science by Atul Gawande: I love a good medical book - absolutely fascinating.

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed: I watched the brilliant film with Reese Witherspoon before reading this. It was a joy to read of her hike across the Pacific Crest Trail.

So, what were your reading highlights from last year?

Love Mrs Jones x





Sunday, 11 December 2016

Christmas: Yule Log

Most years, for my son Fred's birthday I make a Yule Log with various accoutrements such as chocolate leaves or meringue mushrooms. This year, I strayed from my reliable but essentially very time consuming Nigella Buche de Noel recipe in favour of the Queen of Baking, Mary Berry.


The basic Swiss roll recipe is much easier than Nigella's and I opted for just a whipped cream filling because even though I love chocolate, even I find it a bit too much! The chocolate and cream icing was beautifully glossy but the Recipe makes far too much. My husband said it would well as a profiterole topping too!




Love Mrs Jones X

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Sewn: Map Cushions


Two years ago, at the Stitching, Sewing and Hobbycrafts Show in Exeter, I bought a metre of this fabulous map fabric, which has been languishing in my sewing room for too long. I have spent some time trying to add in some colour to our very neutral lounge (I'm going with muted blues), and then I decided that it was time to use the fabric to sew up some cushions.


I sewed a very basic button up cushion - no time for piping or anything else fancy. The buttons came from my stash. It is so easy to sew buttonholes on my basic Singer sewing machine. You just pop the button into the buttonhole foot for sizing and follow steps 1-4 on the machine.


As I only have a metre of the fabric, I didn't have any spare to waste trying to match it up at the back.


I have just enough fabric for one more cushion!

Love Mrs Jones x

PS. My awesome leather Moose came from Reiners, Canada - I wrote about that here.

Saturday, 29 October 2016

Life: October 2016

I am loving the fact that we are now truly in Autumn, and am enjoying going on some local walks to embrace the change of season.



These were taken on a walk at Langford Heathfield, one of my favourite local walks. There is always something to surprise you - on this last walk I saw a woodpecker and these toadstools.

We have also been trying to make use of our fire pit in the garden, and attempted to make s'mores. We couldn't get the chocolate to melt, but someone on Instagram suggested using chocolate digestives instead of a biscuit and a square of chocolate, so that's a great tip for the future.


I am really cracking on with this retro boys quilt, which is a Christmas gift. I went for a nine-patch block,  the first time I have done this. All the blocks are now made, it is just a case now of sewing them together and quilting.

What are you up to this month?

Love,
Mrs Jones x



Saturday, 15 October 2016

Bake: Quick Pesto Palmiers

In my house, food waste is a sin, so I am always looking for new ways to use up leftovers. I buy ready made puff pastry if I am making a pie, and there is always some left over. I found this recipe for Pesto Palmiers as an alternative to the cheese straws that I usually make.

There are no measurements to my ingredients as you can adapt to what you have handy.


Ingredients
Puff Pastry (ready rolled is easiest)
Pesto
Parmesan

Method
1. Roll or cut out a long rectangle of puff pastry.

2. With the back of a spoon, spread a layer of pesto over the pastry.

3. Start rolling from opposite sides until they meet in the middle.

4. Refrigerate for about 20 minutes to firm up before slicing into pieces of about 1cm thickness.

5. Lay them on a greased baking tray and cook for 10-15 minutes at 200C.

6. While still warm, grate over a little Parmesan.

So quick, and so delicious!

Love
Mrs Jones x

Thursday, 6 October 2016

Travel: Bruges 2016

In the Spring, I took a trip to Bruges, Belgium with my younger sister, Amy and my Mum. We had an amazing time in this beautiful city: eating, drinking, shopping and sight seeing.




Eating and Drinking
 

Everywhere you look in Bruges, there are chocolates and waffles for sale. The waffles at Go.fre (above left) were amazing and covered in almost every conceivable topping imaginable! The best meal we had was at Sale e Pepe, which is a small Sicilian restaurant just off the centre of Bruges. The food was fresh and delicious and the service and atmosphere absolutely spot on. 

Amy and me (right), Sale e Pepe

We also ate more traditional Flemish food at  't Huidevettershuis which was a in a very picturesque spot by the waterway, but was unfortunately having an external makeover whilst we were there. We bypassed the famous Belgian beer in favour of wine (may have had a few too many wines in the photo above actually)!

Sight-Seeing

Climbing Belfort (below top left), the 83 metre tall tower at the edge of Markt is a feat not for the faint-hearted. There are a staggering 366 steps spiralling up to the top of the tower which affords amazing views of Bruges, and of the numerous bells which ring out their tune to square below. For obvious reasons, there are restrictions on the number of visitors allowed in at any one time so you will almost certainly have to wait. 


A tour of Bruges by boat is an excellent way to spend half an hour and to orient yourself, and these boats leave regularly from a number of places around the city. You have to be quick with your camera though as they are certainly speedy.

Some of the best times we had were just wandering the cobbled streets. 

Shopping

One of the benefits of a girls weekend away is the shopping (which I very rarely get to indulge in on a family holiday, without someone looking at their watch). At every corner, there is something to tempt. I loved Dille & Kamille, which is a small Dutch home chain, Hema (another Dutch chain) - a kind of amalgam of Ikea and Homesense, as well as numerous other independent shops. My purchases were restrained by the fact that we were hand luggage only, and I bought a lace snowflake, some sweet postcards, a couple of cat magnets, some stationery including a notebook with a calculator on the front cover (!), some waffles for the boys, a Tintin mug, some tiny handmade pottery olive bowls and a T-shirt for my husband.



Accommodation
We stayed in the Triple Junior Suite at the Jan Brito Hotel which was only a short walk from the centre. The room was very comfortable and the breakfast was wonderful - a buffet of cooked and continental.

Love Mrs Jones x


Sunday, 2 October 2016

Patchwork: Finished - Albert's Uni Quilt



My eldest son, Albert, went to university two weeks ago and this quilt was supposed to have been finished for him to take it with him. Unfortunately. as I work full time, my time for sewing is pretty limited and so it was inevitably not ready for him to take it with him. 


I let him choose the fabric (I pre-selected some fat quarter bundles on Pinterest), and he plumped for Angela Walter's Park Fragmental  I actually bought the fat quarter bundle from an American seller on ebay, and it comes with an amazing feature panel.

Mid quilting 
The fabric has a lovely modern Deco feel to it and comes in two other colourways (pink and yellow). I had such limited time to make this in that I kept the design very simple, with some white squares between the quilting fabric. 





It is really tricky to get a shot of the whole quilt without an able assistant! I played around with the placement of the feature panel. I originally thought I would place it centrally, but am much happier with it off-centre.


Again, due to time constraints, and the fact that quilting is not my or my machine's forte, I kept it very simple with stitch in the ditch in columns. It was great to spend the last few nights hand finishing the binding with the quilt to keep me warm!

This will be winging it's way up to Birmingham next week so he shall be nice and warm before the cold weather kicks in.

What have you been making recently?

Love Mrs Jones x