Sunday, 29 November 2009


It's not surprising that we saw a lot of birds while we were enjoying our summer holiday in the Outer Hebrides. Of course the puffins were the stars, but sadly not all birds are quiet so distinctive, so there were several we couldn't identify.

This fabulous bird of prey was sitting on a rock just by the side of the road, just feet from the car. He let me take quite a few photos before he decided to fly off:

Buzzard on rockBuzzard in flight

We think he might be a buzzard, but we're not sure. (Clarification for my US readers: click to see a UK buzzard)

My husband and I aren't proper birders - we're not even enthusiastic amateurs, really. Just people who love wildlife, even if we don't know what it's all called! So there are others where we have even less idea... if you know any of these, please tell us.

If, like me, you have no idea, then "ooh, pretty!" is a perfectly valid response. I especially love this first guy (or gal), so elegant with those long legs...





Thursday, 26 November 2009

Green Vegetable Risotto

I was expecting friends for dinner on the night I made this risotto. They sadly weren't able to come, but although we missed them, we enjoyed our dinner so much that we were happy to have leftovers for the next day.

You probably don't want to follow this recipe if you're on a diet - although I'm sure that an almost-as-nice version can be made with less cheese & cream!

Green Vegetable Risotto
Serves 4

1 medium white onion
½ green pepper
1tbsp olive oil
250g arborio risotto rice
1 vegetable stock cube
½ pint boiling water (some readers have reported needing extra water)
4tbsp white wine
100g green beans
100g asparagus
100g broccoli florets
100g frozen peas
4tbsp double cream
50g cheddar cheese
25g parmesan cheese
black pepper (to taste)

  1. Prepare the ingredients before you start:
    • Finely dice the onion and green pepper.
    • Chop the asparagus & green beans into 1 inch lengths.
    • Divide the broccoli into small florets.
    • Grate the cheeses.
  2. Heat the olive oil in a large, deep pan and fry the onion and green pepper until they begin to soften. Add the rice, and fry for a further two minutes, stirring constantly.
  3. Add the boiling water, white wine, and stock cube, and bring back to the boil.
  4. Simmer for five minutes, then add the asparagus, beans, and broccoli, and simmer for a further ten minutes. Add the frozen peas and simmer for a further five minutes until the rice is cooked and all vegetables are tender.
  5. Once the rice is cooked, stir through the cream and grated cheeses, and season with fresh black pepper to taste.
  6. Heat gently until the cheese has melted through, and serve with extra parmesan (and garlic bread, and maybe a baby-leaf salad, and a glass of dry white wine...).

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Planters Cafe @ Trebah Garden, Cornwall

We were lured (I make it sound like a bad thing, but it isn't) to Trebah Gardens with promise of flan for lunch.


As it happened, I was feeling under the weather, and the soup (butternut squash & chickpea) appealed much more than the roasted vegetable & goat's cheese which was the veggie flan option, but it was the flan that got us through the door. For this, I'm thankful.

Planters Cafe is in the visitor centre of Trebah Gardens, but (sensibly) you don't have to buy a ticket for the garden to eat there. It would be stunning to sit outside in the summer, but on a drizzly November day, we settled for a window seat.


The soup was hearty and warming, just the sort of thing I'd make at home, and I also shared a large bowl of potato wedges with my husband.

Potato Wedges

The food was simple, homemade, and tasty. Every veggie dish on the menu sounded like something I'd make at home, but I walked away feeling it had been good value. Yes, I could have made those things myself, but I wouldn't have been able to serve them in such a lovely setting, and - importantly - I couldn't have made them better. The same, perhaps. But not better.

And finally, because she was terribly excited at the idea of being in my blog, here's our lovely friend Mollie who took us along - pictured here with her flan, and a nice glass of wine:


Address:Planters Cafe, Trebah Gardens, Cornwall
Style:English cafe
Date Visited:19 November 2009

Monday, 23 November 2009

A Special Shopping Street

What's unusual about this little parade of shops in Bath?

Pulteney Bridge, Bath

When my husband first brought me along this road, and asked approximately that question, I was stumped.

I had a good look around: it's a sweet little road, with a number of boutique and independent shops, but nothing that really stood out.

Then, he walked me round to where you can see the other side of the same buildings:

Pulteney Bridge, Bath

When you're on the street it doesn't feel like a bridge at all. You could walk - or drive - across, and never be any the wiser if no-one told you. Whoever thought of this was a genius... isn't it adorable?

Here's another view, this time from the path along the river. I'd love to go inside one of the little rooms 'downstairs' inside the supports, with the little round windows.

Pulteney Bridge, Bath

Friday, 20 November 2009

From Script To Prose

Doing NaNoWriMo has seen me talking quite a bit about how I write - and as with so many things, having nattered on about something for a while, I eventually start to actually think about it.

One of the things I've realised is that my writing style is strongly influenced by my background hanging around backstage in theatres writing plays.

When I was writing scripts, I was also involved in theatre companies in various capacities (always behind the scenes) and learnt first hand just how much directors hate to be told what to do. That goes for stage directions in the script as much as being given 'advice' (as they often seemed to take it) on budgetary constraints.

So I learnt to write scripts with an absolute minimum of stage directions. I'd start off with the bare bones of dialogue, and mention an action or a movement only if it was absolutely critical to the plot (things like a kiss, or a slap, spring to mind).

I haven't changed that part of the process.

I still write the dialogue first, then do a second pass to add 'stage directions' - but now, to get closer to a novel, I do yet another run-through while adding actual prose. It might take me five or six passes, in the end, to get to a level of description and detail that I'm happy with. Given that most NaNo participants (and, so far as I can tell, writers in general) adhere to the mantra of 'no editing while writing', this may be slightly contraversial, but it does mean I tend to get a fairly readable first draft.

Amphitheatre at the University of Colorado

Another tendency I've inherited from the stage is to put chapter breaks at scene changes. I read a fascinating post the other day on ending a chapter, which gave me a lot of food for thought, and I suspect I may want to rearrange my chapters anyway in the final edit. But for now, they go wherever seems logical, and to my theatre-trained mind that's "when we need to move some set around".

Doing a preliminary casting of my characters (in my head, of course) is another trick I picked up in the theatre. There are probably other habits I'm not even aware of.

I'd love to know more about how other people approach the writing process. Have you thought about what influences your style?

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Green Woodpecker

Green Woodpecker

We've had woodpeckers on our bird feeder before, but usually we get the Great Spotted Woodpeckers. We've only had Green Woodpeckers a few times, and this is the first time I've managed to get any photos.

Green Woodpecker

I've been feeling under the weather (no, I'm still not fully recovered, but I do now have some tablets that make me feel a bit better), and was actually curled up in bed when my husband suggested that I really did want to get up and come to the window. I'm glad I did!

I went straight for the camera and took a few photos (through the glass, of course) while the woodpecker munched away at his (or her) apple. I hadn't even realised there were any apples left on that tree, but I'm happy to share, particularly with such a stunning visitor.

Green Woodpecker

The most entertaining moment came when he'd eaten so much of the apple that it fell to the ground - it made him jump, and he flew away. We were so lucky to see him while he was there.

Green Woodpecker

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Carrot, Split Pea & Coconut Soup

The theme for No Croutons Required this month is root vegetables, and my first thought was to give you a leek & potato soup recipe that I made a couple of weeks ago, and have been meaning to blog ever since.

Then, I got ill.

Without going into too much detail (I don't want to put you off your food), it was a few days before I was back to eating 'normally'. I don't know about you, but I find soup is a lifesaver if I'm feeling sick, and I was extremely thankful to find, at the back of my freezer, some yummy carrot soup from a huge batch I made right back in May.

A couple of days later I was on the road to recovery, and reached the stage where I was just about well enough to stand up for a few minutes to make myself something - but not yet feeling up to eating anything beyond the simplest of flavours.

And that's where today's recipe comes from: quick to prepare (you can leave it to cook itself) and easy to eat, with a good selection of my favourite flavours. I'm sure you don't need to be under the weather to enjoy it!

Carrot, Split Pea & Coconut Soup

Carrot, Split Pea & Coconut Soup
Serves 4

1 medium onion
2 cloves garlic
1tbsp olive oil
6 large carrots
400g yellow split peas (dried)
1 vegetable stock cube
2pts boiling water
50g creamed coconut
pepper & chilli (to taste)

  1. Finely chop onion, garlic, and carrots, and fry in olive oil until the onion softens.

  2. Add boiling water, stock cube, and the split peas, and bring to the boil.

  3. Leave to simmer over a low heat for about an hour, until the carrots and split peas are soft.

  4. Break up the carrots & split peas using a potato masher or, if you prefer a smoother texture, a blender.

  5. Dissolve the creamed coconut into the soup, and season to taste.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Method Writing

The other day, one of my friends asked me a very interesting question:
"Given that you are an extravert, do you find writing (being alone for long periods of time) tiring?"
I'd never really thought about it in those terms before, so I thought about it, and what I realised is this: I'm a method writer.

You've probably heard of method acting, where actors try (by whatever method - there isn't just one 'method') to get into the mindset and emotions of their character instead of 'just pretending'.

This is how I approach writing.

It wasn't really a conscious decision, but I don't think I could do it any other way - how can I show my readers how my character feels, if I don't feel it? For that matter, how can I know how a character will act, except by feeling the way that he feels about a given situation?

It can certainly be a challenge when I'm writing about really unpleasant experiences, and end up reliving whatever is the closest I've experienced (e.g. I've never been tortured, but I have felt in danger of my life, and I don't much enjoy the memory of that!).

One interesting consequence of the way I write is that I often have to go through scenes from multiple perspectives, to make sure every character is acting according to how he's feeling at that time, and then merge them into one finished product.

I usually use music to get myself in the right mood for a given scene (from a given perspective), often playing the same track on endless repeat if it really captures the essence of what I'm trying to portray.

So to answer the original question, I feel lonely if my character is lonely, but if I'm writing about busy, social scenes then it's like being there myself.

Does this ring bells for any other writers?
How do you feel when you're writing?

Sunday, 8 November 2009

A Little Housekeeping

Because it's November, and any procrastination is good procrastination.......

You may have noticed that the URL for my blog has changed to I just noticed that Blogger lets you redirect to your own domain, and since I have most of my website over there, I thought I might as well. It shouldn't break anything (Blogger promises to redirect traffic) but you may want to update your bookmarks.

At the same time, I've taken the opportunity to put my RSS feeds through FeedBurner, allowing for several new options. You can now sign up to get posts by email (something I'd never have the time to do manually!) and I've created sub-feeds for common topics like writing, photography, and recipes (so if you're only interested in some of what I have to say, you can easily narrow it down). The new feed for all posts is at

I hope this hasn't broken anything for anyone... everything is supposed to redirect, but please let me know if anything isn't working, and I'll try to fix it!

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Feeling like I'd fallen into a magazine shoot...

A few weeks ago I went to a friend's hen weekend, and we stayed at a cottage near Oxford that she'd rented for the weekend. Because I figured there was likely to be a fair amount of alcohol consumed (there was), and also because we were going punting one day, I took my old (waterproof) camera rather than the 'proper' one.

Nevertheless, when I decided to take some photos of the cottage I found myself feeling like I was doing a shoot for some kind of fancy Home & Garden magazine, the whole place was so beautifully laid out. I really wished I'd had the dSLR to do it justice.

I don't think I'd want to be a photographer for an interior design magazine - but it was fun to feel like one, even for ten minutes.

Sitting Room (red)

Bedroom (red)

Bedroom (cream/green)

Bedroom (green/pink)

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