Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Rebellion Photo Competition



One of the weird things about having a book out there is that it's "out there" in however many households, but I don't know where copies have scattered. Given how much I like to travel around myself, I'd love to know where my books are travelling.

In honour of this, I've decided to have a competition. Take a photo of yourself with a copy of Rebellion (paperback or electronic) and you could win a bundle of goodies including an advance copy of Revolution.

I'd like to have this open over the Easter and summer holidays to give people loads of time to find an exciting shot, so there's a really long deadline, but don't let that put you off entering now.

Here are the rules:

  • Your picture has to include you, a copy of Rebellion, and some interesting scenery.
  • Ebook copies are fine - just make sure the title page is visible on your reader.
  • All images must be family-friendly.
  • By submitting a picture, you give me permission to use it as I see fit (with appropriate credit).
  • Submit a photo by emailing it as an attachment to photos [at] rachelcotterill [dot] com. You can enter more than once with photos from different places, up to a maximum of 3 per person.
  • Include details of where the photo was taken, the photographer's name and (optional) website/blog link.
  • Closing date for entries is 1st October 2011.
  • Judging will be based on a variety of factors: composition, fun, and the random whims of Rachel. Judge's decision is final.
  • Exact prize will depend on the winner's home country and customs regulations, but will definitely include a copy of Revolution.


Monday, 28 March 2011

Toad In The Hole Recipe



'Toad in the hole' is a traditional English dish - and one of those ones that tends to startle people the first time they hear of it, because it's just such a strange name. Thankfully there are no actual toads involved.

The traditional recipe consists of sausages cooked in a yorkshire pudding batter. Of course, I use vegetarian sausages, and I like to mix mine up a bit by including some vegetables in the mix - sometimes I even make a variation by increasing the quantities of vegetables, and skipping the sausages altogether.

By making individual portions, it's easier to use different sausages if you're catering for both vegetarians and meat-eaters, and I also think it looks nicer on the plate. The baking trays I use are about five by seven inches.

Toad In The Hole Recipe
Serves 4

6 medium eggs
12oz plain flour
10fl.oz milk
4tbsp sunflower oil
1 courgette (zucchini)
1 red pepper
4 small red onions
8 large sausages

  1. Put the flour in a large mixing bowl and make a well in the centre. Add the eggs and a little milk to the well, and combine with a whisk.
  2. Gradually add the remaining milk, and beat the batter until there are no lumps left. Whisk it a little more to create bubbles.
  3. Put one tablespoon of oil in each of four small baking trays, and heat in the oven at 200°C
  4. Chop the peppers and courgettes into inch-square pieces, and quarter the onions.
  5. Add the sausages and vegetables to the hot oil, and return to the oven for ten minutes.
  6. Give the batter another quick whisk, then divide between the baking trays (I pour the batter in to the side and allow it to flow around the sausages and vegetables).
  7. Bake for a further twenty minutes, or until the batter has risen and the sausages cooked through.




Saturday, 26 March 2011

Shooting Blind



Given my wonky eyesight, you wouldn't expect me to be any good at shooting things. I mean, I'm a girl who walks into doorframes... precision is not my strong point.

Nevertheless, at the hotel last week there were daily sessions of coaching on the shooting ranges: air rifles, air pistols, and archery. With all these things available for free, it would have been silly not to have a go.

My husband had done a little archery and shooting before, and as we walked to our first session (pistols) he passed on a few tips. Shoot at the end of the out-breath, he suggested, as that's when your body is most still. And aim for consistency above accuracy, because if you can be consistent, you can learn to change by whatever degrees you need to in order to hit the target.

Well, that sounded achievable. I've done enough martial arts over the years to have a pretty good idea of where my body is, and how my muscles are flexing, at any given time. Consistency was something I could aim for.

The shooting distance was a few metres, and the target only about eight inches across. At that distance, to me, it's just a blurry circle of darkness; I can't pick out the individual rings. However, I aimed for the middle of the blurry shape and shot. I couldn't see where I'd hit, either, until the end of the round. We got ten shots, and almost all of them at least hit the target. In fact, they were almost all clustered within about a two-inch radius, so the consistency aspect was working out.

Then we got ten shots more, and now I just had to figure out how to centre my cluster around the bullseye, rather than at the top of the target.

I won't say I did brilliantly, but I did win the ladies' prizes for both the pistols and the air rifles that day! (The archery, I only won later in the week when I was the only woman...... my arms evidently aren't strong enough to be consistent with a bow.) Considering that I could barely see what I was aiming at, I was astonished.



Thursday, 24 March 2011

Enamelling



One of the cool features of the hotel we stayed at last week was an extensive craft centre, with free tuition in a variety of arts and crafts (just a nominal charge was made for materials).

The one I really wanted to try out was enamelling - since it's not so easy to try out at home - so we booked ourselves into an hour-and-a-half session on Thursday afternoon.

The basic process is simple enough. You use very fine sandpaper to polish the oxides and grease from a little metal shape, you sprinkle on the powdered glass which will make up the enamel finish, and then you fire it in a kiln at about 850°C. You can then add extra glass beads and fire it for a second time to get surface effects.

I made a little flower pendant and some heart shapes that I'll use for earrings, and my husband made a magnet using millefiori beads (glass with patterns through it, which spread out as the glass melts in the furnace).

It was fun to have a play, but I didn't feel like I had enough control of the process to get really good results - most of my favourite enamelled jewellery (such as my flag bracelet) has little metal walls dividing the different colours, which gives for a much more controlled effect.



Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Ashbury Golf Hotel, Devon



We've just got back from a short break in Devon, staying at possibly the best value hotel I've ever visited. The Ashbury was recommended to us by a couple of golfing friends - we don't play golf, but I'm sure it's even better value if you do, because use of their several golf courses is included in the price. But there was certainly no shortage of activities to keep us busy: we made regular use of the table tennis and pool tables, ten pin bowling, shooting ranges, and swimming pool. There was also a massive snooker hall, indoor bowling green, tennis courts, badminton courts, and a gym. Their sister hotel (ten minutes down the road) has a huge craft centre, and squash courts which we booked a couple of times. We paid £185 each for four nights, and all the sports and food were included in the price (we took our own rackets and equipment, but you could also borrow kit from reception). We also booked in for cheap massages at the in-house treatment rooms; I tried out hot stone massage (amazing!) and Indian head massage.

I wanted to get some writing done, and I did put in a few hours, but with so many other things to do I was honestly struggling to find the time. This may not have been good for my productivity, but it was a good sign about the facilities at the hotel!

The beds were firm and comfy - important, since a good night's sleep is essential if you're doing so much during the day - and we had plenty of space in our room. The food was hearty and plentiful (you could eat three hot meals a day, and we often did) with enough veggie options to keep me interested, great puddings, and a free bottle of wine approximately every other night.

If you're interested in a cheap and active break in the south west, I'd definitely recommend this hotel. We're already planning our next visit...

I received no discount or compensation for this post, and my opinions are entirely my own.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

The Perfect Chocolate Fudge Brownie



I've always loved brownies, so of course I went to some lengths (a few years ago, now) to try and divine the perfect recipe. The 'best' recipe will always be subjective, of course, but if you like your brownies with a fudgey, gooey consistency then I think you'll struggle to beat this one. It's also surprisingly quick to make a batch.


Just looking at the quantities of butter and sugar, you'll realise that this isn't exactly health food. Sometimes, however, it's just what you need.

Walnuts are my favourite, but pecans or hazelnuts would also work really well. If you don't like nuts, you can replace them with chocolate chips, raisins, or cherries - in fact the only limit is your imagination.

Chocolate Brownie Recipe
Makes 12 large brownies

200g dark chocolate
200g butter
400g soft brown sugar
5 medium eggs
1tsp (5ml) vanilla essence
150g plain flour
50g cocoa powder
150g walnuts, chopped

  1. Melt the chocolate, and set aside to cool.
  2. Cream the butter and sugar together.
  3. Break the eggs with a fork and add to the butter/sugar mixture, mixing slowly.
  4. Once the chocolate has cooled to room temperature, add to the butter/sugar/egg along with the vanilla.
  5. Fold in the flour and cocoa, to make a thick paste.
  6. Stir in the nuts.
  7. Pour the mixture into a greased and lined brownie tin, and bake for 30 minutes, or until the top has cracked.
  8. Cool in the tin, then slice to serve. They'll keep for a few days in the fridge.


Friday, 18 March 2011

The Day The Road Melted



We got a lot of rain when we were cycling around Iceland - it was the summer of '06, we were missing a heatwave in England, and a lot of the Icelanders were complaining that it was the worst weather in living memory. One day, however, as we were pottering down the east coast, the sun came out.

Now, Icelandic roads are probably designed more for snow than for heat - but I'm pretty sure they're not supposed to melt at 20°C, either. The part we were riding had only been resurfaced a year or two earlier, and oh, did it melt!

I had mountain bike tyres, which wasn't too bad, just a bit sticky. Andy had road tyres... and duly began to sink into the road. We kept needing to stop, pick up rocks, and scrape tar from the tyres and brakes. With hindsight, it's funny, but at the time it was a nightmare - it's not easy to get clean again when you're camping by the side of the road most nights.




Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Vultures




One of my enduring memories of Cuba is of the power of the vultures. I'd heard of vultures before, of course, but I'd never seen them in action. The idea turned my stomach at first, but in the end they won me over with their efficiency: they could clear a corpse in minutes. There's no time for anything to putrefy in the heat, because the vultures simply don't leave a single morsel lying around. Very impressive creatures... but I wouldn't like to faint (or sleep) with them circling overhead!

Monday, 14 March 2011

Solar Water Heating in Mongolia



Every so often, we talk about getting solar water heating installed at home. With inexorably rising fuel prices, it would probably save us money in the long run - but it's not all that cheap to install.

How is it, then, that almost everywhere in Mongolia we saw solar heating units tucked in between the tents? And I'm not talking amateur attempts patched together with sellotape - rather, we saw the same professional sealed units everywhere. We even benefitted from the hot water this one supplied for a shower in our Mongolian hotel.


Am I missing something obvious? Maybe it's just closer to cheap imports from China... but I would have expected up-front costs to have more impact in a poorer country, not less. On the other hand, when we went to Cuba the locals told us about their experiences with low energy light bulbs - because lighting is such a huge part of their electric bill, they really noticed the difference when they switched from incandescent bulbs, and no-one would want to go back. I'm not an economist, but I find this fascinating. It seems crazy that we should be complacent about small savings (and, let's face it, most people are) just because we spend more on our energy bills overall.

Thoughts...?

Saturday, 12 March 2011

A Wedding Card




A couple of my friends are getting married this month, so of course, it was time to get out the card-making box. (Not to mention that Mothers' Day is on the horizon, and other friends are expecting babies and birthdays!)

I picked out a simple cream card for the base, and cut a strip of backing paper that I felt went well with it, with a lilac flower design.

The little flower in the bottom left is a satin fabric flower which I bought to decorate my veil for my wedding, in 2008. I had a few left over! I glued a tiny diamante stud in the middle for a bit of extra sparkle. It seemed to fit perfectly between the leaves of the backing paper.

The gold corners were in my big box of stickers; I had to go and buy a sheet of 'Congratulations' messages, but so many of my friends are approaching major milestones, I'm sure I won't have any trouble using them up!

The whole thing took only a few minutes to make, but it came out exactly as I was hoping.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Of sickness and shopping



I know I've been a bit quiet lately - even more so in real life than in blogland, since I haven't had much of a voice since last week! I've been feeling generally achey and under the weather, too, and this morning I finally caved in and went to the doctor. She gave me a label (respiritory tract infection) and told me to carry on with my current regime of paracetamol and sleep, so I'm back in bed this afternoon.

If there's one plus side to being in bed for a week, it's having plenty of time to read (in between extensive bouts of sleep!). Again I'm glad I have a Kindle, so buying a new book is as easy as pressing a button and waiting a few seconds for it to arrive. I've never really liked shops (especially if they're busy) so this seems like a much more civilized method of shopping.

I've also got a new case for my Kindle, which I ordered a few weeks ago, and just arrived. The company is Javoedge, and they also make covers for various other gadgets - take a look if you're after something pretty and well-built. I'm certainly very happy so far.



Sunday, 6 March 2011

"Read An Ebook" Week - Discounts and Freebies



This week is "Read An Ebook" week, a week-long celebration of ebooks with discounts and freebies across the web. So if you're looking to stock up your reader, now is probably a good time. This is an annual event, but I've only had my Kindle since September, so it wouldn't have caught my attention last year.

Smashwords.com is just one of the sites which has given authors and publishers the chance to make their ebooks available at a discount for the week - from 25% off to completely free. (They also have a number of free books all year round - I've found a couple of real gems for free.) I've listed Rebellion at 50% off - just enter the code RAE50 at the check-out.

Tell your friends! The promotions are only running until March 12th.

Friday, 4 March 2011

A Memory Of China



For some reason, this is one of the images from China which has stuck most vividly in my mind. Proof (if any were needed) that I am, more than anything, interested in people and cultures.

It rained a lot during our 2008 visit to Beijing, and when it rained, the road-sweepers were everywhere. You'd see a different pair every hundred yards or so, just sweeping water from the road into the drains with these huge brushes made of twigs.

The sight really emphasised what's so unique about China: with so many people, labour will always be cheap. And with such cheap labour, why would anyone bother to mechanise these little tasks? If you can do the job with a couple of men (or women) and besom brooms, why would you invest in a machine? Their greatest concession to the modern world was to move around by bicycle - well, that and the brightly-coloured waterproof jackets. It was, after all, raining.



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