Thoughts on… bullet journals

Thoughts on… bullet journals

I love the idea of bullet journals. It’s the Insta-worthy way of recording your daily tasks, to do lists etc, and it says: hey, you don’t have to conform, just pick something you want to write and get going.

But here’s where I have a problem. It also says you have to be a dab hand with a calligraphy pen and have degree-level illustration and design skills. Precisely laid out pages of lists and dates intricately decorated with an endless variety of perfect doodles do nothing to encourage my inner artist. These bullet journalists leave a lot to live up to.

But then I saw a few pages of someone’s journal on Instagram which really did inspire. Colourful pictures and lists on *gasp* pre-lined paper, drawn in *gaspgasp* biro. THIS was the level of journaling I could match.

And you know what? It’s what I’m already doing. Albeit in an exceptionally sporadic and somewhat less colourful way.

For a few years, I’ve been writing lists of places I’ve visited, things I’ve done, books I’ve read, important milestones, and anything else I feel worthy of literal note. It’s an easy way of keeping track, without the pressure of committing to writing a daily journal.

It’s also incredibly satisfying to look back over several months’ or years’ worth and see what you’ve been up to. In a world where external validation often ranks so much higher than personal achievement, it’s good to have something that’s just for you.

Bullet journaling, list making, note scrawling – call it what you will – just don’t give me unrealistic expectations.


Caribbean-inspired chicken skewers and mango salsa

Caribbean-inspired chicken skewers and mango salsa

Lazy weekend with the barbecue going? Yes please! But even if the sun isn’t shining, these zingy chicken skewers with fresh mango salsa will bring summer to your plate.

Serves 4

4 chicken breasts
1 tbsp jerk seasoning
2 tbsp olive oil
1lime, juice
1 yellow pepper
1/4 pineapple
1-2 courgettes
8 skewers

1 mango
1 red pepper
4 spring onions
1/2 red chilli (or 1 tsp chilli flakes)
Bunch coriander


Cut the chicken into cubes and place it in a bowl with the jerk seasoning, olive oil and lime juice. Mix thoroughly, then leave to marinade in the fridge for a few hours.

Meanwhile, make the salsa. Dice the mango and red pepper, and finely slice the spring onions and chilli (if using). Stir together in a bowl and top with the finely chopped coriander.

Slice the courgette, pepper and pineapple into cubes. Thread the chicken and vegetables onto the skewers then cook them under the grill or over the barbecue for at least 8 minutes on each side, or until the chicken is cooked through.

Serve in flatbreads or pittas. Enjoy!


Thoughts on… libraries

Thoughts on… libraries

My new year resolutions for 2018 included reading more but spending less. Despite having a TBR pile taller than me, I couldn’t help feeling like I’d contradicted myself in my resolutions. How was I supposed to consume more books if I wasn’t allowed to buy any? And then I became a genius. THE LIBRARY.

I’d always been a library member and they’ve been such a huge part of my life; as a child I’d take armfuls of books home in the school holidays and I spent weeks of my life buried between the stacks at university. I even did work experience there in my teens. But since moving house, I hadn’t even thought about it as a possibility.

So I joined in January and have been reaping the benefits ever since. Here’s what I’ve got out of my book borrowing membership and some reasons for considering joining up.

– First of all, its free. Yes, FREE access to hundreds, no, thousands of beautiful potential reads.
– There are lots of publications that I fancy the idea of reading but the reality is I don’t enjoy every one I pick up. If I haven’t spent £10+ one a book – those hardbacks can be even pricier – I feel no guilt whatsoever in giving up before the end.
– You don’t just join your local library. Most are linked to others in the county, so if yours doesn’t have a copy of something you want, you can request for it to be sent in from elsewhere.
– If you live and work in different towns, they might have different library groups. I’ve contemplated joining both for access to double the books.
– Old books have that great smell. Yes, you might be unfortunate enough to get the one that the previous borrower used a KitKat as a bookmark in, but generally these get filtered out by library staff fairly pronto.
– You can browse the shelves for hours and even read a chapter or two of a book before taking it home, or not, all without being judged.
– My library is in a part of town I’d not visited before, which opened up a whole new world for me. A riverside park, yoga studio and cafe are just some of the new things I discovered thanks to my library membership.
– There’s more to libraries than just books. Internet cafes, social events, school holiday activities, book clubs – they’re all still happening in your local library.
– If we don’t use our libraries, they’ll keep being taken away from us. There are ways to support both local booksellers and libraries – use em or lose em.

From book to film: adaptations

Bibliophiles and filmophiles across the world have long argued over the adaptation questions. Which is best: the book or the film? And what do you do first: read or watch?

After seeing some truly impressive adaptations recently, I’ve been pondering this problem and come to one (very indefinite) conclusion: each one is different.

Sometimes I prefer to let the author’s words knit together in my mind and reveal an imaginary world that’s all my own. But occasionally a film director can achieve astonishing feats of creativity that go way beyond my little brain’s capability.

Here are some of my favourites…

The Miniaturist – Jessie Burton/BBC
I chose this book as my bookclub read around a year ago, having been seduced by its glorious Amsterdam setting and mysterious historic plot. Pleasingly, it provoked some interesting discussions and was generally a hit with the group – and me! I was excited, then, by the announcement of a BBC reimagining. Over Christmas, I watched the entire two-and-a-half hours in one sitting and could not have been more impressed. It was engaging and true to the original, and the tiny amendments to the plot actually made the story much tighter and more accessible. I’d recommend both the book and the TV show, and suggest reading before watching.


Life of Pi – Yann Martel/Ang Lee
This was one of the (many) books that languished for months (perhaps years) on my shelves before I finally stuffed it in my bag to read on the train one day. Although I liked the story, it took me a while to finish as I never really found I was able to commit to the plot or characters. Enter the film. I rewatched this a couple of weeks back and was bowled over by how beautiful it is. It’s really a lesson in how a picture (over moving picture in this case) can tell the story of a thousand words. In this case, I’d probably side-step the book (although it’s still worth a go if you have the patience) and dive right into the visual delight that is the film.


The Time Traveller’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger/Robert Schwentke
I fell in love with this book many years ago and it’s still one of my all-time favourites. Niffenegger expertly jumps back and forth along a timeline, delivering a non-linear yet cohesive tale of love thwarted by constant and unpredictable interruptions. It seemed like an ideal story to transfer to film, but the result was disappointing. I’d definitely recommend sticking to the book on this one and giving the film a swerve.


The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald/Baz Luhrmann
On hearing that The Great Gatsby was making its way to the big screen, directed by no less than Baz Luhrmann and starring no less than Leonardo DiCaprio, I was desperate to read the book first. I packed it in my suitcase and devoured the short novel in just a few days sat beside Italy’s Lake Garda. Perfect holiday reading. Back home, I hot-footed it to the cinema and took in the spectacular 1920s-style visuals and inspired 2013 soundtrack. The book and the film are equally fabulous; I just wish I’d not seen the movie quite so soon after reading the original.

Getting festive: book choice

Getting festive: book choice

There’s a a day each year, usually around the end of August on which I get my first autumnal feeling of the season. A leaf falling from a tree. The smell of woodsmoke. An unseasonably chilly morning. It’s a divine sensation. The increasingly cold weather brings with it a new energy after a stifling summer. When others are bemoaning the advent of long, dark evenings, frosted-over cars and the need to don multiple layers of wool, I’m looking forward to it all with barely contained glee.

Let me explain. Autumn does exactly as it’s meant to every year. The other seasons bring with them a certain amount of disappointment. Spring doesn’t spring early enough. Summer is never hot enough – or worse, too hot. Winter is never snowy enough.

Which brings me onto the other reason I love autumn. It’s when we prepare for Christmas – and the preparation is the best part. The big day itself is just one small element of the festive season; beforehand it’s an excuse to sip on too-hot mulled wine from paper cups, gorge on mince pies, spend whole days baking, share time with family or hibernate under a heavy blanket watching delightfully terrible made-for-tv Christmas films or indulging in a book.

This year’s book of choice is Nigel Slater’s The Christmas Chronicles. If it’s at all possible to fall in love with paper and words, then I believe I have done so. The writer and chef created a dedication to the cold months so perfect that I want to take up residence inside it.

Slater combines precious memories of childhood winters, festive facts, and accounts of the ordinary (an afternoon sweeping leaves) and the extraordinary (a Norwegian excursion to select the tree for Trafalgar Square), with a hundred mouthwatering food and drink recipes. Leave me among the pages of candle recommendations, plum puddings, frost fairs and hot apple cider, for I will be happy there from November, when he begins his notes on midwinter, right through until February.

It’s a handsome book. The grey hardback is simply decorated with bronze trees and inside is punctuated with evocative images of food and festivities. It has a ribbon page marker too, and who doesn’t love a ribbon page marker?

Grab a blanket, light a candle, make yourself a drink and let Nigel guide you through the season. Now excuse me while I go to set up some dried fruit for a snooze in some booze – I missed stir-up Sunday, so have some remedying to do.


Pieces of Portugal

Pieces of Portugal

Beauty is in the detail. This post is all about looking up, down and closer around Lisbon.


Stepping out. Lisbon’s underfoot mosaics are spectacular.
The alluring deep blue.
Olive tree, Cristo-Rei.
Soft, soft, golden sands at Nazaré.
Every street is a cobbled dream.
Stunning blooms on the Jacaranda trees.



Zig a zig Zar…zuela

Zig a zig Zar…zuela

“Traditional Cake Since 1968” or so says the logo of Zarzuela bakery in Lison, Portugal. But this is no ordinary place of pastries and breads. Zarzuela is an allergy friendly cafe and deli counter, selling gluten free and lactose free goods. In fact, the entire menu, covering breakfast through to early evening, can be served gluten free.


I have a gluten intolerance, so finding an eatery where not only are my dietary requirements understood but fully catered for is near impossible. Especially in a foreign country where my knowledge of the lingo is (embarrassingly) minimal to nothing.


I found mention of Zarzuela online while doing research on GF restaurants and cafes before flying out. We hot-footed over on our second day and ended up visiting three times and taking away a few cheeky treats each time. Being able to walk into a BAKERY and take my pick of ANYTHING was INCREDIBLE. I can’t overstate how utterly wonderful it was to have that sense of freedom when choosing what to eat while outside of my own home. It’s been three and a half years since I’ve been able to do that.

The menu has breakfasts, snacks, sandwiches, chips, pizzas, burgers, and a huge range of sweet dishes including waffles, doughnuts, ice cream and traditional Portugese custard tarts. Everything I sampled was delicious, homemade and high quality – including the best Sangria we had all week. Pure gluten free heaven.