Tag Archives: review

My year on Instagram – a few highlights

About half way through this year I was suddenly reminded that I had an Instagram account that I hadn’t touched since 2011. I really don’t remember why I set it up way back when, nor why it fell into disuse. At any rate, I was pleased to rediscover it, and since June it’s become one of my favourite social media networks and has spurred me on to take and share a lot more photos in everyday situations than I probably would have done otherwise. It’s also got me back out on photowalks with friends, so the creative and social benefits have extended way beyond the digital realm.

It’s been a bit of a ragtag mixed bag of a year with one thing and another, but looking back over my Instagram feed has reminded me of the many happy, colourful moments there have been – I find it surprisingly difficult to gripe and whinge in photographic form – and after I read Konstantin‘s Instagram review post, I decided to do something similar. So here are seven of my favourite shots from 2014, one for each month from June to December.

June: Chilling at Jos Fritz Cafe

Kooky chair.

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Many will say that it wasn’t much of a summer, but my Instagram feed suggests otherwise. I can’t actually remember a year when I spent so much time outdoors at street cafes and the likes. Renewing my acquaintance with Jos Fritz Cafe and discovering newly opened places like Cafe POW gave me fresh horizons on places to work, read, relax with friends or watch the world go by on my own. Roll on spring when it’ll be warm enough to sit outside again!

July: Christopher Street Day in Freiburg

Going along to the Christopher Street Day parade was one of the best decisions I made this year – it was without a doubt one of the very happiest and most memorable days spent in the best of company. In a year that’s had more than its fair share of headlines involving discrimination, hate, intolerance and ensuing barbarity, it was wonderful to be in the midst of such a joyful and welcoming throng of glorious, cacophonous diversity, and to feel truly at home in it.

August: Posh nosh with a bestie

I definitely don’t see Diana often enough – which is a little bit shameful given that we basically live in the same city – but we spent a lovely evening in August putting the world to rights over some pretty decadent plates of antipasti and tapas: a grown-up girls’ night out but with plenty of silliness thrown in for good measure. I’d like MORE of this in 2015, please, and I’m so very grateful to all the friends I’ve been able to spend similar occasions with over the course of this year. ❤

September: Boats at Flensburg

Boats. #whattheflensburg

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Every September, I (try to) attend the annual conference of foreign language instructors at German universities, which is held in a different place every year. This year we were up at Flensburg, which is about as far north as you can get in Germany, and it was wonderful to have an excuse to go to the seaside on business, so to speak. The whole affair is a bit like a family reunion crossed with a very pro-active self-help group – a far cry from the scary, stuffy academic conferences I sometimes attended as a research student, and greatly energising and uplifting as well as informative. Each time I go I feel more confident, and I come back brimming with new ideas and resources.

October: What a difference a new mug makes

I can't help smiling every time I look at my new favourite mug. 😊 #100happydays day 34.

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I’ve been a fan of Woodstock for as long as I can remember – I always seem to go for the sidekicks rather than the main characters, be it Piglet (rather than Pooh), Robin (rather than Batman) or George (rather than Zippy or Bungle). So I HAD to buy this mug as soon as I saw it, and it’s become my office staple. In fact, I found it necessary to buy a second one for use at home, plus a breakfast plate for good measure. It puts a big smile on my face whenever I see it, no matter how rotten I might be feeling at the time.

November: And the autumn just went on, and on…

Magical landscape.

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Given half a chance, I could easily have populated this entire post with landscape photos – it’s been a wonderful year for getting out and about around Freiburg as well as a bit further afield. But this is one of my favourite scenery shots for the year, taken on a day that started with thick fog over Freiburg itself, yielding to sunshine as we travelled beyond the city limits and up into more mountainous terrain. You can see the fog in the distance in this shot, contrasting with the wonderful warm glow of the autumnal countryside approaching the late afternoon. On that day in late November, I was convinced that the autumn would go on for ever, and I could have sat for hours looking at the view, had it not been a little too chilly to do so…

December: The power of words

The thought that counts. 💗

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I received this little package from someone I’ve been trying to help overcome some difficulties. The simple eloquence of the words, and their sincerity, left me a little lost for words. In fact, I still am.


So, there you have it – a few moments, places, people revisited. It’s been fun reliving parts of this year, and I hope I haven’t been too introspective for it to be of some interest to other people in here as well. Roll on 2015:my camera’s at the ready!

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Filed under Creative stuff, Out & about, Photography

My top 5 cookbooks

Today I’m taking inspiration from Ruth, whose post on this topic made me curious as to which cookery books I’d select from my largish collection as being my favourites. In the end the choice was quite simple – there really is only a handful of recipe books that I keep going back to again and again. So here are my five, with a brief bit of information about what makes each one  a firm favourite…

1. Good Housekeeping Cookery Book

50th Anniversary edition – published by Random House, 1998

If I had to pick just one cookery book to keep from here to eternity, I think this would be it. Unless I’m looking for something from a particular cuisine (e.g. Indian), this is invariably the place I look first for inspiration. It strikes – for me – exactly the right balance between traditional and modern, familiar and unfamiliar, manageable and challenging, healthy and tasty, text and pictures. It is mercifully free of both pretentiousness and over-simplification while including really helpful selections on buying, storing and preparing everyday foodstuffs as well as more unusual ingredients.

For me, the test of a good cookery book is whether most of the recipes are such that, if they were to appear in a magazine, you would cut them out and keep them. I can open this book at any page and immediately find something delicious.

As a result, it’s extremely difficult to pick out a favourite recipe or two, but the rabbit casserole with red wine and sherry and the filo pastries with feta and herb filling are certainly a couple that I’ve made quite often.

2. The Essential Vegetarian Cookbook

(German edition: Vegetarische Küche)

Originally published by Konemann UK, 1997

I’m not a vegetarian, but I eat a lot of food that is, plus I have several friends who don’t eat meat. Given that it’s not healthy to eat meat every day in any case, I get exasperated at people who either think it’s not a proper meal if it doesn’t contain meat, or whose world order disintegrates if it turns out that one of their dinner guests is vegetarian.

The back story to this recipe book is that M and I originally bought it as a gift for a friend who was finding it hard to find inspiring things to cook for his vegetarian partner and had developed an “awkward” tendency to diss vegetarian food. Sensing that a gentle nudge in the right direction was needed, we chose carefully, wanting to avoid anything that was too reminiscent of his “rabbit food and lentils” stereotype of vegetarian food and looking instead for something that fitted in with his own tastes.

This book ticked all the right boxes – modern, fresh ideas with plenty of Mediterranean influences as well as forays into Indian and Middle Eastern cuisines: exactly the kinds of things our friend loves to cook (and so do we, which is why we ended up buying a second copy of the book). There is also an excellent section on nutrition at the front of the book, which is well worth a read in itself and is certainly not restricted to vegetarians in its scope.

This being a very recent addition to the cookbook shelves, I haven’t actually made any of the recipes yet but have already pored over it for hours working up quite an appetite. I love the look (and the imagined flavour) of the hummus with beetroot, there’s a great-sounding carrot lasagne (yes, really!), and I can’t wait to try some of the savoury scones, muffins and polenta recipes.

3. 50 Great Curries of India by Camellia Panjabi

(German edition: Indische Currys)

originally published by Kyle Cathie, 2004

Funnily enough, this book was a gift from the friend mentioned above, and although I already possessed several Indian cookery books (including The Curry Cookbook, a throwback to my student days…), this one quickly became my favourite.

It’s an almost ritualistic book – each recipe is prefaced by an interesting explanation of any unusual features and about the part of India and/or cultural milieu the dish comes from, and Panjabi cuts no corners in the preparation of each: no ready-made spice mixes, purees or pastes are used, and whole spices form the starting point for almost all the recipes.

The detailed introduction is a real culinary eye-opener and adds considerably to this ritualistic feel, explaining – among other things – the philosophy of Indian cuisine, the impact that the method and order of preparing / adding your spices has on the flavour of the dish (dry-roasting, frying in oil, when to add liquid etc.), the importance of balancing ingredients such as ginger and garlic (the former raises blood pressure, while the latter lowers is), and different ways of using and combining ingredients.

My favourite recipes from this book are the lamb madras, chicken dopiaza, and aubergine curry. The most surprisingly delicious one has to be the watermelon curry, which I thought would be awful but actually works really well.

4. Backen! (= Baking!)

(only available in German, as far as I know)

published by Gräfe & Unzer, 2005

I don’t bake much as I find it quite scary, and the reason I find it scary is probably that I don’t bake much. Nevertheless, I thought it was important to have a good staple cookery book for baked goods so that I couldn’t use the lack of a suitable book as a further reason not to wield the hand-mixer. And this is the one I settled on.

Its 450-odd pages are jam-packed with recipes, usefully subdivided into common or garden cakes, cakes with fresh fruit, gateaux (Torten), muffins and pastries, biscuits and cookies, bread, pizza and savouries, with the odd but welcome addition of a final – and very detailed – section on coffee and tea. Most sections are further divided according to what kind of pastry, dough or cake mixture  (the word Teig covers all of these) forms the basis for the recipe – Rührteig, Mürbteig, Hefeteig, Blätterteig, Brandteig, Plunderteig, Sauerteig, Quark-Öl-Teig or whatever.

I have a friend who is a very proficient baker, and she dislikes this book as it doesn’t have any pictures. “I want to see how it’ll look when it’s finished!” she protests. Given that the stuff I bake only rarely comes out looking as it’s supposed to, I hardly feel that I need see this as a disadvantage. While pretty pictures can be appetizing and nice to look at, there’s nothing I dislike more than cookery books where more than 50% of the entire book consists of pictures. This book contains 888 recipes, and that’s the reason why I bought it.

My occasional forays into baking have seen me make several of the savouries in this book – they’re fantastic for parties, picnics or feeding a crowd in other situations – and there’s a rather fabulous baked cherry ricotta cheesecake with an amarettini base and almond topping. Yum!

5. Farmhouse Kitchen

published by Yorkshire Television, 1975

This is a 1970s cookery book based on the Yorkshire TV series of the same name. It has a glorious naffness to it as a result, but also some hidden jewels that are priceless – please bear with me while I explain.

As the name suggests, the emphasis is on traditional cooking, and as I’m someone who’s interested in the history of food and its part in culture, that’s something I’m all for preserving. Many of the recipes are submitted by viewers from all over the country, so there is a lot in terms of regional variety. There are some pretty odd sounding concoctions in part (there is one recipe called “Love in disguise” which seems to be stuffed sheep’s hearts, and a “Thatched house pie” that requires “1 dressed pigeon”(??) as its main ingredient), including some of those inimitable 1970s attempts at crossover cuisine: sausages in sweet and sour sauce, anyone?

Many of the recipes still bear the signs of postwar thrift – using cheaper cuts of meat, making the most of leftovers, preserving food – and reveal skills and a standard of nutritional value many people struggle to keep up with today. It’s good to have a book like this in the house, to remind you of what home economics really is about.

Despite the oddness of some of the recipes, there are some really reliable ones for traditional favourites such as Yorkshire parkin, old-fashioned puddings (pineapple upside-down pudding – yay!) and a whole range of good, wholesome comfort food. I’m also determined to try some of the pickles and chutneys, maybe even the wine recipes.

The best thing about this book, though, is the fact that it belonged to my grandmother, and I kept it mainly because here and there in between the pages there are scraps of paper she’d scribbled her own recipe memos on (some of these pre-date the book, including one for home made “pietsa” (her spelling was actually very good, but pizza was simply not so common in Britain back then)), or newspaper cuttings, leaflets and so on. The value of the book itself only became apparent to me later.

Snippets from Grandma's cookery book

If you are interested in seeing what other people picked as their top 5 cookbooks, you can find out here.

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Filed under Books & reading, Food, Memes & blogging challenges