Fantabulous Book Challenge (2/52): Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There

My first book of 2014 was ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’. It was therefore natural that my second book should be Lewis Carroll’s sequel to that book, ‘Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There’.

Alice climbs through the Looking-Glass

Alice climbs through the Looking-Glass

Despite containing some familiar characters, and some of the scenes that I expected to find in ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’, this book felt strangely unfamiliar. I tried to approach it in the same way that I had approached the Wonderland book, but found the nonsense to be grating and more forced than its predecessor. Far from finding the characters quaint, charming or entertaining, I found them harsh and really quite irritating.

I was pleased to encounter Tweedledee and Tweedledum and the Walrus and the Carpenter. Beyond these scenes, I found the book quite difficult to enjoy.

Tweedledum and Tweedledum

Tweedledum and Tweedledum

When reading ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’, I found Alice to be extremely irritating, but found her flaws to be endearing and added to her thoroughly enjoyable character. In ‘Through the Looking-Glass’ I found that the irritating aspects of Alice’s character far outweighed her endearing qualities.

(Spoiler) One of the redeeming sections of the book was, surprisingly, the end. I found the end of ‘Wonderland’ to be a little disappointing; it seemed that Alice’s adventures had all been a dream. This disappointment probably stemmed from school, where my English teacher always said that to end a story with ‘waking up from a dream’ was a massive story telling cop out. The end of ‘Through the Looking-Glass’ suggests that Alice had been playing a game and had gotten lost in a world of imagination. As a child growing up in the middle of nowhere in North Wales, imagination was such an important part of my childhood that it felt reassuringly familiar to see Alice clamber out of her imagined world.

I found it interesting that the themes of this book were heavily used in the Tim Burton adaptation of ‘Alice in Wonderland’. Given the recent rumours that a sequel to the 2010 film may be in the pipeline, I’d be interested to see where Tim Burton would be taking the story next.

Unfortunately, the inclusion of the Tweedles and a slightly more pleasing ending was not enough to make this a Fantabulous must read. I would give it 1.5 stars. Next on my list is ‘Around the World in Eighty Days!’

Be Fantabulous people!

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Fantabulous Book Challenge (1/52): Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

My first book of 2014 was Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. With my Fantabulous book challenge in mind, it felt appropriate to start the year falling down the metaphorical rabbit hole.

Collector's Library: Alice In Wonderland

Collector’s Library: Alice In Wonderland

I really did enjoy this book, with its literary nonsense and familiar silliness. As with many of the classics, it had the interesting duality of being both extremely familiar but intriguingly unexpected. This is a book that pervades the British cultural identity; the image of the Mad Hatter’s tea party and the grinning Cheshire Cat will be recognisable to most of us. Prior to reading this book my understanding of the Wonderland characters came partly from the references within other works of popular culture, but mainly from the Disney and Tim Burton adaptations of the book.

This book was unfortunately a victim of the films having made the characters fuller and more rounded. Characters like the Caterpillar and the Queen of Hearts felt although they were comparatively two dimensional and skipped over in the original text. This opinion is obviously as nonsensical as the book itself, but I do feel that I would have enjoyed some of the iconic characters all the more if I had read the book before seeing any of its adaptations.

Alice and the Catepillar

Alice and the Catepillar

Alice and the Catepillar

Alice and the Catepillar

Surprisingly, the character that I disliked the most was none other than Alice herself. I found her irritating, selfish and boastful. These are the very same reasons that she was also one of my favourite characters! She is a character full of flaws, but I think that is the point. She seems to be an extremely accurate representation of a little girl’s mind. I think she’s a very well written, if irritating, character.

I think you could probably approach this book from two different perspectives. You could read this book and look for meaning in the nonsense. I have no doubt that you could find many different interpretations of what the different stories and characters mean. The second approach is to read it as a piece of pleasant nonsense. I approached this book from the second perspective, and I’m glad I did. I think you can probably take more from the book by just embracing the silliness and allowing yourself to be swept up in the fantasy.

This is a book that everyone should read. If you can do so before watching any film adaptations, all the better. I would give this book a healthy 3/5 stars.

Feel free to comment if you’ve also delved into Wonderland, and let me know what you thought!

Be Fantabulous people!

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Fantabulous Book challenge!

It all started with the boy who never grew up.

Last year, my parents came to visit me in Cheltenham. Whilst they were down in the Cotswolds, we decided to take a trip to the town of books, Hay-On-Wye. Hay is a beautiful little town on the Welsh border with around two dozen book shops; a veritable Shangri-La for bibliophiles.

Whilst wandering around one of the many book shops of Hay, I found a stand that was brimming with Collector’s Library books. These are a collection of classics, all beautifully bound, with gold gilt edges, a lovely red satin ribbon marker and, best of all, are pocket sized and affordable! Whilst pawing through the various books displayed on that delightful stand, I spotted a copy of J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan.

Upon spotting the copy of Peter Pan, I remembered that the week before my parents’ visit, I’d re-watched one of my favourite films, Finding Neverland. These two things made me realise that I had never read Barrie’s masterpiece. As such, I decided to buy it and rectify what transpired to be a travesty.

I was enchanted! It was lovely to read something so delightfully innocent and so wonderfully well written. I recently heard someone say that a ‘Classic’ is a book that everyone should have read, but nobody ever has! My realisation upon reading Peter Pan was that the prestige of being called a classic probably meant that the books were well written and deserving of the title. Not a groundbreaking realisation, I admit, but arguably an important one! Once I’d finished Pan, I immediately drove back to Hay and bought ten more classics, and had been slowly working my way through them throughout 2013.

In 2014, I want to step it up a gear. In an effort to broaden my cultural horizons, one of my New Year’s resolutions is to read 52 books over the course of 2014. In the grand scheme of things, 52 is not a massive number, but a book a week is quite a challenge in a life where you’re working, trying to go to the gym as regularly as you can and building some semblance of a social and romantic life.

With all that in mind, my first Fantabulous book is going to be Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

Be Fantabulous People!

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New Year’s Revelations

Get fit, eat more healthily, meet the man of my dreams… I seems that my New Year’s resolutions are the same every year. Depressingly, I always seem to have failed in these resolutions rather quicker than I hope!

This year is going to be different! This year is going to be Fantabulous!

My intention for this blog had been to document all the exciting bakes that I hoped to get through when I left law school. Unfortunately, looking back over the life of my blog, I have apparently had neither the time nor the inclination to bake as much as I wanted to, or to blog about it when I have done.

During my time as a student executive officer we were given social media training. I was told that for a blog to be successful it needed to be specialised and say something new about one particular topic. With respect, I think I’m going to have to diverge from that piece of wisdom. However much I would like to blog about baking three or four times a week, it’s not realistic. Unfortunately, life seems to get in the way!

I can’t profess to be able to say anything particularly new or insightful, but what I can do is document my musings of a life Fantabulous. I desire what all people want; I want the finer things in life and to be able to enjoy them in comfort. As a young lawyer, I am lucky that I at least have a chance of reaching that goal. The definition of Fantabulous is ‘extremely fine or desirable; excellent; wonderful’ and I like to think that eventually everything in life will meet that exacting standard. Until then, I aim to focus on the already Fantabulous things in my life by taking the time to reflect on and blog about them.

With that in mind, I’ve charged the metaphorical defibrillator for my blog and am bringing it back to life. Hopefully, with a little FLC (Fantabulous loving care), this blog will soon be back on its feet and better than ever!

For now, that concludes my revaluation. All that remains to say is ‘be Fantabulous people!’

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Cupcakes and Cookies

After a brief hiatus whilst I settled into working life, I have decided to restart my blog. There are a couple of reasons for this.

Firstly, I received a comment on the original version of this blog from a woman in Germany who really liked the Giggle Cake I posted about last year. She liked it so much that she made one for Christmas! 

Secondly, I recently made some cupcakes and cookies for some of my work colleagues and they went down a treat! The comments that people were making about them reminded me how much I liked sharing my passion for baking with other people, so I thought I’d bring the old blog back to life to start doing this again!

Cupcakes – Lemon Meringue 

As you can probably gather from my post on Lemoncello Cupcakes, I am a massive fan of strong, tart, citrus flavours. Given this, when I found a recipe for Lemon Meringue cupcakes, I couldn’t resist making them. 

Close up of Lemon Meringue Cupcakes

These cupcakes are simple to make and are a good cake to try if you want to produce something unusual and delicious, but don’t want to spend hours in the kitchen. The recipe gives you the opportunity to make your own lemon curd, which is really easy and definitely worth it in terms of flavour, but I am sure you could use a good shop bought curd if you wanted to save a little time. 

Part of the fun of these cupcakes is watching people eat them! The piped meringue on the top of the cake is gloriously sweet and sticky, nicely balancing the citrus taste of the lemon curd. As the cakes are lovely and tall, there is an element of balancing required to keep the meringue on top of the curd that is extremely entertaining to see!

Cookies

The second treats that I made came from the ‘Great British Bake off – Showstoppers’ book. I made their Aztec Cookies – A rich cookie with lovely dark chocolate, espresso coffee and chunks of white chocolate. 

Aztec Cookies

These cookies are fairly simple to make and absolutely delicious. The GBBO book describes them as ‘a very adult treat’. I love the combination of coffee and chocolate and must admit that they offer a moment of relief and indulgence in the middle of the work day. 

Image

The taste of these cookies justify making them in their own right, but I love the novelty value of them. The combination of the sprayed edible gold and brick like chunks of white chocolate really serve to transport you to the world of the Aztecs. My additional tip with these cookies is to serve them with a nice pot of Lapsang Souchong tea, filling the room with the beautiful smell of wood-smoke. This helps to further awaken the senses and transport you to the world of the ancients! Bliss!

Cupcakes and Cookies on cake stand

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Recipe: Lemoncello Cupcakes

I have finally got round to publishing the recipe for these delightful little cupcakes. I got the original recipe from a little book of cupcakes that my Mum got me for my birthday this year. It is a brilliant little book of recipes, each of which that I have tried has turned out to be delicious! The book is by Phoebe Gibb and is called ‘Cupcakes: Little cakes for Special Occasions’. I have posted the recipe of how I made the little treats below, but here is a link to the amazon page for the book, should you want to buy the book and try some of these recipes for yourself (which I highly recommend). Here’s the shopping list of ingredients for you!

cupcakes book

1) Set your oven to 180*c. When making cupcakes, I always use silicone cupcake holders to bake the cakes as I find it gives them a more even bake. Line 12 silicone holders with large paper cases and put them on a baking tray.

2) Beat together 100g of unsalted butter at room temperature with 100g of caster sugar until the mixture is very light and creamy. Beat 2 eggs together in a bowl, again at room temperature. Beat the eggs into the butter and sugar mixture a little at a time, making sure the mixture is thoroughly combined.

3) Using a large metal spoon (as opposed to a wooden one, which would make the cake less light), fold in 100g of self-raising flour, before stirring in the finely grated zest of one lemon.

4) Spoon the mixture into the paper cases and level out the cake. I found it easiest to level the cakes out using my thumb. Try and make sure there is an equal amount in each case. Bake the cakes for 15-20 minutes until the cakes are well risen and golden in colour. Put the cakes on a wire rack and allow them to cool (in a very Disney attempt to lure fluffy animals and handsome princes to my door, I always leave them to cool by an open window!).

5) Whilst the cakes are cooling make the topping by whipping 284ml of double cream (that’s the standard tall pot of cream) together with 55g of icing sugar (I found it needed a little more than the original recipe which advised 50g) and 3 tablespoons of Lemoncello. Finely grate the rind of a further lemon.

6) Once the cakes are cool, gently prick the tops of the cakes with a fork and spoon 60ml of Lemoncello over the cakes.

7) Use a star shaped piping nozzle to pipe the cream topping over the top of the cakes before sprinkling them with the grated lemon rind.

I found the cakes were best the same day that they were made but they were still very nice the next day too. As I mentioned in my last post they are wonderfully boozy and a great way to use that spare bit of Lemoncello you have lying around!

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Limoncello Delights!

I was recently faced with a situation that I am sure many a keen cook or baker has faced before me; the dreaded excess ingredients. You find yourself thinking, ‘I’ve just spent a load of money hunting down and buying this lesser spotted, Outer-Mongolian, extremely rare hyacinth nectar, and now I have a load left over!’ Well, I do anyway!

My elusive nectar this last couple of weeks has been a bottle of Welsh Limoncello that I bought to make a cream filling for the profiteroles of my croquembouche. To begin with I decided that the only solution would be to grab myself a glass, settle down with a good book, and to get a little bit tipsy. As soon as my coughing had settled down and I had wiped down my book with a damp cloth, I found myself astonished that a drink that makes such a delicious cream could taste so foul! As with many things in life, the only solution seemed to be to bake!

I found a recipe for some Limoncello Cupcakes and broke out the whisk. The result was a dozen cupcakes that were moist, deliciously zesty and, most importantly, fantasticly boozy!  These cupcakes are very straightforward to make and would very easily be at home as a desert after a nice meal. I’ll post the recipe soon.

Limoncello Cupcakes

Close up Limoncello Cupcakes

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