The Perfect Easter Lunch: Jerk Lamb With Guava Sauce

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Easter’s here! Amid all the chocolate we’ll be scoffing, we’ll most definitely be sitting down to a special Easter meal of roast lamb like millions of other families up and down the country.

But this year I fancied an Easter lunch with a bit a twist. Rather than the usual minted roast lamb, I thought about serving a roast lamb with a jerk seasoning and served with roasted sweet potatoes. I remember watching Jamaican chef Virginia Burke on a food programme where she cooked a delicious looking jerk lamb; a contemporary take on the classic jerk chicken. I remember Burke saying at the time: “We have the best food in the Caribbean but nobody knows about it.”

And she’s absolutely right! I have been a big fan of Jamaican food – in fact all Caribbean – for years and I’m really surprised that it’s not more well known because I’m sure it would really take off in a big way – in quite the same way that Indian or Thai food has.

If you’ve never tried Caribbean food, you really don’t know what you’re missing. Try Virginia Burke’s recipe for jerk lamb with a yummy guava sauce. Gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous!

Image from tastebook.com

Image from tastebook.com

JERKED LAMB WITH GUAVA SAUCE

Ingredients

For the jerk seasoning
•6 spring onions
•2 scotch bonnet peppers
•1 tsp ground allspice
•1 tbsp thyme, chopped
•2 tsp ground cinnamon
•1 tsp nutmeg, grated
•1 tsp brown sugar
•1.5 tsp salt
•1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
•75 ml white malt vinegar, distilled
•1 tbsp oil

For the guava dipping sauce
•1 heads garlic
•1 tsp olive oil
•175 g guava jelly, or redcurrant jelly
•2 tbsp white wine vinegar
•1 tsp hot pepper sauce, (optional, for added heat)

For the lamb

•3 tbsp jerk seasoning
•2.5 kg leg of lamb, boned
•2 cloves garlic, crushed

To serve
•1 tsp parsley, fresh, chopped
•1 tsp coriander, fresh, chopped

Method

1. Place the ingredients for the jerk seasoning into a blender and whiz to a thick paste.

2. Rub the jerk seasoning and salt thoroughly into the lamb. Cover and marinate in the fridge overnight.

3. Set the oven to 180C/gas 4.

4. Rub the crushed garlic on the inside of the lamb leg. Roll up the leg and tie in three places to secure. Roast for 45 minutes for medium rare – add about 15 minutes cooking time for well-done lamb.

5. To make the dipping sauce, cut off the top of a whole head of garlic. Pour over the olive oil, wrap it in foil and roast for about 15-20 minutes, until soft.

6. Squeeze the garlic cloves out of their skins and crush them in a saucepan. Add the guava jelly and white wine vinegar. Stir until the guava jelly has dissolved, add the hot pepper sauce (if using) and bring to a simmer. Cook for five minutes.

7. Allow the lamb to rest for 10 minutes before carving. Just before serving, stir the parsley and coriander into the sauce. Slice the lamb and serve immediately with the warm sauce.

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Congratulations Donnie Wahlberg… And Grow Up, Fans!

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Most girls never forget their first childhood crush – and I’m no different. I love, have always loved and will always love New Kids On The Block. From the first moment I saw them bopping away on Top Of The Pops, they captured my heart, and even though I’m now very much a hard-rocking chick, there’s a piece of my heart where they still reside and refuse to move from – and that’s fine with me!

Like thirty million other young girls, I was convinced that I was going to be Mrs. Jordan Knight and had my former teenage self had her way, this blog could very easily have been called Chez Mrs. K! But alas it was not to be. Mr. K refused to wait for me to grow up and went on to marry someone else – paving the way for the man who did wait for me. Which is great because becoming Mrs. D is the best thing that ever happened to me – even if Mr. D does question my taste in music!

 

A very loved-up Donnie Wahlberg and Jenny McCarthy

A very loved-up Donnie Wahlberg and Jenny McCarthy

 

Earlier this week, television presenter Jenny McCarthy announced her engagement on The View (the American Version of Loose Women) where she is one of the anchors and flashed her beautiful yellow sapphire ring. And who’s the lucky man? None other than New Kids On The Block’s very own Donnie Wahlberg who McCarthy has been dating for the past year. It’ll be the second time down the aisle for both of them, and I, for one, cannot wait for the glossy ten page spread. For Jenny’s first wedding she wore a stunning vintage-style 1930s gown so it’ll be interesting to see what she wears for her wedding to Donnie.

Jenny's ginormous rock!

Jenny’s ginormous rock!

 

But it seems that not all the fans are jumping up and down at the idea of Donnie finding his Favourite Girl. Some of the nasty remarks and comments I’ve come across are really shocking. I’ve even had to reread some of them twice to make sure that they really do say what I thought they did. It actually made me see red. I suppose mildly catty comments are inevitable. But to say that these comments are mildly catty is like saying that water is a little bit wet! I’m not going to repeat any of these hideous remarks but it seems as though they were written by females who still think they’re eleven years old and back in 1989, where they’re making up dances to New Kids’ songs in the playground. What’s shocking is that some of these women have let slipped that they’re married! MARRIED??? Oh my goodness ladies – it really is time you got a grip!

 

Donnie as he was back in the day!

Donnie as he was back in the day!

 

True, I don’t think anyone would have thought of pairing Donnie and Jenny together – but then don’t opposites usually attract (definitely do in the case of Mr. and Mrs. D!) And how does Donnie’s love life concern his fans? Shouldn’t they be happy that their idol has found love instead of making derogatory comments about his new fiancée? And did they really think that they had a shot – a real shot - at marrying a New Kid? Furthermore, did they actually think that Donnie would stay single and available while they grew up and moved on with their lives? It’s beyond ridiculous! Whether anyone thinks that Donnie and Jenny are a match made in heaven really isn’t anyone’s business except – surprise, surprise – Donnie and Jenny’s. And assuming that we’re not relatives or close friends of the couple, it’s not as if any of us actually know them well. So who are we to pass judgement?

 

 

The boys who broke millions of hearts...

The boys who broke millions of hearts…

 

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised at the level of vitriol I’ve discovered. A look at forums and comment boards regarding all things New Kids On The Block have indicated that for every fan who is happy that the band members have the whole relationship and kids package, they are about a hundred haters who have absolutely nothing nice to say. And that’s putting it very mildly. In fact what’s even more disturbing than the nasty name-calling are the most ridiculous allegations against the New Kids members which could seriously put their relationships in jeopardy had they not been married to really strong women who knew well in advance that this sort of spiteful behaviour came in the job description of wife of a New Kid!

... and as they are today. Still mighty fine!

… and as they are today. Still mighty fine!

I’m absolutely appalled that the people who run these sites and forums have not removed these comments, and I’m even more surprised that the New Kids haven’t threatened to sue. Maybe they’re just too smart to read such comments. Or maybe they do read them and just laugh at how pathetic these women are. I remember back in the ’90s, the New Kids – like many male pop acts at the time – couldn’t admit to having a girlfriend for fear of alienating fans. They couldn’t even admit to having had a girlfriend. But as they are all grown men in their forties, do we still expect them to pretend that they’re still waiting to experience their first kiss just to keep us happy? To be honest, this wouldn’t actually make me happy – I’d just wonder what was wrong with my idols!

 

I suppose the real issue here, is that the spite, jealousy and hostility that women are famous for pelting each other with is still there. And I know it only too well – I did go to an all-girls school for five years. If a woman has something that another woman wants, you can bet her Fendi clutch that she’ll feel the full force of the other woman’s insults as they rain down upon her. I suppose what some of these ‘fans’ don’t realise is that they are actually dealing with real people – not just faces on a poster that’s stuck on the wall – and their families. And real people have real feelings and feel real pain. I wonder how I would have felt, had I really become Mrs. Knight and I had to read the most disgusting rubbish about me, written by people who hadn’t even met me. Actually I know exactly how I would have felt and that’s why I think it’s just wrong. I really cannot believe just how childish some people can be. It really is about time some people learned to grow up.

And on a less ranty note, congrats to Donnie Wahlberg and Jenny McCarthy. I hope they prove the haters wrong. I really loved how Jenny got all emotional when she was telling the girls on The View all about the engagement – she very nearly set me off too! Awesome news and I’m so glad that one of my fave New Kids has found someone who has the right stuff!

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Passionate About Grenadilla!

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Everyone who knows me knows that although I try to eat healthy and like fruit, I’m not really an apples and oranges kind of girl. I love anything that’s a bit out of the ordinary so I can’t get enough of exotic fruits. Dragon fruit, mango, lychees, rumbutans… you name it, I’ve tried it. Or so I thought… After being introduced to granadillas by a friend this week, I tried them for the first time. “If you like passion fruit, you’ll love granadillas,” said my friend confidently. And he wasn’t wrong. The granadilla is indeed a relative of the delicious passion fruit and hails from South America. Whereas passion fruits have a tough purple skin, granadillas – which are larger in size – have an inedible, shiny, orange-gold skin which appears hard at first but is actually surprisingly fragile. There is a very spongy pith before you get to the edible part of the fruit. As with passion fruit, the edible part consists of black seeds covered in a jelly-like pulp; the only differences being  that the pulp is more of a pale champagne colour and is much sweeter in flavour – almost like honey.

 

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HOW TO PREPARE

  • Granadilla is orange and firm when it is ripe.
  • Ripe granadilla can be refrigerated for a few days.
  • Cut the fruit into two halves as you would with passion fruit.
  •  Scoop out the jelly-like pulp with a spoon. The skin is not to be eaten.

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HOW TO EAT

  • Granadilla is commonly eaten by itself but it can be cooked or juiced.
  • It makes a great jelly, jam, pie filling, flan topping or cake frosting and also makes a great addition to  fruit salads.

 

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It also has great nutritional value and is said to be  an excellent source of fibre and essential minerals, such as phosphorus, iron and calcium.  They are usually available in the spring months so now is the time to try them. You never know – it could be your new favourite fruit!

 

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Try this recipe for  a granadilla meringue pie – a tropical twist on the classic lemon pudding.

GRANADILLA MERINGUE PIE

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INGREDIENTS:

200g packet of ginger biscuits

80g butter, melted

385g can of condensed milk

125ml lemon juice

5ml grated lemon rind
3 egg yolks
50ml granadilla pulp
3 egg whites
125ml castor sugar
METHOD:
  1. Put the biscuits in a food processor and remove and place in a bowl.
  2. Add the butter and mix well.
  3. Press the mixture into a greased 20cm pie plate and chill in the fridge.
  4. Combine the condensed milk, lemon juice, rind, yolks and granadilla pulp and mix well.
  5. Pour into the crust.
  6. Beat the egg whites until stiff then gradually beat in the castor sugar, reserving 15ml to sprinkle on top.
  7. Pile the meringue on top of the filling.
  8. Sprinkle with the remaining castor sugar.
  9. Bake at 180°C for 20 minutes or until the meringue is light golden brown.
  10. Turn off the oven and leave the pie in for another hour.
  11. Remove and cool completely before serving.
  12. Enjoy!

Recipe from Angela Day Kitchen http://www.angeladay.co.za/

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The No Straighteners Challenge

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Forget the wheel, the motor car and even the mobile phone; for me, the greatest invention ever has got to be… hair straighteners! That’s right, hair straighteners. But then when you’ve got unruly hair that can only be tamed by a good pair of straighteners, you’d think that they were the best ever invention too.

Image from en.wikipedia.org

Image from en.wikipedia.org

I have been using hair straighteners since I was in my mid-twenties and I could never get over the transformation: I went from looking like a small shrub to looking like a girl from a hair commercial. Amazing! I have a fantastic pair of straighteners by Tresemme and they go everywhere with me.

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Sadly, I’ve noticed that all this non-stop straightening over the years has left my hair in something of a sorry state. It’s become quite parched, frizzy, static and more unruly than usual. Using styling products is only a short-term solution to the problem. I’ve tried using home-made remedies such as conditioners made from egg and olive oil and switching to different shampoos which are suitable for my hair type. I’ve also limited the number of times I use my straighteners, use a heat-defence spray before using heated appliances, and have reduced the heat setting on it. And it has made a noticeable difference… but it’s not enough.

I cannot live without my Tresemme hair straighteners.

I cannot live without my Tresemme hair straighteners.

 

I now have to concede defeat and ditch my straighteners. At least for a while – a long while! I realise the problem are the straighteners and until I stop using them completely, my hair is never going to recover. My hairdresser was appalled by the condition of my hair which she said had been ‘burnt’ from over using heat appliances.

But the question is, after years of being heavily dependent on them, can I leave my house with my hair looking au natural? How will I be able to face my work colleagues with crazy hair? Can I deal with the sniggers from my students? Will Mr. D refuse to be seen in public with me? What will having shrub-like hair do for my confidence? Well, I think my confidence will be in even more tatters if I continue to wreck the condition of my hair which has always been one of my best features and if I want it to stay one of my best I have to take care of it and make sacrifices… meaning no more straighteners.

 

certain hair care products have helped improve the condition of my hair.

certain hair care products have helped improve the condition of my hair.

 

So I’m going to give my hair a lot of tlc; continue doing what I’m doing as well as having conditioning treatments at the salon, and not use my straighteners for one whole month and see if there’s any improvement. I’m hoping that some really good hairstyling products will help in making me look ‘presentable.’ But will I really be able to get through a whole month without my beloved straighteners? Watch this space…

…and wish me luck!

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Ireland’s Got Talent: Father Ray Kelly Rock’s The Wedding Ceremony

Coffee Talk

Coffee Talk

I have only just seen the latest YouTube video sensation that has taken the world by storm – and I’m not surprised at why it has become so popular.

Father Ray Kelly stunned guests – not to mention the bride and groom Chris and Leah O’Kane – with a little surprise that he had for them. The ‘little surprise’ turned out to be an amazing rendition of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah with a few changes in the lyrics specially intended for the happy couple.

Many artists have covered this song but Fr. Kelly’s version was so beautiful it brought tears to many of the guests eyes. And yes – I did get a little teary myself as I watched it. But then again, I am such a water cart, so it really wasn’t a surprise.

Catholic priests have a reputation for being a bit ‘fuddy-duddy’. No disrespect to the priests who married Mr. D and me but we did clash a fair bit over our plans for the wedding service. Although my plans were not against church rules, I had two priests who were sticklers for tradition so anything that seemed a bit ‘out there’ was thrown out the window and tradition it was! I couldn’t really argue because it was a case of their church, their rules. So good on Fr. Kelly for putting his own spin on tradition.

It’s such a lovely story to kick start the wedding season and the run-up to Easter. It also reminds me of one of my fave films Sister Act where the power of music brought something of a miraculous change to an inner city parish… I bet Fr. Kelly’s church was packed the next day!

 

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Cocktail Heaven: Dark n’ Stormy

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I love cocktails… I adore rum. So Bermuda’s national drink, Dark n’ Stormy is just perfect for me. And it’s so easy to make. Try it and see.

 

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INGREDIENTS:

50ml rum

25ml lime juice

Ginger beer

Ice

METHOD:

  1. Fill a highball glass with ice.
  2. Pour rum and lime juice into glass.
  3. Top up with ginger beer.
  4. Drink!

 

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Fashion Goes Bust!

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A recent article in a women’s magazine made me seethe. Emblazoned across the top of the page was the headline: WHICH SIZE BREASTS ARE BEST?

SERIOUSLY??? ARE YOU SERIOUSLY GOING TO ASK US THAT??? I had to check the cover of the magazine because for a moment, I thought I might be in possession of a lad’s mag. Nope – definitely a women’s weekly!

“FLAT IS THE NEW BIG THING!” shrieked the pull quote. “HAVING A HUGE BUST IS OUT OF FASHION IT SEEMS!” the intro proudly announced.

Oh OK then. I’ll just remove my big boobs, stick them back in the box, return them to the store and exchange them for a pair of smaller, pert, perkier ones. I would never have known they were out of style had it not been for this feature.

Kelly Brook is apparently out...

Kelly Brook is apparently out…

Excuse me, fashionable? Clothes, shoes and hairstyles may go in and out of fashion but not body shapes as far as I’m concerned. I was always under the impression that body parts were functional rather than fashionable. Most parts of our anatomy are not like hair which can be cut, lengthened, coloured, curled, shaved, straightened, teased etc. to best fit what is considered to be the look du jour. What do you do with body parts which are not the right shape or size?

The article went on to state that envy over big-busted girls has gone out the window as women prefer to have a more toned and athletic physique over Jessica Rabbit curves. Yes, breast enlargements are still being carried out but now women are opting for a more natural look  over anything that screams plastic. Small busted ladies are encouraged to thrown out their underwired bras and ‘be proud of those fried eggs!’ Despite the fact that the closing paragraphs encouraged ladies to love what their born with, the overall tone of the article was to big up (excuse the pun!) those who are not massively endowed while diminishing (again no pun intended!)  those who have more up top. I can’t help but feel a bit miffed – and that’s putting it mildly.

...while Beth Tweddle is in.

…while Beth Tweddle is in.

The basis for this feature came from findings from a poll that was carried out by  a company who develops and manufactures implants and expanders in which 2000 people were surveyed. It found that 72% of women said that, if they had to have surgery, they would only go up one bra size, while men also agreed that when it came to boobs, less is definitely more.

That’s all very well when you’re talking about cosmetic surgery and people’s expectations from cosmetic procedures but what about when what you’re naturally blessed with isn’t  necessarily the look that’s being coveted? How does that make you feel?

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Small boobs are beautiful… and so are big!

During my teenage years, my mother was alarmed at the rate in which I was moving up cup sizes. I, on the other hand, like most teenage girls, was delighted. And it wasn’t just because they made my jumpers hang nicely! I wasn’t blessed with a flat stomach and when supermodel pins were being handed out, in all the excitement, I fell over and knocked myself out while running to join the queue - so Cindy Crawford got what should have been mine. Therefore, I was naturally quite proud of my chest. Even when I lost the puppy fat, my bust was still very evident even though I didn’t have page three bazookas!

Having big boobs never did Salma any harm.

Having big boobs never did Salma any harm.

So do I think big boobs are better than little ones? Not at all because even I know that there’s a downside to being bigger on top. You have to deal with spiteful comments from women and goggle-eyed stares from men (don’t even get me started on the drunken comments) You have to be careful what you wear because the wrong items of clothing will over-emphasise the bust area; leave you looking matronly, or have you fearing fall-out! Then there are the problems when you get older where your boobs have the bizarre urge to say hello to your feet whereas ladies with smaller boobs look more youthful. And girls who are massively endowed have complained about back-ache to the point where a breast reduction is a necessity rather than for vanity’s sake.

Having smaller boobs has not stopped Keira Knightly from being successful... or beautiful.

Having smaller boobs has not stopped Keira Knightly from being successful… or beautiful.

Have there been times when I wished my boobs were smaller? Yes. In order to be taken seriously and to stop the stares. I also got quite frustrated at how certain style of clothes looked so elegant on small busted girls while it just looked trashy on me. And of course I do worry about what they’ll look like after pregnancy – will I be tempted to go under the knife in order to obtain perfection? And when complete strangers comment on them, there have been times I’ve definitely wished I was less curvaceous.

But when all’s said and done, I absolutely love what I’ve been blessed with. They’re not totally in your face but they’re mine, they’re a part of me and they’re what I’m used to. And Mr. D is definitely very happy with them! Hollywood stars Christina Hendricks and Catherine Zeta-Jones have both said how having an ample bosom makes them feel “womanly and sexy” and I know exactly what they’re talking about.

Mrs. Beckham after succumbing to the so-called plastic fantastic!

Mrs. Beckham after succumbing to the so-called plastic fantastic!

I didn’t find the article annoying because it seemingly went against what I’ve naturally got. But I feel that talking about what’s en vogue body-wise can have a detrimental effect on women, especially impressionable young girls. Body dysmorphic disorder, eating disorders and teenage depression and bullying all seem to be on the increase. You only have to pick up a paper to know that and I don’t feel that features like this help – even though I’m sure it was intended to be nothing more than a light-hearted talking point. It’s one thing to report on survey findings but totally another to debate which breast size is best. And anyway, aren’t we supposed to encourage women to be more than just boobs on legs? Don’t we criticize glamour models, WAGS, and reality stars for being just that? Isn’t it  better, in an age, when breast cancer is a growing concern, that we focus more on having healthy breasts rather than their size?

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The truth of the matter is that people are very rarely totally happy with what they have – maybe it’s just human nature. And if my boobs are out of fashion then it’s just a damn good thing that I’ve never really been a follower of fashion which is proven by the number of calls I get from the 1980s! When it comes to loving your body, I would leave all talk about what’s fashionable or not to the catwalks of Paris and Milan and focus on being happy and healthy and making the most of what you’ve been blessed with.

So whether you’ve got pancakes, fried eggs, or melons, stand tall and be proud. Embrace what’s yours and feel totally gorgeous.

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Pear Shaped By Stella Newman

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They say you should never judge a book by its cover but I have to say that it was the cover of Pear Shaped that caught by eye: pretty and dainty in light blue with splashes of bold colour including amethyst and hot pink (my favourite colour combination) featuring a girl carrying a scrummy looking dessert. It screamed girly heaven and I believed that this read was going to be all sweetness and light. Little did I know that there was an element of darkness lurking between these pages…

In Stella Newman’s debut novel, we meet Sophie Klein, a confident, sassy independent thirty-something with great friends, a good social life and the best job in the world – pudding developer for a company called Fletchers. She gets to come up with ideas for new desserts; think up packaging  and best of all, she gets to taste-test them – an aspect of the job Sophie absolutely loves.

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But Sophie’s life isn’t all rosy in the garden. She is getting over a broken relationship; her mother and brother live thousands of miles away in America; there’s her annoying neighbour Amber and the boss she can’t stand, Devron, and her beloved elderly grandmother who can no longer care for herself. Sophie, being the ever resourceful girl that she is, just takes these things in her stride. Unfortunately life’s about to throw a curveball she won’t be able to manage…

On a night out, Sophie meets the charming and charismatic business owner James. Although he is not conventionally good-looking and a fair bit older, Sophie takes a shine to him. They soon start dating and James makes grand gestures in order to really sweep Sophie off her feet. It isn’t long before the attraction she feels for him soon turns to love.

However, after a while Sophie starts to feel quite insecure in the relationship. James doesn’t seem ready to commit, and then there are his frequent absences as he goes away on business and his erratic texts and phone calls. The fact that his ex-girlfriend is a model also doesn’t help. Sophie begins to wonder if James is too good to be true – and it isn’t long before his true colours begin to show. During a heart- to- heart, James reveals that he’s never been out with anyone like her, referring to her size. James doesn’t seem to realise that although this is a woman who tests puddings for a living, Sophie isn’t fat but he’s obviously comparing her to the skinny model exes.

So  it all goes down hill from here as a pattern develops in this book: Sophie gets close to James; James pulls away; Sophie tries to move on; James reels her back in. As irritating as Amber and Devron might be (they do incidentally provide some of the comic moments in the novel) James is by far the most unlikable character in this book. Shallow, arrogant, selfish, insincere, and a man who befriends cheats and liars,  it’s quite obvious that he doesn’t care for Sophie, constantly putting her down, but at the same time he can’t quite let her go.

Author, Stella Newman image from amhealth.com

Author, Stella Newman
image from amhealth.com

I could relate to this story and Sophie’s pain as she desperately tries to move on and get her life back on track, as we’ve all had the misfortune of knowing a James at some point in our lives. We’ve either dated him ourselves or our friends and sisters have. We’ve either been yelled at by worried friends and relatives who insist we leave the relationship, or we’ve been the ones doing the yelling. Despite feeling saddened by Sophie’s plight and seeing her sink into depression for which she eventually needed medical attention, there were times, I just wanted to reach into the book and shake her. This is a young lady who has everything going for her, who could easily find a man who treats her better – if only she could shake off that horrible James. The Jameses of the world are not easy to spot because they are charmers and schmoozers who know how to say and do all the right things to get you sucked in, causing you to ignore all the warning signs, as Sophie soon found out.

Despite being light-hearted and comical at times, there is a deeper, darker element to this novel. Stella Newman explores the sinister side of relationships: infidelity, emotional abuse, the need to control and the devastating effect it can have on the person on receiving end of it. Sophie’s lack of self-respect and insecurities are a sharp contrast to the feistier elements of her character  which shows the effect this unhealthy relationship is having on her. Without wanting to give too much away, there is a somewhat semi-happy ending but I did find the climax to be a little disappointing as I felt that such a dramatic and thought-provoking story needed a stronger conclusion.

However, I do think that Newman is a brilliant and witty writer. I loved her lengthy descriptions of the puddings (food porn for us dessert-aholics!) and another thing I liked about this book is that the author lists the places she likes in London and New York (both cities feature in this book) plus restaurant reviews and recipe sources. Perhaps the only real love affair in this novel is between a woman and her sweet-tooth! But I just couldn’t get away from the fact that this was a novel about an abusive relationship and it was brave of Newman to tackle such a taboo subject for a chick-lit novel. There has been criticism that the novel reflected badly on women but I disagree. This is a novel about one woman’s heartbreak and her attempts to rebuild her life – with the help of lots of sugar!

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Oscars’ Frocks That Rocks!

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The Academy Awards ceremony – the actor’s equivalent of Christmas – has been and gone with Gravity, Dallas Buyers Club and 12 Years A Slave doing pretty darn good!  But for me – and it’s been this way since childhood – it was the dresses I couldn’t wait to see and they didn’t disappoint with some of the gowns being as dramatic as the movies themselves.

These gowns were beautiful, elegant and unique, and no doubt the actresses wearing them felt a million dollars – they certainly looked it!

Sadly none of these designer gowns, which have phone numbers on the tags where the price should be, will be taking pride of place in my wardrobe any time soon – in fact none of these gowns will EVER be taking pride of place in my wardrobe… but a girl can dream!

Here are some of my faves:

PENELOPE CRUZ

I cannot believe Ms. Cruz  made it onto the worst dressed list this gown – who compiles these lists?! I loved the simplicity and Grecian style of this  dress – the tiny black bow detail was all this shell-pink,  Giambattista Valli gown.  Stunning!

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SANDRA BULLOCK

Didn’t you know – midnight blue is the new black? I always think that Gravity star Sandra never puts a stiletto-clad foot wrong when it comes to style – and she’s proved me right yet again with this gorgeous, strapless Alexander McQueen gown complete with small train.

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KATE HUDSON

Kate’s slinky Atelier Versace gown had a plunging back and deep V-neckline with just the right amount of bling. Although the jury’s still out on the shoulder pads, I adored the cape detailing. A truly unique gown.

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JULIE DELPY

This Jenny Packham gown came under attack for the over the top sleeves but I loved the old school, vintage glamour that this dress exuded with its exquisite beading .

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IDINA MENZEL

The singer and actress chose a beautiful Vera Wang strapless gown in a very unusual shade a green – almost a cross between black and forest green.

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CHARLIZE THERON

I only have one complaint about this Dior gown and that is the clear straps which remind me of those bras we used to wear back in the nineties. Otherwise this mermaid- skirted dress is to die for.

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KATE BECKINSALE

It really pains me to include Kate’s gown as she’s the woman Mr. D. would leave me for in a heartbeat! But there’s no getting away from it – this gold Elie Saab gown is pass-out-and-die-gorgeous and in my opinion, definitely top of the frocks. The fabric is amazing; it shimmers beautifully, and a dress that is backless with cut-out sides and a split shouldn’t work – but it does. awesome, awesome, awesome!

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Dinner At Mine By Chris Smyth

What I'm Reading

What I’m Reading

Journalist Chris Smyth’s debut novel Dinner At Mine is the reading book which has accompanied me on my way to work for a week – and it definitely made the bus trip seem a lot shorter which must mean that I enjoyed this book immensely!

One of the reasons why I picked up this book was because it’s loosely based on the concept of TV’s Come Dine With Me; a show of which I’m a massive fan. To be honest, I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like Come Dine With Me and many countries actually have their own version of the show – some of which I’ve seen and enjoyed. Even though the show has been around since 2005 (nearly ten years. My goodness!) it’s still as popular as ever with viewers despite slight changes to the format and for a while the nation went Come Dine With Me crazy, hosting their own dinner party events with friends.

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And that is basically the concept for this book: a group of friends get together and compete to see who can hold the best dinner party. Even though they got the idea from the TV show, there are some fundamental differences:

  • Dinner parties are hosted in pairs rather than by four or five individual hosts.
  • Dinners are hosted once a week over a four week period rather than on consecutive nights.
  • There is no cash prize – they’re competing purely for glory!
  • Sadly, there is no voiceover from Dave Lamb. Shame!

The couples hosting dinners are: happily-marrieds Rosie and Stephen, proud parents of baby Jonathan; career couple, secretly-yearning-to-be wed Sarah and her ultra-competitive boyfriend Marcus; socially conscious vegetarian Justin and his beautiful,  American, artist girlfriend, Barbara, and reluctant singletons, Charlotte and Matthew who are thrown together by Rosie  in the hope that dinner won’t be the only thing cooking between the two of them!

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The competition is Rosie’s idea and she is the one responsible for selecting this eclectic group of people, some of whom are good friends, while others are acquaintances and some are meeting the others for the first time. What should be simple and straight-forward proves to be anything but. Despite Marcus being the most competitive, determined to find fault with the other teams, friendship counts for nothing as everyone wants to be the best and win despite there not being any prizes – and they will go to any lengths to achieve their moment of glory.

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The actual dinner party events are secondary to the tensions and problems in the lives of the competitors which is further exacerbated by the competition causing jealousies, insecurities and hostilities to come to the fore thus creating friendships and relationships to collapse faster than a cheese soufflé. There is tension between best friends Matthew and Stephen regarding lawyer Matthew’s former relationship with Rosie while the three friends were at university; Sarah is questioning her career and relationship choices;  Barbara’s career is in decline and she’s having trouble renewing her visa, both of which impact heavily on her relationship with Justin, and trouble-making loudmouth Charlotte can’t help stirring the pot every opportunity she gets.

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I found this book to be a real page-turner; I couldn’t wait to get to the end. I really liked how the novel was divided into four parts, where each part focused on a different party which gives the reader a real sense of where they are in the story. The characters decide the best way to deliver votes is by email and I thoroughly enjoyed reading their overly frank comments and ridiculous reasons for why points were being deducted (tactical scoring of course!) And there were a few twists in the tale too – some of which really surprised me.

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Smyth tells a great tale of what happens when an element of competition is introduced within a circle of friends. It could even be a metaphor for modern day society in which manners; honesty, and consideration towards others count for nothing as it’s every man for himself, and indeed many of the characters do exactly as they please and take what they want at the expense of the others. All the characters are flawed in one way or another but I have to say that  by the end of the novel, I really couldn’t stand most of them. Gossipy, bitchy, uptight, highly-strung, back-stabbing… all thanks to a three-course meal! It also seemed quite obvious to me that one character had an alcohol problem while another seemed to be suffering from a mild form of depression but neither of these issues were touched upon. I was also quite disappointed that the endings to some of the sub-plots were not neatly tied-up but were just left hanging.

Author Chris Smyth

Author Chris Smyth

However, I really did enjoy reading Dinner At Mine. It was thoroughly entertaining. I’m sure many of my fellow commuters thought I was a bit of a lunatic, grinning away to myself, but there were also moments were I felt quite sorry for some of the characters, and believe me, if I could have climbed into this book and given some of the characters a good slap – I would have!

A great book published by Simon and Schuster in 2012. I can’t wait to read Smyth’s next novel.

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