Lockdown, Writing life, Writing news

M&B #91 accepted!

Thrilled to say that my latest M&B Medical Romance (my 91st book for them) has just been accepted. It was VERY tough to write during lockdown – given the events in the world, it felt as if my work was completely irrelevant and frivolous, and writing the book was like wading through treacle. I had no connection with my hero or heroine, but I talked to my editors and they reminded me that it’s better to edit a bad page than a blank page, so I sent in a book I was really not happy with. My editors said I wasn’t alone in feeling this way and that not only were other writers finding it hard, the editors were also struggling to read. Even though I work from home in normal s circumstances, it isn’t the same at all during lockdown.

While my editors were ploughing through it, I had a shift in mindset. Short romance novels like mine serve a very specific purpose: they entertain people, they have a definite happy ending so they help to lift moods, and maybe this is what the world needs right now. Love and happiness. And I needed to stop feeling miserable and bring the joy back. (I’d been doing that with Facebook posts including birdsong and my daily walk with the beastie and catching the sunrise – oh, wait, pictures!! Look at this!! More on my Instagram account.)

So my editors came back to me with comments, and I scribbled all over my manuscript (actually – maybe it’d be nice for you to see my writing in progress. One set of revisions, scribbled all over (it’s in track changes so I can see my editors’ comments, and I use a pink Pilot v-ball pen for my changes as it has a very fine nib and suits my tiny, scruffy handwriting). I usually have an Edit-paw-ial assistant sitting at my feet, but occasionally Senior EPA decides to sit on the dining room chair next to me. Pipsqueak obviously won’t be big enough to do that, yet, and I think he’d climb on the table and chew my pens at the moment!

Anyway, I’m delighted to say that Forever Family for the Midwife (the midwife, by the way, is a male midwife…) will be published in November 2020. You can find it on Amazon UK here (for transparency’s sake, that’s an affiliate link) and Amazon US here (not affiliate link). And I will do the proper page for it on my website soon 🙂

Lockdown, Recipe

Lockdown recipe: lime drizzle cake

Easy recipe – takes 35-45 mins cooking + 15 mins prep. Can swap limes for lemon or orange, or a mix. Makes 12 slices (works out at 8 weightwatchers points a slice)

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Ingredients:

  • 75ml vegetable oil
  • 200g sugar (+ 1 tbs for the drizzle)
  • 250g plain flour
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 3 limes, zested and juiced
  • 225ml soya milk (almond or oat also works)

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 180C and line a 2lb loaf tin.
  2. Mix the oil, sugar and lime zest together.
  3. Add the flour, milk, bicarbonate of soda and 1tbs lime juice.
  4. Pour into the lined tin and bake for 35-45 mins (depends on your oven, and you might need to put some foil over the top for the last 10 mins of baking to stop the top catching).
  5. Meanwhile put the remaining 1tbs sugar and remaining lime juice in a bowl. Just before the cake is due to come out, heat in the microwave for 30 secs (you don’t have to, but it means the syrup soaks deeper into the cake).
  6.  When the cake is done (springs back when touched), take it out of the oven, pierce with a skewer and spoon the syrup over the cake.
  7. Cool and enjoy.
Lockdown, Recipe

Lockdown – gnocchi

Serves 2; takes 5 mins to cook both batches, plus 20 mins prep and an hour to bake the potatoes

Ingredients:

  • 500g medium-sized floury potatoes (Maris Pipers work really well)
  • 75g plain flour

Method:

Bake the potatoes for about an hour at 200C. When a knife goes into them easily, take them out, cut them in half, scoop out the potato and mash well (if you have a ricer, great – if not, a sieve will do – don’t add butter or any liquid).

Add the flour – cut it in with a knife, then work it in with your hands and knead lightly until it’s a non-sticky dough. (You might need a little more flour if it’s still sticky.)

Divide the dough into four and roll each piece into a sausage about 2cm thick; cut off slices about 1.5cm thick and roll into an oval. Place a fork on your work surface, so the tines are sticking up; hold the handle of the fork with one hand, and with your other hand roll your gnocchi up the tines and flip it over the edge (so you get ridges on one side and a light thumbprint on the back).

Drop half the gnocchi into a large pan of boiling water. When they rise to the surface (about 2 mins), they’re done. Remove with a slotted spoon and keep warm while you cook the second batch.

Serve with whatever sauce you like – the classic sauce is melted butter with fried sage, but we used an arrabbiata sauce (aka passata, garlic, onion and a bit of chilli) mixed with roasted Mediterranean veg.

Lockdown, Recipe

Lockdown – baked veggie risotto recipe

Based on a WeightWatchers recipe. Could swap the beans for 300g cooked diced chicken; and add Parmesan at the end when you serve. Is also nice cold with salad for lunch the next day.

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Serves 4
Takes 35 mins + prep

Ingredients:

  • 1 red onion, peeled and finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
  • About 2cm of red chilli pepper, deseeded and finely chopped
  • 1 red pepper, deseeded and diced
  • 1 medium courgette (zucchini), diced
  • 150g mushrooms, diced
  • 275g arborio rice
  • 1 x 400g tin chopped tomatoes in juice
  • 1 x 400g tin aduki beans, drained and rinsed
  • 350ml stock
  • A little oil

Method:
1. Preheat the oven to 180C.
2. Heat the oil, saute the onions for 5 mins until soft, add the garlic and chilli and cook for another minute.
3. Add the rice, and stir for a minute.
4. Add the tomatoes, stock and vegetables.
5. Bring to the boil, add the beans, then transfer the lot to a casserole dish, cover, and bake for 25 mins until the rice is tender and liquid absorbed.

Lockdown, Recipe

Lockdown – cashew, chili and red pepper pasta sauce recipe

Easy and quick! Takes about 2 mins + 10 mins soaking for the cashew cream, then up to 20 mins, depending on what you do with sauce…

Serves 1 (easy to change quantities)

This is a very tweakable recipe. The basic cashew cream can be made sweet by adding a dash of vanilla extract; or you flavour it however you like to use with pasta (it’s very bland on its own!). You will need a blender (a stick blender will do).

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Ingredients:

  • 80g (1/3 cup) cashews
  • hot water to cover
  • half a red pepper, deseeded
  • About 2 cm of red chili, deseeded and finely sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
  • a little oil

Method:

To make the basic cashew cream, tip the cashews into a bowl and cover with boiling water. Leave to soak for 10 mins, then tip the lot into a blender and whizz until smooth. (If you’re making it sweet, add vanilla extract to taste and whizz again; if savoury, see below…)

Put the red pepper on a plate and microwave for about 3 mins (if you don’t have a microwave, spray lightly with oil and roast for 20 mins). Leave to cool slightly and remove the skin.

To make the cashew cream, tip the cashews and water into a blender and blend until smooth. (Keep it in the blender for now as we’ll add more ingredients in a second!)

Heat the oil in a small pan, add the chili and garlic and sauté until soft. Add to the blender with the red pepper, and blitz again. (If you’re serving with pasta, start cooking the pasta at the same time as you heat the oil.)

Pour the sauce back into the pan and heat through – you might need to add a little water, depending on how thick you like your sauce. Serve with the pasta.

Tweaks: 

  • Alfredo: omit the chilli and red pepper, swap the oil for sunflower margarine and sauté 125g of sliced mushrooms with the garlic; then add the cashew cream and heat through)
  • Omit the red pepper and chilli, add a teaspoon of prepared wholegrain mustard to the garlic, add the cashew cream and then stir in some roasted veg and heat through
Lockdown, Recipe, Uncategorised

Lockdown – squash, pepper and bean curry recipe

SQUASH, PEPPER AND BEAN CURRY

Takes 30 mins + prep; serves 4

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Ingredients:

  • 1 red onion, diced
  • Olive oil
  • 25g fresh ginger, chopped (or 1/2 tsp ground)
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp garam masala
  • 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp chilli powder
  • 1 X 400g tin chopped tomatoes
  • 1 red pepper, cored and cut into chunks
  • 600g squash, peeled and diced (can swap this for same weight of courgette, aubergine, other coloured peppers etc)
  • 1 X 400g tin black beans, rinsed and drained (or other beans, or chickpeas)
  • 150ml stock
  • couple of large handfuls of spinach (opt)

Method:

  1. Heat the oil in a large pan and saute the onion for 2 mins
  2. Add the garlic, ginger, spices and tomato puree, and saute for 1 min
  3. Add chopped tomatoes, stock and other veg, simmer for 20 mins
  4. Add the beans, simmer for 5 mins
  5. Add the spinach, if using, and wilt

Serve with rice or naan bread

Lockdown, Recipe, Uncategorised

Lockdown – butternut squash soup recipe

BUTTERNUT SQUASH SOUP 

Serves 4 generously (keeps in the fridge for 3 days)

Takes about 35 mins + prep

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Ingredients:

  • 1 butternut squash, peeled and seeded and diced (or buy it prepped – 600g)
  • 1 pepper, seeded and diced
  • About 3cm of fresh red chilli, seeded and finely sliced (opt)
  • 2 ribs celery, chopped
  • 1 carrot, peeled and chopped
  • 1 red onion, peeled and chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
  • 1 litre stock
  • 2 tsp olive oil

Method:

  1. Heat the oil in a pan, add the onion, garlic, celery and carrot, and saute for 3 mins.
  2. Add the squash and stock, bring to a simmer, cook for 30 mins until the squash is cooked.
  3. Cool a little, then whizz through a blender and check the seasoning. (You might need to add a little bit more stock/water, depending on how thick you like your soup.)

Alternatives: 

  • Spicy: end of stage one, add spices and stir for 30 seconds: add 1tsp smoked paprika and 1 tsp cumin; or 1/2 tsp mild dried chilli; 
  • Orange: with the stock, add grated rind of an orange (and stir in the juice after you’ve blended it)
Lockdown, Recipe, Uncategorised

Lockdown – potato and leek soup recipe

Serves 4; takes about 30 mins + prep

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Ingredients:

  • 450g potatoes, peeled and chopped
  • 3 medium leeks, washed well and cut into 1/2cm rings
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 litre stock
  • 1/2 tbs olive oil

Method:

  1. Heat the oil, then saute the leeks for about 3 mins.
  2. Add the potatoes, garlic and stock.
  3. Simmer for about 25 mins, until the potatoes are soft.
  4. Let it cool a little, then blend and season. 
  5. Garnish with snipped chives and a swirl of plain yogurt
Lockdown, Recipe, Uncategorised

Lockdown – veggie soup recipe

Super-easy – takes about 30 mins + prep

 

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  • 1 red onion or leek, peeled and finely chopped
  • 2 large carrots, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled and finely sliced
  • about an inch of red chilli pepper, deseeded and sliced (or a pinch of dried chilli flakes)
  • 1 tsp ground smoked paprika
  • A litre of veggie stock (or 1 tin chopped tomatoes in juice plus fill the tin with water once or twice again, depending on the amount of veg you use)
  • Veggies – all roughly chopped – of your choice, roughly one large handful prepped per portion of soup (I’d use red/orange/yellow pepper, courgette, butternut squash, sweet potato, parsnip, a couple of ribs of celery…) (if you’d rather have a brothy soup, cut to small dice rather than roughly chop)
  • Big handful of dried red lentils
  • a little olive oil

Method:

  1. Heat a little oil in a pan; add the onion, carrot, celery, fresh chilli and garlic; saute on medium heat for 5 mins. 
  2. Add spices and cook for 30 secs.
  3. Add veggies and stock (and dried pulses if using), and simmer for 25 mins or until veggies are soft. 
  4. For smooth soup, whizz through a blender; for brothy soup, you’re already there 🙂

You can also get away with just dumping everything but the oil in a pan, bring to a simmer, cook for 25 mins (makes it even more low cal/easy effort).

Exercise, Lockdown, Uncategorised

Lockdown – exercise circuits

I adapted one of my gym circuits as a home workout and I did actually film myself on my phone to demo it – but I cant download it! So I’m afraid it has to be the ‘paper’ version (though I guess that spares you seeing the flab!).

Suitable for all ages/levels of experience. No special equipment needed (but if you do the high-impact version you DO need proper gym shoes and, if appropriate, a supportive bra). If you have mobility problems, keep whatever you do to a safe level for you – don’t push your boundaries. Make sure you warm up first.

The key thing is COUNTING EACH REP OUT LOUD – because that will fill your head and give you no space to think about what’s going on in the world outside. It’ll give you a mental break as well as help your fitness.

It’s a ‘pyramid’ so you can repeat the circuit, or do it backwards, or do all the exercises in sets of ten – whatever you want to do. (But count the reps, because that’s the mental health boost!)

WARM UP
March on the spot, do circles with your arms (as in lift arm up, twist slightly to look behind as you circle your arm down), do a few knee bends, move your arms around

CIRCUIT

  • 100 jogs (each leg), marches or steps
  • 80 star jumps (full range if you’re used to it, step it out if not)
  • 60 punches (each arm) – 20 upwards, 20 in front, 20 down
  • 40 squats (go as low as you can, but make sure your knees are NOT further forward than your toes) – or if you’re finding the move tough place a chair behind you and sit down and stand up (without using your arms to help you)
  • 20 twists (standing – or if you want to sit to do a ‘Russian’ twist, bend your knees with your feet flat on the floor and your knees together, lean backwards slightly, hold a tin or a weight with two hands, and touch the floor with the weight each side)
  • 10 bicep curls (don‘t swing your arms – lock your upper arms, start with your arms at 90 degrees to the floor, clench your fists and draw your arm up from the elbow – do it slowly, three seconds up and three seconds down, because it’ll make your muscles work harder)

COOL DOWN

  • hamstring stretch – take a step back with one leg, bend the other knee (make sure it’s not further forward than your toe), both feet flat on the floor and hold (if you can’t feel it in the back of your leg, widen your stance!)
  • quad stretch – pull one leg up behind you and hold (should feel along the front of your thighs) – might need to hold on to a chair for balance, and that’s fine
  • shoulders – link your hands, turn them 180 degrees out, round your back and drop your head forward, hold

IF YOU DO HAVE A ROPE/STEP/WEIGHTS…
This is the original circuit. Enjoy!

  • 120 skips
  • 100 star jumps
  • 80 punches
  • 60 Russian twists with a shoulder press in the middle
  • 40 squats
  • 20 knee drivers (each leg)
  • 10 burpees