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February 26, 2016

Baltic Flour Mill

One thing I absolutely love about Newcastle/Gateshead is The Baltic. It's an old 1950's flour mill which has been used as a contemporary art gallery for the last 14 years and has been a favourite spot of mine since my teens. I'm really into my art and love exploring galleries, often alone, because there's just something nice about a solo date in a place so quiet and calm. Although contemporary art isn't *my thing* (I'm much more of a Christian Renaissance era Art type of gal... I realise I sound incredibly pretentious, but that really is my jam,) I like to keep up with the exhibitions at The Baltic as they're so creative and out of my comfort zone of what I tend to find visually appealing or stimulating.

This time around I was an eager beaver to check out the place - purely for Brian Griffiths Bill Murray installation (see previous post!) but I thought I'd share with you some snaps I got of the various other galleries and of course, the incredible view the viewing balcony provides of my wonderful home:

If you haven't heard of The Baltic before, it is a popular destination for tourists and visitors to the area as well as the locals but if you time it right, you can often end up with the galleries to yourself which is great. The mill also has a lovely minimalist café kitchen downstairs which serves some pretty tasty milkshakes and sharing baskets and a fantastic gift shop. The gift shop is perfect for not only arty gifts, but a great selection of books and presents that are spot on for the more unique people in your life. There's also a rooftop restaurant which gives you panoramic views over the whole quayside - its still somewhere I need to experience but I can't wait until I do. Check out what's going on over on The Baltic website, here.

- A.
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February 19, 2016

Book Club No.2

First up, let me just formally apologise for how long it has been since the last Book Club post - September 2015, are you insane?! That feels and certainly is, a long time ago and I'm kind of embarrassed by that. I absolutely love reading - particularly works of fantasy, crime/thriller fiction, and graphic novels - but I've found myself not reaching for books that much in my free time for the last few months. This is partly down to my uni course and job consuming all my energy so its much easier to just veg out in front of the TV when I have some free hours and its partly down to me using that previous point as an excuse. Well, that sh*t ends now.

Despite my lack of reading, I have finished a couple of things lately and wanted to give you my opinion on them - so here we go!

The Great Gatsby
Lets start with a classic. The Great Gatsby is a well-known story and if you ever study A Level English Literature, there's a good chance you'll get far too familiar with this gem (try having an hour and a half lecture focusing on the 2 lines made by a character in the garden party scene - I feel for you, fellow Eng Lit veterans, we made it out to the other side and lived to tell the tale). It's not a new read for me as this tatty, battered ol' book is something I've had since my teens and is something I reach for time and time again. The book is relatively short so it has been a great one for me as I've not had a lot of free time. Now, the story.

If you're unfamiliar with The Great Gatsby, it is essentially the story of Nick Carraway, a young aspiring writer who moves from the Midwest to the fictional town of West Egg in New York City. There, he meets a whole host of characters and the story follows the unravelings of their lives. I don't want to say much more than that because I don't want to spoil the story! But if you're looking for an engaging and poetic bit of literature to sink your teeth into, this is the one for you. A lot of people will have seen the brilliant cinematic adaptation starring Leonardo Dicaprio and Tobey Maguire that plays out pretty true to the book, but one thing you don't get from the film? The gorgeous poetic literature. For that alone it is worth a read. You can pick up a copy for an insanely cheap price, here.

Hammer of God
Now, I know it is silly to include a book that is the third and last installment of a book trilogy because I can't say too much about the story, but I've read it so I need to vent my feelings. The Godspeaker trilogy by Karen Miller is a one I started a long time ago - back when I was maybe 18 or 19. The first book (Empress) was actually something that belonged to my ex and I pinched it after he said it was pretty good. And, I fell in love. Empress follows the story of a child called Hekat who is sold to a passing slave trader and who's life changes dramatically. It sounds like your typical Hollywood cheese, but the story is quite gripping if you're into your fantasies like the likes of Game of Thrones. The second installment, The Riven Kingdom, follows some different characters in a completely different story in a completely different land all together - you can see where Miller's going with this, right? As you might have guessed, the tail-end of book two and all of book three see the two stories collide and that's Godspeaker in a nutshell without any spoilers!

Now, for someone who wasn't a fan of Miller's other award-winning work, The Innocent Mage, this series is in stark contrast for me. The thing is though, I found myself liking each book less and less. Empress is *up there* for me but The Riven Kingdom and Hammer of God? I could take 'em or leave 'em. This might just be down to preference - I think Hekat as a character is new and different and the world she is part of is foreign and intriguing, but The Riven Kingdom sounds like good ol' England in a time of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. Hammer of God does however blend the two nicely together but the lead up to finale of the story is a long, anti-climatic one. This trilogy is definitely a goodie if you like fantasy novels, just don't get too hooked on the idea of the ending being the fantastic climax it should be. After reading some other reviews about the trilogy, I'm not the only one who thinks that this lengthy final book in particular focuses too much on politics and catty character fights that rival the best bitchy Mean Girl-style arguments. If anything, I'd say read Empress as a stand-alone book and maybe forget the next two. I'm pleased to say I finished the series just because I've seen it to the end but the hours I spent ploughing through far too many pages repeating themselves are many hours of valuable reading time I can't get back. Me-ow. If you're still intrigued, or need to finish the trilogy, you can pick up Hammer of God, here.

Have you read anything good lately that you'd recommend?

- A.
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February 12, 2016

Newcastle: My Favourite City

If somehow you've not had enough hints and absolutely obvious city name drops (are those even a thing?) I'm from the north east of England with family living across County Durham and Tyne & Wear. I loved growing up where I did - both Newcastle and Durham are such vibrant unique cities that offer so much to suit every palette and personality... even the teenage "let's go get underage drunk in the park" types (ahem, me. 110% me. I'm not at all sorry.).

As they're such wonderful places of the world, I get such a rush of nostalgia and contentment the few times a year I manage to head home to visit friends and family. Over the Christmas break I had a lot of university work to do and missed out on doing a lot of things I wanted to. Despite this I made a big effort to have some alone time too and I couldn't think of a better way to spend that time than wandering around Newcastle and visiting the latest art exhibitions at The Baltic (more on that in a future post!).

I didn't head into Newcastle until mid-afternoon but I'm so pleased I held off going earlier in the day - just look at the sky. It was so blue, so sunny and such a lovely sunset that it made my whole day even better. The quayside is an area that most tourists flock to due to the Tyne bridges, the Sage, and The Baltic, but after becoming so familiar with it all over the years, it's nice to sometimes take in the other sights and sounds - the churches, the architecture and just the general view.

Newcastle, you're alright.

- A.
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February 05, 2016

Vegetarian Courgette Lasagne

For any of you who know me, you know I'm the first person to look at a menu when I'm out in a restaurant or a pub and scan it for something fatty and greasy and will always be the petite lass trying to tackle a mammoth sized burger with a side of more burgers. Therefore you may be a little surprised to see such a healthy recipe gracing the posts of NB - but there's a good reason; it's really effin' tasty.

Matt & I sometimes pick up the Waitrose Food magazine when we're doing the weekly food shop and January's issue was full of "new year, new me" suitable recipes for kick starting the healthy eating promises so we were intrigued. We love a good stodgy meal, but we also really enjoy a nice crisp salad and figured we wouldn't be disappointed with the mag's offerings. I scanned the pages when we got home and fell in love with a recipe for Courgette and Goat's Cheese Lasagne. A vegetarian meal I'd voluntarily picked out? It had to be good. It tasted amazing, is three THREE of your five a day and is perfect for singletons and couples as it can serve 2. So here's what you need to know:

Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cooking Time: 35 minutes
Per Serving: 390 calories

Ingredients you need:
- 2 tbsp of olive oil
- 1 garlic clove, crushed
- 400g of chopped tomatoes (tinned is perfect!)
- 1 tbsp of honey
- 1 tbsp of chopped oregano (or dried)
- 1 leek, finely sliced
- 200g of tinned butter beans, drained
- 100ml of fresh vegetable stock or water
- 50g of goat's cheese, crumbled
- 1/2 lemon, zest & 1 tsp of lemon juice
- 3 courgettes, cut lengthways into 0.3cm strips (you'll need 18 strips in total)

To prep & cook:
1.) Heat half a tbsp of oil in a saucepan and fry the garlic for around 30 seconds. Then tip in the tomatoes and tbsp of honey, letting everything simmer for 15 minutes until the consistency thickens. Season it to taste, stir in the oregano and set it aside.

2.) Whilst the tomato mixture is simmering, heat another 1/2 tbsp of oil in another saucepan and sauté the leek for 8 minutes or until soft. Next, tip in the beans and stock/water and simmer for 2 to 3 minutes, season then take the pan off the heat. Tip the saucepan's contents into a food processor with the goat's cheese, add some seasoning, the lemon zest and juice and blitz it all together. It might also be worth popping your plates in the oven on a low heat to keep them warm for your meal!

3.) Now dig out your largest frying pan and stick it over a high heat. Toss the courgette strips in the remaining 1 tbsp of oil and season them. Once the pan is piping hot, fry the strips (you will probably have to do this in batches as they won't all fit in the pan,) for 2 to 3 minutes on each side or until they soften and blacken slightly. Get your warm plates out of the oven and place 3 courgette strips on to each plate, spoon over 1/4 of the tomato sauce, top with 1/4 of the cheese/bean sauce, then repeat to build another layer - just like your regular lasagne!

And that's it! This meal was so tasty and would be great to serve hot (like we had it) or you could even have it cold if you don't keep the plates hot etc. I imagine due to the zesty lemon tang, it would be a lovely side dish for a BBQ or a summer picnic instead of your regular salad. If you do make this dish, I'd recommend having something to accompany it purely because you will be left with a lot of sauce from the tomato and cheese/bean layers. We had a sinfully calorific feta cheese & mixed seed tear and share bread to mop up the sauce, but you could easily have this dish with sweet potato, regular potato, grilled aubergine or a salad to keep it healthy. As a meat eater, I think this would go really well with some chargrilled chicken (again - perfect for a BBQ!) or take out the goat's cheese and the honey and you'll make this already gluten-free meal dairy free and vegan friendly, too!

Let me know if you make it and what you thought of it - its a new favourite for Matt & I!

- A.
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