Weekend Review: Janet Brown

Weekend Review: Janet Brown

You may have noticed we've not been very active bloggers recently - sometimes "real life" gets a little too hectic to reflect online. But now we're back - and what better way to return than with a Weekend Review from one of our favourite bloggers (and now RL friend) Janet...

What do you do for work?

I’m a Book Selections Manager for The Willoughby Book Club, which basically means I pick books for people as a job! I also manage all their digital marketing and social media. The WBC is a Leicestershire business set up in 2012 by husband and wife team Adam & Chloe Pollard and they’ve since grown to be the foremost book subscription company in the UK.
In summer 2015 I was a very stressed secondary English teacher, when I saw an advert for book experts to join their team: I applied, and the rest is history. Now, instead of working 70+ hours a week, I spend my days looking at, talking about, taking photographs of and choosing books.

How do you go about choosing a book for a complete stranger?

99% of our customers give us information when buying a subscription – whether it’s for themselves or as a gift – so I have to hand a list of authors, genres and/or books that each customer loves, and sometimes extra information like a Goodreads page or blog. From there, it’s a mixture of extreme book geek-ness, research, and luck!
For example, if a customer has told us they enjoy reading YA romances, Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novels, and the Tales Of The City series, I might pick one More Than This by Patrick Ness – combing, as it does, elements of LGBT romance and dystopia in a literary YA adventure. It helps that I read – a lot – and that I enjoy immersing myself in researching titles.

What advice do you have to someone considering a change in career?

It’s something I’ve done twice now: first, applying for a PGCE after spending a couple of years as a legal secretary, and then leaving teaching for WBC, and both times I felt instinctively that I was doing the right thing. I’m not a risk-taker by nature, but in both cases I leapt first, looked later.
So my advice would be to trust your gut and your heart, and don’t let fear talk you out of something you know is right. Ultimately, if things don’t work out, you can always go back to the career you left with some new experiences under your belt and on your CV.

What's been your proudest career moment so far?

Even though I left the profession, so many moments in teaching made me proud: it’s a great job in many ways – those lessons when a student finally gets ‘it’, or when a class throw themselves into a text and enjoy it as much as I do. I don’t miss the stress of teaching but I do miss the students themselves.

And your biggest achievement outside of work?

Being accepted onto an MA in Gender Studies at Leeds University, which I’ll begin in September.

When is your weekend? 

I’m very lucky to only work four days a week, so my weekend runs from Thursday evening until Sunday. Friday tends to be my ‘get things done’ day, leaving me with two days to properly relax.

How did you spend this weekend? 

It was a pretty typical weekend for me and my partner; as neither of us have family near (Thomas is from Glasgow and I’m a Yorkshire girl) there weren’t any family meals or gatherings to attend. We started Saturday the usual way: a lie-in punctuated only by our cat, Missy, shouting at us to get up.
Thomas is a huge foodie – he loves to eat and will try anything (provided it’s vegan!) so our weekends often revolve around our meals, both at home and out and about. Saturday was no exception; we started the day with Huey on 6 Music while we made breakfast – vegan croissants with fresh strawberries and strawberry jam – before heading out, first to Market Harborough for a mooch around the charity shops, then into Leicester for a late lunch at Oscar & Rosie’s, which has just opened and serves some of the best pizza in the Midlands.
Sunday was a lazy day at home. I started the day curled up with a cuppa and a stack of magazines, then worked on zines for an hour or two. I had a stack of my previous zines to send out to people, as well as needing to edit some submissions for a zine Laura and I are currently working on. It’s called Mixtape and is all about 90s (i.e. the best decade!) nostalgia: we’re still looking for contributions in whatever form you like, so give me a shout for more information or to submit.
We had vegan ‘fish’ finger sandwiches for lunch, then went for a long walk on Aylestone Meadows. We’re so lucky to live in a city but with nature close by – within minutes of leaving home we’d seen a heron idly watching the river, a robin darting around collecting twigs for a nest, and a rabbit escaping into the hedgerow. Then home, with a cup of tea and a book (current read - The Lauras by Sara Taylor), before I made vegan lasagna for dinner, accompanied by 6 Music on the radio once again.

Which bits of your weekend do you usually edit out of your blog posts?

The inordinate amount of time I spend in my pyjamas! I’m a total homebody and can happily spend a whole weekend just pottering around the house, reading, and hanging out with my cat. All very enjoyable, but it doesn’t make for very interesting blog posts!

Your ideal Sunday menu... 

Breakfast: A large mug of tea and pain au chocolat fresh from the bakery, eaten with Thomas on the balcony of the Paris Airbnb that we stayed in on our first trip together.
Lunch: A salmon cesear salad with a glass of sparkling wine, on the outdoor terrace of Montebello (in the southern suburbs of Cape Town) with my mum, cousins, aunt and uncle.
Dinner: I’d dine solo, with just a book for company, on veggie nachos at Lola Rosa in Montreal accompanied by a pint of local Quebec cider.

What's in your fridge?

My fridge has a split personality; although I tend not to eat or cook meat at home, my shelves usually have at least three kinds of cheese as well as butter and eggs for baking, while Thomas’s are stuffed with an array of vegan staples such as hummus, vegan mayo, and Violife cheese. Plus, of course, stacks of fresh veggies and usually at least three lots of leftovers (currently languishing in Tupperware -  some homemade guacamole and leftover chilli, and a tofu Thai red curry).

QUICK FIRE - without too much thought, name your absolute favourite...

Book: Impossible to name just one! But three off the top of my head are Persuasion by Jane Austen, anything by Poppy Z Brite, and Simon Vs The Homosapien Agenda by Becky Albertalli
Film: Dazed & Confused
Fashion brand: ASOS
Holiday destination: Cape Town
Museum: The National Media Museum in my hometown of Bradford.

How can people follow what you do and get in contact?

I’m @jbistheinitial on Twitter and Instagram and my blog is jbistheinitial.blogspot.co.uk

Recipe: Blood Orange & Rosemary Mocktail

Recipe: Blood Orange & Rosemary Mocktail

I'm noticing signs of Spring this week. Only small ones but they're there none the less. Daffodils are shooting, my Hellebore is blooming and Yorkshire rhubarb abounds. With all this longing for Spring I feel at risk of wishing away Winter, though February may be cold it's not without it's own seasonal joys. This leads me to the blood orange, quite possibly my favourite Winter fruit, an injection of sunshine in the darker months and whose short season is imminently coming to an end. It would be rude not to mark it's happening this year without a mention in a recipe.

As with the majority of our recipes, I had weekend brunch in mind, though any time of day would be fitting. For a weekend treat you could always add a little gin too, if needed!

I've kept it simple and light with a honey syrup rather than sugar. Honey adds sweetness whilst rosemary adds a subtle aromatic. You won't need all the honey, I highly recommend trying what's leftover on toast for breakfast or in any other way you would usually use your honey as it's really delicious. The following recipe serves two.

You will need:

  • 200g honey
  • 200g water
  • 4 sprigs rosemary
  • 250 ml freshly squeezed blood orange juice (This is around 5-6 oranges)
  • soda water

To make the honey syrup place the honey and water in a pan along with two of the rosemary sprigs. Bring to the boil and simmer for 20 minutes until reduced. Discard the rosemary and set aside to cool.

Place the blood orange juice into a measuring jug, add two tablespoons of the honey syrup and whisk to combine. 

Divide the juice between two tumblers along with a few ice cubes. Top up each glass with a little soda water and garnish with the remaining rosemary sprigs.

Why I Love... Working in Cafes

Why I Love... Working in Cafes

If you’ve never done it, working from home seems like the dream – and I have to admit there can be real joy in a 20 step commute to ‘the office’, a uniform which can happily incorporate novelty pyjama bottoms, and full control of the radio dial. 

But, as a semi-regular home-worker, I find it’s not always the greatest. We humans are flawed creatures; prone to distractions, loneliness and chocolate-eating.

I’m never one to actively procrastinate; I’ve truthfully never binged on box sets in work hours – I couldn’t live with the guilt or build-up of emails. But other things shift my focus from report writing and Excel spreadsheets – mainly, despairing over my messy house.

It’s true there’s no risk of distraction from work colleagues at home, and this can be a massive bonus when I need to be completely absorbed in something without any interruptions. But equally being alone for too long is rubbish. On these days, I’m so desperate for company I’ll make up reasons to call my boss and am a little too keen to make conversation with anyone/thing I come into contact with (the postman, fellow shoppers in the Co-op, Siri.)

northern cobber leicester

Of course there’s an alternative, and one that seems to fix many of my issues with home working. It does require me to lose the PJs, but for some reason my productivity levels soar when I move my portable office (i.e. laptop, notepad and phone) to a cafe.

We’re lucky in Leicester to have loads of great independent coffee spots with friendly staff and fast wifi. Just before Christmas I profiled a few of these places for Great Central magazine - which you can read HERE

But, there is a small disclaimer - yes, I might have paid for a flat white, but this does not entitle me to be kept warm, connected and fully charged for a whole day. So I stand by the following:

  1. As a general rule, one coffee equals 60 to 90 minutes of work time. If you’re also having breakfast/lunch, you can just about push this to two hours.
  2. Be open to sharing your space, especially if the place is rammed. You might even make a new friend/creative collaborator.
  3. Don't take long phone calls if they are clearly going to be overheard and therefore annoying to everyone else. See also - use headphones when playing audio

Are you a cafe worker? Would love to hear your tips for non-office working!

Create: Stories of a winter walk

Create: Stories of a winter walk

Happy New Year!

Today was the last day of Carlton and I's holidays together. We decided to go for a walk around Aylestone meadows. Carlton has never had much patience for photography, you can read more about this here, (Although written three years ago this still holds resonance today!) I do understand his argument too. Sometimes taking photos can interfere with living in the moment and engaging with those around you. However, of late i've spent a huge amount of time focusing on product photography, specifically cakes. I've been 'too busy'. I no longer stop to photograph the simple everyday moments that please me and maybe i've lost sight of what inspires my love of photography. So in a bid to recapture some creativity I have promised myself to focus on new creative outlets this year. Today seemed like a good day to start. Work is still in progress, it's a little rough round the edges!

In other news, in the last few weeks i've become obsessed with twin peaks, I believe it was Laura who first told me of it's true brilliance. I'm just two episodes away from finding out who killed Laura Palmer....

I'm also doing dry January, so no invitations to the pub please!

Recipe: Spiced salted pecans & Stories of festive happenings

Recipe: Spiced salted pecans & Stories of festive happenings

I really don't know how Christmas managed to sneak up on me unawares again, but here we are with just a few days to go, i've not finished my Christmas shopping, the presents still aren't wrapped, the tree is up (Complete with hand lettered bauble by Kayleigh Tarrant) though I had to be forced into getting one. I have a small mountain of festive baking orders to complete, which i'm looking forward to creating, however my oven has decided to give up the ghost. I also promised myself weeks ago I'd share a couple, if not several recipes for festive gifts here. Sadly, it was not to be. However I would like to share with you what's been happening over the last few weeks, as well as working hard (Christmas + catering industry = crazy times!) there's been plenty of festive play also... 

Firstly I need to tell you that as I write this post I'm also snacking on macarons from Iceland (I'm talking economy frozen food store not country) They are £5.00 for 12 and are also rather good. I fear I may soon be out of a job. 

We spent a dream of an evening at Number 27's wreath making class which Louise wrote about over here, there's also a beautiful video of the evening captured by Rachael Grace over here

We had afternoon tea with Janet then went Christmas decoration shopping in John Lewis, though I decided to opt for homemade decorations this year in the form of brown paper stars (Again, I had great plans for a tutorial post here, maybe next year!)

I'm going to dedicate this recipe to everyone who is as unprepared as I am this festive season. Those people who leave all the things until the last minute then spend more time panicking about getting it done than actually getting sh*t done. If you're in that place I salute you, we can get through this.

This is a really simple recipe, perfect for 11th hour homemade gifting, great to have on hand in case of any surprise visitors and splendid for snacking on whilst finishing that last minute wrapping. They go down rather nicely with a glass of Prosecco too. 

You will need:

  • 250g granulated sugar
  • 250ml water
  • 250ml pecans
  • 1 Tbls Olive oil
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1  further tsp granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp caraway seeds

Preheat your oven to 190°C/175°C fan/gas mark 5. Combine the water and sugar in a saucepan and bring the mixture to a rolling boil to create a stock syrup. Add the pecans to the boiling liquid. Allow the pan to come up to the boil again and continue to boil for 6 minutes then drain the nuts through a colander, discard the syrup. Place the drained nuts onto a baking tray lined with parchment, drizzle over the olive oil, stir to coat and bake the nuts for 6 minutes. While the nuts are baking prepare the spices. Place the cumin and caraway seeds in a small frying pan over a medium heat and toast for a minute or two until aromatic. Combine the nuts with the salt and sugar and blend together, you can grind them in a spice grinder or pestle and mortar for a more even distribution. Once the Nuts have toasted remove from the oven and toss through the spice mix. It's best to try and wait till the nuts are cool before tasting so they can crisp up, however this is quite a test on the old willpower, particularly when the nerves are a little fraught. 

Feel free to mix up the spices, a touch of smoked paprika or chilli goes down a storm. If you don't have pecans to hand Walnuts work well too, whole almonds and hazelnuts can be used but increase both the boiling and baking timings by a couple of minutes. 

At the end of the day all that really matters is spending time with family & friends, eating plenty of good food and sipping on the odd sherry. I hope you have a fantastic Christmas and all best wishes for a terrific 2017!



Recipe: Berry & spice baked oatmeal

Recipe: Berry & spice baked oatmeal

Brunch. Did we mention we're fans?! Never is a brunch gathering more welcome than on a chill Winter weekend. 

One more thing I may or may not have mentioned in this space or our last, i'm really not a morning person. This time of year dragging myself out of bed is a hard task, I need all the help I can get. Fortunately the antidote is nearly always food, and I get hangry if I don't eat a good breakfast.

So, in the spirit of saving time in the morning i've devised this recipe. Akin to a good old fashioned winter fruit crumble, yet refined sugar free so therefore truly virtuous and full of seasonal berry cheer. Feel free to mix up the fruit, use whatever you have to hand. Frozen fruit is totally cool also, its too flippin' cold for foraging now and I doubt you'll find anything of value. (I really meant to publish this post back in October but i've just been too damn busy, the life of a blogger never did run smooth. However, the recipe has been tested several times over in the interim...)

This serves 6 so is great for feeding a crowd at brunch. Alternatively, split between 6 bowls and save in the fridge to warm up as needed, 1 for every day of the week.

You will need:

  • 350g blackberries/mixed fruits of your choice
  • 150g rolled oats
  • 50g flaked almonds 
  • 50g mixed seeds
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1.5 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 100ml maple syrup or honey
  • 250ml milk
  • 1 egg

Scatter the berries over the base of a 20cm ovenproof bowl, round or square will work.

Mix the oats, almonds, seeds, salt, baking powder and spices together in a bowl and set aside.

Combine the milk & maple syrup/honey (If using honey it will need warming in a pan over a low heat so it melts a little.) whisk the egg into the milk and maple/honey and pour over the dried ingredients.

Spoon the mixture over the top of the berries and gently press down with the back of a spoon. 

The dish can now be left overnight in the fridge and baked first thing in the morning, alternatively this can be baked straight away.

Either way it wants to be baked at 160°C for 25-30 minutes until the topping is golden brown and the fruit has bubbled up and caramelised around the edges.

Allow to cool slightly before serving with a little yoghurt.