Welcome to my Blogger page, thank you for visiting. This is where I will share my reviews of books, movies and other things I enjoy. If you would like to see my ramblings, fanfiction and other general posts, please visit my Livejournal: beren_writes. Visit my pages to learn about me and my books.
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Friday, 1 December 2017

Merry Mid-Winter! by Natasha Duncan-Drake #FreeFictionFriday


Free Fiction Friday


And December is here - I'm so excited - this is my favourite month of the year. Most of the family are December babies, so we have a season of birthdays as well as Christmas to look forward to. However, before that, it's the first Friday of the month which means it's Free Fiction Friday over at Wittegen Press. This month we have a fantasy version of the wonderful "A Christmas Carol" by Charles Dickens for our lovely readers, with fairies and fauns and magic.

These stories are exclusively for subscribers of our newsletter, but anyone can join and it's really easy.

It is completely free to become a member and all you need is a valid email address. Fill in the form at the bottom of this page and you’re done. Don't worry if you join after the 1st Friday, the password for the month will be included in the welcome email after you subscribe.

What we WILL DO for our subscribers:

  • Send you an email on the 1st Friday of the month to remind you about the short story and give you the password for the month as soon as the story goes live.
  • Send you information about new books, competitions and events, so you don’t miss anything.
  • Give you two Free eBooks just for joining.

What we WON’T DO to our subscribers:

  • Spam you with loads of random advertising.
  • Reveal your email adress to anyone else.

This Month's Short Story

Merry Mid-Winter!
by Natasha Duncan-Drake
Genre: paranormal, fantasy
Length: ~7.5K wds

Description:
Ebenzia is a fairy. She is supposed to see to the distribution of magic within her district of the magical forest of Lon, but she hoards it instead. This Mid-Winter Festival, forces beyond even her comprehension decide to intervene.

A fantasy version of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol.

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Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Recipe - White Chocolate, Mascarpone and Puffed Wheat Cheesecake with Dark Chocolate Ganache


White Chocolate, Mascarpone and Puffed Wheat Cheesecake with Dark Chocolate Ganache

This is most definitely not a recipe for every day, it is delicious and very decadent! It is something of an amalgam of recipes because I went to a birthday party the other day and they had this wonderful birthday cheesecake. I asked about the recipe, as you do, but didn't get all the details, hence I used what I had gathered and looked at other recipes. I have reduced the amount of ganache in this recipe to that which I used when I made it, because there was a little too much of it.

This makes a cheesecake that will easily serve 12-15 people - it served 5 of us and we only got through a third.

Equipment


  • 1 heat proof bowl
  • 1 large mixing bowl
  • grease proof paper
  • 10.5'' / 27cm spring form tin (you could use a slightly smaller one, just make sure it's a deep one)
  • 1 shallow dish
  • 1 medium saucepan
  • spatulas and spoons

Ingredients

For the cheesecake
  • 280g / 1 1/4 cup / 10oz cream cheese
  • 250g / 1 1/8 cup / 9oz mascarpone
  • 300ml / 1 1/4 cup double (heavy) cream
  • 2x150g (10.6oz) white chocolate
  • 200g / 7oz rich tea fingers (closes US equiv is probably graham crackers)
  • 50g / 1.8oz puffed wheat
  • drizzle of honey
For the ganache
  • 200ml / 1 cup double (heavy) cream
  • 200g / 7oz dark chocolate
Anything you like to decorate.

Instructions

  1. Line the base of the spring form tin with the grease proof paper.
  2. Lay the biscuit fingers flat in the base of the tin, covering as much of it as possible. (Breaking the biscuits into bits can be used to fill in large holes).
  3. Lay the puffed wheat in the base of the shallow bowl and drizzle with honey. Then stir to coat. (You can use Honey Monster Puffs that are pre-coated, but the plain ones were much cheaper, hence this work around :)).
  4. Melt the chocolate in the heat proof bowl. (I microwave it on full for 30s at a time, but you can also gently heat it above a saucepan of hot water as well). Leave to cool.
  5. Whip the cream until it is beginning to thicken.
  6. Add the cream cheese and the mascarpone and whisk again until it begins to hold its shape (not too much or you will end up with cottage cheese).
  7. Pour in the white chocolate and mix vigorously with a spatula. (It might look grainy for a few moments, but don't worry, it is supposed to become much stiffer).
  8. Add the puffed wheat and mix through.
  9. Carefully add the cheesecake mixture over the layer of rich tea biscuits, smoothing out to the sides.
  10. Add another layer of rich tea biscuits on top and refrigerate.
  11. To make the ganache, break the chocolate into a heat proof bowl.
  12. Put the 200ml of cream into a saucepan and bring to the boil. Boil gently for 1 min watching carefully to make sure it does not bubble over.
  13. Pour the cream over the chocolate and mix to melt it all together to make a lovely shiny fluid.
  14. Remove the cheesecake from the fridge and pour over the ganache.
  15. Decorate as required and return to the fridge until needed.
The puffed wheat give this cheesecake the most wonderful texture. It was described to me like Kinder Chocolate with cereals, but I've never had one of those so I can't compare :). All I know was it was yummy.

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Recipe - Delicious & Fun Lasagna Pockets


Delicious & Fun Lasagna Pockets

This recipe is based off a Twisted recipe and they have a great video to show how the pockets go together, but I changed the underlying recipe somewhat, so this is my version. I made this yesterday and my husband ate three of them, so I'm counting them as a win. They would be great for a dinner party or a lot of fun for children because there is always something more fun about having our own individual little parcel than just a chunk of a whole.

However, do not fool yourself, these are not easier than throwing together a big lasagna, in fact they are more of a faff :D.

Bechamel White Sauce

Buying the white sauce in a jar or box is fine, but I totally forgot it, so in case you are in the same situation, here's how to make it.


Ingredients

  • 60g (1/4 cup) butter
  • 60g (1/2 cup) plain (all purpose) flour
  • 600ml (2 1/2 cups) milk
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 bay leaf (optional)

Equipment

  • 1 sauce pan
  • 1 measuring jug/cup measures
  • 1 small whisk
  • 1 small bowl (to measure the flour into)
  • Sieve

Instructions

  1. Melt the butter in the pan over a medium heat.
  2. Add the flour and whisk in to form a thick paste.
  3. Add a small amount of the milk and stir until smooth. Repeat this until all the milk is mixed in.
  4. Add the salt and pepper and bay leaf and cook gently, stirring constantly, until the sauce thickens (about 7-8 mins).
  5. Sieve (I did this to get rid of the bay leaf, which had lost a few little bits into the mixture) into the measuring jug previously used for the milk and leave to cool.

Lasagna Pockets

First a word about the lasagna sheets, unfortunately not all lasagna sheets are made equal. I don't know what size your average lasagna noodle is in the US, but in the UK, most of the dried, boxed ones I've seen are simply not long enough. I used fresh lasagna sheets from Morrisons which are much bigger, and when split down the centre are perfect for one pocket.

This recipe would work fine in variations for meat eaters or vegetarians, but not vegans, sorry.

The original ingredients were supposed to make four, but with the extra I threw in, it will make at least five (I didn't have room on the baking tray so just made a small lasagna in a take away box which is now in the freezer :)).


Ingredients

  • 500g mince [beef, turkey, soya, quorn etc]
  • 2 small or 1 large carrot
  • 1 red onion
  • 1 red pepper [capsicum] (I use roasted, out of a jar because I hate pepper skin)
  • 1 small courgette (zucchini)
  • 2 cloves of garlic minced (I use squeezy garlic from a tube :))
  • pinch of salt (smoked salt gives great flavour)
  • pinch of pepper
  • 1 tsp chili paste/flakes
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 stock cube [beef or vegetable]
  • 60 ml (1/4 cup) sweet sherry
  • splosh of seasoning sauce [Worcestershire or soy sauce]
  • 350ml (1 1/2 cup) passata
  • 350ml (1 1/2 cup) bechamel sauce
  • 250g (1 1/2 cup) grated mozzarella (I used a mozzarella/cheddar mix because I prefer more cheese flavour)
  • 25g (1/4 cup) grated hard Italian cheese [Parmesan or vegetarian equiv]
  • 4 large flat lasagna sheets split length ways to make 8, or 8 individual long ones
  • 2 tsp oil for frying or spray oil
  • fresh basil (optional)

Equipment

  • sharp knife
  • chopping board
  • large frying pan/skillet
  • large flat spatula
  • baking tray (lined with grease proof paper/baking parchment)
  • various bowls and spoons

Instructions

  1. Finely dice the onion, carrot and red pepper.
  2. Cut the courgette in half and slice it into thin strips lengthwise.
  3. Heat 1 tsp of oil in the frying pan and add the mince, tossing it in the oil until coated.
  4. Crumble in the stock cube and cook until the mince is browned.
  5. Remove into a bowl and drain off excess juices.
  6. Put the pan back on the heat and place the strips of courgette all across the bottom of it.
  7. Cook until tender and colouring, turning once in the middle of cooking.
  8. Place flat on a plate and leave for later.
  9. Add the other tsp of oil to the pan and place on a low heat. Add the chopped onion and sweat down until translucent.
  10. Add the garlic, diced carrots and diced pepper. Cook on low until the veggies are tender (this took 20 mins for me, but you can leave it with the lid on and do something else, just coming back every now and then to check and give it a stir).
  11. Stir in the tomato paste and cook through for about 1 min.
  12. Return the mince to the pan and stir so everything is combined.
  13. Add the pinch of salt, pepper and squeeze of chili paste and stir through.
  14. Splosh in the sherry and the seasoning sauce and cook for a minute or so until the sherry is reduced.
  15. Add the passata and bring to the edge of a boil, before turning down and simmering for about 10 mins.
  16. Allow to cool so that it solidifies up a bit - sloppy mince will make for very difficult assembly of the parcels :).
  17. Pre-heat the oven to 180C/350F
  18. Par-cook the lasgna sheets as instructed on the packet.
  19. If you want to see how the parcels go together - check out the video made by Twisted over at their version of the recipe. Here is my written version:
    1. Place one lasagna sheet vertically on a flat surface.
    2. Spread a thin layer of bechamel sauce in the centre of the strip.
    3. Place another sheet over the first to make a cross, using the bechamel to stick them together.
    4. Put another, slightly thicker layer of bechamel over the square where the two sheets overlap.
    5. Add a layer of the mince mixture on top of this (between 3 and 4 spoonfuls).
    6. Lay courgette strips from each corner over the mince (this will help stop things spilling out when making the parcel).
    7. Cover with grated mozzarella.
    8. Fold up the sides, top, left, bottom, right and tuck the corner of the right one under the top one to make a parcel (like closing a cardboard box).
  20. Transfer the parcels to the baking tray using a wide, flat, spatula.
  21. Cover the top of each parcel with bechamel sauce.
  22. Add grated mozzarella and some of the grated hard Italian cheese over the bechamel.
  23. Bake in the over for 20 mins until golden and bubbling.
  24. Garnish with fresh basil and serve.
These are so much fun and worth the effort just for something different. Thanks to Twisted for the original recipe - it's a brilliant idea.

Friday, 3 November 2017

A Matter of Will by Natasha Duncan-Drake #FreeFictionFriday


Free Fiction Friday


And November is here - soon it'll be Christmas and we won't know where the year went :). It's the first Friday of the month which means it's Free Fiction Friday over at Wittegen Press. This month we have a novelette for our lovely readers, with werewolves and vampires and magic.

These stories are exclusively for subscribers of our newsletter, but anyone can join and it's really easy.

It is completely free to become a member and all you need is a valid email address. Fill in the form at the bottom of this page and you’re done. Don't worry if you join after the 1st Friday, the password for the month will be included in the welcome email after you subscribe.

What we WILL DO for our subscribers:

  • Send you an email on the 1st Friday of the month to remind you about the short story and give you the password for the month as soon as the story goes live.
  • Send you information about new books, competitions and events, so you don’t miss anything.
  • Give you two Free eBooks just for joining.

What we WON’T DO to our subscribers:

  • Spam you with loads of random advertising.
  • Reveal your email adress to anyone else.

This Month's Short Story

A Matter of Will
by Natasha Duncan-Drake
Genre: paranormal, romance, vampire
Length: ~8.5K wds

Description:
Edwin and his pack have beaten the invading vampires, but they lost people doing it. One of those lost meant far more to Edwin than he would like to admit and his heart is breaking. The problem with vampires, though, is some of their kills come back.

Newsletter Subscription Form

We'll send you details of book releases, competitions and other news from our authors, BUT we WON'T spam you, or pass your details on to anyone else.
Wittegen Press

We will also give you 2 FREE ebooks just for signing up.

* indicates required

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Good luck to all those doing NaNoWriMo


It's day one of NaNoWriMo or National Novel Writing Month when thousands of writers make it their goal to write 50K or more words throughout November.

This year I am passing on NaNo and the whole starting a new novel thing. I've chosen to concentrate on short stories for various projects, and finishing the editing/formatting of my existing novels so they are ready for paperback in time for Christmas. I've written my first 2K today on one short story, so all is going well from my end so far.

But I wish all those going for the 50K lots of luck and perseverance.


Remember to:
  • Pace yourself.
  • Reward yourself.
  • Don't punish yourself if you miss a day here and there.
  • & Have fun!
May the words flow, the inspiration take you, and the pesky details line up in perfect order.

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

All Hallows Read - Free Book - Possession Is Nine Tenths of the Law


All Hallows Read
Free Book
Possession is Nine Tenths of the Law

by Natasha Duncan-Drake & Sophie Duncan

As is our tradition at Halloween, Soph and I are supporting All Hallows Read once again. The idea is that instead of candy we give out a free book. This makes giving over the internet much easier and promotes the joy of reading, so it's win/win!

Our book this year is called Possession is Nine Tenths of the Law and it has two spooky stories in it to tingle the spine:
  • Looking for Luticia by Natasha Duncan-Drake
    Lucy is the host of a successful ghost hunting TV show, but their latest location is going to be a lot more haunting than she or her crew have ever dealt with before.
  • Lost in the Dark by Sophie Duncan
    Evelyn Edness is a medium who works for the dead, helping them to move on from the limbo of an eternity as ghosts. Kate Grange has come to ask for her help.
It is free to download from Smashwords for all our trick or treating visitors. After Halloween it will be 99c so grab your copy TODAY while it is free. Just click below and you're away.

Possession is Nine Tenths of the Law

Happy Halloween!

Monday, 30 October 2017

Creepy Countdown Day 8 - Canopy of Doom


We're almost at Halloween and we all know how that get's the mind turning. It's often just the idea of ghoulies and ghosties and long legged beasties that make us hide under the covers, or run for the light switch, so from now until the big day I thought it would be fun to talk about ordinary things that scare us when the mood is right. These are the kind of thing good horror movies love to twist to get us going.

Canopy of Doom


And here we are on the last day before Halloween! Everyone ready with all the candy, costumes and chocolate? We don't go in much for trick or treating around here, but I have the goodies in, just in case we get a few.

So on a bright summer's day there is nothing nicer than driving along a lovely road with overhanging trees. The beautiful greens and natural atmosphere is wonderful. This is especially true on those amazing roads that have a complete canopy over them. We have several near where I live and they are exquisite.

However ...

We all knew that was coming didn't we :)

There is nothing more sinister on a dark Autumn night than driving down the same kind of road with only headlights to guide the way. It doesn't matter if it's a two lane road or a single track lane - the effect is the same.

These are the roads all those ghost stories talk about. The ones with the phantom hitchhiker, or the lady in white that appears in the back or passenger seat of the car. The ones we can't do anything to avoid.

It doesn't matter what we believe during the day, at night, all bets are off. There are definitely ghosts waiting for us somewhere under the dark, eerie canopy.

All there is in front of us is a dark tunnel with seemingly no end. No stars, no moon, just trees reaching down, ready to bar our way when the ghost tells them to. What is beautiful in the sun is terrifying when night descends.

Do you have any road with tree canopies near you or have you driven down such roads? Were they scary? Do you have any other types of roads that give you the creeps?

~*~
Coming October 31st
FREE for 1 day only for All Hallows Read

Possession is Nine Tenths of the Law
by Natasha Duncan-Drake and Sophie Duncan

Two spooky stories to give you chills.
Check back on Halloween for details of how to download.
poster by blablover5

Sunday, 29 October 2017

Creepy Counrdown Day 7 - Into the Dark


We're almost at Halloween and we all know how that get's the mind turning. It's often just the idea of ghoulies and ghosties and long legged beasties that make us hide under the covers, or run for the light switch, so from now until the big day I thought it would be fun to talk about ordinary things that scare us when the mood is right. These are the kind of thing good horror movies love to twist to get us going.

Into the Dark


Entering a dark room can be unsettling, simply because, most of us, at some level, are scared of the dark. It's a primeval instinct left over from when the dark could kill us, and since some of us still regularly fall over the cat, the instinct is well honed. However, I find that this instinct is even worse if there is a staircase involved.

At home there is nothing worse on an Autumn evening, than working away upstairs and then realising I have forgotten to turn any lights on downstairs. I have to go from the brightness of my PC screens, down into blackness.

Equally, sometimes on a Winter morning, when I have to go up to my office, all there is upstairs is darkness and my heart always skips a beat. It never helps when one of my cats comes with me and then decides to hightail it back downstairs half way up, either!

Somehow the stairs are like the doorway into another world, one of light and the other of darkness. There could be nasty, creepy things waiting in that darkness, patiently sitting there until I bridge the gap between realities.

I also hate to admit it, but there have been a number of times I have charged downstairs after turning the lights off up there too!

Do you have any places you really don't like to enter if they are dark? How do you feel about staircases that descend or rise into darkness?

~*~
Coming October 31st
FREE for 1 day only for All Hallows Read

Possession is Nine Tenths of the Law
by Natasha Duncan-Drake and Sophie Duncan

Two spooky stories to give you chills.
Check back on Halloween for details of how to download.
poster by blablover5

Saturday, 28 October 2017

Creepy Countdown Day 6 - Tap, Tap, Tapping At the Window Pane


We're almost at Halloween and we all know how that get's the mind turning. It's often just the idea of ghoulies and ghosties and long legged beasties that make us hide under the covers, or run for the light switch, so from now until the big day I thought it would be fun to talk about ordinary things that scare us when the mood is right. These are the kind of thing good horror movies love to twist to get us going.

Tap, Tap, Tapping At the Window Pane


So, the other day I talked about shadows through the window, but there is, of course, something even worse. What could be creepier than something tapping on our windows in the middle of the night, or even scraping along the glass?

It's an image that works so well to terrify - everyone remember that iconic scene in Poltergeist. Of course that film takes it a little further in that the tree really is out to get Robbie.

Come to think of it, it may be that film I have to blame for my long held fear of branches tap, tap, tapping at the window. I'm very glad to say there is no tree anywhere near our bedroom window.

Of course in horror it doesn't just have to be a tree, it could be an insane bird, or even Dracula. That is what makes such noises in the middle of the night so utterly terrifying. When we are in the mindset to believe, the monster is always trying to get in.

Windows these days are a little more sturdy then they once were, but we all know even tripple glazing wouldn't stand up to the monster slowly scratching away at the glass. Its claws must be really long and sharp to make that noise, or is that the sound of fingernails as ghostly apparitions make known they want to come in.

I'll tell you one thing, I'm diving under the duvet - no way am I parting the curtains to check!

Have you ever had a room or stayed in one where a tree made itself known by tapping at night? Or anything else for that matter?
~*~
Coming October 31st
FREE for 1 day only for All Hallows Read

Possession is Nine Tenths of the Law
by Natasha Duncan-Drake and Sophie Duncan

Two spooky stories to give you chills.
Check back on Halloween for details of how to download.
poster by blablover5

Friday, 27 October 2017

Creepy Countdown Day 5 - What's Up Pussy Cat


We're almost at Halloween and we all know how that get's the mind turning. It's often just the idea of ghoulies and ghosties and long legged beasties that make us hide under the covers, or run for the light switch, so from now until the big day I thought it would be fun to talk about ordinary things that scare us when the mood is right. These are the kind of thing good horror movies love to twist to get us going.

What's Up Pussy Cat


Apparently today is National Black Cat day, so of course I had to do something to do with cats. Always remember, black cats are lucky—treat them well and we will do well, treat them badly and the worst luck will find us. I don't have a black cat at the moment, but my sister has an adorable little girl called Binx who loves head scritches :).

Now we all know cats are odd creatures and it's no surprise that Ancient Egyptians thought they were sacred. Anyone who has cats knows their cat can never fully be explained by mere mortals. In one way they are very useful to explain away spooky things - anyone with cats will immediately assume that any weird bangs and crashes are the cats getting into things they shouldn't be getting into.

However, there is one really, really creepy thing they do...

We all know what I'm going to say, right?

It's when they suddenly stare at nothing as if they are looking at something we just can't see. Even worse is when they do it just over out shoulder with that OMG expression to go with it.

The other day I was sitting on the floor reordering DVDs on the shelf to put away new ones (yes, my collection is alphabetised ... and by category) and Amber was helping, as cats are wont to do. Then all of a sudden she stared over my left shoulder in that way she has when someone dares enter her presence she does not wish to deal with. It was so very, very creepy. I admit it, I had to turn the lights on at the other end of the room just so there were no dark corners!


Do you have cats? Do they do the stare at nothing thing, or do you know cats that do? Does it freak you out?
~*~
Coming October 31st
FREE for 1 day only for All Hallows Read

Possession is Nine Tenths of the Law
by Natasha Duncan-Drake and Sophie Duncan

Two spooky stories to give you chills.
Check back on Halloween for details of how to download.
poster by blablover5