Are there still spinsters in fiction?

An easy, cheerful purchase from the Red Cross Bookshop is Alexander McCall Smith’s Friends, Lovers, Chocolate, from his Isabel Dalhousie series. I’m right in the middle of it, so I won’t review it just yet, but I had a horrible realisation this morning.

I’ve always pictured Isabel as someone who is ever so slightly like Miss Marple, an aging spinster who wears a grey skirt when she works and has male friends, but not lovers. Imagine my horror when I discovered that she is, in fact, in her early 40s. Her early 40s??!! My age! How many women in their early 40s wear grey skirts when they’re working at home, or diamante earrings when they go out to meet a new gentleman. How many spend hours in the company of an attractive man in his mid-20s without at least imagining a wee bit of depravity? They might not act on it, but they certainly would be imagining it!

The reason why these are lovely little petit fours of books is because they’re in no way dark, but are instead gentle and cozy – gezzelig, as the Dutch say. But there’s no excuse for entirely desexualising a 40 year old woman, nor for making a real-life 41 year old woman go into semi-shock!

Just to make it clear…

Aging spinster in grey skirt and cream cardigan =  



Women in her 40s in grey = 


Can you spot the difference? Answers on an SAE please…


Gwyneth Paltrow’s Lalo’s Famous Cookies (aka be careful before baking something made up by a gizillionaire…)

lalo cookie

In a quest to eat healthy and yummy food, I decided to make these cookies from Gwyneth Paltrow’s cookbook, Notes from my Kitchen Table. The ‘Lalo’ in the name is what her children call her mother, and these are great cookies to give young ones as they are very healthy. However, in order to make them according to the recipe you really do need to have the bank account of an Oscar-winning actress/wife of giant rock star! I reckon the recipe in the book will leave you with little change from £15, so I’ll include her recipe and my own adaptations. I think this still came close to £10, which is not something I can justify very often, but they are lovely.

450 g barley flour (I didn’t have barley flour in the cupboard, so used half plain flour and half spelt flour)

450 g unblanched whole almonds, crushed in a food processor (I don’t think I crushed mine enough, which is fine from a taste perspective but which means they didn’t hold together as well as they might. I also wonder if it would be cheaper to use ground almonds with a handful of crushed whole almonds to give them crunch. This is over £5 worth of almonds after all!)

1 tsp fine salt

1 tsp ground cinnamon

250 ml rapeseed oil (I only had sunflower oil in the house but rapeseed oil is better for you overall. On my shopping list for next time.)

250 ml real Vermont maple syrup (This is the real killer, cost-wise, at least in the UK. A 250ml bottle of maple syrup set me back over £6! What I did was use half maple syrup and half Sweet Freedom. Still expensive but a savings, without resorting to sugar.)

Your favourite jam (I used cherry, but also experimented with Nutella and peanut butter. All very yummy!)

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4. Combine all the ingredients except for the jam together in a large bowl with a wooden spoon. Form tablespoons into balls and space them evenly on baking sheets. Using your index finger, make an indent in each cookie. Fill each indent with a small spoonful of jam. Bake until cookies are evenly browned, about 20 minutes. Let cool before eating.

These aren’t low-calorie; however, it goes to show that while healthy may not always equal low-cal, it’s still very yummy, very filling and good for the soul, if not for the wallet.

There are some great looking recipes on her website, including these granola bars which I might make this week.

Food diary – Saturday 22 June (Day 1)

  • Breakfast: porridge with peanut butter and jam, water
  • Morning snack: 2 diet cokes, 1/4 piece of homemade coffee cake, handful wasabi peanuts
  • Lunch: pasta with tuna, lemon, parsley, garlic and olive oil, salad with cucumber and light french dressing, homemade vegan chocolate chip muffin, water
  • Afternoon snack: 1 Belgian chocolate, cup of rooibos chai
  • Supper: bacon sandwich with 2 slices bacon on seeded bread with ketchup, strawberries, handful corn tortilla chips, water
  • Evening snack: bowl of muesli, glass of white wine

Exercise: walk for 3 miles into town

Water: 5 glasses

Food diaries

I know it’s not the most exciting things for anyone other than me to read, but one thing I’ll do on this blog is upload my food diary. This is a way to keep me accountable and let me see what I’m eating over time, where I go right and where I go wrong.

Since when did well-being become optional?

I’m not different from lots and lots of other women my age. When I hit my forties, all of the things that I’ve been whinging about for years but haven’t done anything about seem to be that much more important. Losing weight becomes more about creaky knees and health as opposed to fitting into my pre-baby jeans. Finding time for yoga is about managing stress and becoming more flexible, as opposed to ‘finding myself’. Time sitting alone in a cafe with a cup of chai tea and a novel has gone from just what I do to an absolute luxury to something I need to feel good.

Moving out of my thirties brings its own challenges, but I can see space being carved out for taking better care of myself. My kids are currently 9 and 5. They can entertain themselves or play with neighbourhood friends with less input from me. They can get themselves drinks, pour themselves a bowl of muesli, let themselves into the back garden, scoot down our cul-de-sac, put on a DVD, all without me needing to hover.

At work I’m just now becoming senior enough where I can say no to almost anything without worrying about how it might affect my promotion prospects. I’m just about to get a PA, an unheard of luxury for today’s academics, and won’t have to spend time managing my diary, booking my travel or dealing with my massive stack of expense claims. I’ll be working with a number of research assistants who will help me publish more with less effort, while I help them develop their own academic careers. Although I’ll have much more responsibility than I’ve ever had before, I’ll also have a lot more support and autonomy.

In short, all the reasons excuses I’ve made for not taking better care of myself for the last ten years are disappearing, but the stakes for doing so are higher. My 89 year old grandmother may still be with us, but she’s not able to move very well, and many years of inactivity have taken their toll. My 64 year old mother has many hobbies in her (early) retirement, but she’s less able to do things than she’d hoped because she’s too tired and too achy. I don’t plan on being like that. My own daughter is only five years old, but she’s already body conscious, and the best thing I can do for her is to model good behaviour.


2012 Review Thingo (in the style of Shauna)

This is mercilessly plagiarised from the delightful Shauna Reid (see hers at It’s a great way to figure out where your year went right, and where it went not-so-right, and what to focus on for the year to come. Clearly I need to shake up this year a bit and try something new!

1. What did you do this year that you’d never done before?

Am really struggling to think of anything! I wish I could say sky diving, or spending the night in the desert, or taking up international espionage, but 2012 hasn’t been that exciting.

2. Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next this year?

Nope, not even close. I think I really should’ve printed them out kept them close by and reviewed on a fairly regular basis. If I don’t really know what my resolutions are, it’s pretty hard to keep them!

I will do new resolutions. Really.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?

Yes, my friend, Rachel, had a little girl, and Hugh had a little boy. A couple more are due in 2013, however, most of my friends are past having babies.

4. Did anyone close to you die?

My Uncle Chris, who was also my godfather.

5. What countries did you visit?

USA, Germany, Sweden. I was supposed to go to Brazil but didn’t fancy the very long flight to Brasilia.

6. What would you like to have next year that you lacked in this one?

A trip back to the USA with the whole family. It’s been far too long since the kids have been there.

7. What dates from this year will remain etched upon your memory, and why?

January 25 and April 9, when both my husband and I turned 40.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?

Winning a new research contract, securing the jobs of several of my favourite colleagues.

9. What was your biggest failure?

Buying my husband tickets to see Pearl Jam in Berlin, but then not being able to sort out babysitting. Not only did we lose over €100 on the tickets, but we had a dream snatched from our hands. So much for his 40th birthday present…

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?

No, thankfully! I had a blood pressure scare, but that turned out to be nothing.

11. What was the best thing you bought?

Hard to say. I should say my iPad, but that was bought with research money so doesn’t count. I think it might be my Marimekko oilcloth, which I bought as an off-cut in a shop in Gothenburg. Everything about it gives me pleasure, and as I sit at the kitchen table at least three times a day, it gives me pleasure often.

12. Where did most of your money go?

If I’m honest, I’d say on interest on debt repayment. Also, my children. Always my children…

13. What did you get really, really, really excited about?

Excited may be the wrong word…relieved more like…but Obama’s re-election.

14. What song will always remind you of this year?

‘Little Talk’ by Of Monsters and Men. I first heard it on breakfast tv in Berlin, and it’s been part of the soundtrack of the year.

The other song would be ‘I’m Yours’ by Jason Mraz. My sister and I stayed up late on her sofa talking well into the night, crying as we listened to it. It was her pregnancy song. Floods of tears.

15. Compared to this time last year, are you:

a) happier or sadder?

Happier, I think. I’m living in a bigger house that gives us enough space to breathe as a family, and my career is definitely on the way up.

b) thinner or fatter?

Neither. I’m exactly the same as I was this time last year. Which is depressing.

c) richer or poorer?

Unfortunately, neither. I’m making quite a bit more money, but we’ve lost money out to the house move. I was really hoping to be much better off at this point, but que sera sera.

16. What do you wish you’d done more of?

Chilling out. I wish I’d kept up with meditation as it was making me feel much more relaxed. Resolution number one!

17. What do you wish you’d done less of?

Procrastinating. I did have far too much work on this year, but I also spent a lot of time faffing about online and not getting down to what needed to be done. I put it down to exhaustion.

18. How did you spend Christmas?

At home, as usual. We had family from the US over on Boxing Day, whom I’ve not seen in about 10 years, and it was a real treat.

19. Did you fall in love this year?

Nope, unless you count my kitchen table, complete with Marimekko oilcloth. I do really love having an eat-in kitchen!

20. What was your favorite TV program?

Anything Scandinavian. Borgen, The Killing, The Bridge…I’ve loved them all.

21. What was the best book you read?

New Andrea Camillieri books. Rory Stewart’s ‘The Places in Between’.

22. What was your favorite film of this year?

Not sure I’ve seen many non-kid films this year…

23. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?

I was 40. I worked a bit on a research bid (sigh…) and went out for french food with my family. Escargot with kids is a real treat! Not exactly what we had planned.

24. What kept you sane?

My family, my sister and N.B.D. This is our new family phrase to remind us that most things are N.B.D. (No Big Deal).

25. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?

The husband on Borgen (Danish actor Mikael Birkkjaer).

26. Who did you miss?

My family overall, but especially my sister. I miss her everyday and would give just about anything to have her living next door to me.

27. Who was the best new person you met?

My new neighbour, Clara. It’s nice to have someone so simpatico living right across the street.