Semi-Charmed Winter 2016 Book Challenge

The Semi-Charmed Winter 2016 Book Challenge categories have been announced and I almost missed it! Here are the rules and my preliminary list:

General Guidelines:

  • The challenge will run from November 1, 2016, to January 31, 2017. No books started before 12 a.m. on November 1 or finished after 11:59 p.m. on January 31 will count.
  • Each book must be at least 150 pages long. Audiobooks and large-print books are fine, as long as the regular print version meets the length requirement.
  • A book can only be used for one category, and each category can only be completed once.
  • The highest possible total is 200 points, and the first five people who finish the challenge will be invited to contribute a category for the summer 2017 challenge.
  • Have fun! Read some books you might not have read otherwise. Discover new authors and make new bookworm friends. (Yes, these are the most important rules!)

Challenge Categories:
5 points: Freebie! Read any book that is at least 150 pages long. Whichever book I happen to read that doesn’t fit in any of the categories will go here.

10 points: Read a 2016 finalist (longlist or shortlist) for one of the following literary prizes: National Book Award, Man Booker or Man Booker International. Uh, yeah. Let me think about that one. After a click glance I see nothing that looks appealing.

10 points: Read a brand-new release (something published between November 1, 2016, and January 31, 2017). Ugh, that’s two categories that want me to get a new book. I hate buying books before they’re available second hand! Well, there’s a new Cecelia Ahern book coming out in November, so maybe that?

15 points: Read a book by an author of a different race or religion than you. As an atheist, isn’t every religion different to mine? I suppose the category wants something more drastic than Christian though, so I will either read The Color Purple by Alice Walker or Midnight’s Children by Salmen Rushdie.

15 points: Read a book featuring a main character who is of a different race or religion than you. River God by Wilbur Smith is an option. Maybe.

20 points: Read a modern retelling of a classic (e.g. an Austen Project novel, Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler, etc.) — Submitted by SCSBC16 winner Kaity. Maybe Splintered by A.G. Howard since I want to read it anyway. (Man, these categories are not making it easy for me to progress with the BBC Big Read!)

25 points: Read a book with an alcoholic beverage (neat or cocktail) in the title. — Submitted by SCSBC16 winner Kerry. (And she was nice enough to come up with a long list of suggestions for you!) I am going to read Cider With Rosie by Laurie Lee for the simple reason that I already own it but haven’t read it.

30 points: Read a book with a character that shares your first or last name. (Alternate spellings are okay, e.g. Megan and Meghan or Smith and Smyth.) — Submitted by SCSBC16 winner Ericka. Well, obviously I am going for first name since I don’t want to tell you all my full name, but the only book I can think of with a character named Beverly is It by Stephen King, so that’s tentatively my choice. But if anyone can think of a shorter book with a Beverly (or, better, the correct spelling of Beverley) in it please let me know!

30 points: Read two books: a nonfiction book and a fiction book with which it connects. For example: A is for Arsenic: The Poisons of Agatha Christie and one of Christie‘s mystery novels that features poison, or The Monuments Men and All the Light We Cannot See. The possibilities are endless, so have fun with this one! — Submitted by SCSBC16 winner Bev. (And remember you must finish both books to get the 30 points! No partial points will be awarded.) If I read Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder, then maybe my non-fiction book can be something on the history of philosophy? Or there’s The Once and Future King, which is about King Arthur, then a factual book looking into the reality of the myth? Hmm, I’ll have to think more about this category.

40 points: Read two books: one by an author whose first name is the same as the last name of the author of the other book. For example: You may read a book by Martin Cruz Smith and a book by George R.R. Martin, or a book by James Joyce and a book by Joyce Carol Oates. The shared name must be spelled exactly the same, no variations. — Submitted by SCSBC16 winner Jamie. (And remember you must finish both books to get the 40 points! No partial points will be awarded.)
Very, very tentatively: The Far Pavilions by M.M. Kaye and Ellen Foster by Kaye Gibbons.

Are you taking part in the challenge? What are you reading?
Any suggestions for the categories I’m not sure on?

Friday letters

Hi there! You may have noticed I’ve been absent from the blogosphere this week. Or maybe thinking anyone would notice my absence is just wishful thinking? Yes, it’s definitely the latter. Nonetheless, I am going to tell you the reason for the absence that you didn’t even notice. I had to go to Frankfurt for a training course. It was all about banking/supervision, so not my favourite topic, but it ended up being quite interesting and (hopefully) useful. Obviously it was for work… I don’t go to finance seminars for fun! So I was away from Monday afternoon til late Wednesday evening then I had to spend yesterday evening tidying the flat, making the spare bed, etc. because we have visitors coming tomorrow – and Jan of course had no time to clean while I was away even though our friends are coming to see his choir concert! No, I am clearly not annoyed about this at all. Ahem. To be fair to him, he did also tidy last night, but if he’d done a bit on Tuesday and a bit on Wednesday we could have been finished by now. But enough talking about my boyfriend behind his back. On with the letters.

Eye'm watching you...

Dear tree by the balcony. I see your lovely yellow leaves already starting to turn brown. Stop it! There’ll be plenty of time for bare branches throughout the entire next four and a bit months!

Dear housework fairy. You seem to have got lost on the way to my place. If I put a candle in the window or something will you come and take over some of the cleaning?

Dear tea. Sorry I keep forgetting about you and making you really strong, then having to drink you lukewarm. It really isn’t fair, is it?

Dear weather. I would appreciate it if you could be nice for the weekend.

Right, that’s it. I’m feeling very uninspired today, but I didn’t want to completely ignore my blog so this measly collection of letters is the best I can do. Aahh… bring on the weekend. Only 8 hours to go…

GBBO bake along: chocolate mousse and white chocolate cheesecake pots

This time on the Great British Bake Off bake along it was time for dessert week. My options were something called Marjolaine (which I’ve never heard of!), a roulade or mini mousse cakes. My first thought was to make some kind of chocolate mousse topped brownie thing, which seemed like a lot of effort for something that’s meant to be fun (and I’m definitely not in this to win it!), so I decided to go with something much easier.

If you make white chocolate cheesecake and top it with chocolate mousse, it totally counts as a mousse cake, right?

This is so easy a five year old could make it! Obviously I don’t recommend leaving said five year old to melt chocolate unsupervised, but with a little adult help a five year old could totally do it.

First of all, you make the base. For this you will need 55g biscuits (okay, cookies if you insist) and 20g butter. Digestive biscuits (I believe you can replace them with Graham Crackers in the US) or – my personal favourite – ginger nuts – work best, but I have never seen a ginger nut here and I wasn’t at the one supermarket that I know sells Digestives so I just bought any random biscuit. They worked well enough, but if any German or Swiss person happens to be reading, could you tell me what kind of biscuit you normally use for a biscuit base? Thanks!

Random biscuity rings

Anyway, you need to crush the biscuits to form crumbs and melt the butter. Mix the two together well then put them on the bottom of your glass pots (or mini baking tins, whatever you’re using) and press down firmly to form a base. Now into the fridge with them to chill.

Next up is the cheesecake layer. For this I used 95g of cream cheese, 65 ml whipping cream and 60g white chocolate, which ended up being way too much so I ate the leftovers. What? Like you wouldn’t do the same!

Melt the chocolate in a Bain-Marie… or a bowl over a saucepan with some water in it. Let’s not pretend I’m posher than I am here! Beat the cream cheese until it’s soft then whip the cream. My cheesecake recipe tells me to whip it “until it’s about to form peaks”. How on Earth am I supposed to know when something is about to do something? What is this, baking for psychics? What I usually do it whip it until the beaters start to leave trails when I move them but no peaks form when I lift the beaters. It’s always worked so far. Now fold the whipped cream into the cream cheese then stir in the melted chocolate. You can use any chocolate. I chose white so this layer would contrast with the mousse. Thanks to the cream cheese, the cheesecake layer isn’t horribly sweet despite being white chocolate. Sprread the cheesecake mixture over the biscuit base then place the pots back in the fridge to chill some more.

Cheesecake layer

Finally, the mousse. I took this from a recipe by Mary Berry herself – celebration chocolate mousse cake, and it is easy peasy. Literally whipped cream and chocolate. I used 75g of chocolate and 112 ml of cream. First melt the chocolate and set it aside to cool (confession… I just took mine off the heat and placed it to one side, forgetting the water in the saucepan was still steaming, so I’m unsure whether cooling even happened. Oh well, I melted the chocolate slowly so it wasn’t that hot to start with). While the chocolate cools, whip the cream. This time whip until it “forms soft peaks”. Thank goodness… actual peaks I can cope with! Stir the chocolate into the cream, making sure they’re evenly blended (no random darker streaks of chocolate!), layer the mousse on top of the cheesecake and place the whole lot back in the fridge to chill some more. The mousse needs to chill for at least 4 hours (or overnight) to firm up properly. Other mousse cakes I saw used gelatine, which would probably firm up quicker, but the little shop I was at most definitely did not sell gelatine!

I made two cake pots, but have only photographed the one that looks slightly nicer😉 Later, I took my desserts back out of the fridge and decorated them with some gold balls… because who doesn’t like a bit of sparkle?

Chocolate mousse and white chocolate cheesecake pot

And that’s it. Not much of a show stopper (I mean, just look at the beautiful desserts everyone else has produced), but it’s easy and tasty, which is really what I want from something that Jan and I actually have to eat!

Friday letters

Oh, hey! So apparently it’s Friday already? This week has gone far too fast!

Let’s have some letters:

Mail box

Dear trees. You’re so pretty right now! I love walking into my living room and seeing yellow beside the balcony, or looking out of my office window to see orange and red. Do you think you could maybe stay like that for while instead of rapidly going from colourful to naked? Thank you!

Dear birds. Now it’s getting colder, you can have some seeds again. Enjoy!

Dear Christmas. I see you lurking, but this year I shall be prepared! No stitching cards until midnight the night before we’re due to go away for a few days!

Dear November. You seem to be filling up rapidly. Visitors, Christmas markets, birthday celebrations. I feel tired already and you’re not even here yet! (It’s all fun stuff though, so no real complaints).

Dear bed. Let’s spend some quality time together this weekend, okay? (Despite going by in a flash, this week has also managed to seem like a lot of very long days and short nights. Time is a funny thing).

That’s all I’ve got today and I need to get back to work if I actually want to finish at my normal time tonight.

Have a fabulous weekend, bloggy friends!

Lights, camera…

Is it really Wednesday already? This week is going fast!

Today I want to show you the birthday card I made for my brother, who recently turned 26. He did film studies at uni and is really into TV and films, so the popcorn cross stitch that was featured in one of my magazines ages ago seemed perfect for him.


Embellished with a printed out clapperboard, that I added “Happy Birthday” to, it ended up being a card that I’m actually quite proud of.


I cut out the hole for the popcorn myself using a punch, which meant there wasn’t a back bit to put over it as there usually is with aperture cards, so I backed it using red and white checked card. I didn’t take a photo of it, unfortunately, so you’ll just have to take my word that it made the inside look more interesting😉

The popcorn was fairly simple, but I actually quite enjoyed stitching it. It was fun doing the back stitch and watching the pieces of popcorn come to life where previously there had just been a block of weirdly shaped stitches!

Would you like to receive this birthday card?

The basilisks of Basel


The basilisk is a legendary reptile said to be “king of the serpents or snakes”. Allegedly it was hatched by a cockerel from the egg of a serpent or toad (making it kind of the opposite of a cockatrice, which is hatched from a cockerel’s egg that was incubated by a serpent or toad). Part reptile and part bird, the basilisk is usually described as a crested snake, or as a cockerel with a snake’s tail. A basilisk can kill you with a look or a breath, while it in turn can only be killed by a weasel,  a cockerel’s crow or by being made to look at its own reflection.

The basilisk is also the heraldic animal of Basel. Various legends connect the city with the mythical beast – probably thanks to the similarity of the names (Basilea is another name for Basel, which makes the connection even more obvious). One legend has it that a basilisk once lived in a cave below the site of what is now the Gerberbrunnen (tanner’s fountain) another that a merchant once brought a basilisk to Basel. In 1474 a cockerel was sentenced to death in Basel. His crime? He was accused of having laid an egg, which of course went against nature, and the citizens of Basel were afraid that said egg would hatch into a basilisk. The cockerel was beheaded following a proper trial and the offending egg cast into the fire.

Below, you see the Gerber fountain. The writing tells the story of the basilisk that lived below it, but more poetically than I did.


Given the above, you can naturally find many basilisks in Basel. You can hardly walk down a street without seeing one! Today I want to share some of those basilisks with you.

The most obvious basilisks come in the form of a fountain. If you spend any time in Basel, you will come across a basilisk fountain sooner or later. These fountains go all the way back to 1884, when they were the winner of a competition. Originally there were 50 of them. Now there are apparently 28, although I haven’t seen them all. The water in the basilisk fountains can be drunk, and my favourite feature (other than the obvious fact of the basilisk) is that each one has a little bowl at the bottom so dogs can have a drink too!

All the basilisks along the Rhine face towards the water… apart from one. You can see it in a couple of the photos above. This is the basilisk that stands across the river from the cathedral. The idea is that this one faces away from the Rhine to allow people to take a photo with both the basilisk and the cathedral. Ironically, you can’t actually see the cathedral in either of my photos above!

Next up, the giant basilisk from the Wettstein bridge… another one that’s hard to miss if you find yourself in the right place!

As you can probably tell by the sky, those photos were taken at different times. I have a thing for taking the same photos over and over😉

Originally this big basilisk was one of four, two of which stood at each end of the bridge. All four basilisks still exist, but only  this one still stands at the original location. One has been exiled and now stands somewhere by Lake Lucerne, another stands in the courtyard of a building called “Zum Basilisk” and I have no idea how to get in to see him. But the fourth and final one stands at the entrance to the “Lange Erlen” animal park… and I took a trip there just so I could get photos of him for you:

Many companies in Basel have appropriated the Basel for their name (well, wouldn’t you?). There’s a Basilisk hotel – with its own basilisk standing outside – a local radio station called Basilisk and a Basilisk electronics company. One of the local breweries even named a beer Basilisk (and a very nice beer it is too – can recommend!).

There are various basilisks (or creatures that I assume are basilisks!) at the town hall, including a golden one sitting a Roman soldier’s helmet, and several on top of the SBB train station.

Various other basilisks are dotted around the place… rendered in metal, carved into walls, sitting on buildings… You’ll find that a lot of them are holding shields with the “Baselstab” or Basel staff, a stylised version of a bishop’s staff that is emblem of Basel, going back to the days when it was Catholic (it isn’t any more). After all, as the heraldic animal it’s the basilisk’s duty to hold the coat of arms!

I haven’t said where most of the basilisks featured here are, partly because I don’t remember where every single photo was taken, but also because I want to encourage people to spot the basilisks themselves as they walk around (hint: look up a lot!). You may have been overwhelmed by the photos in this post, but trust me there are many, many more to be found if you keep your eyes open!

So, what do you think? Fancy coming to Basel for a basilisk hunt?

Recent doings #10

Monday was a public holiday in Germany so, since I work there, I got the day off. This has left me way more confused than it should have and I’ve spent most of the week with no idea what day it is. But today is definitely Thursday and it’s the first one of a new month, so it’s time for the what’s new with you link up, hosted by the lovely Kristen and Gretch.

So… what have I been doing in September?

What's New With You

Eating. Pumpkins and squashes, more specifically spaghetti squash. It’s not spaghetti. It will never be spaghetti, no matter how many recipes try to convince me otherwise, but I’m okay with it not being spaghetti. I like it for what it is… which is a very tasty vegetable!

Reading. I told you all about my challenge reads here. But after finishing the epic novel that was Shogun I went on to read other books in quick succession.I started The Mirror World of Melody Black in September so I can totally count it here, right? I liked it. The descriptions of the ups and downs of bipolar seemed legit and it was just really well written.

Listening to. The Welcome to Night Vale audio book! I bought Jan it for his birthday in March and he finally felt like getting back into the world of Night Vale so we started listening. We’re on CD2 and so far it’s exactly as amazing as I would expect it to be.

Going. (The category for places that are too close to really call it “travelling”!) To Rheinfelden and Kaiseraugst when Jan’s dad came to stay with us for a weekend.


Watching. Tatort – a German weekly police drama series that’s been running since the 70s! The name literally means crime scene and it’s basically an institution in Germany. We also went to the cinema and saw some short films featuring disability.

Cross stitching. An engagement card for my sister, two birthday cards and some Christmas cards. Also a little something I designed myself, which I will tell you all about in a few days once the recipient actually has it!

Baking. Hedgehogs… but you knew that, didn’t you?

Buying. Two new skirts and a T-shirt. I am very naughty! Also Jan’s Christmas present, but sssh! We won’t tell him that.

Wishing. For a puppy. Actually, it kind of goes without saying that I wish we had a puppy every month, but September involved a lot of actually looking at them on the websites of rescue places and sadly realising that we wouldn’t be allowed to have most of them. (Let’s just ignore the fact that we can’t have a dog anyway because we haven’t done the course to be allowed to own one yet…)

Okay, I think that’s it. I can’t think of anything else that went on in September.

What have you been doing lately?