Monday, 13 August 2018

Days Out No.1: The Stately Home 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle from Ravensburger

best jigsaw puzzles

Mention stately homes - what memories do they bring? Happy days with friends and families, exploring the fascinating places of interest?
(Not according to Mumsnet - there is a eye-opening series of threads about toxic parents called "But we took you to stately homes..." - if you have a spare hour or two, it is quite a disturbing riveting read.)

Thankfully for me stately homes bring only positive associations and beautiful memories of dear friends. I arrived to the UK as a young student all those years ago, and was "adopted" by several British and American friends who became my close family here. Among many other things, they took me around the country on trips to palaces and stately homes.
I remember picking raspberries at pick-your-own at Buscot Park, admiring the most wonderful arts and crafts at Kelmscott Manor, oohing and aahing at the amazing gardens in Sudeley Castle etc.
Those dear friends of mine are gone now, but memories remain...

Why am I going all nostalgic about stately homes? I was recently working on a colourful 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle from Ravensburger's range Days Out No.1 - The Stately Home.

jigsaw puzzle gifts

This is the first in a series of puzzles, depicting lovely days out, and families and friends enjoying their time together.
The puzzle shows a typical stately home, and everything it has to offer.

The family depicted in the foreground has a laugh together and enjoys a picnic. They reminded me of the picnics by the lake at the Blenheim palace, where I used to work as a palace assistant years ago.
They are well-prepared for their picnic, just look at the size of that pitcher!

There are inevitable ducks (or dreadful geese in the Blenheim park) which are very much interested in the picnic and all it has to offer.

An amateur photographer is admiring a vintage car.

best jigsaw puzzles

An elderly grandpa offers his granddaughter a pair of binoculars. Rather than look at the marvellous display of kites and aeroplanes over the lake, the little girl looks elsewhere, maybe at the migrating birds above the manor house.
The stately home itself is a beautiful work of architecture, elegant and imposing. Imagine which stories it could tell about its owners.

The lake is busy with boats. There are so many details to discover in the puzzle. This bright cheerful scene was created for Ravensburger by the artist Andy Walker.
The finished jigsaw measures 70x50cm. It's suitable for ages 12+.

Like all Ravensburger puzzles, The Stately Home is made from strong premium grade cardboard, with linen finish to minimise glare on the puzzle iage.

This joyful cheery puzzle will make a great gift for any jigsaw puzzle fan.

Disclosure: I received the puzzle for the purposes of reviewing. All opinions are my own.

Saturday, 11 August 2018

Photo diary: week 32, project 365

Another week of summer holidays has made its quick retreat. We're already half-way through the summer break until the school is back. I enjoy having more leisurely mornings, and not having to worry about lunch boxes and school uniforms, but having two boys at home is also a lot of pressure.
On Sunday we came to say Hello to Sasha and Papa, when they were in cafe Nero.

On Monday I was "playing" with one of the latest Schleich Eldrador Creatures in the garden, trying to find an interesting background for taking photos for my blog post.

It ended up for the time being on the shelf with Eddie's birthday cards. Though his birthday was two weeks ago, he still wants to cards to be on display.

Looking through an old wooden chest full of soft toys, we came across this quartet of doggies. They belonged to Sasha when he was very little.
Maybe you remember the Co-Op promotion over 14 years ago, when you had to collect tokens to buy these soft toys at a reduced price. Sasha was obsessed with those dogs, we carried them everywhere, even to Italy when we visited his grandparents.
Eddie said he still loves them, because they are so soft and cuddly. Who's the softie in this house?

More Eddie's pics. On Thursday Sasha stayed overnight in his respite home, which he really enjoys and is always looking forward to. So am I, to be honest. These are the only two nights per month when I can expect to have an undisturbed sleep.
After Sasha was picked up by his transport, we got on the bus to Oxford. Eddie likes visiting his Dad's college, then we went to John Lewis and bought a few of the new Lego Harry Potter minifigures, and as a treat for Eddie, we went to McDonalds to buy a Happy Meal for him.

My echinacea is doing well. I love its shape and structure.

summer flowers

Today we went to the swimming pool with the boys, and afterwards had lunch at the Sainsbury's cafe. Chips for boys, a vegetarian omelette for my husband and a steamed cod with baby potatoes for me. The food was actually very tasty. I really should get in touch with Sainsbury's and say how much we enjoyed the meal.

I think I have already mentioned this ghost house in our neighbourhood, which is completely covered by the greenery. The white doves have nests in all windows.

Thursday, 9 August 2018

The Little Cornish Kitchen by Jane Linfoot #blogtour

chick lit books set in Cornwall

If you are a foodie, do you indulge your sweet tooth by buying foodie chick lit books?
This genre is becoming increasingly popular. Browse the shelves of your local bookshop, or any big supermarket's book ailse, and there will be dozens of titles along the lines of Christmas at the Cornish Cafe, The Grand Reopening of the Dandelion cafe, The beach cafe, The canal boat cafe, The cafe by the sea, The Lemon Tree cafe, Meet me at the Cupcake cafe etc etc - the list is endless).
There is clearly a big demand and supply for this genre.

My personal obsession is books set in Cornwall.
Just mention Cornwall in the blurb or in the title...
I got a paperback copy of The Little Cornish Kitchen by Jane Linfoot in Sainsbury's for £2.99, and then decided to join in the blog tour.

The book starts with a busy scene of the launch of a cosmetics range, full on with the gin and vodka in tea cups and mountains of pretty macaroons. Clemmie is helping one of her bosom friends from childhood, the golden girl Sophie, to greet and meet her guests. She is also dressed as a mermaid, with a tulle tail and dried starfish in hair.
Big fashion magazines' names are thrown in, as well as the mention of Kim Kardashian...

The whole scene sounds so chick-lit and Pinky-pie-pink, that I groan inwardly and ask myself, just why did I buy this book. Oh, I know, it's the magic words "Cornish" and "kitchen" that sold it to me. I can never resist a book set in Cornwall, especially if there are recipes inside. Add to that a picture of the cake on the cover, and I'm totally mesmerized.

The main protagonist Clemmie is a globe-trotter. She doesn't want to settle down, but when she has a little break from her job in Paris, she heads home to the seaside village St Aidan in Cornwall.
That I completely understand. Given a chance to live in Paris or Cornwall, I'd avoid the big metropolis and settle in by the seaside.
Her grandma left her a little flat with a view. The original plan was to sell the flat, and go back to Paris. But the charming little flat with the most glorious view of the sea is full of childhood memories. And recipes...
Clemmie's grandma Laura was a talented cook, and she left her not just a flat but also a big basket full of delicious recipes.
Clemmie is not your usual skinny model heroine. In fact, she has a healthy appetite, and has a very sweet tooth. She is happy to scoff the whole contents of the local pastry shop, and doesn't feel any remorse (well, good for her).

Her next door neighbour, who even shares a balcony with her, is a local developer Charlie Hobson. As much as Clemmie loathes his insatiable appetite for her property (he wants to buy her flat), she is attracted to this shark of capitalism for many reasons - he is handsome (if I remember it correctly, he is an epitome of the Cornish James Bond), he has a charming though totally untrained mutt and looks after his Mum's cat and he has a sweet tooth as big as Clemmie's.

Our heroine finds out she needs to come up with a tidy sum of £10,000 by September for the house repairs.
Her bosom buddies come up with an inane plan to set up a boutique cafe in Clemmie's flat and host singles' nights.
For me that was the most incredulous part to digest - they all know that the woman can't cook, yet her friends think she can turn into a Nigella in just a matter of days.
Her first efforts border on a total disaster, but under helpful Charlie's tutelage she masters the art of meringues and other sweet treats very fast.

Of course, in real life you would need an intensive patisserie training, which would last weeks or years.
How believable is that?! I know it's a novel, not a real life story, but it still ruffles me.
As far as I know, you need to register your business with the local council for any food operations like cooking and selling food. And needless to say, you need to pay taxes. I know, I know, I need to chill out and just enjoy the beautiful Cornish scenery and mouth-watering food descriptions.

It's the chick lit at its fluffiest. The main love interest is a guy with a sad past (there is a gossip going on that he was jilted, but the reality was way more tragic), who loves animals and who teaches the heroine how to bake meringues and brownies! And he gives her a Smeg mixer as a gift...
And they bake happily ever after...

Tuesday, 7 August 2018

Schleich Eldrador Creatures - Stone Skeleton with Weapon

collectable fantasy minifigures

Isn't it always exciting when one of your favourite brands expands its range?! Schleich is releasing a selection of new products as part of its Eldrador Creatures range.
Schleich is well known and much admired for its realistic animal figurines as well as stupendous fantasy creations.
The fantasy line Eldrador is represented by four magical worlds - lava, ice, stone and water, and each of the worlds is populated with fantastic creatures.
Dragons and knights of Eldrador will now have a chance to fight some other mythical creatures and monsters.

This range will appeal to older children, as well as grown-ups who collect fantasy figurines (fans of the Game of Thrones series or Fantastical Beasts aged up to 100). What will you choose - a Lava golem, Hellhound, Frost Monster, Fire Lion, Monster Kraken, Ice Monster or some other villainous being?

fantasy minifigures

We received a Stone Skeleton with weapon (£13.99) who is one of the Stone worlds' inhabitants.

fantasy minifigures

In its past life he was an extremely strong warrior, and now he is going into battles as a ferocious stone skeleton.
The green crystals have brought him back to life, they are a source of energy and a mighty weapon.
The legend goes that he can turn you into a stone, using his green crystals, but he also could breathe life into the other stones and create his own army, now how cool is that?!

fantasy minifigures

He wears a horned helmet and spiky armour.
Schleich minifigures are always hand-painted with great precision and attention to detail. The modelling quality is outstanding.

fantasy minifigures to collect

The skeleton's arms are movable, and you can swap weapons.

fantasy minifigures

skeleton minifigures

There are 12 new dangerous-looking monsters added to the Eldrador range. My personal favourite is the Cave bear, which I am going to buy for myself my son, when we visit the toy shop next time.

Are you a fan of Schleich Eldrador?

scary minifigures

Disclosure: We received the minifigure for the purposes of reviewing. All opinions are our own.

Sunday, 5 August 2018

Photo diary: week 31, project 365

I'm feeling dispirited, like a deflated balloon. This weather subdues my body and soul, and my brain has melted. I have zero energy, and blogging is put on hold. Just when will this blasted heat go away?!
I'm fed up with watering all the potted plants in the garden, but otherwise they would be dead by now.
This echinacea started opening its petals, a few days ago it looked like a green coronet.
The photo is slightly out of focus, but I like the shape of the flower, which is totally different by now.

Eddie is at the age, when he is easily entertained by selfies. Here we are in bed, reading one of the Goosebumps Horrorland books, and taking selfies. As you do.

On Tuesday morning we did a quick food shopping and popped into Costa, mostly to escape the heat, and have a cup of coffee, and a slice of chocolate crispie cake.

I've been weeding in the garden, next to the old stone wall, and digging a bit too, when a few of the broken china pieces have resurfaced. Very strange, as I have definitely been digging in that area before, and also found some old broken china. I wonder why some of the previous owners thought to throw broken china in that particular spot.

I'm not even reading that much recently. I'm taking part in the blog tour for The Little Cornish Kitchen later this week, and I still haven't finished reading it. It's a bit too much of chick lit for my taste, and is rather predictable, but I'm enjoying all the food references and recipes. 

Evening sky on Friday was a mix of pink and blue.

More of the sky: I hate flying, but for some reason find the aeroplanes fascinating, as long as they're not too low and not too noisy.

Tuesday, 31 July 2018

Degustabox July'18

What a summer it has been so far, with a what felt like a never-ending heatwave, then thunderstorms, and a promise of more heat to come with a dreaded 38C later in August. Count me out!
On a positive note, you can enjoy eating outdoors - just head to the park or spread a big rug in the backyard.
There are quite a few picnic-geared foods and drinks in July's food selection from Degustabox.
This food box arrives every month and is full of foodie surprises. This monthly food and drink subscription box is an excellent way to discover products which have only just appeared in the shops or those which might have been around for while, but you haven't had a chance to try them yet.
Thanks to Degustabox, I have found new favourites to add to our shopping list, including some products which I probably wouldn't have tried otherwise.

Each time the box arrives, it's a total surprise. You get a good selection of foods and drinks.
If you haven't tried Degustabox subscription box yet and would like to have a go, I have a whopping £7 off discount from your first box (and you can unsubscribe any time) - just use a code 8EVI8 when you place an order.
What did we receive in the July Degustabox? Let's have a look.

It happened to be a selection of old family favourites (like Heinz Salad Cream and Cadbury Milk chocolate) to new names and products.

Heinz Salad Cream is a national institution, and doesn't need any introductions. It's been a must-have ingredient in lunchboxes and picnic hampers across the UK for a century. It still has the same zingy taste, which makes it one of the country's best-loved sauces.

salad sauce

Last week I used it to make a simple potato, cucumber and prawn salad, with hard-boiled eggs and fresh dill. Salad cream combines all the flavours together, and helps make a lovely summer salad.

easy summer salad

Capsicana Latin Flavour is selected as Product of the month in July.
Capsicana have extended their inspiring Latin American range by adding some seasoning mixes.
We received a Brazilian Smoked Paprika & Spices Seasoning Mix (£1) and a Mexican Guacamole Mix (£0.65).

If you are a vegetarian, and are not sure what to do with a Brazilian seasoning mix for beef or chicken, here is one of the possible ideas - cook a whole roasted cauliflower under a crust of spices with Greek style yogurt. It is a delicious vegetable dish, and I'll surely make it again, as it got thumbs up from everyone.

We haven't yet opened the Mexican guacamole mix, but as we all love guacamole, I am going to try it very soon.

Miso Tasty Mugi Barley Miso Soup (£3.75) is made from fermented barley and soybeans. It has a light but hearty flavour. The mushrooms add a sweet, earthy taste and are packed separately to keep miso fresh and mushrooms flavoursome.

miso soup

I buy Miso Tasty, it's always handy to have one of the sachets in the pantry for a quick meal.
If you cooked a roast chicken, you can make a super tasty soup with leftover chicken and miso paste - just check out my old post for Chicken leftovers miso soup.

Pulsin as a brand is well known for its health credentials. It's a range of gluten free, dairy free, vegetarian and vegan-friendly products. If you're looking for a boost of protein, help yourself to Pulsin Salted Caramel Raw Choc Brownie (£1.59). It's  crafted with finest natural ingredients and contains 6.5g of plant based protein.
Nutritional info: 215kcal and 11.8g of sugar per 50g bar.
It's gluten free, dairy free, soya free and vegan. Ingredients include peanuts, dates, chicory fibre, sweetener, cacao powder, brown rice bran, cacao butter, concentrated grape juice, rice starch, rice protein, natural flavouring, sea salt and green tea extract.
It is a small-size bar, and is handy to carry around for when you are travelling and feeling peckish. I'm going to take it with me when I'm having a long journey to Cornwall later in summer.

vegan snacks

London Flavours crisps (£0.95 each) are premium crisps made with 100% British potatoes. There are four flavours to choose from, and the subscribers will receive two of the flavours. We've got Cheddar & Onion and Lightly Salted packs.
These crisps are gluten free, GMO free, suitable for vegetarians, free from artificial colours, flavours and preservatives, no added MSG
Nutritional information: 207kcal per 40g pack.
I haven't had a chance to try it, as my teen has polished both packs.

premium crisps

Another snack in the latest selection is Peckish Cheese Trays (£1.59). These are thin, light and crispy snacks made of rice and full of flavour. They are baked, not fried, gluten free and under 100kcal per portion.
They are great for parties.

Rowntrees 30% less sugar Fruit Pastilles (£1.29) are another British classic, which have been modernised.
They contain no artificial sweeteners, colours, flavours or preservatives, and are made with 30% less sugar.
Nutritional info: 117kcal and 14g per serving of 12 sweets (for an adult).
Now you can enjoy your favourite sweets with the flavours you love but with less sugar.

Now moving onto the drinks selection, and aren't we spoilt for choice this month?!
Guess which drink we tried first? Yes, it was Cadbury Highlights Milk Chocolate (£2.99).

Who can say No to a mug of hot steamy hot chocolate topped up with whipped cream and marshmallows? If you can, then I applaud your willpower.
Cadbury Highlights Milk Chocolate has the smooth chocolatey taste of Cadbury, but with only 38kcal per cup. I suppose adding cream and marshmallows defies the purpose, but life is brighter with little treats.

Ribena Sparkling (£2.70 each) is a grown up twist on a classic, this time with bubbles included.
Available in two delicious flavours - Blackcurrant, and Pineapple & Passionfruit. This refreshing drink comes at less than 15kcal per bottle.

Rosie's Pig Flat Tyre (£2) is a modern cider. Made with Herefordshire apples, this sweet cider is lightly sparkling. The fruity taste is paired with a tart note from rhubarb juice.

Percol Iced Coffee (£1.50) is perfect for the hot summer. Made with the best coffee 100% Arabica beans, it is Fairtrade and Organic. Drink cold, straight from the fridge, with ice cubes or without.

Monday, 30 July 2018

Spicy roasted cauliflower

spicy vegetarian side dish

For me a humble cauliflower is one of the vegetables which deserves a special place. It is delicious, full of bite and versatile. I'm not very keen on the cauliflower rice though, I've tried it once, and was left unimpressed.
But anything else cooked with this vegetable is a winner in my books, be it a cauliflower cheese drowning in rich sauce (give it to me any time), or cauli creamed soup, pakoras or fritters.

Roasted cauliflower has a concentrated flavour, and a touch of sweetness.

Spicy roasted cauliflower
3tbsp Capsicana Latin Flavour Brazilian Paprika & Spices seasoning mix
2tbsp coconut oil
2tbsp Greek yogurt
1tsp honey
1tbsp lemon juice
1 medium cauliflower

 Capsicana Latin Flavour Brazilian Paprika & Spices seasoning mix was one of the products from the latest Degustabox. This spice mix, made with chilli, paprika, smoked paprika, black pepper and herbs (parsley, oregano, basil, thyme, bay) as well as salt, dried garlic and onion and red peppers, is ideal for BBQed meat, like beef and chicken.
It contains no artificial colourings or flavourings, it's suitable for vegetarians, non-GM and gluten free.
One small pack of 28g serves 4. I used about a half of the packet.

Since my husband decided earlier this year that he wouldn't eat meat any longer, I have to be more creative with vegetable dishes.
I thought this spice mix would work nicely with a cauliflower.

First make a thick paste from the seasoning mix, coconut oil, Greek yogurt, honey and lemon juice.
I used a turmeric-flavoured coconut oil, but a standard coconut oil will be another option.
For a vegan version use a dairy-free yogurt.

The paste doesn't look very appetising, in fact, it looks like mud, but don't be alarmed, it is very flavourful.

Spread it all over a cauliflower head, and place in a roasting dish. Put the dish in the oven preheated to 180C.

Roast for 20 minutes, then cover loosely with foil, and roast for another hour and 10-15 minutes at 180C. Check if it's all cooked through and soft with a wooden toothpick.

The paste will make a nice spicy crust over the cauliflower. If you like your food hot and spicy, just slice the cauli with the crust on. If you are a wimp like me, remove the crust. The flavours will all be there, in the cauliflower, but without a big heat.
If you like it really hot, cook the cauliflower sliced into big steaks, smothered with the paste, and adjust the cooking time accordingly.

You might want to add a big dollop of Greek style yogurt on the side.

easy vegetarian meals

The roasted cauliflower is very tasty, soft and melting in the mouth. The Brazilian spice mix works perfectly well with this vegetable.

I served it as a side dish to roast salmon.

vegetable side dish

For a vegetarian dinner, it will be great with vegetarian sausages or curry. For meat-eaters, this spicy cauliflower would be a delicious side dish to go with chicken or chilli meatballs.

dinner ideas

vegetarian side dish

Do you like cauliflower? What dishes do you cook with it?