Tuesday, 25 September 2018

Ice cream sandwiches

sweet treats for kids

It was my dearest friend Trudy who has first introduced me to Jules Destrooper biscuits. She was very fond of the almond thins. Every time I pick up a box of JD butter waffles, crisps or crocante (florentines), I think of her.
She's been gone these last two years, and I miss her terribly. How much I'd love to see her and give her the biggest hug ever, and hear her calling me sweetheart and her darling girl in her smooth American accent.
Ice cream sandwiches are an American invention. I don't know actually if my friend ever made them, but I can imagine her as a young girl, having a go at making ice cream sandwiches. She was an inspiring cook, and I still keep her letters with recipes for a fruit crisp, orange or lemon syrup loaf, broccoli salad and a curry chutney mold she's written down for me in her distinct style.

Today Eddie's off school, as he was poorly yesterday, and couldn't go to school. To cheer him up, I decided to make some ice cream sandwiches, using Jules Destrooper Butter Crisps which arrived last week in the Degustabox food box.

We do love butter crisps, and I buy them often enough.
I nicked the recipe for ice cream sandwiches with Jules Destrooper biscuits from last year's Waitrose Food magazine (June 2017). They have Meal Maths recipes in each issue, with ideas for cheats and quick meals, using a few ingredients.

I have done a few swaps: they used JD butter waffles, I had JD butter crisps. Dark chocolate was swapped for a milk one (as my kids prefer the milk chocolate), I didn't have hazelnuts and used almonds, and lastly, I used Kelly's Cornish clotted cream ice cream rather than salted caramel ice cream.
But the whole idea is totally theirs, so all credit goes to Waitrose Food mag.

Jules Destrooper butter crisps

You will need
1 pack of Jules Destrooper butter crisps or butter waffles
1 bar of milk or dark chocolate
30g chopped almonds, hazelnuts or any other nut you prefer
clotted cream or vanilla ice cream

Melt the chocolate in a bowl over a pan of simmering hot water. Spoon 1tsp of melted chocolate over one end of each butter crisp, then sprinkle with chopped nuts. Place the crisps on the rack for about 5 minutes so that the chocolate would start to set.

Using a serrated knife, cut the ice cream into 1.5+cm slices. Make sandwiches, by placing the ice cream slices between two butter crisps. Eat straight away, or put some of them in the freezer inside a plastic container.

I only made 3 sandwiches as the remaining cookies were all broken into pieces. I whizzed the pieces with a blender and mixed them into the melted chocolate with the remaining chopped nuts, then spooned into small paper cases. I've got about 6 "truffles".

Experiment with different flavours of ice cream. I think vanilla or clotted cream would work best. The recipe in the magazine suggests using the salted caramel ice cream, but to my taste that would be way too sweet, as the crisps are sweet already, plus there is chocolate. But by all means, use any ice cream you fancy.

quick dessert

This quick dessert will appeal to both children and grown-ups.

ice cream treats

Adding this recipe to #KitchenClearout linky hosted by Cheryl at Madhouse Family Reviews, as I've used the remains of the whole almonds (chopped with a blender) and we also finished the clotted cream ice cream.

Monday, 24 September 2018

The Girl Who Walked on Air by Emma Carroll

historical fiction for children, YA books set in Victorian era

Eddie and I have recently discovered the fabulous new (to us) author - Emma Carroll. First we read Secrets of a Sun King. Eddie loved it so much that we bought three more books by Emma Carroll.

It was he who's chosen to read The Girl Who Walked on Air next.

This historical novel for children begins in the grounds of a Victorian circus, moving later across the Atlantic to the Niagara Falls setting. We travel together with young Louie.
Louie Reynolds has been abandoned by her Mam as a baby, and brought up by a kind trapeze artist Jasper.
Mr Chipchase's circus has been the only home and family she ever knew, with its flaws and idiosyncrasies, with a fair share of minor divas. The colourful artistic setting feels very authentic.

Louie dreams of being a showstopper. She's been practicing on the tightrope wire and can't wait for her chance to show the world what she can do. She is daring and stubborn, and very ambitious. For someone who hasn't actually performed in public, she is very self-assured that she is the showstopper material.
Mr Chipchase, on the other hand, tries to keep her out of the public's eye, allowing her to do menial jobs like selling tickets or mending clothes for the other performers. When being in public, Louie is asked to cover her flaming red hair to be less recognisable.

Louie is quite pig-headed and self-centred - like many artistic souls - and once she got into her mind that she wanted to perform for the more famous circus run by Mr Wellbeloved, she leaves behind her kindly guardian Jasper, her little dog Pip and the circus which has sheltered her from the terrors of the outside world. It's not that she doesn't feel sad or guilty for abandoning them, but she is very much driven by her ambitions as well as a desire to discover her mysterious Mam.

Mr Chipchase's circus is a veritable medley of personalities and talents. There is Jasper, a talented trapeze artist who brings up Louie as his own child. There's a knife-throwing eternally-sulky Kitty, Mr Chipchase's daughter. A fortune teller who reads Tarot cards... Horses, sequins, tightrope... there is a lot of drama, with a motto "The bigger the danger, the bigger the crowd".
And the punters are brought in by a "whiff of death". I suppose, nothing changes. Just look at those silly Youtubers who film themselves dangling from the cliffs or bridges just to bring more followers and likes.

Louie accepts this "whiff of death" logic and wows the crowds with her daring acts, once she has a chance to show her talents on the tightrope. Little does she know, that playing with danger will bring her even more perilous and precarious challenges.

Louie's hero is Charles Blondin, the man who crossed the Niagara Falls, with his own manager on his back. But as it often happens in real life, our heroes might have feet of clay. When Louie sees Blondin in real life, she is left disillusioned.
I won't be giving any spoilers as to why she changes her mind about Blondin, you'll have to find it out yourselves.

The world of the Victorian circus was pretty cruel and abysmal. The children were dispensable commodities. There are quite a few moments in the book when you will be appalled at how vulnerable those children were.

This novel has all the right ingredients of a successful book - a strong female lead, a nasty villain, a colourful authentic background and lots of subsidiary, lesser characters who bring the plot together. There is a suspense and danger lurking on almost every page, with enough gruesomeness to appeal to the children who enjoy macabre stories with ghastly villains (like Lemony Snicket's saga, or Dahl's Witches).

Louie is a brave hero. Her determination, tenacity and stamina, both physical and psychological are an inspiration and a cautionary tale.

This is the second Emma Carroll's novel we've read recently with Eddie at bedtime, and we've already got a couple of other books by the same author to read later.

If you've started pondering on Christmas gifts for book lovers, we will heartily recommend The girl who walked on air.

Have you read any of Emma Carroll's books? Which one would you recommend we read next?

best historical fiction for young adults and children

Saturday, 22 September 2018

Photo diary: week 38, project 365

I haven't posted anything in a whole week, feeling quite tired and rather sorry for myself. Nothing has actually happened, maybe it's one of those autumnal bouts of depression that I get from time to time. Last week was the 22nd anniversary of our wedding. I looked at the old photos, and they almost made me weep. I looked so happy and radiant.
I know I should snap out of this self-indulgent feeling sorry for myself. Yes, life is not what you imagine it to be when you're in your 20s, it sucks, but it also has its beautiful moments. I have my two wonderful boys, and just for that I have to be grateful.
Yet sometimes I indulge myself into thinking about walking out and not coming back. It's not going to happen, I'm a responsible person, but these thoughts do cross my mind.
With this gloomy mood I've hardly taken any photos, except some food snaps, so most likely this week's round-up will be "the boringest ever", as my child likes to say.

On Sundays I make pancakes for breakfast. We all have them with different toppings. I just like a drizzle of honey or maple syrup, while Eddie loves a more elaborate concoction of sliced banana, marshmallows and whipped cream.

On Monday Sasha had one of those 24-hour viruses, when his temperature went up. He finally got the school transport, and was supposed to go to school on Tuesday, but we had to keep him at home because he was unwell the day before.
Trying to eat more healthy salads. This was a mix of baby courgettes and cucumbers, sliced thinly, and marinated in lemon juice, with coriander. It went on top of toast with smashed avocado.

While he smiles for the photo, it has been not easy these last couple of weeks to get Eddie ready for school. He seems to struggle with a new class, as they mixed up children from two classes again. I remember it took him a while to get into it the last year, when they did the same thing. I just don't see the point in mixing up children every year, it changes all the dynamics.

On Wednesday Sasha went to school, yippee! He seemed to have a good day.
This was the day of our wedding anniversary. We didn't do much, just stayed at home, and watched another episode of Merlin.
My recent foodie discovery is a Swedish wild cloudberry jam, which I found in Ocado. It is so tasty, I just like to add a big spoonful to a plain yogurt. It's lovely on toast too.

Having a quick cup of coffee with my husband in town, after taking Eddie to school. We were sitting by the window, and the light was shining through a lamp on the windowsill, with those fake diamond shape beads, and reflections on the wallpaper were so pretty.

On Friday I was meeting a friend for a quick lunch. We haven't had a chance to meet for over a year, only seeing each other occasionally during the morning school run. It was lovely to catch up on the news.
I looked at the menu, and the breakfast served all day was more appealing than sandwiches or burgers. So, I had pancakes with maple syrup and crispy bacon.

breakfast ideas

Today we went to the swimming pool with the boys, and after that to Sainsbury's cafe for chips etc. I tried a haddock fishcake with baby potatoes. I think I've mentioned it already, but our local Sainsbury's serves very decent food in the cafe.

As I said, the boringest photo diary ever, mostly just our food diary.
Hope your week was more exciting.

Saturday, 15 September 2018

Photo diary: week 37, project 365

It's mid-September already. I wonder if the Indian summer has started? It's been pretty hot today, when we went out.
Eddie's been adjusting to a new class and new teachers. Sasha is still at home, as his transport hasn't been sorted out, and I'm being stressed out by all this. They promise transport by next Wednesday, fingers crossed, it really is going to happen.

On Sunday morning - as expected - guys wanted pancakes for breakfast. Later I was pottering in the garden, picking up some apple windfalls, while Eddie climbed up and down the apple trees, like a mini-Tarzan.

On Monday I've been baking apple cereal muffins, using some of the windfalls I picked up the day before.

All last week we've been playing with Google app called Arts & Culture (and it's free!!!). It has an Art Selfie game, where you snap yourself, and get a match among the thousands of works of art. Some of the offered artwork left us in stitches, for example, I was paired with a portrait of a man who has big moustache and beard. I mean, how is that even similar? Eddie's face was mostly matched to girls' portraits.

In the last couple of weeks Eddie and I have been watching Merlin. There are five seasons on Netflix, and so far we're on season 2. It's quite same-ish, but rather enjoyable.
I haven't done any photos that day, except something for reviewing, so here is a photo courtesy of Eddie. Merlin and Lego people - and why not?

On Thursday Sash was staying overnight in his respite centre. I think we were all looking forward to having a little break from each other. It was almost a month since the previous respite stay.
As we didn't need to hurry home after school, Eddie and I went to his favourite Shake Shop, and he had a strawberry milkshake.
We also popped into a couple of toy shops, as Eddie wanted to check out if the Lego Harry Potter set he has an eye on is still available. As it happens, it's not there any more, I might buy it from John Lewis and squirrel it for Christmas.
Eddie is a big softie, and he couldn't resist squishing some soft toys.
In the evening we had a pizza takeaway and watched two episodes of Merlin on Netflix.

The clematis on the kitchen roof had plenty of blooms earlier this year, but for some reason decided to produce a few more late flowers.

As Eddie has a bit of a sore throat, we didn't go to the swimming pool with him, but Sasha went with his Dad. We agreed to meet up in Sainsbury's cafe afterwards.
It's been very warm today, but my daft child thought it would be amusing to wear a glove on one of his hands.

Wednesday, 12 September 2018

The Country Cottage 100-piece jigsaw puzzle from Ravensburger (review + giveaway E: 27 September 18)

easy 100 piece jigsaw puzzle

Why, one day in the country
Is worth a month in town;
Is worth a day and a year
Of the dusty, musty, lag-fast fashion 
That days drone elsewhere.
(Summer, Christina Rossetti)

We have a book called A poem for every night of the year, which we open randomly and read a poem once in a while. Not every day, mind you, but one every few days perhaps. Eddie likes listening to poems and even dabbles in his own poetry.
As I was reading Christina Rossetti's beautiful poem, I thought how modern it sounds. Not dated at all, as if it were written only yesterday.
And while I couldn't possibly live in the country, I enjoy visiting it, staying for a few days and recharging the batteries.
Christina's words sprang to my mind, as I was working on a new 100-piece jigsaw puzzle from Ravensburger - The Country Cottage.
When Eddie saw the box, he told me: "It's going to take you 5 minutes to finish it". It was a bit more than that, but yes, it didn't take long.

easy jigsaw puzzles with larger pieces

It shows a quaint thatched cottage on a quiet country lane.
It reminded me of a trip to one of the Cotswolds villages many years ago, when a couple of friends took Mum and me around the local countryside. We left the car and were admiring an old thatched cottage, when an elderly lady came out of her garden and invited us in. Having found out that my Mum and I were from Russia, she told her husband to show us some of his Merry Dancing moves. They were so kind and welcoming. They must have been gone for many years, as they were pretty old even then, but I remember them fondly. Their house was a warren of small rooms, all inter-connected, with the old fireplaces and low beams. It was like going back in time.

The cottage in the puzzle is bursting with colours of the blooms and flowers around it. There are red and pink roses, and bright blue delphiniums.
The white doves are resting on the thatched roof.

easy jigsaw puzzles

The cottage owner is having her skewbald horse shod, while his little dog is waiting patiently for the job to be done.

jigsaw puzzles about countryside

The views over the valley are strikingly beautiful and serene.

easy jigsaw puzzle

The ramblers must have just been for a walk across the fields and the hills. Behind them, a young family are stroking a chestnut horse.

easy jigsaw puzzles

Even the van looks pretty vintage. This nostalgic scene is colourful and detailed.
Extra large pieces are sturdy and easy to handle, great for fiddle-free puzzling. The pieces are made from strong premium grade cardboard, with linen finish print to minimise glare on puzzle image.
The completed puzzle measures 49x36cm.

This is a puzzle to enjoy when you're pressed for time, and just have a short break to relax.
The pieces are large and easy to find.

Lovely people from Ravensburger have offered one of these puzzles as a giveaway prize for my blog readers.

To be in with a chance of winning, please enter via Rafflecopter form.

The giveaway is open to the UK residents only.
Once the Rafflecopter picks the winner, I will contact them regarding address details, if they do not reply within 28 day, the prize will be allocated to another person.

It might be pretty obvious but under new GDPR regulations you must accept that if you win the giveaway, you agree to have your details shared with the brand PR who will dispatch the prize. No other data will be passed or shared.

Please don't forget to leave a comment, as it is the only mandatory step, I will make sure the winner selected by Rafflecopter has complied with T&Cs.
The prize will be posted by Ravensburger.
Giveaway ends on 27 September 2018 (midnight).

Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, 11 September 2018

Apple cereal muffins

English apples

Apple season is upon us. We have several apple trees in the garden, including two old trees, which Eddie loves to climb on. These two trees have eating apples which are quite tart in taste. They're best picked by the end of September, and keep very well in boxes over winter, getting sweeter and sweeter.
I don't know what the variety is, they are not Gala or Braeburn. And we've got a big crop again this year. A lot of our neighbours have apples of their own, and you often see buckets of apples outside homes, offering them for free.

English apple varieties

I also have a young Golden Delicious tree, which my Mum planted a couple of years ago, and this year we had quite a few apples. They were on a small size but pretty good.

Needless to say, there are just too many apples for us to eat. I still have some of the apple preserves left from the last year. And I've been offering apples left and right to anyone who's willing to take them.
Now is the season, when I'm trying to use apples as much as possible. Thankfully, we love them in all kinds of bakes.
Yesterday morning I was baking a batch of apple muffins.

what to do with apple glut

Apple cereal muffins
Ingredients (makes 10-11)
2 medium apples
2 medium eggs
150g dememare sugar
125ml milk (plant-based or dairy)
80g butter, melted
250g self-raising flour
1tsp baking powder
1/2tsp cinnamon
a handful of cereal as a topping, or nuts (pine nuts or flaked almonds)

Start by grating two apples. You don't have to peel the apples, it will only add to the texture of the cupcakes. In a big bowl mix the grated apples, demerara sugar and two eggs. Add the flour, milk, melted butter, baking powder, cinnamon and mix well.

Spoon the cake mix into the paper muffin cases and sprinkle the cereal on top.
Place the muffin tin (I put the muffin cases in the muffin tin so that they keep the shape rather than go flat) in the oven preheated to 180C and bake for about 20+ minutes. The muffins should be golden brown in colour and well-risen.

easy breakfast muffins

They are very fluffy in texture, moist and sweet. Good for breakfast or in a lunch box. They will keep well for 2-3 days in a tin.

what to do with the apple glut

You can leave them as they are, or drizzle a bit of icing on top. As Sasha is off school this week, until his school transport is sorted out, he helped me decorate the muffins with the glaze and fruit stars.

easy muffins

Sasha scoffed a couple of muffins as soon as they slightly cooled. Eddie ate one after school, and ceded "Not bad!" - Thanks for your kind words, son!

In this recipe I used Dorset Cereals Spectacular Grains Raspberries & Apple with toasted spelt & popped buckwheat which was one of the products in the latest Degustabox food box.
You can use any of the healthier cereal or granola as a topping.
Ingredients include grains (68%) [wholegrain toasted wheat flakes, toasted sweetened malted barley flakes, toasted sweetened malted spelt flakes, wholegrain malted oat flakes, wholegrain barley flakes, popped buckwheat, sultanas, dried apple slices and freeze dried raspberries, pumpkin and sunflower seeds and more.

I also used a Good Hemp Unsweetened Dairy Free Drink (also found in the last Degustabox), as I wanted to find out how it works in baking. I've tried the hemp milk in coffee, and wasn't very enthusiastic about it. It has an acquired taste. However, in pancakes and muffins you hardly notice the difference.
And as we don't follow the vegan diet, I have eggs and butter in my recipe.

what to do with the apple glut

And here are a few of the apple recipes that might help you to go through your apple glut:

Apples stewed in apple cider

Apple bread

Apple Sharlotka

Belgian Apple Tart

Apple Turnovers

What do you do with apples - preserves, bakes, salads?

Monday, 10 September 2018

Schleich Dino Set with Cave

dinosaur minifigures

Last Easter holidays Eddie and I were glued to the TV screen, watching several seasons of Primeval on DVDs. We loved the time-travelling basis of the series, and the chance to get acquainted better with the most magnificent dinosaurs.
We didn't go to see Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom on the big screen, and but will most likely buy the DVD as soon as it's released in November.

It's not just us who can't have enough of the prehistoric creatures. The dinosaurs are more popular now than ever. I've been recently reading an article about why the dinosaurs are so popular with kids and grown-ups alike.
Seth Dickinson, the science fiction author, thinks the imagination is the key to their popularity: "It;s the first sense we get that Earth is really, really old," he says, "that there were all these things that happened in deep history that we'll never fully understand."

For dino-loving fans around the world, Schleich offer a selection of dinosaur figurines and sets.

Dino Set with Cave (RRP £44.99) is a splendid set, which comes with lots of great features.

It includes a cave, a column, slab with a separate stone, and three dinos - Herrerasaurus, Psittacosaurus and Microraptor, plus you get a scary look dino skull.

dinosaur minifigures, collectable dinosaurs

The carnivorous Herrerasuarus is roaming around the dinosaur cave, looking for prey. The Microraptor might have a lucky escape, as it is so small and can hide easily, but the Psittacosaurus must run if it wants to live.

dinosaur minifigures

The front part of the cave can be transformed into a catapult, when the stone column is moved. Then the stone slab would bury everything under it.

dinosaur minifigures

The big stone slab has a super cool fossil print on it.

Schleich fans will be thrilled to see dinosaurs in new poses and designs. Their range is regularly expanded, and the website is of great educational value. You can find a lot of information about the prehistoric creatures.

dinosaur minifigures

Schleich toys are well known for their attention to detail. Just look at the dino skull, with its sharp teeth and movable jaws.

dinosaur minifigures

dinosaur minifigures

The intricate paintwork is high quality, with detailed textural effects.

dinosaur minigigures

dinosaur minifigures

This new dinosaur set with cave from Schleich will make an excellent addition to any dinosaur figurine collection. You can mix and match them with any other dinosaurs from an extensive range of prehistoric creatures.

For the full range of prehistoric animals, visit Schleich Toys.

Disclosure: We received new Schleich toys for the purposes of reviewing. All opinions are our own.

Sunday, 9 September 2018

Photo diary: week 36, project 365

September is a transitional month, you still have very warm days reminiscent of the summer, yet the evenings are getting dark earlier and earlier, and there is a chill in the air in the mornings.
Last week the school started. While Eddie went back to school on Tuesday, Sasha wasn't supposed to go back to school until Thursday.
Unfortunately his SEN officer and transport department made a total mess with the transport request. And sadly it's not the first time they get it wrong.
He is starting a new school out of town, and needs transport to get there. It's unrealistic for us to take him to school, as it would take two buses, and then walking along the busy road. With my husband's work commitments, he wouldn't be able to take him to and back from school. I can't do it either, as that would mean spending my day on transport all the day, going to and fro, plus Eddie goes to a local school. Anyway, for Sasha's safety and anxiety, he needs a school transport. Which didn't happen. We spent hours this week on the phone, trying to sort out the issue.
My hunch is that the person responsible for doing the request back in summer didn't do it until the last moment, and then ignored my messages and calls.
Frustrating, so frustrating...

garden in September

I recently finished Her Name was Rose, which was promoted as the must-read for summer.
It was a gripping thriller, but I couldn't relate to any character, and found the main heroine extremely annoying.

Eddie was a bit reluctant to go back to school on Tuesday. We got too lazy in summer, getting up and going to bed late, and it was difficult to get ready quickly in the morning.
I cooked cauliflower with flaked almonds, coconut and spices.

We have quite a few hazelnuts in the garden. The problem is either to pick them up now, when they are still ripening, or leave them until later and most likely be eaten by squirrels.

Some evenings I don't fancy cooking. On Thursday we have a market in town, and I bought some beautiful cheese, plums and figs.

Eddie and I are enjoying our evening reading sessions together. We've just finished reading Emma Carroll's Secrets of a Sun King. He loved it a lot, so we moved onto the next book by the same author, called The Girl who walked on air.
The pop-up book in the background is my recent find in one of the charity shops.

historical fiction for children

Yesterday we went to the swimming pool, and later to Sainsbury's cafe, where boys wanted chips - no surprises here.