Saturday, 18 May 2019

Photo diary: week 20, project 365

One more week to go until we have a midterm break. We don't have any special plans. A couple of days by the seaside would be wonderful, but it's not going to happen. I've only just paid the remainder for our Cornish trip in summer, and gulp. I so need to win a lottery. Talking of which, I did win £100 during the previous bank holiday weekend, which was a lovely surprise. All spent already on the essentials (a new school uniform, etc) and some treats too, like books and Domino's pizza.

This week's photos are mostly taken in the garden.

I love ferns, they are such beautiful plants.


This silly thyme plant is growing right in the middle of the path, and we all walk around it. Such a rotten place to choose, amidst the flagstones.


You're never too old to hug a giant teddy bear before seeing the dentist.


As I was walking around the garden in the evening, the aeroplane was doing rounds above, not sure what it was actually doing, as it was flying away then coming back.


Just the evening before there was a beautiful big bud on the orchid. I wanted to take a photo, but the light in the kitchen is terrible, so I left it til morning. A mistake on my part, as in the morning it has greeted me all opened up.


Yellow poppies are a magnet for bees in the garden. Soon, when the lavender starts to bloom, it will be like a Michelin restaurant, packed full of bees.


I've been growing tomatoes in the greenhouse for many years. Can't say they are totally easy, as some summers I had to struggle with caterpillars, but overall they are easier to take care of than any other vegetable or fruit (that is apart, from the apple trees, as I don't do anything with them, they just grow and give fruit, bless them).



You are invited to the Inlinkz link party!
Click here to enter

Tuesday, 14 May 2019

Apple semolina cake

Russian cake recipes


By Monday the boiled fruit cake I baked last Friday was a distant memory. To cheer up my guys after school, I baked a simple semolina cake. I haven't baked it for over a year, if not longer, so had to buy a box of semolina (Whitworth's).

Semolina or manka (aka mannaya krupa) in all guises and disguises is a staple ingredient of many Russian dishes, from a semolina porridge for children (standard in nurseries and primary schools, and typically rather awful) to dumplings for stews and soups, from coating to cutlets to all kinds to cakes and bakes.

If you like random facts about world cuisine, you might have heard of the Guriev kasha, which is a dessert made from semolina, with layers of creamy milk skins, walnuts, vanilla, candied fruit and apricot sauce. It's named after Count Guriev, who was the Minister of finance in the early 19C.
The story tells that Guriev has first tasted this dish at some Mayor's house, loved it so much that he bought the chef (a serf) and his family. The chef's name - Zakhar Kuz'min - was forgotten, while the dessert became known as Guriev's kasha (see V.Kovalev, N.Mogil'nyi, Russkaya Kukhnya, 1990).

There are hundreds of semolina cake (or mannik) recipes on the Russian sites and food forums, each cook has their own "secret" ingredient. The recipe below is very much what we'd cook in the Soviet times (minus the apple rings).

Russian cake recipes, Russian recipes


Apple semolina cake
Ingredients:
200g semolina
200ml kefir (or milk mixed with a couple of tbsp of soured cream or Greek yogurt)
3 medium eggs
150g caster sugar
zest of 1 lemon
200g self-raising flour
1tsp baking powder
150g butter, melted
60g apple rings, chopped (or raisins, or a grated carrot)

First mix the semolina with kefir (or milk) in a mixing bowl and leave it for half an hour.
Beat in the eggs and sugar, and mix well. Add the lemon zest, sift in the flour (leaving 1tsp to dust the apple pieces), baking powder, and melted butter, mix well.
Slightly dust the chopped apple rings with flour and mix into the cake batter. It will be quite fluffy and thick.
Oil the cake tin with the oil spray of your choice. I like to use the avocado oil spray, as it has a neutral taste, but plain butter will do (that would be more authentic actually).
Scoop the cake batter into the cake tin and place the tin in the oven preheated to 180C.
Bake for 40+ minutes. Check readiness with a wooden toothpick, if it comes out clean, the cake is ready.
Eat warm or cold, slightly dusted with icing sugar.
You could also do a light lemon icing drizzle over the top.

It's a tasty cake, with a fluffy, slightly grainy texture. Perfect with a cup of tea or coffee.

Russian cake recipes

As mentioned above, you could add raisins instead of apples, or grate a carrot. Or leave it plain, without any fruit or veg.

Russian recipes

Russian cake recipes

This cake will keep well for a few days, if stored in a tin.

Russian cake recipes

Sunday, 12 May 2019

A Long Shadow by Caroline Kington #BlogTour + giveaway

psychological thriller


A Long Shadow by Caroline Kington is an emotionally intense, moving story of love, obsession, secrets and lies.

The narrative moves backwards and forward in time, telling stories of different characters.

1943: Susan, an unmarried pregnant girl is escaping the mother and baby hostel, afraid of losing her baby to adoption. She's determined to find her distant relatives in Bristol and keep her baby. While on the run, she meets a farmer who takes her to his remote farm, and her fate is sealed.

2001: Kate Maddicot is grieving the death of her husband and father of their two children. It was a terrible accident, but there is also a doubt in many people's minds. The Watersmeet farm has been struggling before Dan's death, the life insurance clears the debts and even leaves Kate and the family with some capital.What conclusions are there to draw? Was it really an accident, or a suicide?
"In the private opinion of everyone but those who knew him best, the news of the farm debt and of the life insurance settled the question"..
Kate refuses to believe the gossip and is set on finding out what's really happened.

The story goes back in time to 1990, to the beginning of Kate and Dan's relationship. We also have glimpses of Dan's childhood, and his relationship with two cousins - Mary and Max.

Dan is a likable protagonist, a young farmer who dedicates his life to the Watersmeet farm. His struggles to keep his farm afloat are convincing and engrossing.

This gripping novel perfectly captures the sights and smells of the rural life.

His grandmother Rose was a prolific diarist, who kept a journal every year until her death. She left a will, asking her grandson to read specific journals. Only Dan never had a chance to read them.
It would be up to Kate to discover the skeletons in the cupboard.

Susan's story is told in parallel. Her tragic life and secrets will have major repercussions on the present day's events at the farm.

Caroline Kington as a writer is an engaging, compassionate narrator. She has a great empathy for her characters, even the most difficult and unsavoury ones, creating a backstory which explains some of the characters' flaws and maliciousness.

There is also a whole lot of supporting parts, who are portrayed using the full palette - the dark and the light - from the ghastly Leaches to warm and caring Polly (Dan's mother).
Kate's family could easily be a basis for many AIBUs on Mumsnet. Her sister Emily is a spoilt brattish princess, over-indulged by her doting parents. She cannot tolerate not being the centre of attention and would do anything in her power to overshadow her sister.

The book is very sad and distressing at times, but also tender and lyrical.

books set on the farms


This review is part of the blog tour. Many thanks to Caroline Kington and Rachel's Random Resources for my copy of the book.



You can order this book on amazon (see the link above),
or from the Lightning Books website at 50% (with free UK p&p) if you enter the code BLOGTOURSHAD
(that's not an affiliate link

You are also welcome to try to win one of 5 copies of A Long Shadow.
T&Cs:
The giveaway is open to the UK residents only.
It might be run on several blogs, i.e. it's not exclusive to Chez Maximka blog, and I have no responsibility for the selection of the winner or dispatch and delivery of the prize.
Please enter using the Rafflecopter box below.
The winner will be selected via Rafflecopter from all valid entries and will be notified by Twitter, and/or email.
If no response is received within 7 days, then Rachel's Random Resources reserves the right to select an alternative winner.
Open to all entrants aged 18 years or over.
Any personal data given as part of the competition entry is used for this purpose only and will not be shared with third parties, with the exception of the winners' information.
This will be passed to the giveaway organiser and used only for fulfillment of the prize, after which time Rachel's Random Resources will delete the data.

Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Saturday, 11 May 2019

Photo diary: week 19, project 365

May is the month when I feel mildly optimistic, with the promise of the summer holidays in the not so distant future. I enjoy pottering in the garden, looking at the flowers and tending to my tomato plants in the greenhouse.

On Sunday we went grocery shopping, and also visited Costa for a quick cup of coffee and a teacake for me and a panino for Eddie. I was sipping my latte and reading a review of The Mister. It sounds as bad as I suspected. I could never finish the first book of her famous trilogy, the sex scenes were excruciatingly long and boring, and both characters were extremely annoying. I never found out what happened to the shallow couple, and am certainly not buying the latest "masterpiece". The article though was quite amusing.

funny book reviews

Looks like on Monday I only took photos of the Bonne Maman strawberry yogurt, not the most inspired shot, so here are two pics from Tuesday (neither particularly exciting, but sums up our afternoon perfectly).
Sasha stayed overnight at his respite centre, thus Eddie and I didn't have to hurry home after school. We visited the vintage shop, where Eddie loved this two-seater couch.
We didn't buy the couch, but bought a Neolithic hammer head found at Beachy Head, Sussex, for a fiver. There was a whole collection sold in bits and pieces, it looks like someone's collection, given away by the people who inherited it and don't appreciate it.


We had a pizza and film night, watching Aquaman. We usually enjoy films based on DC Comics characters, but this film was too long (2 hours and 18 minutes) and quite boring. There is Nicole Kidman, who I couldn't recognise at first, as her face looks very different. Just why do the actors and celebs do it?

films based on DC Comics

A rainy day, and another shot of the ice cream tulip which I posted last week - just to show how it has changed.


Loved this display of heirloom tomatoes in Waitrose. So much better when you can pick what you like, and not to have more plastic to deal with.


This week's bedtime reading is Malamander by Thomas Taylor. Both Eddie and I love it. It's a terrific seaside mystery, with a mix of folklore, Gothic horror and magic.


Today we're relaxing at home, doing nothing special.



You are invited to the Inlinkz link party!
Click here to enter

Friday, 10 May 2019

Boiled fruit and walnut cake

fruit cake recipe


The decluttering gurus like Ms Kondo would have conniptions if they happen to go with me to the charity shops. I tend to donate a bag of clothes, books or toys about once a week, but I also do a weekly charity shops crawl and always end up buying a few little things.
Just this week I bought two paperbacks for myself, a couple of books for Eddie, a little porcelain bird for 50p (made in the USSR, and I had exactly the same one as a child) and a Neolithic hammer found at Beachy Head (as you do).
Well, technically the hammer was on display in the vintage shop, along the other Neolithic finds like scrapers etc. It was clearly someone's much-cherished collection, sold in bits and pieces.
Eddie and I watched 10,000BC on DVD recently, and I bought an old edition of Rosny's Quest for Fire on eBay, so it was all fitting perfectly well, according to my reasoning.

One of my recent finds was a cook book Cakes & Slices (The Australian Women's Weekly). It was priced 20p, like all the books in that charity shop (books for kids go for 10p each). I really don't know how they make money at all.
The cake recipes in this book are all rather old-fashioned and tasty. Nothing particularly fancy, not a single grain of quinoa in or Himalayan salt in sight.

A friend of ours was coming earlier today for tea, and she is usually happy to be a guinea pig for my untested recipes.
One of the cakes I wanted to try is called Wholemeal boiled fruit and walnut cake.



I have adapted the recipe, reducing sugar in half (I find that most American and Australian cake recipes use too much sugar), and changing some of the ingredients, but the main idea is borrowed from the book.

It turned out to be tasty, but definitely not a looker, as the top had split, which often happens when the cake batter is wet.

easy fruit cake


Boiled fruit and walnut cake
Ingredients:
50g dried apricots
40g currants
70g dried apple rings
1 teabag (black tea, like Typhoo)
150g caster sugar
3 medium eggs
235g self-raising flour
65g rye & spelt flour
200g butter, melted
45g walnuts
1tsp vanilla extract
1tsp baking powder

First finely chop the apple rings and apricots. Place the currants and apricots in a pan with boiling water and 1 teabag. Bring to boil, then lower the heat and simmer for about 5 minutes. Add the chopped apples and cook for another couple of minutes. Remove from the heat and strain the fruit using a colander or sifter. Discard the teabag. Let the fruit cool.



In a big mixing bowl beat together the sugar and eggs. Sift in the flour, baking powder, add the melted butter and mix well. Add the chopped walnuts and boiled fruit, and mix well.
Line the base of the spring cake tin with a parchment paper, and oil the sides lightly. Pour the cake batter in the tin.



Place the tin in the oven preheated to 180C. Cook for an hour and a half+ Check readiness with a wooden toothpick.
Cool in the cake tin.
Dust with icing sugar (optional).

easy fruit cake

You can use a different combination of dried fruit and nuts. My kids love apples and walnuts, and that's why I've chosen these ingredients for the cake.


It is a moist cake, fruity and not over-sweet. Judging by how much is left by now, my family (and friend) liked it.

Saturday, 4 May 2019

Photo diary: week 18, project 365

We said Good bye to April and welcomed May. As the spring progresses, our garden is changing its looks. There is lots of blues and purples at the moment, with a few bright pinks. Soon the white roses will begin blooming.
I didn't do it on purpose, but this week's photos can be grouped by colour blue.

I'm not sure what this flower is called. It's more of a garden weed variety, not exactly a cornflower, as it's pretty big. Does anyone know its name?


Lilac is still looking pretty good. I love its perfume, it makes me think of home.


Eddie was chatting to me and holding onto the wood beam over the fireplace. He made me think of Atlas holding the skies.



The weekend before I've been reading Rachel Roddy's column in the Guardian Feast magazine. She mentioned the book called The fruit, herbs and vegetables of Italy, which was written in the 17C by Castelvetro, who was in exile in England.
I found it on eBay, and bought it. It's a beautiful edition, with art illustrations.


A morning walk to school: this spot always makes me think of Venice.


More blue flowers from the garden. The bluebells and forget-me-nots are spreading like fire.


Today Eddie and I did some boring grocery shopping. We tried a couple of Costas in town, but they were unusually packed full, and we didn't fancy eating outside, as it was too blustery.
No cafe for us today, but Eddie was super excited to get a rare Pokemon card when we bought an Unbroken Bonds booster pack in the book shop today.
This was our late lunch - cheese, grapes, apples, Peter's Yard cripsbreads (my absolute favourites!) and some Higgidy tomato wheels ( we thought the pastries were so-so; a bit disappointing).



You are invited to the Inlinkz link party!
Click here to enter

The Suspects by Katharine Johnson #BlogTour

psychological thriller


"We weren't bad people, we just made a bad choice. Or at least that's how it started."

The Suspects by Katherine Johnson is a taut, concise and deeply disquieting psychological thriller.

A group of graduates finds themselves embroiled in the immoral decision which will change their lives forever.
Five young people who'd applied for the journalism training scheme, decide to move in together.
They all have secrets from each other.

Emily, the narrator, has epilepsy, which she keeps under control, and doesn't want for the others to know about.

Stuart has a dark past of his own. During the new year's eve party he makes a drunken confession to Emily, only it's so noisy and she's so tipsy, she can hardly hear anything.

Stuart's grandfather dies and leaves him some money. It's enough for a deposit on a flat. He can't afford to buy a whole house on his own, but if he could find enough people to share, they would pay less in mortgage than they are paying in rent.

In principle it sounds sensible and tempting. In reality, Stuart, Zak, Imogen, Xanthe and Emily are not compatible as long term joint tenants/owners.
And then there's Rick, the most annoying boyfriend of Imogen.
The group dynamics is changing dramatically.

It starts with the petty things, and it doesn't take long for five personalities to clash.
But it was the party on New Year's Eve that changes everything.

"None of the stuff that came after would have happened if each of us hadn't already made some bad choices".

The novel starts with a funeral of a young woman named Xanthe. Only she is not actually Xanthe at all, her real name happens to be Charlotte.
She has been the proverbial pain in the posterior all through her life. An attention seeker, thriving on drama, she has reinvented herself and told the most incredible lies about her life (one of her preposterous claims was that her parents died in a plane crash, and her sister is a nun).
I suppose we've all met someone like that - a person who wants to be the centre of attention at any cost.

The narrative moves backwards and forward in time. Set against the backdrop of the late 1980s, the novel weaves the not so distant past with backstories of all the main protagonists, unraveling secrets and painful memories.

As the alarming tale progresses and the deceit deepens, one layer of lies by another, you're racing through the pages.

The novel is so well-written, you're completely absorbed. This psychological thriller is full to bursting with chilling twists and turns.

"We were strong at different times. One of us would be on edge and the others would have to cover for them but we were always aware that one of us could break down and bring things crashing down around us in a moment...
And yet we were bound together by what we'd done. It would always be there between us, this shared knowledge. No one would ever understand me as well as he did because they couldn't be allowed to know everything about me..."

psychological thriller 2019

About the author:
Katharine Johnson was born in Bristol and now lives in Berkshire. She's worked as a journalist on lots of magazines and has written a history book about Windsor. When not writing, you'll usually find her with a book in one hand and a coffee in the other, restoring a house in Italy, walking her spaniel or playing netball (though not usually at the same time.)

Katharine's social media links:
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/katharinejohnsonauthor
Twitter: @kjohnsonwrites
Instagram: @katharinejohnsonauthor
Blog: https://www.katyjohnsonblog.wordpress.com


This review is part of the blog tour. Check out the stops at the following route:


Disclosure: Many thanks to Katharine Johnson and Rachel's Rare Resources for inviting me to take part in the tour. I received a free copy of the book for the purposes of reviewing. All opinions are my own.

Wednesday, 1 May 2019

Best of British & Outdoors Degustabox (April 2019)

The Easter weekend was warm and sunny, but now at the beginning of May, the weather turned out to be colder. I even put the heating on the other morning, as the house felt damp after several days of incessant rain. I wonder what the coming May Bank holiday will bring on? Will it be all BBQs and picnics in the garden, or meals indoors?

The latest Degustabox was clearly created by optimists who expect a beautiful weather and eating al fresco.

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 April'19 Degustabox? Let's have a look.

food box subscriptions


Robinsons Fruit Cordials (£2.49) is a concentrated pear and elderflower soft drink with sugar and sweetener. It is best served with ice and a slice of cucumber.
Nutrition information: 4.2g of sugar and 18kcal per 100ml diluted (1 part cordial to 6 parts water).

Robinsons has been making fruit drinks since 1823, and doesn't need an introduction. Their range is vast and varied, and has many fans.

summer drinks

Typhoo Black Tea (£2.20) is another British classic, a much loved British tea brand.
Their team of expert tea buyers and blenders carefully select only the finest tea leaves to ensure great taste, quality and freshness from every cup of Typhoo.

British tea

Heinz Organic Baked Beanz (£1) are packed full of the finest organically grown ingredients, offering an organic alternative to the classic tin.
Always useful to have in a pantry for when you fancy baked beans on toast or a proper English breakfast.

pantry staples

Heinz Cream of Tomato Pot Soup (£1.19) is the same tomato soup you know, only in a recyclable microwaveable pots.
We don't have a microwave, and if I do fancy a Heinz soup, I'd still go for a tin. But I can see it being useful for office lunches.

London Flavours Street Food (£1) crisps reflect the diverse flavours of the British capital.
We received a pack of Pho crisps, inspired by Vietnamese cuisine.
Vegan, gluten free, these premium crisps are a treat for spicy crisps fans.

You should receive one of 3 flavours in your box.

vegan crisps

Cheerios Multigrain (£2.69) are made with 81% whole grain oats. They are naturally high in fibre & packed with 9 vitamins and minerals including Calcium and iron.
No artificial colours or flavours.
Nutritional information: 118kcal and 5.5g sugar per 30g portion.

My guys used to love Cheerios when they were little, but these days they are not big cereal eaters. I looked online at the recipes which use Cheerios and like the sound of Very Berry Cheerios Bars.

breakfast cereals

Skinny Food Co Not Guilty White Chocolate Crispies & Milk Chocolate Crispies (£1.49) are guilt and gluten free, with no added sugar.
#NotGuilty bites are high protein snacks, with 99kcal per pack.
You will receive one of two flavours in your box.
My suggestion for the package design is to change fonts to a black colour in the back of the pale yellow bag, or it's almost impossible to read anything.
My elder son enjoyed them. I had a small piece from both packs, and wasn't very keen on the aftertaste.

gluten free snacks

snacks


CRAFTED by Cracker Drinks Co Mango & Passionfruit (£2) is a fruit juice drink, with no added sugar or sweeteners.
Packed in an environmentally friendly carton, with a resealable pack.
All CRAFTED drinks count as one of your five a day.
Sweet and fruity, it's enjoyable straight from the fridge.

fruit drinks without added sugar or sweeteners

Pachamama Andean Berry & Raspberry/Cacao & Cashew (£1.39) are a lovely mix of cacao, dates, nuts, grains and seeds. A chocolatey hit with a taste of the Andes.
This mix of fruit, grains and seeds will release your inner energy.
No added sugar and 100% vegan.
Nutritional info: 134kcal and 20g sugar per bar.

vegan bars

Candy Kittens Wild Strawberry (£1.50) are gourmet sweets, which are totally free from gelatine and gluten. Think sophisticated Percy pigs, with more gourmet flavours.
My kids enjoy them.

gelatine-free sweets

gelatine-free sweets

Love Corn Smoked BBQ (£1.29) is UK's first premium crunchy corn brand.
These crunchy corn kernels are quite addictive and pack a good flavour.
They are GM-free, gluten free and are vegan.
Nutritional info: 190kcal per 45g bag. A tasty snack, which will be great with a glass of ale.

My younger son loved them, he said "Best thing ever!"


Bull's-Eye NY Steakhouse Barbecue Sauce (£2.49) is full of heart and ready to take on any red meat.
Bull's Eye brings the ultimate, authentic American BBQ taste.

sauce for BBQ

And the last product - Eat Water Slim Rice Sushi (£2.55). This easy to roll sushi rice is made with natural ingredients including Japanese sushi rice and konjac rice.
It contains 9kcal per piece.
It can also be used as sticky rice.

slim rice

What's your favourite product from the latest Degustabox?