Sunday, 22 September 2019

The Slaughter Man by Cassandra Parkin

psychological thriller

"I can't even look in mirrors any more, all I see is... She needs to do something to remind him who she is, that she's allowed to break things and wreck things and make mistakes, and it's his job to forgive her because he's an adult and she is broken, and that's how this is supposed to work".

The Slaughter Man by Cassandra Parkin is a tragic, unsettling story of guilt, obsession and identity.

Seventeen-year-old Willow becomes non-verbal after her identical twin Lauren dies. Her life crumbles, and no one seems to be able to help her, including her parents.
"...what she sees in her mother's face is what she always sees these days: fierce unending love mixed with hopeless confusion. Because her mother does not have the answers, and does not know how to fix her surviving daughter, and they are both lost".

Willow's feelings of guilt for being alive while her twin is dead bring on a mental illness, with its destructive suicidal thoughts and terrifying nightmares, where she sees her sister and believes she is calling her to join her.

"I am so, so sorry you've ended up with this. Being the only child, I mean. It's too much, to go through this life as one on your own. No one should have to do it".
  Her mother's words drive a thin sharp hole into her. This is exactly how she's felt since Laurel left them. Unbalanced. As if there's too much weight on her shoulders, as if she has to carry a burden for two to share..."

Some of her nightmares are bordering on nauseating. The first scene - of the funeral service in the church and the desecration of the corpse - is truly stomach-churning.

Willow's parents' marriage is on the point of disintegrating as well. They are almost destroyed by their daughter's death, and by their inability to help Willow to learn to live again.

When her uncle Joe comes to visit, he convinces his sister that Willow should come to live with him for a while in his cottage in the countryside, literally in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by woods, and having no close neighbours.

As they begin to know each other better, Willow comes to realise her uncle has his own demons to fight. He might be not the right person to look after her. Joe seems to be rather helpless himself. He gives Willow a room, with a door leaving outside the cottage (perhaps not the wisest move, as Willow sleepwalks in the night).

And Willow is left free to roam the countryside, both during the day and at night. On one of her night trips, she comes across a house in the woods, where the mysterious creepy Slaughter Man lives on his own. She is terrified and fascinated by him in equal measure. She is drawn to danger, and Joe is not doing a good job of looking after her.
"There's something else he wants to say, but she doesn't have the time to listen, and besides, she's allowed to be oblivious to other people's wants and needs".

Willow meets another troubled teen called Luca, who is living in one of the neighbouring farms, he's fostered by a sensible, no-nonsense farmer Katherine. Luca is another one who's drawn to the danger like a magnet. He is rough, defensive, and neurotic, but his prickly fa├žade hides his vulnerability and dark sinister secrets.

Clueless Joe, who's immersed in his own life drama, doesn't seem to grasp to what extent of danger his niece is exposed. He warns her against wandering into the Slaughter Man's territory, but doesn't do much to safeguard her. And Willow takes a full advantage of her newly found freedom.

Gradually the Slaughter Man creeps into Willow's nightmares, and the borders between the dreams and reality shift all the time. Is the Slaughter Man having a key to the solving of her inner torture?

It took me some time to "digest" the book before I tried to write a review. I had to collect my thoughts.
It gives a psychological insight into the grieving process and aspects of the mental illness.

Cassandra Parkin's writing is convincing and talented, she is a master of dark, conflicting emotions spilling on the pages of her novels.

Willow is a complex character, vulnerable and fragile. I have a great sympathy for her loss, yet compassion is not so straightforward. I couldn't help but be annoyed with her a lot, and then I felt bad about being exasperated with her. She has mental health issues, so her behaviour cannot be judged by normal standards.

She's a frightened grieving teen, who is also immensely selfish, wilful and egocentric. She is inconsiderate towards her parents and uncle, and at first, to Luca as well. It's only gradually she begins to gain more understanding of people around her, and that she is not the only person who is grieving. Her closest family and a new friend have their own tragedies and fears.

I felt the ending was a bit rushed, it was a bit of an anti-climax, but the novel tackles a difficult, sensitive subject and challenges our perceptions of grief.

The Slaughter Man is heartbreaking, thought-provoking, honest and insightful.

fiction about death of a twin

Disclosure: Many thanks to Cassandra Parkin and Legend Press for my copy of the book!

Saturday, 21 September 2019

Photo diary: week 38, project 365

Do you ever get a feeling when you want to flee somewhere and leave everything and everyone behind, so that nobody can get hold of you? That's how I felt last week. I've been stressed and out of sorts. I fantasise about it, often, but I know I won't do it, as I have to hold myself together for my children's sake.
It's mainly to do with our dear Sash, who's been difficult this week for no apparent reason. My heart is breaking for him, as I don't know how to ease his internal tumult and ease his pain and anxiety.
And then there's my husband, who's off again, without a second thought about how we cope, and whose absences, and ultimately indifference, I resent.

I've been taking photos of things around me this week, mostly on my walks into town.
This cat is a very independent creature. We see it almost every day in the fields, sometimes relaxing in the sun, or sleeping in the grass, sometimes carrying a mouse.


The name of this construction firm in town always makes Eddie and me smile, just because it is his name.


I loved the pattern of the shadows on the pavement, nearby the old woollen mill.

Witney old woollen mill compound

Having a quick coffee in the Blue Boar, I admired the mini-rainbow effect from the sun rays going through the chandelier by the window, with the prism beads.


It was our 23rd wedding anniversary on Thursday. 
This fancy car has caught my eye in West End.


Returning from a quick trip to Waitrose in the morning, I looked up and saw the Moon and the aeroplane's trail in the sky.

Witney town centre

Every other day, when I water the tomatoes in the greenhouse, I bring in a little bowl of cherry tomatoes. September has been so warm, that the tomato plants keep on giving fruit. They taste the sweetest, when picked off from the vine.

September harvest




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Butternut squash and cashew curry

vegan curry, vegetarian curry, meat-free curry


Where do you get inspiration for new cooking ideas? For me it could be anything: though I don't watch many cooking shows on TV these days (apart from the GBBO, and even that I find rather tedious this year), I buy a lot of cook books, subscribe to Veggie magazine and read weekend food supplements (The Guardian's Feast magazine is my top choice for foodie discoveries).

A week ago, we stopped in Costa in between shopping trips. Eddie had his panino while I ordered a cup of latte and a toasted teacake. Looking for what to browse, while I was having a latte, I spotted a Weekend magazine, which had excellent healthy recipes. That week there was a big selection of Dr Moseley's recipes. I liked the look of a Caribbean Coconut & Vegetable Curry, and even took a photo of the recipe.

vegan curry


I have adapted it, skipping some of the ingredients (none of us are keen on kale. Healthy it might be, but we don't like the taste or the texture), adding some of my own, and changing quantities, but overall it's a recipe inspired by Dr Moseley's healthy-eating diet. I believe the original recipe comes from his book called The Clever Guts Diet.

As I mentioned earlier this month, I received a few products from the Whole Foods Online shop, including a bag of whole cashews. I have posted a recipe for a sweet dish, including cashews - see Cashew Apricot Slice.

Cashews are high in protein and healthy fats which could assist in controlling healthy cholesterol levels. They contain a host of vitamins and minerals, essential for daily bodily function.
Whole cashews from Whole Foods Online are raw, unsalted and unroasted. As such, they are a versatile ingredient on many sweet and savoury recipes. They also make a tasty snack.

best unroasted cashews


Now it's a turn of a savoury recipe. It just happened to be a vegan recipe, but it's an accidentally vegan one.  I have cooked vegetarian/vegan curries in the past before, with the chickpeas, but it's the first time I made a curry with black eyed beans.
They make a nice alternative, but if you don't like the taste, they could be swapped for another kind of beans easily.

vegan curry, meat-free curry, meat-free recipes


Butternut squash and cashew curry (serves 4-5)
Ingredients:
4tbsp mild olive oil
1/2 big red onion, chopped finely
1 medium carrot
1tsp curry leaves (optional)
1tsp Malay curry powder (or any curry powder you have)
1tsp ground turmeric
a 4-5cm long piece of fresh ginger, grated
1 clove of garlic, chopped
1/2 lime
a pack of butternut squash wedges (385g)
1 red sweet pepper
1 tin of coconut milk, reduced fat
1 tin of black eyed beans (400g, drained weight 235g)
70g whole cashews

In a large frying pan heat the olive oil and start frying a finely chopped onion, with the curry leaves and chopped carrot. Add all the spices - the curry powder, turmeric, fresh ginger and chopped garlic. Squeeze in the juice of half a lime. Cook, stirring, for about 3-4 minutes, then add the cubed butternut squash and sliced sweet pepper.
Pour the coconut milk over the squash, add the beans and cashews, lower the heat, cover the pan with the lid, and cook for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, and adding some hot water if necessary, if the sauce becomes too thick. The squash should be cooked through.

vegan curry, meat-free meals


Serve hot, with rice or without, and a wedge of lime on the side.

vegan curry, meat-free meals

Disclosure: As mentioned above, I received a bag of cashews from Whole Foods Online for the purposes of using in a recipe.

meat-free meals, vegan curry

Monday, 16 September 2019

Back to School & On the Go Degustabox

As the kids go back to school in September (or late August, depending on what part of the UK you live in), we have to adjust to earlier mornings, school routines, packed lunches and cooler temperatures.
Back to School & On the Go was the theme of the last Degustabox.

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 Back to School & On the Go Degustabox? Let's have a look.


Typically, whenever we open a new box, the chocolate is snatched up pronto.
KitKat Senses bars (£0.85) are available in two flavours: Salted Caramel and Hazelnut.
They offer an indulgent combination of chocolate and wafer, with the tasty sweet filling.
They're available in major retailers from September.

chocolate bars UK

ManiLife Mini Original Crunchy/Mini Deep Roast Smooth (£0.59) are included in the alcohol version of Degustabox, while the no-alcohol box offers Mighty Fine Dark Chocolate Dips (so, depending on what box you subscribe to, you will receive either/or).

ManiLife is made from the finest peanuts sourced from a single-estate in Argentina. They are naturally sweeter and with a fat profile more akin to olive oil, which is better for you too. Roasted to perfection, these mini pods make a moreish snack.

nutty snacks


Mighty Fine Skinny Coated Dark Chocolate Almond Dips (£1.39) are another tasty treat for the fans of nuts.
They are a good source of protein, high in fibre,and have a much thinner chocolate layer than an average coated nut.
Nutritional information: 199kcal and 4.3g sugar per 35g serving.
Suitable for vegetarians.

While my guys gobbled up the KitKats, I saved the little bag of almond dips for myself, and enjoyed every bit of it.

snacks of nuts in chocolate


Fruitpot JellySqueeze Jelly Pouches (£0.50) are a fun way of eating jelly on the go. They come in squeezy pouches, and are made with real fruit juice. There are three flavours to choose from - Strawberry, Orange and Apple & Blackcurrant.
 Strawberry flavour jelly was my son's favourite of the three pouches. He said he'd be happy to have them in his lunch box.
They contain no artificial colours, no preservatives, added sugar or artificial sweeteners.
Nutritional information: 75kcal and 19.6g sugar per pouch, suitable for vegans, coeliacs and vegetarians.


More snacks for younger children - Fruit Bowl Unicorn Fruit Flakes, Juicy Yogurt Raisins and Strawberry Yogurt Flakes (£0.49). They are made with concentrated fruit purees and fruit juices.
The calorie count differs from 58kcal per serving (Unicorn flakes) to 114kcal (Yogurt raisins).
Individually wrapped portions allow you to take them anywhere you go.

snacks for packed lunches

Attack a Snak Nachos (£1.50) is the latest addition to the range. We're familiar with the cheese and ham wraps from Attack a Snak very well, in fact my son sometimes takes it to school in his lunch box, so he was very curious to try the new flavour.
Nachos snack kit includes nacho chips, tangy salsa and creamy nacho cheese. Perhaps a bit messy to take to school in a lunch box, but great for the afternoon munchies, when you are feeling peckish.

cheese snacks with salsa

Strings & Things Cheeshapes (£1.50) is the recent addition to Cheestrings range. Cheeshapes Randoms are bags of real cheese pieces, shaped into completely random shapes and iconic faces.
That's another product, suitable for school lunches or after-school snacks.
You will receive a fully redeemable voucher for this product.

UFIT Chocolate Protein Drink (£2) is a high protein milkshake, with no added sugar, the only sugar present is naturally occurring from the milk.
UFIT was designed to cater for mainstream health conscious consumers that are looking for a healthy alternative.

protein drinks

NuttVia Hazelnut Spread 350g (£3.99) is a healthier alternative to Nutella.
It is 97% less sugar, compared to sugar-based market products, and is also palm oil free. It's made with NatVia, a naturally sourced sweetener. I haven't tried it before. I would like a higher cocoa content, and a slightly less sweet taste.
Average values: 79kcal per 15g (1tbsp).

alternative to Nutella

I used this chocolate spread to make a marbled cake.

what to make with chocolate spread

Heinz Beef Ravioli (£1.25) has been a family favourite for over 50 years. Ready from the tin to table in under 5 minutes, tinned pasta is one of the staples of the student's life.

tinned pasta

Blossom Hill Pale Rose (£6.50) is the Winner of Product of the Year 2019. Refreshingly dry, it is crisp drink with delicate floral aromas and notes of summer fruit. 
It's lovely as an ingredient in a lemonade spritz, or served over ice with sliced strawberries.

Rose wine under £10

And finally, a lovely selection of tea from Pure Leaf - Green Tea with Jasmine, Chai and Gunpowder Green Tea (£3.99 each). Pure Leaf's motto: "Everything we do begins and ends with the perfect cup of tea in mind". Their teas are blended using only the finest long leaves paired with natural ingredients such as herbs, flower petals and real fruit pieces to create unique teas.
Each tub contains 16 pyramid bags.



My favourite flavour of the three was Green tea with jasmine, with its delicate floral aroma and mildly sweet taste. A perfect refresher.

best green tea UK

Disclosure: I receive a monthly Degustabox for the purposes of reviewing. All opinions are our own.

Sunday, 15 September 2019

Easy Marbled Cake

what to do with cake mixes


Yesterday's Feast magazine was a five-ingredient special. It's a lovely idea to cope with the bare minimum, and I started making today's cake with an intention of keeping it to 5 ingredients. Reader, I failed. I wanted to use the chocolate hazelnut spread from NuttVia, but the cake batter still looked a bit pale, when I mixed it in, so I sifted in one heaped teaspoon of cocoa powder.
And since I "broke" the 5-ingredients' postulation, I thought I might as well add a tablespoon of the egg liqueur to the vanilla half of the cake batter.
If you want to keep it more austere, don't use the liqueur and swap the milk for water.

what to do with cake mixes


Funnily enough, as I was mixing the dough, Eddie came into the kitchen and asked what I was baking. I said: "The Marbled Cake". He heard it as a Marvel cake, and was quite disappointed, when the cake was out of the oven: "What is Marvel about it? Are you going to decorate it?"
Sorry, son, it's not a Marvel cake.

easy sponge cake made with cake mix


Easy Marbled Cake
Ingredients:
1 pack of Betty Crocker Velvety Vanilla cake mix (425g)
110g butter, softened
3 medium eggs
180ml milk (semi-skimmed)
1tsp cocoa powder
60g chocolate hazelnut spread (I used NuttVia spread)
1tbsp Advocaat (optional)

In a medium sized mixing bowl beat the soft butter into the cake mix, and add the eggs, one at a time. Add milk, and mix well. Divide the cake batter into two parts.
Add two heaped tablespoons of hazelnut chocolate spread and sift in the cocoa powder as well.
If using the Advocaat liqueur, add it to the second bowl of cake batter.

easy quick cake


Using a spray oil, spread the oil evenly inside the bundt cake tin.
Add blobs of white cake batter and chocolate cake dough intermittently in the cake tin to create a marbled effect.

baking easy cakes


Place the cake tin in the oven preheated to 180C. Bake for 45+ minutes. Check readiness with a wooden toothpick.
Allow to cool before removing out of the tin, and dust with the icing sugar.

easy and quick cakes


It's a lovely cake to enjoy with a cup of tea or coffee. It's also very easy and quick to make, basically less than an hour from beginning to end.

Once he was over his disappointment of not seeing a Marvel cake, Eddie ate a piece and pronounced it tasty.

easy cake made with a cake mix


In this recipe I used NuttVia Hazelnut Spread which was one of the products in the latest Degustabox. It is 97% less sugar, compared to sugar-based market products, and is also palm oil free. It's made with NatVia, a naturally sourced sweetener. I haven't tried it before. I would like a higher cocoa content, and a slightly less sweet taste.
Average values: 79kcal per 15g (1tbsp).

Nutella-style spread with less sugar

what to do with chocolate spread

Saturday, 14 September 2019

Photo diary: weeks 36 and 37, project 365

Last weekend was super hectic, and I haven't had a chance to do a weekly post of photos, so today it's a double portion of our news.

Walking through the flood fields into town, the Sun was bright, stretching its rays like arms towards the Earth.


Last week I had to write two book reviews. One was for Nadine by John Steinberg, a story of the tragic French ballet dancer Nadine (if you fancy reading my review, see the link above).


We finally watched the Endgame on DVD, and enjoyed it very much. Eddie takes all the Marvel business seriously, and watches a lot of YouTube videos on the merits of different characters, actors' insights and gossip on filming the Avengers.


I have an antique carved wooden board for pryaniki (Russian spiced cookies). Ever since reading the proof copy of The girl who speaks Bear by Sophie Anderson, I wanted to bake some old-style Russian spiced cookies. As Thursday was the official publication day of the book, I baked the cookies the day in advance, so that I could make a post to celebrate the event.

how to make pryaniki

I'm a big fan of Sophie Anderson, and loved both of her books, which are inspired by the Russian folklore, but present a completely unique interpretation.
These are the pryaniki (spiced cookies) I baked the day before.

Russian folklore-inspired books

Walking through the fields, and admiring the red colour of hawthorn berries.

September berries

Eddie and I were planning to go to the book-signing event with Sophie Anderson at Oxford on Sunday. She saw my spiced cookies online, and I wanted to bake a new batch for her. I bought a bear cookie cutter in Lakeland, and did a template for a girl. The cookie dough was exactly the same as I used for the bird-shaped cookies. I also used cake pens which you can buy in Tesco. 
This was meant to be a surprise gift for Sophie.

Russian spiced cookies


Meeting Sophie Anderson was the highlight of my week. She is as charming, sweet and endearing in real life as she is on social media.
The event took place in Blackwell's book shop in Oxford. It was all about myths, retelling of myths and even creating a new one, involving the ideas from the audience. It was such a fun event, and Eddie and I enjoyed it very much.
We met Sophie's family too, including adorable baby Eartha.
Candy Gourlay, the author of Bone Talk, was the second speaker. It was wonderful to watch these two talented creative women who've elevated the banter to the next level.

children's books authors

Monday: Back to school, back to the prose of life. The day was rather dull and grey. I took the photo of the birds resting on the roof in the town centre, as if they were having an important meeting.


Witney town centre

We watched too many Marvel movies, and now see "Marvel" symbols and things around us, like this Hawk-Eye's bow and arrow in the sky.


I found this little gem of a book in the charity shop. This copy of Jo's Boys by Louisa M. Alcott was presented to a girl named Margaret Beckley for Arithmetic standard VI by South Oxford Girls' School Council in July 1926. What a splendid colourful dedication!
There were around ten vintage books, signed by Margaret. It's clearly a collection which has been donated to the shop by the family, who doesn't want these much loved books.

vintage books

We spotted this funny-shaped cloud on the way home from school.
As we watched the Black Panther the evening before, we thought it does look a bit like a panther.

old houses in Witney

St Mary's Church is my favourite "model". I take its image in all weathers and seasons, and its spire looks like the guardian of Witney.


It's so warm today, it feels like summer. I suppose, it is the Indian summer. My tomatoes in the greenhouse keep giving plenty of fruit, and I've picked a little bowl for dinner today. They're so sweet and smell lovely.

growing vegetables in greenhouse


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