Saturday, 17 November 2018

Photo diary: week 46, project 365

Another week whooshed by, in a few days my Mum will be heading back home. I know I will miss her terribly, but it will also be a relief.
I feel such a horrible daughter, but she has a talent for doing what she thinks is right, without asking for anyone else's opinion. And when I object, I am accused of being intolerant.
Every time I come home from the school run, she's done something else in the house, which she thinks is an improvement. I really should just let her do it, and then change back when she leaves.
And breathe.

Last Sunday was the Armistice day. Eddie went to the church service in the morning with his Dad, while I stayed at home with Sasha and Mum. I don't feel confident leaving two of them together, as Mum gets rather panicky, when Sash misbehaves. So, I missed the Remembrance service in town.
Later Eddie and I went to the Church Green to look at all the poppy displays.
Witney created a poppy mile, which is an incredible display of 30,000 poppies running from the Corn Exchange down to the Leys.

Eddie's school took part in the display as well. Children brought the old photos of their ancestors who took part in WWI to school, they photocopied them and then made a collage on the models of soldiers.

Remembrance service

After two weeks of frustrated waiting Bensons for Beds finally delivered the missing box on Monday. The customer service there is most appalling. They were quick to take the money, but slow to do what they were supposed to do. I'm half tempted to write a post on how I will never place an order with them again.
They didn't bother with answering emails, I wasted hours trying to get through on the phone, and they were most dismissive, when I managed to talk to them. Awful, awful service.
After the delivery I got an email from them, saying they hoped I was delighted with my order.
Well, delighted would be the last word to describe how I feel about them. How about - insert a string of swear words here.

On Tuesday my husband was leaving for Colombia, and we had a quick coffee in town just after taking Eddie to school.
I had a latte, while he treated himself to a slice of banana bread with Greek yogurt and honey. Their banana bread is the best I ever had, I wish I had a recipe. It is gorgeous.

On Wednesday evening, while getting the bins out, I looked at Eddie eating ice cream in the sitting room.

On Thursday the only photos I took were of Panjango Trumps for reviewing. The review is still to come.

On Friday I baked some apple turnovers, as I wanted to offer something tasty, when a friend came over.

Today: not much is happening.We're just having a chilled day, not going anywhere out, as my husband is still in Colombia.
As I write, Eddie is watching The Polar Express on DVD again. He seems to be fascinated by it, while I find it thoroughly creepy. For me it's a bit like a freaky horror film rather than Christmas entertainment. And that comes from someone who enjoys Goosebumps.
I need to cut down the Virginia creeper on the front of the house, as it's grown too high, and reached the roof. There is a nest there, among the empty branches. I feel sorry for the birds, but I cannot have the creeper clogging the gutters.

Friday, 16 November 2018

Easy apple turnovers

ideas for using up a glut of apples

A bumper harvest of apples has been recorded this autumn, thanks to the weeks of hot weather in summer. Our apple trees were groaning under the weight of apples. I've been giving them away left and right, and using every day, mainly baking.
I have also put lots of apples in wooden and cardboard trays, and will keep in the cold summerhouse. Hopefully they will last long. Last year I still had some of our apples back in spring.

A friend was coming to our house earlier today, and I decided to make a quick batch of apple turnovers. I had a pack of Jus-Rol puff pastry in the fridge.
Having watched the pastry weeks on GBBO through the years, I arrived to a conclusion that life is too short to make your own puff pastry. It's tedious and laborious, and Jus-Rol works perfectly every time.
However, if you prefer to make your own pastry, I am full of admiration and awe, I truly am.

ideas for using apples

Apple Turnovers
3 medium apples, peeled, cored, quartered and sliced
25g butter
2tsp Waitrose Christmas ground spices (mix of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cardamom, allspice, star anise, black pepper, tangerine oil, cloves\0
125g caster sugar
2tsp cornflour+ 2 tsp cold water
320g puff pastry, ready to roll
1 medium egg yolk, beaten with a dash of water

In a medium frying pan, melt the butter and add peeled, cored, quartered and sliced apples. Add the spices and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. Add sugar, mix well, cook on low for another 5 minutes. In a small cup mix 2tsp of cornflour with 2-3 tsp of cold water until you reach a runny consistency. Pour the cornflour to the apple filling mix, stir in, cook for a minute.
Let it cool before making turnovers.

If using a ready made pastry, roll it out on the parchment paper it has been wrapped in. Cut in half horizontally, then into three or four squares each, so you get six or  eight pieces of pastry.
Beat the egg yolk with a bit of cold water, brush each pastry square with the egg wash. Spoon a heaped tablespoon of apple filling onto each square.

what to do with a glut of apples

What do you do with a glut of apples? Chutneys? Apple butter? Jelly?

what to do with a glut of apples

Adding this recipe post to #KitchenClearout linky run by Cheryl at Madhouse Family Reviews, as I used apples from the garden and almost finished  Signature spice (just 1tsp left now).

Wednesday, 14 November 2018

Mushroom, sweet potato and chestnut burgers

vegetarian burger

I can't say we were welcoming November with open arms. The so called daylight saving change is always a hassle. It takes us ages to get used to a new time, and I don't see the point of it at all. It might be lighter in the morning, but it is dark so early. My guys get hungry still according to the previous clock.
I'd love to be more positive about the dark evenings, Any tips?

On the plus side, there are plenty of mushrooms in November. Wild mushrooms are more flavoursome, but are pretty expensive.
I've been reading the other day that Prince Philip used to cook simple meals for Her Majesty and himself when they travelled, and he was younger. Apparently, mushrooms a la crème was his speciality dish.
I love mushrooms in all guises, well, except the tinned variety perhaps, and happy to add them to almost any savoury dish.
Last week I cooked mushroom burgers with sweet potato and chestnuts.
They looked ugly, I must say, but tasted lovely.

vegetarian burgers

Mushroom, sweet potato and chestnut burgers
1 pack of butternut squash and sweet potato
3tbsp red lentils
3tbsp olive oil
1 pack of Portabellini mushrooms (250g)
2 cloves of garlic
1tsp ground coriander
1 pack of whole chestnuts (180g, I used Merchant Gourmet)
1tbsp flour
1 egg

First cook the butternut squash and sweet potato cubes with lentils in salted water until soft. Drain and mash. The mash should be quite dry.
Chop the mushrooms not too finely and fry in the olive oil with garlic for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently.
In a deep mixing bowl combine all the ingredients - mashed sweet potato and butternut squash, fried mushrooms, coriander and chestnuts (I whizzed them in advance, not too smoothly, just to break into chunks). Beat in 1 egg and flour and mix well.
Using a big spoon, place the mix on the oiled foil over the tray. Cook in the oven preheated to 180C for about 20+ minutes.
Serve hot with your favourite bread and whatever you fancy - a slice of cheese, salad, sweet peppers.

vegetarian burgers

Since I used vacuum-packed chestnuts (bought almost a year ago for Christmas, though still not out of date), I'm adding this recipe to #KitchenClearout linky run by Cheryl at Madhouse Family Reviews.

Sunday, 11 November 2018

Photo diary: week 45, project 365

The last week was all about the Armistice day: the town has been transformed to remember the fallen. Poppies are everywhere. The Witney Town Council building is decorated with a cascade of poppies.

Monday was a Guy Fawkes night, and Eddie asked his Baba (my Mum) to do a bonfire. She was only too happy to oblige. They roasted marshmallows and frankfurters on the fire.

On Tuesday our friend Jen took my Mum and me to the garden centre in Burford. Eddie was sulking all the morning, as it was a school day and he wanted to come with us. Sorry, Eddie.
On the way there you see the most magnificent panorama. I never get tired looking at those fields and old dry stone walls.

On Wednesday I was cooking vegetarian burgers with mushrooms, lentils, butternut squash and chestnuts. They were very tasty, though looked ugly. When I was mixing and mashing the ingredients, it looked like slops for a pig.

vegetarian burgers

More Armistice day decorations in town. The Shake shop, where Eddie had his birthday party in summer, has transformed the window and outside to look like a grocery shop from 100 years ago.

On the way home from school Eddie and I saw this flight of white doves on the "ghost house" (we call it the ghost house, I don't actually know what it's called). They looked like a garland.

My Mum has been pestering trying to convince me that I needed to buy new boots. She was right, of course, as the boots I bought a year ago in M&S were already leaking. I don't know if that is a reasonable expectation to think that boots should last more than a year, as it's not like I was wearing them every day for a year?!
Reluctantly I agreed to go shoe-shopping. I hate shoe-shopping, with my awkward feet it's always a pain to find a pair that would be comfy. Anyway, I tried several pairs and under Mum's "bad" influence bought two pairs. Eeek, that wasn't planned.
Anyway, here are my new boots for everyday.

Saturday, 10 November 2018

The Promise of Tomorrow by AnneMarie Brear #BlogTour

books set during WWI

Walking through our town this week, you see hundreds and thousands of poppies in the town square and on many buildings, with stories commemorating those who fought and died in the Great War. Even in our street there are five such commemorative tales of bravery, attached to the doors and walls of the houses where they used to live before the war. The house next door tells the story of two brothers who were killed in action. After 100 years, these stories do not fade, they move and bring tears to our eyes.

The Promise of Tomorrow by AnneMarie Brear is set just before and during the WWI.

Charlotte Brooks is repelled by the lewd attentions of her guardian McBride, and flees into the night with her younger sister Hannah. Being born into a wealthy family, she is now destitute, and spends a year on the road, trying to earn money to keep her sister and herself. Life is tough for young women like her.
Luck brings two girls to a small Yorkshire village, where they are taken in my a kind couple, the Wheelers, who own a village shop. Life changes for the girls; though living a poor and simple life - in comparison to their previous circumstances - they are happy.
Until the day when McBride manages to trace them back to the Wheelers' house. He is obsessed with Charlotte, to the point that he kills off his wife by staging an accident, hoping to marry his ward. He is also going to gain Charlotte's inheritance. But it's not just the matter of money and greed, he wants Charlotte at any cost.

Harry Belmont is running a mine business. He's an important man in the village, but life is far from satisfactory for him. There are tragic deaths in his family, an absent father and a venomous snake of a sister Petra.
Meeting Charlotte, Harry is smitten. And when McBride starts to prey on Charlotte again, sending thugs into the village to threaten her to return to him, he comes to a decision to propose to Charlotte and save her from the lecherous advances of her abominable guardian.
Needless to say, McBride doesn't take it kindly. Harry's sister Petra is also incensed at her brother marrying a "nobody".

Charlotte and Harry's honeymoon is the most joyous time of her life. Alas, their happiness doesn't last long.
England declares war on Germany.
The war begins, and Harry enlists. Charlotte's peaceful life is in tatters. Harry might never return from the trenches, and the nasty McBride is back in her life, threatening and plotting.

This is a novel of love and war. The war account is honest, brutal and poignant.
The historical setting, both at the front and at home, feels well-researched and authentic.
It somehow reminded me of the episodes of Downton Abbey set during the WWI, when the leading local family has to downsize and adjust to the new times, getting behind the war effort. The village population has its own tragic tales to tell, with many sons and husbands not coming back from the front.

Charlotte is the main protagonist of the book, she is determined and strong -willed, despite her fragile appearance. She is loyal not just to her direct family (husband and even his difficult sister), but to the people at the village and mine.
There is a strong cast of supporting characters too, with the Wheeler couple being my favourites. Stan and Bessie love Charlotte and Hannah as their own daughters and are ready to fight tooth and nail for them.

My only mild wariness is regarding the profoundly evil and immoral character of McBride. He is a bit too much of a one-dimensional villain. There are of course hardened pathological maniacs in real life, but McBride is the epitome of wickedness. You could almost see his horns and tail.

If you're looking for a beautiful love story set during the WWI, this novel will keep you turning the pages.

Author Bio:
Australian born AnneMarie Brear writes historical novels and modern romances and sometimes the odd short story too.
Her passions, apart from writing, are travelling, reading, researching historical eras and looking for inspiration for her next book.

To find more about the author, please visit
You might also follow Anne Marie on Facebook and Twitter @annemariebrear

Disclosure: I received an ecopy of the book for the purposes of reviewing. All opinions are my own. Many thanks to Rachel's Random Resources!

Friday, 9 November 2018

Make'n'Break game from Ravensburger

educational board games for children

Every Tuesday Eddie has a friend over after school. On warmer days they might be playing football in the garden, but when it's raining and cold, they stay indoors and either jump into the Minecraft world, or watch their favourite Youtubers.
LEGO and board games often come to the rescue from boredom too. I'm a big fan of board games, as they teach you how to think strategically, plan your moves in advance, communicate if you play as a team and boost spacial skills.

Ravensburger Make'n'Break game is aimed at children aged 8+.
Younger children might enjoy it as well, if you opt for easier blueprint cards.

board games for children aged 8+

Let's open the box, what do we find inside?
There are 10 building blocks of different colours, 80 Blueprint cards, 1 timer, 2 dies and a card tray.

fun board games for children

You might be familiar with the original version of the game. This box, however, also offers an action version, which is totally fiendish.
Race against the clock to build the structures on the challenge cards.
The beauty of the game is that you can choose whether you want to make the game as simple or as hard as you like.

The more structures you complete within the time limit, the more points you will score. The player with the most points wins the game.

In the Original game you start by rolling the die and then setting the timer to the number that was rolled.  As soon as the player or team is ready, the controller pushes the green start button.
Take the card from the compartment and reveal it. You have to create the structure which appears on the blueprint card.

There are 3 types of blueprint:
- Fully coloured blueprints - all building blocks must have the correct colour and position
- Partially coloured blueprints - All coloured building blocks must be in the same position as shown in the blueprint, the colour of the other blocks is ignored.
- Monocoloured blueprints - block colours are irrelevant.

fun board games for children aged 8+

As you hurry to build the structures featured on the cards, you will discover some super easy ones and some quite challenging. The structures on the higher scoring cards will take longer to construct.
But as the cards are shuffled before the game, it is a bit of a roulette, you don't know which cards you will get.
Be careful when building, and try not to knock the structure, or you will have to start again.

fun board games for children aged 8+

If you play as a team, you must remember to touch only those 5 blocks you have chosen at the beginning of your turn. You have to coordinate your efforts.
Once the structure is complete and correct, you break it.
The game ends after three full rounds of building, i.e. after each team completes 3 turns.

If there are only 2 players, you can use all 10 blocks to complete any of the structures.

This is a fun entertaining game, which could be enjoyed by the whole family.

fun building games for children aged 8+

Action version of the game is more complicated and challenging. In addition to the time die you need to use the action die, which shows the game modes to be employed during your turn.

For example, if you come across the symbol "Describe it!", one team member becomes an architect, while the other is the builder.
The architect gives verbal instructions to the builder as to where to place each block. The builder must rely on the architect giving precise instructions, as they are not allowed to peek at the blueprint card.

Fingertips - each member of the team may only use the tip of the index finger of one hand. This mode needs a lot of coordination, especially when lifting blocks.
It is as hard as it sounds, but is also great fun.

fun board games for children aged 8+

There are other modes - like Risky Business, when the team decides how many blueprints they are going to attempt this turn, and a very tricky Vertical/Horizontal mode, when one member of the team may only use the vertical blocks, and the other only horizontal.
It's all about the team work, coordination and strategic thinking.

This game will make an excellent gift for a birthday, or how about having a fun afternoon after a Christmas meal?! If you have competitive board game players in the family, they will enjoy this fast-pace game.

Disclosure: We received the game for the purposes of testing and reviewing. All opinions are our own.

Saturday, 3 November 2018

Photo diary: week 44, project 365

As I write this post, there is a loud boom-boom outside. The neighbours have already started celebrating the Guy Fawkes night. Though I've lived here for over 22 years, I still struggle with the concept of a celebration based on the fact that a Catholic was tortured and executed centuries ago.

Last Sunday was a sunny day. The apples are beautiful and red, but too high for me to pick them up, even with a step ladder.

The Moon was pretty visible on the Monday morning, when I came home from the school run.

After watching five seasons of Merlin recently, I wanted to carve an image of Kilgharah the dragon from the series.

Halloween morning was cold and frosty. The grass in the flood fields was all white.

The next day it got much warmer.
Sasha stayed at his resi overnight, so Eddie and I were not in a hurry to get home after school. We walked through the fields.

On Friday morning we went out to have breakfast at Bill's before school. Eddie took this photo of me.

And though technically not a photo, I just wanted to share some exciting news. Eddie took part in the scary story competition run by our local Waterstones. They announced yesterday on Twitter that his story won. I'm very proud of him, as he worked hard on it, spending a couple of days writing it up.

We didn't go to the swimming pool last weekend, so I had to do my duty this time. To be honest, I hate the swimming pool. I am itchy all over as soon as I get in the water. It also makes me utterly sleepy. This is the most boring thing.
After the pool we went to Sainsbury's, where I spotted these two gems. Both flavours sound revolting. They might make "amusing" gifts, but I don't fancy trying either.

Wednesday, 31 October 2018

Pumpkin, sweet potato and lentil soup

what to do with leftover pumpkin

To appease my younger son and just mark the occasion, I carved a pumpkin yesterday. It is sitting now on the shelf in the entrance hall, surrounded by smaller pumpkins.

Have you been carving a pumpkin for tonight?
Rather than waste the scooped insides of the pumpkin, use them in cooking.

Whip up an easy soup with pumpkin and any other orange-coloured veg and fruit and pulses - sweet potato, butternut squash, lentils, orange, carrots. Use coconut oil, or flavoured olive oil, cream or coconut milk, there are so many different variations of the same basic soup. And again, vary spices - chilli, garlic, turmeric, nutmeg, cinnamon, coriander, garam masala.

Pumpkins for carving available in the shops tend to be rather bland in taste, and need a pick up with a good seasoning. I don't mean those pretty turban squashes which are gorgeous to look at, and taste lovely, but not really suitable for carving faces.

easy soup with pumpkin

Pumpkin, sweet potato, butternut squash and lentil soup
1/2 big onion, finely chopped
2tbsp coconut oil with turmeric
1 red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
1 carrot
a pinch of turmeric
a pinch of ground ginger
3tbsp red lentils
350g cubed sweet potato and butternut squash mix
350g pumpkin

Finely chop the onion and fry it with the coconut oil for about 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add the chilli, chopped carrot and spices, and fry for another 3-4 minutes.
In a big pan put the lentils with the fried onion, cubed sweet potato and butternut squash mix, carrot, pumpkin, season with salt, pour enough water to cover all the vegetables and bring to boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 35+ minutes, until all the vegetables are soft.
Blitz it with a hand blender. If the soup consistency is too thick, add a bit of boiled water.
Serve with a dollop of Greek yogurt, soured cream or pour single cream.
For a vegan version - add whichever plant-based yogurt you fancy.

what to do with leftover pumpkin

what to do with leftover pumpkin

If the idea of the pumpkin soup doesn't appeal to you, Steve Smith, Head chef at Bohemia offers top tips for taking advantage of pumpkin season.

The arrival of autumn means one thing - pumpkins will be rolled out in their thousands to supermarkets isles across the country. If you've had enough of carving Halloween faces into the winter squash, why not take advantage of the gloriously low pumpkin prices and make use of that fibre-rich flesh?
Pick up a pumpkin that feels heavy for its size, with a smooth, firm skin and get cooking!

1. Pumpkin Pie
If we can thank Americans for introducing us to a dessert, it's Pumpkin pie. Pumpkin Pie makes a delectable autumn treat and is served best with a dollop of fresh cream on top. For optimum results, spend an extra hour in the kitchen, making your own crust - it will be worth it!

2. Pumpkin Pancakes
Ditch the usual pancakes in favour of the pumpkin variety. Simply puree a cup of pumpkin and mix together with buttermilk along with the usual ingredients to create a stack of perfectly fluffy pumpkin cakes.

3. Pumpkin Curry
Combine pumpkin with chick peas and coconut for a delicious dinner for the whole family.
Make this dish some time ahead of serving so that all the wonderful flavours can fully develop.

4. Pumpkin risotto
This resourceful take on risotto is a great dinner party dish. The pumpkin pieces add texture and substance to the popular rice dish, making it the ultimate autumn comfort food to enjoy on a cosy winter night.

5. Pumpkin loaf
This healthy snack is the perfect alternative to a carb-heavy loaf cake. For those with a sweet tooth, a thick layer of cream cheese icing will take your loaf from healthy to heavenly in minutes.

These tasty tips and recipe ideas come from the Head chef at Bohemia, which last September was awarded 5AA rosettes for the second year in a row. It now holds the record for being the first restaurant in the Channel Islands to receive this accolade.
Bohemia was also ranked the 14th best restaurant in the whole of the UK in the Good Food Guide 2019 and at number 57 in Square Meals Top 100 Best Restaurants 2018.