Saturday, 20 October 2018

Photo diary: week 42, project 365

We reached mid-autumn with a mix of grey rainy and sunny days. Earlier this week I had to put the heating on in the mornings, while today was a very warm day, with blue sky and beautiful palette of yellow, red and ochre of the leaves.
We're on mid-term break, and it was much needed after a stressful first half term and trying to settle in.
My comedian Eddie decided to wear several of my hats as well as goggles. MadHatter Eddie.

On Monday Sasha was staying at his residential place overnight, and Eddie and I went to the cinema at 5pm to watch Johnny English 3. It had bad reviews, but don't be put off by them, it was actually funnier than I expected.
It's not a sophisticated film, but then you wouldn't expect that of Johnny English anyway.

I've been reading online about the ladybirds that there is an influx of them at the moment. Apparently they have STDs, now that's something I never knew. This could be a totally innocent ladybird.

On Wednesday I visited the Polish deli and couldn't resist buying a big slice of soured cream jelly cake.
My boys enjoyed this wobbly cake.

I've been waiting for Matt Haig's latest book The truth pixie, and being pestering our local Waterstone's, asking every day if it's out yet. I pre-ordered it and bought my copy, then was pretty peeved with myself, as it was at half price on amazon.

Eddie's school had an Inset day on Friday, while Sasha's didn't. Once Sasha left in his school transport, Eddie and I went into town to have breakfast at Bill's. We haven't been there before.
The pancakes with berries ans syrup were lovely. And I got a huge pot of tea.

Today we wandered from shop to shop, looking at Christmas gifts. I usually buy Christmas jumpers for Eddie and myself, but we didn't see any that we liked. My last year's jumper is still quite all right, though I have been wearing it a lot, including taking it to Cornwall in August.
I had a 20% off voucher for M&S, and we bought a Star Wars bathrobe, as his old Spiderman one is way too short for him now.

Tuesday, 16 October 2018

#ACEforSchool Challenge

"I'm never letting you do my laundry. Again."
"I didn't know the red towel was in there, " Prophet protested.
"You did it on purpose to get out of doing laundry."
"Maybe. But it worked."
S.E.Jakes, Daylight Again

This amusing little quote made me chuckle, as I remember dying all our whites pink, when a rogue red sock sneaked into the washing machine. We were just newly married then, and though I didn't do it on purpose, I couldn't stop laughing, looking at my husband's pink undies. He forgave me, well, he had to, otherwise it would have been his task.
We do split home tasks and chores, and washing is one of mine. I haven't done that mistake again, though I might have shrank a few woolen jumpers to the doll's size but that's a different story.
Washing is an everyday occurrence in our household.

When I read about some super organised parents doing their laundry once a week, I'm left in awe and amazement as to how they manage. I load my washing machine every single day.
Having a child with special needs who doesn't care about the state of his clothes and wipes his hands on his school jumper and trousers every time he eats something, does not make my life easier. There is no point in trying to explain to him that he must stop doing it. He would listen, but do it again. And again. And again.
It also doesn't help that the schools use poster paints or glue which are a total pain to get rid of. In fact, we have many ruined white shirts and school jumpers.

Let's just say, stains are unavoidable when you have children in school. It's just a matter of accepting the inevitable and organising the daily routine - as soon as my boys come home from school, they have to change their clothes.
I inspect the stains and treat them before loading into the washing machine.

The evening is my ironing time, now often accompanied by my younger son's reading. Being a victim audience, I have no say in the reading material though, so it's mostly The diary of the wimpy kid no. 10,000 or Horrid Henry, or some other impish character.

And that seems to be my lot in life - to send them off to school in clean ironed uniforms - only to see them returning home all dishevelled, with dried leaves in hair, and a rainbow of stains on clothes, from mud to poster paint, from glue to tuna pate. And don't even mention the PE clothes...

Recently BritMums appealed to blogging parents to take part in an #ACEforSchool Challenge.
We received ACE for Colours and ACE Stain Remover Spray to tackle the stains and keep clothes bright and clean.
I'm always up to any challenge which will make my life easier.

ACE is no stranger in our house. I do often buy one ACE product or another.

ACE for Colours promises to remove stains, clean hygienically and eliminate odours. A new formula has a higher power to remove stains from food, grease, body soils, drinks, vegetable oils, cosmetics, trapped dirt and outdoors.
You can use it either straight in the washing machine, pouring it directly into the drum, or as a pre-treatment on tougher stains.
It definitely keeps the colour of clothes bright.
It also works well as a household cleaning product - just dilute a capful to 5 litres of water.

ACE Stain Remover Spray has  been specially formulated to include an active oxygen which helps to remove dirt and difficult stains gently without ruining the fabric.

ACE works well on many types of stains, but there are some kinds of stains which I find very tricky to get rid of, whichever stain remover I use (and I think I tried all the known brands) - it's poster paints (black paint on white shirts anyone?) and blood.
My elder son is prone to nose bleeds in the night, and unfortunately these stains are tough to eliminate. You need to scrub them with soap under the cold water, or use a bit of white vinegar.

Poster paints... a bane of my life. The water-based ones are OK, they are not impossible to get rid of, but some of the poster paints they use at school stay on clothes after several washings, pre-treated or not, they just fade, but are still pretty much visible.

It's obviously not just the school uniforms that get stains. Just yesterday we went to see Johnny English 3. We laughed so hard, that some of the psychedelic-coloured ice cream ended up on somebody's top. I managed to get rid of the stain, thanks to ACE.

Overall, top marks to ACE for helping to make parents' lives easier.

This post is an entry for the BritMums #ACEforSchool Challenge, sponsored by ACE. Get help for all kinds of stains with the ACE Stain Helper. or to buy head to your local Tesco's, Morrison's, Waitrose or Sainsbury's.

Monday, 15 October 2018

Gopi Chandran's Indulgent chocolate brownies #ChocolateWeek

Chocolate Week recipes

Chocolate Week (15-21 October 2018) is here, yippee! As if I need an excuse to indulge in chocolate?! If you're a chocoholic like me, celebrate the Chocolate week, having indulgent chocolate treats!

Whether you're a complete amateur or hoping to sign up for next year's GBBO, a fool-proof Chocolate brownie recipe is a must for any baker.

Gopi Chandran from Sopwell House reveals their recipe for how to make an indulgent chocolate brownie at home that will work every single time, the perfect treat you can enjoy this Chocolate Week.

chocolate brownie recipe

Gopi Chandran's Indulgent chocolate brownies (recipe reproduced with kind permission from Gopi Chandran)
Serves 8-10 people
250g good quality dark chocolate - we use Callebaut Dark Chocolate Buttons
250g unsalted butter
150g plain flour
1tsp baking powder
4 large eggs
300g caster sugar (I used 100g)

1. Preheat the oven to 160C.
2. Lightly grease a traybake tin or silicone tray and line with baking paper.
3. Melt the butter with the chocolate in a glass bowl over a saucepan of simmering water and set aside to cool slightly.
4. Combine the eggs and sugar to create a custard-like consistency.
5. Slowly add the chocolate and butter, mixing in gradually to ensure the cold and warm mixtures combine smoothly.
6. Slowly add the flour and baking powder, and mix well.
7. Once combined, pour the mixture into the lined tray and spread evenly.
8. Bake for 30 minutes, or 25 minutes if you prefer them gooey and soft.
9. Leave to cool, slice into 8-10 squares and enjoy!

Sopwell House's Chocolate Brownie is served in The Brasserie with passion fruit crémeux and coconut sorbet.

I imagine the passion fruit crémeux and coconut sorbet will make this dessert extra special, but I served it with single cream, and it was wonderful. Good quality vanilla ice cream would be another tasty option.

My take on the recipe is that you might want to reduce the amount of sugar; 300g of sugar seems too much. As the chocolate buttons are already sweetened, 100g of sugar is plenty.
It might take you less (or more) time to bake the brownies, depending on the oven. When I checked the brownie after 25 minutes of baking, the middle was still completely wobbly-liquid, then I kept checking every couple of minutes.

I cut it into 16 squares.

I baked these brownies on Friday, and a friend who tasted them said these were the best brownies ever. My husband and children also loved them.

best brownies recipe

If you want to use the Callebaut Dark Chocolate Callets, you can find them on amazon (click on the link; this is not an affiliate link, I recommend it because I've tried and liked it). When I bought them last week, they were priced at £10.59, now the price has gone a bit up.
It might seem quite pricey, but this is a 1kg bag.

best chocolate for ganache

best chocolate for melting

This is a high quality Belgian chocolate, with a balanced cocoa taste and a light bitter undertone. It melts beautifully and makes a smooth glossy ganache.

Sopwell House is a stunning 18C Georgian house located in the city of St Albans deep within the Hertfordshire countryside. Located only 20 minutes from London St Pancras, the hotel is the idyllic getaway just outside the hustle and bustle of the capital.
The hotel is the perfect place to dine boasting a 2AA Rosette restaurant, a vibrant Brasserie, an elegant cocktail lounge, and conservatory bar, all of which look out on 12 acres of beautiful gardens.

Many thanks to Gopi and Sopwell House for sharing this recipe and introducing me to the Callebaut chocolate buttons!

best chocolate brownies recipe

Sunday, 14 October 2018

Photo diary: week 41, project 365

Last weekend we spent at home, as my husband was away, and boys and I didn't go out. I had a big grocery shopping delivered, and we just watched TV, played on XBox, baked sweet treats and read books. Sasha was restless though. In his mind a weekend equals going out, and he was mightily upset with me for staying at home. I was a bit too stressed to take any photos, so for the missing Sunday photo I'll do a couple of images for one of the week days.

A school run - literally - through the flood fields...

On Tuesday we had a morning coffee meeting with my husband. Sometimes it's the only time, when we can talk uninterrupted. In the evenings, once everything is done to be ready for the next morning, I'm just too tired to think straight, and want to go to bed, and read AIBU on Mumsnet - always makes me feel that there are more dysfunctional and problematic families than ours.
This "art installation" with a vintage phone can be seen in the UE Roasters cafe.

Another early morning photo on the way to school.

This year we did a heroic feat, reading all 19 books in the Goosebumps HorrorLand series. I've been reading them to Eddie at bedtime, and he loved them, while I was looking forward for the series to end. We had a box set of 18 books, with the very last one not included. Who makes sets like that? If you sell the set, include all the books. We borrowed the last one in the library.

From one book to another - this week I've finished reading Camilla Lackberg's The Ice Child. This is a classic Scandi Noir, very dark, menacing and disturbing. I read it in a couple of days, but "enjoyed" would be the wrong word to use in relation to this novel. It is way too graphic and cruel.
This is book no.9 in the series, which I didn't realise. I found the first book from the series in my Mount Everest of books. I buy so many books, that I forget what I have.

The horses are my old watercolours, which I made in my mid-20s. They are copies from the artowrk by a Polish artist.

I tested a recipe for chocolate brownies, which I got by email. They only sent me the recipe - alas, no samples were on offer, but as it included a new to me product, I thought I'd source it and try. Will be posting the recipe on my blog this week.

On Saturday we went to the swimming pool, and later to Sainsbury's for a quick lunch. Eddie was devastated as the Lego cards promotion has ended, and we didn't know that.
He said he was heartbroken. He still hasn't completed the album. This is his "heartbroken face"

Sunday, 7 October 2018

The Curious Cupboard No. 6, The Collector’s Cupboard 1,000 Piece Puzzle from Ravensburger

best Ravensburger puzzles

...I have photos in albums,
Of family and friends,
Beloved cats and dogs,
Keeping alive
Their faithful memories.

I have books on shelves,
Collection of words,
Collections of stories,
Our history, where we came from,
Who lived before, our heritage...

(Bev Hedgman, Collecting Things)

Do you collect things? I've read that about one third of people in the UK collect something. Don't know about you, but I'm definitely in that camp. I collect books, vintage china and postcards among other things.
Our collections become a part of our identity. It's such a popular hobby, the main problem is though finding storage space for all your treasures.
With books, it runs in both our families - my in-laws have shelves of books from floor to ceiling everywhere. Once, when a plumber had to be called to deal with some issues, he looked around the entrance hall crammed with books and decided that my father in law was a book seller (he's not), as he couldn't believe why someone would have so many books.

Working on The Curious Cupboard No.6, The Collector's Cupboard 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle from Ravensburger made me think of all the things we collect.

gifts for jigsaw puzzle fans

The owner of the curious cupboard and I have similar tastes - we love books, old china, hats, buttons and old photos. This puzzle is a real pleasure to work on. It has such a great attention to detail, not surprising when Colin Thompson is an artist.
His unique style is easily recognisable.

It's not just a variety of small details. it's those peculiar little creatures which invade the shelves and build a world of their own among the old books, Cornishware and cameras.

best jigsaw puzzles

This wonderfully quirky puzzle is a rich tapestry of colours. There are buttons of many shapes and sizes...

Christmas gift ideas

... vintage bottles and cameras, stamps, timepieces, jazzy ties and bright hats... and cats. This collector is clearly obsessed with cats. 

best jigsaw puzzles

There are playful kittens, and sleepy moggies, and even toy cats.

best jigsaw puzzles

Christmas gift ideas

The puzzle measures 70x50cm when completed. It's suitable for ages 12+.
Like all Ravensburger puzzles, it's made from strong premium grade cardboard, with linen finish print to minimise the glare on puzzle image.

Christmas gifts for jigsaw puzzle fans

best jigsaw puzzles

The puzzle pieces are cut, using soft click technology, i.e. unique punching templates and tools.

This wonderfully intricate jigsaw puzzle will make a great gift for any puzzle fan. If you're looking for ideas for Christmas gifts, this puzzle might just fit the bill.

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

Saturday, 6 October 2018

Photo diary: week 40, project 365

September was a pretty miserable month for us, with both boys finding it hard to adjust to the latest school developments - Sasha starting a new school altogether, Eddie trying to fine-tune to a new mixed class. School transport problems, stomach bugs etc, let's just say, we are glad to wave Goodbye to September. Here's to a new month, and hoping it will be more cheerful.
On Sunday Eddie and I had a quick lunch at M&S. They make very tasty bacon butties there, and that was our weekend treat. Here is Eddie waiting for our food to be served. 

We love our local Waterstone's. Their window displays are always creative and inspiring, and I admire their passion for books. The staff is young (much-much younger than me) and so very friendly, it's a real pleasure to chat to them. They know us quite well.
I took this photo of the broomstick and Golden snitch above the counter for Eddie, as he loves all things Harry Potter-related.

My friend Jen and I planned to go to the garden centre last week, but since Eddie was unwell and stayed at home, we had to postpone it. Tuesday was a warm, perfect autumnal golden day. It was a bit weird not to have my boys with us, as Jen takes us to the garden centre by car every school holiday.
We had a chat over a cup of coffee, and then I did a bit of shopping. I needed several bags of compost and a couple of bigger pots to repot my phloxes for winter.
The garden centre displays were a mix of Halloween/autumnal ones and Christmas-themed stalls.

I was walking in the garden, having picked a few apples for cooking, and spotted this weird cloud. I can see a ghostly face with big eyes. Can you see it too?

On Thursday I was feeling pretty rotten, but managed to sit through the Harvest service at the church, where Eddie's school held a Harvest festival.
The reflections from the stained glass on the wall were so pretty, as if the church itself was celebrating together with the children.

My boys love homebaked cookies, and as a TGIF treat, I've baked a batch of oat cookies with Dorset Cereals Spectacular Grains and cocoa nibbles. They are almost all gone by today.

Today is a typical British autumn day, with grey sky and incessant drizzle. But we were pretty lucky this week with the weather and had several golden days of beautiful sunshine and warmth, so I'm not complaining. 
It's a LEGO-building kind of day, baked apples and endless mugs of hot tea kind of day, catching up on a week-worth of newspapers kind of day. What are you up to today?

Betsy & Lilibet by Sophie Duffy #BlogTour

historical fiction

"Every life has some kind of depth, sadness, and moments of extraordinary wonder that should be marked and noted. Don't defy an old person by their last few years... They've had a whole lifetime before then. They were once a baby, a child, a teen, a sweetheart, a wife, a husband, a driver of ambulances in the war. Life and Death, they're connected".
Betsy Sunshine is in a nursing home on the south coast, with plenty of time to ponder on her life.

Born 90 years earlier on the same day as Princess Elizabeth, their lives couldn't be more different. The Princess will become one of the most iconic and celebrated figures of the 20 and 21st century and will wear the crown.

Betsy is from a completely different world, born into the dynasty of the undertakers. Their lives seem to run in parallel, but surprisingly intersect several times.

Betsy & Lilibet by Sophie Duffy is a fine portrayal of social history.

Raphael Samuel wrote once on the social history (see History Today, March 1985) that it "touches on, and arguably helps to focus, major issues of public debate, as for example on British national character or the nature of family life. It mobilises popular enthusiasm and engages popular passions". This quote applies perfectly to Betsy & Lilibet.

Through lives of ordinary people like Betsy and her family, we get a deep insight into the quintessential British character.

The Queen is more of a symbol rather than the main character of the book, in this sense the title is slightly misleading. Yes, she is always in the background, and we see plenty of quotes from her inspiring speeches. She appears in short but memorable - and amusing - cameos several times.

But it's Betsy who takes the central stage. Betsy who grows up, surrounded by death.
We watch her mature into a defiant and responsible person during the times of the WWII. The scenes of the London bombing are harrowing.
"I don't get blasé about the war as such, just immune to the inevitability. If you are in the wrong place at the wrong time, there's nothing you can do about it. So I stop worrying about what might happen and get on with it..."
As the elder daughter in the family without sons, Betsy's father relies on her to come into business with him.
The undertakers' business and traditions are described in great detail, and it's is a fascinating read.

Betsy's sister Margie is a trouble with a capital T. Unlike her elder sister, she is a free spirit who doesn't want to conform, and who wants to enjoy every minute of her life.

And there is Janet, a close friend and part of the Sunshine household after her own family is killed during the bombing. Two of them will have an everlasting bond, based on secrets and lies, but also love and forgiveness.

As an old lady, Betsy is a bit of a harridan. She decides that she doesn't want to be polite any longer and is very direct. Yet she is very open-minded for a person of her generation. It's as if working with death has taught her to appreciate and celebrate our differences and foibles.

This novel is beautifully written. There are enough poignant moments in this book which will make your eyes well up, but you will also chuckle at Betsy's forwardness and high spirits.

It reminded me of my dearest friend Anne who was also born in 1926. Unlike Betsy she came from a more privileged background and had chosen a different profession. I knew her for over 20 years, and she was not just my friend but my family. She was open-minded and highly intelligent. A devoted Monarchist, she voted Lib Dem, and was generous to the extreme, supporting many charities and helping friends. I think she would have enjoyed this book very much.

Many thanks to Legend Press for sending me the copy of the book for the purposes of reviewing.

best social history fiction

Slightly digressing from the book - when styling the book for a blog photo, I have spread around a few of the post cards from my collection. The post card with a young smiley Princess Elizabeth was tucked into an old book on the British monarchy I bought in a charity shop. The card was posted in November 1929 and reads "Dear aunty, I left my oil painting on the bed, please bring it along Sunday. Don't be late. Love to Gran, Mickey" I'd love to know who Mickey was, and what was that about the oil painting. Fascinating.

My review is part of the Blog tour. You can see all the stops of the tour below.

Wednesday, 3 October 2018

The Makings of a Lady by Catherine Tinley #blogtour

Regency romance books

Regency Romance as a popular subgenre of a historical romance has its own distinct features - a love story, with an authentic period background, and a great attention to detail.

The Makings of a Lady by Catherine Tinley is the third book in The Chadcombe Marriages series, but it reads perfectly well as a standalone.

Olivia's heart is broken by handsome Jem, who she helps to gain back mobility after a serious wound at Waterloo. Nursing him to health, she falls in love with the war hero. And he seems to be reciprocating her feelings.
Only instead of the anticipated proposal, Jem tells Olivia that he is to be posted to Australia. Being almost penniless due to his father's gambling debts, he feels he has no choice but pursue his career and go to Australia.
Needless to say, Olivia's dreams are shattered. She closes her heart to any advances, and lives a quiet life in her brother's household at Chadcombe. If only they would see that she has grown up and is not a child any longer.

I remember my early 20s, and having my heart broken, when you think that you will never-ever love anyone else and your life is basically over. You might as well relinquish the world and join the nunnery. Only it isn't the end of the world, even if it's hard to believe it then, and that you will find love again.

Four years have passed. Olivia is getting restless at Chadcombe.
And then during one of her walks she meets a handsome stranger, suave Mr Manning, who quite impudently steals a kiss from her.
Olivia is confused. She feels an immediate attraction to Mr Manning, yet is cautious. To add to the confusion, her old flame Jem and his sister are coming to visit her family.

That's the setting for a classic love triangle.

The novel is engaging and entertaining, with an authentic historical background, and a mix of drama and sexual frisson.

The Makings of a Lady, with its compulsive readability, is a charming, delectable novel for fans of the Regency romance genre.

If you enjoyed this review, you might want to find out what the other book-loving bloggers thought about this novel.
My review is part of the blogtour, and here are all the stops available.

Disclosure: Thanks to Rachel's Random Resources for sending me a copy of the book for the purposes of reviewing.

Regency romance, historical romance