Sunday, 5 July 2020

Photo diary: week 27, project 366

I'm not sure if we're officially out of the lockdown, but it didn't make much difference to our lives.

All Sunday I've been humming catchy tunes from a new film.
The day before we watched Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga on Netflix. I didn't think I would enjoy it so much. There are quite a few crude jokes, innuendos, but overall it's an entertaining family film (age rating 13+).
I'm not a fan of Will Ferrell, but he's pretty good in this film as a man-child obsessed with winning the Eurovision contest. Rachel McAdams is brilliant, and Dan Stevens totally stole the show as the gay Russian star.
Once the soundtrack CD is out, I'm going to buy it, as I keep listening to the videos on YouTube. I know you can get it on MP3, but this is not something I use.

The story of Fire Saga, The Lion of Love

Monday, back to homeschooling and art lessons from Seesaw. This time Eddie has chosen to draw Toothless, following the step by step video on Art for Kids Hub.

How to train your dragon drawings, Chez Maximka

Walking into town with Eddie and my husband, when Sasha was at school. We popped into our favourite book shop, and even got a couple of books, including The Wild Way Home by Sophie Kirtley. It's about a 12-year-old boy whose newborn baby brother needs a heart operation. In anxiety and panic he flees through the ancient forest and gets transported into the Stone Age. We're half way through, and it's quite sad.
This book is chosen as the Waterstones Book of the Month for kids.

Last week I took part in two blog tours for Broken Silence by Liz Mistry and A Quiet Death in Italy by Tom Benjamin. The first one is rather tough to read, as it deals with such topics as human trafficking and modern slavery. The second one is set in Bologna, it made me think of that beautiful town, and how much I'd love to explore it again.


We receive a weekly fruit and veg box, and there was a pineapple in the previous week's box. We don't often eat pineapples. I find that the fresh pineapple is too much for my sensitive teeth. So, I decided to use it in baking. I have cubed it and pre-baked in a tray with rum and demerara sugar, then the next day I added the pineapple to the cake batter. It turned out to be a very tasty cake.

Chez Maximka

On the way home from the town centre I've spotted this evil-grinning cloud.

Chez Maximka

My echinacea is going to bloom soon, I can't wait to see its spiky petals.

Chez Maximka

I love hollyhocks, this elegant white one with purple veins has been planted by my Mum a few years ago. It's taller this year, and has more blooms on it.

We didn't do much on the so called Super Saturday, I'm not a pub-goer, and wasn't planning to go out for a meal anywhere. Did you happen to visit any place you've been longing to see?

Chez Maximka


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Thursday, 2 July 2020

A Quiet Death in Italy by Tom Benjamin #BlogTour

Chez Maximka, crime fiction set in Italy


"This is not England," said Mario, "this is not fair play and bobbies and Miss Marple. There's no mystery - not to us. Not to any Italian you meet in the street. They'll know, we all know "whodunit"."
"The police, you say," I said.
"But that's not the problem," he said. "The problem is - how to prove it? Now this is where we Italians are beyond compare - fabrication. Manufacturing mystery every bit as fine as our clothes, so even the most obvious facts become obscured, most evident truths remain just out of reach."

When a body of a radical protester Paolo Solitudine is found dumped in the underground canal in Bologna, the police are treating it as an accident. But the locals blame the police, who two weeks earlier has raided the squat where the anarchists live.

A Quiet Death in Italy by Tom Benjamin starts with a scene in the old morgue, which sets the stage for the investigation of the local politics and unravelling a web of lies and deceit.

It's not surprising that the murder of the old anarchist is attributed to the police. Police brutality in Italy is not uncommon. You might know of the case of Stefano Cucchi who died in police custody. He's considered to be an icon of the abuse of power, whose case has polarised the country, and has been heavily politicised.
My husband's home town Ferrara has its own victim of police brutality - a teenager Federico Aldrovandi was beaten to death by four police officers. There were over 50 injuries on his body. The police tried to cover up the horrible death, claiming he died of heart problems. Prosecutors tried to cover the culpability of the police. Police officers returned to work. There were numerous protests in town, and we have attended one of them several years ago.

The premises of the crime allegedly committed by the police rings true. The sense of place created by the author is vivid and true to life. Bologna is the inspired backdrop for a crime novel.
I really enjoyed the Italian setting, and numerous food references which made me long for a proper caffe latte with the pastries.

A Quiet Death in Italy follows a private investigator Daniel Leicester, who's a son-in-law to the former chief of police.
He receives a call from the dead man's lover, asking to look into the circumstances of his death. It also happens, that she is a wife of the current Mayor of Bologna, and there are all sorts if implications to consider.
Daniel's father-in-law, the Comandante, muses, "this is a matter that needs to be handled with the utmost sensitivity - I suppose we could consider it a good result, for our client, if we discover the authorities were actually behind the death. Either outcome, however, could have profound implications for the future of our company."

Daniel is a Brit, who has moved to Bologna with his Italian wife and daughter. When his wife tragically dies in a car accident, he decides to stay behind for the sake of their child who would grow up, surrounded by the extended family she knows.
There are also expectations that eventually, when his father-in-law retires, he will take over the detective agency. "It was a very Italian arrangement - an implicit understanding that I was to gradually take control of the firm while he, rather like a constitutional monarch, would remain titular head".

Being an Englishman, Daniel will always remain an outsider, despite his perfect grasp of Italian language and knowledge of the political system. "An English detective in Italy has certain advantages. For a start, Italians adore the British - or rather, at least before they made a hash of Brexit - deeply admired them for representing everything they believe they are not: sober, pragmatic and trustworthy..."
Certain stereotypes could be a bonus.

Daniel begins to follow the trail, which takes his search back to the 1970s political scene. The past events reverberate through to the present day.
"I wandered along one portico after another contemplating bodies bloated by water, ladies in secret gardens, philandering politicians… Bologna as it had been, as it was now, as it would always be".

Unravelling the web of secrets and lies, Daniel stumbles right in the middle of the corrupt and unscrupulous political establishment. He needs to move fast before he's in danger himself.

The blurb on the back cover of the book recommends the new series to the fans of Donna Leon, Michael Dibdin and Philip Gwynne Jones. I would also add Andrea Camilleri to the list. While not being such a particular gourmet like Inspector Montalbano, Daniel is often portrayed eating and enjoying food.

Tom Benjamin creates an authentic portrait of Bologna, with its fading beauty and dark underside.
"Much of Bologna was like this - placid facades concealing the historic and mundane, beauty and decay. a place with its back turned to the world - what mattered was family".

A quiet death in Italy is the first novel in the Daniel Leicester crime series. It's a great series opener, and I'm looking forward to the next instalment of Bologna's mysteries.

Chez Maximka, books set in Bologna, Italian detectives



Purchase Links

UK - https://www.amazon.co.uk/Quiet-Death-Italy-Tom-Benjamin/dp/1472131576/ 
US - https://www.amazon.com/Quiet-Death-Italy-Tom-Benjamin/dp/1472131576/

books set in Bologna, books about Italian corrupt politicans

Author Bio –

Tom Benjamin started off as a reporter before moving to the press office at Scotland Yard and running drugs awareness campaign FRANK. He moved to Bologna where his work as doorman at a homeless canteen inspired him to create English detective Daniel Leicester in a series that serves up equal helpings of the local cuisine and ubiquitous graffiti; the city’s splendour, decay, and danger.


mystery set in Italy


Social Media Links –

https://www.facebook.com/tombenjaminsays/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Tombenjaminsays

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/tombenjaminsays/


Thank you to Tom Benjamin and Rachel's Random Resources for inviting me to join the blog tour!
I received an e-copy of the book for the purposes of reviewing, and bought a paperback.

crime fiction set in Italy, books set in Bologna

Wednesday, 1 July 2020

Broken Silence by Liz Mistry #BlogTour

Broken Silence by Liz Mistry pulls you in from the very first page. It's a dark thriller, with a strong police procedural element. It covers such a sensitive topic as modern slavery and human trafficking.
This is the second book in a DS Nikki Parekh series. It reads as a standalone, but there are several references to the events of the previous book.


fiction on modern slavery, books on human trafficking


DS Felicity Springer is leaving the hotel where the multi-agency Making Bradford Safe conference took place. She feels awful, nauseous and dizzy, unsure about what has happened the evening before. Last night is a blur, and she feels guilty. How did she end up in bed with someone she always thought of as a lecherous loser?
On the way home she opts for the back road with less traffic. A big van overtakes her, and while following in its tracks, she sees a hand waving from the rear light casing. Is someone captive in that van, or is it some sort of practical joke?
She decides to follow the van, and calls the emergency number. The dispatcher can hear Springer's chatter, then a judder and bang.
When the police find Springer's car, it is empty, and there's blood by the driver's door. There's no sign of Felicity.
With Springer missing, DS Nikki Parekh and DC Sajid Malik are trying to find her and establish who the unknow assailant is/are.

Felicity and Nikki are not friends, if anything, their interaction was always acrimonious, but when Felicity finds herself dumped in the back of the van, with her wrists and legs bound, she realises that to survive, she should be more like her tough colleague: "She was no Nikita Parekh, yet, much as she despised the woman... distrusted her even, she knew that the tenacious thought niggling inside her throbbing head might be the only thing that would get her out of this mess. What would Nikki Parekh do?"

Springer's abduction is not the only crime committed, it is closely followed by the horrific torture and murder of the young girl, whose body is dumped in a quiet respectable neighbourhood.

And then the body count rises alarmingly. The police resources are over-stretched to the breaking point.

This case is the first major case DS Parekh has since she herself nearly died at the hands of the serial killer the previous year.

Nikki is a strong protagonist, outspoken, stubborn and determined. She has been temporarily promoted to DI, against her wishes. While many people around perceive her as tough and tenacious, she has mental health problems, and is prone to self-harming.

Saj Malik watches her with concern, as he knows the circumstances of the previous year's abduction and consequent mental problems and self-harm. He's a thoughtful, compassionate partner. Being gay, he has big problems of his own. His family would never accept his sexuality, and he is hiding his relationship from them. In the eyes of his community he's a sinner. Will Saj find strength to come out?

Nikki's banter with her colleague Malik brings a necessary comic element to the otherwise very dark narrative.

The theme of the modern slavery and human trafficking is one of the major plots running through the book. We watch with horror how Stefan Marcovici, a Romanian who's been trafficked with his daughter Maria, is subjected to starvation, hard work and inhumane living conditions. His daughter is forced into prostitution. They travelled to the UK, full of hope, making plans for the whole family to join them later. "A new start away from the threat of the gang he'd betrayed back in Romania".
Instead they become helpless slaves, whose documents are confiscated, and they are forced to pay off a huge debt. They live in a constant fear of abuse and death threats.

Some scenes are hard to read. Sadly, they are not a figment of the author's imagination. Millions of people, adults and children, are trapped in modern slavery, in every single country of the world. As hard as it is to fathom, these are facts which we need to know.

Broken Silence is a gripping, tense thriller, that will keep you guessing until the very end. Unmissable.

Potential triggers: human trafficking/slavery, torture, murder, mental health problems.

Purchase Links

E book https://www.amazon.co.uk/Broken-Silence-absolutely-gripping-thriller-ebook/dp/B083Z3ZZ61

Paperback https://www.amazon.co.uk/Liz-Mistry-2-3/dp/0008358370


Author Bio:
Born in Scotland, made in Bradford, sums up Liz Mistry's life. Over thirty years ago she moved from a small village in West Lothian to Yorkshire to get her teaching degree. Once here, Liz fell in love with three things: curry, the rich cultural diversity of the city... and her Indian husband (not necessarily in this order). Now thirty years, three children, two cats (Winky and Scumpy) and a huge extended family later, Liz uses her experiences of living and working in the inner city to flavour her writing. Her gritty crime fiction procedural novels set in Bradford embrace the city she describes as "Warm, Rich and Fearless" whilst exploring the darkness that lurks beneath.

Struggling with severe clinical depression and anxiety for a large number of years, Liz often includes mental health themes in her writing. She credits the MA in Creative Writing she took at Leeds Trinity University with helping her find a way of using her writing to navigate her ongoing mental health struggles. Being a debut novelist in her fifties was something Liz had only dreamed of and she counts herself lucky, whilst pinching herself regularly to make sure it's all real.

One of the nicest things about being a published author is chatting with and responding to readers' feedback and Liz regularly does events at local libraries, universities, literary festivals and open mics. She also teaches creative writing.
Now, having nearly completed a PhD in Creative Writing focussing on "the absence of the teen voice in adult crime fiction" and "why expansive narratives matter", Liz is cock full of ideas to continue writing.

In her spare time, Liz loves pub quizzes (although she admits to being rubbish at them), dancing (she does a mean jig to Proud Mary - her opinion, not ratified by her family), visiting the varied Yorkshire landscape, with Robin Hood's Bay being one of her favourite coastal destinations, listening to music, reading and blogging about all things crime fiction on her blog, The Crime Warp.


Many thanks to Liz Mistry and Rachel's Random Resources for an e-copy of the book!

This review is part of the blog tour for Broken Silence.

Nikki Parekh novel, crime fiction

Monday, 29 June 2020

The Wine List

Cara Sucia wine, Massaya wine, Chez Maximka, wine subscription box


Do you admire people who swirl and sniff their wine in a glass and pronounce: "With a whiff of the orchard in both spring and autumn, this has the pulse of fresh acidity and seasoning of peppery spice"? (quote is from 20 best wines for the summer by David Williams)

Do you enjoy drinking wine but tend to stick to those varieties you've tried in the past and know what to expect? Whenever I go out (or went out, since I haven't been in a restaurant, like everyone else, for months and months), I look at the wine list, and then choose a glass of something "safe".

Let's just say, I'm the opposite of being adventurous when it comes to wine.
I applaud people who know their wine and can easily pick the right bottle in the supermarket rather than stand by the wine aisle in confusion, not sure what's best to pair with the dinner you're cooking for guests.

If you want to educate yourself about wine, The Wine List is a wine subscription box focused on learning.

Lebanese wine, Chez Maximka


When I was approached with an offer to review The Wine List box, I cautiously mentioned that I'm not a wine expert, though I do enjoy reading features on wine in food magazines and online.

How does The Wine List subscription work?

Once a month you receive a box which contains two bottles of wine, interactive tasting cards and a leaflet which allows you to learn one wine principle.

The box I received had a very informative piece on Wine Roots/Vessel, talking about how the shape, size and material of the vessels impact the final wine.

You discover two wines, which are rarely available in the UK - usually a white and a red.

Let's have a look at what wines we received in our box - Massaya White/Massaya (2018, Lebanon) and Cara Sucia/Durigutti Family (2019, Argentina).
These are definitely new wines for me, I haven't come across these winemakers before, and enjoyed reading their stories, origins, food pairing, including the local food pairing.

wine subscription box, Chez Maximka, rare wines


The tasting notes and information about the winemakers are concise and direct. As you sample wine, you might want to tick off the aroma profile notes as appropriate, so not only you sample new wines, you develop your skills at the same time. Each month you try new wines and expand your knowledge.
The tasting guide will give you twelve lessons through the year.

The Wine List write on their website: "We've looked at wine learning in a load of different ways. and we believe the best way to learn is through discovery - new grapes, regions and winemakers - with a few core principles underneath."
They promise: "With some practice, after six-to-twelve months, you should be able to look at a restaurant wine list, or shelves in your local merchant, and have an inkling of what a bottle should taste like".

The Wine List subscription box costs £36 per month.

Let's look closely at each wine we've tried.

Massaya White/Massya - 2018 is a medium to full-bodied white, showing off mineral aromas, as well as prominent lashings of white flowers, and lemons.
With background hints of honey, this is a very drinkable wine. It is crisp, refreshing, and will go well with a variety of cuisines and dishes.

Chez Maximka, Lebanese wine


Massaya is run by two brothers, Sami and Rammzi Ghosn, in partnership with the Brunier brothers from Vieux Télégraphe and Dominique Hébrard, formerly from Château Cheval Blanc.

Lebanese wine, wine to pair with mezze, Chez Maximka


Suggested food pairing - seafood-heavy pasta would work well here. I imagine it would be a treat to pair it with spaghetti alle vongole (or pasta with clams).
Local food pairing would be Samkeh Harra, Lebanese grilled fish, marinated in chilli, citrus and coriander.

I consulted a book called Souk by Nadia Zeruali and Merijn Tol, which I reviewed a couple of years ago. It's a cook book of Middle Eastern cuisine, and has a good number of Lebanese recipes.
I was searching for the authentic vegetarian Lebanese recipes. Hummus and Moutabal (aubergine spread with yogurt, pomegranate and oregano) are easy to make, and are perfect for a light dinner.

As it happened, these cold mezze and Massaya White are great together.

Chez Maximka, Lebanese food and wine, vegetarian Lebanese food

Cara Sucia/Durigutti Family - 2019 is an Argentinian wine from the region of Rivadavia, Mendoza.
Described as light and fresh, with crunchy redcurrants, red cherries and hints of strawberry, it has a definite tannic bite on the palate, but nothing aggressive. It would suit slightly chilled.

Argentinian wine, Chez Maximka

Brothers Hector and Pablo made wine all over the world in Italy, Chile and Argentina before returning home to Mendoza in 2002.
Cara Sucia is the epitome of that journey: the wine that signifies their return home.

Food pairing suggestions: try vegetarian-led food, or smoky, cured meats, even thrown over the BBQ.
Local food pairing would be a Choripan, an Argentinian sandwich: barbecued chorizo, topped with chimichurri, caramelised onions and pickled aubergines.

Argentinian wine, Chez Maximka

I served it lightly chilled, with chilli pistachios and Ancho peppers. It is a fragrant, red-fruited wine, perfect to drink on a summer evening.
This wine of glorious ruby colour makes you think of long summer days and fruit ripening under the sun.

Argentinian wine, Chez Maximka

Both wines are perfect for entertaining, or while enjoying a quiet evening in the garden, sitting in the sunset.
I appreciated learning about the wine we sampled, and reading the stories behind the brands.

The Wine List subscription box will make an excellent gift for any foodie.

If this wine subscription box with the focus on learning sounds like something you would enjoy, check out their website or Insta page - @the_winelist which has a discount code offer for your first box.

Disclosure: As mentioned above, we received a box of wine for the purposes of reviewing.

Chez Maximka, Argentinian wine

Sunday, 28 June 2020

Photo Diary: Week 26, Project 366

Annalisa Barbieri, The Guardian's Weekend columnist is a wise lady. I admire that she doesn't just give her own opinion on whatever problem she is discussing, but consults psychologists and psychotherapists, thus presenting a more focused and balanced reply. I don't always agree with what she has to say, but I follow her column with great interest.
In the latest article she gives advice to a lady who is very anxious about "returning to the world" after the lockdown. She says that our world has shrunk, and expanding it again - safely - can seem onerous for some. And that's how I feel as well. I go out shopping, as if going to the battlefield. My husband needs to go to his office in Oxford, and the idea of him travelling by bus sends me into a mild panic.
Sasha goes to school three times a week, and I keep worrying about the risks he's taking. It's unrelenting.

I was supposed to meet up with a friend for a social distanced coffee in town, but I felt so anxious and stressed that I asked her to postpone the meet-up. I felt guilty about it later.
I need to build up my confidence to expand my world and not to transfer my anxiety to my family.

Last Sunday was Father's Day. I baked a marbled ricotta cake, which turned out very tasty. Eddie did a lovely drawing of Han Solo for his Dad, and we've also chosen a gift for him in the book shop.
I thought of my late Dad, and how much I miss him.

This is one of a very few pictures where my Dad and I are together. We didn't have a camera when I was a child, and there are not many photos from my childhood. A different era, unlike these days, when everyone seems to record every bite they eat for posterity (myself included).

It was taken on the day my Mum was in the hospital, giving birth to my brother, while my Dad looked after me. In those days, fathers were not permitted to be present during the labour. If they were lucky, they would have seen a baby held by a nurse from a window.
With my short hair I looked like a boy, but at least, I've got hair in the photo, as apparently I was a baldie as a baby, while my little brother had long locks, huge eyelashes and was utterly gorgeous.
I'm so much older now than my Dad in this photo. Wasn't he handsome?!

Chez Maximka

On Monday Eddie did one of the school tasks on Seesaw - to draw a cover for The BFG. The teacher said it was amazing, and awarded him an extra house point for this work.

Chez Maximka, children's art

I was well-chuffed, seeing that Danilo Cortellini has visited my Insta page. Not every day famous chefs look at my pictures.

Chez Maximka

I was waiting for a hand saw delivery from amazon, which I ordered the day before, so when a thin long package has arrived, I just put it aside. When an hour later, another long package was delivered, I looked at the first one, wondering if I got two seesaws by mistake.
It was a bouquet, which my friend sent to cheer me up. I almost welled up.

Chez Maximka, Wedgwood

Another screenshot - it was so hot, my brain was melting. I hate the heat, I cannot function properly.


Another hot day, made more unbearable by the inconsiderate twats, aka builders next door. They were rebuilding the conservatory, with the music on full blast all day. I'm not a vengeful person, but I did wish a series of calamities on them and the new owner.
My potted phloxes are not doing that well. One of the plants is being eaten by some bugs. I cannot see anything suspicious, but the leaves are pretty much destroyed. Any ideas on who might be the culprit?

Chez Maximka, summer flowers, English garden

The tomato plants in the greenhouse show the very first tiny fruit. I'm very pleased, as these are the tomatoes I've been growing from seeds, and they've been quite a challenge.

Chez Maximka


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Tuesday, 23 June 2020

Marbled ricotta cake

what to do with ricotta, Chez Maximka


Reading Rachel Cooke's column in the Observer Food Monthly, I kept nodding my head in agreement. She writes about the food in lockdown, that in a world where we have been deprived of so much that we love - friends, art, restaurants - every meal is a treat. In such times, pleasure really is vital. And a cake is definitely one of life's pleasures.

Last Sunday many people celebrated the Father's Day, and I wanted to bake something special to treat my boys and their Dad.
I was mixing the cake batter and thinking of my late Dad. How I wish he lived long enough to meet my children. He's being gone these last twenty years. I lived with my parents until I was in my mid-twenties. I often baked then, but my cakes were quite basic. We didn't have the same variety of ingredients as you can get now in Russia. I often think how much I would have enjoyed cooking a good meal for him now.

Ricotta cake is one of the cakes I bake quite often, with slightly different variations. The original recipe was given to me by my husband's aunt Giuseppina. Her recipe, adapted for the competition sponsored by Grana Padano, helped me win the first prize a few years ago.
I play around with different added ingredients, keeping the main ratio of eggs/sugar/ricotta/flour and butter the same.
Ricotta cake is very tasty as it is, but I fancied slightly jazzing it up for the occasion, plus I wanted to see if it would work as a marbled cake. It worked well. The cake barely lasted two days.

what to do with ricotta, Chez Maximka


Marbled ricotta cake
Ingredients:
3 medium eggs
160g caster sugar
200g ricotta
300g plain flour
1tsp baking powder
100g butter, melted
1tsp vanilla essence
4tbsp orange juice
2 tbsp chocolate spread + 1 heaped tsp of cocoa powder
2tbsp Biscoff spread (optional)
+
icing sugar and freshly squeezed orange juice for the icing

Beat the eggs with the ricotta and sugar, sift in the flour and baking powder and mix well. Melt the butter, let it cool slightly and add to the batter together with the orange juice and vanilla.
Divide the cake batter into two bowls. Add 2tbsp of chocolate spread and cocoa powder to one, and 2tbsp of Biscoff spread to the other one.
The cake batter is rather thick. Spoon it into the oiled bundt tin, alternating spoonfuls of different batter.
Place the tin in the oven preheated to 180C. Bake for about 45+ minutes. Check if the wooden toothpick comes clean, then the cake is ready.

You can simply dust it with the icing sugar, or make a runny icing with icing sugar and orange juice.

Eat warm or cold, with tea or coffee.

bundt cake, Chez Maximka

Monday, 22 June 2020

Photo diary: week 25, project 366

Bookshops are open! That's the best news in a long time.
Rather than that, our week was a bit meh. The same worries about Sasha's anxiety meds, Mum's health, other family issues, on top of that, the Internet connection is intermittent, and I'm feeling low and dispirited. Mostly helpless and not sleeping well.
I'm going through the motions, and I'm not optimistic.

Eddie's been drawing Star Wars/Mandalorian characters in the past week, following step by step from the YouTube channel for kids. I think this baby Yoda is super cute.

Chez Maximka, kids art, Star Wars drawings

On Monday morning we ventured into town, just three of us (Sasha was at school). It was lovely to re-visit Waterstones after a long closure. We put on our fetching masks and gloves, and while my husband was taking Eddie's picture, I photobombed him. We didn't buy anything that day, as the stock was still pretty much the same we have seen a couple of months before.
We did come back to the shop two days later, and they had a new stock. Eddie and I got a paperback each (The Truants for me and Wonderscape for Eddie). I also bought a book of Norse myths, as we are reading Magnus Chase, book 1, at the moment, and I wanted to revise the myths of Odin, Thor, Loki and more.

Chez Maximka, book shop in lockdown

I think I've watched too many Marvel films. I was walking into town, looked at the clouds as usual, spotted this strange cloud and thought of the Chitauri. Showed it to Eddie later and we both said: the Chitauri are coming.

Chez Maximka, West End Witney

Started reading Lockdown by Peter May. It's pretty amazing that he wrote it back in 2005, when the publishers didn't want to publish it as they thought the portrayal of London during the epidemic is completely unrealistic.
I was reading it, sitting in the garden, sipping Coca Cola Signature Mixtures Herbal. I bought it for the first time, and quite enjoyed it with ice. It will be great in a cocktail.

Chez Maximka, Lockdon by Peter May

Following the same Art for Kids Hub tutorial on Youtube, Eddie was drawing Han Solo for Father's day. I told him he should draw Darth Vader, but he said he asked his Dad what his favourite Star Wars character was, and that was Han Solo.

Chez Maximka, kids art

Passing by Derwent House, local interior design shop, I admired their colourful window display.

Chez Maximka, furniture store in Witney

Last week I received two bottles of wine from The Wine List for reviewing. It's the first wine box subscription, focused on learning, as you receive tasting cards with lots of information about the wine and the producers. I wanted to pair the Lebanese wine with the authentic food, and found a recipe for Moutabal. It's similar to babaganoush, with added yogurt and oregano leaves. It is a tasty dish, and goes well with the crisp white wine.

Lebanese food, Chez Maximka

What else did we do? Homeschooling, of course, not that much of TV... We started watching Artemis Fowl, but didn't like it at all. I finished reading The Sewing Room Girl by Susanna Bavin, which I plan to review later this week.
How did your week go?
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Monday, 15 June 2020

Roald Dahl's Marvellous Children's Charity launches Phizz-whizzing Workshops


I think probably kindness is my number one attribute in a human being. I'll put it before any of the things like courage or bravery or generosity or anything else.
Roald Dahl

Dahl's books have been enjoyed by several generations of readers. Some of his books - like Matilda, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory or The Twits - have become true classics of children's literature. He is considered to be one of the greatest storytellers of the last century. His unique style of writing, his characters and dark humour appeal to readers of all ages.

Do your children love Dahl's books? Maybe, like my son's class, they study The BFG right now.
If you're looking for fun and educational activities, check out Dahl-inspired online workshops.

Today Roald Dahl's Marvellous Children's Charity is launching a series of Phizz-whizzing Workshops to teach primary school age children about core values including bravery, empathy, resilience and kindness.

The workshops highlight the charity's work, the vital role its Roald Dahl nurses play in supporting 21,000 seriously ill children across the UK and why these values are important to foster better understanding of the challenges faced by children with lifelong illnesses.

The workshops, which have been developed in partnership with national children's radio station, Fun Kids Radio, are designed to encourage families to take part in fundraising for the charity through a competition to come up with their best fundraising idea.

The winning idea will be picked by Doctor Who star, Jodie Whittaker, Blue Peter Presenter, Richie Driss and CBBC Presenter, Ed Petrie and launched by the charity as part of its Roald Dahl Day fundraising activities.
The winner will also win a bundle of Roald Dahl prizes.

Richie Driss, Ed Petrie and Jodie Whittaker


Roald Dahl's Marvellous Children's Charity provides specialist nurses and support to seriously ill children and has created the workshops to stimulate conversation between parents and their children about the challenges faced by children with lifelong illnesses as they are more likely to experience bullying. A study found that 96% of parent carers said that their disabled child has been bullied at school.

Each workshop, which is presented by the charity's mascot, Marvin the crocodile (designed by renowned Roald Dahl illustrator, Sir Quentin Blake) has a fun challenge to complete to further their understanding and there are accompanying worksheets and certificates to download.

You can find all the videos and read the T&Cs at Phizz-Whizzing Workshops. Your children will enjoy taking part in the workshops, and don't forget to enter the competition!




Chez Maximka

Sunday, 14 June 2020

Photo diary: week 24, project 366

Social media could be a blood pressure raising tool. In the last week there was so much hate posted, and accusations thrown around, that at times all I wanted to do was to look at the pictures of flowers and fluffy kittens.
It was a difficult week for me personally as well, as my Mum has been quite unwell for several days. My brother helps as much as he can, but I'm totally helpless, can't do anything, being thousands of miles away.

On the positive side, Eddie's a real book worm. At the start of the year I opened a Goodreads account in his name, and he put a goal of reading 35 books this year. Well, believe it or not, he's already beaten his own goal!

The other day I was checking my Facebook Memories, when a post from four years ago popped up. Eddie's school (like many other schools in the UK) was celebrating the Queen's 90th birthday. Eddie was very excited about it, but when I came to collect him, he said in a disappointed voice: "There were lots of people, but the Queen didn't come". It tickled me to think that my little boy was expecting the Queen to arrive.
He still cracks me up with his jokes.

Tomorrow we're reaching a new stage of the lockdown, with shops selling non-essentials getting open. Not sure if I'd rush into the shops, though I do need new shoes urgently, mine are looking like they're not going to last much longer. I can't buy shoes online, as I have "difficult" feet, and need to try the shoes on. I hate shoe-shopping, it's always such a chore for me.
We can't wait for Waterstones to be open. Not that we don't have enough books, but we missed visiting the book shop.

Last Sunday I was walking in High St and spotted that Huffkins cafe was open for takeaways. They have the tastiest eclairs in town. I got a strawberry eclair and a rocky road for my boys.

Chez Maximka

Eddie's year is studying The BGF right now, with daily tasks. They sent a link to an audio book, but we prefer a real book, it's also much easier to use as a reference, when you need, for example, to find all the words and phrases which describe movement in a chapter.
One of the tasks was to do a drawing of the BFG, when Sophie first spots him.

children's art, Chez Maximka

Our local manor farm Cogges has opened its grounds to the seasonal ticket holders. My husband decided to get tickets for himself and Eddie. So far, the play area is not opened, and there is not much to see, except their beautiful walled kitchen garden and some animals.
This photo of Eddie at Cogges was taken by my husband.

Cogges manor farm, Chez Maximka

On Wednesday we attended a celebration of life event at the cemetery. Our friends' daughter would have turned 18. She died last year. She was one of Sasha's class mates.
It was raining earlier, and I wasn't sure if we'd be able to attend if it kept raining.
The cemetery is on a hill outside the town, in a serene, peaceful location, with the wild flowers all around.

Chez Maximka

Eddie and I have seen quite a few rainbow stacks of books on social media, and fancied making our own. We chose a few of our favourite authors. Since we have all Cressida Cowell's books, it could have been just a rainbow of her books, or Liz Pichon's, or Robin Stevens, since they tend to have book covers in different colours.

Toothless, Cressida Cowell, Chez Maximka

I've mentioned the "ghost house" in the neighbourhood before, with the façade completely overgrown with the creepers. It's a home to a big number of white doves, who have nests in all windows.

Chez Maximka

I made a tomato salad a few days ago, with Galbani burrata and Newman's Own Italian dressing, and tagged them in my Insta story. Newman's Own re-posted my photo in their story, and called it perfect.
It made me smile.

Chez Maximka, @realmaximka25

What have you been up to in the last week? And do you plan to hit the shops now that they are re-opening?


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