Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Funnybones pumpkin

Our last year's pumpkin was based on the story of Meg and Mog, this year I decided to pick a little skeleton from Funnybones as my inspiration.

Sasha loves Funnybones, it appeals to his sense of humour and the appreciation of the macabre. We'd sit on the bed, I would read him a story and he'd listen and look at the quirky illustrations.
I was also very impressed when at the latest parental meeting the teachers mentioned that not only he assembled the image of the skeleton from many pieces, but also added all the correct names for the parts of the skeleton.
So, I thought it would amuse him and Eddie if I carved a little skeleton on our Hallowe'en pumpkin.

We have a lovely little inglenook in the old fireplace in the dining room, and it is a perfect setting for our pumpkin.

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Funny bones gingerbread house collapse

For the umpteenth time in the last month I told myself I should read instructions and follow them, not just try to guess what to do with things to assemble, and that includes a gingerbread house.
I used a pre-made kit from Dr Oetker.
The icing paste from the kit is not good enough to hold the house, it just doesn't, the panels slide sideways.
I used different icing pens for decorations, trying to recreate my older son's favourite characters from Funnybones by Janet & Allan Ahlberg.

After I drew the sides, I realised that the roof panels were supposed to stand as a portrait panel, not a landscape panel, so I had to improvise, as there was a huge gap in the roof. It was closed with a bar of chocolate.

As I transferred the house to the sitting room to take the photo, the panels started sliding slowly.
It was the fall of the house of Asher. The chocolate roof collapsed and broke into two.
I have assembled it back, but it does look quite shattered.
Lesson learnt: read the instructions, make your own gingerbread house panels and thicker icing.

Daddy, I'm a Zombie DVD: spooktacular fun

If you are a fan of the quirky style of Tim Burton and loved his "Corpse Bride" and "The Nightmare Before Christmas", you might enjoy a new animation fantasy from Lionsgate "Daddy, I'm a Zombie" (Papá, Soy Una Zombie).

When I watched the trailer online, the protagonist Dixie has immediately reminded me of Burton's wide-eyed characters.
After reading one sniggering review about the semantics of zombies (that technically speaking, the main character wasn't a zombie), I thought some people just enjoy the nitpicking, and now I wish I didn't read any reviews in advance.
If you are into the magical happenings, witches, zombies, mummies and ghost pirates, then I think you are in for a treat.

Dixie, a 13-year-old girl, is a goth. She lives with her father who's an undertaker (and who loves to talk to the corpses in his care) in a big creepy house. Her parents have divorced.
The other girls in her college snigger at her and openly bully her, a girl whom she considers a friend, betrays her.
One stormy night she suffers an accident with a tree that crashes against her.
Once she wakes up, she realises that she is turned into a zombie, and finds herself in a very strange world indeed. She befriends the most unusual characters like an Egyptian mummy princess Isis and a ghost pirate boy Gonner.
To find her way back home, Dixie must defeat the evil witch.
I won't be revealing much more of a plot, so as not to spoil the pleasure.

If you think zombies, mummies and witches have nothing to do with our reality, think of them as symbols. The film deals with lots of issues that young teens have to tackle with like bullying in school, difficulties to adjust to the divorce of parents, breaking up of friendships, loss of hopes, angst and rebellious behaviour.

This DVD is the latest release from Lionsgate, and would make a lovely treat for this Halloween, or any other dark rainy evening. Grab a big bowl of homemade popcorn, snuggle under the duvet and enjoy!

UK Cert: PG
Run Time: 79 minutes
Price: £6.99

P.S. We were sent a copy of this DVD for the purposes of reviewing. All views are mine.

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Incy Wincy Halloweency yogurt cake

This recipe is based on the traditional French yogurt cake, with slight changes and added seasonal decorations.

1 mug of granulated sugar
1 mug of Greek style yogurt (I used Rachel's Organic Greek Style Coconut yogurt)
2 medium eggs
1 and a half mug of self-raising flour
1 heaped tsp of baking powder
1/3 mug vegetable oil
1 tsp of vanilla paste
grated zest of 1 orange
grated zest of 1 lemon

For decorating:
2 icing pens (white and dark silver)
1 Haliborange vitamin C softie/blackcurrant flavour (for the spider), if you don't have them, roll a small ball from the dark sugar paste.

I use a standard mug for measuring the ingredients, as it is the easiest option.
Grate the zest of one lemon and one orange, add the sugar and vanilla paste. Add the eggs and using the hand blender, mix well. Add the yogurt, oil, flour and the baking powder and mix together.
Butter the cake springform and pour the cake mix in. Put it in the oven preheated to 180C.
Bake for about 45-50 minutes, check with a wooden skewer if it is done. Once the skewer comes out clean, the cake is ready. Let it cool completely before decorating.

Using the icing pens draw the spider's web and spider, add the softie in the middle, squeeze a tiny drop for each eye on the softie.

The cake is very moist, crumbly and moreish. I baked it yesterday afternoon, in 24 hours there were only crumbs left. I found my older son in the kitchen, looking guilty, and a cake shell, with all the insides being scooped out. As he is very difficult to please cake-wise, I find it a big compliment that he loved my cake so much. And the mice would have been ecstatic as well, if I haven't swept the floor from all the crumbs he left.

Brilliant raconteur and foodie Chris from Cooking Around the World has set a cooking challenge for this month and his chosen country is France. As this is a French recipe, I submit it to the challenge, and apologies, Chris, for not making my cake look more Frenchified.

Friday, 26 October 2012

Brew a cup of Clipper (giveaway c/d 15 November 2012)

If one could wear an aroma of a freshly brewed tea as a perfume, I'd pick a Clipper Red Fruits & Aronia Berry flavour. It is sweet and warm, and that is just the smell alone. It is also a feast for eyes.
The colour of Red Fruits & Aronia is an intense ruby red, wonderfully deep and bright.
Then you take your first sip and sigh with pleasure. All the beautiful flavours of hibiscus and rosehip, raspberry and strawberry as well as the aronia berry are combined to make a delightful infusion.

If you remember the film and book About the Boy, its main character divided his day into a series of units. I think I can divide my day into the tea-drinking slots. Late afternoon and evenings are reserved for my herbal and fruity teas. I have recently discovered Clipper Red Fruits & Aronia, and it is one of my favourites for the caffeine and guilt-free cuppa. It is sweet but not overwhelmingly sweet, and tastes like a summer in a cup. Jolly refreshing and uplifting, try it, it might bring a ray of sunshine into a dull autumnal day like today.

What I love about Clipper is that they say with pride: "Clipper products are made with pure ingredients and a clear conscience. We use only the highest quality sources, add nothing artificial and strive to improve the welfare of the workers."
If Clipper became a party, I would vote for them.

Clipper has kindly offered 5 (yes, five) prizes for my blog readers. The lucky people will get two boxes of Clipper tea and two mugs (see the image below).

To have a chance of winning one of these lovely prizes, please fill in the rafflecopter form.
Answering the question and leaving a comment is a mandatory step. The other steps are optional, and you can tweet about this giveaway once a day.

a Rafflecopter giveaway Good luck!

First Aid Challenge with the British Red Cross

How confident are you as a parent about your First Aid skills?
Sooner or later most kids will have accidents, some are minor, some are serious. To prepare yourselves for any emergencies it is highly recommended to take a first aid or CPR class.

A couple of years ago, when I was heavily pregnant with our second child, my husband took Sasha out to their favourite cafe where Sasha usually enjoys a slice of a banoffee pie. On that day, all of a sudden, Sasha fainted. My husband wasn't sure what to do, I believe he started to panic and forgot what he was supposed to do. Nobody offered to help. The staff just watched them, everybody was too busy or indifferent to help.
He carried Sasha out, hailed a taxi and took him home. By then Sasha was as white as a sheet of paper, and his eyes were opening and closing. I was terrified, we called the emergency number and waited for the ambulance. I knew that he needed to lie on his side in the recovery position. The ambulance arrived, by which time Sasha has started slowly to gain a bit of colour on his cheeks. They checked him and decided we should leave it as it was, but if he fainted again, we should call them. We never found out what has triggered this, but it was scary. Later I told my husband off for taking Sasha in the taxi, I said he should not have been in the sitting position or if he were, his head should have been down on his knees. My husband was distraught and confessed he was so worried, he forgot everything he has read. I don't know how I would have behaved in this situation and whether I would have panicked as well.

When I used to work for a busy Uni department in Oxford, I had to take the first aid course, but it was over 12 years ago, and I'm afraid my skills are a bit rusty.

Taking a day off to go on a class is not feasible for me now, that's why I think signing up to the First Aid Challenge is a great idea for busy parents like me.
  • New nationwide campaign to get all parents learning first aid begins at Earls Court Baby Show, 26 October 2012 and runs to the end of the year.
  • The British Red Cross is launching the first UK-wide first aid campaign aimed at parents, in response to a survey showing that most parents don’t feel confident about what to do if their child were injured.
  • 96% of parents agree all parents should have basic first aid knowledge – but two thirds don’t feel confident, or worry they would do something wrong.
  • For free first aid advice, videos and to sign-up to the First Aid Challenge, go to

In a survey of over 2,000 parents [undertaken by Bounty’s Word of Mum™ panel], 96% of respondents agreed that all parents should have some first aid knowledge. The study identified the main fears of parents as choking, treating an unconscious baby or child and meningitis – however despite this, many parents struggle to find the time to learn how to treat these cases.

The British Red Cross has launched its First Aid Challenge campaign, which aims to get thousands of parents across the UK to learn first aid skills and feel confident enough to use them.

Joe Mulligan, British Red Cross head of first aid education, commented:
“We know that the majority of parents want to learn first aid, but may not get round to it for all sorts of reasons. We’re asking parents to set themselves this challenge – learn something, no matter how much time you have. Even 15 minutes is enough to learn something that could make all the difference in an emergency."

The website will also launch the same day, featuring free videos, emergency advice and information on first aid courses around the UK – the campaign will also encourage parents to download a letter to send to head teachers to ask local schools to teach first aid in the classroom.

Signing up to the First Aid Challenge is completely free and each participant will receive information on how to deal with day-to-day mishaps confidently and updates about free first aid demonstrations across the UK. Alternatively, if parents prefer to keep a how-to hard-copy in the house, a brand new First Aid manual focussing on treatment for babies and children is available now, priced £10.99.

Tracey Turner from the British Red Cross said:
“We hope this challenge will make all parents stop, think and decide to learn some first aid. We all know that as children grow and explore, inevitably they will have some kind of accident, be it big or small. We are passionate about giving everyone the skills and the confidence to know what to do.”

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Kelly's of Cornwall baking competition (and giveaway c/d 10 November 2012)

How does winning a year's supply of Kelly's of Cornwall ice cream sound to you?
If you like ice cream as much as my guys, then it's a dream come true.
Well, now you have a chance of winning the judges over with a baking recipe and getting your mitts on a year's supply of ice cream.
Image courtesy of Kelly's
Cornwall’s leading ice cream producer, Kelly’s, is launching a nationwide search to find the ultimate home-made pudding recipe to serve with Kelly’s ice cream.

Kelly’s of Cornwall knows only too well how many fantastic puddings us Brits have created over the years and with autumn around the corner, what better excuse to enjoy cosy nights in than getting creative in the kitchen for the Kelly’s ‘perfect pudding’ competition.

The lucky winner will be honoured on the Kelly’s of Cornwall website with their recipe professionally made and photographed. What’s more, the lucky winner will also be treated to a year’s supply of Kelly’s of Cornwall ice cream. For ten runner’s up, there is a month’s supply of Kelly’s of Cornwall ice cream up for grabs.

There are seven flavours of Kelly’s of Cornwall’s lush ice cream to get creative with, so why not organise an evening in with great company, fun entertainment and a rather generous helping of your homemade creations for all to share and feedback.

It’s easy to enter, just submit a photo of your chosen pudding with a detailed description of the recipe, including the flavour of Kelly’s of Cornwall ice cream it matches perfectly with. Enter online via the entry form ( )  You must upload a picture of the finished pudding and a reason to why your pudding is oh-so-perfect with Kelly’s ice cream. The deadline for entries is 2nd November 2012.
Members of Kelly’s judging committee will then judge all entries and one winner and ten runners up will be selected, and announced on 9th November 2012 – National Pudding Day.
To kickstart you on the way to creating your baking masterpiece, have a look at this lovely recipe:

TREACLE TART ( recipe and photo - courtesy of Kelly's)
6oz short crust pastry
125g/4oz  golden syrup
1 tablespoon lemon juice
75-125g/3-4oz fresh white or wholemeal bread crumbs
1. Using ¾ pastry line 7in pie plate
2. Add lemon juice to syrup and add to breadcrumbs
3. Pour filling into pastry.  Dampen the edges of the pastry
4. Roll out remaining pastry to an oblong 18cm/7in long, cut into 5mm/1/4in strips. There should be 10.
5. Twist and place lattice fashion across the tart
6. Bake for approx 30 mins at gas 6/200C/400F
7. Perfect with Kelly’s of Corwall clotted cream ice cream!
We love Kelly's ice cream, there is nothing better on a hot summer day than a treat of the scoop of Kelly's ice cream. I wrote about our Cornish trip and ice cream treats back in August.
My guys also love it when I add a generous scoop of Kelly's ice cream while making a milkshake.
As I enjoy cooking challenges and competitions, I hope I will have time to take part in Kelly's baking competition.
But today I am offering you a small giveaway on my blog: you have a chance to win 5 tubs of Kelly's of Cornwall ice cream.
To enter the giveaway, please fill in the rafflecopter form.
Answering the question and leaving a commet below is a mandatory step. All the other steps are optional.
Good luck all!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Philips Jamie Oliver Cutting Tower (feedback and review)

Jamie Oliver Cutting Tower comes as a product to use alongside Philips Jamie Oliver HomeCooker, but it can also be used separately, as a standalone gadget.
It promises to "give you an extra pair of hands in the kitchen".
The Cutting Tower is meant to stand by the side of the Philips HomeCooker and drop its chopped or sliced contents straight into the steel bowl.
It comes with five attachments or blades, two of which slice (fine and coarse versions), two do the shredding job (fine or coarse) and one is for cutting julienne.
The Tower offers two speed settings.

The image below shows you two different varieties of sliced peppers (two different blades were used to show how they work). While perfect for salads, it wasn't the size I would typically use in my cooking. The sliced pieces were not exactly uniform either. It was a bit of a mismatch in size and shape.

Next I picked an onion (who likes this ungrateful job of cutting the onions?). I have chosen the blade that was meant for the onion. Was I satisfied with the job?
Yes and No. Depending on what dish you choose to cook. When I was cooking the risotto, for example, I didn't use the Cutting Tower, as I prefer a finely chopped onion for the risotto. I guess this might be the right size/shape for cooking the Chinese dishes.
About one fourth of the onion was left unchopped and lying squashed on top of the cutting blade.

Moving on to the carrots. A failure in my opinion. Just look at the pieces. While the carrot was standing, the slices appeared round, then the remaining piece of the carrot fell sideways, and the tower chopped it into long strips. So, it was neither here nor there. Maybe if you make soup and will blitz it later, it doesn't really matter, but I didn't think it was meant to look like that.

And that's what I found with the vegetables most of the time, there were leftovers in the tower that didn't get down through the blade, or got stuck. Then I had to stop the gadget, take the pieces apart and remove the bits and bobs by hand.
If you need to slice and chop just one vegetable, I'd say, it is faster to do it by hand.
Once you assembled the tower, sliced, then disassembled and washed it, it is not exactly a timesaver.
I think if you are cooking for a big family and need lots of vegetables sliced, then this gadget will make it more worthwhile.
It is great for preparing a coleslaw, or any cabbage dish, as I have discovered.

The suggested retail price for this gadget is £100, which is quite pricey for what you get. I received it for free for my Philips Fresh Cooks party, and though I am grateful for the opportunity, I think if I had to buy it, I wouldn't want to pay as much.
I am going to use it but not as often as Jamie Oliver HomeCooker.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Philips Jamie Oliver HomeCooker (feedback and review)

My blogs readers might remember my post on Philips Fresh Cooks party which took place at the end of September. For several weeks I have been testing Philips Jamie Oliver HomeCooker and Cutting Tower.

What Philips promise: "Enabling you to prepare homemade meals even on your busiest days, the HomeCooker has been specially designed to achieve authentic home cooking with ease. It can chop, stir, steam and sauté and be left cooking unattended".

As Jamie Oliver explains: "We all know it can be a struggle to get fresh, homemade food on the table every day, especially for busy parents who have to juggle so much. It's often a real tradeoff between spending time with the family and getting fresh food on the table. The beauty of the Philips HomeCooker is that it removes this dilemma - you can now do both! Whether you're a beginner cook or a more experienced chef, the HomeCooker takes the pressure off in the kitchen. Because it stirs itself you don't have to stand over a stove but you can still invest all that love and creativity into your meal."

What were my first impressions? HomeCooker looks very solid and pretty big. As one of my party guests made a joke "It would take half of my kitchen". It does indeed need space, so perhaps not an ideal gadget for a small kitchen. I cannot imagine using it in the kitchen of our apartment in Woodstock, for example, there would have been no space for it, with the kettle, toaster and coffee machine taking almost all the space. Now that I have a relatively big kitchen, it is not a problem.

Unpacking and setting it up was quite a straightforward process.

One of the first dishes I chose to prepare with HomeCooker was a Butternut squash risotto with the crispy pancetta and sage. For that dish alone the HomeCooker justified itself to me. The risotto was perfectly al dente and delicious.

However, unlike the slow cooker, where you chuck everything in and go to work to come home to a hot meal, I had to spend a lot of time around the gadget. First of all, I had to chop and roast the butternut. Then, following the instructions, I chopped the onions and celery, I didn't use the Cutting tower as suggested, because I don't add the crescents of onion slices to risotto, I prefer it to be finely chopped. Then you set the cooker for 10 minutes to soften the veg, then reset a few times more, after adding the risotto rice. So, everything was cooked in stages, and I spent almost all the time in the kitchen apart from twenty minutes when the risotto rice was being cooked. Plus you needed to fry the pancetta and sage leaves separately. So, if you are looking for a recipe which is not time-consuming, then this is not the right recipe for you. Saying that, we loved the risotto. I also appreciate the fact that all the stirring work has been done by the cooker.

Risotto wasn't the only recipe in the booklet which involved cooking in stages. However, cooking risotto just right is not an easy task, it has to be al dente but not at the stage when it is still uncooked, it needs a bite combined with the overall creaminess. This recipe scores 10 out of 10 for the taste alone. And it looked very appealing too (see the photo below).

Crispy rosemary potatoes would have ended in disaster if I followed the recipe precisely. I think that the timing and temperatures for this recipe are not properly tested. I would never cook potatoes at 250C for 70 minutes, or they would end as the coal pieces. When I read the recipe, I thought I'd set the timer for half an hour just to see how well cooked it would be. The aroma was lovely, thanks to the garlic. But all the crispy bits were getting stuck to the bottom of the pan, and the potatoes were getting smaller and smaller in size. In the end I took them out of the pan, placed in the ceramic dish and put in the hot oven to make them crispy. Don't think that was the idea.

And the pan was one hell of a job to clean, as you can see from the photo. Not exactly time-saving if I had to soak the pan and then scrub it until it is clean again.
Let's say, I wasn't impressed with the recipe, but was going to give it another chance.

This time I cooked the potatoes with mushrooms and garlic. Again, the same problem, the crispy bits were getting stuck to the bottom. Plus if you put a lid on, the potatoes are more steamed than roasted. There is no mention in the recipe whether you are supposed to have the lid on or off.

I do not give up easily, I wanted to figure out how to use the cooker to do the potatoes. I decided not to chop potatoes, but cook the baby potatoes in skins.

I have solved the problem of the sticky pan. But the potatoes were still not perfectly crispy. They were roasted on one side and steamed at the top, because I had the lid on. They tasted nice enough, and the garlic cloves were very soft and creamy. I have used the HomeCooker several times to prepare veg to add to pasta, or make a side dish.

If you play with the settings and try different temperatures, then it is a convenient pan to cook the vegetables like squash and sweet potatoes. They won't be crispy, but they will be cooked well.

Yet another recipe that I tried recently was Slow-cooked Hungarian Beef Goulash.
I didn't cook it for suggested 230 minutes, it was cooked in less time than that, and was very tasty.

I think that Jamie Oliver HomeCooker is definitely a welcome addition to my kitchen gadgets, but the recipes in the booklet should have been tested better for the timer and temperature settings.

Monday, 22 October 2012

A good book and a cup of Twinings (results)

First of all, let me thank everyone who took part in the competition. There were 33 entries altogether.
I enjoyed looking at all the Pinterest boards and reading all the comments, wondering at your choice of Twinings tea and books.

It was fascinating to see the whole range of books from old classics to modern fiction, from children's literature to the very latest adult books.

My typical day includes a succession of cups of tea, all depending on my "mood du jour". I have so many different tins and boxes of tea in the kitchen, that it does look like a tea shop. Whatever the occasion calls for, I just browse my "library" of teas and select the one that I fancy at the moment. Twinings is one of my most favourite brands, as its unique blends encompass the selection that goes beyond the classic flavours. So, it was with great interest that I was looking at the Pins of the chosen Twinings teas.

The very first entry from Victoria Norris was an absolute delight, she has chosen a classic by Charles Dickens for her board. Mulled Spiced tea which she has picked would be a perfect accompaniment to "A Christmas Carol".

This much-loved book was also featured on Cheryl Pasquier's board, however, she has selected a Mint Humbug tea for her collection of images, and I loved the play of words and the Christmassy feel of Cheryl's creation.
One book, two totally different boards.

Sammie Hodges created a very romantic, dreamy board, a combination of The Secret Garden and Earl Grey tea. I am very partial to a cup of Earl Grey, can't function without it.

Su Williams also loves The Secret Garden. Rose Garden tea would make a wonderful cuppa to enjoy with this book. Very pretty and sweet board.

Sonya Cisco produced a board that surely would have been approved by Holly Golightly herself. As Sonya said: "You can take an English girl to New York, as long as she has a proper tea waiting for her" (English breakfast). Stylish and modern.

Sarah Cooper's excellent creation took me back to the days of my first pregnancy when I was devouring one novel by Victoria Holt after another. Sarah's choice of tea was Earl Grey, my overall favourite. A nice book to go with a great tea.

Another coast-inspired novel was picked by Christine Reid: Jamaica Inn, a dark tale of smugglers which could be enjoyed while having a cup of Gingersnap Peach tea.

Olga Creative made me smile with a quote "You can keep Mr Grey, I'm sticking with Mr Darcy", you can see her Jane Austen-inspired board here. She went for Licorice All Sorts Earl Grey, one of the very few Twinings teas that I haven't tasted yet.

Emma Coletti is another Jane Austen fan who loves Pride and Prejudice. Her board is superbly vintage. And I'm sure Miss Austen would have enjoyed a cup of Twinings China Oolong tea.

Nat Taylor finds Pride and Prejudice totally irresistible as well. And English Breakfast tea. I loved the choice of images, where Austen characters are having tea.
What a pleasure to check the submitted boards, all so different and creative.

I was happy to see that two people have chosen Russian writers as their source of inspiration.

Lynn Brown based her board on Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina. Of course, I am partial to the Russian literature, and I loved her selection of images and quotes. Lynn's favourite tea is Traditional Afternoon.

Heather Haigh love of the Russian classics helped her to create a first-rate The Cherry Orchard-inspired board. Cherry & Cinnamon tea matches the theatrical artisrty of her pins.

Helen Jarvis talked of simple pleasures of life, where tea and toast and a good book is all you need to feel content. She has chosen The Railway Children. A splendid choice.

Allison Ellerbrook was inspired by the classic children's novel The Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn, which was paired with Twinings Fruit Infusions. An adorable board that made me feel all warm and fuzzy.

Alison M, a blogger known for her love of dragons, couldn't resist the temptation to create a dragon-themed board. Her images were put together, based on A Game of Thrones by George R.Martin. Pure Green tea would be just perfect served in a dragon cup.

Kate B confessed to being carried away after revisiting her old favourite book, Watership Down. She decided to treat herself and all the rabbits to several Twinings teas: Blackberry & Nettle, Strawberry & Mango and Flowering tea. She even found bunny-shaped biscuits for her chain of images and associations. What a blast!

Angela Walton went for the wintery magic look for her set of images and a tea choice: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and Winter Spice tea were a great combination.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe has found its way to Happy Homeboard's Pinboard. Beautiful wintery images are paired with Twinings Lapsang Souchong: "A smokey, golden tea that will evoke forests of pine trees and ice-capped mountains with every sip. This conjures up the image of Narnia in my mind. Come step into the wardrobe"

E An TanL put the pins together for the latest most read book of our times, and yes, you guessed it, 50 Shades of Grey. And confessed to loving English Breakfast. Her board had a truly contemporary twist with a good doze of irony.

Yet another amusing board about 50 Shades of Grey was created by Bobby Green. She called it "50 shades of Earl Grey". Bobby thinks that Twinings Earl Grey is a perfect accompaniment to a good book.

Kathryn MacKinnon picked another erotically-charged story of our times, Memoirs of a Geisha. Peach and Cherry Blossom Green tea completed this very stylish Pinboard. She also added an educational comment on the Japanese tea ceremony.

Juliette has found a book which I haven't read - The Rose Petal Beach by Dorothy Koomson, and I loved her mini-review and a choice of tea, Twinings Royal Wedding (I have a tin of it in my kitchen as well).

Jane Willis has introduced me to yet another book that I haven't read, and I have added it to my to read-list. The return of Captain John Emmett by Elizabeth Speller was paired with English Breakfast tea. A beautiful nostalgic board.

S E Martin's favourite book is Such Sweet Sorrow by Katie Flynn, which it is set during 2nd WW. "The tea is gingersnap and peach which matches the book great: sweet from the peach and sorrow from the Gingersnap". A lovely board.

Lynthia Doran was in high school when she read "Mrs Harris goes to Paris" for the first time. Her board tells a story in pictures, and Everyday tea would surely have pleased Mrs Harris. Yet another perfect board to explore.

Gwyn Sharps' board on Virginia Woolf's Between the Acts is full of grace. English Breakfast tea is a lovely choice for this intelligent book.

Kez Seery was inspired by Milne's Winnie the Pooh, the charming story of everyone's favourite teddy. What could be more appropriate for him than Chamomile, Honey & Vanilla tea? Kez says: "This is the perfect match in every sense. Honey is Pooh's favourite thing ever so paired with a relaxing Calmomile he would be in his element. I couldn't see him with a stimulating Liquorice or Caffeine filled Black Tea whilst lazing away in his hammock delectable".

Winnie the Pooh found its way to Nat Williams' heart and board. African Honebush & Lemon tea fits the selection of adorable images very well. Simply delightful.

Lynn Tibby board  was based on P.S. I love you by Cecilia Ahern, a modern story of love and loss.
Her advice is to have a cup Irish Breakfast tea to go with this sweet tale.

Katie Simmond picked To Kill a Mockinbird for her board representing the cultural diversity of modern day England.  Earl Grey traditional British tea "can be enjoyed from people all over the world. I have chosen this tea because it brings everyone together, and is typically British - and Britain is a place which celebrates multiculturalism".

Linda Hobbis created not one but two excellent boards. One of them displayed the haunting images from Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca. Twinings Lady Grey tea was suggested by Linda to be suitable for frustrated heroines everywhere.
Her second board was as beautiful: Alice in Wonderland was paired with English Breakfast tea. And those biscuits are totally to die for. Gorgeous.

A Passage to India was featured on Claire Marsh's board. I loved the quote "I believe in teaching people to be individuals, and to understand other individuals" and her choice of tea: Twinings Blossom Earl Grey. Superb book and tea combination.

How do you choose one winner from such an excellent array of boards? I kept moving from one board to another, each time changing my favourite. It was a tough decision. I'm not going into melodramatics like the X-factor judges who say they have never had a more difficult choice in their lives, but let me tell you, it wasn't easy.

I have narrowed it down to six boards that I thought found the most inspiring book/tea combination. In principle they were all very strong contenders and I wish I could give prizes away to all participants.
Then it was the choice between two, and finally the winner has been selected.

And the winner of this creative competition is... drumroll please...


Big well done, Kate, your board is superb.

P.S. I have removed all links to boards, as this post was flagged as having broken links. Several entrants have deleted their boards after the competition ended, fair enough, but it left my post with broken links, so as to save myself the hassle, I removed them all. Update: 2 June 2016

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Painting the town pink this October

You have to be very absorbed in thought not to notice that this October the town centres are turning pink for the Breast Cancer Awareness month. My own town turned into a sea of pink last week, when Witney was celebrating its 11th annual Pink day.

This is usually a very succesful fundraising event, with a feelgood factor. It brings the community together.

The town centre is decked in pink, with a sea of the pink baloons and window displays.

As you go grocery shopping and are about to pick your favourite loaf of bread, you might have noticed that Burgen, the family favourite seeded bread brand, is going pink this October in support of Breast Cancer Care.

For the entire month of October Burgen will be donating 2p from the sale of every single loaf to Breast Cancer Care helping to raise awareness of this important charity, which provides expert, up to date information as well as emotional and practical support on all aspects of breast cancer and breast health to men and women across the UK.

During Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October, the charity’s pink ribbon logo will be featured on all Burgen packs, highlighting the partnership and encouraging food shoppers to help make a difference.    

The money raised by Burgen will go towards helping fund the many vital services that Breast Cancer Care provides for men and women affected by breast cancer such as a 24 hour helpline, regional workshops and its monthly Moving Forward seminars and diet & wellbeing sessions.

Burgen’s range of seeded breads contain a rich selection of nutritious ingredients, packed full of natural seeds and grains.   Known for its unusual taste and texture, Burgen bread is great for sandwiches, as toast or a snack and is available in three delicious varieties - Soya & Linseed, Buckwheat & Poppy Seed and NEW Sunflower & Chia Seed.    

Image credit: Burgen

So, by simply picking up a loaf of Burgen during your weekly shop you will be helping to support those living with breast cancer.

For further information on how you can support people facing breast cancer visit

At the beginning of October I had a surpise package with the Burgen Soya & Linseed bread. As I unpacked it, my younger son exclaimed "Bread!" and insisted on eating a slice there and then.
We all tried it, and loved the taste and texture. It has a generous amount of seeds, which makes the texture more appealing. The linseeds give it a slightly nutty flavour. The bread is very soft, but unlike some soft sliced bread that tastes like wool, this bread has a personality.

My older son liked it as a simple toast with butter.

My little man loved it in a simple cheese sandwich.

 By buying a loaf of Burgen you will be supporting a worthy cause. Buying products with the pink logo helps raise the awareness of Breast Cancer much better than changing your Facebook status with the supposedly cryptic references to inches, weeks and chocolate bars' choice which only trivialises the issue.

Monday, 15 October 2012

Pure goodness of Oy! (review)

The arrival of Oy! foaming clear skin face wash couldn't have been timed better. My 10-year-old son, whose face skin is usually enviously clear and unblemished, showed the signs of the first spots. My heart sank, are we getting in the "teenager zone" already?

I liked the sound of Oy! foaming clear skin face wash - 100% certified product made with 93.8% certified organically grown ingredients.

What Green People say about their product:

Thoroughly cleanse your pores with this daily antibacterial face wash for guys and dolls
Promotes a blemish-free complexion - knocks the spots off the rest! Anti-acne formula.
  • Contains Willow Bark to reduce inflammation and kill bacteria
  • Tea Tree extract provides an antibacterial element to help control bacteria on the skin
  • Contains Witch Hazel to tone the skin and Green Tea to provide antioxidants
  • Suitable for all skin types, even acne-prone skin
Free from gunk! You won't find any SLS/SLES, alcohol (ethyl alcohol, ethanol), Parabens, phthalates or artificial fragrances in this natural face wash.

What we thought of it?
I first tried it myself, though at my respectable over-40 age, I am hardly a teenager. But Mum is always a guinea-pig here, I needed to know if it foams well, if the skin is feeling tight after the use etc etc. The foam is very light and soft, the skin feels very refreshed when you rinse your face after the use. It also felt softer. It gives you a feeling of being awake.
Willow bark is a natural alternative to salicylic acid that I used when I was a teenager to combat the spots.
The product has a lovely smell.
Green tea soothes the skin and helps to maintain a healthy clear complexion.
My son Sasha has been using it for about a month, and so far I haven't noticed any more spots, his skin looks clear and blemish-free.
So, as far as the product works, no complaints.

Though as this product is targeted for the young market, I think the design of the box could be a bit jazzier. Also I am not an expert on the teenagers' language, but somehow the expression "guys and dolls" on the box feels a tad old-fashioned, like an old Uncle trying to move along with the times but not getting it right.
Apart from this minor criticism, I wouldn't hesitate to recommend this product.

How to get rid of cooking smells (review of Palmolive Anti Odour Kitchen Handwash)

Apparently today is a Global Handwashing day. Now that you've learnt this piece of trivia, you might be asking yourself: just who is making these things up? Shouldn't a Global handwashing day be a daily occurrence?

Nevertheless, it could be a good starting point to discuss a topic of cooking smells and how to get rid of them.

Some foods leave a long lingering smell on your hands, even after you washed them afterwards.
Take garlic: it has a rather potent smell. You can use the garlic press of course, but then the garlic press itself needs to be handled, and you hands end up smelly. And there are many dishes when you need to chop garlic in a certain way, so the garlic press is not suitable for all occasions.

There are old-fashioned ways of getting rid  of the garlic smell from your hands, of course. Grannies advised you to simply rub your hands with a stainless steel spoon or any other stainless steel utensil.
If you don't have any stainless steel utensils, then rubbing a bit of salt or baking soda could do the trick.

More tips: after handling fish, cut a slice a lemon and rub it over your hands well, then rinse.

However, there is a special product on the market to help you in the kitchen and have smell-free hands. It is Palmolive Kitchen handwash.

how to get rid of cooking smells

Palmolive Anti Odour Kitchen Handwash contains a lime extract and a natural antibacterial agent, it promises to remove unpleasant cooking odours from your hands, and it is effective against fish, garlic and onion odours.

What Palmolive says : "Some chefs' essential ingredients include garlic, onions, fish and spices, which, while adding flavour and deliciousness to food, can taint your hands with an unpleasant smell. Palmolive's Kitchen Hand Wash is enriched with lime extract and a natural antibacterial agent, helping to banish odour-causing germs from your hands, leaving them feeling extra fresh, clean, protected and garlic free !"

What Palmolive delivers: the handwash works as it says. I used it after handling the fish, chopping garlic and onion, and my hands were smelling nice and fresh after I used the product.

It might look like any other handwash, but it is potent enough to banish bad smells including the unpleasant smell after changing your baby's nappy (and the usual handwash would just mask the smell rather than get rid of it). For that I am giving Palmolive Anti Odour Kitchen Handwash top marks.

I received this product for reviewing, but once the bottle is empty, I will be definitely buying it for my kitchen. Now my hands don't have to smell as if I have been battling the vampires.

Friday, 12 October 2012

Bend it like Epic Straws

You have probably seen the promotional bottles of Cravendale milk with the Epic Straws labels on them and were wondering what is it all about.

Each 2L bottle comes with a secret code. Once you have collected 10 codes, you can get one of three Epic Straws sets: The Cereal Snaffler, The Secret Slurper and The Bottle Burglar.

Don't know what it is with boys and straws, but apparently everythig tastes much better if you sip it with a straw.

We received two sets of straws called The Secret Slurper. First we followed the instructions and assembled the milk delivery system for "milk pilfering".

Then we opened the second kit and started adding bits and pieces, so that our Secret Slurper turned into a Slurp-Factor.

Here is my delighted slurper Eddie, admiring our construction.

We have received two sets of green Epic straws, thanks to Cravendale and BritMums, and we have also started collecting codes for the other two colourful sets.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Vegetarian borscht with mushrooms

Let me tell you first that the correct Oxford transliteration for the Russian word борщ is not borscht, but borshch, but I will use the spelling above so as not to confuse my readers.
There are as many variations of borscht as there are cooks in the former Soviet Union. Its origins are Ukrainian, but it has become a staple dish of Russia. Some like it hot. Some prefer a cold version. It could be meat-based, or meat-free.

Several years ago The Guardian dedicated a whole article to the Russian borscht, you can still find the article here (it is well written and is worth reading).

"...Borshchland lives on. Recipes, like birds, ignore political boundaries. Just as the British empire still has a culinary pulse, beating in a curry in Scotland or in the mug of builder's tea with sugar and milk you are handed in some roadhouse on the Karakorum Highway; just as the Ottoman empire breathes phantom breaths in little cups of muddy coffee from Thessaloniki to Basra; so the faint outline of the Tsarist-Soviet imperium still glimmers in the collective steam off bowls of beetroot and cabbage in meat stock, and the soft sound of dollops of sour cream slipping into soup, from the Black Sea to the Sea of Japan and, in emigration, from Brooklyn to Berlin" (James Meek)

This is one of the versions of borscht that I cook when I have beets with fresh leaves, for example, when they are delivered in the veg box from Abel and Cole. It boasts a multitude of flavours.

3 medium beets, with leaves
1 medium carrot
1 celery stalk
1 medium potato
3 small tomatoes
2 tbsp Heinz ketchup
5-6 chestnut mushrooms or small portobello mushrooms
1/2 red onion
3 spring onions or a small bunch of chives
1 garlic clove
2-3 tsp sunflower oil
dill and soured cream to serve with

Chop the beets and add them to the frying pan with one teaspoon of the sunflower oil (you can use a mild olive oil as well, but the sunflower oil would give you a more authentic flavour). Cook on low for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. They won't be cooked yet, but will acquire a sweeter deeper flavour. You can skip the frying part and just chuck all the chopped veg in the pan to cook in water, but that's how my Mum taught me to cook this soup, and I find that omitting this step gives you a less exciting fusion of flavours. After ten minutes, remove the beets from the frying pan and put them in the big pan where you'll be cooking your borscht.

Repeat the same with the chopped carrots and celery, they can be cooked together. Again add them to the beets.
Chop the mushrooms and fry them with the chopped onions, spring onions & garlic. Again add to the rest of the veg in the pan. Slice the tomatoes, add to the pan. Pour in water, bring it to the boil, add two tablespoons of Heinz ketchup (my secret ingredient). Cook for at least 35-40 minutes on low before adding chopped potatoes and beetroot leaves, then cook for another 10 minutes.

Serve with a very generous dollop of the soured cream (Yeo Valley Greek style yogurt works very well too) and chopped dill.

If you don't like mushrooms, add a chopped sweet pepper instead. Just don't forget the soured cream.