Sunday, 30 April 2017

Visiting Oxford University Museum of Natural History

days out with children in Oxford

"There are moments when one feels a desperate gratitude for museums, whatever their own ambiguous histories. Their objects from lost cities lead us back to who we are".
Amy Davidson

Eddie has been asking me to take him to the Natural History Museum for a while, so during the last Easter break we jumped on the bus to Oxford for a visit. Sash had an activity day with Barnardo's, so it was just two of us who went to the museum.
Oxford University Museum of Natural History was founded in 1860 as the centre for scientific study at the University of Oxford. It holds amazing significant collections of geological and zoological specimens.

In the days when a lot of children-friendly venues cost a lot of money, you appreciate places like Museum of Natural History, which you may attend for free. There are donations boxes at the entrance, but nobody pesters you to pay.

When a couple of weeks ago Eddie mentioned to a family friend that we planned to visit the Museum, she asked if he knew what he would see at the entrance hall. He was curious to know, but I said "Wait and see". It was worth the wait.

day out with kids in Oxford

children's museums

The room as you enter is truly magnificent. The layout of the Museum is unique, all the exhibits are well displayed. What is even more exciting for children, a lot of these exhibits can be touched.
Eddie was thrilled by everything he has seen.

The dinosaurs' skeletons make you think of The Night at the Museum movie.
If your children love dinosaurs, this is a great place to visit.


Eddie's recent hobby is collecting minerals and rocks. Going to see the extensive geological collection and buy a few minerals was our big plan. Regrettably, this fossil was not on sale. Eddie was much taken with it.


He loved the fluorescent minerals in a small dark room with curtains (a pity about the smell inside).

The layout and displays are quite old-fashioned, it's like stepping back in time. There are modern gadgety displays around as well, with interactive screens, but they are discreetly tucked into corners or appear in the first floor galleries.

bugs and creepy crawlies

Natural History Museum would appeal to children and grown-ups alike. If you are interested in history and science, this is a must visit.

The architecture of the building and the interior design are worth a separate mention. The ornaments and iron pillars are exquisite. The building itself is an outstanding example of Gothic Revival.

We spent around two and a half hours in the Museum, with a quick run through the Pitt Rivers Museum (which should be explored in a separate visit).
When we visited the Museum, it was very busy, thanks to school holidays and swarms of tourists.

After the Museum, Eddie begged me to go to McDonald's to buy a Happy Meal. It's a big treat for him, as we rarely happen to go there. We also met with a friend for coffee, and bothered Papa in his office.
Papa was happy to take a break and have a game of table tennis with Eddie.

It was an eventful day, and on the way back home, Eddie nodded off on the bus.

Spaghetti with rocket pesto

Italian recipes, pasta recipes

I bought a bag of rocket a few days ago, with a good intention of having it for a couple of lunches with prawns as a low calorie meal. Alas, my dieting didn't happen yet again, so I was looking yesterday at the sad bag of rocket, thinking it was going to wilt if I didn't do anything with it.
How about turning it into pesto for spaghetti?

Rocket pesto
90g rocket
6tbsp olive oil
25g grated Grana Padano
1 clove of garlic
25g ground almonds

Blitz the rocket with olive oil, grated Grana, chopped garlic and ground almonds. Season with a bit of sea salt. Stir into freshly cooked spaghetti.
Grate a bit of Grana over the pasta.

Italian pasta

It was quite bitter. I do love rocket, but as a main herb for pesto it is overpowering. Next time I'll try to do half-half with basil, spinach or parsley.

Since I used a bag of rocket and some of the Grana (still working on my last year's prize of cheese, which I keep in big chunks, wrapped in the fridge and freezer), I'm adding this recipe to #KitchenClearout linky hosted by Cheryl from Madhouse Family Reviews.

Friday, 28 April 2017

A slice of Lemon Chiffon Cake for Hercule Poirot

Closed Casket by Sophie Hannah

Hercule Poirot is back, in a second adventure created by Sophie Hannah. Closed Casket is a cosy mystery, set in a big old manor.
Poirot and his new sidekick Catchpool (Scotland Yard detective) - who made his first appearance in The Monogram Murders - are invited to Lady Athelinda Playford's party in Clonakity, County Cork. Lady Athelinda is a rather eccentric bestselling children's books author. She announces her new will at the dinner, and all hell breaks loose.
Despite the presence of the famous detective and Catchpool, the murder takes place under their noses.
The number of suspects is limited to the family and guests, and everyone seems to have a motive.

I read the first Poirot by Hannah last year, and found the plot rather to be rather convoluted. It was entertaining enough, and when I saw Closed Casket at half price in WHSmith earlier this year, I couldn't resist buying it.

Closed Casket had yet another tangled plot, which didn't make sense at all. The characters are rather cardboard and one-dimensional, one caricature after another. The local police members are brainless, of course, and Catchpool is slightly more perceptive.
Even Poirot is more of a shadow of his "real" old self.

If you visit my blog even sporadically, you might know that I enjoy finding food and meals references in books I read.
There wasn't much food mentioned in this story.
Guests were served "a good old traditional English mutton broth". I didn't fancy cooking it.
Then there was "Brigid's finest dish, Chicken à la Rose". Brigid is a cantakerous crabby cook in Clonakity. We don't get to find out just why she is so dyspeptic and disagreeable.

I liked the sound of a lemon chiffon cake:
"I overheard Rolfe's complaint that he had been promised a lemon chiffon cake for pudding; how, now that he had been forced away from the table, was he to be served this cake..."

So, lemon chiffon cake it is then.
I have looked up a few recipes for this delicious cake, and the amount of eggs seems to differ - from six to a whole dozen. The same with the lemons, some cooks use one lemon, some demand lemon zest from four lemons.
My version is an amalgam of several recipes I found online and in my cook books.

best lemon cakes, best desserts

Lemon Chiffon Cake
zest of 2 lemons
6 eggs, separated
250g caster sugar
1/2tsp fine salt
125ml vegetable oil (I used light olive oil)
1tsp baking powder
200g self-raising flour
50g cornflour
juice of 1/2 lemon
150ml water

50g softened butter
juice of 1/2 lemon
icing sugar

In a big mixing bowl beat together zest of 2 lemons with 6 egg yolks and caster sugar. Add the salt, oil, baking powder, flour, cornflour, lemon juice and water, and mix well. In a separate bowl beat the egg whites until fluffy but not to the consistency you need for making meringues. Mix it carefully into the cake batter.
Pour the batter in a well oiled bundt cake tin.
Place the tin in the oven preheated to 180C. Bake for about 40+ minutes. Check readiness with a toothpick.
Let the cake cool a bit before drizzling over the icing made from softened butter, lemon juice and icing sugar.

It is a delicate lemony cake. I think Hercule Poirot would have approved it.

best lemon cake

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Visiting Burford garden centre

Easter break is now a memory. Back to school. And our house is again "invaded" by the decorators. You might remember me telling about how the ceiling in the entrance hall has collapsed with a mighty crash after the pipes leaked (thank you, British Gas people, for putting nails through the pipes!). The saga still continues.
The old plaster has been removed, and the ceiling has been re-plastered and painted, but the walls got so splashed and stained that we had to strip the wallpaper (and good riddance too, I didn't like it).
Now we need to smooth the walls with more plasterwork and then paint over.
Pleasures of living in a very old house is that there's always another job to do.
We didn't go to Italy for Easter, and stayed at home. We were quite lucky with the weather and had several sunny days. Not like today, when I'm feeling cold at home. I sit by my laptop, wrapped in the blanket, and sip the tenth cup of tea to keep me warm.

Our friend Jen took our boys and me to Burford Garden Centre twice in the last two weeks. My sons love visiting it, as there is a lot to do and see. We always go to the cafe first. I do begrudge their prices. You can buy a decent supermarket cake for the same amount of money you have to pay for a slice of cake at the cafe, but then you can say - stay at home then.

There is a toy shop where you can imagine yourself time-travelling with Dr Who.

I love browsing in the food and drink section... well as looking at the seeds and beautiful potted plants - shrubs, flowers, herbs.

This photo was taken back in February

And my boys just love the playground with a wooden tractor, train, two sets of swings and climbing frames.

Swings make everyone happy. They are such a joy, aren't they?!

When I see my kids  going up and down, I often think of an old song which I loved as a child. It originally appeared in one of the Soviet films for children. And the song was called Winged Swings:

Childhood will end one day,
It won't last forever.
Children will grow up,
And fly away...
But right now we are still children,
There's still time to grow up -
It's just the sky,
just the wind,
just the joy ahead.
... And the winged swings are flying..

Oral-B Pro 2500 Electric Toothbrush

Do you love travelling? Are you a pro when it comes to packing suitcases?
When you're travelling with a family, luggage space is at a premium. So many things to take with you: clothes, medication, toys, books, gadgets etc. Having a child with special needs means we also have to carry food that our son would eat, so one of our suitcases has a couple of spacious insulated freezer bags which  food.
Typically I take regular manual toothbrushes and toothpaste with us, as I just don't have any extra space for an electric toothbrush and also worry that it might get broken during the trip.
The Oral-B Pro 2500 electric toothbrush, however, comes with a free travel case for compact storage which helps keep it safe. The travel case is sleek enough to be slipped inside the suitcase.

electric toothbrush

Inside the box you will find a brush, a brush head, a sturdy plastic travel case, a stand with a 2-pin charging cable and an instructions leaflet.
Oral-B Pro 2500 comes in either black or pink.

Most of the electric toothbrushes do a better job of cleaning teeth than a manual one.

What makes Oral-B 2500 different? It's the professionally inspired design of the CrossAction toothbrush. Its bristles are angled at 16 degrees, so it surrounds each tooth you work on, by giving it a thorough 3d cleaning action. It reaches deep between teeth, it rotates, oscillates and pulsates.
If you press your toothbrush too hard, the visible pressure sensor lights up.
It works in two modes - daily clean (comprehensive everyday cleaning) and gum care (it gently stimulates gums).
It also has an in-built timer which would help you to brush your teeth for the recommended 2 minutes. The timer buzzes every 30 seconds to alert you to move to another part of the mouth.

The toothbrush is easy to use. As Oral-B offers a good choice of replacement heads, the Oral-B Pro 2500 is compatible with a wide range of toothbrush heads. To maintain a high level of hygiene and cleanliness, it is recommended to change the toothbrush heads every 3-4 months.

A fully charged Oral-B Pro 2500 electric toothbrush lasts for up to 7 days with regular use. That's again a bonus when you travel.

You might consider buying a 2 to 3-pin/prong adaptor plug. Since we travel quite often, we have plenty of these adaptors, but you might need to get one in case your bathroom doesn't have a 2 pin plug port.

I have already been using an Oral-B electric toothbrush in the past, a different model, and was interested to compare the results. Oral-B Pro 2500 works very effectively. My teeth feel cleaner.
If you compare the electric toothbrush to a manual one, the effect is almost immediate, as the quality of cleaning is superior.

For useful tips and advice on oral care visit Pure Smiles.

Disclosure: I received the toothbrush for the purposes of testing and reviewing. All opinions are my own.

Monday, 24 April 2017

Eldrador Dragon Poacher from Schleich

miniature dragons, collectible dragons

Dragons and fantasy kingdoms have millions of fans. You don't have to be a child to appreciate the art of Schleich minifigures. The Eldrador range from Schleich is a marvellous imaginary kingdom populated with dragons and knights.
While the farm animals and dinosaurs might fascinate younger children, dragons would appeal to older children and grown-ups to. Stage a battle of dragons, or create a fantasy kingdom for your dragon and get immersed in an imaginative play.
The Eldrador range has been recently expanded to include several new dragons - Dragon Ice Hunter, Dragon Night Hunter and Dragon Poacher (priced £14.99 each).

dragon minifigures, collectible dragons

Dragon Poacher is a fierce, powerful warrior, with razor-sharp claws. He breathes fire at his enemies.
"Angry and extremely aggressive, the dragon poacher swoops down at every foe. It is incredibly strong, with razor-sharp teeth and claws and fearsome dragonfire".

dragon toys, collectible dragons

The new Eldrador dragons feature moveable wings which can go up and down.

dragon minifigures

If you visit Schleich website you will discover a fun fact about the dragon poacher - apparently it has one weak spot, which is hidden beneath its crest.
Dragon's dimensions are 9.6x8.1x5.7 inch.
It is suitable for children aged 5-8 (and most likely for any Game of Thrones or Fantastical Beasts fans aged up to 100).

Schleich minifigures are always hand-painted with great precision and attention to detail. The modelling quality is outstanding.

collectible dragons, dragon toys

Its visage is savage and destructive. Just look at those sharp teeth, spikey prickles and devilish horns. Those eyes seem to follow you. He's a merciless hunter, and he's after you.

collectible dragons, dragon toys

For a full Eldrador range and new super ferocious fire-breathing dragons visit Schleich.
Image credits: Schleich
Image credits: Schleich

Disclosure: We received a toy for the purposes of reviewing. All opinions are our own.