Wednesday, 14 November 2018

Mushroom, sweet potato and chestnut burgers

vegetarian burger

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

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

vegetarian burgers

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

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

vegetarian burgers

Since I used vacuum-packed chestnuts (bought almost a year ago for Christmas, though still not out of date), I'm adding this recipe to #KitchenClearout linky run by Cheryl at Madhouse Family Reviews.

Sunday, 11 November 2018

Photo diary: week 45, project 365

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

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

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

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

vegetarian burgers

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

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

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

Saturday, 10 November 2018

The Promise of Tomorrow by AnneMarie Brear #BlogTour

books set during WWI

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 9 November 2018

Make'n'Break game from Ravensburger

educational board games for children

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

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

board games for children aged 8+

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

fun board games for children

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

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

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

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

fun board games for children aged 8+

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

fun board games for children aged 8+

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

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

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

fun building games for children aged 8+

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

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

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

fun board games for children aged 8+

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

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

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

Saturday, 3 November 2018

Photo diary: week 44, project 365

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 31 October 2018

Pumpkin, sweet potato and lentil soup

what to do with leftover pumpkin

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

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

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

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

easy soup with pumpkin

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

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

what to do with leftover pumpkin

what to do with leftover pumpkin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kilgharah the dragon pumpkin

In the last couple of months, Eddie and I have been binge-watching 5 seasons of Merlin.
After the very last episode we were let bereft. I suggested we could watch it on a loop.
It was inevitable that our favourite dragon Kilgharah will appear on this year's carved pumpkin.

carved pumpkin ideas

carved pumpkin, Merlin's dragon

Halloween decor

Merlin's dragon

Are you carving a pumpkin for Halloween?

Happy Halloween!

Monday, 29 October 2018

Spooky Halloween Cocktails

It's Halloween on Wednesday. Are you ready to party?

I will carve a pumpkin tomorrow, and might do some fun themed bakes for my boys, but otherwise we don't do much. We don't go trick or treating, as most of our neighbours are pensioners who would be chasing you with broomsticks if you dared knocking on their door for treats.

To get you in the festive mood, I have a few fabulous cocktail inspiration ideas for your delectation.

Quench a deadly thirst with a classic Dark and Stormy.
You will need 50ml Dark aged rum, 120ml Ginger beer, 5ml freshly squeezed lime juice and ice cubes.
I had a bottle of Supermalt Ginger beer, thanks to the latest Degustabox delivery, as well as a leaflet with three cocktail recipes. Dark and Stormy sounded like a great match for the season.
The rum I used in the cocktail is a spicy rum rather than dark, but it is still a tasty combination, albeit rather strong.

Royal Lancaster London is brewing some special magical potions this year in preparation for Halloween. If you dare, try Royal Lancaster London's cocktails specially created for this spooky season.
Following a mega £85 million renovation - or re-"vamp" - the hotel is thrilled to be serving these delicious and spooky cocktails.

Devil Daiquiri and Witch Margarita are priced at £15 and served in both Hyde Bar and Park Lounge Bar at the hotel. However, if you are not able to visit London at Halloween, you might want to recreate these colourful cocktails.

Devil Daiquiri
50g Bacardi rum
25ml lime juice
15ml orgeat syrup
5ml grenadine
4 blackberries

Devil Daiquiri : image credits - Royal Lancaster London

Witch Margarita
35ml Olmeca tequila
15ml Cointreau
25ml lime juice
3 blueberries
3 blackberries

Witch Margarita: image credits - Royal Lancaster London
And here are two more Halloween cocktail recipes created by Head Mixologist for Mothership Group, Chris McGovern.
Slayers Sour with blood orange was available at The Book Club for The Buffy The Vampire party.

Slayers Sour
2.5ml Grenadine for the rim
5ml Monin Ginger syrup
35 ml Lemon juice
15ml Grapefruit juice
15ml Solerno Blood Orange liqueur
35 ml Four Roses Whiskey
Method: Shake and strain
1. Dip the rim of the rocks glass in grenadine, leave there to drip down the glass whilst making cocktail.
2. Add all the ingredients to a Boston glass and shake.
3. Single strain over cubed ice in the rocks glass.

Image credits: MotherShip Team

Dr Frank N Further's Mai Poisen (which was available at Hoxton Square Bar & Kitchen on the left for Rocky Horror Disco Halloween Party) is another smashing spooky cocktail

Mai Poisen (Tropical Mai Tai)
35ml Orange juice
35ml Pineapple juice
5ml Orgeat Syrup
10ml Blue Curacao
15ml Lime juice
MInt sprig
35ml Appleton's Estate Signature Blend Rum
15ml Cointreau

Method : build
1. Fill rocks glass fully with ice.
2. Add Mint Sprig
3. Add Rum & Cointreau, then serve with the medicine bottle filled with a mixture of the above ingredients.

Image credits: MotherShip Team

Be brave - try something new this Halloween!

Image credits: MotherShip Team