Monday, 30 April 2018

April'18 Degustabox

We are always looking forward to our Degustabox delivery, which arrives every month and is full of foodie surprises. This monthly food and drink subscription box is an excellent way to discover products which have only just appeared in the shops or those which might have been around for while, but you haven't had a chance to try them yet.
Thanks to Degustabox, I have found new favourites to add to our shopping list, including some products which I probably wouldn't have tried otherwise.

Each time the box arrives, it's a total surprise. You get a good selection of foods and drinks.
If you haven't tried Degustabox subscription box yet and would like to have a go, I have a whopping £7 off discount from your first box (and you can unsubscribe any time) - just use a code 8EVI8 when you place an order.
What did we receive in the April Degustabox? Let's have a look.

food box

a2Milk Long Life Semi-Skimmed Cows' Milk (£1.50) is a natural milk with a difference. It's naturally free from the A1 protein found in regular cows' milk.
a2 milk is easier to digest than the standard milk. Research has shown that the A1 protein breaks down more slowly in the body, and for some people this could bring on uncomfortable symptoms which are quite similar to lactose intolerance. a2 Milk is not suitable for cows' milk protein allergy.
We have already tried a2 long life milk in cartons, and it tastes just like the normal milk, you can't tell the difference taste-wise.
It's lovely in cereal or frothed for a cup of latte.

long life milk

There are two tomato products from Mutti - passata and finely chopped tomatoes.
This is a new Italian brand for me. Mutti are winners of a prestigious Great Taste Award.

tinned tomatoes

I used a tin of Mutti Polpa (Finely Chopped tomatoes) to cook a Fruity Aubergine and Chickpea curry.
Tinned chopped tomatoes were sweet and ripe, and worked beautifully in a vegetarian curry.

vegan meals

Mutti Passata was a perfect base for a sauce for shakshuka with falafel, another tasty vegan/vegetarian meal. It has a velvety texture and sweet, intense tomato flavour.

vegan dinners

Idahoan's Perfect Mash Roasted Garlic (£1.50) is ready in just 1 minute, simply add boiling water to a bowl and stir in the flakes to make a mound of fluffy mash. It is GM-free and gluten free. You can find this mash in the tinned veg aisle for a quick midweek dinner with fish fingers or bangers.
I confess it's been years since I bought dried mashed potatoes. We haven't tried this product yet, I think I might use it to make fish cakes.

TREK Protein Energy Chunks (£1.15) are packed with precise cold-pressed balance of powerful wholefoods, delivering sustained energy when you need it. They are gluten free and vegan, and count as 1 of your 5 a day. There are two flavours - Cocoa Peanut Peak (high protein fruit, peanut, oat and crunch chunks) and Toffee Triumph (high protein fruit, nut, oat & crunch chunks).

protein balls

protein source

N!ck's Kexbar is a Swedish crispy chocolate wafer with vanilla cream, covered in milk chocolate. It is gluten free and has no added sugar. Nutritional values: 195kcal per wafer.

sugar free wafer

It is a crunchy melt-in-the-mouth wafer. You can find N!ck's products on Amazon, and use code DEGUSTA1 for 20% discount.

sugar free treats

The Food Doctor Full of Beans Protein Mix and Smokin' Edamame Mix (£1) are great as mid-morning savoury snacks. They contain a blend of corn and beans, high in fibre and are a good source of protein. Nutritional values: 127-128kcal per pack.

savoury protein snacks

LioBites Strawberry & Banana Smoothie Bites (£2.25) are 100% natural fruit crisps made with the ripest and sweetest fruit in season to ensure the maximum nutrition and vitamins are retained. The fruits are quickly frozen and then dried to achieve a sweet, crunchy fruit crisp.
Vegan, gluten free, no added sugar and 1 of 5 a day.

healthy snacks

Milkybar Wowsomes will please Milkybar chocolate fans. These milk & white chocolate mini bars have crispy oat cereal in a creamy tasting centre.
Nutritional information: 30% less sugar, no artificial sweeteners, colours, flavours or preservatives,
95kcal per bar. They are little treats which are handy to have with you, for when you need a sweet treat.

sweet treats with less sugar

sweet treats with less sugar

HARIBO Giant Strawbs are giant in flavour and in size. This is a traditional pick and mix treat. Strawberry shaped and flavoured, and boasting its own unique texture, they are suitable for vegetarians. A portion of 2 sweets (25g) contains over 10g of sugar and about 83kcal. One pack is 5 portions.
My boys love Haribos, and strawberries are among their favourites.

sweet treats

Juicy Fuel Cola (£2) is a cola made from entirely natural ingredients, with no added sugar, no artificial sweeteners and no preservatives. It also counts as one of your five a day, as its ingredients include fruit juices from concentrate (white grape, lemon and blueberry).
It contains 125kcal per can. It is still quite sweet, saying that, it is a pleasant and refreshing carbonated juice drink.
There are two flavours included in the non-alcohol version of the Degustabox.

soft drinks

Lucozade Energy Orange (£1.10) is a sparkling orange glucose drink with sugars and sweeteners. It is best served chilled, straight from the fridge. This energy drink has quite a lot of sugar (17g) and comes at 133kcal per bottle.

HappyDown Lychee Guava Chilli is a refreshing alcoholic premix. This drink will be found in the alcohol version of Degustabox, as it is blended with fortified wine. I'm curious to try it, but waiting for a warmer day, when we could have a BBQ. I imagine chilli adds a spicy note to the cocktail.

Mindful Bites Squeeze Sachets (£1.49) are a premium brand of unique nut butters blended with superfoods and highly innovative snacks. You will receive one of 4 flavours.
The sachets are light, mess-free and tasty, and will make a great addition to any lunchbox (if you don't have a nut allergy).
The creative flavours included are Almond & Maca, Hazelnut & Berries, Brazil Nuts & Cacao Nibs and Cashew Nuts & Baobab.

healthy snacks

Disclosure: We receive a monthly food box from Degustabox for the purposes of reviewing. All opinions are our own.

Sunday, 29 April 2018

Ravensburger What IF? No.16 - The Wedding, 1000pc jigsaw puzzle

wedding-themed jigsaw puzzle
Ravensburger What IF? No.16 - The Wedding; Image credits: Ravensburger

Wedding bells are in the air. The Royal wedding is less than three weeks away, and you can't escape the excitement, whether you want it or not. The shops are offering a vast array of wedding-themed goodies, from the official commemorative china of all kinds to lifesize cardboard cutouts of Harry and Meghan. Just today we spotted wedding Percy Pigs in M&S.
You might be planning a big street party to celebrate the event, spend the day glued to the TV or completely ignore the hullabaloo.

What better way to celebrate a Royal wedding than with an amusing wedding-themed jigsaw puzzle?

Ravensburger What IF? - The Wedding 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle is no.16 in this popular comedy series. The picture on the box shows what the characters would like to happen.

best jigsaw puzzles
Ravensburger What IF? No.16 - The Wedding; Image credits: Ravensburger

The finished result shows what's actually happened.

This series of puzzles comes without a picture clue printout, so you're in for a big surprise.
It's suitable for ages 12+, and measures 70x50cm when complete.
Like all Ravensburger jigsaw puzzles, it is made from strong premium grade cardboard, with linen finish to minimise glare on puzzle image.

It is the second What IF? jigsaw puzzle that I've enjoyed. It is great fun.
I always start with finding the edge pieces and building a frame. Then you need to sort out the colours and begin filling in the picture. If there are words, it's easier to group them together.

The series is created by a well-known and much-admired artist and cartoonist Geoff Tristram. His work can be found on fine art prints, collector's plates, greeting cards, postage stamps and jigsaw puzzles.
Each puzzle in the series presents a comic scene. The Wedding is a gentle parody of the big event. The box image portrays the dream wedding, as imagined by the bride. She looks adoringly at her new husband, who gives a speech, proclaiming his bride to look stunning. The guests look well-dressed and respectable.
And then we piece together the puzzle... and discover the groom's ideal wedding, which turns into a chaotic carnival of colour.

SPOILER ALERT: If you don't want to know what the end result is, stop reading this post now.

best jigsaw puzzles

This amusing puzzle will be a perfect gift for any jigsaw puzzle fan.

best jigsaw puzzles

I wish Meghan and Harry all the best on their big day, though I won't be watching it. It's just I'm not really interested in weddings, and haven't watched Kate and William's wedding either. I remember I went shopping on the day of the Royal wedding, and the town centre was like a ghost town. The supermarket was totally empty.
I might bake a cake for my guys, and if the weather is nice, we'll go out for a walk.
I'm sure the Royal wedding will go without a glitch, and Meghan and Harry's guests will behave themselves. Or do you reckon someone will arrive dressed up as a giant banana?

best jigsaw puzzles, Royal wedding merch

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

Saturday, 28 April 2018

Photo diary: week 17, project 365

It seems the weather can't decide what it wants to be. It was a funny week, with rain most days, but also very bright sunny spells, all changing rapidly in a matter of a few hours, from rain to sun back to rain.
The previous Friday and Saturday were so hot that Eddie asked me to buy him shorts for school. We bought them on Sunday, and jinxed it. It's been raining every day since Monday, so shorts remain untouched.
On Sunday Eddie and I popped into the local Gregg's. They already know us quite well, and reach for the sausage roll before I even open my mouth to place an order. So, here is our obligatory sausage roll photo of the week. I thought you might have missed one of them last week.

There are days when I take zillions of photos, and there are days when I hardly take any. Last Monday I only did photos of the Ravensburger What IF? puzzle for the review which is coming shortly. Rather than post a photo of the puzzle, I'm going to cheat and do two photos from Tuesday.
My friend Jen took me to two garden centres by car. We went to Bampton only to discover all the tomato grobags were sold out, and later we went to the Burford garden centre, where I got the grobags and tomato plants.
I love this beautiful statue in the garden, surrounded by magnolia bloom.

garden sculpture

Meanwhile, my own garden is full of tulips, mostly red, but there are a couple of white ones too.

spring flowers

Teddy Bears of Witney shop always does topical window displays, like this one, celebrating the forthcoming Royal wedding.

On Thursday morning my husband and I visited the local vegan cafe for a cup of coffee and a slice of cake. The cake looked better than it tasted, it was what I would call joy-free, rather dry and disappointing.

RAF Brize Norton is not that far from us, and you often see airplanes flying pretty low over our town.

Today Eddie and I had to do a lot of shopping, including buying new trainers for him at Clarks, as his current trainers got too small for him. £40 for child's trainers seems a total racket. We walked through the fields into town, it was empty, I was singing Walking like an Egyptian to Eddie and showing him the moves. He looked around, just in case someone might see his embarrassing Mum, but copied me.

Thursday, 26 April 2018

Shakshuka with falafel

vegan dinners, vegan meals

This morning my husband invited me to have a cup of coffee at the vegan cafe. I have passed it by many times, as it's in a very central location, but haven't visited it, since it was rebranded. It used to be a funny little place called Chomsky (loved that name. Having studied linguistics at Uni, I found that name endearing and quirky). Can't say I was a frequent visitor either, but I've been there a few times.
Now it's a cafe called Eden, which serves vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free meals.
We ordered a coconut latte and a slice of pistachio cake. Alas, we were't impressed with the coffee, it tasted bitter and even sour.
The pistachio cake was dry and insipid.

While waiting for our lattes, I was browsing the latest issue of PlantBased magazine. I haven't seen this magazine before, and was curious to have a look. There were quite a few recipes which caught my eye, including a shakshuka with falafel. I believe the recipe comes from Aine Carlin's new vegan cook book called Cook Share Eat Vegan.

Shakshuka (or shakshouka) recipes that I know of always have eggs as one of the main ingredients. Being vegan, this recipe swaps eggs for falafels.
I'm not vegan, and have no plans to go vegan, but I do enjoy trying new ideas. I was very curious to give it a go.
I love aubergines, so any new recipe with them is a big magnet for me.

I tried to google the exact recipe to add the link here, but I couldn't find it.

What I cooked is a simplified version of Aine's recipe. She served it beautifully with pomegranates and a tahini dip on the side, and also authentic flatbreads, while I bought a pack of mini pittas.

Shakshuka with falafel
4tbsp olive oil
1 red onion
1 red chilli, deseeded and chopped finely
1 aubergine
2 cloves of garlic
a pack of tomatoes (225g)
1tsp paprika
1/2tsp cinnamon
1/2tsp cumin seeds (optional)
1/2tsp caraway seeds (optional)
a pinch of sugar
400g passata (e.g. Mutti passata)
1tbsp tomato paste
1tbsp pomegranate molasses (optional)
a pack of sweet potato falafel

vegan meals

Start by frying one finely chopped red onion in 1tbsp of olive oil. Cook, stirring for about 5 minutes, then add a deseeded and chopped chilli pepper (or use chilli paste instead).
Peel and cube the aubergine, add to the frying pan with more oil. Season with sea salt and all spices and add chopped garlic. Cook for about 5-6 minutes, stirring, until all the cubes are coated in onion oil mix.
Place tomatoes in a pan, pour hot boiling water over them and leave for half a minuted, then drain the water and pour cold water over them. The skins will be easy to remove then.
Chop the tomatoes and add to the aubergine, stir well. Cook for a couple of minutes, then pour in the contents of passata bottle, tomato paste and pomegranate molasses. Add a dash of water to the sauce and stir. Bring to boil, then lower the heat and cook simmering for about 25 minutes until the aubergine is soft.
Molasses add depth to the sauce, but could easily be omitted, or swapped for balsamic vinegar.

vegan dinners

Pour the sauce in a deep ceramic dish, insert the falafels in and cook altogether in the oven at 180C for about 10 minutes.
Serve hot with pitta bread (or flatbreads).

vegan meals

The sauce was very tasty, and I will be doing it again. I used Mutti Passata, which was delivered with the latest Degustabox. It has a velvety texture and sweet, intense tomato flavour.

Wednesday, 25 April 2018

A Colourful Death by Carola Dunn

books set in Cornwall, cozy mystery

Inconspicuous little ladies who like to poke their noses where they shouldn't and enjoy solving mysteries do hold a special place in the cozy mystery genre, from Miss Marple to Miss Maud Silver, from Tish Carberry to Jessica Fletcher (spin-off the TV series Murder, She Wrote).
An elderly widow Eleanor Trewyn appears in the Cornish mystery series by Carola Dunn.

A Colourful Death by is the second book in the series.
The main protagonist and sleuth Eleanor is an oddball who enjoys Aikido and who has travelled the world before settling in a small Cornish town, working for LonStar (a variation of Oxfam) charity shop.
She is endearing and annoying in equal measure. Like most amateur sleuths in books, she accidentally happens to be in the right place when the crime has been committed (or should that be the wrong place?).
Eleanor loves her little dog and companion Teasle. She doesn't have children of her own, so she sort of adopts her neighbour next door, the local artist Nick Gresham.
He is in a big pickle this time, being accused of the murder of another local artist Geoffrey Monmouth. It so happens that Nick's paintings have been slashed in a pique by the resentful Geoffrey (who as an artist was less talented and successful).
Nick, and Eleanor who felt she had to tag along, of course, go to have it out with him, and arrive to the studio to find a stabbed body in a pool of red (hence the colourful death of the title).

The victim is so ridiculously horrid, it's a wonder he actually survived for so long. Hardly anyone can say anything nice about him, apart from his hysterical girlfriend who accused Nick of slaying Geoffrey.
As the story unfolds, you meet a colourful array of the arty commune, who all live on a farm.
All the arty characters are wonderfully stereotypical, one way or another. They all have a reason to dislike or even hate Geoffrey.

As in the first book, we meet Eleanour's best friend Jocelyn (she's the vicar's wife).
The grumpiest DI Scumble and DS Megan Pencarrow (the first female police officer in the area) who happens to be Eleanor's niece are assigned to investigate the murder.
But of course, it's Eleanor's sleuthing skills that help solve the murder.

The setting is quite amusing and entertaining, if you like cosy mysteries set in quaint little places.
Unfortunately, I guessed who-done-it very early in the book.

It's a quick and easy read, albeit predictable, with a rather obvious ending.
I will keep reading the books in the series, since I actually bought a whole set of four from The Book People. It's the Cornish setting and pretty covers that have enticed me yet again. Can't resist a book set in Cornwall.

cozy mystery, books set in Cornwall

If you enjoy reading books set in Cornwall and liked my review, may I bring your attention to the other reviews I wrote on books set in Cornwall:

The Cornish Guest House by Emma Burstall

Christmas at the Cornish Cafe by Phillipa Ashley

In a Cottage in a Wood by Cass Green

Meet Me At Wisteria Cottage by Teresa F.Morgan

The Cornish House by Liz Fenwick

I'd be happy if you could recommend me a good story set in Cornwall (apart from the usual suspects, like Jamaica Inn or the Poldark series).

Tuesday, 24 April 2018

Roqberry tea

smokey tea

"Tea in a crisis," she said. "I wonder why we British always feel consoled by a cup of bloody tea".
Murderous Mayhem at Honeychurch Hall, Hannah Dennison

"Fenworth nodded. "Yes, yes. Urgent, deadly, insidious. The world is in peril and we must rise against evil". The old wizard released the general and patted him on the shoulder. "Tea and cake first, don't you think?"
DragonQuest, Donita K.Paul

Isn't it ironic how much we depend on tea in stressful situations?! Tea itself might not be the solution to all problems, but it surely helps to calm down and reassess, or revive and just soldier on. At least, that is true in my situation. Can't function without it.
Finding and exploring new tea brands and flavours is an exciting quest.

Roqberry tea is one of my latest tea discoveries. This new British brand has an extensive and varied collection of inspiring hand blended fusions and single source variety teas.

They set out their philosophy rather eloquently: "Each flavour invokes a sense of adventure experienced in its full-bodied and spine tingling aftertaste. Roqberry is set to blend the rules for foodies and tea drinkers alike".

Roqberry range starts with 17 varieties in total: nine tea blends, six infusions and two speciality tea legends. New flavours are promised to be added to the range throughout the year.

Nine tea blends are inspired by the world cuisines, which is an intriguing concept. Would you be tempted to try Sushi & Spice tea, which is hailed as "Tokyo in e teacup, with a moreish blend of savoury and spiky aromatic flavours"? And how about Rooibos S'mores, which invokes the images of the American marshmallow treats roasted in the bonfire?

Roqberry tea comes in high quality biodegradable silky teabags.

1 full box of 18 teabags costs £6, while a gift sleeve including a 3 box selection comes at £18.

modern tea flavours

The Big Smoke is described as "smoky and sophisticated with a malty swagger, this swingin' supergroup of black teas captures the lively London spirit. Wake up to the biggest baddest breakfast blend of them all".
This is a blend of Indian Assam Black tea, Chinese Yunnan Black tea and Lapsang Souchong Black tea.
I enjoy smoky teas, and The Big Smoke didn't disappoint. It's a beautiful refreshing brew, a good wake-me-up breakfast tea.

breakfast tea

Citrus Grey Black tea is a modern variation on a classic Earl Grey, described by Roqberry as "Natural bergamot meets gentle floral elegance and cheeky bursts of citrus for a smooth, sunny take on good old uncle Earl. Great taste runs in the family".
Its ingredients include Sri Lankan Black tea, lemon peel, lemongrass, lavender, calendula petals and natural bergamot flavouring.
Lavender in tea is not a novelty idea, and having tried many teas with lavender I admit I'm not a huge fan, as it often becomes the most prominent note. Citrus Grey balances all flavours well, but I'd still skip the lavender altogether.

Roqberry tea

Sweet Grapefruit Green tea is a fruity and zingy brew. "Notes of caramelised grapefruit marry beautifully with green tea for a light, refreshing blend".
Ingredients: Chinese Sencha green tea, liquorice, natural flavouring.

Roqberry tea

The colour is light straw. This tea would appeal to green tea fans.

Roqberry tea

Orange & Root Green tea promises "zingy bursts of orange [which] embrace the earthiness of beetroot for a green tea that'll lift your spirits yet keep you grounded. Fruit and veg in equal measure".
Ingredients include Chinese Sencha green tea, Japanese Sencha green tea, apple pieces, rosehip, hibiscus, beetroot, pomegranate flowers, orange peel, rose petals, natural flavouring;
It is off-red in colour, the flavour is quite mild.
The orange note is not as pronounced as I'd like it to be.
This tea didn't quite deliver its promise. The colour was somewhat insipid, and the taste rather unidentified.

Roqberry tea

Peppermint Cream Oolong is a delightful combination of cooling peppermint leaves with naturally creamy Chinese oolong, with cocoa shells and cocoa nibs, as well as liquorice.

Roqberry tea

Disclosure: I received several samples of Roqberry tea for the purposes of testing and reviewing. All opinions are my own.

Roqberry tea