Friday, 31 August 2018

Farewell to summer

Ah, summer holidays, summer holidays, why do you have to come to an end? We loved that it didn't matter if we went to bed almost at midnight, or stayed in PJs until midday, who was there to judge?! We could have a picnic in the garden, read books in the summerhouse, pick strawberries from the strawberry patch (those that were't munched by the slugs first), have water fights in the garden and visit the milk shake shop on a hot afternoon...

What would we remember of summer 2018, when we look back? The longest heatwave?

In June we planned a 5-days-long adventure with Eddie when Sasha went on a residential trip to Butlins with his class. It didn't end as planned, as Sasha didn't cope with the change from routine, so we had to cut our adventure short.
But we still had a fabulous day at Legoland...

And a day in Brighton... staying in the room with the best view...

We enjoyed longer walks through the flood fields by the river Windrush...

Loved picking a handful of red currants after dinner...

Visited Sasha's new school...

Spent a small fortune in cafes...

Were ecstatic on the flight simulator.

Relished every minute of flying high on the swings...

Some of us were so tired after the playground antics, that we had to stop in town and have a little lie-in on the bench before going back home.

And then there was a fun birthday party for Eddie...

August was more of the same - leisurely trips into town, playground and cafes.
I took one zillion photos during our trip to Sennen Cove, Cornwall, and Eddie and I had fun, arranging some of them in a short video.

We also baked cakes and cupcakes, made fudge, watched lots of films, played football and read many wonderful books.

Farewell, summer! Hello, autumn!

And since Eddie is the main editor of my iphone movies, here is another Eddie-fest of summer memories.

Wednesday, 29 August 2018

Honey and matcha muffins

what to do with matcha tea

Did you watch the first episode of the GBBO yesterday? In the past I used to watch it on the iplayer, but since earlier this year Channel 4 dropped off the iplayer on our TV (or the other way around), I can only watch it on the laptop or ipad which is not ideal.
Since my dear husband is enjoying himself at the Venice film festival, the TV was available in the evening (otherwise he'd be glued to Netflix or Amazon, watching one thousandth episode of some American series).
A few days ago I was looking at the list of contestants on my ipad, and commented to my men - though more talking to myself - that most likely the first person to leave would be a pensioner, and all the young cuties would be kept until the victorious end, whether they are good bakers or not.
As it happened, I was wrong, the pensioner stayed, saved by a whisker (or should that be a moustache?!) after creating a very arty self-portrait in a brandy snap shaped as a postmortem mask. It was utterly bonkers and brilliant at the same time.
The young ladies were pouting and whingeing, but stayed put. So far I decided to root for Terry, Rahul and Antony.

One of the contestants, a super-confident French girl named Manon, used matcha in one of her creations. Which made me think that I do have a couple of tins of matcha tea in the kitchen.
I bought them with the best of intentions of staying healthy. The problem with matcha tea for me is that I don't like the flavour, it is like drinking powdered green algae off the stagnating water. Well, maybe marginally better.

I have tried in the past to make pancakes with matcha tea, but they were not met enthusiastically by my family.

Shall I try again to bake something with matcha? I wanted something simple and easy, no decorations or frosting, just something sweet for tea.
I also have several jars of honey in different degrees of crystallization. Would mixing honey and matcha work?

And here it is  - a recipe for honey and matcha muffins.

easy muffins for tea

Honey and matcha muffins
2 medium eggs
100g caster sugar
a pinch of salt
260g self-raising flour
1tsp baking powder
225ml milk
65g butter, melted
90g honey
2tsp matcha

In a deep mixing bowl beat two eggs with caster sugar. Add a pinch of salt, sift in flour and baking powder. Pour in milk, stir in together. Melt the butter and honey (if crystallised) and mix in the cake batter.
Pour one third of the cake batter in a smaller mixing bowl and add the matcha. Mix together until well combined.

Place cupcake cases into a muffin tin and fill in with the cake batter, in whatever patterns you desire. I made some plain honey ones, plain matcha ones and a mix of both.
Put the muffin tin into an oven preheated to 180C. Bake for about 18-20 minutes until the toothpick comes clean.
Remove from the tin to a wire rack. Eat warm, with tea or without.

easy honey muffins

The boys looked suspiciously at the muffins, but Sasha, strangely enough, ate two of them. Eddie opted for the plain honey one, as I thought he would.
They might look a tad scary (I'm not a GBBO material, and my bakes would give vapors to Prue and Paul), but actually taste pretty good.

I still have plenty of matcha left. Any suggestions on what to do with it, apart from the obvious drinking as tea?

what to do with leftiver matcha tea

Since I used some old-ish honey (and cleared one of the jars) and some of the nearly-forgotten matcha (there's still plenty left), I'm adding this recipe to #KitchenClearout linky at Madhouse Family Reviews, hosted by lovely Cheryl.

Monday, 27 August 2018

Penhaligon's Attic by Terri Nixon

books set in Cornwall

It has become almost a tradition: when I'm off to Cornwall for a week, I take a couple of paperbacks set in Cornwall with me. Of course, I read novels with the Cornish setting at home as well.
I picked up a couple of Terri Nixon's books as part of 3 for a fiver deal at The Works.

Penhaligon's Attic is the first book in the Penhaligon Saga series.
It's set in a Cornish coastal village in 1910, though the narrative begins in 1899, when an 8-year-old girl Freya is hurrying home to celebrate her birthday. Her Spanish mother Isabel is deeply dissatisfied with her life and is eager to escape to a life of comfort which she knew in her early days. Freya's father Matthew is a talented story-teller with a great love of sea, but he's weak when it comes to alcohol. It's this addiction that nearly cost him the life of his beloved child and his livelihood. His past will haunt him for many years to come.

The descriptions of Cornwall are beautifully written and feel authentic, both geographically and emotionally. You can almost feel the chilly sea breeze and taste the sea salt on your lips. The rugged grandeur of the Cornish coastline is as much  a character in the book, as its main protagonists. It gives the livelihoods to many of the village's inhabitants, and it's a great entity to reckon with. It can easily destroy you.

Anna Garvey and her daughter Mairead arrive to the village to take over the ancient pub which belonged to her family for centuries. It's dark, dirty and smelly, and looked after by an unreliable lazy working couple, the Trevellicks.
They reminded me very much of the Poldark's servants Jud and Prudie, colourful characters who are not that keen on work.
Anna is being all secretive and mysterious about her own past and the reasons behind her decision to come to Cornwall from Ireland. Most of the villagers distrust her motives.
Mairead is suffering from epilepsy, and is treated as a simpleton by many. In fact, she is intelligent and has a great talent for mathematics. Nowadays she would be called as having special needs (maybe even being on the spectrum for her struggle with social conventions?). Her rather abrupt manner and inability to hide her feelings make her appear rude. But she has a heart of gold.

Freya and Mairead become friends, while trying to keep the family business afloat - the eponymous Penhaligon's Attic - which is the second-hand bookshop. I'd love to browse in that old book shop with its untidy shelves, it sounds like my kind of haven.

The past is just round the corner, and threatens to destroy any stability and a hint of happiness.
The story is slow-moving, so if you prefer a fast-paced narrative, perhaps this is not a book for you.

Penhaligon's Attic is a powerful emotional read that will keep you guessing to the end. I can't wait to start reading the second book in the series.

books set in Cornwall, historical family saga

Sunday, 26 August 2018

Photo diary: week 34, project 365

In case you were wondering what has happened to my photo diary week 33, we were travelling that weekend, and I haven't mastered the art of adding photos to my blog, using the iphone. So, I'll skip that week altogether, "stealing" one of the days from that week to add to my week 34. As it is all about our holiday to Cornwall, it makes total sense. Well, at least to me...

On Saturday we had one hell of a day, travelling to Penzance from Oxford by train. The train was packed full, and some entitled people were already sitting in the seats which we reserved in advance.
Travelling with Sasha is stressful enough without an added pressure. He needs 2:1 assistance while travelling, so we always book seats to alleviate his anxiety and safeguard him.
The family of cheeky f***ers didn't want to budge, claiming that they had a full right to sit there without any reservation, and there was nothing we could do. There was nobody around to complain to. Thankfully, two seats were offered by people who travelled separately and didn't mind to go elsewhere. We couldn't really split up and sit by ourselves. It's not safe for Sasha, and he would suffer from a panic attack or hurt himself. Anyway, we wouldn't consider it.
Eddie got a seat, and I was standing next to him for about an hour and a half, until more people left.
The cheeky f***ers' family also put a pushchair in the narrow entrance by the suitcases, with the baby inside. When we were getting in, with my hands full of bags, I tripped over the wheel and managed to fall backwards, hitting the back pretty bad. Again, the woman didn't bother even to apologise or ask me if I was all right. I'm glad I didn't overturn the buggy with the baby, but it was such a hazard. Some people have no brain or consideration for the others.
When we finally arrived to the cottage in Sennen Cove where we stayed for a week, I was delighted with the view from just outside the door over the bay and the sea. It's simply breathtaking.

This was our first visit to Sennen Cove. I will be writing about the village and the cottage where we stayed separately. Usually we go to Perranuthnoe, and for Sasha that place means Cornwall.
For him any change is a cause of anxiety, and he was quite unsettled through the whole week.
He kept showing me the picture symbols in his social story books -"home", "bus", "taxi", "drive", "ready to go" every day. It was clear he didn't want to stay there. Lesson learnt, we have booked the next year's holiday already in the cottage which he knows well.
Here he is, giving me an Eskimo kiss. The beach was very foggy that day, it was beautiful but eerie.

It was clear that the summer was coming to an end. I think we only had one hot afternoon from the whole week, and most days I was wearing a cardi or even a mac to the beach.
Here is the "obligatory" jumping-on-the-beach photo we do every year in Cornwall. And yes, every year I look ridiculous.

Eddie loves playing in the waves, but squeaks when they get rough, and rightly so. On a few days we were there the poster by the sea was announcing that the currents were strong.

Half way through the holiday, my impractical husband decided to buy a surf board for Eddie. Yes, such a brilliant idea. Eddie was thrilled, of course.

On Thursday evening it was so fresh and blustery, we decided to skip an evening walk to the beach, and explore a bit of the area above the village, with the Mayon Cliff which is the National Trust area. It's amazingly beautiful, with miles of wild erica and gorse bush.
I love everything about this photo, and will probably turn it into a canvas for Eddie's bedroom.

Friday was cold and wet. We did dare to go to the beach, but got caught in the rain on the way back. I like the look of this old funicular. I don't know if it's still in use.

Yesterday morning we said Good Bye to Sennen Cove and Captain's Haven. As we were waiting for the taxi to take us to Penzance train station, two paragliders were gliding over the cottage.

Monday, 20 August 2018

Gravitrax Expansion Trax and Add Ons

interactive track set

Summer holidays boredom? No such thing, if you have a GraviTrax play set in your house. Young engineers will have a blast, testing the power of gravity and using their imagination, while building dazzling engineering constructions, from easy-peasy to super-complicated.

We have already reviewed a GraviTrax starter set earlier this summer, and today we'll show you how you can expand the set.

I can promise you, you will get hooked.

The STEM system - Science, Technology Engineering and Maths - is a super tool to teach children about gravity, magnetism, kinetic energy and fun.

For all add-ons which we show today, you will need a GraviTrax Starter Set.
It is suitable for ages 8+, but a younger child will enjoy it as well, with an adult supervision (but not the preschoolers due to small parts).

GraviTrax Expansion trax (£19.99) is only playable with a starter set. It promises to take your run to a whole new level.
The set contains 16 large height tiles, 8 small height tiles, 7 curves, 1 junction, 1 long track, 2 medium tracks, 3 short tracks and 6 balls.
It is an excellent add-on set, which allows you to expand your engineering construction even further.
We'd love to have a booklet with instructions and blueprints, and new models and tracks to build, with step by step, but it doesn't seem to appear with this set.

interactive track system

The Gravitrax Loop adds another cool element to the layout. You need to employ your engineering grey cells to figure out how to make the sphere shoot through the loop and keep on going rather than falling flat inside the loop.

We shot a series of very short, a few seconds-long videos to show just how the loop works.
We recreated the tracks A and B from a tiny leaflet with blueprints, which was very helpful.

Track A from the instructions leaflet.

And in case you missed the looping action, here it is in slow motion, close-up;

Moving onto the second track from the instructions:

And again, the looping bit in close up and slow motion to see how the ball makes the loop:

Very impressive add-on.

We were less successful with the Gravitrax Add On Catapult. It looks pretty cool, and is not that difficult to assemble, but the arm with the bucket does not stay lowered down. It's possible the rubber band is too tight, as it's brand new.

interactive track system

In theory, you should be able to throw mini-spheres in the air and make sure they land and finish the track.
I will wait to see how the other bloggers make it work, and hopefully figure it out.

Disclosure: We received a selection of Gravitrax Add ons for the purposes of testing and reviewing. All opinions are our own.

Monday, 13 August 2018

Days Out No.1: The Stately Home 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle from Ravensburger

best jigsaw puzzles

Mention stately homes - what memories do they bring? Happy days with friends and families, exploring the fascinating places of interest?
(Not according to Mumsnet - there is a eye-opening series of threads about toxic parents called "But we took you to stately homes..." - if you have a spare hour or two, it is quite a disturbing riveting read.)

Thankfully for me stately homes bring only positive associations and beautiful memories of dear friends. I arrived to the UK as a young student all those years ago, and was "adopted" by several British and American friends who became my close family here. Among many other things, they took me around the country on trips to palaces and stately homes.
I remember picking raspberries at pick-your-own at Buscot Park, admiring the most wonderful arts and crafts at Kelmscott Manor, oohing and aahing at the amazing gardens in Sudeley Castle etc.
Those dear friends of mine are gone now, but memories remain...

Why am I going all nostalgic about stately homes? I was recently working on a colourful 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle from Ravensburger's range Days Out No.1 - The Stately Home.

jigsaw puzzle gifts

This is the first in a series of puzzles, depicting lovely days out, and families and friends enjoying their time together.
The puzzle shows a typical stately home, and everything it has to offer.

The family depicted in the foreground has a laugh together and enjoys a picnic. They reminded me of the picnics by the lake at the Blenheim palace, where I used to work as a palace assistant years ago.
They are well-prepared for their picnic, just look at the size of that pitcher!

There are inevitable ducks (or dreadful geese in the Blenheim park) which are very much interested in the picnic and all it has to offer.

An amateur photographer is admiring a vintage car.

best jigsaw puzzles

An elderly grandpa offers his granddaughter a pair of binoculars. Rather than look at the marvellous display of kites and aeroplanes over the lake, the little girl looks elsewhere, maybe at the migrating birds above the manor house.
The stately home itself is a beautiful work of architecture, elegant and imposing. Imagine which stories it could tell about its owners.

The lake is busy with boats. There are so many details to discover in the puzzle. This bright cheerful scene was created for Ravensburger by the artist Andy Walker.
The finished jigsaw measures 70x50cm. It's suitable for ages 12+.

Like all Ravensburger puzzles, The Stately Home is made from strong premium grade cardboard, with linen finish to minimise glare on the puzzle iage.

This joyful cheery puzzle will make a great gift for any jigsaw puzzle fan.

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

Saturday, 11 August 2018

Photo diary: week 32, project 365

Another week of summer holidays has made its quick retreat. We're already half-way through the summer break until the school is back. I enjoy having more leisurely mornings, and not having to worry about lunch boxes and school uniforms, but having two boys at home is also a lot of pressure.
On Sunday we came to say Hello to Sasha and Papa, when they were in cafe Nero.

On Monday I was "playing" with one of the latest Schleich Eldrador Creatures in the garden, trying to find an interesting background for taking photos for my blog post.

It ended up for the time being on the shelf with Eddie's birthday cards. Though his birthday was two weeks ago, he still wants to cards to be on display.

Looking through an old wooden chest full of soft toys, we came across this quartet of doggies. They belonged to Sasha when he was very little.
Maybe you remember the Co-Op promotion over 14 years ago, when you had to collect tokens to buy these soft toys at a reduced price. Sasha was obsessed with those dogs, we carried them everywhere, even to Italy when we visited his grandparents.
Eddie said he still loves them, because they are so soft and cuddly. Who's the softie in this house?

More Eddie's pics. On Thursday Sasha stayed overnight in his respite home, which he really enjoys and is always looking forward to. So am I, to be honest. These are the only two nights per month when I can expect to have an undisturbed sleep.
After Sasha was picked up by his transport, we got on the bus to Oxford. Eddie likes visiting his Dad's college, then we went to John Lewis and bought a few of the new Lego Harry Potter minifigures, and as a treat for Eddie, we went to McDonalds to buy a Happy Meal for him.

My echinacea is doing well. I love its shape and structure.

summer flowers

Today we went to the swimming pool with the boys, and afterwards had lunch at the Sainsbury's cafe. Chips for boys, a vegetarian omelette for my husband and a steamed cod with baby potatoes for me. The food was actually very tasty. I really should get in touch with Sainsbury's and say how much we enjoyed the meal.

I think I have already mentioned this ghost house in our neighbourhood, which is completely covered by the greenery. The white doves have nests in all windows.