Wednesday, 28 November 2018

Butternut, sweet potato, pepper and lentil traybake

vegetarian winter meals

Gosh, wasn't it a granite-grey and miserable day yesterday? The rain was relentless, and it was so dark, even in the early afternoon. Late autumn and winter make a perfect time for comfort food.
Hearty vegetables and pulses, cooked as casseroles or tray bakes, are great for damp and chilly days.

vegetarian comfort food

4tbsp mild olive oil
1 pack of butternut & sweet potato (350g)
1 pack of exotic mushrooms (200g)
1 red onion
1 carrot
1 sweet pepper
a handful of cherry tomatoes
a handful of fresh herbs (rosemary and thyme)
1 tin of Amy's Kitchen

In a small frying pan quickly fry a finely chopped red onion and carrot (about 3-4 minutes). Add the mushrooms, and cook for another couple of minutes. Set aside.
Place the cubed squash and sweet potato, as well as sliced sweet pepper and tomatoes in a deep ceramic dish/tray, drizzle 2tbsp of oil and mix well. Put the tray in the oven preheated to 180C.
Roast for about 20 minutes, then add the mushroom and onion mix, herbs and lentil soup.
Place the tray back in the oven for another 10 minutes.
Serve hot, with basmati rice.

easy vegetarian meals

easy vegetarian meals

In this recipe I used a tin of Amy's Kitchen Organic Lentil Vegetable soup, which was part of the latest Degustabox food box. If you don't have this particular brand of soup, any chunky lentil soup will work.

Saturday, 24 November 2018

Photo diary: week 47, project 365

We're just a month away from Christmas, eek, I need to put my skates on, and start thinking of presents seriously. I've got a few little bits and bobs, mostly for Harry Potter-mad Eddie. I was hoping the Lego set he wanted would be on offer on Black Friday, but the price on amazon went up, bother and botheration.
Last Sunday Mum was cooking a vegetarian borscht with the dried mushrooms she brought with her from Russia.

mushroom-based soup

On Monday Sasha had a respite stay away from home, so Eddie and I didn't have to hurry home. We popped in the Shake Shop for a strawberry milkshake.

We did some obligatory yearly selfies with my Mum and Eddie. As it happened, we didn't get a single photo where everyone looks in the camera.

The bookshop draws me like a magnet. I've been looking at some of the Christmas-themed displays, and spotted this book by Nancy Mitford which I have never read.

Very frosty morning walk through the flood fields...

Christmas decorations are already up in town. Eddie commented that the big bauble looks like a bomb. I think he has a point.
My Mum left very early on Friday morning. I'm feeling sad. Who knows when (and if) we'll be able to see each other again.

Today we went to the messy mass rehearsal in Eddie's church. Eddie is given a big chunk to read from the Gospels. I hope he doesn't get too anxious in front of many people.
We were the first ones to arrive to the church, it was still empty, and Eddie loved it.

Sunday, 18 November 2018

Panjango Trumps

educational games

Everyone knows Top Trumps. These themed cards cover any topic you might think of - from dinosaurs to Marvel Comics, from Harry Potter to sharks, from Dr Who to Friends...
My son Eddie loves Top Trumps, he has quite a collection, and would be happy to play every day. I tend to buy a new pack before each long trip by train or a flight.
Eddie has even asked for Yu Gi Oh or Beast Quest Top Trumps for Christmas.

When we were offered a new Trumps game for reviewing, I knew it would be a big hit with Eddie.
If you find the standard Top Trumps a source of rather pointless trivia, you might want to reconsider it when it comes to Panjango Trumps game.

Though based on the same premises as the standard top trumps, Panjango Trumps explores the curious world of work.

educational games for children

If you are not familiar with Panjango, they make board and card games for children aged 7+. They make learning a fun entertaining activity, based on the real world context.
They help children to think about their future and consider possible choices of a career.

educational games for kids

Panjango games let children develop skills for their future in an engaging way.

If you place cards from Panjango Trumps and standard Top Trumps, you can see a lot of similarities and differences.

educational card game

For example, in Harry Potter Top Trumps you see such categories as Magic, Cunning, Courage, Wisdom and Temper.
Panjango Trumps display the following categories as Study/Training, Physical Effort, Brain Power, Social Good, Average Salary and Robot Risk (all self-explanatory).
In both cards you see a little trivia about the character representing the card.

educational games for children

The rules of the game are pretty much the same. You deal the cards, then one player selects a category from their top card and reads out its value. The other player(s) will then read out the value on their top card. The largest value wins.
Players are eliminated as they lose their last card, and the winner scoops all the cards in the game.

educational games for kids

You will also find several cards which suggest different games and exercises including Creative writing (you're asked to write a short story based on the description and rankings of a given job), Word association (you need to find words which you associate with each job), Challenge the ratings (where you argue if the ratings for a particular job are correct in your opinion) etc.
The last challenge could be an interesting task for the whole family. In fact, there were a few ratings that I would not be too sure about: for example, care worker's brain power is 43 , while the library assistant's is 38.

There are 50 job cards to pitch against each other, with useful data. Even I learnt a few things from the cards.

My son enjoyed the game very much, and learnt many facts about different jobs. It was also a good starting point to discuss what job he would like to have when he grows up (I hope Eddie doesn't mind me telling his secret - he's unsure whether to be a Youtuber, a writer of scary stories or LEGO builder).

educational games

Disclosure: We received a pack of Panjango Trumps for the purposes of testing and reviewing. All opinions are our own.

Saturday, 17 November 2018

Photo diary: week 46, project 365

Another week whooshed by, in a few days my Mum will be heading back home. I know I will miss her terribly, but it will also be a relief.
I feel such a horrible daughter, but she has a talent for doing what she thinks is right, without asking for anyone else's opinion. And when I object, I am accused of being intolerant.
Every time I come home from the school run, she's done something else in the house, which she thinks is an improvement. I really should just let her do it, and then change back when she leaves.
And breathe.

Last Sunday was the Armistice day. Eddie went to the church service in the morning with his Dad, while I stayed at home with Sasha and Mum. I don't feel confident leaving two of them together, as Mum gets rather panicky, when Sash misbehaves. So, I missed the Remembrance service in town.
Later Eddie and I went to the Church Green to look at all the poppy displays.
Witney created a poppy mile, which is an incredible display of 30,000 poppies running from the Corn Exchange down to the Leys.

Eddie's school took part in the display as well. Children brought the old photos of their ancestors who took part in WWI to school, they photocopied them and then made a collage on the models of soldiers.

Remembrance service

After two weeks of frustrated waiting Bensons for Beds finally delivered the missing box on Monday. The customer service there is most appalling. They were quick to take the money, but slow to do what they were supposed to do. I'm half tempted to write a post on how I will never place an order with them again.
They didn't bother with answering emails, I wasted hours trying to get through on the phone, and they were most dismissive, when I managed to talk to them. Awful, awful service.
After the delivery I got an email from them, saying they hoped I was delighted with my order.
Well, delighted would be the last word to describe how I feel about them. How about - insert a string of swear words here.

On Tuesday my husband was leaving for Colombia, and we had a quick coffee in town just after taking Eddie to school.
I had a latte, while he treated himself to a slice of banana bread with Greek yogurt and honey. Their banana bread is the best I ever had, I wish I had a recipe. It is gorgeous.

On Wednesday evening, while getting the bins out, I looked at Eddie eating ice cream in the sitting room.

On Thursday the only photos I took were of Panjango Trumps for reviewing. The review is still to come.

On Friday I baked some apple turnovers, as I wanted to offer something tasty, when a friend came over.

Today: not much is happening.We're just having a chilled day, not going anywhere out, as my husband is still in Colombia.
As I write, Eddie is watching The Polar Express on DVD again. He seems to be fascinated by it, while I find it thoroughly creepy. For me it's a bit like a freaky horror film rather than Christmas entertainment. And that comes from someone who enjoys Goosebumps.
I need to cut down the Virginia creeper on the front of the house, as it's grown too high, and reached the roof. There is a nest there, among the empty branches. I feel sorry for the birds, but I cannot have the creeper clogging the gutters.

Friday, 16 November 2018

Easy apple turnovers

ideas for using up a glut of apples

A bumper harvest of apples has been recorded this autumn, thanks to the weeks of hot weather in summer. Our apple trees were groaning under the weight of apples. I've been giving them away left and right, and using every day, mainly baking.
I have also put lots of apples in wooden and cardboard trays, and will keep in the cold summerhouse. Hopefully they will last long. Last year I still had some of our apples back in spring.

A friend was coming to our house earlier today, and I decided to make a quick batch of apple turnovers. I had a pack of Jus-Rol puff pastry in the fridge.
Having watched the pastry weeks on GBBO through the years, I arrived to a conclusion that life is too short to make your own puff pastry. It's tedious and laborious, and Jus-Rol works perfectly every time.
However, if you prefer to make your own pastry, I am full of admiration and awe, I truly am.

ideas for using apples

Apple Turnovers
3 medium apples, peeled, cored, quartered and sliced
25g butter
2tsp Waitrose Christmas ground spices (mix of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cardamom, allspice, star anise, black pepper, tangerine oil, cloves\0
125g caster sugar
2tsp cornflour+ 2 tsp cold water
320g puff pastry, ready to roll
1 medium egg yolk, beaten with a dash of water

In a medium frying pan, melt the butter and add peeled, cored, quartered and sliced apples. Add the spices and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. Add sugar, mix well, cook on low for another 5 minutes. In a small cup mix 2tsp of cornflour with 2-3 tsp of cold water until you reach a runny consistency. Pour the cornflour to the apple filling mix, stir in, cook for a minute.
Let it cool before making turnovers.

If using a ready made pastry, roll it out on the parchment paper it has been wrapped in. Cut in half horizontally, then into three or four squares each, so you get six or  eight pieces of pastry.
Beat the egg yolk with a bit of cold water, brush each pastry square with the egg wash. Spoon a heaped tablespoon of apple filling onto each square.

what to do with a glut of apples

What do you do with a glut of apples? Chutneys? Apple butter? Jelly?

what to do with a glut of apples

Adding this recipe post to #KitchenClearout linky run by Cheryl at Madhouse Family Reviews, as I used apples from the garden and almost finished  Signature spice (just 1tsp left now).

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.