Sunday, 24 February 2019

In Safe Hands (A DCI Anna Tate Thriller) by J.P. Carter

best psychological thrillers

In Safe Hands is the first book in a gripping new crime series by J.P.Carter.
J.P.Carter is the pseudonym of a bestselling author who has also written sixteen books under the names Jaime and James Raven.

I was lucky to win this book earlier this month. Actually it was a friend who tagged me on Twitter, and we both have won a copy from Avon Books (Thank you, Leila!).

Nine little children are squealing and laughing, playing in the nursery. Their young teacher is trying to get them together for the story time. Everything seems normal.
And then in the blink of an eye the joyous innocent morning turns into a nightmare.

Children and nursery staff are separated. Nine kids are being kidnapped by the ruthless gang, while the staff are locked away, with one member of the nursery staff being brutally beaten up for daring to stand up to the kidnappers. The police is alerted soon enough.

Distressed parents are left in agony, not knowing what's happened and whether they would see their children again.
One of the kidnapped children has cystic fibrosis, and needs his medication to stay alive.

"This was a high-impact crime which was going to appall the nation and present MIT with its toughest ever challenge".

The gang has carefully planned the crime and executed it with shocking precision. The kidnappers demand a ransom and threaten to start killing children, if the ransom is not paid in time.

DCI Anna Tate has to uncover the truth before time runs out.
For Anna this case is particularly poignant, as her own daughter Chloe was abducted 10 years earlier by her ex. Her backstory and glimpses into her past help you understand Anna's strength and vulnerability, her compassion and understanding of what parents are going through.
Anna is an appealing and believable character.

Menacing and compelling, it is a gritty fast paced thriller. I have guessed the culprit's identity early on in the book as there were clues, but was hoping I was wrong. Without giving any spoilers, the culprit is a villain on all sides, including their personal life.

You will have your heart in your mouth, as the disturbing story progresses. I read the book in a couple of days, I was hooked, hoping that children would be rescued in time.

Some readers might find it very distressing to read the pages related to abducted children. It is a tough read.

The scenario sounds quite plausible. And the moral dilemma is real too - do you pay the ransom and open the door to copycat crimes against the vulnerable children in nurseries and schools, or try to negotiate and risk the lives of children. Even paying the ransom is not a guarantee that the victims of kidnapping will be safely released.

The first book ends on a cliffhanger (related to Anna's personal story), and I can't wait to read the second book in this crime series - At Your Door - which is out in August 2019.

best thrillers of 2019

Saturday, 23 February 2019

Photo diary: week 8, project 365

February brings us longer days and lighter mornings. Just a few weeks ago, it was pretty dark when my alarm went off early in the morning. Now it's already light even before I'm ready to start the day.
In a few days February will be over, and I will be officially on the wrong side of 50, sigh.

Last week was a midterm break, which we all needed. I truly admire parents who do daily trips around the country and educational visits to famous landmarks, but I don't have a stamina and enthusiasm for this kind of dedication. We went to Oxford twice this week, and for me that was plenty.

Last Sunday I was finally able to try a Gregg's vegan sausage roll. Taste-wise, it wasn't bad at all. The pastry tasted less greasy than its meaty counterpart, and the filling was OK, rather nondescript but edible. I read that it is made with a fermented fungus (sounds rather scary).
I have satisfied my curiosity, now it's back to chocolate eclairs and donuts at Gregg's which are pretty good value for money.

vegan snacks

The sky on Monday evening was all pink and purple. The Moon looked beautiful and a bit eerie. It felt like something sinister was going to happen, thankfully, it didn't.

On Tuesday we all jumped on the bus to Oxford. Sasha's been showing me the PECs from his old school story books, building up sentences that he wanted to go to Oxford on a double-decker bus and visit Burger King. I think they used to take his class there once in a while.
I've never been inside a Burger King in my life, and I've lived here for about 25 years.
Sasha was ecstatic on the bus, smiling a happy smile.
Eddie and I took selfies on the bus. As you do.
I believe he looks very much like me in this photo, what do you think?

This week I've been reading a book by Nicola Pryce - The Cornish Lady - for the forthcoming blog tour. I haven't read much, with holidays getting under way.
I talked to my Mum about the book, and she asked me if I was reviewing it for a fee. I said: I wish.

This is a really rubbish quality photo, because my child and I were giggling too much. We called it an "inappropriate carrot".

Reading at bedtime with Eddins. We're now on book 4 in the Raven Mysteries series, and I'm getting slightly frustrated with it. We loved the first book, thought it was wonderful, funny and amusing, but by book 4 I'm rather vexed with the fact that the servants are killed off left and right. They are dispensable like commodities. I get it, that it's the satire-horror genre, but still...
I'm sure we will read the last two books in the series, but I wish the servants were treated kinder.

Another trip to Oxford by bus today. It was rather hot, especially on the bus. We popped into the Blackwell's shop, and looked at the Harry Potter section.

Thursday, 21 February 2019

Shiitake, basmati and wild rice soup

easy midweek dinner

We lead such busy lives nowadays that finding any enthusiasm for cooking during the week is a bit of an issue, especially when you have fussy eaters at home. I cook about 3 different dinners almost every evening, and it is tedious.
I know it's my own fault partially that I pamper to all the preferences.
With our elder son, his relationship with food is part of his condition, so there's not much I can do about it. He eats a certain range of foods, every day of the year, Christmas or birthday.
With younger one, I don't know where I went wrong.
When he was little, he was such a good eater. It was a job to watch him eat stem broccoli and all kinds of vegetables, which he now wouldn't touch with a barge pole.
And in the last year my husband decided to go meat-free, which I find trickier to cater for. It's so much easier to cook meat or fish than a variety of vegetarian dishes, without relying all the time on pasta or risotto. Especially that he is a crappy ungracious vegetarian who doesn't eat salad leaves or many vegetables (and just to clarify, the crossed out word refers only to him, it's not a generalisation of any kind. As I said in the comment below he doesn't eat beetroot, cabbage, broccoli, sprouts etc etc, the list is endless, so that doesn't make my life easier).

I confess I started to rely on convenience foods a bit too much recently, buying pizza or vegetarian quiche which only need 10 minutes in the oven.

I still cook a lot of meals from scratch, but I don't do elaborate dinners any longer, as I used to in the past. Even my cakes and bakes are of the easier variety.

Soups are easy and relatively quick to prepare, from a mixture of fresh ingredients and kitchen cupboard staples.

easy vegetarian dishes

Shiitake, basmati & wild rice soup
2 shallots, finely chopped
2tbsp olive oil
150g shiitake mushrooms
1tsp garlic butter
70g basmati and wild rice (I used Tilda)
1 carrot, peeled and grated
1 vegetable stock pot (Kallo)
40g mild cheddar cheese (optional)

Start by frying finely chopped shallots in the olive oil for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the grated carrot, and cook for another couple of minutes. Add the chopped mushrooms. Season with sea salt.
In a medium sized pan bring water to boil, add the stock, rice and mushroom mix. Cook for about 15+ minutes on low, until the rice is cooked. Add the grated cheese (optional, I wanted to finish off the leftover cheese).
Serve hot, with a nice chunk of bread, or breadsticks.
We like Italian grissini with soup. Crosta & Mollica are a great brand of flatbreads and breadsticks. But Tesco own Italian Original breadsticks at 75p per pack are a steal.

You could choose different mushrooms for this soup - chestnut or portobellini. Shiitake give an almost meaty, rich smoky taste.

easy mushroom soup

In this soup I used a Kallo organic vegetable stock pot. This is a handy stock product to keep in your pantry, whenever you need stock for a soup, curry, risotto, stew or gravy. It's made with celery, carrot, onion, red pepper, sunflower oil, spices (garlic, lovage, turmeric) and more. It contains no artificial colours, flavours or preservatives, it's gluten free and is suitable for vegetarians and vegans.
This stock product was one of the foods delivered in the Degustabox (November 2018).
If you don't have this particular stock pot, any good quality vegetable stock would work (liquid, powdered or cubed).

Tilda is my favourite brand of rice, both for uncooked and pre-cooked varieties (in pouches).
Tilda basmati and wild rice is a tasty combination. Basmati is a fluffy light rice which goes well with the nutty wild rice. I buy a bigger 500g bag, and add it to all kinds of soups.

easy midweek dinners

Adding this recipe to #KitchenClearout linky run by Cheryl at Madhouse Family Reviews, as I used the last piece of cheese and last stock pot in this soup recipe.

Wednesday, 20 February 2019

Fairytale Fantasia 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle from Ravensburger

best jigsaw puzzles

"Fantasy is silver and scarlet, indigo and azure, obsidian veined with gold and lapis lasuli. Reality is plywood and plastic, done up in mud brown and olive drab. Fantasy tastes of habaneros and honey, cinnamon and coves, rare red meat and wines as sweet as summer. Reality is beans and tofu, and ashes at the end."
George R.R. Martin

And though you might argue with George R.R. Martin, there is something about this quote that rings true.
I thought about this description, when I received a new Fairytale Fantasia 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle from Ravensburger.
This gorgeous puzzle is a colourful tapestry of indigo and purple, moss green and rust red.

jigsaw puzzles for book lovers

C.S,Lewis said: "One day, you will be old enough to start reading fairytales again".
I confess I have never outgrown fairytales. There are so many wonderful YA writers nowadays who put their own twist on the classic stories, or invent new fairytales for the modern audience.
I often buy YA fiction books just for myself. Just the other day Eddie and I were browsing in the local bookshop, and one of the ladies there told Eddie that he might like to read A Pinch of Magic, which is currently the book of the month at Waterstone's. To which I replied that I've already bought it for myself.

Fairytale Fantasia jigsaw puzzle will appeal to book lovers who enjoy fantasy adventures, enchanted objects, cruel curses and pure magic.
The scene is highly detailed and richly-coloured.
You meet characters from famous fairytales, who come to life on the shelves among the old volumes.

There is a Mad Hatter having a tea party.

best Ravensburger puzzles

Snow White holding an infamous apple, ready to take the fateful bite.

best jigsaw puzzles about books

Cinderella is leaving her glass slipper, escaping from the ball. Magic creatures, enchanted castles and dragons, knights and fairies, ships on the stormy seas and circus performers - all of them spring from the pages of the books.

jigsaw puzzles about books

jigsaw puzzles about books

This beautiful puzzle measures 70x50cm when complete, and is suitable for ages 12+.

jigsaw puzzles about books

Like all Ravensburger puzzles, this jigsaw puzzle is made from strong premium grade cardboard, with linen finish to minimise glare on puzzle image.

jigsaw puzzles about books and bookshelves

Once I finished the puzzle and took the photos, I gave it to a friend who's looking after an elderly lady who loves puzzles. I know she will enjoy it as much as I did.

best jigsaw puzzles

This delightful jigsaw puzzle will make a lovely gift for any book worm.

best jigsaw puzzles

Disclosure: I received the jigsaw puzzle for the purposes of reviewing.

best jigsaw puzzles

Saturday, 16 February 2019

Photo diary: week 7, project 365

Last week was all about music and flowers. I love this time of the year, as first spring flowers are among my most favourite sights.
On Sunday we went to see Lego Movie 2. As I expected, I was bored to death. It's almost two hours long, with plenty of very loud inane music. The actual Lego creations are pretty amazing, but the plot is laughable. Even Eddie wasn't much impressed with it, and he loved the 1st film and the other Lego films. I've read one of the critics said about the film that watching it was as painful as stepping on a Lego brick. I agree with him. Oh the sacrifices we have to make as parents!

On Monday I had yet another abysmal visit to the dentist. What was supposed to be the final step of the root canal treatment turned out to be a bit of a nightmare, as the dentist managed to break my tooth. I was pretty upset by it all. I had to endure 4 visits of drilling and injections, only to have the tooth broken. Now he's off on his holidays, and I'll have to wait for 3 weeks to have it all mended.

In the evening Eddie was rehearsing the violin lesson to get ready for a concert later in the week.

Tuesday was a beautiful sunny day, and the crocuses along the path through the garden were all open up.

early spring flowers

And the snowdrops are also taking over, they truly gladden my heart.

flowers in February

Eddie's class has been taking violin lessons since September. On Thursday they showed parents what they've learnt so far. This is a free music programme taught in many Oxfordshire schools (220 out of 270). The kids were given a violin each to take home, and at the end of this half term they were offered a chance to keep taking lessons, only now as paid-for.
I would like Eddie to keep playing, but so far he has not shown much enthusiasm.
The children did very well at the concert. I didn't expect much, but was pleasantly surprised at how attentive they were, and concentrated on the music.

Friday morning was rather frosty. This is the photo of the sunrise in the flood fields, on the way to school.

An orchid in the kitchen started blooming. Apologies for yet another flower photo, but it was either that, or a Costa snap.
We did the usual round of shops today with Eddie, took book no.4 from The Raven Mysteries in the library, which we reserved last week, visited the Game store to look at Pokemon cards, and soon will be reading How to train your dragon (no.2) before bedtime.

Thursday, 14 February 2019

Roasted radishes

vegetarian side dish

When it comes to Valentine, I'm a bit of a grumpy cat. I detest it that the shops hike up prices on anything remotely related to "romance".
M&S has launched its "love sausage". Yep, nothing says romance is not dead, when you serve your beloved a heart-shaped sausage, wrapped in bacon. It's been promoted as an accompaniment to a romantic breakfast in bed. Who eats sausages in bed in the morning? or any other time of the day really? Apart from being a source of unimaginative innuendos, I don't quite see the appeal.

I guess I'm not the target audience for heart-shaped gifts. I did admire the heart-shaped Le Creuset ramekins online, but didn't buy them, as I have one zillion of ramekins as it is, and really cannot justify buying another set.

But all of you, blessed elated lovers, who rejoice at all things Valentine, I salute you, and wish you the most romantic night of the year.

While many lovely couples will indulge in the most exquisite romantic meals, I treated myself to a dinner of cauliflower cheese and roasted radishes. Yes, you read that right, roasted radishes.
My "Valentine" is gallivanting again, so the meal was not meant to be a celebration of any kind.

I first heard of roasted radishes, watching Masterchef.
Raw radishes are a wonderful ingredient, which provide a good crunch for a variation of Ploughman's with a chunky bread, cheese and pickles. Excellent in salads, or thinly sliced over noodle soup, these vegetables can also be cooked.
Roasted radishes lose their bitter spicy edge, and turn quite mellow and juicy.
The first time I cooked them, I was a bit suspicious. but I am a convert now.
When roasted, radishes make a lovely side dish for roast meat, grilled fish or cauliflower cheese.

vegetarian side dishes

The recipe itself couldn't be easier, in fact I would not call it a recipe, just a cooking suggestion.

For a bunch of radishes (small kept whole, bigger ones - halved), add 1tbsp of olive oil, 1tbsp apple cider vinegar, 1tsp soy sauce and 1tsp honey.
Roast the radishes at 180C for about 20 minutes.
Serve with whatever main you fancy.

This was my "Valentine's" dinner: cauliflower cheese, radishes and a cheese-filled green chilli.

I used Willy's Apple Cider Vinegar, which was one of the products in the latest Degustabox. It's a tasty vinegar from the Herefordshire countryside.
It adds a lovely sour note to the radishes, and counteracts the mild bitterness of the vegetable.
If you don't have this vinegar, any good apple cider vinegar will work well.

You can also vary the sweet note - if you don't like honey, use pomegranate molasses or maple syrup.

The radishes were pretty pink, so that's my nod to Valentine's day.

Wednesday, 13 February 2019

What If? no.21 The Game Show 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle from Ravensburger

best jigsaw puzzles

If you enjoy creative competitions, you might remember a fun competition run by Ravensburger last year.
What IF? you were drawn into a Jigsaw Puzzle?
The search is on for Britain's funniest friends and family!
Does this ring a bell? Did you enter the competition?
Oxfordshire-based toy company Ravensburger was giving its puzzle fans a chance to feature in their bestselling What IF? jigsaw range.
Entrants were asked to submit their best funny family and friends photo using the hashtag #WhatIfWeAreAPuzzle.
The winning group was to be drawn into the next What IF? 1000-piece puzzle, depicted as entrants in a Challenge-Quiz-Show type scenario.

Launched over 5 years ago, What IF? is a firm favourite with puzzle fans across the UK. The series reflects life's unexpected twists and turns, and challenges us to imagine "What IF?"??? As the puzzle image is not shown on the box, you need to use the visual and written clues to help envisage what the finished jigsaw puzzle might look like.
One thing is for certain - expect plenty of smiles along the way!

I was very curious to find out who has won this unique prize. Now the winning entry has made it into a new What If? no.21 The Game Show 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle, and what a corker it is!

best 1000-piece jigsaw puzzles

The illustrations are the artwork of the much-loved artist, cartoonist and comedy writer Geoff Tristram.
The puzzle shows four members of the Douglas family, who dream of winning £1 million in TV's top quiz show, Lost in Translation.

best jigsaw puzzles

Tash, Bradley, Liam and Ria are testing their language skills. The quizmaster Brendan Bromsgrove asks them to translate a phrase from Latin. What if they have no clue what it means?

The image on the box shows the moment when Tash & Co realise they are not able to tackle the Latin phrase. But what will the puzzle inside the box reveal?

What If? range of jigsaw puzzles

Geoff Tristram has created caricatures of many famous faces. I imagine the Douglas family were well chuffed to join in such an exclusive club. This is truly a prize you cannot buy.

best jigsaw puzzles

The puzzle measures 70x50cm when completed. It's suitable for ages 12+.
Like all Ravensburger puzzles, it's made from strong premium grade cardboard, with linen finish print to minimise the glare on puzzle image.

This colourful, entertaining jigsaw puzzle is suitable for ages 12+, and will make a fun gift for a whole family.

best jigsaw puzzles

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

Ravensburger puzzles, gifts

Tuesday, 12 February 2019

Oat peanut butter cookies

cookies made with peanut butter powder

Have you seen jars of peanut butter powder in health shops as well as some supermarkets? Were you tempted to buy them? I picked the jars a few times from the shelves, but put them back thinking I would have liked to try it, if it were sold in small trial portions rather than big jars.
I have read about this product in the vegetarian/vegan food articles, and it seems to be all the rage among the fitness-obsessed influencers.

The latest Degustabox food box provided its subscribers with the chance of trying the powdered peanut butter.
There were two PBfit peanut butter powder sachets (24g each) in the box.
They call it "peanut butter without love handles", as it contains up to 90% less fat than traditional peanut butter, and about 1/3 calories.

I confess that I'm not a fan of healthy protein shakes and smoothies. I have tried many versions, and decided they are not for me. Fruit and ice cream smoothies are in a different league altogether; it's the protein smoothie bowls that I find unappetising - no matter how healthy they are supposed to be, sorry.
You can add one hundred hashtags like #fitnessmotivation, #girlswhoworkout, #fitandfab, #generationfightflab #leansquad #fitness4ever etc etc, I look at those images, and reach for the cookie jar. I'm not a fitness person, though I do walk miles and miles every day.

All my guys love home-baked cookies, so I knew what I was going to make with the powdered peanut butter.

healthy peanut butter cookies

Oat peanut butter cookies
1 pack (24g) peanut butter powder
60g caster sugar
80g (Stork) margarine
1 small egg
1tbsp golden syrup
1tsp vanilla essence
140g self-raising flour
1tsp baking powder
100g oats

Cream the margarine with sugar and peanut butter powder in a mixing bowl. Add the oats, flour, golden syrup, vanilla and beat in the egg, mix well, forming the dough.
Pinch a big walnut-sized piece of dough and roll it into a ball, then flatten and place them on trays lined with parchment paper, foil or silicone baking sheet and bake for about 12 minutes until golden at 180C.
Don't overcook, they are still very soft when you take them out. If you keep them longer, they'll get crispy.

healthy peanut butter cookies

Golden syrup is optional, it's more of a binding ingredient, and could be swapped with a spoonful of any nut butter, or even add a bit more margarine.
I prefer to use margarine when baking cookies, as it allows them to keep their shape better. Butter makes the cookies more splattery, if that's the word. But if you are set against margarine, by all means use butter.

These are lovely cookies, and they didn't last long here. I think I might even buy a big jar of powdered peanut butter, as it's great for baking.

healthier cookies

So, if you receive the Degustabox, and were not sure what to do with the powdered peanut butter, try these cookies. You're welcome! (singing in Maui's voice)

best peanut butter cookies

Adding my cookie recipe post to #KitchenClearout linky hosted by Cheryl at Madhouse Family Reviews.

Saturday, 9 February 2019

Photo diary: week 6, project 365

Just a week ago we had a garden full of snow, and were able to have a snowball fight. By today it's already a distant memory, as the snow was almost all gone by Tuesday.

Sunday was a wet day, with the constant drizzle eating the snow slowly away. I looked at some of the patterns of the leafless branches in the garden.

There were the last remnants of snow in the garden, but to Eddie's chagrin, most of the snow was gone, and the schools were open for business, as normal.

I'm trying to remember what I did on Tuesday. I clearly didn't take any photos, as I can't find anything on my iphone. I did receive a new jigsaw puzzle that day, and was too keen to start it, and I was also trying to finish the thriller I was reading, so that is my excuse for the lack of photos.

Wednesday morning was misty and foggy, when I got up and looked out of the window, but by the time we walked to school, the mist lingered just a little bit.

Thursday was a super busy day for me. In the morning, as soon as I took Eddie to school, we hopped on the bus to Oxford to meet with Sasha's psychiatrist and school team to discuss the medication he's been taking in the last couple of months. We decided for now not to change anything and keep taking the prescribed dose.

While waiting at the bus stop outside Sasha's school, I spotted this big bird (a kite?) just above our heads. It was flying very low, but by the time I got out the iphone, entered the pass code, and opened the camera, it went higher up and didn't wait for me. I did a few snaps.

In the evening our Waterstone's book shop - along with the other book shops and libraries - hosted a Harry Potter event. The book shop was completely packed.
Children were divided into four houses of Hogwarts. The sorting hat was actually a big tray of cupcakes. You had to bite in to reveal the colour of your house inside.
Eddie was pleased to be assigned to Gryffindor. There was a quiz (we were pretty rubbish at the quiz), a colouring competition, a hunt for clues hidden in the shop, reading etc.

We had a lovely time. I was the only parent who attended in a costume. I borrowed an academic gown and mortar hat from my husband, and went to the party as Professor McGonagall, just to embarrass my son and his friend.

Later we went to Pizza Express for a late dinner, as Sasha had his overnight stay at the respite centre.
We had to wait for over an hour, and were ready to leave the restaurant by the time the pizza finally arrived.

I took a lot of photos during the Harry Potter event, and then we played with the filter. Eddie wanted to have this photo in black and white.

On Friday a friend took me to Lidl by car. I haven't been there in the last couple of years. It's pretty far for me to walk, as it's almost out of town. I did a list of the best wine to buy in Lidl according to the Decanter magazine, but none of the recommended bottles were available. I did buy two bottles of Tokaj, as my birthday is coming later this month, and we might have friends over for dinner.

A friend came over, and I gave her the book I finished reading earlier this week, as she enjoys thrillers as much as I do.

best thrillers, thrillers set on islands

Today is just a usual round of things to do: grocery shopping, a quick trip to Costa in between a library and shops, choosing some Pokemon cards for Eddie ( we got one GX card, yay!).
I might bake cookies later, if I can master some energy.

And here is a little bit more of our garden, with snowdrops taking over. They are truly all over the place.