Saturday, 30 March 2019

Photo diary: week 13, project 365

It's that time of the year when the gardens look glorious. And the town is transformed into a beauty, with blossom clouds of different pastel shades.
Right now it's the cherry trees, plums and magnolia, with apple blossom appearing later in spring.
Last week I took a lot of photos of the flowers and blossom.

Two butterflies were playing with each other in the garden, doing a flirty courting dance. It was such a beautiful sight. I took a lot of photos, but haven't managed to catch both of them on camera at the same time.

Magnolia, not far from Eddie's school.

Taking Eddie to school, I walked afterwards to St Mary's church. It was a bright morning, and the sun was directly above the church.

On Thursday it was Sasha's night away from home, so Eddie and I hopped on the bus to Oxford after school. Sasha had a good time in his respite centre, he had a jacuzzi which he loves, and went out for a walk in the woods earlier. They also had a visit from a therapy dog on that day.

We didn't do anything exciting, just visited McDonald's and my husband's new office. I bought myself a new tea and some Hotel Chocolat bars as treats for Mother's day.
In the evening, just before bedtime, Eddie took over my iphone and got snapping.

More plum blossom, this time on the way through the fields.

Today is Eddie's lucky day, as his much-expected Detective Pikachu Greninja-GX case file arrived in the morning. We had it on pre-order for a few weeks, and he kept counting the days until this new series is out.
We did a quick shopping in town, admired more of the Detective Pikachi sets in Game shop and had a little break in Costa.

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Friday, 29 March 2019

Rocky Road with jelly diamonds

best rocky road recipe

Last week Eddie was telling me about his class mate who always brings a piece of Rocky road in his lunch box, and could I please-please-please make some for him too.
I haven't made the Rocky road for ages, and decided it was as good time as any to make a slab, especially that I've seen a Sainsbury's recipe online for a white chocolate Rocky road with party rings on top.
I didn't have any white chocolate, but found a bag of chocolate buttons which came with one of the food magazines last year, and it needed to be used.

It looked very pretty with party rings, but apparently - according to the Rocky road purist in Eddie's class - rocky road doesn't have any party rings. I told Eddie that the Rocky road could have a big variety of ingredients and funky elements to it, and showed him some of the recipes online.
There was one special recipe, where Clinkers and raspberry jelly were used. I've never heard of Clinkers (I think it might be an Australian thing), but that Rocky road definitely rocked.

What do we have in the kitchen that might look good in the Rocky road? Jelly diamonds - why not?
I also had a mini bag of Forest Feast Milk Chocolate Mango & Coconut Fruit balls (from the latest Degustabox).

chocolate fruit snacks
Forest Feast Milk Chocolate Mango & Coconut Fruit balls

Rocky Road with jelly diamonds
135g butter, unsalted
200g chocolate buttons (or cooking chocolate bars)
3tbsp golden syrup
200g Rich tea biscuits, broken into pieces
100g marshmallows
30g jelly diamonds (optional)
30g chocolate mango coconut fruit balls (optional)

Start by melting the butter and chocolate buttons. You will need a pan with boiling hot water underneath a glass or ceramic container where the chocolate goes. The top container should not touch the hot water.
First goes the butter, so that it starts melting before you add the chocolate buttons or broken chocolate bars and golden syrup. It prevents chocolate from going grainy. Mix it all with a wooden spoon until thick and glossy.

Set the container aside to cool a bit before adding the remaining ingredients. If you add the marshmallows while the chocolate is hot, they will melt.
Once cool enough, add the broken biscuits, marshmallows, jelly diamonds and halved chocolate mango coconut fruit balls.
At this stage you can add any ingredients of your choice.

Line a deep tray with cling film or foil, scoop the rocky road into the tray and flatten with the spoon.
Press the slab evenly. Set in the fridge for at least two hours, but preferably overnight.

Slice into pieces before serving.

best Rocky Road recipes

You can play around with whatever sweet ingredients you might have - Maltesers, Rolos, Creme eggs (chopped or mini), popcorn, raisins, glace cherries etc etc. Biscuits could also vary.
Or just be traditionalists and keep it simple.

best Rocky Road recipe

What are your favourite additions to the Rocky Road?

best Rocky Road recipe

Thursday, 28 March 2019

Spring & Easter Degustabox (March 2019)

You can't escape noticing stacks upon stacks of Easter chocolate eggs and novelty figures in the shops. I've been resisting so far, and only bought one chocolate egg and a few creme eggs. Chocolate seems to be the theme of the month.
Degustabox is celebrating the coming Easter with a few foodie surprises (including chocolate treats, though no eggs).

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 March'19 Degustabox? Let's have a look.

food box by subscription

For chocoholics like my family and me, this is a super box, as it contained several chocolate bars.

Willie's Cacao Single estate chocolate (£1.99) is a delicious melt-in-the-mouth chocolate, which preserves the long forgotten flavours of the world's great Single Esatet Cacaos.
They use only natural ingredients and make everything themselves from "bean to bar".
You will receive one of four flavours.
Our bar was a delicious milk chocolate with passion fruit. I love chocolate and passion fruit, so for me this was definitely a win-win product.

best chocolate bars

Green & Black's Praline & Truffle Bars (£0.89) are indulgent chocolate treats - dark chocolate with moreish truffle and praline centres.
Made with ethically sourced chocolate and no artificial flavours, colours or preservatives.
Both flavours are included in the box.
Nutritional info: 224kcal and 18g sugar per bar.

chocolate treats

British chocolate

KIND Snacks Dark Chocolate Nuts & Sea Salt (£1.35) is a tasty and nutritious bar made with whole nuts and honey. These bars are crafted with 60-72% nuts, they are gluten free and naturally high in protein.
It's a scrumptious sweet and salty blend of almonds, peanuts and a sprinkle of sea salt, bound in honey and drizzled in chocolate. A real treat for anyone who loves nuts.
Energy value - 197kcal.

nutty bars

Forest Feast Preda Fair Trade Mango & Milk Chocolate Mango & Coconut Fruit Balls (£1.29): award winning dried mango is sourced solely from the PREDA Fair Trade organisation in the Philippines and soft bite-sized balls of dried mango blended with tropical coconut and covered in creamy Belgian milk chocolate.
I used a bag of fruit balls to add to the Rocky Road (recipe to follow in a separate post).

healthy snacks

Terry's Chocolate Orange Minis Exploding Candy is a twist on a classic chocolate. Open a bag to discover mini milk chocolate segments with an orange flavour, and packed full of fun popping candy pieces.

chocolate UK

Chum Fruit Bites Apple/Strawberry (£0.79) are tasty 100% fruit snacks, with no fake stuff, no artificial flavourings, colours or preservatives.
Strawberry bites are made from pear puree, apple puree, strawberry puree and natural flavour.
Nutritional information: 41kcal and 7.9g sugar (naturally occurring in the fruit) per 20g bag.
A lovely snack for a lunch box, or to eat on the go.

healthy snacks

15% of profits help save the endangered CHUMs with,

fruit snacks

Moose Juice Extreme Energy  (£1.59) is a carbonated Passion Fruit favour caffeine drink with Branch Chain Amino Acids, B Vitamins and sweeteners (sucralose)
Nutritional values: zero sugar, aspartame free, 8kcal per 250ml serving.
It has a high caffeine content, so it's not recommended for children or pregnant & breast-feeding women.
Consume responsibly - a maximum of 2 cans per day.

Weetabix On The Go Strawberry (£1.49) is a strawberry-flavoured breakfast drink with added vitamins and iron. It includes a wheat fibre. A source if protein and iron, it comes in a convenient grab-and-go bottle.
A serving contains 209kcal, 5g fat and 12g sugar.

Jubel Alpine Beer Cut with Peach (£1.80) - "one of those quirks that works" - is a lively lager with the zest of freshly ripe peaches..

fruit-flavoured lager

I wasn't sure about the flavour combination, but was pleasantly surprised at how drinkable it is. Light, refreshing and mildly sweet. It will work great with curries and roast vegetable dishes.
It's gluten-free and vegan friendly. Not to be missed for the coming summer.

fruit-flavoured lager

Costa Signature Blend Coffee Ground for Cafetiere & Filter (£3.70) is a new product for Costa coffee fans. I've seen it already in Costa, along the Nespresso-compatible pods. I enjoy Costa coffee, and I do need to dig out that old cafetiere which is hiding somewhere in the kitchen. After our bean-to-coffee machine died, we mostly use a Nespresso machine.
This is a legendary signature blend which has been served at Costa since 1971. Comes in Medium strength.

best ground coffee UK

Red Red Super Stews Black Eyed Beans & Tomato/Red Beans & Sweet Potato (£2.99) are inspired by the African flavours. You will receive one of two flavours.
It works like many other pot dishes - you just need to add boiling water, stir, let it stand and stir again.
We got a Red Red Super Stews Black Eyed Beans & Tomato pot.
This is a vegan meal, gluten free, free from preservatives.
Nutritional values: 253kcal per pot, 9.5g sugar, 10.4g fibre and 13g protein.
It's made with black eyed beans, tomatoes, red onion, spices and certified sustainable and traceable red palm oil.

plant-based meals

Ballymaloe Original Relish (gift) is rich in tomatoes, delicious and incredibly versatile. Great for burgers, with French fries, cold meats and cheese, sausage rolls and salads.
Made with all natural ingredients, it's gluten free and is also suitable for vegans.

I am planning to make some cheese straws at the weekend, spreading the relish over the shortcrust pastry and sprinkle over with grated cheese.

Which of the products from the latest Degustabox is your favourite?

Saturday, 23 March 2019

Photo diary: week 12, project 365

March indulges our senses of smell and sight with a wonderful display of blossom and flowers. Our garden is so pretty right now, with plum blossom and hyacinths of many colours. I've noticed that the tulips are soon going to bloom as well, give them another week or two.

While rosemary's flowers are very modest, they are still pretty, and attract insects too.
Sunday was Sasha's birthday, which we celebrated quietly at home, with a chocolate cake and pancakes for breakfast.

spring garden

I love vintage marcasite brooches, and bought this beautiful tulip brooch as a treat for myself.

On my recent charity shops' crawl I found this old copy of Oliver Twist for 20p. I loved the inscription inside it "To Maurice with love from Auntie Alice + Uncle Horace, Xmas 1951". It made me think you hardly ever meet anyone nowadays called Horace or Maurice

I walked to Saisnbury's and took a photo of St Mary's church for Sasha, as he likes my photos of the churches.

Plum blossom in the garden...

Gorgeous magnolia tree by the river Windrush (view from the bridge).

We went to Oxford again today, this time to the Ashmolean, as Eddie wanted to look at the mummies, and Sasha wanted to see the Greek rooms (he kept showing me the photos from his school trip to the museum from several years ago).
Spot the difference!

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Thursday, 21 March 2019

The Saxon Wolves by Penny Ingham #BlogTour

historical fiction

 Many years ago, when I studied English literature at the University, I wrote my thesis on Mary Stewart's historical trilogy about Merlin. I've recently revisited the Dark Ages in Britannia after the fall of the Roman Empire, while reading an absorbing novel set in 455AD.

The Saxon Wolves by Penny Ingham is a gripping blend of history and mythology.
Penny Ingham is a master storyteller who weaves a tapestry of historical facts with fiction and myths.
Her retelling of the stories first narrated by Bede, Nennius and Geoffrey of Monmouth is vivid and striking. You feel transported back to the Dark Ages.

The Saxon Wolves is set in Britain 455AD, after the fall of the Roman Empire.
Anya is the daughter of a Saxon king who's been trained as a healer and a priestess since an early age. Compassionate and sensitive, she attends to the wounds of the prisoners with the same care she treats her younger sister (who appears to have a condition like autism, though obviously it is not mentioned in the book).
She is also a visionary, haunted by chilling dreams which she is not able to interpret.
Her life of privilege comes to an abrupt end when she dares to confront the high priest against the merciless human sacrifice.
Banished from Germania as a punishment, Anya travels to Britannia with her older brothers, Hengist and Horsa. Two brothers are completely different. While Hengist is a revengeful brute with no consideration for human life, Horsa just wants to settle down with his beautiful bride.

Britannia is in chaos. There are still lots of signs of the Roman empire, but the country is torn and left unprotected, as the rival kingdoms vie for power.

Vortigern was possibly one of the most infamous warlords of Britain. The historians do contest his existence but the Father of English History Bede the Venerable writes about the proud tyrant who invited the Saxons, under Hengist and his brother Horsa into Britain as mercenaries to help fight the Scots and Picts.

Vortigern, of course, features quite extensively in the Arthurian legends and fiction. The classic sources mention that Vortigern got smitten by Hengist's daughter Rowena, and offered a big part of his kingdom to the Saxons in exchange for Rowena's hand.

In Penny Ingham's novel he becomes obsessed with spirited Anya. Her elder brother Hengist is happy to secure his position in Britannia by offering Anya to Vortigern.

On the way to Aquae Sulis, Anya and her guards are ambushed by the Irish slave raiders. She is captured to be sold to the highest bidder. On the way to Ireland, their ship is destroyed by a storm. Anya is the only survivor of the shipwreck, finding herself on the shores outside Tintagel (another important landmark of the Arthurian legends).

Anya must learn how to survive among the people who treat her with suspicion and mistrust.
Will she be able to find a new home in Britannia?

The Saxon Wolves is thronged with drama, political intrigues of the times and historical period detail. Penny Ingham brings alive a remote historical epoch. Not to be missed by the fans of historical fiction.

Due to the nature of the historical background this book might contain possible triggers like human sacrifice (a distressing scene with quite graphic details), murder (including of children) etc.

Author's Bio:
Penny's father, a journalist, instilled her with a love of history from an early age. Family holidays invariably included an invigorating walk up an Iron Age hill-fort whilst listening to his stirring stories of the Roman attack and the valiant defence by the Britons. Consequently, Penny has a degree in Classics and a passion for history and archaeology. She has enjoyed a varied career, including BBC production assistant, theatre, PR and journalism, but her ambition was always to write historical fiction. Her first novel, The Kind's Daughter, was awarded Editor's Choice by the Historical Novel Society. Penny has worked on many archaeological excavations, and these digs and their evocative finds often provide the inspiration of her books.
Penny's research also takes her to the many spectacular historical sites featured in this novel, including Hadrian's Wall and Tintagel.

You can find more about the author checking out these links:
@pennyingham on Twitter

This review is part of the blog tour.

Disclosure: Thank you to Nerthus Publishing and Rachel's Random Resources for a free ecopy of the book.

Saturday, 16 March 2019

Photo diary: week 11, project 365

We spent most of the last week at home, as Eddie got poorly, with a fever and bad cough which kept him awake at night. He's been off school for several days, and I realised that I haven't taken any photos on Wednesday. Hence two images for Sunday.
The weather was a mixed bunch, changing in one half hour to another from a clear blue sky to a torrential rain and even sleet, then back to sunshine.

The Moon on Sunday was a beautiful bright crescent, but you could still see the whole shape.

crescent Moon

Earlier on Sunday Eddie went to his friend's birthday party, which was a Laser tag. Al the boys including the birthday boy are 1-2 years older than Eddie. He was very excited about the party, and was happy to join in the game. Alas, one of the older kids decided it was a great fun to punch my son in the face, as well as keep pushing him.
He was upset, and I took him outside, asking if he wanted to leave the party earlier and go home by taxi. Ed's friend went to talk to the bully, but the latter shrugged it off by saying it was just a game. Of course, it was, that's what all bullies say. He chose to pick up on the youngest. I didn't want to ruin the party, but I was fuming. These days, of course, you are not allowed to say anything to the other people's children, even if they behave like total shites, or you will be the one in trouble.

Monday morning was all blue skies and blossom. I walked by the old woolen mill, spotted the postie crossing the road, and liked the contrast of red against the grey, white and blue background.

More rain on Tuesday. It was the last swimming lesson for Eddie this year, and I suspect he didn't dry properly after the lesson, and then they walked through a bucketing rain back to school. He was already coughing in the morning, but by the evening his cough has got really bad.

No pics on Wednesday.
In a typical "poorly child"-fashion he was coughing and having a fever one moment, then feeling better and jumping around after the meds lowered the temperature.
Sasha was away overnight in his respite centre, but as Eddie was unwell, we didn't do anything except ordering a pizza and watching a movie. We snuggled up in a duvet and just had a quiet evening.

More rain... I walked in the garden, taking photos of the hyacinths my Mum planted last year, to show her what they look like.

We're at home today, as my husband is away. Eddie is still coughing, though less than the previous days, I hope he'll get better by Monday.

On Tuesday I popped into the local Waterstone's and asked one of our lovely ladies there to recommend me something mindless, preferably crime and not too graphic.
She suggested a couple of books, and for a few days I've been engrossed in If I die before I wake by Emily Koch. It is a story narrated by a young man in a locked-in syndrome, while everyone else believes he's in coma and debate whether to withdraw his life support.
It is an original and heart-breaking story, and the end made be blubber like a baby.
It is a psychological thriller, not graphic (though not mindless at all, in fact very deep and moving).
I finished it yesterday evening, and took a photo today, as I plan to write a review, once I have a chance.
Have you read this book?

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Tuesday, 12 March 2019

Sweet and sour peppers (agrodolce di peperoni)

vegetarian side dish

I was planning a meat-free menu for our Italian guests last weekend and browsing online for ideas for side dishes that would go with the main which was a baked risotto layered cake. I wanted to cook a dish with sweet peppers, and needed something hassle-free as the main was rather time-consuming.

Gennaro Contaldo's Agrodolce di peperoni on Good Food Channel looked easy and simple. Actually the Russians cook something similar with sweet peppers, only without anchovies. The Southern Russian cuisine is an amalgam of its southern and western neighbours, with the flavour influences from Moldova, Romania, Ukraine, and of course the Greek and Jewish communities from the Crimea.

I have slightly adapted the recipe, changing the method - cooking in the oven rather than fried - but the changes are minor (for a full recipe see the link above)

Sweet and sour peppers
4tbsp olive oil (2 +2)
3 sweet peppers (red, orange and yellow), deseeded and cut into big slices
2 anchovies
1 clove of garlic
a handful of olives stuffed with garlic
1tbsp salted capers, rinsed
1tbsp caster sugar
2tbsp apple cider vinegar

Slice the peppers in half, deseed them and then slice each half into 3-4 pieces. Place the pepper in a deep ceramic dish or tray, drizzle with 2 tbsp of oil and place the dish in the oven preheated to 180C for about 25 minutes.
Heat 2tbsp of the olive oil in a frying pan, add the anchovies and garlic, and fry the garlic for about 3-4 minutes. Remove from the heat.
Add the sliced olives, capers, sugar and vinegar and mix into the peppers which should be cooked through by now. Leave the peppers in the oven, which has been turned off.
You can eat these peppers warm or cold. They make a tasty side dish, or a snack to go with cheese and bread.

You don't need salt, as the anchovies give it a salty taste. For a vegetarian version, omit the anchovies. I have searched online what's the best substitute for anchovies in vegetarian dishes, and there is a product called an umeboshi paste. I haven't used it myself, so cannot say what it tastes like, but apparently chefs use it in vegetarian recipes. I'll see if I can find it locally.
Does anyone use it, and would you recommend it?

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

vegetable side dish

The Cornish Lady by Nicola Pryce #BlogTour

historical novels set in Cornwall

Every year we go to Cornwall to spend a week by the sea. We usually stay in a small village of Perranuthnoe. Walking in the opposite direction from the village you see St Michael's Mount, with its formidable castle which was home to St Aubyn's family for several centuries. We visited it a few times, the castle is quite compact inside, and wandering through the halls and rooms makes me think what stories those walls could tell.
I love Cornwall, and have a special fondness for books set in Cornwall.

The Cornish Lady by Nicola Pryce is set against the thrilling backdrop of the 18C Cornwall.

Don't be deceived by a demure innocent-looking young lady on the cover.
There is a love story running through the book, but there is so much more, as you get a sense of time and place.

Angelica Lilly is educated and beautiful. As her best friend's mother tells her: "Your beauty, your extreme beauty, coupled with the fact that you're a very rich woman, poses serious competition".
Angelica is invited to spend a summer in high society. She is accepted everywhere and attracts attention, but she doesn't feel like she belongs to the high society.
Her late mother was an actress, and her father is a prosperous merchant. Angelica feels like a fish out of water among the aristocrats of Cornwall.

Lord Entworth is offering her everything - position, wealth, high standing in society, as well as his love. He's been married before, it was an arranged marriage, where the relationship was strained. His late wife was polite to him in public, but rarely spoke to him in private. He is looking now for a woman who would love him back. Any young lady among his circles would be delighted to become his wife. But there is a dark side to him...

Angelica's younger brother Edgar returns home from Oxford, very ill and in the clutches of opium. He is also under the influence of an extremely unpleasant wastrel named Jacob Boswell. This arrogant impoverished aristocrat has attached himself to Edgar like a leech.
Jacob's mother - on the other hand - has set her cap at Angelica's father. Like mother, like son, they are both parasites with voracious appetites for other people's money.

Edgar and Jake arrive to the Lilly's house in Truro in a coach driven by the handsome coachman Henry Trevelyan. He is softly spoken and reads poetry. Angelica soon finds out that this was all a disguise, and Henry is on a mission to find robbers who attack the coaches.
He is educated and attractive, and there is a definite spark between the two. That is, until Henry seemingly betrays Angelica and her family.

Set against the dramatic coastline of Cornwall, this novel will thrill the fans of the Poldark series. The parallels and comparisons are inevitable, since the historic period described in the books is nearly the same.

The historical background feels authentic, with the social norms and groups described accurately. The topic of the role of women in the 18C society runs through the novel.
Angelica, for example, is expected to marry into the aristocratic family, thus fulfilling her mission. Her father doesn't want her to learn about his business.
On the opposite side, there are the Foxes who share the same office and run business together. Then there's the Carews, where Lady Clarissa appears to be the boss of the family. Her daughter Amelia, a friend and confidante of Angelica, grows an apothecary garden and knows a lot about botany and medicinal herbs. Having lost her fiancé, she is heartbroken. Untypical of that age and social norms, she is not coerced by her family to move on and marry someone else. In fact, she is resigned to live her life as a spinster, surrounded by her family.

This historical novel provides the grand sweep of the society. The social injustice is prevalent, the rift between rich and poor is wide.
While poor people are starving, and there are riots in towns, the Carews think nothing of spending a fortune on buying cherry plants from the Russian tsarina's court.

Will Angelica find a true love? And will she be able to save her brother Edgar who's implicated in a terrible plot?

Vastly engaging, The Cornish Lady is a fast-moving, enjoyable read.

novels set in Cornwall

Author Bio:
Nicola Pryce came to writing after a career in nursing. She lives in the Blackdown Hills in Somerset and when she isn't writing, she's probably gardening or scrubbing the decks.
She and her husband love sailing and for the last twenty years they have sailed in and out of the romantic harbours of the south coast of Cornwall in search of adventure: it is there where she sets her books.

The Cornish Lady is her fourth book. The others are Pengelly's Daughter, The Captain's Girl and The Cornish Dressmaker.

Nicola is a member of the Romantic Novelists' Association and The Historical Writers Association.

Social Media Links:

This review is part of The Cornish Lady blog tour. You can check out all the stops of the tour, looking at this schedule.

Disclosure: Many thanks to Corvus Books and Rachel's Random Resources for my copy of the book.