Tuesday, 30 April 2019

National Stationery Week (29 April - 5 May 2019)

STABILO point 88 fineliner

Custard creams... That's all I needed to buy, when I popped into Poundland yesterday morning. We're reading David Walliams' Fing with Eddie, and the little monster Fing loves custard creams. For some reason I never buy them, so my son begged me to buy some to enjoy with the book.
I got a bag of custard creams, but then my feet took me to the stationery isle, where I bought yet another Harry Potter-themed notebook and some fancy clippers.
Sounds familiar? Are you a stationery addict? Then this is our week.

National Stationery Week (29 April - 5 May) gives us a chance to celebrate our favourite notebooks, pens, markers, paperclips, highlighters, document wallets and all things paper and writing-related.

I've always loved drawing. My Mum's an artist, so it was a natural progression that I wanted to copy her from a very early age. I had my first art admirers in the kindergarten.
My Dad, on the other hand, couldn't draw at all, though he did an amazing jewellery. He once tried to draw a horse for me - it was a view from the back, a kind of an oval with two stick legs and a long tail. A genius idea.

Buying new stationery for school made the beginning of a new academic year that little bit more positive.

These days I buy stationery for many reasons. As a blogger, I'm always writing down recipes, ideas for posts, and just making lists of posts which I have promised to write, so that I don't miss a deadline.

I have dozens upon dozens of notebooks and notepads - from humble, unpretentious supermarket own products to the king of notebooks and diaries Moleskine.

And then there is a whole Universe of writing and colouring tools.

STABILO pens are well-known and much-loved around the world. They offer products for all ages, abilities and tastes.
"Pens with cult status - that is what STABILO stands for. The family-run enterprise STABILO is one of the world's leading manufacturers of writing instruments and stands for German quality, an extraordinary variety of colours and ground-breaking innovative strength".

STABILO has a whole host of pens and pencils in every colour you can think of.

To mark the National Stationery Week I am going to mention a few STABILO products which will suit anyone and everyone, whatever their writing style.

STABILO point 88 fineliner is an instantly recognisable classic pen. Great for writing, underlining, taking notes, sketching as well as working with rulers and stencils, the range includes 47 brilliant colours.
These pens come in a wide choice of pack sizes and packaging.

Let's look at the pack of 6 point 88 fineliners. The colours are bright and vibrant, the ink flows clearly and leaves no smudges (I've tried to smudge the writing immediately after application, and no trace was left on my finger). The ink dries instantly.

best writing pens uk

Perfect for doodles, black is my favourite colour.

best writing pens UK

STABILO Power Felt Tip Pen Wallet of 15 Assorted Colours is a set you can most often find in the isles of stationery for children.
STABILO power felt tip pens come in 30 colours and have a medium tip.
The colours are water-based and are supposed to be easily washable.

A big bonus is that it has an extremely long cap off time of up to 8 weeks without drying out. That is seriously impressive.

The pack suggests checking out a free 3D colouring App at stabilo.com/3dcolors

We received a few STABILO products only last Saturday, so didn't have much time to play with them yet.

My son is a big Pokemon fan, and has chosen to draw and colour in Detective Pikachu.

Detective Pikachu

These pens have a robust large tip with a line width of 2mm. They are good for colouring, though check the paper first if you use colouring books, as some of them have rather thin paper, and the colouring pens might bleed on the other side.

I did a little sketch, using both fineliners and power felt tip pens.
I'm reading The girl who speaks bear by Sophie Anderson, and my quick sketch is book-related.

sketches with STABILO

It is a lovely set. I particularly like the skin tone, which is often missing in children's colouring sets.

sketching with STABILO

STABILO BeFab! Rollerball Pastel Pen is ideal for both right and left handers. The rollerball comes with one standard ink cartridge.
It has a medium nib width of 0.5mm.

It took me quite a while to figure out how to add the ink to the pen, but when I got it, it was pretty self-explanatory.

best writing pens UK

The nib is very thin, and would suit for either writing or doodling.

pens for doodling

Do you have a favourite STABILO product?

Disclosure: We received a selection of STABILO products (see the top photo, minus the paperclips) for the purposes of reviewing them for National Stationery Week. All opinions are our own.

Saturday, 27 April 2019

Photo diary: week 17, project 365

The Easter weekend was sunny and busy. We didn't have any guests, so it was less stressful, cooking just for us and not worrying about the state of the house.

Easter Sunday passed in a blur of too much chocolate. Eddie went to the church service in the morning with his Dad, while I stayed at home, cooking our Easter lunch. The weather was very warm, in fact it was so hot for several days that I had to water all my potted flowers.

We have two very old apple trees in the garden. While one is covered in blossom this week, the other one is pretty much keeping the buds unopened.

Back to school for Eddie, while Sasha's school had the inset day, so he stayed at home. We didn't have to hurry home after school, and Eddie and I popped into the Shake shop for the first milkshake of the season. We were sitting in the courtyard in the back.

The garden is full of forget-me-nots and bluebells. And the hated ground elder is getting on my nerves again.

The weather has changed for a much cooler one, with the rain going on and off.
Last autumn my Mum planted several bulbs of Ice Cream tulips in my garden, and I'm waiting for them to open up properly. They have creamy white insides and peony pink outside petals.

I picked a big bunch of lilac in the garden, and put it in the vase in the hall. Now our hall smells like a perfume shop.

While Sasha prefers to go to Cafe Nero on Saturdays, Eddie and I are more of the Costa people. Eddie likes to sit by the window, and keep an eye on Sasha, whenever possible, as Sasha likes to sit by the window at Nero, which is just opposite and across the road. And that's how we rock.

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Thursday, 25 April 2019

Map of the Universe 1500-piece jigsaw puzzle from Ravensburger

difficult jigsaw puzzles

"Two possibilities exist: either we are alone in the Universe or we are not. Both are equally terrifying."
Arthur C. Clarke

Earlier this month the whole world was astonished to see the first picture of the black hole at the centre of Messier 87, a massive galaxy in the nearby Virgo galaxy cluster. It is 55 million light-years away from Earth. It is an exciting and scary sight.

In the last few weeks galaxies and stars were pretty much on my mind, as I was working on a new stunning Map of the Universe 1500-piece jigsaw puzzle from Ravensburger.

best jigsaw puzzles

If you enjoy challenging jigsaw puzzles, this is one fiendish puzzle, and I say that as a compliment.
It took me many days to complete, and when the last piece of puzzle was slotted in, I felt like celebrating.

best jigsaw puzzles

This is an amazingly detailed image of the Universe, with galaxies, solar system, stars and constellations.

challenging jigsaw puzzles

The colour palette is restricted, there is a lot of black, with small fonts and thin-line images.

best jigsaw puzzles

Typically I start with finding the frame pieces, and once the frame is established I build inwards.
With this puzzle, I found it quite tricky to begin with the frame, as the pieces were all black.

My tips would be to start sorting by whatever jigsaw pieces with colour you can find, and assemble the bigger wheel with months in it.

This is the work in progress:

gifts for jigsaw puzzle fans

Then it's the turn of the inner circles. Gradually build in the corners with the Spectra, Galaxies, Stars and Solar System.

best jigsaw puzzles

It might help if you have a knowledge of the map of the Universe, and move the pieces to their approximate locations (I'm not one of those clever people, alas).

The fonts for names vary, some are easier to read, some need a magnifying glass to read (I got one in the Poundland).

best jigsaw puzzles

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

The drawings of the constellations are beautifully executed.
My younger son and I are reading Greek Myths at the moment, and he was interested to see the names of the characters like Hercules, Orion, Pegasus, Centaurus, Andromeda etc.

best jigsaw puzzles

This puzzle could be a great educational tool.

best jigsaw puzzles

The attention to detail is astonishing. It's a true work of art.

This beautiful puzzle will make an excellent gift for any jigsaw puzzle fan. Work on it on your own, or as a family project, and learn about the mysteries and beauty of the Universe.

challenging jigsaw puzzles

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

best jigsaw puzzles

Sunday, 21 April 2019

Photo diary: week 16, project 365

Wishing you all a happy Easter!
I've been ticking off days to this weekend, waiting for the Hall of Fame 2019 countdown. The three days I have been spending as much time as possible in the kitchen, listening to the radio. Tomorrow is the final day, when the overall winner will be revealed. I hope the voting won't bring back The Lark Ascending. Last year it was Tchakovsky's 1812 Overture, and while picking my three choices, I considered for a moment voting strategically to keep it up, but this is not my favourite work by Tchaikovsky.
This year my personal choices didn't do very well - Masquerade Suite went down 40 places to no.224; The Gadfly flew to no.129 (45 down) and even Romeo & Juliet descended from their balcony to no.116 (11 down). Oh well.
As usual, I wonder at some of the ridiculous choices. How could Mario and Rabbids reach no.258, defeating, for example, Die Fledermaus (263) and Vespers (264)? Or Game of Thrones (218) be a higher achiever than Aida (227) or The Thieving Magpie (276)?
Sorry for my rant, but I have noone here to talk to about it, as my guys don't listen to Classic FM.

Back to our week.
Our garden is a riot of colour this week, with parrot tulips revealing their striking colours.

April garden

On Sunday my husband came back from his trip to Geneva, and brought us a box of chocolates. We opened the box the next day to see these beauties.

Eddie's trainers got totally broken, and he also needed new PE shoes. We got him the red trainers, and when we went out on Tuesday, I laughed at how his trainers matched his red coat, dark hat and light joggers.

We also bought the latest Tom Gates book, under the condition that he reads it to himself, as I don't want to be involved. We already read every evening together (just started the Greek myths, since Eddie's been enjoying Atlantis series on DVD).

The full Moon...

I love cheese, and will happily eat it for lunch or dinner, with fresh fruit and oatcakes or crispbreads. Peter's Yard crispbreads are the best for cheese. I bought these charcoal and rye crispbreads in Waitrose, as I was curious to try them. I'd say the charcoal is more of a colour than the flavour.

Yesterday we went to Oxford. We didn't do much, just went to McDonalds and to Blackwells, as they promised an Easter egg hunt. The hunt was rather disappointing, as all you had to do was to find a little plastic egg on a shelf. No clues or trail.
While Sash and I returned home earlier, Eddie went with his Dad to Christ Church college, and finally was able to see the hall where they filmed Harry Potter.

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Tuesday, 16 April 2019

New foodie discoveries - Swedish edition

My fascination with Swedish food started many years ago, when I was reading Astrid Lindgren's books as a child. A few mentions of the Swedish recipes which sounded to me so delightfully exotic, made me want to try them all.
Of course, my Mum cooked the most delicious meatballs, but for some reason Freken Bok's kötbullar ( FB is a grumpy housekeeper in Karlson on the roof series) sounded much more appealing.

I am not a fan of food (or designer) trends, so all that hygge business by-passed me. You couldn't totally escape it, as every magazine, and many newly published books were shouting Hygge! Hygge! then after it faded away, there was another unpronounced Scandi trend. And then there was a craze for Swedish lagom...
Thanks goodness, it seems to have blown over as well.

And while I am probably the most untrendy blogger, by ignoring all the suggested food swings, I do enjoy trying new recipes and foods.

Last year when getting through the piles of newspapers, deciding what to recycle, I came across a promotional page for Ocado, offering a free delivery for a year. It sounded good, I've never shopped in Ocado before and decided to give it a go.
Browsing the online shop, I discovered the Swedish isle, and the rest is history.

The list of Swedish products below is quite random, there is no system, these are just the foods and drinks I bought and tried. I didn't buy them all in one go, but added one or two items at a time.

Ekströms Vår Klassika Blåbärs Soppa Originalet
I always wanted to try a Swedish bilberry soup, but for some reason never actually made it, though you can find recipes online easily. This is not a soup as we know it in the UK. It resembles strongly a sweet drink which we call a kissel in Russia, and it's made of berries or fruit with a little bit of starch like potato flour or corn starch.

Swedish foods UK

It's a light soup/drink, with 50kcal and 11g of sugar per 100g.
This is a classic Swedish dish, which you eat cold or warm. In the hot weather it's a lovely treat, eaten straight from the fridge.

Bilberries are hard to find in the UK, not sure why they are not cultivated as widely as blueberries. They are similar in taste to blueberries, but bilberries are smaller in size and have more vitamins. I've only seen dried bilberries in the shops, and never fresh ones.
Back to our soup: it is tasty, and I will definitely buy it again.

Swedish foods UK

Abba Swedish Herring Marinated with dill will appeal to pickled herring fans.
Ingredients include herring pieces, sugar, onion, salt, vinegar, dill, dill extract.
Certified sustainable seafood MSC.
Catch areas: Norwegian sea, North sea.
It's tasty with a plain potato salad with lots of soured cream and fresh dill, or on a rye bread, buttered liberally.

Swedish foods UK

The marinade is quite sweet and not as sharp as some of the British marinades for herring you can buy at the supermarket delis.

Swedish foods UK

Ahlgrens Bilar sour candy
These strange-shaped candy pieces (are they supposed to be mice? teeth with roots?) might be quite iconic in Sweden, but I don't think I'd be buying them again.
So sour, it's a bit of a sensory overload.
Nutritional information: 352kcal per 100g, quite a few E-numbers (E334, E270, E141, E120).

Swedish candy UK

Swedish candy UK

The first time I've tried a product from Felix was a couple of years ago, when Degustabox included one of their products in their food box. It was a jar of Felix sweet pickled gherkins, which I loved, and have been buying quite often.
Sweet pickled gherkins are delicious flavourful pickles. They are made, using a traditional recipe with vinegar, sugar and spices.
Add them to any savoury dish, for example, a Swedish potato salad.

Swedish preserves UK

Since then I have come  across more foodie delights from Felix.
Felix Blåbär (Wild blueberry jam) is a Swedish delicacy. It's a delicious jam, which is wonderful on toasted bread, or spooned into a thick Greek yogurt.
Nutritional information: 170kcal and 39g of sugar per 100g
Top marks!

Swedish preserves UK

Swedish preserves UK

Swedish prserves UK

And if I thought that the blueberry jam is delicious, then I was in for a bigger treat with Felix Lingon (wild lingonberry jam). This is a pure heaven in a jar.
This delightful condiment is a popular ingredient in the Swedish cuisine. Felix Jams call it "a must-have in every Swedish household".
It is sweet, with a tart note. You can have it in both sweet and savoury dishes. Fabulous with thick natural yogurt, topped up with granola, or just spooned over a dish of vanilla ice cream, it makes a tasty dessert.
It goes perfectly well as a sauce for meatballs. In fact, the Swedish meatballs with lingonberry jam is a classic. For the most satisfying comfort food add a big heap of mashed potatoes, gravy and pickled gherkins. What a treat!

Swedish preserves UK

I buy it in Ocado, but I've also seen in delis.
Nutritional information: 190kcal and 44g of sugar per 100g.

Swedish preserves UK

And one more sweet treat from Felix -
Felix Hjortron (wild cloudberry) jam.
It has a lot of seeds, so if you only eat seedless jams, then don't try it.

Cloudberries grow in the cold climate in the northern parts of Scandinavia.
They are popular in Russia, and apparently, the cloudberry kvas and flavoured water were favoured by the Russian tsars.
They make a delicious jam, which is great on warm waffles, smothered on scones or in ice cream.

Swedish preserves UK

Swedish preserves UK

This jam turns a steak or quorn steak sandwich into a feast.

Swedish preserves UK

All Felix preserves are available on Amazon at ridiculously astronomical prices. If you want to try any of them, visit the local delis or buy in Ocado, which often has offers for these products.

If you're assembling a smorgasbord, you might want to add a dish of a beet salad to your selection.
ScandiKitchen Scandinavian Beetroot Salad is a creamy beet dish. It's a mix of sweet and tart flavours.
Ingredients: Beetroot, rapeseed oil, sugar, egg yolk, vinegar, onion, beetroot juice.
Nutritional info: 240kcal and 12g sugar per 100g

Swedish appetisers

It tastes good on a slice of rye bread or crispbreads (may I suggest Peter's Yard sourdough crispbreads? Though technically not Swedish, as they are produced in the UK, they were inspired by the Swedish cuisine, and are some of the best crispbreads which you can buy here. They are my top favourite - served with any cheese, fresh grapes or apples and a glass of wine (optional)).

Swedish appetisers

Talking of crispbreads, Leksands Knäcke is baked following a traditional family recipe, and is a great allrounder.
It has a mild rye flavour, which is a great base for any toppings.

I bought it in Ocado, when it was on offer a while ago. What I didn't realise is that these crispbreads are ginormous. I expected them to be the size of a small plate, but these are huge, so you'd have to break them into pieces.
They are similar to Ryvita in taste and texture.

Swedish crispbreads

Nygårda Julmust is what I would call a Swedish reply to Coca-cola or Pepsi. It's a carbonated soft drink.
In my childhood we had a similar drink in Russia called Baikal. I don't think it exists any longer.
The original Swedish recipe goes back to 1910.
40kcal per 100ml

Swedish soft drinks UK

My elder son who loves Pepsi and Diet Coke wasn't so keen on the Swedish soft drink. It does have an acquired taste, but it was fun to try it for Christmas.

Swedish soft drinks UK

Arla Filmjölk is a Swedish style yogurt or soured milk. Ocado jokingly calls it a breakfast favourite since the Viking times.
Serve it in a glass, or pour over muesli or cereal.

Swedish milk drink UK

It's a thick dairy drink, a bit like a mix between soured cream and kefir.

Swedish drinking yogurt UK

And finally, Rekorderlig. This cider brand is very popular and doesn't need any introductions.

Rekorderlig Botanicals, a sweet Swedish cider, comes in a variety of fruity flavours - Rhubarb, lemon and mint; Peach and basil & Grapefruit and rosemary.

Rhubarb, lemon and mint has a distinct citrussy taste, well-balanced with note of mint and tartness of rhubarb. Great over ice, with a fresh mint leaf and a squeeze of lime.

Peach and basil is a sweeter cider, with a beautiful peach fragrance and a herbal note of basil.

Grapefruit and rosemary is another citrus-herb combination, well-balanced and delicious.

If you plan eating al fresco over the Easter weekend, this cider will be a special treat for any cider fan.

sweet fruit cider

I could have written a longer post, but decided to pick a dozen of Swedish foods and drinks, which have caught my attention.

What Swedish foods or drinks would you recommend to try?

P.S. This post is not endorsed by any above mentioned brand.