Wednesday, 29 May 2019

The Curse of Ragman's Hollow by Rhys A Jones #BlogTour

YA horror and mystery

Last year we spent several months, binge-watching Merlin. It is such a fabulous series, and we cannot find anything else to watch as good as Merlin. Following the series, Eddie and I were reading Arthurian legends and looking at the pre-Raphaelite paintings.
Merlin or Myrddin has inspired many medieval as well as modern writers and artists.

We were thrilled when Merlin was mentioned in The Curse of Ragman's Hollow by Rhys A Jones. While Merlin himself doesn't feature in the central plotline, he is related to the main protagonist of the book, a boy called Sam Jones, and is mentioned in the legend of Ragman's Hollow.

Sam, like his Gran, belongs to the Cunning Folk. He's in tune with the old folk traditions and the world of magic.
Sam's grandmother aka Mother Merryweather "was steeped in old lore and ancient wisdom. She was one of the "cunning" folk, whose job was making sure that bad things didn't happen to ordinary people. Sam had learned the hard way that he, too, had the "cunning" and Gran was busy making sure he knew how to use his talents, of which there were quite a few".

Sam's Mum, Arabella, on the other hand, dismisses her mother's skills and abilities as superstitious stuff and nonsense.
One summer day she announces to her son that she has booked a stay in a lovely little cottage in West Wales. And what's more, they would all travel with an unbearable family - Zedrick and Wilma, and their loud bossy mother Hester.
Apparently, Arabella has always wanted to visit Ragman's Hollow, and the cottage is only a few miles away.

Gran is shocked and tries to dissuade this foolhardy decision, but Arabella is adamant: "We will go to Ragman's Hollow and even picnic there to prove, once and for all, just how much nonsense all of this is".

Ragman's Hollow is a scary place. A very long time ago it was inhabited by a wraith, a creature which has no substance and which steals people's souls and keeps them as trophies. This horrible wraith is trapped forever inside the Ragman's Hollow.
That's the place which the locals avoid with a good reason.
And that's where reckless Arabella wants to have her picnic to prove her point.

The Hollinghursts are portrayed as an obnoxious bunch. There are no redeeming qualities in any of them, and it's a mystery as to why Sam's mother would want to spend any time with them. They are all rude, self-centred, egoistic, snobbish and judgmental.

They try to impose their own lifestyle on Sam and his mother, like insisting they all wear shorts, have no gadgets during the trip, eat nettle soup and some revolting vegetable concoctions, have an hour of maths and English before breakfast and much more. For some strange reason, Arabella goes along with the diktat of the ridiculous family.

Sam is outnumbered. And soon he finds himself up against the ancient evil force. He is going to need every ounce of his cunning to fight the evil. Will Sam win a terrifying battle against the creepy wraith?

The Curse of Ragman's Hollow by Rhys A. Jones is the third book in The Merryweathers Mysteries.
We haven't read the previous books, and were slightly confused at the beginning. Despite a mild bafflement in the first chapter, we were glued to the book and totally spellbound.

Brimming with magic and suspence, this fantasy-cum-horror story will sweep you away and keep you on the edge of your seat.
This story is a journey of self-discovery, divided loyalties, companionship and empathy.

This review is part of the blog tour, have a look at the other stops along the way.

YA fiction

Many thanks to Rhys A. Jones and Rachel's Rare Resources for our copy of the book!

YA mystery and horror fiction

Tuesday, 28 May 2019

Potato salad with vegan mayo

vegan side dishes for BBQ

This week (27 May- 2 June 2019) is a BBQ week. Many families will be having casual get-togethers and inviting neighbours and friends. Judging by the frequent smell of the burnt meat wafting indoors, our neighbours have already been firing up their BBQs regularly.
We don't have a BBQ that often, in fact we haven't had any this year so far. But as it's a midterm break, I hope we could have friends over for a casual meal at the weekend.
It will be a mix of meat-eaters, pescatarians and vegetarians.

One of my top favourite foods at any BBQ is a humble potato salad. This easy side dish is delicious, and goes well with most BBQed foods.
I don't need an excuse to make a potato salad. It's one of my favourite foods, and I'm happy to eat it, BBQ or not.

In this recipe I'm going to use two of the products which were delivered in the latest Degustabox - Kühne whiskey cornichons and a Hellmann's vegan mayo.
None of us are vegans, but I was very curious to try the vegan mayo.
I'm not a fan of vegan cheese (I tried many varieties and was mostly underwhelmed), but I enjoy some of the vegan milk alternatives.
One of the potato salad recipes that I tend to make has eggs, but since I'm making a vegan salad, they were left out.

vegan BBQ side dishes

Potato salad with vegan mayo
6 + medium potatoes, peeled and quartered
2 celery stalks, finely chopped
2 tbsp fresh dill
8+ mini cornichons
1 tbsp mustard
1/2 tsp caster sugar
2 tbsp pickle liquid (from cornichons)
4-5+ heaped tbsp mayo

The basic steps for making a potato salad are the same whether it's a vegan or non-vegan version.
Peel and quarter potatoes, and cook them in salted boiling water or steam until soft (but not mushy, don't overcook them). Let them cool down, before chopping into smaller chunks.
Chop the celery stalks and cornichons.
Make the dressing by mixing together mustard, caster sugar, pickle liquid and mayo. If you cooked the potatoes in the steamer, you might want to add salt to the dressing.
Mix the potatoes with celery, cornichons and dressing. Chop some fresh dill and scatter over the top.

vegan potato salad

What did we think of Hellmann's vegan mayo? I was pleasantly surprised at how creamy and tasty it is.
It's definitely a perfect alternative to a dairy-based mayo.

vegan mayo

Kühne whiskey cornichons are crunchy and delicious. A lovely treat for all fans of pickles. I haven't tried them before, but I did buy a jar of Kühne gin cornichons recently in Ocado. Both flavours are great. Any dull cheese sandwich will benefit from this tasty addition.

Have you tried this vegan mayo? What did you think?

Sunday, 26 May 2019

Semolina Coconut cake

easy bakes with semolina

As Sundays go, ours is not the most exciting, but not the worst either. Eddie is feeling better, and we even did a foray into town to do a quick grocery shopping. We also visited Waterstones to get a booster pack of Unbroken Bonds for Eddie.
In the late afternoon we had tea with cake. My husband is watching What/If on Netflix and complaining about how bad it is. Why do you keep watching it then?

I've recently baked an apple semolina cake, and still had plenty of semolina left in the packet. As my guys were wandering in and out of the kitchen earlier today, looking for something sweet for tea, I said I'd bake a cake, but that they'd have to wait for an hour.

bakes with semolina

Semolina Orange cake
100g dry semolina
zest and juice of 1 big orange
3 medium eggs
40g dessicated coconut
120g caster sugar
110g self-raising flour
1tsp baking powder
90ml mild olive oil
ground vanilla
for icing: 3 heaped tbsp of icing sugar mixed with orange juice
Midget gems for decoration (optional)

First mix the semolina with orange zest and juice  in a mixing bowl.
Beat in the eggs, coconut and sugar, and combine well. Sift in the flour, baking powder, add oil, mix well.
Grind a bit of vanilla if you have a vanilla pod grinder (or add a teaspoon of vanilla essence).

Oil the cake tin with the oil spray of your choice. I like to use the avocado oil spray, as it has a neutral taste.
Pour the cake batter into the cake tin and place the tin in the oven preheated to 180C.
Bake for 35+ minutes. Check readiness with a wooden toothpick, if it comes out clean, the cake is ready.

You could also do a light orange icing drizzle over the top, just mix 3 heaped tbsp of icing sugar with enough orange juice to make a runny icing. Decorate with sweets of your choice.

easy cakes and bakes

desserts with semolina

I used Bravura Foods Free From Fellows Vegan Midget Gems from the latest Degustabox as a decoration for this cake. Any other midget gems or chewy sweets would work.
These sweets are made without sugar, gluten, gelatine and dairy, and thus are vegan friendly. They are also egg free, soy free, GMO free, nut free and free from artificial flavours and colours.
The vegan aspect of these sweets is of no importance to us as a family, as we are not vegans.
They taste very much like the original midget gems, if I remember correctly, as I haven't bought them recently. My sons both liked the vegan midget gems.

desserts with semolina

How is your Sunday going? Are you having a relaxing day or enjoying outdoors?

easy desserts with semolina

Normal People by Sally Rooney

Costa Book Awards shortlist

Have you ever read a book, which made you wonder after you finished it if the critics and you have read different books? That's exactly how I felt about Normal People by Sally Rooney.

Just look at the lavish praise from the newspapers - "The best novel published this year" (The Time), "A future classic" (The Guardian), "The most enjoyable novel of the year" (Daily Telegraph), "Quite astonishing" (Independent), "Rooney has given us a spellbinding twenty-first century love story..." (TLS) etc etc

I wanted to like this book, but I was left rather underwhelmed and disenchated  with it.

Marianne Sheridan and Connell Waldron grow in the same provincial town in the west of Ireland and go to the same school. She lives in a white mansion, while he is a child of a cleaner.  He is a popular kid at school, while she is almost a pariah.
He doesn't talk to her at school or even look at her. But there is a spark between them, and they start seeing each other in secret.

It's all very much Common People, "I want to do whatever common people do... I want to sleep with common people like you..."
And while Connell doesn't take Marianne to the supermarket, he does take her to the ghost estate, right behind the school, where empty window holes are covered over with plastic sheeting and where the teens go to drink and have sex on dirty mattresses.

"I couldn't put Normal People down", enthused Elif Batuman.
Well, I could. And I did, many times actually. I truly struggled with this book. I found it so uninspiring, but challenged myself to keep going, so that I could have a formed opinion of my own.

The main characters are so insipid, shallow and unpleasant. They are almost lacking in personality. I couldn't relate to them on any level, and not because of their age.
Their on-off relationship is borderline tedious.

Marianne is supposed to be intelligent, but she's lacking the most basic understanding of how the other people live.
When her friend Joanne works in the office, Marianne thinks of her as "a citizen of a country M has never visited, the country of paid employment." She argues with her friend that the time she spends at work is the time she'd never get back and money is just a social construct.

Her family is obnoxious to the point of a caricature. Marianne has been mentally and physically abused, which might explain to some extent why she had stopped developing psychologically and why she goes through life with an it's-easier-to-be-submissive attitude. Her abusive brother and mother are very one-dimensional, they are portrayed as nasty, without any in-depth explanation.

Marianne's life seems to be like a yo-yo. First she's a social outcast at school, then becomes one of the most fashionable popular creatures at college, then moves into obscurity again after leaving one of her numerous abusive relationships, only to be accepted again by the old crowd, who crave her forgiveness.

Marianne seems to look at herself as a man's chattel. Any man's chattel, without a value of her own, which I found utterly depressing.
"She experiences a depression so deep it is tranquilising, she eats whatever he tells her to eat, she experiences no more ownership over her own body than if it were a piece of litter".

"Her body is just an item of property, and though it has been handed around and misused in various ways, it has somehow belonged to him, and she feels like returning it to him now".
You almost feel like shaking her: A woman's body is not a property!!! Stop being so pathetic!
And that's the story of her life. There is always an unsuitable boyfriend, and she is so needy. It is all so awfully demeaning.

The book is hailed as an exquisite love story. Yes, how exquisite indeed, when one school child says the other school child, "Is it OK if I come in your mouth?"

I also didn't enjoy the style of writing. There were too many descriptions of the minutiae of their lives, like washing the dishes, setting the table, uncorking the bottle, sipping wine.

The story is a non-story really. Marianne and Connell have sex, break up, meet and have sex again, break up, etc etc. All the drama was convoluted and self-absorbed. You really want them to break up for good, and just go on with their lives.

I haven't read a book recently which would rattle and irk me as much as Normal People.

If that's the portrayal of the new generation, then it's a very miserable and depressing reality.

Costa Book Awards Shortlist

Saturday, 25 May 2019

Photo diary: week 21, project 365

A midterm break has started with an unpleasant stomach bug for my younger one. Today we're both tired and sleepy after a sleepless night. Fingers crossed, the rest of the week will go without adventures of this kind.

Rhododenrons have changed their colour from bright pink to almost white. It happens every year, and makes me wonder at them every year too.

garden in May

A quick coffee after the school run at The Blue Boar, with the light refracted through the prism beads of the lantern by the window.

where to eat in Oxfordshire

On Tuesday it was Sasha's respite night. He was very eager to go, and was all smiles from the early morning. He enjoys going there. Eddie and I decided to go to Oxford after school.
We went out for dinner to Pizza Express. I haven't been in that place for about 20 years, and I wanted to show Eddie the old building. It dates back to the 12C, and is so beautiful inside. In a way, it's a pity that it's a pizza place, and not some kind of a history museum.

old buildings in Oxford

I visited John Lewis while Eddie and his father played table football, and bought myself a hat. I had a £20 voucher which I won at the Twitter party organised by BritMums about a month ago. The hat was £35, and there were two versions, with the blue and pink under the brim. I liked both, and pink is not my usual colour, but I thought it refreshed the skin tone more.

I wore it on the school run the next morning.

On Thursday Eddie's current and old schools were doing a May Dance on the Church Green. I took lots of photos and videos which I cannot post on social media.
It was a hot afternoon. Children danced traditional dances, and the little ones also performed the Baby Shark dance routine with great enthusiasm, which made everyone smile.

I also took photos of St Mary's church, with the aeroplane passing by.

Eddie wasn't feeling well after the dance, and by Friday morning he was quite poorly. I think he got a stomach bug. I emailed school, and I bet they thought we took him out of school to go on holiday, as they didn't even acknowledge my message.
Eddie was upset not to go to school, as he missed his chess club and also the carer's club party, which took part at the last hour of school. He was counting days to that party, poor thing.

Children had to bring posies to the May dance and after the performance parents were offered to buy the posies. I bought this pretty purple posie, which smells lovely.

late spring flowers

Today is a bit of a zombie day for me. Eddie had hardly slept, as he was sick through the night, and I had to change the bedding several times. Then we woke up Sasha at 5am, and after that it was no much sleeping going on in the house.
Eddie and I stayed at home today, he's slowly getting better. Hope he'll be well enough to get out of the house tomorrow.

The creamy white roses are in full bloom now. The garden smells so sweet.

garden in May

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Tuesday, 21 May 2019

Malamander by Thomas Taylor

best children's fiction for 2019

"I lean in closer too, wondering what I'll see, and what's expected of me. The image starts to fade in and out, but then I see it: something darker than the shadows, crouching on the pier. Something big. It begins walking - no, creeping -towards the diner. It seems human, until...
"Is that a tail?" I gasp.
Two lamp-like orbs blink in the darkness.
"Are those eyes?"
"Then you do see it?" Lady Kraken grabs my arm. "Mr Lemon, tell me we're not dreaming!"

It's not often you start reading the book, and get hooked from the very first pages.
Malamander by Thomas Taylor grabs you by the hook (or should that be a boathook?!) and keeps you thrilled till the very end.

Herbie Lemon is the Lost-and-Founder at the Grand Nautilus Hotel. He looks after the lost property, and lives in the hotel cubbyhole.
Herbie was found on the beach, in a crate of lemons, with his memory wiped out. He didn't remember his name, and was named by the hotel staff as Herbert Lemon.

One day he finds a girl scrambling through his window. She asks him to hide her. The ugly and frightening Boathook Man is after her.

Twelve years earlier baby Violet was found abandoned in the hotel, her parents vanished.
Violet hopes Herbie will be able to help her find the truth about her parents. Since he's the Lost-and-Founder, she reckons he's good at reading clues, like a detective.

And thus their adventures begin, amidst the stormy wintery atmosphere.
"When sea mist drifts up the streets like vast ghostly tentacles, and saltwater spray rattles the windows of the Grand Nautilus Hotel. Few people visit Eerie-on-Sea then. Even the locals keep off the beach when darkness falls and the wind howls around Maw Rocks and the wreck of the battleship Leviathan, where even now some swear they have seen the unctuous malamander creep."

best children's mystery books

Herbie and Violet make an awesome team. She's impulsive and foolishly brave, he's more sensible and thoughtful. Both orphaned at an early age, they have great mysteries of their backgrounds in common.
They are the perfect opposites of each other in personality
The daring duo are the most endearing protagonists, who you sort of want to adopt (if you're a grown-up).

While trying to solve the enigma of Violet's parents' disappearance, they go to the Eerie Book Dispensary (a place I'd love to visit). This is not a common book shop. Books are dispensed by a mechanical mermonkey (part-monkey, part-fish).
"A library will lend you the book you want, while a shop sells it for a price. In this place, however, it's the book that chooses you."

The book chosen by mermonkey for Violet is Malamander, a famous local legend and a tragic story of old Captain K and his battle with a sea monster.

Every step Herbie and Violet make, every clue they find, all discoveries lead them to the inevitable conclusion that the mystery of Violet's parents and Malamander's story are closely connected.

The author clearly had great fun, creating his characters. Most of them have sea-related names. There is a pompous hotel manager called Mr Mollusc. Lady Kraken is the recluse hotel owner and the grandaughter of the dreadful Captain Kraken (a nod to the famous Nordic sea monster).
The hotel receptionist is named Amber Griss (=ambergris, or a secretion of the sperm whale).
You can get the best fish and chips at the Seegol's Diner (which sounds like Seagulls).
Mrs Fossil is the eccentric and rather irresponsible beachcomber who wears three hats and who brings a calamity in one of the other character's lives unintentionally, just because she's so engrossed with her hobby.
Sebastian Eels is a local writer. As Herbie describes him, "He's an author, and a bit of a local celebrity. He's a bit full of himself, too, if you ask me".
Even Dr Thalassi has a marine name (his name is translated from Greek as the sea).

Malamander is a fabulous seaside mystery, for anyone who enjoys a mix of folklore, Gothic horror and magic.

We loved the book, and can't wait for the next installment in the series.

YA fiction, mystery and magic books for children

Sunday, 19 May 2019

Bright Young Dead by Jessica Fellowes

mysteries set in manor houses

They say, Don't judge a book by its cover. As a metaphorical phrase it rings true, but when it's related to the actual books, it's often the cover that draws me like a magnet.
I appreciate the art of book covers, and for me, it's commonly the cover design which makes me pick a book in a bookshop or a library.

The cover for Bright Young Dead by Jessica Fellowes (Illustration - Garry Walton/Design - Hannah Wood) is a stylised design, reminiscent of the 1920s art deco posters. It also makes you think of Poirot and the Jeeves and Wooster book & TV series (with the wonderful music scores).

Bright Young Dead is the 2nd installment in the Mitford Murders series. I haven't read the first one, but the second book reads perfectly well as a standalone.
I'm not obsessed with the Mitford sisters, but have read enough about them to know who is who, and how their lives progressed. The lives of six sisters have been an inspiration for many biographies and fiction books.
Jessica Fellowes' story is loosely based on the Mitford family.

The story is set in 1925, when young Pamela is turning 18. Her elder sister Nancy is throwing a costume party for Pamela - and for her it is just an excuse to invite all her London chums who are known as Bright Young Things.
The young crowd are all pretty shallow: think Bertie Wooster, only rather malicious and pretentious. They organise a treasure hunt which was en vogue at the parties of the period and which makes you ask yourself just how glib, trivial and simplistic their entertainment was. Well, they also do drugs and drink themselves silly.

Louisa Cannon works for the Mitford family in the nursery but also acts as a chaperone for the older girls (not sure how likely this is supposed to be). Louise herself is a former criminal (without reading the first book, I don't know the backstory as how she gained her current position).

While attending one of the London events with the Mitford sisters, Louise meets Dulcie Long, who works as a maid-cum-chaperone to another aristocratic family.
They bond over their unusual past. "Perhaps she had been drawn by the girl's London accent, invoking a sisterly feeling. Or it might have been the vanity of liking someone because they were the mirror image of oneself... As the two young women assisted the cook with the dinner, they exchanged the snippets of gossip and stories of their family's demands and eccentricities".
On her free evening Louisa ventures with Dulcie to the Elephant and Castle in Southwark, the pub frequented by Alice Diamond and her gang, The Forty Thieves.
Dulcie's been involved with the gang in the past but wants to leave. To do that, she needs to pay off.

Louisa seems to have a pretty good life, and is free to do things which she would have had no time or opportunity to do. I've read memoirs of maids and servants in the aristocratic families at about the same period of time, and their lives were definitely more restricted.

Knowing Dulcie's background, Louisa makes the most stupid move, by helping her friend to meet privately one of the guests in the party. Adrian Curtis is the son of Dulcie's employer.
The meeting between the two doesn't go well.

And when Adrian is found dead outside the bell tower next to the Mitford home, Asthall Manor, the police are quick to identify their culprit - Dulcie.

Louisa is shocked, but doesn't believe that Dulcie is the killer. She decides to prove Duclie's innocence.

As a parallel story unravelling in London, Sergeant Guy Sullivan and Constable Mary Moon are eager to prove their mettle and arrest the notorious Alice Diamond and her Forty Thieves.
Mary Moon is one of the first females employed in the police.

This cozy mystery set in the manor house and London fashionable as well as seedy circles captures the era where the glitz and squalor are only a step away from each other. It will appeal to the fans of historical mystery genre and those who enjoy the downstairs-upstairs antics.

cosy mystery set in a manor house

Saturday, 18 May 2019

Photo diary: week 20, project 365

One more week to go until we have a midterm break. We don't have any special plans. A couple of days by the seaside would be wonderful, but it's not going to happen. I've only just paid the remainder for our Cornish trip in summer, and gulp. I so need to win a lottery. Talking of which, I did win £100 during the previous bank holiday weekend, which was a lovely surprise. All spent already on the essentials (a new school uniform, etc) and some treats too, like books and Domino's pizza.

This week's photos are mostly taken in the garden.

I love ferns, they are such beautiful plants.

This silly thyme plant is growing right in the middle of the path, and we all walk around it. Such a rotten place to choose, amidst the flagstones.

You're never too old to hug a giant teddy bear before seeing the dentist.

As I was walking around the garden in the evening, the aeroplane was doing rounds above, not sure what it was actually doing, as it was flying away then coming back.

Just the evening before there was a beautiful big bud on the orchid. I wanted to take a photo, but the light in the kitchen is terrible, so I left it til morning. A mistake on my part, as in the morning it has greeted me all opened up.

Yellow poppies are a magnet for bees in the garden. Soon, when the lavender starts to bloom, it will be like a Michelin restaurant, packed full of bees.

I've been growing tomatoes in the greenhouse for many years. Can't say they are totally easy, as some summers I had to struggle with caterpillars, but overall they are easier to take care of than any other vegetable or fruit (that is apart, from the apple trees, as I don't do anything with them, they just grow and give fruit, bless them).

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Tuesday, 14 May 2019

Apple semolina cake

Russian cake recipes

By Monday the boiled fruit cake I baked last Friday was a distant memory. To cheer up my guys after school, I baked a simple semolina cake. I haven't baked it for over a year, if not longer, so had to buy a box of semolina (Whitworth's).

Semolina or manka (aka mannaya krupa) in all guises and disguises is a staple ingredient of many Russian dishes, from a semolina porridge for children (standard in nurseries and primary schools, and typically rather awful) to dumplings for stews and soups, from coating to cutlets to all kinds to cakes and bakes.

If you like random facts about world cuisine, you might have heard of the Guriev kasha, which is a dessert made from semolina, with layers of creamy milk skins, walnuts, vanilla, candied fruit and apricot sauce. It's named after Count Guriev, who was the Minister of finance in the early 19C.
The story tells that Guriev has first tasted this dish at some Mayor's house, loved it so much that he bought the chef (a serf) and his family. The chef's name - Zakhar Kuz'min - was forgotten, while the dessert became known as Guriev's kasha (see V.Kovalev, N.Mogil'nyi, Russkaya Kukhnya, 1990).

There are hundreds of semolina cake (or mannik) recipes on the Russian sites and food forums, each cook has their own "secret" ingredient. The recipe below is very much what we'd cook in the Soviet times (minus the apple rings).

Russian cake recipes, Russian recipes

Apple semolina cake
200g semolina
200ml kefir (or milk mixed with a couple of tbsp of soured cream or Greek yogurt)
3 medium eggs
150g caster sugar
zest of 1 lemon
200g self-raising flour
1tsp baking powder
150g butter, melted
60g apple rings, chopped (or raisins, or a grated carrot)

First mix the semolina with kefir (or milk) in a mixing bowl and leave it for half an hour.
Beat in the eggs and sugar, and mix well. Add the lemon zest, sift in the flour (leaving 1tsp to dust the apple pieces), baking powder, and melted butter, mix well.
Slightly dust the chopped apple rings with flour and mix into the cake batter. It will be quite fluffy and thick.
Oil the cake tin with the oil spray of your choice. I like to use the avocado oil spray, as it has a neutral taste, but plain butter will do (that would be more authentic actually).
Scoop the cake batter into the cake tin and place the tin in the oven preheated to 180C.
Bake for 40+ minutes. Check readiness with a wooden toothpick, if it comes out clean, the cake is ready.
Eat warm or cold, slightly dusted with icing sugar.
You could also do a light lemon icing drizzle over the top.

It's a tasty cake, with a fluffy, slightly grainy texture. Perfect with a cup of tea or coffee.

Russian cake recipes

As mentioned above, you could add raisins instead of apples, or grate a carrot. Or leave it plain, without any fruit or veg.

Russian recipes

Russian cake recipes

This cake will keep well for a few days, if stored in a tin.

Russian cake recipes

Sunday, 12 May 2019

A Long Shadow by Caroline Kington #BlogTour + giveaway

psychological thriller

A Long Shadow by Caroline Kington is an emotionally intense, moving story of love, obsession, secrets and lies.

The narrative moves backwards and forward in time, telling stories of different characters.

1943: Susan, an unmarried pregnant girl is escaping the mother and baby hostel, afraid of losing her baby to adoption. She's determined to find her distant relatives in Bristol and keep her baby. While on the run, she meets a farmer who takes her to his remote farm, and her fate is sealed.

2001: Kate Maddicot is grieving the death of her husband and father of their two children. It was a terrible accident, but there is also a doubt in many people's minds. The Watersmeet farm has been struggling before Dan's death, the life insurance clears the debts and even leaves Kate and the family with some capital.What conclusions are there to draw? Was it really an accident, or a suicide?
"In the private opinion of everyone but those who knew him best, the news of the farm debt and of the life insurance settled the question"..
Kate refuses to believe the gossip and is set on finding out what's really happened.

The story goes back in time to 1990, to the beginning of Kate and Dan's relationship. We also have glimpses of Dan's childhood, and his relationship with two cousins - Mary and Max.

Dan is a likable protagonist, a young farmer who dedicates his life to the Watersmeet farm. His struggles to keep his farm afloat are convincing and engrossing.

This gripping novel perfectly captures the sights and smells of the rural life.

His grandmother Rose was a prolific diarist, who kept a journal every year until her death. She left a will, asking her grandson to read specific journals. Only Dan never had a chance to read them.
It would be up to Kate to discover the skeletons in the cupboard.

Susan's story is told in parallel. Her tragic life and secrets will have major repercussions on the present day's events at the farm.

Caroline Kington as a writer is an engaging, compassionate narrator. She has a great empathy for her characters, even the most difficult and unsavoury ones, creating a backstory which explains some of the characters' flaws and maliciousness.

There is also a whole lot of supporting parts, who are portrayed using the full palette - the dark and the light - from the ghastly Leaches to warm and caring Polly (Dan's mother).
Kate's family could easily be a basis for many AIBUs on Mumsnet. Her sister Emily is a spoilt brattish princess, over-indulged by her doting parents. She cannot tolerate not being the centre of attention and would do anything in her power to overshadow her sister.

The book is very sad and distressing at times, but also tender and lyrical.

books set on the farms

This review is part of the blog tour. Many thanks to Caroline Kington and Rachel's Random Resources for my copy of the book.

You can order this book on amazon (see the link above),
or from the Lightning Books website at 50% (with free UK p&p) if you enter the code BLOGTOURSHAD
(that's not an affiliate link

You are also welcome to try to win one of 5 copies of A Long Shadow.
The giveaway is open to the UK residents only.
It might be run on several blogs, i.e. it's not exclusive to Chez Maximka blog, and I have no responsibility for the selection of the winner or dispatch and delivery of the prize.
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This will be passed to the giveaway organiser and used only for fulfillment of the prize, after which time Rachel's Random Resources will delete the data.

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Saturday, 11 May 2019

Photo diary: week 19, project 365

May is the month when I feel mildly optimistic, with the promise of the summer holidays in the not so distant future. I enjoy pottering in the garden, looking at the flowers and tending to my tomato plants in the greenhouse.

On Sunday we went grocery shopping, and also visited Costa for a quick cup of coffee and a teacake for me and a panino for Eddie. I was sipping my latte and reading a review of The Mister. It sounds as bad as I suspected. I could never finish the first book of her famous trilogy, the sex scenes were excruciatingly long and boring, and both characters were extremely annoying. I never found out what happened to the shallow couple, and am certainly not buying the latest "masterpiece". The article though was quite amusing.

funny book reviews

Looks like on Monday I only took photos of the Bonne Maman strawberry yogurt, not the most inspired shot, so here are two pics from Tuesday (neither particularly exciting, but sums up our afternoon perfectly).
Sasha stayed overnight at his respite centre, thus Eddie and I didn't have to hurry home after school. We visited the vintage shop, where Eddie loved this two-seater couch.
We didn't buy the couch, but bought a Neolithic hammer head found at Beachy Head, Sussex, for a fiver. There was a whole collection sold in bits and pieces, it looks like someone's collection, given away by the people who inherited it and don't appreciate it.

We had a pizza and film night, watching Aquaman. We usually enjoy films based on DC Comics characters, but this film was too long (2 hours and 18 minutes) and quite boring. There is Nicole Kidman, who I couldn't recognise at first, as her face looks very different. Just why do the actors and celebs do it?

films based on DC Comics

A rainy day, and another shot of the ice cream tulip which I posted last week - just to show how it has changed.

Loved this display of heirloom tomatoes in Waitrose. So much better when you can pick what you like, and not to have more plastic to deal with.

This week's bedtime reading is Malamander by Thomas Taylor. Both Eddie and I love it. It's a terrific seaside mystery, with a mix of folklore, Gothic horror and magic.

Today we're relaxing at home, doing nothing special.

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