Wednesday, 31 July 2019

Chocolate Mousse with Butterscotch Syrup (Eggless recipe)

eggless chocolate mousse

There are days, when only chocolate will do. For me it has to be a proper dark one which satisfies that huge chocolate craving. My guys are happy to gobble up any chocolate, including the white one. I'm not a big fan of the white chocolate, but I make an exception for Hotel Chocolat Vanilla white chocolate or Venchi white chocolate with salted almonds and pistachios (absolutely heavenly!).

One of the products in the latest Degustabox was Monin Limited Edition Butterscotch Syrup for Speciality Coffee.
I do like a flavoured coffee from time to time, though it has to be a tiny amount, so as not to overpower the taste of coffee. Chain coffee shops like Nero and Costa add a generous glug of syrup to coffee, even if you ask them for just a dash, and then it's way too sweet.
That 25cl bottle of syrup will most likely last me for ages, if I don't use it in desserts.

I have googled for a chocolate mousse, and though I like the sound of Delia's chocolate mocha mousse, she uses raw eggs, and I'm rather reluctant to do that.
I searched then for eggless chocolate mousse recipes, and the result is a combination of ideas and recipes.

chocolate dessert without eggs

Chocolate mousse with butterscotch syrup
1tsp coffee granules, heaped
60 ml hot boiling water
2 dark chocolate bars (100g each)
2tbsp Butterscotch syrup
250ml + double cream
cherries (or raspberries to decorate)

Monin limited edition syrup

The recipe is pretty easy.
Set a medium sized basin over a pan of simmering water (the basin must not touch the water in the pan). Add the hot water and coffee granules and stir until dissolved. Break chocolate bars in the basin. Switch off the heat, and the chocolate should melt. Add the syrup (or if you prefer, rum or brandy) to the chocolate and stir together.
Whisk the double cream in the mixer, add the chocolate and blitz together, until smooth and even in colour.
Divide into individual ramekins and decorate with cherries or berries.
Place the ramekins, wrapped into a cling film in the fridge for 3-4 hours. Eat chilled.

It's so good with coffee.

chocolate desserts

Monin limited edition butterscotch syrup

Tuesday, 30 July 2019

A Right Royal Face-Off by Simon Edge #BlogTour

Thomas Gainsborough

A Right Royal Face-Off: A Georgian Entertainment featuring Thomas Gainsborough and Another Painter by Simon Edge is a richly entertaining account of Gainsborough's life and his rivalry with Sir Joshua Reynolds.

This beautiful novel is written with a light touch and sharp, quirky style, reminiscent of Henry Fielding.

We see Gainsborough at his most vulnerable period, when his previous quarrel with the Royal Academy four years earlier means that he hasn't exhibited his work at the Academy in these past few years.
"The sense of being excluded, of a great snub, grew and grew. The following spring he wrote to the committee to say that he would not be sending anything for exhibition that year.
It was a bold statement of rebellion, making him all the more the outsider and, for the ensuing three years, his great sulk had persisted".

For all his sulks and diva-esque outbursts, Gainsborough is a loveable character.

The narrative is split between Tom's inner thoughts on the art world, his sitters and family, and his servant David's letters home, to his illiterate mother and brothers.

David's letters are a delight. They are truly funny, especially when you know that he is not trying to be funny. His sage observations of the eccentric artist and his household are pure comedy gold. He is very fond of the family, and his criticism is mild, respectful (most of the time) and affectionate, and his account of the social norms, fallacies and delusions is amusing and light-hearted.

He portrays Gainsborough  as "a great gentleman... much given to carousing, but he has a worthy Christian soul too, and although he is quick to temper, he is right afeared of my mistress, as we all are".
Mrs Gainsborough is a bit of a termagant, though she clearly has good reasons to be concerned about her two grown-up daughters, Molly and Peggy, one of whom has mental health issues.

Gainsborough often finds it tedious to pander to the tastes of his grand sitters, when he feels obliged to entertain and flatter the nobles and celebs of his times. He'd rather paint landscapes, animals and rural scenes, but the portrait commissions keep his family in style and afford him a financial freedom.
"There is no shortage of eminent - and sometimes scandalous - personages willing to visit his studio at the back of the house at Pall-mall and sit while he captured their likeness in pigment and oil".

dogs in art

Sir Joshua Reynolds is widely acknowledged as the first greatest portrait artist, and being the second best irks Gainsborough immensely.
When a position for a court painter becomes vacant, who will be invited to occupy the much-coveted job?

The narrative moves from 1777 to the present time, when two and a half centuries later, a badly damaged portrait turns up on a downmarket TV show called Britain's Got Treasures, which is a cross between Antiques on the Road with The X-Factor or Britain's Got Talent.
"The show had one other talent-show trick up its sleeve: public humiliation... the anti-treasure, a piece of such obvious junk that the very act of bringing it in was laughable."

Gemma works on the show in a less important capacity. Her role is to do a "triage", i.e. assess who might have genuine treasures and who should go through as the candidate for the Grot Slot.
The show crew and presenters are rather caricature-ish.
Simon Edge is less kind to his contemporaries, portraying them as frauds who deserve to be mocked.

Some of the scenes will make you chuckle. When Gainsborough smuggles three little piglets in his house to use them as sitters, a pandemonium ensues.
In one of his letters home, David describes the scene in great detail:
"In front of her [a peasant girl], my master had begun to sketch the outline of the three pigs, gathered around a big basin of milk. Two of them were drinking nicely from it, with the third one waiting his turn at the back, as polite and patient as you like. If he had asked my opinion, I would have told him... that no pig ever held back when there was food on offer. I also never saw any of Old Ben's pigs eating from earthenware as was fit for the dinner table, but it was not my place to say so. I do not imagine that any of the folk who see the painting when it hangs at the Royal Academy will know any better, neither, so it makes no odds whether the scene is life like or not".

As you can imagine, three boisterous piglets do not make good sitters, unlike the members of the Royal family who sit for the artist patiently for hours.

Edge is adept at creating a whole cornucopia of characters. His portrayal of the artistic genius and ego is quite outstanding.
I enjoyed both the historical and modern settings, but it was Gainsborough's life that is a genuine triumph of storytelling.

Many thanks to Simon Edge, Lightning Books and Rachel's Random Resources for my copy of the book!

Thomas Gainsborough

Monday, 29 July 2019

A Summer to Remember by Sue Moorcroft

summer reads, top summer chick lit books

"Clancy climbed from the car and stretched. The salt-scented breeze filled her lungs so easily that it was as if a giant rubber band had dropped from around her chest."

That's exactly how I feel by the sea, recharged and unrestrained. I never get tired looking at the sea, alas, we live in Oxfordshire - and though it counts many wonderful attractions, the sea is not one of them.

Clancy Moss, the heroine of A Summer to Remember by Sue Moorcroft, doesn't realise at first just how lucky she is to have a chance to live by the sea.

Clancy is left heartbroken, after a humiliating break-up with her cheating boyfriend. To add an insult to the injury, she loses her job in London as well. Her treacherous colleagues/friends take her ex's side and would rather keep him as an employee of the company than Clancy.

She snatches the chance to get a caretaker's job with the accommodation at the Roundhouse.
Nelson's Bar is a far cry from London. It's a quaint little village on the Norfolk coast, with no Wi-Fi, no signal, and seemingly not many problems.

However, the real life brings its own issues and challenges, no matter where you live. The scumbag boyfriend makes more shocking reveals on the social media, the lazybones cousin makes the most irresponsible decisions, and the local villagers take umbrage at Clancy's arrival to Nelson's Bar, because they hate her cousin.

Actually, they have a very good reason to. Six years earlier Clancy's favourite cousin Alice was supposed to marry Lee, but dumps him at the altar, running away without an explanation or an ounce of shame.

It's difficult to understand just why Alice is Clancy's favourite cousin. She is an incredibly selfish, high-maintenance diva, who has no consideration for anyone else's feelings. There is not a single redeeming feature about her. She's the kind of character you love to hate.

Clancy is the complete opposite. Brough up self-reliant (her parents travel around the world, doing good deeds - they sound quite neglectful and not very caring), she is kind, practical, selfless, thoughtful and generous.

Clancy is not looking for a new relationship, she is still licking her wounds from being jilted in the most spectacular fashion. But there is Aaron, Lee's brother - an eye candy - who she has very fond memories of kissing those six years ago, before the disaster of the wedding which never happened.

Aaron has been looking after his brother, who was left quite fragile after his fiancée has so cruelly abandoned him at the alter. Lee is rather spiritless and weak, he is in a limbo, supposedly moving on and having a child, but still pining after the past, and not seeing how it affects his close family.

There is a plethora of secondary characters, which are drawn effortlessly and convincingly, from an elderly couple Ernie and Dilys, who live in separate cottages but love each other, to a slobbery endearing dog Nelson, from young Rory and Harry who try to find their way in an insular, conventional society, to scheming Genevieve (Aaron's girlfriend).

It's an uplifting tale of a life-changing summer, with plenty of light-hearted notes as well as drama, and a delightful romance. A perfect diversion for a holiday afternoon.

The evocative Norfolk setting brought back many happy memories of a summer many years ago, when we were newly married and stayed at the friends' cottage in one of the Norfolk villages.
I just had to find an old photo album and look at the photos, of when I was young, carefree and so much in love.

I took this book with me on a holiday to Cornwall, and left it in the cottage for the other visitors to enjoy. There is a shelf in the cottage, where we stay, with paperbacks of all kinds of genres and topics.
I read it in the garden, sipping tea and eating scones with cherry jam, and also on the beach, listening to the sound of the sea. That was the perfect setting for a feel-good summer read.

feel good summer romance

Sunday, 28 July 2019

Minestra with star pasta

Italian summer soup, vegan soup

Having grown up in Russia, I have eaten a fair amount of soup. In the days of my childhood, the soup was a staple first course, which people would eat daily. I think the Russian grandmas' mantra was that you had to have "hot food" (or you won't grow up).
I actually do love soups, from stodgy winter ones, to light summer ones.
And though these days I don't eat them every day, I cook soups often enough.

This is a variation of an Italian pasta and vegetable soup. There are as many recipes, as there are Italian nonnas, who, of course, know the best recipe, and use the "secret" ingredient.
My mother-in-law cooked a soup like that for my boys, when they were little, using the alphabet pasta shapes to keep them entertained. Star shaped pasta or mini shells are great in soups.

Italian soup recipes, vegan soup

Minestra with pasta stars
1 medium carrot
1 tbsp. olive oil
1/2 small onion
1 clove of garlic
1 small courgette
1 medium potato
a handful of baby tomatoes, halved
a handful of olives, halved
1 sweet pepper
1 vegetable stock cube
a big handful of pasta stars (pastina)
1tbsp vegan mayonnaise for the soup, plus 1tbsp per portion to serve
fresh herbs, chopped (to serve)

Peel and chop the carrot, and fry it in the olive oil, with the finely chopped half onion for about 5-6 minutes stirring frequently. Add a crushed clove of garlic and fry for another minute.
In a medium sized pan add a cubed potato, chopped courgette, halved tomatoes, sliced (deseeded) sweet pepper and a stock cube, add enough water to cover the vegetables, bring to the boil, then lower the heat and simmer. Add 1tbsp of Hellmann's vegan mayonnaise to the soup, as well as fried carrots with onion and garlic, and halved olives.
Cook for about 10+ minutes, then add the pasta shapes. They cook very quickly, it takes a couple of minutes.
Serve hot, with a spoonful of mayo in each plate.

Adding mayonnaise or soured cream to the soup is one of my Russian habits. I plop either of the two to most soups. A thick Greek yogurt is also a good choice.

There are no fresh herbs added to the soup in the photos, I realised that after I looked at the photos.

vegan soup, vegetarian soup

Italian soup recipe

Photo diary: week 30, project 365

"I've long suspected that the term "family holiday" is an oxymoron, and now I feel more sure", muses Grace Dent in the latest Guardian Weekend. I nod my head in agreement - Holidays are a blimming hard work, when you have a young family.
We're just back from a week in Cornwall, which was mostly lovely, but hardly relaxing. A kind of vacation about which people say You need a holiday after this holiday.

I didn't post a week 29 of photos, as we were travelling, thinking I would combine two weeks, when I return home, but by now that week is a distant memory. It was the last week of school, and pretty hectic at that. Eddie's school staged a musical Joseph, and all children took part for three days in a row. But my Week 30 is an extended version, including a couple of days from the previous post which never happened.

We arrived to Cornwall on Friday the 19th, and the weather was abysmal. Thankfully, the rest of the week turned out better, with sunny spells. And we managed to escape the great heat which tormented the rest of the country.
We walked to the beach in the evening, in the rain, and laughed at the English holidays.

English holidays

Saturday was a different day, the sun was out, and we were back at the beach, building sandcastles, playing football and enjoying the sea breeze.

holidays in Cornwall, summer holidays with kids

The beach in Perranuthnoe is enclosed, and is a mix of sand and rocks. If you walk towards Marazion from the village, you venture into a rocky beach. We love a long walk to that beach, and always stop by someone's villa, with the old cannon pointing to St Michael's Mount.

old weapons

On Monday we went to Penzance, to have lunch at Admiral Benbow. We've visited it before. The food is so-so, but the place itself is amazing, it's a museum of old maritime memorabilia, with genuine artefacts. It was not busy, and we explored the nooks and crannies, admiring the naval antiques.
And of course, if you are a book lover, you'd treasure being in Admiral Benbow for a different reason. R.L.Stevenson got his inspiration for Treasure Island, visiting Penzance and Admiral Benbow.

where to eat in Penzance

Every time we returned to the cottage from the beach, we were greeted by this heart in the wooden gate, with a glimpse of lavender and rosemary in the garden. This is a symbol of how I feel about this place. I love Cornwall, and I love "our" little cottage. We've been staying in this village every summer, since Eddie turned one (except last year, when we were too late to book anything).

summer flowers

Sash loves the sea. He seems to be relaxed and happy by the seaside. I've been trying to catch him in the photo, as he's constantly on the move.

We celebrated Eddie's birthday in Cornwall, eating a chocolate cake for breakfast. The cake was a tad babyish, but quite tasty. We bought it in Penzance, and there wasn't much choice, unless you wanted a unicorn or a frilly pink concoction with a crown.

While our hometown was melting in the 38C heat, we escaped the heat altogether. In fact, when we went to the beach before lunch, we had to return to the cottage to get hoodies and cardigans, as it was so fresh and bracing by the sea.

We said Good bye to the sea on the evening before, and got on the train from Penzance to Reading.
I'm always sad when we leave Cornwall, it's one of my most favourite places.
The trip was long and arduous.
Sash endured the long trip, but had a meltdown of epic proportions when we were at home, at bedtime. It was stressful for everyone involved.

Eddie spotted this Trump poster at Reading, and thought it was amusing.

I've already mentioned our local Waterstones on the blog before. The ladies who work there are brilliant, they are passionate about books, and often organise fantastic events for children.
Yesterday it was the Escape from Azkaban event, which you had to book in advance.
It was great fun, and Eddie (and I) enjoyed it very much.

bookshop events

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Wednesday, 17 July 2019

Rice and mushrooms-stuffed peppers

vegan stuffed peppers, vegan recipes, Hellmann's vegan mayo

Stuffed peppers have always been one of my favourite comfort foods. I remember as a child going into my auntie's kitchen garden, where she grew most flavourful sweet peppers (as well as fiery little chillies, which would make you gasp if you were silly enough to have a bite of a fresh one), and picking a few for dinner, along with big-sized beef tomatoes and a bunch of fresh herbs.
My grandma and auntie were great cooks, and in summer the smell of the food cooked in the summer kitchen would waft around the garden, making your mouth water.
They lived in a small town in the South of Russia, and I enjoyed visiting them. For me, a city girl, their town was full of promise and discoveries, including a local speciality - a blue ice cream named after the river Don. I loved going to the market and seeing local produce, heaped up on wooden tables. Ah, memories, memories...

Stuffed peppers are also one of my Mum's signature recipes. She cooks them in a deep pan, simmering in soured cream and herbs sauce. She makes different versions - a mix of rice and minced meat with lots of herbs for the meat eaters, or rice and mushrooms for Lent days.

vegan stuffed peppers, meat-free dishes, meat-free Mondays

In this recipe I use whole peppers as vessels for stuffing. I like to use a mix of mayo and soured cream, but as this recipe is a vegan one, the soured cream is not included. I have tried soy and other dairy-free yogurts, but they don't have the same level of acidity as the soured cream.
If you're not a vegan, mix the mayo with soured cream or thick Greek yogurt.

Rice and mushrooms-stuffed peppers
3 sweet peppers
1/2 red onion
1 carrot, grated
3tbsp rapeseed oil
2 Portobello mushrooms
about 125g coconut rice (half a pack of precooked rice, I used Tilda coconut rice)
5tbsp vegan mayo
1tsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp dried basil
1/2 tbsp fresh thyme leaves and mint
salt and pepper

Cooking time: 30+ minutes

First cut out the tops of the sweet peppers and remove the seeds from inside.
Pre-cook the peppers in salted boiling water for 5-7 minutes. You don't have to precook and just roast the peppers in the oven with the stuffing, but it will take much longer.
In a medium pan heat up 2tbsp rapeseed oil and fry finely chopped red onion and grated carrot, stirring frequently. Cook for about 5 minutes, then add the chopped mushrooms and 1tsp vegan mayo. Season with sea salt and black pepper.
Add the precooked rice and mix well.

vegan meals

Spoon the rice and mushrooms mix into the peppers, and top up with a dollop of mayo. Place the peppers in a medium deep ceramic or roasting dish.

vegan meals, Hellmann's vegan mayo

Put the dish in the oven preheated to 180C.
In a small bowl mix the remaining mayo with lemon juice and herbs, pour it over and around the peppers.
Cook for about 15-20 minutes.

vegan dinner, vegan meals

vegan recipes, stuffed peppers

I've first tried Hellmann's vegan mayo a couple of months ago, and since then bought it a couple of times. It is creamy and tasty, and you won't guess it's dairy-free.
It's definitely a perfect alternative to a dairy-based mayo.

Hellmann's vegan mayo

If you're a fan of Hellmann's Vegan Mayo, you might want to enter a competition which is running until the 28th of July.
I enjoy entering creative cooking competitions, and wanted to share the competition in case you might have missed it.

Here are T&Cs for Hellmann's Vegan Quick Eats Competition (partially reproduced with permission from Hellmann's PR):

1. This promotion is open to residents of the UK aged 18 or over except employees of the Promoter, their families, agents or anyone professionally connected with the promotion.

2. To enter, join the Hellmann's Vegan Deli Club Facebook Group (the "Facebook Group") and create a post (each, and Entry)

For the entry to be valid, the post must include the following:
a photo of your "Quick Eat"; and the following as it relates to your original dish:
- name of your quick eat
- description of your quick eat
- total time to make (preparation and/or cooking)
- ingredients
- recipe to make your quick eat
- and include in your post #quickeats and #hellmannsvegan
For the entry to be valid, entrants must use the hashtags #quickeats and #hellmannsvegan.

3. The opening date for entries is 17:00 BST on 17th June 2019 and the closing date for receipt of entries is 11:59 BST on Sunday 28th July 2019.

4. There are three prizes in total. The overall winner will receive 1 x £1,000 in the form of a wire transfer, the second and third winners will receive £150 each in Amazon vouchers; and 150 additional randomly selected eligible Entries will receive a £5 Amazon voucher, up to £10 per winner (£5 voucher excludes challenge winner and runners up).

5. The overall winner and runners up may not win more than one prize. The winners of the £5 Amazon vouchers may win up to £10 in Amazon vouchers.

6. No applications from agents, third parties, organised groups or applications automatically generated by computer will be accepted. No incomplete or corrupted entries will be accepted. Entries will only be accepted if they comply will all entry instructions.

For the full T&Cs please visit the Facebook group, as there are 24 clauses of the promotion.

I really wanted to alert you to the competition, as it's exactly the type of creative competition I wish were more widely available.

If you do join in, I wish you all the best. And I'm keeping my fingers crossed as well.

In case you are not sure where to buy Hellmann's Vegan Mayo, I found it in Sainsbury's locally, but it's also available in Tesco, ASDA, Amazon Pantry and Ocado.

Hellmann's vegan mayo

Tuesday, 16 July 2019

Choc chip yogurt cookies

easy cookies

No, I can hear you saying, not another choc chip cookies recipe surely?! Bear with me please, it might be one zillionth cookie recipe, but it's a slightly different version, which might appeal to you.
Last Tuesday my younger son had a friend over.
This time his friend brought a big stash of vintage Pokémon cards, and my son was on cloud nine, looking at the old cards and comparing them to the current releases.
Often when we have Eddie's friends around, I bake some cookies. Sash is also very enthusiastic about any cookies, and watches with great interest, as I mix and shape.

easy and quick cookies

Choc chip yogurt cookies
100g caster sugar
50g coconut yogurt
50ml vegetable oil (I used a rapeseed oil)
1 medium egg
60g oats
200+g self-raising flour
1/2tsp baking powder
a pinch of salt
50g milk chocolate, chopped into small pieces

Cream the coconut yogurt with sugar and vegetable oil in a mixing bowl. Add the oats, flour, baking powder, a pinch of salt and beat in the egg, mix well, forming the dough. 
Chop the chocolate into smaller pieces (or use chocolate drops), and mix them into the dough.
Dust your hands with flour, so that the dough doesn't stick.
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.

easy and quick cookies

In this recipe I used a chocolate bar which was one of the products from the June Degustabox -
The Free From Kitchen Co Free From Choc Bar 100g(£1.50 Choc) - which is a gluten-, wheat- and milk-free chocolate product. These are innovative colourful chocolate bars, for chocoholics who embrace all lifestyle choices or opt for free-from products for medical reasons.
We're not on any of the above diets, but happy to try any new product.

If you don't have this particular product, any quality milk or dark chocolate will work perfectly well.

quick and easy cookies recipe

The same with yogurt, it doesn't have to be a coconut one, it's just I happened to have it in the fridge. A Greek style yogurt would be a good substitute.

quick and easy cookies recipe

Saturday, 13 July 2019

Photo diary: week 28, project 365

We're now on the homestretch, racing to the summer holidays. Just a few more days, and no more early morning and hectic rushing around for a while.
Last week has been a bit of a meh, with some ruffled feathers.

 One of those unpleasant situations involved an overbearing school governor. I volunteer in school, reading with children, and have been doing it for the last five years. Last Monday I happened to arrive to school at the same time as one of the other visitors who as a real gentleman blocked me from pressing the button to the gate to enter the school territory, then accused me of tailgating him. When I asked him why he thought he could tell me off, he said he was one of the school governors. His tone was aggressive and intimidating, and this encounter left an unpleasant aftertaste in my mouth.
I later emailed the school office, asking to confirm that this uncivil person was indeed who he claimed he was. The reply was Sorry, you felt intimidated, and yes, he is one of the newest governors.
Who clearly enjoyed his petty little power trip. I bet if I were a man, I wouldn't have been subjected to the mansplaining and rudeness.

This is the photo of the old Witney mill.

Witney blanket factory

On Tuesday Eddie had a friend over after school. The friend brought a big pack of vintage Pokémon cards, and Eddie was ecstatic, looking at them. I baked some choc chip cookies for the boys.

baking for kids

Sports Day for Eddie. It was very hot, and after spending an hour and a half watching the kids, I've managed to get a nasty headache.
Watering potted plants in the garden, I've looked up to see this dragon-shaped cloud.

We have a nest in one of the chimneys on the roof. We don't use the fireplace, but still what a silly place to build a nest. I call them the Guardians of the house. I like this image where the couple both look the same way.

On Friday morning I hopped on the bus to Oxford to get to Sasha's school to the meeting with the social worker and teachers. I was already in Oxford, when I got a phone call from school to say that the meeting was cancelled, as the social worker couldn't make it. A bit annoying that she herself didn't call earlier to inform me, as this would have saved me a trip on a hot bus.

More pics from the garden...

Today was a busy day. Eddie was invited to a birthday party, and we had a festival in town, with the colourful procession. This year's theme was Carnivals of the world.

carnivals of the world

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Sea of Bones by Deborah O'Donoghue #BlogTour

political thriller

"She collects a large flat stone, which she weighs in her hand. She crouches and gathers another and another, arranging them carefully. She imagines Beth doing the same, out on Kelspie. Clever. Leaving her trace, like a needle in the air".

Sea of Bones by Deborah O'Donoghue is a tightly-plotted thriller set in Scotland. This is not a cosy mystery, it's a fast moving chilling novel, hard-core and world-weary.

Juliet MacGillivray is an influential person in The Progressive Alliance, the party which brought the left together, tapping into a wider electorate. She is not interested in the power for herself, but is known as the Queenmaker in the party.
The party leader, Fiona Goldman, whom she helped propel to the top position is exposed in the media as having an affair with a married editor of one of the newspapers. This costs the alliance dearly in the elections three months later.
Juliet is in a dumb daze, following the catastrophic results.

Juliet is also haunted by a tragedy in the family. Her niece Beth has drowned in the sea. Juliet's trying her best to come to terms with the verdict of suicide. In their regular phone calls and messages, Juliet had noticed none of Beth's supposed isolation or strange behaviour.
Juliet is convinced she would have spotted some telling signs, as her twin sister Erica has had mental health problems for many years.
"As the twin of a sufferer, she thought she'd made peace a long time ago with her own supposed risk of being bipolar, but Beth's death has brought it right back to the surface".

Police have closed the case, after finding a supposed suicide note and shoes on the beach.

Juliet's partner Declan has his own secrets and regrets. He is a talented freelance photographer, who is still waiting for his big break, rather than doing wedding photo shoots and being known as the Poodle photographer.

Juliet leaves London for the solitude of a summerhouse in the northeast Scotland, where she spent her childhood and where Beth lived before her death. Beth studied Fine Art Textiles in an art school in the town nearby. Her textile designs showed a great potential.

Juliet begins asking uncomfortable questions, which raise hackles in those who knew Beth intimately before her death, including her much older DJ boyfriend, and his coterie. Her meddling is also not appreciated in the wider circles. Deemed to be too dangerous, she is "discouraged" to ask more questions.
Her partner Declan becomes involved in the search for truth, and it begins to snowball from there, ruining lives and wreaking havoc.

What appears at first as a very private tragedy turns out to be only one thread of yarn.

Descriptions of the coastal nature and the rugged landscape are evocative and convincing. You walk along the path with the main characters, with the salt spray nipping at your cheeks and eyes.

The remote coastal setting is as much a hero of the book, as the main protagonists.

The title of the book refers to the death in the sea, but also to the historical past of the ancient coastline.

"No movement is apparent through the branches. No glancing sunlight on water. Its rasping murmur, however, is pervasive. Sea of bones her father used to say, fascinated by the discoveries of Mesolithic remains - flint tools, traps, roe deer fragments, human burials - rising to the surface around the coast. Under the sands somewhere, is the old fishing village of Culbin, finally buried in a storm centuries ago..."

Tense and punchy, this thriller is packed with a menacing atmosphere and disturbing twists. Scenes of child prostitution are hard to read, but sadly the fiction reflects the real life. Just a few days ago there was yet another report of a billionaire charged with sex trafficking. He was accused of transporting dozens of underage girls to his private jet and abusing them in his affluent properties. And the disquieting truth is that many know about it, but these conspiracies "could not have functioned without many others playing their part".

Potential triggers: murder, suicide, mental health, child prostitution/abuse.

This blog review is part of the blog tour for the book, please check out the other blog stops here:

political thriller

Many thanks to Deborah O'Donoghue and Legend Press for my copy of the book!

political thriller, child trafficking in books

Wednesday, 10 July 2019

Summer & BBQ Degustabox

Has the sunny weather inspired you to barbecue? Do longer summer days find you outdoors, piling plates with grilled goodness?
The latest Degustabox packed a box of goodies which will be sure-hits this summer.

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

food box

This box includes a variety of snacks to nibble on, while you're waiting for the BBQed food.

Garbanzo Snacks (£2.29) is a new Gourmet range of vegan snacks in three delicious flavourd - Bombay Twist, Thai Sweet Chilli and Tomato Salsa.
You will receive one of 3 flavours.
It's a tasty mix of crunchy chickpeas, caramelised pumpkin seeds and sweet caramelised onions.

vegan savoury snacks

Thumbs up for all three flavours, with Thai sweet chilli being my personal favourite.

All ingredients are natural, gluten free, without any artificial additives or preservatives.
They have a lovely balance of textures and flavours (herbs and spices).
Nutritional information: 297kcal and 4.9h of sugar per 70g bag.
You can buy them in Ocado but hopefully they will be widely available soon.

vegan snacks

Mavericks Healthier Snacks for Kids (£0.75) - is exactly that, a range of healthier snacks for kids.
Under 100kcal, no added sugar, choose between Poppin' Corn, Breadkicks, Fruit Brix, Smart Cookies and Fruit Laces.

healthy snacks for kids

Low salt, gluten free, source of fibre, no added sugar, no GMO and no junk, a pack of Mavericks Moon Cheese Poppin' Corn contains 50kcal per 12g bag. It's like mini cheese puffs, with less calories.

healthier snacks for kids

SavourSmiths Truffle and Rosemary potato crisps (£1.50) are moreish crisps with a "grown-up" flavour. My kids were not too enthusiastic about the truffle flavour, as it is earthy, musky and pungent. It's a Marmite of the crisps' world, you'd either love it or hate it.

gourmet crisps

The latest box also included a so called Mystery product, which hasn't hit the shops yet. How exciting is that?!

mystery product

It was a small bag of Lentil, corn, pea and black bean tortillas which are a healthier alternative to tortilla chips. Lentils, corn, green peas and black beans were pressed into thin, crunchy triangles and seasoned with sea salt. We don't no what the brand is behind the product, but it will retail at 80p per bag.

Lovely snacks to complement a salsa dip or guacamole.

healthy snacks

TREK Dark Chocolate & Sea Salt Protein Nut Bars (3x40g at £2.50) are delicious nutty bars, made with crunchy roasted peanuts and whole almonds with a sprinkling of dark chocolate chips and a touch of sea salt.
I'm a big fan of a dark chocolate and sea salt combination. Top marks from my elder son and me. He loved them so much, that I've already bought them twice  sincewe sampled them to add to my son's lunch boxes. They are on offer at £2 per pack in Waitrose at the moment.
Sea salt protein nut bars are packed with 10g of plant-based protein, have less than 5g of sugar and are high in fibre.
Perfect for my elevenses with a cup of strong coffee.

healthy nutty bars, source of plant-based protein

Newman's Own Italian Dressing (£1.75) is their best-selling original dressing made with red wine vinegar, rapeseed oil, olive oil (17%), extra virgin olive oil (2%) and garlic puree. Its ingredients also include white wine vinegar, salt, cracked black pepper, dried onion, brown mustard seeds, spirit vinegar and celery seeds. You need to shake it well before using. It's suitable for vegetarians and vegans.

BBQ condiments

I have used this dressing in a recipe for an Italian-style salad two ways.

Hellmann's Chilli Mayonnaise fired by Tabasco (£1.99) will delight the fans of the fiery sauce. Two much-loved brands are combined together to create a new mayo to spice up any sandwich, wrap, salad or burger.

Rowntree's Randoms Sharing Bag (£1.29 for 150g) are "more random than a monkey playing a saxophone!". My guys love Randoms, and a sharing bag won't last long. I've hidden it until our long train journey to Cornwall.

Smith & Sinclair alcoholic cocktail gummies (£15 for a selection of 8) - Gin & Tonic and Mandarin Spritz are award-winning fruit jellies for grown-ups.
Definitely for grown-ups, they are pretty boozy, with alc 7% volume, and a sophisticated taste. All gummies contain 8% alcohol, so five and you can't drive.

They will be delivered with an alcohol-inclusive version of Degustabox. If you've opted for the non-alcoholic, you will receive Mavericks snacks.

alcoholic gummies

Ingredients include for Gin & Tonic: Glucose syrup, sugar, gin, water, ethanol, pectin, natural juniper flavouring, tonic bitters, grapefruit bitters, citric acid, lemon oil, and dried lemon and sugar for coating; for Prosecco - glucose syrup, sugar, vodka, water, Aperol, ethanol, pectin, natural sparkling wine flavouring, grapefruit bitters, natural apricot flavouring, citric acid, mandarin orange oil, as well as sugar and dried orange for coating.
Made in Netherlands for Smith & Sinclair London.

Use code DEGUSTA for 15% off your first order at

alcoholic gummies

The Free From Kitchen Co Free From Choc Bar 100g/Salted Caramel Slab (£1.50 Choc; £2.50 Salted) are gluten-, wheat- and milk-free chocolate products. These are innovative colourful chocolate bars, for chocoholics who embrace all lifestyle choices or opt for free-from products for medical reasons.

vegan chocolate

I baked cookies yesterday, with chopped Choc bar, and none of my guys have noticed any difference.

coconut yogurt cookies

Moving on to drinks:

Lucosade Energy Watermelon and Strawberry Cooler (£1.20) is the newest addition to the Lucosade Energy range. It's a blend of refreshingly fruity flavours. Chill it in the fridge for the utmost taste.
This drink will appeal to those who have a sweet tooth.

energy drinks

DRGN Turmeric Superdrink (£1.85) is an "Asian fusion" natural energy and wellness drink, without caffeine. Inspired by the Far East, this refreshing citrus drink is packed with pan-Asian superfoods, vitamins and minerals.
DRGN can be enjoyed any time of day.
With less sugar and nothing artificial, DRGN is a smarter choice.
This drink is available on, on Amazon and in independent grocers and cafes.

Turmeric is an acquired taste, but it's very trendy these days, from turmeric chai lattes to chocolate.

turmeric products

Kolibri Botanical Drinks Strawberry & Basil/Cardamom & Chilli (£3.75) are award-winning lightly sparkling botanical infusions with very low sugar and flavours, tailored to taste.
Made in Britain, all natural ingredients, low calorie and no artificial sweeteners.
You will receive 1 of 2 flavours.

soft drinks for BBQ

It's a novelty concept. To serve, unscrew the nectar container, unscrew and remove the under-cap, pour Kolibri drink over ice. Push top of nectar container to add sweetness to taste.
The drinks come in very pretty bottles.
Available on Amazon and in Holland & Barrett.

soft summer drinks

Disclosure: I receive a monthly subscription to the food box for the purposes of testing and reviewing. All opinions are our own.