Saturday, 30 November 2019

Photo diary: week 48, project 365

Good bye, November, good bye, autumn! Tomorrow we greet December, and a season of advent competitions. Though I've won zilch last year, I'm not giving up, and will try to do at least some of the daily advents. I'm also running my own 12 days of chocolate giveaway which will start just after midnight. Don't miss it if you fancy winning over 1,2kg of chocolate.

Last Sunday, when Eddie was at the church with his Dad, I watched the last episode of The Crown season 3. I'm not a Royalist, but I find this series rather fascinating.
I think Claire Foy did a better job, playing the Queen in the previous two seasons. Olivia Coleman might be considered a good actress, but this was not a part for her. And Helena Bonham-Carter was completely miscast as Princess Margaret. She's too quirky, a female version of Johnny Depp and Jim Carrey.

Eddie took part in the children's service, called the Messy Mass. He had to do a reading, and did very well. The photo was taken by my husband.

I saw a leaf covered in droplets, and thought how beautiful it was.

Chez Maximka, autumn weather

My self-imposed ban on buying books until Christmas didn't last long. I was looking at The Book People to get a Percy Jackson series for Eddie (£6.99 for a set of five books), and as always, got more books both for him (Head Kid and Percy Jackson) and myself (Baking with Kim-Joy and A little princess)

Chez Maximka, Percy Jackson

On Wednesday we had a big meeting at Sasha's school, to discuss the options for when he turns 19. A lot of things to ponder about.
It was a rainy day. I took this photo on the bus to the Oxford city centre.
It looks like a watercolour.

Chez Maximka, Oxford sights

It was Sasha's respite night, so after school Eddie and I went to see Frozen 2 in the cinema. It's not as good as the original film, but we enjoyed it anyway. There are a couple of catchy songs too. And I might have cried a little, when Olaf evaporated (don't worry, he'll be fine).
We left the cinema in the dark, and they were putting up Christmas lights, including this huge bauble, which was still deconstructed and on the ground.
Later we had a dinner at Pizza Express, and then had an early night.

Chez Maximka, Christmas street decorations

A busy morning on Friday, and a quick cup of coffee at the Blue Boar, which is already decorated for Christmas, including this animal (a sheep? calf? baby reindeer?).

Chez Maximka

I didn't buy much yesterday, as the only thing I wanted to get for Eddie - a Nintendo Switch - was not on offer. I did buy a set of Holland & Barrett natural cosmetics at half price without looking properly what's inside. I will use all of the products, except I'm not sure about the snail cream.
Maybe I should offer it as a giveaway prize on my blog in January?! Would anyone want it?
I read the info on the box, there are no actual snails in the cream, just their slime. I know these creams are rather trendy, but for some reason I just feel squeamish.

We also got a new hat and scarf for Eddie at White Stuff today (3 for 2 offer), with a cute woollen Christmas tree decoration.

Did you get any good Black Friday bargain?

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Thursday, 28 November 2019

The Forest Lake Mystery by Palle Rosenkrantz

Scandi Noir books, Danish crime novels, Chez Maximka

"I dare say this lake is very deep and there is hardly a fish living in its cold, clear waters... It is peace itself, untrodden, untouched and very, very quiet", says an old gentleman we meet in the first chapter of The Forest Lake Mystery, the very first Danish detective novel.

The lake, where a young Copenhagen policeman Eigil Holst meets old Captain Ankerkrone and his beautiful daughter Ulla, seems idyllic.
But the peace and serenity are soon shattered when a body of a baby is washed up on the shore.
The local magistrate is under pressure to drain the lake, where the body was found, and during the works, another body is discovered, weighed down with rocks. Nobody seems to know the identity of the woman in the lake.
Holst is appointed to investigate the murder, he "promised himself he would leave no stone unturned and the trail would be found, He was at last facing a task that required a man's strength and engaged his commitment in working towards a real goal".

Holst is an original, engaging character. He's described as unusually handsome, without much interest in women. "He was self-sufficient and his work was everything to him".
He is astute and observant, but also naïvely trusting the wrong people. He's very much the man of his times, with the deeply ingrained ideas on the social standing and (often undeserved) respect towards the upper classes.
At the time when the novel was written, the profession of a detective/policeman was not considered to be a reputable job. Even in the book itself you observe how some of the upper class characters are looking down on Holst because of what job he is doing.
But Holst himself was "destined for his path from childhood. As long as he could remember, police novels had been his favourite reading, the history of crime his greatest joy".

Originally published in 1903, The Forest Lake Mystery by Palle Rosenkrantz is available for the first-time in an English-language paperback (Lightning Books, translated from Danish by David Young; out in paperback on 28 November).
This is a true classic of the Scandi noir.
"It is generally accepted that Palle Rozenkrantz was the first Danish author to use a police detective as the principal character". The Danish annual crime writing awards are named in honour of its author, Palle Rosenkrantz.

classic danish crime authors
Palle Rosenkrantz

Palle Rosenktantz was a Danish aristocrat who was born in 1864. His father, Baron Iver Holger Rosenkrantz, met Palle's mother Julia Louise Mackenzie, while serving as a diplomat in Italy. The connection with Italy will become one of the themes reproduced in Palle Rosenkrantz's writing.

To pursue his inquiries, Holst travels to Venice in The Forest Lake Mystery.

Palle's childhood was pretty nomadic, as parents tended to move around, incurring debts everywhere.
He studied law at Copenhagen University, later working in law and following his family's tradition of living beyond his means. As a sideline to his income, he begins to write crime novels, as well as romantic and historical dramas. His own life reads as a novel.

The novel gives a fascinating insight into the class division of the times, with its obeisance to the rank and status in society.
It is also rather anachronistic in its appalling attitude to women.
Some of the pages are totally heartbreaking. The person who everyone sees as an honourable man, and who perceives himself as such, could go to such cruelty and lack of compassion.
A married man, he thinks nothing of seducing a young girl of lower status, and then discards her like a piece of tat. "Annie was created to be a woman of pleasure and that will be her lot", he says in a letter to his friend.
Even worse, when their child dies, he feels nothing but contempt for the woman he once seduced.
"It's only for the best that the child is dead. Annie doesn't deserve a child, and I don't believe in her repentance, as you call it. A man can love many women and yet not be affected by his infatuations; a woman who loves many men is, and remains, a whore...
I'm a nobleman from birth, and my morality is the nobleman's morality - it will never be different...
I have forgotten the whore, and I didn't acknowledge her child when it lived, nor do I intend to cry at its deathbed..."
How hideous and chilling. As chilling as the murder of the poor woman in the Forest lake.

The setting of the lake is a landscape of foreboding, which brings traumatic revelations. The opulence of Venice is a façade for loneliness, drama and broken lives. Both the lake and the deep waters of the Venetian canals represent a deep and menacing side of the human nature.

The Forest Lake Mystery is a must for anyone who enjoys classic crime novels, and especially Scandi Noir.

classic Danish crime novels, Chez Maximka, classis of crime literature

Many thanks to Lightning Books for my copy of the book!

Tuesday, 26 November 2019

Children of Fire by Paul CW Beatty #BlogTour

books set in Industrial Revolution, Chez Maximka

Children of Fire by Paul CW Beatty (The Book Guild Ltd, 2017) is a Victorian murder mystery set at the times of the Industrial Revolution.

The novel starts with an explosion at the corning mill, which rips it apart and kills several people. It is not clear what has happened, was it an accident, or is the local religious community responsible for this macabre act?

Josiah Ainscough has been brought up in the family of the Methodist Minister. On the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, he has a night of passion with one of the other pilgrims. Given his upbringing, he is wrecked with guilt afterwards, and cannot forgive himself.
Rather than follow his adoptive father's path into the Methodist Ministry, he joins the Stockport Police Force.

The police are interested in the small religious group named Children of Fire, and especially their flamboyant and charismatic leader Elijah Bradshawe. The locals have been greatly taken by the preaching of this inspiring man. His concerns for the mill workers, especially the exploitation of young children, bring him many sympathisers.

Josiah is ordered by the chairman of the new Police Watch Committee to make contact with the Children of Fire, infiltrate the group, get to know them, and find out if they had anything to do with the atrocities at the mill a few months earlier.

As ordered, Josiah pretends to be a traveller looking for seasonal work. The group accepts him, though not without initial suspicions, because Josiah is too educated to be a simple field worker.

Getting to know the community, Josiah comes to the conclusion that the group as a whole is not a threat, but he could not rule out that Elijah might pose an individual threat.
And then his theory is shattered, when Elijah is found crucified at the place where he gave a sermon the night before.
The manner of the murder is so extreme, and there are reasons to believe that the killing spree will continue.

Josiah must race against the time to find out the culprits and prevent more deaths.

To complicate matters more, he's embroiled into a love triangle - his feelings for Rachael, a leading member of the religious commune, are not reciprocated, while Aideen Hayes, a beautiful Irish lady staying in the vicinity, seems to be taken with him.

The novel explores the socially engaged themes of the Industrial revolution, which was the time of the great changes in Britain. In 1840s Queen Victoria was still a young woman. These were the times of the struggle between the old political order and new economic order. The Chartism emerges as the most popular political movement.

The historical background is well-researched, and gives a deep insight into the technological process of the compressed blackpowder. It also touches upon the Irish politics of the period, as well as the origins of Methodism, and such unconventional practices as open-air preaching.

This book would have benefitted from a rigorous proof-reading, alas, numerous typos and mistakes distract you from the plot.

Alive with authentic detail, Children of Fire is a gripping mystery, packed with gruesome murders and chilling suspence.

Author Bio:
Paul CW Beatty is an unusual combination of a novelist and a research scientist. Having worked for many years in medical research in the UK NHS and Universities, a few years ago he took an MA in Creative Writing at Manchester Metropolitan University emerging with a distinction.
His latest novel, Children of Fire, won the Writing Magazine's Best Novel Award in November 2017 and is published by The Book Guild Ltd.
You can find the author on Twitter as @cw_beatty

This post is part of the Blog tour.

Chez Maximka, Victorian mystery

Many thanks to Paul CW Beatty, The Book Guild Ltd and Rachel's Random Resources for my copy of the book.

Death Makes No Distinction (A Dan Foster Mystery no.3) by Lucienne Boyce #BlogTour

historical mystery, Chez Maximka

Odd, thought Dan, how dressing up murder in silks and satins instead of cheap cotton made it less acceptable...

Death Makes No Distinction by Lucienne Boyce is the third book in a Dan Foster Mystery series.
The book reads well as a standalone, though I imagine it would give a deeper insight in the family and police office relationships, if you've read the previous two books.
This is my first meeting with Dan Foster, who is a Bow Street Runner.

References to his background let us understand his character better. He comes from the world of extreme poverty and squalor, his mother having to sell her body for living. If it were not for his adoptive father Paul, who brought him up and gave him a decent start in life, Dan would be on the opposite side of the law.

The Georgian London is portrayed as a city of two opposites - from the opulence of the palaces and mansions, and the world where a five hundred guineas are easily thrown away in a single bet - to the destitute squalor of the poor hovels, where a human life is worthless.

And Dan in a way is a shuttle between the two worlds. He is the man of the law, but he also understands what it is to live in the abject poverty, deprived of the basic human needs.

To him, a human death is worth investigating, whether the victim was a beggar or a grand lady.

The novel starts with a discovery of a murder victim. "A beggar woman had been found dead in the outhouse of a public house at Holborn. Such deaths were not uncommon on a cold, damp night, especially if the deceased was very young or very old".
The young woman was brutally beaten up and raped. Nobody will miss her, nobody will lament her death. She is one of the unnamed victims, a nuisance to the owner of the outhouse who claims she keeps a respectable house.

Trying to find out who might have seen or heard anything related to the murder, Dan is late to his sister-in-law's wedding. Understandably, his wife is not amused. Being married to a Bow Street Runner, she has to endure his constant absences and inconvenient hours.

Setting out to solve the murder of the beggar woman, Dan is ordered to drop the case. He is wanted to work on the case of Louise Parmeter, the lady of the demi-monde, and the former mistress of the Prince, among many others. She's been found dead in her office, and now His Highness wants the killer to be brought to justice.

This is not an offer Dan can refuse. His job, position and living depend on it. Apart from the actual murder, there is a mystery of the missing manuscript, which Louise Parmeter was writing. "She often said that there were many who would prefer Memoirs of Herself and Others not to be published. She used to laugh and say she was going to dedicate it to "the Lords, Generals and Politicians of Great Britain". If the missing book is published, it will cause a great deal of embarrassment "of the most delicious kind".

Dan is committed to solving both murders. His persistent inquiries ruffle many feathers, and his family is targeted by the ruthless shadowy enemy.

Death Makes No Distinction is a skilfully crafted historical mystery. The Georgian London setting is vivid and dynamic, realistically constructed and true to life.
Looking forward to catching up with the previous books in this mystery series, and to the forthcoming book no.4.

historical mystery, books set in Georgian London, Chez Maximka

This post is part of the blog tour. Please check out the other blog reviews.

Many thanks to Lucienne Boyce, Silverwood and Rachel's Random Resources for my copy of the book!

blog tour

Author Bio:
Lucienne Boyce writes historical fiction, non-fiction and biography. After gaining an MA in English Literature in 2007, specialising in 18C fiction, she published her first historical novel, To The Fair Land, in 2012, an 18C thriller set in Bristol and the South Seas.

Her second novel, Bloodie Bones: A Dan Foster Mystery (2015) is the 1st of the Dan Foster Mysteries and follows the fortunes of a Bow Street Runner who is also an amateur pugilist.
Bloodie Bones was joint winner of the Historical Novel Society Indie Award 2016, and was also a semi-finalist for the M M Bennetts Awards for Historical Fiction 2016.

The second Dan Foster Mystery, The Butcher's Block, was published in 2017 and was awarded an IndieBrag Medallion in 2018.

Lucienne has appeared on TV and radio in connection with her fiction and non-fiction work. She regularly gives talks and leads walks about the women's suffrage movement. She also gives talks and runs workshops on historical fiction for literary festivals, Women's Institutes, local history societies and other organisations.

Lucienne is currently working on the 4th full-length Dan Foster mystery, and a biography of suffrage campaigner Millicent Browne.

You can find her on Twitter as @LucienneWrite and on Facebook at

Saturday, 23 November 2019

Photo diary: week 47, project 365

Last week was full of sadness and anxiety. My Mum was going home after a month with us, and we're missing her.
Though I was taking photos every day, some of them are snaps for reviews and recipes, so I have picked two photos for Sunday and two for Monday, and skipped two days altogether.

Rain doesn't seem to abate for more than a day, and the flood plains are still under water. On Sunday Eddie and I went to have a look at the fields covered with the water. More rain is predicted, and we keep an eye on the river levels as we pass by the bridge in the centre every day.

flooding in Oxfordshire, Chez Maximka

After the release of the John Lewis Christmas ad about the excitable Edgar, Waitrose was packed full of plush dragons. Eddie was making pleading eyes at me, saying that he wants one of them. I asked him why, it's not like he's playing with soft toys anymore. He said it's because he's called Edgar.
So far I resisted. I don't even like the ad. The dragon is a pest and a nuisance who ruins fun for the others.

Chez Maximka

On Monday morning I had to walk to the depot to pick up a packet, and as always, whenever I pass by St Mary's church, I take a photo.

churches in Oxfordshire, Chez Maximka

It was the last evening we spent together with my Mum, she was leaving very early the next morning. The taxi was booked for 5.30am, and I didn't want to wake up the boys early, as it was a school day. They hugged their Baba good bye on the eve.
I look so tired in this photo, and why did nobody tell me my hair is all over the place?!

It's hard to believe that in a week's time we say Good bye to the autumn and greet winter.

Thursday was a stressful day. Sasha had a big anxiety/panic attack just before getting to school, and he was so agitated that the school transport refused to take him to school (and rightly so).
I was also getting upset, as my husband needed to go to work and then travel to Brussels that day. I couldn't leave Sasha on his own in the house, and didn't know what to do about the afternoon pick-up from school.
Thankfully, a friend agreed to help, and then the school were most helpful as well, by sending their own transport. They came and collected Sasha who has calmed down by then, and was happy to go.
I was so stressed that morning, I cried. I just couldn't help it. Feeling too fragile, I didn't go to Eddie's school to help with the library, as I happen to do once a week.

Chez Maximka

More autumnal mood scenes... And more disappointment - I picked up Sasha's meds (see the post from the previous week), but there was only one 150ml bottle, rather than the usual amount.
I only realised it when I came home. Called the pharmacy, and they confirmed that this was the right amount, as that's what the GP prescribed, which means in a two weeks' time, I'll have to go through the same bothersome process again.

Visiting Costa today in between shopping, I decided to order a plain latte (You see, Suzanne, I listened to you), but Eddie wanted to try a Black Forest hot chocolate. I had a sip, it tastes of the cherry syrup.
Right now Eddie's in Oxford with his father, they needed to go to the PC World, as my darling husband has killed off his laptop the other day, when he spilled the coffee onto his laptop.
They also need to make some colour photo copies for Eddie's Tudor project.

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Thursday, 21 November 2019

Maple oat cookies

easy cookies, quick cookies, Chez Maximka

After spending a month with us, it was time for my Mum to go back home. She left early on Tuesday morning, and was still travelling yesterday, as though she was in Moscow on Tuesday, it takes another 22 hours by train to get to my hometown.
Every time she leaves, we say Good byes with a heavy heart. With her health issues and me being a "prisoner of Zenda" - not being able to travel far due to the elder son's mental health problems, we never know if we'll see each other again.
To cheer up myself and treat my boys, I was baking maple oat cookies.

easy quick cookies, Chez Maximka, baking with maple syrup

After a recent debacle with Flora, I'm on the lookout for a new margarine for baking cookies with. While I prefer a real butter when I bake cakes, I used to add either Flora or Stork as an ingredient in cookies, as they help to keep the shape.
After Flora has antagonised the Mumsnet members, I am now trying to find an alternative. I'm not a very active Mumsnetter, more of a reader than a contributor, and resent the fact that all members were insulted en masse. So, it's a good bye from me, good bye, Flora.

If you know of a decent alternative which is good for baking cookies, please let me know.
In this recipe I used a Baking block by Sainsbury's. It's the first time I used it, and can't say that I'm impressed. The cookies did spread quite a bit and lost their pattern. This means, I'm still on the lookout for the perfect margarine.

Emma Bridgewater, Chez Maximka

Maple oat cookies (makes 18 cookies)
100g demerara sugar
120g margarine
1 medium egg
60ml maple syrup
50g oats
180+ g self-raising flour
1tsp baking powder
a pinch of sea salt

Cream the sugar with margarine, beat in one egg, add the maple syrup, oats, flour and baking powder as well as a pinch of sea salt. The cookie dough will be quite soft and sticky.
Dust hands with flour and pinch walnut-sized balls of dough, roll between your hands, then flatten and put on the tray, lined with a baking parchment paper or baking silicone sheet.
Bake for about 13-14 minutes. The cookies will be slightly golden and very soft.
Let them cool a bit before lifting off the tray, they are fragile at this stage and will break easily.
If you prefer crispy cookies, let them bake for a couple of minutes longer.

Clarks maple syrup

These are lovely chewy cookies, perfect with a cup of tea or coffee. My boys loved them.
The maple syrup adds a distinct aroma and flavour to the bakes.

Chez Maximka, easy cookies

easy quick cookies, Chez Maximka

Saturday, 16 November 2019

Photo diary: week 46, project 365

We're having a quiet early evening today. Eddie is working on his Tudor project for school, creating an illuminated title page. Mum has offered to cook dinner for kids, so I can have a rest from my kitchen duties. Sash is watching YouTube cooking videos, he loves the American cake videos with the most outlandish cakes. And my darling husband is flying home from Italy as we speak.

Last Sunday we had a quick bite at Costa, Eddie enjoyed a pigs in blankets roll, and I had a festive spiced cappuccino, which looked pretty but again was too sweet to my taste.

On Monday a friend took my Mum and me by car to the Burford garden centre. While Mum was browsing the aisles with the seeds and bulbs, Jen and I checked out a new Reading room with art books and gorgeous stationery. The prices, however, are totally crazy - for example, these beautiful notebooks cost £36 each. There was a sealed book set on Leonardo at £400.

Chez Maximka, beautiful stationery

A dental appointment first thing in the morning for Eddie.

On Wednesday I persuaded my Mum to visit the Ashmolean. She's been there before, but not in the last couple of years. With my boys, I tend to stay longer in the Egyptian rooms, as Eddie loves looking at the mummies, while Sash prefers the Greek sculpture, and we rarely go upstairs to see the European art.
This is the Ideal Head by Antonio Canova.

Chez Maximka, Italian art

With all the rain in the last weeks, the river Windrush has burst out of its banks, and the flood plains are under water. When I was walking towards the bridge from town, some bloke on the bike asked me sarcastically if I could swim. Like it's any of his business what I plan to do.

Chez Maximka, floods in the UK

When we were in Oxford on Wednesday, we also visited the flea market, and Mum bought this Tudor-style bell to take back to Russia as a gift for a friend who collects the vintage bells. The seller wasn't sure about what historical period it could be. I don't think the bell is that old, but the lady is dressed in a Tudor-style dress.

Chez Maximka, vintage bells

The iris pods in the garden look so pretty.

autumn garden, Chez Maximka

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Friday, 15 November 2019

Lemon and orange drizzle cake

Chez Maximka, easy cakes and bakes

As mentioned many times, when I'm stressed, I bake to let off steam.
Today I had to deal with the clinic, which has lost my prescription request, submitted 12 days ago. It's for my son's meds, which is available only on prescription, otherwise I wouldn't have bothered with them.
It's not the first time they did it, and as our supply at home is running very low, I'm upset about their cavalier approach.
I was fuming after an exchange of phone calls, and went to the kitchen to bake. I baked a passion fruit drizzle cake last week, and decided I'd make another drizzle cake, this time a more traditional one, with citrus fruit.
You can make it with either lemons or oranges, or a mix of both.
Gorgeously moist, this cake is a lovely dessert for any tea party.

Chez Maximka, easy lemon drizzle cake

Lemon and orange drizzle cake
zest of 1 lemon
zest of 1 orange
180g caster sugar
juice of 1/2 lemon and 1/2 orange
3 medium eggs
20g polenta (optional)
200g self-raising flour
1tsp baking powder
2tbsp orange gin (optional)
120g butter, melted
for the icing:
5 heaped tbsp icing sugar mixed with orange juice

In a medium sized bowl zest a lemon and an orange. Add the caster sugar and juice of half a lemon and half an orange, mix together. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, then add polenta and sift in the flour. Add a teaspoon of baking powder, orange gin and melted (but not hot) butter. Mix well.

Oil a cake tin and pour in the cake batter. Place the cake tin in the oven preheated to 180C. Bake for 50+ minutes. Check with a wooden toothpick if it's ready, once it comes clean, the cake is baked.

Let the cake cool a bit before taking it out of the tin.
Mix the icing sugar with enough freshly squeezed orange juice to make a runny icing, and drizzle over the cake.
Decorate with jelly diamonds or any other sweets.

The polenta is optional in this recipe, it just adds a nice texture. The gin is also optional, it adds a more concentrated flavour.
I have a bottle of Tanqueray orange gin which I got as a present for my birthday back in February, but I rarely have a gin and tonic, and the bottle is almost full. If you don't have the orange gin, a limoncello could be a nice substitute. Or skip the alcohol altogether. You can't actually taste the alcohol, as it evaporates during the baking, yet it gives a more intense flavour.

Chez Maximka, easy lemon drizzle cake

Chez Maximka, easy lemon drizzle cake

Saturday, 9 November 2019

Photo diary: week 45, project 365

We're getting closer and closer to Christmas, the shops are full of festive treats and gifts.
I've been looking at the selection of panettones in Waitrose, but won't be buying any until the end of this month, or we'll be tempted to eat it.

"The autumn Moon is incomparably beautiful. Any man who supposes the Moon is always the same, regardless of the season, and is therefore unable to detect the difference in autumn, must be exceedingly insensitive", pronounced wise man Kenko in AD 1331.

Moon crescent, Chez Maximka

We had a sudden outburst of hail in the afternoon on Monday, but it stopped as abruptly as it started.

Chez Maximka

The morning of the Bonfire night started with a steady drizzle, and we thought we wouldn't be able to have a bonfire later. But my clever Mum, who prepared the bonfire, has covered it, and while still pretty wet in the afternoon, we put on old coats and ventured into the garden.
That day we had Eddie's friend over, after school, and the boys had fun, roasting marshmallows on wooden skewers.
My Mum who just loves open fires and bonfires said she probably enjoyed it even more than the boys.

Chez Maximka

On Wednesday Sasha had his overnight stay at the respite home, and Eddie had an afterschool club for the first time ever. I have booked sessions for this half term, and will see how it goes.
I convinced Mum to go to Oxford, so we got on the bus and went to the West Gate shopping centre. We were looking for gifts for my Mum to take with her when she travels back home.
My Mum always refuses to eat or drink anything in the cafes, but this time I insisted we should go to have coffee. Well, I did have a latte, and she ordered a hot chocolate.
We were sitting in the café, and I laughed, saying that this is the most middle class experience - to have a coffee in the John Lewis café.

Chez Maximka

I spotted a recipe card in Waitrose for a passion fruit drizzle loaf cake, and decided to bake it on Friday. I have reduced a sugar content quite a bit, and I was right, it didn't need more sugar.
The cake is very moist and tasty, and I will definitely bake it again.

tasty cake, Chez Maximka

It's a day of a torrential rain here. I woke up with a terrible migraine, and had to lie down as soon as I fixed breakfast for the boys, because apparently nobody else can do it. Sigh.
Later I decided to venture out, hoping that the fresh air would ease my aching head.
I bought a copy of The Dinky Donkey for Sash. We are reading the original The Wonky Donkey every single day, as being autistic, my son insists on reading books from the same stash of books by his bedside.
We've already read it today, and it's just not as good as the original book.

books for preschoolers

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Friday, 8 November 2019

Home Comforts Degustabox

There is something reassuring in coming home from the cold and enjoying a mug of hot chocolate. Home Comforts is the theme of the current Degustabox.

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 Home Comforts Degustabox? Let's have a look.

food box, subscription food box

Pip's Real Hot Chocolate Coins (£1.50) are single-servings of high quality chocolate hand-made in Wales since 2015. Available in a range of delicious flavours, with variations suitable for vegans and those watching their sugar, everything is gluten-free and trace-free of nuts.
It's been hailed as the Best Luxury Hot Chocolate Retailer 2019.
You will receive 1 item in your box. To make a mug of delicious hot chocolate, just unwrap and pop into 200ml of any kind of milk on the hob and stir until melted.
Available on and at independent shops.

luxury hot chocolate, vegan hot chocolate

If you prefer coffee to hot chocolate, take your coffee to the next level with a selection of Gourmet Drops Chocolate/Vanilla (£3.99)
I love flavoured coffee, but am always struggling with the sugar heavy coffees in many cafes. Gourmet Drops allow you to add flavour without all that extra sugar.
This is a highly concentrated no added sugar flavoured syrup with sweeteners.

coffee syrup, flavoured syrup for coffee

Tea lovers are not left without a treat this month either. You will receive one of three Tick Tock Teas (£2.05). One of Britain's most loved independent tea brands, Tick Tock, has launched three new wellbeing teas - Bounce (lemongrass, ginger, cinnamon and green rooibos), Balance (fennel, turmeric, cardamom and rooibos) and Bedtime (camomile, lemon balm, lavender and rooibos).
Wellbeing herbal infusions are brimming with natural goodness for bright days and peaceful nights.
They are naturally caffeine free blends.
Available at Waitrose and and

rooibos with flavours, herbal infusions

Upbeat Drinks Juicy Protein Water Blood Orange and Mandarin (£1.79) is a curious concept. It's a sugar free water made with real fruit and containing 12g of whey protein (from milk). Useful for gym devotees, or hydration on the go, it offers an enriched hydration for strength, energy and mental performance.

drinks for gym fans

Maille Mustard with Honey (£1.99) is a classic combination of heat and sweetness. It will add a delicious flavour to any ham sandwich, sausage roll or chicken kebabs.
If you're not a meat-eater, add it to a Welsh rarebit, or a cheese sandwich.
Bring out more flavour with Maille's 270 years of experience.
Available in all major supermarket chains.

classic condiments

Maille Tartare Sauce (£1.99) is another classic condiment. Add a touch of luxury with this gourmet take on a classic tartare sauce. Maille created a twist on the traditional sauce with an addition of shallots, giving the sauce a savoury sweet note.

It is exceptionally good with baked fish or fish fingers.

Chez Maximka

Clarks Original Maple Syrup (£2 for 180ml) is a natural blend of Pure Canadian maple syrup and Carob fruit syrup. This means, you get a delicious maple syrup with 45% less sugar than granulated white sugar (per 100g).
Maple syrup is a must for pancakes and waffles, of course, but it's also a versatile ingredient for many marinades or as a drizzle on roasted vegetables like sweet potatoes or squash.
It's suitable for vegetarians and vegans.
Available in all major supermarket chains.

cooking with maple syrup

Amy's Kitchen Organic hearty rustic Italian vegetable soup (£2) is made with ceci beans (aka chickpeas), vegetables, mushrooms and traditional herbs. This recipe was inspired by Amy's Kitchen chef's trips to Europe
It's gluten free, diary free, vegan and kosher.
Available in all major supermarket chains.
We have tried Amy's Kitchen soups in the past, and they are a handy product to keep in the pantry for when you don't have time to cook.

vegan tinned soup

Growers Garden fresh Broccoli crisps (£1.29) is an innovative product. Made using broccoli grown on their own farm, they have developed a snack which is a healthier alternative to potato crisps.
Less than 99 calories per bag, low in saturated fats, gluten free and vegan, they include fresh broccoli, potato flakes, rapeseed oil, potato starch, salt, spinach powder, vegetable oil and pea fibre.

Crisps themselves are pale green and do have a distinct flavour of broccoli. A hit with fans of broccoli. My Mum enjoyed them, my sons less so.

vegan snacks

Boost + Protein (£1.49) snack bar is a combination of protein crisps enrobed in layers of chewy caramel and Cadbury chocolate. Every bar gives you 12g of protein.
Available across a number of major supermarkets and retail chains.

protein snacks

Snatt's Garlic & Parsley Mediterranean Baked Snacks (£1.49) are authentic Mediterranean baked snacks. Lovely with a dip, or topping, or as a pre-dinner snack.
Nutritional information: 100% natural ingredients, oven baked, vegan, no MSG or palm oil.

vegan snacks

Whitworths Shots Chocolate & Hazelnut (£1.89) are tasty little snacks. Packed full of an indulgent mix of juicy raisins, cocoa dusted hazelnut halves and milk chocolate pieces, these snacks are less than 100kcal. Handy in size, they are great to tuck away, ready to enjoy any time, anywhere.
Suitable for vegetarians, they are a good source of fibre.

fruit and nut snacks

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