Sunday, 31 May 2020

Photo diary: week 22, project 366

It's the last day of May. Tomorrow is the beginning of a new era for school, as some of the years are going back. Eddie's year is not one of them, so we will continue to study at home. I don't think I'm ready psychologically to send him to school anyway, and we have now a nice pattern of homeschooling, and actually learning quite a lot.
Our next door neigbours still continue their persistent banging and frequent drilling. It was nice to have a relatively quiet weekend.

Looking at last Sunday's photo of tomato plants, I can see that they've doubled up in height and width since then. These are the tomatoes I've been growing from seeds. Not sure which variety they are, as I had two different packets of seeds. They didn't germinate well, or maybe I'm a rubbish gardener.

Rocket is doing very well. We've had some for salad yesterday and today. I was surprised that all the seeds have sprouted, as the packet of seeds had an expiry date from 8 years ago and I even thought to throw it away. But the tomato seeds were new, and should have fared better than they did, I had three plants out of a dozen of seeds.

Chez Maximka, growing tomatoes in gro-bags

I haven't walked in the flood fields in a long time. It's so peaceful there, with birds singing their hearts out.

Chez Maximka

Eddie is a big fan of Liz Pichon's series of books about Tom Gates. He has quite a collection of Pichon's books, and would love to read more. In fact, since the photo was taken we got two more books for him. I tweeted the photo of Eddie with his book stash to the author. She was very kind in her reply tweet.

Sorting out some old stuff, we found a LED lighting unit for one of Ravensburger 3d puzzles. The puzzle has been broken but the light still works. Eddie liked playing with it late in the evening. He looks like Zorro here.

Chez Maximka

The Moon was up and early in the blue sky.

Chez Maximka,

Thomas Taylor, the author of Malamander and Gargantis, was running a children's drawing competition on Twitter. You had to do a squiggle, and then create a sea monster out of it.
Eddie tried his best to draw a monster. But I got the dates completely wrong. I thought the closing date was the last day of May, but the competition closed on the 27th. I was sorry for my disappointed child, and it's entirely my fault.

Chez Maximka, children's art

We have lots of these weird wild irises in the garden. They are quite elegant, but slightly creepy.

Chez Maximka, English garden

Hope the new week of the eased lockdown is not too scary, and that we are all keeping safe.

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Friday, 29 May 2020

Banana and guava jam cake

Chez Maximka, banana cake

Just after Christmas I won a couple of food prizes on Instagram and Twitter. The Insta prize of a food hamper from Tropical Sun, including a lovely book of Caribbean recipes arrived promptly.
The Twitter prize from Cirio has never materialised, and after several attempts at communication I gave up. The excuses were rather unconvincing, and I still see them tweeting comps regularly. It doesn't put me off buying Cirio products, but I don't think I would bother with their giveaways any longer.

One of the exotic products from Tropical Sun was a jar of guava jam. It's a thick jam, which reminds me of the quince paste in flavour and texture. My guys are more of a strawberry/raspberry/black currant jam type of eaters, and were not enthusiastic about the guava jam.

Then I remembered that years ago we used to bake a sponge with jam mixed into the cake batter, with lots of soured cream.

This is a variation on the theme of the Russian jam cake, which I used to bake as a student, with soured cream (Smetana), 1 egg, flour, oil and any jam that was available (strawberry, raspberry or black currant).
Yet again, I had bananas going over-ripe, and a single pot of yogurt that nobody wanted to eat. I didn't include oil in the photo, but I did add it.

guava jam, Chez Maximka, what to do with guava jam

Rum adds a bit of a tropical flavour too. It has been suggested by my Twitter friend and queen of baking Antonia, who mentioned adding rum to the banana bread a couple of times.

Chez Maximka

Banana and guava jam cake
2 bananas, mashed
100g demerara sugar
2 medium eggs
3 heaped tbsp guava jam
1 small pot of yogurt
juice of 1 orange
1tsp ground cinnamon
2tbsp spiced rum
50ml mild olive oil
250g self-raising flour
1tsp baking powder

Mash two peeled bananas with sugar, using a fork in a medium sized mixing bowl. Beat in the eggs and guava jam. Add a small pot of yogurt, orange juice and spices, rum, olive oil, flour and baking powder.
Mix all the ingredients together, and pour the cake batter in a well oiled bundt cake tin.

Place the tin in the oven preheated to 180C and bake for about 45 minutes (check if it's ready with a wooden toothpick).
Remove from the oven, leave in the tin for  several minutes before removing it out of the tin and letting it cool on the cooling rack.

Chez Maximka, what to do with guava jam

What have you been baking recently?

Chez Maximka, what to do with guava jam

Sunday, 24 May 2020

Photo diary: week 21, project 366

Life in the time of Covid is one long groundhog day. Everything is repeated in a cycle.
On top of our "exciting" life in the lockdown we have a new rather stressful development.
The house next door has been sold, and they started major works inside, breaking the wall, ripping the floors, rebuilding the conservatory. The noise of drilling and non-stop banging starts before 8am. Since we live in a terraced house, we are like prisoners of Zenda. There's no escape.
Conveniently the new neighbours do not live here, in fact we don't know if the house is going to be rented or sold on at a higher price later.

Who begins major building renovation works during the lockdown?! (insert a string of swear words)
Eddie and I tried to annoy the builders by playing out loud "Pink fluffy unicorns dancing on rainbows" and the Eurovision called Uno (Russian entry). Any suggestions for highly annoying songs are most welcome.

Last Sunday I walked in town, and once again, admired this gorgeous lighting. Alas, it needs a modern style house, and won't fit with the old beams and old house features.

Chez Maximka, designer lighting

Eddie was looking like a little yeti with a fringe going down over his eyes. It was time to trim his hair. We both had a giggle at my hairdressing skills. But looking at some recent images on Insta from people I follow who subjected their family members to the lockdown hair cuts, my attempts are not that awful after all.

Chez Maximka, Harry Potter t=shirt

It was a hot May afternoon, and I was sitting in our garden on a picnic rug, engrossed in a crime book Silent Nights. It's a selection of short stories, which I really enjoy. Christmas tales of crime hold a special place in my heart. I have quite a collection of books of short stories set at Christmas.

Chez Maximka

One of Seesaw tasks was to create a model of states of matter from recycled materials, representing Solid, Liquid and Gas. I told my Mum on the phone that Eddie was working on it, and she got anxious, asking if it might explode. I told her: Mum, it's not a real gas.

Chez Maximka

The pond irises started blooming. The pond is an exaggerated name for an overgrown hole in the ground.

Chez Maximka, May garden, English garden

On Friday Eddie and I were watching Thor: The Dark World (again). I saw a short video recently that originally Tom Hiddleston auditioned for the role of Thor. Thanks goodness, they didn't offer it to him. He's perfect as Loki, and Chris Hemsworth makes a splendid Thor.

Chez Maximka, Avengers

From the bathroom window I saw this dove washing in the puddle on the roof top of our kitchen.

Chez Maximka

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Saturday, 23 May 2020

Cookie Fries - inspired by Disney (The Big Bakes shares secret recipes)

Chez Maximka, easy shortbread with choc chips

Do you miss your favourite treats from High Street food outlets, like Gregg's classic sausage rolls, or Café Nero vegan raspberry croissants?
Just the other day Eddie and I were discussing with a light note of nostalgia how wonderful the Krispy Kreme donuts are (chocolate with sprinkles are our favourites), and how much we miss them.

As Britain remains locked down, many people miss popping to their favourite High Street food outlets to pick up a delicious treat.
To keep the nation going during this time of culinary deprivation, The Big Bakes has pledged a new secret recipe each week to help Brits replicate some of the UK's most iconic High Street snacks at home.

This week one of tasks on Seesaw (homeschooling app) was to pick a recipe, cook a dish, take photos of the result and then discuss what's the best part about being a chef.
As soon as we read the task, I knew we had to try the recipe for Cookie Fries, as recreated by The Big Bakes.
Cookie Fries are basically choc chip shortbread shapes, served with dips.

The Big Bakes, High St food copycat
Image credits: The Big Bakes

With so many popular dishes to choose from, The Big Bakes asked baking fans for help whittling down the options. In response, The Big Bakes has created five online recipe tutorials of the most popular dishes, which are revealed each Wednesday.
These include:
- Greggs Sausage Roll
- Cookie Fries - Inspired by Disney
- Nando's Portuguese Tarts
- Millie's Cookies

Each video masterclass will offer an easy, step-by-step guide for people to follow at home, no matter what their level of experience. Lasting two to three minutes, the home baking videos will feature day-to-day ingredients and basic kitchen equipment, so everyone (including the kids) will be able to get involved.

In order to take part in these digital baking sessions, all people need to do is visit @Thebig_bakes on Instagram or Facebook, for a list of the necessary ingredients needed for the up-coming class.

The Big Bakes was founded in 2017 by Adam Chaudhri and Eloise Frank, who discovered a gap in the market for fun, accessible and affordable baking events, after taking part in a bake-off competition during a work away day.
With locations across the UK as well as online, the Bakes combine socialising, baking, and good old-fashioned fun.

Last week The Big Bakes digital co-baking sessions kicked-off with the Cookie Fries, inspired by the tasty amusement park snacks found in Disney, these chip-shaped treats have risen to legendary status almost overnight.

Now, The Big Bakes has released its secret Cookie Fries recipe, so easy to follow that even kids will be able to have a go.
Perfect for sharing, these chocolate chip cookies replicate classic fries and are perfectly shaped for dunking into your favourite sauce.

We decided to cut our cookies into diamond shapes rather than chips.

Chez Maximka, Emma Bridgewater

Cookies Fries (recipe courtesy of The Big Bakes)

For the Cookie Fries:
50g sugar
100g butter
150g flour
50g chocolate chips

For the dips:
20g mini marshmallows
1tbsp milk
2tbsp Nutella
2tbsp jam

Chez Maximka

Mixing bowl
Rolling pin
Knife (adult supervision needed)
Baking tray with parchment
Microwavable pots for your dips

Preheat your oven to 180C and line a baking tray with parchment paper.
In your mixing bowl, start by creaming together the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy.
Stir in the flour and mix until incorporated.
Fold in the chocolate chips and then turn your dough onto a work surface and knead until it comes together in a ball.
Roll the dough into a rectangle about 2cm thick and cut into your desired chip shapes or smaller rectangles.
Place onto your baking tray a few centimetres apart from one another and bake for 10-15 minutes until the edges go golden brown.

Chez Maximka, choc chip shortbread

Leave to cool before eating.

Chez Maximka, easy cookie recipes for kids

We didn't have chocolate chips, and chopped half a bar of chocolate into small pieces.

Chez Maximka, kids in the kitchen

When you're ready to eat your Cookie Fries, make your dips just before:

Combine the marshmallows with 1tbsp of milk and then microwave in 5-second intervals and stir until fully combined, stop when the mixture has liquidised.

Microwave the jam for 15 seconds and then the Nutella for 15 seconds, stir and then serve with your cookie fries.

We don't have a microwave, and used some of the Marshmallow fluff instead.
We also prefer Jim Jams to Nutella which has a staggering amount of sugar. We skipped the jam altogether, as it was just too much sweet stuff together.

Chez Maximka, healthier alternative to Nutella

Chez Maximka, Emma Bridgewater mug

These cookies are super easy, anyone can have a go at this simple recipe.
My guys loved them so much that we baked them twice in two days (we didn't do the dips the second time).

Chez Maximka

Eddie has submitted his report to the Seesaw app, and his teacher commented that she'd love to try the recipe too.
What have you been baking recently (that is, if you have some flour)?

Chez Maximka

Sunday, 17 May 2020

Photo diary: week 20, project 366

Days, dates have lost any meaning and have become pointless. I'm not sure which week of the lockdown are we now on, is it 7th or 8th? If Sasha were not attending his school 3 times a week, it would have been even more tricky to distinguish the monotonous routine.
I go through motions, feeling a bit lost in time.

I venture out grocery shopping a couple of times a week, and get annoyed with people not understanding the social distancing.
I cook, read, clean, check out news online, homeschool, read to Sasha, it's all very same-ish.

Last Sunday my husband took Eddie out for a walk in the evening, they passed by the Ability Systems shop. Eddie misses the friendly lady who always waves to us from the shop, whenever we pass by on the way home from school.
They are a really lovely bunch there, helped us so many times with the ipad repairs.

Chez Maximka

Taking numerous photos of our garden to show my Mum what it looks like. She is a keen gardener, and asks me every day on the phone what's what. She remembers all the details of our garden.

Chez Maximka, May garden, English garden

Eddie has re-arranged books on his book shelf, moving some books to the closed unit above, and adding some of our latest purchases on display.
We're reading Gargantis by Thomas Taylor at bedtime, almost finished, and will pick another one to read together, maybe the next instalment of the Murder Most Unladylike.

Funko Pop Marvel, Chez Maximka

One of the bakes from the last week, a nectarine polenta cake. I have poached a couple of nectarines with apricot brandy, then blitzed them into a puree and added to the cake batter. The cake was lovely, and didn't last long.

what to do with polenta, Chez Maximka

Eddie enjoys watching videos of his favourite Youtubers. Unfortunately for me, I cannot stand their inane banter and annoying voices (Skeppy, looking at you!). My child is now wearing headphones so that I don't have to hear the noise.

Chez Maximka

The rhododendron in the garden is a magnet for bees.

English garden, Chez Maximka

The window display at Waterstones has been the same since the beginning of the lockdown. Every time I pass by, I look at this book title "This too shall pass", and think: How apt.
Rather philosophical. I read it as a message of hope: This lockdown too shall pass.

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Wednesday, 13 May 2020

UK vs International Degustabox

Many of our meals in lockdown are a game of Ready, Steady, Cook, when I look inside the kitchen pantry and fridge to decide what ingredients I can use to make a decent lunch or dinner. Receiving a food box with surprise ingredients is a cause of much excitement, as you get new products to work with.

Degustabox is a monthly food and drink subscription box. It's an excellent way of discovering new products which have only just appeared in the shops, or those which have been around a 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 monthly box arrives, its contents are 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 code 8EVI8 when you place an order.

What did we receive in UK vs International Degustabox?

food subscription box, Chez Maximka

Percy's Caramel Chocolate Shortberad Sticks (£3) are a delicious treat for anyone who enjoys the irresistible combination of chocolate and caramel. The buttery, melt-in-the-mouth shortbread sticks are coated in caramel milk chocolate and hand spun with dark chocolate to decorate.
Lovely with a cup of coffee or tea.
Available at Sainsbury's, Ocado and independent stores.

Chez Maximka

Chez Maximka

Brynmor Flapjack - Caramel Fudge/Apple & Raspberry (£1.29) - is lovingly baked in the heart of the Welsh countryside.
Brynmor's range of tasty nutritional flapjacks is available at Ocado, Waitrose, NISA, WHSmith Travel, Grapetree, independent health shops and at
Traditional 80g flapjacks offer reduced sugar and protein. As they say, their products offer something for everyone, and each comes with a variety of real health benefits. They are gluten free, wheat-free, vegan-friendly, contain no artificial flavours or colours, and are a good source of fibre.
There are two items in the box.

Chez Maximka, vegan snacks

Terry's Chocolate Orange Easter Egg/Minis Popping Candy (£4) - the iconic Terry's chocolate orange presented as an Easter treat. The Minis Exploding Candy are classic milk chocolate segments, flavoured with real orange oil and packed full of fun popping candy pieces (4%).
Nutritional information: 17g of sugar and 145kcal per 7 segments.
Great for sharing with family and friends.
There are two items in the box.
Available in the major supermarket chains as part of Terry's Chocolate Orange Popping Candy Easter Egg pack.

Chez Maximka

Moving from sweet treats to savoury products:
Growers Garden fresh Broccoli crisps (£1.99) are believed to be the world's first crisps to be made with fresh broccoli. They are a healthier alternative to potato crisps.
We had first tried Broccoli crisps last October, when several flavour packs were delivered in the food box. I remember I wasn't very enthusiastic about them, though my Mum enjoyed them.
This time our elder son surprised me by eating all the broccoli crisps. He clearly liked them.
Grown on their own farm, Growers Garden are using the wonky veg to make a healthier snack.
Available in approximately 600 stores across the UK. Visit for your nearest store.

Tilda Peri Peri Microwave Rice (£1.59) is the latest addition to the delicious range of international rice flavours from Tilda. Peri Peri is a taste sensation, combining bird's eye chilli heat with green and red peppers, sweet tomato, garlic, smoky paprika, oregano and a squeeze of lemon.
It is gluten free, suitable for vegetarians and vegans and contains to artificial flavourings, colours or preservatives.
Available in the major supermarket chains.

Chez Maximka

My personal favourites were two pastes from Very Lazy - Very Lazy Lemongrass Paste and Very Lazy Ginger Paste (£1.85 each). They are so handy to keep in the kitchen, and jazz up a variety of meals. 1tsp = half a stick of lemongrass or 1 thumb of ginger.
Available at Tesco.
For recipe ideas, visit
I cooked a simple cabbage dish, with an addition of a grated carrot and both pastes as a side dish, and it was so flavourful and vibrant. Add them to the grilled fish, curries, roast vegetables, soups and stews, the possibilities are endless.

Chez Maximka

Peppadew Sweet Piquante Peppers Mild Chopped (£3) are loved for their unique layered flavour, sweet and then mildly spicy, firm and crunchy texture and excellent quality.
It can be used as an ingredient (try it in a potato salad with mayo and spring onions), or as a topping for pizza, pasta, salads, wraps, sandwiches and burgers.
Visit the antipasti aisle at Tesco for Peppadew full range.

Chez Maximka

And finally the drinks:

Sxollie Cider Cripps Pink (£1.80) is a light refreshing drink. Sxollie Ciders are made exclusively from famous apples, the Golden Delicious, Granny Smith and the Pink Lady.
Apples are sourced directly from the Elgin Valley in South Africa where the apples are lovingly grown in the sunshine. The cider captures the essence of the fruit with its sweet and sharp notes.
Available at Sainsbury's, Waitrose and selected pubs and bars.

Chez Maximka

Remedy Kombuch Raspberry Lemonade 250ml/Cherry Plum 250ml (£1.85) is a healthy soft drink, made by naturally fermenting sweet tea with a live culture.
The result is a sparkling drink that contains live cultures, tea polyphenols, organic acids and no sugar, naturally.
Available at M&S, Morrisons,, Holland & Barrett, Boots, Booths, WH Smith, Planet Organic, Whole Foods Market and many more.

Chez Maximka

Chez Maximka, kombucha drinks

Monday, 11 May 2020

Banana carrot bread

Chez Maximka, best banana bread

I know that the mere mention of banana bread spreads yawns across the social media, since it's been the staple of baking during the lockdown, but please bear with me. I baked a banana bread last week, and it didn't last long. This week I have added a carrot to the banana loaf, and it was very tasty too.

We have a lovely café in town, called UE Roasters. They serve the best coffee in town, and oh boy, I do miss it. They also serve the best (and truly it should be with a capital B) banana bread with Greek yogurt and honey. If ever you stop by in Witney, treat yourselves to a slice of banana bread at UE Roasters, you wont' regret it.
I did ask them if they'd share their recipe with me. They told me they don't bake it on the premises, but people who bake it for them use Delia's recipe.
I have used Delia's recipe for banana bread, and though delicious, it's still not the same as they serve in the café. So, I'm working on trying to figure out what the secret ingredient is.

Chez Maximka, easy banana bread

Banana carrot bread
2 medium bananas, mashed
carrots, grated (130g unpeeled weight)
150g demerara sugar
100ml mild olive oil (butter is fine too)
2 medium eggs
250g flour
1tsp baking powder
1tsp cinnamon
a pinch of salt
60g walnuts, chopped (optional)

Mash two peeled bananas in a medium sized mixing bowl. Add a grated carrot and demerara sugar, pour olive oil, beat in eggs, one at a time, and add flour, baking powder, cinnamon, a pinch of salt and chopped walnuts. Mix all the ingredients together, and pour the cake batter into a well oiled loaf tin.

Place in the oven preheated to 180C and bake for about 45 minutes, until golden brown (check if it's ready with a wooden toothpick).
Remove from the oven, leave it in a tin for about 5 minutes before removing out of the tin and letting it cool on the cooling rack.

It is tasty warm, with a cup of tea and coffee. For a totally decadent treat, add a big dollop of thick Greek yogurt and drizzle a bit of honey over it. Mmmm, so, so good.

Chez Maximka, Spode Blue Italian

In this recipe I used Homepride Superior Sponge Flour from March Degustabox food box. Superior Sponge Flour is the latest addition to the Homepride range, a perfect flour for cake-baking.
It's made from 100% British wheat flour, and is available at Tesco.

If you don't have this flour (I know finding flour is still a problem in many supermarkets), any quality self-raising flour will do.

Skip walnuts if you don't like nuts in baking (or have allergies).
I prefer using demerara sugar with the banana bread, but again, caster sugar will be fine.