Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Out and About June Round-up

June is over, there are just a few weeks left until summer holidays, but the school didn't stop our bloggers from having trips and days out. We are a busy and adventurous lot.
North East Family enjoys outdoors, and I am very envious of their trip to the Chester Roman Fort Museum and a tearoom at the Hadrian's Wall. I always wanted to visit the Hadrian's Wall, and hoping one day I will take my guys up north to see this glorious landmark.

North East Family: Hadrian's Wall Museum

Have you ever heard of SUP? No, me neither. Our adventurous Zoe from Splodz Blogz went on a standup paddleboarding trip (SUP). It has been on her bucket list for a while. She loves water sports, and booked a lesson on her recent break at Center Parcs in Elvden Forest. It looks great fun (though I'd rather look at the sportsmen from the shore, if you ask me).

Splodz Blogz: Standup paddleboarding
If you regularly read Zoe's blog Splodz Blogz, you know that she loves hiking. I am full of admiration reading about her adventures. When it comes to packing, Zoe is a professional. She has written a very useful list of essentials and great tips, all based on her own experience.

Splodz Blogz: Tips for your day hike pack

Erica from Nine to Three Thirty took her kids on a bear hunt, or a bear trail of 30 sculptures. They braved the rainy weather to find the colourful bears, each different and unique. The trail took them through the local woods and they ended up in the golf course pavilion.

Nine to Three Thirty: a bear trail

Cheryl from Madhouse Family Reviews and her trio went on a different kind of hunt. They were fossil-hunting at Cap Blanc Nez. It was a perfect weather for a long walk, and they found plenty of sea treasures.

Madhouse Family Reviews: fossil-hunting
Cheryl's family was also lucky to watch a parade of vintage military vehicles. The Little Ships have come back to Dunkirk for the 70th commemoration of Operation Dynamo and the Evacuation of Dunkirk during the World War II. One of Dunkirk veterans, Arthur Taylor, who's in his 90s was taking part in the parade. What an amazing experience, poignant and heart-warming.

Madhouse Family Reviews: Operation Dynamo
It's not the first time that Cheryl from Madhouse Family Reviews visited Poland. She stayed in Sopot, a small tourist town and a health resort. I would love to visit the charming Crooked House which is a coffee shop. I wonder if they serve coffee there in crooked cups and saucers?

Madhouse Family Reviews: The Crooked House, Sopot

Alison from Dragons and Fairy Dust visited a Roman fort Segedunum. The fort is the most completely excavated fort in Britain and was a garrison for Roman soldiers for around 300 years. There's a museum and a reconstructed Roman bath house. Alison met not just one Gladiator, but quite a few of them, lucky girl indeed.

Dragons and Fairy Dust: Segedunum

Yet Another Blogging Mummy paid a visit to Bekonscot Model village, which was opened in 1929. Even Her Majesty visited it as a child. Exhibits are still added to it and replaced as well. It was great fun, and her boys enjoyed the train travelling through the village the best. I bet my guys would love it too.

Yet Another Blogging Mummy: Bekonscot Model Village

Eileen from ET Speaks from Home produced a video for Multi Faith school trip. during which children have learnt about Sikh and Hindu religions. It's a great way for school children to learn about different religions and cultures.

ET Speaks from Home: Multi faith school trip

I haven't been anywhere grand in the last month, staying in Witney. I did manage to discover a new (for us) restaurant Meze Lounge which serves Greek and Turkish food.

Chez Maximka: starter at Meze Lounge, Witney

It was a rainy day when Eileen from ET Speaks from Home took her family to Conkers. This is a great family-friendly centre in the National Forest with indoor and outdoor play areas, discovery zones and an amphitheatre. They had a great time, despite the rain. Lots of wonderfully cheerful photos that made me smile.

ET Speaks from Home: Conkers
Zoe from Splodz Blogz knows the most picturesque routes in Britain. She took a lot of beautiful photos along The Stephen Langton Trail, which is a newly devised walking route celebrating 800 years since the sealing of Magna Carta. This route is 16.5 miles long, and takes you from Langton-by-Wragby to Lincoln.

Splodz Blogz: chapel along the Stephen Langton Trail
I love food markets, it's a pleasure to wander around the different stalls offering most exciting food products. Alison from Dragons and Fairy Dust went to the Jesmond Food Market which brings together the local food producers and street food traders. If you want to find out what Alison bought at the market, you just have to visit her blog post.

Dragons and Fairy Dust: Jesmond food market

I have never heard of Lady Dinah's Cat Emporium before, but that is where Fiona aka North East Nerd spent a lovely afternoon. You can enjoy your cuppa in a company of cats. The cakes look good too. Admiring the cats doesn't come free, you'll have to pay £6 per person on top of the food bill, and the cats seemed to be rather indifferent to visitors.

North East Nerd: Lady Dinah's Cat Emporium

And that's it folks. This month school holidays will start, and I expect our bloggers will be travelling even more.

ReadCookEat Round-up for May and June

As I'm half-way through One Summer in Venice by Nicky Pellegrino, I am already planning dishes to cook for the next ReadCookEat challenge. Looking back at the May-June linky, we have travelled again across the world of books and cuisines.
I started the linky with an Italian Renaissance recipe for Torta di Tagliarini as described in the novel The Second Duchess by Elizabeth Loupas. It was a gripping historical novel, partially based on the real story, partially on the poem My Last Duchess by Browning. It is set in Ferrara, a gem of a city and a place which I visited many times, as my husband is originally from Ferrara. The chocolate cake is most unusual as it uses fresh pasta as one of the ingredients.

Chez Maximka: Torta di Tagliarini

Cheryl from Madhouse Family Reviews is a staunch supporter of the ReadCookEat cause, and she has cooked many a wonderful dish from the books she has read. The lady is a Superwoman, I tell you. She reads a lot, and I always enjoy her book reviews and recipes.
This time she cooked a Smothered Salmon dish as inspired by A Twist of Fortune by Mike Martin. This is the latest Sgt Windflower Mystery. He's a food-loving Mountie who enjoys talking about food and dreaming of eating as well. If you want to know what Smothered Salmon is, visit Cheryl's blog and enjoy recreating the recipe.

Madhouse Family Reviews: Smothered Salmon

Inspector Montalbano is of course another dedicated foodie who is obsessed with good food. He enjoys cooking of his housekeeper Adelina, but he himself is not a bad cook either. I fancied trying a Sicilian recipe of Sarde a Beccafico which is mentioned more than once in Inspector Montalbano books by Andrea Camilleri. I have picked a quote from The Snack Thief to illustrate the recipe. The name of the dish is translated from Italian as a fig-pecker, and is a tasty recipe for sardines, stuffed with breadcrumbs, pine nuts, anchovies and more.

Chez Maximka: Sarde a Beccafico

It's a bit like a game of ping pong. Back to Cheryl. She has read Making Nice by Matt Sumell and noticed a mention of pizza bagels. Being a curious foodie, she immediately set to cooking her own version of pizza bagels. She also had help from her mini-chefs and together they created a meal, which would appeal to pizza lovers of all ages. A very child-friendly recipe, which I'm sure will be popular with little people.

Madhouse Family Reviews: pizza bagels

Cheryl enjoys cooking exotic recipes. Chicken Choyla is not something I am familiar with, but it looks like a delicious dish with lots of spices. This meal was mentioned in The Last Exile by E.V.Seymour. This foodie find is Nepalese in its origins. It is full of flavours and apparently is served as a starter, though Cheryl served it as a main course with rice.

Madhouse Family Reviews: Chicken Choyla

Last week I finished reading a gripping ghost story This House Is Haunted by John Boyne. I enjoyed the story, and fancied trying a recipe for pear and cinnamon cakes which the heroine eats with a friend. Unable to find smaller sized tins for individual tarts, I baked one big pear, almond and cinnamon tart, and we loved it.

Chez Maximka: pear, almond and cinnamon tart

As I never did a round-up for April with only three entries, I'm adding the posts to the current round-up, in case you missed them.
I am a big fan of medieval mystery genre. The Book of Fires by Paul Doherty is one of the Brother Athelstan series. It is brimming with murder, intrigues and ruthless killers. The main characters enjoyed their pottage which is something inbetween a soup and a stew. It's a kind of a magic pot dish where anything could be added. I cooked a spinach and dried mushrooms pottage, and it was a lovely soup.

Chez Maximka: spinach and mushrooms pottage

Ping Pong, Cheryl's turn again. In The Time of Our Lives by Jane Castello a trio of friends head off for the holiday of a lifetime to Barcelona. There were several food references, and Cheryl decided to recreate a dish of patatas bravas. It looks colourful and full of spices.

Madhouse Family Reviews: patatas bravas

Alison from Dragons and Fairy Dust is a creative cook as well. Back in April she has been reading a series of books by Ann Cleves which feature a detective Vera Stanhope. I haven't watched the TV series but know that it had good reviews. Reading The Glass Room, Alison was inspired to cook an Orange Mousse with Raspberry Sauce. It looks divine, I'd be happy to tuck in.

Dragons and Fairy Dust: Orange Mousse with Raspberry Sauce
Have you read a book recently which inspired you to run to the kitchen and cook to your heart's content?

Come and join in our #ReadCookEat challenge. Cook a meal inspired by the book you have read, either recently or in the past.

The idea is to choose a book, either a world classic or modern fiction, or even memoirs and pick up a dish mentioned or described in that book and then recreate it in a recipe. Please say a few lines about your chosen book, and maybe even do a quote from the book.

If you decide to take part, please add the badge to your post and link up back to this page, and either use a link-up tool or add the url of your post as a comment. Alternatively, email me with the link to your post (my email is sasha1703 at yahoo dot com).

I will Pin all blogs posts taking part in this challenge, as well as RT and Google+

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Salad Arlésienne

Last Christmas, staying with my in-laws, I have discovered a big stash of old Italian cookery magazines, and was happily perusing them. I begged to borrow one of the magazines - La Cucina Italiana (October 1975), as there were a few recipes I wanted to try. This magazine is quite unusual, as it combines a lot of recipes with articles on art and culture and also knitting patterns and fashion advice, but mostly it is about food.

Among many recipes I found a recipe for a French salad Arlesienne. I haven't heard of it before, or maybe I did and forgot.
As my husband and I decided that this week we'd only eat salads and soups for dinner, I thought I would prepare the salad for dinner on Monday.

Salad Arlesienne  (serves 2)
200g baby new potatoes
endive leaves (about 5 "boats" per serving)
100g chargrilled artichokes (from the deli)
a handful of baby tomatoes
a handful of olives (about 50g)
6 anchovies
4 slices of lemon
2tbsp finely chopped flat leaf parsley
3tbsp olive oil
1tbsp lemon juice
1tbsp cyder vinegar
sea salt

Cook the baby potatoes in the salted boiling water. Arrange the endive leaves on a plate, scatter chargrilled artichokes (I got 100g from the deli, but the artichokes in oil from a glass jar would work as well). Slice the baby tomatoes in half, add to the plate. Add the olives and warm potatoes sliced in half. Add a few anchovies if you like them, lemon slices and finely chopped parsley. Make the dressing from the olive oil, lemon juice, vinegar and sea salt and pour over the salad. Eat while the potatoes are still warm, or serve cold.

Adding this recipe to Bloggers Around the World linky run by Chris from Cooking Around the World, as this month's country is France.

Monday, 29 June 2015

Pear, almond and cinnamon tart (#ReadCookEat)

I don't often read supernatural stories but do enjoy a good ghost tale. I was browsing in the library, when I came across This House is Haunted by John Boyne. I knew him as the author of The boy in striped pyjamas, but haven't read any other novel by him. The cover and the teaser looked promising, and I took it out. The novel is set in 1867.
Eliza Caine, a plain looking young woman from London is grieving the sudden death of her beloved father and takes up a position of a governess in a remote manor house in Norfolk, called Gaudlin Hall.
She is nearly killed at the train station, pushed by the invisible hands in the path of the train, being rescued by the vigilant doctor.
When Eliza arrives on a dark and chilling evening to the house, she is greeted by two children. The absence of parents or any other responsible adults is not explained by the children, Isabella and Eustace. That same night, as she goes to bed, the invisible pair of hands grabs her by the ankles and terrifies her. This malign presence in the house seems to follow every step she takes. But the children seem to be unperturbed by it.
I won't spoil the plot and tell you how it ends. I will only say that this is a true page turner and a gripping story. There are inevitable comparisons with The Turn of the Screw and even Jane Eyre, there are some stereotypes when it comes to the haunted desolate mansion's paraphernalia, but overall it is an entertaining creepy story with some unexpected twists.
I loved all the literary references to the 19c writers. Even Mr Dickens makes an appearance in the novel. The style of writing is intelligent and perceptive.
Eliza is an endearing character, with an insightful mind. If you enjoy old-fashioned Gothic stories, this is a well written tale.

Mid-way through the novel, Eliza is taking tea with a new found friend Mrs Toxley, who brings a small gift with her.
"I was touched by such an unexpected kindness and opened it. Immediately an explosion of powerful odours emerged from the box. Mrs Toxley had brought pear cakes infused with cinnamon, and I felt a weakness overtake me." The smell of cinnamon reminded Eliza of her father's favourite tobacco, flavoured with cinnamon.

I was planning to cook pear cakes with cinnamon, but couldn't find the small sized tart cake tins anywhere in the kitchen, so instead I baked one big pear, almond and cinnamon tart.

Pear, almond and cinnamon tart
1 pack of Jus-Rol shortcrust pastry
3 pears
2 medium eggs
125g caster sugar
100g ground almonds
1tsp ground cinnamon
1tsp vanilla essence

Oil the round pie baking dish with the cake release spray or just oil a bit. Roll out the pastry and cut the corners to make it fit the round dish.
Prepare the filling. Grate one pear on coarse, mix with the ground almonds, cinnamon, vanilla, caster sugar and eggs.
Slice two more pears (skin on) thinly.
Pour the filling into the pastry case (still uncooked). Then place the pear slices around the edges, leaving the middle open.
Place the dish in the oven preheated to 180C and cook for 25+ minutes until the pastry is golden brown.

This is a lovely tart, great with cream or ice cream if you eat it hot. It is not bad cold either.
You can make this cake with apples, in fact I have a recipe for Belgian Apple tart which I adapted for pears.

This week I've been reading One Summer in Venice by Nicky Pellegrino, and it is brimming with food references and delightful meals. I know what I am going to cook for the next #ReadCookEat challenge.

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Photo diary: week 26, 365

I've been writing the Photo Diary for half a year now. It has been a 50-50 experience for me. It was fun but also quite a task to take photos every day, even if you don't feel inspired, or nothing exciting is happening. Also being quite a commitment it has distracted me from taking part in the other blog linkies and challenges, so it might be the last one for a while... But never say never, I might feel different in a week's time.
Last Sunday was Father's day in the UK, and my boys baked a batch of Shaun the sheep cupcakes to present to Papa.

Plums in the garden are plentiful but still quite tiny. Just hoping the nasty squirrel will leave them alone. Last year it has bitten off a lot of plums, without eating them, just biting and dropping on the ground. This is a sweet pale pink variety, which name I don't know, as it was already in the garden when we moved to our house.

I bought this potted rose last autumn, and it has been struggling a bit. I hope it will perk up and give me more flowers to admire.

On Wednesday I have baked a pear, almond and cinnamon tart, which was inspired by the ghost story I just finished reading.

More of our garden: a white campanula in the evening.

Friday was my night out. I rarely go out in the evening, and almost missed the Midsummer Dinner at my husband's college because our usual childminder was going away. Thankfully, she has rescheduled and helped us out, staying with our boys. It was a rather glamorous event. I bought a very posh frock from John Lewis. As soon as I saw it online, I knew this was the right dress for the occasion. It was black, with the lacy top, quite Downton Abbey-esque. I wasn't sure if it would look good on me, but ordered it, using the vouchers I won last year with BritMums to cover most of the price. Oddly enough, they requested No stilettos, so as not to ruin their precious floor. Such a shame, as I bought new stiletto shoes specially for the occasion. I actually hate shoe-shopping, I must be an unnatural woman. I traipsed through 8-10 shops in town, and couldn't find anything suitable, it was all either stilettos, big platforms or flats which wouldn't have looked good with such a long dress. Thus I was wearing the shoes I wear every day for the school run.

I did take photos with my mobile yesterday, but I cannot seem to add them to the blog post without them turning on the side. I might have more will power tomorrow to try to do it the right way.

Will this be my last post for Project 365? Who knows.

Thursday, 25 June 2015

Downton Abbey-esque giveaway (c/d 25 July 2015)

As my little man and I walked to school this morning, we took the longer route through the fields and the bridge. The birds were singing so beautifully, the sky was clear and the day promised a warm weather. It was one of those perfect moments when you want to repeat after Faust "Stop time! thou art so beautiful".
Later I enjoyed my cup of tea in the garden, admiring the roses (and trying to ignore the weeds).
I've been also enjoying a new book "One summer in Venice" by Nicky Pellegrino which I recently won on Facebook.
My wins this year are pretty much non-existent. My younger son is doing much better winning prizes for sending his drawings to magazines. Just yesterday he received a surprise remote control car from Kraze magazine, which he absolutely loves. Since I'm not winning much, the next best thing is running a giveaway and making someone else smile, when I let them know they have won.

If you miss the doze of Downton Abbey, I have just the right little prize which might cheer you up. On the last visit to Cogges, I picked up a couple of Downton Abbey mugs. Cogges, a 13th century manor house appears in the TV drama as Yew Tree Farm, which played host to many farming scenes as a home to the Drew family. 
Here is your chance to win a mug as well as a box of my favourite Russian caravan tea from Whittards (a reference to Dowager Countess's love interest, the Russian Prince Kuragin). I couldn't quite tie in these Earl Grey flavoured almonds from M&S to Downton Abbey theme, but let's say, they are posh enough to go well with the tea.

If you'd like to be in with a chance of winning this little prize, please fill in the Rafflecopter form.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Only the first step is mandatory: all you need is answer the question by leaving a comment (if you login as Anonymous, please leave you Twitter name or Facebook name, so that I could identify you, I do not suggest leaving the email address in the comment)
All the other steps are optional, you don't have to do them all. All it takes to win is just one entry. 
Only one entry per person is allowed (however, you can tweet daily to increase your chances). 
The giveaway is open to the UK residents only. Once the Rafflecopter picks the winner, I will check if they have done what was requested. I will contact the winner, if they do not reply within 28 days, the prize will be allocated to another person. 
I will send the prize as signed for. 
If Royal Mail fails to deliver, I will fill in the Royal Mail form the size of War and Peace, but I wouldn't hold my breath that they would rush to do a refund.
I would also appreciate if the winner lets me know when the prize arrives, though of course, this is not a condition of entry.
This prize is not sponsored by any brands.
The giveaway ends on 25 July 2015 (midnight).

Good luck!

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Shaun the Sheep Marshmallow Cake Kit

Last Sunday my boys and I baked a batch of Shaun the sheep cupcakes for Father's day. I appreciate that our Papa might not be the biggest fan of Shaun the sheep, but it was Eddie's choice. And as it happened, Papa was mighty pleased with the cupcakes.
We found the Shaun the Sheep Marshmallow Cake Kit in one of the supermarkets. I suspect all of these themed cupcake mixes (Frozen, Minions, Peppa Pig etc) are exactly the same, apart from the rice paper transfers and the extra decorations. What did we  find in the kit?

This pack contains a Vanilla cake mix, icing mix, a bag of marshmallows and waferettes.
You need 1 medium egg plus  water.
To enrich the taste we used 2 medium eggs and cold milk, as well as zest of 1 lemon and lemon juice for the icing.
Whisk the cake mix with the eggs and cold milk, spoon the equal amounts into paper cupcake cases (about 2tbsp per casing).
Bake at 180C for 10-12 minites.
Mini-cupcakes turned out small but fluffy.

Then the fun part started. We mixed the icing sugar with the lemon juice until smooth.
Spread each cake with the icing, add a layer of marshmallows. Glue the waferette with the icing to the top of the "woolly" cupcake.
Enjoy your flock of sheep.
Even Sasha was interested in the process. I asked him if he wanted to join in with the decorating of the cupcakes, and he did three. Most of the cupcakes were decorated by Master Chef Eddie.

He told me I was doing it the wrong way, and insisted that the marshmallows should be standing rather than scattered randomly.

I said How about just dipping the iced cupcake in the bowl of marshmallows?

You can also cut out Bitzer the dog from the back of the box and set a scene.
One box makes 12 cakes.
The mix contains 100% natural colours and flavours. And by buying the pack you're helping with the fundraising - Green's cakes makes a donation to Wallace & Gromit's Children's Charity for every pack.
The cupcakes were a huge success with all three men of the house. I was pleased that Sasha joined in, as he recently avoids being in the company of his younger brother. And Papa was happy that his boys baked for him.

As you can see, Eddie was very proud of his culinary achievement.
I think we'll buy this kit again, as it's fun and so easy to use, especially with little people.