Wednesday, 21 February 2018

Blood orange drizzle polenta cake

best drizzle cakes, what to do with blood oranges

I love blood oranges. It's a pity the season when they're available here is pretty short. At the moment you can buy them in Waitrose and Sainsbury's. They have such a beautiful colour and an intense sweet taste. They are wonderful in fruit salads, or juiced, and also as an ingredient in cakes and bakes.

I bake an excellent orange polenta cake, and have been baking it for years. My family loves it.
Last week I spotted a recipe for Blood orange drizzle cake on Sainsbury's website. It was different from my usual bakes because it had a blood orange curd in it.

Last Friday I baked the cake and made the curd.
Sadly, the curd looked like something already eaten and regurgitated. My elder son looked at it with such distaste, that I didn't dare adding it to the cake. I hasten to add, that the blood orange curd tastes lovely, it's just the looks we find slightly repulsive. The colour of blood orange is diluted by the addition of eggs and cornflour, and it acquires a pale pink colour with unpleasant associations. For some reason the colour of curd on Sainsbury's site is nothing like what I made.

blood orange curd

I have adapted the recipe for the cake, baking it more or less following my own old recipe, but the curd I have made, exactly as suggested online, so if you fancy making some of your own, follow the link above, as I won't be reproducing it here.

best polenta cakes

Blood orange drizzle polenta cake
zest of 2 blood oranges and 1 lemon
180g caster sugar
3 medium eggs
50g polenta
juice of 1 blood orange and 1/2 lemon
185g self-raising flour
1tsp baking powder
150g butter, melted

juice of 1/2 lemon + icing sugar, enough to make a thick icing
1 blood orange, peeled and sliced, for decoration

In a big mixing bowl grate the zest of blood oranges and lemon. Add the caster sugar, and beat in the eggs, one by one. Add the polenta and orange and lemon juice, mix well. Sift on flour and baking powder, add melted butter and mix well together.
Pour in the cake batter into a spring cake tin, lined with parchment and oiled. Place the tin in the oven preheated to 180C, and bake for about 35-40 minutes, until the cake is golden brown and the wooden toothpick comes clean.
Take the cake out of the oven, let it cool a bit before taking out of the tin and cooling it on the wire rack.
Mix thick icing with lemon juice and icing sugar, and spread over the top of the cake. Decorated with slices of blood orange.
If you're using the curd, you'll need to slice the cake, and spread the curd.

If you don't have polenta, just use the same amount of flour, but polenta adds a lovely grainy texture to the cake. You could probably use ground almonds as a substitute as well, they'll give a nice texture to the cake too.

Last week's cake didn't last more than two days. Today's bake will probably be eaten quickly as well. It is very tasty, with a cup of tea or coffee.

best drizzle cake

best cake recipes

Tuesday, 20 February 2018

New Wildlife and Farm World animals from Schleich

toy animals, Schleich toys, farm animals

I might have told you this story already: when our son Sash was five years old, we spent just about a week in a small town in Austria. My husband was invited to take part in some sort of academic summer school, and we tagged along. At that time, wherever we went, a whole family of toy elephants from Schleich went with us. Sash and the elephants were inseparable.
One afternoon, he accidentally dropped one of them in the fountain and was inconsolable. I could see that it was rather deep to just go in the water, and was prepared to be saying Bye to the toy. One of the students who was with us that afternoon saw Sasha's tears and bravely jumped in the fountain. She was soaked through and through, but retrieved Sasha's treasured elephant. I felt bad about not stopping her in time, but also grateful to her.
We still keep those elephants. Later, they became Eddie's companions.
Years passed, however, these toys look pretty good after many years of use.

I imagine many parents could come up with stories about their children and Schleich toys.
Their inspiring range of toys and minifigures is constantly expanding. Just recently they've added new toys to their Wildlife and Farm World ranges.

Just look at this gorgeous Black bull (£7.99).

farm animal toys

You can tell your children that bulls have been the symbol of Spain for centuries. They can weigh over 1,000kg and are extremely strong.
Bulls are born fighters. Calves practise butting their head by playfighting just a few hours after being born.

This black bull is not to be messed around with.

farm animal toys

The attention to detail and craftsmanship are truly high. Look at the detail on this Holstein bull's head, from patterned horns to furry ears.

farm animal toys

Looking rather docile and clumsy, this bull is actually very agile and nimble and can effortlessly jump over pasture fences.
I smiled, reading a description at Schleich site - "Fun fact: When a bull is angry, it attacks by ramming with its head". It's the use of the word Fun which made me chuckle.
Nothing funny about the fact of being chased by a bull.

farm animal toys

A lion from Wildlife range is another beauty. This toy made me think of the famous animation The Lion King. We used to watch it quite often, when my guys were a bit younger.
This lion is watching you with interest. His mane is splendid.

wildlife animal toys

wildlife animal toys

An Indian Rhinoceros (£7.99) is probably my favourite of the four toys we received for reviewing. Its thick skin is like an armour. Its well-defined horn and folds of skin are a marvel of craftsmanship.

wildlife animal toys

The Indian rhino lives in the North East India. Its thick folds of skin are its distinct characteristic. As opposed to the African rhinos, their Indian relatives are calm and peaceful.

wildlife animal toys

Most nurseries and primary schools have sets of Schleich toys, as they recognise a huge educational value of these toys. All the recent additions to Schleich range can be collected as one by one until you get a whole set, they can be mixed and matched, with new accessories added year after year.

Disclosure: We received a selection of new Schleich toys for the purposes of reviewing. All opinions are our own.

rhino toys

Monday, 19 February 2018

Potted Craster Kippers

what to do with smoked kippers

I should really know better by now that if you don't need something on offer, it's not a bargain. It so happened that we were in Waitrose just before closing time on Sunday, after a visit to the cinema. I looked at the fish counter, and there was a big bag of smoked kippers for less than a pound.
For some reason I decided that I really fancied a kipper. I haven't eaten a single kipper in the last couple of years.
Then I came home with my bargain, and it dawned on me, that nobody in the house, nobody but me, would eat kippers, even if their lives depended on it.
And there were four of them in a bag. Oups, that was a mistake. I started looking online what I could do with kippers apart from the obvious poaching or grilling.

Then I came across a recipe for simple potted Craster kippers on Telegraph. I have changed the recipe a bit, I didn't want the kippers to drown in soured cream.
I cooked 4 fish, but used only 2 in making potted kippers.

what to do with smoked kippers

Potted Craster Kippers
2 Craster kippers, butterflied
100g unsalted butter
4tbsp soured cream
juice of 1/2 lemon
toast to serve

Place the kippers in a baking dish/tray and add the butter, cut into cubes all over them. Squeeze the lemon juice over kippers. Put the baking tray in the oven preheated to 180C, and cook for about 8 minutes until golden brown.

fish recipes

Take the tray out, and let the fish cool enough to handle.
Remove the skin, flake the fish and try to remove as many bones as possible.
Mix the fish with the soured cream, divide the mix and place into individual deep ramekins. Pour the melted butter over the flaked fish.

Once cold, place the ramekins, covered with cling film or foil, in the fridge.
Serve with hot crusty bread or toast, with spring onions or gherkins.
It is actually quite tasty. In small doses.

what to do with smoked kippers

I've been eating those kippers for the whole week. I think I most likely won't buy another one any time soon. But there is noone blame but myself and my love of bargains.

Sunday, 18 February 2018

A new range of Tonka toys at ASDA

A new range of Tonka toys at ASDA, miniature cars

Little people and little cars inevitably go together. Miniature vehicles attract like magnets. I remember playing with my brother's toy cars when I was a child. He had quite a collection of miniature cars, and I admired the craftsmanship and attention to detail on each small vehicle.

Last year Tonka celebrated its 70th anniversary, what a great achievement for a toy brand.
Tonka was born in 1947 in Mound, Minnesota, originally created and manufactured by Mound Metalcraft (manufacturer of garden implements).
The company started selling metal toys, which soon became their primary business.
A bit of trivia: the name Tonka comes from the Dakota Sioux word "Tanka" or "Tonka", which means great or big.
Tonka's famous motto is "a toy shouldn't break just because a child plays with it".

This year (from the 10th of February onwards) Tonka launched a new range of vehicles in ASDA. which is aimed at children aged 3-6 years. This range is not available yet online but watch this space.

miniature cars, collectible cars

What could you find in selected ASDA stores?

Tonka Diecast Big Rigs (£6.99) are built to last with realistic detailing to look like a real big rig.
Long Haul Semi-Truck is one of three big rigs
The colourful trailer is detached from the truck. The truck part is diecast and feels quite heavy and solid in hand.

Tonka toys

Tonka Toys

miniature trucks

Tonka Diecast Monster Trucks (£6.99) are sturdy vehicles for all kinds of terrain. The Tonka Monster metal die cast collection was built for the extreme action.
This is a selection of urban, construction and emergency vehicles atop massive Monster wheels.
Watch it, it will crush anything in its path!

Tonka toys

This toy is ginormous in comparison to Tonka Tinys, which you can easily hide in a pocket.

tonka vehicles

Monster trucks toys

Tonka Tinys blind garages are a steal at £1.99. Collect your favourite mini vehicles

If you haven't come across Tonka Tinys before, this is a collection of miniature vehicles which are great for small scale adventures.
Suitable for ages 3+ (due to small pieces), this range of mini collectibles is popular with children and grown-ups alike.
We have already reviewed some of the Tonka Tinys last year.
There are lots of different vehicles to collect including police pickups, quarry dump trucks etc. You can get them in packs of three (with one mystery vehicle) or in blind garages.
Blind garages are small sized plastic boxes, which you can easily stack together.

miniature cars

These new collectable toys are light and easily-transportable. You can carry them in your pocket.
When my boys were younger, I used to buy mini cars to take with us on a flight, and give them to my boys as a surprise when we board the plane. They had something new to distract them and play with.
Tonka Tinys will be just the right distraction for long car trips too.
Despite the size, these mini-vehicles are well-detailed, with movable parts.

toy cars

At such affordable prices, Tonka Tinys will make a perfect purchase for pocket money.
Collect them all, and swap with your friends.

Tonka Tinys Three Pack (£4.99) has three vehicles, two of which you can see through the clear plastic packaging, while the third one remains a mystery until you unbox it.

toy cars

And the last one to showcase today is Tonka Tinys Mini Playset (£9.99).
Tune-up Garage playset has a launching conveyor belt, a vehicle lift and working garage doors. It comes with one vehicle. The assembly is very easy, even for young children.

Tonka toys

Tonka toys

We love Tonka toys.
My only criticism (which could be applied to many toy brands) is the amount of packaging. In bigger boxes there is a cardboard box, plastic bits with screws which I find very tricky to turn to open, the scotch tape everywhere, thin rubber bands etc.
Each blind garage is a plastic box wrapped in transparent tight packaging, and each vehicle inside the box is also put in a small plastic bag.
Our local council does not bother with recycling flyaway plastic, for example.
In this day and age it might be a good idea to reduce the amount of plastic and packaging overall.

Now getting off my high horse, I want to add that Tonka toys are here to stay. They've been enjoyed by several generations of children, and are a delight to play with.

Disclosure: We received a selection of Tonka toys for the purposes of testing and reviewing. All opinions are our own.

Betrayal by Karin Alvtegen

Scandi noir books, best psychological thrillers

Karin Alvetegen is one of the reigning queens of Scandi noir. Her style of writing is distinct - she is brilliant at creating psychological thrillers. There are no Gothic undertones or creepy landscapes, no anguished detectives in knitted jumpers to distract from the plot.
Her books are a great study of the human mind, and how it affects the everyday behaviour patterns and life in general.
There are two main protagonists in Betrayal.

Eva is a betrayed wife, who's tormented by her husband's infidelity and indifference his perfidy brings to their life and young child. Shakespeare's quote "Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned, Nor hell a fury like a woman scorned..." was written about her.
Her pain of betrayal is palpable, it is like a physical attack. Someone you live with for so many years and think know, betrays you with a person who is in a position of trust. The whole world collapses.
You start looking back for hints, when it all might have started. You want revenge. Big time.

Some of the scenes in the book, describing the relationship between Eva and her husband Henrik, are painful to read, as many a couple who've being together for a long time might find them recognisable. When they have conversation about the future, Henrik accuses his wife that they didn't have fun anymore.
"...he sat out there... and watched the traffic report and put their shared future into question because he wasn't having fun anymore. As if she were going around cheering with joy about their life. But at least she tried, they did have a child together, God damn it!"
"...he had lied to her as if their relationship had never existed, she and their life together had never existed, had never been worth a thing."

Jonas comes into the narrative as a dedicated carer, who spends days in the hospital, looking after his girlfriend. We don't know yet what happened to Anna, and how she ended up in coma. Jonas clearly has OCD. His obsessions and behaviors go back to his miserable childhood, with a Lothario of a father, who sleeps around without a second thought for his wife, and who forces Jonas into being an unwilling co-conspirator.
When Jonas' mother finds out about the affairs, she shuts herself in the room and withdraws from life altogether. She cannot forgive either her husband or son. She didn't understand that her son was as much a victim of the situation as her.
Jonas' mental problems stem from those sad times.

By a fluke of nature, Eva and Jonas meet one evening, and get entangled into a tragic mess.

It is a chilling novel, a gripping read. This is the second Alvtegen's novel that I've read, and oh God, it is bleak, unnerving, nail-biting, dark and creepy.

As the novel was unfolding, I was torn into two, compelled into keeping reading but also not wanting to know how it ends, because you know it's going to be one hell of an ending. And so it was, shocking and merciless.

If you enjoyed reading this review, you might like a review of another Altegen's book - Shadow.

Do you enjoy Scandi Noir? Which psychological thriller would you recommend to read?

Saturday, 17 February 2018

Photo diary: week 7 (project 365)

We're on week 7 of Project 365 (take a photo each day), and I'm already losing my mojo. Maybe it was because this week we're on midterm break, and I found my hands full and mind distracted.
In my understanding if you have children, parents need to work as a team. I appreciate that this might be a purely theoretical and idealistic view. But when your husband never bothers to check any holidays or breaks in advance and plans his trips abroad exactly at the same time when the school is off, I call it pisstaking inconsiderate.
Most photos I took this week were of food that I was cooking and garden, as I felt totally lacking motivation.

Last Sunday I decided to make pancakes. These were Russian-style honey pancakes, and they were very tasty.

I finished reading Dance of Death by Edward Marston. I enjoyed the book, though I prefer his Railway Detective series. I used to collect vintage photos and cards, and this is some of my stash, acquired at the flea markets years ago.

Tuesday was a Pancake Day. Apologies for another pancake photo, but it was either that or the toy review image which I did that day.

On Wednesday our Papa was off to the States, and we didn't see him when he got up to catch an early bus to Oxford. Our friend Jen offered her services as a driver, and we visited the Burford garden centre, which both boys love. Sadly, by Sod's law, it was raining, so we didn't do much apart from having coffee and treats at the cafe, having a quick look at the food shop (where we must buy a box of jelly beans for Sash - he thinks that is an essential part of going to the garden centre) and about 10 minutes max at the playground. Such a shame, it was raining, the next two days we had perfectly sunny mornings. sigh

I was in a gloomy mood on Thursday, as Sash was extremely restless, and I was annoyed with my husband for gallivanting around the globe yet again, while I'm tied in like a prisoner with kids and home.
Apologies if I sound resentful, because I really am. Not so much for his freedom, but my lack of it.
The photo I took in the garden that day sort of matched my mood. Melancholy and decay.

We've inherited that dog-boot scraper with the house and garden, when we moved in here. He's been living in the garden, unmolested by our boots. Also I do need to start the spring-clean of the garden.

On the plus side, the snowdrops are taking over the garden, and look so pretty. For me they are a symbol of spring.

And just this morning I found out that we have a few dark purple hellebore under the plum trees. I always think of them as something suitable for Morticia Addams.

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Dance of Death (The Home Front Detective series) by Edward Marston

historical crime, historical mystery

Historical crime is one of my favourite genres. It's an unadulterated pleasure and escapism for me. Edward Marston is adept at creating inspired historical crime series. I loved his Bracewell mysteries and the Restoration series, and recently was engrossed in The Railway Detective series.
His writing style is engaging and entertaining, with cleverly crafted plots and appealing protagonists.

Dance of Death is a book no.5 in The Home Front Detective series. I've read a couple of the earlier books, and found them captivating.
Marston's books are well-research, the historical background feels authentic.

Dance of Death is set in autumn 1916. It starts with a Zeppelin raid on a dry, moonlit night, when something extraordinary happens. One of the fighter planes launches an attack on Zeppelin and destroys it. The crowds watching the battle cheer and embrace each other.
In the joyous commotion that follows the destruction of the enemy, nobody notices when a cruel murder is committed in a dark alleyway.
The butchered body is found by a milkman in the early hours. Detective Inspector Harvey Marmion and Sergeant Joe Keedy discover the identity of the victim. They are despatched to Chingford, where they make their headquarters, much to the chagrin of the Superintendent Claude Chatfield known as Chat.

Simon Wilder is a renowned ballroom dancer and a talented photographer. Marmion and Keedy enter the world of the ballroom dancing, and behind its glamorous elegant facade it's seedy, ruthless and unsavoury.
Wilder's promiscuous lifestyle points out that the possible line of investigation should follow his love affairs. The number of potential suspects is growing, including Catherine Wilder who is not exactly your typical grieving widow.

Marmion and Keedy make a great detective team. Keedy is engaged to Marmion's daughter Alice who has joined the police recently.
Apart from the main murder mystery, there are several subplots running through the book.

Marmion's son Paul returns back from the trenches, wounded and shell-shocked. He feels guilty for staying alive, while his friends are left dead. His near-death experience makes him a difficult bedfellow, he is rude to his mother and family, and manages to antagonise almost everyone he knows.

Alice has problems of her own. Her bully of a boss in Women's Police Force is not making her life easy. And after a row with her fiance, she questions the future of their relationship.

There were a couple of loose ends, and Paul's story could have been shorter, as it didn't really add to the main events of the book.

Yet if you have a few hours to yourself and enjoy historical crime, it is a good story.

Mine It! Gold and Diamond play sets

collectible toys

Have you ever collected rocks? When I was a child, a couple of my parents' friends were geologists who travelled much in the Soviet Union, and often brought back some stunning rocks and minerals as gifts for us. My Mum was particularly knowledgeable on the subject, and when I was young, I was pretty good at identifying minerals as well.
When my son Eddie showed interest in rocks, I was delighted. I bought him a beautiful edition of rocks and minerals practical encylopedia, and we also went to the Natural History Museum and got some of rocks to start his collection. Later one of our kind neighbours gave him a big box of rocks and fossils. He was thrilled to bits and would show his collection to whichever "victim" agreed to see it, with great enthusiasm.

When recently we were asked to review Mine It! sets, I knew it would appeal to my rocks-obsessed child.

collectable toys

Mine It! Gold and Diamond boxes follow a reveal and discover play pattern. Each Diamond or Gold block has a precious (semi-precious) stone inside.
There are 12 Gold blocks and 12 Diamond Blocks.

collectable toys, collectable rocks

These fun golden or diamond shaped bars were launched on Boxing Day, and are available from all leading retailers including Character Online (at £4.99).

The suitable age range is 5+, though children will need an adult supervision.
Pick up a diamond or gold block, and mine away in your hunt for the real precious stones hidden inside.

You can see from the video below how we cracked on with the job of mining for gold and diamonds.
Eddie loved these sets, and had a great time mining for treasure.

You'll have heaps of excitement looking for your surprise treasure. What's more, one in every 24 boxes contains a real piece of diamond or gold.
Explore each box to see if you find rose crystal, volcano rock, red onyx, black jasper, tiger eye or more inside.
Ir's tons of fun for everyone.

A chisel. a hammer and a magnifying glass are all included for young geologists to get cracking.

We didn't find any real treasure, but the process of mining was fun. You might want to put a newspaper on the table, as it is a messy process.
When Eddie mined the stones, we thought the rocks he discovered were pieces of picture jasper. Once I gave them a good clean, they started shining, and I realised that both rocks were a tiger's eye. They are beautiful, when polished to a gleam.

These sets would make a lovely activity on a rainy day.

collectable rocks

Disclosure: We received two products for the purposes of reviewing. All opinions are our own.