Saturday, 17 March 2018

Photo diary: Week 11 (Project 365)

Mid-March week. I'm feeling drained and listless, and haven't blogged for almost a week for that very reason.
At the weekend Eddie practises his guitar as on Monday he has a music lesson at school.
You see, an improvement from me, as I thought I cannot post yet another photo from Gregg's.

On Monday I bought the latest issue of Delicious magazine, and liked the sound of chocolate and marshmallow traybake. I have reduced the sugar content quite a bit, and still my husband said it was too sweet. It looked pretty though, decorated with mini eggs.

The sky on Tuesday was of such intense blue, it was amazingly beautiful.

Wednesday was full of sadness. It was the 18th anniversary of my Dad's death.
I also kept thinking of a friend who lost her husband last week, and this was the day of his funeral.

Eddie loves to relax on the sofa, surrounded by one zillion cushions, watching his favourite Youtubers on my ipad.

On Friday I baked a small raisin, walnut and orange cake.

Friday was such a warm day, that Eddie walked from school without a coat. I thought the weather forecast must have gotten it wrong with the promise of snow. Snow did come today though, not much, but in the morning there was enough white in the garden to make me anxious about my flowers. It was all gone before lunch, but the snowflakes keep dancing all day.
It's Sasha's birthday today. He was pleased with his gifts and cards. Eddie has chosen a card with a dog playing on a guitar for his brother.
It's also St Patrick's day today. I often joke that we are half-Irish since both my brother and son were born on this day.

The Teacher's Secret by Suzanne Leal & Raisin, walnut and orange cake

We all make mistakes, and some of our blunders come to haunt us years later.
Terry Pritchard who is affectionately known at Brindle Public school as Mr P, is a warm-hearted teacher who loves his job. He has been teaching several generations of children - some of his current students are children of his former students. He is a well-known and much-loved figure in town.

Then a new principal arrives to school, and school life changes dramatically. Immediately her and Terry's personalities clash, and Ms Matthews takes it upon herself to make Terry comply with her new rules or perish. She is a very unpleasant, uncompromising (in a negative way) character, without redeeming features. She seems to be power-obsessed.

This brought back memories of working in school many years ago. While some of my colleagues were genuinely wonderful and kind people, there were also some colleagues who would be ready to stab you in the back and walk over dead bodies just to achieve their ambitions. Ms Matthews epitomises the abhorrent zeal and schemes of certain teaching professionals. I imagine we've all met "a Ms Matthews" in our lives, whether as a colleague or as a teacher of our children. This is the kind of person you mentally want to strangle.

Mr P is not as faultless as he appears at the beginning of the novel, and once Ms Matthews uncovers his past secret and decides that his behaviour is inappropriate, he is dismissed from the job he loves so passionately. Terry is forced into an early retirement, and the whole school community is shocked and devastated.

A new teacher, Nina, comes to replace him. Obviously, as Terry's replacement, she is not the flavour of the month. And she truly struggles to fit in and find her place. The pupils confront her and resent her for taking Terry's place. You feel sorry for Nina, as anyone in her position would struggle.

There are several smaller personal stories and subplots going on. The story is a bit scattered, and there are too many characters. The feel of a small town is rendered truthfully and authentically.
It is a thought-provoking book which tackles modern day issues.

Thank you to Legend Press for sending me an e-copy of the book for reviewing.


As it often happens, when I read novels, I take notice of what the characters cook and eat.

One of the characters, Joan, is very curious about a new family next door, She decides to bake a cake to welcome them to the neighbourhood. She hesitates, and imagines her late mother talking to her:
"Or, she hears her mother whisper, you could make them a cake, Joanie.
A tray of biscuits she can manage, but baking cakes has never been her forte and Joan shakes her head at the idea.
Come on, Joanie, her mother insists. Nothing fancy, just a little something.
As she washes up the breakfast dishes, she manages to talk herself into it. A sultana cake, she decides, that's what she will make. So she takes out her mother's cookbook and gets started. She measures out the sultanas, whips up the butter and the sugar, adds the eggs and the flour and she's done. Carefully, she pours the mixture into a loaf pan.
To her surprise and delight, when she pulls it out of the oven it looks absolutely beautiful.
Just a little something to welcome you to the street. That's what she'll say".

This short passage just makes your heart melt, doesn't it?! It brings back some lovely memories of the times when we moved to a college house in Williamstown, MA, when our elder son was just a few months old. We had most wonderful neighbours, and still keep in touch. They left a big basket of food (including some baked goodies) for us on the porch with a card, and it was such an unexpected warm gesture.

I love browsing bookshelves in charity shops, and I've recently spotted an old edition of The Australian Women's Weekly Cakes & Slices Cookbook. I just had to buy it. I looked up if there are any sultana cake recipes in the book, and indeed there is a brandied sultana cake recipe. But I was more inspired by Raisin, Walnut and Orange Syrup Cake recipe. It's quite easy, and I think even Joan who's not a confident cake baker would master it.

Australian cake recipes

And here it is, a recipe for Raisin, walnut and orange syrup cake, which I have adapted to suit our tastes. I have reduced the sugar content and have changed some of the steps too.

Raisin, walnut and orange cake
zest of 1 orange
180g caster sugar
2 medium eggs
60g walnuts, finely chopped
180g self-raising flour
1tsp baking powder
100g chopped raisins
125g butter, melted
50ml orange juice
for topping:
3-4 heaped tbsp icing sugar mixed with orange juice to make thick icing.
sliced orange (optional)

In a big mixing bowl mix caster sugar with orange zest. Beat in the eggs. Add chopped walnuts and most of the flour (minus 1tbsp) and baking powder. Chop raisins, then sprinkle them with 1tbsp of flour to coat them, this will help raisins to be spread inside the cake evenly rather than go to the bottom.
Add melted and cooled butter and orange juice, and mix well.
Spoon the cake dough in a well-oiled loaf tin. Put the tin in the oven preheated to 180C.
Bake for about 35+ minutes. Check readiness with a wooden toothpick.
Once cooked, let the cake cool a bit before taking it out of the tin.
Slice the orange into crescents, and cook for a couple of minutes in a mix of sugar and orange juice.
Decorate the cake first with the icing made from the icing sugar and orange juice, then put the slices of orange on top, and pour the remains of the syrup over.

The cake will keep for up to 3 days.

orange cake recipes

It's a tasty, moist cake, quite dark in colour. It will most likely be lighter in colour, if you swap raisins for sultanas.

Australian cake recipes

Sunday, 11 March 2018

Ravensburger Enchanted Forest game

family board games

In the last couple of weeks we have seen several seasons crammed together: from snowstorms and snowdrifts to incessant rains to a rather sunny day today, when we felt hot in our coats.
When the weather isn't particularly enticing for any outdoors play we like spending our after-school time at home, playing with board games.
Ravensburger Enchanted Forest is the latest addition to our board games' collection, and a new family favourite.

family board games

Enchanted Forest is an excellent memory game, which invites you for some fairy tale search-and-find fun.
Let's have a peek in the box and see the contents. You'll find 1 game board, 13 trees and 13 treasure tokens, 13 treasure tiles, 2 dice, 6 movers and instructions.

family board games

What's the object of the game? Be the first player to find three hidden treasures to win.

Players take turns rolling the dice and moving their movers that number of spaces on board.
If you happen to land in a space next to a tree, lift it and peek at the treasure inserted at the bottom of the cone. If the treasure matches the treasure tile on top of the pile at the castle gates, you take the matching tile as a reward and roll your way towards the castle.

family board games

When a new tile is turned over, you have to memorise it and try to figure out which tree hides the new treasure.
If you are the first player to find the treasures the king seeks, then the kingdom is yours.

family board games

This game is a good tool for improving memory.
It might sound confusing at first or complicated a bit, but actually it is easy to set up, and once you figure out how to play, it's great fun.

It is not suitable for children under 3, due to small parts included in the play set.

With the upcoming Easter holidays, be prepared and get a new family board game for a rainy day, unless you travel to some warmer climes and intend to spend your day by the pool.


If you enjoy playing board games, may I suggest a few other games from Ravensburger:
Bugs in the Kitchen
Disney Eye Found It
and Labyrinth which remains to be one of our most favourite games.

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

Saturday, 10 March 2018

What IF? photo competition + What If? no.19 jigsaw puzzle giveaway E: 31 March 2018

I love creative competitions and I love Ravensburger jigsaw puzzles. Combine my two favourites, and I'm super excited. Ravensburger has contacted me the other day to help spread the word about their latest competition, and also offer a lovely prize to my blog readers.

What IF? Photo competition
What IF? you were drawn into a Jigsaw Puzzle?
The search is on for Britain's funniest friends and family!

Oxfordshire-based toy company Ravensburger is giving puzzle fans a chance to feature in their bestselling What IF? jigsaw range.
Launching on 5th March, entrants will be asked to tweet their best funny family and friends photo using the hashtag #WhatIfWeAreAPuzzle.
The winning group will be drawn into the next What IF? 1000-piece puzzle, depicted as entrants in a Challenge-Quiz-Show type scenario. Number 21 in the popular What IF? series, the illustrations will be the brainchild and handiwork of much-loved artist, cartoonist and comedy writer Geoff Tristram.
The winners will also win Geoff's original signed artworks, and copies of the finished jigsaw puzzle, which will be on sale to the public from January 2019.

Launched 5 years ago, What IF? is a firm favourite with puzzle fans across the UK. the series reflects life's unexpected twists and turns, and challenges the consumer to imagine "What IF?"??? Because the puzzle image is not shown on the box, consumers need to use the visual and written clues to help them imagine what the finished jigsaw puzzle might look like.
One thing is for certain - expect plenty of smiles along the way!

Cornee Marlow, Marketing Services Co-ordinator commented: "We are excited to launch this unique and exclusive What IF? competition! Our What IF? fans love to collect every design in the series, and we wanted to celebrate the 21st edition by doing something really special and different. Being part of a puzzle design is a once-in-a-lifetime money-can't-buy prize, and we can't wait to see how creative people can be with their entries. Geoff Tristram has created caricatures of many famous faces, so our winners will be part of a very exclusive club. We look forward to working with Geoff and our winners to create a unique, exclusive and funny puzzle design".

Competition opens on Twitter at 10am Monday 5 March and closes at 8pm Friday 23 March 2018. Winners will be announced on Twitter Monday 26 March 2018.
Entry will also be possible via a dedicated email address


What do you think? Such a fabulous idea for a unique prize.
I don't think I will be taking part, as my dear husband is a spoilsport, and wouldn't agree to join in.

As a thank you for helping spread the word about this competition, Ravensburger have offered two What IF? jigsaw puzzles as a giveaway prize on my blog.

best jigsaw puzzles

Two lucky winners will receive one What IF? no.19 "Are we there yet?" jigsaw puzzle each.

To be in with a chance of winning, please enter via Rafflecopter form.

The giveaway is open to the UK residents only.
Once the Rafflecopter picks the winners, I will contact them regarding address details, if they do not reply within 28 days, the prize will be allocated to another person.

It might be pretty obvious but under new GDPR regulations you must accept that if you win the giveaway, you agree to have your details shared with the brand PR who will dispatch the prize. No other data will be passed or shared. 

Please don't forget to leave a comment, as it is the only mandatory step, I will make sure the winners selected by Rafflecopter have complied with T&Cs.
The prize will be posted by Ravensburger PR.
Giveaway ends on 31 March 2018 (midnight).

  a Rafflecopter giveaway

Photo diary: week 10 (project 365)

What a difference a day makes! Last Saturday my husband and younger son were throwing snowballs at each other, and the snow in the garden was quite deep. Then overnight the rain has eaten most of the snow.
We did food shopping, and popped into the local Gregg's for Eddie's weekly treat. Apologies for yet another photo from Gregg's, but it was a very busy day, and I didn't take any other photos.

On Monday all the vestiges of snow were gone. I went out to inspect the flowers in the garden and see how much damage there was. All the snowdrops survived perfectly well, and even hellebore seemed to be doing fine. Crocuses wilted badly.

Yet another of my orchids in the kitchen started to bloom. They are just on the window sill by the kitchen sink, and every time I wash the dishes, I look at my flowers.

On Wednesday Eddie and I had a pizza and movie night. Sasha was staying overnight at the respite house, which he enjoys very much, especially the jacuzzi. Our papa was busy elsewhere, so Eddie and I ordered two pizzas from Domino's. It was the first time I have ordered a takeaway online, and actually it was quite fun. There is an app which shows you exactly what is happening: when it is being cooked, when the delivery guy is on the way.
Apparently the Domino's pizza is the best, said Eddie, who believes everything his favourite Youtubers say like a Gospel. He's been begging me to have a pizza takeaway from Domino's for ages.
Thankfully, we just had a flyer through the door for 2 for 1 pizza, or it would have been too pricey.
Pizza was OK, sorry, Youtubers, you don't know much about a really good pizza.
We watched Matilda. Eddie was in charge of a remote control.

The 8th of March is a national holiday in Russia. My late Dad always bought flowers for Mum and me: tulips, mimosa or any other spring blooms which were available. 18 years ago he was staying in a health resort an hour away from where my parents lived, and he came by coach for a couple of hours to give my Mum a bouquet and wish her a happy Women's day, then got on the bus to go back to the resort. That was the last time my Mum saw him alive. A few days later he died of a heart attack. Every year from then on, when I wish my Mum a happy Women's day, she says: This day was the last time I talked to your Dad.
I bought myself a bunch of pussy willow, as it makes me think of the Russian spring.

On Friday Eddie and his best mate had a blast of a time after school playing Minecraft on XBox, then enjoying a new Gazillion Bubble Pong game and having burgers and ice cream for dinner.
I had a healthy lunch of porridge with spicy apples.

Nothing much is happening today, we have done shopping, and are just taking it easy.
I've been putting papers in the big recycling bin in the garden, when I spotted this pigeon on the neighbours' house.

Friday, 9 March 2018

Gazillion Bubble Pong Game

outdoor bubble games

Friday, yippee! And while for many this is the night to go out and party, we are a relatively quiet folk and just enjoy a lazy afternoon after school, without any homework or prep for the next morning.
My younger son considers it the best day of the week, because his best mate comes over for several hours after school.
He couldn't wait to show his bestie a new bubble game from Gazillion Bubbles, Gazillion Bubble Pong Game (£19.99). The original plan was to play in the garden. But we were too optimistic regarding the weather, it started to rain in the early afternoon and kept raining non-stop. No garden activities then.

bubble game sets

It didn't prevent our boys from playing indoors, though this is definitely a game for outdoors, as the bubbles plus vivacious, enthusiastic people equal a big mess.

This game is the first of its kind, as it is a combination of everyone's favourites - bubbles - and a variety of ping pong game without the small bats. It's a fun, competitive activity for the whole family, where you need to bounce ping pong balls into your opponent's side to score points and blast them with a gazillion of bubbles.

The game comes in a sturdy box and includes 1 game console, 6 ping pong balls, 2 removable trays and 2 removable bumpers, plus an 8oz bottle of Gazillion bubbles.

You need to assemble the game, but it is an easy, quick and straightforward process.

best bubble game sets

You will need 8 AA batteries, so might want to pop into your nearest Poundland for a big stash of them.

best bubble game sets

The game is aimed at children aged 3+.
There are four levels of difficulty. As you can see from the photo below, you turn the switch either to pong or to bubbles.
The winner is the first person who scores 3 times.

When the warmer weather arrives, you might want to get ready for fun ahead with a good supply of bubble liquid, as I remember with the previous bubble machine games that we had, the solution goes pretty fast.
The refills come in two types of bubble solution - Original and Big Bubble (available in 8oz, 2l and 4L bottles in all big retailers, such as Amazon, Argos, Smyths etc).

Both boys had great fun with the game, and would have kept playing if I didn't stop them, as the floor was getting too slippery. If you play in the garden, this won't be an issue.
We can't wait for the warm days to play outdoors.

Disclosure: we received the game for the purposes of testing and reviewing. All opinions are our own.

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Ravensburger Perplexing Puzzles no.11 - Make It Medley 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle

best jigsaw puzzles

I was returning home this morning, after taking Eddie to school, and almost bouncing on the way like a middle-aged Tigger. I thought to myself that I have several favourite things waiting for me at home: a puzzle to finish, a new episode of Shetland to catch up on BBC iplayer (I confess I have a big crush on Jimmy Perez) and a cup of coffee.

Make It Medley 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle from Ravensburger is no.11 in the Perplexing Puzzles series.
It's an absolute treat for any puzzle fan.
I adore this kind of puzzles, with lots of details and challenging patterns and designs.

best jigsaw puzzles

The photo taken by Devon-based photographer Greg Shepherd shows what I would call a creative chaos. It is a paradise for crafters.
Greg is brilliant at arranging complex, challenging still life images. This is the third  puzzle from the series which I worked on, and I loved every minute of it.

There are all kinds of crafting accessories and materials, from fabrics to ribbons, from colourful thread spools to beads of all possible colours and designs.

All the crafting stash is artfully arranged, inviting you to a visual feast.

The finished puzzle measures 70x50cm when complete. It is suitable for ages 12+ and is made from strong premium grade cardboard, with linen finish print to minimise glare on puzzle image.

This weekend we will be celebrating Mother's day. This splendid puzzle could be a lovely gift for any Mum who loves puzzles as much as I do.

If you like the sound of this puzzle, you might want to check out some other puzzles from this series - No.8 Glittering Gemstones or No.9 Retro Revelry.

Disclosure: I received the puzzle for the purposes of reviewing. All opinions are my own.

February "Our Family Selection" Degustabox

We are always looking forward to our Degustabox delivery, which arrives every month and is full of foodie surprises. 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 February Degustabox? Let's have a look.

food box

Primrose's Kitchen Raw Beetroot and Ginger Muesli has been selected by Degustabox as the product of the month.
It is a creative and colourful combination of fresh English beetroot, ginger, British gluten free oats and virgin coconut oil, with some extras like nuts, seeds, psyllium husk and chia.
This museli is handmade and slowly dehydrated at low temperatures to preserve nutrients and flavour.

I used this product as an ingredient for muesli cookies.

Dr Karg's Emmental Cheese & Pumpkin Seed crispbread is made with German bakers' skills. Dr Karg's is a family bakery since 1950.
This is a 100% wholegrain flour product.
At 112kcal per piece, it is perhaps not for a diet day. It's a tasty snack full of flavour.


The Protein Ball Co cherry almond protein balls are made with raw pitted dates, sultanas, sour cherries and free range egg white protein.
These snacks are gluten, soy and dairy free, all natural, vegetarian, wheat free, no GMOs, no added sugar.
They say, the protein balls are the food of the future. I'm not a big fan, but these snacks are pleasant enough, and give you a good boost of protein.

vegan snacks

Emily Crisps are a trendy range of premium fruit and vegetable crisps made from only the finest and freshest produce. They come in convenient small bags, handy to carry with you if you're feeling peckish.

healthy snacks

True Nopal Cactus Water comes from the prickly pear, which grows in the Sonoran desert. It tastes clean, crisp, refreshing, with berry undertones. It has half the calories (36kcal per 100ml) and sugar (1,8g per 100ml) of coconut water. Low in sugars, with a refreshing fruit taste, it's 100% natural, and has no artificial flavours, no fat, no added sugars, no sodium. It's also gluten-free and vegan.

low calorie soft drinks

Moving from trendy healthy snacks and drinks to a selection of sweets and candy.

Tootsie Roll Midgees are an authentic American candy, with a rich history going back to 1896. This is a retro style treat, coming in a sharing bag.

American candy

These are chewy candies, with an old-fashioned taste.

KitKat Chunky New York Cheesecake is a novelty twist on a classic KitKat. You'll get a thick layer of creamy New York cheesecake over a crispy wafer and a thick layer of milk chocolate on top.

Haribo Fruitilicious are an exciting addition to Haribo's range. My children love Haribos, and I'm glad that one of their favourite treats now comes with 30% less sugar.
Fruiticlious come in  fruit shaped pieces in strawberry, raspberry, orange, pineapple, apple and lemon flavours.

And the last product to mention - which I personally would call a discovery of the month - Indie Bay Snacks Pretzel Bites.
These mini pretzel balls are very moreish - crunchy, crispy and flavourful, with a good sprinkling of sesame and poppy seeds. These snacks are made with all natural ingredients, alternative flours and are preservative free.

healthy snacks

healthy snacks

Disclosure: We receive Degustabox for reviewing. All opinions are our own.