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.

Sunday, 11 February 2018

Russian-style honey pancakes

Pancake day recipes, best pancake recipes, Russian recipes

I was reading an online pancake recipe post by some minor celebrity the other day, and she chirped that it was good that we only eat pancakes once a year because technically they're just fried batter.
So, what's the problem?
 Yes, there is a tendency among some Brits to eat pancakes only on Pancake day, but I think they are totally depriving themselves of the most delicious food for no good reason.
I'm sure I moan about it every single year.

If you worry about pancakes being unhealthy, then just swap some of the ingredients.
Use coconut oil rather than butter, or those bottles with oil spray which cover the pan with just enough of oil mist to fry.
Swap plain flour for buckwheat or wholemeal flour, use a skimmed milk, or dairy free milk - the possibilities are endless.
I'm not very keen on vegan pancakes, sorry, the recipes I've seen, looked like those pancakes were deprived of all joy. If you use just flour, water and oil, then it is a sad semblance of a pancake. I'm sure they are edible, but not for me. Apologies for not appreciating the recipe. I'm sure I'm committing some non-PC crime by saying that.

Russian recipes, best pancakes

And since we eat pancakes pretty often, I made a batch today of Russian-style honey pancakes. They are not exactly a diet food, but then I have no regrets. They are very tasty.

Russian-style honey pancakes (makes 9 big + 12 small pancakes)
400ml milk (semi-skimmed)
1 tbsp honey
a pinch of salt
40g caster sugar
2 medium eggs
200g self-raising flour
1tsp baking powder
2tbsp olive oil
butter, for frying, about 25-30g.

Warm up milk in a small pan with honey, until honey melts. It should be warm, not hot.
In a big mixing bowl beat the eggs with sugar and salt. Sift in the flour and baking powder. Add the oil and milk, and mix well with a whisk, so that the batter is smooth and lump-free.

Fry in the pancake pan with butter. I use a special pancake pan which allows me to cook 4 pancakes at a time, but I've seen a Swedish plett pan on amazon which holds 7 small pancakes, and I'm very tempted to buy it.

I couldn't take a photo of the whole stash, as people would pinch pancakes as they were cooked.


Eddie loves both small sized pancakes, and big ones, and I let him go free with chocolate buttons, marshmallows and cream.

Serve them hot with honey or any syrup you like (maple, agave, carob, golden) or dust with a bit of icing sugar.

best pancake recipes

Saturday, 10 February 2018

Photo diary: week 6, project 365

Last week was full of ups and downs. We have hardly seen our Papa, as he's been super busy, involved into politics lately, campaigning for his party Liberi e Uguali. But the less said about that, the better.

On Mondays Eddie has his guitar lessons at school. On Sunday he spent a good time, practising his tunes, including Hedwig's theme and Minecraft theme.

On Monday I was back to UE Roasters cafe for a dose of much needed caffeine, admiring the pretty cakes but only having a latte.

On Tuesday I was playing with review toys from Schleich, putting the dinosaurs round the garden for more attractive photos. This is the oviraptor.

Wednesday morning happened to be very stressful (see my post Autism: a little glimpse into our life), when the school transport didn't arrive, and Sash went into a total meltdown.
He later travelled from school to a residential place for an overnight stay, and Eddie and I spent the evening, watching Ballerina on amazon and stuffing ourselves with popcorn. We both loved the animation, it was a good story. And there's a dashing Russian ballet dancer called Rudolph too.

Lucky Eddie won a super prize from The Entertainer shop (win your height in Hasbro games) a month ago, and two big boxes of games finally arrived. We didn't know which games or how many would arrive.
Imagine how delighted he is. We decided we'd take three games for younger kids to his old nursery.

Eddie loves jelly (and so do I), and on Thursday I made a strawberry jelly with fresh raspberries and a splash of Robinsons squash.

Our local Waitrose had an internal redesign of all aisles, and is now a bit of a pain to navigate, as they moved everything around. Not sure what the point was. I used to know exactly where things were, and could find them with closed eyes.
They were also promising us a new sushi counter. Finally the counter was open on Friday, and I bought a seaweed salad for lunch. It was lovely.

Today I took Eddie to Waitrose to show the sushi counter. Since we went to a sushi-making masterclass in YO! (Oxford) last October, he has become a bit of a sushi addict. We looked at rows of sushi and picked a few to take home with us.