Monday, 13 November 2017

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Getaway

Eddie is a big fan of The Diary of a Wimpy Kid series. We have them all, and read them together.
He begged me to pre-book the latest release when he saw the poster in Waterstone's, and we ran to the bookshop after school to buy it, as soon as I received the text, notifying us the book was out.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Getaway is the 12th book in the series by Jeff Kinney.
There are inevitable comparisons with the 9th book in the series, The Long Haul, as both stories are about the Heffleys going on a family trip.
This time the Heffleys are off to a tropical paradise resort, where Greg's parents went on their honeymoon many years earlier and have fond memories of.
They are fed up with the cold, and on a whim decide to spend Christmas holidays in the warmer climes.
Greg, who's never been on an airplane before, is terrified of flying. The first part of the book goes into great detail about what you do at the airport and on board the plane. Though recognisable, it is not very funny.
As always, everything is exaggerated for the fun effect.

The men in the family are all fine examples of selfishness and egoism - from Dad who wants to spend the flight in the first class zone to Rodrick and Greg. And don't even start me on Manny, he's the epitome of a spoilt brat, the Devil incarnate.

After an ordeal, they arrive to Isla de Corales, and sigh with relief.
But the paradise exists only in their minds and dreams: the reality soon brings them back to earth. They in turns have a food poisoning, a sun-stroke, battle with all kinds of vermin, and by pandering to whims of the unbearably selfish Manny, have to escape the angry mob at the resort.

The fans of the series will still enjoy this latest installment. Eddie loved it, as for me, the greatest value of the series is that it turns my son into an avid reader.
We take it in turns to read these books. I will read to him for half an hour, then he continues to read to me, while I'm ironing uniforms for the next morning.

When a book turns into a successful franchise, do you keep writing even if you are short on ideas?!

Have you rushed to buy The Getaway?

Sunday, 12 November 2017

Birthday lunch at Frankie & Benny's

To celebrate Federico's birthday today, we decided to go out for lunch to Frankie & Benny's in Marriotts Walk. We visit it a couple of times a year.
The menu is a typical American-Italian food, quite heavy on meat, with a big choice of burgers, pasta and pizzas. Most of the things come with fries.
There are some vegetarian dishes on the menu, which I have tried in the past, but they were a bit boring. I don't think salads are their forte.

Going out with Sash is always tricky. If it's too noisy, he might get stressed and want to leave at once, but we decided we'd still go out together, as we wanted to celebrate Fede's birthday as a family.
Thankfully, Sash was in a good mood.

At some point, there was a young child running around and screeching at the top of her voice, and I braced myself, thinking Sash would get anxious, but the child was soon removed somewhere else to annoy the other people.

When the time came to order, first they didn't have prosecco, then champagne was only available as a bottle (at £35+), which we didn't want.
Steak was all gone, except the biggest size.
In the end we ordered a pina colada cocktail, a glass of rose for me, pepsi and blackcurrant drinks for kids.

Bruschetta looked pretty, but I'd prefer it more toasted.

For me pasta is not a celebratory meal at all, but our birthday boy opted for a plate of carbonara.

A Triple Cheese Burger is as full of calories as it sounds. It has mozzarella sticks inside and lots of mustard, and comes with fries. I should go on a diet tomorrow, shouldn't I?! And no dinner tonight.

Eddie wanted burger slides from children's menu, with fries and peas.

Desserts' list was full of temptations. My guys fancied milkshakes with all sorts of toppings, like cookies, waffles and donuts, but I was wondering if the stodgy bits get soggy in milk.
Have you ever tried those Freakshakes and would you recommend them?

In the end we picked a Can't Decider dessert, which is a perfect option for those who cannot make up their minds. You get four small slices of different cakes - a lemon tart, a pecan pie, a chocolate fudge cake and an Oreo cheesecake, and a mini bowl of vanilla ice cream.

Children's meal deal includes a dessert. Eddie liked the sound of fruit skewers with a chocolate dip.

He said he wished there were more strawberries rather than apples.

We enjoyed our meal together, which is even more precious because Sasha was with us and appeared to be happy and smiley. Simple things like that - eating out together - are often fraught with stress for families with special needs children, so we appreciate these times even more when everything goes without any trouble.

Eddie loves going to Frankie & Benny's, and we had a good laugh together, taking selfies and telling jokes.
The bill was £60+ for four of us.
Our birthday boy got three balloons to take home.
On the way home I was singing aloud "Ding dong merrily on high... Hosanna in excelsis" which left Eddie in stitches, though he kept looking back if anyone could hear us. And I only had one glass of rose, honestly.

Saturday, 11 November 2017

SportsDirect £5 gift challenge

We don't often visit Sports Direct, as we don't have this store in town. Whenever there is an opportunity to have a peek, for example, when we go to Oxford or visit Penzance, we have a good browse inside and end up buying one item of sports clothing or another, mainly for my guys. Generally we find the prices to be very reasonable, and the range varied.

When BritMums have asked parenting bloggers to join in #sdfiverchallenge and find Christmas gifts for a fiver at SportsDirect online, I was curious to discover just how easy (or difficult) the task could be. I haven't shopped with them online before, so this was my first experience.
All participating bloggers received £30 credit to use, and the task was to pick at least two items for £5, spending the remaining balance as we like.

SportsDirect is well known for its sports range of clothing, trainers and accessories, but would we be able to find perfect stocking fillers for Christmas.
I had a good look at the selection of Christmas gifts and toys, and was surprised to see a big variety of items (Reindeer LED hat for £1.49 anyone?!).

As much as I was tempted by some novelty gifts, I decided to spend my £30 allowance on practical gifts for my family.

Eddie wanted me to buy him a football, but I pointed out to him that he has several footballs in the garden already.
Being a chocoholic, I was tempted to spend the whole lot on chocolate - and yes, I was surprised to find a reasonable choice of chocolate gifts in SportsDirect - from advent calendars to mug and chocolate bars sets.

Ordering online was an easy process, the only difficulty was to stay in the limits of my allowance and not overspend. I could have easily spent a double of that and more, as the selection of products was impressive.

My elder son Sash likes beanie hats, preferably in dark colours.
Rhino Rugby Beanie Hat costs £5 precisely. Acrylic, with fleece lining, it would do nicely for late autumn and winter.

The next gift was again for my him - a warm Lee C FZ Hoodie, which I have squirreled away until Christmas. It is very soft and comfy, and I imagine my son will be happy to wear it, as it is the sporty style that he favours.

Firetrap Pyre Scarf (Grey/Black) was a gift for my brother. My Mum stayed with us recently for several weeks, and I've been buying gifts for her to take back to my family in Russia.
A warm scarf is a must, and I hope my brother will enjoy wearing it.

Eddie is a big Marvel fan. Most of his clothes have characters from his favourite films and animation series. Batman is one of our biggest favourites, so I knew he'd be ecstatic with yet another Batman hat.

Character Flat Peak Junior Batman Hat  has an adjustable snapback fastening and integrated headband. It is made from polyester and cotton. If Batman leaves you cold, you can opt for Minions, a generic Marvel hat or Star Wars-themed one. It comes at a princely sum of £4. What a bargain!

I love hats, and couldn't resist treating myself to a new one.

Heatons Wool Flower Hat is a total steal at £5. I've been wearing it for the past week. It is stylish, soft and warm. Just the other day I've seen a very similar hat at Debenhams at around £20.
It is a mix of wool and polyester, and is styled with a trimmed detail with a flower motif.

Before the challenge I wouldn't have thought of SportsDirect as a shopping mecca for Christmas gifts, but we were pleasantly surprised.

So, what do you think of my haul? Did I spend my £30 wisely?

This post is an entry for BritMums #sdfiverchallenge Christmas Challenge, sponsored by 

Disclosure: As mentioned above, we received £30 credit to spend online (including postage). All opinions are our own.

Friday, 10 November 2017

Oreo Brownies

TGIF and all that! On Fridays Eddie often has his best buddy over after school. They love to watch Youtube videos together, maybe have a Roblox session on my ipad and share a big bag of Doritos between them, i.e. the whole kaboodle.
My guys love Oreos in all guises and disguises, of all sizes and most flavours (all but minty ones). Since trying a recipe for white chocolate Oreo fudge back in summer, I've been making it regularly.
But today I decided to make brownies with Oreo Thins instead of fudge. I'm hoping my guys and Eddie's friend will love them as much as they love Oreo fudge.

I have looked online for a recipe, and the one I liked the most could be found on Marsha's Baking Addiction blog, see her recipe for Fudgy Oreo Brownies.
I have adapted the recipe: used her list of ingredients, but changed quantities. For the original recipe check out the link above.

I used a pack of Oreo Thins, but standard Oreos would be perfect as well.

easy brownies recipe

Oreo Brownies
140g butter
90g dark chocolate (I used Green & Black's Velvet edition dark chocolate, 70% cocoa)
200g caster sugar
100g self-raising flour
1tsp baking powder
35g cocoa powder
1tsp vanilla paste
a good pinch of sea salt
3 medium eggs
a pack of Oreo Thins (16 biscuits)

Melt butter and dark chocolate together in a metal mixing bowl over simmering hot water pan. Once melted, set aside. Add the sugar and mix, sift in the flour, baking powder, cocoa and mix in vanilla and salt. Beat in 3 eggs, one at a time. Mix well till you get a batter of thick and smooth consistency.

Preheat the oven to 180C.
Line a brownie tin with parchment paper, and oil a bit. I use an oil spray.
Pour in half of the dough mix inside the tin and spread it evenly with a spatula. Put 9 Oreo cookies on top and press in lightly.

Scoop the remaining brownie mix over the Oreos, and spread evenly.
Break the remaining Oreos over the top of the brownie and press them in gently.

Bake at 180C for about 30 minutes. If the toothpick comes out clean, they're ready.

These are lovely chocolatey brownies, a bit too sweet for me. I have already reduced the amount of sugar from the original recipe, but I would go lower on sugar next time I would make it, perhaps 150g rather than 200g.

Adding my brownies to #WeShouldCocoa linky hosted by one and only Choclette at Tin and Thyme.

Thursday, 9 November 2017

Cottage cheese biscuits

Whenever Mum stays with us, I ask her to cook something special for me. She did cook pirozhki twice (with mashed potatoes and wild mushrooms, as well as cabbage with egg and dill), and aubergine ikra (a Russian caponata). She also promised to make some cottage cheese pastries but got too busy and never made them.
I bought a pack of Polish cottage cheese, and it was getting too close to expiry date. Rather than make pastries, I decided to bake a batch of soft biscuits.
This is not an authentic Russian recipe, but the first stage of making dough from cottage cheese is (before adding all the extra bits and bobs, lurking in kitchen cupboards).
I didn't have enough sugar left, so to sweeten the biscuits I used the remaining 2tsp of salted caramel and also white hot chocolate/raspberry ripple, which we recently bought in Whittard's.
Eddie loves that shop and got easily persuaded that he liked the flavour of the hot chocolate when he sampled it in the shop. When I made it for him at home, he said it was too pink to his liking. Sigh.
Thus I thought I'd try to add it to bakes, as I didn't quite fancy pink hot chocolate either (due to a very sweet taste rather than colour).

Cottage cheese biscuits
250g cottage cheese (I used half fat)
250g self-raising flour
150g margarine (Flora)
a pinch of salt
1tsp vanilla paste
1 medium egg
50g caster sugar
2tsp salted caramel (optional)
4tbsp white hot chocolate (optional)
1tbsp cocoa powder
Vimto-flavoured Millions (optional) and/or almonds

In a big mixing bowl mash cottage cheese with a fork, sift in the flour and add margarine, mix well. Add salt, vanilla, beat in egg, and mix in salted caramel and hot chocolate powder. Dip hands into flour and then pinch walnut-sized pieces of cookie dough, roll and flatten them slightly, and place them on a parchment paper in a baking tray.
Use Vimto-flavoured Millions (found in the latest Degustabox) to decorate the biscuits.
Bake for about 12-15 minutes at 180C.
After the first tray went in, I decided to add 1tsbp of "normal" cocoa to the dough. so the second batch were dark in colour with almonds on top.
They will be still very soft, when you take the tray out. Transfer them carefully on a cooling rack.
Eat warm or cold.

The biscuits are rather squishy. They were not overly sweet. If you have a sweet tooth, add more sugar to the dough.

Since I used all sorts of bits and bobs in this recipe, plus cottage cheese near its sell-by-date, this recipe is a good candidate for #KitchenClearout linky hosted by Cheryl at Madhouse Family Reviews.

Bonfire Night: the full Moon, friends and marshmallows

Bonfire night

My Mum started her journey back home very early this morning. As I write it now, she must have arrived to Moscow, if there was no delay. I am always very sad when she goes home. We see each other once a year, and this year her trip almost didn't happen. She was very poorly, and had to cancel her trip arrangements.
She usually stays earlier in the year, mostly in summer, and this was the first time when she spent October and early days of November with us.
I thought it might be a fun idea to do something for the Bonfire Night, while Mum was with us.

You have to be English-born to fully understand the reasoning behind the 5th of November festivities. What this celebration glorifies is in fact the gruesome persecution of Catholics in this country (hasten to add, I'm not a Catholic, so let's say, an impartial side). I don't find any cause for joy in killing Guy Fawkes, and it seems bizarre that this fact is being lauded for centuries.
Living in the UK for more than 21 years, I rarely acknowledge this day. In the past we have attended a couple of big bonfires and fireworks displays, but this year we decided to make a smaller scale bonfire in our garden and invite friends over.

I wanted to make my Mum happy. She loves bonfires, and I have been telling her off for lighting the fires in the garden since she arrived. Eddie was ecstatic when Baba (grandma) roasted frankfurters for him over the bonfire in the garden a couple of weeks ago. He wanted to invite his best friend Peter over and roast marshmallows.
We bought a pack of Mega marshmallows for the occasion.

It was a beautiful night, with the full Moon and a starry night, clearly visible in the darkness.

On Saturday I cooked a big pan of carrot, sweet potato and ginger soup.
Take 1kg of carrots, peel them, chop into smaller chunks and cook on low, simmering for an hour+. Add a chopped sweet potato, 1tbsp vegetable stock, 2 tbsp red lentils, grate ginger (as much as you like, I had quite a big piece), season with sea salt, and when the veg is all cooked, blitz it all.
Serve hot in smaller cups or mugs.

Bonfire Night recipes

I have also baked a gluten free parkin and made a big batch of white chocolate Oreo fudge, on request from my men.

We had lots of sausages, with a simple potato salad, Russian-style (with soured cream and gherkins) and a big bowl of pickled onion among other things.
Prepare the pickled onion a day in advance: slice 2 onions in thin rings, using a mandolin slicer, then add 2tbsp of demerara sugar, 2-3tbsp cider vinegar, 1tbsp honey, 1-2 tsp paprika, mix well, and put a smaller heavier dish on top of onion + add some weight on top (like a soup tin) to slightly squash the onion mix. Place in the fridge overnight. It is great in sandwiches or with cold meats.
It might not look very pretty but it tastes really nice.

side dish to sausages

Eddie and his friend were very excited about roasting marshmallows. My Mum was in charge of the fire.

We looked up at the bright stars and the full Moon, and even howled at the Moon jokingly, like urban werewolves.

After stuffing ourselves with marshmallows, we had a go with sparklers (cheap ones, from Poundland). Two of our younger guests are disabled, and couldn't go in the garden, so we had lights off in the sitting room, with a mini-display of sparklers outside the windows.

It was a lovely evening, and having Mum with us made it extra special for me.

Sunday, 5 November 2017

Gluten free Parkin for Bonfire Night

gluten free baking, Bonfire Night recipe

Parkin is a firm British favourite for Bonfire Night. For many Northerners the Bonfire Night is almost unthinkable without a big slice of this dense spicy cake.
As we have invited friends over for Bonfire Night meal, with hot drinks and all the roasting marshmallows' caboodle, I fancied baking a spicy parkin. One of our guests is on a gluten free diet, so off I went googling for the right recipe.
One that caught my eye is a recipe found on All Recipes - see Gluten Free Parkin. I followed the recipe and method closely enough, but adapted it to what we have in the kitchen. I bought a fresh pack of gluten free flour. I have also used only one type of gluten free flour as opposed to three used in the recipe above, I didn't want to buy 3 different products, which I don't really need.

Bonfire Night recipes

Gluten free parkin
110g margarine (I used Stork)
100g golden syrup
70g black treacle
225g gluten free flour
1/2 tsp xanthan gum
1tsp baking powder (gluten free)
110ml milk
2tsp Waitrose signature spice (cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cardamom, allspice, star anise, black pepper, tangerine oil, cloves)
1tsp ground ginger
2 medium eggs

Melt margarine with golden syrup and black treacle in a saucepan. Set aside, and add milk, stir together and allow to cool.
Preheat the oven to 180C, and line a square cake tin (brownie tin) with parchment paper.
In a deep mixing bowl sift in the flour, xanthan gum and baking powder. Mix in the spices, and beat in the eggs. Add the milk/margarine/syrup mix, and combine together well to the consistency of thick yogurt. The addition of xanthan gum adds the viscosity to the batter.
Pour the batter in the cake tin and smooth the edges to even it out.
Bake for 50+ minutes. Check readiness with a wooden toothpick.
Cut into squares, once it's cold.

Bonfire night recipes

I forgot to add sugar, but the cake was sweet enough, thanks to golden syrup and treacle.
If you are not on a gluten free diet, obviously use the standard flour, which I think will improve the flavour. I am not the biggest fan of gluten free flour, it just doesn't taste the same, but we are lucky that we don't need to use it often.
Maybe the combination of three different flours would be better, as in the original recipe. I used the Doves Farm gluten free flour which is a combination of rice, potato, tapioca, maize and buckwheat.

Let's say it was not my best bake. You might ask why I blog about it, if it's not perfect. It is more of a diary and a cooking reference, so that I would know what I have baked, how, and what to do to try to improve it in the future. It needs something to make it less dry, perhaps swap margarine for oil?

If you have suggestions, please let me know, how you make your gluten free bakes moist.

Bonfire Night recipes

Bonfire Night recipes