Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Discovering the Ancient Worlds at the Ashmolean

You cannot possibly explore the Ashmolean Museum in one day, you can only get some insights and glimpses. Years ago, when we used to live in Oxford, I worked in a University department just a couple of blocks away from the museum, and loved popping in the museum for a quick visit very often. My current life is like a rapid torrent these days, I just about manage to keep afloat, and haven't had a chance to revisit my old haunts for several years. What, with Sasha's autism and dislike of crowded spaces, and Eddie being a bit too young to appreciate the glories of the Ashmolean, I kept postponing the trip. But as my older niece Sasha (don't get confused with our two Sashas) is very interested in the ancient Egypt, we decided to go to the museum together and split afterwards, if my older son gets too agitated.

Marvellous faces at the Ashmolean

I was as excited to see my beloved Ashmolean as my niece, who visited it over four years ago. We were a group of six, three kids and three adults, and together we were discovering and re-discovering the ancient worlds and cultures.
The Ashmolean is the most visited museum in the UK outside London. Its ancient Egyptian collection is spectacular.

The Egyptian collections with mummies were the highlight of our latest visit. Some of the objects on display have been part of the collection since the opening of the museum in 1683.
Recently there has been a lot of discussions on the ethics of displaying mummies and other human remains in the museums. Is it a sacrilege or simply science? The mummies in the Ashmolean come with the fascinating stories behind each of them.

There is a mummy of a 2-year-old boy who died of pneumonia. His mummy is undisturbed and is dispayed next to the modern art work by Angela Palmer, who was so moved by the story of the little boy who died 2000 years ago, that she visited the site where he was found in Hawara, and brought back a handful of the local sand to remind him of his home. Touching and bizarre at the same time.

Now that I had a quick visit, I want to go back on my own. Maybe once Eddie is settled in school (he starts school in a couple of weeks), I might be able to go to Oxford on my own and study the collections at my own pace.

My son Sasha was actually quite curious about the artefacts (well, up to a certain point, when the crowds got too much for his peace of mind, and he got quite stressed, then we said good bye to my niece and Mum. They went to the exhibition Discovering Tutankhamun, and we left the museum).

For some reason Eddie was fascinated by a double portrait of a Roman doctor Claudius Agathenus and his wife Myrtele. He looked at them and asked me: "Mummy, why is she so grumpy?" A good question, my darling, but I don't know. They look a bit like a mismatched couple, she clearly is much older and quite masculine in appearance.

Eddie liked the sculptures the most, and I will take him along another time. My clever niece Sasha was most studious, and even bought a heavy book on ancient Egypt in the museum shop.

I love the museum shop, and could be happily browsing there for hours.

It is a marvellous place to visit with children, and the admission is free.
How do you keep your kids entertained in summer?

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Stuffed zucchini flowers

I have always fancied trying a recipe for stuffed zucchini flowers. Last time we stayed in Italy, I have seen packs of zucchini flowers in the shop and planned to buy a couple the day before we had to fly home. By Sod's Murphy's law, they were out of zucchini flowers in two supermarkets that we visited, so I had to come home flower-less.

I wasn't lucky with my own zucchini plants this year either. They have all been slaughtered by blasted slugs, who have eaten most of my seedlets including those which are supposed to serve as a deterrent for the slugs. It's almost a joke, but they enjoy sleeping in the containers where I grow garlic, so much for the popular advice to plant the garlic among your veg to prevent the slugs and snails from feasting on your plants. But back to my zucchini story. Last week we went to visit the Cogges Manor farm, where I admired the neat rows of courgettes and marrows with lots of bright yellow blooms. I was very tempted to ask at the counter if they would sell some flowers to me, as they do sell the garden produce.

Then last Friday, we went to the big farm which is known locally for its pick your own. Our planned pickings were blackberries, raspberries and plums. But as we were picking the berries, my niece said: "Galia, look at those flowers!", and just behind the blackberry rows there was a huge field with hundreds and thousands of courgettes and marrows, most of them in the state of decomposition. Clearly nobody bothered to pick them. Such a waste of food. Why couldn't they offer these vegetables to the food banks, or as the feed for farm animals?! Anyway, there were lots of blooms, which I picked up. I was thrilled with my find.

It would have been better if I cooked the blooms on the same day I picked them, when they were very fresh, but I didn't have any sparkling water for the batter, so I made a batch of stuffed flowers the next day. The flowers have shrank in size and didn't look as pretty, but they tasted amazing.

Stuffed courgette flowers (20+)

for the batter:
100ml self-raising flour
a pinch of bicarbonate of soda
a pinch of salt (optional, you can add the salt later, sprinkle over the deep-fried fowers)
1 medium egg
200ml sparkling water
Zucchini flowers (around 20)
for the stuffing:
a mix of ricotta and goat's cheese (I used a tub of 250ml ricotta and a small tub of soft goat's cheese 150ml, and had about 1/3 mix left)
zest of 1/2 lemon
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/2tsp dried mint
1/2tsp thyme
sea salt with pepper
oil for frying (I used half a small bottle of rapeseed oil, but sunflower oil will be fine as well)

Mix the ricotta and goat's cheese in a medium bowl, with the herbs and lemon zest, season well. Remove the stamens from inside the flowers, open them carefully and just twist the stamen away. Stuff each flower with about 1/2 to 1 tsp of ricotta mix, depending on the size of the flowers. Keep the baby zucchini attached to the blooms. Twist the flower top a bit, to seal the stuffing inside, but don't worry overmuch if the stuffing is showing a bit.
Prepare the batter by beating together the flour with the egg, soda and salt (if using). Pour the sparkling water, a bit at a time, and keep mixing until you get a batter of smooth consistency, like thick cream.
Add the oil to a deep pan or wok (or use a deep-fryer if you have one, I don't, so I used a deep frying pan).
Once the oil is very hot, dip the stuffed flowers in the batter and carefully put in the oil. Cook for about 3-4 minutes on one side, then turn the flowers over and cook on the other side as well. The recipes I have seen online mention cooking each flower for 2 minutes on each side, but after 2 minutes the zucchini itself was still uncooked, and the batter wasn't golden brown enough, so I cooked them for longer than that.
Cook them in batches of 4-5 at a time, so as not to overcrowd the pan. Remove the cooked flowers onto a big plate with a kitchen towel, to remove the excess of oil.

Serve hot, sprinkle with more salt if you like or with tomato salsa.

It was a bit time-consuming to stuff the flowers and then deep-fry in oil, but totally worth it. We all loved the result, and if I happen to come across more zucchini flowers for sale, I will be definitely cooking them again.

Adding my recipe to 3 blog challenges for August: Cooking with Herbs on Karen's Lavender and Lovage (flowers being this month's linky); Vegetable Palette on Allotment 2 Kitchen (yellow colour for August) and Shop Local at Elizabeth's Kitchen.

Cooking with Herbs Lavender and Lovage

Elizabeth's Kitchen Diary

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Superman at the garden centre

Eddie is obsessed with Super-heroes at the moment. One day he is a Spiderman, the next one he wants to be a Superman. He was lucky to receive several Superhero outfits for his birthday. Shopping with him is turning into a hazard, as he spots any Superhero-themed product from a mile away. Thus, the other day when I had to take him with me to M&S to buy the school shirts for my older son, he has spotted a Superhero top and pants on a rack. Needless to say, I have given in to his pleading. Now he doesn't want to take it off. Yesterday we went to Burford garden centre, and of course, Eddie had to wear his Superman top.

The garden centre at Burford is expanding every year, as if by magic. There are so many things to see and buy, though I try to restrain myself, as their prices are always higher than elsewhere (so I wouldn't for example, buy any gardening equipment there). We enjoy endless rows of plants, bulbs, seeds and whatever garden-related products you can imagine. There is a good food section and a spacious cafe, with a big choice of cakes and bakes. The coffee is so-so there.

Of course, the major attraction is the blooms and plants. The colours are so vibrant.

I walked around the roses, and the smell was simply beautiful. I particularly love the old-fashioned English roses with their sweet scent.

Amidst this riot of colours my mini-Superman was running amok, being chased by his cousin.

My lovely niece Sasha and my little tornado of a son admired an old coach and huge flower pots.

We oohed and aahed at the vibrant colours of the flowers, admired the apple trees laden with fruit, and tut-tutted at the prices. I mean, who is going to buy a handmade cushion for £108?! It is not made by Leonardo.

The outdoors are full of nooks and crannies for young explorers.

One of my favourite corners of the garden centre is the vintage china, in all its shabby glory, full of old stories and whispers of the old owners.

I could never get bored looking at the old cups and saucers.

For me they represent the untold stories.

I wandered happily in the rooms with the vintage china. I could spend hours there given a chance. I couldn't resist the temptation and picked a lovely old teacup and saucer. The lady at the counter wrapped it up for me in some tissue paper with a very sour look on her face. I must have been a very disappointing kind of customer. Not only I have chosen a relatively inexpensive item, I also spoke to my Mum in Russian, which places us in the "beyond contempt" category, as if I am personally responsible for the recent embargo. Never mind, I gave her my most gracious and radiant smile, and left the rooms to explore the other treasures.

Eddie loved the old mirrors, and spent some time admiring his own Super reflection.

He was so happy, that I couldn't possibly tell him that vanity is a sin, could I?!

He wriggled and giggled, and made me smile.

My Mum got a beautiful glazed flower pot for my garden as well as some seeds and bulbs for herself. Ciao, Burford garden centre, see you soon again!

Post Comment Love

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Flavoured green teas collection from Tetley

Find yourself a cup of tea.
the teapot is behind you.
Now tell me about
hundreds of things.
Saki, The Complete Saki

I never need an excuse to pop a kettle on, for me it's always tea o'clock. And though my kitchen looks like a tea shop already, I am always happy to try new teas.
Did you know that sales of green tea are on the rise in the UK, thanks to its super health benefits and refreshing taste. I have read a lot about the wonderful health properties of green tea, yet I confess I am not very enthusiastic about its taste. But make it flavoured with fruit and berries, and I am much happier. For people like me who are not that keen on the pure green tea, Tetley have come with a whole collection of flavoured green teas. Tetley flavoured green teas range has expanded to include four new inspired varieties: peach & apricot, raspberry & pomegranate, tropical mango & passion fruit and mint.
I recently received three varieties of flavoured green tea for testing and reviewing. My Mum loves green tea, it is her preferred choice of tea, and she was curious to try new teas with me.
All the boxes are bright, colourful and show well known smiley Tetley Folk.

The first tea I wanted to try was Peach & Apricot Green Tea. As I was pouring the freshly boiled water over the teabag, the aroma of peaches and apricots was unmistakable. It was like a concentrated summer in a cup. This turned out to be a gentle-tasting infusion. The peach and apricot flavours were present but as a mild note. I would have preferred if a fruity flavour was more pronounced. My Mum enjoyed it.

Mango & Passion Fruit Green Tea was my favourite. Its ingredients list green tea, natural flavourings, passion fruit granules, mango granules and acai flakes. The exotic blend of mango and passion fruit gives you that tropical feeling. Enjoy it with a teaspoon of honey and a slice of lemon for an extra oomph.

Mint Green Tea has a clean flavour, it is a refreshing brew, reminiscent of the Moroccan souks. Minty and smooth, this is a lovely combination of peppermint and green tea leaves.
At 1kcal per 100ml infusion, all these green teas make a great drink for anyone who counts the calories, and would be perfect for anyone on a 5:2 diet as well.

All flavoured green varieties are great for making an iced tea. Steep a few teabags of your favourite flavour, add some herbs or edible flowers (like rose petals or lavender) if you like, sweeten with honey or sugar, let it cool and serve in a glass with ice cubes. Tasty, and it will be at a fraction of a cost of you buy ready-made iced tea.
Tetley also suggests making your own green tea ice lollies, but we haven't tried this recipe yet.

For more information about Tetley teas, visit TheTetleyTeaFolk
You can also follow  on Twitter (you might know that they run a fab giveaway every Friday for a year's supply of Tetley, now that would be a super prize. I keep RT-ing enthusiastically, hoping to win it for our parenting club at my older son's school).

Monday, 11 August 2014

Photo mug giveaway (c/d 2 September 2014)

If like me you love mugs and cannot pass by the china isle in the shops and supermarkets without stopping and admiring the pretty things, you might be interested in entering a giveaway for a stylish modern-looking Photo Mug which I recently reviewed (see my review Photo Mug).

This super-duper mug is available from Mustard (if you can't wait to get hold of it, order your Photo Mug online).

To be in with a chance of winning this lovely prize, all you need to do is enter, using a Rafflecopter form below. As usual, you have a choice of options to enter: by leaving a comment (this is the only mandatory step), following the brand on Twitter or Facebook etc.

Only the first step is mandatory: all you need to do is answer my question by leaving a comment 
(if you login as Anonymous, please leave you Twitter name or FB name, so that I could identify you, I do not suggest leaving the email address in the comment)

All the other steps are optional, you don't have to do them all. All it takes to win is just one entry.
Only one entry per person is allowed (however, you can tweet daily to increase your chances).
The giveaway is open to the UK residents only.
Once the Rafflecopter picks the winner, I will check if the winner has done what was requested. I will contact the winner, if they do not reply within 28 days, the prize will be allocated to another person.

The giveaway will close on 2 September 2014 (at midnight, the night from the 1st to the 2nd).

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Crunchy Creatures from Veronica's Snacks

Whether you like it or not, children love snacks. My two guys are happy to snack all day long, grazing like two billy goats. They are very fond of nuts, carrot sticks, biscuits of all kinds and types and of course, crisps and corn-puffs. Some of the snacks you can find in the supermarkets are so full of E-numbers, fat and sugar, they should better be avoided. Yet there are some lovely snacks on the market, which will appeal to children and appease their parents, like Veronica's Snacks.

Veronica's Snacks were founded by a Mum of three and a foodie Veronica Kenneally. She says that she is a big fan of picnics, especially on the beach: "That's usually the time when someone will produce at least one share-bag of crisps, 'cos let's face it, they taste even better outdoors!"
I agree with Veronica, we're just back from Cornwall, where we spent a lovely week. We went to the beach every day, and each time I carried some snacks in my bag.
Veronica wanted to create a healthier version of family favourite savoury snacks, which would have all the flavour and great taste. She also was eager to prepare tasty snacks suitable for people on a gluten free diet.
With these thoughts in mind, she founded her range of Veronica's Snacks.

As a foodie blogger, I am always on the lookout for new exciting products. When a big bag of Veronica's Crunchy Creatures arrived, my younger son immediately spotted it. I often laugh that my guys are like dogs or cats running to the kitchen with the first sound of a bag/packet being opened.

Baked cheese Crunchy Creatures are corn snacks made with 40% less fat than regular corn snacks (they are baked rather than fried for a lower fat content).
They are crunchy and melting on your tongue. They might be officially catering for kids, but grown-ups will enjoy them as well (I know I did).

I love the fact that they contain 100% natural ingredients, and none of the artificial colours, flavourings and other nasties.
They are also gluten free.
Each cute snack is dino-shaped.

Eddie loved the snacks so much that he even didn't want to share.

I'm not sharing!

This new range has been launched recently, and is available in Tesco stores nationwide.
To find more about crunchy munchies, visit Crunchy Creatures on Facebook and follow on Twitter @crunchycreaturz

Disclosure: I received a bag of Crunchy Creatures for the purposes of reviewing. All opinions are mine.
Family Fever