Saturday, 26 May 2018

Photo diary: week 21, project 365

On Sunday Eddie and I went to the cinema to watch Sherlock Gnomes. We invited Eddie's best mate with us. I think the boys enjoyed the film more than I did. There were some amusing moments, but overall it was predictable and a bit yawn-inducing. I'd rate it 3/5, though Eddie was more generous - he said his rating would be 7/10.

Monday sky was full of fluffy clouds. It was a hot day. I nearly melted, watching Eddie's school rehearsing the performance for the next day.

It was still very hot on Tuesday, when Eddie's current and previous schools had a joint May Day dance on the Green. There were lots of spectators, including some elderly darlings who came prepared with the tea flasks and biscuits. I took a lot of photos of dancing children, but for obvious reasons cannot share them on social media.
Here is my smiley boy. He did very well, I thought. He might not be a natural dancer but he gave it all, and it was more than some other kids did.

There are some random flowers appearing in my garden, I never remember where and what is supposed to be, and completely forgot that I had some irises.

Thursday was full of sadness. I went to the funeral of Sasha's school mate. It was a very moving and heart-breaking service. The big church was packed full, with school parents, teachers, carers. I dissolved into tears when the coffin, decorated with penguins, entered the church to the music of "Bring him home".
I cried so much, during the service and afterwards, that I had a splitting headache later.
Sash was staying at his respite place overnight, my husband had to travel in the evening, so it was just Eddie and me on our own. We ordered a pizza takeaway, and watched Batman vs Superman.
I didn't take any photos on that day.
The roses, cascading down, are in our garden.

Friday was a rainy day. I managed to catch this flying beauty just after the rain has stopped.

I told Eddie that my blog readers were disappointed not to see a Gregg's sausage photo last week, so could we go back to Gregg's? He said: OK, if it's for the fans, let's do it. Ta da, a Sausage roll weekly is back.

Thursday, 24 May 2018

Ahem, GDPR

In the last few days I've being drowning in one million GDPR emails. Today I deleted over 150 emails without opening, as I am losing a will to live. It feels like a harassment.

And there is life beyond blogging and digital world. Just today I was at the funeral, and all this GDPR business pales into insignificance in comparison.

While it might be all clear-cut for bigger businesses and blogs, hobby blogs like mine are at a loss. What are we supposed to do? I've read several "useful" posts, explaining the ins and outs, but am left none the wiser. And if anything, I'm more confused than ever.
It feels like an offer you cannot refuse. Very much mafia-like, when you're supposedly receiving protection without actually understanding what from and why.

Anyway, just to be on the safe side, I think I need to say that due to changes in law, I have to leave some kind of note, informing my readers about GDPR.

Chez Maximka has been live for over 7 years, and is a hobby blog. I have no plans to monetise it.
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Saturday, 19 May 2018

Photo diary: week 20, project 365

If you were expecting another Gregg's sausage roll weekly photo, sorry to disappoint you. Eddie said he wanted to change, and asked to go to Costa instead. Well, that is almost a sacrilege!
Instead of a much loved sausage roll, he has chosen a donut-shaped bake sweet thingy made with rice krispies.

On Monday the sky was criss-crossed everywhere I walked. Must have been a busy flying day for the RAF base.

We have a small pondette in the garden, which is an old feature, completely overgrown. We have covered most of it when children were little, and now it does need to be re-dug and probably lined anew, but don't think it's going to happen any time soon. We have pond irises growing there every year. I love the pattern of fresh green leaves.

We have quite a bit of wild life in the garden, they start arriving back home by the evening. This one looked a bit dyspeptic.

The fig tree has beautiful leaves.

Yesterday's bake - Coconut and chocolate loaf cake. I used a box of Dr Oetker coconut chocolate babka, which I bought in the Polish shop. It wasn't bad, but not very chocolatey.

I had no plans to watch the Royal Wedding. I was hoping that most people would be glued to their TVs, so we timed going out into town just around 12pm. To my surprise, a lot of people had the same "bright" idea. We went to the Food festival in town, and it was packed full.
I only bought a few little things, like beautiful tiger-striped tomatoes, a pack of dried Ancho chilli peppers and a few slices of cake for the boys.
Eddie has chosen a horrid-looking psychedelic Disco cake. I do hope he doesn't have indigestion, as I don't trust all these food colourings.
He was pretty happy with it, though he did mentioned the story of his friend J who has eaten a green and blue cupcake at the school fair and then had green poo. This memorable story resurfaces every time we see cakes like that.

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Porcini mushroom soup

vegetarian meals

I enjoy browsing in the local Polish deli. So many unknown brands and products. Some are pretty obvious and self-explanatory (you don't need to know Polish to understand), some are more tricky to guess. It's a bit of a pot luck, I'd say. I found quite a few favourites, which I buy often, but there are also a few things that I regret buying.
Dried porcini mushrooms are good quality, and make an excellent base for a soup. On one of my recent visits I have spotted bags of frozen porcini mushrooms, and just had to try it.

Lesne Skarby Borowiki Cale (Boletus Edulis) can be found in the freezer section. This is a 300g bag of whole mushrooms.
There were three big mushrooms inside.

Borowiki is Polish for cep or porcini.

There is a recipe suggestion on the back of the bag (in Polish and English) for a creamy porcini mushroom soup, cooked with chicken broth and double/heavy cream.

I wanted to cook something lighter and also vegetarian.

Porcini mushroom soup
1 sweet onion
2tbsp olive oil
1/2 big (or 1 small) carrot, finely chopped
300g porcini, defrosted
1tbsp vegetable bouillon stock
a handful of basmati rice
1 big potato
a dash of single cream (optional, skip for a vegan version)

Start by frying finely chopped onion for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the finely chopped carrot, and cook for another couple of minutes. Add the chopped mushrooms. Season with sea salt.

In a medium sized pan bring water to boil, add the stock and mushroom mix, as well as rice and cubed potatoes. Cook for about 15+ minutes on low, until the potatoes are soft. Add cream.
Serve hot, with a bit of fresh chopped parsley.

vegetarian soup

This is a tasty vegetarian dish. I love mushrooms, and cook all kinds of mushroom soup often enough. This was the first time I've tried cooking soup from frozen porcini mushrooms, and I will definitely buy them again.

easy vegetarian meals

Monday, 14 May 2018

Souk by Nadia Zerouali and Merijn Tol (book review) & Stuffed Aubergines

Arabic cuisine cook book
Souk: Image Credits - Smith Street Books

"Imagine a warm and sunny Sunday afternoon with long tables casually filled with delicious mezze - cold and hot sharing plates that together form a delicious and inviting meal in themselves. Here, family and friends enjoy the abundance of the sharing table - from carrots with arak and dishes of silky-soft hummus to fried kibbeh balls and tabouleh or fattoush".

This wonderful description brings back memories of the years, when I was newly wed and when we lived in a tiny house in Jericho, Oxford. We used to visit the local Lebanese restaurant Al-Shami. It was there that I tried mezze for the first time. I was hooked. I loved all the cold and hot appetisers and sharing plates. I haven't been in that restaurant this side of the millennium, but I believe it still exists.

Souk by Nadia Zerouali and Merijn Tol (Smith Street Books, released 1 April 2018; £25) is a colourful, soulful homage to the Middle Eastern way of life.
The authors say: "Throughout our time in the Middle East, it became clear to us that mezze is equal to the generosity and hospitality of the Levantine people".

Arabic cuisine book

This beautiful edition includes over 100 inspiring recipes to fill the table with Nadia and Merijn's version of a mezze feast. There are recipes to appeal to both flexitarians and vegetarians.
It is well written, with short personal stories and reminiscences about food.

Photographs by Ernie Enkler are simply stunning. As a food blogger, I always pay attention to styling - beautiful fabrics and china used in the photos.

Arabic recipes
Labne, Souk: Image Credits - Smith Street Books
Just look at those splashes of colour - don't you want to grab a flatbread and just dip into that pepper sauce?!

Arabic recipes

I also absolutely loved little embroidery samples by Anneke Koorman at the beginning of each chapter, they are deceptively simple and so charming. They make me feel like going back to embroidery again.

Such pretty little pieces, I can easily see them on napkins and tea towels. And they make a lovely quirky touch to the cook book.

Recipes include drinks and cocktails, cold and warm mezze, the grill and after dinner (desserts).
I have bookmarked several recipes, which I am going to try this summer, like this gorgeous Pistachio and semolina cake with meringue...

Souk: Image Credits - Smith Street Books
or Armenian stuffed carrots in tamarind, pomegranate and coffee sauce

I'd be happy to try a sour cherry sorbet and olive oil sorbet with rosewater, rice pudding with turmeric, tahini and pine nuts, stuffed vine leaves with pomegranate, barberries, grapes and bulghur, buttery date and sesame cookies, and many more delightful recipes.

This book will be a welcome addition to any foodie's cook book collection.

So far I have tried one of the recipes from the book. I love aubergines in all guises and disguises, as you might have seen from my blog.

I was inspired by the recipe Stuffed Eggplant with bulghur, walnuts and mint. I have adapted the recipe, first of all by halving the quantities, and then using a different way of cooking.
Quite a lot of recipes in this book do not mention prep or cooking times, so you'll have to improvise.

vegetarian meals

Aubergines stuffed with bulghur, walnuts and mint
2 aubergines
3tbsp olive oil
1 sweet onion
2 small carrots, peeled and grated
50g bulghur
1tsp vegetable stock powder
a handful of walnuts
1tbsp chopped fresh mint
1tsp paprika
a dash of pomegranate molasses
sea salt

Slice the aubergines in half lengthways and place on a baking tray, drizzle about 1tbsp olive oil over them and season with salt. Place the tray in the oven preheated to 180C.
Bake for about 15 minutes.
In the meantime, finely slice the sweet onion and grate the carrot. Fry them with the olive oil for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently, then add the chopped walnuts and mint, as well as paprika and molasses, and cook for another 5 minutes.
Place dried bulghur in a small pan with water and stock, bring to boil, lower the heat and simmer for about 10 minutes. The times will depend on the bulghur you are using.

The original recipe in the book suggests combining bulghur with chopped onions, walnuts and mint and then putting them in aubergine boats, and cooking all together. I didn't want the topping to be burnt if you cook for too long, or the aubergines to be uncooked, so cooked the dish differently.

Take out the aubergines, and let them cool a bit before handling them. Cut out the inside, making "boats". Cube the inside flesh and add to the bulghur mix, then scoop the mix and put inside the aubergines. You will have some of the stuffing left.

vegetarian meals
Stuffed aubergines before being roasted

Place the tray with aubergines back in the oven and cook for another 20 minutes, until the aubergines are cooked through.

Arabic recipes

Serve with the yogurt on the side. I grated a small cucumber, and added it to the yogurt with a bit of salt. If you're a vegan, obviously use the dairy-free yogurt.

Arabic recipes, vegetarian dinner

It was a very tasty vegetarian dinner. I will definitely cook it again.
If you are a meat eater, this dish will make a great side dish, just serve 1/2 aubergine per person.

Disclosure: I received a copy of the book for the purposes of reviewing. All opinions are my own.

Saturday, 12 May 2018

Photo diary: week 19, project 365

Every evening Eddie and I read to each other. I would read to him one of the books chosen by him (at the moment we're on Goosebumps: HorrorLand series, no.6), and once I finish, he reads to me from another book. Most of the time I'd be ironing when he reads aloud, but occasionally both he and I just make ourselves comfortable on the bed.
Eddie's reading skills are very good. I think it's the everyday practice and persistence which has helped a lot. Some days I don't feel like reading or listening at all.

On Monday it was a bank holiday, and I insisted that we should mow the lawn, as the grass was getting out of control. While we were working, Eddie climbed on the apple tree. Here he is, in my hat, looking like Huckleberry Finn.

Tuesday: On the way to school a friend told us about one of Sasha's school mates who died the day before.
He had a MD, and was growing weaker. I first met him and his twin brother when they were in the reception. They were super active and like little tornadoes. Sasha and the twins were in the special needs reception together, running carefree and full of laughter. One of the brothers died several years ago. It hit me so hard, I can't stop crying, thinking of them.
What do you tell a parent who lost both of her children?! Whatever I say would sound empty. Such a tragedy.

Wednesday was a cloudy day. I kept looking up, at the sky.

Rhododendrons and lilac always bring me so much joy, when they bloom in May. It's such an intense pink colour, which will slowly pale into off white.

I love chestnut trees, they are marvellous in bloom. And when September comes, I can never resist picking up the conkers.

And the obligatory Sausage Roll Weekly.

Thursday, 10 May 2018

Hekla's Children by James Brogden

Hekla's Children by James Brogden is difficult to pigeonhole. Is it a fantasy, thriller, horror story or all of these genres together?
It starts with a terrifying story from some prehistoric times when the evil spirit steals a child from the village. This evil spirit is called afaugh. The strongest and bravest warrior is sacrificed to combat the evil in the underworld and protect the human world.
Then the story jumps to modern times, a decade before the main narrative takes place, when one of the main protagonists, teacher Nathan Brookes, takes a group of four teenagers on a walk in the nature park. Nathan is preoccupied with his personal problems, as the woman he loves has just had an abortion and doesn't want to do anything with him. Out of selfishness, Nathan follows his ex, having neglected his students. The group of teens vanishes without a trace. Only a rucksack is found.
Then a day later, one of the girls reappears, starved, dehydrated and terrified. She claims to have no memory of what has happened to her and the other three.
Ten years later, Nathan is trying to forget his past, doing another outdoorsy job, when the news of the body found in the ancient woodlands is broadcasted. Could it be one of the missing children?
Tara Doumani, a lecturer in osteoarchaeology, is requested to help with the police investigation. The carbon dating tests come with the proof that the body preserved in the peat is thousands years old.

The beginning of the book reads like a thriller or crime fiction, but soon it starts descending into a fantasy-horror story, with very dark undertones. The surreal blurs with the real world. Good and evil become intertwined, with characters showing both sides.
You get lost in the bleak landscapes of Un, "the place that is no place", some sort of the spirit realm.

The book raises a lot of moral questions, and challenges our perceptions of the world: what is real, how are we connected to the past, can we escape the past or change it?
The plot is compelling and clever, with twists getting darker and more menacing, and the story is imaginative.
I picked the book in The Works, thinking it would be something like Scandi Noir, totally not expecting where it would go or that it would move into the fantasy genre.

Without giving any spoilers, it was hard to understand why the protagonist turned out the way they did.
So, it was not what I expected at all.
I'm not going into the whole "Was it better?"-debate, and will answer like Ross to Rachel, it was different.

Tuesday, 8 May 2018

New foodie discoveries - Chocolate edition

"Anything is good if it's made of chocolate"
Jo Brand

"Chemically speaking, chocolate really is the world's perfect food"
Michael Levine

And Amen to both quotes. Chocolate has been my companion for as long as I remember. It's my guilty pleasure and my comfort food. Seeing a new chocolate bar is like going on a blind date: you don't know what you are going to experience. Keep your mind open and hope it's not going to be a total disaster.

New chocolate products appear on the shelves of supermarkets on a daily basis. It's impossible to try them all. Some are limited editions and are available only for a short time, some come to stay, some get discontinued after a while, perhaps due to a lack of demand.

In the last half a year our local M&S started to offer a wide selection of more unusual Italian and Belgian chocolate. While I don't claim to be a pro, I keep little notes while slowly going through some of their new ranges.
Since my guys love white chocolate, many of the chocolate bars we've tried in the past few months were white.

M&S Italian White Chocolate with whole pistachios is a thick slab of Fairtrade white chocolate, which is quite hard to break or bite.
It's not the best white chocolate taste-wise, but looks pretty.
Bonus: no palm oil
In comparison to some other white chocolate with whole nuts which we buy in Italy, it is not as good.

white chocolate bars

white chocolate

M&S Italian Milk Chocolate Stracciatella with creamy filling and dark chocolate pieces is another variety from the Italian range.
Nutritional info: 90kcal per 3 squares, or 537kcal per 100g
It includes a combination of oil including coconut, palm and palm kernel, cocoa solids 30% min.
Creamy and moreish, a bit on the sweet side, it's actually not bad at all.

M&S Italian White Chocolate Cappuccino is a white chocolate with a creamy coffee ganache. I like the combination of white chocolate and coffee, but found this bar way too sweet which is not a surprise at 49g of sugar per bar.
92kcal per 3 squares, or 553kcal per 100g bar
Made in Italy, packed in the UK
3/5 Would be much nicer with less sugar.

coffee-flavoured chocolate

M&S Latte Coffee Kick Bar is a mini chocolate bar made with coffee beans, for when you need a coffee kick. At 149kcal per bar, it is just the right size for when you need a chocolate boost, but don't want to scoff a big bar.
Slightly bitter and a bit gritty. Melts in the mouth, but not very chocolatey.

De Villiers Skinny Cappuccino (£5) is a skim milk chocolate bar, with 51% cocoa. It is gluten free, sustainably sourced and contains no GMO.
The packaging says that though most of the world's cocoa beans come from Africa, little chocolate is made on the continent and even less is made by Africans in African owned factories. De Villiers chocolate is a "Bean to Bar" chocolate maker located in the Cape Winelands of South Africa.
Made with Ugandan cocoa beans. Even the design on the wrapping paper is an artwork by an African artist called Marien Freddy Nsompy.
It's a lovely melt-in-your-mouth chocolate. I would like a higher coffee content for a more distinct cappuccino flavour.
Top marks for the credentials and 4/5 for taste.

coffee-flavoured chocolate

Dolfin Noix de Macadamia Caramelisées  is a Belgian milk chocolate with caramelised macadamia nuts (70g bar).
It comes in a very elegant packaging, in a wrapper inside a pale pink pocket.
Macadamia nuts are crushed into a small crumb, so don't expect bigger chunks. It has a hint of sea salt. Overall, excellent flavour and quite delicate.
It would make a lovely little gift for any chocolate lover.

chocolate gifts

chocolate gifts

Waitrose Eton Mess is a new Belgian white chocolate blended with strawberry powder and topped with mini meringues and dried strawberry pieces.
It's very pretty and decorative.
548kcal per 100g or 123kcal per 1/4 bar, and lots of sugar - 54g per 100g - basically more than a half is sugar.
Thumbs up from my white chocolate-loving men, but too sweet for me.
4/5 for taste from my family.

white flavoured chocolate

My boys and I love Polish Ptasie Mleczko waniliowe (lit. bird's milk) or vanilla marshmallows in chocolate which is available in Tesco online and in Polish delis.
Bird's Milk used to be my favourite Russian chocolate, when I was a child. These Polish marshmallows taste exactly as I remember them from childhood.
I did mention this product before in a post on Polish food from Tesco. Ptasie Mleczko is a range of marshmallows with different flavours - we have tried chocolate and soured cream before, but this range has a new addition - E. Wedel Ptasie Mleczko O Smaku Strawberry Shake. As you can guess, they are strawberry shake flavoured. They are also covered in white chocolate rather than milk or dark.
Full of calories (455kcal per 100g and sugar - 49g per 100G), they are very indulgent.

Polish marshmallows

There are two layers in a box, with 36 marshmallows in total.

Polish confectionery

One more item of Polish confectionery worth mentioning is E.Wedel Pawelek Advocat dark chocolate bar with Advocaat flavour filling. I first spotted it in Tesco, but then also found in Sainsbury's.
This is a treat for grown-ups, as it contains alcohol. If you like Advocaat, you will enjoy this bar.
It comes at 209kcal per 45g bar and 26g of sugar.

alcohol-infused chocolate

Polish confectionery

I'm going to finish this post with two of my personal favourites.
I'm not the biggest fan of white chocolate, but Amedei white chocolate with pistachios is absolutely lush. Fine green pistachios come from Bronte. It is quite pricey at £5 for a 50g bar, but at the moment you can catch it at half price in M&S.
This is definitely not a chocolate for anyone on a diet. It has 580kcal per 100g and 42g of sugar.
It has a lovely hint of salt. Overall, it's very moreish and a special treat. You really need just a little piece with a cup of coffee for a blissful moment.

best white chocolate

best Italian chocolate

And just a few days ago I spotted a new product from Green & Black's - Velvet Fruit (available in 3 flavours - raspberry, blueberry and orange). I only bought a pouch of Raspberry flavoured dark chocolates, and this is easily my latest indulgence. These are small balls of dark chocolate with a real fruit centre.
At 129kcal and 13g of sugar per 8 pieces, they have no artificial flavours, colours or preservatives.
I'd say Bravo, Green & Black's, for introducing a novelty product to your already delightful range. I'm definitely going to try the other flavours of Velvet Fruit.

best chocolate

best chocolate treats

Have you tried any new chocolate flavours recently?