Wednesday, 28 February 2018

The Reading Room 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle from Ravensburger

best jigsaw puzzles

For the last couple of days everyone seems to be talking about the Beast from the East. The hashtag #snowmaggedon is trending on social media. It is pretty cold outside, especially with the wind, and we've got a smattering of snow. But the local schools are open, much to Eddie's chagrin,
I'm warm and cosy indoors, wrapped in a woolen shawl, having one cup of tea after another, and enjoying a new jigsaw puzzle from Ravensburger.
It is my birthday today, and I spent all morning after the school run, piecing the puzzle together. It's still a work in progress, I will need a couple of days to finish it.

best jigsaw puzzles

The Reading Room 100-piece jigsaw puzzle will appeal to all jigsaw puzzle fans who love intricate patterns and small details. It will also please book lovers. As I'm both, I'm on cloud nine.
I love the image of the reading room, with shelves upon shelves, well-stacked with folios.

best jigsaw puzzles

It brings happy memories of the times, when I worked in the library as a library assistant. I loved my job. I also spent many blissful hours, working in the libraries around the world, doing research and just reading for pleasure. I am so lucky to have had a chance to spend a lot of time in the libraries at Oxford and Yale Universities. Aw, happy days.

Reading rooms were often found in towns and villages for residents to read books and periodicals of the day.
The room depicted in the puzzle looks cosy and intimate, a space where I'd love to escape with a big stash of books and a cup of tea.

The shelves are beautifully arranged in colour blocks and also display artefacts and vintage curios.

There is a Siamese looking very comfy on the dark leather sofa, and a smiley dog on the floor.

best jigsaw puzzles

This high quality puzzle measures 700x50cm when complete. It is suitable for ages 12+.
Like all Ravensburger puzzles, it is made from strong premium grade cardboard, with linen finish to minimise glare on puzzle image.
The attention to detail is exceptional.

Tomorrow is the World Book Day. You might want to dress up as your favourite character, or spend a day, engrossed in a lovely jigsaw puzzle about love of books.

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

The Alchemist, Oxford: visuals over substance

eating out in Oxford

- What was the best part of dinner out?
- The smoke...

I don't often go out for dinner, but this week I'm celebrating my big fat birthday, and I've been looking for ideas online. I fancied trying something new and different, and having read Mary's from Over40AndMumtoOne blog review of The Alchemist, I thought it could be one of the possible options.
We were planning to go out with our 7-year-old son, when our elder son was staying overnight in the respite home. I showed Eddie the post with the photos and video and he was very enthusiastic about trying a cocktail for kids.

eating out with kids in Oxford

The Alchemist is situated on the roof floor of the newly rebuilt West Gate centre. The people behind the concept of The Alchemist proclaim they "dispense a bewitching blend of molecular mixology, innovative dining and a dash of our trademark theatrical presentation".
Bold and brave promises. But do they deliver?

eating out in Oxford

We booked a table online for 6.15pm, as this was the only available option for an earlier dinner. We didn't want to eat out late, as it was a school night, and we still had to travel from Oxford.
By the time we arrived - the bus we planned to take never came, and the one which came later was very slow - we had max 5 minutes before our booked time, so we had no time to explore anything in West Gate centre.

We still had to wait a little bit before our table was ready. We looked at the snow storm against the dark sky, and were glad to be inside.

First impressions of The Alchemist? Too dark and too loud. I don't like having dinner, when you can hardly hear your friends over a din of music.
It was packed full, and looks like a busy place. If you are thinking of visiting it, I'd recommend booking in advance.

The design of menus was stylish, clever and quirky. The drinks menu is styled as the Mendeleev's periodic table.
There were some classic cocktails like Mojito, Daiquiri or Screwball, and there were cocktails with unconventional names like Barrel Aged Corpse Reviver, Bubblebath or Shrub a Dub Dub.

I have chosen their much-hyped Lightbulb Moment, which is a combination of Tanqueray gin, Pimms, ginger beer, raspberry, lemon and mint.

The Alchemist

My husband opted for Lady Marmalade - a mix of Chase marmalade vodka, Belsazar Vermouth, bergamot, lemon, orange and grapefruit.

The presentation of cocktails was very impressive: they were served in chemical lab-style glassware (or in a lighbulb-shaped glass in my case), with dry ice.

Once you pour the drinks over ice, it looks pretty spectacular, with the smoke wafting over the table.

The Alchemist

Regarding the taste, I'm on the fence. My cocktail tasted mostly of ginger beer, which at £9 felt like a rather pricey ginger beer, albeit a fortified one. It was OK, but nothing special.
The same could be said about all our cocktails: it was a case of visuals over substance.

Our friends had a drink called Mad Hatters Tea, it was a very strange concoction of vodka, Cointreau, elderflower, fresh fruit and veg (there was a sliced passion fruit, strawberry, cucumber) in a big glassware, set over fire. It looked cool, but there was not much of it, once all the smoke was gone.
As a piece of showmanship it was top marks.

The Alchemist

The Alchemist, Oxford

Eddie was pleased with his cocktail for children, called Bubblygum (£4.85). He felt like a young Harry Potter doing his magic lesson, pouring drink over ice.
You cannot deny the theatrical aspect, it is well done. It's an entertainment for both grown-ups and children alike.

I think this might be the place to go for cocktails, when you want to impress someone you're dating.

The food was average. Again, nice presentation, but rather mediocre cooking skills.
For a starter I had vegetable gyozas with sweet chilli sauce. Other starters included Thai salmon fish cakes and Feta & pesto filo rolls.

eating out in Oxford

Children can choose either a Bento box with fish fingers, mini burgers or chicken, fries, peas or beans and crudites or wraps.
Our starters were served, but poor Eddie was sitting without any food. I offered him gyozas, he had a bite but didn't like it. Why did they think it was a good idea to serve grown-ups first and then for a child to wait for his meal until the adults had mains?

I have chosen a Tandoori Seabass fillet with vegetables. Now, seabass is a tasty fish on its own, it does not need much of added flavours. The spices were a total overkill. All I could taste was spice, not fish.

eating out in Oxford

Beetroot risotto looked not very appetising.

The Alchemist, Oxford

Eddie ate most of his Bento box. He loved the presentation, but said my burgers were better.

We could not fault the wine we had with our dinner - Rioja Blanco was beautiful.

The list of desserts is short: Pornstar posset with prosecco foam, Cinnamon waffles with vanilla ice cream, Baked lemon cheesecake, Chocolate fudge cake, Chocolate brownie and Sticky toffee pudding, all with vanilla ice cream.

I didn't fancy anything stodgy and asked for a bit of ice cream, which Eddie was happy to help me with.

Children's menu dessert choice was between a brownie and a lolly (those which you can buy a dozen for a pound in a Poundland shop).

I imagine in summer it is a great place to sit outside on the veranda and watch the town lights from above.
It was a fun experience, we loved meeting our friends and sampling novelty cocktails, but I don't think I would want to dine there again.
If you are curious about the total sum, we paid just over £158 (that's for 4 adults and a child).

When we were leaving, I asked Eddie, what was the best part of eating out at The Alchemist. He replied: the smoke. Out of the mouths of the babes...

eating out in Oxford

Sunday, 25 February 2018

Muesli cookies

healthier cookies

I'm not a muesli person. If I must have a cereal in the morning, I'd rather go for plain cornflakes or Special K. When I was a kid, we never had cereals for breakfast. Cornflakes were something you read about in books set in the States. We would have a variety of porridge or cooked kasha in the morning, or "proper" hot meals on a cold and frosty morning. It's only in my 20s that I started eating dried cereals, and I've never acquired a particular fondness for muesli, even the most fancy ones.

These days (I sound like a hundred-year-old, don't I?!) there is such a variety of muesli and granola that you can almost get lost in the muesli aisle.

The latest food box from Degustabox had a box of Primrose's Kitchen Raw Beetroot and Ginger Muesli as their 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.

The Primrose's Kitchen range of natural food is well-known among the health-conscious public. The brand is the brainchild of Primrose Matheson who did Naturopathic and Complementary health studies and has a degree in Homeopathy. She used her knowledge to create a range of the natural and wholesome food which includes muesli and granola, nut and seed butter, sprinkles and smoothie boosters.
I have reviewed some of her products over a year ago.

Beetroot muesli look pretty, with big thin slices of coconut. I bake a variation of oat cookies every week, as my guys love them, and thought the beetroot muesli could be a nice new ingredient to play with.

healthier cookies

Muesli cookies
90g caster sugar
100g margarine (I use Stork)
100g muesli
130g+ self-raising flour
1 small egg
1 heaped tbsp cocoa powder

Cream the margarine with sugar in a mixing bowl. Add the muesli, flour and the beaten egg, mix well, forming the dough.
Divide the dough in half, and mix one half with sifted cocoa powder to add a bit of colour.
Pinch a small walnut-sized piece of dough of each colour and roll it into a ball, then squish it into a crescent and place two coloured halves together on trays lined with parchment paper or special cookie baking sheets, flatten them lightly so that they are held together.

that's what the cookies look when raw

Bake them for about 15 minutes until golden at 180C. Don't overcook, they are still soft when you take them out.

healthier cookies, muesli as baking ingredient

I appreciate many people would not consider margarine in baking. I find it that when baking cookies with butter, they tend to go shapeless while those which are margarine-based are keeping their shape.
I use either Stork or Flora light in baking cookies. The cakes are a different kettle of fish, for cakes I prefer a real butter, with Anchor being my top choice. 

healthier cookies

healthier cookies

Adding this recipe post to the #KitchenClearout linky run by Cheryl at Madhouse Family Reviews, since I used the very last tablespoon of cocoa in this recipe, as well as some margarine which expired - ahem - a while ago. 

Saturday, 24 February 2018

Photo diary: week 8 (project 365)

February is almost over, the changes towards spring are becoming more and more obvious. The snowdrops are in full bloom, and long spikes of daffodils are poking their heads through the grass.
Last week everyone seemed to be talking about The Beast from the East, but so far we haven't had any considerable cold. In fact today was a very sunny day.
I enjoy Scandi noir, and found Betrayal by Karin Altegen to be a gripping thriller, though also very dark and disturbing.

I love snowdrops, they are so delicate and pretty. I also noticed that some of my snowdrops have been munched. It's too cold for slugs, and I haven't spotted any slimey trails, so not sure who the culprit is. That monster has also eaten my yellow crocuses.

Having heard about the coming frost, I have covered some of tulips and hyacinths , which my Mum planted last autumn. Hope they will withstand the cold, when or if it comes.

Running to school on Wednesday afternoon, I've spotted these birds on the roof of the old house in Market Square. For some reason this seems like their favourite meet-and-greet place, they are often sitting there in lines.

On Thursday I was working in the garden, taking photos of the toys we received for reviewing. A young black bird kept watching me from the apple tree. He was so curious as to what exactly I was doing.

The Moon was visible in the afternoon when the sky was still bright blue. I didn't zoom the camera, as I wanted to show both the rosehip and the Moon in one picture.

Our Saturday treat - a trip to Gregg's with Eddie before grocery shopping later. The sausage roll was straight from the oven and very hot. I warned you, Eddie!

BRIO Central Train Station & Bus and Train Station

wooden toys

"It is a happy talent to know how to play"
Ralph Waldo Emerson

Nowadays when so many children are glued to their gadgety things and immersed in the virtual world, it is inspiring to see children playing with real toys.
My 7-year-old son is very much into Minecraft, but thankfully he still loves playing with toys and toys sets. There are moments, when I catch myself thinking about him "Don't grow up too fast, there will be plenty of time for Youtube and Xbox, you are a young kid only once".

Eddie doesn't need any encouragement when it comes to toys. But he also moves on with times. He doesn't give a second glance to his "old" soft toys, though he still keeps a couple of soft toys by the bed: his old Dumbo which I bought when he was a baby, and Crossy Roads Mickey Mouse.
The very first car he had as a tot was a wooden racing car from BRIO. From then on we have acquired quite a collection of BRIO toys.
These high quality wooden toys are timeless classic pieces. The brand itself has been making quality toys for over 130 years, that is a great achievement.

If your children enjoy playing with Brio wooden railway sets, you might want to expand your collection with these new terrific BRIO railway add on sets:

Central Train Station (£33.99) features double tracks and has a wide range of sounds from the ticket machine. It is made of a combination of wood and plastic.

If you have a rail network already, this set will make a perfect centrepiece, as this is the starting point for going on an adventure and exploring the world.

wooden toys

The station comes with one mini-figure, a cute dark-haired girl with freckles.

wooden toys for 3+

The clock on the train station has movable hands, which are just the right size for little hands and make a great tool for developing hand-eye coordination.

railway set

The station is quite realistic, and made me think of little stations which you pass through, while travelling by train.

wooden toys, railway set add ons

BRIO Bus and Train Station (£24.99) is another excellent add on set. This is where you change from the bus to the train and back again. Just like when we travel to Oxford train station, and from there to Brighton, London or Penzance.

wooden toys

This set comes with one figure. The young chap can't wait for his big adventures, with the suitcase all packed and ready.
A little wooden bus will take you to the station, or your destination.
The station platforms are numbered, just like in real life.

railway set add on

railway sets add ons

You can mix and match BRIO sets for a truly creative imaginative play. Suitable for ages 3+, these lovely sets will make great gifts for young children.

railway set add ons

My son often mixes up different brands and sets, and I saw him happily playing with LEGO minifigures and the BRIO sets.

Disclosure: We received two play sets for the purposes of testing and reviewing. All opinions are our own.