Monday, 27 February 2017

Book review : Lucky Boy - Shanthi Sekaran

I remember learning at school about the Berlin Wall and finding it unthinkable that, within my lifetime, such crazy governmental decisions could be made that split up families and couldn't care less about the consequences. When the Berlin Wall came down, I remember thinking that surely, this kind of thing couldn't and wouldn't happen again in the civilised, modern world. Unfortunately, the last few years have proven me completely wrong, whether looking at the unaccompanied minors arriving in the illegal migrant camps in Calais and Dunkirk or newly elected POTUS Donald Trump with his plans of building a wall along the Mexican border and stopping Muslims or citizens from certain countries coming into the country. While it's easy enough to shake your head and know that this has got be a bad idea, it's sometimes harder to appreciate just how cataclysmic the effects can be on individual families. Lucky Boy gives voice to two mothers: a young undocumented Mexican woman and an Indian-American wife whose love for one "lucky boy" will bind their fates together.

It is impossible not to empathise with both of the women in the novel. Living in a poor village with no prospects, 18-year-old Solimar Castro-Valdez makes a break for freedom and embarks on a perilous journey across the US/Mexican border. Weeks later she arrives on her cousin's doorstep in Berkeley, California, dazed by first love found then lost, and unwittingly pregnant. Making the best of a bad job, she puts her traumatic journey behind her, finds herself a job and focuses all her energy on raising her cherished son Ignacio, affectionately called Nacho.

In the same town is another woman with a poignant story - Kayva, who has run the gauntlet of infertility treatment and miscarriage before finally deciding that her only way to motherhood will be through adoption. She soon learns that temporary fostering is the obligatory first step to a hopefully more permanent arrangement and ends up falling hopelessly in love with the child she is entrusted with - you've guessed it, Soli's son, who is re-nicknamed Iggy, and ends up going into care when his mother is put in a detention centre for illegal immigrants.

Soli is desperate to be reunited with her son, but Kayva is equally desperate to keep hold of him and her unique chance at motherhood. All is fair in love and war and a mother (or foster mother)'s love knows no bounds. Both have convincing arguments : Soli is his mother and it is her natural right to take her son back with her if she is deported, but Kayva could surely offer him a better life. Ultimately, neither woman will have her say as it will be for the one-size-fits-all courts to decide.

The book is poignant but not overly sentimental, presenting the heartbreaking tragedies and traumas that both women go through in a matter-of-fact, understated way, which just makes them even more hard-hitting. Both Soli and Kayva deserve to be mothers to Ignacio, and I was half hoping that they would meet and come to some arrangement that could please everyone. Real life isn't a fairy tale though, and, even if I wasn't keen on the ending, seeing everybody spiralling into moral anarchy and doing whatever it would take to come out on top, I could appreciate that this was undoubtedly realistic. The author was in fact inspired by true tales of undocumented immigrant mothers losing
their children when forced into detention centers or deported and Kayva's character draws on her own experience as a first generation Indian-American mother and both of these aspects give deep authenticity to the story.

This would be a fabulous novel to discuss in a book club because I can see readers having wildly differing viewpoints. It would also be a great title to put on the bookshelves of the White House in case Donald Trump ever got the urge to read something other than his twitter feed !

star rating : 4.5/5

RRP : £14.99

  • Paperback: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Putnam (5 Jan. 2017)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0735212279
  • ISBN-13: 978-0735212275
  • Product Dimensions: 25.5 x 3.5 x 32.7 cm

Disclosure : I received the book in order to write an honest review.

Madhouse recipe : Cornflake cakes three ways

Cornflake or Rice Krispie cakes are one of the simplest recipes to make - I think it must be an obligatory rite of passage that all kids make them at least once before they can barely reach the bowl ! - and they are always a guaranteed success. As you can tell from the rubbish photo above, mine were so popular that they were gobbled up before I even managed to take a photo of the finished product !

However, did you know that there are various ways of making them? Well, I didn't until last week but, having found an out-of-date box of Special K flakes lurking at the back of the cupboard, I went googling for recipes using cornflakes and discovered a different way, using cocoa powder, rather than my usual way with melted chocolate. In the interests of #KitchenClearout, I decided to try both.

Cornflake Cakes #1

(On the left in the picture above - my usual way)

ingredients :

50g butter
4 tablespoons golden syrup
100g chocolate
75g cornflakes

Put all ingredients except the cornflakes in a bowl and gently heat in the microwave (very short bursts, stirring in between, to prevent burning).

Stir in the cornflakes. 

Press into silicon muffin tins and chill in the fridge until they've set.

Cornflake Cakes #2

(On the right in the picture above - the old-fashioned version apparently)

ingredients :

50g margarine (I used butter as in the other recipe, for fair comparison)
2 heaped tablespoons golden syrup (how do you get a heaped tablespoon of golden syrup ?!)
4 heaped tablespoons drinking chocolate
12 heaped tablespoons of cornflakes

I used unsweetened cocoa in place of drinking chocolate so I added a couple of spoonfuls of sugar to the mix too.

As before, put everything except the cornflakes in the bowl and melt in the microwave.

Stir in the cornflakes (it doesn't give as good coverage as the chocolate version and they're very dark) and pop in the fridge to set.

Well, it was a unanimous vote for the chocolate ones, which all got gobbled up before the cocoa powder ones. They did get eaten, but we all agreed that they weren't as good.

However, I have just been told of a third version which sounds totally decadent and delicious. 

Cornflake Cakes #3

(To be tested)

ingredients :

3 full-sized Mars Bars
85g butter
85g cornflakes

Melt the Mars Bars and butter, stir in the cornflakes and put in the fridge to set. Hmmm sounds divine - although maybe a bit too sweet ?

So, how do you make your Cornflake Cakes?

Adding to this month's #KitchenClearout linky.

Sunday, 26 February 2017

Madhouse recipe : Cheesy Crumb Crust Leek & Bacon Pie #lovemyleeks

I'm signed up to various foodie email newsletters and when they land in my inbox, they often give me ideas for meals, however loosely I interpret them. One such example was a Tomato Pie With Cheddar Crust. This sounded like just the sort of thing we'd like to eat but, when I clicked through, I was totally shocked to see that the filling was made with several cups of mayonnaise mixed with grated cheese and topped with sliced tomatoes. Not very healthy ! The "cheddar" crust was a mix of cheese cracker crumbs and grilled bacon, blitzed in a food processor. No healthier than the filling but it did give me an idea for a cracking #KitchenClearout recipe.

As you know, as a Degustabox reviewer, I receive a mystery box of foodie products every month and they often contain savoury snacks. We're going into overload - just a quick rummage in the cupboards revealed TEN bags and boxes of crackers, crispbread and savoury biscuits ! Several of them were half or even three-quarters used so it was time to use them up.

I tipped the odds and ends into my (small) food processor and managed to clear out five packets, which I thought was pretty good going and certainly made a difference in the cupboard !

Cheesy Crumb Crust Leek & Bacon Pie

ingredients :

about 200g of odds and ends of savoury biscuits
3tbsp melted butter
1 egg
3 leeks
a pack (200g) bacon lardons
2 mushrooms
3 eggs
glug of milk
a handful of grated cheese 

Put the savoury snacks in the food processor and pulse until you have rough crumbs. You can use whatever you want but make sure at least some of them are cheese flavoured for optimum taste. Adding something slightly spicy gives it a nice kick too.

Mix in the melted butter and egg and press together, just like if you were making a cheesecake.

Press into a flan tin lined with baking parchment. You need to cover the base and sides if possible. Pop into the oven at 180° while you prepare the filling.

Fry the lardons until they release some fat. Add the finely sliced leeks and mushrooms and cook for 5-10 minutes until the lardons are cooked. Put in a bowl to cool.

Add a handful of grated cheese.

Crack the eggs into the bowl and add a glug of milk. Give it all a stir.

Pour the filling into the pie crust and return to the oven for about half an hour until the egg has set, like a quiche.

We ate this hot with mashed potato and finished it off, cold, for lunch the next day. I thought it might be very crumbly but it actually holds its shape very well (the only bits that fell off were the crumbs that you can see on the plate from when I took it out of the tin).

The kids weren't keen on the crust but that was because I had included some Indian biscuits that had a strong flavour of cumin so I'll stick to cheese/plain flavours next time. It's a nice twist on a classic quiche and was certainly a great way of clearing out lots of odds and ends of packets.

Also entering this recipe for the #lovemyleeks recipe competition, run by British leeks. 

The Fox Press-Out Mask by Wintercroft review

The Fox, designed by Steve Wintercroft, is a fabulous press-out 3d mask. It comes in book form in a cardboard sleeve (which, to be honest, is a bit superfluous, because once you've made the mask, you don't need the book any more - we threw the book and sleeve away, which seemed wasteful).

There are 14 press-out pieces (not counting the wall hanging strips) which have various numbers on the tabs and edges. These show you which bits need to be stuck where as the corresponding numbers match up. In terms of instructions, this is all you get though - I did feel a bit lost to begin with, but I soon got the hang of it.

One side of the press-out pieces is fox-coloured (oranges and browns) and the inside is blue. The instructions do say that you can make it inside out if you want, following the folds in reverse, but I would think a blue fox looks a bit strange !

 Here is the official photo, showing what the finished mask should look like. Would we rise to the challenge? It all sounds very simple on paper - the front cover optimistically declares that you'll only need half an hour to make it.

 The introduction in the book explains that this is the first mask that the author created - there is also a Skull version available in the same range. It is designed for fancy dress parties and festivals but apparently has also been worn in music videos and fashion shoots.

The first job was pressing out all the pieces. 

 Then pre-folding everything along the dotted (inwards) and dashed (outwards) lines. I couldn't take any photos of the construction process because I already needed an extra pair of hands for cutting off pieces of sellotape and helping stick things in place. It took me ages to work out where the first bit went (the underside of the nose) but once I'd found and stuck that piece, it did all fall into place rapidly and fairly simply.

We were really impressed with how well it came out and the kids were delighted to have helped out. It probably took us about an hour because we got off to a few false starts but it was reasonably straightforward - kids would need help though, and even grown-ups will need an extra pair of hands.

Juliette and Sophie found it a bit too small for their heads but Pierre was over the moon to see that it fit him perfectly !

It's Fantastic Mr Fox ! In terms of fancy dress, it's fairly flimsy, so I would definitely go back over all the joints with extra sticky tape or maybe even staples. Pierre was jumping around all over the place though and it survived ! It's now been taken upstairs to be displayed on a shelf in Sophie's bedroom.

 The skull looks equally impressive and would be great for Halloween !

star rating : 4.5/5

RRP : £9.99 (currently £7.99)

Mixed media
32 pages
294 x 294mm
Published Nov 2015
ISBN 9781780977317
Series: Wintercroft

Disclosure : We received the book in order to write an honest review.

#MySundayphoto #SundaySnap 26/2/17

I don't usually play around with my photos but I couldn't resist tweaking the colours in this giant bubble.

This was the original.

Sunday SnapOneDad3Girls

Saturday, 25 February 2017

Red Nose Day Bake Sale recipe ideas from the Hairy Bikers and Nadiya Hussain

As I told you a couple of weeks ago, ahead of Red Nose Day (which is on March 24th this year), HomeSense have partnered with Comic Relief, filling their shelves with a Red Nose Day range that includes leather journals and colouring-in books, as well as exclusive tea towels and aprons designed by renowned fashion and portrait photographer Rankin.

 The apron features a selection of unique animal portraits including Rankin’s own dog and a whole host of celebrities have been photographed by Rankin wearing the apron to support the cause - The Hairy Bikers, Nadine Coyle, Nadiya Hussain, Jodie Kidd, Susanna Reid, Kimberley Wyatt, Lesley Joseph & Linda Robson, Una Healy, The Hemsley Sisters, Ella Mills (Deliciously Ella), Will Poulter, Fay Ripley, Vogue Williams and Tim Lovejoy, to name but a few.

If you fancy joining in with a Bake Sale to raise funds for the charity, here are some recipes to inspire you. Get your Red Nose Day aprons at the ready !

Parsnip and orange spiced cake

Serves 10

Now, before you say it – yes, there are parsnips in this cake. My parents love a good carrot cake, but when it’s the only thing they ask me to bake because they are not adventurous enough for much else ... well, I had to change it up just for my own creative sanity. Carrots may give colour, but parsnips add a similar flavour and sweetness with a whole lot more fragrance, so this isn’t as bold and daring as it might sound from the title. It’s a moist and delicious cake, and an excellent alternative to carrot. You could also give this recipe a go with courgette or beetroot. They all add different things and work equally well.

For the sponge:
 230g self-raising flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
 2 teaspoons ground mixed spice
200g caster sugar
100g walnuts, chopped, plus extra for topping
3 medium eggs
150ml sunflower oil
500g parsnips, peeled, ends trimmed and coarsely grated
zest of 2 oranges, plus extra for decoration

For the frosting:
 50g unsalted butter, softened
 200g full-fat cream cheese
150g icing sugar
zest of 1 orange

Prep: 25 minutes Cook: 30 minutes
 Sponges can be frozen

To make the cake: Preheat the oven to 180°C/fan 160°C. Grease and line the base of two 20.5cm sandwich tins with baking paper.

In a large bowl sift together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg and mixed spice. Add the caster sugar and chopped walnuts, mix through with a wooden spoon, and set aside.

Put the eggs and sunflower oil in a different bowl, and beat for a few minutes. Now mix all the dry ingredients into the egg and oil mixture, along with the grated parsnips and orange zest. Mix everything together until you have a thick batter; about 2 minutes.

Divide the mixture between the two cake tins, and level it off using a spatula. Bake for 25–30 minutes. The cakes should be golden, and a skewer inserted into the centre should come out clean.

Leave the cakes in the tins for 10 minutes, then turn out on to a wire rack and peel off the baking paper. Leave to cool completely.

To make the frosting: In a bowl, beat the butter with a wooden spoon then add the cream cheese and icing sugar. Beat until it all comes together, but be careful not to overdo it, or the frosting will become runny.

Leave the frosting in the fridge until you need it, if your kitchen is really warm.

Take your cooled cakes and sandwich them together using the frosting. Top the cake with lashings of frosting and sprinkle with walnuts, and some extra orange zest.

Nadiya’s Kitchen by Nadiya Hussain is out now (Penguin, HB, £20). Photographer: Holly Pickering

Photographer: Richard Hill
Victoria Sponge with Blackberries and Spiced Cream
Recipe taken from The Hairy Bikers’ Comfort Food (BBC1)

For the sponge cakes:

225g butter, softened
225g caster sugar
4 eggs
225g self-raising flour
2 tbsp lemon juice

For the blackberries:

A punnet of blackberries
1 tbsp caster sugar
1 tbsp crème de mure (optional)

For the cream:
250ml double or whipping cream
2 tbsp icing sugar
½ tsp ground cardamom
¼ tsp ground allspice
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp ground mace

Preheat the oven to 180C. Butter and line 2 x 20/21cm sandwich tins. Using a hand held electric whisk or a stand mixer, cream the butter and sugar together until very light and fluffy – it should be almost mousse like. This should take a good 5 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time with a tablespoon of the flour, mixing lightly between each addition, then add the remaining flour. Add as much lemon juice as necessary to give a dropping consistency, then divide between 2 tins. Bake in the oven for between 20-25 minutes until the sponge has shrunk away from the sides slightly, is springy to touch and a very light golden brown. Leave to cool in the tins for at least 10 minutes, then turn out onto a cooling rack.

For the filling, put the blackberries in a bowl and sprinkle over the caster sugar and crème de mure if using. Leave to marinade for a short while – they will give out some juices.

Whip the cream then fold in the icing sugar and spices – the cream needs to be just beyond the soft peak stage – then pile this onto one of the sponges. Top with the blackberries and pour over any juices. Place the remaining sponge on top. Dust with icing sugar or caster sugar and serve.

 HomeSense has partnered with renowned fashion and portrait photographer Rankin to create exclusive aprons for Red Nose Day 2017 and help people living incredibly tough lives across Africa and here in the UK. The apron is part of a Red Nose Day 2017 range of products available in HomeSense stores nationwide.

New Year Resolutions Review week #8 : Two months in, two down !

Week two of the half term holidays and I really managed to make headway with some of my New Year resolutions and challenges. Two in particular - getting French and getting geocaching.

1. Get Fit(bitting) !
Last week, I hit my 10k steps target every single day, and them some. This week, I had a few light days because I took the kids to see Sing at the cinema and also spent a whole afternoon and the next morning marking, but on the other days, I did get out for some long walks geocaching ... even during Storm Doris (which was called Thomas in France). With two days at 16k steps, my daily average is still 11k and that includes today, which is only at 506 steps because at the time of writing, it's the morning and I'm still in bed ! I said I was focusing on steps, not weight, this year, but I weighed in today and I've lost 2kg since the start of the year, which is better than nothing !

2. Get cooking bookmarked recipes ! 
I've been cooking loads and working through loads of bookmarked recipes, but I don't think I've had time to blog about many of them yet. I found a box of Special K flakes in the back of the cupboard and got all old school, making some recipes that I remember from my childhood. We tried Lomo Saltado, a Peruvian beef stir fry that is served with both rice and chips. Next stop was South Africa - Cape Town tarts are a savoury omelette/muffin hybrid that are great fun to make and would be ideal for picnics and packed lunches. My totally inauthentic but delicious version of gumbo was great for using up odds and ends.

3. Get geocaching !
Last week, I placed my first 5 geocaches and loved seeing everyone going to find them and logging their comments. This inspired me to make some more - half of my glass and plastic recycling this week has been put aside for making geocaches ! - and the kids have been helping me head around town dropping them off in strategic locations - parks, statues, the old maternity hospital where Juliette and Sophie were born but has now closed down, .... I now have  eight caches out there and a few more ready to place. My travelbugs haven't been dropped off yet but they have already travelled 65km. And we fitted in some geocaching around the docks, taking my total finds from 205 to 207.

4. Get comping !
Again, no wins this week, even if I've been entering more than usual as I'm holiday. I'm still on track for one win a month though.
(January : 4 wins - £20 shopping voucher, Mr Lee's noodles, Ambrosia trifle glasses, set of 5 books; February : 1 win - prize for Galina )

5. Get reading !
 I finished reading Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (click through for my review), taking my total to 6 books read, and I am now half way through Lucky Boy by Shanti Sekaran, which is a tale of a young  Mexican illegal immigrant whose baby is taken into foster care when she is put in detention, so he now has two totally devoted "mums" and, I guess, things will get complicated on her release.

6. Get FLYing !
We tidied up the play room (formerly known as Pierre's bedroom) and I had a good clearout in the kitchen, tidying and reorganising things.

8. Get bloggy housekeeping !
The googlebot put in another appearance and my stats do seem a bit higher on a day-to-day basis but I'll wait until next week to see how things look on a normal week, when I'm back to work and things are ticking over normally again. After my Klout score hitting an all-time low (53.37), it's bounced back up to 54.14 but I still have a way to go to get back to my 90 day high (56.73) My statcounter rankings have stayed pretty much the same at A+/C-/C/C+ (overall B-).

9. Get French !
It's in the post ! All I can do now is sit back and wait !

What about you? Have you set yourself any targets, challenges or new year's resolutions this year?