Wednesday, 8 July 2020

Book review : Lost Girls - Angela Marsons

As it says on the front cover, Lost Girls by Angela Marsons is one of the series of D.I. Kim Stone novels. According to Goodreads, it is book number 3, following on from Silent Scream and Evil Games. However, there is also a listing for a book number 0.5, First Blood. The series continues up to book number 12, released just a few months ago, so there are plenty of novels to get your teeth into. I was a complete newcomer to the series however and I didn't feel that I was at a disadvantage.

The book follows two families whose lives are thrown into complete disarray when their nine-year-old daughters are kidnapped. The girls and their parents are all good friends and the kidnapper has a heart-chilling message : only one girl will be released. It's up to the families to make the best offer to save their child. As a parent, this is a horrific situation to imagine yourself in. While you'd do anything to save your own daughter, you obviously wouldn't want to sign the death warrant on the other child. A previous case with many similarities had led to the release of just one girl, so everyone - particularly the parents - realises just how serious this is.

The relationship between the parents - at first supportive, but gradually turning sour - is interesting, but the dynamics between the different members of the police team are equally so. Kim is a realistic leading lady and one that we can all relate to. She will take more and more pressure on to her own shoulders, determined to put in more than her fair share of hours of work, until one of her friends and colleagues tells her to take a step back. This obviously goes down as well as expected, until he brings around her beloved dog - apparently the only "person" that she will open up to and reveal her doubts and inner struggle.

The ending came as a bit of a surprise - I had absolutely no inkling of who was involved in the kidnapping - but ultimately, it didn't really matter. The reader's tension and compassion are provoked by putting yourself in the parents' position and imagining their pain and absolute sense of powerlessness, so anything else pales into insignificance.

star rating : 5/5

RRP : £7.99

  • Paperback: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Zaffre (1 Jun. 2017)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9781785762178
  • ISBN-13: 978-1785762178
  • ASIN: 1785762176

Tuesday, 7 July 2020

Madhouse recipe : Chinese Chicken with Cashews

This was a dish that I threw together during confinement with whatever was in the fridge, which explains the complete lack of vegetables, as we'd run out. You could definitely add some strips of carrot and maybe some onions, red peppers and broccoli to the recipe, or even just throw some frozen peas into the rice when you cook it. A side salad would be another option. It is a lovely, sweet, slightly exotic and totally kid-friendly dish though that the Madhouse kids gobbled up.

Chinese Chicken with Cashews


2tbsp maple syrup (or runny honey)
2tsp sesame oil
4tbsp sweet soy sauce (or hoisin sauce)
1/2tsp garlic granules (or 1 garlic clove, crushed)
1/2tsp ginger (or fresh ginger, grated)
1tsp Chinese Five Spice powder
5 chicken thighs
a good handful of cashew nuts

Preheat the oven to 200°C. Put all of the ingredients except for the chicken and cashews in a bowl or a cup and stir to combine. Go easy on the maple syrup and have a little taste before adding more, as you may find it too sweet otherwise.

Put the chicken in a roasting tray (I put in some foil first for easier cleaning) and pour over the mixture. You could slash the skin two or three times to enable to marinade to soak in deeper, but this isn't essential. You could also leave the chicken to marinade for a few hours, if you have time. Cook it in the oven for about 35 minutes, basting during the cooking time.

Add the cashew nuts to the dish, stir through and return to the oven for another 5-10 minutes.

Serve the chicken with rice then drizzle over the remaining cooking sauce. Enjoy !

It's a really simple but tasty dish and used up lots of ends of bottles from the kitchen cupboard.

Check out the #KitchenClearout roundups for ideas on how to use up random ingredients from the back of the cupboard.

Monday, 6 July 2020

What's Cooking At The Madhouse ? menu plan week 28

And we're into the holidays - woohoo ! That means my menu planning becomes less fixed, as we can dash across the road to Lidl when we need anything last minute (like ... let me guess ... ice creams !), the kids tend to help out more in the kitchen with their unexpected ideas (like Juliette making pancakes last week) and we'll probably often end up grabbing something out and about when we go on adventures. Well, that's what usually happens but this year, it's all a bit unknown - we'll see ! As it's the holidays, I fancy trying out some of my bookmarked recipes too, so I need a sort out.


lunch- I have a pack of mince that needs using up - for a change, I'll go for a mince & veg bolognese type sauce topped with mash (a kind of bolognese cottage pie !)

dinner - pizza and/or spinach filo parcels & salad/carrot sticks/cucumber slices, etc


lunch-  Breaded chicken with rice & Mexican veggies

dinner- leftovers and/or fresh pasta


lunch- steak, chips & salad

dinner- chicken burgers with Ebly & leftover Mexican veggies


lunch- We have a meeting at the sollicitor's to finally sort out Madhouse Daddy's inheritance so probably something in town

dinner- Paprika chicken thighs with spaghetti


lunch- homemade chicken nuggets with rice & veggies

dinner - pork chops with herby potato chunks & ratatouille


lunch- sausage sandwiches

dinner- big mixed salad (to clear out the fridge !)


lunch- chicken skewers with roast potatoes

dinner- leftovers or toast

***Click on my Menu Plans tag to see all my other weekly menu plan blogposts.***


Sunday, 5 July 2020

Project 366 : Photo Diary week 27

If you follow my blog, you may have noticed that my final blogpost last week was on Tuesday. That just goes to show the kind of week we had ! It was the last week at school so I had meetings on Wednesday morning and Friday morning - my two half days off usually, boo ! I also had to go and see Pierre's teacher on Tuesday after school, so I couldn't go to the end-of-school-year drinks at work. Juliette got the paperwork on Wednesday to say she can to the "lycée" (upper high school) that she wanted and informing us to go online rapidly to accept the place. No problem, except my codes to get online weren't working. I phoned the new school who told me to phone the old school, but the old school said they couldn't do anything about it and to get back in touch with the new school. Luckily, as I'm a teacher, I asked the secretary at my school, who confirmed that yes, it was the old school's responsibility. I phoned back and explained that I'd double-checked then FINALLY managed to get new codes for the sign-up. On top of that, I got an email to say that the "collège" (lower high school - the same school that Juliette is now leaving) had been in touch with Pierre's primary teacher to say they were surprised I hadn't followed up on his new place. I'd been told (during confinement) that it was all being done online and had filled everything in on there. So that was Wednesday, on top of normal work, racing about digging out paperwork and doing photocopies and filling in all the new file for Pierre. Thank goodness I'm on holiday now - I need to breeeeeathe !!

Sunday 28th June - It was a gorgeous day so we headed out on the bus, going along to the far end of the promenade to avoid the crowds. There were quite a few people walking along the beach (twenty or so) but, as you can see in the pictures, social-distancing wasn't a problem, as it's such a huge beach, stretching all the way along to Belgium. This is the mirror bunker, which has been here for a few years, but the artist has just said he's not going to maintain the upkeep any more, so it may well disappear this summer.


After a nice walk along the beach, we grabbed a Belgian-style waffle at a little refreshments van, before getting the bus back home.

Monday - After a day at work, then sorting out dinner, I settled down to watch Ragnarok on Netflix with Sophie (and a box of microwave popcorn). It's a Norwegian series, but we watched it in English. It's not bad. It deals with a family moving to a new town and the teenage son is endowed with magical powers, so he is the incarnation of Thor, coming up against another "evil" local family, alongside all the regular teen angst.


Tuesday - We had to go and see Pierre's primary teacher after school for the final time, to give in the few remaining books that he had left and to pick "something" up. It turned out that, as it was their final year, the parents' association had given a €15 voucher for Le Furet du Nord (very similar to Virgin Megastore, which is what it was before) to each of the pupils. This was to use up the funds that usually would have been used to buy chocolates at Easter and pay for an end-of-year day out. Pierre was really chuffed. Got home to discover that Juliette had made loads of pancakes - that's tea sorted out then ! One of them even had a face !

Wednesday - I had a meeting in the morning, then dashed around sorting out all the paperwork for Pierre. Not to be outdone by her sister, Sophie made some Oreo Brookies (a mixture of brownies and cookies). Very tasty but apparently 400 odd calories per portion - eeek !

Thursday - A looong day at work, but it was the final chance to see the pupils, so it was fun. We mostly played Hangman and did wordsearches in English and talked about which "lycée" the older kids would be heading off to next year. Still really hot.

Friday - The final day at school. The kids were off already so we had a morning of meetings, to sort out where to kick off in September. Apparently, the Stage 2-confinement has been planned for October, but fingers crossed we won't actually need it. Better to be prepared though. We all had a buffet-style lunch together in the school canteen then headed home. That's it until the last day of August - phew ! It was a cool sunset tonight, with the sky full of little clouds as the sun started to go down.

Saturday - First day of the holiday - no need to set the alarm, yippee ! After heading in to town and sorting out Sophie's glasses, we took the dog on a long walk.

I sat down with Sophie and we made a big To-Do list for everything that needs to be done around the house. There's plenty to keep us going throughout the holidays (cleaning, dejunking, repainting, repairs, ...), including some big jobs like finally selling Mike's car (which needs a new battery first). We also have plans to go visiting Belgium for a week, so we're looking at where to go (and where to sleep). The train is only €15 for a week's worth of unlimited travel apparently, so definitely a good plan.

You are invited to the Inlinkz link party!
Click here to enter

Saturday, 4 July 2020

Fab freebies of the week 4/7

And we're into July and even better ... into the summer holidays ! Woohoo ! School is out for the summer and I can now relax until September. Well, the last day of August actually, but that's good enough for me ! No idea what we'll do over the summer at the moment, but for now, chilling out is the priority :) Have a great weekend and I hope you manage to nab yourself some lovely freebies from this week's list. 


We're giving 100 Caboodlers the chance to read Sarah Crossan's beautiful novel, Here is the Beehive, before it's out in August.

We're giving 100 children the chance to read Jess Kidd's Everyday Magic, before it's out in February 2021.

Now available on Send Me a Sample: La Española olive oil (Exclusive to users living in London and South East England only)

Kukubird are looking for Fan Club Ambassadors to video review their funky leggings

Over at Shopmium, you can grab free NESTLÉ PURE LIFE Flavoured Fizzy Water, Jack Link's Beef Bar Multipacks, Pots & Co Puddings, Flushable Andrex Washlets

Be 1 of 200 to Win a Sample of Kate Somerville’s Iconic ExfoliKate Treatment

Grab a 3-sample pack of Fairy Platinum Plus dishwasher tabs - I've received mine :)

Join the Boots X tribe and be the first to hear about latest launches, beauty freebies, hot brand competitions, exclusive offers, beauty tips and so much more.

On the Bioderma facebook page : We want to continue giving back to our wonderful NHS workers, so we're giving away 100 Hydrabio Creams!

On the JG Speedfit facebook page : Tag a workmate to be in with a chance of winning! 🎉 We'll be giving away 50 premium water bottles every month!

Say “thank you” to an amazing teacher and we’ll send them a lovely card through the post, with your personal message, for free. Anyone can send a card; children, students, parents, grandparents and colleagues can all say thank you to a teacher, teaching assistant, headteacher or team.

You can see previous weeks' freebie roundups by clicking here but be warned, many of the offers are only valid for a short time. Let me know if any have expired and I'll remove them from the roundup.

Tuesday, 30 June 2020

Book review : You Don't Know Me - Sara Foster

You Don't Know Me is the new release from Sara Foster, published on 18th May. She is the bestselling author of five psychological suspense novels in Australia and the USA, but this is the first time this British author has been published in her home country. The publication will be followed by another of her books, The Hidden Hours, in November 2020, described as ‘enthralling’ by Jane Harper. I'll definitely be looking out for that one.

You Don't Know Me follows the tale of two young, free and single Australian travellers, enjoying a holiday in Thailand. Alice and Noah are taking in the sights on a river cruise when they bump into each other, quite literally. Sparks fly and they embark on an intense relationship, with Noah extending his break for a couple of days before flying back home to pick up his job running his family's restaurant. But below the surface, things are much darker and they both have a past that they are trying desperately to flee. As young love bursts forth, they are both wary of giving up their secret stories and imagining a happy future together.

Alice is working as an English teacher in a language school. Encouraged by her father, she is trying to find a new safe space to call her own, but she can't completely break the ties with him. As she slowly starts to reveal her backstory, we learn that he is in prison, but the truth of her situation will not be revealed until close to the end.

Noah's story is equally complex and emotional. Some twelve years ago, the girlfriend of his elder brother Tom mysteriously disappeared after an argument. The case is finally coming up in court, with a huge amount of public interest and pressure for all involved. Tom and Noah have always had a very rocky relationship, with a large amount of repressed rage, violent spats and bullying. More to the point, having seen and overheard a few things on the fateful night, Noah has secret doubts about his brother's innocence. Should he come clean and reveal all in court or keep quiet for the sake of the family?

It's a tough and stressful time for both of the characters, but they try to support and help each other through the worst of it. As their lives explode, leaving them with no idea of what their pasts and futures entail, can they possibly manage to forge some new love affair or is this budding relationship another victim of their volatile lives?

It's a fast-paced read that sucked me in, desperate to learn more about the characters and their complex histories. I had a few ideas about what went on in the past, but it turned out, I was way off the mark and in for a big surprise. 

star rating : 4.5/5

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Legend Press (30 Jun. 2020)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1789559774
  • ISBN-13: 978-1789559774
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 19.8 cm

Disclosure : I received a review copy of the book.

Monday, 29 June 2020

What's Cooking At The Madhouse ? menu plan week 27

Sophie's made it back home and is enjoying catching up on the food she loves. The bonus is, she cooks/prepares most of it, so we've had hummus, potato salad, cakes and I can't even remember what else as added extras this week ! This is my final week at work - phew ! Most of the food on last week's plan got made, except for swapping pizzas for big mixed salads (no arguments here !) and a potato dish that Sophie made that used up the potatoes that would have been used for a creamy potato bake. No problem though, they can be added back in at some point !


dinner - chicken skewers with rice & Mexican veg


dinner- garlic & pepper chicken with pasta


lunch- smoked sausages with mash & salad

dinner- breaded chicken, Ebly & endives in a cheese & ham sauce, for those that want them


dinner- beef & peppers with rice


dinner - cottage pie


lunch- kids' choice - I'm betting on a pizza restaurant

dinner- baked potatoes, as we didn't have them last week - with tuna/mayo or cheese


lunch- roast chicken, roast potatoes & veg

dinner- cheese on toast

***Click on my Menu Plans tag to see all my other weekly menu plan blogposts.***


Sunday, 28 June 2020

Project 366 : Photo Diary week 26

The big news this week was Sophie finally made it home - yay ! Work was busy as, on top of lessons, we had extra meetings for sorting out the next school year. But in a week, that's it, we're on holiday - woohoo !

Sunday 21st June - Time for another early(ish) morning trip to the beach, to beat the crowds, so we had a completely empty beach again. I'm not sure if this was natural or if the council have brought in lots of extra sand to create a terrace on the beach for some of the bars, but these steps now go nowhere. It looks quite freaky, like they are leading down into the underworld !

Monday - While I was at work, Sophie was undertaking the trip of a lifetime just to get back home ! After a first train to London at 6.50am, then another train to the Eurostar station, she got the Eurostar all the way down to Paris, as she couldn't get off at Calais or even Lille. After a few hours hanging around in Paris, she got another train all the way back up to Dunkerque, finally arriving at 7pm. Tiring but worth it ! We headed back home had a lovely long chat, ate some food then it was off to bed, amongst lots of giggling from all three kids !

Tuesday - As this is traditionally the day I have lunch with a friend, the kids decided to come along and join us. Pierre was at school but the girls waited until he got home, jumped on a bus, then got him back in time for the afternoon lessons ! We went to a local restaurant that brews its own beers and has a big menu with (amongst other things) all sorts of flammekuechens. They are like a kind of pizza with a flatbread style base from the Alsace region on the French-German border and traditionally have a cream, onion and bacon topping. We all opted for different versions - this one was chicken Caesar salad and was very tasty.

Wednesday - I had to go to work for a meeting in the morning, then in the afternoon, we went out for a walk, showing Sophie some of the new things that have been built or closed since she was last here.

Thursday - A loooong day at work and it was so hot, it was horrible. Our classrooms all have a central unit that regulates temperature, so that it's warm in winter and cool in summer. However, with the new Coronavirus measures, we have to leave windows open for constant air circulation. If you have a window open, it stops the air temperature control from working so we were all baking hot. There was a big storm at the end of the afternoon but it still didn't clear the air.

Friday - No school today - woohoo ! I took Sophie with me when I went shopping and she stocked up on all her favourites. On the way home, she dragged me to the local baker's. Apparently, she has been dreaming about their strawberry tarts for months !

Saturday - I gave the kids complete free choice for the evening meal and they surprised me by opting for "Dad's salad". I'm not sure if it was more nostalgia and good memories or a real desire to eat salad - well, it was hot, so it could have been ! I got everything out and let them pick what they wanted. From top to bottom, cherry tomatoes, baby carrots, marinated peppers, marinated cherry tomatoes, baby cucumbers, bacon, hard-boiled egg, guacamole and, underneath, lettuce. I've never seen them eat so many vegetables ! If I give them the choice, they usually turn them down !

You are invited to the Inlinkz link party!
Click here to enter

Saturday, 27 June 2020

Fab freebies of the week 27/6

Welcome to the weekend ! Hope you have something nice planned ... but stay away from the beaches. It's crazy out there and we don't want to head into the second wave of Coronavirus too quickly ! (Or even at all, if that's possible.) Here's another roundup of fab freebies for you to get your teeth into :)


We're looking for 150 Mumsnet users with at least one child aged between 6 months and 4 years to test newly launched baby and toddler food from Mia & Ben.

Netmums are looking for 100 testers to try out the new Quorn Classic Chilli Pouch. Fancy putting it to the taste test?

Receive a complimentary Flowerbomb Dew or Flowerbomb Classic 1.2ml Perfume Sample


Take part in the Walkers Perfect Match giveaway to win thousands of prizes (snack bowls, glasses + TVs, soundbars, etc) - use codes 0083 or 0084.

New campaign on The Insiders -  Higgidy is very excited to announce that they just launched a brand new range of veg-packed ready to bake meals. You’ll have a chance to discover 2 of them, if you subscribe before 3rd July 2020.

And another campaign if you have a cat -  Give you cat something you know he’ll love by subscribing for this Felix Tasty Shreds campaign before 29th June 2020.

Try to win a prize on the WD-40 website - loads of prizes up for grabs.

Request some samples on the BASIX Skin Repair Sample Request Form

This week on CheckoutSmart, grab free Lindahls Pro+ Kvarg lemon cheesecake, Lindahls Pro+ Kvarg strawberry & lime pie, Gunna pink punk raspberry lemonade, Strongbow Dark Fruit 0.5%, ...

On Shopmium, you can grab free Pots & Co puddings, Nestlé Pure Life flavoured fizzy water, ...

You can see previous weeks' freebie roundups by clicking here but be warned, many of the offers are only valid for a short time. Let me know if any have expired and I'll remove them from the roundup.

You may also like to enter my current giveaways :

Coming soon

Thursday, 25 June 2020

Madhouse recipe : Wok-fried Chinese Chicken & Veg

During the confinement, nothing was thrown away. Whether it was leftover meat or vegetables, rice or pasta, it always got thrown into another dish and many of them were really popular. This dish is one of those. There is no recipe as such - just use up whatever veg is in the fridge and whatever leftover cooked meat you have. It'll work whatever it is !

Wok-fried Chinese Chicken & Veg

ingredients :

drizzle of olive oil
1 onion
2 carrots
1 leek
2 boiled potatoes
whatever other cooked or raw veg you have (sweetcorn, peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, ... whatever you have, it'll be fine !)
1tbsp sesame oil
2tbsp pomegranate vinegar
2tbsp sweet soy sauce
leftover cooked chicken
leftover cooked rice

If you don't have any leftover cooked rice, start some off just before you begin, then it can be added to the dish just as it's finished cooking in ten minutes or so. Chop up whatever cooked vegetables you have that need using up (I had a couple of boiled potatoes) and whatever fresh veg you have in the fridge. I had onion, carrot and leek, but you could add various other types of vegetables. I'd definitely have added red pepper if I'd had it. Cabbage, broccoli, sweetcorn and cauliflower could be good too.

Put a drizzle of olive oil in the wok, heat it up then stir fry the veggies. Make sure you keep stirring so they don't stick to the bottom of the pan and burn. Cook for about ten minutes if using fresh veg, five minutes if using cooked veg that just needs warming up.

When it's softened but still keeps a nice firm, crunchy texture, it's done. Throw in the cooked chicken - this is great for using up the leftovers from a roast chicken.

Mix together the sesame oil, pomegranate vinegar and sweet soy sauce in a bowl, then pour into the pan. This used ingredients that I had in the cupboard - you could replace them by honey, white wine vinegar and regular soy sauce. 

Stir the sauce through the veg, then add the cooked rice. Depending on whether it's hot (just cooked) or cold (leftover rice), it will need 2 minutes or 5 minutes to finish cooking/warming up. Mix it all together

If you want, you could add some chopped peanuts and/or fresh mint or coriander to the dish after serving.

This was so quick and simple to throw together and it was perfect for using up leftover cooked rice and chicken. It's also good for clearing out the veg box of the fridge. The kids loved it too.

This is a great use-up dish and can be adapted to suit whatever you have in the fridge, so I'm adding it to the #KitchenClearout linky.

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