Wednesday 31 August 2016

Lanzarote diaries : Timanfaya Volcanic National Park

One of the most common symbols that you see in Lanzarote is this devil, called El Diablo. I bought a keyring with him on it but you can find him on pretty much everything, from T-shirts and mugs to ornaments and ear-rings. 

El Diablo was created by C├ęsar Manrique, Lanzarote's most famous artist, whose sculptures are dotted all over the island. He is the symbol of the Timanfaya National Park and on day 4 of our holiday in Lanzarote, after a couple of pool days, that's exactly where we were headed. 

Partly because it worked out much cheaper than the organised excursions but also because it gave us much more freedom to do what we wanted, we decided to hire a car for the day and go exploring all over the southern part of the island. We got a Clio, which was Madhouse Daddy's original car when we first got together, so it was a bit of a blast from the past !

 The road to Timanfaya led us through the bleak, black lava fields that look just like moonscapes. There's literally nothing growing here, which seems very strange.

Timanfaya covers an area of just over 50 square kilometres (almost 20 square miles), made up entirely of black volcanic soil. You're not allowed to drive or walk around the park by yourself. You have to go on a coach, which means that you get a commentary in several languages to point out the key features. You don't have to book in advance - you just arrive by car, pay your entrance fee (9€ per adult, half price for children) then jump on one of the coaches next to the welcome area. The car park only has room for about 100 cars so once it's full, you have to queue on the road at the bottom and wait until there is space and the ushers wave you through. You're advised to arrive early (around 9am, when it opens) or late in the day to avoid having to wait for a couple of hours - we arrived around 9.30 and only had to wait for about 20 minutes.

There is another option - you can join one of the Timanfaya by camel excursions !

The biggest eruptions occurred in the 1730s. Pierre was disappointed that we didn't see lava and fire pouring out of the volcanoes as he apparently expected !

The photos don't do it justice because you don't get a sense of the scale but you can imagine the power of the eruptions as you drive past the canyons and craters.

In some places, you can see exactly how the lava looked as it flowed down from the craters, setting solid as it cooled.

I know it's a cliche, but it really does resemble what I imagine the scenery on the moon to look like.

The coach drops you off where it picked you up, next to the gift shop and restaurant.

There can't be many places in the world where you can eat chicked grilled over the heat of a volcano !

This is also where you get to see the most exciting part of the visit - a man with a bucket pours some water down a hole and a few seconds later, a geyser of steam shoots up in the air. These guys must really enjoy their jobs !

In another display of the intense heat below the ground, another man used a pitchfork to put some dry branches a few feet down a hole and a few moments later, they caught fire.

It was a bit disconcerting that there were no fences around either of these displays and sometimes, the guys wandered off leaving them unattended, so it's worth keeping a close eye on your kids ! You get a better idea in the little videos we took.

Pierre wondered what would happen if you weed down the hole, which made me laugh !

Time for a family selfie and it was back to the car to continue our exploration of the island. More about that in my next blogposts !

Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

Globecooking recipe : Courgettes Involtini (Italy)

The first recipe that I tried from last month's Italian-themed Kitchen Trotter box was these Courgettes Involtini or Dried Courgette Rolls.They are designed as a starter but they are also perfect as nibbles to accompany drinks or as part of a smorging platter.

They used one ingredient from the Kitchen Trotter box - a bag of grilled and dried courgette strips - but you could use fresh grilled courgette strips too.

Courgettes Involtini

ingredients :

a bag of grilled, dried courgette strips (or 1 large courgette, cut into strips and grilled)
1 tin of tuna in oil (about 100g)
4tbsp parmesan
1 egg
a few capers, chopped
salt & freshly ground black pepper
a few fresh basil leaves (or 1tbsp dried basil)
a drizzle of olive oil
a sprinkle of dried breadcrumbs

After soaking the dried courgette strips in hot water for 15 minutes, remove and drain on kitchen paper.

In a bowl, mix together the tuna, parmesan, egg, capers, basil, salt and pepper.

Mash it all together with a fork and season to taste - only a little bit because it's got raw egg in it. Make sure you put in plenty of black pepper. I only had dried basil to hand and we were out of capers so I substituted in finely chopped gherkin slices.

Spread some of the tuna mixture along the whole length of each courgette strip.

Then carefully roll it up tightly.

Use a cocktail stick to hold it in place.

Put them on a baking tray covered in foil.

Drizzle with olive oil - I used lemon-infused oil to give it a nice zing.

Sprinkle liberally with dried breadcrumbs.

Then pop them in the oven at 200°C for 10-15 minutes until the lovely smell of baked cheese and breadcrumbs starts wafting around the kitchen and they are nicely browned on top.

They can be eaten hot or cold - we ate ours just warm and they were very tasty. The only thing I would change is cutting the bigger strips in half lengthways because they were slightly too big to eat comfortably in one mouthful and they're not easy to bite in half !

*** Click through for my country-by-country globecooking recipe index ! ***

Fancy trying some more Italian cuisine? How about Chicken Breast with Pine Nuts & ParmesanCrostata, Parmesan Crusted Risotto Balls or Sicilian Salad?

Chicklit review : Bad Angels - Rebecca Chance

I often think that chicklit is a bit like a fast-food burger meal : wherever you are in the world and whichever restaurant chain you're in, you pretty much know what's going to be dished up but it's strangely satisfying ! 

Bad Angels ticks all the right boxes and does exactly what it says on the tin (or in this case, on the front cover). Whatever breed of romance you like, you'll find it here : sappy romantic heterosexual with boy/girl-next-door type characters, full-on heterosexual with eye-popping sex scenes, burgeoning homosexual relationship between two men, a S&M cougar dominatrix and her toyboy lover, and a troupe of escort girls who provide anything and everything else you could possibly think of ! Add in a smattering of celebs, footballers and WAGs, hitmen, powerful Russian oligarchs and their ruthless trophy wives and you've got all the makings of an entertaining, if not particularly memorable, work of chicklit.

The characters are entertaining and appealing - either because you can identify with them or love to hate them - but they are not particularly believable because they are too one-dimensional. The plot is action-packed (and not just of the sexual kind !) but fairly predictable and lacking in realism.

It's very festive, taking place between Christmas and New Year, so it would be great as a Christmas gift or Secret Santa gift for any fans of chicklit. The sex scenes are very graphic though, so make sure you don't accidentally give it to your great aunt Mabel or your boss !

star rating : 4/5

  • Paperback: 560 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster UK (8 Nov. 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1471101665
  • ISBN-13: 978-1471101663

Tuesday 30 August 2016

Lanzarote diaries : First impressions

This year for the first time ever, we headed off to the Canary Islands for our summer holidays. We've already visited Morocco, Tunisia and Turkey several times but with the current terrorist threat, it seemed unwise to head over that way again this year. That said, we flew out from Zaventem airport in Brussels which was blown apart by terrorist bombs earlier in the year - we recognised the places that have changed, especially as we saw the photos straight after the explosions, but if you didn't know, you'd never be able to tell. There were a few armed military personnel standing around holding machine guns but apart from that, it was business as usual.

So Lanzarote it was ! When we first got out of the airport in Arrecife, our first impression was ... it's quite cold ! Usually, you get that immediate wave of heat striking you when you set foot outside the plane and dash across the tarmac to the relative cool of an air-conditioned coach. This time, it was blowing a gale and we all looked at each other, regretting not bringing our jumpers ! The wind did drop after a couple of days but it's certainly much cooler than the other countries we've visited - in the mornings, the pool was so cold we had to repeatedly tell Pierre to get out because his teeth were chattering so much ! We wandered around in shorts and T-shirts but could have done with a light jumper on a few evenings. Temperatures were usually in the 20's/low 30's rather than the high 30's/40's that North Africa offers, even if it's just across the water from Lanzarote.

The initial views from the coach as we headed to our hotel were slightly disconcerting - endless black lunar-like lava landscapes with little or no vegetation and nothing else to see. I started to wonder how we'd manage to fill the two weeks that were stretching before us ! Once you start looking, the island's hidden treasures are there though, as I will be showing you in upcoming blogposts, and we did have a good time.

We were based at the Paradise Island hotel in Playa Blanca - it's a 10 minute bus ride to the beach but there was a free shuttle bus to take you there and back about once an hour during the day. 

We went there a few times and wandered along the prom, looking for crabs and lizards in the rocks and souvenir-hunting in the touristy shops. There are plenty of knick knacks to buy, including natural sponges, ornaments and even jewellery made out of lava and numerous decorative objects representing lizards, owls, fish and dolphins.

There was a "living statue" who had us in hysterics because he scared Pierre to death the first time, but the subsequent times, he wanted to go and put the money in the tray to make him move !

I had my reservations about the Canary Islands - from what I'd seen on TV, it was very geared towards Brits with nothing but cafes offering full English breakfasts and English-speaking bars wherever you look. I've got nothing against those kinds of places in England but when I go abroad, I want to discover the local culture, not just the same old same old ! It was definitely very Brit-oriented, both in the hotel where the restaurant had English sausages, beans and cooked breakfasts on offer every day and the shop was full of UK brands for teabags, brown sauce, chocolate and other "essentials", but there were more local options available too.

As you can tell, our first impressions were a little on the cool side, but we soon started looking below the surface and finding out that there is more to it than endless empty lava fields ! I'll soon be telling you about visiting volcanoes and cactus gardens, hiring a car to go exploring and even going in a submarine ! 

Maverick Books junior fiction titles review

We've long been fans of Maverick's delightful picture books so we were very pleased when they launched a series of Early Readers last year, transforming some of their popular picture book titles into a simplified format for beginner readers to enjoy. They've now taken their books in another direction and are about to release their first ever Junior Fiction titles, aimed at six to nine year olds. (Available in October but they can be pre-ordered already.) These books are for children who are embarking on their own reading adventure or can be shared with a grown up. 

They are perfectly suited for Pierre, who has just turned seven and is turning into quite a confident little reader. These are his first "real" books and he was initially daunted by the number of pages in each book (around 120) and the fact that they would have lots of words in them.

The books are very well thought-out though and are packed full of illustrations that break up the text, making it all much less intimidating for beginner readers and also helping to keep their interest up if they are listening to a parent reading to them. We tend to alternate passages, with Pierre reading a couple of paragraphs then having a rest while I read the next ones, or sometimes he will read the narrator's parts, leaving me to put on silly voices for the dialogues ! It's lovely to see that Maverick books are "growing up" at the same rate as Pierre, leading to a much more interactive bedtime story time than when it was just me reading and him listening and looking at the pictures.

We were delighted to discover that the initial trio of Junior Fiction books includes some of our favourite Maverick authors. Rickety Rockets is written by Alice Hemmings, author of George and the New Craze, The Black & White Club, Robopop, Bibble and the Bubbles and A Gold Star For George (click through to read my reviews), and illustrated by Emma Randall. It is a collection of three stories  - Rickety Rocket, Jetpack Jelly and Picnic Planet - all featuring Spacey Stacey and her friends who live on Planet Five Ways. 

There's never a dull moment in their lives, whether it's trying to stop a bunch of naughty Space Rabbits from pinching their picnic, delivering jellies by jetpack or fixing up an old rocket together to try and win a space race. In these action-packed, intergalactic stories that children of both sexes will enjoy, Stacey and her friends repeatedly show that it's important for friends to stick together and help each other out - and finding a way to get one up on the annoyingly arrogant twerps in your life (like Astro Pete or Jack Boom and Jill Zoom) is just the icing on the cake ! Pierre loved the stories (particularly the part where Stacey's jetpack gets her all wrapped up in a washing line full of spotty pants !) and was very proud of managing to read them out loud to me.

Grandma Bendy and the Great Snake Escape is written by new author and illustrator, Izy Penguin. In this ssssscrumptiously sssssilly ssssslice of bedlam, Lucy calls in the help of her impressively flexible grandma to clear her name when someone releases a deadly snake in Pumperton and she is the main suspect. Just like Rickety Rockets, this book reinforces the notion that while it is great to have a group of loyal friends that you can count on in a crisis, there are also always going to be people at school or in life in general who you aren't going to like - in this case, school bully Mike Grimace and snooty busybody, Lady Lavender. This is an important life lesson for children of this age group to integrate.

Pierre giggled as he read all about the madcap antics of Lucy and the other residents of Plumperton, plunged into terrified chaos as they try to escape the scary snake. I laughed myself when he triumphantly announced "Look Mum, more pants !" at one point in the story (thick organic woolly ones from the health food shop, no less !). We also enjoyed the mini story by Spag Bol the dog at the end of the book, seeing how he got up to his own adventures unnoticed !

Finally, we discovered Letter To Pluto by Lou Treleaven, author of another picture book that we have reviewed, Professor McQuark & the Oojamaflip. This delightful book is entirely written in letters, the fruit of an interplanetary school penpal project dreamed up by Jon's teacher. At first, Jon is not at all enthusiastic, particularly when he realises that his penpal Straxi is a girl and that she lives on Pluto, the most boring, smelliest and far away place possible.

They soon realise, though, that they have more in common than they ever would have imagined and they become real friends rather than just penfriends. As they delight in learning about each other's different lives and cultures, they send little gifts to each other, including a sickeningly smelly vomblefruit that Straxi has been telling Jon about.

Even on Pluto, everybody hates the smell of vomblefruit so the government decide to eradicate them from the planet, with disastrous knock-on effects for the rest of the ecosystem, which leave Pluto dying. In the nick of time, Jon remembers that he has his penfriend's stinky gift hiding out in his mum's greenhouse and sends it back, with a police escort, to save the day (and the planet) ! It's a totally enchanting book, with brilliant messages for children about how exciting it is to write real letters (not just emails or facebook updates), how you can still be friends with someone who (at first glance) has nothing in common with you and the importance of respecting the natural balance of the environment. As a teacher myself, I also couldn't help smiling when I read the letters from Mrs Hall to Jon at the end of the book - it's a tough life being a teacher sometimes !!

All three of the books were perfectly adapted to Pierre's level and the stories really appealed to him (and me!). The texts are challenging but not too difficult and the oodles and oodles of illustrations inside them add to the utter delight of reading your first ever proper book. We'll definitely be keeping an eye out for further titles as they're added to the series.

star rating : 5/5

release date : 13 Oct. 2016

Disclosure : We received the books in order to write an honest review.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...