Sunday, 25 September 2022

What's Cooking At The Madhouse ? menu plan week 39


The returning heatwave turned out to be fake news - it's gone decidedly autumnal at the moment so I think I'll be dragging out my slow cooker very soon. Sophie was supposed to be leaving us today but my dad, who was going to pick her up, has come down with covid - aagghhh ! Hope he feels better soon. Sophie is looking at train and ferry times and her landlady-to-be has offered to pick her up from Dover, which is great. I think she'll be off in a day or two. 

Monday

lunch- school canteen for me, leftover roast chicken for whoever eats at home

dinner - lemon chicken stir fry (with carrots, onions, mange tout, noodles)

Tuesday

lunch- school canteen for me, leftovers for whoever eats at home 

dinner- pasta carbonara

Wednesday

lunch- bacon sandwiches

dinner- battered fish, mash & peas

Thursday

lunch - spaghetti bolognese

dinner- fajitas

Friday

lunch- canteen for me, leftovers for the kids

dinner - BBQ chicken thighs with rice and coleslaw 
 
Saturday

lunch- maybe lunch in town (McDonald's ?) if we need to go to the shops

dinner- twice baked potatoes (stuffed with peppers, onions, tomatoes, bacon & cheese)
 
Sunday 

lunch- chicken curry and rice

dinner- toast or leftovers

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

Wednesday, 21 September 2022

Book review : The Maids of Biddenden - G D Harper


When I was offered the chance to review a new book, The Maids of Biddenden, I was instantly intrigued. Biddenden is a village in Kent not that far from my home town of Hastings and, although I've never had any reason to go there, I've seen road signs pointing to it. The book, inspired by a real-life story, is set in the year 1100, not that far from the 1066 battle that my hometown is famous for. While the epic tale of King Harold receiving an arrow in his eye and William the Conqueror taking over as king are well known, I'd never sat down and thought about the living conditions of real, normal people residing and working  in the south east of England at that time. This glimpse into their daily lives and the mentalities of the time was fascinating.

I was intrigued to catch up with the latest book from author GD Harper too. In the past, I have read and reviewed two of his books, Love's Long Road and A Friend In Deed, but this newest book moves away from the world of politics and crime fiction into historical fiction. It is inspired by the real-life story of conjoined twins Mary and Eliza Chulkhurst, who were born into a wealthy family in 1100.

While modern medicine and biological knowledge now mean that many conjoined twins can be separated and live pretty normal lives, this was certainly not the case for the Chulkhursts. Not only were they destined to spend their lives side by side, they also had to fear for their lives, with many of their contemporaries, including some members of the clergy, seeing them as abominations surely created by the devil and therefore undeserving of life. The sisters spent their early years kept out of sight and raised by the nuns at Malling Abbey.

The abbey, however, is running out of money and the new prioress, Mother Avicia, contacts the girls' father to ask for more money. Despite their step-mother's reticence and hostility, it is decided that the girls will venture into the outside world and live alongside their father. It is fascinating to see the girls' boisterous, fun-loving nature. They frequently argue with each other and fall to the ground if one decides to run off or jump about excitedly without warning the other. Having witnessed many of the nuns in their individual bodies, they have decided that everyone is born with a conjoined twin and eventually grows to an age when they will be separated. As they move out of the convent and into their new life in Biddenden, they realise though that they were wrong and that nobody else looks like them. They are horrified, but maybe not as much as the locals, who are shocked when they catch sight of them. Their father goes through official channels, requesting permission from the church and the village elders for his daughters to live in the community, and this is ultimately allowed, with the girls put on display at various local events, with throngs of people gawping at them in complete shock. 

The girls play the game, appearing at public events and learning to co-exist, both with each other and also the rest of the villagers. While Mary enjoys showing off her musical talents to the crowds, writing and singing songs and playing the lyre, her sister Eliza is fascinated by plants and their medical virtues, creating a healing garden inspired by the one at the nunnery they spent their early years at. They may be in the same body but their personalities are very different, especially to begin with, with Mary dominating her painfully shy sister.

I had never heard of the Biddenden Maids and it is unknown if they genuinely existed or were created as folk figures, but either way, their story is enchanting. The author has woven a captivating web of characters around the sisters, who open your eyes to the way people lived back then. The hostility and lack of compassion shown by the villagers, and even from within the church, is hard to accept but ultimately completely believable. I would like to think that society has evolved for the better, but even today, many people still see "different" as inferior, whether in relation to migrants, the homeless or those with physical or mental disabilities.

The girls ultimately find their happy ending, coming out as winners, whatever life can throw at them. It's definitely a great lesson for us all !

star rating : 4.5/5

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Ginger Cat (2 May 2022)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 432 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 0993547877
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-0993547874
  • Dimensions ‏ : ‎ 12.85 x 2.74 x 19.84 cm
  •  

 

 Disclosure : I received a review copy of the book in order to share my honest opinion.

Sunday, 18 September 2022

What's Cooking At The Madhouse ? menu plan week 38


Last week, our modem stopped working and it took a few days for them to sort it out - it was a problem "in the box" whatever that means, so they sorted it out from "the box" in the street apparently. That meant we had no internet, no phone line and no TV for all of that time - aagghhh ! It wasn't too bad but it meant I couldn't log on to my school network and reply to messages and the kids couldn't either, so they had no access to homework and sheets that needed printing out or using. You don't realise how essential being online has become now. It also meant that I couldn't check my menu plan so we were running blind for a few days, based on what was in the fridge ! We did stick pretty close to what was planned actually, so I impressed myself ! Temperatures have dropped so I'm thinking more autumn/winter dishes, but apparently it's supposed to get hot again next week ? We'll see !

Monday

lunch- school canteen for me, leftovers for whoever eats at home

dinner - Proven├žal chicken with ebly & mangetout

Tuesday

lunch- school canteen for me, leftovers for whoever eats at home 

dinner- pork steaks with rice & ratatouille

Wednesday

lunch- leftovers for me and Pierre

dinner- battered fish, mash & peas

Thursday

lunch - leftovers for me and Pierre again if there are any - if not beefburgers and mash, with leftover peas or beans

dinner- tartiflette (potatoes, onions and stinky cheese, baked until it gets a crispy crust - yep, autumn is definitely here !)

Friday

lunch- canteen for me, leftovers for the kids

dinner - school open day (getting in early this year to try and get sign-ups before the private schools start recruiting !) so probably leftovers or Deliveroo, by the time I get in

Saturday

lunch-  creamy chicken & chorizo pasta (with onions, mushrooms, peppers and whatever else is in the fridge)

dinner- chicken & veg stir fry- or maybe a last meal out with Sophie before she heads back to college ?
 
Sunday 

lunch- normally the day Sophie goes back to college so we'll see what happens - maybe a roast dinner?

dinner- toast or leftovers

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

Thursday, 15 September 2022

Arran Sense of Scotland (review)


This summer was absolutely amazing in terms of weather, giving us the chance to enjoy endless blue skies and gorgeous sunshine, both on our holiday abroad but also when we got back home. Walking home from work today, I noticed the first conkers on the ground and thought to myself aah, despite the sunny weather, there's no denying it - autumn is definitely on the way. If you're not ready to say goodbye to the summer and want to keep the holiday vibe going for a little longer, you may want to try out the extensive range of products from Arran Sense of Scotland (formerly Arran Aromatics). 

As the name suggests, this family-run company has been creating vibrant, evocative scents from its Home Farm factory, an old dairy farm near the historic Brodick Castle on the Isle of Arran. For three decades, they have been creating bath, body and home fragrance collections inspired not only by the breath-taking scenery of Arran, but its deep-rooted ability to make any visitor relax and reset as soon as they step off the ferry. From the freshwater spring to a pinch of seasoned gorse, there’s a bit of Arran in every single product.


We received two products from the range, starting with the Glen Iorsa Lavender & Spearmint Calming Mist (RRP £15). If going back to work and school has stressed you or your kids out, this is the ideal product. Just spray a little on your pillow and the soothing fragrance will whisk you off to the Land of Nod for a relaxing night of sleep. Alternatively, you could spray some around the room or even spritz it onto your skin. The fragrance is fresh and natural and I could detect something other than spearmint and lavender - a closer look revealed that it also contains background notes of geranium, sage and patchouli. The product is named after the calm serenity of a remote glen on the Isle of Arran. Perfect for rejuvenating body and mind.


The second product that we received is the Unisex Mixed Shower Gel Discovery Gift Set (RRP £10), one of the collections that allows you to try several of the fragrances from the range. This set includes After the Rain, Glenashdale, Lochranza and Machrie shower gels, all in 30ml bottles, so they're perfect for travel restrictions. 

Each of the fragrances is very different but I like all of them and it's lovely to mix up the scents depending on my mood. If you do prefer one of the fragrances, you could splash out on a big bottle of one variety. Here's what the company say : "Discover our signature scent of Lime, Rose & Sandalwood with After the Rain. Enjoy the freshness of grapefruit and rasped lemons with the invigorating scent of Glenashdale. Transport yourself to the rugged beauty of Lochranza in the North of Arran and enjoy a unique blend of patchouli and cedar enhanced by a citrus twist of lemon and grapefruit. Experience the coastal freshness of Machrie and discover an invigorating combination of Seasalt, rockrose and mandarin." I love the freshness of Glenashdale when I'm feeling tired after a long day at work but Machrie somehow reminds me of being on holiday - maybe because it reminds me of the sea? 

There is another possibility though - maybe the fragrance is one of the products I've used on holiday in the past without even knowing it. The brand supplies its high-end products to several luxury hotels, including Malmaison, Cheval Collection, Virgin Hotels and Seamill Hydro to name but a few.

for more information :  https://arran.com/

 Disclosure : I received the products in order to share my honest opinion.

Sunday, 11 September 2022

What's Cooking At The Madhouse ? menu plan week 37


First full week of school done and it all went according to plan, except that the bus company decided to go on strike. It lasted from Monday to Thursday and they only announced whether or not they were going back to work the next day every evening so it was a nightmare. I was very relieved when they went back to work on Friday as I was having to leave the house at 6.45am to leave time for the long walk to work - nightmare ! We stuck to the plan all week except for Sunday dinner, when we decided to have raclette - a classic French dish of boiled potatoes, ham/salami and oodles of melted cheese - instead of the planned roast.

Monday

lunch- school canteen for me, leftovers for whoever eats at home

dinner - chicken burgers & spicy wedges with coleslaw

Tuesday

lunch- school canteen for me, leftovers for whoever eats at home 

dinner- pork chops with gratin dauphinois (creamy potato bake) (on last week's plan but didn't get made) & green beans

Wednesday

lunch- spaghetti carbonara

dinner- chicken korma with rice

Thursday

lunchham-wrapped endives in cheese sauce (for me), chicken nuggets with rice & tomato salad (for the kids who are eating at home)

dinner- fresh pasta (with a creamy mushroom sauce, if anyone wants it - otherwise plain)

Friday

lunch- canteen for me, leftovers for the kids

dinner - chicken enchiladas

Saturday

lunch- time to clear out the fridge of leftovers before I go shopping - and if it's empty, I'll go freezer diving instead !

dinner- we didn't get Deliveroo last week so the kids have asked for it this week instead
 
Sunday 

lunch- roast chicken, roast potatoes, veg & gravy

dinner- leftovers or toast

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

Wednesday, 7 September 2022

Book review : The Night Ship - Jess Kidd


The Night Ship is a book of two stories, with alternate chapters focusing on two young characters, separated by 350 years. Despite this difference in historical setting, their lives are similar in many ways. They are both stuck in a place they never wanted to be in with little to offer and no friends to help them pass the time. They are both in a somewhat hostile environment and are left to deal with daily life and whatever it can throw at them, finding things to entertain themselves and learning about the world they are growing up in and their place in it.

We are first introduced to Mayken, an excited and curious young girl in 1628 who has boarded the Batavia, a fine sea vessel of the time, in Holland. She is accompanied by her nursemaid, following the death of her mother, and is about to travel across the world to rejoin her father, with his marble mansion, red and white roses growing around the doorway, chestnut stallions and dapple mares. From her childish viewpoint, he appears to be a dashing, fairytale hero and from the outset, I was worried about how she would cope with the less grandiose reality once she arrived.

Her nursemaid suffering from seasickness, Mayken is left to explore the ship and find her own adventures. It is fascinating to see the other characters on the boat, from the dour preacher and his extensive family to the gruff and aggressive sea captains. Joining ranks with a mischievous cabin boy, she dresses in rags and goes to uncover the secrets of the Below World, filled with swarms of rats, sleeping soldiers, the gruesome ship's doctor and tales of Bullebak, a scary eel-like monster that slithers around the ship, searching out its next victim.

Gil's story, on the other hand, is set in 1989. His mother has also died and he is sent to a tiny fishing island off the Australian coast where his reclusive and irritable grandfather will look after him. Left to his own devices, he gets to know the team of researchers digging up the remains in and around the coral reef that surrounds the island, as well as the few local families. There have been many shipwrecks over the years, including ... the Batavia.

Both Mayken and Gil find themselves as hopeful, young innocents, trying to survive in a hostile world, faced with the worst of human nature. The adults surrounding them should be looking out for them but mainly tend to fail in their duty of care, worrying more about saving themselves than helping out anyone else. What makes the story even more heartbreaking is that the shipwreck of the Batavia is a historical fact. Mayken's tale may not be completely true but many of the characters on board the ship and their actions after the shipwreck are and details are given in the epilogue. Gil is a pure invention but it doesn't make his story any less heart-rending.

star rating : 5/5


RRP  : £12.99


  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Canongate Books; Main edition (11 Aug. 2022)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Hardcover ‏ : ‎ 384 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1838856501
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1838856502

 

 Disclosure : I received a review copy of the book in order to share my honest opinion.

Sunday, 4 September 2022

What's Cooking At The Madhouse ? menu plan week 36


That's it, the holidays are over and we've all headed back to school (except for Sophie who still has a few weeks left). I get Wednesdays off and Thursday afternoons off this year, which sounds good to me and less hectic than last year. I've just gone shopping for next week and bought way too much food as I got loads of quick and simple things for the kids to cook for lunch (which invariably never get eaten !) - ah well, it can go in the freezer if it' still in the fridge at the end of the week ! Last week's menu plan was hit-and-miss as I came down with a tummy bug and was off food for a couple of days. Luckily I was back up and running before going back to work though. The kids found loads of things to eat in the freezer so they weren't complaining ! A couple of meals are relisted from last week as they didn't get made.

Monday

lunch- school canteen for me, leftovers for whoever eats at home

dinner - chilli con carne with rice

Tuesday

lunch- school canteen for me, leftovers for whoever eats at home (or I bought sausages, either in sandwiches or with leftover rice)

dinner- Mediterranean chicken (seasoning & cooking bag - add tomatoes, courgette & red pepper) with couscous (this was on last week's plan but didn't end up getting made ... umm same again ! Third time lucky ?!)

Wednesday

lunch- sausages & lentils

dinner- filet mignon in gravy with mash & green beans

Thursday

lunch - eating with a friend, kids can sort themselves out or come along, depending on their timetables

dinner- pork casserole with rice

Friday

lunch- canteen for me, leftovers for the kids

dinner - battered fish with ebly & veggie patties

Saturday

lunch- cheese puffs (Pierre can have a beefburger or leftovers instead) with mash & ratatouille

dinner- I think we deserve a takeaway :)
 
Sunday 

lunch- roast chicken, gratin dauphinois (didn't get made last week) & salad

dinner- leftovers or toast

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

Friday, 2 September 2022

Our first attempt at making sushi with Kelly Loves !

Back at the start of the summer (where has the time gone ?!), we were offered the chance to try our hand at making sushi, courtesy of Asian snack and drink company, Kelly Loves. Both Juliette and Sophie are huge fans of sushi and frequently buy it on Deliveroo, at the local Chinese restaurant (which has a sushi section) or from the supermarket but I'd never thought of making it ourselves. To be honest, I thought it would be really complicated, both in terms of making it and sourcing the ingredients. 

 

Well, the second part was instantly dealt with. Founded by Kelly Choi, Kelly Loves brings a large selection of tasty snacks and meals typical of the Far East into your home and they sent us a fabulous starter kit, containing everything (except for seafood and vegetables) that we'd need for making sushi, plus some extras. When we unpacked the box, we discovered a sushi mat, a box of sushi rice, sushi nori, wasabi, spicy mayo, fried onions, sushi vinegar, sushi ginger, tofu miso soup, aloe vera drink, Korean rolls meal kit and a bento kit. Wow, where to start ?!

 

We started off by cooking the rice. The Sushi Rice is described on the box as a "fine short-grain rice as used by our sushi chefs". A box contains 500g which sounded a lot to me, as we'd only have two people eating it, so we cooked half the box. With hindsight, we could have used up a whole box though. While the rice cooked, we peeled and sliced the ingredients that we'd bought to go in the sushi - prawns, smoked salmon, carrots, red pepper, cucumber. Once the rice is cooked, you need to stir through some sushi vinegar - aha, so that's what gives the sushi its special flavour.


I was all ready to start looking up sushi recipes online but the girls pooh-poohed that idea, saying that it was simple as each sushi only had one ingredient, along with the rice. Well, I didn't know that (assuming they are right !). Juliette laid a nori sheet (half of one, in fact) on the rolling mat and topped it with rice.


She added some strips of cucumber. Can you spot where she went wrong? Yep, she laid them the wrong way !


She managed to roll them up quite successfully though, especially for a first attempt. She said they didn't look right because they had the nori on the inside, like a spiral. After chopping them up, the middle section looks great but the ends need a bit more rice to help them hold together.


For the next sushi, Juliette decided to try one with prawns inside and no nori sheet. 


I was convinced it would all fall apart but the rolling mat did squash it all together quite successfully. It did crumble slightly when I tried to chop it into pieces (each roll creates about five or six individual sushi pieces) but again, we were quite impressed with the finished creations.


I decided to have a go and - smacks myself on the wrist ! - ignored all the rules and put several different ingredients together (carrot, red pepper and cucumber). The problem that we were encountering was that the more sushi we created, the stickier our mat was getting with rice sticking all over it. I decided to try a new technique, laying a sheet of cellophane over the sushi mat, which worked for rolling but then stuck to the rice when I wanted to chop it. 


My attempts at sushi resulted in these completely collapsed dollops on the plate, which had the kids in complete hysterics. We could have tried making more but by this point, we'd used up all the rice. What our sushi (mine in particular) lacked in visual appeal, it certainly made up for in taste and the girls scoffed the lot, declaring it delicious ! Above all, we had great fun and lots of giggles making the sushi and decided that this would be a great activity for teenage sleepovers, providing something fun to do and also food to eat. 


The girls munched their way through the sushi as soon as it was made so they didn't need to store it but they loved the Bento box and thought that it would be ideal, not just for sushi but for making cool packed lunches to take to school. The fact that there are two boxes, closed with a wooden lid that is held in place with the elastic strap, gave the girls ideas of making a sandwich/savoury snack plus fruit/dessert options in the other box.

The girls tried the aloe vera drink after making the sushi and loved the fruity, refreshing flavour. We had a good giggle at our less-than-wholly-successful sushi-making but decided that the taste was there and we had enjoyed a fun afternoon together, so that counted as a win ! Let's hope we'll get on better with the Korean rolls !

for more information : https://kellyloves.com/

Disclosure : We received the products in order to share our honest review.

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