Thursday, 29 May 2014

Camomile and chocolate cookies

My little man had a play date today with two of his nursery mates. As the energetic twins and their Mum were coming after 11am, we arranged to have a simple lunch together. Originally we planned to have a picnic, but as it has been raining for days, the garden is way too wet, even if today we got some really warm weather. I made some baked potatoes with a choice of fillings, and of course, we needed something sweet to finish the meal. Cookies are great for sharing, easy to eat and as easy to make.

Camomile and chocolate cookies (makes 24)
1 banana, ripe
130g caster sugar
1 camomile teabag
1 medium egg
170g self-raising flour
1/2tsp cinnamon
1tsp vanilla essence
100g butter, melted
70g milk chocolate, chopped

Mash one very ripe banana with a fork in a deep bowl, mix with the caster sugar and the contents of one camomile teabag. Add 1 egg, flour, spices and melted butter and mix well. Chop the chocolate and add to the cookie dough.
Spoon the cookie dough on an oiled tray, with some space in between for them to expand, or if you want them neat and more or less the same size, butter the cupcake tin and spoon the mix.
Place the tray or tin in an oven preheated to 180C. Bake for about 15-20 minutes until golden brown.

These are rather spongy cookies, soft and with a nice balance of flavours. Eddie ate three cookies in one go, and I had to hide them so that we could have some left for today's playdate.

The Restaurant of Love Regained by Ito Ogawa

Sometimes you wonder what makes an international bestseller. The Restaurant of Love Regained by Ito Ogawa has been a bestseller in Japan and was even adapted into a movie. Yet being popular in Japan doesn't automatically propel it into a category of an international bestseller (as promised on the paperback's cover). I haven't heard of this author or book until I chanced upon it, browsing The Book People's mini-magazine which regularly pops through my letterbox.
It was sold in a bundle of three food-themed fiction books, all for a princely sum of £4.99, and I thought these books would do nicely for our ReadCookEat challenge.
The book is written in the foodie fiction genre, and is compared to "Like Water for Chocolate" by Laura Esquivel and "Chocolat" by Joanne Harris. And in a way, it is reminiscent of Chocolat, with the main protagonist setting an eatery (cafe) where she creates food as an artist.

The novel starts abruptly, when the main protagonist Rinko comes home to discover that all her earthly possessions are gone, been stolen by her boyfriend. He takes everything, having emptied all the cupboards. Rinko leaves her thieving boyfriend behind and returns to her native village in the middle of nowhere, where her mother runs a bar and keeps a pet pig, a substitute for the daughter who left her 10 years earlier to seek her fortune in the big city. Once back, Rinco decides to open an eatery of a special kind. Her concept is to use the local ingredients, grown by the farmers and foraged in the fields and mountains, and serve only one table every evening. She calls her eatery The Snail.

I read it with mixed feelings. On one hand, it is a hymn to foraging, and some of the most beautiful passages in the book are related to nature and its fruit.
"I came across a mountain grapevine along the way... And though it was bitter and sour when picked fresh, I knew there was something I could do with them. So I grabbed a few handfuls and placed them in my basket safely in the front of the Snail Mobile... Then afterwards I carefully washed, boiled and soaked the freshly picked mountain grapes in balsamic vinegar. In twelve years, they would be ready to eat and I closed my eyes and imagined how they would taste... And with these prayers in my mind, I carefully poured the balsamic vinegar into the bottles..."
For me this extract describes a whole Eastern philosophy of patience and wisdom.
Rinko heals the hearts of her customers by serving her "magic" food. For me, the stories of her customers were the most moving part of the book, and the recipes she created for them of great interest. It is definitely a book for foodies.
The food is an "obscure object of desire" and worship.
"When I thought the cocoa was ready, I topped it off with a generous amount of honey as well as a secret ingredient - a few drops of a sophisticated cognac. Then I gently placed some lightly whipped cream on the surface, like a floating cloud, with a fresh sprig of mint on the top. I knew that mint had a calming effect and I was hoping it would work its magic on Kozue".

On the other hand, I was often befuddled by the the level of translation which was below standard. There were some paragraphs which I had to re-read to understand. Some of the pages were totally lost in translation.

For example, "I'd always assumed Mum had given the pig that name [Hermes] since she'd always been a fan of big-name fashion brands. But instead the name was actually derived from "L-Mes", with the "L" standing for her breed, Landrace, and the other part sounding a little like "Miss" since she was a female..." Confused? Well, I am.

Spoiler alert (stop reading if you haven't read this book and plan to):

There were also too many unanswered questions.
Why did Rinko just leave after discovering her boyfriend absconded with her worldly possessions? She could have gone to police and at least made a statement. Why on earth her Indian boyfriend take her kitchen utensils and even a door mat? Surely if he was working as a maitre d'hotel, it wouldn't be a big problem locating him.
Why did Rinko loathe her mother to such an extent? And don't even mention the immaculate conception story...
Then there was that horror butchery scene.
I am not a vegetarian and not particularly squeamish yet I found the butchering scene, extended for several pages, bordering on nausea. I don't know if it's cultural, but it was truly disturbing.
Slaughtering her wailing pet who is crying in agony, Rinko "tried her best to take it all in". For some reason Rinko imagines that the pig should understand that she is butchered with gratitude and respect.
Later when Rinko cooks the whole feast from just one pig, taking her mother on a cooking tour of the world, I couldn't stop thinking - Just how big was that poor pig? A size of a hippo? Even with all the bits and pieces cooked there were way too many dishes prepared. It was a bit like feeding a crowd of 5000 with two fishes and five loafs of bread. A magical pig. Truly.

Have you read this novel? What did you think of it?

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

The London Tea Company giveaway (c/d 1 July 2014)

...Jasmine, Gunpowder, Assam, Earl Grey, Ceylon,
I love tea’s names. Which tea would you like? I say
but it’s any tea for you, please, any time of day,

as the women harvest the slopes
for the sweetest leaves, on Mount Wu-Yi,

and I am your lover, smitten, straining your tea 
Carol Ann Duffy, Rapture

Give me a good book, a cup of tea and some pastries or chocolate... and I'm happy.
It gives me pleasure to discover new brands and types of tea, and share tea with my friends. I have just reviewed a range of envelope tea from The London Tea Company (see my review from yesterday), and I'm delighted to offer a lovely selection of everyday teas as a giveaway for my blog readers.
The London Tea Company have kindly offered two prizes for my blog readers (there will be two winners).

Each winner will receive 5 packs of tea (Tropical Green Tea, Zingy Lemon & Ginger, Raspberry Inferno, Peach & Rhubarb and White Tea Pear Tatin). If you haven't tried these varieties yet, you're in for a treat!

To find out more about this range, visit The London Tea Company on Facebook and follow @lovelondontea on Twitter.


Only the first step is mandatory: all you need is answer the question by leaving a comment (if you login as Anonymous, please leave you Twitter name or FB name, so that I could identify you, I do not suggest leaving the email address in the comment)
All the other steps are optional, you don't have to do them all. All it takes to win is just one entry. 
Only one entry per person is allowed (however, you can tweet daily to increase your chances). 
The giveaway is open to the UK residents only. Once the Rafflecopter picks the winners, I will check if they have done what was requested. I will contact the winners, if they do not reply within 28 days, the prize will be allocated to another person. I will pass on the winners' details to The London Tea Company who will dispatch the prizes.
The giveaway will close on 1 July midnight (from the 30th to the 1st).

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

The London Tea company

"Honestly, if you're given the choice between Armageddon or tea, you don't say 'what kind of tea?" (Neil Gaiman)
Thankfully, we don't have to choose between Armageddon and tea, so we might as well ask "What kind of tea?", especially that the variety of types and brands of tea nowadays is staggering. Tea is my lifeline and an everyday cure for different kind of maladies ranging from a lack of sleep to the lack of sanity. I was delighted to have a chance to sample and review a whole range of envelope teas from The London Tea Company. Their selection offers a wide range from classics and family favourites to more unusual varieties.
The London Tea Company is Fairtrade certified across all products.

London Breakfast is a blend of Assam and Kenyan tea, a refreshing strong brew which wakes you up. I loved the description of this tea - "rich malty Assam grown on the banks of the Brahmaputra River in Northern India and a flavoury Kenyan tea grown by smallholder farmers in the highlands to the west of the Rift Valley". Lively and robust, have it with milk or without for breakfast.

Earl Grey is usually my first choice of tea. I have tried many brands' versions of Earl Grey. The London Tea Company brings you a blend of teas from Ceylon and the Nilgiris in South India, with an added bergamot flavour, which is a classic ingredient in Earl Grey. It has a refreshing citrus note, and is perfect with a slice of lemon. A beautiful tea for breakfast or early afternoon.

White Tea, Pear Tatin is very aromatic, even perfumey. The sweet smell reminds of the caramelised pears, as the name suggests. This white tea has natural flavourings and ginger among its ingredients, though the taste of ginger is not very pronounced, it just adds a touch of warmth. Very smooth and lovely.

Sencha Green Tea is a steamed pure China green tea. I confess I'm not the biggest fan of green tea when it is not flavoured. Sencha has a clean taste, excellent after a rich meal. I enjoyed it with a slice of lemon, as I like a citrussy note in green teas.

Tropical Green Tea is a steamed pure green tea with the tropical flavours of pineapple, passionfruit and mango. I have tried it hot, but it might work well as an iced tea as well, with its fruity exotic flavours.

Vanilla Chai is made from high quality second flush Assam, grown on the banks of the Brahmaputra and mixed with spices, traditionally used in Indian Masala Chai. You get a whole bunch of flavours like vanilla, ginger, cinnamon, cloves and pepper. I like my chai slightly sweetened and with a dash of milk. A lovely tea for a rainy day, when you need a little perk up.

Raspberry Inferno was a big surprise. This Hibiscus tea of an intense ruby red colour combines a sweet taste of raspberry with a little kick of fire from chilli. It is wonderfully fruity and intense in flavour.

Peach & Rhubarb Flavoured Fruit Infusion is perfect for an iced tea. Brew a couple of teabags with three cups of water, a couple of sliced strawberries and a few peppermint tea. Let it cool, and serve cold from the fridge. Excellent for hot days.

Pure Camomile is a lovely soothing infusion, calming and restorative. It is so gentle, almost caressing, very good for digestion and as a bedtime drink.

Pure Peppermint is a great after dinner infusion, brilliant for digestion, with a teaspoon of honey.

Zingy Lemon & Ginger is a lively blend indeed. It consists of pure Fairtrade ginger root, lemongrass and lemon. I just had a cup of tea after a long walk under drizzle, and this is exactly what I fancied, something warming, spicy and zingy. This tea has a right balance between ginger and lemon.

Rooibos tea is grown in the Cederberg mountains in South Africa. Like Mma Ramotswe, traditionally built detective from Alexander McCall Smith's series of books, I do enjoy my cup of rooibos, especially before bedtime. It has a unique taste and colour. It is caffeine free and refreshing.

I enjoyed trying the London Tea Company envelope range of teas. You can find the right tea to suit your tastes and preferences and even mood of the day.
Which one will you choose?

Disclosure: I received a selection of London Tea Company teas for the purposes of testing and reviewing. All opinions are mine.

To find more about this range, visit LondonTeaCompany on Facebook and follow Lovelondontea on Twitter.

Sunday, 25 May 2014

Steak with green peas Dijonnaise

Show me a pretty jar with a good story behind it, and I cannot resist it. Recently a newsletter from Maille popped into my Inbox announcing a new spring Collection of mustard as inspired by the court of King Louis XIV.
"The new Collection revives fine cuisine of the past and revisits the French Royal Court's favourite ingredients to produce three new creations that are both audacious and distinguished, and that share a single goal - to draw inspiration and explore flavours from the French royal kitchen garden". While the style of writing is undoubtedly pompous, it indeed piqued my interest. For some odd reason the box of three mustards "Le Potager du Roy" was considerably higher than if you buy three mustards separately (£25 or 3x£5.95), usually it's the other way around, when it's cheaper to buy a set rather than separate products. I have chosen 2 mustards from Le Potager du Roy collection as well as one of their older creations.
Each mustard in this new collection is "made with two selected key ingredients and is inspired by the epicurean splendour of the French royal tables.

Maille Mustard with white wine, green peas and chive blossoms looks very pretty. Apparently tender spring peas were loved by Louis XIV and were made fashionable by the famous Madame de Maintenon. I am not Madame Maintenon, but I also think the green peas and chive blossoms are beautiful.

Well, what was good for Louis XIV and his second wife, could only trigger a wave of curiosity. I had to buy that little jar of mustard, even at the rather Royal price of £5.95 for a tiny pot.

Photo Credit: GwenaĆ«l Piaser via Compfightcc

"Infused with the scent of Spring, green peas bring all their freshness to this mustard, combining playfully with the aromatic, lively flavour of chive flowers. This delicate creation recalls the first warm days of the year, and would make an excellent accompaniment to grilled meats".
It promises to be green, leafy and intense.

What did I think of it? It was quite unusual, fresh, green and a bit like mushy peas with a mild aftertaste of chives. I would say it is more subtle than intense. If you love mild mustards, then this might be a right choice for you. If you're used to eye-watering intensity of the English mustard which takes your breath away, you might find it lacking in bite.

I fancied trying it as an ingredient of Dijonnaise for the steak.

Green Peas Dijonnaise for the steak (for 2)
1 egg yolk
1tbsp Maille Green Peas mustard
1tsp white wine vinegar
50g clarified butter (or melted standard butter)
Melt the butter in a small pan and set aside. Separate the egg yolk from the white. Place the yolk i a small heatproof bowl or dish, add the mustard and vinegar and mix well. Pour a bit of hot water in a small pan, heat until simmering. Place the bowl with yolk mixture over the pan (make sure it doesn't touch the water). Start whisking until the sauce thickens. Take off the heat, pour the melted butter and keep whisking. This will be the sauce for the steaks.
It won't be as smooth as the classic Dijonnaise because the mustard itself is rather lumpy. It taste lovely though, very seasonal and fresh, a beautiful little sauce.

Cook the steak in a frying pan or griddle, brushed with the olive oil and seasoned with sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Fry for 3-4 minutes on each side if you like it medium rare or longer if you prefer them well done.
Serve with roast butternut squash (drizzled with the olive oil and sprinkled with cinnamon).

Add some chive blossom (optional). It looks pretty and tastes lovely.

Cooking with Herbs Lavender and Lovage

Above All Things by Tanis Rideout (review with a lyrical ingress)

Above All Things is a debut novel by Tanis Rideout. It is a moving work of fiction, skillfully narrated. It has been enthusiastically received as BritMums' Book Club choice for April. I don't join in every time a new book is selected, as most of choices are not what I would have bought or picked in the library myself.

I have applied for a free copy of Above All Things, thinking of my Mum. She has always been an avid reader of books about explorers and discoveries. When she was young, she was dreaming of the faraway lands and expeditions. Not me. I had dreams of being a ballet dancer or an actress, but these were only dreams, I wasn't brave enough to pursue them. When I was about 10 years old, I was invited to spend a couple of weeks with a group of children of my age who were the pupils at the ballet school. I was supposed to observe them and do sketches for the TV programme. I was enthralled but also shocked by what I've seen. The harsh looking teacher, in her turn, was observing me and asked if I would like to enrol in their school, as apparently I had the "right" face, neck and body for ballet. I was flattered but refused. I didn't fancy going to the boarding school for any glimmer of glamour. The Russian ballet school means business, and it is very tough. Anyway, I am completely digressing from the book I am supposed to review.

I didn't read it in one go. In fact, I started reading it, then stopped and returned to it reluctantly a couple of weeks later. Then I had another break from the book. Not because the book isn't well written, no, it's the subject that I didn't find very appealing. I'm sure my Mum would have read it with great interest.
I tried to spur my enthusiasm, looking at the old photos of George and Ruth Mallory, the main protagonists of the book. I have looked them up on Wikipedia.
It is very rarely that I don't finish a book, and I was surprised at myself for being so reluctant to read this novel. Especially that everyone else seemed to be raving about it on BritMums. But I have to say that I didn't enjoy it. Not because I already knew what was going to happen to Mallory. After all, I read a lot of history books, where I know the events perfectly well, but somehow I didn't feel involved enough. Or perhaps a subject of an absent husband who has all his freedom is a bit too close for comfort.

The reader is transported back to the 1920s to the slopes of Mount Everest, a dangerous, treacherous and indifferent deity of a mountain which doesn't want to be conquered. George Mallory is obsessed with it. The story narrates the events of his third and last attempt to climb Mount Everest. He is determined to conquer, and this desire takes over and dominates his life. The bloody mountain has always come between him and his wife Ruth, and she surely resents that. She knows when there is a choice between her and the mountain, the mountain always wins. And that hurts. George is handsome and charismatic but he is not a family man. His obsession with reaching the summit of Everest borders on selfishness and egoism in the name of the glory for the country.
Ruth, left behind to hold the fort and look after three children (whose births were all missed by the father), is torn between her admiration and love for George and a deep resentment for being always second-best when compared to the mountain.

Nothing has much changed since then. Men climb and climb, women wait and wait.

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Aunt Giuseppina's Ricotta Cake

If we happen to be in Ferrara at Easter or Christmas, staying with my in-laws, Zia Guiseppina always brings her delicious ricotta cake for us. Aunt Giuseppina is a lovely lady and a splendid cook.
During one of my previous visits I have asked a recipe for Ciambella Guiseppina. It is a delicious flavourful cake.

Italian cake recipe

Ricotta cake
3 eggs
200g ricotta
200g caster sugar
1tsp baking powder
300g plain flour
100g butter, melted
zest of 1 clementine or lemon, grated (optional)
1tsp vanilla essence

Beat the eggs with the ricotta cheese and sugar, add baking powder, flour, zest, vanilla essence and melted butter and mix well. I have grated some clementine zest for an extra flavour but this is optional (try a lemon or an orange zest instead).
The cake batter is quite thick. Spoon it carefully in a buttered cake tin. Put the tin in an oven preheated to 180C for 45 minutes. Check with a wooden skewer if it's ready. You might need to lower the temperature and bake it for another 10 minutes, until the skewer comes clean.
Sprinkle some icing sugar on the top.
Eat warm, fresh from the oven, or cold. It's perfect with a cup of latte or strong tea.

Italian cake recipe

Thank you, Aunt Giuseppina, for sharing your recipe!

Aunt Giuseppina serving lasagne (photo's taken about 15 years ago)

Adding this recipe to lovely Chris' linky Bloggers Around the World (theme for May is Italy).

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Taj Mahal 3D puzzle from Ravensburger

"You did it beautifully, Mummy!" (Eddie)
The iconic Taj Mahal is a famous landmark. This white marble mausoleum, located in Agra, India, was built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his wife Mumtaz Mahal. The construction of Taj Mahal took almost 22 years. Now you can build your own mini-Taj Mahal in an hour and half or so.

Ravensburger's Taj Mahal 3d puzzle comes in  216 carefully constructed plastic puzzle pieces, including curved and hinged pieces which interlock to create a model of India's most recognisable monument.

It comes in a sturdy box, with an instructions book, and puzzle bits and pieces. You start building at the base, and work your way up. The puzzle pieces are made of plastic and have numbers on the back to make the construction easier.
The design is a work of artist Steph Dekker. The attention to detail is simply stunning.

As you can see from the photo below, each piece has a number and a little arrow pointing which way the next puzzle piece should be attached.
I was worried it would be difficult to assemble the palace, but it was a real pleasure.

Once we sorted the puzzle pieces in tens, then it was easy to construct.

You build the big cupola, and the mini-cupolas are ready-made. The whole palace measures 34x34x24.2cm.

We spent about an hour and a half, sorting and assembling. You might do it faster or slower, depending on your skills, patience and concentration levels.
This is a superior puzzle, a real gem. It is elegant and beautiful, and would make a super present for anyone who loves puzzles (suggested age 12-99).

I loved it so much, that I am thinking of getting another puzzle as a gift to our Daddy. I have seen a Leaning Tower of Pisa puzzle from Ravensburger, and think it would make a great Father's day gift to my husband, who as a paratrooper was based in Pisa. Years ago, I visited Pisa with him and even went to see the barracks where he was based.

We'll keep our Taj Mahal puzzle on display on the book shelf.

Disclosure: I received the 3d puzzle for the purposes of reviewing. All opinions are mine.

If you loved this review, you might enjoy reading a review of Ravensburger Big Ben 3d puzzle written by my friend Cheryl from Madhouse Family Reviews.
We're going on an adventure

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

New V8 V-Fusion

We all know about 5-a-day and that we all should have five portions of fruit and vegetables a day (though the recent research moves the goalpost to seven). Yet apparently 70% of UK adults eat less than five portions (according to The National Diet and Nutrition Survey published last week). It is possible that people are confused about portions, but also many brands don't make it easy to understand just what exactly one serving is supposed to be. Just the other day I was reading in The Guardian that at M&S three tomatoes are equal to one portion of veg, while Asda says it's seven tomatoes, and Waitrose wants you to eat 10. Are you confused? New V8 V-Fusion, on the other hand, clearly states that one serving of 250ml is an equivalent of one whole serving of fruit and one whole serving of vegetables, which takes us to 2 of our 5-a-day. Not bad at all.

"New V8 V-Fusion is a great tasting way to get two of your five-a-day. Most people know that vegetables are an integral part of a healthy diet, yet 7 out of 10 adults still fail to consume the recommended daily serving.

Proving that ‘being good’ doesn’t have to taste bad, V8 V-Fusion is made from 100% fruit and vegetable juice. Just one tasty, 250 ml serving gives you one whole serving of fruit and one whole serving of vegetables; that’s 2 of your 5-a-day. Blended to perfection with no artificial flavours, colours, preservatives or additives, V8 V-Fusion prides itself on its scrumptious taste and inspired fruit and vegetable flavour combinations. It also provides an excellent source of Vitamin C."

We have recently tried V8 V-Fusion Raspberry & Beetroot juice. It is a sweet refreshing drink which my boys enjoyed.

Beetroot is a much maligned and understated vegetable in this country. Most of it is sold as pickled and tasting of nothing but vinegar. Yet it is such a versatile and tasty vegetable, and it's full of vitamins and minerals and also packed full of antioxidants.
It is a great ingredient in juice. On its own, it might be an acquired, rather earthy taste. But mixed with apples, carrots or/and berries, it adds a glorious colour and wonderful taste.

V8 V-Fusion Passion Fruit, Mango & Carrot and V8 V-Fusion Raspberry & Beetroot 750ml cartons can be found in the ambient aisles at Tesco and Waitrose, rrp £1.89.

Disclosure: I received a carton of V-Fusion for the purposes of testing and reviewing. All opinions are mine.

Monday, 19 May 2014

Looking after Jemima-Josephine

Last Friday, as I picked Eddie from the nursery, he showed me a small bag with a toy cat inside and proudly announced that he was going to look after it at the weekend. It happened to be his nursery class mascot, which is handed over to a different child every weekend. The cat comes with a diary, where you are expected to write an entry, add the photos and describe the weekend.

There was a bit of a confusion, as the diary said "Josephine's diary", but Eddie kept calling it Jemima. The mystery was solved later, when we read the diary, apparently there is a school cat called Jemima, and Josephine is her cousin. Oh well, we kept calling the cat Jemima all the weekend.

And though we called her the wrong name, we did take a good care of her. Eddie was very solicitous of her well being, tucking her in bed, brushing her teeth and combing her whiskers. Bless him, he took this task very seriously. 

He taught her how to play basketball.

He jumped, holding her carefully, on his trampoline.

On Saturday the little cat visited Cafe Nero with us, and apparently she wanted the cheese & onion crisps. She's clearly not an Italian cat, and didn't fancy any latte or cappuccino. 

Later, my guys went to the big playground behind Sainsbury's, and Eddie made sure that "Jemima" accompanied him on the slides, swings, see-saw and other play area pleasures.

Sunday was another hot day, and we went to the manor farm Cogges, which is a super place to visit with kids on a sunny day. There are lots of things to explore and a lot of things to climb on.

And if you are tired, you can relax inside the beautiful house, or have a picnic in the picnic area.

Naughty Jemima-Josephine wanted to check out everything in the house and the garden.

She met the local chap Teddy and had a little nap on the straw bale.

She encouraged Eddie to sit on the old apple tree in the garden.

... and sit in the shady den... 

This morning Eddie gave her a big hug, as he was taking her back to the nursery. 
Bye, Jemima-Josephine, hope you had fun with Eddie!

Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall