Sunday, 1 May 2016

Out and About April Round-up

It's nearly May, and what a funny end of April we have. For the last several days it's been feeling almost like winter. One moment it's blue skies and sunshine, the next the big dark clouds hide the sun and it starts to snow. When we walked home after school with Eddie the other day, the snow was falling faster and faster. Eddie loved it and kept exclaiming "Mummy, happy Christmas!" At least some of us enjoyed it.
Easter seems already quite a faraway memory. What have our lovely bloggers being up to in the last month or so?

Eileen from ET Speaks from Home managed to catch a good weather for her family's outing to National Forest Adventure Farm. There were so many activities like Easter treasure hunt, Easter Eggspress, lamb feeding and plenty of indoor soft play areas for all ages. The animals looked very cute. And the JCB bouncing castle was absolutely splendid. I'd like to have a go on it myself.

JCB bouncing castle (photo credits: ET Speaks from Home)
Our weekends are not very adventurous, Sasha loves going to Costa every Saturday, it is his weekly treat. And Eddie and I often tag along our Big Guys aka Sasha and Papa.

Anca from Anca's Lifestyle has revisited a place called Croxteth Hall and found some fascinating specimens of flora in the greenhouse there. This beautiful plant is called Green Jade Vine for its colour. There are only a few flowers like this in the UK, at Kew, Eden Project and two botanical gardens in Scotland. This rare flower grows wild in the Philippines. I can just see this photo as a photo print on fabric to wear as a silk scarf. That would be a beautiful fabric.

Image credits: Anca's Lifestyle
Another memorable event that happened in Anca's life last month was her trip to the Crufts. I believe everyone knows about the Crufts, even if you don't have a dog. You can't escape the news. But this year it was even more special, as it was the 125th anniversary of Crufts. Anca took a lot of lovely photos. Just look at this - is it a dog? is it a fluffy rug?

Image credits: Anca's Lifestyle
Anca's surely been busy these few weeks. She was also lucky to attend a Hobby Crafts and Cake International Show. Now that's an event I would dearly love to visit one day. I urge you to read Anca's posts, some of the cakes she's seen at the show are absolutely amazing. There are some bizarre ones as well like corpse's torn hands or Amy Winehouse. Mind boggles.

Image credits: Anca's Lifestyle

Fiona aka Northeast Nerd went on a mission down Quayside way to sample milkshales at The Great British cupcakery. Those big milkshakes look absolutely stunning, but according to Fiona, they were a tad disappointing taste-wise. I think Fiona needs to go there again and sample the other varieties, just for the purposes of research.

Image credits: Northeast Nerd
If you have never flown 1st class but always wanted to know what's it like, have a look at The diary of a jewellery lover's blog post on Why you must fly Virgin First Class. The food looks appetising, and the service was top class too. And it must be really lovely to be able to stretch one's legs.

Image credits: Diary of a Jewellery Lover
Having had a great time on the airplane, lucky girl Melissa went on a tour of Graceland which is a place of pilgrimage for all Elvis fans. Graceland is now Memphis' most visited attraction and is a shrine to the King of Rock 'N Roll. The tour of the house is the main attraction. As you walk around with an ipad, you listen to the music, interviews and learn about his life.

Image credits: Diary of a Jewellery Lover
Whenever there is a chance to go to the Burford Garden Centre, my boys couldn't be happier. There is a lot to see and do, including a toy shop, a cafe and a big playground. We always stop by to admire this Dr Who box.

Image credits: Chez Maximka
Alison from Dragons and Fairy Dust enjoys travelling with her dog Eddie. He's the cutest dog ever, and he definitely deserves the best accommodation. This time Alison and Eddie stayed in Parkdean, Wemyss Bay, Scotland. Looks like they all had a great time. And here is the adorable Eddie.

Have you been out and about recently?

The out and about linky is a linky for places of interest you have visited, restaurants you have eaten out at, days out with the kids or without or holidays. Anywhere that gets you out and about. The linky is co-hosted with Dragons and Fairy Dust and stays open until the end of the month. If you have been anywhere recently why not link up? We love to find out about your adventures.

Rules of the linky

  • You can add up to three posts per month to the linky below. Please make sure they are no older than three months old and feature somewhere you have visited.
  • Tweet your link using #outandabout, if you include @ali991 and @maximka25 we will retweet for you.
  • We would appreciate if you visit other participating blogs and comment on some posts, after all, this is what the linky should be about. 
  • We would also appreciate it if you could add the #outandabout badge to your post so that other bloggers can find us.
    Your posts will be tweeted at least two times during the month and added to the out and about pinterest board.

Saturday, 30 April 2016

Photo diary: week 17, 366

Last Sunday on Eddie's request we traipsed all the way to Sainsbury's, as he wanted a new pyjama. We had a little break in the cafe, with a latte for me and sweet popcorn for him. We're still looking for a perfect gift for a girl he "is going to marry", as her birthday is coming soon.

On Monday I was testing a recipe for a Corgi cake, created by Ed Kimber. It is a fun cake, but I struggled with it a bit, as the dog's ears kept falling off.

This week we had wet snow and hail almost every day. On Tuesday on the way home from school I kept anxiously looking up, as this big dark cloud was crawling upon us. We didn't make it home in time.

Some little people were happy to see the hailstones the next day, saying Mummy, happy Christmas. They were pretty small, and white, more snow than ice.

I admire these gorgeous white tulips every day on the way to school, they are simply stunning. I edited the photo into black and white so as not to distract from their beauty. When I was taking the photos, some random gentleman stopped by and started a conversation, and I did a hasty retreat. They are not in anybody's garden, just nearby the car parking area.

On Thursday I baked a "cheat" carrot cake, from an M&S carrot cake mix and Betty Crocker cream cheese frosting. It was quite good, Sasha liked it. Carrot cake is his favourite. I still prefer a carrot cake made from scratch, but this cake mix will do for emergencies. Not that keen on the frosting, it tastes nice, but there's a palm oil listed in the ingredients and quite a few of E-numbers, which obviously I wouldn't put in my homemade frosting, so I'll try to avoid it in the future.

Yesterday's hailstones were bigger and heavier. I was worried that they would ruin my pretty tulips in the garden, but thankfully they survived the onslaught.

Ed's very happy with the latest Degustabox, what, with two chocolate bars and a bag of Bebeto fruit strings. I tried a tiny bit of Bebeto, and they have a weird texture. Give me a Haribo pack any time.

Thursday, 28 April 2016

The Tower of London 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle from Ravensburger

Years ago, when I was a student in Russia, I was dreaming of visiting London and seeing all the galleries and all the places of interest which we studied in our English language lessons. Fast forward 20+ years, I have indeed visited London on numerous occasions and have explored a good amount of the city attractions but for some reason I have never visited The Tower of London. Perhaps one day I will, when Eddie's a bit older.
In the last week I've been enjoying a new puzzle from Ravensburger - The Tower of London 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle - which is part of the Historic Royal Palaces series.

This splendid puzzle is suitable for ages 10+, but can be easily enjoyed by oldies like me. It was a real treat to work on this beautiful puzzle.
It features eight different photos of The Tower of London, taken from the archives of Historic Royal Palaces.
This historic landmark has been a palace for over 900 years, and is of course one of the most popular tourist destinations.

What comes to mind when you think of The Tower of London? The world famous Crown Jewels, the Beefeaters and Guardsmen on duty, and of course, its fame as a prison.
The puzzle has captured all the main attractions of the palace in one colourful collage. There is a Guardsman and a Yeoman Warder, The Traitors' Gate, one of the legendary ravens, the Crown Jewels, the graffiti carved on the stone walls by the doomed prisoners of the Tower and of course the palace itself, with the most spectacular evening view of The White Tower.

Earlier this year I have completed the Hampton Court 1000 jigsaw puzzle. The Tower of London is a fabulous addition to the series. Purchases of the puzzles from the series support the work of Historic Royal Palaces. Not only you buy a treat for someone or indeed yourself, you support a worthy cause.

Like all the Ravensburger puzzles, it has a picture sheet which you can use as a reference. The jigsaw puzzle pieces are made of sturdy cardboard.
This puzzle will make a lovely gift for any jigsaw puzzle addict like me, or a history buff.

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

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Oriental mushroom and prawn soup

Once my boys are asleep, I'm usually too tired in the evening to watch TV, but I find reading in bed might be conducive to nodding off more smoothly. If not reading the never-ending War and Peace (I swear, the war scenes are the best sleeping remedy), then I pop into one of the famous parenting forums for the latest gossip.
Thus recently I came across a discussion of myths perpetuated on forums, including a never-ending chicken. I confess that it made me smile. I don't doubt that in some families who have hearty appetites or simply  bigger number of family members, there are no chicken leftovers.
In our case, we always have leftovers, I'm not inventing stories just for the blogging purposes.
Whenever I buy a whole chicken and cook a roast, I save the carcass and small pieces like wings to prepare a fresh stock for a soup.

Oriental mushroom and prawn soup
chicken stock made with a chicken carcass + 2 wings
1 carrot
1 leek
1 vegetable stock cube
1tbsp olive oil
200g mixed speciality mushrooms like enoki, eryngii, shiitake and oyster
1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
1tbsp soy sauce
juice of 1/2 lime
200g king prawns

First prepare the stock or broth with the chicken leftovers and peeled whole carrot.
After simmering the stock with the carrots and stock cube, I discard the bones, leaving any pieces of meat for the soup. Take the carrot out and chop it into smaller pieces, put back in the broth together with the finely sliced leek. Cook for about 5 minutes.
Slice mushrooms and give them a quick fry with the olive oil and a clove of garlic. Add the mushrooms, soy sauce, lime juice and fresh king prawns (shells removed) to the soup and cook for another 3-4 minutes.
Serve hot. Sprinkle some chopped fresh coriander or flat leaf parsley before serving.

This is a lovely light soup, flavourful and fragrant. I buy a big pack of Oriental mushrooms at Sainsbury's. The same pack of exotic mushrooms in Waitrose is twice as much. If you cannot find this selection, you can use either oyster or shiitake mushrooms.

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Clangers magazine

All you Clangers fans, rejoice! Tomorrow is the day when the first issue of the Clangers magazine is being launched.
This brand new magazine is jam-packed with things to do. Go on a visit of the Clangers' little blue planet and do the activities along the way.
Just like all the other popular CBeebies magazines, it is bursting with stories, colouring pages, activity sheets and stickers.

The first issue is £2.99 as it is a bumper issue, but the regular price will be a bit lower at £2.85. The current issue comes with a free Clangers' whistle and a cute little Tiny. Who can resist Tiny?!
If you enjoy colouring, there is a special garden grown by Mother to colour in as you like.

Overall there are more than 30 Clanger things to discover in the magazine. It is cheerful, colourful and entertaining. Take your kids on an intergalactic magical journey.

The majority of the Immediate Media magazines including Clangers support the early years curriculum. So, you get not just the stickers, but a cute Alphabet poster, where you add the stickers and trace the letters.

Children will help Tiny and Small with their counting...

... match close-ups to their corresponding planets. And if you hold the page up to the light you will see...
Well, to find out what you will see, you'll have to buy the magazine.

Please give a warm welcome to the brand new magazine!

Disclosure: I received the preview copy for the purposes of reviewing.

Monday, 25 April 2016

Candy the Corgi cake

Last week Nadiya has presented the Queen with her birthday cake, and goodness gracious, the world of the social media has immediately split into two polar camps, of admirers and haters of the cake. You would have thought there was nothing of importance happening in the world but the Cakegate. The design was a bit strange, but I think the colour palette was inspired by the Royal outfits. As for the shape, the consensus is that it is a pile of hat boxes, which is fine by me. I love hats. The cake did seem a bit wonky, but hey, who am I to cast a stone?! My cakes are far from perfect, and today's creation - Candy the Corgi cake - proved just that.
How did I happen to bake a corgi cake?!

If you read my blog even occasionally, you might already know that I love culinary challenges. When Stork have invited me to recreate the cake created by GBBO winner Ed Kimber, I was glad to take part.
While creating his Candy the Corgi cake (<---check out the recipe, following the link), Ed thought of incorporating the quintessential British ingredients and the personal design. This is what Ed's cake looks like.

Image credits: Stork

I bet Her Majesty loved the cake.

Image credits: Stork

I followed the recipe closely enough, but had to adapt it, as I didn't have all the ingredients like apple sauce (I used the lemon curd instead).  After a search in a few supermarkets I managed to find the candy melts in all colours in Lakeland, but after reading the list of ingredients on the back I saw that they contain GM materials. That has put me off completely. What else could I use to make the corgi's head? I got a box of Renshaw's ready to roll icing (a pack of five colours).

A photo-taking session was one long struggle. To get a better light, I took my cake into the garden. As soon as I set it on the table, it started to rain. Grabbing the cake, I ran inside the house. Setting up the scene on the table, every time I lifted the camera, the dog's ears kept falling off. So, my corgi definitely looks a bit battered.

But as they say, the proof of the pudding and all that... Did it taste nice? My family gave it thumbs up. Eddie wanted to eat the sugar paste, but I told him it's for decoration only (he did manage to steal the sugary ears). They were kind not to criticize the floppy lop-sided ears.

After struggling with my Corgi cake today, I admit that I would never-ever be critical of anyone's cakes, however wonky they might happen to be.

And my fellow bloggers had fun with their Corgi bakes as well:
If you fancy having a look how Cheryl from Madouse Family Reviews managed with her challenge, check out her Candy the corgi cake post, she did a splendid step-by-step, with a clever solution to the head problem.
Alison from Dragons and Fairy Dust sculpted the corgi's head with melted chocolate and added raisins for the nose, have a look at her lovely Corgi cake.
Wendy from Inside the Wendy's House baked an epic Corgi chocolate traybake. Kudos for a fabulous twist on the task!
MummyBeBeautiful has created a very cute dog with soulful eyes, have a look at her Corgi cake. I love it that all our dogs are so different.

Disclosure: I received vouchers to buy the ingredients for the cake in order to test the recipe.

Saturday, 23 April 2016

Photo diary: week 16, 366

It hasn't been the best week, what with Sash not sleeping well, money worries, and now that our boiler seems to have died, we are without the heating and hot water. And my blogging and photo-taking mojo is hiding somewhere too, if you find it, please send it my way. Our garden seems to be my only source of inspiration.

On Monday our friend Jen took me by car to the Burford garden centre to buy some tomato gro-bags. As my boys were at school, I had a chance to have a good look at the vintage china section. This glorious teapot painted with roses just asked for a new loving home, alas, I'm nearly broke this month, and teapots are not my priority.

I love these beautiful tulips in our garden. Not sure if these are some of the tulips my Mum planted last year.

On Wednesday we built a duvet fort with Eddie. Actually he's been playing forts quite a few times recently. Even today we had to bring the pillows and duvets down for the major construction.

The cover of the Tatler magazine really gives a clue as to what day it was. I have tasted the latest Twinings 90th birthday tea which I got from Waitrose a couple of weeks ago. It's a lovely black tea, albeit a bit boring.

In the night Eddie has suddenly developed a high temperature, so he stayed at home on Friday. I didn't go out either, as my husband was away. Only Sash went to school. So yet again, I only took the photos of the garden.
Garden is a place of my consolation and solace. Whenever I feel like steam would come out of my ears, I escape in the garden to calm down, just for a few minutes of silence.

Today was a busy day. Well, when is it not here?! After grocery shopping, I made a quick lunch of burgers with the aubergine dip and cheese.