Monday, 23 January 2017

Madhouse diaries : Ice to see you !

Much to the Madhouse kids' dismay, we haven't had any snow here. It did snow hard one evening a couple of weeks ago but as the ground was wet, it didn't lay. This weekend, we decided to brave the subzero temperatures and go for a combined geocaching walk and trip to the sales (to keep everyone happy !). On the way, they were delighted to discover a patch of "snow".

It was actually just a thick layer of frost coating some blades of grass, but it did look pretty.

After an impromptu "snowball" fight and some quick warming up of fingers in hastily searched-for gloves, we were on our way again.

It was a cold day but there were lovely blue skies and the watery sun was doing its best to warm things up.

A brisk walk along by the canal was just what we needed to warm up a bit.

We had to stop and explore the "crashed spaceship" sculpture as always.

This is where I plan to place my first geocache.

I even found the perfect hiding place !

Juliette was very impressed by the "ice bank" in the canal. There were no polar bears though, just some brave ducks !

We headed over to one of the wharves. This building always looks ancient to me but I don't really know anything about it, apart from the fact that it belonged to a shipping company.

Just next to it, there is a decaying boat which has been there for years and, again, this always intrigues me. I realised that this would be another interesting place to hide a geocache - this plan is definitely starting to come together ! I had a quick look on google when I got home and discovered that this is the remains of the Sainte Denise-Louise, a fishing boat built in 1935 in Ostende, which participated in Operation Dynamo in 1940. A Luftwaffe bomb caused it to run aground but, despite the water having a depth of 4m, it stayed afloat because it landed on the roof of a submerged British ambulance. It managed to limp back to Dover and drop off its last load of soldiers escaping from the horrors in Dunkirk. After the war, it was used for fishing again, donated to a diving club, then bought by two friends who wanted to restore it to its former glory. It was then bought by Dunkirk council and is classed as a historic monument but it has been left here to rot, which is a crying shame.

Just behind here, there are a group of seismic vessels that have been docked here for a while now.

We headed over to the Halle Aux Sucres, an old sugar warehouse on the docks which has been transformed into a museum/research centre.

A new geocache had been hidden here a couple of weeks ago, which is what we were looking for.

Juliette discovered that you could lift each individual brick and starting dismantling the path ! (Not really - she did put them all back in exactly the same place !)

There were big cracks though so I'm sure it was just tucked into one of the joints and didn't require any demolition !

We looked for a while then admitted defeat.

The kids made a much more interesting discovery though - frozen puddles !

They had great fun jumping on them to crack the ice, prising out large chunks to throw in the sea or smash into a million pieces on the ground. Pierre even decided he wanted to carry his block of ice all around town with him for the rest of the afternoon - I had to convince him to jettison it before we headed into the shops !

We sadly had another "did not find" for our second and final geocache for the day, but the kids still had fun.

Looking at Pierre, full of beans and pulling a silly face, you'd never know he was sent home from school for being poorly on Thursday !

Country Kids

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Globecooking recipe : Pea Soup & Dough Boys (Newfoundland) #readcookeat

 Looking through the cupboard last night in search of ingredients to make soup, I came across a box of split peas. I already have a go-to recipe for split pea and bacon soup which is very tasty, but I fancied something a bit different. I had to chuckle when I turned to google and came across one of my own blogposts from back in 2014 when I read my first Sgt Windflower mystery, Beneath The Surface (click through to read my review), and did a roundup of Newfoundland food mentioned in the book.

p10 The pea soup came first. It was the traditional creamy Newfoundland split pea soup with tiny flecks of salt meat and a rather doughy looking dumpling in the middle.

I've never been convinced by dumplings, expecting something that is heavy, stodgy and totally bland, but in the interests of globecooking, I'll try anything once ! Well, I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised. If you want something that will fill you up without costing a fortune, this is definitely the way to go.

I looked up several recipes for Newfoundland Pea Soup and Dough Boys and ended up using these ones from Spark Recipes,, Rock Recipes and Feathering My Nest for inspiration.

Newfoundland  Pea Soup & Dough Boys

ingredients :

200g bacon lardons (or salt beef if you want to be more authentic and can get hold of it)
2 onions
2 cups split peas
2 carrots
2 potatoes
1 ham stock cube

for the dough boys :

1 cup flour
1 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
a big pinch of rock salt with rosemary
1/2 cup warm milk
1/8 cup melted butter

Start frying the bacon until it releases some fat then add the onions (I chose to chop them and leave them in - some of the recipes said to use a whole onion and remove it before serving but that sounded like a waste to me !)

You don't need to soak the split peas but, according to the on-pack instructions, they do need to be rinsed. Add them to the pot and cover with boiling water.

This instantly produced a lot of thick foam which rose to the surface - I'm not sure if it was the fat from the bacon or the starch from the peas or a combination of both ? Whatever it was, I skimmed it off and it didn't come back !

Dice the carrots and potatoes (I didn't bother peeling the potatoes) and add them to the pot.

Add more liquid (keep a close watch on it because it absorbs a lot of water during the cooking process) and leave to cook for about 20 minutes.

Time to start on the dough boys (dumplings). Put all of the dry ingredients into a bowl. Some of the recipes used solid butter rubbed into the flour but I went for the simple version and melted it, along with the milk, in the microwave until warm.

Pour the milk/butter into the dry ingredients and quickly stir with a wooden spoon until it creates a sticky dough. Add extra flour if needed.

Turn down the heat on the soup and give it a final stir - with hindsight, I should have added more water at this point. Fling teaspoon-sized dollops of dough boy mix into the hot soup. You can move them around once they're immersed if you need extra space.

Put a lid on the pot and leave until the dough boys have puffed up (about 10-15 minutes).

They will rise to the surface and pretty much cover the entire surface of the pan.

Underneath, things didn't look so good. The soup had absorbed all the water and started to stick and burn to the bottom of the pan. Whatever you do, don't scrape off the stuck bits or you will spoil the taste of the soup with the bitter burnt bits.

I transferred the soup to a separate pan, leaving a layer on the original pan to avoid scraping up the burnt bits.

I added some hot water because it was very thick and gave it all a good stir.

You can serve the dough boys in the soup or on the side - apparently some people even like pouring molasses over them !

This is the ultimate stick-to-your-ribs winter warmer ! The dumplings soak up all the soup flavours and most of them ended up with bacon pieces stuck to them so they were delicious.

Adding to the #readcookeat linky over at Chez Maximka.

#MySundayphoto #SundaySnap 22/1/17

The Princess Elizabeth (one of the genuine WWII Little Ships to feature in Christopher Nolan's blockbuster Dunkirk this summer) at dusk yesterday - I love the fact that it is naturally almost in black and white with the merest hint of colour in the sky.

Sunday SnapOneDad3Girls

Saturday, 21 January 2017

New Year Resolutions Review week #3 : No more procrastinating !

So, here we are with my week 3 roundup of how I'm getting on (or not) with my New Year challenges. It was a bit of an all-or-nothing week - I made great headway with some and didn't make any progress at all with others, which makes sense, as there are only 24 hours in each day so I can't do everything!

1. Get Fit(bitting) !
This week has been absolutely rubbish for getting active - I only hit my 10k step target on two days and a couple of days were ridiculously low (3211 on Sunday, 6328 on Wednesday, 4108 on Friday). This makes sense though - on Sunday, we dropped Sophie off for her school trip to Italy so we were up at 5.45am and felt knackered all day. On Wednesday and Friday, I was stuck indoors with a  poorly Pierre and ended up playing with him, baking and watching DVDs. In terms of what I've been eating and food tracking, I've been OK.

2. Get cooking bookmarked recipes ! 
I've mainly been having a #KitchenClearout this week, doing a stocktake of what was cluttering up the kitchen cupboards and finding ways of using them. I got through a few bookmarked recipes - Chicken Plasas, Merluzzo con spinaci (cod with spinach) and a Polish poppyseed roll that I'll blog about next week. But, I did also bookmark about a dozen new recipes that caught my eye so my to-do total has gone up, if anything !

3. Get geocaching !
Nothing doing this week - but firstly, Pierre was off school feeling icky and secondly, it was absolutely blooming freezing. Temperatures dropped as low as -6°C so getting outside was not a priority !

4. Get comping !
I've entered loads of competitions this week (the advantage of having a couple of sick-child bonus days off !) and tried to find creative comps to enter but they seem to be very thin on the ground at the moment. Absolutely no wins this week though.

5. Get reading !
 I finished Nordic crime fiction Medusa by Torkil Damhaug (which turned out to be a bit of a disappointment - click through for my review)  and have started reading a children's novel, Charlie on the Case by Paul W. Robinson.

6. Get FLYing !
This week's zone was the bathroom and I only made a very half-hearted effort. To be fair though, one of the missions (dejunking the towels and throwing out any old moth-eaten ones) was something I did just before Christmas and another (throwing away empty bottles in the shower or on the side of the bath) is something I keep on top of anyway.

8. Get bloggy housekeeping !
After reaching the symbolic milestone of checking, repairing and/or removing all links that could look dodgy from 2010 (two years down, seven to go !), I decided to put in a reconsideration request on google, expecting it to be refused. If you're not a blogger, you'll have no idea what that means. Basically, as a blogger, whenever you link through to a website in a blogpost, you can choose a "follow" or a "no-follow" link. If you have been paid to add a link to someone's website, it should be no-follow and if you don't respect this, google can remove you from their listings (which means nobody finds your blog to read). I was hit with a penalty last October, even though I don't do paid-for sponsored posts. In the first few years of blogging, nobody had ever heard of follow/no-follow so all my links were automatically follow. This is what I've been going through mending (a thankless task !) and google have now accepted my reconsideration request. It hasn't made the slightest bit of difference to my blog stats yet but hopefully this should improve. The question is, will I find the motivation to go through repairing the remaining broken and follow links now that it's less urgent ?!

9. Get French !
I totally took the bull by the horns this week and spent all of my Monday afternoon off online, dealing with the various bits of paperwork that I needed. I contacted three different officially recognised translators and paid €38 to get my birth certificate translated into French. I requested birth certificates for all three kids, plus a copy of my empty criminal record. I received most of them (just the criminal record needs to arrive) and the rest is easier to get hold of so I've done the most complicated and time-consuming part - phew !

What about you? Have you set yourself any targets, challenges or new year's resolutions this year?

Fab freebies of the week 21/1

This week, Sophie has been in Italy all week (in Rome when the earthquakes struck but she didn't feel them luckily) and Pierre has been poorly, so I had to take a couple of sick child days off. This has meant that I've had extra time for hunting out freebies so there's a bumper crop on offer this week - every cloud has a silver lining !


Join The Family Panel to answer surveys, win vouchers and take part in product tests

Request free samples of Always Incontinence protection (liners and pants available)

Request a free Hydro 5 razor from Wilkinson Sword

Try Simplee Aloe for free! Buy now from your favourite supermarkets and claim your money back online!

If you've been to a Vue cinema lately, take their survey and get free popcorn on your next visit.

Or if you have an Empire cinema, sign up to their My Empire club and get a free bag of chocolate buttons

Print a voucher for free Hipp baby food

Get a free Sorion skincare sample over at Summer Herbal (wait for the picture to change if you don't see the bit about samples straight away)

Enjoy a free sample of delicious PG tips Strawberry Cupcake Green Tea

Ambrosia have hundreds of prizes up for grabs in their photo competition

Look out for 'break in case of emergency' boxes popping up during the cold weather with a free can of Heinz tomato soup inside

Champagne & Flamingos are giving away free samples of their mini melts over on their facebook page

Take the quiz (and keep trying until you get them all right !) for a pouch of Polar Proof for fleeces from Nikwax

Welcome to Go Nutrition, your new one-stop shop for all your nutrition needs. For a limited time only, we're offering all new customers a no-brainer of a deal to give you a head start for 2017, with a completely FREE £5 VOUCHER to use on everything* across site with NO minimum spend and NO strings attached. To claim your code, enter your email address. (You will have to pay for delivery though)

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 :

Friday, 20 January 2017

Book review : Medusa - Torkil Damhaug

I'd never heard of Torkil Damhaug but according to the front cover, he is an international bestseller and Medusa is one of the Oslo Crime Files series. I went to investigate and discovered that, written in 2015, Medusa was the first book in the series and there are now two more, Death By Water and Fireraiser, both published in 2016.

The story introduces us to Axel Glenne, who is apparently a well-liked doctor, happily-married family man and conscientious son, who regularly visits his mother who has Alzheimer's and mistakenly calls him Brede - that's not necessarily a sign of her failing mental health though, as Brede is Axel's identical twin and banished black sheep of the family that nobody likes to mention.

When two dead women are discovered, apparently mauled by a wild animal that would appear to be a bear, police investigate to see if there are suspicious circumstances - finding a wild bear in this urban part of Norway is highly unlikely after all. The only link that they can find is Axel, who was one of the last people to speak to both of the victims. He becomes the prime suspect but is convinced that he is being framed by his vengeful twin - the only problem is, nobody except his senile mother has ever met him or even seen a photo of him. 

As Alex tries to prove his innocence, even the reader ends up questioning the existence of this missing twin. Does Axel have a split personality? Is he really a serial killer? Or is he a part of some big Machiavellian plan?

For the first part of the book, I thought this had the makings of a taut, gripping psychological thriller, with the author skilfully playing with the reader's interpretations and suppositions. The constant doubt over whether or not Brede exists and, if he does, wondering what the big family drama was that led to his banishment, added an extra level of enjoyment for the reader, forcing him to step back and psychoanalyse Axel and his motives.

However, as the plot developed, I found that the tension started to fizzle out. Axel's dubious moral choices tarnish our view of him and make it harder for us to empathise with him and I found the final denouement to be unfulfilling because it is a bit flimsy and improbable. I also kept thinking of the famous Shakespearean stage direction "Exit, pursued by a bear" which was even deemed farcical when the Bard wrote it !

It was readable but I felt that the middle section dragged and the ending left me wanting more, which was a shame, because the idea of an unknown identical twin letting his brother take the rap for his crimes had great promise.

star rating : 3.5/5

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Headline (8 Oct. 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1472206835
  • ISBN-13: 978-1472206831

Globecooking recipe : Spaghettata Piccante (Italy)

As I mentioned yesterday, when I shared my recipe for Bacon, Leek & Porcini Mushroom Risotto, this week I've been working my way through some lovely authentic Italian products that I received from To Tuscany after taking part in their recipe competition last year. Two of the products that I discovered were some gorgeous artisanal tagliatelle and a sachet of Spaghettata Piccante spices.

The pasta was from La Pasta di Aldo and I love the fact that you can see the hooked ends from where it was hung up to dry. It has a wonderfully coarse, rugged texture that even the high-quality mass-produced stuff never has, so I knew we'd be in for a treat. This was Tagliatelle al Tartufo so it had tiny nuggets of black truffle dotted throughout - they also have lemon, squid ink and saffron varieties that look equally appealing.

The Spaghettata Piccante spices come from Casa Porciatti, a delicatessen, wine bar and restaurant that has existed in the main Chianti town of Radda for fifty years, according to the packaging. The spices are a blend of  chilli pepper, garlic, parsley, salt  and chervil (French parsley).

I tasted some out of the pack on my finger and it has a massive chilli kick so you need to go easy on the dosage ! You lightly fry a spoonful of the spices in olive oil for a couple of minutes (To Tuscany sent me a lovely bottle of olive oil at Christmas too which was perfect)  then, after cooking the pasta in boiling salted water for 4-8 minutes, you  toss it in the pan.

Top with a sprinkle of parmesan and that's it - there's no need for a heavy sauce which helps cut the calories if you're on a New Year diet !

I served ours with some grilled sausages and it was delicious. Very simple and it allowed the flavour of the pasta to come through without overpowering it. I think the spices would be great scattered over pizza too.

If you want some more Italian-inspired meals, how about CrostataCourgette InvoltiniParmesan Crusted Risotto Balls or Pistachio cream semifreddo ?