Friday, 25 May 2018

Book review : Missing In Shanghai - Jean Harrod

When I reviewed the first novel in Jean Harrod's Diplomatic Crime Series, Deadly Diplomacy, I described the main protagonist, British consul Jess Turner, as "a magnet for trouble, danger and excitement". After the first book, set in Canberra, came the sequel, Deadly Deceit, this time based in the Turks and Caicos Islands in the Caribbean, and Missing In Shanghai, the newly released third installment, follows Jess back to London, working on the China desk in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. My opinion of the feisty leading lady hasn't changed, but it does seem that she attracts trouble unwittingly, rather than going out looking for it.

As if preparing a highly important State visit from the Chinese premier isn't stressful enough, Jess uncovers a scandalous cover-up in Shanghai in the 1980's, involving the supposed suicide of the British ambassador and the disappearance of a young British diplomat at the same time. As she starts digging deeper, the bigwigs in the British embassy start looking flustered and she is warned to let sleeping dogs lie. This being Jess, this obviously has the opposite effect and, seconded by her friend and ally from the other books, Aussie cop Tom Sangster, who just happens to be in London on secondment to Scotland Yard, Jess sets out to uncover the truth, even when her own safety is put in danger.

As with the previous novels in the series, it's a fast-paced, explosive and mainly believable story (even if Jess does seem as indestructible as most Hollywood heroes and heroines) and I was gripped from beginning to end. The villains are slightly one dimensional - I would have liked to delve deeper into their psyches and gain deeper understanding of their motivations and hidden agendas - but Jess is a very likeable character, and I was very pleased to watch her personal story developing, alongside her professional one. The ending left me feeling slightly ambivalent - although it is undoubtedly realistic for the bad guys to come out on top, I like my fiction to tie up all the loose ends - but Jess is a very determined young woman so I'm sure they'll get their comeuppance in a future instalment !

star rating : 4.5/5

RRP : £7.99

  • Paperback: 425 pages
  • Publisher: York Authors Coffee Shop (17 May 2018)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0992997178
  • ISBN-13: 978-0992997175

Disclosure : I received a review copy of the book.

Thursday, 24 May 2018

#readcookeat recipe : Nachos (A Family Recipe)

I was very excited to read Veronica Henry's latest book, A Family Recipe (click through for my review), because with a title like that, I knew it would have at least a few potential candidates for a #readcookeat post. Well, it turns out that it provided most of my inspiration for this week's menu plan and the kids have been gobbling everything up ! The first thing that I spotted was sure to be a crowd-pleaser : nachos.

p21 Willow had asked for nachos for her farewell supper.
Laura was pathologically incapable of doing what most normal people would have done : plonked a saucepan of chilli on the table with a packet of tortilla chips and got everyone to help themselves.
Instead, by five o' clock the evening before Willow was due to go to university for the first time, a huge cauldron on the hot-pink Aga belted out a cloud of steam scented with cumin and cinnamon and chilli. On the worktop were bowls filled with grated cheese, soured cream, guacamole, jalapeños, spicy beans, finely chopped coriander and chargrilled sweetcorn salsa. Wedges of lime were waiting to be stuffed into bottles of beer - 'cerveza', Laura teased herself with a Spanish lisp.

Well, I'll be the first to admit that I'm much less of a domestic goddess than Laura, so I went for a compromise between her gourmet version and the "most normal people" option. I made chilli and guacamole from scratch but pared back the accompaniments and threw a couple of bags of tortilla chips on the table for everyone to dig into.

As I've mentioned before, since Madhouse Daddy died earlier in the year and we've been reduced to shopping without a car in the local shops, I've been pleasantly surprised by the choice (and the prices) at Lidl. They did let me down this week though, as they apparently don't sell red kidney beans, and you can't make a decent chilli without beans. I added carrots and sweetcorn instead and it was surprisingly tasty - I would have preferred some beans in there though.


ingredients :

for the chilli :

1 onion
1/2 a yellow pepper
2 carrots
450g minced beef
tin of sweetcorn
sachet of tacos seasoning
2tbsp water
squeeze of tomato puree

for the guacamole :

2 ripe avocados
generous squeeze of mayonnaise
squirt of lemon juice
pinch of salt
1/2tsp chilli powder
1/2tsp garlic powder

accompaniments :

tortilla chips
diced cherry tomatoes
grated cheese
sour cream
mini Boursin

Gently fry the onions, peppers and carrots in a drizzle of olive oil until soft.

Add the mince and cook, chopping with a wooden spoon to break it up, until it is completely brown.

Add the sweetcorn (plus red kidney beans, if you are lucky enough to have them) and the taco seasoning. (You could also just use cumin, paprika and chilli powder, if you prefer but I had a seasoning sachet in the cupboard.) Add the water and tomato puree, stir and leave to simmer while you get on with the rest.

Scoop the flesh of two ripe avocados into a bowl and blitz with a hand blender. Stir through mayonnaise, salt, garlic pepper, chilli and lemon juice. Taste and adjust the seasoning.

Lay everything on the table and let everyone serve themselves for a fun, midweek, family feast. 

Alternatively, scatter some tortilla chips on a plate, scoop some chilli on top and add some tomatoes, cheese and, if you like, cream on top, as well as a dollop of guacamole on the side.

 The kids thought it was great fun having a meal based on crisps and have asked for this to be added to our regular Sunday evening meal slot.

Adding to the #readcookeat linky over at Chez Maximka.

Also adding to #KitchenClearout as it used up some cherry tomatoes and avocadoes that were getting over-ripe in the fridge.

Wednesday, 23 May 2018

Our Num Noms inspired snack for National Sandwich Week !

This week (20 - 26 May) is National Sandwich Week - a week long celebration of the ultimate portable food - and Num Noms sent us through a fun package of goodies to get involved. Along with a funky pink lunchbox and a chef's hat, we received a Num Noms magazine, with lots of lovely free gifts, and, best of all, some more Num Noms to add to Juliette's already rather impressive collection.

Juliette excitedly unpacked all the new squishy stackables from the series 4 Dessert Tray, enthusing about the cute faces, foodie fragrances and lip glosses. 

They are all very appealing but some of our favourites are Goldie Cake, Orange Swirl Gloss Up and Sugar Wafer.

 There were also some fun accessories in the parcel to make our sandwiches extra-special - some cookie cutters and Candy Eyeballs which I thought looked great - but the kids were less impressed, with Pierre saying he didn't want to eat something that was looking at him. (I think he must have been put off for life by a whole fish, served complete with its head, when we were in Turkey a couple of years ago !) I couldn't even tempt them to use the cookie cutters because they complained that they'd lose out on half of their sandwich (I couldn't fault their logic on this one !) and Juliette pointed out that some of the Num Noms are square anyway so they could eat a whole slice. Fair enough then !

I gave them free reign of the kitchen and said they could choose ingredients to match some of the Num Noms. They went for a sweet option, combining chocolate spread, reminiscent of Cocoa Mallow, I. C. Sandwich and Wintergreen Creme, and banana à la Nana Pop. They also opted for a double decker sandwich with three slices of bread because Num Noms are all about the stacking. I like the way they think !

We did try making a bread-based Num Nom character of our own too, but it came out looking more evil than cute, especially as the fruit kept sliding off ! The idea was a red, white and blue combination in honour of the royal wedding, made of a marshmallow fluff sandwich topped with blueberries and strawberries. Juliette decided to call it Meghan Sparkle - I'm not sure Buckingham Palace would agree - and it tasted better than it looked apparently !

Disclosure : We received some goodies to take part in National Sandwich Week.

Tuesday, 22 May 2018

Book review : Aftercare Instructions - Bonnie Pipkin

Seventeen-year-old Genesis Johnson (don't hold it against her, she didn't choose it !) has a lot on her plate. She is the primary carer of her mum, who has mental health issues and possibly suicidal tendencies, her ex-best friend let out the secret that the tragedy of her father dying was due to a heroin overdose and, as if that wasn't already more than enough, her boyfriend Peter has just walked out and abandoned her at an abortion clinic.

The only glimmer of hope is that she is totally at rock-bottom and things can only get better from here on. After drowning her sorrows, she wakes up the next  morning with more than a hangover when she finds a note from Seth, a boy she met the night before, in her bag. She may be on the rebound, but he seems to be exactly what she needs, giving her new strength and purpose. Then Peter comes back grovelling and everything gets complicated again.

Genesis, or Gen as she is usually known, is the ultimate antihero. Although she makes dubious choices, she is one of life's survivors and keeps battling on, whatever life throws at her. It is impossible not to empathise with her and it's heartwarming to see her take back control of her life and set off on (hopefully) a new path to happiness.

It's a poignant read - more so with recent events here at The Madhouse and watching Genesis (only a year older than Sophie) having to try to come to terms with her father's death - but it is ultimately uplifting and optimistic. I've labelled it as young adult fiction because of the age of the main character but it would appeal to older readers too.

star rating : 4/5

RRP : £8.99

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Legend Press (3 May 2018)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1787198839
  • ISBN-13: 978-1787198838
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 19.8 cm

Disclosure : I received a review copy of the book.

Monday, 21 May 2018

What's Cooking at The Madhouse? menu plan 2018 week #21

The end of the school year is whipping round, which means I'll soon be run off my feet with after-school meetings and day trips to London, Canterbury and Dover. This week is a relatively calm one so I'll try to get through a few bookmarked recipes, before living off pasta and frozen pizzas !


lunch - flamiche aux poireaux, a leek quiche/pie which I will probably add some bacon to, to stop the kids moaning - served with salad and baby potatoes

dinner - Avgolemono, Greek chicken, lemon and egg soup which comes from a #readcookeat recipe and sounds like an interesting way of using up the leftovers from the Sunday roast


lunch - school canteen

dinner - spaghetti carbonara


lunch - Kung Pao Chicken with rice

dinner - nachos with chilli and various other toppings


lunch - school canteen

dinner - tacos salad with Catalina dressing (to use up yesterday's leftovers)


lunch - school canteen

 dinner - pork, veg & noodles


lunch - fast food - I've given up trying to keep track of whose week it is to chose because I always seem to get it wrong and the kids remember anyway !

dinner - tartiflette - baked potatoes topped with reblochon cheese, onions and bacon


lunch - Sunday roast - probably chicken again

dinner - toasties or fridge grazing

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

Sunday, 20 May 2018

Madhouse Diaries : Enjoying the Warmer Weather

With the arrival of the sunshine, we've been getting out and about more, making the most of the weather and the lighter evenings. This started off with Pierre spending his eagerly-saved pocket money on a mini skateboard. He'd been trying out Sophie's skateboard, practising his balance with her pushing him along on it.

 After some big sister coaching and showing him how it's done, it was time for Pierre to have a go. 

He started off looking very nervous and wobbly but soon discovered that falling off is quite funny too !

After a few more tries, he was starting to get the knack (and this was when he decided that he wanted to buy his own skateboard, rather than use Sophie's). 

Meanwhile, Juliette and the dogs waited patiently to resume our walk !

Ahh that's more like it - they always love the chance to get off their leads and stretch their legs.

Didou had great fun jumping through the long grass - I din't take a photo because we couldn't even see him except when he jumped ! - but it played havoc with my hayfever !

We headed into town on the 8th May and caught the end of the VE Day commemoration.

This is the uniform of the French Navy and if you touch one of the red pompoms on a sailor's hat, it's supposed to bring you good luck. It was so hot, one of the female Marines fainted, but luckily someone dashed in to catch her and her gun before it (and she) clattered to the floor.

I made sure we beat the heat by grabbing some of the free bottled water being handed out and, back home, Sophie made the most of the patio for some revising under the parasol ! 

After the success of his little growing corner in the kitchen, Pierre has discovered a new passion for gardening so we've been sowing seeds and planting bulbs in various containers.

It's all a bit hit-and-miss and the sun totally fried some of the plants we bought - cherry tomatoes and a few flowers mainly - but the gladioli bulbs are looking very promising and there are lots of green shoots.

The fun part is the planting anyway and Pierre loves going around watering everything every day when it's hot !

While Pierre was busy planting, I did a quick stocktake of what has come back since last year - our wisteria flowered but it was short-lived (maybe too much sun?) but I was pleased to see that the mint is thriving.

It's nice to just be pottering around outside with the kids, enjoying some quality time together in the sunshine. Hopefully there's plenty more where that came from !

Saturday, 19 May 2018

Pointless - The Mini Game review

When you say that something is pointless, you usually mean that it's a waste of time, but Pointless - The Mini Game, is anything but. It's a fun, compact game, perfect for travelling, that will keep the older children and adults entertained for hours, battling out their word skills and general knowledge.

Inside the box, you get a card with the (simple) rules (not really needed if you're familiar with the concept), a score-sheet with space for the answers and a pack of cards with a clever card holder which shows you the question while hiding the answers. Just like on the TV show, you will have a category - anything from George W Bush and Ryder Cup Captains to Duran Duran Singles or Victorian Novels - there's something to appeal to everyone and some are easier than others. For each category there is a series of questions - they may be anagrams, initials, clues, have missing words or letters - and a description of the category. Here, for example, it is "anagrams of songs that were all Top 40 singles during the Christmas period".

All players get their thinking caps on at the same time so there is no boring waiting around for your turn. The youngest player begins, chooses his answer, writes it down on his score card and tells everyone what he has written. The next player can choose the same question, if he thinks it has been wrongly answered, or a different question. Once everyone has written down their answer, the Question Master slides the card up to reveal the correct answers and the number of points (a wrong answer will get you 100 points). After six rounds, the winner is the person with the lowest number of points.

It's a fun game and some of the anagrams are hilarious - who'd have guessed that A Magical Carp Enslavement is an anagram of A Spaceman Came Travelling ? (Well, 1 person apparently, judging by the score - and now I've got la la la la la la la la la la on the brain !). Eventually, when you've played through all the questions, you'll know all the answers, but there are plenty to keep you going and you could either buy a different version of the game with new questions or have fun making up some of your own !

Pointless (Aged 12+) – just like the TV show! 
For more information, head over to the University Games website

Disclosure : We received the product in order to write an honest review.

Fab freebies of the week 19/5

Whether you're excited about the Royal Wedding or are planning to skip anything Harry and Meghan related, I hope you have a lovely weekend and enjoy this week's round-up of the week's best UK freebies.


Get a free gift (rumour has it, it's a necklace) for signing up to the Diamond Style Mailing List :
Welcome to our new newsletter, please note that this will replace the old newsletter.
Sign up now to continue receiving all of our fabulous discounts, and to receive a FREE GIFT. Once you have completed your details and clicked subscribe, you will need to click the confirmation link that will be e-mailed to you.

From Redbreast whisky : To complete your Birdhouse registration, and to receive your FREE Exclusive Redbreast Pin and future Birdhouse updates, hit the SUBMIT button below.

Get in quick - Sopost are giving away Mac lipstick samples

Fancy trying our crisp, clean, unsweetened bubbles? We simply infuse water with Nature’s ingredients and add some sparkle. Aqua Libra has no sugar, no sweeteners, nothing artificial and only 3 calories per can. Enter your détails and we’ll send three free cans to the 1800 lucky winners who will be selected at random.

Super Savvy Me have a new Herbal Essences bio-renew Argan Oil Shampoo & Conditioner sample and also a 3 Minute Mask Aussie sample on the same page

Complete the Form to Order Your FREE Protein Packed LumberJack Bar

Start looking younger today with a FREE 2-week supply of Plantscription™ Anti-Aging Power Serum from your nearest Origins counter.

Are you a #UK #Beauty and #Lifestyle #Blogger or a potential #Brand #Ambassador ? Want some #beautiful #Active #Charcoal #Soap to test? Message us for a free sample bar, we've got 100 bars to give away. Online feedback would be great!

#brides who doesn't want nourished, hydrated skin safe in the knowledge what you are putting on is pure indulgence without the toxins? UK #bridestobe DM for your free sample to nourish the skin you're in ❤💮#skincarecommunity #skincareroutine #skinfood #AwardWinning #skincare

Friday, 18 May 2018

Globecooking recipe : BBQ Pulled Chicken Sliders (USA)

The Madhouse kids aren't huge fans of red meat, so we seem to be eating an awful lot of chicken and turkey these days. This is fine by me, as it's cheaper, as well as healthy and tasty, but I do like to mix things up a bit, using different herbs and spices. I found a sachet of BBQ Pulled Chicken seasoning that was in the cupboard but you could easily recreate the flavours without (see recipe below). It gave a great summery, fun-to-eat meal that the kids loved.

 BBQ Pulled Chicken Sliders

500g chicken or turkey breast
1 onion
2tbsp ketchup 
1 sachet BBQ Pulled Chicken or 1tsp each of brown sugar, paprika, black pepper, salt, chili powder, garlic granules and cayenne pepper 
a glass of water
soft bread rolls

Put the chicken or turkey in a casserole dish.

Add a finely sliced onion.

I used a sachet of Schwartz seasoning that was in the cupboard (from a previous Degustabox?) but you could definitely make this from scratch with a mix of herbs and spices.

Mix the seasoning, ketchup and water together and pour over the meat and onions.

Pop on a lid and stick it in the oven at 180° for an hour.

Use two forks to pull apart the meat and mix through the sauce in the pan.

Spoon into soft buns.

Serve with chunky homemade coleslaw and potato wedges.

Adding to this month's #KitchenClearout linky as it used up a sachet of seasoning that was in the cupboard and also finished off some white cabbage that was in the fridge.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...