Sunday, 11 November 2018

Book review: Panda's Rule by Maria Abid




Order here: paperback, £18.99; ebook, £3.95



I don't do a lot of product testing any more (I have to earn a living after all), but the press release for this book caught my eye. A book written by an 11 year old? As it happens I have an 11 year old daughter who is also keen on writing. We have a project in the pipeline for a children's book too... a collaboration.

When I told her about this book, she wanted to read it. We love pandas, although she prefers penguins a bit more. When she was tiny we used to play a panda game, I was mama panda, she was born paw first, she fed on mama panda, mama panda climbed a tree to get her a bamboo stick, mama panda took a nasty thorn off her paw... I invented this game so I could laze in bed for a few moments at weekends. She is and always was very mobile and I just wanted to lie down in bed early in the morning on a weekend.

So two panda lovers. She read the book straightaway and gave me this honest feedback:

  • A good book with a good amount of drawings and images.
  • I wanted more description of the days the panda lives through. It rushed on and I wanted to know more.
  • The book is a bit big in size but I prefer the book to an ebook.
  • This book is suitable from birth to age 8. I am too old for this book. However I enjoyed it.

This is my 11-year-old feedback. I then gave her mine and she agreed on some of the points I raised.
  • The book could have benefited from editing by an adult. There are a few typos and a lot of adjectives are used, sometimes they are not necessary. The best use of adjectives is on page 32 at the very top.
  • The book is charming and I felt it was too short, but maybe it's part of a series.
  • I agree that this book is for young children. Parents can read it to babies and continue reading it until the child can read it herself/himself.
  • Some of the images are of not enough high resolution for print. They will be fine on the ebook though.
  • I would have liked a bit more of a connection between the story and the Chinese creative projects. 
  • Page 46, the song is close to the Disney one, even if some words have been changed. I advise caution, copyright issues are very intricate. It's always wise to seek permission or at least credit the original inspiration, even with a tiny note at the bottom of the page.
I think this is a great effort and creativity should be encouraged in children as much as possible. I am a professional writer/editor so pardon me if I was a bit too precise in my comments.

I hope my feedback is not taken the wrong way, it is meant constructively not critically. I do wish the author success and recognition. Keep writing - we would love to read more stories!

Tuesday, 6 November 2018

Sugru will fix it!


I have a warm relationship with Sugru's PR. I get their products to test now and then. I have been very busy with work lately, but could not resist when they emailed me to suggest I should try their child-friendly range. Before they launched this range, Sugru was for adults only. 

So I got some Xmassy stuff and decided to make a start with the red Sugru to fix a few things. Spot my broken things and my daughter's broken things... We did not need to be precise with a few items but the whisk and the bag's zip fittings were done with care. Why change the zip when you can fix it so easily? It's my fave messenger-style bag, essential for a cyclist like me. We are hoping to do some Xmassy stuff, but in the meantime, you can see how useful Sugru can be!

If you like what you see, you might enjoy reading the Get started with Sugru page, with basic tips and a few ingenious projects to get you started. I am not being paid for this post, I just get the Sugru samples and try to fix something.

If you’ve already mastered the basics, they post weekly projects on sugru.com. They also have a newsletter. You can sign up if you click this link. There is a discount for your first order too.

Sunday, 12 August 2018

Long time no see: achieving work-life balance



I have not posted in a long while. Here I am, trying my hand at punting (I resisted long enough to get a pic then got worried about my balance!).

I have been working in paid and voluntary jobs so there is little time to continue blogging... Yesterday I wrote this article on LinkedIn about achieving work-life balance. I think I might have succeeded, if you are still trying hang on and do not lose hope, it has taken me years....


Monday, 7 August 2017

Frasier the English way: a berry custard sponge recipe

I saw a wonderful cake on a French website and decided I had to make it. The original cake, a Frasier, it's a strawberry cake made of sponge and filled/covered with custard that requires 8 eggs. I wanted to make an English version without the butter, so here it is, with less eggs and ingredients that are found here. I also added blueberries, why not?

Strawberry & blueberry custard sponge
Ingredients
  • For sponge: 3g baking powder; 63g white flour; 46g sugar; 2 eggs; bit of oil for the tin
  • For custard:1/2tsp vanilla extract; 27g cornflour; 2 yolks; 50g sugar; 250ml milk
  • To decorate: a punnet of strawberries and one of blueberries

Method
Start with sponge. Separate the eggs and beat the whites until stiff, as if you are making a meringue. Add sugar gradually, yolks, flour and baking powder. Oil your baking tin and pour in the sponge mix. Bake at 180C (gas mark 4) for 30 mins or until it's cooked. I use a toothpick to find out if the inside has cooked. Let it cool.

While the sponge is baking, you can make the custard. Boil the milk with the vanilla extract and half of the sugar. Let it cool. Beat the yolks with the other half of the sugar and add cornflour. Add the yolk mixture to the cooled milk one and place on the hob. Cook, stirring often, until it thickens (see pic for consistency). Cool the custard. 




Cut the sponge in half with a bread knife. Sandwich with fruit and custard. Keep some fruit and custard for the top. Voila' a frasier with an English twist!


Friday, 4 August 2017

Back to school... already!

Mural at Michela's school

As soon as the school finished, the uniform offers arrived. Some shops cunningly discounted their old stock and pushed the new stuff out. Michela, aged 10 and looking forward to be a 'senior' in primary school, was outraged. "It's too soon, I have just finished Year 5," she complained.

Michela stays the same size for ages and then grows in the summer months, so I am not that tempted to buy ahead. I bought a few bits in size 11 years because I know she will fit them come the autumn. However there is the issue of the handy-me-downs, which I am grateful to receive but do not meet uniform guidelines... 


What to do? An email from Dylon's PR pinged into my inbox and asked me if I wanted to try some colours from the new range. I jumped at the chance and selected three shades of blue, all compliant to the school's guidelines. I put selected handy-me-downs, added an acqua pashmina of mine that looked a bit faded.... I was very pleased with the results. I followed the instructions carefully and no dye remained in the washing machine's drum, my partner's main concern (if something breaks or malfunctions in our house, it's my fault). See for yourself.... I am pretty chuffed.

Before Dylon

After Dylon, perfect uniform hue!
As you can see, even my pashmina looks great! These were not new clothes and they do look new now (I have not ironed them yet, sorry). In the bundle there are tops, shorts and tees - ready for school... My daughter likes them so much she wants to wear the shorts (previously pink and purple respectively) in the holidays.

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

How to make Sushi my way...

Sushi, crudite', flowers...
I make sushi now and then. My teenage niece is here and it's the school holidays so I thought I'd make some. It is Michela's favourite dish, too. This time I decided to use flowers from the garden, some are edible (borage, pansies, daisies), others are there for show. I boil sushi rice with little water (covered with a lid) until it is soft and sticky. I take it off the stove and stir in sushi dressing (it's sold in supermarkets). 




Then I get a large tray and place my seaweed sheet on it, spread the rice on it thinly, add the filling in the middle and then roll it. I end up with a long roll, which I cut. Unfortunately I could not find a decent knife so they ended up a bit rough at the edges and of different heights.






Never mind the imperfections if you can decorate your sushi rolls with flowers, mint leaves and chive. The fillings were avocado, avocado and salmon, fried peppers and carrot sticks and a combination of all the above. The square sushi is made with a rice cube (I have the one in the picture). I chose only to decorate the top of the cube but as you can see, you can try different options. I then mixed some wasabi with dark soy sauce. I also chopped some carrots and peppers. The hummus comes from Aldi. This is a lovely summer lunch spread... no meat in sight!

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

My journey towards positive thinking


Did you know that we have 50,000 thoughts in a day and in most people 70% of these are negative? I share my journey towards positive thinking, discarding toxic emotional baggage while trying to relax and enjoy life. Click here to hear me speak about my journey.

Thursday, 29 June 2017

Straw bear workshop: beer-infused poems and prose

Pic: Kev747 at Wikipedia, 14/1/2008
The Whittlesey straw bear festival happens in January. Banned due to public order issues in the first part of the 20th century (the ritual involves beer and some rowdiness), this tradition was revived in the 1980s. Leanne Moden, a performing poet I met on a Michael Brown's poetry walk here in Cambridge, led a workshop at the Cambridge Museum yesterday, part of a UNESCO project that wants to make heritage (and specifically museum collections) come alive through their stories...


Pic: Museum of Cambridge (Facebook page)
So here is what I produced yesterday at this inspiring session...

First draft with keyword exercise:

Bountiful bales
Blonde, brittle and wirey
Sun drenched compacted blocks Scents of summer and wild rabbits

These first verses were then transformed into bear-related ones - these were shared with the group aloud:

The bountiful bear
Blond, brittle and wirey
Sun drenched, merry dancing
Scents of summer, whiffs of beer and wild rabbits
Then I wrote this poem, inspired by an object on this table of artefacts:


A post shared by Simone Castello (@simonecasuk) on

Whittlesey here I come
Bear beer bottle in careful hands
A heirloom that comes out but once a year
then retires to dust-free darkness
After some more creative exercises, I came up with these two prose pieces...

The blind bear
I can hardly see as I am led into the crowds. It's thirsty work being a straw bear. My mouth has dried up. It might be winter outside but I am stifling inside. I do a merry step and groan, the straw suit is so heavy. Someone passes me a beer, God Bless, I pour it into a slit and smack my lips, bliss! My stomach grumbles. I can smell sausages grilling, spicy chicken wings... this brings me back to my village, the summer BBQ after the cricket match on the green.

A cool breeze tickles the straw, a gentle caress on my grass armour. My face feels prickly but I can't scratch the itch so I nod happily when another beer comes my way and skip merrily ahead. The costume feels less heavy now, I walk faster and I stumble. Oh dear, but everybody is laughing with me and strong arms are helping me get back on my feet in a jiffy.

Bear necessities
Yesterday I saw the straw bear at the Coop, led by a young man with tattoed arms. He had a shopping list in his hand, tattoes even on the knuckles.

"Do not forget the beer, Dave!" Said the bear.
"Don't worry, mate, it's all in hand," Dave replied.

He winked at me while he picked up three bottles of ale from the alcohol-free shelf. Poor bugger, I thought, that is vile stuff, he is no mate of yours, that Dave.

And that is all folks! For someone who does not drink much, there are a lot of boozy references... lol. If you want to see more of my creative writing, visit https://creativewritingcambridge.blogspot.co.uk/ or www.simonecastello.co.uk if you want to see the commercial stuff.

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Father's Day sorted! Eating at Prezzo & a Sugru kit for the 'difficult' dad

It has been a busy time. As the academic term concludes my inhouse contracting work is over and I am back working from home. I am currently writing an article on branding for SMEs and looking for more writing opportunities. So this blog is a refreshing oasis where I can leave business at the door...

This post is an entry for the BritMums #PrezzoLaFamiglia Challenge, sponsored by Prezzo

Family dining - Prezzo style

With Father's Day approaching, it was really lovely to be offered a chance to sample a family menu at Prezzo. I am Italian by origin and grew up in a restaurant run by my grandmother so I do have high expectations... I had tried Prezzo before with work colleagues, if going to an Italian restaurant I usually order pizza as I can make pasta at home (and my British partner can after stealing my recipes). We do not eat pasta often because Michael is a meat and two veg man and he is the cook in our household to the surprise of friends and family.

Prezzo Cambridge is located by Magdalene College near the waterside. It was not a sunny evening so it looks a bit glum in the picture but it's a lovely location. When we arrived, Michela got stuck into the kid's activities, printed on the children's menu.



This is a very clever thing to do as children are not as patient as adults so keeping them occupied when you order and wait for the food makes for a relaxed family table. We are not the sort of parents who let their child ran around the restaurant hassling other customers or making a huge amount of noise... so if she is busy we can ditch our supervision role. We were sent a voucher to try La Famiglia sharing dish.


The voucher entitled us to a starter of garlic bread, soft drinks, La Famiglia sharing pasta bowl and ice creams. My partner went a la carte drinkwise and ordered the Peroni beer, I had Panna still water (not many restaurants in the UK serve it) and my daughter chose Sprite. Here are Michela and Michael stucking into the garlic breads, which were more like pizza. My daughter was not as keen, the issue is the added ingredient of caramelised onion. She does not mind fried onions now she is older but the overpowering sweet taste of those onions put her off. I liked the variation but I agree there was too much onion on it, which had a kind of chutney, jammy appearance. But moving onto the main thing.... the huge bowl of yummy pasta! There was general consensus here that it was al dente, with generous amounts of meaty Bolognese sauce. We are a family of three but I think it would serve four or even five. It is bigger than it looks in the photo. We were defeated by it...



Michela brushed up on her fork skills. She is half Italian, but we do not have pasta often enough - as I said the cook is British. But of course the highlight has to be the ice cream... There is a choice of chocolate, vanilla or strawberry - we ordered one of each.
Here are the ice creams in their dinky bowls. Michela is taking her reviewer's job very seriously, savouring slowly with her spoon. Our spoons visited all the flavours. Personally I think chocolate came top. Michela thinks that the strawberry flavour tastes like Chewits.




During our meal the service was attentive and friendly. Here is our main waiter, Ziko, who posed with us. Michela thinks he is very nice.




 Father's Day... what to give to a 'difficult' man?



Michael is the man who has everything, with few hobbies... a right nightmare to buy presents for. I give him a cheque at Xmas so he can buy what he wants. For the other occasions we go out to a restaurant or we buy him funny gifts. We have already tested Sugru and he liked it, so I was delighted to receive this Sugru kit. Retailing at £10 online and at high street retailers, it is perfect for the Father who likes to fix things. The kit comes with an idea booklet to stir those creative/practical juices...

For those who do not know Sugru, it is mouldable glue - available in many colours - that turns into rubber. It bonds with wood, glass, metal and ceramic. Some people even used it to fix waterproof shoes.... It is also electrical insulated...


Sunday, 16 April 2017

Happy Easter with my own Pandan chiffon cake recipe

Pandan cake recipe below!

I just love chiffon cake and have managed to work out a recipe that has not too many eggs and works well with ingredients you can buy in the UK. Here it is...

Happy Easter!

If you want to avoid cracking, you have to handle it very carefully when you put it upside down to cool. Better still, use a ring cake pan.

I love this cake, it's so soft, like a sponge, so light and the amounts of fat and sugar are not high.



Pandan chiffon cake


Ingredients:
3 egg yolks
50 g sugar
75 ml vegetable oil 
70 ml coconut cream (you can make it with dried grated coconut)
100 g cake flour
3/4 tsp of pandan paste 
1.5g salt (optional)
½ tsp of vanilla essence
1 tsp baking powder

For the meringue mixture:
3 egg whites
50 g granulated sugar
1/2 tsp of cream of tartar


Heat the oven to 170 C degrees, gas mark 3. 
In a small bowl, mix the baking powder and flour. Set aside.

Make the meringue by beating egg whites and tartar with an electric whisk. Add sugar gradually.

Beat egg yolks, add sugar and continue until they reach a pale yellow colour.

Add coconut cream, oil, vanilla, pandan paste. Combine the flour gradually and stir with a wooden spoon. Fold the meringue into the green mixture carefully.

Put into a greased tall ring cake pan, around 23cm diameter (this is the best shape, as you can see in the picture, if you use another type of cake tin you risk cracking)... Bake for 55 or 60 minutes. 

Place a sheet of foil on the shelf above the cake, a nifty tip I learned online but remove it for the last 10 minutes. When cooked, you need to turn the cake upside down. You can use the neck of a bottle to cool it without ruining its surface (it is rather sticky when warm).


Cool for an hour and the cake will detach neatly from the tin. Use a serrated knife for cutting the cake.