Sunday, 12 April 2020

Easter weekend food - in lockdown

Sushi lunch for garden birthday - Friday

My daughter, now 13 and I made this sushi with very few ingredients since her favourite sushi restaurant is closed. All this food (including the little rice salad bowls) was made with 300g of sushi rice. I put the rice in a pan, cover it with water, put lid on and boil as instructed on the pack. The rice is soft and a bit sticky, we added sushi flavouring, which is basically rice vinegar with sugar and salt (you can use wine or apple vinegar and add a bit of sugar and salt). We used seaweed rolls to make those in the box. Fillings for all sushi was achieved with a small packet of smoked salmon, a red pepper and an avocado. I served a few slices of cucumber as we did not have any pickled ginger. Garnishes are parsley and chives, both from my garden. We made good use of an old trampoline... We used some plastic moulds to make the sushi rectangles (two soy sauce compartments from two takeaway sushi boxes I had kept alongside these pretty trays), which were pressed down and refrigerated so they stayed together.

Easter Sunday - a celebratory meal

The inspiration for the puff pastry spiral came from an Italian recipe which I have anglicised. In Italy torta salata (savoury cake) is traditional for Easter. You can find it here: used bought puff pastry and made it smaller (there is only three of us) so there was enough to do the base of an apple pie (apples and dots of berry/quince compote with cane sugar on top). Back to spiral, I had four rectangle, two filled with ham and turkey ham and blue cheese, two filled with scrambled eggs and peas - this would down better than spinach and ricotta, which is the traditional filling. An alternative could be sausage meat (get the casing off some cooked sausages and perhaps boiled carrots)....

Sunday, 6 October 2019

Charity shopping - creating my style on a budget!

Inspired by a troll who typed that charity shop dresses make you look shabby and down-and-out, here are a few photos of items I bought from charity shops in England, charity sales and second-hand/discount shops (leather jacket, spotty raincoat). 

Not only a bargain, but this second-hand fashion is environmentally friendly.

Sunday, 7 July 2019

Finding my style after pregnancy and motherhood

Michela, 11
Michela, 12

Now my daughter is 12 and is finishing her first year at secondary school, I am suddenly feeling 'free' because she is more independent and my partner works from home so I can go to more networking events, work full time if I wish to without feeling guilty, work the odd weekend or treat myself to a non-family activity...

Looking back I did suffer post-natal depression, which made me hyperactive and then worked from home for three years to stay with Michela. I went back to work as a contractor when she was in primary school, starting part time, then full time for brief periods and doing volunteer work all along. I had my midlife crisis and a bout of severe depression, which was very similar to SAD but I refused to take antidepressant and tried other ways to pull myself out of it. Working and thinking of my daughter and partner who needed me did help, although I felt really dull inside and sometimes I had no feelings for my loved ones while I did not like myself one bit.

I want to show you my journey with photos and have picked the most unflattering one of my depressive months, although I am smiling you can see I am not really myself (I ate lots in summer as I felt happier and did not feel like eating in winter so my weight went up and down. This is a summer pic taken in Italy, in 2017, after I gorged myself for days in France - gorgeous, tempting food...).

Photo 1 and 2 is me in my 30s, before and during pregnancy (5 months, just before going to a swimming class); photo with green top is after pregnancy, I did manage to lose the baby weight. Jumping to my 40s... photo in the swimming costume, it's me looking happy on holiday after going through a difficult winter with SAD, surviving tennis elbow and set to face another awful winter and the onset of an eye condition. Small head and shoulder pic and picture in the orange dress is now... looking slimmer, happy and having found my style (not just hair and clothes but also a confident, calmer attitude). I am planning to write an ebook on how I conquered depression and how I manage it - it was there as a teenager, bit me really hard after pregnancy, but I am feeling good now...

Wednesday, 13 February 2019

PechaKucha: my impro challenge

It took me years to fight the fear of public speaking and this is the ultimate test: giving a presentation without having seen the slides. I survived!

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 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
  • 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

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!