Saturday, 19 August 2017

Fab freebies of the week 19/8/2017



Morning all - apologies for the lack of freebie roundups for the past couple of weeks. We were off in Turkey for a fortnight and, as always, I go for a total digital detox and didn't log on to even check my emails, let alone blog, during that time (although I'd scheduled posts to keep the blog ticking over). The downside is, I came home to near on 3000 emails to trawl through - eek !

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Konfidence sand art competition - All entrants will feature in our Golden Bucket gallery, plus – new for 2017 – ALL entrants who send us their names and addresses will receive a limited edition Golden Bucket Sand Art exhibitors metal badge. The competition is open to all children 8 years of age or under as at 30th September 2017.

@alastairfry We have copies of Prizes Galore magazine, packed with hundreds of #prizes, to give way. Please RT and request a copy. thanks. - he often seems to send them out so might be worth an RT even if they've all apparently gone. I nabbed one last time.

Apply to become a test pilot and get the iGlow Long Lashes Serum absolutely FREE (1000 testers required)

You can also sign up as a product tester for Dr Botanicals

umbertogiannini WANTED: Umberto Giannini Brand Ambassadors! Seeking like minded hair addicts 💁and social media butterflies 🦋to try & test NEW Umberto Giannini products. Interested? DM us to start a chat! 💋x #UmbertoGirls #umbertogiannini #UGonMe

Sign up for a free Orangina Light at Harvester


Claim one of 2,000 sample packs of GLAMGLOW face masks

Get a free pack of Oomi Protein Noodles worth £2.50 with Shopmium


Win one of 1000 full size bottles of Auva cleansing milk over on their facebook page

5,000 lucky savvy circlers will experience Pantene’s latest Micellar water collection. If you’re after gorgeously clean, superbly strong hair without the weight, this is the one for you.

@mevalia_uk  Our products are prescription only & for patients who require a low protein diet for medical reasons. Request samples only if applicable! 💙

@balsajobg We’re starting something new. Every Friday tweet us your fave black garlic recipes using hashtag #blackfriday. Best recipes get free samples

@ogglio Our pleasure! We have already received 15 postcards requesting a FREE sample of our olive oil. Anyone else interested?

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.

Friday, 18 August 2017

Book preview & launch competition : The Big Dreams Beach Hotel - Lilly Bartlett


You’re warmly invited to the Wedding of the Century with all your favourite friends. It’s the most vintage fun you’ll have this year!

To WIN a personally inscribed paperback of this gorgeous book by  Lilly Bartlett aka Michele Gorman, simply sign up to her newsletter. Winners will be randomly selected and notified on August 18th via the email used to sign up.

Ermm yes, that's today - I'm very late to this party because I've been away in Turkey for the last fortnight. I bet you didn't even notice I'd gone, thanks to the wonders of modern technology and scheduled posts ! To make up for my belatedness, I do have a lovely sneak peek of the first chapter to share with you though ...


A heartwarming, cosy romance from Sunday Times bestselling author Michele Gorman, now writing as Lilly Bartlett.

This is a brand new standalone novel from the author of the Carlton Square series with a whole new cast of characters to fall in love with!

Wriggle your toes in the sand and feel the warm breeze on your face when you check into the hotel that’s full of dreams…

Three years after ditching her career in New York City, Rosie never thought she’d still be managing the quaint faded Victorian hotel in her seaside hometown.

What’s worse, the hotel’s new owners are turning it into a copy of their Florida properties. Flamingos and all. Cultures are clashing and the hotel’s residents stand in the way of the developers’ plans. The hotel is both their home and their family.

That’s going to make Rory’s job difficult when he arrives to enforce the changes. And Rosie isn’t exactly on his side, even though it’s the chance to finally restart her career. Rory might be charming, but he’s still there to evict her friends.

How can she follow her dreams if it means ending everyone else’s?



Chapter 1

New York is where I fell head over heels for a bloke named Chuck. I know: Chuck. But don’t judge him just because he sounds like he should be sipping ice-cream floats at the drive-in or starring in the homecoming football game. Rah rah, sis boom bah, yay, Chuck!
Believe me, I didn’t plan for a Chuck in my life. But that’s how it happens, isn’t it? One minute you’ve got plans for your career and a future that doesn’t involve the inconvenience of being in love, and the next you’re floating around in full dozy-mare mode.
I won’t lie to you. When Chuck walked into our hotel reception one afternoon in late October, it wasn’t love at first sight. It was lust.
Be still, my fluttering nethers.
Talk about unprofessional. I could hardly focus on what he was saying. Something about organising Christmas parties.
To be honest, I don’t really know what I’m doing,’ he confided as he leaned against the reception desk. His face was uncomfortably close to mine, but by then I’d lived in New York for eighteen months. I was used to American space invaders. They’re not being rude, just friendly. And Chuck was definitely friendly.
I only started my job about a month ago,’ he told me. ‘It’s my first big assignment, so I really can’t fuck it up. Sorry, I mean mess it up.’ His blue (so dark blue) eyes bore into mine. ‘I’m hoping someone here can help me.’
It took all my willpower not to spring over the desk to his aid. Not that I’m at all athletic. I’d probably have torn my dress, climbed awkwardly over and landed face-first at his feet.
Keep him talking, I thought, so that I could keep staring. He looked quintessentially American, with his square jawline and big straight teeth and air of confidence, even though he’d just confessed to being hopeless at his new job. His brown hair wasn’t too long but also wasn’t too short, wavy and artfully messed up with gel, and his neatly trimmed stubble made me think of lazy Sunday mornings in bed.
See what I mean? Lust.
I noticed you on my way back from Starbucks,’ he said.
At first, I thought he meant he’d noticed me. That made me glance in the big mirror on the pillar behind him, where I could just see my reflection from where I was standing. At five-foot four, I was boob-height behind the desk in the gunmetal-grey fitted dress uniform all the front-desk staff had to wear. My wavy dark-red hair was as neat as it ever got. I flashed myself a reflected smile just to check my teeth. Of course, I couldn’t see any detail from where I stood. Only my big horsy mouth. Mum says giant teeth make my face interesting. I think I look a bit like one of the Muppets.
Do you have the space for a big party?’ he said. ‘For around four hundred people?’
He didn’t mean he’d noticed me; only the hotel. ‘We’ve got the Grand Ballroom and the whole top floor, which used to be the restaurant and bar. I think it’s even prettier than the ballroom, but it depends on your style and your budget and what you want to do with it.’
Based on his smile, you’d have thought I’d just told him we’d found a donor kidney for his operation. ‘I’ve been looking online, but there are too many choices,’ he said. ‘Plus, my company expects the world.’ He grimaced. ‘They didn’t like the hotel they used last year, or the year before that. I’m in over my head, to be honest. I think I need a guiding hand.’
I had just the hand he was looking for, and some ideas about where to guide it.
But instead of jumping up and down shouting ‘Pick Me, Pick Me!’, I put on my professional hat and gave him our events brochure and the team’s contact details. Because normal hotel receptionists don’t launch themselves into the arms of prospective clients.
When he reached over the desk to shake my hand, I had to resist the urge to bob a curtsy. ‘I’m Chuck Williamson. It was great to meet you, Rosie.’
He knew my name!
And thank you for being so nice. You might have saved my ass on this one. I’ll talk to your events people.’ He glanced again at my chest.
He didn’t know my name. He’d simply read my name badge.
No sooner had Chuck exited through the revolving door than my colleague, Digby, said, ‘My God, any more sparks and I’d have had to call the fire department.’
Digby was my best friend at the hotel and also a foreign transplant in Manhattan – where anyone without a 212 area code was foreign. Home for him was some little town in Kansas or Nebraska or somewhere with lots of tornadoes. Hearing Digby speak always made me think of The Wizard of Oz, but despite sounding like he was born on a combine harvester, Digby was clever. He did his degree at Cornell. That’s the Holy Grail for aspiring hotelies (as we’re known).
Digby didn’t let his pedigree go to his head, though, like I probably would have.
Just doing my job,’ I told him. But I knew I was blushing.
Our manager, Andi, swore under her breath. ‘That’s the last thing we need right now – some novice with another Christmas party to plan.’
That is our job,’ Digby pointed out.
Your job is to man the reception desk, Digby.’
Ya vol, Commandant.’ He saluted, before going to the other end of the desk.
But we do have room in the schedule, don’t we?’ I asked. Having just come off a rotation in the events department the month before, I knew they were looking for more business in that area. Our room occupancy hadn’t been all the company hoped for over the summer.
Plenty of room, no time,’ Andi snapped.
I’d love to tell you that I didn’t think any more about Chuck, that I was a cool twenty-five-year-old living her dream in New York. And it was my dream posting. I still couldn’t believe my luck. Well, luck and about a million hours earning my stripes in the hospitality industry. I’d already done stints in England and one in Sharm El Sheikh – though not in one of those fancy five-star resorts where people clean your sunglasses on the beach. It was a reasonable four-star one.
There’s a big misconception about hotelies that I should probably clear up. People assume that because we spend our days surrounded by luxury, we must live in the same glamour. The reality is 4a.m. wake-ups, meals eaten standing up, cheap living accommodation and, invariably, rain on our day off. Sounds like a blast, doesn’t it?
But I loved it. I loved that I was actually being paid to work in the industry where I did my degree. I loved the satisfied feeling I got every time a guest thanked me for solving a problem. And I loved that I could go anywhere in the world for work.
I especially loved that last part.
But back to Chuck, who’d been stuck in my head since the minute he’d walked through the hotel door.
I guess it was natural, given that I hadn’t had a boyfriend the whole time I’d been in the city. Flirting and a bit of snogging, yes, but nothing you could call a serious relationship.
There wasn’t any time, really, for a social life. That’s why hotelies hang out so much with each other. No one else has the same hours free. So, in the absence of other options, Digby and I were each other’s platonic date. He sounds like the perfect gay best friend, right? Only he wasn’t gay. He just had no interest in me. Nor I in him, which made him the ideal companion – hot enough in that freckle-faced farm-boy way to get into the nightclubs when we finished work at 1 or 2a.m., but not the type to go off shagging and leave me to find my way home on the subway alone.

I hope you’re happy,’ Andi said to me one morning a few days later. The thing about Andi is that she looks annoyed even when she’s not, so you’ve got to pay attention to her words rather than the severe expression on her narrow face. Nothing annoyed Andi like other people’s happiness.
But I had just taken my first morning sip of caramel latte. Who wouldn’t be happy?
You’ve got another assignment,’ she said. ‘That Christmas party. You’re on it.’
But I’m on reception.’ My heart was beating faster. She could only be talking about one Christmas party.
Yes, and you’re not going to get any extra time for the party, so don’t even think about it. I can’t spare anyone right now. You’ll have to juggle. He’s coming in at eleven to see the spaces and hopefully write a big fat cheque, but I want you back here as soon as you’re finished. Consider it an early lunch break.’
Even though my mind warned me to stop questioning, in case she changed her mind, I couldn’t resist. ‘Why isn’t Events handling it?’
They would have if he hadn’t asked for you especially. It’s just my luck that it’s a huge party. We can’t exactly say no.’
I’m sorry.’
Then wipe that stupid grin off your face and next time try not to be so frickin’ nice.’
I need to use the loo,’ I told her.
Pee on your own time,’ she said.
I didn’t really have to go, despite the industrial-size caramel latte. I just wanted to put on some make-up before Chuck arrived. Instead he’d see my green eyes unhighlighted by the mascara and flicky eyeliner that I rarely remembered to use. Pinching my cheeks did bring up a bit of colour behind my freckles, at least.
Every time the revolving doors swung round, I looked up to see if it was Chuck.
You’re going to get repetitive strain in your neck,’ Digby pointed out. ‘And you know our workmen’s comp sucks, so save yourself the injury. Besides, you look too eager when you stare at the door like that.’
I’m putting on a convivial welcome for our guests,’ I said. ‘Just like it says in the Employee’s Manual.’
He shook his head. ‘There’s no way that what you’re thinking is in the manual.’
The weather had turned cold, which was the perfect excuse for woolly tights and cosy knits or, if you were Chuck, a navy pea coat with the collar turned up that made him look like he’d been at sea. In a suit and dress shoes.  
I’m so sorry I’m late,’ he said. ‘I hate wasting people’s time.’
It’s not a waste,’ I told him. ‘I’m just working.’ I caught Andi’s glare. ‘I mean, I’m on reception. I can show you the rooms any time you want.’
Anytime you want, Digby mimicked behind Chuck’s back. Luckily Andi didn’t catch him.
Thanks for agreeing to take on the party,’ he said as we shared the lift to the top floor. ‘Not that I gave your colleagues much of a choice. I told them I’d book the party if you were the one organising it. I hope you don’t mind. It’s just that you seemed … I don’t know, I got a good feeling about you.’
No, that’s fine,’ I said, willing my voice to sound calmer than I felt. Which meant anything short of stark raving mad. ‘Once you decide which room is most suitable, we can start talking about everything else.’
I knew you’d get it,’ he said.
The lift doors opened on the top floor into the wide entrance to the former restaurant. ‘As you can see, there’s still a lot of the original nineteen thirties decor,’ I said. ‘Especially these art deco wall sconces. I love them. Ooh, and look at that bar.’
I’d only been up there a few times, so I was as excited as Chuck as we ran around the room pointing out each interesting feature, from the geometrically mirrored pillars to the sexy-flapper-lady light fixtures.
I’m such a sucker for this old stuff,’ he said. ‘I grew up in a house full of antiques. Older than this, actually, in Chicago.’ Then he considered me. ‘You probably grew up in a castle from the middle ages or something, being English.’
That sounds draughty. No, my parents live in a nineteen fifties semi-detached with pebble-dash.’
I don’t know what any of that means except for the nineteen fifties, but it sounds exotic.’
Hardly. Let’s just say it looks nothing like this. Will this be big enough, though? You said up to four hundred. That might be a squeeze if we want to seat them all.’
My guest list has halved, actually,’ he said, shoving his hands into his coat pockets. ‘The company isn’t letting spouses and partners come. Isn’t that weird, to exclude them from a formal social event like that? It’s going to be black tie with dinner and dancing. They were always invited wherever I’ve worked before.’
The painful penny dropped with a clang. Of course he’d have the perfect girlfriend to bring along. A bloke that cute and nice wasn’t single.
Which company?’ I asked, covering my disappointment. ‘Your company now, I mean.’
Flable and Mead. The asset managers? Sorry, I should have said before.’
Of course I’d heard of them. They were only one of the biggest firms on Wall Street. No wonder Andi had to say yes when Chuck made his request. We were talking big money.
And big egos. ‘I’m not surprised that other halves aren’t invited,’ I told him. Surely he’d worked out why for himself. ‘They usually aren’t invited in the UK either. The Christmas do is your chance to get pissed and snog a colleague.’
Chuck laughed. ‘I’m really glad I’ve seen all those Hugh Grant movies so I know what you’re talking about. So maybe it’ll be everyone’s chance at Flable and Mead to snog a colleague too.’ When he smiled, a dimple appeared on his left side. Just the one. ‘And as you’re working with me to organise the party, I guess that makes you my colleague, right?’
Did he mean what I thought he meant? The cheeky sod. ‘Come on, I’ll show you the ballroom.’
But the ballroom had nowhere near the ambiance of the top floor, and I knew before Chuck said anything that it didn’t have the right feel. Whereas upstairs had character and charm, the ballroom had bling. I’d only known Chuck for a matter of hours, but already I knew he wasn’t the blingy type.
Definitely upstairs,’ he said. ‘So it’s done. We’ll book it. Now we just need to plan all the decorations, the food, the band, DJ. I guess the fee goes up depending on how much in-house stuff we use.’ He laughed. ‘I’m sorry, I really am in too deep here. I talked my way into my job. I have no idea how. My boss is a Northwestern alum like me and that must have swung it for me. Before I only worked organising conferences and a few parties at the local VFW hall. This is the big time.’
I knew exactly how he felt. When I first started at the hotel I had to pinch myself. There I was, about to live a life I’d only seen on telly. All I had to do was not muck things up. Digby had been on hand to show me the ropes when I needed it. So the least I could do for Chuck was to help him as much as I could.
That’s what I told myself. I was paying it forward.
We’ve got a range of decorations we can do,’ I told him, thinking about how much I was going to get to see him in the upcoming weeks. I could really stretch things out by showing him one tablecloth per visit. ‘And we work with a few good catering companies, who I’m sure can arrange anything from a sit-down meal to a buffet. One even does burger bars, if you want something more quirky.’
What I’ll want is for you to help me, Rosie. You will be able to do that, right?’
Of course,’ I said. ‘Whatever you need. It’s a whopping great fee your company is paying. That buys a lot of hand-holding.’
I was hoping you’d say that,’ he said. ‘The second I came in and saw you, I knew this was the right choice. We’re going to be great together, Rosie.’
I was thinking the exact same thing.


Want to keep reading? The book is available now as an eBook with a special reduced price (1/3 off) for launch day.

for more information :
www.michelegorman.co.uk
Blog: http://michelegormanwriter.blogspot.com
Instagram: @michelegormanuk
Twitter: @MicheleGormanUK
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/MicheleGormanBooks

Thursday, 17 August 2017

Brittany diaries : An incredible dolphin encounter


On our last day in Brittany, we popped down to the port of Brest on the way home, to see the Recouvrance, which is a big replica schooner. We decided that the figurehead looked like a mermaid and took a few snaps.


Then we looked out to the harbour entrance and looked at each other in amazement as a big black fin appeared out of the water. My first thought was that it was a shark (a small one, not a Jaws sized man-eating one !) but Juliette squealed "Mum, I just saw a dolphin" ... and she was right ! It came right over to the side of the boat and just sat there. 


According to some of the locals, it was a dolphin that had been injured and rescued by the local sealife centre and, after its release, it keeps coming back to get food and swim around in the harbour.


It's certainly not scared of people, coming right up to the jetty where some of the kids even stroked it, before someone shouted down that you shouldn't touch it because apparently it has parasites (I have no idea what kind). 


Being well-behaved, law-abiding citizens, we stayed up the top and didn't venture on to the jetty that gives access to the boats, because it had a gate that was open but said you weren't allowed down there. 


Then, as lots of people started going down, we followed them. I thought he would be long gone by the time we carefully walked down the wobbly bridge but he stayed there for ages.


Eventually someone came along and asked everyone to go back up, then locked the gate, but not before we'd taken loads of photos and heard it clicking, splashing and blowing water out of the hole in the top of its head.


The kids were totally mesmerised - even the grown-ups thought it was a pretty magical experience, especially as it was so totally unexpected. It was only a spur-of-the-moment decision to go down to the port and we just happened to be there at the right time. 

video

video

It made it even more special that he was free to swim off whenever he wanted but stayed for ages. We watched him for about half an hour, then went to look round a few shops and went to see him again until it started raining. He was still there when we left !


 The perfect end to our week in Brittany.


Country Kids

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Globecooking recipe : Graavi lohi - salted salmon (Finland)


I was very squeamish about this recipe because the idea of eating "raw" fish that has only been "cooked" with salt seemed very dodgy to me. I kept putting it off - it was in the Finnish-themed Kitchen Trotter box from Christmas - but in the end, I bit the bullet, and it was actually very nice and surprisingly simple, although you do need to plan ahead.

Graavi lohi

2 fresh salmon fillets
2tbsp coarse salt (I would use a lot more)
1tsp black pepper
2tsp sugar
6tbsp dill

for the mustard sauce :

1tsp red wine vinegar (I used pomegranate vinegar)
1tbsp mild Finnish mustard
5cl oil
1/2tsp sugar

for the optional marinade :

a few small fir twigs
1 capful of vodka or gin
1/2tsp pink pepper



The two exotic ingredients which were in my Finnish-themed Kitchen Trotter box were the mild Finnish mustard and the organic pine needles.


As I have an overflowing spice rack, I had several different pots of coarse salt so I decided to combine them all. I therefore used a mixture of coarse red salt from Hawaii, Murray River salt from Australia which has a pinkish colour and Persian Blue Sapphire salt from Iran. I don't think it makes any difference though - apart from the colour, they all just taste salty !


I had six thin fillets of fish but you could use two bigger ones. Simply sprinkle over the salt, sugar, dill and black pepper. The recipe said to use 2tbsp of salt but I didn't think this was anywhere near enough to cover the whole surface of the fish, as this would be the only thing that would be "cooking" it. I just sprinkled until it was completely coated with a thickish layer of salt.


Lay the other salmon fillets on top, skin upwards, and put in the fridge. Again, this is where different recipes vary greatly. Most say at east eight hours, I saw one recipe that said two hours (eek !) and this one said overnight, which is what I went for, to be on the safe side.


The next day, finely chop the pine needles, grind the pink pepper and add to the vodka/gin. In a separate bowl, mix the mustard and vinegar, sugar and white pepper, then whisk in the oil to create a sort of mayonnaise.


Take the salmon out of the fridge and scrape off the excess salt. It should have taken on an orangey smoked salmon colour.


Cut into thin slices and, if you want, drizzle over some of the gin/vodka marinade. Serve with crusty bread and some of the mustard mixture on the side.

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Book review : Freshers - Tom Ellen & Lucy Ivison


If you didn't go to university, you probably won't like Freshers because you'll find it far-fetched and ridiculous. If you did go to university, it will be a rollicking, riotous trip down memory lane that will keep making you think back to your own university days.

I was a fresher (or first year student, if you're unfamiliar with the lingo) all the way back in 1991. Back then, there was no such thing as mobile phones (we'd spend hours hanging around the pay phones in the halls of residence, silently seething as the person in front hogged the phone way beyond the scheduled time that your parents would be calling to save you paying for the call !). There was no such thing as internet - we actually had to look things up in books in the library (shock horror !). Nobody had their own computer - we'd book an hour-long slot in the computer room next to the library and use a "word processor" then save everything on floppy disk so that we could go and print it all out. Times were very very different. And yet, on nearly every page, there was something that made me squeal with delight or literally laugh out loud as I reminisced at our own crazy shenanigans as freshers.

At the time, we felt like we were the only ones being totally crazy and living life to the limit. Waking up after yet another heavy night out and wondering why there was a traffic cone in the middle of the room and a "for sale" sign hanging out of the window of the halls of residence. Leaving an iron-shaped melted patch in the carpet after trying to do the ironing without an ironing board. Trying to sneak people in past the porters after the evening curfew then giggling so much they came to see what was going on. Going for alcohol-fuelled fridge raids in the communal fridges on other people's corridors. On one memorable occasion, some of the boys down the hall got some bricks from goodness knows where and bricked up (without cement - they weren't that bad !) their friend's door so that when he got up in the morning and opened the door, he was totally confused to walk into a wall. I'm still not sure how he managed to get out ! All things that actually happened in my first year and that wouldn't have been out of place in the book.

The interplay and banter between the characters is spot on too. The incredibly close friendships that instantly sprang up, as well as the on-off-on again relationships that never quite knew if they wanted to be friendships or something more. Also the long distance relationships that never quite made it past the end of the first term, and the sudden desire to connect with people from your home town that you'd never even spoken to at school, just because there was a connection, however tenuous. It all rang totally true in the book.

It's a coming-of-age novel with true-to-life characters, trying to find their way through the "brave new world" of life, love and lectures as an undergraduate. None of them are perfect but none of them are totally despicable either.

I loved every page - for me, it was a totally nostalgic and enchanting trip down memory lane, minus the hangovers ! I'm just jealous Harry Potter hadn't been written when I was a student because quidditch club sounds brilliant fun ! (We did have The Magic Roundabout Appreciation Society though, not that I ever went to any of the meetings, but I did buy the T-shirt !)

star rating : 5/5

RRP : £7.99

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Chicken House; 1 edition (3 Aug. 2017)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1910655880
  • ISBN-13: 978-1910655887
  • Product Dimensions: 14.6 x 2.6 x 20.4 cm


Disclosure : I received a review copy of the book.

Monday, 14 August 2017

#readcookeat recipe : Mediterranean-style Picnic Bread (Under A Sardinian Sky)


Under A Sardinian Sky was an enjoyable read (click through for my review) but it's been even better as inspiration for some fabulous meals ... and I haven't even started on the desserts yet ! After munching on a hearty Sausage & Lentil Stew and nibbling on deep-fried cheese pastries called Seadas, this time I turned to the ultimate picnic food.

p123 Carmela took the loaf from her sister and began cutting it into thick slices. The smell of mortadella and ham mixed with the marinated peppers and eggplant that she and her sister had stuffed it with drew her back to the start of the day : the cool, clean of the kitchen, the safe order of her world. She arranged the slices on a wide plate, then cut thin lengths of chicory and made a green nest at the centre before trimming a couple of stalks of celery and placing those on top.

For the last week of term, our school canteen stopped functioning because there were barely any pupils left (the school closes to pupils for three days as an exam centre and hardly anyone comes back for the last couple of days before the holidays), so I was on the lookout for inspiring packed lunches. This was delicious and was also a great way of clearing out the fridge.


Mediterranean-style Picnic Bread

ingredients :

1 ciabatta loaf
4tbsp pesto
4 slices of mortadella
1/2 a jar of sun-dried tomatoes
a few slices of cheese (cheddar would do, or parmesan, gruyère, edam, etc)
a few slices of polony-type sausage
6 cucumber slices


Rip out most of the soft bread - don't throw it away. It can be used in gazpacho, toasted and blitzed as a crunchy breadcrumb coating for fish or chicken or munched straight away, dipped in olive oil and spices.


Spread liberally with pesto.


Start with a layer of mortadella.


Add a layer of juicy sun-dried tomatoes.


I had the end of a polony-type sausage and the remains of the Italian cheese from the seadas in the fridge, so they went in next.


I finished off with a row of cucumber slices, to add some crunch, but just use whatever you have in the fridge. 


Pop the lid back on and press flat.


Wrap tightly in foil and slice into servings. It's ideal as picnic or packed lunch food.


Linking up with the #readcookeat linky at Chez Maximka.


Also adding to the #KitchenClearout linky as it was perfect for clearing out the fridge.

Sunday, 13 August 2017

Book review : The Teacher's Secret - Suzanne Leal


Terry Pritchard, or Mr P, as he has been known to generations of kids at Brindle Public primary school, has everything it takes to be a great teacher - the kids like and respect him and he has their wellbeing at heart, both in and outside of the classroom. Then Ms Mathews arrives at the school, fresh out of college and intent on making her mark on her year's placement as acting school principal. From instantly rearranging a well-established classroom plan to spouting official jargon day in day out, she soon has everyone's backs up. Whether it is down to youthful over-exuberance and naivety, or a genuine desire to take down a man who refuses to scrape and bow to her as she desires, she soon has it in for Mr P. If you look hard enough, there is always a weak spot that can be exploited and Terry has an unfortunate secret in his past that comes back to haunt him.

It's a tender, heart-warming and fairly accurate look at what life is like as a teacher, highlighting both the positives and negatives of the experience. From Terry's hard-earned confidence and ease with the kids and their parents to Nina's struggles as a new teacher, it all rang true to me, from my own experiences. Ms Mathews comes across as a villain, but it is possible that her heart was in the right place and her decisions were just ill-judged. The plot is worryingly believable and the fact that there is no happy-every-after ending for everyone adds authenticity.

I did find it hard to keep track of everyone though. Each chapter switches to a different narrator, so as well as Terry, we get to know more about Nina, the new teacher going through a marriage break-up, Joan, her neighbour, Rebecca, the mother of the new boy, Mel, mother of the naughty kid in class, Sid, the school caretaker ... even Laurie (or Ms Mathews as she is known at work) gets a couple of chapters to help balance things out. By the end of the book, I had got to know all of them and understand their own private dramas and how they all connected, but I was slightly confused in the beginning. Despite the title, Mr P is far from the only one to have secrets in his life.

It's an enjoyable read with an intriguing and poignant story and characters that you can really relate to and empathise with. As a teacher, it's also reminded me to focus on the good times in class, rather than the negatives, but maybe that's because I'm in holiday mode at the moment !

star rating : 4.5/5

RRP : £14.99

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Legend Press (15 May 2017)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1785079077
  • ISBN-13: 978-1785079078
  • Product Dimensions: 22.3 x 3.6 x 14.4 cm



Disclosure : I received a review copy of the book.

Saturday, 12 August 2017

Brittany diaries : The village in the rocks - Meneham, Côte des Légendes


The village of Meneham, tucked away in the cliffs of the Côte des Légendes in Northern Brittany, facing the English Channel between Brest and Roscoff, is a "site classé" or heritage site.


You can see the charming thatched cottages and bizarre dollops of rock before you've even left the car park.


It's a big hit with the tourists, so there are things like an inn (in the picture above), signposts, toilets and car parks, as well as a gîte if you want to stay the night, but is is all in-keeping with the olde-worlde feel of the place. It reminds me very much of the still wild places in Cornwall that we visited back in the early eighties - Land's End back when there were still no tourist amenities had the same rugged, mystical feel - so I hope it manages to retain its charm as it becomes more well-known. I bet the next time we go back, you will have to pay to get in or at least to park the car.


Mother Nature gave us the perfect weather conditions to really appreciate the beauty of the place - a (rare) sunny day in a week of drizzle, blue skies and fluffy clouds to really set off the photos.


There are a few information boards and signposts but you're pretty much left to your own devices to explore the rocks and paths.


We tried to spot different shapes and forms in the rock formations. Madhouse Daddy thought that the one on the left looked like a shark whereas I see a turtle (maybe it depends on the angle), but I was the only one to see a King Kong face on the right.


But everyone agreed that this one looks like a face - the kids said it made them think of Homer Simpson !


Tucked away in between two giant rocks is this little stone cottage. I thought the rocks were designed to offer shelter from the wind, but it is apparently a 17th-century coastguard’s cottage, camouflaged so that they could sneakily keep an eye on the coast to try to combat smuggling. There was a video running inside to show you the history but the kids were more interested in exploring outside.


There are lots of rocks to scramble over, tiny passages to squeeze through and strange formations to marvel at.


Amateur photographers (or Instagram fans like Sophie) can spend ages finding arty shots using the rocks as frames for the views.


Despite usually being fairly camera shy, the Madhouse kids kept posing in and on the rocks for me to take photos.


Even though the car park was packed, you can still get away from the crowds to enjoy the natural beauty of the place.


There is also a big sandy beach, studded with rocks, along with tiny boats bobbing in the sea at low tide. This tractor was dragging a boat up the beach but it is also used for harvesting seaweed.


These narrow ditches are seaweed ovens and were used for burning the dried seaweed to make sodium carbonate from the ashes, which was then sold to be used in soap and glass making, or iodine, used in medicine and for making photos.


The rock formations continue on the beach, and there are also protected species of plants to look out for.


"Look Mum, we found a whale !"



Following the path back up to the village, we had a look around the artisans' thatched cottages, where you can buy all sorts of handmade crafts and watch the artists at work.


You can also go inside some of the traditional buildings to see how they were constructed or discover some of the old fishing equipment, such as these lobster pots and handcarts.


There's plenty to discover and you really get a feel for the way the old village used to be.


We finished off with the obligatory family selfie before heading for home. It's a great place to go if you're looking for a free day out.


Country Kids