Tag Archives: books

Lionboy: The Chase review

This post is written by Owl.

lionboy the chase

This review is about Lionboy: The Chase, written by Zizou Corder (which is a name used by authors Louisa Young and Isabel Adomakoh Young, whose names were too long to fit on the book). This book continues the trilogy of the catspeaking boy, Charlie (see my review of the first book, Lionboy, here), whose parents get kidnapped. It starts with a micro-version of the last book, explaining briefly what happened before. It was chosen by the Blue Peter Book Club.

The story continues in the Orient Express, where Charlie takes his lions, whom he rescued from a circus, to meet King Boris, the friendly king of Bulgaria, in his carrige. Edward, who worked for King Boris, went to Venice with them. While they were there, Charlie and the lions, with the help of Claudio, the boatman,  overthrow the Doge, the evil ruler of Venice, and sail to Morroco, the lions’ home. Meanwhile, Charlie’s parents (who escaped) head to Morroco too.

This book is excellent, it uses powerful verbs, adverbs and adjectives to make the passages exciting to read. I will give this book a 5/5 rating and I highly recommend it.


Nigelissima – Instant Italian Inspiration

This post was written by Paul who was also the chef.

Nigellissima most Nigella

The last cook book that came into our house, in March, was Jack Monroe’s “A Girl Called Jack”. At the time we’d been living off tinned tomatoes and lentils for weeks, and fell upon her recipes with the grateful desperation of a family ready to have their lives transformed by adding a beef stock cube and some shredded mushrooms to their terrible attempts at fake Bolognese.

Six months later, on the upward curve of the thriftspend cycle, enter Nigella. Nigella with her simplicity, her glamour, and her insistence on quality. Nigella with her mixture of the commonplace (tomatoes, semolina, lentils), and the expensive (sirloin steak, fresh figs, 70% cocoa chocolate). So, riding the fiscal upswing, we invited friends round and cooked loads of dishes. What’s the point of using a cookbook from a supreme entertainer if you don’t entertain with it?

Nigelissima 3

This was the menu, scaled up for four adults, two teenagers and five children aged 10 to 4:

  • Tagliata
  • Mock Mash
  • Italian Golden Lentils
  • Gnocchi Gratin
  • Meatzza
  • (Broccoli)
  • Instant chocolate mousse
  • Baked figs with honey and cream

Nigelissima 4

Tagliata is delicious. Buy the most expensive sirloin you can afford, make some vinaigrette with added chilli flakes and pour over cherry tomatoes chopped in half, cook the steak properly and slice it after resting, then arrange the whole lot on a plate topped with fresh oregano. Total cost of ingredients £25 – an easy party piece. None left over. Tomato and beef salad – who knew?

Nigelissima 2

Mock Mash was a surprise hit – also none left over. Take semolina and cook in milk, then add parmesan, seasoning and nutmeg. Total cost £5

Italian Golden Lentils was less popular, but probably because we’ve seen quite a lot of our little pulse friends recently. And it wasn’t a fair test as, with an hour to go before the guests arrived, I realised I’d forgotten to buy the necessary Castelluccio lentils and garlic oil, so substituted green lentils and olive oil with crushed garlic in it. But the dish itself was really nice – I’d never cooked lentils with leek and thyme before. Fry leeks, add lentils, thyme, bay leaves and water. Serve when cooked (fish out bay leaves). Total cost only £1.50

Gnocchi Gratin was easy to make and quickly eaten, the only leftovers caused by the abundance of other food on the table. Heat mascarpone and milk in a pan and dissolve parmesan in it. Cook gnocchi, put into oven dish and cover with a mixture of breadcrumbs and more parmesan, put into oven and take out when golden. Total cost £12

Meatzza was tasty but overshadowed by everything else. The concept is simple enough – take beef mince and add herbs and spices (a bit like making lamb kofte mix), then pat down into an oven dish before covering with chopped tomatoes and mozzarella slices to form something that looks like a pizza. We’ll try it again on its own later. Total cost £15

Broccoli was meant to have been Nigella’s lemon and parmesan version, but we ran out of time so it was just broccoli. Take broccoli, chop into florets, chuck into water then guess how long it takes to cook.

The instant chocolate mousse was fab, and easy to make. Instead of egg, use condensed milk to thicken and bind the mixture of melted luxury chocolate and partially whipped cream. Leave to chill in the fridge then top with more partially whipped cream. The recipe called for orange liqueur but I left the booze out because of the children. Total cost £12

Nigelissima 1

Baked figs with honey went down a storm with the grown-ups, less so with the children (although the kids were pretty full by then). Cut and split figs without severing them completely, and drizzle olive oil over them before baking for 10 minutes. Prepare mixture of warm cream and honey, and chop unsalted pistachios in mini chopper. Pour honeyed cream over hot figs, sprinkle chopped nuts and serve. Total cost £12

Nigelissima 5


None of the recipes were difficult to follow, although I do wish I’d got the herbs sorted out in advance instead of running around the garden in the dark trying to pick thyme and oregano. I started prepping an hour and a half before the meal by opening the first bottle of Bardolino and finding Don Giovanni on the ipod. Chocolate mousse was next (as it had to be chilled before serving), then the Meatzza (which could be baked at the same time as the gnocchi but I didn’t want to be handling raw beef whilst cooking everything else). Then the lentils were put on, then the gnocchi prepared. Finally the tagliata and mock mash happened simultaneously, and the figs were got ready for throwing in the oven after the main course.


Would we use Nigella’s book again? Yes! Could we regularly afford to buy premium cherry tomatoes, sirloin steak, decent mince, pounds of parmesan, mascarpone? No! We could save Nigella’s book for special occasions or we could experiment. Can the chocolate mousse survive the ignominy of Sainsbury’s basics dark chocolate? Can the mock mash be made with ‘Italian hard cheese’ rather than real indicazione geografica typica parmesan? Because given our recent experience you could survive at least a year with just two cook books – Nigella’s and Jack’s – and change the ingredients to suit your budget. Have these two passionate ladies met? Can someone arrange it, and send me a preview copy of the resulting hybrid cookbook? Thank you.



Story Picnic

Story Picnic 1

Today we had a story picnic!  It all started a few weeks ago when one of the children suggested we had a book day.  We had a lot of fun collecting books and matching soft toys, making displays and reading together, and we have repeated the activity a few times since.  I think it is going to be a regular Friday activity from now on.  We have managed a few book-themed snacks from time to time, but today we decided it was time for a story picnic.

Yesterday afternoon we spent some time collecting suitable books.  We had lots to choose from so we will be doing the activity again, I am sure.  In the end we settled on a menu.

Peter Rabbit’s salad (lettuce, beans and radishes) and blackberries

Teddy Robinson’s Teddy Bear Crisps

Kipper’s picnic sandwiches (cheese and jam)

Egg sandwiches (the relevant story book was lost so we read a non-fiction book about Eggs and Chicks instead)

Harry’s dinosaur sandwiches (peanut butter and marmite)

Winnie the Pooh’s Honey sandwiches

Paddington’s Marmalade sandwiches

Lola’s moonsquirters (tomatoes) and pink milk

Floppy’s cake

Peppa Pig’s chocolate chip cookies

Grandpa Pig’s carrots

The Very Hungry Caterpillar’s very big picnic

Story Picnic 2

Rabbit drew a picture of some fruit and vegetables yesterday before she went to bed, and this morning all four children spent a long time making labels for all the items on the menu.  They were all lovely and I was very proud when Rabbit wrote “jam” without asking how to spell it.  Even Tiddler drew a picture of Floppy’s cake.  He also helped me to make the egg sandwiches (for some reason I don’t seem to have a picture of them close up) and was very pleased with himself (“I very good at choppin’ eggs, mummy!”)

Story Picnic 3

Tiddler helped me to cut out the dinosaur sandwiches as well.  We have had a lot of use out of our dinosaur cutters over the years and they are very popular.

Story Picnic 4

Rabbit also helped with making the sandwiches, washing the tomatoes and sticking the labels in.

Story Picnic 5

The excitement was building as the children caught a glimpse of the chocolate cake!  They helped to lay out the picnic blanket and then carried out the books, soft toys and plates, cups and napkins.  Rabbit had carefully chosen four book-themed cups (two Maisy, one Elmer and one Peppa Pig!) and we used some leftover Gruffalo napkins from Tiddler and Owl’s party.

Story Picnic 6

Next we carried all the food out and started to arrange the picnic.  We decided to leave Grandpa Pig’s carrots whole with their tops on as they looked so pretty.  I took the vegetable peelers out too, as the children enjoy peeling them and eating them whole, which I have recently discovered is a great activity as well as a snack.  Today though they couldn’t compete with all the other tempting treats on offer, so we saved them till supper time in the end.

Story Picnic 7

The very last thing we did before taking the photographs was to take the ice cream out of the freezer.  And of course we couldn’t leave it to melt, so we had to go and get three more, and that is how the children started their picnic.  They did eat a lot of the rest of it too!

Story Picnic 8

We finished up by reading some of the stories together.  They all listened to The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Kipper’s Picnic, and then I read an Usborne Book about Eggs and Chicks mainly to Owl and Tiddler, while Monkey and Rabbit climbed in the apple tree above our heads.  Lastly I read Winnie the Pooh and the Ten Busy Bees to Tiddler while the others played in the garden, and then we had to go inside because it was too hot (for a change!)  We didn’t read all the stories but I don’t think that matters.  I’m sure we’ll be having a story picnic again soon.

Story Picnic 9

This is our entry for the Tots 100 May Challenge: Perfect Picnic with Center Parcs

Book Day

On Friday, we decided to have a book day.  Owl had suggested it when we were tidying the children’s bedrooms last weekend and I commented that we had more books than we could ever have time to read.  I really liked the idea of a whole day centred around books, so we did it.  After Owl and Monkey were back from their early morning violin lessons, and while Tiddler was at his Musicbox class with Supergirl, we started with a little bit of time working on the Gruffalo and Gruffalo’s Child activity books.  After that the children collected all the soft toys they could find that were story characters, then hunted for as many of the matching books as possible.  They then spent a long time setting up displays of each set of books and toys, and we talked about the possibility of making some story sacks.  We have done this before, for Goldilocks and the Three Bears and the Three Little Pigs, but it was a couple of years ago and the contents have long since been scattered around the house (and some of them returned to the charity shops from whence they came) so we need to start again.

This all took a really long time and we suddenly realised it was time for a rather late morning snack.  The children were keen to have a book-themed snack, and the only thing I could think of was sandwiches using dinosaur cutters.  So we collected up our Harry and the Dinosaurs books, and they made dinosaur-shaped jam sandwiches and had a drink of milk in their dinosaur cups.  While they were eating, I read “Harry and the Bucketful of Dinosaurs” to them.  When Tiddler came back from Musicbox, he was keen to join in and the others were not happy with him spoiling their displays.  I read one of the Thomas books to him, carefully replaced it in exactly the right position, and then did my best to keep him out of the way while the big three finished the displays and read some of the books.

In the afternoon, the children spent some more time reading and playing by themselves, then we did some messy play together with water beads and ice, which I will blog separately.  They then watched some DVDS (Kids Praise Party and Friends and Heroes) while we were waiting for daddy to come home with pizza for supper.  He was a bit later than expected, and I thought the television had been on for long enough, so I offered to read to them instead.  We read “Who’s afraid of the Big Bad Book?” by Lauren Child, which is very funny and clever – highly recommended!  We enjoyed our book day so much, and have so many ideas for what else we could do, that I think we might do it every Friday.

This week

This week I have been

getting excited about our new Tuff Spot and its potential for messy play.  I think I am enjoying it as much as the children are.

watching the big three perform in their Dramabuds play (as Peter Pan, Wendy and the crocodile) and feeling very proud – and pleased that Tiddler was allowed to get away with escaping from the audience and joining in towards the end of the show.  That’s the kind of laid-back flexibility I love about Dramabuds!

excercising more – a Pilates class and a run, not much maybe but better than in recent weeks.

celebrating Easter with my family, at my parents’ house, and feeling lucky to have them all.

eating chocolate, hot cross buns, a Middle Eastern banquet cooked by Suburban Dad, more chocolate, Roast Lamb cooked by my mum, chocolate nests, chocolate brownies, simnel cake and a bit more chocolate.  (Note to self: might need to run more than once a week for the next few weeks.)

reading Sealed with a Kiss by Rachael Lucas and A Funny Kind of Education by Ross Mountney (and loving both so far – will review when I’ve finished them.)