Thursday, 22 February 2018

Book review : Fire On The Mountain - Jean McNeil

Fire on the Mountain is the second book from Jean McNeil - you may remember that I also reviewed her first novel, The Dhow House - and although the books are entirely unrelated, I immediately recognised the same literary style and several of the same themes. We are once again in an unnamed African country and the main character is once more an aid worker, whose inner turmoil and unease reflects the hostile political climate that he often finds himself in.

The main character in this book is Nick, a rather mysterious character, who turns up unexpectedly at the house of Pieter, a (locally) famous and politically controversial author, and his wife Sara, who are the parents of one of Nick's friends. They welcome him in with open arms and an equally open invitation to stay as long as he likes, while remaining slightly apprehensive, faced with his vague non-explanations of why he suddenly jumped ship, running away from his job and his duties.

Nick doesn't seem to really know himself why he ran away and he avoids opening his emails, for fear of finding reprimands and even legal threats. As the book progresses, we learn that he had a vague inkling that he was in danger, without understanding why. 

As soon as Pieter and Sara's son Riann puts in an appearance, it became obvious to me how the book would pan out. While both happily heterosexual, they strike up a friendship that somehow transcends the usual boundaries of friendship or brotherhood. Their long walks with Riaan's dogs along the beach evolve into a cross-country road trip into hostile country, on a rescue mission to save an ostracised child accused of witchcraft. The different landscapes they drive through are described in great detail, with mentions of the flora and fauna, the climate and dangers, the inhabitants and their dwellings, ... - in fact, the reader gets to know Nick's external surroundings much more thoroughly than his inner turmoil and motivations. This makes it hard to see him develop and his voyage of self-discovery never really gets off the ground, which is slightly frustrating as a reader.

The final tragic scenes are only viewed second hand, in literary form, so the reader is distanced and feels remote and therefore somewhat unaffected. I love books where I can really get under the main character's skin and empathise with, or at least understand, him, so this left me wanting more. I could imagine the final chapter as a very poignant movie scene though - with Pieter's voice reading his novel, while the scenes played out, with shots of a pregnant girlfriend wistfully waiting by the window and a dusty jeep streaking across a sun-baked, burnt orange landscape.

It's a slow-paced book that gives you time to think and appreciate the lyrical quality of the writing and the unique landscapes that the gentle journey will take you on, rather than a high-octane, action-packed thriller that will leave you emotionally and mentally drained.

star rating : 4/5

  • Paperback: 250 pages
  • Publisher: Legend Press (15 Feb. 2018)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1785078992
  • ISBN-13: 978-1785078996
  • Product Dimensions: 13.9 x 1.9 x 17.9 cm

Disclosure : I received a review copy of the book.

Wednesday, 21 February 2018

#readcookeat recipe : Lebanese Kibbeh with Fattoush Salad (Fire On The Mountain)

Tomorrow, the Fire On The Mountain blog tour will be stopping off at Madhouse Family Reviews and I'll be sharing my review with you. In the meantime, I decided to use the book as inspiration for the #readcookeat challenge and went looking for foodie references. The story is set in an unnamed African country, which sounded promising, but there aren't that many references to food. I did find one though :

p196 We work hard. There is barely time to go to the street market and sample Lebanese kibbeh or organic Mexican burritos.

Hmmm kibbeh it is then ! After googling it and reading through numerous recipes, I learned that kibbeh is a Middle Eastern version of meatballs. An outer coating of minced meat mixed with bulghur is filled with a mixture of more meat, blended with various combinations of pine nuts, dried fruit and baharat spices. You may remember from my recipe for Duck Breast with Baharat and Pomegranate Molasses that I have a (past its best before date) tub of baharat on my spice rack -  it's a fragrant but not overly spicy blend of black pepper, hot paprika, cinnamon, cumin, cardamom, cloves and nutmeg.

 I went rummaging in the cupboards and decided to combine #readcookeat with #KitchenClearout, using up various odds and ends of bags and packets from the baking cupboard, and substituting bulgur for a bag of frik (green wheat, very similar to couscous, that I'd received in a Tunisian-themed Kitchen Trotter box). I also found a recipe for Fattoush Salad, which sounded like the perfect accompaniment, and also helped use up a bag of dried bread pieces, that I'd received in a Spanish-themed box for making gazpacho.

Lebanese Kibbeh with Fattoush Salad 

ingredients :

for the kibbeh :

700g minced meat (beef, lamb, even goat or camel if you want to be authentic !)
1 onion, grated
bulghur (or couscous or frik)
salt, pepper
baharat spice
good handful of pine nuts
good handful of dried apricots or dates
oil for frying

for the fattoush salad :

stale flatbread/pita
oil for frying
pomegranate molasses

First, boil the bulghur/couscous/frik in salted water until cooked, drain and reserve. 

Meanwhile, chop the dried fruit into small pieces and put it in a pan along with the pine nuts, 2 tsp baharat and a drizzle of oil. Cook briefly, so that the fruit starts to caramelise, the pine nuts take on some colour and the spices mingle with everything.

Add 150g (a good handful - yes, get your hands in there, you'll have to in a minute anyway !) of the minced meat and continue cooking until it's gone brown and quite dry. Turn off the heat.

Combine the remaining meat with the bulghur, salt, pepper and the grated onion and use your hands to make sure it's perfectly smooth and blended.

Use your hands to shape oval meatballs with the raw meat mixture. Press your thumb deep inside, stuff with a spoonful of the meat/dried fruit/spice mixture and reseal.

If you want to plan ahead, they can be made in advance and kept in the fridge or freezer until you're ready to use them.

Heat some oil in a frying pan and shallow fry on all sides until cooked through. (Some recipes bake them instead, and I saw a couple that deep fry them, which probably gives the a more uniform appearance.)

Rip up your stale flatbread into pieces (I had little squares of pre-cut dried bread for making gazpacho) and shallow fry it in a glug of olive oil. Sprinkle with sumac (it's a deep red spice which imparts a lovely tangy, zesty, citrus flavour - we brought some home from Turkey). You want the bread to go crispy but not burn.

Add the fried bread to the salad ingredients, toss and drizzle with pomegranate molasses and a bit more sumac. Serve with the kibbeh for a mini Lebanese feast .

Adding to this month's #KitchenClearout linky because it used up loads of odds and ends of packets that were cluttering up the cupboards.

Linking up with the #readcookeat challenge over at Chez Maximka.

*** Fancy some more exotic cuisine ? Don't miss my country-by-country globecooking recipe index ***

Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Banishing the January blues with Bold 3-in-1 Pods ! (review)

When it comes to doing the household chores, my favourite (or, in any case, my least unfavourite !) is dealing with the laundry, because I love the fabulous feel-good fragrances that waft around the whole house. Recent research from Bold reveals that the smell of newly washed clothes and fresh sheets reminds us the most of home and half of Britons went so far as to say that fresh laundry makes them feel comforted, happy and relaxed.

 I definitely always seem to get a great night's sleep just after changing the bedding, which I'm sure is down to the relaxing scent and softness of the freshly washed cotton, and this weekend, having come down with a flu-type bug and spending vast amounts of time in bed, having the smell of freshly-laundered bedding tickling my nostrils certainly lifted my spirits slightly. 

With January and February being the dreariest months of the year, many of us would love nothing more than staying wrapped up in our quilts all day (or at least for an hour or two longer in the morning). The winter chill, the rainy British weather and the dreaded daily commute are the top three reasons that were given for wanting to stay tucked up at home.

Bold 3-in-1 Pods are designed to give you a portable version of the freshly-washed-sheets, feel-good fragrance, injecting a boost of freshness into your clothes and wrapping you in the nostalgic scents of home (and bed), helping you to mentally escape to the comfort of home whether you're in a stressful meeting, getting squished on the tube or hanging around in the rain at the bus stop.

There are four fragrances in the range :

Lavender & Camomile : Take your senses on a relaxing stroll through fragrant fields of fresh Lavender. Blended with soothing camomile, warm woods and Manuka honey, it creates a blissful feeling of serenity and harmony.

Lotus Flower & Water Lily : Clean, crisp and natural, this scent feels like cool summer evenings soaked into your clothes. The beautiful fragrance mixes refreshing Lotus Flower and Water Lily with crisp Blue Forget Me Not and Star Flowers.

Sparkling Bloom & Yellow Poppy : If summer had a scent, this would be it. This happy, vibrant and uplifting scent is a beautiful blend of yellow poppy, Yuzu blossom, Acacia and other lush floral notes.

Gold Orchid & Moringa : Pamper your world with this seductive and precious scent. This elegant fragrance contains precious notes of rare Gold Orchid and Moringa to make you feel like royalty.

I really like the cocoon of calming freshness that my bedding has provided after using the Lavender & Camomile pods, but I also fancy giving the uplifting, summery fragrances a try too. It's definitely time to put the January blues behind us !

Bold 3-in-1 PODS 55 wash pack, RRP £14, available nationwide from end of Jan 2018

Sparkling Bloom & Yellow Poppy 55 3-in-1 Pods out now, exclusively available at Asda

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

Monday, 19 February 2018

Glam Goo - making slime fashionable ! (review)

Pierre's favourite Christmas present this year was a bottle of Cleopatra clear glue and some contact lens solution. You'll either be scratching your head, thinking "strange child", or you'll be recognising him as a fan of homemade slime. Both he and Juliette have been having great fun ever since, making clear slime, fluffy slime, jiggly slime and goodness knows how many other different kinds of slime that they've found on youtube. As soon as an email landed in my inbox and I saw the name Glam Goo, I knew it would appeal to them !

The trouble with making slime from scratch is that, even when you've managed to source all of the ingredients (I bet sales of borax have never been so high !), there's a high chance that it will be a total flop. The Madhouse kids have managed to make lots of very successful slimes recently, but the first ten or so were all complete failures. Glam Goo takes out all the stress and disappointment by providing you with a ready made tub of clear slime. They also provide lots of inclusions for you to customise it - Violet Vibes scent, Electric Blue and Pinky Promise powders and three tubes poetically labelled Daydreams, Cloud Crunch and Unicorn Tears.

The enclosed instruction booklet gives you suggested combinations, but the Madhouse kids went freestyle, mixing, kneading, blending and squishing to their hearts' content. They both seemed completely absorbed for a good hour !

The idea of Glam Goo is making slime fashionable by transforming it into accessories that you can wear. There is a plastic ring with a chamber that you can fill with slime.

There is also a multi-compartment carry-case (or, as they call it, purse) with a funky glitter globe-type front that allows you to store all your slime creations without them leaking into each other. As a parent fed up of having innumerable pots and jars of slime all over the house, I think this is a great idea !

This also keeps the slime in tip-top condition so it won't go hard and gives you easy access, whenever you feel the need to have a play with it. Which, judging by the Madhouse kids, is about every two minutes !

The Deluxe Pack that we reviewed has an RRP of £22.99. There is also a Fantasy Pack (as above, for the slime and inclusions, although in different colours, plus a heart necklace and rainbow charm - RRP £14.99) and a Confetti Pack (fluffy slime plus inclusions, bow bracelet and bunny charm -RRP £14.99).

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

Sunday, 18 February 2018

Madhouse recipe : Tagliatelle with Ragu Sauce from scratch

Cirio have recently released a new recipe book full of delicious dishes that are simple to make and bursting with flavours from Italy. They sent me a selection of their products, along with one of the recipes to try out -  Tagliatelle with Ragu Sauce. Ragu Sauce, or spag bol as it has been unceremoniously renamed by the majority of Brits, has been a staple of my diet since my student days. It's simple to prepare, but also simple to get wrong. For some, it involves using a pack of extra value pasta and a jar of bolognese sauce, which is unlikely to get great results. For others, me included, it usually involves a sauce made from scratch and a pack of supermarket spaghetti. I do occasionally buy fresh pasta from the chilled aisle, but I'd never thought about making it from scratch, assuming I'd need one of those fancy pasta makers that you see on cookery programmes.

Cirio's recipe shows just how easy it is to make a simple egg pasta from scratch though - Pierre had great fun and was totally blown away by the fact that he had produced something that he thought could only be found on supermarket shelves ! Many people also don’t realise that the quality of the tinned tomatoes that they choose to add to their cooking can make a huge difference to the taste, consistency and quality of any dish. Cirio is one of the highest quality brands of tinned tomatoes on the market, and is made lovingly in Italy for an authentic Italian flavour. Additionally, the health benefits of tomatoes cannot be disputed - tinned tomatoes in particular contain more Lycopene than fresh tomatoes, which is good for the heart and proven to reduce the risk of cancer.

Above all, it's a simple dish that can be made with nothing but store cupboard staples, even after a busy day at work, and that the whole family will enjoy.

Tagliatelle with ragu sauce

Serves 4 


For the classical egg pasta:

200 g flour
2 eggs
extra virgin olive oil
salt to taste

For the ragu sauce:

1 stick of celery
1 onion
1 carrot
2 garlic cloves
extra virgin olive oil
red wine
Cirio tomato puree
500 g mixed minced meat
500 ml Cirio Passata

Start by making the pasta. Beat the eggs with a dash of olive oil and salt. Add the flour to make a firm and elastic dough. Wrap in cling film and leave in the fridge for half an hour.

During this time, you can make the ragu sauce. Finely chop the celery, carrot, onion and garlic. Lightly fry the vegetables in the olive oil then add some tomato puree.

Add the minced meat and cook until brown and quite dry. Pour in the red wine and cook until it evaporates.

Add the passata and bring to the boil.

Check the taste, add sugar to make it less acid and salt for seasoning.

Back to the pasta. Flatten the dough with a rolling pin and roll into thin pasta sheets less than 1mm thick.

Cut into 7mm strips. To prevent the dough sticking dust with flour.

Cook the tagliatelle in boiling salted water for three minutes. Drain the pasta and serve topped with the ragu.

Disclosure : Recipe and some ingredients provided by Cirio.

#MySundayphoto #SundaySnap 18/2/18

Perfect reflection in the stillness of a beach in Jaeren, Norway

OneDad3GirlsSunday Snap

Saturday, 17 February 2018

Be My Gel-entine?! Gifts for BFFs with Gel-a-Peel (review)

Whenever half-term (or even weekend) boredom sets in and Juliette starts mooching around the house, wondering what to do, I invariably tell her to make something with her Gel-a-Peel. It's so versatile and can be used on all manner of materials, from cardboard, wood and glass, to metal, plastic and fabric, so you can even use it for "screen printing" and customising clothes. What says BFF better than making matching customised T-shirts in honour of Galentine's day?!


Gel-a-Peel is available in all sorts of textures and colours, to help get your creative juices flowing. Juliette has already experimented with pearly pastel, neon, glow-in-the-dark, colour change and two tone, amongst others, so she was delighted to receive two more packs to discover : Jelly Kit, which is perfect for making charms and jewellery.

And Fuzzy Kit, which comes with little pots of powder to sprinkle over the gel designs to add a fuzzy texture.

Each pack comes with a mould tray that helps you make 3d embellishments and charms simply, as well as a plastic sheet to lay over templates (in the box or downloadable on the Gel-a-Peel website) to make funky bracelets.

Leave your finished designs overnight and the gel will set into a rubbery, flexible texture that can be worn as jewellery or made into decorations for phones, notebooks, pencil toppers ... whatever you fancy.

The different nozzles allow you to play around with textures and you can even add little inserts, such as this mini moustache, before your design has dried.

 Nothing shows appreciation like a homemade gift, and Juliette had great fun making little accessories and cards to share with her friends in honour of Galentine's Day. She used various techniques, writing directly on the card, making 3d embellishments then sticking them on in a butterfly shape using a little more Gel-a-Peel as adhesive. Very creative !

Disclosure : We were gifted two packs of Gel-a-Peel.
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