Saturday, 23 May 2015

Book review : The Fifth Gospel - Ian Caldwell

The Fifth Gospel is a religious-themed literary thriller. It is set in the fascinating and rather mysterious world of The Vatican, but you don't need to be a believer, belong to a particular faith or be well versed in the finer points of the religious texts to enjoy it.

I'll admit to being pretty uneducated when it comes to all things religious and I learnt an awful lot of fascinating facts about life in the Vatican, the complicated politics of the Catholic church and the ambiguity and contradictions of certain passages of the Bible. I kept thinking to myself "yes, but this is fiction, it may not be true" but the book took an amazing TEN YEARS to write, in which time Ian Caldwell studied a vast array of primary sources to use in his novel.

The central characters of the novel are two brothers, Simon and Alex Andreou. Both are Catholic priests but Alex is Greek Catholic, with an estranged wife and a young son, while Simon is Roman Catholic. Both men are friends with Doctor Ugo Nogara, a man who is working on a mysterious, highly controversial and, in terms of Catholic politics, potentially dangerous exhibition about the Turin Shroud. While he seems to be focusing on the authenticity of the shroud, Nogara makes a possibly earth-shattering discovery in the scriptures. We all know the four gospels written by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John but I was totally unaware of a fifth gospel, called the Diatessaron, which tries to compare all four gospels and condense them into a truer, real-life gospel. It is commonly assumed that John's gospel is a theological text rather than an eyewitness account, using symbolism rather than realism, unlike the other gospels. Just as Nogara's exhibition is about to be unveiled and his big secret revealed, he is found dead. Even more shocking, Simon Andreou is at the scene and becomes the prime suspect.

Simon is put on trial, not in a regular civil court but in front of a papal tribunal, with its own mysterious rules and regulations. Father Alex has to try to unravel Doctor Nogara's research in order to prove his brother's innocence before it's too late.

Despite the rather high-brow content, Ian Caldwell delivers an intense, dramatic thriller with believable and perfectly imperfect characters. The Vatican, with its unusual protocol and mysterious secrets, provides the perfect backdrop for a murder-mystery and the huge amount of background research is evident when you read the story.

star rating : 4.5/5

RRP : £14.99

  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster UK (26 Mar. 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1471111024
  • ISBN-13: 978-1471111020
  • Product Dimensions: 16.3 x 3.6 x 24.2 cm

Disclosure : I received a review copy of the book in order to write an honest review.

Giveaway #482 : Win a copy of The Mindful Mother - closing date 7/6

Naomi Chunilal, a Yoga and meditation teacher from North Devon, has just written a new book for mums-to-be that promises unparalleled support and nurturing throughout pregnancy, labour and early motherhood.

She explains : "I wrote the Mindful Mother after searching high and low for guidance to keep me afloat on my own journey into the unfamiliar territory of newborn babies. Upon standing on the shores of new motherhood, I realised that I didn't seem to have a natural aptitude to be a mother to say the least! And so I wanted to understand how to be present and enjoy this incredible phase of life. 'The Mindful Mother' supports and nurtures you to find more resilience, joy and fulfilment to cope with the reality of sleepless nights, feeding upon demand and looking after a young baby or child around the clock."

Speaking with humour and clarity to women's hearts, the Mindful Mother provides you with an emotional lifeline to not only survive but thrive through daily mothering dilemmas and challenges of looking after a baby. Through simple and clear meditation and self-development practices, it enables you to cultivate an authentic practice of mindfulness to help you navigate a clear path through the joys and frustrations of new family life.

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Watkins Publishing (21 May 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1780288743
  • ISBN-13: 978-1780288741
  • Product Dimensions: 15.4 x 2.4 x 23.4 cm

I have one copy of the book to give away to a lucky Madhouse Family Reviews reader. Fill in your entries in the Rafflecopter widget below.

UK only. Closing date : 7/6/15

T & C's : Entries close at midnight on the closing date. Winners will be selected with a random number generator and announced on facebook, twitter and in the giveaway post subject line. Please note, you will be contacted by email and/or twitter and if I haven't heard from you after a week, I'll have to pick another winner. Prizes will be sent out by the companies or their PR directly to winners. Madhouse Family Reviews cannot be held responsible for any prizes that go astray !

Globe-cooking recipe : Greek Salad (Greece)

This is the taste of summer on a plate ! Crunchy lettuce (which wasn't part of the original recipe but I'm glad I added it), juicy sweet tomatoes, salty feta and olives and slightly acidic vinaigrette - it's an explosion of flavours that makes you forget it's diet-friendly !

Greek Salad

ingredients (per serving) :

a big handful of salad leaves (I used little gem lettuce)
2 ripe plum tomatoes
a few slices of red onion
10 Kalamata olives
100g feta
2tbsp olive oil
the juice of 1/2 lemon
dried oregano

Prepare the vinaigrette by mixing the lemon juice and olive oil and stirring in the salt and pepper. That was it for the official recipe in my Greek-themed Kitchen Trotter box but it tasted bland to me so I added a splash of Light Asian Lucy's Dressing - it needs something acidic and tangy like vinegar to bring it alive (in my humble opinion !).

Arrange the salad leaves on the plate. Top with chopped tomatoes, drizzle with vinaigrette, sprinkle with cubes of feta, olives and very finely sliced red onion. Drizzle again with vinaigrette and sprinkle with dried oregano.

That's it !

*** Don't miss my country-by-country globecooking recipe index ! ***

Want to try some other Greek dishes? Take your pick from this little lot ! :

Fab freebies of the week 23/5/15

Wow, it's a bumper week for freebies this week ! Don't forget that for the SoPost ones, you can't request one for yourself, but you can ask your friends to send one back to you !


Shloer's fab free OK! Magazine promotion is back - buy a bottle and get a free magazine every week until 26th June!

1000 free Kneipp Deep Sleep sachets up for grabs here

Sign up to become a Zoflora tester

Fill in a quick survey for Popchips and they'll send you a free bag

There are 1,000 free cases of Dorset Cereals Muesli up for grabs.

You can get 48 Free Bee-friendly Lavender plants worth £39.96, just pay postage £5.65

There seems to be a new magazine coming up every week at the moment ! This time, it's InStyle that's on offer. There's also a free issue of Rugby World, Marie Claire and Gardens Illustrated available

on twitter : @reactivbodycare May 18 Rest assured we make in the UK to pharmaceutical guidelines. Refreshing and natural skin care for men. FREE SAMPLES

5,000 lucky savvy circlers will get the chance to experience long-lasting laundry freshness with new Bold 2in1 Pearls - detergent tabs with a touch of Lenor for fab results in one simple step.

Download the free Bargain Booze app and you can get a free bottle of Kissing Tree Pinto Grigio white wine

Send a FREE Schwartz Grill Mates Pack to 5 facebook friends with SoPost - dont forget to ask them to send one back to you too ! Which one will you go for?

SoPost will also let you send some Kiehl's Midnight Recovery Concentrate to your friends too

If you shop at Sainsbury's online, you can claim 1 of 15,000 free 1.75l bottles of Coca Cola.

My Mail have some great money-off vouchers including one for £1 off Cif Direct To Floor, which is currently only £1 in Tesco's

Get a free Toucan Box crafts kit for the kids

For a limited time only, you can claim 4 WEEKS FREE ACCESS to Reading Eggs and Mathseeds to experience the programmes for yourself and give your child a head start at school.

It's still not too late for this one : WE have 3,000 Maybelline Lash Sensational Mascaras, worth £7.99, to give away. Plus one person will win an amazing beauty hamper, packed with the products nominated for our awards! Enter by 11.59pm on May 24, 2015, and a wand could be winging its way to you.

For Barclays customers : Let us put a smile on your face - or maybe someone else's - with a free Milk or White Chocolate Smiles Lolly from Thorntons. Pick up one every day between Friday 22 May and Sunday 7 June 2015. (You need to download their free rewards app.)

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.

You may also like to enter my giveaways :

Giveaway #479 : Win a pair of tickets to the Manchester Ideal Home Show - closing date 28/5

Friday, 22 May 2015

Madhouse Diaries : The Little Ships have come back to Dunkirk

It's a very special weekend in Dunkirk this weekend and to mark the occasion, the council have put the flags out - both the Union Jack and the Tricolore are flying from the mast of the clock tower ! As well as being the 70th anniversary of VE Day, this year is also the 65th anniversary of Operation Dynamo so the Little Ships have come back to Dunkirk. 

They are all festooned with colourful bunting and it looks like a really joyous, happy celebration.

But Operation Dynamo and the Evacuation of Dunkirk is always a glass-half-full or glass-half-empty paradox. Churchill called it "a miracle of deliverance" and, over 9 days, an amazing 338,226 soldiers were rescued from the beaches by a hastily assembled fleet of over 800 boats. Nevertheless thousands more lost their lives and I remember reading one eyewitness account that said that the sea was red.

Numerous photographic exhibits have been dotted along the quayside next to the boats to show the historic events of May 1940.

It's actually very freaky to think that all this happened on the same beaches and stretch of sea that we now go to for relaxing walks, building sandcastles and collecting shells. This image, showing the soldiers patiently waiting to be rescued, up to chest-height in the water because the sandbanks prevented the boats from getting any closer to the shore, really brings it home.

Some of the most poignant reminders come from the war veterans and their descendants. I saw several elderly men in uniforms, proudly displaying vast quantities of medals on their chests. This wreath of poppies attached the the fence caught my eye.

"The Ferryman : I made a ferry through the foam, Dunkirk and Deal - Dieppe and Dover, I brought the flower of Britain home And took the fruits of freedom over." It mentioned a Dunkirk war veteran survivor who passed away a few years ago and whose children or grandchildren are continuing to come over with the Little Ships to honour him.

The best message that Dunkirk can show us these days is that no act of kindness is too small to make a difference. Some of these Little Ships are really small - they must only fit a dozen or so people on board at any one time.

But working together, and persevering, going back and forth as many times as was needed, each Little Ship made a real difference - this one saved 130 people.

Each of the Little Ships proudly bears a "Dunkirk 1940" plaque.

As well as many boats from the South coast, there are also a few Thames barges that took part in the evacuation.

The Ramsgate lifeboat has also put in an appearance. There are two British Royal Navy ships on a separate quay too. We might head over to see them tomorrow.

It's heartwarming to see just how many people answered the call to come and snatch a few soldiers from the hell on Dunkirk beach, putting their own lives at risk. This is the true meaning of "l'esprit de Dunkerque" or Dunkirk spirit and it's great to see the Little Ships coming back to honour the heroes of Operation Dynamo, in and out of uniform.

Dragons and Fairy Dust

This month's Kitchen Trotter box : it's all Greek to me !

This month's Kitchen Trotter box has just arrived and the destination is Greece. I didn't think this one was particularly exotic or surprising, but maybe that's because I had a Greek-themed box when I was with Kitchen Nomad.

No prizes for guessing that there would be some olives in this box - there's actually a jar of Kalamata Olives and also a jar of Cream of Kalamata Olives.

Followed by a tin of olive oil.

Moving away from the olives, there is also a pack of crispy sesame seed bars.

Some peanuts. I wouldn't have thought of them as a Greek ingredient !

And a fantastically fragrant "bush" of oregano. This is making the whole kitchen smell amazing - and also making me crave pizza !

The recipes don't look very complicated this time - firstly a simple Greek Salad.

Followed by Greek-style red mullet  with condiments

This one sounds a bit strange ! - Greek yogurt mousse with olive oil and strawberries

And finally Greek pita.

That all sounds very homely and family-friendly so the Madhouse kids will probably prefer this box to some of the more exotic ones !

*** Don't miss my country-by-country globecooking recipe index ! ***

Set Your World on Flowers - green fingers not required ! (review)

Someone once said to me (and I must admit, it made perfect sense !) that it is highly UNromantic to give someone a bunch of cut flowers. You're giving a gift to symbolise your love that will start fading within days and be totally dead within a week ! Well, new plant company Set Your World On Flowers has come up with a great and longer-lasting alternative - beautiful outdoor flowers to enjoy that require minimal fuss and are guaranteed to last for 40 days.

They sent us this lovely selection which added an instant splash of colour to the patio. Because the flowers are already expertly nourished with everything they need to thrive, they need minimal care and attention. Just add water each day and see your beauties bloom! These flowers are ideal for people who love gardens and flowers and want a lovely looking outdoor space but simply don't have the time, money or space to create a beautiful garden. They're perfect for instantly brightening up a patio, balcony or window box.

We received some Picotee-Blue Pettis (the deep blue ones with the splash of white in the centres), some Hot-Pink Geris (the deep pink flowers with paler pink on the edges of the petals), some Star-Rose Pettis (the smaller deep/pale pink striped trumpet blooms) and some Limited Edition Pinto Premium White To Rose.

If you want to see how they survive over the next couple of months, keep an eye on my twitter feed @cherylp59 !

currently available at ten Waitrose stores

for more information :

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

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Madhouse recipe : Corned beef hash-chouka

Let me just say, before you go any further, this tastes a lot better than it looks ! Sophie said "yuck, it looks like the dog's been sick" and I have to say, at one point, she wasn't far wrong !! This was a classic "use it up, don't throw it out" recipe that evolved during cooking. Sophie had made herself some instant mash yesterday for lunch and there was loads left in the fridge. I planned on making corned beef rissoles but the mash went very runny when I reheated it in the microwave. I decided to make a kind of corned beef hash and, having mentioned chakchouka yesterday, thought it would be nice to crack in some eggs to cook. The result was definitely not pretty but it tasted pretty good and it's great comfort food. I think it would work better and be prettier with firmer proper mash.

Corned beef hash-chouka

ingredients :

drizzle of olive oil
1 onion 
1 clove of garlic
2 marge mushrooms
3 tomatoes
1 small tin of sweetcorn
1 tin of corned beef
leftover mash (homemade of instant)
salt, pepper, smoked paprika
1 egg per person

Heat the oil in a large, deep frying pan and fry the onion and garlic.

Toss in the chopped mushrooms and tomatoes.

Break up the corned beef in a bowl then add to the pan, season and stir. It still looks fairly appetising at this point.

Not any more ! I'm not sure if Sophie put in too much milk when she made up the mash or if it was because I reheated it but it was very runny. Adding in a tin of sweetcorn just made it look even worse !

Crack in the eggs, reduce the heat and leave to cook for about 15 minutes until the eggs have poached.

They sink a bit so check the white is firm before serving. The bottom of the potato may burn so be prepared to leave a small layer in the bottom of the pan when serving, if this happens. The potato should become a bit firmer during this time too.

Carefully slide a fish slice under each egg and serve then pour the corned beef hash around the edges.

The verdict is still out on this one ! Sophie didn't like it (the look put her off !), Pierre hardly touched his (but he'd just come back from a birthday party where he probably ate his entire body weight in sweets, crisps and cake !) and Juliette, who usually has the appetite of a sparrow, ate three bowlfuls ! I thought it was OK - it tasted nice but I would like it to look prettier ! (I think using proper mash, not instant, would be a big help.)

Oh well, it saved the leftover mash from the bin - we'll call it a work in progress !

What's lurking in your fridge/freezer/kitchen cupboard that needs using up? Come and join in on the #KitchenClearout linky

The Madhouse Kitchen has become Amy's Kitchen for National Vegetarian Week ! (review)

To celebrate  National Vegetarian Week this week, Amy's Kitchen sent us through a selection of their lovely veggie-friendly ready meals. I was vegetarian for a while in my teens and there definitely wasn't this much choice available when it came to ready meals so I was really keen to see what we'd think, even if we're now meat-eaters. I still like to serve meat-free meals at least a couple of times a week because it's usually cheaper and is also a great way of packing in your five-a-day. We had lots to choose from in the selection from Amy's Kitchen : Chinese Noodles & Veggies in a Cashew Cream Sauce; Thai Red Curry & Jasmine Rice with Vegetables; Rice Mac & Cheese; Vegetable Lasagne; Broccoli & Cheddar Bake; Mexican Burrito (Cheddar, Rice, Beans in a Gluten Free Tortilla); and Breakfast Sandwich.

Ooh where to begin? I decided to opt for a dish I'm familiar with, the Rice Mac & Cheese. This can be cooked in the oven straight from the freezer so you can't get easier than that. It didn't look that great in the dish to be honest.

But once it's spooned out and served, it looks much better ! It's made using gluten-free rice pasta in a cheese sauce made with gluten-free rice four, butter, milk and mature Cheddar. I found it a bit bland but perfectly acceptable once I'd sprinkled some garlic salt, black pepper and smoked paprika over the top.  

Next we tried the Broccoli & Cheddar Bake, which can again be cooked from frozen in the oven or microwave. 

I think I've finetuned my tastebuds with all my globecooking because I found this one slightly bland too, but I sprinkled some chilli flakes and garlic pepper on top which perked it up nicely. I love the fact that the broccoli retains some crunch and the flavour is lovely. The serving size would be ideal on its own as a ready meal for one or can be shared between two people as a side serving.

The final dish that we have tried so far is the Vegetable Lasagne. My immediate thought on taking it out of the pack was that it could have done with a bit (or a lot !) more cheese. Once again, you couldn't make it easier - you can cook from frozen for 5 minutes in the microwave or an hour in a conventional oven.

I used the conventional oven which probably explains why it came out a bit dry on top but it was really tasty. It's a mixture of spinach, courgettes, carrots and tomato sauce layered between rice pasta with mozzarella and Italian-style hard cheese, cottage cheese and ricotta. It's well seasoned and you can really taste the basil coming through, which gives it a slight topnote of pesto. Very nice indeed - this has been my favourite so far. That might change when I've tried some of the spicier options though !

Whether you're vegetarian or just want to have a few meatless meals every now and then, Amy's Kitchen offer some very tasty and really convenient options that are perfect for keeping in the freezer to cook up at a moment's notice. I would like to see some larger family-sized meals too though.

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

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Globecooking recipe : Menemen (Turkey)

Menemen is a Turkish breakfast/brunch omelette that works equally well as a light evening meal. I served it hot last night with some veggie sausages and spicy bean burgers, but I polished off the last bit cold this morning and it was even nicer so this would be a great picnic/lunchbox food too. I'll give you the recipe I used but it's great for using up the odds and ends in the fridge - you could also use cheese, bacon, mushrooms, courgettes, olives ...


drizzle of olive oil
1 red onion
1 clove garlic
1/2 red pepper
1/2 green pepper
10 slices of chorizo (leave this out if you want a veggie option)
4 ripe tomatoes or a tin of chopped tomatoes
4 eggs
salt, pepper
optional : 1 tsp paprika, a dash of tabasco

Finely chop the garlic and roughly chop the onion, peppers and chorizo. Gently fry in the olive oil.

Add the tomatoes and the paprika/tabasco if using. Cook for 5 minutes for the vegetables to soften.

Crack the eggs into the pan and stir until the cooked through, as if making scrambled eggs.

There is an alternative version that would look prettier - make little holes in the sauce and crack the eggs into them so they will cook whole, like in chakchouka.

It's more or less a Spanish omelette (tortilla) with tomatoes instead of potatoes and more of a scrambled eggs texture. This gives it a nice moist texture but a bit of a strange colour ! 

*** Don't miss my country-by-country globecooking recipe index ! ***